Safe Haven in the Chaos

BY : IdrilsSecret
Category: S through Z > The Walking Dead
Dragon prints: 3800
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 14 Guidance


“So basically, Alison was telling us to keep one eye over our shoulders, and I don’t mean as though she’s watching out for us,” Daryl explained to his group. He’d gathered everyone at Rick’s house to tell them about his so called session with the town psychiatrist.

“What can one person do?” Glenn questioned. “She’d have to get Deanna to side with her, and I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

“Personally? I don’t think she gives a rat’s ass what Deanna thinks,” Daryl retorted. “She’s legit. I saw her credentials. Before the outbreak, she was a bona fide shrink. She told me her story, though, of how she’d lost her daughter. I don’t know. I believe her, and maybe what she saw and experienced messed her up. Wouldn’t be the first time. Remember the Governor?”

“The difference with that situation was the Governor had already claimed that town as his own. Deanna runs Alexandria, and if someone is threatening her position, then it’s up to us to see that it doesn’t come to fruition,” Rick told the group.

Michonne stepped forward and addressed everyone. “We need to prove to Deanna that we are on her side. She’s put an awful lot of trust into our group of strangers, and I think that’s because she knows our stories. She knows we’ve been out there longer than anyone else in this town.”

Carol nodded in compliance. “That being said, she hasn’t completely accepted us yet. We’re still being tested, which is why we have to keep playing by her rules.” As she spoke, she made a point to look at Rick. Daryl couldn’t help notice the warning glare and tucked it away in his head to ask her about it later.

Rick turned to Daryl. “Is there any way we can find out who has been paying visits to Alison, maybe see who’s been there the most?”

“You won’t find that out from Alison, confidentiality and all that bullshit. And after our last meeting, I think I’ve worn out my welcome,” Daryl said.

“I could ask around to some of the women from my care givers group,” Carol offered.

“We almost need someone who sees her to hint around, maybe find out who some of her other clients are. If we can find out that much, we might be able to start pinpointing who she’s been influencing. We already know certain townspeople who don’t like us being here, and it’s obvious they would prefer to see us leave,” Rick suggested. “What about Caleb?” he asked Daryl.

“He still sees her for sessions, but she also knows that Caleb is tight with me and Aaron. I think Alison will know he’s working for us,” Daryl said.

Aaron had been off to the side listening to the conversation, and now stepped up to take the floor. “Eric has been seeing her regularly.” All eyes turned to Aaron, but none were more questioning than Daryl’s. Aaron glanced at him and turned away quickly.

“I thought you and Eric were split up?” Michonne inquired.

“W-we are, but he, uh, he told me the other day that he’d been going to her for help,” Aaron stammered. “Our break up has been … it’s been rough on him.”

“Do you think he’d work with us?” Rick asked.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Daryl spoke up quickly, eyes glaring at Aaron.

“Why not?” Michonne pushed on. “It would be the perfect cover. Alison would never suspect it, especially since she knows Aaron and Eric aren’t together anymore.”

Daryl seemed to get angry that no one was listening to him. “I don’t like it. Eric might still have ill feelings towards Aaron. How do we know he won’t turn around and side with Alison? She’s already been in his head.” He knew from experience how she could manipulate someone’s mind and make them doubt themselves.

“Eric is kind of out there on his own right now,” Aaron said. “We might not be together anymore, but we’re still friendly towards one another. I think he would work with us.”

“Good,” Rick agreed. “Talk to him. See what you can do. Explain the situation. If he wants to keep us here and keep Deanna in charge of this town, he’ll agree to help.”

“Ahhh,” Daryl grunted and stormed off to the front porch. He noticed Aaron didn’t follow. Just as well. He couldn’t have the conversation he needed to have in front of everyone. What the hell was this anyways? Aaron and Eric were friends now? And after what happened with Eric making shit up to keep him and Aaron away from each other, how could Aaron trust him again?

The screen door creaked open, and soft footsteps entered the porch. Daryl didn’t turn to see who it was, but he knew it wasn’t Aaron. “Hey,” Carol said, coming up beside him. “What’s going on with you two?”

“I don’t know. Seems like I’m the last one to find shit out,” Daryl said angrily.

“Oh, so you didn’t know that Eric and Aaron were on speaking terms?” Carol said sympathetically. Daryl didn’t react. “Aw, honey, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

“It’s not so much that,” Daryl finally said. “It’s the fact that Aaron didn’t tell me. He was hiding it from me, and we don’t hide anything from each other.”

“He’s been talking to his ex … not the kind of thing one shares with their current partner.”

Daryl regarded her with disbelief. “That’s bullshit. He should be able to come to me about anything.”

“Look at your reaction just now, the way you walked out of the room, your body language. He knew you’d react badly. I think it’s nothing, and he just didn’t want to upset you. You know you have trust issues.”

“Oh, you too?” he said condescendingly. “That seems to be the prognosis when it comes to me. So what? You gonna become my shrink now?”

“Look,” Carol said, her ire rising. “I don’t know what kind of ghosts Alison stirred up with you, but you need to calm down before you regret something.”

“Eh, I’m going home,” Daryl mumbled, and he left.

* * * * *

The nights were getting colder, and soon Daryl wouldn’t be able to sit on his small porch. He tolerated the chilly air tonight, though, not wanting to be cramped inside his house. It was one of the smaller one story houses, and that was fine with him. He hadn’t spent much time in his own home since becoming Aaron’s partner, but that might be changing soon. Daryl contemplated what happened earlier at the meeting. How could Aaron not tell him that he’d been speaking with Eric? How long had that been going on? Now Eric might be working with the group. How was Daryl supposed to cope with that and keep up his front with everyone? Daryl didn’t even get a say in the matter, which really pissed him off.

He could feel the voices rising in the back of his mind. Whenever he had doubts, they came back, ready to make his life a living hell, to put him down, to mock him and make him feel worthless. Daryl had managed to keep them at bay for a long time with Aaron’s help, but this issue they were having seemed to allow his past to creep back to the forefront of his mind.

“Aaron doesn’t trust you because deep down he knows you’re not really one of his kind. You don’t expect me to believe that you actually let him bend you over and–” said Merle’s voice.

“Shut the fuck up,” Daryl headed him off.

“I loved you, little brother, but lately you’ve been such a disappointment.”

“Leave me alone,” Daryl said.

“Afraid I can’t. You’re vulnerable right now. That’s why I’m here. Someone needs to talk some straight shit into that head of yours.” Merle’s voice was very strong in Daryl’s ear. “So you got into a disagreement with your … boyfriend … and now you’re feeling left out. Well boo hoo Nancy boy. Quit your weeping and put your big girl panties on. You’re just now beginning to see Aaron’s true colors. Everything’s all fine and dandy, until Eric has a crisis. Where does that leave you? I think you just found out tonight.”

“I said shut up!” Daryl demanded to the voice.

“Is it because you have Daddy issues? Well, so did I, but I didn’t turn into some cock jock,” Merle insulted. “Now, you’ve got to get it together and stop all this nonsense. There’s a war going on out there. Hell, there’s about to be a war in here. You need to take control, brother.”

“I have control,” Daryl murmured.

“Oh, do you? Is that why you’re sitting here sulking while Rick calls all the shots? Oh wait, I forgot, you’re too worried about your butt buddy.” Merle’s voice became real quiet and close to Daryl’s ear. “Now listen here. I’m willing to ignore and forget whatever this homo shit is that’s going on with you, but you gotta get it together. There’s bigger things to worry about right now. You know you can’t go back out in the open on a permanent basis. You gotta protect Alexandria, and you can’t do that if your mind’s preoccupied. Aaron kept something secret from you because he doesn’t completely trust you. You don’t have time for games. It’s time to move on and get your shit together. Don’t lose who you are, Daryl, or who you used to be. This relationship crap is making you soft. Don’t go there little brother. Stay strong. Stay in charge. Now … snap out of it!”

Daryl had fallen asleep on the porch, and by Merle’s words, woke with a start. Goosebumps had broken out on his flesh, but he didn’t think it was only because of the chill in the air. There was ice mixed in with the cool fall breeze lightly blowing across the porch, an unnatural temperature drop. He was about to stand from his wooden chair and go inside when he heard someone coming up the sidewalk. Daryl slunk down into the chair, letting shadows consume his figure, and waited to see who it was.

Aaron approached the steps, but stopped and looked up at the house. He let out a sigh and took a single step forward, but he went no further. He was afraid to come any closer, unaware that Daryl was on the porch watching him. Aaron was hesitant, and with good reason. He knew Daryl was upset, and he wasn’t sure now was the time to speak with him. It seemed like he was changing his mind, as he stayed himself from coming up the porch steps. He brought his foot back, and started to turn away and leave.

Merle’s words rang out in Daryl’s mind, but his heart spoke much louder. He was still angry, of course, but he also wanted to resolve this issue. He needed to know his brother was wrong, that Aaron had a good reason not to tell him about Eric. He watched Aaron turn to head back the way he came.

“You just happen to be in the neighborhood?” Daryl said from the shadows.

Aaron jumped and spun around, narrowing his eyes as he looked up at the porch. “I didn’t think you were home,” he responded. The house was dark inside and so was the porch. “Can … can I come up?”

Daryl reached for a book of matches he kept on a table by his chair, ripped one of the cardboard sticks out, and dragged it across the striking surface. One small match lit up the entire area in a flash of the strike, and quickly faded to a dull glow as Daryl touched the flame to a candle. When there was enough light, Aaron ascended the steps and joined Daryl on the porch. There wasn’t another chair, so Aaron sat on the floorboards with his back against a post. He looked up at Daryl, a genuinely apologetic gleam in his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Aaron finally said, breaking the silence. “I should have told you.”

“But you didn’t,” Daryl responded coldly. “You two see each other often?”

“No … well … for Christ’s sake, it’s a small town. We can’t exactly avoid each other.”

“Try harder,” Daryl spit out.

“You see, this is exactly why I didn’t say anything to you. I knew you’d blow it out of proportion,” Aaron said, trying to turn the tables.

“Fuck you, man. You ain’t gonna put this on me. You’re the one going around being all buddy-buddy with your ex, leaving me in the dark. I have to find out at a meeting with my friends. What kind of shit is that?” Daryl argued.

“Did you think I’d never speak to Eric again? We were together for two years. There’s history there that can’t just be forgotten about.”

“Well, you seemed to have no problem forgetting to tell me.” Daryl got up from his chair and walked to the opposite side of the porch. “Man, it’s not that you’re still talking to Eric that pisses me off. It’s the fact that you didn’t tell me. We don’t keep secrets from each other. That’s the whole thing about you and me. We’ve always been open and honest with each other. I trust you, and I thought that you trusted me.”

“I do trust you, Daryl. My God, I trust you with every fiber of my being. I just knew it would upset you to know that Eric and I still talk to one another.”

“You never gave me the chance to know whether it upset me or not, which tells me that there is a part of you that doesn’t trust me, and that really hurts.”

Aaron hung his head. “I know and I am sorry. I should have told you what was going on, but I honestly didn’t think you’d want to know about Eric’s problems. He came to me a little while ago, said he was seeing Alison for help. Our breakup was hard on him, and with no one else to talk to, he turned to her. It took him a while to build up the confidence to tell me. He said it was part of his healing process.” Aaron paused and looked over to where Daryl was standing. “I know it’s my fault that he’s going through this. Two years, Daryl, that’s how long we were together. Two years of trying to convince myself that I could love him, only to discover that my heart was empty. His wasn’t, though, and it’s my fault that I let it get so far. I knew he had fallen for me, but I just led him on. It’s the least I can do to help mend my own guilt. I can at least listen and support him. I didn’t think you’d understand that.”

“Why? Because I’m a hot head? Because I’m a redneck?” Daryl inquired accusingly.

“Because you’ve never been in a relationship before. You don’t have any experience with breakups and how to handle things.”

Daryl finally looked at Aaron, but with anger. “Well, maybe I’m about to learn something new.”

Aaron stood quickly and went to Daryl. “Come on. You don’t mean that.”

“Wanna try me?”

“So it would be that easy for you?” Aaron asked. “You don’t like something I’ve done, and you’d be willing to throw everything away just like that?”

“Maybe I haven’t been in a relationship, but I know I ain’t got time to play games. You gotta take me as I am, short temper and all. You should have known better than to keep something like this from me. How else am I supposed to act? You’ve pissed me off … and … you’ve deceived me. So you know what? I ain’t playing. You can’t be open and honest? Bye!”

“This isn’t you,” Aaron said in a whisper. “You’re upset. I understand. I’m sorry. But don’t act like you don’t care anymore.” Aaron begged.

Daryl got in Aaron’s face, and like usual, Aaron didn’t flinch. “I care that someone I trust doesn’t trust me. I care that someone I’ve shared my deepest, darkest secrets with can’t even tell me that he’s been talking with his ex-boyfriend.”

“So you’re saying you only care about yourself?” Aaron accused.

“It’s worked for me so far,” Daryl seethed. He stepped away from Aaron and waved him off. “I’m done talking. Go home, Aaron. Or better yet, why don’t you go find Eric and cry on his shoulder like he does yours.” Daryl stormed into his house and slammed the door behind him.

Aaron stood there, dumbfounded. What had happened tonight? “Fuck,” he complained under his breath as he walked down the porch steps and headed for home.

* * * * *

For the next few days, Daryl made himself scarce, and Aaron was in a bad mood. He still hadn’t spoken to Eric about working with Rick and his people to find out more about Alison. He knew if he did, Daryl would probably never speak to him again, yet Eric could be key to discovering exactly what Alison was up to. Aaron wasn’t even sure Eric would agree to it. Rick would want an answer soon. The pressure put on Aaron made matters worse.

He was preparing to go on a run with Glenn, and was going around asking residents if they had any special requests, like he usually did. One resident, in particular, he tried to avoid at all costs. He didn’t have time for her and her unending need of a pasta maker. Luck was not on his side, though. As Aaron was talking to a couple people and adding their requests to his list, Mrs. Neudermyer came rushing up to him.

Normally, Aaron didn’t judge people. Everyone was different, and he learned how to deal with them, always putting on a smile. Today, he was in no mood. “Hello, Mrs. Neudermyer,” he said without enthusiasm.

“I heard you were going out again. I have a list, if you don’t mind picking up a few things for me,” she said, handing Aaron a piece of paper with the items written on it.

He glanced at it quickly, and was surprised to see items like yarn and crochet needles. “Looks like you’ve picked up a new hobby.”

“Yes,” she smiled. “Mrs. Baker found some books on crocheting at her house, and she gave them to me, knowing how crafty I am. Unfortunately, there were no other supplies to go along with the books, and I’d like to try my hand at it.”

Glad she wasn’t going to hound him for the usual, he smiled. “Any particular colors you would like?” he asked about the yarn.

“Oh, anything will do.” She was normally a very picky person, and Aaron was glad to see that she was trying to be a bit more flexible. “I trust your judgement, you know, being a gay man and all. Your kind has a natural flair for fashion and coordinating colors.”

He knew it was too good to be true. Along with her obsession for things she couldn’t have, Mrs. Neudermyer also had a gift for profiling people according to skin color and sexual preference. Her statement cut through him like fingernails scraping a chalkboard, but he smiled and told her he’d do his best to find what she was looking for. At least she wasn’t ranting on and on about . . .

“And of course, should you happen to find a pasta maker,” she added.

“Yes, Mrs. Neudermyer, I know,” Aaron said with little patience.

“Well, I hate to keep asking, but all the times you’ve gone out, you’ve never brought one back. I would think by now you would have found one,” she complained lightly.

“It’s not as though I can run down to the local department store and pick one up for you,” Aaron said arrogantly. “I mean, I’m only risking my life every time I leave the gate.”

Mrs. Neudermyer leaned back, the smile disappearing from her face. “There’s no need to get snippy young man,” she berated.

“Oh, of course not, because I’m gay and I should automatically know where all the pasta makers are. Never mind that there are things out there that want to rip me apart and consume me while I’m still alive,” Aaron complained.

“That’s just disgusting,” she said offended.

“It’s a fact. It’s life outside these walls, Mrs. Neudermyer, and all you care about is finding a fucking pasta maker,” Aaron shouted, obviously pushed beyond his current limits.

“Well … I never–”

“Hey, what’s going on here?” Carol said, coming up behind Aaron with a smile and acting like she hadn’t heard any of their conversation. She had heard the whole thing, though, and was shocked to hear Aaron speaking in such a way that wasn’t part of his common behavior. Before anyone spoke, Carol wrapped an arm around Mrs. Neudermyer’s shoulder. “I’m glad I ran into you. Betty is looking for some help in the kitchen, and I can’t go. I’m running an errand for Mr. Hastings, since he’s feeling a bit under the weather today. Would you mind going? She said something about a crate of apples.”

Mrs. Neudermyer tore her gaze away from Aaron at the mention of apples. “No problem. I have a great recipe for apple sauce.”

Carol watched Aaron make a face behind Mrs. Neudermyer’s back, but she ignored him. “Thank you. I promise to return the favor,” Carol smiled as she turned the woman in the direction of the kitchen, and then gave her a gentle push. She watched Mrs. Neudermyer walk away, and mumbled quietly. “That’s gonna cost me.” She rounded on Aaron and gave him a harsh look. “What was that about?”

“I hate applesauce. My mother used to force me to eat it all the time. It’s a long story,” he said, skirting the question.

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Carol said. “Why were you yelling at Mrs. Neudermyer?”

“Her and that damn pasta maker will be the death of me,” Aaron complained.

Carol glared when Aaron wouldn’t budge. “Now tell me what’s really going on,” Carol insisted.

“Do I really need to explain?” he said.

“Daryl?” Carol guessed.

“Who else? Of course it’s Daryl. It’s always Daryl, only this time he seems pretty adamant. I think we broke up.”

Carol squint her eyes and smiled sympathetically. “You can’t mean that.”

“He’s pissed at me about Eric, and instead of talking about it like two adults, he basically told me it was over. I haven’t even seen him in a few days. I don’t know, Carol. This time I think I really blew it.”

“Hey, why don’t we take a walk? You don’t have anywhere to be right now, do you?” she asked.

“I need to visit a few more people,” he said.

“That can wait. Come on, let’s talk,” Carol told him as she started walking along the sidewalk. Aaron followed her. They made small talk at first, before Carol came to the reason they were walking together. “Did Daryl ever tell you how he and I became friends?”

“No, he’s never spoken of it. He doesn’t talk much about the beginning of things.”

They were passing by a small lake within the town. The original developers of the community built a gazebo and a dock, a place for residents to sit and enjoy the view. Carol led Aaron there, and they had a seat on a wooden bench beneath the gazebo. Carol stared out at the lake, and Aaron waited for her to talk. Obviously, it was a difficult subject for her, even after all this time.

“When everything happened, I had a husband and a daughter. My husband was the one who invited Daryl’s brother to join our group. When I met Merle, I understood why. They were a lot alike, loud, rude, mean, condescending. I thought Daryl was just like them at first. He was always with his brother, agreeing with him, laughing at the same racist jokes, just being assholes really.” Carol paused to laugh at the thought. She and Aaron both knew Daryl pretty well now, and though he could still be an asshole, he wasn’t that kind of one any more.

“Well, I’m sure you know what happened to Merle,” she said.

Aaron nodded. “He told me the basics.”

Carol continued. “Eventually our camp became unsafe. Walkers found us. My husband was killed by them. A couple other members of our group died. We packed up and left, headed out on the highway to find a better place, but the roads became impassable. Abandoned cars blocked our route. While we tried to figure out what to do, a herd came by. It all happened so fast. My daughter got scared and ran into the woods, and just like that, she was gone. Rick, of course, went looking for her, but so did Daryl. Up until then, I didn’t think he cared about any of us. I thought he was just there because it was safer to be with a group. He was always off on his own, even though he’d check in from time to time. He was the outsider. His only support, Merle, was gone. I really didn’t think he was going to stay with us much longer. I thought he was going to go off and look for his brother, and forget about our group. He never did, though. He stayed, but he was aloof. That’s why it surprised me when he went with Rick to find my daughter, my Sophia. And, as things usually go, other situations came up. We couldn’t stay on the highway for fear of another herd. One bad thing led to another, and we came to a farmhouse belonging to a father and his two daughters. Maggie is one of those daughters,” Carol smiled.

“Yeah, Daryl told me a few stories about, uh, Hershel. Right?”

“Yes, Hershel, Maggie and Beth,” Carol confirmed. She twisted her hands together as she went on. “Days had passed, and Sophia still hadn’t been found. Other things happened in that time, and less and less people could go looking for her. Some said we should have given up and accepted the fact that she was gone, take the loss. But it was my daughter, and not knowing was the worst kind of pain I’d ever felt in my life. There was one constant in all that time, and that was Daryl. It became his only focus to go out looking for her. Of all the people in our group, he was the last person I’d ever guess who would do such a thing. You know Daryl, he said he only did it because he was a good tracker, or that he needed something to do, but it was more than that. He actually cared. He almost died looking for her, and he was on his feet and ready to risk his own health to continue searching for Sophia. Eventually, even I lost hope of ever finding her again. I was her mother, and I was ready to give up, but not Daryl. He got so pissed at me, and I couldn’t understand why. She wasn’t his. We weren’t family. I barely knew him. But he … never … gave up. He … never … stopped, and it was simply because he cared.”

“I take it you never found her,” Aaron said when Carol stopped to reflect on her story.

“No, we found her.” Carol took a deep breath, preparing to relive that horrible time. “Hershel was keeping walkers in his barn, family members, friends and neighbors. He still thought of them as human. He still thought there would be a cure that would change them all back to normal. There was a lot of arguing over what we should do with a barn full of walkers in our backyard. Eventually they were destroyed. One by one, they came out of the barn, and our shooters took them out. The last one to come out was my daughter. She had a … bite mark on her neck. She never made it out of the woods alive. Hershel had a man gathering up any walkers he found on the property, and he’d put them in the barn. I guess he came across Sophia and did the same for her. All that time that we were praying and hoping to find her, and she was already dead. I was beside myself with grief, and it was Daryl who held me in his arms as I cried. This man who I thought cared for nothing but himself was the last one to hold out hope for my daughter, and I think it ripped at his soul as much as it did mine to see her come out of that barn. After that, he shut down. He wouldn’t participate with the group. He wouldn’t come to the house for meals. He pitched a tent out away from the house and our camp, and he isolated himself. I went to talk to him, to thank him, to ask him not to pull away from us, and he was so angry. He called me names, said it was my fault I lost Sophia, said he regretted ever helping me, but I saw through his tantrum. He was hurting, but he didn’t know how to let it out. Instead, he became irate, belligerent. He tried to push me away with insults, by acting like he just didn’t care, but I saw through all of that, because I had seen him care. Daryl cared about me and my daughter, two people he hardly knew. So what does that say about you and him?”

“I know that anger you talked about. I saw it in his eyes. It was like I didn’t even know who he was,” Aaron admitted.

“He’s hurting again, and he still doesn’t know how to let it out. All Daryl knows is to push away the source of that pain, but you can’t let him.” Carol took Aaron’s hand in hers. “If he cared that much about a mother and daughter he hardly knew, imagine what his feelings for you must be like.” Then she squeezed Aaron’s hand rather hard. “I’m not letting you off the hook. You should have known better. You should have told him right away about Eric.” She loosened her grip and smiled. “But I know why you did it. You were only trying to protect him.”

“I didn’t think he’d understand. I just thought it wasn’t that big a deal. The last thing I wanted was to hurt him.”

“You still haven’t told him how you feel about him, have you?” Carol asked.

“I tried once but … well … it’s Daryl, you know? But now . . .”

“He’s just venting. It’s not over with you two. Daryl doesn’t give up that easy. But you’ve got some damage control to tend to,” Carol advised. “Especially if Eric is going to work with us. Have you spoken to him about Alison yet?”

“No. I’ve been trying to figure out how to balance everything, what to say to Eric, and what Daryl will say, if he’ll ever speak to me again,” Aaron said sounding defeated.

“First Daryl,” Carol told him. “Patch things up and make him understand that what you’re doing is for everyone’s benefit. He knows that already, but he needs reminding. Then go to Eric and see what you can do. I’ve been hinting around to some of my women friends, and no one has a bad thing to say about Alison.”

“I know. Even I don’t have anything against her, but I trust Daryl, and if he’s leery of her, then I believe him,” Aaron said. He looked out over the lake. “Well, I better get going. Glenn will be wondering where I am.” The two stood and Aaron took up Carol’s hand, bringing her attention to him. “I’m sorry about your family, especially your daughter. I didn’t know, but I’m glad you told me.”

“No one has escaped tragedy in this disaster, but thank you,” she said humbly.

* * * * *

Aaron caught up to Glenn, and they were just finishing up collecting their weapons and a few supplies before they headed out on their run, when Aaron caught sight of Daryl across the way.

“Hey, do you mind if I have a word with Daryl before we go?” Aaron asked.

“No, go ahead, but don’t be too long. We need to get going while it’s still early,” Glenn answered.

Aaron went towards Daryl at a trot, crossing the street to catch up with him. Daryl seemed to be in his own world, and didn’t see Aaron come up behind him. “Daryl, wait,” Aaron called.

Daryl glanced over his shoulder, but he didn’t stop walking.

“Daryl,” Aaron called again, and Daryl stopped.

“What do you want?” Daryl said, not sounding happy to see him.

“I just wanted to speak with you before I left. I’m going out with Glenn on a supply run.”

“You still do that?” Daryl asked.

“Every once in a while.”

“Well, good luck.” Daryl started walking away.

“About the other day–” Aaron said rather loud, making Daryl pause his tread.

“Not now, Aaron,” Daryl warned.

“Now seems good a time as any. You haven’t been around much lately.”

“With good reason.”

“So is this what you want? You just want to ignore me, hope I go away instead of talking about what happened?”

“You don’t seem to want to tell me what’s going on, so I’m just repaying the favor.”

Daryl started to leave, but Aaron grasped his arm. “No,” he said firmly.

Daryl looked down at the hand. “Let go of me.”

“Not until you talk to me.”

“I don’t have anything to say. Now let go of me before I punch you in the face,” Daryl threatened. He yanked his arm away from Aaron.

“That’s your answer for everything. You don’t like something, you hit it, you punch it, you push it away. Well, you can’t get rid of me that easily. Look, I screwed up. I’m human. I make mistakes. But I also apologized. Won’t you hear me out?” Aaron pleaded.

“I heard you just fine at the meeting. Not only do you still see Eric and talk to him, but now you’re willing to work with him and introduce him into the group. Did you have the balls to tell me or ask me? No, you just did it.”

“This isn’t just about Eric, is it?” Aaron said, as he started to see the truth of what was happening. “Talk to me, Daryl. What’s going on with you?”

“Nothing. Now go on. Glenn’s waiting for you.” Once more, Daryl started to leave, but Aaron grabbed his arm again. “Let … go,” Daryl seethed.

“No,” Aaron replied, tightening his grip.

Daryl looked left and right, and then he grabbed Aaron’s free arm and dragged him from the sidewalk between two vacant houses, out of the sight of any spectators. Daryl shoved Aaron against the side of one of the houses. “Fucking leave me alone.”

“No. I won’t. I-I can’t. I can’t do that b-because …  I … I-I love you,” Aaron stammered.

“You take that back,” Daryl said through clenched teeth.

“It’s out there now. I can’t take it back. It’s the truth, and maybe I should have said it a while ago, but there it is, Daryl. I love you.”

Daryl grabbed Aaron by the collar of his shirt and twisted it. His other hand came up, balled into a fist aimed at Aaron’s face. “Take it back.”

“No,” Aaron said, looking Daryl straight in the eyes. “You can beat the shit out of me, but it won’t change my feelings for you.”

Daryl shook his head. “Why you gotta go and make everything difficult? I don’t want you to love me. I never asked for that. You start saying shit like that, and we become weak. We can’t get weak, not now, not with everything going on.”

“The way I see it, it makes us stronger. We have something to fight for,” Aaron argued.

“No, you’re wrong. You let emotions come into the picture, and it makes you weak, it makes you soft.”

“How can you say that?”

“Because I know from experience. Damn it, Aaron, don’t you fucking see? I loved my brother and he’s dead. I loved my friend Beth, and I couldn’t protect her. Everyone that I ever let into my heart has died. Everyone I cared for is gone. And now you say this shit to me. You weren’t supposed to. We were just having some fun together. It wasn’t supposed to get serious,” Daryl admitted. He released Aaron and threw his back against the house in defeat.

Aaron slowly pushed away from the house and turned to face Daryl. “I get it now,” he said, making a realization. “You’re not just pissed that I didn’t tell you about Eric. You’re jealous, and in order to be jealous you have to care. You care and it scares the hell out of you.”

“I’m pissed because you don’t trust me enough to tell me.”

Aaron shook his head in defiance. “No, you know I trust you, and you trust me. We’ve proven that to each other since the beginning. This is about your personal feelings. You know what we have is something more than just a good time.”

“It wasn’t supposed to be. It was just about trust, nothing more. Nothing fucking more,” Daryl said, his anger boiling.

Aaron closed the distance between them. “But it didn’t stop there, and you know it. Don’t fight it, Daryl. It won’t make you weak. It won’t make me weak either. I feel empowered now, like nothing can stop me. I love you, and I’m stronger for having admitted it. Won’t you tell me what you’re feeling?”

“I don’t feel nothing,” Daryl said, but his voice was weak and unconvincing.

“Every time we kiss, it’s there. Every time we make love, it’s there. You know this, Daryl. I’ve seen it in your eyes. I’ve felt it in your touch. Stop denying it. Please. No regrets, remember? Say something. I need to know,” Aaron begged and pleaded until Daryl couldn’t stand it anymore.

With one last effort to put a stop to Aaron’s imploring, Daryl took him in his grip and spun them around, shoving Aaron against the house. Aaron was still calling to him to admit his feelings. He just wouldn’t stop.

“Shut up. Just fucking shut up,” Daryl said as his emotions boiled to the surface. But Aaron’s eyes looked into his, and he could see the truth. Aaron wasn’t lying. He wasn’t saying this just to get Daryl to take him back and stop ignoring him. It was all right there in those blue depths, and it was too late to deny it anymore.

“Fuck!” Daryl cried out, his fist flying past Aaron’s head, hitting the house behind him. Then he kissed Aaron roughly, wantonly, leaving him without any breath. As long as they kissed, he wouldn’t have to speak, he thought.

Aaron must have thought the same thing, and grabbed Daryl’s hair at the back of his head, pulling their mouths apart, eyes begging to hear those three words that would make all of this right. But Daryl couldn’t, he just couldn’t say it. He hadn’t even thought about it long enough to know if he could truly return the words. He’d never told anyone that he loved them. For Daryl, they were the three most important, truthful words that one human could say to another human, and you didn’t say it unless you were sure all the way to the bottom of your heart.

Aaron could see the difficult time Daryl was having with this. He was sad, but at the same time, he knew there was something between them that couldn’t be denied. Daryl wouldn’t still be here with him if he didn’t feel the same way. He just couldn’t get the words out. After everything he’d been through in his life, Aaron could understand why. He wished he could have gotten Daryl to admit his feelings, but it just wasn’t time yet. Soon, he hoped. Soon, Daryl would tell him what he wanted to hear.

“You’ll tell me one day. I know you will,” Aaron whispered to him. “In your own good redneck time,” he laughed quietly.

Daryl kissed Aaron again, slower and with less force. He hoped Aaron understood why he couldn’t say it. He was scared, plain and simple. He couldn’t say it without completely giving in, and it worried him to give in and then have something happen to Aaron. With the building tension within the town, it just wasn’t the right time.

Daryl took the moment to look around. They were still alone, though he felt exposed. They had been in the alley too long. “You better go.”

“I will in a moment. Just one more thing. What about Eric?” Aaron asked carefully. “Rick’s waiting for me to report to him, but I wasn’t going to go through with it unless you were alright with it.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever be alright with it, but it’s for the good of the group. Fine then, see what you can do.”

“Good. I’ll talk to him as soon as I get back from this run.”

“You be careful out there, got it?” Daryl warned.

“Always. I’ll be back in one piece. Don’t worry.” Aaron reached out and took Daryl’s hand. He squeezed it and held it a moment. “Thank you.”

Daryl cocked his head to the side, smiling with his eyes. He wanted to kiss Aaron again, but a noise stole his attention. Someone, a man, was walking up the sidewalk. He turned his head to look between the houses. His eyes went straight to Daryl and Aaron’s joined hands. Daryl ripped it away quickly, but it wasn’t soon enough. The wind blew, making the leaves on the tree move, the shadows over the stranger’s face scattering until Daryl saw him clearly for an instant. It was Jessie’s husband, Pete, and he looked directly at Daryl’s face. The two recognized each other, although they hadn’t ever spoken to one another. Then Pete’s sight turned to the place where Daryl and Aaron’s hands had been connected. He saw, Daryl thought to himself in a moment of pure panic. He saw them holding hands, and Daryl jerk his out of Aaron’s. After what felt like eternity, Pete continued walking up the sidewalk and away from Daryl and Aaron, but it was too late. Damn it, Pete saw them. Now what?

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