Safe Haven in the Chaos

BY : IdrilsSecret
Category: S through Z > The Walking Dead
Dragon prints: 3800
Disclaimer: I do not own the walking dead or any of the characters. No money is being made from the writing of these stories

Chapter 35 We Will Fight For What Is Ours



Rick stood outside the compound talking to a mysterious woman on a walkie talkie while the rest of the group circled him, guns drawn, as they watched the surrounding area. The woman claimed to have Maggie and Carol held prisoner, and demanded that Rick release their man, who he was holding at gunpoint. Tensions were running high as Rick tried to negotiate with the woman on the radio.


“She’s bluffing,” Daryl murmured.


Aaron was next to him. “What if she’s not? We can’t risk Maggie and Carol’s safety.”


Daryl listened to Rick talking to the woman for a moment. They were just going around in circles, neither one coming to a decision. He leaned towards Aaron as he spoke. “I say we slip out of here quietly, and see if we can find her. She must be close.”


“Close enough that she’d see us sneaking away,” Aaron complained. He shook his head. “We have to stay here.”


“The guy in the wing vest,” said the woman over the radio. “He’s looking a bit antsy. Better not be planning anything. I know every move you’re people are making right now, and if I count heads and someone, just one person is missing, you’re women will be shot. Got that?”


Aaron glanced at Daryl nervously. “I told you. Let Rick handle this.”


After a while, Rick lowered the walkie talkie. The woman on the other end was done for now. She told Rick to wait for her next radio signal, and she would tell him where they would meet for the exchange. Rick addressed his people. “The signal started breaking up. I think she’s on the move, and she’s got Maggie and Carol with her.”


“What are we going to do?” Michonne asked.


“We’re not going to wait here for her signal, that’s for sure. We need to follow her, find out where she went. Daryl, you’re our tracker. Let’s go,” Rick said.


“You all are dead already,” the hostage said through a split lip.


While Rick spoke to the mystery woman, someone found some wire and secured the man’s hands behind his back. Now, Rick hoisted him up by his arm, making him stand. “You’re coming with us.”


“You’ll never find my people,” the man taunted. “We have eyes everywhere. We are one.”


“Man, shut the fuck up,” Daryl complained, and he punched him in the stomach.


Rick looked around at his people. “I need a few of you to stay here and keep a look out, just in case this woman tries to double back here. The rest of you are coming with me and Daryl.”


Aaron, Glenn, Michonne, Abraham and Sasha decided to go with Rick, Daryl and the hostage. The rest stayed behind to patrol the immediate area. As they were setting off into the woods, Daryl noticed something wrong. “Where’s Jesus?”


Everyone looked around, unsure where he was. Aaron made an observation. “I can’t remember seeing him since right after you all came out of the compound.”


“Yeah,” Daryl agreed. “We were walking together, and that’s the last time I saw him. Come to think of it, he was gone by the time this asshole rode out on my bike.” He pointed to their hostage. The rest of the group was dumbfounded.


“Do you think the woman noticed him missing?” Aaron wondered. “She said she would count.”


Rick shook his head. “No, I think he was out of sight before that, but where he went is a mystery.”


“Son of a bitch,” Daryl muttered to himself. He stopped and observed the woods around him. “What if he’s in on this? What if he’s off to warn her or something?”


“Jesus is not working with the Saviors,” Michonne stated. “He’s the one who got us a meeting with Geoffrey so that we could help Hilltop in the first place.”


“That don’t mean shit,” Daryl said, jaw clenched with aggravation.


“We can’t stop now. They have Maggie, and I’m not going back until she’s with me,” said Glenn impatiently.


Daryl nodded at Glenn. “We’ll find her. We’ll find both of them,” he said with confidence. He started looking at the foliage and low hanging tree branches. “This way.”


After a while of silence, and everyone watching for signs of Maggie and Carol being led away, Aaron caught up to Daryl, who was way out in front of everyone else. “Paul is not working with them.”


Daryl shook his head, his lips pressing into a slight frown as he harrumphed. “Again with the ‘Paul’ thing. So, what? You think you know him better than the rest of us? Because if he played us, he played you too.”


“I trust him, that’s all,” Aaron said standing up for himself.


“Oh, you do?” Daryl accused. “Alright, then where the hell did he disappear to and why?”


“I-I don’t know. I just don’t think he’s working for the Saviors.” Aaron let Daryl’s aggressiveness slide to the wayside because he knew it was caused by the worry over the kidnapped women.


“Well, we’ll see about that,” Daryl countered, and he went back to tracking.


Aaron couldn’t shake the feeling that Daryl might be upset with him too, not just Paul. “I’m worried about them too,” he said, figuring Daryl would know who he was talking about.


“I know you are,” Daryl answered without looking back. He kept trudging along looking for clues.


“Maggie’s pregnant, for God’s sake, and Carol … she’s … well, she’s not herself lately,” Aaron continued. When Daryl didn’t say anything, Aaron fell back to where the others were, and continued his own search. It was better not to pursue an argument right now. Daryl was an excellent tracker, but he wasn’t immune to distractions.




“Dammit!” Daryl berated himself after what felt like an eternity in the woods.


Rick pushed the hostage to the ground, leaving him where he couldn’t hear their conversation. He came up next to Daryl to see what the matter was. “What is it?” he asked, brows furrowed with concern.


Daryl stood up straight, stretching his back after all the crouching and bending over. He looked over at the hostage, satisfied that he was far enough away. “Trail’s gone cold.”


“What? It couldn’t have,” Rick said. He looked around the area, though he didn’t know what to look for. “How far back? Maybe we’ll just turn around and–”


“Been cold for a while now. I thought I found something, but I keep disproving my findings,” he whispered so the others wouldn’t hear. His hand went to the back of his neck. “I followed the wrong lead. I-I don’t know. I thought I had something, but–”


“Don’t worry about it, Daryl,” Rick soothed. “We’ll just go back and pick it up again.”


“You don’t understand,” Daryl argued. “I should have known better. This is what I do, and I know I’m good at it.” His frustration was evident as he began pacing.


“Listen, it’s not easy … not any of this, and worrying about the women makes is more difficult, I’m sure.” While Rick spoke, the other members came up to them.


“What is it? Have you found something?” Glenn asked. The fear and worry in his voice made Daryl feel worse.


“We might have to go back and try another path,” Rick said calmly.


“What do you mean go back?” Glenn went from fearful to angry. “We can’t. We have to keep–”


“I lost the damn trail, alright?” Daryl exclaimed.


“This is bullshit,” Glenn spat. “You’re supposed to know what you’re doing.”


Daryl ignored Glenn’s outburst and tried to explain. “There’s a lot of undergrowth here. Makes it difficult to track, but we’ll get back on the right–”


“That is my wife out there. Every minute she’s with those people is another minute she could be in serious danger,” Glenn berated, as though Daryl didn’t already know this much.


Daryl was trying to give Glenn the benefit of the doubt, but now he was questioning Daryl’s ability to do the one thing he was best at. “I am doing my best,” he said through clenched teeth.


“This is bullshit,” Glenn responded. He stepped up to Daryl and got in his face. “You’ve gotten us lost, haven’t you?”


Daryl didn’t back down and the two men stood face to face in a challenge. Unfortunately, Daryl had no argument. It was true, he’d been lost for the last fifteen minutes or so. He had followed a lead that he knew deep down wasn’t made by a human, but it was all he had. He took the chance and it was a bad decision.


With no cause for argument, Daryl backed away from Glenn. “Man, fuck you!” he shouted and walked away.


“Fuck me?” Glenn said, not willing to back down yet. “I’m not the one who’s been following Bambi’s trail instead of double checking to make sure we’re on the right track. So, fuck …. you … Daryl.”


The hostage wasn’t too far that he couldn’t hear the argument going on, and he laughed from his spot on the ground. The sound of it got under Daryl’s skin, not making the situation any better. Fed up with being accused of screwing up their rescue attempt, he spun on his heal and headed straight for Glenn like a charging boar. His fists were already clenched, the muscles in his arms bulging, and ready to answer Glenn with a punch. Aaron jumped in front of Daryl, and after being pushed himself, finally got him to stop advancing.


“Woah, woah, woah. This is enough gentlemen,” Aaron said. “Every minute we stand here arguing is another minute we’re not looking for Maggie and Carol.”


“He’s right,” Michonne agreed, stepping forward. “Now’s not the time for this. You two need to get yourselves in check, and get back to the real problem.”


“I’m going to call her,” Rick said, raising the walkie talkie up. “I’ll know by the amount of static how close we might be.”


“You do that,” Abraham countered, “and she’ll know too.”


“He’s right,” Sasha agreed, and Abraham glanced sideways with a smile towards her.


“Then what are we supposed to do, stand around with our thumbs up our asses?” Michonne countered.


Everyone started arguing with each other, trying to get their opinion across and make the others believe they had the answer. Meanwhile, nothing was being done to find Maggie and Carol.


Jesus suddenly appeared, breaking from the undergrowth, drawn to the group by their arguing. “Hey, hey,” he repeated until they noticed him.


Daryl abandoned his argument with Glenn and marched right over to Jesus. “And where the fuck have you been you goddamn traitor.”


“Traitor?” Jesus said. He raised his hands up as a sign of surrender, and smiled. “I’m with you guys.”


“Oh really? Then where the fuck did you disappear to when all that shit was going down back at the compound?” Daryl accused. He was still charging at Jesus with a heavy footed stride. “You working with them? You know that fucker sitting over there?”


Jesus glanced back quickly to see who Daryl was talking about and noticed the hostage for the first time. “Shit,” he whispered to himself, and brought his attention back to Daryl.


Daryl’s arm came up, giving away the fact that he was going to punch Jesus. Jesus stood his ground, not changing his position until the last possible second. Daryl swung at him, but Jesus ducked and moved to the side. He still had his hands in the air to show he wouldn’t fight back.


“I couldn’t stay. I saw the guy on the bike come out of the building, and the walkie talkie fall to the ground. I knew there must have been someone on the other end. That’s why the guy was making a run for it. He’d been warned. The last thing we all needed was for him to see me with your group,” Jesus explained. “If they saw me, they’d know that you were working with Hilltop. I’m sorry, but I have to protect my community. You’d do the same thing if you were in my place.”


“He’s seen you now though, hasn’t he?” Daryl said, referring to the hostage.


“Unfortunately yes,” Jesus answered regretfully. “He’ll have to be dealt with.”


“How convenient since he’s our collateral for getting Maggie and Carol back,” Daryl said with suspicion. He wasn’t buying into anything Jesus was saying. All he saw was the man he still didn’t trust who threatened the safety of his own people. Without a word, Daryl swung another punch towards Jesus, but he missed again. Jesus was too quick. He was obviously trained in martial arts. He was good at reading people’s movements and making decisions based on his findings. And Daryl was tired, angry, worried, and just not thinking straight at this point.


Again, it was Aaron that went to Daryl and stopped him. “Let it go,” he said. “It’s not worth the fight. Paul’s right. He was just trying to protect his own people, and we would have made the same call.”


Daryl pushed Aaron away. “Fuck you and this Paul shit, like the two of you are best friends or something. You want to trust him, fine, but I think he’s leading us into a trap.”


Rick, who always trusted Daryl’s judgement, went to Jesus with his gun raised. “I’m not a hundred percent convinced either. Daryl’s a good judge of character, and you haven’t exactly been honest with us. I haven’t forgotten our initial encounter and how you took our supplies.”


Jesus smiled wide. “Rick, I thought we were past that. Do you think I would have led you to Hilltop if I didn’t think you were good people? I let you in with your weapons when we didn’t have any way of protecting ourselves against you. I am not working for the Saviors. I was just looking out for my own people. If Negan or any of his men find out that we’ve hired muscle, he would level us to the ground, and then he’d come for you. My disappearing was best for both of our communities.”


“So why did you show up now?” Glenn asked.


“As I was trying to catch up to you, I found their trail. I know where they took Maggie and Carol,” Jesus said.


“Are you sure?” Rick asked. His gun was still trained on Jesus.


“I found a scrap of material from Carol’s shirt. Yes, I’m sure,” Jesus reassured them. He opened his hand and showed them a torn piece of cloth that matched the shirt Carol had been wearing.


Rick considered this, and glanced around to the rest of the group. No one seemed to disagree. “Alright, lead the way.”


“Rick,” Daryl said, eyes narrowed as he glared at Jesus.


“It’s our only option,” Rick answered. “We have to trust him.”


Jesus led the way, but he kept looking back at Daryl with uneasiness. He worried about taking Daryl’s position within Rick’s group. Aaron noticed this too, and kept his eye on Daryl at the same time. Daryl only glared at Jesus whenever they made eye contact. Then they stopped while Jesus observed some broken branches.


“Um, Daryl? Could you … could you come look at this?” Jesus said nervously.


“You don’t need me,” Daryl condescended. “You got this, right? You know what you’re doing.”

Aaron moved close to Daryl and whispered in his ear. “Come on, don’t be like this. Remember who we’re looking for.”


Daryl sighed deep. He knew Aaron was right, but he didn’t want anything to do with Jesus at the moment. Just to please his partner, he went to Jesus to see what he wanted. “What,” Daryl said, annoyed.


“I just want your opinion on this,” Jesus said, pointing to some broken branches with hair on them. “It could be animal or human. It’s low enough to the ground to be an animal, but one of them could have fallen and got their hair caught. I don’t know them all that well, but I know you do. What do you think? Could this be their hair?”


Daryl eyed Jesus a moment before he decided to take a look, but he finally investigated it. “It’s human. As a matter of fact, it’s Carol’s hair,” he said with concern, and he turned to Aaron.


At this, Rick approached the two men. “Carol? Are you sure?”


Daryl rubbed the clump of hair between his fingers. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “We’re on the right track.” He couldn’t help wonder what had transpired here. Did Carol try to make a run for it and fell? Was she pushed? There was no evidence of skin or blood, so hopefully she wasn’t injured, and she just stumbled and caught her hair in the bushes.


“Let’s go,” Rick demanded. “This way. We’re getting close.”


After everyone followed Rick, Jesus pulled Daryl to the side. “I feel I need to apologize. I didn’t do this on purpose.”


“Whatever man,” Daryl said, trying to push past him.


Jesus saw this as his opportunity to try and make some kind of amends with Daryl. “I really am sorry. I’m not trying to take your job away. I know you’re Alexandria’s tracker and–”


“Fuck you and shut up,” Daryl interrupted. He didn’t want to hear it. If Jesus said one more word, he swore he was going to punch the son of a bitch. His body leaned towards Jesus, ready to respond physically if the man spoke, but Aaron was right there and put a hand on his chest to stop him.


“Think of the girls,” Aaron whispered. “Come on. Let’s get going.”




On the way, Rick came up with a plan to draw the people out of the place where they took Maggie and Carol. Everyone was given instructions and knew where their place was. They didn’t know what they were heading for or how many people they were dealing with, but that didn’t matter right now. Their only goal was to get the women back unharmed.


Daryl seethed as he walked along, silent since his outburst with Jesus. Aaron walked beside him, but he didn’t speak either. He could feel how tense Daryl was. Not only was he worried about the women, but his pride took a hit when Jesus swopped in and saved the day. This was a major blow, especially with everything that went wrong for Daryl lately.


“It’s up here, not far,” Jesus announced, and the group slowed to a stop.


“Alright, we all know what to do?” Rick asked, making sure there were no questions. Then he got on the radio to ask the woman why he hadn’t heard from her. He knew she would figure out that the signal was strong because there wasn’t any static. He knew she’d know Rick’s people were close. He hoped this would flush her out, bringing Maggie and Carol with her. Then, the Alexandrian group would rush in and finish what they started back at the compound. No survivors. That was the goal this day.


Everyone took their positions, as prepared as they could be going into it blind. Aaron was with Daryl this time. They weren’t going to be separated again, not after what happened last time. Daryl whispered to Aaron. “Remember, you see either one of them, you take them away. I’ll cover you if that happens.” They had their own plan.


“Yep. I got it,” Aaron said. He glanced sideways at Daryl, and saw him keeping an eye on Jesus. “Don’t let him get under your skin,” Aaron warned. He could see Daryl was still upset.


“He ain’t shit,” Daryl answered, keeping his eyes glued towards the door. The truth was, Daryl thought Jesus might be a match to his abilities. He could fight really well, and he could track. Those were two of Daryl’s main qualities.


They waited a while, observing the building, looking for signs of activity when Abraham shouted. “Look!” He pointed to the roof of the building. Smoke rose from a silver exhaust pipe.


“What do we do?” Sasha said, looking at Rick for answers.


“I would have thought they’d come out by now,” Abraham mentioned. “Now it looks like the place has caught fire.”


“I’m done waiting,” Glenn demanded. “That my wife in there.”


“The building’s not on fire,” Michonne pointed out. “That pipe is like a chimney. It’s meant for smoke to escape.”


“So what kind of place is this?” Sasha asked.


Aaron came up beside her, staring at the building. “It’s a slaughter house.” He lifted his arm and pointed at a faded sign painted on the side of the building. “A meat processing plant. Looks like an outline of a pig. They must have smoked meats here too.”


“Fuck this shit,” Daryl blurted out. “We’re going in there right now.”


“Wait!” Jesus said trying to stop them.


“Why?” Daryl challenged him. “You trying to keep us from going in there or something?”


“No,” Jesus countered. “I was just … Listen, if we barge in there–”


“We’re going,” Rick decided. “And you’re leading the way.” He pushed Jesus forward and the group followed behind. They would rush the door, break in and start firing at anyone who was their enemy. They left the hostage tied to a tree a little ways back, keeping him away from the fight in case they needed to use him as leverage.


Aaron noticed how nervous Paul looked. He wondered if it was because no one trusted him or because they were alright with using him as collateral damage. The first one in was at serious risk of being shot while the others fired back. Aaron wasn’t happy about it, but there was nothing he could say to change anyone’s mind.


They approached the door and heard screams from inside. “Maggie!” Glenn shouted while Daryl, Rick and Abraham ran into the door shoulders first to try and bust it down. Aaron found a piece of rebar and started trying to pry it open. With everyone working together, they got the door open and ran in, guns raised. They didn’t know what they would find, but they weren’t expecting to see Carol and Maggie half way down a hall.


The women shaded their eyes to the sunlight that poured in. The people coming towards them were just black shadows to their sensitive eyes. But the people could see them, and they could see the carnage just behind them. Glenn’s only reaction was to go to Maggie. The others watched him, ready to shoot anything just in case it was a trap of some kind, but no one came out of the shadows.


Jesus was the first one to approach Carol. She looked completely lost in her eyes. “Are you alright?” Jesus asked. “Are you hurt?”


She looked past him down the bright hallway. “Where’s Daryl?”


“Move,” Daryl demanded, roughly pushing Jesus to the side. All he wanted was to get to Carol who had asked for him. She didn’t connect with anyone until she saw him. Daryl surrounded her with his arms, pulled her into his chest and held her tight. “It’s alright. We’re here now.” He could feel her trembling as she finally gave in to the fear she’d been holding at bay.


He knew Carol was strong. She’d been through a lot and had done unthinkable things, but she was a survivor. However, something was different this time. He could tell. One thing about Carol and Daryl, they had a code of sorts. They didn’t discuss everything between each other, but they would check on one another with the simplest of words. One would ask, ‘are you ok?’ and the other would respond, ‘I have to be.’ It was odd because they could never say they were alright. Perhaps neither one was ever completely alright. Maybe to admit it would bring on another round of bad luck. Whatever it was, they knew that answer meant they were well enough and surviving as best they could. As Daryl held Carol in his arms, he could sense something unnerving in her tremble and in her breathing. He was almost afraid to ask the question, but he knew he had to. He told himself that she’d just been through a traumatizing experience, whatever might have occurred while separated from the group, but she survived yet again. Once they got back to Alexandria, when she’d had a chance to recover, she’d be alright. She always was.


“My God, Carol,” Aaron said, coming up to them and putting a hand on her back. Her first reaction was to jump, even though she was looking right at Aaron. He glanced at Daryl for an answer to her odd behavior.


Daryl shook his head, and Aaron left them alone for the time being. When she finally calmed enough that he could release her from his grasp, he whispered the question. “Are you ok?”


Carol didn’t answer at first, but she managed to look at him. Her lip was quivering as she tried to keep from becoming a blubbering mess. Then she slowly shook her head from side to side and answered. “No.”


It was more serious than he thought, and Daryl did the only thing he could at the moment and pulled her to him again. “My God,” he whispered. “What did they do to you?”


She didn’t answer and a million horrible things started rummaging through his head. Was she tortured? Raped? Did they make her do something to Maggie? They didn’t know these Saviors, didn’t know what they were capable of. Something terrible happened, though, and all he could do was be a comfort to her for now and hope that she would eventually talk to him about it.


Daryl glanced at Glenn, who was holding Maggie. She didn’t look physically hurt, and she didn’t seem concerned about the baby. They needed to leave this place and Daryl was about to say as much when he saw Abraham walk in with the hostage.


“Here he is,” Abe said to Rick. Then to the hostage he said, “Just answer the man’s questions.”


Rick got in the man’s face, gun pointed at his temple. “Is this all of you?”


The man laughed. “We’re everywhere. You’ll never get rid of us all.”


“I don’t need to get rid of all of you, just your leader, Negan. Where is he? Was he here?”


“We’re all Negan,” the man answered, eyes wide and dark.


Rick had enough of his games and was at the edge of his patience. “Tell me now,” he demanded, pushing the gun against the man’s head. “Where is Negan?”


The man smiled and looked Rick right in the eyes. “I am Negan,” he said slowly, daring Rick to challenge him again.


When he said this, Carol looked up from Daryl’s shoulder to get a better look at him, but just as she did, Rick fired the gun. She jumped and buried her face in Daryl’s chest. Daryl held her tight in his arms. The shape she was in, she didn’t need to see that. As he held her, he looked across the way at Aaron, who seemed in shock by the suddenness of the incident. The interrogation was over. Their leader was dead.


After everyone collected themselves, Rick told Abraham and Sasha that they should sweep the premises for any survivors. “No one lives,” he reminded them all.


Carol heard this and pushed away from Daryl. “You won’t find anyone. They’re all dead.”


“We just need to make sure,” Rick told her.


Carol shook her head. “There’s no need. Anything moving in there is just walkers.” Rick didn’t seem convinced, always needing to see for himself. “Please,” she said to him in a desperate plea.


Daryl heard the distress in her voice, and knew there was a reason she didn’t want the others going back inside. “Let’s just go, Rick.”


Rick watched them a moment, and then he glanced down the hallway. After some careful thought, he agreed. “Alright, let’s get out of here.”




Some time had passed, and everyone was feeling anxious in Alexandria. When Rick and the others got back, they had a meeting with the rest of the town, explaining to a degree what had transpired with the Saviors. Some people felt that the threat was eliminated after learning that their leader was dead. Others thought there might be some kind of retaliation. Security was heightened now that the new watchtower was finished. There was always someone on patrol in the tower, at the gate, and at several spots along the wall. Guns were no longer locked away, and most residents were armed in some way or another.


Daryl was sitting on the curb in front of his house with his bike. He’d spent a good portion of his time fixing it after it had been stolen. It ran well enough to get it back to town, but it needed a lot of love and care. He finally had it running smoothly, and was just making a few minor adjustments to it.


Aaron came out of the house and handed him a bottle of water. Daryl took it, made a face and glanced up at him. Aaron shrugged. “It’s all we have. The beer’s all gone.”


“Damn Hilltoppers,” Daryl complained. “We come back with crates of vegetables, fruits, canned goods … even a fucking goat, but not a single drop of alcohol.”


Aaron smiled and took a seat next to him, draping his arm over Daryl’s leg. “I guess some people’s priorities just aren’t straight,” he jested. He looked over the bike. “You going for a ride?”


Daryl nodded. “Thinking about taking her out when I get back from this run with Rosita.”


“You think that’s wise?” Aaron asked with concern. He was worried about Saviors finding Alexandria just like some of the others.


“It’s been a while, and nothing’s happened. I won’t go far. I just need to open her up. See how she handles the road. I can’t do that in town.”


Aaron squeezed Daryl’s thigh. “Maybe I can go with you?” he questioned.


Daryl watched Aaron a moment, and saw the concern. “You’re not just worried about me going out are you?”


Aaron looked down and away, nodding slowly. “I’m worried about everything. I don’t know, Daryl. I’m not so sure about any of it. What we did … someone’s going to come looking for us, don’t you think?”


“If they do, we’re ready for them,” Daryl said, but there was a hint of doubt in his voice. Maybe Aaron was right after all. Daryl didn’t like it when he worried. Then, he nodded. “Alright, you can go with me. We’ll get out on the open road and just clear our heads.”


Aaron smiled with relief. “I’d like that.” He looked longingly into Daryl’s eyes, wanting to kiss him, but he refrained from it, knowing Daryl didn’t like public affection.


“Hey you two,” Carol said from the sidewalk. She had a lit cigarette in her hand, a bad habit she’d recently acquired, and menthols of all things.


Aaron smiled wide. “Hi Carol.”


Daryl glanced up from his bike, watching her from behind long hair. “Sup.”


“You going somewhere?” she asked.


“Not right now. Why?” Daryl wondered.


“No reason. Just saw you working on the bike.”


Aaron sensed that she wanted to talk to Daryl alone. Maybe she was ready to open up about whatever it was that was bothering her lately. He decided to let them have some privacy and started to get up.


“Where you going?” Daryl asked, as though he did want to be alone with her. He wasn’t good with personal situations, even with someone who he was close to.


“I got some … stuff to take care of,” Aaron said, looking for any excuse. He smiled at Carol again. “Come in when you’re done talking … if you want,” he offered.


Aaron went inside, and Carol took up his seat on the step next to Daryl. She took a deep drag on her cigarette and stared out over the empty street. Daryl cocked his head to the side and watched her from the corner of his eye. He shook his head.


“How long you been doing that?” he asked, speaking of the cigarette.


“A while.” She answered tersely, pausing before she spoke again. “After the invasion.” Another pause and she flicked her ashes on the sidewalk. Carol looked down at her hand, turning the cigarette in her fingers. “Since I told Mrs. Neudermyer it was a nasty habit and she shouldn’t smoke in her house.”  She shook her head slowly back and forth. “Stupid,” she muttered quietly to herself.


“You couldn’t have known what was going to happen,” Daryl tried to reassure her.


“Doesn’t matter now, does it?” She took about drag, blew it out slowly and offered it to Daryl.


“Naw, I can’t smoke that shit,” he complained about the menthols. “You could have at least smoked the good kind.”


Carol huffed a laugh, but it was forced. “So, what do we do now?”


“About what?”


“About everything. You know someone is going to come looking for us, don’t you? You’d be stupid if you didn’t think that.”


“Like I told Aaron, they come here … we’ll be ready for ‘em,” Daryl answered.


“So we fight,” she said to clear up any confusion.


“That’s what we do best it seems.”


“I’m tired of fighting,” Carol said, head turned away from Daryl as though she didn’t want him to hear.


“I’m tired too but–”


“No, I mean I can’t do it anymore,” she told him and shook her head. “I … I just can’t.”


“You don’t have to. There’s plenty of us here that can fight,” Daryl reassured her.


“I didn’t fight the last time, and I ended up . . .” She stopped herself from finishing the sentence. She didn’t want to think about what she had done, and she definitely didn’t want to talk. Instead, she asked Daryl a question. “Do you ever look back on it all? Do you ever think about the people you’ve … helped … or the ones that got left behind?” Helped wasn’t the word she wanted to use, but to ask Daryl about the people he’d killed was too much to discuss.


“I remember what’s most important. The rest is just bullshit,” Daryl answered. The fact was, he remembered every face whether it was someone he helped or not. He could see that Carol was just starting to struggle with the faces, and wondered what she’d seen and done to make it as far as she had. “Is that why you don’t want to fight? You don’t want more memories?”


Carol shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe. I don’t know,” she said solemnly. “All I know is that what used to be difficult to do has become much too easy now.”


Daryl remembered how she begged Rick not to go back into the slaughterhouse to look for any survivors. She seemed frightened and worried. He thought it might have been for Rick’s safety, but her concern was very different from that. It was as though she didn’t want something to be found. But why?


“What happened back there,” Daryl asked. He decided to get straight to the point. No use beating around it anymore. “What did they do to you?” His tone was dark, as though ready to seek revenge on whoever hurt her.


Carol took the last drag from her cigarette, threw the butt on the ground and stepped on it. Then she stood from the step and looked out over the street. She started to walk away, taking only a few steps before stopping and turning back to Daryl. “It’s not want they did to me, but what I did to them.” She looked up at the sun in the sky, squinting from the bright rays shining in her face. “I gotta go, but tell Aaron thanks anyways.” Then she walked down the street, leaving Daryl to wonder about their conversation.


He went inside, finding Aaron sitting on the couch rereading another book, and made a mental note to look for new reading material while out on a supply run with Rosita. Aaron heard him come in and looked over his shoulder with a smile.


“Where’s Carol?” he asked.


“She had to go.” Daryl’s look of concern was obvious as he came to sit next to Aaron.


“So, did you talk?” Aaron wondered.


“Yeah,” Daryl answered.


“Is she alright?”


Daryl was silent a moment, considering the question. “No, she’s not,” he whispered. He’d never had to say that before. Whenever anyone asked him about Carol, he had always said she’d be alright. Now, though, something was not right. She was dealing with some kind of inner turmoil, something that only Carol could take care of. Daryl had always been there for her, but now he had to leave, and he worried what she might do. “Will you watch out for her while I’m gone?”


“Of course,” Aaron answered without hesitation. “Hey, maybe you should take Carol out for a ride on the bike instead of me. If you get her away from here she might open up to you. Maybe even . . .” He paused before finishing the thought, but it was just a suggestion. “Maybe take her to the cabin.”


“The cabin?” said Daryl, unsure of the idea. “But that’s our place.”


“I know, but I trust her not to tell anyone else about it. And perhaps getting her away from Alexandria might help her clear her head. I know it always works for me.”


Daryl gave it some thought. It wasn’t a half bad idea, and Aaron was right about trusting her with their secret sanctuary. “You could come along too.”


Aaron shook his head. “This is something just the two of you need to do. You share a special bond. I think it’s the only way to get her to open up and talk.”


Slowly, Daryl nodded. “Yeah, alright. I ask her when I get back.” Aaron was smiling at him, but he could see that there was something else on his mind.


“You know,” Aaron said. “It wouldn’t hurt if you opened up to her too.”


Daryl rolled his eyes and leaned back against the couch. “There you go again. I told you I’m fine.”


“Daryl,” Aaron complained. “What happened was very traumatic, and I’m not just talking about what went down in the bunkers.”


“You’re talking about that prick who stole my bike again, aren’t you?” said Daryl, accusingly.


“It’s not just about your bike or your bow. It goes much deeper than that.”


“I already told you what happened. Why do you think I would need to rehash it with Carol?” Daryl countered.


“Because you both have unfinished business with these people. God knows what they did to her while she was being held captive. You were their prisoner too.” Aaron took a breath and released it slowly. “Listen, I’m not telling you to light candles and swap stories. I just think that you and Carol have a lot in common, and maybe talking to each other about your experiences might help you both to move past it.”


“You don’t think I’ve moved on? You think I sit around and dwell on it?” Daryl’s ire was rising, not exactly what Aaron wanted to happen.


“I think that the experience has changed you. It left you feeling vulnerable and slighted. You question your ability to evaluate people.”


“I’m just a little more cautious now than I used to be. That’s not a bad thing,” said Daryl, defending himself.


“You’re beyond cautious. Take Jesus, for example. He’s proved himself to be trustworthy and still you don’t–”


“I’ll tell you right now, I will never trust that asshole,” Daryl interrupted, anger exuding in his tone. “And I’m tired of you always bringing him up.”


“I don’t mean to do it. It’s just that–”


Daryl glared at Aaron through long hair and narrowed eyes. “You don’t want to finish that thought.”


“Fine, I won’t.” Aaron sat quietly for a few moments, but there was something else he wished they could discuss, and it had to do with the newly discovered community, Hilltop. “What is it like there, anyway?”


“Where, Hilltop?” Daryl asked.


“Yeah. You’ve been there. Is it a decent place? Are the people nice?” Aaron asked cautiously.


“It’s a place. There are walls and people have roofs over their heads. No electricity. Limited running water. Don’t know about the people yet.”


Aaron paused before asking another question. This one would probably set Daryl off. Might as well ask anyway. “Is it somewhere that we could fit in?”


Daryl slowly turned his attention to Aaron. “No,” he finally answered.


“I was just wondering. You don’t have to get upset.”


“Alexandria is the safest place we could be right now,” Daryl went on with a short explanation.


“Really? Because I can’t help but think about the way everyone is on edge waiting for a counter attack from unseen threats. You do realize that sooner or later, the Saviors are going to gather enough people to come after us?”


“I don’t need you paying some tribute to Eric and his fantasy of another safe zone!” Daryl yelled. He stood from the couch, went to the hearth, and put his hand on the mantle. There were plenty of small objects within his reach that he could throw if he needed to, but he was trying to contain his ire. “Is that what you want to do? You want to run away from Alexandria, and let everyone here deal with a possible attack? Am I really hearing you say this?”


“Doesn’t it bother you what we did to them?” Aaron shouted. “Are you so closed off that murdering all those people didn’t affect you in some way?”


“We did what needed to be done. And let me remind you, we did it not only for us, but for Hilltop too,” said Daryl. “Negan and his men were hitting up Hilltop long before they even knew Alexandria existed. Now they know and they’ll be looking for us. They’ll come and try to score a deal where we become the inmates. Well, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, I ain’t nobody’s bitch. What’s mine is mine. Alexandria … belongs to me and you. It belongs to everyone here, and if we want to keep it, we have to fight. That’s why I’d never go to Hilltop.”


Aaron realized his mistake. He got up and went to Daryl, wrapped his arm around his waist and leaned his head against Daryl’s back. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to argue with you. I know you’re right, Daryl. I’m just … I … I can’t get some of these images out of my head, and it scares me. The photos … did you see them? People’s heads crushed beyond recognition. I saw them and the hairs literally stood on the back of my neck. What we’re dealing with isn’t anything we’ve come across before. People all claiming to be the same person, killing just to make an example and frighten communities into freely giving up their supplies. Why isn’t anyone rising up against them? What do they know that we don’t?”


Daryl felt Aaron’s hand on his shoulder and reached up to touch it. “I’ve seen plenty of evil, all of them some form of atrocity. They don’t get to win, Aaron. We’ve fought against each and every threat, and they eventually lose. They don’t get to exist in this world,” Daryl assured him with confidence.


Aaron shook his head, amazed by Daryl’s coolness, and his ability to believe in his own power. “I really don’t know how you do it.”


“I just do. I have to do it. I do it for us because I’m not about to let anything happen to you. I have the same images in my head too, but then I see you and I’m reminded of what I made the sacrifice for … for us … for this town … for a future, our future.” Daryl turned in Aaron’s arms so that they were facing one another. “I do it because I love you. That’s it.” He moved towards Aaron and drew him in for a kiss. Daryl’s arms surrounded him, and he pulled their bodies against each other. Their kisses became demanding before Daryl abandoned his lips in exchange for the taste of the flesh of Aaron’s neck. His hands fumbled over the small shirt buttons, painstakingly undoing each one until enough of Aaron’s chest was exposed. Then he worked his way down Aaron’s chest, fingers gliding over the light muscling and bristly but soft hair.


Aaron’s hands worked like magic running through Daryl’s long hair. He took up a fistful and pulled his head back until Daryl’s wantonly pleading eyes searched his. Daryl licked his lips while his hands went for the belt buckle, undoing it in record time. Aaron felt them loosen, felt a hand slink inside, bringing him standing immediately. Aaron released Daryl’s hair, but pushed him lower. Daryl didn’t resist. His mouth kissed the trail of dark hair that ran from Aaron’s bellybutton and disappeared beneath fabric. A second later Aaron’s pants were lowered. He finished letting them slide down his legs and stepped out of them. Daryl’s focus never left Aaron’s growing member. He licked his lips and took it into his eager mouth. Aaron threw his head back and sucked a deep breath through his clenched teeth, letting it out slowly with an erotic moan. Daryl had him throbbing for release, but it was too soon so he slowed things down by releasing him.


“Don’t stop,” Aaron begged.


“I’m not. I’ll never stop,” said Daryl, and he returned to his lover, running his tongue along the satiny flesh. It pulsed and jumped with a life of its own. Then Daryl looked up into Aaron’s face with a steamy gaze. “Come here,” he demanded.


Aaron got onto his knees, facing Daryl. “I need you.”


Daryl kissed him. “I need you too. I always need you.”


Aaron helped Daryl undress and soon they were both free of their clothes. Aaron laid down and Daryl followed, covering him with his body. He entered his lover, and they both gasped at the suddenness of it. Daryl moved slowly at first, and then he found his rhythm. They moved together in perfect unison, their lover’s dance perfected. Daryl’s fingers dug into the flesh of Aaron’s hip, pulling him to his body, filling him with every thrust. His pace quickened the closer they both got to their completion. And then as sensitivities detonated, each man became lost in the surge of an orgasmic eruption. Bodies went rigid for a moment while they spilled. Then they relaxed, but Daryl stayed buried as he softened within. He crashed upon Aaron’s chest and felt strong arms surround him. Daryl would stay this way until he was sure he’d regained the use of his legs. Aaron, of course, didn’t mind being blanket by his lover. It was the best feeling in the world.


The argument forgotten, both men eventually dressed, smiles adorning their sated faces. Aaron tucked a stray hair behind Daryl’s ear and kissed him. They couldn’t stay at home today. Each one had things that needed to be tended to.


“How do I look?” Aaron asked.


Daryl finished buttoning the last button on Aaron’s shirt. “Absolutely fine.”


Aaron handed Daryl his boots. Daryl fixed his vest and straightened. “What about me?”


“You look like you just fucked your boyfriend,” Aaron laughed.


“Good. That’s what I was going for,” Daryl answered with a straight face. “So are we good?”


“We’re more than good. Now get out of here before I take advantage of you again,” said Aaron to chase him off.


“That’s hardly motivating me to leave,” said Daryl, and he slapped Aaron’s ass as he turned away. “We’ll pick things up tonight where we left off today,” he promised seductively.


They went their separate ways, each one with visions of the other running through their minds. Their worries were abated for the moment, but that’s just the way things worked. While they were together, they would try harder not to have too many confrontations. Quiet moments were precious and few. The future was uncertain and they would have to discuss their concerns further, but for now all was well. For now, all was calm. There was still time to prepare for the storm, and they both had a feeling it would be the worst one yet.

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