The Past And The Future Merge To Meet Us Here
Michonne stood at the front of the large Westin ballroom, in all its fancy gold-plated pillars and elaborate chandeliers, waiting patiently for all eyes to land on her. She wasn't one to be overcome by nerves often - she was one of the two leaders of the place, after all - but as she stood there, waiting to make her toast, she felt unusually jittery. It probably didn't help that she hadn't had any alcohol all night. But for the sake of remembering what she wanted to say, it was also probably for the best. "Okay," she said to herself, inhaling sharply before releasing it.
She smoothed the front of her royal blue dress, glancing at her husband as she did, loving the way he was beaming up at her as she retrieved her wine glass from their table. She discreetly and quickly ran her fingers through the curls at the nape of his neck before clearing her throat. The room finally went silent, waiting for her to speak.
"First and foremost, I wanna say thank you to you all for coming. Because despite the fact that life has gotten significantly easier for us all in the past few years, I know it's still no easy feat to leave the comfort and security of your homes for a party." There was a small response of laughter, which allowed some of her nervousness to dissipate. "But, as I said when I asked most of you to come, I think it's important for us to have moments. Things we'll be able to look back on in another seven years and smile about. I want for us to recognize milestones, big and small. Just a couple of nights ago, we had a tea party for Judith because she tied her shoes on her own," Michonne grinned in recollection as people laughed again. "And trust me, I know how ridiculous that sounds. Even in the moment, I asked myself if I really wanted to do this. It was right before bed, Rick and I were exhausted, but… it was one of those things so small that it becomes huge in hindsight." She shook her head, trying not to think about how she never got to experience that with Andre. "And I realized that I did. I wanted us to remember it. Because for so long, we didn't have a lot of reasons to be happy. We were losing so many people, I know a lot of us weren't sure we would still be here in five years' time. And so, I've found that it's important to take time to celebrate the triumphs." Her eyes scanned the small group of people that sat at the table along with herself and Rick. Their family. The people she'd left Georgia with. The fact that a lot of them were still alive was one of those triumphs. And as she caught her stepson's eye, looking more like his dad with every passing day, she smiled. How far they'd all come, in every sense of the word.
"I met these people a little over six years ago now," she went on, gesturing to Maggie and Glenn, Sasha and Abraham, Rosita, Eugene, Carol, Morgan. "I showed up at a prison looking for somewhere to rest my head, and I got an entire family. Sisters, brothers, children… and a husband," she grinned down at Rick again. "This man was instrumental in teaching me how to live again, and more importantly, how to love again. He's wanted that for all of us from the very beginning, and he refused to rest until he found it. He's fought for it, and more than once, nearly died for it, and he's the reason why a lot of us are here. Of course, a lot of us are also the reason why he's here, but those are stories for another night," she chuckled along with everyone else. "Tonight, we celebrate the triumph that is Rick Grimes. My love, my light, I thank you. Here's to you."
"Here, here," Abraham proclaimed, holding up his beer to his friends.
As applause erupted and glassware clinks pervaded the room, Rick stood with a giant smile on his blushing face, greeting his wife with a thank you kiss. He covered her lips with his, and then pulled back to look at her, brushing a couple of her long locs from her face. "You're incredible, you know."
"So are you," she quipped in a whisper, leaving him with another peck. "Happy birthday, baby."
"Thank you." He wrapped an arm around her tiny waist and pulled her in closer to kiss her neck, not caring that they were in front of more than two hundred people. "I can't wait to get you home," he quietly sent back.
"And I'm not wearing any panties," she revealed as they reclaimed their seats, "so have fun thinking about that for another couple of hours."
Rick was biting hard at his bottom lip, simultaneously indulging in the image while trying not think about it, but he didn't have time to respond as they were approached by two of their friends from the Hilltop colony - Jesus and Magna.
"That was one hell of a toast, Michonne," Jesus greeted them, nodding to acknowledge her and then the guest of honor.
"So eloquent," Magna agreed, smiling at Rick. "You should let her do the talking all the time."
"No one would ever listen to me again if I did," Rick chuckled, still grinning at the side of his wife's face. "They'd realize I was a fraud."
"He's being modest," Michonne smiled, ignoring the compliments in a show of modesty herself. "He's the most motivating person I've ever met."
"Well, seeing what he's built, I can see where that would be true," Magna nodded, brushing her long hair from her shoulder. "I like to bust his balls, just because he's so damn serious all the time, but you definitely caught yourself a good one, Michonne."
Michonne couldn't help but feel a bit slighted by her comment, seeing how they'd most certainly built everything they had together. But Rick was the birthday boy, and even without that caveat, he did deserve all the praise that came his way. So she smiled, her fingers running through the back of Rick's hair once more as she agreed, "That, I did."
"I'm the lucky one," Rick cut in, feeling his face begin to flush. "Let the record show that none of this happens without Michonne."
"Stop it," she shook her head in another show of humility. "I know you two didn't come over here for this."
"Actually," Magna began to confess, giving Michonne's arm a tap, "I was hoping I could steal this one away from you for just a minute. A bunch of Hilltoppers have wanted to meet him for months now, and I promised I could introduce them."
Michonne chuckled at the fact that her husband apparently had fans. "Of course," she grinned, gazing at him proudly. "Just don't be too long." She watched as he disappeared with their friend, who was more of an acquaintance to her, admiring how handsome Rick looked in his navy blue suit. Such a far cry from the faded jeans and cowboy boots he still wore regularly. She was so glad their closets had expanded through the years. And yet, he still looked very much like the Rick Grimes she'd met six years ago, with more curly hair than he would ever need, and the salt and pepper scruff that somehow made him look a little dirty but a little distinguished at the same time. She really loved that face of his.
"You look like a teenaged girl with a crush," Jesus commented, noting the longing look on her face. "I can't even find someone to look at me like that for five minutes, much less five years."
"Shut up," she chuckled, gesturing for him to come and take Rick's empty chair. As she waited, she had a perfect view of Carl, laughing with his girlfriend and the rest of the people at his end of the table. She was so proud of him; so happy for his happiness. It was what she'd been working toward since the moment they became friends - his safety, his livelihood, and his happiness - and it felt as though she and Rick had succeeded.
"Are you all right?" Jesus wondered, seeing her seemingly lost in thought again.
"I am extremely all right," Michonne promised, bringing her wine glass to her lips before thinking better of it. "I'm just happy."
"You look it," he nodded, glancing around the room along with her. "I gotta say though, I thought for sure that with Carl moving out to Hilltop, you'd be out there a lot more," he submitted from behind his glass of water. "Somehow, I think we might see you even less now."
She shrugged, unsure of what to say, considering she wasn't particularly fond of the thought of Carl being so far away. "He moved out there for a reason, so I've been trying extremely hard not to be the helicopter mom."
Jesus nodded again, chuckling. "I guess Rick didn't get the memo, huh?"
She had to laugh, because he wasn't wrong. When Carl first moved, Rick practically spent more time at Hilltop than he did at Alexandria. "Carl is the only thing he has left from before," she offered in his defense. "It's not easy watching your kid leave in any circumstance, but in this case, I completely understand why he's slow to cut the cord."
"Should be fun when Judith is old enough to leave, huh?"
"Nope, don't even bring that up," Michonne warned him, only half-joking. "I'm not letting her go anywhere until she's thirty. Maybe not even then."
"Which reminds me," he was still chuckling as he looked around the room, "where is she tonight?"
"Oh, I'm serious. She's not allowed out of the house anymore." The two of them laughed heartily at her kidding, just as Maggie came to join them with a plate full of food.
"What are you two over here cacklin' about?" she greeted them.
"I was asking where Judith is," Jesus said. "But apparently, Michonne has her locked up somewhere like Cinderella."
Michonne sobered up when she realized how much she actually missed her little jellybean. "No, she's at home with Olivia, probably driving her insane."
"Was she upset she couldn't come to the party?" Maggie guessed.
"She was beside herself," Michonne confirmed, playfully rolling her eyes as she stole an hors d'oeuvre from her friend's plate. "She came up with twenty different scenarios. 'What if I can just come in to sing happy birthday and help Daddy blow out the candles?'" she imitated her. "Those giant brown eyes, just begging. I couldn't take it."
"Hershel was the same," she giggled. "He just couldn't believe there was a party for grown-ups only. Then Glenn told him he would get to hang out with Judith for a few hours and he forgot all about it."
"We made brownies this morning for his grand arrival," Michonne returned with a nod. "She was very excited, too."
"Can I just say how much I enjoy how multifaceted you two are?" Jesus interjected into the conversation with an amused smile. "Stone-cold killers by day, carpool moms by night."
"I like to think I'm a carpool mom all the time," Maggie joked. She could barely get out her sentence before she was smacking Michonne's hand from her plate as she went in for more of her food. "Get your own!"
"All of it is mine," she quipped, ignoring her in the very sisterly way that she often did as she stuffed a bite of bruschetta into her mouth. "And I actually haven't killed anyone lately," she added, returning to Jesus' assertion. "I think it's been nearly a year now."
"Shit, really?" he marveled.
"Alexandria has lived up to its name as a safe zone," she shrugged. "It's been about ten months without any incidents at all."
"Maybe we oughta move back," Maggie submitted, glancing down the table to where Glenn was seated with their Hilltop crew. "We had an attack last month, and another probably three or four months before that."
Michonne had to work hard not to show the tension on her face as she thought about Carl leaving their safe space for Hilltop. But she knew most of the other communities had similar problems, mostly due to their large numbers, and she couldn't keep him caged up at Alexandria forever. Not when he wanted to leave. "I think a change of subject is in order," she declared, taking small sips from her water as her eyes landed on Rick once more. She found it so amusing, watching him work the room. Rick was never exactly known as the likable one in their relationship, but in the past few years, with things calming down on the war front, he had certainly become more comfortable in the role of a charismatic leader. Getting to know people, them wanting to know him. She just loved seeing that come to a crescendo as he stood amidst friends and fans at his 44th birthday party. That this was their life now.
And across the beautiful ballroom, Rick Grimes was, indeed, enjoying the attention. Magna had already introduced him to a string of newer residents, and they were moving on to a couple that had just arrived to Virginia, and were looking for a place to settle down. "You're lucky I'm in a good mood tonight," Rick commented as Magna led him toward another table. "Meeting people isn't exactly at the top of the list of things I wanna do on my birthday."
"Yeah, well you never seem too keen on doing it when you're at Hilltop either," Magna smirked. "I figure you can't run away from me now."
"I don't run away from you," he chuckled.
"Well you certainly don't stick around."
"So you can give me more work to do? No, you're right about that."
"Rick, you're like the governor of Virginia," she chided him. "You should meet the people that live here."
He did his best not to balk at the idea of being called a 'governor,' but he couldn't let it go, for fear of the nickname sticking. "Please don't call me that."
She frowned back at him, quietly admiring his slow southern twang as she wondered what he could possibly have against the title. "All right. Would you prefer to be called Mr. President? Want me to get up on stage and sing you happy birthday?"
"I bet you'd like that," he joked, hoping he wasn't blushing as he shook his head. "But no, not that either."
"God, you're so humble, it's annoying."
He smirked in reply, because he knew that wasn't true either. "No one's ever accused me of that before."
"There you go again." Magna gently hit his arm as they approached the table she'd been searching for, a man and woman sitting, enjoying their dinner. "April, Rob. This is the guy you've heard probably way too much about, Rick Grimes." She presented him to the middle-aged couple as they stood to greet him. "He's essentially the king of our little contingent of settlements, so you should really try to impress him right now."
"Don't listen to her," Rick grinned, offering his hand to shake both of theirs. "It's nice to meet you both."
"This is quite impressive, though," April agreed as she surveyed the decorated room. "We came down from New York, and there's nothing up there that comes close to looking like this anymore."
"Although, to be fair, New York looked like shit before the world ended," Rob chuckled. "But this is really nice. Like, almost-too-good-to-be-true nice."
Rick wasted no time pointing back to the host table, where Michonne was laughing with Maggie, looking just as gorgeous and happy as a person could look. She was glowing, in fact. "This is all thanks to my wife back there," he nodded. "Michonne's been workin' on all this for years now, gettin' Virginia back to a livable state."
"And she also heads up the school system," Magna offered to the couple. "I know you guys had questions about that."
"Oh yes," April confirmed, relieved to hear the news. "We have four kids, ranging from eight to seventeen, so if we can get them back into classes, that would be great."
"I don't have any kids myself, but we've got plenty running around these days. Most of them are younger, but… they keep things lively."
"Rick, how old is yours?" Rob wondered, recalling his wife mentioning one in her toast.
Rick had somewhat checked out of the discussion, still fixated on Michonne and how stunning she looked. Her absolutely radiant skin, and its golden undertones matching the colors of her curled hair; her red lipstick highlighting the curves of her wonderfully luscious lips; and that blue dress, the color making her look like the royalty she was. He was a hundred feet away, and he wanted nothing more than to be next to her again. The only thing to bring him back to the conversation in front of him was hearing his name. He cleared his throat as his gaze fell back to Rob and April. "I'm sorry?"
"He was asking how old your kids are," Magna repeated for him, noticing he'd obviously disappeared. "You guys actually met his son, Carl, this morning," she answered for him. "He's twenty, right?"
"He is," he nodded. "And our daughter, Judith, is five, going on twenty." The small group laughed in reply to his joke, and he took a sip of his wine, preparing to ask the couple if they had any kids, but was luckily interrupted by Aaron before he could embarrass himself.
"Hey," he cheerfully clapped Rick's back, "I really hate to interrupt, but we gotta get back home, and I wanted to make sure I got a picture of you and Michonne before I go."
"You're not gonna put them up on the website, are you?"
"Of course I am," he grinned. "You guys don't mind if I steal him for a moment, do you?"
"No, no," Magna was already waving them off. "Thank you for your time, Rick."
"It was nice meeting you all," Rick extended to April and Rob. He sent a nod back to Magna as he and Aaron headed toward the front of the room where the rest of their family was seated. "Why are you leavin' so early?"
"Well Tara and Manda are with the baby now, and we promised them we'd get home early so they could enjoy some of the party."
"You know we've got a whole list of babysitters on speed-dial," he laughed. "It would've been no problem to get one so you all could come."
"Yeah… I don't think any of us are quite ready for that yet," he chuckled awkwardly. "We're still trying to get used to the whole arrangement."
Rick nodded knowingly and understandingly. "Give it a few more months. Once he starts talkin', you'll be beggin' for a babysitter."
"I can't wait for that, honestly. Right now, it just always feels like I'm gonna miss something."
"Carl was more than a year old before Lori and I went out for anything social," he recalled, shaking his head at the thought. "So you're already doing better than me."
Aaron smiled appreciatively as he watched Rick round the table to return to his seat beside Michonne. They were such a gorgeous couple, he thought, looking like they belonged on the top of some colorful wedding cake. Her dress brought out the color of his eyes, their matching gold bands coordinating with the décor of the room. Pictures wouldn't really do them justice, but he knew Michonne would want them. She, like him, loved collecting moments.
"Hey, you," Michonne greeted Rick when he finally reappeared before her. She reached out to touch his hand, and their fingers intertwined for a brief moment as he made his way to the other side of her. He leaned down to plant a quick kiss on her cheek before taking his seat, and the flash of the camera seized both of their attention.
"That wasn't for you," he called out to Aaron with raised eyebrows.
"That one's for you guys," he promised, raising his camera once more. "Smile."
Rick wrapped his arm around his wife and the two of them leaned in to one another, Michonne's temple resting against Rick's cheek as they smiled big, genuine smiles, ready for their close-ups, just before Michonne pulled away unexpectedly. "Hold on," she declared, grabbing her silver clutch from the tabletop. "Sorry."
"Your lipstick is perfect," Rick teased as he watched her fumble with the clasp of her purse.
"Shut up," she chuckled. Within a couple of seconds, she found what she was looking for, and handed Rick the small piece of photo paper, knowing this was a moment she wanted captured on camera. "Happy birthday," she whispered for the second time that night.
Rick's breathing quickened as he took in the black and white image with Michonne's name typed at the top, and several numbers and letters of gibberish along the side. In the middle, a collection of blurry waves and curves that didn't look like anything, and yet, he knew exactly what it was. He gazed up at Michonne, already beaming at him as she watched him put the pieces together, and he looked back down at the picture of their baby. "Really?"
She nodded, unable to contain her smile as she looked at the sonogram for what had to be the hundredth time in two days. She knew this was something he'd been wanting for months now, and because he wanted it, she did, too. And finally, they had it. They had everything. "Really."
The camera flashed again as they kissed, and Michonne felt those jitters once more; that uneasiness she wasn't used to. Earlier, she'd chalked it up to being nervous about public speaking, but she was realizing this was something else. Trepidation. Because this was yet another triumph to be celebrated, and if she knew anything about this world, they were probably due for a loss soon.