Safe Haven in the Chaos

BY : IdrilsSecret
Category: S through Z > The Walking Dead
Dragon prints: 3629
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 30 In The Morning’s Light

 

 

It was a long night, but everyone fought through it, thinning the herd one at a time until there were only stragglers roaming around. The sun was up now, and the reality of what they had been up against was clear in the light. It wasn’t until everything was over that anyone had a moment to think. Rick wasted no time and ran back to the infirmary to check on Carl. The rest of the group stood in the street littered with dead walkers. They were exhausted, covered in blood and gore, and in a certain stage of shock or numbness. It looked like everything was under control again. Everyone left was alright, but Alexandria had lost a dramatic number of people since a group of scavengers broke over the walls. Because of the Wolves and the walkers, the town suffered great loss.

 

Rick’s people didn’t stand around long. They were used to this kind of battle. They’d done it many times before, though not on such a large scale. Daryl watched Michonne and Carol head back to the infirmary. Glenn and Maggie held each other among the sea of bodies. The rest were taking a moment to catch their breath and examine themselves for bites or scratches. Aaron stood alone. He looked lost and grief stricken, and it made Daryl’s heart sink to see him in such a state of desolation.

 

Sasha and Abraham approached Daryl. They seemed to lean on each other, not physically, but mentally. Sasha grasped Daryl’s shoulder and watched his face. “You alright?” she asked.

 

“I’m alive,” Daryl groaned.

 

“Hell yeah,” Abe responded quietly.

 

“How about Aaron?” Sasha said with a tilt of her head.

 

“I don’t know. Haven’t talked to him since we got here. Eric … he’s dead,” Daryl told them.

 

Both Sasha and Abe bowed their heads at the news. They didn’t say anything but they showed their respect with a grasp of an arm and a solid pat on the back. Then they headed towards the infirmary where everyone seemed to be gathering on the porch.

 

Daryl looked back to where Aaron had been, but he was gone. Another quick scan, and he saw Aaron walking back to the place where Eric had perished. Should he go to him, Daryl wondered? But Aaron hadn’t said anything, hadn’t asked for help. Daryl figured he needed this time for himself. He needed to say goodbye perhaps. Whatever he was doing, he didn’t need Daryl at the moment, so Daryl headed back to the infirmary with the others. He needed a little patching up of his own.

 

>>------->

 

Eric was heavier than he thought, Aaron noticed when he picked up the limp body. He carried his friend and once lover to the field where they buried their dead. Some of the other Alexandrians were already there, digging graves for the fallen. Aaron carefully laid Eric on the ground and looked around. There wasn’t much room left. The area was small, but then, they never expected to bury so many of their own. They lived for such a long time without incident. Those days were over, and now less than half of the town was left … the rest taken by walkers or Wolves.

 

A woman came up to Aaron and rubbed her hand gently over his arm. “We’ll take care of him,” she said softly. Aaron was in such a daze, he couldn’t remember her name, but he smiled and thanked her anyways. She smiled back and wiped some dirt from his face. It didn’t do much good. Dirt and blood was caked on at this point. It had been more of a gesture anyways. “Why don’t you go to the infirmary, get yourself checked over.”

 

“I … I should really be here when–”

 

“We won’t bury him without you. Someone will come and get you when the grave is dug. OK?” she said. “I promise.”

 

Convinced that it was alright, Aaron nodded. The woman pulled him down and kissed his cheek. “You’re a good man, Aaron,” she whispered.

 

>>------->

 

Daryl was sitting on an exam table, hunched over waiting for Denise to clean and stitch a knife wound on the back of his shoulder. When she was done checking on Carl, she came over. “What happened here?”

 

“Got stabbed. I think it needs stitches,” he informed her.

 

“Alright. Let me look at it. Take your shirt off,” she said casually.

 

Daryl squirmed on the table, suddenly very self-conscious. Denise stepped around in front of him with her hands on her hips. “Now’s not the time to be bashful. Besides, we don’t play for the same team, remember?” she smiled.

 

“It’s not that,” Daryl whispered as he looked around the room. “I just … Look, I’ve got my reasons. Can’t you do this with part of my shirt off?”

 

“I guess so,” she shook her head. Why was he being so modest all of a sudden?

 

Daryl shucked off his vest, letting it drop to the floor. Then he slipped his arm out of one sleeve so that his shoulder was exposed. The wound was a little further down, and Denise pulled his shirt down a little more. Daryl flinched, but she reassured him, and he relaxed again.

 

“The wound is deep. I’ll have to clean it out and then I’ll stitch it,” she told him and he nodded.

 

While she worked, she could see scars from previous scuffles, but peeking out from the edge of his shirt, she noticed the tip of a very ugly scar, one not made recently. The skin was white and raised like a welt. This had been done many years ago, long before the apocalypse happened. Denise had seen this type of scar before, when she had gone to medical school. This was the work of a whip or a strap, perhaps a belt, and probably at the hands of his father. Her heart went out to him. She didn’t know Daryl that well, didn’t know his back story, but this would explain why he always seemed like the outsider.

 

Denise finished cleaning the wound and prepared to stitch it closed. “This might pinch a bit.”

 

“I’ve felt worse,” Daryl told her.

 

They were silent as she started her work, but the sight of the scar was really bothering her, and she felt like she needed to say something. “I’m sorry for whatever happened to you,” she said lightly.

 

Daryl tensed, knowing she’d seen the marks on his back. “You weren’t supposed to see those.”

 

“I only saw the edge. I just … I don’t know … I guess I just wanted to say that I understand what you went through,” she admitted.

 

Daryl looked over his shoulder, glancing back at her. “You were beat too?” he asked.

 

“No, not physically. My scars are mental. My mom … she … she wasn’t happy when I … you know, told her about my lifestyle. Said I was depriving her of grandchildren and a son in law and all that bullshit.” Denise looked at the floor, lost in her memories. “I tried to do right by her afterwards. My mom always wanted me to go into medicine. I thought that if I went to med school and was successful at it, she might … see me differently.” Denise huffed a laugh. “Found out that blood made me squeamish. I studied hard anyways, got good grades for a while, and when I went home for break, nothing had changed. She still wouldn’t talk to me. Hell, she wouldn’t even look at me. Spent all her time with my sister and her new baby. After that, I decided to drop out of medicine and do something else. I was tired of trying to make her happy. She was never going to accept me.” Denise paused from her work when she realized she’d been rambling. “I’m sorry. It’s been a very long time since I told anyone that.”

 

Daryl nodded, feeling the sudden connection between them. “Yeah, well, my father believed in hands on discipline. He … uh … he never knew about me. Probably would have killed me if he did. Naw, he was a drunk, and an angry one at that. With my mom dead and my brother gone, I was all he had to take his aggression out on.” He paused a moment. It had been a while since he talked about this to anyone too. “Sucks, doesn’t it?”

 

“Yeah, but we made it through all that. Just look at us now. We are the survivors. We have what it takes after all,” she said with a positive but sarcastic attitude.

 

“Those people who hurt us are gone now. Guess we showed them,” Daryl said. “It’s probably a good thing you tried medicine. It sure is coming in handy now.”

 

“Oh, well … I didn’t really learn all that much, just the basics. I actually have a hard time with it, even now,” she said. “I was hoping Pete was going to teach me a lot of stuff, but he was an asshole. He didn’t show me shit. Job security, I guess,” she laughed.

 

“Hell, at least you studied human medicine. Guy we had back at the prison was a veterinarian. Did a damn fine job of fixing us up though,” Daryl reminisced, thinking back to that time with Hershel and them. “You seem to be doing alright with it. At least you don’t pass out when you see blood or anything. If you asked me, I’d say you already had a degree and all that.”

 

“I don’t know what it is. I know I can do it if I put my mind to it, but when it’s right in front of me, I feel myself freeze. That’s another reason I quit,” Denise told him.

 

“It’s not practicing medicine that’s your problem. It’s what it’s tied to … your mother. You said you went to med school to earn her love and respect back, but she was still a bitch even then. That’s where your anxiety comes from. Medicine equals mom. You need to let go of it. She’s gone now. She can’t hurt you no more, not even in dreams. You’re good at what you do, and we’re damn lucky to have you,” Daryl encouraged.

 

Denise finished the last stitch. “I never thought of it that way. I think you’re right. How do you know all that?” she said surprised by his eye opening diagnosis.

 

“Because I hid in the shadows for a long time even after my family was gone. It took me a while to realize that the shadows were mine, and not my dad’s. Once I accepted my fate, my choices, and myself I was able to move forward. I ain’t never gonna let anyone hold me back ever again. This is me. This is who I am. I own it.” He glanced over his shoulder. “The scars … those are personal. They’re private … just like your scars, or at least the ones in your mind. They’re a reminder, that’s all. They’re what make us stronger.”

 

Denise helped Daryl shrug back into his shirt. “Thanks for the pep talk,” she said.

 

“Yeah … sure.” He buttoned his shirt up. “So, what did you do after you dropped out of med school?”

 

“I was going take time off from school and write. Always wanted to be a writer, maybe tell my story. Never found out if I had it in me, though. The world kind of took a giant shit … you know.”

 

Daryl nodded in agreement as he looked over at the bed on the other side of the room where Rick was sitting with Carl. Daryl gestured towards them with a tilt of his head. “How is he? He gonna make it?”

 

“Nothing I could do for his eye. It’s just gone. I cleaned out any pieces of bone I saw. His eye socket is shattered. He was lucky, though. Looks like the bullet ricocheted off the bone and exited. Made a mess of things, but it didn’t touch the brain. My main worry is infection. As long as we keep it clean and don’t run out of medicine, I think he’ll be alright.”

 

Daryl nodded. “Good. That’s good to hear. Hey, how about that. You sound like a real doctor,” he teased her.

 

Just then, the door to the infirmary opened, and Aaron came in. He was a bloody mess, but his eyes were full of concern. They fell upon Daryl right away, and he went to him. Aaron saw the blood on Daryl’s shirt, and the cut mark made by the knife. “My God. Are you alright?”

 

“I’m fine. Just a flesh wound. Denise here patched me up nice and neat,” Daryl answered.

 

Denise smiled at them both. “I’m glad you’re both ok.” She excused herself to go check on Carl so that Aaron and Daryl could have a moment alone.

 

Aaron looked around the room. Everyone was out on the porch of the infirmary except Rick who was with Carl. Aaron seemed to be in a daze, still reeling from everything that had just happened.

 

“Hey, you alright?” Daryl asked softly. Aaron nodded, but Daryl could see his lip begin to quiver. “I’m so sorry,” Daryl whispered, referring to Eric.

 

“I … I told him to stay with Olivia and the others. He was … he was never a strong fighter, you know?” Tears welled up in Aaron’s eyes. His line of sight stayed glued to the front door, unable to look at Daryl.

 

“It was his choice. He died knowing what had to be done,” Daryl said.

 

“Yeah, I … I know. It’s just–” Aaron’s words trailed off. His eyes became hard with anger. “What happened to you? You were supposed to be back days ago.”

 

“Half the herd broke off when that horn sounded. Rick went to try and distract them. Me, Sasha and Abe … we had to stay with the rest, keep leading them away from town. We did. We led them to the split just like we planned. Then we turned off heading through some abandoned city. All of a sudden, we were in the middle of a spray of bullets. I crashed my bike. Sasha and Abe took a different route. We got separated. I don’t know what the hell that was. It was like an ambush, but I don’t think it was meant for us. We just got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Daryl explained. He reached for Aaron’s arm, but he pulled it away. Clearly, Aaron was in a state of shock. “So, what happened here? The guard tower is down, the wall is breached … walkers all over the place.”

 

“We were attacked. This … this rogue group calling themselves Wolves.”

 

“How’d they get in?” Daryl wondered.

 

Aaron looked down at his bloody hands. It was Eric’s blood. “It was all my fault,” he whispered.

 

“What? How?”

 

“My bag, the one I dropped at the cannery. There were pictures of the town inside. They found my bag … found the town … found a way in.”

 

“You don’t know that for sure,” Daryl said.

 

“I killed one of them. Stabbed him. He was laying on something. I picked it up. It was my bag. The photos were still in it.” For the first time since they reunited, Aaron looked Daryl in the eyes. “Half the town is dead. Eric is dead. Carl might be … and it’s my fault.”

 

“Hey, it’s not your fault. People like that are going to find a way in no matter what. You can’t beat yourself up for this.” Daryl reached for Aaron again, but he backed away.

 

“You weren’t here. You and Rick, all the others, you went off and left us vulnerable. You were supposed to be back that evening. It’s been days, Daryl, days, and look at this place.”

 

“You trying to blame me now?” Daryl countered angrily. “You blaming Rick? If it wasn’t for us, there would have been thousands more walkers here. This place would be leveled to the ground.” He slid off of the examine table and got in Aaron’s face. “Man, what do you think I was doing out there? I was shot at, taken hostage, I lost my bike and my crossbow trying to help some dumb fucks that I should have known better than to get involved with. Then I was held at gunpoint by a bunch of bikers who tried to take the rest of my stuff. They were going to kill Sasha and Abe. Fuck! I got stabbed in the shoulder taking one of them out. Blew the rest up to save Sasha and Abraham. Then I come home and find this place ruined. Fucking walkers all over the place. And you want to blame me? Fuck you!” Without waiting for a response, Daryl marched out of the infirmary. He paced the front porch a few times, and then plopped down on one of the steps.

 

Aaron still stood where he was. He knew better than to go after Daryl. He didn’t know why he said the things he said, but he was very confused at the moment. Too much tragedy surrounded him, and he couldn’t take it all in at one time. He was mad at himself, feeling guilty. Daryl was an easy target right then, and Aaron needed to share the blame somehow. He looked across the room to where Carl and Rick were. Rick was sitting in a chair by the bed, holding Carl’s hand. Carl’s head was bandaged up. He still hadn’t woken up since he was hurt. Denise mentioned she feared he might be in shock or in a coma. Only time would tell.

 

Aaron walked over and stood next to Rick. They were silent for a while, watching Carl take slow but steady breaths. Eventually, Rick turned his head to the side, although his head was still bowed. “I heard you talking to Daryl,” he said in a raspy voice. Rick shook his head slowly back and forth. “It’s not your fault, Aaron. And it’s not Daryl’s fault. Things happen. Daryl’s right. Those people would have found a way in no matter what.”

 

“It might have taken them longer to find this place if it wasn’t for the pictures.”

 

Rick shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. Eventually, they would have come across Alexandria. They won’t be the last either. We have something that everyone else wants, and that makes us a target. But I was wrong to think that my people and I were the only ones who knew how to protect Alexandria. I saw how everyone came together when it mattered, and now I know that it’s going to take all of us to keep this place safe. There is no ‘my people’ and ‘your people’. We are ‘us’. We are one. We are all Alexandrians now.”

 

>>------->

 

Eventually Aaron would go home, but first, someone brought him to the cemetary. The graves had been prepared, the bodies carefully wrapped in blankets, and each one lowered into its place. Jesse, Ron and Sam were buried next to Pete. Mrs. Neudermyer was buried next to some of the women from her bridge club. They had all been friends. And under a tree another grave had been prepared, Eric’s blanketed body positioned next to the opened earth. Two men, who had been burying the bodies, started to pick Eric up, but Aaron stopped them. “I’ll do it,” he said. He jumped down into the hole and the men helped put Eric in his arms. Aaron struggled under Eric’s weight, but he managed to lower him into the grave. He gently lowered Eric until he was able to lay him down. Tears splashed onto the dirty blanket, soaking up dust where they fell. Aaron made sure the body was positioned right, knowing this was Eric’s final resting place.

 

“Goodbye, Eric,” Aaron uttered, his voice cracking with fatigue and sorrow. He stood another moment, looking down at the covered body, and said a prayer. “Alright,” Aaron said to the men standing at the edge of the grave, ready for them to give him a hand out of the hole. When he looked up, Daryl was standing there with his hand extended. Aaron looked at the strong, rough hand a moment. Then he griped it tight, and Daryl helped him up. The two men stood by, shovels in their hands, ready to finish the job. Aaron looked at Daryl. “Thank you,” he whispered, and Daryl nodded. Their recent exchange had been heated, but now they acted as though it never happened. Burying Eric was more important. Being there for each other in a time of need ruled over petty emotions.

 

One of the men stepped forward and handed Aaron a folded up piece of paper. “We found his in his pocket. Thought you would want it.”

 

Aaron didn’t have to unfold it to know what it was. It was the black and white photo of Aaron and Eric.

 

“Do you want to–” one of the men gestured with his shovel.

 

Aaron shook his head. “No, that’s alright.” The man nodded and both started shoveling dirt into the grave. Aaron watched the blanket become covered with dirt, but just before he couldn’t see it anymore, he tossed the picture into the grave. “This belongs with him.”

 

Daryl stood right next to Aaron, but he remained silent. This was Aaron’s closure. This was his time to grieve. Daryl wouldn’t interrupt him, but he would always be there for him as long as he still had life in his body and a breath left in his lungs.

 

When dirt covered the blanket completely, Aaron grasped Daryl’s arm and gave a tug. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

 

They walked slowly towards their house, carefully stepping around corpses. “It all seems so surreal,” Aaron said after a long silence. “I never imagined this kind of horror could find its way inside the walls. It’s feels like … I don’t know, like … Have you ever had your car stolen and gotten it back after the cops found it? You get inside and see the steering column messed up, the glove box ransacked, things missing out of the back seat. You know someone else was in your car, and you get this sense of a violation of personal space, kind of like it’s been ruined or something. It feels wrong somehow. That’s how Alexandria feels to me right now, and I don’t know if it will ever feel as homey as it once did.”

 

“Yeah, I get what you mean, except I was the guy who probably stole your car,” Daryl said to try to lighten the mood. Aaron gave a half smile.

 

“Do you think it will ever get back to normal here?” he asked Daryl as they approached their home.

 

“I do,” Daryl said with confidence. “We will make it great again. I don’t doubt that one bit. Of course, there will always be reminders. That’s what makes us smarter and stronger for the next time.”

 

“The next time?” Aaron wondered.

 

“We’ve got something here that others are willing to fight us for. No one can be trusted out there anymore. If another group comes at us again, we’ll be prepared,” Daryl explained.

 

Aaron was a little put off by Daryl’s comment. Before everything went haywire, he and Daryl were recruiters for the town. “So, what are you saying? You don’t want to bring new people in anymore?”

 

“I think the people we have here now are all we need. Everyone has a job and a place. We’ll make this a great place to live after we clean up the mess.”

 

Aaron huffed cynically. “You didn’t used to think that way. You’re starting to sound like Rick. What changed your mind?”

 

Daryl narrowed his eyes and looked towards the section of wall that displayed the names of the fallen townspeople. “I tried helping and got shitted on.” He shook his head. “No more.”

 

Aaron wondered what happened to Daryl out there, but there would be time to talk about it later. All either one wanted to do was go home, but when they got there, it was an unpleasant sight. Dead corpses littered the street, blood was smeared on the steps and railing of their porch. The flowers planted in the landscaping were all trampled flat. It was a complete mess. Fortunately, when they walked inside the house, it was clean and untouched. Nothing had gotten inside. It looked the same as it had the last time they were there.

 

Daryl walked to the stairs and stopped. “I’m gonna take a shower.” He started to ascend the stairs but Aaron called to him.

 

“Hey, I’m glad you’re home.”

 

Daryl came back down and went to Aaron, standing before him. “Me too. I missed you. I was worried for you.”

 

“I was worried about you too, especially when you didn’t come back.” Aaron cupped the back of his neck and bowed his head. “Listen, I was a jerk earlier in the infirmary. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to blame you for anything.”

 

Daryl took Aaron’s chin in his fingers and lifted his head until their eyes met. “I’m sorry too. I shouldn’t have yelled at you and stormed out.”

 

Their eyes locked on each other, and the tension of the past few days started to disintegrate. They looked past the dried blood and dirt, and remembered exactly what existed between them. Slowly, they closed the distance between them, and a rush of emotions took over. Daryl pulled Aaron to him and they kissed, carefully at first, and then more eagerly. Neither man was sure how the other would react at this point, so soon after such devastation. They realized that no matter what had happened, they still needed each other to heal.

 

They held each other and kissed feverishly, hands roaming to undo buttons. Aaron had Daryl’s shirt half way undone, but Daryl stopped him. Aaron looked at him with confusion at first. Daryl shook his head. “Not like this,” Daryl said and made a disgusted face. “We need to get cleaned up first.”

 

Aaron took Daryl’s hand and pulled him towards the stairs. “Come on then. We’ll shower together.”

 

They climbed the stairs, unable to keep their hands to themselves. Aaron went in the bathroom first and instantly turned on the water in the shower. Then they resumed undressing each other, kissing and touching in the process until they were stripped free of their clothes. Instantly, Aaron noticed the horrible wounds on Daryl’s arm and hip. He paused and looked on in concern.

 

“What happened?” Aaron asked, careful not to touch him there.

 

“Road rash,” Daryl said. “Laid my bike down. I’ll tell you about it later.”

 

Aaron nodded and continued manipulating Daryl, and took his hand to lead him into the shower, but Daryl stopped him. “Are you sure about this? I mean, I want to, but you … it hasn’t been long since . . .”

 

“I’ve been surrounded by so much death recently. I can’t think about it anymore. I need to feel alive, and I’m never more alive than when I’m with you.” Aaron pulled Daryl with him into the shower.

 

The hot water stung Daryl’s wounds. He only flinched lightly, but he mostly ignored the pain. Instead, he picked up the soap and started lathering his hands. Then he handed the soap to Aaron, who did the same.

 

“We look a damn mess, don’t we?” Daryl commented.

 

“Yeah, but I don’t care. You’re here.” Aaron kissed him with gentle lips. “There were times when I thought this would never happen again. I was so scared for you. Thank God you’re alright.”

 

The dirt was washing from their faces. Daryl brushed his hand over Aaron’s cheek, and looked longingly into his eyes. “I made you a promise. I said I’d be back, and as long as I have breath in my lungs, I’ll be here.” He kissed Aaron with slow passion, but it quickly escalated. The water was washing away days of sweat, blood and fear. Things might be a mess out there, but in here, life was getting back to normal again. Tongues twisting, lips tasting, Daryl and Aaron held on to each other as if to never let go. Their bodies rubbed against each other, further heightening their desire.

 

Without saying a word, Aaron turned his back to Daryl and pushed up against him. Daryl’s hands roamed over Aaron’s hips, reached around and cupped his ready cock. He gave a delighted moan in Aaron’s ear, the vibrations exciting him even more. Aaron braced his hands on the shower wall and gave himself to Daryl. Daryl pushed himself within the warmth and let out a long breathy sigh of relief. He threw his head back, letting the hot water splash on his face. Then he looked down and watched himself as he set his pace. He pulled Aaron against him so he could taste the warm flesh … so alive, Daryl thought.

 

“I want to stay buried in you forever,” Daryl whispered into Aaron’s ear. “When I’m with you, everything else just melts away.”

 

Aaron threw his head back onto Daryl’s shoulder, and his hands reached for Daryl’s hips, pulling him closer with every pump. “Yeah,” he agreed wholeheartedly.

 

Daryl’s rhythm increased as did his breathing. Aaron was coming around fast. His cock was pulsating in Daryl’s hand, balls tightening getting ready for release. “Ah, Aaron … fuck, you feel good.”

 

“Make me come, Daryl. I want all of you … hard … deep,” Aaron begged.

 

Daryl’s fingers dug into Aaron’s hips as he slammed into him. Aaron leaned forward and bowed his head. His hands braced the wall. He was spread, taking everything Daryl was giving him. It was a little rough without proper lube, but the water was slicking them just enough. The pain was good. It was euphoric. It meant they were alive and conscious. They had something normal, even if it was just for a few moments. They could still celebrate life and love. That was something that wouldn’t change. They had one another in all this chaos that surrounded them, and it was enough to keep them going.

 

They came together, crying out with passionate moans, shuttering against each other, feeling the warmth, the pulse of life that connected them. Daryl moved them so Aaron was standing upright against the wall, and Daryl covered his body. He stayed in this position, softening within, which was the best feeling in the world. The water was hot, and the steam surrounded them like a cocoon. They were clean and satisfied, and relieved to be together again.

 

Eventually, they turned the water off and climbed out of the shower. Daryl handed Aaron a towel before he got his own. They dried off, taking turns drying each other’s backs. Then, Daryl pulled Aaron to him and buried his face in Aaron’s shoulder. Their arms surrounded one another, and they just held each other for a moment. Daryl picked his head up and kissed Aaron. “I wanna tell you I’ll never leave you again, but I know that’s a promise I can’t keep.”

 

“You just make sure you always come home. That’s all you need to do,” Aaron smiled against his lips. “I love you.”

 

“Mmph,” Daryl moaned. “I love you too.”

 

>>------->

 

There was a lot of work to do, and it would take a long time to accomplish it, but Aaron and Daryl were too exhausted to continue on with the day ahead of them. Aaron looked out of their second story bedroom window, and he saw some people starting the cleanup.

 

Daryl went to him, putting his hands on Aaron’s shoulders. “We don’t need to worry about that yet.”

 

“Yeah, but–”

 

“No one is expecting us to jump in and start fixing things. I think we all need a moment to regroup and recharge. It was a long night. Come on.” Daryl pulled Aaron to their bed, and coaxed him into laying down. They settled beneath the covers, laying silently next to each other, each man consumed by his own thoughts.

 

Aaron gave a deep sigh, tired of rehashing the same things over and over in his mind. All he kept thinking was, ‘Was there more I could have done?’

 

“Hey, you alright?” Daryl said at his side.

 

Aaron rolled towards him. “I am now. So, you gonna tell me what happened out there?”

 

“We were leading the herd, just like we planned. And then that horn went off,” Daryl started.

 

“That was a truck that the Wolves crashed into the tower. Guess the horn got stuck,” Aaron explained.

 

Daryl nodded. “Well, Rick went back for the RV. He was going to use it to lead the back half away from town. That didn’t go well, I see.”

 

“He couldn’t get it started, and the herd was closing in on him. Rick got out just before he was surrounded. Ran all the way back to town, too. He’s a tough son of a bitch.”

 

“Yeah he is,” Daryl said, thinking of all the times they had saved each other’s asses. “He was on the radio, telling me about Glenn and Michonne’s plans to get the rest of the group back to town. They got trapped by part of the herd. And then I heard a gun go off, and yelling.” Daryl paused and breathed deep, letting it out slowly. “You know, after that horn sounded, all I wanted to do was fly back here as fast as my bike would go. I kept thinking that it was a signal for help. Rick was the one who stopped me. He said if I went back, I was doing it for myself, but if I stayed with the herd, I was doing it for the town … and you were a part of the town. I didn’t care about anyone but you. You were all I cared about, and if that had been your signal to me, and Rick stopped me . . .”

 

“It wasn’t me, though, and at that point we were all safe behind the walls.”

 

“You don’t understand, Aaron. It took every fiber of my being not to come back. I knew it was best to stay with Sasha and Abraham, but just the thought of something happening to you, and I wasn’t there to help drove me to the edge.”

 

“You did the right thing,” Aaron said to ease Daryl’s mind.

 

Daryl sat up and reached for a pack of smokes that he kept on the nightstand. There were only two cigarettes left, and one of them had broken in half. He was saving them for when he really needed one. He opened the box and fingered the crooked cigarettes. “I turned back. I was coming home.”

 

“You did?” Aaron said, surprised that he’d done it.

 

Daryl gave a nod and pulled a cigarette out of the box. “There was a turnoff, and I knew if I followed the road, it would lead back to Alexandria. If I hurried, I could avoid the herd. Sasha and Abraham were in the car telling me not to do it. They told me that Rick was right, to go back would be out of selfishness, but I didn’t care. I’d be a selfish prick if it meant knowing you were alright.”

 

“What happened? What made you change your mind and stick with the plan?” Aaron asked curiously.

 

“I stopped and tried to reach Rick over the radio, but there was no answer. I didn’t know what happened to him. Then I thought about what he said, you know, reacting for my own satisfaction and not for the good of everyone else. He was right … again. He usually is. I could go back to Alexandria. I might find Rick. I might not. I might find the town in ruins or the herd biting at the walls. I knew that whatever was happening, you and everyone else would deal with it because you’re strong and smart. It was half the herd, which was still a lot, but … if the front half made their way to the town too, that was on me because I abandoned the plan. It was the hardest decision I had to make in a while, to go back and find out if you were alright, or to hope you were and continue with the plan. The whole time I didn’t know if it was the right choice, but it seemed like the logical one. So I turned around and rushed back to join Sasha and Abraham. We did our job and completed the mission.”

 

Aaron moved closer to Daryl, needing to feel his warmth beneath the covers. He thought about their reunion at the infirmary, how he got upset with Daryl for not being there. “And there I was complaining that you weren’t with us. Now I really feel like shit.”

 

“You shouldn’t. You were angry, upset. For God’s sake, you just watched Eric–” Daryl stopped before he said anything more. “We both said things we didn’t mean. That’s what happens in the heat of the moment. The important thing is that you’re here and I’m here. The town is still standing, even though it’s damaged. We’re going to be fine.”

 

Aaron kissed his shoulder and squeezed his arm. “I know we are. And once we’ve repaired this place and gotten things back together, we’ll start recruiting again. We’ll rebuild our numbers and–”

 

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Daryl interrupted.

 

“What? You’ve always supported recruiting.”

 

Daryl shook his head as he stared up at the ceiling. “There’s bad people out there.”

 

“There’s always been–”

 

“More than you might think,” Daryl interrupted.

 

Aaron watched his face, studied the lack of hope in his eyes. “What happened?” he simply asked.

 

Daryl didn’t answer right away. He seemed lost in thought, trying to determine whether he’d made good decisions or not. “You’ve always told me to try. That’s all any of us can do. You remember the first time you said that to me?”

 

Aaron smiled. “Of course. You were outside of Deanna’s house, and that dinner party was going on inside. You were just standing there, conflict in your face. You’d cleaned up and changed clothes, but I could see that you really didn’t want to deal with anyone or anything.”

 

“And you told me, at least I tried, even if I couldn’t go inside.” Daryl smiled and turned his head so he could see Aaron out of the corner of his eye. “I always remembered that. I’d been raised to think that trying was not an option. That trying without succeeding was failure. With just a few words, you somehow made it ok. I believed you and ever since then I have always at the very least tried.” Daryl stopped and turned on his side so that he and Aaron were face to face. “I was on my own out there, and I came across some people … a guy and a couple girls. They didn’t trust me and I didn’t trust them. At one point we needed each other, so we tried. They helped me and then I helped them, and I thought of what you would have done. You would have told them about Alexandria. You would have brought them in. Then one of the girls got bit, and it was just the two of them. There was something about the way they acted. They were scared, really scared. I felt that it was up to me to help them, to bring them in. I thought I was making the right choice. But they screwed me. Not only that, they took everything from me and left me with nothing. I let my guard down to help them, and they took advantage of me. They got my bike and my bow, but worst of all, they stole what little trust I had left in humanity. I don’t trust no one, not anymore. The people inside these walls are it. I ain’t letting my guard down for no one ever again.”

 

Aaron sat up on his elbow and looked down at Daryl. “We can’t be that way. We still have to have faith that there are good people out there that need our help. They need us to bring them in and save them from the bad people. If we stop looking, we’ll never grow as a community. We’ll become stagnate and weak.” Aaron shook his head in disagreement. “I’m sorry, Daryl, but I think you’re wrong about this.”

 

“How can you think that way, especially after everything that happened here?” Daryl argued. “People came in and killed our own. They tore down the wall and let walkers in. They destroyed everything we worked so hard for … and they didn’t even want our town. They just wanted to kill. So how can you sit there and say you still have faith in anyone on the outside?”

 

“I’m not saying there aren’t bad people, but I think the good outweigh the bad, and they deserve the same chance we have. Hell, there might even be another place out there full of good people like the ones we have here in Alexandria,” Aaron countered.

 

“You don’t believe that, do you?” Daryl asked accusingly.

 

By now, Aaron was sitting up on his side of the bed. He swung his legs over the edge, and picked up his khaki pants, putting them on in a rush. “Just like planets in outer space, we can’t be the only inhabitable place.” He stood up, zipped his pants and reached for his shirt, which he put on in a hurry. “I’m not ready to give up on humanity,” he said quietly. “And I’m not ready to stop looking for survivors.” He walked to the bedroom door and started to leave.

 

“Hey, where you going?” Daryl asked from the bed.

 

“I’m going to help with the cleanup. Come or not, I don’t care.” Aaron exited the room leaving Daryl confused by their heated conversation.

 

Why the hell did Aaron get pissed off by Daryl’s opinion? Daryl sat up in bed and shook his head. “Fuck,” he muttered, and ran his fingers through his messy hair. He didn’t know why it was such a big deal. They had been the town’s recruiters since Daryl first showed up in Alexandria. They had brought people in. They did their job, and now they were rightfully owed a break from the life. With everything that happened, they needed time to regroup, and Daryl was beginning to think that Rick not wanting to bring new people in was a good idea. There were enough people in Alexandria as it was, and even though their numbers were down significantly, Daryl thought they were better off to train the people left rather than look for new blood. He thought about his recent experience, and he realized that he’d let his guard down when he decided to try and take those people in. In the process, Daryl was robbed and left vulnerable. His trust was shattered, his pride hurt, and he’d be damned if he was going to let that happen again.

 

 



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