Where it slows

You enjoy sucking on dreams, so I will fall asleep with someone other than you. I had a thought you would take me seriously, and listen on…

Daryl Dixon isn't nervous. Nah. Forget that.

His heart's thundering in his chest from a swift pace under blackened woods, not nerves. The result of slinking through trees prayin you bump into the inanimate and not the animated dead. Plus there was all that stoppin' and goin', letting Rick catch up. Barely familiar with this spot and Dixon could still tell a clear path from a shadowed bush. Not Grimes though, who had to brush knee-on with the shrubs to get a feel for where he was going, get tangled with the shit. But choppin through the foliage, Grimes wasn't stalled for long, powered by adrenaline, nerves.

Unlike Daryl, powered by focus and certainly not nerves. Cuz he ain't nervous. Nah. Never.

The sweat's building at his fingertips from all the exertion, his damp fist squeezing the crossbow in a tight embrace as he whips to his feet and strikes 'er across the human-shaped form lurking too close. Thing doesn't know what hit it, hadn't even seen the fresh meat crouched in the dirt at the edge of the overgrown clearing, nor the other one at his back. Too busy dragging towards that cabin like under a spell.

The cabin is just as he remembers. Broad but no less camouflaged in a covering of vines and trees crisscrossing all sides. And now it sits like a walker retreat under all that moonlight. A light they coulda used when they was stumbling through the dark tryin' to get here. Well Daryl can see just fine now, and he sure as hell don't like the sight.

Daryl's sweaty hands tighten on the bow then unfurl across the calves of another walker skulking near his bush. Rising, he puts it out then sinks back into a crouch.

"Damn it, Michonne," he mumbles.

Didn't they discuss comin back here with people? Not wanderin by one's lonesome, getting caught up in all manners of trouble.

"What was that?" Rick's words are just above a breath. He faces the woods but glances back, his eyes gliding over the cabin as if expecting Michonne to waltz out the front door any minute. Not a thing she'd do, if she was smart. Or alive. Both of which Daryl's hoping like hell to be true.

"Nothin." Daryl crops his chin towards the cabin. "Just wondering how the fuck we're getting this done."

Rick sucks in a terse breath.

"Well, nothing new then."

The shadows clutching Rick's face can't hide the frenzied look in his eyes. Can't hide that slight tremble in his muscles either, surely not from a chill in this balmy air. Could be a result of his half-crouch, though, forcing long limbs in an awkward position. Could also be that he's nervous as shit.

Now Daryl himself ain't nervous, but he don't blame Rick. This is a hell of a situation.

How many are there? Daryl's wonders, squinting at the pack that flock the lodging. Twenty, Forty? Too many to take on direct, that's for sure. Another question; why the fuck are they there?

Rick and Daryl had been doing silent kills along the edges, but there isn't much way to slide a chunk out of a brain soundlessly, and for each kill there's another one waiting, too close and too hungry. So instead of breaking down the mob, the men are crouched in this forest, scents masked by dirt and the spewed walker guts encircling their bush entrapment. Hiding and waiting.

Michonne best be damn thankful that she's worth it.

He releases a rough sigh, one that gets him a nudge in the spine from Rick. Daryl mutters his annoyance on faint breath and refocuses.

No use denyin it, though. That she's worth it.

For even deep in the dirt, literally, Daryl's thoughts rest on a single thing: getting her back to him…them… safe. It takes one blink for a walker to sneak past and get they damning teeth on 'um, but the one thing center in Daryl's mind is how he's gonna get her out of this. And if she's even alright, holed up in that cabin. In one piece and not nursing no bite with the fever burning through her.

No question Rick shares the same concern. The man's been a shook-up bottle of nerves since Maggie let slip that Michonne had gone off and her return overdue. Daryl gets that, and forgives the reckless manner Rick's handled the news, rushing them off without getting they bearings together first. Time's the essence and one missed moment could mean missing everything.

And seein that Rick is sprung on this woman, he'd had no interest in missing his moment.

Still, Dixon also got investments that have him just as…ah, hell he'd own it…nervous, anxious, to get her outta this mess alive.

Plus, he has got to make right with her. And if she die on him, there won't be a way to do that, now would there?

Fact is, its been burning his chest all afternoon. Back with the three of them and that venison, he'd made light of a situation that ain't light. Poking fun at the tension between her and Rick and stirring the man's resentment –that he'd fucked her, that she'd fucked him– only insertin' more space between the two of um. He knew women could be sensitive, so in this case, he was just dense.

Teasing is how he deals with what makes him most uncomfortable; feelings. Brushing over 'um with a shrug or a joke. Much easier than confrontin them.

Daryl snorts. Or not, he thinks, looking around at his dingy reality. Cuz he shrugged and joked and the damned best hunting partner he had ran off without him.

Daryl flinches as two gaping, rotten faces drop before him and roll under the partial shadow. Rick shakes off his machete, the blood whipping across the ground by Daryl's boots.

"There's too many," Daryl declares as Rick falls back to his haunches.

"Why you think that is?"

He can't see Rick's face, as he's turned back around, but the lines of his back are rigid as a sheet of rock.

Daryl squints at the lurking bodies milling about the place, bumping against the structure but making no move to tear it apart. If he could admit it, they looked a bit more gloss-eyed than usual. Like the way someone gets when they arrive to a room but forget what they came for.

"Maybe they saw her," Daryl utters on faint breath. "Got on her trail as she slipped inside, couldn't get in."

Daryl squints at the structure. The door is hardly visible what with the walkers passing and blocking it, but it looks like a solid lumber. Same went for the walls.

"How do we know she's okay?" Rick asks, low, like a private thought that slipped his lips.

It pinches Daryl's stomach to think it, but he does, and so he says it.

"We don't."

Rick's coarse exhale tells all that Daryl can't see, but then he does see as Grimes turns his head around. His eyes are blue and bold under the moonshine, full of unrestrained fervor. Daryl swallows on his dry throat. He's not sure he likes that look.

Maybe Michonne got lucky. Maybe she's safe. But really he don't know and maybe's all he's got to work with.

"We push in," Rick declares.

The man pulls up but Daryl seizes his shoulder to reel him back down.

Dixon holds a hot glare to the man glaring at him. Grimes shifts to shake him off, but Daryl's nails bite deeper, hoping the brief pinch will wake Rick up. Stubborn man; funny how days ago it was Rick doing the restraining. Holding back Daryl from actin rash when he'd been eager to fly into the devil's mouth to get payback for his brother. Now it's Daryl who has to do the thinkin. Stay level-headed about this.

"Don't be a fool," he hisses, though he loosens the hold from Rick's shoulder.

Rick's gaze flashes between the woods, that cabin, and them walkers gathered round it.

"Too late for that," he says.

There's a pause, then Daryl nods in silent agreement.

It's true. They was fools. Fools for her. But they could still try to be smart fools.

Even if Rick's laid a strong claim on her, Michonne's someone to Daryl too. Separate from carnal feelings, even if that pulses strong under the surface, she's the only one since this whole thing, if ever, who knew how to handle him without pushing too close. Standing just at the right close-far distance. He wasn't willing to lose that.

With no one else has he had full conversation with just glances, smirks, and gestures, as he's had with her. The two could talk this way for hours, and they had, huntin together, even sittin round the prison from isolated ends in the room, sizing up the newcomers in the block, sharing judgments about folks in their silent way. Only weeks of knowin her and Daryl feels she'd been here from the start.

She's one of them. Theirs.

And like your own, you do your damnest to get them back. Safe. Even stake out front a walker hotspot, waitin for your chance to make your move, and maybe even dare that crowd.

Sighing, Daryl sets his elbows to his knees.

"Look. If we rush in, she really won't be alright and we won't either," Daryl says.

Dashin through the pack was surely gonna get the walkers riled up and ripping up the damn place. They just couldn't do it.

Rick's shoulders firm, as does his lip.

"Well, I can't sit here any—"

"Shhh."

The man's tone was too loud, drawing over dull gazes. Rick stills, then flinches when a walker starts stumbling in their direction. The walker bumps into a tree and, averted, sags off into the woods somewhere.

When the thrill in Daryl's chest lowers and clouded eyes focus back on the nothingness, the men's rigid shoulders drop.

Rick swallows and tries again, speaking lower.

"I can't sit here any longer." Rick bows his head for a moment before thrusting a hand through his hair, damp and curling with sweat. "Like I said, we gotta push in, but with a plan. Maybe draw up a distraction, take um out at the sides, then get inside."

After a while, Daryl gives a curt nod, eyes trained on the scene. He had to agree. He could think of nothing better.

"Just a matter of how, then."

They both grow quiet, Daryl not knowin what he looks like, 'cept maybe tight in every limb as agitation churns in his blood stream, and Rick looking like he wants to knock his head on a tree or something equally hard. Daryl's breath stops for a moment.

A tree.

No fucking duh.

Once the full idea formulates, Daryl shoves an elbow into Rick's side.

"Aye," he mutters. "We ain't gotta be sitting ducks in the shadows no more. I got it."

Rick hoists back as Daryl mutters his plan in his ear, a determined light pickin up in the eyes with each second.

"Yeah. Yeah," Grimes mutters along. His fist tightens over the machete, more than ready.

Dixon slips up from his haunches with Rick not a second after.

"You sure you can do it?" Daryl asks as they pull back from the bush enclosure. They retreat till the shadows dress them like two firm outlines in the gray.

"I guess we'll find out," Rick answers. He squints ahead, already making a mental pathway. "Can you?"

Daryl shrugs so his crossbow strap tightens at his shoulder.

"Guess we'll find out."

"We'll stop chit-chattin then."

"Meet ya inside."

"Better."

It's said lightly, but Daryl reads the seriousness in it. This is risky.

"Hey." Daryl clips the man on the shoulder. "Go get our girl."

A slight chuckle hits the air.

"Our girl?"

Daryl's lips form a half smirk, hidden under the darkness.

"You heard me."

Rick's laugh is dry, obviously still struggling with any idea of there being a him and him and her, even for a night. Possessive asshole.

"Oh right. Forgive me. Just make them arrows count."

"Got ya covered." Daryl traipses back towards the tree they'd been staked behind, high and thick with just enough ridges to get his foot on. "See ya."

He glances back to flat gray and moon-dusted trees. Rick's already gone.

No time to lose.

Daryl takes a short surge, his heel locking on a knob at the trunk. Ignoring the sharp bite at his palms, he takes hold of either side of the truck and thrusts up, keeping his heaving grunts low. Don't wanna draw them walkers, now. Not yet, anyway.

It's been a while, but a Dixon knows how to climb a tree. Comes with huntin since you was hardly a kneecap tall. Day and night for hours on end, waiting with your brother for dinner to roll along. Dirty good days, those were. Wild dogs were the worse he had to look out for then, though. That and Merle…not yet Pops. Now he's watching out for the living, walking dead, so in comparison, nah, they weren't the worst of times.

Daryl resumes his upward travel when a branch slaps his cheekbone. Enough climbing for him. Finding a steady ledge to rest on, he pries his legs from the trunk and maneuvers to a tree arm, straddling it. He looks down below. The walkers are already stirred up, having heard the rustling of the leaves.

Just fine for him. Cuz he's ready.

"Yo," he calls. Daryl slips the crossbow from its strap and sets it in his scraped, stinging hands, one eye glued to the eyepiece. Walker heads flip around, too dumb to find the source of the disturbance.

"Hey!"

This time the rotten faces shoot up, eyes agape and mouths stretched, spotting Daryl like a juicy human fruit hanging from a tree. "Come on over here. Gotta tell ya'll a secret."

The walkers rush in at once, some slow but some faster, tumbling over on clumsy feet towards Daryl's tree. The bodies pile thick, gathering under the tree with sprawled hands reaching up for him. So far, so good… long as they don't learn how to climb. Stragglers stay glued to the cabin, though, and Daryl swings his hanging feet, making gestures with his free hand.

"Aye, come on! Don't ya'll want in on it too?" Daryl projects his voice as much as he dares. No need to draw any more walkers than there already was. The stragglers twitch and whirl their slow heads about, again confused by the source. Dixon groans but keeps his eyes trained on them, occasionally flashing to the nearby woods where Grimes should be poppin out any second now. Any second…

Ah. There he is. At the clearest spot, to the right of the structure. He stands in idle at the clearing's edge, a light quiver in his muscles, showing how ready he is to take his change. And takes it he does.

Daryl lets loose an arrow.


Rick really hates waiting. Has that been established?

Always worse than the watching, even when the view's a bunch of staggering human monsters. Hell, even worse than the thinking, which the man is trying his damnest not to do. Cuz thinking isn't affording him no comforts right now. Not when each thought is wrapped in doubt, in agitation, in fear.

And yet waiting, this unavoidable evil, slams these feelings at him full force. Soaking his night-cloaked shoulders and shaking tension through his back and shoulders.

The plan is for Rick to run for it. With Daryl luring the walkers from the cabin and covering his back, Rick's to get to the door, get past that door, and lord allow it get Michonne. What comes after that moment is a worry for another hour.

And yet each second he waits worries his frail composure.

Rick's well aware that he needs to take off at the right moment, still every moment he's not looking into her smoky, emotive eyes is its own torture, churning far too many emotions through his gut in a thick, resistant gel.

"Damn," Rick mutters to himself.

He had it bad. Yet he isn't trying to get good. Not anymore.

Rick hates to admit to himself how weak he feels without Michonne. Even before their "pause," he got fidgety when she was away from him too long, even within the semi-safe confines of the prison, liking her in his protective view as much as he liked his own son and daughter under his eye. So for the last time he'd laid eyes on her, his glare cold heat and words dismissive, he'd shown her he did not care, the exact opposite of how he felt, which was caring just too damn much.

But now she'd gone and who knows if she's…

Rick's bones go wobbly and weak; he drops back into a partial crouch before walkers take notice.

No.

Michonne is alive.

This won't be the way he leaves her. Has left her.

Yet there's no way to promise this until he gets inside that godforsaken cabin.

And this is exactly why he can't stand the waiting.

So he'll wait no more.

Daryl dangles like bait from the tree, shouting to attract the walkers' attention onto himself and off of Rick. With most of the them having already stumbled away, it's enough of a chance to dispense of all waiting.

Rick reels in a breath, palms the weight of his machete, and then dives, gaze cutting between a moaning pack of walkers and the door, his destination.

An arrow cuts the air past his head. It lands square in the eye of a walker who'd seemed too attached to the cabin and hadn't moved an inch from the door, even with Daryl's small ruckus. Rick pauses enough to throw Daryl a thumbs-up but doesn't glanced over, focused on the nearby walkers that'd alerted to Rick's presence from that arrow. Grimes takes care of them with a jerk of his machete. Undead blood flicks through the air, slapping his face and shirt. Swiping his brow where the spray had struck, Rick carries on, forcing heavy breaths steady.

It shouldn't be a long way, the dirt clearing no larger than an average yard, though with all these bodies packed within it, it ain't a cakewalk. Skittering at the edges, heads swivel and Rick hacks.

Daryl's doing a damn good job keeping these buzzards entertained. Problem is Rick's fast movements and obtainable, fresh flesh does a number of them too.

Maybe he shoulda waited longer, Rick troubles himself, but promptly shakes off the thought. Nope. Lord knows he couldn't wait.

Besides, he's nearly there now.

A couple strays linger near the cabin and Rick unburdens them of their heads in one swift motion. That door is his now, and he shuffles forward to take it.

Only to be yanked back, an animalistic groan slamming against his ear.

Fuck.

Rick jerks, but the damn thing's strong, heavy and holding on to his shirt, his struggle gathering attention from its friends.

Plink. Daryl's arrow, uncomfortably close as it gusts right into the brain of the aggressive walker. Rick gives Dixon another thumb. Even in the shadows Rick catches the smug smirk in return. Daryl mouths some words, exaggerated enough that Rick can read his lips.

Go get our girl.

A sound cuts from Grimes's lips, primitive enough to sound like a walker. Our girl. Daryl needs to get off of that. Yet if this…three's company thing is to really happen…if Michonne's to honestly co-sign…then maybe, for a night, it'll be true.

Rick shakes his head, disappointed at his base and lustful thoughts.

That is, if she's alive.

Jerking the now re-dead off his back, with a groan Rick throws it at the pack of its curious buds, knocking several down flat. It's all he can manage right now. No time to keep thinning the crowd. Not when it keeps growing fatter and fatter … Rick tenses as a fresh pack of walkers shake free of the bushes.

Another worry for another hour.

The doorknob's stiff but gives when Rick jerks it. Slamming the door behind him, he leaves the clearing's moon for the shadows beyond the frame.

He's inside. And everything's quiet. Dark. At least he can change one of those things.

Sliding out the slim flashlight Daryl had loan him, Rick illuminates the immediate area. Pale wooden floors surround the space around his boots. Normal wear. No blood. No sounds. No nothing.

With just the narrow glow of the flashlight, Rick pushes into the near darkness.

"Hello," he barely whispers, speaking on the faintest breath.

Dense stretches of silence answer him. He continues to move in, flashing the light up and down and at every angle.

"Hello," He calls again. "Michonne…" He speaks low and moves slow, not wanting to disturb any non-Michonne's that may be lurking about.

The quiet dark presses on.

A crisp crunch sounds under his heel. Rick pauses, light down to his shoe in a flash. His brow folds at the crumbled bits of plastic, wires, some batteries. Its identify isn't obvious, and he hasn't the patience to observe further. Not when he notices another something that he hadn't before; a stool. Dropped at its side. His pulse increases, reflecting a beat of tentative hope. His mind is too frazzled to make sense of the crushed device or overturned stool, but it does show someone has been through here. Could very well still be here. Has to be.

"Michonne, are you…?" he lets the words drop as he hears something.

At slight distance, a sharp gasp, like one grabbling for air. Throaty. Familiar. Rick knows that breath. He'd make her breathe like that several times, in more favorable situations.

It's her.

The hairs on his tensed forearms stand on icy edge. He doesn't like this. Not one bit. But he won't shy away now. Rick treks through the space, weapon tight in his grip and agitation loose in his chest, still crooning out that sweet name that's in danger of breaking him.


Michonne's an idiot and she hates everything, but mostly herself.

Just look at her.

Wounded from her fall through those stairs, a wound that comes from one's leg punching through rotten wood.

Vulnerable for the pain makes her immobile, not a practical position when the chorus of walker moans ring outside the walls.

And bleeding, perfect, I'm bleeding… thanks to the pointed edges stuck fast to broken flesh.

Michonne had vowed to never let another take her life. Not a walker and not a human. When she died, it'd be on her own time, by her own means. And while this was her doing, death by a thousand splinters never came to mind.

Michonne deserves this, she knows. She'd headed down those cellar stairs a little too headstrong, having no hint of what dangers awaited her in a deep dark space.

The faint light from this kitchen had shown a steep set of stairs, maybe some shelves further back, so it looked clear. She'd even tossed down a kitchen spoon, to no moaning or human replies.

"Idiot," she mutters to herself, of herself.

From the shadow-tinged floor between cellar door and center island, Michonne releases a curse. Her leg feels stiff as the wood lodged within it. Jagged splinters protrude from her calf and at parts of her thigh, some nearly tucked under the flesh.

To scarcely touch the tiny points throws her shoulders to her ears with a hiss at her lips, eyes sealing shut and breathing weak. Michonne fears, resents, despises pain. Even stubbing a toe is its own brand of hell. Which is why she can't move. Moving equals pain.

But she's gotta move.

How else is she gonna break through that hoard? They stick to all sides of the cabin, no longer shoving against the door if her hearing's right, though definitely still lingering. Waiting.

She needs to move.

But she doesn't. Instead, she bleeds. Slowly. A tiny pond of blood pooling at the cheap tiled floor as it drips down her calve in a molasses trickle. She knows they smell it. And if not smell it, sense it. They pass the windows too much, their wild eyes straight ahead and nostrils sniffling like hounds.

Once they tire of dragging about and realize the blaring alarm that drew them there is gone and this slinking about does nothing for their hunger, they're gonna start looking around for the fresh meat that hangs nearby—her. Trapped like a turkey on a platter, just waiting to be devoured.

So this is how it ends…

"No."

Her voice slaps the chilled darkness, the palest of blues with early night spilling through the lone window. Hell no.

She can get out of this. Off this floor and out of this place. She'll let the hoard clear some more, take out the strays, hop back to the car and scramble off towards that prison. To her home.

Michonne was right to think fresh air would clear her head. And it only took one lone drive to let her know how much driving away cleared out her heart, leaving it vacant and hollow.

Michonne had had the mind to never return there. That'd been the plan tickling the back of her mind all along. After collecting what she needed, she'd return the car, coal, then split under the hood of night while everyone was merry and eating. No one would've seen her slip away. Maybe she'd returned to this cabin, if the area was secure.

Well, she was collecting lessons left and right lately, wasn't she?

It'd taken little time to get here, the place just as she remembered. Semi-deep in with foliage and greenery webbed about the stout structure. The forest was quiet at this part. Should've been her first warning. Quiet never means clear. It's just the gap before the trouble, the pause before hell blows over everything.

Hell in the form of an intruder alarm.

And it was loud. Like a flock of starved vultures attacking a scrap of meat. And Michonne had stood there before the door she'd just picked open, sword tight in her grip and heart smacking her chest. Great. A blaring war cry in the middle of a walker-infested forest. And did those walkers show themselves ever so fast.

The hoard was quick, as if trained on muscle memory to navigate the trees, breaking past branches and coming at her hard, swift, hungry.

Michonne had shaken off the shock, slamming the door on their faces before their staggering bodies reached her. Still they built up in no time, the wooden door rounding out under layers of sturdy dead fists, that shrilling alarm urging on every pound. Michonne shoved the nearest object she could spot under the door handle, a measly stool, her heart quivering into her throat. Luckily, it'd lend her time, but not forever.

She should've run away.

Hard to think fast in the heat, true, but she could've thought faster.

And all she could think of was shutting up the alarm and getting to that cellar. Its outer door had caught her eye when she'd first approached the cabin. With most of the walkers out front, she might've slipped out the side unnoticed. Even picked up some coal, if they had it. Cuz why get in this far only to come out empty-handed?

Upon spotting the blaring culprit, Michonne ripped it from its base. It blinked a red eye at her, still shrieking with electric lungs. After several fumbling attempts to stab the thing quiet, with a short cry of frustration, she'd slammed it down to the floor. Hard. It'd given a whirl, a whine, then shut up. And that was that.

Michonne cut through the cabin then, past shadowed walls, slipping through the kitchen area and to the indiscreet door that she guessed led into the cellar. And after some customary silverware tosses and taunts to any waiting walkers or humans, she'd headed down.

But her boots, smacking wood, wet and weak and hating her weight, dropped her. Or rather, one leg. She'd bit on the cry hurtling down, the agony instant, and the hollow landing of her sword smacking the darkness beyond felt through a deep part of her stomach.

And that was that, too.

Michonne's sigh brushes the darkness. Dangerously relaxed with desolation and blood-loss, she thinks of the days before the dead and living stained the earth. A point in time when the cops would be speeding over from the alarm she'd triggered, then, once realizing the situation, would be saving her. Ha.

Well, the sheriff's out of town and she's on her own.

Michonne takes in a firm pull of air. Ache nudges at her, unwarranted sentiments flooding the chest. Just what was that sheriff up to now? Cross-legged around the fire with his new prison family, no doubt, roasting venison over the open fire. Surely his deputy not too far from him, more concerned about devouring their kill to even think of the woman who helped him get it, out there searching for some damned charcoal … Either way, nobody's coming. Michonne threw all her energy into assuring they would not.

Perhaps someone might roll by to collect the car in a day or so, the vehicle brashly left in idle, Michonne thinking she'd swoop down and outta here in less than ten, but even cars are expendable. They'll forget all about smoking the deer too; fire roasting might be enough what with all the additional mouths anyhow.

This trip could've been useless after all.

And she won't be missed. Cuz even if the sheriff is in town, she's way out of city limits…

Concentrate.

Shaking herself of all inconvenient feeling, Michonne reaches down for her thigh. Her hand brushes over a gathering of splinters and, gritting her teeth, she plucks. Tears smack her eyes on the instant and she wipes them with an angry sweep. Oh, she hates pain. If it's not accompanied by pleasure to counter, as it most assuredly was days ago to much, much lovemaking, then she can't stand it.

But she can't stand weakness more.

And so with more agonizes grits and plucks, Michonne works to rid of the wood pieces that she can get a hold of, cursing each time fumbling fingers push the points a little deeper and that much more unreachable.

Time passes. Too much time and too many splinters. She's detracted all that she could grasp, the ones that'd wiggled deeper unreachable with nothing but short, flat nails to work with. Michonne tries to rise, but her limbs are asleep and sore, the attempt exploding pain over already black-gray vision. She can only hope the leg's not infected.

Michonne is tired and they're growling out there. Have been for a minute. The noise draws her gaze to the little window over the sink. The passing walkers' shoulders roll, their head coiling in all directions. Something's disturbed them. She begins to question what when one shiny, foggy eye presses against the window…

A slam smashes over the dim space, no doubt the front door's stool blockage giving, the calm awoken from its hibernation. Michonne's head jerks towards the front room, but from her crouch behind the center island, she can't see what's beyond. Hadn't even heard the hoard breaking through.

She's got to move.

Michonne braces herself with a sharp pull of air then, palms flat to the floor as she heaves up. But the pain hits her so fast that her voice breaks with an involuntary cry.

Shit.

Mere seconds throb through the space and here's the first, a shape shifting in the darkness, footsteps staggering about the neighboring room, seeking that delicious bloody treat in the darkness. They can't see her now, but they will. And when they do, she's in for a struggle. Cuz she's stuck with her stiff, injured leg, helpless with no weapon she can reach, useless on her own.

And Michonne is pissed that Maggie's right. That alone means weak, as if a sharp strip of metal could replace people.

Pissed that she was too thin-skinned towards Daryl's taunts, perhaps meant to lighten the air, not add weight to it. When he jested at the obvious tension between her and Rick, things went sour, and it was easy to blame him for pushing it along…

Pissed that she let them go on like they had, Rick and her, running lines around each other that never met at the ends, feeling everything but saying nothing. Wanting but never taking.

Mostly she's pissed that she didn't say goodbye.

Muffled calls go on from the front of the cabin, rising and fading. Her heart clinches in her chest when the first walker appears; it stumbles about the room in an eerily methodic way, searching about, desperate to find her. She's sick of the anticipation.

"Over here," she calls to the walker. Come and get me, so we can get this over with.

Michonne draws straight against the island, fists hardened at her sides. She'll keep her vow as long as she can, not to die at any other's hands, but she just…Michonne takes in a woozy breath…I can't fight them all.

She feels the walker round the center island, anxious and ready. They're one in the same.

A pause, then the thing approaches. Michonne doesn't even lift her head, relaxing her eyelids till they seal completely. Why keep them open? She can't see shit anyway.

"Michonne." That voice collapses on her name in the most human way.

Her eyes snap open, set straight ahead and on the dark figure that is Rick Grimes. He's hardly visible in the breath of light the tiny window allows, but from that shape and that stance, she cannot mistake him.

She also can't mistake the feeling in her chest –relief– that dislodges from her lips on a soft drifting sigh.

But from the way he's looking at her, it's like he's seeing a nightmare.

There's no time to fully process his presence before he's over her, bowed at her body, his face so close to hers that his breath glides across her cheek. His heat grabs her with heavy hands, warming her chill body. She didn't realize she was cold.

"Michonne," he says again. "You're…"

His head bends towards her leg. Bloody fabric, torn, ripped along her thigh to the ankle. She fights a flinch when he touches it, fingertips brushing around the drooping ribbon of fabric. Vibrations tremble from his touch and through her body.

Michonne knows she's out of it when a derisive laugh floats from her mouth, expands over the room. Funny, how gentle he's being now. The first time she'd met him, his hands on a wound at the leg, it'd been to cause her pain, not comfort. How long ago that time felt to her now.

Rick's chin sets up, confusion shining in blue eyes and…something else, stark and strong.

He thinks she's bit.

He thinks she's bit and…

He cares, her mind whispers. More than cares.

Michonne's stomach gives a light, childish flutter, throat tightens at the sudden thought, still she cannot disagree. Rick has done an appalling job of showing "care" these last few days, still perhaps this is true. And as it is, he's here. Suddenly, impossibly here.

He cares.

"No such luck, buddy," Michonne utters, weakly lifting a hand to his shoulder to draw his attention, which had dropped onto her leg again, searching its length helplessly. "I'm not going out that way."

He blinks at her.

"So this ain't a—"

"Nope."

Rick's still, then he nearly falls on top of her, bracing a hand on the wooden surface beside her face. Michonne's chest rises with a quick breath, though once more there's no time to process his actions as another hand draws out so that she's bordered in his arms, trapping her into his presence and heat.

"Thank God if he's still up there," Grimes breathes, heavy breath against her cheek.

He looks down at her, moves in, and their foreheads touch. Her shallow breathing hitches at the contact, but she hides it on a swallow.

"You sure you're alright?" he asks, his words brushing her mouth like a kiss.

She shakes her head, snorting.

"Said I wasn't bit, not alright."

Rick pulls back to look her on square.

"Just what happened—"

Jagged scraping hits the air and Rick looks off towards the dark beyond the island they're hunkered behind, chin raised.

"If these bastards don't multiply like roaches!" A voice at a near-distance. Gruff, familiar.

Michonne's heart rocks and rambles in her chest. Daryl.

He came too.

They both came… for her.

"You alright?" Rick's shout is low. One hand still frames Michonne's face, the other slightly crooked behind him. The glint of his machete, once laid on the floor but now at the hand, catches the feeble light.

There's thumping, grumbling.

"Ain't nothin' I can't handle," Daryl's gravelly voice declares over the racket. "They outside, for now. Shoved this dresser here up to the door far as I could, but shit weights an elephant ton and they keep stickin' they heads in the crack so I'm…" There's a sharp smack of flesh. "Breakin um down."

"Well, lemme—"

"We find her?"

Rick and Michonne lock eyes again. His gaze touched with softness and Michonne's of similar condition, matching just the way her heart feels. Knowing they came for her. Knowing things were alright now. Somewhat.

Her lips open the moment Rick's do.

"You found me."

"We found her."

At the overlap, they share the weakest of smirks, but then the growls and thumps increase at the front room and both are back on alert. Rick rises from his crouch.

"Hold tight, Daryl. We'll finish blocking that door."

Michonne silently inserts herself in that "we." Hurt or not, she isn't gonna slump at the sidelines as they protected them. Her. The fact they had to waste precious time finding her is enough saving for one day.

Bracing her hands behind her in the midst of pulling to her feet, she lifts her bottom from the floor but it's the bend of her knee that catches her, pain crumbling her back down.

Michonne's groan of distress has Rick back before her.

"Michonne," He hardly mutters, a hand hovering at her leg.

"Don't worry about me," she grunts, gently shoving him aside to rise again. Gritting her teeth and shoving all second thoughts from her head, she lurches up, plops back down.

"Shit," she exhales, sucking air, louder than she likes.

"What's going on?" Daryl barks from the near-far distance.

"She's hurt."

A hard beat of silence that even the walkers observe.

"Shit."

"I'm fine," Michonne says, loud enough for Daryl's ears and ignoring Rick's disagreeing look. She points her foot towards the darkened doorway across from her. "Just need to get my katana from that cellar. Dropped it down there. If it's clear, we can slide out through the door and—."

"Goddamn it!" Daryl's exclaim again, intermingled with guttural moans.

Michonne stiffens just as Rick's own form locks. For a moment he's caught on his feet, body arched towards Michonne as his gaze strains into the following room where Daryl struggles.

"You worry about the walkers, buddy." Michonne says. "I'll catch up."

The window's faint gleam shows his raised brow, the message loud and clear.

"Actually, you stay here."

"I'd rather help out."

He shakes his head, already shuffling away.

"And I'd rather you wait for me."

"Well, isn't this a familiar game."

At her words Rick pauses, tight expression lingering before he launches off into the other room.

Michonne releases a breath the moment he disappears. Now isn't the time, of course. So what if he hurt her. She would not let it happen again.

Seconds stretch to excruciating minutes, a chorus of grunts and chops the soundtrack reaching out to Michonne as she slumps on the floor, helpless. The adrenaline that ran through her the moment she saw Rick and heard Daryl starts to drain, reminding her of the pain from her leg's collapse through the stair and the blood she lost to it. Her eyes flutter low against her will, her breathing deepening.

They snap open when footfalls hit her consciousness. The walker grumbles are muted, as if finally behind fully sealed doors. When the footsteps cease, she glances up, gaze traveling across well-filled jeans and a lightly muscled chest under a distressed shirt, torn at the sleeves.

Daryl Dixon.

The lingering silence casts her eyes to her lap.

They hadn't parted on positive terms either. It didn't look like he was thinking about any of that now, however. Daring a glance, she notes how he looks down at her silently, then as he crouches before her, softly. Or rather, as soft as the feral-eyed Dixon got.

"Hey," Daryl says.

"Hey yourself."

There's a pause.

"So…"

"What happened?" she asks for him.

"Yeah."

She holds his eye.

"Fell through an old stair."

"Ah," he says, simply. No quip on his lips, judging her weakness.

More silence.

"Got yaself in a splinter, then."

Ah, there's the quip.

Her lips twitch.

Daryl Dixon: Untimely jokester. Awkwardly noble. It was his nature. She understood now.

"Just a little one."

"Mmhuh."

His hands drop on either side of her, gaze running down her injured leg with a careful eye. It's only when his appraisal goes beyond the injury and to other parts of her body that a heat blooms through her limbs and chest in a rush that battles the cold.

"I can take care of that."

At the gravel in his voice, she stifles her shudder just as Rick slides into the kitchen, breathing roughly with a hand swiping sweat at his forehead.

"Got everything blocked and barred as best I could." He approaches the side of Michonne less occupied by Dixon. "But the walkers don't seem to be letting down. Dunno what's got them drawn to this damn place."

Michonne raises a finger.

"I have a guess."

She explains how she'd picked the front door lock only to have an intruder alert greet her success, loud enough to crack eardrums and drawing walkers from all around that seemed accustomed to answering the sound.

"Strange…" Daryl said, a hand gliding across unshaven cheeks.

"Strange indeed," Rick said. He'd dropped to Michonne's side, occasionally eying the way Daryl's arms still bordered her, but making no comment. "Seems like someone was all too prepared to keep this place safe from a break-in. Whether before this all or after…"

Michonne rubs a finger across the ground beneath her, showing a clean digit.

"It's pretty dustless in here. Haven't even seen a cobweb. Unless walkers are good housekeepers, who's to say we're not alone."

Both men's eyes land on her, each other, then over their shoulders.

"Well, why don't we find out." Daryl pulls to his feet, flicking on a tiny flashlight.

They make quick plans. Check the entirety of the cabin, luckily not a large space with few nooks and crannies to hide within. Crossbow poised, Daryl heads into the darkness without a word, leaving Rick and Michonne alone.

She blinks when he hands her his weapon.

"I'm going to carry you," he says, moving close to her with his hands already poised. "Okay?"

"Not okay."

"Why not?"

"I can walk."

Rick tilts his head at her.

"You do remember how that panned out the first time, right?"

"Hush," she murmurs, though her stomach clenches. It'll be painful, but she has to get up on her own. No more saving. If she's useless against an attack in her state, the least she can do is drag herself behind a locked door and stay outta the way. But first thing's first; she needs her katana.

Michonne flattens her palms to the floor, eyes squeezed shut against the ache of moving when her body propels into the air by no force of her own. She glances down at Rick's arms, holding her bridal-style. Her indignant shock seems to lure a smirk to his lips.

"Put me down." When he only holds her tighter, cradled close to his chest, she debates using the machete in her hands to help him follow the request. Michonne tries to weasel out his arms but hisses at the attempt to straighten the injured leg. That wipes all the amusement from Rick's face, edging it with concern.

"Stop struggling," he insists. "You're gonna hurt yourself even more."

"No worse than you can," she spits, her face hot with a sudden strike of frustration. It's petty, she knows, but this is too much. All this care and concern when for one too many days he couldn't spare her a proper glance. After all they'd shared, he gives her nothing, and now, he's fighting off a hoard of walkers to save her? She'd snort if her leg wasn't throbbing even more with agitation.

Rick winced at her words, but says nothing, jerkily heading off in the dark with the fuming woman in his arms. She begins to protest again.

"And just where are we—"

"Bedroom," he rolls out.

Sure enough, they ease into a space connected to the foyer that she hadn't noticed in her wild attempts to shut up the alarm. Movement catches her eye from inside the room, Daryl, rounding a wide, square shape. A bed.

"Clear," he says, sliding past them. "I'll check the bathroom. Then that cellar."

Michonne calls to his back, "Make sure you grab my—"

"Ninja sword. I got it."

She hears the smirk in his voice and rolls her eyes.

To Rick, she says "We're here. Now let me down."

To her surprise, Rick obeys, depositing her on the bed. She bounces slightly, but feels no pain as Rick hasn't yet released her injured leg, placing a pillow under the ankle then lowering it gently. He retrieves the machete and it clicks against the nightstand, close by, just in case.

Their breaths are steady in the dimness, only a slip of moonlight from a curtained window gracing sight of the woodsy decor and furniture. She finally notes the air. Clean. Not stale like the other houses she'd taken refuge at over the months.

"Is there a candle in here?" Michonne eases a lighter from her back pocket, miraculously still whole despite sitting on her ass for so long.

"Dunno," Rick reluctantly parts from her side.

Not a minute later, a full gentle glow touches the space, stretching the shadows away to make room for light. Not only is there a candle, but several candles, enriching the room with an unexpected sweetness of mint and vanilla as Rick lights them. Shocking; it's almost peaceful here, if you ignore the walker moans and poundings from the front room.

Sudden wooziness washes over Michonne's vision, forcing her shoulders to relax against the pillows.

Even if she'd stopped bleeding, she's donated more blood to that kitchen floor than she cared to. Blood loss has always made her weak and dizzy, even in childhood. What she'd give to have a chunk of that venison she'd spent the afternoon preparing. That and a shot of tequila.

Rick goes about the space, pulling out drawers as Michonne trails him from low-lids, her chest heaving from the bed. Her eyes have dropped completely by the time the bed shifts, a weight joining her. A body presses against her side, hands drawing from her chin to cheek.

"Hey," Rick's rich voice drawls at her ear.

"…Yeah," she answers slowly, wanting nothing more than to take a rest. Just for a while.

"Feeling okay?"

"Mmmsure," she murmurs drowsily.

"Don't fall asleep," he warns. "I'm no medic, but I do know that's the last thing you wanna do."

"Can't help it." She already has her chin tucked into the pillow, tempted to throw the covers over her body and curl up on her side if only her stiff, throbbing leg didn't make that sort of movement treacherous. "Tired."

"Guess I'll have to wake you then," Rick's voice caresses the back of her neck as his hand caresses her body, from the dip of her waist to the rise of her hip. The gentle stroke widens her gaze and she's glad the dreadlocks partially masking her cheek hide her expression. Still Rick reads the hitch of her breath and the petting grows heavier, a long-lingering dance of fingers.

Michonne tenses, resisting all feeling, wanting nothing more than to hold onto the burble of irritation in her gut for the man. Hard feelings still linger, even if they'd softened at the relief of the men's arrival. Though even then, though she couldn't readily admit; she'd missed him –both of them– more than she managed to resent them.

Collecting her breath, Michonne peers back at the man behind her, gaze at his nose, law, then landing on his slightly parted lips with no light breaths falling between them. When he notices her stare, they need hold eyes for only a moment before Rick swoops down to kiss her. And kiss her.

Rick devours her with a hungry, open mouth, kissing her like a man who needs it. Michonne groans as he nips at her bottom lip, then slides her tongue into his mouth, lightly touching his. That sets Rick off like a firecracker; from against her back, he tugs her closer, reaching over to cup her breast.

She parts their mouths to jerk in a breath as his thumb plays with her nipple, though he hardly affords her that gasp as his mouth surges back to hers, lips kissing, fingers rubbing. Hunger, anxiety, need. Michonne tastes it all in one kiss, one set of lips consuming hers.

"God, I missed you," he growls, dragging his lips down her neck.

She curves her face to give him better access, accepting his consumption. It's not enough for Rick as he seizes Michonne, jerking her up and onto his body.

A harsh gasp escapes her and Rick goes rigid.

"Shit." he mutters. Her injury. "I didn't—"

"I'm fine."

She's not, but isn't about to show it anymore than she already has. Instead she remains unmoving from his lap, knees digging into the bed at either side of him. Grime's erection is like granite, jutting up against her, so tempting to ripple her hips against, but the promised pain for such actions keeps her in check, instead she concentrates on breathing even, fighting through the throb at her leg.

With careful hands at her waist and another just above the injured leg, Rick draws her off him, laying her back down to the bedspread, partially at her side.

Even with the ache she breathes against, Michonne has to laugh.

"I'm not a paper doll, Rick."

"Don't want to cause you more pain."

"I'll live."

"I'm sorry."

A quiet passes between them. The cold that'd clung to her body seems to evaporate, releasing her eagerly. Here it was. Words. Long overdue.

'And you should be,' she is tempted to say. To press the pain he left her with all these days, to make him feel it, but then they catch eyes and she sees, sees that he does feels it. It's there in his eyes, powerful and unashamed; the regret, the self-shame, the….she won't say it. That can't be there.

She'll call it longing. Longing on fire.

Sorry. It is enough, yet not enough. Nothing takes away the lost days, the wasted time. Fooling around, swelling prides on both ends. But sorry and that look will do for now. They will talk later, back in the prison, with the assurance that they'll survive this night. Then he'd fully own up, and she would listen.

"Same," she mutters after a while, two meanings, with only one she's willing to share.

She too has done some things, things she was still figuring out, motive wise. Sleeping with Daryl like that. In a car at the side of the road of all places. Wreckless, careless.

Rick shifts so he's leaning over her, one forearm sinking into the pillow beside her face.

"Don't be." His gaze is still burning up, stormy and blue.

She nods, hesitant. True, she doesn't regret what had happened with Daryl, not completely. Their attraction to each other plus the lingering thoughts of what it'd be like had blossomed to the point of bursting, still she could've went into it with a clearer head. Instead she'd been fueled of lust, curiosity, defiance.

Her lips part to speak on this but they're seized by another's. Rick is over her, kissing her, and she closes her eyes and returns the kiss, helpless to resist. Her limbs soften under his, as does her heart, glad to have this back and sad that it'd ever stopped.

Their mouths meet and retreat with fervor but as the exhaustion creeps back into Michonne, their lips and tongue find a slower rhythm, hearty but steady, the nails she'd writhed at his shirt becoming a gentle caress at the back. Soon she's hardly putting in an effort and lets Rick take all control, happily and so tiredly receiving…

"Damn. Ya'll having all the fun without me?"

Rick's lips part from Michonne's with a jerk, one she hardly reacts to, despite a small ripple of embarrassment. So relaxing, this bed. And she's so sleepy. No doubt they'll be here for a while to wait out the walkers. She'll just take a little nap now. No harm in that.

As she walks the tightrope between awareness and sleep, she hears the men talking near and above her. Michonne only widens her eyes enough to check for her katana. She sees it, strapped to Daryl's back. Good. Her gaze falls low again.

"Damn it," Rick grumbles, parting from Michonne. From half-creased eyes, she catches Rick shoot a look of annoyance at Daryl, the obvious frustration of unfinished business apparent. He takes a moment to compose himself before asking, "Find anyone?"

"Found someone, alright."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah," Daryl's advancing footfalls clomp against the wood floors. "A dead man."

Daryl explains what he saw down in the cellar, words that weave in and out of Michonne's consciousness.

"…collapsed and snapped his neck. Freak accident. Didn't look like he planned on dying down there…found a cane by the body when I heaved up the shit that fell on him from the collapsed shelf. Them shelves loaded as hell, by the way. Jams, canned goods, preserves...gotta be months of supply down there. Reminds me of my pop's buddy Earl. One of them odd types prepared for sucha thing as this. Maybe not so odd now, considering…"

Michonne rouses more at the mention of supplies. Supplies. Definitely good. Especially with all the new men, women and children Rick ushered into the prison.

"No wonder he guarded this place so jealously," Michonne hears Rick intercept. "What with that alarm. Even if it meant locking himself in for a few days."

"This place is probably more fortified than we think," Michonne mumbles the thought to herself, sounding delirious even to her own ears. When she looks up to the male eyes on her, she realizes they'd heard her.

The men exchange quick glances, which in turn draws Michonne higher up at the pillows.

"What?" she demands. She doesn't need these little looks, good grief. She can't be that bad.

"We need to tend to that injury," Rick's voice is part-scolding, part-strained at the edges.

Michonne glances down at her leg. The candle glow illuminates half its length, the rest in shadows. She can see the blood there nearly dried and the bleeding fully ceased, still the incessant stiffness and open scratches were…mildly concerning. She plays it off, anyway.

"I'll be fine till the hoard clears up. Have Hershel look at it."

Rick isn't hearing the dismissal, his gaze firming on hers.

"I meant now."

"It can wait."

His stubborn look must match her own.

She just couldn't have them—

"Can I add my piece now?" Daryl glances between the two, a vague lift at his brow that earns him a high one in return.

"Those slivers ain't no joke, and that cut you got sho ain't either." Daryl gestures to Michonne's calve, still laid out carefully from her body at the pillow and taking that moment to throb. Daryl catches the wince, having been watching her face. "And I've got somethin for both."

Before Michonne can argue, he turns away, assumingly to retrieve the "something" he had.

A beat after Daryl disappears through the doorway, Rick shifts from beside Michonne. She'd been steadily shaking off her drained state and the closeness certainly helps.

"Michonne," he breaths from behind her, as she'd adjusted slightly away, partially turned towards the wall.

"Mmm?"

"Done resisting every bit of attention yet?"

Michonne thinks about that.

"Not all of it." She settles back to him, drawing out a low murmur from Rick's lips when her body makes contact with his.

His arm drapes around her waist, holding her tight and close. And just like that, they're in his cell. No candles, just darkness and distant moonlight. Near gasps after a breath-stealing stretch of lovemaking, just past her futile goodbyes as he suavely convinced her to stay a while, just a little while…

"Almost like you never left," she mutters into the pillow.

Rick's sigh is heavy.

"But I did," he says. "I own up to that."

Rick draws her even firmer against him to speak into her ear.

"But lemme tell you; I've punished myself enough. You'll have trouble getting rid of me now."

Michonne doesn't try to quiver, but she does.

Perhaps a week or two ago, those words would be a threat. To be close to anyone again, especially after what went down to Andrea…it was a breach of her self-preservation, her heart, her freedom. Still this is a breach, caring about him, Carl, Judith, Daryl… all and everyone she's begun to know and befriend in the prison. A breach that, God help her, she will not resist.

And so now, the words are less of a threat, but definitely a promise.

And her compliant response is simply to relax in Rick's hold and bask in the near-silence of distant walker moans and bated breathing. After a long moment, Rick shifts, drawing his arm back and pulling up a little.

"So, uh…" he begins.

Michonne stills, sensing a new tension and turning her body towards him as much as she can without disturbing her leg.

"Something wrong?"

"No, not wrong." His expression draws in. "But maybe not exactly right either." Even in the mellow cast of the room, his reddened cheeks are clear to see.

A frown pulls at her lips.

"Alright…" she says, piercing him with a stare.

Rick rubs the side of his neck.

"I just… well, we just—"

Approaching footsteps cut him off, Daryl's approaching.

"We just what?" Michonne asks, not wanting to give this up.

Rick's eyes flicker to Daryl, who now fills the doorway.

Michonne follows his gaze, watching the men watching each other. Rick doesn't move from his nearness to Michonne, his near molding to her body, and Daryl observes silently for a long second. Something hot flashes in his eyes, or does she imagine that? Before she has time to study it, the look is gone, his eyes cool and hooded as usual. Dixon shuffles closer, stopping silently at Michonne's side.

He has two bottles in hand. Water in one, wine in the other. Now distracted, she gives Rick a low look before turning to Daryl. Whatever he was trying to say, she'd find out later.

Before she can even ask him questions, though, Daryl's already speaking.

"This, to clear ya wound," he says, hoisting the water he must've found in this apparently stocked cabin.

"And this," he sets the water bottle on the nightstand to seize the wine in both hands. "To clear ya mind."

Michonne gives a curious look and Daryl winks, fisting the neck of the wine. He sticks his pocketknife into the cork, twists, and with a hard hiss, it pops loose. A frothy ruby trail drizzles to the floor. Luckily, no one worries about red stains on carpet anymore.

"Gotta admit, this man was livin' pretty well," Rick says.

He'd shifted up on the bed when the bottle appeared, looking way too bright-eyed for the prospect of a drink. Michonne is feeling a certain excitement herself, and it isn't for red wine.

With Daryl standing above her, Rick pressed beside her, plus the isolation of this place, away from the prison's watchful eyes, dabbed with the mysterious brush of glances and thoughts unspoken… the true miracle of the moment is that she manages to keep her breathing steady. Though a struggle it is.

She blames the injury as much as she can without lying to herself. In truth, the proximity of Rick and Daryl, being near sandwiched between the two men…two very well-built, handsome men whom she knows by personal experience to be equally excellent lovers…

Doubtlessly, it leads to some particular thoughts. Some very complicated, very sweaty thoughts.

"Shall we get this rollin'?" Daryl takes a swig of the burbling red wine, head dunked back, the pale gold gleam of flickering candles at the throat highlighting hard, deep swallows.

He finishes with a gasp then peers down at Michonne, and she denies that the look on his eyes is intentionally sensual, low-lidded, with the feral gleam of a cat.

Daryl nudges the wine bottle near her, stopping short before her chest.

Michonne shakes her head at his silent inquiry, to which he shrugs, then reaches over her to hand it to Rick.

Rick peers at the bottle for a second then slides it from Daryl's hands. He takes a couple careful drinks then pulls back, wiping his mouth, goes in for more. His mouth had been wet before, all that kissing and all, and now a ruddy gloss stains his lips. Michonne resists licking her own.

What the hell are they doing to me, she thinks, dipping her head. Why the hell am I thinking like this?

It has to be their proximity, their seclusion, or hell, maybe this cursed cabin.

Thanks to the sensually distracting thoughts, Michonne almost forgets the torn-up state of her leg, but then a hand touches her and snaps the pained, strained limb to the forefront. Daryl crouches at her side, body leaning against the bed with a hand wrapped around her calve. He frowns on the injury, gaze intent.

"Ah, yeah. Got scratched up somethin nice. These slivers burrowed in real good too," he says, lightly maneuvering her leg so that it hit more of the candlelight. Michonne pulls in short breaths between gritted teeth. "Back in the day, used to get um all the time, climbing trees and shit. Surprised I ain't get a few tonight."

Michonne's brow rises sky-high.

"From… climbing a tree?"

The men must've found the confused look on her face amusing, for both burst into chuckles. Michonne's glare flashes between the two of them. Only Rick seems affected, muting his laughter to run a hand across her shoulder, rubbing it shortly.

"Let's just say, we did a little strategizin' to get in here."

Michonne decides not to push. They'd stuck their neck out to save her. That's all she needs to know.

Without invitation, Daryl starts working on her, head bent low and hair falling in his eyes. He tears the threads of her already ripped jeans out the way and she watches him closely, every muscle tensed, but then she catches a glint of what looks like a needle and flinches on instinct.

"Ya gotta be still," Daryl grunts, short of jabbing her.

"I know."

The needle touches her skin and her legs fight to lift; they don't get far as Daryl's hand clamps down on her knee at the same time Rick's finds her shoulder again.

"I know, I know…," she chants under breath, the repetition more for her comfort.

Get it together, Michonne chastises herself.

"It infected?" Rick had taken to stroking her shoulder, running his rough hands in smooth circles in an action meant to distract or comfort. Either way it did well at both.

"Wouldn't know," Daryl says, looking up from her leg. "I ain't Hershel now. Ain't discolored much, but…"

Daryl thumbs Michonne's bare skin, the pads of coarse fingers gentle. Combined with Rick's steady rub at her shoulders, now moving down to her arms, she finds it difficult to keep her thoughts in line. And from the increasing depths of the breathing around her, it seemed they all shared the same problem.

Then Daryl presses fingers to her skin. Hard.

Michonne's yelps, jerks and ends up straight in Rick's lap. Rick makes a sound at her sudden drop into his lap, but recovers quickly.

"You alright?" he asks.

"Fine," she murmurs, cheeks hot under her skin.

She goes to slide from Rick's lap but hands at her hips keep her in place.

"Hey, you can stay here long as you'd like…"

He was hard and she was hurt, didn't mind the distraction, so in his lap she stayed, concentrating more on the feel of hands sliding up and down her back than the pain at her body.

Wiping his hands on his jeans, Daryl pulls up from his half-crouch, half-kneel.

"I think it's bruised," he says.

Michonne's mouth creases the slightest.

"What the hell, Daryl?" For that test dummy move, she was beginning to rethink any pass she gave him for his idiotic moves with the venison.

"Hey, hey; ya'll wanted to know, didn't you? That's the way I know how to do it. The press test. If it's bruised, ya flinch, maybe yell. If it's infected, you'd cry."

Michonne stares at him for a moment, then the katana laid out on the dresser behind him. She supposed it was too far to reach… Plus, he was kinda helping her.

"Oh, give me that bottle," she murmurs, reaching over Rick and seizing the wine.

She decides Daryl is allowed to keep his hand. For now.

At the first sip of wine, a burst of stark sweetness touches her tongue and smacks her stomach like ginger. Mmm. She can't remember the last time she'd had a drink. Even when she'd had the option at Woodbury, seemed a fool's errand to indulge in. Not that his judgment was near best, but what was it Mike always said to her?

You have to let go a little, Michonne.

Yeah, Michonne thinks, let go a little. I could do that. If just for this moment. If just for tonight.

With that resolution and the alcohol tingle at her limbs battling the burn, Michonne finishes off the wine. She tosses the bottle; it disappears somewhere off the bed.

"Damn," Daryl says.

"Sorry. Did you want some more?" Michonne asks, a slim grin on her face. She already feels loosened, heated. Damn, that wine was quick.

"Oh, I got all I need." Daryl says, watching her intently, the feral cat-look in his eye.

No one speaks for a moment. The walker moans sound more distant, quieter. No one acknowledges this, though. Michonne feels Rick's stare, how his hands have found her hips at some point again. She also catches the way Daryl glances at Rick, then at her, back at Rick again.

He comes forward then, by looks a normal man in dirty jeans, but Michonne knows better now. He's a wildcat on the hunt.

Daryl Dixon pauses just short of her, looking right into Michonne's eyes as he says,"Take off her pants."


A/N: Hellooo hellooo. I know; I'm a tortoise.

I realized my problem is that I came into Serpents wanting it to be a "quickie" write, as in 2-3 neat chapters, hot and fun, just enough depth to remain realistic. Truth is, this story demanded I give it way more effort than that. I've done too many writes and re-writes on this chapter trying to pack all I needed into one yet the true nature of the story wasn't having it. And thus, one more chapter to go after this one.

Thanks to all of you who've stuck with this for so long! There is just a little more to come! ;]

~yellowspotlight89