A Breath of Hope
Tyreese steps over a fallen tree that is lying across their path. He waits for his sister and Carol to catch up after stopping to refill their water bottles in the flowing stream. The woods are quiet and peaceful, contrary to the turmoil bubbling inside of him. They lost a lot of people today. They lost their home. Their friends are scattered and all he can think about is finding Michonne. He hopes to God that she is waiting for him at the cabin. Their cabin.
She'd found it a couple of months ago during one of her outings and she brought him back the very next day. It wasn't much but it afforded some privacy that was hard to find living with over thirty people under one roof. They cleaned it up and continued to use it once or twice a week, when they could get away.
"Whether she is at the cabin or not, we are going to the farm from there," Carol says. "Right, Tyreese?" she asks the dark skinned man for confirmation of her plan.
"She'll be there," he says adamantly.
"I hope so," the gray haired woman responds, wanting to get to Hershel's farm as quickly as possible so she can hold Judith in her arms again.
"Are you sure you even remember how to get to this farm?" Sasha asks Carol.
"My daughter is buried there. Beth will have Judy there. I'll find it," she answers assuredly, lifting her arm and ducking her head to walk beneath a low hanging branch on the narrow path. "I'm not losing another child," she vows solemnly under her breath, daring God Himself to argue with her. She will miss Lizzie and Mika after growing close with them over the last few months, but knows their father will take care of them - assuming that Sasha was correct when she said she saw them running toward the woods on the eastern side of the prison.
"How much further is it Ty?" Sasha asks her brother as she constantly turns her head to watch for threats along their journey.
"Maybe a mile."
"So how long have you and Michonne been sneaking up here, anyway? And for the record, I knew something was going on between you two! It's so cute." Sasha adds in a high-pitched sugary voice.
"It hasn't been that long," the big man answers, rolling his eyes at his sisters teasing.
"Are you in love with her?" she probes, her voice now filled with concern for her brother.
"Maybe… yeah, I think so." He nods his head as if he is finally accepting it himself.
"Does she feel the same?"
"I'm not sure," he responds, quietly considering the question. "I think I make her happy. I guess I'll know if we find her waiting at the cabin for me." He smiles with hope in his dark eyes.
They come over a rise in the forest and Carol spots a single walker about 20 yards away, stumbling through the trees in their direction. "I got it." She pulls a knife from her boot and closes the distance between herself and the rotting corpse that is now snarling at them. She stops it with one hand on its chest and a quick jab to the center of its head, sinking the blade deep into the brain of what used to be a woman, from the looks of the filthy, torn clothing that hangs loosely from its emaciated frame. Wiping the knife on her jeans, Carol returns to her comrades to continue the trek to Michonne's hideaway.
About forty minutes later, Sasha sees a dwelling up ahead, sitting on a small patch of land next to a good sized lake. "Is that it?" she asks.
"Yes," he answers, craning his neck to look for any sign of Michonne.
Nearing the cabin, they take a wide berth around toward the front, not wanting to give themselves away in case there were strangers inside. As they work their way around, they spot a large brown horse tied to a tree on the far side of the building.
After his heart skips a beat, Tyreese whistles a long high pitch followed by two short notes. In a flash, the cabin door is thrown open and the dark woman with long dreadlocks and intense eyes is enfolded in his thick arms, hugging him like she will never let him go. "I knew you would come."
"I guess maybe she loves you too," Sasha says brightly, surprised to see such an emotional reaction from the woman they all considered to be a tough warrior.
Michonne quickly backs up, stepping out of his embrace at the sound of Sasha's voice. She tries to play it off, but soon realizes that she isn't fooling anyone. Not anymore. She smiles shyly at the astonished Carol and Sasha, and then jumps back into the arms of her lover.
When he sets her down a few moments later, she levels the other women with a stare that could probably freeze hell if she wanted it to. "Not a word or I will gut you both." She lifts her chin, takes Ty's hand and walks calmly into the cabin, leaving Sasha and Carol to exchange a glance that tells each other they are both more comfortable with this Michonne, the warrior that they have been living with for the better part of a year.
In the quiet neighborhood off of Cove Road, the sun's final rays are shining down, bathing the bedroom in a soft orange glow, the shadows beginning their search for the darker corners.
Rick is still sleeping and Maggie would like nothing more than to just sit and enjoy looking at him in such a peaceful state. Unfortunately, that won't help either of them so she sits on the edge of the bed and calls his name softly, gently prodding his shoulder in hopes of bringing him around. His lack of response told her just how worn down Rick was - any other day his police training and cat-like reflexes would have had him on high alert the moment she touched the bed. The moments tick by and he finally opens his eyes to connect with hers, cerulean blue meeting spruce green.
"Is everything okay? Where's Carl?" he asks quickly. Of course he would worry about them first thing.
"He's asleep on the couch in the living room. Everything's fine. I'm sorry to wake you but we really need to get your wounds cleaned up so they don't get infected," she says, reaching for the antibiotic cream she'd left on the bedside table earlier. "Can you take your shirt off? Do you need help?"
"No, I think I can manage." He sits up with a grimace and proceeds to undo the few buttons that still adorn his ragged shirt. He shrugs his shoulders to free himself of the garment and groans at the stiffness that has settled between his shoulder blades.
Maggie leans over and takes hold of the shirt to pull it down off of his shoulders despite his refusal of help. She tosses it onto the floor and gets a good look at his bare chest and shoulders. Being this close to him in such a state has the butterflies in her stomach doing somersaults in triple time, but she has enough wits about her to realize that he is filthy.
"I, uh, think we need to scrub you down," she stammers, placing the ointment back on the table and getting to her feet. "Can you stand up?"
"Yeah, just give me a second to get rid of the cobwebs in my head."
He slowly swings his legs over the side of the bed to place his bare feet on the floor, worming his toes into the soft carpet. The puzzled look on his face tells her he's trying to remember when he had taken off his boots and socks.
"The water's cold but at least its wet and there's plenty of soap," she calls over her shoulder as she walks into the bathroom. She picks up a washcloth and holds it under the faucet, drenching the material.
After a few moments, he limps into the bathroom and slowly sits down on the closed toilet.
"Yeah, but it's getting better."
After squeezing out the excess water, Maggie rubs a good amount of soap into the fabric and begins to wash the dirt from his shoulders. He flinches slightly at the first contact, from the pressure against his bruised skin or from the coldness of the rag - she doesn't know, but he doesn't complain so she continues with her task, tenderly wiping away all the remnants of this morning's battle.
Rick closes his eyes as Maggie rubs the washcloth over his arms and chest, removing the dirt and dried blood, as well as washing away the nightmares that had invaded his nap. He leans forward, elbows on his knees and head in his hands as she rubs the cloth against his aching back. He starts to drift off again, thinking he might really enjoy this if he wasn't so tired. The cool cloth on the back of his neck feels heavenly.
"Ok, sit back."
Her compassionate voice brings him out of his stupor and he sits up straight.
She rinses the dirt out of the washcloth and adds a little bit of fresh soap. She gently washes his face, careful of the cuts on his brow and cheekbone.
"Here." She hands him the rag. "You can do your stomach," she tells him softly, almost nervously. "Then if you lean over the bathtub I can wash your hair for you."
He rubs the cloth over his stomach, not really paying much attention to whether or not he's actually getting himself clean.
Maggie leaves him for a minute and then comes back holding a large pitcher.
"Kneel on the floor here and lean over the tub," she says, turning on the faucet in the bathtub.
He throws the washcloth in the sink and gets down on the floor to kneel by the tub. He doesn't care if his hair is clean or not but he's too tired to argue with her. He braces his forearms on the edge of the tub and leans over, letting her pour cold water over his head and massaging some berry smelling shampoo into his scalp. Her massaging fingers make up for the coldness of the water but he still doesn't see why this is necessary.
After rinsing out all the shampoo, Maggie turns off the water and puts a towel over his head. She rubs the soft material against his dark hair for a minute and then holds out a hand to help him stand up. He takes it, grateful for her assistance.
She hangs the wet towels over the shower stall and leaves him to brush his teeth.
~ / ~
Maggie retrieves the antibiotic cream from the bedside table, picks up the white tee from the chair and heads back into the bathroom.
Rick wipes his mouth on one of the damp towels and leans against the sink when Maggie joins him again.
"This cream may not be as effective as it would have been before the expiration date, but it should help a little." She unscrews the small cap and squeezes a dollop onto her index finger. She covers all of the nicks and scratches in a professional manner, despite her fluttering pulse.
"Thanks." He takes the tee shirt off the counter and pulls it over his semi-wet curls. He limps back into the bedroom and heads straight for the big pillow with the shape of his head still indented in its cushion.
"Wait. I have to do your leg. Take your pants off and sit over here." She points to the ottoman at the end of the bed as her cheeks get warmer and her heart beats faster. She chastises herself for feeling like a silly eighth grader mooning over a boy in gym class, but she just can't help it.
"Now, Rick. Please? I'm more concerned about the gunshot than all the other wounds. Come on, let's just do this quick and you can go back to bed." She hates the slump of his shoulders as he turns toward her.
He gives her a withering look but begins to unbuckle his belt. "Fine." He shucks his jeans down his long legs and sits on the ottoman in his boxer briefs and white tee shirt.
After forcing her restless heart to beat normal once again, Maggie applies antiseptic and a bandage to the ugly flesh wound on his left thigh. She looks up into his tired blue eyes and smiles, hoping to alleviate some of the misery etched into his handsome features. "There, good as new."
As Rick gets to his feet to slowly limp across the room, Maggie barely hears him mutter, "What's the point anyway?" in a voice filled with complete despair infused with exhausted indifference.
Maggie's Irish temper flares and she is standing in front of him before he knows what's happening. "Don't you dare give up on me now! You wouldn't let me give up last year when it was all I could do to get out of bed each day." She fights back the tears and continues her plea. "You made me fight for my life again. You brought me back, so you don't get to quit on me now, not after everything we've been through. The point is you have a son downstairs who needs you… and you have a woman right here who needs you. I care about you - more than you can imagine." With trembling hands, she reaches up to caress his whiskered cheeks and whispers around the tightness in her slender throat, "Please come back to me Rick. Fight for me."
~ / ~
The unshed tears shimmering in her eyes hurt him more than any of the damage his body had endured that day. The thought that he is responsible for putting them there shreds his already broken heart to pieces.
"I don't know how," he answers miserably, regret joining the sorrow weighing down on his soul. "I'm so fuckin' tired of fighting."
She wraps her arms around his shoulders tightly and buries her face in the crook of his neck to hide the tears that are now flowing freely.