Safe Haven in the Chaos

BY : IdrilsSecret
Category: S through Z > The Walking Dead
Dragon prints: 3631
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 41 Waiting for the Sun to Rise

 

 

Aaron had just been awakened by Paul’s jealous boyfriend, accused of having an affair with him, and being reckless with Paul’s kindness. Meanwhile, Aaron was questioning his own decision to let people convince him it wasn’t time to help Daryl yet, and that he shouldn’t worry about getting him back. He had reached his last straw with everyone when Alex thought he’d take a verbal swing. Aaron came back on the defensive and gave Alex hell before storming out of the great house. He’d finally decided to take matters into his own hands and go after Daryl. No one else was doing anything about it. While looking through the blacksmith shop for a weapon of any kind, Paul surprised him, further demonstrating his stealth and ability to move around without being detected. Paul had somehow convinced Aaron to wait until the sun was up before he left Hilltop to go and find the Saviors compound where Daryl was being held captive. Now Paul was taking Aaron to his hideaway to wait for the sunrise.

 

Paul led the way through the kitchen, heading toward the back where there was a pocket door Aaron hadn’t noticed before. There was a set of shelves on either side, and it didn’t really draw the eye. Paul stopped before he reached the door and sifted through a large lidded basket pushed into a corner. He took out a bottle of liquor and two tin cups, the kind that came with a camping kit. They were dented and one was missing its handle. The liquor, on the other hand, looked to be a brand of very old Scotch.

 

“I didn’t know you drank,” Aaron said. Paul was very fit, and was usually on high alert at all times. Alcohol would dampen his senses.

 

“Not a lot, but once in a while. It helps me relax. Thought you could use it too,” Paul suggested. He slid the door open and stepped through. “Close that behind you,” he said.

 

Aaron followed and as he closed the door, Paul struck a match and lit an oil lantern that was hanging on a hook on the wall. The light revealed an iron ladder that went straight up. There was nothing else in this confined area. It was set in brick, separate from the rest of the house, and smelled of stale smoke from the fireplace. Paul started up the steps and Aaron carefully followed. If it wasn’t for Paul, Aaron would think twice about climbing the old ladder.

 

“From the outside of the house, you see two chimneys, one on each side of the house. Both are real, but this one is only half chimney. The other half houses this ladder, where we are right now,” Paul informed him.

 

“Smart,” Aaron commented as he followed Paul. It was three floors of climbing a ladder straight up, and he was a bit winded when they reached the top. The door to the outside was half as tall as a regular door. Paul struggled to open it, as it rubbed against the floor of the roof. Years of warping made it this way.

 

They stepped out into the open. Aaron looked back at the stack of bricks they just emerged from. It looked much bigger up close than from the ground. “What’s that?” he asked pointing to a white gazebo shaped structure between the chimneys.

 

“That used to be a bell tower when the house was first built. Somewhere along the way, it was closed in, and windows installed,” Paul said.

 

“Now it’s a guard tower,” Aaron noticed.

 

“Yeah, but we don’t use it for that.”

 

“Why not?” Aaron asked. “It’s the perfect place to put a sniper–”

 

“If we had guns,” Paul reminded him. “We use guards at the top of the wall now. It works well enough. Besides the Saviors, we don’t get many visitors to Hilltop.”

 

“This is a waste of a space,” Aaron said, thinking of how useful a tower like this was.

 

“Not exactly. This is my hideaway. Occasionally I keep watch from up here, but for the most part, I like to come to read or meditate.”

 

“Or to hide from people,” Aaron pointed out.

 

“That too,” Paul smiled sheepishly. He showed Aaron the door on the backside of the tower, opened it and gestured for him to enter.

 

It wasn’t very big, maybe twelve foot from one side to the other, but it was enough for two or three people to sit comfortably. There were beanbags piled up on one side, a small glass top side table that one might find on a patio, and a stack of books.

 

“Cozy,” Aaron said.

 

“I think it is. Make yourself comfortable,” Paul suggested.

 

“Bean bags?” Aaron smiled. It had been years since he’d seen any. He used to have one in his room when he was a kid.

 

“You saw the stairs. I don’t think I could get a recliner up here,” Paul joked.

 

“I see your point.”

 

Paul turned the lantern flame down low and set it on the table. He gave Aaron a tin cup and put the other one next to the lantern. Then he opened the half full bottle of Scotch and poured a little into each cup. Meanwhile, Aaron moved a couple beanbag chairs around and had a seat. Surprisingly, it was rather comfortable. It dawned on Aaron the reason why Paul gave him his room. “You were going to stay up here tonight, weren’t you?”

 

Paul nodded. “Sometimes I sleep up here.” He pulled a couple bags away from the others and sat across from Aaron. The table was between them so they could reach the bottle.

 

They sipped their scotch, each man being careful with their consumption. Neither one wanted to drink too much. In that way, Paul and Aaron were similar. They both had a need to be on call all the time.

 

“I want to apologize again for Alex’s behavior,” Paul said after a long silence. “He had no right to accuse you of anything. Actually, I had no idea he felt that way.”

 

“He doesn’t know me,” Aaron said to justify. “He doesn’t know I’m already involved with someone. All he sees is another gay man during a shortage of them,” Aaron smiled. “To be honest, Daryl wasn’t exactly pleased when you came along either.”

 

“Yeah, I kind of noticed that,” Paul said as a jest, but it was true. “And he had good reason. I … I’ll admit that when I first met you, when Rick was interrogating me . . . This is embarrassing, but … I was flirting … with you.”

 

Aaron felt his face flush hot, and not just from the warmth that the Scotch had created under his skin. “Yeah, I kind of noticed that,” Aaron said, returning Paul's exact words. “Daryl noticed too. That and the fact that you stole that truck loaded with supplies was enough to get you a permanent place on his shit list.”

 

Paul laughed, and the tension seemed to melt away. Aaron didn’t want to talk about Daryl for the moment. It would be too easy to let his guilty feelings move back in. He threw the conversation back to Paul and said, “I guess Alex, like Daryl, doesn’t approve of our friendship.”

 

“I can’t really blame him,” Paul said. “I’m gone for long periods of time, and he doesn’t know what I’m doing out there. It wasn’t ever a problem until I brought you to Hilltop.”

 

That had been a problem for Daryl too, but the story was too recent, as Aaron thought of Daryl mouthing apologies from across the forest floor while Negan prowled around them. “I guess things aren’t all rainbows and sunshine for you and Alex.”

 

“There’s that complication again. It’s a long story.” Paul was hesitant to talk about it, but Aaron wanted to know.

 

“And we’ve got until sunrise to fill in the silence,” Aaron said. “Start with how you came to Hilltop.”

 

“There’s not much to tell. Like a lot of people, I was going from place to place, looking for something promising. I came across Hilltop, and they let me stay. By the time I got here, Gregory had already assumed the leadership role. I don’t know how that happened except that no one else wanted the job,” Paul said.

 

“I get the feeling not a lot of people agree with him, but none are willing to challenge him,” Aaron noticed. “Have you ever considered–”

 

“I did … once … but, well, let’s just say Gregory’s got his fingers dug in pretty far.”

 

Aaron wasn’t sure what he meant by that. Gregory was weak. He was frightened. With the right person, Gregory could be knocked down from his throne. “I’ve seen how the people react to you. They like you. They respect you. That’s half the battle right there.”

 

“I think I’m more useful as a scout. I’ve got stealth. I can get in and out of a tight situation if I need to. The people of Hilltop depend on me in a different way, and I feel like I’m doing something when I bring them things they need, or when I have information that can help out the community. To sit behind a desk and hand out instructions for other people to carry out just isn’t me.”

 

“It doesn’t have to be like that. Rick’s not like that. He’s out there with his people. Gregory should be too, but he’s selfish and arrogant. Most of all, he’s scared because he knows where the blame lies if the Saviors aren’t happy. And I think he’d throw his own people at them in order to save his skin,” Aaron said.

 

Paul smiled and laughed with a huff. “This is why you’re Alexandria’s recruiter. You can read people really well.”

 

“Gregory’s not hard to read. You, on the other hand, are a lot more difficult. I get the feeling there’s more than you’re telling me.”

 

“That might be true, but it’s all I want to share for now. Maybe some other day,” Paul admitted.

 

“That’s fair.” Aaron took another sip of his drink and settled further into his bean bags, crossing his ankles as he stretched out. “So, tell me about Alex. How did you meet?” The scotch was making him brave.

 

“Let’s see. Well, I had been at Hilltop for about a week, and I’d been on a couple scouting missions with the run crew. I discovered rather quickly that I didn’t much care for the way they did things. They took too many risks, and that’s always a bad thing. I tried working with them, but they’d been doing things their own way for too long. The last time I went out with them, we ran into trouble. They don’t work like you and Rick and the rest. They’re not as willing to jump in, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I ended up popping my shoulder out of its socket when I fell on it. We’d almost been overrun, and I didn’t have time to take care of it myself, so as soon as we got back to the Hilltop, I went to the infirmary. Dr. Carson was making his rounds with some of the elderly residents, but there was this cute RN who helped me get my arm back in joint.” Paul smiled as he talked about Alex, and for the first time, Aaron saw that there really was some kind of admiration between them. “We hit it off and he invited me to join him for dinner, and to check on my shoulder. Later, being the gentleman that I am, I offered to walk him back to his room, and in a not so gentlemanly way, I kissed him at the top of the stairs.”

 

“Ah,” Aaron smiled. “A whirlwind romance.”

 

Paul almost seemed to blush, but Aaron couldn’t tell through all that facial hair. “I guess we moved a little faster than most, but the times are different now. Life’s pace has sped up.”

 

“I guess I never realized that you two had a history,” Aaron noted. “I just thought he was … you know . . .”

 

“A booty call?” Paul said for him. “Yeah, I hear people talk, not that it’s any of their business. It wasn’t like that at first. It was really good. I really do care about him. It’s just … he’s always here, and I’m always out there. That’s how it came to be after the Saviors showed up at our gate. Finding supplies was top priority. We knew when they were coming by to collect, back before we started bringing it to them, and we had to make sure we honored our part of the bargain, or lose more of our people. I felt the responsibility to do what I needed to see to my people’s safety. Sometimes I’d be gone for a week or more at a time, just locating supplies. I had to make the decision to sacrifice my relationship with Alex in order to keep peace with the Saviors and protect the people of Hilltop. Because of my decision, we never really got to explore our relationship like a real couple. Alex was always waiting for me when I returned, but … it didn’t feel right. I felt like I was holding him down, making him wait for me. It didn’t seem fair, and soon the guilt got to me. I started staying away more and more, and coming home less. But I’m a man, and I have needs, and like I said, Alex was always there. It’s still like that between us. Alex said he’s okay with it and that he’ll take me any way he can have me, but … I don’t know. I feel like … like I’m just–”

 

“Leading him on?” Aaron interrupted. Paul looked at him with understanding, as though he’d finally met someone who could relate to his situation. Aaron took it a step further. “That’s how I felt about the way I treated Eric.”

 

“You’ve mentioned him before,” Paul said, turning the spotlight on Aaron. “How did you two meet?”

 

Not feeling shy, Aaron shared with Paul a brief look into his past. “Well, I came to Alexandria, met Eric, thought he was cute and nice, thought I’d never meet another gay man again, and jumped right in. Like with you and Alex, it was good in the beginning, but something was missing. I liked him and I cared about him, but I just couldn’t fall in love with him the same way he had with me. That feeling was always with me, and I felt guilty at times. But there wasn’t anyone else who I could confide in, who understood me the way he did. We started recruiting together, but somewhere along the way I became his keeper more than his boyfriend. At least that’s how it felt to me. Eric was in love, and I guess he thought I felt the same. And then one day I was watching a group of survivors at a distance. I saw how they worked together, protected each other, fought together. I noticed how one man in particular would go off on his own, but always come back to the rest.”

 

“Daryl,” Paul said. Aaron nodded and couldn’t help smile.

 

The question had been about Eric, but Aaron’s mind was on Daryl, and talking about him made him feel closer. “I could tell they’d all been out there for a very long time, maybe too long. Daryl held himself in check at all times when he was with the group. But it was when he went off on his own that I saw a man filled with sorrow so much that it made my own heart hurt to watch. And I thought, there’s a man who’s always there for everyone else, but who has no one to go to for himself. I think I fell in love with him right then, watching him sitting on the ground, his back against a tree, knees bent, head hung, and desperate to feel anything. I felt that way too, and I wanted nothing more than to meet him.” Aaron stopped. He’d been so infused in his story, it felt like he was back there again. It hit him like a brick wall when reality set back in. “I need to get him back, Paul. I can’t stand the thought of him needing me, and I’m not doing everything in my power to find him. I know he would do that for me.”

 

“But you have to understand that if you get caught, it will mean his death. These Saviors aren’t people you want to test. I think you know that,” Paul said.

 

“I know,” Aaron whispered. “So what the hell am I supposed to do?”

 

“You got to get back to Alexandria and make sure you don’t give Negan a reason to do anything to Daryl. You have to follow the rules, do as they say. It’s the only way to get him home.”

 

“Yeah, well, one thing I noticed about Negan is that he changes the rules or that he looks for any excuse to prove a point. I just can’t accept playing his game. I’ve got this really bad feeling that he doesn’t want to return Daryl to Alexandria. We find ourselves short on supplies, and there’s Negan’s excuse to keep him. There’s only one way to get Daryl back. I’m going to have to go there. I’m going to have to find a way to get him out.”

 

Paul sighed and shook his head. “You’re one stubborn son of a bitch, you know that? Well, I suppose I couldn’t convince you. I guess you’re going to head on out now.”

 

Aaron took another swig of his Scotch and glanced out of the window. “I think you’re right that I should wait until sunrise.”

 

Paul smiled, glad to hear this. “Good. Hey, I hope I haven’t talked your ear off. I really enjoy talking to you. It’s been a long time since I’ve opened up to anyone.”

 

“It’s been nice. And I like talking with you too. I think we have more in common than–” Aaron’s words were cut off by the sudden blaring of music coming from the yard. Both men jumped up and exited the guard tower to stand at the edge of the roof.

 

Down below, there was an old Pinto with metal grates welded to all of its doors and windows. The music was coming from the car, which sat in the center of the yard. There were several fires burning, scattered around and close to some of the outbuildings. None of the trailers or buildings were burning. These were wood piles set ablaze. The gates were wide open, and they could see walkers coming in, attracted by the fire and the music.

 

“What the hell?” Aaron said, trying to make sense of it.

 

Paul turned to him, his eyes lit with anger and determination. “Saviors.”

 

“They’re here?” Aaron asked.

 

Paul looked back out over the yard. “I don’t see them, but that’s not to say they aren’t lurking outside somewhere.”

 

They could hear people coming out of their rooms, looking from the balcony or their windows, panic in their voices. Paul stood at the edge of the roof and looked down. “I have to go.”

 

“I’m coming with you,” Aaron stated.

 

“Not the way I’m going. Take the stairs, but keep a sharp eye out for Saviors. They can’t know you’re here,” Paul warned. Suddenly, he was climbing over the edge of the roof.

 

Aaron stood a moment, watching him hanging from the edge. What was he doing, Aaron thought? Fearing for his safety, Aaron ran over to see if he was alright. He just caught sight of Paul sliding down between two of the dormers to the roof of the balcony below. Grabbing the edge of the roof, he dropped and swung inward, landing inside the balcony. Aaron was amazed at his agility. He’s never seen anyone perform a stunt like that. Still looking over the roof, Aaron watched Paul's head pop back into view as he looked up to see if Aaron was still there. Paul smiled and waved, then disappeared again. Aaron was about to turn and head for the stairs when he heard Maggie calling.

 

“Jesus, get down to the yard. She’s alone down there,” Maggie said.

 

Aaron’s heart beat quickly as he looked to where Maggie was looking, and saw Sasha, alone, fighting off walkers. “Shit,” he said, and he ran for the stairs.

 

By the time Aaron got out to the yard, Sasha and Paul were fighting walkers, knifing them in their heads. He was glad he’d picked up those knives at the blacksmith, and he took one of them out as he ran in to help his friends. Sasha saw Aaron and relief washed over her face.

 

“Stay with Jesus. I’m going to see about that car,” she said as she dashed off.

 

The music was blaring, but Aaron heard Maggie, who was standing on top of her trailer, as she barked orders to anyone she saw watching the scene unfold. “Get those guards down and get the gate shut.”

 

Aaron had a moments break to see what was happening, and saw the gate guards hanging from the wall. At first he thought they were hanging from their necks, but he saw rope tied around their torsos. They were high enough so that the walkers couldn’t get to them, but they were struggling to get free. Two men ran out of the front doors of the house, heading for the gate. It looked like they had it under control, so Aaron went back to taking out the dead that had come into the yard. He glanced around to make sure Paul was okay, and watched him jump up and spin in midair, kicking walkers to the ground before knifing them. It was like watching a perfectly synchronized dance. He was amazing.

 

Aaron and Paul were making progress with the walkers, but the car was still playing music. The gates were finally closed, so no more dead could get in, but they would still gather outside the wall as long as the music played.

 

“I can’t get in,” Sasha called to Aaron.

 

“Disconnect the battery,” he yelled back.

 

“I tried. The hood is welded too.”

 

That’s when they heard the roar of an engine and turned to find a huge tractor coming from around the side of the house. Maggie was inside. Sasha looked worried, and Aaron knew why. Maggie was supposed to be taking it easy, especially so soon after being injured and sick. She needed to protect the baby.

 

“Shit,” Sasha complained, and she was about to go after Maggie, but Paul was right there and grabbed her arm.

 

“Let her do this. She’s got it,” he told her.

 

Sasha nodded reluctantly, and continued knifing walkers still roaming the yard. Aaron and Paul did the same, but Aaron took note of the authority Paul displayed. Despite what Paul said or thought, he had leadership tendencies. He was able to take hold of a situation, stay calm and start doing anything that needed to be done in order to reverse the problems. So why wasn’t he leading Hilltop?

 

Working as a team, they got the yard back under control. Some more people came out to watch the scene, and when the walkers were taken care of, Paul told them to get water on the fires and put them out. Maggie had used the tractor to run over the car, flattening it until the music stopped. Paul questioned the gate guards, who said they never saw the Saviors until it was too late. They were grabbed from the wall, tied up and strung over the edge like puppets. Maggie and Sasha told them how they were barred in their trailer from the outside, and had to escape through the sunroof. Paul instantly ordered a couple men to check the other trailers and let anyone out who was trapped. If Maggie’s trailer was locked, so would the others.

 

“This kind of thing ever happen before?” Maggie asked Paul.

 

“No. This was a message and a warning, I’m sure,” Paul said.

 

“You think they know about the deal between us and Hilltop?” Sasha wondered.

 

Paul shrugged. “I don’t know. I think they’re trying to find out though.

 

The sun was starting to come up, and after checking on everyone to make sure they were alright, Maggie, Sasha, Paul and Aaron went to Gregory to make another plea to let Maggie stay. After what they had done to protect Hilltop, Paul hoped Gregory would change his mind.

 

“What the hell happened out there?” Gregory said as the group entered his office. He closed the door behind them so they could talk privately.

 

“Maybe if you had come out to help us, you’d know that the Saviors were here last night,” Paul said. It was the first time Aaron saw him stand up and posture against Gregory.

 

“By the time I heard the commotion and got dressed, you all had it under control,” Gregory said.

 

Coward, Aaron thought. This guy was really starting to piss him off. Maybe Maggie shouldn’t stay here. He wished he could go up against Gregory, but this wasn’t his home and they were still trying to convince their fearful leader to accept Maggie as their newest resident, at least temporarily.

 

“If you were watching, then you should have seen that it was Maggie, Sasha and Aaron who saved this place,” Paul argued.

 

“And I appreciate it. I really do, but if you’re looking for me to change my mind about them staying, you’re wrong,” Gregory defended. “They can’t be seen here or the Saviors are going to burn this place to ashes. They’re more harmful being here than if they went home and hoped for the best. Now, I’m sorry Marsha’s got problems with her pregnancy, but that’s not my responsibility. She should have known better than to get knocked up in the first place.”

 

“Her name is Maggie,” Sasha said, ready to get in Gregory’s face. Gregory took a step back and Aaron put a hand on her arm to stop her advancement. They couldn’t push their way in, not this time.

 

“Gregory, you can’t throw them out, not now. We can work with Alexandria, and we can start by helping out one of their own,” Paul tried to persuade.

 

“I can and I will. You know as well as I that what happened here was a message from Negan. The only way we can save ourselves is to send them away and claim plausible deniability. If they talk, we can say we knew nothing about their actions. But if they find anyone from Alexandria here, we’re screwed,” Gregory said. “Therefore, you all have to leave.”

 

“Please,” Sasha begged. “I’ll go and Aaron will go, but let Maggie stay. Jesus can protect her while she’s here. I’m sure a place like this has a lot of hiding spots. I’ll even pay her way by scavenging for her. She won’t be a burden on you.”

 

Aaron was disgusted by the way Gregory’s eyes raked up and down Sasha’s body. “Maybe we can work out some kind of deal … privately.”

 

“Why you son of a–” Aaron seethed taking a step towards Gregory.

 

“No,” Maggie interrupted. “This is enough. Fine. You want us gone, we’re gone, but Alexandria won’t deny the fact that we were working for you.”

 

“You can’t go,” Sasha demanded. “You heard Dr. Carson. It’s better if you’re here in case something goes wrong.”

 

Paul stepped forward in front of Gregory and took over. “Maggie stays,” he simply said.

 

“Oh, does she?” Gregory returned with an arrogant tilt of his head. “So what is this, Jesus? Are you challenging me and my position? Are you going to try and take leadership? Of course, maybe if you’d stick around more than five minutes, you might still have people backing you. Maybe you should go with these three … leave Hilltop for good. You can’t though, can you?”

 

Paul stared Gregory down, but Aaron could see a hint of defeat in his eyes, as though Gregory held some kind of information over Paul's head. He took a deep breath and regained his composure, a sly smile threatening the corner of his mouth, and his eyes narrowed like the cunning of a fox. “I can go out there right now and let everyone in Hilltop know about the deal you made with Alexandria. I can tell them all the details of that deal because I was there. You won’t be able to deny it, and the people will believe me. I might not be here all the time, but I’ve done a lot for these people, and they know that I look out for them, which is more than I can say for you. Try explaining to them how you’d send a pregnant woman out there.”

 

Gregory was cornered, and everyone could see it on his face. “You really want to go there?”

 

“I just did,” Paul challenged.

 

Everyone was holding their breath to see what the outcome of this feud would be when they heard engines and shouts coming from outside. Paul tore himself away to look out the window. “Shit. They’re here. Saviors.”

 

“I knew this was going to happen,” Gregory complained. “Jesus, get them out of here.”

 

“Not until you agree to let them stay,” Paul argued.

 

Gregory could see he was trapped into making a deal. There wasn’t any time left.“Okay, fine, they can stay,” he agreed reluctantly. “Just get them out of here. Hide them in the hall closet.”

 

“But–” Paul started.

 

“Just do it. Now!” Gregory demanded, pushing them out of his office. He closed the door on them, seeming to hide like a tortoise in its shell.

 

Back out in the foyer, Paul led them to the closet and opened the door. There were a couple boxes stacked on top of each other, and not enough room to hide one, let alone three people. Aaron noticed that the box on top held bottles of Scotch, the same kind they were drinking last night. This was Gregory’s personal stash. The same sly look came back to Paul's face as he turned to Aaron. “I want you to go up to my room and hide there. You should be safe.”

 

“What about the women?” Aaron asked.

 

“I’ve got another place for them. Worst case scenario, you won’t all be found in the same spot,” Paul said.

 

“What?” Sasha almost yelled.

 

“Trust me,” Paul said in a calm tone.

 

Aaron didn’t argue. He flew up the stairs, taking them two at a time. He could see men filing out of the trucks in the yard. They were heading straight for the house. He rushed down the hall, and when he reached Paul's room, the door a couple rooms down opened, and Alex stepped out. Aaron froze.

 

“Negan’s men are here,” Alex stated.

 

“I know,” Aaron said.

 

“Where’s Paul?”

 

“He’s helping my friends hide.”

 

“Oh, that’s right. Don’t want Negan finding out about the arrangement,” Alex said condescendingly.

 

“You know about that?”

 

“Paul tells me everything. We don’t keep secrets. Not until lately anyway.”

 

That was a shot at Aaron, but now was not the time for petty arguing. “So you know how important it is that the Saviors don’t find us here.”

 

“Where are you going?”

 

“Paul told me to hide in his room.”

 

Alex glared at him a moment. Again, Paul had let someone other than Alex into his room without his presence. For a moment, Aaron didn’t trust what was going through Alex’s mind. He stood straight and pulled his shoulders back. “Are you going to turn me in?”

 

They stood there staring at each other in the hall. The sound of many booted feet filled the foyer. Negan’s men were in the house. Aaron worried that some of them were going to come upstairs. Alex wasn’t answering. He wasn’t moving either. Finally, he sighed and rolled his eyes. “Go,” he said.

 

Aaron reached for the door handle to Paul's room, but at the last second, Alex stopped him. “Wait,” he said regretfully. It was killing him to have to make this decision. “Come in my room instead.”

 

“Why?” Aaron asked, skeptical of anything Alex said or did.

 

“More places to hide,” he answered, and turned towards his room. Aaron followed without any more questions.

 

Alex’s room was more decorated than Paul's. He had framed photos sitting around on tables and shelves. He had a small couch and a bed, a two person table to sit at, lots of little mementos strewn about here and there. The bed was with covered with a deep purple flowered duvet made of silk, and multiple pillows were stacked neatly at the headboard. There was a cedar chest at the foot of the bed, and a row of clear glass votive candle holders, each with a white candle inside. The two side tables by the bed were each covered with a rich red scarf. The larger table had a blue vase with a bunch of wild flowers arranged neatly within. It was a quaint little room, a love nest, a place of warmth, comfort and safety, a place made with someone else in mind.

 

“Have a seat,” Alex offered, gesturing to the couch.

 

“Shouldn’t I hide somewhere?” Aaron asked.

 

“As long as I’ve lived here, they’ve never been up in the rooms,” Alex said.

 

“There’s always a first time,” Aaron said nervously.

 

“Paul wouldn’t have sent you up here if he thought you were in danger of discovery,” Alex said with a cool tone. Aaron was at his mercy now. “I know how his mind works. You’re safe.”

 

“Thanks,” Aaron replied. He kept his eye on Aaron as he took a seat. Once he settled he glanced around the room. “How long have you lived at Hilltop?”

 

“Almost from the beginning. I came here to help out. I’d heard that FEMA set up a station here, and thought my talents could be used. I wasn’t here long when they were told to evacuate. A lot of people left with them, some of us didn’t, and now we have Hilltop Colony.” It was the short version of the story, but Alex didn’t seem to want to discuss his past. “What about you? How did you find Alexandria?”

 

“Came upon it with a small group of people. Some left to find loved ones. A couple of us stayed. Similar story to yours,” Aaron said with the same kind of terse answer.

 

“Paul said you live in luxury,” Alex said. “Huge houses, running water, electricity.”

 

“Alexandria was created for bureaucrats in Washington. It was made to be self-sustaining if the grid went down. I guess they didn’t prepare for the dead to rise.”

 

“Honey, no one was prepared for that,” Alex said with a flick of his hand. He turned more serious as his gaze fell on Aaron. “You know you’ve put us all at risk by being here.”

 

“And you put us at risk by not telling us that there were more Saviors than the ones at that compound,” Aaron countered.

 

“That’s all we thought there were,” Alex defended. “We had no idea there were more. The same group always seemed to come here, and when we were told to deliver our good to them, it was always at that station.”

 

“You expect me to believe that a group of thirty people was enough for you to bow down to these assholes?”

 

“They killed a sixteen year old boy right out there,” Alex said pointing toward the direction of the yard. “They took our guns and ammo. Gregory said he wouldn’t risk more lives. Whether it’s one person or thirty, a gun trumps a knife any day. The Saviors were more heavily armed.”

 

That seemed like a poor excuse to Aaron. He remembered that night in the woods and used it to counter Alex’s excuse. “They toyed with us, played some kind of cat and mouse game, made us run around and bounce from one place to another before they captured us. And then we were introduced to Negan.  He screwed with each and every one of us until we were physically and mentally incapable of resisting his threats. But his main goal was to break our leader, and to do that he had to kill two of our people and steal a third. And all because they found out that we were the ones who paid a visit to their compound. If we were cowards like Gregory, we might have told Negan who we were working for, but we didn’t because we were still protecting you. So don’t talk to me about risks. Hilltop never even tried.” Alex had no reply, and Aaron turned away from him. He took a deep breath to regain his composure. “Those men downstairs know where our man is, and we want him back. There’s a missed opportunity going on, and I’m helpless to do anything about it because I’m STILL protecting Hilltop. Sooner or later, you are going to have to return the favor. Paul knows that. That’s why he’s down there fighting for Maggie to stay.”

 

“Well, I can honestly say I agree with you about that. Gregory, though … he’s not going to budge on the matter."

 

“Gregory is an asshole,” Aaron said.

 

This made Alex smile as a laughed slowly bubbled to the surface. “You’re not the only one to feel that way.”

 

“Then why do you let him stay in charge? Paul should be the one running Hilltop. He practically does, but you’d never know it. Gregory just takes the credit. You care so much for Paul, why don’t you fight for him?” Aaron said.

 

“It’s not that simple. And besides, I don’t think Paul wants that position.” Alex hung his head. “He’s hardly ever here anymore.” The sadness in his voice was unmistakable.

 

Aaron thought about the conversation he had with Paul earlier. Paul had admitted to some personal feelings. It might not be Aaron’s place to do so, but he felt that Alex needed a boost. “If he’s gone away so much, I don’t think it’s because he doesn’t want to be here. It’s because he believes in Hilltop. He’s protecting his home by going out there and doing the difficult job. He’s doing it because he has someone here to come home to.” Aaron paused and waited for Alex to glance at him. “He really does care about you.” That earned him a hint of a smile from Alex, so he continued to prove his point. “What you said about Paul's feelings towards me are wrong. He’s a friend and an ally. That’s all. I’ve already found my soulmate, and I’d never do anything to threaten our bond.” Aaron paused to swallow the lump in his throat. “If I ever see him again.”

 

Alex leaned forward with his elbows on his knees as though contemplating something. His head bobbed a couple times, agreeing with himself silently before he spoke. “I saw the trucks pull into the yard. One of them, the white one, they call it Negan’s truck. I don’t know what they do or where they go after visiting our place, but I do know that white truck always goes back to their compound.”

 

Aaron slowly looked up at Alex, who was giving him a clue as to what to do next. “How do I get out of here?”

 

“You’re best bet is to wait until they’ve loaded the trucks and they’re just about ready to take off,” Alex told him. “As long as they’re downstairs, you can’t get out.”

 

Aaron finally had hope again. If he could get downstairs and sneak into that truck, he could hitch a ride right into enemy territory. It was another huge risk, but it was better than tracking them on foot. He started forming a plan. This was the break he’d been looking for. Aaron glanced up at Alex. “Thank you,” he whispered meaningfully. He got up and went to the door.

 

“Wait,” Alex panicked. “Where are you going?”

 

“I’m listening,” Aaron said as he cracked the door open. The voices were hushed, but he could still hear the Saviors downstairs. He would keep listening until it was quiet so that he could leave quickly. Paul would be able to tell him how to sneak out without being seen. While he waited, a question popped in the back of his mind. Alex had been so accusing ever since he met him. Now Aaron wondered why he changed his mind. He closed the door and looked over his shoulder to Alex. “Why are you helping me?” It was a fair question considering their arguments since he arrived at Hilltop.

 

“It’s easy for me to put myself in your position. Every time Paul leaves, my worry is nonstop. I don’t know where he’s gone or how long it will be before he returns. But so far, he’s always come home. I’ve gotten used to it being that way. Seeing you and hearing your story reminds me that there is still the chance Paul won’t come home, and that I might never know what happened to him.” Alex stopped to give Aaron a slight comforting smile. “At least you have the chance to find out where your man is, and the hope that you can bring him home.”

 

It took a while, but finally Aaron heard the Saviors leaving. He waited a few more minutes to make sure they were all outside and away from the house. He looked back once more at Alex.

 

“Good luck,” Alex said, and Aaron gave him a nod before sneaking from the bedroom.

 

He went to the head of the stairs and looked over the banister to the foyer below, being cautious all the way. It was empty downstairs, but then he heard muffled voices above him, on the third floor. It sounded like a heated argument, and one of the voices was definitely Paul. Aaron climbed the stairs and followed the voices, which led him to Gregory’s elaborate bedroom. Maggie, Sasha, Paul and Gregory were there. Gregory looked angry. So did everyone else. They all turned when they heard Aaron enter the room.

 

“Where the hell did you hide him?” Gregory complained.

 

“Don’t try to change the subject,” Maggie told him. “The fact is, you tried to turn us in.”

 

“He what?” Aaron said with surprise. He glared at Gregory. “We were supposed to have a deal.”

 

“I haven’t agreed to anything,” Gregory said with a pugnacious jutting of his chin.

 

Paul came over to stand next to Aaron. “I had a feeling he might try something when he told me to hide the women in the closet. He gestured to the closet in the hall, which I know is where he keeps the Scotch. Instead I brought them up here to his bedroom closet.” Paul gave Gregory a sly smile.

 

“You owe us now,” Maggie seethed. “And I’m staying.”

 

Gregory could see he was losing authority. He gave Paul a pleading look. “Jesus, you’ll support me on this, won’t you?”

 

“She stays,” Paul said firmly.

 

Gregory’s face fell back into anger, and he stormed out of his room. When he was gone, everyone smiled at their accomplishment. Paul approached Maggie and took her hand. “I’m sorry I didn’t try harder to begin with. I hope I can make it up to you.”

 

“It’s alright,” Maggie smile kindly. “It worked out … for now at least.”

 

Aaron was glad for the way things turned out. Knowing Maggie and Sasha could stay at Hilltop was a load off of his mind, but there was still one very important mission to carry out, and he needed Paul's help. However, he couldn’t talk to him with the women here. He didn’t want them to know what he was doing, especially Maggie. She would insist that he didn’t go or that she would go with him, and she was in no condition to put herself under any more pressure and strain. Sasha would probably offer to go instead, and Aaron didn’t want that either. If things took a turn for the worst, he wanted to be the only one responsible. He couldn’t stand to see any more of his friends die at Negan’s hands.

 

He glanced over Sasha’s shoulder to the yard below. The men were still loading up a truck, taking things from the blacksmith and the kitchen, and whatever other stuff they decided to take. Alex had been right about them not coming upstairs. Anything the Saviors were interested in was on the bottom floor of the house.

 

A man came out with a painting, and took it to the white van. Aaron had seen the painting in Gregory’s office. It was a priceless piece of art, Gregory’s pride and joy, according to Paul. This was his punishment, Aaron thought. More so, the painting was going to the white van, Negan’s truck, the one that would head straight to the Saviors compound. Aaron needed to get down there quickly before it left.

 

“You shouldn’t stand so close to the window,” Paul told Maggie, who was watching and studying the men below. Aaron knew what she was doing. She was memorizing faces, watching to see who was in charge, who had more authority, and who was just there to load trucks.

 

“That man,” she said, pointing. “Who is he?”

 

“That’s Simon. He’s one of Negan’s lead men,” Paul said.

 

“He was there that night. He was at some of the road blocks too.” Her eyes narrowed on the man.

 

“I know what you’re thinking, but you can’t,” Sasha said.

 

“Yeah, I know, but one day . . .” Maggie said quietly. Then she left the room.

 

Aaron leaned into Paul's ear and whispered. “Can I talk to you privately?”

 

Paul nodded and led Aaron from the room. Maggie was already descending the stairs. Paul took Aaron further down the hall to a sitting room, apparently a place where the head of the house could reflect quietly without interruption. “What is it?” Paul asked.

 

“I’m going,” Aaron said.

 

“Right now? But the Saviors are still downstairs.”

 

“I know, and that’s why I need to go now. Alex told me that–”

 

“Alex?” Paul questioned.

 

Aaron nodded. “He saw me going to your room to hide and took me into his room instead.”

 

“What did he tell you?”

 

“He said the white truck goes back to the Savior’s compound.”

 

Paul sighed and shook his head. “Aaron, no,” he said, already figuring out what Aaron wanted to do.

 

“Just help me get to that van, that’s all I ask,” Aaron pleaded.

 

“And what happens if you’re caught? Simon and his men will turn right around and search ever corner of Hilltop until they find Maggie and Sasha. They’ll kill you. And lastly, they’ll make another example out of Daryl. Is that what you want?”

 

“I want Daryl home with me. I want to know he’s alright and not being tortured. I want him back in my arms, safe and sound.” The passion in Aaron’s eyes was unmistakable. He would risk it all for Daryl because Daryl would do it for him. “We had a deal and I stayed until sunrise. It’s way past that now. I have to go, and an opportunity has just presented itself that I can’t pass up.”

 

Paul shook his head again and paced back and forth a couple times before stopping in front of Aaron. “I’ll go.”

 

“What? No,” Aaron disagreed. “You need to stay here and make sure Gregory doesn’t try anything.”

 

“Have you seen Maggie? Do you even know Sasha? They aren’t timid little girls. Besides, I’ve talked to a few of my friends here, and they agree with Maggie staying. They don’t care much for Gregory either, and they’ll have no problem going up against him if he tries something. In the short amount of time she’s been here, she already has more support than Gregory ever has.”

 

“But I have to do this. I need to do this,” Aaron argued.

 

“What you need to do is to get back to Alexandria before Negan shows up. They’ll be counting heads. They know who was there that night. If any of you are missing, they’ll get really suspicious.”

 

“But–” Aaron resisted, but he was cut off again.

 

“Please, Aaron,” Paul said. He had a hand on each of Aaron’s shoulders, and was looking him deep into his eyes. “Please, let me do this. Let me help you. I want to do this for you. And besides, I’m good when it comes to stealth. I won’t let them see me. I won’t let them catch me. I will bring Daryl back. I promise.” To further make his point, Paul cupped the side of Aaron face and gave him a friendly pat. “I … will … bring … him … back.”

 

No one but Daryl had ever looked him in the eyes and made a solid promise. Paul meant every word he said, and somehow, Aaron trusted that he would bring Daryl home to him. He couldn’t speak, but he nodded in agreement. He felt raw and exposed, all of his emotions jumbling together in a tangled mess. He needed to show Paul how much this meant to him, and all he could think to do was hug him. Aaron grasped Paul, pulling him into his chest, and held him tight. “Thank you,” he whispered several times. Aaron was prepared to do this himself, but the fact that someone else finally recognized his fears and concern was reassuring to him.

 

“Paul?” said a soft voice from the doorway.

 

Paul released Aaron, but he smiled and nodded before he turned his attention to the door. Both men looked over to see Alex standing there, watching them.

 

“Alex,” Paul replied, and there was something soft and sweet in his voice.

 

“Uh, what’s going on?” Alex said.

 

Paul went to Alex and took his hand. “I have to go.”

 

“Go where?” Alex asked with concern.

 

“There’s something I have to do, but you don’t have to worry–”

 

“You’re going with Aaron, aren’t you?” Alex accused when he cut Paul's words short.

 

Alex still thought Aaron was sneaking off with the Saviors. Aaron suddenly felt guilty after knowing how Alex felt about Paul leaving all the time.

 

“I’m not going with him. He’s leaving for Alexandria,” Paul said.

 

Alex glared at Aaron, who was still standing in the center of the sitting room. Then he grabbed Paul's arm and pulled him away from the doorway. “You’re going in his place. Goddammit, you’re going looking for the Savior’s compound,” Alex said with anger.

 

“Aaron can’t go. Negan is probably on his way to Alexandria right now. He needs to get back there before he’s missed. I told him I’d go and find Daryl. I’m going and that’s it.” Paul put his foot down, not wanting to argue with Alex. There were daggers shooting from Alex’s eyes as he stared Paul down, but Paul ignored it and smiled, leaning in and kissing him to try and calm him. Alex tried to resist by not responding, but his body relaxed as he melded into Paul's kiss. Aaron watched the exchange for a moment, but turned his head, feeling like he needed to give them privacy. Alex’s eyes were still closed and his lips parted when Paul released him. His eyes slowly opened, a pleading gaze falling on his lover.

 

“I wish you would stay, but I know there is nothing I can say to make you change your mind,” Alex told him.

 

“You know me so well,” Paul responded with another sweet smile. He glanced out the window and saw the last of the men leaving through the gate. “There’s not much time left. I’ve gotta go.” He kissed Alex’s forehead, and then the bridge of his nose. Then he took a step back and glanced over to Aaron. Paul nodded, reassuring Aaron of his promise to find Daryl. After that, he was gone, flying downstairs and heading in the direction of the kitchen. Aaron knew there was an exit in the kitchen where Paul would sneak out and make his way to the white van.

 

Alex turned back to Aaron after Paul was gone. Aaron was afraid of what he would say. He looked worried and upset. Aaron felt bad, and he started to explain. “I was ready to go, but Paul wouldn’t let me. I made my argument, but his was better.”

 

“No one can stop Paul once he puts his mind to something,” Alex said sadly. “All we can do now is hope both our men return.” He turned and walked away without another word.



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