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 8 Just When He Thought It Was Safe


A month had gone by since Daryl saw Aaron last. He made sure not to be where Aaron might be, and avoided any kind of parties. It would be too awkward to see Aaron now, and Daryl was fine by himself. He managed to stay clear of any thoughts that would confuse him or bring up his past. He threw himself into his job as watchman, and went out on a couple supply runs with Glenn. When he did socialize, he stayed with his group. He felt safe with them. He knew they wouldn’t judge him or ask him a lot of questions. Carol brought up the fact that he wasn’t being very social lately, and wondered if he’d had that fever too long. Maybe it screwed up his brain, she would say. Actually, it was his feelings for Aaron that did that, but he kept it to himself, and pretended he was better off having sent Aaron away.

However, it was a small town, and one could only avoid another person for so long. Daryl might not have had to come within the same vicinity of Aaron, but he saw a lot at a distance from the watchtower. The tower had windows on all four sides, so he could see a good deal of the town as well as outside the gates. He watched one evening as guests strolled up to Deanna’s house for another dinner party. All the regulars were there, and so were members of his own group. And then he saw Aaron walking alone. He was dressed nice, though … jeans, a neatly pressed shirt, and a jacket, clean shaven. He’d gotten rid of the goatee. Guess he didn’t want to be like Daryl anymore. His heart sunk a little to see it. That was alright. Aaron was moving on. That was good.

Aaron stopped at the gate in front of Deanna’s house. He smiled shyly and waved to someone. A tree blocked Daryl’s view, but he watched as Aaron waited for someone to catch up. And then Eric appeared, wearing that goofy smile, the one he always saved for Aaron. They stood together a moment, talking. Daryl could almost read their lips. “You look good.” “So do you.” That kind of small talk that Daryl was never good at. Eric reached out and fingered the lapel of Aaron’s jacket, taking notice. But then he watched Aaron’s smile light up, and a bit of jealousy made its way into his heart. Well, he thought, he’d told him to go back to Eric. There was no reason to be mad about it, but he was slightly. He was just being stupid, he said, and pushed the wicked thought away.

That feeling stayed with him for days afterwards, though. Why the hell did he care? He told Aaron to move on, and made the choice to give up recruiting. He still went outside the gates with Glenn every now and then. He had to go outside from time to time. Alexandria was too confining, even more so now. It didn’t matter. He was better off alone so his demons wouldn’t find him.

He’d seen Aaron with Eric a few more times after that, walking together, laughing and smiling, enjoying each other’s company. That must have been how they were before Daryl came to town, before he befriended Aaron, before Aaron revealed his feelings towards him. Eric was the better choice, he thought. Eric loved Aaron. He could give him everything he deserved and more, and perhaps Aaron would learn to love Eric too. This was good, Daryl told himself. But if it was, then why did he feel like shit?

That night, he had that dream again, the one with Beth, only this time she didn’t die in his arms. She got up, bloody head and all, and walked across from him. She crossed her arms and gave him a scowling look.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she berated him.

“What?” he asked, confused.

“You’re supposed to be with Aaron,” she said.

“No,” he disagreed, shaking his head. “It wasn’t right. Aaron was already with someone. I’m no home wrecker.”

“Ah,” she smiled, pointing a finger at him. “You see, I thought you might say you weren’t like Aaron and Eric, but you didn’t. This is the first step in owning up to who you are, and you weren’t denying it.”

“What? Wait, that’s not what I was implying. Aaron was a good friend, nothing more, but he developed feelings for me, and I knew I couldn’t return them.”

“Couldn’t or wouldn’t? There’s a big difference. And let’s not forget who you’re talking to here. You told me everything, Daryl. I know what you are, even if you won’t say it out loud. Why won’t you admit it? You’re going to have to let go sooner or later. And Aaron,” she smiled, clapping her hands together as she looked up at the ceiling. “If ever there was someone who could walk with you during this special time, it’s him. He understands where you’re coming from. He’ll let you take your time. He won’t rush you. He just wants you to be happy, and he’s hoping you’ll be happy with him.” Beth’s eye narrowed on him, and she was scowling again. “But you can’t be happy, can you? You enjoy wallowing around in misery and loneliness. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s not right and it’s not good. In this world, there’s not many like you, and out of those who are, there’s even less who would care about you the way Aaron does.”

“And what about Eric? We just toss him to the side?” Daryl countered.

“He came to you to dissuade you and it worked. You let Eric tell you what you were thinking and feeling, but you know better than him what your heart is telling you. For God’s sake, Daryl, if you never do anything right ever again, don’t let it start with Aaron as your first mistake. Go to him. Talk to him. Make things right between you again. And then release your inhibitions. Free yourself of these stupid fears that your family instilled on you. They were wrong. Embrace this, Daryl, or have regrets, and I think you’ve had enough of those for a while.”

“Why should I listen to you? You’re just another ghost who haunts me.”

Beth smiled and cupped the side of his face with her ethereal hand. “Because I’m the only one who deep down you know is right.” She slowly faded to nothing, leaving Daryl to contemplate things.

He woke up feeling overwhelmed and panicked. Damn these wicked dreams. Why couldn’t they leave him alone? He was doing fine on his own. Now he couldn’t turn off his brain. “Not today,” he told himself. It was never today.

He was on his way to the weapons room to check out his gear when he saw Aaron go in first. Daryl froze. Should he wait? Should he turn around and go back later? Ridiculous, he told himself, and he kept walking. He went into the room, and found Aaron asking for his hand gun and rifle. He turned to see who had come in behind him, and his eyes widened at the sight of Daryl.

“Sup,” Daryl said first with a nod of his head.

“Daryl, hi?” Aaron greeted, sounding rather pleased. “I haven’t seen you around in a long time.”

“Been busy, you know, with the job and all.”

“Yeah, guard duty. How’s that going?”

Small talk … Daryl hated it. “It’s alright. I go out on supply runs with Glenn once in a while, just to keep sharp. What about you? How’s the recruiting business?”

“We’ve kind of been grounded for a little bit. Yeah, a pretty big heard was spotted way out on the north side. Deanna said she didn’t want us going out there for a little while, so I haven’t been doing much of anything.” Aaron saw Daryl’s knives and a gun that he used, picked them up and handed them to Daryl. “You going on a run now?”

“No. Actually, I was about to head out and do some hunting, if you know what I mean,” Daryl admitted.

“Wow, hey, that’s what I was planning on doing,” Aaron said, and the woman in charge of signing weapons in and out gave him a skeptical eye. Aaron smiled politely. “Rabbits.”

Daryl’s mouth quirked at the corner. It was an inside joke between them. Aaron had said he was hunting rabbits when Daryl caught him following him in the woods after his group first arrived in Alexandria.

“Mind if I tag along?” Aaron asked, but he regretted it as soon as the words left his lips. “Or if you’d rather be alone, I–”

“Naw, man. It’s ok,” he responded before thinking it through.

They headed out together and disappeared into the woods. They stayed close to one another, each man on high alert, ears trained to any sounds, eyes trained on all movement. Neither one spoke for the longest time, but both men were comfortable in each other’s company. If Daryl was going to hang out with Aaron, this was the best way to do it. It didn’t leave much time for talking. However, it had been a while since they came out here, and they hadn’t seen any signs of walkers. Sooner or later, they were going to have to engage in conversation, so Daryl started it.

“Just like old times, huh?”

“Almost,” Aaron answered from behind. Daryl could feel his eyes upon him.

“Yeah, well … Hey, I wanted to apologize for being a dick … you know … back then.”

“It’s ok. I guess things were moving a little fast. It’s my fault too. I put you under too much pressure,” Aaron apologized.

Not needing to say anything more about it, they finished out their time concentrating on the hunt. There’d only been a few walkers, and that was good. It meant that the heard someone reported wasn’t near the town, not yet anyways. They both agreed to that.

They were almost back to the main road that led to the gates of town, and Daryl was glad the conversations stayed casual. But then, Aaron started to ask something, and Daryl stopped him when he saw movement in some underbrush. “Wait,” he told Aaron as he trained his crossbow on the bush. He fired, his arrow whizzing into the foliage. Daryl went in and came back out with a rabbit hanging from his arrow. He smiled slightly. “For the weapons lady,” he said.

Aaron huffed a laugh as Daryl handed the rabbit to him. “Thanks,” he said observing the clean kill.

Daryl kept walking, but now at a little faster pace. He wanted to get back before Aaron decided to ask whatever he was about to ask. He wasn’t fast enough.

“Hey, uh, you want to hang out sometime? I mean in town, not out here, although this was fun, if that is the right word for it,” Aaron said nervously. “You could come over for dinner,” he suggested.

Without turning to look at Aaron, Daryl answered. “Geez, I … I don’t know.”

“How about a beer on the front porch,” Aaron said. “Just as friends … like we were today. I could use the conversation.”

“Won’t Eric be there?” Daryl asked. He wouldn’t come around if Eric was there.

“He’s actually going to play bridge with some of the older ladies,” Aaron laughed. “I guess he decided poker night at Gerrard’s house was a little too much testosterone for his liking.”

“I guess that would be alright. I don’t have guard duty tonight.”

“Great,” Aaron said sounding overjoyed.

They went back to the weapons room and turned in their equipment. Aaron showed the woman his rabbit and said he’d take it to the kitchen. He turned back to Daryl, who was still unarming himself. “See you later.”

“Alright,” Daryl nodded, not making a big deal out of it. Inside, he was a messy ball of nerves. What the hell did he just agree too?

One night of beer and conversation turned into two and then three. Daryl was suddenly spending his off nights hanging out with Aaron, just the two of them as friends, starting over without all the other stuff. They kept their new relationship simple, even went out hunting a couple times. It was good, and Daryl found himself relaxing once again. Then one evening, he got a little brave with his questions. “So why is it that in all the times I’ve been here, Eric’s never been here too?”

“I didn’t think you’d be comfortable with him here.”

“Eric’s a cool guy,” Daryl admitted. “Besides, you shouldn’t have to feel like you need to chase him out of the house every time I come over.”

“Chase him out? Oh, you thought Eric moved back in.” Aaron stopped and shook his head. “No, he still has his own place. We’ve decided to remain friends.”

“Really. I thought the two of you would have patched things up by now.”

“We’ve gone to a couple of Deanna’s parties, and we hang out once in a while, but that’s all.”

Daryl wasn’t sure how he felt about that. Part of him thought they should have been back together by now, and was saddened to know they weren’t. And then the other part of him was secretly happy they were still apart. “Well, all good things, all in good time.”

“I sure hope so,” Aaron said, and his eyes latched onto Daryl’s for a split second that felt like forever.

Daryl broke the contact quickly, drank the rest of his beer and stood from the porch chair. It was a warm evening with a comfortable breeze, very enjoyable. He didn’t want to go, but it seemed like a good time to split. “I better get going.”

“You working tomorrow night?” Aaron asked.

“Yeah. I’m afraid you’re on your own.”

“I’ll find something to do. I always do,” Aaron said.

Daryl descended a couple stairs, when an idea came to him. “Hey, you got anything going on tomorrow morning?”

“No, why?”

Daryl smiled slyly. “I think we’re due for another trip outside the gate. Bring your weapons.”

“We going hunting?” Aaron asked eagerly.

“Better. We’re going riding?”

* * * * *

The next morning, just after sunrise, Aaron showed at the gate with his equipment. Daryl was waiting for him with his motorcycle, wearing his leather vest with the wings on the back and his sleeveless t shirt underneath.

“You weren’t kidding about riding, were you?” Aaron asked, noticing the motorcycle was the only transportation.

“You up for it? You can follow along in your car if you want, but you’ll be missing out on all the fun,” Daryl challenged.

“No, I want to ride. I just haven’t before.” Aaron sounded nervous suddenly.

“What are you talking about? You’ve ridden my bike before.”

Aaron shrugged. “That was different. I drove your bike. I was in charge and I had total control. I’ve never surrendered and allowed someone else to drive.”

Daryl got up close to Aaron, threatening him with a narrowed stare. “You saying you don’t trust me?”

“I guess it sounded like that, but I do trust you. I trust you with my life. You know that. I just have a difficult time giving up the reins, so to say.”

“So you’re a control freak,” Daryl jostled.

“Not always, but when it comes to driving a motorcycle or leaving my skin on the asphalt, I tend to want to be in control.”

Daryl huffed a laugh at that comment and walked to his bike, throwing one leg over and straddling the seat. “You comin’?”

“What about helmets?” Aaron asked.

Daryl rolled his eyes. “Get on and I’ll drive back to my house for a damn helmet.”

Aaron walked up to the bike and got on behind Daryl, but instead of heading back to his house, Daryl shot out the gate. Aaron’s hands immediately went to Daryl middle, hanging on for dear life. Daryl smiled to himself, and said over his shoulder, “You ride with me, you don’t need a helmet.” He opened the throttle, and they sped down the road.

After a little while, Daryl felt Aaron loosen his grip, but he still held on. The feel of Aaron’s hands on his waist gave him a small thrill that he’d rather not admit to, but one he was glad for. It made him think. Why was he so afraid to let go? There was no one holding him back now, only himself. When he was out like this, alone with no one but Aaron around, he wanted to free himself. There was no use denying what he was anymore. He’d always known, even when he was young, but he’d gotten so used to hiding the fact that he became someone else. Still, he liked who he was. He was a tough redneck that no one took any crap from, and those who wanted to challenge him usually got their ass whooped. He could still be that, couldn’t he? But with Aaron, he could be the Daryl he hadn’t spent much time with.

They were a long way out from Alexandria, and there was no fear of anyone coming along. Daryl approached a bridge and stopped halfway across. He waited for Aaron to get off the bike, and then he did too.

“Why are we stopping here?” Aaron asked. He scanned the area for any threats, holding his revolver in one hand just in case.

“So I could show you this,” Daryl said, going to the railing and looking out across the land. There were trees as far as he could see, mountains lining the horizon, and winding through the woods below was a river rapidly flowing.

Aaron came over and stood next to him. “I’ve been this way dozens of times, but I never really looked.”

“You miss a lot … when you’re driving. You gotta stop and take it all in once in a while, just be in the moment.” Daryl closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Smell that? Fresh pine.”

Aaron copied Daryl’s gestures and smiled. “Wow, it’s amazing.”

“That’s the thing. In this fucked up world, so much has gone wrong. We’re in survival mode all the time. We have to be. But that … out there … it’s just getting better and better. This disease or plague or whatever you want to call it, it never touches that out there. People used to be the threat, but now we’re the ones being threatened, and while we fight to stay alive, nature is prospering. She’s claiming what we took from her, and making it more beautiful with every passing day. So if you don’t slow down and appreciate it once in a while, you’ll never even notice.”

Both men stood in the middle of the bridge, leaning on the railing, looking out over the landscape. It was quiet here, and for a moment in time, they both felt safe. They stayed that way for the longest time, each man invested in his own thoughts. Daryl wasn’t sure what Aaron was thinking, but as for himself, he was about to make a huge decision, one that would change everything for him. Like nature, Daryl was ready to claim something he should have owned up to a long time ago.

“I … I think I’m ready,” Daryl said softly.

“Ready to head back?” Aaron asked, not picking up on what Daryl was admitting to.

“Not that kind of ready,” Daryl hinted.

Aaron slowly turned his attention to Daryl. “Oh,” he said.

Daryl didn’t know if that meant, ‘Oh, I misunderstood you,’ or ‘Oh, it’s too late for that now’.

“Are you positive?” Aaron asked.

“No, but I won’t ever be sure if I don’t explore the part of myself that I’ve always avoided.” He shifted his weight keeping his eyes on the scenery below. “You know how you said you trust me with your life? Well, I trust you with mine. But more than that, I trust you to help me understand this better.”

“I had always hoped,” Aaron said simply.

Daryl turned to look at him, finding the joy of knowing Daryl trusted him enough to ask this of him. Aaron closed the distance between them, his attention never wavering. He leaned into Daryl, their mouths only a hairs width apart, and whispered. “I’m glad it’s me.”

Daryl’s heart was racing. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. Aaron closed his eyes, leaving the decision to move forward with this up to Daryl. He was nervous, as he was about to finally discover what it felt like to kiss another man. Not only that, but to kiss Aaron. He closed the distance, tilted his head slightly, and barely brushed his lips across Aaron’s. A jolt of excitement coursed through his body. It was nothing like the dream. It was so much better, and he wanted more. He wanted to feel the pressure of their lips connecting, wanted to know the sultriness of Aaron’s tongue against his own, and to feel their bodies press together. He wanted to remember this first kiss for the rest of his days, and prepared to put each and every sensation to memory when . . .

Walkers … growling and grunting, sounding too close for comfort. Aaron broke away from Daryl before they completed their first kiss. Both men abandoned the moment and went into survival mode. At the other end of the bridge came a small heard of them. The stench was prominent, but caught up in the moment, neither man had noticed. Aaron raised his gun, but Daryl put his hand on his arm.

“There’s too many of them. It’s not worth wasting bullets. Let’s go,” Daryl said, jumping on his bike. Aaron did the same. Daryl looked back at the heard and yelled. “Can’t give anyone a moment, can you, assholes?” He drove off heading back for the town. This time, Aaron wrapped his arms a little more around Daryl’s waist, instead of just his hands grasping at his sides. It still felt good. It wasn’t awkward at all. That surprised Daryl more than anything.

Daryl drove straight back to town. The gate guard must have heard his bike, because the gate was open when he pulled up. He went right inside and drove them to the weapons storage, where they turned in their guns. When they were done, Daryl hopped back on his bike. “Want me to give you a lift back to your house?”

“No, that’s ok. I’ll walk.” The sun shone in Aaron’s eyes, and he squinted, which made his lips curl into a smile. Daryl thought it wasn’t just the sun making him grin. “Hey, you … uh … want to come over sometime?”

Daryl hid behind his tough exterior and glanced up the street as he answered. “Tomorrow?” He couldn’t look at Aaron as he spoke, afraid someone would see them and figure them out.

“I really wish I could, but I kind of promised Eric I’d tag along to this party. It’s a friend of ours, Julie. It’s her birthday, and we planned on going a while back, when Eric and I were still together. She’s turning forty, kind of a milestone.”

“That’s alright. I get it. You don’t have to explain.” Daryl was disappointed, but he tried not to let it show.

Aaron wasn’t easily fooled, and he came up with a plan quickly. “Thursday night?”

Daryl kick started his engine and revved it a few times. When the roar subsided, he answered. “I’ll mark my calendar.”

“Good,” Aaron smiled.

Daryl drove up the street, leaving Aaron behind to watch him. What the hell did he just agree to?

* * * * *

Daryl took a very long shower, used that green bar soap, and even used conditioner in his hair. He hoped it wasn’t too much. He didn’t want to seem eager. The truth was, he was anxious and nervous about what might happen tonight. Nothing had to happen actually. It could just end up being another evening spent in conversation while knocking back a few beers. He’d thought about visiting his source for some more moonshine, but thought better of it. If anything were to happen tonight, it needed to happen without any assistance from booze. Beer didn’t count, though.

But what if something did happen tonight. Could he really go through with it? Could this redneck finally embrace what he’d kept secret all his life? He never thought he could, except for his trust in Aaron. It seemed natural to trust him. He had no doubts after all they’d seen and gone through together on the outside. From the first time, when Daryl caught him spying, he’d felt a certain comradery with Aaron. It was during their first time out together when they came upon that horse that Daryl knew he could trust the man. They’d come across walkers and saved each other’s asses, saying thanks to one another, and creating their special bond. Both had wanted to save the horse, introduce it back into society, and both had been disappointed when the walkers trapped it. Aaron even took the liberty of putting the damn thing out of its misery. He earned Daryl’s respect for the way he handled himself, not wasting a moment, doing it quickly without thinking about what he was doing. Neither man wanted the beast to suffer. It surprised Daryl at the time, because he thought Aaron was soft-hearted from his first impression. All his nervous joking and smiling as he tried to save his ass when the women brought him to the barn to talk to Rick made Daryl think he was weak. It was just the opposite. It took balls for him to do what he did. And anyone who could take a punch in the jaw from Rick, get knocked out, and wake up with a smile was either a fool, or a brave son of a bitch. Hell, he was brave the first time he hinted around and asked Daryl if he was like him. Any other time with any other person, Daryl would have laid him out flat without hesitation. Again, it was that underlying bond they shared that stilled Daryl fist, as well as his temper. So tonight, if Aaron asked more from him, what would he do?

Daryl looked in the mirror. His hair hadn’t been this clean in a long time. Jessie did a good job cutting it. It fell just into his eyes, and when he brushed it, it feathered back. When did he ever look this decent, he wondered. His goatee and mustache could have used another shaping, but he didn’t worry too much about it. And then he thought about the last time he cared about his appearance. Never was his answer. He never cared what anyone thought before. Shit, was he losing his edge? If he went through with this tonight, would he become some pansy ass bitch?

“Alright, I’m not going to over do this or over think it,” he said to calm himself. It was only clean hair and deodorant soap. A t-shirt and jeans would be good enough. No need to get too gussied up.

Finally, it was time to go. Daryl left his house and headed out for Aaron’s home. It was a comfortable summer evening, the kind that would be good for sitting around a fire, drinking hooch, and listening to Merle tell one of his exaggerated stories. The thought of his brother made his stomach knot up. Not tonight, Daryl thought hard to himself. No room for ghosts tonight. He was starting a new chapter in his life. The old one needed to be left far behind.

He passed a few residents out for a stroll. Daryl nodded, but kept his head down. He didn’t want to engage in any kind of conversation right now. He just wanted to get to Aaron’s house. Aaron, he thought. What would they do first? Would they start out sharing their usual conversation? Would Aaron kiss him right away? They’d been so close yesterday. Their lips touched, but right when Daryl was about to apply pressure, those damn walkers showed. Maybe that was a sign. Perhaps this wasn’t the right time to do this. What if it was Merle sending a message from wherever he ended up, which was probably hell. As kids growing up, anytime they were about to do something they shouldn’t do, Merle would threaten him, and say he’d come back and haunt his little brother if anything happened to him. If he knew what Daryl really was, he’d probably come back as an evil spirit and beat the shit out of him. Daryl could almost hear him. ‘Don’t make me come up there and kick your ass. You’re a redneck, not some fag about to get buggered.’

In one swift movement, Daryl turned on his heel as though he was going to go back home and forget about the whole evening. Panic set in when he heard his brother’s voice, as though he was standing right behind him. “Shit,” Daryl complained, repeating the word as his hand reached up and combed through his hair. “It’s not real. Merle’s dead,” he said. His thoughts went to Aaron and their missed moment on the bridge, the way Aaron closed his eyes and waited for Daryl to make his decision. He’d taken the moment to study the man’s features, the straight bridge of his nose, his light mustache and the soft stubble of a beard beginning to show, his lips, the way the bottom one was larger than the top, set in a permanent pout, lips that were just begging to be kissed.

He’d convinced himself to follow through with his original plans, turned, and started walking towards Aaron’s house again. “What the hell,” he complained to himself. “I don’t answer to the dead or the past anymore. I’m my own man, old enough to make my own decisions, and it’s about damn time I started living for myself. So, fuck you, Merle.”

The way I remember it, it’s you who got fucked,” said a bone chilling voice breaking through the thin veil of protection. This man’s voice would always haunt him … Jay. “Seems like you should be thanking me for … opening you up to this whole experience.”

Daryl stopped and clutched the sides of his head, trying to chase the voice out. He moved from the sidewalk he was walking along, and ducked between a couple houses. He braced his hand on the siding of one house, and bent forward, feeling sick to his stomach as Jay’s voice and the smells of the garage came rushing back to him. “Leave me alone,” he whispered desperately. His breath quickened. He was starting to panic.

“They don’t control you anymore,” Daryl remembered Aaron saying to him. “They thought they had all the answers. They thought they knew it all, but where are they now? You’re the survivor, Daryl, not them. Follow your instincts. Follow your heart.”

His instincts were telling him to push away the fear and doubt. His heart was telling him to go to Aaron. If anything, he could find peace of mind there. He calmed himself and caught his breath. He looked around to see where he was. Daryl came out from between the houses, winding up a street over. He recognized one of them. Aaron’s house was behind it on the next street. He’d just cut between them and get there faster. If anything, he just needed to talk to Aaron and help chase the voices away.

Daryl looked up and down the street, but it was clear. There were a few vacant houses in this area, and he didn’t expect to see anyone walking around. He crossed the street quickly, and slipped between two homes. Aaron’s house was just behind the one on the left. He paused half way between them, took a deep breath, and ran his fingers through his freshly washed hair. He didn’t like it. Daryl felt more like himself with a little dirt and grease in his hair. While he pulled himself together and reached for the courage to go through with his plan, he thought he heard voices. They were coming from Aaron’s house. Daryl moved to the narrow alley that ran between the homes. He saw Aaron’s backyard, with its flower gardens and herb gardens bursting with life. No one was outside, at least not out back, and there were no lights on. Daryl walked forward, moving between Aaron’s house and the vacant one on the right. He could tell that the front porch light was on. It illuminated the walkway where it spilled out from the side of the porch. He could still hear voices very quietly speaking, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying. Was someone at Aaron’s house? Should he even continue on? What would it look like if someone saw him pop out from between homes, creeping from the shadows? Curiosity got the best of him, though. He wanted to know who was at Aaron’s house and make sure it wasn’t someone starting any trouble. He moved forward until he was at the edge of the house, still hiding in the dark.

“Please, Aaron.” It was Eric. “I know we had our differences, but I want to make another go at this.”

“We tried, Eric, and it just fell apart,” Aaron responded.

“I know, and it was my fault. I was the one who was out of control. I let my jealousy and anger get in the way. I should never have threatened you like that,” Eric pleaded. “But you’re all I have in this world. You know how difficult it is, and you were always there for me. Two years is a lot to throw away.”

“I’m not throwing it away,” Aaron said, surprising Daryl. “I’m glad for every moment of it.”

“Then take me back and let’s try this again. I’ve learned a lot. I’m a changed man, but the one thing that hasn’t changed are my feelings for you,” Eric said, trying to convince Aaron.

No one spoke, and Daryl wondered what was happening. When Aaron spoke to him about Eric, he made it clear that he didn’t love Eric, but that his interest was in Daryl. Aaron had remained friends with Eric, but he decided it was best that they weren’t in a relationship anymore. Daryl suddenly felt bad for Eric, begging Aaron to take him back when there was no hope in it. Maybe Daryl should make his presence known, and end the awkward moment for both of them. He would just stroll out and pretend like he was here just to hang out and drink some beer. Eric would leave, no harm done. He knew Daryl came by every once in a while just to kick back and shoot the breeze. No one had to be the wiser. Daryl straightened his t-shirt, slicked back his hair and walked casually out from between the houses. He came around the corner of the porch and stood at the bottom of the stairs. He looked up and started to speak, but froze by what he saw. Eric and Aaron were kissing. Eric’s hands were at Aaron’s waist as Aaron’s arms hung at his sides. Daryl felt all the blood in his body pool in his stomach. It felt like his heart stopped beating, and his mouth went dry. In the distance of his mind, he heard Jay laughing at him, and Merle telling him to man up.

Here before him was the one person he trusted most in this world, the one he finally shared his secret with, who he was willing to give himself to as he discovered his true identity, and Daryl finds him making out with his former lover. What the hell? Aaron knew he was coming over tonight. Why would he be here kissing Eric when he knew Daryl would arrive at any moment? Was he playing some kind of game, because Daryl didn’t like to play. Daryl was straight forward and no nonsense. It was either black or white, no grey.

Aaron gently pushed Eric away, breaking the kiss. “Eric, I can’t.”

“Seems like you can to me,” Daryl blurted out, and both men turned with shocked faces.

Aaron stepped away from Eric, as though he wasn’t even there. “Shit. Oh shit. Daryl. I swear, it’s not what it looks like.”

“Really? Because it looks exactly like it to me. Little hard to say it was anything else,” Daryl seethed in a low tone.

“Wait a minute,” Eric said, displaying bad timing. He pretended to be dumbfounded, even though he had a conversation with Daryl not long ago. “Are you and … Daryl–”

“What? No,” Aaron said on the defensive. “I mean, not yet … or actually–”

“Actually, no,” Daryl finished for him. “We’re definitely not.” There was venom in his words.

Aaron started to descend the steps. “Daryl, let me explain.”

“I gotta go,” Daryl said dryly and turned away from him.

“Please, just hear me out,” Aaron begged, following Daryl.

Daryl stopped short and rounded on Aaron, getting in his face. He was so angry that he felt the heat rising up his neck. “I trusted you,” he said slow and deliberately while shoving his chest out like he did when he wanted a fight. “Stay away from me. I see you again, I’ll fuck you up. Hear me? I will not hesitate to kick your ass … make Rick’s punch seem like a trip to Disney World.” He ended with a hard shove, almost knocking Aaron to the sidewalk, but he caught himself. Daryl heard a quiet huff from Eric and looked up to see him smiling smugly. “And don’t you ever ask anything of me again, you dick.” Daryl marched off up the street, but he could hear Aaron start interrogating Eric about Daryl’s comment.

Daryl was hurt, but more than that, he was confused. What was he thinking, opening up to someone like that? He’d been a fool, that’s what he was. He let his guard down when all along he should have remained aloof like he usually was. No one got hurt when he kept to himself. What kind of shit was this anyways? Aaron was playing Daryl while at the same time he was keeping Eric on a string. Daryl knew better. He fucking knew better than to go examining those urges that caught him off guard. Every time he did, he was the one who got screwed, and not in a good way. Jay may have raped him of his innocence, but Aaron stripped him of his trust. Daryl would never trust another living soul with his secret, never again.

He was so upset that he decided he couldn’t stay. He had to get out of the walls. No doubt, Aaron would come looking for him, full of lame excuses and apologies. He would seriously hurt Aaron if he saw him right now. So, Daryl went to the weapons room to get his things, but at this late hour, no one was there. He walked around the building, trying other doors, but they were all locked up. There was a window on one side, and he tried it, but it was locked too. He knew there was an alarm system on the weapons room, so if he tried to break in, it would go off. Just as that thought occurred to him, the low hum of the generators ceased. Houses went dark as candles were lit. He’d forgotten that they were having trouble with some of the power sources and to conserve energy until replacement parts could be found, the power was turned off every night at eleven.

Daryl looked around and found a decent sized rock. He went back to the window, mumbling to himself. “I’m getting my fucking weapons.” Next thing he knew, he threw the rock and broke the glass. He knocked the broken edges away with his elbow, climbed in, found his crossbow and guns, and climbed back out. No alarm sounded. No one was around. If he came upon anyone who tried to stop him, he’d threaten to shoot them.

Luckily for Daryl, no one stopped him because no one was out in the streets at that late hour. He went home, hopped on his bike and rode to the gate. There was always someone at the gate, and they let him out. He told them he just needed some space. The guard asked him no questions, and he was gone. He got out on the open stretch of road and kept going. It wasn’t smart to be out at night or alone, but he didn’t care about common sense laws at that point. As a matter of fact, it would feel good to kill some walkers about now. He suddenly needed to get rid of the stench of the soap and his clean smooth hair. Everything was too clean and neat in Alexandria. It was changing him, turning him into someone he had never been. He had a house and running water, a fridge full of food, and a ceramic top stove to cook it on. And that damn picket fence that every house had, it was enough to make him sick. He’d never had any of these things growing up. He didn’t need it now. Daryl grew up in a rundown trailer in the backwoods wilderness. He didn’t need any of that fancy shit to survive. He didn’t need anyone to survive. He made it for a long time before he met up with that group in Atlanta. He knew how to track and how to hunt. He could build a fire. Hell, he could live off the land. That’s who he really was. That’s the Daryl that he knew. He didn’t need some town with high walls to feel safe. All those people were weak. They were just sitting ducks, waiting for hell to break loose. Alexandria may have taken him in, fed him, cured him, bathed him, dressed him, but it also changed him. He became too trusting, just like that horse. As soon as it let its guard down, chaos came in and destroyed it. Daryl trusted Aaron, and look where that got him, but unlike the horse, Daryl got out before he became trapped and eaten. Fuck them all, he thought, and fuck Aaron for breaking his trust.

His rage built to an unbearable level, and if he didn’t do something about it, he thought he’d explode. Traveling along on his bike, he hadn’t noticed much of anything. Now he was looking for something to kill. He didn’t have to wait long. Up ahead he saw a couple of walkers stumbling along the side of the road. Daryl stopped and jumped off his bike in one swift move. He took his cross bow from his back and nocked an arrow, raised it and shot the first one in the head. The second one kept coming towards him. He returned the bow to his back and pulled out his large hunting knife. Daryl strode determinedly towards the walker, the nasty thing getting excited as he looked at him like food. Daryl played with it a moment, like a cat playing with a mouse. He knew he shouldn’t risk it. This was a very dangerous game he was playing, but he wanted to savor the kill. He needed to know he still had his moves and his stealth. The town hadn’t changed him so much that he couldn’t fight anymore. It was all still there. When he felt confident enough, he plunged his knife into the dead thing’s head, and it slumped to the ground at his feet. But Daryl wasn’t done yet. He needed more. He needed to keep killing until his body ached, to get so grungy he would be unrecognizable.

“Hey!” he yelled at the top of his lungs, and then whistled loudly. Eventually, three walkers stumbled out of the woods and came towards him. Daryl smiled and bounced eagerly on his feet. “Must be my lucky day,” he said to himself, eyes narrowed, lips half curled in a smile. “Come to papa.”

He pulled the arrow from the first walker and ran up to one of the approaching ones, stabbing it through the eye and into the brain. As it fell, Daryl held onto the arrow and it slid off, falling to the ground. He took his bow, nocked the same bloody arrow and shot the second walker. The third one got a knife in the head, but it still wasn’t enough. Daryl needed more, and foolishly trotted off into the trees to find them. There they were, walkers heading for the road, following the noise. “Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and prepare to be amazed,” Daryl called out like a crazed carney.

The dead followed him, and he led them to the road. One by one, they came out of the trees. One by one, Daryl killed them, staining the asphalt with blood and gore. He was in the zone, thinking of nothing but the kill, in full survival mode, but he was in control at the same time, or so he thought. As he was busy taking out the walkers emerging from the woods on one side of the road, he didn’t notice the ones coming out from the opposite side until he heard a growl too close behind him. He spun around and found a group of about twenty coming towards him, along with the ones he’d been watching. He was about to be overpowered. There were too many for one man to fight. Daryl may have been in a blind rage, but he knew when it was time to stop, and he ran to his bike, jumped on and took off past the advancing walkers. He looked back over his shoulder, seeing just how close he came to being swallowed up by the small heard. He felt undefeatable, invincible, more like his old self. Daryl stood and raised one arm in the air while still driving with the other. He shouted in victory while pumping his fist above his head. “Not today, motherfuckers. You can’t kill this redneck. Daryl Dixon lives to see another day. Woo Hoo!” he ranted like a lunatic.

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