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 31 Dissension

 

 

Alexandria was finally getting back to normal. The damaged part of the wall was fixed, and new areas were being built. Crops were planted and off to a good start. An area for livestock was coming along nicely, though they didn’t have the animals to fill the space just yet. The people of the town felt safe once more, but they were all a little more aware and alert of their surroundings. Although life there was on the rebound, there was still a lot of work to do before it would be self sustaining again. Winter was in the back of everyone's mind. The crops would come in just in time, but it wouldn’t be enough to sustain the entire town throughout the winter months. Because of this, scouts still went out to scavenge for anything they could find. Food and medical supplies were top priority, of course, and Heath and Tara had been rather successful. Rick felt it might be better to have more people out scouting for supplies so that they could keep ahead of demand. There were plenty of other people who would have gone out, but Rick had been inside the walls for the past two months, and he needed to get away for a bit. It was difficult to let the outside world completely go. He needed a reminder every once in a while.

 

Daryl and Aaron’s relationship had been a bit strained since the day the tower fell. They didn’t see eye to eye about recruiting anymore. Aaron felt they still needed to bring good people in, but Daryl had lost all trust of outsiders. They decided not to discuss their different opinions too much, but sometimes it couldn’t be avoided. Aaron was still grieving the loss of Eric, and that was another burden between the men. Daryl gave Aaron his space when it came to that. He didn’t feel it was his place to get involved, especially since Daryl and Eric never really got along. If Aaron needed to bend an ear, Daryl would listen, but he’d give no advice. It wouldn’t have come out of his mouth right. He might sound mean or uncaring. No one was there for Daryl when he grieved for his brother or for Beth. Carol had been closest to him, but even so, he wasn’t good at opening up to anyone.

 

Aaron, on the other hand, had no problem reminiscing about past days. Everyday, something would remind him of Eric, or a situation they had been in. Sometimes it was a good memory, sometimes not. But what was always at the forefront of Aaron’s mind was a promise he made, and one that Daryl couldn’t agree with. It was the reason for many of their arguments. Usually, Aaron would try to avoid talking about it, but he was getting tired of being inside the walls all the time. Aaron needed to get out and do some good in the world. He made his argument, knowing that Daryl would once again disagree, but he was willing to risk it. Aaron heard that Heath and Tara were going on a run soon, and he wanted to join them. He was ready, but was Daryl ready to let him go?

 

“What do you want to go out there for?” Daryl complained when Aaron made his case.

 

“Because I’m not ready to give up on finding people,” Aaron countered. He’d been prepared for this discussion for a while.

 

“Well, I found people and I’m telling you there ain’t no good ones left in the world.” Daryl stood up from the dining room table and moved to the open kitchen. He adjusted the knives in the butcher’s block and pushed a couple coffee mugs around. The need to do something with his hands besides shake sense into Aaron was annoying.

 

“So that’s it? You’re done with recruiting. You’re done looking for people who need our help,” Aaron said accusingly.

 

“Yep,” Daryl answered tersely.

 

Aaron picked up his fork and pushed around the beans he wasn’t hungry for, speaking softly into his plate. “I suppose you don’t think we’ll find other communities either.”

 

Daryl heard him and stopped fidgeting. He turned his head to the side without actually looking at Aaron. “Since when did you start believing that?”

 

“I’ve never not believed it. I just never pursued the thought. We’ve been all over, at least it feels that way, and we never came across any other communities.”

 

“What makes you so sure now?” Daryl said, his voice low and gravelly.

 

“I guess I still have hope that we’re not the only place left in the world.” Aaron pushed his plate away and stood from the table. “I’m just not through looking yet. Do what you want, but I still want to go.” Aaron picked up his plate and took it into the sink. He looked at the plate of beans, undecided about what to do with them. Since the attack a couple months ago, food had become a concern. Their supplies were running low because they had exhausted most of the places where they scavenged. Crops had been planted, but it would be a while before there would be anything. Throwing away a plate of cold beans seemed like a waste. Aaron opted for putting them in the fridge.

 

Daryl stood across the room and watched Aaron. “This is about Eric, isn’t it?”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Aaron said nervously.

 

“Cut the crap, Aaron. Ever since … you know–”

 

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Aaron rejected.

 

“That’s part of the problem. You never want to talk about it. Listen, I know it was bad. I know you’ve had a hard time, but–”

 

“No, you don’t know,” Aaron said angrily. He didn’t mean to raise his voice.

 

“Man, that’s bullshit,” Daryl yelled. “I’ve been where you are, and more than once too. I carry around the same guilt. It haunts me almost every day. I’m constantly asking myself if I did enough. So don’t tell me I don’t know.”

 

“If you know, then why don’t you just let me grieve in my own way?” Aaron yelled back.

 

“Because you have to move on from it. The guilt … that never goes away. Yeah, it fades some, but it is always there. Hindsight it a fucking bitch, and if you let it control you, it will destroy you down to your soul. You have to keep telling yourself that it wasn’t your fault, and those maniacs would have come whether they found those pictures or not.”

 

“That doesn’t matter. The fact is they did find them and they came. They knew the layout of this place in advance, and now people are dead. That’s on me,” Aaron said quietly.

 

Daryl stood leaning with his back against the counter, arms crossed watching Aaron through his long hair. There was no point going any further with the conversation. They would just go around in circles. Aaron would continue to blame himself, and Daryl would try to talk him out of it. “You know what? We all grieve in our own way. So do what you gotta do. Blame who you gotta blame.” Daryl started to leave the kitchen, but Aaron stopped him.

 

“You were right,” Aaron said. Daryl waited for him to go on. “About Eric … or this being about him.” Aaron turned to face Daryl, but he didn’t move towards him. He stayed by the sink. “He always believed there were others out there, and I always blew him off.” Aaron went back to the fridge and took out the plate of beans. “Even before Alison, he would talk about it. Every recruiting run, he would get his hopes up.”

 

“Why? Did he want to leave Alexandria or something?” Daryl asked.

 

“Not at first. He just needed to know we weren’t the last, I think. But no matter how much he talked about it, I ignored him or I told him he was being ridiculous. I’d laugh it off and change the subject. It didn’t faze him though. He kept on hoping.” Aaron turned to the garbage can and dumped the beans into it. He stood there a moment, staring into the can before he spoke again. “The last thing he said to me was that he wanted me to keep looking, even as he laid there dying.” Aaron shook his head. “I can’t let that go. I promised him I’d do it.” Aaron turned back to Daryl and looked at him from across the room. “You can’t tell me not to do this. It’s between me and Eric.”

 

Daryl shifted his stance and cocked his head to the side. Every part of him was telling him to support Aaron, but his obduracy often took place of cooperativeness. “I ain’t going up against your ghosts. You’re putting a promise to a dead man before someone who is here now, alive and concerned about you. You want me out of your way then fine. I got my own agenda.” He pushed himself away from the counter and left the kitchen, headed for the front door.

 

“Daryl, please,” Aaron called out. “I didn’t mean for it to seem that way. Don’t be like–”

 

“I gotta meet Rick,” Daryl interrupted, and he left.

 

Aaron sighed and shook his head. What was happening to them? They had always agreed. They had always fought together, but now … this difference in opinion … it was pushing them further and further apart.

 

He turned his attention back to the garbage can, and stared down at the beans. “Why does he have to be such a difficult prick?” More guilt was piling on, not just for Eric or the townspeople who died, but for Daryl, for pushing him away. He couldn’t help it right now. Aaron felt as though he needed to wallow in misery for a while. He thought he deserved it. Maybe later he could begin to forgive himself, but not now.

 

His mind turned to the food he just wasted. “I shouldn’t have done that,” he said to himself. It was foolish to throw it away. There was nothing wrong with it. He was just tired of eating beans. But that meal might end up being the difference between starving and one more day. There was nothing to do about it now, so Aaron left the kitchen and turned the lights out as he went. With nothing else to do at the moment, he decided to go to bed.

 

Aaron laid awake for a long time, waiting for Daryl to come back from his meeting with Rick, but now his eyelids were becoming heavy. He gave in to sleep, and figured he’d wake up when Daryl finally came home and got under the covers.

 

When Aaron woke up, the sun had risen already. The first thing he did was check the opposite side of the bed, but it was empty. Daryl hadn’t come home last night. Aaron sat up right away, threw his legs over the side of the bed, slid his feet into his slippers and stood. His heart began to pound with worry over the whereabouts of Daryl. Why wouldn’t he come home, Aaron asked himself as he descended the stairs. When he got to the bottom and looked in the living room, he saw a blanket and a pillow on the couch, but Daryl wasn’t there. He must have already started his day. Probably wanted to leave before Aaron got up so they wouldn’t have to battle through another argument. At least he came home, although he never came upstairs. Aaron shook his head with disappointment. Why was Daryl being this way? What was happening to their relationship?

 

>>------->

 

Often Aaron would wander down to the graveyard and spend a couple hours at Eric’s grave. He found comfort there amongst the makeshift cemetery. The headstones were made of wood, the names of the deceased written in permanent marker. It wasn’t what they deserved, but it was all that was available.

 

Aaron had gone to the cemetary after a quick cup of coffee and a piece of stale bread. Shouldn’t have thrown those beans away, he berated himself. He stopped and picked a few wildflowers before continuing on his way. Once he arrived at the gravesite, he placed the flowers at the foot of the wood board that marked Eric’s grave. Then he sat down on the new grass that covered the area, crossed his legs and looked up at the bright blue sky.

 

“It’s your favorite time of the year,” Aaron said with a smile. He closed his eyes and felt the warmth of the sun on his face. “You always said the summer reminded you of trips to the beach with your family when you were young. Those were good days, you told me once.” Aaron tilted his head back down and looked at Eric’s name. The black letters were beginning to fade, and he made a mental note to redraw it. Either that or find some paint and a paintbrush. That would last longer, and Aaron could do it for all the headstones. His mind’s brief detour didn’t last long, and his thoughts came back to Daryl.

 

“I know you probably wouldn’t want to hear about my problems when you were alive, so now you’ve got no choice but to listen,” Aaron laughed to himself. His smile quickly faded. “Things haven’t been so good between Daryl and me. I want to find more people and he doesn’t. He’s lost what little trust he had. Something got to him out there when he was alone. Something really messed him up, set him back to a time when he didn’t trust anyone. He told me what happened, how he lost his bike and his crossbow, but I think it goes deeper than that. He said he tried to bring a couple people back with him and they screwed him over. I think it’s more than that, but he won’t go into any details. Daryl’s stubborn like that, you know.”

 

Aaron thought about their argument in the infirmary, how he blamed Daryl for not being there when the town really needed him. “I was a prick,” he said. Aaron picked at the blades of longer grass poking up around his ankles, his hands needed to keep busy as he investigated his thoughts. “I just don’t know what’s happening. A lot of things have gone down, and it hasn’t been easy to adjust to the changes. You, for example.” He paused and shifted his weight. “I still expect to see you as I walk down the road. I pass your house and wait to see you come running out to say hello, but you’re not there. You’re here. You shouldn’t be here, and I can’t help but to feel some responsibility for that. Everyone tells me it’s not my fault. Daryl starts to get mad at me. He thinks I need to move on, and maybe I do, but I can’t help feeling this way. I want to make things right. I want to start recruiting again. We lost a lot of good people, including you. Alexandria’s numbers need to be rebuilt. It’s the only way to make sure we have a future. Deanna would have wanted us to go out there, just like old times. No one else gets it.”

 

“I get it,” someone said, startling Aaron. He turned to find Maggie standing behind him, and he jumped to his feet.

 

“Maggie. Hey, I didn’t know you were here,” he smiled as he spoke.

 

She smiled back and glanced down at Eric’s grave. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”

 

“No, no. It’s alright. I was just … talking … you know … to–” he stammered.

 

Maggie laid a comforting hand on his arm. “I know. I used to do that too. M-My sister … when she … in the beginning. I was always conferring with her, one-sidedly. I still do sometimes.” She walked forward and stood at Eric’s marker. “I was coming to pay my respects and heard you talking.” She paused and looked back at Aaron. “You’re right to want to find new people. I was just agreeing with you. And yes, Deanna would have wanted it this way.”

 

“Unfortunately, not everyone agrees. Rick, Daryl … they don’t think we should go looking anymore.”

 

“They’re just scared right now, but give them time, and I think they’ll come around.”

 

Aaron nodded. “And I’m not blind to how it is out there. I know there are bad people. There always have been, even before the outbreak. I think there’s a lot more now, people who have lost their way, lost their humanity. They’ve learned to survive a different way. They are empowered by fear, not hope.”

 

“Do you think Daryl is like that?” she asked.

 

“I don’t think it’s fear that is driving him. Lack of trust, yeah.”

 

“It’s like that for a lot of us now, especially since everything that happened a couple months ago. What you have to remember is that you both see things differently, and you can’t make him think your way nor can he make you agree with him. You are both right in this situation, and you both have to find a common ground, respect each other’s opinions.”

 

“Is it like that for you and Glenn?” Aaron asked. “Do you disagree a lot?”

 

Maggie shrugged her shoulders. “Sometimes. We work through it, though. We communicate. That’s the most important thing in a solid, lasting relationship.”

 

Aaron huffed a laugh. “You make it sound as if we’re married.”

 

“It’s no different, really. You’re committed to each other, right?”

 

Aaron nodded. “I like to think so. I’m sure of it.”

 

“Compromise, that’s all it takes,” Maggie assured him.

 

“And if Daryl can’t do that?” Aaron asked.

 

Maggie smiled. “Then send him to me and I’ll knock some sense into him. I’ve known Daryl for a long time now, and I can see through his hard outer shell.” She walked towards Aaron and hugged him. “It’ll work out.”

 

“Thanks,” Aaron whispered as they separated. “Oh hey,” he said with enthusiasm, realizing he forgot to inquire about the baby. “How’s little Aaron … or Erin?” He thought she looked a little uncomfortable with his name for the baby. “I didn’t mean to say that’s what you’re going to call the baby or anything. I was just–”

 

“It’s alright, Aaron. Actually, Glenn and I have decided not to think about names too much. We’re going to wait until the baby is here to decide.” Maggie held her hand to her stomach and looked down with a loving smile. “He or she is fine, I guess. It’s too soon to tell. I mean, I don’t feel any different yet, and it’s too early to show.” She stopped and looked disappointed. “I wish I could see … you know … like with an ultrasound … how it used to be … before.” She stopped again, but this time she gave a small smile to hide her worry. “However, there is the morning sickness, and it’s not just mornings.”

 

“I’ve heard that’s a good thing. Means everything is progressing as it should,” he said with enthusiasm.

 

She nodded and looked back at the markers. “Are you staying?”

 

“No, I think I’ve said all I have to say for now.” Aaron held out his arm to her and she wrapped hers around his.

 

“Next time, try talking to Daryl instead. Ok?”

 

“Yeah, I will,” he agreed.

 

>>------->

 

Later in the day, Aaron went to find Tara and Heath. He wanted to ask them if he could go with them to scavenge. He was feeling rebellious after he thought about his argument with Daryl that morning, and decided he’d just leave with them. Let Daryl worry, he thought. Besides, Daryl told him to do what he needed to do, and Aaron didn’t need anyone’s permission.

 

He showed up at the pantry where Tara and Heath usually met before they headed out. They would collect enough supplies to last them a while, and stock up on weapons and ammo. Then they would grab a car and get on their way. If he was lucky, they’d still be there. But when Aaron got to the pantry, Olivia told him they had already left. They decided to get an earlier start than usual. Aaron missed his opportunity to be defiant.

 

“I was going to see if I could go with them,” Aaron said disappointedly.

 

“Oh. Well, if it’s any consolation, they’re only going for a couple days. They’re waiting to go on a longer run next week. Maybe you can go with them then,” Olivia informed him.

 

Aaron perked up at this information. “Good. Sounds good. Thanks, Olivia.”

 

Aaron heard him before he saw him. He recognized the sound of his footsteps, and it surprised Aaron that he knew Daryl that well. It made his heart race, something he hadn’t felt in a while. He missed that.

 

“Going somewhere?” Daryl asked before Aaron turned around to see him standing there.

 

Aaron pretended to organize a shelf of canned goods, but he was really just pushing cans around so that all the labels were facing the same direction. “Yeah,” he answered confidently. “I was going to go on a run with Tara and Heath. I didn’t know they set out already.”

 

“So you were just going to leave without telling me?” Daryl asked.

 

“Someone would have told you,” Aaron responded with a quiet voice. “Besides, after this morning, I thought it would be best if–”

 

“Don’t,” Daryl said, a bit of pleading in his tone. He glanced at Olivia, who seemed very uncomfortable caught in the middle of their argument.

 

She got the message and smiled nervously. “I, uh, I have something to do … somewhere … I’m sure.” She scooted past them and left the pantry.

 

Aaron finished lining up cans on one shelf, and reached for the cans on the one below, moving them around in no particular order. As he tried to avoid any argumentative conversation, he noticed that there was a can of peas sitting with the green beans, and started to pick it up. Daryl placed his hand over Aaron’s to stop him.

 

“Stop,” Daryl said in a gentle whisper. “Talk to me. Please?”

 

“I don’t want to argue anymore,” Aaron told him. “I … I can’t.”

 

“I don’t want to either,” Daryl admitted. He pulled Aaron’s hand away from the shelf, and held it at his chest. “Listen, I’ve been thinking, and I know you’ve been wanting to go out there, so … let’s go.”

 

Aaron turned and looked up at Daryl, questioning his motive. “To recruit?” Aaron asked.

 

Daryl’s head bobbed back and forth before he answered. “Not actually. I mean … just you and me. Let’s get away from here for a little bit.”

 

Aaron already knew what Daryl meant by that. “The cabin?” he asked.

 

“Yeah,” Daryl nodded, his dark eyes hidden by the long hair hanging in his face. “No interruptions. No Alexandria. It’s our place, you know, our sanctuary, and I think we need this right now.”

 

“Daryl,” Aaron said, shaking his head back and forth. “We can’t find common ground here. What makes you think a retreat at the cabin is going to–”

 

Daryl reached for the back of Aaron’s head, and pulled him in, kissing him into silence. He could feel Aaron give in slightly, and it excited Daryl to know he could still control Aaron to a degree. When they separated, Daryl captured him with a smoldering gaze. “I know you want this too. Stop trying to deny it.” He kissed Aaron again, hard and demanding. Daryl released him and watched Aaron take a moment to gather himself. Daryl’s lip curled into a seductive smile. “Meet me in an hour. Pack for a few days,” he said, and then left the pantry.

 

Aaron stood unmoving as he watched Daryl walk out of the garage. Suddenly, he remembered to breath. He knew what Daryl was up to. He’d take Aaron to the cabin, make love to him, sway him into agreeing with him. “I shouldn’t go,” Aaron said to himself, but he knew he would be at the gate before an hour was up.

 

>>------->

 

When Daryl arrived, Aaron was already there, backpack slung over his back, a knife at his belt and a shotgun on his shoulder. He wore a denim shirt and his blue jacket. It looked like he shaved too. Daryl pulled a car up next to Aaron and got out. He watched Aaron carefully from across the rusted roof of the car, sexy narrowed eyes trained on him. Aaron could feel his stare, and avoided looking at Daryl directly. He knew the game, and found it difficult to resist.

 

“Someone know were heading out?” Aaron asked.

 

“Yeah, and about how long we’ll be gone. We got a few days before they start thinking about sending out a search party,” Daryl informed jokingly.

 

“What did you tell them?” Aaron wondered. No one but Caleb knew about the cabin.

 

“I said that you talked me into a run to look for survivors,” Daryl told him.

 

That surprised Aaron, because Daryl wasn’t the type who wanted people to know when he’d been talked into something he didn’t agree with, even when it was just a story. “So you lied,” Aaron said, as he opened the back door and tossed his pack on the seat.

 

“Maybe you’ll persuade me,” Daryl said, making Aaron stop and look at him from the other side of the car.

 

Aaron couldn’t help laugh a single huff as he observed Daryl. He shook his head. “What has gotten into you?”

 

“You really need me to answer that?” Daryl replied with an impish grin.

 

It had been a long time since Daryl seemed relaxed enough to be in such a playful mood. Aaron liked it when Daryl was like this. He didn’t know how long it would last, though. Eventually the same subject of their differences would come up, and it always turned into an argument that ended with someone walking away. Perhaps that was the reason for the cabin. There would be nowhere to go.

 

As they made their way, they were quiet. Daryl kept his eyes trained on the road. Aaron watched for walkers wandering into the road or people who might need help. They didn’t see any people, and only witnessed a few small groups of walkers. Aaron often wondered what happened to the giant herd that Daryl, Abraham and Sasha led away. Supposedly, they made sure the walkers were far enough away that they wouldn’t find their way back, or perhaps they would separate into smaller groups. No one really knew what drove walkers to go where they wandered. Luckily, it was in the opposite direction from where the cabin was situated.

 

“You think it will still be there?” Aaron asked.

 

“What’s that?”

 

“The cabin.”

 

“Guess we’ll find out soon. We’re almost there,” Daryl said.

 

Aaron started to recognize some of the terrain. They were very close to their turn off. From there, they would drive into the forest a short distance then park and walk the rest of the way to the cabin. They never drove to the cabin, unless it was Daryl’s bike where they could pull it inside. Unfortunately, Daryl’s bike was stolen. It was a shame because Aaron missed riding on the back of it, having to sit close to Daryl, feeling his body move with the bike.

 

Daryl parked the car and they got out. Aaron reached in the backseat and grabbed is pack. Daryl grabbed the shotguns that they’d brought with them. He walked around to Aaron’s side and handed him his gun. Then Daryl hoisted his gun on his back. He looked disappointed.

 

“I miss my bow,” he murmured. “If I ever see the son of a bitch that stole it . . .”

 

“The way you described him, he sounded scared. Poor bastard’s probably dead already,” Aaron said.

 

“Poor bastard, my ass. If he’s dead, he got what he deserved, but he took my bike and my bow along with him. Maybe I’ll go out scouting for it when we get back,” he said disappointed by the loss of his two favorite things.

 

When they arrived at the cabin and went to the door, it was obvious that someone had broken in. The wood around the lock was splintered where an intruder forced his way into the house. Aaron and Daryl instantly went into defensive mode, each one lifting their gun and taking a side of the door. They had done this many times, and both knew how to work together. Daryl counted to three, mouthing the words without making sound. On three, Aaron opened the door and Daryl went in, gun raised, eyes focused in the dark entry hall. Usually, they would make some kind of sound to draw out any walkers hiding within, but not this time. If there were living people inside, they didn’t want to give them much warning.

 

Daryl pointed at the left side of the cabin, gesturing for Aaron to check that side while Daryl checked the other side. Aaron nodded and started his search. The first door was the master bedroom. He opened it and scanned the room. It was empty, but he still needed to check the bathroom and closets. He cautiously stepped around the bed, and noticed that it wasn’t made. Last time him and Daryl had been here, they had made the beds before leaving. Someone had definitely been inside the cabin.

 

Aaron threw open closet doors and then checked the bathroom. It was empty. When he left, Daryl was just entering the living room. “Find anything?” Daryl asked.

 

“No. You?” Aaron said.

 

“No.”

 

“Someone was here, though. The bed’s unmade, and I don’t remember asking for turndown service,” Aaron commented. “What about the other rooms?”

 

“They look unused,” Daryl said as he looked towards the kitchen. “Come on.”

 

They entered the kitchen and found some empty cans of food on the counter. “I’d like to say it was raccoons,” Daryl commented. “But they don’t know how to use a can opener.”

 

Aaron walked along the island and noticed something written on a scrap of paper. He picked it up as Daryl watched him, and read it. “All it says is … thanks.” Aaron handed it to him.

 

“Huh,” Daryl huffed. “He must have just been passing through.”

 

“Could be a trap or something,” Aaron said cautiously. “We need to finish checking the property, including the boathouse.”

 

Aaron and Daryl continued searching the house and didn’t find anything else out of place. When they went to the back door, it was unlocked. Whoever had been in the cabin left that way. The men walked down to the boathouse. The door going inside was left open a crack. They took their same positions, and Daryl burst inside with Aaron on his heels. To their surprise, the boat was gone.

 

“Wow,” Aaron said, surprised. “That’s ballsy.”

 

“Don’t know how far he’ll get,” Daryl said as he walked along the indoor dock. “But it’s a big lake. Probably leads to the ocean somehow.”

 

“Even if it did, how long do you think he’d survive in a boat. Supplies are limited. You’d still have to go to shore every once in a while.” Aaron shook his head. “Doesn’t seem like a very good plan to me.”

 

“Well, someone thought it was.” Daryl looked around, but he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. “No big loss.”

 

They returned to the cabin and had another look through all the rooms. Aaron rummaged through the kitchen, and was amazed to find most of their canned goods still there. He wondered why the intruder didn’t take it all. He should have stocked up the boat. That’s what Aaron might have done if it had been him. Daryl walked into the kitchen and saw the open cabinet doors with most of the food still in them.

 

“I’m surprised it’s still here,” Aaron commented. “Maybe he had to leave in a hurry.”

 

“Naw,” Daryl disagreed, picking up the scrap of paper. “He wouldn’t have had time to write a note. He could see that someone occupied this place. Everything is in order. The cabinets are pretty well stocked with supplies, not a lot of dust. It looks lived in.”

 

“So, he was being courteous?” Aaron wondered cynically.

 

“He was thinking that someone needed this place more than he did. He was passing through, spent a night, had a meal or two, and took the boat,” Daryl told him.

 

Aaron stood back and observed Daryl. “He’s good people. And you said there weren’t any left,” Aaron challenged.

 

“Whatever,” Daryl mumbled. He picked up an empty soup can, and the corner of his mouth twisted into a smile.

 

“What is it?” Aaron asked when he noticed Daryl’s expression.

 

“Nothing. It just reminds me of something.” He took a seat at the island, and his mind wandered to a different time, a time that seemed like a thousand years ago. “Way back when my group got chased out of the prison, we all got separated. I ended up leaving with Beth.”

 

“I remember you telling me about her. She was very special to you,” Aaron said.

 

“She was. Beth was young, but she was tough. She was a fighter. She just didn’t know it because no one had ever showed her what to do. No one ever helped her grow into her role. I guess I didn’t either, at least not at first.” Daryl ran his hand through his hair. “Well, that’s a different story. I was laughing because this reminded me of her,” he went on. “We were running … always running, and then we happened upon this place. We thought it was abandoned until we started looking through the kitchen cabinets and found it stocked. Just like this, everything was organized, no dust. That’s how we knew someone was still living there. They weren’t home and we were starving.” Daryl laughed again. “Man, I ate a whole jar of grape jelly and some pickled pigs feet.”

 

“That sounds disgusting,” Aaron said making a face. He walked around the island and sat down next to Daryl.

 

“Yeah, but it was the best meal I’d had in days,” Daryl reminisced. “Beth … she … she didn’t think it was right, but she didn’t resist either. She justified what we were doing by coming up with the idea to leave a note thanking whoever the house belonged to. I thought she was being ridiculous. I was ready to strip the cabinets clean and leave that place, but she wouldn’t have it. Beth said it wasn’t right … wasn’t fair. She was always trying to convince me that there were still good people in the world, but I refused to believe her at the time.”

 

“Eventually you started to believe there were. What changed your mind?” Aaron asked.

 

“Beth,” Daryl whispered. “She was proof that good people existed, and I was just some lucky son of a bitch that got to be her friend. She taught me a lot in that short period of time that we were together. I’ll never forget it … or her.” He stopped and shook his head as he closed his eyes. “I always felt that I should have done more to protect her. I should have stayed with her, but I sent her out of the house after it got overrun with walkers. I stayed behind to fight them off and give her a chance to escape. Little did I know that she’d be kidnapped. Shit. If I’d just followed her out of the house.”

 

“You did what you had to do at the time,” Aaron comforted.

 

“But I could have done more. I don’t know. Sometimes the choices I make come back to bite me in the ass,” Daryl said with disappointment.

 

Aaron clasped a hand to Daryl’s shoulder. He got the feeling they weren’t talking about Beth anymore. He still hadn’t gotten to the core of Daryl’s story of what happened after leading the herd away from Alexandria. “You gonna tell me what really happened out there?”

 

Aaron knew Daryl fairly well. There wasn’t much he could get away with that Aaron hadn’t figured out ahead of time. Daryl was very aware of this trait, and Aaron was just waiting for an answer. “They caught me,” Daryl said, his voice cracked with fatigue. “They tricked me, knocked me out, tied my hands together. There were two girls and a guy. He used the girls to distract me, and then he knocked me over the head. When I came to, the guy accused me of being one of ‘them’, whoever that is. He had a gun, pointed it right at my head and demanded answers.” Daryl stopped and rubbed his wrists as though the ropes still bound them. “He could have killed me right then, and there’s nothing I could have done about it. But there was something about the guy. He was scared. He didn’t show it outwardly, but I saw it in his eyes. I was the one tied up and staring down the barrel of a gun, but he was the one who was scared. I saw something in him that I hadn’t seen in myself in a long time … that kind of fear that takes over and controls you. He was running from something. I just got caught in the way.”

 

“I didn’t know it had been that intense,” Aaron said with sympathy. “How’d you get away?”

 

“They were looking for something, and they dragged me with them. My hands were still tied, but I knew I’d find my opportunity to escape. They weren’t watching me all that closely. One of the girls seemed sick, and they were helping her walk. Then she passed out … fell to the ground in a heap. That’s when I took off, but not before grabbing the bag they carried. They shoved my bow and my radio in it. I ran as fast and as far as I could, found a place to hide, and started to open the bag when a walker came at me.”

 

Aaron stood and started rubbing Daryl’s shoulders. He was tense, his muscles hard with stress. As soon as Aaron started working them, Daryl began to relax. This was a safe place where they could take their time, and shed all the tension and strain of their daily life. It didn’t take Daryl long to loosen up, especially with Aaron’s expert hands kneading away the anxiety.

 

“What was wrong with the girl?” Aaron wondered.

 

“I didn’t know until I opened that bag. There was a cooler full of insulin. She was diabetic.” Daryl twisted his head from one side to the other as Aaron worked his magic. “God, that feels good,” he moaned.

 

Aaron smiled to himself and coaxed Daryl into continuing the story. “I bet you took it back to her, didn’t you?”

 

Daryl nodded. “I did, but that was my first mistake.”

 

“What do you mean?” Aaron asked, as he hands moved from Daryl’s shoulders to his spine.

 

“I found them, caught them off guard, threatened them with my bow, made the guy hand over his gun, but it wasn’t good enough. I wanted to strip him of everything important. I wanted him to know how it felt to have everything taken away. All he had was this little wood figure that he’d been carving. I knew it was personal to him. My granddaddy used to carve things out of wooden sticks, and every single one of them represented something personal to him. So I took it from that guy and tossed him the bag with the medicine. Looks like I was just in time, too. The girl, she didn’t look so good.”

 

“Anyone else wouldn’t have gone back. They wouldn’t have given a shit about that girl,” Aaron said. Then he leaned into Daryl and wrapped his arms around him. “I’ve always known you were a good man, Daryl Dixon, even in the most desperate times.”

 

Daryl turned around on his seat and wrapped his arms around Aaron’s waist. Aaron pushed the long dark hair from Daryl’s eyes, and kissed him. It had been a while since they were that close … that intimate. It felt good to get back what they had before their disagreement, to be comfortable with each other.

 

“You told me once that I had the ability to see good in people,” Daryl said. “And I thought I had this guy figured out. I thought he was just scared. I thought … I thought I should bring him back to Alexandria because he saw I was a good person too. For Christ’s sake, we helped each other. I gave him back his gun and we fought those assholes that he was running from.” Daryl stopped and hung his head, leaning against Aaron’s chest. “The girl, the sick one, she got killed by walkers. It was an accident. She thought they were dead and they got her. The other girl held her, crying over her body. The guy seemed upset that he’d lost something again. I think he was trying to get the girls away from whoever he was running from. He just wanted to protect them, and he failed to do it. I could see his doubt, like maybe he shouldn’t have taken her with him. Maybe she’d still be alive if he’d left her behind. And seeing him like that made me remember what it was like to lose Beth … twice. And I knew what he was thinking because I’ve thought the same thing. Maybe there was something more we could have done for those we took responsibility for.”

 

“Did you try?” Aaron whispered.

 

Daryl remembered the first time Aaron asked him that. It seemed like a century since that time, when Daryl and his people first arrived in Alexandria, and Daryl was going to go to Deanna’s welcome party. He couldn’t do it. He just wasn’t ready, and it was Aaron that said he tried and that was all that mattered. Since that time, Daryl had always tried because that’s what Aaron would want him to do.

 

After a long silence, Daryl nodded and continued. “I helped him bury the girl. I helped him dig the grave. I could sense his defeat, and I wanted him to know he wasn’t alone in this. I asked him the questions. I had made up my mind that I trusted him without a doubt, and I asked the questions. He looked me right in the eyes as he answered, and I really believed he was telling the truth. He said he’d never killed a living person because once he did, there’d be no going back. It was my first time to recruit someone by myself without you there with me, but I trusted my decision to ask. I trusted my decision to tell him about Alexandria, and to make him see that there was something still normal out there, and I led him back to the spot where I hid my bike.”

 

Daryl stood, releasing himself from Aaron’s arms still wrapped around his waist. He walked away and braced his hands on the edge of the sink. To think about what happened made him feel sick to the stomach, but to admit his failure to Aaron made him feel like his heart was ripping from his chest. He took a deep breath and confessed. “I allowed myself to trust a total stranger because my gut told me it was the right thing to do. And then the bastard fucked me over. He had the gun that I gave him, pointed it at me, and took everything … my bow … my bike. He left me out there with nothing, not even a knife. For the first time in a long time, I questioned my ability to judge a person correctly. Now, I’m not sure of myself.” Daryl cocked his head to the side. “I think I screwed up, Aaron. I think … I think I should have just killed him and not looked back, and because I didn’t, it left a bad taste in my mouth.”

 

Aaron went to Daryl, and put his hands at his waist. “And if you didn’t try, if you left him on his own, you’d still feel like you screwed up. The point is, you tried. It wasn’t your fault. There’s going to be those people that pass your test and then disappoint you. I know because it happened to me. I told you about it a while ago. I allowed people in that my gut told me were good people, and they tried to take over Alexandria. And then I was the one who had to lead them away, no weapons, no way to protect themselves.” Aaron released Daryl and turned so that his back was leaning against the counter next to where Daryl stood at the sink. “I felt sick about it for a long time afterwards. I felt like I gave them hope by bringing them in, and then I turned them out with nothing. But eventually I realized that they did it to themselves. They made threats that couldn’t go unnoticed. They forced my hand, and sending them away was all I could do. And I felt a lot like you do now … about not bringing anymore people in. I didn’t want to take the risk anymore. But the thing is, we have to take the risk. We have to try.” Aaron reached out his hand and laid it upon Daryl’s arm. “You, Rick and everyone, you all were the first people I brought back to Alexandria after that bad experience. I was faced with having to rely on my gut once more, and the last time I did, it didn’t work out. But I took the chance on your group, and I’ve never been so glad I did, because now I have you in my life.”

 

Daryl turned his head to the side and looked at Aaron from the corner of his eye. Then he pushed away from the sink and stood straight, prowling towards Aaron. He cupped Aaron’s face and kissed him solidly, savoring the feel of lips and tongue, the way the stubble on Aaron’s face scraped on his own. He leaned into Aaron, and writhed against his body. Aaron gave in easily. Daryl assaulted his neck, tasting his flesh and inhaling the musky scent of his lover.

 

“What the hell were we fighting for?” Daryl moaned as Aaron tilted his head to the side to give full access.

 

“I don’t remember,” Aaron smiled. “But I sure like how we’re making up.”

 

“We should argue more often,” Daryl laughed as he nipped at Aaron’s neck.

 

“Or we could just skip right to this part.” Aaron’s hand moved down and started working Daryl through his pants.

 

Daryl pushed himself into Aaron’s hand and moaned. “Mmm, I like this part, but . . .” He pulled Aaron’s hand away. “Let’s take it somewhere more comfortable like the bedroom.”

 

“Ok, but someone has been sleeping in papa bear’s bed,” Aaron reminded him.

 

“I don’t fucking care. I want you. I need you now, Aaron,” Daryl pleaded.

 

“Then let’s go.” Aaron led Daryl back to the bedroom. They were both satisfied that the house was secure, and that whoever had been there was long gone with the boat by now. The lock on the front door had been jimmied open, but Daryl fixed it using some wire to secure the door shut. There was a lock on the door to the boathouse, and Daryl already planned on changing it out for the broken lock on the front. All that could wait for now.

 

They undressed and slid onto the bed, a tangle of limbs and sheets, amorous moans and seductive touches. Daryl gestured for Aaron to take control of him, an act he didn’t do often, but there was something about being at the cabin that made Daryl feel like he could release all his inhibitions and allow Aaron to reign over him. Aaron didn’t question the gesture. He obeyed his lover’s needs, prepared them and took Daryl to him, gently easing himself down. Daryl tensed briefly, but relaxed and enjoyed the feeling of being filled. He trusted Aaron with his life, with his love, and with his soul, probably more than he trusted himself anymore.

 

They moved in perfect rhythm with each other, closing in on their climax. Daryl released first, but Aaron wasn’t far behind. He tensed and released, collapsing onto Daryl’s back, pulsating, emptying himself into his lover. After a brief rest, Aaron rolled to the side, and Daryl turned to face him. They kissed with slow passion, and stared into each other’s eyes.

 

“I … I know I don’t say it enough, but … I-I love you. I hope you know that,” Daryl admitted sheepishly.

 

Aaron smiled and pushed Daryl’s hair from his face. “I do know it, but it’s nice to hear it. It’s the one thing I never have to doubt.”

 

“Good,” Daryl responded.

 

“And I love you too,” Aaron continued. “No matter what happens or whether we argue or disagree, my feelings for you outweigh any of it. That will never change.”

 

“Good, because I’m just not ready to recruit right now, and I can’t bring myself to agree to it. But I’m not going to stop you, if you want to go, and if the town agrees on it.”

 

“I don’t think Rick thinks it’s a good idea right now either, but I’m confident that we’ll bring people in again. We just need more time, that’s all. It’s only been a couple months. We’re still mourning. I understand that more than anyone. And when the time comes, I’ll be ready to go.”

 

“Maybe I’ll be ready by then too, but I’m not making any promises.”

 

“So, if I want to head out on a run with Heath and Tara will you let me go without argument?” Aaron asked in a playful tone.

 

“I thought we were taking baby steps here,” Daryl returned in his own playful way. “You do know they go out for about two weeks at a time.”

 

“I know,” Aaron said, running his finger along Daryl’s chest.

 

“I don’t think you can handle being away from me for that long,” Daryl taunted him.

 

“Oh, it will be tough, but I think I’ll manage somehow, especially if you give me another night or two like this one.” Aaron’s hand moved lower, teasing Daryl’s abdomen.

 

“What if I can’t take being away from you for that long?” Daryl pushed his hips forward and Aaron cupped him.

 

“I think you can take it,” Aaron whispered wantonly, stroking Daryl to life.

 

“I can and I have, but now it’s your turn to … take it,” Daryl growled and covered Aaron with his body. Aaron responded by wrapping his legs around Daryl’s waist. Daryl moved into him swiftly and pumped his hips. Aaron gave in easily, and allowed Daryl to do whatever he wanted. Things were finally falling into place again.



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