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You Belong To Me

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Natalie was putting on her boots and eyed Simon over the back of her nose with a more than annoyed expression.

“You shouldn’t have told me that,” she finally snapped and got up. She strapped on her thigh holster. “Don’t get me wrong, coming clean is always a good thing, but you put me in a really fucked up position here,” Simon watched her checking the barrel of her gun and sighed heavily. “What do you expect me to do? He won’t kill you for this, or her, but that means the iron, demotion, a whole fucking avalanche of problems, for me mostly. You are already on thin ice after that stunt with the fishermen community. I like you Simon, but I’m not sure I can protect you here,” she put the gun in the holster and started to rummage around in a pile of clothes. “Why did you even tell me that? The easiest thing is shelving whatever you two are doing, move on and we never speak about it again,” Simon sighed a second time.

“That kind of isn’t an option,” he said. “Nat,” she interrupted him with a look.

“Don’t Nat me. You screw a wife, you get the iron to the face. You screw one again, you get the iron to the balls. Strike number three, unlikely at this point due to number two, and you will continue your work for the man on the fence. Bottom line, hands off the wives. It’s as easy as that and he won’t make an exception for you when he finds out, on the contrary. You know how he is when he feels betrayed by his inner circle.”

“I know, that’s why I told you first,” Natalie stopped halfway in putting on a flannel over her top and gawked at him stupidly.

“First? Wait a second,” she came closer awkwardly wiggling into the shirt. “You want to actually go and tell him? Are you fucking insane? Simon, if you have a death wish I can end your misery right here and now. Just say the word,” she said sarcastically. She had known that something was up when Simon came to her at fucking 5.30 in the morning generally looking like he hadn’t slept in a week. She had to admit him telling her about his affair with Frankie of all people wasn’t what she had expected. Like, at all. How was that even logistically possible? Simon was at the Satellite Station most of the times and when he was here he surely didn’t hang out in Negan’s quarters. Don’t get her started about the age difference and the general lack of personality on Frankie’s side. She palmed her face. That he decided to tell Negan was unbelievable, unbelievable stupid mostly, but it also didn’t sound like him. A little lightbulb went on in her head and she turned to him.

“Who knows it?” Simon looked at the ground uncomfortable shifting around a bit.

“Noah ran into us. Kid kind of is blackmailing me now,” Natalie nearly laughed. Nearly.

“I’m surprised he isn’t dead yet,” she deadpanned and Simon shrugged.

“Like you said, I’m on thin ice already. Can’t afford that my men suddenly wind up dead without explanation or probable cause. And I don’t know if he told someone. Killing him could backfire.”

“Oh, and you think casually strolling up to Negan saying Oh hey Frankie and I are kinda banging won’t backfire?” Simon looked out of the window. Not that he could see much besides a cloudy sky.

“I don’t want to tell him. I know this won’t end well for me. But that way I might get out of it halfway intact and nothing will happen to Frankie at all,” Natalie always had a soft spot for Simon and she found the sentiment oddly sweet. But she was also relieved that there was a very selfish reason behind Simon suddenly wanting to do the chivalrous thing here. Things would be very wrong if there wasn’t. She sat next to him on the couch and let her hand ran through her hair.

“Yeah well, you do know that there is no way for you to keep the thing with Frankie going after, right? I mean you are actually aware of that,” he snorted.

“Of course I am. I’m not stupid. I’m also aware that I won’t be outpost head any longer,” he said softly.

“Why did you tell me that in the first place? I asked you that twice already,” Simon leaned forward and rubbed his face. Then he looked over to her.

“Self-preservation, mostly. You are the only person that might be able to soften the blow,” he confessed and Natalie lifted an eyebrow. That wasn’t surprising. It was Simon sitting in front of her after all.

“The blow on which receiving end you are sitting I presume?”

“Yeah,” he chuckled weakly.

“Man, that’s fucked up. God knows the whole wife situation is bizarre at best, but there is only one rule and you had to go and fucking break it,” Simon wasn’t commenting on the bizarre remark. Natalie was the only one in the whole compound who would dare to say something like that aloud. Not that she was wrong, though.

“Was it at least worth it?” he frowned at her.

“What do you mean?”

“What is she to you? How do you feel about her?”

“Seriously? You want to talk about my feelings?”

“Well, you started it. No need to not go the whole nine yards now,” he scratched the back of his hand.

“Well, the sex is good,” he finally said and Natalie rolled her eyes. That wasn’t what she meant and he fucking knew that. He sighed again, this time a bit overdramatically. “I,” he paused. “Like her, a lot.”

“You like her? Jesus Simon, at least use your big words. Are you in love with her or not? That’s not too hard to say,” he looked at her and back to his hands. Natalie wasn’t touchy-feely either and she could understand that things like that made him uneasy, hell she felt uneasy right now, but before she could make any decision in order to sort out the mess Simon and Frankie had been busy making she needed to hear where they were standing.

“Yes,” he finally mumbled. “Yeah, I love her, okay?”

“That’s sweet, does she love you back?”

“Well, at least she said so,” he said and the smallest smile tugged on his lips. The thought alone that Simon actually loved someone was very weird. To be completely honest Natalie always assumed he was a textbook psychopath incapable of real human emotions.

“Okay,” she said and got up. Simon raised an eyebrow when she picked up her walkie. “Someone copy?” she asked and after some interferences and static, someone answered.

“Yeah?”

“Who is this?”

“Dwight.”

“Morning Dwighty, get me Frankie to my room ASAP” Simon’s eyes went wide.

“It’s not even 6.30. What do I tell her?” Natalie rolled her eyes annoyed.

“Tell her I fucking pulled a muscle.”

“What if she’s with Negan,” Natalie stared at the ceiling with the face of a disappointed parent.

“What the hell is this, D? 21 questions? I gave you an order, fucking obey,” She threw the walkie back on the table and dropped again next to Simon who stared at her.

“What do you want from her?” he asked a little incredulous.

“You are not going to tell Negan that you two are screwing. Period. We need you at the Satellite Station. Who else should be in charge there? Me? I’m not gonna live in no outpost,” Simon frowned at her.

“Okay, but what about Noah,” Natalie scoffed.

“First, he’s a spineless asshole who will think twice to run to Negan, because then he would have to explain why he kept it for himself in the first place. Second, I’ll deal with him. I highly doubt he will expect you go tattle to me of all people. He’ll never see me coming,” Simon looked at her with a soft expression.

“Thank you,” he mumbled.

“Don’t thank me yet. You won’t like what’s next,” there was a knock before Simon could ask what exactly that implied. Natalie yelled a come in. Frankie’s hair was all over the place and she actually wore sweatpants and a wide top. She mostly stared at Simon doe-eyed when she shuffled in.

“Wow, I always thought Negan makes you sleep in lingerie or some shit. Well, you could have taken the time to get dressed and use a comb,” Natalie said with a grin. Then her eyes snapped to Dwight. “What are you still doing here?” she asked and Dwight got her drift and closed the door on his way out.

“I,” Frankie started. By the looks of it, she clearly knew that Natalie knew now, and she obviously expected the worst. Natalie tsked.

“You know I am really disappointed in you. How could you do that to my poor brother?” Frankie looked between her and Simon. She was about to cry. “I mean in what kind of world are we living where he cannot even trust his fake-wives?” she asked her with a very sincere tone and while Frankie didn’t understand that she wasn’t too serious right now Simon had to huff out a laugh.

“You told her?” Frankie asked meekly and Simon rubbed his neck

“I had to. Noah is getting cheeky. He will rat us out eventually. Was about to tell Negan, too. I figured it would be the best of a worse situation to tell him in person,” he admitted. “Sorry,” obviously convinced that this meant both their death sentence, at least, Frankie started to cry in earnest now. Natalie lifted her eyebrow a little when she realized that Simon actually was itching to get up and comfort her. Who knew? She hated it when somebody cried.

“Alright, calm down girl. Sit or something,” she pushed a chair into her direction and Frankie sat down hesitantly. She was hiccupping now, but at least she tried to get her composure back. “Okay. Negan won’t know anything about a torrent love affair between you guys,” Frankie looked up surprised. “Because there isn’t any,” Natalie gave both a very stern look. Simon took a deep breath. He had expected something like that. His decision to tell Negan had basically been a planned break up already. “No sneaking around behind Negan from now on. I don’t even know how you guys pulled that off in the first place, and I kind of don’t want to. This,” she gestured between them. “Is over from now on, for the time being, understood?” Simon’s face went hard and he cast his eyes on the floor. Then he nodded tightly. Frankie looked like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“Simon,” she pleaded, but he shook his head.

“Look, it’s best this way,” he said. He was actually sad. Natalie rolled her eyes.

“Can we cut the drama? This ain’t for forever. Despite the nagging rumor that my brother will end you if you leave him you are no fucking prisoner of his,” she paused. Well, technically she was, all of them were. Try to run, see what happens. “Upstairs, with him. You wouldn’t be the first who decided that going back down might be the better choice. Well, that means lazing around drinking booze all day ain’t no option anymore, but the things we do for love, am I right?” Frankie looked at her like she had grown a second head. Natalie leaned forward conspiratorially. “Just to clear things up. That maybe sounded like I’m letting you make a decision here, but I’m really not. You will leave my brother. Understood,” Frankie nodded nearly frantically. In her own way, Natalie was as scary as Negan and she didn’t even have to wave around a baseball bat for that. She leaned back again. “That said it should be clear that you cannot leave Negan for Simon hence the you guys split up part. You,” she turned to Simon. “Will be super busy in your outpost, so busy that you won’t even make it delivering the tributes in person. You will only show up here when he calls you and you can be sure that I will be so high up your ass when you’re here you will feel me breathing behind your eyeballs,” she gave him a humorless grin. “So, after both of you played your part for short, let’s say, four to six months, Frankie mysteriously and a little unexpectedly will be transferred to the Satellite Station for general housekeeping duty and young love can blossom. Negan will be pissed, hell he might even try something, but I’ll keep him off your backs. I’m not gonna do this out of the goodness of my heart, and Frankie, sorry, but you have nothing to offer that I want, but Simon on the other hand? You owe me now, big time, and I will remind you of that, like a lot. I’m petty like that. So,” she clapped Simon on the thigh. “Now I will leave this room and loiter generally in the hallway contemplating what to do about Noah for 15 minutes so you two can sort your shit out and say your goodbyes. Your clothes stay on. Nothing I said is negotiable. Frankie, I expect you to pack your shit and report to work duty latest by tomorrow and Simon? You better get out of my face and when you show up here next time you bring me some shit that’ll blow me sky high, I’m talking diamonds here,” both stared at her, Frankie still in disbelief and maybe some denial, Simon mostly relieved and a bit grateful. Well, he fucking should be grateful. If Negan would find out what she was doing here, well he probably would do nothing, to her at least, but he didn’t need to know anyway. She pulled open the door and strolled out of her room letting it fell shut behind her with a loud bang. Dwight was hanging around idly playing with a cigarette in his hand. He was waiting for Frankie to escort her back to Negan’s quarters. He looked at her.

“Where is Frankie?” Natalie stared at him. Sometimes she was surprised how stupid Negan’s Saviors were.

“Where the fuck you think she is? I don’t have her in my back pocket.”

“Yeah, but what are Simon and her doing?” Natalie snorted.

“What are Simon and she doing, and they are doing a little something called none of your fucking business. You ask a lot of questions, Dwight,” Natalie sure wasn’t expecting that Dwight would get suspicious here. He probably thought Simon had a medical problem. Frankie was a massage therapist after all. Thinking about medical.

“How’s Tina doing?” Dwight shrugged.

“Okay, I guess,” he mumbled and Natalie could very clearly hear the she’s getting worse between the lines. She actually knew that from Doc Carson who said he worried about the girl. Natalie maybe didn’t particularly care a lot about the workers, but she didn’t want them to die, mostly because that really looked bad on the monthly statistic. Well fuck it, she was charitable today and Dwight was as good a Savior as any. And to be honest she didn’t like how Negan already sneaked around Dwight’s sister-in-law.

“How about a gig to stock up some points and when you are doing good I’ll throw in some extra trips to Carson for her?” Dwight blinked at her.

“Really?” she shrugged.

“Well dispatching herds is dangerous business but brings good points. Why always let Simon’s guys collect them? Besides, some Saviors here could ue the exercise,” she was thinking about Fat Joseph specifically.

“Thanks,” he said.

“You are welcome. Now get me some coffee, Simon’s in my hair since 5.30,” she ordered and Dwight skedaddled. She stretched a bit and leaned against a wall. A short look on her watch told her she was out here for meager 4 minutes. Well, time flies when you have fun. Roughly 10 minutes later Simon stepped out of her room looking a little bit disheveled but overall like always. He gave her a short nod and ignored Dwight completely before he turned on his heels and walked away like a man on a mission. Natalie sauntered in her room not without hitting the door in Dwight’s face first. She looked Frankie up and down who was fixing her face by the sink. She made eye contact over the mirror.

“Thanks,” Frankie muttered. A lot of people thanked her today. That was for sure. She shrugged.

“The next months will suck. Negan will hold a grudge which will be the last of your problems. The Saviors will be rude and mean, the workers will look down on you, and you will generally be treated like shit. It’ll be unfair and you won’t deserve half of it, but you made the choice to take the easy way out by marrying the man and they’ll resent that. That ain’t a reward, that’s a punishment and you really shouldn’t thank me for that shit.”

“Yeah, but you could have told Negan. You still can,” Frankie said. She wasn’t getting it, wasn’t she?

“And then Simon would get the brunt of Negan’s anger and you would get a slap on the wrist and after that still be allowed to wallow in luxury. This way I can get your cheating ass away from my brother. I don’t give a fuck if you and Simon are meant to be or some shit. Now get out of my room. You have a break up to attend,” she more or less shoved her out of her room and let herself fall on the bed. She had a shitload of things to do, but she was too tired. 5.30 was early when you went to bed shortly after three. There was a knock on her door and she sighed dramatically.

“What?” she snapped and the door was opened carefully. Arat peeked in and the saving grace brought her breakfast.

“I’ve got you a sandwich. What did you say to Simon? He’s like yelling at everybody. I kind of pity his men,” she chuckled and walked over to hand Natalie the sandwich. She shrugged. When Simon decided to shovel his own grave by behaving unbelievable obvious this wasn’t her fault. Time would tell if Negan would be able to put Simon’s odd behavior and Frankie sudden decision to go back to the factory floor together.

“Needed to spank his lazy ass for Hilltop getting cocky. He’s here too often, neglects his duties as outpost head. I’m pretty sure that Gregory asshole doesn’t even know that he’s in charge. He didn’t like it when I scold him like a child,” she lied. Then she went over her day with Arat.

A couple of hours later she shuffled around watch duty schedules when Negan marched in her little cubbyhole that functioned as her office and slammed Lucille on the table. She stared at the bat with a thoughtful frown.

“Something on your mind?” she finally asked in a light tone and put the cap back on her pen. Negan began to pace in the small space in front of her table. He was 16 years older than her, basically had to raise her after their father died, but in many ways, she was the mature one.

“She says she wants to be back with her mother. Can you believe that shit?” Natalie put her tongue between her lips.

“You are doing that thing again where you carry half a conversation out in your head and just give me random statements,” she said and he glared at her.

“Frankie, Frankie wants to go back on the factory floor. Just like that, without a fucking notice,” there was no hurt in his voice, he was simply pissed off. Her brother was many things, a narcissist, a megalomaniac, a sociopath, but mostly he believed he was the hottest shit around and didn’t like it one bit when someone dared to not acknowledge that. He honestly couldn’t believe that anyone could choose anything over him.

“Why?” Natalie asked.

“Are you even listening to me? Says she misses her mother. After 6 fucking months, she suddenly realizes that. I thought we had a connection or some shit,” he dropped on a chair and actually managed to look a bit bummed. Natalie put her forearms on the table.

“Negan, you’re my brother and I love you, but just because all of the massages she gave you had a happy ending doesn’t mean you guys had a connection,” she closed her manila folder.

“You think you’re a fucking comedian, aren’t you? She’s probably screwing someone. Find that out for me,” Natalie scoffed. She pointed at the door.

“What’s the door saying?”

“Maintenance.”

“Fucking right it does. Maintenance, do I look like a bloody PI to you? I will do shit. Someone actually has to do stuff to keep this place running,” he grinned at her halfway over losing a wife already.

“Aww, don’t be like that doll. I do shit, too,” she looked at him amused.

“Maybe, but whatever you do you don’t have to deal with the half retards you call Saviors. Yesterday I let Skinny Joseph go over the inventory from the supplies the Chem Plant sent us and he comes to me and reports happily that the Kingdom is delivering less and less every week because he actually thinks .7 is less than .25 since 25 is more than 7. This and Gavin’s oddly detailed bookkeeping just made my day,” Negan stared at her for a second then he threw his head back and started laughing.

“You never fail to cheer me up,” he got up grabbing Lucille. “Give Frankie the shittiest cot you can find and find her the shittiest job you can think of. Maybe she comes to her senses,” Natalie mock saluted and Negan strolled away. 

Chapter Text

Natalie frowned down on the factory floor. She was frowning down on it for solid 25 minutes. It wasn’t so much harassment she was seeing, it was the usual crawling to the big wigs and bully the underlings kind of thing. Frankie held her own. Somewhat. At least she wasn’t crying. Someone stepped next to her.

“What are you staring at?” Natalie eyed over to Arat.

“Ex-sister-in-law,” they frowned down on her together for the next five minutes or so.

“She’s dead in a week,” Arat stated matter-of-factly. It was an exaggeration. At least when you crossed out suicide. Natalie sighed.

“Yeah,” she stared at the ceiling for a bit. Frankie was doing odd jobs to earn points. There was nothing worse. It meant you had to rely on people not showing up to theirs, and people usually only didn’t show up when they were severely incapacitated, like being dead. At this point, Frankie’s mom was earning points for both of them (and was probably wondering what Frankie had been thinking), and that wasn’t fair. Natalie knew her mom, she was a nice lady. She sighed, like that was the reason. She sauntered down the stairs parting her way like Moses parted the Red Sea. She came just in time to witness two extremely stupid looking men around their early 20 trying to get a look on whatever Frankie had purchased in the market square. Probably with her mother’s points. That why Natalie’s sigh came out even heavier than it intended to be when two eggs landed on the floor. There was the natural pecking order, and then there was wasting food. She had all the rights to interfere.

“Evening gentlemen,” three people froze. “What happened there?” Natalie looked down on the eggs. The two guys shared looks. There was a right answer here. Hopefully, Frankie knew it.

“I’m sorry, I tripped,” she mumbled. Natalie was impressed. She hadn’t expected Frankie to have it in her. The younger woman already somewhat tried to clean the mess up. Natalie sighed again.

“Did you now?” she said slowly while fixing each of the guys. They shuffled around uncomfortably. She knew one of them at least by sight. He had a kid, either a brother, a stray or really his son, so whatever he was carrying in the little basket was meant to feed not only him, as well. She strolled closer.

“What do we have here, hm?” batteries, some canned spaghetti, a cucumber, a tin bottle, probably filled with milk. She randomly picked up things and threw them over her shoulder after a short inspection. She made sure not to throw away the breakable stuff. This was only about making a point. Latest after the fourth item both men stared at the ground in shame. Natalie glared at them until they lifted their gaze hesitantly.

“I catch you doing shit like that again you two will regret I have,” both nodded frantically. “Now move,” the first collected his stuff panicky and both bolted so fast you could hear comic sounds. Frankie looked like a beaten dog. Natalie sighed again.

“Follow me,” she ordered and already walked away. Frankie did as requested, trailing Natalie like a lost puppy to one of the fancier pantries. Natalie rummaged around in it for a while and came back with a six pack of eggs, some tomatoes and a little sack of apples. She held them toward Frankie who hesitated to grab it.

“Regards to your mother,” Frankie took it with a mumbled thanks. Natalie gave her another long look. “So, massage therapist. What education does that ensue?” Natalie hadn’t worked one minute in her life in a real job. No joke. Negan had spoiled her (much to Lucille’s protest), college had been one long party, and yes, she had married rich. The question came from deep-rooted ignorance. What did a massage therapist even learn? Frankie didn’t seem to know the answer either.

“I,” good talk?

“Do you have like a basic understanding of the human body and…stuff?” Frankie stared at her. All Natalie could do these days was sigh heavily, couldn’t she? “Come on,” she made a head jerk and walked further upstairs. Carson was doing some sort of paperwork. Natalie could only wildly guess: an old-timey worded diary? Well phrased suicide notes? Negan slash whoever fanfiction? He surely wasn’t keeping patient records. The only thing he kept track of was blood types and only because Negan was very adamant he did so. He was a good enough doctor, but at that point, Natalie wondered if they hadn’t taken the wrong Doctor Carson. The other one at least didn’t look so much like Addam’s Family but more like Little House on the Prairie. Natalie’s eyes fell on Sherry. She would be fine. She lived on half a Savior salary anyway.

“You’re replaced,” one head-jerk was enough to send a rather bewildered Sherry out of the room. Carson was less docile.

“You can’t just,” he ran into the face you run into occasionally. The one that made you rethink your life choices.

“Can’t just what?” Carson puffed up a little. Doctors, eh?

“You can’t just come in here and take my nurse and replace it with another. What is the meaning of this?” the honest answer would have been getting my friend’s girl an easy job till I send her away in a couple of weeks, months tops. But Carson didn’t need to know this, did he now?

“Well, now. That’s a very expensive question. Are you sure you earn enough money to get it answered?” it wasn’t your average idiot that attended med school, wasn’t it?

Negan wasn’t an idiot either. And although he seemingly was mainly sitting upstairs doing nothing he always seemed to know everything.

“What happened to a shitty job for Frankie? Nurse is like fucking job jackpot. It’s so fucking easy I would do it,” Natalie looked at him warily.

“Seriously?”

“You know what I mean,” Natalie removed her glasses. Yes, Negan interrupted her mid-reading before bedtime, because he still thought she was 13 and he was her father.

“It’s five weeks, she won’t go back to you. Let her be. Letting her be means letting me take care of her. That is literally my job. She has it rough. Don’t be an asshole, dude. You can’t have it both ways, pretend you care and be a dick,” he glared at her a little poutedly. 

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Yeah. Yeah, what? Can you not just go “Go Fish” somewhere else like anybody else?” Negan already was half outside.

“You got any sevens?”

“Fuck off, man!” Negan chuckled and closed the door.

Chapter Text

Natalie was working on her tan. Literally. It was the little calm moments like this. Sitting in a chair in the sun staring into the blue sky and forgetting about all the ugliness in the world. There was the sound of a window being pushed open, someone climbing out of it, some struggle when the person lost their footing, some choice words and finally Simon walked into her view dusting himself off. He looked at her with his arms open in a general gesture of disbelief.

“What happened to up in my ass high enough I will feel you breathing against my eyeballs, hm? I was looking forward to that,” she looked him up and down a bit.

“Sorry you have to learn it that way, but on top of being a pathological liar, I am also really lazy and very forgetful. I planned on outsourcing it. Maybe next time. You prefer Dwight or Laura?” Simon clicked his tongue a little.

“Between those two? Laura,” he looked around. “Are you enjoying yourself?” she pushed her sunglasses back in her face and snapped the camping chair upright. 45 minutes, maybe an hour of peace. Was this too much to ask? Simon bore gifts. The little box landed in her lap without much ado.

“The diamonds you requested,” he deadpanned and sat down on the little wall that surrounded the roof for some reason. It surely wasn’t high enough to prevent a toddler from falling over the edge and it was ugly enough to not fulfill aesthetic requirements so what was its purpose? She looked down on Simon’s present and within seconds she got a bit excited.

“Uh, you remembered. My favorites,” Simon chuckled.

“How can I forget? You went on about it for 45 minutes, maybe more. Still can understand how you can eat that,” he watched with a frown how she tore the box open.

“You should try it,” she said before she shoved two of the red, pill-shaped candy in her mouth. Simon’s frown deepened.

“I have. No thank you.”

“Imbecile,” Natalie, against all odds, sometimes could be disciplined. So instead of devouring the Hot Tamales like a starving guy she took two more pieces and closed the box with a sigh. “Where did you find them?”

“I have whole shipment sitting under my bed, just for cases like that,” she gave him a look.

“I hope you are joking,” he smirked.

“Of course. Some odd house a couple weeks back. But seriously, cinnamon and some weird chili flavor?”

“It’s an acquired taste,” Natalie deadpanned.

“Keep telling yourself that,” she looked at him mock-offended.

“Dude, you guys put maple syrup on everything. It is literally on your flag. How is that better?” Simon chuckled.

“Well, it is just a flag, not a menu, but everything tastes better with maple syrup on it, even and foremost, eggs,” he smiled. Now Natalie rolled her eyes.

“Yeah, you keep telling yourself that,” she said leaning back again. They sat like that for a couple of minutes, amicably. Simon sighed.

“So, I talked to Frankie,” Natalie looked up with furled eyebrows.

“Did you now?”

“I literally just said hello. I was at Carson’s. All I am trying to say is, thanks. I know it’s an easy job, and I know it was you. So thank you,” Natalie sighed.

“Don’t mention it,” then after a pause. “Why were you at Carson’s? Are you alright?”

“Just stocking up stuff for the Outpost. I'm peachy, anyhow. Can I ask you something?” Natalie shrugged. “Why are you being so helpful with this whole Frankie and me business?” she blinked at him.

“I don’t know. It has to be the pornstache. It does something to me,” Simon chuckled.

“Very funny. No, seriously.”

“Seriously?” Simon shrugged. Natalie on the other hand sighed. Kind of sad. “Because you are my friend,” and she hadn’t many of those.

She had a brother that treated her like he was her father but simultaneously acted like he was her child, a bunch of apple-shiners who would agree to everything she said, a lot of people downright terrified of her, and a couple of entrusted and mutually respected underlings like Arat, but no real friends. Except for Simon. She could talk to Simon, have a normal conversation, friendly banter, repartee even, he wasn’t afraid to give her shit when she screwed up, he had an opinion he held onto even if it wasn’t hers, and he wasn’t scared of her. He barely was scared of Negan, which was probably one reason he managed to fall dick first into a wife, but here they were. Simon smiled at her. It was the kind of smile that made her uncomfortable for some reason.

“What?”

“Are we having a moment here?” he got glared at a little for that. “Anyway, when we are being so frank with each other, I consider you a friend, too. A good one,” it felt weird to hear that so Natalie did the only thing to deflect she knew how.

“Yeah? How good?” Simon rolled his eyes a little.

“Let’s say I would be sort of bummed out when you’d die,” he deadpanned.

“Sort of, huh? I’m basically family then,” Simon gave her a long look that was accompanied by a head tilt.

“You are,” that caught her off guard and she actually had nothing to say to that. Simon brushed the sudden awkwardness off by moving on to rather business-like topics.

“So, I hate talking homicide on your lunch break, but what are we gonna do with Noah? He’s basically running my shit show. I don’t wanna sound ungrateful, but you kind of assured me you’ll take care of it and it’s been six weeks,” Natalie rolled her eyes.

“Relax cupcake. Jesus. I will. After careful contemplating what to do about him, I decided to go the straightforward way. Sometime next week we’ll all go out on a run. Arat and her boys found a small strip mall that looked overrun but untouched, but they hadn’t time to raid it. So, we’ll go check it out, clear it from corpses and somehow Noah gets dead in the process, problem solved. Since he dies on my watch it won’t come back to you. By the end of the day, he was just some idiot that did something idiotic that got him killed. The end.”

“And it took you six weeks to come up with that elaborate plan?”

“No, I just didn’t give a shit for five and a half of them,” Simon frowned at her a little annoyed. “Timing is a bit of the essence. I can’t just show up and shoot him in the face, can I? You are awfully unrelaxed about that. How many times did Frankie and you manage to get frisky that you are undersexed already?”

“You would be surprised,” he grinned. Now it was Natalie's turn to glare annoyed.

“Yeah, I don’t need to hear that,” there was some shouting and then a scream from downstairs. Natalie twisted her head to get a look at what was going on in the yard. One of the dead had managed to get out of its chains and was currently chasing a guy. Another one lay heavily bleeding on the ground. Some Saviors came running and the one on guard duty, Norris, put a round into its head and ended the whole spiel. Simon frowned down on the scene.

“You sometimes wonder when exactly shit like that turned into your everyday normal? People dying, we discussing to murder a guy?” he said in a solemn tone. Natalie raised an eyebrow.

“Where is that coming from all of the sudden?” Simon shrugged.

“I don’t know. Been thinking a lot lately,” he trailed off and proceeded the staring. There was nothing to be done to save the guy, so after some discussion Gary, who had come to see what was going on, and after a look up to her to ask for her consent, put a bullet in his head. It was a mercy kill. Natalie sighed heavily, every dead worker meant a lot of unhappy workers, and she didn’t need that. And maybe she could see what Simon was talking about here. She would report what just happened there to her brother and then none of them would give a shit. “I mean I nearly killed a bunch of kids,” he said so softly Natalie nearly missed it.

“What?”

“You heard me,” he said equally softly, not quite making eye contact. Natalie took a long breath.

“Yeah, but you haven’t,” she said flatly and if it was supposed to brighten Simon up it failed spectacularly. Because the thing was, he would have, hadn’t it been for Gary and Dwight. He already had lined the kids up when the other two stepped in. Nearly got them killed, too. Like the good little soldiers they were, they came tattle immediately and Negan had been epically pissed. Natalie had mostly been shocked but was rather unsurprised. Simon always had a psychotic streak, you didn’t need a degree in psychology to see that, and she always sort of blamed herself for what he almost did as well, because maybe they were giving him a little bit too much freedom. Needless to say Dwight, Gary and Simon weren’t exactly chummy after that, the main reason the first two were now stationed here again. “Look, maybe you regretting it is a good thing,” she had no idea what else to say. It sounded really lame first in her head, but even more so spoken out. Simon agreed because his only reaction was to scoff humorlessly. One window got pushed open and Paula stuck her head out.

“We are ready to head out,” she called over.

“Yeah, be right there,” Simon got up. “Duty calls,” he sighed. “See you in a couple of days,” with that he already walked away.

“Simon,” Natalie called after him. He turned around. After one look if Paula was still hanging about she looked at him. “We don’t need to kill the kid, you know that right? I can try to talk to him, intimidate him to keep quiet. Pull some classics out of Negan’s playbook. Worth a try,” he stared a bit into the distance.

“You think that would work?” Natalie frowned and took another deep breath.

“Probably not,” Simon nodded firmly.

“Yeah, I don’t either,” he said more to himself than to her and walked away.

Chapter Text

A couple of days later Natalie brought her car to a stop right in front of the Satellite Outpost. Bud came out of the compound and eyed carefully into the passenger cabin of the truck. Natalie looked down at him. He was looking for Negan. She hadn’t really announced herself and an unannounced visit from her was usually bad news enough, Negan would be worse.

“What’s up, Bud?” she said cheerfully and jumped out of the car. He looked at her suspiciously. “Where’s Simon?” she asked.

“Inside. In his room. Is there a reason you are here?” he followed her making a beeline for Simon’s quarters.

“You’ll know soon enough,” she just said. With that, she walked into the room without knocking and shut the door in Bud’s face. To her surprise, the advertised person wasn’t there. Then the door of the little bathroom Simon called his own got opened and the man in question walked out wearing nothing but a towel. A towel he nearly lost when he saw her and jumped surprised.

“Jesus,” he cursed under his breath and there was some hectic fumbling to prevent that this situation turned from PG-13 to full-frontal NC-17, much to the disappointment of Natalie, because

“Damn, I always knew you are hiding some very defined physique under these button downs, but now I envy Frankie,” she wasn’t even pretending not to stare at his torso. She and Negan were pretty alike in that matter. And Simon wouldn’t be Simon if he wouldn’t show off a little by stretching himself up to his full height and even flexing a couple of these muscles of his.

“Don’t objectify me,” he said seriously.

“Too late,” they stood like that for an inappropriately long time.

“Do you mind,” he made a little twirling gesture with his finger to indicate that she should turn around, and Natalie pulled a little face.

“Absolutely,” Simon rolled his eyes.

“Come on,” with a protesting sigh she followed the quite reasonable request. “You know you can’t just come in here like that.”

“Why not? I have an all-access pass, his name’s Negan,” she said against the door. Simon’s answer was a huffed laugh. When he allowed her to turn around again he was fully dressed. Bummer.

“So, today’s the day, huh?” he said.

“Seems like it,” Simon wandered to the little kitchenette, poured some water from a canteen into a pot on a camping stove and looked over his shoulder. The outpost had power and running water, but Simon was rationing it for the important stuff. That was one reason Natalie didn’t want to live in an outpost. She was aware that she was exceptionally spoiled in the Sanctuary, but when in Rome.

“You want a coffee?”

“Sure, so how’s the Noah situation?” Simon scoffed. He wasn’t answering until he turned around and shoved a cup in her hands. She sipped on it. Instant coffee really didn’t age well.

“The first people get suspicious, and he really gets sassy.”

“Well, then good thing it ends today. Come on, get the fucker in here. I wanna meet him,” Simon fumbled for his walkie and ordered the first person he got on the other end to send him ASAP. It didn’t take long until there was a knock on the door. He didn’t wait for an answer. He simply barged in. Natalie stared at Noah with a frown when he planted himself in the middle of the room like he was entitled to do so. If Natalie wouldn’t know what was going on here she would find his behavior very weird. No wonder some of the other Saviors already got suspicious. She was about to brain the guy with her knuckle knife or something similar in a couple of hours, might as well be nice.

“Well, look whom we have here. We were just talking about you,” Natalie said cheerfully. She didn’t miss the very quick and slightly warning look Noah shot Simon. “Simon was just telling me how invaluable you made yourself. You really did rise to the occasion here. What gives?”

“Well, I think I just found my true calling,” Noah said, and Simon managed a very strained smile.

“In that case. I was just about to lay out my plans for a nice and easy scavenge run this afternoon. Should be a cakewalk, but better safe than sorry. Wouldn’t wanna miss the chance to have Simon’s top guy having my back.”

“It would be my honor,” he said, and Natalie inwardly rolled her eyes and mumbled something like I bet in her head.

“Yeah, so about that run. You need men, right?” Simon said rather flatly considering it was Simon. He looked at Natalie. “How many do you need?”

“Hm, I came with 12, so let’s say another ten?” Simon turned back to Noah.

“Can you take care of it?”

“Sure thing,” Noah said hesitantly, then he walked out after a little squint at Natalie. She looked after him with a frown.

“You know he ain’t stupid,” Simon said, and she turned to him.

“What do you mean?”

“I wonder if you just ham it up a little too much.”

 

Three hours later Natalie jumped out of the truck after ten minutes of silently observing the strip mall from the outside which was the signal for all Saviors to gather around her.

“Arat, that’s your show now. Splitting up, sweeping through, wiping out. Quietly,” she said emphasizing her words with according hand gestures. Arat looked smug to be in charge but wasted no time before she started to bark orders.

“What about me?” Noah asked, and Natalie looked at him like she had forgotten that he was there. She actually had. Simon couldn’t help, he had to grin a bit.

“Arat’s my top guy, so to speak, so watch and learn, kid,” she unsheathed her knuckle knife and tested the sharpness of the blade with her thumb. “Watch and learn,” after that, she sauntered behind the well-honed machinery that was the Saviors who breached the building methodically. The place was overrun, but that was nothing that 20-something soldiers with machetes, knives and the occasional silenced gun couldn’t handle. In the 30 minutes, the whole thing took Natalie killed a couple of random corpses nice and swiftly. She nearly made it look easy. Noah didn’t really have her back. She could tell that there was not much going on in terms of skills with the guy. She actually would have had a close call if it weren’t for Simon at some point. Despite his poor talent with the knife, he didn’t do her the courtesy to die, though.

“I think it’s clear,” Arat reported and got a long look from Natalie.

“You think?” Arat got the drift, nodded and ordered her guys to make a second sweep leaving Natalie alone in some sort of cupcake store with Noah and Simon standing around awkwardly. Maybe he wasn’t as much of a moron as she thought he was, and maybe Simon had been right, and she just stirred his suspicion a couple hours ago, because the kid definitely noticed that something was up. He looked between them uncomfortably. Natalie casually put her hand on her knife. The situation escalated out of nowhere. Simon didn’t even get a chance. Noah drew his gun surprisingly fast aimed at the taller guy and pulled the trigger. Simon dropped to the ground like a dead weight and blood immediately pooled around his head. Natalie stared down at him in shock.

“What the actual fuck,” she mumbled and looked up right in the shaking barrel of Noah’s gun. The guy was way over his head here, and nervous people had nervous trigger fingers. Where the hell were her Saviors? Natalie lifted her hands. “Woah kid, I don’t know why you decided Simon had to die, but you really don’t wanna kill me here. At this point, you maybe be able to explain his death away, but me deceased won’t go over very well with Negan.”

“Shut up,” Noah pressed out.

“Okay,” she said curtly and lifted her hands a little higher. Jesus, that really wasn’t going like planned here. That Noah was now mumbling okays to himself and was sweating pretty heavily wasn’t helping to ease Natalie’s nerves. He stepped a step closer.

“You and Simon wanted to kill me, am I right? He told you that I was blackmailing him. Did he tell you that he was screwing that redhead chick of Negan’s?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Natalie said slowly. Seriously, where were her men, on a fucking coffee break?

“Are you fucking him, too?” well now that was not how Natalie was used to getting addressed. Her eyes went hard.

“Mind your tone. Who the fuck you think you’re talking to?” Noah chuckled.

“You know what? Always thought you and Negan are stupid for bringing nothing but a bat and a knife to a gunfight.”

“Yeah, I never heard that line before. You know what usually happens to the asshole bringing it? They end up dead. You will have that in common by the end of the day,” she was basically just stalling now, but as long as it worked.

“Maybe not,” he chuckled again. “Maybe that is what happened. I found out Simon screwed one of the wives and told you and you confronted Simon who then killed you. So, I had to shoot him,” Natalie snorted a laugh.

“Believe me, kid, me dead means Negan will kill every single one of the fuckers who let that happen, which includes you and every Savior in that building. Your plan is dead in the water. Besides, it would mean you actually have to go through with killing me.”

“I killed Simon,” he said in a defiant tone and Natalie pulled a face.

“Yeah, about that,” that said Simon knocked him down with a chair. He basically shattered the thing on the kid. A shot went off and made Natalie jump. Simon straddled Noah who was only half conscious and started to punch him hard in the face, often, mechanically, until not much face was left. Surprisingly enough Noah was still alive, judging by the gurgling sounds he made. Simon wasn’t looking very hot. He was breathing heavily and somehow managed to stumble back on his feet only to collapse again on a chair that wiggled dangerously under his weight. Natalie already had pulled off her flannel and pressed it against the heavily bleeding head wound.

“Shit Simon, that’s a lot of blood,” she pulled the fabric away and pushed some hair to the side. “I can see your skull bone.”

“I think I’m going blind,” he stated in an oddly calm tone. Three of her guys ran in.

“What’s going on?” one asked and Natalie glared at them.

“Wow, now you’re showing up. Where the fuck have you been when the kid started shooting? Help me get him in the car and to Carson,” two of them took Simon over their shoulders and more or less dragged him outside.

“What about him?” instead of an answer Natalie took his rifle, put a round into Noah’s head and threw the gun back to her man.

“Problem solved,” she snapped and ran after Simon. Someone had the sense of pulling out a first aid kit and was now bandaging Simon’s skull. He seemed to be surprisingly lucid since he was cursing creatively ending with a sharp inhale and the statement that getting shot in the head hurt like a bitch.

“Technically it is not a headshot, more like a head graze,” Natalie mumbled. Simon looked around with an impassive face. He probably had a concussion or even a cracked skull. He should lie down. Natalie jumped in the bed of the truck and made him unceremoniously.

“Get us the fuck out of here.”

Chapter Text

Natalie stood in the hallway with her hands over her head and stared on the closed infirmary door.

“Shit,” she mumbled under her breath. This had been way too close. Gun. Head. Bullet. Never a good combination. It was a miracle Simon was still alive. Not to mention that he somehow had managed to save hers, too. “Shit,” she repeated eloquently. This would have been on her. Big time. She just made a huge misjudgment. She didn’t make many of those, but every time she had, people had died. So, in the grand scheme of things, this went well. With a sigh, she slumped her shoulders. Her left hand still was covered in blood. Simon’s blood. He had lost a lot of blood. Headwounds bled a lot, right? And he was a big guy, that had to count for something, so he probably would be fine. “Fuck,” she said for the sake of diversity. Arat loitered nearby. She was eyeballing her.

“What are you looking at?” Natalie snapped. She knew it, and under other circumstances, she wouldn’t blame the girl. These scars on her right shoulder and arm had to come from somewhere and it had to have hurt a lot while acquiring them (it had, that had been the point), but all but four people in the whole place knew how she got them, Negan and her included, and the other two kept their mouth shut, so it was a very popular topic of gossip and speculation. Of course, only when Negan was out of earshot. Natalie wasn’t caring that much about it, but there was a reason why she usually wore those flannels over her tops. Arat averted her eyes and mumbled something. Probably a sorry. She shouldn’t be so harsh to her. This hadn’t been her fault. And Negan probably would give her and the others hell later, so she should cut her some slack. Speaking of the devil. When Natalie turned around to stomp to her room she nearly ran into him.

Negan had three ways to react to situations involving her and jumping the proverbial gun: getting pissed at her, getting pissed at everybody else or, usually, both. And judging by the look he gave first Natalie and then Arat the latter just got effective. He simply ignored his sister and casually wandered up to Arat just to stop right in her personal space hovering above her solid five inches. The girl tucked her bottom lip, leaned unconsciously a bit away and focussed on the opposite wall with an uncomfortable expression.

“Tell me, Arat,” he began in a rather friendly tone. “How come that Lance and Zio of all fucking people just came to me telling me that my third in command just got shot in the head by one of his own fucking people while nobody else but my sister was with him in the fucking room, hm?” Arat made eye contact for a split second and decided that looking away was less terrifying.

“Negan,” Natalie started.

“So why, if you don’t mind me fucking asking, none of you, not a single one of the sorry ass motherfucker you call men and women had been around considering I over and fucking over again made it perfectly clear,” at this point Negan was close on yelling, he wasn’t quite there, but it wouldn’t take much. “That her safety is your goddamn fucking priority,” now he was yelling. This was actually kind of sweet of Negan, but Natalie took an annoyed breath.

“Negan,” she said more urgent.

“How come that a guy who apparently was half dead already had to fucking safe her from catching a bullet, too, while you and your bunch of useless, moronic assholes were off doing fucking god knows what holding your goddamn dicks and tits in your hand?”

“Okay, that’s enough,” Natalie somehow shoved herself between Arat and her brother. Negan scowled at her. “You want to be pissed at someone, be pissed at me. This wasn’t their fault,” she made a hand sign to Arat and she ducked her head and bolted. Negan wasn’t paying much attention. He probably would come up with some sort of punishment later that Natalie would follow through only half-heartedly. He took a sharp breath through the nose which gave him the impression of an angry bull. This comparison wasn’t that far off the truth.

“So, what the fuck actually happened?” he snapped.

“You really wanna do this here? In the middle of the hall, right in front of the infirmary?” she snapped back.

“Oh, I would fucking do this in the middle of the fucking factory floor if that would be what it takes to fucking make you understand that your fucking reckless, stupid behavior one day will get you fucking killed,” Natalie took a step back with an incredulous face.

“First, asshole, tune the fucks down, that’s annoying,” absolutely no one would ever talk to Negan like that, so despite that Natalie called him names on a regular basis, he still got offended by them. “Second, who says I behaved stupid and reckless?” she did, though. She had to admit that, not that she would ever say that out loud.

“Ex-fucking‑perience,” he growled and did that invading someone’s personal space thing again. They glared at each other. Then they glared some more. It was some sort of chicken game with vicious eye contact. Finally, Negan snorted a laugh and stepped a step back. He sighed. “You are not off the hook, girl,” he mumbled as a response to her little grin. “So, what happened?” he asked calmer than before. Natalie shrugged and let a hand run through her hair. She lied to Negan since she was 9 years old. She was a professional, and she had a bunch of gold medals, and the one or other tattoo, to show for it. But the thing was, Negan got lied to by her since she was 9 years old. He was a professional calling her bullshit. So, she stayed as close to the truth as possible.

“I don’t know. The kid thought we were out and about to kill him or something. Just freaked. Yelled. Waved that gun around,” time to add some glitter. “Simon tried to calm him down, and then just boom, Simon went down,” she pressed her lips together. Way too close. “I really thought he bit the big one there,” Negan gave her a strange look. “Noah threatened me, and I stalled him a little, and then Simon just knocked him out with a chair and basically punched him into a coma. It’s fucked up, but that was really impressive,” Negan sighed.

“Yeah, the universe probably knows that if someone kills the asshole it’s gonna be me,” Negan mumbled. Then he looked over to her, reached out his arm and made some sort of come-here gesture.

“Really?” it was very uncharacteristic of the man to show emotions where actual people might see them.

“Just get in here,” he mumbled. He pulled her against his chest. He hadn’t shown real affections for a while, so Natalie took the opportunity to nearly snuggle against him. He pressed a kiss in her hair. “You are not allowed to die,” he said softly. Natalie wasn’t lying here, she could have done this for a very long time, but the door of the infirmary got opened and they jumped away from each other. Carson had his blind ogles on and acted like he didn’t just see them hugging it out.

“So, how is he?” Negan asked surprisingly sympathetic.

“Lost a lot of blood. The wound itself isn’t so bad. I stopped the bleeding, stitched him up. He’s awake and lucid, complains a lot,” both Negan and Natalie had to scoff. That sounded like Simon. “There’s still a chance of complications. That was some heavy trauma to the head. He has definitely a concussion, a bad one,” Carson added. “I have no way of telling without imagery, but there still can be bleeding or swellings. I keep him here, keep an eye on him. If nothing happens by tomorrow he should be fine,” Negan smacked his lips and gave his sister a long, unreadable look.

“Good,” he said to Carson before he turned back to her. “Take a fucking shower. You look like that girl from Carrie,” Natalie tilted her head.

“You mean Carrie?” Negan rolled his eyes. He pushed the doc away and marched into the infirmary.

“Take that shower, get some grub in you. I need to have a little chat with the big guy,” he said over the shoulder.

“About what?”

“None of your fucking business,” he grinned. Natalie sighed.

“Just don’t get hard on him. He didn’t do nothing,” there was the same strange look from earlier on Negan’s face.

“Don’t you worry, now go to your room. That’s an order,” Negan chuckled and disappeared behind the doorframe. Carson shot her a forced little smile and followed him. Natalie got the door of the infirmary shut in her face.

“Shit,” she mumbled, just for the sake of mumbling something, turned on her heels and went to her room.

 

Two days later she knocked on the door of the room Negan had dumped Simon in and to her surprise, it was Frankie who opened. Natalie squinted her eyes and gave her quick once over. She looked perfectly normal, no disheveled hair, no debauched clothes, no weirdly red and sweaty post-sex face, so she probably had a perfectly innocent reason to be here, but somehow Natalie got a little pissed.

“What are you doing here?” she snapped. Frankie blushed, which to Natalie’s annoyance looked rather pretty on her pale skin, and started to stutter something. Simon interrupted her.

“She brought me some painkillers, the doc is drugging me up good. I should get shot in the head more often,” Frankie stepped aside to let Natalie in and both women stared at Simon with completely different expressions. Frankie had pressed her lips together clearly not amused by Simon’s black humor, while Natalie grinned a little because come on, this had been funny.

“Technically it was a graze to the head,” Simon rolled his eyes. They were bloodshot, and he had heavy pouches underneath them.

“So, you keep repeating. I will still from now on tell the tale how I survived a headshot. That’s going to be my shark story,” Natalie huffed a laugh. Frankie looked confused about the inside joke. When she was sixteen Natalie got bit by a shark. A small one that she had startled while wading around in the knee-deep ocean. The little bastard had tried to take a chunk out of her calf and failed miserably. The only thing he left her was a perfect impression of his teeth that had bled quite a bit, but otherwise just needed cleaning and some band-aids. You could barely see the scars anymore, but when Natalie told the story in an exceptionally Munchausen mood it sounded like she had fought off that thing from Jaws with her bare hands, a chainsaw and a bad attitude, much to the amusement of everyone listening.

“I should get going,” Frankie muttered. She shot a shy smile at Simon who wasn’t really paying attention. Frankie noticed and looked rather disappointed when she left. Natalie frowned after her. She let herself drop in a worn-out chair.

“You look like shit by the way,” Simon sighed and closed his eyes.

“Two days. It’s been two days since I got shot and I already lost all my sympathy points with you. I actually feel like shit, too. Thanks for asking,” he said without heat in his voice. Natalie nudged him with her foot.

“Don’t be a pouter. I said that affectionately. I’m just glad you’re not dead, dude,” Simon chuckled.

“Yeah me, too. By the way, I told your brother I don’t remember anything, in case you dished him some story, so we don’t cross our streams.”

“Clever girl.”

“I have my moments,” he rubbed the bridge of his nose. “That headache is killing me,” he mumbled. Natalie frowned at him.

“I thought Carson’s drugging you up good. FYI, don’t get too plucky concerning Frankie,” he scoffed.

“No worries. We keep it tame and for a teen and up audience. Besides, what do you think I’m gonna do, bend her over in the middle of the factory floor? And it’s not like she snuck in here or anything, the doc sent her because apparently, I can’t be trusted with more than two pills of oxy at a time.”

“That’s my doing, I’m afraid. You gotta keep track of that shit. There’s enough black market-ish bullshit going on on the ground floor already. I don’t need to add drugs to the mix,” Simon nodded.

“Makes sense,” they sat around for a bit. Natalie stared at Simon’s scar with morbid fascination. The doc had stapled it by the looks of it and decided that airdrying was the best method for healing. It actually didn’t look that bad, considering it had bled as much as it did and the bullet had carved the Mariana trench into his skull bone.

“I bet you wish you had more hair to cover this up later,” Simon blinked at her. Then he laughed.

“You are an asshole. Don’t make fun about my hair. You know what they say about men with receding hairlines,” he chuckled.

“What, that they have a history of boldness in their families?” she said seriously.

“That’s what they say? I lived a lie my whole life,” Natalie just opened her mouth to give him another witty answer when the door got ripped open forcefully, Negan style. The man was surprised to see his sister here but recovered within seconds.

“Good, you’re both here. Spares me a trip to your room,” he said and closed the door.

“You mean all the way two doors down?”

“Shut up, Simon,” Negan said rather cheerfully. “Who of your people has the skills and balls to run your show for you? You don’t need to answer right away, but I kind of hope you do and that the fucking answer is Paula because I basically already promoted her.”

“What?” Negan looked around in the smallish room for a place to sit and finally decided to just lean nonchalantly on the wall.

“The place is up and running. The Hilltops isn’t likely to make trouble, so I decided that you as my third in command are more useful for me here than there. I admit it’s a little reward for saving Nat’s ass the other day, but overall, I mean it when I say you are good in what you are doing, and I'd rather have you doing it for me at the Sanctuary. So, what do you say?”

“I,” Simon was basically beaming. “Thank you,” Negan made a dismissive gesture.

“Don’t mention it. Also, Nat’s pestering me that she is basically doing everything on her own here. I don’t believe that, but for my sake, take some of that immense burden she obviously is carrying from her shoulders,” he grinned at Natalie who wasn’t looking very happy. Negan sighed and got up.

“The doc tells me you need some more downtime, at least a week, probably more, by all means, take it. But then I expect you to roll up your sleeves and go to work. Until then we gonna find you a better place, this room is an embarrassment,” Negan gave some peeling-off paint a poke before he opened the door again. He was bailing, Natalie could tell.

“Can I talk with you for a second,” Negan sighed. “Privately,” Simon frowned after them in light confusion when Natalie pushed her brother out and closed the door.

“What the fuck? What happened with we need him at the outpost? Why the sudden 180?” Negan played ignorant.

“What do you mean, I changed my mind, is all.”

“No, you didn’t, you just got me a fucking babysitter,” Negan sighed again.

“I wouldn’t call it that.”

“Yeah? How would you call it, then?” he rubbed his beard.

“Mutual eye-on-each-other keeping?” Natalie shrugged impatiently.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Look, it was you who said that maybe Simon needs someone to keep him in check from time to time. We all know what happens when he snaps. He would literally go through me when he’s down that rabbit hole, you on the other hand? That man would do anything you ask him to do, including calming the fuck down and take a breather when he has a psychotic break,” Natalie couldn’t really argue with that. “And yes, that’s a fucking win-win for me. You stick around him making sure all his fucking marbles are where they’re supposed to be, and he can provide an extra level of security for my fucking sake. Because I maybe don’t trust that asshole to make the right judgments at all times, but I trust him to rather die than let anything happen to you, that’s more than I can say about the rest of the people here besides myself,” Negan stepped a step back. Natalie couldn’t quite shake the feeling he hadn’t wanted to say that. She for starters hadn’t been aware that Negan felt like that about Simon. Negan played it down by making a joke. “And you always complained that Simon gets to do the cool stuff, so congratulations, you two can do the cool stuff together from now on,” Natalie glared at him for a bit.

“For the record, I don’t like it,” Negan shrugged.

“Why not? The alternative would be me locking you up in some tower somewhere. You need to grow out your hair a bit more for that to fucking work.”

“You are not funny,” she said in a sulky tone. She mostly sulked because Negan had only said that half-jokingly, and there had been a point in the past when he had locked her away “to keep her safe”. Not their best moment.

“Look kid, lighten up. I genuinely thought you would be a little happier about that,” Natalie gave him another gloomy look.

“Yeah? Why’s that?” Negan shrugged.

“Because you can spend more time with Simon,” Natalie frowned confused. “Anyhow, my decision is final. So, get used to it. You need anything I’m upstairs. But I would appreciate if you don’t need anything,” with that he turned around and walked away. Conversation over. Natalie looked after him, still with a deep frown on her forehead. What the hell did he mean by that? She shrugged it off and walked to her room.

At least Simon and Frankie would have it a little easier when Simon would live here, it was only a matter of right timing. Give it a couple of weeks and these two’s story would be how they fell in love over stapling headshots or something like that. Even Negan couldn’t really say something to that.  

Chapter Text

Natalie looked up from her admittedly quite boring task of cleaning her gun. There was some commotion on the yard outside. A welcomed distraction. She dropped the weapon immediately and walked to the window. After a long look outside, she made her slow descend downstairs with a frown on her face. She met Regina halfway on the factory floor and put on a wasped little smile. Regina and she weren’t exactly friends, and Natalie would be the first one to admit that that was just some catfight between women in power positions that somehow resented each other for no apparent reason. Regina already looked annoyed, although Natalie hadn’t even said anything stupid yet. She stopped right in front of her and tilted her head.

“How did you get in here? I thought your kind needs to be invited,” somewhere behind Regina Wade sniggered. He got an angry side look from Regina, but his only response was a little shrug and a grin.

“Where’s Negan?” Regina snapped. Natalie pursed her lips thoughtfully.

“Upstairs, probably busy,” she answered almost bored like this was obvious.

“Doing what?” this time Regina held back the snide knowing very well that she had no right to question whatever the man was doing or make it in any way sound like he had no business doing it right now in the first place.

“Usually? Banging a wife. It’s a slow day,” Natalie said with a smile that wasn’t friendly at all. Regina rolled her eyes. “What do you even want? It’s not like I don’t like it when you show up here unannounced or anything,” she stopped and made a dramatic pause. “You ran out of hair product?” Now Wade nearly snorted and Natalie shot him a lazy grin. She and Wade went way back. He was one of the only four people left from Negan's and her initial group. He had earned snorting at his superiors. Negan had offered him the Shepherd Outpost more than once, but he always refused. He was more of a middle man kind of guy and was quite happy with his position as somehow third or fourth under Regina. Anything else was just too much work and responsibility for too less money. It was good, though, that he was at an Outpost since Wade was only tolerable in small doses. Natalie actually thought he was particularly tolerable when she was drunk.

“I need to talk to him,” Regina said curtly and of course she did. She wouldn’t make the trip without a reason.

“Yeah, yeah,” Natalie looked around until her eyes fell on the first Savior in sight and she gave him a little head jerk signaling to fetch the man. Then she proceeded to needlessly glare at Regina. After a minute or five, Natalie cleared her throat.

“Why don’t you go ahead and wait for him in the war room? For your comfort no one will bring you any beverages,” the other woman made a sound between a scoff and a snort, maybe a sneer, and basically stormed away. Wade stayed behind and strolled next to Natalie.

“What’s up with her? She’s even more uptight than usual? I’m almost afraid she’s gonna start beating me with that stick she has up her ass,” Wade chortled.

“You’re safe, that would need a year of planning and a lot of manpower to get that thing out. Nah, she’s pissed and nervous. Someone’s raiding stashes and safe houses and now she has to confess it to Negan,” Natalie raised an eyebrow.

“How many?”

“Three so far.”

“Well, shit,” it happened now and then. They did check the places on a regular schedule but from time to time someone outside the Saviors managed to stumble across one by random chance and then it was Christmas in Cockaigne for these people. They generally tracked them down. There where just so many places to go and they got only that far most of the time and most people weren’t as good in hiding their tracks as they thought they were. And usually, there wasn’t even any retaliation heading their way, since opportunity made thieves after all. Quite a few of the good people among the Saviors and workers started their career in the company that way. Sure, sometimes a bunch of scared people with a set of brand-new guns who suddenly got confronted by two dozen, mean looking strangers tried to fire back which generally resulted in a very one-sided bloodbath.

And sometimes the people got away. In that case, though, commonly just one place was ransacked, and they had gone on their merry way, not three. That was a pattern. Someone did this methodically. The Saviors couldn’t just hide their shit somewhere in the middle of a street for any asshole to find, but you didn’t have to have genius levels of intelligence to figure out places that might be stashes, since they had to fulfill certain criteria. A healthy dose of common sense was enough. So, these people weren’t idiots. Negan would be pissed, though. Because it also meant that they were still sticking around somewhere and obviously Regina so far had failed to find them.

“So,” Wade said next to her. “Word on the street is Simon is screwing around with an ex-wife,” Natalie looked over to him.

“Who says that?”

“You know, people,” Wade shrugged with a grin.

“These people sure ain’t no poets,” then she sighed. Yes, it was more or less official, Simon and Frankie were a thing now. Although the two were discrete and kept a low profile it was basically Sanctuary talk going mostly in two directions: that Frankie very obviously whored herself up the ladder again, and that Simon had to be either stupid or brave, probably both. Natalie tried to stay out of it.

“So, is it true or not?” Wade probed.

“Yeah,” Natalie just said. Wade pulled a little contemplating face.

“What’s the big man saying to that?”

“He’s oddly cool about it,” considering it was Negan. It was weird actually. Sure, first time he heard of it he got angry enough that Natalie had to talk him out of going downstairs with Lucille and break open Simon’s head wound, but after some ranting, pacing, getting drunk and sleeping it off he had cooled down enough to realize that technically this was none of his business and no matter how he looked at it no one was breaking any rules. Even Negan didn’t make up shit and rules as he went. “I mean he doesn’t like it. Gives Simon a lot of bullshit tasks just to get back to him, but overall?” she shrugged. “Oddly cool,” and he didn’t believe that this would last. Natalie wasn’t so sure about that considering what Simon had been ready to do in order to keep Frankie safe.

“I don’t like it,” Wade stated next to her. Natalie tilted her head with a little bemused frown.

“Alright, I inform the press,” Wade scoffed.

“The age difference alone. I mean, he could be her father,” so could Negan, even more so, and anyway.

“How old do you think Simon is?”

“I don’t know, 40-ish?” close enough. That left another question open.

“How old do you think Frankie is?” now Wade shrugged.

“20? 22?” now Natalie rolled her eyes. Seriously? Had to be that perfect skin. Then she looked at Wade with an expressionless face.

“Simon’s 42, Frankie’s 26,” Wade did the maths and shrugged.

“Well, ok, knocking someone up with 16 isn’t unheard off,” he deadpanned. “I still don’t like it. What are you saying to that?” she eyed Wade warily. He, on the other hand, looked back at her expectantly, like he was dying to hear her opinion.

“Nothing, that’s none of my business. He can date whomever he likes,” for some reason that sounded defensive. Natalie frowned about herself. Wade very slowly raised an eyebrow.

“Ooooh, you don’t like it either, do you? You just grin and bear with it because Simon and you are basically besties,” now Natalie snorted dismissively. The point where Wade’s company shifted from amicable to intolerable approached fast. She turned on her heels and walked off with a brisk step. Wade hurried to follow her.

“We should check if Negan’s done ripping Regina a new one,” she said. He was. They ran into Gary who was on his way to fetch them. Simon was already in the war room. He was kind of quick these days to obey orders from Negan to avoid annoying him even more. He was absently scratching on his scar and Natalie swatted his hand away in passing. When she sat down next to him she was greeted by Wade already sitting opposite from her grinning stupidly.

“As I said, besties,” he said lowly, but loud enough that Simon heard it. He frowned at her amused but couldn’t say anything since Negan started talking.

“Wade filled you in?” he asked his sister. Natalie shrugged in an awkward confirmation. Negan sighed. “We need to find these fuckers and get our shit back. How many stashes and safe houses in total do we even have?” he looked at Simon.

“Without the ones already raided? 14 stashes, 8 safe houses.”

“We don’t know how many people are in that thieving bunch of assholes, so we can’t guard them. We don’t have the people. Most aren’t fortified whatsoever. This can end in a fucking catastrophe when it suddenly turns out these are thirty people and we only have ten inside. So, we do it the old-fashioned way. We lay low and watch the places until they show up. Then we follow them to wherever they hunker down, and we go from there. You think 24 hours shifts are too long?” this time he asked Natalie. She scratched her forehead.

“Nah, it’s fine. Make it little teams of two or three and they can keep each other company,” Negan nodded.

“Great, fucking make it so. That’s it, short and sweet, just how I like my meetings. Simon, you’re with Nat and tell your guys no fucking risks. These fuckers have a lot of our guns, now,” Negan already got up. Natalie wasn’t exactly thrilled that she now had to spend a whole day surveilling one of her own safe houses. With a sigh, she turned to Simon who just grinned at her.

“Aw, why the face? Don’t act like you are not looking forward to spending 24 hours in a car with me,” a small smile tugged on Natalie’s lips. “See? Silver linings, come on, let’s drum up some people and get this over with.”

 

Roughly 16 hours later Natalie regretted that she hadn’t packed a book.

“This is boring,” Simon wasn’t answering at first. He loitered comfortably in his seat and eyed over to one of their stashes, an old garage, roughly 400 yards away through half-lid eyes. The car was hidden behind the feathery branches of some holly bushes. It was dark for a couple of hours now already and the most exciting thing that happened so far was that one of the dead passed them without paying them much attention.

“Heed my words of wisdom,” he finally said, “boring is good these days. Enjoy boring. It’s better than exciting since this usually means people dying. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for people dying when it’s the right people, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the little quiet moments. You need to learn that, too. That’s basically a vacation. You can always try to take a nap. We’ll be here for a while longer, I got it at the moment.”

“You enjoy it now. We’ll talk again in two or three days,” now Simon turned to her.

“They raided three stashes in four days, the odds are high they strike again really soon. This will be over before we know it,” he grabbed the long-range walkie that lay on the dashboard and threw it in her lab. “Here, roll call. That’ll cheer you up,” Natalie took it and the little notebook in the glove compartment.

“Alright folks, sit-rep, go,” one after the other called in and she crossed them out. Not a single one had something interesting to say. The most exciting thing was that Zio apparently had sprained his ankle when he was stepping out to take a piss. That wasn’t exactly something Natalie would write home about. She frowned on the list. Then she slowly lifted the walkie to her lips.

“Mara, do you copy? I need your sit-rep,” all she heard was static. “Mara, do you read?” Natalie shared a look with Simon who frowned back concerned. “Jason?” she waited another 10 or 15 seconds. “Shit.”

“Where are they?” Simon asked.

“Old cotton mill near the Interstate. 18 miles from here,” you could tell that Simon was thinking hard behind these dark brown eyes, then he seemed to come to a decision.

“Your brother said no risks, right?” Natalie shrugged.

“You wanna play it safe? I’m down with that,” he nodded and pointed at the walkie

“Gimme that,” he grabbed it. “Listen up folks, we can’t get Mara and Jason on the radio. We need to assume something happened. Nat and I aren’t taking any chances tonight, so we meet up at the Satellite Outpost, go the cotton gin together. You guys ran into trouble do not engage. And now get your asses to the outpost,” they got a couple of affirmatives. Simon already started the car and carefully steered from the dirt road on the street.

“I kind of feel like I jinxed it,” Natalie stated, and Simon’s only answer was a little huff. Overall both were pretty tense. It was their first gig together since the strip mall disaster and it looked like this wouldn’t go down easy and smoothly as well. Something that pretty much confirmed itself roughly 15 minutes later.

“Shit,” Simon mumbled. “Are you still bored?” they had run into a roadblock. It felt weird to sit on the other side of it. Simon had stopped the truck maybe 30 yards away from the two cars blocking the road with three guys in front of them heavily armed. Probably their guns. They weren’t the only ones. Others had stepped out of the woodwork and had basically surrounded them. Simon and Natalie just ran into a proper ambush.

“I wanna see your hands, lift them up nice and slow,” one guy said. Simon shared a look with Natalie and then both did what they got told. Simon had a gun in his holster, there was a shotgun riding, well, shotgun, but trying anything would be suicide. They were outnumbered two to 12. Natalie slowly placed the radio on the dashboard, turning it on as unobtrusively as possible before she lifted her hands up completely. The guy with the gun came closer and shot a quick look in the back. “That’s a nice car you got there,” he gave the fuel gage another quick check. “A lot of gas, too. Nice and clean clothes. I think we just won the jackpot, don’t you think Al?” the man named Al, a rather brute looking, older guy with a sweaty pig face, just grunted as an answer. “Get out of the car, you and your pretty girlfriend,” both hesitated but finally Natalie opened the passenger door and slowly got out. She didn’t like the whole situation, and she even less liked the lewd way the asshole had just called her a pretty girl. She wasn’t especially happy about her personal guard, either. A young guy who looked really nervous. What was it with really young, nervous guys putting guns on her these days.

“Are the guns really necessary?” Simon asked flatly. They got patted down. Natalie’s uneasiness got a boost when patting her down included more touching than necessary. Simon saw that, too. He was not happy about it, either

“Why don’t you let us decide this, hm?” the ringleader said in a taunting tone. “Now we gonna make a little trip, and while we are at it, you gonna tell us all about the place you live. How about that?” Although they had them outnumbered the kid next to Natalie wasn’t the only one who was nervous close to the point of panic. Something told her that kind of thing was not something these people did on a regular basis, if ever. That was typical. When they had to run in a situation like that was it too much to ask for professionals? But no, this was hostage taking amateur hour. Maybe that was the reason for what happened next. Gary called them on the walkie. It crackled to life impossibly loud making nearly everyone jump. And then yell. A shot went off and hit the car window shattering it in a million pieces. Someone gave her a rough shove. The last thing she saw was the fender of their car approaching her with some speed. No wait, it was the other way around. Then a sharp pain in her temple and finally nothing.

Chapter Text

Natalie woke up with a start and jerked upright. Someone held her down by her shoulders. That person was smarter than her. There was a raging ache in the left side of her skull. She nearly threw up.

“Easy now,” Simon said soothingly. Her vision was blurry and what little she could see from the room around her spun around like she was in some sort of 360-degree Ferris wheel. Simon helped her to sit up. “Nice and slow,” he mumbled. “There you go,” his face slowly came into focus. He was smiling at her. A little lopsided, a little less smug than usual, and he had a hell of a shiner.

“What happened to your face?” Simon snorted a soft laugh.

“You are the one to talk. Besides, you should see the other guy,” Natalie carefully touched her temple. She could feel a lump, but no crusted blood. It felt rather tender to her touch, so she withdrew her hand quickly. Then she looked over to Simon through her bangs.

“Seriously?”

“No, one of them hit me in the face with his rifle for no reason. Is it just me or do these assholes have no idea what they are doing?”

“Yeah, my thought exactly,” Natalie slumped against the wall she was leaning on and looked around the dimly lit room. “Where the fuck are we?”

“King George High School. Some sort of storage room,” Simon stated. It took her a moment or two to make something out of that information.

“Well, at least we are still in Virginia. Wasn’t that place overrun?” Simon shrugged.

“Apparently they have cleared it,” then after a break in a voice like he didn’t really believe it either. “Or maybe the dead wandered off.”

“What are the odds for that?” Natalie muttered. Fuck, that meant they had the numbers. This was probably bad. Or not. The Saviors were in the hundreds. But it was most certainly bad for them. Simon was reading minds today. Maybe it was just a great minds think alike kind of moment.

“I counted 18. Could be more. Their leader worries me.”

“Oh, it’s the leader that worries you?” Natalie couldn’t help the sarcasm, but Simon didn’t mind or chose to ignore it.

“They think we belong to the Satellite Outpost, that this is our home base. That is actually the only good news here, that they have no idea with whom they are fucking right now,” Natalie scoffed.

“Well then, let’s lead ‘em to the doorstep of the Sanctuary and let Negan show them what he can do,” she mumbled. Not even on a good day Natalie would call herself a decent or moral person. Hell, most of the things the Saviors did, that oppressing the communities and extorting them for resources, for example, had basically been her idea, but in contrast to her brother, she was all bark, no bite. She threatened, a lot, occasionally ordered a thorough beating to show she meant business, but things like bashing skulls in just to get a point across or killing off random people in order to keep their friends in line weren’t her cup of tea. She not always condoned her brother’s actions, she most certainly wasn’t exactly happy that he seemed to enjoy it a little bit too much sometimes if you asked her, but on the other hand she didn’t like getting knocked out and locked up in storage closets either, so this time she might make an exception. Especially since she did understand what Simon meant by that he was worried about the leader. She knew the type. Just smart enough to stay ahead of the assholes he was leading with a hard-on for calling the shots, but when push comes to shove he wouldn’t be able to hold it together. They were good at following orders and mediocre in giving them, and it was the coming-up-with-really-good-plans part that gave them the most trouble. Negan usually gave men like that the command over their own little platoon of idiots letting them run errands and when they somehow got dead in the process he would just shrug and move on. They probably did something stupid and had it coming. They were expendable after all. The real problems, though, would arise when they found themselves in a position where they had actual power over people. When they had their fate in their hands. And Natalie and Simon’s fates pretty much were in the hands of this mofo right now.

“We should probably do just that,” Simon stated. He looked tense.

“Do what?”

“Tell them about the Sanctuary. Stall. Cooperate. Unless you don’t come up with an elaborate trick to Houdini us out of here that’s our best chance. Gary called in because he wanted to know what was going on. They know by now that we are missing. And this place isn’t far away from where they took us. Horace is a hell of a tracker, Chief, too. Negan will tear the state apart to find you. It’s just a matter of time, actually,” Natalie looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

“You want to tell him about the Sanctuary,” she said flatly. Simon shrugged.

“Of course, we leave out details. Crucial ones, like our numbers, comes to mind,” he actually grinned. Natalie just stared at him.

“You are planning to do something stupid, aren’t you?”

“No?”

“Seriously Simon, I swear you gonna make some provocative quips just to draw all the attention on you,” Natalie stopped because she had no real finish for that sentence.

“Yeah?”

“Simon,” he rolled his eyes.

“You really think I sit here and watch a repeat of last time you don’t know me very well,” he snapped. Natalie’s pressed her lips together.

“Last time was way different.”

“How?”

“It just was,” she mumbled. Her eyes gazed Simon and dropped back on the floor again. He looked rather pissed. There was a heavy silence between them. Natalie’s hand absently flew to her shoulder. She could feel the scars through the thin fabric of her jersey shirt.

“I’m sorry,” Simon mumbled after what felt like half a century. “I didn’t mean to bring it up.”

Natalie wasn’t answering. The door was ripped open. Suddenly the room was very bright, not only slightly lit by whatever light fell through the small, dirty window.

“Get up,” it was supposed to sound tough, but whoever was the owner of the voice puberty vocal change seemed to be in full progress. They did. The kid had trimmed his rifle right had Simon’s chest and retreated carefully. It wasn’t the stupidest of sentiments, but he treated Simon like a really dangerous person. “Step out of the room, and slowly,” at this point, Natalie wondered if he was quoting some movie. Outside they were awaited by six guys with guns.

“You hit that guy who gave you that shiner really hard,” Natalie said lowly and got pushed roughly with the butt of some gun for that. Okay, tough crowd. They were led, well an awkward mix out of barrel yanked and shoved, to the gym of all places. They were greeted by leader guy, pig-face Al and, and this was some sort of surprise and threw both of them out of their current loops, a rather nice-looking elderly lady. After 30 seconds if staring into Martha Stuart’s face, Natalie had nothing. She smiled at her.

“Ah, you must be Natalie and you are Simon, right?” Natalie shot Simon a little look. He just shrugged with a frown. He hadn’t told her their names. The woman lifted the long-range radio. “Someone was asking for you. Threatened me, as well. He sounded very serious, although I have to admit I did not appreciate the language,” she looked at Simon expectantly. He just glared at her for a bit and she made a weird little sound and turned away. “But where are my manners. I haven’t introduced myself. I am Christine, this is my son Frank and you met Albert. He was the gentleman who shoved you against the car,” the woman leaned closer to Natalie with an incredibly creepy smile. “He is terribly sorry for that,” Natalie smiled back, lopsided, a false smile if there ever was one. That woman wasn’t right in the head, Natalie could tell. She knew crazy. Hell, crazy stood next to her. But Simon’s crazy was different. Simon’s crazy she could predict, handle, even manage, but she had no idea what was wrong with that woman, only that it scared the shit out of her right now.

“Your son, huh? You must be so proud,” Simon went through with his plan of drawing all the attention on him. Christine stepped away from Natalie and walked closer to Simon. He looked rather uncomfortable when she crowded him a little. She creeped him out, too. Or maybe he was just irritated that she very clearly checked him out. She made that sound again, sounded like a mix between a choke and a snigger.

“I have a couple of questions for you,” she said and sat on a folding chair in a delicate move. She held her knees together and leaned them to the side. For some reason, Natalie could only focus on that for a couple of seconds. That was sitting by etiquette. She knew that since her mother-in-law, hopefully rotting somewhere right now, had tried to drill manners into her so she wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb at all those country club events she had expected her to participate. She did anyway. Let’s say Negan and Lucille hadn’t really cared for manners and somehow skipped the part where they taught Natalie to be a proper lady.

“That’s embarrassing. We have nothing for you,” Simon said nearly cheerfully, dragging her out of her thoughts.

“Oh, you’re a feisty one, aren’t you?” Simon scoffed.

“I prefer belligerent,” Christine made that na-uh sound again.

“I bet you do. So, tell me Simon, that fine gentleman that so colorfully and graphically threatened me on the radio. Who is he? He seemed rather concerned about your lovely companion’s well-being I have to say. So, what is she to him?”

“Someone you really shouldn’t provoke,” Simon said flatly. “It’s not too late for you now. You could just let us go, take to your heels, and I promise you we’ll give you a head start. We will hunt you down eventually, but so you at least got a chance,” Christine lifted an eyebrow like Simon just said something really amusing.

“Oh, is that so. Answer the question.”

“Go to hell,” she sighed.

“I am not going to ask again, I just would like to make you aware that there will be consequences if you don’t answer,” Simon’s eyes flipped shortly to Natalie who just hoped her look conveyed something along the line of don’t do something stupid. To give him credit he didn’t. He did nothing, only kept his mouth shut. Christine sighed and nodded to Albert. He and two other guys, one one of the young nervous ones, grabbed Simon from behind. But they weren’t after him, they just kept him constrained. Frank, with a grin that Natalie would probably haunt in her dreams for a while, seized her by the hair at the back of her neck, forced her on her knees with a hard yank, stepped behind her and somehow managed to pry her mouth open. He rammed his knife between two of her teeth. She couldn’t remember to have ever felt pain like this before. She probably screamed, she wasn’t sure. There were white dancing lights in front of her eyes and her mouth filled with blood. With a chuckle, he pulled her head back and she had the feeling she was chocking on it. Panicking she clawed on Frank’s hands and she must have scratched him because he hissed “You bitch” and pressed the blade even deeper between her teeth and into her tooth flesh.

“He’s her brother, okay? He’s her brother,” was the first words she understood Simon saying and just like that Frank shoved her forward. She landed hard on her hands and coughed up a lot of blood. She looked through her bangs up to Christine who sat there with a sad smile, and then over to Simon. Three guys hadn’t been enough. One lay unconscious on the floor. He could be dead for all Natalie cared. Simon was basically frothing out of his mouth but was trying to get his composure back while three men sort of hung on him and two others entertained him with their guns. “Oh, you will so regret that you just did that, you bitch,” he snapped.

“Well, I didn’t do anything,” Christine said innocently. She grabbed the walkie that laid next to her on the floor and turned it in her hands thoughtfully. Then her eyes flipped to her son who stood somewhere behind Natalie. “What is it?”

“That bitch scratched me,” Natalie looked over to him. He was holding his wrist. She had scratched him rather badly, blood seeped through his fingers and dropped onto the floor, and she couldn’t help the smug grin. She probably had a bloody mouth and teeth. Hopefully, she looked creepy right now. That she had hurt Christine’s pride and joy really pissed her off, Natalie could tell. She stood up, walked over briskly and slapped her face. Simon started the struggling again. Natalie glared up at her.

“Seriously?” she just asked.

“You will behave, you hear me?” Natalie’s assessment of Christine’s mental state hadn’t been wrong. “Maybe Frank here should teach you a lesson.”

“What?” Frank, again with the grin, already dragged her up and into the direction of the exit. Natalie struggled to get away, but he was stronger. Behind her, Simon was basically losing it.

“You hurt her I swear to God the last thing you going to see is how I gouge your fucking eyes out,” Frank next to her just scoffed and kept dragging her away to do God knows what with her.

Everything came to a halt rather abruptly. There was a shot. It came somewhere from outside the gym and led to Frank freezing and turning around. In the sudden confusion that followed neither she nor Simon wasted any time. Frank had no gun, but he still had his knife and he had made the mistake to not close the sheath. Natalie pulled it out and stabbed him in the throat. He looked at her surprised with wide eyes and started sputtering and gurgling when blood welled out of his mouth. He dropped on his knees and Natalie shoved him on his back, pressed one knee hard in his sternum and with a look of determination she sliced the knife to the left, butchering his throat. He was dead within seconds.

“Asshole,” she mumbled. Christine screamed. More gunshots came from somewhere in the building and Natalie only hoped that it was the Saviors who found them. She got up slowly. The young and nervous ones had made a run for it, leaving Simon only to deal with Al. He was a big guy, he gave him a fight, but when Natalie finally turned around to face Christine’s wrath Simon was in the middle of ending him by ramming his head into one of the wooden benches. Christine attacked her with a war cry. And the bitch had a gun. She didn’t know how to use it, because the shot she fired went way over Natalie’s head. With unadulterated rage she tackled Natalie and they went down together. Natalie lost the knife. Shit. Christine straddled her and punched her in the face two times, but she didn’t know how to punch and probably hurt herself more than she effectively hurt Natalie who somehow scissored her waist and kicked her off from her, but she wouldn’t give up. Some sort of frustrated cry came out of her mouth, it was almost feral, when she stomped on Natalie’s shin. She could feel the bone break in her whole body. For a second both seemed surprised and stared down on the leg and then the pain came. Natalie screamed out. Christine had grabbed the knife and was about to finish what she started when Simon pulled her back, twisted her wrist until she dropped the blade and turned her around forcefully. His face was distorted by rage,

“I’m not one for hurting women, but I believe I made you a promise,” he snapped. Natalie never heard someone scream like Christine screamed when Simon pressed his thumbs inside her eyes. She watched in horror when he shoved them in deeper until some sort of resistance seemed to break with a crunching sound and the woman stopped writhing and crying. Simon who sat on her chest leaned back and admired his handiwork for a bit, breathing heavily and probably not even really there.

“Simon?” Natalie’s voice sounded weak and strained from the pain. Her leg hurt like hell. That somehow snapped him out of it. He was over her in a heartbeat.

“Shit, are you okay?” Natalie didn’t even mind that his hands were bloody when he took her face in both to check her for injuries.

“She broke my leg,” she said, and Simon looked down on it. You could tell that the leg was already swelling so Simon wasted no time to cut open her jeans to make sure it didn’t cut off the blood flow. Saviors breached the room, Gary and Arat among them. Gary pulled out his walkie.

“We found them. They’re in the gym,” it took Negan two minutes to come to them. He looked more worried than angry, but when he got a look on the growing bruise over the break in her tibia, he stepped a step back, palmed his beard and had to take a deep breath to keep the rage in check.

“Round up whom you caught. No fucking survivors this time. I do it myself,” he snapped at Gary who nodded and hurried away. Then he knelt next to her and pressed their foreheads together.

“I found you,” he whispered, and Natalie had to chuckle. It turned into a sob, mostly because of the pain, but because of her relief as well.

“You did,” Simon with help of Arat was currently stabilizing her leg with some makeshift shaft. Negan looked at him.

“That needs to be reduced. We need to get her to the Sanctuary. ASAP,” Negan sighed.

“You okay to get her there?” Simon nodded.

“I’m fine,” Negan got up and let his hand run through his hair. He nodded, too, and weighed Lucille in his hand

“Alright, I trust you to get her there safe,” he looked to the door where Gary and some others shoved the men and women inside that belonged to Christine's group and had survived the attack. So far at least. “I’ll be right there. I just have an errand to run,” Natalie tucked on Simons sleeve. She knew what her brother was about to do and that no force in the world would stop him from doing it, and usually, she wasn’t turning her eyes away, owning up to it like she was supposed to, but not today.

“I don’t want to see this,” she said softly. Simon only nodded and carefully lifted her up. He couldn’t avoid jostling her leg and she groaned into his shoulder while he carried her out and to the trucks where he made her as comfortable as she would get in the back of a pick-up. During the whole drive, he never let go of her and Natalie had to admit, him holding her was more than just comforting. It made her feel safe.

Carson jumped when Simon, with three Saviors in tow whose only job had been clearing the way by shoving everyone they encountered in the halls of the Sanctuary roughly to the side, barged into the infirmary. He shushed them out with a head tilt.

“What happened?” Carson already was in doctor mode.

“Some bitch broke her leg,” Simon just said when he carefully laid her on the examination table. Carson cut off the whole leg of her jeans and carefully pulled off her boot. Whatever he saw, he didn’t like it.

“Wiggle your toes, please,” he said sternly. Natalie pushed herself on her elbows, the pain forgotten for a second. When a doctor said things like this in a tone like that getting alarmed was a very natural reaction. She did wiggle her toes, only that she effectively didn’t. They were unnatural colored as well. “We need to reduce this as fast as possible. Hold her down,” Natalie looked panicked between Simon and the doc who rummaged around in some drawer and came back with what looked like a leather strap.

“Like right now? Without sedation?” Simon stepped behind her without a word and put one arm around her ribcage pressing her tightly against his chest while he held her arms down with the other. “Simon you can’t let him do this,” Natalie now practically pleaded. Carson put the strap around her ankle. Natalie looked up and into Simon’s worried face. “I’m gonna kill both of you,” she pressed out, not really meaning it, but she was not looking forward to what was about to happen here.

“It’s gonna be fine,” Simon said softly in her ear.

“I'm counting down from three, okay?” Natalie pressed her lips together and nodded. Carson counted down and pulled on her ankle. There were a crunch, a plop, and a scream. The last one came out of Natalie’s mouth. She was basically sobbing right now.

“You did it on three. No one does it on three,” she whined. Simon shushed and rocked her a little while Carson asked her to wiggle her toes again. She told him to go fuck himself but did it nonetheless. The man looked relieved.

“Alright, guess we can start on some morphine and get your leg in a proper cast,” he said with a grin. Natalie glared at him.

“You better,” she mumbled and let her head drop against Simon’s shoulder. He made no move to let her go. Frankie appeared all of the sudden. Natalie had not seen her in the room, but on the other side, she had been pretty preoccupied until now. Frankie uncertainly asked the doc what she should do. Simon did something really surprising, and he did it harsher than he should have.

“Not you!” he snapped. Frankie flinched and looked at him with wide eyes. “Get Sherry in here, at least she knows what she is doing,” Frankie’s gaze dropped to the floor. Natalie could tell she had a hard time not to cry and ran out of the room. Simon didn’t seem to care one bit that he just hurt his girlfriend without any obvious reason. Natalie was contemplating to ask him where this had been coming from, or even call him out for that, but she already felt the soothing numbness overtaking her body that came with a good, old-fashioned morphine high. Simon was still holding her when she fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Simon was well aware that Negan stood in the door of the armory for a while now, eyeing him up with his shoulder lazily leaning on the doorframe. Negan wasn’t exactly the blending in type, he usually owned every room he was in and besides, it wasn’t like there were many people in here anyway. With an overdramatic sigh, Negan came in completely, pulled the second metal chair away from the table making a lot of noise and sat down. Simon gave him a look over the crook of his nose, but that was about it.

“I know what you are doing here,” Negan said flatly. Simon pushed the slide of the gun he was cleaning back and forth a couple of times.

“It is rather self-explanatory, isn’t it,” Negan sighed again and proceeded to observe Simon who put the gun away and picked up another one. With nimble fingers he started to dismantle it, all while Negan watched him with a frown.

“When you are done cleaning every fucking gun and rifle in the Sanctuary, what then? You wanna give our windows a good scrubbing? God knows they fucking need it, but I think my right-hand man and third in command has better things to do with his time,” Simon only raised an eyebrow.

“Not at the moment,” he chimed. Negan sighed a third time. He stared at the ceiling for a bit. Then he seemed to come to a decision.

“Simon, I can’t believe I am fucking saying that, but that shit wasn’t your fault,” all Negan got was a scowl. “I mean that I of all people saying shit like that should mean something, right? I once let a guy stew in a dark cell for three days because Nat sprained her ankle on a wet floor and he was the unfortunate individual who did the sweeping,” he looked at Simon expectantly.

“Is this supposed to cheer me up or something? Thanks for the pep talk. I feel better already. You may leave, now,” Negan tilted his head with a little pull of his lips saying he would let it slide, this time.

“Look man. She’s fine. Considering. We came before the real bad shit could happen,” Simon slammed the part of the gun he was just oiling down on the table sudden and hard enough it made a man like Negan flinch.

“Exactly. Real bad shit was about to happen, and it only didn’t because you showed up. I didn’t do shit. This would have been on me. I mean what if,” he stopped and pressed his lips together. Negan’s expression was unreadable, but Simon could have sworn it was nearly sad.

“Yeah, but it didn’t. What happened is you got yourself caught, she cut a throat, someone broke her leg and you did some eyeball popping. All things considered, that was another day in the office for you and her,” Simon glared at him. Really glared at him.

“Are you even taking this seriously?”

“I am taking this far more seriously than you might think, Simon,” Negan said with a squint of his eyes. Other people may shit themselves when that look addressed them. Simon only crossed his arms, leaned back and rolled his eyes. “And I can’t have you sitting in here doing that brooding shit beating yourself up about something that, and I am repeating myself here, wasn’t your fucking fault. I mean what exactly you think you could have done, hm? As much as I know that you can Rambo yourself out of most situations even you can’t take on 24 fucking people by yourself,” Simon wasn’t answering. Negan pinched the bridge of his nose. He locked at Simon rather soft now. “I know why you are doing this, alright?” Simon looked at him impatiently. “You’re scared. You’re scared she won’t come back from this. Just like you were scared that she won’t come back from it the last time,” Simon moved his jaw in frustration and focussed on some imaginary point behind Negan. The man just hit close to home. “Last time was different, Simon. She bounced back then, she will bounce back now.”

“You don’t know that,” Simon mumbled.

“Oh, I know,” Negan drummed his fingers on the table a couple of times. “Let me tell you a story, Simon,” he said slowly.

“I’d rather you don’t.”

“Yeah, well tough shit, you’re in for story time now,” Simon looked at Negan annoyed. He simply ignored him. “When I was 24,” Simon actually groaned. “Shut up and fucking listen, I am teaching a lesson here. So, when I was 24 me and my wife to be just moved in our first house. You know starting a life together, normal shit.”

“Sounds lovely,” Negan gave him a glare.

“Yeah so we just moved in, haven’t even unpacked all the boxes yet when I get a call from some estate trustee lawyer person, whatever shit these people are called, that my father, that I hadn’t talked to for, pew, 15 years? Apparently got killed in a car crash and that I am the only next to kin and if I can come to Bumfuck, Idaho and handle the estate. Well now dear old dad, bless his soul, was maybe a shitty father and an even shittier husband, but that man never missed to send a child support check, and I am being pretty honest here, I just said yes to that shit because I was hoping that maybe, only maybe, I can get something out of it. Little did I know, my friend. Anyhow, me and Lucille got in the car, made the 2200 miles over to Idaho, met up with the man and after a lot of talking and signing shit, and man my father was loaded, the guy said one more little thing and we followed him to some really shady neighborhood and into some really ramshackle house and guess what he showed me there?” Simon sighed and looked at Negan with pursed lips.

“You really want me to answer that? I mean that’s obviously a Negan-Natalie origin story. So, do you want me to spoil it, or,” Simon trailed off. Negan only huffed.

“That guy leads us into a room that was mostly brown and there on that prison cot that was supposed to be her bed sat Natalie, 8 years old, with a cast on her arm, 50 inches and probably as many pounds and pretty darn cute. Imagine my surprise.”

“Yeah, I am totally imagining it right now.”

“Apparently, my father and the wife of his I never knew about had decided that I of all people should be her guardian. Well, now Luci and I worked long enough with kids to know what the foster system could do to a child, especially a traumatized one like she supposedly was. I mean she basically was dumped in one of those families that hoarded kids for the checks already, so saying yes was a no-brainer. So, I walk into that room and she looks me up and down, and then she tilts her head and raises her eyebrow exactly as she does now,” Simon could just imagine that look and a small smile tugged on his lips. “And she stares me dead in the eyes and says I know who you are. You are my brother. I thought you were taller. And then she just grins at me. Man, I fell in love with that kid right then and there,” Negan had a very soft expression on his face. Simon chuckled, that sounded like Natalie alright. Left one question open, though.

“That’s a cute story Negan, really, but what has that to do with anything?”

“That kid, that girl upstairs? She has a hide thicker than any other’s I ever seen. I don’t say it was all hunky-dory from then on. Oh, there were problems, a shitton I might say, but besides everything she went through, like seeing both her parents getting killed in that car crash, suddenly forced to live with a bunch of strangers, she never lost that spark, that positive thinking, her laugh. She has those walls, and she wears them like armor, and it makes her fucking strong, stronger than anybody else I know. That armor may get a hit, and it dents and sometimes even cracks, and she needs some time to fix it again, but it always holds. It fucking held then, and it fucking held when a bunch of strangers took her and her friends and sliced them up right in front of her and start cutting her up, too, for shits and giggles, and it sure as hell held three days ago. So yeah, she might be a bit down right now, and some bad memories got stirred up, but she’ll pull through. Because that’s what she does. And let me tell you another thing. You might think this is your fault, blame yourself and treat yourself to some good old-fashion self-macerating cleaning all those guns here, but the fact alone that you had been there, that this time she wasn’t alone in all the shit, means a great fucking deal to her. So, I fucking need you to get over it, pull yourself together, man up and go see her, because you can’t avoid her forever and I am fucking done coming up with excuses for you,” Negan got up.

“She asked for me?” Simon asked flatly. Negan hovered for a second next to Simon who just frowned into the air in front him and rubbed his nose with his thumb.

“Course she did. She always does,” he sighed. Maybe a bit overdramatically. “You know, Simon, it’s not like she needs one, but ever since you rushed into that little psycho-killer lair and started to tear those two fuckers from limb to limb you’re the closest thing to a fucking knight in shining armor to her than it will ever get. You maybe one day want to fucking act on that,” with that he let a deeply confused Simon sit on the table with his guns and already marched out in his trademark swagger.

An hour later Simon knocked softly on Natalie’s door. There was no answer and after a second or two of contemplating hesitation Simon turned the knob and pushed the door open carefully.

“Nat?” she was asleep, curled up on her side, with the casted leg propped up on a pillow. It was chilly in the room and she had naked shoulders, so he walked over with soft steps, carefully sat on the bed and pulled the comforter higher. Before he covered her shoulders completely, he observed the scars with a sad frown and sighed.

They had come by night. Negan and his merry band of more or less loyal followers, Simon among them, had hunkered down in an old motel at this point, no place to make a home, but good enough to get some rest, overcome some of that road weariness they all were feeling. They killed the two people standing guard, snuck in, killed two others that were unlucky enough to wander the motel by night and took three of the young women in the group. Natalie had been one of them. They drugged them, tied them up and started to torture and kill them one after the other. Natalie had been last, the only reason why she was still alive, and she had seen all of it. They tracked them down eventually, and Simon barely remembered what exactly he had done to those people, but afterward, everyone was scared of him. Everyone except Natalie, and Negan, but the man didn't scare easy. Natalie had been broken after that, not only physically, survivor's guilt was a real thing, and Simon had believed she would never come back from it, but she did. Negan was right, she always bounced back.

He rubbed her upper arm gently before he got up to leave the room. He didn’t get far. She had grabbed his wrist and blinked up to him.

“Simon?”

“Yeah it’s me,” she tugged on his arm.

“Get your ass back in here,” she slurred a little. She had trouble sleeping, the doc had told him, so he gave her Valium. She was probably quite loopy at the moment. That was most likely the reason she basically pulled him into her bed. He had to climb over her, sat with his back against the wall the bed was standing on and she put her head in his lap, something that surprised him and surely never happened before. Despite his wonder, he put on arm around her shoulder and pulled her a little closer to him. She made a content little sound.

“You okay?” he asked softly. There was no answer at first and he thought she already had fallen back to sleep.

“’m tired,” she mumbled.

“Then sleep, okay?”

“Don’t go anywhere,” he barely understood her. She was fighting to stay awake, he could tell. “You’re warm,” Simon had to chuckle. She snuggled her face against the soft fabric of his Henley and when he looked down he couldn’t help but smile at the sight. “That’s nice,” was the last thing she mumbled, soft, nearly unintelligible, before her breath evened out and she was back in deep and peaceful slumber. Simon let his head fall against the wall and closed his eyes. He had no idea what was going on in his head, all the emotions he was feeling right now were confusing him, and Negan’s words had just made it worse, but she was right. This was nice. More than nice, actually.

He jerked up with a start when someone knocked. He must’ve fallen asleep, too, or at least dosed off because it had gotten dark already. He fumbled for the light on the nightstand, carefully avoiding waking Natalie up.

“Come in,” it was Frankie. And she looked very surprised. Her gaze fell on Natalie still out like a light and still cozied up in Simon’s lap. He maybe wasn’t the most sensitive man when it came to women and their feelings, but he could tell that she looked hurt. He hadn’t really talked to her since he nearly bit her head off in the infirmary. He probably should, he most definitely should apologize, but so far he just didn’t want to deal with the drama.

“What are you doing here?” she said rather loudly. He gave her a scolding look.

“I could ask you the same thing.”

“I’m bringing her some painkillers and another Valium for the night. Guess she doesn’t need them anymore,” the last sentence was snapped passive-aggressively and was somehow implying god knows what. Simon sighed annoyed. Looked like he wasn’t able to dodge the drama forever. Didn’t mean he couldn’t keep trying.

“Not now, Frankie.”

“When?” she snapped. He fixed her with squinted eyes.

“Not. Now!” he said in a hard tone and Frankie’s mouth fell shut, her lips were only a fine line now and she nearly slammed the little cup with the pills on Natalie’s coffee table and stormed out not without slamming the door.

“Jesus,” he mumbled. He looked down on Natalie. She seemed to be still asleep unless she wasn’t.

“Perhaps you should go after her,” she said in a sleep-husky voice. He took a long breath.

“Perhaps I should,” neither of them were commenting that he didn’t.

A couple of hours later, Simon maybe stalled the inevitable a little, he hesitantly opened the door of his room and walked in. It seemed empty, and the bed was empty, too, and Simon couldn’t help but feel relieved that Frankie wasn’t here. She gave him a good jump scare when she suddenly turned on the lamp stand next to the sofa she was sitting on. Nearly gave him a heart attack there. To be honest he kind of deserved it. Simon gave her a little once-over. She had cried.

“Frankie, look,” he couldn’t go on.

“First of all,” she sounded very collected and calm. “I want to tell you I’m not mad at you, not really. You tried. You really did. And I believe that you thought you meant it when you said you loved me, and I talked myself into believing it, too, but this is clearly not working out,” that was probably the point for Simon to say something, but he didn’t know what. “But I came to realize that although you maybe truly loved me, I don’t know, you will always love someone else more than me and I am so tired of trying to compete with her. I can’t. I see that now,” Simon bit his bottom lip. He suddenly couldn’t look at her anymore.

“There was never. We never did anything, you know that, right?” he heard Frankie laugh. It was a sad laugh.

“Of course, I know that. Everyone knows that. You two are oblivious idiots,” she sighed and got up. “You hurt me the past few days. You really hurt me. And I will not allow you to hurt me any longer,” the words were maybe rather harsh, but she said them sad and softly. It broke Simon’s heart a little and made him feel like a real asshole. He probably was one, to her at least.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“I know,” she wiped some tears away from under her eyes with her thumb and came over to him. He froze when she gave him a hug. he hadn’t expected that, rather a slap to be honest, but after a couple of seconds he hugged back. “It was good as long as it lasted,” she said softly next to his ear. “Thank you,” she pushed away. Simon studied her face genuinely confused.

“For what?” she shrugged.

“Getting me away from Negan. I wouldn’t have the courage to do it on my own. So, there’s that. I talked to him, you know?” Simon frowned at her. “I really can’t stay around you at the moment, and this is a really small place, so I asked him to send me and my Mom to another Outpost, and he agreed. So, this is goodbye,” that was Simon’s last chance to say something.

“Okay,” he really wasn’t good at this. Frankie shook her head and walked to the door. “I really didn’t mean this to happen,” she stopped with her hand hovering over the doorknob. “And I really wish I could’ve made you happy,” she didn’t answer. She just ripped the door open and walked out. This time she wasn’t slamming it. Simon dropped on the couch and rubbed his face with both hands. That went surprisingly mature, calm and with way less crying and yelling than he had anticipated. It surely wasn’t the first time a woman broke it off with him, but for the first time it wasn’t accompanied with the usual feelings of heartbreak, pain, and sadness, maybe guilt, that was there, a lot actually, but foremost he felt pity for Frankie.

Chapter Text

Negan put both of his hands on the handrail of the banister an looked down onto the little R&R area on the factory floor with pursed lips and an impatient frown. Down there sat his sister, the recently cast free leg still propped up by doctor’s orders, with Simon next to her and it looked like they were talking. Just that, talking. He took a long breath. Simon was a goddamn idiot. At this point Negan didn’t really know what else to do short of handcuffing them together and throwing them in a room with a bed, lock the door and wait what would happen. Knowing these two nothing. He took another long breath. He was pretty sure Natalie had at least caught on that she was the main reason for Frankie running off to another Outpost, God knew the girl had been the other woman often enough, although he wasn’t sure if she was aware of the extent of her feelings for Simon, and he was also pretty sure that Simon finally realized where exactly his overprotectiveness was coming from, but no matter how many insinuations and innuendos Negan made, it apparently always fell on deaf ears. Not that he wasn’t relieved that Simon didn’t jump all in 30 seconds after Frankie broke it off since Natalie didn’t really take being a rebound too kindly, but it had been seven weeks already and in the current economy life was way too short to waste time like this. He sighed.

“Oh, please tell me what we are about to see next are some cute, sweet kisses by a freshly enamored couple,” Negan glared over to Wade with a squint of his eyes. The other man had put his forearms on the banister and grinned at him smugly. Negan liked Wade, he even respected the asshole, that didn’t happen very often, but oh boy did he want to staple that mouth shut from time to time.

“What are you doing here,” he asked flatly. Wade smacked his lips.

“Oh, don’t be like that boss man. I brought you some goodies. And Simon requested my assistance in the light remodelling of the remaining stashes, now that some of his men fell victim to occupational accidents and are limping around in the Sanctuary,” the past weeks Simon had been busy with rebuilding or relocating the stashes and safe houses in order to prevent something that had happened to happen again. A floor had caved in and six of his men were now sporting casts, splints and the one or another band-aid. No one had died, though. Wade looked at him expectantly. “So? Did that beautifully mustachioed man finally make his move?” Negan scoffed annoyed. “Come on, boss, don’t act like you don’t want to gossip,” Wade grinned and Negan couldn’t help his grin, too. He got serious, even a little sulky, real fast again.

“No,” he just stated curtly. Now it was Wade who frowned.

“But he sent Frankie packin’?”

“Actually, it was the other way around,” Negan said, internally slapping himself that he indeed was gossiping now. That asshole knew him too well. Wade’s only reaction was a flabbergasted huh. They both frowned down onto Simon and Natalie.

“Well, maybe it’s just not meant to be. These two friend-zoned each other a bit too hard I reckon,” Negan scoffed.

“Yeah, I’m just fucking tired of the prospect of staring at that emotional train wreck for another year and a half,” he mumbled. Wade looked at Negan with a solemn expression. Then he cleared his throat. For some reason, it sounded cautious. “What?” Negan asked.

“Can I speak freely?”

“Can I stop you?”

“Do you think there is maybe a chance that, you know, purely hypothetical, Simon isn’t as emotionally stunted as you may think and is simply not pursuing anything because of, well, you?” Wade made a cautionary step to the side. Negan furled his eyebrows and looked at him.

“What do you mean? I am fucking helpful as shit in that matter,” Wade shrugged awkwardly.

“I don’t know, boss. I know what you are usually doing, and sometimes it’s hard to tell if you just pulling a leg or really meaning it, and, uhm, you are usually not very accommodating towards potential suitors and,” Wade rubbed the back of his neck. “There is the rumor that you offed her husband,” he smiled lopsided and a little helplessly. Negan looked rather sober now.

“Jesus,” he mumbled and palmed his beard. “Seriously?” he gave Wade another look who in return gave the stairs a contemplating look, probably planning his escape. “What’s the fucking rumor? That I just went and killed him?”

“Pretty much, yeah,” Wade said weakly. Negan scoffed.

“That’s not what happened. It’s true I killed him, but he had it coming,” was his only remark. He wouldn’t go into detail what exactly happened. It involved the asshole not coping with the end of the world, a lot of alcohol and drugs, and an impeded murder-suicide attempt. Let’s say Negan had just arrived in time and in the end, it had been self-defense. Natalie hadn’t talked to him for a month, but at some point, even she had to admit that it wasn’t his fault and her so-called husband had it coming. Negan glared at Wade who smiled uncomfortably. “So, what do you fucking suggest?” Negan snapped. Wade looked surprised. He probably hadn’t expected to be asked for further advice after sticking his nose in matters her had no business nosing around in.

“I don’t know. Go and give Simon your blessing?” Negan just scowled at Wade for a very long time who sweated under Negan’s stare and visibly relaxed when someone called him. “Duty calls, gotta go,” he said and scurried down the stairs. Negan glared after him and down onto his sister with her annoyingly simply platonic best friend laughing about some shit probably only they thought was funny.

“Fucking fuck.”

Later that evening Negan knocked on Simon’s door that was wide open. Simon was rummaging around in some clothes to pack a bag for yet another trip to a stash house. He looked up but didn’t stop what he was doing.

“How can I help you?” he asked. Negan walked in and closed the door, something that clearly irritated Simon since he straightened himself and looked at Negan with a frown. “Is there a problem?” he asked slowly. Negan scoffed.

“Not really, no,” he said and leaned against the doorframe and smacked his lips. “Let’s have a little chat.”

“What about?”

“Natalie,” if anything Simon’s frown just deepened.

“What about her?” Negan groaned annoyed. Enough with the pussyfooting.

“I want to be honest here, I am not entirely sure if I like you personally,” Simon looked a little taken aback at that, “but I respect the shit out of you for some reason. It is incredibly fucking obvious that you are … sweet on my sister,” now Simon looked amused by Negan’s wording, but he would be damned to use his usual vocabulary when talking about his little sister. “And I just want to make sure that you fucking understand that I would have nothing against it if you would fucking go for it, quite the opposite actually. So, don’t hold back on my account,” the amused look on Simon’s face disappeared slowly making way for a deep frown into nothingness. He wasn’t answering, he just crossed his arms and leaned against the counter of his kitchenette. Then he sighed.

“You think you are the reason? I mean come on. First, I am well aware of your support, you are maybe trying to be subtle, but you really aren’t,” he gave Negan a little lopsided grin. “Second, she would freak out if you do something to me,” Negan had to admit that was probably true.

“So why aren’t you,” Negan made a vague hand gesture. “Going for it,” Simon took a long breath. Then he shrugged.

“I don’t really know. It’s not like I haven’t thought about it. A lot, actually. It was never the right timing, I guess, and now? I’m not sure if this is the right thing to do. Why changing what works? Potentially ruining everything? Complicating things?” he absently peeled on a loose splinter on the counter until he pulled it off.

“You do know that she, uhm,” this situation was incredibly weird. Here they were, two manly, alpha males who rarely did any talk about emotional relationship shit at all, let alone with each other, having this uncomfortable conversation about his sister of all people. “Likes you, too?” Negan wondered if this could have been avoided by passing on notes. Do you like me? Yes or no? Simon very obviously felt the same because he chuckled towards the ceiling.

“I’m aware of that, yes. Jesus, when did this turn into an episode of Friends? To be honest I never pegged you as a Monica,” Negan snorted.

“I let that pass because that is fucking funny, but don’t push it,” he sniggered. “So, what’s the reasoning here? Do you think you're somehow protecting her from, I don’t know, emotions?”

“Pretty much, yeah,” Simon deadpanned. Negan sighed. “I mean, I go outside every day, do dangerous shit. It could have been me falling down that floor and I might haven’t been as lucky as the others, who can tell? That bullet?” he pointed at his scar. “An inch to the left I would have been dead. One of the communities could act up. Some random roamer could tear my throat out. And she lives a very dangerous lifestyle as well. When we are being completely honest here, it is just a matter of time. Why making worse coping with the inevitable?” Simon said rather sadly. Negan kept quiet for a long time.

“Simon,” he started seriously in that tone that commanded to focus on him, look him in the eyes, without explicitly saying it. “I would like to ask you to do some quick soul searching and fucking ask yourself if there really would be a difference for her handling losing you now compared to losing you when you two would be,” he was looking for neutral words again here. “Romantically involved and do the same for yourself,” Simon’s gaze fell to the floor and he pressed his lips together like he always did when Negan hit a sensitive spot. “That’s what I thought,” Negan studied the other man for a long time. “Besides, despite all odds, I really believe you can make my sister happy, and she you, and perhaps deep down I’m an old, sappy, fucking romantic, but that’s worth the prospect of some hypothetical heartbreak, don’t you think?” Simon looked up. Negan knew the look. Whatever happened next it wouldn’t be Simon going on with the conversation, full to the brim with information to think about, so he might as well leave. God knew he wanted to since a couple hundred words ago. “I leave you mulling over that shit,” he said already pulling the door open. He even closed it on his way out. Outside he stopped and palmed his face wondering if that conversation would change anything at all.

~

The next morning Natalie was going over the inventory list of one of their armories wondering why so many of the sidearms looked spit clean and practically new when Simon came in. He came closer with his hands behind his back in an awkward mix of his usual swagger and something Natalie in lack of better words only could call determination. She frowned at him amused.

“What’s up with you?” he stopped a couple of feet away from her and whipped back and forth a bit with a nearly boyish grin on his face. Natalie turned around and looked at him expectantly.

“We are off to the safe house. Wanted to say goodbye, properly,” he said. 

“Okay.”

“But before I go, I would like to ask you something. I was wondering, when I am back in a couple of days, and the project "make our safe houses safe again" is finally finished, would you like to go on a date with me?” this question in combination with the flower she suddenly had in her face led to one of the rare occasions she actually didn’t know what to say. “And I mean a date date, just to clarify that in advance,” Natalie could actually feel how she blushed when she took the flower hesitantly. Simon was smiling at her warmly and with a look saying no matter what her answer would be he would be cool with it either way but pretty please say yes.

“Okay,” that seemed to be the only word she could come up with right now. Despite his displayed confidence, Simon looked incredibly relieved now.

“Great, I actually can’t wait,” she only nodded, then she cleared her throat. She was a grown ass woman, no matter if it was Simon or not, she wouldn’t get all flustered and shy just because a man asked her out.

“So, what do you have in mind? Dinner and a movie? Show me around town?” Simon smacked his lips.

“Something like that. I can work miracles with a camping stove and canned spaghetti.”

“Is that so? I’m a lucky girl,” Simon chuckled.

“Well, I’m not so sure you are the lucky one here,” that made her probably blush even more. “Anyways. See you in a few days,” he walked a couple of steps backward before he turned away, but she could see the dopey grin. It matched the one she had one her face.

The next days, Natalie only obsessed about the upcoming date with Simon in the privacy of her room, but otherwise behaved completely normal. Almost. Arat asked her what exactly happened that she was in that saccharine sweet, good mood only once or twice. She was doing her usual general bookkeeping and keeping tracks of supplies thing when Gary told her that Negan wanted to talk to her in the war room. He looked rather serious, even a bit worried, and she walked down the corridors with a really bad feeling. When she pushed open the door, she came just in time to overhear Negan talk to Wade, Laura, and DJ.

“Just make another sweep. See if they hunkered down somewhere safe. Even if they aren’t alive and you find them, bring them home,” everyone turned to Natalie. Negan’s expression softened in a way she had seen before, every time when he had really bad news for her. The other three looked at her with pity, too. Natalie was pretty sure her heart just stopped beating for a couple of seconds because deep down she already knew what he would tell her.

“Leave,” he ordered his Saviors who wasted no time to skedaddle. Negan walked over to her slowly. “Sit down, I have to tell you something,” he said softly, and she did what he told her. He pulled a chair from the table, too, and sat on it, facing her with a serious expression. “There was a herd threating to overrun the safe house, so Simon and some others went out with a car to lure them away. Wade has no real idea what exactly happened, but he thinks they got surprised by a second one, got surrounded by them. It looks like Norris crashed the car when they went down a slope. They found it, but no one was inside, just a lot of blood. Wade and the others, they searched for hours, but they couldn’t find anybody,” Negan sighed sadly and took her hand. She just stared down on them, unable to form a coherent thought. “Natalie, I’m really sorry, but we have to assume Simon’s dead.”

Chapter Text

Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

Natalie scoffed at the ceiling. Yeah, right. Good thing my ass. Screw you, Stephen King. What did he know? That hope she had, that part of her simply refusing to believe Simon was dead, that utter faith that he, against all odds, would simply walk back in here, was nothing good. It was driving her insane. It was unhealthy, too, because it had been five days and every day that passed the tiny chance that he might be still alive dwindled, but here she was, hoping. She knew she shouldn’t, that she should accept the fact that Simon was gone, cope with it and move on but she just couldn’t. And she slowly went crazy because of it. She barely ate. She wouldn’t eat at all if Negan wouldn’t practically force-feeding her. She wasn’t sleeping much either, and only after a healthy dose of self-medication, mostly booze, occasionally the one or other sleeping pill. And she was doing absolutely nothing but sitting around, staring, waiting for something that would never happen. With a frustrated sigh, she sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. She looked over to Laura, curled up in her armchair fast asleep. That was one crazy good babysitter over there. Negan’s orders. He was worried Natalie would do something stupid that’s why she suddenly had a Savior honor guard 24-7. Oh, he wasn’t worried she would hurt herself, no, he was worried she would go out looking for Simon on her own, something he explicitly forbad her for some reason. Well, he had one thing right. Natalie got up and grabbed her boots, her jacket and a backpack she had hidden under her bed, careful not to make too much noise and wake Laura up. That’s what the world had come to, the jailor was breaking out of the prison. It hadn’t been easy to make arrangements without anybody noticing. She scurried out of the room and closed the door softly then she hurried down the stairs. It was nearly shockingly easy to dodge the guards, she maybe needed to have a little chat with them later about that, but to be fair they were supposed to keep somebody from getting in, not getting out. The car she had in mind was one of the in-case-of-emergency getaway cars that were all around the Sanctuary, and it was parked far away enough that the noise of a starting engine wouldn’t alarm half of the Saviors inside. She was relieved it was still there. She threw the backpack on the passenger seat and opened the sun visor where the keys were supposed to be. They weren’t.

“Shit.”

“You are looking for these?” Negan legitimately gave her a heart attack there. She even yelped out. She could hear him chuckle while she tried to calm her racing heart and her breathing down. Then she looked at him through the rear-view mirror. He looked pissed.

“How did you,” he interrupted her.

“Because I fucking know you. And I might sit in here for four hours now, and this is not the first night I’m doing this. Was rather boring and I actually started to believe I might be wrong. I was expecting you to do some stupid shit like that, but I didn’t expect you to be stupid enough to do that stupid shit all by yourself. I at least expected you to enlist Gary or Arat. You are not only exhausted and probably half starved, possibly a little drunk, no, you still have a bummed leg. What the fuck were you thinking?” Natalie’s eyes dropped onto the little Ford label on the steering wheel.

“You don’t understand,” she said in a meek voice. Negan sighed.

“Oh, I understand, but what is it you think you gonna find out there that my men didn’t? It’s been five days and I had 20 fucking people searching the area.”

“I don’t know,” she said honestly. “I just have to see for myself,” she made eye contact with her brother. He didn’t look angry anymore, but he was far from understanding either.

“Get out of the car,” part of her wanted to refuse, but there was also the part that got sent to her room by that tone, so she did. She leaned against the door while Negan planted himself in front of her and gave her a long, hard look. “Listen to me. I’m sorry I have to do it the hard way, but this ends, now. You need to accept that the reason we haven’t found any of them is that they walked away from that wreck alright, but they didn’t walk away from there as their fucking selves. Simon is dead. He’s gone, and he won’t come back, you hear me?” Natalie pressed her lips together and averted her eyes. “Now get your ass back inside,” he grumbled before he turned around and opened the door of the backseat to retrieve his bat. Natalie wasn’t moving. He looked at her expectantly. “Don’t fucking make me carry you. I will, you know that.”

“They only looked for bodies,” Negan frowned at her.

“What?”

“Wade said the wreck was bad, there was a lot of blood, all doors open, a lot of tracks of the dead.”

“Are you trying to get at something? Spit it out.”

“They even tracked the herd until it split up and they gave up. You know how we look for the dead. All that excuses we make. They couldn’t have gotten far, if they are still alive they have to be close and circle back eventually, blah blah blah,” Negan swung Lucille around impatiently. “You know how he is out there. He’s built for that shit. When someone can get away with a herd on their heel, heavily bleeding, it’s him. Just let me look. Just once. I have to see it for myself,” then she said something she wasn’t saying very often. “Please,” Negan looked into the overcast night sky and sighed heavily.

“You do know why I don’t want you to be out there, right?” he asked flatly. Natalie shrugged her shoulders awkwardly. “What if you find him? Dead? I don’t want you to be the one.”

“We cross that bridge when we get to it,” she just said. Negan raised his eyebrow.

“We, huh?” Natalie’s only response was a weak smile. “Jesus,” Negan palmed his beard. “You have any food in that backpack?”

“Some granola bars, why?” she asked with a little irritated frown. Negan walked to the driver door, pushing her away effectively before he ripped it open.

“Fucking eat ‘em. I drive.”

 

The wreck was bad. The car lay on its roof in a ditch, the front was dented enough it barely resembled a car at all and the passenger cabin was a mess of dashboard parts and glass. Most of the blood was on the driver seat and in the back. Natalie let the flashlight roam over the dark brown stains.

“It’s fucking stupid to be out here in the middle of the night,” Negan mumbled next to her.

“It’s stupid to be out here during the day, so there’s that,” Natalie deadpanned, suddenly well aware that Negan barely did this anymore, being outside. Surely not on his own. She turned around and held the light in his face. “Are you scared? Don’t worry, I’ll protect you,” Negan squinted, scoffed and walked out of the light with a head shake.

“So, what now, Sherlock?” He gave a corpse a little kick. Then frowned down on it and looked over to another. There were quite a few scattered around the car. “Maybe you on to something here,” he said, and Natalie turned to him. “These assholes got stabbed, this one looks like someone bashed his fucking skull against that tree. This wasn’t our guys, they would have used the guns. But this definitely is something Simon does,” Natalie observed the corpses and wandered slowly from one to the next until she crouched down and pulled something out of a skull.

“What’s that?”

“A knife,” she got up. “It’s not Simon’s,” Negan took it, then he smacked his lips.

“Kind of weird you even know that,” instead of an answer she let the light beam roam up the slope to the street again and then back at the car.

“What don’t I know about the guy,” she mumbled.

“I could think of a thing or two,” Negan took a long breath. “So, what would Simon do then, hm? How would that asshole think? Let’s see. I’m 6feet3, I’m Canadian, I’m probably crazy, but who can tell anymore, and I have a mustache and I am annoyingly well-built without having to fucking work out,” Natalie put the flashlight back in Negan’s face. She looked sober and unimpressed.

“Wow, it’s like he’s here. This way,” she pointed the beam on a little trail.

“How do you know?” although he asked, he already started walking. Natalie was good in this stuff, tracking, orientating, he was good at killing the dead. That’s why they made a hell of a team and that’s what had kept them alive at the beginning when they staggered through the wilderness looking for a place to settle down. That’s why they were still here while so many of their companions had met their untimely demise.

“They drew the herd out, they had them on their tail, got surprised by another one. Came out of the woods from the right, you saw the tracks. Whoever drove lost control over the car, they went down here. The driver got badly injured,” and was probably not Simon, although it was just a silent hope of her, Simon was a snob. He let himself get chauffeured around way more often than he did the chauffeuring. “Someone in the back as well. The dead came in hard and fast, but they made it out. Dispatched of the first wave and made a run for it in the only direction possible. And since they have two people with wounds it’s unlikely, they staggered into the woodwork, they stayed on the trail. And the herd was following them,” Negan, in very un-Negan fashion, looked incredibly impressed.

“Who taught you that?”

“Simon,” she just said and passed him. He followed with a solemn frown.

They walked for hours, following breadcrumbs, but there was no denying they were there. The occasional dried blood, dead roamer, at some point a resting place on a clearing were someone had tended to someone else’s wounds judging by the bloody racks on the ground and the quick campfire, haphazardly piled up and with some blackened stones in the middle, to cauterize a wound, no doubt. Natalie was quiet but determined. It was very obvious that the traces were a couple of days old already and the question hung between them why, when alive and relatively well, Simon and the others hadn’t made it back into the fold, yet. Negan pretended he didn’t see how Natalie slowly developed a limb, Natalie pretended that it didn’t hurt. The sun was up for a while now, and it would be a hot day. Negan stopped her and held the bottle of water towards her. She took it after a moment of hesitation. Negan opened his mouth.

“Don’t,” she said softly, so his planned remark about how they probably should wrap this up since they couldn’t go on forever and they had to go back at some point died down before he could even phrase it. Something else caught his attention anyway.

“You hear that?” she took another sip.

“No?” he frowned into the distance, listening carefully and suddenly started walking away. Natalie followed with an annoyed eye roll.

“You’re going in the wrong direction,” he shushed her. They walked down a slight slope, into a basin, and now Natalie could hear it, too. Sounded like some metal screeching in the wind and the groans and moans of a couple of dead. Negan signaled her to stay back before he disappeared around some bushes. She knew better than to follow him, he got this. The hissing got louder, Negan gave the dead some choice words, she could hear the thuds of Lucille hitting home and then he called her. It was a cabin, a really ramshackle one. Negan stood in the center of a ring of dead bodies, at least seven and grinned satisfied. He looked like someone who hadn’t that much fun in years.

“You got your gun?” Natalie nodded and unholstered it. Together they walked to the door. With a shrug, Negan knocked. There was no answer. He carefully unlocked it, stepped a step away and pushed it open with Lucille. No dead staggered out. All that greeted them was eerie darkness and a rather characteristic smell. Something or someone died in there, and it hadn’t been long ago. Negan gave her a long, strange look.

“Stay here,” he ordered and went inside. There was some rummaging, some cursing, and then he somehow pried a window open suddenly enough it made Natalie jump. “Nat?” she hurried to follow him inside. The smell was terrible. There were two bodies lying on makeshift beds, covered with what looked like curtains. Negan pointed at the one on the left. “That’s Norris. Looks like he got bit,” then at the other. “And that’s Evan. He was the one who did the bleeding. The wounds a mess, probably an infection. Norris is dead for a while now,” Negan walked around the tiny room and sniffed on an empty can. He pulled a face. “But Evan? Maybe a day, maybe a bit more. He’s still stiff. Man, I liked the asshole, great sense of humor,” he looked down on the body actually sad. Natalie was just relieved none of them was Simon. She gave the room a thorough once over. It was clear what happened here. The bolted windows and the shit ton of trace marks outside spoke volumes.

“They found this cabin, still with the herd on their heels. Fortified it as best as they could, made sure the herd wasn’t seeing them and sat it out. Norris was done for it anyway and Evan just didn’t make it. So, it’s Simon and Dean now,” she let her hand run through her hair. “Shit,” she mumbled. “So, a day, maybe more, huh? They couldn’t have gotten far. They maybe even sat the night out and just made a run for it this morning,” Natalie sat on a chair that was wiggling dangerously under her weight.

“I’m actually kind of pissed about Wade and the others. Gonna tear ‘em a fucking new one for this fuck up when we are back. Anyhow, Simon and Dean were fucking lucky they found some supplies, but still. Five days without proper food and rest? You’re right, they probably closer than we think, even Simon ain’t that tough,” was that Negan trying himself in positive thinking? And Natalie hadn’t missed that he wasn’t using the past tense anymore. Natalie sighed and massaged her leg absently. The only problem was, where the hell did they go?

“They didn’t go back to the road, we would have seen them,” she said. Negan had his back to her and was fumbling his way through a bunch of papers. “They could be anywhere. Fuck,” she kicked a bucket just out of frustration. Negan looked over his shoulder.

“I might have an idea,” he turned around and walked to her with a map in his hand. It was hand drawn and rather rudimental, and it took Natalie some time to make something out of it. Negan pointed at some houses that looked like a child had drawn them. “That’s not far from here. Could be fucking town, hell even a goddamn gas station. But whatever it is, there are maybe cars there. That’s where they are heading,” Natalie had to agree, that was as good a conclusion as any.

It turned out to be some kind of unnamed settlement, just a bunch of houses and a road, nothing fancy, not even a corner shop. Natalie and Negan stopped in front of a dead body in the middle of the street and stared down on it. The face of the roamer had been pulled off and it looked like someone had removed the brain with their bare hands. It was disgusting, but foremost, it was fresh.

“That’s one messy kill,” Negan mumbled and looked around. “Okay I hate to say it, but we split up. Get this over with. They gotta be here somewhere. Don’t hesitate to use your fucking gun. No need to be subtle now,” she nodded and went to the right while he went to the left. The first house she checked was empty. At least from the dead. She filed away the fact that otherwise, no one seemed to have raided it so far, and to come back here later with a bunch of Saviors to see what could be salvaged. The second house looked pretty much the same. Natalie studied a photograph of a happy family on the wall, one of those mall photoshop pictures you made at Christmas, where everyone wore the same sweater. Thank God Negan and Lucille never indulged in that nonsense. With a dismissive huff, she left the living room and walked through the French window into an overgrown backyard. She froze. In the back was a shed, probably a tool shed of sorts, and in front of it, clawing on the door was one of the dead. It was Dean, and he seemed to be awfully interested in whatever was inside. Natalie looked around to make sure she wouldn’t be caught off guard by the sudden appearance of a surprise herd and pulled out her knife. She whistled and Dean, or the thing that used to be him, turned around slowly. His abdomen was ripped open and part of his intestines dangled out. Natalie’s best guess was that he fell victim to the dead they just encountered on the street. It was easy to kill him, and for a moment she looked down on him sadly. She never liked the guy, but he didn’t deserve to go out like that. Her eyes fixed the shed and she suddenly had to fight the urge to run away. Part of her didn’t want to open that door. She slowly walked to it anyway. Her hand hovered for a second over the doorknob, but then she turned it and pushed the door open. Simon leaned on the back of a wall, holding a bleeding wound on his side, with one leg pulled up, pointing a gun at her. His hand was seriously shaking. With a sigh, he let it sink. The man looked terrible. He was dirty, pale, his face was sunken in, he had heavy pouches under his eyes that were bloodshot, and the wound looked fresh and seeped blood constantly. Natalie looked at it in shock.

“It’s not a bite,” Simon’s voice was hoarse and very flat. Natalie sighed relieved. “It’s from the crash. Ripped it open again,” Natalie remembered that she was on a rescue mission here. She turned around, ignored the pain in her leg and ran through the yard and the driveway on the street looking for her brother. She could see him coming out of a door two houses down.

“Negan,” he turned to her. “Over here!” with that she already ran back and into the shed. Simon blinked at her in awe when she pulled his hand away to get a lock on the wound. It looked like a cut, not very deep, but rather long, and slightly infected.

“I thought I just imagined you,” he said softly, and Natalie looked up in his eyes. She carefully took one of his cheeks in her hand and caressed it gently with her thumb. He was a little feverish. They needed to get him out of here and quick. “You have no idea how much I want to make a corny line about how I died and am in heaven now,” he said so seriously Natalie just stared at him for a moment. Then she huffed a laugh.

“Oh, you’re not dead. And you won’t die. Not now. We get you back and patch you up,” Negan basically busted in. Simon looked up with an amused frown.

“Look at that, you came personally. I feel special now,” Negan scoffed.

“Man, you look like shit. Literally like shit,” he came over. “Can you get up?”

“I can try,” with a lot of help from Negan Simon staggered onto unsteady feet. They brought him into the house first. Negan let him drop on the sofa.

“Okay, I see if I can find a car that works. I saw one in a garage. So, fingers crossed. You better not fucking die, Simon. I just sacrificed a good night’s sleep and hiked through half of Virginia. I would be pissed off like hell if that would have been for nothing.”

“I do my best,” Simon said. Natalie was rummaging around in her backpack until she just gave up and emptied it on the dusty coffee table. She had brought first aid supplies, even antibiotics, because one never knew. It had been the right decision. He took the two pills she held in his direction and chugged them down with half a bottle of water. Then he let his head fell back on the backrest. Natalie didn’t bother with elegance and simply ripped his button-down open and rolled up the bloody undershirt. It was a waste of water, Simon should probably rather drink it, but she poured some over the wound to wash away at least a little of the blood and pus. Simon hissed in pain. Now in the light of the living room, it didn’t look that bad.

“That needs a couple of stitches. I’m gonna clean it, bandage it properly. You probably will be fine,” Simon sighed, then he nearly jumped up when she poured hydrogen peroxide over the wound. She held him down. It was shockingly easy. He had barely any fight left in him.

“Jesus, you could have fucking warned me,” he groaned. Natalie grinned at him. Somehow smug.

“Aw, don’t be a wuss. That’s probably less painful than getting a leg reduced without painkillers.”

“Point taken,” he mumbled. Natalie cleaned the wound with gauze and disposed the bloody pieces carelessly on the floor. Simon was watching her through heavy lashes.

“That’s not how I imagined our first date,” Natalie had to smile. It was probably also a good idea to let Simon keep talking. She was no doctor. She had no idea how bad or not bad his condition was exactly but falling asleep was never a good thing and he sounded like he was about to fall asleep.

“No? What did you have in mind? Tell me,” she said encouragingly.  

“Well, for starters I imagined I would smell better,” Natalie sniggered.

“Yeah, you smell pretty ripe. And I recommend you burn that clothes later, because I am pretty sure this isn’t just dirt, this is evolution and we can’t have a sentient pair of cargo pants taking over the Sanctuary, can we now,” Simon had to chuckle on that. Then he got rather serious. Natalie looked up. “What?”

“I thought I would die in that shed. I thought I would never see you again,” Natalie felt her already pacing heart speeding it up a notch. “I thought I never get to tell you that I,” Negan came back in. Both looked over to him.

“Am I interrupting something?” none was answering. Negan just shrugged. “Anyhow, your chariot awaits. Let’s get you home.”

Chapter Text

Simon couldn’t really keep his eyes open and had been slowly drifting off. He was currently slumped against the door somehow sprawled all over the backseat, sleeping peacefully. Natalie shot him worried little looks every couple of seconds until Negan told her to shut it, she was making him nervous. They didn’t really know where they were exactly, and it took some trial and error until Negan found a familiar route. Judging by how nearly half of the Sanctuary came running when they finally made it back in the late afternoon their little, unannounced road trip had been the cause of a couple of headaches. Gary was one of the firsts to arrive at the gate.

“Where the hell have you been? We sent people out looking for y-,” he stopped when his eyes fell on Simon sitting up in the backseat with a groan. “Holy shit,” Gary deadpanned.

“So, people are looking for us, huh? Well shit, why am I not surprised they didn’t find us? Tell the doc to get the infirmary ready. Simon needs some prodding and poking. And if you see Wade, a fucking shitstorm is heading his way,” Negan gave Natalie a little side glare. “And I won’t be the one unleashing it on him,” she scoffed humourlessly. Oh, Wade was dead. The closer they had come to the Sanctuary the more pissed off she had gotten. She had no other outlet for her worry anyway and she had been too preoccupied enough before to even contemplate how easy it had been exactly. It had been practically a cake walk to track down Simon. By the looks of it, Wade was well aware of what was coming for him when he stared at Simon nearly shocked. While Negan and Gary helped a rather passive Simon out of the car Natalie slowly walked to Wade. The thing with Natalie was that she usually looked harmless, friendly even, and most of the time she was. When Negan, with her in tow, was out and about swinging his dick and Lucille around the poor bastards kneeling didn’t look up to her terrified and desperate, quite the opposite, actually. That was of course only because they never saw what she was capable of when she had too. Let’s say it was a mistake to misjudge her general friendliness for weakness or innocence. When Negan took over the Sanctuary it hadn’t been pretty, and some of the shit that went down here before had shocked a guy like Simon. And Natalie had a general bone to pick with someone after her encounter with those psychopaths, so her death count rivaled Simon’s and Negan’s. Wade knew that. He had been there after all. That’s why he stepped a couple of steps backward when she came to him.

“You were in charge of the search team,” she said, her tone neutral. Wade nodded tensely. “You told us you searched everywhere, didn’t find a single trace. Four days you crawled through the brushwork, into every cave and shack, that’s what you told Negan, right?”

“More or less,” Wade said. His mouth was dry, and he had trouble to swallow. Natalie glared at him with the same cold glimmer in the same hazel brown eyes Negan had. Wade took a breath.

“On your knees,” she rarely did that, making people kneel. That’s why Wade automatically looked over to Negan watching the whole thing unfold passively. Simon, who still sat in the open door of the car, too. They generally had an audience. Wade turned his eyes back on Natalie, pressed his lips together and went down on both knees. His expression tensed even more when she pulled out her gun, a small Colt Cobra. She weighed it in her hand before she crouched down to be eye to eye with Wade who squinted down on the gun uncomfortably until her silent stare forced him to look up. Without a word she put the barrel under his chin and pressed it hard in the sensitive skin. “A kid could have followed them. All it took was some legwork and some common sense,” Wade knew better than to try to defend himself. He tried to make eye contact, but he failed miserably. “You got Saviors killed, you know that?” She could see Negan walking slowly in her field of view. Wade had fucked up. Big time. But that wasn’t necessarily a reason to kill him. Punish him, for sure, a couple of days in a dark cell, maybe a beating or two, removing some stripes, letting him do some of the more shittier tasks that came to mind. Natalie knew that, but the thing was, Wade nearly got Simon killed. This fact seared in hot white anger something away inside her. Wade had coming what was heading for him. She looked him in the eyes for a very long time. He nearly pleaded with his, but all he saw was cold anger. She cocked the colt. The sound of it loud in the yard. There was a lot of tension and suspense in the air.

“Nata-,” Negan got interrupted by her pulling the trigger. The click made Wade flinch terribly.

“That was for Norris,” she cocked it again. Wade stared at her with wide, nearly wet eyes. She pulled the trigger again. Another click, another flinch. “Evan,” she did it a third time “And that was for Dean,” she said coldly. Then she got up. She pulled the colt away from his throat, glared down on him for another second or two, cocked it one last time and fired a shot somewhere over his shoulder, merely inches away from his head into a brick wall. Wade nearly sobbed when the shot echoed over the yard. “That one was for Simon. I wouldn’t have missed if he would have been dead,” she put the revolver back and pushed her hand in her jeans pocket, pulling out the three bullets she just took out of it. With a nearly disgusted snort she let them drop into the dirt right in front of him. “Keep them. Another stunt like that and I make sure every single one of them will hit home. You are fucking lucky I like you,” then she turned around to the car to face Gary who looked down on Wade and then at her. With a little impatient head tilt, she signaled him to get Simon up and inside and he hurried to comply. She wanted to follow but Negan held her back. He grabbed her by her upper arm.

“Where you think you’re going?” she looked at him bemused.

“The infirmary?”

“No, you’re not. Give the doc some space. Besides, are you even aware that the only thing that keeps you upright is fucking determination? You’ve been up for days, we just walked probably 20 miles, and don’t get me started on that diet of Jack Daniel’s and fucking Tater Tots, granola bars and whatever little real food I’d managed to shove into you the past five days. Just to make it perfectly clear here, this isn’t a discussion, this is an order. Go to your fucking room, put that leg up and wait till I send someone to get you. I’ll promise you you get to see him the moment he’s been settled.”

“I’m fine,” she tried to argue. Negan sighed. He lifted Lucille up, observed her closely and then he let her swing down with gentle momentum tapping his sister's leg, just a little touch. Natalie groaned in pain.

“Are you, though?” she glared at him.

“Fine,” she snapped. She really wanted to leave in a storm, but Negan was right. Her leg did hurt like a bitch, so maybe he had a point there. In her room, she went through the usual motions, way too jacked up by nervous energy to actually calm down. After an inappropriately long, hot shower she threw herself on the bed and stared at the ceiling. No way in hell she could sit idly in her room the whole time doing nothing.

When she woke up her little radio alarm showed her that it was three in the morning

“Fuck,” she grumbled. Someone had made her lay down properly, even put her leg on a soft pillow and covered her with her favorite comforter. So, it probably had been Negan. She got up annoyed. Her eyes fell onto her coffee table. He had left her a sandwich, a can of apple juice and a little note consisting out of more fucks than actual words. She filled in the blanks and deduced that he probably wanted her to eat it. Natalie had to smile while she chewed the sandwich listlessly. Her stomach was growling, but she didn’t really have an appetite. After she gulped down the juice as well she got up ignoring the fact that her leg hurt even more now than it did before. The doc was taking notes in the infirmary. Simon wasn’t there.

“You ever sleep?” she asked him flatly and he looked up startled. Then he removed his glasses and frowned at her.

“No very much,” he confessed. “Simon is in his room. He insisted. I think he really wanted to take a shower. He is fine. A little dehydrated, hypoglycaemic and in dire need of some rest, but that’s nothing a hearty meal and a good night’s sleep can’t fix. The cut looks good, too. Good job cleaning and bandaging it. And good call to start on the amoxicillin already,” Natalie shrugged.

“What can I say, couple more times in the infirmary and we won’t need you anymore,” he smiled at her wearily.

“How’s the leg?”

“Good,” she lied. He sighed and got up. Then he took a little bottle out of the medicine cabinet and threw it to her. “Fentanyl? Isn’t that like illegal?” as anybody would care anymore.

“Then don’t take the whole bottle,” he said. “You worked up quite the tolerance in the past,” what could she say? She had been rich and bored. And abusing pain meds and calling it self-medication was basically a hobby of the 1%. “This will help numb the pain. I can’t shoot you up with morphine all the time. Don’t tell your brother,” he dropped back on his chair. Natalie shook the bottle as a goodbye and walked out of the infirmary. She met Laura in the hallway who looked at her surprised.

“What are you doing up?”

“What are you doing here?” Natalie shot back. Laura shrugged.

“Double shifts watch duty. Thanks to you, by the way,” she said with a lopsided smile. Yeah, sneaking out on Laura’s watch had been a dick move.

“So, you’re guarding this hallway? Are you afraid someone will steal this fire extinguisher? It probably doesn’t even work anymore, because between you and me, no one checked it in the last two years now,” Laura rolled her eyes.

“I’m on my way to the Northern gate, where I am expected, so,” she strode past Natalie who grinned after her. Her little mid-night journey through the Sanctuary led her to a certain door and she hesitated a second before she knocked. That no one answered was no surprise. She opened it carefully. Simon was dead to the world. She could probably lead a marching band in here and he wouldn’t wake up. After a while of smiling softly down on him, which was not creepy at all, she took off her shoes, and after some contemplation her jeans as well, and climbed to him in the bed. He stirred up a little, but after a short unfocussed look at her he made space and she snuggled into his side. He settled back in his pillow without waking up after she pulled the blanket back over both of them. Natalie looked up and let her thumb gently run over Simon’s 5-day stubble. Then she made herself comfortable for the rest of the night. The last thing she thought before she drifted off to sleep was that she could get used to this.

~

Simon woke up slowly. He felt like he had slept for a very long time, but he still was groggy. It took him a moment to realize that he was not alone in the bed and that someone, and judging by the naked leg that had been thrown over one of his and the slender arm around his waist, it was a member of the female gender, was basically clinging onto him. He blinked his eyes open and looked down onto a mob of unruly, dark brown hair. A warm smile crawled up his face and he only reluctantly freed himself from the human octopus that was Natalie. When he came back from the bathroom she sat in the bed and rubbed her eyes with a yawn. He had to admit he liked the sight.

“What time is it?” she asked in a sleep husky voice.

“Around 8 a.m.,” he went back to bed and rolled on his side. He looked up to her while she looked down on him. “Can I ask you why you are in my bed?” he inquired her with a smirk. Natalie dropped back and turned to him as well at.

“Not because I think your bed is so comfortable.”

“Not all of us have Swedish horsehair mattresses they fought their brother over,” Simon said still smiling. He couldn’t help the smile, it was just there. Natalie huffed a laugh.

“I won it fair and square.”

“You cheated,” he deadpanned.

“When counting cards is not allowed then why is it so easy?” Simon’s only answer was a chuckle. He studied her face for a while longer before he got rather serious.

“Thank you,” Natalie frowned at him confused.

“For what? Saving you? I think I owed you one,” she tried to downplay it. Simon wasn’t having it.

“For not giving up on me,” he said softly. Natalie looked a bit flustered right now. She stared at her hands and podded a little on some loose skin on her thump until she got it off.

“I couldn’t,” she said so quietly he barely heard it. She couldn’t really make eye-contact anymore. Simon found her sudden shyness incredible endearing and cute. He got up on his elbow and without saying anything he took one of her hands and intertwined their fingers. For a long time, they both looked on them before he lifted his gaze and met her eyes. Before long, hers fell onto his lips. Leaning down and finally kissing her felt only natural. The kiss was chaste, and it was a bit like coming home. After a while, she let go of his hand in favor to put her arms around his back and pulled him closer. With a little moan, she opened her mouth, allowing his tongue to enter. This was definitely leading somewhere. He slowly pushed himself over her climbing between her legs that she opened accommodatingly, and he let one hand glide over her naked thigh down to her knee while hers wandered down his sides and under his shirt.

“Ow, ow, ow,” she hissed and he groaned in pain. He had managed to jostle her leg while she somehow brushed against his gash that was still rather sensitive to touch. For a second, they stared at each other, then both had to laugh.

“I’m sorry,” they said simultaneously. Simon shook his head.

“It’s fine. I can’t believe I am saying this, but maybe we should take it slow,” he said with a small grin. Natalie sighed. Maybe a little exasperated.

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea,” she looked almost disappointed when Simon slid down from her, but he made it up to her with a long kiss. Then he pressed another one on her shoulder and nuzzled against her neck.

“My hero,” he said seriously and after a couple seconds, Natalie sniggered.

“You are an idiot.”

“Maybe, but now I’m your idiot,” he said. Natalie looked at him fondly.

“I like the sound of that.”

“I bet you do,” he pulled her closer to his chest and she cuddled against him with a content sigh. “How about some more sleep?”

“I like the sound of that, too,” she mumbled against his shirt and he pressed another kiss in her hair. Simon nearly was asleep when she talked again. He could hear the skeptic frown in her voice.

“Hey, what do you think Negan will say to that?” he gently caressed her arm.

“Something tells me he will be just fine with it,” was his only answer.

Chapter Text

Simon knocked on the doorframe of the small windowless hole in the wall Natalie was rummaging around and leaned nonchalantly on it. He crossed his arms and smiled at her. Then he gave the room a thorough once over.

“You know there are pantries in that place even I don’t know about,” he said. Natalie chortled. She sat cross-legged in the company of cans, boxes and ripped out paper sheets.

“Yeah, me neither. That is one of those “I will take care of it later” pantries I forgot about,” Simon picked up a can on the shelf next to him and frowned at it, or rather at the lack of a label.

“I wonder why,” he said flatly. Natalie looked at it through her lashes.

“That’s another candidate for mystery Monday,” Simon shook it carefully.

“Probably canned peaches. It’s always canned peaches for some reason. Anyhow,” he put the can back. “How busy are you exactly?” Natalie looked up with a raised eyebrow. Simon, on the other hand, pushed himself away from the doorframe, came in and closed the door. He leaned against it with his hands behind his back and a small, silly smile. All much-needed inventory was forgotten and Natalie basically jumped up. Simon grasped her by her hip and pulled her against him and into a kiss. She practically melted in his arms. He loved that he was able to do this, allowed to touch her like that and he was still in awe and would be for a while longer how soft, pliant, and willing she became. She, that headstrong, loudmouthed, arrogant brat who would rather fry herself in oil than giving you an inch on her, all willing and surrendering, nearly eager to please. He probably could do whatever he wanted with her, within reason of course. He took her by her hips with both hands and easily spun them around. Her back hit the door with a low thud and for a second he wondered if he hurt her, but she made no move to slow down devouring his mouth. The kiss was sloppy, and a little bit messy, but neither of them cared. A soft moan escaped her mouth when he pressed himself harder against her, his hands still on her hips with his fingers digging into skin and muscle, probably leaving bruises. That was alright. She only had asked him to not leave marks where someone could see them. A request he respected, that was why he refrained from sucking one into her neck in favor of kissing and nibbling his way up to the sensitive skin behind her ear, a spot that when caressed made her squirm, chuckle and gasp in pleasure at the same time. Natalie let her head fall back against the door to give him more access and her wish was his command. She panted heavily, already on edge, and Simon nearly felt bad for what he was about to do. It took her a second to even register that he retracted from her.

“Why are you stopping?” he voice was husky from arousal and her pupils were blown. Simon grinned at her and a little frown took residence between her brows.

“Aw sweetheart, you think I’m going to fuck you up some pantry door?”

“What?” she sounded incredulous.

“I’m gonna take my time with you. Make you beg for it,” now he could tell that Natalie was close on getting pissed. But it was the cute kind of anger, so he was totally cool with that.

“I can fucking beg you right here and now alright,” she growled a little. Simon’s reaction was to give her a peck on the tip of her nose. Hers was to look like she was about to slap him. Simon gently pushed her away and opened the door. “You are actually serious with that,” Natalie mumbled, more to herself and Simon gave her a wide smile and an absolutely non-apologetic look when he walked out of the pantry. She followed him. Gary came down the corridor pretending and failing spectacularly, that he didn’t just see Simon and Natalie coming out of a closet.

“To be continued,” Simon said smugly, making Gary cringe, and Natalie just stood there and stared after him.

“Hey Gary,” the man looked up startled when Natalie called him. He nearly stumbled over his own feet. “I’m recently single again. You wanna come in here? Pick back up where Simon left off?”

“Please don’t drag me into the weird thing you two got going on?” he said and Simon clapped him on the shoulder when he passed him.

“Good answer.”

“I hate you,” she called after him and he shot her one last pleased-with-himself look over his shoulder before he disappeared around a corner. In all fairness, leaving her high and dry like that wasn’t easy for him as well, but he was nothing but a tease, so sue him. Simon didn’t get far. He walked up some stairs on his way to the big man’s chambers to where he was summoned half an hour ago when he ran into Lucille blocking his way like a barbed-wired bouncer. Negan somehow followed his bat with a serious expression.

“Simon,” Negan said, emphasizing the first syllable like he usually did when he was angry with him for some reason. “You left me waiting.”

“I was just on my way to you,” Simon said in a half-hearted attempt of an apology. Negan glared at him. Simon couldn’t help a heavy sigh.

“So what do you want from me? Giving me the shovel talk? I have to admit I wasn’t expecting one,” Negan palmed his chin. He had shaved recently. He had to be the only man Simon ever met that looked older when freshly beardless. Simon had to force himself to tear his eyes from the lower half of Negan's face.

“That ain’t a ”You hurt her and I kill you" speech, this really goes without saying,” casual threats, a Negan brand. “Besides she will make your life a living hell all by herself when it ever gets that far. No, this is about something else,” he glared into Simon’s eyes long enough to make him feel uncomfortable, clearly intentional, and Simon couldn’t help but to tense. There weren’t a lot of things in this world Simon was afraid of, but Negan, however, he managed to do this, could put the fear of God in him. There was a reason why Negan lived in the penthouse and not Simon. Besides, although it was rather unlikely, especially now, it wasn’t the fabric of fairy tales that Negan would get rid of loyal followers close to him when they pissed him off enough or screwed up in some major way, occasionally when he felt like it, and there was always the chance that he actually lost his temper, something happening rather seldom, but it wasn’t unheard of. You didn’t want to be on the wrong end of Lucille when that happened. Whatever Negan wanted he was dead serious about it, so Simon prepared himself to take it seriously as well. “I fucking know that you know that I give you a lot of liberties compared to all my other lieutenants and I let you get away with a lot of disrespectful behavior when it comes to yours truly,” Simon looked at him with a carefully guarded face. This was true actually. Would Gavin or Regina adopt the tone Simon sometimes used when he talked to Negan they would be dead without a lengthy preamble. “Reason being that you fucking earned that privilege. I am well-fucking-aware that I wouldn’t have been able to take this place over without your help and then there is all the other shit you did for me, first and foremost the many times you kept an eye out for Nat and the two times specifically she would be dead by now if it weren’t for you. And I can fucking respect that,” Negan looked at him expectantly and Simon had no idea what he was expecting.

“Thank you?”

“But the thing is, Simon, you just climbed up the ladder, if you are aware of it or not I don’t fucking know. So let me remind you who you are and where your fucking place it before you get a little too nice and cozy in your new position as Nat’s trophy husband,” Simon couldn’t help the spark of amusement that flashed over his face. Then he sighed. He knew what Negan wanted to hear before he even had to ask it. “So tell me Simon, who are you?” Simon didn’t answer right away.

“I’m Negan,” he finally said dryly. Negan just kept glaring at him.

“Are you though?” now Simon couldn’t help it, he glared back. Except maybe that whole Frankie thing nothing Simon did in the past 18 months indicated otherwise. Simon would be lying if he would say he never thought about getting rid of Negan taking his place considering the man sometimes spent a little too much time showing off and talking than taking action, especially when it came to keeping the communities in check, but by the end of the day Simon felt quite comfortable where he was now. And then there was always Natalie, of course.  

“Yes, I’m Negan, and I always will be. Nothing changed that,” he snapped. “You want me to go down on my knees, too?” there was a very long moment of tension between them until Negan scoffed dismissively.

“That won’t be fucking necessary,” he took a long breath. He seemed to be more annoyed than anything else at this point. “Alright, good to know that we are on the same fucking page here,” then he smacked his lips after he looked at Simon with a nearly thoughtful expression. “So how’s it going with Nat?” Simon frowned at him bemused. Only Negan could make a hard U-turn like that and act like he didn’t just shove his dick down Simon’s throat.

“Good,” Simon just said.

“Good,” Negan parroted him and what followed was an awkward pause. “Well then, I gotta go, and I am sure you got shit to do as well after you and Nat slacked around the last couple of days.”

“Oh, believe me, there wasn’t a lot of slacking,” Simon said innocently and Negan honest to God flinched. He had been practically begging for it. Usually, Negan was very interested in details of everybody’s sex life, the man basically was a walking dick joke, but for some reason, he was not interested at all in the ones involving his baby sisters. Negan opted for flight. Simon grinned after him. “I can give you details, maybe some sketches.”

“I can’t fucking hear you,” Negan said over his shoulder before he disappeared around a corner leaving a chuckling Simon behind.

With one last head-shake, Simon went back to work. Negan hadn’t been wrong, there were a lot of things he needed to attend to after his downtime, so it was rather late in the evening when he finally managed to knock on a familiar door. Natalie called out to come in. She sat on her bed cross-legged and looked at him over the rim of her reading glasses. Just like that Simon had a new kink.

“What are you doing here?” she asked with a pouty undertone. “I don’t need you, you know. I already took care of everything,” Simon tugged his bottom lip hiding a smirk and slowly walked to the bed.

“Have you now,” he said when he crawled on the bed and carefully took off her glasses that he placed on the nightstand. “Tell me everything about it,” he brushed his mustache slowly along her neck before he nibbled on her earlobe and just like that all the barely there, played resistance was gone.

“You’d like that, huh?” she mumbled before he shut her up with a kiss. He grabbed the book she had been reading and carelessly threw it somewhere into the room.

“Clearly,” he said with a smirk before he grabbed her thighs without warning. He threw her on the bed and was over her before she even knew it. “Or how about a demonstration?”

“That can be arranged,” with that, she pulled him in for a kiss. It was surprisingly tender at first. Her lips, soft and plush, moving gently against his tighter, a little rougher ones, carefully and a little shyly exploring each other. It didn’t take long until passion and lust got the better of them and Simon nearly ravished her mouth with his tongue more or less intruding her, drawing all kinds of moans and noises from her. He pulled away from time to time to lick and kiss his way along her jaw and her neck, always to return to her mouth like it was a magnet.

Simon took her wrists and pushed her arms over her head leaving her strangely exposed. For a second they stared into each other’s eyes, she breathing heavily, he rather calm but no less aroused.

“I want to make you mine,” he growled and buried his face in her neck licking the tender skin.

“What?” she asked breathlessly. At the moment she debated if she should straddle his hips and pull him closer between her legs because she really needed the friction. So long coherent thoughts were kind of hard.

“Let me mark you,” he said and she just nodded. So Simon went to work. He kissed along her neck and started to suck hickeys along her collarbones. Soon enough he started to use a bit of teeth as well and Natalie squirmed under his ministrations. It wasn’t exactly gentle, but judging by the sounds she made it felt good. Simon released one of her wrists and began to undo the row of buttons of his shirt. He let go of her completely, pushed up, shrugged out of his button down and pulled his undershirt over his head. Then he was just admiring the view. She looked debauched already and he felt pride that he did this and in a very short amount of time.

“You like what you see?” he asked with a smirk and Natalie rolled her eyes.

“Obviously. Now get your ass down here,” he complied with a fond eye roll. She took the chance to explore his toned torso with her hands, let them travel over his shoulders, his sides, these broad biceps and back, over his narrow hips and finally, they landed on his ass and she grabbed the muscular globes and pulled them towards her. He hadn’t expected that and when his groin met her core he let out a surprised groan that turned into a moan when she ground a bit into him. She very obviously enjoyed being the boss here.

“Seems like you like what you see as well,” she was speaking about his obvious erection that pressed against his khaki pants. Little Minx.  He caught her lips in another kiss to shut her up and then he got a bit bolder and kissed along her jar up to her ear, which elicited a hitch in her breath and down her neck and collarbone. Then he stopped and looked up with a serious face.

“Good?” he asked in a deeper voice than usual. She just nodded with eyes that were slightly hooded. He pulled a bit on her tank top. “You want to leave that on?” he asked her seriously and he could tell that the answer was yes before she nearly shyly turned her face away. These assholes hadn’t stopped with her arm and shoulder and had cut creative patterns in her back and stomach as well. It wasn’t like he didn’t know the scars. He and Negan had taken turns to keep the cuts clean and make sure they healed up fine, but Natalie, unlike to the ones on her arm and shoulder, was very self-conscious about them and Simon would do nothing she didn’t want. And despite the obvious spark of passion between them and the fact that Natalie was sometimes nearly overeager, he was aware that she had triggers and he tried to avoid them at all cost, even if that meant constantly asking her if she was okay. Her wellbeing was his only priority here.

“I would like that,” she said in an incredibly small voice that actually broke his heart a little bit.

“That’s okay,” he said softly and brushed some bangs out of her face. She leaned a little in the touch and gave him a small smile. “That’s still okay here, right?” he asked her.

“Yeah,” she wrapped a hand around his neck and pulled him down for a kiss that was hungrier than before. He suspected that she was pushing herself here a little, the reminder of her ordeal had thrown her out of it for a bit, so he just went with the flow and let her take the lead. When he got the impression she wasn’t forcing herself anymore he resumed kissing her neck and jawline, peppering her with kisses until she giggled a little.

“Can I touch you?” he asked in her ear, close enough that his hot breath made her shiver. Her answer was taking his hand and moving it up, so it rested firmly on one of her breasts. He lifted his head and looked her in the eyes and she returned the look dead serious until they both started laughing. This resolved the last bit of tension that had built up earlier and finally, they could go back into it again. Her breasts were maybe a bit on the small side, but they were perfectly round and firm. He gave it a little squeeze and marveled how Natalie started to writhe a bit in pleasure under his touch despite the fabric separating his skin from hers when he let his thumb glide over the bud and twirled it gently between his fingers. He took her other one in his mouth, not minding that he swallowed some pieces of fuzz in the process, but rather suddenly he pulled away, pushed himself upright and sat back on his heels. He put his hands on her belt and looked at her with a questioning face, asking for her consent.

“Yeah, keep going,” she said. She lifted her hips, so he could get rid of the impeding items that were her jeans and her slip. Now Simon would not go in there without preparing her thoroughly, and the best way he knew how to relax a nervous flyer was coaxing the one or another orgasm out of her in advance. And besides, Simon was a lot of bad things, but he was a gentleman in bed. He let three fingers glide over her mound and down these hot folds that were just a little wet. He studied her face the whole time, looking for any signs of discomfort, but she just looked up to him with a relaxed face, hooded eyes that deserved the label come-to-bed and a soft smile. Her breath hitched, and she pressed her head in her pillow when his thumb circled over the little bundle of nerves that send a spark of pleasure through her body.

“Shit. Keep doing that,” she said breathlessly followed by a little moan. She was more on the quieter side and Simon was okay with that. He actually preferred that to women who sounded like they thought they were in a porn movie.

“Oh I can do more than that,” he said in a teasing tone she wasn’t acknowledging since she was too busy focusing on his expert fingers. He made himself comfortable between her legs and started to kiss her inner thigh, still with his thumb rubbing and teasing her clit and slowly kissed his way upwards. He took his sweet ass time to give her the possibility to back out or tell him to stop if that would be too much for her, but if anything she even encouraged him more when she opened her legs a bit wider to give him better access. She tasted salty and sweet and her scent made his painfully hard cock twitch. He licked a broad stripe with his tongue up to her clit, which made her shiver and clutching the sheet and replaced his thumb with his tongue. He played for a while with the perky little bud while he occasionally looked up to her. Her chest was heaving heavier and heavier, she grasped the sheet tight enough her knuckled got white and although he couldn’t see her face since she had turned her head to the side and her hair was in the way he could tell by the soft moans and gasps that she was getting close already. She was very responsive, considering that at the moment he was more a tease than anything else. He decided to have mercy on her, and besides, he would have to do something about his straining erection really soon. So he engulfed her clit carefully with his lips, applied a little pressure and sucked on it rather hard all while he carefully pushed his thumb in her wet folds. She let out a loud moan, it was nearly a cry. He could feel her spasm around his finger, and damn she was tight. He let her ride it out until he pulled away carefully to avoid overstimulating her most sensitive organs, and pushed himself up with a little smug grin.

“Well now that was easy,” she looked at him through the fingers of her hand.

“Shut up. But if you have to hear it you are pretty good at that,” she said with a deep voice. He made himself comfortable on his side next to her, as comfortable as he would get with that raging hard-on. She eyed down on it. It was really obvious.

“This looks uncomfortable,” she stated, and he put on a solemn expression.

“It is.”

“What we gonna do about it?” instead of an answer he leaned in for another kiss that she returned enthusiastically. With nimble fingers, she opened his belt and he let out a relieved sigh when she pushed his pants down. His cock basically jumped out like a Jack in the box.

“Going commando, huh?” she asked with a chuckle.

“What can I say, I like my freedom,” carefully she wrapped one hand around his length and gave it a tentative stroke and then another before she swiped her thumb over his slit gathering some beads of precum. He was hot and hard, and the skin was silky and soft. Simon groaned and pressed his forehead in the pillow.

“You have to stop that, or this is over embarrassingly fast,” she chuckled and let go of him. He reached in one of his pockets and pulled out the little packet of lube and a condom. Natalie smacked her lips.

“Always prepared, the Simon we know and love,” he sniggered a bit and tried to kick off his pants. He succeeded with a little help of her.

“That’s like the first and only rule,” he opened the lube package with his teeth.

“Just so you know, I am fully supplied as well,” she watched him squeezing it on his fingers and rubbing it to get it warm. No way in hell he would even try to fuck her with just one finger for prep. She needed more than that.

“As much as I appreciate an emancipated woman, in this case, I can safely say I got it,” she turned a bit to him and lifted one leg over his to give him a better access. His fingers ghosted over her entrance now with his thumb barely touching her clit and she shivered slightly and scooted a little closer to the heat of his body. “When it is too much or when it hurts you say the word and I stop, alright?” she nodded. It wasn’t their first time, that had happened the night before, but Simon knew that the only action she had seen since the world went to shit had been with herself. No need to go overboard here. He slipped one finger in. It slid in easily enough, but he had been right, she was tight and also a little tense. He began to move it in and out in a slow and steady rhythm. She grabbed his biceps loosely and pressed her face against his shoulder. He could feel her even breath against his skin. After a while, he moved without any resistance and he started to become a little more adventurous. He circled his finger and flexed it back and forth which caused her to quicken her breathing.

“It’s okay, you can put in another one,” she breathed out. He did as requested and repeated the whole procedure. A third followed the second and by the time he was about to add a fourth she nearly fucked herself on his fingers.

“It’s fine. I’m okay, just,” a low moan escaped her mouth. “Just do it. I wanna feel you,” she whispered and wasn’t that just one of the sexiest things he ever heard? He pulled out his fingers and left a wet trail on her thighs before he cleaned them sloppy on the sheets. He put on the condom quickly and covered his dick generously with the rest of the lube. After he positioned himself between her legs he hovered over her a bit.

“I will go all in now, alright?” she chuckled.

“Yeah, I know. I’m good. I tell you when I need you to stop. Just be careful, okay?” he gave her a little peck, grabbed his dick to position himself properly and slowly pushed in. There still was a lot of friction and he hesitated, but she hooked one of her legs over his upper thigh and gave him an encouraging nudge, so he kept going. He was halfway in when she told him to stop. His first notion was withdrawal by she grabbed his sides and held him there.

“No, it’s fine. Just more pressure than I’m used to,” she pressed out. She was breathing rather heavily. “Just give it a second,” he frowned down on her.

“You sure?”

“Yeah,” she nodded. He wasn’t entirely sure if she was 100 percent honest here, but all his reservations flew out the window when she shifted under him and lifted her hips in the same moment she pulled him deeper inside.

“Fuck,” he groaned out. God she was tight, and the way she clenched around him he would have to summon up some memories of Negan bashing in some poor fucker’s skull if he wanted to make it worth her while here. He could vaguely hear her saying something.

“What?”

“I said fucking move,” she said impatiently, and he stared down on her.

“So bossy,” he admonished. Natalie had to laugh but he shut her up when he carefully retreated until he was half out again and slowly pushed back in. After a while, he established a steady rhythm and she came towards him every time he slid right in. 

“Oh fuck that feels good,” she pressed out and he had to admit that massaged his ego somewhat hard. “You can go harder if you want,” her words came out between soft moans. Her eyes had fluttered shut, she was grabbing his upper arms firmly and she either mouthed on whatever patch of skin she could reach or bit into his shoulder to keep the noise down. He complied to her wish and took her by one of her thighs to readjust his position. That little change obviously had an impact since she inhaled sharply and her back arched up.

“Oh shit, there. Do that again,” she moaned and well he could do that. He could feel and see that she was close, and this was a good thing since he wouldn’t last long anymore either. The whole combination of her writhing body, her little sounds of pleasure, her blunt fingernails now digging into his back, the tight grip she had around his length was nearly too much. He let one of his hands slide between their bodies and down to her core until he found her little pleasure button. A couple of well-aimed pulls of her trigger sent her over the edge. She got impossible tighter around him and he came hard and fast and a little unexpected. They rode their highs out together until their breaths evened out again and Simon actually could feel a pause between his heartbeats. He carefully pulled out and fell exhausted to the side. While he took care of the condom she stretched next to him with a face full of post-orgasmic bliss.

“Dude, you did not disappoint,” Simon had to laugh out loud. The word dude was hardly how he usually started his pillow talk, but that was Natalie for you. She rolled over, pressed herself against him and gave him a chaste peck on the lips before she snuggled into his chest. He kicked around a bit before he managed to throw the comforter over his legs and pulled it over them. “Simon?” she asked softly.

“Yeah?” he tenderly caressed her shoulder with his thumb.

“How much later you think after a mind-blowing orgasm,” he chuckled to that, “is it appropriate to tell someone you love them without pinning in on the heat of the moment thing?” she put her chin on his chest and looked up to him with those big, hazel brown eyes.

“I think three minute’s just fine,” he said with a smile. She smiled back at him before her expression got thoughtful.

“I love you,” she said seriously and inside Simon died a little. His smile got impossibly wider.

“I love you, too.”

Chapter Text

Negan loitered in his usual chair on the head of the table in the war room and listened to Gary and Simon discussing a potential raid. He was bored, so was Natalie by the looks of it, and usually, he wouldn’t sit in these kinds of meetings, the ones that could have been an e-Mail if that would still be a thing, but he barely spent any time with his sister since she and Simon rode off into the sunset together. It wasn’t exactly quality time, but it was something. He had to say she wasn’t looking at her best, she was a bit pale around her nose and looked like she could use a good night’s sleep. She was in a cranky mood, as well. Not exactly what you would expect from someone who was disgustingly in love.

“That’s only a bunch of trees. You’re sure that’s the place?” Gary asked and Negan needed a couple of seconds before he realized that he was asking him.

“I’m sorry. I forgot to ping that shit being busy with getting Simon back in one piece since somebody fucking had to,” he deadpanned. Gary’s eyes fell on the map ashamed. Wade hadn’t been the only one getting his ass whipped concerning the disastrous outcome of the search for Simon and the others. Gary did as well, DJ and Laura, too, although in all fairness they got away with way less trauma and nightmares. The only one who wasn’t pissed off about it in the top brass was, strangely enough, Simon, probably because by the end of the day he got a girlfriend out of it.

“These houses were completely untouched. You ask me the inhabitants probably got out during the first big evacuation. They maybe didn’t even make it home first, so there’s a chance we find some really good stuff. Those off the beaten path settlements are usually well stocked. Food, meds, hell even fuel for backup generators,” Natalie said. She hadn’t forgotten about those houses. They just hadn’t been her priority. Not a lot actually had been her priority the past few weeks and Negan generously had extended his leniency for that on Simon, as well, because deep down he was a good guy. This, and the fact that he couldn’t deny his baby sister any wish, even the ones she wasn’t explicitly making. “We take just a few people, in case we are running in circles without finding shit this will save resources. We always can go back if we need more people to do some heavy lifting. I want Laura. That girl is like a truffle pig for hidden good shit,” she said with a head jerk to the woman who took a deep breath.

“You know you could have said truffle dog,” she mumbled. Natalie ignored her. 

“Simon of course,” she went on. “If you wanna come, Gary, you are more than welcome. Otherwise the one or other redshirt in case something goes South. Who’s expendable? What's Wade up to these days?” Simon smiled at her amused while Negan only scoffed. No one could quite hold a grudge like his sister, but Wade was one of the useful ones and Natalie constantly threw sticks in his spokes recently, a fact that started to annoy Negan a little. She didn't even allow him to return to the Shephard Outpost, because then she wouldn't be able to glare at him from a distance, would she now?

“You need to start to cut him some fucking slack, doll. It’s been weeks,” Natalie looked at him with a genuinely curious expression. 

“Why?” Negan tilted his head bemused.

 “What do you mean with why? Why the fuck not? The poor asshole goes voluntarily into a dark cell just to avoid you,” now Natalie pulled a face. 

“Good, then he can spend his alone time contemplating how lucky he is to be alive,” Negan wanted to say something to that but there was a uncertain knock and then nobody came in. Everyone turned to the door. Usually knocking on the door of the war room was just a formality and everyone who even bothered was basically inside already. Negan cleared his throat. 

“Come in?” the door got pushed open hesitantly. It was Sherry, and she was both, nervous and obviously angry about something, although the nervousness clearly outweighed the anger here. She quickly shot a look to Negan, to Natalie and back to the man.

“We need you in the infirmary,” she said, and somehow she sounded reproachful. Negan shared a look with his sister. She just shrugged. 

“Why?” Negan asked with a frown. Sherry sighed. 

“Can you just come, please?” she was very close on using the wrong tone here, but Negan let it slide. He got up. “You two as well,” she meant Natalie and Simon. Negan’s frown deepened. It matched the one Natalie had on her forehead. If Carson needed all of them it had to be serious. Negan just hoped the doc wasn’t about to inform him that they would all going to die from some superbug.   

The news was even worse. They were currently cramped together in front of the infirmary, the doc tight-lipped and tense, Simon leaning on the wall with his arms crossed and a worried frown, Natalie pale and staring into nothingness and Negan pissed off as hell and pacing. 

“How old is she?” 

“15.” 

“Jesus fucking Christ,” he palmed his stubble. “And she isn’t talking?” the doc shook his head. “Why would she talk to me then? I mean have you fucking met me? Or Simon? Are we supposed to threaten it out of her?” Negan was good with kids, but not with traumatized ones. He wasn’t exactly sensible all the time, even when he wanted to be. And then there was the fact that he was over 6 feet, carried around a baseball bat, let everyone kneel and now and again pressed red-hot irons at peoples’ faces. The girl was probably scared shitless of him already. And don’t get him started on Simon.

“Her father is in there, too. He is … angry,” Carson said after a quick look to Simon. So he needed the authority and muscle. 

“Yeah, fucking tell me about it,” Negan mumbled. It rarely happened, rape, the consequent death penalty on it had made sure of it, although it had taken some time to really sink in. But none of them was blind to the fact that probably half of the assholes in the Sanctuary would take what they wanted by force when they thought they could get away with it. They usually didn’t. The doc harrumphed. 

“I thought that maybe you try to talk to her,“ he said to Natalie. “Sherry tried, but she hasn’t the … insight,” his eyes dropped to the ground after he said that. Negan looked at his sister. She sighed and lifted her gaze. 

“You mean from one victim to another?” she said sarcastically. 

“I didn’t mean it that way, I just,” she interrupted him with a dismissive gesture.

“It’s fine. Let’s give it a shot.”

“Are we sure we want Natalie to talk to her?” Simon asked everybody. Negan knew what he just did there. He didn’t want to put Natalie in that position and he was hoping Negan would simply forbid it. Negan really wanted to, but he knew his sister, and that would just piss her off and she would go in there anyway. Didn’t mean he couldn’t make his position here clear, just like Simon already had.

“No, we’re not,” Natalie glared at him, and at Simon who just looked back unapologetically, “but by all means. After you,” Simon scoffed. He didn’t like it at all by the looks of it, shook his head and pushed himself away from the wall. Then he opened the door of the infirmary and let Natalie walk in first. Negan and Simon followed, the doc in tow. The girl was just a small, curled up frame under a light blanket. All you could see from her was some ash blond hair and half a forehead. The father, who had sat on a chair next to the bed, jumped up.

“This is your fault,” he yelled and stormed towards them. Simon casually stopped him. He didn’t even have to touch him, he just blocked his way and stood up to his full height. Negan had to give him that, he had that intimidation by physical dominance down to a T. “You said you are going to protect us, that you keep us safe when we work for you. Does that look like keeping us safe to you?” he hold an accusing finger around Simon into Negan’s face.

“I really need you to calm down,” Simon said flatly and put a heavy hand on the man’s shoulder who flinched. Negan could understand his rage, so he ignored his aggression.

“We gonna find out who did this and we going to make the asshole pay, I promise you that,” Negan said. “Simon lead that gentlemen some place where he can wait and maybe cool it off a little,” he ordered. “Be nice.”

“You really expect me to let her alone with you?” Negan stared at him until some of that anger got replaced by fear and his gaze fell on the floor. So much for ignoring his aggression.

“No, I expect from you to let her alone with her,” he said with a head jerk to Natalie. She had spent the whole time just looking down at the girl with a sad frown. He made a little gesture to Simon who proceeded to try to lead the man out of the room. In the end, he dragged him out by his forearm using the kind of force saying "I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if you don’t cooperate". This was the nicest Simon would get. Negan gave the girl one last look, she hadn’t moved at all, and then looked his sister in the eyes. They had a wordless conversation if she really wanted to do this, but then Negan just nodded and walked out of the room taking the doc with him. He turned around and got the door shut in his face.

~

Natalie took a second to just stare at the closed door before she sighed and turned around. She sat on the chair that had been previously occupied by the girl’s father. Her hand hovered for a second over the blanket, but then she carefully pulled it away from her face. The girl flinched and tried to hide between her arms, but Natalie could see the badly swollen eye and the split lip, nonetheless.

“You are Annie, right?” the girl wasn’t answering. Natalie let the blanket go and she immediately pulled it back over her face. It was surprising she didn’t turn away from Natalie as well. She cleared her throat. “I know that the last hours were hard for you, harder than anyone you talked to so far could imagine,” that somehow got her attention, at least some of it. Annie pulled the blanket away with her finger for a fraction and for a split-second Natalie caught her eye. “Did he threat you? Threaten to do something to your Dad? Your little brother?” Annie flinched. Natalie thought so. This was the only explanation why she wasn’t dead. Because that’s how the poor girls usually ended up. Dead girls tell no tales. That made the situation here quite unique. Natalie had no real idea what to say to make her talk. She let some very long minutes pass cracking her fingers.

“The first couple of months,” she started in a rather conversational tone, “there was a lot of traffic on the road. My brother and I we tried to stay for ourselves, or at least I tried, but well Negan’s gotta Negan, I guess. We ran in a lot of people, let them join us, some were okay, most were assholes. They came and went, or just … died. We just met Simon. He had Wade with him and a bunch of others who aren’t with us anymore. We were just looking for a place to settle down. Harder than we thought. Motels make shitty hideout places, by the way. Let me tell you that. Anyhow. We were camping out somewhere, safety in numbers, when these dudes showed up. Just normal guys, no immediate red flags raised,” Natalie had Annie’s full attention now. “They joined us, even were helpful, earned their keep so to speak. One of them, his name was Mike, started to kind of hitting on me. Awkward tries of flirting, always tried to sit next to me, stuff like that. He was a bit annoying, but I wasn’t thinking much. Wasn’t interested either. I just lost my husband,” lost was a word for it. Negan acquainted him head first with the marble counter of the kitchen Natalie not once prepared a meal in after he attacked her brother with a knife. It was the first living human Negan killed. They both had been quite shocked. Negan got over it rather quickly. A bit too quickly, you asked Natalie, but some people were built for this world, were thriving in it, and Negan was one of them, “And then this,” she gestured around meaning the state of the world in general. “So I brushed him off and he took it well, or so I thought,” she sighed. She never really told the whole story, because the people who mattered put two and two together without her going into details, and she had no intention to embroider the story with all painful particulars now. So she would just stick to the cornerstones. She rubbed her eyebrow with her thumb. “I was collecting firewood, something mundane as that, and he kind of ambushed me, knocked me out by hitting my head on a tree and dragged me deeper into the woods. I didn’t stand a chance. What happened next,” her voice broke a little. “It was brutal, painful, humiliating, and it wasn’t quick. It went on forever and I felt everything for every dragged out second,” Natalie swallowed down a sob that tried to make its way out of her throat and wiped away some tears. Then she cleared her throat loudly. “Anyway, when he was … finished he punched me in the face a couple of times, lost a molar, probably cracked my jaw, at least it felt that way after, and when he was pulling out my own knife, to kill me, no doubt, someone dragged him away from me,” it had been Simon. He hadn’t shown overly much interest in her to that point, way too busy to circle Negan, sniffing out who would be the future pack leader, but when she disappeared into the woods for what he thought was a suspiciously long amount of time he informed Negan and they both searched for her. He came just in time. After that, he kept an eye on her specifically and Negan, who didn’t trust anyone around her anymore after that except Simon and himself, let him. “So I can relate how you feel. Hurt, scared,” she sighed. “Ashamed, guilty. You know what was really fucked up? For the longest time, I thought this was somehow my fault. That I let him on somehow, that I could have been nicer to him or that I had it coming sneaking out into the woods all by myself,” she scoffed humorlessly. “I know now that I didn’t do anything. He was the asshole, and he deserved everything that was coming for him after,” Annie had sat up laboriously during Natalie’s story and leaned now against the headboard of the bed with her legs pulled against the chest and stared down on her hands. She was peeling at one fingernail. “I know you want to be left alone, hide, hope that it somehow will all go away, and you don’t have to talk to me, not really. Don’t need to tell me what happened exactly, either. All I want to know is who did this to you,” she wasn’t saying something right away. Just kept peeling on her hangnail. Natalie gave her all the time she needed.

“What happened to him?” she asked in a very small voice.

“Negan killed him,” Natalie said flatly.

“How?”

“Suffering,” Negan first beat him to a pulp, then pushed him face first into the campfire and ended what was left of him, a burned, wheezing, pleading to be killed mess, out of his misery with the bat they later would all come to know and love as Lucille.

“Did it help?” Natalie sighed and looked up in sad, anxious, big, blue eyes.

“No, but it did something else.”

“What?”

“Made sure that he would never do it again,” the girl’s eyes fell back on her hands. “Look Annie,” Natalie started again and turned a bit to her making sure not to crowd her in any way. “I am sorry. Your father wasn’t wrong. We promised to protect you and we couldn’t and to be honest, I can’t guarantee you that something like that will never happen again, to you, to someone else. We try our best, but we can’t be everywhere at once and a lot of those men out there only need half the chance, because they think there is no one there to judge them anymore, that they can get away with it. But there is us, me, my brother, Simon. We won’t let him get away with it, and we will probably find out who did it without you saying something. So you don't need to talk if you really don’t want to and I won’t blame you for it or get angry about it, neither will my brother, because we understand, but please Annie,” she looked up again. “Help us,” there was another long stretch of silence and Natalie was halfway there to believe Annie wouldn’t speak up.

“What will happen to him?”

“He will die,” Natalie stated matter of factly.

“Suffering?” Natalie couldn’t help the smallest smile. The girl wasn’t meaning it, she could tell.

“You want him to die suffering?” Annie shook her head.

“I just want them to go away,” them. Natalie wasn’t missing a beat, but internally she cursed. Shit, more than one. That poor thing. She carefully took one of her hands and looked at her until she made hesitant eye contact.

“Tell me their names.”

 

Ten minutes later she stepped out of the infirmary and was greeted by six pairs of curious and partly worried eyes. DJ and Dwight had joined the doc, Simon, her brother and Sherry for some reason, probably in anticipation of getting orders to seize the perp or something like that.

“Did she talk?” Negan asked, and Natalie just sighed. She let one hand run through her hair.

“Get her father back in there and a woman named Karen. She works in the bakery. They are close, some sort of mother figure I guess,” she ignored the anticipatory looks. “Now would you excuse me,” she somehow dodged Negan and Simon who both tried to stop her, ignored the calls for her name, and hurried up the stairs to the living quarters of most of the Saviors. She made a beeline for one of the common rooms, where six Saviors played poker. There was laughter in the air, and the smell of hand rolled cigarettes, beer and booze. The ones facing the door looked up alarmed, but the man she was looking for sat with the back to her. He was laughing loudly about some joke and Natalie felt anger and adrenaline rush through her body. He didn’t know what hit him. She grabbed the hair on the back of his head, pulled it back and sliced his throat from ear to ear, clean and deep, a quick and nearly painless death and let him drop face first on the table. His blood spread over the top slowly, engulfing cards, poker chips and bottles alike and everyone either was staring on that, on the body or at Natalie with faces in various stages of shock. Somewhere behind her someone let a lot of bottles drop. Natalie turned around and faced the kid. He paled. Then he tried to make a run for it. He didn’t get far. His feet slipped on the spilled beer on the floor and he landed hard on his back. He scrambled away from her while she nearly ambled towards him until he ran out of room. Negan and Simon came in, followed by some others.

“Jesus,” Simon muffled while Negan’s only comment was a mumbled

“That’s one way to fucking handle it,” but no one tried to stop her.

“Please,” the kid was maybe 17, and just like Daniel whom she just killed there, he wasn’t here for long. He was sobbing, snot and tears ran down his face and he had pissed himself. He didn’t want to die. He maybe should have thought about that before he did what he did. “He made me do it, please,” he sobbed. She barely understood him. “He threatened to kill me if I don’t do it, or if I tell anyone, please,” Natalie sighed. Then she put the knife away and stepped a step back, looking down on the kid in disgust and pity.

“You are lucky,” he looked up. “She wants you to die fast,” one tiny sign to Simon was enough. Wordlessly the man pulled his gun out of the holster, cocked it quickly and shot him in the head before he even could bring out the no he tried to plead. They all stared down for him for a minute or two.

“Alright, maybe I should explain what the fuck is going on here,” Negan said good-humoredly into the still shocked round. Natalie suddenly felt sick. Not just sick, she immediately felt like she had to throw up. She stumbled a couple of steps backward holding her stomach and desperately trying to keep its content down and fled out of the room. She was half-aware that someone followed her, probably Simon, when she pushed open the door of the next best room, thankfully void of any inhabitants, and emptied everything she had in her into the sink and then some.

“Oh God,” she groaned before he retched again, just painful, dry heaves since there was nothing left. She put on the water. “I can’t remember that I ate that,” she mumbled and rinsed her mouth with water before she took some small sip. She still felt sick, but it was manageable now.

“Are you okay?” Natalie turned around and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Simon stood in the door a little helplessly. She straightened herself and tried to look normal, as normal as she would get pale as a sheet and with a fine layer of sweat on her face.

“I’m fine,” she said. Simon looked into the hallway quickly before he came in completely and closed the door. He came closer slowly but determined and carefully took her in his arms. She melted against his chest, buried himself deep into his warmth and enjoyed the comfort he provided. She wasn’t even sure for what he was comforting her right now, but it felt good, nonetheless.

“You would tell me if something is wrong, right?” Simon asked softly above her. He had pressed his lips into her hairline. She pushed away and looked him in the eyes.

“Yeah, I would.”

“Promise?” he looked so sincere and worried right now it tugged on her heart a little for some reason.

“Yes,” he studied her face a while longer before he leaned down and gave her a small kiss. He soldiered through but then he pulled away making a face.

“Yeah, you really should brush your teeth, no offense,” Natalie sniggered.

“None taken,” she stepped away from him and walked to the door. He stopped her by gently grabbing her wrist and she turned around.

“I mean it, okay? Anything you want to talk about, anything, and I’m here listening.”

“I know,” she pressed a kiss on his palm before he let her go. “I know,” with that, she walked out of the room.

Chapter Text

Natalie woke up with a little start and looked around confused. Her eyes landed on Simon’s hand on her shoulder, wandered up his arm and into his frowning face.

“What?”

“I said we’re here. You okay?” she sat up again regretting to have fallen asleep in the car in the first place considering it had given her quite some kinks in her back.

“I’m fine,” she said rubbing her eyes. She looked around and onto a familiar street. Then she sighed solemnly when she recognized the house in which’s tool shed she found Simon nearly three months ago.

“Maybe you should stay in the car,” Simon stated when he turned off the engine.

“Yeah? Why’s that?” she hadn’t meant to snap like that. Simon looked nearly sulky.

“As a suggestion. Since you obviously need the rest,” he mumbled. While overall everything between them was more than fine there were some weird mood swings on her part leading to Simon nearly walking on eggshells around her. Natalie could tell that he was running out of patience to hear the phrase I’m fine every time he asked her if she was alright. Mostly because she clearly wasn’t. That was a fight in the making, and probably not a pretty one.  

“I’m sorry,” she said softly and grabbed his hand to give it a little squeeze. “I’m just tired. Don’t worry. Besides,” she smirked at him. “What can happen, hm?” Simon looked at her thoughtfully.

“Considering you and I together are some sort of shit magnet of the highest order I can’t even begin to imagine,” Natalie scoffed and leaned over to give him a peck on the lips before she opened the door of the car and jumped out displaying more energy than she actually had right now. She could feel Simon’s eyes piercing into her back. Gary and the rest were currently arming their selves with the necessities. He held a gun towards her grip first, a way more impressive model than her usual Colt, and she stared down on it. There were few occasions she was armed with more than a knife in the first place, and situations like this didn’t really qualify. Sure, she strapped on her thigh holster when she was more or less on her own, like the other night with Negan, or when she had to make an appearance, but usually, it was enough that she was surrounded by her own personal army. Gary insisted.

“Negan’s orders,” he said, the ultimate killer argument. She grabbed it with an eye roll. Simon probably had something to do with that order, too. These two had annoyingly fraternized when it came down to her and their opinion about what it meant to keep her safe.

“Alright, splitting up. Teams of two. You know the drill, everything useful. You run into trouble fire two shots, oh and Wade,” Natalie took a spade from the bed of Gary’s truck. She threw it at him and he caught it just barely. “Dean’s in the back of number four. Make it nice and deep. Just breathe through the mouth,” she said with a mean, little smirk. Wade just stared. “When you’re done I gladly show you the cabin Norris and Evan are in,” he took a deep breath, then he left with an annoyed scoff. “This attitude ain’t helping your case, Wade,” she called after him, but he ignored her. She turned around just to meet Simon’s scolding look. “What, giving them a real burial is the least he can do,” Simon wasn’t answering. “It’s been more than 3 months. If his remains are even there the worst is over. It was pretty hot and dry the last weeks,” he kept up the scolding in his face until she caved. “Fine, you,” she said to two others she didn’t even know the names of. “Go help him.”

“Do we get spades, too?” she glared at the guy who said that. Then she smacked her lips.

“Crazy idea, but there was a tool shed. Maybe, and I know this is a provocative theory, it contains, I don’t know, tools?” they both suddenly were in a hurry to follow Wade. Simon only gave her a lopsided grin, put an arm around her shoulder and began to lead her to their designated house after he gave her a kiss on the temple. Inside Natalie looked around the spacious country style kitchen. She stopped in front of the refrigerator.

“I had the same fridge,” she said before, in a twinge of stupidity, opened its door. She threw it shut immediately and jumped a step back with her hand in front of her nose and mouth. “Every fucking time,” she groaned about herself. A gleeful smile crept onto Simon’s face. He had stopped in the middle of opening a cupboard and looked over to her.

“Why you keep doing this? I mean what is it you are expecting?” she gave him a look.

“It’s a fucking reflex. Guess you can’t just suppress sixty-five million years of gut instinct,” she mumbled. She had trouble keeping her breakfast down. Simon frowned at her.

“You are going to throw up, Dr. Grant?” he asked her so seriously it nearly killed the joke.

“Shut up, keep looking for cans and nonperishables. I’m upstairs,” she said already halfway out.

“You find anything sex toy related I’m game by the way,” Simon called after her.

“I bet,” she mumbled when she walked up the stairs. “I’d rather take a nap.”

The first room she opened was the one of some pre-teen boy. If Natalie had to guess she would say ten, 12 max and that he had been really into the outdoors and dinosaurs. She opened his closet and started to pile up every piece of camping gear she could find. This was always useful, most of the other stuff not so much. Her eyes grazed a corkboard with hand-drawn pictures and photos she wasn’t acknowledging. In the past, she had spent quite some time going through the things of the people who used to live in the houses they raided, had pieced together a story of their lives from photographs and mementos. Now not anymore. They barely crossed her mind. The ghosts of long dead people she hadn’t even know weren’t haunting her anymore and she had stopped a long time ago feeling guilty about pitching into their possessions like a vulture. The next room used to be a girl’s, in her late teens most likely. Or at least Natalie hoped she was at least a senior judging by the scandalously tiny dress that, dusty and bleached out by sunlight, hang on the closet door. She let the faded fabric run through her hands assessing it with the schooled eye of a professional shopper who used to own an Amex Black Card (cheap quality, badly done stitches, a generic style that had been two seasons out already when the world ended, probably bought in one of that sweatshop using chains like Primark or Century 21) when a low thud somewhere above her caught her attention. She stepped out of the room and looked up to the attic door.  

“Simon?” she called at the general direction of the stairs. There was no answer. Her hand landed on the grip of the gun in her waistband, but like an afterthought, she put it on her knife that she unsheathed with a zing. Then she pulled on the chain. She half-expected the door and the stairs to rattle down in an attempt to murder her making a lot of noise for a dramatic jump scare, but nothing like that happened. It slid down smoothly and landed on the wooden floor with a soft clack. “Simon,” she called a second time, but still no reaction from the kitchen. Natalie walked up the stairs. She didn’t have to look very long. “Oh daddy, what did you do,” she mumbled. She passed three bodies, laid out in a neat row, and wrapped in what looked like shower curtains. Two women and a small body of a child, most likely a boy, ten, 12 max. Natalie couldn’t see any obvious wounds, but a little nudge of one of the bodies and the lack of any movements was prove enough that the father had managed to end them properly. The same couldn’t be said for him. If Natalie had to rank suicide methods at the end of the world hanging would be number one. A lot of people probably didn’t even know that they would come back if they would do it that way. She suspected the man was one of them. Nearly two years hanging in an attic in Virginian climate hadn’t done him any favors. At this point, Natalie had no real idea what was holding him together, or what made it possible that he actually managed to cause a fuss when he saw her. She walked to him, dodging his weak attempts to grab her easily and put up the chair again that he had knocked over. Then she climbed on it to cut him down. The chair not so much but made a sound before he somehow simply collapsed. Reflexive she tried to get a hold on the first thing in reach, which was the dead dangling in front of her and who still had surprising internal integrity because instead of ripping him into pieces on predetermined breaking points the beam he hung onto came down with both of them. Natalie landed hard on her side and got showered by plaster, shingles, pieces of wood, and one snarling and pissed off dead. She managed to kick him away, but when she tried to get up one of her feet got tangled in some of the clatter and she went down again. This time the dead threw itself on top of her. She barely was able to hold it away from her with her upper arm on its throat while she frantically searched for her knife by blindly fumbling around. Of course, she couldn’t find it and the dead really demanded all of her attention, so she didn’t dare to take her eyes off of it. Natalie did the only thing she could do at the moment, scream bloody murder. At least she was about to when something else occurred to her.

“Fucking stupid,” she chastised herself and pulled laboriously the gun out of her jeans. With a lot of force, she pushed the barrel into the dead’s mouth breaking a couple of rotten teeth in the process. She pulled the trigger. Up from that close of a distance the shot was really loud and rang in her ears. It distracted her somewhat from the fact that her face was now covered with badly smelling roamer brain, putrefied blood, and all other kinds of yikes. With a groan, she pushed the body down from her and dropped on her back again in an attempt to catch her breath. “Holy shit,” she panted. That had been close. She sat up again and gave the whole mess one last solemn glare before she turned to the exit just to meet Simon’s shocked and worried face. He came in quickly, pulled her up and checked her for injuries.

“Are you okay? Did it bite you?” he nearly yelled into her face.

“No, I’m good. I’m fine, really,” she assured him. His reaction was to pull her against his chest and into a hug that legitimately made her ribcage crack.

“What happened?” he asked her after he let her go again and looked around in the attic trying to make sense out of what he was seeing.

“Tried to cut him loose. Didn’t really go like planned,” Simon’s eyes snapped to her.

“You did what?” she gestured between the dead guy and the hole in the roof.

“He hanged himself. I wanted to cut him loose, but the chair collapsed, brought me, him and half the house down with it. Guess it was a supporting chair,” she said jokingly. Apparently, the joke fell on deaf ears. Simon just stared at her with an emotionless face.

“Why would you do that?” he asked flatly, and she tilted her head confused.

“Why wouldn’t I?” Simon put his hands on his belt and turned to her. He looked angry now. Really angry. His anger rarely addressed her, only had three or four times and always for a good reason. He came a step closer and she unconsciously stepped a step back. Simon was a dangerous man, and though she doubted he would ever lay hand on her in any way a small and more primal part of her wanted to make a run for it now, just in case.

“So let me get this straight. You decided to go in here, all by yourself, to do something stupid and dangerous without any reason whatsoever, nearly getting yourself dead in the process?”

“That’s one way to put it. I personally would call it an act of mercy that maybe went a bit South halfway through,” she should shut up. Her attitude here wasn’t helping to de-escalate a slowly escalating Simon. He pressed his lips together and shook his head. “Come on Simon, this was bad luck, but I had it under control,” now Simon scoffed.

“Yeah in that case,” he said sarcastically. He being pissed off was starting to piss her off as well.

“Where is this coming from all of the sudden. Is this how it’s gonna be from now on? You nearly lose your shit every time I trip?” Simon chuckled. It was a humorless chuckle, more of a chortle.

“You really want to keep doing this, are you? Keep going out here, being reckless, not really caring what happens to you? Keep pretending nothing has changed?” he snarled.

“And what is it exactly that has changed, hm? Educate me, Simon. What is it you are expecting from me? You are obviously entitled to expect something from me now that we are fucking, so spit it out, what is it,” she knew that what she just said was nearly casually cruel. By the look that appeared on Simon’s face, it hit a spot.

“Is that what we are doing?” he snapped. “Well then that fucking explains it,” he turned away and let one hand run through his hair.

“Explains what,” he looked at her. His face went hard.

“That you rather lie to me over and over again instead of coming to me, talking to me, and finally addressing the fact that you are pregnant for fuck’s sake,” Natalie always thought that pulling the rug from under someone’s feet was just a silly idiom, but it felt exactly like that. She actually had the feeling she was falling for a second or two. And she was unable to react. She couldn’t even think something. Simon just looked at her angry and hurt. She sighed and slumped into herself. Then she let her hand run through her hair and stared down on it and on what looked like bits of skull and brain.

“You figured it out, huh?” she stated dryly. Simon scoffed.

“How couldn’t I? You are throwing up four, five times a day, would sleep for 16 hours if I would let you, are suddenly a fuzzy eater, moody as hell, and not that I think you were a heavy drinker, but the total lack of indulgence in good old-fashioned inebriety is a huge give away,” Natalie had absolutely nothing to say for herself. She had ignored the issue, it was simple as that, and had hoped that it would go away all by itself like it had done the last two times. Then she had been devasted, now, well, she probably would be relieved. She dropped down on an old trunk. Simon hadn’t moved at all. “You were going to tell me at some point or am I not in the picture in this?” she eyed him through her bangs.

“Could you be a little bit more melodramatic, because I have a hard time reading you right now,” she snapped. She had bypassed irony and sarcasm and was now on cynicism territory. Give it a minute or two and she maybe even would get satirical. “I was gonna tell you,” she paused. No, she wasn’t when she was completely honest to herself. And she had known that he probably knew because she did show textbook symptoms. She might as well could have read baby magazines in bed, but as long he wasn’t going to bring it up why should she? “Soon,” she tagged along. Simon looked a little softer now, but they still would most likely sleep in different rooms tonight. He sighed. Then he pressed his lips together and stared at the dead man on the floor.

“You don’t want it,” he said like a statement, clinical, emotionless. Now she sighed.

“It’s complicated,” that was a lazy answer, Natalie knew it, and Simon wasn’t buying it.

“Can you be a little bit more specific?” Natalie didn’t want to have that conversation in an attic that was also the scene of an end-of-the-world murder-suicide, but here they were.

“You are aware why Negan and I have all these elaborate escape plans, right? All these getaway cars, the hidden stashes only you and a few others know about? The packed bags with all the necessities, right?” Simon frowned at her. Then he shrugged. She obviously expected him to actually answer this.

“In case something goes South. If we have to run for some reason,” Natalie scoffed.

“Not in case. Not if, when. What Negan and I, what we all are doing, this is not a long-term model for a successful society. This will blow in our faces, not today, not tomorrow, but someday it will. What we do to the workers? Our own people? Not to mention the communities. You barely think that they are humans, I know that, but they are, and they will act up at some point. And if the Hilltop somehow manages to join forces with The Kingdom then God help us all. Negan knows that, too, although he would never say it out loud. The Sanctuary might seem like the safest place to be, and technically it is, but everything in there is just one unjustified death, one seemingly arbitrary decision by my brother or me, hell even one slightly too small drop from a community away to decent into chaos and anarchy. And when that happens we will be lucky to get out of it alive. You know why Negan barely goes out anymore? And only surrounded by the ones he can trust, like you, me, DJ, or Gary? Because when something happens to him we’re all dead. He holds that place together, sometimes barely. If he’s gone give it a week and they will scream for our heads. That’s why we have all these Plan B’s. There’s no shame in running, starting over somewhere else. We did it before, but I can’t run with a small child, because you fucking know what happens with children out here, what always happens. And I rather not put a child into that world at all than to watch it get torn apart by those things,” she had teared up while she said all of this and this effectively had made sure that Simon’s anger had dissipated into thin air. He only looked sad now.

“So you already made your decision?” she wasn’t answering for a very long time.

“No,” she said to her boots. Simon’s shoes joined hers and then the man dropped on his knees right in front of her and put their forehead together. She shut her eyes for a bit, enjoyed the closeness. “I’m sorry what I said earlier. I don’t really think it’s just sex what we are having,” she mumbled softly.

“I know.”

“And I should have told you. I just couldn’t. Then I would have had to admit it to myself, make it real, and I wasn’t ready for that just yet,” he kissed her temple and gave her a small kiss on the lips before he smiled at her.

“It’s okay, really. I shouldn’t have cornered you like that. This was on me, too.”

“You just saying that to make me feel better.”

“A little bit, yeah,” he tilted his head and looked at her. “So what now, hm?” Natalie rubbed on a dried blood splatter on the back of her hand.

“I don’t wanna get rid of it,” she said barely audible. “But things can’t stay as they are,” Simon smacked his lips.

“So what is your suggestion? You have one, haven’t you?”

“Yeah,” she huffed. “You won’t like both of ‘em.”

“Hit me,” Natalie took a breath.

“Leave. Now, as long as I can. Go as far away from here as possible, never look back. Join a new community, have an honest, hard-working, boring life.”

“Just you, or…”

“You, too, you moron,” Simon chuckled but got serious really quick again.

“Negan will never allow that. He rather kills me and locks you up again before he let this happen.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. We could run,” she suggested dryly. Simon rubbed his forehead.

“Believe me, I would run to the end of the world with you if you ask me to, but is this really what you want? Betraying your brother like that?”

“No,” she said tersely.

“So what’s the other plan?” she looked him in the eyes.

“Pulling a full Ebenezer Scrooge. Ghost of the Christmas Past, Present and Future and all. Buy those communities and the workers the fattest turkey in the store and tell ‘em it’s fucking Christmas,” understanding crawled slowly into Simon’s face what that even meant and the frown that resided on his face for the whole time got even deeper.

“That won’t work.”

“It can. The damage we made is still manageable. We give ‘em back what we took, they never have to see us again. Alden and some others made plans to turn the Satellite Outpost in some sort of farm. He actually believes we can make enough to sustain ourselves within the first two years. We have pantries full of seeds, and with the right rationing, we can make do with what we have now for a very long time. Alden looks like he’s barely out of high school, but that guy knows his shit. And his friends know their shit as well. Negan just dismissed the idea,” Simon looked surprised. He heard the first of it.

“He did?”

“It will be tough, and a lot of people will get upset, and possibly die, but we can make this work. We can build something that can last, we just never tried because our way was easier,” Simon didn’t say anything for a very long time. He didn’t look convinced, but after what felt like an hour he nodded, albeit very tensely.

“Alright,” he said, and Natalie felt relief wash over her. “Seems like you and Negan have a lot to talk about, but whatever you want to do, I’m in.”

~

Simon sat in Natalie’s chair on the roof and looked into the night sky. He distracted himself from the nervous anticipation he was feeling by trying to remember the constellations he had learned as a child. He probably made half of them just up here. A window got pushed open and Simon sat up. With a frown he watched Negan climb out. That he didn’t carry Lucille, but a bottle and two glasses was probably a good sign. Still, Simon watched him carefully when he walked over. Negan held a glass in his direction and he took it hesitantly.

“So,” the man started while filling his glass generously with a pale amber liquid. “It seems congratulations are in order,” he filled his own and sat on the little wall. Simon carefully sniffed on his drink. To his surprise, it wasn’t Whiskey. “It’s Tequila you asshole, come on, bottoms up,” they clinked their glasses and Simon took a little sip.

“That’s good stuff,” he mumbled, and Negan chuckled.

“Yeah? Had to hustle it from Arat. That girl drives a hard bargain, by the way,” they sat around for a while. Simon didn’t want to talk first. He really didn’t know what to say anyway. “I can’t believe you of all people knocked her up,” Negan suddenly said. Simon played around with the glass in his hand.

“It wasn’t exactly planned. I guess best before dates on condoms aren’t a suggestion,” Negan even had to laugh at that a little. Then he sighed.

“Can you imagine her with a baby?”

“Not really, no. Can you imagine me?” Negan gave him a long look.

“You two will do just fine. And there will be always Uncle Negan spoiling the little one rotten.”

“Heir to the throne, born with a silver gun,” Simon gave Negan a lopsided smile. Negan only huffed a laugh. Simon took a longer swig. “Did she talk about the other thing?”

“The other thing? Yeah, she did. She fucking did indeed,” Negan sipped on his Tequila and looked down on the yard. There weren’t many dead on the fences at the moment. Not even Daniel. Negan’s decision so the poor girl didn’t have to see her attacker every day. “Godfather 3,” Negan just mumbled.

“Godfather 3,” Simon agreed.

“Never liked that movie.”

“Me neither.”

“You think we can pull this off?”

“I think we can pull everything off if we put our mind to it,” Negan sighed.

“A lot of people here won’t like it.”

“Yeah.”

“And the communities maybe think a nice and painful retaliation for the damage we did might be in order.”

“Wouldn’t surprise me.”

“You, for instance, should stay away from most of them,” Simon gave Negan a look.

“Says the guy with the baseball bat and the knack for the theatrics,” Negan chuckled.

“You know a while back I said I’m not sure I like you personally, but you grew on me and might be the closest thing to a friend I have, so don’t screw this up with my sister or my little niece or nephew. I would hate to kill you.”

“Aw, aren’t you just the sweetest thing.”

“Don’t push it,” Negan emptied his glass and looked at the bottle. With a shrug, he refilled it and topped Simon’s off, as well. “So I guess we need to call in a meeting. Outpost heads and top lieutenants. Break the news to them that we will change our fucking business model.”

“Probably a good start.”

“That’s either the beginning of something great,” Negan said raising his glass.

“Or we be all dead within the next six months,” Simon finished the sentence.

“I drink to that.”

Chapter Text

Natalie lay in her bed with one hand on her belly and a frown on her face. She tried to figure out if the kicks the baby gave her were hard enough for Simon to feel as well. The baby had started kicking two or three weeks ago, but so far she either had been too slow to place Simon’s hand on the right spot and the baby had moved on to quieter activities, or he simply hadn’t been able to feel anything at all. He could use a little pick me up, a sense of normalcy and peace, especially after the latest in-house coup attempt. Hopefully the last. The transition hadn’t been easy, hell it still was in full swing and could go off the rails at any time.

They had started with little things. Loosen the reins on the point system, for instance, giving everyone a basic income and distribute the supplies more equally. Letting the Saviors do their own mundane chores, like washing their clothes and cooking their meals, already had raised some eyebrows. Raised eyebrows that had in some cases turned into angry frowns when this new rule got expanded and suddenly soldiers were supposed to pick a tomato or two as well. Trips to the doc were free now, even meds. Amber had taken to her heels the second that rule got official. Negan even had been a bit miffed about how fast exactly. Given half the chance the rest probably would, too. Negan knew it as well and he wasn’t happy about it. What kept the others where there were probably only convenience. That and maybe Stockholm syndrome.

And then they had broken off the deal with the communities. Just like that. They hadn’t given them back their guns, for obvious reasons, but many supplies, meds mostly, canned goods as well and then simply backed off. No more drops, no more tributes, no more little visits from yours truly. Their relationship with the Kingdom was the best, still strained and tense, but they hadn’t really done anything to them. They hadn’t even taken their guns, never set foot inside their walls, and Gavin always had tried to be friendly to Ezekiel and his people. Negan had thought this was weakness and a waste of time, but now it came in handy. Gavin generally had been relieved that he wasn’t supposed to be the bad guy in those people’s story anymore. It wasn’t like they were all besties now, trading friendship bracelets, but they were polite to each other, at least. There were even little seeds of cooperation, although this was mostly because of Natalie and her growing baby belly. Nothing deescalated a situation quite like a pregnant lady. Maybe a basket full of puppies.

The Hilltop was no risk at all, actually, it was quite a joke. A couple of capable people among the Saviors could eradicate the whole settlement with a bunch of knives and some patience. Simon probably wouldn’t even need that much. Gregory was a coward, still kowtowing like there was no tomorrow and his people barely knew how a roamer looked like, let alone kill it. Given time they would probably come running asking the Saviors for help one way or another anyway. Negan and Natalie were counting on that. What also helped to mend fences was Doc Carson. Negan had given him a chance to leave and to the surprise of everybody, he decided to stay. Under one condition, to come and go as he pleased, visiting the Hilltop, his brother, and his patients. Negan had agreed. He even went so far to allow Natalie to make a trip to the Hilltop as well, to see the other doc. She would never forget the sudden transition from silently brooding menace on Simon’s face to something soft and loving she only had seen in the privacy of their room when the doc had shown them the beating heart of their kid.

The community Simon had threated to basically half had made a run for it. Negan had been pissed. Even now he still believed people were resources, and he was halfway there to send some of his men looking for them. What had stopped him so far was that he wasn’t quite sure how this would turn out for the group actually digging them up. Even Negan wasn’t risking people just like that. And anyhow, it wasn’t the communities being their biggest problem. The bad apple always seemed to be right in the middle of the barrel. Regina hadn’t been that much of a surprise, but Wade had warned them before it could get out of hand. The solution had been swift and brutal. Nothing Natalie would tell her kid as a bedtime story. Then a group of former followers of Simon made another attempt. They even had tried to drag Simon into it, and the man had happily played along, letting them run straight into a knife. Or rather into Lucille. It actually had been suicide by stupidity, because seriously, what had they been thinking to believe Simon would betray Negan now, being the uncle of his kid and all. The biggest surprise and the most hurtful betrayal in any way had been Jed, DJ, and some others, loyal to Negan so far he nearly called them friends. It had come out of nowhere and a lot of people had died. Natalie had still nightmares about Simon suddenly pulling her out of bed, down the stairs into some storage unit full of shaken up civilians shoving a scattergun into her hand ordering her to kill anybody who wasn’t him or Negan. They had won, but they had lost good people and the ringleaders had gotten away. This had been three weeks ago. Some quiet had set in ever since, but no one was really trusting the peace and was keeping their guards up. So naturally, Natalie was enjoying the quiet moments like this, relishing the fact that in this instance they had no care in the world. She looked over and silently watched Simon waking up slowly. After he blinked his eyes open a couple of times he buried his face into the pillow with a sigh and stretched a little before he scooted a bit closer pressing a soft kiss onto her shoulder.

“Hey,” he mumbled, his voice still husky from sleep.

“Hey,” this was the only thing they said for quite some time before Simon pulled back abruptly with a sharp inhale, rubbing his face. He looked around.

“What time is it?”

“Early. Around 6,” Natalie answered. His only response was another sigh. Then he put an arm around her waist, pulling her closer while pressing his face into the crook of her neck. He let his lips ghost over her skin which made her shiver.

“Let’s stay in bed today,” he mumbled between soft kisses against her neck and along her ear.

“Okay,” was all she could bring out before he caught her lips in a kiss. He let two fingers wander around the hem of her top that sat a little tight around her growing belly, down to her slip when she grabbed his hand and put it firmly against a spot on the left side of her abdomen. Simon looked up in awe.

“Did you feel that?” Natalie chuckled. She felt that alright.

“Feel what? The little one bouncing around in my uterus? Barely felt it at all. Not till you mentioned it,” she grinned. Simon rolled his eyes and gave her a soft kiss. Then his eyes focused on her belly again.

“That’s amazing,” he mumbled. “And sort of creepy,” now Natalie’s chuckle turned into a laugh.

“Wait till it kicks around as much you can see the movement across the room,” she said. He just looked at her softly and put his head onto her chest. He looked up to her.

“I don’t say it often enough, but I love you,” Natalie let her hands run through his hair.

“I love you, too,” she said softly. “You are one big softie when no one is looking,” Natalie smiled down on him.

“I am. Only when it comes to you,” he paused. Natalie’s heart skipped a beat or two. He always did that. Said things like that that made her fall in love with him even more. She pulled him up and kissed him with urgency that he answered with the same enthusiasm when someone knocked. Simon groaned against her lips.

“Yeah?” he asked annoyed not without letting one hand nearly casually fall on the gun on the nightstand. Arat didn’t open the door completely. She was probably afraid to run into something. Natalie couldn’t help but think that maybe she could have avoided running into something, let’s say, 30 minutes later?

“We have visitors,” she said around the door.

“Care to elaborate?”

“Gavin,” Arat mumbled. “And the King plus a whole bunch of people with him?” Simon and Natalie shared a look.

“It’s called an entourage Arat, use the big words. What do they want?” Simon wasn’t quite snapping, but he didn’t sound nice and friendly either.

“He didn’t say,” Simon already got up.

“Where did you put them?”

“The war room. Negan’s on his way,” Simon let one hand run through his hair.

“We’ll be right there, too.”

~

15 minutes later Natalie dropped on a chair like a way more pregnant woman would. 26 weeks or so pregnant and she was rather on the small side, or so the midwife who was somehow counseling her and Doc Carson had said, but she couldn’t deny the baby bump anymore. And Natalie wouldn’t be Natalie if certain behavior, like making puppy eyes, rubbing her belly, and saying something along the lines of “But I am pregnant” wouldn’t score her Brownie points with everybody. Simon clearly saw through her scam, so did Negan, but these two didn’t need a scam to spoil her rotten anyway. Sure enough Gary frowned down on her.

“You ate anything?” she looked up to him.

“No?”

“Can I get you something?”

“A sandwich and a tea, maybe?” Gary left with a nod and Natalie turned to the people in the room after she yelled a thank you after him. The King and some of his people, four in total, frowned at her. Simon looked amused. Negan was shining by being absent. Natalie scowled onto a cooler in the middle of the table. Something was telling her that the King didn’t bring a picknick with him.  

“So how’s the tiger?” Natalie asked cheerfully. Ezekiel couldn’t answer since Negan came in. And it was still his place and he still was Negan, so he was intimidating the shit out of this people just by barging in like that. Natalie could tell. He hovered a bit seizing up Gavin who looked nervous and the King who pretended he wasn’t. 

“So,” he started. “To what do I owe the pleasure of that spontaneous royal audience, Your Majesty?” he said with enough irony you could remove rust with it and it still would give you chest hairs. Gavin was answering.

“There was an attack,” Negan glared at him. Then he shared a look with Simon who shared a look with Natalie and then everybody looked onto the cooler until Natalie rolled her eyes. She got up too fast for Negan or Simon to stop her and pulled up the lid.

“One of those days I want someone bringing me cooler without a severed head in it,” Simon and Negan got up.

“Shit, that’s Bud,” Simon mumbled. His eyebrows knit together and he glared at Ezekiel. Negan’s head snapped to the King, too.

“So what is this Zeke? You come in here, with one of my people mostly disembodied in a fucking plastic box really expecting you can walk out of this on your own two feet?” he got closer to the King never losing his eyes in a menacing stare and the King hold his own. The tension was so thick Natalie would need days to get it out of her hair.

“It was our people,” Gavin pressed out. “Former people,” Simon and Negan shared an ominous look. Natalie knew what that look meant.

“So what’s the wannabe royalty doing in here then?”

“We got diminished as well, lost some of our ranks in the fracas,” Negan looked at him.

“By foul play I assume? Jesus Zeke, talk like a human being. We are among like-minded people,” Negan put his knuckles on the table. “Never bullshit a bullshitter, Zeke,” there was another minute of glaring until Negan scoffed dismissively and dropped onto his chair. “What is it that you want?” the King leaned forward.

“You have more people.”

“No shit,” the King ignored that.

“And you know the area better than we,” Negan shrugged.

“Join our forces to find them and end this once and for all,” Negan stared into the air in front of him.

“Besides Bud, how many of ours?” he asked Gavin

“In Bud’s group, four.”

“Survivors?”

“Molly,” Negan sighed. That poor girl went through enough shit the past weeks.

“She sure?”

“Jed and the others, no doubt about it.”

“Alright,” Negan said. Then he stared at the King until he couldn’t help but let his gaze drop. “I am not doing this for you. I am doing this for my people. I don’t give a shit if they kill one or three or a fucking hundred of yours. And just to make it crystal-fucking-clear,” he was addressing Gavin now, too. “Showing up here unannounced, carrying body parts in boxes or not? That’s a huge fucking no-no and the next time you try anything like that again I will make fucking sure none of you gets out of here intact, the consequences be damned. Now get the fuck outta here,” he let himself fall back into his chair and loitered there until the Kingdom and Gavin left. Simon had let his fingers drum an unrhythmic staccato on the table ever since the whole mess started. He was itching to deliver some hurting.

"Anybody else wondering how long Gavin and King Douchebag are dating?" Natalie asked casually. Negan scoffed amused, but the little light joke had no effect on Simon. Negan sighed.

“Canvass the area. Three groups. Make ‘em big. 20 at least. Jed has seven people with him. He got lucky. But he is also good in all that guerilla bullshit. We’ll find him, and we’ll find him first. Asshole is mine,” Negan growled.

“Where do you want me?” Simon asked. Negan looked at him solemnly.

“In a padded room, assembling a crib and reading What expect when you’re expecting,” he deadpanned. An incredulous expression appeared on Simon’s face.

“What?” Natalie only looked smug.

“How’s a dose of your own medicine tasting?” Simon gave her a glare. Negan got upright.

“That’s not up to debate. I need you here.”

“What use am I here? You need me out there," Simon argued. Negan only scoffed.

“Gary’s good out there, so is Wade. Arat. They got it.”

“Not as good as me,” there was some truth in that. Natalie had to admit that. She, on the other hand, would go nowhere. Some sort of reason had settled in a couple of weeks ago that being safe was more important right now. It was the right thing to do. Not running into dangerous situations guns blazing. And it wasn’t like she had inner struggles with the idea that Simon would sit this one out. So he was on his own here. “Is this what you want to do now? Keep me away from the action?”

“Jesus asshole. I am not doing this because I care so much about your safety. I mean I kind of do, but more for Nat's sake. I need you to stay here with me to keep this place safe, keep her safe,” he made a head jerk to Natalie. “Shit like that happening a couple of weeks ago can happen again anytime. You keep people in check here just by being there. So it might sting like acid to admit that, but without you here the Sanctuary maybe isn't the safest place for her anymore," all that concern for her was heartwarming albeit maybe a little sexist, but Natalie still looked at Negan with a small, grateful smile. Simon smacked his lips, clearly torn apart between his loyalties to the Saviors and his love for Natalie.

“Fine,” he mumbled. Natalie carefully took his hand and squeezed it. “For the record, I don’t like it.”

“Duly noted,” Gary came back in. Carrying a plate and a cup. He frowned into the thinned out round.

“What did I miss?” Negan spread his arms.

“Gather your people Gary. I have a job for you!”

Chapter Text

Simon put his elbows on the examination table Natalie currently lay on and buried his chin in his hands. Then he palmed his beard and leaned back while letting out a thoughtful breath. The look Natalie gave him was unusually grave.

“So it didn’t turn one bit, hu?” he mumbled eyeing both docs up like this was somehow their fault. Negan hovered in the back, although to give him that he tried to be as unobtrusive as possible, but well, it still was Negan. He had his arms crossed and sat nonchalantly on Carson’s desk. He had backed off considerably the past three months, the pregnancy was Natalie’s and Simon’s show, not his, but he had to be here for this one. This was serious and Simon was little to no help right now.

“It’s called complete breech position. The child basically does the lotus position back to front on her cervix.”

“Now that’s a lovely picture, Doc,” Negan mumbled. Natalie had to scoff.

“So what now?” she asked.

The baby should have turned, but it hadn’t, so Carson, Emmett Carson, their Doctor Carson had asked for a second opinion, in this case, his brother who made the quite dangerous journey to the Sanctuary without hesitation. He was taking his oath really seriously, and he was the opinion that nowadays every baby counted. Not that anyone would disagree with him on that. He had played all his tricks from his playbook except one.

“As I said, sometimes you can turn a breech baby with an ECV, that means,” Natalie interrupted him with a look. She was good in interrupting looks.

“No one cares what it stands for Harlan, but you can’t do it here,” she finished what would have been lengthy elaborations. Harlan Carson really liked to lecture.

“Exactly,” he stated. “There’s a chance of bleeding, premature labor, I have no way to monitor if the child is in distress. I don’t have my equipment here. Not all of it. There is no way I could react to every possible scenario here,” Simon shared a dour look with Negan before his eyes fell on Natalie’s baby belly. He looked worried sick, so almost exactly how Natalie felt.

“And there is no fucking chance that she can give birth naturally at all?” Negan did most of the talking since Simon was not really functional at the moment. His statement earlier was the most eloquent he had been since an hour now.

“No, it’s too risky. Too many possible complications. Birth asphyxia, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, periventricular leukomalacia, cerebral…”

”Jesus, is there one of those complications that hasn’t the whole fucking alphabet in it?” Negan asked with an annoyed look at the ceiling.

“Let’s call it brain damage then,” Carson stated seriously, and Negan pressed his lips together while he just stared blankly in his face.

“I bet you are a hit at dinner parties,” he said after he smacked his lips. “I don’t like it. What are you saying?” he asked Simon. He wasn’t meaning the whole the-baby-would-die-if-they-don’t-get-it-to-turn-around-situation, he meant it’s consequence. Simon shook his head and let one hand run through his hair. Everyone knew Natalie’s answer already, and by the end of the day it wasn’t his or Negan’s decision, but his opinion still meant something.

“It’s too risky,” he mumbled and shook his head. Natalie sighed.

“Simon, look at me,” he lifted his eyes. It was weird to see him that worried, that helpless. “What’s the alternative? A dead child?” Simon pressed his lips together and his eyes dropped to his hands again.

“Not to mention she could easily die, too. There can be tearing, she might bleed out,” everyone turned to Harlan Carson with looks on their faces, even his brother.

“How’s that honest, blunt truth shtick of yours working for you so far, cause you gonna keep it up one of those fine gents here,” Natalie gestured between Negan and Simon, “will start swinging,” the doc was not impressed.

“I just say it as it is. You need to be at the Hilltop. Rather sooner than later. I got here fine,” he shrugged awkwardly. Simon took a long breath.

“Yeah? But you don’t have a target on your back. Jed’s behind us, specifically, Negan, me. You have any idea what happens if he gets his hands on her? And he has explosives now for Christ’s Sake,” Jed and whoever was with him had transitioned from a minor inconvenience over a nuisance into a major pain in the ass and even up into someone who really took things too far. And he had joined forces with someone. A lot of someones by the looks of it. Crazy people with W’s carved in their foreheads. So far they hadn’t shown a lot of brains, most of them weren’t even armed, but they were many and they had all the intel they would ever need, thanks to Jed and DJ. The Saviors had lost three stashes, one safe house, nearly the Shephard Outpost, and 37 people. And since North Virginia was one, big hide-and-seek paradise the groups hunting them down had found jack with a side of squat. Some even hadn’t come back. So yes, it was dangerous to go out there, borderlining on stupid. Simon was not wrong here. And it seemed to be true, they were after Simon and Negan specifically, since the last time Simon stuck his head out the air got led pretty quickly. Simon closed his eyes and inhaled deeply before he shook his head, took Natalie’s face in both hands, and pressed a kiss onto her lips. He got up.

”Alright,” he said in a distracted voice and started to walk out of the infirmary.

“Where are you going?” Negan’s tone stopped him, and he turned around annoyed.

“Making preparations for that godforsaken run,” Negan pulled a little face.

“And are you planning to run any of them by me?” Simon shrugged.

“Why would I?” Natalie’s eyes ping-ponged between Simon and Negan. This could go two ways, but Negan decided to cut Simon some slack.

“Then by all means, don’t mind little ol’ me,” he just said, and Simon remembered shortly that he wasn’t the man in charge here and nodded thanks before he waltzed out of the room. Negan snorted. “Not that I don’t get all tingly when he gets bossy and brooding like that, but Jesus, when this is over I need to have a little chat with your man about who in the fucking hell is running this place.”

“He’s just worried,” Negan tilted his head a little.

“Yeah, there’s that, but he’s also a really big asshole,” his eyes fell on both doctors. “Hilltop,” Harlan Carson looked up. “Can you fire a gun?”

“Yes,” Negan smacked his lips.

“Do you by any chance have one?”

“Considering you took all of them what do you think?” Negan shared a half-amused look with his sister about the man’s audacity. He had been like that the whole time. That took some balls, doctor or not. Negan pushed himself away from the desk and sauntered over to Carson putting an arm around his shoulder.

“Then let’s go shopping!”

 

A couple of hours later Natalie leaned on the door of a battered jeep that had seen better days but had the advantage of not being Simon’s really obtrusive Dodge. She snuggled into the collar of the canvass jacket she was wearing. It was Simon’s and it smelled like him, something she found very soothing at the moment since she was as nervous as anybody else about this.

“Is it a good idea to do this in the middle of the night?” Natalie lifted an eyebrow and turned slightly to Carson. He was fidgeting anxiously with a small semiautomatic. It was obvious that he had little experience in handling firearms.

“You sure you know how to use it?” she asked him. He looked down on it and scoffed.

“Point this end at the bad guys, right?” she smirked a little.

“Don’t forget that we aren’t the bad guys anymore,” she mumbled before she cleared her throat. “And it’s dark for us it’s dark for them. It’s not ideal, but smarter than driving around in a convoy in broad daylight. Come on Harlan, brighten up. You said it yourself, you got here just fine,” she aimed for an encouraging smile that had some effect since the doc nodded with a weak grin of his own and climbed into the car. Simon came out of the compound with two bags that he threw carelessly into the back of the car right into Carson’s lap. He was in leader mode, determined, focused, eager to get the job done, but the worry was still there. Natalie could see it playing around the corner of his lips. He looked down on her for a second, let his thumb glide along her jaw and pressed a kiss onto her hairline.

“Say goodbye to your brother and then we had out, okay?” he mumbled softly. Then he stepped away from her and shared a look with Negan who stood in the yard awkwardly. Negan wasn’t happy to stay behind not knowing what was going on and possibly for a very long time, but the Sanctuary needed his fearless leader and it needed him here. Natalie walked to him.

“Okay kid, let’s do this,” Negan pulled her in a tight hug. “You listen to me,” he said next to her ear. “You and Simon will go to the Hilltop alright and the doc will do his thing and you will give birth to a perfectly healthy baby and then you and your man will come back here and better have fucking named the kid Negan,” Natalie chuckled.

“Yeah, ain’t gonna happen.”

“That’s not negotiable,” he pushed her gently away and pressed a kiss on her temple. They weren’t the kind of family that told each other that they loved them, but they didn’t have too. Not tonight. “Gimme your gun,” Negan said and held out his hand. Natalie pulled her colt out of the thigh holster. Negan swapped it with a new one. Natalie tsked.

“Glock 17, 9 mm, 19 rounds, gets the job done,” she grinned. He huffed a small laugh.

“You are a weapon’s expert now?” she shrugged a little.

“Showing interest in your partners' hobbies is important,” Negan chuckled and pulled her in a quick one-armed hug before he let her go and cleared his throat.

“Alright people. Simon all filled you in and you will gonna fucking do whatever he told you. Am I being clear?”

“Yes boss,” Gary answered for all of them. The best the Sanctuary had to offer. Negan nodded thoughtfully.

“Let’s hope all the caution is for nothing and this will be just a boring, peaceful little road trip. In case it won’t you are the fucking A team, don’t get yourselves killed. Let’s get the show on the road!”

Simon held the door of the backseat open for Natalie and she climbed next to the doc. Her new gun was too big for her holster and with a lopsided grin, she put it in one of the many pockets of Simon’s jacket.

“Yeah that seems safe,” Carson mumbled.

“That’s the least of our worries,” Simon mumbled from the front seat. Arat sat next to him on the passenger side with an impressive looking shotgun between her legs. His eyes met Natalie’s over the rearview mirror, and he shot her a small smile. Then he started the car with a sigh. “Buckle up, folks. We are going in dry.”

 

Normally it would take them around four hours to go to the Hilltop, this time they had covered only two-thirds of the way in that time, the price they paid for taking an indirect route in nearly complete darkness. It would have been stupid to drive without any form of headlights, but Simon had made his men paint them over with a dark blue coat. The remaining light was dirty and dim, but it was better than nothing. So far their journey had been quiet enough that Natalie had managed to sleep for a bit. She even allowed herself to hope that it indeed would be a boring, peaceful road trip. By the looks on the faces of everybody else in the car, she was the only one.

The car in front of them exploded. It didn’t actually explode, something under it exploded lifting it up in the air in a ball of fire sending it toppling on its side. The blast busted their windshield and Simon and Arat got showered with hundreds of pieces of security glass. Simon had already hit the brakes, but he lost control of the car that spun around dipping dangerously to its side. The third car behind them couldn’t swerve in time and rammed into their tailgate which gave them extra momentum and for a couple of very long seconds Natalie thought they would turn over, but then they came to an abrupt halt when the wheels of the truck buried themselves in the soft earth of the road’s shoulder. The silence that followed, only disturbed by the soft clicking of the turn signal, was kind of eerie.

“Are you alright? Is anybody hurt?” Simon barked from the front seat. He already unbuckled and turned around. “Shit! Get down!” he yelled. Natalie had to pull the doc down with her. What followed was something out of a gangster movie. Bonny and Clyde came to mind. Their car got in the middle of a hailstorm of bullets the likes none of them had ever seen. And it went on for a million years. When the fire died down Natalie lifted her head. She and the doc somehow had managed to cower down in the small footwell of the car.

“Simon?”

“I’m fine,” surprisingly enough they all were by the looks of it. Simon carefully stuck his head out. “We need to get out of the car. Now,” he ordered and pushed the driver’s door open. Within seconds he ripped open Natalie’s door too and already dragged her out, just to push her head down again. Gary, Laura and the two others from the third car, Yago and Wade, had taken cover behind the overturned first car and were retaliating the fire. Gary had seen them and signaled them to wait. “Arat, take the doc. We go on Gary’s mark,” they didn’t have to wait long. Simon covered her with his body and they made it behind the car in one piece. Simon made her sit down. He checked her quickly for any injuries and showered her with questions. She had barely time to think. “Are you alright? Did you get hit? Is anything with the baby?”

“It’s fine, I’m fine,” Simon didn’t look convinced. He grabbed the doc and somehow shoved him in her direction.

“Check her out,” he ordered. “And keep your fucking head down. How many?” the last question was addressed at Gary.

“Maybe a dozen. They're in the woods. We need to get out of here.”

“Yeah, no shit. Any survivors?” Simon made a head jerk to the car they were crouching behind. Gary shook his head. “Fuck, alright,” next to them the jeep they just had been in blew up and everybody who wasn’t already sitting was sent on their asses.

“What the fuck,” Arat cursed.

“I told you they have explosives,” Simon snapped in the general direction of Natalie.

“Yeah good for you. What now?” she snapped back.

“Now we run,” so they did. And they had a tail. Gary and Simon managed to take some of their attackers out, but they lost Yago in the process. Natalie wasn’t sure how long she could hold the pace. She already got mostly dragged by Simon and Arat to even keep up. She had a hard time breathing, a bitching pain in her back and she felt dizzy. Just when she thought she would simply break down, maybe throw up a little, Simon made them all take cover behind a fallen tree. He carefully peeked over it.

“Did we lose them?” Wade asked while checking the mag of his rifle.

“I doubt it,” Simon looked pale, and for a second Natalie forget her own aching back and throbbing nausea and frowned at him. He was sweating as well and it wasn’t just from the strain of running for what probably had been two or three miles. “You know what they say. Attack is the best defense.”

“You cannot seriously suggest engaging in a firefight with a pregnant woman and a civilian,” Arat said. Simon grinned at her smugly. It didn’t quite fit the way he was breathing heavily.

“I think we are actually past that, but she won’t be here when that happens,” he said nearly cheerfully.

“Simon, what’s wrong?” Natalie asked softly. He smiled at her.

“I love you,” he said. “You are the best thing that ever happened to me, you know that right? I’m even thankful the world went up in flames because I wouldn’t have met you otherwise,” Natalie knew what that was. That was a goodbye.

“No, Simon no. You cannot do this. Why would you do this?” he sighed and pulled up his jacket. Everyone stared down on his abdomen.

“Well shit,” Wade deadpanned. A piece of metal, maybe 5 inches long and 2 wide stuck in is upper left side, God knew how deep. Blood seeped out of the wound. Natalie stared at it wide-eyed. Her vision got blurry from welling up tears.

“I hold them off, you get out of here, alright?”

“No, Simon, please.”

“I’m just gonna slow you down.”

“And you think I won’t?” he took her cheek and removed some wetness from it. “Please,” instead he kissed her.

“I love you. Both of you,” he said seriously, and Natalie would have answered but all she could manage was a sob. He still was smiling. Then he looked over her shoulder at Gary. “Get her out of here,” Gary pulled her up. Natalie struggled but she didn’t stand a chance against him. “Go,” Simon urged. Gary hauled her along. Wade stayed behind. “You too, asshole,” Simon said, and Wade grinned at him.

“You think I let you have all the fun alone? I don’t think so”, Simon frowned at him.

“Are you sure?” Wade’s grin got impossibly wider.

“Just like the old days.”

"You and I remember the old days quite differenly," was Simon’s answer. He looked Natalie in the eyes one last time before Gary dragged her away. She had barely any recollection about the hike that followed. Only that it took forever. In the end, she was more stumbling than not. It was already morning when Gary carefully let her sit down with her back against a tree. The doc was all over her.

“She can’t go on like this,” he snapped while he took her pulse. The pain in her back was a constant sting now.

“Why did you let him do this?” she asked no one in particular. He abdomen felt tight as well. The doc was right. She wouldn’t be able to go on like this.

“We need to keep going. The Hilltop ain’t far anymore. Maybe three miles South,” Gary scanned the woods.

“Maybe?” Laura asked with an annoyed undertone. Everyone was on edge.

“Yeah, maybe. What do you think I am, Google Maps?”

“Everyone shut up,” Arat bellowed. “Did you hear that?” they all listened into the woods.

“I hear noth…” Laura couldn’t go on. There was a snap on their right. A shot fell and she went down. Gary and Arat twirled both around just to face Jed and DJ. Jed had his gun on Natalie’s head while DJ casually threatened the doc.

“Hey Gary,” Jed said in a cordial tone. “Long time no see. Why don’t you put your weapons down and we play a little catch-up? I mean you can keep your guns up, but then I have to blow out the expecting mother’s brains, and nobody wants that, am I right?” Gary and Arat shared dour looks. With a curse, Gary threw his rifle on the ground. Arat’s followed. “The knives, too,” he said while he crouched down to remove Natalie’s knuckle knife from its sheath. “What are you doing in the woods? Shouldn’t you be sitting safe and sound in your little hideout knitting baby hats?” she glared at him. “Get up,” he ordered and pulled her with him. “So? Care to elaborate?” No one was answering. Jed chuckled. “Well maybe that loosens your tongue a bit,” with that he punched Natalie in the rib cage, just under her armpit. One hard, quick jab. It knocked the air out of her lungs and sent her on her knees. Gary and the doc made a step towards her and Jed yanked up his gun. “Stay where you are,” he snapped.

“Is this what you are doing now, hm? Beating up pregnant women?” Arat asked him.

“Not just any pregnant woman, no. Negan’s precious little sister carrying Simon’s bastard child. We just won the jackpot, ain’t that so, DJ?” DJ looked uncomfortable at Jed.

“The plan was not to hurt her, man,” he mumbled. Jed looked at him innocently.

“Oh, that was just a little tab. She can handle it. Nothing that would permanently hurt her or the devil spawn inside of her, hm? That on the other hand,” he kicked her in the abdomen, right under her belly button. Natalie fell to her side. There was a sharp pain from where he kicked her to her back down her legs. For a second or two, all she could see was bright, white light.

“Dude, what the hell,” DJ shouted. Jed opened his arms.

“Oh, I am doing the world a favor here, or do you really think I psychopath like Simon should procreate?” he pulled out his knife. Natalie had heaved herself on her knees again with some difficulties.

“I’m gonna kill you for this” she pressed out. Jed paused. Then he palmed his chin and chortled.

“Oh yeah? I would like to see you try,” Natalie shot him in the head. That asshole should have frisked her, but the empty holster had fooled him. She watched emotionless how he dropped on the ground. Gary and Arat used the short distraction to go for their arms. DJ suddenly was vastly outgunned and outnumbered. The doc ran to Natalie demanding from her to describe the pain. She ignored him and stumbled on unsteady feet.

“Who shot Laura,” she asked flatly. “Was it you or him,” she said while she staggered closer. Since she wasn’t listening to his pleas to sit down all Harlan Carson could do was supporting her as best as he could. DJ looked around with a harried expression. “You know what? I don’t care,” she shot him in the chest. He was dead before he hit the ground. Natalie stared down on him for a second before she put another round in his forehead. Then she simply collapsed.

“Describe the pain,” Carson demanded again, and she looked up at him.

“In my lower back, and a sting where he kicked me. It hurts like hell,” she groaned. Suddenly she screamed out when a sharp contraction tore through her abdomen. She felt something warm and wet between her legs. Her eyes widened in horror and she tried to get back up on her elbows. “Is it blood?” she asked the doc.

“Not yet,” he turned to Arat and Gary. “Her water just broke. She’s in labor. In the middle of the woods and the baby isn’t in the right position. Just if things aren’t clear already if we don’t get her to the Hilltop the next hour or so the baby and she will die. So are you planning on helping me or just keep standing around?” Gary simply picked her up bridal style. They hurried in the general direction of the Hilltop for twenty minutes or so until they stepped out of the woods onto a road.

“Oh, come on. Give me a break,” Gary groaned. Maybe twenty yards down stood an RV on the shoulder of the road. A group of people had gathered around the hood of a second car, a beaten down silver Ford Mondeo by the looks of it, studying a map. They looked up. Within seconds Natalie and the others were surrounded by people with guns and in one case a compound bow. Everyone was shouting orders. Gary carefully sat her down, put the gun on the ground and lifted his hand. “I don’t know who you are, but she needs help, okay?” he asked slowly. He tried to not look intimidating, which couldn’t be easy for him.

“What’s wrong with her?” the guy with the bow asked. Natalie chuckled.

“Seriously?” she asked and inhaled sharply when another contraction ripped through her body. “Make an educated guess, asshole,” Carson stepped a step forward. Probably nearly got him killed but he stood his ground.

“I’m her doctor. She needs to be at my place. Please.”

“Rick? Come on, she’s pregnant,” an Asian guy said softly. They barely heard it.

“She could be fakin’ it,” Archer Guy chimed in. Now Natalie really had to chuckle. She didn’t even know why. Nothing here was in any way even remotely funny. Her chuckle turned into a sharp cry when another painful stab made her double over. She could feel something ripping inside of her and a new rush of warm wetness flooded between her legs. She didn’t need to look to know it was blood this time.

“You think she’s faking that?” Carson shouted. For Natalie, the world started to spin. The guy named Rick shared a look with a woman with short, grey hair who nodded.

“Get her up. Come on,” he said to Gary. “But we won’t go to your place, wherever that is. We take you to ours,” he said in a commanding voice. Natalie barely cared. She didn’t really care for much at the moment. Her world was pain and blood right now. When Gary lifted her up another time her body finally gave up and she drifted off in blissful, pain-free emptiness.  

Chapter Text

Natalie blinked her eyes open slowly just to squint them shut again. The room she was in was very bright. Sunlight fell through large windows on white painted walls and a neat row of beds. She looked around confused. Her vision was off, everything had either sharp contours or fuzzy edges, the colors were too bright, and the light was hurting her. With a groan she let her head fall back on the pillow. Where the hell was she? And foremost, what had happened? For long, tedious seconds she wrecked her brain and came back blank. Her head hurt. She wanted to rub her eyes with her right hand when it got stopped by a hard tuck at her wrist accompanied by a metal clang. She looked down on it.

“What the hell,” handcuffs. Someone had handcuffed her to the bed frame. And that wasn’t all. Her eyes wandered from her shackled hand over to her abdomen. Natalie had been rather calm so far, confused, sure, hurting, especially her head, and she was so thirsty she probably never had been that thirsty before, but all was forgotten and replaced by a cold horror unlike any other she had ever experienced. She still looked pregnant, but her belly was way smaller than it should be.

“No, no, no,” she mumbled to herself, halfway there to slip in a full-fledged panic attack, and hectically kicked away the light blanket that covered her. There was a sharp pull in her lower abdomen, and she paused for a second. Her panic took it up a notch. This couldn’t be good. Someone had changed her, had put her in a big blue man’s shirt and a rather unflattering slip, but Natalie wasn’t dwelling on that. She pushed up the shirt, revealing a long bandage across her lower belly. She tried to stop herself from hyperventilating when she peeled away one corner with shaking fingers. It was no surprise that it covered a fresh scar. Everything flashed right down on her. The baby in the wrong position, their trip to the Hilltop, the attack, Simon and how he … Natalie was crying without even realizing that she had started. Now she was sobbing heavily. She hadn’t cried like that for years. Simon was dead, she was handcuffed to a bed and someone just cut out her baby and she didn’t know if it was alive or dead. Not to mention that she had no idea where she was and what happened to Gary and Arat. Frustrated she yanked on the handcuffs while she hit the back of her head a couple of times into the pillow.

You are in a desperate situation and you don’t know if you can get out of it. What’d you do? Negan’s voice rang in her head.

“I don’t panic,” she mumbled to herself and took a couple of deep breaths. “I don’t panic,” she repeated. “Okay, okay. Think,” she looked around. There was an IV needle in her arm, and she let her gaze wander up the tube. Just some clear liquid, maybe a saline drip. Surely no pain meds or anything else, judging by the pondering in her head and the constant sting from her abdomen. For a minute she stared at the needle stupidly. She had the feeling she should do something with it, but her thoughts were like syrup. A couple of times her eyes ping-ponged between the needle in the crook of her arm and the handcuffs.

“Fucking stupid,” she could break up handcuffs with a ballpen reservoir, a needle wasn’t probably even a challenge. She pulled it out, ignoring the blood and the dripping liquid and went to work. Not even 20 seconds later the cuffs snapped open. Natalie got up immediately and swung her legs off the bed. She nearly fell down when a dizzy spell took over. Actually, she did fall out of the bed, but she could catch herself and more or less gently slid down. Natalie used the bed as leverage to pull herself up again forcing slow and deep breaths into her lungs. The dizziness faded. She probably just ran on adrenaline right now, and parts of her knew that she should lay down again, but right at that moment nothing would have stopped her from looking for her child, and if she would have to drag herself over the floor for that. She made hesitant steps towards something that looked like a kitchen counter. She stared down on it confused. It was a kitchen counter. She was in a kitchen. Reason being that this infirmary was set up in an ordinary residence with an open floor plan.

“What the fuck is this place?” she asked herself lowly while she opened drawers randomly until she found what she was looking for. Hopefully, these people took care of their medical thingamabobs and the scalpel she just found was sharp. The door seemed to be impossibly far away but somehow she managed to reach it without falling face first on the floor. Natalie opened it carefully. Two women stood on the porch. A blonde, a little chubby and with a stethoscope around her neck, and a black woman with dreads and a katana strapped over her back. They hadn’t seen her so far. Katana had her back to her blocking Lady Doctor’s view. Natalie closed the door again and put her forehead against the cold wood. She hadn’t seen anybody else so far, but there had been at least 8 people in the group with the RV, and these two hadn’t even been among them.

You are outnumbered. What do you do first? she heard Simon say in her head. She was probably losing it. But she answered the question nonetheless.

I take out the biggest threat first.

And if you can’t do that?

I hit ‘em where it hurts.

And where is that?

In the civilians.

She looked around. She could stab Katana from behind, cut her throat, she was good at that after all, but in her current condition a killing spree was what would get her killed respectively, and she didn’t want that. And anyway, she needed answers, and she needed them before she inevitably would topple over. Blood seeped already through the bandage and Natalie looked down on the growing stain on her oversized button down. Her eyes fell on a bunch of milk bottles standing in a corner for some reason. You could make drips out of them, that’s what they did in the Sanctuary, so maybe that’s why they were here. Natalie staggered over and picked one up. Crouching down nearly was too much. She stumbled back and opened the door. Both women were still deep in conversation. Natalie would bet that she was somehow the topic. Her naked feet made no sound when she stepped a step closer, then another. With all the force she could muster right now she hit Katana over the head. She didn’t shatter the bottle, that only happened in movies, but she hit hard enough to send the woman to the ground and give her a good headache. Lady Doctor looked at Natalie in shock while Katana rolled around on the porch with a groan. Before she knew it the blonde was in a steady headlock and had the pointy end of the scalpel against her pulse point.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” she said. “We’re here to help. No one’s going to hurt you,” the blonde nearly stumbled over her own words. Natalie only scoffed. She was hurt plenty, and for all she knew it had been them.

“Where’s my baby?” Natalie hissed in her ear. She made a step backward when Katana got up again. The woman grabbed for her sword. “You do that, and I start looking for a place to put that scalpel,” Katana stopped. She lifted her hands calmingly.

“It’s okay,” Natalie started to get annoyed by that assurance, she wasn’t a goddamn dog and nothing here was even remotely okay.

“Shut up. Where’s my child?”

“I can show you, but let her go first, Natalie. It’s Natalie, right? You are confused, put the scalpel down. Then we talk,” Jesus, that woman had to be kidding her. Now she tried the psychology bullshit on her. Natalie had no time for that. Literally.

“How about that? Less talking, more showing or I will add stabbing to the list of activities, hm?”

Natalie was lucky the woman she currently threatened to cut open had either no idea of self-defense or refrained from trying anything, because the further they made their slow way to the house across the street the harder it became for Natalie to even walk. The woman was the reason she was still upright in the first place. Their little trip had an audience, and Natalie would recognize ordinary citizens anywhere. They looked confused, even scared, but no one made a move to intervene. Natalie vaguely took in her surroundings. That place was something else, she could tell, but it also looked like there had been an attack recently, and judging by a rather characteristics smell that still lingered in the air, not a pretty one. Katana walked slowly up the stairs backward until she hit the door and she fumbled for the doorknob. In hindsight, the only thing out of the ordinary in the scene Natalie just stumbled into was the crazy lady with the bleeding wound and the hostage. She suddenly stood in a friendly decorated living room. Carson sat on the couch, the woman with the grey hair next to him, a small bottle in his hands and a bundle on his thighs that made cooing sounds. Natalie’s world went soft. The scalpel fell on the ground and she shoved the other woman away like an afterthought. She made a step forward. Her legs buckled and she would have fallen down if suddenly Gary wouldn’t be next to her catching her by her waist and one arm. He let her down on an armchair slowly while she blinked at him dumbfounded.

“Jesus, what are you doing? Why are you up and where the fuck is Arat?”

“What?” her eyes fell back on the bundle and she tried to get up again, but Gary simply pushed her down. He probably didn’t even put in the slightest bit of effort. It was the grey-haired woman who finally did the right thing. She picked the baby up and came over to Natalie quickly. Then she crouched down in front of her and carefully placed it in Natalie’s arms.

“Here you go. Here’s your little son,” she said with a smile that was a bit creepy, but Natalie didn’t care at all. All she could focus on was the baby, her son, in her arms. He was very small, had a round, crinkly face, a little button nose and the bluest eyes she had ever seen. He was making a smacking sound and yawned and Natalie never in her life felt what she felt right now. She just fell in love, hard, harder than any other time before and she knew, she just knew that from now on everything she would be doing would be for the little guy in front of her.

“Is he alright? I mean is he healthy?” she asked with a dose of fear in her voice that the answer might be no. Carson looked up. He was crouching in front of her, too, but he was more interested in her scar than anything else.

“Perfectly healthy. I needed to make an emergency C-section, otherwise, it would have been to stressful for him or you. But he passed all the tests so far with flying colors. It’s you I’m worried about. You lost quite a bit of blood. The kick ruptured your placenta and you just ripped open your stiches. She needs to go back,” he said to Gary. For a second Natalie panicked that that would mean they would take away her child again, but no one even tried when Gary lifted her up.

“Don’t get used to me carrying you around, by the way,” he mumbled before he cautiously put her back into her infirmary bed. Arat suddenly was in the room, too. So was the guy that had been addressed as Rick earlier. He looked angry, maybe because she knocked out one of his people. Natalie had a lot of questions, foremost why she had been handcuffed to the bed when everybody was so close, but her questions had to wait. Carson and the blonde doctor hushed everybody out and fussed over her for the next hour or so. She got hooked onto a new IV, Carson patched her up with two new staples, they gave her some painkillers, watched her attentively when she fed her baby for the first time, coerced the promise out of her to stay in bed this time, and no wandering around threatening to kill people. The other doctor’s name was Denise. Natalie apologized for the threatening to kill her part. The woman seemed oddly cool about it in the first place. And then they finally let her alone with her son. He lay on her chest slumbering peacefully right now and she looked at him sadly. She wished Simon was here, or even Negan. Silent tears run down her cheek and she closed her eyes.

“You and I, we will be okay, you hear me?” she said softly before she pressed a little kiss on his tiny forehead. “We will be okay.”

 

When she woke up from her nap it was dark outside. She lay on her side facing a little basinet next to her bed with her son in it. For a while, she watched his small chest heaving with every breath he took. It was peaceful, and oddly soothing, to watch him sleep. She tore her eyes away from him and looked at Gary who sat in a chair, his feet propped up on the side if the bed she lay in, reading a book.

“I didn’t know you could read,” he raised an eyebrow and shot her a little glare.

“Har har,” he sat up and put the book away. “How are you feeling?” Natalie shrugged.

“I don’t know. Hungry?”

“I thought this might be the answer,” he said and reached behind him retrieving a plate with a sandwich on it. She took it and sat up, too. While she pulled little pieces off of it and shoved them in her mouth she looked at Gary with a thoughtful frown. “Okay, ask.”

“Where are we?”

“Alexandria. Or rather some new developed neighborhood near Alexandria,” she raised an eyebrow.

“How could we've missed this one?” Gary shook his head.

“No idea. Bad luck? Anyhow. Leader’s name is Rick. Suspicious mofo, I can tell. And he ain't the only one here. They had some run in with the assholes Jed teamed up with. The W stands for Wolves in case you were wondering,” Natalie scoffed.

“Could’ve fooled me it means wackjob.”

“Anyway, according to some eyewitness accounts, Arat was able to pull out of the general population they got each other good. What we just ran into was probably their last stand. And after you sent Jed and DJ in a well-deserved, early grave that whole thing is most likely over. So there is that,” Natalie sighed. And it had cost them. Laura, Yago, Keith, Helen and Zio from the first car. Wade. Simon. She fought back the tears again.

“I want to go home,” she said softly.

“Yeah, I know. And I already approached the topic, and maybe we aren’t exactly prisoners, but we aren’t free to go either. Your stunt yesterday wasn’t really helpful, although I have to admit you are tough as nails pulling this shit off in the first place. Handcuffs and all."

“About that, why was I tied to the bed again?” Gary scoffed.

“To avoid exactly that. Worked out brilliantly,” she tilted her head.

“What do you mean?”

“How long do you think we are here?” she shrugged,

“I don’t know. Two days?”

“Try five. You were out the first three. Pretty out. And delirious. Punched some girl named Tara in the face, tore out your IV a couple of times,” that explained the bruise on her left arm. “They tied you down for safety reasons. Who thought you can crack a lock?”

“You obviously don’t know me very well,” she grinned at him lopsided before she got serious again. With a sad sigh, she brushed some hair out of her son’s forehead. He had a lot of hair for an infant. Five days. That was a long time. Negan probably knew by now that they never made it to the Hilltop.

“What will you name him?” she looked up. She hadn’t said anything for a couple of minutes now. Deep in thoughts. Gary’s question had dragged her out of her head.

“What?”

“How will you name him?”

“I,” she stopped and swallowed hard. “Simon wanted to name a boy Nathan,” she said barely audible.

“Hey, look at me,” she looked up hesitantly. “Don’t go there. He ain’t dead, because it’s fucking Simon and he has Wade with him.”

“You don’t know that. That was a bad wound. And there were a lot of bad guys.”

“A year ago you made your way on foot through the woods in the middle of the night because you didn’t believe he was dead. I’m sure you remember that outcome? So don’t give up on him now. He had a fighting chance, and as long as he has that he usually comes out on top,” she had to smile at Gary. “Don’t ever tell him I said that,” she put the empty plate away and lay down again. It took some trial and error to find a comfortable position.

“Thank you,” she said to Gary.

“Don’t mention it,” was his only response.

“I’m sorry about Laura,” Gary sighed.

“Yeah, me too,” he mumbled. They had been close. How close exactly had been anyone’s best guess, though.

“I need to talk to Rick. He needs to let us go.”

“Good luck convincing him.”

“I just tell him how it is. Negan knows by now we never been at the Hilltop, so he will look for us, for me. And if he manages to get here with us being held against our will these people are in deep shit, no matter if they are helpful or not. He will massacre first and ask questions later.”

Chapter Text

Gary came into the infirmary with a conspiratorial expression on his face and pulled a chair closer before he dropped down on it with a very ominous look around. He couldn’t be more obvious that he was about to tell Natalie something covert if he tried. Not that anyone cared. Except for that incredibly chatty and secret-spilling Tara and her girlfriend Doctor Denise somehow flirting awkwardly in the back, no one was even in the room. While it was true that Rick and his counsel of overly suspicious pals weren’t allowing them to leave, Arat and Gary were pretty much free to roam the premises as they pleased and thoroughly snooped out the place. Natalie wasn’t going anywhere. She was puerperalling, hard, and even walking to the bathroom was a problem. No surprise since it had just been a week since she had a very complicated birth.

“So?”

“Well, we could climb over a wall. The back is pretty much unguarded. Then we only have to make it 23 miles North to the Sanctuary,” he deadpanned.

“You see me do a lot of wall climbing in the near future? Or walking?”

“I thought you'd say that,” Gary mumbled. She hadn’t talked to Rick yet. Mostly because the only time she tried, or rather he sought her out to talk, knowing that among their little group she was in charge, he came at her aggressively and rather strong enough with her having a bad headache, so she had clamped up and refused to even acknowledge his presence. She just had pulled her son close and turned around. That had been yesterday. Now she was looking for an angle to work the man in their next encounter. “They run low on everything. You might wanna lead with that,” Natalie was not surprised. She was pretty sure that acorn flour was the base of the bread of the sandwiches they gave her. She admired the resourcefulness, but that sort of DIY was usually a sign of a lack of alternatives. “Food, mostly. Haven’t eaten something fresh in a long time. Or meat. Meds, too. And you just needed a whole batch of antibiotics they didn’t have. You think you can work with that?” Natalie frowned.

“You mean like in guess who would be grateful enough you brought his sister and his nephew home safe and sound he will send you off with your weight in produce and as much ibuprofen as you can eat? Yeah, I can work with that,” she picked Nathan up, who lay on her crossed legs wrapped in a soft blanket, and carefully held him in Gary’s direction. “You wanna hold him?” she might be a mom for only three days, consciously at least, but she already could read the looks. Everyone wanted to hold the baby. And she let them. Another reason, and Natalie tried to bury it deep down because it was fucked up to even think that, why she shoved her son into everybody’s arms first chance she got was that he got used to it in case she wasn’t there anymore some time. That’s what this world would do to you. Gary took him with a stupid grin. That’s what a baby would do to you. Not for the first time, when she looked kind of sad at Gary with her son, she wished Simon was here. She ignored the yelling of the part of her that she had locked up in some cage very, very far in her head, insisting he was dead. The door got pushed open and Rick came in. Rick and a whole posse of people. The room was suddenly very full. There was Katana, whose name was Michonne and who Natalie considered sort of okay, and Glenn, who had brought her baby stuff like diapers and onesies and had stared at Nathan like he wanted to steal him so Natalie had jumped to the conclusions that he was expecting his own little Nathan and an actual baby scared the shit out of him, Carol, with her twin sets and creepy smile, the guy with the bow she wanted to dip in hand sanitizer, another black woman she didn’t know and the large guy with the mustache, Abraham, who might even could take on Simon. She really didn’t want to fuck with him. Carson was with them, too, and something told Natalie that he told them things they didn’t like to hear. Fucking Carson. Gary slowly handed Nathan back to her and somehow positioned himself between her and them. Rick walked up and down for some paces before he stopped with his hand on his colt.

“Doctor Carson told us some very interesting things about your people,” Natalie sighed.

“Yeah, I bet he did,” the doc looked uncomfortable. Actually, whatever he told them, Natalie couldn’t blame him. This was in total a very screwed up situation and unlike the Sanctuary and the Saviors, the Hilltop wouldn’t withstand if someone knocked on their front door demanding to be let in. They hadn’t in the past. He probably was just protecting his people. By throwing the Saviors under the bus.

“About your places, your… methods. The things you used to do?”

“You heard it yourself, right? Used to do, as in past tense?”

“Is it true?” Michonne interrupted

“Is what true,” Natalie asked in a droning tone.

“That you enslaved his people,” Natalie blinked at Michonne. Then she blinked another time.

“Enslaved,” she repeated tonelessly. “Are you being serious? Nobody was enslaved. Jesus. Is this what you told them, Harlan? I am very disappointed.”

“So how would you call what you did then?” Natalie made a contemplating face.

“Extortion. Forceful coercion. Maybe a protection racket? Intimidation by numbers? The unsolicited redistribution of property under threat of violence. Definitely that one. What else. Oh yeah, fuck you. I don’t need to justify myself for what I did in the past to keep my people and myself safe and fed during the fucking end of the world to a bunch of complete strangers who didn’t even have the courtesy to introduce themselves properly. Who the fuck you think you are, the European Court of Human Rights?” it was clear that her fuck-you-attitude wasn’t what they had expected, but Natalie wouldn’t tune it down. They wouldn’t kill her. She was a young mother, with her infant literally in her arms. Besides Rick was smart, and his people were, too. That made them careful, but it also made them curious. They needed supplies, and they needed them yesterday, and even if Carson just scratched the surface, they had to have jumped to the conclusion that the Saviors were a solid shot. And if that meant trading her she would gladly be shipping herself here. “Besides, we don’t do this anymore. We changed. We are friends now, right Harlan?”

“People don’t change,” Archer guy said. Grumbled, actually. Natalie scoffed.

“Of course they don’t. Not really. I’m not saying we suddenly turned into nice people, had a change of heart, found Jesus or whatever. We changed because we had to, out of necessity. You think I don’t miss the old days where a bag of fresh zucchini was just one little knock at his door away? And it was so easy, God. They bent over so eagerly they brought their own lube. Really gives you this power high. But you know about that, do you, Rick,” she rolled the R a little. “However, turns out long term this whole extortion-coercion-under-the-threat-of-violence-thing might be a bad idea. So here we are, being actually helpful. Sucks ass you ask me. But what don’t we do for our future generations,” she gave Nathan a little, pointed look. Rick wanted to say something, but she wouldn’t let him. Talk them down, that was a plan that worked most of the times. “I will be honest with you, all of you. The Saviors are assholes and thieves. Murdering thieves if given the chance, and yes I mean it in terms of just needing an excuse to stab and shoot. And we are bullies, the very definition of bad people. And if you take a good, long look on Gary here or my girl Arat, or maybe you even get the chance to meet the father of that little guy here one day, you maybe can begin to imagine what kind of person my brother has to be that he actually manages to keep hundreds of them, of us, under his control, that he actually leads them, with a firm and strong grip, I might add.”

“He does that.”

“Thank you, Gary. My brother is the worst of us. But he is also something else. He is honest. He has a code. He is a man of his word. And he won’t pussyfoot around and will make it perfectly clear what he thinks of you. And I think he is going to like you guys. Oh, you will wish he would drop dead. But if you make the right decision here, the one where you let me and my people go back, you just made an ally that will stand by you, no questions asked, and who will gladly end your little short-on-everything-situation. Because we have the means to do it, and Negan will be more than grateful that you get me back to him,” some of Rick’s guys shared long, meaningful looks, Abraham looked amused. She kind of liked Abraham. “Or,” Natalie leaned back relaxed, lifting up Nathan cradling him in her arms. “We just keep sitting around on our dicks some more. You undecided what to do, occasionally trying to get some more information out of us until one day someone with a barbed-wired bat will knock on that roll gate demanding from the little pigs to be let it. And when that happens I will just sit here, with my son, listen till the screams die down and get back home either way. Your fucking choice, Rick.”

A couple of hours later Natalie sat in that battered RV surrounded by Arat and Gary, and one very nervous Doctor Carson. He got glared at. If Nathan would actually be able to see further than five inches he probably would glare, too.

“I’m sorry,” Carson mumbled. Natalie only had waited for him to say something.

“Enslaved? Really?”

“I didn’t say that,” Natalie tilted her head.

“Oh, you don’t? What else unless the word enslaved could you have possibly used that they jumped to that conclusion?”

“These are very scary people,” Carson tried to defend himself.

“And we are not?”

“Hey,” everyone turned to Rick. “No more talking.”

“Or what?” Natalie challenged. Gary shook his head into her direction. She really had bid up her strength earlier. The mood was bad as it was already, although Natalie had made a leap of faith, a big one, and actually had given them the location of the Sanctuary. That had been their demand, she hand-delivered to her brother. After she had pointed out a direct route, one with clear roads, short, sweet, and easy, they had looked for elaborate detours that were the reason they drove around for what felt like a whole day. The RV suddenly stopped. Rick hurried to get to the front just to come back immediately. He was right in Natalie’s face.

“What is this,” he demanded to know. Natalie frowned at him. Then she carefully stood up and peeked over his shoulder. Logs. A lot of them. Piled up high effectively cutting the road off. That was a very Saviors move.

“A roadblock?”

“Did you just lure us into a trap?” she frowned confused.

“And how would I have managed that? Do I look like a psychic?”

“We could just turn around,” Sasha suggested from the passenger seat. There was the high-pitched whine of microphone feedback, a harrumph and then the wind carried over Negan’s voice. There had been just one time when Natalie felt more relieved to hear his voice, and that was when he had hammered on her front door three weeks into the apocalypse demanding to be let in.

“Well, well, well. What do we have here? Well now I am always happy to meet new people, but I just had the worst fucking week of my life, and judging by the state the world is in this is fucking saying something, so let’s make this easy. You come out of that shitcan of an RV, your hands up in the air, one after the other, and kneel down forming an orderly line, or I will turn that shitcan of an RV in a shitcan of an RV with a lot of holes and dead bodies in it. I kind of hope you don’t, because I really hope to deliver some hurting, but you can decide for yourselves. You have three minutes.”

“This is a trap.”

“Do you know them?”

“They knew this would happen.”

Everyone talked at once, sort of crowding mostly Natalie.

“Who is this? Is this Negan?” Sasha asked. Natalie just shrugged.

“I told you this would happen,” Rick palmed his face and stepped a step back. “He will do it, you know,” she said softly. “And when he sees who is in that RV he will find out where you came from and everyone at home dies, too,” her eyes never left his when she said that. There was a moment of tense silence. Then Rick pulled his Colt and put it on Natalie’s forehead. She didn’t even flinch. “Anyone else but me or one of my people getting out of that camper will result in a bloodbath,” she said seriously. You could probably hear a needle drop in the long seconds that followed her words. Then Rick scoffed, put the gun away and stepped aside sort of showing her to the door. Natalie just nodded and stepped forward. She carefully shoved it open. She could hear the sound of a couple of dozen assault rifles being readjusted in a couple of dozens of Savior’s hands. She closed her eyes, pressed Nathan a little tighter against her body and stepped out of the RV.

“Get your fucking guns down,” Dwight yelled that if she placed the voice correctly. The command got passed on by other voices she didn’t know. Someone very clearly yelled that it was her. She opened her eyes again. Negan stood not very far away and just stared at her. He looked tired and unshaved, and maybe it was just a week, but she could have sworn rather skinny. Suddenly he closed his eyes, took a long breath, made his little dip backward and looked into the sky relieved. After that, he waltzed over to her with determination and took her in his arms the infant in hers be damned. Nathan made some protesting sounds, so he withdrew a little bit, but not very far. He wasn’t crying, but he was close.

“I fucking knew you weren’t dead,” he mumbled pressing their foreheads together. “I fucking knew it,” he eyed down on Nathan. “Is it a boy? Looks like a boy.”

“It is,” she couldn’t help the sob.

“Is he okay?”, Natalie just nodded. “You named him Negan?” Natalie’s only answer was a half-sobbed laugh. “He has a lot of hair. You sure he’s Simon’s?” She looked up and opened her mouth. Before she could collect the courage to ask if Negan had any news about Simon his Dodge came to a skidding halt next to the RV. The man himself basically jumped out from the passenger side. For a split second his eyes landed confused on the RV and then at her. His whole face got soft. Natalie herself felt relief wash over her it was a physical sensation no unlike falling and they just stood there staring at each other with the same looks on their faces. Negan gave her a little nudge.

“Go to him,” he didn’t have to say it twice. There was a lot of crying, and soft kisses and more crying and then finally Simon took his son in his hands that looked impossibly huge compared to his small body. He looked down on him with love and awe.

“He is fine, though, right? Healthy?”

“Yeah.”

“And you?” he looked at her worried.

“I’m fine. I’m great actually,” she beamed at him. With tears running over her cheeks. She really went through a rollercoaster of emotions here. And Simon didn’t seem to fare much better. “What about you?” he just shook his head, his eyes never leaving the baby,

“Don’t worry about me. It was just a scratch,” he was probably lying, but Natalie didn’t care. “Can we name him Nathan?” she chuckled.

“Yes, we can name him Nathan,” Negan had hovered in the back and slowly walked over now like he wasn’t sure he could intrude on their reunion just yet.

“Hate to interrupt, but maybe it’s time to get you three fucking home. But before that. Who in the holy hell is this?” they all turned to Rick and his people who had gathered in front of the RV giving the Saviors who weren’t sure what do, threat them or leave them be, defiant looks.

“They are friends. They saved my life,” Natalie said making eye contact with Rick. Negan shouldered Lucille, who he managed to produce out of thin air, or at least Natalie hadn’t seen her and sauntered over.

“Saved her life, huh?” he gave each and everyone a long, hard once over. “In that case. How about I buy you a drink?”

Chapter Text

Natalie sat comfortably on her couch with her feet propped up on the coffee table and Nathan on her upper thighs. She nudged his little lips with the teat of the small feeding bottle in her hand and he listlessly suckled on it before his mouth got slack again.

“Falling asleep with a bottle in your mouth. I can’t decide if you got this from me or your daddy,” she mumbled, put the bottle away, lifted him up and carried him to his bassinet. She was covering him with a soft, yellow blanket when she caught a movement in the corner of her eyes and turned to the door. Wade stood there like he was just about to leave again looking anywhere but at her.

“Is this a bad time?” he asked the doorframe. Natalie sighed.

“No, come in,” she said jovially. “Take a seat,” he hesitantly stepped into the room and dropped on the empty armchair. Then he frowned at her skeptically.

“You summoned me?” she shrugged.

“Kind of have to, the way you are hiding from me,” she said with a small smile. He wasn’t reacting. “Look,” she let herself fall on the couch again. “I owe you an apology.”

“For what?” he asked slowly. Natalie rolled her eyes.

“For treating you like shit the past 13 months.”

“You don’t have to…”

“Shut up and listen. I behaved like a total bitch. Hell, I was a total bitch. Sure, you screwed up, but what I did to you after was uncalled for. All of it. I harassed you, I terrorized you. I mean I used you as target practice with a BB gun,” Wade smiled a weak smile and pointed at the spot on his upper thigh where she had hit him.

“You know, the slag is still inside. Carson says it’s easier to just leave it there. Real conversation starter.”

“Yeah I bet, anyway. I am sorry. I should have let it go a long time ago and there had been no reason I haven’t. So I just hope you have it in you to forgive me one day. Even if not, I promise you I make it up to you,” now Wade scoffed. Not dismissively, amused.

“You don’t have to make it up to me, just don’t shoot me again. And as for accepting your apology, you kind of had me at hello,” he grinned.

“I didn’t say hello,” she said flatly. Wade rolled his eyes.

“Just roll with it,” they both huffed a laugh and sat around for a while, a bit awkwardly to be honest.

“Should we, I don’t know, hug?” Natalie asked with a frown and a raised eyebrow.

“Is this something we do?”

“Not that I am aware off, but we can try,” she shrugged. They got up and locked each other in their arms clumsily.

“This feels weird,” Wade said next to Natalie’s ear.

“Shh, just roll with it,” Wade chuckled. Then Natalie gave him a real squeeze. “Thanks for saving Simon’s life,” she said softly.

“Anytime,” they stepped away from each other, Natalie clapped him on the shoulder, which was more their thing, and Wade stirred the conversation into more comfortable waters. “So how’s the little guy?” he looked into the bassinet onto a fast-asleep Nathan. Natalie walked to him.

“He’s very lazy.”

“How can an infant be lazy? I mean what’s he doing, not doing his chores?” Wade asked skeptically.

“You can try to feed him, see it for yourself,” it was something that actually had concerned them, Nathan not drinking as much as they had expected. But Carmen, the midwife who helped them out, had told them not to panic, this was perfectly normal. He had lost a bit weight at the beginning, but now he steadily gained it, and although he still was rather skinny, he was healthy and well-nourished.

“You know Simon doesn’t shut up about him. And he is in such a good mood, it’s actually kinda scary, and a bit annoying. Negan, too,” Wade said with a smirk. Natalie chuckled.

“That’s all the baby hormones. I swear Simon’s close on lactating. Don’t tell him I said that.”

“Can a man lactate?” Wade askes in a mix of curiosity and horror.

“No idea. But I keep you posted,” speaking of Simon, the man came in. Natalie’s whole face lit up. He only had been gone since morning, but she had missed him something fierce. The week apart from each other not knowing if the respective other was still alive had basically conjoined them by their hips. So even a couple of hours separated felt like a very long time.

“Hey,” Simon said with a warm smile and gave her the kind of hello kiss that made Wade turning nonchalantly somewhere else to give them some privacy. Then Simon looked down on his son and carefully put his hand on his chest, feeling his heartbeat. “So what’s going on here? You two kissed and made up?” he asked both Wade and Natalie.

“We were just about to come to the kissing part when you showed up,” Wade said seriously. Simon’s only reaction to that was a chuckle. Wade decided it was time for him to go anyways. When he was gone Simon pulled her in for another kiss.

“I missed you,” he said against her lips before he went for another not giving Natalie a chance to tell him that she missed him, too. He knew it either way. Then he sat on the couch with a sigh signaling her to join him. He didn’t have to ask twice. She made herself comfortable with her head on his chest.

“So how did it go?” Simon scoffed.

“Everyone was an asshole,” he said. He and Negan, and a couple of non-threatening others, like Alden and Gavin, had been in Alexandria to lay the foundation for future collaborations. This and because they wanted to check the place out assessing them for what they had. Old habits died hard.

“That includes you, I assume?”

“What do you mean? I was my usual charming self. These people are very uptight. I mean I get it. We would be a little nervous around strangers too if someone just came into our home in the middle of the day starting to cut up people throwing a couple of hundred corpses at us, but Jesus. None of them has any humor they are aware of. Didn’t even get a grin out of any of them,” Natalie looked up.

“In all fairness, yours and Negan’s humor is an acquired taste,” he smiled down on her and gave her a small peck.

“Anyhow, overall it went well. We get a bunch of these solar panels, they get something to eat and we go from there. Rick and Negan are madly in love with each other, they just don’t know it yet. I am actually kind of jealous. That “One day I will kill you so let's be best friends” look used to address me,” he chuckled.

“I can try to subtly threat to end you from time to time. If this would make you feel any better?”

“You’re sweet,” he looked over to Nathan’s crib. “So I talked to your brother,” she looked up.

“About what?”

“Couple of things. Like getting out of here. Getting a new place,” she frowned.

“What do you mean?”

“The way we built up the Satellite Outpost the last year really shows. You haven’t been there yet, but it’s actually kind of neat. Let’s say we really improved the lodging quality. The solar panels are just the icing on the cake. Nathan shouldn’t grow up surrounded by concrete and corroding steel. It will be hard enough as it is to give him something resembling a normal childhood with telling him the monsters under his bed are actually on the other side of the fence. So why not at least give him blue sky, green grass and the one or other free-range chicken?” she blinked at him.

“Seriously? What’s Negan saying to that?” Simon just shrugged.

“When that’s something you want he will help us pack. It’s just a couple of hours away. He can see Nathan and you all the time. And he will, I have no illusions about that,” a wide smile crawled up Natalie’s face.

“This would be awesome. I mean I will miss Negan, but I was worried about the child friendliness of this place. Everything on the factory floor is a fucking safety hazard.”

“I know you worried, that’s why I brought it up with Negan,” with a soft sound she put her head back on his chest.

“I love you, so fucking much,” she said. Simon let his fingers run through her hair.

“Me too, love. So fucking much,” they sat in silence for a while, but Natalie wouldn’t be Natalie if she would shut up for longer than five minutes.

“You think we can take Arat and Gary with us?”

“Well, they are human beings, not pets, so you actually would need to ask them first if they even want to, but I couldn’t see why not. Before you start to pick out the curtains, allowing us to move into new accommodations wasn’t the only thing I asked Negan for,” he freed himself from her and got up. After rummaging around in the pockets of one of his jackets he turned around with a very serious expression.

“What was it?” Instead of an answer he just walked back to her and to her surprise got down on one knee. She just stared at the little ring box in his hands.

“His blessing. I was thinking about a great, romantic gesture, but I can’t really see me pulling this off and I can’t really see you being impressed by it, so I thought let’s do it the straight-forward way. Natalie, will you do me the honor and make an honest man out of me?” Natalie looked up in his eyes.

“Yes,” she said.

“Yes?”

“Yeah,” he surged forward practically crashing their lips together and Natalie would have fallen from the couch if she hadn’t thrown her arms around his neck just in time using him as leverage. “Put it on,” she said the second he pulled away. He chuckled when he slipped on the ring. It fitted perfectly. “It’s beautiful,” the ring was unpretentious, but timeless, white gold with a small stone, probably a diamond, exactly the kind of model she would have picked. “I love it,” she said seriously. Simon smiled wider than he already did. He sat next to her on the couch again and pulled her against him.

“I heard second marriages are the best, by the way,” he said. Natalie had to laugh.

“I have no doubt about it,” she pressed her lips on his pulse point basking in his warmth and his scent while he held her close, gently running his fingers through her hair. They could have sat like that forever, but Nathan had other ideas. He started to fuss and whimper before he let out a small cry. Simon picked him up carefully.

“Hey little man,” he said cradling him in his arms. Natalie had already taken the bottle from earlier out of the cooler and warmed it up in her hands. “Remember what we talked about the other day? The thing I wanted to ask your mom? Guess what she said?” he sat back and took the bottle. This time Nathan actually drank the formula while Simon cooed over him. Not for the first time, Natalie looked at this scene with love, awe, and a bit disbelief.

The world was in ruins, the dead owned the earth, places like this, the Kingdom, the Hilltop, Alexandria were little, fragile beacons of humanity, for better or for worse, and here they were. She and Simon somehow had carved out their own place of happiness, against all odds and clearly defying Karma. Some might think they didn’t deserve it, some might argue a lot of people had to suffer and die so they could be where they were now, and they wouldn’t be wrong. But all Natalie had done since the beginning of the end was to fight. And she would continue to do so. But this time it wouldn’t be just for herself and her brother, not just to survive, it would be the good fight. A fight for the people of the Sanctuary, for the other communities, for her brother, for Nathan and Simon, for her family. The future was right in front of her, in Simon’s arms, and she would be damned if she wouldn’t do all she could do to make it a better one.

The End