Summary: Rick, Carl, and Michonne find a respite from their long journey. Will Carl finally be able to eat the fish dinner that he's been dreaming of? Will Rick and Michonne ever find a moment to talk about what happened between them back in the tree house?
Epilogue – Home is Where the Heart is
Carl woke up to the strange sensation of floating. He opened his eyes and sat up abruptly.
Oh yeah, we're on a boat.
Yesterday's events came back to him. The deafening gunfire that reminded him of the assault on the prison, jumping down from the tree house and landing on dead bodies, running through the woods and getting separated from his dad, then the fight with those men and running again.
They spent the night floating aimlessly on the lake. Carl hadn't realized how tired he was. After talking to Michonne for a bit, he must have fallen into a deep sleep.
It's the quiet. For the first time in what felt like forever, it was quiet, really quiet.
Out there on the water they couldn't hear the awful groans of the ever-present walkers. Even at the prison, it was never this quiet. Inside there was always somebody moving around, sounds echoing, and outside there were always walkers lining the fences.
His dad and Michonne were still sound asleep. Last night all three survivors had ended up huddled together for warmth in the bottom of the boat.
Carl moved around slowly, trying not to disturb the other two, poking around in their meager stash of supplies. They'd left almost everything behind in the tree house.
Not that we had any food left, anyway, Carl thought dejectedly.
He looked over the side of the boat, peering into the water. The water was so still, they almost weren't moving at all. All of a sudden he saw something dart by.
"Fish!" he exclaimed, turning and shaking Michonne's foot urgently, "Fish! I saw a fish!"
Michonne mumbled something and rolled over so that she was closer to Rick, who draped his arm over her but didn't open his eyes.
Carl rolled his eyes in frustration. Those lazy sleepyheads! How can they sleep at a time like this!? he fumed silently. Almost immediately he felt sorry for having such a resentful thought and he was glad he hadn't said it out loud, even if they were asleep.
I'm so hungry. This is serious!
He sighed. Dad is hurt again. He needs to sleep. And I'm pretty sure Michonne didn't sleep at all the night before. I should let them sleep…
There was no sound but the gentle lull of the water lapping against the sides of the boat. The deep and wide water. The water with fish in it. Fish.
Fish that I need to eat. Fish that I need their help to catch.
Carl took a deep breath, narrowed his eyes at his sleeping parents.
"WAKE UP!" he shouted.
Rick and Michonne jolted awake.
"Carl!" his dad sat up, automatically reaching for his gun.
"What?" Michonne sat up with a gasp, rocking the boat a little bit.
They looked around, confused, and then focused on Carl, sitting on one of the low cross-benches facing them.
"Carl, what's wrong?" Michonne asked.
"I saw a fish in the water!" Carl said urgently, "I don't know how, but we need to catch it!"
"Aghhh…" Rick moaned, rubbing his face, "I thought you were in danger…"
"Dad! We're all in danger!" Carl returned, his voice still louder than necessary.
"Carl, keep your voice down!" Michonne implored, more out of reflex than anything else.
"What does it matter? There's nobody out here! There's no walkers! They can't swim! If we don't catch some fish to eat right now, we're going to starve to death!"
Carl finished and realized that his dad and Michonne were watching him with matching wide-eyed expressions.
The quiet stretched out and Carl waited for his dad to let him have it. He almost apologized for being so rude but his stomach hurt so much that he didn't care anymore.
"Well how big was it?" Michonne asked, breaking the tense silence.
"What?" Carl asked.
"The fish you saw, how big was it?"
"Uh, I don't know, maybe this big?" Carl held his hands out then shrugged, "It was fast."
"Where was it? How long ago did you see it?" Michonne questioned, "Where's my sword? Rick, I need your belt again."
"Look," Rick pointed, "Do you see that?"
Carl and Michonne interrupted their fish-centered discussion to look where Rick was pointing.
"Is that a houseboat?" Michonne asked.
"Let's check it out," Carl said, "Maybe they have fishing poles."
"It's clear," Rick reappeared on the front porch of the houseboat, followed by Michonne.
"Someone was living here," Michonne said, frowning, "and recently."
Carl tossed a rope from the small boat to his dad, who tied it up securely.
"Maybe it was those men, from before," Carl said once he climbed up onto the larger boat.
"Let's hope so," Rick said, somewhat subdued. If that was the case, they probably didn't have to worry about anyone showing up unexpectedly.
"We'll stay here for a while," Rick decided, looking to Michonne for approval, "If we can catch some fish, this'll be a good place to hole up for a while."
They did find several fishing poles and lures. The rooms were dry, sheltered from the elements, and moderately clean. It felt like a much needed breath of fresh air.
After several days of feasting on fried fish and sleeping for more than the usual three or four hours at a time, Rick finally felt his concussion receding and his strength returning. He wasn't quite back at a hundred percent yet, but he was getting there.
One night the three survivors sat together on the front porch of the houseboat, watching the sun set over the lake.
"Carl, why don't you take a break?" Rick asked Carl, who was getting ready to cast his line again.
The boy had already spent most of the day fishing and the three of them all had blessedly full stomachs for what felt like the first time in weeks.
"I like fishing, Dad," Carl replied. He was good at it, too.
"Well, I can't complain about that," Rick smiled at his son affectionately.
He took another sip from the flask that Michonne had found and passed it back to her. At first he'd been reluctant, saying they needed to be alert in case of danger, but they hadn't seen a single sign of life on this lake, besides the fish, since arriving on the boat.
Rick felt more relaxed than he had in…well, he couldn't remember when. Carl was safe and happy. Rick was sharing a drink with Michonne on the deck of their houseboat on a picturesque lake. He couldn't know what tomorrow held but, all in all, in that moment, he couldn't find a reason to complain.
"This is nice," Michonne said, echoing his thoughts. She stretched her legs out and leaned back in her plastic fold-up chair.
"Yeah," Rick agreed, watching her profile as she stared out over the open water.
Rick's thoughts, as they inevitably did whenever he ran out of survival-related tasks to think about, fell back to what happened in the tree house before the big fight. We kissed. But they hadn't talked about it once since then.
Is she going to pretend it never happened? Does she regret kissing me? Did she only do that because she thought we were about to die?
Doubt nagged at him, but at the same time he remembered exactly what it felt like, Michonne's soft lips against his, her fingers tangled in his hair.
No. She isn't the type of woman to do anything she doesn't want to do, least of all kiss someone. She meant it.
Rick belatedly realized that Michonne was looking at him with a small smile on her face; she'd caught him watching her. Again. This time, though, there was something about her expression that made him think she knew exactly what he was thinking about.
This is it! We're finally going to talk about the kiss! Hope beat faster in his heart. He'd been waiting until the moment felt right, and now here it was.
"Rick, I want to check your bandage," Michonne started to get up, "Come on."
And like that, his hopes were dashed.
"You fixed it yesterday. It's fine," Rick said. He was comfortable where he was. Couldn't they stay out there a little while longer, enjoying each other's company, not talking about survival?
"Come on," Michonne repeated, nodding towards the room.
"Nah, it's fine," Rick repeated, "My leg's pretty much healed anyway."
Michonne sighed and rolled her eyes with mild annoyance, which confused Rick because it wasn't like her to get irritated at him.
She glanced at Carl, who was preoccupied with tying a lure onto his fishing line, then leaned over to whisper in Rick's ear, "I want to be alone with you, Rick Grimes."
Rick's eyes widened in comprehension.
"What, too subtle for you?" Michonne smirked.
"Apparently," Rick said, unable to damp his grin as he got up to follow her into the house.
Rick closed and, on second thought, locked the bedroom door behind him. He turned around to face his dreadlocked warrior woman. Her teasing smile lit up her face and Rick couldn't look away.
Suddenly nervous, Rick tried to say, "Michonne, I uh, I wanted to tell…"
Michonne didn't wait for him to become un-tongue-tied, which might have taken quite a while. She cupped Rick's face in her hand, pulling him just close enough to kiss. Rick's head was buzzing from the alcohol and the anticipation. Finally he relaxed into the kiss.
Letting go of his inhibitions, Rick kissed Michonne again, more passionately, resting his hands on her hips, pulling her body close to his. She tugged on the edge of his cotton shirt and Rick obliged, pulling it over his head, barely breaking their kiss.
Time seemed to slow and the outside world faded away as they fell together onto the bed in the little room floating on the lake.
The next morning, Michonne blinked her eyes open slowly, rubbing a hand over her face. Sometime in the night, she'd gotten chilly and grabbed the first shirt that she could find, which happened to be Rick's t-shirt. She looked around the cozy bedroom.
Rick, wearing only his boxers, sat on the edge of the bed, hunched over with his elbows resting on his knees. He was fiddling with the small band on his ring finger, a far-away look on his face.
"You're not having regrets now, are you?" Michonne asked quietly as she sat up and scooted close to him, resting her chin on his shoulder, her voice somewhere in between teasing and genuinely worried.
Rick turned to her and a smile tugged at his features.
"It's a little too late for that, don't you think?" he answered, his southern drawl stronger early in the morning.
"Yeah, just a little," Michonne agreed, smirking at him. She brushed a few curls back from his forehead, savoring the look of pleasure that flickered across his face at her touch.
They were quiet for a moment, each thinking their own thoughts.
"Don't take it off because of me," Michonne spoke up, suddenly serious. In case he didn't know what she was talking about, she took Rick's left hand in hers and wove their fingers together.
Rick's face was unreadable. His wedding ring was probably the last thing he wanted to talk about, but she had to say what was on her mind.
"It's the last thing you have to remember her by," Michonne spoke quietly, "She was Carl's mom, after all."
Rick dropped his head, unable to keep the sadness from his eyes.
"I loved someone else, too, before," Michonne said, wanting him to know that she understood.
"They're gone now, that's how it is. But you can't pretend it never happened."
Rick seemed to process this. He took a deep breath and let it go and it was like a weight fell off his shoulders.
"I don't know what I'd do without you," Rick said, a smile back in his voice, and touched his forehead to Michonne's, "I really don't."
"Oh yeah?" she teased, brushing her nose against his.
"Yeah," Rick whispered, capturing her lips in a gentle kiss, as if he hadn't spent most of the night kissing her.
Later, it was mid-morning already and the two survivors reluctantly decided that it was time to get up, get dressed, and step back into the rest of the world.
Michonne pulled on her boots and shrugged into her familiar leather vest before opening the door to the houseboat porch. Rick followed closely behind her, adjusting his gun belt around his hips.
"We'd better check on Carl before he sets something on fire," Rick said, eliciting a chuckle from Michonne.
"I heard that!"