Safe Haven in the Chaos

BY : IdrilsSecret
Category: S through Z > The Walking Dead
Dragon prints: 3274
Disclaimer: I do not own the walking dead or any of the characters. No money is being made from the writing of these stories

Chapter 5 Confessions of a Damaged Man


They had a harrowing experience at the camp, and they made it out alive. Now, they were safe at the cabin. Daryl helped the boy inside, and gave him some clean clothes to change into. While he dressed, Daryl went to the kitchen. His adrenaline was still pumping aggressively through his veins. His emotions were a mixture of hate, fear and disgust. Some bad shit went down back there. One man he was able to save, but the other, the boy, would have a long road of recovery before him as another victim of rape. Sick bastards. He didn’t want anyone to have to go through the terrors that he’d experienced as a youth. Yet, it was too late for the boy. If only he’d gotten to the barn sooner. Daryl wanted someone to blame besides himself. If only Aaron hadn’t disobeyed him in the first place, then maybe they wouldn’t have been in that situation. As these thoughts shot through his mind, Aaron entered the kitchen. His face was raw, one eye blackened, and a cut on his forehead. He looked like he’d just gone a few rounds in the ring. He wouldn’t be like this if he’d just done what he was told. Daryl needed to take out his fury on someone. Unfortunately, Aaron was his only target.

Daryl watched Aaron retrieve a dish towel, wet it in the sink and hold it to his eye. He looked like hell, but this didn’t stop Daryl from scolding him. “Why didn’t you listen to me back there?”

“I wasn’t going to leave you behind. You should know me better than that by now.”

“I had things under control,” Daryl argued.

“Oh really? Because from my point of view–”

Daryl slammed his fist on the counter, cutting him off. “I was in control until you came flying out from nowhere and jumped that guy. You could have gotten us all killed.”

“But we made out,” Aaron yelled back.

Daryl paced the kitchen, needing to punch something. He tried to calm himself, but his anger was getting the better of him. “And what the hell were you thinking, antagonizing that guy like that? I told you they were dangerous.”

“I knew I needed to make a diversion, and there was nothing else I could do,” Aaron explained.

“So you pissed him off to the point of getting yourself–” Daryl couldn’t finish the sentence. He couldn’t say the word. He took a deep breath and ran his hand through his hair. “For God’s sake, Aaron, when I got there and saw you tied to that car . . .” Again, he couldn’t verbally finish his thought.

Aaron plopped down on a stool and hung his head. “I’m alright, Daryl.”

They were silent for a few more minutes before Daryl spoke again. “Are you sure? Did … uh … did he–”

“No,” Aaron said sharply.

“Thank God for that,” Daryl said with relief.

“What about the boy?” Aaron asked.

Daryl shook his head and whispered, “He wasn’t so lucky.”

“Shit,” Aaron said, closing his eyes and turning from Daryl. “Which one?”

“When I found him, that fat bastard was–” Daryl stopped and paced the room again. “Before that, it was Reg.”

“We have a counselor back in town. She’ll talk to him, work with him,” Aaron suggested.

“A counselor? You think he can just talk to some shrink and poof, he’s cured?” Daryl said with anger.

“Of course not,” Aaron scowled with furrowed brows. “But it’s a start.”

Daryl was across the room in only a couple strides, right in Aaron’s face, but the man didn’t flinch, didn’t back down. “That boy is gonna be messed up for the rest of his life. He can talk to the Pope. He ain’t never gonna forget that. That’s something dark. It gets under your skin, flows through your veins. It makes you wake up screaming in the middle of the night. You see something or smell something, and like a trigger, you’re right back there, trapped in time.”

Aaron’s face softened as he watched Daryl seethe, studying his features. “It happened to you, didn’t it?”

Daryl had shown his hand. He’d tried so hard to keep anyone from knowing this about him. Beth was the only person he’d ever told. He trusted her with his secret, and she took it with her to the grave. Didn’t he trust Aaron, though? Or would he try and make Daryl talk to that shrink back in Alexandria?

“Daryl?” said the boy from the kitchen door.

Daryl turned from Aaron, abandoning their conversation, and went to the boy. For the first time, Daryl got a good look at him. He was young and skinny like most boys his age, brown hair, brown eyes, just the average seventeen year old teenager. “What’s your name?” Daryl asked. The boy look at him strange. “You never told me your name.”

“It’s Caleb.”

“Well, Caleb, you know you’re safe here, right?” Daryl asked, and he nodded. “That place is a long way from here. No one is going to hurt you.”

“Yeah,” Caleb said sadly.

“Good. Why don’t you try to get some sleep? You can take one of the spare rooms,” Daryl said, leading Caleb back into the living room.

“Actually, I’d rather sleep out here on the couch. I don’t really want to be alone,” Caleb said. He still looked terrified.

“Whatever you want, Caleb,” Daryl said. “I’ll get a pillow and some blankets.” He started to leave, but Caleb stopped him.

“Where will you be?” he asked.

Daryl pointed to the opposite side of the living room. “My room is right over there, but I ain’t going to sleep any time soon.”

“Can you just kind of hang out here until I fall asleep?” He sounded like a small child who’d just had an awful dream.

“Sure.” Daryl left him to get the extra blankets. When he came back, Caleb helped him spread the bedding over the couch. Caleb laid down, and Daryl observed him a moment. The poor kid was really keeping it together after what he’d just been through. “You alright?”

“For now,” Caleb said, his eyes never leaving Daryl as he laid down. Daryl covered him with a blanket.

“I’m gonna check on Aaron, and I’ll be right back,” Daryl said, and Caleb nodded.

He went back to the kitchen, and found Aaron still holding a wet rag over his eye. Daryl went up to him, and without a word, took the rag and started cleaning the dried blood from Aaron’s face, which didn’t look as bad once the dirt and blood came away. Aaron didn’t move, and just let Daryl take care of him.

Eventually, Aaron smiled a bit. “You should see the other guy,” he joked. “I’ve always wanted to say that.”

Daryl huffed a laugh, and continued wiping the blood from Aaron’s face. He felt bad about their previous conversation. He had let his anger get the best of him. “Sorry I yelled at you. I know you were just trying to help. Actually, that was a selfless and brave what you did back there. You put yourself out there for us, and I admire that. I haven’t met too many people that would do that, especially for me.”

“It was a last resort. You said one of us needed to be free, and I knew it had to be you. I knew you’d find a way.” The swelling was beginning to go down a bit in his bad eye. The cool water seemed to be helping. “How’s the kid?” Aaron asked.

“Caleb,” Daryl informed him. “He’s doing alright for now. Asked me to keep watch over him. I said yes.”

“He’s bonding to you. You saved his life, and he feels a connection with you.”

“That’s alright. He needs all the security he can get right now. I don’t mind.”

Aaron smiled at him. “This is a side of you I’ve never seen before.”

“I do have a soul, you know,” Daryl jested in return.

Aaron got quiet, the smile fading from his face. Daryl continued caring for him, but he could sense Aaron’s unease. “That guy, Reg, he was going to . . .” Aaron’s words faded, but the fear in his eyes spoke volumes.

“I know. I was there, remember?” Daryl threw the rag in the sink. “When I saw you tied up I thought I’d failed. I thought I was too late. I knew what those sick bastards were capable of, and it killed me to think that they … did something to you.”

Aaron put his hand on Daryl’s shoulder. “They didn’t. You were just in time.”

Daryl shook his head. “It wasn’t me, though. It was the kid. He was the one who saved us. He shot both Reg and Lucas.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Aaron whispered. “The important thing is that we got away. We made it out alive again. You’re here. I’m here. We got the boy out.”

“Daryl!” Caleb called from the living room. Both men ran out of the kitchen. The boy was sitting up, looking over the back of the couch, fear dressing his wide eyes. “I’m sorry. It was too quiet. I thought you left or something.”

Daryl glanced at Aaron, who nodded and went to his room. Daryl went to the couch and sat next to Caleb. “I’m sorry,” the boy apologized again.

“It’s alright. I’m not going anywhere. Get some sleep,” Daryl said, and Caleb laid down with his head on Daryl’s lap.

After a while, Caleb was deep in dreams, and Aaron came from his room, dressed in a pair of loose pajama bottoms and a t-shirt. He said he’d found them in a drawer in the spare room. He also held a bottle of whiskey in his hand, something he found stashed in a back room. Daryl eased Caleb’s head from his leg, replacing it with a pillow. The boy didn’t even stir. Then he took the bottle Aaron offered and drank from it. Earlier, Aaron had started a fire in the hearth. Now it was crackling and sending a warm glow across the room. It felt good. It felt safe again.

Daryl abandoned the winged chairs next to the fireplace for a seat on the thick fur rug, and watched the flames lick at the sides of the hearth. Aaron came over and joined him, and the men sat facing each other, sharing the whiskey as they passed the bottle back and forth.

“Want to talk about it?” Aaron asked after Daryl was relaxed and internally warmed by the whiskey.

“I only ever told one person, and she’s dead now,” Daryl said.

“It’s not a curse, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

Daryl actually wanted to tell Aaron his story. Maybe that’s what he’d longed for all this time, but he chose to stay quiet and aloof. Still, Aaron made him want to be free of his past. He didn’t judge. He just wanted to understand Daryl better, and perhaps Daryl needed at least one person in his life that knew all his secrets. After all, he’d told him about his bigoted family, and Aaron was still his friend.

“I was probably about fifteen, already in and out of trouble, following along in my brother’s boots, you know. My dad didn’t have time to deal with me, or at least that’s what he said. He had all the time in the world, he just didn’t want to. He said it was time to direct my mischief and put it to good use. It was time I learned how to be a good lookout.”

“A lookout for what?” Aaron asked.

“My dad was a smuggler, mostly moonshine, but there was other stuff too, drugs, exotic animals, and stolen merchandise to name a few. It didn’t matter what it was, he could get it to anyone from anywhere. He had a whole system set up involving multiple family members, mainly his brothers, some cousins, and a few close friends. One guy, Jay, was my dad’s best friend. They grew up together, knew each other since they were in their mom’s bellies, that kind of thing. My dad trusted him more than his own blood. So when it came time to break his sons into the business, he sent us to Jay, mainly because my dad didn’t have any patience for us.

Jay was young, maybe about twenty four, twenty five. He was a great guy. He was cool, you know? Every kid my age wanted to be like Jay. He was muscled and tan, blonde hair slicked back on the sides and spiked on top. Women flocked to him wherever he went. And he had one of the sexiest bikes you ever saw. Sure, he had his bad moments, and you never double crossed him or he’d fuck you up beyond repair, but I’d rather hang with him than my old man. So he took me in and started teaching me the simple things about the business while I played lookout for moonshine pick-ups and deliveries.”

“Where was your brother during this time?” Aaron asked out of curiosity.

“He was in juvie for about the hundredth time,” Daryl reminisced. “He didn’t know I was working with Jay, not that it would have mattered. Jay was like an older brother to us. We trusted him like family. Anyways, I was spending a lot of time with him, learning the ropes. And then I remembered he told me that if I was going to help move moonshine, I’d need to know the product personally. We got so wasted on the stuff. It was the first time I really got drunk. Well, as you know, that shit is like truth serum, and Jay started asking me things like, had I screwed a girl yet, kissed a girl, touched a titty, stuff like that. I told him the truth that I hadn’t really even thought about it. We laughed, he made fun of me, and then the conversation turned. He slowly started bringing up things about guys, about getting excited when I saw a man with no shirt on, or wearing tight pants. But he asked me in such a way that it didn’t seem out of the ordinary. Jay was a master at manipulation, but I didn’t know it at the time. He’d say, it’s ok if you’ve had those thoughts before. Every guy has them at least once, especially at my young age. And as it turned out, I had, but I didn’t say anything, and I just thought it was nothing. Jay played on that though, talked about it more and more, asked me what I saw that caught my attention, how I reacted, had I ever thought of it again. He opened up my awareness, and suddenly, I was feeling very self-conscious about it. I told him I felt bad about my thoughts, and that my dad had taught me it was unnatural for men to be attracted to each other. Jay made it ok though, the way he directed the conversation. Eventually, he encouraged it, and it escalated into something very dark that he was in control of. He told me the only way to get these feelings out of my system so that I could lead a normal life, was to act upon them, to find out first hand that it was more fantasy than reality. He said he could help me alleviate my lustful thoughts when I was ready.”

“And you trusted him,” Aaron said sadly.

Daryl nodded in agreement. “It was a couple weeks later. We were in his garage. He was working on his truck, and I was looking for something to do. There was a sink with a leaky faucet he’d been complaining about earlier. Said he’d meant to fix it but he was busy working on his truck. I told him I’d look at it. I was laying down under the sink, tightening the pipes with a wrench, looking for other problems. I always wanted to be a help to Jay, make him proud of me. I heard him walk over, and saw him crouched down beside me. I glanced at him quickly. He had … dirt under his nails, black grease on his hands and arms, and I thought, I needed to get this finished so he could wash up. He started praising me, telling me what a good job I was doing. My shirt had traveled up, exposing my stomach. He said something about how mature I looked for my age. That’s how it began … a touch on my knee, fingers traveling up my thigh that eventually started making circles on my stomach. I felt awkward at first, but I didn’t complain and he kept going. I felt his fingers undo my belt, heard the zipper come down, felt my flesh exposed to the warm air of the garage. I said his name, but I didn’t know if I was saying it to make him stop or to make him continue. He shushed me, told me to keep quiet and relax, and kept going. He fondled me at first, and then he … he … did things to me, and I … kind of … liked it, so I let him. When he was through, he smiled and said how good I was. He told me all kinds of encouraging things to boost my ego, make me think I did something good, and I thought, how could that be? All I did was lay on the floor half way beneath a sink while he … you know … palmed me, beat me off. Then he seduced me some more, led me to this old dirty mattress in the corner of the garage, said all the right things, touched all the right places. I thought he was going to do the same thing he’d just done to me, but he told me to lay on my stomach this time. He said he’d be gentle. He said he’d show me the right way to do things. But then he got rough, and I got scared. He held me down, forced me into position. I told him to stop, but he wouldn’t listen. He became some crazed lunatic, called me a tease, said I was a worthless piece of shit who had it coming to him. I struggled, but his grip tightened. I can still feel his weight upon me sometimes, pushing me into the mattress, constricting my lungs. Then, he … you know … just … bam, no warning. I was crying and he kept telling me to shut up and take it like a man. I thought I would die as he ripped me apart. And then I heard that leaky faucet. Drip, drip, drip, like a steady drum keeping time. I focused on it just to keep from feeling the pain and humiliation Jay was forcing upon me. Not long before that, the water dripping had been soothing and pleasant. Now it sounded like the devil’s cadence, marching me into some kind of hell on earth. Finally, it was over. I didn’t dare move as Jay got up and pulled his pants up. He warned me never to say anything to anyone, but especially to my dad. He reminded me what my dad thought of men who did this kind of thing to each other. He said he knew my dad better than I did, and he wouldn’t treat me any different than any fag on the streets. If he kicked me out of the house, that would be a blessing compared to what my dad would really do. I had no reason not to believe him. I’d seen my dad get violent enough times to know he didn’t distinguish between blood kin and strangers when it came to his beliefs. If he knew what happened, he’d kill me just as easily as he would kill Jay.”

“But he raped you,” Aaron said. “Wouldn’t your dad trust your word if you told him Jay forced himself upon you? He’d probably kill Jay, but it wasn’t your fault.”

“I didn’t want what happened to me on that dirty mattress, but what happened when I was under the sink, all the stuff I let him do to me that led to that horrible moment … well … I-I wanted it. It felt good. It felt … normal. I let Jay get me off, and I liked it. I wanted more. And I’d never felt so sure and alive about anything in my life. I went willingly with Jay to the mattress. I did everything he told me to do because I wanted him. That was enough for me to know that my father would have done much more than disown me. He hated fags with a passion, and he would rather have seen me dead than to know I liked dick. It was my fault what happened. I shouldn’t have let Jay touch me to begin with.”

“That’s not true. He seduced you. He used you. He broke your trust and then threatened you with your father’s rage. My God, Daryl, how did you go on? How did you deal with seeing Jay after that?” Aaron asked.

“I didn’t have to. Next day, Jay split town, and no one ever saw or heard from him again.” Daryl took a deep breath and looked at Aaron, about to reveal something that even he hadn’t had the guts to say out loud. “I was so confused. Jay made me want it, and I liked it at first, but I got scared. I changed my mind and didn’t want what he did to me on the mattress. I didn’t want that kind of intimacy. And when he raped me, it hurt. He hurt me physically and mentally. So did I change my mind because I realized I was straight and didn’t want to have sex with another man or was I scared to learn that I really was gay? Even now, I’m still not sure if these feelings are real or was it me just reliving something that happened to me. Whenever I get a … you know … an urge, I feel that mattress, and I hear that leaky faucet. I smell Jay’s scent all over me. I-I don’t know who I am. I don’t understand these urges, and I’m not sure they are mine or a bad memory.” There was a lump in Daryl’s throat choking him with desperation to understand, for someone to tell him he wasn’t crazy.

“H-have you ever … been with anyone besides Jay?” Aaron asked carefully.

Daryl looked down and away, shaking his head. “I’m afraid.”

“Are you afraid someone will force you–”’ Aaron started to say to make him understand that this was a delicate situation.

“No,” Daryl interrupted. “I’m afraid I’m the abomination that my family taught me to hate, to laugh at and make fun of. I’m afraid I’m broken beyond repair.”

“Hey,” Aaron scolded. “You are not an abomination. Look at me, Daryl.” He took Daryl’s chin in his fingers, turning his face so their eyes met. “You know me and you know what I am. Do I look like some kind of freak to you? Do I act like some pansy ass weakling?”

Daryl shook his head. “You know who you are. You always have.”

“And so will you.” Aaron shifted so he was sitting next to Daryl. “I can’t tell you who you’re supposed to be. That’s something you have to figure out on your own, but whoever that is, you’re still the same person I met a few months ago, and you’ll still be the same person after you’ve come to terms with your life. Whether you like men or women, that doesn’t matter. You are Daryl. You’re strong, smart, a good judge of character, a wicked fighter, a best friend, and someone I’m glad came into my life. There’s no one I’d rather be out here with.”

Daryl dared to let a smile turn the corner of his mouth. “Thanks man.”

“Sure,” Aaron smiled back.

Daryl glanced at the couch where Caleb was still sleeping. “I guess I better try to get some sleep while he’s out. You need to, too.”

“I will, soon. I think I’ll just hang out here a little longer.”

“You want me to–”

Aaron smiled and shook his head. “No, you go on. I’ll be fine.”

“You sure?” Daryl was surprised that Aaron wasn’t more rattled than he was.

“Yeah,” Aaron whispered. “I’ve got a good nurse,” he joked, gesturing to his eye.

Daryl got up from the floor and stood still a moment. He didn’t really think he needed to mention it, but just to be clear. “You know that what I told you–”

“My lips are sealed. I’d never tell another living soul,” Aaron said, pretending to lock his lips with an invisible key.

“Thanks for listening,” Daryl whispered.

“Anytime, Daryl. I’m always here for you.”

* * * * *

Daryl was sleeping, but lightly. He’d left his bedroom door open just in case Caleb called to him in the middle of the night. The boy had been through something horrific. Daryl could relate. He knew what it was like in the days that followed his assault, and Caleb’s had been more violent, he guessed.

He awoke when he sensed a presence standing just inside the doorway, and thought it was Caleb. He was shocked to see that it was Aaron. Daryl sat up on one elbow and stared at him through the dark. “Aaron? You ok?” He could hear Aaron’s rapid breathing. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s … I-I … I can’t sleep,” Aaron stammered, clearly shaken up. “It just … I … I don’t want to be alone.”

“Yeah, ok. Come on in,” Daryl offered.

Aaron came into the room and sat on the edge of the bed, his back to Daryl. “I thought I was ok, but … but … damn it, he almost raped me, and I can’t shake it.”

“You wanna talk?” Daryl asked.

“I had a dream. Actually, I’m not so sure it was a dream, but rather a memory. I was back at their camp, tied to the car, being stripped of my dignity. I feel the hairs rise on the back of my neck. I feel his hands fumbling with my fly, and his fingertips touching my skin.” Aaron paused, but when he spoke again, Daryl heard the quiver in his voice. “He put his hands all over me. It was awful. I felt so violated.”

“He was a monster, and he got what he deserved. He won’t hurt you again … ever,” Daryl soothed.

Aaron turned his head to look at Daryl. “And neither will Jay.”

“I don’t suppose he will. I sure as hell hope walkers took care of him,” Daryl admitted.

“I hope I’m not overstepping my boundaries,” Aaron said, looking around the room.

“No, it’s fine. You can’t control your dreams.”

“I know, but … I’m sorry, this is ridiculous.” Aaron started to get up, but Daryl stopped him with a hand to his shoulder.

“Hey, no. No it’s not. You went through something horrible.” Daryl sat up and moved so he was leaning against the headboard. Aaron glanced over his shoulder and didn’t hesitate to join him. They sat in the silent darkness of Daryl’s room, each man’s ghosts haunting him.

Finally, Aaron spoke. “I’m such a douchebag.”

“About what?” Daryl asked.

“Look at me. So, some guy unzipped my pants and touched my dick. And here I am crying on your shoulder, when it’s you and Caleb who are the real victims. I feel like such a … a–”

“Pansy ass weakling?” Daryl finished for him, referring to an earlier comment Aaron made that he found funny. “It’s not about what happened to who or how far things went. The fact is, you were harassed. Your personal space was violated, and that’s enough to scare the crap out of anyone.”

“I’m still a douche,” Aaron commented under his breath. “I don’t know why you put up with me sometimes.”

“Because you’re my friend. Because I like you … and I … I-I care what happens to you,” Daryl admitted. He lifted his eyes, looking through his long hair to find Aaron watching him carefully.

“I … like you too, Daryl,” Aaron said, but there was something more in his tone. He laid his hand on the bed between them and slowly opened it, palm up, making an offer.

Daryl stared at his strong hand. How many times had it saved him? How many times had it comforted him with a pat on the back or a tight grip to his shoulder? How many times had he pushed away the thought of that hand touching him gently? Before he thought too much about it, Daryl placed his fist within Aaron’s hand, and very slowly spread out his fingers. When he looked at Aaron again, he was smiling contentedly. Suddenly, Daryl was reminded of the horse they found. It was wildly stomping and thrashing around in the field, scared of Daryl as he approached it. But it was with a gentle palm that he calmed the wicked beast, just before all hell broke loose.

“Daryl! Daryl!” Caleb called desperately from the living room. Daryl jerked his hand from Aaron’s, and instantly, Caleb was standing in the doorway, crying. “Make him stop,” Caleb whimpered. “Make him go away.”

Daryl patted the bed, inviting the boy to come to him. Aaron got up and Caleb took his spot. The boy curled up to Daryl, tears staining his young face. He was older than Daryl was when he was raped, seventeen, almost a man, but that made no difference. Even a grown man who had been through what Caleb had experienced would behave in the same manner.

He held him a while, until the boy began to calm. Then Daryl told him to get under the covers and go back to sleep. Caleb moved over to the other side of the bed and pulled the blanket up to his chin. While Daryl was taking care of Caleb, Aaron had found extra blankets and pillows, and spread them on the floor next to Daryl’s side of the bed.

“Guess we’ll all just stay in my room for tonight,” Daryl commented. He really didn’t mind.

Once he was sure Caleb was asleep again, he reached down with his arm, hand extended. Aaron took it and held it until Daryl was sleeping. Then he, too, took his rest for the night.

* * * * *

The next morning they were all up by first light. Everyone seemed to sleep sound the rest of the night. Today, Daryl and Aaron had a lot of questions for Caleb. First of all was to find out if he was with a group. Secondly, they’d need to decide whether to look for the rest of them or take Caleb to Alexandria first.

Daryl found some canned corned beef hash, and already had it heating over a fire. Caleb was washing up in the bathroom. Aaron came out of the house and joined Daryl at the fire pit, watching him stir their breakfast. His countenance held an air of easiness, specifically around the eyes. Daryl hadn’t seen him so relaxed before, especially when just last night he was anguished by nightmares.

“You seem chipper this morning,” Daryl teased him.

“Survived another one,” Aaron smiled.

“Yep,” Daryl agreed, knowing how important that was these days.

“You talk to Caleb yet?” Aaron asked, taking the spoon from Daryl and stirring the pot.

Daryl wiped his hands on a towel and glanced back at the house. “No, I was waiting for you. Figured two brains were better than one.”

The food was heated through. Aaron took the towel and wrapped it around the pot’s handle. Daryl followed him into the house and set out plates and forks. Aaron dished the food out and Daryl grabbed a couple beers.

“For breakfast?” Aaron complained.

“You ain’t never had corned beef hash and beer before?” Daryl jostled. “Well, lawd that was the special down at the dinner.” He made his southern drawl come out heavy as he joked around, making Aaron laugh. “People come from far and wide for Betty’s corned beef hash and beer.”

“I bet they did, or was it Betty they were coming for?” Aaron smiled wiggled his eyebrows.

“You’s catchin’ on boy,” Daryl said, continuing with his impression of a country bumpkin.

“I kind of like the accent. You should do it more often,” Aaron laughed.

“Hey guys,” Caleb said as he came into the kitchen.

“Just in time. Breakfast is served,” Aaron said, escorting him to the table.

“Courtesy of Betty,” Daryl added.

“What?” Caleb asked, confused by everyone’s light mood.

“Never mind,” Daryl said, dropping the accent. “Just eat up. I’m sure you’re starving.”

Caleb took a bite of the hash and didn’t seem to mind, but he eyed the can of beer. “Is this all you have? I don’t like beer.”

Daryl and Aaron stared at Caleb and then looked at each other. They gasped and covered their mouths with their hands, mocking surprise.

“Did he just say that?” Daryl asked, fanning himself with the towel.

“Clearly he’s never been to Betty’s and had the breakfast special,” Aaron said. Both men started laughing uncontrollably. Caleb ate, but kept a skeptical eye on them.

“What’s wrong with you two this morning?”

“Absolutely nothing,” they said simultaneously. The laughter died down, and everyone finished up their breakfast. Aaron gathered up the dirty dishes and was washing them in the sink while Daryl took Caleb to the side and started talking to him.

“How you doing this morning, Caleb?” he asked gently in a more serious tone.

“Ok I guess,” he answered. “I didn’t have any more dreams last night.”

“That’s good, but if you do, never hesitate to wake me up, alright?”

“Yeah, thanks Daryl.”

Aaron finished with the dishes and sat next to Daryl. Caleb sat across from them at the island in the kitchen. Daryl glanced at Aaron, signaling him to start the conversation. Aaron didn’t hesitate. “So, Caleb, how did you meet these guys from yesterday?”

“It was a while ago. I was out looking for food and supplies. I came upon these two guys. They were friendly at first. We got talking and they told me they were in the trading business. They looked for people out scouring for stuff, found out what they were in need of, and made trades with them.”

“What were you out looking for?” Daryl asked.

“That time I was looking for baby formula. One of the women in our group had a baby, and she was having trouble feeding it herself, you know, breast feeding,” Caleb said.

“These guys make a trade with you?” Aaron asked.

“Yeah, they said they had it, but they were looking for batteries. I knew we had some, but I didn’t know if they were any good or not. That kind of stuff is hard to come by anymore. We made the trade, but they only gave me a couple days’ worth of food because I couldn’t guarantee the batteries were any good. I told them I needed more food than that, and they started requesting trades of other stuff, things that I know our group didn’t want to part with, stuff that helped us survive. We made a few more trades, but then it became too much so we stopped.”

“So how did you end up in their camp?” Daryl wondered.

“Well, a while later, some of our people got sick. I mean real sick, you know? Like, they needed medicine,” Caleb said. This raised some red flags with Daryl, and he wanted to know more about it, but he would let the boy finish telling his story first. “I told them I’d go out and look for something, but what I was really doing was looking for these guys again. I found them, told them what I needed, but they wanted something more than batteries to trade for medicine. They wanted weapons. They questioned me about what we had. I told them everything I knew of. They wanted the shotguns. I told them I didn’t think I could get that. I was doing this without my people’s knowledge, and I’d have to sneak out some of the less used weapons. These guys insisted on the shotguns and all the ammo, so I agreed. But I loaded up a duffle bag with a few hand guns, knives, axes, and a few boxes of shotgun ammo. I thought that would be good enough, and came up with a story about not being able to get the guns they wanted. They said I’d have to talk to Reg, their leader. He wasn’t happy with me, and … you kind of know the rest.”

“You said some of your people were sick,” Daryl inquired. “What was wrong with them?”

“It started out like the flu or a really bad cold. Then it got worse. Two of them were bleeding, coughing up blood, that sort of thing. That’s why I did what I did. They needed medicine more than we needed guns.”

“How many people are in your group, Caleb?” Aaron asked.

“There’s fifteen of us including the baby. We all came from different parts of Tennessee and Kentucky. Originally, we were going to D.C., but now we’re just trying to survive, find a place we can settle for more than a week, you know?”

“You got any family in your group?” Daryl asked, taking his turn.

“My mom is with them. She’s the reason I went looking for those guys again. She was getting sick when I left.”

“We might be able to help if we can–” Aaron started to say, but Daryl stopped him.

“Can I talk to you a second?”

“Sure. Be right back Caleb,” Aaron told him, and he followed Daryl to another part of the cabin, an office on the other side where Caleb couldn’t hear their conversation. Once they were alone, Aaron gave Daryl a questioning look. “Why’d you pull me away?”

Daryl shook his head and looked dismal. “If he’s right about this sickness, and I’m pretty sure he’s not exaggerating, then there’s no hope for those people.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’ve seen this before. This virus ran rampant through the jail,” Daryl started to say.

“Jail? What jail?”

“I told you, me and my people had a place. It was jail. It worked for a while. We had a half way decent place to live. Then we let some outsiders in. Before we knew it, people started coming down with the sickness. It sounds just like the one Caleb is describing, and if so, those people are already dead.”

“Your people survived it,” Aaron argued.

“We went through hell to find medicine, and then we only had a small amount, enough to treat the ones that weren’t too far gone. We lost a lot of people. The virus is very contagious and spreads quickly.”

“What about Caleb? Could he have it? Are we at risk?” Aaron sounded very concerned.

“I did a quick calculation and enough time has passed that he would have been showing signs by now. We shouldn’t risk it though. We need to get back to Alexandria, put ourselves in quarantine, and be absolutely sure we’re clean.”

“And if we’re not?” Aaron asked.

“Then we need medicine. I’m sure you’ve got some there.”

“We do, but I don’t know what kind.”

“Penicillin works as a preventative, I think.”

Aaron nodded. “Yeah, we got that.”

“Then we all need a dose. Before you show signs of being sick is when you’re most contagious. Trust me, I dealt with this shit. It’s pretty bad, but it is curable if you catch it in time.”

“Crap,” Aaron complained. “Just what we need after everything that’s happened. Alright, well, I guess we know what we got to do. What are we going to tell Caleb about his mom, though?”

“I’ll handle it.” Daryl went back to Caleb, sat down, and discussed the virus and what was happening. Of course, the boy was upset. All he wanted to do was see his mom. Daryl tried to convince him it was a bad idea, but Caleb wouldn’t hear of it. There was only one way to convince him.

“Where are your people, Caleb?”

“There’s an abandoned warehouse not far from where the campsite is. That’s where I was looking for food. A couple miles north of there is a small town. We’re staying at an abandoned fire station.”

“I don’t like this one bit,” Daryl warned. “But I think the only way to convince you is for you to see it firsthand.”

“I just need to know before I leave them all behind. My mom’s all I have left in this world,” he sobbed.

Daryl sighed. “I’ll tell you what. When we get there, and if she’s well enough to travel back to our home, we’ll treat here. I’m not making any promises though.”

“She wasn’t that sick when I left. You’ll see, and then we can bring her with us to get better,” Caleb said with enthusiasm. Daryl wouldn’t get his hopes up.

He told Aaron what he was doing, but he was met with resistance. “You can’t go in there, especially if they’re all sick,” Aaron argued.

“Think about it, Aaron. If you were seventeen and your mom was there, wouldn’t you want to get back to her?” Daryl countered.

“You know if you take her and not the others, there’s going to be trouble. I’m going too.”

“I knew you’d insist, so I ain’t gonna argue with you,” Daryl said, rolling his eyes. “Come on then. Grab your guns and let’s go.”

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