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The Distance Between Us (sharpens me like a knife)

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“Go on, kid.” Negan, nude though the blanket over his lap gives him a mild sense of modesty, waves Carl away. “Skedaddle back home to Daddy.” Negan grins, but Carl doesn’t miss the downward curve of the crow’s feet at the corner of each eye. Negan grins, but his voice is just this side of flat and Carl clings to the dull note. “What’re you waiting for?” Negan asks in a harsher tone; it does nothing to fool Carl. “Go on, get.” He waves more insistently, then turns on the bed so his back is to Carl.

It’s not even early evening: there’s no way Negan is going to sleep, but Carl isn’t going to fight the dismissal. He wants to, wants to force Negan to confront this—this thing between them. This big fucked up mess that started as plain old fucking but has escalated way too fast. Carl tugs on his clothes efficiently, casts an unseen glare at Negan’s scarred back, and slams the bedroom door behind him. It startles a Savior down the hall, and Carl sneers.

He takes the steps two at a time and practically bounds outside. He starts toward his bike, but his already bruised and kiss-bitten thighs ache with to-be pain of pedaling all the way back to Alexandria. He looks around, and takes note of the few Saviors scattered around the yard. They’re all watching him warily, and he knows they won’t try anything. He ducks back inside just long enough to dart over to the mess of keys on a stray counter, and grabs the first one he recognizes. He trudges back outside and makes a beeline for the dusty Honda Accord, sliding into it and jamming the key into the ignition.

Carl pulls out of the Sanctuary going too fast, dirt kicking up behind him, and hits the road unsteadily. The already rickety car rattles overtop the cracked pavement, and Carl pushes on the pedal harder. Adrenaline fills him as he drives, steady and focused just as Rick and Negan have shown him, and he screams as the car revs uncertainly. As his throat burns raw, he finally lets up on the gas and the car sputters as it starts to slow. His scream dies down and the car settles into a more sedate pace, his foot resting on the pedal and applying force carefully.

His head is blessedly clear the rest of the drive, so much that he doesn’t even remember the trek. He doesn’t remember the twists and turns, or how he definitely hit something given the fresh blood splattered across one edge of the front bumper. He doesn’t come out of the reverie until he’s pulling up in front of Alexandria. He faintly hears someone shouting, and he sticks his head out of the driver’s side—there’s no window to speak of—and the shouting dims. After a long moment the gates open, and Carl drives in. He parks off to the side, and as he clambers out of the car he shoves they key into his pocket.

 

 

His dad looks up from smiling at Judith when he comes through the door.

“Carl.” There’s a faint smile around his mouth, barely-there. Guilt surges through Carl like a fire poker, hot and sharp. Rick knows where he is but not what he’s doing. Rick knows who he’s with but not what’s really happening. Not that Carl wants him to know, but he’s certainly not keen on keeping secrets.

“Hey, dad.” Carl shuffles over, feeling bone-tired suddenly. He runs a hand through Judith’s blonde curls and grins down at her happy giggling. “Hey, Judy.” He bends and presses a kiss to her forehead. “It was a long day,” he says without looking at his dad. “I’m going to bed.” In the time it’s taken him to get from the Sanctuary to Alexandria, the sun has started to set enough that Carl doesn’t feel too bad about going to bed early.

Rick stands and tugs Carl into a quick hug, squeezing him harder than necessary. “Okay,” he agrees. He takes the hat from Carl’s head and ruffles his hair. “Sleep in, huh? You’re gonna work yourself to the bone.”

Carl smiles as best he can and hopes it doesn’t look as weak as it feels. “Alright.” He takes the hat back from his dad and then sets off toward the stairs. He makes it up with only a little stumbling, and strips out of his clothes and into pajamas in the same foggy haze as when he drove. The rage doesn’t come back to him until he falls onto his mattress.

For an instant, he’s grateful to have something plush, if narrow. It’s soft and folds under his weight in a way that’s soothing, not frustrating. It’s a twin, and sometimes he wakes with an arm or leg thrown over the side. But he sighs happily and presses his face against the pillow, until he remembers how he got such a luxurious bed.

Where many others in Alexandria, and Hilltop, the Kingdom, even the Sanctuary barely have mattress toppers or lumpy, stained beds to call their own, Carl has this treacherous cot. Because of Negan. Because Negan, despite his dismissiveness and cold brutishness, is nothing if not exceedingly generous—to Carl at least. He brings Carl clothes, and guns, and he brought the bed Carl lays on now. Had two saviors haul it upstairs when Carl was out, and presented it with a smarmy grin, and proceeded to break it in by practically bending Carl in half and fucking him till he couldn’t walk without wincing.

Carl shudders at the memory and his hips rut against the bed for a split second before he remembers his anger. He shakes his head and sits up, rolling over and falling onto his back instead of burying his face in the pillow. He closes one eye and peels the bandage off the other with shaking hands. He throws it aside and runs his fingertips over the scarred edges, and inevitably his mind drifts back to the nearly reverent way Negan traces the angry skin whenever given the chance.

He groans again and hides his face in his hands. He feels torn—not in two or down the middle, just torn. Negan wants him, lusts after him, treats him so tenderly in the strangest moments, and then is so cold and uncaring the next. It isn’t like Carl wants some sort of sham, apocalypse marriage; he just wants Negan to acknowledge how deep this really goes. Not how deep his dick goes, but the feelings. The fact that sometimes, early mornings or late nights, they share something that’s a hell of a lot more than just sex.

Thoughts restless and shaded in anger, Carl falls asleep after far too long, and rests fitfully.

 

 

 

 

It’s a week before he sees Negan again.

He shows up on the porch, grinning like the lunatic he is, and Carl scowls. The nasty expression doesn’t go unnoticed but Negan doesn’t comment.

“Aren’t you gonna invite me in?” Negan leans over the threshold and Lucille scuffs over Carl’s boots. “S’the polite thing to do, after all.” His voice is drippy false sugary-sweetness, his grin turning lecherous for a split second before hardening in resolve. Carl steps back the same moment Negan steps forward, and it feels less like a surrender and even more like a challenge. There’s a glint in Negan’s eyes that says he sees the challenge presented, but he still doesn’t comment.

Carl wants so badly to roll his eye, to scoff, to say “look at this, this is ridiculous, just kiss me,” but then his stomach lurches. He takes another step back and turns on his heel, leaving Negan in the entry way.

Negan doesn’t even bother calling out to him. Negan doesn’t bother him, period, the rest of the day. The only reason Carl knows Negan leaves is by his dad’s relieved expression and the rumbling of trucks leaving Alexandria. Distantly, Carl aches. His chest, and his stomach, and his head—but he does his best to pay no mind to any of it. He busies himself with helping around town, and then helping Judith, and then heading to bed early yet again.

He listens to the trucks leaving though. He listens and sighs.

 

 

 

 

After that, it’s two weeks.

Carl’s anger simmers just under the surface but he’s able to keep it mostly in check. If anything, the rage burning in his veins renders him eerily calm, able to smoothly interact with everyone else. But thoughts of Negan, even people mentioning his name in passing, has Carl’s blood pressure spiking and his fingers itching for a gun. But in Alexandria, people don’t talk about Negan as often and Carl manages his anger.

He’s not even mad that Negan’s gone for so long. He knows it was about time for a supply run. He also knows Rick is confused as to why Carl didn’t tag along, but he doesn’t ask. He’s not mad Negan is gone so long, not even worried about it. He’s mad about everything else and how he knows, when Negan finally does return, nothing will be different. Not a god damn thing.

 

 

Sure enough, Negan shows up in the dead of night looking more than worse for wear. There’s a fresh gash across his cheek and as much as Carl wants to send him away, let the wound fester like a reminder of Carl’s own churning feelings, he doesn’t. He turns back into the house and Negan follows him to the downstairs bathroom. Negan sits on the closed lid of the toilet and Carl’s breathing catches; because it’s something so familiar, so simple, but it’s got to mean nothing.

Carl cleans the wound perfunctorily and slaps the bandage across it with more force than strictly necessary. Negan only grins in response and crowds Carl against the counter. Carl doesn’t look up at him, wrings the lightly pink-tinged washcloth between his hands. He leans away when Negan tilts down, so the kiss aimed for his lips skirts over his cheek instead. Negan huffs against Carl’s skin, and kisses the flushed skin.

“I should go.” Negan says. He steps back and by the time Carl raises his gaze, he’s alone.

 

 

 

 

“Carl?”

He looks up from brushing tangles out of Judith’s hair. “Yeah?”

Rick sits across from them, takes Judith from Carl’s lap and smiles down at her beaming expression. “Is everything… alright?” He asks it slowly, carefully, like he’s treading on glass or minefields.

Carl falters as he sets down the brush and it misses the tabletop and clatters to the ground. “What?”

“Negan hasn’t been by for a month.” Rick says it plainly but with an edge to his voice. Fear, laced with stern determination. Carl knows immediately this isn’t a conversation he can easily get out of, especially not when his dad pins him with an intense stare. “What happened? Should I be worried?”

Carl shakes his head immediately. “It’s nothing—Negan won’t hurt us.” He says it firmly, but is unable to look at Rick as he says it. “He’s being a child,” Carl spits before shutting his mouth so quick, so hard his teeth clack together. “But he won’t hurt us.” He speaks a little more confidently.

When Carl finally looks up again, Rick is watching him still; the gaze is no longer intense, though. Instead it’s sad, and knowing, and Carl’s heart feels like it’s going to beat out of his chest. Carl looks away again and pushes his chair back from the table. The wood scrapes across the floor, and the screeching sound upsets Judith. It takes a few minutes for Rick to quiet her again, but Carl finds he can’t make his escape. It’s the perfect opportunity to do so, but he feels rooted to the spot as he watches his father coo over his sister until she’s happily dozing against his chest.

“I won’t say I understand.” Rick starts. His tone is still measured and Carl’s skin is crawling. “And I would never tell you to do something you don’t want to.”

“I know,” Carl breathes.

Rick shakes his head. “I just want you to be happy, Carl. I want everyone to be safe.” You most of all goes unspoken but not unheard. “And I want you to be happy.”

While Carl searches for a response, Rick rises with Judith in his arms. He walks away after a curt nod, and Carl finds himself alone.

 

 

 

 

 

Despite the conversation, he doesn’t deliberately seek Negan out. He feels so angry he might burst, and the words pile up in his throat like a disease. But he doesn’t go to Negan. He waits, and waits, and Rick doesn’t approach him again but seems to relax when it’s clear everyone is still safe. Carl waits, and just when he feels at his breaking point—where he’ll either crack and find Negan first or he’ll give up on the farce altogether—Negan shows up again.

 

 

Carl looks up from the book he’s been half-heartedly reading to see Negan standing at the foot of his bed. He knows Negan arrived an hour ago, loud and rambunctious as always. Carl had listened with strained ears as Rick let Negan in, as they spoke in urgent tones but their voices never rose above a leisurely chat. Carl had sat, book abandoned in his lap, and waited for this inevitable moment.

Carl doesn’t speak. Negan strips out of his boots, leaves Lucille resting against the wall, and drops his leather jacket to the floor. Then he crawls into bed with Carl, even though it’s much too small. He knocks the book from Carl’s hands and covers him; Negan pins him to the bed without any effort, and Carl doesn’t put up any resistance.

“You’ve been a stuck up little bitch, and I’m tired of it.”

Heart still hammering in his ribs, Carl scowls and finally starts to struggle. “Leave,” he demands. “I’m done.” He plants his hands on Negan’s chest and pushes, getting him far enough away that they aren’t breathing each other in so intimately at the very least. “I’m done with this. I’ll—I’ll be your right-hand man, I’ll go on supply runs with you, whatever.” Carl waves a flippant hand and ends up smacking Negan’s shoulder. He ignores the warmth that shoots through him at the minimal contact. “But this?” He gestures between them; how close their bodies still are. “Is over.”

Negan stares down at him thoughtfully. “You’ve been gettin’ prissier and prissier every god damn time I’ve come to see you.” He remarks slowly. His gaze drags along Carl’s body, hot and fluid and enticing, and the lust in his eyes is dizzying. “What crawled up your perky little ass n’died?”

Carl shoves at Negan’s chest harder and actually manages to squirm out from underneath him. He rolls off the bed and stands beside the mattress, glaring down at Negan. “Get out.” He commands.

Negan rolls onto his back and shakes his head. “No,” he shrugs, grins. “I think your panties are in a twist…” He trails off. “Because I’ve been fucking stupid.”

Carl startles and lets his guard down long enough for Negan to take him by the waist and drag him back onto the bed. He falls into Negan’s lap and they arrange themselves almost effortlessly. They settle easily, comfortably and Carl stares at Negan with wide eyes and his lower lip hanging, mouth open. Negan kisses him chastely, bites his bottom lip and tugs.

“You think this doesn’t mean shit to me, kid?” Negan practically breathes the words directly into Carl’s mouth. “It means so god damn much to me I am terrified out of my mind. You make me wanna do the stupidest shit. I wanna give you this whole fucked up world on the shiniest silver platter I can get my hands on, and I know that wouldn’t be damn near enough. Not because you’re some greedy little shit, but because you deserve so much more than that.”

Carl can’t breathe and he sways in Negan’s lap. He’s sure the only reason he doesn’t outright fall off the bed is Negan’s arms locked tight around his waist. He winds his own across Negan’s shoulders and tries to hold himself up, hold himself steady.

“You scare the shit outta me. How I feel about you…” Negan shakes his head and his laugh is shaking, just slightly. “Fuck, kid.”

Carl inhales suddenly and his lungs burn and his heart hurts. His head is aching and swimming and he kisses Negan hard. He misses. It’s uneven and he misses his mark. Their teeth clack together and one of their lips split open though Carl can’t tell whose. All he knows is the kiss tastes like blood, hot and lively and addictive. He holds Negan close enough to hurt and can feel the bruises forming like a halo around his hips, because Negan’s grip is just as harsh.

They fall backwards onto the bed and Carl kisses him until the bleeding stops. He pulls back and licks his lips and narrows his eyes at the small cut on Negan’s upper lip. He kisses the throbbing skin gently, then pulls back once more. He presses his forehead against Negan’s and tries to catch his breath. They stay like that so long the light streaming in through the open window shifts; it grows darker and casts different shadows around the bedroom.

Carl nods. He rubs his face against Negan’s in an almost tender gesture, one they’ve shared before but has never meant this much. Carl sighs and kisses Negan again, so softly. He nods, and grins, and when he finally opens his eye he sees the fear and hope in Negan’s eyes. He sees everything in Negan’s eyes.