Disclaimer: I don't own The Walking Dead and I don't profit from writing this.
If I misspelled anyone's name, it's because I'm too paranoid about spoilers to look up anything TWD-related until the series is done airing, as I haven't read the comics XD This is my interpretation of the events after Pretty Much Dead Already. No I don't know if this is anything like it really plays out... please don't tell me how it really does in canon?
My heart's in a thousand pieces maybe even more
There was a long space in between when the gunshot rang out and when the crying started that was filled with broken promises, crushed hope, and perhaps even a bit of damnable relief that it was all over, the the closure had finally come, that the waiting was over. For better or for worse was the one thing that was not clear in that space, and it brought more waiting, more necessary uncertainty that clouded the bright and sunny air of the farm.
Herschel, to his credit, was less angry than the group collectively expected. For a long moment he simply sat on his knees on the ground, letting Maggie cling to him with something that was a mixture between sorrow and maybe reverence, and then he straightened up and she drew back, pushing some stray hair behind her ear and trying to feign strength.
"That was the little girl you were looking for," he stated, not a question but a fact. "...Sophia."
Rick nodded, a short nod, his gun hand lowering and tucking the gun into the rim of his pants. His hands felt dirty from it and it didn't want to touch it anymore, not now, not when Sophia still lay dead and bleeding several yards away, a midpoint between he and the open barn door.
"Yes sir," he responded. For the first time since he had stripped himself of his uniform he missed it, missed the strength it gave him, almost like a shield from the world's scrutiny. Officers learned to live in the shadow of their badges, natural as day. "That was her. Sophia..." his voice broke a bit on the sound of her name and he turned his head away for a moment and then looked back at the old man.
"Now you understand," Herschel said rather plainly. "That they're people, not animals. Killing them is not always so simple as pulling the trigger."
Rick nodded, glancing briefly at the rest of the group. Andrea was staring in silent horror and her expression was a perfect mirror of Glen's. Dale looked completely and utterly shellshocked and Carol was sobbing openly, being restrained by Daryl who was so busy he did not seem to have time for any sort of an expression at all. And then there was Lori, with tears sliding silently down her face, holding onto Carl, who simply looked numb and crumbled in the same way an old man would. It was devastating to say the least, and when he looked back at Herschel he was sure his own expression was even more pained for it. Shane was still puffed up like an animal and Rick simply ignored him. He didn't want to go there. Not now.
"I think some part of us wanted to understand before," he replied slowly. "But the rest of us was working on pure instinct, and we wanted to think of 'em as nothing but dangerous. But when it's one of your own..." he broke off and had to cover his mouth with his hand for a moment. "I'm sorry I just..."
"I understand," Herschel replied, his mouth a thin line. "It takes some time to compose yourself after... losing a loved one."
Rick paused for a moment, glancing at Shane, and his eyes were harder than they had ever been looking on his best friend, even harder than they had ever been after ridiculous high school quarrels or god knew what else, he couldn't even remember anymore. "I know we overstepped our boundaries just now, and I can't expect you to be okay with that. We'll leave sunup tomorrow if you give us the word. After what just happened... we'll find a way to make it by. I can't ask for more hospitality after that."
There was a long pause on Herschel's end. "You're a good man, Rick, and I respect you. What happened here today was not your doing, nor that of any sort of group effort or mutiny. It was the act of one man..." he glanced in Shane's direction, and Shane looked away quickly, still sweating and pacing and breathing heavily. "And it will be treated as such. I'll come to a final decision by morning, but for now, you need to handle your own."
"Yes sir, we will. Nothing like this will happen again," he assured him. Herschel turned in the bright sunlight and walked in the direction of the house. Glen scampered to Maggie's side and she brushed him off, though there was more vulnerability than coldness there and he only hoped Glen sensed it as clearly as he did.
"Not now, Glen..." she said quickly, rubbing one upper arm and she turned to follow Herschel. "Later."
Glen gave Dale a helpless glance, and the elderly man shook his head, and that was that. Defeated and looking rather scarred, Glen turned his eyes toward Rick. He looked like he wanted to say something; he was always a man for speaking up. But now, no one had any words. It was the sort of impossible situation where nothing, no word, not even a monologue, was enough to express what needed to be said. Rick turned back toward Sophia's body and knelt down, pushing her eyelids closed. The rigor mortis that had probably set in long ago, before she had even started to walk again after her death, held them closed. Then he stood and turned to face the others.
"What happened here today... Sophia being... how she was... was not anybody's fault. I want you all to know that before you start getting ideas about blaming yourselves, or each other," he said slowly, willing his voice not to break.
"I could've kept searchin' longer," Daryl said quietly from where he sat mostly on the ground, looking a bit awkward with Carol pressed against his chest and weeping. "If I woulda kept at it..."
"That's exactly the kinda thing I'm talking about," Rick said, pointing at him. "It's not your fault. You did everything you could to help her, and that's worth everything. I'm sure it would be to her, and she wouldn't want you blaming yourself."
Daryl looked like he wanted to argue, but then nodded slowly, conceding and lowering his head, not looking at anyone anymore. Rick couldn't blame him. It was hard to want to look at any of them right now, with everything he was feeling. Forcing himself to stay strong, he glanced at everyone in turn. Their expressions were mostly the same as they had been before. In the distance, the screen door to the house closed.
"All this time... she's been dead..." Andrea said finally, bringing her knuckles up over her mouth, her lips parted in the wide almost-smile of someone who is fighting back tears. "We've been looking for her and she... she..."
"There's no telling how long she's been dead," Dale chimed in, though he still looked absolutely bewildered. He had missed quite a bit coming up late from the woods and though the emotional impact didn't seem to have been any less, the sense he could have made from the events leading up to it was lost. "She might have made it quite a while."
"Like that's any better?" Andrea spun around to face him, and there was a wildness to her eyes. "Knowing she could have suffered out there for God knows how long before..."
"Calm down!" Glen piped up quickly, raising his hands in a disarming gesture, and then, in a lower voice, he added. "Don't talk about this stuff in front of Carol. It's bad enough for her already."
"That's right," Rick agreed with an appreciative nod toward Glen. "We don't need to talk about any of this right now. Right now what we need to do is figure out what we're gonna do if Herschel decides we need to leave, and do something in the way of a decent burial for these people."
"I'll do it," Glen said. His eyes were hollow and hurt but his expression had an eagerness to be doing something else, something to take his mind off of the situation at hand. Rick had seen that expression in the mirror more times than he could even count.
"I'll help," Dale volunteered. "Takes more than one person to dig graves. Figure we gotta bury all of them. They were these peoples' family once, even if they ended up... well... it's the least we can do."
"Might as well pitch in," Andrea added. "We have to do something. You too, T-Dog. Your arm's well enough, right?"
The bald man nodded, moving his arm around a bit. The bandage on it was no longer soaked through with blood as it had been so long ago. "Should be able to dig okay."
"I'll take Carol over to the tents, get her some water," Lori said quickly. It seemed everyone was in a rush to figure out something to do, and Rick understood completely. There was nothing worse than facing the reality of what had come to pass head-on. "Carl, you come with me."
"Dad..." Carl began, and there was a question in his eyes, one that Rick didn't have the strength to answer, or wouldn't have, he was sure, if he knew exactly what that question would be if it was put into words.
"Go with your mother," Rick said as he glanced up at his wife, and the two shared an almost uncomfortable look. "I have to talk to Shane for a bit, okay?"
"Are you gonna yell at him?" Carl asked.
"Go with your mother," Rick repeated, just a shade of impatience managing to find its way into his tone. Looking defeated, Carl slouched after his mother and Rick watched the broken little group move off to do their aforementioned chores, their shoulders all slumped. There was no getting around the low spirits. It took moments before only he and Shane remained, Daryl glancing between the two of them before he started off for the edge of the woods.
"Gotta take care of something," he muttered. Giving a needless nod to the man's retreating back, Rick turned his attention to Shane. For a moment there was a long silence that stretched out across the sunbaked ground around them, through the trees where no birds sang, across the sky wide and open and inappropriately blue for their mourning. Shane seemed to sense the storm that was coming and he turned to face Rick, crossing and uncrossing his arms, still pacing, full of an almost drugged energy.
"So what's it gonna be?" Shane asked, his shaved head shining with sweat under the beating rays of the afternoon sun. "You gonna lay into me, is that it? Go ahead, I did what I had to do to keep us safe! To keep you safe! To keep your boy and your pregnant wife and all your loyal followers safe! I did what I HAD TO DO!"
There was a calm, and then Rick exploded. There were very few times in his life when he could honestly say that he had outright lost his temper, and this was one of those times. "You had NO RIGHT!" he shouted, the words exploding out of him. The gravediggers behind the barn peered over, and then quickly went back to their work. "You had no right to break this man's property and go against his word on HIS LAND!"
"I told you I was doing what I had to do to keep us SAFE! Is everybody else outta their goddamn minds? Those things were gonna kill us!" Shane bellowed back, and there was so little of the man Rick had grown up with in that voice, in those eyes, that he wasn't entirely sure who he was talking to anymore.
"No you weren't! We were safe before! The barn was secure until you broke the lock! And now look where we are! We've broken Herschel's trust and you've forced our hands and made us kill what were members of his family once! His family, Shane!"
"Those were walkers! Nothin' but walkers! They'd kill you as soon as look at you, and now Herschel's got you soft, got you thinkin' they're people! They ain't! They're dead!" Shane looked almost manic now, and Rick took a step back.
"I'm not soft, I'm being reasonable," Rick explained, quite a bit calmer now. "His farm, his land, his say. We can't..."
"If I hear somebody say that one more time, I'm gonna scream," Shane snapped, venom in every syllable. "His this, his that! You gotta take what you want, you can't just have it handed to you anymore in this world! He's got this little slice of heaven here, and he doesn't want to share! I say we take it. I say we take what we deserve, what we need, and let the old man rot for all I care!"
"Calm down!" Rick took a step forward, and he could feel the tension in the air close to exploding all around him, too hot and too thick to swallow. It was miserable. In high school, in police academy, Rick had known what kind of a man Shane was. He was a strong man. An honest man. He was the kind of man that would take a bullet for you, and you'd take a bullet for him. It was just the way it was. But this world was different now. Colder. Harder. A day before, he had heard Shane tell Lori that Rick himself wasn't right for this world as it was, but now it was becoming increasingly obvious that it was Shane who wasn't right for this world. It had turned him cold, mean, a survivor and an animal who struggled and clawed more than he really lived. There was nothing of the man he had known for so long, loved like a brother since he met him as a child. This was not Shane. This was someone else.
"You calm down! I'm sick of being told to calm down! I'm sick of this whole damn place!" the rifle in Shane's hands passed back and forth between them like a brutal pendulum, counting the seconds, counting down until the world exploded. "I'm sick of being pushed around and I'm sick of being second banana to a man who doesn't understand what this world's about anymore!"
With that, Shane turned. Rick could see it almost in slow motion, him spinning in the direction of the farmhouse, rifle still in hand. There was no more arguing, no more words. There was motion and Rick followed, not really knowing what he was doing or even where they were going for a moment. Blind and deaf and dumb he flailed in Shane's direction, the world around him sounding like it was underwater. They crossed the distance to the front porch, slammed in through the screen door, and barreled into the living room where Herschel was sitting in an arm chair, his face drawn and his eyes closed, Maggie hovering somewhere near the fireplace, pacing.
As they neared, Herschel's eyes snapped open, and Shane opened his mouth but all that came out was an ugly sound like an animal at slaughter. As he raised the rifle, Rick could hear the church bells from before ringing, could hear Sophia laughing and the cheerful banter of them all around a campfire. He could hear radio transmissions from Morgan, could hear the daunting words of Doctor Jenner in the CDC. He did not hear Maggie's shriek or Shane's shouting. All he could do was see, and what he saw was Shane raising his rifle directly toward Herschel's head. Heart thudding in his chest, Rick drew his gun and time stood still for just a brief moment, a time when all was right with the world.
Rick pulled the trigger first.
In an explosion of blood, Shane's head gave way under the bullet and his body fell, unfired rifle sliding from his hand. First, he fell to his knees, then onto his side and simply lay still. It was not the elegant pose of a man in a movie but the sprawled-eagled, all too real pose of a man who has just died broken. Time righted itself then, and Maggie screamed again and then sobbed, hands coming up to cover her mouth. Herschel, splattered with blood from the shot, sat up in his chair, looking stunned. Both of them stared at Rick. There were no words. There was only a moment when Rick realized fully the act of having just killed his best friend.
"I'm sorry..." he said finally, and it was all he could say before the tears came.
Behind him, others clambered through the doorway, obviously having heard the shot. Rick could offer no explanation, no comforting words, no solace to them in their time of need as he heard the gasps, the sobs, the whimpers and murmurs of 'no' and 'oh God' and various other phrases people in shock utter. There was nothing he could say, and it killed him, so he went to Lori and buried his face in her neck, and with her, he cried.
Carol did not get out of bed to see the cause of the shot; she didn't need to see more violence, didn't need to know. She was numb to the world and that was fine with her. She simply lay wrapped up in her blankets and cried for her daughter who would never know womanhood and for herself and her friends, who would never hear Sophia's voice again. People came and went, but most of them had the decency to pay their respects briefly and leave. It wasn't as though anything could soothe the ache, and they seemed to understand.
In the cocoon of blankets, she listened to the day pass around her, listened to the others weep and speak and come and go outside the tent. The wind blew in the trees and the world seemed far too at peace for the horrible things that had come to pass on the farm today. It was nearly an hour that she lay there before Daryl poked his head through the tent flap, a grim expression on his face.
"I know you're probably not feelin' up to visitors, so I won't stay. Just wanted to give you something," he moved into the tent and to her side, where he extended a hand to show a Cherokee rose held delicately between his thumb and forefinger.
Carol paused and took it reverently, wiping her eyes with her free hand. "Thank you."
Daryl nodded, giving her a smile that was still clouded with sadness. "It doesn't do much good to say I was pullin' for her, but I thought flower maybe that might cheer you up a little," he paused, looking a bit awkward. "Before, I told you that one we saw was bloomin' for Sophia. Maybe this one here... maybe it's bloomin' for you."
Carol stared at the flower for a moment and then back at Daryl, and he gave her that half-smile once more and then bowed out, exiting the tent and letting the flap fall behind him. For a long time Carol wept silently, staring at the rose in her hands that she cupped gently as though it was an eggshell. Then finally, slowly, she crawled out of bed and out of the tent, into the bright sunlight. Among the trees she stood with her white blossom, feeling the wind blow over her ears, the sun warm on her back. It was the kind of day Sophia had always loved.
With a slowness, almost uncertainty, Carol brought the rose up to her face and gently sniffed, inhaling the soft fragrance.
Faintly, she smiled.
When all I can sing is a broken hallelujah
When my only offering is a shattered praise