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A Breath of Hope

Chapter Twenty


Six weeks after their 'first date', Maggie wakes alone on a beautiful, unusually crisp, late summer day. Rick spent the eve before their wedding on the couch downstairs, so as not to break the tradition of seeing the bride before the ceremony. She can't believe she's only a few hours away from becoming Mrs. Grimes.

She looks across the room at the beautiful gown hanging over the back of her bedroom door. She'd found the simple but elegant dress on a raid of a David's Bridal store in Jackson, after failing to get close to the bridal shop in Hampton due to the amount of undead invading the area. She had gone with Daryl and Michonne and they hadn't bothered trying anything on, she and Michonne just grabbed a bunch of dresses that Maggie had liked while Daryl loaded up on simple black tuxes for he and Rick. He also grabbed a couple of smaller suits for Carl, just in case the guilt-ridden teen changed his mind about the ceremony.

The dress Maggie had fallen in love with was an ankle length, white sleeveless gown with a crisscrossing, tightfitting pleated pattern on top with a small cluster of rhinestones off-center near the left hip, giving way to a sheer layer of thin chiffon over solid white satin with an inverted vee slit to the left knee. It was perfect for her intimate, summer wedding.

For the groom, she and Rick chose a masculine, two-button black tux with satiny lapels that only needed some slight altering which Carol was able to handle with very little difficulty.

The last few weeks had gone by in a blur, with everything falling into place very nicely. They were extremely happy when Tyreese informed them that he had actually been ordained as a minister a few years before The Turn to marry a gay couple that he had been very close friends with, and that he'd be honored to perform the ceremony uniting them as well.

Though it wouldn't have mattered to them either way, it is nice to believe that their marriage really will be official in the state of Georgia. Even though there is no longer a functioning Town Hall to file their records, Beth had drawn up an official looking certificate for them to sign, more as a memento of this special occasion. Maggie also plans to document today's date on the worn pages of the old family bible, knowing it's what her father would have done for the sake of posterity.

A knock on her door breaks into her thoughts, "Maggie? It's Carol. You need help getting ready, sweetie?"

She wishes her mom could have been here for this day, but she's so grateful for Carol's presence. Ignoring the lump in her throat, she opens the door to the woman who had become a mother figure to all of them.

~ / ~

Daryl steps off the porch with purpose in every stride. Rick is currently using his bedroom to get dressed while Carol helps Maggie upstairs. As the best man, he should be assisting the groom with whatever little details the husband-to-be may need before the ceremony, but Daryl feels he would be most helpful in talking to a certain sullen teenager. He is truly honored to be Rick's best man when his brother marries Maggie, but he knows that Carl was Rick's first choice, rightfully so.

He finds the young man near the shed, cheerfully throwing Bailey's favorite stick again and again while the black lab sprints to retrieve it over and over, neither one getting tired or bored of the redundancy. He'd come out to have a friendly chat with the teenager to see if he would reconsider being the best man for his father's wedding, but with every step he'd taken toward Carl, Daryl had gotten more and more irritated until he was standing a few feet from the teenager, infuriated.

Watching the kid throw a stick for the dog as if this day were no different than any other annoyed Daryl beyond reason. He knew he was overreacting but couldn't fight the resentment building inside as he watched Carl act like he was just killing some time before beginning his normal daily chores around the farm. But this was not just a normal day - it was special for all of them.

Carl looks over his shoulder when Bailey runs past him without stopping to drop the stick at his feet. He sees Daryl walking toward him – or rather stomping toward him – so he swallows the friendly greeting he was about to give his idol, taking a step backward instead at the angry look on the man's face.

"Don't worry, Carl, yer dad don't need yer help with anything. But thanks for offerin'." Venomous sarcasm drips from every word as he fumes at the selfish teenager. He begins to walk away but turns back suddenly, unable to hold back the storm raging inside him.

"Yer mom died and that sucks, I get that. But she ain't here and yer father is and today is really important to him. You should be standin' next to him instead of hidin' in the back row pretendin' that yer mom's proud of you. Find yer balls and stand up for yer old man!"

"I can't. I can't do that to my mom," Carl responds, miserably adamant.

"I guess you ain't noticed - but you got a shitload of mamas between Carol, Michonne, Sasha and yeah – Maggie. Don't tell me yer mom ain't grateful for all of 'em. And if Rick wants to marry Maggie – she wouldn't mind that neither and you know it." Daryl aims an accusatory finger at the boy's chest as he drives his point home. "You wanna sit this out – fine! But don't you fuckin' act like today don't mean nothin'." Daryl walks away feeling like shit for pretty much ruining any chance of Carl even coming to the ceremony now, much less standing up as the best man. That did not go nearly as well as he had planned. Way to go, dickhead.

~ / ~

"Nervous?"

Rick smiles at his best man as Daryl joins him in front of the arched trellis they'd placed near a small copse of trees between the barn and the house. Sasha and Kristy had spent hours the day before picking wild flowers to decorate the white arch and create an aisle on the grass leading up to it with a floral border of various degrees of purples, reds, yellows and blues.

"Nope," Rick replies with a smile that lights up his cerulean eyes. "Easiest thing I've ever done."

Tyreese asks Rick if he's memorized his vows as Daryl watches Carl stand up from the porch step in the distance, where he'd been sitting for the past half hour. He's happy to see the teenager wearing a suit, however ill-fitting it may be, proving that he does intend to watch the ceremony at least. Daryl tries to ignore the boy as he advances on the small group gathered by the trees, but can't help but make eye contact when Carl walks past the others to stand directly in front of him. The hunter knows why he is there, but refuses to make it easy for him. He levels the kid with a steely glare and asks, "You find 'em?"

"Yeah," Carl smirks at the reference to his balls. "I got this."

"'Bout time." Daryl claps him on the back and then turns to Rick, extending his right hand for a firm shake while his left hand grips the groom's shoulder. "He'll take you from here, brother."

Rick shakes Daryl's hand in a state of confusion after watching the odd exchange, not sure exactly what had just transpired. A moment later, it becomes abundantly clear as Daryl reaches into his pocket and takes out the gold wedding bands he was entrusted to hold as best man. He places them in Carl's outstretched palm and then moves to stand with the others on the far side of the aisle. Rick is suddenly speechless from the emotions clogging his throat when his son steps into the space that Daryl had just vacated - the place for his best man.

"I know this is where I belong, Dad. I'm sorry it took me so long to get here."

Overwhelmed with sentiment, pride and gratitude, the former sheriff fights the tears that he feels brewing behind his eyes as he lays an arm across his son's lanky shoulders, pulling him in for a heartfelt hug. His son's gesture rocks him to his very soul, but the ground beneath his feet had never felt more solid, and for that, he is eternally grateful.

Just as he gains control of his emotions, Tyreese's eyes widen and a huge grin splits his dark face as he looks over Rick's shoulder in the direction of the house.

Rick turns to see his daughter at the end of the aisle dressed in a pretty, white lace dress, looking like a miniature bride herself, holding a small basket of flower petals while Beth holds onto her other hand. He smiles at his little girl and then looks up to see his bride standing a few feet behind her.

His heart skips a beat as a breath gets caught in his throat at the sight of this enchanting woman and all of the emotions she invokes in him. Her hair is beautifully pulled back on one side with a barrette, concealed by a white Cherokee Rose placed strategically in her glossy, sun-streaked brown hair, and her dress is absolutely gorgeous, but the only thing he sees is the shy little smile that she gives him, an invitation that holds incredible promises.

Sasha presses the Play button on the CD player to begin Mendelssohn's traditional Wedding March, compliments of David's Bridal in Jackson.

While Carol encourages Judy to walk up the aisle, maid of honor Beth walks behind the toddler reaching over her dainty shoulder to pull out and drop a few petals along the way.

When the girls are about halfway up the flowery aisle, Maggie begins to walk gracefully toward the man of her dreams. He's not a perfect prince that rode in on a magnificent steed to sweep her away to a fairy tale life of happily ever after, but he has saved her life in every sense of the word and continues to give her a reason to live each and every day. He is noble and gallant and everything that is good in this godforsaken world, and he is hers.

Her eyes lock onto his, never breaking contact until she is at his side.Looking down at the bouquet of flowers that Sasha had created for her, she pulls out a white gardenia.Breaking a few inches off the stem, she tucks the flower into her groom's breast pocket as he watches her with complete adoration in his eyes.

Rick didn't think he could ever love her more, until she steps to the side to embrace his son. He watches her hug Carl tightly, whispering genuine words of thanks in his ear before kissing his cheek and then wiping the remnants of lip gloss away with a tearful smile.

When Maggie moves back into position at Rick's side, she takes his hand and gazes up into his stunning blue eyes, giving him a brilliant smile that says she's ready. "Hi, handsome."

"Glad you could make it," he says softly, heart in his throat and unable to take his eyes off of her. "God, you're beautiful." The world around them fades away as they get lost in each other's eyes, grasping the magnitude of becoming husband and wife. They see only each other until Ty's voice penetrates the fragile wall of the invisible border surrounding them.

"We are gathered here today to join together Richard Grimes and Margaret Greene in holy matrimony."

Carl watches his father take Maggie's hand in his own while Ty speaks of the joys and commitment of marriage. Seeing the way his dad and Maggie are looking at each other, makes him believe that they truly belong together, and maybe his mom really would understand. She might even forgive Carl for participating in the ceremony. He proudly hands the wedding bands to his father as Tyreese instructs the bride and groom to face each other for the exchanging of vows.

Rick places the gold band on Maggie's left ring finger and looks deeply into her eyes. Speaking straight from his heart, he declares his unwavering devotion to her. "Maggie, I promise to honor and respect you with every beat of my heart. I will cherish every moment we have together in good times and in bad. I will laugh with you and cry with you. I will protect you with my life, and love you 'til my last dying breath. As I have given you my hand to hold, so I give you my life to keep."

Maggie then proclaims her promise of love and commitment to him, placing the larger gold band onto Rick's ring finger.

When Tyreese happily pronounces them husband and wife, Rick kisses his bride to the sound of cheers and tears as their family members celebrate this momentous occasion.

Once all of the congratulatory hugs have been given, the longest and most emotional being between father and son, Rick lifts Judy into his arms, settling his little girl on his hip as he takes his wife's hand to follow the group over to the newly constructed barn for a small reception.

After five weeks and many trips to the lumber yard, roofing supplier and Home Depot for all the wood, nails, cement mix and odd tools that Hershel hadn't owned, they'd completed the barn under Daryl's instruction. They'd equipped it with supplies from the Casey's barn, but before introducing the horses to their new home, they'd decided to use the new structure as a reception hall.

Kristy presses Play on the first CD that Maggie wanted to hear.They all gather around the bride and groom as Carol takes Judy so Rick can enjoy the first dance with Maggie.

When the music fills the dance floor and the couple sways to the lovely notes and romantic tempo accompanying Meatloaf's crystal voice, Maggie sings the lyrics to her husband, gazing lovingly into his eyes as they hold each other closely.

"And I will keep you safe and strong and sheltered from the storm,
No matter where it's barren, a dream is being born,
No matter who they follow, no matter where they lead,
No matter how they judge us, I'll be everyone you need."

"No matter if the sun don't shine or if the skies are blue,
No matter what the ending, my life began with you,
I can't deny what I believe, I can't be what I'm not,
I know this love's forever, I know no matter what."

The afternoon is spent dancing, eating, singing karaoke – thanks to Michonne and Ty's raid of a party store – and just enjoying the escape from the unforgiving grind that this world forces them to live on a daily basis. Though the trench has proven to be a very effective barrier against unwelcome walkers, they still keep an eye out after living in fear for so long. Daryl checks the perimeter every so often, between dancing with Carol, Kristy and his Little Ass-Kicker.

As the afternoon drifts into evening, and the CD is replaced for the sixth time, Maggie decides that she has shared her husband long enough. "Is it too early to say goodnight to everyone?" she asks Rick with her head against his shoulder, the starchy material of his white dress shirt itching her cheek as they dance to another slow song while her hand absently caresses his lower back.

"Probably, but who cares." He scoops her up into his arms, prepared to carry her all the way back to the house and over the threshold into their bedroom. He carries her to the front of the barn and turns to face their family. "We want to thank all of you for sharing this day with us, and for all your help getting us to this point. It really means a lot to us," he adds, looking directly as his son. "Now, if you don't mind, we're gonna say goodnight, so we'll see y'all in the mornin'."

Before he can turn to walk away, Carol stops him from leaving. "Wait, Rick. We thought you'd like some privacy on your wedding night, so us girls prepared a little getaway for your honeymoon. Unfortunately you won't be able to carry her over the threshold, but we think you'll like it."

"What did you guys do?" Maggie asks, a spark of excitement lighting her eyes as she smiles warmly in her husband's arms.

"Well, climb up that ladder and see for yourself," Beth tells them as she comes to stand next to Carol.

Rick looks down at Maggie and tilts his head in question, "Shall we, Mrs. Grimes?"

"Let's go." She grins up at him as he lowers his left arm to set her on her feet at the base of the ladder that leads up to the loft. He follows her up each wooden rung and steps onto the platform next to her. He follows the direction of her gaze to the far corner and sees a romantic display of satiny white walls surrounding a white sheeted air mattress tucked into the corner of the loft. The breeze blowing in through the nearby window stirs the satin covering the walls and what appear to be crates on either side of the mattress, giving the romantic setting an ethereal quality. There is a battery lantern on each 'night-stand', along with an unopened box of condoms waiting innocently in the center of the mattress.

Maggie realizes that the girls must have taken several of the extra gowns that they'd collected from David's and cut them strategically to cover the walls and floor. "It's perfect."

As the others begin to clean up all evidence of a party, the bride and groom climb back down to personally hug each family member, taking extra time with Carl and Judith, before saying a final goodnight.

When Maggie and Rick finally find themselves alone, he follows her up the ladder once again, over to their private retreat, and down onto the mattress next to her. Propped up on his right elbow, his left hand covers hers where it lay just below her breasts as she lays flat on her back. He looks at their matching gold bands and is suddenly overcome with gratitude, extremely thankful for this incredible woman and the remarkable life they've built together in a wretched, post-apocalyptic world. "Thanks for marrying me."

"You're welcome. I love you."

"I love you more."

"Never," she replies before his lips touch hers softly.

He kisses her tenderly, savoring her sweetness and treasuring the feel of her beneath him as she welcomes his tongue inside her mouth. Leaving her breathless, he kisses his way over her jaw and down her throat.

"Honey, I don't want to use a condom tonight," she whispers against the crown of his head as he presses soft kisses to the creamy skin between her breasts.

He looks up at her suddenly, as apprehensive as a medieval knight preparing to run the deadly gauntlet. "What? Are you sure?"

"Yes," she responds, looking at him with absolute conviction. "I want to have a baby. I want to have your baby, Rick."

After a fleeting look of terror shadows his eyes at the memory of another pregnancy that did not end well, he looks deeply into hers and knows in his heart that she is meant to be a mother. He puts his faith in her confidence and the fear slowly recedes as he imagines her with a distended belly that holds his child. Their child.

He makes love to her reverently, worshiping her body and soul. Their tongues mesh together hungrily as their bodies become one, melding in a rhythm that takes them beyond the boundaries of comprehensive thought. Just one man, one woman, one heart beating in an ancient rhythm known as true love. And when he spills his seed inside her womb, it ignites a spark that promises a future of laughter and joy. Their future… which all began on a breath of hope.

~ The End ~


Epilogue

Maggie sticks the colorful candles into her son's first birthday cake as little Andy sits comfortably in his father's lap.

Andrew Hershel Grimes had entered the world a year ago today, kicking and screaming to his parents' delight. Though it had been an uneventful pregnancy, other than the usual bout of morning sickness, and an uncomplicated delivery on a warm spring evening, Rick hadn't breathed easily for nine months, until he held his exhausted wife and healthy newborn son in his arms, tears streaming down his cheeks as he inhaled deeply, finally.

A year later, with bright blue eyes, stubborn cleft in his chin and brown hair that is beginning to curl at the ends, Andy is the spitting image of his daddy.

Rick looks around at everyone gathered for the celebration, amazed at how far they've come, especially Daryl and Carol who are the only ones left from the original Atlanta group, other than Carl and himself. Whoever would have believed that they'd end up married to each other? But he really wasn't surprised when the two had disappeared for an entire afternoon shortly before Andy was born, and come back wearing matching gold wedding bands and subtly referring to each other as husband and wife.

Rick looks over to see his sixteen year old son setting up the volleyball net in an attempt to impress his girlfriend Jenny, the seventeen year old that moved into the Casey farm five months ago when Daryl found her and eight others surviving in the woods after losing a large number of their original group. They were extremely happy to welcome them as neighbors when they found out Jenny's uncle was a doctor, which came in handy when Kristy sprained her wrist last month. They'd helped their new friends build a trench to fortify their home and worked together on supply runs, forming a tight little community.

A strong breeze takes a paper plate and a few napkins from the picnic table, swirling the items in its feathery grasp before discarding them about the recently mowed lawn. Rick looks up at the billowing clouds floating across the dark blue sky, thinking they are probably going to get a good downpour tonight. Storms usually rile the walkers a bit so they may find a few more in the trench come morning. They've been averaging about three or four a month, the largest group having been nine roamers that staggered through the property one cold afternoon in February. He glances over to the orange construction fencing running the length of the trench for the kid's safety, wondering how many they will get tonight.

Rick sees Tyreese walk over to help Carl with the volleyball net. The big man hasn't been the same since they lost his sister on a run the year before. Michonne helps him get through day to day, but she can't erase the guilt that he feels for not saving Sasha in time. Rick, champion of guilty consciences, had tried counseling him through his grief, but her death was hard on all of them.

Living in an animalistic world where only the fittest survive, they've grown accustomed to scrounging for necessities and fighting monsters both living and once-dead, but losing one of their own never got any easier. It was especially difficult for Tyreese to lose his little sister, but he's learning to move on, carrying her spirit with him as she rests beneath the big oak tree with Sophia, Dale and the special marker for Hershel where they buried his favorite cigars.

Now Ty laughs with Carl as two and half year old Judy tries to climb the thin ropes staked into the ground, causing the net to lean in an unprofessional angle. Beth pries the little girl from the rope and spins her around in a circle, tiny ballet slippers swinging outward before they both fall to the ground in a fit of giggles, soon to be joined by Kristy, Jenny and never to be left out of a melee at her ground level – Bailey.

Rick laughs at his daughter's antics, thankful for the joy she brings to all of their lives. Children truly are a blessing, more so now than ever before. He looks down at his youngest son, a miniature version of himself, feeling unbelievably grateful that Maggie convinced him to take a chance on their wedding night.

Andy looks up at the sound of his father's laughter, cerulean blue eyes gazing back at each other. Rick smiles at his son, unaware of his wife reaching for the Polaroid camera that Michonne had found on a run with Simon and Colin from Jenny's group. He doesn't notice her aim the lens in his direction. He has no idea that he is the focus of her attention until he hears the distinctive click and whirr of the camera as she snaps the photo. "Hey." He smiles up at her in surprise.

"Hey, yourself." She snatches the square photograph as it slides out of the camera and hands it to Rick to watch the image take shape. She kisses the top of her little boy's head and moves to stand behind them, resting her arms on her husband's shoulders as the picture develops before their eyes.

When the image sharpens to definitive lines and bold colors, the ex-sheriff sees a child looking into his father's eyes with absolute trust, a genuine belief that he will be taken care of and loved unconditionally. Rick hopes never to break that trust.

Hershel once said that God was testing them. Rick hopes he will have given his children enough resolve and compassion to see it through, and instill the same values into their own children. And if enough survivors out there carry the same code of grace and fortitude – in time, he believes they just may be able to pass God's test.

Notes

Many thanks to those of you who have been following this story. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. My sincerest thanks to my dear friend, Ariel (AKA bluecrush611) for being there for me every step of the way. There is no way I could have done this without you! You're the best :)

~ Caren

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