Merle had always known Daryl was different from the rest of their disfunctional family. He loved to be held, didn't like when people were mean to each other, and he tried to save every weird little bug around the house. And it definitely earned him some disapproval in Pa's eyes. It's been almost three years since Momma brought that little baby home from the hospital, and Merle had been taking care of the little bugger ever since. Momma didn't seem to care she had another kid, and Pa was just flatout annoyed with the existence of tiny Daryl. So Merle was the only one to give a damn about the kid.
The thirteen year old Merle arrived home from school to hear his baby brother wailing, trailing both Ma and Pa around the house, arms raised, trying to get one of them to pick him up. But Pa would push him away and Ma would flat out ignore him. Which was why the kid was ballin' his eyes out, flailing those chubby baby arms and choking on his own sobs. As soon as he noticed Merle had come home, those chunky little legs sprinted towards his older brother, grabby hands up at him. And when he was finally scooped up, Daryl settled immediately, laying his head on Merle's shoulder.
"Gotta toughen up, kiddo." Merle sighed, taking his school bag and his brother into their shared bedroom.
He couldn’t put the damn kid down without the waterworks, so Merle quickly abandoned the idea of removing Daryl from his person. But Daryl was a good boy. He stayed quiet while Merle worked on his homework, just sucking his thumb and babbling the occasional baby gibberish. He was too old not to know how to speak. Pa assumed he was dumb. But Merle knew no one sat down and taught the kid how. Ma was supposed’a, but she ain’t gotten ‘round to it yet. Kid was supposed’a be toilet trained too. Almost three years old and still in diapers? It was pretty sad. So if Ma didn’t get her shit together, Merle knew he’d need to step up this summer and teach the kid how to function like a person.
Ma was never reliable anymore. She had been years ago, but Merle hadn’t seen that same woman since he was about seven. That's when Pa started to get bad. And now Merle felt bad, that Daryl had to grow up with such uncaring parents. Pa was always an asshole, but Ma had hope back then. She didn't anymore. That's why he took it upon himself to take care of Daryl, even though he'd been but ten years old at the time. Nearing three years later, Merle has yet to regret that decision since Daryl is such a good boy.
Bedtime, though. Bedtime was difficult. Daryl hated his crib, he always wanted to sleep in Merle's bed. But Merle needed some space too. So Daryl would be standing up in his old, dirty crib screaming his head off until Merle had given in and let him sleep with him. There were a few times Merle had nearly ignored the kid, only to find that Daryl had angrily clawed up his chubby little arms and legs. So first aid, and then bed in Merle's bed. It was pretty terrifying, watching the kid rake his sharp little fingernails across the flesh hard enough to make himself bleed. So Merle tried not to ignore him after that. But eventually with shushing and cooing, he managed to get Daryl to stay in his own bed.
"Y’fuckin’ nazi." Was the first phrase Merle had ever heard Daryl utter when the kid had just turned four. And it was to their father, who was ranting on about the blacks on tv. And Merle near died laughing, soda coming out his nose. Of course, Merle had paid for it, but it was definitely worth it. It was whatever, fuck Pa. He is a fucking nazi.
Taking Daryl to his first day of kindergarten was a hoot. The teachers and parents all looked weary of Merle. And this pleased him greatly. And when Daryl punched his teacher in the kneecap for touching his shoulder, he knew the kid was gonna be ok. Daryl got in trouble a lot at school, but the teachers really only seemed to think it was because he was a Dixon. Not because he was raised in a mentally damaging household with a neglectful mother and an abusive father. No, no one dared look deeper into the situation out of fear of Will Dixon.
He was in juvie when Momma died. And honestly, he didn’t care. It was pretty fucked up, Merle thought, not giving a shit that his own momma died. But to Merle, Momma died a long time ago. She hasn’t been mentally present in nearly ten years, her body leaving was just the final piece of the puzzle being set in place. He missed the funeral, because no one’s letting a Dixon out to mourn. But when he came home, Daryl was very depressing. Unlike Merle, Daryl loved Momma. Becuase Empty Momma was the only Momma to him. Even though she’d ignore Daryl’s existence or beat them both in attempts to impress their asshole father, Daryl still loved her, called her ‘mummy’.
He took Daryl out shooting that weekend, laughing at how jumpy the six year old got everytime the gun was shot. And letting him get knocked on his ass from the kickback of a shotgun sent Merle into hysterics. Daryl was unamused, but that didn’t fucking matter. The kid needed to know that life wasn’t fuckin’ fair. Though with how bitter Daryl had become, he suspected he’d already figured that out for himself. And Daryl remained bitter for a long time.