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Rick realizes pretty fast that he probably shouldn’t have come here without backup. Jadis and her people surround him, flocked in a carefully rehearsed circle like odd, darkly feathered birds. They remind him of magpies, with their nest of clutter and their contrary mantra of “take, don’t bother.”

He does his whole spiel- Negan is surrounded, join us or die. He’s hopeful where he shouldn’t be, passing around the photos he’s been snapping of the destruction they’ve wrought during the war. Jadis seems unimpressed, but then again, when has she seemed anything other than distant and vaguely amused?

“No,” she says simply, a lilt to her voice like she’s surprised he would even ask.

He, however, is not surprised when they haul him off to a huge metal box, bullet holes punched through its door. Jadis watches as her men haul him off with hands on his shoulders, and he fully expects her to just leave him there for a while until she’s able to get ahold of the Saviors to let them know their prize has been captured and is ready to be hand-delivered.

Prize. The thought of it makes him shudder. It’s very like Negan, he thinks, to want him and the other leaders left alive for the time being so he can have his fun.

“Wait.” Jadis’s voice sounds behind him just as one of the men holding him opens the door to his new home. She approaches, looks him up and down, and he tenses uncomfortably, wary and alert.

“Off,” she commands, nodding to him, and suddenly the men are off him and away standing on either side of the woman like bodyguards. There’s a knife strapped to her hip, long and sharp, and he’s all too aware that he doesn’t have a lot of options going forward.

It’s an awkward start, him unbuttoning his shirt as quickly as he can, not wanting to draw it out any more than he has to. He drops it in the dirt- it’s so sweat-drenched and filthy that it hardly matters. His boots are kicked off, socks shucked and tucked inside them. His belt, already stripped of his holster and axe, comes off easily.

He feels the barest bit of heat touch his face when he unzips and shoves his jeans down his thighs, kicking them into the pile at his feet. It’s ridiculous- he’s not shy, not about this. God knows that all those months on the road and then sharing a communal shower back at the prison forced him and the rest of their group to shed any kind of shame surrounding nudity. But that was with each other, with people he trusted, people that weren’t standing there staring at him as he undressed like there was something to see.

He resists the urge to cross his arms over his bare chest, returning Jadis’s stare with a forced blankness. She smirks, her default. He wonders idly if she’s able to force the other half of her mouth into a full-blown smile, or if time has robbed her of that as well as full sentences.

She’s in front of him in one long stride, hands on his hips, one slim finger tracing a line above the waist of his underwear before it hooks into the band. Everything about it is wrong, from the insinuating touch to his bare skin and the way she leans in so that her tidy hair feathers across his cheek. His heart races in his chest, sweat prickling, and every nerve in his body is screaming at him to fucking run.  

“Off,” she repeats quietly, more intimately, just for him to hear, and he’s definitely sporting a flush when she pulls his boxers down and bares him completely, when he looks up to see her staring at his crotch with unabashed interest. He forces himself to stand still, not to shift and squeeze his legs together against the exposure and the air gracing his thighs.

It’s things like this that make his skin crawl- power plays, humiliation for sport. Negan, Jadis, the Governor, the people from Terminus…all the same in the way that they never just go in for the goddamned kill. Rick hates that the most about them, he thinks- how they get off on it all, have their fun. He’s killed just like they do, sure. All that time he spent denying his nature, but he’s come to realize that beneath his soft flesh lies a wolf, hungry with bared teeth, coming out to hunt whenever his pack is threatened.

So yes, he'll kill, and he won't shed a tear over it. But he doesn’t like to play with his food.

He can’t help the way his face heats up when Jadis’s eyes rake his naked form, but he can keep himself from reacting. He doesn’t say a thing, doesn’t move an inch, doesn’t let his icy expression slip and show discomfort.

Jadis makes a gesture with one gloved hand and the men step forward again, one of them producing a sheath of rope, and Rick’s stomach turns as they bind his wrists tightly behind his back while the woman watches. When they’re done, they open the door of the box the rest of the way and shove him inside, the door sealing shut behind him before he can get his bearings.

Sweat drips down Rick’s neck, his chest, his belly, pooling shallowly at his navel. His hair is beginning to separate into wet, stringy curls that cling to his temples and forehead, and his lips are parched and dry when his tongue darts out to wet them. There’s no way to tell how much time has passed until it starts to get dark, but in summer like this, it’s not bound to be dark for ages. It feels like he’s been in this godforsaken box for hours, and in a strange way he’s almost glad to be rid of his clothes if for no other reason that no escape the sweltering heat clinging to him like a film.

He immediately recants that thought when he glances out of one of the holes in the door to see Jadis approaching. He prays in vain that she doesn’t come in, just leaves him be, but of course she doesn’t.

It’s a second of relief, because when she opens the door, fresh air gusts in and it’s not as ungodly hot as the air Rick’s been stewing in, so it’s almost refreshing. Then Jadis closes the door to a crack, just enough to let light stream in so they can see each other as she stands over him in a narrow black line.

“She never answered me,” Jadis says in her lazy way, like words are as precious a commodity as food and ammunition, subject to rationing. She looks at Rick expectantly, like she thinks her vague statement will click right away.

It doesn’t. Not right away.

“Who never answered you?” he asks, cocking his head up at her. She continues just looking at him like he’s an animal, something dumb and beneath her, wasting her precious time. He’s about to snap, get angry, because he’s locked in a fucking box and they took his fucking clothes and can she just get to the fucking point already, but that’s when it clicks.

The she in question is Michonne, and the question had been asked several days prior before the battle back in Alexandria.

I lay with him after. You care?

He can’t even hide his reaction when it hits him all at once- the question, the way his hands are bound uncomfortably behind his back, the way she’d stripped him of his clothes, tossed them aside. He tenses visibly, drawing further against the unforgiving metal of the wall like it will allow him to retreat from Jadis’s catlike gaze. Her mouth curls up at the corners, amused, pondering, and Rick feels cold sweat prickle at his hairline that has little to do with the afternoon heat.

She takes two quiet steps toward him, and again, his body reacts for him, self-perseveration and fear winning out over his pride. His knees draw closer to his chest, his legs more tightly together, bare feet planted on the floor. He’s covered the best he can without abandoning dignity altogether and wrapping his arms around himself, but it makes no difference.

He’s felt like this before- like he’s prey in a way that’s wholly alien to him, wrongfooted and confused while he’s being circled by the enemy. But before, it had been with Negan, and he’d been dressed, and while, yes, there had been that lingering tug of worry in the back of his mind that warned him careful, you don’t know what he’s capable of in those moments that the man had leered down at him with hunger in his dark, dancing eyes, Negan had never touched him- not like that. Not even when it was abundantly clear to Rick and whatever unfortunate soul was around that he dearly wanted to.

Jadis, though- Jadis had pushed the boundaries further. Asked Michonne for permission. Regarded him as if he wasn’t there, as if he didn’t have a say in the matter.

No, his mind supplies in a fit of panic, no, no no, that’s not going to happen because the second she gets near you you’ll do whatever you have to do to get away. You’ll bite her throat out if you have to.

Of course then he’ll be jumped by the rest of Jadis’s group. Killed. 

Jadis stands over him a moment longer, her face impassive. “Was planning to give you as a gift,” she says. “Prove our worth.”

Rick doesn’t have to ask who he would be gifted to. He knows. He already knows.

Jadis’ multicolored hair flutters around her narrow face as she drops to his level, looking him squarely in the eye with something like amusement when he juts his chin out defiantly. Two slim fingers trace the line of his jaw, and she makes a sound akin to a laugh when he jerks his head away from her touch, but it’s all wrong, rusted and odd like her laugh has seen years without proper use.

“Don’t think he’ll mind if I try first.”

There’s real fear in him at that, crushing the breath right out of his lungs like compacted scrap metal. It’s sick- all of it, every bit, and the thought that that’s what Negan wanted him for when Morales said that he was a prize-

You’re a prize, Rick. You, the king, and the widow. But you- he said he had big plans for you. Rick, the guy that fucked everything up.

He wishes that he could say he didn’t expect it, that it came as a shock.

Jadis stands again, crossing the small space and sliding the door open, calling out to her right hand- “Tamiel! Bring me my things.” She glances back at Rick, glinting eyes following the way his shoulders and chest flex in warning as he rears up. “And send Brion and Pax.”

Brion and Pax turn out to be two rather large men, strength visible even beneath their layers of draped black clothing. Jadis’s things turn out to be more rope and a small, clear bottle.

Rick’s breath catches in his chest, and for a long moment he can’t breathe, can’t think, and all he can see his Jadis’s fingers curled around the bottle like a promise of what’s to come.

“N-no-” he stammers out, squirming away, calm fleeing him in favor of crippling fear.

Jadis laughs again, the rust shaking off. She keeps laughing when he shoves to his feet, lunges at her with teeth bared without a thought to his life, snapping shut a foot from her throat as her lackeys tackle him to the ground. He goes down hard, two shoulders ramming into his chest and knocking the wind straight from his lungs as his head smacks the metal floor so hard his vision flickers away for a moment. All he can do is feel the pain and lack of air and the weight of the two men on him, flipping him onto his stomach while Jadis binds his hands more tightly, then his ankles.

This was a bad fucking plan, he thinks bleakly as the rope cuts into his flesh, as he struggles in vain against the restraints and the men holding him down.

The crack of a bottle lid being flipped open stills him, and for a second his heart is in his stomach ready to be vomited out onto his captors.

No, no, no this can’t be happening-

One of the men releases his hold on Rick’s shoulder to circle his waist, hike his hips up, and that’s when the panic sends him into a rabid, snarling frenzy of squirming and kicking desperately, anything to keep the woman behind him away. He knows, he knows that it won’t get him anywhere. He’s here alone, foolishly, and surrounded by people that will surely be more than happy to help Jadis with what she’s about to do.

So it’s inevitable that the two men pin him again, that Jadis sets her weight on his legs, that he’s left ass-up and seething with his cheek pressed against warm steel as Jadis’ hands pull his hips into place again.

He knows begging won’t get him anywhere, so he doesn’t bother. He bites down on his lip, keeps himself quiet as she explores, hands sliding up, up, up his thighs to rest on his bare backside like a prize hard-won. He tenses, every muscle in his body screaming fuck no, and she waits. Waits for the second he gives even a little, and then he’s being pulled open, and she’s making a sound that he can’t quite place- amusement? Approval?- and his face and chest burn with the exposure of it. Her finger, cool and wet, circles him there once, twice, before pressing in, practiced.

It doesn’t hurt- not really, not as slim and slick as her fingers are, and he almost wishes for a second that it did, because he knows exactly why she’s starting like this, and he doesn’t want any part of it. He wants to be spared that humiliation, just wants it over with as little participation by him as possible. But, he supposes as her finger slides in to the third knuckle, as far as it will go, that probably wouldn’t be as fun for her.

It does feel strange, and utterly wrong and twisted at the hands of this woman. He thinks of Michonne for a second, of how he wouldn’t have minded if it was her- but no, no he can’t let himself think of her here, now, with someone else holding him down and touching him so intimately. It’s degrading, the way he’s left open for the taking, the way he can feel his traitorous body responding to the gentle prods to a spot within him that sends fire licking up his spine.

It’s so quiet he can hear his own labored breaths, can hear the soft, slick noises of Jadis fingering him.

He tries to jerk away when her free hand slides around his waist, seeking the fruits of her labor and finding it when he’s unable to move out of her greedy grasp. He’s hard- so hard that he nearly makes a sound when she wraps a hand around him, her fingers tight at the base and then sliding up and down, root to tip, feeling him fill out and twitch whenever she rubs her finger over his prostate.

It’s a split second of relief when the finger disappears, and then he’s roughly pulled to lie on his back and he feels three pairs of eyes raking over him, watching with detached amusement as he squirms and tries to draw his knees up to cover himself.

Jadis’s mouth is curved into a sinister smirk as she sheds her long tunic and straddles him. His hands are pinned awkwardly beneath his back, his shoulders held down by one of the men, and it curves his spine, leaves him feeling like an exhibit for the three to gawk at and prod. He closes his eyes as she slides down onto him, wet and tight and clenching, and he thinks maybe I can pretend this isn’t happening, that I’m not being-

He receives a hard slap across the face as retribution and his eyes fly open to meet her dark, dancing ones, triumph gracing her face.

“Good,” she praises in a clipped whisper, and it sounds like she’s speaking to an obedient dog.

She rides him hard, and his eyes stay open, gazing at the ceiling, numbness overtaking him slowly, creeping through him like the spread of a plague. He still feels it all- feels her on him, using him like a toy, can still feel the foreign wetness high up between his thighs, the void where her finger was.

He’s been filthy since he left Alexandria, covered in sweat and grime and dirt and blood, his own and other people’s. His shirt, before he’d been forced to remove it, had been drenched. He can still feel tackiness of the blood caked over his left eye and down the side of his face from his brawl with that baby- Gracie's- father.

None of that bothers him, and none of that is why he feels so completely and utterly disgusting, like if he isn’t able to submerge his body in scalding water and scrub himself until he’s raw and red he’s going to be sick all over himself.

Jadis doesn’t spare a syllable for her climax, just a low grunt of satisfaction as she rolls her hips down onto him one last time. It’s a good thing, too- he’s going soft, his skin crawling with revulsion and shame.

She dismounts, grabs her tunic, but doesn’t bother redressing, simply slings it over her shoulder. Brion and Pax linger, one on his legs and one holding his shoulders, and for a second Rick is allowed the relief of thinking that it’s over, but then he sees the glint of a knife between Jadis's fingers. 

This- this he handles better. He knows how to deal with pain, can stomach it when she strides over and sets the blade to the outside of his right thigh. Even as she works, as he breathes through the burn and sting of it, his mind is more concerned with her being close to him that her cutting into his flesh. 

He doesn't look down to see what she did- that part he's not ready for, seeing how he's been branded like cattle. She wipes the dripping blade clean on his stomach, crimson smearing flushed, pale skin, and then she moves away again, but the men holding him don't. 

“May I?” The one at his feet asks, and Rick goes stock-still and frozen, terrified into immobility at the notion. Jadis eyes him, soft now, and still pinned to the floor, her gaze utterly impassive.

“You may,” she says airily with a dismissive wave of her hand, like it’s nothing to turn her back and allow this to happen. “Be quick,” she warns as she steps outside into the light, “he is coming.”

Rick knows who “he” is.

The door creaks heavily as it swings shut, and then there are hands on him, shoving him over.

This time, it hurts. The men aren’t gentle, aren’t kind, but to their credit they are quick, in and out, grunting out messy sounds as they take him, one at a time.

This time, he can’t be quiet because the pain isn't anything like the knife, isn't like any pain that's been forced on him before. He bites through his lip trying to hold back the pained sounds, grits his teeth when he feels the warm iron tang of blood fill his mouth, but it’s not enough. He sounds like a beaten animal, wounded and cowering, and he supposes that that’s what he is.

They leave him on the ground and he can hardly feel his legs, his knees surely bruised from being rocked roughly into the hard floor of the box. He draws them up to chis chest when the men take their leave, and he feels tears dripping wet and silent down his face. He’s not sure when that started, if had been going on since Jadis. He wants them to stop- wants to keep up some semblance of strength in case they come back, but his hands are still tightly bound and he can't bat them away. He blinks and blinks, trying to staunch the flow, but they’re resolute in their determination to damn him to weakness and pool beneath his cheek on the floor.

When Rick hears the boom of his voice, his heart stops. He can feel the split second of panic-induced stillness beneath his ribs, and in that moment he really, truly does wish that it wouldn’t start up again. His face is tight and eyes scratchy, but his tears have long since dried, so even though panic’s icy fingers grip him tight all he can do is pant out short, shallow breaths laden heavy with fear.

Footfalls sound outside his prison, and then Negan steps in, his lean, lilting form a hateful line dividing Rick’s vision.

For a second, he considers begging. Not even for it not to happen at all- just a reprieve. A breather. He feels so raw that he’s sure if the man was to so much as press a fingertip to him, he’d shiver into thousands of splintered pieces on the warm metal floor.

Negan closes the door behind himself, his face so hard and full of unfettered hate that Rick tastes bile because that is the look of a man who is not going to be gentle, be kind, take his sweet time. That’s the look of a man who is going to relish every mewl of pain he can wring out of his prey. Rick abandons any plans of pleading then, because if Negan looks like that and Rick asks for something, all it’s going to do it send him careening headfirst in the opposite direction.

How does wonder, as Negan approaches with heavy booted steps, if he’s going to be executed after, or if Negan will keep him around, keep him breathing for some other purpose that he doesn’t want to touch with his mind.

A shadow encompasses Rick’s bare frame and he truly hopes in that moment that Negan will just let him die.

Chapter Text

Negan’s sure that Rick is going to positively wet himself when he comes oh-so-casually rolling up to the gates of his tidy town, mercifully unscathed despite the shitstorm he and his merry band of mistfits unleashed on his home. He’s so, so sure that he’s just stomped all over Rick’s carefully laid plans so that they’re nothing but dust beneath his heels, except that-

“Wasn’t expecting you so soon,” Carl says casually from his place on the wall.He's so collected, like this had been accounted for all along, and it leaves Negan more than a little steamed. He’s not alone up there- Rick’s girl, the one with the samurai sword, is up there too. Two out of three of Rick’s favorite people are stashed up on this wall looking rather large and in charge and ready to greet him, which can only mean-

“Your daddy isn’t here,” Negan says, and the revelation comes paired with a disappointed scowl. Fucking rude, he thinks- can’t anyone keep a fucking appointment anymore?

Carl doesn’t answer- he doesn’t have to. Negan already knows. But where the fuck is Rick?

And while he’s at it, where the fuck is his backup? He’d radioed Simon’s outpost as soon as he’d left, assuming they’d fall in line easily as they always did. They’re nowhere to be seen, though, and all he has with him now is the short staff of soldiers he could spare from the Sanctuary.

He wanted to make it look like he wasn’t prepared for a battle if things came down to that, like he only came to talk. Only now he’s realizing that he isn’t actually prepared at all and it’s making him sweat under the collar. If he dies in this godforsaken war, he wants it to be at Rick’s own two hands, preferably wrapped around his throat. He’s not too keen on the thought of being sent to his grave by a pint-size rugrat with one eye and an attitude problem.

He’s about to snap at Arat to fucking call Simon’s outpost and tell them to hurry their lazy asses up and get down here, only Arat is already behind him looking uncharacteristically disturbed.

“Sir,” she whispers urgently, dark eyes flicking between him and the people on the wall, “Simon’s outpost just radioed back. Or- what was left radioed back.”

“What was left,” he repeats, not liking the taste of the words on his tongue.

“Yes sir. They’re not coming- can’t- only two are left. They’re actually calling for backup now. Distress signal. Something about the King and his army.”


“Rick’s not here,” Negan says, and he knows it sounds like he’s missed the point entirely. “Let’s leave,” is what he really means, so he says that next.

He leaves the kid and the samurai with a wave of his middle finger. Rick’s words come to him- not today, not tomorrow.

Well, maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow’s a brand new day, after all. Maybe Rick will be back and their shit will be sorted and they can finish this after all.

Halfway to the outpost, Negan’s radio crackles to life on his hip, and the voice that comes over the line is female and familiar.

“We have Rick,” she says, smug even through the static, and Negan just about leaps for joy. He tells the rest of his men to take care of the shit at the outpost and takes only a select few with him as he makes a beeline for the heaps.

Negan’s not sure how he feels about Jadis. She’s a complicated, odd woman, and she willingly lives in a literal fucking dump, but there’s something about her that’s intriguing. Maybe it’s because there’s an unpredictable, wily quality to her, that knowing look forever gracing her face like she can read his thoughts and they amuse her. And, like him, she shares an almost bemused attraction to one Rick Grimes.

He’s not a huge fan of paying her house calls on account of the smell, but he’s more than willing to brave the odor if it means seeing Rick.

Negan strolls right up, flanked by Arat and Regina and a handful of others. Jadis is waiting for him, looking utterly impassive and unruffled as always, but there’s a hint of satisfaction on her face. Because she knows she’s done a bang-up fucking job, Negan thinks.

“So you caught my boy?” Negan booms, and he can’t keep the giddy grin off his face at the thought. “Where is he? I want to fucking see him.”

Jadis cocks her head toward one of the metal boxes half-buried beneath the mounds of garbage surrounding them, and Negan’s relieved to see there are holes punched through the door so that Rick’s not in there suffocating in the midday Virginia heat. “There.” Her multicolored hair fans across her cheek as her head tilts. “Prepared him for you.”

Negan doesn’t have a singular clue what that means, but he likes to think that it means that Rick knows he’s coming and is sweating it out in his cell anticipating his arrival.

“Didn’t break him,” she adds as he’s walking toward the box. “Still in good condition. Was careful.”

So they must have roughed him up a bit- that’s to be expected. Rick Grimes, alpha wolf with his sharp white teeth, wouldn’t go down without a fight. He’s glad that they left him in good condition despite all that- it would be a damn shame to wreck that pretty face.

“You knock him around a little?” Negan chortles at the woman. He definitely likes that image- Jadis, straddling Rick’s trim hips to pin him down after they’d wrestled their way to the ground, slapping him around, laying him out with a few bruises. Maybe a kick or two to the ribs, so just get him wheezing- fuck, he may be hard as steel for Rick, but that certainly doesn’t change the fact that Rick unleashed hell on him yesterday. He deserves to suffer a little.

“Had him.” Jadis says simply. “He was good.”

That stops Negan in his tracks a few yards from Rick’s box, heart stuttering in his chest. No. “Had…him?” he repeats dumbly, wanting to be corrected.

“Never said we couldn’t,” she replies airily. He gives her a long, hard look and it’s then that he sees Rick’s grubby, beat-up cowboy boots gracing her feet.

We.” He feels nauseated, sweat gathering beneath the cuffs of his jacket as he tries to wrack his brain for an explanation for all of this that isn't how it sounds.

“Two others. Not badly damaged. Still in good condition.” She thinks he’s concerned about them damaging his property. “You will enjoy him.”

He can’t remember the last time he felt rage like this. Real, genuine, vengeful rage. Even what that pretty Latina girl did to Lucille doesn’t begin to compare.

There’s a tremor in his hands, red clouding his vision, and he has to count to ten, to brace one hand on the metal doors that Rick is behind to steady himself. Breathe. Fucking breathe. Don’t act just yet. You’ll get people killed. Get yourself killed.

He has to see for himself. Before anything else.

He grabs the handle to box and pulls one door open, light streaming into the pitch dark, and he steps inside, closing it behind him.

It takes his eyes a minute to adjust to the low light provided by the holes in the door, but after some blind searching he spots Rick in the far corner of the box, curled into himself.

He’s naked. Negan can’t see the detail of his face, his body, for shit, but that’s enough to make him seethe, make his fingers twitch toward his radio. Rick flinches, moving awkwardly away from him, and Negan sees the ropes binding his ankles, the way his arms are twisted behind his back.

The rage takes over. His radio is in his hand before he can think.


“Yes, sir?”

“Kill them all. Now.”

Arat, loyal soldier that she is, doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t question him. She knows that tone, had likely been anticipating that they weren’t going to leave quietly since Jadis had spoken about having Rick. She knows him better than that.

The sounds of automatic gunfire sound hollowly outside the walls, and Negan relishes every shout of panic and pain. The Scavengers, for all their sense of superiority and detachment, don’t often carry firearms. Jadis does, but he knows that Arat was smart enough to take her out first.

Fucking Jadis.

Negan waits until it falls quiet and still outside, until Arat’s voice on the radio announces that “It’s done, sir.”

He crouches in front of Rick, giving him space because even in the dark he can tell that the man is struggling to stay composed and squirm away from him, and for once he’s not going to push any boundaries.

“Rick,” he says quietly, “what did they do?”

“Why?” Rick counters, looking cagey and desperate. It’s a fair question. He doesn’t press, doesn’t answer, and it occurs to him that he doesn’t know what to do next. Rick, the enemy, is bound and helpless before him, and he knows that he could easily throw him into his truck and drive straight to Alexandria to demand a surrender. His victory is on its knees before him waiting to be claimed and conquered, neatly packaged with little effort from himself. He could end things right now, crush the last of the rebellion’s hope beneath his heel.

But he doesn’t want to. Not like this, with Rick violated and shaking and looking at him like he was the one to strip him and use him.

“Can you walk?” Negan asks, looking him over carefully. Rick simply stares back at him, distrust plain on his face.

“Here,” Negan sighs, unzipping his jacket, “I don’t know where the fuck your clothes are-” his fingers stutter halfway down when he sees the naked fear in Rick’s eyes, the way his legs draw closer to his chest, knees knocking together. “Hey, hey. Shit, Rick, I’m not fucking- look, I’m just trying to give you something to wear, alright? You wanna walk out there butt-fucking-naked, be my guest.”

Rick watches him with uncertainty as he sheds his jacket and offers it up. Rick’s eyes narrow, and it takes Negan a second. “Oh, shit. Right. Here, I’ve got a knife, I can cut those off.”

It’s not lost on him how Rick’s whole body visibly tenses when Negan shifts behind him. The muscles of his back are drawn so tight that it looks painful. He makes quick work of the ropes tying his wrists, then the ones at his ankles, and Rick snatches up the jacket, pulling it on and zipping all the way up.

Too late, Negan realizes they have an assload of dead people outside that won’t be needing their clothes anytime soon, so he radios Arat again, has her bring him in a pair of pants. He notices that Rick, for all his discomfort, seems resigned to Negan invading his privacy and doesn’t bother to even ask him to look away as he pulls them on.

He averts his eyes anyway. Some things he doesn’t need to be asked.

Rick doesn’t speak, keeps a wide berth as he and Negan step out to a gory scene strewn amid the trash, blood seeping from ragged bullet wounds and into the dust and dirt. Rick doesn’t flinch, doesn’t say a thing as Negan calls out to his soldiers that they’re turning tail and heading back to the Sanctuary.

“With me, Rick,” Negan tells him, and he walks along in front like he’s a martyr about to be burnt at the stake.

The ride back is quiet, subdued. Negan’s just thinking that it’s going to be an awkward drive when Rick’s voice shatters the silence.

“How’d you get out?”

Of course that would be his top concern. Negan finds him assaulted and locked in a box, and his focus is still on his people, first and foremost. “We blew those undead fucks to hell and back. It’s not important to you how we did it. But we did. That was real cute, trapping us inside like that. Nearly got me, too, you know that? But you didn’t.” Negan singsongs the end a little, trying to break the tension.

“Should have just killed me back there,” Rick croaks, and it almost sounds like he’d have preferred it.

“I’m not gonna kill you, Rick,” he replies, and Rick’s already sullen face tightens.

“Why didn’t you just…just do it back there, then?” he whispers, eyes on his feet, which are still bare. Shit, Negan thinks- should have grabbed his boots off that bitch’s corpse.

“Do what, Rick? I just told you I’m not gonna kill you.”

“I know,” Rick says tightly. “She told me. Morales- one of your men told me. That I’m…a prize.”

“You are,” Negan hums in agreement.

“So what?” Rick snaps. “Did you just…do you want me on a fucking bed or something? I was already tied up, you should have just done it there. If you think just because she- because they had a turn first that I’m not gonna fight you-”

It hits Negan then what Rick thinks his punishment is, and it’s like a knife twisting in his gut.

“I’m not going to fucking- you think I’m gonna fucking rape you?” he bark, cutting his eyes at the man beside him in time to see the way it makes Rick flinch. He’s immediately cowed by guilt, the anger melting away into something softer. “Rick,” he says, trying to get a grip, “that’s not why I wanted you alive. Why the fuck would you think-?”

But of course he knows exactly why. He can see it so clearly laid out before him, the way he would lean in close when he came to call on Alexandria, invading Rick’s space, licking his lips and eyeing him up slavishly. The sultry whisper in his ear that first time after he’d felt Rick standing in front of his people, having wrung a humiliated thank you from the man after plundering his home. I just slid my dick down your throat, and you thanked me for it. Hadn’t that, if he was being completely honest with himself, been a part of the terror he’d allowed to hang over Rick’s head? The hungry stares and the raw want that he never bothered to hide, loving how Rick fell silent beneath him when it happened?

He’s sick with himself just thinking of it now.

“That’s not what I’m planning for you, Rick.” Because it’s not. It never was. He wants- god, how he wants, but he would never. Not without a yes.

“Then what?” Rick asks.

Negan almost laughs, because he doesn’t even know the goddamned answer. He’s like a dog chasing his tail, running in circles until he gets what he wants and not even knowing what to do with it once it’s between his teeth.

He decides honesty is the best policy. Isn’t that what they taught in school?

“I don’t fucking know.”

They’re quiet for a long time after that, all the way to the Sanctuary. He can practically hear the gears in Rick’s head turning as he tries to figure a way out of this, tries to weigh risk versus reward. He’s half-surprised to not see steam coming from his ears beneath his sweat-sodden curls.

“This way, Rick.” He doesn’t touch- just opens the passenger door, ushers him out with a widespread arm toward the front door, leads him up the stairs while barking at Arat to get into contact with Simon and the others to figure out what the hell is going on with the outposts.

He knows that Rick probably knows and is just keeping mum about it, but he doesn’t have the patience or time to wait for him to feel like talking and is sure as hell not going to try forcing anything right now.

They get all the way up to Rick’s room before it occurs to him that it’s probably unwise to be showing the enemy where he lays his head at night, and by that point it’s too late. Rick’s probably been counting steps, the flights of stairs and every turn, marking it down in his brain for a just-in-case scenario where he leaves the Sanctuary alive. Negan closes the door behind them and turns to see Rick’s eyes flicking anxiously between him and the plush king-size bed up against the far wall.

Negan frowns and shucks his gloves off, tossing them onto the gray bedspread and setting Lucille down lovingly on the couch to his right. “You can stop lookin’ at me like I’m about to jump you as soon as you fucking turn your back. I already told you that’s not what I’m doing with you.” Rick looks skeptical even through his shakiness, and it pisses him off a little. “For the fucking record, I don’t do that shit to anyone. That’s fucking inhuman. There’s no way to build a society, a civilization, if we act like goddamned animals.”

“I know about your…your wives,” Rick spits out, hatred marring his pretty face. “About why some of them are here. How you got them to marry you.”

Negan grits his jaw, eyes flashing dangerously, and tells him exactly what he told the priest when they were holed up in that trailer together. “Every one of those women made their choice about being with me.”

Rick shakes his head, defiant and bold even when he’s neck-deep in enemy territory. “A choice between that and people you love dyin’ isn’t much of a fucking choice.”

“So you’re saying you’d take me up on the offer if it came down to it?” Negan asks with a lewd grin, dodging the accusation and the nagging hint of guilt it brings to the surface. He doesn’t know why he says it- he wouldn’t, not right now when Rick looks so fucking hurt. That’s just who he is- any prod at a soft spot, anything to make him feel anything but powerful is met with claws.

Rick’s face falls, and he shrinks back into himself for a moment before squaring up his shoulders. He fills out Negan’s jacket nicely, and it’s more than a little distracting and it makes Negan feel more than a little skeevy for looking. “Is that why I’m here?”

Negan still doesn’t know the answer to that.

“I don’t fucking know yet.” He sits on the edge of the bed, sinking into the mattress a little, just looking at the man across the room holding himself tightly together like his stitching has come unraveled. That look on his face, the fear and worry and reservation, makes Negan ache.

“There’s a shower through that door,” he says gently, pointing. “Towels and shit. If you wanna…” wash them off. “I can get you some new clothes. I want my jacket back. It looks better on me.” A lie.

He stays on the bed listening to the sound of water running the whole time Rick is in the shower wondering what the fuck he’s supposed to do next. He has what he’s been wanting: Rick Grimes vulnerable and trapped in the palm of his hand, waiting to be crushed. He could easily execute him- do it here in front of his people and deliver his body over to the rebels as a symbol- look what I can do to your precious leader. He’s not shit and neither are you.

Except he doesn’t really want to execute Rick. He did, at one point. After the initial battle in Alexandria went sideways and he ended up retreating, he wanted blood, wanted Rick’s head, along with the Widow’s and the King’s, on a stake outside the Sanctuary’s gates as a warning to not fuck with him.

That’s faded now- has been fading since before today, though fuck knows he wasn’t about to let the façade drop. All at once, he doesn’t want Rick- blue eyed, soft, strong Rick- to be dead at his hands or anyone else’s.

Rick steps out of the bathroom, hair dripping in his face, towel clutched tight around his waist, chest bare and smooth and clean, and Negan has to remind himself not to stare. Has to remind himself again when Rick shuffles into the clothes he hands over, dark pants and a white shirt that clings to muscle in a way that Negan would normally comment on. His back is turned, eyes on the floor, and he’s doing his damnedest to not picture what he looks like all squeaky-clean with soft, heat-flushed skin.

“Do you have a…a knife?” Negan whirls around at that because of the sheer fucking audacity of Rick asking him for a goddamned knife like he’s some kind of idiot handing out free knives to people who threaten to kill him.

He stops short on that thought, mind sticking for a second because Rick’s just in the t-shirt and boxers he’d lent him and the man’s bare thighs invite the image of Negan slotted between them.

And then he sees it- a deep slice of red across the side of one, and when he cocks his head he can see a letter carved into the flesh there- A.

Negan’s stomach turns over, guilt flaring up again because he knows exactly why that letter is there, marking Rick’s skin like a scarlet letter.

He’d discussed strategy with Jadis, told her the plan, the end result: “Subjugation, back to status-fucking-quo with pickups from these places, only this time you’ll be getting a nice cut of the cake. Only three need to die- Rick the prick, the Widow, and the King. A, B, and C. Easy as that.”

“A knife,” he manages, and Rick nods, fingers twitching against the wound on his thigh. The bandage that had been on his hand is gone, Negan notices- good thing, too. It had been filthy. “Why?”

“To get rid of this.” He taps the A, unflinchingly keeping Negan’s gaze, holding it at eye level.

Negan gets it. He doesn’t want to be branded. But- “I really can’t trust you with a fucking knife, Rick. You understand. War and all.”

“You do it, then,” he says evenly. “I want it off.”

“You’re shitting me. You want me- me- to come hack away at your leg with a knife?”

Rick shrugs, slumping onto the couch. “If you’re gonna kill me, there’s not much I can do about it. If you wanted to kill me right now, you could. Could have killed me back there. You didn’t.”

It’s stupid, insane, that something like that from Rick sounds like the beginning of trust to Negan’s ears.

“Fucking fine. You’re gonna scar up either way though, asshole. All this is gonna do is make it worse.”

“Don’t care,” Rick whispers. “I just want it to be on my terms. Don’t want her markin’ me.”

That’s fair.

Negan pulls a knife from his belt, radios down to Doc Carson that he’s gonna need some gauze and antiseptic.

Rick jerks back hard when Negan gets close to him, before he’s even set the blade to skin, and he frowns. “Gonna be hard to get that shit off you when I can’t touch you, Rick.” It comes out gentle, and it makes the wariness in Rick’s eyes recede, just a little.

He touches the man as little as possible at first, the hand that’s not working the knife tucked beneath his own thigh until he realizes he’s making a goddamned mess of Rick’s leg and not getting much of anywhere.

“Rick.” Rick doesn’t look at him, his hands clenched in his lap. “Rick, I need to touch you. Just to keep steady and not fuck this up. Alright?”

Rick squirms in his seat but ekes out a reluctant-sounding “fine” that Negan only obeys because he knows that Rick will be grateful later when he doesn’t have that woman’s mark on him every time he takes his clothes off.

It’s one hand on Rick’s thigh, the tendons pulled almost painfully tight because Negan doesn’t want to slip even a fraction of an inch and make Rick think he’s taking advantage. He tries not to think about how close he is to Rick’s crotch, how thin the material is beneath his fingers.

He’s so fucking quiet while Negan cuts him, doesn’t make a sound beside short, even breaths through his nose even though it’s got to hurt like hell- Negan’s cutting away the skin around the A until it’s just a formless mark, open and bloody and staining his hands and the hem of Rick’s underwear.

Carson’s steps falter a little when he sees Rick, bloody and shaken, sitting on Negan’s couch, and that doesn’t go unnoticed. They know each other- not surprising, since Negan now knows about Alexandria’s friendship-of-sorts with the Hilltop.

While he’s dressing Rick’s thigh, he catches sight of Rick’s right hand, free of its usual bandage.

“Jesus, that healing up alright?” Negan asks curiously, because it looks like he was stabbed clean through. Rick flexes his fingers, rubbing a thumb over the still-healing wound.

“I’ve had worse.”

Negan chuckles. “I’ll fucking bet.” He didn’t miss the scar on Rick’s left shoulder that also looked to be from a knife, or the faded white one on his back near the ribs that told the tale of Rick taking a bullet. “You want me to wrap that shit up, too? Can’t have you losin’ a hand.”

Rick breathes what sounds like a hoarse laugh, and it damn near takes Negan’s breath away. “Seem to recall you tellin’ me you were gonna take both my hands.”

“Well I didn’t, did I?” He reaches out, palm up and inviting Rick to place his hand in his. He’s shocked when he does, but says nothing of it, just begins cleaning the wound with gentle fingers, breathless at the way Rick’s fingers feel beneath his own.

“Because you didn’t get the chance,” Rick points out. And then, more somber, more damning- “You were going to- to kill-”

He can’t even say it, and Negan doesn’t want to think it because it well and truly shames him. He doesn’t want to be that person, a fucking child killer. He used to teach kids Carl’s age baseball, used to have them over on weekends to play ping-pong in his garage. In another life, Carl could have been one of those kids and Rick could have been one of the parents that were constantly on his ass about cursing in front of the students. In another life he wouldn’t have threatened to crack the kid’s skull like an egg at the end of a goddamned baseball bat.

“I know,” he murmurs, wrapping Rick’s hand with careful fingers. “I didn’t want to.” He hopes that Rick knows he truly means that.

“Then why?

He doesn’t want to get into the why, doesn’t want to think about the possibility that that shit could happen again with Rick in Carl’s place.

“Good as fucking new,” he says instead as he ties off the gauze. He doesn’t want to let go of Rick’s hand. It’s warm and strong between his own, but then Rick’s pulling away and the warmth is gone. He’s drawing back into himself again, looking weary and vulnerable, and something occurs to Negan.

“Rick, are you- do you need to see a doctor? I mean, did they…?”

“I’m fine,” Rick snaps, not meeting his eyes.

“Rick, I’m trying to fucking help here. If you need- I mean, if you need fucking stitches or something, I don’t know-”

“I’m fine,” Rick repeats, and Negan catches the flush of pink that crawls over his face. He doesn’t want to talk about it- not to Negan, anyway. He can understand that. He lets it go.

“I thought you- you had her do that to me,” Rick confesses hoarsely, his voice raw as an exposed nerve. “I thought you were going to-”

“I’m not,” Negan says quickly, eager to dispel Rick’s fears. “I didn’t tell her to- would never fucking-” He swallows and swallows. “I’m fucking sorry, Rick.”

That makes Rick startle, his plush pink mouth falling open in surprise. “Why?

Because I teamed up with the wrong fucking people. With fucking sickos that raped you. Because I marked you for the taking with her without even realizing it. Because I don’t want to kill you anymore.

“I’m not a fucking monster, Rick,” he says quietly. “I’m sorry that they- I’m sorry about what they fucking did to you.”

It’s not okay. Nothing he can say will make it okay, will make Rick stop twitching away from him whenever he shifts on the couch, will take away that layer of hurt hovering around him like a thick, gloomy cloud.

“I want this war to be fucking over.”

“So end it,” Rick replies. “I’ve said my peace. You know my terms.” He’s hardly in a position to be negotiating, but Negan supposes that it’s not his own skin he’s trying to save.

“How about some new terms,” Negan suggests. “Your old ones don’t do a lot for me.”

A scoff rises from Rick’s throat, a scathing glare breaching his face. “You think just because of today I don’t want you dead for what you’ve done?”

“No,” Negan reasons, “but it’s a fucking start, right?”


“C’mon, Rick. You’re sitting here with me, patched up and taken care of. The people that touched you- people that were on my fucking side, mind you, are rotting in their goddamned landfill. That’s got to show you something, right?”

Rick doesn’t say anything, but the silence doesn’t feel volatile. It feels like an invitation- keep talking.

So Negan does.

“Let me prove it to you,” he says. “Let me show you that I can make it worth your while if we end this right now, no bloodshed.”

How Rick has him pleading for a chance at life in his own room, his soldiers walking the walls around them, he’ll never know.

“Okay,” Rick murmurs, his eyes lifting to trap Negan’s own in his fierce gaze. “Prove it to me.”

The process is slow, and Rick spends the night at the Sanctuary after having fallen asleep on Negan's couch, exhausted from both trauma and their long discussion. Negan wants badly to gather the sleeping man into his arms, move him to the bed where he'll wake and be comfortable come morning, but he doesn't dare touch, doesn't want to wake him. 

What he really wants is to be in that bed with Rick, holding him close and keeping everyone else away, but that's not for him to decide.

They're getting somewhere, and Negan can hardly believe it. 

As a show of trust, he delivers Rick home safe and sound. He says over and over again that he trusts Rick to follow through on what they'd agreed to, trusts him not to turn around and use Negan's show of good faith against him. 

Rick stands at the gate, shoulders squared, and he offers Negan his hand to shake even though his fingers tremble. 

"I'm going to tell them what we're doing. This war is over."

He says it with conviction and relief, and Negan believes him. He believes in Rick Grimes. 

Two quiet days later, he delivers a box to Rick's doorstep. The heaps had smelled even worse than usual filled with rotting corpses alongside the garbage, but he feels pretty strongly that it was worth it to retrieve a fraction of what had been stolen from Rick that day. He leaves a short note, trusts that Rick will know exactly who it's from. 

What's a cowboy without his boots?