Past, Present and Future.
Set at some point in the quasi-distant future. One-shot. Kinda popped into my head and went in a completely unexpected, very fluffy direction, but I hope you like it. I just figured that after all the crap they've been through, they need some happiness at the end of it, even if it is kinda fluff-tastic.
At some point, Andrea realises, they're going to have to start thinking about the future. Not just the next day or next week, but the next six months, next year. She just had no idea where they'd end up.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Spoilers for all episodes of S2 so far.
At some point, Andrea realises, they're going to have to start thinking about the future. Ironically enough, it's a brief segue into a small-town library, with its books about the past and now-shattered present that makes her really realise it.
It's dangerous but necessary thinking: no-one wants to tempt fate by talking about the future, but as the present becomes what feels like a never-ending day of nightmares and blood and endless running, she realises that they all need something to live for, some fictional aspiration where this will no longer exist and they can all take a breath and stop running. And if she, the woman who was fully prepared to end her days in a CDC basement has realised it, then she's pretty sure that the others have, too.
"Do you ever think about the future?" She asks Daryl as the pair board the windows in the small library in an even smaller town where they've taken refuge for the night.
They're heading away from Atlanta, deeper south, destination unknown, but they're tired and getting low on gas and supplies, and the town is largely intact but completely depopulated, the Library the one surviving structure large enough for them all to have some privacy and isn't filled with decomposing bodies. The heat and the stench throughout the town are almost unbearable but Andrea knows that they should be thankful, in a way. While they're in the middle of an intense Georgia summer, it won't always be. Fall will come and then it will turn to winter and when that happens they'll want to be as far away from the north as possible.
Daryl almost snorts at her question, as though it's as fantastical as suggesting that they build a spacecraft and head to the moon, which is understandable. They've all been living day-to-day since everything happened, but Daryl strikes her as being the one person (aside from her) who gives the littlest thought to the future, so she reasons that if he's given some thought to it then everyone else must have, too.
They've been hanging out a little recently, not much, but enough. Enough for her to realise ... something. She isn't sure what yet, but it's there, all the same. Beneath the grime and the sweat and the bad plaid sleeveless shirts and abrupt attitude there's something in Daryl Dixon that's worth knowing, that's worth holding onto, that's worth entreating him to stay with their group.
Almost killing him certainly plays some part in it, but not all. Since she shot him she feels this awful need to atone for it, to prove to him and to herself that she can still interact with human beings, especially with Daryl. Since Merle left she gets the sense that through either desire or necessity, he's trying to make an effort with the rest of the group. And what does she do? In her own desire to prove that she's more than a human laundrette who's lost her sister, she shoots him.
She's just glad that her aim was off.
To his credit, he's never shouted at her. He never shunned her, or lost his temper with her, even tolerated her well-meaning attempts to make it up to him. He's still pissy with her, but he was like that before so she takes it as a compliment or indication that she's been forgiven.
Of course, now he's giving her a look that indicates that she's crazy. "The future?" He echoes. "Asks the girl who until recently decided she didn' wanna live?"
She shrugs. "Pretty soon we're all gonna have to start thinking about it." She says honestly.
Her eyes drift to the children's literature section, where Carl and Lori are sat on plastic chairs in the shape of mushrooms, reading Where The Wild Things Are. There's a stack of old maternity and childbirth books at her feet. Andrea doesn't know how far along Lori is, but she's starting to show a little now and Andrea really doesn't want to think about what's going to happen when Lori goes into labour. The Grimes family, more than anyone, need to start planning for their future but she realises that really, they all do because this situation isn't going to last forever. It can't. This cannot be the way they're destined to end their days, in beat-up pickup trucks scavenging for squirrels and moving as far as they can with the gas they can siphon. There has to be more, perhaps not a return to before, but something that's more than this.
Daryl shrugs. "Not really." He answers. "Pretty hard to think about it when all you're worried about is gettin' enough food or not bein' bit."
"Guess so." Andrea says, reaching for one of the books and beginning to thumb through it before setting it aside. She can't remember the last time she picked up a book unless it was sturdy enough to take out a walker's brains. "There's going to come a point where we can't do that, though. Where we have to make plans, try to bring back our government, infrastructure."
Daryl laughs. "Maybe you should run for president." He jokes.
Andrea shrugs. "President of what country?" She asks softly. "Are we even a country anymore? Are we a nation, are we even a state?" She reaches for a World Atlas which has been out of date since 1989, flipping through the pages. Idly she wonders just how this outbreak has affected the rest of the world, what kind of world will be left when the dust has finally settled for the last time. "There's got to be some point where we start asking those questions." She says.
Daryl takes the book from her and hands her the hammer. "Right now, boardin' up these windows is more important." He says firmly, going off to find more nails and boards.
She knows he's right in a way but at the same time, so, so wrong. While she should probably leave the bigger question of nation-building to what remains of the government (if one remains), she firmly believes that her general sentiment is right: there has to come a point where they stop being so immediatist and start asking questions about the future, and start coming up with answers.
Despite his earlier dismissal, when Daryl speaks quietly into the still, warm night as the pair lie together in the library, crammed into aisles and asleep surrounded by the words of famous writers who are long since dead, she knows that she's struck a chord.
"A cabin, deep in the woods." He says, so quietly that she can't hear him. He can probably only just hear himself, as though speaking the words will jinx them and perish on his lips.
She shifts in her sleeping bag and turns around to look at him. "What?" She murmurs, groggily, barely able to hear over T-Dog's gentle snoring in the aisle next to them.
"You asked about the future." He says quietly, a slim shaft of moonlight from the gaps in the boarded-up windows lighting up his face. "That's what I think about, when I think about once this is over. Somewhere remote, maybe here, Tennessee, Alabama. Lotsa hills, forests - good huntin' ground. Away from prying eyes. And walkers. No goddamned walkers." There's a tiredness to his voice and she wonders if even he, Daryl Dixon: Walker Killer Extraordinaire, isn't getting a little bit tired. Surely everyone must, after a time?
"They can't last forever." Andrea agrees before adding, "Sounds nice, Daryl."
He's silent for such a long time that she's convinced he's fallen asleep. "What about you?" He asks huskily.
She moves so that she lying on her stomach, facing him and watching him carefully. "I don't know." She says honestly. "I really ... I can't see it, at all." She says. "I know that I'm the one who brought it up but ... just staying in one place where I feel safe would be nice." She looks down. "Do you ever think about ... what you'd be doing if all of this hadn't happened?" She asks finally. Since they're talking about the future it makes sense to talk about the past: how do you know where you want to be if you don't know where you've been?
"Sure as hell wouldn't be lying on no library floor." He says wryly into the night. "I can't even remember the last time I stepped foot in a library."
"I lived in them when I was in college. Law School sucked sometimes." She joked. "Not that there's much market for lawyers now." She added.
He shrugged. "There wasn't much for the likes of me and Merle, either." He said simply. "No real work, no kin, no family."
He shuts up abruptly then and Andrea suddenly thinks about his earlier reticence. It's never dawned on her that maybe one of the reasons why he might not want things to go back to 'normal' is because, well ... what would he go back to? She has no idea how he lived before this, what he did. Here, in this life ... its dangerous and its hard but he's valuable. He hunts and shoots and teaches others those skills. He's afforded wary respect, even though that wariness is fading with each passing day. His opinion is sought and often taken. He doesn't have his elder brother telling him that he's worthless. Here ... he's taken care of, has a family of sorts who care for him.
She smiles and reaches for his hand, squeezing gently. "Funny how things change, huh?" She says into the dark. To her immense surprise, he squeezes back.
There's a definite chill in the air and the days are slowly getting shorter when they cross into rural Alabama. Andrea's never been into this part of the country before and there's no denying its majestic beauty. More and more she finds herself looking out of the window asking 'could I live here? Could I settle here?' It's like going off to college and then onto the job market again but with a radically altered set of quality-of-life-questions. Instead of asking questions like, 'what's the town like? Are there good amenities? What's the daily commute?' She's asking, 'what's the water quality like? Will we be able to hunt/grow crops? Is this position easily defensible? How many walkers are there?' It's a bizarre transition to make, but a necessary one.
Ultimately though, several factors make the choice for them.
Firstly, the RV finally dies and despite Dale and Daryl's best efforts, it cannot be resuscitated.
Secondly, the Grimes family convoy runs out of gas.
Finally, Lori just can't take any more travel. Her due date's getting closer and she's had enough. She, Andrea and Carol have been reading the maternity/childbirth books they got from the library in anticipation of the birth, none of them are midwives but they're unanimous in their decision that too much travel can't be good for her.
Unless they split up and go their separate ways, they're not going anywhere.
Not that there's anywhere to go to. Their vehicles stall on a long-empty road: no cars, no houses and no gas. For better or for worse, they're stuck. So they split what's left of the gas between the station wagon and Daryl's truck in case they need to make a quick getaway, and manoeuvre all the vehicles off road into a large field full of dead grasslands. They scout around for walkers before Shane goes off in his jeep to see if he can find supplies and Daryl goes off to hunt.
All of them think about what they're going to do next.
The Grimes family are staying put, of that much Andrea is certain. Dale, too. Carol and Sophia have nowhere else to go and neither do Glenn or T-Dog. Shane's been making noises about leaving since before Lori announced that she was pregnant; it can't be easy for him to watch her grow and he's the only one with more than a quarter tank of gas left in his truck. If he were to leave, she wouldn't be surprised.
That leaves her and Daryl.
When Daryl doesn't come back from hunting, Andrea thinks he's actually left, that he's finally realised that they might have to stay here and put down some kind of roots. And she panics, panics in a way that she hasn't for quite some time. When he finally materialises through the tree line with several rabbits and squirrels, she feels tears of irrational relief pool at her eyes. Its then she realises that not only does she want to stay, but more specifically, she doesn't want him to go, either. It's a subtle distinction but one she never thought she's want to make again.
Shane finds a town not too far away that's little more than a cluster of houses, a church and a water well, but it's walker-free and seems to have survived the onslaught relatively well. Much to the Grimes family's relief, there's a fairly well-stocked if basic medical clinic, really little more than two rooms in someone's house, but it will do well enough. Everything feels almost normal, so normal that it puts everyone on edge, especially Shane and Daryl. For the next few days they camp just beyond the hamlet to check for walkers, residents or flat-out crazies.
It's during this impromptu and unnecessary stakeout that Andrea finds what she didn't even realise she had been looking for.
"What the hell are you doin'?" Daryl exclaims some time later, as she drags him without explanation through town and out towards the woods, her hand lightly clasped in his. She can't remember the last time she was as excited about something as she is now.
When her quarry comes into view, she stops and points. "I found this." She breathes.
It's a house, less than a mile away from the town, half-tucked away in the forest. Its roof is damaged on one side and the windows are boarded up, but it's intact and sturdy and sits atop a hill. From the outside it looks deserted and a quick sweep inside confirms that it hasn't been inhabited for some time.
"What do you think?" She asks as they stand outside the house, looking up at it. It's simple, but homey, a far cry from the stylish, chic apartment that she used to call home in Florida. But ... it works. She wants it to work. "I mean ... It looks like the owners aren't coming back, and its far enough away to feel like it's in the woods, but close enough to town that it's still close to the others, and with Lori's due date coming up-"
He cuts her off, his voice sounding strange and strangled when he speaks. "Why did you show me this?" He asks quietly, almost disbelievingly.
She can feel her cheeks flush. "I like this place." She says honestly. "And I don't want to live with any of the others, but no-one else wants this place and I think I could make it nice. But the roof's shot to hell and I figured that since you probably know how to fix it ... we could split it." When he doesn't say anything she ploughs on. This was probably a ridiculous idea but to stop midway is going to be even worse. "Daryl ... I don't want you to go." She says.
A look of surprise flashes across his face. "You think I'm gettin' ready to leave?" He says.
"I don't know." Andrea says honestly. "But ... I think that we'd be worse off without you. And I think that you'd be worse off without us. We're a family now and whether we like it or not, I think something somewhere is telling us that we need to stop and catch our breath and make this our home for a little while."
Daryl stares at the house. "And you think this could be home?" He asks, the word sounding foreign and alien even to her when it comes out of his mouth, and she wonders if he's ever had a real home before. She's willing to bet that the answer's no.
Andrea nods emphatically. "I think so." She says.
He doesn't say anything else; just turns around and walks away. But when she next sees him, he's holding Dale's toolbox and is covered in sawdust, and when she next goes up to the Hill House, as she's called it, he and Rick are fixing the roof.
No-one's surprised when they move into the Hill House, not really. On one level they probably expected him to leave, to re-draw the lines of division that once separated them. But he doesn't, and neither do they. Somewhere, between Atlanta and the CDC and the farm with the barn full of zombies and the library and now, they've crafted a new world, a new family. It's precarious and could fail at any time, but that's what makes them cling to it all the more. To be sure, he's still abrasive and argumentative and abrupt, but now he takes Carl hunting and helps Dale build a crib for Lori and Rick and lets Carol mother him a little more and Andrea doesn't wonder if he's going to just get in his truck and leave whenever someone riles him up. But he doesn't. So they stay.
To be sure, they live together, but they have separate parts of the house, an arrangement of practicality rather than anything else. The others don't believe it until they come by and see for themselves. It works well for both of them. But sometimes she finds fresh flowers in empty beer bottles on the table or atop the basic cabinet at her bedside and she wonders just how practical their arrangement is going to stay.
What surprises her is that they haven't seen any walkers in a long time. To be sure, they're miles from anything here, but she's surprised that they haven't seen any. She figures that there must be some, at least, but winter is coming and there must only be so long that human flesh can exist for before it starts to decay into nothing. And, she further rationalises, that if they napalmed Atlanta then they must have done something similar to the other major cities. A part of her hopes that this really is the end of it, or the end of the worst at least, that finally they can make plans and breathe a little easier and all those longed-for hopes and aspirations are within their grasp, even if they're nothing more ambitious than settling in one place for more than a few days.
Even so, neither of them get sloppy. They're away from the others which is partly because they like it that way, but it also brings with it disadvantages. So they always keep the back door locked and bolted, the front door also locked up tight. The bottom windows are still boarded and she still sleeps with a gun under her pillow. They're never going to be ambushed like they have been in the past.
Lori goes into labour earlier than expected. Its long and its hard, but she, Andrea and Carol do the best they can and finally, on a chilled winter's morning, they bring a little girl into the world. And everyone loves her, well ... almost everyone: Daryl's never even held a baby until she's put in his arms. He lasts less than five seconds until he relinquishes her to Andrea. His expression is one of unbridled terror and she fights the urge to laugh at the fact that he'll face down a walker with nothing more than a sharp stick and his wits but the thought of holding a newborn is too much to contemplate.
Their eyes lock as he hands the baby back to her, something passing between them. It feels like little vibrations and tremors in the air and in the ground around them. It's like the last piece of the puzzle has finally clicked into place, that final boundary between them has been broken by a newborn girl. Suddenly, and in more ways than one, their future has become the present.
That night, she takes him by the hand and leads him upstairs into her bedroom. The house stops being two separate houses and becomes a home. There's always flowers in beer bottles by her bed.
When she stood in that library and asked him about the future, she'd never envisage this was where they'd end up.