Author's Note #1: The parts of this story alternate between Daryl's past with his brother Merle and his present day exchanges with Carol. Some people may find this approach disjointed, but I thought it would be interesting to see how Daryl's past colors his responses to the present. That being said, if reading a theoretical perspective on Daryl and Merle's lives pre-ZA doesn't interest you and you're strictly here for Caryl smut, that can easily be accomodated by sticking to chapters 2, 4, and 6.

Author's Note #2: The Caryl section story is set near the end of Season 2. It presumes that the survivors are able to languish at the farm a bit longer than they actually were. It vagely takes place after Sophia is put down, but before the Randall/Shane situation is concluded.

Warning: This series contains adult language, references to domestic abuse, and mature content (read: sexy times). Have fun!

Disclaimer: Sadly, The Walking Dead is not mine.

People like to talk up laying down roots in the country. "Wide open spaces," they say. "Fresh air, clean living..."

Sure, maybe… on the surface. You'd have to actually live it to know the kind of things that go on in those wide open spaces.

Ain't nobody talkin' about that.

It could be that they're naïve, or cagey. Hell, maybe they're just conditioned; bone-weary from soldiering on with a bellyful of awful secrets that needed swallowing. That's the way of things around here. That's how it's always been. It was good enough for my daddy and my daddy's daddy, and any number of other prevailing old-timey rhetorics.

Point is, everyone here is free to go about their lives free of judgment from outsiders. With acres of land separating you from your nearest neighbors you can still hold your head high around town regardless, because even if somebody knows something's not right, there ain't no excuse for pokin' your nose into other folks' affairs, so best to forget what you heard or saw. It ain't right… won't never be right. It's just that it's easier when you got wide open spaces that absorb the rolling crescendos of anger and fear.

These were among the bitter sentiments coursing through Bobbie Jean Dixon's mind between replaying all of the night's blunders. She should have seen it coming. Daryl had been announcing incessantly that his toy truck had 'broke down', and was he was going to have to 'get up in there and have a look'. At the time she'd been so pre-occupied with trying to save dinner from burning and figuring out why there was a damn lake pooling in the middle of the kitchen floor, she had just murmured meaningless acknowledgement to him in response, relieved that he was keeping himself entertained and out of the way. She hadn't realized that he'd scampered upstairs with his backpack stuffed full of his father's tools until she gone up to put him to bed.

When she'd looked into Daryl's room and seen the assortment of hardware scattered around on the floor her heart had begun to race. The considerable collection had fallen into disuse long ago, but they still fell under the domain of HIS things, and she knew her little boy would be in for terrible retribution if found out.

So at her urging he had helped her quietly pack them all back into his bag. She sent him on a secret mission to put them all back just where he'd found them without being spotted by 'the enemy'. A feeling of relief had spread through her then. It had seemed they were actually going to get away with it, until her husband had stepped into the hallway in front of them with the large wrench in his hand that she herself had been using to handle the disaster in the kitchen.

"Where's all my shit?" he'd asked, his restrained voice belying his face which was crimson with drink and emotion.

"Wha- what do you mean, Honey?" she'd asked, feigning innocence, "I just needed… the dishwasher, remember I told you I had to… I'll put that back, baby. I know you work hard and I don't want you to-"

"I'm sick of bullshit, Bobbie. I was out there, I've seen how much is missing." He was losing control now, his voice trembling under the effort of staying calm.

"No, not missing Sweetheart…it's right here! It's just a little misunderstanding. Daryl was tryin' to help me and he didn't know what I needed so I guess he just packed up all of it. He's just going to put everything back right now, aren't you baby? Show your daddy how fast you can run and put everything away now."

"Ain't any of you got any business going through my things, and now you're makin' excuses for them! All of you are in on it, fleecin' me, riflin' through my shit; teachin' 'em how to be fuckin' delinquents."

His voice had expanded into a roar now. This was where Daryl had finally bolted out of fear, his little legs pumping for all they were worth to get him to the door before his daddy could intervene, "Hey! You forgot one… why don't you just take it all you little shithead!" His father had slurred before wildly chucking the wrench at Daryl's retreating form. The dense steel had glanced off the back of his little head and sent him skidding to the floor, unconscious.

Her hands tensed around the steering wheel as she pressed down harder on the gas pedal of the old pick-up, silently praying nothing large would come tearing out of the darkness on either side of them. She risked a sidelong glance at the passenger side of the truck where Merle sat with Daryl's head cradled in his lap, the rest of him sprawled out between them.

She hadn't been prepared, and the sight of it provoked a new wave of guttural sobbing from her.

"Oh Daryl… my poor baby. Merle, talk to him honey, he's not supposed to fall asleep after a knock to his head like that. Oh lord, please don't-"

"Why don't you shut your goddamned mouth and leave the almighty out of it for once!" Merle snapped, shocking his mother into silence, "If you want him awake that means he can hear you."

Bobbi Dixon shrank back from the malice in her eldest son's voice. She gave him one wounded glance, already knowing that now that she'd been quieted he wouldn't acknowledge her. She knew where he'd learned it. She exhaled a wavering sigh and blinked away the tears blurring the unlit road before them.

Merle cleared a lock of matted hair out of Daryl's eyes. The boy blinked up at him blankly.

"Hey, Daryl. Ya gotta wake up now. Hey, c'mon buddy, rise and shine!"

"Stop, Merle," he mumbled, half-lidded eyes drooping pitifully, "m'tired." He tried weakly to turn into Merle's lap and escape the bright dome light shining into his face. Merle sighed and shifted to hold him in place while maintaining pressure on the blood-soaked rag he had pressed to a deep gash in the boy's scalp. He was going to have to come up with something more compelling or the kid would be out for the count in no time flat. His mind catalogued the short list of things his little brother cared about. It wasn't a hard choice.

"Hey Daryl, you think ol' Butch Cassidy was really figurin' on goin' straight when he got hisself gunned down?"

Daryl's face perked up. He squinted, but kept his eyes open. Daryl may only be six, but Merle was pretty sure he'd already figured out how to get his goat from every conceivable angle, and Daryl especially hated it when Merle doubted Butch Cassidy.

"'Course he was."

"You know what I think? I think Butch was feedin' that Sundance Kid a big ole load of cockamamie bullshit."

"No he wasn't, Merle."

"Course he was." Merle mimicked him absently, trying to decide if the rag in his hands was darkening more slowly than it had been before.

"Butch is an outlaw, but he don't go hurtin' nobody. He felt awful bad about it when they had to shoot all those bandits. He didn't get gunned down, neither. They got away... 'scaped to Australia."

Daryl's impassioned case for Butch Cassidy had been lost on Merle. He had been distracted by a change in course as they turned onto a long gravel drive. Several moments of silence had ticked by before he'd registered that Daryl's high pitched voice had quit yammering up at him. He looked down at his brother and was relieved to find the boy still squinting up at him.

"Am I hurt real bad, Merle? Like, am I dyin'?"

Merle flashed his mother a pointed glare before he responded in the most casual tone he could muster.

"Hell naw, Daryl. It'd take a lot more than this little bump you got on ya head here to kill a Dixon. You and me are made of tougher stuff. We're takin' you to the doc right now, Kid. Get ya all patched up. How you like that?"

"Yeah…I feel like I'm gonna puke."

"Well you go on ahead and puke if ya gotta."

The truck stopped with a lurch. Both Merle and Daryl turned to watch as their mother began fumbling at the door handle, cursing it under her breath. The driver's door had never worked quite right; just one of a lifetime's worth of projects the old man had put off in favor of slumping into his worn armchair with his fist wrapped possessively around a bottle of cheap liquor. When she finally managed to wrench it free she slid gracelessly from the cab and took off running until she collided with the darkened entryway of one of the fanciest houses Merle had ever seen, let alone visited. He couldn't make out her words at this distance, just unintelligible strains of panic pleading with a closed door. She was pounding her fists something fierce on the stately black walnut.

Time stretched out with uncertainty felt endless, punctuated only by the steady chiming of the sensor to signal her door was still hanging ajar in the otherwise still night air. A glance at the green LED clock on the stereo, however, told Merle it had only been a few moments before the racket provoked a light in the window. A few moments more and the door swung open. A disheveled looking figure emerged, looking stiff and reluctant in his conservative pajamas. His mother immediately latched onto the disoriented man's hand and dragged him behind her to the open driver side of the truck.

The doctor looked desperately circumspect. He grimaced as he peered into the truck only long enough to identify the pair of boys on the seat. Then he spun back on their mother, jerking his arm free of her grasp.

"Mrs. Dixon, what in hell's name do you mean bringing this to my front door? Your boy needs an emergency room!"

"I can't! If I take him there like this there'll be all kinds of questions. They'll want to take him away from me. Maybe… maybe even try to take all of them away."

"They ought to. Chrissakes, look at what he's done!"

"He didn't mean to, he was just… it was a mistake. I need you to help me keep this family together. That's the most important thing. We're all we got, and he needs us if he's gonna get better. I'm begging you. I'll give you whatever you want, just…help us."

Merle's face tightened with humiliation as he had to watch his mother throw herself at a decent man as though her pathetic desperation transacted like some kind of currency with good folks.

"What I want is for you to stop letting that maniac put his hands on these boys," the doctor responded sternly. Merle's heart swelled with gratitude.

"Do you have any idea...? I could lose my license! I ought to call the Sherriff right now Mrs. Dixon, and if you ever bring something like this to my door again and ask me to cover up for him I will. I mean it… never again."

She fell silent. Nothing she could say in response would be sufficient given her trespass here. There was nothing more to be said; and if she continued to speak she ran the risk of angering him further, so she resigned herself to stare back at him wordlessly. Fresh tears streaked down her face as she apprehensively awaited his decision. He shifted, obviously uncomfortable at the sight of her and sighed.

"Come on, son," he motioned to Merle, briskly brushing by Bobbi to circle 'round the truck and open the passenger door for him.

"Let's get him inside…"