A/N: I'm seeking suggestions for a better title for this series, so if any come to mind reading, please share. "Andrea" was the only thing that came to mind as she's the obvious theme and focus.
Andrea, by MissMishka
DISCLAIMER: The usual warnings, I claim no ownership of these characters, they are simply borrowed with love and adoration from the original creators to have their stories, thoughts or circumstances embellished on a little more than the original format had done. Not for any profit.
"Get one thing straight. You're staying, this isn't a democracy anymore."
Rick looks at them each in turn and sees that is decree is taken seriously by them all. He sets his jaw against the sounds of Carl sobbing against Lori's chest and feels his teeth grit at the expression of near horror on his wife's face.
Hershel is the only one clear and steadfast in showing support for the strong words. Daryl's a hard one to read, as always, but the hunter hasn't failed him yet so Rick thinks he'll continue to have an ally there.
The weight of all eyes upon him is intolerable after all the day had put him through. He can't retract the words spoken, nor would he if it were an option. They had placed him as leader, happily setting Shane aside from that role, and know they had to accept his rulings to see to their survival.
With the thought of that survival in mind, Rick turns his back on the silenced gathering and stalks from the ruins to find the cause of that damned snapping twig.
The moonlight is bright enough out in the open, but the noise had come from the woods and he would be going in without a flashlight. He suspects there wouldn't be a great deal of mourning among the others if he gets bitten at this particular moment so he moves with extra caution to try insuring such a thing doesn't happen.
"Little harsh, don't you think?"
She steps away from a tree and moves into the lighting enough to be seen and Rick's heart damned near stops. He levels the Glock at her forehead and poises his finger to pull the trigger before he recognizes her. Even when recognition occurs, he's slow to ease off and lower the weapon.
"Would have thought Shane would be the one to haunt me," he says aloud.
He gives his head a shake to clear away this distraction so he can continue on his mission, but the apparition moves into his path when he would have crossed into the woods.
"I heard that part," she says quietly, her blue eyes soft in the darkness.
There is no judgment or condemnation on her face and Rick feels a kick to his gut as it suddenly sinks in all that had been lost this day. Breath leaves his chest in a rush that seems to remove all strength from his being. His head and shoulders slump forward and he feels moisture gathering in his eyes. He moves to the nearest tree to press his forehead to the rough back while he tries to push past the grief.
"You did what you had to do, Rick," her voice speaks from beside him, so caring and strong that he clenches his eyes shut against tears wanting to fall. "I'll admit it's a bit of a shock, but we've had plenty of those lately. I understand and they will too once they've had time to get a grip again."
He imagines her hand on his back in a gesture of consolation and support; swears he can feel her hand. It's somehow enough to help him in drawing breath back into his lungs to stand straight again. He sniffs loudly to put an end to his moment of wallowing, opens his eyes and turns to get back on course to finding whatever lurked in this dark place.
She doesn't block his way this time, just moves aside and watches him as he steadies his grip on the gun and begins to creep further away from the light of the clearing. Unlike the stares of the group that he has just fled, her gaze is one he can't seem to go without acknowledging. He feels it like an actual presence upon his back and stops in his tracks to allow a confession into the darkness.
"I'm sorry I lost you," he whispers, not even sure himself just how he means the apology.
In the moment his mind is replaying that first contact between them with her panicked shoving of that Ladysmith in his face. He remembers the sheepish woman contemplating the legalities of stealing a mermaid necklace in the presence of a Deputy Sheriff; that same woman solemnly placing the stolen jewelry around her dead sister's neck. He thinks of all she had been through; all each member of the group had suffered and sighs.
"Dale never should have talked you out of it. The explosion would have been quick and complete. You deserved better than…" he trails off, not wanting to think of how her ending must have been when the Walkers took her down at the farm.
"We all deserve better," he can practically hear that familiar little twist of her lips that was yet wasn't a smile as she made the statement. "I don't regret getting out of the CDC, Rick. It isn't easy, but I think that just goes to show that its still life and I want to live."
Her words confuse him and a frown furrows his brow as he turns to face the apparition.
She blinks at the words and he remembers some of those theories on ghosts; how they haunted the living world because they didn't know that their bodies had passed on.
"T-Dog saw you go down. We lost you with the farm," he explains slowly, moving toward her with each word.
"I got back up and I got away, Rick. I'm alive."
It's his turn to blink, wondering why this figment of his thought would say such a thing.
"She had help," an unfamiliar voice speaks from nearby and he jumps to aim his gun at the figure moving from the shadows.
"No," Andrea's ghost says, rushing to stop him from raising the weapon to a firing position.
She blocks the movement by throwing her arm over his and pushing to force the gun downward until it points safely at the ground. A ghost has no form to do such a thing; even he knows that in all the uncertainty of this world.
"She's with me," that familiar voice is speaking, but he can only stare in disbelief into those big blue eyes.
"Andrea?" he asks with his voice quiet and likely to break if he tries to say more.
She just nods like they're meeting up in camp after a casual day of chores; like one of those abnormally normal days they had found at the farm before they learned that barn was filled with the undead.
"This is Michonne," she continues, turning slightly from him to indicate the dark figure standing tensely nearby. "She found me in the woods and-"
"Andrea," he interrupts and put his hand to her shoulder to turn her attention back to him.
The shoulder is solid in his grasp.
He puts the hand to her cheek as she turns to look at him and her skin is chilled by the cold night, but it warms beneath his palm as only living flesh could.
"Andrea," is all he can seem to say as he yanks her suddenly into his arms and feels the indisputable presence of her in his embrace.
Her arms are slow to wrap around him as if wary or uncertain of the hug, but when she finally returns the embrace she clasps him tightly. He huffs out a disbelieving laugh at her attempt at a bear hug and squeezes her even tighter until they seem to be in a contest to see who can squeeze the other tighter, laugh louder or cry harder at the impossible reunion.
The others find them like that; reacting to the unusual racket. Rick has no idea what kind of scene they make in the moment, hugging, laughing and crying like fools, but everyone is quick to join in upon realizing he held Andrea in his arms.
It's oddly difficult for him to release her so that the others can embrace the blonde and exclaim their disbelief at her obvious survival. He gets pushed quickly aside and falls back to watch the reunion in a daze.
"She wouldn't stop until we found you. I was skeptical that your group even existed, let alone cared about her given how I found her alone and besieged."
He turns to find the stranger beside him, observing both the scene and him with dark, curious eyes.
A million questions race through his mind; how had they found them, how had she saved Andrea, how had Andrea survived the herd, but he couldn't find voice for a single one.
"If we had known she hadn't died; that there was any chance she'd survived, we wouldn't have stopped until I found her."
He isn't aware of the change in pronoun from plural to singular, but those eyes move to give their full attention to him. There's a wondering light in her gaze for a moment before she nods in acceptance of the statement.
"She's a fighter."
He nods at the statement and finds his eyes drawn back to the group.
At that particular moment, Andrea is kneeling on the ground, ruffling Carl's hair. His son had apparently taken off the Sheriff's hat that Rick had given him and placed it on the blonde's head, because she was laughing as she tried to get it balanced over her ponytail. She manages a miracle of getting the boy to smile before she hugs him to her chest.
Rick feels his own lips curling at the way the woman embraces his son and Carl clings in return.
As if sensing his regard, Andrea's head lifts for her eyes to find his over Carl's shoulder. The boy is chattering excitedly over the woman's survival and the two adults share a private smile at his exuberance. Rick is reminded of how often Andrea and Shane had looked over his son and he's relieved that at least one surrogate parent has survived the day.
Something flickers in her gaze at the exchange and she suddenly drops her eyes to refocus rather determinedly on the boy.
"I don't see a reason to let that nice, warm fire go to waste," she announces, pushing awkwardly to her feet with Carl still clinging to her like a limpet. "How about we go enjoy it while I tell you all about my day?"
There's no disagreement from anyone as they all begin to move back toward the ruins that they had chosen; seeking the partial protection of its still standing walls for the night.
As Rick moves forward he realizes there are no footsteps from the woman that had stood beside him. He turns to find her quietly watching the departure, but making no move to join it. A quick look at the others finds Andrea to have stopped to look back as well.
"Come on, Michonne," she invites the woman and Rick does a mental palm to forehead smack at the reminder of the stranger's name.
He looks again at the woman and finds her looking to him for a seconding of the blonde's invitation. Wondering how much the women had overheard of his speech, his mouth twists in an awkward smile to try putting the newcomer at ease.
"We'd like to have you join us if you would," he says. "The fires all I can offer at the moment, but you're welcome to it."
Her attention is oddly intent and considering before she gives him a nod and moves forward to accept the invitation. He watches her stride forward until she draws even with Andrea. The blonde gives the woman a reassuring grin and a nod that seems to say "I told you so" before she turns her blue gaze back to him.
Rick takes in the scene with a suspicious lurch in his gut. There is something just too right in seeing her standing there; wearing his hat, holding his son and looking at him in open invitation to join in the moment.