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The group spent two nights huddled together in the living room of the house that Deanna had given them.

It felt more like squatting, really. No one ventured to the second floor, except for when Rick and Daryl had done a sweep in search of anything suspicious. Outside of that one venture, they kept to the first floor and slept together in the living room, in fear, in preparation, in trepidation.

Well, some of them slept. Rick, Michonne, Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham had a little trouble the first night.

But the second night, Rick declared that they could start looking for their own houses. They were staying.

The morning after, Michonne stood on the porch of the squatter home, quietly enthralled by what was across the street. Across the street was house. To the right of the house was another house. And to the left of the house was another house. Across the street was a row of houses. With a paved street separating that row and her row.

"It's not Washington," Rick said behind her.

Michonne turned to him with a serene smile. "We don't know what we would've found in Washington."

When Rick raised his eyebrows next to her, she explained, "What I mean is, I doubt we would've found this, a community of old. I pictured a government building in Washington, sure, but I figured we'd be sleeping on the floor, or...I don't know, something that was close to what we're used to. That was good enough for me. But this," she trailed off, shaking her head.

"Woodbury looked like this," Rick said.

"No, it didn't," Michonne said, her good humor fading for a moment. "Woodbury didn't look like this. Worse, Woodbury didn't feel like this. Deanna interviewed all of us. That makes sense. We do the same thing before we let someone in. Deanna sent someone to scout us. The Governor, he did something completely different. He presented an all are welcome front, and that didn't make sense."

Rick nodded.

"I'm sure this place has secrets," Michonne continued. "You can't build a community in this world as it is now without having put some things in the closet. Hell, you can't survive in this world as it is now without some things in your closet," she said contemplatively. "But right now, I just want to stand on this porch," she said, turning her attention back to the row of houses across the street.

"For seventeen minutes," Rick added.

When Michonne looked at him, she found the hint of a smile playing on his lips. He was teasing her.

"I've been out here for seventeen minutes?" she asked.

"Yeah. I figured I had to come out and see what was so interesting," he said. It was a bit of a lie, but he'd get to the real reason he came to see her in a second.

Michonne shrugged, smiling.

They were silent a moment as Michonne admired the houses and Rick rehearsed how he was going to approach the topic of his interest.

"You're still not sure about this place, are you?" Michonne asked as she turned her attention to him.

"Not completely. But I've seen enough to give it a shot. Are you?"

Michonne blinked and looked across the street. "We always have to consider the human element, right? Such as it is right now, I mean. I've read Deanna, but I haven't closed the book. I'm still watching."

"Good," Rick said, relieved. He'd been having a hard time picturing Michonne buying into the idea of this place so quickly and so soon. Because that was what they were faced with so far: an idea. They wouldn't know the true Alexandria for a couple of days. With the group's combined experiences and skills, all they needed was a couple of days to figure out the true face of Alexandria.

But in the meantime….

"You're all set to go house hunting?" Rick asked.

"I've been standing on this porch for seventeen minutes, probably twenty now, and the first night I spent twenty minutes brushing my teeth. I don't know if I'm ready for the big responsibility of house shopping," she joked.

"Probably spend an hour in every room of every house," he said.

Michonne took the jab in kind.

"But it'd be good if you had someone with you, you know?" he said as an itch appeared on his elbow. He took care of it. Another itch appeared behind his neck. He sensed a problem developing. He ignored his neck and placed his hands on his hips instead. His hands naturally went to his hips whenever he felt confident. This time, however, he did it in hopes that the confidence would follow the hands on hips.

"Someone who would pull you along when you stayed in a room too long?" he continued.

Michonne smiled and faced the street.

Well, that didn't accomplish anything. She thought he was still teasing her.

"You're gonna live alone?" he asked.

It was as if he hadn't rehearsed. Lord help him if he could remember what he'd rehearsed. And his left ear was itching now.

"I don't think it's a good idea for us to be alone," Michonne said. Rick turned his body to face her fully, so Michonne did the same, resting her weight on her left leg. "We should be in groups, just in case, and for each other's sake, too. I don't think Sasha went to sleep 'til close to dawn last night. This is new, and we're adjusting. You'll be with Carl and Judith, of course; Carol with Daryl, probably next door, for the kids' protection. Abraham will be with Rosita and Eugene, Glenn and Maggie, and maybe the good Father; and me, Noah, Tara, and Sasha."

"Right. Right," Rick nodded.

Michonne nodded. Rick didn't say anything more, so she faced the street.

"What if we changed that a little bit?" Rick asked, tilting his head to the left.

Michonne faced him again.

"Noah, Tara, and Sasha can be together. You can be with me, Carl, and Judith. Or me, Carl, and Judith can be with you. It's an idea, right? I mean it condenses us. That way Daryl and Carol don't have to be next door; you'll be in the house."

Michonne frowned. "I'm fine with my idea. Matter of fact my group can be on the other side of your house. Hopefully it works out that way. It'd be more protection for the kids. Not that Noah himself isn't a kid. He probably only has three or four years on Carl, same age as Beth was."

"Right," Rick said, nodding.

Michonne turned to the street.

Rick inhaled loudly as he, too, faced the street. He moved closer to the column in front of him and leaned his left hand against it, his right hand still on his hip. "Yeah, Jesse offered to show me some houses."

When Michonne looked at him, he explained, "She's the one who gave me the haircut."

"Oh," Michonne said, smiling and stretching the word out. "She's the one."

"Yeah."

"Is she the realtor here?" Michonne asked, half joking.

"That's what she was before this happened, before she got married, actually."

Michonne nodded. "Then she might be showing all of us."

"I'm sure Aaron will help."

Michonne nodded.

Rick straightened his posture and ran his hand down the column. "Michonne, do you really want to live with Noah, Tara, and Sasha?" he asked, placing the hand back on his hip and facing her.

"They don't strike me as hard to live with," she joked.

"What about me and the kids?"

Michonne raised her brows, taken aback by the question. Was he asking who was going to take care of him and the kids?

"I mean we're not hard to live with either," Rick continued, not realizing how Michonne had initially taken the question. "Heck, we did it for a short while. Sure, it was just Carl then, but Judith ain't half bad; she does what she's supposed to do."

"Rick, what are you asking me?" Michonne asked, annoyed with the fact that she couldn't figure out where his head was.

"I'm askin'," Rick said, taking a step toward her, "If you're so inclined, and if it ain't too much trouble, and if you wouldn't rather live alone, or with Noah, Tara, and Sasha; I'm asking….."

Michonne raised her brows.

Rick's heart sped up so fast that he got an instant headache. What was he going to do if she said no?

"Michonne." His heart was beating so damn fast, and his headache was just a little worse now. "I want you….to live with me and the kids. I can't-I can't imagine it another way. I can't think of it another way. I can't….have you in another house or houses away. I just….I want you there. I want you with us. But if that's not what you want, then it's fine. Part of this is supposed to be us getting back to what's normal, you know settling down, getting our own lives, carving out our own….."

He was running out of words. He was trying, but he was running out of words.

"So you ramble after you've barely slept in a very nice house, is that what you do, Rick?" Michonne teased.

Rick didn't respond, not a smile, not a word. He needed to know what he was going to do. He wanted to be off this porch.

Michonne stepped closer to him and grabbed one of the hands on his hips. She squeezed reassuringly, but Rick didn't feel the sentiment, not even when she smiled.

"You want me to move in with you," Michonne said.

Rick nodded, his head feeling heavier than it had the other times he'd nodded. "Yes," he confirmed. "But it doesn't have to happen."

"It'll happen," Michonne said lightly.

Rick parted his lips in response, not daring to accept what she'd said too quickly.

"Why not?" Michonne asked, shrugging. "As long as it's okay with Carl."

"I'm still the boy's father, last I checked. He'll be fine. It's you. He'll be fine."

Michonne smiled. Rick squeezed her hand, and when he did he moved his hand further into hers so that her holding his hand morphed into them kind of holding each other's hand. His squeeze was warm and very familiar, and Michonne's stomach cartwheeled.

She blinked, her smile faltering a little. His smile stayed in place, and he was staring into her eyes, and his eyes were kind of-

Michonne pulled her hand out of his and faced the street, taking a deep breath. That was a little difficult: taking a deep breath. It was difficult when she was short of breath.

She looked down the street to her right, but what she was thinking about was the fact that she'd just agreed to live with Rick. And his kids. In a nice house. With a paved street in front of it.

Rick was looking forward to it.

Chapter Text

The group unanimously decided that Rick should be the one to keep the house they'd been squatting in. Rick announced that Michonne felt they should live in groups, that they'd all figure out how to split themselves, and that he, Carl, Judith, and Michonne would be living together. He said that part right away, in case anyone thought Michonne was available.

Michonne looked behind her and easily found Carl. He was smiling.

Everyone went house-hunting that day. Michonne went with Noah, Tara, and Sasha to see where they would be. That night, Daryl was the last to leave Rick and Michonne's house. Michonne stayed inside with Carl and Judith while Rick walked Daryl out.

"So you're livin' with Michonne," Daryl said.

"Yeah," Rick said.

"That's nice."

Rick looked at him and waited for something more. He dreaded something more. He hadn't expected anyone to yank his chain about the arrangement, although he had felt a little self-conscious announcing to the entire group that he and Michonne were going to live together. He'd felt like they could all tell that he wouldn't have liked it if she'd chosen to live with anyone else.

"What? I just said that's nice," Daryl said, shrugging, and he went down the porch steps. "Good night and sweet dreams," he bid, and he headed next door to his own house.

Rick wished he could say something back, but he went inside instead.


The first night without the rest of the group was hard.

Michonne couldn't sleep, because it was too quiet. She could hear Judith fretting two doors down, but the house was still too quiet. Now this part was like Woodbury. The silence inside of the house was too much, so she listened for noises outside, a cricket, anything. But in Alexandria, outside was quiet, too. But it was better than the silence inside of the house.

Rick couldn't sleep because he wasn't used to the place. He was on a bed, not a prison cot, or a bed thrown together, but an actual bed with a frame, a box, and a mattress. It even had a headboard. And the pillows were nice. Except he couldn't relax enough to sleep. He thought about Carl, and Judith, and Michonne. Michonne was at the end of the hall. He was in the first room, nearest to the stairs, and Carl was in the middle. Michonne was a little too far away.

Carl couldn't sleep, because he wasn't comfortable. His ears were fine-tuned for the shuffling and breaking of leaves. His ears were tuned in for the approach of a walker.

Judith fretted, too. It got so bad that Rick had to get up and take her out of the crib.

Outside of his door, Michonne hovered and listened. Finally, she shook her head at herself and knocked.

Rick shushed Judith as he went to the door. "Who is it?"

"Me," Michonne answered.

Of course. Who else could it have been? Either Michonne or Carl. Rick forced himself to relax, and he opened the door.

"I don't mean to make a situation worse," Michonne apologized, referring to the noise she'd created with her knock, "But I was listening to her, and I wanted to make sure she was alright."

"Yeah, I think she senses the change. She knows something's different," Rick said as he looked at his daughter, although he quietly noted that Michonne had chosen to sleep with her hair down. She always tied it up when they were outside.

"I think she does know," Michonne said, and she raised her knuckles to stroke Judith's ear, then the back of her head, because Judith kept turning her head.

"Shhh," Rick soothed as he cradled her head with his cheek. "It's okay."

"It's okay, Judy," Michonne said.

"You want her?" Rick asked.

Michonne nodded and readily took Judith when Rick offered her.

"Shhh," Michonne soothed as she took up Rick's method of rocking side to side.

Rick didn't always ask her if she wanted to hold Judith. Sometimes he just handed her over. Their relationship had warmed up enough that sometimes he just felt that she wanted to hold Judith, so he gave her to her. Although, he realized now that Michonne has never taken Judith from him, nor has she ever asked to hold her. He wanted her to do both.

The very first time he'd asked her if she wanted to hold Judith, he'd asked just like he'd done just now. You want her? It wasn't until recently, the few days they'd stayed at the church, that he wondered why he phrased the question like that: you want her? instead of you wanna hold her?

He liked to hear her say yes. Bottom line. He liked hearing her affirmative desire to hold his kid. He wasn't going to think about the implication behind you want her? though.

The door next to Rick's opened, and Michonne turned in its direction.

"Is she okay?" Carl asked as he joined them.

"Carl, what are you doing up?" Rick asked, stepping out into the hallway at the same time that Michonne backed up to give him room.

"I can't sleep," Carl said.

"Neither can she," Michonne said. "Neither can I, so join the club."

"Okay, since none of us can sleep, why don't we go downstairs until Judith falls asleep?" Rick suggested.

Michonne moved toward the stairs and then stopped herself. "My sword," she said as she turned to Rick, and she immediately regretted saying it. "Not that I should need it."

"I'll get it," Rick said. He grabbed two guns when he passed by his room, too.

Holding Judith with one arm, Michonne climbed into the round, grey loveseat and sat down.

"Maybe the crib's messing her up the way the bed's messing me up," Carl suggested when Rick joined them.

Rick stopped mid depositing the weapons on the coffee table and sitting down. "I think you're right," he said as he resumed what he was doing. "The bed's messing me up, too."

He had the couch to himself. Carl had taken the chair opposite Michonne.

"What about you?" Carl asked Michonne.

"I'm very sleepy," Michonne said as she rubbed Judith's small calves. "But the house is too quiet. I can't."

"Yeah. The darkness is different, too," Carl said as he picked at the chair's arm. "It's like….weirder. Smaller. More intense. I don't know."

"Makes it hard to keep your eyes closed?" Michonne asked.

"Yeah, pretty much," Carl answered, his eyes on the spot of the chair that he was picking.

"We'll get used to it," Rick said as he stretched out on the couch, his head near Carl, Michonne and Judith in his line of sight. "We just have to give it time."

Michonne smiled at him, silently teasing well listen to you.

Rick smiled at her before looking at the ceiling.

"If I had room to complain, I'd say something about these chairs," Michonne said.

Judith kicked her fussing up a notch, and Michonne shushed her and kissed her shoulder.

"Mine feels comfortable," Carl said.

"It's not comfort; it's aesthetics. Grey furniture?"

"You gonna complain to Jessie?" Rick asked, amused.

"If the situation could be helped," Michonne answered.

"I said we didn't have to take this house. We could've looked around."

"Yes, but then I thought about what looking around meant. It's a beautiful shade of grey. I just would never have grey furniture."

"Our chairs were like a dark brown, right dad?" Carl asked.

"Yeah," Rick said as he turned his head up at Carl, happy that he still remembered. "Lori's uncle bought 'em for us as a wedding present. They lasted pretty good."

"Nice wedding present," Michonne said, impressed. "Dark brown, I would do."

"They were super comfortable," Carl said.

"You should know. You dirtied them often enough," Rick deadpanned, his eyes on Michonne.

Michonne tightened her lips in amusement.

"It was never that bad," Carl told Michonne.

She almost said something about Andre, but she stopped herself. She stopped herself. Maybe if it was just her and Carl.

"I think I'll take the word of the person who had to clean up after you," she said instead.

Rick wanted to say that Lori did most of the cleaning up, but he let it go. Unfortunately, Carl didn't.

"Mom cleaned up after me," he said, his eyes soft with glee. "She made me clean sometimes, but she mostly did it."

"Nah, I would've made you scoop every crumb until you learned," Michonne said.

She was smiling when she turned her attention to Rick, but Rick wanted to say that he was always at work. That was why Lori cleaned up most of Carl's messes. But that was a whole can of worms, one that reminded him of his last conversation with Lori before he got shot and woke up to a world gone to shit. He hadn't paid his family enough attention. He'd paid attention to Carl, yes, he always tried with him, tried not to disappoint him too much, because Lori was always telling him that he was letting the boy down. He paid attention to Lori. He loved Lori. But them as a family: somewhere the unit itself broke down. He somehow always found himself unable to attend family insert the rest.

The one thing the death of civilization had done was reignite the spark between him and Lori. And even that had been tainted.

He didn't much like thinking about where he and Lori would've ended up had the world not gone to shit. Yet the destination came to him anyway.

It was a while before they realized that Judith wasn't fussing anymore. Michonne was the first to notice and by that time Carl's eyes had drooped closed, so she shared the moment with Rick only.

She raised her eyebrows to acknowledge that they'd succeeded. Rick got up and began gently and painstakingly peeling Judith off of her. He paused when Judith frowned, both of them dreading the worst. Rick took the risk and kept going until he turned her to face him and put her on his shoulder.

"I think we can go," he said quietly.

His eyes had gotten very heavy, and Michonne had been close to nodding off herself.

Michonne started to stand, but she looked at Carl. "He doesn't like his room," she told Rick. "He's scared of the dark."

Rick looked at his teenage son and sighed quietly. He needed this place to work out.

"We can sleep down here," Michonne said when he returned his attention to her.

"You can take the couch with Judith," he said.

"No. If Carl's right and the crib bothers her, then she needs to sleep how she's used to: your hand barricading her," she said with a petite smile.

"Yeah, you're right," he said, matching her smile with his own. "We can leave the hallway light on for Carl in the future."

Michonne nodded in agreement.

Rick took the couch with Judith, shielding her between the couch and his body. The position wouldn't allow him to watch Michonne fall asleep, something he'd done a couple of times on the outside.

He raised his head and looked down the couch to where she was. "Good night."

"Good night," Michonne returned.

She settled into the loveseat and watched for the moment when Rick's breathing evened out, something she'd done a couple of times on the outside.

Chapter Text

On their first day as Alexandria’s official constables, Rick picked Michonne up at her door.

 

“Do I look ridiculous?” she asked, shoulders slumped.

 

“No, uh, you look….you look far from ridiculous.”

 

“I feel ridiculous,” she said as she turned to the full length mirror. “I’m going to work. I’m dressed for work, except I won’t be getting paid. I’m dressed to go police a town that I hear is perfect and doesn’t have anything wrong ever.”

 

“Remember what we said about secrets in the closet?” Rick asked.

 

It was then that he realized he could look at her butt. And he did. And her butt was fine . He knew this already, but these were different pants. These were trousers, not the dark jeans she usually wore. These hugged her behind differently. Her behind was small and firm.

 

“I still feel ridiculous. I feel like everyone’s gonna be looking at us and think we’re playing dress-up, because nothing ever happens here.”

 

“Secrets in the closet, Michonne,” he said as he trailed his eyes back up. “Come on, I made breakfast.”

 

“You made toast,” she corrected jokingly as she moved to grab her holster from the bed. “That’s what I smell.”

 

“There are eggs to go with them,” he said, mildly offended.

 

“Oh, excuse me,” Michonne said as she glided past him.

 

Rick felt a strong urge to pull her against him then, just wrap his arm around her and pull her back and maybe ask how she could be so sure that his breakfast was going to suck. Maybe he’d propose a mutually beneficial bet about what would happen if she ended up liking his breakfast.

 

But there was no pulling her back because not only was she beyond his reach at this point, but his heart sped up uncontrollably. Not the good kind of speed like the one he’d experienced when he’d reunited with her, Carl, and Judith outside of Dawn’s hospital. The worrisome kind that has come to feel like an omen, like something bad was going to happen if he thought too much about wanting to build something with her.

 


 

It was pitch black out, and Michonne was sitting on the floor of the porch with her knees drawn up to her chest, holding back more tears, when Rick rushed up the steps and jammed his key into the door handle, frightening her.

 

“Michonne!” he yelled when he burst inside the house. “Hey, Michonne? Michonne!”

 

Fearing the worst, Michonne hurried to her feet and followed him inside. “Rick,” she called out, catching him just as he started up the stairs.

 

“Michonne,” he said, the tension in his voice sucked out by relief.

 

“What’s wrong?” she asked as she ventured further into the living room.

 

Rick was taken aback. His walk from Deanna’s house to….their house had turned into a run and then a sprint when his heart had picked up speed after his imagination went off the rails with possible reasons why Michonne wasn’t walking through Deanna’s front door.

 

He’d imagined the worst.

 

The worst had not involved her face soaked with tears.

 

“Rick, did something happen? Is everyone okay?” she asked, already reaching for the sword in her mind.

 

“Why are you crying?”

 

“Rick, focus .”

 

“I am focusing; nothing’s wrong; everybody’s fine. You weren’t at the party, so I thought something was wrong here. You said you were right behind us.”

 

“Oh. Uh. I didn’t realize time had passed.”

 

“Did something happen here?” Rick asked as he approached her.

 

Michonne shook her head and went to the kitchen. “No. We need to go. Did I miss the introduction? Did Deanna introduce us?”

 

She reached the box of tissues on the counter, took out three, and started drying her eyes and cheeks.

 

“She hasn’t introduced us. Michonne, what’s going on?”

 

“We need to go,” she said, and she set course for the door.

 

“I don’t think we should leave until you tell me what’s wrong with you,” he said as he turned to follow her.

 

“Leave it alone, Rick; let’s just go.”

 

“So we’re gonna have secrets in this house?” he asked as he came to a stop.

 

Michonne spun to face him and the accusation.

 

He looked good. He looked very clean, clean off-white shirt, clean shaven, clean hair slicked back, beautiful clean black pants, he looked very good.

 

She looked good, too. Her dress was grey. She only realized now that she’d chosen a grey dress, after her complaint about the furniture. She’d swept and pinned her locs to the right side of her face. Her grey dress ended just above her knees, and she now oddly wished that it had a nice-sized slit on the side.

 

They looked nice, and they were standing in the nice living room of a nice house, and he’d just asked her a question that made it seem like….like….like they had a past in this house.

 

They were in a nice house with a roof over their heads, and it wasn’t the empty, abandoned, memory and ghost-filled structures she was used to raiding for food.

 

“I got dressed without looking in the mirror,” she said. “I….I put my dress on, and I put my shoes on, and I got dressed, and I did my hair, and I didn’t once look in the mirror. I didn’t see myself, didn’t even cross my mind that I needed to, that habit….was long gone,” she said, her voice trembling. “I don’t know why, because I look in the mirror when I’m dressing for work. And then I walked past the mirror, and….I saw myself. It was quick, but I saw myself, so I had to go back to really see. I’m dressed, Rick. Dressed up , and I’m wearing perfume, and deodorant, and heels . I’m on my way to a party. Down the street. Just down the street. It was….it was the weirdest thing I’ve seen…..in a long time.

 

So. I kept looking at myself. And I realized that I was going to a party,” she said, her lips trembling. “I did this, you know. Before. All the time. I went to parties; I threw parties; I attended cocktail hours and happy hours. Work stuff. I’ve done this before.”

 

She huffed out a breath and went to sit on the couch. “I felt myself….falling, standing there in front of the mirror, so I told you all I’d be right behind you. I needed some time. I took some time, and then I pushed everything back and opened the door and left. I made it out of the house. And then I got stuck on the porch,” she said as her face crumbled. “I got stuck on the porch. I heard someone laugh, and it was so loud . It was so loud, and I got stuck.”

 

She broke down, holding the tissues to her eyes, and Rick closed the distance between them and kneeled in front of her.

 

“It’s gonna be okay,” he promised as he held her arms and used his thumbs to soothe her.

 

“I need it to be,” she cried. She wiped her eyes with the tissues and said, “No, I need it to be. I wanted this, but I didn’t think about the….the settling down part. I didn’t expect this place to look like this,” she said, her voice pitches higher than usual. “There are houses and paved streets and plumbing and a party . There’s a party . It’s like before, and….and I can’t have that. I don’t want that. The world ….has been different ….since Andre died. I was different, and I came back, but, but I don’t think I want the world to come back. We settled before. I settled, but a prison is not a house. A cell is not a bedroom. It was still...abnormal. This...this isn’t abnormal. This is normal. Without Dre.”

 

She choked on a sob and buried her face in tissues.

 

His eyes wet, Rick choked, “Andre….was….your son.”

 

Michonne nodded. “I...I can’t grieve again. That’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. I can’t go through this. It shouldn’t matter what the world looks like. He’s gone, and gone is gone.”

 

Rick gently pulled her down into a hug.

 

“I don’t want to do this again,” she said on his shoulder as her heart slowly ripped.

 

Raucous laughter outside the house barged against her sobs, and she shrunk in Rick’s hands.

 

Rick secured his hold on her, wanting her to lose herself in the contact.

 

He held her, and she held on to him until she stopped crying.

 

“We need to go,” she said as she ended the hug.

 

“Uh, you don’t need to,” Rick said gruffly. He wiped his eyes and continued, “I’ll tell Deanna that something came up---”

 

“No,” she said as she stood. “We have a responsibility. Let’s go.”

 

She was off to the door, her shoulders squared, her steps confident, and Rick was reeling.

 


 

At the party, Michonne didn’t feel like she’d regained complete control over her emotions, but she’d at least calmed down a lot. She was supposed to be beyond forcing a cap on her emotions anyway. That was the personal goal she’d set after she’d reunited with Rick and Carl after the fall of the prison.

 

She and Rick had walked into the party and then, upon seeing that Deanna wasn’t going to formally introduce them to the crowd any time soon, she’d grabbed some hors d’oeuvres, a drink, and gone back out to the porch.

 

She was comforted by the expansive darkness and easily tuned out the gaiety inside the house. She didn’t even notice how easily she did it, because she was so internally focused and trying to work out how she felt about living out a slice of normal life without Andre. Life wasn’t normal without Andre, and she was now realizing that the ongoing apocalypse had allowed her to feel that without actually feeling it.

 

But now she was in uber quiet Alexandria. It seemed like she was going to have nothing but time to feel. And that scared her. The thought that she hadn’t really worked out Andre’s death but had instead buried it down in fighting and surviving scared the hell out of her.

 

She was spiraling so deep into her thoughts that she was relieved when Abraham joined her on the porch.

 

“You slunk off,” he said.

 

“I didn’t slink,” she defended amiably.

 

“I saw you walk in with Rick and stick close to the walls, and then I did a headcount just now, and I didn’t see you. At first I thought you’d left, but then I was like nah.”

 

Michonne nodded slowly, reigning in her smile. “Yeah, uh, it’s kind of overwhelming in there.”

 

“I wouldn’t know.”

 

“I had a feeling. You’re drunk, aren’t you?”

 

“I’d say tipsy. I’d say I feel good . I’d say putting on a collared shirt and being at a cocktail party after we went through a hurricane with fucking walkers on the other side of the barn is fucking weird. ‘Scuse my language.”

 

“Since when do you excuse your language?” she asked, amused.

 

“Believe it or not, my mama tried to raise me to have manners.”

 

“Then you joined the army,” she guessed.

 

“Damn straight. Hell, even before then, if I’m being honest. My uncle was….a right son of a bitch.”

 

“Where was your dad?” Michonne asked, because Alexandria was quiet, and they were wearing nice clothes, and Rick was asking her if they were going to have secrets in….their house. They had normal conversations now. In Alexandria, asking Abraham about his dad was normal, not intrusive.

 

“Army.”

 

“Oh,” she said and left it at that, deducing that Abraham’s dad had no idea that his brother had made it a practice to be a “right son of a bitch” to his son.

 

“Don’t get me wrong: he never laid a hand on me. But goddamn it, he yelled. He yelled; he yelled; that man yelled.”

 

Michonne nodded. “There were no yellers in my house. My dad was a college professor; my mom was a high school principal. Hard workers. Hard workers who wanted me to make it the way they did, keep the legacy going, build the legacy, and ended up giving me a complex about my... being ...as a result. Was I dressed right? Was I speaking right? Did I look right? Was I smart enough? Had I truly made it? The Atlanta art scene gave me that space to relax.”

 

“So did you truly make it?” Abraham asked.

 

“Hell yeah. Not as a teacher, though. I was coming up as the best litigator in my firm. I did civil cases, and I loved it. My dream was to move into criminal law, though. Jesus, that seems like a million years ago.”

 

“The world went to shit. The criminals still survived, though.”

 

Michonne twitched her head in agreement. “We all survived, basically. Every single slice of humanity.”

 

“Pretty poetic.”

 

“How are you really settling in here?” she asked.

 

“I’m not thinking about it. I swear Rosita and I just stare at each other when we’re in the house. Eugene doesn’t dare say a word in my presence. I’ll be glad when I start working. This is….”

 

“Fucking weird?” Michonne supplied.

 

“Yeah. What about you?”

 

Michonne exhaled swiftly. “I was all for settling down, but I never thought about the….people. I never in a million years thought we’d be living among people. Well, I guess it’s the norms. I can deal with people. I can. I can protect them and strategize with them and help them. And kill them. But these people are outright socializing ,” she said conspiratorially. “We had a different norm. There’s a different norm out there ,” she said, pointing beyond the walls. “These people smile, and there’s….there’s nothing behind the eyes. No shadow, you know? The smile isn’t fleeting. There’s no pain. At least not deep, scarring pain. They’re legitimately having a great time in there.”

 

“Cocktail Fridays,” Abraham commented.

 

“Oh God, I don’t wanna do this every Friday. I can’t believe I know it’s Friday.”

 

Abraham smiled. He would’ve known it was Friday even if he wasn’t in Alexandria. He’d picked up a pocket calendar close to when this had all started. But he’d never thought to say anything to the group. He knew the days, and it slipped his mind that the others might not. It wasn’t like they ever wondered out loud.

 

“You just might be required to attend, Constable,” he said, adopting an atrocious English accent to pronounce constable .

 

“Oh God,” Michonne groaned unpleasantly.

 

“Focus on work,” Abraham advised. “It might be mind-numbing because nothing seems to happen here, but focus on it. Plus, you have Rick. I’ll be working with a bunch of bozos I don’t know. Don’t tell ‘em I said that.”

 

“Secret’s safe with me.”

 

“I saw him rush out of here earlier. Rick. He looked calm enough on the outside, but I could tell he was rushing. Plus, Glenn didn’t exactly have a poker face when Rick handed Judith to him.”

 

“Yeah, he was coming after me,” Michonne admitted, hoping Abraham wouldn’t ask for details.

 

“Well, he’s kind of enjoying himself now, I guess. He looked tense when I did the headcount, but Jessie was talking to him. She’ll probably get him to lighten up.”

 

Michonne nodded. She’d gotten up abruptly and left the house earlier, but she knew the conversation wasn’t over between her and Rick.

 

When she and Abraham went back inside, him to get another beer, her to get another beer and another plate of hors d’oeuvres, she saw that Jesse had indeed gotten Rick to lighten up. He wasn’t throwing his head back in laughter, but he was smiling with Judith in his arm.

 

And then Jessie kissed him. She watched Jessie kiss him. She watched Jessie place a full contact, slow kiss on his left cheek. And it was slow . She didn’t know why it was so slow, but she stood there and watched it and after it was done, she was positive that someone else had watched it, too, because it had been that slow. It had lasted so long.

 

She registered the surprise on Rick’s face. And the beginning of a smile. And then she went outside and didn’t think about it.

 


 

Later that night, she thought about it.

 

She couldn’t help it, and she couldn’t stop herself.

 

First of all, she had managed to not at all run into Rick after the party, despite the fact that they were the two tallest people in the house. She hadn’t gone home with Rick, and she hadn’t seen Rick when she’d gotten home. She wasn’t even sure whether he’d beaten her home or not.

 

He must’ve beaten her home, because as long as she stayed up thinking about “it,” she never heard his door or Carl’s door open and close.

 

So she thought about it. The kiss. It had been long, but had it been that long? Maybe it had just been shock on her part. Rick taking a kiss on the cheek. So normal. The normal was shocking, as it has been to her all night, apparently. She was used to Rick taking punches and asphalt and grass and walker blood to the cheek.

 

Not kisses. Unless he was asking Judith for kisses.

 

Next, the surprise on his face. Had it been a good surprise or a bad surprise? Or just a surprise? He wasn’t used to the normal either. He was used to the punches and asphalt, etc.

 

But then there was the beginning of the smile. Had it been the beginning of a smile, though, or had his lips been twitching? Had it been the beginning of an awkward smile? An uncomfortable smile? Had he enjoyed it or not thought anything of it?

 

She didn’t know why she was asking herself these questions. It wasn’t to distract herself from thinking about Andre, she unfortunately knew that much. She didn’t even care about the kiss. But she was fixated on the fact that it had happened. Maybe it was the two beers she’d had.

 

In line with Abraham’s advice, she looked forward to going to work the next day.

 

Chapter Text

The next day, Rick showed up at her door.

"Are you doing okay?" he asked.

"Yeah," she answered. "Better than last night."

She looked at the left cheek that Jessie had kissed, as if she would find the woman's lip print.

"That's good," Rick said.

He was about to leave but then he stopped. "If you need anything, if you ever need to talk, I'm here," he said with a straight face.

It was a polite offer. Polite and impersonal.

"Rick," she called out, following him into the hallway when he left.

"Yeah," he answered, turning to look at her.

There was something behind his eyes. His eyebrows were raised and his forehead was pleated.

"Nothing," she answered.

He nodded and left. "Breakfast is on the table," he called back.

Michonne swallowed and took a step back as she realized what was happening. The conversation between her and Rick was over. If he had anything to say about it, at least.

She was in for it. And she wasn't sure what she could say to defend herself.


"You're mad," she said as they walked side by side down the only street in Alexandria.

"Why would I be?"

"At least you didn't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about."

"Hey, Rick!" called a female voice.

On the sidewalk to their right was Jessie, and she raised the back of her fist high as she headed to wherever she was heading.

Michonne felt Rick move beside her, and when she looked at him, she found the back of his first in the air. Jesse laughed, and when Michonne looked at her again, Jessie waved at her. Michonne returned the wave with a small smile.

"What's that?" she asked Rick of the red mark on the back of his hand.

"A for Alexandria," he said as he laid his hand out in front of them. "Her little boy, Sam, gave it to me last night. Apparently he makes it his mission to stamp every newcomer."

"Glad he didn't catch me. I wasn't in the mood."

"Talking to Abraham didn't do you any good?"

She was surprised by the question. "When did you see me talking to Abraham?"

"I went to check on you at one point, and I saw you laughing with him, so," he shrugged. "I figured you were doing okay."

That had been during her and Abraham's second time on the porch, after retrieving their beers and her hors d'oeuvres.

"Can we talk about why you're mad?" she asked.

"I'm not."

"Please," she scoffed. "I told you I had a son," she said, getting the ball rolling.

"No, you said you had a son," he objected, stopping to face her. "But I don't think you told me. You could've told me any time. You said you had a son. You didn't tell me," he said, and he resumed walking.

"I should've," Michonne said as she resumed walking with him.

"No, you shouldn't've," he said, stopping again. "I have kids, too, Michonne. Andre was precious. I get that. That is the only reason why I wouldn't tell anyone about Carl and Judith if God forbid something happened to them. I get it. He's personal," he said, and he walked away.

She didn't continue on with him this time. She was shamed by the accusation of he was personal, and it was an accusation, because what between them was personal? They'd carved out their own personal. She knew it. She felt it. They had private conversations, things that the others didn't need to hear, and sometimes they didn't even need words. Sometimes they just needed to make constant eye contact in Father Gabriel's broken down church. Sometimes he just needed to look at her while speaking to the entire group inside of a container at Terminus. Sometimes she just needed to catch his eye during a long trek on the road.

But she'd kept him shut out where Andre was concerned. And last night, he'd learned of that fact.


In the late afternoon, Michonne was wistfully staring out of her bedroom window while Judith babbled in her arms when Rick knocked on the open door.

"Hey," she greeted quietly.

"Hey. I was thinking about making sloppy joes tonight. Well, right now, actually."

"That's fine. I've never had sloppy joes."

Rick nodded. His eyes fell to Judith, and he asked, "You want me to take her?"

"No," Michonne said with a frown, openly offended.

"It was a question," he said, and he left.

"No, it wasn't," she disagreed firmly.

It was one thing for him to be mad and hurt by what she'd withheld. It was another completely inappropriate thing for him to question her spending time with Judith.

She gave Judith a the nerve look and then followed after Rick.

She stopped by his room to get the baby rattle he'd once picked up on a run (Judith's third rattle, because they kept having to pick up and leave).

At the small, round dining table off the side of the kitchen, she let Judith bang the rattle on the wood and kissed and nuzzled her head while Rick prepared the beef for sauteing.

"We told Carl dinner would be at six every day," she reminded him while focusing on Judith.

"I know," he answered.

"It's not like we have a phone to call him and tell him to come home early," she said.

"I know. This is just something light...ish. We'll probably get hungry again later. He'll probably get hungry again later, and we can have the leftovers I brought from the party."

Michonne shifted away from the table so she could see him, and she found a very attractive sight.

There were three things that never failed to get to her where Rick was concerned: the first, number one, was Rick loving on Judith. As a matter of fact, he could just be holding the baby while looking at something or someone else, and she would be reeled in. The first time she'd had a sexual thought about him, he'd been giving Judith kisses at the prison. The second thing, God help her, was Rick fighting, with a walker, with a person, it didn't matter. The third was Rick with a weapon. Her weapon of choice for him was a gun, didn't matter the size, but she could appreciate a knife, too. Or a machete. She's never questioned her appreciation of the Rick-Weapon combo. She took her taste in stride and figured that it simply meant that she would've been attracted to Rick the Sheriff before the world flipped upside down. There was an art to the way Rick held a weapon.

Now, she discovered a fourth thing that got to her where Rick was concerned.

Rick dropped the beef into the big skillet and then washed his hands. He picked up the spatula and commenced pushing the meat around the skillet to brown it.

And he looked very attractive doing it. Rick in the kitchen: thing number four. She would take this image to bed with her tonight. They've been cooking dinner together, so she hasn't had time to even think about observing him. Plus, Carl was always present and helping.

"It's not like I didn't know," Rick said, surprising her. "The way you helped me out when….The way you understood: it's not like I didn't know," he continued, his eyes on the sizzling beef as he moved it around. "It's not like I didn't guess. Chances were good you weren't just a very good therapist before. I mean I'm okay, too? And the way you were when I met you? And I see you with Carl. I put two and two together. It wasn't the dead boyfriend. You were a mother, maybe even to more than one child. Sometimes I doubted it, because you never said anything, and I figured if there was ever an opportunity to say anything, it'd probably be when you met the guy who was losing it the way you did. But you never said anything."

"Rick, I should've said something," she said as she stood from the table with Judith.

"I told you-"

"And it's crap. You are mad, and you have every right to be."

"What right?" he asked, dropping the spatula and turning from the skillet. "The right to what, your pain? Your memories? I don't have a right. And I know that. I-I see that now. I get it, Michonne. I'm not lying when I say I do."

"I knew you wanted to ask," she admitted. "I could see it in your face. I saw it in how you hesitated. But very soon, I realized that you wouldn't. You were too polite, too considerate. You'd see it as prying. I took advantage of that."

Rick nodded stiffly, jutting his lips out. "Glad I could help." He turned back to the skillet and spatula.

"I don't know why I never spoke about it," she continued, stepping closer to him. "I mean that."

Michonne shifted Judith to her left arm and laid her right hand in the crook of Rick's elbow. "Look at me when I'm talking to you. Rick."

Rick turned to her again.

"I don't know why I never said anything. I don't talk about Andre; I never have. I didn't tell Andrea. Well, I couldn't. I was just getting used to seeing another person again. I told Carl."

Rick nodded, though his neck got stiffer from the brand new information. "At least you spoke to someone," he said, and he turned to the skillet.

"Stop."

He faced her again.

"Carl was safe. I don't know why. It just felt-it just felt safe to tell him, and he understood that he couldn't tell anyone. The closest I've come to telling anyone other than him about Andre was the first night here, in the living room, with just the four of us. And I stopped myself. I can't tell you why. But I should have told you and don't hit me with the bullshit about how I didn't have to."

"But you didn't," Rick said calmly. "The only problem here is that I was assumin' things that I shouldn't have been, and you know what they say about people who do that."

His blues penetrated her browns, and they exuded so much disappointment that her heart tore.

"Rick," she whispered.

"I thought that-I thought we were in this together. Last night, I realized that I'm in it, and you're standing off to the side. You're observin'. You really are just this magnanimous woman."

"Rick," she plead.

"All that assumin' I was doin': I had no business doin' it," he said, and he turned back to the skillet.

She had shut him out, and now he was determined to keep himself out. Michonne wanted to say something, but she was cut off by a knock at the door.

She and Rick became very alert. Carl knocked on the window, not the door, and Rick knew it wasn't Daryl, because the knock didn't sound like Daryl. He's never had a front door for Daryl to knock on prior to this, but he imagined that Daryl knocked with two knuckles of an opened hand. Whoever was at the door sounded like they were knocking with the two knuckles of a forward-facing fist.

They left the kitchen and went to the door, and Michonne looked back at the katana when she passed it.

When they were almost to the door, Rick widened his steps and got in front of Michonne and Judith. He opened the door.

"Hi," Jessie greeted, a troubled look on her expressive face, although she paused a hair when Michonne stepped from behind Rick. Michonne noticed.

"Jessie. How you doin'?" Rick asked.

"Um. Not that great. I'm sorry to disturb you," she said with another quick look at Michonne. "Something's happened at my house. Well, something's happened in my garage, to be more accurate. It's kind of silly, but I'm actually disturbed by it, which in itself is silly."

"What happened?" Michonne asked.

"I've been putting together this owl sculpture. It's this fun little activity I've been doing with my boys. The oldest is barely interested in it, but….I went to the garage twenty minutes ago, and I found it smashed to bits. I didn't think anything of it; I tried not to, but I've questioned the boys, and they deny it was them. Honestly, I don't know why I came to you, the both of you," she said, looking again at Michonne. "But if you could just come over and look at it. I don't know what you'd find. Nothing like that's ever happened here. I just feel-"

"It's fine. I'll come look at it," Rick said.

"Are you sure, because it can wait until tomorrow," she said.

"It's fine. Can you keep an eye on the beef for me?" he asked Michonne. "Just throw in the ketchup and sugar when it's brown all over, and then give it a little bit more time."

"I got it," she nodded.

"I'll come back with Carl," he said.

Rick stepped out with Jessie, and Michonne said to the woman, "I hope everything's okay."

Jessie looked back at her and nodded, her lips twitching with a fragile smile.

Michonne closed the door behind them and thought that if Jessie was this flustered over a broken owl sculpture, then this community was in a lot more trouble than she and the group thought.

"Haven't gotten looks like that since paying bills was still a thing, baby," she said to Judith on their way back to the kitchen. Far be it for her to cast aspersions on a married woman, but she could think of no other reason why Jessie would look at her like that other than she'd hoped to speak to Rick alone.


"I didn't realize you and Michonne were living together," Jessie said after Rick looked over the damages and asked her some questions.

"We are," Rick answered, squatting in front of the broken pieces of metal, although he was only half thinking about the damage now. "It makes sense."

He figured that he should probably stop thinking along those lines. That kind of thought was part of the assuming.

"Are you okay, Rick?" Jessie asked. "Something tells me my owl isn't the only thing on your mind right now."

"I'm fine," he said as he stood.

When she gave him a look that said she wasn't convinced, he said, "I should be. I will be."

"You can talk to me, you know. It's part of the Alexandria Safe Zone package."

Rick smiled, and then he swallowed hard. "It's Michonne," he said, her name half clogging his throat.

He'd let his mind run away and make up things, and now he needed to regroup, and he needed to do it fast since they were going to keep living together. He knew that Michonne didn't owe him anything, and he didn't want her to feel like she owed him anything just because he'd gone and…..

Still, he hadn't thought of it as a matter of debt. He'd thought they were close. He'd thought they understood each other. He'd thought that they'd built a connection. He'd thought the feeling was mutual. God help him, he'd thought they had something special.

The confirmation that she'd kept her child from him was a punch to the gut. It took apart everything he felt about her and that he'd thought she felt about him. He trusted her with his kids. In his mind, after him, she was the best thing they had.

If she had kept Andre from him, how much could she really feel for his kids? Did she see spending time with Carl and Judith as doing him a favor? The thought cut him badly.

And even though it was incredibly ill-advised, he'd had designs on her in terms of this place. He'd had designs on her outside of the walls, too, but they could never find much time alone, and even if they'd found the time, things had been too up in the air to take much time without the others getting worried. Sasha and Bob could go off. Maggie and Glenn could go off. He and Michonne couldn't have and definitely not more than once without someone guessing.

But here, it was quiet. Here, she was happy, or at least settled. Here, she had gotten what she'd wanted. So if the group could make this work, if this worked out, then, then he and she could explore something. Maybe they could go from silently building something to actually opening their mouths.

She'd opened her mouth last night, alright.

He shook his head and scrubbed his face. "I gotta go," he said to Jessie. "Uh, can we get Carl?"

Jessie nodded and led Rick inside the house. She'd seen something in Rick. She still did. He had an aura, a presence, and she'd been comforted by it the moment she'd laid eyes on him that first day. He hadn't looked fluffy by any means. The exact opposite, actually. He'd looked like a protector, a strong wall, safety. Talking to him that first day had cemented it for her.

On the worst nights, she would think that if only she had someone, a partner, someone to lean on, she could leave Pete, even in this enclosed community. A friend, anything. In the short time she's known him, she's seen that someone in Rick. He'd been low on words and sounded very suspicious during their first conversation when she'd cut his hair. She's been daydreaming that they can help each other. She can make him comfortable in Alexandria and let go of what he's seen on the outside. He can free her from Pete and maybe, just maybe, give her the life she wanted, the one she deserved.

He hadn't elaborated on what was bothering him beyond "It's Michonne," but his face, the way he was holding himself: they suggested some things that she wasn't willing to hear.

If things with Rick were slipping away, then she really, really hoped the dread in her gut was for nothing. She really hoped that Pete hadn't flown into a rage because of some small oversight on her part and broken the sculpture.


"I can't believe you've never had sloppy joe," Carl said to Michonne at the dinner table.

Michonne smiled. It didn't quite reach her eyes, but she smiled. "I just never had the pleasure," she said after she swallowed her bite.

"So what do you think?" Carl asked.

"Messy."

"It's supposed to be," Carl said, dropping his head forward.

"It goes better with hamburger buns," Rick said quietly, his eyes on the delicacy in his hand. "Sliced bread is too thin, but that's all we have."

"It's tasty," Michonne said to Carl. "I'll be having seconds."

"Yeah, dad's really good at it," Carl said proudly.

That was the first table conversation they'd had, Judith's babbling notwithstanding, and they'd been eating for ten minutes. And aside from Judith's babbling, silence reigned after Carl's compliment. And he noticed.

"Is something wrong?" he asked.

"No," Michonne answered, her voice light as if she didn't know why Carl was asking.

Carl wasn't fooled.

Rick looked at him and chewed instead of answering.

Carl felt like the food instantly went bad in his stomach.

He didn't completely understand the reason for his apprehension. He didn't have enough details, but something was wrong, and something being wrong between his dad and Michonne didn't sit well with him. And he did instantly assume that the something wrong had to do with the two of them and not some horrible tragedy that had struck their extended family.

He wanted to say something, maybe tell them that he knew they were lying, but he didn't know where that would get him. He decided to approach them when they were apart. He focused on his food and let it go for now.

But he did consider one thing: something being wrong between his dad and Michonne could be a good thing. It meant that something was happening. And he wanted something to happen.

Chapter Text

Carl decided to speak to his dad early the next morning.

The routine was that Rick prepared Judith for the day, and then he brought her down to Carl in the kitchen. The rule was that Carl would babysit Judith at home three days a week while Rick and Michonne went to work. It was only when one or both of them returned home that he could go hang out with the boys and Enid. Two days a week, he was allowed to babysit Judith while hanging out with his friends.

Carl decided to speak to his dad and not Michonne because, well, because he'd always wanted his dad to make the first move. He's also been watching his dad for months now to gauge whether or not he was still heartbroken over his mother. He loved his mom, and he missed her, and he wished things had worked out differently and she'd had a healthy delivery, but he also didn't want his dad to miss an opportunity with Michonne.

There weren't a lot of single guys in the group. It was only Daryl and his dad, really. Father Gabriel didn't count. What if Daryl started to like Michonne, and he made a move, and she liked him back? Or what if they accepted some new guy into the group and Michonne liked him?

He loved Michonne, and at his most insecure moments, he acknowledged the fact that she didn't have to stay close to his family forever. He wanted his father to give her a reason to stay close to them and never consider getting close to anyone else.

So that morning, he knocked on his father's open door.

"Hey," Rick greeted as he looped his belt. "She's all set."

Judith was sitting in the middle of the bed and examining her rattle. Hearing her father speak to someone, she looked up and rejoiced when she saw Carl. She dropped the rattle and started crawling toward him.

Carl smiled at his sister and closed the door. He went to stand at the side of the bed so that he could block Judith from going over it.

"Everything okay?" Rick asked, wondering why he'd closed the door.

"That's actually what I want to ask you. I know you weren't into talking about it yesterday, but I wanted to make sure….I wanted to make sure everything was okay between you and Michonne."

"Well, I think you hit the nail on the head: it's between me and Michonne."

"Dad. I get that, okay? But I just….I wanna make sure that it's not something….that it's not something that's gonna get her to move out of here."

Rick softened at his son's worry. "She's not going anywhere," he assured him. And then he realized that he wasn't so sure himself.

Carl picked up on his father's body language. "Dad, did you do something?" he asked, sighing. "Did you say something?"

"Carl, alright, I get your worry," Rick said as he sat at the foot of the bed, "But this really is between me and Michonne."

Carl dropped his shoulders and turned to Judith, who was pulling on his flannel shirt and protesting about not getting picked up.

Rick sighed and decided to give Carl something, if only to curb anything he might come up with on his own. "She told me about Andre."

Carl looked at his dad. "Oh. Well, that's a good thing."

"Not when we've known each other as long as we have. Not when we've known each other as well as we have."

"Dad, I'm sure she didn't mean-"

"I don't need you giving me her reasons, and this is where we get back to this being between me and Michonne."

Carl turned to his sister again, his face tense.

"We'll figure it out," Rick said. "She's not moving out."

"That's not something you can stop," Carl said.

"Yes, it is," Rick countered, more confident than before.

Carl picked his sister up. "Just don't say anything that could make her think it'd be better if she lived with someone else, okay?" Carl mumbled, and he headed for the door.

When he opened the door, Rick called him back.

"Carl."

Carl turned to him, his face long.

"Leave her alone. I don't want you talking to her about this or asking questions. I don't need a go-between. You got it?"

"Yeah."

Rick watched him go. He'd been slapped in the face with confirmation that Michonne didn't feel as close to him as he felt to her, and his son was casting him as the bad guy who might mess everything up.

He shook his head and finished getting dressed.

When he was done, a newcomer appeared at his door.

"Good morning," Michonne greeted.

"Morning," he answered, a fresh wave of sadness washing over him when he noted how beautiful she looked this particular morning.

Michonne, meanwhile, was mentally shaking her head. He was being short even with a morning greeting. He's been saying good morning to her every day in this house. Actually, he's been saying good morning to her since the prison. This was the first time he'd ever hit her with a morning.

Nevertheless, she continued. "I thought I'd change it up this morning and pick you up for breakfast."

"You made breakfast?"

"Omelets. Not as complicated as I usually like; we only have tomato, but I know they'll taste good," she enticed with a smile.

"I'm sure. Thank you," Rick answered. "Well, I'm all set."

"Well, I, uh," she tried, stepping inside of the room and smoothing her hands up her trousers. "I also wanted to tell you that you were right about Andre. He was precious. He was the most precious thing I ever made. He was the part of me that was utterly and completely perfect. You would've loved him."

"I would have," Rick said. "I would've loved him."

Michonne's belly trembled from his words, and she wondered if she could really do this. She wondered if she could finally talk about Andre with him.

"Rick, I…." Emotional, she closed her eyes and lowered her head to compose herself.

"Michonne, we don't have to do this," Rick said softly as he lessened the distance between them.

"No, we should," she said equally as soft, opening her eyes.

"I'm not pushing you. Whenever you're ready."

She smiled and looked up. "I think that's it. I wasn't ready. Rick, I've been grieving since he died. I've made progress. I've let you in; I've let Carl in, Judith, the others. Especially Carl and Judith. But I haven't let Andre go. I haven't….I haven't stopped screaming and crying over his body. Or what was left of it. I haven't moved on. That's why I got stuck the other night. I haven't given myself….permission to move on, to smile without that little, without that little shadow in my heart. It just didn't seem fair to Andre, to his life, to my love for him," she said, tearing up.

Rick stepped closer and gently cupped her cheek.

Michonne covered his hand with her own. "Um. I realize now, just now, that that's what talking to you would mean. Telling you about Andre, about who he was, and about who he was becoming, would be me….moving on. Laying him to rest instead of carrying him with me."

"If you're not ready for that," Rick began, but he was cut off by Michonne's vigorous nodding.

"I am," she said, taking Rick's hand off her cheek but not letting it go. "I am. I'm ready. I'm-I'm ready to remember who Andre was instead of how I lost him."

"You're never gonna forget him," Rick said, his own eyes gleaming with unshed tears. "You loved him too much for that to happen."

Michonne nodded, trying to hold herself together. "I'm ready to tell you about, about the most precious person in my heart."

Rick squeezed her hand and secured her in a hug. He cradled her head against his shoulder and pressed his cheek into the back of her head. Michonne circled his waist with her arms, and he held her until she was ready to go downstairs.

Before he released her, he pressed a light kiss into her hair.


Nothing happened in Alexandria, but Michonne was confident that it was a no-no for both constables to step outside of the community at the same time unless there was an emergency.

She wanted to be outside; it just seemed more appropriate for the topic, but she resolved to take Rick to the wall itself instead, and they strode along, her closest to the wall, closest to the outside, and Rick at her side.

"He was three," she said as they strolled. "He was three and just this side of a handful. He had my oval face and was the cutest thing you would ever see. Friendly, incredibly energetic. I was starting to dream about him becoming a track star, because he ran everywhere," she said with a proud smile.

Rick smiled as he listened, building Andre in his memories from Michonne's words alone.

"It was definitely a shock to my parents when I got pregnant by my boyfriend instead of my husband. It just wasn't proper, and how was I going to be a single mother and have a career?" she explained when Rick looked at her.

"You had a boyfriend," Rick pointed out.

"Ah, but to my parents, getting pregnant by a boyfriend was akin to single motherhood, because he could just leave. They loved Mike, but they loved tradition more."

"Oh," Rick said.

"Yeah," she chuckled. "But Mike was great with Andre. He did the best he could."

"What does that mean?" Rick asked.

She shrugged. "I always got the feeling that he was a little standoff-ish, kind of like he couldn't believe Andre was here? We got pregnant by accident, but keeping the baby was a no-brainer for both of us. I don't know; sometimes I'd catch him playing with or looking at Andre, and there was this halfway distant look in his eyes like he was going over how he ended up with a son. I don't think it helped that Terry, his best friend, wouldn't stop saying I can't believe you have a kid. Andre was three, and he was still saying that shit. But Mike did love Andre," she said with a straight face.

"I honestly can't tell you why he did it," she said, forgetting for a second that she hadn't told Rick why Andre died. "I feel like calling it irresponsible is a disservice to him. I don't know the person who let my baby die. I don't know the person who wasn't watching him like a hawk. The change broke him. He wasn't cut out for it. He wanted to stick to what he knew; he couldn't make a decision; he was concerned with our safety but couldn't think of a plan as to how to ensure it. He was very afraid. It was him, me, Andre, and Terry."

She paused her stroll and turned to Rick. "I took Andre on runs with me. Always."

Rick showed his surprise.

"I just couldn't leave him. It was never an option. Mike and I argued about it every single time. He argued that I was putting him in danger. What's funny is that the first couple of times I went, I only had a kitchen knife. The first walker I ever fought, I took down with a kitchen knife. Andre knew what to do. I coached him to hide. But can you imagine? Taking a toddler foraging? But I couldn't leave him. And then one day, I did. I was leaving him with his father; we were in this as a family," she shrugged helplessly.

"Rick, my stomach was in knots the whole time. The farther I got from camp, the more I thought I was going to be sick. I chalked it up to anxiety. Separation anxiety. By that time the phones were out, so there was no checking in. I did what I had to do, and I went back, and he was there, tired and falling asleep, so I thought, yeah: anxiety. Just a mother's fear."

Michonne licked her lips and cast her eyes to the side. Taking a steadying breath, she continued. "I left him a second time. Same feeling. Same horrible feeling. The change broke Mike. He devolved, Rick. We both smoked weed on occasion, before the change happened, but I pretty much stopped after I got pregnant and Andre came along. He continued to do it on rare occasions, which I didn't mind. After the change, it got to the point where he couldn't sleep unless he got high. I spoke to him about it, argued with him over it. I wanted him to talk to me, but he had a partner in crime in Terry. I left Andre with him. And Andre loved to run.

The camp got overrun. Walkers. I heard them on the way back and to this day I have never ran faster. I burned that pavement."

She quieted as the afternoon played over in her mind.

"My gut told me to keep taking him with me. My instincts," she said inaudibly. "He didn't stand a chance. They tore into him."

Rick exhaled, the visual making his stomach turn, and he rubbed Michonne's arms.

"My baby," Michonne said, her voice crumbling. "He didn't protect my baby. He was still alive, but Andre was gone. Dead. Mike was bitten, but we didn't know what that meant at the time. Terry was fine. They were both high. I….cried over Andre. I screamed. I screamed 'til my throat hurt. I was angry, and I wanted answers, and he kept saying we needed to move; he kept saying he needed help, and we need to stitch him up. I don't think he fully got that our son was dead. He was crying, but I don't think it had hit him.

My baby. My peanut. I should've taken him with me.

Terry kept talking. He was panicking, and apologizing, and panicking, and trying to help Mike. I killed him. Ran him through with the sword. I figured we didn't need him. And I wanted him to shut the fuck up. Mike and I could make it. Mike freaked out. Maybe he was a little less high when Terry died than when Andre did, but he freaked out.

It was white noise, and I went back to my son. Mike succumbed to his injuries. I heard him asking for help, but it was white noise. I remember thinking at one point that we'd talk about it later. He and I could talk after I finished looking at Andre.

And then they turned. That was when I learned. The dead turn. Mike almost got me. Mike. Not only had he let my son die, but he was attacking me. Trying to kill me, trying to eat me. And Andre was right there. Still on the ground.

I don't know why I didn't go for the kill. I wrestled them and tied them up. And I stayed with them. And with Andre. For days. Maybe a week. Maybe two. I didn't eat. I didn't move except to do what I have to. I just stayed there. And I was gonna stay there.

Then one day Terry got loose and broke free. I didn't cut his arm off because I knew it would be safer for me. I did it because I wanted to hurt him. I wanted him to suffer. I took one arm from Mike, too, and then I started talking to him. Like he could hear me. I went on one run. Found some chains. Came back, and they were still there.

I didn't know where I was going. But I tied them up and we set off. I didn't look back at Andre. I didn't know where I was going, but my plan was to cut Mike and Terry down piece by piece. Not completely, though. I didn't want them to leave me. I didn't want to be alone. They were the only ones besides me who knew Andre. I didn't know they were protection until one early afternoon. I tried not to sleep. I didn't want it. I didn't want to dream. But I barely ate and my body was on the brink. I stopped and slept. I don't know for how long. I woke up in the middle of a herd."

Rick was horrified, his hands frozen on Michonne's arms. He couldn't imagine how she'd scraped herself up from that to bring formula to the prison. He couldn't imagine how she'd managed to give a damn about Andrea. He knew he wouldn't have been able to. He needed look no further than how he's been feeling about strangers lately. But she'd done it by herself. She had, by herself, decided to take pity on a complete stranger.

"I'm sorry," he said, his voice trembling as he squeezed her arms.

Michonne nodded. "I don't know how I'm here," she said, tearing up. "I don't know how I'm able to feel again. I was supposed to be lost, Rick. Done. My life was over. I was just this...mangled...thing….wandering in the world. But I'm here. Trying for a new life."

Rick wrapped his arms around her and held her.

"They killed my baby," she cried. "He was his father, and he didn't protect him, and I didn't understand. I don't understand."

This marked the third time she cried over Andre, the first being when she'd found him, the second when she'd held Judith for the first time, and now. She'd suffered immeasurably after she'd left the camp, but she had barricaded her tears.

She cried now. She'd faced a loss and an incredible betrayal in the same day.

"I don't know how you did it, Michonne," Rick said.

"I found myself somehow….caring about another person when I met Andrea. I left her behind at first, but then….I went back. And then I met you, and it helped to see you grieve Lori," she said, sniffing on his shoulder. She straightened and wiped her eyes. "It was cathartic to watch you go through it. It forced me to come out and pay attention. It forced me to realize that….I was okay enough to be able to see it in someone else. And for the longest time, I did not want to be okay, Rick. I never wanted to be okay again. But I watched you and realized I wasn't as dead as I thought."

"You aren't dead," Rick said. "And you're never gonna forget him. But it's okay to move on. It's okay to let it happen. You taught me that. You're not wandering anymore."

Michonne nodded and leaned into Rick when he pulled her in.

"You're not wandering anymore," he said.

Chapter Text

At the end of their shift, Rick split from Michonne. He told her to go on home, and he'd meet up with her later.

He watched her go off and then went straight to the community pantry.

Jessie was surprised to see him, pleasantly so. "Hi," she greeted. It wavered when she noticed his demeanor, however.

"Hi," Rick greeted with a small smile. "I forgot you said you work here."

"Yeah, I'm finishing up my shift, actually. Carol will be here any minute."

"Okay, great."

"So, welcome to my domain. What do you need?"

"Do you have chocolate candy? If not, I'll take candy of any kind."

"I do believe we have some chocolate bars," Jessie said as she moved toward one of the rectangular tupperware containers on the counter. "Got a sweet tooth, huh? I don't, normally, but I did during both of my pregnancies."

"They're not for me, actually," Rick said. "I don't really have a sweet tooth."

"Then we're in the same boat," Jessie said. She opened the container. "Definitely have chocolate bars. How many do you want?"

"Three. Three should be good. Or maybe I should stick with two. I'll take three. If you have any BigCats, I'll take those," he said, coming closer to Jessie.

"BigCats right here," Jessie announced as she found three of the candy bars in the pile. "We usually discourage people from taking three of anything, but I'll make an exception," she said, smiling as she handed Rick the bars.

"Thanks."

Jessie got her clipboard and handed it to Rick. "Just date here, print here, sign here, write what and how many."

Deanna had told Rick about the system when she'd explained town operations to him and Michonne on their first day as constables, so he easily followed Jessie's instruction.

"If Deanna talks to you about it at the end of the month when she goes over the log, just tell her I let it slide," Jessie said. "I'll do the same if she asks me."

"Thanks," Rick said as he returned the clipboard.

"Tell Carl I said enjoy," she said as she placed the bars in his hand.

"They're not for Carl."

"Oh," she said. This oh was decidedly more disappointed than the first. There weren't any other kids in his group, except for Noah, but she'd seen Noah go off on a run with Glenn earlier. "They're for Michonne," she concluded.

"Yeah, she loves these things," Rick said fondly.

Jessie's composure faltered, though she tried not to read too much into his smile or the warmth in his voice. "It's sweet of you to give them to her."

Rick smiled, feeling just a little awkward from the compliment. He never knew how to react to compliments. "So, I don't suppose one of your boys came forward about the statue," he said.

"No, I don't think they did it," she said, shaking her head. And Pete didn't do it either, based on his lack of caring when she'd told him about it.

"We'll figure it out," Rick said, even though he hasn't told Michonne about the damage yet. Not that there was much to tell.

"So, we haven't gotten a chance to really talk since the party. I've been wondering what you thought of it," she said, remembering the kiss she'd given him. Then, because she wasn't sure she wanted him to acknowledge it, she added, "Will I be seeing you at the next one?"

"Uh, I really," Rick began slowly, cringing, and Jessie cringed, too, before she chuckled.

"Not a party guy," she said. "I could've guessed."

"It's not that, though I'm...kind of not, I guess. It's just strange. Deanna told me she throws these get-togethers from time to time to keep morale up, but I don't know."

"It helps," Jessie nodded. "Trust me. You'll come to treasure them."

"Most of these people don't go beyond the wall, so what morale do they need keeping up?"

"We're still affected, Rick. For one thing, people still die. Those who work outside the wall? We lose people. Life is still different. None of us were living behind a wall before. A community gate, maybe, but not a wall."

Rick nodded, though he still found the purpose of the parties ridiculous. Hardly anyone in Alexandria did anything that merited a party to "escape."

"I hope I'll see you at the next one," Jessie said. "And the one after that. If not, then we can throw get-togethers between our houses. You know, keep it small."

Rick didn't know what to say. He literally had no response. He was too busy trying to fortify his own home to entertain the idea of mingling with someone else's.

"Just something to think about," Jessie said pleasantly.

"Yeah. And thanks. Thanks for these, and thanks for….being so welcoming."

"It's my pleasure," she said quietly.

Rick's right eyebrow ticked when he recognized the tone in her voice. At least he thought he recognized it. And the look in her eyes.

"I should get going," he said, already turning his body toward the door.

"Wait, um." She chuckled. She was so unused to having a normal conversation with someone. Her conversations with the other Alexandrians always reeked of lies, and Pete was always at the center of them. They liked Pete. They respected Pete. They were grateful for Pete. Pete was an asshole, and everything they thought about him was a lie. Deanna was the only one she suspected knew about the real Pete. She also suspected that Deanna wasn't going to do anything that could cost her the services of the community's only doctor, which made living in Alexandria just sad for her, despite her trying to sell it to Rick.

But Rick was different. He didn't mention Pete when they spoke, didn't ask about him. And she had a feeling he wouldn't accept the real Pete. Not at all. And he was going to breathe new life into Alexandria. He'd already done so, for her slice of it.

For lack of anything else to say, she said, "Tell Michonne I said enjoy." And then kicked herself for bringing back a topic she wasn't even sure of.

"I will," Rick said, still ready to go.

"So, I guess she's feeling better? You know, after what seemed to be wrong yesterday?"

"Yeah, she-she is," he answered hesitantly. He didn't much want to talk to Jessie about Michonne, especially not after the heart-wrenching conversation he and Michonne had earlier. "I should get going," he said.

"If you wait a couple of minutes, we can walk together," Jessie suggested.

Rick almost sighed. He did not want to wait. He wanted to get back to Michonne, see how she was doing, enjoy the subtle delight on her face when he surprised her with the candy, hug her some more, maybe.

But leaving Jessie would be rude, especially when she's been nothing but nice to him. So he nodded and stayed.

"I really hope you're not still hesitating about this place, Rick," Jessie said quietly.

Rick sighed. "I know everyone here thinks Deanna's evaluating us, but we're evaluating y'all, too. Deanna's boy Aiden said she shouldn't have let us in. We just might decide we don't wanna be here," he said, tilting his head.

"I guess it's hard for me to imagine anybody walking away from safety."

Rick contemplated her sincere puzzlement. He liked Jessie. She was nice. And while she was the perfect person to sell Alexandria to newcomers like him, talking to her always had a….depressive bent to it. She was clueless about what was outside. When she'd been talking to him at the party, he'd had to stop himself from imagining a countdown clock over her head.

But there was also a part of him that didn't want to open her eyes to reality, because he was certain that she wouldn't be able to handle it. Because it wasn't a matter of her knowing. She was doomed either way.

And that was depressing. She was too naive to be doomed.

"The wall isn't safety, Jessie," he said. "It isn't, and you need to stop thinking it is."

Jessie sobered, but Rick didn't apologize or try to soften it.

"I'm not...naive," she said, as if she'd read his mind earlier. "I've never fired a gun or swung a sword, but I am absolutely clear on the fact that walls don't necessarily mean safety or peace of mind."

Rick nodded, positive she still didn't get it.

Jessie saw that he still thought her as naive, too. "Okay, let's just forget it and move on to something else," she said, feeling a little agitated as she went to put the clipboard back in its place.

Rick wanted to ask if he'd upset her, but then she would lie, and then an apology would be expected, and he didn't feel like apologizing. He was talking about reality, reality that this town desperately needed.

They didn't move on to anything else after that. The conversation was dead, and Rick certainly wasn't trying to come up with a topic, because he wanted to leave. He counted the minutes until Carol arrived.

When he finally stepped outside with Jessie, the universe reinforced his point, though the point seemed to be aimed at him and not his criminally weak neighbors. Glenn rolled through the gate with horrible news.

So he went home and sat Michonne down to tell her of Noah's death and Tara's injury. He did present her the small ration of chocolate candy bars, but by that point they seemed completely insignificant. She smiled and squeezed his hand and said thank you, but they both knew his gesture had been swallowed by yet another tragedy.


Michonne struggled to fall asleep that night, like she'd done every night since arriving to Alexandria. She thought about Noah and Tara, about Nicholas' lies, and about the fact that even though she and Rick believed Glenn, Deanna had final say.

But when her eyes finally closed for the day, she dreamed about Andre. He was alive on the floor of the camp, alive and whole, and, rather than screaming in sheer horror, she ran to him with a big smile, and he sat up and stretched his arms toward her. She picked him up and nuzzled his face. She decided that she was taking him with her on her next run. She knew she was going to meet Rick there.

Chapter Text

The next afternoon, Michonne went to visit Tara, and then she came home and lied down. She was in a dour mood, wondering if they could really make Alexandria work.

She'd told Rick about Andre. Finally. She had felt better by the end of their shift and by the time she'd gone home. Especially since Rick had stayed close to her the whole day, his hand occasionally brushing against hers. And the few times they'd had to be outside of reaching distance, his eyes had constantly found hers to see how she was doing. It had been comforting and had kept her on the verge of smiling the whole day, something she would've never pictured on the heels of talking about her baby boy.

She had even been looking forward to Rick coming home, because she knew he was going to continue to hover close to her.

And then he had come home. And her good feeling had come to an abrupt end the moment she'd seen his face.

None of them were supposed to die here, not when there was a paved street and furnished houses lined up in rows. They weren't supposed to be on guard here, sleeping under comforters but tense as if they were still outside. What was the point if that was the case? Why not just be outside?

She'd led them here for safety, and they were still dying.

Her dark thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the front door. When she trudged downstairs, she found Rosita, who brought more possibly bad news, this time having to do with Sasha.

She hurried back up the stairs, grabbed her gun and jacket, and off they went.

And in the woods, after having tortured herself with thoughts of how Noah had died outside of the wall, she ran into Carl.

She had been about to follow after Rosita when the crush of leaves had caught her attention, and she'd slowly approached, ready to aim her gun.

Walking out of a tree were Carl and a teenage girl she knew to be Enid.

"What are you doing?" she asked, finding it hard to breathe.

"Nothing," Carl answered, more than a little apprehensive. This was not a good look, and he has never been in trouble with Michonne before. And the way she was looking at him? He was in trouble.

"We were just-"

"Let's go," she said curtly, and she and Rosita, who hadn't gone far, led the way on Sasha's trail.

Michonne didn't say anything on the way back. She didn't know where to start. She didn't know how to start. Sasha had refused to come back with them, but she and Rosita had managed to make her compromise to at least stay close to Alexandria.

Once they entered the gates, Rosita split off and went to the clinic with a parting "Good luck" to Michonne, so she was left with the kids.

"Okay, so I think it's time for me to go, too," Enid said carefully.

"Excuse me?" Michonne asked, spinning to face them. "And where are you going?"

"Home?"

"You live with someone?"

"I guess you can say I have two roommates?"

"And I'm guessing they don't where you are right now," she said.

"It's not what you think," Carl said. "I went after her."

"Oh gee, thanks," Enid said with an annoyed grimace.

"I saw her go over the wall, and I followed after her," Carl said, positive that he was losing ground with Enid, but unwilling to let Michonne think he was some idiot who didn't know what he was doing. At least he hadn't said that Enid kept going over the wall.

"Why didn't you come get one of us?" Michonne asked, her tone hard. "Are you forgetting what happened to Noah just yesterday? Were you not paying attention this morning when I was talking about the attack Abraham's crew suffered? What were you thinking?!"

"We weren't in danger, I swear," Carl pressed.

"What were you doing inside that tree?"

Carl quieted. Michonne looked at Enid, but she was avoiding Michonne's eyes.

"Carl," Michonne snapped.

"We were hiding from some roamers," Enid said.

"Walkers?" Michonne sputtered, her brown eyes wide on Carl.

"We saw a couple coming so we hid," Carl explained. It sounded incredibly stupid to his ears. And Michonne's response confirmed it.

"That was smart. And what would you have done if they'd cornered you inside the tree?"

"Michonne, we weren't-"

"What you did was dangerous," Michonne cut him off. "Do you hear me? And I can't believe I have to tell you that."

"You don't," Carl pressed.

"And don't go over the wall," Michonne said to Enid, ignoring Carl. "It's not a game. Three people are dead, and one is gravely injured."

"I know all about how dangerous the outside is," Enid said, annoyed.

"Apparently not, otherwise you wouldn't be going over the wall. Listen, do what you want," she said when Enid huffed. "You said you live with roommates, which sounds like for all intents and purposes you are a free girl. Do what you want. No one here is on babysitting duty, least of all not you," she said to Carl. "No one's gonna spend time chasing after you when we've got people dying left and right. You wanna go play outside? You do that. Let's go," she said to Carl, and she waited for him to walk ahead of her.

"I'll see you tomorrow," Carl said to Enid, who only blinked at him.

"You were way too harsh," Carl said to Michonne when they were outside of Enid's hearing range.

"I suggest you don't talk until your dad comes to deal with you."

"She was just….missing it. She's like us. She spent a lot of time outside, and it's weird in here. I didn't want her to be out there alone. I didn't know if she could handle herself."

"That's very sentimental, but Sasha's the best sharpshooter out of all of us, and Rosita and I ran when we realized she was out there by herself."

She stopped walking and faced Carl. "Anyone who steps foot out there because of nostalgia is automatically not thinking straight and is automatically vulnerable. They are if they're by themselves, anyway."

"Are you really gonna tell dad?" Carl asked when they resumed walking.

"You bet your butt, I am."

"Why? You don't need to. He's gonna freak. You knowing is the same thing as him knowing."

"If that were true, you wouldn't be more worried about him finding out than you were about me finding out," Michonne said with a sidelong glance at him.

"I wasn't planning on either of you finding out. My plan was to talk Enid out of going over the wall. If it had gotten bad, I would've come to you."

"But not your dad," she said, mildly amused. "She's done this before, hasn't she?" she asked, stopping and facing him again. "And you've gone after her before."

"The first two times, I just followed her."

"Carl," she sighed, shaking her head.

"Look, you were right about what you said. Hiding in the tree was stupid. It just didn't feel like that at the time."

"I see," Michonne commented. When Carl broke eye contact and shifted on his feet, Michonne's suspicion was confirmed. There was more to him following Enid than concern for her safety.

"All you did in the tree was hide?" Michonne asked.

"Yes," Carl said, barely opening his mouth. He resumed walking, because he felt his face getting hot.

Michonne pursed her lips in amusement and caught up with him. "You scared me," she admitted. "You scared the hell out of me."

"I didn't mean to. Sorry," he apologized.

Michonne draped her arm over his shoulders and pulled him close to her.

"Are you gonna tell dad?" Carl asked again as he wrapped his arm around her waist.

"Yes, Carl. He tells me everything that's going on with you and your sister, everything he's so much as thinking about you two. I'm not hiding this from him."

Carl sighed. "Can you at least soften it so he doesn't completely lose it?"

"I'll take it into consideration."

"Can I go to Enid's place to check on her and meet you home after?"

Michonne stopped walking and crossed her arms.

"I just want to make sure she's okay. And hopefully now that you've said the same thing I've been trying to say, she'll listen. I'll come home right after."

Michonne sighed. "Come straight home."

"I will," he promised, and he went off.

Michonne watched after him and shook her head, knowing she'd hit the point of no return. She was a little apprehensive, a little scared, but mostly she felt at peace with just how much she loved him.


Rick came home with Judith asleep in his arms before Carl returned. He was weary and tired, and he felt like he was dragging his feet.

Noah was dead; Tara was still unconscious; Carol spoke about the Alexandrians like they needed to be conquered, and he wasn't sure he disagreed; as far as he knew, Sasha was still not adjusting; Glenn was shaken to the core by Noah's death; and Carol had just told him her strong suspicion about what was going on in Jessie's house.

He was tired, and the promise of Alexandria, the promotional drivel that Deanna and Jessie herself still believed in, contrasted with what was actually happening. It contrasted what was happening in his group. It was all giving him a headache and driving his frustration up.

He was happy to be home, to shut out the placid community by closing his front door.

Michonne was home. He knew it. He could feel her presence.

He dropped Judith off in her crib, and then he went to Michonne's room. He found her sitting cross-legged against her headboard.

"Hey," Michonne greeted dolefully.

"Hey," he returned from the doorway. He immediately wanted to know what was wrong. He immediately wanted to close her door behind him, too. Close it and shut everything out.

"Come in," she said.

Rick walked inside.

"I discharged my weapon today," she said. "Sasha was outside of the walls, and Rosita and I went after her. She's hunting walkers, Rick. And we met up with a small group of them. Rosita and I managed to make no headway with her, but….I don't know. I don't know, Rick. I think-"

"Michonne," he said cutting her off. He didn't have anything more to say beyond that. He just didn't want her to continue. He didn't want her to go down that path, to arrive at that conclusion. He didn't want her to change her mind. If she did, he knew he wasn't the guy who would change it back. Despite what he wanted with Michonne, he's barely been able to think of Alexandria as more than a short-term stay. Everything he saw when he looked at the town told him that it wasn't going to last. He wanted to believe otherwise for her sake and for his kids' sake, but he couldn't turn off what he knew in his gut.

He took off his holster and placed it at the foot of the bed. He then walked to Michonne and did the only thing he wanted to do. He didn't have the words to make her feel better, and he didn't want to tell her yet that Alexandria was cementing itself as a place without a future.

He climbed on the bed at the same time that Michonne shifted to her knees.

"Rick?" she asked carefully, but he had nothing to say.

He framed her face and kissed her. He poured all his doubts into the kiss, all of his weariness, and he apologized. He apologized for failing to be the beacon of hope for her that she was for him. He apologized for not being able to tell her that Alexandria was still worth a shot.

And in his warm mouth, Michonne sought to quell her growing doubt. She wanted to get back the feeling that had convinced her to give Washington a shot, to give Alexandria a shot. She wanted to retrieve the feeling that had convinced her that settling down was a good idea, that it was possible. She wanted to feel it again for him and the kids, because she knew Rick was too wired and too distrusting of outsiders at this point to take a chance like he'd done with Terminus.

Rick laid her down and learned that her neck was a sweet, sweet spot. She squirmed when he nibbled on the skin, and he did it again to make sure the reaction meant what he thought it meant.

"Rick," she gasped, half chastising him.

But who discovered a treasure trove and walked away from it?

It had been so long since they'd done something as young and innocent as "make out" and "neck," although there was nothing innocent about the arousal they felt.

They got so carried away by each other that they didn't hear Carl in the house until his footsteps sounded on the stairs.

"Oh shit, Rick. Carl," Michonne exclaimed as her blood ran hotter in panic, and she pushed against Rick.

Rick cursed and got off of her, his heart racing for a completely different reason now. He got off the bed and peeked out of the door.

"Rick," Michonne whispered. She grabbed his holster and hopped off the bed to give it to him.

Rick took it and then hurried from her room to his in wide, light steps before Carl could reach the top of the stairs and see him.

Michonne pulled the sheet on her bed to straighten it and then scrambled back to the position she'd been in when Rick had walked into her room. However long ago that was. She arranged her hair and pulled on her shirt and desperately hoped that she didn't look like she'd just been swept away by a very good kisser.

She heard Carl's footsteps approach her room, and she started a mental mantra.

I do not look guilty; I do not look guilty. I look normal; I look normal. I'm normal.

When Carl showed up at her door, she was positive that not only did she look like his father had been all over her, she also looked like she'd enjoyed every minute of it.

"Hey. I spoke to Enid," Carl said, oblivious to Michonne's internal dramatics.

"Good," Michonne choked. "Um, how did it go?"

"Not very good. She was ticked that I told you about her going over the wall. I think she feels like you were talking to her as if she doesn't know anything. She said a couple of things, but whatever. I told her not to go over the wall anymore, so it'll be up to her if she listens. I did the best I could."

"Carl, wait," Michonne said when he turned to leave. She put her afternoon dalliance with Rick to the side and slid off the bed. She had a feeling that Carl's disappointment had to do with more than Enid being mad at him. Earlier, he'd looked like a boy experiencing the early blooms of a crush. She didn't see that look now. He looked crushed.

"What happened?" she asked as she approached the door.

"Nothing," Carl answered.

"Carl," Rick called as he approached Michonne's door.

He'd changed into dark grey jeans and his brown t-shirt, and he was barefoot.

Michonne gave him a once over. She loved him in earth tones.

"How you doin'?" Rick asked Carl as he squeezed his shoulder.

"Fine. Is it okay if I don't help out with dinner?"

Rick and Michonne looked at each other. Should they really be alone right now?

"Sure," Rick said to Carl, his voice thick.

"Thanks," Carl answered, and he began to leave.

"Wait a second, is everything okay?" Rick asked.

"Yeah," Carl answered. He quickly looked at Michonne, realizing then that she hadn't told his father about his time beyond the wall yet. "I'm fine."

Rick didn't ask anything more, so Carl went to his room and closed the door.

"So he's not fine," Rick said slowly as he turned to Michonne.

"No," Michonne said, her gaze still down the hall.

"You know?" Rick asked.

"We need to talk," Michonne said as she turned her gaze to him.

She stepped back and waited for Rick to enter. As he did, she wondered if it wouldn't be better to talk in the open space of the living room rather than her suddenly too small bedroom.

But Rick was already standing by her bed. She closed the door, leaving only a crack open, and she motioned for him to sit. She needed some chairs in the room.

She joined him on the bed, and they faced each other. First, she assured Rick that it wasn't that bad, because he looked very, very worried. Yet despite her assurance, he still bit out a what? and stood from the bed to pace when she told him where she'd run into Carl.

She told him of his good intentions, told him of Enid's quite relatable nostalgia, and she told him about how she'd scolded Carl.

"I wondered a little afterwards if I'd maybe gone too far with him, but he seems fine. We seem fine," she said.

"No, you did great," Rick said to encourage her.

"He's just never gotten in trouble with me before. You always get to him, and then I do the comforting or the explaining of where you're coming from. I've been a little worried that I maybe overstepped my boundaries with him."

"You were within your boundaries," Rick said. "There are no boundaries. Even if he'd gotten mad at you, you still would've been within your right. I already told him that if I'm not around he listens to you. I told you that."

"Yes, you did," she confirmed. But she'd wondered if that extended to scolding him. Not that Carl did much that merited scolding. He was generally a good boy. Responsible. But she'd thought maybe listening to her meant in terms of safety, such as when they'd been escaping the walkers that had invaded Father Gabriel's church.

Rick blew that misconception away when he sat back on the bed, looked straight in her eyes, and said, "I want you to be more than just his friend."

Michonne didn't know what to say. She loved Carl, more than she ever thought she could love a little boy again. Before meeting him, as far as she was concerned, her maternal side had been left at the camp. It was rotted and dead, of no use to her or anyone else.

"I hope you want that, too," Rick continued.

"I-" Michonne started. To her surprise and slight embarrassment, her voice was rusty. Her embarrassment deepened when she teared up. She closed her mouth and just nodded.

Rick cradled the left side of her face and kissed her right cheek.

He continued kissing, making a path to her lips. When he kissed the corner of her lips, Michonne stopped him.

"Rick, the door is open." Nevertheless, she ran the back of her hand over his stubble.

Rick looked at the door and said, "The way he was looking, I don't think he'll want to come out for dinner."

He stroke her cheek one last time and dropped his hand.

Michonne missed it immediately, but she focused on Carl. "I think he has a crush on Enid."

Rick raised his eyebrows, and she smiled.

"Yep," she confirmed. "He's crushing. Except something went wrong, because I let him go check on her, and he looked better when he left than when he came back."

"Carl has a crush," Rick marveled. Then he sobered as he thought of the implications of his teenage son crushing on an equally teenage girl. He knew Carl had had a crush on Beth for a short while, but Beth had been way outside his age range. "Jesus," he said.

"Yeah," Michonne concurred. "You're gonna need to have a whole series of conversations."

"Jesus," Rick said again, scrubbing his face with a hand. "I don't think I'm ready for that."

"You better get ready," Michonne said, her chest jerking from unreleased laughter. "I've seen you look afraid, Rick, but this is….this is just beautiful."

She squeezed his thigh, his muscle-y thigh, she noticed, and got up to open the door wider. "Go talk to your son," she said.

Rick sighed and went to it.


He knocked on Carl's door and waited.

"Michonne?" Carl called.

"No," Rick answered.

Carl steeled himself. It wasn't that he didn't understand his dad's overprotectiveness (now). He just already felt so ridiculous for hiding in the tree after talking to Michonne, and he didn't want his dad adding on to it. Plus, he knew Rick would be extra edgy after what happened to Noah.

"Come in," Carl said. As if he could've said anything else. He did get spanked by his dad when he was younger. He remembered thinking Rick would pull out his belt any day now back when he'd been engaging him in a battle of wills after Lori died.

Rick opened the door and closed it behind him. Carl swiveled around in the desk chair and waited.

Rick loosely planted his hands on his hips and stared Carl down until the boy lowered his eyes.

"Do you need me to repeat anything Michonne said?" Rick asked, the corners of his mouth tight.

"No," Carl said, lifting his eyes in surprise. "It won't happen again."

"It better not, Carl," he said taking a seat on the bed. "This place isn't as safe as it looks. These people don't know what they're doing. They don't know the risk that surrounds them, even in here."

"Are you gonna do something about what Nicholas did?" Carl asked.

Rick sighed. "I can't trump Deanna's authority."

"But you can't just let Noah's death go because she doesn't get that the people she trusts are incompetent. Dad, we can't be passive."

"I know," Rick said. "I've already put some things in place in case this place goes down-"

"No," Carl objected. "No, we shouldn't wait for that. We shouldn't let it come to that. Look, this place….it's not bad. It's the people who live in it. They're not living in reality."

"Is this place not bad because of Enid?" Rick asked with a twinge of amusement.

Carl tilted his head and lowered his eyes, embarrassed.

"What happened? Michonne said you were walking on clouds when you went to talk to her."

"I wasn't walking on clouds," Carl objected.

"Alright, so she didn't say all that, but she said something happened. What happened?"

Playing with his fingers, Carl said, "I was asking her if she was okay-" He cut himself off and looked at the closed door to make sure Michonne wasn't eavesdropping or something random like that.

"I was asking her if she was okay, and she was mad about me telling Michonne the truth. I told her that we tell each other the truth; that's part of how we've survived out there. She was mad about how Michonne spoke to her. I think she has a problem with authority, ever since her mom died. She was talking and suddenly she went what is she, your imaginary stepmom or something?

It was the stupidest thing I've ever heard. I didn't say that, but I did go what? and then I guess I looked mad or something, because she tried to apologize, but I didn't want to hear it. I don't care. I told her to listen to what me and Michonne said or don't. It's her choice."

Rick knew that he needed to tread carefully. There was what he thought Carl was upset about, and then there might be what Carl is actually upset about. He decided to mix both into his question.

"You're mad because….she called Michonne your stepmom," he said.

"No, imaginary," Carl said, confirming what Rick thought. "It's stupid," he continued. "I'm not even bothered by it."

"You're contradicting yourself," Rick pointed out.

"Dad, I don't think I wanna talk about it anymore."

"I think we should," Rick said sympathetically. "Enid thought it was okay to make fun of the idea that Michonne could be your mom."

He purposely omitted the step part. And he wanted to wrap his son in the tightest hug when he saw how despondent he looked in that moment.

"Come here," he said, and Carl joined him on the bed.

Rick draped his arm over his shoulders and said, "I just want you to know that everything you're feeling about her, about Michonne, is perfectly okay. She loves you as much as you love her. Are you worried about mom?"

"No," Carl answered. "Is that weird? I just feel like they're two separate people. And then again, not. Mom is mom, and Michonne's Michonne. They're the same, because I love them both. Except I never worried about mom leaving us."

Rick nodded, thinking that was a very young thing for Carl to say. Not that Lori would have ever abandoned her son, but a couple more years of marriage between him and Lori and Carl could've been spending his time between two homes.

"She's not leaving us," he said of Michonne. "We talked yesterday. We talked about Andre."

Carl smiled. "Good."

He wanted to ask if anything else was going to happen. Alexandria needed help, but it was a quiet enough place for his dad and Michonne to do something. If they couldn't get together in the privacy of a clean home, then what exactly did they need?

"Hey, dad? How do you feel about Michonne?"

"What?"

"You said I love her, which I do. How do you feel about her?"

"Uh," Rick stalled, not expecting the turn in the conversation. "I think-I respect Michonne. I think she's an amazing person. A great friend. She's strong, an amazing fighter-"

"Dad. I'm not asking for stuff anyone else can say."

"Carl, listen," Rick said, standing. "I hope you're able to forgive Enid for what she said. She did apologize, and like you said: she's not used to anyone telling her no. Probably still grieving her mother. But you be the judge as to if she deserves another chance. I'll talk to her, too, hammer home that she has no business going over the wall. I'll see you at dinner."

"Are you serious?" Carl asked, grinning as he followed his dad to the door. "Come on, you can talk to me about this. Who else do you have?"

"I have Daryl."

"And have you been talking to Daryl?" Carl asked dryly as he leaned his weight on the door.

"No."

"Besides, this has to do with my life."

"Your life? Carl, move."

"Am I getting a new stepmom?" Carl teased.

"Move." Rick pulled his arm and Carl moved, laughing.

Rick left and shut the door behind him. He'd lock Carl inside if he could.

While he hadn't gotten a definite answer, Carl hoped he'd gotten a good sign. He couldn't remember a time when his father had so obviously avoided a simple question.

Chapter Text

There was so much tension during dinner prep that Michonne wanted to jump out of her skin, and Rick wanted to prop her on the counter by the sink and take a refresher course on the textures of her mouth.

They moved in silence, back on their best mode of communication, but they frequently stole glances at each other. Rick watched her rub her lips together to refresh her chapstick, and she watched the way his jaw moved every time he jutted his mouth out. She wondered if he was trying to say something and stopping himself or if he was thinking about kissing her as much as she was thinking about kissing him.

Rick frequently found himself needing something that just happened to be on Michonne's other side, so he had to stretch his hand across her body to get it. Michonne, too, frequently needed something that was on Rick's other side, but instead of reaching, she crossed behind him to get it, touching his hip every time.

Rick wouldn't be surprised if when he lifted his shirt tonight, he found her handprint burned on his left hip. He felt her touch that keenly.

It was all very intimate, made all the more so by the fact that they were both barefoot.

Michonne found herself wondering if she could really stay in the kitchen until dinner was ready. It got to be so much that she considered going to the half bath off the side of the living room, just to give herself a break from his presence. He took up the whole kitchen, smelling of steel and the open air.

She knew how much better he smelled up close, how much stronger, because she'd inhaled her fill while they'd been rolling around on her bed.

Her bed. She hoped the smell was still on her sheets.


Rick never knew making dinner with a person could be such a turn on, but he was beyond ready for a cold shower. Preferably with Michonne.

Unfortunately, the only thing he was doing with Michonne right now was eating. Along with Carl and Judith, who'd finished her nap twenty minutes ago.

Carl was in a better mood, but neither he nor Michonne were very chatty, so Rick charged himself with giving them something to talk about, especially since Carl kept looking at him and Michonne.

"Alright, so, I want you both to humor me," Rick began. "I wanna know, after everything we've seen and gone through, what is one thing that happened before all of this that still annoys the crap out of you?"

Carl started smiling, so Rick congratulated himself for hooking him.

He looked at Michonne. And she was staring at her plate.

"Michonne," he called.

"What?" Michonne asked, lifting her head. She hoped she hadn't missed something important. She'd been reliving rubbing her cheek against Rick's stubble.

"I, uh, I asked: after everything we've seen and gone through, what is one thing that happened before all of this that still annoys the crap out of you?"

"Oh. Okay."

"I'll go first," Carl volunteered. "Okay, so I was in third grade. There was this boy in my class named Riley."

"Oh my God," Rick groaned, and he scooped more food onto his fork.

"Okay, so you remember," Carl smiled. "Anyways," he continued, concentrating on Michonne since Rick knew the story. "We were doing work; I don't remember what it was; but I do remember that the lead on my pencil broke, and I needed to sharpen it. We always had to form a line whenever there was more than one of us at the sharpener. So I'm in line, and then it's my turn and suddenly Riley comes and pushes me out of the way. He was this….asshole-"

"Carl," Rick chastised.

"Language," Michonne said at the same time.

"Sorry. But okay, he was annoying. He had this really annoying laugh. It was this raspy, stupid thing, and he thought everything he said was funny. So he bumps me out of the way, and I go stumbling, and I tell him it's my turn. He goes so? and sticks his pencil in the sharpener. I push him, but he pushes me back and tells me to just wait. So I do."

Rick started shaking his head.

"He finishes up and says: now you can go. I snatch the sharpened pencil out of his hand and stab it like four times on the hand he had on the table," he said, breaking down in laughter.

"Oh my God, Carl!" Michonne exclaimed.

Rick was shaking his head.

"He started screaming and crying at the top of his lungs, and I said that's what you get," he said around his laughter.

"That is not funny!" Michonne chastised, even though she was grinning.

"Listen, it was my turn at the sharpener. I just got so angry."

"I know you got in trouble for that," Michonne said.

"Oh yeah, I got sent to the principal's office, and they called my mom. She took me home. I cried to the principal, because I didn't think it was fair that I was getting in trouble. Riley was the one who didn't want to follow the rules."

"Did you get in trouble at home, too?" Michonne asked. She looked at Rick, hoping he wouldn't disappoint her.

"Oh yeah, I tanned his hide," Rick said. "Lori thought it was too much."

"And I agreed," Carl said sourly. "But her way wasn't much better either."

"What was her way?" Michonne asked.

"She made me write Riley an apology letter, and then she took me shopping and made me choose the candies I was gonna give him. When I got to class the next day, she told the teacher to make me read the letter in front of the class. I cried while doing it, but I think Riley was too freaked out by what I did to use it against me."

"Awww," Michonne melted. She tousled his hair, picturing a pint-sized Carl crying in front of his classroom.

"Your turn," Rick said to Michonne.

Michonne smiled and set her fork down. "Okay, so this happened when Andre was….eighteen months."

Rick and Carl shared a warm look. Rick was grateful that she felt comfortable enough to tell a story about Andre. Carl was proud of her.

"We had an early doctor's appointment, because it was time for him to get his DTaP shot," Michonne continued. "So we're in the waiting room, not many people there, so I let him run around and play while I read a magazine. There was another kid there whose parents were letting him run around, too. Dre's age. So I'm reading, and then I hear someone fall, and I look up, and it's Andre. Not only is he on the ground, but the other child is squatted next to him and is trying to pull this stupid toy out of his hand.

Listen," she said, fixing herself on the chair. "I got up and went hey! I helped my baby up, and then I focused on the predator. I got down on one knee, and I told him that we don't push. I told him if you want something, you ask. We don't push, and we don't take. I told him he had to apologize, even though he was as articulate at that point in his life as Dre was. But I wanted him to hear the words, because I felt it was important.

So then here come his parents. Mind you, I was being very polite. I was being a teacher, an adult. His parents must've decided to go to the bathroom at the same time and leave the child, which tells you everything right there. The mom comes in: excuse me? What are you doing? I stand up and explain.

Long story short, I found out why that boy thought it was okay to push my son and try to take from him."

"You got in a fight?" Rick asked.

"No, but the mother was an absolute idiot who turned the situation around and made it about me disciplining her son. She says I should've tried to find her or the simple ass father. She said she would discipline her kid and tell him what's appropriate. I said clearly you won't, and clearly you don't. Clearly you're failing at whatever it is you think you're doing.

Oh, it was almost a fight then. The husband was simple, because all he contributed was ladies, back to your corners. I told him to save the child-speak for his wife! Are you kidding me? The person who needed to be in a corner was his damn demon of a son."

"Did you really call the kid a demon?" Rick asked, his eyebrows near his hairline.

"Not to his parents' faces, but I did when I was telling Mike about it. It wasn't even the kid; it was his parents. They ended up making him look bad. Mike thought I did too much when I called him a demon, too, even though he was laughing."

She took a deep breath and relaxed. "Anyways, that's my story. Your kid is not special. Deal with it."

"Yeah, this definitely still burns your gut," Carl said, amused.

"You have these kids, and you wonder how you're gonna protect them, you know?" she asked, speaking to Rick. "You wonder if you'll be good enough, on your game enough to protect them: from bullies, from negative influences; from people treating them unfairly; from the world. And I did. I protected my baby that morning."

She lowered her eyes, and both Rick and Carl saw her drifting to the one crucial time she'd failed to protect Andre. The Grimes boys put a hand over hers and squeezed, bringing her back to them.

Michonne smiled, her eyes misty as she looked at her two anchors. "Your turn," she said to Rick.

"Alright," Rick began, and he cleared his throat.

Carl let go of Michonne's hand, but he noticed that Rick kept his hand over hers. Not only that, but he was also rubbing her wrist with his thumb.

Carl lowered his eyes so that he wouldn't bring attention to the intimate connection, and he tempered his smile.

"This actually happened when I was in my early twenties," Rick said.

"Well geez, Rick," Michonne said.

"Take us all the way back, dad," Carl teased, laughing.

"Hey," Michonne chastised, smacking Carl's shoulder. "It's not that far back. He's only got four years on me."

"Listen, the older I got, the more easy-going I became, okay?" Rick protested. "I learned that not every situation needs a response; that it's okay to not say anything; and that it's okay to just let people be idiots. But before I learned all that, this happened."

Michonne snickered and propped her chin on her hand to listen.

"I was on summer break before my last year of college," Rick continued, "And I was driving on the freeway, heading to Stone Mountain to meet up with some friends for a weekend. I'm minding my own business, focusing on the road, listening to the radio when suddenly the jackass next to me, next to me, mind you, starts merging into my lane."

"Don't you mean jackbutt?" Carl pestered.

Rick ignored him. "I swerve to my right. Thank God there wasn't a railing. I swerve, and you'd think the guy would realize what he was doing and swerve back into his lane, right? You'd think he'd have a reflex, right? Instead he just kept coming in. I immediately got so pissed off. Why aren't you paying attention? I thought about swerving the car back to the left and hitting him. So he merges, and I swerve back, and I'm putting the horn on his ass. He doesn't even look back and neither does the passenger. So I speed up and ram the hell out of the car."

Finished, Rick removed his hand from atop Michonne's and shoveled food into his mouth.

Shocked, Michonne and Carl stared at him.

Carl recovered first. "Tell me you did that for real."

"I did," Rick confirmed.

"You didn't," Michonne said. "Rick."

"I did," Rick affirmed calmly. "But like I said, I learned-"

"Backup," Michonne said, holding up a hand. "You got in trouble for that. I know you did. Did you get arrested?"

"Was anyone hurt?" Carl asked.

"The passenger, another guy, hurt his arm because he wasn't wearing a seatbelt. He braced himself on the dashboard when he went forward and got hurt. I think the other guy suffered neck pains or something like that. It was the dumbest thing I ever did and that I've ever done. They pulled over, and so did I, 'cause I wasn't gonna run. I could tell they wanted to fight me. They were two older guys, probably in their mid-forties, but I could tell they wanted to sweep the road with me. And I was ready to take them. But that was it: we were on a busy highway.

I actually said to them call the cops. I must've been out of my mind. They did call the cops, and I remember going you gon tell them why this happened or we gon come up with a better version? I wasn't playin'. Like I said, I think I was out of it."

"The bravery of youth," Michonne said sarcastically. "Fight it off," she added dryly, her eyes on Carl.

"The stupidity of youth," Rick said. "We did lie about how it happened. We said they merged too close to me, and I couldn't break fast enough, so I hit them."

"Wow," Michonne commented.

"Insurance kicked our asses, and I never told my parents how it really happened."

"And you've never gotten over this," Carl stated.

"Carl, I think it's lucky that you won't have to deal with other drivers on the road. People don't know how to drive," Rick said.

Michonne groaned in remembrance.

"They are crazy," Rick continued. "It didn't hit me how dangerous what I'd done was until I had the police report on hand and drove off. My friends thought it was cool. Crazy, but cool. I haven't done anything like that since. But I've wanted to."

"Oh, so have I," Michonne said. "I cannot believe you actually did it, though. I used to be convinced that some people on the road came straight from hell to test me."

Carl continued the game, asking about their most embarrassing moment next.

The erotic tension between Michonne and Rick never completely dissipated. For one thing, Rick had gotten turned on listening to Michonne's tale of the time she'd gone mama bear over her son. For another, Michonne became so flustered while recounting her embarrassing moment that she kicked her feet out under the table and hit Rick's.

She apologized and pulled them back, but she'd given Rick an idea. He nodded at her apology, and then he found her feet, and for the first time in both their lives, they played footsie.

Michonne was glad that she hadn't had the experience until Rick, because she didn't think her body would respond so completely to someone else rubbing their foot between hers. She squirmed in her seat a couple of times. It didn't help that Rick looked her directly in the eyes and smirked every time she did, as if he knew the exact effect he was having on her.

She came up with the next topic: most awkward thing that happened, and before the last story ended, she found out what Rick and Carl sounded like when they laughed straight from their bellies, and Rick and Carl found out that she teared up if she laughed too long.

Chapter Text

That night, Rick had an easier time falling asleep. Michonne was a soft, slender weight under him; her laughter rang in his ears; her smile lit up his mind; her breath fanned his ear as he suckled the skin at the base of her neck; she ran her foot up his legs under the table, and his family shared a nice meal.

He didn't know he'd fallen asleep until he dreamed of a dead Noah. He sat like Bob, and looked like Beth, and smiled like Tyreese.

He shot up in bed, his heart racing. Disoriented, he tried to remember where he was. He saw a sliver of light under his closed door, but the room was too dark.

He fumbled for the light on his bedside table, and then he sat against the headboard, trying to calm himself. He realized then that he'd sweated through his shirt.

He looked over at the crib, and Judith was peacefully asleep.

Rick squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his fingers against them.

He tried to relax; he tried to tell himself it was a just dream, but Noah was dead, and he'd been laughing heartily with his family at the dinner table.

He moved the covers aside and stood. He was sure that he couldn't sleep anymore.

He walked around the bed to turn off the light, and then he left the room. He checked on Carl, who didn't shut his door completely, because he needed the hallway's light.

The boy was sleeping so soundly that he didn't sense the opening of the door like Rick knew he normally would. He'd had a great time at dinner.

Rick put the door back the way Carl had it, and then he looked down the hallway at Michonne's door.

He wanted to go downstairs. He was going to go downstairs. He could deal with this alone, sit by himself until he worked it out. But he couldn't remember the last time he'd done that. He wanted to talk to Michonne.

He walked to her door and hesitated.

Michonne was asleep when he knocked. She wasn't in deep, so it didn't take her long to wake, but when she did open her eyes, she realized that this was the fastest she'd fallen asleep since she'd arrived in Alexandria.

The person at her door knocked a second time, and then it turned insistent. She knew then that it was Rick.

She left her covers and moved in the dark.

"Rick," she said, squinting as she opened the door.

"Hi," Rick said, feeling some of his anxiety instantly melt away.

Michonne took in his wet shirt.

"Uh," Rick said, looking down at himself. "We need to talk. Can we talk?"

"Yeah, sure," Michonne said, wondering if this had to do with their afternoon makeout session but sensing that it was about something on the opposite end of the feel-good spectrum.

What he said next confirmed her pessimistic suspicion.

"I dreamt about Noah."

Michonne's hand slid down the door. "Come on."

She lightly touched the inside of his elbow, and he backed up. She stepped out of her room, and they went downstairs to the living room.

Rick turned on the light while Michonne sat on the couch and crossed her legs in front of her. When Rick sat next to her, his eyes caught on the dinner table.

The table was cleared off, every plate and silverware washed. He could hear himself, Michonne, and Carl, laughing and chuckling and poking fun at each other. He heard Judith babbling loudly to join in the fun.

"We were laughing," Michonne said, reading his mind.

Rick lowered his head.

"We were having a good time. I don't think we forgot. But we had a good time. What we were doing under the table, what we did in my room, cooking together like that, telling stories: think it'll happen again tomorrow?"

Rick was looking at her, and she was looking sideways at him with that small smile that always made him feel like she knew a lot more about him than she was letting on.

But for the first time, he saw dejection behind the smile. The light in her eyes, the one that had brightened the dinner table, it was gone now. It was then that he remembered the mood she'd been in before he'd put it at a standstill with a kiss that had stretched on and on.

"This place is a mirage," Michonne said, her tiny smile falling like Rick knew it would. "Nothing that happens here is real. We have to remember that."

"Pete, the surgeon who's taking care of Tara? He abuses his wife. Jesse," Rick said.

"What?" Michonne asked slowly.

"Carol told me earlier."

"Before you came home," Michonne realized. Before he'd come home and scrambled her thoughts.

"Ever since we got here, I've been looking for a way out," he confessed. "I thought I was just preparing, in case something went wrong, but I've been looking for a way out. I hid a gun, not too far from the community. I let Carol steal a couple from the armory."

"Smart," Michonne said, subdued. "This place is gonna fall."

Rick was taken aback and disturbed by how sure she sounded. "It's not gonna fall," he said, turning on the couch to face her.

"They'll get picked off one by one by walkers, and the rest will happily run away while it happens, and then they'll get eaten by walkers on the other side."

"It's not gonna fall," Rick insisted, his eyes hard on her face as if he could will her to believe otherwise.

"You've been hiding guns, waiting for it to fall," Michonne reminded him. "Or looking for a way out, whichever" she said, shrugging.

"Because I saw these people for what they are. They survived, but they aren't survivors. And I'm right."

He grabbed her hand and squeezed, which made her look at him.

"I wanna give you this place," he said. "I wanna give it to Carl, and I want to give it to Judith. But it has to be my way, I know that now. That's the only way we're gonna have it. I need more control; we're not here to protect them or to help Deanna. We're here to live. And the only way that's gonna happen is if we make this place into something we recognize.

We could've lost Noah and Glenn. What if the walkers had attacked Carl and Enid, and she'd left him? What if that's what she was taught before or what she learned here? To run. What if Abraham had gotten overwhelmed out there? No, these people can't be around my family. Not as they are now. We can make this happen."

Michonne parted her lips, moved by his words. "When did you become an optimist?"

"When you needed one," he answered.

Michonne smiled demurely and lowered her eyes.

Rick cupped her cheek and turned her face to him. He kissed her square on the lips, and he lingered, indulging in how she felt.

"Rick," she whispered when they separated.

"Not everything that happens here is a mirage," he said softly.

Michonne opened her eyes. She almost averted her gaze. His eyes looked especially brilliant this close to hers.

She knew he was talking about them. She knew he was talking about everything that had happened today, everything that's happened between them since their first night in the house. He and she: they weren't a mirage.

"We can't," she whispered. "It's dangerous." She removed his hand from her face. "Even if we fortify this place, fortify the people, the outside is….it's right there. It took Noah."

Rick lowered his eyes and inhaled. "Michonne," he began, even though he wasn't sure how much he wanted to say.

"Rick, I don't think we should-"

Michonne cut herself off. She wasn't looking at him; she couldn't bring herself to, but she cut herself off. Maybe she was hoping he would convince her.

If their stay in Alexandria was temporary, then they had no business exploring anything, not with their lips, not with their hands, not with their eyes, and not with their feet.

"Michonne," Rick said again. He lifted his eyes to look at her, and she lifted her eyes to look at him, and he knew what her decision was.

"So we're roommates?" he asked. The thought frustrated him.

"We're friends," she said. "We're close. We're what we were before."

"We aren't what we were before," he said. When she lowered her eyes, he knew she agreed. "What we were before was waiting for this. And now we have it."

"This isn't what we thought it would be," Michonne said, raising her eyes to look at him. "It's not what I-it's not what I thought it would be, as stupid as that sounds. I don't even know if I really thought we could stop fighting, but….I don't think I expected any of us to die here. I know I didn't. Which is monumentally stupid."

She was afraid. Rick knew this. He was afraid, too, but faced with her fear, his completely disappeared. He thought about Carl. Even though he hasn't worked up the courage to say anything to Michonne, he was brave enough to say it in his heart. He'd been brave enough to say it to him. He viewed Michonne as his mother.

And Michonne. She had trudged past a long-held fear yesterday and talked to him about her baby boy.

Rick decided that he could be as brave as them. He owed it to himself, to Carl, Judith, and what he wanted to have with Michonne.

"I want to build with you," he said.

"Rick, please," Michonne protested, her stomach quivering.

"I want to build a life with you."

"Rick," she said. She escaped from the couch and went to the other side of the coffee table.

"Listen to me," Rick implored, getting up from his seat.

"No," Michonne said as she turned to face him. "Don't say anything. Don't-don't say these things."

"I know you're scared," Rick said as he walked around the table. "We're all scared. We're all scared to move forward."

"I don't-I don't want to-I can't label anything," she said. "It's bad enough with Carl."

Rick swallowed. "So we're roommates."

Michonne felt caged. She didn't want to be roommates. She didn't want to act like the kiss hadn't happened or like she didn't want more. She didn't want to act like she didn't want to touch him whenever she wanted.

But she was afraid to seal the deal, to label him and the kids. She didn't want to claim them, because it would make losing them that much more soul-shattering. She'd gotten a taste when the prison fell. Bob, Beth, and Tyreese's deaths were recent reminders. Noah's death screamed that it would never stop.

"We're not promised anything, Rick," she said, tearing up. "Like I said: we can't forget that. It's bad enough losing the others. If something happened to you or the kids-"

Her voice broke, and she couldn't continue.

"Let's say this place does fall," Rick said as he lessened the distance between them. "It won't, not without us fighting, but let's say it does. Do you really want to go back out there without tryin' anything? Because this is what we were waiting for, right? Everything was too chaotic before; we were out in the open; no privacy; we couldn't sit still long enough to even talk about….this. Do you really want to go back out there without tryin'?"

Michonne wanted to say yes. She had a good counter argument, but her tongue wasn't working. Here they were, in actual sleep clothes as opposed to the same clothes they spent the day in, like they'd grown used to on the outside. Nice living room. Nice house. Paved street. Less than stellar townspeople.

Rick knew that he needed to step it up a notch. She'd taken a huge step by laying her son to rest the day before. He needed to match her. He needed to tell her how ready he was to nurture with her. If she still didn't want it; if it was more than fear and she was just plain uncomfortable, or if her fear was just that great, then he didn't know what else he could do except leave her alone and give it time.

"I love you," he confessed. He suddenly felt like he was on the edge of a precipice, heart in the pit of his stomach, but he didn't turn back. He couldn't. Come what may…

"I love you, and I want you to try with me. I think….I think we can make it work. You and me. I just want you to try. I know it's scary. It's terrifyin'. I'm scared, too. I'd put it out of my mind that this would ever happen again. But it has happened, with you, and I want to do somethin' about it. I can do something about it now."

He waited, unable to feel his body. The only part of him that was working were his eyes. He watched her, and he waited.

And then he lost his nerve. He couldn't remain silent while she figured out how to tell him no. "I know the situation ain't perfect-"

"Rick," Michonne cut him off, his nervousness making her smile.

"I want you to try," he said again.

Michonne stepped closer to him and framed his face with her hands. She smoothed her hands up and down, enjoying the feel of his stubble. She couldn't say no now. She couldn't say anything but yes. Because he was right. Things moved fast on the outside. She would kick herself if she let this opportunity pass her by. She was sure that they could build something on the outside if Alexandria fell. But the point was that they were talking about doing so here and now, something they'd never done before.

She couldn't resist him with his heart laid out before her and his I love you eradicating her defenses.

"I will try," she promised softly. "Because I love you, too." Her breath rushed out of her. It was out there now. He'd heard it. She'd labeled it and claimed him.

Rick was having a little trouble breathing, too. He didn't know how, but in the time since he'd fallen for her, he had never once thought about her saying the three words to him. But she had, and he'd heard them, and they buoyed him. Nearly everything sounded beautiful coming from her mouth, but of all the words he's heard her say since they met, these three, in that order, were downright sublime.

He kissed her, and this kiss was calmer than the ones they'd shared at sunlight. They explored a different kind of passion, a more intimate kind, but it ran just as deep. They took their time, gone was the escapism from the afternoon.

"You're a really good kisser," Michonne sighed after they separated for the third time.

"So are you," Rick rasped. The afternoon dalliance had been a kind of isolated incident, too early to say for sure, but now he felt comfortable saying, if only in his mind, that Michonne had an affinity for sucking his lips, especially his bottom lip.

Sure enough, she bit his bottom lip now and ran her tongue along it. She suckled on it, and then she deepened the kiss. The way she used her tongue in a kiss was largely responsible for the tent being pitched in his pajama bottoms.

"Come on," he said.

He pulled her back to the couch. He finally took off his shirt, because it was too wet, and then he moved in to kiss her.

Michonne started off slow, edging her way to it, but eventually she was running her hands all over his naked chest, his shoulders, and half of his back.

Rick wasn't shy in his exploration either, taking many opportunities to make her squirm by lavishing her neck with kisses, snaking his hands past her tank top to touch the smooth skin of her back, and running his hands down her arms. Her skin came alive with goosebumps from the attention.

Michonne sighed. "I can do this all night." Rick shivered in response to her words, and she licked her lips. "So can you, I'm guessing."

"You're guessin' right," Rick said.

He fingered one of the straps of her tank top, and then he pulled it down and placed a hard kiss on her shoulder.

"Tell me something," Michonne said lazily while he worked his way from her shoulder to her neck. "You've been stealing and hiding guns with Carol, and you had the nerve to have a problem with me having secrets in this house?"

"It's not the same," Rick said immediately, leaving her neck.

"Really," Michonne said, raising expectant eyebrows.

"One is a lot more personal than the other," Rick said confidently. "You have to agree with that."

"Do I?"

"It felt like you were shutting me out, and it didn't feel good. I thought I was finding out that I'm just some guy you've been helping."

"How could you ever think that?" Michonne asked, her brows knitting.

Rick twitched his mouth as he tried to form his answer. "It was an irrational fear," he said, remembering Carl's fear of Michonne leaving them. "I thought I was finding out that you don't feel as comfortable with me as I do with you. That you don't feel like you can tell me everything. And that was….it hurt."

Michonne smiled and lifted her hand to caress his face. "I love you."

"I love you, too."

"It wasn't about you; it was about me. Do you see where we are right now? What we're doing? Part of me knew, subconsciously, that telling you about Andre would be….opening….a whole bunch of new doors. With you. And I wasn't ready."

"We're gonna live here," he promised. "But first I need to make sure that every single person in this town is able and willing to defend you if need be."

"And if they can't?" Michonne asked, thinking, for one, of Jessie. An abusive husband could explain why she was sensitive about the vandalized owl sculpture, but she and a couple of people in town could simply be unable to fight. "I'd actually feel more comfortable if you'd curated this group. Not that I've ever seen you turn someone away for being unable to fight, but…." she shook her head. "I don't know. I think they might be too settled here. Fighting means risking death, and these….casserole-making, secret recipe-trading, socializing people might not want to take that risk."

"They don't have a choice," Rick said. "I'm talking to Deanna about it. Tomorrow. I'll tell her about Pete, too."

Michonne nodded. She tried to predict how that was going to go and came up short.

Rick smoothed his hand down the arm with the displaced strap. "I'm happy you told me about Andre."

Michonne smiled, her heart warming when she thought about the dream she'd had the night before, where she'd taken Andre on her run, confident that she was going to meet Rick. She knew that Rick would have protected him. "I'm happy I told you, too. I'm happy you know. I wish I had a picture to show you. He favored me."

Rick smiled. "I know he was beautiful."

Michonne's heart swelled with love for him, and she went in for a brain-fogging kiss.

Chapter Text

Michonne didn't know what time it was, but both straps of her tank top were down, and Rick was constantly sliding his thumbs under her breasts. He never fully grabbed her breasts, which drove her crazy enough that she ended up straddling him.

And still he didn't grab her. He kept the same maddening touch.

He was lucky in that his shirt was already off. She took full advantage, kissing his shoulders and imprinting her touch on his warm skin.

He stood with her and then laid them down on the couch. He kissed down her throat to the rim of her tank top, and then he skipped down and lifted the hem to expose her belly. There, he left kisses that made her want more.

Michonne moved them and put herself on top. She had just licked up his neck when he spoke.

"We should go to bed."

She was sure that if her mind wasn't stuck on one track, she would be able to guess what he meant. As it was, she had to ask.

"You mean….together?"

"I mean period, but together doesn't sound half bad. I didn't want to be the one to say anything, but I don't know what time it is. The sun could pop up in the next minute, and here comes Carl."

Michonne sighed and touched her forehead to his. "But this is so much fun."

"I know. Let's do thirty more minutes."

She laughed. Even if he was wearing his watch, he wouldn't have kept time.

"I'm tempted," she said as she sat up, her behind just above the waistline of his pants. "But you're right, we should go to bed."

Rick's eyes drifted down to her breasts. "You're not wearing a bra tonight," he said.

"I, uh, I finally felt comfortable, I guess," Michonne said, her eyes on him.

Rick pulled on the hem of her top, not hard, but he pulled, and when the material stopped over the swell of her breasts, he reached higher and pulled. He exposed her breasts.

"This isn't getting ready for bed," Michonne said lightly.

"I swear it is," Rick said, distracted.

He trailed his hand up her stomach and finally cupped her breasts. Michonne shivered at the culmination of her wait.

Rick's eyes flitted to her heavy ones, and then he started to very lightly rub his thumb all over her nipples.

"Harder," Michonne breathed. Her tone was short, highlighting the command as if she'd yelled it.

Rick gently pushed against her pelvis, telling her to move down. Michonne lifted to do so, and Rick sat up as soon as she did.

"Let's go," he said.

Michonne fixed her top and licked her lips. Many a nights had she tortured herself with images of him seducing her just like that, as commanding with the request as he was when it came to protecting them.

Rick grabbed her hand and headed for the stairs.

"Rick, the light," she said, stiffening her hand to slow him down.

Rick stopped and sighed heavily, as if the light was a game-changing delay. Michonne chuckled and jogged back to turn it off. She jogged to rejoin Rick, and they went up the stairs.

They ducked inside his room, and he gently closed the door.

He navigated the darkness, walking around the bed to turn on the lamp.

"I want to see you," he said quietly when the light came on.

Michonne looked at the baby.

"She won't wake up," Rick said as he walked back to her. "Don't tell me you didn't fool around when Andre was a baby."

"Oh, we did," Michonne said, and she took off her tank top just as Rick stopped in front of her. His eyebrows shut up, just like she wanted.

"Don't start something you can't finish," he warned.

Michonne grinned. She grabbed his waist and directed him to the foot of the bed, where she sat him down.

She stepped back and used her fingers to push her pants down by the waistline until they fell to her feet on their own. She stepped out of them and kicked them aside. She ran her fingers up her thighs, past her underwear, and then she slid them back down, hooked them between her underwear and her skin, and slid her underwear down.

She called Rick's name then. It took him a second to acknowledge her call, but he brought his ravenous eyes up to her face. She walked to him, and he held her gaze until she stood over him.

Rick looked down then, and he was faced with smooth skin that made his lips tingle with the desire to touch. He kissed the space just under her belly button, and then he kissed his way down, down, until she placed one leg on the bed and he was right where he wanted to be.

He went right for her clit, a delicacy he's imagined in his mouth countless times. He wasn't just a good kisser, he was good with his mouth period. He was attentive, generous, and open with his own enjoyment of the act.

The trembling got to be too much for her one standing leg, so she put the other one down, and the standing leg immediately fell asleep. Rick stood and picked her up, her legs draping on either side of his hips.

He turned them around and climbed the with her. He walked her to the pillows and laid her down. Michonne grinned at the sight of her lube on his lips and pulled him down for a kiss.

Rick laid halfway on her body, leaving her lower half free. They shifted so that she lay her head on his arm. He trailed his fingers down her sternum, down her belly, over her mound, eliciting goosebumps on her skin. He stopped at her clit to rub it in slow circles, and then he continued down to her entrance. He rubbed her entrance with his middle finger and moaned in her mouth, turned on by her arousal for him.

He inserted his finger slowly, mindful of how long it's been for her. Michonne stopped kissing him and grabbed his wrist, not to stop him, but in acknowledgement of how long it's been since she'd let anything inside of her. She looked up at him and found that he was watching her, and they both decided that that was what they wanted to do now. They wanted to watch.

Rick fingered her with a single digit, her walls snug around his finger despite how wet she was. He watched how she sighed, how her chest caved in deeper and deeper the better he made her feel; he watched how she licked her upper lip and bit her bottom lip. He watched how she inhaled and closed her eyes when he inserted his ring finger to join the middle.

Michonne opened her eyes when she realized that he was pleasuring her using his actual ring-wearing finger, the metal surprisingly cool against her skin every time he went in. She stilled his hand and looked up at him, because perhaps he didn't realize.

But as she gazed into his eyes, she saw that he knew. She silently questioned him, and he answered with a searing kiss. And he continued repurposing the ring by plying her upper walls with his fingers.

Rick got up and moved between her legs, his fingers not missing a single pump. This gave him a better angle, not just to reach her G-spot, which he did, but to see a lot more of her body. He stuck his other thumb in his mouth to wet it and then used it to play with her clit.

Michonne grabbed the two ends of the pillow under her head, her orgasm building. The increased space between her and Rick made her feel a little self-conscious about the faces she might make when she comes. He could see everything. And his eyes wouldn't budge from her face.

"Oh my God," she trembled. He was plying her G-spot faster and faster now, and she knew she was done for. She shut her eyes right when it happened, gasping loudly when the orgasm hit her.

"Shhh," Rick cautioned, even though he wanted more of her gasps.

He removed his fingers and licked her pussy from the bottom up as she came down from her high.

Michonne blew out a breath and caressed his hair as he suckled her left outer labia. That was all the down time he gave her.

He got up and inserted the same two fingers. He easily found her G-spot again and brought her to the brink. When she was close, he pulled his fingers out and then slowly inserted three.

Michonne lifted her left leg and hooked her elbow under it to make the insertion more comfortable. She sighed when all three fingers were in. "You're gonna kill me," she said. "I really think you're gonna kill me."

It was absurd, but she really felt like she would die if he didn't make her come.

Rick only gave himself a moment to enjoy the new view of her pussy. More than wanting to look, however, the new view made him want to lick and suck, so he dove for her clit and did just that.

"Oh my God," Michonne whispered when he engulfed her already-throbbing clit.

His fingers in her wet pussy made a distinct squishy fap, fap, fap sound as he continued to press her G-spot. Michonne dropped her leg and placed both hands on his head to hold him close as he drove her higher and higher. She watched helplessly as the man she loved, treasured, and trusted worked the entirety of her pussy to make her come.

She cracked piece by piece, like a dam, before the force of her orgasm broke her down completely. She shut her eyes tight and went slack-jawed as she arched, her legs and upper body lifting off the bed as Rick sucked and fingered her to that divine existence.

She sucked in a deep breath, and her body locked it in, releasing it only after she passed over the peak. It trembled out of her loudly, and her body stopped coiling. She dropped her legs to the bed and humped his face, one hand holding his head in place.

Rick removed his fingers and focused on tonguing her clit.

Michonne could come again if he kept it up. She knew she could. She could feel it. And when he stopped her humping by draping both of her legs over his shoulders, successfully trapping his head between her thighs, she was confident that she would.

"Rick," she sighed.

But she stopped him before he could make her come. It would've been a great one, but she stopped him. She was taken aback when he looked at her. The first word that came to her mind was ravage. He looked like a man who'd finally come up for air and was finally seeing the forest as opposed to the tree he'd been focusing on. He looked like he wanted to turn her inside out until she was limp with exhaustion.

She got on her elbows and said,"I want you now. Now."

Rick took his pants off, and Michonne got on her knees in case he required assistance with the only thing he had left. His briefs went next, and Rick found out that Michonne suffered from the same tunnel vision he had earlier. Her eyes were riveted on his pre come coated dick. Worse than him, though, she was sporting a lascivious grin.

He was aroused by the attention, and his cock jumped before her eyes. Michonne lowered and licked his length, like a cone, all around, swallowing down his pre-come in the process. She took the head of his cock into her mouth, and Rick sucked in a breath through his teeth. He didn't allow himself to stay in her mouth, however.

Michonne was ready to protest when he took his dick back. She liked the taste she'd gotten, and she wanted more. She wanted to drive him crazy. But when she straightened, he said, "Next time," and kissed her.

She forgot her protest.

"How do you want it?" she asked against his lips.

"Jesus," he whispered. He had so many wants. So many. He wanted her in the bathroom of the cowardly Father's church after hacking into Gareth, for one. Yes, some of his wants were no longer location-appropriate. Or situation-appropriate.

"On your back," he answered.

Michonne sat and scooted back to lay her head on the pillow again. She spread her knees, ready to be ravaged.

Rick shook his head. Judging by the gleam in her resplendent brown eyes, he was sure she knew how sexy she looked.

He leaned over her, placed a light kiss on the right side of her jaw and said, "You're gonna drive me crazy."

Michonne turned her lips toward his and said, "Good. I promise to put you together again."

Maybe he was crazy for that to make his dick jump, but it did, so there it was.

He claimed her lips and used the opportunity to begin sliding into her.

The feeling of sliding into her, of her swallowing him inch by inch, was magnificent.

"Oh my God," he groaned when her pussy fluttered against his girth.

"You feel so….good," Michonne choked. She trailed her hands down his back, and Rick shivered.

He rose to the full length of his arms and began fucking her. She was clinging to his arms as soon as he started. He wanted to die here. He wanted to come here. He wanted to stay here and live out the rest of his existence, right here between her thighs, right here in her pussy. He wanted this moment to stretch into forever.

Michonne had to fold her lips tight to keep from mewling every time he surged in and still some kind of sound escaped her throat every time.

Rick cursed under his breath and removed the pillow from under her head. He lowered to his elbows and fucked her in search of salvation, in search of purpose and reaffirmation. He fucked her to tell her he wanted her, he loved her, and she had his heart. He fucked her to tell her there was a lot more he wanted with her.

He got closer before she did, his breaths forcing themselves through his lungs.

"Go," Michonne huffed in his ear. "Do it."

She gave him permission to let go in a way that he hadn't in a long time. The closer he got, the emptier he started feeling, fears of failure, feelings of responsibility, death, Noah, Bob, Tyreese, Beth, fears for his kids, the past, the future, even the present, figuring things out, all the problems in Alexandria, always thinking, always on his game, always alert, always thinking of every angle, always ready, all of it was pulled from his hands, pulled from his mind, pulled from his pores. Everything fell away except for the most important woman in his life.

He breathed against her neck, scared of that moment when all of the weight would be snatched from him, and he'd have nothing except his own feelings, just himself, responsible for nothing else but riding out his orgasm.

He tightened his hold on her when he came, clung to her, and she clung back, securing him. His body tightened as he spilled, and he moaned brokenly, bringing tears to Michonne's eyes.

His body relaxed all at once when he was done, his breath fast on her neck. When it halted suddenly, she knew he was crying.

She told him she loved him. She whispered and weaved it all over his body.

Chapter Text

The sun rose to shine on Rick and Michonne facing each other as they slept, his pinky and ring fingers laying on top of hers.

The routine was that Rick prepared Judith for the day, and then he brought her down to Carl in the kitchen.

Today, Rick overslept.

Judith was awake, but she recognized the two people on the bed across from hers, so she was content to roam around her crib.

Carl was downstairs, but he decided to go up to check on his father, passing Rick's shirt on the couch from the night before. He'd seen that Michonne's door was open when he first came out of his room, so he decided to go knock on her door first.

He found the room empty, though the bed was disheveled. He remembered then that he hadn't really heard any movement from the room earlier. Still, he softly called for her, even though the room didn't open into any other room. What he was looking at was it.

He left the room and went back up the hall to knock on Rick's door. He knocked twice before he called Rick's name.

"Dad, are you up?"

Rick's eyes snapped open, but Michonne was a slower to wake. When she did, she popped her head off the bed. Her brown eyes widened when she saw Rick.

"Dad!" Carl called again as he knocked. He frowned.

"Oh my God," Michonne whispered, alarm setting in.

"Carl! Yeah, I'm-" Rick shuffled off the bed and grabbed his pajama pants off the floor to cover his dick. He hurried to the door to keep it closed in case Carl thought to come in. "I'm up. Are you okay?"

"Yeah," Carl shrugged. "It's just I think you're late. I'm sure you're late."

"Yeah, I'll be right out," Rick said.

"You overslept?" Carl asked, his tone now tinted by amusement.

"Yeah, I think so," Rick said as he looked at Michonne. They were both kicking themselves for oversleeping.

On the other side of the door, Carl was glad Rick had relaxed enough to oversleep.

"I'll get Judy ready and bring her to you, okay?" Rick asked.

"Okay. Michonne left already? Well, you wouldn't know. I think she left already."

Michonne, who had gotten off the bed as quietly as possible and dressed, motioned for Rick to say he didn't know.

"I don't know," Rick reported to his son.

"Okay," Carl said quietly, thinking it was weird for Michonne to up and leave so early. "I'll wait for you downstairs."

"Okay," Rick said. He sagged against the door in relief when Carl walked away.

"We're not gonna get away with this," Michonne said quietly.

"Yes, we will. We can. We can say you were in the shower."

"He won't have heard the water running," Michonne pointed out.

"You don't have to have been showerin'. We'll just say you were in there."

"That's if he hasn't used the bathroom," Michonne countered, her eyes wide.

Rick sighed and slumped his shoulders. She wasn't helping.

"We may be experts at fooling a baby, but how about a teenager?" Michonne asked. "I should've left when I said I was gonna leave."

"You didn't wanna leave," Rick countered.

"You didn't want me to leave."

"Yeah, but you didn't wanna leave," Rick maintained, his lips stretching into a smile.

"Stay a little bit, please," Michonne said, smiling as she repeated his words from the night before.

"Yeah, and you loved it when I said it," he said, walking toward her.

"And now we're stuck. We need to do something. I can't tell him I was in the bathroom without first knowing he didn't go in there."

Rick put the pants on, even though he needed to hop in the shower. "What time is it?" he asked as he headed toward his watch. "About twenty minutes past where we're supposed to be," he answered after he picked up the watch. "Carl must've overslept, too."

"Rick, we need a solution," Michonne said as she picked Judith up from the crib.

"Can I get a good morning kiss first?" Rick asked as he walked around the bed. "If we're stuck, then getting a good morning kiss won't cause any more damage."

Michonne slumped her shoulders, understanding now that he wasn't taking this all that seriously. But when he was close enough, she did kiss him, and she did make it last.

"You're enjoying this," she said, shortly after they parted.

"Today is a good day," Rick said with a serene smile. He kissed her neck and then pulled her into a hug, Judith and all, and laid his forehead on her shoulder.

Michonne smiled and draped her free hand across his shoulders. She wasn't in the habit of touching Rick, but she registered that he was completely relaxed against her body, and she knew this was different from how he usually held himself.

"We have to do better, Rick," she murmured. "It was our first time, and we're already on the verge of getting caught."

Rick chuckled and kissed her neck again. "Yeah," he said as he straightened. He placed another kiss to her forehead, and Michonne pecked him on the lips again. She had a feeling that he would prefer to stay in today.

She wouldn't necessarily mind staying in herself. And then Rick gave it to her, although it wasn't the complete package.

"You should stay home today," he said. "Relax. Eat candy. If you haven't eaten them already."

"I haven't," she said, playfully offended. "But I should've served them up as dessert last night."

"We can do that tonight," he suggested.

Michonne smiled and shifted Judith to her other arm. "Is this a ploy to get me back on the Alexandria bandwagon?"

"It is."

"Hmm. It's working. But you know, Rick, I don't need this place. Everything I need is in this house. And, you know, in a couple of the other houses."

"That's the sex talkin'," Rick said.

"Oh, excuse me, Rick," Michonne said, slapping his arm before he could move out of her reach. "What are we telling your son?" Michonne asked, getting them back on topic.

"Oh, he's my son now?"

Michonne's heart trembled, and she was speechless for a moment.

Rick's smile grew at her obvious reaction. "Okay, so we'll need to have a conversation with him."

"I don't want to have a conversation with him until we're sure of what we're telling him."

"I know. Which means you and I need to have another conversation."

"We do," Michonne agreed.

Judith grimaced and started to cry, the sound halting before it became a steady stream.

"I know; I know," Rick said. "We're gonna change you, and we're gonna feed you."

"I'll do the second after I hide myself in a bathroom," Michonne joked. She kissed Judith and then handed her over to Rick.

She headed for the door, but Rick stopped her before she opened it.

"Hey. We're gonna talk again, but….we don't need to wait until we talk to Carl to meet again, right?"

"Meet again?" Michonne asked, smiling.

"You know what I mean."

"You're incorrigible," she chastised, shaking her head. She opened the door and left.

"That wasn't an answer," Rick complained to Judith, who only continued to cry. "I know. You don't care right now."

Chapter Text

Michonne decided to shower while she was in the bathroom. She knew she was making Rick even more late, but what was the point of having been in the bathroom "this whole time" if she didn't shower? She was paranoid that Carl would become curious about why she'd locked herself in and done absolutely nothing in the way of getting ready for the day. And that's if he hasn't already used the bathroom.

Rick came in to take care of Judith while she was in the shower, cheekily commenting that he hoped she was alright with him being in there. She told him that it was fine, as long as he refrained from ogling her through the glass. To help him out, she wiped away the steam that covered it.

Rick turned his head from the sink to catch a glimpse and saw more than he thought he would. "I'm making sure you don't slip and fall," he joked.

Michonne laughed, and the sound tinkled along Rick's eardrums.

Afterward, Rick gave Michonne a sputtering but dressed Judith as she walked by his room, and he went to shower.

Carl of course made a comment when she joined him downstairs, letting her know that he thought she'd left. Thankfully, her bathroom lie sailed and other than looking at her a little too long, he didn't ask any questions.

She handed Judith to him so he could feed her, as he'd already prepared her breakfast, and she went into the kitchen to prepare hers, his, and Rick's.

"Last night was cool," Carl said, trying to wrangle Judith's kicking legs as he sat at the table.

"Did you sleep okay?" Michonne asked over Judith's cries. The more Judith cried, the guiltier she felt about her and Rick sleeping past her regular feeding time.

"Yeah, I slept great," Carl answered over Judith. "You? Look, here it is. Here it is," he baited Judith. "Say aaah."

"I slept great," Michonne answered lightly, twisting her lips to one side to hide her smile.

"I think it can work here," Carl said.

She could tell by his tone that he was looking to her for confirmation. She's become something of an expert at identifying that tone. "We're working on it," she said genuinely.

Thanks to her conversation and….morale-building exercise with Rick last night, she was feeling a little more positive about staying in Alexandria, but she wanted to wait for the outcome of Rick's talk with Deanna before she sent Carl's hopes through the roof.

"Speaking of staying here, you never told me how it went with Enid yesterday," she continued as she turned back to the beginnings of her oatmeal. She decided she'd top it off with the one banana they'd been granted from the pantry. She also decided in that moment that if Deanna agreed to Rick's changes and they stayed, she would make herself and the boys a big breakfast soon, if she could shake that big of a ration out of Deanna. Maybe she'd make it for the whole group, sell it as them celebrating finding a home in Alexandria. Deanna would probably be more amenable to that.

"Mmm," Carl said to Judith as he fed her her yogurt. "Remember to breathe," he warned her when she inhaled deeply.

Michonne laughed and looked over at them.

"I talked to dad about it," Carl said as he raised his eyes to Michonne.

"Oh, so that means I don't need to know?"

Carl shifted his eyes, a sign of his discomfort. "I just….I'll tell you. But I don't want to yet."

"Okay," Michonne said, eyeing him curiously. "When you're ready."

An easy silence fell between them until the doorbell interrupted. Michonne left the stove to go ask who it is and was happy when Daryl answered.

"Hi," she greeted him jubilantly when she opened the door.

Daryl narrowed his eyes. "Hi," he answered carefully.

"What's wrong?" Michonne asked, her smile slipping.

"Nothin'," Daryl answered with a shrug. "Good mornin'. I'm here to see my best friend."

"I feel like you're not talking about Rick."

"I sure ain't," Daryl answered as he moved into the house.

Michonne chuckled and closed the door behind him.

"Good mornin'," Daryl greeted Carl as he walked to the kitchen, taking note of the shirt on the couch as he passed.

"Morning," Carl greeted, happy to see him. "Are you actually staying in today?"

"Nope. I'm leavin' with Aaron in about twenty minutes. It feels like I haven't seen this one in too long, so I thought I'd stop by."

"Does this mean you can't stay for breakfast?" Michonne asked.

Daryl turned from where he was hunched over at eye level with Judith to look at Michonne. She looked completely at home. It gave him a strange feeling, because he'd never seen her look like that before, like she was a transplant into the apocalypse, not the katana-swinging badass he loved.

"Uh, maybe," he answered. "Don't you have a job to get to, too?" he asked, taking in her too-casual outfit.

"Rick and I decided I'd stay in today," Michonne said with a shrug. There was a change in Daryl's demeanor, and she'd felt it right after she'd greeted him at the door. The change was still in place. She felt like he was scrutinizing her. So she was trying to look nonchalant. Except she felt like she was failing because she was maintaining too much eye contact.

Just then, Rick joined them, in full constable regalia.

"I'm sure y'all did," Daryl murmured as he watched Rick walk in. If Michonne's bright greeting at the door hadn't given them away, and the shirt had magically disappeared from the couch, Rick's entrance would have done the job. The man walked like he'd never hidden a gun in his life, never disparaged the town, like he'd run into Alexandria bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Daryl straightened to make sure his eyes were still working. He couldn't contain the grin that graced his face at the sight of his friend.

"You forgot your shirt down here last night," Carl said innocently as he jerked his chin toward the couch.

Rick stopped in his tracks and then cursed his reaction. "Good morning to you, too, Carl."

"Oh. Since we talked earlier, I figured….good morning," Carl said, turning on the charm.

Rick shook his head. And then begrudgingly looked at Daryl. Who was outright smiling now.

Michonne caught the whole thing and quickly turned back to the stove before Daryl turned his unnervingly knowing smile on her. They were so busted. One down.

"Mornin', Rick," Daryl greeted.

"Mornin' Daryl," Rick said. He knew he was going to hear about it later.

"I will stay for breakfast," Daryl said to Michonne, who accepted his acceptance without turning around.

"I'm leavin' for breakfast," Rick said.

That got Michonne to turn from the stove.

"I can't be later than I already am," he said to her, keenly aware that Daryl was watching, still with that stupid smile.

"Then grab the banana," Michonne said as she grabbed the fruit herself and handed it to him. "We'll just have plain oatmeal."

"Thanks," he said. He wanted to kiss her goodbye, but Daryl and Carl….. "I'll see you later."

And then he realized his mistake. He was speaking only to Michonne. Instead of giving Daryl the satisfaction by adding all of you, he kept his mouth shut. He nodded to Carl, secretly told Judith he loved her, and then he headed for the front door.

"Want me to walk with you? I can skip breakfast," Daryl suggested.

Rick heard the smug amusement in his voice. "No," he deadpanned.

At the stove, Michonne pursed her lips. At least Rick had escaped.


Enid came over soon after Rick left. Michonne went to get the door and had enough foresight to go tell Carl she was visiting before she let Enid in. Carl handed Judith to Daryl and bolted from the kitchen to go take a shower, to the two trackers' infinite enjoyment.

"We got a girl?" Daryl asked.

"We got a girl," Michonne confirmed.

"Damn," Daryl said quietly, his eyes on where Carl had disappeared. "Rick know? Cause that means he's getting attached to this place."

"He knows. And...him getting attached to this place might not be so bad."

Daryl nodded. He was glad to hear that. He wanted to ask her how Carol and Rick's distrust of the town fit into that, but he wasn't sure if Rick had come clean. He considered the possibility that Rick had spilled it all, since he and Michonne were apparently breaking down all barriers between them.

"So you and Rick are playin' hide the sausage?" he asked seriously.

Michonne snapped her spine straight and left the kitchen to get back to Enid. "You're too young to be saying that," she said over her shoulder.

Enid was very polite when Michonne let her in and told her Carl would be a minute. Her posture was softer, her shoulders rounded instead of the soldier-straight they'd been the day before when she'd been defensive. Michonne wondered if it had something to do with whatever it was that Carl didn't want to tell her yet.

"I don't know how to….softly lead in to this, but….I'm sorry about Noah."

Michonne nodded gracefully. "Thank you."

"I've had time to think about all you said yesterday. You're right; I know you're right; it's just….After I heard what happened to Noah….I mean you guys just got here, and already….It was a reminder that this place isn't the safe zone everyone pretends it is. I mean how safe are you if you can't go outside, right?"

"Right," Michonne acknowledged her point.

"I wasn't thinking about….how personal the loss was for you when I was reacting yesterday. I'm sorry. I'll try to stay inside."

"Apology accepted. And….I understand not wanting to forget the danger. You've been going about it the reckless way, but….I understand. I can promise you that Rick and I are going to make sure everyone here learns to be real about the danger, okay?"

"Okay," Enid said, nodding. Michonne's promise made her feel a twinge better. Just a twinge, because she could not imagine how that was going to go over with everyone else.

Michonne offered Enid a seat and a drink. Enid kindly accepted the seat but turned down the drink, too nervous about how Carl would react to her request to talk after how she'd slipped up the day before.

Michonne wondered if she should introduce Enid to Daryl but decided that it was too early in Enid and Carl's non-relationship to do that, a decision to which Daryl did not take kindly.


Not twenty minutes after Daryl left and Carl went off with Enid to join their friends, Michonne was lying next to Judith on what she secretly called the baby's play blanket, watching her crawl and talking to her when another knock sounded on the door.

"We're very popular today, baby," she said in a silly voice before she kissed Judith and hopped up to answer.

She opened it to find Jessie on the other side. And it looked like Jessie was surprised to see her, as if she was the one who'd trekked to somewhere she didn't belong. It was the same surprise she'd seen on Jessie's face when the woman had come to see Rick about her owl.

"Morning," Jessie greeted, relaxing her face into a smile.

"Morning," Michonne answered, restrained.

"Uh, I don't know what I was thinking. I actually don't know how early your day starts as constables; I figure it's probably earlier than mine, but I'm….glad I caught you," she said, hesitating as she took in Michonne's homebody attire.

"Can you tell Rick I'm here, please?"

"Rick's not here. He left for the day."

"Oh. You're not working?"

Michonne looked back to see Judith crawling off the blanket to join her at the door. "Not on the floor, Judy," she said as she walked back to pick her up and set her in the middle of the blanket. She'd been pulling her back to the blanket every time she reached the edge.

Judith began to whine, afraid that Michonne was going to walk out the door and leave her.

"I'm not going anywhere," Michonne said understanding the source of her anguish as she rubbed her back. But Judith was already reaching for her. "Okay, come on," she relented, picking her up again.

"Maybe we should talk inside," Jessie said.

When Michonne looked at the door, Jessie was already closing it behind her. Michonne stopped herself from blinking, unsure what they needed to talk about since she'd revealed that Rick was not in the house.

"I thought maybe Deanna would give you guys the day off since….Noah," Jessie said delicately.

Michonne heaved a heavy sigh. "No. I mean we didn't ask for it, and we wouldn't have taken it if she'd offered."

She was, however, intrigued by Jessie's statement, the latest example of the harsh difference between her group and the Alexandrians. Out there, there was no "day off" to grieve. You took the loss, maybe went crazy for a little bit, but you moved through it, walked through it, fought through it, survived through it, all while your heart tried to eat itself. There was no taking a timeout to reflect on the loss.

"But you're home," Jessie offered softly with a shrug of a shoulder. "That's good, at least."

"We decided that at the last minute."

Jessie nodded. "I'm really sorry about Noah. Very sorry, I-Things were supposed to be looking up. I've heard some….rumors. I hope this is okay to say, and please stop me if I'm out of bounds. This must be eating at Glenn. Nicholas is saying-"

"Nicholas is lying," Michonne said tersely. "And that's the end of that."

Jessie nodded. She wasn't sure if Michonne was in denial or trying to protect her own. The truth regarding what really happened wasn't a concern of hers. "We lose people on runs," she tried. "It's just….a reality."

"Not for us. Not for Glenn."

Jessie nodded, dropping it. By virtue of being outside, Michonne's people had to be accustomed to loss, she knew this. "The truth will come out," she said in a final bid to be hopeful.

"I was with Rick when he found out two days ago," she continued. "I wanted to come by this morning and see how he was doing. I wanted to come by yesterday, but….that didn't work out."

Michonne nodded slowly, wondering if Pete was why it hadn't worked out.

"How is he doing?" Jessie asked.

Michonne opened her mouth but took a second before she answered. And in that second, she wondered why this conversation was happening. Jessie can very well go find Rick and have this conversation with him. Or else wait until he comes home.

"He's doing okay," she answered. "As well as can be expected."

It wasn't the complete truth, but she wasn't going to go into detail and tell Jessie that, as was the case for her, Rick's happiness at taking his relationship with her to the next level was probably jockeying with his grief over Noah for dominance.

"I just hope this doesn't give him second thoughts about Alexandria," she said, taking a seat on Michonne's couch. "I've been trying to convince him to give us a shot. I think you all deserve this place."

Michonne figured that Jessie didn't need to know where Rick's head was regarding that topic, so she simply said, "We're figuring it out."

"I realize you and I haven't really talked," Jessie said, her usual pleasant smile making a return.

Again, Michonne wondered why they were still talking. Something about the conversation felt….shallow, she realized. And she hasn't had to do shallow since the mixers she used to have to do for her law firm.

Michonne didn't return Jessie's smile, but she did join her on the couch. "I guess we haven't had the chance," she said noncommittally.

Since Michonne wasn't playing ball, Jessie got stuck on how to proceed with the conversation. "You and Rick seem close," she said, and she immediately kicked herself for the obvious pry.

"We are," Michonne said, her face still straight. We slept together last night, she wanted to add. That would put an end to the conversation and get Jessie on her way. She realized then that Jessie herself was thinking along those lines: she wanted to get a feel of her relationship with Rick. After living with scum like Pete, Rick probably looked like gleaming treasure.

"Your whole group seems close," Jessie said, probably in an attempt to strip her and Rick's closeness of all intimacy, Michonne figured. "And it looks like you're very good with her," she said as she wiggled Judith's ear.

Michonne wanted to tell Jessie that she knew about Pete. Again, that would put an end to the woman's inane attempt at a recon conversation, but she and Rick have not talked about how to handle that situation yet, aside from him bringing it to Deanna's attention.

Michonne wasn't talking, and Jessie wondered if she was like this when Rick was around, too. If so, she understood why she's had to lead almost every conversation she's had with Rick so far.

"I've been kind of a cheerleader for this place where Rick's concerned," she continued. "Trying to convince him, trying to get him to see the bright side, the hope. It looks like it's been a long time since he's had that: someone who got him to see the other side, the good side. I think he can use that again, and….I think I can get him there. Because like I said, you all deserve this place, and I feel like if he decides to leave, you all will, too. I know it. And you deserve to carve out your own life," she said, specifically about Michonne.

Michonne smiled then. "Thanks. And thanks for trying so hard. I'm the one who told Rick to give Alexandria a chance. He wouldn't have stepped foot in this place otherwise. He was pretty ready to tie Aaron up and leave him to rot rather than take the chance of buying what he was selling. I'm glad you've been trying to convince him to give this place a shot, though. To see the good in it? But what happened to Noah has me doubting the good. So the truth you mentioned before? I hope Deanna sees it our way. Because if she doesn't, then I will leave."

She didn't have to say that Rick would leave with her. She didn't have to say that everyone in their group would leave, too. It was there in her breezy tone, tiny smile, and the fact that she was staring directly into Jessie's eyes, forcing the woman to stare back at her.

Jessie felt like she'd been told to get out and never come back. She felt like she'd been told to stop trying and never speak to Rick again. She felt challenged.

"You'd do that to her?" she asked as she stroke Judith's cheek with her thumb.

Michonne's stomach tightened at the unwanted contact. Her tongue pushed against her teeth with the desire to let loose an insult about Jessie's inability to protect her own kids.

But she held it back. Instead she said, "She hasn't made it this far by accident or luck."

She fell silent. Jessie had invited herself in. She was going to invite herself out, whether she realized it or not. Michonne was not going to throw her out and have her thinking she'd ruffled her feathers in any way.

And Jessie did take the cue. "I'm sure you're right. You made a good decision, convincing Rick to come here. I don't think giving up at the first sign of trouble is the right move, not for her, not for any of you. Rick needs this place. I can see it. I saw it when I first met him."

Michonne smiled again. She couldn't help it. Her stomach even contracted with the desire to outright laugh. Some woman she didn't even know had invited herself into her house to tell her what Rick needs.

"Well, I'll leave you to your day off," Jessie said, standing.

"I'll tell Rick you stopped by," Michonne said as she also stood.

"Thanks," Jessie said on her way to the door. "Maybe I'll catch him during the day. Oh, I hope you enjoyed the candy he got you."

"I haven't gotten the chance," Michonne said as she opened the door.

Jessie stepped out and turned to face her.

"I'm thinking about serving them for dessert at our next family dinner."

At that, Jessie's pleasant demeanor dimmed.

Michonne's only brightened. "Thanks for stopping by."

She closed the door before Jessie could answer and wiped the woman's thumb print from Judith's cheek.

Chapter Text

When she'd agreed to take the day off, Michonne hadn't predicted how prosaic her afternoon would be. The hours stretched on, not that she actually looked at them. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had absolutely nothing to do. The past couple of months have consisted of one life-threatening ride after another, but now she was in her nice house with her baby, and she was bored out of her mind.

She wanted to know how things were going with Rick. She wanted to know what was happening outside. She'd gone on a tirade against Jessie in her head after she'd shut the door in the woman's face, amusing herself with things she could've said to figuratively rip Jessie's face off and make her regret ever working up the gall to step inside her house to sniff for information.

She fed Judith and herself, packed a small makeshift changing bag for the baby, and she stepped out of the house.

She decided she'd go visit Tara and chat with Rosita. As much as she didn't want to be, she was itching to tell someone about Jessie's visit, primarily because it was completely absurd and the last thing she'd expected to experience in the damn apocalypse. She planned to tell Rick, of course, but she wanted, well, she wanted to gossip.

The opportunity to tell Rick came faster than she expected when a catcall came from behind her.

"Hey. Hottie with the baby."

A smile bloomed on her face when she heard his voice, and she turned in his direction.

"Hi," she greeted.

"Hi, gorgeous."

"You're gonna have to give me some kind of grace period to get used to this side of you. Where's the man who was flustered about asking me to move in with him?"

"You moved in with him," Rick replied, all the while giving Michonne a smile that she could not resist. There were two too many people milling about the street, so she couldn't kiss him like she wanted to. She couldn't kiss him at all. She couldn't risk any of these people seeing them and then making a comment to their friends and them finding out that way.

Rick apparently felt the same way, because he looked at her lips but didn't do anything to them.

Judith practically jumped from Michonne's hands to be held by her daddy.

"How you ladies doin'?" Rick asked after he secured Judith in his arms.

"Pretty good," Michonne answered. "Out for a stroll, going to visit Tara. How's your day been going?"

"Not good. I spoke with Deanna about Pete and Jesse. She knows. She's looking at the practical side of it, where she doesn't wanna piss off the town's only doctor. All I see is a breeding ground for double standards where if you can manage to have a special skill, then you're free to be a stain on the town."

"I was thinking the same thing. Jesus, I wonder if Jesse knows that she knows. I wonder if Jesse's tried to come to her."

"Something tells me she wouldn't."

"You're probably right."

"She's not feeling good about us, Michonne," Rick said of Deanna. "It was all over her face, all in her eyes: she's thinkin' that we showed up, and her son died. That's all she sees. Remember when you said she might've put you and I, Abraham and Glenn into these positions because she's just that smart? Like maybe it's a test? That ain't the case. Now she's suspicious about what we might do in our positions."

"I should've gone in today," Michonne said.

Rick shook his head in disagreement. "I told her she was going about it the wrong way with Pete and went into enough detail about how this place ain't what it needs to be for us to feel comfortable. That's when her suspicion went up."

Michonne took a deep breath and released it. "I'm starting to get a bad feeling."

"What, about them? They ain't gonna rise up against us. They probably don't know how to use half the weapons in that armory, not even Deanna and Reg."

"But they have people who do," Michonne countered. "Nicholas? And what about the remaining son, Spencer? We wouldn't be able to assemble quick enough: Daryl's out; Abraham's in the field; Sasha's in the tower….."

"Nothing's gonna happen yet," Rick said calmly.

"But what are you thinking?"

Rick considered her a moment and then stepped close to her before he answered. "The night I decided we were staying, I had a conversation with Daryl and Carol. I told them that if these people were too weak to keep this place, we'd take it from them. And that's what it's looking like. They can't keep this place going, and Deanna's got her eyes on the wrong thing."

"When you say take this place, what are you talking about?"

"I mean take it. Take over."

"Conquer," Michonne clarified.

"Same thing," he drawled.

"Yeah, but you were walking around it."

"If I knew that's what you wanted to hear, I would've said it the first time."

"I'm not into this idea, Rick," Michonne said, small frown lines appearing on her forehead as her inky eyes bore into Rick. "For one thing, the conquered people? They're not just going to disappear. How do you plan on looking them in the eye after?"

"It's a worst case scenario."

"That you just said is right around the corner, ready to be played out," Michonne reminded him. "Look. I agree that something needs to be done. I see what you see. But you're not a conqueror. That's not who you are."

Rick slowly exhaled through his nose. "Ever since I lost the prison, it's been one situation after another where I'm forced to act in ways that aren't necessarily who I am. Hell, even before then, when I-when I had to kill my best friend. I think, I think that phrase, that's not who you are, is moot nowadays. It has to be or else we wouldn't have gotten this far. would not have made it this far."

"I get what you're saying," Michonne enunciated. "But I also think you get what I'm saying. You're not a conqueror, some post-apocalyptic colonizer."

"I will be if I have to be," Rick said. "I meant what I said last night. I want to give you this place, us this place, every last one of us. That's where I am. That's what I've decided. And if this is another one of those situations, then I'm ready for it."

"You're not thinking about the future," Michonne deduced. "You're not thinking about what would come after, what would have to come after. That's the only way you can keep talking the way you are. And that's what I mean when I say this isn't you. You don't just think about the fix, you think about what comes after. You see angles. You calculate. This isn't calculating."

Rick slowly inhaled through his nose, a subtle way of acknowledging her point. "So what do you propose?"

"Democracy."

"What?"

"You heard me."

"You've gotta be kidding. You wanna put it to a vote? You want these people to vote? For me?"

"I do."

"Me versus Deanna, who throws them parties and speaks to them in soft voices, keeps them ignorant, and let's them be delusional. You think they're gonna go for me over her," he said doubtfully.

"I do. You were a Sheriff before. That's an elected position," she shrugged.

"I was a deputy. And you know that."

"I can easily see the people of King County electing you. We elected you," she reminded him when he rolled his eyes. "Didn't you tell me once that Shane was the leader before you showed up, and everyone gravitated toward you?" she asked, silently wishing for the first time that he'd stop referring to Shane as his best friend.

"Some of them begrudgingly gravitated towards me," he said, thinking about Carol, Andrea, and even Maggie at first.

"You're splitting hairs," Michonne said. "You can win."

"And if I don't? How the hell do I even….campaign?"

"We can call for a meeting."

"Jesus. And if that doesn't work? What if I don't win? You're putting a lot of faith in these people."

"No, I'm putting my faith in you. I know you're better than her. I know you can lead these people. But they won't be the type of people you wanna lead if you force it on 'em. You are what they need."

"What if they don't agree, Michonne?" Rick maintained. "What if they vote for her?"

Michonne didn't have a direct answer for his question. She knew that Rick was who the people needed, but she honestly wasn't sure if the people would agree. It would be so much easier if Deanna just agreed to Rick's suggestions. Now she wanted to lean on the it's just a worst case scenario option. But that would be akin to pulling a blanket over their heads, and they literally could not afford to do that.

"Let's just take it one day at a time," she said.

"You didn't see her face. I'm kind of feeling like the days are numbered."

"Then let's take it an hour at a time. Where are you headed right now?" she asked.

Rick inhaled, giving himself time to switch gears. "Jesse's place. Since Deanna doesn't care, I'm going to bring the issue up to her, let her know that I know, let her know that the option for safety is there, and ask her what she wants."

"You're gonna go over Deanna's head," she realized.

"You think it's a bad idea?" he asked.

"I think it's the only idea. But I think that shrinks our one hour at a time to one minute at a time. She's gonna find out."

"I know. I'll deal with it when it happens."

"I think we should tell everyone what's happening as soon as possible. Shrink the distance I mentioned earlier. Everyone will know to stick closer to each other."

Rick nodded his agreement.

The tension of the topic drained from their faces and shoulders until their lashes lowered and their lips twitched into tiny smiles, their minds now only focused on who exactly they were looking at.

"We don't seem to have a lot more time here than we did outside," Michonne commented softly. "Between the teenager, the baby, and the job, we didn't even have time for pillow talk."

Rick grinned. "I know. We need to make up for that."

"I'm getting a bona fide list now," Michonne said. "Remember, I still owe you a blowjob," she said, mouthing the word.

Rick chuckled, wanting to kiss her more than anything.

"We're standing way too close," Michonne observed. "Someone might think we're up to something."

"God, you don't think Deanna has spies, do you?" Rick asked.

"I honestly don't know. If she didn't before, she might think to have some now."

"Mmm. And yet I don't give a damn. Mind if I walk with you?" he asked.

The clinic, such as it was, was the first house in the neighborhood. Deanna had decreed it so that the wounded wouldn't have to travel far to get care, which had come in very handy for Tara. And since he was the doctor, Pete and his family lived in the second house.

"You may walk with us," Michonne answered, grinning. She decided she'd tell him about Jesse's visit later.

Chapter Text

"She's still stable, but I'm kind of beginning to freak out, because stable sounds good, but it could easily take a turn for the worse," Rosita said, her arms crossed as she looked at a still-unconscious Tara.

Michonne moved one of the visitor's chairs to the end of the bed and sat with Judith, sighing as she did so. "I wanna say you can't think like that, but….All we can do is hope. Which is amazing in and of itself: that after everything we can still freaking hope."

Michonne shook her head as she gazed at Tara. Whatever happened, there couldn't be an upheaval while Tara was like this. She was too vulnerable, though she didn't doubt that Rosita would do everything in her power to protect her.

"Anyways," Rosita sighed, "How did it go with the kiddies yesterday? Did you get attitude?"

"I did from Enid," Michonne said, smiling. "But she came by this morning, singing a completely different tune. I think it's because she likes Carl. She's having trouble adjusting to this place and wants to remind herself that the world isn't at all Pleasantville."

"How long she been here?" Rosita asked.

"I don't know. And Carl, well, he hasn't given me attitude since we first met. He understood where I was coming from and even spilled that this wasn't the first time she'd gone beyond the wall or the first time he'd followed her."

"Wow, I'm sure Rick loved that."

Michonne smiled, unable to think about Rick finding out about Carl's activities without also thinking about their nice makeout session. She blinked when she was realized she hadn't confirmed or denied Rosita's assumption. "He was fine. I mean I talked to him. He spoke to Carl and let what I said stand."

"Nice," Rosita said quietly, wondering how Michonne and Rick's setup was going.

"Have you seen Sasha since yesterday?"

"Yeah, I peeped up at the tower this morning to see if she was there. She was. I don't think she's at the talking stage yet."

"I don't think so either. Oh my God," Michonne said, straightening up in the chair.

"What?"

"She's living alone. She's living alone. She lived with Noah and Tara, and Noah's….he's gone, and Tara's….here. Couple that with Bob and Tyreese-"

"Jesus, no wonder she's freaking out."

"We need to move her in with someone."

"Something tells me that's not gonna be an easy move," Rosita said.

Michonne sighed and sat back.

"Is everything okay?" Rosita asked.

"What do you mean?" Michonne asked, confused because they were speaking pretty openly, as far as she knew.

"I don't know. You're giving me a couple of things right now. Ever since this shit started, well, being able to read people you come across has been an invaluable skill. And you are giving me a couple of different things. I see worry, which I know is partly for Tara, but I'm seeing something else, and then…."

Michonne raised her brows.

"There's a glow," Rosita stated.

"A glow?" Michonne asked, her stomach somersaulting, not with trepidation but with excitement that it was apparent that, well, that she'd very recently had a good time.

"A glow," Rosita stated contemplatively. "I mean I looked at you when the door opened, and it was like freaking rays of sunshine into the room."

"Oh please, it wasn't all that," Michonne said, embarrassed.

"So there is a glow, and you're admitting it," Rosita said, intrigued.

She's been wondering about Michonne's story. The woman was a force on sight alone, cemented whenever she opened her mouth to speak. Her intrigue had only risen when Michonne had easily taken control from Rick and dictated what their next move would be.

"You wanna spill or is this none of my business?" Rosita asked as Michonne struggled to contain her smile.

This was the jockeying that Michonne had thought about when Jessie had asked her how Rick was doing. She was worrying about Tara, and the group's future in Alexandria, and the loss of Noah, yet the mere mention of Rick was making her lose control of her facial muscles.

She took a deep breath to calm herself and adjusted Judith in her lap. She wasn't sure how to do this. She didn't even know how to introduce the topic. And really, it shouldn't be this hard, because it wasn't like Rosita has been with the group for long. She barely knew her and Rick, so this should be easy. And yet she struggled.

"So….A lot has been going on since we got here. So far, it hasn't been completely what I've hoped for, not even half of what I've hoped for, really. I never expected to lose another one of us, especially not this soon. But it happened. But….there's also this other side, this side that….makes me think….maybe this place is doable, given the right adjustments."

Rosita's curiosity was more than piqued. She has never seen Michonne hesitate, not in word, not in deed.

Michonne took another deep breath. If telling Rosita was this hard and awkward, how the hell was she going to tell Carl? At least Rick would be with her. Maybe she'd let him do the talking.

"Rick and I took a step," she said.

Rosita kept her face straight.

"We're a little bit more than friends right now. A lot more than friends, and...I need you to keep that to yourself, because we haven't talked to Carl about it yet. Daryl knows. He figured it out this morning."

Rosita continued to stare at her.

"Say something," Michonne urged, her voice a decibel louder.

"I'm sorry," Rosita said, shaking her head as if to clear it. "I'm sorry. I just….You and Rick took a step?"

Michonne wasn't sure if Rosita was having a positive reaction or a negative reaction. Maybe, just maybe, she was about to express disgust at them for taking steps while a few good number of the group was in shambles.

"You mean you guys haven't been fucking this whole time?" Rosita asked.

"What?" Michonne asked, lost at the turn the conversation just took.

"You guys just did it. Like, after we got here? What the hell were doing this whole time?"

"What?"

"You and Rick haven't been sleeping together this whole time," Rosita said loudly. "Y'all weren't together."

"No."

Rosita's mouth went slack, and Michonne raised her brows.

"I gotta tell Abraham," Rosita said.

"What?"

"Wait, sorry, you said not to tell anyone because Carl doesn't know."

"No, what are you talking about? You thought Rick and I were together?"

"Me, Abraham, Eugene, and Tara thought y'all had something going on."

"Why?"

"Is that a rhetorical question?"

Michonne laughed. "We never act like a couple."

"I guess that's relative."

"We've never acted anything like Glenn and Maggie."

"As if that's the standard?" Rosita asked.

"We've never gone off together, and in this world that is the standard."

"We just thought y'all were really good with the secrecy. It makes sense. He's the leader. He can't be seen fraternizing. It can make things awkward. Abraham and I kept it from Eugene when we first started. Ours was even worse, 'cause there's only three of us. But Eugene quickly figured it out 'cause he's Eugene."

"So the four of you gossip about us," Michonne said incredulously.

"We were curious," she shrugged. "Tara came into it, because I asked her. She said she wasn't sure, because she hasn't been with you guys long either. We've been debating her asking Glenn, but we kind of all agreed that that'd be all gauche and stuff, but we haven't completely ruled it out yet. And now we have an answer."

"Wow. I had no idea you all had that much time on your hands."

Rosita made a face at her. "But kudos to you, though. I mean damn. Both of you. Y'all really kept it platonic this whole time."

Michonne rolled her eyes, her entire body hot with embarrassment. "Well, that's that. Oh, but speaking of which: do you remember Jesse, the woman who showed you all the different houses?"

"Yeah, Pete's wife. Rick talked to me about her this morning."

"He did?" she frowned.

"Yeah. I don't know if you know, but things ain't all white picket fence in her house."

"Yeah, he told me yesterday."

"Of course you know," Rosita said. "He came by this morning and told me to be careful and not to leave him alone with Tara. Which I hadn't been doing in the first place. He said he was gonna tell Deanna about it."

"He did, but it didn't go well. She knows, but since he's the only doctor, she doesn't wanna ruffle his feathers."

"Damn. I mean….I guess I get it, as messed up as that is, but damn. So what's he gonna do?"

"Help Jesse, if she wants it. And I have no doubt she'll want it, especially since it's coming from him."

"Uh, what does that mean?" Rosita asked, cocking her head.

"It means that I think Rick has given Jesse a reason to want more for her and her kids. This morning, she knocked on my door, invited herself in while I was tending to the baby, and started saying things that amounted to: she really, really wants Rick to stay in Alexandria; she's the beacon of hope he's needed this whole time; and I deserve to carve out my own life, AKA move out of the house so she doesn't have to worry about Rick living with another woman."

"Stop it. That shit didn't happen. Stop."

"It sure as hell did, and I couldn't believe it was happening. She tried to be subtle with it, all smiles, and concerns, and hmm," Michonne said, lifting her shoulders as she mimicked a timid laugh, "But no less obvious."

"What did you say? Did you tell her about herself?"

"I told her about me. I told her in no uncertain terms that I got Rick to Alexandria, and I can get him out. She knows good and damn well that this place isn't what she's selling it to be. I'm glad that she's inspired by Rick to want more. But that more ain't Rick. Sorry, but it ain't."

"You better let her know," Rosita said. "This ain't husband swap; ain't nobody on deck. We can help her out of her situation, help her adjust, but Pete's replacement ain't waiting in the wings for her. Uh uh. Does Rick know?"

"I haven't told him yet, not about the visit anyway. Has he picked up that she's feeling him? I don't know. He's been busy trying to figure out if this place will work for us since we got here. Knowing Rick, her interest is the last thing his radar would pick up right now."

"Well apparently, figuring out if this place will work for us ain't all he's been busy with," Rosita said suggestively.

Michonne rolled her eyes, though she couldn't contain her smile.

"See, he said upfront that y'all were gonna live together," Rosita said. "To me, that was more proof that y'all were doing it. Anyways, I hope Miss Jessie got the message."

Rosita couldn't help but think about her and Abraham. Like Michonne, she was with a man who'd built a whole family before her. He'd planned for and had been looking forward to a future with them. And then he'd lost them. Unlike Michonne, she couldn't hold any remnants of Abraham's past. His kids had perished with their mother. No one who saw them together could pass judgment on her as deeply as they could Michonne. But she wishes some woman would roll up on her and tell her to go on somewhere to make space for her and her seedlings.

The sound of shattering glass cut into her musings. "What the heck was that?" she asked, startled by the sound.

"Rick," Michonne realized. "Take her," she said, standing to hand Judith over. "You know how to hold a baby?"

"Yeah."

Michonne hurried out as soon as Judith was secure in Rosita's arms.


Michonne's legs carried her fast to the commotion. Although her thoughts had immediately flown to Rick when she'd heard the glass break, it was something else completely to see him fighting with Pete in the middle of the street. And a crowd was quickly gathering.

She saw Glenn running up to the crowd; she spotted Enid and Carl, who's eyes flicked to Michonne to help him figure out if he should jump in to help his dad or stop him. And she saw Carol standing a ways away with a little boy behind her.

Michonne thought about joining the fight until she spotted Deanna and Reg running up. She made a split-second decision to raise her voice and oppose Rick's actions before Deanna did.

"Rick!" Michonne yelled as she arrived. "Rick, stop."

"Stop!" Deanna said when she stopped running. "Stop it. Right now," Deanna said.

Rick did just that. Pete was laid out cold on the ground, and Rick stared Deanna down.

"I tried to talk to you," Rick said breathlessly, his emotions deepening his Southern twang. He seized the chance to cast aspersions on Deanna's character. "I told you that one of your own is unsafe in her own house, and you didn't give a damn! You'd rather have the doctor than protect one of your constituents. What the hell does that say for everybody else? You can get hit upside the head as long as the person hittin' ya is good for somethin'?" he asked the crowd. "We have to control who lives here," he said, pointing to Pete's unconscious body.

"That's never been more clear to me than it is right now," Deanna said stoically.

"Me? Me? You mean me? You're gonna destroy this place. You're gonna get people killed; you've already gotten people killed. I'm not gonna stand by and lose more of my people, because you don't get it. Because you refuse to get it. All of you refuse to get it!" he screamed, all of his frustrations boiling over. "We're the ones who liveWe know what needs to be done, and we do it. Y'all just sit, and plan, and hesitate. You think you know when you don't! You wish things weren't what they are. Well, you wanna live? You want this place to stay standing? Your way of doing things is done! Things don't get better because you want them to. If you don't learn to fight, you die. Y'all need to start living in the real world."

"Turn in your weapon," Deanna spat.

"Rick," Michonne said, intervening before the man in question could respond. Her voice was as hard as Deanna's as she felt out the crowd around her. Some of Rick's words had penetrated. Some had not. Separating herself from the crowd, she walked inside the circle.

Rick turned his blood-soaked face up at her, and she almost flinched.

"Hand it over," she said, holding her hand out.

Rick narrowed his eyes, openly confused by what she was doing. She wanted him to go the democratic route, and that was what he was doing. He was talking to the people.

"Stand down," Michonne said, staring into his eyes. What she could see of them. "Hand it over."

Swallowing, Rick took the gun from the back of his pants and placed it in her hands.

Once the weapon was in her hand, Michonne turned steel eyes on Deanna.

"I want him isolated," Deanna announced.

Like you should've done to Pete a long time ago? Rick almost asked, but he knew Michonne didn't want him to speak anymore.

"Spencer, see to it?" Deanna asked.

Spencer visibly hesitated in front of everyone. He did not want to handle Rick.

"Michonne will help, and Reg will supervise," Deanna said. "Nicholas and Glenn, you'll isolate Pete, and….and Maggie will supervise. Everyone, please go back to what you were doing. This will be taken cared of. I promise you that."

She headed to a sobbing Jesse. With a final look to Rick, who now struggled to his feet, Michonne left the circle and went to Carl and Enid.

"What's going on?" Carl asked quietly.

"A lot. Judy's with Rosita," she returned quietly, her eyes flicking up to the house next to Pete's where Rosita was standing on the porch, trying to shush the crying baby, her eyes on the crowd. "Go get her and take her home," Michonne said. "I'm gonna make sure your father's okay. I need to talk to Deanna."

"Why was he fighting?" Carl asked.

"Because he's trying to help-"

"Help? How does this help? Those people looked-"

"CarlGo get Judith and go home. I will explain later," Michonne said slowly.

"Okay," Carl said, casting a worried look at his father before heading off with Enid.

"Are we using handcuffs?" Spencer asked loudly, looking for anybody to answer.

"No," Michonne answered authoritatively as she returned her attention to the situation at hand.

Chapter Text

Rick paced the length of the small room as he waited. All it contained was a mattress on the floor, a window with a terrible view, and a chair. Michonne, Spencer, and Reg had walked him in, with Reg telling him to go ahead and cool down for a bit. Rick hadn't looked at Michonne until right before she left the room with the Alexandrians, because he hadn't wanted to give Reg the impression that they were communicating.

But they had been communicating. If Reg and Spencer knew them better, they would've realized how awfully loud their silence was. Rick had felt the full weight of Michonne's thoughts. And they were running, trying to anticipate Deanna's next move and what they could do to counter it. It was the same thing on his mind.

And right before she walked out with Reg and Spencer, she looked at him, and he looked at her. And she said she'd be back soon.

So he waited, and he paced as he waited, grimacing when the cuts on his face stung.

He halted when he heard someone put a key into the lock and turn it. He relaxed when Michonne walked in.

"Finally," he said as he walked to meet her. "You getting me out?"

"No, you're staying overnight," Michonne replied.

"What?"

They hugged when they met. They held on, squeezing reassuringly, as if weeks had passed. Both wondered at their strong reaction, but they held on nonetheless. Alexandria was nothing like Terminus, but the last time they'd been forced to separate, Rick had been heading to the slaughter.

"I'm staying here indefinitely?" Rick asked as they separated, a small tremor going through his hands.

"No, overnight," Michonne stressed.

"And Pete?"

"Same for him, although afterward Deanna's going to separate him from Jessie. Finally."

"So what happens now?"

"Deanna asked me if I knew you were planning this. I told her no, that you only told me about Jesse yesterday and that you'd said you were going to talk to her. You planned this, in her mind."

"What did you say?" Rick asked.

"I asked her what she planned to do about Pete. She told me she was doing what was best for the community, which isn't easy."

Rick scoffed.

"I told her that I now have to explain what happened to Carl. I have to tell him about domestic violence in this place that's supposed to be safe. I laid it on pretty thick, and she looked like she felt pretty shitty. Rick, what happened?"

Rick sighed. He took her hand and led her to the solitary chair. He sat and pulled her on top of him. Michonne wrapped her arms around his neck and listened.

"I went in there, and I talked to her. She looked a little shifty, so I wondered if he was home, but I didn't ask. I told her that Carol figured it out and that her son asked for a gun to protect her. I told her that I want to help her. I told her I spoke to Deanna about it, but she didn't feel like she could do anything. She just looked….worried and hesitant, and I guess a little embarrassed, but I promised her that we would protect her. She then asked me if I would do this for anyone else," Rick said, frowning in confusion just as he'd done when Jessie had posed the question.

Michonne blinked slowly, but she didn't say anything.

"I guess she was questioning my character," Rick said as he rubbed his thumb on Michonne's thigh. "I told her I would, that she didn't have to worry. I'm not gonna leave her alone. That's when Pete walked in. Drunk. But she stood up to him, Michonne. She told him to get out. But of course he wasn't gonna go easy. He threw the first punch. I blocked it and struck back. I probably shouldn't have, but a guy like that: it was gonna be a fight either way."

Michonne shook her head. "Look at your face," she said sympathetically.

"It hurts like hell."

"Rosita will be here to patch you up. Deanna had me send her to Pete first."

"Probably to spite me," Rick figured.

"Probably."

"So, what are we gonna do? I can't campaign if I'm on lockdown."

"You're only here for one night," Michonne reminded him. "And you still think you got a chance?"

"What do you mean?"

"Was that the launching of your campaign?" Michonne asked, jutting her thumb in the direction of the door behind her.

"Yeah, why not? I didn't say anything that wasn't true."

"Yeah, Rick, but the tone and the presentation. I mean, points for coming up with it on the spot, but you lost them when you started to…insult them."

Rick rolled his eyes, not because he disagreed, but because it was the only reaction he had.

"You had them when you talked about Deanna doing nothing to help Jesse, especially when you turned it around and made them wonder if she would do the same to them. A lot of them looked like they had some questions for her at that moment. But then you started saying they don't get it, we're the ones who live, us versus them, and you lost them."

"Okay, well, you're my campaign manager. Help me turn it around."

Michonne pursed her lips to contain her smile.

"You know, as much as you being my campaign manager makes me wanna do a couple of things to you, I gotta say that this still mostly feels like a giant waste of time," Rick shared.

"I know. And I'm not promising it'll work. I just think that it's the best course of action if you want these people to do exactly what you want them to. Besides, you already have one vote: Jesse."

Rick tilted his head. He would've taken her comment at face value, if not for the artificial cheerfulness when she'd said Jesse's name.

"What's wrong with Jesse's vote?" he asked cautiously.

"Nothing," Michonne sighed, her voice light. In her normal tenor, she said, "She likes you."

"What?" Rick asked, titling his head again and lowering his eyebrows. Add on the fact that his question came out like wha? and Michonne found him adorable.

"She likes you," she said, slower. "She's definitely interested."

Rick wasn't sure what stumped him more: that Jessie liked him or that Michonne knew.

"You two talked?" he asked.

"Oh yes," Michonne said lightly. "She came by this morning, looking for you actually. She wanted to give you her condolences about Noah. But she found me instead, and since we haven't gotten the chance to talk, she invited herself right on in while I was minding Judith. She really wants you to stay in Alexandria. She thinks this place is what you need; she thinks that she is the hope you need."

"Wait, what?" Rick asked, tilting his head again.

"She's working very hard to convince you to stay," Michonne said, still speaking like she was in a pageant competition. "This place is what you need. And I deserve to carve out my own life."

That made Rick speechless. He experienced a stillness brought on by an incredible amount of disrespect. "She said that?" he asked, his voice unnaturally low.

"Yes, she did," Michonne said, her voice back to normal. "I think that-"

"She walked inside the house, and she said that," Rick confirmed.

"There aren't many ways to take you and Rick seem pretty close. She was feeling me out, feeling us out."

"For what? I'm not interested in her. She really walked into the-"

"I think you're part of the reason she has the courage to leave Pete, if not the only reason. Which is good, it's a good thing. She needs to leave him. I'm just not sure what she thinks is gonna be waiting for her after she does."

"Not me," Rick said. "I got no interest in her. None. Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine-"

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," she answered, unable to help her smile. "I'm fine. Honestly, it was just bizarre and unbelievable, the last thing I expected to deal with."

Rick remained quiet. He didn't trust himself to say anything else. Here he was, feeling sorry for this woman because she was as ill-equipped to make it in the new world as most of her town folk, and there she was….what?...trying to infiltrate his home? He was pissed that she'd even felt comfortable enough to say anything to Michonne. And in their house.

"It's okay," Michonne said, rubbing his chest to get his attention, because he was glaring at the window. "I'm okay," she reiterated when he turned troubled blue eyes on her. "She just needs to be talked to and set straight."

Rick returned his gaze to the window. "I wanna help her, but I'm not gonna replace Pete. And we need to clarify boundaries. I thought she was very friendly, but I tried not to think…."

He exhaled through his nose. "She suggested we have get-togethers the other day."

"What get-togethers?" Michonne asked, cocking her head deeply to one side.

"No, not like that," Rick clarified, smiling for the first time since Michonne's story. "When I went to get you the candy, I told her I wasn't crazy about attending any more of Deanna's parties. She suggested we could have get-togethers at each other's houses."

"I'm sure I was invited," Michonne said, her sarcasm subtle. "What did you say?"

"I didn't say anything. I wasn't into the idea. She told me to think about it."

Michonne rolled her eyes. "I don't think she was judging your character when she asked if you'd do this for anyone else."

"I'm gonna talk to her," Rick stated.

God help him, but he wondered at the chances of Pete making a complete turn-around. He'd happily teach him how to help Jessie protect their family. He wasn't interested in helping Jesse protect her kids. He flat out didn't want to. He'd slipped into us versus them during his speech for a reason. There was a line of people that he cared about before Jesse and her kids, and Michonne, Carl, and Judith occupied the first three spots. Even if Jesse somehow broke out into a fearless fighter, he wasn't interested in filling the role she had in mind for him.

The door opened then, and Rosita walked in.

"Oh, whoops," she said when she saw Michonne on Rick's lap. She turned around and fumbled for something to do with herself.

"It's okay," Michonne said as she stood. "He's right here."

"Uh," Rick stalled, smoothing his hands down his jeans as Rosita approached. He looked to Michonne to figure out what she wanted to do.

"Oh, I told her," Michonne said.

"Oh," Rick said, dropping his shoulders and relaxing.

"Yeah," Rosita confirmed. "Congratulations."

Rick smiled and nodded.

Rosita patched him up. Literally. She placed so many small bandages on his face that he wondered what he looked like.

"So, what the heck does this fight mean?" Rosita asked. "Deanna looked pretty pissed. She looked pretty done with you."

"I asked her how she wanted to handle the situation, and she said she wasn't sure yet," Michonne shared. "It sounded like a lie. She has a good idea, and she doesn't want to tell me. Maggie stayed with her when I left, so hopefully she'll get something."

"When I said we needed to control who lives here, she pretty much said she wanted to make an example out of me," Rick said.

"Uh, she can't kick you out and let Pete stay. That'll look like total bullshit," Rosita said.

"She can do it if she's using the punishment fits the crime approach," Rick said.

"What's your crime?" Michonne asked. "If she wants to talk about disturbing the peace, technically Pete has been doing that a lot longer than you have. No. If you're not there to defend yourself, I certainly will. Matter of fact, I might go to her house and point out that whatever she comes up with for you, she needs to make sure Pete gets the same or worse, because her integrity's on the line."

Michonne's protectiveness sparked true blue butterflies in Rick's stomach. The rare sensation made him let out an airy chuckle.

Finished, Rosita packed up her supplies, wishing for the second time that she'd thought to bring a bag in which to put the bloody trash. She asked Michonne to keep her up to date on what was happening and gave her a suggestive look before she left, one that Rick noticed.

"I hope that doesn't become a thing, where everyone we tell starts giving us looks," he said.

"What are you complaining about? You didn't have to deal with Daryl this morning. He asked me if we were playing hide the sausage."

"Oh my God," Rick cringed, but he couldn't help laughing at the thought of those words coming out of his friend's mouth.

Michonne smiled, loving the cadence of his laughter. "You're very immature," she chastised with a shake of her head.

"I don't care."

Chapter Text

Michonne forgot all about the questions Carl would have about the fight and everything surrounding it until she came home and was welcomed by expectant blue eyes.

"Where is he? Is he okay? Where is he?" were his first three questions.

"He's fine. They're keeping him overnight, and Deanna's deciding what to do about both him and Pete," Michonne said calmly as she took a seat on the couch.

She was sure that Deanna was more concerned with getting Rick to play ball than she was about reconciling Pete's skill as a doctor with his violent tendencies. It was just now turning into late afternoon, but Michonne felt weary, as if she had worked today. Compared to Rick, Pete was low priority for Deanna, and the politician's obliviousness was making her tired.

"Why was he fighting Pete? What was he doing at his house?" Carl asked.

Michonne armed herself with a deep breath and told him to come sit next to her. Judith sat on her blanket and amused herself.

Turning to face Carl, Michonne said, "Carol told your father yesterday….that Pete...puts his hands on his wife. Those are words that you never want to hear come right after the other: puts his hands on or puts her hands on. He hits his wife. He abuses her."

She watched his eyes drift away for a second before he swallowed and lowered his head.

Michonne gently touched his knee to bring him back.

"Um,….does she have bruises?" Carl asked, dread in his belly.

"I don't know," Michonne answered. "I've never really spoken to her. She came by today, and she looked fine, but it can be hidden. He could hit her in places that can be covered by her clothes."

Carl nodded, lowering his head again.

"Do you wanna say something?" Michonne asked.

"Before," he began, lifting his head. "Way before my dad found us, when it was just me and my mom, Carol was married. She had a husband. He got eaten, but….before….I didn't really talk to any of the adults in the camp aside from my mom and Shane, 'cause I was only ten, but….I used to look at everyone. I couldn't help it, I looked at everyone, and my mom would tell me not to stare, even back when things were normal. Carol was weird around her husband. It wasn't like how mom was around dad, or how Mrs. Morales was around Mr. Morales. There'd be some days when she wouldn't come out of her tent. He'd say she wasn't feeling well, but he wouldn't let anyone go check on her. And….Sophia, her daughter….some days she'd stay in, too.

I'd see small bruises on her and ask her about them, and she'd say she fell, except I'd know that none of us played the day before or the day before that. I'd see them on Carol, too. I asked my mom about them once. Actually, I asked her if Carol was allergic to something because she kept getting bruises on her skin," he said, smiling at his innocence. "She told me she didn't think she was, that I should never say anything, but not everyone has a happy marriage and not everyone should get married. She said she'd explain more when I was older, but she especially didn't want me to say anything about it unless it was to her or Shane."

"It's a hard thing to explain to children," Michonne said.

"I knew whatever it was wasn't good," Carl continued. "But I don't get it. I don't understand it."

"It's a, um, it's a flaw, a disgusting one, but one that people can get treatment for," Michonne explained. "It's a choice. Some people cannot feel good about themselves unless they're dominating someone else, either physically or emotionally, and it has to be someone who trusts them. Someone who….put a lot of time into them and so can't just walk away when things get really bad. It's complicated, but it makes the person being abused feel small, and weak, and scared. But it's not bad twenty-four seven, and they love this person, so they think that person can change if they just give them time. They think they can help them be better. That's a very dangerous thing to think because majority of the time the person does not change, especially not when they still have access to the one they're abusing. The one being abused has to leave. And then it gets even more dangerous because they don't want you to leave. Or else how are they going to feel good about themselves?"

Carl couldn't help the grimace on his face, his stomach tight. "But still?" he asked. "Now? In the middle of all of this shit when someone could die at any moment?"

"Language," Michonne chided. "But maybe especially now. Pete could be a victim at any moment. Carol's husband was on the hunted list, same as we all are. People like them suddenly have only one way to feel empowered, because there's nothing else to distract them."

"Not even trying to survive," Carl said sarcastically.

He did understand what she was saying. He remembered the men who had fully endorsed both she and him getting raped.

"So dad went to stop him," he surmised.

"He went to ask Jessie if she wanted his help. It's dangerous to leave, so he wanted to make sure that she was willing to take the chance. She was. Pete didn't like that, didn't want to lose his control, so he swung at Rick."

"I saw Pete hit her in the face when she tried to stop the fight," Carl said.

Michonne nodded. She hadn't witnessed the moment exactly, but she wasn't surprised. "If you have any questions, you can ask me. Or you can ask your dad. Anytime."

Carl nodded. He did have questions, but he wasn't sure what they were yet. "So, are we still gonna help her?"

"Yeah, hopefully, if she still wants it. Deanna spoke to her after the fight but I don't know what was said."

"Deanna can't punish dad for trying to help," Carl said.

"It's about more than that. She feels like we're taking over. She's rethinking her trust in us, since Aiden died."

"That was his fault," Carl said.

"That's not something she's gonna believe any time soon."

Carl exhaled his frustration. "So what do we do?"

"We, as in your dad and I, are taking care of it. Your dad wants more control of this place. He wants to make sure these people can protect us same as we can protect them. He doesn't want to lose any more of us the way we lost Noah."

Carl nodded. The Alexandrians were weak, and he knew his dad was the perfect person to whip them into shape. He'd done so for most of the Woodbury people.

"Are you okay?" Michonne asked as she placed a soothing hand on his back.

"Yeah," Carl answered. "I just….I want this to work out. This place can be good. But….if it's gonna be too much trouble, then maybe we can just leave."

He did not want anyone locking his dad up, especially when he was only trying to help.

Michonne smiled and rubbed his back. "We're a little ways away from leaving," she said.

Carl smiled, although he wasn't quite relieved. Michonne didn't look worried, more like she had a lot on her mind. More like she was calculating. He'd wait for her go-ahead before he started thinking they had one foot out of the door.

"Can I go see him?" he asked.

"Is tomorrow okay?" Michonne asked.

"Yeah," he answered with a nod.

"He's safe. Don't worry. I have the key," she informed him lightly with a small grin.

Carl mimicked her smile. "That wasn't smart of her," he said of Deanna.

"Hey, I am the town constable. I am perfectly unbiased in my guarding of prisoner Grimes."

"Right," Carl said sarcastically, and Michonne laughed in response.

The teenager got up off the couch and headed for the stairs with plans to begin the handheld video game that Enid had lent him earlier.

He paused at the bottom of the steps when he thought about her, however, one hand on the banister. Turning back to Michonne, he said, "Enid and I made up."

"Oh really?" Michonne asked with a small smile.

"Yeah." His stomach fluttered as he thought about where he wanted to take the conversation. He didn't know why he wanted to do this now, but he hadn't really given himself a timeline about when he wanted to have this conversation with her. That morning, she'd told him that he could tell her when he was ready. He wasn't sure if he was ready now, but his dad knew, and he wanted her to know, too. Even if she didn't react the way he wanted her to.

"Um," he began as he took a couple of steps toward the couch. He stopped and put his hands in his pockets, something he didn't normally do. He could feel his stomach get worse and worse. "I was mad at her, because she said something I didn't like. But she apologized this morning. A lot."

"Good," Michonne said. "That means your feelings are important to her. And she can recognize when she's wrong."

With a deep breath, he continued. He didn't know why he couldn't go sit. His hands were clammy now, and his heart was trying to escape from his chest. "Um. She called you my imaginary stepmom. Yesterday."

"Oh," Michonne said succinctly, her stomach dropping. Unlike Rick, who had considered two options when he'd had the conversation with Carl, Michonne only considered one: Carl didn't like the idea of having a stepmom.

And while she hadn't been walking around labeling herself as such, only labeling herself as someone who loved him, the thought that he'd gotten offended because someone called her his stepmom made her feel….small.

Carl flushed, the first time Michonne had ever seen him do so, and she told him to come sit next to her.

Carl moved, although he couldn't quite feel his feet. He cleared his throat when he sat. "It pissed me off when she said it. Kind of like an insult. It was an insult, like she couldn't imagine you being my mom, as if the thought was just the stupidest thing. I didn't really say anything. I didn't know what to say. I got really mad, and I guess….hurt, but it's not like….it's not like you are my mom. You and dad aren't married, and you never said any-" His throat quickly closed up as he teared up, and he couldn't go on. He felt completely embarrassed.

"Hey," Michonne said, touching his shoulder. Watching him struggle to get his words out had made her tear up herself. She'd broken out into a tiny cold sweat when her anxiety had loosened and it seemed like maybe, just maybe, what she'd assumed wasn't the case at all.

"I love you, Carl," she said shakily as she cupped his cheek. "I love you, and it doesn't matter what anybody says or what anybody thinks. It has no effect on how I feel about you."

Carl's tears spilled over his lashes and so did his feelings. "I love you, too," he confessed.

Unable to take it, Michonne pulled him into a hug. Her heart took flight when he held her fiercely.

Moved by the scene and just a little bit worried, Judith began to crawl to them. She didn't know what was coming, but she didn't want to be so far away.

"Let me tell you something," Michonne said, sniffing and putting a brief end to their embrace. "You are the best thing that's happened to me since Dre. And I didn't think….I didn't think I had space for that. I didn't think I had the strength. But apparently I do," she said, her voice going up octaves as she tried to hold back more tears. "You got in there, and you're sitting pretty comfy."

Carl smiled as he wiped his right eye.

"MamaMamaMama," Judith called, because she wasn't getting there fast enough, and she really needed Michonne to get her before the scary thing did.

"Hey, you wanna get in this, too?" Carl asked, sniffing as he stood and walked the short distance to pick her up.

He sat down on the couch with her, but Judith fought. She didn't want him; she wanted Michonne. "Mama," she called, her face crumpling as her little heart picked up speed in fear. Her mama and her brother were crying, so something scary was obviously coming to get them all. She began to cry as she crawled the short distance from Carl's thighs to Michonne's.

"Mama," she cried, not understanding why her mother wasn't picking her up.

Michonne was frozen solid as she watched Judith grip her tank top with tiny hands and pull until she stood on her feet.

"Mama," she cried.

"Baby, it's okay," she said suddenly, her voice practically gone. Tears slid down her cheeks as she scooped Judith close and stood with her. "It's okay; it's okay. You're okay. You're okay," she cooed as she rubbed circles on her back and walked. "You're okay."

Judith held on to her for dear life, and Michonne loss all control over her emotions.

"I think she saw us crying and freaked out," Carl said, sniffing.

Michonne nodded in agreement, unable to speak anymore. She could only sob as she kissed Judith's head.

She and Carl occupied themselves with calming Judy for a while, and the shortest member of the family eventually quieted, though she still clung to her mom.

Michonne kissed her head and slowly sat back down, her hand still steadily rubbing her back.

"She called you mom," Carl said, amazed.

"I know," Michonne said. And then she smiled. She couldn't help it. She knew Rick would smile, too. He wanted to build with her, well, here was one brick for the foundation. She kissed Judith's head.

"So, is that reserved just for her, or can I do it, too?" Carl asked.

Michonne wanted to reign in her smile, but there was no hope. "You can do it, too. You can call me Michonne; you can call me mom. Whatever strikes you. You two are gonna kill me," she said as she fell apart again.

"Yeah, but it's a good thing," Carl said as he enveloped both her and Judith in a hug.

Michonne used the hand that had been designated for Judith's back to rub his now. "Don't start calling me Michonne only when you're mad at me, now," she joked through her tears as she moved her hand up to his shoulders to hug him. "That's not gonna fly."

Carl laughed. He stayed right where he was, taking advantage of her hug and letting all fears of her ever leaving melt away. He still wanted her to do something with his dad, but he now had his own slice of security that wasn't tied to how she felt about his father. She loved him and she wanted to be his mom. She wasn't going to leave him.


Michonne wasn't sure how long she'd been asleep when an unending noise woke her up. It took her a second to realize that someone was knocking and knocking fast. Frowning and too groggy for her liking, she got out of bed.

She'd opted to sleep in Rick's room because of Judy. After checking to see that the baby still slept soundly, she grabbed her gun from the nightstand and padded out of the room.

Instead of heading for the stairs, she went to Carl's door. It opened before she could reach for the knob.

"Jesus," Carl gasped.

His sudden appearance had frightened Michonne, too, but she'd kept her cool.

"Go inside and watch over Judy," she instructed quietly. "Keep the light off. Your dad's gun is under the bed, near the pillow, on the side close to Judy."

"Who do you think it is?" Carl asked quietly as they walked to his father's door.

"I don't know. Keep the door cracked open and keep an eye out."

Carl disappeared inside the room, and Michonne continued down the stairs, her steps light and quiet.

The knocking had stopped, which peaked her suspicion. She sidled up to the wall near the living room window and peaked out. Sunlight was struggling to penetrate the dark sky. And she saw a woman hurrying away from the house.

She left her vantage point and opened the door, her body still tight with tension.

"Jessie!" she called sharply, though not loud enough to get anyone else to come out of their house. Her hand remained steady on the gun.

Jessie spun around and was relieved when she saw Michonne. She hurried back to the house, carefully looking up and down the street to make sure she hadn't woken anyone else.

"What do you want?" Michonne asked tersely, effectively stopping Jessie in her tracks on the steps of the porch.

Michonne still stood at an angle in the doorway, still ready to duck and shoot. She had no idea what Jessie wanted at what appeared to be the pre-dawn hour, nor did she know what the woman had on her.

"I'm sorry," Jessie said quietly as she continued up the steps. "It's very late."

"Or very early," Michonne noted, her eyes flicking up to the sky.

"It's just after five in the morning," Jesse said.

"What are you doing here?" Michonne asked, her eyes flicking past Jesse to see if anyone else was lying in wait.

"It's just me," Jessie said. "I want to see Rick, and I figure you can make that happen."

"At just after five in the morning?"

"There's no better time," Jessie pressed.

Michonne noticed then that Jessie was still dressed in her day clothes.

"Deanna told me to keep away from the situation earlier, that she'd handle it, that they were going to isolate Pete. But I don't think Rick should be isolated, too. He was only trying to help, and I need to thank him for that, and I need to-apologize for-I don't know for causing this-"

"You didn't cause this," Michonne interrupted her. "Rick made a choice because you did. You said you wanted his help. Our help."

"I do," Jessie said.

"Then you have nothing to apologize for. There's only a few ways this could've gone. We still want to help you find peace."

"I need to talk to him. Please. I mean I hope you can make it happen. Please don't tell me Deanna's the only one with access."

"I'm the only one with access."

"Good," Jessie smiled. "I can't be seen doing this in daylight. I don't want to make things worse."

Michonne inhaled and then let it out. She wanted to get some food in Rick's belly anyways. It didn't occur to her until she'd climbed into bed that Rick had gotten locked up with nothing but a banana in his stomach and the banana had probably long stopped being useful by the time he'd knocked on Jessie's door.

"Come in," she decided.

Jessie hurried in.

"I need to change and then I need to heat up some food for him."

"I can do that while you change," Jessie offered.

"No, I'll do it after I'm done," Michonne declined with a straight face.

Jessie nodded and remained standing where she was.

Michonne decided not to invite her to sit and headed for the stairs. After all, Jessie had taken the initiative to enter the house and sit the day before. If she wanted to sit, she'd sit. She wanted to help her, but she also was not going to ignore that the woman wanted Rick, thought she could get Rick, and had disrespected her on top of it all. In her own house. And she'd just done it again with that sly offer to ready the food.

Chapter Text

The sun meticulously inched its way up the sky as Michonne and Jessie approached the door that barred Rick in. Michonne carried a hot plate of thin spaghetti mixed with ketchup for Rick, a pale green plaid kitchen towel protecting her palms, and Jessie carried the glass of water as well as Michonne's black, high power flashlight.

"Thank you for doing this," Jessie said quietly as they got closer.

"You're welcome. Jessie," Michonne began as she turned to face the woman. She had a strong feeling that Jessie was going to leave her conversation with Rick in a completely different mood than she was about to enter it, and she didn't want the opportunity to help Rick's campaign pass her by. "What did Deanna say to you earlier? If you don't mind me asking."

"Nothing serious, um, she asked me if I was alright, if the kids were hurt, but I told her they weren't home at the time. I told her that she couldn't let Pete come back. I knew that if he came back after he'd just gotten into a fight, after I'd just supported another man…."

Jessie closed her eyes and shivered. "Uh, she promised me that she'd isolate Pete until he calmed down, that she was going to have a talk with him, and that she'd resolve this. Nothing else."

Michonne nodded, thoughtful.

"I didn't ask anything about Rick, because I didn't want to make it worse," Jessie said.

"Right. Well, Deanna's disposition toward Rick right now is….a lot less appreciative than yours. I'm really worried about how she plans to deal with him. We all are."

"You don't think she'd kick him out," Jessie fretted.

"I don't know. I hope not. Rick wants this place to be better. He wants us to stay here, but he refuses to live in a place where the lady in charge doesn't take care of her own people. He just got here, and he wanted to handle Pete for you. He wanted to help you."

Jessie nodded. "He did. As embarrassing as it is for him to know the truth, he really does want to help."

"That's the kind of person he is. That's the kind of leader this place needs."

Understanding dawned on Jessie. "Leader? Wait,….he wants to kick Deanna out?"

"No. He wants to play a more pivotal role here. He wants to make sure every that everyone here really is safe. He wants to take the irony out of the Safe Zone. He wants to make sure that everyone here knows how to stay alive."

"You're talking about roamers."

"We can't be sitting ducks. Do you understand why Noah died? It's because Nicholas wasn't prepared. Aiden died because he wasn't prepared. Going out there and coming back doesn't automatically mean you're prepared. It can just mean you're lucky. Everyone here is lucky. What about Pete? Is he prepared?"

Jessie slowly shook her head. "No."

"Is Deanna? She's keeping this place running, but can she protect it? Can she keep it?"

Eyes wide, Jessie shook her head.

"Rick can," Michonne said. "He can run it, he can protect it, and he can keep it. Throwing parties won't be high on his priorities, but he'll make sure your kids have stability. He'll make sure they can grow in this place. He'll teach you how to keep this place."

Jessie nodded, completely behind everything Michonne was saying.

"When the time comes, we need you to help us talk to everybody else."

"I will," Jessie said, although as soon as the words left her mouth, she wondered if she was really capable. But she would try.

Michonne nodded. She decided not to say thank you. She felt that a thank you might make it seem like Jessie was doing her a favor.

She balanced the plate on one hand and pulled the key out of her pocket. Then she paused. Rick was by himself. She didn't want to open the door and frighten him.

Closing the key in her fist, she knocked.

She imagined him springing awake and taking in his surroundings. The complete darkness would remind him of where he was, though she didn't imagine he'd slept that well. She imagined him quietly getting up and inching to the door, making absolutely no noise.

"Who is it?" he asked gruffly, making her heart jump.

She smiled. He'd moved faster than she'd thought. "Michonne and Jessie."

On the other side of the door, Rick frowned, wondering if he'd heard right. She said Jessie was with her, but she'd also said it like that was a normal occurrence. He was confused.

"Then you should know this place locks from the outside," he said.

Michonne rolled her eyes and unlocked the door. "You're already doubting the sound of my voice?" she asked when she opened it.

"It's been too long," Rick said, smiling as he appeared in the doorway.

"Jessie wants to see you," she revealed. "She doesn't want to complicate things by doing it in the daylight."

"Where are the kids?" Rick asked, barely registering what she'd said about Jessie.

"Carl's with Judith, armed, ready, and waiting for me to come back. I stopped by Carol's to ask her to keep an eye out, and she went over there. I asked Rosita to keep a second eye out."

Jessie had hid while she'd done this. Michonne hadn't felt it necessary, but she'd kept that thought to herself. She'd told both Carol and Rosita the truth, though. Rosita had looked at her without a slice of understanding.

His worry assuaged, Rick turned his attention to Jessie.

"Hey," Jessie greeted with a small smile.

"Hi," he answered. He looked to Michonne for what was supposed to happen next.

Jessie was the one who spoke. Turning to Michonne, she asked, "Can I….have a minute? Please?"

Michonne could not help but smile. Jessie was one of a kind. "Sure," she answered.

When Jessie handed the water to Rick and took the plate from Michonne's hand before going inside, Michonne shook her head. Jessie Anderson was truly one of a kind.

There wasn't much natural light, but she still made out Rick's stunned expression. Stretching her mouth into a tight smile, she shut the door in his face. And she waited, her satisfaction already mounting.

Jessie turned on the flashlight, practically illuminating every inch of the small room. "Nice," she commented. "Wow, it's really barren in here."

"You made that?" Rick asked, pointing to the plate of spaghetti in her hand.

"Oh no, Michonne did."

Then why are you carrying it? Rick asked in his head.

Jessie walked to the solitary chair and put the plate down.

She made the flashlight stand next to it. She took the water from Rick and set it on the chair. "How are you doing?" she asked when she turned to him.

"Uh, fine," he answered, scratching his brow, his other hand on his hip. He was still stuck on the fact that Michonne was standing outside. "Just fine."

"You slept well?"

"Uh,"

He moved the hand on his brow down to his hip. "No, not really," he answered. "I don't like being away from my family, especially since I don't know or trust the people here."

"Michonne told me you want a stronger role here. She says you can run this place. You've got my support. And I'll convince everybody else."

"Thank you. It means a lot. It's what's best for the community."

"I want to thank you," Jessie said. "What you did was….more than incredible. It's more than Deanna's ever done for me. It's, it's more than I've ever done for myself and my kids, sad as that sounds."

"You told him to get out," Rick reminded her. "After everything he's put you and the kids through, you told him to leave. That's a lot more than what I did."

Jessie smiled. "I'm sorry you ended up in here, though."

"It's fine. It's one night, which I think is basically over."

"Yeah, it was just after five when I left my house."

"Jessie,...why is Michonne standing outside?"

Jessie looked past him toward the door. "I, I asked her for a little bit of privacy."

"To thank me?"

"Yeah," she smiled with a small shrug.

"She told me you came by the house yesterday and told her she needs to make her own way?"

"Excu-what?"

"We need to talk," Rick said as he left her and went to the door. He opened it and found Michonne leaning against the wall, calm as could be. At least one of them was calm.

"Come in," he said. He couldn't believe she'd closed the door in the first place.

He walked to the chair and moved the plate and cup to the floor to make space for her to sit. He handed her the flashlight.

Michonne all but glided down onto the seat, and she crossed one leg over the other.

"We need to set a couple of things straight," he said, turning to Jessie.

Now Michonne was in Jessie's direct line of sight.

"Rick-"

"Listen. You walked into the house, my house, our house and you told her she needs to go make a life somewhere else?"

"Rick, I never said-"

"You know exactly what you said. Don't play obtuse; this isn't the time. You felt comfortable walkin' into my house and insinuating that….that what? That I need you? That we got somethin'? You felt comfortable tellin' her to wait outside and grabbin' the pla-Your comfortability, that familiarity you think we got goin', it stops right here."

"Rick,….please."

"I'm not available," Rick said succinctly.

"Rick, you're talking like I'm-"

"I am here to complete my family," he said, tilting his head and squinting. "With her."

Jessie's heart was heavy as it sank to her feet. She'd thought Rick knowing the truth about Pete was embarrassing. This was even more so, and when she looked past him at Michonne, the woman was sitting with a complacent grin. That didn't help. Her body heated up and her palms became clammy.

"Rick-"

"It's not that you didn't know," Rick said. "It's not even that you wanted somethin' with me-"

"I didn't. I'm married for God's sake-"

"It's the fact that you took it further and disrespected my-the lady of the house."

Jessie looked at Michonne, and she wanted to choke. She'd never seen someone look so pleased at her expense. Then it dawned on her.

"You set me up," she said to Michonne faintly. "You only brought me here, because-"

"You owe her an apology," Rick cut in, because he was having one conversation and one conversation only.

"Excuse me?!" Jessie balked.

"Apologize or keep away from my family. I do want to help you, Jessie. I fully intend to for as long as you want it. But it doesn't have to come directly from me. Maybe you haven't realized it yet? I know plenty of capable people."

"And Jessie," Michonne said calmly, "I'm not just good with Judy. She's mine."

"Since an apology ain't in you," Rick said as he walked past her and headed toward the door. He opened it and said, "Thanks for stoppin' by."

Her spine straight, Jessie walked out, keeping her gaze just beyond Rick.

Rick closed the door behind her, still taken aback by her gall.

Chapter Text

"I'm having the best night ever," Michonne said.

"You're wrong for just standing outside like that," Rick chastised as he returned to her.

"Well, I mean she wanted a minute alone with you, so I gave it to her," she said with an innocent shrug.

Rick shook his head, not buying the act for a second. He supposed he could've guessed that she had a petty streak.

"Anyways," Michonne continued as she rose from the chair and set the flashlight down in her place. "I secured her support before I knocked, so unless I've misjudged, she should still be on your side when it comes to straightening this place up."

"You really did set her up," Rick said as he wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close.

"This is why I'm running your campaign," Michonne cooed before planting a soft kiss on his stubbly cheek. "You hungry?"

"I was, those hours before I fell asleep. I'll need to be awake for a while longer before I feel it again."

"Eat anyway," Michonne said. She stepped out of his arm and picked up the plate. "I can't believe I forgot to feed you last night," she said as she moved to the bed.

"I admit: I was kind of hoping you'd realize I hadn't eaten and come back," Rick said as he joined her with the glass of water.

"I'm sorry."

"I forgive you."

They fixed themselves against the wall that contained the room's only window and Michonne set the plate between them. Michonne picked up the fork and twined spaghetti around it.

"Mind getting fed?" she asked, giving Rick a sidelong glance.

"No."

She smiled and picked up the fork, putting her other hand under it in case a stray spaghetti fell.

Spaghetti wasn't the sexiest food to feed each other, but they proceeded nonetheless. Rick took the fork from her and prepared her bite and on they went. Although neither voiced it, both thought about sharing a single spaghetti strand ala the Lady and the Champ. They restrained themselves, though.

"Are you okay?" Rick asked.

"Jessie?" Michonne asked. "I'm fine. I told you: I'm having the best night ever."

"I don't know what I expected, but I can't believe she played like she didn't know."

"I mean, you ripped right through her wishes and hopes. She did her best to hold her dignity together."

"You're enjoying the hell out of this," Rick said, smiling.

"She had it coming," Michonne said, shrugging her left shoulder. "She kept talking to me like she had it in the bag with you. Whoops. It'd be great if she actually apologized for being so damn assuming."

"I don't understand the thought process. I mean," he said, pausing to swallow his food, "She assumed I was married because of the ring the first time we met, but I said it was just me. I understand. But then everyone chose a house, and you and I chose the same one. There ought to have been some questions there."

"Not if you're her," Michonne said before opening her mouth to take the proffered food.

After she swallowed, she smiled. "Thanks for taking care of it."

Rick smiled in return. He couldn't resist. "You're welcome. I still can't believe it, though. I feel so…."

"Insulted?" she tried.

"Disrespected. My entire family."

Michonne smiled and affectionately cocked her head at him. Knowing how much he valued his family and how much he wanted to build with her, he would probably be bothered by Jessie's actions for a while, maybe every time he saw the woman. Jessie getting the opposite of what she'd thought was a given didn't exactly displease her.

"Speaking of family," she began. And she said nothing else. Instead, she gathered spaghetti onto the fork and waited for Rick to take her bait, a small smile playing on her full lips.

Rick leaned into her and waited for her to continue. When she didn't, he did as she wanted and asked, "What?"

Michonne looked at him and suddenly became shy and nervous. She wasn't sure why. Rick would be happy. She was happy. But she was suddenly shy about sharing what happened.

"Uh." She took a deep breath and released it. She became more nervous when he raised his eyebrows, although nothing could get rid of her little smile. "Judy, Carl, and I had a moment earlier. Carl told me why he was mad at Enid," she said, deciding to lead with that.

"He told you?" Rick asked, trying to sound neutral.

"Yes, he told me," she said, amused. He was obviously trying to gauge whether or not Carl had told her everything. "He told me that she'd called me his imaginary stepmom, which explains why she was oh so polite and agreeable yesterday morning. But yeah, Carl and I had a nice little chat. A very emotional chat. We cried and everything. And then, um, well, Judy started to cry, because she didn't know what was going on."

Rick smiled, picturing his baby girl's confusion.

"She got scared," Michonne continued. "She called me Mama."

Shocked, Rick wondered if he'd heard her right. "What?"

"She called me Mama. And she said it over and over, and I was shocked, and crying, and when I held her she held on to me, and all three of us were crying, and Carl asked if he could call me mom, too; I just….it was amazing, Rick. It was the most amazing thing that's happened to me in a very long time. And it happened in that house, after this weird day-"

"She called you Mama," Rick said quietly.

"Yeah," Michonne confirmed softly.

Rick nodded. He was relieved more than anything. And a little nervous. He knew that his kids were attached to her. That was plain to see, especially where Carl was concerned. But it was a little scary to have them confirm it, to have them tell her so.

Her smile was brighter than the light emanating from the flashlight, but Rick still had to ask. He had to make sure, because these were his children's emotional stability on the line.

"Are you okay with that?" he asked.

"Are you kidding? I told you I'm having the best night ever. I'm over the moon."

"I want you to want them," he said. "I have for a long time."

"I do. I want them."

Rick nodded, his nervousness dissipating. He knew that she loved them. He knew that she cared about them. But at the end of the day, he was responsible for their well-being, their lives. He never took advantage of her affection for his kids. He never pushed it, which was why, whenever possible, he asked Carl to babysit, look after, and feed Judith, not Michonne. Or he did it himself. She only did those things when she wanted to.

And now, she was telling him that she wanted to do them all the time. She wanted them to have that expectation of her.

"Are you okay?" Michonne asked with a light chuckle.

"I'm-I'm fine," Rick said, finally smiling. "I'm fine."

He hugged her as tightly as the kids had earlier.

"I'm good," he said, relaxing.

Michonne melted. "Y'all are gonna kill me."

Rick placed a solid kiss on her cheek when they separated. He wanted to go home right now. He wanted to go home and be with his family and watch his family interact. He didn't want to deal with the bullshit.

"What time do I get to leave here?" he asked.

Michonne looked out of the window. There was a smidgen of more light outside. "I have no idea. I'll need to get the go-ahead from Deanna."

Rick sighed his disgust.

"You'll be out soon," Michonne consoled. "At least we're alone," she said, her tone dropping. "We should enjoy it," she said as she reached behind her to grab the glass of water. She drank a little bit to cleanse her palate, and then she passed it to Rick. "You should enjoy it."

She moved the plate separating them and set it on the floor. She then took the glass from Rick and set it on the floor. Whether he'd taken the opportunity to drink or not was his problem.

She rose to her knees and moved in front of him.

"What's happening?" Rick asked, even though he reached for her to pull her closer.

Michonne chuckled and settled on her calves to kiss him. "This whole best night ever thing's making me horny for the man of the house. And I do owe you."

"Yes, you do," Rick said smoothly. "But is this allowed, Constable?"

"I don't think so. Maybe I'm just a little bit corrupt, which should warn you of what'll happen if you rat me out."

She backed off, and Rick used the space to stretch out on his back.

"Well, look at that," Michonne remarked silkily. "I thought you were concerned about propriety."

"I mean if you're offerin'," Rick said. He reached for the pillow and fixed it under his head. "I've been watchin' you, Ma'am, and I'm not gonna let this opportunity pass me by. So long as you don't go lyin' on me."

Michonne watched her hands as she trailed them up his legs, up his thighs. Over his package. "Depends on how responsive you are," she said.

"Depends on how good you are," Rick challenged.

When her brown eyes pinned his blues, Rick knew he'd made the right choice to challenge her.

She unbuckled and unzipped him, and then she pulled the pants and underwear down. He lifted his hips to accommodate, and she pulled the barriers off of his body.

While he'd gotten a chance to admire and worship her cunt during their first time, she had missed out on him. She hadn't gotten the chance to drive him crazy. She milked the opportunity now. She grabbed him at the base and kissed along his shaft. She kissed and licked, and licked and sucked on the shaft until he was standing hard.

She built up his anticipation at the same time that she built up his dick, so Rick was excited for her to take him into her mouth. He'd stopped her last time. He wasn't going to do it this time. He'd stolen more than a healthy bit of glances at her lips since he'd met her, and he was ready to find out what they could do.

Michonne swallowed him in and began to suck. She'd worked herself up while teasing him and now all she wanted was the taste of his skin on her tongue. She held his dick at the base and rewarded herself for all of the days and nights she'd spent fantasizing about being in this exact position: between his legs. She turned her head every time she sucked her way up to the head, as if she was trying to unscrew something with her mouth, and she earned a quiet curse from him, one that emboldened her.

Rick adjusted his position on the bed and continued to watch. Her locs fell in curtains around his thighs, so he gathered them into a half ponytail in one hand. He bent his left leg and stretched out the right as his dick became more and more sensitive to her mouth.

Michonne switched it up and focused her suction on the head of his dick. She started to pump his dick, twisting her hand in the same direction she turned her lips.

Rick slowly blew his breath out, enjoying the sight of her cheeks puffing out as she sank him into her throat. Michonne knew she was very rusty, so she went slow, taking him inch by inch. Sure enough, she gagged, but that only meant that she had to try again. And again. He whispered Jesus' name during one of her efforts, so she did it once again and kept him there, squeezing the head by closing and opening her throat like she was swallowing. She did it until she absolutely had to breathe.

"Oh my God," Rick whispered when she released him. He missed her throat already.

Michonne resumed sucking, faster this time, her lips tighter on his shaft.

Rick held her hair with both hands now and lifted his hips toward her mouth. She moaned, and the sound vibrated down his dick. Her mouth was perfect: soft, and full, and strong, and precise. There was nothing sloppy about what she was doing. Every bob of her head had a purpose, and it was to strip him down to exactly what she wanted.

And strip him down she did. And he enjoyed every second of it, enjoyed the warmth of her mouth on him, the feel of her tongue, her breath on his dick, her fist sliding up and down his shaft, the utter focus she used to pleasure him. He enjoyed her blowing his fantasies out of the water.

And he was responsive. He moaned and uttered broken curses. She was the lover he wanted. She drove him higher, made his body tighter, and he panted her name.

It was a lot easier to let go this time, a lot less scary. He trusted her power, trusted her control over him, trusted that she'd put him back together after he fell apart.

And fell apart he did. He broke into a million pieces, stripped to his bare essence and coming inside her marvelous mouth.

"Aw yeah!" he strained, his voice shrinking in the back of his throat. His entire body shook when it finally relaxed, but she kept sucking. "Fuck. Michonne," he warned, but she warned him right back.

"Mmm-mmm."

Rick tried to take it, but he couldn't. "Okay, alright, alright, alright!" he said, voice trembling as he pulled her hair to get her off of him.

Michonne let him go and raised her head, a satisfied grin on her face.

Rick fell back on the mattress, laughing, the tension he'd been feeling since the fight with Pete and the tension about what was coming next, all drained out of him.

Michonne swallowed his cum in one gulp. "Whew, wow."

She wanted more, a lot more of him.


Rick had her legs dangling in the crooks of his elbows and was sinking into her slick, pink, warmth as soon as he was ready.

Their connection was still a novelty, so both had to pause a moment in appreciation.

"I missed you," he exhaled, needy against her lips.

"Me too," Michonne sighed, just as needy.

Rick started moving then, her desire spurring him on, her wetness on his dick dizzying his mind. Michonne held on to his biceps and whispered "Yes" every time he surged into her. Sucking his dick had left her a gooey mess. His dick plunging in her felt like the ultimate reward. The calamity they so often faced made focusing on their pleasure, on giving and taking, even more intense. Everything was heightened, the magnificent stroke of his dick, the glorious sound of her panting under him and biting his bicep, the shiver that swept over his body in response, the overwhelming orgasm that robbed her of her voice when her walls flooded his dick, her legs trembling beyond her control, and the rush he experienced when his carnal instinct pushed out the rest of his sense and made him yell way too loud as he coated her canal.

"Shit! Uuuh!" Michonne yelled when her orgasm finally released her.

Rick removed his arms from under her legs and lied on top of her. "Oh man," he sighed.

"You know, I can almost believe this is a private getaway," Michonne panted.

Rick laughed. "Easy for you to say, Constable. You can walk in and out of here whenever you want."

Michonne laughed in turn and kissed the top of his head. "My God, that was amazing."

Rick lifted off of her and then pulled out. He flopped next to her and asked, "Am I guaranteed a blowjob every time I remind you of your best night ever?"

"Probably. And by the way," Michonne said as she raised onto her elbow to look down at him, "I was very pleased with your responsiveness. This will stay between us."

"I'd like it if a lot more of this could stay between us," Rick said.

His lazy twang made Michonne's pussy sweat fresh lube. "Jesus, Rick. I mean, Prisoner. I will definitely find you. I guarantee it."

She sealed her promise with a tender kiss.


They dressed and then faced each other to cuddle, one of Rick's legs between Michonne's.

No sooner had they settled than Michonne said she should leave. Rick wasn't having it.

"We didn't do this the first time," he said of their cuddling.

"What I remember of the first time is that I said I should leave, but you had other ideas, as you do now, and we almost got caught by the teenager."

"Yeah, but it wasn't that bad."

"I have the feeling that that's the sex talking," Michonne said, chuckling lightly. Nevertheless, she began to caress his stubble. "I miss the beard," she shared, knowing what his reaction would be.

"Excuse me? Hold on. You had a problem when my face was losing the war, so much that you went and found me a razor, but you miss it when my face was downright annihilated?"

Michonne laughed. "That's a very dramatic retelling, but yes, I do miss it. Hey, I gave up wondering when you were gonna shave it, not that we had much opportunity for such luxuries, so I started getting used to it. Started fantasizing about it. Then all of a sudden, it was gone. You didn't even warn me."

"I'm sorry. I thought you'd be happy."

"I was happy. It was a pleasant surprise. I'd never seen your full face. But if I'd known the beard was facing destruction, I would've gotten it in beforehand."

"Facing destruction? Now who's being dramatic? You would've gotten it in, huh?"

"Oh yeah. I would've seduced you right then and there."

"I don't like livin' with regret, Michonne," Rick said seriously, which only made her laugh.

Rick smiled and hiked her knee up higher on his hip. He traveled his hand up her thigh, over her waist, her torso, pushing her shirt up, and to her shoulder. He continued down her arm to the crease of her elbow, and then he played with a lock of her hair. Constant exposure to the hot sun had given her blonde highlights, and he liked them.

"You know what's funny?" Michonne asked. "I remember a couple of times, before and after Andre, in fact I specifically remember telling Mike this, I would cringe over the fact that I couldn't properly protect my hair before I went to sleep. No silk scarves, no silk pillow cases, no routines."

"You had a scarf at the prison," Rick said. "Yeah, I spotted it sometimes," he said when she reared back from him.

"I thought I was being so stealth. How the heck did you even-nevermind. I always sure no one else was in the cell block."

"Why did you hide it?" he asked.

"I didn't. I just never felt like going to the cafeteria with it. You never noticed that no one ever showed up to the cafeteria the way they woke up, not even the kids?"

"That's true," he said slowly, only now realizing it. "I guess everyone wanted to take advantage of having a room again, privacy."

"Anyways," Michonne sighed fondly. "I used to have a whole routine."

"They still look great," he said of her hair.

"I wouldn't say great. You'd lose it if you'd seen me back when I had products and the right amenities. But they look better after they've seen some shampoo, definitely."

"I like them," Rick insisted sluggishly. He was starting to feel the after-effect of a good orgasm. Two good orgasms, in his case.

Michonne was beginning to feel drowsy, too.

Rick's eyes landed on his wedding band, and he released Michonne's hair to contemplate it. He used his thumb to rotate it. He paused and looked at Michonne and found that she was looking at the ring, too.

Michonne looked at him when he stopped turning the ring. "There was a weird moment that first night," she said.

Rick chuckled and turned onto his back, and Michonne moved over to rest her head on his shoulder. He laid his jeweled hand on his chest.

"Was it weird?" he asked tentatively.

"Well, not weird but definitely unexpected. Some people might say it's weird, but….You did it on purpose," she remarked.

"I did," he confirmed of pleasuring her with the ringed finger. "And now I don't know what to do with it. Do I just drop it in the dirt, hide it somewhere, give it to Carl? It'd be easier to decide if this was the old world, but throwing it away now feels like….I don't know, letting go of one more thing when practically everything is a luxury nowadays. Glenn doesn't even have a ring, and it's not because he doesn't want one. This thing meant so much to me. It still does. The symbol of it, you know?"

"Yeah," Michonne murmured. She remembered how important it was to Carl to get a picture of his mother, something to share with Judith when she was older, to show her what her mother looked like, to make Lori something more than a story. The picture was long gone now, stuck in the prison, if it hadn't burned completely.

She'd give anything to have a picture of Andre, to make him more than a memory that only she carried, but the truth was unless that precious item was carried on the body, like a ring or even her headband, it was dangerous to form attachments to it. Heartbreak and disappointment waited around the corner.

As such, she didn't know what to tell Rick.

Rick took the ring off. But he didn't know what he was going to do with it. More than that, he didn't know what he was going to do when the time came for he and Michonne to take the next step. He wanted the both of them to wear a symbol, not just one of them, like in Glenn and Maggie's case.

He pocketed the ring. "I'll give it to Carl. He can drop it off somewhere or keep it until it gets lost. I feel better about that than doing it myself. Lori and I kept our family albums until they went up in flames on Hershel's farm."

Michonne smiled. She would love to have pictures of a baby Carl. "The smallest, simplest things mean the most now, but at the same time you can't get attached to them. And at the same time, you can't get them back if you lose them. It sucks."

"It sure does," Rick agreed.

Michonne caressed the imprint of the ring. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," he said, placing a kiss on her forehead. He turned onto his side and kissed her on the lips. Again and again until she giggled.

Chapter Text

Michonne registered the pressure of Rick's morning erection against her butt before she registered that someone was knocking. Out of sorts from her deep slumber, she was taken back to the last time a knock woke her out of sleep, and she assumed that Jessie was at the door. Maybe she'd come back to give them a piece of her mind.

Then it occurred to her that it might be Deanna, and she quickly raised her head off the pillow.

"Shit. Rick." She looked behind her and saw that he'd woken up. "It might be Deanna!" she whispered.

That got Rick to sit up straight.

"Oh shit," Michonne said as she stood and looked at herself. Why were they so bad at this? Go separate ways after sex. Separate ways after sex! It was simple!

There wasn't much she could do. She was dressed just fine, but the plate that still had spaghetti in it and the empty glass? What was she going to do, chuck both out of the window?

She seriously considered it.

Rick hurried to the chair and turned the flashlight off. It didn't help their situation, but they didn't need it anymore. The sun was out.

The knock came again. This time, it was followed by a voice. "Michonne?"

Michonne and Rick stilled and looked at each other.

"Glenn?" Michonne called back, confused.

"Yeah."

Rick exhaled and went back to the mattress and sat with his back against the window.

Michonne walked to the door, wiping her eyes as she went, and she remembered then that the door only locked from the outside. They'd slept with the door unlocked.

They were really bad at this.

She opened the door and found more than Glenn.

"Carol and Abraham, too," Glenn said, wondering if he perhaps should have said that beforehand.

"Welcome," Michonne said. She cringed internally at how awkward that sounded.

She retreated into the room, and they followed. She moved the flashlight and sat on the chair, and she again felt like the truth was written all over her.

I slept here, and we had sex! We had sex! We had sex! It was great!

She didn't feel better when Carol and Glenn looked at the plate and glass. They looked at Rick. Then they looked at her. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. Glenn immediately avoided eye contact with her.

"Who's with Carl and Judith?" Michonne asked, her body heating up in embarrassment.

"Uh, Rosita," Carol answered.

Unlike Glenn, Carol couldn't stop looking at her.

"I expected you back...you know...a little earlier," Carol said.

"Yeah, well..." She gave Rick a very pointed look.

Rick wasn't bothered at all. "I made her stay. It's exactly what you think. So what's going on?"

Carol did her best to fight her smile. Glenn couldn't help smiling either.

"Congratulations," Abraham said with a short nod. He'd already known. Rosita had sworn him to secrecy last night. He still had a hard time believing that Rick and Michonne hadn't already been doing it, but at least they'd smartened up and were now taking full advantage of the fact that she looked like her, and he looked like him.

Michonne shook her head at the man on the mattress, but she quietly thanked Abraham nonetheless.

"What's going on?" she asked Glenn, echoing Rick's question.

"First of all, Maggie said Deanna wants to talk to both Rick and Pete before she releases them, probably to warn them to keep away from each other, which means she'll be looking for you," Glenn told Michonne. "Second, uh, well, Deanna wants to hold a meeting tonight about...the viability of you staying here," he told Rick.

"We knew this was a possibility," Michonne said to Rick after a moment.

"So, what are we gonna do about it?" Carol asked, her tone pointed at Rick.

Rick didn't answer right away. He knew exactly how Carol wanted to prevent his possible ousting. "A campaign is looking pretty useless right now," he said to Michonne.

"Campaign?" Carol asked Rick. "Are you kidding me? I'm sorry, but that is the most absurd thing I've ever heard. You think we should campaign to stay here?" she asked, her question directed at Michonne.

"I think Rick should convince these people that he's better than Deanna," Michonne responded evenly.

"You don't waste your time convincing children. You tell them how it is, and you move on," Carol countered.

"And what do you do to children when they don't behave the way you want them to?" Michonne asked, cocking her head at Carol. "Hey, I'm all for a hostile takeover if someone can give me a realistic answer to this question: what the hell do we do with the people after we conquer them? How do we go on living here without constantly looking over our shoulder, without worrying about retaliation?"

"Wait a second, when did hostile takeover and conquering become part of the conversation?" Glenn asked Rick.

"I don't think it is," Carol tried to cover.

"Yes it is," Rick answered. He'd told Michonne the truth, and it wasn't with the intention of bringing her into the lie. He wasn't going to keep the lie going with Glenn. Or Abraham. "It's been an option since we got here," he admitted. "Carol, Daryl, and I decided. Daryl has since backed out, but we decided the same night that I said we could stay that if these people were too weak to keep this place, we'd take it."

Glenn looked at Carol and then Michonne. "You knew about this?" he asked the latter.

"He told me after we lost Noah. But the plan doesn't make sense," she said, with a pointed look to Carol, "So I've been pushing the campaign angle. These people are naive. That doesn't make them children."

"What do we do when campaigning doesn't work?" Carol deadpanned.

"Are we entitled to this place?" Michonne asked her. "Did we do anything to put it together or keep it going up to this point? We've gone through how many camps since this thing started? These people have managed to come here and stay here, and yes that's incredibly lucky, but collecting enough weapons to create an armory ain't naive. You do realize that we haven't made a single difference in these people's lives, right? Good or bad. Abraham saved the construction crew, but their motto seems to be leave the weak behind, so I don't think any one of them gives much of a damn about what he did, except for the lady who almost died.

Deanna's son died, and she's taking it personally, but I'm sure the rest of the town sees it as, well, another one's gone. We haven't made a difference. We want to live here, sure, but what the hell does that mean to them? Especially if their leader says we gotta go? We haven't made ourselves valuable to them."

Glenn had never known Rick to be a conniving, sabotaging liar. The most low-down thing he'd ever done was take steps to give Michonne to the Governor, but he hadn't been at his most confident back then, and he'd backed out and apologized. "Did you plan this fight?" he asked Rick, dread in his stomach.

"No," Rick answered, hoping Glenn believed him. "I swear. He swung first."

"Do you want this place?" Glenn asked. "I mean truly want us to live here?"

"I do," Rick answered.

Glenn studied him for a bit. He trusted Rick, and he really needed to believe that he still had their best interests at heart. All of their interests.

"I don't have it in me for trial and error anymore, Glenn," Rick admitted. "I can't go to sleep at night, hoping these people will deliver if things go south. It can't all be on us. I don't want it like that."

"I don't either, and I just experienced a very good reason why," Glenn said, his mind on Noah. "But Michonne's right: we can't conquer them. And FIY, you three aren't the only ones who walked in here and immediately worked out what it would take to bring this place to its knees."

"Sure aren't," Michonne agreed.

"Definitely not," Abraham chimed in.

Rick nodded. "Michonne's right: we aren't valuable to these people. But I think if we combine everything that's happened: Abraham saving the work crew, me trying to help Jessie, Glenn never losing a single person on a run until we got here, if we combine all of that, or if I do, I think we can convince them that the problem is them, that they need to change if they want to remain a community."

Michonne nodded.

"I gotta tell ya, I'm not completely sure it'll work," he said to her.

"Are you completely sure the other option will?" she asked him.

"I know we can take this place. I don't know how to guarantee we all coexist afterward."

Abraham exhaled loudly through his nose. "This is some shit."


Carol stayed behind after Michonne piled the flashlight, plate, and glass into her arms and left the room with Glenn and Abraham. The three didn't go far. Michonne needed to lock the door, and Glenn and Abraham weren't going to walk away when they'd just learned that Carol had been involved in a secret plan with Rick, and now she wanted a moment alone with him.

Carol's moment with Rick was very short, however.

"I think you're gonna have to figure out a way to guarantee that we keep this place," she said evenly as she stood with her arms hanging at her sides. "It ain't pretty, but life hasn't been pretty for a very long time. Campaign," she said with a hint of derision, "Or conquer. It's gotta be one. Do you really wanna walk away from this place? Especially now that you seem to be starting something with Michonne? Where would we go? What would be the next promise land? And how long until we find it? And how many of us die in the meantime?"

Rick kept his eyes on the mattress as he absorbed what she was saying. When she was done speaking, he looked at her. "I notice you didn't answer any of Michonne's questions. I mean let's start with the first one: how do we make this place a safe, secure place to live for us after we take it?"

Carol didn't blink, which brought a keen possibility to Rick's mind. "Were you hoping I'd figure that out on my own? Do the extra dirty deed, whatever it is, so that you wouldn't have to live with it?"

"Of course not. Don't be ridiculous," Carol said.

"Carol," Rick said seriously. "Do you want to kill these people?"

"How the hell can you-?"

"Just answer the question," Rick said. He wasn't going to deal with another faux outrage. He'd gotten enough of it from Jessie.

"No, Rick," Carol answered, her tone measured. "I don't want to kill these people. But I do think our survival matters more than theirs. Isn't that why you thought up the idea of taking this place? Because you feel the same way?"

"It's a flawed plan, Carol. It has a gigantic hole. Unless you've figured out the answer to Michonne's question in the time we've been talkin'. Cause she said she's game. I believe that. All we gotta do is give her the answer. Do you have it?"

Carol's frustration stuck in her throat. She did not have the answer. She didn't want a bloodbath, hadn't even thought that far. She did expect the people to acquiesce to greater power. Competent power. And she was big enough to admit to herself that that was a flawed expectation. Although, she was sure that if they were scared enough, they'd acquiesce. They were sheep. So maybe the plan should be to scare them into acquiescing. Just one good scare.

"We need to put the fear of God in 'em," she said. "Keep your eyes open for the perfect opportunity."


Later, the walk home felt like a long one for Rick. He didn't care about the stares. The gawking townsfolk had no idea what was in store for them. Talks were being had about them all around them and instead of being engaged, instead of questioning their leader, they were staring at him. It wasn't hard for Rick to see why Carol thought of them as children.

No, the walk home felt long because he still didn't have a clear idea how he was going to get through to Deanna, make a change, and ensure their stay in Alexandria. He didn't have a clear solution, and that was unusual for him. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that he'd really never come across a group like the Alexandrians. They were placid, which wasn't a crime, although it was very dangerous. But they'd set up something that his family desperately needed. Even Carol, who had an impressively low opinion of the Alexandrians, wanted to stay.

So he crossed the threshold of his home with Carol and Michonne debating in his mind.

Carl was the first to welcome him. He wasn't surprised when the teenager voiced his opinion on how he should handle the Alexandria situation, and it came out sounding like Michonne's. As a matter of fact, he was relieved. But he still let him know that the resolution might not be neat or pretty.

Carl has wanted Rick to be brutally honest with him since before he could truly handle it. For a long time, that had been his idea of being treated like an adult. Rick had refused to strip away all of the kid's sense of hope and normalcy. No matter how grim things got, he never wanted Carl to approach anything grimly. He would take on all of the burden and all the blows to keep Carl sane. Whatever he told him now, which was more than he would tell him before, was to give him all of the tools he would need to make it if anything ever happened to him. And that included solving some problems in not so pretty ways.

"How's your sister? How'd she spend the night?" Rick asked.

"She was good. She woke up twice, but that was before Michonne left. Michonne's giving her a bath right now."

"Okay. Can we talk for a little bit?" Rick asked.

"Sure," Carl answered. He had a good idea about the topic.

Rick steered him to the couch, and they both took a seat.

"Michonne told me about your conversation yesterday. I'm sorry I missed it."

"Really?" Carl asked, smiling.

"Really. Not that I was needed. I'm sure I would've been some kind of hindrance, but it sounds like something I would've loved to see. Or eavesdrop on. Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I'm fine. It feels good," Carl said with a timid shrug.

To have a mother's love again. Rick imagined that it felt mighty fine. "I can't think of two people who deserve each other more."

Carl smiled. He hadn't really thought that his father would have a problem, especially after their talk in his room, but it was still a little odd to confirm. He wanted to tease his father about when he was going to have his conversation with Michonne. If he was calling Michonne mom, then his dad needed to call her something beside her name, right? Otherwise it was weird. Right?

But Rick stood before he could say anything.

"I'm gonna take a shower right after Judy," Rick said.

"Okay," Carl stuttered. "I'll make you a plate for breakfast." He dropped his shoulders as Rick went up the stairs.


"We're both so fresh and so clean," Michonne cooed to her daughter as she unplugged the bathtub drain. She shifted on her knees and leaned a towel-wrapped Judy over the tub so she could watch the water go. Rick had told her that that was Judith's favorite part of bath time, and, sure enough, the baby squealed and flailed one of her arms as she watched the water swirl down the drain. "Yeah, look at it go," Michonne said wondrously, wrapped in her own towel. "It's a tiny water spout!"

Before she could turn at the thud of shoes on the tile floor, Rick was dropping a long kiss on her right temple.

"Hi, daddy," she greeted, her heart fluttering from the touch of his lips.

"Hi," Rick greeted. He kissed her temple again and then kissed her eye.

Michonne tucked Judy into her right arm and heaved herself up to her feet. Rick pulled her close and kissed her cheek, her neck, her shoulder.

"Welcome home," Michonne said, basking in the attention.

Judy was eager to get in her dad's arms, but she was shut down.

"No, baby, daddy's nasty and smells like yesterday. Seeing y'all all fresh and clean makes me feel extra dirty," he said to Michonne.

"Not dirty enough to keep your lips to yourself," Michonne said as she trailed her index finger down the weapons that had left her skin tingling.

"Never that," Rick confirmed with a smile that made Michonne's stomach shimmy.

"We're gonna leave you to get yourself together," she said. "Judy and I only hang with fresh and clean people. Rosita left some of the small bandages for your cuts, so I'll bring 'em to you."

She sauntered out of the bathroom, and Rick watched until he couldn't see her anymore.

He was very happy to be home.

Chapter Text

Watching Judith cycle through her two toys, her rattle and her bib, dropping one to play with the other, Michonne almost believed that this was just a quiet Saturday, like she used to have in the prison on the days when mapping out the Governor's possible trail didn't press so heavily on her mind, the days when she actually lifted her head up from the map and tuned in to what was around her: serenity.

This Saturday, as morning approached afternoon, there were no kids playing outside. She didn't even hear the adults talking as they walked past her bedroom window. Everyone was waiting. Those who were invited to the meeting tonight were waiting to hear what Rick and Deanna had to say, and those who weren't were waiting for the next day. For the aftermath. Maybe they were waiting to watch them be escorted out of Alexandria, the wild ones who'd become much too savage for polite society.

Polite society.

Michonne made a sound of disgust in the back of her throat.

"You alright?" Rick asked as he stood in the doorway, drying his hair with his towel.

"Uh." Michonne shifted on the bed, shaken from her revery. "Is you sneaking up on me going to become a regular thing?"

"If you keep not payin' attention, yeah," he answered as he entered the room. He leaned over the bed and kissed her forehead near her hairline. Shifting his attention to Judith, he threw the towel over his right shoulder and announced, "Okay, I'm ready."

Judith looked at him and then went back to fitting the bib on her head.

"Oh, you're over it? You're over me? Are you over me?" Rick asked as climbed the bed to eat her stomach. Judith fell back, laughing and pushing against his face.

"Hey, hey, ow! Careful," Rick warned, recoiling when she pushed against his wounds. "Daddy's banged up."

Michonne folded her legs so that he could sit close to her.

Rick sat down and plopped Judith on his lap. He attacked her face this time, careful to keep her hands away from his wounds. "I missed you," he said before kissing her nose.

"Are some of them starting to heal?" Michonne asked of his cuts.

"I wish. They all sting. What's wrong?"

Michonne inhaled and released it. "It's quiet outside. How many of them you think are in each other's houses right now gossiping about tonight?"

"Deanna's giving me a chance to plead my case, explain why I should be allowed to stay," Rick said, looking like he was chewing something sour. "I'm not gonna approach it like that, exactly. I'm not gonna beg to stay. They need to realize and accept that they need us a lot more than we need them."

"However you approach it, if there was ever a time you needed to be convincing, this is it," Michonne said, her tense brown eyes steady on his. "The campaign is officially a referendum, and you only get one."

Rick nodded. "She told me that she's going to let y'all speak on my behalf. Your idea."

"Yeah," Michonne confirmed. "Because they need examples of how you've helped other people. They need to know why we follow you, why we trust you. I've told Abraham and Maggie. I need to tell Carol." She sighed. "I wish Daryl was here."

"Think we still got Jessie?" Rick asked.

"I don't know. It'd be great to have one of them on our side. Aaron's not here, although who knows if he'd still sing our praises after yesterday. These people are so afraid of violence. The world has ended, there are walkers everywhere, and they are afraid of violence. Can you think of anything more stupid?"

Judy was reaching for her bib, so Rick let her back on the bed and shifted closer to Michonne.

"You're agitated," he observed.

"Clock's countin' down, and I have no idea how this is gonna turn out. I can't believe that after everything we've been through our fate is in the hands of other people, other clueless people."

"I know," Rick said, squeezing her calf to comfort her.

"I'm gonna ride this constable thing for all it's worth. I'm gonna show up tonight, dressed in my uniform, the calming force that stopped you yesterday and took away your gun, and I'm hoping that'll have the effect I want. You can't wear your uniform. That'll take away from my image."

"You're really good at this," Rick marveled, blue eyes narrowed. "You're calculating."

"Watch your back, Grimes," she said, rolling her neck.

"In another lifetime, if I did run for Sheriff of King County, I hope you'd show up as the lawyer who wants to volunteer her time to manage my campaign."

"You used the words lawyer and volunteer in the same sentence without a punchline," she tsked.

"That's you insultin' your profession, not me," Rick said. "You'd do it pro bono. As soon as you got a look at me."

"Oh please!" she protested.

"Whatever happens," Rick said seriously, "We're stayin' together or we're leavin' together."

Michonne nodded. "I'm giving you your gun tonight. Don't let them see it, but….Just in case. And...if you do end up using it, don't be the first. Don't instigate. Please."

"I won't," he promised. "Carol thinks it might be a matter of scarin' 'em. That's what I intend to do tonight, but I think she's thinking of something more….violent. I don't even know what that would look like."

Michonne slowly shook her head. Once again, she inhaled deeply and released it. She wished the Alexandrians were a different kind of simple. If they were simply batshit crazy, the answer would be easy.

Rick studied her face. This was what he wanted to do all day, drink her in and kiss her when he wanted. "I haven't wished for a lazy Saturday or any day since we-since we found Carol's daughter on Hershel's farm," he shared. "Nothing's been able to compete with making sure we don't lose any more people, that we're all safe, we all have food, and we all have enough space to sleep comfortably. But I want today. I want it with you."

Michonne's eyes warmed. "I want it, too. But we need to focu-"

Rick leaned forward and kissed her, effectively cutting off the rest. "I know," he said, and he kissed her again. Everything fell away, although they were mindful of where Judith was on the bed. Skin to skin contact was intoxicating. We need to focus was what Michonne meant to say, and they realized that touching, like this, like last night, being able to now, in the middle of uncertainty; they could escape in the middle of chaos simply by kissing, by being intimate. It was dangerous. It was seductive.

And they needed to focus.

And Michonne was focused on his damp hair, and Rick was focused on the warm skin of her flat stomach.

"The door's open," Michonne sighed when he moved down to suckle the skin of her neck.

Rick wasn't sure why that should make him stop when she sounded like that. If he stopped kissing her, she wouldn't sound like that anymore, ergo…

"Rick," Michonne protested weakly. She wasn't committed to making him stop at all, and Rick picked up on that. But nevertheless, he said, "I know."

"We need to talk to Carl," he said as he backed off.

"What?" Michonne asked, her mind still on one track.

Rick smiled. That was what she got for actin' like she didn't want all of him, right here, right now. "We need to talk to Carl, tell him about us. I was thinkin' about it in the shower. I don't know how tonight's gonna turn out, but he should have a solid memory here. You two talked yesterday. I can't think of a better time to tell him. Things might change again tonight, and I want him to know that he's got somethin' he can count on."

"Right," Michonne said awkwardly.

"You okay with that?" Rick asked cautiously.

"Yeah. I mean, yeah. I haven't been thinking about telling him; my mind's been on tonight, so I'm kind of….I need to realign."

"We can wait if-"

"No, you're right," she countered. "We should tell him."

"Alright," Rick said, standing.

Michonne stared up at him. "Aren't we gonna rehearse?"

"Rehearse what?" Rick asked, amused.

"We need to know what we're gonna tell him, Rick," Michonne said as she stood.

"We're gonna tell him we're together. We're gonna tell him we love each other."

"Well, I'm glad you have it figured it out." He made it sound so simple.

"What's there to say beyond that? Wait, are you nervous?" he asked, his eyebrows near his hairline and his eyes dancing with delight. "You're nervous?"

"Now is not the time, Rick," Michonne warned.

"What's got you nervous about telling the boy who loves you that you're with his dad?"

"How are we gonna say it? Are we gonna say we're boyfriend and girlfriend?"

Rick grimaced.

"See?" Michonne said, pointing at his face and feeling vindicated.

"Boyfriend and girlfriend," Rick mulled.

"Sounds archaic, right? Like it doesn't really fit anymore?" Michonne asked. She wore a grimace identical to Rick's now. "I mean who becomes boyfriend and girlfriend at the end of the world?"

"Glenn and Maggie did," Rick shrugged ineptly. "Bob and Sasha for a while."

But they didn't feel like Glenn and Maggie or Bob and Sasha.

"Well, I'm not gonna tell him you're my woman," Rick said as he sat heavily on the bed.

"Hold up," Michonne raised her hand, now amused. "Is that how you think of me? I'm your woman?"

"Yeah," Rick said like it should've been obvious. "And I'm not gonna have my fifteen-year-old parroting me down the line, talkin' about Enid's his woman. I'm not settin' myself up like that."

"Oh no, definitely not," Michonne agreed. "But, your woman," she contemplated as she took a seat next to him. "I like it. And you're my man."

Rick stood and gave her a long kiss.

"What are we telling Carl?" Michonne deadpanned after they separated.


They made their way down the stairs, Rick toting Judith, Judith explaining to Rick why the bib belonged on her head today and not around her neck, Rick not understanding any of it.

"Your breakfast is ready," Carl told his father as The Land Before Time played in front of him. "It's in the microwave. You have to warm it up."

"Thank you," Rick answered. "Pause that for a bit. We need to talk to you about something, something important."

Carl paused the movie and straightened. He watched his dad take the solitary chair while Michonne came to sit next to him, effectively putting him in the middle.

"We're leaving," Carl said resolutely. He might as well get it out of the way for them.

"What? No," Rick answered.

"I told you we were working on it, and we are," Michonne said softly.

"This is something good," Rick said. "This is about me and Michonne. This is about us as a family."

"Okay," Carl said, giving his dad his full attention.

Rick took a deep breath. Now he felt a little of the nervousness Michonne had experienced earlier. When he looked at her, however, he couldn't resist smiling.

"We are….together," he told his son. "As in together. We're…boyfriend and girlfriend," he explained, chuckling as he recalled their displeasure at these particular labels. "And a lot more," he added. "We're in love, and we've made a commitment to provide for you and your sister and keep you safe. I mean it's basically what it was before, only more official and more…more," he said as he gazed adoringly at Michonne. Turning his attention back to Carl, he said, "Judging by the gigantic smile on your face, I don't think I need to ask how you feel about it, but if you have any questions, concerns, go ahead."

"I…" Carl began, but he didn't know what to say. He was happy, and he couldn't decide whether to focus on his dad or Michonne.

"It's a timeless offer," Michonne clarified. "If you have questions now or they come later, we're here."

"I…" Carl tried again. Jesus, he had to say something. "I think that…it's good. Wait, when did it happen?" he asked Michonne. "Wait, is that something I should know?"

Michonne rolled her eyes. "It didn't happen that long ago. But we wanted to make sure we were bringing you something you can count on, something solid."

Carl's questions did begin to form then. What if it didn't work out? What would happen then? What if they stop loving each other? What if they decide they love other people and break up? What if what happened to his parents happened to them? It had been plain as day near the end that everything between his parents was not okay.

"Carl?" Rick questioned.

"I'm okay," he quickly answered. "It's good. This is good."

Rick and Michonne silently shared their uncertainty.

"I'll come to you if I have any questions," Carl reassured them.

"Whatever happens, you have us," Rick promised.

"I know," Carl said, smiling. Michonne bumped him with her shoulder, and he smiled wider. He was being paranoid. Something good was happening. He needed to enjoy it, be in the moment.

"Okay, so, I think we're good on that. We're all on the same page," Rick said. He wanted to sound authoritative, like he was wrapping up strategy talk in preparation for clearing a string of stores or houses, but he came up short. He sounded tentative. His heart was fluttering, because he was in awe of the fact that he was sitting with his family.

"Okay, so I'm gonna step out for a little bit to confirm whether Jessie's on our side or not," he said to Michonne.

"No, you're gonna eat first and then step out," Michonne countered.

"Right," Rick said, smiling. "Eat first, then step out."

Michonne shook her head affectionately as she watched him head to the kitchen with Judith. His smile was debilitating. And he knew it. Nowhere was the itchy guy who'd asked her to move in with him. The memory made her chuckle. And then she realized that Carl was looking at her, his smile now meant to tease. When he raised his eyebrows, she held up a stern finger. "You do not have permission to make fun of me for this."

"You're into my dad," he taunted.

"I mean it."

"You're all smiley and laughing 'cause you're super into him."

"Hush," Michonne chided. The doorbell rang, and she gladly left him on the couch.

"Good morning," Rosita greeted, cocking her head to the right.

"Good morning," Michonne returned hesitantly. Rosita clearly had something on her mind, and she had a good feeling what that something was, so she shut the door behind her. "What?" she asked innocently as she moved toward the porch railing. Again, she thought about the moment Rick had asked her to move in with him.

"What?" Rosita echoed. "More like why. Why did you cooperate with Ms. Let Me Get My House In Order Before I Move In? Whatever the reason, it's better than the noise in my head. I mean, did you realize it was like five o'clock in the morning?"

"What noise in your head?" Michonne asked.

"I swear I can hear these people talking about us, about what's supposed to happen tonight."

"Oh, you too?"

"Meanwhile, it looks like a ghost town," Rosita said, referring to the nearly empty street. "I wish I could be there tonight."

"I want it to get here already. I might go crazy thinking about it."

"Maybe that's Deanna's secret plan, drive us so crazy with waiting that we run the hell out of here. Problem solved."

Michonne smiled. "She's too earnest to be underhan-"

"Underhanded?" Rosita finished, amused. "Well, speaking of which."

Jessie came up short when she saw Michonne and Rosita standing on the porch. When you are the battered wife of the only surgeon in a small community, you come to know when you are the topic of conversation. And she had a strong inkling that her name was just in Michonne and Rosita's mouths.

"Good morning," she greeted the women pleasantly.

"Good morning," Michonne and Rosita responded.

"Is Rick home?" she asked Michonne, tucking strands of hair behind her ear.

Are you a tracker? Michonne mentally asked sarcastically. "He's in the kitchen. You can go in."

Jessie hesitated, and Michonne was pleased.

"Go on," she said, nodding toward the house.

Jessie slowly went up the porch and went inside.

After Jessie closed the door, Rosita lowered her voice. "I saw that hesitation. So the days of inviting herself in are over?"

Michonne smiled. She felt a little silly for gossiping about the woman, but hell. "She sure has come a way. I took her to Rick, because I knew he'd set her straight. And he did. Five o'clock in the morning was just the perfect backdrop."


"Rick," Jessie called quietly as she entered the kitchen.

Rick turned from his conversation with Judith at the unexpected voice. "Hi," he greeted.

"Hi." Jessie took a step forward and then hesitated. "May I?" she asked, pointing at a chair around the table.

"Yeah."

She pulled the chair out and sat. "I just have to tell you: I feel like I'm in the middle of a tornado. I apologize for offending you and your household, because I have bigger things going on right now. I was putting the owl back together to clear my head when I looked out into the street and watched Spencer escort Pete to another house. Then he came over to get Pete some clothes, toothbrush, and toothpaste, because Pete asked for those things, and he also told Spencer to tell me to think about letting him see his kids, because I can't take them away from him. Ron and Sam were there, and after Spencer left I had to stare at their faces. This meeting tonight? Rick, I'm so grateful for what you did, but it didn't fix anything. I...I don't know what to do. And...I hate saying this, but...I am really thinking about...giving him another chance.

Because, you know, nothing like that's ever happened to him. Especially not after the world ended. He's in a time out, so maybe..." She couldn't even finish it.

"Change is in the air," she summarized. "I can feel it. The air is thick with it. It's so quiet. And...it's really making me want to hold on to what's familiar. If things go topsy-turvy, I would rather go through it with my kids' father. He's the partner I've got," she chuckled, feeling pitiful.

"Jessie, I'm sorry," Rick began carefully. "I understand you're scared-"

"If things are as dire as you say they are, then I'd rather go through it with someone I know," she cut him off, sounding more resolute.

"Pete can't live here," he stated plainly. "Not as he is. And him being your partner won't matter if neither of you know how to defend yourselves."

"Because you think I'm just as weak as everyone else," she said, bobbing her head from side to side bitterly.

"What do you wanna do about it?"

"Thanks for finally admitting it. At least you're not completely insulting-"

"Pay attention," Rick bit off. "Goddamn it, this is the problem. You're so busy bein' insulted that you don't realize it's the truth. There's nothin' wrong with not knowin' anything. Puzzling as hell, yeah, but nothin' wrong with it as long as you set out to do somethin' about it. That's what we all did. That's why we made it here. Y'all keep focusin' on the wrong thing. What are you gonna do, Jessie? Pete bein' your partner won't matter if you're equally vulnerable.

I get that you're scared. I get the desire to run back. That is ultimately up to you, because what I said still stands: we're here for you. We can help you. But I'm also tellin' you: Pete cannot stay here as long as he's drunk and disorderly. So I hope he's just as interested in bein' your partner as you are in bein' his."

Jessie nodded imperceptibly. She had a lot to think about. And she was going to talk to Pete.


Jessie gently closed the door and hesitated near Michonne and Rosita. "Can I have a moment alone with Michonne, please?" she asked.

"Sure," Rosita said, and she gracefully made her exit, resisting the urge to look back at Michonne to express that she wanted all of the details.

"I just wanted to say I'm sorry," Jessie said, her tongue heavy in her mouth.

Michonne nodded. "Thank you."

Jessie nodded and walked off. She had no idea what she was doing. She'd come to Rick for...counsel? Guidance? He hadn't made things any clearer. She needed to fight, yes, but what did that mean? What did that look like? She doubted that speaking to Pete would make things any clearer, but she was going to anyway. She just had to make sure no one saw her.


Michonne was about to head inside when she saw Enid approaching the house.

"Hi," Enid greeted with a small smile.

"Hi," Michonne returned. "What's up?"

"I brought a present for Judith," she said, indicating a rectangular music box.

Michonne's chest expanded with the need to chuckle. Granted, she's never seen Enid around Judith, but the usually sullen teenager didn't strike her as one who melted at the sight of babies.

"It's been sitting in my room forever, and I only play it when I'm extra bored, so I figure Judith would get more use out of it."

Michonne nodded. That was more like it. "Go in. She's with Rick in the kitchen. Thank you."

Enid nodded. She paused and looked behind her at the desolate street, unease on her face and in her body language. She swallowed and asked Michonne, "How bad is it gonna be tonight?"

"Not too bad, hopefully," Michonne said.

"It feels stupid. This is...stupid. They don't know what's good for them. Deanna's nice and all, but...Whatever," she muttered, and then she headed toward the door.

"Oh, Enid," Michonne called after she opened the door, "Tell Rick I'm going next door to Carol's."

Enid nodded and went inside.

Michonne stepped off the porch and onto the street. She'd think the community was abandoned if the houses didn't seem to be threatening to burst with contained whispers.

She walked next door and knocked on the house shared by Carol and Daryl. When Carol opened the door, her eyes seemed so small that Michonne hesitated before saying anything.

"Are you okay?" she asked slowly.

"Yeah," Carol exhaled, her shoulders relaxing.

"Expecting someone?"

"I'm expecting everything. Come in," Carol said as she headed for the kitchen.

"Maybe Rosita's right. Maybe we'll all go crazy and voluntarily vacate the premises."

"Is that a third option now?" Carol asked as she picked up her pencil on the kitchen island and resumed her task.

Michonne ignored the jab. "What are you doing?"

"Making a grocery list. I'm thinking about baking lasagna," she answered with a smile that Michonne found questionable.

Michonne observed her, a slight frown crinkling her forehead. She wasn't familiar with how Carol chose to expend nervous energy, so she wasn't going to comment.

"Congrats on Rick, by the way," Carol said as her head shot up from her list again. "Seriously, that was...Your faces...I haven't seen anything that hilarious since we first caught Glenn and Maggie at the prison," she said, stifling her laughter.

Michonne's mouth twitched in amusement, but she didn't give in. She did slowly blink and look to her right in embarrassment, however.

"So what's up?" Carol asked, going back to her list.

"The meeting tonight."

Carol sighed and slowly dropped her shoulders. "You mean the farce?"

Michonne sat on one of the stools at the island. "Outside of this fight, Deanna doesn't have anything to hold over Rick's head. So we're not gonna get bogged down on whether he was right or wrong. We're gonna focus on what made him get into that fight, and that was a desire to protect someone in this community. It was about him being unwilling to allow a cancer to continue spreading in Alexandria."

"Maybe you should speak first," Carol said as she eyed Michonne. She knew how inspiring Rick could be, if naive in his outlook at times, but it was looking to her like Michonne could be just as good.

"Don't worry about me," Michonne said with determination. "I've got it."

"Well, you know I don't speak until everyone else has spoken," Carol said delicately.

Michonne smiled at the lie. While Carol wasn't loud with her opinions, she was very opinionated. She wasn't sure why Carol had adopted a sheltered housewife persona for Alexandria, but she figured it couldn't hurt. She wondered now, though, if the persona was inadvertently bringing things up for her. She'd found a battered woman in Alexandria in the midst of trying to convince everyone she was a frail potential victim.

Michonne wanted to ask if she was okay, especially in light of Sasha not being okay. They couldn't let each other go unchecked.

But she and Carol weren't close. Although she knew she'd lost a child, she'd had no idea about her violent husband before Carl told her. Hell, she officially knew more about Abraham than she did Carol. So she couldn't very well start asking her personal questions now, especially not that question. Maybe she'd get Rick to check on her.

"What?" Carol asked.

"Nothing," Michonne answered.

"If you've got something to say, say it."

"I'm wondering how determined you are to overpower these people."

"Leading a one-woman charge in this case is hardly smart. Or promising."

Michonne nodded, satisfied with her answer. She knew why Carol had been banished at the prison. Daryl had told her.

Michonne stood from the counter and started making her way out of the kitchen when Carol stopped her.

"What's Rick decided?"

"He hasn't," Michonne answered when she turned around. Carol nodded and didn't say anything more, so she headed out.

Carol finished the list and put the pencil down. Maybe she couldn't take on the whole town, but she could take Pete if need be. One way or another, he needed to be handled. Maybe Jessie wasn't strong enough to make a decision, but she was.

Truth be told, however naive Rick could be, she needed him. She could admit that to herself. She could admit that she was...one track-minded. Rick had qualities that she didn't, qualities that could be of use to the others. She had her way of handling business, was convinced now that there was one way to handle business, and she didn't much care how the rest felt about it as long as it kept them alive in the end. Everyone had a job to do, like Hershel used to say. And she'd solidified hers.

She folded the grocery list and headed to the pantry. She had a lasagna to bake for Pete.

Chapter Text

Hiding on her porch, Jessie strained her neck to watch Michonne enter her home. The coast now clear, she hurried from her house to the one that held Pete, glancing at the front gate to make sure that Spencer's back was still turned. She bounded up the porch steps and knocked on the door, her stomach in nervous knots.

"Come on, Pete."

The door swung open, and Pete, holding an ice pack to the left side of his face, frowned at her before checking to see if anyone was behind her. "Aren't you violating the restraining order?" he asked humorlessly.

"Just let me in," she said and hurried past him.

Pete closed the door and regarded her. "What?"

"We need to talk."

"Oh, now? Now you wanna talk? After your boyfriend tried to beat my face in?"

He had less bandages on his face than Rick, which Jessie found ironic, considering Rick had knocked him out. "Something serious is happening, Pete," she said tensely. "I don't know if you've heard, but there's a big meeting tonight, and Deanna's gonna decide whether or not Rick gets to stay here."

"Good."

"It won't end there for you. What if Deanna decides he can stay? What if he convinces her? He and his people have a skill, Pete, a valuable one, just like you. Do you think Deanna's just gonna throw that away?"

"She has every reason to," he grumbled as he walked past her to head to the kitchen. "I have a splitting fucking headache, and Deanna won't give me anything for it. No need to waste resources, she said."

"Even if Rick leaves, it still doesn't bode well for you," Jessie pressed as she followed him. "Everyone knows now. Everyone knows what you do, who you are. Do you think things are just gonna go back to normal? You have to change, Pete."

"You have some nerve saying this shit to me. You have some nerve even stepping foot in here."

"I'm not gonna let you anywhere near the kids until you change, until you stop."

"Excuse me?" Pete seethed as he took several slow steps toward her, making Jessie tense in anticipation. Nevertheless, she raised her chin and stood her ground.

"I'm not going anywhere, Jessie. Rick's got you fucked up. In case you've forgotten, there's an unconscious girl lying in the clinic, and I am the only one who can take care of her."

Jessie forced herself to maintain eye contact with Pete despite her skin prickling. He was towering over her. "I don't give a damn what you can do. We're either gonna go through this together or we won't. I need someone who will help me protect our kids."

"And you think that someone's Rick."

"No, I'm thinking that someone might be me and me alone. Rick said he and his people-"

"Oh, Rick said! Rick said!" he yelled in her face.

"Back off!" she screamed in return, her fright making her push him.

Pete dropped the ice pack and shoved her with all his might, making her head snap forward as she stumbled hard but kept her footing.

"This is...you're really pushing it, Jessie," Pete complained. "I didn't mean to do that-"

"The hell you didn't," she countered, tearing up, still feeling the brutal strength of his hands on her chest. "I'm gonna be at that meeting tonight, Pete, you fucking idiot. Will I tell Deanna that yeah, Rick should be kicked out?" she asked, raising her left palm up, "Or will I tell her he deserves another chance, because what he did showed that he cares about the well-being of the people in this community, which is exactly the kind of people we want here?" she asked, raising her right palm up. "Which one will it be, Pete? I came here to talk to you, to get through to you, but as usual you can't see past yourself. I don't know how the fuck I would even begin to protect those kids by myself-"

"Protect them from what?! We're fine! We are fine, and we were fine until they showed up. Until he showed up!"

"But you know what?" she continued as if he hadn't yelled at her again, "I'm now thinking that it's worth finding out. You can be the only surgeon in Alexandria: valuable, praised, and a blessing to everyone else, but you don't have to be that while living in my house. I want you out, and I'm gonna go through every recourse to make sure it happens."

"Jessie," he plead as she began to walk away. "Jessie!"

"Don't touch me!" she yelled as she whirled around. "Do not touch me. Do not ever touch me again," she said, her voice trembling. She walked backward until she found the door and ran out.


The clock ticked toward late afternoon, and apprehension was growing in Alexandria. Most of the residents, whether they were invited to the meeting or not, just wanted to go back to normal. They wanted to go back to before they met Rick Grimes and his crew, before the uncomfortable feeling they got from the Andersons was justified. Many wished Deanna would just make a decision without their input and call it a day. They did not want to be responsible for kicking people out, but they did not want to be responsible for any continuing violence, either. They appreciated Deanna's gesture to be inclusive and transparent, but they would welcome the opportunity to sit out the meeting. After all, they never got a say as to who Deanna and Reg invited into the community. They would just gain new neighbors all of a sudden.

Well this time, a new neighbor had bitten Deanna in the butt. Why did they have to be a part of the consequence?

Michonne approached Rick's bedroom and leaned against the door frame. He was sitting on the bed, his posture terrible, apparently deep in thought.

"Hey," she greeted softly.

He straightened his spine and turned his head to look at her. "Hey."

She walked into the room, dressed in her constable slacks and a white tank top, her hair tied back in a half ponytail.

"I haven't had the chance to tell you that you look great in that uniform," he said.

"Please," she rolled her eyes as she leaned back against the window. "It's ugly."

"It's not, but that could be because every time I see you in it, I picture you taking it off."

She smiled. "That's better than you thinking these clothes are actually sexy. What's up?"

Rick raised his eyebrows and shook his head. Michonne lowered her eyes and folded her lips in thought. "Rick," she began when she heard his deep sigh. She raised her eyes to look at him and then joined him on the bed. She sat close enough for her thigh to touch his, the mattress dipping with her weight. "I realize that I need to make a decision. The same way that you have to decide what you're willing to do to stay here, I have to decide how far I'm willing to follow you. And I've decided that I will go the distance. I trust you to make...the best decision. Like you always do."

"I didn't make the best decision when I didn't wanna come here," he reminded her.

"Unfortunately, I can't tell you that I met another Aaron," she said with a small smile. "I don't have another Alexandria in my back pocket."

"I wish you did."

"Whatever you decide, I'm with you."

Rick stared into her eyes. Pure, lustrous brown. Solid and resolute. Determined. She meant it. Whatever he decided, she was with him. She would take up arms if need be. "It's a lot of pressure," he said softly.

"It always has been-"

"I mean you," he interrupted. "Not that I was lax about it before, but...you bein' with me no matter what means that I have to be worth that. I have to make it so that you don't ever regret that. You supporting me can't ever mean you goin' against your principles."

"Oh, that'll never happen," she panned. "But I guess that's what I'm saying. That's...that's my conclusion: I'm with you no matter what, because I don't believe you could ever do anything that goes against my principles."

"I love you, too," he said softly.

"Did you hear what I-?"

Rick captured her lips in a kiss, lightly sucking her top lip into his, then the bottom, then the top as what he took as her declaration of unyielding love both warmed and fortified him. It didn't take her long to catch up, her hands coming up to gently cup his cheeks. He deepened the kiss, and she followed, matching his passion.

They worked themselves up and then worked themselves down, slowing the kiss, promising themselves to continue this as soon as possible.

"Jesus," Michonne sighed as she covered her tingling lips with her hands.

"We're not gonna get thrown out like yesterday's trash," Rick promised, briefly tilting his head.

Spellbound, Michonne could only nod.


Despite his isolation, Pete's apprehension grew, too. Jessie's visit had put him on edge. He wanted to be at the meeting. He wanted to know what was going to happen. He wanted to have a say. From the way Jessie had spoken, it seemed like he was the only one who could stand up for himself and speak against Rick Grimes.

As he thought about it, he realized that there wasn't anyone he could count on to give his side. No, he didn't have much of a side, other than what happens inside his home isn't anyone's business, but outside of Jessie and the kids, he didn't have anyone in Alexandria.

And now that Rick had Jessie feeling "liberated," he didn't have her either.

He didn't understand it. He didn't understand how one person could turn his life upside down in a matter of days.

Jessie had said that Rick could convince Deanna to let him stay. Was Rick going to be at the meeting, then? Was Deanna actually going to give him a chance to make a case for himself while he remained locked up? The possibility pissed him off, because it seemed that he'd been branded while Rick might be given a chance to redeem himself.

There was a knock on the door.

With a blaspheming curse, he dragged himself off the stool at the kitchen island and went to answer it. If Jessie tattled to Deanna after she'd come to antagonize him, he'd really be through.

Instead of Deanna, he found Carol on the porch with a dish of baked lasagna. He wondered then who the hell was supposed to be watching to make sure he didn't just leave the house.

When Carol barged in uninvited and closed the door behind her, his annoyance spiked. "What the hell are you doing?"

"You need to check on Tara," she stated plainly. "You treated her; you're a surgeon; you need to do that."

"Get out," he griped as he came to face her.

What happened next left him reeling, confused, and at his wit's end. Carol made Rick's team a joke. That was his opinion. A bunch of people with guns, knives, and swords, and then...Carol. Sure, Eugene apparently wasn't worth anything either, but he was smart. Pete was sure that that helped. Somehow. But what did Carol have? She was useless weight on the team. That was what he thought.

When she pulled the knife from her pants, he wondered if she knew how to use it. When she told him she could kill him right at that moment, he wished she would try. He would get in more trouble for fighting her, but he didn't understand what the fuck she was doing in his presence.

She drolled on in a detached tone of voice he'd never heard her use before, asking him who would believe that she killed him simply because she disliked him.

His body tensed when she touched the point of the knife to his chin and applied some pressure. And his blood ran hot when, seconds later, she swiped the knife away and nicked him in the process. He touched the spot that was now stinging and found it wet. Blood.

"Come at me," Carol taunted quietly. "No? Yeah? No."

Pete saw himself rush her then. He rushed her and slammed her against the wall, and he slammed her, and slammed her, and slammed her until the knife fell and the dish fell, and she regretted barging in to see him. To taunt him.

And he would have done it if he understood her place in this whole thing.

"The way this has played out, you have a choice," Carol said, bringing him back to reality. "You're here; your wife's there."

"Do not...talk about my family," he said tightly.

"You're a small weak nothing," Carol said, undaunted. "And with the world how it is, you're even weaker."

"Get out," he seethed.

"Play your cards right, maybe you don't have to die." She shoved the dish at him and headed toward the door. "And I want my dish back clean when you're done."

Carol opened the door and left. She smiled when she heard Pete hurl the dish at the door. "Be predictable, Pete. You can do it," she murmured as she headed back to her house.


Dressed in her Alexandria-issued gray uniform, Michonne walked to the meeting, located at the back of the community, on the front lawn of an unoccupied home. Night hadn't fallen yet, but the temperature had dipped low enough to warrant heavy jackets, and Michonne saw that a bonfire was serving as the centerpiece of the gathering.

She felt for her gun, a sign of her nervousness. What she really wanted was her katana. She'd put it up after the group chose their houses, determined to not need it, but the length of the sword on her back would go a long way towards comforting her right now. She didn't want to talk to these people. She didn't want to convince them or Deanna of anything. She just wanted Rick to come in and do whatever he decided to do. The problem was that he still hadn't figured out how to wrap this irritating situation into a nice package with a bow on top.

As Michonne walked, she thought about how odd it was to not be the big dog. And it wasn't even because the Alexandrians or Deanna were bigger dogs. They'd just found the place first.

Her steps slowed as she neared the location. She reminded herself that Rick would take Carl and Judith to keep Rosita and Tara company in the infirmary. She took a deep, steadying breath. And she released it. Game face on.

Four people were in attendance. Jessie, Tobin, Eric, and a portly white man she's seen but whose name she didn't know. She counted thirteen chairs, but she knew that Deanna expected more people.

"Hi," she greeted the early arrivals, her eyes on Jessie in particular. She knew that Rick hadn't gotten a chance to ask her if she was still on their side. Jessie nodded inconspicuously, but Michonne didn't feel any better.

The portly man nodded uncomfortably, and Tobin muttered a curt hi. Michonne inwardly nodded. She knew how they would vote.

More people dragged themselves in. They definitely did not want to be there, which meant chances were high that they'd go with whatever they felt Deanna wanted, simply because they've known her longer. Michonne almost hated them for it. But, as she watched them amble in, she idly hoped no one asked her if she knew their names since she wanted them to believe that she wanted to be a part of this community. She didn't know most of their names. Although she'd tried to get comfortable in her role as constable, she hadn't walked up to anyone to introduce herself and ask their names. It had seemed too weird at the time, too pleasantville. And she'd spent most of her time outside during the welcome party. She hoped those decisions weren't going to bite her in the ass now.

Familiar faces walked in: Carol, Abraham, Maggie, and Eugene. She again wished Daryl was here. He wasn't verbose by any means. He wasn't even a pithy man, but she believed that his sincerity would have been the selling point.

Eventually, Deanna walked in last with Reg and Spencer, which Michonne found typical. Deanna was the leader. She wasn't going to come early and wait for everyone else.

Michonne felt like whether Rick was allowed to stay or not rested solely on her. She, above everyone else, needed to convince Deanna. She'd brought them all here, given them the promise of stability, and she needed to make sure that they stayed. Alexandria could not fail.

The gray late afternoon turned into orange twilight, which very quickly turned into night, and Michonne tried hard not to look for Rick. He should've arrived by now.

"We're going to start," Deanna announced.

Michonne's heart skipped a beat.

"Can we wait?" Maggie asked. "There's still people coming. Glenn, Rick?"

Michonne wondered how the hell Deanna can start without the man on trial.

"We're going to start," Deanna repeated, her patience thin because she was taking Rick's tardiness as a high form of disrespect. "It's already dark." She'd already conceded one thing to Michonne, letting her group speak on Rick's behalf. They could start without him. Judging from what he'd said about the community yesterday, it was probably better that he didn't speak.

"We're going to talk about what happened," she continued. "Not the fight, not what precipitated it. We're dealing with that. We're going to talk about one of our constables, Rick Grimes. We're going to talk about his erratic behavior. We're going to talk about how he pointed his pistol at a crowd of people. And we're going to talk about what he said. I was hoping he'd be here."

"She said he's coming," Jessie said from her seat, mentally asking Michonne where the hell Rick was. "I'm sure he'll be here."

"And I'm sure we can work this all out," Carol added with a supplicating smile.

"If he comes, depending on when he comes, he can have his say. But I've granted Michonne's request to let Rick's group speak to his character," she announced to the Alexandrians, "And I think we have enough of them here to make a case for him. So please, whenever you're ready."

"I'd like to go first," Carol spoke up as she stood. Giving her attention to her fellow audience members, she said, "Rick Grimes saved my life, over and over. There's terrifying people out there, and he rescued me from them. People like me, people like, like us need people like him. I know what happened yesterday was scary. And I'm sure he's sorry for that. But maybe we should listen to what he was saying."

Michonne looked at Deanna to see if she bought that. Deanna was unmoved. Some in the audience looked like they were thinking, but Michonne knew that was a farce. They were letting Deanna think for them.

Abraham went next. He, of course, was standing. "Simply put: there is a vast ocean of shit that you people don't know shit about. Rick knows every fine grain of said shit. And then some."

Michonne almost smiled. She wasn't sure that Daryl would've said it very differently.

"My father respected Rick Grimes," Maggie began. "Rick is a father, too. He's a man with a good heart. He feels the things he does, the things he has to do. And all of us who were together before this place, no matter when we found each other, we're family now. Rick started that. And you can't stop it. And you don't want to. You want to be a part of this family, too. Trust me."

"Before we hear from anyone else, I would like to share something in the spirit of transparency," Deanna announced. "Father Gabriel came to see me the day before yesterday, and he said our new arrivals can't be trusted, that they were dangerous, that they would put themselves before this community. And not one day later, Rick seemed to demonstrate all the things Father Gabriel said. I had hoped Gabriel would be here tonight."

"I don't see him here, Deanna," Jessie piped up, doing her best to downplay what Deanna just said. "So you're just saying what someone said. Did you tape him?"

"He's not here," Maggie reiterated.

"Neither is Rick," Deanna countered.

A beat passed, and Maggie tersely excused herself and left the meeting.

"It's my turn," Michonne announced curtly. She was boiling. She wasn't sure who's neck she wanted to wring first: Deanna's or Father Gabriel's.

She separated herself from the audience to stand between them and Deanna and Reg to address both groups.

Every step she took reminded her of her past aspiration to transition from civil litigation to criminal law. If she could, she'd move to strike Deanna's last statement from the record based on the fact that that shit was not introduced into evidence beforehand! She'd given Deanna a list of character witnesses, verbally, that is. But Deanna had held tight to her own little character witness. The perks of being prosecutor, judge, and jury. And Deanna was playing all three roles, no matter what the meeting suggested.

So she was going to freely disregard Deanna's guideline for what should and shouldn't be discussed tonight. In the spirit of transparency.

We will now hear closing arguments, beginning with Ms. Elliot and the defense counselors.

Thank you, Your Honor. Members of the jury…

"What happened yesterday was your glance into who Rick is: someone who doesn't stand for injustice. Someone who isn't okay with letting a cancer fester and spread. Pete has been abusing Jessie. That's why we're here. No one's said it yet, but that's why we're here. I'm sorry, but in the spirit of transparency, we cannot address Rick's 'erratic' behavior or him pointing the gun without talking about the fight and what precipitated it. The community's dirty laundry doesn't get shoved to the side while we gather here to judge Rick. Let's lay it all on the table.

Pete has been abusing Jessie, one of your own, and it took an outsider to listen to her and help her. This is what you're here to decide: was Rick wrong to help Jessie? Was he wrong to be frustrated by the perceived fact that no one else was willing to do anything to help her? Does he deserve to be punished for helping her stand up for herself?

Are you here to punish him for forcing you to deal with the ugliness next door? The ugliness that you party and skirt around every Friday night? What happened yesterday wasn't a mistake. Yesterday happened, because Pete Anderson is a violent man who has been getting away with it since he got here, and he did not want to be talked to. And what you saw was Rick driven to frustration, because he realizes, like I realize, that you can't hope to fight against what's out there when you're unwilling to confront what's in here. When you're unwilling to protect each other. Who Rick is...is who you're gonna be. If you're lucky."

Prosecution counselors, your closing argument, please.

While Michonne returned to her spot, Deanna opened her mouth to speak. Whether to continue the meeting or reprimand Michonne for ignoring her guideline, the audience didn't know. And they never found out, because Rick walked into the meeting and dropped a dead body on the lawn, effectively capturing everyone's attention. The ones who'd been sitting jumped out of their seat.

"There wasn't a guard at the gate," he said, tense and breathless, his face and jacket spattered with walker blood. "It was open. Three of 'em got in."

Deanna turned to Spencer for an explanation.

"I asked Gabriel to close it," he offered.

"Go," Deanna instructed, her voice tightened by alarm and anger.

"I didn't bring it in," Rick explained to the audience while pointing at the dead walker. "It got inside on its own. They always will, the dead and the living, because we're in here. The ones out there: they'll hunt us; they'll find us. They'll try to use us. They'll try to kill us. But we'll kill them. We'll survive. I'll show you how.

You know, this whole day I was thinkin'. I was thinkin': how many of you might I have to kill to save your lives? But there's no need for that. You're gonna change. You have to change. Because if it was you that saw this thing at the front gate, would you have been able to stop it? Would you have been able to stop them? Or would you have been the first casualty?

I'm not sorry about what I said yesterday. I'm sorry for not saying it sooner. You're not ready," he said to Deanna. "But you have to be. Right now. You have to be. Luck runs out," he said to her people.

Still shocked by the rank dead body on the lawn and the bloody man in front of them, the audience numbly shifted their attention to the person who appeared behind Rick.

Noticing, Rick turned around and saw Pete ambling into the gathering.

"You're not one of us. You're not one of us!" Pete declared, hatred for Rick and the turmoil he's brought lacing his voice. Hatred for Carol and what his life has become since they arrived to Alexandria. Hatred for Jessie and how easily she'd bought into Rick and his people.

"Pete, please," Jessie said, more annoyed than anything else.

It was Reg who tried to calm him down, leaving Deanna's side to go talk to him. "Pete, you don't wanna do this."

"Get the hell away from me, Reg," he gritted as he continued making his way to Rick.

As the men bickered, joined then by Deanna, Rick's hand moved to the gun Michonne had given him.

"Do it now," Carol whispered beside him, knowing a perfect opportunity when she saw one, relieved that Pete had proved himself perfectly predictable, although she hadn't expected him to show up to the meeting.

Michonne saw her sword at Pete's side right when he raised the hand holding it to push Reg away. The blade sliced through clean, and the air rushed up from Michonne's chest as she watched blood spurt out of the side of Reg's neck. She went numb to Jessie's shocked scream, and the gasps, and whoever tackled Pete.

It was Abraham. Abraham had his knee in the middle of Pete's back and was twisting one of his arms behind him as Deanna panicked at the sight of her husband choking on his own blood. Michonne wasn't sure if Deanna knew it, but Reg was dying. There was no bringing him back from such a wound, so Michonne wished him peace and shifted her attention when she felt Rick move.

Something about his movement, slow, calculating, told her right away that he was going to kill someone. She actually wasn't sure who for a second, the shock from Pete's actions with her sword making her brain run slower, but then she settled on Pete. Pete was the one Rick was going to kill.

"This is him! This is all him!" Pete screamed, and Michonne wasn't sure that he realized what he'd done.

Michonne looked at Reg when he went quiet, and she inwardly cursed.

"It's him!" Pete screamed, and now Michonne wanted him to die. He was too stupid and ignorant to live.

She watched Deanna raise her head to look at Rick, and she couldn't help but ask herself what was going to happen after tonight.

"Rick?" Deanna asked shakily, whispering fresh loss. "Do it."

Michonne's eyes snapped up to Rick. He turned to Pete and fired one shot into his skull, making Abraham jump off of him.

Jessie's scream pierced the tense night.

"Be Quiet," Carol scolded impatiently. Who knew if there were more walkers around the community?

"Rick?"

Michonne turned her attention to the soft uttering of Rick's name, so different from how Deanna had sounded a second ago. For a moment, she wondered who the hell she was looking at. Then she remembered Morgan Jones. Daryl and Aaron on either side of him.

She turned back to Deanna but had a completely separate thought: Carol was happy now.

Jessie ran to Pete, and no one stopped her.

"He's gonna turn," Eugene warned her in a panic.

"He ain't coming back," Rick said, the confidence in his voice at odds with the confusion in his eyes as he stared at Morgan.

Michonne looked at Carol. As if she sensed her gaze, Carol looked at her. And Michonne saw it in her face. Acknowledgment.

Rick's words came back to her. Carol thinks it might be a matter of scarin' 'em….But I think she's thinking of something more….violent.

Yeah. Carol was happy now.

Chapter Text

Michonne was the first to move. She went to Deanna. Carol blocked her midway and covertly passed her the knife.

Michonne crouched to look Deanna in the eyes. "He's going to turn."

Everyone waited for Deanna to say something.

Deanna stared at Reg. She was waiting for him to wake up. Despite the blood all over his neck, she was waiting for him to wake up. For good measure, she shook him lightly and called his name. "Reg. Reg," she called more sternly.

Michonne looked up at Rick. She silently told him they could wait. He nodded once.

So they waited.

No one said a word.

The cold air seeped through their clothes and their skin and settled in their bones, despite the fire.

When Reg stirred, Rick moved Deanna out of the way.

Reg's nose twitched as he smelled the warm bodies.

Michonne positioned herself on the balls of her feet, her stance wide, and hovered her hand above his chest, ready to block him.

His eyes sprung open, and he lunged up at her with a raspy snarl, and Michonne plunged the knife into his forehead.

"Take care of her; I'll take care of them," Rick said.

"What are you gonna do?" Deanna asked, her voice raw.

Rick took in her wet, flat eyes. "Put them in the cemetery. We can bury Reg tomorrow."

"What about...Pete?" Jessie asked, realizing too late that she probably shouldn't have asked after what he'd just done.

"Let's just put them in the cemetery for now," Rick deflected.

Daryl and Morgan left Aaron to help Rick and Abraham move the bodies.

"I'll take you home," Michonne said to Deanna.

"I can take her home," Tobin declared as he came up to them.

Michonne saw the challenge in his eyes and ignored it.

"I have to tell Spencer," Deanna said to Michonne. "Oh, God."

"Come on," Michonne coaxed, and they left the gathering.

She, along with Tobin, much to her annoyance, walked with Deanna to the gate, where she broke the tragedy to Spencer. Spencer was in a state of shock, unable to grasp how everything could've gone left in the short time since he'd left the meeting. He went to the cemetery to confirm what his mother was saying. On the way there, Michonne pulled Carol aside and asked her to stand at the gate. She gave her the bloody knife.

Jessie was still on the floor where Pete had died when the quartet started for Deanna's house. Michonne broke off from them and kneeled in front of Jessie.

"You need to go home," she said.

"I'm gonna have to tell the boys, too," Jessie said, her pupils too dilated for Michonne's liking. "I have to tell them that...their father's dead. Is he really dead?"

"Yes," Michonne answered quietly.

"I...I did this."

"Jessie-"

"I went to see him. I wasn't supposed to. I mean the whole reason he was sequestered away was to keep him away from me, but I went to see him. I wanted...I wanted him to see that he needs to change. I wanted him to get it. We argued, and he pushed me. I pushed him first, because I was scared. I...I made him angry."

"You need to go home and talk to your kids," Michonne said. "This was not your fault. Come on."

Holding Jessie by the arms, she prompted her to stand, and then she walked her home. Michonne had the distinct feeling that Jessie wasn't the only one who'd visited Pete. While Jessie had made him angry, she knew one person who'd probably wanted to make him angry.

On the porch, Jessie turned to Michonne, eyes wide. Michonne found it unnerving. "Go inside," she encouraged.

"I'm doing this by myself now," Jessie said, her voice so low that Michonne wondered if she was meant to hear it.

"You're not by yourself. You have us. That's the point of a community." The words sounded hollow to Michonne, but it was the best she had right now.

She went to the Monroes' next. She wasn't calm so much as she was operating. The extreme life at the end of the world made her realize that she probably would've made a great first responder.

Tobin opened the door, and if he'd attempted to turn her away, she would've punched him dead in his face.

She wasn't calm. She was operating.

Michonne entered the house and walked through the room that had hosted their welcome party not too long ago.

Deanna and Spencer were holding hands on the couch. She was holding onto him more than he was holding on to her. Michonne wondered if anything festive would ever happen in this house again.

"I'm sorry for your loss," Michonne said as she stood at the entrance of the family room.

"It wasn't that long ago that we were here for Aiden," Deanna said, her eyes on the pristine carpet.

"I'm so sorry." She thought of Sasha and Maggie, and their back to back losses. "I think that you need to let Rick handle what comes after this."

Spencer slowly lifted his eyes to look at her, incredulous. Michonne met his gaze before she refocused on Deanna. "He's done this before. This is his world."

"Are you serious?" Tobin asked.

"You're in shock, and you can take a little time-"

"This is not the time to make a play," Tobin said in surprised disgust.

"I'm not making a play," Michonne countered calmly as she gave him her attention. "Two people are dead tonight, and walkers literally walked right in. I can assure you that everyone in my group is wondering how many others there are and how close they are to us. What are you thinking about? Do you even realize that we need answers to those two questions as soon as possible? I'm not making a play. I'm looking out for us."

She looked at Deanna, who was looking at her now. "Let Rick handle this until things calm down."

"You need to go," Tobin ordered as he stepped in front of her. "Now."

Michonne narrowed her eyes. Did he really think putting some base in his voice was going to make her scurry?

"Think about it, Deanna," Michonne said as she glared at him. "The world doesn't stop to let you mourn. That's not how it is anymore. Now more than ever, you need to keep moving."

With that, she turned from Tobin and left.

She went to speak to Carol. As she approached, she saw Carol walking slowly back and forth in front of the gate, one hand on the knife sheathed on her belt loop, her attention focused on anything and anyone that might appear. It reminded Michonne of when they would take shifts patrolling the perimeter of the prison. She wondered what their lives would be like now if they hadn't lost it. And she grimly wondered how long it would be before they lost Alexandria.

Carol turned her head in Michonne's direction when she felt her approach. "Hey."

"Hey," Michonne greeted. She got right to the point. "Jessie's taking responsibility for Pete losing it just now. Said she went to see him and ended up angering him."

Carol stared at her.

Michonne smiled without humor. "She wasn't the only one who went to see him. And while I believe that she angered him by accident, I also believe that you angered him on purpose."

"Pete reacted the way he did because of who he was," Carol explained. "Had nothing to do with Jessie or me. And he met his natural end."

Michonne knew that that was as much of an admission as she was going to get.

"Speaking of which," Carol continued, "I need to go pick up a dish and do a little clean up before someone walks in that house. Mind covering up here for me?"

Michonne shook her head, so Carol handed her the knife.

"Be careful of the moves you make, Carol," Michonne warned as the reserved woman started to walk away.

Carol turned. "Meaning?"

"Don't force a repeat of what happened."

Carol held her gaze, knowing she was referring to her banishment. She turned and walked away, heading toward the house that once held Pete.

Michonne slowly exhaled and took up Carol's back and forth walk alone the gate. She thought about Father Gabriel. Spencer had said that he'd told him to close the gate. She knew the man to be a jittery coward, but she wondered how the walkers got inside. Had Father Gabriel seen them and run away? Or was he dead somewhere?

She pushed the second possibility away. If he was dead, his body would be inside the gate. Just to be sure, she opened it and stepped outside. She did a quick search of the immediate area and found no remains. For good measure, she attuned her ears and listened for any disturbance to the silence.

Satisfied but still watchful, she headed inside and closed the gate.

Ten minutes later, Abraham joined her.

"A word, Counselor?" he asked as he approached.

Michonne smiled. "What?"

"That was damn impressive. Took Deanna right to the carpet."

"She asked for it. What she did was completely biased against Rick."

"How did you leave her?"

"In shock. They don't know this. They don't know about any of this. I seized the opportunity to suggest she let Rick handle things while she processes what happened. Didn't go over well with Tobin or Spencer, especially Tobin, but it'll be a miracle if she pulls it together by tomorrow. Did you guys get any resistance?"

"Nah. Everyone was still loitering when we came back from putting the bodies in the cemetery. Rick told 'em to go home and get some rest and we'll talk tomorrow. He also told us while we were in the cemetery that he doesn't plan on keeping Pete here."

"Here? Where's he gonna put 'em?"

"Somewhere beyond," Abraham said as he lifted his chin to point at the gate.

"Well, that's...fine with me. We'll see how it goes."

"The universe came together on our behalf," Abraham concluded.

"Something like that," Michonne scoffed as she thought of Carol.

"Very rare thing," Abraham continued, oblivious. "We better make the most of it. I can take over here. Go home. Rick has your sword."

"Thanks." She gave him the knife and headed off. She wanted to stop by the infirmary to fetch Carl and Judith, but she wanted to make sure that she wasn't needed first.

She squared everything, including locating Father Gabriel, and took her sword from Rick. She left him to deal with Morgan and went to pick up her kids.


Rick left Morgan in his secluded dwelling for the night, locking the door behind him. He idly thought that they should change the mattress given the fun he and Michonne had on it the previous night but that would involve giving Deanna a legitimate reason for the change.

Alexandria was quiet again. He'd put out the fire, literally and figuratively. Everyone had retreated to their homes, though he wondered how many of them would actually sleep. He was looking forward to a hot shower himself. His face was sticky with dried blood, and the smell of iron and copper was overwhelming.

As he neared Carol's house on the way to his, he saw her standing on the porch. "You waiting for me?" he asked as he slowed down.

"Yeah. Not bad, huh?" she asked as she stepped down.

"I think the walkers would've gotten the point across. What happened with Pete was unfortunate."

"What happened to Reg was unfortunate," Carol countered.

"But still lucky, right?" Rick subtly challenged.

Carol lifted her brows in a cool concession of his point.

"I realized that I didn't need to scare them. Not them. When Reg stopped breathing, and I looked into Deanna's eyes, I realized that she was the one I needed. To scare, to convince, whatever. She was the one. Everyone else will follow."

"Think you have her?"

Rick shrugged. "We'll see."

"If you don't," she shrugged. "Things worked out once. They can work out again."

Rick wasn't sure to make of that, so he switched the subject a bit. "We disagreed about how to handle this thing toward the end. But thank you for...looking out for us. For always thinking of us."

Carol swallowed thickly. As much as she wished it didn't matter, Rick's words meant alot to her, specifically because she wasn't always sure she was doing the right thing. But it was like a compulsion. First instinct: go through anyone to make sure they're all okay, that they come out alive and standing strong. And because it was like a compulsion, she actually didn't trust herself to be in the right. That was why she didn't put up a fight when Rick kicked her out. She'd made a decision, and she stood by it, had no regrets, but she wasn't sure that she was in tune with all of her emotions anymore. She didn't know if she knew how to regret anymore. Which made her wonder about her level of compassion, and that was when she forcibly shut down all thoughts. She didn't have time to gaze at her navel.

"What you're doing with Michonne, is it real?" she asked.

"Yeah," Rick answered.

"Is it serious?"

"Yes."

"Good. It better be. Because if you fuck it up, I will personally sharpen that sword so she can lop your head off."

Rick smiled and nodded.

"She was great tonight. You should've seen her. Good night." With that, she went inside.

"Good night."


Rick was surprised by how relieved he felt as soon as he stepped inside his house. He glanced at the patched up window on his way to Michonne, who was standing in front of the mantel in her pajamas.

"Carl and I did what we could," Michonne said of the window before returning her attention to her sword, which she'd cleaned and returned to the top of the mantel.

"Why would he think to steal your sword of all things?" Rick wondered.

Michonne absently shook her head. "It was the only weapon readily available. He didn't want to take a chance at the armory."

Rick took in her straight back and reticent tone. He couldn't see her face, but he would bet that she was frowning. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"Tara's awake," she said. "I spoke to her when I went to get Carl and Judith. Told her and Rosita what happened. She has to deal with Noah being gone now."

"I'm glad she's awake. You didn't answer my question."

Michonne faced him and gave him a warm smile. "You stink. And you look terrible. Go shower, and then we'll talk. I only deal with fresh and clean people, remember?"

Rick nodded, smiling, and then he went to do as told.

After his shower, he donned a fresh set of pajamas and checked on Carl and Judith.

When he joined Michonne downstairs, she was curled on the couch. Her pajama shorts exposed her toned legs. He sat on the side opposite the thigh with the old gunshot wound so he could play with it.

"What's the matter? Back to thinking this place isn't gonna work out for us?" he asked.

"Kind of. It's not this place; it's...us. I...thought something very stupid. And reality keeps slapping me in the face, asking me what I was thinking. I thought...that if we came here...that if we made a home here...that we'd be safe. It wasn't just about getting us off the road. It wasn't just about food and shelter. It was about life. It was about...this stopping. But this doesn't stop. Noah died. Reg is dead. Walkers got in. We're still dying. I can...never put that sword down.

I don't know what came over me. I didn't even realize I felt this way until I watched that sword slice through Reg, just like that. Blood everywhere. I'm the woman who scoured almost half of Georgia for the Governor, remember?"

"I remember," Rick said.

"So what's wrong with me now? Why do I feel so hopeless? Why the hell did I think this place would be the answer? When did that happen to me?"

"You brought us here," Rick said, "And you thought...you thought that we'd be okay. That we wouldn't lose anymore."

Michonne shook her head at the stupidity of it.

"It's normal," Rick stressed. "You brought us here, so you feel responsible for how it works out."

"Yeah," she admitted.

"You need to shift your thinking. You brought us here to give us our best shot. That's how you have to look at it. You can't take on the responsibility of keeping everybody alive. It will cripple you. Trust me. Food, water, shelter. You give everyone that, and you trust them to make the best of it. To keep themselves alive. That's how I do it."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. It doesn't make the losses any easier. It is easier to get back up. To keep going. After a fashion. It helps when you got a pretty thang willing to help you keep going."

"Did you just call me a pretty thang?" Michonne asked, smiling.

"I did."

"A pretty thang. Hmm. I got me one of those. Real pretty."

"Good. You need to focus on those who are still here," he said seriously. "They still need you."

Michonne nodded.

"Hey. You've given us our best shot. And we will make the best of it. I will," he promised.

She took a deep breath and released it. "I hope I've made it easier. Before I left Deanna, I told her that she should let you handle things for a while until she recovers from Reg's death. This is your wheel house."

"I hope she listens."

Michonne wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her head on his chest when he scooped an arm around her shoulders.

Rick kissed her hair. "Are you okay?"

"A little better. I'm thinking about who I was. The woman who wasn't tired. I've never been tired of this. The losses have hurt, but I've ultimately taken them as part of this life. I'm worried that I can't go back to that. That I can't just take it in stride anymore. Sasha said that it worked out for me. For the first time since she said it, I'm thinking that might be a very scary thing. There are stakes."

She released herself from the hug to look at him.

"Your heart is beating outside of your chest," Rick observed astutely.

"You, Carl, and Judith," she confirmed.

"Do you wish there was a way out of it, that...you didn't feel the way you feel? About us? Me?"

"Of course not. It's just scary. It's been a long time since I had this. I just want you all safe. You?"

"I'm not scared yet. Weirdly enough, I feel like things are starting to make sense around here, and it is because those walkers got in. Like you said, this is my wheelhouse. That cookie-cutter party crap: that made me uncomfortable."

Michonne affectionately shook her head.

"I will do everything to keep you safe," he whispered.

"So will I. I love you."

"I love you, too."

She shook her head again and said, "Hershel would be so proud if he could hear me. I've gone from keeping a large distance between myself and the group, to being part of the group, to...feeling responsible. Wanting the best for everyone."

"He would be. I'm proud of you."

"Thank you."

Rick followed Michonne down memory lane for a moment and wondered what Shane of all people would think of him. He was positive that pride was off the table. Shane had been of the opinion that they need to do anything to survive since the beginning, but Rick was sure that if Shane had been here to see him seriously consider conquering Alexandria and all of its weak inhabitants his hatred of him would only increase. At some point, Rick had stopped being able to win where Shane was concerned. At some point, it stopped being about him doing the right thing as Shane saw it. At some point, he was wrong. Period. No matter what. So wrong that the only recourse was for him to be killed.

If Shane could see him now, alive and more or less thriving, he would be livid.

But he had better things to focus on. Much better, richer things.

"Let's go to bed," he coaxed.

Michonne got up to turn off the light, and then she followed Rick up the stairs to their bedroom.

"It's amazing how good you can smell now after smelling like death and decay," she said as she closed the distance between them to hug him from behind.

Smiling, Rick asked, "What do I smell like?"

"I smell peppermint, tea tree oil, and lavender."

"That's the shampoo," he said lazily as he swayed with her.

"I like it."

Rick turned in her embrace. He was very proud of her. He's seen Michonne as a partner since she found him and Carl. His partner in survival, his partner in the nonstop fight, his partner in keeping the kids safe. Now she was his partner in life. And leadership.

He pulled her tank top to tug her toward the bed. "I'm wonderin' if there are any other exclusive perks in the fresh and clean club. Maybe for one specific member." He put one knee on the bed and climbed on backward without letting go of her top.

Michonne followed him. "Iono, Rick. Your membership in the club isn't permanent. Hygiene is very important to me and Judith, and you tend to look all types of rageddy, like it's not a problem."

Rick widened his eyes in offense and attacked her ribcage, his fingers moving over it like he was playing the piano.

Michonne yelped loudly and then gasped. "Oh shit," she whispered, putting a hand over her mouth as she sat on her calves.

"Are you trying to wake up the baby?" Rick asked quietly as if he wasn't complicit.

Michonne gave him a slow blink. "As I was saying, before I was rudely assaulted, you're in the club for tonight. As club leader, I am...open...to being convinced to consider you for future membership."

"You're open, are you? You don't know open yet. And just wait until Judy becomes a toddler. We'll see how important hygiene is to her then. You gon' be in this club all by yourself."

"You're doing a whole lot of talkin' about the wrong thing, Richard," Michonne said breezily as she flopped on her pillow.

"And I can't wait to stroke that smugness out of you, Michonne."

Michonne peaked her eyebrows, very interested in his declaration.

He stroke her meticulously, like he was on a mission and he had to be thorough with every move he made. His moans in her ear increased her arousal and hardened her clit. She rutted against him and bit his shoulder and trembled all over when he begged her to do it again and to do it harder. She came when he returned the favor, the sensation starting in her belly before rolling out in fat waves that made her legs lock around his waist.

She caught her breath while he sucked on her sensitive nipples, and then she rolled them over to put herself on top and slid down his body. She grinned wolfishly when she saw her thick, white lube on his dick, evidence of how much he turned her on. She stroke him up once to get rid of much of it, and then she took him in her mouth. She massaged his balls until they were heavy with promise.

With soft flicks of her tongue, she slowly licked her way down from his scrotum to his perineum. An excited tremor coursed through Rick from the feel of her wet tongue in such an intimate place. His legs lifted, he held her head in place, grinning when he felt her smile. His grin gave way to a satisfied moan when she delicately sucked the sensitive skin.

When he came in her mouth moments later, it was more than he'd given her last time, and Michonne made a silent promise to thrill him in that cherished place in the future.

"You have an automatic entrance to the club next time," she said, sated, as they lay naked and wrapped up in each other afterward. "But only for next time," she said as she traced down his nose.

"You're a difficult woman, Michonne," he said sleepily.

"And you love working for it, Rick."

His toothy grin told her that he wasn't going to deny it. She leaned forward and kissed him. "We should probably put some clothes on in case we wake up to pitchforks outside of our house in the morning."

"You're kidding," Rick said, his eyes still closed from the kiss. He wasn't planning on opening them again until daybreak, so he wasn't for the getting dressed business.

"I'm serious," Michonne said. "People tend to think they've got things figured out after a night's sleep. They may be in shock tonight, but that doesn't guarantee they'll be that way in the morning. I know Tobin, for one, still isn't feeling us."

"You don't seriously want us to get dressed," Rick said, eyes closed.

"Unless you're willing to have a confrontation butt naked..."

Rick threw his leg over hers and settled into his pillow.

"You are freaking ridiculous. Get off me," Michonne laughed.

He only opened his eyes to watch her laugh. Once he released her, she got off the bed to retrieve their pajamas.

After they were dressed, she made herself the little spoon to his big spoon. "I'm happy you asked me to move in," she said as she caressed the hand that played with her stomach.

"Took you a while to get it," he said.

"Took you a while to get to the point," she immediately bit back.

His laughter rumbled against her back.

"I'm happy you said yes. To everything."

"Me too."

The End