The minute this new discovery reaches them, Andrea knows what's about to come.
Before anyone can even ask how or why or if it's true, women become the new game, the walkers all but forgotten. Few groups pass their community, small, broken, people who are hungry and tired, and she sees the look on most of the women, and she knows. She knows it's bad just as she knows it might be inevitable.
When Michonne shows up at breakfast one morning with her head shaved off, it hits her even harder. Everyone stares, but no one says anything. They all know, and she considers chopping off her own hair but she's not sure that would fool anyone.
She's heard stories of rape before, but nothing compared to what is happening now. Entire communities being attacked for one sole purpose. Women hunted and captured like they're animals, like they only serve one purpose anymore, like they're not people.
Before long, Rick starts leaving her behind when he goes off on patrols. She feels a pang of anger, though she realizes, knows that maybe it's for the best (at least for now), but once again she finds herself washing clothes and cooking. It's frustrating, maddening, because she knows she's the best shooter they've got, and without her they are more vulnerable. Every time they pick Glenn over her they are weakening the group, and she voices her concerns stubbornly.
But Rick is having none of it, and when she airs out her frustrations to Daryl and he stays quiet, she feels her stomach sink to the ground.
"You agree with him," she says. He's got his head lowered, a blade in one hand and a piece of wood in the other. Andrea frowns at the top of his head. "At least have the decency to look at me."
When he looks up, she slightly flinches. The anger that takes over his features catches her off guard, and when he stands up and approaches her decidedly she takes one step back. "Yeah, I agree with him," he says sharply. "It ain't safe for you out there anymore."
She crosses her arms, attempting to take one last stand, though she knows this is a fight she's already lost. A fight she doesn't even know why she's fighting. "I can take good care of myself."
"Andrea," Daryl huffs, frustrated, angry, a cold smile on his face. Like the situation is so ridiculous he needs to laugh. He brings the back of his hand up to his eyes as he tries to choose his next words. When he does he sighs. "You haven't seen what it's like."
She looks down at the revelation, a wave of anxiety washing over her as she tries to keep it together but imagines the absolute worst. He walks closer towards her, and she watches his feet frame hers as he hooks his finger through the belt loop of her jeans.
"I can't lose you, or worse..." The 'worse' doesn't have to be defined because they both know and somehow saying it out loud makes everything much uglier, as if they say the word three times in front of a mirror it might actually happen.
She looks up and sees a new layer of him, for the first time since they're doing whatever it is they've been doing. This might just be the closest they've been or will ever be, and tears threaten to pool in her eyes when she recognizes the concern in his.
But also the uncertainty.
"Look, it's gonna be alright."
"How?" she sighs and feels everything come undone inside of her. She hasn't felt this defeated since Amy died. "How is it going to be alright?"
He drops his hand on her shoulder, trying to attempt something akin to normal human contact, as if he's never been taught how to touch people. It lingers there for a few seconds before his fingers grab her hair, and he grips it into his fist. "We've come this far."
She looks at him, trying to desperately grasp at whatever hope he's throwing at her, but it's not much, not enough. Her hands frame his face and she pulls him down to kiss him deeply, and hours later they lay naked in bed, too exhausted but too weary to sleep.
He stares at the ceiling and she stares out the window, her cheek pressed to his breast. It's quiet outside, too quiet, and it makes her anxious. She's not used to quiet anymore.
"Do you think it's true?"
He takes a deep breath when he hears her, caught off guard. He takes too long to think about it, because he just doesn't know about this world anymore, but she stays awake, waiting for an answer. Finally he mutters, "I ain't about to kill a baby to find out."
She digests his words and thinks she should drop it, but the world outside is still too quiet and she just wants to kill the silence with whatever comes out of her mouth. "If it's true," she starts. "Am I gonna—"
She stops when his body tenses, as if she's just burned him. She looks up and moves up, her face resting on the pillow next to his so she can apologize without actually saying it, as they're both prone to. But the look on his face tells her he either doesn't accept her apology or doesn't want it.
He looks down at her naked chest, and though he could just brush off the moment and never speak of it again, something tells him this conversation needs to happen.
Because it's not pretty out there, and he's just not sure of anything anymore.
"I ain't gonna," he starts. It sounds... off; he's not used to being chatty. "I ain't gonna force you to become a breeding machine, if that's what you're asking. That's your choice."
"Is it?" she says, and saying it out loud hits him as hard as it hits her. But neither is shocked. "If they're right, if this new generation develops an immunity in utero... doesn't that make me an immoral person if I don't—" she chuckles dryly at the term, "—become a breeding machine?"
Daryl just shrugs at the words because there's too many of them and he's just never been the type to think much. His world is black and white whereas hers is all shades of gray. He just flickers a curl of blonde hair off her shoulder. "Just makes you a person."
Andrea is not surprised by the answer and she smiles sadly at it. "I'm not sure I have that right anymore."
He looks at her, because he doesn't know about philosophy or moral codes or what's right or wrong, but he knows about survival. He knows about life and the loss of it.
"You were always talking about Dale taking your choice," he says. "So I'm giving it back to ya. Just cause something's happening out there doesn't mean it has to change here."
She smiles. Sometimes Daryl surprises her in unimaginable ways, when he's quiet for hours or days and then says something that matters. It's of very little comfort, but it's something and she closes her eyes and presses her forehead to his shoulder.
"What if—" she stops because it's Daryl, because things like this freak him out and she needs him to be him right now. So the thought starts to die in her head but he surprises her by bringing it back to life.
"Can't say I haven't thought about it," he murmurs, like he hates himself for saying it. "We ain't always careful."
She looks at him at the revelation and feels like he's pulled the rug from underneath her, and he has, really, because she hasn't thought about it. Starting a family, it just doesn't seem natural anymore. People come into this new world to die. No one comes into this world to live. Not anymore. It never felt natural.
Hearing him say it makes her wonder.
He shrugs his shoulders like he's just thinking out loud. "But not like this. Only if we wanna."
She smiles. A ridiculous sitcom image enters her mind, of an uppity city girl and a dirty redneck, trying to keep together some whacky relationship. Some crappy romantic comedy she would see at the theater with her girlfriends.
"A foul mouthed, crossbow yielding little boy."
Daryl half smiles at the ceiling. "Or a gun totting badass little girl."
She scrunches her nose at him. "You'd be okay with a girl?"
He shrugs his shoulders, because he just doesn't know. The thought of having a child, be it male or female, terrifies him to his very core. But sometimes, when he sits aside quietly and watches Rick with Carl... he just wonders. And when he wonders and his eyes shift from Rick and Carl to Andrea, he doesn't feel a panic.
The lightness of the moment fades quickly, however, because they are not in that world anymore. It's not a sitcom. It's not a movie. Talking like this, it's never good, and that's why they never do it. It just makes them realize how hopeless everything is, how wrong. Talking hopeful just gets you all built up for something that will never come, making the fall harder. And in this new world, it's the fall that can kill you.
He looks at her with melancholic eyes, and it's not the fear of danger that makes her cry, or the uncertainty, or their looming deaths. What makes her cry is the pain of losing the life they could've had, in a normal world with normal circumstances and normal days.
Her head collapses on his shoulder and he tries to keep it together as he lets her, because he feels the uncertainty, too. Knows something bad is going to happen. Soon. He can feel it and knows he won't be able to stop it.
Something's gonna happen to her. Or something's gonna happen to him while trying to prevent it. It's just as inevitable as the next sunrise.
"Why can't things just... be normal for a while?" she cries. "Why can't we catch a break?"
He wants to... understand what she's going through but while she feels anguish he feels anger. This isn't fair. It's bullshit. What started out with rumors of a flu outbreak ended up with Armageddon and now here they are just... lucky if they see a new day. Unlucky, too.
He pulls her close, because something bad is going to happen soon and it could be tomorrow. It could be tonight. He thinks about Atlanta and Amy and Merle, about the farm and the woods and the prison, about the suburbs and the community. All the people they've lost and all the people they've gathered. She's there in all those places, with all those people. With him.
He wipes her face with his hand and wills her to stop because he can't, seeing this. It's too real and he can't deal with it. He needs her back, needs her here, needs her now. He grips her arm tightly, knowing he's bruising her but he just needs to.
"I love you," he murmurs almost inaudibly, uncertainly, but the words are out there and he doesn't regret it or feels like running away. When she furrows her brows he looks down at her mouth and kisses her, swallowing her tears and her snot and all her regrets and fears.
They come together a second time and she falls asleep after, eyes and lips swollen. The sun begins to rise over the horizon like a death sentence, and Daryl watches it light the sky.
He feels drowsy, exhausted and worn out, his mind distantly drifting to nothing. All he can think is: what have they done? Why did they go about and get themselves into this mess? After losing most of the group they know, know, it's only a matter of time before they die, too, but they had to go and get themselves all tangled up in each other's heads. Before, it was easier. Before it was only just him and the world was a distant place, but now the world is Andrea.
Problem is, the world is ending.