Rick moved to the edge of the stairs, and stared down at the darkness. He hated how that hollow feeling gripped at his insides every time. There was a plague locked away in that darkness, a monster, and it was so because he had wanted it to remain living. Others naturally disagreed, and such knowledge only increased the stress.
He made the first step and began his descent. The hollow feeling increased as the darkness swallowed him up. Michonne had always told him that others could take on the task of visiting the monster. There were others like Aaron or Siddiq who would bring him food and attend to his other needs, but this type of visitation was something Rick would have upon his shoulders only.
Once he made it down, he reached for the chair near the wall and dragged it to the same spot he always had before the bars of the cell. He turned to face him, and froze midway before sitting.
Sitting on the cot in the cell, was not the typical sight of the monster who usually lounged or sat on the edge. The monster was nowhere to be seen. Instead there was a child. A boy who didn’t look more than six years old was sitting in the spot where Negan normally sat, facing his visitor dead on.
Rick stared and the boy stared back, wide eyed with his dark brown eyes. The kid’s hair was as black as night and fell over those eyes in a messy yet cute manner. He was small and just a little pale. But the oddest thing aside from finding an unknown kid sitting in the cell, was seeing said kid in Negan’s clothes. The prison shirt and pants were clearly overlarge and hid his arms and legs.
The boy said nothing as he slowly wrapped his arms around himself and started to tremble. The action inspired Rick to find his voice at last.
“Who are you?”
His mind screamed at him to ask a million other questions with the main one being where was Negan, but he didn’t expect a child to know. The boy moved back on the cot until his back hit the wall. From there he curled in on himself and gazed at Rick with a look of caution.
Rick was starting to feel afraid.
“Who are you?” he asked again. The boy said nothing. “Look, I’m not gonna hurt you. I just…I’d like to know what you’re doing in there. Let’s start with that.”
The boy just stared at him a little longer before dropping his eyes and giving the smallest, barely noticeable shrug.
“You don’t know?” Rick concluded.
He shook his head to confirm it.
Rick resisted the need to sigh. Right now he was barely containing the panic he was feeling over Negan’s escape.
“Did you, see a person in here? A man?”
Again he shook his head, leaving Rick baffled. So far the dots weren’t connecting at all, but he believed he might get somewhere if he could just get a name.
“Alright.” He forced himself to produce a friendly smile despite the worrying circumstances. “It’s okay. You seem just as confused as I am.”
The kid blinked and slowly began to nod.
“That’s okay. We’ll figure this out together. All I want to do is help you. And I think you can help me, by telling me your name.”
The kid took interest in watching his squirming feet before he finally spoke.
“Negan,” he muttered softly.
Rick blinked, unsure if he’d heard what he thought he had.
“What did you say?”
The boy raised his head and looked him straight in the eyes.
The boy leaves the cell
To say that Rick was confused, was an understatement.
“Wha, what do you mean you’re Negan?”
The boy curled into himself then and refused to meet his eyes. Rick took a moment to take him in. If anything he had some similar features to Negan, and he was sure if he saw him stand next to the man, he might assume him to be the bastard’s son. He hadn’t heard mention of it from the Saviors, so all he could assume was that they were covering up the secret or the kid had simply lived among them and adopted to the status quo by calling himself Negan as all Saviors did.
It still didn’t explain how he ended up in jail, or what happened to the monster.
“Okay,” Rick started slowly. “I’m Rick.”
The boy peeked at him with a little frown, but it was brief.
“Let’s get you out of there. It must be scary being in there, right?”
He gave a small nod.
Rick stood and unlocked the door. The boy cringed as it swung open. So as not to frighten him even more, Rick crouched down and held out his hand. He put the friendly smile back in place. The boy studied him for a moment, before slowly getting to his feet. Rick couldn’t help looking at the overlarge clothing again. He still couldn’t understand what the boy was doing in them. He supposed it was some mind game from the monster, but what was the point?
The boy came to a stop in front of him with his arms wrapped around himself. Rick dropped the hand.
“Okay. We’re going to figure this out okay?”
“You’re safe. You can trust me.”
Rick rose to his feet and offered the hand again. The boy stared at it apprehensively for a minute, then carefully raised his little fingers to grab it. After that, Rick started his ascension out of the basement.
The boy looked back, even after Rick took him outside. Confusion was clearly etched on his face, yet at the same time there was relief. Something made him feel as if he’d been down in that place a long time and he couldn’t understand how when it felt like he’d just woken up there.
He looked up at Rick. Something kept gnawing at his mind that he knew the man. Something was telling him he should be mad at him and untrusting, but he couldn’t figure out why. Despite those feelings, something else was telling him Rick was all he might have for protection. For that reason alone, he gripped his hand tighter.
There were people wandering about. Several stopped to watch Rick moving along with a child latched to his hand. The boy attempted to move closer to Rick and stumbled.
“It’s alright. These are my people. They won’t hurt you. They’re just curious.”
He didn’t buy it. There was a strange feeling of having dealt with these people before, yet he could see no familiar faces.
“Where am I?” he finally decided to ask.
Rick looked down and smiled.
The word sent a jolt through the boy and he didn’t know why. He gazed around at the layout of houses and felt certain he’d been here before, sometime ago under different circumstances.
“Yep,” said Rick.
But another community with another name was trying to come through the murkiness of his mind. A community with a name that started with an “S”.
Rick seeks help
Rick held in his concern as he made it to his house. Michonne was on the porch rocking Judith in her arms. He noticed the quirk of her brow as her eyes immediately fell on the boy, and he wondered how this was going to go.
The boy moved in close as his eyes locked onto hers.
“It’s alright. She’s a friend,” he assured him.
He came to a stop before the porch and took a minute to figure out how to explain, particularly since he had no explanation.
“I found him.”
“Out there?” she cried, looking stricken. “Was he alone? And why is he wearing those clothes?”
The boy peeked around Rick and took an interest in the woman. He didn’t know what to make of her, but he immediately got the impression that she was someone pretty tough. Aside from that, he had the oddest feeling he’d somehow seen her before.
“Well,” Rick began slowly as he looked down at him. “I found him, in Negan’s cell.”
The alarm was instant on her face. Her eyes scanned over him, searching for any sign of injury he might have endured from the monster. She looked back at Rick, not understanding.
“The thing is, he was in the cell, and Negan wasn’t.”
The boy frowned as Michonne observed him again, and he ducked behind Rick.
“What? Negan escaped?”
“Yes. Somehow he did. And somehow this kid wound up in it, wearing his clothes.” He leaned in close to her ear and lowered his voice before he said any more. “He calls himself Negan. I don’t know if he was with the Saviors, or what.”
Michonne was totally baffled.
“That's what I'm still trying to figure out,” Rick replied as he looked at the boy who ducked behind him again. “He's shy and just as confused by all this as I am. Or maybe he's just too scared to talk.”
Michonne shut her eyes a moment to think.
“First thing’s first Rick, we have to arrange a search party.”
“I agree. I just needed to settle the kid down somewhere before I can arrange it. Will you watch him? I know you’re busy with Judith, but, just until I figure out where he came from.”
“It’s okay. I’ll be happy to.”
Michonne extended to the boy, but he didn’t take it. Instead he held on tighter to Rick’s hand. Sensing this, the man crouched down to his level and put on a confident, friendly smile.
“It’s okay. You can trust her alright? I know we just met, but I promise I wouldn’t steer you wrong.”
The boy studied Rick’s eyes long and hard before raising them up to Michonne. She presented a warm smile, and when she did he could see the softness underneath her supposed tough exterior. It was quite motherly, and it made him wonder about his own mother. Nothing came to mind so he didn’t linger on it.
Still, he was quite nervous to leave Rick’s side already even though he still wasn’t trusting of the man. He lowered his head and curled in on himself on the spot.
“Okay,” he said quietly.
He didn’t meet her eyes as he curled his little fingers around hers. He simply allowed her to bring him up onto the porch.
“I’ll be back soon to check on you,” Rick promised. “You’ll be alright, okay?”
The boy nodded. Rick wondered how long it would take to figure out who the child really was, but at the moment, the more pressing matter was tracking down Negan before he got out of reach.
As he walked away, Negan watched him go with a sudden air of fear. At the same time, he almost felt glad to be rid of him for the moment.
“So, your name’s Negan?” Michonne asked with much uncertainty in her tone.
The boy looked up and nodded, then he took notice of Judith. He had been much bigger than her once, he was sure of it. He looked back at the departing leader and frowned.
“Rick,” he muttered as he got the sense that he knew what he was all about, yet he didn’t know him at all.
Michonne tries to learn more
The boy sat at the table with his head bowed down, studying his twiddling fingers. He thought it had been okay to agree to stay with Michonne, but now it felt different. Now he felt very much afraid to be there or even look at her.
He sensed her sitting down across from him and barely looked up.
“Are you okay?” she asked gently.
He lied by nodding.
Michonne wasn’t fooled.
“Are you hungry? I can fix you something. Anything you’d like.”
At that the boy met her eyes, looking hopeful.
“Ice-cream?” he asked softly.
Michonne smiled sadly at him and dropped her eyes.
“Ok, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. We’re fresh out of ice-cream.”
The boy dropped his eyes, disappointed. He didn’t feel surprised to hear this, but he had the idea that he was able to have some before. Maybe it was something else; some other treat that started with a ‘g’.
“Would a bowl of fruit be alright?”
He considered this, then nodded. Michonne got to her feet and moved into the kitchen to fufill the request. As she did so, his eyes traveled into the living room where the child she’d held, the one Rick had called Judith, sat playing with blocks on the floor. He was really certain he’d held her once and that when he had, he was talking to someone, some kid. But something about the idea bothered him terribly, so he stopped thinking on it.
“Here you go.”
Michonne dropped a bowl of chopped apples, peaches, and bananas before him. He stared at it as he took the spoon, but didn’t eat.
“Rick will be back soon, and then-”
“What’s gonna…happen to me?” He was surprised by his own bravery to say so much to her, but it was a thought that had suddenly surfaced to his mind. Would he have to go back to that awful cell?
“Well, first we’d like to know where you come from. Where are your parents? Do you know?”
The boy shook his head. Michonne resisted the urge to sigh.
“I don’t…have parents,” he said quietly.
“Where’d you come from?” He shrugged. Michonne considered the fact that he claimed himself to be Negan. “Do you come from the Sanctuary?”
At that he visibly jolted. His eyes widened as he met hers, then they became clueless. He gave a shrug in the end.
Sanctuary was familiar, very familiar, but he really didn’t know.
“Ok,” she decided. “Don’t worry. We’ll give you a nice safe and warm place to stay. In the meantime, go ahead and eat up.”
It took a moment before he felt comfortable digging into the sweet meal. Once he did, he started feeling a little better. Michonne smiled then stood and went to the window, hoping for Rick’s return.
Sometime later the boy felt overwhelmed enough to take a nap on the couch. Michonne tossed him looks of concern every now and then. This curious boy who had no idea why he ended up in such a confusing situation. As important as it was to figure that much out, she knew it was more important to find Negan.
When Rick returned, she greeted him with a grateful hug.
“You find anything?” she asked.
The look of disappointment was answer enough.
“How about you? Did you get any information out of him?”
“Not much.” She looked at the couch where the small child was still sleeping peacefully. She smiled at how cute he appeared with the hair falling over his eyes and his little mouth parted just slightly. “He doesn’t have any parents, but he can’t tell me where he came from. I mentioned the Sanctuary, and he tensed up. It’s possible it was his home.”
Rick was observing the kid closely. His mind working to consider the idea.
“Maybe,” he decided. “It would make sense if he insists he’s Negan. But if he does come from the Sanctuary, we’ll have to decide if we should send him back there or not.”
“Do you really think that’s a good idea?” she questioned.
“The Sanctuary’s working with us now, and if he’s a kid from their community, it’s only right to send him home.”