Safe Haven in the Chaos

BY : IdrilsSecret
Category: S through Z > The Walking Dead
Dragon prints: 3341
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 46 Meet the Neighbors

 

 

Aaron set out for Hilltop with Rick, Michonne, Carl, Rosita, and Tara. They only had one plan so far, and that was to try and convince Gregory to help them fight the Saviors. “I’m not so sure that’s going to work,” Aaron told Rick as they traveled along the road. “Gregory isn’t very cooperative. It was like pulling teeth just to get him to agree to let Maggie and Sasha stay.”

 

“The way I see it, he owes us,” Rick said. “We took out the satellite station. We didn’t give up Hilltop to the Saviors about working together. We’ve been protecting them all this time, and we’ve lost quite a few people in the process.”

 

“That’s not how Gregory thinks,” Aaron warned.

 

“We’ll see,” Rick said, ending the conversation.

 

A little further down the road, they stopped for a short break to let anyone who had to relieve themselves do so. Carl was standing off by himself, and Aaron approached him. He hadn’t had an opportunity to speak to him until now. “You were at the Sanctuary,” Aaron said. “Did you happen to see Jesus?”

 

“I did,” Carl said. “He hopped into the same van I happened to be hiding in, but he jumped out before we got too close to their compound.”

 

“He left you?” Aaron said, shocked that Paul would do such a thing.

 

“Not exactly. He told me to jump too, but I tricked him. I got him to go first, and then I didn’t. I stayed with the van and rode it all the way inside their fences.” Carl seemed proud of himself and his quick thinking.

 

“Did you see him while you were there?” Aaron asked.

 

Carl shook his head. “No, but I saw Daryl.”

 

Aaron’s heart beat rapidly. “How did he look?”

 

“Dirty, tired and. . .” Carl paused as though he didn’t want Aaron to know.

 

“And what,” Aaron asked in a demanding voice. “Was he okay? Was he still in one piece?”

 

Carl sighed. “He looked beat up. His eyes were black and he had a cut on his lip. He was wearing a grimy sweat suit with a letter A painted on it, and he was barefoot. They had him out in the yard messing with walkers, chaining them to the fence. I think it’s part of their security. They use the dead as an added barrier to keep people out. Daryl saw me too. He was shocked to see me.” Carl hung his head. “I wish I could have done something for him. I wish I could have helped him get away, but Negan kept me at his side the whole time. That place is messed up. Most of the people there are scared of Negan. They’re afraid of what he’ll do to them. They’re scared of becoming like those walkers on the fence.”

 

“That’s something to keep in mind when we go to fight them,” Aaron said.

 

“You think we can convince some of them to join us?” Carl wondered.

 

“I don’t know. We would need to meet with some of them, come up with a plan. It’s kind of farfetched at this point. And like you said, they’re scared, maybe too scared to go up against Negan. Any attempt to work with them would more than likely backfire, and Negan would know we were coming.”

 

It felt like every time someone came up with an idea, it didn’t play out very well. Aaron knew the first thing they needed was the manpower. Then they could start talking strategy. He still wasn’t sure how they were going to fight without guns. Neither Alexandria nor Hilltop had any firepower. The Saviors took it all. Even though Hilltop could produce knives, swords and spears, that wouldn’t be enough.

 

Rick emerged from the tree line and gathered everyone to him. “We’ll get a little closer to Hilltop, and then we’re going to hide the car and walk the rest of the way. I don’t want to advertise that we’re working with Hilltop by parking right outside the gate. The Saviors will find out soon enough, if they don’t already suspect it.”

 

>>------->

 

Morning. Daryl didn’t sleep last night. He turned down Jesus’ offer to take his room in the great house. Instead, he kept gate duty with the other guards. The first thing he noticed was that they meant well, but they slacked on guard skills. They were easily distracted because they were bored. Daryl had heard about the break in and how the guards were captured. They never saw the Saviors coming. It was worrisome because now, Maggie and Sasha were here. He knew they were better at the game, but he didn’t like their lives being in someone else’s hands.

 

He thought about the story Maggie told him, how they were locked inside their trailer, and how they escaped. Aaron had been there too. He fought alongside Sasha and Jesus, killing walkers in the yard while Maggie took it upon herself to deal with the Pinto boom box. Aaron was here, he kept thinking to himself. While Daryl was imprisoned at the Sanctuary, he often wondered where Aaron was. He could conjure up visions of him in Alexandria, at their home, safe, warm, taken care of. He hadn’t known he was at Hilltop, working with Jesus to convince Gregory to let the women stay. Of course he would be. That’s how Aaron was. Daryl should have known he wouldn’t be sitting around waiting for someone to tell him what to do. He was a fighter, always the first one out there. He’d be fine on his own, Daryl thought. He knew he couldn’t stay here, even though he let Sasha think she convinced him. He had to go. He had to get away from Hilltop, and away from everyone he loved and cared about. The Saviors could be anywhere, and if they found him with anyone from either of those two communities, people would die.

 

Daryl came down from the wall just as the sun was coming up. He needed to go before Maggie came for her shift. He knew she always took over at daybreak. Now was a good time to go. Most people were still sleeping. There were only a few people around. They were milking the cows, feeding the chickens, or preparing the kitchen to start breakfast for the community. It wouldn’t be long before Hilltop was abuzz with life. He needed to get out before anyone noticed. Looking around the yard, he saw the blacksmith shop. Surely they wouldn’t mind if he just took a knife or two. He had nothing with him. He had lost everything. Even his clothes were borrowed. His bike, his winged vest and his crossbow were still at the Sanctuary. Those things didn’t matter anymore. All he needed was a knife. He could hunt for food, gather supplies and start finding things along the way. He’d find an old shack or something to set up camp in. Then he would move on, not staying in one place for very long. The Saviors were a large community, but only a small amount of them went out, and they didn’t go very far. They depended on lesser communities for supplies. Daryl could just keep going and soon he’d be far enough away that they wouldn’t find him. He snuck into the smithy, which was open anyway, and started looking at his options. A strong blade would be his first choice.

 

“This was the same place I found Aaron when he was going to skip out,” Jesus said from behind.

 

“What the fuck?” Daryl exclaimed, caught off guard.

 

Jesus couldn’t help but laugh. “Aaron was going to bail to go look for you, and I caught him here doing this exact thing. You two are a lot alike.”

 

Daryl held his hand to his chest to feel his racing heart. Once he regained his composure, he went back to looking at knives. “Aaron was here, huh? You told me he was going to track the Saviors, but you stopped him. I, uh, I really appreciate you looking out for him.”

 

“He’s one stubborn son of a bitch,” Jesus added. “I had to make a deal with him to wait until morning.”

 

“I guess you’re going to try and bargain with me now,” Daryl wondered. “It’s already morning, so you can’t use that.”

 

“I know there’s not a thing I could say to you that would make you stay, even if I think you’re making a mistake,” Jesus said.

 

“My mistake would be staying and getting more people killed. You saw them. The Saviors don’t fuck around. They’re going to send out their best to go looking for me. You know as well as I do that they’re probably coming here too.”

 

“So you’re going to run away, they’ll never find you, and everyone gets to live,” Jesus said in an accusatory tone.

 

“Someone let me out of that place, and it was someone from within. That’s who’s gonna get punished. Negan will send his guys to Alexandria, probably here too. When they don’t turn anything up, they’ll give up and that’s that.”

 

“Or they’ll kill one of your people, maybe one of mine … one of each perhaps, as retribution for your disappearance. What if it’s Aaron?”

 

“Don’t say that,” Daryl said softly. He stopped searching through a box of spearheads, and put both of his hands on the workbench in front of him. He hung his head and sighed deep.

 

“You can stay here. I know of places where I can hide you, and they’ll never find you,” Jesus offered.

 

“You’re already doing that for Maggie and Sasha. I don’t want to hide. I just want to disappear.”

 

“What about Aaron? What do you think he’s going to do when he finds out you’re gone? You really think he’s not going to go looking for you?” Jesus argued. He stood with his feet apart and arms crossed.

 

“You’re his friend, aren’t you? You talked him out of it once. You can do it again. He seems to listen to you,” Daryl justified.

 

“He loves you, Daryl. There’s nothing I can say to him that would keep him from searching for you. The only reason it worked the first time was because I made him a promise that I would find you and bring you home. Well, I did that. Now you have to keep your end of things and go to him. At least talk things out with him. Don’t go without seeing him again.”

 

“Man, what the fuck do you care about it?” Daryl said, turning on Jesus, and glaring at him with narrowed eyes.

 

“Because I’m always on the run too, and I know that no matter how far you go or how long you’re away, it’s the ones you leave behind that have to deal with everything, and that’s not fair to them,” Jesus said with compassion.

 

Daryl stood where he was. His eyes lowered to the ground, and he thought about what Jesus was telling him. It might not be fair to run away, but it would give Aaron a shot at survival. Besides, who’s to say Aaron would want him now. After all, Daryl had been a real prick towards him. He’d let his jealously get the better of him. And after what happened at the Sanctuary. Why the hell would Aaron ever want him now that he was broken? He was weak. He didn’t fight back. He let those horrible things happen to him. That wasn’t the man Aaron fell in love with. Why would he love him now, for the pitiful coward he’d become?

 

“I … I can’t,” Daryl said, and he went back to looking through the box. Just as he reached in, like a sign that it was time to go, his hand fell upon the perfect weapon, a thick seven inch fixed blade combat knife with a leather handle. He pulled it out of the box and held it in his hand. It felt heavy and comfortable in his palm. He wrapped his fingers around the handle and it was a perfect fit. He turned to Jesus and noticed the pleading look thrown at him from across the room. Daryl looked away quickly. “It’s for the best.” Daryl walked toward Jesus, who was blocking the doorway. Daryl pushed past him, but stopped when they were shoulder to shoulder. “Tell him … Tell him I’m sorry,” Daryl whispered, and he left the smithy in a hurry. Jesus stayed where he was, disappointed that he couldn’t convince Daryl not to go.

 

There had to be another way out of Hilltop besides the front gate. Every place had a loose board or a hole under the fence. He’d walk along the perimeter, looking for a vulnerable spot to make his escape. Daryl just wanted to leave. He didn’t want to see Maggie or Sasha either. They would only try to convince him to stay like Jesus had. They would use Aaron to try and sway him. He couldn’t hear it anymore.

 

As he walked past the stable where they kept a couple horses, Daryl snuck inside and had a quick look around. There was an empty backpack hanging on a nail next to one of the stalls. He grabbed it since he would need something to put scavenged items in. Their crops were down a little further. He would help himself to a few fruits and vegetables, something to get him on his way. Then he would head around to the back of the house and look for a place to get out.

 

After procuring some food, he squeezed past a shed of some sort. Behind the shed were a line of rain barrels, some full, some half empty. He was about to keep walking and stumbled over a pile of dirt. Daryl instantly stopped at stared at them. There were two, and one had a couple green balloons floating next to it. Both had a bouquet of wilted wild flowers laying on top. These weren’t just piles of dirt. These were graves, fresh graves. This was where they buried Glenn and Abraham.

 

The graves were unmarked except for the flowers and balloons. There were no head stones or crosses made of wood. No names were attached to them, but Daryl knew whose they were. He hadn’t thought to ask Maggie or Sasha about his deceased friends. Perhaps he still felt too much guilt over their passing. He should have known that if Maggie and Sasha were here, so were their loved ones. Daryl stopped and stood between the graves. He looked down at each one and hung his head. Tears welled up, but he refused to let them fall. What’s done was done. They were gone. Life moved on without them. Life would move on without Daryl around too. Still, he wanted to pay his respects.

 

Daryl knelt on one knee between the graves. He bowed his head and said a silent prayer that they were in a better place now. “Abraham,” he said to the grave on the left. “You were one tough motherdick.” He laughed softly to himself. To his right, he slowly glanced over and gave a deep sigh. “Glenn. Oh man, Glenn. What can I say? We were there from the beginning. You were just a young kid when we met. You’d do anything anyone told you to do, and we made you do some stupid shit. I watched you grow into a respectable man. You were one of the last truly good hearted people in this world. I know you would have been a great father, too. I know everyone keeps telling me not to take the blame for what happened to you, but deep down, I can’t help but feel the guilt. If only I hadn’t reacted the way I did. I didn’t know. I didn’t know Negan would . . . I was just trying to protect Rosita. I didn’t think about the consequences for my actions. If I didn’t jump up and punch Negan, maybe … maybe you’d … aw shit. I don’t know what else to say. I wish it had been me instead of you, and I’ll regret this for the rest of my life.” He laid his hand on the grave and bowed his head.

 

After a few moments of silent reflection, Daryl stood and rounded his shoulders. It was time to go, time to leave it all behind. He would miss everyone, but he thought this was for the best. Only way to keep everyone safe was to disappear. Hopefully they would all understand. Hopefully, Aaron wouldn’t hate him. If only he could have said goodbye. Aaron was the most important person in his life, but if Daryl’s departure meant his safety, that’s what he needed to do. Maybe someday they’d meet again, but for now this was what needed to happen.

 

Daryl took a few steps away from the graves, and started towards the wall to look for a way out, when he heard someone shouting.

 

“Sasha. Jesus. Get out here. Now.” It was Maggie.

 

“Shit,” Daryl said to himself. Was it the Saviors? Were they already here looking for him? He couldn’t leave now. They might need him to fight. If it was the Saviors, they’d found him, and there was no use running. It was better to stand his ground, help Maggie and the rest fight, and protect Hilltop. One thing was for sure. Daryl wasn’t going back to the Sanctuary. He would rather die than give up. The problem was weapons. The enemy had all the guns. All Daryl had was a knife. It wouldn’t be a fair fight, but he didn’t care. They would just have to kill him. At least he wouldn’t be a burden on anyone any more. He gathered his thoughts, and prepared for battle.

 

“Open the gate,” Maggie called out.

 

“What the hell is she doing?” Daryl asked himself. If it was Saviors, why was she letting them in, and why wasn’t she hiding? Maggie couldn’t afford to be found out either. He took off at a run, past the graves, past the rain barrels and hedges, around the stables until he was at the corner of the house. He ran out into the yard and stopped as soon as he saw them. Not Saviors. Not an attack.

 

“Rick?” Daryl questioned when he saw who Maggie was hugging.

 

>>------->

 

Aaron had told Rick and the others to go ahead and start heading for Hilltop while he took the car into the woods to hide it. They weren’t that far ahead of him. He would catch up. All he could think about was how they were going to convince Gregory to help them against the Saviors. It wasn’t going to be easy. It might not happen at all. What would they do if Gregory absolutely wouldn’t help? They couldn’t go after Negan on their own. They needed more people than what Alexandria had. Hilltop was their only hope.

 

He came to the dirt road that led to Hilltop, and he could see ahead that the gate was open. He’d just caught a glimpse of Rosita and Tara passing through, and he went into a jog to catch up. Aaron wondered if Paul was back yet. He was worried that something went wrong after talking to Carl and finding out that he hadn’t seen Paul. Was he caught and being held captive? Did he make it in, but he couldn’t find Daryl? If he didn’t see Daryl, what did that mean? Was he too late? After Negan caught Carl, maybe Daryl took the punishment. If that was the case, was Daryl … was he . . . Aaron couldn’t think about that. He still held out hope that he would see Daryl again. If he was just … gone … he didn’t know how he would deal with it. Aaron wasn’t prepared to lose him, not yet, not ever.

 

He made it to the open gate. Everyone was already inside. They were gathered in a group. Rosita and Tara, Carl and Michonne were standing together. Maggie was standing to one side, smiling. Sasha mirrored her on the opposite side. Everyone’s attention was on the center of the group. Aaron’s eyes swept the yard, and he saw that Paul stood off to the side. Thank God he was alright. As Aaron spotted him, Paul's eyes caught his. He smiled and nodded. Aaron smiled back. Then Paul tilted his head to the side, gesturing towards someone. Aaron’s sight switched to the group again. They were looking at Aaron now, all of them smiling. They parted so Aaron could see why they were so elated. He saw Rick, whose back was to him. He was … hugging someone. Aaron’s breath hitched. Rick glanced backwards and stepped to the side. The group parted, and there he was, standing there, whole, tall, handsome, but exhausted and relieved at the same time.

 

“Daryl?” Aaron said, his voice already wavering with emotion. He could see Daryl’s lip quivering as he tried to keep it together, but it was too much to try and remain calm. Aaron couldn’t help the tears that threatened his eyes. He didn’t care if he started crying like a toddler. This was the moment he had been hoping and praying for. “Daryl,” he said again, but stronger. He started walking toward him, and Daryl did the same. They didn’t run, but their steps hurried the closer they got to each other until they were standing face to face. Now Aaron could see the old bruises and the scabbed over cuts on his face. He looked as though he’d been put through a hellish trial, even though he looked better than he had when Aaron saw him in the forest, bleeding from the shoulder and hunched over as he knelt on the ground.

 

“Aaron,” Daryl said, and tears fell.

 

“Thank God,” Aaron said.

 

Neither man could contain themselves another moment. They grabbed each other, arms wrapping around one another. They cried into each other’s shoulders, and held on tighter than a vice.

 

“It’s really you,” Aaron said when he could finally find his voice. “I thought about you day and night. I was so scared. I didn’t know what happened to you or where they took you. I was so worried that they … that I might never–”

 

“I’m here,” Daryl whispered. “I got away. I … I don’t know how, but I did.”

 

They didn’t want to, but with everyone watching, Daryl and Aaron separated. They couldn’t take their eyes from each other though. The other’s surrounded them and watched the reunion play out. It was a sobering and happy moment amongst all the pain of the past couple weeks. Suddenly, everything was right with the world again, if only in that brief moment.

 

Daryl brought his hand up and lightly touched the side of Aaron’s face. “What happened to you?” Aaron still showed signs of his beating after he and Rick got back from scavenging the houseboat. “Did they do this to you?”

 

Aaron nodded because he didn’t want to add to the pain Daryl had already been put through. “I’m okay though,” he said.

 

“I was scared for you too. Negan … he … he made threats. I was afraid he would go to Alexandria and … and single you out.”

 

“Negan didn’t do this. His men did, but everything’s fine.” Aaron wouldn’t mention Negan’s threats, not now at least.

 

Daryl seemed satisfied, and he shifted on his feet as he looked down. “I must look like trash,” he mentioned.

 

Aaron shook his head. “I’ve never seen a better sight.” He knew Daryl was keeping himself in check with everyone watching him. Showing affection in public was never something Daryl like to do. He was very private, and only opened up when he was alone with Aaron. However, Aaron couldn’t wait that long. To hug Daryl wasn’t enough right now. He glanced around at the people surrounding them, and then he smiled at Daryl. “If you’ll excuse us, I’m going to kiss my boyfriend now,” he announced. His hand went to the back of Daryl’s neck and he pulled him in. Just before their lips touched, Aaron whispered. “God, I missed you so much.” Then he captured Daryl’s lips. Daryl didn’t resist. He kissed Aaron back, his arms surrounding Aaron again. The kiss deepened, and their grip on each other tightened. When they paused to catch their breath, Aaron said, “I love you Daryl. I love you so much.”

 

“I love you too,” Daryl whispered so quietly that only Aaron could hear.

 

After a while, Rick cleared his throat. Daryl pulled away first, and laughed nervously. Aaron couldn’t help but smile. Daryl was back, he thought.

 

“I hate to break this up, but we’ve got business to attend to,” Rick said.

 

“Give them a break, Rick,” Michonne complained with a wide grin that made her eyes smile too.

 

“No, it’s okay,” Daryl agreed, but he was looking at Aaron to agree with him.

 

“Yeah, we can catch up later.” Aaron smiled at Daryl once more before tearing his eyes away.

 

Maggie moved toward Rick with something in her belt. She reached behind her and pulled out Rick’s gun. “I think you’ll be wanting this back.”

 

“Where’d you get it?” Rick asked, caressing the gun like an old lover.

 

“Daryl brought it with him, but with all the excitement, he left it in my trailer,” she said, covering for him. The truth was, when Daryl met with Maggie and Sasha after he first arrived at Hilltop, he’d already made his mind up to leave, and he conveniently placed Rick’s gun on the table so that Maggie could give it to Rick when she saw him.

 

Rick turned to Daryl and smiled. Daryl looked down sheepishly. “I came across it before I got away, and snatched it on my way out.” He didn’t want to tell him anymore details of how he got the gun. Those thoughts were too fresh in his mind.

 

While Rick thanked Daryl and had a private talk with him, Aaron took the opportunity to go to Paul. Paul was standing away from the group like an outsider. As far as Aaron was concerned, Paul was a part of them now. He’d proven time and time again that he wanted the same things that Alexandria wanted.

 

Aaron smiled when he approached Paul and threw his arms out to the side. “I don’t know how I can ever repay you for what you’ve done. You made a promise, and you kept it. Thank you, Paul. Thank you for bringing Daryl back.” Aaron was so overjoyed, he pulled Paul to him and hugged him. Paul hugged him back.

 

“I’m glad it worked out. You’ll both be alright now. I know you will,” Paul whispered in Aaron’s ear.

 

>>------->

 

When Daryl was done talking to Rick, he looked back to see where Aaron went, and found him hugging Jesus. It seemed their friendship blossomed some while he was gone. Daryl should have been glad for it. After all, Jesus got Daryl out of there and reunited with Aaron. So why did his heart weep slightly at the sight of them hugging? Perhaps it was because Jesus was the reason they had such a huge fight right before all hell broke loose. Daryl and Aaron still needed to talk about that. He had made some pretty shitty accusations, things he knew weren’t true, but he’d been angry and jealous of the friendship developing. He still wasn’t so sure he was alright with it. There was still a part of Daryl that thought Jesus held some kind of admiration for Aaron. He was glad Jesus came looking for him and helped him escape, but there was a wicked thought in the back of his mind that told him Jesus did it for Aaron. On the other hand, after talking to Jesus, Daryl learned that he’d kept an eye on Aaron. He had talked Aaron out of going to find Daryl by himself, and Daryl was thankful for that. Jesus had been a good friend after all. So there shouldn’t be any reason to be jealous … but he was.

 

“You were going to leave, weren’t you?” Maggie whispered to him. Daryl had been so caught up in the moment, he hadn’t heard her approach. “That’s why you left the gun.”

 

“I’m putting everyone in danger by being here, by being around any of you,” Daryl said softly.

 

“You know we won’t let that happen,” Maggie said.

 

“You haven’t seen them. I have. There’s hundreds of Saviors, and they’re all scared of Negan. If he tells them to jump, they don’t even ask how high. They just jump.”

 

“Are you still going to leave? Even now that you’re with Aaron again?” Maggie asked with an accusatory tone.

 

“I … I don’t know,” Daryl said, unsure of his plan. He hadn’t known he was going to see Aaron again, and that changed things.

 

“You know what he’ll do if you go missing. He’ll search high and low to find you. Might even get himself in trouble. Jesus stopped him before. He might not be able to do it again.” Maggie made a lot of sense. She knew Aaron as well as Daryl did.

 

“I’m not going anywhere right now,” Daryl assured her. “First, let’s see how things play out with Gregory.”

 

Maggie sighed and looked towards the house. “Yeah, I’m not so sure how that’s going to go.”

 

Daryl glanced at Aaron and Jesus again. Jesus was patting Aaron on the shoulder and they were both smiling at each other. “Well, we’ll see,” he responded to Maggie.

 

>>------->

 

“I’ll do everything I can to convince Gregory to join Alexandria,” Paul told Aaron. “But you saw the struggle it took just to get him to let Maggie stay. I had a little leverage there. I don’t have it now. It’s totally Gregory’s call.”

 

“All we can do is try,” Aaron said.

 

Paul smiled and patted his shoulder. “Absolutely. Just know that I’m with you guys.”

 

“All right,” Rick announced. “Let’s go meet the man.” As he said it, he rolled his eyes, knowing it was going to be an uphill battle.

 

Everyone marched to the great house. Rick, Carl, Michonne, Daryl, Aaron, Rosita and Tara, Maggie and Sasha entered the foyer. Paul went to Gregory’s office and came out a moment later. He gave everyone a nod to let them know it was all right to enter. The group filed into the office, finding Gregory sitting behind his desk. He had an arrogant gleam in his eye. Rick was already posturing. Maggie knew it was up to her to do the talking because Rick didn’t have much respect for the Hilltop leader. The conversation started, and Aaron stood to the back next to Daryl.

 

It felt good just to stand next to him again, Aaron thought. He wished they could find a way to slip away and have a private moment alone, just to revel in the feel of being together again. They had their reunion in front of a crowd, and he knew Daryl was holding back. Even so, there was something a little off about Daryl, which he was sure had everything to do with his time spent locked up by the Saviors. Aaron wondered what happened to him during that time. He wanted Daryl to open up to him, tell him everything, get his aggressions and fears out in the open. He wanted Daryl to share with him because he wanted to be there to help in the healing. It’s what they did for each other, and Aaron knew Daryl needed it now more than ever. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time. Negan would find out soon, if he didn’t already know that Daryl was gone. The Saviors were going to be looking for him. Aaron wouldn’t let them take Daryl away again. They’d have to kill him before he would allow that.

 

With everyone’s attention on Maggie and Gregory, Aaron took the opportunity to reach for Daryl’s hand. He slipped his fingers through Daryl’s and was rewarded by Daryl’s positive response. Daryl allowed it and squeezed Aaron’s hand. They glanced at each other, speaking with their eyes. Aaron’s were full of admiration and thankfulness for having Daryl back. Daryl’s eyes showed something similar, but it was more guarded. Aaron wasn’t sure if it was because they were surrounded by people or if it was because of something that happened at the Sanctuary. This was why he needed to be alone with Daryl, and find out his story. Aaron was a little disappointed when Daryl released his grip and folded his arms across his chest, but he knew there were more pressing matters at hand right now.

 

Just as they suspected, Gregory was being reluctant to Rick’s plan to join forces. He argued that he didn’t owe Alexandria anything, especially since their original deal to take out the Saviors fell through. Of course, Gregory was using his mistake of thinking the only Saviors were the ones at the satellite station to his advantage, noting that the deal was to destroy ALL of the Saviors. Now that they knew there were more, the deal hadn’t been completed. These were Gregory’s thoughts on the matter. He told them he’d make no more deals with Alexandria, told them he would honor his promise to let Maggie stay, but he wouldn’t take Daryl in. Maggie had tried to get Gregory to allow that. When Daryl heard his name he perked up.

 

“I’m not staying here with this coward,” he blurted out. Gregory eyed him and gave a haughty smile.

 

“You see there?” Gregory said. “It’s settled. Now, kindly leave the property before someone comes looking for your man here, and I won’t tell him I’ve seen him. That’s all I’m willing to do.”

 

Paul tried to argue with him, but no one was going to make Gregory change his mind at this point. He had the upper hand. Alexandria was the desperate party looking for help. Hilltop was finished with them, or at least Gregory was.

 

“Fine, we’re gone,” Rick said, ending the meeting, and everyone left, pouring into the yard once more.

 

“It’s alright, we’ll think of something else,” Aaron said to Daryl as they walked outside.

 

“I’m sorry guys,” Paul said to them when he walked out with them. “I’ve already pushed him as far out of his comfort zone as I can.”

 

“You’ve done a lot for us so far,” Aaron said, leaving Daryl’s side and going to Paul. “And we’re thankful for it.”

 

“Well, we better get home before Negan comes looking for Daryl,” Rick said. “We’ll give it some thought, see what to do next.”

 

“You might not have to do that,” Paul smiled. He looked at Aaron as he took something out of his back pocket. “I stole one of their hand radios when I went to find Daryl. It picks up everyone’s radio. You’ll know where they’re going and how they’re moving.”

 

“Good thinking,” Aaron told him. Paul handed the radio to Rick.

 

“I know things didn’t work out here, but not all hope is lost,” Paul said. “There’s someone I want to introduce you to.”

 

“Who?” Rick asked, reflecting the curiosity on everyone’s faces.

 

“There’s another community. They call themselves The Kingdom, and their leader is King Ezekiel,” Paul said.

 

“King?” seemed to be the question that left everyone’s lips.

 

“He’s a bit eccentric, I’ll admit, but he’s smart, and he’s always willing to listen. The Kingdom isn’t like Hilltop. They have more people, and they train them. They don’t engage in battle, and try to remain peaceful. Right now they have a cushy deal with the Saviors, and it’s worked so far, so it might be difficult to get them to agree. I still think they are your best bet at finding an army. And Hilltop is not completely against your ideas either. Gregory doesn’t speak for us all. There are those who will help. I’ll talk to them, get them ready.”

 

“Every little bit helps. Thank you,” Rick said. “Let’s go then. No time to waste.”

 

The group said their goodbyes to Maggie and Sasha. They would have to stay at Hilltop. Besides, Maggie was already working her way into a leading role. More people were gravitating towards her, taking her advice and listening to her plans on how to make Hilltop safe.

 

Aaron hugged her, and when she put her hand on her belly, Aaron covered her hand. “You take care of yourself. Don’t be a hero.”

 

“I’ll behave. I promise. Besides, Sasha will keep me in line,” Maggie whispered into his ear before coming out of the hug.

 

“You better believe it,” Sasha said, coming up behind them. “We’ll be okay, Aaron. You take care too. Watch out for Daryl. You know how he can be, and he needs you now more than ever.”

 

“I will,” Aaron replied.

 

“You talking about me?” Daryl said when he joined them. He hugged Sasha and then Maggie.

 

“Listen to Rick. Listen to Aaron. You hear me?” Maggie scolded.

 

“Yeah,” Daryl said with his head bowed. Aaron wondered what they had talked about.

 

Paul got a car and took half the group, which consisted of Rick, Carl and Michonne. Rosita and Tara went with Daryl and Aaron to the place where they hid the other car. Once there, Aaron hinted that the women stay by the road while he and Daryl went to get the car. It wasn’t far, but this would allow the men a moment to themselves. Aaron led Daryl into the tree line.

 

“It’s right over there,” Aaron said. He knew they didn’t have long. Paul would be waiting in the other car.

 

Once they were out of sight, Aaron stopped Daryl and stood in front of him. They gazed at each other for only a few seconds before they took each other in their arms. Aaron kissed him, wrapping his arm around Daryl’s neck. Daryl relaxed and kissed him back, his hands gathering Aaron’s shirt to pull him closer and hold him there. They were safe to be themselves, finally. Their bodies reacted as they held each other, coming alive with excitement. Now was not the time for a proper reunion, of course, but they could allow themselves the feel of their bodies against one another.

 

“I’m not going to lose you again,” Aaron whispered to him.

 

“You won’t,” Daryl agreed, but it only sounded like words, not a promise.

 

“I mean it,” Aaron said, releasing him and standing back to look into his face. “Whatever happens from here on out, I’m staying with you.”

 

“I’m not so sure that’s a good idea,” Daryl said somberly.

 

“I don’t care what you think,” Aaron demanded.

 

“Negan will be looking for me. I don’t want you there if he finds me,” Daryl said, his voice raised slightly.

 

“You think I don’t know what’s running through that tough brain of yours?” Aaron accused. “You were going to leave Hilltop, go off on your own somewhere, weren’t you?”

 

“You talked to Maggie,” Daryl said.

 

“I didn’t have to. I could see it in your face. I watched you looking at the gate, planning your escape. And when Maggie said you left Rick’s gun in her trailer, it confirmed my suspicions. Were you even going to come to me and let me know you were alright?”

 

“I was going to get a message to you somehow. Maybe get Jesus to hand deliver it since you two seemed to have become best friends while I’ve been gone.” Daryl regretted it as soon as he said it. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “I’m just worried for you. You weren’t trapped by those maniacs for two weeks. I was. I know what their capable of.”

 

“This is exactly why I want to stay with you. Together we can make sure they don’t find you. Listen, it won’t be forever. Rick’s got a good plan. And now with this new community, who knows what possibilities are before us. We have to fight them eventually, and the Saviors aren’t going to win.”

 

Daryl cupped Aaron’s face. “This is one of the things I’ve missed about you, your determination.” Daryl pulled him in and kissed him again. “Alright, for now we stay together.”

 

“There is no ‘for now’. It’s ‘for always’, and don’t forget that,” Aaron smiled at him. “Come on. We better get going.”

 

>>------->

 

They arrived at The Kingdom, which from where they were looked like a rundown parking lot. Everyone got out of the cars and stood around, watching and waiting.

 

“Nobody’s here,” Rick said.

 

“Oh, they’re here,” Jesus smiled. “Just give them a moment.”

 

Daryl was nervous. He looked at Aaron, who shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t like being out in the open like this. Jesus had said The Kingdom had an agreement with the Saviors. Who’s to say they weren’t here already, lying in wait for him. Daryl started to pace back and forth. “Man, what kind of bullshit is this?” he said impatiently.

 

“They’re here,” Jesus said as soon as Daryl complained.

 

Everyone was quiet and listened when suddenly they could hear horses approaching. A small group of men on horseback rode up from the same path Rick’s group took. “They watch the road,” Jesus informed them. “They saw us coming before we saw them. It’s part of their security system. They have patrols that roam around The Kingdom as added enforcement before anyone or anything can get to close to the community.”

 

The horseman who rode out front came in close. The other men surrounded the group of Alexandrians, keeping spears drawn on them. The leader saw Jesus and smiled. “Jesus, it’s good to see you,” he said sincerely.

 

“It’s good to see you too, Richard,” Jesus smiled back. It was obvious that they knew each other and had worked together in the past.

 

Daryl couldn’t help but notice how the horsemen were dressed. They wore chest plates and padding which looked like a combination of S.W.A.T. team gear and football protection. They wore all black, and had long spears made of metal, which Daryl had seen at Hilltop. So this was how they were related. Hilltop was supplying The Kingdom with weapons made by their blacksmiths. That meant they had little to no firepower.

 

“Who have you brought?” Richard asked.

 

“These are friends. Rick is their leader. They come from a community called Alexandria, and they are looking for help,” Jesus said.

 

“You know we don’t mind taking in new people, but–” Richard started to say when he was interrupted by Rick.

 

“We’re not here looking for shelter. We have a home. We’re here to ask for your support in joining us to fight the Saviors,” Rick said. He got right to the point.

 

“Why have you brought them here?” Richard asked, speaking to Jesus. “You know Ezekiel promotes peace.”

 

“I know you have a deal with the Saviors. I know you’re under their thumb, and so are we. But we want out, and the only way to do that is to stand up to them,” Rick said. He ignored the fact that Richard refused to acknowledge him.

 

Richard got down from his horse and went to Rick, facing him off as he stood before him. Now Rick had his full attention. “I don’t know you. Why should my people risk their lives for strangers?” Richard threatened.

 

Daryl didn’t like the tension that had been building. He took a step forward, ready to come to Rick’s aid, but Aaron put his hand on his arm to steady him. When Daryl looked at him, Aaron shook his head slowly back and forth, telling him not to interfere. Daryl steadied himself, but kept alert nonetheless.

 

“That sounds like Ezekiel talking,” Jesus interrupted. “Please, Richard. These are good people who have been touched by the same evil as you. I also know your mind works differently than the king’s. How long have you been trying to find someone who supports your views? I wouldn’t have brought them here if I didn’t think they were willing to make a difference.”

 

Richard seemed to listen to Jesus, and Daryl relaxed his stance. Rick was remaining unusually calm this whole time, a much different version of himself than Daryl had seen in the past. He was much more humbled. After a long silence, Richard seemed to have come to a conclusion. “Alright. I trust Jesus, and if he says you come as friends, I believe him. You’ll have to speak with King Ezekiel first. Come, I’ll take you to him.” Richard got back on his horse and led the others toward the Kingdom.

 

As it turned out, the parking lot they were in was on the outskirts of the actual community. On the way, Jesus explained to Rick and the rest how the trade deal worked with the Saviors. Apparently, King Ezekiel was something to be feared, even though he promoted peace. He worked a deal with the Saviors to supply certain goods as long as Negan’s people never stepped foot inside the Kingdom. Trades were made where Richard met Rick’s people, out and away from the eyes of the residents. They didn’t know about the Saviors. Ezekiel had kept it a secret in order for his people to live in peace and without fear. Only a select few knew about the trade deal, and that’s how it had been for a long while. For some reason, the Saviors never challenged Ezekiel. Daryl and Aaron wondered why the Kingdom hadn’t tried to fight the Saviors since they kept their distance from them. There was tension there, and it seemed that neither side was sure who was the strongest. That was a lot to contemplate, Daryl thought. As far as Hilltop and Alexandria were concerned, Negan and his people could come and go as they pleased. They could show up at any time, and take what they pleased. Maybe their disadvantage was their low numbers. The Saviors definitely outnumbered them, and so it was easy for them to push their way in. Ezekiel had folded only to a degree, just enough to keep the Saviors in supplies, but they weren’t allowed anywhere near the community.

 

They finally reached the main area of the Kingdom. It looked like it used to be a school, maybe a college. There was a huge courtyard surrounded by buildings. There were different areas of the courtyard. Some of it was dedicated to gardens, and Daryl could see all kinds of fruits, vegetables and herbs growing. It was a very healthy looking crop, too.

 

Another area was used to hang laundry, and there were women and children working hard to hang the day’s loads. Next to this area were multiple picnic tables where they probably gathered for meals or entertainment. Speaking of entertainment, there was a group of young people off to themselves, practicing like a choir. They sounded amazing, and Daryl realized he hadn’t heard people singing in a very long time.

 

Richard took them around a corner, and there was another area dedicated to weapons practice. Amazingly, they were young children using practice bows and arrows, handmade from wood, string and feathers. Further down was a practice area for the actual soldiers. They were engaged in exercise at the moment, moving in uniform like an army. There were several groups of soldiers, men and women alike. Some practiced swordplay or archery. Some threw spears at long range targets. Others were jogging around a track that was once used by the school for their track team, no doubt. Now it was a training ground for an army.

 

“So, if King Ezekiel promotes peace, why do all these people look like they’re getting ready for a war?” Daryl asked Jesus, who was walking with him and Aaron.

 

“It’s a precaution. Ezekiel won’t fight unless it is absolutely necessary,” Jesus answered.

 

“And having to answer to Negan is not a good enough reason?” Aaron asked.

 

“He’s made peace with the Saviors. They have a certain day and time when they trade. Ezekiel sends his men there with the goods. The Saviors collect them and are on their way. It keeps the peace, for now anyways.”

 

“Richard doesn’t seem to think enough is being done,” Daryl pointed out.

 

“Richard is wary. He says it’s just a matter of time before the Saviors try to take more than they already agree on. And when that happens, the peace will be broken. Richard wished to attack first, when Negan’s people aren’t prepared. However, Ezekiel disagrees. His only concern is his people’s safety.”

 

“The only way they’ll ever really be safe is when the Saviors are dismantled and the threat is eliminated,” Aaron said.

 

“That’s why I brought you all here. It’s about time Ezekiel heard it from someone else besides Richard,” Jesus said.

 

They made their way to a breezeway, and once they were there, they came to a set of double doors. “This is where you’ll speak with Ezekiel,” Richard told them.

 

Just then, the door opened and a familiar face emerged. Rick smiled when he saw his old acquaintance.

 

“Morgan?” Rick said, surprised.

 

“Rick,” Morgan smiled back. The two men hugged and stepped back to look at each other.

 

“Have you been here this whole time?” Rick asked.

 

“Just about.”

 

Rick looked around and asked. “Where’s Carol? Is she here with you?”

 

Daryl’s ear perked up at the mention of Carol’s name. “Carol’s here?” he said aloud to Aaron standing next to him. It had been a very long time since he’d seen her. Last thing he knew, she ran off in the middle of the night after leaving Tobin a note. She had said she couldn’t fight anymore. She couldn’t kill any more people, and if she stayed, she would have to do just that. He wished he could have been there for her, but Daryl was off being a jealous asshole, reckless and stupid. Aaron had warned him that she had changed right before her disappearance. He asked Daryl to talk to her, find out what was wrong, because that’s what Carol had always done for Daryl. He never got around to it. Carol disappeared, and Daryl ended up in a cell at the Sanctuary.

 

“I found her,” Morgan said to answer Rick’s question. “She’d been injured by one of the Saviors she’d come across. He survived her initial attack and followed her. When I found her, she’d been shot, and he was about to finish the job.” Morgan paused and looked into Rick’s face. “I had to shoot him to protect Carol. I didn’t want to, but he left me no choice,” Morgan confessed. “Not long after, some men on horseback approached. They said they had a community who could help her, and they brought us here. They took care of her injuries, and she was on the mend when she just … disappeared again. She told me she just wanted to be left alone. I’ve tried to get through to her but–”

 

“So you just let her go?” Daryl said with anger.

 

“Hey, he tried,” Aaron said to calm him. “You know Carol better than anybody. She can take care of herself.”

 

“She shouldn’t be out there alone,” Daryl said again. He thought about his choice to want to leave and be alone, but it wasn’t because he couldn’t handle the world anymore. It was to keep people from getting hurt while he was being hunted after escaping the Sanctuary.

 

“She took supplies and weapons. I’m sure she’s fine, wherever she is,” Morgan said.

 

“King Ezekiel will see you now,” said a man who came from inside the double doors. He was dressed like Richard and his men, a young man with shoulder length light brown hair, fit, trained, ready to enter a battle that his king wouldn’t initiate.

 

Rick led the way, following the young man into what looked like an auditorium. They walked down an aisle between the theater seats until they were in front of a stage. There was a throne and a black man with long dreadlocks sitting in it. He had one booted foot propped up on the oversized seat, and next to him, sitting beside the throne was a . . .

 

“That’s a tiger,” Daryl whispered to Aaron. He glanced sideways to find Aaron staring, jaw agape.

 

Aaron nodded. “Yep. That’s a tiger alright.”

 

“What the fu–” Daryl mumbled.

 

“Welcome friends. I am King Ezekiel, and this is the Kingdom,” the king said, his voice strong and loud. He talked like an actual king, like one from medieval days long ago.

 

“Is he for real?” Daryl questioned. He looked around to see if anyone else was buying into this act, but everyone’s attention was focused on the rather large wild beast who was only held on the stage by a rope which Ezekiel held loosely in his hand.

 

“No wonder the Saviors don’t come inside,” Aaron said.

 

Rick was the only one who responded, and he went along with the act. “King Ezekiel. I am Rick … of Alexandria … and I come to ask for your help.”

 

“I’ve seen everything now,” Daryl said.

 

It was time to talk business. Rick took over and talked to Ezekiel, told him their story, told him about Alexandria and the Saviors at the satellite station. He told him about being ambushed in the woods, and losing two very prominent members of their group. He mentioned Daryl’s kidnapping, coming clean when he said Daryl had escaped and was probably being hunted as they spoke. He talked about Gregory and his stubbornness not to help them, and that Jesus was responsible for bringing them to the Kingdom. He mentioned, also, how both communities suffered from Negan’s persistence and his ridiculous rules. Then he asked King Ezekiel to help Alexandria form an army to go up against the Saviors because that was the only true way they were going to live in peace.

 

King Ezekiel listened to each and every word that Rick had to say. When he was finished, Ezekiel asked Morgan for his opinion. “What say you, Morgan?”

 

Morgan considered the question, watching Rick in the process. In the past they had a falling out over their different concepts. Morgan didn’t want to fight or kill anyone anymore, and Rick would kill anyone who threatened his family or his community. Finally, Morgan spoke. “I have to disagree,” he answered. “People will die, a lot of people, and not just the Saviors. If there was a way we could talk to them, or maybe keep Negan imprisoned.”

 

The people of Alexandria let out an audible groan. Disappointment was clear on each of their faces. This was always Morgan’s answer, even now when they faced an enemy of so many people and communities.

 

“Thank you Morgan,” Ezekiel said. “Well,” he said turning back to Rick. “It seems I have some careful consideration to make. I need time to weigh all my options. I shall give my ruling in the morning.”

 

“I’m afraid we don’t have time to–” Rick said before being interrupted.

 

“In the morning,” Ezekiel said firmly. “Please, feel free to go anywhere you like. Rooms will be available to you. Make yourself at home, and we’ll speak tomorrow.” With that, Ezekiel stood from his throne and exited the stage, taking his tiger with him.

 

“That’s it?” Daryl complained. “This guy is just acting. He’s playing pretend while there are people out there dying. Just look at this place. Castles painted on the walls, fake trees, a damn throne. It looks like he’s ready for a school play. I say fuck him, and we get out of here.”

 

“No, we need his help,” Rick countered. “If he wants to wait until morning to give us an answer, then that’s what we’ll do. In the meantime, keep your eyes and ears open. Let’s check this place out, talk to some of its people, and find out how things work around here. We need to get a feel for the place.” Everyone agreed, but Daryl remained skeptical. The only good thing to come out of this was that he’d have a place to lay his head tonight, and Aaron was with him to share it.



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