A/N: You may or may not know but I went away for a week and there was no internet so I couldn't update but I was able to write a few chapters and save them up. If I can I'll update again later or tomorrow.
A little over a week passed since Beth and Merle's discussion. She had thrown herself into her morning runs and training. So far she was able to jog at least five laps without feeling tired and she had mastered three different defensive moves (including the one she had done herself). Seeing the progress she was making on those Hershel taught her a little more on medicine.
The one thing she had done better than those was avoiding Merle. Even though she found herself watching him when he was close by or wondering where he was when he wasn't close by, she was proud of herself for not getting into a conversation with him. Every time she did she felt mature one minute then like a child the next. It infuriated her, she couldn't believe that she had considered him to help her with her list.
She jumped, almost dropping Judith's bottle at the sound of Merle's voice. Well at least she did think that she was doing well at avoiding him. "No," she lied. "Didn't think you liked me much anyway."
He didn't respond so she went on with her task. Carefully she lifted Judith out and offered her the bottle. The little girl eagerly accepted it as Beth sat down. One arm stayed wrapped around Judith while the other supported the bottle that she held.
Judith only got through half the bottle when she started to squirm. Beth tried a few times to get her to take the rest of the bottle but she wasn't having it. With a heavy sigh she set the bottle down and stood up. She gently rocked Judith who continued to fuss, getting louder by the second.
"Give her here."
This time Beth almost dropped the baby. "What?"
"Give her here."
She thought about it for a moment before deciding she had no other option. She carefully handed Judith over to Merle's waiting arm. He alternated between tickling her stomach and rocking her. Beth watched the pair in awe as Judith slowly calmed until she was just making the odd gurgling sound here and there.
"Now, now, quiet down," Merle said softly but firmly.
Beth couldn't help but be surprised. Since when could Merle speak so softly? Since when was anything about Merle Dixon soft? Had she been wrong? Looking at him now she was questioning her recent thoughts of him.
Her thoughts were broken when Merle managed to get Judith to go completely quiet. He laid her back down in her Moses basket before turning to Beth. He watched her and she stood awkwardly, a blush creeping into her cheeks.
"What's up, girlie?"
"I didn't think you could be so…"
"So what?" he smirked.
"Nothing," she stuttered out, her temperature shooting up and the redness in her cheeks becoming more defined.
He walked closer to her so that he was standing right beside her. "C'mon now, don't be shy."
She shivered. Did his voice always sound that good and did it always make her feel so loopy? "Kind?" she questioned. "Soft I guess."
"Ain't nothin' soft about a Dixon."
"Daryl manages it sometimes," she whispered, thinking about how he was with Carol at times.
Merle laughed. "I'm sure baby brother's had his balls snipped or somethin'."
Beth gasped. "He has not!"
"Might as well have," Merle chuckled. "'Less he's a woman but ain't told me."
This time Beth put a hand over a mouth to stop herself from laughing. "That's mean!"
Merle's smirk threatened to fall away completely every time she lost herself and the laugh slipped through. "Ain't that what people been sayin'?"
"They used to," she shrugged, all humour gone. "But they meant it in a whole other way."
"Gotta do somethin' to make you scared of me again."
"I hope you don't," she said shyly.
Merle took a second to look her over, taking everything in. He really seemed to be considering his options but then Carol chose that moment to appear. She was still a way off, giving time for Merle to take a step or two back while still observing Beth.
"If ya brave enough to be on your own with me again… Then we'll have a serious talk about this."
And with that he was gone. She stood watching him go, wanting to go after him now but she knew his challenge referred to that night she sat with him on watch. She didn't have to get up early tomorrow which meant staying up late to meet Merle would be doable so long as she didn't lie down between then and now.
"Are you OK?" Carol asked, appearing beside her.
"Oh," Beth sighed. "Yeah, I'm good."
"What did Merle want?"
"He helped settle Judith, she was fussy and wouldn't take all of her bottle." Beth frowned then, remembering the earlier events. "Do you think she's OK?"
"She's had a bit of a temperature," Carol noted. "But while you were training with Andrea yesterday your Dad saw to her, she'll be fine."
"Are you sure?"
"Just a little cold," Carol reassured. "She might be hungry a little earlier than usual."
"Does Rick know?"
"It's been discussed," Carol nodded. "The second she gets even a little bit worse they're doing a run for extra medicine."
"I think she's just a little uncomfortable," Beth explained. "She was fussy but once Merle took over she settled down."
"A few more days and she'll be back to her regular self," Carol smiled. "Is that what's on your mind?"
"No," Beth admitted. "I just think I might have been wrong about something and I couldn't be happier."
Carol gave a questioning look but didn't say a word.
Later that night Beth did everything she could to keep her mind off of meeting Merle. She helped fix dinner and even cleaned up afterwards. She stole a good half-hour of her Dad's time, learning new things about medicine. She even managed to slip in a conversation with both Rick and Andrea. The three of them decided that they would both work with her every other day from now on. That way she would have two eyes on her at all times, making sure that she was good. With her already taking to defensive moves it wouldn't be long till they work on her fighting skills.
All of this took up a lot of her time but it didn't take up enough time. It was dark but not dark enough, everyone was still up and Beth was getting fidgety. Carol raised a brow and gave her a quizzical look every time she caught Beth like that. No one else seemed to notice the way Beth couldn't seem to sit still though and eventually everyone went to bed.
Beth could almost scream with happiness the second the last person went to bed. She had retired when Glenn and Maggie had but she kept to her window which was near the front of the house. She did a quick sweep with her eyes and saw that it was definitely empty. Not a soul in sight.
Carefully and as quietly as she could Beth made her way out of the house. She looked around every now and again as she made her way over to their watch tower. Everything was quiet with a slight breeze, it was calming and nice, something that surprised Beth. Back on the farm when the truth about everything really hit home she believed that nothing could ever feel good again but she was always surprised.
When she reached the make-shift tower she didn't take as long this time to climb it. In fact, she didn't even hesitate at the door. She gave one sharp knock before slowly pushing it open. When no objection came she opened it up faster while stepping inside.
Merle stood in the same spot as last time, only he was slightly easier to spot. His back was to her while he watched out the open window. He was leaned over slightly, and every time he leaned over a little more the muscles in his back became more defined. Her eyes followed every bit of detail etched there until he turned around.
He gave a tight nod.
"What's the matter?" she questioned, taking a cautious step forward.
"Thought I saw something'," he muttered. "Not sure though."
"Oh, I'll go then."
"Nah, just might not be able to look at ya."
"Must be a real shame," she joked, pulling up a seat and sitting down.
He looked her over a moment, weighing up his options before he looked back out of the window. "Maybe it is."
She stared at him. She kept quiet so not to disturb him but also because she wasn't quite sure what to say. What did you say in that situation? She was clueless. He liked the look of her?
"Merle?" she asked quietly. "What do you think of me?"
She noticed how his body seemed more relax, he was obviously less worried about the outside now. Slowly he turned to look at her. He leaned back against the window and watched her. His signature smirk was in place as he mulled the question over.
"Why do ya wanna know?"
"You seem more OK with me now," she shrugged.
"You ain't as terrible as I thought," he admitted.
"Thanks, I think," she said with a small smile. "Do you really want to make me scared of you?"
"Were ya ever scared of me?" She nodded slightly. "And you ain't scared now?"
"No," she said firmly. "You showed me that you're different."
Merle internally cursed himself. Sure he had a nice side, a good side. Everyone did, it just varied on some people and sometimes it didn't even come out. Daryl was probably one of the few people who had seen the good side to him because for a long while Daryl was the only person Merle would do anything good for. Now this little girl had seen some good in him too.
"Better not be tellin' people."
"It can be our secret."
He groaned inwards at the happiness in her voice. "Yeah, girlie, our secret."
"Merle, are we friends?"
"Now don't go gettin' ahead of yourself, girlie," Merle said gruffly, but the innocence in her voice and the way she beamed up at him had him wavering. "I guess we ain't far off though."
"Good," she said thoughtfully. Her mind was on her list, maybe Merle really could help her out with it but she would have to be careful about how she approached.
"Don't mean ya can bug me," he mumbled, taking a seat.
She gave a promising nod and a smile as she drug her chair closer to his. She curled up, tucking her feet under herself. Her body leaned in closer to Merle, and when she rested her arm on the arm of the chair it pressed firmly against Merle's arm. Neither of them said a word. Merle's eyes flicked between the windows and Beth became lost in thought. Both were surprisingly comfortable with the silence, and without realising it, Beth fell asleep.