Where it leads

You only know you've been high when you're feeling low
Only hate the road when you're missin' home
Only know you love her when you let her go
And you let her go.

"It's dark."

Michonne doesn't bother a glance at the sky. She knows what dark looks like. It's a high white sun in a smooth blue sky. That brief breath between afternoon and night before the shadows stretch underfoot. In the new world, this is dark.

She's going anyway.

Michonne says this more or less with a shrug, kneeled beside the grill that's more smoker than grill for their purpose. Though they've been stalled from said purpose for what might be a good problem: enough venison for days, just not enough charcoal to smoke it.

A couple spare handfuls were all they scourged from the shed, but with the sheer mass of the pit, spare handfuls aren't enough. Both women knew this before they flamed up the grill. The farmer's daughter due to being a farmer's daughter. Michonne due to memories of a long dead boyfriend blacking steaks to a crisp with a live-as-the-cow center.

The women were gonna go for open fire, but discovering the grill dismissed the plan. Smoking game in the open to let the smell permeate the woods? Risky. No telling if walkers liked their meat cooked once in a while. The grill has coverage and discreetness, exactly what they need. It is the best option. The only option. And Michonne needs to go.

"Being all exposed in the daylight is risky enough, not knowing where he is…" Maggie's lips form a line. "But then to go out, under dark?"

Michonne squints up at her, hand for a hood to banish the sun. Sun that slips away from her each second wasted talking.

"Not to mention alone," Maggie adds, reminds.

Michonne sighs. Alright, alright.

Patting coal-coated hands against the already smudged knees of her jeans, she rises from her crouch to look Maggie on evenly.

"You know me." Her lips tug downward, lingering on the irony, or untruth, of that. "I'm quick. Will be in and out of there long before the cows come home."

Maggie claps her jeans as well, leaving dusky hand prints against the blue fabric.

"Still think it's best you brought someone along." Her look is soft, slightly pleading. "You need to."

What Michonne needs is a wall to knock her head against. And maybe Maggie's too. Doesn't she see? The whole no-I-in-team thing doesn't apply to her as it would someone from, say, that Woodbury troop. Even with the governor who-knows where, Michonne is better off doing this by herself. She, for one, can handle herself. And that's what no one gets. Alone isn't weak.

Not for her it isn't, who's only too used to alone. All those months before Andrea…plus with her katana, the blade that's become beloved, she's never alone, really. Michonne fingers the edge of her sword sheath as she turns back to Maggie.

"It's a low risk trip," Michonne knocks her head back. "The place is just down the road."

The place is an abandoned cabin that she's passed more than she knew. Not too deep in and so emerged in foliage it'd taken several crossings to notice it. But she did notice with Daryl. Both spotting it at the same time as a walker stumbled through the overgrown clearing, followed by several more that seemed to linger in the area. Needing to keep at the hunt, they left the area with a mental mark to investigate later. Agreed it'd be best to return with reinforcements… not that Michonne was gonna tell Maggie this.

"It's isolated," she says instead. "Not likely looted, so who knows? Maybe it's got just what we're looking for. And hell, maybe more. It's worth the trip."

Maggie shifts on a heel.

"I'm not denying that, no, but I just—"

"I leave now and I beat the night." Michonne interrupts. "We keep talking and meat spoils. You're slowing me down."

"Rather slow than dead." Maggie swats a strand of hair from her face as if she's the frustrated one. She has no right to feel that way. See, this is why Michonne avoids groups, isn't it? People and their rules, making sure prisons stays true to their title.

Michonne scans over her shoulder at the structure hunkered several paces back. A prison and a home. For the moment. Maggie glances over too then peers down at the basin of venison strips soaking in their brine bath. It's long been ready. She sighs, seemingly realizes this conversation needs to end and actions happen.

Michonne has hope that Maggie will drop it. Let her go. Hope wanes the moment she speaks.

"Look. Glen isn't his best yet, for going out there. Doubt you'd be comfortable with someone from Woodbury either. Now if you let me grab Daryl. Rick—"

"No." The world feels quiet as that single word punctuates the air.

Michonne pulls a quick breath through her lips. It's shaky. The women share a long stare.

Nothing is said.

Nothing needs to be.

Damn it; who gave her the right to feel for him–them–like this? To plant her feelings so deep in a man that they were damned to grow? No wonder they've been stomped on, left to sprout out in the open with no fence or protection. No wonder they've disappointed her.

Michonne knew better than to care again, knowing how tight a fist this new world holds onto the good things and how liberally it shares the worse. Things like pain, betrayal, loss.

Andrea is her prime lesson. The winter-companion who'd somehow seeped under Michonne's skin till her well-being became as important as her own…she was first to escort Michonne through that three-part plague.

Pain when she slipped from her side towards the sweet scent of Phillip's promises. Betrayal when she chose that man over her. And loss when she lost her, all to a world that Michonne had somehow thought might actually spare some happiness.

Apparently Andrea was a lesson unlearned.

Michonne supposes the only real surprise was how quickly the terrible threes unraveled. But this time at the hands of Daryl Dixon. And Rick Grimes. Ugh. Just hearing those names has her pulse broken up and the shoulders bristled, two names that quicken the blood flow through her body.

Pain began the moment Rick grew speechless.

The tears had been instant seeing Andrea down, drifting down her cheeks, unstoppable with the grief lodged in her lungs. And both Grimes and Dixon had stood like solemn statues as the women exchanged their last goodbyes. Then Andrea ended the short life left and Michonne turned away, Rick's eyes the first pair she sought. Needed, in that moment, given how close they had gotten…

And yet he gave her nothing. A look so frigid as he stared at the sheen in her eyes. At least Daryl actually had something in his. Understanding despite the cool hooded front. A silent understanding that brushed her with a little warmth. For that, she was grateful.

But Rick…Rick gave her nothing.

The two of them weren't the most frequent talkers, and over their short-lived affair learned how to connect through a look or touch, but after this night even that speech dwindled away, and Michonne was left with nothing.

Thus betrayed. Loss and lost.

Gone was the bold way Rick would stare; a full appraisal –face and body– no longer hiding the hungry way he looked at her. Gone was the discreet slide of his hand across her ass when he passed, or a brush of cool fingers at the nape of her neck, a graze that made her shiver.

Gone was the sex.

God, the sex.

Michonne's dour expression tempers at the memory, her knees feeling loose.

Rick was not a gentle lover, though not a rough lover either. He'd been some incredible balance in-between… tongue and lips demanding when they kissed, his noises near savage with each thrust she'd met, the whispered words covetous at her ear… you were made for me, weren't you? so right with me, yea?All the while his hands would read her body like braille, as if to know each inch of her skin, understood every part of her body.

All of that. Gone now.

A pang hits Michonne's chest and her face draws away to hide the pained expression, dreads falling to her cheek. Michonne can't handle this. Not now. Yet emotions overwhelm her chest, having been allowed to twist and tangle inside her so long. Now she's got a knot and the only way she knows to loosen it is to get away from here.

"You okay?"

Avoiding Maggie's steady stare, Michonne looks off at the courtyard. A sprinkling of people chat by the door of Cell Block D, cigarettes in their hands.

"Fine," she says. Her voice is thick and she clears it.

"I'm fine," she repeats. Michonne shakes her head roughly, hating how damp and hot her eyes feels. She can't do this here. Can't let this emotional tangle twist her up right now. She would handle the knots later. Once she gets out of here. Alone.

Michonne had to know it would end. That Rick would reject her like this. One could only wonder what he truly wanted to devote so much of himself to her. And now she knows.

Michonne had been Rick's retreat, a pause from the hard stuff before the pending war. That had to be it. For the moment war passed and the hard stuff refilled her eyes, Rick was silent and gone. She should've doubted Rick's intentions as she doubted all people. Instead, she'd believed him. Why the hell did she believe him?

Just that, after days of being steeped in each other's company, sharing themselves in such small to large pieces, she'd actually expected that they were more. That maybe, just maybe, they'd have each other for this long road. Michonne wasn't making love to herself all week. Rick had a heavy hand in drawing her in and keeping her there, convincing her that yes, this was what they were. Yes, they had each other.

Silly woman.

There was no each other for the long road. Not for her. The only companionship this road offered was more pain, betrayal, and loss. So in the end she lost Andrea and Rick.

Andrea to the governor.

Rick to her own delusion.

And even Daryl, earnest ole Daryl, before she ever really had him.

Feeling a scowl cross her face, Michonne bends to lift the venison from the grass. Maggie pauses a moment then meets her there, hoisting the other side. They must do this carefully as the basin splashes from the weight of the liquid, both exhaling when they set the heavy weight to the grill surface. They get to work preparing the meat for smoking over the grill racks, Michonne adding the clips and Maggie hanging them. It's a monotonous task and she finds her thoughts drifting back from their leave off point. Right back onto Dixon.

What'd he been thinking, stirring the pot like that? Whistling wedding marches, jesting around, even flirting with her in front of Rick…like making light of the tension between her and Grimes. Now that pissed Michonne off. Her feelings were not a game. A twitch of anger rising in her, Michonne tenses her fingers.

Relax, she tells herself, forcibly smoothing her hand from the fists its formed around a poor slice of venison. So she might be a little pissed.

Back in that room, Daryl's actions felt like a game he was playing, but at whose expense? What he'd done only emphasized the gaping hole in her and Rick's relationship, made wider by Michonne's…what was it? Not a mistake.

In that moment, she'd wanted Daryl.

There'd always been a budding attraction between the two, and when he indicated in the woods he'd like to act on it, she went along easily. Hardly had a reserve. It was unlike her, and now she wonders why it'd been so easy. Was it spite? Some sorta revenge for Rick's behavior? Or was it just for her. Perhaps, maybe, for the both of them.

Michonne knew he had to fuck her. Daryl Dixon. They had to do it, she figured. Or else that curiosity would continue to claw at them. The lingering stares and mild flirtations, day by day…. Sex was something that needed to happen in order to move on from it. But she was, in some way, with Rick. And she'd liked it that way. Was more than satisfied. Still it was hard to ignore that curiosity for Daryl when he wouldn't take his eyes off her. At dinner, at meetings, anywhere…

Rick hadn't liked the staring, she knew. He'd grumble under his breath and shift closer to her, but otherwise did no more. What a heavy contrast to how he'd acted only hours ago…knowing she'd had sex with Daryl. Cuz come on; he knew it. She saw it in the way he looked the moment they walked in together, his face hardening to granite. No longer grumbling low but straight up glaring.

But Rick had no right. Having tossed her aside as he had. Still, she hadn't needed Daryl to rub salt in that open wound, because it burned her too. Damn it, Daryl. Why'd you have to mess up too?

At least Michonne backed away quickly before he made too deep an entrance under her skin. But damn, she didn't want to lose this unexpected friend she still felt so drawn to. Ah, well. It was a flesh wound. The bullet grazed, not dodged. Who cares if it hurts…

And Maggie sees. Knows. She might not know what she knows, but clearly it's enough.

"Just let me go," Michonne says, dropping her work, her voice just above a whisper. It is the first time Maggie hears her.

"All right," She says, simply, though her lips purse. "Just grab the charcoal, if they got it, and whatever else looks helpful. Then get outta there."

"Yes, Captain," Michonne says, wiping her damp fingertips off on her shirt.

Maggie exhales.

"I'm sorry." She pinches the skin between her eyes. "I'm not tryna be a bully, alright? Just after the governor… being taken… I'm a little anxious bout runs, ya know? I just don't want— "

"I understand." Michonne reads that genuine concern on Maggie's face, plus that chilled look from memories, and a hand lifts with a deep-seated instinct to comfort. She stops herself in time, though, pulling it back to her side.

"Well. Guess I should be going then."

Maggie nods, and Michonne waits, as the farmer's daughter doesn't look ready to let her go, rotating a hand across her neck as she is.

"We never thanked you properly, you know," she says. "For saving us."

Michonne's brain flickers back to that day. Watching Merle snatch up her and the boyfriend. Eventually leading the others to Woodbury, taking them back.

"It was nothing," she murmurs, a dismissive hand fanning the air. She checks the sky. Still high and white, but that white softer now. Less heat at her skin. Less glare. This conversation needs to end. She needs to go.

"It was everything."

Michonne shifts her weight, awkwardly scratching her nose. Her fingers smell like brine. But upon reading the seriousness in the woman's eyes, her focus is stayed.

"You know, I always hated that phrase, 'life is short.' Cuz what's the sense in that? Life ain't short. It goes on and on. Feels endless, really. How the world's become is proof enough." Maggie surveys the sky, just as Michonne had. "But I kinda get it now. Life isn't really short, but we're short…people."

Michonne drops her chin, then her eyes. The knotted mass in her chest feels no less complicated. In fact it tightens even more.

It'd been over an hour since she left the men in the room. Over an hour since letting Rick know where she'd be. That she'd be waiting. Yet he hasn't showed. Michonne recalls how it'd taken a great swallow of pride to even give him that invite, knowing he was confused, that she was confused, especially with what had happened with Daryl. And what'd Rick give her? His back and a "yeah." Just yeah.

This was enough to let Michonne know that yes, people are short. She, Rick, and Daryl just happened to be real short. And now, over. Michonne swallows on a lump. Her eyes gloss. Damn, why was she so emotional? Why did these men do to her?

But lesson learned, right? She won't travel that road again. Cannot.

"I'm going," Michonne says. Her smile is frail and fleeting. "I'll be short."

After collecting the keys, Michonne heads away, stepping off towards the overturned truck in which she's made her bed. Once reaching the lodgings, she glances back at the prison. It's dominating, too large to be a blur despite the distance she's put between herself and the structure. With one final sigh, Michonne forces her eyes on the road beyond the gates.


Rick plops down to his bed with instant regret, though it's a wonder why he expected a soft rebound in the first place. Cushioned steel and stone never goes easy on the spine, a fact that Grime's daily backaches should've remembered for him. Rick just isn't thinking is all, not thinking being the bad habit he's formed as of late.

Blowing out a rough breath, Rick props up from his mattress with his elbows at rest against his bare strip of pillow.

It's quiet here. Quieter than it's been in a long time. The group's outside eating supper, the venison, and from the laughter he'd heard on the way to the cell, the meal has spruced the saggy spirits throughout the camp. And despite enjoying the roasting aroma, Rick declined to dine and clambered to his cell block without a pause. More than food, he's been set on getting alone so he could get a hold of himself.

After days of steady work, the dust and walkers been cleared from Cell Block D and the Woodbury group have settled into their new accommodations. Rick extended himself each step of the process and now he's tired. Real tired.

It's not a physical exhaustion, though, even if there's some of that. It's the mental exertion that takes the deepest toll and wears him down. All from the fronting. The lies.

Rick finds it hard to hide his feelings. Always has. Always will. But all through situating folks into the "prison life" he'd had no choice. With each family visited with,he'd struggled to match the smiling lie on his lips to the drab look on his face. A fruitless battle that he'd just hard-pressed enduring. Cuz that's all he could really do; endure the lie but never sell it.

But he woulda been damned to stop trying. Pretending like he wasn't a mess had been necessary for his sanity. Plus it's hard to show solid leadership when your shit ain't together. So how else would Rick have trudged through the long-drawn hours if not by ignoring the storm brewing inside him?

Well now his head hurts. Punishment for dishonesty, he reckons. Cuz for each second he still pretends that somethin' to attend to isn't there, the persisting heartbeat under his brow calls out the lie.

"Jesus," Grimes mumbles, drawing a hand across his forehead. With that storm still swelling in the chest, he doesn't need this too.

But what does he need?

Control, that's what. Enough to keep these emotions locked tight until they're sedated enough to handle. Then, once he's got a grip of himself, Rick can get out of here. Out of here and out to her.

"Michonne."

As if savoring a delicate dish, Rick's tongue glides across each syllable, his shoulders drawn up from the stone and steel as the storm drops its last-standing barriers. It's finally letting loose, tightening Rick's form, dropping his breath, splitting the quick thoughts through the brain. It's a reaction borne of both pain and desire. And all this brought on from saying her name.

Rick is a mess and he knows it.

Well past the Lori-guilt and its visions, he's come to terms with it. The way Michonne makes him feel. Since parting ways, Rick hasn't had a full night's sleep, having been jerked awake each hour with the sweat damp at his chest and harsh breath clouding the cool space with that dream still circulating through his brain. And a hell of a dream it was.

Head reclined against the wall behind him, Rick sinks back a little deeper, torso a little straighter. It's what he needs to anchor himself if he's gonna reminiscence on this.

In the dream, they were making love. Viciously, endlessly. Some blurry private place with just the two of them. Rick was at every place of her body at once. Fixing the thighs close and sucking the breasts tender and kissing the lips swollen. He felt like half an animal in those dreams, controlled by some primal instinct to take her, mark her, leaving reminders on the skin of just who she belonged to. But when the right thrust or touch set off their pleasure like falling dominos, Rick only needed to look into her eyes and he knew whose he was too.

The dream, the pleasure; so easy to mistake for memories. What could he say? Before it all ended, their sex had been incredible. She was incredible, really, and more than Rick's match no matter how unruly things got. Rick had never fully let go during sex. Until her, he'd always retained some level of control in fear of showing an untamed side of him that he could not afford to show. That all changed with Michonne.

'Cuz with her, Rick took that gamble, and she took him on evenly, easily adjusting to the erratic style of lovemaking true to his nature. And, perhaps, true to hers. He could enter her deep, sweet and slow one moment then in the next join their hips hard enough to bruise. And Michonne's long and alive responses urged on his every movement. The way she clutched him firmer, pulled him closer, his name on her breathless sigh…

A hitched breath passes Rick's teeth, noting the ache built at his loins in bodily response to his thoughts. He adjusts then groans.

"Get it together, Grimes," Rick tells himself, tugging a hand down his face against the rush of blood burning his cheeks. Geez. Even alone this is humiliating. What is he, seventeen? Still he's not surprised his body's reacting this way.

The ole boy is derived. They'd started something, him and her. A hunger for each other that they had filled without reserve, again and again. You can't unplug that and expect the appetite to just go away. Rick and Michonne had a connection. Clean and simple.

It was more than sex.

The worse part of the dream was waking up. Sweat-damp and shaky-limbed and reaching for the spot beside him, for her. Never mind that she hadn't stayed in his bed since…well, since. And when his hands clutched cool sheets it propelled Rick back to reality, and reality was dank and cold.

A hand at the heart indicates how fast it explodes in his chest. For health's sake, Rick tries to relax himself, but his form remains coiled, his blood pressure troubled, the bulge in his jeans solid. The forcibly-steadied breaths can't even bring relief. Not when Rick's got dreams and wants and still no Michonne.

This is dangerous, he knows. Desiring this woman so much. And yet danger's all he's wanted since he let her get away. Rick doesn't know what he misses more. Having access to the woman whose soft brown skin he liked to stroke, the smoldering gaze he liked to hold, that unimaginable body he liked to love?

As his down-south problem suggested, Michonne had a way of making Rick react. No consulting with his brain first. His body just doing things without his formal consent. Rick's often acted up around her. Like a puppy hungry for attention, he could jump a little too high to get her notice and end up saying something stupid, cheesy. Just as she'd reminded him before, he really was no good at flirting. But the way she'd respond with her genuine laugh and smile could weave his embarrassment into confidence, and suddenly he was the wittiest man in the world, his quirks no longer a flaw to hide.

Then there was that mystery of hers, smoldering like a coal under the surface. All those thoughts and layers of hers he's tried to get under, peer inside, though had been content in spending a long, long time learning.

But he's lost that chance. All because Rick was scared and childish and stupid. It is why they drifted away as they had, why they're still drifting. Rick's eyes shut briefly. A twitch bothers his chest, scratching at him.

Why didn't he… maybe if he hadn't… …ah, but what's the use in figuring it out. It is done and unsaid and it's all his fault. Losing her and everything they'd built.

"Michonne." This time, letting her name slip into the cool darkness is less satisfying. It seems to slow his pulse, a chill arresting his limbs. He is not so hard anymore.

God he missed her. Misses her. And yet he neglected her, avoided her, hurt her. Rick is the living definition of imbecile, doing that. And he's punt many a wall, door, and stone over the last few days to bask in anymore self-pity.

Yet he'll try.

Steeped in his own misery, Rick's unfocused gaze is penetrating the gray bare room when it catches the small corner table. His candles unlit, Grimes can't see much, but he knows what lies there. Michonne's stuff.

Not all of it, but some simple things. Fresh clothes and a toothbrush from the couple times she'd stayed the night with him. Rick hated her staying in that overturned truck. Away for everyone else— him. It put him at ill-ease. But since she repetitively turned down any offers to a cell of her own, Rick had tried the next, if not the best, thing. Getting her to stay the nights with him.

It began with sex. She'd only agree on that invitation, instantly on guard from the several occasions he'd tried to persuade her to take a cell. After dinner and discussion and the group parting for the night, Michonne was quick to slip away. Trying to escape him, was she? But he'd only let her reach the door till he catch up real fast.

"Ah, ah ah," he'd teased that very first time, slipping his arms around her waist. Rick liked this, touching her. They'd grown comfortable doing so casually, first small touches, a hand at the small of her back, an "accidental" graze across her ass. Then she told him directly he didn't need to be afraid of touching her how he wanted, least when they were alone, and well, he took her up on that.

But in that moment, he hadn't known if she wanted to be in his grip. She'd turned in the circle of her arms, yes, but with the heel of her hands against his shoulders, a pout on her lips. She was too adorable when she pouted, and he had to resist kissing her to focus.

"Rick…" she purred out, shifting closer to the door, but he'd firmed his hold at her waist.

"Not all night," Rick promised, lips close to her ear. "Just give me an hour with you. Then you can sneak back to your dungeon."

She had laughed, his hands strolled up and down her hips, and the laughter died down as she softened under his persuasion.

"Okay," she sighed. "Though an hour is pretty generous for you."

"Oh hush."

Chuckling, Rick released his hold only to find her hand, leading her back into the main cell area. He'd given her palm a light squeeze, feeling how slack her grip got the moment they entered the cell block. With everyone retired to their rooms, the space was dim, still Michonne had a fear of being "found out." Which was news he had to break to her; they already know. His group, the new residents, hell, maybe even his son. Besides, Rick hated the idea that she mighta thought he was sneaking her in like some late night snack. It just was not the case. He wasn't hiding what they were.

"What if they saw?" She'd asked as they reached the cell, the bars rustling closed behind them.

He had to fight on a groan.

"What does it matter?" he'd said, already pulling her close. It was the only thing that truly frustrated Grimes about them. How she'd come close, closer and closer, then start to retreat. As if she knew what she wanted, but was just unsure about him. It was too bad, really, for he was sure about her.

Michonne, for all her brazen stares, had a timidity to her. A shyness he liked to shed like their clothes once they got to the bed, removing layers like he was removing shields. Once they were undressed and he laid her down, Grimes flipped the blankets over their forms and brought himself above her. And it was the slow touches that warmed her up again, hands sliding down the hips and thighs, lingering kisses at the neck. The single lit candle was just enough to keep her under glow, allowing him sight as he cherished her bare skin with his lips and brought attention to the neck, shoulders, and chest, a kiss for each sweet nipple he sucked like the bud of a Hershey's kiss. That really got her grasping the back of his neck to draw him down for more attentions, her knees locking him to her body, her hungry thrusts reaching for him.

"Alright…" he'd say, pleased by her insistence, and all teasing was off from there.

Sex with Michonne, much like in the dream, was everything. Swift and slow, plus a little untamed. But unlike when they snuck off to far off cells, they couldn't get loud in his cell what with neighbors at every side of them. Instead they caught each other's moans in theirs mouths, cutting off the grunts and stretching pleas as their bare bodies ground and bumped under the covers.

And after they'd made love, Rick having pressed Michonne against his side as they lied across the cot to catch their breaths, Michonne hardly waited a minute for the affects to wear off before pulling from Rick, slipping from the bed and seeking her clothes. This took her warmth with her and left him cold.

Then it was Rick's turn to purr "Michonne…" as he reached for her waist, eyes on her full naked bottom in both unsettled lust and admiration. She had a wonderful body and she was a wonderful lover. Rick could hardly help when his hand left the waist and stroked her rear. But then she froze. Like his touch was a danger and if she remained still, he'd stop. That reaction had dropped both his stomach and his hand.

"You said an hour," she said, words spoken over shoulder. Not accusing, not angry, but still…uptight. It went this way sometimes. After the love making, her introversion filtering through again, as if the secrets they shared with their bodies was now a source of shame, not pleasure. And it was then he knew that he needed to show her they were nothing to regret.

"Change of plans," he said, hand settled on her waist again. "Stay."

There'd been a light amount of protest where her lips would say one thing and her body another, for even as they argued she was already drawing closer till she'd fully lowered down, already back into the bed.

"And if Carl sees?" She'd asked.

Readjusting the sheets over their bodies, Rick tugged her back against him even when she stiffened. Unlike the rest of the group, Rick hasn't strung a sheet over his bars yet. He wants to be available to the group, and it isn't a high priority.

"Carl likes you." Rick assured, tightening the arms around her. "I like you."

No arguing with that, she'd breath gently as his hand found hers under the sheets. Then he waited, waited for the sign, and finally, she held his back. It was enough invite that he pressed forward so his body was more around hers, loving the dank note of breath when his still semi-hard erection nestled against her buttocks. But then she sighed again, ready to argue again.

"Stay," he repeated, lips at her throat, enjoying the vibration of her jumping pulse. "Please?"

He knew she wanted to stay. All his luring were just attempts to assure her that she was welcome and wanted here. Still if she wasn't comfortable enough, he would never make her stick around. His heart skipped when she leaned back so her form nestled deeper against his body. Finally.

"I need some stuff first," she'd said. "I can't look like some college student sneaking out to the boys dormitory in the morning."

They laughed and Rick would let her go, knowing the departure was temporary, and that's how they operated night after night until the protest periods were shorter and she practically lived in his cell. Their cell.

Well. Not anymore. That all ended some days ago, hadn't it? And Rick has been alone in his bed ever since. And not because she left, but because he had. After all that bidding and luring, he was the one who got up from the bed. He was the one who had not stayed. And Rick was an idiot.

Peeling his back from the cot, Rick slides over till his boots smack the floor. His hands drop between his thighs, shoulders dropped in exhaustive defeat. Damn it, he wants her back. Back at his side, under his hands, against his lips and skin. Whether on council, watch, in bed, a confidante, support, or lover, she'd just felt right with him. And now he felt nothing.

That's what it is, though, isn't it? Rick's been hollow without her. He doesn't like how it's felt, too weak for a man like him, but he was in a weak time and she had come into his life with all her strength and lifted him up. While Rick had struggled to keep out of the blurry places in his head, of grieving Lori, what he'd failed to do for her, Michonne was the one who kept his vision clear and focused. These past few days are proof of that.

'Cuz since he lost her, all he's been is blurred and confused. Hoarding memories and dreams like it was nourishment to keep him going…this can only mean one thing, and that thing scares him. Scares him enough that he's still confined to this cell instead of out there with her, groveling and apologizing like he should be.

Rick is falling for Michonne, if not already on the ground.

Rick's eyes seal closed for a moment. There. Some truth for once.

What started as a flicker in the belly has sparked into a full-fledged fire. Yet he'd failed to know how to tend it. The affection he feels for the woman. Rick doesn't get it. He's loved Lori to the fullest amount, and yet it's never felt like this. Not how Michonne's got him feeling even days from touching her, hours from seeing her. Her every detail clear under his shut eyes, face and shape and shade all memorized. But what's that matter anymore? He had her. He lost her. It was over.

Rick's derisive laugh expands over the lonely space.

This shit doesn't just hurt; it burns. And while he's longing and lost, Michonne's never broken stride. Even after Rick proved he couldn't step up to the plate, Michonne continued marching on her two feet. Moved onto other things…other men. Or more closely, one man.

Daryl.

Rick is suddenly tight. So tight that someone walking by might think him part of the room.

…Shit.

Michonne had sex with Daryl.

He hasn't learned how to manage this yet, has purposely pushed this out of his thoughts so he wouldn't have to. But now that he's confronting feelings, Rick might as well confront how this makes me feel.

Which is hurt as hell, jealous as fuck, and stupid as shit.

If Rick hadn't been so spineless, she wouldn't have gone to Daryl. Not for comfort and not for that. If Rick hadn't been so spineless…he wouldn't have let her. No doubt he had noticed it. Knew what those two had done right off. Michonne's flickering glances and Daryl's more than usual messy hair, plus those damn wet spots over her breasts where Dixon obviously couldn't wait to get his mouth on her…

So where'd they do it? Rick muses, a rough hand shoving away the curl in his eye. Right in the open woods, he bets. Or maybe pulled over somewhere in the truck. A nice little fuck to get the blood flowing for the hunt? A better question: was she thinking about him when she got with Daryl? Did she forget what they started? What they had?

Rick shouldn't be pondering this, any of this, but cannot help it. It's been burning in the gut like loose liquor all day long and it's gotta run its course.

And Rick can't help feeling that she did forget, just like she seemed to forget whenever Daryl entered the room, his eyes fastened on her and her eyes fastened back…

"Fuck," Rick mutters, tapping his foot against that small corner table. He has to jump back when it drops and almost catches his foot. Okay, it was more than a tap. Replacing the items on the ground, he snorts, a bitter sound.

Of course it'd come to this. He can't act shocked. Those two didn't even have to speak. That quiet current of mutual respect and understanding was conversation itself. And even when Rick had her full attention, somehow she was having another conversation that never seized. Didn't help with Daryl always staring at her.

Rick had tried not to resent that. He'd trusted his friend and trusted her. Besides, how could she not appeal to him? She had everything that could drop a man to his knees. Alluring looks, understated wit, a smoldering hint of mystery….

Besides, men and women can be friends. Good friends, actually, without it leading to something else. Just look at Daryl and Carol. Close as they were, they needed each other in a way that was independent from romance.

Still from the moment Michonne read Daryl's pain after he'd lost his brother, there'd been a passive bond growing between those two. A likeness in their natures that made the pair comfortable in each other's presence. Rick had always felt mildly envious, knowing that soundless understanding they had was something he could never have with her. He knew her, yes, but he had to study her. Daryl could just glance and read everything, like she was written in his language.

That's why Grimes acted fast.

Rick didn't need help wanting her company, but the threat that she'd turn away and there'd be Daryl definitely kept him alert. Motivation-wise, he couldn't help consider the past. How it only took weeks for him to be presumed dead and his wife had slipped into the arms of his best friend.

…And yet, it's happened again, hasn't it?

Michonne, the new woman and Daryl, the new arms. The only difference is that Rick isn't dead yet.

This is the Lord's little joke, isn't it? A means of keeping Grimes humble. Maybe he's not meant to have someone after Lori. Maybe he's meant to be alone. Rick's jaw shifts on the thought, then he shakes his head like it's wet. Nah.

As much as the two incidents mirror each other, one of these incidents was brought on himself. Rick hadn't tried to get shot those many months ago. Waste away all forgotten in a hospital bed. But those few days ago when he'd looked into Michonne's tearful gaze and gave her nothing but a flat one, his inaction became it's own action. Now that was his fault.

Rick's head cocks as if he's heard a noise, features coated in the weak light shifting through the cell bars he stands beside. He couldn't blame the Lord for his luck. Rick made his luck. Everything that happened now…it wasn't the result of vague fate. It was cause and effect.

The past repeating itself? Because Rick repeated past actions. Rick losing Michonne? Because he loosened his hold. Man really wasn't thinking when he did that, was he? Was like he was sleepwalking on that decision…That thought freezes Rick in place. And that's it. He was sleep. And Rick needs to get real and wake up.

Rick has to take care of his child, a job he's let Beth handle entirely, all the better to avoid the baby who gave him both joy and doubts.

Has to take care of his son, whose inner-turmoil grows denser and denser with each day Rick doesn't, the actions he took at the draw-away only a hint of that disarray.

Has to take care of his woman, who was hurting under the hard layers she applied. A hurt that he's only pressed more pain onto when he graced her with a cold shoulder and even colder eyes.

Rick had planned on making things right with Michonne. Even after punishing her with his eyes for sleeping with Daryl, then being grouchy and vague about trying to talk about it, he always knew he would. Just wasn't ready to show her yet. Too bitter. Too dejected. But now that talk's way overdue. They are way overdue.

And he can wait no longer.

With a back thrust of his shoulders, Rick prepares to go. Wrenching open the cell and with his eyes firm down the hall. No hitch in his step. No stall.

Rick's gotta take this fate thing right in his hands and make it. Gotta take Michonne by her shoulders, kiss her hard, and let her know she was with him again, and that was that.

Please?

A couple minutes later, Rick stands in the doorway that overlooks the prison yard, a silhouette at the cell block door. The lowered sun threads a peach tint over his features, his eyes, and he rubs them out. Folks still mill about, chatting and eating, but the darkening sky will draw them in soon enough.

Rick's giving himself a quick moment to gather his senses. His body's full of nerves, and while they're not about to calm down soon, he does need to get a little looser before he approaches her. Michonne had invited him to come, told him where she'd be. Well Grimes was hours late on that invitation, but he was here.

And yet he doesn't see her. Eyes narrowed, Rick detaches from the doorway and strides into the courtyard. Rick spots Maggie near the barbeque and his steps quicken. The camp comes to view, everyone around small fires, grilling their meat on sticks. He scans the gathering. No Michonne, but he knows she's been working on the venison smoking with Maggie. Probably slipped inside for something. He'll wait for her.

So intent are Rick's strides that he doesn't notice Daryl walking in line with him. Not until the man waves a hand. Rick does a quick double take, then, realizing who it is, has a moment of split emotions. One second his expression hardens, the next he looks caught.

Rick walks faster, but it doesn't faze Daryl, who hurries up to meet Rick's side.

"Hey," Daryl says. "Sup?"

Rick studies the forefront. He's not eager to talk to him. Doesn't know what to say, really. Rick's not sure how to feel right now. The words of reality begin to curdle through his head.

They had sex, they had sex...a hot fist of rage tightens in his gut. Could Rick stay mad about it? Need to get over it? He doesn't know and he is confused. Bout everything.

Daryl takes Rick's silence with a placid look, and he finds it harder to be angry. Whatever happened, they're still friends. And well, shit happens. But while he can't outright blame Daryl for what had happened between him and Michonne, Dixon isn't guiltless either. It's not an easy thing to make sense of.

"You think about what I said?"

Rick's jaw fastens.

Now that his brain hasn't fully absorbed... Daryl's little "suggestion." yet since Daryl's forced its seed back into his mind…

A threesome, of all things, really. The whole concept is preposterous. Improbable. How could he share her? Well the fact that he irrevocably had boils Rick's stomach with a feeling he doesn't wish to upraise right now. Still, people didn't have those in real life. Did they? Not that Grimes knew what the hell real life was. Not anymore.

After a moment, Rick answers,"Thought about it."

Daryl chuckles. Rick wants to hit him.

"And?" Daryl asks.

"And nothing."

Daryl clicks his tongue.

"I dunno, Rick. Given circumstance, it sounds like a good idea to me. Kinda…absolving, ya know?"

A brow lifts over Rick's eye. Absolving for whom?

"Don't you think she's gotta be part of this conversation?" he asks.

Besides them being out in the open and folks close enough to catch the content of their discussion, they shouldn't be talking like this at all. Rick hasn't even made right with Michonne, something he planned to fix when she showed up. And to approach her with sucha crazy…everything? Rick wouldn't be surprised if she pulled that sword on them both.

Daryl's quiet, then shrugs.

"She'd be game."

Rick stops so suddenly that Daryl takes a few wayward steps before he realizes Rick's not beside him. He backs up, with Rick's gaze slashing across him. There's heat at his neck not from the setting sun.

"How are you so sure about that?"

So had they talked about this without him? And here Rick was feeling guilty about this discussion. God, Rick knew he couldn't let her go for even a second. Knew that the moment he stepped away, that passive bond between Daryl and Michonne would not be so passive anymore. And now she's fucking Daryl and Rick is yesterday.

"Don't get it wrong, man. This is all me. I know it ain't your style. Hell, it's hardly mine. Just that Merle put me up to some eccentric shit back in the day so my minds a little more open to things like that, ya know..."

"Got it." Rick cuts off, grimacing.

This kinda brought Rick an answer, but not solace.

With a sigh he crosses his arms, not sure how to begin the main question he has for him. But Maggie, at her post at the grill, is flicking glances their way, Michonne might come back any second, and Rick wants to finish convo off. For good. So with a lowerin of his shoulders, he goes on and speaks.

"What are your plans?" Rick asks, tone low as his gaze. "With her."

Besides that three's company suggestion, Rick needs to know Daryl's intentions. Because so far, his actions have been unreadable.

Daryl's fingers settle in his chin. Seeming thoughtful with a gaze skyward.

From the start, Daryl's kept his eye on Michonne. And he hadn't stopped when Rick was with her, even following them occasionally when they did their deed in iisolated cell blocks. Feeling their privacy violated, Rick was angry at first, but now even that anger has become a piece of his mixed emotions. And now, somewhere between Daryl having sex with Michonne and now offering the threesome, Rick has no clue what this man is thinking. What he's wanting.

Plans on doing.

While the two had a thorough conversation cutting venison, Rick's head had been too blurry to get a full grasp of the exchange. Plus Daryl ended on the sharing comment that got Rick shocked, upset, then stomping out of the room.

But among the shock and upset, there was a small twinge of something else.

…interest?

With Daryl still thinking, Rick has something to say.

"About this…this other thing, though. Let me tell you right now," He paces out a short line in front of Daryl, before stopping to look him sharp in the eye. "I'm greedy."

Rick isn't big on sharing. Been there, done that, didn't want to do it again. And while one heated experience is something he can swallow if majority rules and all, anything beyond basic sex wouldn't work. Hell. Grimes is still trying to absorb the fact those two had been with each other without wanting to kick a dent in Daryl's head, let alone is he content thinkin' about sharing. A taste of Michonne as opposed to the whole of her? He doesn't think that'd be enough for him. Ever.

"I know."

Daryl has his gaze on his shoes. Taking Rick's shoulder, he leads him further down the yard, a little ways from Maggie.

"Look, I know how much you want 'er, Rick." He blows out a breath. How much she wants you."

Rick slides out from Daryl's hand.

"Wants me?" He asks, unable to keep the incline out of his voice.

"Yeah, man. Wants you. It was fun and all..." Daryl winks. "But she wasn't all into it, in the end. I think she miss you too much."

Rick's heartbeat hits a stutter as a strange feeling swells in his gut. Did she say these words? That she wants him, actually misses him? The iron in Rick's stomach softens under that strange sensation, allowing hope to fill the spaces.

"And I think you're better," Daryl says. His eyes look a little sad. Rick frowns.

"I'm not better than you."

"No shit." Daryl says, his grin listless. "But you're better for her."

"You don't know that."

Rick's talking through his teeth, but he's trying to play fair. He couldn't make this about his feelings. Michonne's mattered more. If she chose to be with Daryl, of course Rick would feel dejected. And it'd take a while before he could even look at them together without a small rage splintering through his brain. But what choose would he have?

Daryl pockets his hands.

"I like Michonne." Dixon pauses. "A lot. But when it comes to all the frills…I'm just not present for that, not like you are. Wouldn't be fair for her, me, anyone."

After a minute, Grimes drops his chin in understanding. He gets it.

With this is out of the way, he's feeling an extra layer slide off his shoulder. At least he won't havta worry about fightin with his friend over this. Now all that remains is to talk to this lady herself.

"So," Rick says, mind back on that other question. "Sharing?"

Daryl looks up, grins, and opens his lips to speak.

"Guys?"

Both turn to Maggie. She's detached from the BBQ, standing on her own with Glenn taking rein of the smoker.

Rick and Daryl glance at each other, nod, then head towards Maggie without another word. The conversation is nowhere near done, but it'll have to be. For now. When they reach Maggie, she is hesitating. Fingers knit together. Eyes on them then away. Rick doesn't like this. Not at all.

"What's up?" He asks her, wary of that look on her face.

"She's been gone too long," Maggie says after a while.

Rick goes still. Daryl goes still. Shit.

"Who?" Rick asks, though he feels the strained knots in his back acting out, tensions already forming stones in his body.

Maggie chews on a nail and the stones get thicker with each second she stalls.

"Michonne."

There's a haze in Rick's gaze. A moment of fog, dizziness. He has to blink hard to get it clear.

"Explain," he says in a voice he hopes sounds calm. His breath's reliant on his nose and he's got a hand on his hip, finger just above the gunbelt. The whole air feels like trouble.

The girl swallows.

"We needed more charcoal, only Glenn dug out another bag right after she left and…"

Maggie is saying things but Rick doesn't catch it all 'cuz Michonne is gone and his whole body's in defense mode. She has left. Gone when she's supposed to be here.

"How long is long?" Daryl interrupts. His crossbow is already hoisted in his fist, his eyes set and serious.

"Forty minutes, maybe an hour. She said she'd be in and out, so she went alone."

Rick's eyes are hard on Maggie.

"Why'd you let her?"

Daryl sets a hand on Rick's shoulder. His temper flares, but he exhales and settles back down. People are paying attention, particularly Glenn, whose eyes are narrowed on the scene and looks to part from his post. Rick holds up a palm to indicate things are fine.

"I tried to make her take one of you. I really did. But she was insistent 'bout going alone. She's persuasive."

"That she is," Rick mutters. If she could talk Merle into letting her free, of course she could work that same charm on Maggie. The only question was why. Why'd she go off alone?

Rick's about to question Maggie more but Daryl steps up.

"You said she'd gone to the woods."

"Yeah. I saw her head towards the east. Said she had a lead on some old cabin."

Daryl nods, then meets Rick's eyes.

"I know that cabin."

Rick's breath is dense as he nods. He looks to Maggie again.

"Then we'll be back soon."

He doesn't know if there's response for he's already turned away. Heading towards the vehicles and leaving Daryl behind. Rick's not even thinking right now. Just doing. His body a series of actions and a whole lot of intentions.

He might be worked up for nothing. So Michonne left, but she can handle herself. She's a survivor. But damn it, what if? Every worst case scenario seems to pass his mind in a span of seconds. Her car crashed off the road. She ran into a pack of bandits. Got overwhelmed by walkers. The governor.

Rick's whips his keys free and hops into the van, engine revved and fingers tapping the steering wheel in wait. When Daryl slides into the passenger's side, Rick waits till the door slams and he's gone. Driving down the gravel, it's Carl who slides the gates open for them, and Rick slows, rolling down the window.

"You hold down the fort while we're gone." Rick tells him. "We're going to get Michonne."

He looks at his son for a long time, and a silent understanding passes between them.

"Good."

Rick's lips twitches, an almost-smile despite the worry inside. He hadn't talked to Carl about his new relationship, and lost the opportunity when things went south. But something about his son's eyes speaks of a maturity that he'd mistaken for hardness.

Giving his son a firm nod, Rick rumbles through the gates and pulls onto the road.

"That way," Daryl says, pointing out their direction.

Rick guns it down the sun-glazed street. The further they drive, the more they leave that sun behind, emerging into the deeps blue of night and forest. And Rick drives fast. The car bumpy, grumbling, and his hands so tight around the steering wheel that his knuckles are ashen. Grimes's aware he should drive slower. Easier. Quieter. But all he thinks is how he's gotta hurry. Gotta get to her.

"Easy, buddy."

Awareness of Daryl cuts through his determined fog. Jerking his chin down, Rick lets his foot loosen from the gas.

"Slower." The voice is placating.

On a huff, Rick eases off the gas. He relaxes his fingers from the steering wheel and flexes, returning some color to his hands.

"There you go."

"Sorry," Rick grumbles, gaze flickering over sideways. "Just don't think we should waste time."

Daryl's eyes set ahead. He swallows a little. Looks just as anxious to get to her. He's just a little better of keeping it in, Grimes thinks.

"We'll bring her back."

Rick can only cluck his head dumbly. He's hardly seeing where he's going, dark as it's getting with forest swallowing the car at all sides. Rick's hesitant to use his brights in such a black space, not wanting to draw the walkers to the light. It's a compromise of not seeing clearly.

But what if he's missed her already? Wandering at the side of the road, hurt... What if it's too late? He can't keep thinking like this, worrying like this, but damn it; Rick had her and he lost her and he couldn't lose her again. Their separation for all these put a crack in his chest by itself. But if she's gone, really gone, this time the crack might shatter.

"Rick."

But hadn't Daryl said it? They'll bring her back. They'll bring her home. Reach reaches over and squeezes the hilt of the machete he keeps between the seats. He'd been in such a rush to leave, Grimes not even sure how many bullets his gun even got.

"Rick, stop."

Grimes hits the brakes. The sudden stop thrusts him against the wheel with an oompf, then both men plop back in their seats, breaths heavy. They're at the edge of forest. Rick looking at Daryl with a high-brow. Daryl points a finger ahead.

There's a familiar car a short stretch ahead. One of theirs. It must be the one Michonne's taken. The one they'd driven together when they went out to find guns. Why does it feel like so long since that day? Then again, it's always been like that with her, time stretching minutes to months. Just see how fast he's fallen, like he has known her for years. And well, he does plan on knowing her for years, or however long this world will offer them life. Now he's gotta make sure she's alright.

"You stay here," Rick calls to Daryl. He sets the car in park, switches off the lights, and palms his machete.

But Daryl's already out. Looking over his shoulder, he snorts, already striding ahead towards the car ahead. Rick shakes his head and follows after. The two start towards the vehicle, Rick's heart thumping like a sore thumb in his chest. The darkness is dense, and he's about to curse himself for his unprepared haste again when a light darts over the area. Daryl holding a slim flashlight. Then he stands back and motions for Rick to approach the car.

Rick goes forward, finding a silent prayer on his tongue. Lord, let her be in this car, he thinks. Unharmed. Safe. There's a light hum emitting from the car, for it's still running. Nervous sweat pools at Rick's neckline, but he doesn't stop his stride. Not until he reaches the car.

But she's not in it.


A/N:

Helloo helloo. First off, I apologize for the wait on this. I feel terrible! Anyhow, there should be one more chapter to follow this one. That "ultimate" scene you're expecting should definitely be coming up next. So stay tuned! I hope to make it worth your while.

~yellowspotlight89