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 16 Emerge


Daryl and Aaron spent the entire night together. It worried Aaron that they did this. What if someone was looking for either of them? What if someone came knocking looking for Daryl, and here they were, naked, spent, and thoroughly satisfied in Aaron’s bed? And then Aaron looked over at his lover, stretched luxurious and long, lying on his stomach with the sheet covering him from the hips down. Daryl’s arms were tucked under his head, his face turned away from Aaron. His chest slowly expanded and contracted with every slumberous breath. There were several long white scars running along Daryl’s back. Aaron had of course seen them before, but he’d never asked about them.

Curiosity overcame Aaron, and he reached out and traced the longest scar with his finger. It ran diagonally along Daryl’s back from one side to the other. The touch woke Daryl, who jumped and rolled onto his side facing Aaron.

“How did you get those?” Aaron asked.

“My father,” Daryl answered, his voice gravelly with sleep, as he laid his head back into the pillow.

Aaron knew he’d never be a father, would never experience fatherhood, but he couldn’t understand how a grown man could do this to his own flesh and blood. “That’s horrible.”

“The first beating was bad enough, but when he hit me the second time, and I hadn’t even healed yet … shit … I think I lost consciousness,” Daryl said.

“How can you talk about it so easily?” Aaron wondered with disgust.

Daryl shrugged. “I don’t know. That was just life in the Dixon household. You mouthed off, you got smacked. You didn’t do something you were supposed to do, you got punched. You did both, you got the belt.”

“You got the belt twice, though,” Aaron pointed out.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t do anything the second time. He just came home drunk and pissed off, and I happened to be there. The old man needed to take his aggression out on something, and Merle wasn’t around then. That’s when my brother went off and joined the military.”

“And he just left you there,” Aaron said, upset with a man he would never meet.

“What else was he supposed to do? It’s not like we had other family. Our mother was dead, not that she’d do anything to stop it anyways.” Daryl turned over, feeling more vulnerable with his back exposed. He was always very careful not to let anyone see his back, accept for Aaron. Daryl was embarrassed by the scars. They made him feel belittled and weak. He could kill a thousand walkers. Hell, he could kill other men, but he couldn’t defend himself against his own father. “It was a long time ago. Now, I’m the last one. Out of all of them, I’m still here, not them.”

Aaron settled against Daryl’s side. “Do you ever miss any of them?” he asked. “Well, not your father, I’m sure.”

Daryl was silent a moment before he answered. He stared up at the ceiling, memories swirling around above his head, some good, some bad, some just horribly awful. “I miss my brother,” he said quietly, as though he was afraid to admit it. “He was an asshole some of the time, and a pain in the ass most of the time, but he was all I really had back then.” Daryl chewed on his bottom lip, thinking back to the last time he saw Merle. “He didn’t deserve to die the way he did.”

“You said he turned,” Aaron mentioned.

“Yeah, but he was shot first, and the man that did it meant for him to come back as a walker, to roam around, just a rotting corpse looking for its next meal. It was kind of like a dishonorable death, you know, to purposefully kill someone just so he’d turn into the very thing he had been fighting against.” Daryl shook his head. “He wasn’t supposed to go alone, but he went anyways, and for the first time, he tried to do the right thing. Too little too late, though. You see, there was this guy, called himself The Governor, and–”

There was a very loud knock on the front door, loud enough that it resonated to the second floor bedroom with the door closed. “Shit,” Aaron said in a panicked tone. He’d just been worrying about this very thing.

“Calm down,” Daryl said, getting out of bed. “No one knows I’m here. Go answer it. I’ll stay up here.”

Aaron was already scrambling for a pair of pants, and hurriedly put them on. Daryl picked up a t-shirt and tossed it to him, but Aaron was already putting one on. Daryl shrugged his shoulders and tossed the shirt onto the bed. That’s when Aaron realized Daryl was standing there naked with someone ready to tear the front door down. He picked up the t-shirt and tossed it to Daryl.

“You need to get dressed,” Aaron warned, looking around the room for the rest of Daryl’s clothes.

Daryl, who was not the least bit distressed, laughed. “Don’t worry about me. Just go answer the door.” He watched Aaron nod and leave the bedroom, but then turn back.

“Don’t leave this room,” Aaron commanded, and then dashed off.

Daryl was still laughing to himself as he casually stepped into his pair of boxer briefs. A pair of Aaron’s pajama bottoms was draped across a chair, so he put those on. Then he went to the door to listen.

Aaron rushed down the stairs. Whoever was at the front door was being very impatient, banging with their whole fist instead of the customary knock of the knuckles. Something must be happening, Aaron thought to himself, and wondered who was outside and why. He separated the wood blinds that covered the side window, and peeked out. It was Eric. Aaron unlocked the door and opened it. “Eric, what are you–”

“They got your place too,” he rushed to say.

“Who got what?” Aaron said, confused.

“Look,” Eric said, moving to the side and pointing towards the road. Aaron stepped outside his front door and stood at the top of the porch stairs. Written in florescent orange spray paint, glowing in the sun like a neon sign, the word ‘FAGGOT’ stared up at him from the sidewalk, with two arrows pointing towards his house. Aaron was shocked to see it at first, but that feeling only lasted a moment. It wasn’t the first time someone pulled a childish prank like this.

“Same thing happened at my house,” Eric said, but his voice sounded rather shaky.

“It’s probably just kids,” Aaron told him.

“I don’t know. Doesn’t this worry you?” Eric was still looking at the sidewalk.

“You would think it wouldn’t matter anymore, now that we’re smack in the middle of an apocalypse, but unfortunately, there’s still people out there that just want to make fun of us because we’re different.”

“I think it’s something more than that this time around.” Eric brought his attention back to Aaron. “Can I come in?”

“Oh, I don’t know if that’s a good–” Aaron started to reject.

“Please,” Eric begged. Clearly he was frightened more than he should be.

Aaron hesitated a moment, ready to tell Eric to go home, but he couldn’t let him go like this, not while he seemed so upset. Aaron nodded reluctantly and pushed the door open in invitation. Eric smiled nervously and went inside. Aaron followed, looking past Eric to see if they were still alone. They were. Daryl was still upstairs. Hopefully he would stay up there and keep quiet.

“So, you said someone did this at your house?” he asked. Aaron knew for a fact that they’d both had to put up with insults like this throughout their lives. He didn’t understand why Eric was so frazzled. Worse things had happened to them in the past.

Eric went to the living room, nodding in reply. “Yeah, orange paint, arrows pointing at my front door.” As he spoke, he went to the wall and observed the license plates hanging there. It was a hobby they both started when they used to go recruiting together. It helped to pass the time when they were looking for survivors. They tried to collect one from every state, but they never finished it. Some places were almost impossible to find.

“I see you found Vermont,” Eric commented. “You still collect them,” he said sentimentally.

“Yeah, didn’t seem right to stop after we’d found so many. Still haven’t found Alaska though,” Aaron said.

Eric was smiling as he observed the plates. “That one is impossible to find. If you ever–” As Eric was talking, he turned to Aaron, but his sight went past him to the stairs off the kitchen, and his smile faded as his words ended abruptly.

Aaron closed his eyes before he turned around. He should have known Daryl wouldn’t listen. There he stood in the threshold wearing Aaron’s pajama bottoms, barefoot and no shirt, handsome as fuck with his long hair parted on the side, and half his bangs covering one eye, very sultry eyes narrowed with jealousy as he focused them on Eric.

He tilted his head up, pointing with his chin. “Sup,” was all he said in greeting.

“Hey … uh … Daryl,” Eric replied like a man who knew he was interrupting something.

Aaron gave Daryl a perturbed glare, but he knew it would do no good. Daryl was enjoying this moment, posturing for Eric, as though to say, ‘he’s mine now, back off’.

“Seems as though someone has left me a message out on the front sidewalk. They left one for Eric too,” Aaron said.

Daryl went to the front door and looked through the wooden blinds. He saw the derogatory word sprayed on the sidewalk, and felt anger simmering just below the surface. He let the blinds snap back into place. “Aaron’s probably right, just some kids with too much time on their hands, and not enough discipline. I’ll tell Rick about it. We’ll get someone here to clean this up,” he said to Eric.

“I really don’t think it was kids,” Eric said, talking to Aaron and not Daryl.

“How can you be so sure?” Aaron asked.

“I don’t know. I’m just getting a bad vibe about this place lately,” Eric said, averting his eyes from Daryl’s bare chest. “I’m sorry I barged in on you like this. I … didn’t know you, uh, had company.”

Daryl ignored Eric’s apology and stepped into the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator and took out a bottle of water. Then he leaned on the island. “You have any run-ins lately? Anyone on that list Aaron got giving you trouble?”

Eric shook his head. “I haven’t spoken to any of them in some time. They keep to themselves or their people lately. There’s been no trouble.”

“What about Alison?” Daryl went on with his line of questions. “She been acting suspicious?”

“No, our sessions have been the usual.”

Aaron looked at Daryl, asking for permission to fill Eric in on their findings. Daryl understood and nodded subtly for Aaron to go ahead. “We, uh … we have reason to believe Alison is somehow involved with the others, Pete, Gerrard … the other men on the list.”

Eric shook his head in disbelief. “Not Alison.”

“I found a stockpile of weapons in her house that day I snuck in. We don’t know how involved she is, but she’s definitely helping them,” Aaron informed.

“Then maybe they’re forcing her or something. Alison has been very helpful to me. I refuse to believe she would be involved with this,” Eric said, his anger getting the best of him. He glared across the room at Daryl. “This is all your fault, you know … you and your people. There was calm. There was peace before you showed up. And then you came and turned everything upside down.”

“Peace and calm is not permanent in this world now. Eventually chaos ensues. You’re people are living in some fake utopia. Alexandria Safe Zone, they call it. Makes you think nothing can happen here. I’ve seen enough to know safety is temporary. You have to constantly be thinking ahead of the game. You get caught off guard and you’re dead,” Daryl warned.

“You all are the ones that brought the chaos. Maybe that’s why you’ve never found a place to call home. You all are like a plague. Did you ever think of that? How many other people have you encroached upon and tore their lives apart?” Eric argued.

“And yet it’s one of your own people who wrote that shit out there,” Daryl countered. “You all are outsiders too, just like me and my people.”

“I was fine with that,” Eric said in a raised tone. “They left us alone, but they let us live here. They gave jobs. We contributed. We kept to ourselves. We didn’t start accusing people of stuff that didn’t concern us anyways. You and Rick and the rest of your group, you go into a place and take it over. You want everyone to bend and conform to your way of thinking. Well, Alexandria doesn’t need you.”

Aaron reached out and took Eric’s arm to reign him back in. “Eric, listen, it’s–”

“No, don’t you lecture me. You know I’m right. We had it good before these people came along. They tricked us, and I’m partly to blame. I trusted them. When we observed them, they seemed like a good group, but it was all an illusion. I didn’t see what was simmering below the surface. We shouldn’t have brought them here. We should have left them out there.” Eric pulled away from Aaron and stormed out the front door. Aaron started to follow.

“Where you going?” Daryl said, stopping him.

“To talk to him,” Aaron replied with anger, chasing after Eric. Before he opened the door, he looked back. “I told you to stay upstairs,” he berated before he went outside.

Eric was descending the stairs when Aaron stopped him. “Eric, wait.”

Eric stopped and turned back to face him. “I don’t understand what you see in him. He’s an asshole.”

He should have been upset at that comment, but it actually made Aaron laugh. “Well, I suppose sometimes he is, but he’s only looking out for what’s best for this community.”

Eric’s shoulders slumped in defeat, his whole demeanor changing instantly. “Aaron, I can’t do this again, the insults, the fear … I can’t. At least, before, they left us to ourselves. They tolerated us. I was ok with that. But this,” he pointed to the sidewalk. “I just can’t.”

“What are you saying?” Aaron asked, his concern for Eric quite evident.

Eric looked around, checked the front door to make sure Daryl wasn’t listening from the window. “There’s a rumor going around that there’s another safe zone, another community.”


“It could mean a fresh start, a place where we’ll be accepted again,” Eric said with enthusiasm.

“It’s just a rumor. You have no proof that this place exists.”

Eric took Aaron’s hands and pleaded. “Let’s go together, Aaron. Let’s leave this place. It’s getting caustic here. Things are going to break down, and that’s just the beginning,” he said, gesturing to the spray painted slur.

“We can’t leave, not on a hunch. I can’t leave. I don’t want to. That isn’t enough to scare me off. I’ve dealt with that kind of rhetoric my whole life. My own mother couldn’t accept who I was, and you think I give a shit what some people in Alexandria think?”

“You’re only staying because of Daryl,” Eric said sadly.

“I’m staying because Alexandria is worth fighting for. I’m not running away anymore. It’s what I used to do. I ran from my mother, ran from friends, tried to live a life that just wasn’t me. Not anymore. The people here know who and what I am, and if they have a problem with it, then they are the ones who have to go this time, not me … and not you either.”

“But what about–” Eric started, knowing he would lose the argument.

“Don’t go, Eric. It’s too dangerous, and I … I couldn’t stand for something to happen to you. Hey, I know things have become rather stretched. It’s been difficult finding common ground between us again, but I genuinely want you around. We’ve been through too much together to forget that it ever existed. I need your friendship, and you know you have mine. So please, for me, stay.”

Eric searched his eyes, and after a long silent pause, nodded. “Alright. Alright, I’ll stay.”

“Good,” Aaron smiled. “We’ll take care of this mess, sort things out, and I promise you that we’ll get to the bottom of this. The whole town is not against us, only a few. I’ll go to Deanna. She won’t put up with this kind of behavior. It will all work out.”

When Aaron went outside, Daryl went upstairs and got dressed. He knew Aaron would be pissed that he came downstairs while Eric was there, but he didn’t give two shits. The guy needed to see with his own eyes that there was a serious relationship between Aaron and himself. He needed to start standing on his own two feet, man up, and stop running to Aaron every time he had a problem. There were other people in this town that would help him.

Daryl heard hurried footsteps pounding up the stairs, and then the door flew open. Aaron’s brows were furrowed, not good.

“What the hell, Daryl? I thought I said to stay put,” Aaron complained.

“Not like he doesn’t know about us,” Daryl said casually, sitting on the foot of the bed as he put his boots on.

“You were rubbing it in,” Aaron accused. He came into the room and stood in front of Daryl. “You know this used to be his house too. How would you feel if you were in his shoes?”

Daryl stood quickly and was in Aaron’s face in a second. “That ain’t gonna happen,” he said in a low gravelly tone. His eyes narrowed, drilling into Aaron’s.

“You seem awfully confident,” Aaron said.

“I am and you know why?” Daryl said dangerously.

Aaron swallowed hard. “Why?” his voice squeaked.

Daryl lunged and caught Aaron with his arms, holding him tight against his own body. “’Cause you’re mine now, and I ain’t about to give you up. You’re with me and that’s all he needs to know. So he saw it. He needed to. Time for him to move on.” Daryl captured Aaron’s lips roughly, kissing him solidly, grinding his hips. He could feel Aaron give in, becoming languid in his arms, melting into his kiss. Not until he was sure Aaron had given in completely did he release him, leaving him breathless. Aaron’s eyes slowly opened, lips still parted. He looked like he wanted more, wanted to shed his clothes off and have another go at it between the sheets. Daryl smiled wickedly, making Aaron think he was about to agree to that. And just when he had him where he wanted him . . . “I gotta go,” he said.

“Wh-what? Now?” Aaron asked with disappointment.

“Day’s getting underway. Things to do. Need to talk to Rick, get that shit cleaned off the sidewalk.”

“W-wait for me. I want to go with you,” Aaron said, coming around after being seduced by Daryl.

“I’ll be downstairs,” Daryl said, and started to the door. He stopped and smacked Aaron’s ass. “Hurry it up.”

He left and Aaron breathed deep, feeling the lack of oxygen. “Why does he have to be so fucking sexy,” he complained to himself.

* * * * *

Daryl and Aaron were coming around the corner, going towards Rick’s house, when they ran into Carol. She looked concerned. Daryl knew that look all too well. It meant something had happened. “Where the hell have you two been?” she complained. Daryl gave her a sly smile. Aaron cleared his throat and wouldn’t look her in the eye. Carol shook her head. “Never mind.”

“What’s going on?” Daryl asked.

“Nothing good,” she said walking away, expecting them to follow her.

“Where we going?” Daryl wondered as he and Aaron trailed behind her.

“If you had been home, you might have been able to catch whoever did it,” she told him.

“Did what?” Aaron asked, worry tinging his words again. He had a bad feeling.

They were approaching Daryl’s house, and he could see Rick standing out front. And then Daryl caught a glimpse of orange paint. “Aw, fuck,” he murmured.

Rick looked up and saw Daryl coming. He went towards him to meet him before seeing what Daryl already knew was on the sidewalk. Rick put his hand up as though he needed to brace Daryl first. “Now, don’t go flying off the handles,” he warned.

Daryl went past Rick, who turned and continued walking next to Daryl. They stopped at the bright orange slur with arrows pointing at Daryl’s house. “This is clearly just someone wanting to get you agitated so you’ll start something,” Rick said.

“No it’s not,” Daryl said quietly, still looking at the word.

“What are you talking about?” Rick asked.

“Same thing happened at Aaron’s house.”

Aaron stepped forward. “Yeah, we were just coming to tell you.”

Rick looked back and forth between them. “You too?” Rick wondered. “Well, they know you two work together. Maybe their trying to–”

“Same graffiti was sprayed at Eric’s house too,” Daryl said. It was after this statement that he slowly lifted his head to look Rick in the eye. Rick didn’t get it at first. Daryl could see him trying to put the puzzle pieces together.

“Is this about getting those names from Alison?” Rick wondered aloud.

Daryl didn’t answer. His eyes shifted to Carol, who came up to stand next to Rick. She looked at him sympathetically, knowing his secret was about to become known to his close friend. He could deny it, say it was just someone getting back at him. That would be believable enough. But there was the fact that too many people knew already … Carol, Eric, Caleb … Pete. Now there was this neon sign pointing towards his home, Aaron’s home, and Eric’s too, all three gay men in Alexandria. Daryl wasn’t ready for this. How could he just come out and tell Rick? How would Rick begin to understand? Maybe he felt the same way as some of the other people. Maybe he would disown him, kick him out of the group, never trust him again. It was such a huge risk, but it would also be a huge weight lifted from his shoulders.

“Daryl?” Rick said again when there was no answer.

Aaron stepped in front of Daryl. “Uh, yeah, it’s possible someone could have seen me that day. They know Daryl and I are friends and work together. Maybe they’re trying to put a wedge between us, cause a disturbance with the group. It could be a whole bunch of things, really. Hard to pinpoint just one, you know.” Aaron rambled nervously, but Rick’s gaze never left Daryl. He wasn’t wanting an answer from Aaron. He was wanting one from Daryl. It would be the only answer he would accept.

“It’s not about the names,” Daryl said quietly. “It’s a personal attack.”

“I can see that for myself,” Rick said.

“Look at the pattern. Eric … Aaron … me.”

Rick shifted from one foot to the other. “What are you saying, Daryl, that your … your–”

“I’m gay,” Daryl said so quietly he almost couldn’t be heard.

Rick was speechless. He continued shifting, like he so often did when he was trying to come to terms with something. He’d look at the paint on the sidewalk, and then look at Daryl.

Daryl kept his eyes narrowed, hiding behind his long locks of hair. Saying those words out loud was the hardest thing he’d had to do in a long time, but not getting a response, good or bad, from Rick was even worse. “Want me to go, I’ll go,” he said.

“What? Go?” Rick shook his head, still processing what Daryl just admitted to. “No, of course not. It’s just,” he stammered. “Wait a second. S-so you’re … you’re … When did this happen?”

“It doesn’t just happen,” Aaron said from beside Daryl, prepared to defend him at any cost.

Daryl glanced sideways, and put his hand out to Aaron to stop him. “I got this.” He came back to look at Rick. “I’ve always been this way. I’ve just been good at hiding it.”

“Well, I’m … I’m, I’m … shocked. I mean, I’m not mad. I’m just … I-I didn’t see it coming.” Rick turned to Carol, remembering she was there, looking to see what her reaction was. Carol smiled sweetly like she usually did, hiding any trace of emotion other than kindness. “Did you know?” he asked, waiting for her to be just as surprised, but she nodded, the smile never fading from her motherly face.

“Oh yeah, known for a while now,” she answered.

“You never said anything.”

Carol shook her head. “It wasn’t my place to say anything.” She crossed her arms and cocked her head to the side. “Actually, it wasn’t that big of a shock to me. I guess I always kind of suspected it.”

Rick still looked lost and confused, words escaping him. Carol rolled her eyes. “Come on Rick, when’s the last time Daryl hooked up with a woman? When have you ever seen him flirt with a woman?”

“Well, I’ve seen the two of you together most of all. I guess I assumed that–”

“Oh please,” she said, and then turned to Daryl. “No offense, pooky,” she jostled.

“None taken,” Daryl answered. “So there it is, and now that it’s out there, what does this mean for me?”

“What does it mean?” Rick responded. “It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t change anything. I was just kind of … thrown off. I never would have suspected it, not that there’s anything wrong with it.”

Daryl nodded, but he looked at Aaron for a moment, as though asking for permission. Aaron gave a quick nod in return, answering his question. It was that unspoken connection they shared that made their relationship such a strong one. “One more thing,” Daryl said, turning his attention back to Rick. He cocked his head towards Aaron as he spoke. “Me and Aaron–” That’s as much as he would say.

For a split second, Rick waited for Daryl to finish his sentence, but then he realized what Daryl was saying. Rick slowly and over exaggeratedly nodded. “Ok.” He stopped and considered both of them, eyes shifting back and forth between Daryl and Aaron. “Um … congratulations?” he said, and shrugged. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“Nothin’. You ain’t gotta say nothin’. Alright, so, what about this shit?” Daryl said, moving on with the situation at hand. He was collectedly calm as he gestured to the sidewalk.

“We need to notify Deanna first. She’ll want to know. As far as who did this, well, unless I find the smoking spray can . . .” Rick said. “Could be kids, most likely. But then again, it could be an attempt to set Daryl off on a tangent, get us in trouble again like last time with the weapons room.”

“Not that shit again,” Daryl complained.

“I’m just saying,” Rick commented as he started walking around the front yard looking for anything out of place. “Why? What do you think?”

“I don’t think it was kids. And if it was just to get me angry, I don’t think Aaron or Eric would have been included. Actually, I think it was someone making a statement.”

“What makes you say that?” Rick wondered.

Daryl’s hand nervously went to his hair, finger running over the top of his head to come to rest at the back of his neck. Aaron knew what he was thinking and spoke up in his place. “We think someone might have seen us talking … alone, together.”

“That doesn’t seem like it would be enough for someone to attack you like this,” Rick said.

Aaron’s face flushed a few shades darker than usual as he talked about him and Daryl as a couple for the first time. “We’d had an argument. I was going on a run with Glenn, and I stopped to talk to Daryl, you know, not wanting to go out there while leaving unfinished business in here … just in case,” he rambled. “Anyways, we were having a private conversation away from eyes and ears, when someone walked by and–”

“Pete saw us holding hands,” Daryl blurted out. He glanced sideways towards Aaron. “You take too long, man.”

“Sorry,” Aaron said sheepishly.

Carol smiled. “Aren’t they cute?”

“Stop,” Rick and Daryl said in unison.

Daryl took back the conversation. “It was real quick, but Pete looked right at us. Then he looked me right in the eyes, and … something just wasn’t right about him.”

“Yeah, Pete’s … got problems,” Rick said with venom in his tone.

“They know about Jessie and Sam,” Carol spoke up. “They know about the abuse.”

Rick nodded. “Well, now that we’re all on the same page, first thing is to go to Deanna with this. She needs to know that someone is displaying hostility towards other members of this community. I’ll start investigating some of the people on the list that Aaron got for us, starting with Pete.”

“Do you really think that’s a good idea?” Carol asked him.

“I’m the one wearing the uniform,” Rick said in defense. “This is the job Deanna has entrusted to me.”

“You know what I’m talking about,” Carol accused.

Daryl and Aaron didn’t say anything, but they too knew what was going on. Rick had been getting too close to Jessie, Pete’s wife. Knowing what was going on in their family, Rick saw this situation with the graffiti as an invitation to confront Pete. Things could get heated very quickly unless someone was there to make sure it remained civil between these two alpha males. But after a tense pause, Rick agreed to go to Deanna with Daryl and Aaron.

* * * * *

“I can’t have this kind of behavior here,” Deanna responded after she learned about the vandalism. Rick, Aaron and Daryl stood in her living room, waiting to see what she wanted to do about the situation. “I think there should be a town meeting. We’ll discuss this, make everyone aware so that people will be watching.”

“You’re not going to find out who did it that way,” Rick said.

“I’m giving them a chance to make things right on their own. Will they step forward and confess? Probably not. Most people will not agree with what happened. We come from all different walks of life in this community. We have to get along. We have to stick together if we want to beat this and survive. Alexandria is not called a safe zone for nothing, and everyone here should feel safe, but especially with each other. If there is someone amongst us who can’t live peacefully within our town, then they need to move on from here. I won’t tolerate bullying.” Deanna went to her window and looked out over the town. “We’ll do this tonight at our gathering place, the square.”

Everyone agreed and started to leave after discussing what to do, but Daryl stayed behind, waving Aaron on to go with Rick. He waited until they were gone before speaking to Deanna.

“So,” she started when they were alone. “This is news. I had no idea.”

“And I’d like to keep it quiet, if that’s possible. I don’t like everyone knowing my business,” Daryl said.

“That’s understandable. I’ll try my best. I won’t mention the names, just the fact that it’s happened.”

“I appreciate it,” Daryl said with relief.

“And as far as your punishment for the weapons room . . .” she continued.

“I’m really sorry about that,” Daryl apologized.

“You’re no longer banned.” Deanna smiled slightly. “Caleb tells me you’re teaching him how to shoot, hunt and track.”

“Yes ma’am, I am. He’s coming along nicely. Got a steady arm and an eye for tracking.”

“He speaks very highly of you. You are a big influence on him, another reason you have to pay attention to what you do and think before you act. Caleb is learning more than hunting from watching you. He’s learning to be a man.”

“I, uh, hadn’t thought of it that way,” Daryl admitted.

Deanna walked around him, slowly. “I’ve seen a change in you since you first came to Alexandria. I see someone who showed up here reluctantly, did everything possible to remain an outsider. I didn’t think you were going to stay, but I didn’t know how close you were to the rest of the people in your group.”

“I wouldn’t have gone unless they did,” Daryl confessed. “But when I arrived here, I was in a bad place. I think we all were. We were pushed to our limits. We were untrusting of everyone we came in contact with, like wild animals when they’re trapped. But we see now what great potential this place has. We all want to be here. We all want to protect this town. We’ve run out of options. This place has to work for us.”

“Yes, I see that now. I am glad Aaron brought you all here. This place needs each and every one of you. And just so you know, I’m not blind, Mr. Dixon. I know there are people within this place who don’t agree with the job I’ve been doing, yet they stay anyways, because being out there is not an option for them.”

“They don’t really know what it means to be out there and survive, but we do. We don’t want to take over, but putting us in charge of certain aspects of the town will only increase your security. And we don’t want to take on that responsibility alone. We want to teach, pass on our knowledge. It will take all of us, the whole town to make this a place not only safe, but a place to grow and prosper. Isn’t that what you want?” Daryl paused and thought of something Hershel always used to say. “We all got jobs to do.” He knew it should probably be Rick having this conversation with Deanna, but he was here anyways, and she was listening.

“I couldn’t agree more,” she replied with a smile. “Alright, I know what needs to be addressed tonight, and we’ll get to the bottom of things.”

Daryl nodded and excused himself. Tonight would be an interesting meeting, one he was nervous about.

* * * * *

Many, though not all, townspeople gathered for the meeting. Daryl stood next to Rick and the rest of his group, while Aaron stood on the opposite side of the fire pit where they met for such things. The two made a point not to stare at each other, trying to stage themselves separately. Then, Eric emerged from the crowd and stood next to Aaron. Daryl watched as they acknowledged one another with kind smiles, Eric’s seemingly a bit more enthusiastic, as he always was when Aaron paid attention to him. Daryl tried to curb his emotions, and on the outside he was calm and unnoticing, but inside he was seething. He knew he shouldn’t feel like this. Aaron made it clear that he wasn’t interested in Eric in the lease, but it wasn’t Aaron he was concerned about. Eric had a way of making Aaron sympathetic towards him. Daryl wasn’t buying it, but Aaron always gave Eric the benefit of the doubt.

At the last minute, Pete surfaced at the edge, getting a front row view of the evening’s discussions. Gerrard and a few other of his men appeared next to him, not even bothering to spread out. Their sight fell upon Daryl, Rick and the other people of their group. Daryl wondered if anyone else felt the tension, but then again, no one knew what brewed just below the surface of this seemingly peaceful town.

Deanna started the discussion with the latest idea of making Alexandria larger. With more people coming in, they wanted to start an expansion project that would incorporate more of the old neighborhood into the current. First they would wall off an abandoned section and fix up any houses within. Those houses would be wired into the generator system, and when they were habitable, they would become available for new residents. Everyone seemed to agree with the expansion idea, but some questioned it. More houses meant having to upgrade the current generators or add to them in order to support the growth. Alexandria wasn’t quite maxed out yet. There were still quite a few empty houses, but as more people were recruited, it would eventually come to a point where they would have to expand or stop taking in new people. And, more hands on board meant they would be able to carry out this plan. It would take some time to finish one expansion, adding just a few houses. This was something that needed to be decided now so that they could go forward with the project and stay a few steps ahead of demand.

They discussed a few other matters, and finally it was time to address the recent problem. Deanna mentioned the graffiti, and only said that offensive words had been scrawled on the sidewalk in front of certain homes, but she never said whose homes or what the words were. Some people knew, people who lived close to Aaron and Eric and had seen it. Pete and his men knew, of course, and they looked on with smug faces, glancing at Aaron and Eric from time to time. Only Pete would look at Daryl, not the other men. Daryl kept his eyes on Pete, too, never backing down, never being the first to look away.

“Now,” Deanna continued. “This kind of behavior will not be tolerated. We are all a part of Alexandria no matter who we are or where we come from. No matter the color of your skin, no matter your religion or your beliefs, we are one within this community. We have come together to live, to survive, to rebuild, and to hope for a better future.”

People mumbled amongst themselves, but the overall compliance was the same, tolerance was a must. Daryl kept his sights on Pete and his men, the only ones not nodding their heads and agreeing. Gerrard took a step out from the crowd and spoke. “Aren’t you going to tell us whose houses were involved?” he asked condescendingly.

“Son of a bitch already knows,” Daryl muttered under his breath, and Rick nudged him in warning.

“That is not up for discussion,” Deanna defended, but the voices prattled on, and spread like fire through the crowd.

It reached Aaron and Eric’s ears quickly, as sets of eyes fell on them one by one. They heard their names, and a few repeated the offensive word. Soon the crowd was abuzz. Daryl watched from the other side, saw the crowd talking as though Aaron and Eric weren’t there, and waited to hear his own name mentioned, but it never came.

Carol leaned against Daryl’s back and whispered in his ear. “No one knows about your house. We took care of it right away.” That was probably because Daryl lived at the very end of a road, with vacant houses between his and Rick’s house on one side, and the wall as his neighbor on the other. Anyone down on that end of the street would have to be there deliberately.

He nodded to let Carol know he heard her, and she wrapped her arm around his waist as though to protect him. The murmurs continued, but they began to die down. Then, Aaron spoke up, putting an end to the guessing. “Seems there are no secrets in Alexandria,” he said, smiling nervously. “So to answer all the questions floating around, yes, it was my house and also Eric’s.”

Eric, Daryl noticed, looked like he wished to disappear into a crack in the concrete where he stood. It was very obvious that Eric did not like confrontation, and Daryl wondered how he ever managed to be a recruiter.

“And as everyone knows,” Aaron continued. “And as it was so blatantly written in orange paint, a word I’ll not repeat, we are gay. Why this is an issue is beyond me. We keep to ourselves. We contribute to the work that needs to be done around here in order to keep Alexandria a safe zone. Eric and I brought quite a few of you into Alexandria. But here we are, in this day and age, even with all the horrors happening just on the other side of those walls, having to defend ourselves and our lifestyle.”

A few people gave their supporting opinions, and a few their opposing. Most remained silent and listened to them. Daryl watched, seeing them divide already, purely on an opinion. What would happen when it became about who was in charge of what and why? “And so it begins,” he said to Rick.

“Someone deliberately did this to begin the division, us against them,” Rick mentioned.

Suddenly, Pete stepped forward. “Now, Deanna,” he called out and everyone hushed to hear him. “You said Alexandria is our hope for the future.”

Deanna gave Pete her full attention. “Yes, that is what I said.”

“So, let me ask you what you mean by that,” Pete said.

“I’m not sure I understand,” Deanna countered.

“What kind of a future are we talking about?”

Deanna was confused by his line of questioning. “I think that’s obvious, Pete. We want a safe place to live where we can rebuild what we once had. We can expand the walls, bring in more people, and get back to life as we knew it.”

“That should also include growing the community we already have … from within.” Pete glanced at Aaron and Eric as he went on. “That’s something they don’t have the ability to do.” Now he glared at them both. “It’s because of people like them that the world went to hell. People living in sin, turning from God, and so he turned from us.” Pete switched his attention towards Rick and his people. “Men sleeping with other men,” he said towards Daryl. “Others committing adultery,” he said while eyeing Rick.

Rick took a step forward, but Daryl put his hand in front of him. “That’s what he wants, Rick. Don’t let him get to you.”

Jessie stepped up next to her husband and took his arm. “Pete, that’s enough. Please.”

“Go home, Pete,” Deanna commanded, knowing he was probably drunk again.

“You need to address the real issues. You’ve let in murders, adulterers, sodomy, and who knows what else. And now they are your supervisor, your constable, your recruiters. They’re teaching your children, cooking your meals. You’ve let in the very thing that God is punishing us for.” Pete’s ire rose with every word. Some people were yelling at him, telling him to leave. His men stood by silently and let him rant. Other people nodded in agreement. The town was beginning to divide.

And then, Alison appeared, smiling at Jessie with sympathy and taking Pete’s free arm. “Let’s get you home, big guy, ok?” she said in a calming manner.

“But I’m not through,” he complained.

“Yes, you are. You’ve gotten you point across. Now let it sink in for everyone, alright?” Alison coaxed Pete through the crowd, and they disappeared while Deanna got the meeting back in control.

“Maybe I should go,” Rick said. “Make sure nothing happens.”

“That’s the worst possible thing you could do right now,” Carol said, stopping him.

“That’s exactly what he wants,” Daryl said. “That’s why he called us all out. I’m telling you, man, this guy is poison.” As he was speaking, his sight went across the way to Aaron. He was talking to Eric. It looked like he was trying to make him stay. Eric seemed irritated, as though he didn’t want to be there. Who could blame him? Things had gotten a little heated, but Deanna was settling everyone.

“I don’t care what he thinks. He’s wrong,” she was saying. “This community is here for everyone willing to contribute in any way they are fit to do so. We have a good group of people within Alexandria.”

Daryl tuned her out when he saw Aaron coming over to him. He looked concerned. “You guys alright?”

“Yeah,” Daryl answered. “You?”

“I’m fine,” Aaron said, but something was obviously bothering him.

“Eric?” Daryl inquired.

“He’s going home. Too much excitement for one evening. It’s just Pete. He makes Eric nervous,” Aaron told him.

“I think we found our lead man,” Daryl said. “He’s the one organizing the other side, especially with all that shit he’s been spewing out.”

“He’s not working alone,” Rick said. “Pete’s a drunk. You saw that for yourself tonight. There’s no way he’s managing to organize a group of others on his own. He’s got help.”

“He’s got all kinds of help from his men. You saw them. They surrounded him tonight,” Aaron pointed out. “He’s setting up the plan and handing out instructions to the rest of his guys.”

Daryl shook his head. “Man, I used to know guys like Pete. They can get a group together, run it for a while, make a few decisions, but they always crash and burn. They turn to the booze to justify what they’re doing, drown in alcohol and forget the pain, but they can’t lead for long.”

“It’s obvious,” Carol added to the conversation. “He’s got a personal agenda invested in this. We are a threat to his plans. He knows were strong. He sees that we could very easily take over this place, but we aren’t. I think that’s making him nervous.”

“We got to get him out of here,” Rick said, eyes focused on the last place he saw Pete.

“We can’t,” Carol told him. “You think Deanna is going to evict the town doctor? And what about Jessie and her boys?”

“They won’t go. Jessie wouldn’t risk her sons’ safety,” Rick argued.

“Wanna bet?” Carol countered. “I’ve been down that road. She won’t leave him, Rick, no matter what you are thinking, no matter what you are hoping. She’s scared of him, and if he gets kicked out, you can bet your ass she’s going with him.”

Daryl could see the realization on Rick’s face as he thought about the consequences. Shit, he had it bad for Jessie. What the fuck? What was Rick thinking?

“He has to go,” Rick insisted.

“You do anything now, you’ll be playing right into his hands. Why do you think he painted that shit in front of my house? He knows, and he’s letting me know that. He could have called me out along with Aaron and Eric tonight, but he didn’t. He’s waiting to see what I’ll do before he plays that card. Any one of us starts pushing our weight around, we’re the one’s gonna get kicked out, and I’m not going,” Daryl said. He glanced at Aaron. “I just ain’t. I can’t.”

“So what am I supposed to do?” Rick said feeling helpless. “I’m just supposed to sit back and watch him screw with us? I’m supposed to keep my mouth shut when I see Jessie tomorrow, and her eye is bruised or maybe this time her arm is broken?”

“You’ll have your chance, Rick,” Carol said to him. “Not now. Not until we have a secure spot in this place. Jessie will be ok. I’ll look out for her. Me and her speak the same language.”

Daryl could relate. He and Carol both came from abusive homes. It was something that no one could understand unless they’d been through it. Rick was a cop. He always saw the outcome of the abuse. He didn’t know about the survival within the home. “For what it’s worth, I spoke with Deanna today. I’m off of probation. And she’s coming around. She’s glad we’re here. We’re gaining her trust.”

“Maybe that’s our next move. We sit down with her and come up with a strategy,” Rick said, sounding better than a moment ago.

“I think she’ll listen, especially after Pete’s little blow up tonight,” Daryl said. “She’s not blind. She knows tensions are on the rise. Now is the time before it gets any worse.”

Rick nodded. “Alright. Let’s give it a couple days to cool down around here, and then we’ll talk to Deanna.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Carol smiled. She turned to Daryl. “Hey, you want to come over tonight you’re more than welcome.”

“Yeah, I think I will,” Daryl accepted, and then looked at Aaron. “You wanna meet up at Carol’s?”

“I think I’ll pass,” Aaron said, denying the invitation.

Daryl knew what this was. It was Eric manipulating Aaron again. They’d had words before Eric left. Now Aaron was worried about him. Daryl pulled Aaron to the side where he could speak to him. “You got to let him stand on his own two feet.”

“I know. It’s just … Pete’s words really disturbed him tonight. I’m not going over there. I just want to be available, just in case.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Daryl said, sounding put out.

“Come on. Not tonight,” Aaron pleaded without much fight.

Daryl looked him in the eye, searching for something and not finding it. For tonight, Daryl would curb his jealousy. He still didn’t like it, but there was nothing he could do about it. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He turned and walked off, going to Carol’s house where he hoped she had that bottle of moonshine he gave her to stash away, meant for times especially like this.

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