Disclaimer: If I owned The Walking Dead, we wouldn't be waiting months for new episodes. We are, so that must mean I don't.
The whisper was tiny in the dark. Merle barely heard it, even though his bed was so close to Daryl's that he might reach out and touch him.
"What?" Merle groaned. It had to be after midnight, and all he wanted was a few hours' sleep.
"I heard something."
Merle listened. Nothing but crickets outside and Daddy snoring down the hall. So they were safe. "I don't hear nothing."
"I did." Daryl pressed his skinny little body into the mattress, blanket pulled up to his chin, eyes so wide they caught the moonlight.
"A skunk or something. Go to sleep."
"God damn it, what?"
"What if they're real?"
Merle sighed. "Man, I told you not to watch that movie."
"You watched it!"
"Yeah, cause I can tell the difference between a movie and real life. Repeat after me, little brother. It was a movie. There ain't no such thing as a fucking zombie! Now go to sleep."
"Well, if you're so sure, go check, then."
"Go check? Seriously? You want me to get up in the goddamn middle of the night and check for zombies?" Merle sat up and punched his pillow. It was either punch the pillow or punch Daryl, and the pillow wouldn't keep him awake longer by screaming.
Daryl was still looking at him. Little bastard actually expected Merle to get out of bed for this. "Little brother, if there's one thing you got to learn from scary movies, it's never go check. You saw how that movie ended, didn't you? Black dude goes out to check, and them ole boys mistake him for a zombie. Pow! Right between the eyes!"
"Don't, Merle!" Daryl squeaked.
What the hell. He was only five.
"For the love of Jesus," Merle muttered. "Watch."
He threw his blanket aside, hopped barefoot to the window, and looked out in every direction, even up toward the roof. "No zombies." He opened the door and looked down the hall. "Still no zombies. See?"
"Even if there were any zombies—which there ain't—you'd have nothing to worry about. I wouldn't let them get you."
"I promise. Now shut the hell up and go to sleep." Jesus, little kids were gullible. Didn't they have enough real shit to be scared of, without imagining things? "Gimme this." Merle pried the crumpled blanket out of Daryl's fists, shook it out, and tucked it in for him.
Well, he had to make sure the little shit stayed in bed, didn't he?
If he smoothed the hair out of his brother's eyes, it was only to keep him from looking like a brush pile in the morning.
If he sat up and watched Daryl fall asleep, that was the best way of making sure the kid was really out this time. Nothing more than that.
"Zombies." Merle chuckled silently. "Won't let zombies get him. There's a promise I'll never have to keep."