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 7 Alone Again, Naturally

 

Daryl blinked his eyes, adjusting to the light. He felt stiff and sore, and his mouth was as dry as sand. He stared at the white popcorn ceiling above his head and thought, who the hell used popcorn ceiling anymore. He felt another presence in the room. “Am I dead?” he croaked.

“You’re too stubborn to die,” Carol said from beside his bed.

He turned his head to look, and there was his friend, sitting in a chair reading a book, wearing what he called old lady clothes, slacks and a collared floral shirt with a blue sweater vest. “You still look ridiculous,” he grumbled.

“And you still need a bath,” she smiled back at him.

“How long was I out for?” he asked. He tried to sit up, but his head felt like a thousand woodpeckers were jamming their beaks into his skull.

“Which time?” she asked as she got up and put a gentle hand on his shoulder, easing him back into his pillow. “Not yet, sport. You need to just lay there and take it easy.”

“What do you mean, which time?”

“Well, you were out for about two days the first time, when you woke up in a panic clawing at Aaron. Maggie knocked you out and you’ve been asleep ever since. That was four days ago.”

Daryl noticed Carol wasn’t wearing a hazmat suit. “Aren’t you supposed to be in that astronaut gear?”

“You’re past the contagious stage … we think. I volunteered to be the guinea pig.”

“What? No! Carol, what are you thinking?” he said, upset to think he was putting someone in danger.

“Relax. You haven’t had a fever in twenty four hours, and you stopped coughing blood a couple days ago. We change your sheets and clothes twice a day, and scour the room with bleach three times a day. So unless you spit on me or we decide to exchange bodily fluids, I’m confident I won’t catch anything. Besides, I wanted to be here when you woke up, you know, after all you’ve done for me.” She seemed to blush a bit as she smiled and laughed.

“Huh,” he huffed, lifting the sheet to see what he was wearing. It was just a pair of pajama bottoms. “Who changed my clothes?”

“Well, the women were lined up to draw numbers out of a hat for that chore,” Carol joked. “But in the end, it was Rick and Glenn who did it, you know, to spare your vanity.”

She helped Daryl sit up and held a cup to his lips so he could drink some water. “You know, you had us pretty worried there for a couple days. Your fever was spiking dangerously high and you were coughing up blood. Someone stayed with you around the clock, just to make sure you didn’t choke in your sleep. We all took shifts, but Aaron took more turns than anyone. He really admires you. He looks up to you.”

“Yeah, he’s a good guy,” Daryl commented.

“I’m glad you know that. You know you can be kind of standoffish sometimes. You come across as a rebel, and sometimes threatening, but I think you teaming up with Aaron has chiseled away at some of your sharp edges.”

“Are you saying I’m dull now?” he asked, giving Carol a squint-eyed stare.

“Dull is one thing Daryl Dixon will never be, but I think you’re a little more … approachable. Just a little though.” She set the glass down. “Are you hungry?”

“Kind of,” he said.

Carol picked up the walkie talkie and spoke into it. “Can we get some broth sent to Mr. Dixon’s room please?” she said in a comical tone.

“Sure thing, Carol,” answered a woman. “Do you think he’d like chicken or … Hey, I was using that.”

A new voice came across the radio. “Is he awake?” It was Aaron.

“Just opened his eyes,” Carol said.

“Why didn’t you call me? I’ll be right there,” Aaron said anxiously.

“He’s not going anywhere, Aaron, so don’t come without that broth.”

“Bring me a beer too, while you’re at it,” he called out.

“Daryl? Aw man, it’s good to hear your voice,” Aaron said through the radio.

“It’s good to hear you too,” Daryl admitted.

“I’ll be there in a little bit, as soon as I get this broth for Nurse Ratched,” Aaron jostled.

“I heard that,” Carol responded, but she was smiling. It was a joke between her and the others who helped take care of Daryl.

“You were supposed to,” Aaron said, and that ended the conversation.

While they waited, Carol checked Daryl’s temperature, which was still reading normal. She called Maggie, who would want to see her patient now that he was awake. Then she took Daryl’s hand in hers. “It’s about to get hectic around here, so I’ll take this moment to say I’m glad you’re back. I missed my friend, and I was awfully worried for you. Now, don’t ever scare me like that again, you hear?”

“Yes ma’am,” Daryl answered. Carol got up and went to the bedroom door, but before she left, Daryl had one more question. “So, did you have a number in that hat?”

“Are you kidding? I put my number in twice.” She rolled her eyes and with a laugh, left the room.

A little while later, Daryl heard her talking to Maggie. “It’s safe. I checked and still no fever. Besides, he needs to see people without those damn suits on. He’s not an experiment, he’s family.” That was just like Carol to say something like that.

Maggie came in, smiling joyfully at her patient. “Well, look at you. Finally decided to join the living, did you?

“I figured I slept long enough.”

“How are you feeling?”

“My body is stiff and my joints are sore. I want to get out of this damn bed,” he complained.

“You will, but let’s give you time to adjust first. You haven’t been out of bed for a week. You’re going to be a bit wobbly on your feet.”

“Can I at least sit up? My back is killing me,” Daryl complained.

“Let me get some pillows to prop you up with.” Maggie left and came back with an armful of pillows. She helped him up and stuffed them behind his back, adjusting them until he was comfortable. “Better?”

“Much, thanks. So, what happened to me?”

“What do you remember?”

“I remember coming here. My throat hurt and it was scratchy. I was starting to cough, but there wasn’t any blood. I was so tired and I laid down. The fever was already coming on by that time. I went to sleep, I guess.”

Maggie sat in the chair next to the bed. “When I came to check on you, your fever was spiking to 103, and you were incoherent. I couldn’t get you to wake fully, so I gave you something to help you sleep sound and another dose for the virus. You slept all of the next day, and on the third day, while Aaron was on watch, you came to, but you were disturbed by something. Probably fever dreams. They can make you hallucinate.”

Daryl forgot until Maggie mentioned it. He’d been dreaming some crazy shit. “Yeah, that was probably it. I didn’t hurt anyone, did I?”

“No, Aaron had a handle on things. He was good at calming you. He’d speak slow and soothingly. It reminded me of a ranch hand my daddy hired one summer. He’d speak to the horses that way when he was breaking them in. Aaron knew what he was doing, like a pro, but he said he’d never done anything like it before. He’s a natural.”

Daryl started having flashes of that dream. Aaron had been in it, talking to him, saying … well, saying things that would have calmed a savage beast. It had seemed so real at the time. Daryl … felt things, and not just physically. But this had been figments of his fevered imagination, nothing more. So why did he feel so disappointed?

“You ok?” Maggie asked.

“Yeah, just remembering some of my dreams. It was weird.”

“It didn’t have a scarecrow, a lion and a tin man in it, did it?” said Aaron from the doorway.

Daryl’s attention snapped in that direction, and there he was holding a thermos that must have contained the broth. “Well, if it isn’t my own personal flying monkey,” Daryl joked.

Aaron came in and set the thermos down on a nearby table. He smiled genuinely. “It’s good to see you awake.”

“It’s good to see you too, man.” Daryl took in the sight of him, wearing a long sleeve, button up, blue plaid shirt tucked into khaki’s with a belt. He looked like a suburbia dad, and Daryl laughed to himself. Aaron was clean shaven, hair clipped short, but now he was growing a goatee and a mustache. It made him look a little more rugged and a little bit older. “What’s this?” Daryl asked, stroking his own beard in gesture.

“Oh,” Aaron said shyly. “Yeah, just thought I’d try something different for a change.”

“So, you ok? You didn’t get sick?” Daryl asked.

“Nope, got a clean bill of health. So did Caleb,” Aaron informed him.

“Caleb. Oh shit, I forgot. How’s he doing?” Daryl asked anxiously.

“He’s adjusting. Maggie introduced him to Alison, the town’s psychologist. They’ve met every day this week. It seems to be helping him.”

“Aaron told me everything that happened,” Maggie said. “Absolutely horrific, but Caleb is stronger than you might think. He’s doing good. Carl has taken him under his wing. They spend a lot of time together, which is good for Caleb. He’s remembering what it’s like to be a kid.”

“That’s great news.” Daryl adjusted his position, wishing he could get up, but he could feel how weak he was. “So, I guess you had the right kind of meds. That was pretty lucky.”

Maggie nodded quickly. “Yep, pretty lucky.” She glanced at Aaron, unspoken words transferring between them, as though they kept a secret. “Hey, you need to eat your broth. Get as much down as you can handle. Aaron, are you going to stay and see that he eats?”

“Yeah, you can go. I can handle this,” Aaron said.

“I’ll be back in a little bit. You still need your medicine. We don’t want you to have a relapse.”

“Thanks Maggie. You’re truly an angel,” Aaron told her, making her blush as she left the room. He picked up the thermos and took the top off. He poured some broth into the plastic cup and gave it to Daryl. As Aaron watched him drink, he huffed a laugh. “Did you know some of the women were arguing over who would get to change your clothes and give you a sponge bath?”

“Yeah, I heard,” Daryl said, unimpressed, sipping his broth.

“I would have gotten in on the lottery thing, but I worried what it might look like … the gay guy competing with the women.” Aaron laughed at his own joke.

“Thanks for that,” Daryl said between slurps.

It got quiet, and Aaron’s face changed from the light hearted look to something more serious. “You had me worried there for a while. You were bad off, Daryl. I never felt so helpless. We all did, actually. It was a torturous waiting game.”

“You can stop worrying. I’m ok now.” Daryl handed the empty cup to Aaron.

“You want more?”

Daryl shook his head. “Not now. What I want is to get out of this bed.”

“You’re not supposed to, but since I’m here to help.” Aaron moved around and helped Daryl sit up and hang his legs over the side of the bed. “Ready?”

“Yeah,” Daryl said. Aaron wrapped his arm around Daryl’s bare waist, and helped him stand. He stayed that way while Daryl got his bearings. The warmth of Aaron’s skin on his, and the flex of his muscles sent a wave of awareness through him. This was the closest they’d ever been to each other. Part of Daryl’s dream came back to him, and he remembered the kiss they shared, but it was only a dream.

“You ok?” Aaron asked when Daryl still hadn’t moved.

“I’m good. Let’s do this.” Daryl put his arm around Aaron’s shoulders and used him as his crutch. He took a couple steps, but he suddenly lost his equilibrium. Aaron held him with both arms to keep him from falling. Daryl was surprised by Aaron’s strength to hold him up. He was much stronger than he looked. He regained his balance and Aaron’s grip loosened on his waist, but he held a hand to Daryl’s chest, and it felt very comforting. Daryl’s heart began to race, and his breathing sped up, but he told himself it was because of the physical exertion of trying to walk after a week in bed. He looked up at Aaron to make sure it wasn’t too much weight for him to hold.

“It’s alright. I won’t let you fall,” Aaron told him.

“I know you won’t,” Daryl responded, but he meant it in more ways than this one. Aaron must have understood his meaning, because he smiled.

“Let’s try this again,” Aaron said, and he readjusted his hold on Daryl.

Standing straight again, Daryl took a few more steps and made it to the other side of the bedroom. Aaron kept a firm hold around his waist as they walked back to the bed. He helped lower Daryl to the mattress and took a step back. “Not bad for your first time. Next time it will be easier. You just need to regain your strength.”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine. It felt good to get up though. Can we try again in a little bit?” Daryl asked.

“I guess I’m your physical therapist now,” Aaron joked.

“Add it to your list of jobs,” Daryl said.

Daryl rested and Aaron filled him in on everything that happened in the past week. Not much was going on besides the usual stuff. Mostly, everyone was worried about Daryl. The one thing Aaron didn’t mention was Eric. “So how are things going for you? You talk to Eric?” Daryl asked.

“He, uh, he was moved out when I went home. He did come by to see me once while I was in quarantine, but that was it. I see him in passing, but we really haven’t said much to each other.”

“You know, you really should–”

“I’d really rather not talk about it,” Aaron interrupted. “I’m actually fine with it. It’s a bit lonely at home in that big house, but no one has answered my personals about a roommate,” he joked. Then he turned his eyes down to the floor, the seriousness coming back to his face. “The offer still stands if you’re interested.”

“Yeah, well, I haven’t had much time to give it any consideration.”

“I know, but what is there to consider?”

Daryl looked away, not sure what to say. He didn’t know if he wanted this or not. He wasn’t sure it was the right decision, or if Aaron was moving too fast just after ending a long relationship with Eric.

“I’m sorry,” Aaron apologized. “I tend to get a little pushy when there’s something I really want. I guess I’m used to getting my way.”

“I just don’t understand why? And I know we’ve had this conversation before, and you told me what you saw in me and all that. It just worries me a little that you were with Eric for so long, and now you’re ready to move on without tying up loose ends. It’s like you’re afraid to be alone.”

“Yes, I’m afraid to be alone,” Aaron confessed without giving it any thought. “I was alone for a long time before I met Eric, and I was beginning to tell myself that’s just how my life was going to be from then on. Eric is very special to me, and he’ll always hold a special place in my heart, but I’ve simply decided that I don’t want to settle, not when I think I’ve stumbled upon something that could turn out to be what I’ve always wanted.”

“And what about what I want?” Daryl asked.

“I’m hoping it will be the same thing,” Aaron answered honestly. “Listen, you’re going to be in here for a few more days, plenty of time to think about it. I won’t pester you anymore, ok?” He put the thermos where Daryl could reach it, now that he was back in bed. “You need to finish this before Carol comes back, or she might force feed it to you,” he smiled. “I better go, let you get some sleep.” Aaron turned to go to the door, but Daryl stopped him.

“Hey, Aaron, thanks for everything, whether I become your new roommate or not. I really appreciate it.”

“The decision was easy. I knew you’d do it for me if the tables had been turned,” Aaron smiled from the doorway just before he left.

* * * * *

A couple days had gone by. Daryl was feeling better. Aaron had been by every day to help him get up and walk, and to make sure he was eating enough, making sure he was getting his strength back. The virus had taken its toll on him, and it was taking longer than he thought to get back to normal. Daryl didn’t like it. He didn’t like being laid up like this, having people wait on him. He felt like it made him look weak. Back home, before everything happened, if someone got sick you kept going. You didn’t lie around recovering. No one brought him food or visited him. You got your ass whipped if you didn’t hold your own where Daryl came from. He wasn’t used to the attention, and he didn’t like it. He was hoping to get out of his ‘cell’ soon.

On this particular day, Aaron hadn’t been around his usual time of the morning. Now it was afternoon, and Daryl was beginning to wonder what happened to him. He wouldn’t ask anyone, though. He didn’t want someone to think he was actually paying attention to who came and went, and when.

Maggie came earlier to give him another dose of medicine. Carol came after with some food, and to deliver the good news that tomorrow he was free to leave the quarantine house. He could finally go home, but which home would he go to, his or Aaron’s? Daryl had been giving it careful consideration, and a part of him liked the idea of rooming with Aaron. They got along extremely well. They enjoyed each other’s company. They worked together, though, and that could be a downfall. They would always be together. And then there was the complicated side of things, the fact that Aaron had feelings for him, and Daryl was still trying to figure out where he stood. That dream he had didn’t help much. Yes, it was just a dream, but it felt very real, making Daryl want to revisit the situation minus the horror parts. Would that happen every time? Would Daryl’s past intervene each time he tried to let himself be free to know what he really wanted? Maybe he was never meant to know. Maybe it was his past that was making him have these urges, and not his personal choice. Could living with Aaron help him figure things out, or would it be a bigger burden? Daryl was almost ready to throw caution to the wind and take that chance. Aaron was right about one thing. Daryl had to stop living his life for his ghosts.

He heard the front door open, and thought it might be Aaron, but to his surprise, Eric came in, knocking on the doorframe to the bedroom. “Eric, it’s uh … what a surprise.” Daryl didn’t know what to say. He never expected to see Eric, and was suspicious of his visit.

“No one’s more surprised than I am,” Eric said. “How … how are you?”

“Better. Getting out of here tomorrow.”

“Oh, that’s good.” Eric didn’t sound like he wanted to make small talk. If he was here, there was an important reason.

“Everything alright?” Daryl wondered.

“Yeah,” Eric answered sounding confident, but he deflated quickly. “Actually, no, and that’s why I’m here. I … I need to speak with you … about Aaron.”

Daryl’s heart leapt to his throat, and his tone turned serious. “He hasn’t been by today. Has something happened?”

Eric’s brows furrowed at Daryl’s sudden concern. “Everything is fine, as far as I know. At the last minute, Glenn asked him to go on a supply run with him. Probably be gone all day. Actually, I’m here on my own accord. I just wanted to know where things stand.”

“I’m not sure I understand. You mean with me and you or me and Aaron?”

“I know where things stand between us, at least I think so. Things might have gotten a little bit sideways between us. I mean, I let you into my home, or mine and Aaron’s home. We gave you space as you adjusted, watched you figure out what it was you were meant to do around here. I let Aaron talk me into letting you take over my place as a recruiter, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about you. I did question your loyalty, though, and I worried what you would do in a tough situation. I heard the whispers about you and your group, and it worried me. I guess I let my fears get the best of me, and started getting overprotective of Aaron. My biggest worry was that you would leave him behind if things went awry out there.”

“I would never do that,” Daryl explained. “It’s not a matter of protecting the people I came in here with. It’s about protecting everyone and the town, keeping this place safe, especially as we bring in new residents.”

“I know that now, but at the time, certain people were whispering in my ear.”

By certain people, Daryl wondered if he meant Gerrard and his buddies. “I’m glad you decided not to listen to them.”

“You’re a good man, Daryl, which is why I’ve come here to ask something from you,” Eric said, walking to a chair. “May I?” he gestured.

“Sure.”

Eric took a seat, and Daryl moved to the edge of his bed. He anchored his bare feet to the flood, and his palms to the bed, leaned forward a bit and waited for Eric to talk.

“I want to thank you for keeping Aaron safe out there. I heard about your trouble, and you put your life on the line to bring him back home. Even though we’re having our differences right now, Aaron is still very special to me.”

“Funny, he says the same thing about you.” Should Daryl have told him that? It was too late now.

Eric smiled just a bit when he heard Daryl. “I … I jumped to conclusions when I threatened to move out. I thought I could force him into staying, or not taking you with him. My plan backfired when Aaron went anyways, and being stubborn myself, I had to follow through with my threat. I’m afraid I’ve chased him away, and I didn’t want that. But now … he … he’s become fond of you, Daryl.”

“We’re good friends, nothing more,” Daryl said, but he knew where Eric was going with this.

“I think it’s more than that for him,” Eric said softly.

Daryl looked away and shook his head. “Come on, Eric.” He tried to sound like he denied any realization, but knew it was true.

“He was here every day while you were sick. He sat by your bed, read to you, talked to you about the day’s events. Not once did he try to patch things up between us. All he cared about was you, to the point that he risked his life going outside by himself.”

Daryl’s attention snapped back to Eric. “What do you mean he left? Why?”

“Didn’t they tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

Eric sighed, looking as though he’d said too much, but there was no going back now. “The medicine wasn’t doing enough. It was keeping you from getting worse, but you weren’t getting better. Your fever was staying too high, which was very dangerous. Maggie knew what you needed, but we didn’t have it here. Aaron said he knew of a place where he was sure he’d find it, or he wouldn’t come back until he did. Deanna denied him, but he snuck out in the middle of the night, alone, to find the medication. No one knew where he was going. He came back late the next day, gave Maggie the drugs, got in an argument with Deanna when she tried to berate him for not following the rules. And then he went straight here to sit with you again. He wouldn’t tell anyone where he’d been, but he was scratched and bruised. He’d made it back, but not without a fight.”

Daryl was upset by this information. Aaron should never have risked his life like that, especially to go out alone. But even as angry as he was, a part of him felt elated to know Aaron would do this for him. After all, Daryl would have done it for Aaron had the tables been turned, without even a second thought. He kept this to himself though. “It was a stupid move. He should have never gone, especially by himself. He could have been killed.”

“Here’s the thing. Aaron would never have risked it. He would have played by the rules. I’ve never known him to behave in such a way before. The difference is that this was for you. I don’t think he would have done it if he didn’t care so deeply.”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re trying to blame me for Aaron’s decisions,” Daryl said, testing Eric.

“No, but … I-I don’t know where you stand, and I’m not sure what you realize and what you don’t, but if there’s nothing between the two of you … and I’m not suggesting there is … then you need to tell him that or I fear he’s going to go too far out on a limb for you and not come back.” Eric got up from his chair and paced to the other side of the room. “Here’s the honest truth. I love Aaron, probably more than I’ve ever loved anyone, but I screwed up. I just want him back. Now, though, he’s not even paying attention because he’s too busy pining over you. Maybe you don’t know this or maybe you do, and you’re just choosing to ignore it, hope it goes away, but whatever it is, if there’s nothing going on here, I’m asking … no … begging you to set him free so that I might have another chance with him.”

“Aaron’s a grown man. He can make his own decisions. I’m not holding him hostage. He’s my friend and that’s all,” Daryl said.

“That’s what you need to tell him, because I’ve seen the way he looks at you when you don’t notice. I’ve watched him prepare to cross heaven and hell for you. It’s not fair to him to lead him on with false hope, and by not saying anything to him, that’s exactly what you’re doing.” Eric went to the bedroom door and stopped. He glanced back as though he was going to say something, but instead, Eric gave Daryl a pleading look, and then went on his way.

Daryl was left with his thoughts and a thousand doubts. Perhaps it wasn’t fair. He liked Aaron as a friend. He was still discovering the rest. Hell, he didn’t even know about himself much less bringing Aaron into the scheme of things. It wasn’t fair to keep Aaron waiting in the wings while Daryl figured out his thoughts and feelings. Yet, he felt he would never figure it out on his own. Aaron could help him, if only he’d let the man in, but Daryl was afraid. The dream came back to him, the kiss, the way it made Daryl feel, but the aftermath of letting go turned into a nightmare, and he found himself staring back at Jay. He was very confused by his feelings. Maybe Eric was right.

* * * * *

Later on, Maggie came by for one final checkup. “I say you’re good to go. Tomorrow morning, you can move back to–”

“Can I go now?” Daryl interrupted.

She cocked her head and observed him a moment. “It’s kind of late, and I need to give you one last dose in the morning.”

“Can’t you just do that at my house?” He sounded a bit anxious to go, and Maggie didn’t want him stressing. Daryl ran his hand through his hair, and then gazed up at Maggie. “I just really want to be alone.”

“Something happen that you want to talk about?” Maggie asked, giving her support.

“Naw, I’m just not used to so much attention, and it’s kind of worn me out, you know?”

Maggie sighed and crossed her arms as she made her final decision. “I guess that would be alright. Do you want me to get someone to help you move your things back to your place?”

“I don’t have anything here I want, except my clothes.”

“Alright, well, if anything happens, if you start feeling bad again or anything like that, don’t hesitate to come get me, ok?”

“Will do,” Daryl said. He got his clothes, which had been washed and neatly folded on the dresser, threw on his vest and boots, and followed Maggie to the door. “Thanks for everything.” Maggie smiled and nodded, and watched Daryl leave.

“Finally,” Daryl said as he closed his front door behind him. He glanced around the small home, and suddenly felt very alone. He smiled and plopped down on the couch. Why couldn’t it be like this all the time? The quiet and solitude kept him from having to think about things, from having to figure stuff out or waking up his demons. He’d be perfectly fine living as a hermit, he said to himself. With that thought, Daryl fell asleep on his couch.

* * * * *

The sun was just coming up. A beam of light knifed through a split in the curtains covering the front window. Daryl blinked and watched dust particles travel in and out of the sunbeam, going nowhere in particular. He’d hardly slept a wink. His brain just wouldn’t shut off as he considered Eric’s plea. He came to a decision sometime late into the night, and then dozed on and off for the next couple hours. Of course, when he finally started to fall into a deep sleep, the sun woke him up. He had never lived by an alarm clock. It was the sunrise that always stirred him to wake.

Daryl got up, washed, dressed, and headed out to see Deanna. He would need to speak with her first, get the ball rolling, so to say. He had to do this before he talked to Aaron.

“Daryl, it’s so good to see you up and around again. You look good, considering you were nearly comatose a little more than a week ago,” Deanna said after inviting him into her home.

“Well, I feel pretty good. Mostly, I’m just glad to be out of that damn quarantine house,” he admitted.

“So, what can I do for you?” As she asked, she gestured to a chair by her desk.

Daryl took a seat, and wasted no time getting down to business. “I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I think I’d like a job change.”

Deanna looked shocked by his request and asked just to be sure. “Are you saying you don’t want to be a recruiter anymore?”

“Yes, ma’am. You heard me right. Actually, if you’d put me in the watchtower, I’d be pleased with that.”

“You’re the best tracker I’ve got,” Deanna said, absolutely dumbfounded. “Do you mind telling me why the sudden change?”

“I need some different scenery,” he said tersely.

Deanna stared at him a moment, trying to figure him out, trying to get him to break. All she discovered was that Daryl was … besides herself … the only person she knew who had such a good poker face. He was unreadable. He always had been. “I honestly hate to see you change jobs. I thought you were well suited for the position of recruiter.”

“Well, it was just temporary. After all, Eric and Aaron are your original recruiters, and I was just filling in for Eric until he was up and on his feet again. I’d say he’s ready, and I don’t want to interfere with what he and Aaron have going on.”

“I … guess that’s understandable, although I really wish you would reconsider,” Deanna said, making one last attempt.

“It’s high time I moved on, ma’am, and maybe I’ll eventually find some other way to contribute, but for now, a shift in the watchtower would suit me well.”

“Alright then. How about next week some–”

“I’d like to start now, if you don’t mind,” he said, cutting her off.

“Are you sure, Daryl? You just recovered from a very serious illness.”

“Maggie only has one more dose for me this morning. Besides, I’m feeling back to my normal self, and I’m not the type of person to sit around with nothing to do. I need to keep busy.”

Deanna observed him another moment before she gave her answer. “Alright, if you’re sure. I’ve got someone wanting to move to an earlier shift, so I could use you from five to midnight, if you don’t mind those hours.”

“That’d be great. Thank you,” he smiled.

Maggie came around the corner, looking for Deanna and was surprised to see Daryl. “I was just about to come to your place.”

“Saved you a trip,” Daryl said.

“Great, well, I’ve got my things in the other room. Be right back,” Maggie said as she started to leave. She stopped and turned back to him. “Glenn and Aaron are back. They came in about an hour or so ago and crashed. Aaron’s sleeping on our couch. He was too tired to make it home. Just thought you’d like to know.”

“Thanks,” Daryl said softly.

* * * * *

It must have been around nine o’clock that night when Daryl heard someone coming up the stairs of the watchtower. It was too early for his replacement, unless he was just checking to see Daryl was alright. But up through the trapdoor he saw a familiar head of wavy hair and prepared for whatever was about to happen.

“Can I come up?” Aaron asked, looking around the cramped space of the tower.

“You’re halfway up as it is. Might as well come the rest of the way in,” Daryl said.

“I heard you’d left the quarantine house, so I went to your home. A passerby said they heard you’d opted for guard duty in the watchtower,” Aaron started.

“Yeah,” Daryl said, going back to the window and glancing out over the wall. He had a rifle leaning against one wall, a couple bottles of water, and a paper bag with a sandwich in it, which he’d been getting ready to eat when Aaron showed up.

“Why?” Aaron asked.

“Needed something else to do.”

“Something else? What about recruiting?” Aaron asked curiously.

Daryl kept staring out the window as he spoke. “I’m not going to be doing that anymore.”

“What are you talking about? Daryl, what’s going on?”

“I had a lot of time to think while I was laid up, and I think it’s time things got back to the way they were,” Daryl confessed.

“The way they were was that you and I went out on recruiting runs,” Aaron argued.

“That was supposed to be temporary.”

“Maybe at first, but … you know how I felt about Eric going out there. I didn’t want him risking his life anymore.”

“And now look, you’re not even together anymore. You’re living in separate houses. Maybe if I’d never accepted your offer, you and Eric would still be together,” Daryl countered. He thought he saw some bushes moving along the road outside of the gates, and picked up his rifle.

“I told you, it was a long time coming, me and Eric’s separation. So what, you think that you coming to Alexandria is why we broke up? It was going to happen anyways.”

“So can you honestly say that you wouldn’t be with him right now had I not come along?” Daryl asked, but Aaron was silent. “All I’m saying is you could be throwing something good away over someone who’s not even sure who he is. I’m not going to be the reason you left Eric after two years. I’m not worth it.”

“How can you say that?” Aaron whispered.

“I am an emotional mess,” Daryl said, finally taking his attention off the road and putting it on Aaron. “I think about things, and … I … I’m always thrown back into my own personal hell.”

“You’re chased by phantoms, I get it, but you also admit that you’ve given it some thought. What have you thought about? Have you thought about things in general, or have you thought about us? That’s what you need to realize. You can stay in denial all you want, but you know where your mind wanders when you allow it freedom.”

It was like Aaron was in his head. He was right. When he allowed himself to consider certain things, Aaron was always part of it. Daryl started to get angry that Aaron could read him so easily. No one had ever done that, and it scared the shit out of him. He needed to put a stop to it right now. “You need to go back to Eric and make things right again.”

“I don’t want Eric,” Aaron whispered in desperation.

“You’re only fooling yourself to think anything could come of us. I’m beyond repairing, no matter whether you think you can fix me or not. Maybe I don’t want to be fixed. Maybe I’m ok as I am. I’m better off alone where I can’t hurt anyone. I’m good on my own. I always have been. No one gets hurt when I’m alone, and the last person I want to hurt is you,” Daryl admitted. Something caught his attention and he looked out the window again. Now he could see it clearly, another walker slowly advancing on the gate. He lifted the rifle, resting it on the windowsill as he looked through the eyepiece.

“Daryl please reconsider this,” Aaron pleaded.

“I can’t, and you know why? I know what you did for me. I know you risked your life to go out looking for that medicine. You put your life on the line for me, and I can’t even give you anything in return. If something had happened to you . . . The truth is, I don’t know if I can give to you in return what you’re so readily willing to give to me. I can’t do it. I just can’t.”

“How do you know when you’ve never even tried?” The rifle went off, and Daryl saw Aaron flinch.

“You want a charity case? Is that it?” Daryl spoke with anger. “I’m not your man. But Eric, he loves you. You’re his world. That’s who deserves your attention. Neither one of you want to be alone, but me … I’m fine with it. I don’t need nobody else.”

“You really want this?” Aaron asked one last time.

“I do.” Daryl stayed facing the window, his eye gazing through the eyepiece of the gun. “Now go. I’ve got a job to do, and I don’t need any more distractions.”

“Wow, just like that. Fine,” Aaron said displaying anger. “I’ll not bother you anymore. Just remember, you pushed me away, but I was never going to give up on you. I still won’t. I think the real Daryl is simmering just below the surface, but he lets too many bad memories keep him buried. You can live a solitary life and avoid your ghosts. God knows I’ve done it myself in the past. But you need to ask yourself this. In the world we live in today, is being alone really the answer?” Aaron left the tower.

Being alone in this world was always a risk, Daryl thought to himself, but at least he wouldn’t have to worry about hurting anyone if something happened to him. This was the right thing to do, he convinced himself. Aaron was better off with Eric, even if he didn’t truly love the man. He cared for him, cared what happened to him, and that was enough … or so Daryl thought.



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