The last few chapters have been pretty heavy so I wanted to lighten it up again. There is a bit more humor in this than I was originally going for but when you get Merle and Carol together in this story that's what happens. They make me laugh, I hope they make you laugh too. I made sure this chapter was pretty lengthy because I have a lot of stuff to do this weekend I'm not sure if I will be able to update. I'll try! And if I don't have anything to post tomorrow I will definitely post the next chapter Sunday morning! I'm really sorry. I think it will be good for this story too. Let my brain do a little resting. I hope everyone has a safe weekend! Thank you for reading! Goodnight =)

Chapter Thirty One

Daryl didn't want to leave the bedroom. He didn't want to face the rest of the day and he didn't want to face his brother. He'd seen that look in Merle's eyes earlier and he didn't know if he knew how to deal with it anymore. He wanted to slide backwards, and there was nothing worse than Merle when he was wanting a fix and couldn't have one.

He also wasn't to thrilled about seeing Buck right now. All that shit he had told him down by the river and then out of the blue, there the woman is. Today was a bad day for the Dixon clan for sure. Everything was turned upside down. And he had to force himself not to look at them all with suspicion and he hated himself for that. Especially since Carol was right. She hadn't ever done a thing to cause him to not trust her.

She was asleep now. She had been for at least the last hour. The rain pounded on outside. It had come out of nowhere. It was pretty fitting. She mumbled a lot in her sleep. Sometimes she would get this crease between her eyebrows and she would frown. Other times she would smile. She said his name more often than not. He almost felt like a creeper, just watching her sleep. But there wasn't anyone around to catch him so he decided if he wanted to be a creeper and watch her then he could.

She scared the fuck out of him. She hadn't until today. Before now their relationship had been easy. Natural. Something that just seemed to be. But what she had said earlier had jolted him. Caused him to take a good look at what this was, who they were, and before he had never done that. One day it was him verses the world, the next day it was them verses the world. He depended on her. Her strength and her determination. Her unwavering faith in all of them. He'd never put any thought as to why she did the things she did for him. Did she love him? Jesus, just the thought of the word had him shrinking back from her. But it wasn't a bad thing with her.

He hadn't ever realized how damaged he was until she had mentioned that word. Love, to him, was something heavy. Something that someone else could hold over your head. It was something crushing and powerful that could so easily be used as a weapon. That's what it was to him. When you loved someone then that person could destroy you with it.

Thanks, mama.

The only thing that had kept him standing there when she had said that to him, what had kept him grounded, was the fact that he knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that he felt the same way. He didn't know how or when he started feeling that way. Maybe it was that night she had came to him. Maybe it was before that. He only knew that he felt it too. And he also knew that he'd never use how he felt about her against her. He's never hold that heavy thing over her head. And maybe she would treat him the same way. He wished he could tell her. Maybe she wanted to hear it. But he couldn't say it. All he could do was show her.

He ran his fingers over the bruise under eye and then he kissed her lightly. He shook her hip and then her eyes fluttered open. Her gaze flitted around the room for a second before resting on him and then she smiled. "I hate naps. They mess my whole day up."

He sighed and finally sat up. "I ain't lookin' forward to dealin' with Buck and Merle. Seein' her..."

She sat up then and grabbed him by the sides of the face. "No." She said firmly, her eyes taking on a hard edge. "New rule. She don't exist here, you got that? This is your house. Not hers. This is your life. Not hers. She put this ridiculous cloud over all three of you and I will not have her here."

He would have laughed at her intensity if her words didn't bring a sense of peace to him. She was dead serious. She meant every word she said. She dropped her hands from his face and sighed as she scooted off the bed. They had gotten dressed hours ago.

She tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear. "Are you ready to do this?" She asked with her hands on her hips.

"To do what?" He asked as he made a grab for his shirt.

"Damage control. We probably have two very large, very upset men down there. I need to go clean up a mess."

He sighed and followed her out of the room. He had to give it to her, she had spunk. He just doubted that there was anything she could do to fix them up that quick.

The house was empty. Daryl checked the garage first but they weren't out there. He started to panic as he made his way back through the house. The front door was open. He had half convinced himself that they had taken off to go get high. They had all taken quite an emotional beating. He pushed through the screen door and found them on the front porch. The rain was heavy and made a comforting racket on the porch roof.

Merle was slouched in one of the wicker chairs, not even looking up when he came all the way out onto the porch. He stared out at the rain. Daryl was really starting to loose faith in Carol's ability to bring them out of this.

Buck looked even worse. Eyes vacantly staring past them all, mouth set in a grim line. Daryl watched Carol as she gazed at Buck. Her chin came up and he knew that she would go after Buck first and save Merle for last. She blew out a heavy breath and dropped herself down, right onto the lap of the unsuspecting Buck. He grunted as she swung her legs over the arm of the chair and looked up into his startled face.

"Jesus, girl." He grumbled as he frowned down at her. "The hell ya think you're doin'? Neighbors are gonna see ya and think all sorts of sick shit."

She grinned at him and Daryl was amazed to see a tiny spark of humor light up in Buck's eyes. "Buck, are you planning on raiding the liquor cabinet after we all go to bed tonight? She asked.

He scoffed. "The hell ya talkin' about?"

She shrugged and then cast a glance and a quick wink at Daryl. He leaned against the railing and crossed his arms over his chest. Even Merle was watching them.

"Well, I figure you're a bit stressed out and when people get stressed out they want to drink. I was really stressed out the first night Daryl slept over and you saw what happened. I don't want you to end up like that. Dignity isn't something you can get back quickly once it's lost."

Daryl saw Buck's lips twitch and then his eyes narrowed as he fought off a smile that he didn't even really want to give her. It lasted about three seconds. It wasn't a full fledged smile but the smirk on his face did reach his eyes. "I don't think ya gotta worry bout your dignity, baby girl. It's Daryl there with questionable morals. It can't be helped. Runs in family."

Merle was still watching but he still looked miserable. Daryl couldn't help but hope she didn't move onto his lap next. Buck had a point. These nosy ass neighbors would have a field day with that. They were probably already on their phones calling up the rest of the damn town to inform them that Carol was, indeed, all over all of the Dixons.

"Merle?" She said innocently.

His eyes narrowed suspiciously at her tone. "Don't even think about jumpin' in my lap, darlin'. You wont wanna talk about the first thing that pops up." He said dryly.

Carol made a face. "You are so gross, Merle." She muttered.

"Merle, leave her alone." Buck muttered.

Merle rolled his eyes. "Fine. What, Carol?"

"You should probably call Beth Greene. Maybe ask her how her father is."

Merle grimaced. "Are you stupid? I ain't callin' that damn girl. It's hard tellin' what her sister and that Chinese guy has put in her head. I best cut my losses with that one. 'Sides, Dixon's don't call woman. Women come to us."

"Mmm. I can see that from the line at our door." She said dryly. "She likes you, Merle. And she is sweet. She's good for you."

He shook his head and turned his eyes back towards the rain. "I ain't good for her." He muttered.

Daryl watched her as she shifted in Buck's lap and pulled her cell phone out of her pocket. Merle wasn't paying any attention to her until...

"Beth?" She smiled into the phone. "This is Carol, how's your dad?"

Merle turned his head sharply, eyes narrowing to slits as he launched himself from the chair and then glared at her with his hands on his hips.

Carol stood up, phone still pressed to her ear. "Actually I was calling for Merle. He just wanted me to make sure we had the right number for you, can you hold on a sec?"

She shoved the phone towards him, grinning like the Cheshire cat. Merle gave her a look that would have shriveled a weaker person than her. She just raised her eyebrows and thrust the phone in his direction. He snatched it out of her hand and then covered it with one big hand.

"What the hell's wrong with you?" He hissed. "You're a real goddamn asshole, you know that? I'm kickin' your ass for this one, Carol. I don't care if ya hide behind Buck."

With that he put the phone to his ear, looking more uncomfortable than Daryl had ever seen him. He scratched his head and sighed. "Hello?"

He glanced around one more and then hurried into the house.

"That was fuckin' mean." Daryl noted. He couldn't imagine Merle on the phone with a girl. But then again he hadn't been able to picture himself on the phone with a girl either until he'd met Carol. He thought maybe she was right. Beth could be a good thing for Merle. The girl had more fire in her than he had ever expected. Punching that woman like that, just as calm as could be.

Buck stood up then, looking much more alive than he had when they had saw him sitting there before. Carol couldn't erase the days events for them but she sure as hell could make it bearable.

"Baby girl, that really was fuckin' mean." He eyed her and then did what Daryl had done earlier, brushing his fingertips lightly across the bruise. "Good job."

Buck went in after that, leaving Daryl to face a smirking Carol all alone. "How the fuck did you do that? Did ya see them when you first came out here?"

"I did." Her face grew serious as she twined the fingers of her good hand with is. "It was really sad. I can't stand seeing all of you so upset."

He picked up her right hand and winced. The knuckles were swollen and bruised. "We need to get this checked out. It don't look too good."

She shook her head. "Can't afford it."

"Can't afford for your hand to be all fucked up for the rest of your life either." He noted as he pulled her closer, dropping the bruised hand.

"I'll live." She said stubbornly.

"You shouldn't have done that to poor Merle. Don't ya think he's had a hard enough day?" He almost smiled.

She shrugged and then laid the side of her face against his chest. "Merle needs to know that people care about him. I know they don't really know each other but he likes Beth a lot and she likes him. You saw her with her sister today. He needs people like that."

"Ya know it ain't up to you to save the world, right?" He asked as he kissed the top of her head.

"I know it isn't. It's my job to save you. Merle and Buck are just a pleasant bonus." She laughed.

He shook his head. "Maybe I don't need savin'. You ever think of that?" he muttered into her hair.

"Shut up, Daryl. Maybe I just have a hero complex. Let me play out my little fantasies, would ya?" He could hear the smile in her voice.

~H~

Merle hid in his room like a complete pussy as he listened to the girl chat away in his ear. She was actually quite a talker when it was just the two of them talking but she seemed to clam up a little when others joined in.

"Maggie has to work third shift tonight. With daddy gone it's gonna be lonely. Sometimes I hate livin' in a house so big with just the three of us."

Merle sat up and swung his legs around until his boots hit the hard floor. He gripped the phone tightly as he switched ears.

"Wait a minute. What? You're gonna be alone tonight?" He asked as his gut twisted oddly.

She was quiet for a few long seconds. "Yeah. You don't have to sound so worried Merle. I'm grown. I know how to take care of myself." She laughed.

He shook his head even though it wasn't like she could see it. "I betcha can but that don't mean much. There's a goddamn killer out there somewhere, girl. Ya can't just be out there alone like that. All that way from town. Say somebody come in there while your sleepin', Beth."

"You're sweet Merle, really, but I don't have much of a choice." She laughed. "I ain't scared."

She didn't have to be. He was scared enough for the both of them. He thought briefly that maybe he should offer to stay with her but that would just make her think he wanted to fuck her or something. Not to mention that at night he wasn't quite himself. He couldn't stay with her even if she'd asked him too. Which she didn't. She wasn't that kind of girl.

"Hey, hold on a sec, wouldya?" He asked as he launched himself down the stairs quickly. He needed to talk to Carol. He didn't know why this filled him with such panic, really he didn't know the girl well, she wasn't his problem, but he couldn't stand the thought of her being alone out there. There wasn't any neighbors for miles. If something happened no one would hear her screaming. He shook that thought as he came around the corner and nearly plowed into Carol and his brother. He shoved the phone into her hand.

She frowned, "What the hell, Merle?"

"Ask her to spend the night. There's that little spare bedroom down here off the den." He said quickly. "Ask her, goddamn it." He said hurriedly as he motioned towards the phone in her hand.

"Merle, I don't think you're gonna get lucky with that one." Daryl said as he leaned against the door frame.

"That ain't what I want her here for. Goddamn, is everything about sex with you?" Merle knew he sounded outraged.

Carol put the phone to her ear and started chatting away. That's how girls were.

"What the hells goin' on?" Daryl asked, scowling.

Merle glanced at Carol once more. She was finally asking Beth if she wanted to come over. She hadn't asked her if she wanted to spend the night but that was okay. If she came over then they could get to that part.

"Her daddy ain't there and her sister has to work late. She'll be by herself out there." He muttered as he shoved his hands in his pockets. He was starting to feel kind of stupid at how frantic he had been. He didn't even know why. What were the chances of her getting hurt? But that feeling in his stomach only intensified as he started chewing his thumb nail.

"Man, Merle. You got it bad, doncha?" Daryl asked.

Merle shot him a look but he didn't say anything. There was nothing mocking in the way Daryl was looking at him. He just looked concerned. Merle just huffed and leaned into the wall next to him. They both watched Carol as she talked to Beth. Her eyes suddenly lit up.

"Oh, that sounds like a great idea." She grinned. "I'm sure they wont mind at all."

Daryl and Merle shared a look. This sounded like bad news for them.

When she ended the call she looked like she was in a really good mood. This made both Dixons groan. Merle was starting to wish he had just thought of something else. He hated it when Carol got that look. It meant that he was going to have to do something he didn't want to do because she would run off and cry to Buck and he would make them do whatever the hell she wanted.

"Is she comin' over?" He asked hesitantly.

Carol shook her head and looked between them. They must have had the same look on their faces because her eyes narrowed. "Buck!" She yelled.

Merle and Daryl both flinched. "Mother fucker." Merle spat.

"Good job givin' her the phone dumb ass." Daryl groaned again as Buck showed up around the corner.

Her eyes widened and she smiled sweetly. "Buck, since we've all had such a crappy day, I wanna go out."

Buck chewed his cheek and looked at her for a few seconds before shrugging. "Where ya wanna go?"

"You know that bar and grill out on 37? I want to go there. It'll be fun. We hardly ever get to go anywhere, all of us together and Beth wants to meet us there in a few hours."

Buck mulled it over for all of five fucking seconds while Carol doe eyed him. "That sounds like a good idea, baby girl." He said as he threw his arm over her shoulder.

She looked at Merle and Daryl and offered them a smug smile.

"Don't you grin at me like that. You're a spoiled rotten brat, ya know that? And I'm getting your ass back for that phone call." He growled.

"Merle, leave her..."

"Fuck off, Buck. You're a goddamn pushover." He stormed back up the stairs, making sure to stomp on every step. Why couldn't she just invite Beth over here? She was always pulling shit like this and Buck fell for it every damn time. And he knew it wouldn't do any good to argue with them and say he was going to stay home. They watched him all the time. He guessed it wasn't so bad. Beth was going to be there and Carol could talk her into staying. That was one good thing.

It wasn't until he was in his room, rummaging through his closet that he realized something. He hadn't thought about getting high the whole time he had been on the phone with the girl. And he wasn't jonesing for one at the moment either.

He couldn't help but smile to himself as he yanked a clean black shirt off the hanger.

~H~

Carol knew that Merle and Daryl hated it when she used Buck to get her way but she really didn't care. She thought maybe it would do them all good to go out again. Today hadn't worked out too well for her and Merle and she still wasn't sure what had happened on Buck and Daryl's fishing trip but she knew something had. Whatever it was it didn't seem to be too detrimental on their new found relationship so she hadn't asked.

Daryl was sprawled out on the bed behind her, sulking. He had his arms folded behind his head, glaring at her. She smiled at him in the mirror.

"You don't need all that crap on your face. You look good without it." He grumbled as she skillfully applied the makeup.

This was the first bruise she had ever gotten that she was actually proud of. She almost didn't want to cover it up. She had gotten into a fight. And even though they acted like she had done a horrible job, she thought she did pretty good. "I can't go out with a black eye. People might think I let you beat on me. I'd rather them all think I'm sleeping with the three of you than letting you all kick my ass. There's more dignity in that."

He barked out a laugh and she met his eyes in the mirror once more. He had changed into black jeans, a sleeveless black shirt and a black leather vest. He looked more like Buck's son now than he ever had before. She had to force herself to focus on finishing getting ready.

Merle and Buck both seemed to be acting more themselves. She was worried that they were going to wallow for a while but she had managed to yank them both out of their moods. Well, her and Beth. She was just as worried as Merle about the girl being left alone way out there on that farm. Anything could happen to her. And since she had been with Beth on more than one occasion it made her even that much more scared for the girl.

She almost stabbed herself in the eyeball with an eyeliner pencil when she felt a pair of rough hands on her thighs. She was wearing her only dress again. When the bills were caught up she was definitely going to go shopping for more clothes.

"Ya know what the best thing about dresses is?" He asked as he pressed his lips to the back of her neck. She never knew how sensitive that spot was.

She didn't answer him. She just stayed very still. His hands slid up, bunching the material all the way up to her waist. She leaned into him more, surprised that he was wanting more. Her hair was once again put up so he had as much access as he needed to the back of her neck. He left a warm wet trail from her backbone to just below her hairline.

A loud knock on the door and then the door bursting open had him yanking the dress back down and stepping away.

"The fucks takin' you two so long?" Merle asked, keeping his hand on the doorknob as he looked at them suspiciously. "Y'all ain't seriously thinkin' about fu..."

"Get out Merle." Carol said calmly as she pretended like the only thing she had been doing was getting ready.

"No." He said as he crossed his arms over his chest.

Carol turned her head and glared at him. "Get out."

He shook his head. She looked at Daryl who was lounging on the bed once more but he was just smirking. So this was how they were going to be? They were mad because they didn't want to go out so they were going to act like jerks and gang up on her.

"I told ya that I was gonna get some payback for pullin' that stunt." He grumbled.

She snorted. "What are you going to do, Merle? Annoy me to death? Believe me, if it hasn't worked by now I don't think it's going to."

She reached up to pin up a stray hair, completely ignoring him when suddenly she screamed as something ice cold was poured down her back. She spun around. "Merle, you son of a bitch!" She shoved him but it did little good and Daryl, instead of defending her honor, was rolling on the bed laughing. So she did the only thing she could do. "Buck!" She screamed.

Not ten seconds later they heard him stomping up the stairs. "Goddamn it, Merle." He he yelled up the stairs.

She was still outraged but she couldn't help but smirk. Now he was going to have to listen to Buck bitch him out for the next half hour. But to her surprise he smirked right back and flung more cold water onto the front of her dress. She gasped.

"Get your ass out of her room. Now!" Buck roared. Merle, still smiling went to walk around Buck. Buck smacked him in the back of the head.

Merle left the room, throwing her one last grin as she stood there gasping. Daryl was laughing even harder now. Buck glared at him. "You shouldn't let him fuck with her like that. You know better."

"What the fuck, Buck. She's always pullin' stunts like that on us. Usin' you to get her way when she knows that we don't wanna do somethin'. He just got her back for it." Daryl chuckled and wiped his eyes on the back of his hand as he made himself comfortable once more, hands folded behind his head.

"Ya want me to kick his ass out too?" Buck asked as he studied her drenched dress and her angry face.

"No." She muttered, flashing a glare to the asshole on the bed. She was really going to have to get them back for all of this. Now she had to wear jeans and a t-shirt like she always did.

Buck shook his head and pulled the door closed behind him.

Carol put her hands on her hips and glared. "You knew he was going to do that." She hissed.

"I did not. But you deserved it." He said with a shrug.

"You know, I always wanted an older brother. Someone to look out for me and someone to talk to. Girls that actually had them always looked at me like I was stupid. Now I know why. And you're a real ass for not at least warning me."

He shook his head. "You earned it."

"I have nothing to wear." She growled.

"Then we can stay home." He countered.

"So the three of you can sulk. She crossed her arms over her frozen chest.

He shrugged again and eyed her. She huffed and started undoing the buttons on the front of the dress, one by one. Not taking her eyes off him.

"What are you doin'?" He narrowed his eyes.

"You think I'm gonna keep this thing on? I'm soaked."

He unlocked his arms and sat up, moving towards the edge of the bed.

"Don't even think about it." She mumbled as the dress hit the floor. He was watching her closely.

"I'm sorry. I'll kick his ass next time." He pleaded, eyes roaming over her.

She made it a point now to make sure everything matched now days. And for some reason she got a bigger reaction from him when she wore anything black. Probably because that's what she happened to be wearing that night they had been drunk and had messed around. So in nothing but black lace she stormed over to the closet and yanked out a faded pair of jeans and a tank top.

She heard him huff behind her but he stayed where he was. He knew she was mad. But she did have to admit that they were right. She did use Buck to get her way. But they rarely ever listened to her otherwise.

When she was finally dressed they made their way down the stairs. As soon as they made it to the bottom step someone knocked on the door.

Daryl instantly looked panicked. She felt her own pulse quicken. Was Jenna here? Would she really have the nerve? She cut off that thought. Of course she would. Carol didn't look at him. She stormed over to the door and yanked it open, mentally preparing herself to have a verbal showdown with the Devil herself.

Instead she was greeted by a smiling Andrea. She had forgotten their conversation at the cafe. Andrea had told her that she was going to be stopping by.

"How are you, Miss Balboa?" She grinned.

Carol laughed, sounding a little nervous. She had been sure that it was going to be Jenna.

"You look great." Andrea said as she took in Carol's made up face.

"Yeah, I had a bit of a black eye to cover." She rolled her eyes. Carol heard someone else on the steps behind her. She peeked past Andrea and couldn't contain her grin. "Milton!" She actually met him half way across the porch and hugged him.

He was very tense at first but he loosened up after a few seconds and hugged her back awkwardly. "I was talking with Andrea at the cafe and she mentioned coming to see you. I thought I would tag along. If that's okay, of course."

Carol pulled away, grinning. She hadn't realized how much she had missed Milton until she saw him. It had been a strange week. "Actually we were going to meet Beth at the Bar and Grill. Why don't the two of you come with us."

Andrea looked past her and the smile froze on her face as her eyes narrowed. Buck must have came to see who was at the door. "That sounds too interesting to miss.

Carol watched Milton's face carefully. He swallowed hard and then nodded to the men in the doorway. "It's nice to see you all again." He said.

They all nodded back politely enough.

All three Dixons grumbled over the fact that it was too rainy to take their bikes but not for long. They were all still very googly eyed over the car so their bad moods didn't last long at all. Daryl kept giving her dirty looks but when she moved over until she was snuggled into his side he put his arm around her and the dirty looks stopped. They followed Milton and Andrea.

"Buck, are you really not interested in Andrea?" Carol asked after a few minutes of silence.

Merle spoke up before Buck could answer her. "Buck, that's gotta be some top of the line ass. Under all that bitchiness is a woman dyin' for you to pound it."

"Jesus, Merle. That's disgusting." Carol grimaced.

"You know how many people prolly think the same thing about that little blonde that's been givin' ya them puppy dog eyes, boy." Buck said as he stared straight ahead.

Carol could tell Merle was mad now. Even the tips of his ears were glowing.

"Buck, you sick old fucker! Don't talk about her like that." Merle growled.

Buck glanced up and looked at Daryl in the rearview mirror. "You was right, son. Your big brother has it pretty bad for that one."

"Fuck both of you assholes." Merle grumbled as he shifted in his seat.

When they got there the place was packed like they all knew it would be. There were only so many places to go in a town as small as this one and this was one of the places people liked to frequent. It was a friendlier atmosphere than Donavans. It was much cleaner too. Carol felt bad for thinking that because Dale really did try pretty hard. It just seemed like he wasn't able to get a good grip on his own establishment.

She kept her fingers twined with Daryl's as they made their way through the tables of people. Beth said she would try to find one of the tables by the windows towards the left side of the building so that was where there group was heading. There were still people that stared at them. Especially her and Daryl, but she just shrugged them off. She didn't care. She knew they were all pretty worried about running into Jenna but she had been a prisoner in that house long enough. She wasn't going to be one anymore. And she wasn't going to let them do that to themselves because of that woman. It wasn't fair. As far as she was concerned the Dixons had paid for their mistakes. Buck had served his time, Merle was fighting through a slow agonizing detox. That was the price they paid. She would not let them suffer because of that woman.

She finally spotted Beth, who saw them all and waved with a grin.

"Carol Mason?"

She turned her head sharply to the left when she heard a familiar voice. She gasped in surprise and then broke out in a huge grin. "Tyreese?" She used to be amazed at the size of him but after spending so much time with Buck he didn't seem to be as big as he had before. "What in the world are you doing here?" She let go of Daryl's hand and hugged him.

"My cousin lives in the next town over. He finally talked me into leaving the big city about a year and half ago. We have dinner here sometimes." He looked shocked to see her. She knew the feeling. "When did you leave Atlanta?"

"My grandmother got sick a few years back. I moved in with her to help out. When she passed she left everything to me, since I was the only family she had still living."

"What are the odds?" He shook his head, grinning from ear to ear.

Her and Tyreese had been close friends all throughout high school. The last she had hear he had gotten a football scholarship and he had high tailed it out of Atlanta the first chance he got. Seeing him here of all places was surreal.

"Are you gonna stand here all fuckin' night? And if you are can you at least move your asses over so I can get by?"

Carol groaned. Merle. She looked behind her and rolled her eyes at him.

"Well, I'll be at the bar if you want to join me later so we can catch up. I can't even believe you're here." He grinned at her once more and then shook his head.

"I'll do that. Just give me five minutes." She said as she glanced back at a scowling Merle.

Tyreese nodded and moved towards the bar.

"Who the hell was that?" Daryl asked, scowling just as much as his brother.

"An old friend from school, Daryl. Nobody you need to be scowling at. You would like him."

"He's too fuckin' smily." He grumbled as he pulled out the chair next to the one she took.

She couldn't help but laugh. Daryl Dixon was jealous. It was ridiculous and cute all at the same time. She hoped he knew that he didn't have anything to worry about.

"I'm glad y'all are here. It was hard to hold onto a table this big. I didn't know this place was gonna be so packed." She said as she glanced around.

Merle was already glancing at the menu. "I say we eat and then get the fuck outta here. It'd be a whole lot easier to talk to people if we was at home." He grumbled as he looked right at Carol.

Beth put a hand on his arm and Carol couldn't help but noticed how the small touch caused him to jerk his head around to look down at her. "I'm sorry Merle. I thought it would be fun. We can leave if ya want."

He shook his head quickly. "Nah, I hear this place has good food anyhow. Been meanin' to get out here to try it out." He mumbled.

Beth smiled and then let her hand drop from his arm.

"He's so full of shit." Daryl whispered in her ear. "He ain't never wanted to come here."

Carol giggled. "I figured that much."

~H~

Merle felt like an idiot sitting there with all those people. Daryl had left with Carol to go talk to that big black guy and Buck went to the bathroom and now it was just him and Beth and then Andrea and that Milton guy left at the table. It wasn't so bad with a group but now it looked like a goddamned double date or something.

He was about fed up with all the sideways glances all these people were giving him. He didn't see many people he recognized and no one that he really knew. That was a good thing. Carol was a pain in the ass sometimes, dragging them out to this place. Milton and Andrea were talking amongst themselves so he figured it was high time he talked to the Beth. He already knew what he was going to order, since Buck said it was his treat. He was gonna tell them to bring him and Beth both the most expensive thing on the menu. See how he liked that.

"So you're hell bent on stayin' out there on your own tonight, huh?" He asked. He was going to have Carol ask her to spend the night but Carol was off with his brother being all social and shit. At least Daryl had had the balls to let her know that the only reason he was going with her was so she wouldn't throw a fit to Buck.

"I am. I ain't got a whole lot of choices Merle." She took a sip of water and then frowned. "You're makin' me paranoid."

"You could stay with us. It'd be a lot fuckin' safer than ya stayin' all alone out there in the middle of no where. Anything could happen to ya way out there and nobody would even know it till they found ya."

"Okay." She shrugged and took another drink.

He turned his head sharply. "What?" If he'd have known how easy this was going to be then he would have just tried to convince her while he was talking to her on the phone. He could have avoided this whole mess.

"I've seen Carol's house. It's plenty big enough." She glanced around nervously. "And when I left my house to drive over here..." Her voice trailed off and she frowned.

"What?" He was gripping the glass in his hadn so hard that he had to force himself to loosen his grip before he smashed it. Her voice went low and she leaned her face in close to his.

"I thought I saw somethin' when I got in my car." She said in a low voice.

Merle frowned. "What'd you think you seen?" He asked keeping his voice as low as she had.

"I guess it coulda been nothing. It was rainin' pretty hard. But I thought I saw somebody standin' near the barn. Like a man."

Jesus Christ!

"And then when I pulled outta the driveway there wasn't no cars coming from either direction. You know how you can see for nearly miles on that stretch of road. But it seemed like as soon as I hit the road this big black truck came outta nowhere and stayed right on my tail until I pulled in here."

Now he understood why the girl had been glancing around so much. Hell, if she had stayed on that farm for much longer she coulda ended up just like them other women.

Buck had just sat down across from them, in the other chair next to Andrea's. As soon as he looked up at Merle he knew there was something wrong but Merle didn't have time to tell him what was going on. He stood up, told Buck to order for him and then he pulled Beth up by the hand, not dropping it as he made his way around tables and people, keeping his eye out the whole time for anyone that might look suspicious. He finally found Carol and his brother at the bar.

"Carol, you still got Shane's number?" He asked in a hushed tone.

She frowned and glanced at Daryl. "It's in my phone. What's going on, Merle?" She asked worriedly.

"He was at her goddamn house." He hissed.

"Who was at her house?" Daryl asked as he glanced from Beth back to Merle.

"She thought she saw somebody by the barn and then when she pulled out there was a big black truck on her ass. Sound familiar to ya?" He snapped as he snatched the phone Carol offered him and turned to find somewhere quiet enough so he could do something he never in a million years thought he would do. He was going to call the cops.

"You really think that's who it was. You think he was at my house?" She asked as her face grew pale.

"I don't think shit, darlin'. I know." He grumbled as he pushed on the exit door and slipped out of the crowded building. The only sound out here was the rain pounding on the awning. He noticed her wide eyes scanning around the parking lot. "You're gonna be fine."

He searched through the contacts until he found Shane's number. The man answered on the second ring.

"Hey there, bruiser. What can I do for ya?" Shane's teasing voice came alive in his ear.

"Hey, this is Merle. We gotta problem."

"Is Carol alright? What's happened?" All the joking left his voice.

"She's fine. And quit soundin' so concerned. You know she's fuckin' my brother. Anyway, the killer was at the Greene farm this evenin'. Y'all might wanna head that way and collect your evidence or whatever it is y'all do."

Shane was silent for a few seconds. "How do you know this?" He finally asked.

"Cause Beth seen the mother fucker and he followed her here to the Grill. He was standin' out in the rain by her barn like he was Micheal fuckin' Myers."

"Is Beth with you?" Shane asked.

"Yeah. She's right here." Merle muttered. He glanced down at Beth. She looked scared out of her mind.

"Put her on the phone." He demanded.

Merle was going to argue but Shane needed all the information he could get. She might be able to tell him something that she hadn't thought to tell Merle. Maybe he would know what to ask. He scanned the lot just like she had done and then he handed her the phone.

He barely paid attention to what she was saying to Shane. He was too busy watching the parking lot. If the person followed her here then maybe he was waiting so he could follow her to wherever she was going when she left here.

He jumped when he felt something hard press against his hand. He jerked his eyes from the lot and looked down at her.

"What'd he say?" He asked gruffly as he shoved Carol's phone in his pocket.

She met his eyes. "He told me to not leave your sight."

Merle nodded. "Least he ain't as dumb as he looks."

She gave him a half smile that didn't meet her eyes. "That man was gonna try to kill me, wasn't he?" She asked in a whisper.

"Ain't nobody gonna get a chance to lay a goddamn hand on you, you understand that?" He said a little too loudly.

She nodded quickly. "I gotta call my sister. She needs to know to go to Glen's when she leaves work. I don't want her out there alone."

Merle nodded as he led her back inside. He wanted to hurry up and get the fuck out of this place. It was too crowded. Too many people here that could be the very person that was at that farm earlier. He was relieved when he got to the table. It seemed as though everyone else had been informed of what had happened and they were all ready to skip the meal and get out as much as he did.

"I'll follow you guys there." Beth said when they got to the parking lot.

Merle followed her. There wasn't any way in hell he was going to let her drive all the way there by herself.