Safe Haven in the Chaos

BY : IdrilsSecret
Category: S through Z > The Walking Dead
Dragon prints: 3108
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 25 A Moment Captured in Time

 

Rick’s meeting about the walkers in the quarry ended. Everyone had a good idea of what needed to be done. There was just one thing left to decide. Who was going to be on this team of herders? “I need people who know the terrain pretty well. I need people who can handle weapons. And I need people who know how to act fast.”

A man named Heath was the first to volunteer, as well as his group of runners. “We’ve been out there lots of times. It’s our job to scour the surrounding areas, look for food and supplies, stuff like that. We’re fast. We know how to get in and get out.”

“Alright,” Rick agreed. “Who else is in on this?”

Carter stepped forward. “I’ve done runs before and so have they.” He pointed to a couple people standing next to him.

“I’ll go,” Aaron spoke up. If anyone knew the terrain around Alexandria it was him.

A few more people spoke up, including Morgan. Although he didn’t know the area as well as most of the others, he was smart, quick, and good with a weapon. Rick agreed to everyone who volunteered, but when the meeting broke up and people started to leave, he went to Daryl and Aaron. “Daryl tells me you got your memory back,” Rick said.

“Yeah, most of it anyways,” Aaron replied.

“That’s good, and I’m really glad to hear it, but . . .” Rick palmed the back of his neck. “I’d rather you stayed here.”

“Why?” Aaron asked with disappointment.

“Right now, I’ve got all my best people making this run. Carol is the only experienced one staying in town. I need someone else here, in case things go south and the herd breaks away. If that should happen, I need you and Carol to help the others. You’re either handing out weapons or helping everyone get out of town. I need a couple leaders who can get these people organized just in case,” Rick explained.

“But I know the land better than anyone. Daryl and I have–”

Rick interrupted him. “I want you here with Carol. I trust the both of you to be able to handle anything that comes your way.” Rick shifted on his feet. Daryl knew that move. He only did it when he was about to confess something. “Look,” Rick continued. “I have to be out there. I have to leave my children here. I don’t like it, but I’ve got no other choice. For peace of mind, I need people I trust to protect them, and to get them out of here if need be.” Rick grasped Aaron’s shoulder. “I know you’ll do the right thing, Aaron. You’re probably the most honest man of any of us. That’s why I need you here.” Rick gave Aaron’s shoulder a hard slap before he walked away.

Aaron was caught off guard by Rick’s comments. “Wow, I had no idea. Rick’s always been kind of tough on me. I didn’t think he ever really trusted me, not the way he trusts his own people.”

“It might take him longer to see a person’s good traits than it takes you or me, but he knows who he can trust,” Daryl said, and he leaned in to kiss Aaron. “You’re one of us now, officially … you know … like being Rick approved,” he joked.

Carol came over to them, smiling at the two men. Daryl gave her a narrow-eyed glare. “What?”

“I’m not used to seeing this … the two of you … in public … you know.” She nudged Daryl’s shoulder with her own, and he rolled his eyes. She laughed. “I know, I know. I can already hear you saying don’t make a big deal out of it. Well, I wasn’t going to. Just noticing, that’s all,” Carol said.

“Looks like you and I are on patrol duty,” Aaron told her. “Rick wants me here with you and the others that are staying in town while the rest move the herd.”

“Good,” she smiled. “We’ll just make sure it’s life as usual around here. Don’t want everyone worrying. So what are you boys up to today?”

“Today’s moving day,” Daryl said, looking into Aaron’s eyes. Aaron smiled at him before turning to Carol.

“Yeah, I uh, I saw Eric before I came here, and I told him he needs to find another place to live,” Aaron said, but there was a hint of something sad in his voice.

“Hey,” Carol said. “He did it to himself. Just remember that.”

“I know. It’s still difficult, though.”

“Not for me,” Daryl said arrogantly. He hurried to change the subject before Aaron scolded him. “I’m gonna get with Rick, and start helping him organize this shit,” Daryl told Aaron. Then he moved so they were standing close and whispered. “When do you want me to come by?”

“How about tonight. I’m sure by then Eric will be out,” Aaron suggested.

“Ok, good.” Daryl looked around the room, but Carol was the only one left. He watched her with one brow cocked until she got the message.

“Oh, sorry,” she apologized with a fiendish smile, and turned around to leave them alone.

When Carol was gone, Daryl gently pushed Aaron backwards until he was against a wall. Daryl put a hand to either side of Aaron, palms flat on the smooth surface, and pushed his body against Aaron’s. Daryl captured his lips and they kissed passionately. When they separated, Daryl looked longingly into Aaron’s eyes. “I’ll bring my bike and all my stuff over tonight, and then I’ll be officially moved in.”

“God, I’ve wanted this day for so long,” Aaron said, smiling. “Now I have you whenever I want you, to wake up every day next to you, and to fall asleep beside you ever night.”

“I think you can count on not getting much sleep tonight, though,” Daryl growled before biting his earlobe. They kissed again, but Daryl stopped when he heard someone walking through the house, their footsteps loud and hurried as they approached. It wasn’t that Daryl cared so much if someone caught him with Aaron, but he was still a very private person. No one needed to witness this intimate moment.

Carter came around the corner and froze when he saw Daryl and Aaron standing alone in the room, even though they weren’t doing anything. He looked like he wanted to turn around and leave, as he averted his eyes. Daryl looked towards Aaron, making an eye roll gesture. Aaron gave a quick shake of his head, telling Daryl not to say anything and make the guy more uncomfortable. By then, Carter regained his composure.

“Hey, Daryl, uh, Rick’s looking for you,” Carter informed him.

“Yeah, ok. I’m coming.” Daryl glanced at Aaron. “I’ll see you later.” As he walked past Carter, he patted his shoulder. “Thanks man.” Then he went off to talk to Rick.

Carter started to leave, but he stopped and turned back towards Aaron nervously. “I, uh, I wanted to, uh … I just wanted to say, I don’t agree with any of those things Pete and Gerrard said … you know … about you … or Eric … or Daryl either. You have as much right to be here as any of us. You’re a good man, and you’re important to the community.”

“Thanks, Carter. That means a lot,” Aaron answered.

Carter nodded as he looked at his feet. “Well, I better go. Busy day tomorrow.”

“See you later,” Aaron said as Carter left.

Aaron left Rick’s house, and made his way to the infirmary. He thought it might be a good idea to pay a visit to Denise, and let her know the good news about his renewed memory. On his way there, he saw Father Gabriel and Morgan coming from Alison’s side of town. Aaron still wasn’t sure about Alison or any of the conflict that happened between her and Rick. Daryl had mentioned it, but Aaron didn’t remember. Still, he naturally felt uneasy about her. The memory was there somewhere, buried for the time being. She was someone to stay clear of. That much he understood. So when he saw Morgan and Gabriel, red flags went up rather quickly.

Aaron stopped to watch them a moment. The two men paused in the street and spoke a moment before they parted ways. As Morgan looked up, he saw Aaron and waved. Then he approached. Aaron waited for him.

“Aaron, how are you?” Morgan greeted with a smile. “Feeling well today? I heard you were suffering from migraines.”

“I was, but not so much anymore.” Aaron decided not to tell Morgan about getting his memory back.

“Things coming in any clearer for you?” Morgan asked.

“Some things, yes. It’s a slow process.” Aaron glanced past Morgan’s shoulder towards Alison’s side. “What’s going on over there today?”

Morgan looked over his shoulder in the direction of Aaron’s line of sight. “I was just paying a visit to the other half. I don’t know those people as well, though I’ve heard the stories.”

“So you must know that it was one of her people who did this to me,” Aaron stated and pointed at his head.

“You remember that?” Morgan inquired as he ignored the change in Aaron.

“I’ve recently remembered that night. I wouldn’t be so quick to make friends over there,” Aaron warned.

“It would not be beneficial to treat them as enemies.” Morgan narrowed his eyes as he studied Aaron’s face. “I’m surprised you would say that, actually. Many of those people are here because of you. You, Aaron, are the one person in Alexandria who I thought understood how important every life is. It’s why you recruit, and why you are good at perceiving people. But maybe you’re still not thinking as clearly as you once did.”

“Sometimes I think I see clearer now than ever before,” Aaron answered. “I almost died because of my choice to bring certain people into this community. They might have been good when they came here, but they changed. That’s what this world does to people now. It changes them, some for the better, some for the worse. And some people are still exactly the same. But I think what it comes down to is that people are afraid of what they don’t understand. They would rather delete the problem rather than take the time to learn. I’m just not as trusting as I once was.”

“Don’t you think that will interfere with your job as a recruiter?” Morgan asked, as though he was trying to make Aaron see the mistakes in his new way of thinking.

Aaron shook his head confidently. “No, I think it makes me smarter and more aware of the people I bring into this town in the future.” Aaron lifted his head and gestured towards Alison’s territory. “You might want to be a bit more careful yourself, Morgan.”

Morgan’s attitude changed from serious to something a little more friendly. “I can understand your reason for caution. I’ve been where you are, but in a much darker frame of mind. There was a time I didn’t trust anyone either, and I did things that I’m not proud of. But the one thing I know is that people can turn back to what they once were. I did, which is why I will always say this. All life is precious, and even the most wicked should be given the opportunity at a second chance. Unfortunately, your friend Daryl extinguished that chance for the man who injured you.”

“What do you know of it?” Aaron challenged. “You weren’t a member of this community. You never knew the man.”

“I learned about him from the others. He had a wife and child … before. He lost them early on in the beginning of everything. He was an electrician, owned his own business, a church going man. He had a normal life before all of this happened. You can’t tell me he changed so much that he couldn’t find his way back to being that man again.”

“He was a bigot, a gay bashing asshole. Something tells me that extended from his life before the outbreak. Daryl was right to do what he did. You talk of all life being precious, but Gerrard never thought that about me or Eric or Daryl. We are something he feared, something he never understood. He would rather eliminate us than try to recognize us as equals. My life matters too, and Daryl made sure of that when he shot Gerrard. So you’ll excuse me if I don’t see things as you do. Yes, I believe life is precious, but I will not tolerate anyone who tries to bring harm to me or to those I care about.”

Morgan nodded and looked at the ground, clearly knowing he wasn’t going to change Aaron’s mistrusting way of thinking. Aaron stood silent and watched Morgan, but there were no more words to be exchanged. Instead, Morgan looked up, smiled, and patted Aaron’s shoulder. Then he walked away. Aaron watched him go with mixed feelings. He couldn’t help feel that Morgan’s way of thinking might get some people in trouble in the future. Then again, the man did have a point.

>>------->

The day wore on and now evening was pushing in. Aaron had gone home a little while ago, and just as he suspected, Eric was totally moved out. His side of the closet was empty. His bags were gone, as well as his jacket and a few other belongings. There was a folded up piece of paper on the kitchen table, and Aaron laid his fingers on it before picking it up. A memory came back to him just then. He’d seen Eric with this before, but he had a difficult time remembering when. Aaron recalled seeing Eric putting a folded paper just like this one into the pocket of his shirt. He had been curious back then, and wondered if it was a note of some kind. Maybe it was something Eric was going to give him before, but he changed his mind or found he couldn’t do it. Aaron slid the paper towards him and looked at it a moment before he picked it up. He gave a very deep sigh. This was difficult to do, even though Carol was right when she said Eric brought it on himself. Aaron was still extremely disappointed in Eric. It saddened him to know this man that he trusted and had a relationship with for two years could lie so easily. It troubled him even more to know Eric led him to believe he strayed from that relationship with Daryl. They were all horrible lies that kept Aaron from knowing the truth when he was most vulnerable. Still, the reason Eric did this made Aaron feel sorry for him, and he shared the guilt knowing he was partly responsible. If he hadn’t led Eric into believing that what they shared for those two years was solid, this never would have happened. He couldn’t expect Eric to just stop loving him and not try to get him back somehow. Eric wasn’t being spiteful, not all the time. He made his poor decision to deceive out of love, and it was for this reason that Aaron still felt sympathy for him.

Now, here he stood looking at a piece of paper that would probably be the last time Eric would have a chance to make his feelings known. And in this world, a gay man couldn’t exactly be told to move on and meet someone else. There weren’t many like them anymore, and sometimes it seemed as if they were the only ones. But three was an odd number, and Daryl won Aaron’s heart a long time ago. It was bittersweet. Aaron finally met and fell in love with the man he knew he could spend the rest of his days with, but this meant that Eric would be alone. This was why, even after all the bad things that he did, Aaron still felt it was important to be Eric’s friend. They really did share something special at one time. They were friends before they were lovers. They understood each other. Aaron hoped to keep that small part alive between them. Eric would still need someone to lean on from time to time, someone who knew him, who could relate. Daryl wouldn’t accept it. Aaron could already hear his voice telling him not to let Eric influence his feelings anymore. Daryl would never trust Eric again, and rightfully so. Aaron wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize his relationship with him, but he hoped that one day Daryl would understand why he felt this way about Eric. However, it was too soon, and the hurt was still fresh.

Aaron closed his eyes as he unfolded the paper, and expected to see words on a page. When he opened his eyes, what he found surprised him. It wasn’t a letter, but rather a photograph in black and white. He’d forgotten about it until now, and it wasn’t just because of the amnesia. The picture was taken way back when they had only just started seeing each other. Aaron focus on the smiling faces as he remembered the events that led up to that moment in time, and what the photo represented.

Back then, Aaron and Eric lived in a small apartment. It was very cramped, but it was good enough since they were making a lot of recruiting runs at the time, and they weren’t home very often. It was also away from other residents, and allowed them their privacy. A dream of Eric’s had always been to live in a house with a yard and a porch, a place that was comfortable and had that lived in feel. But Aaron and Eric were not the traditional couple, and a house like that in Alexandria was reserved for families. They accepted this, though, and went about their lives.

They were out on a run when Eric found the camera. It was a forgotten artifact in an old burnt out farmhouse. Eric had been admiring an antique chest of drawers, charred from the fire, but still recognizable. He’d said if times were different, he could have refurbished it and gotten a pretty penny for it. Eric always had excellent taste when it came to antiques. Aaron remembered telling him not to fool around with it. They had seen roamers not far from where they stopped to rest, and they had to leave before they became surrounded. Eric only opened one drawer, as Aaron was hurrying him. Inside, he found this old camera and shoved it into his bag. When they got back to town, they were walking down the street, when Eric pulled the camera out. Aaron reminded him that the film was probably bad, but Eric insisted it wasn’t. Just then, a friend of theirs walked by. Eric stopped her and asked her to take a picture. They only took one of the two of them, and would take pictures of the town to use up the rest of the film. They needed pictures to show any survivors that they found, hoping to convince them with actual photos of Alexandria.

Their friend told them to sit on the steps of the vacant house they were in front of, so they did. Eric wrapped his arm around Aaron. Aaron draped his arm over Eric’s leg and leaned into him. Their friend commented on what a cute couple they made as she took the photo. She handed the camera back to Eric and looked up at the lovely home. She said she thought it was the perfect house for the two men, and encouraged them to speak to Deanna about letting them move in. Eric brushed it off, thinking that a house like that one was too much for them, and that there were other families that probably needed it more than to gay men. His comment struck Aaron in the heart. Why shouldn’t they be allowed the same luxuries as other families?

At the time, Aaron wanted nothing more than to see Eric happy. It was his main goal. He knew Eric loved him, but Aaron wasn’t quite there yet. He thought he would be one day, maybe after they’d lived together for a while. Their relationship was still new, and they were still learning about each other. In the meantime, Aaron wanted Eric to have anything he dreamed of. It wasn’t always possible in the new rough world, but this time he thought it would be. Aaron went to Deanna and asked her about the house. To his surprise, she agreed quickly and gave him the keys. He rushed back to Eric, who had just finished developing the old camera’s film. Eric was smiling and showed Aaron the picture. It wasn’t perfect, and as Aaron predicted, the old film had flaws, but for the most part, the picture came out alright. It was at that moment that Aaron handed Eric a key. Eric asked him what it was for, and Aaron pointed to the door behind them in the photo. The very next day, they were moving out of their cramped apartment and into the big lovely house full of antiques collected by the previous owner.

The picture used to hang on the wall in the living room, but as they collected more and more license plates, the picture was taken down to make room. Eric kept it on the mantel, Aaron remembered. It became one of those objects that was always there, and he just didn’t notice it after a while. It blended in with all the other eclectic pieces. As a matter of fact, Aaron hadn’t even noticed when it was gone. Obviously it had been gone for a while because Eric had it now. Had he been carrying it all this time, folded up in his pocket? How did he not notice? Aaron asked himself, but there were probably a lot of things he didn’t see, and after Daryl came to town, Aaron basically put blinders on.

Now, here it was, laying on the table, returned to the place where it all started, a reminder of how it used to be. Aaron realized it hadn’t been that bad. He was happy. He was content. But he wasn’t complete. He was now because of Daryl.

Aaron heard the rattle of Daryl’s bike entering the garage, and his heart leapt into gear. This was it. Finally, he and Daryl could have the life they’d only dreamed of not that long ago. He was about to go to the garage door and welcome Daryl home, when he realized he still held the photo. Aaron looked around for a place to stow it. He didn’t want Daryl seeing it because he would probably tear it up and throw it away. Aaron wanted to give the picture back to Eric, and try to make some kind of amends with him. He wanted Eric to know he was still there for him, but strictly as a friend and nothing more.

There was a small decorative table nearby with a single drawer. Aaron hurried to open it, but it was stuck. He jiggled it frantically until it finally opened, tossed the picture in and closed it. His hand was still on the metal pull ring when the door to the garage opened. Daryl came in with a duffle bag slung over his shoulder. He closed the door behind him, and let the bag drop to the floor. Aaron’s hand abandoned the drawer as Daryl walked up to him. The picture was forgotten for now. It didn’t matter anymore. It represented the past, and there was no room for that here. Daryl surrounded Aaron with his arms and kissed him fervently. Hands roamed and their bodies pressed against each other, as though they were fused together. Neither man said a single word. Actions spoke louder than any words they could come up with, but at the moment, each one knew what the other wanted. Aaron’s hands went right to Daryl’s belt, his fingers fumbling to get it undone quickly. Daryl’s mouth was eager upon his, making it difficult to concentrate. He finally accomplished his task, and his hands dipped inside, taking up Daryl’s hardened cock and stroked him. Daryl moaned into Aaron’s mouth. His hands, which were grasping at Aaron’s shirt, tugged in a downward motion, gesturing as to what he wanted next. Aaron knew exactly what that was, and wasted no time getting onto his knees. He grasped the waistband of Daryl’s pants and slid them down just enough to expose the object he so desired. Aaron’s tongue dipped and teased, flicking along the satin surface, driving his lover insane with need. Then, he took the magnificent cock into his mouth, swallowing it to the hilt. Daryl’s hand instantly went to Aaron’s head to hold him in place, but there was no need. Aaron wasn’t going anywhere, and he knew exactly what to do to satisfy.

Daryl threw his head back. It felt so good that he almost decided to let Aaron finish him, but he didn’t want to come so fast. He wanted to draw it out, make it last until the torture of restraint was too much to handle. Or at least until he could get Aaron on the couch. He looked down and watched himself disappear past Aaron’s lips, almost unable to stop him. But there was something he wanted more. Daryl pushed on Aaron’s shoulders, and he looked up.

“Get back up here,” Daryl whispered. Aaron stood and kissed him, hardly missing a beat. Daryl started unbuttoning Aaron’s flannel shirt, and stopped when he became impatient. Instead, he lifted the half undone shirt over Aaron’s head and tossed it to the floor. His hands roamed over Aaron’s chest, feeling the light muscling under his palms. His hands went lower and unbuckled Aaron’s belt. He reached in and returned the favor as Aaron had just done to him, stroking his length.

Aaron’s mouth assaulted Daryl’s neck, sucking hard enough to leave a mark. Daryl didn’t protest as he might have in the past. Instead, he submitted to the feel of his blood being drawn to the surface of his skin. It would be a mark he would wear with pride. Aaron’s tongue licked the spot, as though to ease his slight suffering, and then he whispered. “I want you, Daryl. I need you bad.”

Daryl walked Aaron backwards towards the living room. As they went, they very clumsily finished undressing each other, leaving a trail of clothes from the garage to the couch. When they finally reached their destination, Aaron playfully pushed Daryl down onto the couch. Then he straddled Daryl’s lap. They slowed things down a bit, now that they were where they wanted to be. Aaron kissed Daryl slowly and with more longing and passion, proving that he could control his lustful urgency. Their eyes locked as Aaron moved to position himself. Then he slowly lowered his body onto Daryl, who was now biting his lower lip to contain himself.

Daryl’s body wanted nothing more than to plunge and thrust, to make Aaron scream his name, but he was at a disadvantage in this position. Aaron had done this on purpose, no doubt. So many times in the past, Daryl would finish Aaron off quickly the first time, only to slow things down and take their time for the second act.

Aaron made slow circling motions with his hips, adjusting to having Daryl deep inside. Daryl was letting him have his way, and it only provoked Aaron to move at his own pace. It was sweet torture, giving Aaron control over both of their bodies, but Daryl would have it no other way.

“You’re so fucking sexy, you know that?” Aaron said in a gravelly voice while he gyrated slowly in Daryl’s lap. Then they kissed, and Aaron wrapped his arms around Daryl’s neck. Daryl’s fingers dug into Aaron’s ass, manipulating him to move faster.

“You feel so good,” Daryl whispered into Aaron’s ear just before taking it into his teeth and biting lightly. “I could stay like this forever.” These were the moments Daryl thought he’d never get to experience, before or after the outbreak. He had been prepared to live a depraved life at one time. How he had convinced himself that was alright was beyond him now. Never again, Daryl thought to himself as Aaron set a rhythm. He would never hold back, never shut up, never hide again, and he’d never want anyone as much as he wanted Aaron.

“And now I can ride you all night, every night, whenever I want,” Aaron groaned.

Daryl adjusted so he could thrust up as Aaron came down on him. “Fuck yeah,” he said as he watched Aaron’s body move. “You’re close, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” Aaron replied breathlessly. “So close, Daryl.”

Daryl raised a hand to the back of Aaron’s neck and drew him down to kiss him. With the other hand, he stroked Aaron. It wouldn’t be much longer now. They were both breathing heavily and moving in rhythm. Daryl felt himself pulsate within Aaron, while Aaron pulsated in his hand. Aaron started moaning, getting louder with every stroke. He pushed away and leaned back a little to achieve the best position for Daryl to go deep. But Daryl wasn’t satisfied with their current position. He wanted more. He wanted complete control. He wanted Aaron writhing beneath him. So in one swift movement, Daryl pulled Aaron to him, slid from the couch and laid him on the rug at their feet. Aaron wrapped his ankles around Daryl’s waist, and Daryl pumped into him. His rhythm got faster and faster. Aaron felt himself build. Daryl went deep, making short hard thrusts, stroking Aaron in that most pleasurable spot sure to send him over the edge. They were both crying out, no longer worried about anyone hearing them. This was their home. This was their life. No one would ever get between them again.

Daryl stilled and let out a loud, euphoric, gratifying moan. At the same time, Aaron spilled between their close bodies, and cried out Daryl’s name with fevered satisfaction. Finally, Daryl collapsed onto Aaron and kissed his neck as they both struggled to catch their breath. Feeling that he was crushing him, Daryl started to get up, but Aaron held him by the waist.

“No, don’t. Stay here with me, just like this,” Aaron pleaded.

“You sure I’m not too heavy for you?”

Aaron shook his head, a smile on his face and his eyes closed. “Not at all. I just don’t want to lose this connection between us. I wanna feel you smooth up inside me. I want to listen to your heartbeat. I want to feel your breath wash over my skin. I want to experience every single thing about you, because this is how it should always be. From now on it’s just you and me.”

“I ain’t going nowhere. Don’t you worry about that,” Daryl remarked. “You’re stuck with me for as long as we live.”

>>------->

Later in the evening, Daryl and Aaron were sitting on the couch, watching the fire lick the sides of the hearth. Aaron made himself some tea while Daryl nursed a beer. Their alcohol supply was running low, especially since Deanna had ordered fewer supply runs lately. Since her son and husband’s death, she closed herself off from the rest of the town most of the time. Rick asked that Maggie watch her and try to bring her back from her seclusion. The Alexandrians still looked to Deanna as their leader, even though Rick had been calling most of the shots lately. At the meeting, some of the people disagreed with Rick’s thoughts and plans for the walker herd. At one point, Deanna spoke up and told them to listen to Rick and do as he said. This helped to get things started faster. There wasn’t much time to get everything set up for the march, and once they let those walkers out of the quarry, there would be no turning back.

Aaron hadn’t said much about it, but internally he was a ball of nerves thinking about Daryl leading the dead. He knew there’d be no stopping him. Daryl had the bike, the noise maker that would draw their attention. It only eased his mind a small fraction to know that Sasha and Abraham would be following him in a car. If things went bad, Daryl would abandon the bike and jump in the car with them. Aaron knew Daryl would do everything he could to make sure he accomplished his goal, and abandoning his post was a last resort.

“Tomorrow we start paving the way for the herd,” Daryl mentioned, as he told Aaron about what he and Rick discussed. “Abe is going to take his construction crew out to that one road with all the cars. They’re going to move them and line both sides of the street. But the big project will be at Redding and Marshall. We have to make sure the herd follows the right path, so we’re going to erect walls with the steel from the construction site. It’s got to be strong enough to withstand the force of the herd pushing on it. These things will keep going straight. They don’t know how to alter their course. We don’t have time to put up walls like the ones surrounding the town, but with enough manpower, we can use wood posts to attach the steel to, and reinforce them from behind using vehicles. We’ve got the RV that you used to bring us back to the town when you found us. We’ll park that right at the main hit point.”

“How are you going to make them turn?” Aaron wondered. “Won’t they just keep piling up against the wall?”

“Rick had the idea to use the flare guns. They’ll shoot off flares in the direction we need the herd to go. The bright flash should catch their attention and draw them the right way,” Daryl explained.

“That’s a pretty smart idea, but risky.”

“This whole thing is nothing but one big gamble.” Daryl stopped and shook his head.

“I thought you were ok with this. I thought you agreed with Rick’s plan.” Aaron was surprised to hear the doubt coming from Daryl.

“I do agree. There’s no other way to deal with it, and I’ve tried to think of plenty of other options. But if we want to keep Alexandria standing, this is it. This is the only way. Yeah, it’s risky and it’s probably the most dangerous and stupid thing we’ve ever done, but we either leave Alexandria or live with a ticking time bomb at our backdoor. I don’t think anyone is ready to give up on this place.”

Aaron took a sip of his tea and huffed a slight laugh. “It’s kind of funny to hear you say that. There was a time when you didn’t care about Alexandria.”

Daryl nodded as he remembered that time. “When I first arrived here, I didn’t give a flying fuck about this place. I thought you all were delusional the way you lived so carefree, as though the world hadn’t changed. That party Deanna held for us was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard of. I’d just been out there fighting every step of the way to stay alive, and suddenly I’m in suburbia hell with dinner parties and bonfires, people worrying about when they were going to get together for their next bridge club instead of where their next meal was going to come from.”

“You came around though, in your own sweet time,” Aaron commented, leaning against Daryl for a bit more warmth.

“Well, when I quit being a whiny bitch and realized what exactly you had going on here, I started to see the potential. I mean, a self-sustained city with its own power source, running water, food, housing … It was like finding a diamond amongst a sea of shit.”

“That’s one way of looking at it.” Aaron leaned to the side and placed his cup on an end table. When he sat back, he was very quiet, and Daryl could feel his mood change.

“Everything alright?” Daryl asked him.

“Yeah. I mean, I’m just worried about you. That’s all.”

“Nothing’s going to happen to me. I won’t let it,” Daryl assured him. “Hell, if nothing’s happened to me yet–” he started to say, but Aaron covered his mouth to stop him.

“Don’t finish that thought. It’s like a bad omen or something.”

Daryl observed him, caught off guard by this reaction. “You superstitious or something?”

“Remember my boyfriend I told you about, the airline steward? He used to say that about his job and flying across the ocean all the time. In the beginning, when there were only a few cases of people getting sick, I told him I was worried about him being on a plane with all those people, and not knowing if any of them were sick. He assured me everything was fine, and the airline was taking precautions. That bit about nothing happening after all that time … well, he said something similar to me. Then, he never came back.”

“I thought you said he was cheating on you, and you left him before he came back,” Daryl said, remembering their conversation. It was back when they were first learning about each other.

Aaron nodded. “He was cheating on me, and I was getting ready to leave him. That part was true. But when he never came back after his last flight, I waited around about a week for him. I tried calling, but all I ever got was his voice mail. I found out that at first his flight back was delayed, and then it was canceled. None of those overseas flights ever came back to the states, and by then the outbreak was getting really bad. I guess I was too scared to think about what actually happened to him, and I let myself believe that he never came back because he decided to stay with his new lover. He was an asshole for cheating on me, but he didn’t deserve to turn into one of those things. It just sucked never knowing what happened.”

Daryl took Aaron’s chin in his fingers and turned his head so they were facing each other. Daryl kissed him gently, and then looked into his eyes. “I will always do whatever it takes to come home to you. If for some ungodly reason I don’t make it, it’s not because I ran away, but that I fought like hell to get back to you because you’re all that I got and I love you. Always know that, ok?”

“I do know that, Daryl, but it’s so much better to hear you say it. I love you too,” Aaron admitted.

>>------->

The next morning, bright and early, some of the townspeople had gathered on the street outside of one of their supply buildings. Rick was organizing the crew to go out and begin the work of fortifying the route of which they would lead the massive walker herd from the quarry to a place that was far away from Alexandria. Today, they would start on the wall at a major point in the move, the one that would force the walkers to change course. They loaded up the RV with shovels and wheelbarrows, bags, nails, hammers, saws, other hardware and tools, and plenty of jugs full of water. Abraham and his crew were bringing steel from the construction site, and dropping it off before they went off to move dozens of cars. Everything was going along smoothly, and a surprising amount of people showed up to help. It made Rick and his people hopeful about the Alexandrians. They were demonstrating their dedication to making their home safe.

Daryl and Aaron were helping to load the RV when Aaron spotted Eric approach the group. A woman named Holly, a friend of theirs, took the tools that Eric brought as contribution to the project. Then she pointed towards Aaron and Daryl. Eric stopped to look at them, but he turned away quickly, and shook his head at Holly as he backed away. She was trying to get him to stay and help, but Aaron could see that he was hesitant because of him and Daryl.

“Hey,” Aaron said to Daryl. “Eric’s here.”

“Great,” Daryl said with little enthusiasm.

“I don’t think he’s staying,” Aaron said as he watched.

“Even better,” Daryl commented.

“We need him to help. We need everyone that’s able. Many hands make light work,” Aaron said to convince Daryl.

“We’ve got enough as it is. Let him leave if he wants,” Daryl said as he loaded an arm full of shovels into the RV. When Aaron didn’t retaliate, Daryl stopped what he was doing to see what Aaron was thinking. “What, you want my permission to talk to him?” he said irritated. “I’m not going to be like that. It’s your choice whether you want to remain his friend or not. For me, personally, I’m saying not, but I know the two of you got history. It’s your decision.”

“It’s our decision, don’t you think? I don’t want you mad at me for talking to him,” Aaron said.

Daryl abandoned what he was doing to give Aaron his full attention. “Do I like it? Not particularly, but I’m not going to throw a fit or make a scene.” Daryl’s hand slipped around Aaron’s waist, and he pulled him gently towards him. “I know whose bed you come to every night, and that’s reassurance enough for me. So go do what you need to do.”

Aaron smiled. “You’re amazing, you know that?”

Daryl let his arrogance shine through, smiled and rolled his eyes. “Tell me something I don’t already know.”

Aaron playfully punched him in the arm and muttered, “Asshole.” As he turned to go and speak to Eric, Daryl slapped his ass and gave him a sultry look. It was that kind of confidence that drew Aaron to Daryl in the first place, and he never felt luckier to have him in his life.

Eric was walking away as Aaron trotted towards him. “Hey, Eric, wait up a second.”

Eric stopped and slowly turned. “Oh, hi, I was just dropping off some supplies,” he said nervously.

“Where you going?” Aaron asked.

“I’ve got a ton of things to do today,” he answered.

“Like what?”

Eric looked around as though searching for an answer. “Well, for one, Mrs. Neudermyer–”

“Since when do you do stuff for her?” Aaron asked accusingly. “Listen, we need as many people as are willing to help out. We could use you on this project. There’s not much time. The more people that help out, the faster we’ll get it done.”

Eric looked past Aaron, glancing around at all the people already helping. His eyes settled on Daryl loading the RV. “I don’t know. It might be kind of awkward.”

Aaron got a serious look on his face as he spoke. “Listen, we talked. He’s ok with it. Besides, he’ll be helping Rick fill sandbags. You can help me dig holes for the posts. Come on Eric, the community needs you.”

“Always the negotiator,” Eric pointed out. “Well … ok then, if you’re sure.”

When everything was ready, the crew headed out to the intersection where they needed to redirect the herd. The RV was unloaded, and Rick, Glenn, Carol and Daryl examined the area. After discussing things, Rick gathered the others and told them what they’d be doing. Everyone fell into place and started doing their parts. Aaron and Eric took up their shovels and started digging holes for the wood posts that the steel would be attached to. They worked on opposite sides without speaking to each other, each man consumed by their work. The matter at hand was a serious one. There was no time for much else.

Tara came by with some water for the two men. She handed a cup to Aaron with a kind smile. Then she gave one to Eric and paused before she went on. “It’s good to see you out here, Eric.”

He smiled uncomfortably. “Oh, yeah … well … you know … anything to help out the town.”

She moved close to speak to him privately without others hearing their conversation. “Listen, I just want you to know that I think what you’re doing takes a lot of balls.”

“What, digging holes?” he jested nervously.

“You know what I mean. It’s not easy coming back after losing yourself. I know from personal experience,” she told him. Eric looked at her questioningly. He’d never known her backstory, and she knew this. “Back before I met up with these guys, I got myself involved with a guy.” Eric raised his eyebrows in surprise, and Tara rolled her eyes. “Not like that. You know I don’t swing that way. No, he seemed like a good guy, and he just wanted what was best for me, my sister and her daughter. I believed in him, followed him, trusted him, but he led me astray. Anyways, the point is, I thought what I was doing was the right thing. I was sure of it because I wanted it more than anything in the world. I wanted peace and security, and this guy convinced me that he knew how to achieve it. I was wrong. I misjudged him, and when it came down to it, I saw his true colors. He was a bad guy, and I didn’t realize it until it was too late.” Tara paused, closed her eyes and remembered. “I sided with the guy who attacked Rick and the others, the one who destroyed the prison where they lived, the same one who beheaded Maggie’s father in front of her and her sister. I stood beside him and watched as he swung that sword.”

“My God, I didn’t know,” Eric said with horror. “But … but you and Maggie–”

“I know. We’re close friends now. You’d never know I was the enemy at one time. I mean, I didn’t do the killing, but I put all my trust and faith in the man that did. By all means, I should have been sent away, maybe even executed for my involvement. Instead, Maggie forgave me. Not only that, but she helped me see the good within myself. I’m a better person because of her. That girl I used to be … that wasn’t me. That was someone frightened by the world, afraid to face things on her own. Because of Maggie’s kindness, I came back from that dark place.” Tara glanced towards Aaron. “I think you have the same chance.”

“I don’t know,” Eric said with uncertainty.

“If Aaron didn’t see the good in you, do you think he’d be trying to be your friend?”

“It was a different situation for you. Aaron and I were in a relationship, remember?” Eric said defiantly.

“I know exactly what you’re going through. I’m in the same boat, man. There’s not many people like us left, but it doesn’t mean we have to give up. There’s more to life than love or lovers. Friendship and trust is what’s most important now, and that means security and hope for the future. You can’t go back to what you and Aaron once had, but you can still be friends. That’s really important, more than you might think. Just give it a chance, that’s all I’m saying.”

Eric smiled slightly. “Thanks, Tara. I get it, and I’ll try.”

“Good,” she smiled back, and patted him on the shoulder before she went to hand out more water.

Eric observed Aaron for a moment before he went back over to where he was digging holes. It was rather miraculous that after all the deceit, Aaron still wanted to be his friend. Eric knew he would always want more than that, and it would be difficult to bury such strong feelings, but Tara was right. This was all he had in the world. Better not toss it away lightly.

Eric walked over to Aaron. “Listen, I … I just want to say thank you,” he admitted.

“For what?” Aaron said, squinting into the sun.

“You didn’t have to do this. You shouldn’t even be speaking to me right now.”

“I told you, Daryl doesn’t–”

“No, this doesn’t have anything to do with Daryl. This is about you and me, and the shitty things I did. I don’t know why you’d even give me the time of day.”

Aaron stuck his shovel in the ground and leaned on it, tilting his head to the side as he looked at Eric. “You and I, we’ll always have a history. That can’t be changed. It’s not something I want to forget either. We were happy. We had some good times. We were also friends, and we still are. What you did was wrong, and I’ll not forget it any time soon, but I’m willing to forgive. We are a part of this community which means we are a part of each other’s lives. We have to find a way to get along because we’re only as strong as our weakest link. We are not going to be that. We are stronger than that.”

“Yeah, I can see that,” Eric said.

“Ok, good. Now, back to work. We got a long way to go.” Aaron gave a friendly smile.

Eric went back to finish digging his hole. He felt better about things. Maybe this could actually work. Maybe he could be happy just having Aaron as a friend. He was beginning to feel good about everything, when he looked up and saw Daryl approach Aaron, saw Aaron’s face light up, noticed the life in his eyes and the shine of his smile. Daryl nudged Aaron with his shoulder, a very subtle touch, but one that spoke volumes. Suddenly, the small glimmer of hope within Eric sputtered and went out. He could try to be Aaron’s friend, and maybe he could learn to live with that and nothing more, but to see Daryl fan flames in Aaron that Eric never could was too much. He realized that Aaron never had that kind of reaction, not the way he came alive when Daryl was near. It was a difficult realization, and Eric grasped ahold of the reality of it all. It was never about Daryl popping up out of nowhere and taking Aaron from him. There was never a spark in Aaron’s eyes even before Daryl came along. Eric’s love for Aaron had always been one-sided. Aaron had merely tolerated him, nothing more.

Eric slowed as he shoveled dirt out of the hole, until the next time when he left it there. He backed away, turning so he couldn’t see the silent exchange between Aaron and Daryl. He plopped down of the ground, bent his knees and hung his head. Someone held a glass of water out to him, but he didn’t look up to see who it was. He just shook his head, refusing the water, and let reality whisper in his ear, telling him what his next move should be. One thing was for certain, Alexandria wasn’t big enough for three gay men.



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