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All Hallow's Eve

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New Orleans, April 25, 1862

 

A crimson sun rose over New Orleans, bathing the city in a garish light. Below in the streets, the gutters were flooded with miniature ruby rivers. Pools of gore gathered between the cobblestones, and the air was choked in sulfur. Those brave enough to venture outside of their homes shielded their faces, scurrying to and fro, gathering the dead, assisting the wounded. In the distance, on the river, the war machines bobbed, their guns pointed outward. Soldiers were gathered on the decks, their navy uniforms gleaming, weapons at the ready. Down below, the Confederate troops huddled, bolstering their forces. 

 

On a balcony in the French Quarter, three women stood side by side, watching it all unfold. 

 

“I don’t think it can be avoided,” the middle of the three mused. Beatrix’s hand strayed to her necklace. She twirled the pendant between elegant brown fingers, her eyes following the path of ragtag group of soldiers. 

 

“It’s long past time,” the youngest, Cecile, spoke, eyes flashing. “We should have made our move months ago.”

 

“We don’t interfere,” Apolonia, the oldest, spoke sharply, her long braids swinging as she turned her head. “The future will be what it will be.”

 

“With our help,” Cecile countered. The wind ruffled through her thick mane of dark hair. 

 

“The Union is on track to win without us,” Apolonia pressed. “There is no need to expose us--”

 

Her words died in her throat as an explosion rocked downstairs, shaking the foundation of their building. The trio exchanged a glance. 

 

“Looks like it has been decided for us,” Beatrix observed, spinning on her heel. 

 

In a line, they descended, skirts swirling as they rushed down the stairs. The halls of their ancestral home were filled. Bleeding soldiers stood in gray, faces grim, guns in hand as smoke clouded the air. Apolonia stepped forward, undaunted. 

 

“How dare you?” she began, hands on her hips. “What need for this is there?” 

 

A few cowered before her rage, but the bravest stepped forward, rifle cocked. 

 

“Where is it?” he asked, voice trembling. 

 

Beatrix and Cecile joined their sister, standing at her side. “Get out,” the youngest threatened, her fists curling at her side. 

 

“Your magic,” the man pressed, turning the muzzle towards Cecile. “We ain’t leaving without it.”

 

The gun snapped back, striking the man full across his face. Apolonia’s eyes narrowed. She moved closer. 

 

“You will leave,” every syllable was laced in venom, daring anyone to oppose her. 

 

“We know you’re witches!” Another soldier found his voice. He cocked his weapon as well. “And traitors besides. You would have the Union win! You’d see us down to dust.”

 

His words bolstered the others. They drew tighter together, shifting nervously, their fingers twitching on the trigger. 

 

“We’d see the Confederacy and all those who defend it to the gates of hell ourselves,” Beatrix agreed serenely. “Would you care to go first?”

 

Behind the soldiers, the doors slammed shut, the bolts locking in place. With a gust like the wind, the lanterns extinguished, the flames guttering out. The red light of the sun bathed the lobby in an eerie glow. 

 

Terrified, one of the soldiers fired. Gunpowder filled the air. None of the sisters moved an inch. Beatrix opened her palm, releasing the flattened bullet. It clattered to the ground. A moment of tense silence spread. 

 

“Well,” Cecile observed, smiling. “Shall we?”

 

As one, the trio raised their hands. The screaming began in earnest. 

 

When the sisters had finished, the doors flew open once more, banging against the doorframe as though a hurricane raged inside. The limp forms of half a dozen soldiers spilled back out into the road, their bodies slumped, bruised, bleeding. Groaning, they crawled away, some still screaming, others shaking, all fleeing outright. Their fellow troops turned around in shock, eyes staring at the sisters crowded the doorway. They looked no worse for the wear, their clothing still immaculate, even as they rolled up their sleeves. 

 

Apolonia sighed. “I suppose we must fight now,” she exhaled, raising her hands again as the Confederates sprinted towards them, shouting. 

 

‘Witches!” they yelled, firing, screaming. “They’re witches!”

 

“Obviously,” Cecile huffed, throwing one man through the air. He landed in an undignified pile, screaming like a child for his mother. 

 

“Suited them just fine when they were asking us for help,” Beatrix scoffed, knocking a group flat to the ground. 

 

“Traitors,” another accused, stabbing out with his bayonet. With a thought, Apolonia melted it. The gun dissolved to ash in his hand with a touch of her finger, crumbling down to the wet cobblestones below. The man paled, falling to his knees, anger forgotten in lieu of fear. 

 

“Leave,” Apolonia demanded. “Or we won’t be so merciful.”

 

The soldiers froze, pausing. From among them, a deep voice began to laugh. One by one, every soldier’s head turned, the path clearing hastily for their leader. 

 

“Well Miss Hawthorne,” the owner of the voice stepped forward, hands clasped behind his back. “That ain’t very patriotic of you.”

 

All three sisters’ eyes narrowed. 

 

“Phillip,” Apolonia spat. “Why aren’t I surprised?”

 

Governor Phillip Blake spread his hands, shrugging as though it were all inconsequential. His uniform gleamed in the red sunlight, unblemished though the fighting had raged through the night. Blake had lost none of his formalities in the wake of such brutality, right at home in the horror that was war. 

 

“I tried reasoning with you ladies,” he declared, loud enough for all to hear. “But that time is past now.”

 

Behind him, his forces gathered, weapons at the ready. 

 

“Reason?” Cecile’s voice was little more than a growl. It hit Blake in the face like a whip, staggering him back a foot. “You call what you did reason?”

 

“You left me no choice,” Blake recovered quickly. “All these fine folks, left to die in the streets because of your selfishness.” He clicked his tongue, shaking his head. “I tried reason. I tried begging. I tried pleading. But now,” his grin was mean, eager. “Now, we try it the hard way.”

 

From above, someone gave a shout. The sisters looked up as one. A young boy was huddled on the balcony on which they had stood not half an hour ago. In his hand, he clutched a ruby bottle. 

 

“I found it,” he cried, holding it aloft. With a grunt, he cocked his hand back, throwing it towards Governor Blake. He caught it, uncorking it. 

 

“No,” Apolonia gasped, raising her hands again. 

 

The soldiers crowded around their leader, forming a barrier. The sisters tossed them aside, fighting through, their blood pounding in their veins. It was all for naught. The light of the sun grew redder still, focusing like a beam on Governor Phillip Blake. He began to laugh again, a hysterical chilling sound, until even his protectors fell back, terrified. 

 

“You have no idea what you’ve done,” Beatrix crossed herself, drawing in a sharp breath. 

 

“Run,” Cecile instructed, turning to the soldiers, to the citizens peering out at them. “While you still can, RUN!”

 

Her plea fell on deaf ears, the ground crumbling beneath their feet. The Governor’s rage became a palpable thing, all that was dark and cruel about him pouring out into the streets of New Orleans. 

 

The Governor began to laugh again. This time his voice echoed against the brick, a crescendo growing louder by the moment. His soldiers slammed their hands against their ears, trembling in the wake of what they had just done. 

 

The Hawthorne home began to move, bricks leaping from the walls to shatter on the street below. The boy on the balcony screamed in panic, the metal twisting beneath him like a great snake, scratching at him. Terrified, he lurched forward, plummeting to the ground. 

 

Cecile caught him, delivering him safely to earth. Beatrix closed her eyes, pushing back, saving their home from collapsing. Apolonia shoved her way through the throng, meeting the Governor where he stood. 

 

With a laugh, he blasted her back, hands glowing. 

 

“That’s more like it,” he chuckled, watching as she crumpled to the dust. 

 

With a scream, Beatrix ripped the balcony from their home, hurtling it at Phillip with all her might. It hit him like a cannon blast, sending him careening up the street. His soldiers fled after him, running like naughty children away from the scene of the crime. He did not stay down for long, standing again. 

 

“That wasn’t ladylike at all,” the Governor called to them, voice echoing. He raised a hand, shaking the foundations of the Hawthorne home again. This time, the buildings on either side began to crumble, tumbling down on the trio of sisters. Beatrix and Cecile pressed outward, preventing them from being buried. The distraction bought the Governor the time he sought. 

 

“We’ve got a war to win first, boys! To the river!” the Governor rallied, pointing in the distance. 

 

His troops cried out, delighted by this turn of events. As one, they began their march, leaving the ruined Quarter behind them. 

 

“Sister,” Cecile helped the eldest to her feet. “Are you all right?”

 

Apolonia dusted her skirts, a look of grim determination on her face. “Come,” she grabbed both of her sisters’ hands. “It is time to end this.”

 

They pursued the troops and their leader to the river, dogging their footsteps. Union forces had gathered on the decks. They were firing at will, but their bullets bounced harmlessly, dropping like flies. They pushed forward nonetheless, determined to overtake the city.

 

“Go boys!” The Governor cried out, pushing his troops ahead. “Show these Yankees to hell!”

 

“What are we going to do?” Beatrix asked her sister, eyes wide. 

 

Apolonia looked on, calculating, her brow furrowed. “It will take all of our strength,” she said quietly. “But we can put him down.”

 

She looked round at her sisters, squeezing their hands. 

 

“What are you going to do?” Cecile asked urgently, clinging to her. 

 

“End this,” Apolonia said simply. She smiled at the pair of them, bending to kiss each on their cheek. 

 

“Apolonia, wait--” Beatrix tugged at her arm. 

 

Apolonia stood anyway. “Cover me,” she instructed. 

 

Without another word, she spun, skirts swinging, and ran headlong into the fight. 

 

Soldiers flew back as though she was made of dynamite, crumbling in her wake. Apolonia did not stop until she reached their leader, standing resplendent in all of his stolen glory. 

 

“Miss Hawthorne,” he grinned, “So nice to see you.”

 

“I wish I could say the same,” she responded. She reached for him, grabbing his face, slamming her eyes shut. 

 

The Governor began to scream at once, a terrible pain seizing him. Apolonia trembled with the burden of it, but did not relent, holding tight. 

 

“She needs help!” Cecile rushed to her aide, Beatrix at her heels. They cleared the path for Union soldiers, enlisting their help. Scores of men in blue flooded the shoreline, weapons raised, determined to take the city. The battle began in earnest, the Confederate forces crumbling like a house of cards. 

 

“It’s over now,” Apolonia whispered, her face drawn. She drove the Governor to his knees in front of her. 

 

“I’ll end you,” he cried out, bitter to the end. “Your whole line! You’ll be nothing!”

 

With a smile, Apolonia bared down, her skin taking on an unearthly glow as the light faded from the Governor. 

 

“Not if I end you first,” she promised. 

 

In a blast, the pair of them disappeared, opening up the ground beneath them like a crater. Soldiers screamed in fright, falling back, but two sisters rushed forward still, tears streaming down their faces. 

 

“They’re gone!” a Confederate soldier yelled, dropping his gun. The others took up the cry. The surrender went quickly, until the whole field had been cleared. The Union swept in, securing the city. 6,000 Confederate soldiers were captured that day. The North pressed upstream, winning Baton Rouge as well. The body of the Governor was never recovered.

 

The history books would call it a stunning victory, a triumph for the North. The remaining Hawthorne sisters knew better. The gathered the ashes in the field, of Apolonia and Phillip both. No spell could separate them, despite their best efforts. 

 

“She bound him,” Beatrix whispered in despair. “She bound him with her own life force.”

 

Cecile, for her part, could say nothing. Her grief was too deep. 

 

In the light of the next full moon, the sisters crept outside, erecting a mausoleum in their sister’s honor. Here, they entombed Apolonia, the Governor with her, enchanting the space to preserve her forever. Her sisters visited her often, their daughters with them, and soon their daughters’ daughters. 

 

New Orleans forgot their sacrifice, but did not cease their fascination with the Hawthorne family, seeking spells and potions and solutions at the door at their leisure. The home became a hospital, then a boarding house in turn, guests coming and going, each whispering of the witches that lived there. 

 

Beatrix’s husband fell first, than Cecile’s in quick succession. By the time the two sisters laid down to rest, their daughters were widows as well. Generation after generation met their end, joining those who had gone before them. But as the men died, the daughters thrived, overcoming and continuing no matter what the world conspired to throw at them. 

 

The war ended, the world grew, the city changed, but the Hawthorne home stood tall in the French Quarter, it’s doors open to all those who needed help.

 

157 years later, its owner stood on the balcony that had once held her aunts, staring out over the city. She looked very much like the eldest, her features betraying her heritage, as all Hawthorne women before her. Now, her face was creased with worry. 

 

She’d dreamed of the man again, the one who so often haunted her sleep. He was coming closer, of that much she was sure. The thought scared her, though she did not know why. 

 

Over the city, the moon waxed, his bright edges trimmed in a crimson glow. 

 

Chapter Text

 

Early evening somewhere in the outskirts of Georgia, under the light of the waxing moon...

 

“Mother fuckin’ Merle Dixon!”

 

US Marshal Rick Grimes cursed alone in his car through gritted teeth. He jerked the steering wheel to avoid colliding with the nails littering the asphalt. His back tires caught despite his efforts, sending the car careening. It spiraled towards the railing lining the road around the quarry. Rick braced himself for impact, listening to the squelch of metal and the pop of airbags. 

 

“This car was new,” he bemoaned, throwing the door open. He removed his dark brown hat and tossed it onto the passenger seat, then unholstered his Colt Python, holding it at the ready. Around him, darkness permeated the forest, broken only by pale stripes of moonlight, stark against pitch black shadows. Rick stayed low, squinting into the night. 

 

From not far off the back country Georgia road, a wheezing laugh filled the air. 

 

“Losing your edge, Grimes,” a gravelly voice goaded from somewhere among the trees. 

 

Grimacing, Rick took aim, firing two shots into the darkness. He felt a grim sort of satisfaction when he heard Merle yelp, letting loose phrases that would make a sailor blush. 

 

“Fuck you, Grimes, you coward!” Merle hissed. He shuffled around, causing a ruckus. “You’d shoot a man in the back?”

 

Truthfully, Rick would shoot Merle wherever he had to. He gathered his feet beneath him, rushing forward. Merle cursed again, taking off. Clods of dirt and moss flew as the criminal fled for all he was worth. 

 

“You’re making this harder on yourself, Dixon!” Rick shouted, navigating through the trees. “Give up!” Even with the glow of the waxing moon, Rick couldn’t find a clear shot. He stumbled on a root, nearly tumbling to the unforgiving ground.

 

The laugh sounded again. “Fat chance, officer friendly.”

 

A gun fired, the bullet whizzing near Rick’s head. He ducked, dropping to the forest floor. The smell of damp earth filled his senses, rotting leaves and pine. There was something else there too, something far less fragrant. The stench of death turned Rick’s stomach, sending rage coursing through him. 

 

“Fuck,” Rick whispered, pushing back to his feet. He cocked his Colt again, hugging the trees, crouching low. The scent grew unbearable, sickly sweet in the humid evening. He could hear Merle’s labored breathing, the crunch of dried leaves as Dixon frantically sought to escape the law. Then, it all went silent save for a night wind rustling the tangled branches above him. 

 

Rick maneuvered carefully, steadying himself. Acting on instinct, he began to cut a wide circle, angling himself to face the road. Merle had to have an exit strategy, some way to escape. From the smell of it, Rick had stumbled into his new dumping grounds. Eyes alert, Rick searched for trails, footprints, any sign of where Dixon could have slunk off to. 

 

He found it in the form of a crimson stain, splattered on a moss covered stone. It was smeared, dragging off towards an outcropping of trees not far from the road. Rick exhaled, leveling the gun. A single shot rang out, whistling through the trees. The bullet struck home. Merle’s scream of pain echoed. Rick stepped out, ready. He could see Merle in the distance, stumbling further into the woods. Rick fired again, striking Merle in the shoulder. 

 

Merle fell upon the road, still crawling forward. Rick hastened after him. 

 

“It’s over,” he called out, gun still aimed. 

 

“You’re gonna have to kill me, Grimes,” Dixon spat, glancing over his shoulder. He dove suddenly into a bramble of bushes, fighting through the underbrush. 

 

“No,” Rick sprinted in earnest, determined to get to Merle. He was just feet away when something snagged hard around his ankles. Rick went down in an unceremonious pile, the iron-taste of blood filling his mouth. 

 

From the other side of the brush, a truck engine started, sputtering as it roared to life. Rick kicked out, attempting to shake free the fishing line tangled around his legs. He stood in time to watch the truck rush out of the forest down a narrow path, knocking plants apart as it went. Rick raised his Colt, emptying it. The bullets bounced harmlessly off the steel bed. Rick chased it until his muscles burned, giving up only once the headlights were just pin pricks in the darkness. 

 

In the distance, sirens sounded, drawing quickly closer. Rick limped to his useless car, trying to contain his frustration. Blood pooled in his socks, stemming out of the thin, deep cut from the fishing line. Rick cursed to himself, frustration mounting. The minutes it took backup to reach him felt like an eternity.

 

“He went east!” Rick shouted, pointing a dozen patrol vehicles up the road. They pursued hotly in the direction that Merle has disappeared. A black SUV came to a halt in front of Rick. 

 

“What happened to waiting?” Captain Aaron Neville accused, scowling. His curly hair was mused from the wind whipping through the open window of his car, but he otherwise looked neat as a pin. 

 

“You weren’t moving fast enough,” Rick grumbled, wincing as he kicked the fishing line off his jeans and to the ground. He scooped it as the team tore off into the forest, in search of evidence. 

 

“So you got him then?” Aaron asked knowingly, stepping out of his vehicle. He straightened his dress pants, watching the scene unfold with critical eyes. 

 

Rick sucked at his teeth, glaring off into the forest. “There’s at least one body out there. Probably more.” Many more, if Rick had to guess. Merle was nothing if not prolific. 

 

“Shit,” Aaron reached into the car for the radio, mumbling out a series of instructions. Around them, the once bare road filled quickly, forensics teams, patrol officers and more crowding around. Aaron sought off to meet them, mobilizing. “Check on him,” Aaron instructed paramedics once they arrived, jerking a thumb towards Rick. 

 

“Captain, I’m fine,” Rick protested. 

 

“Check on him,” Aaron turned, reiterating. “You sit your ass down, Grimes.”

 

Sullenly, Rick obeyed, lowering himself onto the back bumper of an ambulance.  

 

“Could you turn the light off at least?” Rick squinted in the crimson and white beams. “Hurts my head.” Though he was law enforcement, he disliked the sight of emergency lights immensely.

 

“Sure,” the paramedic blinked at him in surprise. Rick did his best not to grouse as they poked and prodded, checking him for injuries. 

 

“I just need a bandaid,” he assured them, biting his tongue. 

 

They ignored him, continuing their work. Ten minutes dragged by, then twenty, then a half hour. Rick grew increasingly more restless. 

 

“You satisfied that I’m fine?” he asked tersely, waving away a blanket. “You gonna let me stand up?”

 

Rolling their eyes, the paramedics retreated. Rick stood, wandering around the ambulance to look up the street. His captain was coming up the road on foot, red in the face. 

 

“You know, that was new,” Aaron returned, jutting his chin in the direction of what remained of Rick’s car. It was smoking, the windows cracked, the back bumper lying flat on the street. 

 

“Collateral damage,” Rick shrugged. “Did they get him?” he asked eagerly, pacing. 

 

Aaron shook his head, his veneer of calm cracking for the first time. “They’re still in pursuit,” he reported. “We’re shutting down exits.”

 

“You gonna block off every freeway in Georgia?” Rick scoffed. He swallowed another curse. “How many bodies?” he asked. 

 

“Four,” Aaron sighed. “So far.” He glanced off into the forest. It was fully dark now, the only light coming from the beams of flashlights and the continuing spiral of emergency vehicle sirens. 

 

“Shit,” Rick looked back up the road. He shuffled, looking as though he had half a mind to take off running. 

 

“What the hell happened?” Aaron asked.

 

“He got away.” Rick wanted to scream. “Again.” He threw the door to his smoldering car open, reaching in for his hat. He shoved it back on his wild coif almost violently. 

 

“We’ll get him,” Aaron patted Rick on the back, bracingly attempting to placate his friend. “Come in, debrief. We’ll get our game plan together.”

 

“Doesn’t he have people nearby?” Rick asked, wheels turning. “Somewhere in the South?”

 

“Brother in Louisiana,” Aaron confirmed. “But he doesn’t want anything to do with him.”

 

“Doesn’t mean Merle won’t go running to him. I hit him,” Rick gestured to his now-empty gun. “I know I did.”

 

“Then maybe he won’t last long,” Aaron mused. 

 

“Let me go get him,” Rick stepped towards his captain. 

 

“Grimes…” Aaron did not look at all surprised. “He’s armed. You’re bleeding, you’re filthy, you wrecked the damn car--”

 

“It’s been months,” Rick implored. “Let me end it.”

 

Aaron paused, fixing Rick with a hard gaze. “Rick,” he began, voice heavy. “It’s been longer than months. It’s going on years now.”

 

Rick swallowed, looking away. “What are you talking about?”

 

“I’m talking about the night your wife died,” Aaron pulled no punches. “I’m talking about this obsession.”

 

“It ain’t an obsession,” Rick protested. 

 

“Damn near is,” Aaron countered. “I understand, truly I do--”

 

“You don’t,” Rick’s voice took on a sharp edge. He softened it, drawing in a shaky breath, and stared instead at the tips of his boots. “I wasn’t there. And it was this bastards fault.” Rick turned away, staring back into the woods. 

 

“He didn’t kill her, Rick,” Aaron whispered. 

 

“But he’s the reason I wasn’t there,” Rick wiped his face, composing himself. He suddenly felt tired, drained. He forced the feeling down.

 

Aaron began again. “Rick this isn’t healthy. You started spiraling when we were partners. You stopped focusing on everything else. We would both be captains if—“ he broke off, crossing his arms, perhaps thinking better of it. “I’m worried about you.”

 

Rick chuckled wryly. “That your professional opinion?”

 

“It’s my friend opinion. Rick…”

 

Rick shook his head. “Captain, you gotta let me finish this.” He turned back to his friend, imploring. “When it’s done, I’ll come back. I’ll go to the shrink. I’ll talk about my feelings. Hell, I’ll take the captain’s test again if it helps you sleep at night.”

 

“It’s not about me , Rick,” Aaron sighed. 

 

“No,” Rick agreed. “It’s about stopping a killer.”

 

Aaron narrowed his eyes. A terse silence hung between them for a beat. “You’ve got a week,” he said. “You check in every day. You let the local authorities know that you’re coming.”

 

“I will,” Rick nodded, already in motion. “I need a car.”

 

“You need more than that,” Aaron snorted. Still, he tossed Rick his keys. “Be safe, Grimes.”

 

“I will,” Rick rushed for the SUV. 

 

“And Grimes!” Aaron called after him. Rick paused as he punched the keys into the ignition. 

 

“Yeah, boss?” he asked. 

 

“Bring the bastard in,” Aaron instructed. 

 

“Will do,” Rick threw the car in gear, peeling up the road. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

The following night in New Orleans...

 

“Maggie, I gotta tell you, I kind of hate this,” Glenn bemoaned, trailing after his girlfriend. 

 

The young brunette woman turned green eyes on her lover, offering him a mischievous grin. “What’s there to be nervous about?” she questioned. 

 

Glenn cut his almond-shaped brown eyes at her, sighing. “I don’t know babe,” he feigned ignorance. “Maybe it’s the fact that we’re walking towards a graveyard. Maybe it’s the full moon,” he listed. “Or maybe it’s because we’re breaking into a graveyard.”

 

“Well for one,” Maggie countered, reaching backwards for his hand. “There’s nothing to be afraid of when it comes to the dead. And for two, we’d be stupid to waste a harvest moon. And three,” she touched the chained fence surrounding St. Louis Cemetery, “We’re not breaking in. It’s unlocked.” The heavy chains and lock fell to the ground with a clang.

 

“Maggie, seriously,” Glenn pressed, looking nervously around. “Someone could see.” He shoved his ebon hair out of his face, pulling the brim of his cap up to better see.

 

“There’s no one here,” she rolled her eyes. 

 

“That truck--”

 

“Is empty,” she argued. “Looks beat to hell too. Bet it hasn’t run in years.”

 

Glenn stared at it, still unsettled. “I think we should at least call--”

 

“No,” Maggie answered sharply. At Glenn’s raised eyebrows, she amended. “It’s just… she does everything for us, Glenn. Everything.

 

Glenn paused. “I know,” he acknowledged quietly.

 

Maggie reached for his hand, running her thumb along the back. “She’s got this huge thing hanging over her head. She deserves to live without it.”

 

“Maggie,” Glenn began gently. “If generations of her family couldn’t break the curse, what makes you think we can?”

 

Maggie swallowed, her eyes turning to the towering wall of rotting brick. “I checked the book. Read every page. It has something to do with this place. I have to try, Glenn. I can’t not try.”

 

They both stood in the darkness, clinging to each other. 

 

“Alright,” Glenn agreed, lacing his fingers with Maggie’s.  

 

They walked through the gate, pulling it shut behind them. It was silent among the tombs, their footsteps echoing off the ancient marble and stone. Maggie conjured a small orb of light between her palms, walking cautiously. Glenn kept his hand on her back. 

 

“We’re looking for the family tomb,” Maggie whispered. 

 

“It’s this way,” Glenn redirected her. He’d been to this tomb many times, firstly clinging to Mrs. Hawthorne’s skirts, and then in the shadow of her daughter Michonne. He knew it like the back of his hand. 

 

The tomb was simple, unadorned, save for a wreath of roses on the entrance that never seemed to wither. The white petals caught the light from Maggie’s hands and reflected it back. Maggie gasped. 

 

“I’ve never seen it,” she breathed. 

 

Glenn stepped forward, his smile bittersweet. “I’ve seen it plenty. White roses were Mrs. Hawthorne’s favorites.” He tapped the petals. They winked open and closed at him. 

 

Maggie gaped. “Maybe it should be you,” she suggested. “You knew her. You loved her.”

 

“She was my mom,” Glenn agreed. “Or good as.”

 

“So she’ll talk to you,” Maggie guessed. She removed the small bag tossed over her shoulder, handing it to her boyfriend. 

 

“Maybe,” Glenn accepted it. He removed a small sliver of crimson chalk. “Help me draw the circle,” he requested. 

 

Maggie dutifully traced out the symbols, setting the short white candles out. With a wink, Glenn lit them. The stuttering flames cast dancing shadows on the walls of the tomb. The wreath of roses seemed to shrink away from them. 

 

Glenn sat, folding his legs beneath him. Maggie began to mumble in latin, a familiar chant. Glenn opened his mouth to add his voice to hers. The temperature around them plummeted, cold even for an autumn night. Glenn shivered, his eyes snapping open. 

 

“What the hell?” he whispered. 

 

“Mrs Hawthorne?” Maggie questioned, opening one eye hopefully. “Are you there?”

 

Silence was her answer. 

 

“Mama Vangie?” Glenn hazarded a try, conjuring up the image of the woman he missed so much. “Is that you?”

 

The candles around them went out in a sudden rush, plunging them into darkness. 

 

“Glenn,” Maggie stammered. “Something’s wrong. She should be talking to us by now.”

 

Silence was their only answer. Dread began to fill Glenn. 

 

“This isn’t her,” he said, heart racing. “Whatever this is, it isn’t her.” 

 

He reached over, snuffing out the candles in one whoosh of air. They reignited immediately. 

 

“Oh shit,” Maggie grew frantic as well. “Glenn…” she reached beside her, wiping the crimson chalk with a flattened palm. It began to smear, the powder transforming into a viscous liquid of the same color. Maggie raised her blood-splattered hand, horrified. 

 

Around them, the candles became tall pillars of flame, roaring to life and singeing the two young adults in the center. The remainder of the chalk ran in rivers, pooling and moving towards them.

 

“Shit, Mags,” Glenn began to tug her away. She dug her heels in, still looking at the mausoleum. 

 

“We have to stop it, Glenn,” she protested. “There has to be a spell, any spell--”

 

Her words died as a laugh sounded, cruel and rolling and undeniably male. It echoed against the marble and concrete, chilling the couple to the bone. The stones around them began to shake, as though their occupants were waking up. 

 

Glenn began to chant, eyes slammed shut, hand twisted around Maggie’s. She too began her spell, yelling to be heard over the whip of the winds, and the villainous laugh. It died in a moment, the candles extinguishing, the blood absorbing into the ground. 

 

“Did it work?” Maggie asked cautiously. 

 

The doors to the Hawthorne mausoleum flew open with a bang. Inside, dark shapes were moving, gathering, waking up.

 

“Glenn,” someone croaked, a cruel facade of a once-familiar voice. “Glenn…”

 

Glenn went pale, stumbling back. He tossed a hand out, slamming the door back shut. It rattled, shaking wildly. The screams of its occupants rose up in earnest, generations of women, all calling out. 

 

“Glenn!” a voice yelled, feminine and commanding. “Get out!”

 

He edged closer, torn. Maggie seized his hand, pulling him back to reality. 

 

“We need to run!” she shouted.

 

The laughter came again, but this time crescendoed, almost as though it were chasing them. Glenn and Maggie tore out of the cemetery and onto the darkened road, bricks and marble shattering behind them. Maggie turned, throwing her hands out. The gates shut, the chain wrapping itself back into place. 

 

At once it was silent. They stood panting, holding one another across the street. Overhead, the harvest moon now emitted a pale, crimson stained glow. 

 

“Let’s go,” Glenn said firmly, his stride not breaking as they continued up the street. He was trembling despite his conviction, all color lost from his cheeks.

 

Maggie did not protest. 

 

In the midst of the circle they left behind, a man materialized, gaining form until he stood solid. He was tall, imposing, dressed in Confederate Gray, his uniform outdated by centuries. He watched the couple disappear up the street, but did not pursue. Instead, he glanced down, kicking at the candles until he revealed the tiny sliver of crimson chalk. 

 

“Well ain’t that convenient,” he grinned wickedly, popping his neck. 

 

The winds around him howled, throwing the gates open as the reawakened headed out into the New Orleans. 

Chapter Text

The Hotel Hawthorne sat just a few blocks away from Bourbon Street, an unassuming jewel in the crown that was the French Quarter. With red brick, iron balconies, and ivory creeping up the sides, it cut a picturesque, if not glamorous impression for over a hundred years. It was not perhaps the fanciest of accommodations, but it was the most infamous. The hotel had been run by Hawthorne women for a century and a half. And if a person knew anything about New Orleans, they knew that there was something off with the Hawthorne women. 

 

Not that anyone would dare say so to their face. They were a beautiful group, generations of stunning, educated women, dark and lovely and powerful to boot. They controlled their own destiny, securing their fortune generations before their kinsmen secured their freedom. The Hotel Hawthorne was a symbol of their prosperity, a safe haven. Thousands flocked to the power within its walls over the years, seeking cures, seeking advice, seeking solutions. There was nothing that the Hawthornes could not do for you-- so long as they did not love you. 

 

There is debate as to when it all began, but tragedy haunted the female members of this family. It was natural that women of such stature and beauty would attract their fair share of suitors. What was unnatural was the lifespan of such suitors. Since the Civil War at least, the men who loved Hawthorne women met untimely and often violent ends. Generations had been raised without fathers. The current owner of the hotel was no exception. 

 

Michonne Hawthorne did her best not to dwell on curses, men, or tragedy. Her life had been colored thus far with enough of that, and frankly, she was tired of it. There were far more pressing concerns to occupy her time. She had a garden to tend, a library to catalogue, guests to accommodate, a life to live. And while she was well-loved by nearly all who crossed her path, she maintained a certain mystical aura about her. Michonne, in all her beauty and all of her intelligence and resourcefulness, was not a woman to be trifled with. Few attempted it, and fewer still went unscathed when they did.  

 

The morning after October’s Harvest Moon, Michonne woke as she normally did, rising before the sun. The ancient sidewalks of the French Quarter whizzed by beneath her feet as she ran, heart pounding, hair streaming, lungs burning. Fall was in full swing in New Orleans, the humidity giving way to chilly air and cool breezes. Locals were up already, preparing for the day, brewing coffee, heating oil, kneading dough for beignets. The tourists were inside, or stumbling back to their rooms, nursing headaches sure to keep them laid up until noon. It suited Michonne just fine. In the silence of the morning, she had room to think, and she was in desperate need of thinking. 

 

It had begun with a dream, a reoccuring episode that now spanned weeks. Something was stirring beneath the soil in New Orleans, something that might soon require her attention. She could feel it as surely as the beating of her own heart. All of the signs were there. The pale moon, the red dawn, an aura of unease. 

 

Something was coming and she intended to be ready. 

 

“Morning, Lou,” she slowed her steps, coming to a stop in front of a familiar vegetable stand. 

 

“Michonne,” the shop owner greeted her with a wide, toothy smile, his Cajun accent coloring every syllable of her name. “What brings you out this morning, chere?”

 

“I have the herbs you wanted,” she reached back for her little backpack, extracting a nondescript paper bag. “I put the instructions in there for you.”

 

Lou’s brown eyes widened, his grin spreading ever more. “My wife is gonna be grateful,” he shook her hand warmly. “We ain’t got a wink of sleep since the baby started coughing.”

 

Michonne handed him the package. “A little in his milk, and there’s a salve there to rub on his chest. He should be breathing clear in no time.” 

 

“Don’t know how I could thank you,” Lou looked suddenly teary eyed. Michonne held up a hand. 

 

“Maggie’s been wanting to bake a pie,” she smiled, holding up a dew dollars. “Could I get first pick of the apples?”

 

“Of course,” Lou rushed to secure her a bag, “Take any you want.” He handed it over. “And these are for you. Vangie insisted. Says there you’re favorites.” He extended three large pomegranates, ruby red and beautiful. 

 

“You don’t need to,” Michonne objected. 

 

“Won’t take no for an answer,” Lou foisted the fruit on her, refusing to accept the money. “You tell Maggie to bring by a slice of that pie. We’ll call it even.”

 

Michonne accepted the gift, tucking it all away. “Will do, Lou. You have a good day.”

 

“You too, chere,” Lou winked. “Don’t go breaking any hearts out there, now.”

 

With a laugh, Michonne continued on her run. Her bag grew heavier as she made her way back from the river, stopping at the stalls that dotted the streets. She passed a pawn shop of sorts, not much more than a table ladened in secondhand clothing. A stack of men’s shirts caught her eye. 

 

A dark brown blazer was on top. She recognized it from her dreams. She laid her hand on them, trying to discern more, wondering why she felt such a pull towards them. 

 

“$20 for the pile?” she asked the vendor, rifling through a few shirts, a tan jacket, and a pair of dark washed jeans.

 

She carried these home along with the food, enjoying the coral color quality of the sky. The horizon was tinged in red though, an ominous warning. Something was coming for sure. 

 

“Morning,” the bell rang on the front door as she stepped in, her locs brushing her back even in their high ponytail. Glenn and Maggie were seated behind the desk, talking in low tones. The couple, normally bright-eyed and bushy tailed, had a distinctly harried look to them this morning. Glenn’s face bore the beginnings of a dark goatee, and Maggie’s curly hair was mussed. 

 

“Morning,” they greeted in unison, jumping apart like naughty children caught in the middle of mischief. 

 

Michonne watched them. “Long night?” She hazarded. 

 

“Full moon,” Maggie explained while Glenn went oddly blotchy. “Wanted to celebrate it.”

 

Michonne stared them down. “What’d you do?”

 

“Nothing,” Glenn blurted. 

 

“Drinking,” Maggie said in the same breath. 

 

Michonne held in a sigh. “We’ll discuss it later. She set her bags down. “Glenn, get the coffee started. Maggie, I need you to check the books. Halloween means a full house.”

 

They nodded eagerly, leaping to their feet. “What’s this?” Glenn paused from gathering groceries to look at the clothes. 

 

“That’s mine,” Michonne said lightly, plucking them from his hands. “These too,” she took the pomegranates. “Maggie, those are your apples.”

 

“More?” Maggie asked, eyebrows jumping. “Aren’t we trying to get rid of apples?”

 

“Lou sends his compliments,” Michonne grinned. “Maybe whip up a few pies.” She hefted the clothing into her arms, drawing another curious look from Glenn. 

 

“Not quite your style,” Glenn observed, hurrying away with the groceries. 

 

“There’s a room open,” Maggie glanced up from the ledger. “Did you want me to fill it?”

 

Michonne shook her head. “Someone will fill it soon enough,” she said, shooing Maggie off to her work. 

 

She took advantage of the last quiet moment of her morning, heading out back to her garden. The trees and plants here were ladened, bearing fruit and vegetables that any farmer would be jealous of. Michonne paused to check her roses before continuing on. She found a narrow patch of rich dark soil among her lemon trees. Kneeling, Michonne selected the ripest of the fruit. She easily dug a hole, lowering the pomegranate into it and covered it again. Before she’d managed to stand up and turn around, a tree took root, heavy with ripe, ruby pomegranates by the dozen. 

 

The other two went into the bowl on her desk. Michonne sat the clothing beside it, attempting to call up the image of the man in her dreams. 

 

He was coming, of that she was sure. She only hoped he’d bring good news with him. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

“Well he ain’t disappeared,” Rick protested, following the sergeant around the precinct office. “He’s bleeding to death somewhere.”

 

“Marshal Grimes, we know ,” Sergeant Sasha Williams was at her wits end with him. “And we’re looking.”

 

“You got any leads?” He pressed. 

 

“His truck was found by St. Louis Cemetery 1,” she recounted, trying for patience and not quite succeeding. “We brought it in as evidence.”

 

“And you searched the cemetery?” Rick asked. 

 

“Obviously, Marshal. We aren’t federal agents, but I assure you, we know what we’re doing.” She cut dark eyes at him, daring him to press her further. 

 

Rick softened his tone. “Could I see the file?”

 

Satisfied, Sergeant Williams nodded. “The security footage too. Some kids were seen in the area. Probably a harmless prank. The gates of the cemetery stayed locked all night. We know he’s got a brother, but the youngest Dixon is in jail for a possession charge. He won’t be getting help there for 3 to 6 months. We think he might have stolen a car, but nothing’s come up yet.”

 

Rick nodded, accepting a thumb drive from her. “Thanks for your help,” he said. 

 

“Go get some rest. Clean up. We’ll let you know if anything turns up.” Her eyes darted over his ensemble. 

 

Rick had driven through the night and half a morning, arriving in New Orleans on Merle’s tail. He was still mud splattered, red with blood on his pants leg. His beard had long since gone past regulation, the graying hair curling at the ends. Rick smoothed a hand through his coif, attempting to push it back in order. 

 

“I’ll be back this afternoon,” he told her. 

 

“Looking forward to it,” Sergeant Williams moved off. “Might be some accommodations left in the Quarter if you go now.”

 

Rick walked back to his SUV, plugging the thumb drive into the car’s laptop before he even shut the door. He rifled through the reports, growing frustrated. Navigating to a video, Rick opened the security footage. 

 

Merle had arrived at nearly three this morning. Slamming his best up truck against the curb. Rick watched in satisfaction as the killer nearly fell out of the driver’s seat, stumbling away and into the darkness. 

 

Restless, Rick fast forwarded, looking for anything that could help. It was less than an hour later, according to the film’s time stamp, that he saw the two kids Sergeant Williams mentioned. 

 

Rick squinted, watching as the young woman on screen dragged a reluctant man along with her. He paused it, attempting to memorize their features. 

 

“What were you two doing?” He mused aloud. He pressed play again, watching as they approached the fence. 

 

The video went black in a blink. Rick clicked the mouse, disbelieving. 

 

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” he sputtered. He attempted to navigate further, but the file was corrupted. He had half a mind to march into the precinct again when his phone rang. 

 

“Did you sleep?” Aaron asked immediately. 

 

“No. I’m looking at evidence,” Rick reported. A yawn split his face, but he quickly quelled it. 

 

“I know. I got a call from a Sergeant you already managed to piss off. She says you look like shit.”

 

“It ain’t that bad,” Rick glanced at himself in the rear view mirror, wincing. 

 

“Really?” Aaron asked sardonically. “Stop angering the locals. Get a room. Take a shower. Take a nap. Report back when you’ve done that.”

 

“Captain I’m fine,” Rick protested. 

 

“You aren’t walking around disgracing the Marshals. You do this by the book, Grimes. Don’t let me get another call about you. And shave.”

 

He hung up without another word. 

 

Rick tossed his phone into the passenger’s seat, starting the ignition. Loathe though he was to admit it, he was in desperate need of sleep. His brain was fuzzy, his body exhausted. He maneuvered his vehicle away from the precinct and headed towards the French Quarter. New Orleans was coming to life, tourists streaming into the city. Rick navigated the roads aimlessly, staring into the faces of every passerby, searching for Merle. 

 

Driving in the Quarter was an exercise in frustration. Tourists darted in and out of the streets, dressed for the holiday, drinking already. Rick groaned, waving them out of the way. Looking at the signs for hotel after hotel, Rick had half a mind to pick the first one he saw with a vacancy. 

 

Instead, he spotted a woman on the corner, staring down the street like she was waiting for something. His eyes strayed to her, taking in her waist long locs, affixed with metal trinkets, and her black lace dress. For a moment, he wondered if she too was in costume. Her hair was piled to the side in a loose plait, her feet adorned in ebon ankle boots. She looked stunning. He wanted a closer view of her face. Her elegant chin was tilted, her full lips pursed, dark eyes staring out into the street. 

 

A blaring horn brought Rick back to reality. He cursed, moving forward, aware that the woman was now looking at him. She smiled, waving slender dark fingers ladened with rings. Without a word, she turned on her heel, heading into the front door of a hotel. 

 

“Hotel Hawthorne,” he read the sign outloud, contemplating. Within seconds, he’d decided. Rick jerked the steering wheel, pulling into a parking garage. This was as good a place to sleep as any. Checking his reflection, he left the SUV, taking his laptop and his hat with him. 

 

He’d stayed at hundreds of hotels during his time as a Marshal, but none quite so interesting at this. The Hotel Hawthorne had marble flooring, graceful columns, and a lobby packed to bursting. It looked less a hotel and more an antique shop. Art and photographs in ancient mix-matched frames hung from the walls. There were overstuffed chairs and hand-carved coffee tables, books stacked upon every surface. Whoever was the caretaker here must have had quite the green thumb. Not only was the outside brick covered in ivy, but the inside had plants by the dozen. An aging baby grand piano was pushed into one corner. It must have been electric because it was playing a rendition of Clare de Lune. The music echoed, filling the crowded space. It was soothing, comforting. Rick felt marginally relaxed for the first time in weeks. 

 

He looked around as he walked, his shoes clicking against the hard floor. A black streak caught his eye, running across the tiled ground for the grand staircase. Rick watched the cat run away, heading up the stairs with casual familiarity. For a moment, he wondered if he’d come into the wrong place by mistake. Then a voice called out, rich and sweet like honey. 

 

“Welcome to Hotel Hawthorne,” the woman from the street greeted. “How can I help you?”

 

Rick started, pausing. She was more stunning by far up close. She fit right in with the decor here. “I’m…” he wet his lips. “I’m looking for a room.”

 

“Then you’re in luck,” she smiled. “I think we’ve got just what you’re looking for.”

 

Chapter Text

“This will be your room,” Michonne pushed the door open, holding it for US Marshal Rick Grimes to step through. He paused at the threshold, reaching over her head. 

 

“After you,’ he gestured, offering her a lopsided grin. His eyes crinkled at the corners, a becoming look, despite his almost slovenly appearance. Perhaps in his day to day, Marshal Grimes was handsome, but he’d clearly had a rough night. 

 

Michonne laughed, shaking her head. “This is for you, Marshal,” she reminded him. “I have my own room.”

 

He flushed, a delightful blush creeping up his neck. “Sorry,” he apologized in his heavy southern accent. He was without the musical lilt often found in the Quarter. His syllables were colored with something rougher, something further east. “I need sleep.”

 

“Well, this is the perfect place for that,” Michonne gestured to the four poster bed. “Should be quiet, with the door and window closed. You can open it, if you want a breeze.” 

 

Rick looked around, nodding absently. He toyed with the hat in his hands, bending the soft leather brim. Michonne took another moment to watch him. In her dreams, she’d only gotten impressions of the man, like looking at a person through a cloudy window. She hadn’t expected him. 

 

“Well,” he turned back to her, mustering another tired smile. “Thanks for showing me up here. It’s a miracle you had one room left.”

 

“Lucky you,” Michonne nodded. “Do you have any luggage?”

 

The blush began again, along with a gravelly kind of stammer. “Uh. Not at the moment.”

 

“You’re staying for a week?” Michonne arched a brow, watching as his face creased. She had no doubt that in the best of times, Marshal Grimes would have had a much quicker response. Something was weighing on him, something she was willing to bet had contributed to the blood and mud splattering his suit, and the bags beneath his eyes. 

 

“I’ll pick something up,” he assured her, stepping into the room. “Where’s a good place to eat up here?” he asked. 

 

“Plenty of places,” Michonne leaned against the doorframe. “But if you want something really good, I suggest you eat here.”

 

“Is that so?” he tilted his head at her, sucking at his teeth. “That’s your unbiased opinion?”

 

She smiled. “That’s the truth,” she said simply. 

 

“All right,” Rick nodded. “I’m gonna clean up, take a nap. Then I’ll come on down.” He seemed at last to register his appearance. 

 

“No need,” Michonne stepped backwards, into the hallway. “I’ll have something sent up.”

 

“You know the boss or something?” Rick asked, chuckling. “Got connections?”

 

“Well, Marshal Grimes,” she mirrored him, laughing lightly. “Being Michonne Hawthorne has its perks.”

 

“I bet it does.” She’d surprised him with that, that much was obvious. He looked almost impressed. “Thanks for giving me the VIP tour, Mrs. Hawthorne.”

 

“It’s Miss,” she informed him. “And please call me Michonne. Get some rest, Marshal Grimes.”

 

“Call me Rick,” he told her, extending a hand.

 

She reached for it. The moment their palms touched, something like a spark passed between them. It ran up her arm like an electric shock. Michonne did her best not to gasp. Hastily, she relaxed her hand. Rick held fast. 

 

“Nice to meet you Rick,” Michonne said, praying her voice didn’t sound as breathless as she felt. 

 

“Nice to meet you too,” he grinned. All debate of whether or not he was handsome fled her mind. 

 

Michonne pulled her hand back, spinning on her heel. It was all she could do to not run from the room. She exited, nearly sighing in relief at the sight of the black cat staring curiously at her from the hall. Eager for a distraction, she bent, scooping Virgil off the ground and tucking him beneath her arm.

 

“Cute cat,” Rick called out, smiling amusedly from his doorway. His grin widened when he caught her eye. 

 

“Thanks,” she responded. “He’s kind of a brat.” As though to illustrate her point, Virgil kicked free, spiraling gracefully to the ground before streaking down the hall, away towards Michonne’s rooms. 

 

Rick only laughed. Michonne waved again, flushed, before moving down the stairs. Maggie was at the base, staring up with interest. 

 

“Who was that?” she whispered excitedly. “Was that who you were saving room for?”

 

“Who said I was saving a room?” Michonne asked in turn, calming herself to walk back through the lobby. Maggie dogged her footsteps, unfooled. The girl was too perceptive by far.  

 

“He’s handsome,” she smiled conspiratorially. “I mean, a little bit of a mess, but,” she shrugged. “Handsome.”

 

“He is,” Michonne agreed easily, heading for the kitchen. She did not mind the sight of his dimpled cheeks, the blue of his eyes, or even his messy hair one bit. Even his hand, calloused and rough though it may have been, had proved too much for her. 

 

“What’s his deal?” Maggie asked, positioning herself beside the counter. Glenn was there already, fussing with the coffee machine. 

 

“Who are we talking about?” he asked, smiling at both women as they entered. Michonne smiled back, offering him a one armed hug as he passed. 

 

“The handsome man that Michonne just personally escorted to his room,” Maggie reported with obvious glee. She kissed Glenn on the cheek. He flushed as though she didn’t do this nearly every chance she got. Michonne hid her smile. 

 

“Oh really?” Glenn’s eyebrows jumped. “You going to play matchmaker?” he asked his girlfriend, shooting a skeptical look Michonne’s way.  

 

“She will do no such thing,” Michonne warned the younger woman. Maggie cheerfully ignored her. 

 

“It couldn’t hurt to learn more about him,” Maggie said. 

 

“Famous last words,” Glenn groused cryptically. The pair of them froze, exchanging eye contact before looking away. 

 

Michonne watched carefully. She reached for a plate, piling raw foods onto it.  “You two ok?” she questioned. 

 

“Hungover,” Maggie offered an apologetic shrug. 

 

“What are you making?” Glenn asked, eagerly seizing the chance to change the subject. “Breakfast is over. I was going to handle lunch.”

 

“This is something extra,” Michonne shrugged, tossing in ingredients. She paused, reconsidering. Heading for the cupboards, she retrieved raw macaroni. “Maggie, can you hand me some cheddar?”

 

Maggie and Glenn exchanged a knowing look. Maggie went to the fridge, returning with a yellow block of cheese. Michonne put it in a bowl with the macaroni. In a blink, it was baked mac and cheese, steaming up at them. 

 

“Let me guess,” Glenn began.

 

“--The sloppy hottie up there is hungry?” Maggie finished. 

 

“He’s a little worse for the wear,” Michonne evaded. “We wouldn’t be very good hosts if we left him starving.”

 

“Mm hmm,” Glenn hummed skeptically. “So he’s getting a full southern dinner for brunch?” He turned to the stack of fabric. “Wait, is that what the clothes were for?” Recognition registered in Glenn’s eyes. 

 

He and Maggie both stared at her, looking for all the world like expectant children. Michonne’s heart gave a funny kind of lurch. She knew what they desired for her. It wouldn’t hurt half so much if it was something she could ever give them. 

 

“The food is for him, yes,” Michonne confirmed. “And the clothing will be as well.”

 

“All this special treatment,” Maggie observed, tone carefully controlled. She drummed her fingers on the counter. “Must be something you like about him.”

 

“He’s a US Marshal,” Michonne reported, loading the plate further still. “He’s hunting down a killer.”

 

There was silence at this. Glenn and Maggie both stared, flabbergasted. 

 

“He told you all of that?” Glenna asked. 

 

“He didn’t need to.” Michonne selected a mug, setting it beside the plate. “Can you grab the clothes for me?” she asked Glenn. He nodded, heading for a table in the corner, returning with the stack. 

 

“Wait,” Maggie held up a hand. “So how did you know?”

 

Michonne winked. “My superior deductive powers.” She lifted the plate, now loaded with southern cooking at its finest. 

 

“Can you read minds?” Glenn asked, amazement on his face and something almost like fear. 

 

Michonne only smiled, setting the food and clothing on a tray. She grabbed a kettle of coffee to go with it. “I had a dream,” she said at last, gathering everything into her arms. The coffee pot floated serenely by her side. 

 

“So he’s a US Marshal,” Glenn said carefully. “Any idea what led him here? Is he doing your job for you?”

 

“I do more than keep the roads clear of criminals,” she reminded them. “But I’m going to find out his purpose,” Michonne said, hoisting the tray with a wink. With a smile she left, heading back out and upstairs. 

 

Maggie and Glenn watched her go, remaining in the kitchen. 

 

“We should tell her,” Glenn said once the door was shut, staring at his girlfriend. 

 

“We’re not even sure there’s anything to tell,” Maggie argued. “Look how happy she is. Why worry her today?” She gestured to the door. They could hear Michonne humming on the other side. “You checked this morning, right?”

 

Glenn nodded. “Looked like nothing happened,” he reported. 

 

Maggie hugged him. “Halloween is her favorite holiday. We can tell her afterwards.”

 

Glenn sighed. “When we tell her, I’m letting her know it was all your idea.”

 

Maggie rolled her eyes before kissing Glenn fondly on the cheek. “Obviously,” she smiled. “I better get back to work.”

 

Glenn kissed her back, turning to the coffee maker. “Think she actually likes that guy upstairs?” he asked. “She’s never dated anyone. Not since--” he cut off, listening to Michonne’s voice get closer again. 

 

“Maybe,” Maggie whispered. “I hope so.”

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Rick wasn’t much in the habit of accepting favors from strangers, let alone relishing them. Even more rare was the notion that he’d spend anytime at all thinking about one. There were criminals to catch, after all, and he had more than his fair share of demons to occupy his time. Memory haunted him, most often in his sleep, his traitorous mind filling with old hurts and unrighted wrongs. He fully expected this rolodex of pain to visit him when he laid his head down in the four-poster bed of his room at Hotel Hawthorne. What he did not expect was to dream about the hotel’s caretaker. 

 

“Christ,” he bolted up from the pillows, his body slick with sweat. Rick sat up for a moment, drawing in deep, calming breaths. His heart rate slowed gradually, awareness returning to him as the dream slipped away. “Get it together,” he mumbled to himself. 

 

One interaction. He’d had literally one interaction with the beautiful woman downstairs, and he was dreaming about her. Aaron might have been right about him needing therapy. The vision had been vivid, the smell of her perfume, the feel of her soft skin, her voice in his ear, telling him how much she wanted him. Rick could have lived with this fantasy alone, but the end of the dream had been anything but satisfying. Gorgeous Michonne Hawthorne had dissolved in his arms, her body going molten until she was nothing but ash. 

 

“Get it together,” Rick repeated to himself, pulling the covers back. 

 

A shower cleared his mind, the steam filling the bathroom and his lungs. He felt better by spades as he climbed out of the clawfoot bathtub, wrapping a towel around his waist. His hair dripped water down the back of his neck as he reemerged in his room. A knock on the door startled him. 

 

“Room service,” a voice called through the wood, sing-songy and pleasant. Rick hastened to open it, then paused, realizing his state of undress. 

 

Carefully, he cracked the door, peeking out into the hallway. It was quite empty, the only noise being the faint sounds of the lobby’s piano and voices coming and going in the rooms around him. Rick’s eyes dropped. A sterling silver cart sat unceremoniously near his door, burdened with a stack of clothing and a covered tray. The smell alone was enough to set his mouth watering. Rick grasped the handle, rolling it smoothly inside. There was a simple, cream-colored card atop the clothing. Rick shut the door, seizing it with one hand and flipping it open. 

 

Thought these might come in handy. 

~Michonne

 

Her handwriting was neat, the letters curling slightly. Rick paused at it. Gingerly, he lifted the lid of the tray, nearly falling over at the scent. Fried chicken, greens, baked macaroni and cheese— a lineup of his favorite foods were all arranged artfully on a plate. She’d cooked for him, of that he was oddly certain. She might have even gotten these clothes for him herself. It was an odd amount of attention for a hotel owner to pay a guest. 

 

“Maybe she likes you,” he spoke out loud to himself. The thought was far too appealing. 

 

He rolled the cart to the bed, sitting back down. He started with a cup of coffee, sipping on the flavorful brew as he considered his next move. His stomach decided for him with a loud growl. Throwing caution to the wind, Rick seized the fork and dug in. He was halfway through the plate before he remembered he ought to check in with Aaron. Balancing the phone between his shoulder, he dialed the number. 

 

“This is me checking in,” Rick said in lieu of a greeting, swallowing another mouthful. 

 

“You’ve eaten?” His captain asked. “Slept? Showered? Shaved?”

 

“Eating now,” Rick took a bite of chicken, holding in a delighted groan. “Slept a couple hours and showered. I’m reviewing the case. You’re gonna have to deal with my beard for now.”

 

“Fine,” Aaron conceded. “Any leads?”

 

“Just these two kids,” Rick stared at the computer screen, memorizing their features. “Dixon’s car turned up, but no him. I’m going back to the precinct. See what I can find out.”

 

“Stay on it,” Aaron instructed. “And be careful.”

 

Rick disconnected, finishing his food. He felt better than he had in years. He shut his laptop, preparing to head out again for the long haul. He glanced over at the clothing, folded with the note atop it. Reaching for it, he pulled it on, piece by piece. It fit like a glove. Rick did his best not to dwell on this. He strapped his holster on, turning his mind back to the matter at hand. Dixon was bleeding out somewhere. Rick intended to find him. Seizing his Colt and his hat, he headed out of the door. 

 

Rick glanced once more at the cart, noting the ruby red apple still sitting on it. He seized it, tossing it once in the air before taking a bite, crunching as he headed out into the world again. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

A few hours earlier...

 

In a narrow alley in the lower 9th Ward, Merle Dixon was dying. 

 

He’d seen it enough to know what it looked like. Hell, most of the time he was the one who’d done the killing. He didn’t mind death, not one bit. He’d seen his first man die at 12 years old at the hands of his own daddy. He’d killed his first just after dropping out of high school, leaving her body on the side of the road. 

 

Merle had done plenty more murdering, some for money, some for drugs, some because he was just plain bored. Watching the light leave someone’s eyes was fascinating, no matter how he did it. 

 

He found he liked watching the life seep out of himself a whole lot less. 

 

Old memories were coming back to him, snatches of Biblical passages, Sundays in church with grandma. He’d long since given up on the idea of heaven, of hell, of the devil, but now he was having misgivings. Suppose it all was real?

 

He was going to hell for sure. 

 

“Fucking Daryl,” he moaned, cursing his incarcerated little brother. “Fucking, Grimes.” The man who shot him was probably laid up somewhere, comfy and happy. He’d be a hero: Officer Friendly who took down the Backwoods Killer. They’d throw him a parade. Merle would be as dead in a ditch as all them faces before him. There was a poetic kind of irony to it. 

 

Chuckling, he tried to sit up against the brick wall, groaning as the effort nearly knocked him unconscious. 

 

“I don’t wanna fucking die,” he muttered into the darkness. A red sun was rising out there in the east, but he could barely see it. They would find him here in this alley, sitting with the rest of the trash. 

 

“I believe I could help you with that,” an uppity southern accent filled the narrow space. 

 

At first, Merle swore he was hallucinating. He blinked up in the low light, taking in the sight of a tall man in gray. 

 

“What the fuck are you supposed to be?” he snarled, spitting as he talked. “You one of them reenactors?”

 

The man in gray chuckled, stepping closer to him. “I assure you, friend, I’m very real.” He paused, peering down into Merle’s face. 

 

“We ain’t friends,” Merle wheezed, clutching the gaping wound in his side. Goddamn Grimes had hit him with at least three shots. He’d be impressed if he hadn’t been on the receiving end. 

 

“Perhaps not,” the man straightened up, looking amused. “Not yet. I’m Phillip. Phillip Blake.” He extended a hand. 

 

“What’s that mean to me?” Merle asked, wincing. 

 

“You’re dying, Merle Dixon. I can stop that. In exchange for your help, of course.” Phillip smiled. With the hand he held out, he touched Merle, right over the worst of his bullet wounds. 

 

At once, the pain subsided. Merle blinked in surprise. 

 

“What the fuck are you?” he asked. 

 

Phillip held out his hand again. “I’d like to be a friend,” he repeated. 

 

“And what do I gotta do?” Merle asked. 

 

“Help me finish an old errand of mine, and I’ll heal you. Hell, I’ll do you one better. In exchange for your assistance, I’ll help you get back at the man who did this to you. Grimes, was it?” he raised a brow. “With my guidance, he won’t be long for the world.”

 

Merle considered this, stumbling to his feet. Phillip watched. 

 

“What do I gotta do?” Merle asked, shaking his hand. 

 

Phillip grinned, clasping his wrist. At once, Merle felt an odd kind of charge run up his arm. His wounds closed one right after the other, his exhaustion fading away. 

 

“First things first, we need some new clothes,” Phillip said. “And we’ve got an old friend of mine to go see.”

 

“Easy,” Merle agreed, popping his muscles. 

 

“Then let’s go,” Phillip reached for him again. 

 

A red sun continued to rise over New Orleans, but neither man was standing in the alleyway. Only a crimson stain against the brick betrayed their presence at all. 



Chapter Text

“You look better,” Sergeant Sasha Williams observed as Rick walked through the door of the precinct. 

 

“Took a nap,” Rick confirmed, coming behind the counter. 

 

“And a shower it looks like,” Williams nodded her approval. “Where’d you end up staying?”

 

“Hotel Hawthorne,” Rick answered, distracted already. “Anything new on Dixon?”

 

It was as though the air got sucked out of the room. The precinct went silent at once as a dozen pairs of eyes turned to Rick. 

 

“Hawthorne?” Williams choked on the water she was sipping, her manicured eyebrows jumping. 

 

“Yeah,” Rick discarded his borrowed brown jacket on a chair beside him. “Nice place.”

 

An officer scoffed, but quickly quelled the sound once Rick turned questioning eyes on him. 

 

“Was the owner there?” Williams asked, her tone controlled. 

 

“She was,” he confirmed. A vision of Michonne sashaying down the stairs filled his mind. “She seems nice.”

 

Someone laughed outright at that. “Don’t get too close to her,” the officer cautioned. 

 

“Why?” Rick directed his question towards Sergeant Williams. “Does she have a record?”

 

Sasha’s face creased, as though she were debating how much to disclose. “Not exactly,” she hedged. She began to tug at the pile of curls atop her head, a nervous tick that surprised Rick. 

 

“Then what?” he asked, irritated now. 

 

“She’s a witch,” an officer piped up from his desk. A few others chuckled nervously. 

 

“What?” Rick scowled. He looked over at Sergeant Williams, sure that she would share his incredulity. Instead she stared back at him, watching carefully for his reaction. Scoffing, Rick reached for a stack of files on the desk in front of him, eager to get back to his search. “I don’t have time for this,” he groused, hoping this would be the end of the conversation. 

 

“She’s a witch,” the officer repeated, louder this time. “Her whole family.”

 

“You’re kidding, right?” Rick shot the officer a scathing look. “We got a serial killer running around your city and you’re spouting bullshit about--”

 

“I mean, you could call her whole family serial killers,” the officer defended himself. “How many people do you think have died?” he asked his partner beside him. 

 

The other man shrugged. “My mama’s cousin dated her aunt or something like that. Ended up having a heart attack before he turned 30.”

 

“Sounds like he should have worked out or something,” Rick didn’t miss a beat. “Bad health isn’t exactly a killing.”

 

“Ok, well what about her daddy?” the first officer piped up. “Dropped dead before 40. Doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him. And the step dad? Got hit by a car right outside that hotel. Or shit, maybe that was someone else…”

 

Rick sighed, doing his best to maintain a hold on his faltering patience. “What are you talking about?” he asked, biting out every syllable. 

 

“All right,” Sergeant Williams stood up, raising her hands. “Get back to work, guys.”

 

“You better tell him, Sarge,” the officer laughed as they all meandered away. “Before he’s the next one.”

 

“Garreth, back to work,” Williams barked, shaking her head. The officer scampered off. She turned her eyes to Rick. 

 

“The hell was that?” Rick dropped into the seat next to her, flipping open Dixon’s files. 

 

Williams sighed. “You met the owner right?”

 

“Michonne?” Rick nodded in the affirmative, already reading. 

 

“So you know she’s pretty.”

 

“Being pretty makes you a witch?” Rick snorted, rifling through the pages. “Are you a witch then?”

 

“Williams laughed lowly. “I don’t know about witches. But men that Hawthorne women get involved with...they have an ugly trick of dying young.”

 

Rick glanced up over the file. “Sounds like the same shit that happens to the rest of the world happens to them,” he countered.

 

Sasha shook her head. “Except it happens way more frequently. Accidents mostly. Generations of them. Hit by trucks, fall off ladders, mysterious illness…” she shrugged. “You name it. Everybody around here knows that.” Her voice went oddly quiet, as though this was a subject she’d rather not discuss. 

 

“Just like everybody here knows they’re witches, huh?” Rick grunted, returning to the file. 

 

Sergeant Williams leaned forward. “Look, if you’re staying there, you’re probably going to see some weird shit. Might have seen it already. And judging by that blush running up your neck when we first mentioned Michonne--” she broke off. 

 

Rick threw her a scathing look that proved ineffective. Sasha cocked an eyebrow. 

 

“I’m just saying. Might be best to keep your distance.” She shrugged. “I don’t want to have to clean up another body in the Quarter.”

 

Rick laughed, grinning crookedly at her. “I’m here to find a murderer, Sergeant Williams,” Rick reminded her. “Same as you.”

 

Sasha chuckled but said no more on the subject of the Hotel Hawthorne or its history. “The truck is in impound. We combed it. The most we found was what looked like a bucket of blood. If it’s Dixon’s we aren’t looking for a fugitive anymore. I think we’re looking for a body. No way anyone could survive that.”

 

“You checked the hospitals?” Rick asked. 


Williams nodded. “Every one. No one has seen a gunshot wound in the last 24 hours, or anyone matching Dixon’s description. How many times did you hit him?”

 

“A few,” Rick said. It was a shame it was so dark that evening, or this might already have been over.  

 

“He would need some serious medical attention. It’s a miracle he could even drive.” Williams huffed, put out by the whole affair. 

 

“Well,” Rick sighed. “He’s a stubborn sonofabitch.”

 

“He’s a dead one now, I’d guess.” She tapped her hands on the desk, deep in thought. “ I’ve got everyone on the lookout for a body. We’ll find him.”

 

“I’m going to take a look,” Rick announced, unwilling to sit still. “Won’t believe it until I see it.”

 

“Where are you going to start?” the sergeant asked. “Do you want a partner?”

 

Rick shook his head. “I’m quicker alone. Figured I’ll start at that cemetery. Poke around and see what turns up.”

 

“Suit yourself,” Williams acquiesced. “I’ll radio you if anything changes.”

 

Rick stood, reaching for his jacket. “I’ll let you know if I see any witches,” he told her with a wink. 

 

Sergeant Williams only laughed. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-




Michonne’s suite occupied the top floor of the Hotel Hawthorne. When she was a child, she’d lived here with her parents, happy in the familiar comforts of her mother’s family home. Her father was quite the handyman. Under his attentions, old brick and molding wood became open, spacious rooms and windows. Sunlight flooded the kitchen, the counters, the farmhouse sink, splashing against walls of old shelves sagging under the weight of cookbooks, trinkets and family photos. Michonne had played in these halls, running down the narrow corridors to her grandmother’s room, sitting in the ancient rocking chair while she sang, or sewed, or made her potions. 

 

The halls were largely quiet now, especially when Glenn and Maggie were elsewhere. Michonne pretended that she did not mind. 

 

It still felt like home: the kitchen bearing traces of her grandmother, the rugs her mother and father had picked out lining the living room floors. She was present now too in her colorful trappings and art, in the plants adorning every surface, and in the wide open windows and heavy manuscripts. It was in this space that she concocted her potions, read her spells, took her rest.

 

It was here that she currently fixated on Rick Grimes. 

 

She was no stranger to dreams of this nature, suffering from them at a young age. Her nights oft were haunted by omens, snatches of the future, warnings of impending trials. Michonne grew used to them over the years, resigning herself to eventful sleep. Most often it was like watching a previews at the movies, a glimpse into what the day might hold. Some people needed spells, some needed potions, some words of wisdom. The neediest of them came to her at night and Michonne found them in the day. It was rare that a dream proved unclear to her, and rarer still that she dreamed of a man. 

 

She tended not to spare much thought for men, preferring to operate as though the notion of love did not exist. Oh, she had lovers from time to time, and had even been involved in a longer dalliance or two. Only once had she committed the error of falling in love. 

 

She was in no hurry to repeat the mistake. 

 

If Rick Grimes was here for a purpose, than she would fulfill it and send him on his way. Since her dream, she’d felt a dizzying sort of vertigo, as though she was on the precipice of something out of her control. Michonne didn’t care for the emotion at all. Once Rick was out of the hotel, she had no doubt that this odd feeling would abate. He would become just another handsome face, a stranger who found her attractive. God willing, Marshal Grimes would go on to lead a long and eventful life. 

 

Michonne opened her window a crack, tempting in some fresh air to cool her heated skin. The hotel was packed, the holiday beginning. She’d spent the better part of her day creating elaborate Hallow’s Eve desserts, preparing for her annual party.

 

Rick was looking for a murderer. This was all well and good. Michonne could assist with this, point him in the right direction. One less murderer on the street, one less distraction inside her walls. Resigning herself, Michonne went to her ancient leather chest, shooing Virgil gently from his perch, and threw open the lid. 

 

Immediately, it became apparent to her that someone had rifled with her possessions. 

 

Two someones, she’d wager, though she was willing to bet it was more Maggie’s idea than Glenn’s. It explained their guilty behavior all morning. Michonne sighed, contemplating her next move. They’d done a fair job of covering their tracks, but they’d forgotten one critical fact: Michonne had taught them everything they knew. 

 

“Glenn?” she called pleasantly out into the hallway. 

 

“What’s up?” his head appeared in the doorway, his faded red ball cap balanced precariously on his ebon hair. In some ways, Glenn looked much the same as when Michonne met him. Young, intelligent, and eager, Glenn made a star pupil almost instantly. He was razor sharp, resourceful, and a natural at magic. He was also hopelessly in love with their resident troublemaker at Hotel Hawthorne. 

 

“Could you help me look for something in here?” Michonne asked, pushing the door open wider. 

 

“Sure.” Glenn was nervous already, but attempting to disguise it beneath a winning smile. “Do you want me to get Maggie?” he asked. 

 

“No,” Michonne shook her head, reaching for him as he approached. “I haven’t gotten some time with just you in awhile.” She playfully tapped his hat, guiding him into her suite. 

 

Glenn swallowed thickly. “Sorry.”

 

“For what?” Michonne asked lightly. “She’s your girlfriend. Of course you would spend time together. What’s there to be sorry for?”

 

“Nothing,” he stammered entirely too quickly, going as red as his hat. “I mean, there’s nothing we--I should be sorry for.”

 

Michonne blinked serenely at him. “Are you alright? Tired today?”

 

“Yeah,” Glenn eagerly seized on the excuse. “That must be it.” He laughed, an odd, hollow sound. 

 

“Glenn,” Michonne began, “I get the sense that you want to tell me something.” She began to rifle in her chest, setting items aside one by one. Glenn’s eyes followed. “Am I right?” she asked. 

 

He went even more scarlet, his eyes dropping to the floor. “No!” he blurted. “I mean...maybe. I--” he took a breath. “I wanted to ask about that detective guy. You dreamed about him?”

 

“I did,” Michonne nodded, continuing to search the chest. Her books were out of order. She lifted them out slowly. Glenn began to choke. 

 

“And you knew he was going to come today,” Glenn pointed out, gaining steam. “You were waiting for him.”

 

“I suspected,” Michonne said. “He is searching for a killer. Perhaps we could locate him.” She leaned into her chest. “I need my book. Have you seen it?”

 

“Why would I have seen it?” Glenn’s voice cracked. “And you’re talking like a regular killer though,” he imparted. “Right? Like a human one? Someone alive?”

 

Michonne paused, looking over at her acolyte. “Glenn,” she said slowly. “Please tell me what you need to tell me.”

 

“Maggie and I went to the graveyard last night!” he blurted, voice too loud. Relief settled over his features almost the moment the statement left his mouth. “It was the Harvest Moon. The book, your family’s book, it said it’s the best time to...” Glenn swallowed. “I wanted to talk to Mama Vangie.”

 

Fear seized Michonne, ice cold in her chest. “St. Louis Cemetery?” she asked, trying to calm herself. 

 

“Yeah,” Glenn sighed. “We wanted to ask about the curse.”

 

“Why?” Michonne narrowed her eyes, her patience fleeing her at once. “Why would you ask about that Glenn?”

 

Glenn went blotchy. “Because Maggie and I see you. We see you Michonne, helping everybody else, pushing everyone who tries to get close away--”

 

“It’s none of your business,” Michonne felt flushed, “It’s none of either of your business.” Virgil, sensing her distress, hissed from the bed. 

 

“It is,” Glenn protested. “We live here too. And maybe we’re not blood, but we’re family. We just wanted to help.”

 

“You don’t know what you’ve done,” pressure built behind her eyes. Michonne wiped it away. “You don’t know who you could have talked to.”

 

“A man,” Glenn said at once. “A man was there. Or his voice, at least.” Michonne’s stomach dropped. “We…” Glenn swallowed, continuing. “I don’t know. All the bricks started shaking, and someone started laughing, and we just ran--”

 

Michonne did not wait to hear the end. She swept out the door, dark skirt swirling around her ankles, locs streaming in her wake. Glenn was behind her, apologizing, stammering. 

 

“I went back to look this morning. Everything seemed fine,” he railed on. “Maybe it was a protection spell, something meant to spook us.”

 

“You should not have meddled with that tomb!” Michonne snapped. “You have no idea what it held.”

 

“Your family...” Glenn tapered off, misgivings tripping him up. 

 

“Yes,” Michonne hissed, keeping her voice low as they made their way past room after room. “My family. Protectors of New Orleans for centuries. Generations of Hawthornes, all in a row. There are things we guard, even in death.” Michonne spun on him. “Things of which you have no knowledge.”

 

“Oh,” Glenn lost all color. “Michonne, if you just told us--”

 

“There are things you aren’t ready for,” Michonne snapped. “Both of you.”

 

She spotted Maggie near Rick Grimes’ room. Maggie leapt up at once, turning an odd shade of puce. 

 

“I wasn’t doing anything!” she swore, hands up. “I was going to do turn down service.”

 

“From what I hear, you’ve done enough,” Michonne continued walking towards her. Perhaps her rage was palpable. Maggie responded immediately.  

 

“We wanted to help,” she explained. “We know about the curse and we just wanted to help.

 

“I told her, Maggie,” Glenn said. “She knows what we meant to do, but what we did do--” he broke off. “Maggie, it might be bad.”

 

“There is no might,” Michonne interrupted. “You have done damage that may become irrevocable.” She pushed past the younger couple.

 

“Michonne,” Maggie called after her. “We’re so sorry. You’re scaring us--” the girl attempted to get her to stop. 

 

Michonne did not slow, laying her hand on the US Marshal’s bedroom door. It opened at once. She entered, moving for the pile of bloodied clothes on the floor. She seized the shirt, tossing it onto the bedside table. She hovered her palm above a crimson stain, shutting her eyes. A moment later, she snapped them open. 

 

“I’m going to the cemetery,” Michonne announced. “Watch the hotel. The usual protection spells should hold strong until I return.”

 

“Michonne,” Maggie began, her face blotchy. “What’s going on?”

 

Michonne exited the room, slamming the door behind her. The trio huddled in the hall, the younger two withering under her glance. 

 

“Pray I can undo any damage that you have done,” she said, moving towards the stairs. “We will discuss more tonight.”

 

“Should we come with you?” Glenn piped up, stepping forward. 

 

“You’ve both done enough,” Michonne gathered herself, glancing out of the window, half-expecting to see that familiar and cruel face. She needed to find Rick, and quickly. 

 

“Are we in danger?” Maggie asked, voice unnaturally high. 

 

“All of New Orleans is,” Michonne answered. 

 

Without another word, she exited the safety of her hotel, heading for St. Louis Cemetery. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

There was an eerie kind of charm to the towering mausoleums and stained brick, if truth be told. Rick clearly was not the only one who thought so. There was a line of tourists outside of the walls, all waiting in the chilly autumn air for their turn to enter. Rick walked to the front of the line, flashing his badge at the bored attendant seated at the entrance. 

 

“I need to take a look in here,” Rick said in his most no-nonsense voice. 

 

The attendant blinked in surprise. “You need to take a tour. It’s $20--”

 

“I ain’t here to tour,” Rick cut him off. “I’m in search of a fugitive. He may have come here last night.”

 

“No way,” the attendant protested. “We were locked up tight all night.”

 

“I’m taking a look,” Rick stepped around the stand, ignoring his protests. 

 

“Look man, you gotta take a tour,” the attendant tried one last time. 

 

“Bill me,” Rick shouted over his shoulder, plowing ahead. 

 

The air was thick between the ancient stones, heavy with moisture. Iit was oddly silent, a vacuum in the middle of a bustling city center. Rick slowed his steps, feeling suddenly ill at ease. Unsure what he was looking for, Rick peered at the dates on the headstones and gothic monuments, mentally clocking. 

 

The city of the dead was an eclectic mix, some new, many old. There were names of souls who departed centuries ago, and a few famous names as well. Rick found himself staring, entranced by the monuments, some sinking, some aged, some brightly polished. He wound through them, searching for something unknown.

 

A fog began to grow, but Rick scarcely noticed, continuing his sojourn onward. He came to a stop in front of an ancient mausoleum. The red brick had been whitewashed, the color stark and bright. Rick squinted at it, wondering at the name. 

 

“Hawthorne,” he read outloud, his heart skipping a beat. His mind went to the hotel, to Michonne, at once. Stepping closer, he glimpsed at the names and dates, etched into the front. The top one was most faded, almost rubbed away. “Apolonia Hawthorne, 1862.” Rick traced the letters with a finger.

 

As he stared, its appearance began to change, the pristine white fading away. Bright red X’s began to appear, scratching themselves into the sides and front, as though someone was writing them in real time. Rick blinked in surprise, stumbling back a bit. 

 

“What the hell?” he muttered to himself, reaching for his gun. He’d barely touched the hilt when the door to the mausoleum swung open with a resounding bang, its ancient hinges creaking. From deep inside, Rick could see the outlines of people, women in antique dresses, watching him from the dark. 

 

“Run,” one of them spoke, her voice panicked, sending dread racing straight into his heart. Rick stumbled back, lifting his Colt. 

 

The mist swirled, clouding everything around him, choking him. Rick spun, seeking to escape. The ground, once concrete, became sludge, sucking his feet in up to the ankle. Startled, Rick cried out. 

 

In answer, someone laughed a familiar, wheezing croak. 

 

“Not so tough now, are you, Officer Friendly?” Dixon asked from the shadows. 

 

Rick seized his Colt, leveling the weapon in the direction of the open tomb. In the shadows, shrouded by fog, he could see the murderer Merle Dixon, his eyes glowing a preternatural red. Rick fired without hesitation.  

 

Merle only continued to laugh, bearing down on him with a grin. 

Chapter Text

Pain shot up Rick’s arm in excruciating waves as he went flying through the cemetery, landing hard on his forearm. There was a sickening cracking sound, his bone shattering like porcelain. Rick grit his teeth, biting his cheek until his mouth filled with blood. 

“Bet you weren’t expectin’ that,” Merle cackled, stalking after him. 

Rick pushed his feet beneath him, cradling his arm against his chest. His grip on his Colt had slipped in the fall, skittering away into the growing mist. The fog was moving, crawling like some living thing between the tombstones, suffocating the life out of the grass and weeds that had managed to pop up through the concrete. Rick shuffled out of it’s reach, his mind reeling with one terrifying thought: 

Perhaps witches were real. 

“I thought you was a faster runner than that,” Merle continued jeering. A headstone shattered with a loud bang, exploding just inches from Rick. He flinched, falling again. The mist crept ever closer. 

“Ain’t so fun when it’s you doin’ the running, huh?” Merle asked, stepping around to grin down at Rick. The fog was emanating from him, pushing out from Merle’s feet in toxic waves. It reached the bottoms of Rick’s boots. The rubber began to burn at once. Rick scrambled further backward. He stared back at the mausoleum, terrified, his eyes trying to make out the figures inside. For a moment, he thought he spotted a woman. She looked familiar. Rick reached out for her. The woman reached back, pushing Rick out of the path of a shattering brick. His gun also moved as though on its own accord, sliding closer to him. 

“You know,” Merle hovered over him, tossing another brick in the air like a softball, “I was gonna make it quick. Kinda figured you’d buckle as soon as I threw you that first time.” He smirked, an ugly, crooked grin. “You’re tougher than I gave you credit for, Officer Friendly.” He kicked at Rick’s arm, tossing the missile in his hands at him almost lazily. 

Rick let out a grunt, eyes watering. His skin was beginning to blister as the mist gathered around him, his eyes and lungs burning. It became clear in one terrifying moment that this was the end of the road. 

Yelling, Rick got to his feet, startling Merle as he made a sudden dive for his Colt. He was millimeters away when a force jerked him from the ground in a rush. Rick flew backwards once again, thrown bodily against the side of the ancient tomb. 

He saw stars, his head spinning, his arm at an awkward angle, blood running down his face. 

“You never want to do anything the easy way,” Merle observed, strolling towards him. “Almost makes me like you.”

Rick spat, blinking sweat and blood out of his eyes. “Go to hell, Dixon,” he hissed. 

Merle only smiled. “You first.” He raised his fist again, brick in hand. Rick tilted his chin up, bracing himself. 

In the fog, he spotted something, a dark shadow behind Dixon drawing quickly nearer. Rick wondered at it for a moment, assuming it was perhaps a trick of his mind, the fantasy of a dying man. In front of him, Dixon opened his closed fist, shoving Rick backwards, pinning him between some unseen force and the brick wall behind it. The air rushed out of Rick’s lungs. He went blue, suffocating. He looked wildly around for the women from the tomb, desperate for help. 

“See you later, Grimes,” Merle chuckled. 

Behind Merle, the dark shape became clear. Rick’s eyes widened at once with recognition. Michonne Hawthorne stood tall, head up, arms out, hair streaming behind her. All trace of kindness was wiped clean from her expression. In its place was a kind of controlled rage, all of it directed at the man attempting to snuff Rick from this earth. 

Before Merle even realized she was there, she threw him ten feet in the air without even touching him, yanking him down again like a toy top. He hit the concrete, shattering it with his body, yelling in surprise. Michonne gave him no time to recover. She bared down, clenching her fists. Merle began to scream, his body convulsing. 

Merle’s hold on his hostage slipped. Rick crumbled to the ground in an undignified pile, taking great gasping breaths as air rushed back into his lungs. He watched dizzily, slumped against the mausoleum. 

“Who the hell are you?” Merle questioned Michonne, his cockiness forgotten. 

Michonne did not answer, only tossed him back. The mist cleared at once, fading away back into the source. Merle yelped in pain. Panicked, he flung a palm out, managing to move Michonne back a few inches. She threw him again, skipping him over the ground like a stone in a pond. 

Merle, realizing that he was outmatched, or perhaps spiteful until the end, redirected his attention towards Rick. Wheezing, he pushed his hand in the direction of the mausoleum. The brick began to crumble at once, burying Rick in rubble. 

Rick lacked both the strength and wherewithal to so much as scream. His world was going dark in a hurry, his heart rate slowing. 

“Now is not your time,” a calm voice told him, the cadence at once soothing and terrifying. “Fight, Marshal Grimes,” it instructed. “Fight.”

Rick opened his eyes, adrenaline filling him. He pushed out, every motion sending stabbing pain through his chest. The bricks shifted, pushing at him. He tried to scream. 

At once, the heavy pile pulled away from him, stacking themselves back into order at record speed. Michonne stood in the distance, her face turned away from him, her hand pointed towards him. The mausoleum took shape, settling back into place. The world went silent in a rush. 

Rick let out a rattling gasp, surprising himself at how horrible his wheezing sounded. Michonne turned towards him at once. She rushed for him. 

“Rick,” Michonne’s face was inches from his, concern etched all over her expression. “Rick, stay with me.”

He blinked groggily, watching through clouded eyes as she fussed with him, tugging at his blood-soaked clothing.

“Michonne,” he exhaled, full of questions, barely clinging to consciousness. 

“Hang on,” she instructed, her hands finding his. “Just hang on.”

Rick shut his eyes, giving into the darkness. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

Glenn and Maggie were at her door, watching anxiously when Michonne arrived. They started at once, leaping to their feet when she appeared, sagging under the weight of an unconscious Rick. 

“Oh my God,” Maggie’s hand flew to her mouth. She burst into tears on sight. Glenn, though panicked, rushed forward, supporting the dying US Marshal. 

“What do you need?” he asked, grunting as he took on most of Rick’s bulk. 

Michonne assisted him, ignoring her blood-streaked hands. “I need my case,” she directed this at Maggie. The girl swallowed thickly, but scampered off on shaking legs. “Glenn, lay him on the bed.” She tossed Rick’s battered hat on the nightstand. It landed in perfect condition, restored once more. 

He complied, getting Rick situated as Maggie returned with the case clutched to her chest. She sat it down beside Rick, opening it. Michonne suppressed her panic as she examined the US Marshal. 

Resilient though he proved to be, he was unmoving now, his heart beating slowly and faintly, his skin pale and blood streaked. He was burned, bruised, beaten to a pulp, his bones broken in more than one place. Michonne calculated, seeking the best place to begin. 

“What can we do?” Maggie asked Michonne, calming herself. Michonne offered her a grateful nod, her earlier anger abatted. She straightened up, stepping back from the bed. 

“I need to see how hurt he is,” Michonne rushed around her room, gathering supplies. 

Her students obeyed, tugging the soiled jacket off. Maggie made quick work of his blood-stained shirt, gasping outright when she spotted the myriad of gashes and bruises. Rick’s ribs were clearly shattered. He gasped, wheezing, fighting still. 

“What happened to him?” Glenn’s eyes were wide. He went pale, looking moments from becoming sick. 

Michonne did not answer. She had only minutes now. She busied herself, beginning with the worst of his injuries. The spell came to her like a second nature, heat blossoming from the tips of her fingers. His punctured lung she repaired first, then his shattered ribs. She traced her hands along his ashen skin, erasing the damage as best she could. 

“He’s not waking up,” Glenn’s voice was shaky. 

Michonne nodded. “He’s been cursed,” she muttered, still poking at him. “Grab the small violet bottle from my case.”

Glenn obeyed at once, shoving it into Michonne’s hand. Michonne carefully removed the stopper. The scent was at once calming, a clean smell, like the embodiment of spring. She lowered the bottle, administering a single drop into Rick’s mouth. 

With a rattling gasp, he began to breathe again, his chest rising and falling. 

“Is he going to live?” Maggie asked quietly. 

“I will do my best to ensure he does,” Michonne sighed. Exhaustion was filling her now, her relief short-lived. 

“Michonne,” Glenn began in a whisper. “What was this?”

“An old enemy,” Michonne stood up, her work not yet finished. “And a new one as well.”

They stared at her expectantly. Michonne took a shaky breath. “The Governor, that’s what I’ve always known him by,” she began, reciting from memory. 

Glenn and Maggie crowded closer to her, eager to hear. Michonne continued. 

“Sometime during the Civil War, he came to rule New Orleans. He played the part of a southern gentleman, all charm and good graces, but beneath his skin, he was a monster, even more so than most men were at that time.” Michonne recounted. “My ancestors, three sisters, they lived in the Quarter, in this house. Ran a hospital of sort for soldiers, runaways in the war. People respected them, looked to them.” 

“Like you,” Glenn observed. 

Michonne nodded. “The Governor, he heard about them, heard about three black women making money. He heard they were magic. I guess he figured he’d get some of that magic for himself. Propositioned them all, wanting a look at our spellbook. They refused. Then he went one at a time, oldest to youngest. They refused, refused, refused. But with the youngest...I guess he figured if he couldn’t have what he wanted, he’d take it by force. She fought him off, hurt him pretty bad, but it was nothing compared to the blow she dealt his pride. The Governor let them be for a bit, but he bided his time, spreading rumors, poisoning New Orleans against the sisters. And when the war came to New Orleans, the Governor saw his chance. He gathered his forces, marched to this house, demanding my aunts give up their magic.”

“Then what?” Maggie whispered. 

“Someone broke in. I doubt he knew what he was looking for, because he skipped over the spellbook, but found my aunts’ potions. They kept quite a few back then, for emergencies, in case the war went bad. Some unassuming boy stumbled on one meant to turn the tide.”

“He stole it?” Maggie asked. 

“Didn’t know what it did, but he figured it’d be good enough. Brought it to the Governor. Poured the whole thing in his mouth.” Michonne sighed. “That monster of a man turned into a monster for real. Leveled half the town. History will tell you it was the battle. But it was the Governor, raising the town to ash, and my ancestors, fighting him.”

“But they won,” Glenn said. “Obviously, they won.” He leaned forward, all nervous energy.

Michonne worried at her nails, continuing the story. “At a cost. They managed to bring him down, but not without a fight. As long as the Governor stays buried, banished to hell where he belonged, our line is cursed too. Any Hawthorne woman, from here to eternity, bares the scar.” She sighed, her eyes darting to Rick, unconscious in her bed. “ Any man who dares love us takes the curse on, dying in the spring of his life,” Michonne said. “My father, my grandfather, even my step father, all the way back. We continue, guarding the Governor, keeping him buried. But the cost for that is love.” The admission sat heavily, hanging in the air, the truth finally spoken aloud. 

“Mike,” Glenn wiped his face, unable to meet her eye. 

Michonne looked away. “By seeking to speak with my ancestors, you woke the Governor. But I’m afraid it might be my fault too.”

“Michonne, no,” Maggie sobbed quietly. “It was Glenn and I--”

“My magic has weakened,” Michonne admitted. “After Mike, I…” she paused. “The Hawthorne line needs to continue. It needs daughters, one right after the next. It means more people will die. And I wasn’t willing to do that.” Mike’s death had damaged that part of her, erasing any notion that life might be kinder to her than it was to her parents. “Now the Governor is awake.”

“We’ll stop him,” Glenn said, all reckless courage. “You have us. You’ve taught us. The three of us can do it.”

“Maybe so,” Michonne smiled gratefully at him. 

“And the Marshal?” Maggie looked frightened, but she steeled herself. “The dreams?”

Michonne looked over to Rick. He was breathing, his chest rising and falling in a gentle rhythm. 

“That remains to be seen,” she said. She stood, bending over Rick again. His breathing was regular, the pallor returning to his skin. “For now, there is no time to waste. Nor to be afraid.” 

Glenn and Maggie nodded, grim resignation settling on each of their faces. 

“We need to gather our strength,” Michonne said, doing her best to maintain her calm. “We need to be ready. All of us.”

“What do we say?” Maggie asked. “When she asks, what do we tell her?”

“We will tell her that The Governor is awake once more,” Michonne said. “And this time, he has an ally.”

-l-l-l-l-l-

Miles outside of the city, the Bayou began to come alive, its residents moving within the shallow waters. The swamp, though beautiful at the best of times with its willows and greenery, was home to many predators. Alligators prowled its waters, venomous snakes sheltered in its trees. Smart folks knew that the swampland was no place for anyone after dark. What they did not know was that hidden amongst the trees and gators, a different kind of monster was bearing its teeth. 

“You did what?” Phillip roared, his words hitting the already injured Merle like a lash. Long cuts opened along the man’s face. He stumbled back. 

“It ain’t my fault!” Merle spat back. 

“You had one mortal to kill, and you could not!” Phillip railed on, his rage growing palpable. Around him, the Bayou began to wither, the trees dying, shriveling as though they’d been touched by flames. “You have drawn attention to us. Even now, our enemy is moving, readying themselves.” He delivered another blow, opening Merle from shoulder to waist in a cruel gash. 

Merle fell to his knees but did not waver. “It was that woman! I had Grimes right where I wanted him until she arrived.”

Phillip paused, narrowing his eyes. “What woman?”

“I don’t know,” Merle said. “Dark girl, mean little cuss. You told me no one would be able to match my powers,” he accused. “How do you explain her?”

Phillips contemplated this, the swamp falling silent around him. “She attacked you?” he asked slowly, staring off into the distance as though he could see the woman in question. 

“Only stopped when I buried that damned Marshal in a pile of bricks. I barely got away.” Merle recounted.

Phillip’s face creased into something that was almost a smile. “She ceased the fight to save him?”

“That’s what I said, ain’t it?” Merle groaned, bleeding out into the swamp. Gators crowded the shallow water, sensing their opportunity. Phillip paid them no mind. 

He raised a hand for silence, drawing Merle to his feet. With a snap, his injuries disappeared, leaving the murderer standing in full health. 

“Perhaps she has a soft spot for your Marshal Grimes,” Phillip mused. 

“Looks like it,” Merle examined himself. “What’s that mean to you?”

“It means,” Phillip chuckled, “that our enemies might eliminate each other.”

“By what?” Merle scoffed. “Making kissy faces at each other? Let me finish them. I’ll go tonight--”

Phillip silenced him again, turning instead to look out at the horizon. “Let them finish each other,” he instructed, grinning as the sun set. 

-l-l-l-l-l-

It had taken the better part of two hours to set Rick back to rights. Michonne finished siphoning the evidence from her sheets, removing the blood. She’d changed him first, then herself, disposing of their ruined clothing in lieu of worn-in cotton pajamas. Rick was none the wiser, asleep still among her pillows. He looked a far cry from how she’d found him. 

Michonne approached her canopied bed, watching for a moment. The other guests in her hotel were blissfully unaware of what had transpired, preparing for a night out. Costumed visitors filled her lobby, drinking, laughing, joking. The world was as it should be tonight. Michonne prayed it would stay that way. 

She laid a palm against Rick’s forehead, checking for fever. His hair, a disorderly mess of curls, was plastered to his skin, stirring as he exhaled. Michonne sat the mug in her other hand down, lowering herself to the bed beside him. 

“Rick,” she leaned forward to whisper in his ear. “Wake up.”

He blinked himself awake on command, looking around wildly. After a moment, his blue eyes focused in on her face. 

“What happened?” he asked, his voice a hoarse croak. 

Michonne retrieved the mug, bringing it towards him. “You’re safe,” she assured him. “For now.”

He blinked at her in the low light. Michonne turned the lamp in her room on with a thought. 

Rick tilted his head back, away from her. “You’re a witch,” he said, as though the notion shocked him still. He stared at the light. “Am I right?”

Michonne smiled wryly. “You’ve been talking to the locals, I see,” she observed. Sighing, she released the cup, allowing it to hover between them. Rick gasped outright. 

“This is…” he huffed, looking as though he had half a mind to run. “This is fucking insane.”

“More so than usual,” she agreed. “You should drink,” she moved the mug closer to him. “You’ll feel better.”

Rick refused still. “Merle attacked me,” he recounted, attempting to make order of the chaos. 

“I thought that might be him,” Michonne nodded. She’d have killed him outright if he hadn’t pulled that trick with her family’s tomb. Merle Dixon might prove to be more of a problem than she first suspected.

“You were there. You and the other women,” he continued. 

“Just me,” she corrected. 

He blinked in surprise. “You saved me,” Rick remembered, “and Merle--”

“He took advantage of my distraction to escape,” Michonne exhaled. “He is not our main concern.”

“The hell he ain’t,” Rick struggled to sit up, wincing. “He shouldn’t be your concern at all. Christ, he’s some kind of wizard?” Rick shook his head, slumping back into the pillows. 

Michonne reached beneath him, helping him settle more comfortably. “I would guess that it’s as new for him as it is for you,” she said. 

“Doesn’t matter. He’s gonna start killing again,” Rick grew more agitated, looking as though he wanted to give chase. 

“He tried to kill you tonight,” Michonne reminded him. “I did my best to save you, but you’re not out of the woods yet.” She laid a finger on his broken arm. Rick hissed in pain at once. “Your arm, four ribs, a few toes, and possibly a vertebrae,” she listed. “You aren’t doing any chasing until they’re fixed.”

Rick paled. “Can’t you...magic them better?” he hazarded. 

Michonne held in a laugh. “I can,” she nodded. The mug, still steaming, nudged against the side of Rick’s head. 

He looked warily at it, but seized it with his good hand, bringing the cup slowly to his lips. Relief passed over his features as he took the first sip. 

“It’s good,” he exhaled, drawing in another deep gulp. “It’s a potion or something?”

Michonne chuckled. “Mint,” she confirmed. 

Rick drank the rest down in a hurry. Pleased, Michonne refilled the mug with a thought. He gasped again. 

“This is insane,” he whispered, staring down at the swirling green contents. 

“And here I thought saving you was impressive,” Michonne remarked. “I could pull something out of a hat for you, if you’d like.” The moment of levity felt good, even in the wake of the horror that awaited them. 

Rick looked up at her, a blush coming to his cheeks. “I--” he broke off, swallowing thickly. “Thank you,” he said simply. “This is all new and I’m not sure--” He shook his head. “I ain’t sure what’s real and what’s not.”

“You’re welcome,” Michonne reached for his arm, her fingers probing. Satisfied that the bone was mended, she stood up once again. “We have a lot to talk about, Rick. But you should rest.”

“Merle--” he began. 

“Won’t be doing any killing tonight,” she assured him. “You aren’t the only one needing healing. You’ll be safe here. Rest now.”

Rick nodded, distracted. Michonne watched him, a stab of pity filling her. He was out of his element, alone in a strange city. 

“I guess I'll see you in the morning,” his voice was tight. 

Michonne paused. “Would you like me to stay?” she offered lightly. Internally, she cursed herself. She needed to keep her distance from this man. 

His nod was so small that it was nearly imperceptible. Still, Michonne saw it. She reached for the mug, setting it beside the bed on the table. 

“Move over,” she teased, drawing up the covers. “You’re hogging my bed.”

He blushed even deeper, shimmying to the side. “Sorry,” he told her. 

“Don’t be,” Michonne laid down, exhaustion overtaking her. She felt Rick stifen at her side. Tension mounted as they each did their best not to touch at all, arranging themselves in her suddenly too-small bed. Slowly, Rick sank into the mattress, relaxing into the pillows. 

“Your room is nice,” he murmured, voice growing heavy with sleep. 

“Thank you,” she drew the covers up, resigning herself to a long night. 

“This bed is comfortable,” he observed, eyes sliding shut. 

“Magic has a few perks,” Michonne whispered back. 

Rick did not answer. He slept soundly, his face turned towards her. Michonne pushed a curl gently out of his face, watching him for a moment. In her dreams, she’d seen him here, beside her. The thought was elating and terrifying at once.

With a sigh, she extinguished the lights, lying beside him, keeping watch. 

Bet you weren’t expectin’ that,” Merle cackled, stalking after him. 

Rick pushed his feet beneath him, cradling his arm against his chest. His grip on his Colt had slipped in the fall, skittering away into the growing mist. The fog was moving, crawling like some living thing between the tombstones, suffocating the life out of the grass and weeds that had managed to pop up through the concrete. Rick shuffled out of it’s reach, his mind reeling with one terrifying thought: 

Perhaps witches were real. 

“I thought you was a faster runner than that,” Merle continued jeering. A headstone shattered with a loud bang, exploding just inches from Rick. He flinched, falling again. The mist crept ever closer. 

“Ain’t so fun when it’s you doin’ the running, huh?” Merle asked, stepping around to grin down at Rick. The fog was emanating from him, pushing out from Merle’s feet in toxic waves. It reached the bottoms of Rick’s boots. The rubber began to burn at once. Rick scrambled further backward. He stared back at the mausoleum, terrified, his eyes trying to make out the figures inside. For a moment, he thought he spotted a woman. She looked familiar. Rick reached out for her. The woman reached back, pushing Rick out of the path of a shattering brick. His gun also moved as though on its own accord, sliding closer to him. 

“You know,” Merle hovered over him, tossing another brick in the air like a softball, “I was gonna make it quick. Kinda figured you’d buckle as soon as I threw you that first time.” He smirked, an ugly, crooked grin. “You’re tougher than I gave you credit for, Officer Friendly.” He kicked at Rick’s arm, tossing the missile in his hands at him almost lazily. 

Rick let out a grunt, eyes watering. His skin was beginning to blister as the mist gathered around him, his eyes and lungs burning. It became clear in one terrifying moment that this was the end of the road. 

Yelling, Rick got to his feet, startling Merle as he made a sudden dive for his Colt. He was millimeters away when a force jerked him from the ground in a rush. Rick flew backwards once again, thrown bodily against the side of the ancient tomb. 

He saw stars, his head spinning, his arm at an awkward angle, blood running down his face. 

“You never want to do anything the easy way,” Merle observed, strolling towards him. “Almost makes me like you.”

Rick spat, blinking sweat and blood out of his eyes. “Go to hell, Dixon,” he hissed. 

Merle only smiled. “You first.” He raised his fist again, brick in hand. Rick tilted his chin up, bracing himself. 

In the fog, he spotted something, a dark shadow behind Dixon drawing quickly nearer. Rick wondered at it for a moment, assuming it was perhaps a trick of his mind, the fantasy of a dying man. In front of him, Dixon opened his closed fist, shoving Rick backwards, pinning him between some unseen force and the brick wall behind it. The air rushed out of Rick’s lungs. He went blue, suffocating. He looked wildly around for the women from the tomb, desperate for help. 

“See you later, Grimes,” Merle chuckled. 

Behind Merle, the dark shape became clear. Rick’s eyes widened at once with recognition. Michonne Hawthorne stood tall, head up, arms out, hair streaming behind her. All trace of kindness was wiped clean from her expression. In its place was a kind of controlled rage, all of it directed at the man attempting to snuff Rick from this earth. 

Before Merle even realized she was there, she threw him ten feet in the air without even touching him, yanking him down again like a toy top. He hit the concrete, shattering it with his body, yelling in surprise. Michonne gave him no time to recover. She bared down, clenching her fists. Merle began to scream, his body convulsing. 

Merle’s hold on his hostage slipped. Rick crumbled to the ground in an undignified pile, taking great gasping breaths as air rushed back into his lungs. He watched dizzily, slumped against the mausoleum. 

“Who the hell are you?” Merle questioned Michonne, his cockiness forgotten. 

Michonne did not answer, only tossed him back. The mist cleared at once, fading away back into the source. Merle yelped in pain. Panicked, he flung a palm out, managing to move Michonne back a few inches. She threw him again, skipping him over the ground like a stone in a pond. 

Merle, realizing that he was outmatched, or perhaps spiteful until the end, redirected his attention towards Rick. Wheezing, he pushed his hand in the direction of the mausoleum. The brick began to crumble at once, burying Rick in rubble. 

Rick lacked both the strength and wherewithal to so much as scream. His world was going dark in a hurry, his heart rate slowing. 

“Now is not your time,” a calm voice told him, the cadence at once soothing and terrifying. “Fight, Marshal Grimes,” it instructed. “ Fight .”

Rick opened his eyes, adrenaline filling him. He pushed out, every motion sending stabbing pain through his chest. The bricks shifted, pushing at him. He tried to scream. 

At once, the heavy pile pulled away from him, stacking themselves back into order at record speed. Michonne stood in the distance, her face turned away from him, her hand pointed towards him. The mausoleum took shape, settling back into place. The world went silent in a rush. 

Rick let out a rattling gasp, surprising himself at how horrible his wheezing sounded. Michonne turned towards him at once. She rushed for him. 

“Rick,” Michonne’s face was inches from his, concern etched all over her expression. “Rick, stay with me.”

He blinked groggily, watching through clouded eyes as she fussed with him, tugging at his blood-soaked clothing.

“Michonne,” he exhaled, full of questions, barely clinging to consciousness. 

“Hang on,” she instructed, her hands finding his. “Just hang on.”

Rick shut his eyes, giving into the darkness. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Glenn and Maggie were at her door, watching anxiously when Michonne arrived. They started at once, leaping to their feet when she appeared, sagging under the weight of an unconscious Rick. 

“Oh my God,” Maggie’s hand flew to her mouth. She burst into tears on sight. Glenn, though panicked, rushed forward, supporting the dying US Marshal. 

“What do you need?” he asked, grunting as he took on most of Rick’s bulk. 

Michonne assisted him, ignoring her blood-streaked hands. “I need my case,” she directed this at Maggie. The girl swallowed thickly, but scampered off on shaking legs. “Glenn, lay him on the bed.” She tossed Rick’s battered hat on the nightstand. It landed in perfect condition, restored once more. 

He complied, getting Rick situated as Maggie returned with the case clutched to her chest. She sat it down beside Rick, opening it. Michonne suppressed her panic as she examined the US Marshal. 

Resilient though he proved to be, he was unmoving now, his heart beating slowly and faintly, his skin pale and blood streaked. He was burned, bruised, beaten to a pulp, his bones broken in more than one place. Michonne calculated, seeking the best place to begin. 

“What can we do?” Maggie asked Michonne, calming herself. Michonne offered her a grateful nod, her earlier anger abatted. She straightened up, stepping back from the bed. 

“I need to see how hurt he is,” Michonne rushed around her room, gathering supplies. 

Her students obeyed, tugging the soiled jacket off. Maggie made quick work of his blood-stained shirt, gasping outright when she spotted the myriad of gashes and bruises. Rick’s ribs were clearly shattered. He gasped, wheezing, fighting still. 

“What happened to him?” Glenn’s eyes were wide. He went pale, looking moments from becoming sick. 

Michonne did not answer. She had only minutes now. She busied herself, beginning with the worst of his injuries. The spell came to her like a second nature, heat blossoming from the tips of her fingers. His punctured lung she repaired first, then his shattered ribs. She traced her hands along his ashen skin, erasing the damage as best she could. 

“He’s not waking up,” Glenn’s voice was shaky. 

Michonne nodded. “He’s been cursed,” she muttered, still poking at him. “Grab the small violet bottle from my case.”

Glenn obeyed at once, shoving it into Michonne’s hand. Michonne carefully removed the stopper. The scent was at once calming, a clean smell, like the embodiment of spring. She lowered the bottle, administering a single drop into Rick’s mouth. 

With a rattling gasp, he began to breathe again, his chest rising and falling. 

“Is he going to live?” Maggie asked quietly. 

“I will do my best to ensure he does,” Michonne sighed. Exhaustion was filling her now, her relief short-lived. 

“Michonne,” Glenn began in a whisper. “What was this?”

“An old enemy,” Michonne stood up, her work not yet finished. “And a new one as well.”

They stared at her expectantly. Michonne took a shaky breath. “The Governor, that’s what I’ve always known him by,” she began, reciting from memory. 

Glenn and Maggie crowded closer to her, eager to hear. Michonne continued. 

“Sometime during the Civil War, he came to rule New Orleans. He played the part of a southern gentleman, all charm and good graces, but beneath his skin, he was a monster, even more so than most men were at that time.” Michonne recounted. “My ancestors, three sisters, they lived in the Quarter, in this house. Ran a hospital of sort for soldiers, runaways in the war. People respected them, looked to them.” 

“Like you,” Glenn observed. 

Michonne nodded. “The Governor, he heard about them, heard about three black women making money. He heard they were magic. I guess he figured he’d get some of that magic for himself. Propositioned them all, wanting a look at our spellbook. They refused. Then he went one at a time, oldest to youngest. They refused, refused, refused. But with the youngest...I guess he figured if he couldn’t have what he wanted, he’d take it by force. She fought him off, hurt him pretty bad, but it was nothing compared to the blow she dealt his pride. The Governor let them be for a bit, but he bided his time, spreading rumors, poisoning New Orleans against the sisters. And when the war came to New Orleans, the Governor saw his chance. He gathered his forces, marched to this house, demanding my aunts give up their magic.”

“Then what?” Maggie whispered. 

“Someone broke in. I doubt he knew what he was looking for, because he skipped over the spellbook, but found my aunts’ potions. They kept quite a few back then, for emergencies, in case the war went bad. Some unassuming boy stumbled on one meant to turn the tide.”

“He stole it?” Maggie asked. 

“Didn’t know what it did, but he figured it’d be good enough. Brought it to the Governor. Poured the whole thing in his mouth.” Michonne sighed. “That monster of a man turned into a monster for real. Leveled half the town. History will tell you it was the battle. But it was the Governor, raising the town to ash, and my ancestors, fighting him.”

“But they won,” Glenn said. “Obviously, they won.” He leaned forward, all nervous energy.

Michonne worried at her nails, continuing the story. “At a cost. They managed to bring him down, but not without a fight. As long as the Governor stays buried, banished to hell where he belonged, our line is cursed too. Any Hawthorne woman, from here to eternity, bares the scar.” She sighed, her eyes darting to Rick, unconscious in her bed. “ Any man who dares love us takes the curse on, dying in the spring of his life,” Michonne said. “My father, my grandfather, even my step father, all the way back. We continue, guarding the Governor, keeping him buried. But the cost for that is love.” The admission sat heavily, hanging in the air, the truth finally spoken aloud. 

“Mike,” Glenn wiped his face, unable to meet her eye. 

Michonne looked away. “By seeking to speak with my ancestors, you woke the Governor. But I’m afraid it might be my fault too.”

“Michonne, no,” Maggie sobbed quietly. “It was Glenn and I--”

“My magic has weakened,” Michonne admitted. “After Mike, I…” she paused. “The Hawthorne line needs to continue. It needs daughters, one right after the next. It means more people will die. And I wasn’t willing to do that.” Mike’s death had damaged that part of her, erasing any notion that life might be kinder to her than it was to her parents. “Now the Governor is awake.”

“We’ll stop him,” Glenn said, all reckless courage. “You have us. You’ve taught us. The three of us can do it.”

“Maybe so,” Michonne smiled gratefully at him. 

“And the Marshal?” Maggie looked frightened, but she steeled herself. “The dreams?”

Michonne looked over to Rick. He was breathing, his chest rising and falling in a gentle rhythm. 

“That remains to be seen,” she said. She stood, bending over Rick again. His breathing was regular, the pallor returning to his skin. “For now, there is no time to waste. Nor to be afraid.” 

Glenn and Maggie nodded, grim resignation settling on each of their faces. 

“We need to gather our strength,” Michonne said, doing her best to maintain her calm. “We need to be ready. All of us.”

“What do we say?” Maggie asked. “When she asks, what do we tell her?”

“We will tell her that The Governor is awake once more,” Michonne said. “And this time, he has an ally.”

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Miles outside of the city, the Bayou began to come alive, its residents moving within the shallow waters. The swamp, though beautiful at the best of times with its willows and greenery, was home to many predators. Alligators prowled its waters, venomous snakes sheltered in its trees. Smart folks knew that the swampland was no place for anyone after dark. What they did not know was that hidden amongst the trees and gators, a different kind of monster was bearing its teeth. 

“You did what?” Phillip roared, his words hitting the already injured Merle like a lash. Long cuts opened along the man’s face. He stumbled back. 

“It ain’t my fault!” Merle spat back. 

“You had one mortal to kill, and you could not!” Phillip railed on, his rage growing palpable. Around him, the Bayou began to wither, the trees dying, shriveling as though they’d been touched by flames. “You have drawn attention to us. Even now, our enemy is moving, readying themselves.” He delivered another blow, opening Merle from shoulder to waist in a cruel gash. 

Merle fell to his knees but did not waver. “It was that woman! I had Grimes right where I wanted him until she arrived.”

Phillip paused, narrowing his eyes. “What woman?”

“I don’t know,” Merle said. “Dark girl, mean little cuss. You told me no one would be able to match my powers,” he accused. “How do you explain her?”

Phillips contemplated this, the swamp falling silent around him. “She attacked you?” he asked slowly, staring off into the distance as though he could see the woman in question. 

“Only stopped when I buried that damned Marshal in a pile of bricks. I barely got away.” Merle recounted.

Phillip’s face creased into something that was almost a smile. “She ceased the fight to save him?”

“That’s what I said, ain’t it?” Merle groaned, bleeding out into the swamp. Gators crowded the shallow water, sensing their opportunity. Phillip paid them no mind. 

He raised a hand for silence, drawing Merle to his feet. With a snap, his injuries disappeared, leaving the murderer standing in full health. 

“Perhaps she has a soft spot for your Marshal Grimes,” Phillip mused. 

“Looks like it,” Merle examined himself. “What’s that mean to you?”

“It means,” Phillip chuckled, “that our enemies might eliminate each other.”

“By what?” Merle scoffed. “Making kissy faces at each other? Let me finish them. I’ll go tonight--”

Phillip silenced him again, turning instead to look out at the horizon. “Let them finish each other,” he instructed, grinning as the sun set. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

It had taken the better part of two hours to set Rick back to rights. Michonne finished siphoning the evidence from her sheets, removing the blood. She’d changed him first, then herself, disposing of their ruined clothing in lieu of worn-in cotton pajamas. Rick was none the wiser, asleep still among her pillows. He looked a far cry from how she’d found him. 

 

Michonne approached her canopied bed, watching for a moment. The other guests in her hotel were blissfully unaware of what had transpired, preparing for a night out. Costumed visitors filled her lobby, drinking, laughing, joking. The world was as it should be tonight. Michonne prayed it would stay that way. 

She laid a palm against Rick’s forehead, checking for fever. His hair, a disorderly mess of curls, was plastered to his skin, stirring as he exhaled. Michonne sat the mug in her other hand down, lowering herself to the bed beside him. 

“Rick,” she leaned forward to whisper in his ear. “Wake up.”

He blinked himself awake on command, looking around wildly. After a moment, his blue eyes focused in on her face. 

“What happened?” he asked, his voice a hoarse croak. 

Michonne retrieved the mug, bringing it towards him. “You’re safe,” she assured him. “For now.”

He blinked at her in the low light. Michonne turned the lamp in her room on with a thought. 

Rick tilted his head back, away from her. “You’re a witch,” he said, as though the notion shocked him still. He stared at the light. “Am I right?”

Michonne smiled wryly. “You’ve been talking to the locals, I see,” she observed. Sighing, she released the cup, allowing it to hover between them. Rick gasped outright. 

“This is…” he huffed, looking as though he had half a mind to run. “This is fucking insane.”

“More so than usual,” she agreed. “You should drink,” she moved the mug closer to him. “You’ll feel better.”

Rick refused still. “Merle attacked me,” he recounted, attempting to make order of the chaos. 

“I thought that might be him,” Michonne nodded. She’d have killed him outright if he hadn’t pulled that trick with her family’s tomb. Merle Dixon might prove to be more of a problem than she first suspected.

“You were there. You and the other women,” he continued. 

“Just me,” she corrected. 

He blinked in surprise. “You saved me,” Rick remembered, “and Merle--”

“He took advantage of my distraction to escape,” Michonne exhaled. “He is not our main concern.”

“The hell he ain’t,” Rick struggled to sit up, wincing. “He shouldn’t be your concern at all. Christ, he’s some kind of wizard?” Rick shook his head, slumping back into the pillows. 

Michonne reached beneath him, helping him settle more comfortably. “I would guess that it’s as new for him as it is for you,” she said. 

“Doesn’t matter. He’s gonna start killing again,” Rick grew more agitated, looking as though he wanted to give chase. 

“He tried to kill you tonight,” Michonne reminded him. “I did my best to save you, but you’re not out of the woods yet.” She laid a finger on his broken arm. Rick hissed in pain at once. “Your arm, four ribs, a few toes, and possibly a vertebrae,” she listed. “You aren’t doing any chasing until they’re fixed.”

Rick paled. “Can’t you...magic them better?” he hazarded. 

Michonne held in a laugh. “I can,” she nodded. The mug, still steaming, nudged against the side of Rick’s head. 

He looked warily at it, but seized it with his good hand, bringing the cup slowly to his lips. Relief passed over his features as he took the first sip. 

“It’s good,” he exhaled, drawing in another deep gulp. “It’s a potion or something?”

Michonne chuckled. “Mint,” she confirmed. 

Rick drank the rest down in a hurry. Pleased, Michonne refilled the mug with a thought. He gasped again. 

“This is insane,” he whispered, staring down at the swirling green contents. 

“And here I thought saving you was impressive,” Michonne remarked. “I could pull something out of a hat for you, if you’d like.” The moment of levity felt good, even in the wake of the horror that awaited them. 

Rick looked up at her, a blush coming to his cheeks. “I--” he broke off, swallowing thickly. “Thank you,” he said simply. “This is all new and I’m not sure--” He shook his head. “I ain’t sure what’s real and what’s not.”

“You’re welcome,” Michonne reached for his arm, her fingers probing. Satisfied that the bone was mended, she stood up once again. “We have a lot to talk about, Rick. But you should rest.”

“Merle--” he began. 

“Won’t be doing any killing tonight,” she assured him. “You aren’t the only one needing healing. You’ll be safe here. Rest now.”

Rick nodded, distracted. Michonne watched him, a stab of pity filling her. He was out of his element, alone in a strange city. 

“I guess I'll see you in the morning,” his voice was tight. 

Michonne paused. “Would you like me to stay?” she offered lightly. Internally, she cursed herself. She needed to keep her distance from this man. 

His nod was so small that it was nearly imperceptible. Still, Michonne saw it. She reached for the mug, setting it beside the bed on the table. 

“Move over,” she teased, drawing up the covers. “You’re hogging my bed.”

He blushed even deeper, shimmying to the side. “Sorry,” he told her. 

“Don’t be,” Michonne laid down, exhaustion overtaking her. She felt Rick stifen at her side. Tension mounted as they each did their best not to touch at all, arranging themselves in her suddenly too-small bed. Slowly, Rick sank into the mattress, relaxing into the pillows. 

“Your room is nice,” he murmured, voice growing heavy with sleep. 

“Thank you,” she drew the covers up, resigning herself to a long night. 

“This bed is comfortable,” he observed, eyes sliding shut. 

“Magic has a few perks,” Michonne whispered back. 

Rick did not answer. He slept soundly, his face turned towards her. Michonne pushed a curl gently out of his face, watching him for a moment. In her dreams, she’d seen him here, beside her. The thought was elating and terrifying at once.

With a sigh, she extinguished the lights, lying beside him, keeping watch. 

Chapter Text

The sun was slow to rising that autumn morning, struggling through the clouds. The Hotel Hawthorne sat serenely in the dark, its occupants quiet, at rest, none the wiser to the threat growing on the outskirts of the city. On the top floor, Michonne began to stir, waking up to discover that she was essentially pinned to her bed. 

 

For a moment, she panicked, preparing to fight her way free. Realization dawned and awareness sharpened. The weight holding her down was no threat, but the form of one US Marshal Grimes. 

 

She craned her head, observing him in the low light, debating slipping free. Rick was still deep in sleep, breathing peacefully. His salt and pepper beard had made even more headway overnight, dusting his chin and cheeks. His coif had seen better days, though Michonne had to admit that the wild mess of curls pressing into her shoulder and pillows was not wholly unappealing. One muscled arm and leg were thrown over her waist, holding her tightly in place. 

 

His weight was comfortable, familiar, a call back to an intimacy long lost to her. Michonne’s stomach dropped at the sensation, adrenaline filling her. She should move, slip from the warmth of this bed and Rick’s embrace. She should lay her plans, begin the hunt, rally others. 

 

Instead, she laid still, watching him. 

 

Her hand moved nearly on its own accord, fingering the silken tendrils of his hair. Across her stomach, Rick’s hand flinched, tightening around her, drawing her ever closer. He sighed, tugging her beneath him. 

 

Michonne froze, her breathing stammered. The heat of him against her was undoing her completely, sending her into a tailspin. She curled her fingers into the sheets beneath her, deciding at once that this had gone too far. 

 

“Morning,” Rick’s voice was gravelly, his eyes still shut as he mumbled to her. 

 

“Morning,” Michonne cleared her throat. “Are you feeling better?”

 

“I’m feeling great,” he smiled, fluttering his eyes open. “That tea of yours is a miracle cure.”

 

“Family recipe,” Michonne whispered, hoping that he couldn’t feel the frantic fluttering of her heart against his chest. 

 

Rick sat up, angling himself above her, a flush creeping up his neck as he looked at her. “Should we get up?” he asked lowly, his arms tightening around her. 

 

“Probably,” Michonne swallowed, watching as Rick did the same.

 

“Yeah,” he mused, adam’s apple bobbing. “Probably.”

 

Instead, he leaned down, drawing her upwards, and kissed her. It was like an electric shock. Michonne responded at once, gasping. She clutched at his shoulders with half a mind to push him back. Instead, her hands clasped at him, taking stock of the warmth of his skin, the strength humming just beneath. Rick tilted his face, deepening their connection, coaxing her lips apart. All desire to flee was lost as he gasped, sucking at her. 

 

She held him close, arching up into the heat of him. His hands, calloused and rough, wrapped around her waist before trailing down, unabashedly exploring her beneath the soft cotton fabric of her pajamas. She moaned against his mouth when he cupped her ass, a needy, plaintive sound. Rick pulled back to grin. 

 

“Stay in bed with me,” he requested, kissing her neck for good measure. 

 

Michonne complied. Their exploration became feverish, hands groping, tongues wandering, their breathing broken. She wrapped her legs around his narrow waist and squeezed, drawing a delightful groan from him. Rick reached for her hands, pinning them to the bed, leaving her open to his advances. 

 

Her need for him grew, igniting into an inferno, spurred on by the feel of his lips, his touch, the clipped phrases falling out of his mouth. She wanted him desperately, misgivings fading away until it was all she could think of. Her eyes fell shut as his palms found her beneath her shirt, massaging and pinching in turn. 

 

“God,” she sighed, arching into his touch. “Rick.”

 

“Rick?” It was not the Georgia accent she suspected, but something deeper, more familiar. “Who the hell is Rick?”

 

Fear seized her as she opened her eyes. “Mike,” she stammered at the other man, younger, taller. His face creased, anger coloring his handsome countenance. 

 

“Who the hell is Rick?” he repeated, shaking her a bit. “You’ve got a new man?”

 

Michonne squirmed, seeking to free herself. “No,” she protested, pushing at him. Mike pushed back harder, pinning her. 

 

“You gonna kill him?” Mike questioned. All traces of youthfulness was disappearing from his face, his dark skin going ashen, his hair graying rapidly. “You’re going to kill him like you killed me?” 

 

Before her eyes, he melted away, death seizing him even as he spoke. 

 

“You’re gonna kill us both?” Mike accused. 

 

“No,” Michonne thrashed, forgetting her magic in lieu of panicking. “No Mike, no--”

 

Hands seized her shoulders, shaking her forcefully. 

 

“Hey,” it was Rick’s voice again, laced not with lust or longing, but concern. “Michonne, wake up.”

 

She blinked awake, coming to reality. Her skin was sweat-soaked, her heart racing. 

 

Rick leaned over her, his face creased. “You’re having a nightmare.” His voice was soothing, low in the dark of the bedroom. “It’s ok. You’re awake now.”

 

Michonne nodded, drawing in a deep, ragged breath. 

 

“Just breathe,” Rick instructed, his hand moving from her shoulders to cup her face. His fingers worried at her throat, finding her pulse. “Look at me and breathe,” he inhaled slowly, waiting until she mirrored him. “You ok?” he asked lightly. His hand slipped from her neck, finding her locs instead. He toyed with them almost absently, watching her expectantly in the low light. 

 

“I’m fine,” Michonne said, satisfied that it sounded true. She ignored the flush of her body, the aftershocks of her dream. “How are you?”

 

“Feeling great,” he grinned crookedly at her. “That tea of yours worked. Want me to get you some?”

 

She laughed, albeit a bit forced, her pulse jumping. “I’m ok,” she assured him, sitting up. Rick moved back a bit, but remained close. Michonne could see the faint brown freckles banding across his nose. She quickly looked away. 

 

“Must have been some dream,” he observed, tilting his head at her. “You started screaming.” Embarrassment flooded her. Rick only shrugged. “I get ‘em too,” he whispered. “No shame in it.” He smiled at her, just a slight quirk of his lips. His hand dropped from her hair to land on her arm, the rough fingertips brushing her skin. Her breath hitched again. 

 

Michonne only nodded, wiggling free of the warmth of the blankets. “I need to get up,” she said, refusing to look at him. 

 

“It ain’t sunrise yet,” Rick pointed out. 

 

She swung her legs sideways, putting space between them. “The enemy isn’t sleeping,” Michonne said. The floor was cold beneath her feet as she moved away from him. 

 

Rick nodded, tossing the blankets back to follow her. He stood expectantly on the other side of the bed. 

 

“I gotta check in with the local precinct here. They’re out searching for Dixon. They don’t know he’s--” he broke off, clearly unsure how to describe it. “I’m going to keep looking for him. See if I can’t catch him before…” Rick trailed off again. 

 

“I’ll come,” Michonne offered. 

 

“I appreciate that,” he nodded. 

 

“Might be better if your people don’t know I’m there though. Some people don’t have the highest opinion of me.”

 

A smile tugged at Rick’s lips. “The Sergeant thinks you’re pretty.”

 

Michonne laughed, caught off guard. “Sasha Williams? Grew up with her.” Michonne shook her head. Sasha knew better than most what she was.

 

Rick shrugged. A silence grew between them, charged. 

 

“I’ll…” Rick cleared his throat. “I’ll go back to my room,” he stammered. His eyes fell on a pile of his clothing on a chair near the bed. 

 

She nodded, unable to speak, and watched as he collected his belongings. He paused when he’d pulled it all into his arms, his hat balanced on top. 

 

“Thank you, again,” he said. “I really appreciate you saving me.”

 

Michonne felt the first genuine smile of the day tug at her. “I’ll meet you in the lobby,” she told him.

 

With a nod, Rick was gone. Michonne shut the door behind him, her mind spinning. Calming herself, she took a deep breath. Sighing, she headed for her bathroom, determined to put the dream behind her. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-



The water from the shower beat down on Rick’s sore muscles. He turned the heat up, bowing his head beneath the stream, inspecting every inch of skin he could see. He’d damn near died yesterday, but his body bore no trace of it. No bruises, no gashes, no pain, no sign at all that Merle had buried him beneath a pile of bricks in a graveyard. Even old scars and marks were gone, his skin smoother than it’d been in years. Rick ran his fingers over his chest, tracing the mended bone. There was no denying the truth of things anymore.

 

Magic was real.

 

As much as the logical part of him warred with this notion, evidence was evidence, and this was irrefutable. This revelation sparked what seemed like an infinite amount of other questions. Most pressing were the women he’d seen in the graveyard, the ones with faces so like Michonne. Perhaps he was losing his mind after all. With difficulty, Rick put the thoughts aside, moving to the matter at hand. If Merle was, as Michonne believed, playing patsy to a higher power, then they were in some serious trouble. 

 

He sighed, rinsing the soap from his hair and beard, contemplating his next move. He ought to be focusing on the plan, but he needed to get a hold of himself first. Never before had he felt so distracted. He was out of his element, floundering in new territory, but it wasn’t thoughts of magic or Merle that were filling his mind. 

 

It was Michonne. 

 

He’d woken up with her pressed to his side, her hand resting on his chest, just over his heart, as though she was shielding him. He’d contemplated getting up, moving away, back to his room. Her bed was warm, her presence comforting, and despite his misgivings, he’d remained. He was glad now, in the wake of her nightmare, that he’d been there to offer a modicum of help. 

 

She’d whispered his name. He thought it was a trick of his sleep-addled mind at first, but then she’d repeated it. One single syllable, half-sighed in her sleep was consuming him. 

 

“Get it together,” Rick mumbled to himself, slamming the water off. He wasn’t the type of man to get derailed by a pretty face, no matter the circumstances. Michonne deserved better than that besides. Whatever part he’d played in her dream, it clearly had taken a dark turn. She’d almost thrown him out of the bed with the force of her nightmare. 

 

Rick toweled off, chastising himself until he got his thoughts back on track. He pulled on his clothing, marveling that his jacket was whole and intact once again. He just managed to get on his boots when his cell phone began to ring. 

 

“Mashal Grimes,” he greeted, heading for the door. 

 

“Grimes,” it was Sergeant Williams. She sounded tired. Understanding seized him at once. 

 

“Where’d you find it?” he asked, cursing himself. 

 

“Near the Quarter,” she relayed, voice heavy. “Young girl and her boyfriend. Both in their 20s. Trying to identify them now.”

 

“Text me the address,” Rick sighed. “I’ll be there.”



-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Phillip smiled from his place on the balcony overlooking the scene, watching as police gathered below. It was still dark, the air frosted and cold. Few spared a look for the sleepy buildings around them, and fewer still could have even perceived the men standing there. 

 

“Well, the night wasn’t a total loss then,” he glanced at Merle. “Good job.”

 

Merle offered a crooked grin. “I can do better than that.” His breath clouded in front of him, a stark contrast to the shade of a man beside him. 

 

“Good,” Phillip drummed his fingers on the iron railing. “You’ll need to. We need as many as you can before Hallow’s Eve.” He calculated, looking up the road, in the direction of the Hotel Hawthorne. 

 

Merle nodded. “Easy work,” he said, looking as though he could hardly wait. He watched with predatory eyes as the city came alive around them, drawn by the sirens.  

 

“Then I suggest you get to it,” Phillip spared Merle a glance. “That Marshal of yours is alive and well. Miss Hawthorne made sure of that.” His tone took on a sharp edge when he spoke Michonne’s name. “You will need to stay a step ahead of them.”

 

“I thought you said you’d handle them,” Merle reminded him. “Why not take them last night when they was all cozied up?”

 

Something flashed in Phillip’s eyes that sent Merle back a step, swallowing thickly. “We have discussed this,” he ground out tersely. “Until you hold up your end of our agreement, I do not have the strength to penetrate her defenses.”

 

“She’s that powerful?” Merle asked, impressed despite himself. 

 

“I should think you would have no questions about her power,” Phillip scoffed. “Or have you so soon forgotten your defeat at the hands of a woman?”

 

“She caught me off guard,” Merle countered. “I had that damned Marshal. I won’t let it happen again.”

 

“Good,” Phillip nodded. “I’ve taken measures to ensure that they are not at their best today.”

 

“Meaning what?” Merle asked, crossing his arms. 

 

“Perhaps I cannot yet enter her hideout,” the thought alone seemed to anger Phillip. “But I have other ways of lowering her defenses. I have them both where I need them to be.”

 

“If you say so,” Merle looked eager to depart. The cold was beginning to bother him, seeping in through his too-thin clothes. The whole world seemed colder in Phillip’s presence. Ice was forming on the wrought iron railing, cracking the ebon paint. “He’s going to be hard to get close to, with her guarding him.”

 

“Leave that to me,” Phillip dismissed Merle, waving a hand. “I took steps to ensure she wouldn’t be a problem centuries before Michonne was even a thought. You hold up your end. I’ll take care of mine.”

 

Merle nodded, retreating into the warmth of the building. The bar was empty, save for a lone figure slumped in the corner. He almost felt bad for the security guard. He hadn’t even seen him coming. 

 

“And Dixon?” Phillip called to him. 

 

“Yeah?” Merle paused in the doorway. 

 

“Don’t ever question my methods again,” he warned, eyes flashing. In a blink, he was gone, leaving only empty space where he once stood. Merle glanced down onto the street, watching as Mashal Grimes ran up the sidewalk. The woman was with him, the same bitch who’d attacked him last night. 

 

“Alright,” Merle murmured to himself. “Let’s see how you two like what I’ve got for you next.”






Chapter Text

“How did I know I’d find you here?” Sergeant Sasha Williams rounded the corner a block from where her team was finishing with the crime scene. She came up short as she entered the cafe, the bell ringing aggressively as it bounced against the doorframe.

 

Michonne looked up from her coffee, gesturing for her to sit down. Sasha sighed, but complied, lowering herself into the wire chair in front of Michonne. Michonne took a moment to observe her; Sasha looked much the same as she did when they were children. She always favored her father, in looks and temperament. Still, Sasha couldn’t hide the whole of her nature. 

 

“I take it that your team has come up with a reasonable explanation for the bodies found this morning?” Michonne asked, pushing a cup towards Sasha. “Two sugars, right?”’ She went back to her own drink, stirring the coffee absentmindedly without even touching it. 

 

Sasha scoffed. “Yeah,” she answered, clearly frustrated. “We’ve got a damn serial killer loose.” She accepted the mug, taking a gulp. “I take it there’s a reasonable explanation for you hanging around my crime scene?”

 

“The same as usual,” Michonne tucked a loc behind her ear. 

 

“You want to clue me in?” Sasha asked. 

 

“Don’t I always?” Michonne questioned in turn. She stirred more cream into her coffee. 

 

“So?” Sasha asked, setting her cup down. 

 

“The Governor is awake,” Michonne said simply. “And it seems now that no matter how many times Marshal Grimes and I try to put Merle Dixon down, he gets right back up.” Michonne refilled her cup. “I have to guess that the Governor found your killer before you did.”

 

Sasha paled, her eyes going round. “You’re joking.”

 

“Do I look like it?” Michonne cocked a brow. “You heard the stories, same as I did growing up. And you might not practice anymore--”

 

“For good reason,” Sasha said sharply. 

 

“I never said it wasn’t,” Michonne soothed. “There’s only so much tragedy a person can take. You start looking for ways to make it better.” She glanced at Sasha’s badge, gleaming from her chest. 

 

“What are you asking?” Sasha pressed. 

 

“I’m not asking anything. I’m warning,” Michonne said. “The Governor remembers the Hawthornes, of that I’m sure. You haven’t had any premonitions? Any odd dreams? Mine have started to sharpen. I checked the book. Apparently, it runs in the family.”

 

“I don’t practice anymore,” Sasha repeated. 

 

“Might be time to start again, don’t you think?” Michonne polished off her cup. 

 

“I’ve done fine without it,” Sasha said, crossing her arms over her chest. 

 

“Better than fine,” Michonne agreed. “All things considered, we both have.”

 

Sasha nodded curtly. “I have to get back to work. If this Merle guy is what you say, it should be me that brings him in.”

 

“Marshal Grimes is looking for him,” Michonne said. 

 

“He won’t be able to handle--” Sasha began to argue. 

 

Michonne cut her off. “Grimes, he knows. Merle attacked him last night. I patched him up.”

 

This statement hung like a bombshell between them. Sasha began to chuckle. 

 

“I knew he was getting too close to you,” she mused, shaking her head. 

 

“Yes,” Michonne said serenely. “He mentioned you discussed it. I appreciate the compliment.”

 

“Look, I didn’t mean anything by it.” Sasha sat up straighter. “It’s clear he’s attracted to you--”

 

“Sasha,” Michonne bit back a sigh. 

 

The younger woman only gained steam. “And it’s not your fault, it’s just--” 

 

“Sasha!” Michonne’s tone sharpened for the first time that morning. “I’m aware,” she said simply. “My interest in Rick Grimes is keeping him alive. He can help. He knows Merle better than either of us.”

 

“You think that’s safe?” Sasha asked incredulously. 

 

“No,” Michonne admitted. “But he’s hellbent on catching this Merle Dixon, and I figure we ought to let him. If we find Merle, we find the Governor.”

 

“You’re going after the Governor?” Sasha processed this, tapping her fingers. 

 

“Someone has to. He’s going to use Halloween.”

 

“Obviously,” Sasha agreed. “That leaves us a day.”

 

“There will be more victims,” Michonne said. 

 

Sasha only sighed. 

 

“Glenn and Maggie, they know enough now. I’m sending them to you.” Michonne said. 

 

“I don’t need--” Sasha protested. 

 

“You do,” Michonne cut her off. “You need to be ready. If I can’t defeat him, it falls to you.”

 

Sasha sucked at her teeth, suddenly gaining interest in the surface of the table. 

 

Michonne sat her empty mug down, reaching across the table. She tapped Sasha’s badge twice, brushing nimble fingers over the surface. Sasha reached for her, lacing their hands together tightly. 

 

“Do not forget who you are, sister,” Michonne said. “The world certainly will not.” She kissed Sasha’s palm before releasing her and standing up. 

 

“Good luck,” Sasha called to her, voice heavy. 

 

“And to you as well,” Michonne smiled, exiting the coffee shop.

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

“Fuck,” Aaron cursed into the receiver. “You said you shot the bastard.”

 

“I did,” Rick confirmed. “I think he’s got an accomplice.”

 

“His brother?”

 

“No,” Rick sighed. “Daryl Dixon is locked up tight on possession.”

 

“Well who then?” Aaron asked.

 

“Got the whole NOLA PD looking,” Rick relayed. “We’ll find him.”

 

“Before he kills someone else, please,” Aaron sounded as exhausted as Rick felt. “Shit, Rick--”

 

“I know,” Rick’s eyes moved from the crime scene to up the street. Michonne was exiting a coffee shop. She waved at him. “I gotta go. I’ll check back in once I know more.”

 

“Be careful,” Aaron levied his parting words, disconnecting. 

 

Rick met Michonne in the middle, ducking into a narrow alleyway. They stood in close proximity, Rick shivering in the cold morning air. Michonne noticed. She reached for him, laying a hand on his shoulder. He instantly warmed. 

 

“Thank you,” Rick tucked his hands into his pockets along with his phone. “What’s the plan?”

 

Michonne looked back out onto the street. “Sergeant Williams has agreed to watch over things here while we continue the search.”

 

“Really?” Rick asked in surprise. “Didn’t figure she’d go for that.” Sergeant Williams, lovely though she might have been, was a no nonsense sort of leader. 

 

Michonne laughed lightly. “She is not so normal as she pretends to be,” she said. A divot appeared between her brows, the tell-tell sign of some old annoyance. Rick’s curiosity was instantly stoked. 

 

“How do you know each other?” he asked, lightly. “You said you were kids?” He wondered for a moment what kind of child the woman in front of him had been. He was willing to bet she was sharp as a tack, even then. Her parents probably had their hands full. 

 

“We’re sisters,” Michonne announced without preamble, shooting a look that made him sure she knew that he was prying. “Half on our mother’s side.”

 

Rick digested this, gobsmacked. “She’s a witch too?”

 

“She will tell you she is not,” Michonne began to walk, leading Rick on a winding path through the Quarter. He hurried after her, full of even more questions. 

 

“But you know better?” Rick guessed. “Does it go by blood? How do you--” he cut himself when Michonne looked at him amusedly.  

 

“Typically yes,” she answered. “Hawthorne women can only be what we are,” Michonne said over her shoulder, her locs swinging as she strolled. “Our mother was one, and her mother before her, back since before we were stolen and brought to America.”

 

“But Sasha isn’t a Hawthorne,” Rick pointed out. 

 

“She took her father’s name. He was a lovely man, and I cannot blame her. Still, blood is what it is.” There was an old hurt here, that much was clear, though Michonne was gallantly attempting nonchalance.

 

Rick paused, searching for a way to politely phrase his thoughts. “Why doesn’t she want to be a witch?” 

 

Michonne smiled wryly. “Magic has its costs.” She shivered. Without thinking, Rick stepped closer, putting himself between her and the breeze racing up the alleyway. “It can be a lonely way of living,” Michonne looked at him, a peculiar look of longing passing over her face. 

 

“Yeah,” Rick swallowed, his mouth run dry. “I get that.” His face felt warm. He attempted to force the blush back down, focusing instead on removing a stray bit of fluff from the end of one of her locs. She smiled gratefully. His blush only deepened.

 

“There is no one home, awaiting your return?” Michonne asked, teasing. “No southern belle waiting on her beau?” 

 

He let out a bark of surprised laughter, even as a familiar pang clenched at his heart. “Not anymore,” he paused. “It’s been a few years.”

 

“She passed?” Michonne’s question was gentle. She slowed her steps, coming closer to him. 

 

“My wife,” he began to explain. “She died one night when I was investigating. Freak accident. Something in her brain, doctor’s said it was like a balloon. It popped and--” he broke off. “I wasn’t there,” he finished. He did not talk about this, not unless he had to. No one in his office had asked about it since it happened. 

 

Michonne reached for him again, clasping her hand around his forearm. Her thumb rubbed a soothing pattern down to his wrist. “I’m sorry,” she said simply. 

 

“It was the first night we found one of Dixon’s victims.” The story tumbled out, unbidden. “He was in jail at the time, on a narcotics charge. When he got out, the murders started again,” Rick shook his head. “Took me months to piece together who he was. Been chasing him for even longer.”

 

“We’ll catch him,” Michonne assured him. “We’ll end this.” Her hand still lingered on his arm, the fingertips threatening to burn straight through his sleeve. He quelled the urge to reach back for her.

 

“What about you?” he asked. “The Governor. He knows you.”

 

“Not me personally,” Michonne chuckled quietly. “He is familiar with my family. It was us who ended his reign a century and a half ago.”

 

“So he’ll be gunning for you now?” Rick looked around, half expecting a ghost.

 

“He’s not a full power, not yet,” Michonne explained. “He needs souls to do that. Back in his time, he used charm to win them over. Seems like he’s taking a more direct approach now.”

 

“Merle,” Rick guessed.

 

“He won’t be too far from him, not when so much is on the line,” Michonne confirmed. 

 

“So we stop Merle, we can nip this thing in the bud?” Rick asked. 

 

Michonne smiled, releasing him. “That’s what I’m hoping. Then things will go back to normal.”

 

“What even is normal?” Rick asked. “Especially when you’re a witch?”

 

He meant it as a joke, but Michonne looked caught off guard. She blinked in surprise. “Running my hotel,” she listed. “Teaching Glenn and Maggie.”

 

“But not your sister?” he pressed. 

 

“No,” Michonne shook her head. “Magic has cost Sasha too much.”

 

“What did it cost her?” Rick asked. 

 

“It’s not my place to tell,” Michonne began to walk away again, putting space between them. 

 

Rick hastened to catch up. “I’m not trying to be nosy. But you’re asking me to take a lot on faith, Michonne. You keep saying magic costs you. Well, I’m about to walk into a big old nest of it.” 

 

She paused again, clearly debating. “Our parents died young,” she disclosed on a sigh. “First my dad, then hers. Then our mama. The death didn’t stop when we got older.”

 

A thought occurred to Rick, a piece of the puzzle sliding into place. “A curse?” he asked before he could think better of it.

 

Michonne nodded. “You could call it that.”

 

“What would you call it?” he asked her.

 

“Old magic,” she said, worrying at her nails.

 

“Governor old?” he asked. 

 

Michonne scoffed. “What, are you a detective or something?” she evaded, flashing that brilliant smile. 

 

“Considered making it a profession,” he deadpanned, momentarily disarmed. “This Governor though, he cursed you? Your whole family?”

 

Michonne swallowed. “Yes.”

 

Rick’s hands went to his waist, his arm brushing the familiar weight of his holster and gun just beneath his jacket. “Alright,” he mused. “So we should probably find this guy.”

 

He’d caught her off guard again. She laughed. “Are you going to arrest him?” she teased. 

 

Rick shrugged. “Or kill him. A 200 year old confederate general ain’t someone who should be walking around anyways. I don’t think anyone will miss him.”

 

Michonne raised a brow. “And Merle? Will anyone miss him?”

 

Rick licked his lips. “I figured it’s enough to start by looking.”

 

“When we find him,” Michonne said, “what’s the plan?”

 

“I take him in,” Rick answered easily. “Or take him down. But he’s not getting away again.”

 

It was enough for her. “Rick,” she began carefully. “At the best of times, Merle was dangerous. Now…”

 

“You saying you don’t want to dig me out of a graveyard again?” Rick asked lightly. 

 

Michonne’s dark eyes found his. “I’m saying, stick close to me and I won’t have to.”

 

“Alright,” he agreed. Rick was in no hurry to spend a night fighting off death again. “Where do we start? It’s a big city. The Quarter is crawling with cops now. I doubt he’d strike again here.”

 

Michonne smiled, eyes flashing. “That, I can help with.” She began to walk again. “Do you mind driving?”

 

“Not at all,” Rick hurried behind her, heading for the car.

 

Ten minutes later found them on the highway. Michonne had the windows of the SUV rolled all the way down. The wind streamed in, tugging her locs to and fro. She did not seem as though she minded or even noticed. Here eyes were on her hands, spread palms upward in her lap. 

 

“Do you have anything of Merle Dixon’s?” she asked Rick. “Something he may have touched.”

 

Rick paused, considering. He reached over her, into the glove compartment. Fumbling for a moment, he recovered a length of fishing line, once tangled around his leg. 

 

“How’s this?” he asked, handing it to her. 

 

Michonne nodded, taking it. Her eyes snapped shut. She began to mumble, a curious mix of latin and french. The space in the car seemed to warp, growing hotter, the wind whistling like a hurricane. Rick clung to the wheel, his eyes darting to the cars around them. They all drove on as though nothing was amiss. 

 

He chanced a glance at Michonne. Her skin seemed to be glowing, as though light was emitting from her veins. His breath caught in his chest. It all stopped at once when Michonne opened her eyes, smiling brightly. “The Bayou,” she said. “We will find him there.”

 

“Sounds like a place for a snake,” Rick said, turning eyes to the road. 

 

“Or two,” Michonne agreed. She reached for her hair, braiding it hastily before twisting it into a knot at the top of her head. “You will need to stay close to me,” she instructed, looking over at Rick. “Do you have your weapon?”

 

“My Colt,” Rick opened his jacket to show his holster. “But it didn’t do much when the asshole was normal.”

 

Michonne snorted. “If you trust me with it, I can change that.”

 

Rick steadied the wheel, opening his jacket wider to her. “Go for it.”

 

Michonne reached over, gingerly removing the gun. She opened it carefully, letting the bullets spill out in her lap. She spread her fingers out over them, starting her chanting again. The words this time were different, spoken hastily in a low tone. Rick longed to watch, keeping his eyes on the road with difficulty. 

 

“Here,” Michonne said, loading the bullets in and handing the gun carefully back to him. It didn’t look any different. 

 

“You know your way around guns,” Rick observed, tucking his Colt back into his holster. 

 

“Well enough for our purposes today,” she shrugged. “I’m not much of a gun person.”

 

“Guess you’ve got other ways of fighting,” Rick agreed. 

 

Michonne looked out of the window, her eyes on the scenery. “Take this exit,” she instructed. Rick obeyed, steering them into swamp land. “And I prefer not fighting, actually,” she glanced over at him, shrugging. “I just happen to be pretty good at it.”

 

She cracked her neck, turning her attention back outward. Rick chuckled to himself. 

 

“So we go in, guns ablazing?” he asked, watching as the SUV kicked up dirt in its wake. 

 

Michonne fixated on a billboard just off the side of the road, the wheels in her head clearly turning. She turned towards him again. 

 

“Have you ever been on a swamp tour, Rick?” she asked, pointing. 

 

Rick grinned. “No. But I’ve always wanted to take an airboat.” He pulled over, angling the car in. 

 

“No time like the present,” something mischievous flashed in Michonne’s eyes. 

 

“Do we rent one?” Rick asked, wondering how he could justify the cost to the Marshals.

 

Michonne threw the car door open and stepped out. “I thought I told you,” she tossed a wink his way. “There are perks to being Michonne Hawthorne.”

 

Rick watched her walk away, heading straight for the owner. He turned the car off, pausing to enjoy the view. 

 

“I bet there are,” he laughed to himself.



-l-l-l-l-l-



In a car parked just outside the Hotel Hawthorne, Glenn and Maggie were huddled. The cold fogged the panes of the vehicle, but the occupants barely noticed, focusing instead on one another. 

 

“Let’s just call,” Maggie suggested. “Michonne is family. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

 

“Sasha is nothing like Michonne,” Glenn reminded her. “And I’m not scared. I’m nervous.”

 

“About what?” Maggie asked, reaching for his hand across the center console. 

 

“I haven’t seen in a year. It’s been longer since she even came to dinner, or Christmas or--” he swallowed. “After Abraham died, Sasha swore us off.”

 

“She swore off magic,” Maggie corrected. “Not her family.”

 

Glenn only sighed. “I don’t know what Michonne was thinking.”

 

“She’s thinking we’ve got a magical serial killer and a crazed Governor on the loose. She needs help with this. So we’re all going to have to swallow our pride and get this done.” Maggie nodded to herself, her mind made up.

 

Glenn kissed their joined hands. “Alright,” he agreed. “Where do we start?”

 

A knock on the window jolted them both. Startled, they looked out the drivers’ side. 

 

“Hey,” Sasha waved at them, squinting through the glass. “Thought I’d find you here.” She opened the door.

 

“Sasha,” Glenn gaped. “What are you--”

 

“Stopping you from getting killed,” she announced. She shoved unceremoniously at him. “Scoot over. I’m driving.” She seemed to notice Maggie at last. “Hey,” she threw her hand out. “I’ve heard a lot about you. Maggie, right?”

 

“Right,” Maggie stammered, releasing Glenn to shake Sasha’s hand. “How do you--”

 

“I’ve got a plan,” Sasha launched into it, looking between the two of them. “I’m going to need some help.”

 

The young couple looked at her in shock. Sasha huffed. 

 

“My sister sent you to watch me, right? She’s afraid I’m rusty?” Sasha raised a brow. 

 

“Yeah,” Maggie admitted reluctantly.

 

Sasha shook her head. “Scoot over,” she instructed.

 

“Sasha,” Glenn began. “I think whatever it is, we can handle it.”

 

“Oh really?” Sasha asked, clearly amused. “Like you handled the graveyard the other night? Security cameras caught you, clear as day. Lucky I got to the tape before Michonne’s Marshal did, or you’d both be sitting in a jail cell somewhere, getting grilled for being accomplices to murder.”

 

This silenced the both of them.

 

“Now, scoot over,” she requested again. 

 

They both complied, scrambling into the backseat. Sasha shut the door with a flick of her wrist. 

 

“Buckle up,” she said, throwing the car in drive. “We’ve got a killer to catch.”

Chapter Text

The Bayou hummed around them, a sweet song of crickets chirping, raccoons chittering, the gentle slap of the river and the croaks of bullfrogs. Michonne stared into the murky surface of the water for a moment, observing her hazy reflection. 

 

“You ready?” Rick’s voice was low, but he was close enough that she could feel him just behind her. 

 

“Ready,” she tilted her lips up in what she hoped was a comforting smile. Not that Rick was in particular need of comforting. Magic might not have been his element, but a manhunt was. He was perfectly at ease as the sun rose higher, the afternoon stretching before them. His skin was tinged with a hint of pink, the first signs of what would surely be a burn. She suddenly felt glad that he wore that hat of his. 

 

“Then let’s go,” he winked at her. Even in the cool, heavy air between the trees, she felt herself flush. Rick stepped one foot into their boat, reaching for her. Michonne took advantage of the moment, muttering a quick spell to herself to save the US Marshal’s considerably paler complexion as their fingers touched. He helped her on board. “Do you by chance know how to drive this?” he asked, settling beside her on the narrow bench. 

 

With a thought, she turned on the metal fan, guiding their vessel out onto the waters. Rick winced at the noise. She laughed, steering them out of range of the boat stand before silencing the still rotating blades with another thought. 

 

“Impressive,” Rick observed. “You don’t have to do a spell or anything?”

 

“Not all magic requires spells,” she told him, enjoying the breeze as it rifled through her hair. 

 

“Wand?” he pressed.

 

She laughed all the harder. “No,” she clarified. “It’s just...the will of the thing is enough most times.”

 

“So then, could anyone be magic?” Rick asked, turning his face away from the scenery to gaze at her. 

 

“Sure,” she searched for a way to explain. “Things have the power we assign to them,” she said. “Like...your badge.”

 

“My badge?” Rick reached into his jacket for the item. He handed her the wallet, flipping it open. The silver metal caught the light as they glided beneath drooping willows dripping with Spanish moss. 

 

“It’s just metal,” Michonne turned it over in her palm, smoothing her thumb over it. “But you give it importance. You make this badge what it is. Magic is like that. It can be used for good or for evil to influence the world around you.” She handed it back to him. 

 

Rick’s hand lingered on hers. “Didn’t know you were a philosopher too,” he teased. 

 

“Comes with the territory of being a witch,” she smiled. 

 

“So if I wanted to learn magic, could you teach me?”

 

“To an extent,” she answered. 

 

“And you said it’s passed down from genes. Your mama was one, and grandmama. But what about the men?”

 

“What about them?” Michonne patiently answered his line of questioning, guiding the boat through the maze of the swamp all the while. They were attracting attention from the Bayou’s residents, even with a silent boat. Raccoon and alligators peered curiously at them as they went by, and even a doe glimpsed them for a moment before skittering back into the brush. 

 

“Say we were to have children,” Rick hedged. “You’re a witch, I’m not. Would our kids have magic?”

 

The question, asked casually, disarmed her somewhat. “The girls certainly would,” Michonne answered, hoping she sounded calmer than she felt. 

 

“No doubt,” Rick sensed her humor, grinning. “Poor boys though. They’re gonna be just as normal as their daddy.”

 

“Hawthornes aren’t known for our sons,” Michonne reminded him, laughing. 

 

“Ah well,” Rick shrugged. “We could give it a try.” He stretched his arms backwards, sliding the sleeves of the jacket she bought him off until he could shrug out of it. He leaned over to drop it behind the bench, shaking out the thick flannel of his shirt. As he adjusted his holster, his shirt rode up at the waist, revealing a sliver of pale, but toned abdomen. Michonne quickly looked away. 

 

She turned instead to the Bayou, focusing her efforts. The Governor and Merle were nearby, she could feel it. 

 

“What happened there?” Rick whispered suddenly, moving closer to her so he could point. “Lightning or something?”

 

In the midst of the lush green, a grove was blackened and dead, withering into the swampy recesses of the water. 

 

“He’s close,” Michonne whispered back, slowing the boat until it bobbed along. She edged them in closer. 

 

The tranquil silence of the afternoon was interrupted by a sudden splashing, Both Rick and Michonne looked quickly to their right, farther into the Bayou. A massive pontoon was moving towards them, taking no care to be quiet. Tourists were crushed inside, pointing their cameras outward, hoping for a glimpse of a gator. 

 

“That normal?” Rick asked, moving his gun stealthily to the side, hiding it between them. 

 

“They’ll move on soon enough,” Michonne said confidently. Still, the noise was making her nervous. “Just wave like everything is ordinary.”

 

Rick raised a hand, giving the boat a friendly acknowledgment. The guide spotted him at once.

 

“Whew, boy, what do we got here?” he asked loudly through his microphone in a thick cajun accent. “You two need a tow?”

 

“We’re good,” Rick assured them, giving them a forced smile. 

 

“What about you, chere?” the guide asked brightly. “You two lovebirds gonna fry floating out here in the sun like this. Better hope the gators don’t like barbeque.” He laughed heartily, his chuckle echoing over the water. His customers joined him, some even lifting the camera to take pictures. 

 

Rick threw his arm over Michonne’s shoulder, blocking them from a clear view. “We’re good, I promise,” he shouted back, adding in a fake laugh for good measure. 

 

“Well if them gators don’t get you, be careful. I was just telling these good folks that these waters are known for witches. Don’t want to go stumbling on any, do we?”

 

Michonne stiffened, irritated. She glanced at the motor of the pontoon, speeding it up with a wink. 

 

“Whoa there,” the guide shouted in surprise. “These waters are crazy today. Sit down folks, buckle up.”

 

His group paid him no mind, instead rushing for the edge of the boat. They began to point and shout at once, lifting their cameras.

 

“It’s a crocodile!” someone shouted. 

 

“There’s no crocs in these Bayous, ‘cept for the shoes,” the guide deadpanned. “Might just be a big ol’ alligator.” He leaned over to look. 

 

“Michonne,” Rick hissed suddenly. “I don’t know much about New Orleans, but that doesn’t look right to me.”

 

She peered from around him. It took her only a moment to see it. Cruising below the waters, silhouetted, was a crocodile that could give Jaws a run for his money. 

 

“Is that something Merle would do?” she asked urgently, already drawing on her strength. 

 

“A giant fucking crocodile?” Rick asked. “Yeah, that’s something that dumb shit would do.”

 

“I need you to hold on tight, Rick,” Michonne drew in a deep breath. 

 

Rick reached forward, gripping the bench. “What are you gonna--”

 

His question got lost as Michonne reached out, tugging at the beast with enough force to send it careening back. It recovered quickly, yanking them forward. The tourists began to scream in earnest aboard the boat.

 

“What the everlovin’ hell?” the guide yelled. He began to throw his vessel in reverse, maneuvering the massive craft around at the speed of molasses in January. 

 

“You want me to shoot it?” Rick asked, clinging to the side as the boat thrashed backwards and forwards with the force of the crocodile. 

 

Michonne gritted her teeth, holding on. “No,” she managed. “Merle, he can’t be far. He’s not skilled enough to do this from a distance.”

 

“No skilled enough, huh?” Merle’s wheezing laugh echoed. “Haven’t you heard, darling? I’m a serial killer!”

 

Something rammed their boat with enough force to break Michonne’s hold. The crocodile shot like a bat out of hell towards the tour boat. Without hesitation, Michonne dove in after it.

 

“Fuck!” she could hear Rick cursing up a storm above the surface of the water, but she didn’t break stride, propelling herself forward. Even in the brown water, she could see the outline of the crocodile’s great spiked tail. She reached out, grabbing hold. At her touch, the mummer’s farce of an animal went up in flames. It glowed a brilliant orange, spreading from tail to tip. In seconds, it was not more than ash, drifting harmlessly to the bottom of the river. 

 

Michonne resurfaced to be met with looks of abject shock from the whole of the boat and Rick alike. 

 

“Holy shit,” the guide whistled into his mic. “That’s a genuine witch, folks.”

 

It was Merle’s turn to curse. From somewhere unseen, he let out an inhuman howl. His rage sent the pontoon spinning like a rubber duck in the bath. Michonne raised her hands to steady it before it ran aground. With a grunt, she forced it back up the river, away from the fight. 

 

“Damn bitch,” Merle lamented. “You ruin everything.”

 

From the airboat, Rick whipped his head around, spotting his enemy in the distance. 

 

“Michonne,” he yelled for her, pointing. She saw him gathering himself, tossing his hat to the wayside, preparing to jump. 

 

Michonne propelled him forward like a dart, clearing the path for him. Merle shouted again. 

 

“You ain’t playing fair, Miss bitchy witchy,” he crowed. “Guess I gotta bring in my teammate too.”

 

Michonne lifted her hand to level Merle with a blow that would shut him up, but another voice interrupted them. 

 

“Well hello there,” cultured southern tones assaulted her ears. “Michonne was it?”

 

 She spun in the water, treading. Someone had joined them from the shore, a tall, pale man. He was grinning, the very swamp beneath his feet dying with his every breath. 

 

“Governor,” it came out as half a snarl. 

 

“You know,” he grinned, eyes going scarlet. “You look just like your great aunties.”

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Rick emerged gasping on the other side of the swamp, at least 100 meters from where he’d first jumped in. He chanced a glance over his shoulder, noticing Michonne still bobbing in the water. Even from a distance, she looked like a nymph, commanding the elements around her with flawless precision. 

 

“Ohhhh weee,” Merle chortled. “Someone’s got a little crush, huh Officer Friendly?”

 

Rick looked up, spotting Merle ahead, hidden among the trees. He hastened towards him, drawing his Colt. 

 

“That ain’t do much the first time, remember?” Merle taunted. “Just got your ass kicked in a damn graveyard. Or did you forget?” He ducked behind a tree and out of sight. Rick reached it, leveling his Colt, but Merle had disappeared. 

 

Something hit Rick hard from the side, nearly knocking his feet out from under him.

 

“So damn cocky,” Merle lamented. “Guess we need to teach you that lesson again.”

 

He hit Rick a second time before disappearing, his laugh echoing around him as though from all sides. Another blast sent Rick flying, sliding through the mud and grime ankle deep. Merle laughed in earnest. 

 

“Ain’t got your chickadee to come help you, do you now?” he taunted. “Pretty little thing has got her hands full, I’m afraid.”

 

He struck again and Rick stumbled backwards, grunting in pain. 

 

“Now that’s more like it,” Merle grinned, advancing. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

“You know,” The Governor walked towards Michonne over the water as though it were stone. “It took three of them to put me down, and as you can see,” he gestured to himself. “It was only temporary.” The Governor raised a hand, drawing Michonne out of the water as though with an invisible fist. “What makes you think you can do better?”

 

Michonne shut her eyes, quelling her fear. With laser-sharp focus, she struck out, aiming straight for the Governor’s heart. He yelled, dropping her, but she caught herself before she went back under, moving for shallow waters. Before he could recover, she hit him again, tossing one of the blackened trees he had killed directly at him. It swung like a baseball bat, its charred bark hitting her adversary with a satisfying smack. He went flying, but quickly righted himself. 

 

“Not bad,” the Governor wiped blood away from his mouth, reaching in his pocket for a handkerchief. “Not bad at all, Miss Hawthorne.”

 

He flicked it. The forest around them ignited, smoke clouding the air. The animals, previously hidden, began to panic, all of them running, diving for the water in frantic piles. 

 

Michonne gathered the river beneath her, raising her hands. The elements followed her command, extinguishing the flames. It was not until she released it that she realized the Governor was right in front of her. 

 

“You witches are so predictable,” he snarled, striking her with the palm of his hand. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Rick heard Michonne’s startled scream even through the ringing in his ears. He sat up, spitting muck away from his face. 

 

“Uh oh,” Merle gasped, grasping imaginary pearls. “Sounds like your lady love is in trouble.”

 

Rick swung out, managing to connect. Merle yelped, moving away. 

 

“You can’t save her if you’re chasing me, Officer Friendly.” Merle struck out again, lightning quick like a cobra. Rick’s vision ran red. “I don’t think you can save her at all,” he goaded, bearing down on him. 

 

A sudden thought occurred to Rick. Grappling in his shirt pocket, Rick drew out his badge and thrust it forward. It hit Merle right in his outstretched hand. 

 

The effect was instantaneous. A burst of light exploded at the contact. A searing sound filled the air and Merle began to scream, the skin of his hand burned clear away. He retreated, but his movements were slower. 

 

Without hesitation, Rick raised his Colt and fired.

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

The sound of the gun was unmistakable, even through the cacophony around her, Michonne honed it on it, clearing her mind.

 

The Governor was on top of her, holding her below the surface of the water. Michonne lashed out, but her attacks fell to the wayside like he was shooing a fly. The Governor’s face was above her, split into a cruel smile. 

 

“Should have tried this the first time,” he chuckled. “It’s a much quicker way to end that damned line of yours.”

 

Anger filled her. The Governor noticed. 

 

“How many of you have witches killed over the years?” he asked. “I’m curious. Your daddy for sure, I’d wager. But how many have you lost?”

 

Mike. His face came to her mind, young, untroubled, idealistic. She hadn’t believed in the curse, not then, not really. Then Mike got in a motorcycle accident one night coming to meet her. It hadn’t been rainy, he hadn’t been drunk, and no one else was around. The police said there was no one to blame. That was a lie. 

 

Michonne relaxed her body, shutting her eyes until she went limp. The Governor pushed her down even further. 

 

“That’s right,” he soothed in a voice like a lullaby. “It ain’t worth the fight, girl.”

 

She waited until her back hit the soft ground beneath her, The Governor pushed harder still, leaning over her. Michonne struck as quickly as she could, palm out, fingers curled. She prayed her aim was true. The Governor’s eye came out clean as a whistle. She evaporated it in her hand, determined to turn the rest of him to dust as well. 

 

He screamed above her, releasing her. He began to thrash in the shallow water. Michonne sat up, panting. 

 

“You were made from ashes,” she began, releasing the fistful of flakes. “And to ashes you will return.”

 

For one sweet moment, she saw terror register on the Governor’s face. Then, from the forest, his acolyte began to scream. 

 

In a gust of wind, the Governor fled. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

“You can’t kill me, Grimes. Face it,” Merle spat, crawling away from him. The wet mud beneath him ran crimson with his blood. 

 

“You sure about that?” Rick asked, pursuing. “Cause it looks like you’re dying, Dixon.” 

 

“I ain’t the one limpin’,” Merle countered. 

 

“Nah,” Rick agreed, cocking his gun. “Just crawling.”

 

Merle looked up at him, grinning that ugly, crooked smile. “Feels good, don’t it?” he asked. “Holding the power like that. Ready to take a life. No better feeling in the whole damn world. Better even than that chickadee you got back there. Didn’t take you for the kind to mix, Grimes.”

 

Rick said nothing, only pulled the trigger, shooting Merle in the leg as he attempted to stand up. He cursed. 

 

“Well kill me then!” Merle demanded. 

 

Rick hesitated. It would be easy to put Merle down like a dog in the mud out here. But Rick never had been much for doing the easy thing. 

 

“Merle Dixon,” he began calmly. “You’re under arrest.”

 

Merle laughed all the harder. “You gotta be kidding me. Officer Friendly to the end.” He looked above Rick’s head. “Should have killed me when you had the chance.”

 

The winds hit like a hurricane, knocking the pair of men flat to the ground. Rick knew instinctively, that the Governor had arrived. 

 

“Bout time you showed up,” Merle crowed. “I’m bleeding to death here!” He thrust his hand out. “Need some help.”

 

Help was not forthcoming. Instead, the wind funneled upwards, taking Merle with him. He raised ten feet straight up in the air, then came crashing down into the mud, a limp, bleeding pile. The wind whipped away faster, leaving the Bayou silent, and Merle, unconscious, behind. 

 

“Rick!” Michonne called his name, relief palpable in her voice. She rushed to him, helping him up from the ground. She had his hat, but Rick barely noticed. She was soaking wet with large, ugly welts forming over her slender neck. Rick reached for her at once, touching them. 

 

“What happened?” he questioned.

 

Michonne clasped his hand. “The coward ran away,” she spat. She turned her eyes to Merle. “And he took his magic with him.”

 

From a few yards away, Merle groaned, wiggling feebly. 

 

“You’d better finish your arrest,” Michonne said, bending to touch Rick’s swollen ankle. It healed at once. “I’ll clean up the mess back here.” She offered him a strained smile before retreating, heading back to the water’s edge. 

 

Rick turned away from her with difficulty, walking instead towards Merle. He bent, handcuffing him behind his back. The click of the metal cuffs left a satisfaction Rick had rarely felt before. 

 

“You need me to read you the rest of your rights?” Rick asked, the limp and bleeding killer. “Or do you got ‘em memorized by now?’

 

“Fuck you,” Merle groaned. 

 

Rick sighed. “You have the right to remain silent...” he began, hauling Merle to his feet. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Michonne had just managed to put the Bayou largely back to rights when Rick emerged, dragging Merle behind him. The trees where the Governor stood were blackened beyond saving, a desolate desert in the midst of the swamp. Michonne wondered whether anything might ever grow there again. 

 

“Do you have him?” she asked, looking back at the two men. 

 

“He’s not going anywhere,” Rick assured her. He holstered his weapon. With his free hand, he tilted her chin up, inspecting the bruises. “He touched you,” Rick’s voice was filled with venom. 

 

“I pulled his eye out,” she informed him, gently pushing Rick’s hand down. She looked at Merle. His right palm was burned beyond recognition, a familiar star shape imprinted there. “The badge?” she asked, impressed. 

 

“Guess you were right,” Rick grinned. 

 

Michonne drew the airboat towards them, this time helping Rick into it with his captive. They stowed Merle at the base. 

 

“I’ll heal that hand when we get back,” she told Rick lowly, pushing Merle into unconsciousness with a nudge of her mind. “That might draw questions.”

 

Rick scoffed. “Don’t waste it on Dixon,” he told her. His eyes found her neck again. “Take care of yourself.”

 

“I’m ok,” she promised, sitting beside him. The motor started up again, silently propelling them away. Michonne took a moment to inspect her partner. She laid her hand over a particularly nasty gash on his forehead, sealing it shut. 

 

“Yeah?” Rick gathered her wet locs, tossing them behind her shoulder so he could get a better look at her. Satisfied that the Governor had done no permanent damage, he released her, pausing only to drop his hat on her head. 

 

“Yeah,” she promised. She was exhausted and still reeling, but she was alive. Better than that, she knew now that the Governor could be injured. Perhaps he could even be killed.

 

“Then I’m ok too,” Rick told her. With a sigh, he settled in next to her. “We’re gonna need a week-long bath after this,” he muttered, tugging at his wet and mud-slicked flannel in disgust. 

 

Michonne shook her head, hiding her smile. 

 

“You really pulled out his eye?” Rick asked. 

 

“Turned it to dust,” Michonne said with satisfaction. 

 

“So we caught one killer and half-blinded the other,” Rick recounted. “It ain’t a bad start.”

 

Michonne sighed. “Let’s hope it’s enough,” she whispered, steering back towards the car. 

Chapter Text

Rick slowed the SUV in the back alleyway behind the Hotel Hawthorne. He looked over at his passenger. Open windows on the highway had done much to dry Michonne’s hair, but her outfit had seen better days. It was clinging to her, adhering to the muscles and curves like a second skin. He should probably look away, and make a serious effort to not look at Michonne this way. 

 

Rick was pretty sure he was fighting a losing battle on that front. 

 

“I’ll see you in a bit,” he told her, offering her a lopsided grin. “Gotta process this asshole.”

 

They both glanced back at Merle, slumped over in the backseat of the car. Michonne unhooked her seatbelt and swung her body around. Leaning, she reached over the center console. Rick steadied her with a hand on her back. 

 

“Thanks,” she glanced at him before turning to Merle. She healed his mangled hand, but left the bullet holes. 

 

“Thank you,” Rick helped her back into the front seat. “You just saved me a bunch of paperwork.”

 

Michonne chuckled. “He’s not going to remember me,” she told Rick. “Or the Governor. He’s only going to remember hiding out in the swamp, and you coming to get him.”

 

“Makes sense,” Rick furrowed his brow. “You can do that? Take someone’s memories just like that?”

 

Michonne tilted her head, observing him. “Just because it’s easy doesn’t mean I do it all of the time, Rick,” she reminded him. 

 

“Right,” he nodded flushing, feeling somehow as though he’d been found out.

 

Michonne opened her door, preparing to step out. “For the record, Marshal,” she turned back to look at him. “I’m not planning on erasing any of your memories of me.” She reached for his hand, giving it a squeeze on top of the steering wheel. “I’ll see you soon,” she smiled. 

 

Rick watched her walk up the path and duck into her hotel. Exhaling, he started the car again, heading for the precinct. As he drove, he connected his phone to bluetooth, dialing his captain’s number.

 

“Please tell me you have good news,” Aaron answered on the second ring. 

 

“I don’t know if it’s good news,” Rick began. “But I’ve got a serial killer handcuffed in the back of the car you let me borrow.”

 

Aaron released a breath, his gasp morphing quickly into a laugh. “Thank God, Rick. Shit-- He’s alive?”

 

“Got a hole or two in him,” Rick said. “But he’s alive. Found him in the damn swamp.”

 

“Sounds right,” Aaron groused. “You’re ok?”

 

“I’m filthy,” Rick answered. “You’re gonna need a good interior cleaner. I didn’t have a towel to put down.”

 

“At least you didn’t total it,” Aaron snorted. 

 

“Give me time,” Rick said. 

 

“Haha,” Aaron said without humor. “So you’ll process him, then we’ll start working on getting him back to Georgia. You did good Grimes.” Aaron sounded proud. “Time to come on home.”

 

That thought hung in the air for a moment. Rick glanced in his rearview mirror, back down the street towards the hotel. “I was thinking, Captain…”

 

“Rick,” Aaron became exasperated at once. “We talked about this.”

 

“His accomplice, whoever he was, might still be down here,” Rick pressed. “But to be honest, I think I need a break, Aaron.”

 

This last statement caught his captain off guard. “What do you mean?” Aaron asked cautiously. 

 

“I ain’t had a vacation in two years. And New Orleans ain’t a bad place when you’re not stomping around in waist-high muck. Kinda thinking I’d like to see it.”

 

“Are you serious?” Aaron asked, positively gobsmacked. 

 

“Yeah,” Rick shrugged, trying for nonchalance. “I’m sure I could find something to do. Might be nice to sleep in for a start.”

 

Silence was his only answer for a beat. Then Aaron spoke again. “Yeah...I guess there’s no harm in that. You earned a break.”

 

“I’ll just consult with NOLA PD while I’m here,” Rick said. “Spend the rest of the time getting my head straight.”

 

Aaron made a sound low in his throat. “Did something happen?”

 

“What do you mean?” Rick asked, turning towards the station. “I caught a damn serial killer.”

 

“Did you meet someone?” Aaron pried. 

 

‘Met plenty of someones,” Rick evaded. 

 

“You know what I mean, Grimes. Look, I remember how you were before you got married. You think you’re slick with this--”

 

“What are you talking about?” Rick scoffed. 

 

“Just...don’t say any dumb shit around her, ok?” Aaron cautioned. 

 

“You saying I say dumb shit?” Rick asked, feigning insult. 

 

“Around women you like, yes.” Aaron didn’t pull any punches. “And if she’s a cop--”

 

“She’s not,” Rick copped to the truth. “She owns the hotel I’m at.” He stopped talking before he could divulge too much. 

 

“Hmm,” Aaron came up short. “All right, well, I guess go for it then.”

 

“Thanks, boss,” Rick said sarcastically, the back of his neck going red. 

 

“I’m just saying, this is a good thing. Just be yourself. Except maybe don’t make any damn dad jokes.”

 

“Don’t you gotta be a dad to make dad jokes?” Rick asked. 

 

“I thought so,” Aaron sighed. “Then I met you.”

 

“I’ll call you when they’ve got Dixon locked up,” Rick held in his laugh. 

 

“Alright,” Aaron said. “Sounds good. And Grimes?”

 

“Be careful?” Rick asked knowingly. 

 

“Have fun,” Aaron said. “You deserve it.”

 

“Yeah,” Rick mused, “I’ll try.” 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Michonne paused on the stairs, watching Rick in the lobby. He was inspecting her trinkets. He paused at the piano, watching it play itself. Michonne smiled, changing the tune with a wink. Rick jumped in surprise as it started to play the Imperial March loudly. 

 

“Can I help you with something, sir?” she teased, pausing at the desk. 

 

Rick blushed, his ears running scarlet. He straightened up quickly, clearing his throat. “I didn’t think you’d be working,” he grumbled out, rubbing the back of his neck. 

 

“No rest for the weary,” she deadpanned, pausing in front of him. He was still damp from a shower, the wet tendrils of his curls pushed back. Michonne reached for him, tugging a twig out of the ends. “The swamp doesn’t wash out easy,” she smiled. 

 

Rick’s blush deepened. “I think I’m going to need magic to ever be really clean again.”

 

“You’re in the right place,” Michonne said. She dissolved the twig in her hand, laughing lightly at Rick’s wide-eyed response. “Did you get everything figured out at work?” she asked. 

 

He nodded. “I did,” Rick tugged at his tan cotton Henley. “Merle Dixon is going away for life.” he sighed, amending his statement. “After a trial.”

 

“Still, you got your man,” Michonne smiled. “How does it feel?”

 

Rick considered this. “Don’t know,” he admitted. “Been gunning for him for so long, and now it’s just over.” He shuffled his feet. “I’m glad he’s not out there killing.”

 

Michonne watched him. “Do you wish you would have killed him?” she asked. It was not a foreign feeling to her. Evil men too often did not get their comeuppance on Earth. Merle had certainly earned a worse fate than Rick had dealt him. 

 

Rick let out a mirthless chuckle. “Maybe a part of me does, if I’m being honest.” He looked at her. “But most of me is satisfied that he’s going to rot in prison for the rest of his life. I hope it’s a long one.”

 

“Maybe you can put this behind you now, go home. Restart your life,” the thought was bittersweet. Rick would be returning to his life soon, whatever that entailed. She would miss his unshakeable presence. 

 

“Maybe,” Rick ventured. He smiled at her crookedly. “I was actually wondering something first.” 

 

Michonne looked at him expectantly, trying to contain her grin as Rick went more red in the face by the second. 

 

“I wanted to see if you were hungry,” he said, a bit too fast. “Because I’m starving and I thought you might be. And if you’re working, that’s ok. I just--” he took a breath. “Wanted to see if you’d want to eat.” he paused. “With me,” he concluded. 

 

The piano’s song shifted again, playing one of Michonne’s favorites. The Ella Fitzgerald tune echoed in the lobby. Her guests went by, continuing about their business, dressed in costumes, clutching drinks, laughing together, all blissfully unaware of the tension spreading between the US Marshal and the owner of the establishment. 

 

“You don’t have to pack to go?” Michonne asked. She ought to insist he do just that, head for the hills and safer pastures.

 

“No,” Rick shook his head. “I’m not going nowhere just yet.”

 

Michonne considered, a lump forming somewhere in the pit of her stomach. “Let me finish up down here, and I can meet you at my suite,” she said, pushing aside her misgivings. 

 

“I don’t want you to have to cook,” Rick began to protest. 

 

“It’s easy,” she winked at him. “I’ll show you.”

 

“Alright,” he agreed. “At least let me help down here.”

 

Decorating for Halloween festivities was considerably easier with a partner. Rick held each item up as Michonne enchanted them, draping her lobby in faux spiderwebs and dried flowers. The piano changed its tune to something spooky, an old dirge. 

 

“There’s a party here tomorrow?” Rick asked. 

 

“Our biggest day of the year besides Mardi Gras,” Michonne nodded. 

 

“But with the Governor here,” Rick wet his lips, pushing aside an empty box as Michonne set prop potions bottles out. “Is this safe?”

 

“Sasha’s on watch,” Michonne said. “And Glenn and Maggie. We’ll figure something out.” She had a plan, though the others were unaware, a fail safe found in the pages of her family’s book. She put the thought aside quickly. 

 

Rick nodded, letting the subject drop. Michonne could tell it bothered him still. He was silent as she led him upstairs and through her door. She was hyper aware of his presence behind her, so close that his jean-clad leg kept brushing the fabric of her skirt. He paused to scratch Virgil behind the ears as he entered.

 

“Make yourself comfortable,” Michonne invited, pushing a stool towards him as she headed for the cupboards. Rick sat, watching her as she began to stack things on the counter. She set a bowl of fruit in front of him. “From my garden,” she explained. 

 

“Thanks,” Rick inspected the apples and pomegranates. “They look great.”

 

“So,” Michonne ventured. “When are you heading home? You must miss Georgia.”

 

He chuckled again in surprise. “Not really,” he admitted. “New Orleans has a charm to it.”

 

“When people aren’t trying to murder you,” Michonne laughed lightly. “It’s safer back home.”

 

Rick fixed her with a hard stare, his eyes narrowing. “I ain’t leaving yet,” he told her. “You forgot you got a 200-year old Confederate Governor after you?”

 

“After me ,” Michonne pointed out. 

 

“Thought we agreed we were gonna do this together,” Rick mused, pausing his fidgeting. 

 

“I thought you had to get back, check in,” she countered. 

 

“I will eventually,” Rick shrugged. “Told my boss I needed a break. He jumped at the opportunity to let me stay. He figures it’s a good sign.”

 

“You should take that break, Rick,” Michonne urged. “We can handle it here.”

 

“I’m sure you can,” Rick agreed readily. He turned his attention back to the bowl, skirting his fingers over its contents. He paused at a pomegranate before selecting an apple. “But I’m not leaving you,” he took a bite, the juice gathering at the corner of his lips before he licked it away. “At least not until this is over.”

 

“I couldn’t ask you to do that,” Michonne insisted. 

 

“You’re not,” Rick assured her, smiling. He took another bite. A change had come over him since they’d emerged from the Bayou, a sense of relief that was palpable. He looked almost happy, certainly content. The scent of sandalwood soap clung to him. He was relaxed, his gun set aside in lieu of an unassuming cotton shirt and jeans. For a moment, she envied him. 

 

“I know you hurt him pretty bad today,” if Rick noticed her borderline salacious stare, he charitably did not comment on it. “But how do we end it?”

 

With difficulty, Michonne turned her mind back to the subject at hand. “There’s a ritual. My ancestors trapped him once with it. It will work again.” Her strength had grown considerably over the last few days. She prayed it would be enough to subdue the Governor. 

 

“And it’ll kill him?” Rick asked thoughtfully, chewing away. 

 

“Bind him,” she explained. Her aunts had taken diligent notes in the wake of the Governor’s first attack. Michonne supposed that she could manage it. 

 

“But then he could come back,” Rick’s brow furrowed. 

 

“To kill him, we would need to take his magic,” Michonne explained. “And that can only be done with what gave him the power in the first place. You saw with Merle.

 

“Sure,” Rick didn’t looked fussed. “So what gave this asshole his power?”

 

Michonne laughed despite herself. “A potion, according to my ancestors’ records. It could probably be recreated, but it’s a lot of guesswork. And potions making was never my strongest skill. Sasha was the potion master.”

 

“Seems like it’s a good thing you two are reconnecting then,” Rick observed. 

 

Michonne stayed silent. It was difficult to look at Rick, difficult to hear his earnest opinions. “Rick, you really should go home.”

 

He stood up, setting the remainder of his apple down on a napkin. “You don’t want me here?” he asked, tilting his head at her. 

 

The lie would not come. She settled on a half-truth, “It’s dangerous,” she told him.

 

He stepped closer, coming around the barrier between them. “I’m not afraid of the Governor,” he promised, lips quirking. 

 

“He’s not the only thing to be afraid of,” she warned. Michonne began to tremble, though for fear or longing she could not decide. 

 

“Who else?” Rick’s steps kept coming, slowly, until he was just a few feet in front of her. “You?” he asked. 

 

She tilted her chin up, stilling her shaking. “Yes,” she answered. 

 

“Well,” Rick crept closer still. “That is a problem. Because even though you’re scary as hell in a fight, Michonne Hawthorne, I ain’t afraid of you.” He paused, half a step away from her. “We made a good team today, didn’t we?”

 

Michonne nodded, her mouth run suddenly dry. Perhaps Rick was not afraid, but fear was flooding into her, dampening her sense. She ought to move back, ought to force him to leave. She stayed still. 

 

“I think you could use my help, even if you don’t want it,” Rick said. 

 

“Rick, you don’t know what you’re asking,” Michonne sighed, distressed.

 

“Maybe I don’t,” he admitted. “But I know one thing. You and me, the two of us?” He paused, regarding her as though he’d never met anyone quite like her. “We can get this done. But you gotta be honest with me.”

 

“I have been,” she protested, gripping the edge of the counter. “I’ve answered every question you’ve asked.”

 

“Then answer just one more,” he suggested gently. He stepped closer still, crowding her. The heat of him was searing, warmer even than his first night in her bed. It seemed like it was ages ago.“What are you afraid is gonna happen if I stay, Michonne?”

 

Michonne drew in a short, clipped breath. “The curse,” it was half a whisper, the very word causing her stomach to clench. 

 

“Yeah,” Rick leaned toward her, his voice a low rumble. “I thought it might be that.” He extended his arm at his side, the back of his palm brushing hers. “I kinda figure we can beat that too, if you wanted to.” His eyes found hers, piercing in the low light. 

 

Michonne froze for a beat, her heart pounding in her ears. Her fingers touched his, twisting together tightly before she could even register the movement. Rick inhaled, moving forward until his forehead rested against hers. 

 

“Rick, you don’t understand,” she began. She clutched his arm, intending to push him away. Rick did not budge.

 

“I’m not afraid,” he told her, closing the distance between them. 

 

His lips were warm, firm, the taste of him intoxicating, even in that brief moment. Michonne gasped, leaning back, gathering herself. They locked eyes for a long moment. 

 

“Michonne,” Rick called to her. “I ain’t afraid,” he repeated. He cupped her face, drawing his thumb down the curve of her jaw.

 

She had hundreds of reasons to disengage, each as practical as the next. They all fled her mind. Rick’s proximity felt natural, his presence comforting. 

 

“Rick,” she exhaled, tugging at the hem of his shirt. 

 

Rick drew her closer still. “Come here,” he requested. 

 

The next kiss was just as gentle, his touch feather light. He tasted of the apple from her garden, sweet and crisp and cool. Michonne parted her lips for him. Rick seized the opportunity, deepening their embrace. Her fingers curled around his biceps. He responded by trailing his hand down her waist, clutching at her until she gasped outright. 

 

“Michonne,” he ground out in her ear, trailing sucking kisses down her neck. His palms found the curves of her hips and ass and he squeezed, coaxing a breathless gasp from her. 

 

Michonne drew him back down, threading her fingers in his damp curls. He held her tightly, kissing her soundly in her kitchen, all thoughts of dinner, of the Governor, of the curse forgotten. Heat grew between them, stoked by wandering hands, by the feel of his lips, by his hardened body pressed flush against hers. 

 

A sudden understanding hit Michonne, her dreams coming into sharper focus. She and Rick were on a collision course, their fates inextricably tied. She pulled back from him, needing a breath, needing a moment of clarity. Rick exhaled shakily, smiling at her. 

 

“Shit, Michonne,” he blinked in surprise. “What the hell is going on here?” he asked, chuckling. 

 

Michonne looked at him, dancing her fingers across his bearded chin and cheeks. She traced the elegant curve of his nose, his full lips, the lines around his eyes as he squinted at her. 

 

“I dreamed of you,” she told him quietly. “Even before you came.”

 

Rick pulled her closer, his fingers digging into her waist. “Good dreams?” he questioned, kissing her gently again. 

 

“I don’t know,” she admitted, her lips still brushing his. “Rick, I don’t know.”

 

His mouth covered hers, all tentativeness gone. He kissed her with fervor, until Michonne felt weak in his arms. She slumped forward against him, allowing Rick to hold her up.

 

“Seems worth finding out,” he muttered, pulling back to smile at her. “Don’t you think?”

 

Michonne searched for an answer, heart racing, mind reeling. She opened her mouth to respond. The sound of the door to the suite opening interrupted them both. She spun on her heel, hair swinging. 

 

Sasha, Glenn, and Maggie trooped into the kitchen, each ladened with bags. Glenn’s arms were stuffed with books. All three stopped, looking at Rick and Michonne with wide eyes. 

 

“Good,” Sasha said lightly, ignoring their compromising position. “We need to talk.”

 

She came inside, setting her bags down on the counter. Her eyes did not miss Rick’s hands still around Michonne’s waist. She threw her sister a knowing look. Michonne avoided her eyes, looking instead at Maggie. The young woman’s expression was poorly concealed, one part elated, one part smug. Michonne looked at the ground instead. She reached for Rick’s hand, hoping he’d pull away and spare them the embarrassment. Rick, by contrast, didn’t seem ruffled in the slightest. It was Glenn who broke the tension, playing the familiar role of peacekeeper. 

 

“Hey man,” Glenn stepped up, extending a hand at Rick. “We’ve met but you don’t remember. I’m--”

 

“The kid on the security video,” Rick answered, squinting at Glenn. He released Michonne to shake Glenn’s hand. 

 

“Glenn,” the young man answered. “That’s Maggie. We heard you caught Merle. Good job.”

 

Maggie waved shyly from beside Glenn. Rick nodded at both of them, reluctantly tucking his hand in his pocket. 

 

“We need to talk,” Sasha said, bending down to scoop Virgil off the ground. 

 

“Yes,” Michonne agreed, cheeks burning. “We do.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“We have one shot at this,” Sasha explained, her arms folded over her chest. “One shot to take this guy out before he gets more powerful than ever.”

 

Michonne was at Rick’s side, her leg pressed against his on the couch. Rick was doing his best to focus on the matter at hand, but he could feel the echo of her touch on his skin, her hands in his hair, the taste of her lips. It was all he could seem to think about. Glenn and Maggie kept stealing furtive looks at him, delight poorly disguised on both of their faces. Michonne, for her part, seemed content to ignore them completely, all of her attention on her sister. 

 

“You think you could recreate the potion?” Michonne asked, leaning forward. 

 

“Some of the trees in your garden are hundreds of years old. It’s possible that the original potion came from them. It’s a long shot.” Sasha busied herself with petting the cat in her lap. 

 

There was clearly something between the sisters that was not being addressed. The tension was uncomfortable, made worse by the fact that Michonne’s family had walked in on them. Rick met Sasha’s eyes from across the room. She stared back, her expression unreadable. 

 

“What about the party?” Glenn asked. “Hundreds of people are going to be here tomorrow. Not to mention the parade.”

 

“They could get hurt, especially if the Governor shows up,” Maggie scooted closer to Glenn. 

 

“The Governor will assuredly show up here tomorrow,” Michonne did not sound worried in the slightest. Rick looked curiously at her. She laid a hand on his leg. The touch sent a shock through him, his blood heating at once. 

 

“So what’s the plan?” Rick asked, looking at Michonne. 

 

Glenn and Maggie looked interested in the answer to this question as well. Sasha, however, turned her gaze to Rick. 

 

“You should go home,” Sasha looked at him. “Before you get hurt.”

 

Rick opened his mouth to respond but was beaten to the punch. 

 

“I mean,” Glenn’s voice surprised Rick, his words even more so. “He’s held his own so far. Michonne said he took down Merle.”

 

“With her help,” Sasha pointed out, nodding her head in Michonne’s direction. 

 

“I was fighting the Governor,” Michonne clarified calmly. “Rick can handle himself.”

 

“I’m not saying you’re not tough,” Sasha looked back at him, her tone softening just the slightest. “But this is different. This is magic.”

 

Rick opened his mouth to defend himself, but was cut off again. 

 

“You haven’t practiced in years,” Glenn countered. “If anything, Rick’s seen more magic this year than you have.”

 

Beside him, Michonne shifted. Rick sensed the tide taking a hard turn. He hastened to speak. “We’ve been through this,” he said as calmly as he was able. “I ain’t leaving. Not until this is done. Michonne helped me get my man. I’m helping her.”

 

“Rick’s staying,” Michonne said, daring anyone to contradict her. “We need everyone we can.”

 

Sasha glowered for a moment. She looked to Maggie. The young woman only shrugged. “It’s going to take all of us,” Maggie pointed out. 

 

Sasha sighed. “Fine,” she said. She stood up, still holding the cat. “You two should get some rest. I’ll take first watch.”

 

Michonne nodded, her mind clearly elsewhere. A tiny divot was forming between her eyebrows and her lips were beginning to purse. Rick wondered if Sasha could tell that her sister had some scheme forming, or whether years of separation had made them strangers. 

 

“Maggie and I will be in the garden,” Glenn said. “We’ll figure this out, Michonne. We promise.”

 

Michonne smiled gratefully, reaching for the younger man. “We will,” she affirmed. She stood as well, looking at her sister. Something unspoken passed between them. Sasha walked to the door, pausing at the threshold. Rick watched, wondering again about Michonne’s past, about her life beyond their time together. 

 

“You ok?” he asked her lowly, his hand flexing as he resisted reaching for her. 

 

She smiled at him, looking at him fondly. “I’m fine,” she said. “We all are.”

 

“Want me to go back to my room?” he asked cautiously. “Or I can keep watch too--”

 

“Stay,” she said simply. “I’ll be back.” 

 

Rick hid his smile as the sisters disappeared through the door out into the hallway. He watched them go, missing Michonne beside him already. 

 

“So,” Glenn began, starling Rick. He was clearly trying not to burst with excitement. “You and Michonne, huh?”

 

Rick looked at him, holding in a sigh. It wasn’t the young couple’s fault at all, but they’d wandered into Michonne’s kitchen at the worst possible moment. He straightened up, mustering the friendliest tone he could, even as he ignored their question in lieu of one of his own. “You two were at the graveyard that night, right? The footage was erased though,” Rick said. 

 

To their credit, neither bothered to deny it. 

 

“Sasha,” Maggie explained. “We were there trying to do something for Michonne.”

 

“I figured,” Rick nodded. He had a million questions, but only one seemed critical. “And you’re witches too?”

 

“Yup,” Glenn answered. “Michonne’s mom took me in, when I was just a kid. The powers...kinda freaked a few of my foster parents out. Cycled around until I got here.” Glenn said this all with the air of a person discussing the weather. 

 

Maggie reached for him. “I came later. Met Glenn in college. Realized we had a few things in common.”

 

Glenn grinned, kissing her hand. Rick felt a funny kind of affection for them.

 

“You’ve known Michonne a long time then,” Rick observed.

 

“Honorary members of the family,” Maggie said. 

 

“But there’s no curse for you two?” Rick asked. 

 

They shook their heads. Another silence spread between them. 

 

“I thought so,” Rick observed. He felt tired again. 

 

“The curse,” Glenn started. “It doesn’t affect everyone. Michonne’s grandma had a sister with a wife. They lived a long time.”

 

Rick chuckled in surprise. “Guessing a Confederate general didn’t really consider that possibility,” he mused, grinning as he looked down at his hands. 

 

Glenn laughed along with him, “Guess not,” he ventured. 

 

“I think it’s really sweet, you and Michonne” Maggie ventured. “Michonne, she doesn’t trust a lot of people.”

 

“She trusts you though,” Glenn imparted. 

 

“Guess so,” Rick’s eyes wandered to the door. He could hear the gentle sound of both Sasha and Michonne’s voices speaking quickly. He knew Sasha had reservations about he and Michonne, hesitations that went deeper than the norm. “The curse,” Rick said suddenly, turning to Glenn and Maggie. “Do you think it’s permanent?”

 

They both colored at once, their eyes falling. “If it isn’t,” Glenn hazarded, “we could break it by killing the Governor.”

 

Rick nodded. “That’s what I was thinking,” he said. He flexed his hands, setting them back down in his lap. “Do you think she’s got a plan to kill him?”

 

Maggie nodded. “Knowing Michonne, she’s had a plan for a while.”

 

“Whether she tells us is the trick,” Glenn said.

 

The trio halted conversation, listening to the low murmur of the sister’s voices through the door.  

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

“It’s not smart,” Sasha said, crossing her arms over her chest. 

 

“I’m not saying it is,” Michonne didn’t bother to argue. There was no point that Sasha could present that Michonne herself had not already mulled over. There were a million reasons to keep Rick at bay. The fact was, she was tired of that life.

 

“So you’re just gonna cuddle up with him? Are you willing to risk him like that?” Sasha asked, surprised. She dropped Virgil the cat, allowing the animal to streak away, back towards where Glenn and Maggie were seated with Rick. “I thought we had an agreement. I thought we weren’t going to do that anymore.” Sasha swallowed, clearly upset.

 

“Sasha,” Michonne sighed. “It really isn’t your business.”

 

“That’s what I told you when I started dating Abraham.” Sasha reminded her. “He died. Same as Bob. Same as Mike. Same as my dad, and yours, and our grandfather--”

 

“Because of the Governor,” Michonne stressed. “Because of what he took from us.” Michonne inhaled, trying to calm herself. “I’m sick of this,” she admitted. “Aren’t you? Living on eggshells, keeping everyone at arm’s length.”

 

Sasha blinked away tears. “It keeps them alive,” she said quietly. “We agreed. We agreed it was worth it.”

 

“I thought it was,” Michonne said. “But it’s all changing now. You’ve noticed it, haven’t you?” she pressed. “Our magic’s gotten stronger. I thought it was a trick but…” Michonne sighed, searching for a way to phrase her thoughts. “This isolation, it weakens us. We were always strongest together.”

 

“It’s been a long time since we were all together,” Sasha said lowly.

 

“We’ve got a chance now,” Michonne said. “A chance to build something new. The way mama did.”

 

“They all died,” Sasha sniffed, crossing her arms over her chest. “Everytime we try, they die.”

 

“Then we don’t try this time.” Michonne straightened up. “This time, we put him down.”

 

Sasha looked out of the darkened window. The sounds of the Quarter could be heard, loud music, drunken shrieks of delight. Somewhere among them, the Governor was biding his time, laying his plans. “Tomorrow he’s going to get his hands on so much power no one will be able to stop him.” 

 

“He won’t,” Michonne shook her head. “Today in the swamp, I was capable of things I didn’t even know I could do. Without thinking. It was just natural.”

 

“Like this thing with Rick, right?” Sasha guessed. Tears began to cut down her face, falling fast and thick. She sniffled, her words gaining speed, carried on shaky breaths. “He makes you want to forget about the curse. Makes you want to take a chance. He makes you feel like you can beat it. Because you have to.”

 

Michonne’s heart clenched, the raw wound opening again. “Bob wasn’t your fault, Sasha. Neither was Abe. Like Mike wasn’t mine.” Michonne reached for her sister. 

 

Sasha stepped closer to her, running her hand over her own face. “We put this bastard down then,” Sasha said. “For all of them.”

 

“For all of them,” Michonne agreed, pulling Sasha towards her. They hugged, hearts hammering against one another. Sasha released her first.

 

“The potion,” she said. “I think I know how we can do it. We need everyone at full strength though.”

 

“We will be,” Michonne nodded. 

 

“We’ll need your garden,” Sasha said. “And it needs to be Halloween.”

 

“Midnight,” Michonne agreed. “At the stroke of midnight.”

 

“I’ll meet you in the kitchen downstairs,” Sasha said. She pulled away, walking towards the door. When she laid her hand on the knob to the outside, she paused, looking over her shoulder. 

 

“He seems like a good man,” Sasha observed. 

 

“He is,” Michonne called back. 

 

Michonne stood in her hallway, listening to the Halloween pre-party outside, and the silence echoing in her suite. From her living room, she could hear the low rumble of Rick’s voice, murmuring soothing nonsense sounds. Her family spellbook was there with him, the pages well-worn, decades of history carefully outlined. Michonne had poured over them, plotting. It would have to be enough now. Halloween was tomorrow, and she was running out of time. 

 

Rick’s voice came louder, lilting. Michonne paused to listen to him playing with Virgil, her heart pounding at the cadence of his voice. She worried her lip between her teeth, considering. Slowly, she reentered her suite. Her living room was empty, save for Rick curled up on the couch with Virgil on his chest. He tilted his head up towards her when Michonne entered. 

 

“I was wondering if you’d come back,” he grinned sleepily at her. 

 

Michonne walked towards him, lowering herself to the cushions. The cat, perhaps sensing her mood, yawned before vacating his place, heading off to do whatever it was that Virgil did. 

 

“I told you I would,” she reminded him, covering his hand with her own. Rick linked their fingers. 

 

“Are you nervous about tomorrow?” he asked. “Do you need help planning?”

 

She smiled gently at him, tracing the rough curve of his fingernail with her thumb. “I have a plan,” she assured him. “There’s nothing left to do but wait.”

 

Rick nodded, staring up at her. “Anything I can do to help?” he questioned. 

 

Michonne bent her head towards Rick’s, her locs falling around both of their faces. Her pulse raced immediately at his proximity. Up close, she could count every freckle, every laugh line, could see the salt and pepper of his beard. It was a face she liked immensely, one she was already used to seeing. The thought terrified her.

 

Rick sat up, one hand still wrapped around hers, the other slinking around her waist. She could feel it burning through the thin cotton of her dress. She reached for him as well, cupping the curve of his jaw before pressing her lips to his. Their kiss fell into a rhythm quickly, panting against one another until Michonne’s blood ran hot. Rick pulled her into his lap, settling her where Virgil had been just moments before. She moved closer still, grinding herself against the hardness growing between them. Rick groaned into her mouth. 

 

“I should let you rest,” Michonne laughed lightly, leaning her head against Rick’s when they came up for air. 

 

Rick’s hands tightened around her waist. “I ain’t tired,” he promised her, dragging her against him. This time it was her who groaned. She arched into him, stealing another kiss. “You sure, Chonne?” he asked, clearly straining.  

 

Michonne smiled. “I’m sure,” she promised, drawing him up and off of the couch. 

 

Her bedroom offered more privacy, especially with the door locked behind them. Her canopy bed sat, large and looming. She started towards it, but Rick stopped her, catching her lightly around her hips. 

 

“Hold on a second,” he grinned, stepping towards her. Her breath caught as he crowded her, drawing her in for another bone-melting kiss. She swayed in his arms, bracing herself on his shoulders. Rick’s hands resumed their wandering, trailing down to the bottom of her skirt. His thumbs rubbed patterns into her bare skin, toying with the hem. “I like the way you dress,” he mumbled against her lips, clutching her thigh.

 

She wanted to giggle, but a moan escaped instead. She fingered the sleeves of his cotton shirt, gathering herself. “I like your hat,” she admitted. “And your beard,” she dragged her fingers through it. 

 

Rick grinned. “The beard ain’t going anywhere,” he said, kissing her neck before bending to trail his lips over her collarbone. “And I can go grab the hat if you want.”

 

“Next time,” she giggled, sighing as his tongue darted out. 

 

He groaned. “Wanted you from the first moment I saw you,” Rick continued, running his hands beneath her dress. He cupped her over the thin fabric of her panties before sliding his palms under. “You’re so damn beautiful,” he squeezed, rocking against her. “Can’t stop watching you.”

 

She leaned forward, mapping his body with her fingers. “It’s the magic,” she teased, dizzy already from his touch. 

 

“Yeah, it’s a little bit of that,” he agreed, drawing her leg up. “But it’s mostly just you, Michonne.” He kissed her messily. Michonne hung on, moaning hungrily into his mouth. 

 

“You aren’t so bad yourself,” she gasped, pulling back from him. Michonne reached for the hem of her dress, drawing it up over her head. Rick’s eyes widened as she came into view. 

 

“Shit,” he cursed reverently, his neck going scarlet at once. The blush disappeared beneath his shirt. Michonne longed to know how far down it went. 

 

“I want to see you,” Michonne flushed under his gaze. 

 

He complied at once, helping her tug off his shirt before starting on his jeans. With difficulty, he managed to shake them off, leaving his heavy leather belt still in the loops as they fell to the ground in an unceremonious pile. 

 

Michonne took a moment to look at him, his faintly tanned skin, his muscled arms, his bowlegged gait. His boxers did little to hide his attraction to her. She swallowed thickly, backing up until her legs hit the mattress of her bed. 

 

“Come here,” she requested, sitting atop it. 

 

He stalked towards her, bending down to kiss her again. Michonne parted her lips for him at once, gasping as his palms touched her bare skin. He lifted her, sliding them up the bed until her head was at the base of her pillows. His weight atop her was delightful. She pressed every part of herself to him, shivering as the light brown hair dusting his body tickled her. Michonne giggled against him as Rick hefted her higher into his arms. 

 

He grinned at her, moving to press wet kisses into her neck. “You ok?” he asked. 

 

Michonne parted her legs, dragging Rick against her center. He groaned, his touch faltering. “I’m great,” she whispered back, biting gently at him. 

 

Rick’s hand crept between them, sliding down until he could cup her. “Fuck,” the word left him on a shudder. “Christ, Michonne…” 

 

“For you,” she felt no shame at her reaction to him, especially not when she could feel him, searing hot and iron hard, pressing against her thigh. She parted her legs wider for him, rolling into his touch. He made short work of the thin cotton barriers between them, tossing her panties and bra to the side. 

 

He huffed, kissing her again. His fingers danced over her before pushing in, first one, then a second. Michonne clenched around him, drawing more cursing from him. “Shit, Michonne.” 

 

The stretch of him inside her made her desperate for more. She arched again, her nails scraping at his shoulders. He began slowly, giving her time to adjust, his eyes watching her carefully. His other hand slid back up her body, cupping and pinching and kneading in turn. 

 

“Rick,” she tangled her hands in his hair, holding on tight. She was coming alive beneath his hand, racing towards the edge of a cliff she never thought she’d fall over again. “Baby,” she gasped, “I’m--”

 

He pressed deeper still, his thumb rubbing circles. “Come on,” he coaxed, his breath warm against her ear. “Come on, Chonne. Let me feel you.”

 

She obeyed, her body shattering, his name on her lips. Panting, she lulled her head back, attempting to gather her wits. Rick sat up, smiling at her. 

 

“Still good?” he asked.

 

In answer, she laced her fingers in his hair, yanking him down against her. 

 

Pls do not repost on other sites

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

She was heart-achingly beautiful in the wake of her climax, still clutching him as she caught her breath. Rick held her as she gradually returned to earth, doing his best to calm himself. He wanted her so badly that it was hard to think, so much so that it hurt. She kept rolling into him, as though she was unconsciously seeking him out. The feel of her, even around his fingers, threatened to send him into a tailspin. 

 

“Michonne,” he called her name again gently, drawing her higher into his arms. 

 

“I want to feel you,” she said in answer, looking at him through heavily lidded eyes. Her touch left goosebumps as her hand crept lower. She curled her fingers into the waistband of his boxers. Rick fell forward into her, pulse pounding in his ears. 

 

“Gonna kill me,” he said without thinking about it, straining towards her. 

 

Michonne froze for a moment. Her eyes met his. Rick opened his mouth to apologize, but she cut him off with a searing kiss. Her hand closed in on him, fisting him snuggly. 

 

“No,” she promised. “I’m not.” She began to stroke him, slowly at first, then gaining speed. 

 

Rick groaned, burying his face in her shoulder. His hips moved on their own accord, straining towards her. “Need you,” he gasped, brushing against her center. “Shit, Michonne--”

 

“Then take me,” she challenged, pushing his underwear unceremoniously down his legs. 

 

She guided him towards her, her hands sliding to his lower back. He pressed into the searing heat of her, forcing himself to go slow. She was molten perfection, her body trembling around his as she accepted him. 

 

“Fuck,” Michonne gasped, arching her back. “Rick, oh,” she began to pant. 

 

He’d never heard her curse before, but it sent a thrill through him. Rick pulled back, surging forward until their hips met. She tightened around him. 

 

“More,” she begged, tugging at his waist and ass. “Please, Rick.”

 

He kissed her, speeding up, listening as she moaned in pleasure. “So damn perfect,” the words were more than half a growl. He was drowning in her tight grip, pulling him deeper and deeper still. 

 

Her lips brushed his, her gasps filling his ears. Michonne met him movement for movement, pushing into one another until the bed beneath them began to rock. 

 

“So good,” she moaned, hiking her legs higher for him. “You feel so good, Rick.” She hissed, digging her nails in. 

 

He levered himself over her, grasping one of her hands before pinning it to the mattress. She cried out her approval as he sped up, determined to drive her over the edge, to show her just how badly he wanted her to be his. 

 

“Need you,” he repeated, biting gently at her. “God, Michonne.” 

 

She babbled in agreement, kissing him wherever she could reach, her body getting hotter by the moment. Her hips surged up to meet his, stroke for stroke. 

 

Rick nearly blacked out as pleasure flooded him, white-hot and all consuming. He fell forward, clutching at her. Beneath him, Michonne was shaking, tightening in waves, clinging to him. He held her, drawing her into his arms as he collapsed. 

 

“Shit,” he exhaled a moment later, still breathless. 

 

She giggled, burying her face in the crook between his neck and shoulder. “Rick,” she sighed, “I--” 

 

The words did not come. She kissed him instead, holding his face between her hands, lavishing affection on him. Exhaustion fled his body at once, replaced again by the hunger he’d felt since first seeing her days ago. 

 

When she rolled him over, Rick gratefully complied, smiling as she climbed on top of him. 

 

“You’re something else,” he told her, groaning as she sank down, tossing her head back in pleasure. 

 

Michonne smiled, bending over to kiss him again. 

 

-I-l-l-l-l-

 

“I hate both of you,” Glenn grimaced as he came bursting into the Hotel Hawthorne main kitchen, red in the face and decidedly angry. 

 

“What happened?” Maggie asked, looking up from her place at the stove. With a flick of her hand, a fire ignited beneath a large pewter pot. 

 

“What happened ?” Glenn repeated, incredulous. “What happened is that Michonne and Rick were definitely in her bedroom.”

 

From her place at the counter, Sasha’s hand slipped while she was cutting ingredients. She hissed, cursing under her breath. Without saying anything, Maggie walked over, laying her fingers over the cut. It healed in seconds. 

 

“Good for Michonne,” Maggie observed lightly. “I told you Rick liked her.”

 

“Well duh,” Glenn deadpanned. “Sounds like he really likes her.”

 

“It couldn’t be that bad,” Maggie argued. “I’m sure they shut the door.”

 

“Sounded like they were trying to break the damn door down,” Glenn went more crimson still. “And you can forget about thinking Rick isn’t talkative.” Glenn’s eyes seemed to glass over. 

 

“What do you mean?” Maggie asked, returning to the stove. 

 

“I mean he doesn’t shut up,” Glenn squeaked. 

 

“Like I said,” Maggie shrugged. “Good for Michonne.”

 

Glenn folded his arms over his chest. “Sure sounded like it.”

 

From her place at the counter, Sasha flexed her palm, staring at the unblemished surface. “Did you get what we needed?” she asked in an oddly flat tone. 

 

Glenn pushed a stack of things at her, “Grabbed everything I saw and ran. If you need something else, one of you ladies can go up their and get emotionally scarred.”

 

Sasha rolled her eyes as Maggie burst into peals of laughter. “Go lay down, babe,” Maggie suggested, kissing him as he passed. “I’ll wake you when it’s time for your watch.”

 

“You sure?” he asked, looking at Sasha. The woman’s back was to them both. The couple stared at one another, a silent conversation passing between them. 

 

“Gives us some girl time,” Maggie winked at Glenn, kissing him again. “I promise I’ll come wake you up.”

 

With a nod, Glenn started back towards the door. “I’m sleeping in Rick’s room,” he announced. “He damn sure isn’t using it.” He paused when he reached Sasha, staring at the woman. 

 

“What?” she asked, arching a brow. 

 

Quickly, he reached out, pulling her into a tight, albeit awkward, hug. “Nice to have you back,” he mumbled into her curly hair. 

 

Sasha reacted with surprise, but her expression softened. She hugged him back, “Missed you too, you dork.” She patted him bracingly before releasing him. “Go get some sleep. Try not to think about our sister having sex upstairs.”

 

Glenn paled. “I hate you,” he repeated, all but running from the room. 

 

Sasha chuckled to herself as he cleared it, silence settling over the kitchen. Behind her, the fire crackled away cheerfully. Maggie turned from it, walking towards the counter. 

 

“Do you know what we need?” she asked, sifting through the pile. 

 

“I’ve got an idea,” Sasha answered. “If I’m right, it shouldn’t be too hard. But if I’m wrong…” she huffed in frustration, going back to chopping ingredients with panache. “I wish we could double check.”

 

“What about this?” Maggie raised a battered leather book, thumbing through its butter-soft pages. 

 

Sasha glanced curiously at it. “I haven’t seen that since I was a kid,” she said, putting her knife down. “I thought it was lost.”

 

“Michonne was probably using it,” Maggie said, opening the spine. “This is where we found the spell to talk to your relatives.” Her voice got quiet. “Glenn wanted to talk to your mama.”

 

Sasha wiped her hands, coming over to look. “Don’t blame him. I miss talking to her too.” She sighed, running her hands over dried ink, tracing the curves and loops of her mother’s handwriting. “Michonne’s kept the book up,” she noticed, flipping ahead. She swallowed. “She was always good at this.”

 

Maggie considered this, drumming her fingers lightly across the counter. “From what I hear, you are too. Glenn says you taught him all the best curses for a fight.”

 

Sasha snorted. “He was so small as a teenager, and kids are assholes. He needed backup.”

 

“He told me you beat up half the baseball team for him once,” Maggie smiled. “Sent them running home, crying.”

 

Sasha paused. “He told you that?” she asked. 

 

“Of course,” Maggie shrugged. “You’re his family.”

 

Sasha said nothing, only continued flipping. “Haven’t been that lately,” she whispered. 

 

Maggie shrugged. “I know you and Michonne talk all the time. Seems like sisters to me.”

 

Sasha’s eyes flickered up to the younger woman. “Yeah?” she questioned. “Did she tell you why I left? Did she tell you about Bob? About Abe?”

 

Maggie paled. “No,” she shook her head. “Glenn wouldn’t say anything either. I hear their names sometimes, and Mike’s, but—” she broke off. “I wasn’t there for that.”

 

“Bob got hit by a truck,” Sasha recounted factually. “Coming home from work one day. Abe died on the job. Military, but it wasn’t war. Just a freak training accident, or so they told me,” Sasha sniffled. “Mike, he was riding his motorcycle. Michonne could barely identify him after the crash. Her daddy had a heart attack when he was still a young man. My daddy got caught in a storm out on the highway, got swept into the river still in his truck.” She looked up at Maggie. “Wonder what’ll happen to Rick.”

 

Maggie looked down, flushing pink. “If we kill the Governor, maybe nothing will happen,” she ventured. 

 

Sasha lifted her knife again, splitting a pomegranate neatly in quarters. “Michonne sure seems confident that will happen. Like she knows something we don’t.” Sasha’s dark eyes found the book again, a question growing in them. Setting the fruit down, Sasha reached for its pages once more. She shut her eyes, mumbling to herself. The book leapt in her hands, wiggling for a moment, the pages turning. It landed towards the beginning. 

 

“What’s that?” Maggie asked, leaning forward. 

 

Sasha opened her eyes, reading rapidly. The color drained from her face. “Did you know this?” she asked Maggie, shoving the book towards her. 

 

Confused, Maggie glanced down, reading as well. “Oh no,” she whispered. 

 

Sasha’s mind spun. She grasped the book again, flipping ahead. “She’s going to try this,” she announced. “She’s going to try what our aunt did.”

 

“But your aunt,” Maggie gasped. “She died—”

 

“I won’t let her,” Sasha snapped the book shut smartly, looking up as though she could see through the ceiling. “She’s not doing this.”

 

“We can’t stop her,” Maggie grew flustered. “My magic isn’t strong enough, and neither is Glenn’s. And she’s gotten more powerful lately.”

 

Sasha huffed, tears gathering in her eyes. “We can’t let her do this.” She slammed her palms on the counter. “I’m going up there,” she decided. 

 

“Sasha,” Maggie cautioned, reaching for her. 

 

“No,” Sasha shook her head. “I’m not losing anyone else. I’ll talk to her. I’ll make her--”

 

The tears spilled forward at once, a lifetime of sorrow welling over like a broken dam. Sasha cradled her face in her hands, shaking with the force of it. She fell heavily against the kitchen counter, her knees nearly going out from under her. 

 

Maggie wasted no time, rushing forward to hold her. “It’s going to be ok,” she soothed. “It has to be ok.”

 

Sasha trembled. “She’s all I have left,” she mumbled, gasping through her sobs. “She can’t do this.”

 

Maggie looked around, her eyes falling to the mess on the counter. “The potion,” she said. She reached for the book, pulling it over. “The recipe for the original is in here somewhere. You’re good at this. You can make the reverse.”

 

Sasha wiped her face, “I haven’t done magic in years.”

 

“You’re a Hawthorne,” Maggie released her, leading her gently to the counter. “If anyone can do this, it’s you.” She pulled back to look at her. “You have to. For your sister. For your family, and all the people he’s taken from you. If anyone deserves to die tomorrow, it’s this asshole.”

 

Her cursing startled Sasha. She looked at Maggie, impressed. “You’re right,” she said, straightening up. Carefully, she reached for the book again, opening it to its first pages. “I’ll need help,” she said.

 

“I’ll wake up Glenn,” Maggie nodded, determination on her face. 

 

“Good,” Sasha pushed her sleeves up, bending again to her work. “Let’s kill this fucking bastard.”

 

Maggie smiled. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

 

-I-l-l-l-l-

 

It was difficult to breathe inside the steaming shower, but Michonne took great gasps anyway, attempting to stem the dizziness. Rick allowed her no such privilege, his lips covering hers again. Overhead, hot water poured over them, heating their already slick bodies, pooling between them. Michonne reached backwards, laying her palms flat along the wet tile walls, attempting to brace herself. Rick crowded her, his hard body pressed flush against her. She ached for him, as though they hadn’t been joined repeatedly over the last few hours. 

 

Rick’s tongue flicked over her earlobe as his hands played over her waist and ass, kneading roughly. She moaned brokenly against his shoulder. Her legs felt weak. She reached for him, trailing her nails up and down his flushed skin. 

 

“Rick,” she laughed, sputtering beneath the showerhead. “We’re supposed to be cleaning up,” she reminded him. 

 

With a devilish grin, he went to his knees in front of her, lifting her legs over his shoulders. Michonne let out a shout of surprise, scrambling to get a hold. His hands gripped her thighs, steadying her. 

 

“Hold on, darling,” he bit playfully at her, his grin widening when she moaned. “I ain’t done with you.” He leaned forward, his mouth finding her. 

 

Michonne screamed again, her fingers tightening in his hair, her mind going blank. The shower began to shake around them, the water heating more still as she arched against him, losing control quickly. 

 

“Shit,” Rick yelped, pulling back with a hiss. He reached up quickly for the shower handle, turning the water off. 

 

“Sorry,” Michonne panted, embarrassed. 

 

“Don’t be,” Rick was nonplussed. He lowered her to the ground, kissing her on the navel. He plugged the drain with his freehand, turning the spout on again. “Come here,” he instructed, drawing her down again atop him. 

 

She settled in his lap, the water swirling around them. Rick held her closely, groaning as she rolled her hips against him. She took him inside of her once more, moaning, kissing him with reckless abandon. 

 

Rick banded his arms around her waist, guiding her motions, thrusting up into her until the water in the tub began to slosh again. Michonne giggled. “We’re making a mess,” she observed. 

 

Rick blinked in confusion, his damp eyelashes brushing his cheeks. He didn’t slow down, even as he groped for the faucet, stopping the flow of water. 

 

“It’s worth it,” he told her, catching her face between his hands. 

 

Michonne’s heart tightened, tears pressing unbidden behind her eyes. She kissed him, memorizing the feel of his lips, his body against hers. 

 

“It is,” she agreed, falling over the edge with Rick one last time. 




Chapter Text

Michonne stood on the balcony overlooking the Quarter, her hands on the iron railings. She looked regal in the crimson light of the sunrise, her black skirts gathered at her feet, her locs arranged artfully beneath a traditional witches’ hat, the sun playing off of her skin. She was a queen in her element, supreme in her domain. Rick paused from his place in her bedroom, content to stare at her. 

 

She’d sent him here in the early hours of the morning, insisting he rest. Dutifully, Rick had retired, curling into bed. Exhaustion caught him at last, and he drifted off, his senses filled with her. There were no nightmares, no restless sleep, no fearful visions. Rick dreamed of Michonne. In his mind, she was laying beside him, her eyes shut, her head pressed against his shoulder. Rick held her, listening to the quiet music of her breaths, the powerful thump of her heat, beating hard against his. He’d woken to a sense of calm he hadn’t felt in years. 

 

Now, Michonne smiled at him, catching him in the act.“You ok back there, sheriff?” her voice snapped Rick out of his trance. Rick felt no embarrassment. 

 

“I ain’t a sheriff,” he corrected, walking towards her. He paused to grab his hat, balancing it on his head for effect. “I’m a cowboy,” he winked. 

 

His theatrics set her laughing, a light, melodious sound. “Well excuse me,” she apologized, “Cowboy Rick.” Her eyes danced over him, unabashed. “You’ve got the swagger for it,” she complimented. 

 

“Well,” he joined her outside. The autumn wind bit at his skin through his flannel shirt. Nearby, the clubs in the Quarter were still playing music, the party from last night running straight into the new day. Rick wrapped his arms around Michonne’s waist, leaning forward to hold her close. “You did tell me you liked the hat,” he reminded her, smiling as she shivered against him. 

 

“I did,” she agreed, turning her face towards his. She nuzzled him, her fingers combing through his short beard. 

 

“You said you liked a lot of things last night,” Rick told her, kissing the shell of her ear. He could still hear her moans, the delightful way she called his name.

 

“There’s a lot I like about you,” she whispered back, kissing the corner of his mouth. 

 

Rick tilted his face against hers, reciprocating fervently. She parted her lips, matching him, folding against him in what was becoming a familiar move. He had half a mind to draw her back into the bedroom, away from the outside world, when a sound like a cannon blast went off at the end of the block. He jumped, attempting to shield her. 

 

Michonne chuckled. “It’s time,” she told him, turning back to look up the road. A band had gathered, their polished horns and drums glowing red as rubies in the rising sun. The procession formed behind them, hundreds of residents and visitors in costumes, all ready to usher in Halloween. 

 

“Are you ready?” Rick asked her, his hands tightening around her hips. 

 

She turned back to him, cupping his face before reaching around to run her fingers through his hair. “I’ve been ready,” she assured him. Her eyes dropped for a moment. She licked her lips. “Rick,” she sighed. “I know we do not know one another well--”

 

“We’ve got some things to talk about after this for sure,” he grinned. 

 

She laughed again, but her amusement was short lived. “Thank you for staying,” she said. 

 

“I told you I would,” he reminded her. 

 

“If something happens,” she began, the little divot forming between her brows. 

 

“It won’t,” Rick told her. 

 

“Rick,” her dark eyes found hers, catching the crimson glow of the sunrise. “If something happens--”

 

“Let’s cross that bridge if we come to it,” he suggested. Releasing her, he reached into his pocket, pulling out his badge. He held it up for her inspection. “Maybe I will be a sheriff,” he mused. “Just in case.”

 

She swallowed thickly, but took the metal from his hand. Carefully, Michonne pinned it to his shirt, above his heart. “Stay close to me,” she requested, kissing him gently. 

 

“I ain’t going anywhere,” he promised, catching her hands. 

 

The drums started up again in earnest, the horns joining in the song. A cheer sounded, echoing up the block. Over Michonne’s shoulder, Rick could make out the silhouette of floats in the distance, plastic skeletons, and voodoo queens, all ready to descend. 

 

Michonne stepped back from him, reaching up to straighten her hat, a look of grim determination on her face. She took Rick’s hand, lacing her fingers with his own. 

 

“Let’s go,” she instructed. 

 

Steeling himself, Rick followed. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

The whole of Hotel Hawthorne had an eerie kind of glow, an energy radiating from it that even passersby noticed. The windows shone like candle light, shadows dancing in and out of their frames, coaxing in travelers. Inside, the halls were lined with tables, the surfaces sagging under the weight of silver platters piled high with treats, sandwiches, desserts of all flavors. Decorative cauldrons bubbled in between, surrounded by gleaming glasses set out to serve spirits by the hundreds. A fog swirled around the floors, and from the corner, an orchestra joined the piano, each instrument playing of its own volition. Enchantments sat in plain sight, trinkets floating and bobbing about like apples in a tank, servingware dolling out plates and drinks without a servant to guide them, and crystal balls with swirling faces, promising to read your future for a price. 

 

“You did good,” Sasha complimented, looking around. Maggie flushed beside her. 

 

“Wanted it to look like Hogwarts. Had a whole theme planned. We enchanted a hat, figured we’d sort people,” she broke off, smiling nervously. “Maybe next year.”

 

Sasha nodded, plucking absently at Maggie’s black robes. “I’ll bring the butterbeer,” she said. 

 

Maggie laughed lightly. “Did enough cooking last night,” she observed. “You think it’ll work?”

 

“It has to,” Sasha said. She raised the small, ruby red bottle, inspecting the contents. 

 

“If it doesn’t?” Maggie’s voice was low. She swallowed. 

 

“Well,” Sasha tucked the bottle back into her sleeve. “Rick and I both have guns,” she lifted her cloak, showing off her holster. “We can just shoot him.”

 

Maggie pursed her lips. “Not a bad idea.”

 

The two women laughed, watching as Michonne came down the main staircase. Rick was beside her, dressed like a cowboy. 

 

“They look like a couple already,” Maggie mused quietly. 

 

“Yeah,” Sasha agreed, watching as Rick took Michonne’s hand almost absently, leaning over to whisper something in her ear. “They do.”

 

“I’m going to go check on Glenn,” Maggie said. “He looks like he’s about to pass out.”

 

The man in question had gone beet red. He was pointedly avoiding Michonne’s eyeline. Rick waved at him and Glenn went redder still, beating a hasty track out of their path. 

 

“You’d think he’d never heard anyone having sex before,” Sasha chuckled. 

 

“Oh, he’s definitely heard that,” Maggie winked. “I’ll check on him.” She walked towards her boyfriend, pulling him off to the side. Michonne took Maggie’s place within moments, leaving Rick with the young couple.

 

“The hat looks nice on you,” she complimented, eyeing her sister’s ensemble, so very much like her own. 

 

Sasha nodded, her lips tilting. “I’m glad it still fits,” she said simply. She watched as Maggie and Rick conversed on the other side of the lobby. “Sounds like you two had fun last night,” she observed lightly. 

 

Michonne’s cheeks flushed, but she kept her face impassive. “Rick’s a talented man.”

 

Sasha snorted. “I heard. Think the whole hotel heard.”

 

Michonne laughed outright, her face creasing. “Sorry,” she apologized through her giggles. 

 

“Don’t be,” Sasha shrugged. “I’m happy for you. Just surprised you could make it down the stairs to help with the potion, that’s all.”

 

Michonne’s laughter escalated. “Sasha…” she shook her head. “I’ve missed having you around.”

 

“You could have just had those two resurrect an undead Governor a while ago,” Sasha said. 

 

“Oh,” Michonne didn’t miss a beat. “Is that the trick?”

 

The two stared at one another. Michonne reached for Sasha’s hand. Sasha took it. “We’re killing him,” Sasha said. “Today. You know that, right?”

 

Michonne nodded. “That’s the plan.” Still, her eyes found Rick, across the lobby. 

 

“That’s what’s going to happen,” Sasha squeezed, clasping Michonne’s fingers in her own.

 

“Yeah,” Michonne said, exhaling. 

 

Sasha released her, reaching for the little crimson bottle. She extended it to her sister. 

 

Michonne accepted it, hiding it in her hand. “The pomegranates worked, then?” she asked. 

 

Sasha nodded. “Luckily you had them.”

 

Michonne licked her lips, looking out through the windows at the crowd gathering outside. “Remind me to thank Lou,” she said. “You ready?”

 

Sasha nodded. “Are they ready?” she asked, looking back at the trio just beyond them. They were gathered at the door, staring out at the parade. Sasha looked towards Rick. The US Marshal nodded slightly beneath his hat, looking quickly away.

 

“We’re ready,” Maggie affirmed. 

 

As one, Sasha and Michonne raised their hands, throwing the doors open. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Sound and sensation flooded in at once, breaking itself against the Hotel Hawthorne. Michonne stepped outside, Sasha beside her. The parade marched up the narrow streets of the Quarter, following the traditional path it had taken for decades. Skeleton puppets were held aloft, and handmade floats were ladened with people tossing beads and candies to the crowd. As with every year for over a century, a line of eager visitors waited outside the door. They pressed forward, clamoring to see. There were audible gasps, yells of delight. Michonne turned around, looking at the young couple behind her. 

 

“You outdid yourselves,” she complimented, smiling. 

 

Glenn blushed. Maggie looked pleased as punch. She rocked on the balls of her feet, her tartan skirt swaying. Quick as she could, she darted forward, pulling Michonne in for a tight hug. 

 

“We love you, you know?” she asked quietly, throat tight. 

 

Michonne held her, rubbing gentle circles into her back. “I know,” she nodded. “And I you.”

 

Glenn smiled, taking his girlfriend’s hand. “Stay out of trouble when we’re gone.” He looked pointedly at Rick. 

 

“What?” Rick looked scandalized. He adjusted his hat, scowling. “I’m always good.”

 

At this, Sasha, Glenn, and Maggie all snorted with laughter. 

 

“Yeah,” Glenn began. “We’re going to talk about you locking us out the suite when this is all over. You two have to work on discretion.”

 

“Really?” Michonne curved her brow. “All the times I’ve nearly walked in on you two--”

 

“Ok,” Sasha got between them. “There’s time for that later. Evil Governor to catch, huge line of people outside, remember?”

 

“I remember,” Michonne turned, looking at the crowd. “I’ll see you soon,” she told them, mustering as much calm as she could. 

 

“We’ll see you soon,” Sasha nodded at her sister, heading outside with Glenn and Maggie. Michonne waved them off as they disappeared into the crowd. From the sidewalks, curious faces began to peer in, astounded. 

 

“Come in,” Michonne beckoned, “Everyone’s welcome here.”

 

They began to push in by the dozen, heading for the food tables, exclaiming loudly, whipping out their phones for videos. The orchestra shifted its tune to something lively. Michonne watched, heart pounding, shifting restlessly. Her fingers found the little bottle in her sleeve, tracing it nervously. 

 

“Hey,” Rick’s voice was warm against her ear. He stepped closer to her, his hand finding hers. “It looks amazing in here,” Rick told her. 

 

“Lots of practice,” Michonne attempted a smile, but her lips could only twitch feebly. 

 

Rick did not seem to mind. “You do this every year?” he asked, looking around. 

 

Michonne nodded, distracted. “Normally it’s my family,” she explained. “My mom and dad used to lead the dancing every year.” She remembered watching them from the staircase, spinning in time to the delight of all of their guests. Then it was Sasha’s father leading. Eventually, her mother danced alone, her smile never cracking, even as her daughters watched sadly. 

 

“Who does it now?” Rick continued his calm line of questioning. He was close to her, in the place he’d rarely vacated since their kiss last night. Michonne leaned towards him, unconsciously seeking his warmth. 

 

“No one,” Michonne said quietly. “They just dance on their own.” She hadn’t danced at the ball since Mike died. 

 

Rick smiled, pulling her closer to him. “Dance with me,” he suggested. He held his hand up expectantly. 

 

“Rick,” Michonne began, glancing around. The Governor was somewhere nearby, of that she was sure. Despite this, her traitorous heart clenched, desperate to give in again. 

 

“I know,” he assured her. “But your family, they’ve got it,” he looked out the front doors as the parade went by. “It’s business as usual in here, right?” 

 

She turned to him, skirt swirling, affection tugging at her. Her fingers danced along his. 

 

“Just one,” Rick plead his case. “We’ve got some time to kill anyway.” He poked his bottom lip out, looking comically like a puppy being scolded. 

 

Michonne’s mouth curled into the beginning of a smile. “Just one,” she agreed, taking his proffered hand. 

 

Rick pulled her close, holding her around the waist before twirling her with a flourish. A surprised giggle escaped her. Carefully, he unclenched her fingers from around the bottle, taking it into his own hand. Michonne nearly asked for it back, but he pressed his lips to the crook of her neck, kissing her softly.

 

“Did I mention that you look gorgeous?” he grinned, leading her to the center of the lobby. A path cleared for them, curious eyes watching in earnest. The orchestra shifted its music once more. 

 

“No,” she told him, adjusting her dress to let it trail behind her. “You just stared at me with your mouth open.” She hadn’t minded in the slightest. It had been difficult to leave her bed with Rick in it, harder still to leave the tub. She could have spent days with only him for company.

 

He blushed but didn’t look the slightest abashed. Instead, he pulled her closer, stepping backwards to the music. 

 

“Couldn’t help it,” he told her, pressing his cheek to hers. The short hair of his beard brushed against her. Michonne leaned in towards him. His badge pressed against her breast, the metal warm between them.

 

“It’s alright,” Michonne assured him. “I like it.” She moved with him, twirling, vaguely aware that every eye in her lobby was on the pair of them. Beneath her, the fogged swirled, changing colors. More people pressed in from the street, eager to watch the show. 

 

“When this is over,” Rick whispered in her ear, his hand tightening around her, “Maybe we can go somewhere for a while. Get to know each other.”

 

“I’d like that too,” Michonne told him, her heart clenching. 

 

She laid her head against his shoulder, content, for just a moment, to let Rick hold her.

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Once upon a time, Sasha had loved the Halloween parade. Her mother would dress them up in elaborate costumes before marching her daughters to the balcony to watch the festivities. On Mardi Gras, Sasha and Michonne were forced into seclusion, deemed too young for the celebrations. But Halloween, they were front and center. 

 

As a child, it had been enough to distract her. Sasha could forget her father’s death, could forget the stares and whispers of her classmates, the distrustful glances of their neighbors, and worst of all, the pitying looks. Michonne would hold her hand, walking her through the hotel, or down the streets, content to people watch, to judge the costumes, to cast spells at the children who irritated her the most. 

 

Now she swallowed, adjusting her dark jumpsuit, doing her best to look casual as she strolled alongside the parade. She hadn’t attended in years, but the festivities had not much changed. The same costumes, the same floats, the same drunken buzz in the air. So far, nothing was amiss, except the ache of dread that would not seem to leave her. 

 

“If we see him, then what?” Glenn asked under his breath, still smiling and waving at people around him. “We just invite him in for dinner?”

 

“He’ll follow,” Sasha said confidently. “You read the pages, same as I. This Governor feeds off a crowd. He’s not going to pass up the opportunity.”

 

“And he’s coming to the hotel, why?” Glenn asked. 

 

“It’s the source of his power,” Maggie answered. “And it’s the only place he can get more power.”

 

“He can try,” Sasha said, glancing over her shoulder. People were still streaming into the Hotel Hawthorne, each wearing a bright smile. Michonne was right. No matter how they spoke of the Hotel the rest of the year, the people of New Orleans could not resist it on Hallow’s Eve. 

 

“Look,” Glenn said sharply. His gaze was on the line of floats. 

 

Sasha paused in her tracks, taking stock. Each float had a crowd of sorts around it, people in character, doling out beads and treats. At the end of the line, still way off in the back, a ghostly gray ship rose above the crowd. It seemed to bob as though it were on the waves, cutting a path up the middle of the road. They were not the only ones who had noticed it. Heads turned in its direction by the dozen, intrigued. 

 

Sasha moved at once against the crowd, drawing nearer, her hackles up. From this distance, it looked much like an elaborate float, surrounded by people in costume. The sight of them turned her stomach at once. Their grotesque faces were gaunt and drawn, all color long since gone from them. The skin, gray and cracked, was pulling away, exposing bone white skull. Their uniforms, though crumbling and caked in filth, were a distinct cobalt gray. 

 

“Holy shit,” Maggie breathed, her steps faltering. “Is that--”

 

Glenn grabbed her, his hand clasping on her shoulder. “He’s not subtle at all,” he observed. 

 

At the head of the ship, the Governor stood tall, dressed in his Confederate uniform, a patch covering the eye that Michonne had destroyed. His troops marched around him, some on the ground, more still on the deck of the ghost ship, flanking him. They stood rigid and straight, waiting. The ones on the street shuffled by in immaculate lines. 

 

“We need to get these people to move,” Sasha instructed, alarmed. 

 

“Away from him, you mean,” Glenn looked around wildly. The crowd was surging towards the danger, eager to get a closer look at what they thought was an elaborate float. 

 

“We need to do something now,” Maggie’s head whipped to and fro. 

 

The first of the paraders reached the Governor’s ship, pressing forward, hands out. There was a moment of tense silence where the world seemed to freeze. Sasha realized a beat too late what was about to unfold. 

 

The nearest of the soldiers lashed out in a blink like some wild thing, teeth gnashing, hands out. The screams were instantaneous as a splash of blood and gore sprayed up, misting the crowd. Half a dozen more fell in quick succession. All the while, the Governor stood above, smiling down at them. 

 

“Well boys,” he declared, his voice booming over them all. “I think it’s time to take back our town, don’t you?” His minions growled their agreement, a ghastly, rattling sound.  “Attack!” the Governor ordered, waving them forward.

 

The panic was terrible, a stampede of drunken fear. People began to trip, falling beneath the feet of hundreds trying desperately to escape. The dead soldiers fell on them like a plague, tearing at the crowd with boney fingers. 

 

“I have an idea,” Sasha’s mind turned quickly. “Your hands,” she demanded, reaching for Glenn and Maggie. 

 

They took her palms at once, eyes on the crowd rushing towards them like a tidal wave. 

 

“What’s the move?” Glenn asked. 

 

“I haven’t done this in a while,” Sasha admitted. “I need you to help me.”

 

Maggie nodded, slamming her eyes shut. “Start the spell. We’ll follow.”

 

The words came easily once Sasha began them, lessons from her mother resurfacing. She began to yell, repeating the chant. Maggie and Glenn picked it up, adding their voices to hers. 

 

The explosion that rocketed out of their joined hands nearly leveled the trio. The crowd screamed, but it had its intended effect, soaring towards the Governor’s ship like a lightning bolt. His troops fell before it, dissolving into dust along with the boat. 

 

Satisfied, Sasha stood up straight, watching. The crowd quieted, turning at once in the direction the ship had stood. 

 

“Did it work?” Maggie asked, still clinging to their hands. 

 

From across the road, the Governor got back to his feet. His eye found Sasha’s. A murderous gleam sparked at once. 

 

“A Hawthorne, I presume?” he asked, voice still booming. 

 

Sasha raised her chin higher. “We don’t go down easy,” she told him. 

 

The Governor grinned, straightening his uniform. “I hope not, Miss Hawthorne,” his skin took on an unearthly glow, red like the sun behind him. “I really hope not.”

 

Around him, the dust rose again, reforming and solidifying into soldiers once more. They began to advance again, pushing into the terrified masses. 

 

“Plan B?” Glenn asked, igniting his hands. He tossed a fireball into the nearest soldier, incinerating him on the spot. 

 

“The hotel,” Sasha said, imitating him. “Get them all to the hotel.”

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Michonne froze in Rick’s arms mid-dance, turning her head towards the door. He paused, prepared to ask her what was wrong. A moment later he heard the screams. People in the hotel froze, all looking in the direction of the parade. All music outside had stopped. In place of the sounds of frivolity, there was the unmistakable din of panic. 

 

“Your gun,” Michonne looked at Rick suddenly. “Do you have it?”

 

He nodded. “Went with the costume,” he released her, staying close behind as Michonne headed for the door. Carefully, he tucked the small bottle he’d taken into his breast pocket, behind his badge.

 

“Get it out,” she instructed. 

 

Rick gripped his Colt beneath the jacket of his costume, adrenaline filling his veins. They reached the door and looked out. Rick’s eyes widened. 

 

“Oh fuck,” he exclaimed.

 

Michonne turned to him, touching the pocket of his jacket. It filled at once, weighed down with what Rick knew were bullets. 

 

“Be ready,” she told him, turning back to the street. 

 

Rick nodded, trying not to stare as Michonne’s skin took on a glow. With a sound like the wind gusting, her palms went up in violet flames. 

 

“He’s coming,” she observed, something almost like a smile on her face. 





Chapter Text

The whole of the Quarter was pure pandemonium, a symphony of panicked screams, pained wails, and the clattering of the Governor’s undead troops as they marched across the cobblestones towards Hotel Hawthorne. Those who were unable to flee the neighborhood outright had run for the only safe haven. They were crowded into the lobby, the stairwell, the halls, bleeding, sweating, cursing, crying. Nevertheless, the enchanted orchestra played on, a calming tune, tantamount to a lullaby. 

 

Michonne stood just beyond it, peering out of the window, fingering the golden necklace against her chest almost absently. Rick wondered for a moment what she was thinking, how she could remain so calm when beyond her walls, the world appeared to be going to hell. 

 

“Rick,” she turned to him, eyes bright. “Will you let the others in?” she asked. 

 

“Of course,” Rick stepped closer to her. He brushed her shoulder with his fingers, toying with a loc of her hair. 

 

“Then bar the door,” Michonne continued, still touching her necklace. 

 

“Ok,” Rick nodded. “Then what?” He looked outside, watching for Sasha’s face. 

 

Michonne glanced at him. “Then meet me upstairs,” she said simply. 

 

“What about all of these people?” he looked around at the crowd, still clinging to one another, sobbing. 

 

“They’ll calm down,” she said. She glanced up the stairs, looking eager to disappear. 

 

“Michonne,” Rick leaned closer to her, touching her hand. “Are you alright?”

 

“I’m fine,” she kissed him swiftly, pausing for just a moment to run her hand down his face. “It’s time to end this.”

 

Releasing him, she moved towards the staircase, drawing the eyes of everyone in her hotel. People quieted at once as she walked past them, relaxing into solemn silence. One by one, every guest calmed until the only sound was the music, echoing serenely. 

 

A frantic banging came at the door. Rick ran for it, throwing the heavy wooden doors open. Another hundred panicked Halloweeners scrambled inside, followed in short order by Glenn, Maggie, and Sasha. The trio was breathless. Glenn was holding flame in the palm of his hand, his eyes still on the threat coming up the street. Sasha said nothing, only rushed for the staircase after her sister. Maggie followed closely behind. Only Glenn remained. 

 

“The hell is going on out there?” Rick asked, peering through the windows on the door. Reanimated bodies were wandering up the road, looking like extras in Night of the Living Dead . Rick wished he felt surprised by the sight. 

 

“This Governor’s got a thing for drama,” Glenn reported. “Got a whole army of the dead marching down the street like the damn Saints.” he exhaled, shaking his head. “And they’re dressed like Confederates.”

 

“Probably not a good guy then,” Rick observed. 

 

Glenn cracked a smile. “Seems like an asshole,” he agreed. He noticed at last the strange calm inside the hotel. “Um, is everyone in here good?”

 

Rick shrugged. “I was hoping you could tell me. Magic ain’t really my area of expertise. Michonne just walked by and they all...calmed down.” It should have been terrifying, all things considered. But he’d meant it when he said Michonne didn’t frighten him. 

 

Glenn blinked in surprise, “Michonne’s powers have been off the charts lately. I’ve never seen her do this kinda stuff.”

 

Outside, a sound like an explosion went off. A few people glanced curiously at it, but the rest seemed content to ignore it. Tentatively, the party was beginning again. Guests moved to the dance floor and banquet tables as though a war had not come to their door. 

 

“That’s creepy as hell,” Glenn observed with the air of someone commenting on the weather. 

 

Rick could not disagree. “I got the potion,” he told Glenn, nervously fingering the bottle through the fabric of his jacket.” The notion of stealing it from Michonne didn’t sit well with him at all. Sasha had cornered him last night, while he was still in a state of post-coital bliss, whispering urgently about some plan of Michonne’s to take out the Governor. It wasn’t until she’d shown him the book that Rick had understood. He recognized the name Apolonia Hawthorne from the tomb that day. It’d be a cold day in hell before he let Michonne add her name there too. 

 

“Good,” Glenn nodded, looking worried. “Does Sasha know?”

 

Rick shrugged. “Didn’t get to talk about it. But I’m guessing she knows.” He’d promised her that he would do everything he could to make sure Michonne didn’t have to use the nuclear option. “Now we just gotta get this bastard in here.” He looked out the window, grimacing at the sight of the dead soldiers. 

 

“I’ll stick close to her,” Glenn promised. “Make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid.”

 

“I’ll be quick,” Rick sucked at his teeth. “The sooner this is over, the better.”

 

One of the soldiers shuffled over towards the door. As he reached the front steps, he was thrown unceremoniously backwards. “Should we go?” Rick asked, looking up to where the women were holding down the fort. Michonne was doing fine on her own, but Rick didn’t much care for the notion of leaving her to her own devices. Another wave of soldiers shambled forward only to be blasted into oblivion. Rick turned around, moving already.

 

“Yup,” Glenn nodded, heading for the staircase. 

 

Together, the men ran upstairs to join the fight. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Michonne stood between Sasha and Maggie, staring down at the Quarter. There was gore running up the streets, pooling between the cobblestones, splashed along the brick walls. The sight of it turned her stomach. Michonne flexed her hands, locking eyes with the enemy at her gates. Behind her, she could hear Glenn and Rick joining them, ready for the fight. 

 

“I seem to remember facing sisters last time,” The Governor shouted up at them, shooting them a winning grin. “Mayhaps there aren’t enough of you Hawthornes to go around anymore.”

 

His troops snapped and snarled, seeking to advance further. Michonne held them at bay with a thought. “More than enough to handle you, Phillip,” she told him. 

 

“You got lucky in the swamp, darling. But I have souls now to power me,” the Governor glanced over his shoulder at the carnage he’d left in his wake. “Should have just started with this. Merle wasn’t much of a sidekick. Especially if your little lapdog there could eliminate him so quickly.” He turned his remaining cruel eye on Rick. 

 

“You should pick your allies better,” Rick observed, coming up behind Michonne. She reached for his hand, squeezing lightly. The Governor didn’t miss the motion. 

 

“I could say the same to you, Marshal Grimes,” he called up to Rick. “Did no one tell you what happens to men who mix with the Hawthornes?” He smiled “Guess you’ll find out soon enough.”

 

The smirk on his face soon faded as Michonne ignited her hands, throwing a ball of violet flames at the Governor with surgical precision. It hit him squarely in the head, knocking him back. 

 

“That’s one way to shut him up,” Rick complimented. 

 

She smirked at him, lighting another. It glowed in the palm of her hand. “Ready?” she asked them, her brow arched. 

 

Glenn and Maggie followed suit, their flames burning gold and green respectively. Rick drew out his Colt, pointing it downward. 

 

“The troops first,” Michonne instructed. “Phillip goes last.” Tiring him out wouldn’t be hard if he had to keep recreating his army. Perhaps it would cost her less of an effort to eliminate him then. 

 

“Yes ma’am,” Rick responded, firing the first shot. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-



Sasha hesitated, her eyes on her sister. Michonne was resplendent in her power, leveling the Governor’s minions by the dozen. She wore an expression of concentration, her brow furrowed, her hands moving in lightening quick motions. This new power, whatever it was, came naturally to her. 

 

Sasha’s heart pounded against her ribcage, doubt entering her mind. It had been more than half a decade since she’d done anything more than levitate a cup. The effort on the street had nearly drained her. 

 

“What are you waiting for?” Maggie asked from Sasha’s elbow, glancing curiously at her. 

 

“I--” Sasha flinched as Rick fired off another shot. His enchanted bullet caught one of the monsters right between the eyes. Before it could even crumple to the ground, Rick had shot another one. As he paused to reload, Michonne covered him, dissolving a wave of bullets from the undead soldiers nearest to the Governor. 

 

“Sasha” Michonne called gently. She reached out towards Sasha with one glowing palm. “Here,” she offered. 

 

Sasha inhaled, reaching back slowly. The warmth danced across her fingers, but did not burn, shooting a curious tingle up Sasha’s arm. She allowed the sensation to consume her, a long-dormant warmth filling her. 

 

“Hawthornes don’t forget,” Michonne told her with a smile. 

 

Sasha looked over the balcony, at the soldiers shambling below and attacking the home she’d grown up in. The Governor watched it all with an insufferable smirk, staring up at them like Christmas had come early. The fire grew brighter in Sasha’s hands, changing color, running crimson as blood. 

 

She hurtled it over, knocking the Governor clean off his feet. Beside her, Michonne laughed. 

 

“Nice,” she complimented, grinning at her sister. 

 

Sasha’s hands ignited again. “Guess I still remember a few things,” she smiled. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

The Governor glared up from his place on the street, a heady sense of deja vu overcoming him. Michonne stared right back at him. She looked just like her aunts, hauty and beautiful, observing him from her lofty perch. The same unsufferability, the same lack of vision. The apple had not fallen far from the tree, even centuries later. 

 

A smile quirked across her full lips, her hands igniting in a purple blaze once more. She was brazen in her attack, that witches’ hat perched jauntily over her odd hair, that damned traitor of a US Marshal by her side. This country had gone to hell in a hand basket without him. Imagine what it could have been now, with him at the helm, if only that cursed eldest sister hadn’t caught him unawares. He’d had decades to stew on this failure, but it mattered little now. The time had come to right that old wrong, and set the word back to its proper order. 

 

The Governor straightened up, stepping slowly backwards. His army flanked him, snarling and snapping their teeth like beasts. They were about as useful to him in death as they were in life, though to their credit, their help had gone leaps and bounds in securing the souls he needed. Raising them had nearly cost him the meager strength left in his body. It was all for nothing if he didn’t get that book. It was clear that until this Michonne was gone, that wasn’t possible. 

 

With a rush like the wind sweeping through a narrow corridor, the line of troops in front of him went up unceremoniously in flames. In seconds, they were not but wet ash littering the cobblestone road. Phillip looked back up, back at the sisters and their cronies, gleefully attempting to wipe him out. 

 

This wouldn’t do at all. Halloween was waning away. 

 

Shutting the one eye that remained to him, Phillip called on the powers within him. He could feel the potion, surely as though he’d just swallowed it, the heat swirling in his veins. These Hawthornes were too bold by far. He would remind him what fighting him cost. With a sound like an explosion, his soldiers turned to ash in front of him, the float dissolving with what was left. It clouded the air, darkening the street. The crimson light of the sun swirled along with it, enhancing the eerie effect. 

 

The Governor’s new army began to take shape, one form at a time, dozens of men all in a row. 

 

The balcony at that damned hotel went satisfyingly silent, shock evident on the dark faces of the witches. With a smile, Phillip sent his new troops marching forward, straight for the doors of Hotel Hawthorne. 

 

“Let’s see how you like this,” he muttered, pleased.

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Glenn recognized the men at once as the dust settled. It was like looking at memories in a funhouse mirror. There was Mike, but not as Glenn recalled him. Youthful exuberance was gone, as was his easy smile, his confident gait, the mirthful bark of his laugh. This was a shade of Mike, a farce. Beside him, Glenn saw Bob, bloated and muted, no trace of kindness in his face, and Abraham with him, the red of his hair dull, the humor in his expression erased. Behind them, lined up like troops, were Sasha and Michonne’s fathers, their grandfathers, in-laws, uncles, and on and on. They all stood motionless, staring up at the balcony. 

 

Maggie let out a broken breath, understanding dawning. “That’s them, isn’t it?”

 

Glenn looked towards the Hawthornes. Both sisters were frozen, a gauntlet of emotions playing across their faces. Michonne looked horrified, her gaze on Mike, the flame extinguishing in her hands. Sasha’s eyes would not stay still. They bounced from person to person, her skin flushing. 

 

“They’re not real,” Glenn said loudly, attempting to get his sisters’ attention. “Michonne, you know that, right? That’s not them.”

 

She did not look at him, her dark eyes still on the men on the street, marching towards the door. Glenn looked to Rick, desperate. 

 

“Hey,” the US Marshal stepped closer to Michonne, his voice low. “Darling, that ain’t him down there.”

 

Michonne did not respond. Rick stepped closer to her still, muttering more words under his breath. 

 

“Glenn!” Maggie called drawing his attention. 

 

Glenn turned towards Sasha. The Sergeant took heaving breaths, her face purpling. Her eyes began to water, tears dripping down her cheeks and her hands fell limply at her sides. Maggie grasped her wrists, attempting and failing to shake her free of the Governor’s spell. 

 

“Sasha,” Maggie shook her. Sasha did not move, her eyes fixed forward. Glenn spun, looking towards Michonne again. 

 

“Chonne,” Rick was attempting to put himself between Michonne and the men down below. “Michonne, look at me,” he cupped her chin. “Just look at me.”

 

Both women continued to face forward, their expressions blank.

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

“That didn’t take you long at all.”

 

The shade of Mike stood in front of her, his face lit against the darkness. There was something terrible in him now, something unnatural glowing beneath his ashen skin. Michonne’s breath hitched, her heart pounding. 

 

“Thought you were done with this,” Mike continued, his breath frosting in front of him. “Thought you were done killing people.”

 

“I didn’t kill you,” the words stuck in her throat. Michonne forced them out, shivering in the darkness. 

 

“The hell you didn’t,” Mike scoffed. “You knew what it cost, but you trapped me anyway.”

 

“I didn’t,” Michonne protested. “We met in the market. You pursued me,” she reminded him. It had taken him months, but Michonne agreed to a date. From there, it was like falling down a mountain. Mike was easy to love, and easier still to miss. 

 

Mike was undaunted. “ You killed me. Just like your mama killed your daddy. And that sister of yours…” he chuckled. “Two in less than five years.” Mike stepped towards Michonne, his footsteps echoing. “You’re catching up to her. That Marshal, he’s going to be right here soon. Might even be today.”

 

“No,” Michonne recoiled from Mike’s mirthless smile, from his cruel facade. “This isn’t you, Mike.”

 

“It is,” he argued, pressing closer. In the darkness, the others joined him, their faces circling her, inching forward. “I’m what you made me. Same as the rest of us. Victims of the Hawthornes.” Mike touched her. His skin burned like ice.  

 

“No,” Michonne shook her head, staggering back. She tried to light her hands again, but the heat would not come. 

 

“Can’t wait to talk to this Rick guy,” Mike’s cold laughter continued. “Sounds like we’ve got a lot in common.”

 

They closed in around her, the darkness crushing. Michonne looked for an escape and found none. 

 

“Time to answer for it,” Mike told her, grinning a dark, toothless grin. “Time to pay the price.”

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Michonne’s knees gave out from under her. Rick caught her at once, holding her up, panic seizing him. Behind him, Sasha was still on her feet, lashing out at Glenn and Maggie, screaming in her cationic state. Michonne only mumbled, shaking her head, her eyes unseeing. 

 

“No,” she repeated. “No, Mike…”

 

Rick seized his Colt with one hand, leveling it down below the balcony. In seconds, he emptied the clip, the bullets striking the dead men in the front row. They passed harmlessly through them, embedding in the street. The Governor laughed. 

 

“Can’t muscle your way out of this one, Marshal,” he taunted. “Those girls are mine.”

 

Sasha began to collapse, dragging Maggie and Glenn down with her. In his arms, Michonne convulsed, her protests gaining speed. 

 

“No, no, no, no,” she repeated, eyes rolling back. “Not Rick, Mike. No!” 

 

Rick hefted her higher, drawing her face towards his. He pressed his mouth to her ear, desperate, unsure what to do next. 

 

“Michonne,” he called to her, leaning his forehead against hers. “I’m right here. I’m still right here.”

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

They were on her, their hands reaching, their voices accusing, dragging her down with them, into the darkness they’d been confined her in. Michonne pushed feebly out, attempting to stem the attack. 

 

“No,” she repeated again. “No, no, no.”

 

Michonne ,” it was her name, not from the phantom mouth of Mike, nor any of the men around her, but a voice she knew nonetheless. 

 

“Rick,” she blinked, and for a moment the darkness cleared. She could see his face, creased with worry, the blue of his eyes bright. 

 

“I’m right here,” Rick said. “I’m still right here.”

 

The truth of the situation came rushing back, like a torch blazing bright against the inky horizon. The cold melted away, leaving the sensation of Rick’s hands, warm and rough, holding her up. Sunlight played against Michonne’s skin as she reemerged on the balcony. 

 

Rick let out a ragged sigh. He pressed his lips to her cheek, holding her tightly. She wrapped her arms around him, breathing in his scent. 

 

“I’m ok,” she whispered, shaking off the effects of the attack. She felt chilled to the bone, but Rick’s touch helped, warming her. 

 

He held her closer, his eyes wrinkled with worry. “Your sister, Michonne. Sasha’s still gone.”

 

Michonne came shakily to her feet, bracing herself against him. Rick’s arms moved to her waist, keeping her steady. Sasha had gone pale in Maggie’s grasp, her mouth gaping, horror plain on her face. 

 

“What do we do?” Maggie asked, desperate.

 

Glenn ignited his hands, tossing flames down. They danced harmlessly off the shades. The Governor continued laughing as his troops pressed forward. 

 

Michonne kneeled beside her sister quickly, laying her hands on Sasha’s cold skin. “I need you,” she told the trio around her. “All of you.” They complied, mirroring her. Rick laid his hand against Michonne’s. “Hold on,” Michonne shut her eyes again. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Michonne’s words came faster than Rick could even perceive them, the chant rising and falling like ocean waves. Her hand heated quickly, a glow spreading, overtaking first Sasha, then Glenn and Maggie. His own palm took on the unearthly pallor, a curious kind of charge running up his arm. It crested, escalating, gaining pressure until it exploded outward. 

 

The Hotel Hawthorne rocked as though caught in an earthquake. The phantom men went to ash in an instant, dissolving into the damp street below them. Rick watched as shadows like flickering flame licked up in their place, hovering above the road, gradually taking shape. 

 

The Governor cried out, a bellow of frustration. He unleashed his fury from the palms of his hands, attempting to raise the hotel to the ground. The stone beneath them shook but did not fall. Rick’s hand found Michonne’s, holding tight. 

 

“Your magic is mine!” the Governor shouted, rushing for the door. 

 

Rick reached for his gun, but Michonne paid the threat no mind. Insead, she smoothed a hand down Rick’s face. “Thank you,” she told him, kissing him lightly. “For everything.”

 

Rick nodded, resisting the urge to pull her into his arms and carry her away from this whole mess. “What now?” he asked. 

 

Michonne laid her hand again on her sister, drawing her to her feet. “Are you ok?” she asked quietly. 

 

Sasha murmured the affirmative, still shaking off the spell. Maggie stood at her side, rubbing soothing circles into her back. 

 

“What’s going on?” Glenn stood up. “Michonne, what the hell happened?”

 

It was Sasha who answered. “They almost got me,” she wiped at her face. “But it wasn’t them. It wasn’t real—”

 

“I know,” Michonne was calm by contrast. She adjusted her hat, drawing her sister to the edge of the balcony. “Look,” she instructed. 

 

The Governor was at the door, his anger tantamount to a tantrum. He beat at the foundations, casting spells by the dozen. “The book is mine,” he growled. “The power is mine!” The hotel shook but did not fall.

 

Michonne ignored him, pointing instead behind him. The shapes below were taking form, solidifying. Rick spotted some familiar faces: the man he guessed was once Mike, the redhead, and the bald man. There were women now as well, statuesque, beautiful and terrifying. One of them looked up, turning her face towards the balcony, a small smile pulling at her lips. 

 

“The graveyard, Rick said, heart pounding. “The women from the graveyard.” The resemblance between Michonne and the women was even more pronounced now. Rick spotted the same round dark eyes, the same nose, the same mouth, etched on dozens of faces. Three women stood in the front, staring up. Rick noticed with a start that one of them wore a necklace that looked much the same as the one Michonne had on. 

 

Michonne smiled serenely, joy brightening her eyes. “Yes,” she said, turning to him. “Our family.”

 

They gathered by the dozen, leaping into existence like pillars of fire. They turned as one towards the Governor. Every door and window in the Hotel Hawthorne flew open with a noise like a bang. On the street, the group moved quickly, sweeping forward, blurs of bright light. The Governor’s screams were swallowed as the light seized him, spiriting him inside the hotel. 

 

The doors and windows slammed shut, leaving resounding silence in their wake. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Michonne took the stairs two at a time, her skirts swirling behind her. The rest of the group followed suit, rushing after her, questions falling from their mouths. There was no time to answer them. She had minutes now, minutes left to do what she needed to do. 

 

In the lobby, the guests cleared a space, standing against the wall as the orchestra played on. Michonne barely spared them a glance, all of her attention elsewhere. In the dead center, pressed down against the tiles, the Governor knelt, red in the face and sweating. He was fighting still, but to little avail, squirming feebly against the power holding him. The Hawthornes flickered in the shadows, male and female alike, hands pressing down, holding the man responsible for so much tragedy captive. 

 

Michonne spotted her mother, flanked on either side by her husbands. Her heart clenched. Mama looked up, smiling. 

 

“Proud of you girls,” she spoke, a tone like musical chimes.

 

Michonne stepped closer, wanting to hold her, her mission temporarily forgotten. 

 

The Governor broke the moment, thrashing against them. “You bitch,” he spat, mouth running. “The whole lot of you. You don’t deserve this power. What have you done with it?”

 

They gathered around him, forming a tight circle. Michonne walked closer still, pausing just inches from the Governor. 

 

“What have you done with it?” he repeated, his gaze murderous. 

 

“Plenty,” Michonne told him, bending to touch him. “But you won’t live to see more of it.” 

 

She took a deep breath, chancing a last glance over her shoulder. Sasha was rushing towards her, Rick a half step behind, realization coming over them. 

 

“Michonne, no!” Sasha shouted.

 

Michonne smiled, pushing her sister back with one hand as her other palm touched the top of the Governor’s head. 

 

A shock of pain ran through her body, seizing her. Michonne cried out, but held fast, determined to end this. She could hear the faint sounds of her family around her, both living and dead, all crying out. She focused on them, ignoring her discomfort. Through the haze, she could see Rick fighting towards her, looking at her with wide, panicked eyes. 

 

She smiled at him, fluttering her eyes shut, and pressed even harder. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

“Grab her!” Sasha instructed, yelling. She fought against her sister’s spell, crawling closer still. Beside her, Rick also pressed onward. 

 

Glenn and Maggie did not hesitate, rushing forward to lay their hands on Michonne. At the moment they touched, Michonne’s hold on Sasha broke. Sasha leapt to her feet, diving forward to add her strength. It was like touching a live wire; the burn ran up her arm, channeled through Michonne’s body into Sasha’s. 

 

“Go back,” Michonne argued, attempting to shake them off. 

 

“I’m not leaving you,” Sasha grit out through clenched teeth. “We do this together.”

 

“The potion!” Maggie cried out. “Where’s the potion?”

 

Rick rushed forward, drawing the ruby bottle from his pocket. Beneath their grip, the Governor began to struggle, thrashing out, attempting to escape. 

 

“He’s got to drink it all,” Glenn told Rick, pressing down harder still. “The whole thing.”

 

Sasha watched as Rick drew nearer, kneeling beside the Governor. He flinched but did not pull back as his skin brushed Phillip’s.

 

“No!” The Governor fought all the harder, his remaining eye going wide. 

 

Rick gripped the Governor’s face, holding his mouth open. Sasha smiled, pressing down, determined to end it. 

 

Below them, the Governor slammed his eye shut. The heat of his skin became unbearable, burning them all like a flame leaping to life. They cried out, but it was too late; his body crumbled, drying and cracking like brittle stone, going to ruin in the blink of an eye. The Hawthorne clan sprawled across the tile, their enemy gone. Silence settled, echoing around them. 

 

“What happened?” Glenn asked urgently. “Is the Governor dead?”

 

In answer, Rick suddenly fell backwards, the potion still in his hand, writhing as though he was being attacked. His skin went pale, his hat skittering away as he collapsed, clinging to his head like something was trying to split it in two. 

 

“Michonne,” his blue eyes found hers a beat before he collapsed, his eyes rolling backwards. When he opened his mouth again to speak, it was not with Rick’s voice. 

 

The laugh, cold and cruel, filled Sasha with dread.

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

The nightmare unfolded in slow motion. One moment, they were so close, the Governor moments away from his end. In the next, Michonne watched in horror as Rick’s body became a vessel. 

 

He lifted his head, his handsome features contorted into an expression Michonne was now familiar with. 

 

“Can’t kill me now,” Rick’s lips moved, but it was the Governor’s voice that taunted. “What are you going to do, Michonne?”

 

In frustration, she let out a scream, shaking off Glenn and Maggie and Sasha. She rushed forward towards Rick. 

 

With a laugh, the Governor lifted Rick’s palm, throwing Michonne backwards in her own lobby. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

It was like watching a movie in his head. Rick tried to scream as Michonne went flying like a ragdoll, her body limp as it hit the tiles. A terrible cocktail of emotion filled him, one part his own horrible rage, the other a strange elation. It was like a virus, burning through him quicker than he could fight it. He felt his own hand clench, and watched again as Michonne took the hit. 

 

A laugh fell from his lips, not in his own voice, but the Governor’s. Rick’s yell echoed only in his mind. He could feel the power coursing through him, setting his veins onfire. Like a puppet master, the Governor drew Rick to his feet, attempting to move him towards Michonne. 

 

Instead, Rick’s body staggered, yelping as Rick’s knees went out, smacking hard against the tile ground. There was a moment of temporary reprieve, the pain sharpening his sense of self. He pressed his hands hard beneath him, biting down so hard that his mouth filled with the iron-like taste of blood. 

 

From a few feet away, Michonne sat up, her hands out, ready to defend herself. Her eyes were wide as she looked at him, frantic.

 

“Rick?” she asked, moving cautiously towards him. 

 

Rick’s body jerked, but he held fast, digging in. “No,” he managed to force the word out of his own lips, even as he felt his chest tighten. When he opened his mouth next, the voice was not his own. 

 

The Governor laughed again. “Got a little fight in you,” he sounded almost impressed. “Won’t help, but I respect it.”

 

Rick could see Glenn, Maggie, Sasha, all rushing towards him, attempting to save him. He slid forward despite his best efforts, throwing his hands out. The skin burned as the magic rushed up through his fingers. One at a time, his friends were thrown back, cursed by his own hand, their bodies taking the full brunt of the Governor’s murderous wrath. 

 

The orchestra came to an abrupt and disorienting halt, Michonne’s earlier enchantment began to wear off. The guests of the hotel started to panic at once, screaming, rushing for the door. Sasha tried to calm them to no avail. They hit the locked front doors, clawing at the wood like animals attempting to escape. 

 

“It’s a shame they’ve all got to die,” The Governor said with false contrition. “I think I’ll start with that beau of yours.” The laugh again filled Rick’s mind. “What do you think she’s going to think, when you’re the last face she sees? Think she’ll be happy? Or scared as you strangle the life out of her?”

 

Michonne did not look frightened as Rick turned to her, only resigned. She stood up, facing him down, her hands igniting again. “Don’t make me do this,” she said, looking not at him, but the monster within. Her voice was little more than a whisper. 

 

The Governor only smiled. “You aren’t going to win,” he taunted. “Not this time.” He raised Rick’s hands, circling them around Michonne’s throat.

 

Rick let out a yell, ripping his throat raw. His mind ran red, and for one moment, there was clarity. He seized the opportunity, realizing the little crimson bottle was still in his hand. 

 

Without pause, Rick brought it to his lips, swallowing down every drop.

 

-l-l-l-l-l-

 

The doors of the Hotel Hawthorne opened again as guests streamed out in panic. Maggie and Glenn herded them outside.  Sasha ran towards Michonne, shouting for her. Michonne barely noticed. Rick had collapsed to his knees, the now empty potion bottle shattering as it hit the floor. 

 

“Michonne,” her name was a strangled groan, but she recognized it. Rick’s eyes met hers for just a moment. 

 

She screamed, not words, but a terrible, gut-wrenching sound. Rick’s body hit the ground, the light gone from the blue of his irises. Michonne fell forward, clinging to him, her hand above his heart. 

 

Rick laid unmoving as she wailed, sobbing into his lifeless form. 

Chapter Text

At first, there was nothing, a terrifying feeling of emptiness. One moment he’d been looking at Michonne, memorizing the contours of her face and the next, he’d been tumbling, the curiously sweet aftertaste of pomegranate clinging to his mouth. The world went blank, quiet, devoid of all feeling. The air rushed out of Rick’s lungs, and sensation was lost to him. He tried to scream, but no sound came out. 

 

If this was death, he didn’t much care for it. 

 

He struggled, attempting to flail a body that no longer belonged to him. Still, the world shifted, a flash of color, a stripe of light, becoming more solid. It was like floating, not in water, but somehow in space, the curious feeling you get when you slide out of a dream and are neither asleep nor quite awake. Rick focused harder still, determined to get free of whatever had a hold on him.

 

Above him, the strip of light seemed to be growing, glowing like a river in the sunlight. On instinct, Rick moved towards it, reaching out curiously. A sudden, sharp force rocked him, not quite causing pain, but certainly discomforting. Rick shoved back, shaking free of the thing, turning wildly to gain his bearings

 

“God damnit!” a garbled voice, rife with anger, lashed out, accompanied by a swinging fist. It hit Rick square in the face. 

 

It didn’t stay gone long, coming instead from another angle. It tugged down hard, dragging him away from the light. Rick ducked, squirming, kicking and fighting blindly. Something inside him knew that wherever this was, he wasn’t going down into that darkness unless that bastard was coming with him. 

 

“All you had to do was leave,” the Governor growled. “All you had to do was fucking leave.” He smacked Rick hard. 

 

Rick caught the oncoming hand, twisting it brutally. He listened to the Governor’s scream with satisfaction. 

 

“I ain’t going nowhere,” Rick told him, reversing their positions. He leveled blow after blow. His knuckles bruised and split but Rick did not slow down. 

 

“You barely know them,” the Governor’s protest was more grunt than spoken word. “You barely know her! She’d kill you just for loving you, and you’d end up like the rest of them. Nothing! Stuck down here in the dark.”

 

The world around them began to shift, gaining shape, shimmering with lights off in the distance. Rick saw them before the Governor, momentarily distracted. His enemy seized his chance, grasping Rick around the throat.

 

Rick caught his hands, tugging, pulling, scratching, but they wouldn’t budge. All the while, the light grew brighter in the distance, closing in on them. 

 

“All of this, and you’re just going to die anyway,” the Governor taunted him. “And I’ll be back. Don’t matter how long it takes. I’ll be back.” He pulled harder, dragging the two of them down, away from the light. Rick reached overhead, searching for a handhold, and found none. 

 

Michonne crossed his mind. The panicked look on her face when she’d realized what he’d done had almost stayed his hand. Even in her anguish, Rick couldn’t help but stare at her, mesmerized. The whole of her life had been tainted by this man, by his old grudge, by a curse that had stolen generations away. 

 

“No,” Rick said, gritting his teeth. Whatever this was, it ended now. Rick tilted his chin, pushing, kicking, fighting away from the darkness. Voices seemed to be calling out to him, a chorus of them, all yelling his name.

 

Rick struggled towards them, loosening the Governor’s grip. Rick held tight to his enemy’s wrists as the lights closed in on them, illuminating both men in a golden glow. Rick kept his eyes wide open, drinking in the warmth. It grew, cutting through the pitch black like a knife through butter, until even the Governor noticed it. 

 

“Get off of him,” someone instructed, the lilt of their voice like a song, even through her rage. 

 

The Governor was thrown bodily, tossed forward towards the golden glow as he screamed in protest. The light covered them. Sensation returned, not quite as it was on Earth, but more pleasant, like sinking into a warm bath, or waking up safe in bed. Rick sighed in contentment. 

 

“No!” The Governor screamed in pain. Rick watched, a safe distance away, unsure what to do next. The taller man was writhing, recoiling, struggling away from the ever present light. 

 

“There’s not much you can do,” a woman told Rick calmly. Her voice echoed, her form growing more solid before his eyes. Rick squinted, suddenly sure of who he was about to meet. 

 

“I’d dare say you’ve done enough,” another voice imparted. 

 

“My great-granddaughter has excellent taste,” a third beamed, clearly pleased.

 

“Great?” the second scoffed. “Surely, you are missing several generations there?”

 

“The sentiment stands,” the third said simply, unperturbed. 

 

“Then perhaps we ought to send him back,” the first voice suggested. 

 

“Yes, yes,” the third agreed. “But I would very much like to speak with the boy first.”

 

“Less of a boy, than a man,” the second observed. 

 

The light shimmered in the direction that the voices conversed, revealing the forms of three women wearing dresses from an era long since passed. They all looked at Rick through familiar dark eyes. 

 

“Hello?” he asked, the word reverberating around him. 

 

“Well hello,” the second woman answered amusedly. “Polite, aren’t you?” She looked youngest of the three, her dark hair twisted into an elegant knot.

 

“The other is too,” the first mused with a smile. “They’d get along, I think.” Rick recognized her from the graveyard. She winked at him as their eyes met.

 

“Like I said,” the third woman laughed outright. “Michonne has excellent tastes.” Her long braids swung as she chuckled, her hand worrying her necklace. Rick felt a pang, a sudden longing despite his contentment.

 

“Perhaps he’d like to meet them all,” the second woman wondered out loud. 

 

“I should think he might have a few questions for us first,” the first surmised, stepping forward toward Rick. 

 

Rick smiled at the woman walking towards him. “I’m guessing you’re a Hawthorne,” he said. 

 

The first woman laughed, pausing in front of him. “What gave the game away?”

 

“You look like her,” Rick answered. “Or I guess she looks like you,” he amended. This was an understatement. The same pleasant smile and the same sense of humor sparkled at him from round dark eyes on all three.

 

“Strong genes,” the second woman shrugged, her lips tugging up at the corners. 

 

Rick nodded, getting to his feet. He was surprised to find that the ground beneath him, whatever it was, was solid. “Am I dead?” he asked. He glanced at the Governor, still convulsing in the corner. He seemed smaller now, and his cries no longer echoed, but seemed pitiful. Rick felt satisfied at the sight. Whatever the Governor had been, he was no threat now.

 

“In so many words, yes,” Michonne’s first aunt nodded, disregarding the Governor completely. “But you’ll find, Rick Grimes, that not everything is as permanent as people tend to think.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Rick began, shaking his head. “I don’t know your name.”

 

“You do,” she corrected. “Though you do not know yet that it belongs to me. I’m Apolonia,” the first woman answered serenely. “And that’s Michonne’s great-great-great-grandmother, Beatrix,” she pointed to the third sister who spoke, “and our baby sister, Cecile.”

 

“Pleasure to meet you,” Rick nodded at each of them, feeling somehow bashful in their presence. 

 

“I can see why she likes you,” Beatrix said, bursting with pride. 

 

“Remember,” Cecile cautioned cheekily. “Don’t get too attached.”

 

“I waited 30 years to be reunited with my husband,” Beatrix clicked her tongue. “A pair of pretty blue eyes isn’t going to make me untrue.”

 

“They are pretty though,” Cecile complimented, chuckling at Rick’s embarrassment. 

 

Apolonia cleared her throat, shooting her sisters a long-suffering look. When they settled, she turned back to Rick. “I'd like to introduce you to the rest, but I’m afraid time is of the essence,” she apologized. 

 

At once, Rick noticed the others, all peering curiously at him through dark eyes. Centuries of Hawthorne women stood together, each as beautiful as the next. They were dressed according to their time, noblewomen, flappers, painters, engineers. In their faces, he saw Michonne and Sasha, their conviction, their strength, passed down through generations. 

 

Beatrix watched him carefully. “We have a hundred questions for you, dear Rick,” she said. “But as Apolonia said, time is of the essence. And there is someone here who has a pressing matter to settle.”

 

She stepped aside, looking over her shoulder, her skirts gathered in her hands. Rick followed her gaze into the crowd. He spotted her at once, thin and waifish and pale, smiling at him the way she had when they were kids, so long ago. 

 

“Hi Rick,” his wife greeted, waving. 

 

Rick stepped towards her on shaky legs. “Lori…” he began. Her name felt almost foreign on his lips. It had been years since he’d spoken it. 

 

“You look good,” she observed. Her nose wrinkled a beat later. “I don’t think I like the beard though.”

 

Rick let out a surprised bark of laughter, pressure building behind his eyes. “Aaron said the same thing. He’s a captain now.”

 

“I know,” Lori nodded. “I appreciate him looking out for you.”

 

“Lori,” Rick choked, reaching out for her. She reached back, her fingers just brushing his. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there--”

 

“It went quick Rick,” she told him, tilting her head at him sympathetically. “One moment, I was happy at home, the next,” she shrugged. “When it’s your time, it’s your time.”

 

Rick held her hand, tears running openly down his face. “I should have been there,” he shook his head. “I should have--”

 

“You’re here now,” Lori soothed. “But it ain’t quite your time yet.”

 

“I know,” Rick nodded, his voice low. Even now he felt the tug, the call to leave this space. “I love you though, you know?” he squeezed her hand. “I always will.”

 

“That’s the good thing about love,” Lori smiled. “Comes in lots of shapes and sizes.” She glanced around her at Michonne’s family. 

 

“Yeah,” Rick agreed, turning his face upwards. Above them, the light shifted, moving like ripples in a pond. Through it, he could see a familiar silhouette. “I think you’re right,” he surmised.

 

-l-l-l-l-l-l-

 

“Michonne,”  Glenn’s hand clasped her shoulder, tugging lightly. “Michonne, I think--”

 

She shrugged Glenn off, holding tighter. The scratchy fabric of Rick’s costume brushed her face. He was still warm, even though the clothing. Gently, she ran a finger over his badge, a shudder coursing through her. 

 

“Michonne,” this time it was Sasha, who spoke. Her sister’s hand brushed her back, rubbing soothing patterns. 

 

“I lost him,” Michonne sobbed, a dry, broken sound. Her tears had dried up, the salt tracks running down her cheeks. The whole of her felt numb, empty. 

 

“It’s not your fault,” Sasha said quietly.

 

“He shouldn’t have had the potion at all,” Michonne shook her head, pulling back just slightly from him. Rick’s cheeks were still ruddy, the last blush of life clinging to him. She shut his eyes, unable to look into them when the light had faded. 

 

“He wanted it,” Sasha said. “He took it.”

 

“What do you mean?” Michonne turned her head towards her sister. 

 

Sasha blanched, swallowing. “I mean--”

 

A voice interrupted, deep and masculine. “She means that you know how to pick ‘em, Chonne.”

 

Mike materialized in front of her, grinning the way he had when they’d been together. The shock of it nearly sent her collapsing. He looked young, happy, and whole. Michonne’s grip on Rick loosened just the slightest, her eyes going wide. 

 

“Meant to visit a while ago,” Mike apologized. “It was kinda hard with that asshole running around,” Mike shrugged, pointing a finger down as though the Governor resided just below them. “Your family’s got him tied up down there though.” His grin widened. “That man of yours, he was still whooping his ass as they fell.”

 

“You’re with my family,” Michonne sat Rick’s body down, coming shakily to her feet. 

 

“I am,” he confirmed. “Same with that new man of yours, for now.” Mike laughed. “He ain’t as handsome as me ,” he teased. “But he took a hell of a hit for you.”

 

“Mike,” Michonne swallowed thickly. A world of regret lived inside of her, all of it bubbling to the surface.

 

“We don’t gotta do that whole song and dance,” he assured her, reaching for her hand. “Shit happens. It wasn’t your fault.” Mike shrugged. 

 

“I could have stopped it. I could have--” a sob choked the words from her.

 

Mike smiled, “There wasn’t anything you could do. They always told me I was too damn charming for my own good. Couldn’t take no for an answer,” he chuckled.

 

Michonne heart clenched. “Mike…” she hugged him. 

 

The man she once loved held her close. “I don’t regret it, Chonne. Never regretted it for a minute. You know that, right?”

 

She nodded, clinging to him. “I know now,” she whispered. 

 

“We can’t stay long,” Mike told her, squeezing. “But we wanted to pop up and tell you that.”

 

“We?” Michonne chanced a look over his shoulder.

 

Bob and Abe both materialized, chuckling together like a couple of old friends. Sasha gasped outright. She rushed towards them, crying openly, hugging them one at a time. Michonne turned her back towards the sight, giving them some privacy. 

 

“Mike,” she began. “I was happy with you. We could have been happy our whole lives.”It was a regret that might never leave her, a grudge shared by generations of her family.

 

“I was happy for my whole life,” Mike said, surprised. He grinned, holding her tighter. “Now it’s your turn.” He tapped a finger below her chin thoughtfully. “You look good.”

 

“You do too,” she let out a watery laugh. 

 

“Glenn’s gotten big,” Mike noticed, raising a brow at the young man. “Got himself a girl.”

 

“Hey,” Glenn raised a hand, waving as though dazed. “It’s good to see you Mike. You...look good.” Glenn cleared his throat.

 

“I’d lecture you about not poking into Michonne’s stuff,” Mike said. “But it worked out for the best this time.”

 

Glenn and Maggie both stared, open mouthed. “We won’t do it again,” Maggie imparted, her voice high. “We promise.”

 

Mike only laughed. “Take care of these two,” he told Michonne, kissing her hand. 

 

“You can’t stay?” Michonne asked, heart hammering. 

 

Mike shook his head. “We only traded. Just for a minute.” Mike let Michonne’s hand drop. “I don’t think you’ll mind too much. We’ll see each other again.”

 

“Soon,” Michonne said, smiling at him. 

 

Mike shook his head again. “Not that soon, Chonne.”

 

With a wink, he was gone, Bob and Abe with him. 

 

-l-l-l-l-l-l-

 

“You’ve got him?” Rick asked, looking towards the Governor one last time. He was curled into the fetal position, whimpering. He was smaller somehow now, as though he was dissolving. The sight turned Rick’s stomach. He looked away.

 

Apolonia smirked. “I assure you, we are the least of Phillip’s troubles,” she said. 

 

“Well, I don’t know about that,” Cecile turned her eyes towards the Governor’s cowering form. “I think Phillip and I are long overdue for a conversation.” She stepped towards him, smiling in satisfaction as Phillip struggled to get away.

 

“Good.” Rick turned to look back to where Lori stood with the rest of the Hawthornes. He blew her a kiss. Lori smiled, waving.

 

“It’s a shame you couldn’t meet Mike,” Beatrix sighed. 

 

“In due time, sister,” Cecile reminded her. “He has other things to concern him now.”

 

“I’ll say,” Beatrix grinned wickedly. Her sisters mirrored her. 

 

“Are you ready?” Apolonia asked, holding a hand up. Beatrix and Cecile raised theirs as well. In a wave, the rest of the Hawthorne women mirrored them. 

 

Rick smiled at Lori one last time, then looked upwards again. “I’m ready,” he nodded. 

 

Rick shut his eyes as heat filled him, spreading through him like wildfire. When he opened them again, it was to Michonne’s tear streaked face peering hopefully into his.

 

“Rick,” she gasped, cupping his chin.

 

He smiled at her, chuckling as Maggie, Glenn, and Sasha began to exclaim in relief. “Hey,” he whispered to Michonne.

 

“Don’t do that again,” Michonne let out a dry sob, pressing her forehead to his.

 

“I won’t,” he promised, holding her. She trembled against him, drawing him up higher into her arms. 

 

“Why’d you do that?” Michonne questioned, her eyes searching his. 

 

Rick shrugged, sitting up. “Wasn’t going to let you do it,” he told her. “You got people here who still need you.”

 

Michonne swallowed thickly. “So do you,” she whispered.

 

Rick laced his fingers into her hair, pressing his cheek against Michonne’s. They stayed that way for a long moment, content to feel the warmth gathering between them. “Your family says hello,” he told her.

 

She held him tighter, laughing. “Are you alright?” she asked. 

 

“Yeah,” he kissed her, smiling against her lips. “Dying ain’t that bad, all things considered. They took good care of me.” He pulled back, looking around at the mess that was the hotel lobby. “Probably easier than cleaning all this up.” People were still panicking around them, walking around the outside of the hotel as though dazed.

 

“I can do a decent memory spell,” Maggie spoke. She looked pale, and was clinging to Glenn’s hand. “I’ll need help for this many people.” She smiled just the slightest. “I’m glad you’re back,” she said. 

 

Rick nodded at her. “Glad to be back,” he said. Slowly, he staggered to his feet. Michonne helped him, watching him carefully. 

 

“Just rest,” she instructed, “I’ll help you.”

 

“Help them first,” Rick suggested. Hundreds of people were wandering the streets and littering the road in front of the Hotel Hawthorne, bleeding, disheveled, and confused.

 

“I wasn’t going to say anything,” Glenn spoke. “But now would be a great time for that calming down trick of yours.”

 

Michonne’s hands worried at Rick’s uniform. He caught them, kissing her palms. “Stay here,” she begged. “I’ll be back.”

 

Rick released her. “I ain’t going anywhere darling,” he assured her. “Take your time.”

 

“I’ll be back,” Michonne repeated, walking towards the front doors, her family dogging her footsteps. Sasha paused, looking back at Rick. 

 

“Grimes,” she said, calling to him. 

 

“Sergeant,” he responded, raising a brow.

 

“I owe you,” she told him. With a nod, she stepped outside as well, ready to help put the world back to rights.

 

Rick smiled, sitting down on the piano bench. The orchestra struck up a Johnny Cash tune at once, one of Rick’s favorites. Rick leaned back against the instrument, enjoying the music. Outside, he could hear the faint sounds of Michonne gathering the crowd.

 

Content, he closed his eyes, relaxing for just a moment.



-l-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Michonne had half of his costume off before they even made it into her room. Rick kicked his jeans down and away as she shut the door behind her. He fell on her unceremoniously, pressing her palms down against the hardwood of the door. He gathered her locs in one hand, tugging them to the side so he could kiss her neck. 

 

Michonne gasped, arching against him, her round ass pushing hard against his hips. She tilted her head to grant him better access, mewling as his free hand ran down her body. 

 

“This is a beautiful dress,” he whispered, delighting as she shivered against him. Rick toyed with the thin slider of her zipper, inching it down slowly. He chased every bit of skin he exposed with kisses, nipping at her until she yelped. Smiling, he stood again, running his hands along her bare body, coming back to kiss her once more. She shivered against his chest. 

 

“Rick,” it was his second favorite sound, her saying his name. He dipped his hand between her thighs and she gifted him with his favorite. Her moan crested as he pressed harder still, kissing her deeply until she panted against him. She reached an arm back, looping it around his neck. “I thought I lost you today,” she whispered. 

 

Rick paused, spinning her in his arms until they were chest to chest. “I’m right here,” he promised her, holding her tight. 

 

Michonne pulled him toward her, kissing him desperately. Her hands wandered, taking stock of him, smoothing over his arms and chest. He pulled her legs higher, resting between them. 

 

There would be nights, of that he was sure, where there was time to go slowly, to explore one another. One day soon, he’d dedicate the time to finding every spot that brought her pleasure, every word that brought a moan to her lips, every touch that made her writhe and drip for him. Today had made him desperate for her, desperate for that connection that made him feel whole. He lifted her into his arms, tugging her legs around his waist, bracing her back against the door. 

 

Michonne yanked at his hair as he slid inside her, going inch by inch until their hips met. Rick pulled all the way out again before setting a backbreaking pace. She bounced in his arms, her mouth parted, her skin dewey, her nails raking over his shoulders and scalp. 

 

“Yes,” her words were a throaty hum, punctuated by messy kisses. “Rick, oh--”

 

Every touch was like contact with a live wire. Her body was all molten heat, drowning him as he happily plunged deeper and deeper still. He was alive, and for the first time in years, he felt it. Rick hefted Michonne higher in his grasp, holding her tightly as he turned them away from the wall and towards her bed. She clung to him, trailing kisses up and down his face. 

 

“I’ve got you,” he assured her. 

 

Michonne smiled, “I know,” she said.

 

-l-l-l-l-l-l-



The holiday celebrations continued in earnest outside, the sounds of thumping music, drunken frivolity, and raucous laughter echoing off the brick walls of the Quarter. The lobby of the Hotel Hawthorne was still full to bursting, partiers indulging. Glenn and Maggie could be found among them, wrapped around one another in the corner, less dancing than simply holding one another. 

 

Sasha, for her part, was happy to be in her own bed, her pajamas on and her badge set aside. She slept soundly for the first time in years, the space beside her no longer seeming quite so empty.

 

In the Hawthorne suite, a trail of discarded clothing led to where Rick and Michonne had retired together. Her witches’ hat was hanging haphazardly off the corner of the couch, tossed aside the moment they entered her front door. Rick’s hat was laying in the hallway, attracting the attention of Virgil. The cat sniffed at it curiously before casting disdainful eyes on the bedroom door. Michonne had locked it again. With a yawn, Virgil retired to the couch, content to ignore and be ignored.

 

The bedding had seen better days, the sheets twisted free of the mattress, the draped fabric over the canopy hanging crookedly. Atop the mess, Rick and Michonne were laying together, their skin gleaming in the light from the moon shining through the window, both winded and, for the moment, sated. 

 

Rick collapsed into the pillows, letting out a contented sigh. He was flushed, his hair a whirlwind of wayward curls. His lips quirked up in a smile, his expression overtaking his face as Michonne leaned over him, kissing him along the neck gently. He dragged his fingers up her waist and side, tickling, chuckling when she giggled before swatting at him. 

 

“Stop,” she mumbled half-heartedly, shocking him lightly when Rick doubled his efforts. 

 

He yelped in surprise, pinching her in retaliation. “You ain’t playing fair, darling,” he griped with no real venom. “I can’t use magic.”

 

Michonne paused at that, a thought tumbling in her mind. “I’m not so sure, Rick,” she disagreed. 

 

“What do you mean?” he rolled closer to her, slinging an arm over her waist. 

 

“The Governor,” she began, her voice thick. It was the first time she’d mentioned his name since the incident. They’d been largely content to ignore the elephant in the room. The real world loomed just outside the door, the responsibilities and obligations of two seperate lives. Michonne wanted to ignore it forever.

 

“What about him?” Rick asked, burrowing closer to her among the mound of pillows. 

 

“He shouldn’t have been able to do magic in your body,” Michonne said. “Not like that. And the badge…” She hadn’t charmed it that day in the swamp. Rick possessed some power unknown even to him. 

 

“You saying I’m a witch?” Rick asked, nipping lightly at her shoulder. 

 

Michonne smiled, massaging his scalp until he lulled against her. “Seems like you’re something, Rick.”

 

He smirked, his hands finding her body again. Michonne squirmed against him as he touched her. “Well,” he rumbled into her neck, kissing her for good measure. “That we already knew.”

 

She laughed, relaxing, touching him as well. Her fingers brushed a scar on his bicep. It had once been raised and jagged, but now was nearly gone. Michonne looked at it, the question clear in her eyes. “This must have been a hell of an injury,” she observed. 

 

Rick looked at it as well. “It was,” he confirmed. “You should have seen it before I drank that tea of yours.”

 

Michonne leaned over him, continuing her exploration of her new lover, cataloguing the curves and ridges of his body with focused precision. “What was it?” Michonne ran a finger along the pale, raised hill of skin, looking up through her loose locs at Rick. 

 

Rick glanced down at her through his lashes, craning his head to see better. His hand covered hers, pressing the palm flat over his bicep. 

 

“That?” He drummed his fingers along her knuckles. “Got winged by a bullet on a bust when I was still a sheriff.”

 

Michonne curved a brow, moving her hand down to a red streak against his side. “This?” She asked. 

 

“Rusty rebar pole,” Rick answered. “Fell on one when I was chasing a fugitive down my first year as a Marshal through a construction site.” He took her hand again, guiding it across his body to his other arm. A small, pronounced scar pushed up against her fingers. “That’s from the tetanus shot. Got the guy though.”

 

“And this?” Michonne continued her line of questioning, reaching up behind Rick’s ear. The pointed tip of a jagged scar peeled out from beneath his curls. 

 

“Jumping on the bed in grade school. Went flying off, hit my head on the dresser. Damn near gave myself a concussion and my little brother a heart attack.” He smiled at her. “My mom and dad weren’t thrilled about all the blood.”

 

She could picture it, this younger Rick, just as brash, just as impetuous. “You have a brother?” She asked. 

 

Rick nodded. “Lives with his family in the same town we grew up in. See him during the holidays. I always spoil my niece and nephews rotten. Drives Jeff crazy.” He exhaled, leaning down to kiss her. “What about you?” he asked. “Any scars?”

 

She smiled, laying her head down on his shoulder. “None that you can see.”

 

Rick tugged at her hair. “Guess you’re more careful than me,” he speculated. 

 

Michonne shook her head. “Once, Sasha and I set our whole bedroom on fire. Our mother asked us to clean it and we started fighting, as always,” she snorted. “I don’t remember whose hands sparked first, but the whole closet went up in flames before we noticed enough to stop fighting. Mom was pissed.”

 

“I bet,” Rick laughed, his chest rumbling. “What happened?”

 

Michonne shrugged. “She made us clean it up. We got good at cleaning up our messes.” She glanced at the window. The sounds of the Halloween party still raged on without her. The residents of New Orleans would never remember the Governor, never know what truly happened in the parade accident. The effort hadn’t exhausted her in the way she thought it would. This new power, frightening though it was, was not completely unappreciated.

 

“Hey,” Rick kissed her forehead, drawing her attention back to him. “You’ll never have to deal with his mess again.”

 

She smiled at him, tugging lightly at his beard. “Neither will you,” she told Rick. She crawled closer to him, enjoying the heat playing off his body. 

 

He caught her hand. “There’s always a mess somewhere. That’s the job.” For a moment, he sounded almost regretful. His eyes roved over her face.

 

“More scars to be had?” Michonne speculated, trying to keep her voice even. She scratched lightly at his chest, laying her palm flat over his heart. 

 

Rick shrugged. “More life to live,” he said simply. He rolled over, his exhaustion abated, and tugged her beneath him. 

 

He captured her lips in a searing kiss. Michonne sighed, sucking at him, enjoying the play of his hands on her body. He jerked the tangled sheets off from around his waist, kicking them down unceremoniously as he rolled her more firmly into position. Michonne clutched the bunched blankets, gasping against Rick’s mouth as she parted her legs again. He was inside of her before she could even get her bearings, the stretch of him exquisite torture. 

 

Rick levered himself over her, clutching her thighs as he drew her legs one at a time over his shoulders. Michonne cried out as his hips moved, thrusting so deeply that she could have sworn she was seeing stars. She wondered for a moment, if she would ever get tired of this, of Rick’s hunger for her, of his hardened body, the gruff whispers in her ear, his lips on her. 

 

“Rick,” she gasped, arching her back into him. Her limbs seemed to be catching fire, going molten from the inside out. She began to tremble, tremors wracking her until tears gathered behind her eyes. 

 

He bent his head to her again, wiping away the saltwater tracks coursing down her cheeks. His kiss was desperate, needy. Michonne responded in kind, trading air between them, growing dizzier by the moment. She clung harder to him still, her nails scraping at his skin. She dragged her hand down, catching it between their slick bodies until her palm rested over his heart. 

 

“I’m here,” he promised her, panting against her. “I’m still here, Michonne.”

 

She tossed her head back as her climax overtook her, shivering against Rick. He did not slow down, only leaned closer to her, threatening to split her in half as he dove deeper still. Michonne began to cry again, overcome. Rick’s hands burned into her waist, his hold tight. In no time, she was racing towards the edge again, her body shaking as though it no longer belonged to her. 

 

Rick’s lips found the side of her face, his words ragged and strained. “I could get used to this,” he told her, groaning as she shattered around him. His rhythm staggered as he fell forward, pinning her beneath him. 

 

Rick went silent, pressing kisses to her neck and shoulders. Michonne shut her eyes, enjoying the gentle rise and fall of his chest. 

 

“We have a lot to figure out, Rick,” she murmured, holding him tighter, drifting off.

 

He chuckled, kissing her forehead. “There’s tomorrow for that,” he rumbled, sighing. “Sleep for now.”

 

Michonne didn’t respond, already deep in a dreamless slumber.

 

-l-l-l-l-l-l-

 

Two days later in New Orleans...

 

Merle Dixon cussed up a storm when Rick arrived for him on a cold, gray Louisiana morning. Rick’s SUV sat at the ready, the engine still running, the bars separating the front and back seats magically enforced. 

 

“Fucking pigs,” Merle muttered mutinously, glaring as Sasha and Rick both. “Shoulda killed me.”

 

Sasha pushed Merle forward, rolling her eyes. “Shame we can’t gag him along with the handcuffs,” she observed, shutting him into the car. 

 

Merle’s shouts escalated, like a child having a tantrum. Rick ignored it, smiling at the sergeant instead. “Can’t say I ain’t considered it,” he said lightly. 

 

Sasha grinned at Rick. “He doesn’t remember anything. Just keeps screaming about you shooting him in a swamp.”

 

“Your sister is good,” Rick observed, his skin flushing just to think about it.

 

Sasha made a noise low in her throat. “I bet,” she hummed. 


Rick blushed deeper still. “Guess I didn’t take your advice,” he said, shuffling his feet. 

 

Sasha laughed. She reached out to punch him lightly. “I’m glad you didn’t,” she admitted. “Michonne likes you.”

 

“The feeling’s mutual,” he assured her, clearing his throat. 

 

“Surprised you managed to drag yourself out of bed,” Sasha continued her teasing. “Glenn tells me that he spent the last few nights in your empty room.”

 

Rick laughed. “Surprised me too,” he said. He’d slept all of an hour last night in lieu of being inside of Michonne as often as he possibly could. She’d fallen asleep on top of him, sated and exhausted. Rick had slipped from bed before she could miss him. 

 

“She’s going to miss you,” Sasha all but read his mind. 

 

“I’m gonna miss her,” Rick said. “But there’s some stuff I gotta take care of.”

 

Sasha nodded. “Look, Rick, what you did for Michonne--”

 

“You would have done too. I just had the potion,” Rick pointed out. 

 

Sasha fixed him with an unflinching gaze. “She’s my sister. I love her.”

 

Rick glanced off. “Yeah, well,” he sighed meeting Sasha’s dark eyes. “Must have been something that made me take it.”

 

“It’s something I’ll never be able to pay you back for,” Sasha spoke, her voice tight. “If you ever need anything, anything , Grimes…”

 

“I have your number,” Rick reminded her. “You’ll be hearing from me. And not just because I need something,” he smiled at the woman in front of him. 

 

Sasha spread her arms, gesturing for a hug. “I’ll see you around then, Marshal Grimes.”

 

Rick hugged her, lifting her lightly. “Soon, Sergeant Williams,” he said.

 

They disengaged, Rick waving as he climbed into the driver’s seat of the car. Merle’s swearing got louder still. . 

 

“Fuckin’ Grimes,” he swore. “Piece of shit, no good--”

 

His words died in his throat, his gums flapping, but no sound came out. Rick glanced up in surprise. Outside of the window, Sasha winked. 

 

“Drive safe!” she instructed. 

 

“I will,” he waved, putting the car in reverse. Sergeant Sasha Williams became a small blur in his rearview mirror as he navigated through the Quarter by memory. He needed to get back to Georgia, process the asshole handcuffed in his back seat, fill out reports. But there was a pit stop he needed to take first.

 

She was waiting for him, much like she had the first morning he laid eyes on her, standing in front of her hotel with Glenn and Maggie, chatting animatedly. She waved as Rick came to a stop in front of her door.

 

“Wait here,” Rick instructed, barely deigning to look at Merle.

 

Dixon’s mouth moved, his face going a nasty shade of puce, but remained silent. With a smirk, Rick shut him inside. 

 

“Hey Michonne,” he greeted, smiling at her.

 

“Told you he’d be back,” Maggie grinned, kissing Glenn’s cheek.

 

“Thought you’d leave without saying goodbye,” Glenn said, reaching out to shake Rick’s hand. 

 

Rick chuckled. “No chance,” he clapped the young man on the back. “Stay out of trouble. Don’t raise anyone else from the dead.”

 

Glenn flushed. “It was her idea,” he nudged Maggie. “But we’ll do our best.”

 

“Be safe, Rick,” Maggie came forward to hug him, rubbing his back. “We’ll miss you.”

 

“Take care,” Rick hugged her back. 

 

The young couple smiled at him, taking one another’s hand as they disappeared back into the Hotel Hawthorne. Rick and Michonne were left standing face to face. 

 

“I have to get back,” Rick said regretfully, reaching for Michonne’s hand. 

 

She only smiled. “I know,” she told him. 

 

“You’re going to hear from me soon,” he promised, growing flustered. “I--”

 

Michonne stepped forward, silencing him with a kiss. Throwing propriety to the wind, Rick wrapped his arms around her, slanting his face over hers. Michonne tugged gently at his hair, sighing against his lips. 

 

“Be safe,” she instructed, releasing him. 

 

Rick smiled. “Your sister made it so that I can’t hear Merle’s bullshit, so there’s no risk of me killing him before we get back.” 

 

Michonne’s laugh only made his grin wider. “His voice will have to come back once you’re both in Georgia though.”

 

“Shame,” Rick quipped. He caught a loc of her hair between his fingers, rolling it. “You take care of yourself, darling.”

 

“I will,” she promised. She pressed her lips to his again, slowly and sweetly, making it count.

 

With an effort, Rick stepped backwards, cool air swirling in the space she just vacated. His feet felt like lead as he walked the short distance back to his car. He started the engine, watching through the windshield as Michonne blew him a kiss.

 

He’d barely made it to the freeway, deep in his thoughts, when his cellphone rang. 

 

“Rick,” Aaron’s voice piped through the speakers. “Are you on your way back?”

 

“I am,” Rick nodded, maneuvering onto the freeway. “Got Dixon in custody.”

 

“Good,” Rick could practically hear his captain’s smile. “Got work to do when you get back.”

 

“Actually,” Rick sucked at his teeth, glancing at a highway sign clocking the miles back home. “There’s something I want to talk to you about.”

 

“Shit,” Aaron sighed. “Is it bad news?”

 

“Nah,” Rick chuckled. “Wondering if you still got those study guides for the captain’s test.”

 

Aaron let out a bark of surprised laughter. “Yeah, Grimes, I do. Do you need them?”

 

Rick glanced in the rearview mirror at New Orleans. The city was growing smaller by the moment.

 

“Yeah,” he confirmed, rubbing his lips. “I’m thinking I do.”

 

Chapter Text

 The morning was cold, the chill clinging to the window panes of Hotel Hawthorne. There were a million reasons to stay in bed, but Michonne was up already, wandering the halls of her home. It was quiet this morning, as it had been since Glenn and Maggie set out on their own. They weren’t far, still in the Quarter, but that did not stop Michonne from missing them terribly. 

 

Virgil wound himself around her ankles, greeting her with a quiet yowl as she calculated her list for the day. There was dinner obviously, the annual feast to shepherd in the new year. Sasha would be round to help before noon, and the rest would be arriving after. She had time this morning to go about her routine. Throwing on a house robe, Michonne set out from the suite. 

 

The hotel guests were bundled up tight, content in their warm rooms, sleeping off spiked eggnog, champagne, and holiday dinners. Michonne crept quietly from door to door, ensuring that all was well. 

 

No one was stirring, upstairs, but instinct drew her down. In her lobby, the piano plunked dutifully away at Auld Lang Syne , the tune perking up considerably as she walked across the tiled floor. Michonne smirked at it, beelining for her kitchen and a strong cup of tea.

 

She paused as she arrived at the door, pressing her ear to the wood. Someone was inside, banging about like they were trying to recreate a rock concert. Michonne eased the door opened with her hip, preparing herself for the worst.

 

“Mom!” the tallest of the wrecking crew laying siege to the kitchen gasped in surprise, dropping the metal mixing bowl in his hands. It stopped before it clattered to the ground, hovering just inches from the floor. 

 

“Careful,” the second child chirped brightly, reaching out to catch it. His dark brown hands were dusted in flour to match his brothers. He’d apparently rolled in the stuff, judging by the frosted color of his curly hair. 

 

The third wasn’t doing much at the moment besides sitting on the edge of a barstool, her feet swinging down as she watched her brothers. She reached out for the counter, snagging a piece of fruit between her round little fingers before unceremoniously popping it into her mouth. 

 

“Happy New Year, mommy,” she imparted brightly, chewing away. 

 

“What are you three in here doing?” Michonne asked, shutting the door behind her. 

 

The counter was littered in front of them, broken eggshells, melting lumps of butter, cinnamon spackled like confetti. Michonne spotted a sharp knife, half stuck in an apple. 

 

The eldest, perhaps reading her mind, piped up quickly. “Don’t worry mom,” he soothed. “Only I touched that.”

 

“We’re making biscuits,” the middle child said, pointing at a pan of rounded lumps. “That way you only have to cook dinner.”

 

“Is that right?” Michonne smiled, surveying their efforts. “Buttermilk?”

 

“With cinnamon apple butter,” the eldest said, pointing again at the hacked to pieces fruit. 

 

“You’re doing it the old fashioned way,” Michonne voiced her approval. 

 

“We tried your way,” the eldest sounded just the slightest bit put out. “I couldn’t do it.”

 

“Not yet,” Michonne said. She reached for a hook on the door, removing her robe before tying on her apron. 

 

“Are you going to teach us?” the second child stepped up eagerly, watching her. 

 

“I am,” Michonne bent to kiss his head, dusting flour from his hair. “You have to concentrate,” she instructed, looking towards the oldest.

 

“I will,” he promised, his cheeks flushing in a familiar way. 

 

“Alright,” Michonne pushed the pan into his hands. “Close your eyes,” she said. 

 

All three obeyed, scrunching their eyes shut. 

 

“Ok,” Michonne said slowly. “Now picture what it is you want to make. The biscuits exactly as you want them.”

 

“Yummy,” the girl said loudly. 

 

“Pretty,” said the second. 

 

“With apple,” said the eldest. 

 

“Good,” Michonne took a step back. “Think of it hard, and push that thought into the dough.”

 

All three children began going purple in the face, their expressions suggesting extreme concentration. Michonne watched, smiling. It started slowly, first one, then another, until the smell warmed the whole kitchen. The youngest opened her eyes first, squealing in delight. Her brothers quickly followed suit. 

 

“You did it,” Michonne reached for one, juggling the hot pastry in hand. She split it neatly into quarters, setting one aside. 

 

“For dad?” the middle child asked. 

 

“He’ll be back soon,” Michonne nodded, watching as they ate happily, chattering animatedly about their first baking success. 

 

In the lobby, the piano’s song changed, heralding in the new arrival. Michonne looked eagerly towards the door. The three kids ran towards it, waiting expectantly for him to come in. 

 

“Hey,” someone said brightly in a deep voice, pushing the door open. 

 

Upstairs, in Michonne’s bedroom, someone knocked loudly. 

 

“Michonne,” Maggie called to her, peering in. “It’s time.”

 

Michonne’s eyes fluttered open, the dream suddenly ended. She blinked at the top of her canopy bed, reorienting herself. The air around her was cold, the winter weather seeping in through the window panes. 

 

“Michonne?” Glenn’s voice joined his girlfriend’s. “You said to wake you up, remember?”

 

“I’m up,” Michonne announced, stirring under the covers. 

 

Her bedroom door opened, and her charges trooped in. Maggie paused at the foot of the bed while Glenn lit a fire in the grate with a wink. 

 

“Lots to do,” Maggie said brightly.

 

“Sasha’s downstairs already,” Glenn reported. 

 

“I’ll be down soon,” Michonne hazarded a smile. 

 

They left and she took a moment to calm herself, turning over the dream in her mind. Since Halloween, her nights had been consumed with nothing but visions of Rick, memories of their time in her bed. This though, this was something new.

 

She looked at the phone on her nightstand, reaching for it instinctively. It had been a quiet night. Only one message waited for her, from Sasha, telling Michonne that she was on her way. Michonne felt a pang of disappointment. She toyed with it, her fingers pausing over the numbers, debating. 

 

He said he’d call, and he always kept his word, even months later. 

 

“He’ll call,” she said out loud to herself. There was no reason to bother him with a dream she didn’t understand herself. 

 

Reluctantly, Michonne got up, dressing herself for comfort over style. As she pulled a thick cotton sweater over her head, she glanced over at the bed. It seemed too big now, too empty. With a sigh, Michonne pulled her locs free, slogging downstairs to the kitchen to help. 

 

All of Hotel Hawthorne was sleeping off a hangover except her family. She could hear them clattering around in the kitchen, sounding very much like the children from her dream. Something about the dream kids was familiar, awakening a hope in her that she hadn’t felt in years. She checked her phone again as she came into her lobby, trying to ignore the piano playing Auld Lang Syne with panache. 

 

“Michonne,” her name again drew her attention. Sasha pushed through the front door of the hotel, ladened with grocery bags. “Did you get my message?”

 

“I just woke up,” Michonne smiled sheepishly. 

 

“Well, I went to the market. Lou sent me back with more apples. I think he thinks we go through them like crazy,” Sasha angled the bag down so Michonne could see. “We might need to make something with them.”

 

“Biscuits,” Michonne said idily. 

 

“Biscuits?” Sasha wrinkled her nose. “I was hoping for pie.”

 

“That too,” Michonne amended, attempting to focus on the situation at hand. “Need help?” she asked.

 

“No,” Sasha answered cryptically, holding the door open behind her. She peered over her shoulder. “I got a ride over here.”

 

“Lou?” Michonne asked. 

 

“Nope,” Sasha said. “But he might need help. Got enough to feed an army in that car.” Sasha let the door swing shut, walking quickly away and towards the kitchen. From the entrance, Glenn and Maggie looked eagerly out. The trio set to whispering at once. Michonne blinked at them, bemused. 

 

Curiously, Michonne walked to her front door, peering through the frosted glass. A dark SUV was parked on the curb, its driver’s side door open. Her heart skipped a beat. The piano changed its tune, the sultry music echoing off the now-empty lobby.

 

Outside, the car door slammed shut, and heavy booted feet made their way around.

 

“Hey,” Rick came into sight, arms full, beaming brightly. His hair had gotten longer in the winter months, his beard more robust. Michonne stared, mouth open, elated. 

 

“Rick,” she hurried down the stairs to the curb, disregarding the cold, disregarding the audience of tourists wandering the streets. 

 

Rick was ready for her. He set the grocery bag hastily down at his feet, catching her as she flung herself into him. His arms closed in around her, cosseting her. The scent of him, his familiar warmth, and the sound of his chuckle all filled her to the brim. 

 

“I thought you had work,” she gasped, peppering his face with kisses. 

 

Rick caught her chin in one broad hand, drawing her in for a deeper lip lock. When he pulled back, she was dizzy. He looked far too pleased with himself. 

 

“About that,” he began, tugging at her hair. “Guess who passed the captain’s test?”

 

“We knew you would,” she smiled, waiting eagerly to hear more. 

 

“And,” Rick continued, smoothing his hands down her back, “guess who’s the new captain of the Marshals here in New Orleans?”

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked against his mouth. 

 

He shrugged. “Wanted to say it in person. Besides,” he cocked a brow. “It’s New Year’s. I wanted my kiss.”

 

She ran her fingers through his beard. “I’ve got more than a kiss for you,” she promised on a whisper, her skin tingling at just the thought.  

 

“I was hoping so,” he smiled. 

 

“Are they going to let you keep this?” Michonne corded her fingers deeper into his mountain man facial hair. It was soft despite its wild tangle. 

 

“Not a chance,” he laughed. “Once vacation is over, the beard is gone.” He sighed dramatically, pouting for her amusement. 

 

“We better take advantage then,” she said lightly. 

 

Rick’s grin turned wicked in an instance. “I was hoping for that too,” he repeated.

 

He leaned in again, but a yell from the doorway interrupted him. 

 

“Get in here before you freeze to death,” Glenn was posed on the front steps, a long-suffering look of exasperation on his face. “You can make kissy faces inside,” he told them, his breath frosting in front of him. 

 

“It’s sweet,” Maggie argued, coming out to stand beside her boyfriend. “Welcome back, Rick,” she waved. 

 

“Good to be back,” Rick grinned, pulling Michonne under his arm. 

 

“Just come inside,” Glenn rolled his eyes, swinging the door open expectantly. 

 

“He’s going to get all squeaky if we don’t listen,” Rick whispered conspiratorially. He released Michonne as she giggled, bending to pick up the bag before taking her by the hand. Slowly, they walked together towards the doors. 

 

“I had a dream last night,” Michonne told him. “The way I used to dream about you.”

 

“Oh yeah?” Rick asked. “What was it about?”

 

“There were three kids,” Michonne smiled at the thought. “The oldest one had your eyes.”

 

Rick didn’t even flinch. “Three?” he asked, surprised.

 

“Yeah,” Michonne said. “Two boys, one girl.” She watched carefully for his reaction. 

 

Rick raised a brow, pursing his lips. He paused at the door, looking seriously at her. “That’s gonna be a problem, Chonne.”

 

“Why?” she asked, tilting her head at him. 

 

“In my dreams, there’s always four,” he winked. With a flourish, he opened the door to the Hotel Hawthorne, waiting for her to step inside. 

 

Michonne paused, kissing him on the cheek. “Guess we’re going to be busy,” she smiled, reaching for his hand again. 

 

Rick laughed, following her inside. “I think so, darling.”

 

The door swung shut on the Hawthorne family, as the first day of the new year dawned bright outside.