Hanna’s skin ached at her captor’s bruising grip. She could hardly breath with her lungs so constricted in absolute fear. Her whole body felt like it was trembling. The man pointing the gun at her and Michonne leered down at her, and she turned her head away from his openly vulgar stare. She wanted to rip the weapon from his hand and wipe that awful smile from his face. With fists balled at her sides, Hanna willed herself to breathe.
In the darkness of night, everything moved too quickly. One minute they had been sharing fond memories of lives that felt so long ago Hanna could almost swear she had always existed in the hell, and the next a beefy hand had covered her mouth until black spots had danced in her peripheral from lack of oxygen. Michonne’s hand found her own, squeezing briefly, and grounded her back to reality. She shared a look with her friend, as if she could borrow some of the older woman’s unending strength just from a stare.
The group of men with guns pointed at their heads called themselves the Claimers. She was only half aware of the man’s threats, too consumed with the awful sounds of flesh beating flesh and two men repeatedly kicked Daryl’s prone form. Hanna forced herself to keep staring at the ground.
A horrified protest left her voice as one of the men walked towards the car, dragging out Carl and throwing him on the ground. Her blood turned to ice in her veins, and for the first time all night she couldn’t bear to bite her tongue. From the first moment she had met him, Hanna had loved the kid. Hanna looked on in horror as he threw Carl on the ground and clambered onto him. The thought of one of these men with their hands on him loosened her terrified tongue.
She was silenced by her captor’s heavy hand smacking her across the face. Hanna’s head whipped to the side, and she blinked groggily to clear her vision. Her mouth was filled with the taste of iron, and she felt like she was underwater after the hard hit left her dizzy.
“Stop! Don’t you touch them.”
Rick. It’s his voice she focused on, forcing herself to retain her senses. An awful thought crossed her mind. This is it. This is the one situation they won’t be getting out of. After years of violence and killing and razor-sharp close calls, it seems horribly wasteful to go like this. Michonne and Daryl and Rick deserve more than a bullet to the head. Her entire body was shaking in anger and the thought of her friends- the people she idolized and loved more than anyone in the world- dying at the hands of the men holding them hostage. Her eyes darted over towards Carl, and Hanna felt bile rise in the back of her throat. It burned like acid.
“He’s just a kid,” she panted, feeling herself almost maniac to get them to stop as her whole body shook. Her heart was in her kneecaps, and she could hardly sit up straight due to the pounding ache that radiating from her head.
Their leader the other men had called Joe signaled for another man to take his place holding a gun to Rick’s head. He walked over and Hanna was able to finally get a clear view of his face. His hair and beard were graying, but he was six feet of solid muscle and a cruel smile cut his face into the perfect picture of sadism. She tried to shift away from his grip, but he strolled over and his fingers latched on to her long pony tail in a steel grip.
“Hey!” Rick roared, “It’s me you want. I’m the one who killed your friend, dipshit.”
Hanna yelped in pain as she was dragged across the ground. Her knees scraped against the ground and Hanna tried to stand before repeatedly hitting the ground and cutting skin. Joe’s relentless grip on her hair ripped a scream of pain from her throat. Her hands uselessly tried to pry his hands from her hair as the man lifted her from the cold grass. Tears stung as she blinked to keep them at bay.
“See here Rick,” he angled her face up roughly, “I should be thanking you for bringing me a prize like this. We’re going to beat Daryl to death, then have our way with the woman and your boy. After that, I’m going to kill you.”
Something reflective caught her eye, and Hanna swallowed nervously when she noticed a knife. She started to thrash in his grip, nails catching on uncovered flesh and limbs flailing until Joe raised his knife to her throat. The blade felt cool against her overheated skin, and he pressed harder until she winced at the feel of skin breaking.
He called to his men, “This one’s still got some fight in her!” The sound of their cold laughter paralyzed her lungs. Joe turned his attention back to Rick. “I just want you to know, I think I’ll keep this one around for a while after I’m done with you. I’ll have fun breaking her in.”
“If you touch her, I will kill you.” Rick’s voice was low and deadly, but she could hear the panic in his promise.
Joe continued as if uninterrupted. “What do you say, sweetheart?” The knife ran down her collarbone before slashing through her shirt so quickly Hanna barely had time to breath before her naked torso was exposed.
A gasp ripped from her throat, and she turned to glare at the man. There were few people she had ever hated as much as she hated him. On instinct, she raised her hands to cover the bare skin, but her hands were forcefully pulled away and Joe held both of her wrists in a grip so tight she feared the bones would crack. “Won’t you give the good officer a preview and scream for me?”
“Go to hell.” Hanna acted on impulse, throwing her head back and ramming it backwards until she felt her skull crack against what she hoped was Joe’s nose.
His grip loosened as he stepped forwards clutching at his face. To her satisfaction, blood was running down from his nose. “You little bitch,” he snarled, grabbing ahold of the back of her head again by gripping the roots of her hair.
Her heart was beating so powerfully it was choking her. Hanna had been so careful to keep her terrified gaze off Rick, but for a single second her eyes flickered upwards and met his. Then, Joe shoved his tongue down her throat in a vicious kiss. Hanna recoiled, trying to force her head back, but he held her head in place forcefully. She wanted to cut his tongue off. She wanted to kill him, but all she could do was retreat inside her head and pretend like everything was happening to someone else. It wasn’t her body being bruised and violated. The winter’s harsh wind was whipping against some else’s naked skin. It wasn’t real.
Rick’s voice was murderous, but she couldn’t focus on his words when Joe finally released her mouth by purposefully pulling on her bruised lip with his teeth until the skin split further and her swollen lip was smeared with blood.
When he pushed her back, Hanna felt numb. She was aware of the awful things around her, but everything seemed out of focus. This wasn’t her life. Her alarm would go off any minute and she would realize she was running late for her graduate classes. Hanna would stop at her favorite coffee shop and think about finally replacing her old bookbag like she had done every year for as long as she could remember. She would call her mom and promise she was eating enough while living almost entirely off ramen and caffeine. She just had to wake up.
Michonne was saying something to her, but it didn’t make any sense so she ignored her and looked around dumbly. Once this nightmare ended, Carl would be getting ready for high school and not struggling under the weight of a grown man who was reaching for his belt. Something salty burned against the cut on her lip, and her tongue reached out to taste tears and blood. Wake up wake up wake up.
Bang! The sound of a gun firing forced Hanna back into reality. She blinked frantically, watching helplessly as Rick shook his stunned head. She ignored the man’s orders and called to him, trying to make sure he was okay. Her eyes searched his body frantically in fear of finding a bullet wound. Please don’t let there be blood, please not him. Anything but that.
Joe pistol-whipped him, and Hanna felt her throat constrict. Her eyes ping-ponged between the two men, and she couldn’t remember the last time she had ever felt so terrified. Joe leaned in close to whisper something, and Hanna watched in horror as Rick latched onto his throat. Joe’s face twisted into shock and agony, and Hanna almost wanted to look away, but her whole body felt paralyzed. When Rick pulled away, she could practically hear the sound of teeth ripping from flesh as he spat out a mouthful of blood and human flesh. His curls were matted to his head from sweat and his face was covered in blood. For one terrible second, she mistook him for a walker.
Her knees buckled, and suddenly she was no longer standing. Michonne ushered Carl into her embrace as Rick moved forwards with a knife in his hand. The sound of the man’s pleas were cut off when Hanna looked away as Rick began to disembowel him. As she sat there with her eyes squeezed shut and the slick sound of a knife entering flesh, a memory passed through her mind that made her sick. They were sitting in one of the empty cell blocks with loads of old clothes and ragged blankets on the floor to insulate them from the cold. Judith was laying on Rick’s chest, dozing off, and Hanna had her legs spread out on his lap. She was trying to control the warm blush that had overtaken her face at the feel of his thumb rubbing mindless circles on her bare ankle. There was a deck of cards spread out between them and Rick was trying-and failing- to teach her to play poker, claiming he could read her like an open book.
Hanna leaned over, feeling the nauseating sensation of vomit creeping up the back of her throat. She wretched, continuing to throw up until whatever meager amount of food had long been emptied and she only had bile left. Before she knew it, the feel of hands wrapped around her hair caused her to jump. It hit her like a punch. Only a few hours ago, a man had stripped her of her clothes and forced himself on her with the threat of everyone she loved about to be killed. Hanna exhaled harshly, pulling away and blindly slapping at the intruder. Her hand collided with something solid.
“Hey, hey,” the gruff voice was so familiar she sagged in relief, “It’s just me. Hanna, it’s me.”
She dropped her hands, feeling foolish as she nodded at his concern to show she was calming down. Everything was fine now. Everyone was okay. Michonne and Carl were asleep in the truck and Daryl was tending to his injuries. They were bruised and terrorized, but alive. For the first time, she allowed herself to take in Rick’s appearance. The collar of his jacket was stained with so much blood she could hardly make out the white fur, and his long curls looked wild. Hanna could see watered down red streaks running down his throat from where she could imagine he had tried to scrub off the blood coating every inch of his skin. If it was anyone else, she would have been scared.
He made an effort to reach out, before letting his arm drop between them and nodded at her face. “How’s your lip?”
She wanted him to reach out and touch her, to wipe away Joe’s aggressive claim on her mouth. He was always so careful not to touch her more than necessary- a whisper of calloused fingertips against her own or a steadying hand on her shoulder. Instead of telling him how much she craved human contact, she just tried to meet his gaze and said, “Sore.” Her tongue darted out to probe at the open cut, and she bit back a hiss of pain.
He handed her a bottle of water before quickly increasing the distance between them again. Disappointment flooded her chest, and Hanna smothered her feelings by taking a sip from the bottle. The silence that hung between them was heavy and awkward, so she kept drinking the water even when she was no longer thirsty and hoped he would say something.
“I should go check up on-”
“Rick.” He had started to pull away, but stopped at the sound of her voice. It was breaking her heart that he wouldn’t even look at her. Was he mad at the way she had frozen up before? Both Daryl and Michonne had jumped into action immediately and she just collapsed like a deer in the headlights uselessly.
She took a step towards him, only for him to step away from her and raise a bloody hand between them. “Hanna, don’t.”
If it was possible, her night was getting even worse. She should have been stronger for everyone’s sake. Her voice was choked with tears. “Please don’t be mad at me.”
Rick’s eyebrows pulled together in confusion. “Mad at you? Why the fuck would I be mad at you?” He ran his hand through his curls and pulled at them. “I never wanted you to see me like that,” his broken voice sounded so strained like his vocal cords had rusted over completely.
Understanding dawned on her, and she felt like he had slapped her. The thought that Rick could actually believe she was disgusted with him made her heart ache. “Rick, I would never-”
“I just tore a man’s throat out with my goddamned teeth, Hanna.” His lips twisted into a mean sneer.
She ignored him, stepping closer. When Rick tried to pull away, she reached out and grabbed him by the loops in his belt. He made a noise of protest, but he didn’t try to move from their close position again. Hanna noticed the way his gaze seemed fixated on the angry red hand marks blooming on both her wrists.
“You protected us.”
His head was bowed before her, and she reached out to cup his cheek. He had a good six or seven inches on her, but he seemed to comply easily with her touch. He had been crazed with grief after losing Lori and Herschel, but this wasn’t despair so much as acceptance.
“I thought I could be a good person. I thought I could do that for Carl, but I can’t be that person and keep everyone safe in this world.” His eyes were red-rimmed and such a deep blue they hit her square in the chest.
Hanna knew bad people. Men like the Governor and the Claimers- they were sick, disturbed people who thrived in this new, violent world because their bloodlust and need for power and finally found a place among all this death. They didn’t sing their baby daughters to sleep and love their friends enough to do anything to protect them.
“Rick, you are a good person,” Hanna worried her bottom lip between her teeth before quickly releasing it when a sharp pain reminded her to abstain from the old habit. She rubbed at the dried blood he had missed in his long overgrown beard with a sense of acute awareness at how his eyes tracked her movements. He was rigid beneath her touch, and she would have been discouraged if not for the way his hand absently held her elbow, anchoring her in place. Hanna could feel his warm skin through the sleeve of the shirt. It was almost stupid; they had just been attacked and she was assuring bloodied man in front of he was not a monster after tearing out a man’s carotid artery with his teeth, and all Hanna could focus on was the way his long fingers held her arm so carefully.
“Everything you’ve done has been to protect us. Call me biased, but that makes you the best person in my eyes. This grief you’re feeling, it’s what separates you from the people who actually enjoy hurting others. You’re a good person, Rick, I promise.”
He nodded stiffly. Rick lifted his hand between the small distance between their bodies and swiped his thumb along the purple bruise outlining her cheekbone. His lips curved into a slight frown. Hanna was frozen under Rick’s touch, marveling at how gentle he could be with hands that had just cut someone open. In distracted, rough voice with his eyes still trained away from hers, he mumbled, “I’ll just have to take your word on it.”