Safe Haven in the Chaos

BY : IdrilsSecret
Category: S through Z > The Walking Dead
Dragon prints: 5483
Disclaimer: I do not own the walking dead or any of the characters. No money is being made from the writing of these stories

Chapter 1  Real Men Don’t Need No Fancy Glasses


He had that dream again, the one where he watched Beth die before his eyes. Every time it felt like the nightmare lasted a little longer. Daryl was afraid that one day he wouldn’t wake up from the dream. He’d end up stuck, forced to watch it over and over until something gave. Something always had to give, though, or a person would go insane. Why did she have to die? Of all the people in this lousy fucked up world, why did it have to be her? She was the only one who knew, the only one he’d ever felt safe telling. Maybe that was his mistake. He should have kept it to himself. Maybe she’d still be alive.

Daryl got up and went outside, standing on the front porch where he looked out over the town. Alexandria … what the hell were they doing here? This place was nothing more than a sense of false security. The longer they stayed here, the sooner things would turn to shit. It always did, as though Satan himself followed their every move just to take a fat dump on them whenever they got comfortable. This place was too perfect, he thought, but underneath it was nothing but bullshit. Daryl had felt safer and more at home in the jail than in this town. At least there, he knew where everyone was coming from. Here, he was sure the townspeople had ulterior motives. Deanna was too quick to give everyone ‘jobs’, and even quicker to put them in leadership roles. It was suspicious and he’d have none of it. Rick, Carol, Michonne … they fell right in like clockwork. As soon as the opportunity was presented to them, they took it. Then again, they liked being in the spotlight. They worked best there. Daryl liked to stay below the high beams, and that’s just where he was now.

Not long after coming to Alexandria, he struck up an unlikely friendship with Aaron, the man they’d met while out on the road. Daryl, like with anyone else he didn’t know, didn’t trust him. He’d found out that Aaron had been watching their group for days, even as they fought off walkers. He never interfered, never helped. He’d just stood on the sidelines and watched them do what they needed to do to survive out in the open. When he’d first found out, Daryl was pissed, and he wanted to kick Aaron’s ass. Later, as they talked, Daryl realized that it was Aaron’s job to watch strangers, and determine whether or not they were worthy of Alexandria’s attention. Turned out, they were.

Aaron lived with his partner, Eric, a slinky but good hearted guy. Daryl wasn’t sure what Aaron saw in Eric at first. Aaron was strong, fearless, ready to jump out in front to risk his life. Eric, when they’d first met, was injured quickly. Daryl had seen the fear in his eyes. Someone like Eric never lasted long in this world. They were easy prey. They were the ones that got left behind while the others had a running chance at getting away. It must have been Aaron who’d kept them alive this long, and now in Alexandria, Eric was safe, much safer than being out beyond the protective walls of the city. While Eric healed from his injuries, Aaron asked that Daryl take his partner’s place, and suddenly Daryl had a job.

He liked Aaron. He was a good guy, strong, trustworthy … so far … and good with a gun as well as a knife. They’d been on quite a few outings, saved each other’s asses more than once, and had shared a very profound moment not long after they started working together. While out scouring the surrounding area for survivors, they came across a horse. Even named the damn animal, always a bad idea. Daryl was sure he could capture it and tame it again. The black beast showed signs of previously being domesticated. With a little TLC he was sure he could get the horse to trust him and reignite the bond between human and horse. It was amazing how this strong and durable creature could have trampled him without a second thought, but as Daryl closed the distance between them, he could see that the animal wanted this more than anything. It had survived because it had to, but it craved a human touch. Little did Daryl know that the horse’s longing would be its end. Just as he was about to get a rope around its neck, walkers came out of the nearby forest. They spooked the horse, who took off running. It wouldn’t get far, though. In trying to capture the animal, Daryl walked it into an abandoned field, surrounded by a rickety old barbwire fence. The walkers got between Daryl and Aaron and the horse. While the men stayed out of sight, they watched regretfully as the dead killed Buttons.

“Damn it!” Aaron said, clearly pissed off.

It took Daryl by surprise that the man cared. He didn’t know anything about horses, and had even tried to talk Daryl out of going after the horse when they first came upon it. Now, he was the first one to show emotion.

“We almost had him. We were so close, and he trusted you. I saw that horse look at you and nod its head as if to say thank God someone is finally here,” Aaron complained.

Daryl watched the scene before him until the pile of walkers was so thick he couldn’t see the horse anymore. It had stopped screaming moments ago, finally out of its misery. What an awful way to die. “That was its first mistake,” Daryl said quietly. “Trust.”

As they made their way back to their vehicles so they could return to the town, Aaron seemed quieter than usual. Daryl liked the guy, but he had a tendency to talk a lot when he was nervous. For some reason, Daryl made Aaron very nervous, because he rarely shut up. Now, though, he hadn’t said a word for a couple miles. The incident with the horse must have really disturbed the guy.

“What happened back there,” Daryl said when he couldn’t stand the silence any more. “That kind of shit happens all the time out here. That’s why you never let your guard down. Once you do, you invite in the chaos.”

“Then why did you do it?” Aaron asked solemnly. “Why did you go after the horse?”

Daryl stopped walking and looked up into the canopy of the trees overhead. It was a fair question, and one that had been wracking his brain. “I don’t know,” he said after a while. “I guess even the wild things need to remember what it was like before all this. Even the untamable need to remember the feel of a human touch.” Daryl brought his head down, his eyes falling upon Aaron. The man was watching him with amazement. Something he’d said struck Aaron close to the heart, perhaps. He was naïve when it came to the world outside of Alexandria. Sure, Aaron spent a lot of time out here, looking for survivors, judging them, evaluating them to see if they were worthy of acceptance into their community. He could fight. He was a good shot with a gun, wasn’t afraid to stab a walker in the head. But it was his concept of the world that was different from Daryl’s. Aaron still thought things would get back to the way they used to be. Daryl gave up on that idea a long time ago.

Daryl thought about that now, as he stood on the porch of Aaron and Eric’s house. Life was too far out of control to ever go back to the way it used to be. Besides, why would anyone want that? The way things used to be was the reason they were fucked up now. Life could never return to that time. It would have to find a different way, and people like Daryl were the ones that could cut the path for others to follow. With a little training, he thought Aaron could be like that too. The guy had it in him to be a frontiersman, but he’d have to let go of the false security of Alexandria.

“This damn town,” Daryl said, and spit over the railing into the bushes below. It was the center of all his problems, and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. Of course, he could leave and set out on his own again, but he knew there was safety in numbers, even if those numbers were weak and clueless.

Rick had some hair brain idea that they could run the place, and get everyone to conform to their way of thinking. He would risk fighting the townspeople to do this. Even Carol, Daryl’s most trusted friend and ally had jumped on board. She usually consulted with him before making any decisions, but Daryl hadn’t been very accepting lately. Ever since arriving in Alexandria, Daryl made it a point to stay aloof. Usually, he was right in there with the rest of them, but not this time. The chaos was simmering just below the surface, and he wasn’t ready to help set it to a boil.

This was the reason why he took up with Aaron and Eric. They weren’t exactly the social butterflies that all the rest were. When Deanna held a party for the newcomers, everyone went except Daryl. He didn’t want any part of that fake shit. That’s when he came across Aaron again, and took notice that he wasn’t up for socializing either. Aaron invited Daryl in for ‘pasta night’. It seemed corny as hell, but not as screwy as the dinner party Deanna was throwing. So he decided to take a chance and joined Aaron and Eric for dinner, and he never left.

Daryl heard the screen door creak, heard the quiet footsteps approach him, and knew it was Aaron. “Everything alright?”

Daryl nodded. “Yeah, just couldn’t sleep is all.”

“I had quite a few of those nights when I first came to Alexandria. It was hard getting used to it, but eventually I came around,” Aaron said. “Eric was a big help.”

“Didn’t you two come here together?” Daryl asked.

Aaron shook his head. “Eric was already a resident. I came with another group. Some stayed, some left. I was going to leave too, but I struck up a friendship with Eric and . . .” His words trailed off as he smiled and looked out over the street that ran in front of the house. “We’ve been together for a few years now. We just kind of hit it off, I guess.” Aaron’s hands grasped the railing as he looked down. “But someone like you wouldn’t want to hear about that.”

Daryl glanced at him from the corner of his narrowed eyes. “What do you mean, someone like me?”

“Oh, I … I didn’t mean anything by that,” Aaron said right away, sounding regretful.

“Naw man, you started it. So what do mean? Be honest. That’s all I want from anyone is to be honest with me,” Daryl encouraged.

“Alright,” Aaron hesitated to say. “Well, we’re both a good judge of character, so let me start by asking you a few questions, and see if my assumptions are correct.”

Daryl wasn’t sure where he was going with this, but he trusted Aaron, and the guy always seemed to make good sense. “Go on.”

Aaron turned to face Daryl, making the man feel a little uncomfortable. “I take it you come from somewhere in the South where people like me and Eric are not socially acceptable. So what term did you use for us, butt pirate, cock jockey, queen, queer, faggot?”

“Come on man, what kind of–”

“Be honest, remember?” Aaron reminded him.

Daryl didn’t like where the conversation was going, but he had already agreed to play along. “Fag,” he said under his breath. “Mostly that. It was my father’s term.”

“And I’m sure you had different terms for race too? For blacks, Asians, Mexicans … the list goes on, am I right?”

Daryl nodded, not wanting to answer with actual words. “So, my family was fucked up, but they were still my blood. Yeah, I grew up hearing all the racial slang. Doesn’t mean I agreed with it,” he defended himself.

“Obviously you don’t, or you wouldn’t be here now,” Aaron said. “My point is, even though we shouldn’t judge each other by looks, religion, or personal choices, sometimes it speaks louder than words. I could tell right away by your southern drawl, your clothes, hell even the motorcycle you rode in on that you were someone who was raised to see people like me in a negative light. But you don’t really know until you speak to that person and find out whether they really believe in what they were told all their life. I knew right away that you dressed the part, but that you didn’t stick to family traditions of insulting those of us who are different. Whether you were ever that way or not, I don’t know, but now you aren’t, and that’s very clear to me. It doesn’t mean that you are comfortable to hear me go on about my relationship with another man, and I understand that.”

Daryl was quiet a moment, and then he turned his eyes towards Aaron. “You always take the long way around an explanation?”

Aaron laughed. “I guess I get carried away sometimes. Sorry.”

“Naw man, it’s cool. I get it.”

Aaron looked at Daryl with real understanding. “Thanks,” he said sincerely. They were silent for a while, each man deep in his own thoughts, but something seemed to weigh on Aaron’s more than Daryl’s. “Can I ask you something else?”

“Sure,” Daryl said tersely.

“Why do stay here with me and Eric?”

“Because you offered,” Daryl answered.

“Yeah but, all your people are huddled together in one house. You’re a very tight net group, and I get that, but why aren’t you with them?”

Daryl shrugged his shoulders. He hadn’t really investigated that answer yet, but leave it to Aaron to bring it up. “I don’t know. It’s quiet here, far from everyone else. You and Eric are pretty laid back. You don’t make a fuss, let me do as I please.”

Aaron smiled slightly, the corner of his mouth curling with the pleasure of knowing he’d made a good impression. “I think we’re a lot more alike than you might think. I mean, besides the obvious, of course.”

A sharp pang of anxiety shot through Daryl’s chest, and he felt himself go on the defensive. “What do you mean by that?”

Aaron must have sensed Daryl’s uneasiness and he released a light laugh. “Well, our good looks for one. We’re both very handsome men, don’t you think?”

Daryl was relieved to know it was only a joke, and he gave as much of a smile as he had in a long time, his eye tooth showing and the corners of his eyes crinkling a bit. “Yeah, whatever.”

Aaron sidled up next to Daryl, their shoulders almost touching. “Seriously, though,” Aaron said. “I’m glad you’re here, and I’m glad you’re comfortable with us. It’s nice having someone around who isn’t always looking at us like we’re different.”

“Surely these people don’t treat you like that,” Daryl said, surprised by Aaron’s admission.

“I don’t mean to say that they are mean to us, or make fun or whatever. It’s just the way they behave around us, like they don’t really know what to say. There’s not much common ground when most everyone here has the ‘traditional’ family … husband, wife, two and a half kids. I don’t know about Eric, but my life before hell was released was not about white picket fences and a golden lab in the back yard.” He stopped to huff a laugh as he remembered his past life. “When I was younger, I used to tell my parents that I was going to the library to study, and then hitch a ride downtown to this gay nightclub. I was underage, but I befriended one of the bouncers who would sneak me in the back. He knew I wasn’t there to drink and I wasn’t. I was just beginning to figure out who I was and why I was like this. I could be myself in that place, dance with any guy I wanted, strike up a conversation, flirt, whatever. It was the happiest I’d ever been. I don’t think I’ve been that happy since.” Aaron stopped to look off into the distance, seeing visions of a life that would probably never be that way again.

“Not even now, with Eric, I mean?” Daryl asked. He was thrown off by how easy it was to talk to Aaron about the lifestyle, but he didn’t focus on it.

Aaron came out of his haze of memories, smiled and looked at Daryl. “Eric is a good man. I’m lucky to have found him.” That was all he said, but he didn’t answer Daryl’s question … or did he?

* * * * *

A few months went by. Daryl was a little more at ease with life in Alexandria, as long as he was allowed to come and go as he pleased. Going on recruitment runs with Aaron was the best thing that could have happened to him. He could still go out, hunt for food, kill walkers, and feel as though he had a sense of purpose and contribution to the city. Mostly, he liked hanging out with Aaron. They had bonded as friends, and shared a lot of stories and personal information, but not everything, of course. Daryl didn’t think he was ready for that. He had told Beth, but that’s because she half guessed it. Once he opened up to her, though, it was like a huge weight had been cast from his shoulders. When she died, he hoisted those weights back onto his body, adding a few more pounds to make sure he’d keep his mouth shut from then on. But Aaron made him feel almost normal without having to expose his secret. There was immense trust between them, and that was something rare these days.

Meanwhile, Aaron’s relationship with Eric seemed a bit stretched lately. Daryl thought it was due to the fact that he had taken Eric’s position as recruiter. Those two used to go out on runs together until they came upon Daryl’s group. Aaron went off, leaving Eric behind when things went bad. Eric was hurt, and he was still healing from his injuries. Aaron had been very insistent in not wanting Eric risking his life anymore. Eric seemed fine with it at first, but lately he seemed upset, jealous even. And then one evening, Daryl had been out on his own needing some alone time, when he came back to the house and found them arguing. He stood outside on the porch, not wanting to interrupt, but the windows were open and he could hear what they were saying. It seemed Eric was jealous, but not of the job. He was jealous of Daryl and Aaron spending so much time together.

“I don’t know what you want from me, Eric. It’s my job to go out on runs,” Aaron argued.

“I don’t care about the job. I just don’t want you going with him anymore.” The way Eric said ‘him’ sounded like it was a bad word. “He’s going to get you killed.”

“Why would you say that?” Aaron countered. “We’ve been successful every time we’ve been out. I’ve never come back with more than a few scratches.”

“He’s not one of us. He might be your friend now, but when push comes to shove, he’s going to choose himself or his people over you. You’ll be the bait while the rest of them get away.”

“You’re being ridiculous, Eric.”

“Am I? I’m not the only one to think this way. There are others who don’t trust these people. We’ve been here for years. They’ve only just arrived and already they are leading and managing. They are going to destroy this place unless we take back total control.”

“They are teaching us how to be prepared so that won’t happen. Jesus, Eric, would you listen to yourself? You make it sound as though they are out to get us, but I’m telling you you’re wrong, especially about Daryl. He didn’t have to stay. He didn’t have to help out. He’s not even part of their group right now. But he’s here, and he wants to be here. Daryl doesn’t want to take over. He just wants us to be safe. He knows that Alexandria can be a safe haven.”

“It already is,” Eric shot back.

“No, it’s not. It’s an illusion. Deanna makes the rules, and some people follow them strictly, but some do not. Those are the dangerous ones. They will eventually invite the chaos, and we’ll just be sitting here in our fancy houses with our well maintained yards and our thumbs up our asses.”

“That’s what these newcomers want you to believe so that they can gain control,” Eric said.

“And what’s so bad about that?” Aaron argued with a raised voice. “Maybe we need some new ideas in this place. All I know is what I’ve learned since meeting Daryl, and everything I thought I was doing right before would have gotten me killed. He’s taught me to be more focused, to use all my senses whether with new recruits or the dead. These people have been out there longer than any of us in here. They know that eventually things are going to get bad again, and I’d rather be prepared than sit here and complain about not liking outsiders.”

“I can’t believe you,” Eric said calmly. “You’re choosing them over us.”

“There shouldn’t be us or them. It’s all of us together surviving.”

“You know what? I’ve had enough. I’m going over to Gerrard’s house. It’s bridge night, and they play until the early hours,” Eric threatened.

“Come on, don’t be like that. Stay,” Aaron pleaded.

“You want company, find Daryl. I’m out of here.” Eric burst out the front door, giving Daryl no time to get off the porch. It looked bad that he was standing there eavesdropping, but he pretended that he just arrived.

“Hey Eric,” he greeted as though he hadn’t heard a thing.

“Oh, look who it is,” Eric said snidely. “Aaron, the boss man is here to teach you another lesson in survival.”

“What’s that all about?” Daryl said, eyes narrowing.

“Like you don’t know,” Eric seethed. Then he went down the steps and headed up the street.

“What’s with the attitude?” Daryl said to Aaron.

Aaron shook his head. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him lately, but he’s being a real ass.”

“Maybe I’ve overstayed my welcome. I know it’s not easy having a house guest.”

“No, it’s not you. Well, for Eric it is, but something else is going on with him,” Aaron said.

“Is it because I go on runs with you now? If it is, I’ll back down. I can go out on my own, let you and Eric run things again.”

“No, absolutely not. I don’t want him out there anymore. He almost got himself killed last time,” Aaron said defiantly. “He’s just being difficult. Don’t worry about it. He’ll come around.” He tilted his head towards the open door. “Come on in. It’s pasta night,” Aaron smiled. “Linguine Alfredo, if you don’t mind cold noodles. Or I can heat it up for you.”

“That’s ok, not really hungry anyways,” Daryl said turning down the dinner offer.

“Yeah, me either. To tell you the truth, I’m getting sick of it myself.” Aaron went inside and Daryl followed. They went into the living room. Aaron had a seat on the stuffed chair, and Daryl plopped down on the couch like a teenager just coming home for the night. He reached into his jacket, pulled out a bottle containing a clear liquid, and set it proudly on the coffee table. Then he waited for Aaron to say something.

“What’s that?” he asked.

Daryl smiled. “That is grade A super fine white lightening.”

“Moonshine?” Aaron’s eyes lit up. “Where did you get that?”

“I’m sorry, but I cannot disclose my source,” Daryl jested.

“Alright, keep your secrets. I’ll get a couple glasses.” Aaron started to get up, but Daryl waved him back down.

“Real men don’t need no fancy glasses, son.” Daryl made his southern accent thick as he spoke. He picked up the bottle, pulled the cork out with his teeth and spit it across the room. Then he handed the bottle to Aaron. “It’s your home, you get the first drink.”

Aaron inspected the bottle a moment, then he drank deep. He swallowed, but he coughed and sputtered, his face turning bright red. “Holy shit, what the hell is that?”

“That’s pure grain alcohol,” Daryl said smoothly, taking the bottle, holding it to his lips and let the devil’s brew slide down his throat. It burned all the way down, heating him from the inside out.

“Well, it tastes like gasoline,” Aaron complained, but after watching Daryl enjoy it, he snatched the bottle back and gave it another try. Surprisingly, it went down much better the second time. He smiled when he noticed that it wasn’t half bad.

“Slow down there. This shit sneaks up on you like a snake. Just as poisonous too. It’ll bite you in the ass,” Daryl warned.

“At this point, I don’t really care,” Aaron said, throwing caution to the wind, and taking another sip before handing the bottle back to Daryl.

They spent the next hour talking about anything and nothing, passing the bottle back and forth between them. Aaron got up to use the bathroom, and when he came back, he sat on the couch next to Daryl so they didn’t have to keep sliding the bottle back and forth across the coffee table. Daryl looked down and noticed a scar on Aaron’s wrist.

“You get that during one of your runs?” Daryl asked, feeling no pain from the alcohol.

“This?” Aaron said, lifting his arm to show Daryl. “No. That happened a long time ago. I guess I was about fourteen, confused, depressed, lost. It was a stupid thing to do, but I learned my lesson.”

“What … you cut yourself?” Daryl asked.

Aaron nodded. “Slit my wrist, only this one though. I chickened out before I could finish the job.”

“Why?” Daryl said, disturbed. “What would you do that for?”

Aaron shrugged. “I didn’t have all that great of a childhood. My dad drank. My mom was a bible thumper. I was an awkward kid, and I got teased a lot in school for it. I’d just discovered my first crush was on this boy in my math class. I sat behind him and would spend most of the class gazing at his thick brown hair, trying to catch a whiff of his always freshly laundered clothes. I didn’t understand my feelings at the time. At first, I thought I just really liked him, you know, like wanting to be his best friend or something. Then one day, I was daydreaming and got this boner.” Aaron paused to laugh, but there was pain hidden behind it. “Class was over, and I didn’t want to get up. It was so fucking embarrassing. I held my book in front of me, but this guy that liked to bully me saw my awkwardness. He pointed and laughed, making everyone aware of my unfortunate incident. I didn’t know what to do, so I said something stupid, and started bragging about this popular and very pretty girl who sat near me. I said she was eyeing me, flirting, sticking her pencil in her mouth and sucking on it. But my adversary wasn’t buying it. He told everyone that he saw me watching the boy in front of me, not the girl. Then he laughed and called me a faggot. I was already the laughing stock of the school. This just pushed me over the edge. I punched the kid in the face, broke his nose, got sent to the principal’s office.  Josh, my bully, told them what he’d seen. They didn’t seem to believe him; he had a bad reputation to begin with. I told them the truth, though, minus the boner incident … that I was tired of him making fun of me all the time, and I snapped. The principal took me aside when everyone left and asked me to be honest with him. I fessed up and told him that it was true, I liked guys, but that I didn’t do anything to anyone, except Josh, but that was because he had it coming to him. The principal sat me down and we talked about homosexuality. It was strange, but I felt better afterwards. He understood me, understood what I was dealing with. He said that I should tell my parents, and that it was the best thing for all of us. So, I did. I kind of had to, since I was expelled. I sat my mom and dad down and told them exactly why I hit that kid. Maybe I was expecting them to be happy for me, or to say it was alright and that they still loved me no matter what. It didn’t go down that way. My dad was already drunk for the day. He called me his fag son and blamed my mom for my ‘condition’. Said she’d coddled me too much, turned me into a … a … I hate the word.”

“Pussy,” Daryl said it for him.

“Yeah, that. Anyways, I wasn’t really shocked. I expected my mom to support me, but she started quoting from the bible.” Aaron laughed again. “I think she tried to perform an exorcism on me. Said something about casting out demons. I can laugh now, but at the time I was completely devastated.”

“So when did you do that?” Daryl asked, pointing at the straight white scar that went from one side of Aaron’s wrist to the other. He cringed at the thought. Daryl had been through a lot of shit, but he never contemplated taking his own life. That just meant all the assholes won.

“I guess it was a few months later. Things got really bad at home. Eventually my dad left. My mom started dragging me to this church and that church, making me talk to different preachers who said I needed to cast out the demon within me that made me have all these unnatural feelings. She thought she was helping me, but all she was really doing was making me delve deeper into depression. And then one day I didn’t want to do it anymore. I drove my dad away, made my mom think I was an abomination. The few friends I had in school abandoned me because of all the ridicule. I was utterly alone, and I did it. I slit my wrist.” Aaron stopped and rubbed the scar as though it still pained him. Daryl felt for him, though he didn’t show any outward emotions. He rarely ever did, keeping his thoughts and feelings to himself.

“You stopped though. You didn’t do the other one. What made you change your mind?” Daryl asked quietly.

Aaron leaned forward, and picked up the bottle, staring at the clear liquid swirling around the glass. “Because it fucking hurt,” he finally said, and he took a swig.

Daryl found his answer to be quite humorous, and though he knew it wasn’t nice to laugh, he couldn’t help it. It started as a hiccup that he tried to contain, but it kept bubbling up in his throat, coming out in short bursts. Not until he saw Aaron smile and try not to laugh did Daryl finally let loose, and the two of them lost all control until tears streaked down their faces.

They finally calmed, each of them leaning back against the couch, heads tilted back and looked up at the ceiling. As they caught their breath, Aaron took another drink and passed the bottle to Daryl. “You’ve got a nice laugh,” he said, and it threw Daryl completely off. No one had ever said that to him before, probably because no one had ever heard him laugh. He’d never had any reason to. He straightened up and cleared his throat, becoming instantly standoffish. Aaron leaned forward and shook his head, realizing what he said might have come out sounding wrong. “Oh, I … I didn’t mean anything by that. It’s just … we’ve spent a lot of time together, but never like this, never this relaxed where we didn’t have to look over our shoulders every second. To tell you the truth, no one laughs much anymore in this world. It’s just good to hear it.”

“Thanks … I guess,” Daryl said, finding that he didn’t want the awkwardness to exist between them. Aaron was right, they’d been through a lot of shit together, and it was nice to relax a moment.

“So, uh, what’s your story?” Aaron asked to change the subject.

“Not much to tell. My dad was an abusive alcoholic asshole. My mom split when I was little and left us with him. My brother, Merle, raised me pretty much, but he got in trouble a lot and spent most of the time in juvie. So I spent a lot of time alone. I didn’t dare stay with my dad when Merle wasn’t there.”

“Where’d you go?” Aaron asked.

“I lived off the land, hunted, taught myself to track. I guess that’s where I learned most of my survival skills. Merle always said we were lucky to have grown up the way we did. I never understood that until after the outbreak. I guess God was conditioning us for the future, at least that’s what my brother told me. He said we were meant to survive and repopulate.” Daryl remembered how stupid that sounded at the time.

“What happened to him?” Aaron asked.

He hadn’t thought about his brother lately. Beth was too much on his mind, and he mourned her death much more than his own brother. It was a shame it was that way … that he missed a stranger more than his own blood kin. “He, uh, he didn’t make it.”

“Sorry,” Aaron said in a whisper.

“It’s alright. It was his own fault. Merle was smart. He could have lasted a long time, but he turned feral, like a cat turned wild. It was bound to happen sooner or later.”

“I didn’t know him, of course, but from what you’ve told me, you’re nothing like your brother,” Aaron said.

Daryl huffed a laugh. That was the truest statement he’d heard in a long time. “Well, he sure as hell wouldn’t be here right now, I can tell you that. You see, I come from a long line of racist pricks. Merle had all kinds of names for anyone who wasn’t like him, and he wasn’t afraid to tell people to their faces. Merle’s life lessons, he used to call it. Basically you weren’t to trust anyone who wasn’t white, straight, and from the South.”

“And you didn’t buy into it? I thought they said you are a product of your environment.”

“Well, I thought that too, but even more, I couldn’t find it in me to hate someone just because they were different. After all, I always considered myself different, and I didn’t want to be a hypocrite.”

The quiet seeped in between them for a while as they drank and sunk deeper into their cups. Their conversation had summoned ghosts for each of them, haunting them as they were weakened by the moonshine, leaving their guards down.

“You lose a lot of people so far?” Aaron asked.

“Yeah, only a couple really mattered though … my brother for one.” Dare he say the name? Dare he speak of her so soon? “And Beth,” he said before he’d made up his mind to keep his mouth shut.

“Was she your girl?” Aaron said, leaning back on the couch, eyes half closed, not thinking about the questions he was asking or what they were doing to his friend. Luckily, Daryl was in a talking mood.

“She was a friend, that’s all, one of our group. The place we were staying at got overrun quickly, and we all went off in different directions. Me and Beth ended up together. We learned a lot about each other during that time. She was really special.” Daryl had never told anyone that before. He’d had a hard time admitting that to himself, let alone someone he barely knew.

“Rotters get her?” Aaron asked curiously.

“No, thank God. No, she went quickly, probably didn’t even know what happened to her.” It felt strange saying that, but it was true. Beth was special, and if it was God’s will that she had to die, then she went out the best way possible, not as food for the walkers or dying from disease. She’d been shot in the head, quick and painless. “What about you?”

“I was pretty much alone when it happened. About five years after my dad disappeared, we got a letter and a copy of his death certificate from my aunt. Drank himself to death, apparently. Destroyed his liver. My mom died about a year before the outbreak … car crash. I was living on my own by then. I had a boyfriend at the time, but I don’t know what happened to him. He was a flight attendant, and he’d been working a route overseas to Europe and back to the states. He just never came home.”

“Sorry to hear that,” Daryl said, not knowing how to comfort someone.

“It wasn’t serious. I mean, we were together and all, but … well … I found out that he was cheating on me. I was leaving him anyways. Hope the bastard got what he deserved.” Aaron tried to seem unconcerned, but Daryl heard the pain still in his heart. He might think he didn’t care, but Aaron hadn’t had the closure, and it probably still got to him at times. “So is there anyone left behind that you wonder about? A girlfriend? An ex?”

The thing about moonshine was it had a tendency to make you open up, like a truth serum. Daryl was so at ease talking with Aaron that he didn’t think twice. “I never had a girlfriend.”

Aaron took another sip, and used the bottle to point at Daryl. “What? A good looking guy like you never had a girlfriend?”

“Living in the deep woods of the South wasn’t exactly the best place to pick up a date.” Among other reasons, he thought to himself.

“And the opportunity never presented itself when you met Beth?” Alcohol was playing a part in Aaron’s brave line of questioning.

“I told you, it wasn’t like that with her,” Daryl said, voice raised with anger.

Aaron realized what he’d asked and sobered for a second to apologize. “Hey, I didn’t mean anything by it. I’m sorry. That was wrong of me.”

Luckily, the moonshine tamed Daryl to a point, and he let the comment go to the wayside. Otherwise, Aaron might have found himself laying on the floor bleeding profusely from his nose. Instead, Daryl turned the question around on Aaron. “How’d you end up with Eric anyways? He the only gay guy in town?” It was a low blow, but better than wasting energy on throwing a punch.

“Alright, alright,” Aaron relinquished. “I deserved that. Actually, it started that way, I guess. Don’t meet many gays these days,” he said jokingly to make fun of himself. It seemed to work at putting Daryl back into his laid back mood. “I mean, I wasn’t physically attracted to him at first, and he really didn’t seem my type. But as I got to know him, he seemed alright. He’s weak though, and I kind of took him under my wing. He was getting pushed around by some of the men in town, Merle types. Deanna had changed him to four different jobs trying to find a place where he would fit in. He’s not strong, not quick, kind of a goof and accident prone. Then, I got offered the job of recruiter, and he went with me.”

“So you’re like his keeper, but with benefits,” Daryl commented.

“If I hadn’t come along when I did, there’s a good chance Eric would have been left outside the gates. He’d be dead by now if it wasn’t for me. Not everyone can be a hero. Not everyone has the ability to be a warrior. It’s up to those of us who are to protect the ones that aren’t,” Aaron explained.

“That’s not a reason to be in a relationship with someone,” Daryl said. “Now he’s starting to figure it out, and he’ll resent you for it.”

“Hey, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” Aaron countered. “I helped him and he looked up to me. We hit it off. And a man gets lonely from time to time, even a gay man.” He waved Daryl off and got up unsteadily from the couch. “What would you know about it? You’ve never had a girlfriend. You’ve probably never even slept with a girl. As a matter of fact–”

“You need to shut the fuck up before you make me do it for you,” Daryl seethed.

Aaron ignored him. “That’s it, isn’t it? I’ve hit the nail on the head. You’re a virgin, aren’t you?”

“Fuck you, man. I don’t need to tell you shit.” Daryl felt the wall building back up, and just when he thought he’d found a friend he could confide in.

There was a knock at the door, catching them off guard. Aaron went and answered it, finding one of his neighbors out on the porch. “Hey Lou, what’s going on?”

“Hey Aaron,” Lou said, looking past him and seeing Daryl on the couch. Daryl waved and gave a smirk of a smile. “Everything alright here?”

“Yeah,” Aaron smiled. “Me and Daryl were just hanging out.”

Lou was a big man, tall and broad in the shoulders with short dark hair and a beard. He was one of the construction workers who helped to build new protective walls and repair the existing ones. Daryl had seen him around, but he’d never officially met him. He didn’t like the way this guy was eyeing him, though. Daryl wondered if he was one of the people who he heard Eric speak of, the ones who didn’t want Rick and them in Alexandria.

“Well, me and some of the guys are over at Gerrard’s house. Eric’s over there too,” Lou informed him.

“I know. He told me. Is he ok?”

“He’s fine, but a little drunk. It’s no big deal, but he’s already passed out on Gerrard’s couch. I just thought you’d want to know. Want him to stay there for the night?”

“Yeah, don’t move him. Let him sleep it off. I’ll come by in the morning and get him,” Aaron said. “Thanks, Lou. Tell Gerrard thanks too.”

“Sure thing, Aaron.” Lou glanced once more at Daryl before he left.

Aaron came back and sat on the couch again. Daryl noticed that he was distracted. “You ok?”

Aaron nodded. “He’s never not come home before. He must really be pissed at me.”

“Why don’t we call it a night,” Daryl suggested. Things weren’t looking good. It was time to forget about everything and get some sleep, sort things out tomorrow.

“Alright. I’m kind of trashed anyways.” Aaron stood and went to the stairs.

“Don’t worry about Eric,” Daryl said. “He’ll come around tomorrow.”

Aaron gave a weak smile and a wave. “Goodnight Daryl.” He went upstairs. Daryl could hear him walking from the bathroom to the bedroom. Then he laid down on the couch, closed his eyes and went to sleep. Tomorrow, he’d find a new place to live. His being here was making life difficult for Aaron and Eric, and he didn’t want to be the cause of anyone’s problems.

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