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you & i (forever)

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“Rick… Rick… Rick.”

As the sharp sound of his name came into focus, he groaned, turning over in the bed. The damage was done though; he was awake, and his doze subsided as he heard Michonne say, “Honey, you need to wake up.”

He turned again, groggy and reluctant and with the sheet over his shoulder, to see her standing there fully dressed, an air of impatience fighting a losing battle with her irrepressible urge to smile at the sight of him. His disheveled curls were splayed across his pillow, fluffed up from a night of sleep – sleep and not sleep. The drowsy grin on his face made it hard to resist when he gestured for her to return to him. A sleepy “c’mere,” escaped his lips and she went, of course, because it was impossible not to. He looked too serene, too relaxed, for her not to want a piece of it.

His eyes closed again, tiredness drawing him back in. He momentarily disappeared into soon-to-be forgotten dreams and the next thing he knew, her weight was pressing on his chest. A grunt escaped him, his eyes flashing open to see Michonne sat on top of him with a self-satisfied smile at the ready.

“Don’t you go back to sleep.”

Rick’s hand moved up her back affectionately. It was casual, casual as the way she leaned to kiss his cheek, her upper half lying across him, then whispered, “Gotta get up.” She kissed his cheek again and brushed a gentle hand through his curls.

“Hold on.” He pulled her down onto him for something more, something deeper, flashbacks of yesterday dancing through both their minds. Tempting, too tempting a memory.

Michonne moaned into the kiss, fighting with herself to pull away.

“Hey, we really gotta go.” She straightened up and his body arched forward to follow her, to chase her lips. Rick sat upright in their bed at last, kissing her quickly one last time before stretching.

“I’m up,” he conceded, his voice strained on a half-yawn.

*

Maggie was holding court on a grassy patch of land inside Alexandria’s gates, standing on the raised platform that had become a stage for moments such as this. It was Maggie alone who spoke to the three colonies that had come to unite for each other, to defend and protect each other. Her head held high and voice raised, she was commanding with convincing conviction.

“We’ve seen this before. We know how to do it,” she assured them, a resolute hardness to her voice that echoed Rick’s many speeches of old. “Tara ‘n’ Glenn have done recon. We know what to expect. We got a crowd of about a hundred walkers heading for us, lookin’ like some group just been wiped out.

“Glenn says most of ‘em are not long turned, and carrying weapons. Could be we pick up some ammo once we’ve taken out the threat. But priority is taking out the herd.

“Me, Rosita, Jesus and Enid are gonna lure the walkers to the two pens on either side of the fence, here,” she pointed in two different directions, the eyes of the crowd following her hand gestures. “Once they’re in, it’ll be easier to take ‘em from the outside. That’s where we’ll need most of you. Sasha and Abraham are gonna be up in the two watch points to take out anythin’ unexpected.

“We wanna avoid a ruckus, so unless things start goin’ south, we’re taking ‘em out the old fashioned way. Anyone gets hurt, should be enough of us to cover. Closest person takes ‘em to the gate where Morgan and Olivia’ll be waiting, ready to bring ‘em over to Denise and Harlan in the infirmary.”

Maggie paused, scanning the crowd and bracing for resistance. The only movement was a few compliant nods.

Once she stepped down and it was clear she’d finished, people started breaking away. It was a familiar routine now. The factions that naturally formed for defensive strategies, supply runs and watch duties had settled into their roles, deftly adapting to each new scenario as though it was no less mundane than laundry and the rest of their domestic chores.

The crowd split, with close to half of them crowding around Rick and Michonne as the same numbers circled Ezekiel and Shiva.

“You heard Maggie. We’ll head to the left pen, cover it while King Ezekiel leads the other side,” Rick explained to his own contingent, looking around before settling his eye-line on Michonne. “Anybody got questions?”

There was silence.

They took this as their cue to disband, with most heading in the direction of the gate to prepare the pen for their plan. A few were stopping off at the armory to grab extra weapons.

Rick turned to Michonne. “You up for this?”

Her hand moved to touch the hilt of the katana that hung on her back. “Oh yeah.”

He studied her, cocking his head, soaking up her hypnotizing glow of complete self-assurance. There was something infectious about the certainty in her eyes, the belief in him that poured out of her and into every word, every gesture, every touch.

She could see the cogs of his mind whirring and interrupted his spiral of admiration with a sweet, gentle kiss on the lips. “We got this.” It was confident. Just the right side of arrogant.

“We got this,” he repeated, closing one eye in a squint as a glare of sunlight struck his face. Without another word, they fell into step with each other as Maggie came over to them.

“You got everything you need?” Rick asked her.

“Yeah, we’re gonna get in position before they start headin’ in.” Maggie waved her head towards Enid who was approaching, and Rick gave a nod. He placed a hand on her shoulder briefly before Michonne embraced her in a hug.

Showing off the cool composure she’d just imbued Rick with, Michonne said, “We’ll see you later, okay.” It wasn’t a question.

“I have somethin’ else I wanna talk to you about.”

“Is it the party?” Rick asked with an uneasy grimace that prompted Michonne to roll her eyes a little in his periphery.

Maggie gave nothing away, a light shrug of the shoulders sending them on their way.

Michonne put her hand on Rick’s back and led him off towards the gates. They then followed a few of the others to the clearing outside the fence, where everyone else had started to gather in preparation. Carl was already out there with Daryl, Heath, Carol and some others, perched on one side of the waist-high wooden fence.

“Carl!” Rick yelled sharply, prompting his son to jump off. Beside him, Michonne did little to suppress a laugh. He returned her amusement with a defensive glare that was more comedy than conviction.

“So, how long we think they’re gonna take?” Daryl asked gruffly, knowingly pre-empting the back and forth they’d all have to endure otherwise.

“Could be a while. Anyone for ‘I spy’?” Rick looked around at the group. “No? No one?”

*

“Dagger!”

“No.”

With the risk of walkers leaning their weight over the barrier, the group had had to work quickly.

Rick was striking fast blows with the hatchet, pushing the bodies backwards as he pulled the weapon out again and leaving a pile-up that meant he had to keep moving around the fence. He was mid-blow as he called out, “Danger!”

“No,” Carl yelled back, in the middle of his own tussle. He quickly got back on a roll though, using his own hatchet to take out two in close succession.

Michonne was between them, barely breaking a sweat as she skilfully dispatched one after the other in single sword swings.

On the other side, Carol and Daryl were making quick work of a bunch that were a little close to the gate while Heath and a group from the Hilltop handled the rest, with only about 20 walkers left on their feet. The build-up of bodies along the fence had started to act as a barrier itself. They were collapsing onto the slain, making it easier for the group to take them out on the ground.

Michonne was starting to run out of walkers within reach. Judging the threat almost entirely neutralized, she made the calculated decision to hop the fence and finish off the few that remained from the inside.

Not to be outdone and also running low on walkers he could kill from his current position, Rick impulsively followed suit before Carl did the same. They immediately started knocking down the dead from behind, the element of surprise only adding to their efficiency.

“You’re just showing off now,” Rick teased as he caught sight of Michonne taking out three in one hard swipe. At that, she looked up and gave a cocky shrug before bringing her sword down on another walker that started approaching.

“Dad!” Carl called out, rushing to take on the one that was heading in Rick’s direction. Rick ducked as Carl struck.

The favor was repaid almost instantly. Rick launched himself back up to bring his full weight down onto another that was making a beeline for Carl, splitting its skull like an egg before letting it collapse into the pile.

Father and son shared a look, before turning back to survey what was left: nothing. It was over. The only ones left standing were them, their people.

“Dead,” Rick realized at last.

“Yeah,” Carl replied, before exhaling a deep breath. He walked away, chucking his hatchet down on the other side of the fence before climbing over after it. “It was an easy one.”

Rick and Michonne walked to each other, panting a little to catch their breath. They touched hands in a low-five motion as they passed one another and then began checking the bodies around them, searching for any sign of life, any hint of a threat. When it was certain they were all dead – dead and not coming back – they faced each other to exchange a look and nothing more. Nothing more was needed.

“Enid!” Carl called out as she and Maggie approached.

“You’re okay,” she said, failing to hide her relief. “I knew you would be.”

“What are you two doin’ in there?” Maggie yelled over to Rick and Michonne, her voice carrying a rather sharper tone than Enid’s had.

Rick was still holding his hand out to Michonne as she pulled herself back over the low fence of the walker pen. “I think we’re in trouble,” she whispered to him conspiratorially.

He glanced back at Maggie. She had a hand on her hip in such a way that he just knew meant everything was okay. If she had time to be scowling at him from across a makeshift pen full of very dead walkers, everything was okay.

“Is it over?” he asked, changing the subject with all the subtlety of a hatchet through the head.

The others seemed to follow his voice, looking across at Maggie to read her expression for the understanding that Rick had already reached. She gave a nod, then a smile. A proud little smile.

She took the time to check on each member of the group. A glance at Daryl. A fist bump with Heath. A bow of the head to Carol. A ruffle of Carl’s hair as he passed her by. When Rick and Michonne reached her, Maggie, in all her delight, couldn’t help but rush out the words, “Everyone made it, Rick.”

“They’re gonna keep making it. That’s how it is now,” he replied, an easy smile at his lips. The kind that still felt meaningful after all they’d seen, after all they’d been through together.

She looked at Michonne. “Thank you.”

“It was your plan,” she replied, the same warmth and lightness in her voice as Rick. Michonne clasped Maggie’s hand for a moment before walking over to help the others begin to check for weapons.

The other two turned to follow, falling into a slower stride as Maggie continued to say, “Zeke and the others are okay. Besides cuts and bruises, I don’t think the doc’ll be too rushed off his feet. There was a little trouble closing the walkers off on the other side, so some of ‘em made for the fence, left a little damage, but shouldn’t be too hard to patch up. We might need more materials, but,” she shrugged, “we can put a run for that on the rota, figure it out.”

Rick turned away to collect his thoughts, watching as the others tossed the dead walker guns into a black container that Heath had hauled over. For every weapon thrown in, there was an echoing clatter. While Carol and Michonne were bringing them over in batches, Daryl was using it as a chance to practice his aim. Carl copied in an attempt to impress Enid, though he gave up after a few misses.

“Not a bad day,” Rick turned back to say. He noticed how grateful Maggie was to hear it, the blush in her cheeks giving it away, before they both continued towards the group to offer their assistance.

Michonne stopped what she was doing from a little way away, in the midst of her own pile of bodies, distracted by the way Rick lingered on one particular walker. He crouched beside the woman’s rotting body, checking her left hand briefly before taking the gun in her holster and adding it to their fast-building collection. As he stood back up, he caught sight of Michonne watching him and gave her a look that said – well, nothing at all. Odd. Her brow furrowed into a question.

Rick only offered up a forced smile and looked away.

*

The first thing they did when they got home was collapse right onto the couch. That couch. The couch that had marked their romantic beginning. It had become the sight of their daily debrief, of every unintended emergency nap, of more than a couple of spontaneous rendezvous.

They shifted into the cushions, soaking up the comfort, the soft and warm coziness of their home. Both of them – just as feral as each other after so long out there – put their feet up on the coffee table and stretched out. Almost in sync, they laid their heads against the back of the couch and closed their eyes. It was quiet, so quiet and peaceful that they both just needed to adjust to it after a day of planning and fighting. Just like any other day.

Shoulder to shoulder proved just enough contact to stir that particular feeling. The one that says they’re right where they should be, that they’re home. The kind of home that’s more than four walls and a roof.

Rick opened his eyes a little abruptly, sitting up quickly enough that she felt him shift beside her. “Got you something,” she heard him say in that charming and familiar drawl.

He rooted around in the pocket of his jeans and then pulled out a ring: silver with a single stone. It was small but it sparkled with a Disney sheen, dancing in the light like a prize diamond.

“Oh, and…” A tube of toothpaste. Spearmint and baking soda. Her favourite.

“What are you doing?” she asked, laughing as she brought her hand up to her face. A nervous excitement built in her eyes as she looked from the ring and the toothpaste to his face.

“I’m asking you to marry me,” he replied, like of course. Of course he was. “Michonne, you are—”

He paused, swallowing away doubts and fears to find his voice again.

“—the love of my life. You are everything,” he confessed with such gravity that it filled her with the profound urge to hold him. There was what he said, but then there was how he spoke. Full of feeling. Of love and gratitude and relief. “I don’t know where I’d be. You’ve… saved me. And Carl and Judith.”

Rick turned in, his body shifting to face Michonne fully as she gazed at him dumbstruck. “I wanna marry you. I want you to be my wife,” he said, closing his eyes on the word “wife” like he needed to escape inside that thought for a minute.

Michonne moved her hand to his face, her thumb wiping away a few runaway tears that sat on his cheek. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay,” she repeated, a laugh and a cry simultaneously bursting out of her as she watched him understand.

He said a final accepting “Okay,” and nodded in time with her as they both moved in to kiss. It was deep and loving, their bone-tiredness doing nothing to quell the heat of the moment.

When Carl arrived home a little while later, he found them curled up together in that same spot. They were sound asleep and stretched out, Rick’s legs resting on the coffee table with Michonne’s on top. Her head was settled sweetly on his shoulder while his was leaned towards her, his lips brushing her forehead.

It wasn’t an unusual sight. He had become particularly skilled at sneaking in without disturbing them.

As Carl approached his parents to pass through to the kitchen, he noticed Michonne’s hand resting on his dad’s chest, the stone of her ring catching what little light there was. He drew closer to examine it. The incongruence of the gemstone on Michonne’s hand was striking. Muddied boots and her blood-stained top were a marked contrast to this, the ring, so unmistakeably what it seemed that Carl looked around the room as though searching for someone to share in the news.

He laid a hand on his dad’s shoulder. It was gratitude.

There had been another day, a day long lost to the past, when Carl had come home to find his dad lying on the couch. He’d yelled then, full of accusations and hurt. That was when it was just them, the only two people left after everything had been lost for the second time. But she’d come along. Michonne. And now they were home. They had a home.

Rick continued sleeping contentedly with Michonne in his arms. The fear and isolation and brokenness of before had all died away, leaving only this: a family, real as any Carl had ever known.

He noticed that the granny square blanket that Olivia had once gifted to a younger Judith was now folded up in the corner and reached for it, careful not to make a sound. As he laid it over them, he took one last look. One last look for the memory bank, for the family photo album that would only ever live inside his head, and then he let them be, walking away with a heart more full than he could ever remember.

Chapter Text

Maggie was the first to notice. Her eyes popped with urgent, instinctive shock as she caught sight of it. It couldn’t be. It had be. Was it?

The group had been gathered by the broken part of the fence, examining what materials they had left to cover up the gaping hole that had been torn through it during the attack the day before. Rick was holding court, with Morgan, Michonne and Daryl surrounding him. Maggie stood a few yards back with Glenn and Carl on either side of her, awaiting the verdict.

It was then, looking on as Rick passed one of the panels to Michonne, that her fingers had stretched out to grip the wood, exposing the unsaid for all – or rather, Maggie – to see.

The ring was modest, smaller than Maggie’s own, but still far from anything Michonne would normally wear. Far from anything she’d ever worn in their time since the prison.

Once Maggie had spotted it, it proved impossible to draw her eyes away.

“Oh my god,” she’d said aloud, her breath caught in surprise. Unconsciously, she placed a hand on Carl’s forearm as if it was a pause button. He’d been stood beside her since they’d arrived but hadn’t uttered a word.

“Carl?” Maggie turned to glare at him with the force of a thousand unanswered questions bursting out of her. He smirked a little, only heightening the fervor of her curiosity.

Rick and Michonne were carrying on their conversation with Morgan and Daryl about the fence, completely oblivious to their friend’s observation and subsequent amazement.

“They haven’t said anything. Must’ve happened last night.”

“And they haven’t said a word?” she asked, still itching with impatience.

He shook his head.

“But it’s good news.”

Catching up on the other side of Maggie, Glenn chimed in. “Are they—”

“Looks like,” she answered him as Carl gave a cool shrug.

“That’s great!”

Maggie leaned in, giving the words a comically conspiratorial air. “It’s a secret. 

Glenn’s smile dropped. “It is?”

“I don’t know,” Carl shrugged again. “They haven’t said anything yet.”

Glenn’s expression softened to a mix of instinctive concern and curiosity. “Why not?” 

The three of them looked back across to Rick and Michonne who were lifting another wooden panel together, turning it upright in an attempt to find the position that would best cover the hole. Rick picked up the hammer and some nails, but something prompted him to glance back at Michonne with a wry smile on his face; must’ve been something she’d said, the others couldn’t hear. It was the familiar, cocky grin that they’d grown used to, and Michonne beamed back at him with a similar, flirty confidence about her.

“They look happy,” Glenn observed warmly before turning his attention to Maggie like she was the only one who’d truly know what he’d meant. She looked on, quiet and captivated.

“Yeah,” Carl agreed.

Daryl and Morgan began lifting the pieces of timber they’d managed to collect over to where they were needed. Seeing Michonne struggling a little with the full weight of the board in her hands as Rick reached for more nails, Carl left Maggie and Glenn to walk over to his parents to offer a hand.

“You’re up to something,” Glenn said as he side-eyed his wife, catching the unmistakeable glint in her eye and the quirk at her lips.

After a momentarily delayed response, she shrugged, struggling to suppress a coy grin. The look in her eye made certain his suspicions. Her words removed any doubt: “Now, what makes you say that?”

“That look on your face.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Maggie declared, a theatrically indignant air about her as she moved to pass him. He laughed then, shaking his head because she absolutely knew what she was doing. Even if he didn’t. 

As she finished speaking, they both caught sight of Rosita running over. She called out: “Few walkers comin’ in! Could use a couple more at the gate!” 

“You got this? I’ll go – supposed to be my watch soon anyway.” Michonne handed over to Carl before grabbing the sword on her back mid-sprint to follow Rosita back to the gate. Glenn was quick on her heels.

“You’re gonna tell me, right?” he called back to Maggie.

“You’ll know when you need to,” she replied, shaking her head before turning back to the fence to help Rick and Carl line up the panel just so.

 *

A couple of hours later, work on the fence was finished. It would hold. Temporarily. They didn’t know how long, but long enough for some of the group to find more materials at least. They would search out corrugated steel panels, along with timber to reinforce the structure. In the meantime, someone was going to be assigned to guard the weak spot.

Once everyone was briefed and the leaders had agreed their next steps, Maggie and Rick were left alone. They walked in step with each other towards the back corner of Alexandria, heading in the direction of their houses as night settled in over their little town. Rosita had already been by on her way back from watch duty to let them know the walkers had been dealt with but, knowing Michonne still had a while left on guard, Rick made no hurry to get back home. Carl would be at Enid’s until late and Judith was still at Hilltop with Aaron and Eric.

“Glenn and Tara came back with a few extra supplies,” Maggie was saying. “They found a toy store a few miles north, thought we could give some of the stuff to the kids. And…” She stopped herself, scrunching her nose as she looked up at Rick.

“What?”

“They got some stuff for the party I was talkin’ about. Banners, balloons…” She watched him squirming a little. “It’s gonna be good for us, Rick. Good for everyone – even you. To honor what we did yesterday, today, what we do everyday. Hilltop, Alexandria, Kingdom comin’ together.” 

There was a look on her face that made it impossible for Rick to argue. He’d seen it before. A part of him was warmed by it, by her determination amidst all of the horror to create a small piece of normality. It wasn’t selfish. It wasn’t for her. It was for the rest of them, for the kids and the group and the future. And he couldn’t bear to fight that, even when it came to the seemingly trivial town functions that he tried so hard to avoid. In fact, he was yet to miss one. Not the egg hunt, or the mini fair, or the summer barbecue. That look had even sent him running down the street in a three-legged race with Glenn tied to his ankle, on one particularly memorable occasion. (Michonne and Sasha had won.)

“We have the record player at our house, and party decorations from the run,” Maggie continued. “The crops’ve been growin’ well at Hilltop and The Kingdom. Ezekiel and Jesus both offered to bring food down – and anybody who wants in.”

“Sounds like it’s all arranged.”

“You’ll come?”

“I was thinking… Michonne and me. We’ll take the run. Go find what we need to fix up the fence,” Rick suggested, not-so-artfully dodging Maggie’s line of questioning. It was weak, though, and defeat felt inevitable.

“After the party?” She fixed her eyes on him with a stare-down that made him wonder just how willing the other leaders had been to acquiesce. 

“After the party,” he agreed, squinting his eyes a little. Of course he couldn’t turn her down. No matter how hard it was still to imagine himself there, at a party.

“You’ll take the van,” Maggie decided.

 * 

Rick was reclining across the couch, their couch, with his eyes closed when Michonne got home. At the gentle sound of the door, opening as delicately as she could manage, he sat up and smiled at her the kind of smile she’d thought might have faded away with time. But there it was.

“Hey,” she said, leaning down to kiss him on the lips in greeting. “You okay?”

“I’m okay.” There was an implicit question in his tone – are you? – as he observed a heaviness in the way she moved. She slowly pulled off her boots before disregarding them with uncharacteristic sloppiness. “I made dinner – on the counter." 

Michonne moaned her appreciation, rushing over to pick up the plate she already spied next to the sink. It was tuna pasta with a vegetable medley of Hilltop’s finest, much to Michonne’s delight. She opened the drawer to grab a fork, picked up the food and walked back over to Rick.

“Thanks, honey,” she said with a half mouthful of food.

Rick stretched his arm along the line of the couch as she took a seat beside him, laying his palm absently on her back. Michonne leaned back into it, the routine a familiar one. She closed her eyes at the initial contact and he whispered softly, almost to himself: “Missed you.”

She curled into his body a little more with the plate resting precariously on her thighs, carefully balanced so as not to tip into his lap. Rick was watching her eat, his eyes heavy from a long day and grateful for the sight of her. There was an easy silence settling in as she fed him a forkful of the food before using her thumb to wipe a crumb from his lips. 

“Everything go okay earlier?”

“Yeah.” He thought for a moment before repeating, “Yeah. But we gotta reschedule the run. Couple more days.”

Michonne studied him for explanation, not that it took too much work. “Maggie?”

He nodded, prompting Michonne to put a hand over her mouth as she laughed at him. “I told you!”

“You… you did tell me,” he admitted, his head tilting to one side as he nodded. 

“She’s got you all wrapped around her finger,” Michonne teased. She watched him decide whether or not to be offended, but he only brightened. “It’s cute. And I’m with her. I think it’ll be good for you to go to this thing, unwind a little…” 

“I think I’m pretty good at unwinding,” he said, eyebrows raised. He moved his face a little closer to hers as though seeking romantic reward, but there was playfulness in it. The expectation was of rejection, and she played along, pulling back with a reproving expression, just as he seemed to anticipate, before eating another forkful. 

She imitated his raised brows, a broad smile impossible to suppress at that, before insisting, “It’ll be good to unwind somewhere that’s not our bedroom. Where people can see you. Lead by example.”

“Maggie’s leading now,” Rick said firmly, then gave a shrug. 

“Don’t be naïve. You’re not no one.” Michonne reached out her free hand to absent-mindedly tease her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck. “They look to you. They will always look to you. And it shows them that you’re with her, that you support what she’s doing.” 

“They shouldn’t doubt it,” he replied, a little brusque.

Softly, softer than before, she countered: “They shouldn’t, but… don’t give them room to.” Her hand moved to his greying beard. “Besides, don’t you wanna see how good I look in the dress Maggie found for me?" 

“Why’d you think I gave in so easy?”

Rick watched as her face creased into a laugh, the sight of it captivating him enough to forget his momentary gripe. She leaned down to place her now-empty plate by the foot of the sofa before turning back to him, their kiss providing an inevitable conclusion to the conversation.

“Judith’ll be back home tomorrow,” Michonne said breathlessly between kisses. “We’ll talk to the kids then? About the—” She waved her ring-wearing hand at him with a little jazz fingers, earning only a preoccupied moan of agreement, his attention now entirely diverted. 

Rick moved a hand to hold hers, interlacing his fingers with hers as he brought it down and leaned in once again. 

“We should… make the most of… having our room to ourselves,” she continued, pulling Rick’s shirt away eagerly. “No interruptions.”

“Yeah,” he said, just about managing to reply as she brought her top over her head in one smooth motion.

Rick attempted to kick off his shoes as he leaned in, pulling her down onto her back as she tackled his belt buckle. Having trouble with one shoe, he pulled away briefly to throw it off with his hands and Michonne couldn’t help but laugh as he did it, her hand resting sweetly on his face to keep him from going too far.

When it was off at last, Rick turned his attention back to Michonne. “Let’s go upstairs,” he said, his voice thick and heavy.

Chapter Text

Despite a little hesitation from Rick, planning for the party quickly spread around Alexandria’s community and beyond, prompting a welcome buzz of anticipation about the place. Invitation cards had been sent out by hand thanks to Olivia and her seemingly infinite papercraft supplies, raided from a Michael’s, each one with a kitschy dress code (“Fightin’ Fancy”) and details of tasks that each Alexandrian was expected to contribute. These ranged from baking to décor, depending on the skillset of the individual.

Maggie, Enid, Tara, Aaron and Carl had formed an unofficial committee to assign roles, though much of the work they took up themselves.

Owing to their general reluctance surrounding the whole event, Rick and Michonne were kept entirely out of the loop. They busied themselves with guard shifts that no one else wanted to take, which the more shrewd Alexandrians were quick to use to their advantage. Judith’s sleep had regressed in recent weeks, so it wasn’t too great a sacrifice to work into the early hours, offloading her onto Carl or Maggie – sometimes even Daryl, when he was in a soft mood and thought the toddler looked far too tired to wake in the night.

As Daryl guarded the little one’s bedroom door, or Carl bounced his sister back to sleep, or Maggie napped on their sofa, Rick and Michonne stood guard at the gate. The blackness of night pulled a veil over the surrounding neighborhood. The only thing they could see at that hour was the moonlight hitting each other’s faces, revealing love and lust indivisibly mixed together in one expression.

If anyone had wanted to attack their colony, 2:45am, just as Michonne leaned back into her fiancé, his hand resting flat on her stomach, would have been the opportune moment. But it was Rick and Michonne. Too formidable to overcome, even at their most distracted.

 

*

 

The day before the party, the final drops were being made from the allied communities. It was a bright and warm afternoon as the Kingdom and Hilltop’s envoys drew up to the gates of Alexandria, ready to unload supplies for the following day. Both had been generous in their gifts, rallied by Maggie, whose influence over all three communities seemed to increase at will.

She walked up to meet their guests, Enid glued to her side with a clipboard in hand. She recited a list as her sidekick ticked and crossed, making notes every few items. Though her mind was busy formulating yet another to-do list with great efficiency, she was moving at pace and watching intently as Abraham drew the gate across for two cars to roll through. She saw him scan the vehicles, peering through the windows to view all of the boxes packed in on the backseat. They overflowed with promise, more promise than even his most optimistic guess had accounted for.

“Maggie!” she heard from the first car. Even with the sunlight glaring on the front window and obstructing her view of the driver, she could recognize Jerry’s voice. It had all the warmth and enthusiasm of an old friend cheering her name rather than calling it.

“Hey Jerry,” she laughed, placing a casual hand on the driver’s side of the car. She then stepped back to see Jesus pulling up behind.

“Best thing to do is park right outside ours. Glenn, Aaron and Tara are waiting there, ready to help with the carryin’. We’ll follow you over,” she explained, projecting her voice for both of the drivers to hear her clearly. Enid gave an affirmative nod, as though checking off another mental note.

As they walked after the slow-moving cars, the two of them passed Carl and Father Gabriel deep in conversation. Maggie’s eyes followed them, watching as Gabriel talked and nodded; he didn’t seem to notice her, though Carl’s eyes flashed briefly in acknowledgement.

They continued on in the path of the cars to find the rest of their group hard at work, unloading the vehicles with purposeful focus. The whole operation looked like a house move. The cardboard boxes were an organized mess across the sidewalk, up the steps and into the house itself.

Enid went inside to start taking inventory while Maggie moved to grab a box from the boot of Jesus’ sedan. After dropping off that first load by a pile in her hallway, she came back outside to find Glenn by the car.

“Are you sure about this?” he asked her, filling his arms with another package. This one was filled with clothes, some dug out from wardrobes of the Barrington House and some looted on runs.

“It’s a nice surprise.”

“It is. I don’t know if they’re really big ‘surprise’ people.” His voice strained to emphasize his point.

“He already asked her to marry him.”

“We don’t know that Michonne didn’t…” He gesticulated, searching for the end of his sentence. “…loot a jewellery store. Maybe she just wanted to accessorize.”

Maggie gave him an exasperated look. “They probably just don’t want to make a huge deal.”

“Isn’t that what this is?”

“I know you hate secrets.”

“I do. I really, really do. You know I’m not gonna be able to look them in the eye until this thing’s over. We got Judith tonight – she’ll sense it.”

Maggie laughed. “You can handle a toddler.”

Glenn looked a little sceptical.

Glenn.”

“I make no promises.”

 

 

“Carl and Judith will be wondering where we are!”

“Remind me why I’m wearing this again,” Rick called out as he adjusted his tie in the bedroom mirror, a look of deep concentration marking out the lines of his forehead.

“Maggie thinks it’ll boost morale,” Michonne replied from the bathroom.

He shifted uncomfortably inside his clothes as he walked over to the bathroom door, rotating his shoulders a little before straightening his collar. “Me in a suit? Whose morale’s that gonna boost?”

Michonne took a step back for a look at him, a contented hum escaping her. “Well, mine at least.”

“You look good,” he said, finally getting to appreciate the full visual of her in the dress that Maggie had given her. It was a form-fitting white crocheted number that just about knocked him out. She had styled her locs differently too – half-up, with a side parting – and there was a subtle sheen to her lips that he noticed, even in the midst of everything else she had going on.

Michonne was smiling back at him, giving all the encouragement he needed to approach her. His hands smoothly moved down her back before settling on her ass. It was as familiar and comforting as it was intimate.

“You’re the only morale boost I need,” he said, gruff and low.

Michonne looped her arms around his neck and pulled her head back to get a look at her man. “It’ll be good for us. It’s what we fought for: living like the world isn’t ending.”

“Yeah, but” – he looked down at himself, a touch of playfulness in his face and in his voice – “I feel ridiculous.”

“You look hot,” she remarked, emphasis on the “hot”, an eyebrow quirking with intention. Rick’s demeanour instantaneously transformed at that. “I want you to try and enjoy tonight. Look around and see what you helped to build for all these people, for our family. This” – she gestured to her outfit and his – “was unimaginable not so long ago. And now here we are, Rick. We made it.

“Maggie’s bringing everyone together to celebrate what we’re doing here, what you made possible.” Michonne zeroed in on his eyes, ocean blues all caught up in her drift. She cocked her head as she looked at him, pulling out his ace to use against him. “You’ve led us all for so long, and now she’s showing you the way. All of this, it’s for you.”

Bewitched by the look in her eye and the conviction in her voice, Rick moved closer and closer. He could smell body lotion or shampoo or something, something apple-scented. It made him a little short of breath, the light-headedness coming on without warning and not helped by the edge of her index finger running along his arm.

They stood body against body, pressed together. Rick leaned in, stopping only when their foreheads touched. Michonne’s hand moved to hold his face, palm against bearded cheek as her fingers danced over his skin, tickling his ears and teasing the edge of his hairline. When their lips met, slow motion became hyperdrive. Her hands were pulling him in, with fingers roughly combing his curls as they kissed like it was the first and last time.

Michonne moaned into the kiss before suddenly her other hand was on his chest and she was pulling back to say, “No, no… We… We have to go soon, Rick. Rick.”

He pressed his freshly-kissed lips together to hide a smug smile as his eyes focused in on the close-up of Michonne’s expression battling for resolve. A little residue of her lip balm sparkled on his lips.

“Don’t give me the face,” she warned him. “I know you know what you’re doing. Stop.”

“It’s just my face,” he laughed, as she brushed off the shoulders of his jacket and then moved out of his embrace, despite her temptation. Fixed with a cocky expression, he stroked his greying beard and furrowed his brow. “You don’t like my face?”

“Don’t you go fishing now,” Michonne said, rolling her eyes and walking towards the stairs with Rick on her heel. She grinned to herself as he matched her step for step, following her through the house.

 

*

 

The quiet streets of Alexandria were lined with bright bunting and paper chains tied from house to house. Patterns of Judith’s colourful chalks covered the street with flowers and rainbows and smiling suns. She’d even tried to write her name out right in front of Glenn, Maggie and Enid’s house, but everything after the “J” was an illegible smudge. Rick suspected the green balloon drawing beside it was Glenn’s doing, and there was a “C + E” inside a heart that was almost certainly anyone but Carl or Enid.

Rick and Michonne walked along holding hands loosely, sharing in the relaxed intimacy of a couple strolling in the park – though, admittedly, that couple might not have been wearing a katana on their back or a Colt Python on their hip. Still, the casual amble felt like a luxury. Not rushing to or running away. A luxury they were happy to get used to.

Michonne admired all the effort that had been put in around them, a little pang of guilt creeping in that she had shirked any involvement in favor of extra watch shifts and runs. Seeing it all decorated made her even more certain that Maggie had a point. Everyone celebrating, letting their hair down for one night – it would be good. Good, as long as the community was prepared to embrace it.

But for the mismatched decorations and a few cars, the community was a ghost town. They reached the church before they saw a single person. It was only when they got to the stoop that they found Maggie. It looked as though she was daydreaming, sitting in her sweet blue dress and imagining a different world. Something worse or something better, it wasn’t clear.

“Hey,” she said, standing up to hug them both.

“Why’re you out here alone?” Michonne asked with her arms still around her friend, noticing uncharacteristic nervous energy.

Maggie sank back a little onto Michonne’s shoulder with a tight smile at her lips. “I was… waiting for you two. I gotta explain…” 

The emptiness of Alexandria was eerie all of a sudden; peace transformed into fear. “Is everything all right?” Rick asked with urgency, concern etched in his expression as he drew a little closer to the two of them.

Maggie just looked back for a moment, almost forgetting to reply. Then suddenly, breezily, she said, “Yeah. Yeah. It’s good. I… I might have not been completely honest about what this whole thing is about.”

Rick’s eyes narrowed.

“I know I said we should bring everyone together, honor what we’ve done here with some kinda celebration.” She took a deep breath. “It’s been a long time coming but look at us. Look at where we are,” she smiled brightly at Rick, her nose scrunching as the sunlight danced in her eyes. “And you led us here. What better reason for us all to come together than for you.” Her eyes moved from Rick to Michonne, “Both of you.”

Rick and Michonne gave each other a glance before turning their attention back to Maggie.

“The day you showed up at my daddy’s farm, I never could’ve known what we’d mean to each other. You brought Glenn into my life. You gave me another family when I lost mine. How do you thank a person?”

“There’s nothing to—”

Maggie put her hand up. “There is.” She shook her head. “Both of you have been there, leading all of us. Michonne, you were there every time I needed help when Hershel was born. Hell, even before. Didn’t even have to say anything – you were there. For me, the baby and Glenn.

“Before all this, we were strangers who would’ve just passed each other on the street. And then the world ended. Now we mean everything to each other. Glenn made the decision to be there for you back in Atlanta and that started it all,” she said, looking to Rick. “It all led to this moment, now.

“You’re family. To Glenn and me, to all of us.” She placed a hand over her heart, blinking away tears just as Michonne did the same.

Rick moved closer to Maggie to hold her cheek in his hand, wet tears pressing into his skin. She smiled warmly at him, knowing what he’d say before the words left his lips. “You’re my sister,” he told her, firm and fragile in equal measure. “And I’m always gonna be here, whatever you need. It was you who took me in. You’ve helped save my children, save me, and I, I… couldn’t save everyone—”

“See, you get so caught up in blaming yourself, you don’t realize all the good you’ve done. When I think about when Michonne first came, how you were back then… That’s why you need her,” Maggie said, dropping to a whisper, her head tilting toward Michonne again, whose hand rested on Maggie’s back. “You can’t carry it all on your own.

“You both got your pain, I know; I’ve got it too. But the love will win. It already has. I see it. I know it every time you look at each other, just like I know it when I’m with Glenn.”

“Maggie?” Michonne asked, her voice soft and delicate.

“You two been going around acting like you been married forever, so I just thought that… you might wanna to start that forever officially,” she explained, turning towards the church.

“Are you—”

“Is this—" 

“—our wedding?” they finished together.

“If you wanted,” she replied, suddenly unsure of herself.

Nervous in their silence, Maggie continued: “When all of us were talking a few weeks back ‘bout what we’d do when the world got rebuilt, you two were teasing each other about a big white wedding with bells on and, well, it gave the rest of us ideas. It was just gonna be a party, but… then I saw the ring on your finger” – Maggie pointed as Michonne turned her hand over to admire it once more, marvel at it a little – “and me and Carl got to talkin’…”

“Carl knows?”

“Yeah, Carl knows. He knew before anyone. He’s waiting in there to be your best man,” Maggie said, giving a little laugh at the intensity of Rick’s question and the way her answer softened him, turned him to mush. “I think Carl’s been wanting this since long before it was on the cards. Don’t worry about him.”

“Maggie—”

“You got a decision to make. And I better get inside. It’s just family in there. The family you built. If you don’t wanna do this today, it’ll just be… a party, like I promised.” With that, she disappeared through the white door, slipping around it so they couldn’t peek inside.

Rick and Michonne looked at each other, blank faces. His transformed into a smile as he reached for Michonne’s hand. “You in?”

Chapter Text

The crackle of the record player gave the music cue away before ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ by Otis Redding filled the room. The sweetness of that sweeping feeling took Rick’s breath away, his clasp of Michonne’s hand tightening as they stood side by side at the door of the church.

 Carl was stood at the end of the aisle with Father Gabriel, absent-mindedly bouncing Judith in his arms as he watched his parents take it all in.

 Everyone else they loved was stood in neat lines along the pews. They’d turned to face the bride and groom with proud, glowing smiles on their faces. There was Abraham and Sasha. Aaron and Eric. Tara and Denise. Glenn, Maggie and little Hershel. Enid. Jesus. Ezekiel. Jerry. Olivia. Rosita. Carol. Daryl, giving a shy nod in lieu of a smile. It felt like everyone was there, even those that couldn’t be: Andre, Hershel, Tyreese, Beth, Deanna, Noah, Bob… 

“Nightmares end. They shouldn't end who you are.”

 Having squirmed to be let down from her brother’s grasp, Judith came running down the aisle towards them. As she got to her parents, she reached up to take Michonne’s free hand.

 “We’re doing this,” Michonne said in disbelief. “The whole big white wedding, huh.”

 She looked down at the gleeful daughter clutching her fingers and dancing excitably with a big, silly grin on her face. Michonne considered picking her up but, as she leaned to do it, the strain of her sword strap brought her back up.

 “Should I take it off?” she whispered in Rick’s ear, laughing.

 He looked back at her, caught up in a thought. Then he gave a smile and shook his head. Of course not.

 Judith tugged them forward, urging them both to play their parts. The three of them walked together to where Carl and Gabriel were waiting, scanning the rows of their friends in an attempt to take it all in. Every loving smile and every thoughtful detail.

 They were dressed up, just like Rick and Michonne. Everyone was wearing varying degrees of formal attire, found in the old forgotten cupboards of dead strangers and shut-up department stores. That didn’t matter though. It gave something of the before back to them, something that lived inside the ritual of stopping time to dress up and celebrate love in all its commitments.

 As they arrived in front of Father Gabriel, Judith instinctively knew to let go of her mom’s hand. She cheerfully bounded over to Glenn, who helped her clamber onto his lap. Rick, meanwhile, was hugging Carl as tight as could be, his face buried in the shoulder of his son’s suit. “I love you, Carl,” Michonne heard him say, muffled but certain.

 Carl nodded before replying, “I love you, Dad.”

 Rick pulled away at last to settle his attention back on Michonne. She was radiant as ever and patiently waiting for him to compose himself, her expression serious as she looked between the father and the son. Serious but untroubled.

 Rick turned to face her fully, taking both hands in his as they narrowed their eye-line to only each other.

 “You ready?” she whispered, a smile there that only Rick could see.

 He pouted playfully, pretending to think about it. “Yeah. I think so.”

 That was Father Gabriel’s cue.

 “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in the sight of God and in the face of this congregation to celebrate the love of Rick and Michonne, by joining them together in holy matrimony,” he began, his voice projected throughout the church as his old role found him easily. There was a touch of theatre about it, a touch of maybe he’d spent a little too long in the company of King Ezekiel.

 “Here in the presence of God we recognize and bless their partnership as they begin their married life together within our community. Marriage is an honourable estate, not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently and soberly. Into this estate, these two persons present come now to be joined.

 “If anyone can show just cause why they may not be lawfully joined, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”

 There was a lengthy silence. Though there was no just cause, a small part of Rick and Michonne braced for one. Having overcome so much together, it would have seemed only fitting for one final hurdle to arise before they could meet their happy ending.

 Nothing came.

 They let out a breath, before laughing silently at each other. 

“Who gives this man and woman to be married?” Father Gabriel asked, prompting a look of confusion from the bride and groom.

 “We do,” Carl suddenly piped up, his voice deeper than ever. He gestured to Judith as he spoke. Rick turned around again, looking like he might cry. Michonne just rolled her eyes, laughing through a fresh wave of tears as Carl smiled brightly back at her. Her son. Her second chance.

 He then approached the lectern, unfolding a scrap of paper before laying it flat in front of him. There was a nervousness about him all of a sudden. His back straightened and he lifted his head before clearing his throat.

 Carl spoke eloquently of their journey, marking out a trail of inanimate objects. From a cat statue that changed everything – tacky and vulgar, ridiculous, perfect – to a ring, to a church, to the future. It was a patchwork of memories threaded together with the tangible pieces of their puzzle. Items lost and treasured. Memories crystallised inside those fundamental physical things. Stuff and things. And now, finally, rings.

 When Carl moved back to his spot behind Rick, he reached into his pocket and drew out a wedding band. He passed it to his dad and then gestured for Judith to come back over. Obediently, she ran to him, looking expectantly at the three of them for a moment before Carl reached into the pocket of her dress to reveal another ring.

 The wedding ring that Rick had worn for the past 15 years of his life was replaced with a new one, to mark a new chapter.

 After rings were exchanged, King Ezekiel rose from his seat, unintroduced and, judging by the group’s reactions, entirely spontaneously. He delivered Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 entirely from memory – or rather, performed it. Commanding the room, he declared, “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove: o no; it is an ever-fixed mark, that looks on tempests, and is never shaken.”

 He seemed to get progressively louder and more theatrical with each passing word. Rick and Michonne smirked at each other. There was relief in the opportunity to compose themselves.

 As Ezekiel entertained the congregation, Michonne took the opportunity to hug her son. Even after they drew away from each other again, Carl kept an arm around her shoulder until Ezekiel finished his recital.

 “Well, alright then. We come to the vows,” Gabriel said, a little awkwardly, once the impromptu sonnet was out of the way.

 Rick cut in. “Can we… Do you mind if I just…”

 The priest gestured for him to continue.

 “I wanted it… to be me,” he explained, a little shyly. After a pause, focusing his gaze on Michonne, he began: “I, uh… I promise I will always love you, always support and protect you. I’ll always listen to you,” Rick added, a little smile breaking out. “When I know what’s good for me.”

 “I get a lot of credit for getting us all here. I don’t deserve any of it. It was you.” He gave a sigh. “I know you think I’ve been leading this whole time, but I was just following you. I can’t say I always knew it but” – he smiled warmly at Michonne, his blue eyes bright and open, sparkling with tears – “everything I did right… was you.”

 He leaned closer, his eyes searching out hers. “Choosing you, loving you – that’s what I got right, that’s all. The rest was you.”

 She shook her head as he said it, resisting his praise and attempting to shake off the tears that were building in her eyes. She blinked them away as best she could before looking at him again, him, the one who brought her back from the brink. There was deep conviction in his expression. It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t overly effusive; it was just true. Even if she refused it.

 Michonne drew in a breath. “Deanna once asked me what I wanted. What I wanted for me. We were so caught up in defending this place and making the community work that I… For a long time, I couldn’t see.” She shook her head. “I couldn’t see what was right there, what had always been right in front of me.

 “And I promised her I’d figure it out, I’d figure out what I wanted for my life.

 “I did.” Michonne pressed her index finger to his chest as he studied her, an awed look on his face. “With you, I figured it out.”

 “So,” she sighed, smiling to herself before looking back up at her soon-to-be husband, “I promise you this: I will fight for us. Every day. And some days, it is gonna be a fight. We never know what’s around the corner. But the only way this works, the only way, is if we face it together. Me and you.

 “So much has happened, so much we shouldn’t have lived through, but… we’re still here, the two of us. Still standing. And that means everything.

 “You and Carl and Judith are all I want for my life. I will love you for the rest of it.”

 Rick stepped forward to kiss Michonne. It was a reflex – passionate and intimate and entirely neglectful of the fact that a whole room of people were watching them. Father Gabriel let them have a moment. And then the moment dragged on a little long and he interrupted to continue: “Rick and Michonne have come before God and the Church to make public their commitment to one another.”

 The couple drew away from their kiss. Not far away. Every inch was too far.

 Rick’s arm was at her waist, his hand unusually modest in its placement on her hip. It kept Michonne close, curled into him with her head resting on his shoulder as they turned to hear Gabriel’s parting words.

 “They have exchanged their vows of love in the presence of God and this community. I now pronounce that they are bound to one another, husband and wife, as long as they both shall live.”

 Rick’s face turned with a warm, smug smile to kiss his wife once more – at last.

 “Amen.”

 

*

 

After the ceremony was over, Maggie led them outside under a shower of makeshift confetti: torn up old newspapers and magazines. They were made to pose for photographs on the grass under Aaron’s direction: bride and groom, just the family, the prison group, the Alexandrians, the couples, everyone together.

 Half-expecting his patience to wear thin, Michonne was surprised to see Rick so relaxed, even as the group would demand another photograph, another lineup. He just smiled brightly, his arm fixed around his wife’s shoulders the whole time as he whispered sweet nothings that she pretended not to catch. She would just move her hand up his chest or shoot him a glance – some in warning, some in teasing. Occasionally, his quiet whispers caught her off-guard, though, and she’d turn and smile before she could stop herself. Those were the candids that would find their way into frames. Those were the moments they’d treasure in the days and weeks and months that would make up their lifetime together. The way they could escape to a private world of two even out there on the lawn, with the whole town surrounding them.

 Michonne spotted Maggie coming back over, settling next to their appointed photographer for the day to watch them all posing.

 “Have one, just you and Judith,” she insisted after they’d taken just about every other combination, stepping away before he could pull her back. Their daughter reached up to be lifted as soon as she heard her name, prompting Michonne to brush a hand gently through her hair before Rick swept her off her feet.

 “It was an amazing thing you did today,” Michonne said as she took up a spot beside Maggie, the two of them looking over at the rest of the Grimes family.

 Rick had Judith twisting and squirming in his arms. She was pleading “Daddy!” with hysterical desperation, erupting into wild giggles as he tickled her again. “No, Daddy, stop!” Her last word was drawn out, but her faux-serious tone was undermined by yet more laughter. She was laughing so hard there were tears in her eyes.

 Michonne wrapped her arm around Maggie and they rested their heads together, watching Rick and Judith play. To Michonne, the sight of it was something heavenly. Judith’s smile was irrepressible and she looked at her daddy with awe and joy, not a care in the world. The way that a child should look at a parent.

 “Thank you.”

 “Y’all deserved a nice surprise. After everything, I wanted to give you somethin’ special to remember.”

 “I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to this place, not having to fight all day, every day,” Michonne confessed with a deep sigh.

 “I know,” Maggie replied, her head bowed. “But don’t you go lookin’ for trouble.”

 Michonne tried to hide a smile. “Yes, ma’am.”

 “When’re you setting off?”

 “In the morning. I don’t think the fence’ll hold for too long.”

 “Some honeymoon.”

 “Oh, I don’t know,” Michonne said with a grin breaking across her face. Rick caught her eye, his gaze meeting hers. “Could be fun. Road trip. Just the two of us.”

 “You know what,” Maggie started, before pausing to think about it, “With you and Rick, I can’t imagine it any other way.”

 Glenn then walked over to them to tell Maggie, “Everything’s ready inside.”

 “Inside?” Michonne looked at her.

 She led them all back inside the church, now rearranged for its new purpose. Judith came running after her mom and aunt, leaving Rick to follow behind. Which he did, rather swiftly. When he caught up, they walked back inside the church doors for Maggie’s final reveal of the day. All of the pews had been taken out to open up the space for dancing, food tables and people from all three communities.

 “This place looks amazing,” Michonne commented.

 Maggie scrunched her nose a little. “It’s nothing.”

 “Father Gabriel okay with it?”

 “Said it was four walls and a roof.” She stepped back to look around the busy room, quickly adding, “You two should to grab a drink, some food. And if you have any requests, Glenn’s got about two dozen records stored up from different runs, so there’s at least a fightin’ chance you might be in luck. I wanna see those moves.”

 “I’m not sure you do,” Michonne replied with a laugh, looking from Maggie to Rick.

 As an afterthought, Maggie added, “There’s room for people to put their weapons in the back room for now. Wouldn’t want the dancing to get dangerous.”

 “Some of us can’t help it,” Rick quipped.

 Michonne’s head turned a sharp 90-degree angle. “Did you really just say that?”

 He shrugged.

 “What have you done with my husband?”

Rick grinned brightly, his eyes shining as he considered what she'd just said. “I like that.”

“Oh yeah? That’s just as well.”

Chapter Text

‘Never Too Much’ by Luther Vandross was playing. The crackle of the worn vinyl and fuzzy speakers ran through it, softening the edges with a touch of warm nostalgia. It had Maggie commanding the dance floor, with Enid, Denise and Tara around her, holding hands and spinning each other every time the music prompted it. Whenever one of them stepped out of time, they’d erupt in giggles and move back inside the privacy of their little dancing circle. 

Glenn watched from beside the record player, smiling and laughing and showing off moves of his own when the beat really got him. He had Hershel bouncing on his hip, clapping out of time and kicking his chubby little legs.

The room was filled. More had arrived after the ceremony. A mix of people from The Kingdom and Hilltop were there alongside the Alexandrians, but it wasn’t so easy to tell who was who anymore. The lines between them were fading, at last. People were dancing, talking, drinking together as kids played at their feet. It was like something from before it all happened, before the world turned. The sound of it all was new and exciting, with all the cozy familiarity of an old friend come home. 

“Love is a gamble and I’m so glad that I’m winning. We’ve come a long way and yet this is only the beginning. Oh, my love. A thousand kisses from you is never too much…” Michonne was singing along with her arms looped around Rick’s neck. As she lost herself in the music, relaxing like he rarely got to see outside their home, he grinned at her like a fool. They were slow dancing together in the darkest corner like two lovesick kids at prom, entirely caught up in their own bubble. 

It was that bubble feeling that had Rick’s hands wandering despite the presence to his son, who spun Judith nearby with sweetly feigned enthusiasm. It was that bubble feeling that had Michonne not stopping him. It was that bubble feeling that had them picking up where they’d left off a few hours earlier, lips against grateful lips. 

As the song ended, leaving only the crackle of the record player, Rick whispered into Michonne’s ear, “Let’s go somewhere.” 

He knew her answer. 

Rick broke away from their embrace to lead her to the closest door they could find. Her approval came confirmed in the way she held his hand a little tighter, following his every step without a glance over her shoulder. 

*

They didn’t get very far. Rick was leading Michonne by the hand but once they were out of sight of the main party, he turned back to sweep her up in a kiss. Bodies like magnets, they fell together and stumbled back till they were against the wall of one of the houses. Neither could think straight enough to know whose. They were out of view of the main street, finally gloriously alone together. 

Rick’s hand was at Michonne’s neck, drawing her deeper into their kiss as Michonne multi-tasked to undo his belt at the same time. Both had their eyes closed, exploring each other with eager lips and hands, every sense but touch surrendered to the moment.

The joy of the day was building to its crescendo, the tension of their morning finally being released. This recklessness wasn’t them. But then neither was the big white wedding, the dancing, the photos on the lawn – so why not? It was a day for indulgence, for relaxing enough to fully embrace the best of the new world and the old world mixing together at last. Sex against a neighbour’s house seemed as reasonable a thing to do as any of the rest of it, and the feeling, that surge of tension that was like an electric charge between the two of them, couldn’t wait the distance to their house. 

Rick’s hands roughly pulled up the fabric of her dress to her waist, fingers pressing into her thighs to hold her against himself. Her legs wrapped around his, tightening the pressure of him against her, and only relaxing when he moved inside her – at last. She moaned into his mouth, their kiss halted abruptly for desperate breaths. It was then that they opened their eyes again, finally seeing all the want and yearning they could already feel.

Their eyes locked together, holding gaze as Rick and Michonne rocked against each other with only his hand on the cold stone wall to steady them.

Michonne watched what she was doing to him, reading every hum and groan and exhalation. She saw the surprise in his eyes when she squeezed his ass to pull him back, the satisfaction there when she moved in time with him and she saw—the sudden, unsteady appearance of a hand – not his, not hers – reaching towards them both. 

The noise of it followed, the volume of the outside world beyond breathless moans suddenly plugged back in to reveal the presence of an interloper. A walker.

Urgently, Michonne tore herself from Rick’s embrace and recovered quickly to prepare for a fight. As a reflex, she reached behind herself for her sword before realizing, remembering with the sudden rise of bile to her mouth, it was back at the party. The weapons had all been left together before the dancing; her sword was back at the church, right next to Rick’s Colt. 

The walker lurched forward slowly, its lumbering weight stumbling to grab Michonne. She pulled away, dodging its advances with typical agility and taking Rick with her. 

The shock of the sudden jerking motion caught him up. He adjusted himself quickly, discreetly tucking himself back into his pants before attempting to do the math on this fight. One walker? Easy. No weapon? Not so easy. 

Rick and Michonne edged out of the way, stepping backward as they began to formulate a game plan, scanning the area for makeshift weapons – a picket fence panel, a plant pot, the garden swing –  until, with a jolt, the walker crashed into the space where they’d been, revealing Judith standing there behind it, knee-height and a picture of innocence in her flowery dress, her arms outstretched in front of her, frozen. The red on her hands glistened in the moonlight. 

She screwed her face up in shock or confusion or fear before she looked up at Michonne, a question in her eyes. Enough to spark Michonne’s maternal instinct into hyperdrive. 

Michonne rushed to grab her instantly, swinging her daughter up into her arms to get her swiftly out of reach from the still-squirming walker. Judith settled on Michonne’s hip quickly, absently wiping bloody hands onto her pastel blue dress before her mom could even think to stop her. 

Finding his footing amid the chaos, Rick straightened up to get a look at the girls – okay, alive, safe, together – and then lifted a knee to stomp a firm, forceful foot on the walker’s head as it floundered on the ground. He reached for a nearby plant pot, meters away and finally flowering, and smashed it onto the already-bloodied head. Rick kicked away the dirt to continue to stomp the life out of it. The walker was grabbing at him, clawing for his ankle – until, at last, it stopped. Its head lay crushed on the grass as Rick’s adrenaline rush eased off.

He stepped away from the grisly body, breathless and a little bloodied. 

Further back toward the main path, Michonne drew her head back to get a good look at Judith, checking her over but trying not to be too frantic about it. “Are you okay, baby girl? You aren’t hurt?”

Judith shook her head bashfully before quietly curling into her mother’s body, hiding her face against Michonne’s chest. Almost a whisper, she replied, “I’m okay, Mommy.” 

Michonne moved to Rick next, placing a hand on his shoulder. Her eyes were searching his as if to pull him back from that same place the walkers always seemed to send him. Softly, she said, “The fence. Someone should’ve been guarding it.”

He nodded. “I’ll stay here, keep an eye out for more. Can you grab the weapons and get Maggie or Ezekiel to send someone out to keep watch?”

Before she went, he tapped her hand. A silent, passing I’m with you

*

By the time they got back home, Judith’s small frame was flopping in Rick’s tired arms. Her little legs dangled limply as her cheeks pressed against a shoulder now covered in dribble. He carried her up to her bedroom with Michonne following behind, a hand resting on his back, before laying her down in her bed and tucking her in for the night. They tried not to linger too long, but long enough to memorize her features again, different to the last time already, growing so fast. It felt important to notice every little change. 

As soon as they were back in their room, Rick crashed down to sit at the edge of their bed, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “What a day,” Rick said as he exhaled deeply, his hands covering his face. 

His broad back arched forward, slumped but solid, as though he was carrying the weight of the world but he still had the strength to do it. The hardness of his body was marked against his shirt, pulled tight to his skin to show only the lines of his muscles. Michonne, settling at his side, moved her hand flatly over the expanse of his back, a grounding ritual they’d grown used to at the end of a long, gruelling day – the kind most turned out to be. She was absent-minded in the smooth, soothing strokes that travelled in circles as he closed his eyes to her touch. 

Not a word passed between them. 

His hand – a little dirtied from the fight, but delicate now – moved to settle between her legs. He held his palm against the inside of her thigh with intimate familiarity, with purpose, with intention. There was no urgency to it. They had all night.

She didn’t say a word about the mark he’d leave against her dress. 

She couldn’t speak at all, her legs moving apart and her upper body bowed toward him. Rick’s response was to guide his hand down to the hem of her dress. He moved beneath the skirt, sliding slowly upwards against bare skin, confident and indulgent in the languid movement. As his hand moved upward once more, Michonne drew closer still, leaning into him until he was turning his face to see her, to look at her that way he always did, that way only he ever did.

His hand reached her underwear as their lips met, touching over a thin layer of cotton she now wished she could make disappear. Seeking more, she deepened their kiss, pulling him in until he was lying over her against their bed, their new angle an easier one for him to pull away the flimsy fabric between her legs and touch her at last. Michonne moaned as she felt his fingers tease her and her hand moved to his forearm encouragingly, the other one pulling at his curls encouragingly, rougher with each touch. 

“I love you,” he whispered low and gruff, the sound of it making the ache between her legs more urgent. She felt him slide inside her, the movement slick and slow and glorious.

Their lips stilled as they were, not quite in a kiss, too breathless, but unable to truly come apart. 

Michonne’s grip on Rick’s arm tightened as he continued. His eyes were open, watching as she began to writhe under his touch. She noticed the corner of his mouth curl to a smile, his familiar smugness as maddening as it was hot. She was weak for it, though, that damn look, kissing it away with something featherlight at first that quickly deepened. 

It had been a long day, and Michonne was sure they could turn it into a long night. 

*

Rick picked up the overnight bag that Michonne had packed for them while she picked up their weapons, making sure there was enough ammo for a few days’ work. He’d been organizing the essentials by the door, ready to load up the van, when he finally stepped outside the house to see it. Their van. Looking a little different than the last time he saw it. 

The back doors were covered in paint. “JUST MARRIED” was written across them, in vaguely threatening-looking graffiti. Still, the sentiment was clear. 

As Michonne followed him out, noticing the words on the van a few seconds after Rick himself, he turned to see their friends smiling at them from the neighboring porch. Daryl, Maggie, Glenn, Hershel, Judith and Carl. (The paint splatter on Daryl’s sleeve made clear who the culprit was.)

Judith came sprinting toward her parents just as they both tried to formulate a reaction.

“Where do you think you’re going, little lady?” Rick asked her, his voice full of lightness and warmth. He had his arms out to scoop her up and she ran into them eagerly, her legs flying wildly as soon as he lifted her off the ground. Rick groaned a little at the weight of her in his arms now, taking a moment to get used to it before covering her face in silly kisses.

“Daddy!” she squealed, delight overriding any pretence of irritation. “Can I come with you?”

He looked back at her seriously for a second before replying, “No, sweetheart. Not yet. But we’ll bring you back somethin’ special.” He always tried to. A new book. A toy. Some craft materials. Whatever they could find and reasonably call a gift. He was getting good at it. Michonne liked to make it a competition, though. And she was hard to beat. 

Judith stretched her arms out to embrace him, wrapping them around his neck tightly as he kissed her shoulder. “I want you to be safe out there, Daddy. Always gotta be watchin’.”

“You don’t need to worry. I’ve got your mom to defend me if I get in any trouble. And you’ll have quality time with your brother.”

“And Uncle Daryl.” She grinned.

“Mm.” Rick raised his eyebrows. “Try not to get into too much trouble with Uncle Daryl. No more dead animals inside the house.”

“Okay, Daddy.”

Michonne crept up behind them to brush her hand through Judith’s soft, fluffy curls, their blondeness fading to a mousy brown with each new day. The little girl beamed at her mom and so did Rick, whose head turned the moment he saw Judith’s reaction. 

“You gonna be okay, baby girl?” Michonne asked.

Judith nodded before saying, “Daddy says I’m not allowed to come.”

“Not this time, not yet. But soon you’ll be a teenage tearaway and we won’t be able to stop you,” Michonne joked, glancing to Rick as he grimaced at the thought.

“Do you have your sword?” she checks, her small voice full of very serious concern.

“Yes, sweetheart, I have it.”

Judith nodded, acceptingly, looking between both her parents as if deciding whether to trust them. It was Carl’s nod over Rick’s shoulder that seemed to convince her eventually. 

“Give me a goodbye kiss,” Michonne requested, prompting a smile and a sweet little peck from her daughter who leaned across from Rick’s arms to Michonne. “And you be good, too,” Michonne warned as she noticed Carl approaching, with their friends a few steps away now too. 

“We’ll be fine,” Carl promised, Rick’s heavy hand on his shoulder the solemn reply. 

“Next time you wanna do a little arts and crafts, maybe stick to Judith’s easel,” Michonne teased Daryl, for the amusement of everyone. He only shook his head, a sideways glance to Glenn and Maggie – who can barely hold back their laughter – giving away the unsurprising masterminds of their little project. 

“Last time I try doin’ anything’ nice for you two,” Daryl mumbled but there was too much softness at the edges of it, no conviction. He was almost smiling, Rick noticed as he squinted in the sunlight at his friend. 

“Right, we better get out there,” Rick announced, finally loading their bags into the back and shutting the doors. “You guys gonna be all good here?” 

“Yeah, few folk already took the early shift on that section of broken fence. The gap is covered for now, but we’re replacing the rotten wood over that way today. Plenty built up to use, so shouldn’t be anymore walkers breaking in now,” Maggie explained, brow furrowed as she instantly reverted to leadership mode. It was that voice of authority that comforted Rick most of all, assuring him it was safe to go. She had a handle on things all on her own. 

Rick only nodded, brightening as he turned his head to Michonne and said, “Time to go, then.” 

“Time to go,” she agreed. 

“Happy honeymooning,” Glenn called out to them with a wave, Hershel copying the motion from where he sat on Glenn’s hip. 

*

Once they were gone, the gates of the town closing behind them, Carl headed back into his house with Judith gripping one hand while she skipped along. In the other hand, he clung to a polaroid from the day before. Maggie had made sure to give it to him while Daryl and Glenn were busy with Operation: Honeymoon Van. It was him, Judith, Rick and Michonne, all dressed up for their big day. There was a note from Aaron on the back that simply said, “Belongs in a frame.”

Their wedding picture. The official start of their new family. 

It was a photograph that belonged on display. He couldn’t help but smile as he looked at, examining the broad smiles each of them was wearing – even oblivious Judith, giggling away. His parents were looking at each other. In the picture, they looked at each other the way people used to. Before all the darkness. Like there was only light.

Aaron was right.

There were frames lined up on the mantelpiece from a life before, or perhaps they were old stock images that had never been replaced. Carl found the perfect one, right at the center of the mantel, and slid the photo into place there. Where it belonged. At the heart of their home. 

Ready for them to come home.