Safe Haven in the Chaos

BY : IdrilsSecret
Category: S through Z > The Walking Dead
Dragon prints: 3800
Disclaimer: I do not own the walking dead or any of the characters. No money is being made from the writing of these stories

Chapter 53 The Watchtower



For the rest of the day Aaron felt like he was floating on air. He had missed Daryl so much. It had been a difficult journey so far, ever since Daryl came back from the Sanctuary. For the first time, Daryl admitted he was ready to try again. He didn’t know what to expect tonight, but if it was just a night spent in each other’s company without reservations, it would be enough. For so long, Aaron wanted to rebuild their relationship and help Daryl get his life back together. He wasn’t sure about the moonshine. Perhaps a small amount would be fine, just to break the ice. Maybe it would get Daryl to open up and talk a little more about his recent experiences so that he wouldn’t have to deal with it alone. Basically whatever Daryl had in mind, whatever he wanted to do tonight, Aaron would go along with it if it meant getting him back.


The sun had set and Aaron was waiting inside the empty kitchen. All meals were done for the day, and the cleaning crew had finished an hour ago. He had, however, managed to scrounge up some fruit, a few rolls, and a couple chicken legs left over from dinner. Not sure whether Daryl ate or not, Aaron thought it would be a good idea to have something on hand. Tonight, he wanted no interruptions. He planned on the two of them to spend the entire night on the roof in the watchtower. They needed this time together.


Aaron heard the door to the kitchen open, and his heart leapt in his chest. Daryl sauntered in, walked up to him, and without hesitating, pulled him in for a sultry kiss.


“I missed you today,” Daryl said, eyes narrowed seductively.


Aaron could smell the alcohol on his breath and taste it on his lips. He started early, Aaron thought. That’s why he kissed him so easily just now. “I guess you got lucky with your supplier,” Aaron said.


Daryl opened up his jacket and pulled out two jars of clear liquid. “He gave me a little extra. Of course, you know me. I had to test it. Make sure it was good.” He looked down at a satchel Aaron held in his hand. “What did you bring?”


“Food,” Aaron said. He lifted the bag. “Chicken from earlier. Did you eat?”


“No. Wasn’t hungry.” He moved close and nipped at Aaron’s earlobe. “I am now, though.”


Aaron liked it when Daryl seduced him, but it didn’t feel right. It felt unnatural at the moment, especially after being pushed away for the last few weeks. This was complete opposite of how things had been lately. “Are you sure you did more than sample that stuff?”


Daryl huffed a laugh and ignored him. “So, where’s this secret hideout?”


Aaron stepped aside and reached for the edge of the secret pocket door. He slid it open to reveal the stairwell. Since he got here early, he took the opportunity to light a lantern that hung on a nail on the wall. A soft yellow glow filled the small area, flickering so that shadows danced on the walls. Daryl stepped inside and looked up.


“We going up?” he asked.


“We are if you haven’t had too many samples. It’s a long climb and straight up,” Aaron said.


“I’m fine. Let’s go.” Daryl put his booted foot on the first step and started to climb. With the lantern in one hand, Aaron followed, being careful not to slip. They were about half way when Daryl stopped. “What is this place?”


“It’s a fake part of one of the chimneys, and leads to the roof,” Aaron informed him. “You know that tower between the dormers? It was used as a lookout point when the house was first built. Over the years, it’s been forgotten about until recently when someone refurbished it, put windows on it.”


“Interesting,” Daryl said as he started climbing again.


“When you get to the top, give the door a hard push and it should open,” Aaron said.


They reached the top, and Daryl went out onto the roof. He looked around at the scenery. “Been a long time since I stopped to take it all in. Sometimes I forget there’s still a world out there.”


Aaron came out next and stood next to Daryl. “Remember the bridge?”


Daryl let a small smile escape his lips. “I tricked you into taking a ride on my bike.”


“You reminded me that there was still beauty in the world, and that I shouldn’t always walk around with my head down. And then you kissed me.”


“Almost kissed you,” Daryl mentioned. “Damn walkers came out and ruined the moment.” He reached into his jacket and took out a mason jar, then he chugged some of its contents so that he wouldn’t lose his buzz.


“Come on. I’ll show you the hide out,” Aaron said, hoping Daryl wouldn’t drink much more. This was supposed to be their first time together again since the Sanctuary, and he didn’t want Daryl falling down drunk.


He opened the door to the tower and gestured for Daryl to enter. “So, this is it. Lots of beanbags, and there’s a table over there.”


Daryl looked around. “Shit, wish I’d known about this place earlier. I could have disappeared up here.”


“This is what’s good about Hilltop. If we have to hide, we’ve got this place. The passage up is pretty well hidden.” Aaron went to him and wrapped his arms around Daryl’s waist. “No one will know we’re up here, including the Hilltop people.” He felt Daryl tense and relaxed his hold on him. Daryl must have realized it too, because he turned to face Aaron. He reached into his jacket and took out one of the jars of moonshine.


“You’ve got some catching up to do,” Daryl said, and handed the jar to Aaron. Then he collapsed onto a stack of beanbags, lifted his arms and put his hands behind his head while he waited for Aaron to drink.


“I don’t know. I’m not sure this is such a good idea,” Aaron hesitated.


“Drink up,” Daryl said, but there was something beguiling about his tone, making it difficult to resist his charms.


Aaron obeyed and took a drink. He made a face as the clear liquid turned to lava running down his throat. “Holy hell that’s bad.”


“Take another drink. It always goes down better the second time,” Daryl enticed him.


He was right, of course. Aaron had moonshine before, and the more you drank, the easier it was to swallow. He took a seat next to Daryl and had another drink. “This stuff is stronger than the last time I had some.”


“I know. This guy knows what he’s doing,” Daryl laughed. Aaron started to hand the jar to Daryl, but he put his hand up, reached into his jacket and produced another jar. He took a couple deep drinks, shook his head and closed his eyes.


Aaron wished he wouldn’t, and he didn’t think getting drunk was a solution to any of their problems. Daryl seemed to have already been drinking. He wasn’t dealing with the pain. He was only numbing it, making it tolerable to be around Aaron without guilt or shame. “Daryl … please don’t. Not tonight,” Aaron said softly.


Daryl glanced sideways to where Aaron sat beside him. There was such sadness in his eyes. “I just wanted to spend some time with you. I know I’ve been difficult lately. The booze, it’s nothing. Just an icebreaker. I need a getaway and it helps. I thought … maybe if you joined me . . .” He stopped to take another drink, though it was shorter than the last.


Aaron felt bad now. Daryl was trying in his own way. Maybe a little hooch would help. If Daryl was going to drink, Aaron would too. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be on the same level, and tonight he just wanted to be with Daryl in whichever state he chose to be in. Aaron stared at the jar in his hand, looked back at Daryl, and took a drink.


Daryl smiled a bit. “All right. There you go.”


After some time, they were both in their cups, the moonshine doing its job well. They talked and laughed, reminiscing about days past. They even told a few stories about their lives before they met, some things neither one had known about the other. They were laying on beanbag chairs, their legs flung over one another’s. They were close. They were comfortable. They turned silent just before Aaron moved over and kissed Daryl. It was sweet and innocent, like a careful first kiss. He didn’t want to make Daryl uncomfortable. The response was good. Daryl kissed him back, paused to watch him and leaned in for more. The booze had warmed Aaron on the inside, but the intimacy he was sharing was warming him in other places. Daryl became more demanding as his tongue searched for entry, and he wasn’t disappointed. Aaron rolled further onto his back and Daryl followed until he weighed him down. It had been a long while since they found themselves in this position. Aaron was becoming painfully erect. It must have been obvious, especially pushing into Daryl’s hip. Daryl lifted his head from Aaron’s neck and glanced down the length of their bodies.


He gave a half smile. “Are you just glad to see me or is that a–”


“I’m just glad to see you,” Aaron interrupted. “I’m always glad to see you. Maybe more so now than usual, but I can’t help it. You drive me crazy.”


Daryl answered him with a sultry, deep kiss. Aaron couldn’t help his hips from moving, circling with a need to be touched. Things were moving along nicely, and no one was stopping. Daryl became more insistent, and Aaron answered him with positive reactions each time. Aaron thought this was it. They were finally alone where they could reconnect on an intimate level. Daryl kneaded him through his pants, which were extremely tight-fitting. He wanted to get out of them, and get Daryl out of his too, but he knew it was not his choice to make this kind of a move. This was all about Daryl being comfortable so that he could take the next step, and move further away from the pain of what happened to him.


The tension released when Daryl unbuttoned Aaron’s pants and slowly pulled on the zipper. Aaron never wanted him more than right now. He knew he wouldn’t last. As soon as Daryl entered him, he would probably lose his shit. In answer to Daryl’s moves, Aaron started to undo Daryl’s pants. Daryl moved down so Aaron couldn’t reach him, and lower still until his face was at Aaron’s crotch and his fingers latched onto the waistband of his pants to pull them down some.


“Wait, what are you doing?” Aaron asked. He lifted his head to look down, and was immediately dizzy from the alcohol intake.


“I’m gonna get you off. What do you think I’m doing?” Daryl responded, still moving ahead with his plan.


“No, I thought you were … and I would … and we’d both … you know.”


“Oh,” Daryl said, sounding disappointed.


“But if you’re not comfortable with that then–”


“No, I’ll try. That’s what you always tell me. Right?” Daryl reached for the button, but his fingers fumbled around.


Aaron laughed. “I think you’re too drunk.”


“Fine, you do it,” Daryl said, giving up easily. He rolled onto his side so Aaron could reach him.


Aaron wasn’t much better at it. The booze had done a number on his equilibrium. “Shit,” he laughed. “Hang on. I think I’ve got it.” The button finally pushed out of the loop. While he was there, he rubbed Daryl, finding him only barely at attention. Daryl pushed his hand away, and Aaron looked up at him. He was looking to the side, the disappointment returning to his face.


“Stop,” Daryl said in barely a whisper.


“But I thought–”


“Just stop,” Daryl said again.


“It’s okay. We don’t have to,” Aaron replied, but the fact was, he was frustrated and needing release. His words came out a little harsher than he’d meant them to.


Suddenly, the door to the tower slowly opened. Aaron was shocked. No one else came up here except . . .


“Jesus,” Daryl said, sounding surprised too.


“Is everything all right? Did something happen?” Aaron asked anxiously.


Paul looked confused seeing both men here. “Everything’s fine.” He looked at Daryl. “I thought you–”


“Come on in. Have a drink,” Daryl interrupted him.


Aaron thought it was odd for Daryl to be so welcoming. But then, he was still kind of nervous and skittish. Maybe he thought the interruption was a good diversion from having to explain himself and why he suddenly stopped what they were about to engage in.


Paul seemed embarrassed after finding the men here in what must have been a romantic getaway. “No, that’s okay. You two look cozy. I’ll just be–”


“Naw man, come on. I got some really fine hooch,” Daryl insisted. “We were just reminiscing, telling stories. Join us. Come on. Sit.”


Paul looked like he wanted to bolt, but he didn’t want to be rude either. He looked at Aaron to see what he thought. Aaron shrugged his shoulders. “It is pretty good booze, and if all’s quiet downstairs . . .”


Paul seemed reluctant, but he took a seat across from the couple. Daryl passed him a jar. “Drink up.”


“Oh, I’m not so sure I should. It’s been a long time since I did,” Paul hesitated.


“All right. Suit yourself,” Daryl said. “But I’ll leave it right here if you change your mind.” He put the jar on the floor in the center of the ring of beanbags.


Paul looked from one man to the other. “Are you sure I’m not interrupting anything? I feel like a third wheel.”


“You won’t if you take a swig of that shit,” Daryl said.


“Don’t you think one of us needs to stay alert in case the Saviors show up unexpectedly?” Paul said.


“Sasha’s got the gate tonight, and Enid’s with Maggie,” Daryl noted.


“One night’s not gonna hurt,” Aaron replied. “We should be allowed to let go every once in a while. I’m tired of making decisions based on the Saviors.”


Something switched in Paul's face. He seemed to understand what Aaron was saying and relaxed a bit. He stared at the jar in front of him, and then looked back at the two other men. Aaron gave a nod and Paul picked up the booze. Daryl watched the exchange, noticing how Paul's decisions seemed to revolve around what Aaron thought or said. He took a drink, but pulled the jar away and choked. “What the hell is this shit?” he complained when he caught his breath. “It tastes like everything found in a puddle behind a mechanics shop.”


“Yep, that’s about right,” Daryl said, laughing lightly at another man’s pain.


“It gets easier,” Aaron added.


After about an hour, no one was feeling any pain. Actually, no one was feeling much of anything at all. The alcohol numbed any worries or concerns they might have had. They relaxed in each other’s company, and opened up as they told stories about life before the apocalypse. Aaron was telling Paul about the volunteer work he did in Africa, and about the dangers that came along with it. Daryl watched them, seeing how intrigued Jesus was.


“What about you, Daryl?” Paul asked.


“I wasn’t really doing much of anything but getting in trouble. Me and my brother ran the family business, so to speak,” Daryl said.


“Did you all have a bike shop or something?” Paul asked innocently.


“We were in the delivery business,” Daryl answered.


“They ran stolen goods and moonshine,” Aaron expanded.


Daryl glared, not proud of his past, but accepting of it all the same. Aaron smiled, finding it funny to make Daryl uncomfortable. Daryl wasn’t mad, though. He was just keeping up the front of a tough redneck. Internally, he was inspecting Aaron’s smile, finding that it warmed him on the inside. He’d missed that connection between them.


“What did you do?” Daryl asked, still watching Aaron as he spoke to Jesus.


“Me? Oh, I went where I was needed. Kind of a Jack of all trades,” Jesus said, not going into any details.


“Where’d you pick up the karate moves?” Daryl wondered.


“One of my trades. I taught at the local boys and girls club. I learned self-defense moves early on in life. I grew up in foster care. Never knew where they were going to place me.” His words faded as he explained.


“You were on the move a lot, even then,” Aaron said.


“Yeah, I guess some things never change,” Paul admitted.


“You’re lucky you didn’t end up on the streets,” Aaron mentioned. He took another drink and almost dropped the jar.


“I did end up on the streets, but I was smart enough to stay out of trouble, and keep away from the bad scenes. I got a job, got an apartment … eventually got a boyfriend. If I didn’t like the way things were going, I’d move somewhere else. Shampoo, rinse and repeat, you know what I mean? That’s how I grew up. Never get attached.”


Aaron leaned forward, concern creasing his brows. “So you never had a serious relationship with anyone?”


Paul slowly shook his head. “There were a couple guys I got close to, one which I always wondered what would have happened if I stayed. Guess that doesn’t matter anymore.” He took a drink and swallowed the memories along with the alcohol. “So, how did you two meet?” he said to switch the inquiries away from himself.


Daryl and Aaron looked at each other, waiting to see who would answer. They smiled, sharing something only the two of them understood and said in unison, “Hunting rabbits.” That made them break out in laughter. Paul laughed too, although he didn’t understand why. Eventually they calmed, the laughter dying away.


Aaron took it upon himself to explain. “I brought Rick and his group into Alexandria, but our leader at the time still didn’t trust them completely. She talked to each one of them to find out more about them. She was good at reading people, everyone that is except Daryl. He remained aloof, a real mystery. So she asked me to keep tabs on him.”


“You were spying on me,” Daryl interrupted. “I caught him in the woods following me, but I gave him the slip, came up from behind and threatened to stick him with an arrow.”


“And not in a cupid kind of way either,” Aaron added. Everyone laughed again.


“There’s no reason you shouldn’t have someone of your own,” Daryl said to Paul. “I mean, you’re a good looking guy. Am I right?” he asked Aaron.


“Oh, for sure. Definitely,” Aaron answered, not thinking too much about it.


“You think?” Paul said. His eyes were glazed over and half shut, but they were trained on Aaron.


Daryl moved from beside Aaron and crawled across the small space to sit next to Paul. “It’s the hair,” Daryl said, and he reached out and twisted a lock of Paul's hair in his fingers. Paul simply smiled. Daryl glanced across to Aaron. “Wouldn’t you say he has nice hair?”


“Yes, great hair,” Aaron answered.


“Why don’t you move over here and bring the hooch with you,” Daryl suggested. Aaron did as he was told without missing a beat. Daryl moved so that Aaron sat on the other side of Paul, putting the man in the middle. Aaron took a drink and started to reach across to hand it to Daryl. “Go ahead,” Daryl said, gesturing to Paul. Aaron stopped and handed Paul the jar, who took it and drank. He started to give it to Daryl, but was told to keep it. Aaron and Paul were very drunk at this point. Daryl was too, but he wasn’t so far gone that he forgot about his motives for the evening. He leaned forward and gazed across to Aaron. “He’s handsome, isn’t he? Daryl questioned, watching Aaron intently. “One of the last nice guys too.”


“You two seem very happy together,” Paul said in return.


“We are,” Aaron smiled as he leaned forward to see Daryl.


Daryl stretched across Paul and stopped in front of him. “Come here,” he whispered to Aaron. Aaron, wearing a drunken smile, did as he was told. Now they were both stretched across and in front of Paul.

Aaron watched his lover, and then his glassy eyes moved down to Daryl’s lips. Daryl, without hesitancy, kissed him. When he was done, he saw Paul out of the corner of his eye watching them. There was a slight amount of hunger in the man’s vivid blue eyes. The moonshine was working to veil everyone’s morality and heighten the current mood.


Daryl reached out his hand and cupped the side of Aaron’s face, kissing him again, this time deeper with more desire. He released Aaron and smiled. “Those lips. So soft.” Then he looked sideways to Paul. “Have you ever wondered how soft?”


Paul's mouth hung open as he watched the scene play out in front of him. He answered with a cautious nod of his head. Aaron’s sight never left Daryl.


“Really?” Aaron questioned.


“I don’t mind if you . . .” Daryl cocked his head toward Paul.


“Oh, I-I ... ha . . .” Paul stuttered nervously.


“It’s just a kiss,” Daryl said. He moved in and kissed Aaron, but his hand came up and rested on Paul's shoulder, pulling the man into the mix. Daryl released Aaron and turned to Paul, acting as though he would kiss him. Instead, he coaxed him into coming closer to Aaron, guiding him in until the two men were face to face.


They seemed nervous, even in their drunken state, but the alcohol made them react against their better judgement. Slowly, Aaron and Paul's lips came together, light kisses, lips on lips. Daryl groaned as he watched. His hand went to Aaron’s thigh and squeezed it, then let it travel higher until he felt the beginnings of desire stirring.


“Ah, you like it then,” Daryl commented. He rubbed Aaron through his pants, encouraging him to continue kissing Paul. “I like it too.”


His ministrations translated into a deeper kiss from Aaron. Paul did not hesitate to answer. Daryl could tell this was something Paul had always wished to experience. He wouldn’t, of course, but with Daryl’s permission, he was taking it all in. It was obvious by his heavy breathing.


Daryl took Aaron’s hand and moved it to the ends of Paul's long hair. Aaron took several strands between his fingers and started raveling it in his fingertips. Meanwhile, Daryl was still rubbing Aaron most deliciously, bringing him standing.


“Daryl,” Aaron whispered with desire.


Daryl moved from where he was and crawled around behind Aaron. He kissed the back of his neck and whispered in Aaron’s ear. “I want you to be happy. I want you to be satisfied.”


Even in his drunken state, Aaron was hesitant. “I … I don’t know. We never talked about doing something like this,” Aaron replied nervously.


“I’m not sure about this either,” Paul added.


“What’s to talk about? I’m giving you permission,” Daryl said.


“What do you mean by that?” Aaron asked.


Daryl whispered behind Aaron’s ear. “You have needs that I can’t satisfy, and I know he has always cared for you. I trust him to do that. He can give you what I can’t. Besides, it’s not like you don’t know each other. You two are friends, so what are friends for anyway?”


“And where are you in all of this?” Aaron asked.


Daryl kissed him, trying to further seduce him. “He’ll take care of you, and when it’s done, you’ll come back to me.”


Hearing Daryl say this helped the fog to lift slightly. Was he actually telling Aaron to have sex with Paul? And why, because Daryl’s demons wouldn’t allow him intimacy? Aaron shook his head. “No, this isn’t right.” Aaron pushed away from Daryl and tried to stand, but he had no balance. Instead, he fell back into the bean bags. “Why would agree to this?”


“He’s right,” Paul cut in. “I won’t be a part of it.” He finally got up and staggered around the room, coming to the door and bracing himself on the frame.


“Where are you going?” Aaron asked.


“I gotta go. I shouldn’t be here. You two need to–”


“You can’t go back down, not in your condition,” Daryl said, and it became obvious that he was leaning toward sober more than the other two. “You’ll fall off the roof before you make it to the stairs. You stay here. Sleep it off. We’ll go down.” Daryl stood and held a hand out to Aaron. Aaron took it and stood, wobbling as he did. They went to the door, but Aaron stopped beside Paul.


“I’m … I’m sorry,” Paul said. “I overstepped my bounds.”


“Not your fault,” Aaron whispered as he glared back at Daryl. “Stay here. Sleep it off.”


Daryl tried to put his arm around Aaron to help him to the stairs, but it was forcefully pushed away. “I can walk,” Aaron said with irritation.


They got to the stairs and Daryl got in front of him. “I’m going first,” he said. There was no argument until they were safely back in the kitchen.


“What the fuck was that about? What the hell were you trying to do?” Aaron said angrily. He may have been drunk, but he couldn’t help his ire now that he was in control of his thoughts again. He was upset with Daryl, but he was also embarrassed for himself, and for letting things go as far as they did with Paul. “Were you actually trying to get me … and Paul to … to fuck? And what? Were you going to sit there and watch?” Aaron shook his head in confusion. “I don’t even know you right now.”


“I’m just trying to find a way to make things work,” Daryl said to defend himself.


“How is me sleeping with Paul making things work?” Aaron said in a raised tone.


“Because I can’t … I ... I’m fucked in the head, and you know that. What kind of future do we have if we can’t be intimate?”


“Do you think having sex with you is the only reason for having a relationship?”


“You’re kidding yourself if you think it doesn’t have anything to do with it. I know you have needs, and I know I can’t fulfill them. I’ve seen your longing when we’re alone together, and I see the disappointment when I can’t give you what you want.”


“So you think passing me off to Paul so I can get my rocks off is a good idea?” Aaron was disgusted. He paced back and forth as they argued. The booze seemed to be wearing off at an unusually fast rate. “Why? What part of any of this made you think it would work?”


“Because he likes you. Secretly, he wants you. Hell, maybe he even loves you. I don’t know. But I do know he cares and he’d treat you right.”


“And how do you suddenly know so much about Paul?” Aaron said accusatorily.


“We … talked. I … I asked him to watch out for you when I . . .” Daryl let his words fade before he finished.


“When you what?” Aaron said in a softer voice.


Daryl turned from Aaron, not able to say anymore or look him in the face. “I was going to leave,” he said softly. “I was ready to go off on my own and never come back. How could I expect you to handle what happened to me when I couldn’t even handle it myself. I knew this dark cloud hanging over me would eventually consume both of us, and I didn’t want it to get to that point. I’d rather run away than to see that happen.”


Aaron took a step closer to Daryl, but he didn’t reach out to touch him. “So, you’d rather leave me and let me always wonder what happened? Don’t you know me? Does it mean nothing to you when I say I’m with you no matter what? Do you think I’m so weak that I can’t wait for you?”


“That’s the thing. I may never come back from this. I just want you to be happy, and you won’t be happy with me. Eventually it will all go bad. I’ve already felt it. I thought it was for the best that we go our separate ways. I thought that you … and Paul would eventually … you know … make it more than a friendship. As the days passed, you’d move on, forget about me. It was my plan to see it through, but … you won’t let me go.” As Daryl said the last few words, his tone turned dark.


Aaron lifted his head to the ceiling, mouth hung agape, heart tearing apart, and bile rising in his stomach. “So that’s it? That’s how you really feel? You know what? Maybe you should have gone.” He stood there a moment and then started to walk away.


“Wait. Aaron–”


“No!” Aaron yelled back. “You made your choice some time ago. Apparently, I’ve only prolonged the inevitable. You want to go? Then go.” Aaron left the kitchen and left Daryl where he was. He ran outside and through the courtyard. He was heading for the great house and realized he couldn’t go back in there, not to Paul's room where he and Daryl shared the space. He turned to face the trailers. Maggie, Sasha and Enid were living in one of them. He could go there. It was doubtful Daryl would show up around any of them. The trailer was already bursting with the women. It was only until daylight. He just needed a place to go for a couple hours. As he approached, he felt his stomach twist and churn, the offending alcohol burning a trail up his chest. Aaron dashed behind the trailer and threw up until nothing else came out. Someone must have heard him because he saw a flame from a lantern light up one of the small windows. The creaking of springs cut through the silence of the early hours, and light trailed toward him.


“Aaron? What are you doing out here?” It was Maggie.


“Can I stay here until sunrise?” he asked.


She could see he wasn’t feeling well, and without wanting any explanation, she led him to the trailer. “Come on in,” she whispered.


Aaron looked around and saw Enid asleep on the couch and Maggie’s empty cot. “Where’s Sasha?” he asked.


“Pulling gate duty. She doesn’t sleep much anymore,” Maggie answered. She covered his head with the palm of her hand, checking for fever.


“I’m all right. Just … drunk.” Aaron walked over to the kitchen table and plopped down on one of the chairs. Maggie followed and set the lantern in the center of the table, turning the flame down by half.


“Why aren’t you at the house?” she asked.


He didn’t want to go into too much detail. “Daryl and I had a … fight. I don’t know where he went, but I know he won’t come here. I just need some time away from him.”


“Sounds serious,” she responded.


“It’s more than that. It’s over,” he whispered, feeling his stomach lurch again.


“Come on, Aaron. That’s not the first time you’ve said something like this.”


“I know but … this time … it’s different. He crossed a line that . . . Look, I don’t want to talk about it, if that’s okay. I just need to sleep this off, and I’ll be out of your space in a few hours.”


“Of course,” Maggie said. “You can take the cot if you like.”


“And kick a pregnant woman out of her bed? No thank you,” he answered.


“It’s all right. I’m up now anyway.”


“I’m sorry. I disturbed your sleep. I shouldn’t have come here.” Aaron felt horrible. It seemed he just couldn’t catch a break.


“It’s fine. This is about the time I would wake up on my daddy’s farm and go out to start my chores,” she smiled.


“What a horrible childhood you must have had,” Aaron laughed to make light of the situation. “Still, I won’t take your bed. Just a blanket and a corner on the floor is good enough for me.”


“A warm bed and the love of your life is what you should have,” she said, suggesting that it would all work out soon enough.


“Well, can’t have everything, can we?” Aaron stood from the table and picked up a folded blanket sitting on a shelf. He went to the opposite side of the trailer and took up a seat on the floor. With his head still spinning, it didn’t take long to fall asleep. He didn’t dream of anything that night. There was nothing left to dream about. They had all been shattered as soon as he stepped out the door of the kitchen, leaving Daryl behind.




Morning came on like a raging fire. Someone had opened the blinds letting in the sunshine. It marked a square on the linoleum next to the corner where Aaron slept. The smell of apple pie permeated his senses, turning his stomach. He never liked the fruit or anything made with it.


As Aaron sat up, his whole body ached from sleeping on the hard surface. His shoulder felt like it popped out of joint, but that was because he left it in one position all night, and used his forearm as a pillow. Worst of all was the pounding of his head, like two deep kettle drums being played on either side of him. Boom, boom, boom … the cadence of an invisible drummer tested his sanity, of which there was very little at the moment.


Dust particles floated dreamily through the beam of light coming in from the window. It made a screen in which he couldn’t see past, veiling the other half of the trailer. He let out a moan as he squinted. No one seemed to be home. Just as well, he thought. He’d rather be alone right now.


That brought his thought back to last night. What the hell had happened? It started out normal, a quiet evening spent with Daryl, hidden away from everyone, but it turned into something completely unexpected. Had it actually happened? Did he kiss Paul as Daryl sat by, watching, encouraging? Did he really end it with Daryl? Yes, he did, especially after … whatever that whole thing was about. What hurt most was discovering that Daryl didn’t want to be here anymore … that he didn’t want to be with Aaron, and blamed him for not letting him go. Daryl would rather part ways than try and work through his problems, and Aaron was willing to give him what he wanted. A line had been crossed, and there might never be a way back from that.


Aaron eventually got up and stumbled around the trailer. He saw the empty cot and remembered Maggie telling him she was starting her day. Sasha had been on gate duty, but she wasn’t back yet. And Enid, who had been sleeping on the couch when he arrived, was nowhere to be seen. The women were already starting their day, and he was still trying to figure out how to keep his head from exploding from the massive headache he had. He thought to go to the infirmary. Surely, Dr. Carson would have something, aspirin most preferably.


He opened the door to the trailer and was instantly blinded by the morning light. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky this day, a beautiful morning after a confusing and horrible night. Aaron gave a brief thought as to where Daryl was, but he shook it away quickly. Once his eyes adjusted, he stepped outside and made his way to the infirmary, one of the other trailers.


“Good thing you’re amongst friends or you might be mistaken for a walker,” Maggie said as she approached. “Put you with Jesus and we have a matching set. What did you boys get into last night?”


“Daryl’s hooch,” Aaron said, not recognizing his own voice, it was so low and gravelly.


Maggie smiled and tried not to laugh. “Don’t you know better?”


“I do now. I was just going to see the doc for some aspirin,” Aaron said.


“I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t you head to the mess hall? I saw Daryl go not too long ago and he’s probably wondering–”


“I don’t want to see him,” Aaron said evenly.


Maggie’s smile disappeared and she came closer to Aaron. “The best thing you two can do is–”


“I don’t want anything to do with him right now,” Aaron insisted.


Maggie watched him a moment, but she didn’t try to persuade him to talk. Instead, she squinted her eyes towards the sun and spoke. “Why don’t you come with me? I’ve got some chores that need tending to. I could use your help.”


Aaron nodded and walked off with Maggie. She led him to the garden boxes where she helped the people of Hilltop plant herbs and vegetables. There were a few people already out there working with the new seedlings. As they passed, Maggie stopped and whispered encouragement into people’s ears. Each one smiled before they got back to work. Aaron began to realize just how much respect she’d earned in such a short amount of time.


They walked until they came to an unattended area where they could talk privately. Aaron was already wondering what she had to tell him. Probably the usual, he thought. “Okay. Spill it,” she demanded.


“I’m not going into this. Ask Daryl if you want to know,” Aaron said like a defiant child. He realized immediately how foolish he sounded, and the look on Maggie’s face confirmed it. “He did something that I’m not sure we can come back from. He told me the truth about what he was going to do. He said he was going to run away and not tell me.”


“I hate to break it to you, but I already knew that. I was one of the one’s who convinced him to stay,” Maggie said.


“It’s not just you. He said the only reason he’s still here is because I won’t let him go, as though I’ve beguiled him into staying. I think he still wishes to leave, so I told him to go. I won’t stand in his way if that’s what he really wants.”


“Aaron,” she said sympathetically. “You know that’s not true.”


“I can’t tiptoe around him anymore. I’ve tried to be supportive. I’ve given him space. I’ve waited for him to come to me, to talk to me, but he pushes me further away every day. There’s only so much I can do, and only so many times I can reassure him that we’ll be fine. It almost feels like he’s hoping this fails, because then he won’t have a reason to stay, and he won’t feel guilty for leaving.”


“That’s not Daryl,” she said sticking up for her longtime friend. “The last thing he’d want was to–”


“He got me and Jesus drunk last night, and then tried to get us to . . .” Aaron stopped himself. It hurt to say it out loud. “He thinks I’m better off without him. After everything we’ve been through, I’m just … I can’t … not this time.” He truly sounded like a man defeated.


Maggie wrapped her arms around him and held him a moment before whispering in his ear. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”


“Thanks,” he whispered back. When they came out of the hug, he forced a smile. “Well, no matter. I’m glad I’m here to help with the training. And now that Rosita is–” He cut his words short when he heard shouting coming from the front gates.




Daryl sat at a mess hall table alone, staring at a plate of food. He had no appetite. He’d rather starve to death, slow and painful. That’s what he deserved. Again, he tried to do what he thought was for the best, and again he managed to piss Aaron off. So, maybe it wasn’t his best plan, and he didn’t really think it all the way through, but for a moment last night it seemed to be working.


A tray landed hard on the table next to where he sat. He didn’t look up to see who it was. He already knew.


“You’re a fucking asshole,” Jesus said angrily.


“Yeah, I know,” Daryl agreed quietly.


“You played me last night, took advantage of me in a way no one has ever done before. You told me to meet you in the watchtower because you had something important to discuss. Then you talk me into staying, got me drunk and played on my emotions. You betrayed my trust, and probably ruined my friendship with Aaron. I’m so embarrassed and mad.”


“I fucked up,” Daryl admitted. “I just wanted him to be happy. I thought I could push him in another direction, and get his mind off of me long enough for me to slip out. It was stupid. I know.”


“You’re such a fucking idiot. You want Aaron to be happy? He already is, but you’re too goddamn blind to see. And I know life’s thrown you into a shit pile, and it hasn’t been easy to deal with, but Aaron’s been there for you every step of the way. I’ve had my fair share of bullshit times too, but I’ve never had anyone like Aaron who was willing to stay around and not judge me or criticize. That’s rare, man, and you’ve just tossed it aside like an old worn out shoe.” Jesus composed himself and eventually took up a seat next to Daryl. “But it’s not too late. You can still go to him and make it right. You have to allow yourself to be helped. If you can’t do that, then there’s no chance. Or you can do what you were planning on doing and run away. If you want him to be happy then running should not even be an option. The choice is yours. Ball’s in your court this time.” Finished with what he had to say, Jesus place his hand on Daryl’s shoulder. “I know what I would do if I were in your–” He paused when he heard yelling outside. Daryl’s head came up to listen too. The gate guards were shouting. The Saviors had arrived. Both Jesus and Daryl stood at the same time.


“Shit,” Jesus said.


“Where’s Maggie?” Daryl said instantly.


“In the courtyard last I saw. Come on. We got to get her, now,” Jesus insisted.


“You need watch the Saviors. I’ve got Maggie,” Daryl said.


“Sasha and I made an escape hatch. There’s what looks like a box of firewood along the back wall. Open it up, and it leads out to the other side of the wall,” Jesus informed him hurriedly.


Daryl nodded and took off. Jesus went in the opposite direction once they were outside. He had to make his presence known to the Saviors so they wouldn’t become suspicious. Daryl shot out into the courtyard and found Maggie with Enid and Aaron coming from the gardens. He could see the gate already opening by the time he got to them.


“There’s no time,” Daryl said when he saw Maggie heading in the direction of the escape hatch.


“This way,” Enid said. “There’s a cellar. You can hide in there. I’ll distract anyone who comes this way. The Saviors have never seen me.” She led them around the side of the house, coming to the cellar doors long before making it to the hatch. Aaron took Maggie by the arm to lead her down, and Daryl followed behind. Enid closed the doors and ran away. It was completely dark and musty smelling. A small amount of light knifed in through the worn boards of the cellar doors. Aaron and Maggie went to the back and found shelves that they could move and get behind. The clutter on the shelves would help hide them if anyone came down here. Daryl stayed at the doors, peeking out of the cracks so he could see who might be on their way.


“Daryl!” Aaron said in a desperate whisper. Daryl answered by putting his hand out to shush him.


“Daryl! Get back here,” Maggie demanded. “Someone will see you.”


The only weapon Daryl had was his knife. He held it up, ready to stab anyone who tried to get inside the doors. His fingers twitched as he constantly found his grip on the handle. He could hear Enid talking to someone, a man, a Savior. She approached the man with a basket in her hands. She jumped from foot to foot and spoke too quickly, a clear sign she was nervous and hiding something. Daryl was sure the man would catch on and come to the cellar. If so, he’d be ready.


“Daryl. Please,” Aaron pleaded from behind the shelves. His tone pulled at Daryl’s chest, and he gave up his position at the doors to join Aaron and Maggie behind the shelves. Still, he stayed as close to the shelves as he could, looking between rusted canned good. Maggie and Aaron moved into the shadows.


They could hear voices, Enid and the man outside, but they couldn’t understand what they were saying. Then it got quiet, and they hoped the coast was clear. Everyone was holding their breath, and it seemed they would go undiscovered when the doors rattled. Across the room, they could see the figure of a man coming down the few steps that led into the cellar.


Aaron put his arms around Maggie’s shoulders and pulled her further into the darkness, though they were up against a wall. Daryl stayed where he was, knife at the ready, moving anxiously from side to side. Aaron was scared the man would see Daryl, but he was more frightened that Daryl would strike out and kill the man. If that happened, the Saviors would know something was wrong, and they would search every inch of Hilltop. They would find the dead man’s body, and innocent people would die as a result.


It was too late to call out to Daryl, and Aaron feared moving and making a sound, but he had no choice. He let go of Maggie, but she wrapped her hand around his arm to keep him still. He gave her a pleading look and covered her hand with his own. She gave a nod and let go so that Aaron could bring Daryl away from the shelves. He walked carefully, the few steps it took to get to Daryl, and placed a gentle hand upon his shoulder. Daryl was shaking like a cat left out in the cold. His skin was cold and damp with perspiration. There was a fear running though him that Aaron had never seen before. Suddenly, everything that happened recently didn’t matter. Daryl wasn’t hiding behind anger or aloofness anymore. He was truly frightened by these people, more than likely afraid of going back to the Sanctuary. Aaron realized he didn’t know at all the pain and horrors Daryl had experienced. He had tried to comfort Daryl and reassure him that everything was going to be all right. He hadn’t taken into account Daryl’s unending despair and fear that it wouldn’t be over until every last Savior was dead.


Aaron put another hand to Daryl’s shoulder and pulled him gently away from the shelf. Daryl came out of his nightmare and turned to look at Aaron. He guided the frightened man away from the shelves and into the darkness. They crouched down with Maggie and waited until the Savior man was through with his inspection. Finally, after what was only minutes but seemed like hours, the man went back up the steps to the sunlight, and closed the cellar doors. They listened to his footsteps as he walked away. Not until it was completely silent did anyone let out their breath. Daryl came out from behind the shelves and darted to the cellar doors, looking through the cracks. They watched and waited, and when they heard engines roar to life and slowly fade, they knew it was safe to come out.


Aaron was the first to take a step toward the door. Maggie followed as he opened the doors and was blinded by the bright sun. He helped her up and outside, then he looked back to find Daryl hadn’t moved an inch. He was still standing in the same place, looking at the ground, knife in his trembling hand. Maggie nudged Aaron to go to him, and then she left. Aaron made his way slowly down the steps and stood before Daryl, who wouldn’t look up at him.


“You wanted to kill that guy,” Aaron stated. “I could see it in your eyes, but I couldn’t let you. It would have made things much worse for the people of Hilltop.”


Daryl stayed silent, but Aaron could tell his breath was hitching. He was about to ask if he was all right when Daryl finally spoke. “I’m … sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”


Aaron knew this wasn’t about wanting to kill the Savior man. This was about last night and the horrible fight they had. Daryl lifted his head, exposing his sorrowful face and the tears that traced through the dirt and grime. Aaron took a final step to him and surrounded Daryl with his arms. “No. It’s all right. I’m sorry too. I don’t want you to go. I never want to lose you. I just need to know you feel the same.”


Daryl’s arms came up and wrapped around Aaron as he buried his face in Aaron’s shoulder. “I don’t want to lose you either. I thought I was making the right decision, but … I wasn’t thinking straight.”


Aaron pulled Daryl back so he could look at his face. He smiled as tears threatened to fall. “You’ll never think straight. You’re gay,” Aaron jested. Even in times like this he couldn’t help himself.


Daryl captured Aaron’s lips and kissed him, ignoring the joke. Aaron pulled him in and held him like tomorrow would never come. For the first time in a very long time, they were kissing, really kissing with emotion. Daryl pulled away and kissed Aaron’s cheek and neck, telling him he loved him in between.  They held each other for the longest time, and confessed their love. It finally felt right again. It felt real and not forced. Aaron knew they would get past this. He knew Daryl wouldn’t leave now. This was their souls connecting again, after being lost for such a long time. He’s back, Aaron thought. He’s really back.

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