You never had an ugly phase. Maybe it is the irony of the world falling to pieces around you, but you never had baby fat, acne, or buckteeth. The kind of distinguishing facial features that make women say stupid shit like, “She would be beautiful if she just got her teeth fixed,” while nodding in agreement to one another. With the dead walking the earth, odds are those women aren’t around anymore. That’s how it works. You either get tough or get eaten.
The women in Alexandria like to compliment you. You know they think you are rude, but their compliments are worthless. In two weeks you could be the last woman on earth and then it wouldn’t matter if you had buckteeth, acne and a hunchback. There are only three types of compliments you give a damn about: your knife skills, how fast you run, and your resemblance to Rick. The first time an Alexandrian mentioned how much you looked like Rick, you cocked your head to the side trying to figure out if it was a dig. It is no secret Judith isn’t Rick's daughter. When you looked in the mirror later that night you realized it probably was a dig, but it didn’t make it any less true. You have Rick’s intense blue eyes. You have Rick’s unruly brown hair, you just do a better job at keeping it in a bun at the nape of your neck, not that it stops pieces from flying out everywhere. When they look at you they see Rick, but you also see Lori. Her cheekbones. Her mouth. Not that it matters anymore. The time for mothers is long passed.
There was no coddling growing up on the run. The Farm. The Prison. Alexandria. Carl learned that lesson the hardest. You are only four years older than him, but it feels like less. When you learned he shot Lori, you didn’t wrap him in your arms and wipe away his tears. While Rick was in another world, you just put your arm on Carl’s shoulder and stared at him. If it wasn’t you, you were glad he was the one to do it. You and Carl just worked like that. After seeing so much, you don’t need words anymore. Some things are understood although unsaid.
The learning curve on killing walkers was pretty quick. You don’t grow up with Carol and Michonne and not know how to handle yourself. Michonne has her sword and Carol could kill you with a spoon, but your specialty is knives. Knives and running. You are the fastest person in Alexandria and some days when the kids like to pretend things are normal and the dead aren’t feasting on the living they convince you to play tag. Nobody has caught you yet and you retired reigning champ. You don’t play tag anymore though. Not since the Saviors came to Alexandria and fucked your world up.
They own you. They own Rick, Carl, Judith, Michonne. They own everyone in Alexandria, as if the world wasn’t backwards enough already. Now we own people. Since their arrival you scavenge. Sometimes with Tara. Sometimes with Rosita. Most recently with Daryl. Daryl scowls and always looks dirty, but he doesn’t talk. Daryl’s expression never changes, but inside it is like his guts are in a vise. Your recent trips with Daryl haven’t escaped Rick’s notice. Rick either trusts Daryl or he's testing him.
Your feelings for Daryl are just another understood although unsaid. Daryl and Rick are brothers. In the chaos that is frantically scavenging for Negan there is little room for romance, but that doesn’t mean his heart doesn’t skip a few beats when strands of hair escape your low bun, when he sees your lithe body running or fighting, or when his eyes drift to the simple black choker you insist on wearing every day, like it is part of your uniform. Motorcycle boots, jeans, gray oversized sleeveless shirt, and black ribbon choker.
The Saviors are coming to Alexandria and you don’t have nearly enough for them. Rick sends you and Daryl out early in a last ditch effort to find something that might appease Negan. It is hopeless and when Daryl makes a beeline for his motorcycle, Rick doesn’t even insist he take the truck. The motorcycle roars down the highway as you scan left and right for any signs of anything. Daryl pulls to the side of the road letting the engine idle before switching it off. You slide off of the bike crossing your arms over your chest. Daryl leans against the bike.
“Is this about scavenging for Negan or being gone when he shows?” you ask kicking a rock with your boot. A few months ago Negan started taking an interest in you. Negan would fuck anyone for fun, but with you it was a special type of harassment: insisting Rick have him over for dinner, seeking you out when you are alone, asking you about Daryl. It had Rick on edge even more than when Carl snuck into the Sanctuary and Negan brought him back and made him spaghetti. Everything is upside down and the danger of being a woman still rears its ugly head.This world is truly shit, you think to yourself clenching yourself your jaw.
“Why can’t it be both?” Daryl asks turning towards his bike distracting himself with his pack.
“Was it your idea?” you ask defensively.
“No. Don't disagree though,” Daryl says shortly.
“There are people at home who need protecting,” you tell him tersely. When he doesn’t budge you glare at him. “There’s family at home, Daryl. Not going to run just Rick thinks my life is worth more than theirs,” you mumble.
You sit back down on the motorcycle waiting for him. He reaches out and gently caresses your cheek. The movement startles you but you don’t pull away. He tilts your chin up kissing your lips softly. He coaxes your mouth open and then slides his tongue into your mouth kissing you firmly his hand cradling the back of your head. He pulls away and you take a deep breath with your eyes still closed. You could kiss Daryl until your lungs burned and even then it wouldn’t be enough.
“You’re wrong,” he says before sitting back down revving up the engine. You wrap your arms around his waist and think about Rick, Carl, Michonne, Judith, Daryl. It is hard to remember a time when you didn’t consider them family and there is nothing you wouldn’t do for them.
As you and Daryl pull up to Alexandria you immediately notice Negan’s black truck. You dismount the motorcycle and cautiously look around for Rick. Seconds pass before rough hands are pulling your arms behind you dragging you towards the center of town. You see Rick, Michonne, Carl on their knees surrounded by Saviors, even Judith is sitting next to Carl glancing up at him while he tries to pretend nothing is wrong. The Saviors force you down next to Judith. Two Saviors restrain Daryl making him stand behind you with the rest of the townspeople. You stare at up at Negan. He is wearing the black leather jacket he always wears with a red scarf. He swings Lucille carelessly by his leg as if the barbed wires wouldn’t pierce human skin like a pincushion.
You keep your mouth closed trying to assess the situation.
“As I was saying Rick, now that your lovely daughter has joined us,” he says with a smile in your direction. “I know you know this is not nearly enough,” he says lifting Lucille onto his shoulder.
“It’s all we have,” Rick chokes.
“Well it isn’t good enough!” Negan says crouching down staring into Rick’s face. “Rick, I thought you understood. I really did,” he says standing back up glaring at the Alexandrians.
“Now I am going to have to kill someone and that’s on you,” he shouts at Rick.
“No, please…” Rick begins.
“Don’t interrupt me,” Negan yells. “Now as much as I love murdering women and children,” he says squatting down and giving Judith a playful bop on the nose. “I think there is something else you may have of interest,” Negan says his face a grim mask.
“Anything,” Rick says.
“Anyone,” Negan clarifies with a smile.
“Veronica comes with me and nobody dies today,” he says glaring tauntingly at Daryl. “Alternatively, Veronica doesn’t come with me and two people die today,” Negan says holding up two fingers for emphasis. “And just to make sure we are clear, two of those would be from the Rick Grimes household,” he says with a smile.
You shudder as images of Glen and Abraham’s death flood your vision. Your heart wrenches. Could you watch Negan kill Carl? Could you watch him beat Michonne to death? Or Judith? She is so small the thought of it is almost incomprehensible. Your life for theirs. You could never live with yourself if you didn’t do it.
“What are you going to do to he–“ Rick begins.
“Deal,” you interrupt.
“She speaks!” Negan says motioning for the Saviors to let you stand.
Rick pushes his way to his feet. “Ronnie, I can’t let you do this,” he says wrapping his hand around your neck pulling your forehead to his. A smile tugs at your lips. You have no illusions about what Rick has done to survive, but the way he hugs. He hugs with his entire existence. He rests his head against your forehead as if he could transfer each ounce of feeling into your body. He clutches the back of your neck tightly in a reassuring grip reminding you that you are loved, you are strong, and most importantly you are alive.
“Keep them safe,” you tell him gripping the front of his shirt gently pushing him away. Suddenly Michonne is holding him back. Her arms are wrapped around his chest and she is whispering in his ear as he halfheartedly struggles. You dip your head in acknowledgement and Michonne nods back as if there was every any doubt she would protect them with her life. Continue to protect them with her life.
Daryl is suddenly standing behind Michonne, his eyes staring intensely into yours. You mentally catalogue every feature of his face. His dark eyes, greasy hair and brooding glare. Don’t come for me, you tell him with your eyes, wondering when was the last time Daryl Dixon listened to anyone.
In only takes a moment for your whole life to change. An overused cliché used to describe car accidents or infatuated teens, until every person you ever loved watches you willingly climb into Negan’s truck. The drive to the Sanctuary shouldn’t be peaceful. It isn’t fair, yet you sit sandwiched between Simon and Negan watching rolling green countryside pass, the occasional walker rambling towards the orange yellow sunset.
Negan and Simon talk, but their words are muted. You sit calmly with your back straight, hands resting leisurely on your thighs assured in your decision. You don’t doubt for a second it was the right call just as sure as you don’t doubt Rick and Daryl are already planning how to get you out. Michonne will be the voice of reason. “Anger makes you stupid. Stupid gets you killed,” she’ll say in that slow deliberate tone she uses when Rick is off the rails miles away. She may even convince them you have a plan. You blink at the open road rushing passed. There is no plan. There is just you. Your life for Carl’s. For Judith’s. For Rick, Daryl or Michonne’s. Stay alive. Keep them alive. That is the plan.
Simon and Negan’s voices remain garbled and you feel like you are underwater. Everything is slow and distorted. You test the well of emotions and feel nothing. We all have a job you remind yourself as truck wheels spit out gravel signaling your arrival. The Sanctuary is an abandoned factory with a chain-link fence around it. Walkers are impaled on stakes making it almost impossible to approach undetected. Simon and Negan climb out of the truck waiting for you to jump down. Your feet hit the concrete and you wonder why they are walking you into the Sanctuary unbound, armed and unannounced.
You push the thoughts aside as you walk into the looming dark entrance. The building is a maze of halls. Negan navigates them with ease. Groups of people in gray sweatpants and sweatshirts perform custodial tasks. They are dirty with stains on their clothes and sallow looking skin. You continue to follow Negan as groups of Saviors dressed in leather casually linger until they see Negan approach and immediately drop to bend a knee. You stare at them observing their unquestioning loyalty.
Negan opens a door and says “Welcome home,” his arms outstretched ushering you inside. You scan the room assessing the ornate furnishings and realize it is his room. You stare at him unblinkingly. “Do you ever stop talking?” he asks sarcastically sitting on a couch gently resting Lucille next to him. You stare at him with a detached expression. “Sit down, Ronnie. Let me explain how this works,” he says gesturing to the couch across from him. You walk over to the couch sitting slowly, every movement cautious.
“I am sure you noticed the workers. Those poor slobs in sweats work for points. Then there are Saviors and Lieutenants. You are acquainted with a few,” he says condescendingly referring to the men and women who routinely terrorize Alexandria. “Last but certainly not least, are my wives,” he says leaning towards you resting his elbows on his knees with a grin. “Now I doubt Rick Grimes’ daughter is going to work for points, but a wife …” he says his eyes staring darkly into yours. His eyes roam your bright blue eyes, dark lashes, high cheekbones and straight jaw.
“Lieutenant,” you say firmly interrupting his appraisal.
You knew Negan kept a harem of wives. Carl told you as much when he returned from his adventure in the Sanctuary. You couldn’t tell if it was awe or horror in his voice when he described how beautiful and spoiled Negan’s wives were. His proposition isn’t unexpected, but you decline on principle. When you stop fighting you die. You become soft and suddenly a herd knocks down walls you thought would never fall and the fight for your life feels like the first time you realized the dead were walking among us.
Negan scowls at you while you sit unflinchingly staring back at him. “Let’s go visit my wives. I am sure they miss me and that way you are fully informed of all your options,” he says standing.
His lanky frame gestures towards the door before grabbing Lucille and draping her casually over his shoulder. Simon is waiting outside the door and the three of you make your way to another room. This one is much larger with overstuffed armchairs and sofas. A fully stocked bar is in the corner with bottles of liquor. Three women leisurely walk around the room in different versions of little black dresses and high heels. Negan watches your face as you scan the room waiting for your reaction. You don’t doubt these women have their own reasons for agreeing to become Negan’s wife, but as long as you have a choice you will fight. Two months of wearing dresses and being useless and you would forget everything Carol and Michonne taught you.
“Lieutenant,” you repeat turning towards him.
A tiny blonde pours a large drink while watching you and Negan. “I know you,” she says approaching you on unsteady legs. “You are Rick’s daughter,” she says with a fake smile. You stare at her confused. “Your dad wouldn’t let us join your camp. You don’t remember me, but I remember you,” she says taking a large swallow of vodka.
“Amber…” another woman says softly trying to lead her back to the sofa. “You made a deal,” she says her eyes lighting up brightly. “You made a deal with Negan… for your dad,” she laughs. “I bet the minute you left he slit their throats,” she says succumbing to hysterics.
Without thinking your arm shoots out and you grab her by the throat pulling her towards you. She drops her drink struggling against you. Your blood hums pulsing loudly thrumming through your body as rage washes over you. You slowly bring your lips to Amber’s ear whispering, “You better pray to whatever god you believe in that what you just said isn’t true,” you say tilting your head eyeing her wildly. You squeeze her throat tighter. A threat understood but unsaid.
Suddenly everything is dark and you are hurtling towards the ground. You wake up face down on the cold floor still submerged in darkness. Pain throbs in the back of your head and you realize you are in a small cramped room. You shift slowly trying to sit up immediately dizzy. The door opens and a ray of artificial light floods the room blinding you. You squint seeing Negan’s tall frame standing in the doorway, bat swinging idly at his side.
“As much as I love the enthusiasm, I can’t have you manhandling my wife, no matter how annoying she is,” Negan says crouching down eye level with you. You grimace gingerly touching the back of your head checking for dried blood. “So what will it be? Now that you have seen how the other half lives. Where will the chips fall?” he asks eagerly.
“Lieutenant,” you say unwaveringly.
“Damn. I thought you were going to say that,” he says standing back up gripping Lucille. You close your eyes bracing yourself. “Maybe you just need a few more days to think about it,” he says slamming the door shut as it echoes off the bare walls and reverberates in your skull. Negan comes to visit you every day. Every day he asks you the same question. Every day you give the same response. The seventh day the door opens and he doesn’t bother crouching down. “I am going to ask you this one more time, Darlin’ and you better think about this because there is no changing your mind. Lieutenant or wife?” he barks.
“Lieutenant,” you answer weakly.
You flinch as he lifts Lucille slamming her into the side of the wall. Dust from the cinderblock falls to the ground like snow. “Get her cleaned up Dwight,” Negan says before leaving. A blonde haired man with a scar covering half of his face shows you to a room. There is a bed, a side table and a small chair. It is stocked with fresh soap, towels, shampoo and conditioner. “I will be outside,” is all he says before leaving you in the room.
You shower and find a plain gray sleeveless shirt an exact copy of the one you arrived in on your bed. As you towel dry your hair the door opens. You are surprised to find Dwight with a sandwich and bottle of water. He wordlessly leaves, before Negan strolls into the room with something white over his shoulder. You eye him suspiciously while you pull your hair back, waiting for him to leave. “Oh don’t let me interrupt,” he says gesturing towards the sandwich. Irritated, you sit at the table ripping off small pieces before taking long sips of water. When you are finally finished you wipe your hands with the napkin. Negan grabs the plate, opens the door and shoves it into Dwight’s hands.
“Aren’t you going to ask why I am here?” he asks. When you don’t respond he mutters “Jesus, Darlin’ we need to work on your communication skills. Didn’t realize you were a mute,” mostly to himself.
“I am not,” you say your eyes narrowing.
He makes an exaggerated expression at the sound of your voice. “I am here to give you this. It is a jacket. We have had it forever. It’s too small for most of the Saviors. They need to know who you are,” he says holding it up for you to see. It is a white leather motorcycle jacket with a gold zipper. You unconsciously reach out running your fingers over the butter soft leather.
“Who needs to know?” you ask.
“What?” Negan says giving you a confused look.
“Who needs to know?” you insist.
“Everyone. Darlin’ they need to know you are a Savior. You will be feared. You will bring salvation. You will stand in the path of death and destruction,” he finishes eyes drilling into yours.
You stare at him with a furrowed brow before turning away. “It will get bloody,” you tell him avoiding his gaze, inspecting the room.
“Perfect,” he says his eyes gleaming.
You turn abruptly squinting at him wondering if he is insane.
“Wear the damned jacket. You are a lieutenant. You are a Savior. You are Negan,” he says flinging it at you before walking out the door.
You should know, it isn’t the fall that kills you. Following Negan into the Sanctuary was effortless, like stepping off of a cliff. Except now you are free falling. It’s never the fall that kills you. It’s the landing. You close your eyes tightly. Stay alive, you repeat. You check the room again. There is one exit and no weapons. You ignore the siren song of sleep. The world is upside down yet misdeeds still dwell in darkness.
You slowly open the door surprised to find Dwight standing on the other side. You realize he is posted outside your room. There are a number of reasons why Negan might have him stationed outside your bedroom, but right now you have only one question. “Where is my knife?” you ask. You had it when you walked into the Sanctuary. You assume you were relieved of the weapon after the incident with Amber. “Come with me,” he says walking down the hall not bothering to look back and check if you are following him. A few Saviors nod at Dwight as you pass and you wonder what his standing is amongst the group.
You arrive at an arsenal and are dumbstruck. Hundreds of guns are laid out on tables with people scurrying to inventory them. A pistol with a white pearl handle and gold accents catches your eye. You reach for it just as Dwight’s hand shoots out and grips your wrist tightly. “I don’t get a gun?” you ask blankly.
“She get’s whatever she wants,” you hear a voice growl from over your shoulder. You turn your head and see Negan standing in the entryway leaning on Lucille. Dwight releases your wrist and you inspect the pistol as he walks to the other end of the room to retrieve your knife. A bat with barbed wire is etched into the phosphorescent handle, but it is still beautiful.
Negan walks over to the table and stands very close to you. “I am sending you and Dwight out tomorrow afternoon,” he says softly watching you inspect the gun. You ignore the kick in your pulse as you speculate what Negan has planned for the two of you. Stay Alive. Keep them alive.
“No comment?” he says turning towards you with a smug expression.
“What’s the job?” you ask.
“Dwight will fill you in tomorrow. I thought you were up for the job Ronnie. You were adamant I make you a lieutenant. If you can’t hack it we will have to think of an alternative. Did you think I just gave you that jacket so you could look like Teen Vogue?” Negan says laughing, ridiculing you.
“Don’t call me that,” you say angrily.
“You are a Lieutenant. Act like one,” he barks walking away.
Dwight returns with your knife and hands it to you.
He leads you back to your room and you immediately take off the jacket flinging it against the chair. You sit on the bed with your arms wrapped around your knees wondering what Rick and the others are doing. The hurt is too deep and you close it off building a wall. You jam the chair under the doorknob, place the knife under your pillow and take your jeans off before sinking into a deep sleep.
The next morning you wake to rattling and banging. Disoriented, you grab your knife. This isn’t your room. This isn’t Alexandria. As you stand crouched with your knife ready you knock away the chair. Negan strides in, “What the fuck is thi—” stopping midsentence when he sees you knife in hand. You put the knife down, adjust the chair and slide on your jeans.
“You don’t get to lock that door, Darlin’,” Negan says his eyes shining. “Came to deliver breakfast to you myself,” he says gesturing to Dwight behind him. Dwight carries a tray with eggs, toast and sliced fruit complete with a cup of coffee. You immediately pick the coffee up inhaling the scent. Negan watches you savor the smell.
“Where are we going today?” you ask casually trying to mask your anxiety.
“I will let Dwight fill you in on the details after you eat,” he says as he walks out with a wink. You turn to Dwight who is halfway out the door ready to close it behind him. “Tell me now,” you tell him. He stares at you for a few minutes before you take your plate and sit on the bed cross-legged letting him take the chair. He drops into the chair, his body tense as if it has been a long time since someone invited him to sit.
“You ate right?” you ask awkwardly. He gives you a confused look before saying “Yeah,” uncertainly. It is an odd question, but you don’t care. After the group almost starved to death, it is almost impossible for you to eat in front of others. At home in Alexandria, Rick used to think you were being motherly insisting everyone serve themselves first until Michonne subtly explained to him one night you still had nightmares of watching Carl and Judith starve to death. You stab at your eggs waiting for him to proceed.
“One of our new recruits used to work on a boat,” he says. You give him a confused look. “Booze cruises. Before everything you know…” he trails off.
“Went to shit,” you finish.
“Yeah. Anyway, he is convinced it is still fully stocked. It isn’t one of the typical places people would check for supplies,” Dwight finishes.
“So we are going to go on a liquor run?” you ask Dwight biting into the fresh fruit.
“Yeah. Essentially,” Dwight answers.
Fuck this world, you think to yourself. Some things never change.
“Negan wants you ready in twenty,” he says grabbing your plate before walking out. You quickly change, brush your teeth, pull your hair back, slide your jacket on and check your gun and knife.
Dwight returns and you step out in the hall closing the door behind you. As you walk down the hall you notice Saviors laughing in your direction. You begin to wonder why you are heading towards the walkway that overlooks the factory floor instead of the garage.
“There she is,” Negan says arms outstretched as if waiting your arrival. You look down at dozens of Saviors kneeling in front of him. Dwight immediately takes a knee and before your brain can process that you should too, you see him. Daryl Dixon. He is kneeling. His face is swollen and his hands are bound. A Savior has a hand on the back of his neck forcing him to genuflect.
“Well now that Teen Vogue is here …” Negan starts.
“I told you not to call me that,” you say eyeing him furiously.
“Did you just interrupt me?” he shouts grabbing you by the jacket lifting you off your feet. You struggle and he releases you dropping you on your ass. “As I was saying,” he says pausing to glare at you. You stare up at him from the ground. “Ronnie, Dwight and a few others will be heading out to round up some supplies, but before that we have business to address,” he says eyeing Daryl. “We found Daryl sneaking around the perimeter. Now Ronnie seeing as you are new and none of us can attest to your prowess, why don’t you go beat the shit out of Daryl so we know you can handle yourself outside of these walls,” he says with a flourish.
“You know I can kill walkers,” you whisper staring daggers at him.
He crouches down, “Darlin’ you should know better than anyone. It isn’t the dead you should be worried about, it’s the living. Just in case you aren’t piecing this together,” he continues reaching out and grabbing your leg dragging you along the walkway towards him, “If you don’t fight Daryl. I will kill him and then you and I will take a ride to Alexandria. Go get ‘em champ,” he says patting your leg.
“At ease,” he barks as men and women rise forming a circle clearly aware of the fight that is going to ensue.
Dwight leads you down the stairs to the factory floor. You eye him warily and he holds out his hands waiting for your gun and knife. You don’t doubt Negan wants this to be as bloody and brutal as possible. Daryl fights against the man restraining him and glances at you.
You grit your teeth as anger floods through you. This was your sacrifice. Daryl was the one who told you your life was worth more than others. It is your job and now he’s left Alexandria when Rick needs him the most. Anger flashes in your eyes as you stare at him. Despite being older than you, he looks vulnerable and unsure as if he wasn’t certain what condition you would be in when he found you. His lack of faith only further infuriates you. Rage rips through you and you realize this is a spectacle and you and Daryl are pawns.
As the Savior releases Daryl you stalk towards him. “Ronnie…” he says arms outstretched. You clench your jaw quickly closing the distance between the two of you. You grab his neck and whisper, “Go home, Daryl” before smashing your head into his knocking you both out.
x x x
Daryl looked up at Ronnie on the walkway thinking she looked like an angel. Her eyes were blue like the ocean, her hair tucked back in a bun with strands sticking out, her delicate choker wrapper around her neck and a white leather jacket, a stark contrast to the sea of black and gray. She was an old testament angel. The type God sends armed with a sword made of fire to wreak vengeance on His enemies. Destruction veiled as innocence and beauty. When Negan lifted her up off of her feet as if she were nothing more than a rag doll, he wanted to kill him all over again. It nearly destroyed Rick, but he and Michonne decided to wait a few weeks before sending a scout to get Ronnie back. Fuck waiting. A week later, Daryl jumped on his motorcycle hell bent on getting you back. Having spent time at the Sanctuary, Daryl knew exactly what awaited you and damned if he was going to let Rick find you dressed up as Negan’s wife. What Daryl wasn’t expecting was you dressed like a Savior with your knife strapped to one leg a revolver on your hip.
When you finally descended from the walkway, he was going to tell you to make it look real. Not to take it easy on him. Hell, he taught you half your moves, but when you glared at him with fire in your eyes the words evaporated on his tongue. You were angry. As you closed the distance he heard you whisper, “Go home, Daryl,” like a commanding hiss. It was the last thing he heard before you head butted him knocking him out.
You will be feared. You are Negan. Go home, Daryl.
Voices swirl in your head, a soundtrack to memories of you and Daryl. Daryl pulling you flush against him. Daryl dipping his head to meet your lips. Daryl tucking a stray hair behind your ear. Nausea rolls in your stomach as you turn to your side and vomit. You wipe your mouth squinting up at the glaring light that hangs overhead. A slow clap pierces the silence. You wince as it ricochets in your skull.
“Well played, Darlin’,” a gravelly voice says. You bring your hands to your ears trying to block out the sound before Negan wrenches your hands away from your ears pulling you out of the gurney. You land on the ground and curl into a ball.
“That was the most disappointing shit I have ever seen. You knocked Daryl out and yourself in the process and now he is shitting himself in a cell and you are practically fucking useless,” he says crouching down. “If you don’t fucking get me my shit, I will go back to Alexandria and take Carl’s other eye. Now do your damn job,” he shouts before grabbing the collar of your coat forcing you to sit up.
You watch him walk out of the infirmary. Seconds later Dwight is standing in front of you. “Time to go,” he says dispassionately. You stand on shaky legs as the world sways. Dwight hands you your knife and your gun before walking down a long corridor. You manage to keep up and two other men join you. “Johnny,” a large man with black hair and tanned skin says. “That’s Dave,” he says gesturing to a young man with light brown hair.
You nod instantly regretting the motion. Dwight slides into the driver’s seat of the large truck. You open the passenger door and climb inside praying you don’t vomit again. Workers open the gate as the four of you wait in the truck. Your head still throbs and your heart is heavy. Dwight speeds down the highway and nobody talks. You glance at the three men wondering if they are friends. Scavenging is hard enough without worrying someone is going to stick a knife in your back for a pack of cigarettes.
Forty-five minutes later Dwight is pulling up to a dock. It is quiet and looks eerily untouched by the undead. As the four of you sit in the truck scanning the area, Dave says, “I was a bartender on this ship. People paid $120 for a three-hour booze cruise. Stupid. It was stocked twice a week. When the dead started turning, people stopped showing. Then workers stopped showing. People had other things to worry about than losing $120 on a pre-paid booze cruise ticket,” he finishes bitterly.
“Describe the layout,” Dwight says firmly.
“Liquor bottles are below deck. The halls are narrow. Cases were loaded using a dolly,” Dave says succinctly.
“Is that dinky ramp the only way in and out?” you ask.
“Yes,” Dave confirms.
“Alright. Let’s go,” Dwight says. The four of you climb out of the truck and approach the ship silently. You see a flash of apprehension in Dwight’s eyes as he walks up the ramp to the ship. Dave leads the three of you below deck. The halls are narrow and pipes zigzag overhead creating a claustrophobic alleyway. You walk single file towards the back room. “Bingo,” Dave says when the narrow corridor opens to a large room stocked with pallets.
“Start loading,” Dwight tells Johnny and Dave. He motions for you to follow him. The two of you retrace your steps to the top deck. You watch him, noticing the tension in his shoulders and the way he clenches his jaw when he looks at the river. “Why aren’t we helping them load the truck?” you ask quietly trying to keep the suspicion from your voice. Dwight ignores you and the two of you continue making your way towards the bow. You narrow your eyes, “You don’t know how to swim,” you say watching him cautiously.
Just as he is about to respond the sound of glass crashing echoes loudly. You turn towards the dock and see Johnny and David arguing loudly pointing at a pile of broken bottles. You scan the boatyard and detect movement not far from the truck. “We need to leave,” you tell Dwight. When you turn to look at Dwight you find walkers streaming out of the bridge. Both of your exit paths are blocked. You glance over your shoulder at the still surface of the river and then at Dwight.
“We have to jump,” you tell him your gun raised as walkers close in on you.
He doesn’t respond, his gaze fixated on the walkers approaching.
“Dwight! We need to jump!” you repeat.
“I don’t know how to swim,” he says gun still raised.
“I am jumping with or without you,” you lie as you lower your gun and walk towards the railing. You step over the rail gripping it tightly with your back to the water. You watch Dwight fire three shots before taking a few steps backwards. You grab the collar of his vest and haul him over the railing watching him flail as he hurtles towards the water with a splash.
You quickly turn trying to pinpoint his location before diving in after him. Your aim is off slightly but you spot him sinking like a stone. You grab the back of his jacket hauling him to the surface. As the two of you break the surface he begins thrashing. He scrambles to stay above water pushing you under and you realize if he doesn’t stop you will drown.
“Dwight!” you scream over the splashing. “Stop! I will get you out of here! I will get you out!” you yell as water shoots painfully up your nose and into your lungs. He can’t hear you and as you are pushed under you realize you are going to drown over a case of broken vodka. You grab the gun in the back of your waistband and manage to hit him hard. His body goes limp and you lean it back against yours beginning the grueling slog to the dock. Miraculously Johnny and David haven’t left. You cough up water as you crouch on all fours.
“Gotta go,” Dave says helping to your feet. Johnny grabs Dwight by the back of his jacket hauling him towards the truck. The four of you speed away intent on putting distance between you and the ship. As you look in the rearview mirror you see walkers swarming the boatyard where the truck was parked seconds ago.
Johnny zooms down the highway. “Stop,” you say your throat raw from swallowing river water. He eyes you and then pulls over to the side of the road. You fall out of the truck landing indelicately on the gravel. “How many cases did we get?” to nobody in particular. Your muscles protest and you feel like vomiting again.
“We loaded eleven,” Dave answers.
“I need to dry off. Ten minutes,” you tell them not waiting for a response before stalking off towards a grassy field. You take off your sopping wet jacket and wring out your hair. You take off your shirt and squeeze out the excess water before putting it back on. You take your shoes off and wring out your socks.
You check your gun and knife and lay back on the grass. You close your eyes feeling the sun on your face doing what is the stupidest thing you have done all day. A walker could find you like some kind of offering and tear you to pieces in seconds. A tear slips out and you open your eyes staring up at the blue sky. How can you all be under the same sky but so far away?
Minutes pass and you sit up and noticing three figures in the distance. Three walkers are making their way towards you. You could ignore them but the urge to kill something is overwhelming. You aim pulling the trigger and the three walkers go down quickly. As you lower your gun you notice an enormous dog with short red and brown fur, long ears and a thin muzzle. It growls at you and you realize the walkers were tracking the dog. “Get out of here,” you yell pointing towards the open field. “Go! Get!” you shout motioning with your arms looking around for something to throw. “Just go!” you scream.
“Ronnie!” Dwight’s voice carries across the field. “Time to go,” he shouts and you sprint towards the truck realizing the dog is following you. “What the fuck is that?” Dwight yells pulling his gun out aiming at the dog. Without thinking you pull your revolver out.
“What the fuck do you think it is? It’s a dog,” you shout stepping in front of the dog. Without taking your eyes off of Dwight a growl to your right lets you know it has stepped out from behind you and is standing beside you.
“That’s not a fucking dog you idiot. It’s a coyote,” he shouts.
“Put the gun down Dwight,” you yell. He is being rational, but for some reason his attitude is irritating. Killing those walkers did nothing to quell the rage inside of you and you are looking for a fight.
“It’s not coming back with us,” he says waving his gun.
“Put the gun down. I didn’t pull you out of the fucking river so you could be my dog’s chew toy,” you threaten.
His gaze pivots from the dog to you realizing you saved his life.
“Fuck it. Negan can decide,” he says and you sigh glancing at the dog.
You should have run when you had the chance, you tell her.
Deliverance, the act of being rescued or set free. You stare at the animal as it looks off into the distance. Walkers are approaching and Johnny and David are strapping themselves in the back of the truck. Dwight is making his way towards the driver’s seat. Their movements are slow as if you are all submerged in the river. Maybe I died, you think morbidly. Dwight’s shouts are muffled and intelligible as you continue staring at the animal. “Deliverance,” you say your voice raspy. The animal turns towards you. Whether she will consider herself rescued is yet to be determined.
You nod your head and she jumps into the passenger seat. It is cramped and you sit cross-legged as she spreads out on the floor. Dwight accelerates careening down the open road leaving walkers in the dust. The truck pulls up to the Sanctuary. Johnny and David jump out and begin unloading the truck. “With me,” Dwight says before you can even open the passenger door. You unwrap your legs carefully stepping down trying not to trip over the dog. You and Dwight wind through the halls arriving at Negan’s door.
You pull your shoulders back and keep your expression neutral as you walk through the door. This morning you knocked out your first love, hours ago you pulled a rival out of the river, and twenty minutes ago a coyote decided to follow you home. Sore, exhausted and wet you try and project a self-assurance you aren’t sure you will ever feel again.
Negan is on the couch drinking whiskey from a tumbler, Lucille at his side. “You made it,” he says standing, rubbing his hands together. “Any problems?” he asks approaching Dwight giving him a hard pat on the shoulder. “Why the fuck are you wet?” Negan shouts shaking his hand off with a look of disgust.
“We brought back eleven cases. There was trouble on the boat. We had to jump,” Dwight answers succinctly his eyes glued to Negan’s shoulder avoiding his gaze. “Dwighty boy, you and I both know you don’t know how to swim,” Negan says mockingly crouching down, catching his eyes. Before Dwight can answer, Negan’s eyes swivel to you.
“Oh no!” he laughs doubling over. “Did Ronnie here save you?” he asks eyeing your still wet t-shirt and jeans. “That is precious,” he says walking towards you. A growl stops him mid-stride. “What the ever living fuck is that?” Negan yells. You swallow the lump in your throat, “It is a dog,” reply emotionlessly. He crouches down and you close your eyes tightly. Please don’t kill her, you silently pray. “Well aren’t you just beautiful?” he asks and your eyes shutter open in surprise as he strokes her fur and she playfully latches onto his arm.
Negan stands “Where did she come from?” he asks you with a furrowed brow. “I killed three walkers pursuing her. She followed me,” you tell him, staring at him intently. He rests his hand on his chin and looks down at the dog again.
“I told her it was your de—” Dwight begins.
“Shut up, Dwight,” Negan says. Dwight’s eyes immediately fall to the floor and he takes a step back. You stare at Negan grateful his gaze is transfixed on Deliverance so he doesn’t see the desperation written on your face. “She stays. Ronnie, you take care of her,” he says turning his back towards the two of you. “And Ronnie, if you could stop bringing strays to the Sanctuary, I would appreciate it,” he says his eyes drilling into yours reminding you Daryl is still here locked away somewhere.
The next morning you wake to a knock at your door. “Stay,” you tell Deliverance before opening the door a crack. Dwight’s scarred face appears in the doorway. “Negan wants to see you in twenty minutes,” he mumbles before turning his back to you. You quickly shower slipping on fresh jeans and a clean gray sleeveless shirt. You pull your hair back and tie your choker before opening the door. Dwight walks you through the maze and you recognize the path towards the room where Negan’s wives longue. Dwight opens the door for you and then closes it firmly remaining outside.
“I am never going to get used to that fucking dog,” Negan says hovering near the liquor. “You name her yet?” he asks before pouring himself a splash of whiskey. “De,” you answer. “D for dog,” Negan laughs. “De for Deliverance,” you respond tersely. “Deliverance,” he says as if assessing the name. You become uncomfortable in the empty room. “Did you need something?” you ask insolently.
“As a matter of fact, I do. Glad to see you are getting it Ronnie,” he says nodding approvingly. He saunters over to a second door and knocks twice. The door opens and a pregnant woman walks through. You struggle to hide the surprise from your face. “Ronnie this is Tanya,” he says resting a hand on her shoulder. She is wearing a black dress that stretches over her belly. She has black hair pulled back in a ponytail with blunt bangs.
You stand in silent shock. Negan has a pregnant wife. You continue to watch at her as she stares at the ground wrapping her arms around herself protectively. “Right,” Negan says filling the silence. “Ronnie, as I am sure you can tell, Tanya is going to burst any minute. You are going to take her to the Hilltop. There is a doctor there,” he says with a clenched jaw.
“Bring the doctor here,” you tell him and he closes the distance between you. Deliverance growls and he raises his hands taking a step back a smile on his lips. He turns and walks back towards the door Tanya entered through. He knocks three times and in seconds Daryl is standing in front of you. He is wearing stained sweatpants, his face is swollen, shoulders hunched while he stares at the floor. You run towards him and Negan lifts you off your feet turning you around, “Oh no you don’t,” he says holding you back.
“What did you do to him?” you ask through tears. Dwight appears in the doorway and hits Daryl roughly with a stick. He flinches but doesn’t fight back. He doesn’t even raise his arm to protect himself. Dwight hits him over and over again. Daryl shudders, but remains otherwise motionless. “Daryl,” you say his name wrenching it from your chest. You glare at Dwight as he drags him out of the room. “Stop bringing strays home,” Negan whispers in your ear before releasing you.
“You and Tanya leave tonight after dark,” he says before grabbing Tanya’s forearm roughly hauling her out of the room. You sink to your knees tears still streaming down your face. You wrap your arms around Deliverance and begin to tremble. Minutes pass and you repeat. Stay Alive. Keep them alive. Everyone has a job, you remind yourself.
Night falls and you walk towards the garage watching Dwight and Negan load a black pick up truck. It has guns and a small diaper bag. Negan pulls Tanya to the side cupping her face whispering to her softly. You watch bitterly as he tenderly helps her into the truck. He stalks up to you as you glower at him.
You slide into the driver’s seat glancing back at Tanya. She clenches her jaw staring out the window. Deliverance sits in the passenger seat and you take a deep breath before turning the key in the ignition. The drive passes in silence as you speed down the highway. Driving at night is a suicide mission and you don’t doubt that’s why Negan sent you. About an hour passes, before Tanya starts making groaning noises. You glance back at her and she is a pale, a curtain of sweat covering her face. “Tanya?” you as hesitantly before a scream rips from her lips piercing the night.
You pull to the side of the road quickly opening the door. Her jeans are soaked in blood and you stand paralyzed realizing she is going into labor. This can’t be happening, you think to yourself. Deliverance jumps out and begins sniffing the ground. You wrestle Tanya’s pants off as she continues to scream. It begins like a shriek that turns into sobs. You pull her underwear off and realize her cervix is dilated. “Ronnie, the baby is coming!” she says desperately between screams.
“Tanya. Tanya. Please shut up,” you beg.
“The baby! It’s coming,” her words echoing in the night. You put your hands on your head convinced she is attracting every walker in a three-mile radius. You pace back and forth before hauling her legs to the edge of the truck. “Okay! Okay,” you yell. “You are going to have this baby and then we are getting you to Hilltop, Okay? So fucking push!” you yell.
She braces herself against the truck and begins pushing. Vomit rises in your throat as you see the crown of the baby’s head emerge from Tanya’s vagina. Deliverance begins to bark and you glance over you shoulder. You don’t see anything, but you are sure something is out there. You load a clip into your rifle and spray bullets side to side seeing walkers illuminated in your gunfire. “FUCK!” you scream. You put the gun down lowering your hands to cradle the baby that is sliding out of Tanya.
The baby is too slick and you realize your hands are soaked in blood. The car seat it soaked in blood. “Tanya! Tanya!” you scream clutching the crying baby. Everything is soaked in blood. She reaches for your gun and you immediately duck as the pulls the trigger bullets sinking into a walker just behind you. You hold the baby close to your chest as you scramble to the driver’s seat. You deposit the baby gently in the passenger seat before turning to haul Tanya back into the truck and close the back door. Deliverance jumps on the walker closest to her pulling it away from Tanya’s kicking feet. The backseat is slick and her feet can’t find purchase to pull herself back into the car. De rips off the walker’s arm but it continues to reach for Tanya pulling her from the truck. She lands on the gravel with a scream.
“Tanya!” you shout grabbing her hands trying to pull her away from the walkers hanging onto her legs. One of them sinks their teeth into her ankle. “Keep her alive,” she whispers staring at you hauntingly before letting go, walkers drag her to the side of the road. You watch momentarily stunned as they dig their fingers into her stomach chewing on her intestines.
Barking pulls you from your trance. You slam the back door shut before sliding behind the wheel, turning the key and hitting the gas. You rely on muscle memory and drive the truck away from the walkers. You pull over to the side of the road and realize De has stopped barking, but the small infant in your front seat is screaming. You pick her up, her body completely slick with Tanya’s blood and fluids. You hold her to your chest and break into sobs. A scream of frustration rips from your lips. The sound of a world shattering.
Time passes. How much you aren’t sure. You glance down at the small baby thinking she has stopped crying. Babies are supposed to cry, you tell yourself numbly. You reach for the diaper bag and wrap her in a blanket. It is pink and your heart shatters thinking Tanya must have packed it. That son-of-a bitch, you think to yourself. You clench your jaw as anger pumps through your veins. You turn the ignition and make a wide U-turn on the empty highway speeding towards the Sanctuary.
Workers open the gate for you. You scan the area and decide you have the element of surprise. You practically fall out of the truck. Every part of you is covered in blood. There is blood in your hair. It is encrusted on your hands. Your white motorcycle jacket is bright red and your jeans are soaked. As you stand, gun raised, baby cradled to your chest. Deliverance jumps down and stands next to you with a vicious snarl. You aim your gun at the nearest Savior. “I want to see Negan,” you say in an eerily calm voice. The baby in your arms begins to cry, it’s shrieks piercing the open yard.
“What the fuck?” he says drawing his gun.
“Put that gun down or I will feed Negan's baby to my dog,” you scream brandishing your gun at Saviors who have emerged from the building.
Simon runs across the yard gesturing for the Saviors to lower their weapons. “Ronnie,” Simon says in a placating tone with his arms up. “Ronnie, come on. We both know you aren’t going to feed that baby to that dog,” he says arms still outstretched.
You tilt your head to the side, eyes unhinged, “This is the new world, Simon. You don’t know me and you don’t know what I will do,” you say with a smile.
You keep your gun aimed at the back of Simon’s head. The hallway is silent save for the sound of footsteps and claws. He leads you through a passageway you have never been down before and in seconds you are at Negan’s door. He knocks and you motion with the revolver for him to open the door. You make him walk through first and find Negan sitting calmly on his couch. “Leave,” you tell Simon. He doesn’t hesitate before walking out of the room closing the door behind him.
“Ronnie…” Negan begins standing from the couch.
“Back off!” you shout keeping the gun aimed at his head while readjusting the infant in your arms. She is so small you drape her chest over your forearm with her head supported in the crook of your arm. “Explain to me why Negan. Negan, founder of the Saviors, sent his very pregnant wife out in the middle of the night alone and unprotected. Oh! I know. It is because he never intended for her to make it back!” you scream brandishing the gun at his chest.
“You know I could have taken Tanya straight to Rick. I could have left her on the side of the road, I could have shot her in the head the minute we left the Sanctuary, I could have carved that baby right out of her,” you say in a calm tone as you and Deliverance encircle him, her claws clicking with each step. “But here we are,” you continue as pace around the sofa.
“Walkers tore her apart. They ripped her right out of my hands like we were playing some fucking game of tug-of-war and do you know what the last thing she said was? ‘Keep her alive’ and then she just let go,” you roar your eyes flashing angrily.
“So I brought your little girl back. I brought her back so she could see what a piece of shit her dad is!” you shout eyes drilling into Negan’s. “Her dad who would rather throw her away than try and protect her,” you say pressing your lips into a thin line. “That’s probably smart,” you say nodding your head. “I mean what if someone tried to use her against you? What if someone plucked her from her home took her from her family and threatened the people that she loved? Sound familiar?” you ask eyes enthralled in rage.
You close the distance between the two of you and lower your gun. “Congratulations, Negan, you’re a daddy now. You will never be half the father Rick is. Feed your daughter,” you order before roughly shoving her into his arms. The door slams against the wall as you and Deliverance storm down the hall.
You eventually reach your room. You fling off the bloodstained jacket and head for the shower. You sit fully clothed as water streams down. Shivering, you scrub your hands but they remain tinged pink. Two days pass before you get out of bed. A knock at the door leaves you reaching for your knife, before you remember Negan doesn’t knock. You open the door and find Dwight standing with a plate and bottle of water tucked under his arm. He sets it on the table before pausing to look up at you.
“Daryl escaped,” he says.
Your heart begins beating frantically. “When?” you ask desperate to hear more. “Just after you came back with the baby,” he says pushing hair out of his face staring at the floor. You close your eyes tight. Daryl heard you threaten that baby’s life. “Things are bad. Sherry is looking after the girl. She always wanted kids …” he trails off.
“How would you know that?” you snap bitterly.
“Sherry was my wife,” he says sadly.
“Get out,” you tell him standing by the door. The pain of watching Dwight beat Daryl is still fresh. You don’t want to feel Dwight’s pain. You stare are the food grabbing the bottle of water. You set it on the night stand before pulling the covers over your head. Deliverance wanders in and out of your room pawing at your closed door when she wants to be let inside. You hope she isn’t being mistreated. These days you can't save anyone.
I let my self-righteousness stand in the way of that baby’s safety, you think to yourself. You should have taken her to Rick and told Negan they both died. You lay in bed at war with yourself. Negan should be held accountable, but you know he can’t protect that baby. Deliverance paws at the door and you open it. You stroke her fur as you stare at the ceiling wondering if you have damned that little girl, and if in this new world all little girls are damned.
Deliverance immediately jumps down from the bed moments before it swings open. Negan walks in followed by Sherry. You haven’t dressed in days and fling off the covers. You stand in your sweatpants and tank top glaring at Negan. The baby squirms in Sherry’s arms. “You have to support her head,” you tell her scooping the baby from her arms holding her small body against your skin. Your stomach revolts as you remember Tanya’s warm blood. You rock the baby gently walking back and forth across your room. “You can leave Sherry,” Negan says. The baby begins to fall asleep and you set her in the center of the bed. Sherry quietly closes the door.
“I am a piece of shit dad,” he says. You stare at the small baby as Deliverance jumps on the bed lying at the foot of the bed. “I am a piece of shit dad, but this is your fault too. You should have gone to Alexandria,” he says accusingly his thoughts an echo of your earlier guilt. His arrogance sets you ablaze. “Don’t put this on me. This is your fault. If you hadn’t decided to fuck your wife bareback she wouldn’t have gotten pregnant or are you just that comfortable becoming a baby killer?”
“Are you?” he shoots back. “I have Sherry locked in a fucking room taking care of that little girl. She is trying, but she has no idea what she is doing. I have Saviors mouthing off, slacking off, there are rules Ronnie!” he shouts.
“And they just don’t apply to you?” you scream.
The baby stirs and begins crying. It is a keening wail and you immediately cover your ears with your hands. Suddenly you are back in the pitch-black night, walkers are gripping Tanya as you try and pull her back towards the car. Everything is soaked in blood as her mouth forms silent words. She stares at you with dull eyes before letting go of your hands. When the flashback passes you are in the corner rocking back and forth. Negan is trying to soothe the baby cooing softly in her ear.
“I know where she will be safe,” you say standing slowly as tears falls down your cheek. “Where?” Negan asks his tone urgent. “With Rick,” you tell him.
“No,” Negan says firmly. “He will kill her,” he says rubbing the baby’s back. “He won’t. I swear on my life he won’t,” you tell him your voice cracking. “We should leave soon,” you urge.
“How do you know?” he asks.
“I know,” you say wiping away your tears drying your hands on your sweatpants. You walk towards the closet pulling clothes out. You grab a fresh pair of jeans, a gray t-shirt and thick socks. You clutch them to your chest. “You have to let me do all the talking,” you tell him. “Every word. It is the only way this will work,” you insist staring at him seriously.
He looks at you and then looks down at the little girl. “Do you want her live?” you ask earnestly.
“Damnit,” he swears walking towards the door. “Be ready in twenty,” he tells you.
I am going back to Alexandria, you think to yourself. Your hands shake as you change into fresh clothes. You wear the same gray oversized sleeveless t-shirt, jeans, motorcycle boots and choker. You stare in the mirror desperately praying you look the same because inside you feel entirely different. Negan returns to your room and explains which entrance he will pick you up at. He passes you the small child and you hold her close to your body. You don't understand how someone can be so tiny. You cover her with your jacket before whistling to Deliverance and tiptoeing towards the exit.
Negan picks a black SUV with tinted windows. You stay hidden in the back as you pull away from the Sanctuary. The weather taunts you and it is a clear blue day. Under other circumstances, your trip back to Alexandria would be joyous. Negan drives in silence. After feeding and changing the newborn, you slip your jacket back on and she falls asleep against you. Her peaceful face a stark contrast to the rust colored stains on your coat. You glance in the backseat and reassure yourself Deliverance is still sprawled in the back. As you approach Alexandria you ask, “You name her?” breaking the marathon of silence.
“Ruby,” he answers tersely.
“Ruby,” you repeat glancing down at her.
You reach for the passenger door handle opening it. “Not a word,” you remind Negan. Tobin is on guard and you approach cautiously. “Put your hands up,” you tell Negan under your breath. “Back De,” you whisper in a hushed tone. The dog trails you and Negan leaving a wide berth. “Tobin!” you call up to the guard post. “I am here to see Rick,” you tell him.
“Ronnie?” he says uncertainly. “It’s me Tobin. Please, I need to talk to Rick,” you tell him. An eternity passes before Tobin and Gabriel open the gate. You walk into Alexandria motioning for Negan to follow. “Where is Rick?” you ask.
“He is at the house,” Gabriel answers uncertainly trying to keep up with your long strides. You scan the houses grateful it is quiet. “Your post,” you remind him and he looks at you torn between following you and returning to the gate. “The gate, Gabriel,” you remind him firmly. You approach the house, push the door open and walk into the only place you have ever known peace.
Your heart hammers in your chest as you find Rick, Michonne, Judith and Carl in the kitchen. Carl is helping Judith read a book and for a second it feels like you never left. “Ronnie?” Rick says squinting at you in disbelief reaching his arms out towards you. Michonne glares at Negan. Carl and Judith stare at Deliverance. You don’t hear the familiar click of her claws. She remains stationed by the door.
You swallow steeling yourself for the conversation ahead. “Dad,” you say taking a half a step back unzipping your jacket revealing a small rosy baby with wisps of black hair. The world stops turning. You take shallow breaths waiting for someone to move, react, say anything. Michonne is the first to step forward. She gently takes Ruby from your arms and passes her to Carl. “Carl take Judith and …” she glances at you.
“Ruby” you answer.
“Take Judith and Ruby upstairs and stay there,” she tells them calmly.
Rick’s head tilts and you can see him struggling to connect the dots. “Dad,” you say firmly trying to pull him from his thoughts.
“Whose baby is that?” he asks Negan glaring passed you. He rubs his hands over his mouth pointing up towards Ruby and then back to Negan. “Whose baby is that?” he shouts.
“Dad!” you yell. Negan doesn’t say a word. Rick steps forward and you grab his shirt trying to force him to look at you. “Dad,” you cry trying to shake him. He is so much taller than you, you end up uselessly clutching the front of his shirt. “She is mine. She is my baby,” you repeat. Rick continues to glare at Negan. “Did you rape my daughter? Did you rape her during one your raids? Is that why you wanted her?” he asks in a dangerously soft voice. The situation is slipping out of your control. “He didn’t,” you answer staring at him. “He didn’t rape me,” you say firmly letting the legitimacy of the statement resonate in your voice.
When Rick finally looks at you the revulsion in his eyes causes you to take a step back. “You let him …” he says unable to formulate the words. “I am sorry,” you tell him as tears fill your eyes. “I am sorry, Dad,” you stand feeling your heart rip apart. You flinch instinctively recognizing the movement before your brain does. Rick hits you hard across the face. The world turns upside down. You hear Deliverance growling in the distance. The taste of blood slowly fills your mouth. You tenderly touch your lip staring at the blood on your fingertips. You are stunned eyeing the crimson drops as Negan pushes you behind him. You glance back at Rick and find Michonne struggling to restrain him.
“Go,” she says urgently as Rick fights against her grip his eyes focused on you. “Go,” she repeats as Negan turns you towards the door. You look back at your family home one last time.
I can never come back, you think to yourself numbly.
When two people walked into the house, Carl was caught off-guard. Carl, forced to grow up faster than most even considering the new world, is never caught off-guard. In seconds he recognized Negan with his black leather jacket, broad shoulders and red scarf. The second individual he did not recognize despite having known her his whole life. Ronnie looked like a messenger sent from heaven. Wisps of brown hair framed her face. Her complexion a flawless alabaster unlike the sun kissed skin she left Alexandria with weeks ago. Her light blue eyes burned brightly with an intensity he had never seen before. A white stained distressed motorcycle jacket clung to her shoulders and her arms were pulled close to her chest dissimilar to the defensive stance she normally assumed. Upon realizing he was staring at his sister, Carl’s eyes darted to the animal at the door. A coyote with reddish brown hair, long muzzle and claws stood guard. The homicidal maniac and wild animal that accompanied Ronnie largely overshadowed the shock of seeing his older sister back in Alexandria.
Just as the astonishment of her arrival waned, she unzipped her jacket unveiling the smallest baby Carl had ever seen. Most Alexandrians don’t remember or didn’t know Judith when she was a newborn. The looming threat of the undead prevented them from cherishing her innocence, but Carl remembers. He remembers staring down at her chubby legs and bright smile pledging his duty to protect her by whatever means necessary. Lori paid for Judith with her life, Carl with his soul. Carl could so vividly recall Judith as an infant; it struck him odd that the baby in Ronnie’s arms was so different. She lacked Judith’s baby fat, her hair was much darker and she remained unbelievably still. Carl, lost in thought, was pulled back to the present when Michonne handed him the small child and said “Take Judith and Ruby upstairs and stay there,” in an uncompromising tone.
After cradling the child close to his chest and staring at her downy skin, he placed her in the crib. He sat Judith in a chair with her book before racing to the stairs. He stopped mid-step, the scene he discovered wrong in every way. Ronnie was staring at her hand, droplets of blood running down her lip. Negan was protecting her, standing between her and Rick. Michonne’s arms were wrapped around Rick’s chest struggling to restrain him as she shouted, “Go,” gesturing towards the door. Before Carl could utter a word, he watched his sister’s heart shatter as she took one final glance at Rick and sprinted out the door.
Ronnie ran out the door sprinting across town, Deliverance at her heels. Gabriel and Tobin watched her approach and quickly began opening the gate. Negan followed a short distance behind her. Without stopping, she sprinted through the gate passing the black SUV heading straight for the forest. The dull ache in her side quickly replaced the wrenching pain in her chest as she sprinted through the trees. She raced Deliverance through the woods dodging bushes with no concern for walkers, gnarled roots or any other threat to her personal safety. The rhythm of her legs pounding synchronized with her arms pushed her further and further into the woodlands. After ten minutes of running at breakneck speed the sensation of flying inundated her brain erasing the past two weeks. Succumbing to exhaustion her gaze suddenly became tilted as she realized she was plummeting to the ground.
It took Negan thirty minutes to catch up with her. As he was by no means out of shape, it was a testament to her speed, a trait he was unaware she possessed. He found her largely due to Deliverance’s large paw prints. Discovering her collapsed in the forest, he swore loudly before lifting her over his shoulder and retracing his steps. She was expectedly light, an uncomfortable reminder of her age and the weighty decisions she recently made. Deliverance followed them obediently and Negan wondered if there was anywhere Ronnie would go where Deliverance wouldn’t follow.
x x x
You awake to the feeling of cold water streaming down your face. Opening your eyes and shaking the water from your face you immediately realize you are sitting sideways in the passenger seat, rolling countryside in front of you while Negan pours water over your face.
“I am awake,” you mutter pushing wet hair back from your face. “I am awake,” you repeat this time to yourself. You are surprised Negan purposely drove away from Alexandria before rousing you. He rummages in the back of the SUV while you gaze at the orange yellow sunset tinged with blue. Deliverance jumps excitedly at your feet. You reposition yourself in the passenger seat, wiping your face with your shirt and sliding your coat over your arms, zippering it in an attempt to ward off the chill.
“Why did you do that?” Negan asks.
Unsure which that he is referring to you deliberate before answering.
“I had to be sure. They will defend her with their lives now. Without hesitation. Unquestioningly. Whole-heartedly,” you respond buckling your seat belt.
“That’s not what I was asking,” Negan continues. You stare out at the open road compartmentalizing the dull ache you feel in your chest tamping it down.
“Rick would have killed you and Ruby doesn’t deserve to grow up thinking she is a mistake,” you say blankly. “The sun is setting. We should get off the road,” you say your voice becoming tense. It isn’t far to the Sanctuary, but the thought of driving at night terrifies you. You wait for Negan to insist you push forward, but when he agrees you release a breath you didn’t realize you were holding.
Negan turns the key in the ignition and drives the car down the highway before veering off an unpaved trail. You don’t ask where he is taking you and he doesn’t tell. The curtain of silence descends once more until you pull up to a facility that is a much smaller version of the Sanctuary. It is a one-story building made of cinderblock. A chain-link fence encloses a large grassy area. “Outpost,” he finally volunteers. “Nobody is stationed here yet. We cleared out the walkers a few weeks ago, but some could have found their way in,” he says grabbing Lucille.
You buckle the gun holster around your hips and check for your knife. “De. Ears up,” you tell her before getting out of the passenger seat letting her jump down to the ground. You and Negan approach the building cautiously. Negan whistles and you check room-by-room finding each one clear. You pick a large room with two cots near the entrance. You kneel down and stroke Deliverance’s fur before she disappears down the hall. “Aren’t you worried about her?” Negan asks watching her walk down the empty hall claws clicking.
“She was on her own before I met her,” you tell him avoiding his gaze.
You remove your belt setting your gun within reach sitting on the cot with your back against the cinderblock wall staring at Negan. “Who knew about Tanya?” you ask.
“What?” he asks turning towards you.
“Who knew about Tanya?” you repeat slowly.
He sits on the cot opposite yours with his elbows on his knees face in his hands. “Dwight… Sherry…Amber,” he tells you.
“Is Amber the drunk who runs her mouth?” you ask.
He gives you an exasperated look before answering, “Yes, Amber is the drunk who runs her mouth,” rolling his eyes.
“Anyone else?” you probe.
“No, why?” he asks staring at you suspiciously.
“Dwight and Sherry. They need to leave the Sanctuary. Their freedom for their silence,” you tell him.
“Sherry is my wife,” Negan shouts.
“She is Dwight’s wife. With them gone and Amber barely lucid, Tanya was never pregnant,” you tell him hugging your knees to your chest.
“Sherry is Dwight’s ex-wife,” Negan counters.
“Do you really think she willingly agreed to marry you? Have you seen the way she looks at Dwight? The way they look at each other? That’s what you do isn’t it? You take their wives. Do you let them hold onto any piece of who they were before you make them Saviors? No wonder they hate you. They are Negan, but you have no one,” you say glaring at him.
“If you are so smart, what would you have done?” Negan asks angrily.
You rest your head on your knees staring at the entrance to the room avoiding his gaze.
“I would have found a partner, an ally. I would have found someone and found common ground, because it wouldn’t matter who they were before, all that matters is who they are now. I would find someone who would do anything to protect what’s mine. Fight with every ounce of their being to protect what’s mine as if it were their own. Because they wouldn’t doubt for a second I would do the same for them. I wouldn’t demand loyalty, I would earn it. And then it doesn’t become mine and theirs, it becomes ours and they become family. Equals. That’s what Rick did. That’s what he did with Daryl, Glen, Michonne. That is why that baby is in Alexandria instead of the Sanctuary. They will defend what’s theirs and that little girl, she is family now,” you tell him, turning towards the cinderblock wall resting your head on the pillow not bothering for a response.
As night falls a chill settles over the one story building, the cinder blocks provide minimal protection against the cold. With no blanket and just your leather jacket, you begin to shiver. The type of shivering that makes your whole body quake uncontrollably. Lost in sleep you don’t hear Deliverance enter the room. She lays next to you on the tiny cot and you instinctively wrap your arms around her. You nuzzle into her soft fur letting the warmth of her body seep into yours.
When Negan finally stirs from his cot, he doesn’t wake you deciding you need sleep when in reality he is reluctant to return to the Sanctuary. He has spent most of the night replaying your tirade over and over in his head. Who does he trust? What if workers didn’t work for points? Would Saviors return home if he gave them the choice? Do they have homes to return to? Is the Sanctuary their home now? The onslaught of questions isn’t limited to his group, but the state of the world itself. Soon the dead will outnumber the living and then what? Who, if anyone, would come to the Sanctuary’s aid? Right now he can’t even keep his daughter safe there for fear of retribution. The world weighs heavy on his shoulders as he glances back at your sleeping form.
Watching you snuggled with Deliverance, he finds himself envious of the devotion you inspire in others. It is a loyalty that has not come without sacrifice. Fighting off walkers, killing enemies, scavenging for the group, trading your life for your family’s, forfeiting your dignity for Ruby. It is undeniable he has power and with that power comes the opportunity to change lives, if it doesn’t kill him first, he muses.
You stir in the cot, sitting up, rubbing your eyes as Deliverance jumps down. You walk towards the hall observing the sun shining brightly through the window. “It’s late,” you say strapping your gun around hips. “Let’s go,” you tell him motioning towards the entrance. The two of you make your way to the SUV. You open the back door letting Deliverance jump into the vehicle. As you slide into your seat, slamming the passenger door shut, you continue rubbing the fatigue from your eyes. “Not a morning person?” he asks. You shake your head silently. “I practically cried when I found out Alexandria had coffee,” you tell him absentmindedly. Alexandria. The word hangs between the two of you. In your mind there is nothing left to say so you are caught off guard when Negan asks, “Has Rick done that before?”
“Done what?” you ask confused.
“Hit you,” Negan says neutrally his eyes focused on the trail leading back to the highway.
“No,” you answer firmly staring out the window.
“Good,” Negan says absentmindedly.
“What do you care?” you ask swinging your gaze at him your tone angry.
“You told me Ruby would be safe, then we show up and he smacks the shit out of you,” Negan says clenching his jaw.
“He smacked the shit out of me because he thought I let you stick it in me during one of your visits to Alexandria. He smacked the shit out of me because he thought I was pregnant and didn’t tell him. He smacked the shit out of me because you killed his best friends. Rick once told me I was his most prized possession. He’ll never forgive himself for hitting me and I’ll never forgive myself if this breaks him,” you say staring out the window.
Negan exhales uncomfortable that your family now thinks so little of you now. “I am sorry,” he says concentrating on the road, turning to merge onto the highway. “It was the right thing to do,” you tell him blankly. “I am still sorry,” he insists.
“Thank you,” you answer softly gazing out the window. The apology means little coming from him, but it is comforting nonetheless.
You pull into the Sanctuary shortly thereafter. You scan the entrance, your arrival markedly different from your departure. Negan walks around the SUV opening your door as well as the back door letting Deliverance out. You don’t wait for him as you walk towards the entrance navigating your way to your room. After showering and dressing in a fitted black sweater over your t-shirt, you slide your jacket over your shoulders and head towards the door in search of food.
You walk to the marketplace grabbing a sandwich and bottle of water walking towards a flight of stairs. You sit on the roof in silence tearing off sections of your sandwich feeding Deliverance pieces of chicken. With Ruby delivered to Alexandria, your standing at the Sanctuary is ambiguous. Simon watched you choke Amber, everyone saw you knock Daryl out, and most of the Saviors heard you threaten to feed Ruby to your dog. You glance at Deliverance sending up a silent prayer of thanks that it didn’t come to that. Anyone who would agree to be your ally without knowing the truth, would not be the type of person you want watching your back. You sigh realizing that leaves one person in the entire compound.
As you wipe your hands off on your jeans preparing to stand, the sound of your name startles you. “Hey Ronnie,” Johnny says casually walking up to you. “Negan asked me to come find you,” he says by way of explanation. You silently wonder where Dwight is and whether it is possible he escaped while you and Negan were delivering Ruby to Rick. You follow Johnny down the passageway surprised when he turns to you and says “It is nice to see you again,” before leaving you at Negan’s door.
You have stood in front of Negan’s door a few times since your arrival, but for the first time your palms begin to perspire. You knock on the door and a voice says, “Come in,” immediately. You find him lying on the couch staring at the ceiling. You sit on the arm of the sofa, Deliverance relaxing at your feet. Before you can explain your dilemma Negan says, “I think you should marry me,” in a serious tone.
“Absolutely not,” you respond jumping to your feet pacing the room arms extended. He sits up from the sofa resting his elbows on his knees, a position you now know he assumes when he is agitated. “Just listen,” he says with his face in his hands staring at the floor. You wait silently for him to continue.
“The Saviors think you are like them, but you aren’t. They have seen your ruthlessness, but they don’t know you. Not the real you. You don’t have allies here and anyone who would befriend you after waving Ruby under Deliverance’s nose is not the type of person you want to trust. You have one foot in the door already. Ruby is safe, not because she is my daughter, but because she is yours. Be my wife. My only wife. My equal. Secure your standing amongst the Saviors and then help me tear it to the ground,” he finishes risking a glance at you.
You stare at him with your arms folded over your chest.
“I was a piece of shit before the dead started eating the living. It turns out I am piece of shit after too. I don’t want to be a piece of shit forever though, and I think you can help me,” he says staring at you with a pained expression.
“Are you serious about fixing this?” you ask.
“I am,” he says eyes drilling into yours.
You close your eyes tightly fighting back tears.
“I think you know that. Something is holding you back though …” he says.
You keep your eyes closed trying to smother the rising ache in your chest. “Daryl,” you say softly. You open your eyes as tears leak out staring at the corner of the room lost in thought. “I never expected a wedding. I never wanted to wear a stupid white dress, Rick walking me down the aisle, flowers. I just figured at some point Daryl would talk to Rick and I would be his and he would be mine and this shit world would just keep turning,” you say with a sad smile.
Negan exhales deeply.
“You were right. I didn’t give Sherry a choice when I asked her to be my wife. Not really. She agreed to it because of Dwight. You have a choice. Say no, and you will still be a lieutenant. We can try but it will just be a hell of a lot harder. I have other lieutenants, but I would have only one wife. If you help me and we fix this, I will explain it to Rick and Daryl. All of it,” he says.
“I really don’t think they are going to believe a word you say,” you tell him shaking your head laughing at his audacity while you wipe tears from your face.
“Ronnie, the dead are walking the earth. I think they’ll believe we did what we thought was best,” he says wiping your face.
You can’t go back. Rick can’t bear to look at you. This must be the righteous side of hell, you think to yourself.
And that is how I became Negan’s one and only wife.
Negan cradles your face staring into your eyes intensely as you nod accepting his proposal. You gaze up at him wondering whether he reveres you or pities you. “I will tell my lieutenants today,” he says after you step out of his arms. You nod barely acknowledging his words. He says nothing as you reach for the door. You glance back at Deliverance and when she doesn’t rouse from her sleep you think traitor.
You decide to spend your last hours practicing with your knife. Workers glance at each other uncertain whether they should let you out, as you stand at the exit with a scowl. They wisely decide to open the gate. You walk to a wooded area, each step stirring an unfounded rage. Since the dead started attacking the living, you have sacrificed yourself over and over again with nobody to blame for your choices but yourself.
You volunteered to go with Negan to spare Rick, Carl, Judith and Michonne
You told Daryl to go home when he came to the Sanctuary to save you
You pulled Dwight from the river when you could have let him drown
You told Rick Negan’s baby was yours and will soon become his wife
If you keep giving away pieces of yourself, there will be nothing left. You swore to tear the Sanctuary down, but you also owe yourself more than a life of self-sacrifice and words understood but unsaid. You will be feared. You will bring salvation. You will stand in the path of death and destruction. Negan’s words echo in your ear.
The release and subsequent thunk of your knife is satisfying. Overheated, you remove your jacket before walking to the tree to retrieve your knife. Hours later a rustling from over your shoulder has you spinning gun in hand.
“Ronnie. It’s me Johnny,” he says with his hands up slowly approaching you.
“Hey Johnny,” you respond lowering your revolver.
“Negan sent me to come get you,” he explains.
You holster your gun at your hip and pull the knife out of the tree trunk. Sliding your jacket on, you say, “Johnny can I ask you a question?” as the two of you walk across the open field.
“Sure,” he answers.
“How long have you been with the Saviors?” you ask neutrally.
You continue to cut a path towards the gravel entrance. Minutes pass before he responds. “Longer than most. My mom and I were on our way to North Carolina. My mom insisted on going to check on her sister. My aunt lives in Charlotte. Lives. Lived. I am really not sure. The Saviors caught up with us. We were both workers for a while. My mom, she is old though. I became a Lieutenant. That’s how it is with most guys here. Traveling with friends or family, some stronger than others. I hate seeing her like that,” he finishes in a blank tone.
You say nothing almost wishing you hadn’t asked. When you saw Daryl in the gray strained sweatpants it felt like your heart had been ripped from your chest. An idea begins to take shape and you say, “We need to stop by the marketplace,” in a brusque tone.
You walk past table after table of clothes mentally cataloging each item. A prickling sensation creeps up your spine. Out of the corner of your eye, you see a group of Saviors watching you. You quickly find a pale pink camisole with thin delicate straps and a low v-cut. You hand Johnny your jacket before stripping off your black sweater and sweaty gray t-shirt, sliding on the loose tank top. Shoving your sweaty clothes at a near by worker you take your jacket back and the two of you leave the marketplace in silence.
Johnny opens the door to a room and you walk in finding Negan sitting at the head of a table with a five lieutenants. Johnny takes the last seat and everyone is staring at you. With your face flushed and pieces of hair escaping your low bun, you resist the urge to fidget under their scrutiny.
“There she is,” Negan says pushing away from the table, standing at your side. He stares into your eyes searching for uncertainty. When you glare back at him he rests his hand on your lower back. You stare unflinchingly at each person in the room silently assessing them. Some lieutenants you recognize, but others you have never met.
“I am sure most of you already know Veronica from Alexandria or her attempt to feed our daughter to that wild coyote she calls a dog,” he says casually and you stare at him head tilted to the side, infuriated at his facetious tone.
“Veronica has agreed to be my wife. She will be my only wife. She is the mother of my child and you will treat her with the same respect you treat me,” Negan says in a thunderous voice that rattles the room vaporizing his earlier frivolity. You clench your jaw and continue to stare at his lieutenants in an openly challenging expression.
Seconds pass before a voice breaks the silence. “Negan let me to be the first to offer my congratulations. I think we are just taken back. Veronica is Rick’s daughter. She is also a little different from your other wives,” he says with a smirk glancing at the other lieutenants. Simon, Negan’s second in command. His name comes rushing back to you. Determined to speak for yourself, you gently rest your hand on Negan’s arm. You smile sweetly at Simon.
“Explain,” you demand.
He shifts in his seat. “Well it’s just that, Veronica, you are rough around the edges. Not that it’s a bad quality. You are just a ferocious little thing and Negan isn’t exactly a one woman man,” he says condescendingly.
A little thing, you think to yourself seething eyes burning brightly. You walk towards him and sit on the table arms planted behind you stretched out in front of him.
“And what are Negan’s ex-wives like?” you ask in a dangerously gentle voice.
“Well Sherry, Amber, Tanya … they are just more feminine,” Simon says choosing his words carefully.
“Feminine?” you prod in an innocent tone.
“Pretty. Delicate. Soft,” he says uncomfortable realizing the conversation is taking a dangerous turn.
You sit up and lean in close to him. “Simon,” you whisper bringing your lips to the shell of his ear. You stare at Negan audaciously, your lips hovering just above Simon’s ear. “Do you spend a lot of time wondering if my skin is soft?” you say twisting his words.
“No!” Simon shouts straightening in his seat leaning away from you. “Tell me Negan,” you continue aloofly running your finger along Simon’s jaw as he squirms in his chair, “Are you planning on sharing?” you ask.
His expression darkens as you continue to run your finger along Simon’s jaw. “No,” he growls.
“Sorry Simon,” you respond with a wink before walking back towards Negan. You stand on your tiptoes, clutching his chest, brushing your lips against his. “I need to talk to you,” you whisper in an urgent tone. He glances at his lieutenants before following you out the door.
You pull him down the hall towards his room. “I have an id—,” you begin as close the door behind the two of you.
“What the fuck was that? I don’t normally make a habit of looking pussy whipped in front of my lieutenants,” he interrupts.
“I needed to talk to you,” you fire back eyes burning bright with anger.
“You couldn’t have waited?” he asks arms outstretched.
“If Simon had kept his mouth shut, then yes I could have waited, but I am not going to stand there while he talks about me like I am not even in the room. I am not going to stand there while he compares me to your other wives. I am not going to stand there while he calls me a little thing after you just told him I am the mother of your child and practically your equal. So yeah, I need to talk to you now and he can fucking wait,” you shout.
“Jesus,” Negan mutters.
“You asked me to marry you,” you remind him.
He sits back in the sofa with a sigh. “Alright, what do you need to talk about?” he asks.
“I think I have a plan,” you tell him your eyes shining.
You strip your jacket off, tucking your hair behind your ears, focused on clearly articulating your plan. Negan sits patiently on the sofa and you glance at him realizing you need him onboard, but you also want his approval.
“You instituted rules. Those rules created a hierarchy. If you stood on that walkway tonight and told everyone they are equals the result would be chaos. You need incremental change,” you say in a clear voice.
“What did you have in mind?” he asks resting his elbows on his knees.
“Don’t make the Workers wear soiled gray sweatpants anymore,” you say softly.
“Ronnie …” Negan begins in an exasperated tone.
“Let me explain,” you tell him seriously. You begin to pace the room before saying, “When there are no more Saviors, no more Lieutenants, no more Workers, no hierarchy, you don’t want workers deciding they want retribution, payback for months of abuse and humiliation. Stop treating them like they are sub-human and maybe they won’t kill us all before this is over,” you finish giving him a somber expression. If you didn’t realize the risk before, you do now.
“I am not done,” you continue as you watch him try and interrupt. “There are Saviors even Lieutenants who were brought here with friends and family that are now workers. On the road, fighting walkers together is not something you ever forget. You need those Saviors and Lieutenants on your side, because there will be violence. You spilled blood when you built this place. We will spill blood again when we dismantle it. Make the announcement tonight. Send the ones who object the loudest to collect more clothes. Without them here, I will find us allies,” you finish.
You stare at him with wide eyes your heart pounding in your chest. He stares at the floor deep in thought. Time passes and your breathing becomes shallow as you begin to panic. Negan stands putting his hands on your shoulders.
“Okay,” he says before walking out the door. Relief crashes through you and you lean back against the closed door sinking to your knees. Please let this work, you pray as self-doubt creeps into your brain. The familiar click of claws on wood emerges. Deliverance nudges at your face and you feel terror… fear… but also purpose.
You sit on the floor with your back against the door thinking of potential allies. Dwight could observe the crowd during Negan’s announcement and pass along information before he leaves the Sanctuary. Dwight. Sherry. Your mind flies into panic mode. You stand desperate to locate them. By now, Sherry will have heard she is no longer Negan’s wife. She also knows Tanya is Ruby’s mother. She could be in danger as well as a threat. You walk into the hall immediately spotting Dave. He sees you and begins to kneel, “Don’t do that,” you tell him and he stands. “Where is Sherry?” you ask urgently.
Dave rubs the back of his head. “The last time I saw her she seemed kind of busy,” he says vaguely.
“Busy doing what,” you ask brusquely.
“Well she was with someone,” he says a blush creeping up his neck.
“Who was she busy with?” you order.
“I am not really ... I don’t …” Dave says trailing off avoiding your gaze.
“Take me to her,” you demand. You and Deliverance follow him down the hall. He leads you to a closed door and you eye Dave suspiciously wondering what he is hiding. When Deliverance begins clawing at the door, you slam it open and find a red headed Savior pressed against Sherry with his hand on her hips bending her over a table. An ugly bruise begins to form on her cheek and her dress is pushed up to her waist. You grab your revolver and shoot him in the shoulder. He sinks to the floor and blood begins to flow from his wound.
Sherry turns towards you with wide eyes and then glances to the left of your shoulder. You turn noticing a second man just as he slams the door shut, the lock clicking into place. You reach for your knife and in an instant it protrudes from his throat as he sinks to knees.
“Sherry, I need a favor,” you say urgently. She tries to adjust her dress while glancing at the unconscious man bleeding out. “I need you to discredit Amber when she insists Tanya was pregnant and then I need you, Amber, and Dwight to leave the Sanctuary. Nobody can ever know I am not Ruby’s mother,” you tell her.
“Ronnie!” Negan roars from the hall. Hinges threaten to break and dust floats to the ground as he pounds on the door. “Sherry?” Dwight’s panicked voice shouts.
“Sherry!” you shout forcing her to focus.
“I’ll do it. I will do it,” she repeats staring at you fearlessly. Her eyes swing back to the door and the incessant pounding.
“I don’t want them to see me like this,” she says touching her bruise.
“I will take care of it,” you tell her.
Negan continues to shout your name as open the door just slightly slipping out of Sherry’s room. “Dwight with me,” you tell him barely looking at Negan.
“Ronnie,” Negan shouts grabbing your arm twirling you to face him. “Are you okay?” he asks scanning you for injuries. “I am fine,” you tell him and he presses his hand against your cheek. You step out of his reach and walk with Dwight in silence towards your room. You close the door firmly behind you.
“Dwight, I have a favor to ask you,” you tell him.
He stands awkwardly shifting his weight from one foot to another. “Tonight, Negan is going to announce that workers are no longer required to wear gray sweatpants,” you tell him candidly. His eyes swivel to yours. “I need you to watch the crowd. I need to know who doesn’t give a shit, who supports the decision, and who is pissed. After that, I need you to take Amber and Sherry and leave the Sanctuary. I will give you a note that will guarantee your safety at the Hilltop,” you say methodically.
“You are planning something,” he says accusingly.
You don’t respond and instead ask, “Will you do it?” you ask forcefully.
“Yes,” he answers.
You stare into his face. “Thank you Dwight,” you say earnestly.
If standing next to Negan in front of his lieutenants made you fidget, standing with him on the walkway makes you want to vomit. As much as it hurts to think of them, Rick and Michonne didn’t raise you to show fear. You stand shoulders back staring intrepidly at the people gathered below. You are still wearing your pink camisole, white leather motorcycle jacket and revolver. Negan’s presence offers little comfort. He is commanding with Lucille in his hand, a natural leader born to intimidate. A low growl to your left, reminds you Deliverance is at your side and your resolve strengthens.
“Workers, Saviors, Lieutenants,” Negan begins his voice thundering across factory, waves of people drop to their knees genuflecting.
“I am happy to announce, I have a new wife. I would like to introduce you to Veronica, my one and only wife, mother of my child. As I have already told my lieutenants,” he says glaring, “You will treat her with the same respect you treat me,” he says emphasizing each word. You glance at Negan his eyes burning before he kneels in front of you. The world stops and you realize everyone including Negan is bowing. Seconds pass before you say, “As you were,” surprised to find your voice clear and commanding.
I am going to kill him, you think to yourself. Before rage uncoils inside of you, Negan resumes his speech. “I am also happy to announce that as a present to my wife, Workers will no longer be required to wear gray sweatpants. She is tired of looking at their revolting uniforms. A group of you will be assigned to locate more clothes,” he finishes. Ripples of mummers float through the crowd. You find Dwight and a slight nod assures you he is watchful.
“What about the baby?” a voice pierces the chatter. You scowl as Amber staggers forward. “What about Tanya’s baby?” she shouts and for a second you wish you had strangled her when you had the chance.
“Amber, you are drunk. You don’t know what you are saying,” Sherry says loudly pulling Amber back into the crowd.
Before Negan can respond, you place your hand on his arm. “I can assure you, after a horrific delivery I was forced to endure alone," you say venomously pausing to glare at Negan, "that child is mine. She belongs to me,” you say with a possessiveness you didn’t realize you felt.
“Then where is she?” Amber persists.
You stare at Amber letting her feel the full force of your glare before smiling sweetly. “Amber … I left her with the best father I know… She is with Rick,” you say mockingly while laughing. The tension in the room is thick, yet soon everyone begins to snigger.
“You are dismissed,” Negan says before turning towards you pulling you flush against him. “You are absolutely insane,” he says grinning at you. “Make everyone bow to me again and I will show you insane," you say through a forced smile. As the crowd files out of the room he continues to stare transfixed by your eyes rubbing his thumb along your lower lip.
Finally descending the staircase you see Dwight. He falls in step with you as you walk towards your room. “Did you get what I need?” you ask vaguely.
“I did,” he says.
“You can brief me tonight,” you insist.
“It can wait till tomorrow,” he responds.
You tilt your head at him confused, puling him into an empty hall. “I will get them out, but I am staying. You are planning something. You saved my life. You saved Sherry. I trust you. I want in,” he says insistently.
“Okay,” you respond shocked yet relieved he is staying. You squeeze his arm before continuing to your room.
“Ronnie, where are you going?” he asks.
“To my room,” you tell him with a confused expression.
“Negan had all of your things moved to his room,” he says quietly.
“Right. My things…” you say trailing off.
After convincing Negan to accept your plan, saving Sherry from being raped and enduring every member of the compound genuflecting, you forgot about sharing a bed with Negan.
Trigger warning - you may want to skip over this chapter if you have ever been strangled in a non-sexy way.
You and Dwight walk towards Negan’s bedroom. “Let me get you that note,” you tell him as you open the door. Fortunately the room is empty and you walk over to the large desk rummaging through drawers trying to locate a pen and paper. Finally finding a scratch pad and pencil you write a quick note.
Keep them safe.
Please trust me,
You fold it into a square and hand it to Dwight. “Do you need anything else for tonight?” you ask purposefully.
“No,” he answers tucking the note into his vest. “Find me in the morning,” you say dismissing him. He heads for the door when a knock catches you both by surprise. You crack the door open and see Johnny’s huge frame. You open the door wider. “That’s all Dwight,” you tell him as Johnny lets him pass before entering the room.
“Did you need something Johnny?”
“I want to go scavenge for clothes tomorrow,” he says
You hold your hand up cutting him off. “I need you here,” you interrupt.
“I want to help,” he says insistently.
“I know. How is your mom?” you ask busying yourself with sliding the pad of paper back into the desk drawer.
“She is good. She was happy to hear the news,” Jonny says hesitantly.
“Good. Those sweatpants were hard to look at,” you tell him giving him a meaningful look. “I know you want to go, but I need you here. That is final,” you tell him. The door opens and Negan and Deliverance enter. “Good night Johnny,” you say ending the conversation. As Johnny leaves you watch Negan walk to the decanter he keeps in his room sloshing brown liquid into a tumbler.
“Quite the revolving door of visitors,” he says bitterly.
You ignore his barb and bend down to scratch Deliverance behind the ears.
“I have your knife,” he says holding it out to you. It gleams and has no doubt been cleaned and polished.
“Thank you,” you respond awkwardly.
“I made Dave clean up the mess in Sherry’s room,” he says.
The thought of Sherry distraught and alone with Negan irritates you, but not before you remember Dave’s spinelessness almost got her raped. “Good,” you respond playing with the knife. “He should have stopped them or told someone,” you tell him clenching your jaw.
You remove your jacket and sit on the sofa. Negan swallows a large sip of brown liquor and you watch him. “Dwight is helping Amber and Sherry leave for the Hilltop tonight. He will find me in the morning and we will get you the list of people to send scavenging. He and Johnny will gather intel while the group is gone,” you finish waiting for his reaction.
“Okay,” he says before draining the last drops of the liquor from the glass.
Irritated at his lack of enthusiasm, you grab your jacket off the couch and begin searching dresser drawers for something to sleep in. As of this morning, he had no plan and nobody to trust. In less than 24 hours you have put a plan in motion and identified two potential allies. You find the items from your room as well as a more socks, sleeveless shirts, underwear and an oversized gray and white cardigan. “Also, no more kneeling,” you tell him as you sort through the drawer picking a pair of sweatpants, socks and a sleeveless shirt.
“Why not?” he responds crossly. You stare at him restraining yourself from knocking the tumbler from his hands.
“It makes me uncomfortable and soon nobody will kneel. Not to you and especially not to me,” you glare before slamming the door to the bathroom.
When you emerge from the bathroom the lights are off and Negan is already in bed. You set your clothes on the chair and walk towards the bed trying not to trip in the dark room. His bed is significantly larger than yours with soft sheets and a gray wool knit blanket. The thick layer of discomfort in the room is paralyzing. You are so tense every dip of the mattress is agony. Deliverance jumps up stretching out at the foot of the bed adding to the confining atmosphere. You close your eyes wishing you were anywhere but here.
Hours later you shiver realizing the blankets are no longer covering you. The sound of groaning has you quickly sitting up and reaching for your knife. You immediately realize Deliverance is no longer at the foot of the bed. As you scan the room you notice Negan thrashing in bed. You set your knife on the nightstand. You crouch over him, “Negan,” you whisper gently slapping his face. “Negan. Wake up,” you urge. In an instant you are flipped on your back his hands wrapped firmly around your throat. His grip is unyielding as you claw at his hands. Desperation rips through you as try and push him off. His eyes are in a daze as you uselessly push against his chest. “Negan,” you silently scream as tears fill your eyes. I don’t want to die. I am not done here yet. I didn’t even get to say bye, you think to yourself as black spots flash in front of you. The last sound you hear before losing consciousness is Deliverance barking.
The sensation of warm lips covering your mouth wakes you. Your eyelashes flutter open and you find yourself staring at Negan preparing to begin another round of chest compressions. You turn your head and Deliverance is inches from your face. Your breathing becomes frantic as the dam of emotions breaks. You almost died. Without goodbyes. Without explanations. Without finishing what you set out to do. Shock and fear crash over you like waves pulling you under the surface. You see Negan’s mouth moving, but you can’t hear the words. You clutch your throat as you struggle to breathe. You are losing control.
Negan scoops you into his arms and begins rubbing your back. His mouth is still moving, but you barely hear him. He holds you tightly and you focus on the rhythmic sensation of his hand moving up and down your skin. Your breaths become even as you close your eyes focusing on the motion, expelling all thoughts from head. A sob rips from your lips as the waves of emotion come pouring out of your eyes. Your heart wrenches as tears flood your face. You clench Negan tighter as your body shudders, a desperate reminder that you are not alone, no longer adrift in a sea threatening to drown you.
Midday sunlight warms your face as you lay cocooned in blankets. Your fingers caress Deliverance’s soft fur. Your eyes are heavy and you feel empty. It is not the emptiness that accompanies loneliness, it is the emptiness of a slate wiped clean. Minutes pass as you enjoy the peacefulness before sitting up in bed staring out the window. The sun is high and you told Dwight to find you so the two of you could tell Negan which Saviors to send scavenging. As you lunge out of bed, the door opens. You stand tangled in blankets, Deliverance at your feet.
Every thought vanishes as Negan stares at you with an expression you don’t recognize. “What is it?” you ask surprised to find your voice hoarse. Your first thought is that something happened to Ruby. Sherry. Amber. People you are now accountable for. “You look awful,” he says sorrowfully. You shake your head in disbelief. “Negan, what does it matter what I look like?” you scold in a harsh whisper as you walk towards the bathroom.
A face you don’t recognize stares back at you: blood-red eyes under swollen eyelids, pale skin, and thumb-print shaped bruising around your neck. You stare into the mirror stunned before turning to Negan. “You were hallucinating,” you tell him running your fingers gently along your neck.
“I need to talk to Dwight,” you say urgently.
“I took care of it,” he answers.
“What about Johnny?” you ask.
“He is on it,” he responds.
“Okay,” you say struggling to wrap the blanket around your shoulders.
“If you go out there looking like that right now, they might just riot,” he says pulling the blanket firmly around you.
“You say the most romantic things,” you croak rolling your eyes before walking back towards the bed. Negan disappears emerging minutes later with breakfast.
“You know I am not going to sit here all day doing nothing,” you rasp before taking a sip of hot coffee wincing as it burns your throat.
“I know. You did a lot yesterday,” he says finally acknowledging the progress you made."Do you ever stop Ronnie?" he asks with a distant expression.
"Run or die, Negan," you respond.
Some ideas are like sunflowers. They nestle under the soil and take root. They are watered and nurtured growing into seedlings that bloom like faces turned towards the sun in worship. Other ideas are like ivy. They take root and spread quickly, aggressive and invasive. They climb wrapping themselves around everything they touch. Ronnie’s plan was like a rootlet sprouting from the surface intent on winding itself around the Sanctuary and bringing it to its knees.
Veronica Grimes not only slept in but also spent the entire day in her room. She paces sliding on the white and gray cardigan pulling it tightly across her chest. She rolls the sleeves as if she has things to do, places to be, things to take care of, when in reality all she has is more pacing. She stares enviously as Deliverance paws at the door sprinting away when Negan returns. If you saw her sitting on the bed, hair tied back, knees pulled to her chest, sketching flowers on a notepad you might actually think the dead hadn’t risen. You might think she was just a beautiful young woman enjoying a cup of coffee while sketching on a lazy day. At least that is what Negan thought when found her lounging on their bed. The mattress dips as he sits. “How do you feel?” he asks.
“Okay,” you respond blankly your eyes never leaving the page. Your throat is raw and the bruising is tender, but the lingering guilt in Negan’s eyes is annoying. He reaches his hand towards your face and you involuntarily flinch, but don’t pull away.
“I don’t think you heard me yesterday, but I am sorry,” he says stroking your cheek.
“I know,” you answer eyes still lowered chastising yourself for enjoying the caress.
You move towards the center of the bed making room for him. He kicks off his shoes and slips out of his jacket leaving him in a white t-shirt. You sit side by side in silence as you continue sketching. “Do you have them often?” you ask avoiding his gaze.
“Not every night,” he assures. You look up at him and nod in understanding.
“I used to have nightmares,” you volunteer resuming your sketch. “Nothing that intense. I used to dream Carl and Judith were starving to death in front of me. I would be standing there and they would just scream and writhe. They never turned, they would just disintegrate like ash,” you finish softly.
“I am sorry,” he says.
“It was before the Saviors,” you tell him glancing up at him. You eye his profile and rest your head on his shoulder. “What are we doing?” you ask closing your eyes letting the warmth of his body seep into yours.
“Fixing things. Trying… trying to be better,” he says as if he is miles away. The comforting warmth of his body lulls you to sleep. Staring down at your lashes and the rise of fall of your chest he is reluctant to move you into a more comfortable position, so he sits on the edge ignoring the prickling feeling of his legs falling asleep wondering how he is ever going to let you go.
A knock at the door pulls you from a dream. Not a nightmare, but a dream. You were walking in a field with Deliverance barking happily. You swing the door open finding Johnny and Dwight on the other side. You glance out the window realizing the sun set hours ago.
“Ronnie, what happened to your throat?” Johnny asks grabbing your hands in concern.
“It’s nothing,” you tell him pulling away wrapping the cardigan around your neck trying to cover the worst of the bruising.
“What did you find out?” you ask closing the door behind them. They sit just as Negan walks into the room. Johnny and Dwight move to stand until Negan awkwardly says, “Sit … please,” walking towards you squeezing your shoulder gently. A gesture meant to reassure himself. With no more seats, he stands leaning against the wall, a silent observer.
“There is good news and bad news,” Johnny begins.
“Good news first,” you order.
“From what I gathered, a group of workers were already planning an escape,” he says glancing nervously at Negan.
You follow his gaze and realize despite Negan’s discussion with Johnny this morning unease still lingers. You stand walking towards Negan grabbing his hand leading him to the chair. He hides his surprise when you sit him in the chair and perch cross-legged on the wide armrest with his hand clasped in yours. Dwight stares openly and you meet his gaze. This was your plan, but you and Negan are both risking your lives.
“What were they going to do once they escaped?” you ask.
“About forty of them planned to head south. They didn’t arrive at the Sanctuary together, but many of them were on their way to check on family,” he says. You take a deep breath, eyes burning brightly. Johnny was one of those people. Guilt for a decision you didn’t make eats at you.
“What’s the bad news?” you continue.
“The remaining thirty have nowhere to go,” he says. “They have formed smaller groups, but they were just living on the road. No destination in mind. If we make them leave the Sanctuary, they will be back out there,” he summarizes. Silence passes as you consider the implications. The road can be just as dangerous for a group of travelers. Prey for the living and the dead.
“Would Rick help?” Dwight asks earnestly.
You stare passed him with a glazed expression. “I am not sure … in time ... maybe,” you say uncertainly.
Negan squeezes your hand before clearing his throat, “There is an outpost not far from here. I had planned on stationing sixty men there,” he says hesitant to contribute to the conversation.
“The outpost we cleared out a few weeks ago?” Dwight asks.
“That's the one,” Negan confirms.
“Who helped you clear it out? Anyone who is currently scavenging who might be a problem?” you ask.
“No. The fence kept most of the walkers out. It wasn’t a big job,” Dwight answers.
“Do you think people could live there?” you ask glancing around the room at each of them.
“We would need to fortify it. It has a small field and nobody knows where it is,” Johnny says his face in deep contemplation.
“When are the other Saviors coming back?” you ask Negan.
“I made some pretty outrageous demands. We should have two more days,” he says covering his mouth with his hand deep in thought.
“Okay. Two days. Dwight you prepare the travelers. Split up the supplies into thirds. We will spare what we can. Make sure they understand they can’t all leave at once. Make a schedule and find them a rendezvous point. We aren’t advertising a mass exodus,” you tell him with a nod.
“Johnny you prepare the people who are going to the outpost. Same thing. We will send them with supplies, but they need to understand they are on their own. Everything is on them. Eventually they will need a leader. Don’t make them decide now, but keep it in mind. I want to talk to both groups before they leave,” you tell him.
“What happens when the others come back?” Dwight asks.
“We give them a choice. They can join the group at the outpost or look for their families, but they need to understand things won’t be like they were before. If they can’t accept that, then I will deal with it,” you say with a wild look.
“We will deal with it,” Negan says.
You nod silently.
“We will deal with it,” you repeat glancing over at him squeezing his hand.
You wake early the next morning and shower luxuriating in the warm running water. Dressing quickly in your jeans, sleeveless shirt and motorcycle boots you grab you white leather jacket on your way out the door. You walk towards the marketplace and find a flurry of activity and excitement. Dwight is allocating weapons and supplies appropriately and there is no bickering. Unsurprisingly the travels are the first group ready to leave in search of their loved ones. After confirming their departures, rendezvous point and route with Dwight you ask him to gather them on the factory floor one last time.
“Ready?” you ask Negan as the two of you stride down the hall. You refuse to stand on the walkway instead using an overturned box to address the crowd forcing Negan to stand with you.
“After tomorrow there will be no more Sanctuary. There will be no more Workers. No more Saviors. No more Lieutenants. There will only be people, but I need you to be better than that. Don’t let what happened here poison your heart. Comfort one another. Protect one another. Support one another. Find your friends. Look for your families, but also realize, your family might be standing right next to you. Be better. Do better. Good Luck.”
You glance at Negan silently asking if there is anything he wants to say and when he shakes his head and steps down you jump into his arms. The excitement is infectious and you can’t believe it is happening.
The frenzy continues as the second group deliberates what to bring to the outpost and what to leave behind. Johnny and his mother are instrumental and when he approaches you and Negan asking if he can take some sheet metal you wholeheartedly support his decision and praise his proactive thinking. A small part of you enjoys seeing the Sanctuary literally torn apart. The sun has already set before the second group is finally ready to depart.
About thirty people are assembled on the factory floor as you stride towards the overturned box. Negan shakes his head refusing to stand with you this time, suddenly uncomfortable with the attention.
“Johnny tells me you are ready to depart,” you say with a gentle smile. “Your new home will be an outpost. The outside may look like the Sanctuary, but the inside and the community you build, that is up to you. I hope it is one where everyone fights, everyone contributes and everyone’s voice is heard. There will be hard decisions ahead, but I know it will be worth it,” you finish.
“And what if we don’t make it there?” a scared voice says from the crowd. A woman nearing sixty limps forward. You look around the room noticing many of those who have decided to stay are the elderly with a handful of adult children.
“You will make it. I will take you,” you say, your voice unwavering.
“Ronnie what are you doing?” Negan asks sternly tugging on your arm as you force yourself to continue to smile at the crowd.
“Look around Negan these people may not make it there,” you say through clenched teeth.
“Then I will come with you. If we run into trouble nobody needs to know we are taking them to an outpost. They will just be my new workers,” he says desperately.
“No,” you say fiercely. “Eventually you have to accept you aren’t the monster anymore," you say with a genuine smile. “Those other Saviors are going to be back and you might be the only person who can stall them. Dwight will stay with you. I will come back. I promise,” you say concern clouding your eyes.
“Take Dwight,” Negan says in a desperate tone. “Please,” he says beseechingly.
“Okay,” you say with a weak smile. “Deliverance stays with you,” you tell him resting your hand on his chest.
“Be careful,” he says cradling your face.
You stand on your tiptoes resting your forehead against his. “Don’t die,” you tell him before pulling away.
You quickly locate Johnny and in minutes you are in a truck leaving the Sanctuary. Dwight waves you through the gates as you make the nighttime trek to the outpost.
You grip the steering wheel your knuckles turning white. Keeping thoughts of Tanya at bay, you listen to the chatter of two older women, one of them Johnny’s mother. He sits in the front giving you concerned glances. In hours you find the outpost still clear of walkers. You quickly begin unloading passengers and supplies intent on getting back to Negan. Suddenly the sound of an arrow flying through the air has you hiding behind the truck for cover. The second arrow sinks into a tire deflating it seconds.
You eye the arrow and clench your jaw. “Guns down,” you whisper.
You step out from behind the truck and walk out into the open field.
“Daryl. It’s me,” you say hating how vulnerable you sound.
Your heart pounds in your chest as Daryl emerges from behind a tree.
Even in the dark he looks the same: greasy hair, brooding scowl, bare arms, except his bow is aimed directly at your chest.
Ronnie stood in front of Daryl completely vulnerable. There were only three men in her life who could hurt her and the last was standing in front of her with his weapon raised. Whether it was blind faith or stupidity, she knew Daryl would never hurt her, but she also never imagined Rick would look at her so disgusted it would sting more than the subsequent slap he delivered.
Ultimately, the world continued to turn as Ronnie and Daryl stood staring at each other in the night. She finally found her voice and said, “We should talk,” her voice thick. Daryl as if just realizing he had his bow aimed at the fierce young woman he had watched grow up and unwittingly fallen in love with, lowered his weapon.
“We should talk,” you repeat your voice insistent. Daryl crosses the field as Johnny walks to your side.
“Everything okay?” he asks.
“Yes,” you lie. “After you get everyone settled can you fix that tire? I need to get back,” you tell him in an adamant tone.
“No problem. I will do it now,” he says.
“Thank you,” you say grateful for the dependability he has demonstrated the last two days.
Daryl walks towards you and the two of you fall into step walking silently into the outpost. He suspiciously eyes the occupants of each room finding mostly old people as the able bodied unload supplies and patrol the perimeter You find an empty office furnished with just a table and walk in as Daryl closes the door behind him. You sit on the desk cross-legged back straight. An uncomfortable silence settles over the two of you while you decide where to even begin.
“Sherry made it the Hilltop,” Daryl says derailing your thoughts.
“And Amber?” you ask.
Daryl shakes his head avoiding your gaze. You press your lips together wondering if you should have been more sympathetic.
“Sherry told us everything,” he says in a rough voice. You are torn between relief and anger. “Told us you aren’t a mother, that you were planning something,” he says slowly setting his bow on the table.
“We gave them a choice,” you begin bluntly. “Negan announced that Workers would no longer be required to wear gray sweatpants. Saviors who had an issue with it were sent scavenging. The people here have nowhere to go. A larger group left earlier today. We gave them what we could. They are traveling south looking for family,” you summarize with a distant stare rubbing your arm. The earlier elation of disbanding the Sanctuary is fading.
“Are you going back?” Daryl asks.
His question catches you by surprise and you stare at him with an incredulous expression. “Those other Saviors will be back. I will give them the same choice. I will make them understand retribution isn’t an option,” you say fiercely.
“Will you kill Negan?” Daryl asks crossing his arms over his chest.
“No,” you answer refusing to break his gaze.
“That’s right because you are his wife. You were always too naive,” Daryl says leaning against the wall.
Anger, not hurt, stirs in your blood. Outrage leaves you breathless, your heart beating like a drum in your chest. “Naive?” you ask in a dangerously soft voice tilting your head shocked that Daryl would have the guts to accuse you of being naïve.
“I didn’t realize I was being naive when I volunteered to go with Negan to save Rick, Michonne, Carl and Judith. I didn’t realize I was naive when I watched Tanya get ripped apart by walkers after delivering her baby on the side of the road. I didn’t think I was being naive when Negan asked me to be his wife so we could tear the Sanctuary to the ground. I put this plan together and I put my life on the line because it is worth it, so don’t act like I am some wide-eyed school girl because I assure you I have thought this through and am willing to see it to the end,” you say eyes blazing.
You push yourself off of the desk pacing with your arms folded across your chest. You breathing is frenzied and you try and calm down. Your heart begins to resume its normal rhythm as you lean your arms against the desk staring at the intricate wood grain.
“You were never going to talk to Rick,” you say sadly your statement piercing the silence. “This is not about me being naïve or me being Negan’s wife. I will make it easy for you,” say pain filling your voice. “You were my first love, Daryl, but you were never going to talk to Rick. Not because you were scared of Rick, but because you were scared of being with me. We were always going to be stolen kisses, stolen moments. When you came to the Sanctuary, I thought you were there to save me, but you would have gone for anyone. That’s just the kind of person you are,” you say clenching your jaw trying to hold back tears. “I used to think we were understood, but unsaid. Maybe we were and it was good. It was nice,” you say with a weak smile as you wipe away tears. “But now too much has happened and it isn’t enough anymore. Every day could be our last and I need more than you can give and that’s okay. It was a good love,” you say in a soft voice.
When minutes pass in silence, you aren’t surprised. Being his was more than Daryl could give. You wrap your arms around him pulling him close to you burying your face in his neck. “I am sorry,” he whispers sadly. “I know,” you answer holding each other as minutes pass.
Eventually you gently grab his arms staring at him, “I am going to back to the Sanctuary. I will give those men a choice and if I need to, I will do what needs to be done. Come with me?” you ask hopefully. Daryl nods his head just slightly and you smile. Your heart is still fragile, but you resolve to only ever move forward.
When you emerge from the room, Johnny quickly locates you. “Truck's ready,” he says. “Dwight?” you ask. “Ready too,” Johnny responds.
“You have your bike?” you ask Daryl.
He nods and even though you don’t know what you will find back at the Sanctuary this moment is everything you had ever hoped for.
“Johnny, we might not make it back,” you tell him holding his forearm firmly. “You need to keep these people safe. They look up to you,” you urge.
“We haven’t officially picked a leader yet,” he says confused.
“I know who I would vote for,” you say squeezing his arm.
“See you later,” you say before striding towards the door.
You meet Dwight outside. After a tense staring contest between Dwight and Daryl, you finally decide you can’t waste any more time. Technically, you have one more day, but unease has been nagging at you all day. You, Dwight and Daryl drive out in formation. Dwight, still dressed as a Savior leads the group. Your black truck follows trailed by Daryl, allowing for the element of surprise if necessary.
You drive through the pitch-black black night speeding towards the Sanctuary. Unease gives way to apprehension and you are certain something is not right. As you pull up to the Sanctuary you notice vehicles parked in front. You silently pull up to the gravel road stepping out of the car trying desperately to ignore the chill in the air.
The three of you crouch behind the black truck. “They weren’t supposed to be back yet,” you whisper.
“They can’t have been here long,” Dwight responds.
Daryl checks his bow and you assess the weapons you have between the three of you. You take a deep breathing forcing yourself to focus. “There are at least twenty guys in there. We are outgunned and outmanned. We need to get closer. Whatever lie Negan told them, they aren’t going to believe for long. We get closer, assess the situation and if necessary create a distraction,” you tell them.
Dwight nods and Daryl simply loads his bow. The three of you stalk silently towards the Sanctuary finding it eerily quiet. Walking down the empty halls you hear voices from the factory floor. Pressing yourself against the wall you find a group of Saviors standing in a circle.
You kneel down to get a better look. Your stomach immediately rolls. Negan’s right eye is swollen and purple as blood drips into his eye. Dried blood stains his nose and mouth. One of them must have broken his nose. His arms are marred with vicious red cuts from knives. His fingertips are bloody and he struggles to remain upright.
You remain crouched, frozen as one of the Saviors speaks. “Where are they Negan?” he taunts. “Where are our little worker bees?” he says eliciting a laugh from the group. “Do you really expect me to believe everyone just left with supplies without you knowing? Maybe you were too busy fucking that bitch to realize you were slipping?” he says sliding a knife under Negan’s neck.
“Answer me,” he shouts.
“Don’t know,” Negan mutters.
“BULLSHIT,” the Savior screams. “We are going to find those people and bring them back, kicking and screaming. You think I am going to go back to doing my own laundry, cooking my own meals, cleaning the shitter?” he laughs.
“I am going to bring them back and they are going to wish you were still alive. You and your rules. Pathetic. We will take what’s ours,” he shouts as others roar in agreement. “Think of it this way. You will be a martyr,” he says with a smile removing his gun from his holster.
Your heart beats frantically. They are going to kill him. You catch Daryl’s eye and motion to the walkway. He steps out of the shadow vanishing. Dwight stares at you with a shocked expression. You clench your jaw refusing to panic. “Dwight,” you whisper holstering your gun. His head swings towards yours. “Distraction,” you tell him. He shakes his head. “Do it,” you glare.
The Savior has his gun next to Negan’s temple just as Dwight emerges from the hall. “Well look who I found,” he says his arm clasped tightly around your throat as you struggle against him. Everyone freezes as you dramatically flail against his grip.
“Where have you been Dwighty boy?” one of them asks suspiciously.
“Where do you think? Tracking down this bitch,” Dwight barks. You elbow him hard. “She is a feisty one,” Dwight adds pretending he is having difficulty restraining you.
“Well this just got interesting,” the Savior responds.
He grabs you forcing you to your knees in front of Negan. You keep your wrists together pretending you are restrained. “Tell us where the others are or we kill her,” he says cocking his gun.
You stare at Negan clenching your jaw not daring to look towards the overhead walkway. You stare at him intensely, praying he trusts you.
“How about this?” the Savior leans down standing just behind Negan. “Tell us where the others are and we won’t make you watch as we pass her around before slitting her throat,” he whispers.
You didn’t think it was possible with his face bloodied and bruised, but Negan’s expression becomes even more murderous as he tips his head forward in defeat before slamming it back into the Saviors head. An arrow protrudes from a nearby Savior and all hell breaks loose. Dwight starts shooting as you roll towards Negan pulling your knife out working on his restraints.
“I told you I would come back,” you whisper amidst the gunfire.
Arrows fly through the air each one landing with a sickening thud. You focus on cutting the rope binding Negan’s hands. The skin above his wrists is raw and bloody. Dwight ducks for cover while Daryl picks off Saviors from above. The element of surprise wanes and the tide quickly turns. Finally freeing him from his restraints, you wrap your arms around Negan’s chest and drag him behind the overturned box you stood on just hours ago. You fire your revolver drawing a group of Saviors away from Dwight. They fall to the floor and begin to twitch. In minutes they will be standing, hungry for human flesh. You holster your revolver and grip your knife ready to finish them off when a dirty hand grabs you from behind covering your mouth and hauling you to your feet. A silent scream passes your lips, as the barrel of a gun is jammed in your back. In an instant, a low growl reverberates ending in a vicious snarl. Deliverance charges and when your attacker removes the gun from your back to take aim at the wild coyote you shove his arm, forcing his shot wide. She pushes him to the ground landing on his chest before you sink to your knees and stab him in the head.
You scan the room; Dwight quickly walks towards you and Daryl is descending the walkway. Running back towards Negan you find him unconscious and bleeding from a gunshot wound. You press your hands to his leg, blood coating your fingers as you try and staunch the bleeding. “Daryl!” you scream and in seconds he is at your side. He takes his belt off quickly makes a tourniquet fastening it around Negan’s leg. Frantic you turn to Dwight, “Do we have any medical supplies?” you shout. He shakes his head staring at Negan’s bruised body, blood pooling on the floor collecting in a slick puddle.
“We need to get him out of here. He needs help,” you yell scrambling to your knees. You wrap Negan’s arm around your shoulder trying to lift him to his feet. When he doesn’t budge, Daryl does the same and the two of you manage to hoist him off the floor, his feet trailing behind him.
Dwight leads holding doors open, gun raised as you and Daryl drag Negan outside. While crossing the gravel driveway, you notice a figure emerge. You hand shakes as you draw your gun trying to keep it from slipping out of your blood soaked hand. “Who’s out there?” you scream trying not to stagger under Negan’s weight.
“Ronnie it’s me,” a voice answers.
“Carl what are you doing here?” you ask close to tears as you continue to make your way to the truck. “Maggie sent a messenger to Alexandria,” he answers his eyes widening when he sees Negan. Negan’s normally imposing stature is covered in bruises, cuts and he is soaked in blood. You don’t know how long he was tortured for before you arrived.
“Carl he needs help,” you beg.
“Bring him to Alexandria,” Carl says helping you close the door after laying Negan down on the backseat of the truck.
“I don’t ... Rick..,” you begin your thoughts scrambled at the sight of Negan bleeding out before your eyes.
“Ronnie!” Carl shouts. “Trust me!” he says shaking your shoulders.
You wipe away your tears, unconsciously smearing Negan’s warm blood across your face before you open the driver side door. “Dwight, tell Johnny what happened. Daryl and Carl with me,” you say your voice breaking as Deliverance jumps into the truck faithfully planting herself in the passenger seat.
The drive to Alexandria is harrowing. You glance back at Negan expecting him to turn any second, but instead he is just pale. Thoughts of Tanya creep into your head, but when tears blur your vision and you almost veer off the road you tell yourself to focus on Carl’s taillights. He tears through the open road on a motorcycle, Daryl following behind you. Carl’s taillights disappear when he speeds ahead to order them to open the gates.
You don’t stop when you pass the gate. Instead you drive through the middle of town screeching to a halt in front of the building that used to contain medical supplies. Carl holds the door open as you jump out of the truck running to the other side ready to drag Negan out of the backseat. Lights begin to illuminate as residents wake to the sound of engines roaring in the dead of night.
In seconds, Rick is sprinting towards the truck hand hovering over his gun. Carl, realizing you are struggling, runs to the truck just as Daryl catches up to you and jumps off his bike. The three of you manhandle Negan out of the back setting him on the grass. When Rick reaches the truck he stops in his tracks immediately recognizing Negan. He runs his hand through his hair. “Jesus, Ronnie. What happened?” he asks.
“Help him!” you yell your voice hoarse as Carl and Daryl pick him up carrying him into the house. Rick tries to keep you from following them, but you slip out of his grasp. Your jacket is slick with blood. It is smeared across your face and congealed in your hair. Your hands are stained red. Townspeople begin to emerge from their houses alarmed as you continue to sob loudly. “He is dying! Help him,” you shout tears streaming down your face staggering towards the house.
Hysterical and screaming Rick tries to restrain you. Michonne appears and between the two of them they manage to pin your shoulders to the ground as you thrash against them. Deliverance begins to howl and her keening is the last sound you hear before Michonne knocks you out.
Hours later you wake in your old room with a throbbing headache. Michonne sits in a chair by your side with her eyes closed. It is still night and you feel eerily calm. When you glance around the room, Michonne’s eyes open and she is immediately alert.
“Michonne…” you begin in a raspy voice.
She sits on the bed handing you a glass of water. “He’ll live,” she says watching you thoughtfully. You swallow the cool water, but it does little to soothe your raw throat. Draining the glass, you glance at her again. “He’ll live,” she repeats gently pushing the hair away from your face. You cling to thought as sleep pulls you back under.
Sunshine flits through the curtains and you awake in an uncomfortably hot room. When you open your eyes it is Carl who is seated in the chair by your bed. “Carl,” you say wincing at the grating pain in your throat when you try and talk.
“Hey Ronnie,” he says walking over towards your bed sitting next to you. There are so many things you want to say, so many things you want to tell him, things you had wished you had said sooner, but it hurts too much to talk. You lean your head on his shoulder uttering, “Thank you,” in a raspy voice knowing the two words could never express how much he means to you.
What Michonne failed to mention was that Rick insisted Negan remain in jail, not that it mattered considering Ronnie hadn’t left her room in days. Since her return, it rained continuously, the weather a reflection of her inner turmoil, as if the fates were finally paying a balance that was past due. Ronnie spent her days sitting in the armchair staring out at the rain. To anyone looking in, it might have looked like she was pinning over Negan, but in actuality she was struggling to reconcile her lost sense of purpose and a house that no longer felt like a home.
On the third day, when Carl could no longer stand idly by, he brought Ruby to Ronnie’s room. Carl had always been better with children and for that reason he casually held the small child instead of thrusting her into Ronnie’s arms. “She is doing a lot better,” Carl said seated on Ronnie’s bed holding Ruby in a position that allowed her to observe her surroundings. Ruby glanced around the room making cooing noises before her eyes landed on Ronnie. She fell silent as if realizing Ronnie was not her mother, but still someone of importance. Ronnie, not realizing she was glaring at the infant, continued to stare cataloging all of the moments of Ruby’s life Tanya would never witness. Lori’s death had long passed, but Ronnie still considered herself lucky to have had a mother for longer than anyone in the room.
Carl, deciding he was at his wits end, stood passing the baby into Ronnie’s arms before telling her he would be back. Ronnie cradled the baby to her chest, surprised when the wave of nausea never stirred. Ruby’s skin was soft, no longer slick, a sensation Ronnie associated with Tanya’s blood. Through some answered prayer, Ruby fell asleep against Ronnie’s chest and Ronnie’s heart ached at the thought of a future that was markedly uncertain for both of them.
x x x
When Negan woke in a cool dark room his first thought was that he was back at the Sanctuary, however the vertical jail bars reminded him that he was in fact not at the Sanctuary, but a jail cell in Alexandria. Fading in and out of consciousness his only memory was hysterical sobbing, but before he could determine whether the anguished screams were from his nightmares or actual events, Rick appeared.
“We need to talk,” Rick says in his striking slow drawl.
“Agreed,” Negan says standing leaning against the wall arms draped casually over his chest, Deliverance stirring at his feet.
“What happened?” Rick asks leaning against the bars.
“I gave Ronnie a choice: lieutenant or wife. She picked lieutenant. She was damn good at it too. She went on a run and saved one of my men. Pushed him into the river only to drag him out,” Negan says with a smile.
He stares at the corner of his cell coming to terms with the next part. “I had Ronnie drive my pregnant wife to the Hilltop. I sent them out in the middle of the night. Just Ronnie and Deliverance,” Negan says gesturing to the dog at his feet. “Tanya never made it. She went into labor and Ronnie delivered the baby on the side of the road. Walkers must have found them, because when Ronnie came back to the Sanctuary she was covered in blood. Soaked head to toe,” he says clenching his jaw.
Negan stares at Rick. “When Ronnie brought Ruby back it was chaos. I knew I couldn’t keep a baby in the Sanctuary. Ronnie knew it too, but she was so damned determined to make me accountable,” he says shaking his head. “I guess she thought I should be the kind of father you are,” Negan says.
“We brought her here and Ronnie convinced me Ruby would be safe. I didn’t know she was going to claim her as her own. On the way back to the Sanctuary, we got into it. I asked her ‘if she was so smart what would she have done?’ and she said “I would have found a partner, an ally” and went on and on about finding common ground, fighting for each other and becoming a family. I decided things needed to change and later that night I asked her to be my wife. I told her we would tear it down and figure the rest out later,” he says despondently.
“It was a good plan. She came up with the entire thing. Found us people to trust, got Sherry out, got a lot of people out. You should be proud of her, Rick,” he says trailing off.
“People still remember what you did here,” Rick says accusingly.
“I am sure they do,” Negan says.
A seemingly endless silence settles over the room until Negan says, “I love her,” shattering Rick's world. Rick runs his hand through his hair pacing the room.
“You ever have someone save you? I don’t mean your life. I mean when you are so far gone you don’t think you are ever coming back? I don’t know when it happened. I am not telling you this so you spare my life. You do what you have to do. I am telling you this because I think she loves me too and if you can’t live with that, then you mine as well kill me, because I am never letting her go,” he says sternly.
x x x
The next day the sun peeked through the clouds and Ronnie decided she needed to visit a familiar face. Packing Ruby in the truck, she drove through the gate leaving Alexandria before most people had risen. When she pulled off the highway and neared the outpost, she felt a flicker of happiness. She parked the truck and quickly scanned the area before clutching Ruby protectively to her chest.
Approaching the outpost cautiously, she shouted “Johnny?” in an uncertain voice, one hand hovering over her revolver. Johnny’s face peered out from the door with a smile. “Ronnie?” he asks unable to disguise the disbelief in his voice.
In minutes, you are crammed in a small room inside the outpost with most of its residents. Some of them greet you, but your arrival is largely eclipsed by Ruby’s presence. For many, it has been years since they have seen a baby. As she is passed around, kissed, snuggled and hugged you and Johnny walk around the perimeter.
“How are things?” you ask amazed that less than a week ago these people were packing to leave the Sanctuary forever.
“Okay for now. Dwight and Sherry have been helping. The people here, they are too old to fight,” he says sadly.
You press your lips into a thin line thinking about the wrinkled hands and lined faces currently fussing over Ruby. “Escape routes. More than one and for more than just walkers. You need early detection too. That way you can run instead of fight,” you advise.
He shakes his head. “You know there is room for you here. You and Ruby,” he says gesturing towards the one story building.
A weak smile tugs at your lips. “This isn’t my home,” you say sadly, “but I am happy to help,” you add wrapping your arm around his.
“Your friend was here by the way,” he says.
“My friend?” you ask with a confused expression.
“Black braids, sword, glare that could freeze ice,” he says with a laugh.
“Michonne,” you say with a smile.
“She was at the Sanctuary picking up the supplies you left. Stopped by the outpost. Didn’t stay long,” he says with obvious disappointment.
“She never mentioned it,” you say casually, wondering why Michonne would bother stopping by the outpost.
With no sense of urgency and Ruby precariously tucked in the backseat, you lazily make the drive back to Alexandria. When the gates open, you pull into the town and grab a tired Ruby walking towards the house. You watch as Rick storms across the yard gun in hand. Michonne trails after him with an angry expression. You pass Ruby to the nearest townsperson asking if they can put her down for a nap, before silently following Michonne wondering what is happening.
You slip into the house where the jail cell is located and find Rick and Michonne arguing.
“You shouldn’t do this,” she urges.
“You! You of all people are telling me not to do this? You know what he did!” Rick hisses accusingly, arms flailing erratically.
Your eyes scan the room and suddenly meet Negan’s. It is the first time you have seen him since Daryl and Carl carried him into the infirmary.
“She would never bring him back here if he were still a threat,” Michonne bites back grabbing Rick’s arm.
Without thinking, you step out of the shadows. You are eerily calm like a tranquil ocean. “You are going to kill him,” you say in an even voice. Realizing they aren’t alone Rick and Michonne spin towards you. “You are going to kill him,” you repeat softly.
“Ronnie …” Negan begins.
“No,” you shout outraged aiming your gun at Rick.
“You are our leader here. People look up to you. People trust you. They will follow your example. If you let him live, they will learn to forgive him,” you say reproachfully. “I know you went to the Sanctuary. I know you went to the outpost too,” you continue staring at Michonne.
“There are Workers who are free. There are Saviors who are free. People died, but I would still do it all over again,” you say your voice breaking, the revolver punctuating every word as you begin to unravel.
“Ronnie put the gun down,” Rick orders. When you don’t move he reaches for you slowly, “Ronnie we both know you aren’t going to shoot me,” he says.
You close your eyes as waves of pain crash over you, tears filling your eyes. It is as if a piece of you finally clicks into place. “You are right,” you say turning the gun towards your temple.
“Ronnie! Don’t!” Negan shouts frantically pulling at the bars.
“This is the new world. The dead have risen. Herds of corpses terrorize the living and we are all infected. I can live with that world. I have been living in that world, but what I can’t live in is a world without redemption. I can’t do it. I won’t live in a world where we can’t be better than we were,” you say tears streaming down your face the barrel pressed firmly against the side of your head.
The barrel feels strangely cold pressed against your temple. The world slows and voices become muted. You scan the room and see Michonne wide eyed and frozen, Rick slowly inching towards you while shouting, and Negan yelling while pulling at the bars. You blink as seconds stretch on for minutes. The scene is eerily silent, discordant with the frantic faces around you. A tugging sensation suddenly pulls you back into the moment and you glance down finding Deliverance pulling at your boot.
Jerked back to the present you hear Rick begging, “Veronica, put the gun down,” approaching you with open and outstretched hands. You hear bars groan as Negan tries to pry them from the wall, “Ronnie! Stop!” he shouts. You stare at Michonne your heart cracking into a thousand pieces. It shatters and you wonder how you will every put it back together. Still stunned you look down again Deliverance relentlessly yanking at your boot. You turn her name over in your head.
Deliverance, the act of being rescued or set free. This isn’t the answer, you think to yourself sinking to your knees as the revolver falls to the floor and you wrap your arms around her. She licks your face and suddenly Rick is on top of you wrapping his arms around both of you.
“Ronnie. I was wrong. I was wrong,” he repeats pulling the back of your neck towards him resting his forehead against yours. His tears mix with yours as he continues to apologize your entire body shuddering at what you almost did. You feel another set of arms around you and the light sensation of braids tickling your arms.
“Michonne…” you begin to apologize.
“Shhh,” she shushes you wiping tears away from your face. “It’s over. It is done,” she says stroking your cheek as they burn with shame.
“Dad? What’s going on?” a worried voice asks from the entryway. Carl, you think to yourself your body succumbing to another round of tears.
Rick stands and slowly walks over to Carl patting his shoulder as if reassuring him he is really there. “It’s nothing. It’s fine,” he says wiping the tears from his face patting him on the back again before deciding to pull him into a hug. Michonne glances at Rick and nods before turning towards the cell and unlocking the door.
Negan rushes out dropping to his knees in front of you. “Ronnie. Baby, don’t ever go that again,” he says wiping away your tears with his thumbs cradling your face.
“I am sorry…” you apologize unable to look him in the eyes.
“Hey,” he says gently forcing you to look at him. “You scared the shit out of me. I can’t do this without you,” he says his voice unsteady. You stare into his dark bottomless eyes.
“I went crazy when I thought you were dying,” you say with a strangled cry an embarrassed smile tugging at your lips. “When did this happen?” you ask emotions rolling inside of you.
“I don’t know,” he answers shaking his head.
“I always thought you would explain everything to Rick and I would just go back to Daryl, but I can’t. I can’t go back and I can only move forward and I can’t seem to move forward without you,” you say closing your eyes as fresh tears pour down your face. He pulls you against him running his hand down your back. “I love you,” you whisper as fear and love threaten to tear you apart. It is terrifying. It is loving someone in a world where they could be ripped away from you. It is finding the courage to step into an unknown future and risking who you are for the sake of who you can be together.
“I love you too, Ronnie. We will figure it out,” he says with a chuckle. You smile wiping away tears. He stands extending his hand helping you up.
Carl eyes you warily and you don’t doubt he has pieced together what has happened. He sprints into your arms practically tackling you to the ground. “I love you so much Carl,” you tell him. You squeeze his shoulders grimacing at the awkwardness, but deciding life is too short for things to remain unsaid. “I love you too, Ronnie,” he answers and you smile through tears of happiness.
“This is stupid,” you tell Michonne sliding the white camisole over your head. She pushes back a stray hair from your face before smoothing out your top. You tuck it into the front of your jeans and slide on your white motorcycle jacket.
“Humor him,” she says.
“You should be up there with me,” you tell her with a raised eyebrow.
“Don’t try and rope me into this,” she laughs.
“Michonne, why are we doing this?” you ask in a serious tone.
“It matters to him,” she insists.
“It isn’t like anyone is going to be there. Only Father Gabriel will know,” you counter.
“Ronnie,” she says resting her hands on your shoulder. “You are Rick’s first child. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but there was a time where you were his little girl. No Carl. No Judith. Just you. His most prized possession…” she says.
“I know,” you sigh. “There is just so much to do,” you say anxiously.
“Part of having the courage to love someone is making time to do the things we did before the world fell apart,” she tells you smoothing your hair and adjusting your choker.
You press your lips together pulling her into a hug. “I still say you should be up there with me,” you whisper before she laughs.
You and Michonne walk to the small chapel. Rick waits outside pacing anxiously. “Ready?” he asks smiling at you and then at Michonne. He is beaming and you smile at Michonne. If the ceremony makes him happy even for just one minute, it is worth it. He has done so much for everyone.
“Ready,” you answer.
Rick opens the door gesturing for Michonne to walk down the aisle. She bashfully walks ahead of you and Rick. “She looks good walking down the aisle,” you tease resting your hand on Rick’s arm.
“Yeah she does,” Rick says with a distant smile. You smile smugly behind her back before looking at the end of the aisle. Negan stands with Carl at his side Father Gabriel in the center. After you told Negan you loved him in front of Rick, he insisted the two of you marry right away. To your surprise, Negan wholeheartedly agreed and you found yourself fighting a losing battle.
I never expected a wedding. I never wanted to wear a stupid white dress, Rick walking me down the aisle, flowers. Your own words ring in your ears and as you stare at Negan you realize you didn’t have the courage to admit you might want those things. Happiness blooms inside of you and in this moment, the world could be tearing itself apart, but in a chapel in Alexandria love surrounds you, protects you and watches over you.
You lay in bed staring at Negan’s profile, his salt and pepper beard, dark lashes, and laugh lines around his eyes. He begins to stir and his fingers gently trail down your spine. You smile resting your head on his chest running your fingers through his coarse chest hair. “I was thinking,” you begin hesitantly.
“Hmm,” he says sleepily.
“Johnny could really use our help,” you continue.
“Can we talk about this later?” he says turning over puling your back against his chest nuzzling your neck.
“They have supplies but they need a sustainable food source. We could probably transplant some of the vegetable shrubs. I am sure some of the residents would really love to meet Father Gabriel and you could help Johnny set traps to keep away walkers,” you finish.
“Ronnie, you are killing me. Don’t you ever stop?” Negan says sleepily.
“I am not killing you,” you say softly turning in his arms. You rub your lips against his. “I saved you and we are going to do this. We are going to do better. Be better. Run or Die, Negan,” you say excitedly before crushing your mouth against his.
Fun Fact: I may have included some of my wedding vows in this chapter. I couldn't help it.