When Negan met the truck, I could see that he was relieved we were back, but I could also see that he was conflicted about who to check over first. I settled it for him, unbuckling our daughter from her seat and handing her to him. He did a careful and thorough inventory of all of Kiara’s limbs and skin that could be checked through her outfit, and I waited so we could finally get into our rooms.
“Are you finished?” I asked, my voice quiet because he had a crew of people kneeling in the dirt around us. “I’d like to talk to you in private.”
His eyes met mine and I felt a flip in my stomach. “Of course, Callie,” he was expecting a more triumphant return, but damn it, he had to know this shit would take time. “Come on, sweetheart,” he kissed my forehead and took my hand, after handing Kiara back to me. “Let’s go home.”
Upstairs, after watching me feed Kiara, since she’d only had a bottle since we’d left, I could feel him holding off on bringing up what my meeting with Maggie had managed. I was rocking our little one, watching her nod off as she fed, when I started to tell him.
“I threatened her with retaliation the likes of which she’s never seen if she makes another move against us.” My voice was quiet, careful to keep Kiara eating and ready for bed. “And I meant it, and she knows that. She’ll be ready to negotiate once she rolls the reality of how well she knows me versus how well she imagines she knows you.” I looked up from our daughter’s calm face and pursed lips. “Trust me, Negan, Maggie knows precisely how ruthless I can be if challenged or if my family is threatened.” I could see he had doubts, and he wanted to know what I could possibly have done to be so scary.
“When?” The important question of course, when could we expect to head to the table to make the deal to keep us all safe.
Kiara was finished, and her eyes were fluttering against the nap she’d fought off for too long. “Here, Daddy, burp our baby and we’ll get her ready for bed, and then we’ll discuss it over dinner.”
He took her from me and I went to the kitchen and started our own meal. I watched as I prepared it, as he talked her through her burp, then changed her diaper and pulled out her pajamas. I had dinner in the oven when he motioned for me to follow him to our bathroom. We bathed her in the sink, carefully because she was clearly exhausted from her first trip outside the Sanctuary. Then, sweet smelling, dressed in her jammies, I went back to finish dinner while he went to put her down in her crib for the night.
I felt him before I saw him, his heat pressed against my back as I dished out our food onto plates, and then his lips against the base of my neck. “I hated you being out of my fucking sight, Callie.” I shook my head, but kept filling our plates. “Out of this building, without me, with just Laura? That shit can’t happen again, do you hear me?”
I stopped and turned, so his arms were wrapped around my back. “I am NOT a fairy princess, Negan.” Tilting my head back so I could look up at him, I saw he was about to argue. “I KNOW you think of me as your queen or princess or whatever, but I’m NOT one. I have fought, scratched, clawed, and killed, to survive this world, and I don’t want you to lose sight of that.”
“Callie, honey,” he was going to remind me that I didn’t HAVE to anymore. “That was before-”
I snorted. Turning back to the counter, I picked up our plates. “Grab the silverware?” I sidestepped him and his arms, and moved to our table. Sitting his plate down, I sat and waited for him to join me. He handed me my utensils and took his own seat. We ate for a few moments, before I finally sighed. “Before I met you?” His eyes met mine across the table. “I told you about Dad and how he took Mom’s death.” A nod, and I had to take a drink before I could continue. “I didn’t tell you how I took it.”
“Sweetheart, you don’t have to-” I knew that he was thinking about when he told me about Lucille.
“Yes, I do.” I answered, reaching my hand across the table. “Mom died, giving birth to Judith, like I told you.” Fighting the wave of memories of the blood and gore of that day, I pushed on. “Dad went off the rails, but me? I internalized it all. I realized that every tiny little fucking thing that could go wrong, would go wrong in this world. Nowhere was safe, not really. I mean, even the prison, where she died. Dad and the others helped make it safe, for a while, but then this asshole with one eye came back because of-” I chuckled and our eyes met again. “The ‘Governor’, I almost forgot him, he was a lot like you.” Negan’s eyebrow raised. “Not,” I gestured between us, “like this, but he was sure that he had all the answers. He and Dad, unlike the two of you, tried a different path toward peace and it ended with him beaten and us making a life at the prison with most of his own people joining us.”
“How long did it last?” Negan took his own drink. “The peace?”
“Not long enough,” I couldn’t remember how long it lasted, honestly. “We had a rush of a plague inside, well the flu, but it might as well been the fucking plague.” I remembered the first of Carol’s skeletons I knew about, her killing sick people in advance of their deaths, why Dad had exiled her. “Nothing is built to last forever in this fucking world, Negan. Even you know that.” He shook his head and I rolled my eyes. “Not that I won’t fight beside you to try to make our life last. Anyway, we were too complicit, he came back, and he killed Maggie’s dad in front of us all.” His eyes widened. “We split up, we were forced to, the walls got overrun by the dead, there was chaos. Dad and Carl were together, but me and Judith ended up with a different group.” The second notch in Carol’s skeletal closet horde. Lizzie. And because we didn’t see the danger fast enough, her sister Mika. “By the time we found them, everyone I mean, things had gotten bad. Cannibals and Claimers, things that most survivors never make it past.”
Dinner was finished, somehow even talking I’d managed to eat through my own and his plate was empty. I stood up and took our plates to the sink to run water over them, but put off washing them for now. His hands pulled me back, sitting me on his lap at the table. “You don’t have to keep going, Callie,” he was looking up at me, but I shook my head again and smiled.
“You still think that I was just a narrator or a witness, Negan, I wasn’t.” Cupping his face between my hands I kissed him gently. “I have killed men, women, and monsters just as easily as anyone you’ve ever met. It became muscle memory, I almost didn’t even have to think about what needed to be done, and their bodies would be down in front of me.” I thought about the band of feral people who had tried to overtake Alexandria. “I could blink and there would be a pile of bodies.” It was true, all of it. The path from Maggie’s farm to Alexandria was littered with bodies of the redead and the nearly killed, and none of them, not a single one stuck in my mind in detail of how I killed them. “My mouth gets me in trouble, that’s more true than not, but Negan, Dad kept me out of things not just for that reason, but I think even he had moments of fear of me.”
“You?” He was staring at me like he was FINALLY seeing me fully. “Callie, you killed to survive, what could be scary about that?”
I laughed, because I wished it were that simple. “Not everyone I killed was for my own survival, Negan. Some were because-” I shook my head working out how to explain. “If I felt there was a danger that no one else saw, or could see, then I wouldn’t hesitate to end it before it managed to grow roots.” Faces were flashing before my face, and I wished I could remember their names, but did that really matter anymore? “My family? My people? I would let the ground turn red with the blood of anyone who endangered it, or at least I would have, once upon a time.”
‘What changed?” His voice was low, but I could see he was as curious as ever. “Why would you think-”
“That I still have that part inside of me?” I smiled. “I stopped because Dad kept me out of the loop. And because I saw Carl’s face after I took down someone,” he was terrified, and I could still see how afraid he’d been. “I couldn’t stand to see him look more afraid of me than he’d been of anyone else. But it’s still in here, Negan,” I touched my chest with one finger. “And when you finally told me about Maggie and the other attempts, even if my keeping her secret from you helped her get that far, I felt the urge rise up again.”
“You’d take on someone you considered family?” This was the part that seemed to shock him, that I was so damn loyal to my family, but that I would cut Maggie, or any other former family member down.
I wrapped my arms around his neck and stared deeply into his eyes. “YOU are my family. You and our daughter, Negan. Maggie made her place forfeit as soon as she chose to endanger us. IF she makes the right choice, which I think she will, then and only then will she maybe take a tiny step back into the familial fold.” I kissed him long and hard before pulling back and standing up. “You coming to bed?”
Shaking his head, like his mind was overflowing from the information I shared, he took my hand and followed me to our bedroom.