The Devil is Kind
“Little one gotta heed my warning, devil is kind.”
Title inspired by song ‘Devil is Fine’ By Zeal & Ardor
Rick heard a woman scream, jerking up into consciousness reflexively. “Lori!”
He had meant to shout it, but it was hardly more than a choked whisper cracking through his dry lips. Right away he flinched as pain accosted him, shooting through his head and dazing him. His vision swam and he worried he might black back out for a moment, falling back to the thin mattress he had been laying on. His head wasn’t the only thing that hurt, his right leg screaming in pain as he squirmed. It stole his breath away, which was the only reason he didn’t scream from that pain.
He reached for it reflexively, but his right hand caught on something, sending a lesser pain through his wrist and bringing his attention to it, forcing his eyes open again to see that it was handcuffed to a radiator in the wall. His own handcuffs, he realized as the pain took a back seat in his mind when the confusion broke down and his brain caught up to the fact.
He was trapped. He was trapped and hurt. He-
“Whoa, whoa, now!”
Rick jumped so hard at the deep voice that his leg flared in pain as if he had just thrust it into a fresh fire and the cuffs clanged loudly against the metal of the radiator. He sat up anyway, pressing his back into the fixture as he realized belatedly he was not alone.
There was a man standing over him, though he crouched down in front of Rick to bring himself a lot closer to the same level, his hands held up in non-threatening reassurance. “Easy! Just take it easy, Rick. You’re a lil’ banged up, but I think you’ll be alright,” the deep masculine voice spoke up, barley making it past Rick’s panic.
Slowly, Rick managed to process the face behind those hands and words. The man crouched before him was large, even stooped down, built solid and likely at least 30lbs on Rick. His hair was dark and combed back neatly, though there was a mix of salt in the pepper of his beard. His eyes were dark and right now they looked minorly concerned as they focused on him.
Past him, Rick realized the room was strange too, nothing he could recall ever being in before in his whole life. It was rather plain and small, steel army-green walls with nothing inside of them but a radiator and a thin single-person mattress laid out under himself. No windows, just a door across the room.
“Do you remember what happened?” Negan prompted, licking his lips like he was nervous for the answer, mindful to keep his distance.
What happened… Rick’s head pounded as he tried to recall.
It was fuzzy at best, but he could remember being in the car, and being afraid. He could recall driving to… he hadn’t even known where at the time, just driving in hopes of finding someplace safe. He needed to get his family somewhere safe. The streets weren’t safe, and everyone was evacuating to safe zones, they-
His family, they had been in the car with him. Judith had been screaming in her car seat, and Rick had only turned around for a moment to try to calm her. Lori had shouted his name, and when he had turned back around he only saw the truck-lights filling his window. Then everything was black. “Lori!” Rick shouted again, jerking in an effort to get up before both the cuff and his leg reminded him he wasn’t going anywhere. “Carl! Judith! My-my family!”
“Rick, calm down. I need you calm,” the man told him firmly.
“Who are you?” Rick demanded, adrenaline flooding him and tears building up behind his eyes in his stress. He didn’t know this man. This man who had him alone and injured. Why hadn’t he been taken to a hospital? Was this the army shelter? “What happened? Y-you know my name? Where’s my family?”
“Relax, Rick, your son told me your name by the way. I got him and your baby girl waiting for you in the main room. They’re just eating some cereal and drinking some juice right now. I’m Negan, I brought you all here so you’ll be safe. Christ, I couldn’t in good conscious leave the kids out there. You’re safe here, so just calm down and talk to me.”
Rick did calm a little at hearing that they weren’t in immediate danger, but still was firmly on edge, glancing back to the cuff on his wrist and the splint fashioned from his ankle up to his thigh. He was still in his deputy-sheriff’s clothes, having packed up his family straight from work, but his belt and holster were gone and his boots were set off to the side of the mattress with his hat. There was dried blood on his shirt and his right pantleg had been split up the side nearly to his hip to allow the splint.
Negan followed the direction of his eyes with a look of regret, still watching Rick carefully. “I’m sorry about the cuffs, just wanted to make sure you couldn’t hurt yourself when you woke up. Your leg is broken, I think. I could barely get you out of the car because it was pinned between the seat and the dash. Other than that, just some superficial cuts and scrapes on you. I set it while you were out and splinted it, but it’s the best I can do for you.”
Rick turned his eyes back to him then. “The hospital-
“There is no hospital anymore, Rick,” Negan informed him flatly. “No doctors or medical outposts either. The world went to shit pretty fuckin’ fast and all that went with it.”
Rick knew it wouldn’t help but he still pulled against his own cuff, testing it anyway, wanting it off. “Where am I then?”
Negan actually smiled then, too big and too white, though he relaxed considerably in front of Rick. “You’re somewhere safe, thanks to me. That’s more than the rest of the world can say. You ever see that show Doomsday Preppers? Ever hear of bunkers being found around homes bought from paranoid people who lived during the cold war? Well, you’re there, Rick. Turns out they get the last laugh after all. I brought you and your kids back here to mine.”
Rick jolted, realizing what part of his questioning had been avoided thus far. “Lori! Where is she?”
The smile vanished, Negan’s whole face drawn and distressed and Rick felt his stomach clench tighter than a fist.
“Rick…” his voice was far softer and Rick started shaking his head slowly like it might convince the man to say something other than what he most dreaded hearing right now.
“N-no!” he gasped.
“Rick, I’m sorry. She didn’t make it.”
Rick realized he was shaking and crying after the fact, both only getting worse once he did notice. He felt all the strength seep out of him, dropping slowly back to the mattress and throwing his free arm over his face, chocking through his sobs and trying to just survive the ache in his chest. She couldn’t be-
She just couldn’t be-
God, he couldn’t even think the word to himself. She had just been next to him, looking as scared as he felt. He could still clearly see her face, eyes full of terror as she screamed his name before his vision was filled with truck lights. She couldn’t be-
He hadn’t even realized Negan had moved closer until he felt the other man’s soft touch on his hand, the cuffs clicking free as he unlocked them with Rick’s own key. He gently set the limp hand next to Rick, who vulnerably curled in on himself as best he could. “I know, man. I know it hurts. I lost- I lost someone too. Let it hurt, that’s okay. Take your time, but come out and see your kids once you’re able. Your baby’s doin’ okay, but your little boy has been coping on his own for the last day or two and could really stand to see you up and about. He’s been worried. I think you probably will need to see them too. We can talk later about the rest.”
The sounds of Negan’s boots echoed through the room as he crossed over to the door, leaving it cracked open, taking the cuffs and key with him. Rick actually wished he would have closed it, biting down on his lip to try to muffle his cries. It was all his fault.
Rick hadn’t heard Negan return, but when he woke up, his cheeks tight with dried tears, he looked over and saw a set of crutches had been left next to the cot for him. A note was sitting with it, little marker scribbles that had to be Judith-made decorating the front. The other side was in Carl’s messy handwriting, just the words ‘Get Well Dad’ penciled on it.
Spurred on by the reminder of his children waiting for him, needing him, Rick eventually found the will he needed to drag himself up, grabbing the crutches and using the wall for support to pull himself onto his good foot. It was painful, both physically and emotionally, but Rick bit both pains back. He couldn’t be any comfort to his children if he was too busy with his own suffering, but there was no making it go away, just hiding it, just like he always did. Just like Lori always yelled at him for-
“No!” he hissed at himself. He couldn’t go there. Not now. He pushed it all back down, because he had to. He just had to.
It took some shuffling and more physical pain as he tried to find a way to carry his leg. There was no pain-free way, but he was able to find something he could function through at least and made his way across the small room and over to the door to go find his children.
He had been surprised to find a hallway, the place much larger than he expected. It was lined with storage shelves packed full of storable food and toiletries. He was guided down it by the soft sound of music playing, Jimmy Buffet getting louder as he made his way through.
The hall was more plain gray steel, vents letting air and heat into it. He rounded the corner at the end of the hall, his eyes growing wide that the difference in living space. The room he had been drawn to like a siren’s call was decent size, a little larger than his living room at home and full of creature comforts and living items. It bordered on hoarder-ish, all the stuff packed in and stacked up. Old but comfortable-looking chairs and couches were set around a box tv, stacks of VHS tapes piled high on top of it.
Storage shelves lined the walls, overflowing with extra blankets, books, boxes, and more VHS tapes, as well as a few spare electronics.
Jimmy Buffet went on about Margaritaville from even further back, Rick shuffling further in to take in the separate kitchen area, well stocked and surprisingly normal-looking, if not a bit outdated. Relief washed over him to see Carl sitting at the table, his 12-year-old bent over the Gameboy he had packed up when Rick had been trying to get everyone into the car as fast as possible. Judith was sat in his arms, but his hands were full of Gameboy as he held both close.
In front of the stove, stirring up something in a skillet, stood Negan in an apron, seeming pleased as punch as he moved his head and hips a bit to the beat of the song. He was the first to spot Rick, looking him over briefly as if checking his condition before slipping that pleased grin back over his face, turning a bit towards the table behind him. “Look alive, children. Daddy’s up.” There was something teasing about the way he said it, throwing Rick a wink like it was a joke they could share. “And I hope he’s hungry because this is smelling damn good,” he sing-songed; tooting his own horn as he continued to mess with the food.
Dazed was probably the best word for Rick at the moment, watching the man grin through what felt like the end of the world.
Carl was up on his feet, his baby sister carried in his arms and his Gameboy forgotten as he took her quickly over to Rick. His eyes were red like he had been crying a lot too. Rick dropped one of the crutches in favor of his son and daughter, pulling Carl as tightly against his good hip as he could and leaning down to press kisses against his head, a critical eye taking in the health of his younger daughter. She smiled up at him and cooed.
Carl had his face buried in his father’s waist, trying to hide his own tears. Rick supposed he had picked that up from him. Lori was always more open about it. Whenever she would cry she’d-
No. he told himself firmly.
Only after a few moments did Carl pull back, the sobs barely contained as he lifted his sister up where Rick could kiss her, his crutch not letting him lean down too far. He couldn’t seem to kiss her enough.
She seemed fine. Carl too, though there was bruising and a rash along his neck from the seatbelt and a shallow cut above his left eye that had a butterfly bandage over it. His left wrist and arm had some light dressing around it. “Dad!” Carl cried in desperation, burying them both against Rick’s side once more like he couldn’t stand the inches between them. Rick wished he had had the strength to come out before.
“Thank God!” Rick gasped in relief, “Thank God you’re both okay.”
Negan gave a joyless laugh from back in the kitchen. “Close enough I guess, but I’m the one who got them out of the car. God’s left everyone to rot. Me, well I’m the one serving up some delicious beef stir-fry.”
Rick didn’t respond to that, turning Carl’s chin up to look at him. “Are you okay?” he asked, more quietly. He hoped Carl would understand the depth of his question.
Has he hurt or scared you at all? Should I be worried about him?
Carl offered him a weak smile and a small nod. “I’m okay. Negan’s a good cook, and he’s sort of funny. Sort of.”
“Out of the mouths of babes comes the highest praise,” the man grinned, having eaves dropped. “Don’t you worry none, Daddy. Ain’t a single hair gonna be harmed on either of their heads, I’ll help you make sure of that. Come and get it!”
Rick had a lot of questions for the man, but more importantly he had something else that needed saying. Carl helped him get his dropped crutch back and he hobbled his way after his children towards the kitchen. Negan plated the food quickly, asking Carl to get another plate for Rick to join them.
“Thank you,” Rick pressed upon the man once he was in front of him, his voice thick with gratitude. “T-thank you, my kids are… thank you.”
Negan’s smile warmed considerably around the edges, his eyes lighting up a bit at the words. “Shit Rick, like I said, I couldn’t leave y’all out there.”
It was a lie, and Rick knew it. The man could have left them. Anyone else very well might have. Left them to the hell that had been breaking out all around them. The things Rick had seen before loading up his family in the car… unspeakable things he still couldn’t quite comprehend, much less understand. It had only seemed to be getting worse and worse, and for the first time in days he could feel a sliver of ease that his children were safe, though Lori-
He tried to compose himself, nearly losing it all over again.
Negan clapped a hand on his shoulder in reassurance and understanding and Rick’s own hand flew up to it, clamping on because just for a moment he felt like he needed something grounding him, reassuring him.
He needed a lot more information though before he could really give into that concept that they were safe. He needed to know… he needed to know a lot of things. He needed-
“Sit down, Rick,” Negan insisted, “Enjoy a meal with your kids. Quick too because that boy of yours packs it in. We can talk later tonight,” he assured him, as if reading his thoughts.
As carefully as he could with his leg, Rick all but collapsed down into his chair, Negan sliding into the seat across from him and his children.
Carl was indeed digging in, half his plate gone before either man picked up a fork. Negan seemed to note the red around the kid’s eyes, his face flushed like he might break down again at any moment despite his appetite. He cast the teen a smile to try to perk him up. “Save some room there, Killer. We might have enough food here to feed a small army, but you’re starting to look like another matter entirely. Besides, if you fill up now how will you have room for one of the hundreds of Twinkies that are stored away down here for desert?”
That got a bit more of a smile out of Carl, excited at the prospect of sweets. Such a simple pleasure seen in his son dragged a small smile kicking and screaming out of Rick as well and he cast a thankful glance to Negan.
The man simply gave Rick another wink and returned to his meal.
After supper Negan set Carl up with Judith in front of the TV, popping in some cartoon movie for them to watch before taking Rick aside for a ‘tour’.
Rick followed him through a door located off the back of the kitchen area into a smaller steel room. A single hazmat suit hung on the wall, there was another steel door to the left and a staircase leading up to the right, nothing else but them inside. At the first chance for privacy Rick took the chance to unload a few of his most pressing concerns on the man. “My wife, Lori, you said she- Are you sure? Are you very sure? What-what did you do to make sure? I’ve been a cop for years and I know sometimes in the confusion of a chaotic situation how sometimes things can be missed, or overlooked and I just- I just- I-
“Rick, calm now,” Negan advised, not without some empathy. “I promise you, I made sure.”
“But the accident, I just- it was my side that got hit. Carl and I were on the left of the car and a truck T-boned us. How is everyone else okay and she-
He was getting worked up, unable to keep it all in altogether, and Negan looked sympathetic as he placed his hands on Rick’s shoulders to try to steady him. “Rick, if you’ve been a cop for years then you know sometimes car accidents just… they just aren’t always fair.”
It was a delicate way of saying it. Rick knew he wasn’t wrong, he had experienced many of them in his time. He had seen people walk away unscathed from an overturned car that had been going 70mph, and he had seen bodies removed from fender benders. Sometimes only one person would survive in a full vehicle, and sometimes only one person wouldn’t. No, they weren’t always fair. He could feel himself shaking again.
Still, he couldn’t just leave it. He couldn’t. “I- I need to go find her. I need to get back to the car and see- I need to let someone know. Someone should know where she is, they should know-
Negan was shaking his head. “Rick, I’m sorry, but there’s no one to tell anything to. It didn’t just go to hell out there, it became hell. You can’t ever go out there.”
Rick refused to hear it, needing to go. It was his fault, he had been driving. He had taken his eyes off the road. He had to find her to-
He didn’t realize he was trying to push past Negan until the man shoved him back, causing him to stumble on the crutches, the pain of his leg bringing him back to awareness.
“You can’t,” Negan growled, frustration flashing across his face. “You wanna see? I’ll show you why you can’t. Come on then.”
He had Rick set aside the crutches, throwing his arm around himself instead so he could haul him up the steps, slowly to mind the leg. Rick was pretty certain the break was in the tibia or fibula judging by the bruising and the worst of the pain.
They reached the top, an even heavier steel door there with a small window in the front of it. Negan glanced through it with a dark look in his eye before leaning back for Rick to take a peek.
Rick couldn’t have been prepared for what he saw. There were empty fields nearly as far as the eye could see, new crops not yet growing in. The sky was grey and bleak and it took him a moment to realize it wasn’t rainclouds but smoke clogging up the sky. Off in the far horizon he could see a glow in the darkness, Negan’s low rumble was in his ear. “That’s Atlanta, Rick. It’s burning. The government bombed it out trying to contain… whatever the fuck happened. The city was only 30% evacuated at the time.”
Rick’s breath caught in his throat, but Negan wasn’t done, his tone grave. “They didn’t contain shit though, it’s everywhere out there. Maybe it’s a virus… something in the air, I don’t know. What it does to the people though, they ain’t people no more. Jesus- there’s one now.”
Rick glanced off to the left, seeing someone stumbling around in the field. He had seen others, before, stumbling around like they were sick. They killed anyone that came close to them if they could, attacking them with teeth and nails. He watched a couple other officers who were attacked get torn apart by them.
“The only thing left in this whole world are monsters, Rick.” Negan warned him.
Rick felt the coldest shiver of his life run down his back, unable to look away from the hell just outside the little window.