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Story Notes:
I don't own The Walking Dead or any of its characters. But touch Rick's beard and there will be fisticuffs.
Author's Chapter Notes:
I couldn't resist. My muse flared up and I finally got this bit finished so I said what the hey, I'll go ahead and get this started. I changed it a bit. We're skipping ahead to S4. Cuz I can. Starts out during the spring, a few months before.
There are very few reasons that you can find for being grateful for the end of the world and even those few just seem morbid on your part. Being able to not only slip out of your cell and down the hall, and then into Rick’s cell without alerting anyone is one perk that you’re thankful for this fine early morning. Learning to slip through houses and alleyways without making a sound has certainly paid off in more ways than just survival. Unless you happen to startle Rick awake and get a shiny bullet to your forehead for your trouble.

Standing in the open cell door, your hand holding back the privacy curtain to let the lamplight from the hall spill inside, your eyes sweep the shadows of the room from right to left. First to Judith’s crib and then to the bed across the room where Rick lies sprawled on his back with one arm thrown over his face.

Even captured by the deep pull of sleep, he still looks exhausted. Maybe it’s the shadows sinking into the contours of his face or the highlighted grey of his beard playing tricks on you, but it doesn’t matter. You know how hard he’s been working since spring decided to grace the world with its presence once again. Always up at the ass crack of dawn and out in the fields of the prison yard before the sun is even fully visible, and not coming back inside until dusk. Always dragging his feet but never complaining. Only to do it all over again the next day.

Eying the alarm clock that sits on the small nightstand beside his bed, you let the curtain fall as you step inside, your socked feet quiet along the concrete floor and your chest becoming tighter with each move forward while you say a silent prayer for him not to wake up. An unsurprising gurble of noise comes from the crib, Judith already awake due to being used to her father’s Old McDonald routine by now, and the feeding schedule that goes along with it. All the more reason to get a move on before she lets loose some of that Grimes attitude at four-thirty in the morning.

With your eyes shifting to Rick’s outline every few seconds, you pick up the small clock, the covered bells along the top letting out a hushed jingle as you search for the button to shut it off. And almost bite your tongue in half when Rick mumbles something under his breath, sheets rustling as his body rolls to face you.

Your body becomes as stiff as the floor beneath your feet when his hand grazes your leg, arm outstretched beneath his head. There is another jumble of words before he falls silent again and only then do you draw in a shaky breath.

There’s no stopping the ache that settles into your heart, or the train wreck of guilt and love that you feel clamoring through your head because of the two people in this cell with you and the one sleeping next door. It’s been ages since you knew what having a real family felt like, and while you might not hold the position you secretly want to, they have never made you feel unwelcome, the line becoming so blurred that you aren’t sure if it even exists anymore.

You love him. You love all of them and don’t want to take anyone’s place. You just want to make a new one. To make them smile. To see them happy. To keep them safe.

Another string of incoherent babbling, only louder this time, has you pulling your gaze away from the outline of Rick’s sleeping face, and you set the alarm clock back to its resting place before making your way to Judith’s crib.

A quick lift and a tuck of her small frame against your side before you slip back through the curtain, letting your shoulders relax the minute you’re out of the danger zone, and you find yourself on the receiving end of a pair of sleepy blue eyes as you head for the kitchen area.

“How about we let your dad sleep in for once? Give him a break since he does so much for us. I’m not opposed to sticking a dirty diaper in his boot though,” you say in a low voice.

Those ever watchful eyes drop own to watch your lips move with that rapt fascination only babies posses. And even you on occasion when you’re graced with a rare smile from her father.

“We’re gonna have to work on this communication thing,” you continue, setting a baby bottle into a pot of waiting water and flipping the burner on. “We’re supposed to be partners. Partners in Grime. …okay, no puns this early in the morning. That was just horrible.”

If the youngest Grimes appreciates your attempt at humor she gives no sign other than a sleep laden blink of her eyes but you’ve come to expect as much during the past few months. What little time you’ve had since the Woodbury group integrated into the prison has been spent doing this very thing. If you aren’t helping on runs or whacking at the ground with a ho in Rick’s ever expanding garden, then you’re changing diapers or making the rounds with her on your hip. She is one of the reasons you turned down an offered position on the council (much to Hershel’s displeasure but eventual agreement), choosing instead to focus your attention on more personal concerns.

Like the Grimes family’s emotional well-being.

It’s not something you took an active role in, deciding that it was best to support them from the sidelines and trying to pick up whatever pieces fell your way. Rick needed time to grieve. Carl and Judith needed their father. After many shouting matches and cold words from Carl’s side after having his gun taken away, Rick began to slip back into his parenting shoes. A role alien to him from even before the world ended due to his work schedule.

You don’t envy him. Trying to raise a child was hard enough before death started lurking around every corner, and with morality being all but obscured now, it only adds that much more weight to every choice.

No, you don’t envy him but he’s done a damn good job considering what he has to work with and as always, you’ve given him your ear when he needs it, sometimes sitting next to Hershel and offering no words of your own.

Not being a parent yourself, there’s only so much advice you can really give and so you find ways to help that he might not expect. Like this morning. It’s such a little thing, letting him sleep in, but he deserves it and you’re more than happy to do so.

Especially considering the wonderful company you get to keep.

“Pretty soon you won’t have to suffer through this crappy formula anymore,” you tell the bundle resting on your hip as you check the temperature of the water. “Peas, corn, okra, tomatoes…god, what am I saying? I hated that stuff as a kid. Stick to the powered milk as long as you can and the next time I go on a run, I’ll try and find you some canned fruit. A snickers. Powdered donuts. Something unhealthy.”

A chubby hand reaches toward the bottle as you kiss the soft hair covering her temple. “That’s my girl.”
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