Safe Haven in the Chaos

BY : IdrilsSecret
Category: S through Z > The Walking Dead
Dragon prints: 3631
Disclaimer: I do not own the walking dead or any of the characters. No money is being made from the writing of these stories

Chapter 49 Tigers Eye

 

 

Richard led Daryl a little ways out from the Kingdom, trekking along through a forest. They spoke very little, concentrating on their surroundings as they went. Finally, they came to an old abandoned camping trailer, hidden by the trees and underbrush.

 

Daryl stopped and waited to see what Richard was up to. “What’s this?” he asked cautiously.

 

Richard went to the door and opened it. “This is my secret stash. I’ve been … collecting a little bit here and there, glass jars, rags … flammable liquids. Mostly gasoline, but a little bit of pure grain alcohol too.”

 

“Moonshine?” Daryl said, surprised by the fact that someone must have a still somewhere.

 

“You’re familiar with the stuff?” Richard smiled.

 

“More than you know,” Daryl said quietly. He followed Richard into the small trailer. There were milk crates full glass jars and lids, a pile of torn rags, and numerous red gas cans, full and ready to use.

 

“Molotov Cocktails,” Richard said. “I have a few weapons too, but they’re not here. Don’t want to keep it all in one place. You know what I mean?”

 

“Eggs. Basket. I get it,” Daryl said as he looked around at the amount of material Richard had. “You’re really serious about this.”

 

“Damn straight. So can you understand why I’m so frustrated? If Ezekiel would just give the word, I’ve already got a head start to get things rolling.”

 

“Does anyone else know about this place?” Daryl asked.

 

“No. I’m not giving it up until I’m sure I’ve got enough people on my side. You’re on my side, aren’t you? We share the same goal … killing Saviors.”

 

Daryl nodded. This was a good start, but there was no plan. “What’s your idea?”

 

Richard was ecstatic that someone was willing to work with him. “We know we don’t have enough firepower to go up against the Saviors. That’s why we need to strike first.”

 

“That’s a given,” Daryl agreed.

 

“But the only way we’re going to be able to do that is to get Ezekiel on board. As you saw for yourself, he’s not going to budge easily. We have to give him a push. We need to do something that’s going to get him to move.” As Richard talked, he opened an old army locker and pulled out a duffle bag that looked like it had some guns in it. Then he put together one of his Molotov Cocktails. When he was done, he opened the door to the trailer and stepped out. “Now to show you the first stage of the plan.”

 

Daryl wasn’t sure what Richard was up to, but he could tell by his enthusiasm that he had thought this out and was waiting for just the right opportunity. He followed the man out of the trailer, and a short distance through the woods. They broke from the tree line and came out by a road. There was an abandoned eighteen wheeler paralleling the road, and Richard led Daryl to it. He put the bag down, and set the cocktail next to it. Then he took a gun out of the bag. Daryl still had the crossbow and a knife on his belt. Whatever Richard’s plan was, it seemed like he was not only showing Daryl, he was going to carry it out too.

 

“This road is used by the Saviors. No one else uses it. I’ve been watching them for a while so I know. There will be a group of them coming by anytime now, three, maybe four. They’ll have guns. We’ll be outnumbered. We need to ambush them, take them out quick, make it look bad, enough to incite war with them. Another group will come by, see the brutal scene and their dead comrades. We’re going to leave a very noticeable trail that leads to a house a couple miles out from the Kingdom. There’s a lone woman that lives there. Now, I’ve stashed a cache of weapons by the house. The Saviors will find it and think the woman is responsible for killing their men. They’ll probably kill her. Ezekiel cares for this woman. He sends her food all the time, checks up on her. Her death is what will push him towards war.”

 

Daryl heard what Richard was saying up until he mentioned a woman living alone in a house. Red flags went up immediately, and all he wanted to know was who this woman was. “What’s her name?” he asked, his voice turned dark.

 

“She chose to live out there by herself. It’s basically a death sentence,” Richard went on.

 

“Her name,” Daryl demanded.

 

“The way I see it, she’s just–”

 

“What’s her fucking name?!” Daryl yelled.

 

Richard paused and shook his head. “Carol. Her name is Carol.”

 

Emotions mixed in his chest, rage and relief. He hadn’t known where Carol was, and to find out that she was right here made him want to go to her. The fact that Morgan had lied to him when he said he didn’t know where she was, and now Richard was threatening her life had enraged Daryl to the point he needed to punch something. Daryl would do whatever it took to protect Carol. His eyes narrowed on Richard. “No,” Daryl said, and he started to reach for the bag Richard brought. The man grabbed his arm to stop him.

 

Richard sighed. “You know her,” he stated.

 

“I do, and we’re not doing this.” Daryl snatched his arm from him.

 

“Look, she chose this. You and I both know you can’t survive out here alone. Sooner or later she’s going to die, maybe from stiffs, maybe from Saviors, but it will happen. Why not use that to our advantage?”

 

“Carol is off limits. She’s not going to be part of your twisted plan.” Daryl got up close to Richard, glaring dangerously at him. He was considering whether or not to kill him when he heard the distant roar of engines. Both men turned to see two trucks coming up the road.

 

“Here they come,” Richard said, turning from Daryl to retrieve his gun. “This is it. This is our chance. All we have to do is–”

 

He didn’t finish his sentence. Daryl jumped on him, punched him and knocked him to the ground. Richard got up quickly and attacked Daryl, but Daryl overpowered him, throwing him on his back as he proceeded to punch Richard in the face. In the meantime, the trucks sped past the semi and kept going. Once they were in the clear, Daryl got up. Richard got up too, but at a slower pace. He wiped the blood from his nose and looked at his hand. Then he looked at the empty road.

 

“More will come by. I’ll have another shot at it,” Richard said. “I’ll do this myself if I have to, but it would be easier if you’d help me.”

 

Daryl charged at Richard, pushing him up against the truck and holding his arm to the man’s throat. He got in his face, teeth bared in hate. “You leave Carol alone. If anything happens to her, if she dies … she gets hurt ... she gets as little as a scratch, I will fucking kill you myself.” He stared at Richard another moment to make sure he made his point. Then he shoved the man’s chest one more time, turned, picked up the jar of flammable liquid, and threw it on the ground, shattering the glass. The smell of hooch was familiar. It made him remember who he used to be, and where he’d come from. He should just kill Richard right now, and save himself from having to do it later, but if Ezekiel found out that Daryl murdered one of his men, it ended any chance they had of getting the Kingdom to join forces with Alexandria.  Instead, Daryl picked up the bag and left Richard where he was.

 

Daryl was making his way back to the Kingdom, seething over the different events that had just happened. First of all, Richard’s plan to sacrifice someone for the greater good made him want to put that sorry son of a bitch out of his misery. Secondly, Morgan kept the truth from him. Carol was still here. He had told Rick and himself that he found her and brought her to the Kingdom, but that she left. Daryl had been worried for her, and he thought about where she might have gone. A few times he thought about leaving to go and look for her, but he was still dealing with too many other complications. Carol was strong, and Richard was right when he mentioned that she was tougher than the two of them put together. Still, he wished she had been here since he showed up at the Kingdom. Carol was always someone he could talk to without having to tell her every little detail. He could open up to her to a degree without spilling every secret, and when he was done, he always felt better. Aaron was the only one he could ever completely be honest with, but only when Daryl was willing to admit to certain details. He wasn’t ready to do that yet, but talking to Carol might help him.

 

Richard said she was staying in a house a couple miles out from the Kingdom. He decided to make his way around the perimeter and see if he could find this place. As he walked, he wondered if this was the right thing to do. She obviously didn’t want to be found, but why? Didn’t she need her family? Wasn’t there something they could do to keep her safe, make her feel comfortable with them again? How could she think that being on her own was any safer? He answered his own question when he thought about himself needing to be on his own. Sometimes that was the only way to keep everyone alive. Now he wondered what happened to make Carol feel this way too.

 

Daryl heard voices in the distance, speaking quietly amongst themselves. Ezekiel’s voice was recognizable. He remembered seeing Benjamin filling a satchel with fruit. He said it was for Ezekiel, who liked to have something for those he came upon. He was taking food to Carol. And then he thought of what Richard said. Ezekiel cared for the lone woman in the house outside of the Kingdom. He cared enough about her that her death would make him want to join the fight against the Saviors. That kind of caring went further than simply delivering food and supplies. Ezekiel really … cared … for her. That thought made Daryl feel a little better about Ezekiel’s character. It also made him think that Carol wasn’t as alone as Richard said she was.

 

The voices were coming closer, so Daryl found a place to hide as they passed. When he got a glimpse of them, he noticed that Ezekiel had a small band of soldiers with him, one of them being Benjamin with the satchel of fruit. They were going to see Carol, and Daryl followed at an unnoticeable distance. Finally, the house came into view. Ezekiel and his men stepped through the gate. Carol came out of her house. They exchanged words, but they didn’t stay long. They gave her some food and a crate, probably with other supplies inside. She looked well from where Daryl was watching. He wondered what she knew of recent events. She didn’t know about Glenn and Abraham. Morgan had mentioned that. But did she know about the Saviors agreement with Alexandria? Did she know that Rick had caved and was working for Negan? Did she know that Maggie and Sasha were at the Hilltop or that Daryl had been imprisoned by Negan?

 

Ezekiel and the rest left, and Daryl waited until they were well on their way back to the Kingdom and no longer in sight. Then he left his hiding place and walked to her house. Each step felt like two steps backwards. Finally, he made it to her door and knocked softly. She would probably think Ezekiel had come back, and she did.

 

“I told you,” she said before the door was fully open. “I’m fine, Ezekiel, and I don’t need any more–” She cut herself off when her eyes connected with Daryl. Her jaw dropped open and her bottom lip started to quiver. Tears instantly filled her sorrowful eyes. “Daryl?” she said, her voice nothing more than a squeak.

 

They each took a step forward and embraced. Carol was holding on to him as though she was falling into an abyss. Daryl had been teetering at its edge for a long time now. He pushed her away when he felt that he might tumble in and take her with him. He looked at her, and her tears had escaped, making trails down her cheeks. It was too much for Daryl, and his eyes filled too. So many things were running through his head, so many questions, but only one flowed from his lips. “Why’d you leave?”

 

Carol shook her head slowly back and forth. “I-I had to.” She wiped her face with the back of her hand and reached for his. “Come inside,” she said as she pulled him into her house. He went in and turned around to find her looking around the yard.

 

“It’s just me,” he told her. She seemed a little anxious about other people knowing where she was. “I was out walking around, and stumbled upon this place. I saw Ezekiel and the others leaving. Then I saw you standing on the porch.”

 

Carol closed the door and locked it. She turned around, leaning against the door, and stared at Daryl. “Why are you here? In the Kingdom, I mean,” she said, confused.

 

“Jesus brought us, Rick, me, and a few others. He wanted us to meet Ezekiel because … because he thought we might want to work with them,” Daryl told her.

 

“Do the rest know I’m here?” she asked, concerned that her secret was out.

 

Daryl shook his head. “No. Morgan told us that he found you. You were injured, and then some of the Kingdom’s soldiers found you and brought you here. He said when you healed, you left, and that he didn’t know where you went.”

 

“That’s what I told him to say,” she said. She seemed relieved to know that Morgan kept her secret.

 

“I’m sorry. If you want me to go–” he started to say.

 

“No,” she hurried to answer. “It’s okay. I’ve been … wondering about everyone. I couldn’t bring myself to ask Morgan. Besides, I already told him I didn’t want to know. He’s been very good about doing as I ask.”

 

“Sounds like Morgan,” Daryl mumbled.

 

“Come sit. I’ll put some soup on. Are you hungry?” She rushed to the kitchen where Daryl could see a counter full of fresh fruits and vegetables. She noticed him looking and laughed. “Ezekiel’s worried I’ll run out of food.” She opened a jar and poured it into a pot. Then she took the pot into the living room where the fireplace was ablaze with flames. There was a wire rack inside, and she set the pot on it so the soup would heat. Then she came to the sitting area and had a seat on the couch. Daryl was already sitting in a plush chair from where he watched her work.

 

“It’s not bad here,” he commented. “The wallpaper is a little dated.”

 

“Yeah, I’ve meant to remodel, but I just haven’t found the time,” she jested. “You don’t happen to know any good interior decorators, do you?”

 

Daryl huffed a laugh too. “You asking me that because I’m gay?”

 

She chuckled softly and then gasp. “Oh my God, I forgot to ask you about Aaron. Where is he? Is he all right? Are you two still–”

 

“He’s fine,” he interrupted. “He’s at the Kingdom … with me.”

 

“Where are the others?”

 

“They left to go back home.”

 

“Then why didn’t you two go with them? Has something happened, Daryl?”

 

He thought he could tell her his story, but he had to do it carefully. “I was captured by Saviors, taken to their place, held prisoner.” He spoke so quietly she almost didn’t hear him. “Jesus helped me get away. They’re looking for me. That’s why I’m here and not in Alexandria.”

 

“They captured you? You’ve been to their compound? Then you know where they are. You could help–”

 

“No,” he said quickly. “I can’t.”

 

She looked at him a little closer, probably noticing the old bruises that were almost faded away by now. He still had scars and scabs from previous injuries. “Did they … hurt you?”

 

“I got away. That’s all you need to know.”

 

“Daryl,” she retaliated.

 

“Who hurt you?” he asked, switching the focus to her. “Morgan said you were injured when you came to the Kingdom. Was it … them?”

 

Carol looked away, staring into the fire across the room. She slowly nodded. It seemed they both had memories they didn’t want to revisit. She stood from the couch and went to the fireplace to stir the stew. When she was done, she looked across the room at Daryl. “I couldn’t stay any longer because … I wanted … I needed you all to be safe.”

 

“I don’t understand,” Daryl said.

 

“I couldn’t see anyone come to any more harm because I knew if that happened I would have to kill again, and I can’t kill any more. I knew that one more drop of blood on my blade would mean the end of who I was … who I am. And no, I’m not saying it like Morgan does. He refuses to kill. I will kill if I have to, but I don’t want to. I used to be so weak. I couldn’t harm a fly. And I think it was because of the way my life was back then … with Ed. He was the violent one. I had watched him get worse and worse over the years, and it weakened me, made me scared. I’ve always thought that if I hadn’t been so weak in the beginning, maybe my Sophia would still be here with me. Then, after she was gone, I knew I had to toughen up. So I did, and I didn’t stop, and over the years I let it rule me to the point where I felt myself slipping away. One more death by my hands, and … and I would become the very thing I hated.”

 

Daryl listened and didn’t say a word. He knew exactly how she felt because that part of Daryl that he held dear was gone now. Negan took that away from him. He wasn’t sure he could ever get it back. At least Carol seemed to be making the effort not to fall into the nothingness. Daryl, however, was still scrambling to hold on to something as the nothingness swallowed him up.

 

“The others,” she said. “Are they okay? Are they all right? Did … did anything … bad happen?” Her words came out in a rasping whisper, as though she was afraid to ask, but needed to know.

 

Daryl knew if he told her the truth, she would leave this place this instant and go out after the Saviors. She wouldn’t stop until they were dead, and she knew it would mean her own death in the process. He felt like his own life was ruined, and he wouldn’t let hers go that way.

 

“Daryl?” she asked when he didn’t answer right away. Tears filled her eyes again.

 

“Everyone is good,” he lied. He just couldn’t destroy what little hope she had left. She laughed and cried at the same time, sniffled and wiped her eyes. “So, we gonna eat or what?” he said.

 

“Of course,” she smiled. It was the first time in a long time that Daryl saw real joy on her face. She took the pot from the fire and brought it to the table, ladling some into a bowl. “Come on. Eat,” she said to him. Daryl came to the table and they sat in silence eating their meal.

 

>>------->

 

Daryl had been here for a while now. They finished their meal a long time ago, and were now sitting comfortably in the living room, talking and telling stories of their pasts. He kept thinking of her mention of Ed, her husband who had died in the beginning. Daryl never like the man. Merle had befriended the guy, and in turn they were introduced to the group he was with now, at least a few of them. Carol hadn’t spoken of Ed in a very long time. She had told Daryl stories about their relationship in the past. It was around the time she was still dealing with her daughter’s death, another time Carol had run off on her own. Daryl found her, though, and they spent a few days together, very much like they were now.

 

“What made you mention Ed?” Daryl asked.

 

“I don’t know. I guess he’s the only person I remember that compares to the feelings I’ve had about myself lately.”

 

“He was horrible to you, wasn’t he?”

 

“He had his moments,” she said in a dark tone. “Especially when he’d been drinking. He’d come home drunk and angry. I’d make Sophia hide in her room, and let him take his aggression out on me. He had a wicked back hand.”

 

“Did he … ever … force himself on you?” Daryl asked bravely. He knew they had similar backgrounds, coming from broken homes and abuse. If he couldn’t talk to Aaron about this, maybe he could talk to Carol.

 

She could have told him it was none of his business. She could have gotten angry that he would dare to even ask, but Carol could always tell when Daryl wanted to know things because of his own experiences. She took a moment to answer, observing him as she paused. “Well,” she said as she left the chair where she now sat, and joined Daryl on the couch. “Most of the time, when he was in a violent mood, he was too drunk to make his willy work. Ed liked to hit. Made him feel powerful. But,” she paused. “Right after we were married there was one time when he … well … I didn’t want to and he did. He was playful at first, flirting with me. I kept dodging his advances. At first it was harmless, but it escalated into something else, and he scared me and … he got his way. Of course, I was young at the time, and thought I was in love. I thought it was my fault, that I shouldn’t have led him on, worked him into a frenzy. He was my husband so it couldn’t be considered rape, right? Looking back on it now … that’s exactly what it was. It was at that moment that I started to lose trust in him and he knew it.” She finished her recollection and they sat in silence again.

 

Daryl knew she was wondering why he’d asked about something so personal. She knew he wouldn’t have asked if there hadn’t been some kind of importance in it. But Carol wasn’t the type to pry. Maybe that’s why he felt safe telling her about his past. Out of the blue, he told her about Jay. “I was raped when I was a teen by a family friend. His name was Jay.” After that, he felt like a river that broke its banks and told her his whole story. Daryl had only ever told one person, and that was Aaron. Now Carol knew too, but there was a reason why he started from the beginning. He reached the end of his story, and she listened silently through the whole thing. When he was done, she was still silent because she could sense that there was more. He told her as much and stopped. Suddenly, the flood gates closed and he second guessed his decision to tell anyone about his ordeal at the Sanctuary.

 

“Why are you telling me about this now?” she asked. “It’s something that happened to you a long time ago.”

 

“What happened to you was a long time ago too,” Daryl retaliated.

 

“You asked me first,” she said with a raised brow. Without looking at him, she leaned forward, putting her elbows on her knees, and spoke. “What happened at the Sanctuary, Daryl?” she inquired firmly.

 

“They . . .” He stopped, overthinking this whole mess. “They … tortured me.”

 

“How?” she said softly, and her hand came to rest on the couch between them, an offering of comfort should he need it.

 

“I … I was . . .” This was the most difficult thing he had to do. But this was Carol, and she never judged him. “I was held captive, tortured, starved, beaten, and then . . . There was a guy. He had it out for me.”

 

“How so?” she asked to get him to open up some more.

 

“He wanted something I refused to give him. And then they set me up, made me think someone was helping me escape. I should have known better; it was too good to be true. Turned out to be a trap. Negan was there … tried to convert me, but I wouldn’t agree to his terms. In return, he had his men beat the shit out of me. I thought I’d die, and a part of me hoped I would. I so desperately wanted out of that fucking place. I think I kind of blacked out, but when I came to, I was back in my cell … and I wasn’t alone. This … guy … he was there, talking a bunch of bullshit.” Daryl stopped when he felt like he was back in the cell with Brady standing over him. It was too much, but he knew the only way to deal with this was to tell her.

 

Carol sat back on the couch. Her hand came to rest on Daryl’s back, and he winced at her touch. “What did he do to you?” she asked softly. Daryl hung his head shaking it back and forth. When he didn’t answer her, she took the conversation over for him. “It’s all right. I think I get it.”

 

“I couldn’t fight back,” Daryl said after a while of silence. “I tried. I really did, but it wasn’t enough. He … he came for me when he knew I couldn’t fend him off.”

 

“Oh God, Daryl, I’m so sorry,” she said with extreme sympathy. She watched him, but his hair curtained his face and she couldn’t see him. “I understand what you’re going through and it’s horrible, I know.”

 

“There was nothing I could do,” Daryl went on. “They beat the fucking shit out of me. I’ve never felt so defenseless … so cowardly. I keep thinking, if only I’d tried harder. I should have bit him, scratched him … something.”

 

“It’s not your fault,” she said sharply. “It wasn’t when you were a kid, and it wasn’t this time either.”

 

“I’m a magnet for guys like this. I don’t know why else it happens to me,” he whimpered.

 

“That’s not true and you know it.” Carol moved her hand to his shoulder, careful of how she touched him. “What about Aaron? How is he taking it?”

 

“He doesn’t know,” Daryl whispered.

 

“You haven’t talked to him about this?” she accused.

 

“I … I can’t bring myself to tell him. He’ll think I’m weak. He’ll think I’ve given up.”

 

“Daryl … he loves you more than anything else in this world. If there’s one person who can see you through this it’s him.”

 

“You don’t know how difficult it was to tell him about my childhood. What if he thinks I didn’t try to stop it? After all, I lived it once already. I should have been able to prevent it happening again. He’ll think I’m a fuck up. How could he still love me knowing someone else … that I was forced to … that another man had his way with me?”

 

“The worst thing you could do is to keep secrets from each other. That’s a death sentence to any relationship. And I’d bet my life on it that Aaron would never abandon you, especially not now when you need him to help you heal.” Daryl turned his head slightly, and Carol could see part of the side of his face. The bruises had yellowed, but she could still see where he was punched, and it hurt her heart to think of what he experienced while held captive. “He needs to know. This isn’t something to keep inside or you’ll eventually lose Aaron. Trust me, I know all about keeping secrets.”

 

“I think he already suspects something anyway. I haven’t exactly been receptive toward him since we reunited,” Daryl admitted.

 

“That’s how it begins, and before you know it, you’ll be pushing him away. After a while, he’s not going to come back. So you see, this is why you must talk to him about it. You know as well as I do, he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you. Don’t screw around with that. You don’t want to end up alone in this forsaken world we call life.”

 

Daryl met her eyes for the first time since coming to her home. “And here you are … alone.”

 

“Well, I tried, but Ezekiel won’t let me. So I’m not really alone, you know?”

 

Daryl reached out and put a hand on her knee in friendship. “Why don’t you come home, Carol?”

 

Tears threatened to fall, but she held herself in check. “I can’t. Not right now. I’m … figuring things out. I just need a little more time.”

 

“Hmph,” Daryl grunted disbelievingly.

 

“You’ve got things to consider right now. Don’t worry about me. I’m safe out here,” she said.

 

“You’d be safer back at the Kingdom,” he tried to convince her, but it was like talking to a boulder. She wasn’t budging. “Fine,” he said, giving up. “Just so you know, there’s a cache of weapons buried about fifty paces from the back door.” She gave him a confused and curious look, but he shook his head. “Don’t ask. Just know they’re there if you need them.

 

Eventually, Daryl had to leave. He needed to get back to the Kingdom. He’d been gone too long, and Aaron would be worried. Part of him didn’t want to face Aaron, but what Carol said was true. He couldn’t keep this from him much longer or everything they worked so hard on would dissolve. Hell, after he told Aaron, if he decided to do that, it might still be over between them. Daryl wasn’t sure how Aaron was going to react.

 

He stood and went to the door. “The sun will be setting in an hour or so. I better get back before dark.”

 

Carol stood, too, and went to him. “Oh, okay.” They faced each other, not sure what to say. Then Daryl awkwardly leaned toward her and kissed her cheek.

 

“Be careful out here on your own,” he told her.

 

“You be careful too,” she smiled sadly. Carol took a step toward him and wrapped her arms around his waist. She leaned her head on his chest and held him a moment.

 

Daryl wasn’t sure how to react, but he eventually returned the hug. He didn’t know when they would meet again. Carol wouldn’t leave this place, and Daryl couldn’t stay at the Kingdom, no matter what Rick might have wanted.

 

“Where will you go?” she asked, as though she read his thoughts.

 

“I don’t know yet, but I can’t stay here. Negan’s gonna come looking for me,” he answered.

 

“Will Aaron go with you?” she wondered.

 

Daryl shook his head. “He thinks he will, but–”

 

“Daryl,” she said with sadness tinging her words.

 

“I need to keep him safe, and right now I’m a target. He’s better off anywhere but with me.”

 

“Running is not going to solve anything.” Carol lifted her head to look at his face, but he was looking toward the door. “But I know how stubborn and pig headed you are,” she complained.

 

“Guess we got that in common,” he replied.

 

Carol released him and cupped the side of his face. “Talk to him,” she whispered.

 

Daryl gave a nod and went to the door. He walked outside and down the steps before he turned to her. “Watch your back out here.” He warned her, remembering Richard and his failed plan. Daryl went to the gate, opened it and went on his way, heading back to the Kingdom.

 

>>------->

 

It was almost dark when Daryl entered the Kingdom. Another day gone by avoiding Aaron. He couldn’t keep doing this. Carol was right. He was going to have to talk to him. How could he start that conversation? How would he tell Aaron that he was not the same man he was before that night in the woods, kneeling before a mad man with a bat? How would he explain the reasons why without making himself out to look like a failure?

 

He was heading to the housing building, but at the last moment, he stopped and looked up at the windows. Daryl didn’t know which one was his and Aaron’s room, but he knew it looked down upon the courtyard where he stood.

 

“I can’t,” he whispered to himself, finding that his confidence fled a long time ago. Surely Aaron wouldn’t want him more broken now than when they first met, and Daryl was pretty damn fucked up back then. They’d been through this before. It had taken a while for Daryl to accept himself, and accept Aaron. The man had been nothing but patient with him, but a person could only take so much. Was this another hurdle they had to get over, or would Aaron toss him to the side? No one wanted damaged baggage, something to lug around that was no more than a nuisance.

 

Daryl talked himself out of going upstairs. Instead, he decided to wander around the Kingdom for a while, maybe find a quiet corner to hide. “Maybe I should just leave now,” he reasoned with himself as he walked along the sidewalk that ran around the courtyard. He needed to clear his head, calm his mind so that he could come up with a bright plan.

 

He was walking past another building and saw a flicker of candlelight through one of the small rectangular windows. He remembered Ezekiel telling him about the place where Shiva, his tiger was kept. She was a magnificent creature. Daryl had never seen a real tiger. The place where he lived growing up wasn’t anywhere near a zoo, not that his father would ever have taken him and his brother to such a place. Daryl thought she was beautiful and dangerous when he first saw her. He quietly made his way through the shadows until he was at the door. He opened it and found another room. This one held a large cage in the center, and inside was Shiva.

 

When he entered, the tiger rose from her sleeping position, eyes trained on Daryl, watching his every move. Had she not been in a cage, Daryl was sure he would have been killed by now. But she knew she could not get to him. Instead, she kept a steady eye on him, an intimidating glare that made him very nervous.

 

Daryl remembered something his brother Merle taught him as a kid. Animals sensed fear, and it made them uneasy. Keep yourself calm and the animal would relax also. He wondered if it worked on tigers too. “Only one way to find out,” he muttered to himself. Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Daryl came the rest of the way into the room with the caged tiger. He went to the bars and stood still. His hair covered his eyes, but he watched her from behind his stringy locks. The tiger slowly padded across her cage towards him. He couldn’t help notice her massive paws, and how sharp her claws were. How Ezekiel was able to keep her tame was beyond his understanding. She stood only a couple feet from the bars and watched him with intensity. To make himself less threatening, Daryl got down on his knees. Eventually the tiger made her way towards him. And then something odd happened. Their eyes locked as they studied one another, and Daryl felt a sense of calm wash over him. Shiva touched his soul with her golden eyes, making him feel very vulnerable.

 

“You don’t want to hurt me, do you?” he said to the tiger, and her eyes narrowed in cat-like style. A low rumble came from her throat. She was staying cautious.

 

“My guess is that you don’t much like being in that cage either. I know the feeling. They only let you out when they need you. Otherwise, you’re kept locked away.”

 

Shiva’s mouth opened, her pink tongue slipping out slightly. Then she made soft grunting sounds, as though she understood what Daryl had said. She came the rest of the way to the bars and sniffed him as best she could. Daryl daringly raised his hand, making a fist and offering it to her to smell. It worked with dogs, he thought. The tiger snorted several times, and then sat down. She seemed to accept Daryl’s presence.

 

“You’re a pretty girl,” he complimented her. “I ain’t never seen a tiger up close before.” He sat down and crossed his legs, elbows on his knees as he observed her unique patterns and colors. “Beautiful creature,” he whispered. Shiva started rubbing her face and cheek on the bars. “Got an itch you can’t scratch?” He brought his hand to her and pet her through the bars. She stilled and allowed it. “Wow,” Daryl said amazed. “I’m petting a tiger. Scratch that one off my bucket list.”

 

Shiva laid down and made a sound similar to a cat purring. Whether or not that’s what it was, Daryl wasn’t sure, but she was calm and relaxed, happy for the attention. He rubbed harder, and she pushed her head against the bars. “Yeah, good girl,” he cooed. It was a special private moment with this unpredictable beast. They’d come to an understanding, tolerating each other, happy for the company. It took Daryl’s mind off of everything else, at least for a little while. Too soon, he heard someone approach and come into the room. He looked up to find Morgan watching the scene.

 

Morgan looked surprised by what he found. Daryl could imagine what it looked like, but he didn’t stop petting the tiger. He waited to see what Morgan would say, whether he would warn him not to get so close. But Morgan held his composure and smiled kindly. “King Ezekiel would be impressed by your skills,” he said.

 

“It’s no skill. She just … trusts me for some fucking reason,” Daryl answered. He didn’t feel like listening to Morgan’s bullshit, which usually always came up in any conversation with the man.

 

“Aaron’s been looking for you. He’s worried you’re going to leave without him,” Morgan informed him.

 

“Yeah … well … he knows my situation. He knows everyone would be safer if I wasn’t here.”

 

“He just wants to watch out for you,” Morgan said.

 

Daryl was getting tired of Morgan muddling in his business. “You can tell him you found me. Now leave me alone.”

 

Morgan wouldn’t listen. He came further into the room. “Where will you go?” he asked. “Assuming you’re going to leave the Kingdom.”

 

“I don’t know,” Daryl answered. There was no use avoiding the conversation. Once Morgan got started, there was no shaking him. “I just need to be away from everyone when Negan comes looking for me.”

 

“Going alone is a bad idea. You know this,” Morgan advised.

 

“I was alone a long time before all this shit. I know how to survive.” Daryl paused and looked up at Morgan through his long hair. “Carol seems to be doing all right on her own.”

 

That caught the man off guard. He took a moment to think of what to say, but there wasn’t any way to avoid it. “You saw her?”

 

Daryl nodded. “She’s living in that abandoned house up the road. You knew this. Why’d you lie to everyone?”

 

“She asked me to, and if you’ve talked to her, then you know she has her reasons.”

 

“She said you saved her, brought her to the Kingdom for help.” Daryl looked down and nodded. “Thanks for watching out for her.”

 

“Carol felt the same as you. She wanted to run away, do things on her own. I talked her out of it, convinced her to stay here, but not … here. You could do the same,” Morgan suggested.

 

“What … and have Ezekiel hand delivering fruit and shit? No thanks. Three’s a crowd.”

 

“I didn’t mean that you and Carol should–”

 

“I know what you meant,” Daryl interrupted. “I’m not staying. Nothing you can say will change my mind. Carol wants to keep everyone safe by not being around. Well, so do I, but I just need to be a lot further away in case–”

 

As he spoke, Aaron came into the room, fear and worry sitting on his brow. “You’re leaving?” he questioned. He’d been listening to the conversation. Daryl realized that he had come with Morgan to eavesdrop, but it must have become too much for him not to participate.

 

Morgan moved out of the way to let Aaron through. Then he turned to the door and left so that the two men could continue their conversation in private.

 

Daryl watched Aaron, felt his heart jump in his chest as it reached out for him. After everything, he still felt the same excitement for his lover. It didn’t last, though. Dread poured in and smothered whatever hope he had left. “I have to go,” he said.

 

“I don’t think that’s a good idea. You know the Saviors don’t step foot inside the Kingdom. They can’t find you,” Aaron argued.

 

“It’s only a matter of time. Negan will be looking for me. You think some shady deal Ezekiel has with him will keep him out?” Daryl shook his head. “I’m putting everyone here at risk. I can’t do that. These are good people. I won’t be responsible for their deaths.” Daryl stood from the ground, but he wouldn’t make eye contact with Aaron. He approached and tried to walk past, but Aaron grabbed his arm rather roughly.

 

“I can’t let you go. I swore to you I’d never let you go again, and I mean to make good on that promise. If you have to leave, then I’m going with you,” Aaron insisted.

 

“No, you’re not,” Daryl rejected, and he pulled his arm from Aaron’s grip. Aaron moved and jumped in front of him so he couldn’t leave. Daryl turned his head to the side.

 

“What’s wrong, Daryl?” Aaron asked. “Ever since you’ve come back, something has been off. You won’t talk to me. You avoid me day and night. You won’t look at me. I can’t imagine what you went through, but you’re here now. I’m here. If you’d just tell me what–”

 

“There’s nothing to tell. They locked me up, beat the shit out of me, starved me, tried to force me to join them, and then I got away. Fuck, Aaron. Why can’t you just leave it alone?” Daryl said in a raised tone.

 

“I can’t. I won’t because I’m worried about you. And now I hear you’re taking off by yourself. You’d really leave without telling me? Since when do you run away from me?” Aaron argued.

 

“I ain’t running away. I’m trying to keep you safe. I escaped from the Sanctuary, from a man who would crush everyone in his path. If he finds me, you’re the last person I want around. He’ll kill you, Aaron. He won’t hesitate to take that bat to your head. I’ve already got one death hanging over me. I can’t go through that again. I just can’t.”

 

“Is that what this is about?” Aaron asked in a softer voice. “You feel responsible for what happened to Glenn.”

 

“That’s part of it,” Daryl mumbled.

 

“Then what else is it? Talk to me. Let me help you sort things out. Let me be there for you. I love you so much, but I can’t take the silence. I need you. I need to be with you. I can’t lose you again,” Aaron pleaded.

 

Daryl forced himself to look at Aaron. The pain on his face was too much. Daryl caused that, and the last thing he wanted to do was hurt Aaron. Caring hands cupped his face, and Aaron gazed into his eyes, asking for something in return. Daryl moved closer, and for the first time since they were alone briefly in the forest, he allowed them to hold each other. His arms naturally found their way around Aaron’s waist, and he buried his face in the waiting shoulder. Aaron’s hand cupped the back of his head, while the other surrounded his waist. Aaron pulled him in until their bodies were flush against one another. They just held each other for a while.

 

When Daryl pulled away, his eyes settled on Aaron’s, and he realized that he couldn’t leave without him. There was no life without Aaron beside him. “I don’t want to be here anymore,” Daryl told him. “I’m not doing anyone any good here. Ezekiel won’t fight the Saviors. Rick wants me to try and convince him, but maybe that’s the wrong thing to do. They’re all safe for now. They have a deal with Negan, and it’s worked for them so far. If someone gets word that I’m here, this place will burn and people will die.”

 

“Then let’s go. We don’t have to stay. I was just doing what Rick wanted because of you. We can leave. I don’t care as long as we’re together,” Aaron assured him.

 

“Go where?” Daryl wasn’t sure there was anywhere they could go and be safe for even a short while.

 

“I don’t know. Somewhere remote. Somewhere far from the chaos,” Aaron rambled, and then it came to him. “Wait! The cabin! We can go there, hide out for a while, just you and me.”

 

“I’m not so sure that’s–”

 

“It’s always been the place we went when we needed to regroup. It’s far from here, far from the Saviors. I think we’ll be safe there, especially now,” Aaron smiled with enthusiasm.

 

Daryl wanted to go, but he was concerned about the others. “What if Rick needs us? He’s depending on us to be there ready to fight.”

 

“Look,” Aaron said, taking Daryl’s hands in his. “Everyone’s trying to figure out our next move, but no one has stepped back to take a moment to breath, especially you. You’ve been through something traumatic. We all have. I’m not saying we need to disappear and never come back.” He paused and smiled. “Unless you want that.” He shook his head. “Of course not. We’re not leaving the group. We’re just getting our heads on straight, taking some one on one time for each other. We owe that to ourselves. Don’t you think so?”

 

Aaron was right. They did need time together after everything that had happened over the past few weeks. To Daryl, it felt like it had been months, but it was nowhere near that long. Perhaps some quiet time at the cabin would do them good. It always worked for them in the past. “It’ll probably take us a few days to get there.”

 

Aaron squeezed Daryl’s hands with delight. “I’ll talk to Ezekiel, see if he’ll let us take a vehicle that they don’t use often.”

 

“No,” Daryl said quickly. “I don’t want to be in any sort of debt to the Kingdom. We’ll head out on foot and look for a car or something. I saw some on the way here.”

 

Aaron nodded. “All right. That’s fine. Whatever you want to do. We’ll go, take some time to sort things out, and then when we’re ready, we’ll catch up to the others.”

 

“First thing in the morning,” Daryl added.

 

“Bright and early,” Aaron said, closing the distance between them. “But promise me you’ll stay the night … just to sleep … or whatever you’re comfortable with. I just don’t want to wake up alone again.”

 

Daryl knew he hadn’t been an easy person to deal with lately, but he could try for tonight. Aaron would let Daryl do whatever he felt he needed to do. He wouldn’t be pushy or insistent. Even though Aaron had no idea what Daryl had been through, he would still respect their relationship. Maybe once they got to the cabin he could talk to Aaron … maybe. Only time would tell.

 

>>------->

 

Surprisingly, Daryl slept sound for the first time since escaping the Sanctuary. Just as he predicted, Aaron was the perfect gentleman. They slept side by side and nothing more. Aaron contoured to Daryl a couple times in the middle of the night, but that was tolerable. It actually brought him comfort having Aaron curled up to him. That’s when Daryl fell into a deep sleep.

 

Morning came, and they were up before sunrise. Packed and ready to go, they headed out of the gates of the Kingdom. Daryl and Aaron noticed Morgan watching them from across the courtyard. He didn’t try to stop them. He knew there was no chance of that. But seeing Morgan got Aaron thinking and he was concerned about something.

 

“Hey, should we have told Morgan what we were doing, you know, so someone knows we’re going off on our own for a few days?” Aaron asked.

 

“I thought about that too, but not Morgan. I got a better idea,” Daryl said. He led Aaron to the house where Carol was living.

 

Daryl knocked softly so as not to concern her. From what she had told him, she was used to visitors. Ezekiel made a point to visit or send someone in his place to check on her, and make sure she had everything she needed.

 

“She really is here, isn’t she?” Aaron asked. He had heard Daryl talking to Morgan last night, but he didn’t know Carol was this close to the Kingdom.

 

Before Daryl could answer, the door opened and Carol gave a slight smile. “There’s my boys.”

 

“Carol,” Aaron said with relief as he pushed past Daryl to get to her. They hugged tight. It had been a very long time since they saw each other. When Aaron thought about it, last he’d seen of her, she was still in Alexandria, standing on Tobin’s front porch, smiling and talking to him. Everything seemed all right back then. Little did anyone know hell was about to spill into their lives.

 

“You look well,” Carol said after looking Aaron over. “And I’m so happy to see the two of you together. Are you hungry? I’ve got eggs, more than I know what to do with actually.”

 

“We can’t stay long,” Daryl chimed in. “I just thought you’d want to see Aaron before we head out.”

 

“Where are you going?” she wondered.

 

“We’re taking a few days for ourselves before we regroup with the others,” Aaron answered.

 

“Good. That’s really good. You two deserve some time together … alone,” Carol said, genuinely happy for them.

 

“Yeah, we’ve got a little sanctuary where we used to go sometimes. It’s far enough from here, I don’t think it will be a problem. The only thing is it’s kind of remote,” Aaron said.

 

“That’s what we wanted to tell you,” Daryl continued. “If anyone comes looking for us, we’ll be out of range for a few days. I don’t want to tell you where, just in case any Saviors come around.”

 

“Of course, I understand,” she said. “How are you getting there?”

 

“We’re walking until we find some transportation,” Daryl told her.

 

“Daryl didn’t want to ask any favors of Ezekiel. You know how he is.” Aaron elbowed Daryl.

 

“You can’t walk. From what you’ve said, it sounds like it’s a long way from here,” Carol said concerned.

 

“We’ll be fine on our own,” Daryl insisted.

 

“Don’t be ridiculous. I think I can help you out. There’s a car around the back of the house, about thirty yards or so into the woods. Ezekiel hid it here, in case I needed a quick escape. The keys are in the visor. It’s got half a tank of gas. Hopefully it’s enough to get you to wherever you’re going.”

 

“I didn’t think the Kingdom had any cars except for a few trucks,” Daryl said.

 

“They’re very limited, which is why they go everywhere by horse, but aren’t completely out of vehicles.” She put her hand on Daryl’s arm. “And you won’t be in debt to the Kingdom. It’s my car to do with as I please. Okay?” She knew how Daryl’s mind worked.

 

“You sure about this?” Daryl inquired.

 

“Yes,” Carol smiled sweetly. “Why don’t you go bring it around? I’ll pack up a few supplies for you to take with you on the road.”

 

Daryl nodded and looked to Aaron before he left to retrieve the car. While he was gone, Carol took a moment to talk to Aaron. “He seems so much better now than he was yesterday.”

 

“Yeah, we had time to talk and made amends. He’s still not back to his old self, not completely. There’s something he’s not telling me. Did he mention anything to you about his time at the Sanctuary?”

 

He had, but Carol knew it wasn’t her place to say anything. She shook her head. “Not much.”

 

“That’s where I’m at. I was hoping that spending a few days alone might help him mend, possibly open up to whatever happened to him.”

 

“Daryl is going to do things his way, but I don’t have to tell you that. Just be there for him, and if he decides to talk to you, then listen with a clear head and an open heart.”

 

Aaron took Carol’s advice, but he couldn’t help think she knew more than she was leading on. “Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.”

 

Aaron and Carol went into her kitchen, and together they filled a couple bags with food and water for their trip. By the time they were done, the car was around front. Daryl came in through the door, excitement on his face at the prospect of leaving this part of the country and heading somewhere more familiar. Carol hugged Daryl goodbye, and whispered something to him. When Daryl stepped back, Aaron went to her and they hugged again.

 

“Don’t be a stranger anymore,” Aaron whispered into her ear.

 

“I’ll try not to be,” she said. “And remember to give Daryl the space he needs, but be there when he needs you.”

 

“I will,” Aaron answered and smiled to her.

 

“Come on. We’re burning daylight,” Daryl called from across the room.

 

Aaron kissed Carol on the cheek and squeezed her hands before he went to the front door carrying their loaded bags. Daryl took one from him and led the way to the car. Carol came out on her front porch to see them off. Both men hopped into the car, Daryl driving, and pulled out of the yard. They waved to her and she waved back, watching them until she couldn’t see them anymore.

 

Aaron leaned his head back on the headrest and sighed. “Kind of like old times.”

 

“Yeah,” Daryl agreed. “Feels good. Feels right.”

 

“It always feels right when we’re together.” Aaron reached across the car and squeezed Daryl’s thigh. He did it without thinking, and regretted his decision when he felt Daryl tense from his touch. But just as soon as it happened, Daryl relaxed and reached down to take Aaron’s hand in his.

 

“It does,” Daryl agreed. “It always does.”



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