When he leaves the tent and walks into the night the image of Lori's face is still imprinted in his mind, and all the words she shouted at him echo in his ears. He walks past the bonfire, knowing, while glancing at the log that rests on the ground near it, that he's going to have to sleep there tonight.
It's almost comical, yet he doesn't even smile because it's also bitter. Before the shit hit the fan, he was well acquainted with that hideous couch they kept in their living room, was forced to sleep there so many times he can still remember its dusty smell. He hated that couch with a passion, gave him nothing but back and neck aches, but what he wouldn't give to have it back now. Because now when Lori throws him out he has to sleep on the cold ground, vulnerable to rain and the winter; vulnerable to the dead.
He doesn't really know where he's going, just knows he needs to be away from the camp, away from her and everything short of himself. When he reaches the woods he stops, leans against a tree and all he can think is: he needs Shane. He needs his best friend. He needs old Shane here to talk to him and take care of him and tell him everything's going to be okay.
He needs his brother.
Shane isn't here, though. Shane is gone. Shane is gone because he killed him, because his own brother couldn't handle the stress of this new world and finally lost his mind to it. Shane is gone. Lori hates him. And he feels so alone he fights the urge to keep walking forever, to just disappear and never come back. After all, there isn't a single person back in camp who would miss him. Daryl would take over as leader and the camp would just push on without him. Do they really need him, after all? Does Lori need him? Does Carl need him? Is he a good father? Is he a good husband?
The thought of the word stabs him even deeper. He chuckles bitterly, wishing he could get his hands on a bottle of gin and push it all away. The worst part is: he knew. But he didn't wanna see it. He wanted to leave it all behind. They both did. They thought they could, too.
He was a fool. He was a fool to think that the end of the world would change everything about the old world. But the end of the world is just the end of the world. The end of the world doesn't mean the end of their problems. It doesn't mean the end of them. Doesn't mean there's a clean slate. They were foolish to think this new world wouldn't remember the old world. They were foolish to think everything changed. But not everything changed. After all, just a few months ago they both had their divorce papers all but signed. They'd fought for their marriage and lost and were ready to part ways. Then hell happened.
And there's no lawyers, now. There's no legal procedures. There's no such thing as divorce. All they have is survival. Survival and the natural instinct to cling to those they know and hope for the best. And that's all he has. He clings to Lori because she's all he knows. Because they've been together for so long, he doesn't know anything else.
He doesn't really realize he's so close to the end until he feels the putrid breath of the undead on his neck. It happens too fast and he sees his life flash before his eyes, but then there's a gunshot. Rick gasps and jumps back, watching as the decomposed creature falls to its second death. His heart is pounding and his breath is caught in his throat, and when he looks up Andrea stands there, looking at him incredulously.
"Are you kidding me?" she says in that blondie, bratty way of hers. "I have to save your ass?"
He just stares at her icy blue eyes as she waits for an answer, but when he can't think of one she walks away, shaking her head.
Rick stands there, watching her form disappear until he's left all alone with the fallen creature at his feet. He waits, for what? He doesn't know. Maybe for the body to rise a third time and try to take a piece of him. But as he nears the body he sees the clean shot right between the eyes and he looks up again.
What the fuck was that? Where the hell did she come from? How did she know? How did she get such a clean shot? Just a few weeks ago she didn't even know how to take the safety off her girly gun. Rick shakes his head, kicking the geek as he walks past him and heads back to camp.
He cuddles against the log that night, shivering slightly and unable to sleep. His tent is enclosed in the darkness behind him, but he doesn't think of it. His mind is somewhere else. His eyes are somewhere else, too.
She's sitting on the roof of one of the cars, fiddling with her nails, keeping watch. She's not aware of him, probably doesn't know he's even there, let alone watching her, and several times he witnesses her let her guard down. When she does her shoulders sag and she closes her eyes, and faint traces of pain cross her features. But each time she takes a deep breath, quietly berates herself for the moment of weakness, and looks up into the darkness, resuming her watch duty.
Rick doesn't really know what to think or why he looks at her, but he remembers the first time he met her and a faint smile appears on his face. She threatened to kill him then, all talk and attitude, but back then she was all bark and trying to keep herself alive by pretending.
She's not like that anymore. Now she can pick up a gun and shoot it with such grace it's almost like she was born to be a sniper. Like she was born to live in this new world. Right then he knows she'll make it. He's not sure he will, he's not sure most of the camp will. But he looks at Andrea, and he sees life, toughness, stubbornness and determination. He sees everything he wants for himself that he can't have – strength.
She's gonna make it.
He doesn't know what possesses him to get up, but his body is on autopilot and his mind is too broken right now to wonder. He approaches the car and when she feels movement she stiffens, but when she turns her head and sees it's only him she lowers her gun and sits back down. He hops on the hood and sits on the roof of the car, right next to her. He's not surprised when she looks at him strangely.
"What are you doing?" she says quietly, and Rick smiles at her failed attempt to hide her concern. "You should get some sleep. You're on duty tomorrow."
He doesn't say anything because well, he doesn't even know why he's there. He just needs something from her. He doesn't know what. He just needs something.
It's Andrea who breaks the silence.
"Lori throw you out again?"
He takes a deep breath, not really knowing how to respond to that. So he sits there. He feels her eyes on him for a few seconds as she waits for a response, but when he doesn't give her one she resumes her watch. They sit together for what feels like ages and yet just mere seconds, he doesn't know. Does time really matter anymore? But it's peaceful, comfortable, oddly... calm. Almost cathartic. He needs proximity without asphyxiation; comfort without touch. Reassurance without words. She sits next to him and doesn't look at him, doesn't say anything to him, but listens to everything he doesn't say. And he feels a small weight lifted off his shoulders, barely anything, not enough to soothe him, but enough to keep him from falling apart.
"You know I'm not Lori's number one fan, so... I'm just not gonna say anything."
He almost laughs, really. Sometimes he forgets how perceptive Andrea can be. She was a lawyer in the old life, after all. She made a living out of reading people and poking and prodding them. She's good at it, too. Too good for his comfort.
But he doesn't reply because... he's Rick and he's never really been a talker. Isn't that why he and Lori have so many problems? She yells at him for not communicating, not talking, not yelling.
And yet Andrea nods and hums, as if he'd just given her an answer. She looks away again into the darkness, and he feels as if he'd just told her his whole life story without saying a word.
It's both unnerving and relieving.
She nods in the general direction of her quarters. "Why don't you sleep in my tent? It's not like I need it tonight."
He shakes his head. "Nah, it's—"
"Rick," she says sternly, though there's a faint tone of concern in her voice once again. "You're gonna lead this group? I need you on your toes. I can't trust you with my life if you're tired. I need you to be smart. My life depends on you. You can't do this. You can't just..." She stops and sighs, probably thinking about her parents, Amy, Dale, Shane, everyone she's lost. He doesn't realize until that moment, and when he does he feels terribly guilty. Here he is brooding about his marital problems, without realizing at least he still has his family. Andrea has lost everything. She's lost everyone. She continues to lose everyone. His problems suddenly seem petty.
"Just sleep in my tent." She no longer looks at him coldly. She doesn't sound like a brat. Her eyebrows are furrowed and she looks at him with so much concern he's taken aback and forgets to breathe for just a second. "Please?"
He just smiles, but it's sad and it's forced and bitter. "You don't even like me."
She just shrugs her shoulders. "I don't like you," Andrea confesses and he actually smiles. He knows the group doesn't like him, but she's the only one who has the guts to tell him. "You make a lot of stupid mistakes. You ARE stupid. But, you're all we have. I know I fight you a lot and you hate me—"
"—I could never hate you—"
"But we need you here. I need you here. And sometimes the only way I know to keep you here is to give you shit."
He sorta smirks as he looks at his fingers. He's so emotionally drained he feels like he might just fall asleep where he's sitting. This new world... he doesn't know that he can make it.
"Rick?" she asks once more, pulling his mind out of that darkness. At first her tone is strong, decisively, stubborn, but as the words continue to pour out of her mouth, her tone becomes weak. Insecure. Needing. The last four words come out as a plea, a question desperate for a reassuring answer, "I need you here?"
In the end he understands what she's telling him. In the end he gets it. She's like him, too. Adverse to words, to outward displays of emotion, to vulnerability. She gets it, and he gets it, too. They both try so hard to pretend, to keep their masks so securely in place that they're too tired to spend any more energy trying to discern what they're really thinking, really feeling.
He looks at her and looks away, understands her but purposely ignores the connection, feels faint glimmers of a distant bond but cuts at its roots instantly. He's not going to think about this or her or whatever this moment is. He's going to erase it from his memory because fuck, he's still a married man, has a son, a family.
He nods finally, and she seems pleased and he's glad he's at least made someone happy tonight.
It smells different in her tent and he almost rolls his eyes when he sees the bunch of lilies off in the corner, adorning her tent like home decor even matters anymore. He makes a mental note, doesn't really know why, but it's something he feels he should remember. Not that he's ever gonna bring her flowers or anything, but it's a little something he's glad to know. Andrea likes lilies. Somebody should remember that. He'll remember that.
Her sleeping bag is warm and full of blankets. He feels... odd in it, sort of ashamed when her scent engulfs him, but after a few minutes he grows too tired to care. He falls asleep feeling stronger, foreseeing a new day and new days after. He feels like he still has his Shane.
He feels better the next day. Lori doesn't look at him, doesn't even speak to him, but he knows eventually she'll cool off. He's out with Daryl and Andrea scouting the new area, the hunter yards ahead of them leading the way. Andrea yawns in front of him and he's about to order her to go back to camp and get some sleep when an undead creature jumps in front of him. It goes straight towards Andrea and she's so tired from the lack of sleep she stumbles, but before the creature can sink its teeth into her flesh Rick grabs it and knocks it down, smashing its head with the handle of his gun with a rage so intense Daryl has to stop him.
He stands back and breathes hard, looking up to make sure everyone's okay. Daryl looks unaffected and Andrea looks down at the creature before she takes the hint and decides to go back and get some sleep.
When she walks past Rick she shrugs her shoulders and rolls her eyes playfully. "Maybe I do like you a little bit."
He smiles and feels warm.