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 23 Deja Vu


Daryl and Aaron cautiously made their way to the cabin. Even though Daryl was acting, he still took this part seriously. Walkers tended to roam into the most peculiar places. The cabin had been closed off to intruders, but you never knew what might sneak inside, and with the mysterious ‘W’ branding, people were a threat too. People were always a threat, Daryl reminded himself, possibly more so than walkers. He put aside his concerns on that subject and went back to his original plans for Aaron. This just had to work, he repeated in his mind. If he could recreate the first time they found the cabin, maybe Aaron would remember. It was all or nothing for Daryl. He wanted nothing more than to get Aaron back, and that was all he cared about.

“Wow, you were right,” Aaron said as they approached the cabin. “There is something here. Looks kind of rough, though. You think we’ll find what we need inside?”

“I’m hoping like hell we will,” Daryl answered as his heart beat loudly. “We need to clear it first. Make sure it’s empty.”

They made their way to the front porch. Aaron looked in the windows. “I can’t see inside.”

“Look up there,” Daryl said, gesturing to the cameras on either side of the ceiling.

“For a rundown shack, that’s some high-tech equipment,” Aaron pointed out.

Daryl watched as an odd look fell upon Aaron’s face. “You ok?”

“I think so,” Aaron answered, furrowing his brow. “It’s probably nothing.”

Daryl tried the handle of the front door. “It’s unlocked.” He nodded towards the door, signaling for Aaron to open it so he could barge in with weapons at the ready. “On the count of three. One. Two. Three.” Aaron forced the door open and Daryl charged in, swinging his bow back and forth as he scanned the place for anything moving. It was as silent as a grave within, which was a relief.

Aaron flipped a light switch, but nothing happened. “I don’t know why I did that. We’re not in Alexandria where there’s power.”

“Force of habit,” Daryl said. “We’ll go room to room and clear the place.”

“Have we … done this before?” Aaron asked.

“What do you mean?” Daryl wondered whether he meant here at the cabin or in general.

“Is this how we work together?” Aaron said as he looked around in the dark.

“This is what anyone does when they find an abandoned building,” Daryl told him. He was being vague on purpose. If Aaron was going to get his memory back, he’d have to do it on his own. Daryl wouldn’t put any ideas into his head.

“I know that much, but–” Aaron paused and looked down and away, as though searching for an answer at his feet. “Never mind. Let’s do this.”

“You sure?” Daryl said.

“Yeah, I guess it’s just been a while since I’ve done this.”

“You need to focus,” Daryl warned. “If something’s in here, you need to be ready.” He wasn’t playing the game now. He wouldn’t put Aaron at risk.

“No, I’m good. Let’s go.”

They entered the cabin and started making their way through, sweeping the rooms as they went. Daryl noticed that it still looked the same. Everything was in place and orderly. No one had come in and ransacked the place. He went to the master bedroom that he had claimed as his own, and found it as he’d left it last. Aaron made his way to the other side where the spare rooms were. After a while, they met in the living room and verified that it was clear of intruders.

“I’m taking the master,” Daryl claimed, just as he had before.

“I’ll take one of the spares,” Aaron said. “Hey, look what else I found.” He led Daryl towards the kitchen. “Look at this place. Someone spared no expense on comfort. Not exactly what I’d call roughing it.”

“Did you see out back yet?” Daryl asked, hoping to lead Aaron towards the lake view. That was an important part of their past visits to the cabin, and although the water would be too frigid for swimming, Daryl hoped that just seeing it would invoke something.

“Holy shit,” Aaron commented. “Look at that view. It’s beautiful. And there’s a boat house and a dock. This is a place I could have only dreamed about.”

“It’s like something out of Homes and Gardens,” Daryl commented, just as he had originally.

Aaron’s head whipped around and he looked Daryl right in the eyes. Please remember, Daryl thought to himself. “Homes and Gardens,” Aaron reminisced. “I haven’t heard that name in a long time. I used to like looking at all the nice things that I’d never have.” He looked out over the lake again. “How do you suppose this place hasn’t been discovered yet?”

Perfect, Daryl thought. This was just how it was in the beginning. “It’s all about positioning. The house is built on a slight incline. You can’t see the lake until you’re right up on it.” He waited for Aaron’s reaction, but there was none. Damn it, he cursed. “Hey, let’s go check out that boathouse, make sure it’s empty.”

They headed out the back door, and as they walked past the fire pit, Aaron stopped. “There’s ashes in there. Someone has used this.”

“Since there’s no electricity, it would be a good place to cook,” Daryl said.

“I think there’s fishing rods in the mudroom,” Aaron said, surprising himself.

“What?” Daryl asked so he would repeat it, and hopefully start figuring things out for himself.

“I don’t know why I said that. I didn’t know there was a mudroom.” Aaron looked extremely confused.

“Seems a likely place to find stuff like that,” Daryl said so Aaron wouldn’t become suspicious. “Besides, this is an outdoorsmen paradise.”

“Yeah,” Aaron said, not completely convinced.

They continued on to the boathouse and Aaron looked through a window. “There’s a boat inside. Nice one from the looks of it.”

Daryl’s mind went back to their time here, when he came down with the sickness and stayed in the boathouse while Aaron and Caleb stayed in the cabin. Aaron had come back with blankets and booze. They talked through the door for the longest time. It was before they admitted their feelings for each other, or at least before Daryl had. Aaron was already trying to get Daryl to open up, but of course, he was being his usual defiant self. Wasted time, he thought now. When Aaron wanted him, he denied who he was and what he was feeling. All he wished for now was that Aaron would remember what they had.

“I’ll go in and check out the boat. You stay out here and keep watch,” Daryl said.

“Sure thing,” Aaron agreed.

Daryl was gone for a bit before he came back out. He handed a note to Aaron, the one left by the previous owner of the cabin. “Looks like he checked out early.”

Aaron read the letter, and that same look crossed his handsome face once more. “Ever feel like you’ve been there and done that before?”

“Yeah, they call it déjà vu. Why, is that happening to you?” Daryl wondered carefully.

“Ever since we came to this place, I can’t help feeling that I’ve been here before.”

It was working. Daryl’s plan to jog his memory was starting to loosen everything trapped in Aaron’s mind. But what would he do when it all came back? Would he be pissed at Daryl for tricking him? Would he be glad? Or would it be too much to handle all at once.  It was a chance Daryl was willing to take, even if Aaron decided to never speak to him again.

“Let’s go back to the house,” Daryl suggested, closing the door to the boathouse.

“Didn’t you find any supplies for Abraham in there?” Aaron asked.

Daryl almost forgot that part of the scheme. “Oh, well, there was some rope and other boat kind of things. We’ll gather it up before we leave. I think we’ll have better luck inside the house.”

Aaron agreed and they went back. As they walked, he looked up into the canopy of the surrounding trees. “Sun’s going down soon. We should probably hurry so we can get back to the car before it gets dark.”

“About that,” Daryl said, cupping his neck with his hand. “Maybe we should hold out here for tonight. Head back out tomorrow. It feels pretty safe here. What do you think?”

Aaron glanced around the area. “Yeah, I have to admit that I get some good vibes about this place. You know, if we find poles, we can probably catch some fish.”

“That would be great except I’m afraid we won’t find much at this time of year. Water’s gone cold and all the good eatin’ fish have gone deep or gone away. I bet we’ll find something in the kitchen. From the looks of it, this guy was ready to hide out here for a while.”

Aaron smiled genuinely for the first time. “Sounds like a good idea. Actually, it would be nice to rough it here for a bit.”

Once inside, Daryl directed Aaron to go off towards the wine cellar while he rustled up some canned goods for dinner. Aaron came back with a bottle of red and a bottle of white. “I didn’t know what you’d find so I brought one of each.”

“Great. Hope you like Italian from a can,” Daryl said, holding two cans of spaghetti Ring-O’s.

“I’d eat a horse right now if–” He stopped himself, and had the oddest look on his face. Aaron closed his eyes, his brows drawing together, and concentrated. “There was a horse, wasn’t there?”

Daryl’s heart skipped a beat. “What?”

“Buttons,” Aaron said eagerly. “His name was Buttons, and you and I tried to capture him.”

“Wow. That was back when we first met. Yeah, we were out and came across him. You said you tried to catch him, but he wouldn’t let you get close.”

“And you walked right up to him, sweet talking that huge beast. Your voice was so soothing, like you’d done that a thousand times,” Aaron remembered. “I was completely amazed by that. God, I remember it like it was yesterday.”

Daryl went to Aaron and stood before him. “You said I was like that horse, let loose and turned wild, but longing to be introduced back into society. You figured me out long before I did.”

“I can’t believe that just came back to me,” Aaron said with a smile.

Daryl was so elated by his words, he didn’t think twice as he took hold of Aaron and pulled him in. “I’ve been praying for you to remember me for so long now. God, I’ve missed you something terrible.” Daryl tilted Aaron’s head as he leaned in and captured his lips. Aaron was reluctant at first, but as Daryl deepened the kiss, Aaron started to respond. Just as he did, he pulled away from Daryl and turned his head. “What are you doing? I can’t. I’m with Eric.”

“What?” Daryl questioned, perhaps sounding a bit angry.

“Whatever we did before, it wasn’t right. I shouldn’t have cheated on Eric with you, and I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong impression. I want to be your friend, Daryl, but it can never go any further than that.”

“But you said you remembered. If you did, if you truly did, you’d know that—“

“I don’t,” Aaron said, backing away. “I only remember that time with the horse, nothing else.”

“You know, I’m getting tired of this. I’ve tried to be patient. I’ve tried to get you to remember. Maybe you can’t remember because you don’t want to. Well, I’m not playing second to someone who doesn’t deserve you. You need to really explore your feelings for Eric. You need to go deep and look inside your heart, and tell yourself what you really feel. Is it coming from you or is it coming from what Eric chooses for you to believe.” Daryl’s tone was threatening, but he didn’t care anymore. “You know what?” He snatched the bottle of red from the counter. “I’m suddenly not hungry. I’m going to my room. See you in the morning.”

Aaron watched him storm off towards the master bedroom. He felt bad for the exchange that just happened, but it couldn’t be helped. He went to bed and thought about what Daryl said, and how he said it. He spoke with such passion, Aaron began to wonder. How much had transpired between them? What exactly had happened? And what did he mean when he implied that Eric wasn’t good enough for him? Aaron tossed and turned for the longest time as all those questions and more rummaged through his head. He was so confused, and tired of everyone else knowing the things that he couldn’t recall anymore. Daryl was the biggest mystery, though. Some part of him wanted to know Daryl better, while another small part said he already did, but it was locked away. “Why can’t I just remember everything? Why is it just bits and pieces? What am I missing?” he thought as he finally drifted off to sleep.

But sleep did not come easily for Aaron that night, and he started getting a strange feeling about this place. Certain things felt familiar, though Daryl never told him they’d been there before. His sudden recollection of there being a mudroom was perplexing. He spoke about it as though he’d always known about it. And as he walked through the home checking rooms, he felt as though he knew his way around. When he sat on the leather couch, there was a soft spot on the seat to the left, which he felt his body ready for as he sat down. And in the kitchen, sitting at the island, he felt a strange ghostly presence, not of a person, but of a time of laughter. But none of this could be real, could it? Wouldn’t Daryl tell him if they’d been to this place before?

Aaron closed his eyes again, knowing that the hour was late, but all he saw was the anger on Daryl’s face. Why was he so angry, Aaron repeated in his mind? Why did he care so much whether Aaron would remember him?

Suddenly, Aaron heard small samplings of Daryl’s voice coming through the white noise of his ignorant brain. And then there were bright flashes behind his lids, each flash revealing another scene. Daryl was in each one. The first was of Aaron and Daryl in the kitchen, laughing and enjoying telling stories. There was another flash, and Aaron saw himself sitting on the floor outside of the door that led into the boat house. He was talking to someone on the opposite side of the door. It was Daryl. He could tell by the voice, but he seemed tired and desolate. Again, there was a flash like a camera’s bulb going off, and the scene changed to the fireplace in the living room of the cabin. Daryl was sitting in front of him, saying something, telling his story perhaps. The next flash of white revealed a pair of hands, one of them Aaron’s, and covering another’s. The hand turned and their fingers intertwined. Aaron could even feel the heat upon his palm, so warm and comforting. It wasn’t Eric’s hand. His were gaunt with long fingers. This hand in his vision was wide and strong, calloused from hard labor, scarred from battle. This was the hand of a warrior, of someone who constantly took chances, just like . . .

“Daryl,” Aaron whispered to the darkness.


Daryl drank the bottle of wine, but it wasn’t strong enough to numb him. As a matter of fact, it put him in too relaxed of a mood, when he should have been drunk on hooch and breaking furniture. Better yet, he’d like to break Eric’s scrawny little neck for filling Aaron’s head with all the shit he’d wished for. So, he won, and now he had Aaron, had his bony fingers deep into Aaron’s flesh and wouldn’t let go. Daryl could talk to Aaron until he was blue in the face, but if he didn’t remember what they had, if he didn’t remember they were lovers and not a liaison, Aaron would never believe that he and Daryl had been the real deal, not Aaron and Eric. Now, Eric had twisted things and convinced Aaron that Daryl was a fling, an intruder into their relationship. Aaron must have thought that Eric was giving him a second chance, and he wouldn’t do anything to screw that up, including allowing himself the freedom to remember what happened between him and Daryl. Only Aaron could unlock the mystery.

Well, Daryl thought, he could go back to town and scare the shit out of Eric until he told the truth, but that might only chase Aaron further away. He seemed kind of fragile right now, not ready to face confrontation and all. And every time Daryl tried to get him to have a breakthrough, Aaron rejected him. Maybe it was too late. Maybe he’d waited too long to make Aaron remember. Daryl should have tried from the very start. Instead, he laid low, took a step back, and allowed Eric to become his true conscience.

Suddenly, the cabin seemed too closed in. Daryl couldn’t sleep anyways, so he got up and went outside. He walked down to the dock, lit a cigarette, and stood there looking out over the water. The moon was high, not completely full, but close. The lake was like a mirror, and it felt like he was looking down into the sky instead of up. Or perhaps it was more like looking into a pit, an empty hole where nothing could survive, nothing thrived, all thoughts and memories failed to exist. He suddenly wished to jump into that black abyss, and let the emptiness swallow him up until he had no recollection of why his heart hurt so bad.

When he finished his smoke, he flicked the butt into the water, and watched the tiny ripples travel out over the smooth still water. What would he do now? He thought for sure that bringing Aaron here would help, but it seemed to force him further away. The kiss, though. There had been something there, something familiar. Aaron kissed him back, if only for a few seconds, and it felt like it had before. Daryl was sure that Aaron had felt it too. It was undeniable, yet rejection was the result. If only … if only Aaron would . . .

Daryl heard something. Someone was approaching.  He pulled his hunting knife from his belt and got ready.

“Hey, it’s just me,” Aaron said, coming out of the shadows. The moonlight gave off just enough of a glow for Daryl to see him. “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Naw, it’s alright,” Daryl said, putting the knife back. He took out his pack of cigarettes and lit another one. He really couldn’t afford to chain smoke, but what the hell. He needed it right now. “Couldn’t sleep?”

Aaron shook his head. “No. I’ve been seeing images, visions of my missing memory, I think. I’m not really sure.”

“That’s good, isn’t it?” Daryl asked.

“You were in them,” Aaron told him. He stood next to Daryl, both men standing on the dock looking out across the lake. “I need you to be honest with me,” Aaron said in a serious tone. “Have I been here before?”

Daryl watched him from the corner of his eye. He took another drag, and tried to get a feel for what Aaron’s reaction might be, but he wasn’t giving any signs. Slowly Daryl nodded. “Yeah, we’ve both been here. That’s why I brought you. I thought it might help.”

“Did you know about this place before you brought me the first time?” Aaron was very serious, his brows creasing together as he spoke.

Daryl wouldn’t lie, and he wouldn’t sugarcoat anything. Aaron was finally asking the questions that he needed answers to, and Daryl would give him honesty. “I’d passed this way once with Michonne, but we didn’t stop. I recognized the terrain when you and I came this way. We needed a place to crash. We found it together basically,” Daryl told him.

Aaron sighed deep and stuck his hands into his pockets. The night air was unbearably chilly, and neither man was dressed properly. Aaron wore pajama pants and a t-shirt. Daryl wore sweats and his biker jacket. Still, they didn’t seem to let the cold weather interfere with their reason for being out here together.

“I want to tell you about my visions, but I need you to explain them,” Aaron said. “Will you?”

Daryl shrugged. “Like I said before, I could tell you, but if you don’t remember–”

“Fuck remembering!” Aaron shouted, frustrated. “I need to know, Daryl. I need the blanks filled in, and for some reason, I trust you not to lie. I think you’ll be honest and help me because the only visions I’ve had have all had you in them somehow.”

“I thought you didn’t want to know. I thought you wanted to distance yourself from me … you know … since I’m nothing but some fling from an affair.” Daryl’s anger was evident in his tone, and Aaron picked up on it right away.

“Honestly, I think you’re the key to unlock whatever is jailed inside my head. I don’t know why I feel this way, but it’s strong, whatever it is.” Aaron took a step away from Daryl and faced him, but he kept his eyes to the ground. “And … and I don’t feel that with Eric.” He said it almost as if he was ashamed to.

Daryl took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Alright. Go ahead.”

 “I saw us sitting in front of the fireplace, talking about something. You looked worn and tired,” Aaron told him. “Why?”

Daryl thought back to that time. “We had just rescued Caleb from a bad group of guys. They did terrible things to him, things that I too had experienced as a teenager, stuff I’d never really dealt with. You got me to open up and tell you my story, and that’s what we were doing.”

“Oh,” Aaron said, sounding surprised.

“Why? What did you think we were doing, having a romantic night spent in front of the fire?” Daryl said condescendingly. “Nothing happened. It was before we got together.”

Aaron closed his eyes, recalled the vision and applied Daryl’s take on it. It fit, and he was able to remember some of their conversation. “You confided in me. You told me about being raped by a family friend.”

“Yeah,” Daryl whispered, amazed that Aaron remembered. He didn’t want to revisit those appalling times and pushed on. “What else?”

“The boat house. I was sitting outside the door talking to you through wood and glass,” Aaron told him.

“Yeah,” Daryl recalled. “Before we took Caleb to town, he told us about the group he was with. They were all sick with disease, the same one that swept through the prison where I lived before you found me and my group.”

“Caleb’s mother was there,” Aaron continued. “We took him to see her and to see if we could help, but they were all too far gone.”

“That’s right. Things were starting to get out of hand, and then some woman coughed on me, splattered me with blood. I knew I was infected, and I insisted on sleeping in the boathouse to keep you and Caleb safe,” Daryl filled him in.

Aaron palmed his forehead and searched his mind. “The car was out of gas. That’s why we didn’t go back to town right away.”

“You came back with a box van full of gas and supplies. We threw my bike in the back, and then I climbed in. You rushed us back to Alexandria so I could get help before it was too late.”

“I sat with you day and night,” Aaron remembered. It seemed odd that he would do that if he was with Eric. He knew for a fact that Eric didn’t like Daryl. There was no way he would have agreed to Aaron spending every minute of the day with his sick friend. Aaron looked out at the lake again, contemplating this new information, when he was struck with another moment of familiarness. “And the water. I … I swam here before. And you were standing right where you are now, watching me.”

“That was another time we came here,” Daryl said.

“We came back?” Aaron asked. “Is this where we came to … be alone?” There was an accusatory tone. Aaron still thought they were only lovers because of an affair.

“It wasn’t like that,” Daryl told him. “It was never like that.” Daryl took a drag, the end of his cigarette glowing red. He exhaled and the smoke floated out over the lake.

“Eric says I … strayed from our relationship after you and I started working together,” Aaron stated.

“He does, does he? Well … he would. The question is, what do you think? Never mind what Eric has told you. You have to listen to your soul. Think of what it’s like when you’re with Eric, and then feel what it’s like being right here, right now. What’s your heart telling you?”

“Why won’t you talk to me?” Aaron asked. “Why won’t you just come out and tell me what happened between us? I need to know, because . . .” His words faded away.

“Because what?” Daryl said, trying to get him to continue. “Because you want to believe Eric? Because you want to justify what he’s told you? Or is it because there’s a part of you that wants to believe whatever I have to tell you?”

“Because I’m leaving Alexandria, and I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing,” Aaron blurted out.

Daryl turned to him, looking at him in disbelief. “You’re leaving? What the hell for?”

“It’s a chance to start over. Come on, Daryl, look what happened. Someone tried to kill me. There’s people in Alexandria that don’t want our kind there. Who’s to say it won’t happen again, and maybe to Eric next time?” Aaron explained.

Would it be such a bad thing if Eric lost his memory, Daryl thought, though he kept it to himself. “And how can you be so sure there’s another town like Alexandria? We’ve been all around this damn place, for miles in every direction, and we’ve never come across another safe zone.”

“Eric said he has solid information,” Aaron told him.

“Eric says. That’s all you ever say anymore. You sure have put a lot of trust in him,” Daryl mumbled.

“You have a problem with Eric?” Aaron demanded.

Daryl had a huge problem with the little twat, but now wasn’t the time to start an argument. He needed Aaron’s mind to be open, not defensive. “No. No problem at all. We just never really saw eye to eye.”

“That’s what he said about you when I asked him the same question.”

“You asked Eric about me?” Daryl inquired.

“I thought he could tell me something about us, about being recruiting partners, about our friendship. He said he tried not to get involved with that.”

“Don’t you find that the least bit suspicious? He’s the one who has you ready to risk your life to find a place that might not even exist, yet he knows nothing about what it is that existed between us,” Daryl argued.

“He’s the only one who tells me anything. For fuck’s sake, I try to get you to tell me things, and you shut down. You tell me to look within. How the fuck am I supposed to do that when all I have to go on is what Eric tells me? If you think there’s a reason why I shouldn’t leave Alexandria, then tell me.” Aaron was angry. It was evident in his tone and in his eyes as he stood face to face with Daryl.

“You want to know why?” Daryl countered with his own anger popping on his words. “Fine, I’ll tell you, not that you’ll believe me because Eric has gotten so far into your head that you’re ready to risk everything.” It came out without warning, and now he couldn’t stop confessing. “You didn’t stray from your relationship. You left him. You left Eric when you and I were only friends, before we found this cabin, before we became lovers. He didn’t like me from the beginning, and he sure as hell didn’t want us working together. Eric gave you an ultimatum. Either we stopped working together or the two of you were through. So, you made your choice, and he moved out.” Daryl stopped, his breathing heavy with the adrenaline coursing through his veins. He could see the shock on Aaron’s face, and it was exactly what he was trying to avoid. It was too much information all at once. It probably looked like Daryl was a desperate man willing to say and do anything, but he didn’t care anymore. It was the truth. Daryl’s voice softened and he bowed his head as he continued. “He’s been lying to you, Aaron. He’s been deceiving you, making you think that we had an affair … that you cheated on him with me. That never happened. You … left … him. Now, take it as truth or take it with a grain of salt, but you wanted to know, so there it is.”

“Why didn’t you say this before?” Aaron asked with suspicion.

“Would you have believed me? Do you even believe me now? When you woke up from your coma, Eric was the first person you asked for. You barely remembered me, and you definitely didn’t remember anything about us.”

“I’m still not sure I believe, but at least I have another point of view on the situation.”

Daryl brought the cigarette up to his lips, but he stopped before he inhaled. He took it away, looked at the glowing ash, and then flicked the half smoked cigarette into the lake. “You need to quit trying so hard to remember and just feel, dammit.” He moved so he was standing in front of Aaron, took his chin, and forced their eyes to meet. “Look at me, Aaron. Really look at me. What do you see? What do you feel? Never mind what you’ve been told by Eric or me, or anyone else for that matter. Just look at me and feel whatever is stirring inside you.” He waited until he could see that Aaron was doing exactly what he said. “Do you feel something? Is it the same thing you experience when you look at Eric? Is it more or is it less?” Daryl released him and backed away. He knew when to stop. There was no use pushing Aaron any further. There was nothing more to say. “You don’t believe me. I can see it in your eyes. I knew it would be this way. That’s why I avoided it, but you wanted to know and now you do. Do what you need to do with the information I gave you.” Daryl took a few steps towards the cabin. “It’s late and I’m cold. I’m going back inside.” He walked past Aaron and headed back towards the cabin.

Eventually Aaron went back into the cabin, but only when he felt sure that Daryl had shut himself in his bedroom. The door was closed, he noticed, and he went to the living room. The fire in the hearth had burned down to embers, but he stoked it and added a few more pieces of wood. Then he sat down and drew his knees to his chest. As Aaron stared into the dancing flames, he started processing everything Daryl told him. Was it true? Did he leave Eric? Did Eric make him chose between them and his job with Daryl? Why would he jeopardize his relationship with Eric to keep recruiting? Why was it so important to be partnered with Daryl? All these questions and more flooded his mind. His head was pounding with too much information. It came in too fast to process, and now it was trying to shut down. But Aaron didn’t want that to happen. He wanted to remember. He needed to. Daryl’s words came back to him. Stop trying to remember and just feel. Aaron closed his eyes and rocked back and forth. He did what he could to get the memories to return, but he felt like he was trying too hard. All he could see was Eric and the panic on his face as he tried to convince Aaron to leave Alexandria. Wasn’t that the right thing to do? Wasn’t it his job to protect Eric?


Daryl woke the next morning at the breaking of dawn. He opened the bedroom door and found Aaron sleeping on the couch. He never went to his room last night, Daryl observed. He went to Aaron and pulled the cover up over his shoulders. The light movement made Aaron’s eyes flutter open, and they went straight to Daryl. Aaron smiled as he blinked the sleep away, and Daryl was reminded of old times when they would wake in each other’s arms.

“Good morning,” Aaron said with a yawn and a stretch.

“Morning,” Daryl replied. “How’d you sleep?”

Aaron shook his head. “I tossed and turned all night. You?”

“Barely a wink of sleep.”

Aaron sat up and moved over to let Daryl sit. Daryl took a seat next to him, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I feel I need to apologize,” Daryl started. “I might have been a little harsh with you last night. I shouldn’t have gotten so frustrated. You can’t help it that you can’t remember.”

“It’s ok, really,” Aaron said rubbing his fingers through his hair. “I can imagine how difficult it is to talk to me when I just stare at you with a blank face most of the time.”

“It’s not easy,” Daryl said in a quiet mumble. He felt Aaron’s eyes on him, but he couldn’t return the look. “I’ll make us some breakfast, and then we can get out of here.”

“Did you ever find supplies for the construction project?” Aaron asked.

Daryl’s head bobbed, his chin touching his chest. There was still that bit to confess to. He didn’t have to, though. Aaron beat him to it. “There’s no supplies, are there?”

“There’s no project either. Truth is, it was all a set up to get you out here and get you away from Eric so I could talk to you alone, try to reboot your memory.”

“So Glenn isn’t hurt?” Aaron asked.

“No,” Daryl answered tersely, but he eventually went on with an apology. “I shouldn’t have deceived you like that. You trusted me, and I broke that. I’m sorry.” Daryl said with sincerity.

“I kind of figured that out last night after our conversation,” Aaron admitted.

Daryl got up from the couch, and started towards the kitchen, but he stopped and turned back to Aaron. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone about this place. It’s kind of our secret, and when one of us needs a safe place to escape, we come here. It wouldn’t have the same meaning if everyone else knew about it.”

Aaron nodded, furrowing his brows. “Yeah, sure, not a word.”

“Thanks,” Daryl said and he went to the kitchen to find something for their meal. He opened one of the cabinets full of canned goods and just stood there, not seeing cans, not thinking of food. He was feeling like he lost the most important battle of his life. Aaron still didn’t know him or remember what they had. Maybe he was a little more skeptical of Eric, but he wouldn’t bet on it. Eric was a manipulating little twat, and he would attend to any damage control once they got back to town. He would have Aaron believing that Daryl was no good, and he would have him convinced that they needed to go look for this ghost town.

Aaron came into the kitchen, and Daryl grabbed a couple cans from the shelf. “Got some soup. Is that ok?” he said, moving quickly so Aaron wouldn’t catch him in looking dejected.

“Yeah, anything’s fine.” Aaron went to the island and had a seat on one of the barstools.

Daryl opened them and poured them into two bowls. “I can heat it up, but I have to start a fire and–”

“No, that’s ok. This is good. Just need something in my stomach is all.”

They ate in silence, the taste of chicken noodle somewhat of a relief for both men. Daryl had something he needed to say. If he couldn’t get Aaron to remember him, at least he could try to dissuade him from following through with Eric’s plan to leave Alexandria. “You shouldn’t go,” he said simply.

“Go?” Aaron said, swallowing a spoonful of cold soup.

“You shouldn’t leave Alexandria.”

“I don’t think I can stay, though. I don’t need anyone to tell me things are tense right now. I’ve got the lump on my head to prove that. There’s dangerous people there, Alexandrians and some of yours. I feel like I got caught in the middle of it. I won’t risk it again, especially not for Eric’s sake.”

“It’s more dangerous outside the walls. Someone’s bringing trouble. We’ve seen the signs. You’ve seen them too, but you don’t remember. Walkers with a W carved in their heads. People killed and cut into pieces … we’ve seen it. Caleb and I just saw it a few days ago, a W carved into some trees, and they weren’t that far from Alexandria. It’s just a matter of time before they are at our gates,” Daryl warned.

“Maybe that’s all the more reason to get out while we still can,” Aaron told him.

“Don’t you hear what I’m saying? It’s too risky. You can’t leave,” Daryl said desperately.

“What choice do I have? If I stay or leave, there will always be risk involved,” Aaron argued.

“I’ll protect you,” Daryl blurted out.


“If you stay, I will make it my job to protect you … and Eric. I’ll make sure no one hurts you, either of you.”

Aaron put down his spoon and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. He slowly raised his eyes to look at Daryl. “You don’t even like Eric, and he surely doesn’t like you. And after whatever happened between us … it seems awkward to have you become our bodyguard. Why would you want to?”

Daryl hesitated, but the words were right there on his tongue. If there was ever a time for him to speak his mind and his heart it was right now. If Aaron left, he would surely die, and Daryl couldn’t live with that, knowing there might have been a chance to stop him. “Why?” he repeated Aaron’s question, and turned to face him. “Because I love you, that’s why. That’s the only reason, and that’s the truth. So if you choose to believe anything I’ve told you, then that is the one thing I hope you will take into consideration.” Daryl looked down and away. “I should have told you long before now, but I couldn’t. I was stupid, I was scared, I was being a stubborn prick, like always.”

Aaron sat still, just watching Daryl look defeated by his own admittance. “You … love me?” he stammered with shock.

Daryl kept his eyes to the ground, but he nodded. Then he shrugged his shoulders. “It’s too late. It doesn’t mean anything to you now. Forget I said it.” Daryl shook his head like he was trying to take back the moment. “Listen, just give it a lot of serious thought about staying in Alexandria. The threat is very real, and you’ll be in danger if you leave. Please … don’t go.” Daryl stood and made to leave the kitchen. “I’m gonna pack. We’ll leave in thirty.” With that said, he was gone.

They were three simple words, but they were the most powerful words Aaron had ever heard. They hammered against his head like the clapper of a bell. He shut his eyes tight, felt a whirlwind of confusion in his mind, and grasped the edge of the island counter. He could hear Daryl’s voice repeating those three important words, but he sounded distraught and desperate. Why? Aaron wondered. Daryl told him he’d never said it before now, but Aaron clearly heard him. Other sounds bled in, the sounds of panic and yelling. “Go get Maggie,” someone shouted. “He’s not breathing,” said another. A murmur of a crowd of onlookers surrounded him. And all the while, he could hear Daryl saying over and over, I love you.

Aaron’s head started to hurt, and he covered that part with his hand. Suddenly, visions behind his closed eyes showed a bat coming down at his head, and he heard the loud thump and crack of bone. He was remembering, Aaron figured out. He was remembering what happened to him, what happened that night at the fire pit. He heard the shouting of men and the crying of women, the gasp of the crowd, Daryl’s agitated voice threatening someone, and then the shot of a gun. He felt someone cradling him … Daryl. He heard Daryl’s anxious heart beating, felt warm tears fall onto his face, and the sound of Daryl’s voice again repeating his confession as though it was the only thing keeping Aaron alive. And now he realized that was exactly what it was. Aaron forced himself to hang on for Daryl and for the sake of their love. And yes, Aaron loved him. He had loved him for a while now. He’d told him on many occasions, always going unanswered, but never without some kind of physical acknowledgement. A look, a touch, a rare smile, Daryl found a way to say it without using words. Not until Aaron was in danger did Daryl actually say he loved Aaron, and at that moment it was the best and the worst moment of his life.

“I remember,” Aaron whispered to himself. “I remember it all. Oh God, I remember.”

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