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 44 Nothing For You Here



Aaron was making his way back to Alexandria in a car that Paul gave him. He had just watched a group of Saviors invade Hilltop, accusing Gregory of working with the people who destroyed one of their outposts. When the Saviors left, Paul disappeared too. He promised Aaron that he would get Daryl back, but that Aaron needed to get to Alexandria before Negan showed and noticed him missing. It wouldn’t have been a long journey by car, but his car broke down about five miles out. He could have gone back to Hilltop, but he knew it was more important to get to Alexandria. It would mean spending a night in the open, but he could be home by the next morning.


He was careful as he traveled, watching for straggler Saviors that might have been patrolling the area. He didn’t see anyone. Cutting through a section of forest, he knew he could shave off some time from his travels. Aaron went as far as he could go before exhaustion took over, found a halfway decent place to make camp, rested until first light, and headed out again. He had been lucky, as far as walkers were concerned. There didn’t seem to be many around this place.


Soon, he started to recognize the terrain. He was close to home. The final stretch of road was beneath his feet. He stopped when he saw smoke rising into the air, and ran in that direction. At first, he thought it might be the town on fire, but it was in the wrong area. When he got there, he found a huge pile of mattresses still smoldering. They had been lit on fire. Aaron looked around the area and didn’t see any bodies, thank goodness. Seeing this, he hurried and ran the rest of the way home. He stopped at one of the abandoned houses and assessed the outside of Alexandria’s border. He didn’t see any Saviors. It looked to be a quiet morning. He could see Father Gabriel at the top of the wall. Aaron came out and made his way to the gate. Father Gabriel shaded his eyes and watched until Aaron got close enough to be recognized. He smiled wide and called down for the gate to be opened. Aaron was never so glad to be home, but a part of him was still out there, wondering where Daryl was, and hoping Paul would bring him back soon.


The gate slid open, and Caleb flew out toward Aaron. He wrapped his arms around Aaron, briefly, and then released him to give a hurried explanation of the events that happened just the day before. His sentences ran one into the other.


“The Saviors were here. They came early. Rick told them that, but they didn’t care, and they took a bunch of our stuff, and no one has a bed anymore because they took all the mattresses, and Michonne said she found them burning. They took all the guns and a bunch of other things from all the houses and–”


“Woah, woah,” Aaron stopped him. “I know about the mattresses. I saw then on my way home. Those were ours?”


“Yeah. I think they did it just to spite us,” Caleb continued. “I mean, they were taking everything, going through every house, loading vans and . . .” Caleb stopped, the excitement too much that he seemed to lose his train of thought. “Oh shit. Oh shit, I should have told you this first.”


“What,” Aaron said worriedly, his stomach clenching.


“Daryl was here. They brought Daryl with them. I tried to talk to him, but they wouldn’t let me.”


Aaron placed his hands on each of Caleb’s shoulders to anchor him so he could make the boy focus. “Daryl was here? Is he still here?”


Caleb shook his head. “They made him go with them when they left.”


“How did he look? Did he look okay?” Aaron said urgently.


“He looked kind of rough, man. Looked like someone beat the shit out of him. His eyes were blackened, lip split. They made him look at the ground most of the time, and wouldn’t let anyone communicate with him. He was shaking like he just wasn’t himself.” Caleb slowed down as he told Aaron about Daryl. “I’m sorry. Rick tried to get Negan to let Daryl stay, but he said he had better use for him with the Saviors.”


“Did anyone say anything about Hilltop?” Aaron asked.


“Not that I know of.”


“Where’s Rick?” Aaron needed to talk to him.


“He’s out on a run. Said he’d be back soon.”


“By himself?” Aaron asked.


“He wouldn’t take anyone with him, and you weren’t here. He’s been gone a couple days.”


“Christ,” Aaron said loud. “And no one’s gone out to look for him?”


“He told us not to leave, except . . .” Caleb cut his words off when he realized he’s said too much.


“Don’t hold out on me, Caleb. What’s going on?”


“You have to swear not to tell anyone this.”


“Shit, what is it?” Aaron said, already regretting it.


“When Rick left, so did Carl.”


“What? Where the hell did Carl go?” He was only gone for a week and already things were falling apart.


Caleb didn’t speak at first. When Aaron crossed his arms and stared at him, he knew he had no other choice. “Rick and Carl had an argument. Carl thinks we need to go after the Saviors. Rick thinks we need to do as we’re told so that we have supplies when Negan comes back. No one knows for sure when that will be.”


“Oh for God’s sake. Carl went after Negan?” Aaron asked.


“No. He’s not stupid. He knows he can’t do it alone. He went to Hilltop … with … with Enid.”


“Enid’s gone too?” The news was just getting worse with every answer to every question.


“Enid was skipping out to go to Hilltop to see Maggie. Carl caught her leaving and followed her. He said when he gets there, he’s going to try to talk to Jesus and Maggie and see if he can get them to agree that they should find out where the Saviors live.”


A couple days ago, Aaron thought. That was about the time he left, but he didn’t see Carl or Enid. Maybe they just missed each other. If Carl was looking for Paul, he wasn’t going to find him. Paul was already gone to follow the Saviors. All he could hope for was that Maggie and Sasha took Carl and Enid in to keep them safe.


“With all this mess, at least you’re still here, and you better stay here too,” Aaron scolded.


“I’m not going anywhere,” Caleb promised. “So, how is Maggie? Is she still . . .”


“Yes, she’s still pregnant. She has to take it easy, though. Their doctor wants her to stay until she delivers the baby. Sasha is staying with her.”


“Rick told everyone what happened. People are upset about Glenn and Abraham. Some are angry, some are scared. A few people are upset with Rick for giving in to Negan. They want to fight, but Rick said we’re outnumbered,” Caleb said.


“We are,” Aaron admitted. “We can’t fight them, not with our numbers. We need more people. I’ve been talking to Paul … uh … Jesus, and he agrees, but it’s not easy convincing Hilltop’s leader to make a move.”


“You know, Rick and Michonne aren’t seeing eye to eye either. She wants to fight too. Rick’s scared though. He’s worried about more people dying, so he said we need to try and make this new situation work with Negan.”


“For now, I think that’s the best idea. They still have Daryl as leverage. Until we get him back . . .” Aaron’s words trailed off. It was difficult to talk about it. “I wish I had been here.”


“I could tell he was looking for you. He was searching the crowd for you. I wish I could have talked to him and told him where you were, but I couldn’t get close enough to him, and he had a guard the whole time. I knew better than to mention Hilltop while the Saviors were here.”


“That’s good, Caleb. That’s very good. You’re a smart kid. You know what to do,” Aaron praised him.


“If it’s okay,” Caleb asked. “Could I crash at your place for now? With Rick and Carl gone, I didn’t want to stay there alone, so I was staying with Olivia, but she’s kind of freaked out right now. It makes me nervous to be around her. Negan was an asshole to her, insulted her, threatened her. I’ll tell you about what went down when we get to your place later. I mean, if it’s alright with you.”


Aaron smiled at the boy and pulled him in for a hug. “Of course it’s okay, but I guess you’ll have to sleep on the floor.”


“You will too,” Caleb returned. “Everyone is.”


Aaron shook his head and mumbled, “Bastards.”


That night, Aaron made Caleb a bed with the comforter from the bed he no longer had. There were extra sheets and blankets in one of the closets that the Saviors didn’t take. Aaron made his own bed next to Caleb. They talked for a while, and Caleb told him what happened, how they found the guns, and how they almost killed Olivia because one was missing. Aaron asked Caleb to tell him about Daryl, how he looked and acted. Aaron was so worried for him. He couldn’t imagine what they’d done to him, and he didn’t know why Negan was keeping him. Mind games, Aaron told himself. That was how Negan dealt with people. He got in their heads. How had he gotten into Daryl’s head, he wondered? Before drifting off to a light sleep, Aaron said a silent prayer for Daryl’s safe return.




Morning came in through the windows, bright and invading. Aaron woke up, but he hadn’t slept much. His worry for Daryl was taking over. Ever since that night in the woods, Aaron had hardly slept. He feared what dreams would bring.


He looked over at Caleb’s makeshift bed and found it empty. It seemed that Aaron wasn’t the only one not sleeping much these days. He got up and threw on his pants. There was nothing in the house to eat, and he was starving, so he decided to go down to the pantry. As soon as he got there he saw Rick, who had just come back. Rick seemed relieved to see Aaron. He was even more relieved to hear about Maggie and Sasha. Both men filled each other in on the things that happened over the past week. Aaron kept waiting for Rick to ask about Carl, but he had something important to discuss first.


“I found something. It’s pretty far out there, but I think it’s loaded with supplies,” Rick explained. “There’s this place with warning signs posted every once in a while to detour people. It doesn’t look like anyone has attempted to go too far onto his property. I kept going until I came to a lake … and there’s a houseboat on the other side. Problem is, I can’t do this alone. Whoever’s stuff is on that boat, they took measures to make sure no one could simply run off with their stash. It’s like a puzzle. It’s going to take two people to pull this off. I need your help, Aaron.”


“You’ve got it, Rick.” Aaron clapped a hand on Rick’s shoulder. “When do you want to go?”


“Let’s go now,” Rick said.


“But you just got here. Don’t you want to rest or–”


“We need these supplies now. I can’t count on the Saviors coming back when they say they will. I was unprepared before because they came early. We have to maintain a good relationship with them,” Rick said, but there was fear in his voice. Aaron had never seen him behave this way before. Rick had always fought back, but now he was letting someone else take the lead. Aaron understood why. He’d been there that night, watched his friends die, watched Daryl get hauled away. Any more risks could result in more deaths, and that was something Rick obviously didn’t want on his conscience.


“I’m with you,” Aaron told him. “I’m with you all the way.”


“Thanks. That’s good to know,” Rick said sincerely. “I just need to check in with Carl first, and then we can–” He paused because Aaron wasn’t good at keeping secrets. It showed on his face. “What is it?”


“I don’t know everything because I just got here yesterday, but I talked to Caleb, and he said that Carl and Enid left for Hilltop.”


Rick’s hand went into his hair, and he began pacing, his worn boot clicking on the asphalt. “Hilltop?”


“Yeah. Apparently, he’s concerned about everything just as much as you, but he’s got different ideas about how to deal with our new business partners,” Aaron put it as easily as possible.


Rick hung his head and slowly moved it from side to side. “That boy’s got his mom’s stubbornness,” he murmured. He looked up at Aaron, putting his hand behind his neck. “Dammit. That’s why he wouldn’t go with me. He knew he was leaving.”


“He’s a good kid, Rick. He went with Enid because he didn’t want her to go alone. And Enid went because she’s worried about Maggie. You know how they’ve bonded lately.” Aaron was trying to stay neutral and support both sides of the Grime’s men. “Maggie and Sasha will look after them. The roads to Hilltop are fairly clear, and I didn’t see any Saviors along the way. Carl knows what to do. He’s learned from the best. And you know, with the focus on Alexandria right now, maybe it’s better that they went to Hilltop.”


Rick cocked his head and watched Aaron with a skeptical eye. “I know you’re telling me this to make me feel better. Well, I don’t, but you’re a good talker. You always were.”


“Thanks, I guess,” Aaron said.




It took a couple hours to reach the place Rick spoke of. They had taken a box van, anticipating their haul. If it was a bust, they’d be out of luck, and agreed to keep searching other places for supplies. Rick felt confident they would find supplies on the houseboat. Aaron remained skeptical.


Rick stopped the van in front of a rusty metal gate with a hand painted sign attached to it that read, ‘Keep Going. Only thing here 4 you is trouble.’ They had seen other signs along the way. Aaron thought it was odd to leave warning signs around that actually led the way to the very place someone was trying to protect.


“We’ll leave the truck here until we know for sure whether we need it or not. I don’t want to take it, in case there’s booby traps or something. The road is littered with potholes too,” Rick explained. They left the van at the gate and walked the rest of the way, fighting off mosquitos and wasps, and the occasional snake that slithered out from under their feet. None of this bothered Rick. He was a man on a mission, and Aaron had no choice but to follow him. No matter what had happened or how things were changing, Aaron would always consider Rick his leader. At one point, he told Rick this. It was important that he knew.



They reached the lake, which was more the size of a large pond. It was surrounded by trees and underbrush. Aaron saw the houseboat across the water. It looked like it had been there for a very long time, but it was still floating. The challenge was getting to the houseboat. The first thing Aaron noticed was the walkers floating across every part of the lake, staggered around as though they were anchored in their places. Most of them were animated, and the sight of Rick and Aaron excited them. Swimming across the snake infested water was not an option. At their feet, resting on the shore, there was a rowboat, but it was riddled with bullet holes. In the center of the lake was another small boat with life vests inside. It was obvious what they had to do to reach the houseboat.


Aaron shaded his eyes from the sun and weighed their options. “What kind of Indiana Jones shit is this?” he said.


“This is going to fill with water, but if we row fast enough, I think we can make it to the halfway point before it completely sinks. Then we take the second boat to the houseboat, provided that there aren’t any more tests we must pass,” Rick said.


Aaron scratched his head and looked around for another way. There wasn’t one. This was it.


“You don’t have to do this,” Rick said when he saw Aaron’s hesitation.


“I didn’t come all this way to stand by and watch you,” Aaron answered, his ire evident. “I’ve stood by long enough. I’ve let others dictate what I should and shouldn’t do, and I’ve regretted some of my decisions to do so. I’m here for one reason, and one reason only … because this is what Daryl would do. This is what he would want me to do. I fight for him, for his safe return, because I need him back, and if risking my life to cross this lake gets me one step closer to him, then that’s what I have to do.” Aaron looked behind him to another sign someone erected. It was constructed of wooden boards, just the right size to use as oars. He marched off and kicked the bottom panels from the uprights, and brought back two split boards, giving one to Rick. “Now, let’s get this shit done.”


They dragged the first boat into the water and hopped in. The wood boards worked well to help row to the center of the lake. Walkers clawed at the boat, and the men used the splintered end of the boards to stab them in their heads. Soon, the walkers were surrounding them, rocking the small hole-filled boat. They were becoming overwhelmed and the boat was filling quickly with water. Rick managed to get into the second boat while Aaron waited for his turn. Suddenly, Aaron felt skeletal hands grab his jacket, and he couldn’t get loose. He tried to jerk away but the boat was becoming unstable. It was just about to sink.


Aaron was dragged into the water as the boat went under. He splashed and tried to swim backwards to get away from the threat, but there were more behind him. He looked at Rick one last time. “Get to the house boat, now!” he yelled before he went under the water. Aaron could hear Rick screaming for him, desperately shouting his name. He could feel the dead hands holding onto him, and anticipated the feel of teeth at any moment. The water was murky, and he couldn’t see a thing. He kicked at the hands on his legs and yanked his arms out of the dead’s grip, as he dove deeper under the water. God only knew what was down this far. It was possible there were more walkers on the bottom. He could very well be swimming towards a watery herd.


“I’ll fight for you until the last breath leaves my lungs,” he remembered Daryl telling him once. Aaron held his last breath in his burning lungs, and to take it would mean to drown. If that’s what he needed to do, he would do it with Daryl being the last thought in his mind. Suddenly he felt himself freed for only a moment, and took advantage of the lapse. He kicked and struggled upwards until he finally broke the surface, sucking in a huge breath of much needed oxygen.


“Aaron,” Rick was calling out to him.


Aaron saw that Rick was in the second boat. He’d made it, thank God. “I’m okay. I’m okay,” he repeated to assure not only Rick, but himself also. Aaron had made it closer to the houseboat while struggling underwater. He used the last of his energy to get to the deck of the boat, climbed the ladder and collapsed on his back, desperately trying to regain his breath. Rick rowed over and both men were finally on the houseboat. After a brief rest, they got up and started searching the boat.


There was an assortment of items, most of it boxed up already. Someone had been collecting for a while it seemed. There was some food, but not a lot. There were some guns too, but no ammo. Most of it was junkyard finds. At this point, they didn’t care. As long as they had something to give Negan when he returned, and keep Alexandria safe, that’s all that mattered.


Aaron was looking through some of the boxes of goods, and found a piece of paper with a drawing of a hand giving the middle finger. He showed it to Rick. “Congrats for winning, but you still lose,” Aaron read from the hand drawn note. “What do you think? Same guy who made all those signs that led us here?”


“Yeah … well … his loss is our gain, so who’s the loser?” Rick said as he rummaged through another box.


Aaron put the note back in the box where he found it and closed the lid. He walked out onto the deck and gazed across the lake where they came from. “The wind has picked up a bit. I think if we undo the moorings, we can just drift back to the other side.”


“Good. In the meantime, let’s get all of the loose stuff boxed,” Rick said. As they worked, Rick spoke to Aaron about their conversation before crossing the water. “I’m sorry if I insulted you earlier. I didn’t mean to say you couldn’t help me. I just don’t want to put anyone in harm’s way. I don’t want to lose any more people. I’ve lost enough.”


“You didn’t do anything to cause that,” Aaron said, as he stopped what he was doing. “Glenn, Abraham … all of us were there that night because we believe in what we have in Alexandria and we believe in each other. We do things together or not at all. That’s how you’ve always done it, Rick, and that’s how we continue to do it. That’s why we still follow you even now with the new law and trade agreement. Everyone knows you want what best for the community.”


“Michonne doesn’t feel that way,” Rick admitted. It was the first time Rick had ever opened up with something personal to Aaron, and he listened intently. “She says what we’re doing, what we’ve agreed to, it isn’t living.” Rick picked up a box and moved it near the deck before he continued. “I asked her to come with me the first time I went out. I asked Carl too, but neither one would go. They don’t have to say anything for me to know how they feel. They don’t agree with my decision to scavenge for Negan. They want to draw up a plan and fight. I just want to keep the peace. What happened that night, I can’t go through that again. I can’t watch any more people die. So if it means we have to work a little bit harder, then that’s what we have to do to stay alive.”


“What happens if we find more people who want to fight? Do we tell them no?” Aaron asked. He thought of the conversation with Paul, about joining forces with Hilltop.


“It’s not going to be enough. You saw Negan’s men. There’s more than we thought, and who knows how many more they have at their camp.” Rick stopped and rested his hands on one of the boxes, leaning on it. “This is our best shot at survival. Negan’s right, it’s not much, just some extra supplies on top of what we usually gather, and we keep the peace,” Rick said again.


“As long as our hearts are still beating, right?” Aaron said to agree with him.




“We’re with you,” Aaron said. “It might take some of us longer to adjust to the new rules than others, but I’m sure everyone will come around. It’s difficult, after having been a free community, to have to bend to someone else’s rules. I don’t like it either, but the reason I’m going along with it now is for Daryl. It might be the only thing that will get him home.” As he said this, he thought about Paul's promise. What would happen if he couldn’t get Daryl free? Bowing to Negan and the trade agreement might be all that was left to get him home.


The boat eventually drifted across the lake. Rick and Aaron ran back for the van and managed to drive it through the weeds and potholes. They transferred the boxes from the boat to the van, working tirelessly until they had it loaded. It was time to get back home and get things ready for Negan’s next visit.




A few days earlier . . .


Daryl was back at the Sanctuary, and he was put to work doing all the shitty stuff that no one else wanted to do. He had to help chain up walkers to the perimeter fence, and watched as the guy he was working with almost got bit. Daryl pulled the man away just in time, and they finished what they were doing. Daryl glanced up at Dwight, who was watching them work. He was supposed to help guard the workers from attacks, but it seemed like he was hoping something went wrong, especially with Daryl.


It upset him to see Dwight with his crossbow. That had been his weapon since the beginning of everything. He used to hunt with his brother using that bow. It had sentimental value, and to see Dwight with it got under his skin. Daryl would just think about the day he got his weapon back and used it to kill Dwight.


The only good thing about working was being allowed to leave his cell. The work he was given kept him busy all day, and when he was put in the cell at the end of the day, he knew he would sleep. The music went away, but not the dogfood sandwiches. He scraped off the nasty part and just ate the bread. It was enough to keep him alive, but he felt his body craving protein. He was also given shoes, a pair of sneakers that were too small. By the end of his shift, his feet were always sore.


Daryl and his work partner were bringing out another walker, and chaining him to one of the concrete barricades when a line of vehicles pulled in. They came into the yard, and workers ran out to unload the trucks. Dwight called Daryl and his partner to him.


“I want you to stay here on the platform while I go check in. Don’t move from this spot,” Dwight demanded. He looked each man in the eye in warning before going off to meet the trucks.


Daryl stood at the metal railing and watched what was going on. The men in the trucks got out and started ordering workers to unload the trucks, telling them what items went where. One truck they referred to as the Negan truck, and those things were to go straight to their leader’s rooms. Daryl watched the organization of the event, the way everyone moved like they had done this a thousand times before. Probably because they had, he thought.


Negan appeared, excited to see what his men brought him. Dwight was moving toward him, and was about to go around to the back when suddenly gunfire rang out.  Daryl crouched down where he stood, not that he was protected in any way behind the open railing. It was more instinct than anything else. Some of the men started yelling, one man fell to the ground and didn’t move again. Chaos ensued as everyone tried to comprehend what was happening. Negan’s men surrounded him to protect him, but Negan didn’t flinch. Instead, he smiled and ordered his men to stand down. He was talking to the shooter, who finally came out of the truck. Daryl’s heart sunk when he saw that the shooter was Carl. What the hell? How the hell? The questions piled up in his mind.


Carl still had the gun aimed at Negan. Words were exchanged, but Daryl couldn’t hear them from where he stood. Carl shot the gun again, and a second man fell. That’s when Dwight tackled the boy to the ground. Negan told Dwight to back off now that the gun was out of Carl’s hands. Daryl wanted to run down there and make sure no harm came to Carl, but he couldn’t leave the area he was in. Instead, he hopped from one foot to the other like a caged animal ready to strike. What would Negan do to him? This was a serious breach, and it didn’t help that it was Rick’s son. After a few tense moments, Negan pointed towards Daryl. Carl turned to see where he was pointing and saw him. His jaw dropped when he saw Daryl, as though he hadn’t expected to see him. Negan made some kind of threat that if Carl didn’t accept his hospitality, he would cut off Daryl’s arm. Then, Carl walked off with Negan, heading towards the main doors that led into the compound. Daryl stood helpless and watched them disappear.


The worker that was next to Daryl was about to run away, seeing an unguarded opportunity, but a Savior guard came out of the door where they stood. He must have heard the gunshots and came out to see what was going on. He saw Daryl and the other man, and took over.


“You two get inside now!” the man yelled.


Both men followed directions and entered through the door. There was another guard in the hallway. The first guard ordered him to take the prisoners back to their cells until they knew what was happening. Daryl’s cell was closest, and he was taken there, pushed inside and the door locked. He paced the dark room, wondering what was going on. He couldn’t deny the brief flicker of hope that it was more than Carl who had come. Maybe Aaron was here too. He wanted that more than anything, but at a second thought, he hoped Aaron was still in Alexandria.


It wasn’t like any of Daryl’s people to open fire like that. And they definitely wouldn’t send Carl in while the rest of them hid outside looking for another way in. If they were all here to attack the Sanctuary, they would have come in unseen, like they had done in the past, and Daryl remembered the siege upon the town of Woodbury and the Governor. Needless to say, Rick would never allow Carl to be the bait in one of their schemes. So if no one else was here, how did Carl get here, and why was he alone? If only he could get some kind of word to Carl, but that seemed to be an impossible feat.


A little while later, Dwight came for Daryl, took him out of the cell, and led him from the hallway to a set of stairs. Daryl had never been anywhere but this floor, the basement he called it.


“Where we going?” he asked Dwight.


“Your next assignment,” Dwight said tersely.


They ascended a stairwell until they were at the next floor. The door had a sign that read, 1st Floor, written in red letters. The door opened and a woman came out. She looked shocked to see Dwight and Daryl. It was Sherry, Dwight’s wife, or ex-wife now.


“What is he doing here?” she asked.


“Negan’s got a job for him,” Dwight said.


“Does he know about–” she started to say, but was stopped.


“Mind your own business,” Dwight cut her off. She looked like she was about to say something else, but Dwight glared at her and shook his head. “I’m sure you got somewhere to be,” he hinted.


She looked at Daryl once more, her eyes sad and pleading to speak. She wouldn’t dare. Instead, she turned her eyes to the ground and passed by the men, heading up the next set of stairs to another floor higher than the one they were on. Daryl watched her leave, but Dwight opened the door and shoved him inside.


They were standing in a kitchen stocked with industrial appliances. Had this been here before the apocalypse or was this taken from other communities? Daryl wondered.


“There,” Dwight said, gesturing to a silver tray sitting on one of the prep tables. It held an assortment of cheese cubes, grapes, olives and crackers.


Daryl looked at it and then to Dwight. Dwight pointed with the crossbow. “Pick it up and let’s go,” he said impatiently.


It was more punishment, Daryl thought. He’d been given nothing but stale bread and dogfood, and now he was being forced to deliver real food, the scent of it making his mouth water. It was like holding a steak in front of a starving lion and telling it not to eat it. It would almost be worth the beating he would receive for shoving a handful of the food into his mouth. He couldn’t afford another ass kicking. The last one almost did him in.


They left the kitchen and entered the stairwell again. Dwight directed him up two more flights, stopping at the third floor, the door clearly marked. Dwight opened the door and Daryl stepped through. This floor was made into living quarters with many rooms lining the hall. It looked as if it had previously been offices when the factory had been a real thing. The doors were made of wood, not like the metal doors of the cells. The hall had carpeting, and there were places where a receptionist might have had her desk for visitors to check in. Through a set of double doors, there was a richly decorated room with an eclectic collection of items that looked like they should be in a museum. Bookshelves lined one wall, and an expensive looking black leather sofa and loveseat sat in front of it. On a table sat a crystal decanter half filled with an amber liquid, probably scotch or whiskey. Matching glasses were meticulously arranged around the decanter. The floor was covered with afghan rugs, inviting to any visitor.


Daryl wondered what they were doing here. He still held the tray of food. Dwight pointed to another set of decorative doors. “Through there,” he said, and Daryl pushed one of the doors open. There were voices inside the next room, one of them was Negan, who was standing very close to Sherry, whispering in her ear. He saw Dwight enter the room behind Daryl, and proceeded to kiss Sherry seductively. Sherry’s back was turned to them, and she didn’t see Dwight come inside the room. More Negan games, Daryl thought as he eyes swept the room. There were other women in here, dressed in tight dresses, some in negligees. They were all very pretty and young. Negan’s harem, Daryl thought. Sick bastard collected wives like he collected everything else, in abundance. He noticed that one girl was visibly upset. There was some kind of trouble, but he didn’t know what it was. Sherry seemed to be the mediator, and she was defending the crying girl.


As Daryl watched this scene unfold, he had to keep his calm at the same time because Carl was standing with Negan, obviously ordered to watch him deal with his women, as though he was teaching the boy how things worked at the Sanctuary.


It didn’t go unnoticed, either, the way Dwight was flexing his fist and chewing on his bottom lip as he watched Negan kissing his ex-wife. Dwight made a sound as though to clear his throat. Sherry pulled back and glanced over her shoulder. She looked embarrassed. Negan smiled as usual. Carl finally turned around to see who was there, and saw Daryl.


“Daryl!” Carl called. He was about to go to him.


“Carl, no,” Daryl ordered, and Carl stopped.


Negan stepped in front of the boy, and glared at Daryl. “You weren’t given permission to speak. Do it again, and I’ll take out the boy’s other eye.” He walked up to Daryl and stared with narrowed eyes. Daryl looked down and away, afraid to stare back. It was one thing to challenge the madman, but he wouldn’t do it with Carl there. He wouldn’t put him in harm’s way.


All he could wonder was why Carl was here, and where was everyone else. He got his answer as Negan spoke. “Seems as though we got ourselves a stowaway, hiding in the back of my truck. Not only that, but he shot and killed two of my men. That kind of shit can’t go unpunished.”


Daryl tried to lunge at Negan, afraid that he would kill Carl right in front of him, but Dwight grabbed his arms and held him steady.


Negan smiled and waved his bat around. “Are you volunteering?” Negan asked. He approached Daryl again, only this time, he plucked a piece of cheese from the tray and savored it slowly before Daryl. “As I was saying, there will be a price to pay for the death of my men. What will it be, you wonder? I haven’t made up my mind yet, but I know one thing for sure. This little pecker has more balls than some of my top guys. I don’t know, Daryl, maybe he’s more easily persuaded than you when it comes to joining my little club.”


Daryl tensed, ready to drop the tray and take another swing at Negan. He quickly reminded himself how poorly that turned out the first time. He couldn’t be responsible for any harm to Carl. In his position, there wasn’t much he could do to protect him except to be unresponsive, and to not engage in Negan’s contest.


Negan smiled, knowing how he was affecting Daryl with Rick’s son in the same room. He turned back to Carl and said, “You’re not allowed to speak to him … at all.” He went on to explain why he did what he did in the woods, apologizing for killing Carl’s friends. It was all bullshit to get under everyone’s skin. Amazingly, Carl stood his own with Negan. The boy had come a long way from the little kid he was when Daryl met him. He was a man, a young man, but a man no less, and Rick’s son, which made him tougher than the average teen.


After a while, Negan seemed to get bored with the situation. He told Dwight to put Daryl back to work in the yard, but to leave the food. He said he had business to discuss with Carl, wanted to give him a tour of the Sanctuary, and be a gracious host to his newest member of his trading community.


Dwight pulled Daryl by the back of his collar and practically dragged him from the room. Daryl didn’t want to leave Carl behind. He wished he could ask him all the questions that rambled through his head, mainly, where everyone else was. Could it be that Carl came alone? Once they were out of the room and in the stairwell, Daryl pleaded with Dwight.


“You gotta get Carl away from here,” Daryl said.


“I ain’t gotta do nothing,” Dwight retaliated. “Besides, he’s taken up with the kid. Negan ain’t stupid. He knows how powerful Rick is. He knows what will happen if he hurts the boy in any such way. He’s got Rick where he wants him, and he doesn’t want to mess that up. Carl will be fine, as long as he doesn’t try anything stupider than what he’s already attempted.” Dwight was too trusting, too comfortable in his relationship with Negan. Daryl could see this. It would be his downfall one day.


Daryl was taken back to the yard to finish what he’d started before the trucks arrived. The man he was working with earlier wasn’t there, but a different man was. He had on the same dingy sweat suit, but his red letter was an F. Both men were sent into the yard to wrangle another walker, its head covered with a bucket for added protection against bites. The fence seemed to be filling up fast. Who were all these people, Daryl wondered, and why were they here and not inside living their lives? Why were so many people allowing Negan to get away with this lifestyle? He was only one man, besides a handful of cronies. If the people of the Sanctuary would rise up against Negan, they could overpower him. They had the numbers, but they were scared. It was a terrifying but awesome power Negan held over everyone.


“All right, that’s it for now,” Dwight called to the men when they were finished with the walker. “Negan’s called everyone inside for a meeting, and that includes you too.” Daryl and the other man joined Dwight, who led them inside the factory to a very large room. It was filled with many of the residents, who were all standing around wondering why they were called upon.


Negan appeared on an elevated deck with Carl by his side. Every person knelt on one knee and bowed their heads when they saw Negan. The place got very quiet. Daryl watched, so amazed that he didn’t bow. Dwight pushed him down quickly before Negan’s eyes turned in their direction.


“We’ve scored a huge load today. It’s a good day here in the Sanctuary. So good that everyone will get fresh vegetables at dinner, regardless of how many points you have,” Negan announced. The crowd cheered. “That’s the good news,” Negan continued and everyone quieted again. Daryl noticed how the faces fell. There was more to come.


A man was led out onto the factory floor to a chair that sat in the center of the area. He was tied to the chair, arms behind his back. Negan explained what was happening, how this man named Mark broke the rules. “I can’t say it enough. The rules are there for a reason. It is important that they are followed. However, and it never ceases to amaze me, sometimes the rules are ignored. Once that happens, punishment must be dealt.”


Dwight approached the furnace, and brought out an iron. It wasn’t like the modern ones made of plastic. This was a cast iron, old fashioned iron, the kind used before electricity. It was glowing red on the bottom surface. Negan slipped his hand into a welder’s glove and took the iron from Dwight. He walked up to Mark, finished enforcing the reason the rules must be followed at all times, and then proceeded to press the glowing iron to the side of Mark’s face. The man screamed in agony, a horrible sound that Daryl wouldn’t soon forget. While the iron was still pressed to Mark’s face, he passed out and slumped limp in the chair. Negan pulled the iron away, skin melted to it, a gruesome sight. When he was done, he looked around him, saw Daryl and pointed at a puddle of urine on the floor at Mark’s feet. He narrowed his eyes at Daryl.


“Clean that up,” he commanded, making sure Carl heard his tone, and watched Daryl submit. This was horrible, Daryl thought. Carl shouldn’t have to see him like this, but he was doing it to keep the kid safe.


Dwight shoved a mop into Daryl’s hands, and shoved him towards the puddle. Daryl started mopping, but he did it reluctantly. Negan, he noticed let Carl watch a few moments before he pulled him away. The crowd broke up and went back to whatever they had been doing previously. Mark was released, and two men carried his limp body from the room.


When he was done mopping, he looked at Dwight for directions, but the man was in a daydream. It had disturbed him to watch Mark’s face get branded. Now Daryl knew what Dwight had gone through. “That happened to you … when you came back?” Daryl asked.


Dwight stared at the furnace, still burning bright with fire. “Yep,” he answered. That was all. He didn’t say anything else after that.




Negan and Carl had been gone for a while. Dwight took Daryl back outside to move around a couple of walkers. There wasn’t any reason except to keep Daryl busy, and make it look as though Dwight was working. This time, Daryl knew what to do, and it didn’t take him long to perform his duties. Dwight still seemed distracted. Daryl thought it was the scene he came upon, when he walked in and found Negan kissing Sherry. Why the hell did he come back? Daryl wondered. He had escaped this place, had all of Daryl’s shit, had his wife, though they lost her sister. All they had to do was leave and keep going. That’s what Daryl would have done. The Saviors were a large group, but they only reigned a certain area. Dwight could have gone far away where they wouldn’t come across any Saviors. Instead, he got scared and chose to go back, which resulted in losing his wife and half his face. This was no life. This wasn’t living. It was hardly surviving. No, it was blackmail, trickery. It was submission and false security. Negan could make you think you were his lead guy, and turn around and have you chaining walkers to a fence, all in a matter of a day. Dwight was stupid to come back, Daryl thought.


He had just finished with the walkers, and was making his way back inside the compound’s fence when the trucks that brought the last load roared to life and lined up, ready to head out the gates. The lead truck, a white box van, stopped at the gate, and Negan, who was inside, exchanged words with Dwight.


“We’re taking a little ride,” Negan said. “Watch the fort while I’m gone.”


Daryl could see Carl sitting in the van between the driver and Negan. Carl looked out and saw Daryl. Poor kid looked scared. He couldn’t blame him, not after all he’d seen Negan do.


“Thought it might be a good idea to stretch our legs,” Negan said.


Daryl took a few steps forward, but as he did, he saw movement at the top edge of the truck. He casually looked up, careful not to draw attention, and caught a glimpse of Jesus looking down at him. “What the hell?” he mumbled softly to himself. He couldn’t allow himself any kind of reaction. Not sure whether or not Jesus knew Carl was in the truck, he thought he should give some kind of signal. Daryl glared at Negan and called out. “You’d better not hurt Carl,” Daryl demanded.


“Hurt him? Wouldn’t dream of it, unless he gave me a good enough reason.” Negan’s eyes turned hard, and fell upon Daryl. “Hey Dwight. Put him back in his cell. I don’t think I like the tone he took with me, and I definitely don’t like the way he’s looking at me. Leave him there until I get back.”


“Yes, Negan” Dwight agreed.


While Negan was talking to his driver, Daryl glanced at the top of the truck again. Jesus was gone, or at least he wasn’t visible to him anymore. Then Dwight came up to him, grabbed him roughly by the arm and told him to move it. He glanced up at the top of the truck one more time. Nothing. Hopefully Jesus heard Daryl mention Carl. Maybe he would hitch a ride back to Alexandria, and keep an eye out for Carl, just in case. Jesus was good with stealth, and he remembered when he’d first met him. He and Rick had come across him during a supply run. Jesus tricked them and stole their truck of supplies. They caught up to him, tied him up at the edge of the road, and the little bitch somehow managed to get away. Not only that, but he snuck up onto the roof of the van, just like he was now. Daryl could almost take back all the bad thoughts he had about Jesus … almost. He still didn’t like the guy, but he trusted him. That’s why he said Carl’s name out loud. If anyone would help Carl, he knew Jesus would.


Back in his cell, Daryl sat alone in the dark, worrying about Carl. The boy had killed two of Negan’s men, and Daryl knew enough about Negan to know there would be some kind of retaliation. He didn’t punish Carl. The boy was clearly uninjured. Daryl thought he might have to take the punishment, and Negan would make Carl watch, but that didn’t happen either. Now, Negan was taking Carl home. There would be a lot of people to choose from. Who would absorb the hurt for Carl’s bravery? He felt the horripilation on his skin as tiny bumps appeared on his arms, and the hair stood on his neck.


“Aaron,” he whispered. That would mean punishment toward Daryl and guilt for Carl’s involvement. “Please, God, don’t let Aaron be there,” He prayed over and over again.


He sat in the corner, rocking himself, trying not to think about Negan and what he was going to do in Alexandria. It had been unnaturally quiet in the hallway. With Negan gone, people seemed to breathe a little easier. After a while, he saw a shadow moving under the door. Daryl thought someone was walking by his cell, but the person stopped. The feet shuffled back and forth a couple times, and then something came in from under the door, a piece of paper. The door unlocked and the feet scurried off quickly. Daryl waited and stared at the paper. Finally, he picked it up and unfolded it. It was a note that said, ‘Go Now’. Beneath the writing, taped to the paper was a key and a matchstick. Someone was helping him escape.

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