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In Which Negan Decides to Play at Parenting

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               “Rick, Rick, Rick… I think it’s damn near time you and I had a little talk,” Negan drawled with an almost amused smile. Behind him was Carl, his shoulders a bit hunched, and Rick’s eyes of course were on his son and not the threat looming before him with that damn bat rested on his shoulder. “You wanna take a little guess about how I got your little fucked up serial killer of a son here with me?”

               “I told you, it was my idea, not—” Carl started but was cut off when Negan turned, pointing Lucille at the young man.

               “Now I do not think I was asking you, was I?” Negan questioned, “And I have definitely heard enough of your mouth running for one day. Let the grown-ups talk.”

               “I don’t know,” Rick said, his voice calm as it could be given the situation, just slightly strained with the stress the situation was causing. Michonne lingered close behind him, Gabriel shifting a little farther back. There were a few others, a defense should something happen, but the majority of the population had fallen back. They didn’t want to present too much of a threat to the Saviors, not right now… It seemed Rick’s son had had a different idea about that, though.

               “Well then, let me just tell you. Your son is a regular suicide bomber, Rick! One of my trucks get back and the boy is in there with a machine gun. Real fucking adorable. Except he managed to pick off two of my men—do you see my problem here?” Negan questioned, striding forward a few steps as Carl remained still with the line of Saviors. “Look, I get it if you can’t control everyone here. Not all of us can command the respect of a goddamn leader. But not controlling your own son? That’s just sad.”

               Rick didn’t seem to know what to say to that, his eyes going to his son. Carl tried to convey an apology of some kind, silently. He certainly looked guilty.

               “I am sure we can fix this,” Michonne said in light of Rick’s continued silence, “We have everything you asked for… And more. Whatever you want, we can get it, we—”

               “I do not believe I was talking to you, Miss Samuri,” Negan cut her off with a raised brow, “But I think we all know I get whatever I want with or without this kid fucking up.” He jerked a thumb at Carl before clicking his tongue. “Nah, that is not how this works. But we will go ahead and have an early pickup for what we’re due. It’s the fucking least you can do. And while that’s being done, Rick and I can chat.”

               Everyone was still for a moment, which didn’t seem to sit well with Negan who banged Lucille against the metal of a car, making even Carl jump.

               “Did I stutter? Let’s get a move on, dammit!” Negan ordered. That got people moving, albeit a bit begrudgingly on the side of the Alexandrians. Negan kept forward, grabbing Rick by the shoulder, making him stumble a bit before he fell into step with the man. “Hey, serial killer, you too—get your ass in gear.”

               Michonne gave Carl a warning look as he hurried to catch up, one that said his recklessness would be discussed later. If later came, Carl thought as he followed the procession into the nearest house. It happened to be their make shift clinic, and with a hissed ‘go’ from Rick, the current medic hurried out. Carl held the door for him, and then slowly closed it, feeling like he was sealing up a fate he didn’t want. Negan had already made himself comfortable, leaning against the sick cot with Lucille tapping gently against one of the wooden legs of the thing.

               Rick stood to one side, his arms crossed, and weight shifted to his left side. Uncomfortable, but trying not to show it. Carl didn’t move away from the door, that was until Negan looked to him and pointed—with Lucille—to the chair meant for the medic. Not seeing much of a choice, Carl went and sat down, wondering if he could snag another bandage while he was here, his own gone since Negan’s order to remove it. Instead, his hair acted like an eyepatch, but it irritated the area in a way. Right now, though, it wasn’t his biggest concern.

               “You know, I really hate having to kill you people, Rick. I do,” Negan said, tone almost reluctant, “But you make it hard—you and your son. I thought we were done with these childish shenanigans.”

               “We are, this was a mistake,” Rick told him firmly, shooting Carl a look, half concerned and half angry. Carl couldn’t blame him for being angry. He’d caused this, hadn’t thought of the consequences if he couldn’t go through with killing Negan… He could have, too. He could have, at least, tried harder.

               “You people seem to make a whole lotta goddamn mistakes, Rick. A whole fucking lot. Usually you’re to blame, too. You get these big ideas and your kid is turning out just as stupid as you. Look, I get it—you’ve got your hands full juggling around the brats and your two precious gifts from God Almighty but come on.” Negan let out a groan, exasperated, knocking Lucille against the leg of the bed again. Carl felt uneasy. “You know I can’t just let this go, Ricky boy. I’d love to, really. I like the little serial killer—hell, I even fed him for you—but my guys aren’t too happy that we’re two down. So you and I are going to come to a little agreement before any of us leave this lovely little shithole. Got it?”

               “What exactly did you have in mind…?” Rick asked, voice a little rough and he cleared his throat. Negan gave him a small grin.

               “I was hoping you’d ask. Y’see, my first idea—that’s right Rick, I’m giving you options so you better be real fucking grateful—is that we play this in the traditional way. Eye for an eye. Your son took two of my people, I let Lucille here have two of yours. It’ll be just like old times, we can even have you all march your asses out to the woods.” Negan was grinning as color drained out of Rick’s face. Carl’s mouth felt like it was filled with cotton. This was his fault. Two people were going to die because of him. “Hell, I’ll even let you pick if you want. I’m just that generous today.”

               “You said options,” Rick spit out, trying not to have a temper with the unstable man. It’d only cause more trouble, and his son had already done enough of that for the whole week… “I don’t want any more deaths, Negan. Please.”

               “I am so fucking tickled by your initiative. Really,” Negan chuckled before pushing himself away from the cot and taking a few steps to stop right next to Carl. “The way I see it, this was just all a big misunderstanding made by one little idiot. So we can solve it with one little—”

               “No!” Rick shouted, looking ready to jump on the other man, but Negan raised Lucille to settle the end of the bat against Rick’s chest.

               “Hold your goddamn horses and let me finish before you shit yourself, Rick. I’m not going to acquaint the kid’s head to the pavement today. I told you I was feeling generous, didn’t I?”

               There was silence between the two, Rick’s eyes narrowed in a glare and Negan with a shit eating grin. And Carl, still sitting and pale and feeling a little nauseous when Negan’s free hand landed on his head.

               “Like I said, seems like you’ve got your hands full playing little league leader here. And your kid is suffering in his fucking manners for it. Turning out like a psychopath. But I’m one of those that thinks children are the future, and I was always an advocate for sending the shitty ones off to school. Mainly to get them away from shitty parents,” Negan noted, the last statement said harder as the smile fell to a glare at Rick.

               “You can’t—”

               “Here’s the deal Rick. Either Carl comes to stay with good ole Uncle Negan for while—you know, as long as I see necessary—or you pull two names out of your ass and we play ball.” Negan lets Lucille fall back against his shoulder, free hand still on Carl’s head like a weight. And Carl already knew what his dad was going to choose. What he had to choose.

               “I want to be able to see him,” Rick said, his voice breaking though his stance stayed strong. Like this wasn’t tearing him apart. “I want to know he’s safe.”

               “This isn’t exactly the time for you to start giving demands, you realize,” Negan said lowly, a smirk at his lips. “Our little Carl here will be as safe as he lets himself be. He jumps in front of a fucking chomper, I’m not taking the blame. If he behaves, we won’t have a problem. This is about learning respect. A damn good lesson for both of you.”

               Rick’s eyes meet Carl’s one. He understood and tried to make that clear.

               “So Carl, are you going to behave so your daddy here isn’t pissing himself with worry as soon as we leave?” Negan questioned, eyes glancing from Rick down to the boy. Carl’s jaw set, trying not to let any of the fear show… He’d done enough of that earlier. Negan raised a dark brow at him. “My questions do require answers now, Carl. Dunno how your pussy of a father plays it, but—”

               “Yes. I’ll behave,” Carl growled out, jerking his head away much to Negan’s amusement.

               “Well shit, that’s a start,” he chuckled before shoving the bat into Carl’s hands, “And as a reward you get to hold on to my darlin’ here. Get her nice and safe to the car, and maybe I won’t make you go to bed without dinner for your goddamn attitude. Go on. Go. And don’t get anymore of those fucked up ideas in your head.” His gaze turned to Rick. “I’m done being nice to your people. Would hate to see two fuck ups in one day.”

               Carl stood slowly, not liking the feel of the bat between his fingers, not when he knew what it had done. What pain it had caused, not only to his people but so many others. But he didn’t go as he was told.

               “Sorry, did I imagine I said that out loud or did you already forget that you’re supposed to be acting like you were raised with some goddamn manners?” Negan asked.

               “I want to say goodbye to my dad,” Carl bit out, tense and glaring. Negan’s expression didn’t change much, just a brow raised.

               “And what do we say when we ask for shit, kid?”

               Carl had to resist the urge to give Negan a whack in the shins with the spiked bat, instead gritting out a "Please.”

               “Dog isn’t old enough to learn some new tricks, now is it?” Negan gave Carl a pat on the back. “We leave in ten minutes. Say goodbye on your way to get some of your shit. Do not make me come looking for you, kid. Same goes for you, Rick. And maybe raise the other one right so we won’t have to do this again in a few years, huh? I’m getting too old for all this.”

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry,” Carl said in a whisper as he and his father made the short walk to their home in Alexandria. Rick was being quiet, his jaw set. “Dad, I’m sorry. I—”

“I know Carl. I know,” Rick breathed out, casting a glance when quick footfalls announced Michonne approaching. Rick pushed fingers back through short cut hair.

“What the hell is going on?” she questioned in a hiss, falling into step next to Carl and looking to him, “Why were you—”

“He killed some of the Saviors,” Rick told her, pushing the door open, "Two of them. After he snuck into the Sanctuary on one of their supply trucks." Carl went in first, head bowed, partially just to keep his socket from being seen more than necessary. He hoped he had extra bandages to pack… Though he wasn’t sure if Negan would let him keep it in place.

“I was there to kill Negan,” Carl said as he led the way up the stairs. 

“You shouldn’t have been there at all!” Rick said, voice raised, following with Michonne, “You were supposed to stick with Jesus.”

“I thought my plan was better.” He walked through his already open bedroom door, looking around for something to pack his things in.

“You can’t always just make your own plan, Carl. You can’t just go on your own and hope things go the right way,” his father started, and he didn’t sound as angry as he was pleading for his son to listen. Carl thought this time it seemed like he would have to listen... But he wasn’t sure that it was his father’s instruction he’d be made to follow from here on. “Carl, I can’t always protect you… I can’t protect you. I…”

“I’ll be okay,” Carl assured, taking a moment to turn to his father. “I’ll be okay.”

Michonne looked incredibly concerned and her gaze turned to Rick, who only nodded a little to himself before looking to her.

“Negan… He gave me a choice. He... He wants Carl to go with him. To stay at the Sanctuary,” Rick told her. Michonne was obviously taken aback, but she didn’t start questioning the judgement of the man's decision. Not in the way most would, at least. She knew Rick wouldn’t simply sacrifice his son, not if there was a better option. He wouldn’t just offer Carl up.

“Are you sure he’ll be safe?” Michonne asked, fixing Rick with a searching look. It wasn't a challenge to his dedication to protect his son, no... She just wanted him to think, to make sure he knew what choice he was making. He was sending his son, a boy she counted as her son, to a man who had killed and killed and had no remorse for it. Her eyes followed Carl as he dragged an old backpack out from under his bed. He stuffed a pair of jeans in, some of his flannels and clean shirts. The backpack didn't have that much room in it, not really. It had been some time since they had to move, and it wasn't as if they had had much when they came to Alexandria. When you were on the move, you kept one or two sets of good clothes, a good set of boots, and when something got ruined too badly you found new to leave the old behind. Or they fell apart. 

“Negan said… I know we can’t trust him, but if things here are good, why would he hurt Carl and cause more shit? That isn’t how he works.”

“We don’t know how he works, Rick,” Michonne reminded him before pausing and taking a breath herself. Negan wasn't very easy to read. He was violent, seemed to make decisions on a whim, didn't like being challenged or disrespected... And she doubted Carl would treat him with the utmost respect when he occasionally-- a little more than occasionally-- made the choice to ignore what his father said. It was him acting his age. If they were in a normal situation, it would be something that could be worked with, but the world hadn't been any kind of normal in years. “What was the choice between? Carl leaving and…?”

“And me picking two of ours to die,” Rick said flatly, deciding to leave out the fact that Negan had said they’d go back to the woods, that he’d preform the devastation like it had been the first time. He saw Carl hesitate though and he knew the look that must have crossed his face. That night had weighed hard on his son. Obviously it had, given what he'd done, going after the man who had done it. Rick just hoped he wouldn't try again while he was surrounded by Negan's personal army. "I couldn't do that. Not when we can end it like this."

Michonne gave a quick nod. It gave her the full understanding she needed. Two lives or a separation… It reflected Rick’s morals, yes, but between the options it was what was best for Carl. He’d remember if he was at fault for those two lives, innocent ones, ones that didn’t deserve that kind of death.

“I’m gonna be alright,” Carl assured again, though his voice trembled just slightly as he pulled out bandages to pack. “This was my fault. I did it, and I have to deal with it. It's fair that way, right...? And I’ll be back in no time.”

The conversation seemed to wash out from there. Maybe because no one wanted to say what they were all thinking—that Carl’s return might not come. That even if it did, there was no guarantee they’d be like this. Or maybe it was because none of them wanted to ruin the time they had together by discussing the inevitable. Rick came forward first to wrap his arms around his son, and Michonne was close behind him.

He spent his last few minutes whispering promises to his little sister, assuring her that he’d be back. For Judith, he had to come home. She deserved to have her big brother around to protect her, she deserved more than anyone to have some kind of normal life in this hell. A kind of new normal that only her generation would fully understand, born into an apocalypse without knowing anything else. In a way, it sounded like misery. But then again, she never had to see the degree of what Carl had, not with the innocent eyes he had had. She'd grow up knowing this reality, she wouldn't have to make the adjustment that would ruin her like it ruined him. But Judith would need her people for that, to keep her from going too hard against the world.  

“Take care of dad for me, Judith," Carl said to her, knowing his father and Michonne were watching him, probably trying to dedicate the sight to memory. They didn't have to see his disfigurement, just his back and Judith with her blonde curls, her big blinking eyes, her little smile. She didn't know what was happening. "I’ll see you soon.”

Chapter Text

Negan looked happy as could be, whistling as he led the way back into the compound. The drive had been silent on Carl’s part, though Negan had been chatty, filling every moment with some stupid comment. Daryl wasn't in the yard when they returned, and while Carl had figured he wouldn't be given he'd been dragged off, he was still disappointed, in a way. He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to speak with the other man, but having the familiar face showing up had been nice earlier. And right now, any little reassurance that he wasn’t stranded and alone here would be very welcome. But instead he just got that damn whistling, whistling they took him back to the forest, reminded him of Abraham and Glenn… He felt sick and murderous all over again, one eye glaring at Negan’s back.

Lucky him, Negan decided on that moment to glance back at him. A smirk crossed his lips.

“There’s that half-assed stink eye again. Don’t give me that. And get your hair out of your fucking face, kid,” he chuckled before facing forward again. “First thing in the morning, we’re getting that mop off you. Why the hell your dad let you run around like that…”

“What the fuck is wrong with my hair?” Carl snapped, the anger that had boiled up coming up there.

“Language, young man. You will not talk to me with a mouth like that. Remember we’re learning manners here,” Negan said, voice harsh and staying harsh, “You see my hair? How easy do you think it is for one of the dead to grab at me? You know how many women and hippies I’ve seen lose a chunk because they loved their damn tresses? Now if you want to stay inside the Sanctuary at all times, fine by me. But if you want to go out—”

“You’re letting me go out?” The interruption wasn’t gone unnoticed and with a sigh, Negan turned, fixing him with a look. Carl pursed his lips, set on not apologizing. But when the tension continued to build, Negan refusing to be the first to blink, he grumbled out a quick sorry. It was enough for them continue forward.

“If you want to go out—with my fucking supervision—you’ll get a goddamn haircut,” the man finished.

“Some of yours have long hair,” Carl noted, partially trying to be difficult.

They aren’t in my care. They die, I don’t have to think ‘well damn I should’ve told them to trim their bangs up,’” Negan snorted, and it caused Carl to take pause. Was that how the man saw this, that Carl was in his care? No. No, he was just fucking with him. Busting your balls, whatever the hell he liked to call it. “And another thing—”

“Negan!” It wasn’t Carl interrupting this time, but one of Negan’s men. And this interruption didn’t get an irritated glance… Or at least, if there was one, it was accompanied with knowledge that there was something that needed dealing with.

“What the hell happened?” There was an air of exasperation, almost boredom, in his tone.

“It’s Daryl,” the man said, and that got a bit more attention. It got Carl’s attention, too. “He’s gone. Just gone. Someone let him out, or left the door unlocked… Something.”

“Shit,” Negan spat out, taking a moment and a growling breath. “I want the entire compound locked down. Right. Fucking. Now. Dwight! Where the hell is old iron face, dammit!”

“I haven’t—”

“Of course you haven’t seen him. Why the fuck are you still standing here? Go!” Negan smacked the end of the bat to the floor, and the man ran off, shouting orders into a walkie talkie that buzzed with static afterwards. And then voices answered as he rounded the corner. “You see Carl—all you fuckers have some bright ideas and it’s how you end up dead. Keep up, kid.”

Carl had to take longer strides to keep up as Negan walked with purpose towards the large common area where people gathered and ate and were punished with a hot iron, on occasion. There was no subtlety about the entrance this time, and no slow build up. Lucille hit against the metal bars with a clang, and those who weren’t already slipping into a kneel fell into one instead, as if the noise had frightened them. Maybe it had.

“We’ve got a runaway. One of our little grunts, Daryl, is somewhere he isn’t supposed to be. If you are capable of helping out, I want every hallway and every room gone through. If you are not, I want you to stay here and relax until we sort out where this guy is. As you were!” Negan took Carl’s shoulder as members of the Sanctuary began standing, some of them hurrying out different doors, and steered him towards the staircase they’d gone up before when Negan wanted to give him the tour.

“What are you going to do if you catch him?” Carl questioned, sounding like he had the authority to ask, and while he’s sure that didn’t go unnoticed, Negan chuckled.

“Oh, don’t worry, I’m not planning on just killing him yet. That’s a whole lot of goddamn potential wasted, and I really try not to do that shit. You, young man, might get to see the iron used twice in one week if he was stupid enough to stick around.” Negan didn’t think he was that stupid, though, and already he knew he was going to have to take another personal trip to Alexandria. Not something he really wanted to do. Carl was his new personal project, and while he wanted to keep an eye on the kid, he definitely wasn’t going to take him back around his people that soon. If at all. Negan usually left things up in the air, did as he liked when he liked. This wasn’t much different.

“He won’t have. He’s gone. You won’t find him.” Carl was sure of it. He had known Daryl for years now. It wouldn’t surprise him if he managed to pick a lock or something… But then again, he hadn’t exactly looked his best when Carl had seen him.

“Yeah, yeah, what a positive attitude you have, kid,” Negan snorted, steering him further up and then, “Dwight! Where the fuck have you been?”

Carl, of course, recognized Dwight. He had been with Daryl. He had been there when that guy—Dave? Dan? Something—had gotten his face burnt like he was nothing more than an animal being branded. Even more than that, Dwight had an appearance that was hard to forget.

“I went to check your floor, make sure Daryl wasn’t making some plan up there or bothering… bothering your wives,” Dwight said. Negan looked him over a moment, then seemed to decide he believed him before shoving Carl forward.

“I need you to take my new kid up there. Leave him with Tanya or Frankie or someone…” A pause. “Actually, take him to Amber. I want her to show the kid around the floor. Might make her get out of her goddamn head. And kid, I know I said earlier you could look at her tits—offer still stands.” Negan laughed as Carl shot a sneer back at him. “Fucking adorable. Shit. Right, get him upstairs. And Carl, don’t make me ruin your good eye by doing something stupid.”

And just like that, Negan was striding away, not looking at all worried as he went. If anything, he seemed annoyed. Carl looked to Dwight and, for just a moment, he wondered how hard the guy would be to overpower. Given how close he seemed to Negan, probably not too easy. And Carl didn’t have a weapon where Dwight had a gun, his hand over it where it rested in a holster at his hip. Not because Carl was a threat, but because there was a threat. Or a possible one.  In the end, it wasn’t worth it. Not now. When Carl attacked, Negan would be his only target… And it would have to be when he wasn’t expecting it.

That might prove difficult anytime soon.

“Come on, then.” Dwight nodded at the stairs. “I’m guessing you haven’t forgotten the floor just yet. You go first.” There was an obvious distrust, and while Carl didn’t want the guy behind him, he guessed that if the Saviors wanted him dead, Negan would have just left his body in Alexandria. This would be too much of a hoax, even for him. So Carl shrugged and without an answer, started up the clanking metal stairs, moving closer to the outer wall as a few people—men and women—rushed past. It was a few floors to go, up at the top.

Carl glanced back, partially out of paranoia as he rounded to start up the next case. A small frown.

“Have you ever had any problem with your hair?” he questioned, frowning. And he got a frown in return. Dwight’s hair was about the same length as his, thinner, maybe, but all the same.

“What kind of question is that, kid?” Dwight returned, shaking his head. Not really angry, just not seeming to know how to reply to it. Carl doubted Negan had ever suggested to anyone, let alone Dwight, that hair should be kept short—that wasn’t the kind of rules the Saviors kept… Which made Carl wonder just what rules he would be expected to know. “Keep going, would you?”

With a huff, Carl did just that, continuing up. Sherry was right outside the door that led onto Negan’s floor, inhaling from a cigarette and blowing out so the smoke rose up the next two cases to rest against the ceiling where the building finally stopped. She looked confused when Carl came into view.

“Didn’t Negan take you home?” she questioned, keeping her gaze pointedly off of Dwight.

“He did,” Carl said, “And he brought me back here.”

“Why the hell would he do that?” Sherry’s eyes went to Dwight, as if she expected him to know her ‘husband’s thought—and maybe she did expect something of the sort. Dwight just gave a halfhearted shrug, looking just as confused.

“Didn’t tell me a damn thing, ran off to get people looking for Daryl. Just said to get him to Amber—”

“What an asshole,” Sherry grumbled out, “I’ll take him. What did he want her to do?”

“Just show him around. You won’t say—”

“I’ll cover if he asks, though I doubt he will… What was your name again?” Sherry’s gaze had fallen back to Carl, crushing the butt of her cigarette against the concrete of the wall and then letting the remainder of it drop down the well of the stairs. It was too light to hear when it landed.

“Carl. Carl Grimes.”

“Last names don’t really matter here, honey.” She glanced back to Dwight, fleetingly. Dwight was looking at her. There was something to be said, but it wasn’t, and instead Dwight turned and hurried back down. Most likely to help with whatever measures were being taken. Carl watched him a moment but looked back to Sherry when she opened the door to Negan’s dedicated floor—the only landing that had a door aside from what Carl had seen. He went through.

Carl recognized the door that led to the wives’ common room a little way down the wide hall, still open. To the immediate left was Negan’s bedroom. Door shut. Probably locked, given Carl had seen him pull a key before they went in earlier.

“What’s the deal? Why’d he bring you back?” Sherry had paused right inside the door, a silent statement that the tour wasn’t going to start until she got an answer. The woman looked annoyed, and there was something else. Something tense. But Carl didn’t know why. Maybe because Daryl had gotten out—but she wouldn’t be scared about that, would she? Daryl wouldn’t kill anyone unarmed, Carl was sure of that.

“Either me here or two of ours buried. So I came,” Carl shrugged, “Am I going to have to tell everyone here that?”

“I’m sure Negan will make some grand announcement about a new prisoner,” Sherry assured. The annoyance was still there, in her tone, but it wasn’t directed towards him. It was at Negan.

“Do prisoners usually come up here?” Carl asked, not trying to be smart with her, just honestly curious… And a little worried. Daryl had been treated like a dog from what he saw, and he wasn’t very keen on that.

“Well no, but…” She paused, eyes narrowing at him a little. “Where’s your bandage? Weren’t you bandaged earlier?” Before Carl could answer, Sherry huffed out a breath. “Did he make you take it off or something?” And then, “I guess you should get used to it—he’s a bastard when he wants to be. Which is most of the time. Let’s go get you another one, alright?”

“I have some,” Carl assured quickly, and turned slightly so she would see his pack, “And if I put one on...”

“He might have you take it right back off,” Sherry finished, annoyance ever present, the heel of her shoe tapping at the tile. “You are absolutely right. Later, then. He’ll get bored of it eventually, so just grit your teeth.” A small nod from her and Carl pursed his lips in a tight sort of smile that didn’t look much like a smile. She was trying to be nice, he knew that, but he wanted to yell at her. Yeah, he knew how to grin and bare it and all that shit. “What exactly did he send you up here for?”

“Wanted me to see the floor,” Carl said, “Or to keep Amber company. Both.”

“I’m sure you can guess Amber isn’t really in the mood for company after… earlier. Frankie is with her, but I’ll tell you which rooms are which. You’ve seen just about all you need to up here I’d think,” Sherry told him before nodding to one of the ones he already knew. “Negan’s. And mine is just a hop down, there.” A finger pointed to the next door on the left of the hall. “Tanya is with me. And right across here is just a bathroom, for all of us. Just toilets and sinks.”

“What did this place used to be?” Carl wondered as they made a slow procession down the middle of the hall. There was a faint sound of crying. Sobbing. He tried to ignore it.

“A factory. Don’t know what kind,” Sherry shrugged, “You’ve seen our living room. Probably the nicest common space here. Allison and Kelly are in the room right there, and there—” She pointed to the door that would be two down from Negan’s, “Is Frankie and Amber.” The crying was coming from there, but Carl realized it wasn’t just one person producing the sound. “I’d keep a bit of distance, if I were you.”

“She’s going to be okay, right? Amber? Negan didn’t—”

“No, Dave will be… as fine as Dwight is, I guess,” Sherry said, her arms crossing under her chest. “I was talking about Frankie, actually. Keep some distance from her, alright?”

“What?” Carl asked, frowning as he looked to her, “Why?”

Sherry’s eyes stayed trained on the door a moment. “She lost her brother today,” she finally said, voice soft. Pitying. Carl felt his stomach drop. “Come on, let’s go sit down. Negan will be back sooner or later.”

Chapter Text

It was later, rather than sooner, when Negan returned. They heard the clank of the metal door that separated the wives’ hall from the rest of the building, but the whistling that came with heavy footfalls was the true announcement. The sound sent a shiver down Carl’s spine, brought back memories of the forest. That scene still woke him in a start, surrounded by the sound of songbirds coming from human lips to prelude something that had kept dread settled in the pit of his stomach. It hadn’t been so long ago, but it felt so far away in his memory.

Or maybe that was him trying to shove it to the edge of his mind. The sight of Abraham and Glenn wasn’t a thing he wasn’t as a recollection.

Carl had made his way to the window after an hour of sitting, an hour of pacing, and a few hours where two of the other wives—Tanya and Kelly—had decided to drag him back to the couch and teach him to play chess. They were the competitive sort, and it was almost soothing to listen to their meaningless bicker as they took turns more or less directing Carl’s moves as Sherry flitted between the couch and the doorframe. Allison had some game that had earlier been offered to Carl, and ignored. The other two were still out of sight, and Carl was a little grateful for that, not wanting to be so close to Frankie. Negan might be happy enough moseying up to someone after he killed their loved one, but Carl had a bit more respect.

Turning from the window which had been long dark and impossible to see out of, his eyes found the bat first. Lucille was hanging loosely in Negan’s hand, and the man was smiling.

“Well I see you’re making yourself right at home. Glad to see you ladies are being so welcoming,” Negan said, walking in and one arm going around Sherry when she got closer to him. “Where the hell are my other two beauties?”

“Leave them alone today, would you?” Sherry asked, but it sounded harder than a request. Negan looked to her, raised a brow, but then smirked. “Only if I get to fuck you twice in Amber’s place. Hell, who am I kidding—I was going to do that anyway.” He gave her a small squeeze, releasing her before moving towards the middle of the room. Tanya and Kelly were still playing chess, hadn’t looking up, but Kelly leaned to his touch when he ran fingers through her hair.

“Did you show the kid around, Sherry?” Negan asked, head turned slightly. Sherry stayed in her place next to the doorframe, arms crossed.

“He knows whose room is whose. And where the bathroom is.”

“Show him where he’d be sleeping?” He was acting like Carl wasn’t even there, which didn’t sit well with the young man and his brows furrowed. Sherry seemed equally confused.

“I figured you’d be keeping him where Daryl—”

“Now sweetheart, I know you aren’t meaning to piss me off, but I’d really rather not hear that fucker’s name again,” Negan said, his voice low as he looked back to Carl. It could be expected, then, that Daryl was long gone. “As for goldilocks, he’ll be staying up here. He’s a member of the family now, aren’t you, Carl?”

“What the hell are you trying to pull?” Carl’s eye had narrowed, jaw a little tense. It sounded like an invitation to get his head crushed in the middle of the night. Or some way to get him comfortable before something awful happened to him.

“Now, young man, I think we talked about that goddamn language of yours. But I’m being nice and letting that slide since you’re obviously so fucking excited here.” There was that jovial tone in his voice. The same as there was in the morning when Carl had come—You chose that gun because it looked cool, didn’t you? “I told you. You. Are. A. Guest. Or, we’ll say you are to make you feel better. I didn’t hurt you earlier, did I? I treated you with some damn respect.”

“I killed—”

“I know what you did. Hell, the whole compound does. But I’ve forgiven you, so they have? And you know why?” Negan asked, rocking to his toes then back to his heels. “Oh come on, you know the answer.”

“Respect,” Carl said grudgingly. He knew that was true. In this place, Negan’s word seemed to be law. And he did have some kind of twisted respect, from everyone. Even Carl felt something in that regard—the man protected his people and held to his word and that was more than you would usually see in the wasteland that was their world.

“That’s right,” Negan smirked. “Respect. Something you have to earn.” A pause and his head nodded before he looked Tanya and Kelly. “You all ate something right?”

“We had an early dinner,” Allison answered from the couch, her feet propped up on the arm of it, still in heels, and thumbs occupied by the buttons on the handheld game. Negan glanced to her, but didn’t try to interrupt her game, instead giving Carl his focus.

“And you?”

“Not hungry,” Carl said stubbornly. He could go without, in any case, given the meal Negan had provided earlier with insistence that he eat. And it wasn’t as if he had three square meals every day. The chance of that happening… well, there weren’t chances. It wouldn’t happen. Except here it seemed… at least close to possible. Their compound had had more than enough for their people to survive, but three full meals for an entire community seemed to be asking a lot. An apple was meal enough most times.

“Uh huh,” Negan replied, giving him a look that said he didn’t buy it. Whether he believed it or not, he didn’t push it, instead jerked his head towards the door. “Come on. Let’s get you cozy for the night—your ass is getting up bright and early, no whining.”

Carl just gave Negan a one eyed glare, but when the older man turned, he followed him without any kind of protest. Tanya and Kelly both gave half-hearted goodnight’s.

“Sleep well,” Kelly’s voice came.

Sherry didn’t say anything, holding Negan in a calculating gaze, like she was trying to pick him apart. Carl didn’t know how well that was working, but she knew more about the guy than he did.

“I’ll be back for you, beautiful,” Negan smirked at her before calling, “You all better start heading to bed soon, getting real fucking late.” The women didn’t move, but only a chuckle came as Negan went through the door with Carl a few steps behind. “So you really know whose where?”

“Sherry told me.”

“Yeah? You get a look at her—”

“I didn’t look at any of them,” Carl cut in, knowing the question. And he hadn’t checked out any of Negan’s wives. “You’re disgusting.”

“I have been called way worse than that, kid. But hell—you shouldn’t be lookin’ at your new aunties like that anyway. Good fucking call. Kudos to you.” Negan led the way down the hall at a slow pace, pointing at one of the rooms. “Know who’s in there?”

“Frankie. And Amber.” Carl’s tone was a bit lower, somber. Guilt was still settling in.

“Now Frankie, she probably wants to see some heads roll. You got her brother real good. But I’ll let you in on a secret, just between us guys. He was a fucking asshole. Good worker, but not a good attitude.”

“So he was like you,” Carl put in flatly.

“What the fuck are you talking about? I have a great attitude. Your people have a damn good way of getting on my bad side.” Negan stopped, walking to the door next to Kelly and Allison’s room, across from one that Carl assumed to be empty. Taking out a ring of keys, one that looked like a prison’s set, he plucked one to put in the lock. Right on the first try, the door swung open. “I think that really speaks more about them than me. Come on.” Negan replaced the keys, his front right pocket. Front right pocket

Carl frowned as the door was kept open for him, and he edged around Negan to get in, shoulder brushing the doorframe. It was a nice room, he expected the wives’ rooms resembled it.

“I’ve lost a few of my girls on the way—too be expected when things that bite in the night spring up in the middle of night,” Negan almost sounds bitter in that statement, but his usual tone returns in no time at all. “So lucky you, we don’t have to put you in a fucking holding cell until something’s fixed. And don’t worry, I’m not bunking you up with some other idiot kid whose father pissed me off.” There were two beds, the bedding pristine white and yellow to offset the charcoal walls that Carl remembered in Negan’s room—this was simply more feminine in decorating, one wall showcasing a mural with large yellow flowers. It didn’t look finished, a thick lead outline extending from the edge in hopes to continue reaching.

“Do your guests usually sleep up here?”

“What do you think?” Negan was smiling. Or rather, he was smirking. “Everyone has the choice to be comfortable or pinned up. Either you are an active member of society here, or your made to act like it—we don’t support fucking lazy asses.”

“So if I decide I don’t want to be an active member?” Carl questioned, not missing how Negan’s body stood as a barrier, blocking him in the room.

“Then I’m locking you in your room until you stop acting like a goddamn child and man up,” Negan stated simply, “Because I can tell what gets to you, kid. You’re so fucking easy to read. You’d go crazy in here. But hey, if that’s how you want to spend your first week, so be it.”

“I—”

“Get some sleep, we’ll have a chat in the morning.” Negan didn’t leave any time for Carl to argue, turning out of the door and shutting it with a snap. And then there was the turn of the key in the lock. Carl ran at it then, rammed his shoulder to what was metal, not wood. There was unmistakable laughter behind it. And as Carl cursed, clawing at the knob, he heard, “Goodnight, kid. Lights out!”