A Breath of Hope
"So what are we gonna call her?" Maggie asks Carl as she gives the damp dog a Vienna Sausage while they organize all of the food on the kitchen counter.
"How 'bout Bailey?"
"As in Bailey Lane?" She questions, referring to the street they were currently living on.
"Yeah. It fits her. Do you like that, Bailey?" Carl tries the name as he rubs the dog's scruff, making her tail wag blissfully.
"Nice Irish name, I like it. I think she does too," Maggie smiles at their new pet. "And you really like these also, don't you?" She gives Bailey another treat from the small can of slimy sausages and glances over at all the boxes, cans and bags of food they'd collected. "I wish we could carry all of this food. Or most of it anyway. I don't mind leaving the sardines."
"Hey, wait a minute! There was that small pack next door – the one made for dogs. I'll go get it and she can carry stuff too!" Carl takes two steps toward the front door.
"Carl, wait! Just tell your father first, ok?"
"Yeah, sure." He stops at the railing at the top of the stairs. "Dad?"
Rick looks up from the camping gear spread around the coffee table in front of him. "Yeah?"
"I'm just gonna run to the house right next door. They have a backpack we can put on Bailey."
"Uh… okay. Just be care - ." His words are lost on the sound of the front door closing. "Bailey?" He asks, looking curiously at Maggie standing in the kitchen doorway with the Labrador at her side. He swears the dumb dog is smiling at him.
~ / ~
Standing in the living room in the fading sunlight, they look at all the supplies they've collected over the last two days. The main essentials are in one pile to the side while they figure out which food to take with them on their trek to the farm. They've already discounted the spam and sardines - those can surely wait until they come back with Daryl.
"Carl, you'll need the granola bars and cereal more than the potato chips. Throw that bag into the 'maybe' pile for now," Rick instructs his son while he puts a couple of MRE meals into his own backpack.
"Fine, but I'm definitely taking the Slim Jims."
He looks over Carl's shoulder to see Maggie come in from the hallway with her hands behind her back, the epitome of nonchalance, but he knows her too well. She walks to her backpack and Rick watches her as she very discreetly puts two boxes of condoms inside. She looks up and gives him a coquettish smile, daring him to tell her she can't bring them. He gives her a wink and a smile and turns back to the task at hand.
~ / ~
Rick wakes in the dark bedroom with moonlight filtering in through the open windows, creating silvery highlights in the brown hair of the woman asleep in his arms. Her head is tucked beneath his chin, her breath tickling the curly hairs on his chest while her knees are bent against his groin. His right arm has turned to pins and needles underneath his head and his nuts are in danger of being crushed by her bony knees, but there's no place in the world he would rather be.
He trails his fingertips over her shoulder, down her arm to her hands curled together against his chest. He would love to put a ring on her finger that told the world that she belonged to him, but the tradition of official engagements and planning big weddings seems a thing of the past. He can't run down to the jewelry store and take his time picking out the perfect ring. He can't surprise her with a romantic dinner for two at an expensive restaurant. But he vows to himself that he will find a ring for her someday and get down on bended knee to propose marriage. They will never have an official ceremony followed by a fancy party with a band playing for a hundred of their closest friends and family, but he will put a ring on her finger regardless. She deserves nothing less, and he would love nothing more.
He doesn't know how he lived for thirty-five years without this woman. He had loved Lori for many years, but not like this. Never like this. He had to work to get Lori's attention from the start. She never made it easy for him. They had been happy for a bunch of years at the beginning, but it had never felt easy. This is very different. His relationship with Maggie has always been straightforward and effortless - intense and carefree and explosive and soothing all at the same time. They respected each other equally and knew they could count on the other's support no matter what.
Yes, he had loved his wife, but he never truly needed her. He needs Maggie to fill his heart as much as he needs oxygen to fill his lungs. He knows he wouldn't survive without either.
His fingers trace back up her arm, circling a beauty mark on her shoulder that he's always wanted to touch. He relishes the fact that he is free to do that now.
The butterfly touches dancing on her shoulder bring her awake and she moves her head back to meet his eyes. "Can't sleep?" She asks drowsily.
"Don't want to. I'm gonna enjoy every second that I can with you." He brushes a loose strand of dark hair out of her face and continues to caress her cheek with feathery touches. "Do you have any idea how much I love you?"
"Yeah. Almost as much as I love you."
He raises himself up on his still-sleeping arm and shakes his head slowly. "Not even close. You mean the world to me, Maggie." He cups her chin and traces his thumb over her soft lips. "I swear I will do everything in my power to make you happy."
She shifts onto her back as his head dips down to meet her mouth. Her arms wrap around his neck as he kisses her slowly, passionately, their tongues soundlessly declaring their love for each other.
His hand travels down to the swell of her breast while his lips leave hers to paint kisses along her jawline and throat. Replacing his hand with his mouth, he loves the feel of her fingers massaging his head and the sound of her moans as his hand explores the channel between her legs.
"Oh God, I want you," she pants, desire muddling every thought in her head but that one single notion.
He sits up and reaches behind him for one of the condoms she'd left in the bedside drawer. Taking it out, he slips it over his erection and moves on top of her, settling between her spread thighs.
With a hand braced on either side of her head, he looks deeply into her eyes as the tip of his arousal probes insistently at her entrance. "I love you." He lowers his head, swallowing her reply, filling her mouth with his tongue while his rigid member fills her center. She is incredibly tight around him while her body adjusts to his intrusion. He pulls back slightly and then slides deeper, his tongue mimicking the action inside her mouth.
When his balls are flush against her sensitive skin, he holds himself steady, relishing the feeling of being so deep inside her. His arms tremble as he rises above her, taking in every detail of her beautiful face. The depth of his emotions is mirrored in the green eyes gazing back at him. Moving in and out, slow strokes become faster and then slowing again to make it last.
He folds his arms underneath her shoulders, hugging her to him tightly, cheek to cheek and groin to groin. He loves the way her hands caress his back, kneading the taut muscles and gently clawing at his hot skin. Her hips meet his, thrust for thrust until they are cresting that wondrous peak together.
"I love you, I love you so much." She embraces him firmly, her heart hammering insanely inside her chest.
"Baby, I love you, too." He kisses her neck and begins to lift himself off of her as he tries to catch his breath.
She pulls him back down and tightens her hold, dragging her heels along the backs of his muscled calves. "Not yet."
"Mmmm… if I don't go now I never will," he says, fighting the sleep that is trying to claim him.
"That's ok. Just go to sleep. We'll clean up later."
"Where have you been all my life?" he wonders sleepily.
"Waiting for you," she answers softly, the weight on top of her increasing as sleep carries him away.
~ / ~
"Hey, Dad, look what I taught her." Carl kneels on the carpet in front of the dog. "Sit." Bailey sits on command, looking up at her new master with pride. "Good girl. Give me your paw…good girl." He rewards the dog with a treat from the box he'd found next door, along with the backpack and a leash.
"Carl, she was doing that yesterday. You didn't teach her anything she didn't already know."
"No, watch. Bailey, outside," he commands and they watch the dog go down the steps and grip the front door handle in her teeth, pulling it down to open the door. "Good girl!" The lab bounds back up the steps to her master for a treat and some affection.
"Nice, too bad you can't teach her to shoot." Rick bends over to rub the dog's head. "Alright, let's get the pack on her so we can get ready to hit the road."
~ / ~
"I'm gonna miss that place." Maggie resists the urge to look back over her shoulder at the house they called home for the last three days.
"Me too." Rick gives her a smile, remembering all the tender moments they'd shared in the master bedroom.
"Yeah, but I can't wait to get to the farm," Carl adds. "I can't wait 'til Daryl sees Bailey!" The black lab turns her head at the sound of the now familiar name, stopping in the middle of the street in front of them to wait for a command. "Go on, girl. Keep going." Bailey resumes the lead, tail wagging while the water bottles jiggle inside the pack secured tightly around her torso.
It's a beautiful morning and suddenly the birds aren't the only ones singing. Rick's voice rings out in his smooth tenor, "There she was just a walkin' down the street…"
Without missing a beat Carl chimes in, "Singin' do wah diddy diddy down diddy do."
"Snappin' her fingers and shufflin' her feet," Rick continues.
"Singin' do wah diddy diddy down diddy do," Maggie's voice joins Carl's vocals.
"She looked good," Rick sings.
"Looked good," they echo.
"She looked fine."
"She looked good, she looked fine, and I nearly lost my mind," they all sing in unison with Carl's ever-changing teenage voice cracking badly on the last word.
The trio laughs out loud and Maggie feels a cool breeze whisper on the back of her neck in the still Georgia air. She looks up to the heavens and knows that her father is looking down, laughing right along with them.
~ / ~
The sun is high in the sky as they stop for a break and a quick snack outside an old deli. Sitting around a small wrought iron table, where Rick imagined several old-timers used to spend their mornings rehashing war stories, their peaceful afternoon is disrupted by the growls coming from Bailey as she stares fixedly at the corner of the deli.
As they look in the direction of her focus, two men step around the building and advance toward them.
"Afternoon, gentlemen. I'm Roy and this is my son, Johnny. Ma'am." The tall thin man with gray hair and whiskers tips his head in a friendly greeting, but Rick doesn't trust the good manners for good intentions. He stands up immediately and steps in front of the table, putting himself between the strangers and the people he loves. His right hand rests just above the Colt Python tucked inside its holster against his thigh, more for show than anything, considering he can't shoot well with his injured hand.
"What can I do for you?" Rick greets them calmly.
"Well, for starters you can give us your packs." Johnny, a stocky man with greasy black hair and a missing tooth, leers at Maggie as the older man pulls out a gun and aims it at Rick.
Bailey barks ferociously at the man threatening her family.
"Look, we don't want any trouble - we just want your packs. So hand 'em over and we'll will be on our way." Roy looks around nervously. "And shut him up God dammit!"
"Well, put the gun away and maybe she'll stop barking, you dumb fuck," Rick counters stoically.
He lowers the weapon, aiming it at the ground and Bailey drops her voice to an intimidating growl.
"Okay, here's the deal," Rick begins, fury lying just below the calm exterior. "You walk away now and we'll let you live. 'Cause we really don't want any trouble either."
"Since I'm the one holding the gun, I think it best if you listen to me. So hand it over." Roy waves the gun for emphasis and Bailey takes a step closer to him, still growling.
"Sorry, but there's no way I'm letting you walk away from here with our supplies. Now, there are three of us plus the dog, so you are clearly outnumbered. Even if you shoot me – my friends here will gun you down before I hit the ground. So you walk away now, or not at all. The choice is yours."
The man quickly raises his arm to fire at Rick, but Bailey is quicker as she clamps her sharp teeth through muscle and tendons, right down to the bone of his forearm, bringing him to his knees.
As his father howls in pain, Johnny pulls a dirty knife from his belt but before he can use it, someone slams into his side, knocking the wind out of him as he hits the ground, loosening the knife from his grip.
The ex-sheriff lies across the foul smelling man and reaches for the knife. The struggling form beneath him hampers his efforts but Rick finally grips the knife handle and plunges it straight into the thug's heart, killing him instantly.
Rolling off the dead man, Rick cradles his throbbing right hand, and sees Carl grab the gun from Roy while the dog still has her jaws locked on his arm.
"Johnny! My boy!" The man cries when he notices his son lying on the ground with the knife protruding from his chest. "Aahhh!" He screams, digging his heels into the dirt and trying unsuccessfully to free his arm from the dog's mouth.
Carl aims his gun at the man, stilling him for a moment until his eyes fill with pure rage.
Despite Bailey's grip on his arm, Roy lunges at Carl with his left hand outstretched.Taking a defensive step backward, the teenager watches the man fall at his feet as the bullet from Maggie’s gun puts him out of their misery.
"You okay?" Rick asks Carl, pulling him into a tight embrace after the boy nods his head.
"Are you okay, Rick?"
"Yeah, come here." He pulls Maggie into a hug as the adrenaline starts his heart pounding. "Are you alright, honey?"
"Yeah. It was their choice. I won't lose any sleep over them and neither should you." She hugs him fiercely, extremely relieved that he is still there to hug her back.
Rick feels something against his leg and looks down to see Bailey's soulful eyes gazing up at him. He bends down to grip her furry jowls affectionately. "Thank you, Bailey. You are a very good girl." She rewards him with several warm, wet licks to his face. "Come on, let's get our stuff together and get out of here in case they have any friends hanging around."
"Should we finish him off before he turns?" Carl nods his head toward Johnny.
"Nah, let him come back and eat his old man. The stupid fucking bastards!" Rick shakes his head in frustration at the pointlessness of it all. "Come on. Let's go find our family."