Disclaimer - This is a fanfiction. All characters and The Walking Dead belong to AMC, Skybound, and were created by Robert Kirkman.
Night blanketed the Alexandria Safe Zone as Rick and Michonne made their way back towards their home. A few stars stood out in the sky and the gentle breeze ghosting through the streets left Rick feeling somewhat peaceful even though he had been threatened with war just a few hours ago. He was in a pretty good mood.
“Lori and Carl are probably waiting up in the living room,” he said to Michonne as she strolled beside him, her sheathed sword in her right hand. “We should talk about what we're going to do about Negan.”
Michonne nodded. Deciding how to deal with the madman perching himself on their doorstep was definitely their first agenda. Before she made it home, though, she wanted to make sure Rick understood what kind of situation they would be facing since she decided to continue her cohabitation with him. “It's probably gonna take some getting used to from them,” she said. “Me being there.”
Rick glanced over at her. “Yeah...” he said.
It would take some getting used to from him as well. His family was back and he was also in a unifying marriage with a woman he had come to respect and appreciate.
“We'll probably have to discuss our living arrangements among other things-”
Michonne and Rick turned to look at Daryl and Glenn, who were running up to them. They were out of breath as if they were in a rush to say whatever they had to say. Michonne automatically gripped her sword tighter, reading the urgency of the situation.
“Are the Saviors still there?” she asked.
It seemed that the Saviors surrounding their community had left earlier that morning so Rick had sent Daryl, Glenn, and some others to investigate the nearby surroundings and also to check up on Scott and Spencer; the two men had not re-entered the Alexandria Safe Zone.
“No,” Daryl answered Michonne. “They're gone. But so are Scott and Spencer.”
Rick held back a curse that came to his lips.
“You think the Saviors took them?” Michonne asked while Rick dealt with the news.
“Had to be,” Daryl responded.
Glenn looked towards Rick. “If we go after them, we're starting a war,” he said. “What do you want us to do?”
“We can't leave 'em out there,” Daryl said, giving his input.
Rick looked toward Michonne. She could only give him a sympathetically pensive look. She had no answers.
“Hey, man,” Daryl said, getting Rick's attention. “I know they're your family and everything, but...have you considered...?”
He couldn't force himself to finish the sentence, but he didn't need to. The words he left hanging were obvious. 'Have you considered that they could be working with Negan? Have you considered that they may not be trustworthy? Have you considered that they aren't your family anymore?'
Rick gave Daryl a hard stare. “They had nothing to do with Spencer and Scott being taken.”
“Uhh...They kind of did...” Glenn said. “They knocked them out and left them out there!”
Rick's hard stared moved to Glenn. “They're not working with Negan,” he growled.
He was starting to regret ever telling Glenn and Daryl that Lori and Carl had returned. He hadn't told the rest of the community yet, and judging from Glenn and Daryl's need to point fingers – he was wondering if he should.
“I'm just saying it's somethin' you gotta think about...” Daryl relinquished, ending the argument there.
“We're going to figure out what to do about Negan tonight,” Michonne told Daryl, giving him a reassuring nod. “Don't worry.”
Rick and Michonne managed to convince Daryl and Glenn to wait until the morning when they would have something concrete.
They made it home and opened the front door to find Lori and Carl sitting on the sofa in the living room – waiting up, just like Rick said they would be.
“What's she doing here?” Carl asked when he saw Michonne trail in behind Rick. The only thing that matched the scorn in his voice was the scowl on his face.
“She's here to talk about what we're going to do about Negan,” Rick answered. “The two of you have to tell us everything you can that would be helpful. Negan's men have taken Spencer and Scott.”
“Who are Spencer and Scott?” Lori asked from her seat on the couch. Carl was perched on the arm of the couch beside her.
“The men you two left unconscious outside the gates,” Michonne said, staring at first Carl then Lori. “The man whose shirt you're wearing.”
Lori gripped the fabric of the shirt – the physical evidence of her guilt - between her fingers. “Oh...” she said.
Carl continued to stare at Michonne contemptuously; she stared back at him.
“Just tell us everything about the Sanctuary,” Rick said. “Tell us where the weapons are, what the guard setup is like, who Negan's most trusted people are. And tell us about Negan himself – how he operates. Can you do that?”
Lori nodded. “Yeah, yeah, I can do that.”
“Good,” Rick said. “Because we only have a week, maybe less.”
Lori told them as much as she could. And what she couldn't tell, Carl filled in the blanks.
Negan was holed up in a factory about thirty miles away and he had outposts in different areas. So his weaponry, some of his supplies, even some of his people weren't in the same place. This definitely complicated things. Not only did he have more men, but he had created a systematic network. A network that catered only to him.
Lori told them that there was no one at the Sanctuary that Negan treated as a true equal. He was the head honcho and he made that clear through his use of people.
Rick bit his lip as he thought about that.
“How many wives does he have?” Rick asked Lori.
“About twenty now...” she answered. “Why?”
Rick looked over at Michonne. His eyes sparked with the fire of an idea. “What are you thinking?” she asked.
“You thought it was really important for me to bond with my people...” he said.
Michonne nodded. “Yeah?”
“I can't imagine Negan's people are very happy with him right now...”
Realization dawned on Michonne's face. She knew exactly what he was getting at.
“You want to use his numbers against him,” she surmised. “Create an uprising among his own people...”
“How would you do that?” Lori asked.
“It wouldn't be easy,” Rick admitted. He looked at Michonne. “We'd have to pretend to play along by Negan's rules for a while...”
Lori's face paled. “Wouldn't that mean...I'd have to go back? I mean...the only way he'll compromise is if I go back...”
“No,” Rick said quickly, stopping her panicked thoughts in their tracks. “You're not going back to him; I wouldn't let that happen.”
“I don't see another option,” Lori said. “Negan gets what he wants. Period. If he came and told you that the deal is that I go back with him or it's war...he's not going to settle for anything else...”
The four people reached a stalemate in their plans. From how Lori described Negan, none of them could figure out a way that would allow him to be satisfied with them keeping something that he felt belonged to him.
Michonne stepped out onto the porch with Rick to talk while Lori made coffee in the kitchen. They didn't hear Carl follow them out until he was speaking. “It's a good plan,” he said.
Rick turned to his son. “What?”
“Turning his people against him. It's a good plan. That's what I was gonna do.”
Michonne and Rick shared a glance. “What do you mean, that's what you were gonna do?” Rick asked.
“There are some people there who aren't very happy with Negan,” Carl said. “There are a lot of people who dislike him; the difficult part is just convincing them to do something about it. They're afraid. But I figured if I proved myself by taking this plact, that others at the Sanctuary would be more willing to follow me. And I would eventually get them to take the Sanctuary back from Negan.”
Michonne and Rick shared another glance. Michonne had to admit she was pretty impressed. It was a well-thought out plan, albeit a little expansive, but well-thought out nonetheless. Especially for a thirteen-year-old kid.
Rick nodded, having mixed feelings about how much his son had grown since they had last seen each other. “The only problem is...how do we buy enough time to implement a strategy like that without turning your mom over to him?”
“I know a way,” Carl said. Rick waited for him to speak. After a moment, the teenager nodded towards Michonne. “Trade her for mom.”
Michonne's brow furrowed. She took immediate offense to the request. Rick felt the same way. “No,” he said immediately, his face screwing up into a mask of confused derision. He wondered how his son could even say something like that. “Besides,” Rick stated quickly to dismiss the topic completely; he could feel Michonne bristling beside him. “I doubt that would appease a sociopath like Negan. He wants us to play by his rules. Changing the rules isn't exactly an option.”
“There's a chance it wouldn't work,” Carl said, not backing down. “But there's also a chance that it would. I know Negan. He'd be...amused. Plus...” Carl glanced Michonne's way. “He'd like her.”
“Carl, go back inside,” Rick clipped, his voice hard. He had heard enough.
“And don't you need someone on the inside?” Carl asked, his voice rising as he pushed his point further. “You could more easily-”
“Go back inside!” Rick shouted.
“What's going on?” Lori asked, appearing in the doorway.
Carl glowered silently for a moment, then turned on his heel to push past his mother on his way into the house. Lori watched him go questioningly then turned back to look at Rick. “What's going on?”
“Nothing...” Rick said, his hands on his hips. “Go talk to him. Michonne and I need to figure out what we're going to do.”
Lori stared at him for a moment more before she disappeared back inside to go check on Carl.
Once the door clicked shut, Michonne and Rick faced each other. The quiet night seemed that much quieter.
“I'm sorry about that...” Rick started.
Michonne shook her head. “It's okay,” she said. “I'm more upset that it's a pretty sound plan than the fact that he said it-”
“Stop,” Rick said, cutting her off. “We're not even going to consider it.”
“Oh, I'm not considering it,” Michonne said, thinking of Andre. “I can't leave Andre again.”
Rick nodded, glad to hear it. “We'll think of something else.”
“What do we tell the rest of the community about Carl and Lori?” Michonne asked. “I don't know if it's fair to keep their being here a secret.”
Rick sighed. He wanted to put off thinking about this. He leaned his hips against the railing surrounding the porch and crossed his arms over his chest. “You saw how Glenn and Daryl reacted,” he said. “If I tell everyone else, there'll be a witch hunt. They'll want to send them straight back to Negan if they think that'll keep him off of our doorstep.”
Michonne smirked. Her eyes trailed the sinewy muscles of his forearm as they presented themselves due to his posture. She remembered the strength of those arms as he held her against his chest earlier that morning in the armory. Unguardedly, she reached forward and gently grasped his arm. “I think you should put a little more trust in the people around you...”
Rick immediately unfolded his arms and took her hand in his, responding to her touch.
“Yeah?” he asked.
“Yes,” Michonne affirmed. A smile graced her face as their connected hands hung between their two bodies.
A gentle tug from Rick's end caused her to take a couple of steps toward him and she almost forgot that there had been a major change in their lives until the door opened behind them.
Rick and Michonne quickly released their hold of each other's hands and Michonne stepped away.
“Rick, I have to talk to you,” Lori said from the doorway.
“Oh...Okay,” Rick said. He pushed himself away from the railing and looked down at Michonne. “We'll continue this later, okay?” he said quietly.
Michonne nodded and she had to remind herself that he was merely talking about their plans to counteract against Negan and not anything else.
She watched him disappear into the house and then the door closed again. She was left alone on the porch.
Unbidden to her mind, came questions of how wise it was to actually continue living with Rick. It had been no secret that the absence of Rick's family haunted him everyday. During the time that she had been married to him, they had managed to form a mutual connection and bond, but was it fair of her to stay in Rick's orbit while he tried to figure things out? Maybe she was only confusing him. Maybe he needed his space...
While pondering these things, she almost missed the movement of a lone figure skulking away into the darkness.
She picked her sword up from where it had been leaning against the railing and slung it onto her back.
'Who is that and where are they sneaking off to?' she wondered, as she she descended the steps of the porch and decided to find out.
Lori faced Rick in the living room. Her arms were crossed over her chest and she shook her head apologetically. “Carl told me what he said,” she admitted. “I'm sorry about that.”
“Yeah...” Rick scratched his chin, not quite knowing what to do about Carl and this entire situation. “It's not really me that needs to hear an apology; I think we should make him apologize to Michonne. You know...Personally.”
Lori cast her eyes downward.
“What is it?” Rick asked.
“I just don't know if that'll work...” Lori responded. “This has all gotta be so confusing for him...He missed you a lot and...I think he feels like with us finding you that we have the chance to just start over again...Michonne being here kind of complicates that...” She bit her lip and glanced up at Rick carefully.
“...Is that how you feel?” Rick asked.
Lori sighed and her tense shoulders fell. “I don't know. You know? It's all been so sudden. I-I don't know what I feel...I mean I-I...I still love you.”
Rick stared at Lori, trying to figure out his own feelings.
“I never stopped loving you. I thought you were dead,” Lori continued. “But I know a lot of things have changed. And we can't really just start back where we left off...”
Just a few months ago, Rick would have tunneled through heaven and earth just to hear these words. Now, he still felt like he was living a dream – but it was no longer a solely blissful one; it was filled with uncertainty and confusion. He was happier than words could describe at having found his family, but everything was different.
Lori waited for him to speak, and when he didn't say anything, she smiled dolefully. “...Do you love her?” she asked.
Rick inwardly searched for the truth. He wanted to be as honest as possible. “I do still love you,” he said. “I don't know if that'll ever change...”
“...But?” Lori supplied.
“But...I can't deny that I feel something for her as well,” Rick confessed.
Lori nodded. She couldn't say she was surprised. “So...” she said, trying to hold back a surprising well of sadness. “What are we going to do about this? Do you want us to move out, or...?”
“No,” Rick said immediately. “No,” he said again. “I don't want you to move.” He knew it may have been selfish, but just for a little while...even if things weren't exactly the same...He wanted to have his family back again. He wanted to pretend those two years that they were separated didn't exist.
Lori nodded again and smiled sadly at the man she now knew to be her ex-husband. It all seemed so regrettable. “Can I kiss you?” she asked... “One last time?”
She walked forward and gingerly placed her hand at Rick's waist. When he didn't pull away, she leaned up and placed a timid kiss against his lips. An uninhibited sigh passed her lips. The familiarity and ghosts of memories that came with the kiss overwhelmed her for a moment. A lump formed in her throat and she pulled back. “...Thank you,” she said, before turning and walking out of the room quickly.
Rick touched his lips. Nostalgia bombarded his senses as well. He sighed, wishing there was a simple answer to everything.
Michonne caught up to the figure just as they reached the gate and she sighed when she saw who it was.
“Daryl,” she whispered; the night seemed to call for it. “What are you doing?”
The archer turned around. If he was surprised to see that she had been following him, he didn't show it. “Going after Scott and Spence,” he answered.
“Hey! Y'all let me out!” Daryl called to the two men on duty.
Michonne grabbed Daryl's arm, confused as to what he was doing. “No!” she said. “Why are you going out there by yourself? We have to wait!”
“For what? For Scott and Spencer to be killed?” Daryl growled.
“No,” Michonne said. “But what are you gonna do? There are hundreds of them; you're just one man, Daryl!”
“Even better. I can get in. Get out. No one'll be the wiser.”
“And you just expect me to let you do this?” Michonne asked.
“I don't see how it has anything to do with you,” Daryl answered gruffly. “Doesn't really have anything to do with anybody. I ain't riskin' nobody's life but my own.”
“Y'all let me out!” Daryl shouted again. The two guards looked at each other in confusion, then they began to open the gates.
Frustration built within Michonne. “Do you even know where to start looking?” she asked.
“No,” Daryl said. “But I can figure it out.”
“Look!” Daryl said, turning towards her. “This is better for everybody! If I can get Scott and Spencer back on my own, we won't have to deal with all the in-fighting when people realize it's because of Rick's wife and son that this psychopathich son-of-a-bitch has come knocking on our door.”
“You can't blame Rick for wanting to keep his family safe,” Michonne defended.
“I'm not,” Daryl demanded. “But other people will.”
“Not if we convince them-”
“We don't have time to convince them!” Daryl argued. “I'm not gonna leave Scott and Spencer's lives on the line while everyone tries to navigate some kinda apocalyptic diplomacy. Nah. I'm going.”
He pulled his bike away from the gate, where it was leaning, and threw his leg over the seat. He revved the engine and Michonne moved into action. She threw her leg over the seat behind him.
“What are you doing?” Daryl asked, turning to look at her.
“I'm not letting you go out there alone,” Michonne said. “No matter what, you need some kind of backup.”
“I'm not takin' you out there!” Daryl said. “Rick would kill me!”
“I guess we're staying here then,” Michonne said. “And we can come up with a plan, gather a few more men, and go out tomorrow to look for them.”
Daryl rolled his eyes, seeing what she was doing. She was betting on him not going if she threatened to go as well.
Little did Michonne know, she underestimated his stubbornness.
Daryl pulled his helmet over his head and revved his engine again. “Stay on or get off,” he said. “It doesn't bother me; I'm going after them.”
Michonne didn't respond but she didn't move from her seat either.
“Fine,” Daryl said.
The motorcycle roared to life and they shot past the boundaries of the ASZ.
'Shit,' Michonne thought, as wind whipped against her face. She turned back to stare at the closing gates of the Alexandria Safe Zone as they disappeared into the distance. Her thoughts went to Rick and Andre and she wished she hadn't been so hasty to jump on the back of the motorcycle of a stubborn archer with a savior complex.
To Be Continued...