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 17 It’s A Good Time for a Run

 

Daryl sat at Carol’s kitchen table, feet up, chair tilted back on two legs, and a butter knife in his hand. He kept flipping it in the air to see how many times he could catch it by the handle. Daryl’s hands were always busy when he was in deep thought. Usually, he liked to work on his bike, but it was in Aaron’s garage, and he didn’t want to go over there. Tonight, they needed their space, especially after the big blow up at the meeting, where Pete made a scene. He’d called out Aaron and Eric, making it sound like they were responsible for the apocalypse, as well as Rick and their group. But he wondered why Pete hadn’t called him out. After all, Pete had witnessed a private moment between him and Aaron. He looked right at Daryl. The man knew. He had a perfect opportunity to call Daryl out, expose his secret, and tell the whole town that Aaron was his lover. Why didn’t he? Daryl wondered, as he tossed the knife a few more times.

Carol came in with a mason jar of moonshine. Daryl had given it to her for safe keeping. With the tension running high, his supplier shut down his business, temporarily, he’d said. Daryl knew enough about the bootleg industry to know what temporary meant. The guy was scared to get caught and kicked out. It would be a long time before he would try again. Daryl had one jar left, and took it to Carol’s house, telling her to put it away for a rainy day. He knew it was safe here. Carol wouldn’t touch the stuff. Gave her nightmares, she said.

She put the jar on the table and started to reach for a glass from a cabinet, but Daryl stopped her. “Don’t need one,” he mumbled, unscrewing the lid. He took one sip, closed his eyes, put his head down and covered his mouth with the back of his hand to keep from choking. The first swallow was always the hardest. After that, it went down easier and easier. It was dangerous stuff once you got used to the burn.

“Thank goodness you don’t have any smokes,” Carol commented, taking a seat across from him.

“Why’s that?” he asked.

“Gasoline and fire is a bad combination,” she smiled, making a joke.

Daryl chortled and a memory struck him. “I knew a guy once who used to put on a show for us kids in the neighborhood. He said he was part dragon because he could breathe fire. He’d take a swig of hooch, spray it out of his mouth and ignite it with a lighter.” Daryl gave a real laugh. “Dumbass caught himself on fire one time. Burned off his eyebrows, his eye lashes, and singed the hair on his head. Ahh, good times.”

“That’s what you did for fun?” she questioned.

“Why? What did you do for entertainment as a kid?”

Carol didn’t answer right away, and kept her head down. Then she looked away and shrugged her shoulders. “I was a bookworm. Always had my nose buried between the pages. I didn’t have many friends. My dad didn’t allow anyone in the house. A book was my portal to another world, another life.”

Daryl realized that he didn’t really know much about Carol’s past before the outbreak. “Your dad, was he rough on you?”

Carol nodded, still unable to look directly at Daryl. “Maybe not as bad as yours, but yeah, he had his moments.”

“I guess we’re all a product of the environment we grew up in,” Daryl said, taking another drink.

“You know what they say, a girl always marries someone like her daddy.” She shook her head and gave a huff through her nose. “Well, that’s not the case anymore. I’m never getting married again.” She smiled and Daryl laughed. “Hey,” she continued to ask. “You didn’t turn out like that, so there’s hope that that rule doesn’t apply to everyone.”

“I doubt Aaron and I will ever marry,” Daryl said as a joke.

“That’s not what I meant, but ha ha, very funny. No, I mean, you didn’t turn out like your dad.”

“Well, I don’t know about that. I had my share of asshole moments. Merle, though, I think he inherited most of our father’s traits. I was mostly just following my brother around whether I agreed with him or not.”

“You ever beat a woman?” Carol asked bluntly.

Daryl furrowed his brows in disgust. “Of course not.”

“Then you didn’t turn out like your daddy,” she said, proving her point.

“My daddy never killed anyone neither. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same.”

“The rules don’t apply anymore, Daryl. It’s survive or die out there. We’ve only done what we’ve had to do in order to make it this far. So don’t let your past speak for your future. That’s why we’re trying to make Alexandria work for us. It’s our chance at something normal again. God knows we’ve all done things we didn’t want to do, things we did for the cause, for the group, to keep us all safe. I’ve got regrets, but I don’t dwell on them because my back was against the wall, and it was either us or them.”

“So you’re saying this place is our clean slate,” Daryl said.

“Don’t you think so? Look at what’s happened to you since coming here. No one has rewritten their story more than you.” Carol got up from the table, went around to Daryl and took his hand. “Come on. I got something to show you.”

She led him upstairs to one of the spare bedrooms. He hesitated when she pulled on his arm to escort him inside. She turned to him with an eye roll. “Don’t flatter yourself. Come on.” He went. Carol opened one of the windows. The screen was popped out and she climbed out onto the roof, which covered the porch below. “Grab the blanket off the bed and a couple pillows.” He did. Then he followed her out onto the roof. Together they spread the blanket out, and each one took a pillow. They laid down side by side and got comfortable. Silence crept in between them, as they took in the sight of the stars above.

“That stuff Pete said,” Daryl started. “He’s right, in a way.”

“People who talk like that haven’t had to face a herd of walkers. They haven’t had to fight to keep their home. He’s a doctor,” Carol pointed out. “He could afford to live in this housing division, and he’s been here since the outbreak. Pete wouldn’t last two seconds out there. We are stronger and smarter than anyone in here, and we can make others strong too. That’s our main goal.”

“Yeah, but I don’t know if that’s Rick’s or not. I’m not sure he’s making decisions based on the good of the group, not completely anyways.” Daryl was talking about Rick’s interest in Jessie. “Pete is out to make us look bad. He’s antagonizing us, calling us out like he did tonight, and waiting for one of us to make the wrong move.” Daryl adjusted his position, lying flat on his back, and put his hands behind his head. “I keep wondering why he didn’t rat me out tonight.”

“To be honest, I was surprised. I mean, I’m glad he didn’t, but I don’t understand it. It’s like he’s up to something.”

“It’s like he’s being controlled,” Daryl said.

“I think he’s in charge. You saw all his men gathered around him, and you heard some of the people agreeing with his statement. Pete’s building his army, and we need to start building ours.”

Daryl shook his head in disappointment. “Why’s it always got to come down to that?”

Carol sighed. “I don’t know, it just does. So, in the meantime, we’ll just pretend everything’s ok, and try to enjoy the downtime. At least we know there’s a storm coming this time.”

“Well, we’ve done it enough times now. Like they say, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Daryl stretched, feeling comfortable with Carol by his side and the stars above. These were rare moments, indeed.

“Hey Daryl,” she said after a few quiet moments.

“Yeah?”

“Wanna fool around?” she joked, unable to contain her laughter.

“Thought you’d never ask,” he returned playfully. He rolled towards her and threw his leg over hers. Then he gave her a bunch of quick pecks on the cheek, making her laugh as she resisted his wet lips. Daryl collapsed back onto his pillow, pretending to be out of breath. “Was it as good for you as it was for me?”

“Honestly, that’s the most action I’ve gotten in a long time. I’ll take it however I can get it,” she chuckled.

“Another satisfied customer,” Daryl said, and their conversation remained lighthearted for the rest of their evening together.

* * * * *

Daryl woke up the next morning on Carol’s couch. The empty Mason jar sat on the coffee table, and he stared at it through blurred vision, cursing the vessel for seducing him into consuming its venom. He started to sit up, but as the blood rushed to his head, he thought his eyeballs might explode.

“Morning sunshine,” Carol chimed with an irritatingly pleasant smile. “Here, thought you might need this.” She handed him a couple aspirin and a glass of water. “They’re expired by a couple years, so if they don’t work take another one.”

Daryl forced himself to sit up and swung his legs off the front of the couch. “Thanks,” he said in a gravelly morning voice, holding his hand out to accept the pills. He popped them into his mouth then drank half the glass of water in a couple gulps.

“I made breakfast, if you’re interested,” she told him.

“Maybe in a little while. Let me get my bearings first.” He palmed his face, rubbed his eyes, shook out his unruly hair and looked up at mother hen. “Why’d you let me drink all that?” he accused.

“Like I was going to stop you,” she countered. “You know how you are when you drink.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “What time is it?”

“Late morning,” Carol answered.

“I gotta go.”

“Where you going?” Carol asked.

“I need to check on Aaron.” They’d ended on a sour note last night, and Daryl wanted to make amends. And he wanted his bike.

“You’re in luck,” Carol smiled slyly. She stepped aside, and Aaron came from the kitchen holding a half-eaten muffin in his hand.

“’Bout time you got up,” Aaron said.

“What are you doing here?” Daryl asked.

“I needed to check on you,” he replied. Aaron looked Daryl up and down. “You look like shit.”

“Mission accomplished,” Daryl said smugly.

Carol laughed. “He’s not a morning person.”

“I’ve come to realize that,” Aaron responded. He looked down at a chair next to him and saw Daryl’s wing vest, picked it up, and threw it at him as hard as he could. “Get up and let’s go.”

“Where we going?” Daryl asked. He stood from the couch and stretched. That’s when he saw that Aaron was dressed in layers as though he was going to be out in the crisp weather. “We going on a run?”

“We’re going hunting. Just you and me.”

Daryl nodded. “Good.”

After leaving Carol’s house, Daryl talked Aaron into taking his bike. This might be one of the last times he could ride it. The weather was turning colder lately. Fall was settling in quickly. And since they weren’t going out looking for supplies, they could afford to travel on Daryl’s motorcycle. They wouldn’t be out too long. With the cooler temperatures, they’d be back before sundown.

Daryl always felt good when he was out hunting and tracking. He felt like a normal man. The world felt a little more commonplace too. With people having to change and adapt to the way things were, the one thing that remained the same was nature. Animals still behaved the way they always had. Daryl could still track them the way he’d been taught at a young age. Lining up a shot with his crossbow, waiting for the exact moment to shoot made him feel that everything was as it should be.

“See how the grass is pushed down along here?” Daryl said to Aaron. “This is an animal trail. Too big to be a rabbit.”

“What do you think it is?” Aaron asked, taking a closer look at the area.

“My best guess is a pig, maybe several.” Daryl stood and looked around. “Didn’t we see a farm not too far from here?”

“You mean that old burned out barn? We passed it a few miles back.” Aaron pointed in that general direction.

“They might have come from there. These are probably the offspring.” Daryl knelt down and moved some of the dry grass around, looking for scat that could help him better identify the animal.

“Well, there’s something we haven’t had before, a pig roast,” Aaron said, happily dreaming of the delicious cooked meat.

“Naw man, we need to catch them, bring ‘em back, breed them if we can. We got a place where we can pen them in?”

“We could make something, I’m sure. So, what do you know about pig farming?” Aaron asked.

“Back when we lived in the prison, we had pigs. Got lucky enough to catch a pregnant sow.” Daryl stood up, looking in the direction that the trail ran. “Didn’t last though. That sickness infected the mother and she died. Couldn’t risk eating the others, just in case they were the cause of the disease. We found another use for them, though.” Daryl’s voice lowered as he remembered Rick having to use the piglets as bait for the walkers to get them away from the fences. It had been good for a time at the prison, but it mostly brought back bad memories. So many dead. So many good people died. It should never have happened, and Daryl always felt a bit guilty for not doing more to secure their home. He wouldn’t make that mistake again. “Well,” he said, shaking himself from his memories. “No use trying to catch them now. We got no way of getting them back. We’ll bring it up to Deanna, build a pen in a decent spot, and then we’ll attempt to catch them. They ain’t going anywhere.”

They left that spot to look for other animals. The nice thing was, Daryl didn’t have to catch anything. There was no urgency to feed his people. Alexandria had plenty of food. This was just for entertainment purposes, and if they happened to catch some rabbits or squirrels, all the better. Someone would have fresh meat for stew. Daryl took his time tracking, and relaxed a bit. He couldn’t really let his guard down in the wilderness, but this was the closest he’d been in a while.

As he walked along, kneeling every now and then to check for tracks, he knew he needed to address the previous evening at the meeting. “Sorry for being an asshole last night,” he said while pushing aside leaves and twigs on the ground.

“It’s ok,” Aaron said. “Maybe I overreacted too. It was a quiet night, just in case you were wondering.” After the meeting, Aaron went home just in case Eric needed him. Eric had been shaken by Pete and his outburst.

Daryl replied with a mumble. “Mmph.”

Aaron kept watch while Daryl tracked. He saw something move and narrowed his eyes at it. “Hey, a rabbit,” Aaron said.

Daryl stood and looked to where Aaron was pointing. “You ever shoot a crossbow?”

Aaron shook his head. “No, just guns. I can use a knife though. I’ve gotten pretty good with that.”

Daryl eyed him a moment, then handed him his bow. “Here, try it.” He gave Aaron step by step instructions on how to load an arrow, and was impressed by his ability to follow directions.

Aaron lifted the weapon, but he wasn’t holding it right. Daryl put it in his hands the right way, and lifted it so Aaron could look through the sight. Daryl stood behind him and whispered so as not to spook their target. “Remember to breathe. Line up your shot. You should see it through there,” he coached.

“Wait, I lost it,” Aaron said, looking for the rabbit through the sight. He pulled his head away and look out at the forest, saw movement and lifted the bow again. “I got him.” He looked through the sight and saw something, but it wasn’t the rabbit. It was deeper into the forest, and seemed to be standing against a tree. “There’s something out there. A roamer, I think.”

“Give it here,” Daryl commanded, taking back his bow, and gazing through the sight. “I see it.” He watched but it wasn’t moving. It was just standing there. “What the hell is it doing?”

With the rabbit forgotten about, they moved closer, staying cautious as they went, when they stumbled upon a mutilated body. The arms were cut off, and legs, still attached to the waist, were separated from the torso. Everything from the waist up was missing.

“The blood is fresh. This just happened,” Daryl warned. “Get ready. Whoever did this is probable still here.”

“My God, what happened here?” Aaron said with disgust. He and Daryl walked with weapons drawn towards the walker.

 They approached the walker carefully, and found that it was tied to a tree, a dead woman who hadn’t yet reanimated. Her stomach and chest had been torn out, intestines spilling to the ground. There was no wound to her head. She would come back soon.

Aaron looked on in horror. “She was left here as food.”

“She was left here to die. My guess is that she was alive when it happened,” Daryl said, taking a closer look at the body. Her head hung down, and her long hair covered her face.

“This is sick,” Aaron said, slight panic in his voice. They could very well be in serious trouble right now, especially if whoever did this was still around, and they were about to get ambushed.

Daryl grabbed her hair and lifted her head. She’d been dead a while, and there was a ‘W’ carved into her forehead. “I’ve seen this before. Me, Rick and Carol were out once, when we first arrived at Alexandria, and we took down a couple walkers that had this same mark on their heads.”

She started making noise, and her eyes opened, cloudy, soulless eyes. Aaron raised his gun. “I got this,” Daryl said, and knifed her in the head.

“It’s not safe out here. We need to go,” Aaron said.

Daryl stayed there a moment, observing the woman. She looked young, and she had been pretty when she was alive. He thought of Beth quickly, maybe because of the blond hair. He hadn’t thought of her in a very long time. Was he starting to forget? He didn’t want to forget any of the people he had known that weren’t here anymore. That was what life in Alexandria was doing to him. It was not a good thing to discover about himself. “What do you think the ‘W’ stands for?” Daryl asked.

“I don’t know. William? Wayne? Walter? Does it matter? Come on,” Aaron insisted as he headed off.

“No, it means something, and whatever it is, it’s not good,” Daryl remarked as he followed Aaron back to the bike.

* * * * *

Daryl and Aaron arrived late back in town. It was dark and quiet. There were usually more people out and about than this. The vibe wasn’t right. Something had happened. They went straight to Rick’s house, and there they found all of the group.

“What’s going on?” Daryl asked as he and Aaron came in. Daryl looked around at everyone’s sullen faces.

Rick came forward and spoke softly. “Glenn, Tara, Eugene and Noah went on a run with Aiden and Nickolas. They didn’t all make it back.”

“Shit,” Daryl said, glancing desperately around to see who was missing. He saw Glenn first, and was relieved that it wasn’t him. Eugene, Tara and Noah were missing. “Who?” he asked.

“Noah,” Rick said.

Daryl felt that same jolt to his heart like he did every time someone from the group was lost. Noah was a good kid. He believed in Alexandria. He wanted it to work. He wanted a place to be normal again. “Who else?”

“Aiden,” Rick answered.

Aiden was Deanna’s oldest son. He and Glenn didn’t get along very well at first, but Glenn sought to teach him a lesson. Aiden was one of those guys who acted tough, but he didn’t know shit. Nickolas was like that too, and they were finding it difficult to bring Glenn into their supply run team because Glenn knew what the hell he was doing. Daryl didn’t much like the kid, but he didn’t deserve to die.

“What the fuck happened?” Daryl asked aggressively.

“They went out to get parts to fix the generator. The warehouse had walkers everywhere. Things went wrong. Aiden was careless. Nick, according to Glenn, panicked and got Noah killed,” Rick told him.

Daryl looked around the room again. “What about Tara and Eugene?”

“Tara got injured. She’s at the infirmary. She’s unconscious, looks like a concussion, lost some blood. Pete’s helping her. Eugene’s ok. He’s sitting with Tara. Says she was trying to save him when she got hurt. He’s pretty shaken up, but he’ll be alright. Nick is with Deanna right now, doing an interview. She’ll probably want to talk to Glenn next,” Rick informed.

Daryl ran his hand through his hair and looked at Aaron in frustration. “We aren’t supposed to be losing more of our people. This is bullshit.”

“There’s more,” Maggie said, joining the conversation. “Gabriel came by Deanna’s house. I overheard him. He’s telling her not to trust us, saying crazy things like Rick is the devil in disguise, and that she made a mistake by letting us in. I didn’t think she took him seriously, but now with her son’s death, I don’t know where her head is at.”

“We can’t wait any longer,” Rick said. “We’re going in and getting control of those weapons whether anyone likes it or not.”

“You can’t do that,” Aaron protested.

Rick rounded on him. “And why not?”

Daryl took a step forward to get between Rick and Aaron. Tensions were running high with everything that happened. Rick was agitated, and Daryl wasn’t sure what he might do, but Aaron wouldn’t be a target. Rick, remembering what stood between Daryl and Aaron, back up a step and bowed his head submissively. Aaron proceeded to answer.

“Gabriel’s been in Deanna’s ear, and right now she’s vulnerable. If you start pushing your weight around, you’re all going to find yourselves outside those walls. Don’t ruin what you’ve built with her,” Aaron explained.

Carol put a hand on Rick’s arm and pulled him away so she had his full attention. “I’ve been in the weapons room recently, and I found a locker full of weapons they don’t use. I’m pretty sure I can take some of them, and they’ll never be missed.”

Rick considered it a moment and nodded. “Fine, it’s a start anyways.”

Daryl didn’t think now was a good time to mention the mutilated body and the woman tied to the tree. Rick was on edge, and it wouldn’t take much for him to go over it. Taking weapons from the supply room was risky, and if someone found out, Daryl was afraid Deanna would come after him first. She had made it very clear that she had brought him into Alexandria, and she could just as easily send him away. Daryl wasn’t so worried about going back out there. He had survived through worse trials along the way. He would survive still. But Alexandria was established. It was protected, although it had its flaws. With some tweaking and getting the people stronger and more alert, this place could be a serious stronghold, but it was going to take all of them to accomplish this. He also knew that if he was cast out, Aaron would go with him, and he didn’t want that either.

“Why don’t you give it a few days before going for the guns,” Daryl suggested.

“Why?” Rick asked curiously.

“I think I need to be away from here a couple days before that happens. I’m the one who broke in there in the first place. I’m the one everyone is going to look at if they discover them missing. Me and Aaron will go on a recruiting run. We haven’t been out looking in a while anyways,” Daryl explained. He also suspected there was some kind of psychopath out there killing for sport. If they could find survivors, he might be doing them a favor.

 

Rick thought about it, and eventually agreed with a nod of his head. “Alright, but when are you leaving?”

Daryl looked at Aaron to get his opinion. Aaron answered. “Day after tomorrow should be good.”

* * * * *

The next couple of days were extremely quiet and solemn. The town was in mourning. Deanna was nonexistent. Pete payed a visit to Rick, subtly threatening the constable to stay away from his family and mind his own business. Rick’s tolerance seemed to be growing thin. With Pete making threats, worrying about Jessie, and the difficulty of getting used to life in a normal way, he was not coping well at all. Right now, it was like walking on eggshells for the group. They had to lay as low as possible, especially while Deanna and her family grieved, but chaos was brewing just below the surface. Tara was still unconscious and healing slowly. Pete was the town’s only doctor, but he’d been drinking heavily lately, and not doing all he could. Sasha was spending hours in the watchtower or disappearing beyond the walls. Michonne was keeping tabs on her. Glenn was disturbed from being witness to Noah’s death, and he was out for revenge against Nickolas. Aaron was worried about Eric, who hadn’t left his house much after the meeting where Pete called him out. He’d been talking nonsense about another town. Aaron did his best to talk him out of it, telling him that they would have found this place already had it existed. He still feared what Eric might do, especially with the city’s tension stretched so thin. He talked to Daryl about it, wondering if they should abandon their latest recruitment run and stay. Daryl told him they needed to stick with the original plans. Rick and the rest knew what they were doing, even if it didn’t seem like it.

“We work best under pressure,” Daryl assured him, as they packed the car with supplies and equipment. “You’ll see. Besides, we need to do some more investigating and find out who’s been tagging walkers before they become a threat to us.”

Aaron put the last of the water in the trunk and wiped his brow. “We got plenty of blankets? It gets cold at night now.”

Daryl was about to answer when he saw Maggie heading up the street. He needed to talk to her about something. “Yeah, uh, we should, but just in case, I’ll grab a few more.” He left Aaron at the car and jogged across the street to catch up with Maggie. He touched her arm and she stopped.

“Hey Daryl, you heading out?” she asked.

“Soon, yeah. Listen, I need you to do something for me.”

“Sure. What is it?”

He looked down the road. Just a few houses away was Eric’s house. “I need you to keep tabs on Eric.”

“Ok, but can I ask why?” she wondered.

“Aaron said he’s been talking crazy shit, something about another safe zone and other people. I don’t know where he got this idea from. As far as I know, there isn’t anywhere else, and in all the times I’ve been out there, I’ve never come across it.”

“He has seemed more on edge than usual,” Maggie observed, glancing back towards his house. “When I see him, anyways. Eric spends a lot of time in his house lately.”

Daryl nodded. “He’s a good guy, but he’s easily spooked, and with everything going on around here … well … I–”

“You think he’d go to Deanna about what went down at Alison’s house?” she asked, guessing before Daryl could continue.

“He may be forced to pick a side soon, and I’m not so sure he’s coming over to ours.”

“Do you want me to talk to him?” she asked.

“I’ll leave that up to you, but if anyone should speak with him, it should be you. Right now, I think you’re the most reasonable one of us. Everyone is dealing with issues.” Daryl saw movement out of the corner of his eye, and saw Aaron standing by the car, arms crossed, watching him from the other side of the street. “I gotta go. Be back in a few days.”

Maggie hugged him, even though he was stiff and didn’t really hug her back. She was used to it. “Be careful out there,” she whispered in his ear. “Both of you.”

Daryl nodded and put his hand on her shoulder. Then he went back to the supply room for a couple more blankets. When he got back to the car, Aaron looked skeptical. “What’s wrong with you?” Daryl asked on the defense.

“Everything ok?” Aaron asked.

“Yeah. Just speaking with Maggie before we left,” Daryl answered suspiciously.

“You were glancing at Eric’s house.”

“I told her to keep an eye on him while you were gone. That’s all.” Daryl walked across the street heading to their vehicles. He glanced over his shoulder. “C’mon man,” he said impatiently. Daryl mounted his bike and Aaron got in the car. Someone opened the gate, and they took off down the road.

* * * * *

They drove about an hour out until Daryl stopped his bike. Aaron pulled up alongside him with the car, and grabbed his backpack and weapons from the backseat. They spent most of the day quiet and tracking, listening for the sound of voices, but there was no sign of life. Daryl was used to their routine now, but in the beginning, he didn’t understand it. Aaron and Eric used some kind of spy equipment to listen in on strangers so that they could keep a safe distance while they decided whether to introduce themselves and bring the people back to the city. Daryl used to think it was sneaky and suspicious to eavesdrop on people, but now he knew it made sense. There were some people out there that you didn’t want to meet, and this way they would know before coming into contact with them.

“If we come across someone, and we decide to introduce ourselves, don’t use their names right off the bat,” Daryl suggested. They had stopped for a break, and were sitting behind a large boulder surrounded by smaller rocks that seemed to have broken off of the original. It was a good place to sit peacefully while they shared some water and food they had brought with their supplies.

“Why not?” Aaron asked.

“It’s kind of creepy, especially when some guy just pops out of the woods and says, “Hi there Billy Joe. I am the bearer of good news. You’ve been selected for an all-expenses paid trip to Alexandria,” Daryl jostled.

Aaron laughed at Daryl’s impression. “I don’t sound like that. I don’t say that either.”

“When you found us, you knew everyone’s names like we were old friends, and told us we had to audition.” Daryl laughed at the memory. “I was like, what the fuck is this, a talent show?”

Aaron laughed too. “It worked though. I got you all to come back with me.”

“Yeah, but not before Rick kicked your ass.”

Both men chuckled as they reminisced, passing a bottle of water back and forth. When they quieted, Daryl asked him something. “You told me once that you saw me lead the group to that barn.”

“Yeah, when the storm was rolling in. I remember.”

“How much more did you see?” Daryl wondered.

Aaron rested his hand on Daryl’s thigh. “You were all walking down the road, and I watched you split off from the rest and head into the woods alone. My initial plan was to stick to watching the group as a whole, but I wanted to know where you went, and what you were doing. I’d seen you go off on your own before, but I thought maybe you were taking a piss or something. That time, though, you looked different. I don’t know, you just seemed like you needed someone or something.” Aaron huffed and looked down. “I … kind of thought that as long as I watched you, even if you didn’t know it, you wouldn’t be alone, so I trailed you at a distance.”

“Was Eric with you?” Daryl asked.

“I never took Eric with me when I went in for a closer look at a group. I left him to watch the road that we came up from. It was just me … and you.”

“What did you see?” Daryl said at a whisper.

“I saw a man swallowed in grief and loneliness yet still able to find the will to keep fighting. I found a true survivor, and not just against the roamers. I found a man who I knew I couldn’t go another day without meeting. I found you.” Aaron squeezed his thigh, bringing Daryl’s attention to him.

Daryl gave a slight smile and a huff before he turned his eyes back to the ground between his knees. He remembered that day very well. It was the first time he allowed himself to grieve for Beth. “I’d lost her only a few days before that … Beth. It was all right there before us. It should have been a simple trade, two Grady officers for Beth and Carol. I had her. I had her at my side. All we had to do was walk out of there and it was over. And then Dawn wanted Noah too. Rick said he wasn’t part of the deal. Dawn demanded we give her Noah, saying we took Beth and he was her replacement. Noah was willing to go, just to keep the peace, and he crossed the hall to Dawn. That’s when Beth ran to him and hugged him. When she took off, I tried to reach for her and keep her with me, but I wasn’t expecting it. She slipped away from me.” Daryl stopped and hung his head so that his hair hid his face as he continued. “Beth had a pair of scissors hidden on her. They weren’t regular scissors. They were smaller, like the ones they use in hospitals to cut tape or gauze. Anyways, Beth called Dawn out for what she really was, and stabbed the woman in the shoulder. Dawn’s first instinct, as a cop, was to draw her pistol. She brought it up and fired. The bullet went straight through Beth’s head. She was dead before she hit the floor. I looked down, and her blood was splattered on me, a pool of blood was growing on the floor beneath Beth’s head. So much blood and all of it hers. I followed my first instinct too, and drew my gun on Dawn, shot her dead, and prepared to be killed myself. We were in a hallway of the hospital. Dawn’s officers on one end, Rick and our group on the other. I figured the deal was off the table, and at any moment everyone would start firing their weapons. It was going to be a mob style shoot out, but it didn’t happen. The officers pretty much threw up the white flag, said Dawn was at the end of her reign anyways. We did them a favor by killing her. I didn’t care. I just wanted revenge against them all. Rick grabbed me by the arm and pulled me behind him. After that, I kind of blacked out. Someone was going to take Beth, but I shoved them away. It had to be me. I was the one who picked up her lifeless body, and carried her out of that place. It wasn’t that long before that Beth held me in her arms and told me everything was going to work out. Now I held her in mine, but not the way it should have been.” Daryl looked at Aaron a moment before he spoke again. “I still see it in my dreams, even now. I see myself doing all the things I should have done. I can stop it in hindsight, and I do. In my dream, she lives … and then I wake up and realize she’s gone. I don’t think I’ll ever stop dreaming about it. Shoulda, woulda, coulda … fuck.”

“I’m sorry it happened, and I wish there was something I could do to help you forget, but I don’t think that’s what you want,” Aaron said, moving closer to Daryl so that their arms rubbed against each other. “We should never forget.”

“I don’t know if anyone told you this, or if you figured it out for yourself, but you found us just in time,” Daryl said. “We were at the end of our means out there, and it wasn’t just hunger, thirst and exhaustion. Mentally, I don’t think we would have made it much further. We had no idea where we were going or what we were doing. Honestly, I’d never felt as close to nothingness as I did during those few days before you found us. I can’t speak for the rest of them, but … you saved my life that day.”

“And you’ve saved mine too,” Aaron smiled.

They gazed at one another for a moment until Aaron leaned in and they kissed. They separated but they kept their foreheads pushed against each other, needing the closeness. Daryl felt his heart race. He knew what he needed to say. He felt it pulsing in his chest, screaming for him to just say the words. Aaron nudged him and they kissed once more. This time it was Daryl that pulled away. The words were right on his tongue. He could feel their heaviness.

“Aaron,” he whispered. “I—I want to … I—I just needed to say–” he stammered.

“Yeah?” Aaron asked in an anxious airy whisper.

“Thank you,” Daryl said, not at all what his heart was telling him, but his brain blocked the real words.

Not exactly the words Aaron was hoping to hear, but he would take them. He smiled and gave Daryl one more quick kiss. He raised an eyebrow comically. “You can thank me any way you want later.”

“I plan on it,” Daryl responded, eyes dark and smoldering. It was that sexy look that easily set Aaron to flame.

* * * * *

After their short break, they started off again, hiking through trees and meadows, looking and listening for signs of survivors. They had been silent for a long time, and Daryl thought it was safe to talk. They hadn’t seen walkers much in this area. They could relax a bit and speak. Daryl started. “You mentioned Deanna not hesitating to kick us out of the town. Has she ever had to?”

Aaron slowed his tread, but kept taking the long strides that his legs allowed. “She did … once.”

“What happened?” Daryl wondered.

“They … didn’t want to bend to the town rules, to Deanna’s rules. They were very defiant and tried to take over leadership, enforce their own way of doing things,” Aaron said solemnly. He stopped walking, making Daryl stop and look back at him. “You see why it is so important that your group, but especially Rick, must let Deanna lead. If she feels threatened, she won’t put up with much, and … I—I don’t want to have to do that again.”

Daryl furrowed his brow. “Do what?”

“I was the one who brought those survivors in, and I was the one who had to escort them out. Not only that, but … I had to send them out there without their weapons. It was awful. I felt like … I felt like an executioner. Basically, I sent them to their death. Without their guns, they didn’t have a chance. Davidson, that was their leader, he begged me not to do it, to at least give them a knife, an ax, a hammer even … anything. I couldn’t. That’s one of Deanna’s rules. If someone is exiled, they must leave without weapons. She considers it reducing the risk of someone seeking revenge upon Alexandria.”

Daryl was put off by what he heard. It was one thing to make someone leave the town, but to send them away without any kind of protection . . . “You might as well have shot them in the head, put them out of their misery as opposed to torture, because that’s what that was. I’m not blaming you. You were only doing what you were ordered to do, but–”

“Deanna was only doing what she thought was best for Alexandria. That was and still is her first priority. And she didn’t just send them away on a whim. She gave them numerous chances, but Davidson wouldn’t conform, and he became a threat,” Aaron explained.

Daryl thought about this a moment, thought about his own mistakes, and his unwillingness to cooperate. “She could have sent me away after I broke into the weapons room.”

“You don’t think I didn’t worry about that scenario playing out?” Aaron inquired.

“You brought me in. You would have had to take me away too,” Daryl told him.

“No,” Aaron whispered, stepping close, and laying his hand on Daryl’s arm. “I would have gone with you.” Aaron closed the distance and captured Daryl’s lips. When they separated, Daryl’s eyes darkened and pierced into Aaron’s. Aaron licked his lips and swallowed hard. “Too bad the lake house isn’t this way.”

“It’s probably at least a hundred miles the opposite direction.”

“And we’re too vulnerable in the wild,” Aaron mentioned, his eyes roaming down Daryl’s chest.

Daryl took Aaron’s chin in his fingers, and lifted his head. “Besides, were supposed to be working,” Daryl reminded him with one brow raised.

Aaron looked off to the side with a disappointed smile. “Yeah,” he agreed reluctantly.

Daryl watched him as he started walking again, but he reached out and took Aaron’s arm, stopping him. There was something he needed to say. “Thanks.”

“For what?” Aaron asked, searching his face.

“For sticking with me. For willing to stick up for me. Not a whole lot of people would do that,” Daryl admitted.

Aaron smiled and Daryl looked away, not used to this kind of personal exchange of emotions. He started walking before Aaron could say anything else, and they set out again focusing on the job of finding survivors to recruit to Alexandria.



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