Carl followed close behind Maggie and Rosita, his eyes scanning the horizon. Not a savior had been seen for miles and it gave Carl an uneasy feeling. Days ago he had decided that he couldn't continue to jump between Alexandria and the Sanctuary. There was too much blood spilled on both sides to pretend it wasn't a big deal. The painful truth was that Megan had murdered his family and Rick had murdered over ten of Negan's men. Nothing was lighthearted about them being together. It was bloody and painful and it was war.
Carl tried his best to hide behind his gun, shrink himself down and nearly close his eyes. Never, not once, did he think that the war would become an actual war. That there would be more deaths and more anger and more fear and more weapons. Negan was a control freak with a big ego, but he didn't think he was a killer or a ruthless leader that used his people for war. But now both Alexandrians and Saviors were killed all in the name of war.
Before Alexandria, when the people at Terminus held them captive and tried to tear them apart, Carl asked his father why people acted the way they did. He asked why those men Daryl were with tried to rape and kill him. Why people were suddenly so angry at the people that were just trying to live. Rick simply said that no one ever believes that they are the bad guy. Each story is different, written in blood and pain and tears, and no one writes themselves as the antagonist. In each person's mind, they were surviving. Something about that made it scarier than someone being crazy and killing. These people decided that this was the way to survive. That they had to be cold and savage to live. They chose it.
Rick didn't see that he was in the wrong. He was protecting his people, helping them survive. Negan was a threat, one that refused to go away. To Rick, death was the last resort. Negan refused to stand down, he worked hard for what he had built and he wasn't going to let anyone take that away. So this was war, both sides fighting for whatever safety they wanted. Both sides covered in blood and anger and sleepless nights and loss.
Carl pushed past the people ahead of him, lowering his gun slightly. "Dad... are you sure this is how it has to end?" He knew the answer but there was still time. Time for changed minds and going home. "So many people are going to die today."
"Glenn and Abraham died." Rick said, coldly. "And that was only the beginning. Then there was Denise, you know this." He slowed his steps, looking down at Carl. He smiled at him and wrapped his arm around his shoulders, dragging him into his side. "Carl... I can't let him take what we have fought for away. He is the enemy."
"And you're the enemy to him." Carl looked across the rolling hills, sighing. "We are the bad guys, too. We have killed."
"No one is gonna be as bad as him." Rick replied, pressing a kiss to his son's head. "I rather be labeled a harsh killer and have a home than watch everything I love burn. He tried to kill us, Carl, to kill you. I am not letting him take you away from me." He tightened his grip, wrapping his other arm around him.
Instead of being focused on his father's embrace, he focused on the gun dangling from his fathers hand and pressing against his leg. Carl hid his face in his father's chest and gripped him. "I don't want to see people die."
"Hopefully, it won't be too bad." Rick pulled away and kissed his forehead. "I have to go ahead-"
"Have you ever killed anyone?" Carl asked, following Rick up the hill, dodging all the people around them. He didn't even know some of their names. But all of them joined together to kill one man and his army.
Rick tensed. "Those questions were for people entering our home. Not... not for us."
"Have you?" Carl asked. He gave Rick no time to answer. "Why?" He questioned, stepping closer. "Because of this petty war? The supplies?"
"He took from me." Rick snarled, staring right through Carl. "He took my home, my family, my supplies... he took my safety, our safety." He backed away and shook his head, raising his gun. "And today I'm gonna get all of it back."
Killing wouldn't bring Glenn or Abraham or Denise or anyone else back. They would stay dead and their home would stay depressed. Negan did take from him. But Rick also took from Negan. Daryl killed several men and so did the rest of them. There was no right or wrong side. Both had done terrible things attempting to restore what was long gone.
Carl wanted to close his eyes, to pretend that he had never snuck to Negan's. That they had never kissed or touched. That their hands were never interlocked and their eyes studied each other. But they did. Carl loved Negan. It wasn't the same as his dad but he loved him nevertheless. This war was tugging on his heart strings and even if he was naive and stupid, it was his choice to make. Even if his body wasn't burning hot with hormones he wouldn't want to see Negan die today, but nothing would change his dad's thinking.
One evening, when Daryl was drinking and Abarham was half drunk, Carl asked about the world. Why it was the way it was and why it never seemed to end. Abarham said, with a broken voice and slurred words, that only the dead have seen the end of it all. The end of hunger and anger and hatred and sadness. He said that he wished he was strong enough to see the end, but he couldn't. Carl wondered if he was peaceful knowing that the end was there. That he didn't have to suffer or be alone any longer. Because no matter how many girls he was with, none measured up to his wife and daughter.
Death seemed the easiest way, so did war. That was how the world handled disagreements constantly. Weapons were made to make it easier, to end disagreements with a puff of smoke and dismembered bodies rather than talking. But Carl's mama always told him that the easy thing wasn't always right. This was one of those times. Both were angry and both kept killing and taking. Maybe if they had just stopped, set the guns down, and spoke, things could be different. Because this war did not start because of supplies. It started because someone decided to pull the trigger. Sure, they were the bad guy, but there was a chain reaction. Nonstop gunfire and blood and death and destruction. All because bullets did the talking rather than the people.
All of them were scared. People tossed and turned and stared into the pale moonlight and wondered if the walkers were the real bad guys. They cried and asked to no one in particular why the undead were no longer the issue, why the living were so angry and scary and violent. Others prayed to God to help them, to end the madness. Things were so much easier when people wanted to survive. When they worked together to build up and not tear down. Why couldn't anyone simply live?
Negan and Rick were scared. They had built empires with the people they loved. Members of their own, homemade family had died during it. The idea of their home being threatened by anything that wasn't a walker scared them. Humans are horrifying, unpredictable little fuckers. The emotions they are saddled with makes stopping them so much harder than it is with a walker. But they still result to a bullet to the head. Rick and Negan were on the same side, but they were both too stubborn to believe it. So they pulled out their guns and let the smoke do the talking.
Maggie was angrier than Rick, Carl knew because she had barely said a thing all morning. While they planned evacuations and backup plans, she was silent and watched them. She didn't care how the day ended as long as Negan was dead. Rick was the same way, but he cared for the people, where Judith and Carl and Michonne would end up. Maggie lost everything, though. All but her baby. Carl wasn't sure if it was another painful reminder of Glenn or a happy memory. The woman hadn't been the same. No one had. They grew angry and cold.
Glenn had been Carl's first love. He never babied Carl or acted like he was too stupid to be included. Every time he was with the man he would laugh. Glenn was handsome and sweet and caring and Carl missed him more than anything. But murder wouldn't bring him back. Carl learned that when he killed after his mom. The truth is harsh and cold like a knife sliding through your body but no matter the body count, your one love will not come back.
The boy could be biased. He saw a side of Negan only Lucille had seen. The broken and lonely and scared. Carl knew he was much more than the malicious man wrapped in leather with a bat in hand. Negan was fearful. He was angry. Just like everyone else was. Negan defended his home when he saw that Rick and the Hilltop had moved in on his grounds. Negan was reacting the same way Rick was.
Around them, the air was thick and tense. No one was thinking. People jumped when others bumped into them and their bodies were body ache stiff as they walked. No one knew where it would begin or end. They just knew it was now. Only small whispers could be heard as they traveled, Rick and Michonne in the front, Maggie ahead of them both. Daryl was near Carl, and so was Rosita, but others simply wandered around, looking for any sign of a savior.
Jesus and Morgan stayed near the back, fearful of the same thing Carl was. The death. When they leave today, at least one hundred people would be dead. And in a perfect world, it would make things better, but it won't. People will still be dead and people will still not agree. Carl wished he could have talked his dad or Negan out of it, but there was no backing down.
No one was thinking straight, though. The simple kills of walkers had been more violent than usual. With everyone on edge, their mind was focusing solely on their fight or flight instinct. The fear mixed with the anger wasn't right. People will die that don't need to. Carl knew that there were innocent people on Negan's side just like there were on their own. The only survivors were now at war with each other. It made no sense.
Wind blew harshly around them as they traveled, gripping their guns with white knuckles and bloody lips. Carl found himself tense, barely moving fast enough to keep up in the middle of the crowd. His mind was scattered. His lovely nights with Negan. His happiness in Alexandria. His love for family and love for humanity. Carl had been the fearful and angry idiot behind a gun. He had pulled the trigger. And now he thinks about it every day. Carl didn't want that guilt on either of their minds.
Whistling filled the air and disappeared as fast as it came. People froze, their body lighting up with pure instinct as they raised their guns and aimed. With the rolling hills around them no one could tell where the whistles were coming from. The worst case scenario was that they were everywhere. And of course, they were.
"Rick!" Negan screamed through a grainy megaphone. "It didn't have to end this way."
"It hasn't ended!" Rick screamed, fucking his body into itself and keeping his gun steady. "Where are you?"
"Oh, buddy. I am everywhere. That's how I'm here. Little Dwight didn't mean to tell me but gosh, he's just so easy to scare." Negan chuckled. "So broken."
"Then face me!" Rick shouted. "If you are everywhere then fucking come out! You're hiding!"
"Am I?" Negan mused. "Or am I just wanting to wait and see how all of this plays out? Because you and I both know I got numbers and weapons and… about everything else. All thanks to you, of course." He chuckled, darkly. "Plus, I got Eugene, Gabe, and your favorite little fuck up Dwight. I'm gonna win this, Rick."
"It hasn't even started." Rick replied, looking back at his people. His army. An army of misfits all crowded around each other and scared of one thing. Negan.
"You can thank Eugene, too." They could hear his grin. "I mean, I am the brains, but he made all these bullets for us." He paused, sucking in air through his teeth. "The bullets that will go into your friends, here, Rick."
"So why don't we hurry this up?" Rick screamed. "So we can see who will really win?"
"Hm…" Negan fell silent, the wind rustling into the megaphone. "As you wish."
They scattered, all ducking down and staring across the hills and back into the forest. It was an open field but there was no way to see something coming. The green grass spread out for miles, walkers scattered along the pasture. Carl stayed with Rick, rushing behind him as he moved closer. Carl didn't want this to be a war, but he wasn't going to let his father die alone.
"Where the hell is he?" Maggie hissed, side stepping towards Rick and Carl. "If he's so keen on winning why isn't he here?"
"Because he likes mind games." Michonne replied. "Don't let them win. We are here to focus and take out the bad guy."
Negan wasn't a bad guy. He wasn't good, either, but this world wasn't the way it was. It was normal to have blood on your hands. He had lost people the same way they had. Carl's heart ached for the idea of losing him. He knew Negan's walls were too high to climb. That was why this war was happening. Negan didn't let people in. He locked them out and protected himself. Carl wanted to love him better, but there wasn't enough time. There never was.
People shuffled around, aiming their guns any way they could.
Even the wind stopped blowing, as if it knew what was coming.
Saviors marched across the field and stared down at them. There were hundreds of them, all with their own guns. They were surrounded, no amount of guns could stop what was about to come at them. Carl felt sick. Rick stood his ground, so he did too.
Gunfire filled the air, but no one was hit by bullets. Saviors screamed in pain, falling to the ground. Some were dead. Some were wounded. All were bloody. Their bullets had exploded in their face, shredding their hands or their skulls. The Saviors that weren't dead gripped their wrist and cried out in pain.
"Now!" Rick screamed as he began to run.
The group scattered, shooting at anybody they could. No one was able to fight back. It was perfect. Carl followed the group, his heart racing in his ear drums drowning out the screaming the people around him let out. Dead bodies surrounded the path they took. Some took precautions and shot every Savior already on the ground just to make sure no one would be able to come back and fight. Saviors who were able to stand ran, but were quickly taken down by bullets.
Carl pushed through the mess of bullets and blood, looking around for Negan but he was nowhere to be found. Maggie and Rick rushed off into one direction then Rosita and Eugene in another. Gabe was hiding behind a car as Carl turned around and began going through any body that had a leather coat on. His knees dug into the dirt as he flipped over body after body, panicked hands shaking as he looked for Negan.
The gunshots blended into the background as Carl kept his head low and looked around. Saviors had stopped fighting back for the most part but fearful people continued to shoot them. Innocent, scared people. This needed to end. Carl stood up.
"Stop!" He screamed, slipping his gun into his holster. "Everyone stop fucking shooting! It's over!" His eyes scanned the crowd. Maggie had returned, but his father was nowhere to be seen. Panic filled Carl's bloodstream. Cold as ice. His body tensed as he looked again and again. Quickly, he backed away.
He twisted around and looked down the hill, stopping when he saw the two running. The group's behind him watched, eyes locked on the two men. Negan's glove was torn and his hand was bloody, but he had his bat. Rick had thrown down his gun, his hands empty. The area fell silent once more as the men began to fight. Carl wished this wasn't the way it had to go, but it was too late. Saviors were dead and Rick and Maggie were going to get their revenge one way or another.
Carl could hardly hear what they were saying because of the wind swirling around them. Groans of walkers carried throughout the hills but no one paid attention. This was more important. This was the end. Each person watched, their bodies still as Rick and Negan fought. Finally, Rick was able to get Negan to stop speaking. Negan crept closer as Rick spoke words they couldn't make out. Then… then it happened.
Rick stood up and slashed Negan's throat. Blood poured out of the neck Carl used to hide his face in and plant kisses on. His father's hands were covered in the blood of his lover. Negan fell to his knees as Rick rose, a blood covered piece of glass in his shaking hand. His eyes were wide as he turned to face the group. Negan laid on the ground beside his feet, staring into the sky.
Carl didn't know he was screaming until Michonne touched him. "No!" He shouted. He jerked away from her hand and ran towards the two, his legs not carrying him nearly as fast as he wanted to, no, as he needed to move. "No, no, no." Carl chanted, like it was a prayer. A prayer of forgiveness and a prayer of asking. He dropped to his knees and pulled Negan gently into his arms, tears falling from his cheeks. "No. This… this wasn't how it was supposed to end."
Maggie was next to him, Carl didn't even notice until she finally spoke. "Yes, it is. We needed to make it even. This… this fixes it."
"Glenn won't come back!" Carl screamed. "Killing him makes us just as bad." Negan was heavy in his arms, eyes blinking every few seconds as blood spilled into Carl's lap. "You're okay, it's okay. I got you."
Negan looked at him, raising his bloodied hand to cup his cheek. "It's how it should end…" He gasped out. "Make me proud…"
"I can with you living." Carl choked out, nails digging into his skin. "Please…"
Rick looked between his son and his enemy before looking at his army. "This… this is over." He dropped the glass. "Save him!"
"What!?" Maggie snapped. "No! Rick! He killed Glenn. We can't just save him! We have to make him pay."
"We will. But… we aren't like him." Rick said, looking back at Negan. "We… we are better. He will suffer in jail. Laws worked then, we will make them work now."
"No!" Maggie tried to push past Rick to get to Negan. "He needs to die! Why can he take but we can't!?"
"Because we…" He looked at Carl then at Maggie. "We are gonna be the good guys."
Carl hunched his body over Negan as it to protect him. "You're gonna be okay, it's okay. I got you."
"Siddiq!" Rick screamed, stumbling towards the group. "Save him!"
Siddiq dropped his gun into the grass, rushing towards Negan. He undid his shirt and slid it off, handing it to Carl. "Put pressure on the wound." The tanktop he had underneath was soaked in sweat. "I'm going to need a few guys to be able to lift him up and move him into the car!"
Faces Carl knew and didn't know were around them in seconds. Two were saviors and three were from Hilltop. Carl didn't know what was happening, his mind was blank as his heartbeat filled all of his senses. When they lifted Negan and Negan grunted, Carl cried out in pain too. He wasn't going to let him die.
Screams surrounded them as they rushed to the closest vehicle, Rosita following with the keys. Maggie sobbed on the ground, praying to sink beneath the dirt and be with Glenn. Michonne held her as she sobbed.
Negan laid across the backseat, his head in Carl's lap. Siddiq knelt on the floorboard while Rosita got into the driver's seat. The car roared beneath them as the tires dug into the grass and dirt and drove down the hill. She sped but no speed felt fast enough. Negan faded in and out of consciousness while Siddiq held his wrist, monitoring his heartbeat. Siddiq's once green shirt was now brown and drenched in blood.
"Carl…" Negan's eyes blinked open and closed lazily. "I…"
"Shut up." Carl hissed. "You can't speak right now. You shouldn't even try to."
"M sorry…" He swallowed and more blood pooled into the shirt. "I…"
"I know." Carl whispered. "You never meant for this to happen, I know." He leaned down and kissed his forehead. "I just wish we had met before."
Negan closed his eyes. Then opened them.
"You… you're so convinced that life has to be so violent." Carl ran his fingers through his slicked back hair. "Life isn't war. It isn't bloody, not when we work together."
Negan closed his eyes.
"I wish that I could have taught you that." Carl whispered. "That life isn't war. I wish we had met before the world touched you. Contaminated you."
Negan opened his eyes. And sighed.
"You're a good guy, Negan. I know you are."
"Kid…" Negan coughed and winced. "Let me go."
"No." Carl replied. "I won't. You're going to live and you're going to see how good it can be."
"It's over for me…"
"Negan!" Siddiq hissed. "You can't keep speaking."
"It's over… let it be over."
Carl swallowed, shaking his head."I won't let it be." He raised his eyes and looked at Siddiq. "He's going to live, right?" It was more of a threat than a question.
"Rosita…" Siddiq called. "Hurry up. Hilltop is closest and they have the best medicine. When he's stable we can move him to Alexandria…" His eyes fell to the hand on Negan's heart. "He's going to make it."