Safe Haven in the Chaos

BY : IdrilsSecret
Category: S through Z > The Walking Dead
Dragon prints: 3274
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 45 Matchsticks



“You sure you’re okay?” Rick asked Aaron. They were in the van driving back to Alexandria. Aaron had almost drowned trying to get away from a lake of floating walkers. It had been a close call, and he kept checking himself every time he felt an itch or a scratch, fearing that he’d find a bite mark. Rick must have noticed.


“Yeah, I’m fine,” Aaron answered.


“I know you’re worried about Daryl. And I know it must look pretty shitty that we haven’t tried to find him yet. But I want you to know that we haven’t forgotten about him,” Rick said to soothe Aaron’s worry.


“That’s what everyone keeps telling me.” Aaron looked out of his window, watching the world go by.


“He’s lucky to have you,” Rick admitted after a stretch of silence between them. “Actually, we’re all lucky to have you. You’ve stepped up … a lot … since we first met. I’m not sure you know how much I depend on you, Aaron. I haven’t told you that. Maybe I should have, but … well, there’s been too much to take in lately.” Rick stopped talking and gripped the steering wheel as he tried to find the words.


“Thanks,” Aaron replied when Rick didn’t seem to know what to say next.


After another bout of silence, Rick spoke again. “You got Maggie to Hilltop, and saw that she was safe, and now you’re out here with me. Almost got yourself killed.” Rick shook his head. “I guess what I’m trying to say is . . .”


“It’s okay, Rick,” Aaron said to him.


“No, I want you to know that … Glenn … Abraham … they were a huge part of the group. They did a lot. They were loved. They’ll be missed tremendously. You have managed to step forward in a way that I haven’t seen anyone do before. You’re filling some pretty big shoes. I guess we all are, but you’ve gone beyond and you haven’t complained or refused. You just fell right into the mix. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that, and how proud I am to have you at my side.”


Aaron didn’t know how to respond to that confession. Rick had praised him before, but not in this way, not with such emotion. He glanced at Aaron and allowed the corner of his mouth to curl into a half smile.


“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you at a loss for words,” Rick said. He gave Aaron a moment and continued. “We’re going to get Daryl back. We just needed to stop and take a breath. The past couple weeks have been a numbing experience. Once we make good on Negan’s next visit, then we can start coming up with a plan to bring Daryl home.”


Aaron looked around, and saw that they were approaching the gate. They were finally home. Now he needed to tell Rick about Paul, and how he was already doing exactly what Rick had just mentioned. He was probably already at the Saviors compound. If Rick wanted to help, then maybe it should be to help Paul make good on his promise. “Actually, Jesus said he was going to–”


Aaron cut his words short when the gate rolled open and he saw the Saviors trucks inside. “They’re already here,” he whispered.


“Shit,” Rick responded.


“Well, we’ve got a truck full of supplies. That should make them happy,” Aaron said.


One of the Saviors waved them inside. Rick pulled up and the gate closed behind them. He got out of the truck and started to walk up the street to find Negan and make sure his people were safe. Another of the Savior men stopped him.

“Not so fast,” the man said. “Let’s see what’s in the truck.”


A few more people started taking boxes out of the truck, and looked through them. So far they were satisfied with what they saw. Rick stood in the street, not paying attention to them, but watching what was going on further in town. Aaron watched too. People were gathered in the street and … was that a pool table in the road?


“Hey,” called out a woman Savior. “What the hell is this?”


Rick and Aaron turned to see what she was referring to. Aaron recognized it right away. It was the note he found on the boat, the drawing of the middle finger. “Oh, that,” Aaron said easily.


The man that stopped Rick went to her to see what she was looking at. When he saw the drawing, he became irate, “What the fuck? Is this some kind of a joke?”


“I think it was,” Aaron started to explain. “It seems as though the previous owner thought it would be funny to–”


The man grabbed Aaron by the collar and shoved him up against the side of the van. “So you thought it would be funny to put this in here for us to find,” he accused.


“Oh … n-no. It wasn’t me. I didn’t draw that. I found it–”


“Shut the fuck up.” Another man came up to Aaron and the first man as backup.


“Looks like we got a comedian,” said the first man.


“Hey, I think there’s a misunderstanding,” Aaron started to explain.


Man number one held up the picture. “This looks pretty clear to me.” He dropped the drawing and punched Aaron in the stomach.


Aaron doubled over, not expecting to be punched. Another fist in the stomach knocked the air out of him, and he fell to the ground in a fetal position. Aaron could see Rick becoming irritated. He put his hand out to stop him or matters might get worse. He tried all he could to get air back into his lungs, but it was taking longer than usual.


“Leave him alone,” Rick said.


“I think you need to mind your own fucking business,” said man number one. “We just need to get a few things straight with your man here.” Both men proceeded to kick Aaron. Fortunately, he used to come across situations like this when he worked in Africa. His training with the NGO had taught him how to deflect or absorb hits from this kind of a beating. Laying on the ground, he curled up and let the outer parts of his body take the hits, protecting his stomach, face, and other delicate places that he hoped to use again someday. They got him in his back, legs and arms. They moved around him and kicked him until Aaron was moaning in pain, another trick, although he really was in pain. Moaning loudly told his attackers that they were doing what they set out to do. Remaining on the ground was a sign of submission. He just had to hope they didn’t want to kill him, but he figured if they wanted to do that, they would have shot him already. This was just a lesson, a very painful lesson. All the while, Aaron wondered why he was being treated this way.


Eventually, the men stopped and walked away. Rick ran back to the truck, where Aaron was laying on the ground. He crouched down and put a hand on Aaron’s shoulder. “Aaron. Aaron,” he repeated worriedly.


Aaron looked up at Rick and managed a bloody smile. “They might have beat the crap out of me, but neither of them could throw a punch like Rick Grimes.”


“Can you get up?” Rick asked, ignoring his weak attempt at humor.


“I think so. Gonna need some help though.”


Rick helped Aaron up, slow and steadily, until he was standing. Aaron was still leaning on Rick. He’d done his best to protect his body, but he still took one hell of a beating. Everything hurt, and he could smell the iron tinge of blood. “They got me good,” he told Rick. “Main thing is that my heart’s still beating.”


“It is,” Rick agreed. Just as they took their first step, a shot rang out. Rick and Aaron looked at each other, and knew they had to go as fast as possible. Aaron picked up his pace, limping and then hopping on one leg as Rick pulled him along. Another shot went off, and they moved even faster.


They approached the crowd in the street. Everyone was gathered around a pool table that was in the road. As soon as they were close enough, Rick handed Aaron off to the first person he reached. Tobin turned just in time to take Aaron’s weight. Tobin looked at him in shock. Aaron waved off his concern. “You should see the other guy,” he joked. It was terrible timing, but he always said the dumbest things when he was scared or nervous. He realized that Tobin’s shock wasn’t for him or his bloody face. Something else had happened, and he got Tobin to help him get closer to the center of the crowd.


When Aaron was close enough, he saw a body lying in a pool of blood next to the pool table. It was Spenser. Aaron’s heart raced and his breathing quickened. What the hell had happened here? Why were the Saviors already in Alexandria? They weren’t expected for a couple more days. He wanted to ask, but not a single soul was talking. Negan was the only one, and he was talking to Rick. He started out by explaining the reason for his early return. Carl had snuck onto one of their trucks, and when he was discovered, he shot and killed two of Negan’s men. He mentioned the fact that he brought Carl home safe and sound when he should have punished him for what happened. Negan, apparently, had been in town most of the day waiting for Rick to show. In the meantime, Spenser approached him with a concern. Negan said something about Spenser making a deal with him that would have meant getting rid of Rick and letting Spenser become the leader of Alexandria. Negan didn’t like his cowardice and killed Spenser. He made it seem as though he was doing Rick a favor, weeding out the bad. That wasn’t all. Rosita had a gun that no one knew about, and she took a shot at Negan after he killed Spenser. The bullet missed Negan, but it put a hole in Lucille, and he was pissed off that his beloved bat had taken damage. He found the casing of the spent bullet and realized that it was homemade. Now, Negan was trying to find out who made the bullet. No one was coming forward except for Rosita, but he knew she didn’t make it. She was protecting someone. Rick demanded that Negan take his shit and leave, but Negan wouldn’t go until he found out who made the bullet.


Aaron noticed movement on Olivia’s porch and looked over to see what was happening. A few people were gathered there, kneeling over someone lying down. Aaron remembered hearing two shots. He recognized the shirt of the person on the floor. It was Olivia. He let go of Tobin and hobbled closer to the center. His ire was building. This wasn’t fair. This wasn’t what they agreed upon. Negan could just come anytime he wanted and start shooting their people. He heard Negan tell Rick he was sorry about Olivia, but that at least now Alexandria wouldn’t have to worry about their food supply anymore. Aaron could feel his chest tighten. He’d had enough. It was all he could do not to lunge at Negan. Spenser and Olivia didn’t deserve to die. Negan was not their leader, but he was acting like he was.


Rosita was still demanding that she was the bullet maker. Negan asked again, who made it, and ordered his guard, a rough looking woman called Arat, tp shoot someone else if he didn’t get the truth. Arat raised her gun and started pointing it at different people.


“Stop!” Aaron shouted, unable to keep silent anymore. Arat aimed her gun at him, finger on the trigger and ready to launch another bullet.


“Hold up,” Negan told her. “What do we have here? It’s the boyfriend. Aaron, right?” Negan stepped closer, looking at Aaron’s face. “What the fuck happened to your fucking face?” Aaron didn’t answer. He didn’t look away either, and Negan smiled. “I’ve got your man in my cell right now. I wish I could tell you how much he misses you, but he doesn’t talk much. He did, however, open his mouth this morning, threatened me not to hurt Rick’s kid, which I wouldn’t do. He disobeyed one of my rules, though. And then I got this little future psychopath who killed two of my men. I still haven’t dished out a punishment for that. Maybe you are the answer to my dilemma. Imagine what would happen to Daryl if I told him I killed his lover. He’d probably fall right in line, become one of my best men after I broke him. You know what? Arat,” Negan commanded and she aimed her gun at Aaron’s head again.


“It was me! It was me!” Eugene shouted. “I made the bullet.”


Negan used a hand signal and Arat lowered her gun. He slowly turned to Eugene and approached. Eugene started reciting step by step instructions on how to make a bullet. Negan stopped him and said he believed him.


After that, Aaron didn’t hear what was happening. He kept thinking of what Negan said about Daryl. It was the first he’d heard about him since he was taken. At least he was still alive. Aaron swallowed the lump in his throat. He was alive, he repeated in his mind. Alive and still fighting. But things had gotten tense here, and there was no telling what would happen once Negan went back to his compound. He might take it out on Daryl. He also noticed that it had been a few days since he left Hilltop, the same day Paul left to go find Daryl and the Savior’s compound. Daryl was still there as of this morning. Now he wondered what happened to Paul. Did he get caught? Was he killed? Carl was there, and what the hell was that about? But if Carl was at the Savior’s compound, had he seen any sign of Paul? Had he seen Daryl?


Aaron came out of his trance and watched as Negan ordered his people back to their vehicles. “And put this one in the van,” he said as he looked at Eugene. “He’s coming with us.”


No, not Eugene, Aaron thought. Rosita started yelling for them to take her instead, but she was ignored. Eugene was rushed off and loaded into the back of a truck. No one could do anything at this point. Too much had already happened. Aaron was still trying to collect himself, still trying to deal with the pain of his beating, and just now realizing that two more of their people were dead.


Before Negan left, he told Rick that because of all the trouble, he was in the hole for owing the Saviors. Aaron wasn’t sure what that meant, but now he was even more worried for Daryl. People started wandering off, some going back to their homes, some just walking away. Rick stayed and looked at the pool of Spenser’s blood as it ran across the road and into the gutter. The familiar groaning noise started slowly, and Aaron saw Spenser reanimate. Rick was right there and stabbed him in the head. When he turned back around, Aaron could see a new fire in Rick’s eyes.


“What do we do now?” Aaron asked.


“I think it’s time we sought out help,” Rick said. “What do you say we pay Hilltop a visit?”




That same day, early morning . . .


Daryl read the note several more times. ‘Go now’, it said, a key and a matchstick taped to it. He had heard the door to his cell unlock, had seen the shadow of feet hurry away. He wasn’t sure what was going on. Last time someone ‘accidentally’ left his door unlocked, it was a setup, a test to see what he would do. He was led right into a trap, surrounded by Saviors, confronted by Negan, and then had the holy hell beat out of him. He didn’t want to think about what happened after that, when Brady came to his cell and . . .


Why should he be sucked into another game, he thought? “I’ll open this door and they’ll be there ready to fuck me up again,” Daryl whispered to himself. It was different this time, though. The first time, the door was left unlocked. This time, there was a note and a key. He didn’t think Negan would go to the trouble to stage something in this way. Daryl had a feeling deep in his chest that maybe someone was actually trying to help him escape. Should he take the risk? He fumbled with the idea for a minute or two, and then he made the decision to go.


Daryl laid down on the floor of the cell and looked under the door. He couldn’t see anyone out in the hall and it was quiet. He tried the door handle and it opened. Looking at the note one more time, he breathed deep and set his mind to work. Daryl slipped out of the door, hugged the wall and went carefully down the hallway. The key, he thought was probably to a car or some kind of vehicle. The matchstick threw him for a loop. Was he supposed to burn the note? It seemed like a useless step. Besides, lighting a fire wasn’t the best idea while trying to sneak out of a place he had no clue how to navigate.


“Wait a minute,” he thought to himself. He took a closer look at the floor. Sure enough, his suspicions were confirmed. Every few feet or so, there was a matchstick on the floor, laying close to the wall so it wasn’t noticeable. The matches were there to lead him out of the compound. Who the hell was doing this, he wondered? As long as it was legitimate, and he didn’t find himself face to face with Negan at the end of the matchstick trail, that’s all that mattered.


He was about to turn a corner, and heard voices. Suddenly, a jar crashed onto the floor, spilling its contents. Daryl had to hide before whoever was around the corner saw him. He looked around, saw a door and tried the handle. It was unlocked, and he slipped inside. It wasn’t the smartest move, and when he saw that it was someone’s room, he felt a slight bit of panic run through his chest. His eyes scanned the room quickly, and he found it unoccupied. If someone had been in there, he wouldn’t have hesitated to break their neck and keep them silent.


The voices were just outside the door, as they stopped to clean up their mess. He couldn’t leave until the coast was clear again. So, Daryl took the moment to look around at his surroundings. The first thing he saw was a shirt and pants, and a baseball hat. This was great. He needed to get out of his prisoner garb. Besides, the sweat suit was dirty and smelled like a backed up toilet. Wearing normal clothes might help him not get noticed too easily. Not everyone knew who he was, and there were so many Saviors, it wouldn’t be too suspicious to come across someone that didn’t recognize him. He shrugged out of his clothes and put on the flannel shirt, pants and hat. Putting his ear to the door, he could still hear movement outside.


“What else we got in here?” he said to himself. He opened a cabinet door and found a jar of peanut butter. This was like finding gold. Daryl hadn’t had a proper meal in almost two weeks. He’d been fed dogfood and stale bread. It was enough to keep him alive, but it wasn’t much in the way of nutrition. He was always starving. Daryl quickly unscrewed the lid and dipped his fingers into the soft, sticky goodness. He sucked it off his fingers, closed his eyes and savored the taste of real food. It didn’t matter that he didn’t have anything to wash it down with. His mouth was salivating so heavily, it was enough to get the peanut butter down. Eating it made him weak in the knees, and he sat down on a chair. He looked around the room while he ate, and saw little wooden figures sitting on a table. They were hand carved. There was only one person he knew here who carved figures out of wood.


“This is Dwight’s room,” he said. Dwight … Negan’s right hand man. He tried to make Daryl think he had it so good here at the Sanctuary. He made him think he had a nice studio apartment like the one Negan offered Daryl if he would just comply and give himself in service to the Saviors. Now, Daryl saw the truth. Not only did Dwight loose his wife to Negan, and had his face permanently disfigured by a hot iron, but he lived in a room that was smaller than a dorm room, barely enough room for a bed and a chair. Clothes were piled on top of a side table because there was nowhere else to put them. The bed was actually a cot, something used for camping, not for everyday living. There was no kitchen, no bookshelves filled with books, no microwave and coffee pot. There was nothing here. It was a piece of shit, hole in the wall room. Daryl had more space in his prison cell than Dwight had here. The promises and bribes for better living were all lies. Daryl would have ended up with a janitor closet, not that nice apartment.


He must have eaten half of the jar of peanut butter when he noticed that it got quiet outside. Daryl waited a few more moments for good measure, affixed the baseball cap to his head, and reached for the door. He paused and turned back to look at the little wooden figurine. “Fuck you,” he said, and he upturned the table, throwing everything to the floor. Then he left.


In the hall, he picked up the match trail again, and followed it. Along the way, he found a pipe leaning against a wall, and wondered if it was put there on purpose. He grabbed it because he needed some kind of weapon. A couple times he had to duck into an alcove or hurry past an open door with people inside playing cards. By some miracle, he didn’t come across anyone who tried to stop him. He hadn’t had to kill anyone either. It would have been nice to have a better weapon than a pipe, but right now, the most important thing he had was the key. The matches led him to a door that was slightly cracked open, not enough to be noticed. He pushed it open carefully, and saw something fall to the ground. It was the matchbook. Someone used it to keep the door from locking. Daryl wished he knew who was helping him, and he still hoped that it wasn’t a set up.


The door opened into a familiar place. It was the same yard where he escaped to the last time. There was a box van and a row of motorcycles parked alongside it. “That’s what the key is for.” It went to one of the motorcycles. Immediately, he went from one to the other trying to find the one that the key went to. As he tried a third bike, something caught his eye. He looked up and saw one of them, a Savior. It was Joey, the kid who stood watch while he was raped, the kid he begged for help who turned away, wouldn’t look at him, closed the door to the cell and let Brady assault him. To say he was enraged was an understatement. Daryl abandoned the bike and his mission, picked up the long metal pipe and stared at Joey.


As soon as Joey came around from behind the van, he saw Daryl and stopped. He had a sandwich in his hand, and a gun inside his belt. Daryl looked from one to the other. When he saw the gun, he recognized it. That was Rick’s gun. Joey followed Daryl’s line of sight and knew what he was looking at.


“Hey man, I don’t want no trouble,” he said as he lifted his arms in the air, the sandwich still in one of his hands. “You want to go? I won’t stop you. I won’t even tell anyone that I saw you here. Just … just go on. I swear I won’t say a word.”


He was just a young kid, Daryl thought. If things were different, he should have been in college or sitting in his parent’s basement playing video games. Instead, he was surviving like everyone else, only he picked the wrong group to side with. There was no telling what he had learned from the Saviors. They were a ruthless type, and even though Joey seemed harmless, Daryl couldn’t be sure. Harmless was one thing, but Joey was a coward. He would rather turn away, forget what he saw and not get involved. Daryl remembered his face as he said he was sorry and closed the cell door. He blamed Joey just as much, if not more than Brady.


Everything came rushing back, the cold dark cell, trying to fight off his attacker, but unable to find the strength after getting beat up. He could hear Brady’s voice, his grunts and moans. He could smell the musty cell and the scent of a man’s desire. He remembered Brady telling him to think about Aaron while he raped him. He could still hear Brady saying Aaron’s name, and the filth that spilled out of his mouth. It didn’t have to happen if only Joey refused to stand guard.


“You knew what he was going to me, and you let him do it,” Daryl said in a seething voice.


“I’m sorry, man. I know I should have done something, but Brady was a psycho. He told me that if I squealed I’d go down too. He knew Negan’s rule about forcing yourself on someone. I’d always thought that pertained to women. I never thought about it … the other way around.”


Daryl stepped towards Joey, each foot strategically placed. He held the pipe in his hand, hanging at his side. “I begged you to do something. I looked you right in the fucking eyes. You saw what was going to go down. You knew it before you got to the cell. That’s why you said you’d watch the door.” As Daryl spoke, each sentence got louder than the last.


Joey was sweating. He looked like he might cry. He was the one begging now. For the first time since coming to this place, Daryl held the power, and Joey knew it.


“Please, dude, just let me go. I swear … I swear I won’t stop you, and I won’t tell anyone that I saw you.”


“I’d like to believe you, but so far you haven’t proven to me that I can trust you.” Daryl was almost on top of him. Joey had backed himself up until he bumped into the side of the van.


“Hey, man, he got his. Brady’s chained to the fence now. He’s one of them. Negan killed him and let him turn,” Joey reminded him.


“Yeah, I saw him out there. Maybe he got what he deserved. Maybe it wasn’t enough. All I know is that I wasn’t the one who got to do the honors.” Daryl was lifting the pipe, not realizing the stance he was taking.


“Please don’t hurt me,” Joey begged. “I’m just surviving like you are. I have to do what I’m told.”


Daryl narrowed his eyes. “It sucks, doesn’t it?”


“What?” Joey asked.


“When you beg and plead because it’s the only thing left you can do, but no one hears a word you’re saying. I don’t hear you. All I see is a coward, an accomplice to the injustice done to me. I didn’t get to have my revenge on Brady. Guess you’ll have to do.” He raised the pipe over his head.


Joey dropped the sandwich and pissed his pants. “If you do this–”


“No fucking regrets,” Daryl said, and he brought the pipe down on Joey’s head. Joey went down right away, his limp body lying on the ground. Daryl watched him a moment, and saw the guy’s chest move so he knew he was still breathing. Blood trickled down from where the pipe split the skin open at his temple. Joey was unconscious, but still breathing. Daryl could walk away, now that Joey was out. He could get on that bike and ride the fuck out of this place. Maybe that’s what he should have done, but he couldn’t forget how he begged Joey for help, and how the kid turned his eyes away and closed the door. All of the emotions Daryl had kept bottled up started to surface. He’d been violated by a man much stronger than him at the time. Daryl was weak from starvation and from the beating. He laid bloody and lethargic on the dirty cell floor. He remembered the feel of his pants coming down, of Brady covering him, spreading his legs, forcing himself inside while unprepared. It burned and tore his body. It brought on despair and hopelessness as the man raped him, enjoying himself as he forced Daryl to say Aaron’s name. And when Brady said his name, it poisoned Daryl’s world. He was tainted. He was ruined. How could he ever face Aaron again? How could he say his name and not hear Brady’s voice.


“You could have helped me,” Daryl said as he looked down at Joey’s unconscious body. “You could have done something … anything. You didn’t do a fucking thing. You let him rape me. You don’t deserve another chance. You don’t deserve anything.” Daryl felt his arms bring the pipe over his head, but he felt like he wasn’t in control. It was almost like he was watching from a distance when the pipe came down full force on Joey’s head. The pipe went up again and came down even harder. Over and over, the pipe smashed down until Joey’s face was unrecognizable. The voices in his head were too many.


“Bet you wished you could have done that to me years ago,” said Jay from his childhood.


“I knew you had it in you, little brother,” said Merle, his dead brother. “Guess being a fag hasn’t made you a total pussy.”


“If anything happens to me, just know that I went down fighting,” Daryl remembered himself telling Aaron. But he didn’t fight hard enough as he laid on the dirty floor with Brady pounding into him. He gave up too easily. At least it felt that way.


“I bet Aaron doesn’t fuck you like this,” said Brady. “Go on, say his name. Tell him you love him while I shoot my load up your ass. Do it!” And a knife had punctured his side, threatening to slip between his ribs. Daryl had no choice but to say it.


“Who are you?” said Negan when he confronted Daryl in the small apartment. “Who … are … you?”


Who was he now, Daryl thought, as he watched the pipe come down onto a bloody puddle of mush? This was what Abraham looked like. This was what Glenn looked like. This was what Negan did to them. This was what Daryl was doing right now. He was no better than Negan. He was copying him. At one time, Daryl had been terrorized that his would happen to him. Now, he felt strength and power as he did it to someone else. Who was he? Who was he now?


“I … I-I … am … I a-am … Ne–”


“Daryl?” someone said.


The sound of a new voice shook him from his trance. He looked up and saw Jesus standing behind the truck. He must have been hallucinating. Jesus wouldn’t be here. Daryl blinked his eyes and wiped the blood from his face. He paused from swinging the pipe as he looked at Jesus. Then he looked down at his victim and lifted the pipe again. Who was he? He asked himself again.


“Daryl, stop. It’s over. It’s over,” Jesus said in the most soothing voice he’d heard in a long time.


“Jesus?” he asked, just to make sure this was real.


“Yeah. It’s me. I’m here to take you home.”


“They’re letting me go home?” Daryl asked, confused.


Jesus shook his head. “They don’t know I’m here, which is why we got to get the hell out of here.” He glanced down at the body, but he didn’t say anything about it.


It seemed that this was real. Daryl looked down at his hands. One still held onto the key. He raised it so Jesus could see. “I’ve got a bike.”


“Good. Let’s go then. Ready?” Jesus said calmly.


Daryl nodded and looked down at Joey’s body. He saw the silver metal of Rick’s gun peeking out from under his shirt. Daryl took it off the body and tucked it into his waistband. “Now I’m ready.” By instinct, Daryl hopped on the bike, inserted the key and started it up. Jesus was hesitant to get on.


“You sure you’re up to driving?” Jesus asked.


“Yeah, I … I think I am … I don’t know … I’m still kind of–”


“Why don’t you let me drive, at least until we’re out of danger. Then, if you want you can take over. Okay?” Jesus suggested, giving Daryl a choice.


Daryl was so confused by this. He hadn’t been given the ability to make decisions in a long time. He was still coming out of his nightmare. Just moments ago, voices were invading his mind. Now he was about to escape with Jesus. Then it dawned on him. “I saw you earlier, didn’t I? You were on top of that truck. I thought I saw you, but when I looked back, you were gone.”


“That was me,” Jesus said, allowing a small smile. “I slipped off the truck before it took off.”


Daryl closed his eyes and focused on that moment. “Carl was here. He was in that truck. I thought you were going to follow it, keep an eye on Carl, keep him safe.”


“I was, but that wasn’t my mission.” Jesus glanced over Daryl’s shoulder. He was keeping an eye on the door in case they were spotted. So far no one came out into the courtyard. “How about we leave this place, and then I’ll fill in all the blanks.”


“Yeah, okay,” Daryl agreed. “You know how to drive a bike?”


“I do actually. I had one before … before.”


Daryl hung his head as it finally seemed like this was actually happening. He was free. “Wow,” he said quietly. “Okay. Let’s get out of this fucking place.” Daryl got off the bike, and Jesus got in his place. Then Daryl got on behind him.”


“Tell me if you need to stop. Just let me get far enough away from this place first,” Jesus suggested.


“I won’t need to stop. Just tell me where we’re going,” Daryl said.


“Hilltop,” Jesus answered. With that, they were off.


Daryl was impressed with Jesus’ ability to handle a bike. They drove fast, sticking to the road, and always keeping an eye out for other cars. They were lucky. They were the only travelers on the road. And then Jesus made a turn, going in a direction that took them away from Hilltop. Jesus said he wanted to dump the bike. He couldn’t take it to Hilltop. If the Saviors came and found it, they’d be in trouble.


“I’ve got a car hidden along the road this way. We’ll dump the bike and take the car the rest of the way,” Jesus informed.


“Good idea,” Daryl agreed.


It was a good twenty minutes out of the way, but worth it. Once they picked up the car, Daryl hid the bike in the tree line. In no time, they were back on the road. This would be the first opportunity for them to talk, but Daryl remained silent for the first ten minutes or so. He had so many questions, but he was afraid to learn the answers. He asked the most important question first.


“Where’s Aaron?”


Jesus smiled. “He’s in Alexandria. Aaron is fine. He was at Hilltop for a little while, but he had to get home.”


“So he’s alright? He’s not injured or–”


“Aaron is good, and he’s never stopped thinking about you or getting you out of the Savior’s compound. He was going to go find you, alone. I talked him out of it, but to do so I had to promise him I’d bring you back,” Jesus admitted.


Daryl was a little surprised by that. He’d never treated Jesus very well. He didn’t like him, didn’t trust him. He had been jealous of the way he was always around Aaron whenever Daryl was gone. Jesus was the last person Daryl expected to come looking for him. Now he was learning that Jesus was watching out for Aaron, and that meant a lot to him.


“Thanks,” Daryl said quietly.


“So, looks like you took a beating. You alright?” Jesus asked.


Daryl wished all it had been was a beating. He had to think about his answer a moment. Was he alright? “I’m fine,” he answered, but it felt like a lie.


“That guy you were … uh … when I found you, did he do that to you?” Jesus wondered.


Daryl shook his head. “He did something else. Negan did this … his men.” Daryl refused to give away too much of what happened to him while he was held captive. There would be a time for that later, not with Jesus, and not until he had time to reconnect with his life. “You know what happened to anyone else from my group?” he asked to change the subject.


“Maggie and Sasha are at Hilltop.”


How could he have forgotten? “So she didn’t lose the–”


“No,” Jesus smiled again. “She has to take it easy, but Doctor Carson said she should be able to carry full term. That’s why she’s there, in case she needs a doctor. Sasha is staying for support and to help take care of her. They’re going to be ecstatic to see you.”


“Sasha maybe will,” Daryl mumbled to himself. He wasn’t sure he was ready to face Maggie. What if she blamed him for Glenn’s death? He couldn’t think about that right now. “What was Carl doing at Negan’s place? How’d he get there?”


“The Saviors were at Hilltop. I ducked into their truck and found Carl hiding in it too. I had no idea he was there. I’d never have let him go otherwise. We were supposed to jump out before we got too close to the compound.” Jesus stopped to huff and laugh as he remembered Carl’s innocent act. “The kid tricked me. Told me to jump out of the truck first so he could see how to do it.”


“And he didn’t jump,” Daryl said, amused by Carl’s brave decision. “Sounds like something I would have done at his age.” Daryl turned to look at Jesus, who was driving the car. “You should have stayed with him, on top of that van. Where the hell was Negan taking him?”


“As a sign of good faith, he was taking him home, unharmed. Negan won’t hurt him. He knows that will set Rick off, and right now I think he has Rick where he wants him. Something I’ve been learning about Negan is that he likes to keep people in line. He knows when he needs to discipline, and when to be gentle. He uses just the right amount of scare tactics to get communities to submit and do as he says. He needs those communities to work for him so that he can keep his own people happy. He needs Rick working for him, so the last thing he’s going to do is hurt Rick’s son. Besides, I was there to find you. I made Aaron a promise, and I meant to keep it.”


“Looks like you did. Again, thanks,” Daryl said. He didn’t talk anymore after that, and kept quiet until they finally arrived at the Hilltop colony.


The gate opened before they got to it, and Jesus drove inside. The gate closed behind them. The car pulled to the side and stopped. Jesus got out and saw Sasha leaving the trailer, and approaching him. Daryl stayed in the car a moment. It was all too much. Not long before, he had been a prisoner. Now here he was at Hilltop, and seeing Sasha brought back every emotion he’d buried.


“Did you find out where the Saviors live?” Sasha asked.


“I did,” Jesus said. “And I did you one better.” He turned to the car and called. “Come on out.”


The car door opened and Daryl stepped out. He stood straight, but remained by the car. He didn’t know how Sasha was going to react to him. At first, her eyes grew two sizes as though she’d seen a ghost. Tears threatened her eyes, and her bottom lip quivered. “Daryl?” she said, her voice cracking.


Daryl looked at her through his long grimy hair. He blinked several time, reigning in his emotions. Then he nodded to her, not ready to hear his own voice just yet.


“Daryl! Thank God,” Sasha said as she walked to him with a hurried stride. She didn’t hesitate to wrap her arms around him. She held him so tight, it hurt his sore ribs, but he didn’t complain. It felt good, the pain. It meant he was alive. It meant Sasha wasn’t mad at him, didn’t blame him. But there was still Maggie to contend with. He wondered where she was.


Sasha let go of Daryl and smiled at Jesus. “You did this?” she asked and he nodded.


Sasha looked back at Daryl, finally seeing his injuries. “What did they do to you?” she asked like a worried mother.


“I’ll be fine,” he said to make her stop fussing over him.


“Oh my God, wait until … hold on … let me get Maggie,” Sasha said with excitement.


Daryl stayed where he was, and watched her go back inside the trailer. She came out with Maggie following behind. Sasha stepped to the side to allow the reunion to happen. Daryl studied Maggie’s face. She was stone faced and difficult to read. She took each step towards him slow and steady. Daryl prepared for whatever Maggie was about to throw at him, whether verbal or physical. If she slapped him or punched him, he knew he deserved it, and he wouldn’t stop her. Maggie came all the way, standing in front of him. She just stared at him, and then she brought her hand up. Daryl winced. He thought she was about to hit him, but she didn’t. Instead, she pushed his hair from his face. He opened his eyes and found her with tears streaking down her face.


“Daryl,” she whispered, and she put her arms around him.


Daryl stood still as a pillar, but when she tightened her hold on him, he finally broke down, wrapped his arms around her, and cried into her shoulder. “Maggie. Oh Maggie. I was so … I thought you … I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”


“Hey, hey,” she said soothingly. “It’s okay. It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Please don’t blame yourself. I don’t blame you. I’m just glad your back. I was worried. I didn’t know what had happened to you, but you’re here, and that’s what matters.”


They held onto each other for a while longer, and with each second that passed, Daryl felt a little better about their reunion. It was a lot off his mind, and he had a dump truck sized load of thoughts. There would be a lot to talk about, but for right now, he needed this comfort from Maggie.


“Why don’t you come to our trailer,” Maggie suggested. “I know this is a lot to take in right now.”


“I’ll bring you something to eat,” Jesus said. He wanted to give them time alone to talk.


Daryl nodded and said, “Good, but no sandwiches.”


He followed Maggie and Sasha into the trailer, and Maggie told him to sit on the couch, so he did. He looked around the place. “You living here now?”


“For the time being, at least until the baby is born,” Maggie said. “This was Jesus’ place, but he never stayed here.”


Jesus again. It seemed like he was involved in everything. There was a time Daryl wouldn’t have liked that, but he realized that everything Jesus had done recently was for the good of his people.


“How did you get away?” Sasha asked. “Did Jesus–”


“Someone helped me escape, but said it wasn’t him. He found me after I … after,” he said, stopping himself from revealing what he’d done to Joey. They didn’t need to know about that. “I don’t know who it was, but someone unlocked my cell, left clues and a key to a bike in the yard. I wish I knew who it was. I owe them.” He looked from one woman to the other. “Have you heard from Rick or anyone back home?”


Maggie frowned and looked down at her fingers laced together. She shook her head. “No. I don’t know what’s happened to them.”


Sasha smiled sweetly. “Aaron was here for a short while, but he back in Alexandria. He misses you so much.”


Daryl let his hair cover his face so it wouldn’t reveal his emotions. “Yeah, I miss him too,” he said in barely a whisper. He swallowed the lump in his throat and changed the subject. “So, what do you do around here to have fun?”


The women laughed lightly, and looked at each other. Maggie answered. “Well, I spend most of my time eating. It’s the strangest feeling. I have to constantly eat. If I go too long without food, I feel sick.” She rubbed her belly. “Dr. Carson said that’s a good sign. It means the baby is growing.”


“Maggie has literally scarfed down three apple pies so far. And she’s on some strange cereal kick,” Sasha added.


“Yeah, well, that’s only going to last so long until the cereal is gone, but I’m sure by then I’ll have another craving. And that’s another thing. My senses are heightened. I can smell things I’ve never smelled before, and at a great distance too. The only thing I can’t stand is the scent of meat roasting on a fire, and I have no desire to eat meat either.”


Daryl smiled at this. He’d never known a pregnant woman before, but he’d heard things from some of the women he grew up around. They would compare pregnancies, and give each other advice. He remembered what one woman said. “The baby knows what it needs, and it’s sending signals to you. Just listen to your cravings.”


Jesus came back with a basket of bread and fruit. He put it on the table. “This was all I could come up with on such short notice. Dinner is in a couple hours though. I figure this will tide you over until then.”


Daryl was already digging through the basket, and he took out a juicy red apple. He bit into it and closed his eyes, chewing slowly to savor it. That only lasted until the first bite was gone. Then he devoured the delicious fruit.


“Didn’t they feed you?” Sasha asked, but with a serious tone.


“They gave me dog good on moldy bread,” Daryl said with a mouthful of apple.


Maggie moved so that she was sitting next to him on the couch. While he ate, she moved his hair away to look at the bruises on his face. He turned his head and winced involuntarily. Maggie noticed his response, like a dog cowering from a human hand. “What did they do to you?” she asked with concern.


“What’s it look like?” he said with little patience.


It looked like they beat him, but his reaction was strange. He couldn’t help it right now. He had been conditioned with all the threats and the torture of being in that dark cell for days at a time.


“I’m going to give you guys some time alone to catch up,” Jesus said. “I’ll see you all at dinner I hope.”


Maggie raised her hand. “You know I’ll be there.”


Jesus smiled and started to leave, but he turned to Sasha. “Hey, can I speak to you a moment?”


“Sure,” she said, and she followed him outside, leaving Daryl and Maggie alone.


“What’s that about?” Daryl asked.


Maggie shrugged. “I don’t know.” She watched Daryl eat the rest of the apple and search the basket for something else. He took out the bread and laid it to the side. “Sweet,” he sang when he saw a bunch of grapes.


“They do well for themselves here at Hilltop. There’s a garden, but it’s outside the walls. It’s not far. I think they found it when they first occupied the house. It was probably here before the outbreak, but no one was around to take care of it, and it got overgrown. There are blackberries too. They grow wild all around the place.”


“We think a lot alike, Alexandria and Hilltop. It’s important that we maintain a relationship with them,” Daryl said.


“Yes it is. Unfortunately, they have no weapons. Negan took all of their guns. They have a blacksmith who make knives, swords and spears.”


“At least that’s something,” Daryl said. “You seem to have a good rapport with Hilltop. What are your thoughts on this place?”


“Everyone has been very accepting, everyone but Gregory. He fights us every step of the way. Jesus had to talk him into letting me stay here until the baby was born. He’s afraid the Saviors will find me and Sasha, and burn the place down for harboring Alexandrians. But the thing is, people care about me and the baby. Gregory’s hand has been forced. If he kicked me out now, he would lose all of his people’s respect.”


The door flew open, grabbing Daryl and Maggie’s attention. “Daryl? Oh my God, Daryl!” Enid cried, and she ran to him.


As she hugged him, Daryl was hesitant to hug her back. He hadn’t had much time to get to know her since she came to Alexandria, but he knew that she was very attached to Maggie. He patted her back and she moved away with questions. “Did you see Carl? Did he make it? He said he was going to find the Saviors,” she rushed to ask.


“I saw him briefly. Negan found him, but he fine. He’s being sent back to Alexandria right now,” Daryl said. “But how did you know about Carl?”


“Carl was here?” Maggie asked, surprised.


“Oops,” Enid said.


“What’s going on, Enid?” Maggie said with a stern voice.


She had to tell the truth. “Carl wouldn’t let me go alone to Hilltop, but when we got here, the Saviors were already here. We hid in the woods and watched. He said he had to go. He said he was going to follow the Saviors back to their compound. I couldn’t stop him, and I wouldn’t go with him. I only wanted to see you and make sure you were was okay,” she told Maggie.


“Why didn’t you say anything?” Maggie insisted.


“I promised him I wouldn’t.”


“What are we going to do with you kids?” Maggie berated.


“Listen,” Daryl broke in. “Carl is fine. Negan wouldn’t hurt him.” He remembered what Jesus had told him. “He knows Carl is Rick’s son. He’s taking him home as a sign of good faith.”


“I hope you’re right?” Enid said with worry.


“I was there for almost two weeks. I know how Negan works. Carl will be fine.”


Sasha came back inside after talking to Jesus. “Jesus said you can take his room in the house while you’re here.”


Daryl shook his head. “I’m alright. I’ll find a place on my own.” He didn’t want anything from Jesus. He was afraid what it might cost him. He was so used to things running that way after being confined by the Saviors.


“Carl was here,” Maggie told Sasha. “He found the Saviors.”


“What?” Sasha said, surprised by the sudden news.


“Daryl saw him, and said he’s being sent back to Alexandria,” Maggie told her.


“How can you be sure that’s what’s going on?” Sasha asked Daryl.


“I just do,” Daryl said tersely.


“Should we do something?” Sasha asked. “I can go back to Alexandria.”


“You can’t go any more than I can,” Maggie told her. “Negan probably thinks we’re dead, and we need to keep it that way. I trust Daryl, and if he says Carl is okay, then he is. None of us should go anywhere for now.”


“They’ll be looking for Daryl,” Sasha pointed out. “If the Saviors come here and see him–”


“They won’t find me. I’m not staying,” Daryl said.


“Where are you going to go?” Maggie asked.


“I don’t know, but I can’t be here. I’m putting Hilltop at risk. And I can’t go home. That’s the first place they’ll look for me,” Daryl said.


“What about Aaron?” Maggie said. “He’s worried sick about you.”


“I don’t know. I’ll get a message to him or something.” Daryl hadn’t thought that far ahead yet.


“Well, you’re not going anywhere right now,” Sasha demanded. “Look at you? You need time to heal and recover. You’re staying here for a few days at least. In the meantime, we’ll figure something out.”


“Yeah,” Daryl said, but he didn’t sound very impressed by the plan so far. He wanted to stay with Maggie and Sasha. He wished more than anything that he could go home and see Aaron. He needed to reconnect. Aaron was his strength, but he wouldn’t put him at risk. He could send him a message, though. Jesus could take it. He was stealthy. He could get to Alexandria and tell Aaron that he was safe. Aaron would want to see him, though, and he wouldn’t give up trying until Daryl and Aaron reunited. Maybe Sasha was right. He needed to take a couple days and figure something out. Maybe just one day. He couldn’t stay at Hilltop long. Negan would send his men to Alexandria first. Hilltop would be next. At least he had a little bit of a head start. Negan wouldn’t know Daryl was missing until he returned to the Sanctuary, but as soon as he found out, he’d send his hounds after him. Daryl didn’t like being on the run, but he was used to it. He could do it again. He had no choice now. Anywhere he went, he was putting people at risk. He started to lose faith in seeing Aaron any time soon. Aaron was the last person he wanted to put in harm’s way. Daryl would do anything to keep him safe, even if it meant going far away.


When he was done talking with the women, he started to leave. Maggie and Sasha followed him, but he stood to the side to let them leave the trailer first. Once they weren’t looking, he took Rick’s gun out of his belt and left it on the table. He was making his mind up to leave. Maybe the best thing for everyone was to get as far away from them as possible.

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