The mingling smell of butter and coffee slowly crept its way up the old stairs and before she was awakened, her nose twitched. A dreamless slumber suddenly changed and began to take on shapes, and in her sleep she saw herself lying in a hammock by the beach, peacefully enjoying a tall, cold glass of White Russian. The smell of it made her nostrils flare and in her sleep she took a deep breath and her eyebrows furrowed. Soon, the smell increased in its intensity, enough to make her sigh and the dream slowly dissolve away before her eyes. The beach disappeared, her drink was gone, and the smell of coffee quickly became something more and pulling herself away from her unconscious, she smiled for specific reasons her sleepy mind wasn't yet aware of.
She took a deep breath and her eyes finally opened. The aroma was suddenly so overwhelming that her smile widened, and she pressed her face to the pillow as she stretched her entire body like a Cheshire cat. Muscles that ached suddenly became unimportant, and clearing her throat she sat up and looked around. She'd only been able to sleep for a couple of hours, she determined by the position of the sun in the sky, and while everyone knew Andrea became the world's crankiest crabby-pants when deprived of sleep, today she didn't mind.
When her feet hit the cold hardwood floors she flinched, but quickly found a pair of shoes nearby. Too big for her feet, but their familiarity and warmth shot her with a feeling of comfort. She reached for a plaid shirt that hung nearby – also too big for her small frame – and with no thought she quickly made her way down the stairs to follow those wonderful smells that awakened her from her sleep. As she did her stomach growled loudly, and suddenly she couldn't remember the last time she'd had something solid to eat. Not that they weren't well equipped in their current situation, but rumors of walkers near the area have managed to take her back to those early days, when death was everywhere and they were always on the run. For a while back then she had completely lost her appetite due to the sheer anxiety of being alive; that feeling was slowly returning.
But she shook her head and discarded the thought. She didn't want to dwell on the possibility of that hell returning for them. Not today.
As she reached the kitchen she crossed her arms and leaned on the doorway, smiling at the scene in front of her. Rick stood near the stove, his bare back to her, and he was whisking something in a large green bowl. Even with his back to her, she noticed that he had shaved that morning and she secretly thanked whatever miracle had motivated him to do so. Those Rick Beards could get out of control quickly.
She approached him from behind, and when she wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed her face to his back, instead of tensing up his shoulders relaxed. He smiled and turned his head to the side to look at her, and today his eyes were blue deep and merry. She'd long ago discovered that it didn't matter where they were, what was happening, or who was around, when Rick smiled everything just seemed right. She returned the gesture, feeling a sense of comfort and joy, and kissed his bare shoulder. He was a little thinner now than when she first met him, but he was well toned and muscled. Andrea pressed her nose to his skin and inhaled, and took a moment to peek at his work over his shoulder. He had a load of ingredients strewn about the counter, and the floor was a mess with flour and broken egg shells. There was a steaming pot of coffee on the other side of the sink, and on the stove a burning hot pan with brown batter flakes stuck to the side.
"T's early," Rick said and began again working on his culinary experiment.
"Coffee woke me up," she offered as she let go of him and began to look through all the ingredients. She knew the milk, the eggs, salt and sugar they already had, but the baking soda, butter, maple syrup, and flour looked unfamiliar. She turned to him and her hand came up to rest on her hip, but she didn't feel annoyed, just a sudden sense of curiosity.
"How much did you pay for this?"
"Couple chicks," Rick replied, with his eyes glued to the bowl still. "Little bit of milk."
"Define little bit."
"Eh, it was about to spoil, anyway."
"Rick," she said in a worried tone
But he looked at her and smiled. "It's fine. Look, chicks just lay again, we have a new calf... we're okay. Plus, we got enough flour to last us a few months, til we can find someone to trade us some wheat seeds."
She looked at the ingredients again and her lips pursed aside in a gesture of dubiousness. It was only early fall, but winter would be here soon and she knew they needed to store, can, pickle, and preserve every bit of food they could get their hands on. They had yet to experience a winter in their new home and the thought of running out of food or gas for heating made her nervous.
"It's a special day," Rick suddenly said, sensing her trepidation, and when Andrea looked at him he seemed calm and carefree. It eased her worries, if only temporarily, and she moved over the sink to pour herself a cup of coffee. She hopped up to sit on the counter, her legs dangling, and as the hot bitter liquid traveled down her throat it warmed up all her extremities. She closed her eyes and reveled in the feeling.
The sizzling sound of butter bubbling and coating the pan suddenly brought her back to reality. Steam rose from the little disks as they cooked, and Rick stood over them watching carefully, trying to decide the best time to flip them. The smell they gave off now was beyond unreal, like some sort of forgotten dream coming true. They'd all but forgotten what good food tasted like, but one smell was all it took for it all to come back. She inhaled the scent and her stomach growled so fiercely she doubled over a little bit in pain, but the cramps passed quickly.
Rick patted her leg. "We got berries," he said, and tossed her a pair of blackberries she'd grown herself. "And a couple pomegranates. Whaddaya say? Pomegranate pancakes?"
He looked so cute and happy and so proud of himself, that she quickly forgot about the two chicks and the milk he traded away. Two weeks after moving into the house, Rick found a couple of old, handwritten recipe books (probably a family heirloom) and quickly took over the role of cook. When he got into that mindset it was as if he was in a trance, closely and meticulously following all the recipes to a T, frustrated when they didn't come out right. It worked well for everyone, since Andrea couldn't cook to save her life and Daryl's idea of a hearty meal consisted of several wild rodents and birds all tied together with a dirty rope and roasted over a wildfire.
Speak of the devil, the back door opened suddenly with a bang and Andrea wasn't surprised to see him walk in, holding a pail of fresh milk.
Daryl quickly inspected his surroundings (ever the hunter) and upon seeing her there he drawled, "ah, Sleeping Beauty's awake," as he set the pail down on the center of the kitchen table.
"You forgot Sleeping Beauty had to stay up all night keeping watch," she retaliated.
"Oh boo-hoo," Daryl said, but his tone was warm and affectionate. Andrea smiled at him as he walked over and placing his hands on her thighs, he leaned forward and captured her mouth in a quick kiss. She could tell by his taste that he'd spent all morning working in the barn, chewing on hay. Some day she was going to have to make him kick that horrible habit, for as much as she loved him she wasn't particularly fond of the taste of hay.
Daryl then leaned over to Rick, resting his hand on the other man's lower back, and their mouths fused together in a tender kiss. But then, Daryl noticed the pancakes sizzling on the pan and frowned at their suspicious existence. "The hell? We runnin' an IHOP now?"
Rick grinned. "It's a special day."
"Eh," Daryl said dismissively. Andrea watched him as he reached for a cup and poured himself a ladle full of the milk he'd just collected. She made a face. Drinking warm, fresh milk straight from a cow... that was one of the few things she still hadn't been able to master. Then again, unless it went in her coffee or her cereal, she wasn't a fan of milk in general.
Instead, she took another drink of her cooling coffee. "How's the calf?"
"I think she'll be fine," Daryl said, offering no further explanation in his typical Daryl way.
Andrea looked outside through the window above the sink. She could see the barn clearly from where she sat. Carl and Sophia laughed as they played with the dogs, and she could see Glenn tending to their new baby cow. Getting used to not having Glenn and Maggie around twenty four hours a day had been a difficult adjustment. The young couple decided to take the next farm over, and they were close enough to visit several times a week, but it was still a mile of space between them. It made Andrea uneasy. True, they hadn't had to deal with walkers lately, but there were other dangers out there, and she worried about her friends constantly. Glenn was smart and crafty, but he wasn't great with a gun, and Maggie refused to even touch them altogether. The young couple had adopted Sophia soon after Carol died, and while Andrea planned to teach the little girl how to handle and shoot a gun eventually, Sophia wasn't of age yet. She worried that they didn't have enough security there and to lose one more person so late in the game would be devastating.
She thought back to those days they were on the run, after that massive struggle that took the lives of the other half of their group, but before they found themselves here. For a long time, it had just been her, Daryl, Rick, Carl, Sophia, Glenn and Maggie. With nowhere to go and no one to turn to, they had just chased after vague rumors, trying to find a safe place to rest but also answers; from the government, from people, from anyone. The problem was it was always just rumors. Just stories people told each other to keep themselves from going crazy from despair. First they heard there was a large surviving community somewhere in California, and they decided to follow that lead only to find that everyone else in the country was planning to do the same. In the end, the California rumors turned out to be false. Then there were rumors about a refugee camp just miles off D.C., but those had turned out fake as well.
The rumors continued to pop up even now and currently there were two circulating around the small town closest to the farm. First they'd heard from a traveling man selling trinkets that a hoard of walkers had been spotted not far from where they lived. The second rumor: apparently in the last month, Texas had organized and risen and declared itself autonomous from the rest of the broken nation. Andrea wasn't too concerned about the Texas situation yet (though she knew Rick worried about a civil war), but the thought of more walkers... she couldn't stop thinking about it. More walkers meant more possibilities of infection, the virus re-gaining its strength and possibly wiping out the rest of the population altogether.
Daryl served himself another cup of milk. His foot twitched up and down under the table and though he never quite seemed able to be still, she knew this was a different kind of energy. It was a little nervous, a little too fast. He was thinking about the rumors, too.
Andrea didn't know what they would do if they had to leave this place. They had arrived in Oklahoma just a few months prior, and after finding plenty of abandoned farms and cattle they all decided to make this place their home. The remote location and abundance of plants and wildlife made it ideal, and the people in the town 20 miles over didn't seem to mind their presence. They fixed the house slowly, organized the barn, restored the chicken coop, cleared the wells and began planting whatever seeds they could find without even really knowing which fruits and vegetables to plant in which seasons. With the presence of humans, somehow other animals began to show up, too. Ducks flew in and out of their farm now freely, sometimes leaving eggs behind. Rabbits hopping all over the place, wild turkeys keeping their distance at the outskirts of their area, raccoons, bob cats... once Rick even spotted a bison. To go from nothing, from devastation, from blood and burning buildings and death, to go from all that to this... sometimes it felt like a dream.
Daryl was in heaven of course, spending most of his days outside tending to the animals and exploring the area. Andrea worried about him being away for so many hours at a time, but he argued that for their safety it would be best if he familiarized himself with the terrain. Rick had been a little anxious at first, not being used to so much peace and quiet, but eventually he learned how to relax. She knew the trick with Rick was to always keep him occupied. Hell, even Carl had learned how to be a kid again, a regular kid who didn't have to carry a weapon or worry about his safety or the safety of the group. Seeing him play now, hearing him laugh, regaling him with stories at bedtime...
She ran her hand through her hair. The thought of it all going away now, the thought of them not being together, after fighting for so long, she couldn't bear it.
Andrea began to feel her foot twitching nervously as well, but suddenly Rick's hand came to rest on the side of her face, and with a look he tried to reassure her everything would be okay. She smiled and leaned into his palm, and noticed he had in his other hand a plate with a huge stack of pancakes. The sight of them and another growl from her stomach made all the negative thoughts dissolve.
She hopped down from the counter, leaving the dirty coffee cup in the sink and settling at the table. Rick called the kids over for breakfast, and before Andrea got the chance to serve herself, Daryl was already halfway through his first pancake. She smiled, knowing he'd been working hard all morning and was probably ravenous. As he chewed, a small film of syrup stuck to the corner of his mouth and she reached over to wipe it from him. His first instinct was to pull back (he was so much like a little boy sometimes; she thought it was adorable) but then he leaned into her touch. She brought the syrupy finger to her mouth and licked it, raising her eyebrows at the taste of maple and Daryl (and dirt and hay).
The kids came running into the kitchen, all wild energy and enthusiasm, and as they took turns hugging her and saying their good mornings, Andrea briefly wondered if it was a good idea to feed them this much sugar. But then she figured, they had acres of land to spend all that energy up, and the look of sheer joy on Carl's face as he realized what was for breakfast was well worth the hours she would have to spend later on trying to get him to come down from his sugar high. Glenn and Maggie could deal with Sophia later.
Rick allowed them to eat on the back porch, just off the kitchen, and after setting aside a plate for Glenn he joined Daryl and Andrea at the table.
"This is amazing," Andrea said with a mouthful. God help her, maybe Daryl's manners (or lack thereof) were rubbing off on her but she didn't care. She couldn't remember the last time she had such an amazing breakfast. It was worth the two chicks. It was so worth the two chicks.
"S' alright," Daryl commented, already on his third pancake.
"Hey, chefs have feelings too," Rick said, covering his chest with his free hand, feigning anguish.
"M'sorry, Julia Child."
Andrea laughed, and Rick smiled as he shook his head and began to eat his pancakes. They ate in silence, each immersed in their own thoughts, the sounds of Carl and Sophia eating and trying to decide what they would name the calf, and the wonderful taste of the pancakes. They made sure they were all gone, and Andrea began to eye Glenn's stack but Rick took her plate away with a pointed look. She snarled at him playfully.
Daryl stood by the sink, wiping his face, and when he saw Rick approach with the dirty plates he took them from him and pinned him to the counter. Rick yelped as he did and Daryl's lips were on his before he could protest. He tensed up but relaxed quickly as Daryl licked the remains of the syrup that still coated Rick's bottom lip. His hands reached for Daryl's hips and he pulled him closer.
"T'was good," Daryl murmured. "My compliments to the chef," he added with a curtsey before he walked off to wash up.
Andrea chuckled as she began to collect the rest of the dirty dishes. Rick tried to stop her, but she figured the least she could do was clean up. She washed all the dishes and glasses, but left the messy floors up for later. Glenn stumbled in a couple of minutes later to eat his pancakes, and after collecting a few eggs and taking some milk, he gathered Sophia up and headed home, but not without a stern lecture from Rick to stay alert.
She washed up and changed quickly. When she walked out to the back porch she saw Rick and Carl tending to the new calf in the distance. The calf's birth had been a messy, dramatic complication and for a moment they thought they were going to lose both the calf and its mother. But after its traumatic birth, the little thing was doing much better today, and with the help of Daryl and Maggie its mother was finally beginning to express her milk.
Daryl was sitting on the steps, watching everything, always keeping track and recording in his brain every detail of his surroundings. She came up behind him and sat on the next step up, trapping his body between her legs. He leaned back and rested his arms on her thighs before dropping the side of his head on his biceps with a heavy sigh.
He was exhausted. Andrea could tell by the way his eyes were opening and closing lazily. She ran her hands through his hair and gently began massaging his temples with her fingers, noticing that they were throbbing strongly. The beginnings of a headache. No wonder he was a little crabby; Daryl didn't deal with headaches very well. He closed his eyes and let out a satisfied moan, his fingers absentmindedly caressing her leg, and she continued to rub until she felt the throbbing go away. He seemed to get some of his energy back then, and one eye finally opened to look at her.
Neither said anything. They could both tell what the other was thinking. It was clear in the small worry lines on her forehead and the way his lips formed a tight line. She hadn't heard or seen anything unusual the night before, but they were both still weary. Rumors were just rumors. That's what Rick liked to believe (or at least, that's what Rick wanted them to think he believed), but Daryl and Andrea knew better. A blond tendril escaped from behind her ear and rained down on his cheek, and he grabbed it in his fingers and looked at it closely.
His mouth opened to talk, but Andrea interrupted him. "I don't wanna think about it," she sighed, dropping a soft kiss on the temple she had been massaging minutes before. "Okay? Not today."
Daryl nodded. He leaned his body back into hers and she wrapped her arms around him, raking his hair with her nails and kissing the top of his head, repeating the movements until his shoulders relaxed. They stayed that way for a moment as they watched Rick and Carl letting the chickens out for the day, and a skein of ducks flew overhead, heading south. It was like some postcard or hallmark card, or some happy Disney movie with talking and singing animals. It was perfect.
Daryl looked down.
A small shrub of hydrangeas grew at the edge of the steps. He watched them as the wind swayed the perfect spheres back and forth. He dug out his knife, reached over and cut one of the stems. As he did, a few little petals flew away in the wind and into the sky.
He inspected it, swatting away at the little ants that clung to the stem, before turning back and presenting the blue orb of petals to Andrea. She took the sweet offering with a warm smile and brought the flowerhead up to her nose, reveling in the scent of soil and fall. Every danger or threat or rumor suddenly disappeared, and she felt a great sense of peace.
Daryl kissed her collarbone, leaving his head resting on her shoulder, and whispered into the base of her neck. "Happy birthday."
A/N: Eek! I wasn't gonna post this, a) because most people seem mad at Andrea now (me? I'm mad at the writers for messing up the comic characters!) and b) cause I didn't know if it would be well received. But I just love these three and I can't stop thinking about them being together all happy and threesomy. If you guys are interested, I might write more as I have a couple ideas in mind (not to mention I need to get them in bed together!). I'm a Walking Dead reader, so my Sophia is 7/8 years old as opposed to 12. I hope you guys like it and forgive me for any mistakes. The last thing I am in the world is a writer, and I've never done anything like this! If you have constructive criticism, please let me know. I wanna get better at it!