Shit, Rick cursed at himself as he peeled his gaze away from Michonne's distancing form. Dammit, did I screw that up.
Everything had been going well. More than well, actually. The touches were becoming frequent, drawn out, meaningful…not just pats on the backs or quick shoulder squeezes as they'd been before. There was a depth to them that Rick couldn't yet explain – he just knew he wanted – no, needed – them. And she had appeared so withdrawn, as if she too was trying to find a way to keep her hand in his as long as possible. So, he just took it back. Sure, it was different when he considered that was the first time he initiated contact, but he thought she might have liked it. For him to be bold enough to take what he wanted. Wasn't that what this was about anyway? She had been reassuring him all this time, right? To move on, to heal? Why…why couldn't he reassure her for once?
The questions haunted him throughout the whole of night, his body stirring in-and-out of sleep every twenty minutes or so. Of course, just when he'd been getting more than four hours a night, this happens. He decides to play Casanova and Michonne runs for the hills. Typical.
Almost feels like high school, really, Rick thought as morning sunlight trickled into the barred windows above, Who would have guessed it, huh?
The inquiry was directed more at himself than anything else, but he couldn't help but wonder what Lori would think of all of this, wherever she was. Would she be applauding him for trying to move on with his life, to escape the memories they had shared together, ones that tormented him in the most unexpected of circumstances? Or would she scorn him, scream how could he want something else while she was nothing but bits of bones and he had both Carl and the baby to keep safe from the monsters persistent at every corner?
He would like to think it was the prior, but they never really discussed what life would be like if one of them was widowed. And, besides, everyone told their beloveds that they wanted them to be happy should they die before their time. But, did they want them to be the happiest they could be, or just happy enough to always yearn for their return?
"Rick," a gruff voice knocked at his cell and Rick attempted to shake away the clattering thoughts, "You up? It's almost seven."
"Yeah, yeah," Rick replied, sitting up on the bed, "I'm up, Daryl. Just you and me for the morning rounds?"
"Sasha's up – said she wants to come," Daryl said, leaning against the doorframe, "You look like hell, by the way."
His lips twitched into the faintest of smiles, but it vanished by the time Rick stood up and joined Daryl out in the hall, "Thanks. That's always how I want to start my morning. Maybe if we come across a few walkers, they won't know the difference."
Daryl snorted in response, taking the lead and walking towards the kitchen space, "Too bad you don't take the morning shifts more often then."
Sasha met the pair soon enough, a handgun and a knife strapped along her waist, "Morning. What's for breakfast?"
"What do you think is for breakfast?" Daryl asked, crooking an eyebrow, "Take a wild guess."
Sasha rolled her eyes at the older man, eyes flickering every which way for an empty bowl, "Don't you know how to make polite conversation?"
"It's seven," Daryl replied, "I don't make polite conversation until lunch, especially if all I've had to eat is chicken feed."
Sasha laughed while she tossed him and Rick bowls, taking out a box of granola cereal from the cupboards, "Well, I'm a morning person. Always have been and always will be. Just splash some water on my face and I'm ready to start the day."
She filled up her bowl first before offering it up to the other two, taking a seat on the other side of Rick, "What about you, sheriff? How did you start your mornings?"
He could have easily lied to her, and maybe then his mind wouldn't have wandered to recollections of a life stolen away all too quickly. Yet, it had been a long while since he told a flat-out lie. Why start now? "Kissing the top of my wife's head as I headed to the shower. Was the only thing keeping me going some days."
The younger woman nodded, a soft smile reaching her eyes. Sasha hadn't known Lori, but she had heard stories from Carol and Maggie, "That's good to know. Relationships like that were hard to find – are hard to find. At least you got to experience it for a time."
"Yeah," Rick said as he stirred the granola around in his bowl, "I did."
The morning round soon grew the quiet after that, minus the occasional quip slipping between Daryl and Sasha. Rick didn't pay much attention to what they said – his concentration still dawdled on the conversation at breakfast, mingling in with his thoughts of Michonne and the touch that ran her off. Doubt, as it always did when it came to Rick and women, crept into his skin and sunk into his veins. He knew what he wanted, but truth was, did he really deserve to have it? To have any kind of intimate relationship with another woman, where he shared his secrets and held her hand? What would the others say if they discovered his intentions towards Michonne? Would they scorn him, advise him? Would they even care?
"Yo, fearless leader, you in there?" Sasha snapped her fingers in front of his face, snapping him out of the self-questioning. His vision blurred for a moment or two before it focused onto Sasha's scrunched up nose, "You look a little pale; is breakfast battling it out with your stomach?"
"Probably," Daryl answered for him, opening the doors to their cell block, "Like I told you before – ain't nothing good comes from eating chicken feed."
"Then how come you seem to be okay?" Sasha countered.
"Easy," the doors rattled open and Daryl pushed it forward, "I'm just made of the hard stuff."
Sasha snorted, but gave no further comment as she caught sight of Tyreese and Karen. A quick wave goodbye to Rick and Daryl and she was off chatting away with the pair, going over the details of their round.
"Just like a bird, that one," Daryl shook his head, "Don't know how she can stay so chipper in all of this."
"Comes natural to some," Rick replied, scanning the tables for any sign of Michonne, "Maybe even a self-preservation tactic. We all deal with tragedy differently."
His companion let out a rough sigh, but he said nothing else on the subject as his eyes locked onto Carol feeding Judith, "You want me to check on asskicker? I don't see Carl around."
Damn, he was right. Carl wasn't anywhere to be seen and it was nearing lunchtime. Usually, that meant only one thing.
"He went outside," Rick sighed, letting out as much breath as he could, "Again. Probably up on one of the bridges. Let me go check."
"Alright, brother," Daryl said, taking out a few bullets from his pocket and handing them to Rick, "Just in case you get in a little more trouble."
"Thanks," Rick slid the bullets into his chest pocket, "I'll be back."
The trip to the main bridge took no more than a minute or so, the way Rick practically broke into a sprint halfway through. This would be the fifth time Carl went out of the confines of the block and explored the prison on his own. Sure, he was more than qualified, but everyone had to be sent out in pairs. No exceptions. Hell, if he wanted it so bad, maybe he should have asked –
"Michonne?" Rick croaked out as soon he pulled open the bridge door, the color draining from his face as she turned towards him. Damn…he hadn't expected this, "What are you doing out here?"
"What you should be," Michonne replied, pointing her thumb out at the prison yard, "He's not doing anything; just looking out onto the fields."
Rick blinked once or twice before realizing who she was referring to. His eyes grazed the prison yard below him and sure enough, there was his son, watching the walkers out on the empty fields. He sat with his hands dangling from his knees, back slouched and face blank.
"How long has he been out here for?" Rick asked, "How long have you been out here for?"
"He's probably been here an hour more than I have," Michonne answered, "When I didn't see him at breakfast or with Beth and the baby in their cell, I knew he'd done it again. So, I just meandered outside and hoped he would come in sooner or later without me interfering."
"Carl needs to come in soon," Rick gripped the bars of the bridge, doing his best to keep his attention on his boy below and not the tension swarming in-between the two of them as he approached. There should've been more time for him to come up with a plan to talk to her; how to best get his feelings across without sounding too desperate. But wasn't that what he was? Desperate for something, anything mirroring a relationship of close companionship and intimacy? And how could he explain that, truly, he didn't know why he wanted a relationship like that with her? "Lunch is about to be served. And Beth and Herschel will worry if he's not at the table with them."
"Give him a few more minutes," Michonne suggested, "He's bound to get hungry. Besides, there's only so much staring at those things before you get bored. He knows it'll be foolish for him to attack."
"Yeah…yeah, you're right," Rick agreed, "But just a few more minutes. I really don't need him out here more than he already has been."
"…You gonna talk to him afterwards?" Michonne asked and out of the corner of his eye, he could see her steal a hurried glance at his distressed face.
"Only thing I can do at the moment," Rick sighed, the temptation to grab out for her hand spiking as she slid it down to her waist pocket, "Unfortunately, I can't keep my eye on him 24/7. There are things that have to be done around the cells, and I can't slack off. Not with so many people depending on it."
Michonne hummed in response, leaning against the iron grid. Silence thickened around them, the faint noises of the walkers beneath barely registering in Rick's head. He knew he had to say something about last night. If there was anything he had learned in his endeavors since awakening at the hospital, it was that miscommunication killed, in one way or the other. It killed Shane, it killed Andrea, and it killed his sanity for a quite some time. Everything had to be out in the open; it was the only way to sustain real relationships nowadays.
"I…" Rick trailed, daring to turn his head and finally getting a good look at his friend. Dark circles hung below her red eyes, and her posture seemed to slack, as though she really did need that grid for support. Had her night been just as sleepless? "I wanted to talk to you about –"
"No," Michonne interrupted, the word crisp, "There's nothing we need to discuss about last night."
Rick bit back the why? lodged in his throat, continuing to stare at the woman before him. Yeah, like it was going to be easy. Since when had it ever been? "Michonne, I just want to apologize. I didn't know you would be offended if I –"
"I wasn't offended," Michonne interrupted again, spinning on her toes and taking a few steps away from him, back turned, "And I wasn't scared either."
"Then, what was it?" Rick asked, hoping he wasn't pushing his luck, "I thought, since, you know…"
"No, Rick. I don't know," her voice hissed out, frustrated, "I don't know anything much when it comes to you. All I've done is helped you along when you need it, but when was the last time we had a real conversation? Like the ones you have with Glenn or Herschel or Carol? Just like I don't know anything about you, you don't know anything about me."
His stomach churned, her words prickling at his skin. She was right – they hardly spoke to one another. The touches had been, for a while, their main form of communication. A brush on the shoulder meant how are you doing today? and a squeeze of the hand whispered everything would be alright. But, just like with the speaking bit, Rick didn't contribute much to those kinds of conversations. Last night had been the first time he had actively tried to communicate back, a frantic plea of don't go, I need you burning into his fingers.
"I'd like to change that," Rick offered, cautiously approaching her, "The talking and getting to know one another part. You don't have to touch me or comfort me and I won't do the same if you're uncomfortable with it. I can't thank you enough for helping me out these last couple of weeks…and if you let me, I'd like to return the favor."
Oh, he knew he was pushing it then, but he just had to press his hand into her shoulders as gently as he could, a murmured please lingering in the contact. She didn't pull away, at least not immediately. A moment or two passed, and then…
"Alright, Rick," Michonne relented, twisting back to meet his gaze. Her eyes were still red, but they seemed brighter than before, happier even, "That would be nice. To talk."
The swell in his chest shouldn't have been that breathtaking, but it indeed was. She wanted to talk, wanted to be a part of his life. It was more than he deserved.
And yet, in the dark corners of his heart that he didn't focus too much on at that precise moment, he still craved for more.
"Carl's gone back," Michonne tilted her head to the prison yard, directing Rick's attention. A door slammed, further emphasizing her point, "Maybe we should do the same. You look like you could use a few more bites to eat."
"You know, I was about to say the same thing about you," Rick replied, taking a step back to give her the lead.
A ghost of smile confirmed she appreciated the comment, and a touch on the forearm confirmed, for the most part, he was in the clear.
Both were ready to start again.