Playing With Fire

Chapter Twenty

Merle

I knew findin’ Daryl wasn’t gonna be easy. Hell, I knew it was almost crazy to even think I’d find him, when he could be anywhere by now. Somethin’ in my gut, though, kept me thinkin’ he was alive and that was enough to keep me headin’ out and spendin’ all my damn time lookin’ for him. He was my baby brother afterall…I think I owed him that much after all the other shit I’d put him through.

It had been almost two damn weeks, though. Two whole fuckin’ weeks and not a single sign. I wasn’t ‘bout to stop now, even if the whole world was against me. I s’pose I still had one thing on my side, which was more surprisin’ than anything else. Harlow. The woman had gone outside the wall with me every time. I didn’t have to ask her to come along anymore. I didn’t pretend to understand why, it made no damn sense. She didn’t owe me nothin’. She didn’t owe me a god damn thing, yet there she was spendin’ all her free time helpin’ me search for somethin’ even when I didn’t have a damn thing to go off of. Tryin’ to come up with a list of all the reason why a woman like that would help me was enough to drive any sane man insane.

“Another drink?” A small, timid voice asked.

A glanced up to see a mousey haired girl starin’ back at me, noddin’ at my empty cup. “Fill her up.” I said, pushin’ my glass towards her. “The Governor throw these kinda things all the time?” I asked, noddin’ around at the festivity happenin’ around us. For whatever the hell reason, the Gov has made an announcement that it was time for the first ever annual Woodbury picnic. I dunno what the hell made him decide now was the time to have a god damn party, but I wasn’t one to complain when I found out he was givin’ away free whiskey.

“Not really, no. Just one other time. I think he wants the town to feel as normal as possible…and to give us something to celebrate.” She answered, after fillin’ my cup with the amber liquid. I put the small plastic cup to my lips and tilted my head back.

Whiskey had never tasted so damn good.

I tilted my glass, savorin’ that sweet burnin’ sensation as it slid down the back of my throat. I licked my lips, already cravin’ another. I slammed my empty glass down on the table top, makin’ the poor girl standin’ there jump. Shrimpy lil’ thing she was too, probably wouldn’t take much to scare the bejeezus outta her. “No such thing as normal, sweetheart. Gimme another.” I smirked as she eyed me wearily. Somethin’ told me it had almost everythin’ to do with the fact that I had easily downed two shots already. Me and whiskey had a long standin’ relationship and we sure had been separated a long ass time.

I watched as she poured the glass to the brim. “That enough?” She asked in a voice almost as small as she was.

I snorted. “Ain’t ever gonna be ‘nough whiskey.” I drained my glass in one gulp again before settin’ it down. I grabbed the bottle that was still held in her fist. “Probably better to just lemme hold onto this.” It was already more than halfway gone anyways. Nobody would miss it.

“But the Governor-“

“Governor ain’t gonna have a problem with a man enjoyin’ his first taste of whiskey in six months.” I cut her off before turnin’ my back on her and headin’ back down the well-lit street. It was more people than I had seen since the outbreak had started. Drinkin’, talkin’, laughin’. Helluva a lot different than how things were outside these walls. Ain’t nobody laughin’ out there. I wasn’t one for socializin’ either way, which was I planned on takin’ this bottle back to my room and finishin’ it off there. That was before I saw her, though. Sittin’ on a bench by herself, arms crossed over her chest and a bitter look on her face. I spent enough damn time thinkin’ about her to know that face anywhere.

“Thought you was gonna be hidin’ out in yer’ room all night.” I slowed to a stop in front of where Harlow was sittin’. “Decide to join the Governor’s grand party afterall?” I said sarcastically, givin’ her a grin.

“I was starting to get a little bored of staring at the same four walls.” She sighed, leanin’ back against the bench. She glanced down at the bottle in my hand and made a face. “Is that whiskey?”

“Sure is, sugar. Wanna sip?” I asked with a grin, nudgin’ her knee with the bottle.

The scowl on her face was hard to miss as she pushed the bottle away. “I don’t drink, asshole.”

I felt a smirk tuggin’ at the corners of my mouth. “What? You don’t drink at all, or ya’ just don’t drink now?” I asked curiously, takin’ a swig from the bottle.

“Both, I guess.”

“Bullshit. I can tell just by lookin’ at you that you used to be a god damn lush.” I chuckled. She raised her dark eyebrows.

“You don’t know a damn thing about me.” Harlow said, soundin’ more amused than anythin’. She pushed her bangs out of her eyes.

“I think I know a lil’ bit more than you give me credit for, darlin’.” I said, stretchin’ my legs out in front of me. “You ain’t afraid of a lil’ whiskey, are ya’?” I held the bottle out in front of her tauntingly, stirrin’ around the amber colored liquid inside.

“What makes you think I’m afraid of anything, Dixon?” She asked, shifting her body so she was facin’ me just a lil’ bit more.

I shrugged my shoulders. “Prove it then. Have a drink with me.” I said, offerin’ her the bottle of whiskey for a second time.

I watched as she chewed her lower lip for a long, drawn out moment before snatchin’ the bottle from my hand. She took a deep breath before placin’ the bottle to her lip and takin’ a long drink. I watched, a huge grin on my face. When she finally pulled it away, the sour look on her face sent me into a fit of laughter. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “See? Not afraid.”

“I don’t know, the look on your face just then mighta said otherwise. Burn too much goin’ down for ya, princess? I know whiskey ain’t for a woman.” I chuckled.

I watched with surprise as she put the bottle to her lips again, takin’ a long drink as she kept her eyes on me the entire time. I knew she was tryin’ to prove a point, but I just thought it was pretty damn funny. She made that same face again when the bottle left her mouth, shakin’ her head.

“Alright, you can stop now. I ain’t wastin’ all my damn whiskey so you can prove you ain’t a wuss. Only got a lil’ bit left as it is.” She passed the bottle back to me and I took a long drink. “What the hell you doin’ over here alone anyways?”

She shrugged her shoulders before slumpin’ back against the bench. “I don’t really like other people.”

I chuckled under my breath. “Makes two of us.” I went to take another drink but Harlow snatched the bottle from my hand halfway to my mouth. I raised in eyebrow in surprise, watchin’ as she shot me a smirk before tiltin’ the bottle back against her mouth. “You best slow down, woman, or you’ll be hittin’ the damn floor faster than you can blink.”

She rolled her eyes, passing me back the bottle, which was now nearly half empty. “I can handle it, Dixon.”

I shook my head, a grin tuggin’ at one half of my mouth. “Keep tellin’ yourself that, sugar.”

It got quiet as we passed the bottle back and forth, and it became lighter and lighter. I already had a pretty damn good buzz goin’, feelin’ that warmness spreadin’ throughout me, my head gettin’ all light and airy. Damn, I forgot how nice a good buzz was. I glanced sidewise at Harlow. She had already put away a pretty good amount of the whiskey...plus a tiny twig of a thing like her? I doubted it took much before she was just flat out drunk.

“Shouldn’t you be running around, being an asshole or causing trouble or something?” Harlow asked suddenly. Her cheeks were just a lil’ bit pinker than usual, and judgin’ from the way she was actually lookin’ right at me…I was guessin’ she was gettin’ pretty tipsy.

I chuckled. “Now why would I bein’ doin’ that when I could be right here, pissin’ you off instead, sugar?” I said, givin’ her a grin.

“Shut the hell up. I’m sure you have better things to do than sit here with me anyways.” She said, rollin’ her eyes. She made another grab for the bottle but I pulled it back and took a sip before passin’ it to her. There was barely any left now, although there hadn’t been too much to begin with.

I smirked at her. “You ain’t figure that out yet, princess. I’m tryin’ to get laid.” I was mostly jokin’. Lord knows I wouldn’t say no to a woman with legs like that attached to her.

Her eyes grew bigger and she froze for a second before burstin’ into laughter. I stared at her for a long moment, watchin’ as she struggled to control herself. I was pretty sure it was the first time I’d ever heard her laugh. Most of the time she walked around with the same pissed off, unhappy expression. Once in a while there’d be a smile.

“Jesus Christ, woman. What the hell is so god damn funny?” I finally asked when she was still at it a few seconds later.

She shook her head before finally swivelin’ around to look at me. “You are.” She choked out in between laughs.

“That so?” I asked. I scooted myself closer to her, closin’ the gap that had been between us and restin’ my arm on the back of the bench. She eyed me carefully as all that damn gigglin’ finally ended. “I don’t think laughin’ is gonna be what you’re doin’ when I finally get you in my bed, and out of those clothes.” I was surprised when she didn’t move away, even though her cheeks turned bright ass pink.

“That so?” She mimicked me, snickerin’ under her breath. I felt her fingers wrap over mine as she curled her hand around the neck of the bottle and tugged it out of my grasp.

“You bet your ass, sweetheart. When I get my hands on you, you won’t believe the types of sounds you’ll be makin’.” I grinned, watchin’ as she drained the last of the whiskey from the bottle.

Harlow set the bottle aside and looked back at me, brushin’ her dark hair outta her eyes. “Merle…” She said quietly, her tone all business now that the laughter was gone. “Dontcha mean hand? As in one? Because that’s all you have?” Her straight face fell and not even a full second later, the girl was bent over in laughter. Hootin’ and hollerin’ like she just said the funniest damn thing in the entire world.

“Yeah, I bet you think yer pretty damn funny…” I muttered, shakin’ my head. I went to reach for the bottle and realized it was empty. That fuckin’ gigglin’, little asshole drank it all.

“I’m sorry!” She gasped, clutchin’ a hand over her stomach.

I rolled my eyes, not as pissed as I probably should’ve been. It was hard to when she was makin’ a god damn fool of herself. Plus it would’ve been pretty damn hard to kill a buzz this good. “Wish you woulda told me beforehand you was a giggler. God damn, I almost woulda preferred you bein a drunk crier.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me! I don’t ever get like this…but you’re just so damn funny!” She breathed, finally slumpin’ back against the bench as the laughter subsided once again.

“Woman, I’ve been called a lotta things, but funny ain’t never been one.” I sighed, shakin’ my head.

It was quiet for a moment or two while Harlow got her shit together. I felt her eyes on me and glanced over at her. “What?”

“For real, though. Why are you out here with me instead of...you know…doing other stuff?” She asked.

I thought about it for a second before shruggin’. “Don’t know. Guess you ain’t the worst company in the world. And you sure know how to make a bottle of whiskey disappear fast.” I smirked. “You’re pretty alright. For a chick.”

“I guess you’re not so bad either. When you’re not being a pretentious asshole.” She answered.

“That mean you’re gonna take me up on that offer? Come home with me?” I asked with a smirk.

She laughed. “I don’t think I’m quite drunk enough for that.”

“Well then I guess we should get some more alcohol then, huh?” I winked at her before pullin’ myself up from the bench and headin’ back towards the party to grab another bottle.

“Jack Daniels this time!” I heard her call after me.

I chuckled under my breath. Who would’ve thought she’d be a whiskey drinker too. There weren’t nearly as many people hangin’ around the streets. Looked like most of ‘em had already turned in for the night. Includin’ that mousy girl that had been mannin’ the alcohol. She wasn’t anywhere in sight so I helped myself to a bottle of Jack, grabbin’ two plastic shotglasses before makin’ my way back to Harlow.

She looked up when she heard me comin’. “Wow, you actually got some! Much better than that bottom shelf shit you had me drinking before.”

“Whoa hold on there, princess. Ain’t no such thing as a bottom shelf whiskey. ‘Specially these days. All whiskey is good whiskey.” I said, settin’ myself back down on the bench.

She wrinkled her nose a little. I don’t know if it was the alcohol talkin’, but I caught myself thinkin’ it was almost sorta cute. “Keep tellin’ yourself that.”

I ignored her and poured a shot out into one of the plastic little cups and handed it to her, before pourin’ one of my own. “How ‘bout a toast?” I asked, screwin’ the cap back on the bottle and settin’ it at my feet.

Harlow perked an eyebrow. “For what? What are we celebrating?”

“Well we’re still alive, ain’t we? Seems like a pretty damn good thing to celebrate.” I offered, half my mouth liftin’ in a small grin. “Hell, in fact I wouldn’t even be alive if wasn’t for you.”

Harlow shifted in her seat, lookin’ almost unsure of what to say back to this. “You don’t have to thank me.” She mumbled.

“I just did. Now take the damn shot.” I nodded at the cup in her hand and she finally lifted it to meet mine.

“Clink.” She said sarcastically and gave me a quick smile before pressin’ the cup to her lips. I did the same, tiltin’ my head back feelin’ the whiskey burn as it hit the back of my throat.

“Damn.” I said, tossin’ the empty cup to the ground. “That is better than the other shit.”

“Told you.” Harlow answered, soundin’ almost smug.

“And you tried tellin’ me you never used to drink.” I chuckled, shakin’ my head.

“I just didn’t want to make you feel like a wuss when you couldn’t keep up.” She said, givin’ me a big grin.

I let out a loud laugh. “You’re soundin’ pretty damn cocky all the sudden, woman. Must be that whiskey finally catchin’ up.”

She shook her head. “Maybe. But probably not.” She got quiet for a minute, twistin’ the empty cup absentmindedly in her hands. “Merle?” She asked suddenly, lookin’ back at me.

“Hm?”

“Were you ever married?” She asked, lookin’ at me curiously.

I bursted into laughter. Thought I might laugh so hard I’d actually cry. “Hell no, woman! Why in the hell would I ever do a thing like that?”

“Jesus, I don’t know. I was just asking!”

My stomach started to hurt from laughin’ so damn hard. “Married. That’s a fuckin’ good one.” I chortled. “Were you?”

She shook her head hard. “Nope. You’ve been with a lot of women, though?”

“What the hell kind of question is that? Course I’ve been.” I grunted.

“I don’t know…these cheesy lines can’t actually work.” She said, givin’ me a devilish lookin’ smirk.

“Yeah, you’ll be wonderin’ how it didn’t work right away when I finally get you home with me.” I shot back.

She made a face before lettin’ out a pent up sigh. “You’re sort of ridiculous.”

“Am I? When was the last time you were even with a man?”

“What?” She spluttered. I grinned broadly, knowing good and well I’d caught her off guard finally. “I’m not answering that.” Her cheeks began to turn bright red.

“Sure are blushin’ a lot.” I pointed out with a smirk. It was pretty damn adorable actually, and that was not a word I used a whole lot.

She glared at me. “I’m not answering that.” She repeated. She sank back into the bench with a sign, runnin’ a hand through her hair. “I think I need to get my drunk ass to bed actually.”

“Already?” I asked, tuggin’ playfully on a strand of her hair. She swatted my hand away but gave me a tiny smile. “I’ll walk ya’.”

“You don’t have to. I’m a big girl, remember?” She said, standin’ up from the bench and stretchin’ her arms over her head.

“Maybe, but there’s all sorts of monsters out there. Probably best to have a man with you.” I stood up from the bench, fallin’ into step with her as we headed down the empty street and towards the brick buildin’ that was now home.

“Whatever you say, Merle.”

“Sure got quiet fast, didn’t it?” I commented. Most of the lights had been shut off, aside from just a handful that lit up the street with a sort of yellowish glow.

“Whaday think the governor’s real name is?” Harlow piped up. “I mean, it can’t be just ‘the governor’. That would just be stupid. He’s not a member of the damn X-Men.”

I felt my eyebrows wrinkled together as I glanced over at her. “Why the hell does it matter? Where did that question come from anyways?”

“I dunno, was just wondering…Bet it’s something dumb like Bill.” She said as we finally made it to our buildin’ and I pulled open the door to let her inside.

“What you got against the name Bill?” I asked. “Some lame ex-boyfriend of yours?”

“No, I just think it’s dumb.” She started up the steps, but the toe of her boot caught on the rug and I saw her goin’ down even before she even probably knew it. My arm shot out as I grabbed her around the middle and righted her back up.

“Watch yourself, princess.” I warned, watchin’ as she teetered back against the wall.

“Whoa…” She said, graspin’ the stair railin’ in one hand. “I think I’m more drunk than I’m supposed to be.”

I chuckled, shakin’ my head before nudgin’ her to go up the stairs. “You’re fine. Just try not to hurt yourself.”

It was only one flight to the floor where our rooms were. Right across from each other, which I assumed was because we were the two newest people in the town. Actually had tried puttin’ us in the same room at first which sure as hell didn’t fly with Harlow. Couldn’t blame everyone in this town thinkin’ we were together. Most people didn’t seem to grasp that we didn’t even know each other before she found me half-dead in that abandoned house.

“This is my stop.” She slowed in front of the door to her from, turnin’ to face me. “Thanks for making sure I got back here okay.”

“Ain’t no thing, princess. Wasn’t like it was outta the way.” I grinned, leanin’ back against my closed door.

“And thanks for not asking to come inside with me.” She added.

“Slow down, how’d you know I wasn’t just waitin’ to ask that?” I raised an eyebrow. I actually hadn’t been, which almost surprised even me.

“Because I still think you’re sweeter than you actually wanna admit.” She said quietly.

“Wouldn’t get your hopes up.” I said with a half smile. “Night, princess.” I turned to head inside my own room.

“Wait…Merle.”

I turned back around to see Harlow had taken a step closer to me, which really didn’t leave much room left between us in the narrow, tiny hallway. She was chewin’ her lower lip, and the look in her eyes was one I didn’t know if I recognized.

Suddenly all I felt was her mouth on mine as she pushed herself up against me. I stumbled back, hitting the wall behind me. It was probably the last thing I had expected, but I sure as hell wasn’t gonna complain. I didn’t think anymore after that, her lips warm against mine as our mouths moved together hungrily. I felt her hands slippin’ underneath my shirt, her fingertips burnin’ holes into my skin. I grunted as I wrapped my arm around her waist before turnin’ her around and pressin’ her back against the wall. I couldn’t think, too caught up in how badly I wanted her. My hand cupped the back of her neck before slidin’ my fingers into her hair. I felt her moan against my lips which did nothin’ other than make me want her even more. Her hands gripped my waist tightly as I pressed my lips against her neck and-then she shoved me off.

“What the hell, Harlow!” I exclaimed.

Her eyes were wide and frantic as she stared at me wordlessly. “Oh shit…no.” I barely heard her whisper. “No, no, no!” She suddenly pushed past me and the door to her room slammed in my face.

“Jesus Christ…”I muttered, leanin’ back against the wall. I stared at her closed door for a long minute, wondering what the hell had just happened. That was just about the last thing I expected to happen. I had kissed plenty of women in my day, but there was somethin’ about kissin’ Harlow that made it different. A part of me was pissed off to the point of wantin’ nothin’ more than to not give a shit and try to forget it happened, but then there was the other half of me that wouldn’t let it go. I wanted her...in more than just the one night stand sorta way. This a Daryl thing to do...develop 'feelins', get all touchy-feely sensitive. I sure as hell wasn't supposed to feel like that. But damn I couldn't ignore how badly I wanted the woman on the other side of that closed door.

I sighed, shakin’ my head as I turned and went back into my own room. I wished I would’ve remembered to grab the bottle of whiskey from outside and bring it up with me. Could’ve used one last night cap, especially now. I sank down onto the bed, rubbin’ the back of my neck. “God damn it, woman.” I muttered. There was no denyin’ it, no ignorin’ it. I wanted Harlow badly, and for the first time in my life, I had no idea what the hell to do ‘bout it.




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