Loneliness was something Rick had grown accustomed too.
Not in the way most would think of it, however. Or at least, not in the way people used to think about it. He was sure that the others in his group - like Carol or Herschel or even Daryl now - knew exactly what he was referring to. The numb fingers, the dull heartbeat, the endless and restless nights...it all came from losing someone dear in this terrible hellhole. Yes, he had Carl and his daughter and he couldn't thank God enough for keeping them in his life every zombie-infested day. But in return, not only had he lost his once best friend to death and insanity, his wife...his wife was gone as well.
And when he meant gone, he really meant gone. There were no more visions of her in clean clothes or a white gown, gently rubbing her round belly. Her smiles had vanished; her kind eyes no longer lingering in the hallways of the prison or outside the gates. It was a sign and he knew it (it had to be), but he couldn't help but feel - well - empty after relying on her to guide him for so long.
He had his friends and the remaining Woodbury survivors to keep him company. Which wasn't bad since he could be outside the security of the concrete prison walls, fending for himself, Carl, and a baby out in the forest. And they were all so good to him; especially considering the turmoil he had caused them when his episodes and visions occurred. Glenn was still supportive, Carol was still kind, and Daryl was still a quiet presence to sit next to during meals. He couldn't wish for better friends or imagine life without all these people in any way.
Yet...the wrenching, silent pain would come crawling back into his skin at a moment's notice, and he would have the audacity, for a minute or two, to believe he deserved more. More than his friends and Carl and his baby. More than saving the Woodbury residents and defending them against the tyranny of the Governor. What that more was, however, was something he had yet to fully comprehend.
Okay, no. He was shitting himself. That "more" his mind kept pressing him towards had a lot to do with the intimate relationship between a husband and wife. Nothing like sex or anything of that nature (because really, when the dead were roaming the earth and unless you were really turned on, the least of your worries was getting laid). No…what he had in mind, what he fantasized and dreamed about (when he did dream, anyway) were touches. A soft caress on his shoulder, fingers winding themselves around the jut of his hip bone…that's what he wanted. What he craved. His wife had done that every so often, even when he continued to push her away. It kept him calm, sane - human. So of course, when she died, that went away along with her. In all honesty, he might miss that more than the visions and the clear look of her serene face.
He be damned if he told anyone about it, though. Not even Herschel was a viable option. Sure, the man would understand, but they rarely talked about his late wife and his relationship with her as is. Carol had lost a spouse, too, but everyone knew by now that her marriage was on a whole different playing field. And, really, she had Daryl. A subtle, blossoming little thing, but it was far more than Rick could say he possessed. She was allowed to rub his back or lean on his shoulder; she had someone to be, for lack of a better word, intimate with. Glenn had Maggie and Herschel had both his daughters to hold…even his new companion Tyreese still had his sister Sasha. Again, he really shouldn't be complaining – he had Judith and he had Carl (and he was going to make that boy see the light again, he would). They should have been more than enough. They were more than enough.
But they weren't.
"You gonna eat anymore?" Michonne tilted her head towards his plate of beans and possum meat, eyes hinting at the slightest worry, "I don't think I saw you eat breakfast this morning."
It took him a while to respond, stare glued to his fork caked in bean juice. Michonne had become another mealtime companion of sorts, or at least she was whenever it was Daryl or Glenn's turn to take watch. Almost everyone else had finished by now, Beth and Maggie making their way to clean the dirty dishes in the sink. "I….I don't think I did."
"You don't think?" Michonne repeated, scooping the last bits of meat from her own plate and pushing it into her mouth, "Or you don't remember? Or are you trying to play me for a fool?"
That last bit sounded a bit too hostile for his taste, causing him to blink away from his plate and direct his attention towards her. He should have known better by now. As soon as his eyes found hers, the corner of Michonne's lips twisted into a barely-there smile, a playful gleam flickering across her gaze. He felt like she almost had to resist laughing, the way she leaned in close, guarding her face as she took a hold of his fork.
"Now, for some reason," Michonne started, stirring up his food into a stew-like substance, "Everyone thinks of you as the leader, even if that's not what you want. You're de facto as some would have called it before. Which means, if you're not going to eat, that doesn't bode well for the others that look to you for guidance. Or for your health. Got it, sheriff?"
For one heart-throbbing second, Rick seriously considered the frivolous (and somewhat scandalous) idea that she was going to feed him the rest of his lunch. He'd been fed before, but by dates and girlfriends and his wife…Michonne was not (definitely not) -
And before he knew it, she put the fork down, grabbed her plate, and stood up, using his shoulder to ease off the bench. The hold was firm, strong…nothing like Lori's. But there was something else there as Michonne let her touch loiter, giving his collarbone a teasing squeeze before releasing her grip and heading towards the Greene sisters.
It didn't last long and it's not like she did it every day. But…from time to time, Michonne would give him that same lively, comforting clasp of her hand and it would put Rick at ease. Told him everything would be alright. He and Carl and his daughter and Glenn and Herschel and Carol – all of them would make it through.
That first touch, the first of many, kept Rick up at night when he was huddled under the raggedy sheets in his dark prison cell. Made him consider, for the first of many more times to come, what life without Lori could really be like.
And try as he might, he couldn't deny the touch he craved.