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A Breath of Hope

Chapter One

Walking along the quiet back country road, Maggie hears the birds singing from the Georgia treetops but the sound seems so surreal. Don't they know that the world has twisted off its axis once again? Can't they feel the void that her father's death has left. The feeling is so unreal and has left her numb, which is preferable to giving in to the debilitating grief of losing her dad.

She can't break down now, not yet. She has to find shelter for her travelling companions – the two most important men left in her life. Carl is in the lead, walking slightly ahead and to the right of Rick. Maggie is on Rick's left, striding slightly behind him. They trudge along, subconsciously keeping their wounded leader between them, protecting him in his weakened state.

The couple of water bottles and stale cookies and chips they'd found at a gas station won't hold them over for long. They need to find food to keep up their strength as well. Armed with only three guns and two knives between them, she prays that every walker in the area will be heading toward the sounds of all the gunfire and the smoke from the burning guard tower, leaving them a clear path to a safe neighborhood before nightfall. She is hopeful but the pace is slow-going with Rick's pronounced limp and labored breathing. She has never seen him this physically battered before and it scares her. It scares her almost as much as the defeated look in his heartbroken eyes. That terrifies her.

She had tried to ease his mind with the fact that she'd seen Daryl getting Beth and Judith into the Hyundai that was parked on the far side of the prison. She knew her sister would convince Daryl to go back to the farm, the one place they would all remember.

Her sister often talked about their old home and wanting to go back someday to see if the house still stood among the majestic oaks and sprawling pastures. If the house had survived the onslaught of walkers that drove their group away that fateful night, it would provide adequate shelter while they re-grouped to figure out their next move. She just prayed that Carol would think of it as well and lead Sasha, Tyreese and Michonne to their old doorstep, assuming they had all escaped together. 'Please God let them be safe' was a constant mantra at the back of her mind while the morning's attack weighed heavily at the forefront.

The sound of all the gunfire and screaming was nothing like she'd ever heard before. She had seen many so-called gunfights in a variety of action movies, but nothing compared to actually being in the middle of a real live fucking battle.

It was complete chaotic madness - and absolutely terrifying.

Trying to keep a level head after witnessing her father's murder was incredibly hard, but she had no choice if they were going to survive the day.

Knowing her sister was safe with Daryl and her father already gone, Maggie took off to find the one person she cared about the most. She rounded the corner of the guard tower and saw Rick fighting the devil himself in a hand-to-hand battle. She sprinted toward the field where their vegetable garden had been flourishing before being trampled by the unlikely soldiers that this world created.

She knew Rick was at a disadvantage with his already sprained right hand, and screamed when she watched the Governor grab and twist his bandaged hand to flip him onto his back. Her feet couldn't move fast enough as the bastard straddled Rick, attempting to choke the life out of him.

If Maggie wasn't so intently focused on the two men on the ground of the prison field, she would have seen Michonne storm in from the right of her peripheral view to put an end to the son of a bitch. But the only thing Maggie registered was a dark blur and then a wicked looking katana protruding from the fiend's black-hearted chest.

Maggie and Carl helped Rick to his feet as Michonne had rushed off toward the sound of her whinnying horse.

~ / ~

They have been walking for what feels like days but has most likely only been two or three hours, heading in the direction of the Greene farm. It will take them several days to get there on foot, especially with Rick's condition slowing them down.

Maggie hopes they will come across a vehicle with a decent amount of gas, but she is not too confident with the lack of cars on these back roads. They would have better luck finding something on one of the busier highways, but that also meant a greater risk of running into the undead, who seemed to congregate in those areas.

Looking back, she thinks they were foolish to concentrate all their worries on the threat of walkers. They had gotten so comfortable behind the fences, which in the end only provided a false sense of security.

She can't believe that it was only a few nights ago that she and Rick sat on the deck of the guard tower talking and joking around. With all that has happened, that feels like a lifetime ago. He has been her rock for the past year, her lifeline in this hellish world. She just prays she can get him back.

It was a beautiful cloudless night with a full moon and thousands of stars gazing down, shining hopeful and sympathetic on what was left of the world.

One of the few bonuses of this new earth, Maggie pondered as she sat on the deck of the guard tower, was the absence of smog hanging over their cities to dull the shine of the heavenly skies. There were many starry nights growing up on the farm, but none compare to the views they see now. She was extremely grateful to be alive after her close call that morning, so tonight's vision was even more deeply appreciated.

Having just relieved Sasha and Tyreese, Maggie was waiting for Carol to join her for their four hour shift. After a few minutes alone, she heard boots on the steps that sounded much heavier than Carol's size six. As well as she knew that the sun would rise in the east, she knew those footfalls and the bow-legged man who created them. Maggie was not surprised at all when the hatch opened and she saw a head full of dark brown wavy locks instead of short gray ones.

"Hey," Rick greeted her as he stepped out onto the deck of the tower, armed and ready to defend their camp.

"Hi, what are you doing here? Carol's on the schedule with me tonight," she claimed, shifting her rifle from her lap to prop it against the railing.

"Yeah, I know. But she's been with Judy all day while I finally caught a few hours of sleep, so I told her I would take her shift tonight. I knew she'd be dead on her feet and I'm wide awake," he explained. "Besides, it's been a long time since we've had a chance to hang out, so here I am," he said, smiling with a boyish tilt to his head as he eased down into the empty seat beside her. He placed his lantern on the floor next to him and doused the unnecessary light.

"And your little fan club has been hot on your heels so you came up here to hide," she teased about the several females from the Woodbury group who tended to follow Rick around as much as they could get away with. The most persistent being a sixteen year old and a pushing-sixty year old, much to his chagrin.

"Oh Lord, don't remind me. Thank God they obey the curfew at least."

"You know, you'll have to let somebody catch you someday," she said lightheartedly, enjoying his company.

"Well someday ain't happenin' any time soon, so drop it. What about you and Jack? Didn't he ask you out?" He nudged her elbow with his.

"He did," she replied, studying the worn out hem of her dark gray hoodie.

"And…?"

"We're just friends," she responded tightly. "And now we're dropping it like you wanted."

"Fine," he agreed, relieved by her answer more than he cared to admit. Jack is a good guy, but he's not good enough for her.

"Who's with Judy now?" Maggie asked in hopes of changing the subject, already knowing the likely answer.

"Beth's got her. Thank God for your sister. I don't know what I would do without her and Carol," Rick replied genuinely.

She nodded agreeably, trying to swallow back the feeling of jealousy clogging her throat. "I was so relieved when Dad told me Judy's fever had finally broken. I can only imagine how you must have felt."

"Yeah, relieved is the understatement of the year. You know…," he trailed off, carefully weighing his words in his mind before letting them free on his tongue. "I know that there's barely a one percent chance that she is actually my daughter," he declared, voice thick with emotion. "She didn't choose her parents, but she's stuck with me… and I feel so incredibly lucky to have her. Does that make me a total chump?" he asked with his stuttering heart on his sleeve for all the cruelness of the world to see.

"No Rick, that makes you a daddy," she responded tenderly.

She saw a myriad of emotions cross his features, from regret to relief and then ending with pride. He recovered quickly to replace those feelings with plain old satisfaction.

"Thanks," he said with a crooked smile filled with complete sincerity. He leaned back in the chair and stretched his legs out to rest his boots on the railing in front of him. He looked out into the night, feigning nonchalance, but she knew the emotional turmoil bubbling just below the surface of his expression of quiet content.

"Okay, Grimes, it's game time," Maggie announced, luring Rick out of his tumultuous thoughts. "Give me three things that are better these days."

"Alright," he chuckled, happy for the distraction.

"I'll go first to give you time to think," she began. "It's so nice not worrying about going over my minutes on my cell phone."

"Okay," he thought. "It's so nice not havin' to stand behind someone with 18 items in the 14 or less line at the grocery."

"It's so nice not wanting to throw my laptop out the window every time it crashes," she added.

"It's so nice not having telemarketers annoy us in the middle of dinner," he exclaimed, enjoying their little game.

"It's so nice not getting pulled over for speeding by a moody cop," she teased.

"Hey, I was never moody on the job," he claimed with laughter in his eyes. "At home maybe, but never on the job!" he said with a grin splitting his face despite his efforts to give her an evil glower.

"Okay, okay," she apologized. "It must have been your friends."

"How many times did you get pulled over?" he asked curiously.

"More than my Daddy knows, or ever will know," she answered threateningly.

"That many, huh?"

"More than one, less than ten. Let's just leave it at that."

"Good Lord," he laughed. "And you never lost your license? What, so you just batted your beautiful eyes and stuck out your chest and drove away without ever gettin' a ticket?" he asked incredulously.

"Worked every time," she beamed. "C'mon, it's your turn. Last one so make it good."

"Okay," he said, shaking his head in awe. "It's so nice not worryin' about the TV reception goin' out in the middle of a Superbowl."

"Hey, you used that one before!" she protested.

"Well, it's a very important one."

"I don't care, give me something else."

"Alright…it's nice not gettin' pissed off when the Christmas lights are only half lit after spending four hours stringing 'em up," he finished.

"Yes it is," she agreed reflectively, looking into his eyes. "Thanks for taking watch with me tonight, Rick."

"You're welcome," he replied, breaking eye contact when he reached over to take her thin wrist in his warm hand. He carefully pushed the sleeve of her sweatshirt up her forearm, revealing a large white bandage. Although he knew it would be there, the sight still troubled him, thinking that it could have ended much much worse.

"Daryl told you what happened on our run this morning?" she asked accusingly, trying to hide the guilt from her face while he gently held her injured arm.

"He mentioned somethin' about having to save your ass after you disregarded your own safety to help that Zack kid," he replied with more composure than he actually felt inside.

"It wasn't a big deal," she defended herself. "I just tripped over a stupid box and cut my arm on the corner of a shelf. The walker never even got that close to me before Daryl killed it. It could have happened to anyone."

"I don't give a fuck about 'anyone'," he quickly responded. "Christ, Maggie, please don't put yourself in that situation again," he implored, blue eyes boring into hers, begging for a promise they both knew was impossible to keep.

"I'm sorry," she said with mixed feelings. She was delighted at the concern in his gaze, but regretful for being the source of his worry. She knew he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders and she hated the fact that she had just added a few more ounces.

"Speaking of Daryl, he seemed better today" she continued, hoping to recover the lighter mood they'd just been sharing.

"Yeah," Rick coughed, releasing Maggie's arm. "He'll be okay. He's tough."

"I know, but it can't be easy losing your only brother, even if he was a total dick. At least he still has you," she said, missing the feel of his hands on her skin.

"He has all of us," Rick clarified.

"Yes, but you are more a brother to him than Merle ever was," she stated. "You are his brother in every sense that matters."

Rick looked out into the stillness of the night, contemplating what Maggie had just said. He'd never given much thought to his relationship with the other man, it was just something that evolved over time out of necessity more than anything else. Still, her words sank in and he realized deep in his heart that it was true, and he found comfort in that.

"So there's one more nice thing that this virus created," Maggie continued, elbowing him gently to keep the mood light. "You know that you and Daryl would never have crossed paths in the old world. Unless he was bailing his dickhead brother out of your jail. Even then I doubt you would have struck up a conversation. It's funny how fate plays its little games. You probably never imagined that Shane would ever betray you, and you'd end up being brothers with a redneck," she finished wistfully, laying her head against his shoulder to soften the painful reminder of his late best friend. "Yeah, he'll be alright. He's got you and Little Asskicker. He may hang on your every word Sheriff, but that little girl of yours has got him wrapped around her tiny finger."

Rick smiled, tilting his head to rest on hers, thinking that sometimes this life wasn't so bad after all.

Notes

Comments

:D

The Viking The Viking
1/22/15

Deffinately not a couple that i had ever given thought to, but you write it very well and I actully really like the story :)

Jbmediazz Jbmediazz
12/14/14

LOVE your story!! Rick and Maggie are one of my favorite pairings, and you certainly do them justice! ;) Keep up the awesome work!

~Ariel

bluecrush611 bluecrush611
12/14/14

I really like this story - keep the updates coming!

LaurenJ LaurenJ
12/7/14