Safe Haven in the Chaos

BY : IdrilsSecret
Category: S through Z > The Walking Dead
Dragon prints: 3484
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 33 A New Face

 

 

Daryl had told Aaron he would be back home by sundown. He left early in the morning with Rick to look for medical supplies, and a few other odds and ends that people had asked for as they headed out on their run. When it was getting close to the end of the day, Aaron went out to the gate and joined Abraham on the lookout platform. He wanted to be there when Daryl came home. Today more than any other, Aaron was missing him. Maybe it was because they had spent the previous day making amends, and the night making love. It felt as though they had rekindled something they hadn’t felt since first admitting their feelings for each other. Aaron wasn’t ready to move forward from that just yet. He needed more of Daryl in his arms, in their bed, tangled in sheets and each other.

 

The sun had set a couple hours ago, and Aaron was beginning to worry. He wasn’t sure why. Daryl had gone out on runs before, and Aaron didn’t suffer the anxiety he felt now. He just felt a bad vibe ever since the Wolves broke the walls and the walkers got in. What bothered him even more was that group of bikers that Daryl took down. They weren’t Wolves. Daryl had said they worked for someone named Negan. Of course, Daryl wasn’t worried. He blew up the small gang that tried to steal their stuff. The threat was erased as far as he was concerned. Daryl told Aaron that if this Negan character couldn’t take care of his own business, then he was probably some sorry-assed chicken shit bitch that couldn’t do his own dirty work. The message had been clear. Daryl wasn’t playing games any more. If anyone got in his way, they would regret it.

 

Aaron stood on the platform next to Abraham, both men armed with rifles as they patrolled the main gate. They didn’t talk much. Abraham was concentrating on the dark before him. Aaron’s mind was wandering to bad case scenarios. He sighed … again … for about the fifth time in the last ten minutes.

 

“They might be spending the night out there,” Abraham said. “Rick told me a night or two, and not to come looking for him before thirty six hours were up.”

 

“Yeah, that’s what Daryl told me too. He also said he was confident he’d be home by now. They weren’t going any further than it would take them to get home today.”

 

“I’m sure they’ll be back soon,” Abraham said to try to comfort Aaron.

 

Aaron nodded and they fell back into silence for a while longer. Abraham started fidgeting, as though he was uncomfortable. The first thing Aaron thought was that he was uneasy because of Aaron. Abraham was a military man, a man’s man, as straight as they came. Sometimes men like that didn’t know how to behave around a gay man, although Abraham had never shown signs before. Aaron and Abe hadn’t spent much time around each other either, at least not alone like this. Aaron mentally shook his head. Even now, with the world in disarray as it was, people still looked down on homosexuals.

 

“Can I ask you something?” Abraham said, breaking the silence.

 

“Sure.” Here it comes, Aaron thought to himself. Was Abe going to give the old lecture, ‘how the hell can you let a man stick his—‘

 

“How hard was it for you to break up with Eric … you know … when you and Daryl … you know?” Abraham asked.

 

Well, that was unexpected, Aaron thought. “It was very difficult, but I knew I had to make the right choice and follow my heart.”

 

“So, how did you do it? Did you just straight up tell him it was over, and then came the ugly crying? Or did you break it to him gently?”

 

“I don’t think there was anything gentle about it. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do. There’s not many of us left. And by us, I mean gay men,” Aaron told him.

 

“Well, just because there’s more straight people than gay doesn’t mean it’s any easier,” Abraham mumbled.

 

Aaron glanced across the platform to Abe. “What’s going on? You splitting up with Rosita?”

 

His expression grew hard and he shuffled from one foot to the other. “No. No,” he denied with a shake of his head. Then his shoulders rounded as he shrugged. “I don’t think so, anyway. We’ve been together for a long time. She’s helped me through a lot, and I like to think I’ve helped her too.”

 

“That’s kind of how it was for Eric and me,” Aaron admitted.

 

“And that all changed when you met Daryl?” Abe asked.

 

Aaron could see that Abraham was genuinely interested, so he decided to open up a little. “I knew from the first time Daryl and I talked to each other that there was something very special between us. I don’t think even Daryl knew at the time. It was so much more intense than anything I’d ever felt towards Eric. It’s kind of bittersweet. Here’s this person who makes you feel whole, and your heart is jumping out to them, but you know that to pursue it you’re going to destroy someone else’s hopes and dreams. Makes you feel like a selfish prick, I’ll tell you that much.”

 

“Yeah, I get that one hundred percent, but then again, I’m used to being a dick. Comes with the package.”

 

Aaron knew Abraham had grown interested someone else. Maybe he hadn’t acted on it yet, but his heart was reaching out to another, and it wasn’t Rosita anymore. “Listen, it’s never been an easy thing to do, to break it off with someone. It’s even more difficult in these times. But one thing hasn’t changed. You have to be true to yourself. It’s easy to find someone to warm your bed at night, but if you find someone that warms your heart … buddy … you better hold on to that and not let go. That’s worth fighting for every time.”

 

Abraham’s mustache twitched as he considered Aaron’s advice. “I hear you loud and clear.”

 

“Anytime,” Aaron smiled. Now he was curious as to who Abe was talking about. He wouldn’t ask, though. Abraham wasn’t giving that information freely. It was probably because he hadn’t told this person his feelings, and he was still involved with Rosita. This kind of situation had to be handled carefully with well thought out intensions. Poor Rosita, Aaron thought. She would be devastated. Hopefully, Abe would let her down easy, if he decided to pursue this other person.

 

Just as they got done with their conversation, they saw headlights coming up the road that led to the main gate. “That’s them,” Aaron said anxiously.

 

“I’ll go down and open the gate,” Abraham volunteered. As he passed to get to the ladder, he slapped Aaron on the back. “Thanks, man.”

 

Aaron watched as Abraham unlocked the gate. The car was approaching fast, and it didn’t stop as they drove inside. Usually, they parked the car just within the gate. Aaron started to get nervous by this suspicious behavior. It was dark, and he couldn’t see inside the car as it passed, but it kept going further into town.

 

“Shit,” Aaron muttered. He was already on his way down the ladder. Abraham was just locking the gate back up. “They say anything?” Aaron called.

 

“No,” Abraham answered. “What the hell’s going on?” he said irritated.

 

“They didn’t park the car. That can only mean one thing,” Aaron said. “Someone’s hurt and they’re going straight to the infirmary.” He hesitated, not sure whether he should go or stay on duty with Abraham.

 

“You’d better hurry after them,” Abraham decided for him. “I’ve got the gate. Still have a couple hours left on patrol.”

 

Aaron nodded. “Alright.” He took off at a jog to catch up and meet Daryl and Rick at the infirmary.

 

By the time he got there, he could see Rick and Daryl. Neither one looked to be hurt, but they were carrying a third man into the infirmary. Rick was knocking on the door, and Denise came out in her pajamas. She opened the door wide and stood to the side. Rick and Daryl carried the body inside. Aaron rushed across the street and barged into the office. There he found Rick and Daryl standing on either side of a cot, and a man with long hair and a beard laying upon it. The stranger was dressed in a trench coat, a wool cap and combat boots. Rick took the man’s hat off and tossed it on a chair. Denise was leaning over him, checking for signs of injury.

 

“Daryl?” Aaron said from the doorway. When Daryl looked up, Aaron rushed to him, clasping a hand on either side of his shoulders. “What happened? Are you ok?”

 

“I’m fine,” he answered with irritation.

 

Aaron looked back to the man on the cot. “Who’s this?”

 

“This is just some asshole that was giving us a hard time.” Daryl glared down at the unconscious man. “I ought to beat his ass while he’s out of it. Motherfu–”

 

“Daryl,” Rick said from the other side of the cot. There was a certain amount of authority in his voice, and Aaron suddenly saw him for the cop he used to be. “Now’s not the time.”

 

“W-what happened? Where’d you find him?” Aaron wondered with curiosity.

 

“He ran into us … literally. We were checking a store for supplies when he came running around the corner, and crashed right into us,” Rick answered. “He was clean, well groomed, and he had no weapons.”

 

“That’s strange,” Aaron said.

 

“He had to have come from a camp somewhere, but he wasn’t talking. Neither were we,” Rick told him.

 

“Yeah, until Rick asked him the questions,” Daryl said with anger.

 

Aaron looked over at Rick. “I thought you said we weren’t recruiting anymore.”

 

“We’re not,” Daryl answered.

 

Rick looked at him. “That’s still open for discussion.”

 

Daryl glared at Rick. “You’d bring this prick in here after what he did?”

 

“What did he do?” Aaron asked.

 

“It wasn’t that big a deal. All he did was–” Rick started to explain, but Daryl took over for him.

 

“He stole all our stuff,” Daryl said with ire. “He tricked us with a handful of firecrackers, lifted the keys to the van, and took all our shit. Motherfucker’s just like all those other assholes out there. Too damn lazy to go looking for their own stuff so they steal it from us. Well, I’m sick of losing my goddamn shit to dickheads like this one.”

 

Aaron shook his head with confusion. “Wait. What truck?”

 

“We found a truck full of supplies,” Rick explained. “Packed to the roof with all kinds of things.”

 

Aaron couldn’t help notice that they didn’t drive any truck through the gate. Daryl told him why. “This douchebag took it, but we got it back. Tied his ass up and left him on the side of the road, but somehow he got out of his ropes and . . .” He paused and shook his head. “Son of a bitch was on the roof. We got him down, and then he tried taking the truck again. Had me playing tag in the middle of a field. Next thing I know, the truck is in gear and heading towards a lake. This stupid fucker get knocked out by the door as it’s rolling by, and now our truck is sitting at the bottom of the lake, and it’s all his fault.”

 

Denise got done examining the man. “I don’t think he’s seriously hurt. He might have a slight concussion, and he’ll probably have one hell of a knot on his head. Other than that, I think he’s fine.”

 

“He won’t be when he wakes up because I’m gonna beat the shit out of him,” Daryl mumbled as he scowled at the man.

 

Rick ignored Daryl’s threat this time, and went to Denise. “We need to lock him up somewhere until he wakes up. Where’s that basement Morgan had the Wolf held up in?”

 

“I’ll show you,” she said.

 

Rick and Daryl picked the man up by his arms and legs, and carried him out of the infirmary, down a few houses to the unfinished townhomes. Denise showed them the place, and they took him downstairs. They left him a bottle of water, some of Carol’s cookies, and a note. In the morning, they would be back to check on him and interrogate him to find out where he came from.

 

“I’m going home,” Rick said. “It’s been a long day.”

 

Daryl and Aaron agreed and everyone left the basement, locking the door behind them. By the time they got home, Daryl had cooled off a bit, but he was still frazzled by the stranger. Aaron, on the other hand, was ecstatic about the discovery of another survivor.

 

“Do you really think he’s from another community?” Aaron said excitedly.

 

“Rick seems to think so, and he’s got a point. The guy looked like a hobo, but he was clean. He’s got a place to wash up.”

 

“I want to be there when you talk to him in the morning,” Aaron said as he rubbed Daryl’s shoulders. Daryl was sitting on the edge of their bed, and Aaron was on his knees behind him, digging his thumbs into hardened tensed shoulder muscles.

 

“You’ll have to clear that with Rick first, but I don’t think it will be a problem. Then, as soon as we find out where he’s from, I’m gonna be the one to kick his ass out of Alexandria,” Daryl said, still angry.

 

“No, I think we should meet with his people, only if he seems like he’s on the up and up.”

 

“And what if they’re a bunch of psychopaths like those bikers me, Abe and Sasha came across. What if those were his people I blew up. Maybe this guy is out for revenge. Now he knows where we live,” Daryl argued.

 

Aaron shook his head in disagreement. “I don’t think so. Rick wouldn’t have brought him here if he thought that. Did the guy ever try and attack you? Did he threaten your life at all?”

 

Daryl hesitated before he answered. “Actually, he saved me.”

 

“Well see there? He can’t be–”

 

“And then he tried to take the damn truck again,” Daryl interrupted in a raised tone. “Point is, I don’t trust this guy. He’s out there alone, walking around without a weapon, pulling some kind of Ninja moves, playing school boy tricks. What the fuck is that about? And then … get this … he said his name is Jesus. Really? You feel that confident about yourself? Nope. I don’t trust him one bit.”

 

Aaron finished rubbing Daryl’s shoulders. He wasn’t going to relax tonight so there was no point. Instead, he laid back on the bed and pulled the covers over him. “Well, he’s locked up for tonight, and tomorrow we’ll find out more about him. Come on.” Aaron patted the sheets on Daryl’s side.

 

“I’m too wound up to sleep. I think I’m going to go downstairs for a bit.” Daryl got up and went to the bedroom door.

 

“Daryl, come to bed,” Aaron pleaded.

 

Daryl turned to look at Aaron and gave a partial smile. “In a while.”

 

Aaron sighed as he watched Daryl leave the bedroom. Sometimes that man could be so damn stubborn, he thought to himself as he drifted off to sleep.

 

>>------->

 

It was still dark when Aaron woke up, but he knew the sun would rise soon. He looked over and Daryl’s side of the bed was empty. “Already up and out,” Aaron mumbled quietly. He didn’t want to get out of bed yet, but there were things to do today. So Aaron got up and dressed. He went downstairs to make a cup of coffee, and remembered there wasn’t any. Then he opened the fridge, finding it mostly empty. There was half a jar of homemade peach jam, so he took it out and checked it for freshness. It was still good. Aaron knew there was a sleeve of soda crackers in the pantry, and decided that would have to do for his breakfast. Things were looking meek, and with colder weather coming in the next couple months, he wasn’t sure what they would do for food. It was about to become a real problem. Without enough food they would become weak, and if they were attacked again, they might not be strong enough.

 

Aaron thought about what Daryl said last night. This stranger that called himself Jesus, was he a problem? Were there people out looking for him? Could Alexandria be on the verge of another attack? Daryl brought up a good point, but Aaron’s instincts told him this guy was used to going out on his own. Daryl told him in detail how Jesus tricked him and Rick into stealing the truck full of supplies. It was a well thought out plan. The man was smart and stealthy. He knew how to get himself out of a stuck situation and quickly, which meant he’d done this kind of thing many times over. It seemed like he was the type of person who always had a plan. Because of this, Aaron didn’t think anyone would come looking for him. He was self-sufficient, and his group probably knew that. Aaron was confused as to why the man didn’t carry a weapon, though. That seemed like a dangerous choice.

 

Aaron ate his crackers and jam, and stepped out onto the front porch to wait for the sun to come up. That’s one thing he missed, watching a beautiful sunrise. With the houses so close together and the walls that surrounded the town, there was no place to watch the sun break the horizon. The cabin was a good place to watch as it rose over the trees on the far side of the lake. Aaron wished he was there now with Daryl.

 

He was standing at the top of the steps, hands tucked in his pockets, when he noticed light filtering into the street a few houses down. That was Rick’s house. Aaron guessed he was already up, getting ready to head to the townhouses and begin the interrogation. Daryl was probably with him, and Aaron wanted to be there too. He had a lot of questions for the stranger, but he mostly wanted to know about his camp. As he wondered, he thought of Eric and his strong belief that there were other communities out there, not just half-assed camps in the woods. Aaron still held onto the promise he made to Eric, as he lay dying in the street. He would keep looking, and maybe Jesus knew of such a place, if he wasn’t from one himself.

 

After waiting a while for Rick and Daryl to come out of the house, Aaron began to wonder what was taking them so long. The lights were still on, but they were fading as the sun came up. Everyone was pretty conservative when it came to electricity. The generators were operating on borrowed time, since they were actually only prototypes and weren’t free of bugs and glitches. Aaron decided he was tired of waiting, and started out to meet the men at Rick’s house. When he got there, he saw through the frosted glass on the door, Abraham and his red short shaven hair, as though he was blocking the entrance. Aaron tried the doorknob, and Abe turned to let him in. He glared at Aaron for a brief moment, and then cocked his head, gesturing for Aaron to come in quickly.

 

Aaron was confused at first, when Abraham led him to the dining room table, where Daryl, Glenn, Maggie and Carl were all standing around the man known as Jesus, who was sitting at the table, hands folded and resting on top. He looked at Aaron when he approached the group, and locked eyes with him. Aaron felt a little uncomfortable, since he’d never met the man before. Jesus smiled kindly and nodded.

 

“Hello,” he said, his voice gentle and calm.

 

Daryl was standing behind him, holding a gun at his side, and lifted it, shoving the barrel into Jesus’ back. “I said no talking.”

 

Obviously, something had gone wrong, Aaron thought. “What’s happened?” he asked anyone who wanted to fill him in.

 

“Apparently, this sack of shit broke out of the basement and snuck in here after Rick,” Daryl informed him.

 

“I told you,” Jesus said. “I wasn’t trying to hurt–”

 

“Shut up,” Daryl demanded.

 

“Where’s Rick?” Aaron asked with much concern.

 

Maggie answered him. “He’s alright. He’s getting dressed.”

 

Aaron had seen Carl, who left the group to get something from the kitchen, but he didn’t see Michonne, who he knew lived in the downstairs bedroom. “Michonne?” he asked, again, anyone willing to talk.

 

Glenn bowed his head and tried to hide a smile. “Getting dressed,” he answered.

 

Just then, Michonne and Rick came down the stairs together, and Aaron understood the reason for Glenn’s impish grin. So, another couple had been established. That was actually a good sign. It meant people were finally feeling comfortable enough to try something normal, instead of always being on edge with worry. Aaron suddenly felt a little more at ease knowing that he and Daryl weren’t the only ones in a serious relationship, if that was the case with Rick and Michonne. But there were other things to discuss right now.

 

Rick and Michonne sat on either side of Jesus and started asking him questions. First, they wanted to know how he got out. Again, he proved that he knew how to think quickly by noticing that there had only been one person guarding him last night. Seems he snuck out and exited from the third story window, which meant he would have had to get down somehow. Aaron was impressed, and had a brief but comical vision of his favorite comic superhero, Spiderman. Shit, he hadn’t thought of his childhood in years.

 

The group spoke with Jesus some more, and they were told that he had indeed come from another community that called themselves the Hilltop, because of their great house that was situated on top of a hill.  They had supplies and crops, and a decent amount of people. Jesus stole the truck because, like Alexandria, they were always in need of more supplies. Then he told Rick that he’d gone to the armory last night, and seen their well-stocked arsenal of weapons. This admittance made Daryl take a step towards the stranger, and Aaron noticed his hand that held the gun was twitching. Aaron decided to move next to Daryl to keep him calm. After learning about what happened in the woods when his bike and bow was stolen, Aaron knew Daryl had an itchy trigger finger when it came to people stealing from him, and he didn’t trust Jesus at all. It worked, because Daryl’s hand stopped moving when Aaron got close to him.

 

“I made a mistake,” Jesus continued to convince Rick. “I can see that you are all good people, and that you have something special here in Alexandria. I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot, and I’d like to prove to you that my community is very much like yours.”

 

“So, are we just supposed to take you at your word?” Daryl asked. He’d done that already, and he got screwed over.

 

“Come with me to Hilltop, and I will show you. I’ll introduce you to our leader, Gregory. Perhaps we can work something out, have Alexandria join our bartering system,” Jesus said confidently.

 

Rick glared at him. Michonne looked to Maggie and Glenn to see what their reaction was. Abraham remained stone faced, and Daryl was doing all he could to keep from punching this guy in the face. They were all considering Jesus’ offer.

 

“How do we know it’s not a trap?” Daryl finally asked.

 

Jesus leaned back in his chair and shrugged. “I’m sorry, but you don’t. All I have is my word, and I know that’s not enough for some of you. But if several of you come with me, I’ll be outnumbered and you’ll have control. Bring your weapons and your best warriors. Do whatever you need to do to feel safe, and I promise you’ll see that I am telling the truth.”

 

“You said you have a bartering system,” Rick addressed him. “Are you saying there are other communities out there?”

 

Jesus smiled. “I’m sure you thought you were the only safe zone. Well, Rick, I’m here to tell you that your world is about to get a whole lot bigger.”

 

At that point, everyone had questions for Jesus. They wanted to know what kind of people they had at the Hilltop, what kind of equipment, what they bartered with, and much more. Maggie and Glenn learned that they had a doctor, not that Denise wasn’t qualified, but their man was a doctor for a long time before the world dissolved. And they had some medical equipment that no one thought would ever be seen again. They also had a blacksmith and crops. Rick finally agreed that they would take the RV and go to Hilltop to talk with their leader. Alexandria desperately needed to barter with Hilltop, mainly for food. They just needed to figure out what they had to trade for. Right now, Alexandria was rebuilding after the invasion. They didn’t produce any kind of supplies or food. So far, they had only been trying to keep themselves afloat.

 

Aaron waited until everyone was done questioning Jesus and he was by himself before approaching. Jesus was standing by the fireplace, admiring the art that hung on the wall. He saw Aaron come up to him and smiled. “Hello again. We didn’t get a proper introduction earlier. My name’s–”

 

“Jesus, yeah, I heard,” Aaron said for him.

 

“Well, yes, that’s what my friends call me, but my real name is Paul. Paul Monroe.” He held his hand out and Aaron shook it. “I didn’t mean to imply that you’re not a friend,” he said awkwardly. “I’d very much like to be your friend.”

 

Aaron smiled at Paul’s sudden discomfiture. “You don’t need to be nervous around us. Rick is a little intimidating,” Aaron said looking back over his shoulder. Rick was speaking privately to Daryl across the room. “But once you get to know him, he’s a great guy.” He realized he didn’t introduce himself. “I’m Aaron, by the way.”

 

“Aaron. Nice to meet you.” Paul looked at their hands, still in mid shake. “Guess you’d like your hand back.” He laughed nervously. “So, uh, Aaron, what is it you do around here?”

 

“I’m the town recruiter. Most of the people in Alexandria are here because of me. Well, me and … um … Eric.”

 

“Eric?” Paul asked.

 

“He was my … partner,” Aaron said. He wasn’t sure why he was telling Paul this, but he suddenly felt he needed to give credit where it was due. “So, Paul,” Aaron glanced around him. “Is it really true? There’s another community out there, one that’s similar to ours.”

 

“Very much so. You’re not alone, Aaron. There are places that exist because we’re just trying to bring some kind of normalcy back into the world,” Paul confirmed.

 

Aaron looked to the side and smiled as he shook his head. “Well, I’ll be damned. He was right.”

 

“Who was right?” Paul asked, wondering who Aaron was talking about.

 

“Eric,” Aaron answered, still wrapped up in his own thoughts. Eric would have been ecstatic to know he was right all along.

 

“Eric, your partner?” Paul inquired.

 

Aaron nodded. “My boyfriend,” he said without thinking. It was an automatic thing to correct someone. Aaron had never been afraid to admit he was gay.

 

“Oh. By ‘partner’, you meant ‘boyfriend’.” Paul repeated, and there was a certain amount of disappointment in his voice that surprised Aaron.

 

“He … was my boyfriend,” Aaron corrected.

 

“Oh,” Paul said with more enthusiasm.

 

Aaron’s solemnness returned and he bowed his head. “He’s … uh … he died.”

 

Realizing the discomfort of where the conversation was going, Paul matched Aaron’s tone. “I’m … I’m sorry.”

 

“Thank you.” Aaron bobbed his head as he looked at the floor. “He always said there had to be other survivors out there, and not just people staying alive. He believed that there were other communities thriving. One of the last things I promised him was to find out if there really were, and here you are. I wish he could be here and hear it for himself.”

 

“You must miss him terribly,” Paul told him to ease his sorrow.

 

“I do, but … well … at the time, we weren’t … uh … together. We were just friends.”

 

“But it still hurts, I’m sure,” Paul said in that comforting voice Aaron had noticed when he first heard him speak. “So … um … it wasn’t … uh … serious then?”

 

Aaron looked up and met Paul’s eyes. He suddenly realized why Paul seemed so interested in him. “With Eric? Well, it was kind of complicated, but … no.”

 

“Huh. Interesting,” Paul said as his eyes started to flirt with Aaron’s.

 

“Oh, but … um … you see–”

 

“Rick wants to speak with you,” Daryl said with authority. Neither Paul nor Aaron had seen him approach. Now, Daryl stood behind Aaron in a protective stance. “Everything alright here?” he asked Aaron, but he kept his sight trained on Jesus.

 

“It’s fine,” Aaron told him, hoping Daryl wouldn’t make a scene. “We were just talking about recruiting.”

 

“Yes, Aaron tells me he’s the lead man in the area. I’d be very interested to know how you went about it.” Paul was ignoring the fact that Daryl was towering over them, watching every move Jesus made.

 

Daryl moved and stepped half way in front of Aaron. “Anything you want to ask him, you can ask me.”

 

Paul’s eyes switched to Daryl. “Oh, are you a recruiter too?” He held on to his smile as he spoke.

 

“He’s my partner,” Aaron relayed for Daryl.

 

“Ah,” Paul said. “You must be the brawn in the team. I suppose it can be dangerous out there. So, Aaron does the asking and makes sure no one tries anything or–”

 

Daryl’s brows furrowed as he glared at Jesus. “I’m his boyfriend,” he admitted.

 

That set Paul’s face in shock, and he took a step backwards. “You? You and Aaron are–”

 

“Yeah. We’re gay. You got a problem with that? ‘Cause if you do, you can go fu–” Daryl started on the defense.

 

“It’s alright, Daryl. He’s like us,” Aaron said.

 

“I’m sorry,” Jesus apologized. “I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just surprised that … well … admit it, Daryl. You don’t exactly look the part.”

 

“Neither do you,” Daryl retaliated. Then he huffed. “Shit, and I thought straight people were judgmental.”

 

“Alright,” Aaron butted in. “Paul, I believe Rick is waiting to speak with you.”

 

“Yeah, don’t want to keep the man waiting,” Paul said. “Well, it was nice meeting you, Aaron,” he smiled.

 

“Likewise,” Aaron replied. He and Daryl watched Paul go to Rick, and disappear into the office to discuss matters.

 

Daryl turned to face Aaron. “Paul?”

 

“That’s his real name. Paul Monroe. Nice guy.”

 

“Mmph,” Daryl muttered. “So, you on a real name basis with him now?”

 

Aaron leaned back to observe his partner. “Daryl Dixon, are you jealous?”

 

“Pff … of that asshole? Hell no.” Daryl closed the distance between them and whispered. “And I didn’t appreciate the way he was coming on to you, as if you’re the only gay left on earth.”

 

“Maybe he thought he was the last. Maybe we’re the first gays he’s seen since the outbreak,” Aaron argued.

 

“Yeah, and I’m going to be the last gay he ever sees if I find him flirting with you again,” Daryl threatened.

 

“I gotta say, I think I like jealous Daryl,” Aaron jested.

 

“Stop,” Daryl complained, and they decided it was time to go and get their day started.

 

>>------->

 

The next day, Daryl was with Rick and Glenn getting the RV ready to make the trip to Hilltop. Jesus had told them if they left first thing in the morning, they could be back by suppertime. Today they would spend the day getting the RV in good working condition, as well as packing it up with a few supplies and weapons.

 

Aaron was out for a walk, wondering if he was going with the group to Hilltop. He hadn’t been asked yet, but he knew he wasn’t about to sit around and get left behind. He wanted to see this new community. He needed to see it. He needed to know and satisfy the ghostly guilt that followed him wherever he went.

 

As he was walking along, Caleb joined him. “Hey man, how’s it going?” the youth asked with enthusiasm.

 

“Good. What have you been up to? I haven’t seen much of you lately,” Aaron asked.

 

“Oh yeah,” Caleb said with excitement. “I’ve been talking to Glenn, and he’s been teaching me about going on runs. He says I’ve got stealth and I’m flexible, so he’s showing me how to get in and out of a place without getting caught.”

 

Aaron had wondered about that. With Maggie pregnant, he thought Glenn might decide to stay closer to home. Up until now, he was their head guy. He had taught Tara, and now she was making runs with Heath, who was Alexandria’s go to guy when it came to scavenging. They needed a third person who could go when Tara or Heath couldn’t. But it was a dangerous job, and Aaron wasn’t sure Caleb should be doing it.

 

“I don’t know about this, Caleb. So many things can go wrong,” Aaron worried. He had always felt a sense of responsibility for Caleb. After all, it had been him and Daryl who found the boy and saved him from a terrible fate.

 

“Things can go wrong anytime, anywhere. Look what just happened here. Yet, here we are. We made it through,” Caleb countered.

 

“Well, I’m not your father. I can’t make you listen. I can only hope you take my advice into account,” Aaron said with slight worry.

 

“I know how bad it is out there, and Glenn is the best we have. I’m absorbing everything he tells me, but I can’t get good at it unless I actually go out there.” Caleb moved in front of Aaron so that they had to stop walking. He shuffled his feet as he looked at the ground, still showing signs of the boy who was quickly morphing into the man. “I … I know you’re not my dad, and you’ve never tried to take up that role, but I still consider you like family, and I do listen to your advice when you give it. I just wanted you to know that.”

 

Aaron smiled and felt a lump rise in his throat. Caleb was too old to ruffle the hair on his head anymore, so Aaron offered him a handshake instead. Caleb took it and shook, but then he pulled Aaron towards him and they hugged. “I’m really proud of you, Caleb,” Aaron told him. “I don’t think I’ve ever told you that. You’ve come a long way, and you’ve seen it through some pretty rough times. You’ve become a man right before my eyes, and I’m just honored to have been able to watch it happen. You’ll do fine out there.”

 

“Thanks,” Caleb said in a muffled voice because of Aaron’s grip on him. “But could you loosen your arms a bit. I can’t breathe.”

 

He was joking, of course, and Aaron pushed him away playfully. Then he pretended to throw punches at Caleb’s stomach, and Caleb pretended to double over. Neither one noticed when Paul came up to them.

 

“Hey, save it for the biters,” he said, and Aaron and Caleb stopped to see who it was.

 

“Oh, hi,” Aaron said, out of breath. “Didn’t see you there.”

 

“Yeah, Rick let me off of probation, and said I could wander around the town.” He glanced at Caleb and Aaron made introductions.

 

“Paul, this is Caleb. He’s training to join our supply run team,” Aaron said.

 

Paul offered his hand and Caleb shook. “Hey, good to meet you … uh … Paul?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I thought your name was Jesus,” Caleb said. “Everyone is talking about that … you know … making messiah jokes and all.”

 

“I get a lot of that from people who don’t know me. But yeah, my real name is Paul. You can call me by either name. I don’t care. I answer to either one.”

 

Caleb laughed. “Actually, Jesus is kind of cool. So is it true that you come from another community?”

 

“Yes it is. We call it Hilltop. It’s not nearly as fancy as Alexandria, but it’s well protected.”

 

“What kind of people live there?” Caleb asked.

 

“All kinds. Young, old, married, single,” Paul answered.

 

“Girls?”

 

Paul nodded. “A few.”

 

“Any my age? I’m eighteen.”

 

Aaron decided to jump in and end the inquisition. “Alright, that’s enough. You’ll find out soon enough. Some of us are going to Hilltop to introduce ourselves and–”

 

“Can I come?” Caleb asked enthusiastically.

 

“No you cannot. You have to stay here and help keep watch,” Aaron demanded.

 

Caleb looked disappointed. “Alright. Maybe another day. Hey, nice to meet you, Jesus.”

 

“Good to meet you too, Caleb. Hopefully I’ll see you again,” Paul said.

 

“Well, I gotta go find Glenn,” Caleb announced.

 

“Why don’t you come by later,” Aaron told him. “I’ll make you dinner.”

 

“What are you having?”

 

Aaron shrugged. “I don’t know, but I’ll figure something out.”

 

“Maybe another time. Save your rations for you and Daryl,” Caleb said politely as he went off on his own.

 

Paul and Aaron watched him a moment before Paul spoke. “Good kid.”

 

“He is,” Aaron said with pride.

 

“Has he been here since the beginning?”

 

“No. Actually, Daryl and I came across him. He’d been taken by some men.” Aaron paused as he remembered the horrible scene. “Some really bad men. We got him away and brought him here. He’s done well, considering all the tragedy that happened.”

 

The two men stood there awkwardly. “Mind if I tag along?” Paul asked.

 

“Not at all. I’ll show you around,” Aaron offered.

 

“I was just checking out your security.” Paul pointed to the walls. “That’s nice craftsmanship. How’d you come up with the idea?”

 

“It wasn’t me. The credit goes to a man named Reg. He was an engineer. His wife was in charge of Alexandria. She was an Ohio congresswoman. Deanna,” Aaron reminisced. “They’re the ones who got this place going.”

 

“Where are they now?” Paul asked.

 

Aaron looked down with sadness. “They’re gone.”

 

“I’m sorry to hear it. They sound like good people.”

 

“They were,” Aaron said, forcing a smile. “And now this place has fallen into Rick’s hands. Damn fine leader too. I think it was all meant to be.”

 

They walked silently along the road in no hurry. Aaron took Paul to show him the generators and solar panels so he could see how Alexandria ran on minimal power. He didn’t seem very interested in it though, and Aaron wondered why.

 

“So, how does Hilltop operate?” Aaron finally asked.

 

“Well, we don’t have electricity. We cook over fire, light our homes by candle, which we make ourselves. We can what we harvest so that we have food through the winter. A few of the men hunt for game. The women keep our clothes from turning to rags. We scavenge a lot too, but lately it’s been–” Paul cut himself short of finishing his sentence. “Well, let’s just say, it’s been getting harder to find things.”

 

“We have the same problem, especially with food. Before the walkers stormed in, we had a good head start on canned goods. There’s an orchard not far from here, and we found some warehouses with a lot of supplies. But most of our stock was ruined, and it’s getting late in the season. Maggie started growing some vegetables, but it won’t bring in much before the cold weather moves in. Luckily, Daryl is a pretty good hunter.” Aaron was unconscious of the smile that escaped his lips, but Paul noticed.

 

“The two of you been together long?” Paul asked.

 

“A while now,” Aaron answered tersely. He didn’t want to tell too much of his personal life. Paul was still a stranger at this point.

 

“I’m sorry if I caused any problems the other day. I really had no idea that Daryl was … or that you two were–”

 

“It’s alright. You couldn’t have known. Daryl’s not … uh … your typical … And he comes on kind of strong,” Aaron stumbled to explain, and decided to change the focus of the conversation. “What about Hilltop? Is there someone waiting for you back home?”

 

“Unfortunately, no,” Paul said sadly. “I’m somewhat of an enigma, but like Daryl, I hide it well. I don’t have much time to think about it actually. There’s always something more important to worry about.”

 

“I’m sure eventually you’ll meet someone,” Aaron said, not knowing what else to say.

 

Aaron and Paul had walked all the way around and were now back at the front of town. Rick and Daryl were just stepping out of the RV. Glenn was wiping his hands on a rag and closing the front grill. They looked up and saw Aaron and Paul approaching. Rick and Daryl met them part way.

 

“Looks like everything’s ready. We’ll leave first thing in the morning,” Rick said.

 

“Good. That’s good news,” Jesus smiled.

 

Rick stepped real close to Jesus and spoke while looking out into the distance. “Just remember, we will be fully armed. You try to screw us over and I won’t hesitate to put a bullet through your skull.”

 

“Nothing funny, I swear,” Jesus promised. “We’ll leave in the morning, and you’ll be home by the evening meal.”

 

Aaron pulled Daryl aside. “I’m going with you.”

 

“No you’re not,” Daryl answered quickly.

 

“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t–”

 

“Listen to me,” Daryl interrupted. “I need you here in Alexandria. We don’t know anything about this guy or the place he comes from. We could very well be walking into a trap. Most of our strongest people are going, which I disagreed with, but Rick wouldn’t listen to me. That leaves you, Carol and Sasha here to watch over things, and you’ll know what to do if we don’t return tonight.”

 

Aaron stared angrily at Daryl, but knew he was right. “You know I don’t like this.”

 

“I know, but this is the way it’s going to work. We will be home tonight, but if we don’t come back–”

 

“Please don’t talk like that.”

 

Daryl glanced around, and pulled Aaron to the other side of the camper where no one would see them. Once he had Aaron alone, he took up his hand with a gentle grip. “It’s going to be fine,” he said. “I don’t like this guy, but I think he’s being honest. I don’t like to admit that because I think he’s an asshole, but he had ample opportunities to take out any one of us, and he didn’t. I’m not saying he’s not going to try something once we get to his place, and that’s where I don’t trust him. That and the fact that he keeps hanging around you when I’m not there,” Daryl added, making Aaron uncomfortable.

 

“He apologized and he’s been very cordial since his mistake. He even told me a little bit about Hilltop. They sound a lot like us, good people just trying to survive and make a new life,” Aaron told him.

 

“Well, see there? If that’s true, then we have nothing to worry about, and no reason for you to go along.” Daryl kissed Aaron to finish convincing him everything would work out.

 

“Fine,” Aaron agreed reluctantly. Daryl made a good argument though. Aaron would stay in Alexandria.

 

They came out from behind the RV and Paul was watching them. Their hands were still joined and Paul’s eyes went straight to that. Aaron couldn’t help notice the shadow of sadness and longing that flashed across Paul’s face. Poor guy, he thought. It must be a very long time for him, since he’d had anything real.

 

Daryl immediately glared at Paul, making the man turn his eyes away. Aaron felt Daryl squeeze his hand before he released it. The exchange was over quickly, but Daryl got his point across. No one messed with Daryl Dixon or anything that belonged to him, and that included Aaron.

 

“Be careful,” Aaron told Daryl. “And I love you.”

 

“I will and I do too,” Daryl answered. They were in the open where people could see and hear them. Daryl wasn’t comfortable being exposed, but Aaron knew he still meant what he said, even if it sounded as though he was talking in code. “Gotta go.”

 

Aaron nodded and watched Daryl enter the RV. He’d try not to worry, but he knew there would be no stopping his unsteady mind. It was going to be a long day, he thought to himself.



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