i'll always look out for you
yeah, that's what i'll do

...

It's one of those nights. He's tossing and turning despite the peaceful quiet of the dark. It's one of those nights he has to keep his brain from going back to that fateful day at the prison, to project in his mind that memory of Lori and Judith's bodies collapsing to the ground as he and Carl ran. It's one of those nights he knows he won't be able to get any sleep.

It's a bit chilly, when he steps outside. They're holed up in a random house, still not knowing where to go or what to do. They're running low on supplies, the group looking at him for answers to questions they're too afraid to ask. And he doesn't give them an answer because well, he just doesn't have one.

It's where they are right now. In a state of limbo. Not just emotionally, but physically, too.

He climbs the back of the blue pick up truck and Andrea, on watch duty, turns around and before he can even look up she already has her gun pressed to his face.

"Jesus," she mutters after realizing it's only him.

"Sorry," Rick says and quickly adds, "you're gonna have to stop putting guns to my face at some point, you know." He sits next to her on the roof of the vehicle.

"I will when you stop sneaking up on me like that," she says, resting his rifle on her lap and looking a bit irritated. "Asshole."

He chuckles. It's taken him a while to realize that Andrea doesn't curse out of malice. She only does it to release tension. It's like therapy for her. They all know now not to take it personally. "Sorry."

"It's okay."

They sit in silence for a while, watching the tree line. Ever since the farm they are all too weary of the woods now, thought cities and towns were most dangerous. But in the cities and towns you know what to expect. It's the woods that scare them the most now, knowing that at any moment a herd could break through it and unleash a third hell on them without a warning.

Rick waits, but nothing happens.

Really, that's the problem. Most of the time, nothing happens. When things happen, they happen unexpectedly and catastrophically. Rarely did they have to deal with the threat of a mere 5 walkers, or some random asshole with a gun. When they see hell it's in the form of a herd of hundreds and armies of desperate people willing to do anything for survival.

But most of the time nothing happens.

It makes him curious because after an hour he grows bored. He looks at Andrea, but she doesn't seem to be affected by the quiet and nothingness that most nights bring.

"How can you enjoy this?" he says, the words coming out of him before he can really think them. He's been doing this a lot lately and it's been getting them into trouble. He needs to get his shit together.

"What?" she says absentmindedly, hypnotized by the quietness of the night.

"Why do you like keeping watch all night?" he clarifies, curious for the first time in a while.

"I wouldn't say I like it," she says, shrugging her shoulders. "But someone has to do it."

He nods at her response. It's not what he was expecting. He always thought she did this because she liked it. Why else would anyone volunteer night after night to keep watch? "We can relive you every once in a while."

"I'm okay, really."

He ignores her insisting tone and continues to think out loud. "We could rotate. I'll get T-Dog and Daryl to watch every other night."

She finally turns to him, but it's a quick, sudden movement. "No, Rick, really. I'm fine."

His curiosity grows even more by her reaction. Andrea is mostly quiet and pensive these days. She's aggressive when she's fighting or when there's an urgent group meeting, when something needs to be said, but the rest of the time she mostly just sits around. He feels guilty, because she sits here every night protecting the group, fighting for them even though she's lost everyone, but most of the time he doesn't see her. She's always been invisible to him.

"So," he urges and she looks at him, and for a moment he can tell she's gonna tell him to fuck off, but he sees the conflict in her eyes. It urges him to press on. "If you don't like it, why do you do it? I could have you do other things, if you want."

But she shakes her head and looks down at her lap. It's a little gesture that lets him know how tired she is. Tired and something more that he can't figure out because really, after so long, he still doesn't really know her.

"It's stupid," she finally mutters, and frowns as if she's scolding herself for opening her mouth. He can identify with that all too well.

He smiles, feeling as if he found a door. "I bet it's not."

"Yes it is, you're gonna laugh."

Rick's smile grows a bit wider. "I'm not gonna laugh. I promise."

She stays quiet for a moment, like she's rehearsing what she's gonna say in her head or trying to talk herself out of blurting the words. But finally, "I used to sleep with a night light."

Rick frowns. "What?"

She sighs, irritated by his inability to understand and nod and just walk away and leave her alone. "I'm scared of the dark," she finally blurts it out, and grimaces like someone just made her taste bad medicine.

Rick chuckles because jeez, this might be the most un-Andrea thing he's ever heard.

Andrea shoots daggers at him. "You said you wouldn't laugh."

He smiles. "I'm not laughing."

"Really? Sounded a lot like laughter," she says. "Looked like it, too."

"No, I'm not," he says and stops, trying to collect his thoughts. "I just wasn't ready for that. I'm sorry."

"It's okay," she says and her shoulders sag as she drops her defensive stance. "I told you it was stupid."

"It's not stupid," he says.

She stays quiet, watch duty all forgotten and looking down at her fingers as she plays with them. Rick thinks it might just be the first time he's ever seen the Andrea she keeps locked away, the one that doesn't hide behind guns or quick jabs. He pays close attention to her face, her expression, her movements, knowing he's probably never gonna see this ever again. Like a comet wandering around the universe, alone, only getting close to humanity every hundreds of years, but not close enough to see without a telescope.

Funny, she didn't used to be this way. She used to be all over the place, always talking, always around. She's not like that anymore and he hates himself when he realizes she only changed after they left her in the woods.

Correction: after he decided to leave her in the woods. He still carries that guilt with him, especially when he remembers they found her nearly dead.

He makes sure he listens, really listens, not just hear her, when she speaks again.

"It's just too dark here," she says quietly. "I can't deal with it sometimes. Especially nowadays. I'd rather be out here waiting than in there not knowing what's under the bed or in the closet. I just can't sleep, so why try? Might as well put my time to good use. So fine, go ahead and laugh. Tell everyone. I don't care."

"I would do no such thing." He nods. "And I understand."

She shakes her head and rolls her eyes. "No, you don't."

Rick looks at her and smiles reassuringly. "Fine, I might not know what it's like being scared of the dark, but I know what it's like to be scared. It's okay. Especially now. Sometimes I'm scared of the dark, too, with them out there. It's worse when you can't see them."

When she looks at him, there's a hidden appreciation. And when she speaks one last time it's merely a whisper and he barely catches the words. And he knows she only says these words because no one else will listen. And she needs someone to listen. Even if that someone is him.

"It's lonely."

She says it like it's the weather. Like it's cold, or it's snowing, or it's hot. It's lonely. She's right, and that's what makes it all worse. Loneliness rains down on them sometimes, like passing storms. They could all gather round for dinner and talk and act like a family, but at the end of the day, when they retrieve to their rooms, it's lonely. It doesn't have to be. But when anyone can go at any moment, loneliness can be emotionally beneficial.

It's one of those sad things no one likes to think about because once it enters their minds, even for a second, it could send them on a potentially fatal downward spiral.

He feels it in her then and looks ahead.

"We haven't treated you very well, Andrea," he confesses and it's not until the words come out when he realizes how true they are. He remembers Dale taking her gun, Shane being condescending and too rough with her, Lori and Maggie hating her, Carol leaving her at the farm, and him not even noticing her. "It's my fault; I'm sorry."

She shrugs her shoulder. "More than half the time I deserved it." She thinks about it some more and adds, "but thanks."

He smiles at her and he sees one of her rare smiles. It's twitchy, like she's trying not to let it out. It makes him feel less miserable to see someone smile these days. "So what do you think about, out here all night?"

"Nothing."

Rick chuckles and turns to her. "Never met a woman who was able to just think nothing. You all just think, think, think."

For a moment he feels like he might've offended her, but she just scrunches her nose. "I don't know. I guess... I don't know. Depends."

He nods and knows she's done sharing. The comet is orbiting away once more and he doesn't know when he'll ever see it. If he'll ever see it. But even if he never sees it again, he's glad he saw it at least once.

"Look, I'm gonna rotate you with T-Dog on watch duty—"

Andrea starts to shake her head before he can continue. "No. Rick—"

"Just hear me out," he says tenderly. "For a while, okay? Just til we're safer. You're too good of a shot, Andrea. We need you during the day. It can't just be Daryl and me. Glenn... he's not a fighter and T-Dog's aim is off. We can't keep wasting the ammo like that."

"You have Michonne, too."

"What good's a sword if you're too far away from your target to use it?" he says. He sees the conflict, the fear in her eyes but he's leading this group and he needs to make these types of decisions. Old fears be damned. What matters now is survival. "We need a sniper. I'll show you the basics. I mean, Shane was always better than me—"

The mere mention of the man's name stings them, but it's a dull faraway sting that neither of them notices anymore.

"—but I had training, too."

She looks at him as if she understands what he's saying and agrees, but with so much uncertainty she shrinks quickly like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.

"Just for a while, okay?" he reassures her.

She thinks about it. The side of her mouth twitches and her eyebrow furrows like a tic that kicks in when she's nervous. But Andrea doesn't back away from a challenge and her stubbornness works out in his favor. "Oh-Okay."

He smiles and pats her knee, hops off the car and begins to retrieve back to the house when, "Rick?" He turns around.

She's looking at her fingers again. Telltale sign of Andrea vulnerability. He makes sure he remembers that little detail because he might need that information in the future. "Don't tell anyone, okay?"

It kinda breaks his heart a little bit. "Andrea, if you get scared, you know I'm here, right? You can come to me anytime, day or night."

She seems to consider this for a moment. They haven't always had the best relationship. Hell, they don't really have a relationship at all. He gives her orders and she follows them. When she feels like she needs to speak up against him, she does. But at this point they could very well be strangers. They are both constantly changing, burying old personalities and adapting new ones. Always evolving. Best way to stay alive in this new world. Hard to get to know someone when they're constantly changing and you're constantly changing, too.

But finally she nods. And that nod changes everything forever.

-/

For a while things are a little shaky, but understandably so. Andrea tries to get adjusted to her new schedule, to becoming a prominent figure in the group. He tries to include her more into the decision making process, he doesn't know why. All he knows is he's tired of losing people physically. He doesn't wanna start losing them emotionally, too.

And she really does prove herself useful. Not just with a gun. She brings a new perspective to the high hierarchy of the group that blends well with his and Daryl's. After two lessons in Sniping 101 he quits, because she shows him off pretty much right away. He talks to her about the wind, about direction, geometry and other contributing factors. Really, just random shit he read long ago in an outdated police manual. But she doesn't really listen, she doesn't need to. She picks up a gun and fires it and hits her faraway target each time.

When he asks her how she knew the wind wouldn't divert the course of the bullet, or the target wouldn't move, or her aim wouldn't be off she replies,

"I don't know." She scrunches her nose. She does this a lot, he's starting to notice. "What the hell does the wind have to do with anything? When it feels right, I shoot."

It's an answer that perplexes him because he's been a cop his whole life and he's never really met a natural born sniper. Those people only existed in the high rankings of the military or in cheesy movies. Mostly in cheesy movies. And those people were always men, cocky men who smoked cigars and were vulgar and gross. Andrea picks up a gun, hits her target, doesn't say a word and then crawls back into her room like a hermit crab. Like it means nothing to her. Like it's as easy as snapping her fingers.

Despite her disposition, everyone feels much safer having a sniper. And they are safer with her in that position. So much safer he starts to sleep better.

Physically, however, it takes a toll on her. Because when she's on duty she can't sleep and when she's not on duty she can't fall asleep. It's taxing, but she pushes on. She's much stronger than him, he realizes quickly. Stubborn as a mule, too. But then there are days when the exhaustion and the grief catch up to them, and not even Andrea is immune to that.

It begins on a warm summer night.

"Rick?"

He opens his eyes, and before he even begins to register what's happening he's reaching for his gun. But as he does he realizes it's just Andrea who's wakening him from his slumber. He relaxes, his mind numbing once more. He's beyond exhausted and thinking too much about Judy and Carl.

"What's wrong?"

For a while nothing happens and he lets sleep start to take him away again, thinking he's having a dream. But then he hears her say, "nothing."

Her voice is different, smaller, and he understands. Remembers their conversation from that night. She's scared of the dark.

He's tired and groggy and not really thinking, only does what he always did when Carl used to get scared in the middle of the night. He lifts the covers and pats a spot next to him. "Come here."

He can't see her in the darkness, and for a moment nothing happens. It's then when Rick realizes what he's just told her. He's mortified. He starts to apologize but then feels her weight on other side of the bed, off in the corner. She hugs her own knees. He falls asleep before he can even ask her if she's okay. These days are too exhausting to press the pause button.

She's gone by morning.

It doesn't become a pattern, because there is no pattern. For the most part, he thinks, she tries really hard to get used to the dark, talk herself out of her fears. She doesn't sleep much, but it's not like the rest of them are getting a solid 8 hours.

It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's always the same.

"Rick?"

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

And then he lets her curl into herself on the other side of the bed and they both fall asleep.

Little by little he starts to see flickers of the old Andrea here and there. She talks more, though not as loudly as she used to. She spends more time with Glenn, much to Maggie's annoyance. She and Daryl find they have a lot of things in common, despite coming from two oh so completely different worlds. Daryl grew up in the woods; Andrea grew up in the sea. It's two completely different elements, but somehow, it bonds them closer. They are both creatures of nature.

He feels her presence, too. It's like some sort of magnetism. A small, yet relentless source of energy that no one can refuse. Not even him. Sarcasm and eye-rolling are her trademark and he finds himself warming up every time she rolls her eyes at him as her head shakes, always ending her sarcastic remarks at him with an, "asshole."

He slowly becomes that, albeit jocosely. The asshole in her life. The pain in her ass. When he forgets, she always reminds him.

"Are you seriously asking me this?" she answers him one afternoon as they scout the area and he finds himself missing Sunday night football. "The Dolphins, of course!"

Rick chortles. "Typical."

She turns to him. "Typical what?"

He smirks. "Typical Floridian. That team sucked. Sorry, Andrea, but they did."

"They were awesome, shut up," she exclaims, and adds mockingly. "Pfff, you guys didn't even have a team. Let me guess, you liked The Bengals?"

He doesn't reply, but his smile gives her the answer.

She chuckles and rolls her eyes. "Typical. The Bengals, for God's sake, Rick! I'd rather have The Bucks join in than the fucking Bengals. What is wrong with you?"

The dark circles under her eyes start to diminish and she has more energy. He spends more time with her and Daryl, and the three of them become the leading trio. More of the other group members start to come to her for help, strength, and guidance. At first she cowered away but now, albeit reluctantly and probably mostly out of obligation, she takes on the task.

But still, every once in a while:

"Rick?"

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

They never really talk about it. What's there to say? She gets scared sometimes, Rick is the only one who knows her secret fear, and Carl has his own room. It's something he does for her sometimes to keep her together. It doesn't mean anything, and she's never there when he wakes up.

-/

They decide to move out, head towards D.C. They've met a man named Abraham who is escorting another man named Eugene to the capital of the country (if such thing as capitals even matter anymore). Apparently Eugene is some kind of genius working for the government and he talks about how other scientists are waiting for him in D.C. so they can work on a vaccine for the virus.

Only halfway there Eugene finally breaks down and confesses he's been lying. Abraham nearly kills him, and when Rick stops him Daryl goes after the man. Rick has to practically wrestle every camp member to the ground, so angry and intent they are on killing Eugene.

He doesn't blame them. They left the comforts of that old house, that safety, for a gamble and they lost. And now they are in the middle of nowhere with no food and very little ammunition.

And no hope.

That night,

"Rick?"

-/

Luck is on their side, though, when they meet a man who belongs to a member of a much larger community.

Rick doesn't know what to think when they reach Alexandria. The community is gated, lights are on, children are playing in the streets. Most members of his crew are just skin and bones at this point, and when the leader of the community welcomes them in, Rick is adamant (but hopeful, oh so hopeful).

"What do you think?"

Daryl looks at him, eyes squinted. "Dunno."

"It doesn't feel right," Andrea says.

"I know," Rick sighs. "Look, we all sleep in the same house tonight. Shit goes down, at least we'll be together. Stay on alert, don't let your guards down. This place is just too good to be true."

But it turns out to be true. Soon enough, some of the members start to move out and into their own houses. The community has this system where they expand the area little by little, cleaning the adjoining plots off of walkers and claiming new houses. Then they surround the new houses with their sturdy fence. It's like a little town that keeps growing. Everyone, eventually, gets their own house. Well, not everyone.

"I don't want Andrea to move out," Carl tells Rick one day. "I like having her around."

Rick smiles at his son, doesn't tell him he likes having her around, too. Andrea's become too much a part of them. She plays with Carl, talks to him. The little boy responds to her in a way he doesn't respond to anyone and in a way Rick knows it's because Andrea treats Carl like an adult.

"I just suck with kids," she tells him one day. And it's the reason why she can't ever treat Carl as a kid. She talks to him like he's a grown up, tells him stories that sometimes Rick fears are way to R rated. Curses around him. Hell, he's even heard her asking Carl for advice. It's weird. But it brings old pieces of Carl back. They're friends, Rick realizes one day. Carl and Andrea are friends, like Daryl and Andrea, like Andrea and Glenn.

But not like Rick and Andrea. It's different, with them. He doesn't understand why. He wants to be her friend. Wants it to be like her relationships with Daryl and Glenn. He wants to punch her in the arm the way Daryl does sometimes, wants to hug her randomly the way Glenn does. But for some reason, he can't ever bring himself to touch her. And when he tries, she always takes two steps back away from him. They are friends, in a way, but not really. It bothers him, but it's way down the list of his problems and he mostly just ignores it and leaves her alone.

He doesn't express the disappointment he feels when she finally claims her own house. Doesn't know why his house feels so much bigger now. Colder.

But outside his house, it's a large community full of all kinds of people. Little annoyances here and there, but nothing they couldn't deal with. For Rick, it's being appointed sheriff and having to deal with strangers that are not used to the law and he hates it every time he needs to act like a dictator. For Andrea, it's Spencer.

The leader's son is young, handsome, and incredibly spoiled. And he has his eyes on Andrea.

In the beginning, Rick learns to ignore that nagging feeling in the pit of his stomach when Andrea is responsive to Spencer's advances. She's her own person after all. She can do whatever she wants. So he leaves her be. And thankfully, it doesn't take her long to figure it out.

He and Daryl are walking down the sidewalk. On the other side, they spot Andrea. She doesn't look happy. Spencer is following her. Daryl immediately advances, intent on kicking Spencer's ass, no doubt, but Rick stops him. Andrea can deal with this on her own. Still, he secretly reaches for his pistol.

"Come on, Andrea, what did I do?"

She ignores him and keeps walking. Spencer catches up to her and adds, "what happened?"

Rick feels a sense of pride when she turns around and pushes Spencer away. "Nothing! Fuck off!"

Spencer looks shocked as he falls to the ground and Andrea walks away. Clearly Spencer isn't used to rejection.

Beside him, Daryl laughs and claps his hands, "Sunnuva bitch pretty boy, look at him. Messed with the wrong girl."

Rick smiles. That he did. He lets go of his pistol.

That night again. Except this time they have power. She's not seeking him because she's afraid of the dark but for some other reason he can't figure out. It's different this time.

"Rick?"

He wakes up, seeking her face in the darkness but he can't find it. He's too tired and blinded. But he doesn't give her his typical retort. Instead, knowingly, he asks, "Why are you scared?"

She looks uncomfortable for the first time in a long while. She shrugs her shoulders but doesn't reply. He doesn't push her. He lifts the covers and she crawls in hesitantly.

That night it's him who can't sleep. She's breathing quietly next to him and for the first time in years, since before Lori, he feels a yearning deep in his stomach. He buries it so deeply that he doesn't remember it the next morning.

-/

Alexandria is heaven, but turns out even heaven isn't safe. Not on Earth. Despite its sturdy fence, it falls under the attack of a herd so massive that Rick thinks this is it for everyone.

They lose half the members of the camp again, but this time it devastates them. After two years, they've all grown into each other like a massive tree's roots tangled up together tightly. These roots, the ones they lost this time, nearly make the tree collapse.

They have to camp in the middle of god knows where because they don't even know where they are. There's a small fire but it's not really keeping them warm.

Nobody wants to sleep. Nobody can, anyway. It's cold and they're hungry and hopeless. Andrea's head rests on top of her knees and her head is turned away from them. Daryl sits next to her, looking over. She makes a noise that sounds kind of like a moan.

"What is it?" Daryl asks her, concerned. Andrea has grown on Daryl a lot and Rick is glad. If something happens to him, he knows Andrea will be in good hands. The group, too.

"Nothing," she replies.

Rick looks at her and wonders what's gonna happen to them. There's no time to wonder, though. They have to keep moving. With the little supplies they have, they find a group of small houses buried deep within the woods, in a valley. They start building fences once more; Rick doesn't know how many times they'll have to do this.

But it's different now. There's no hope, not anymore. Everyone's tried of fighting, of wishing. They're all living just to live, not really looking ahead, just waiting for the axe to drop. They're just as lifeless and on auto-pilot as the walkers that roam outside, desperate for a meal.

Carl has changed. He's no longer the little boy who used to run around with toy trucks. He's not even the little boy who used to play with Sophia in Atlanta. He's just empty. Just a body. Rick tries to get him back, but he can't, and it devastates him. He's lost his wife, his daughter, and while his son is still alive, he feels he's lost Carl, too.

He lies on his side that night, crushed by the stress and the heartache. He's the leader, but he feels he just can't do this anymore. He doesn't want to. He's done.

When he feels a body weigh his bed down he doesn't move. If it's a geek, great. Hopefully it'll end now.

He feels her press her body to his back and snake her arm around his waist. It's the very first time they've touched and it's too intimate. His first reaction is to push her away the way she always pushes him away. But he can't. He needs her too much, needs her like the way she needs him all those nights that she's scared of the dark. No. Needs her even more than that.

He holds her hand and presses it to his chest and she comforts him as he cries for an old life he never lived and for a new life he wants to live but can't.

-/

Surprisingly, Daryl is very hopeful about their new location. Rick knows better, at this point. They felt the same way about Atlanta, then the farm, then the prison, then Alexandria. What makes this place any different?

"No one's gonna find us here," Daryl says it like it's a fact. "Been walking around, I don't know how we found this place, but it'd take a damn fine tracker to get here."

Rick wants to believe him, but he can't.

Yet other people do. Little by little, he starts to see smiles again. The area is gorgeous, after all, and so remote that it feels like they've reached the end of the world. He hopes the end of the world doesn't mean the end of them.

-/

"Remember when you asked me if I wanted to live?"

He's walking yards ahead of Daryl and Andrea, concentrating on their location, keeping his eyes open. He only hears them because it's too quiet all around them. And because they think he can't hear them. They speak softly.

"Been ages," Daryl says.

"This is stupid, but," Andrea says and hesitates. "I do kinda wanna make it."

"Kinda?" Daryl teases her.

She smiles. "I want to."

"Ya will," Daryl tells her, punching her arm lightly. "You're pretty badass."

"So are you. So you know what it's like," she says. "You spend so much energy into being a basass on the outside that there's no more energy left inside."

Rick takes the words and digests them and a sudden realization slaps him over the head.

It's taken him too long to realize what the 'nothing' actually means. It's taken him a while to learn her language, that when she says, 'fine', she's actually saying 'fuck you, whatever'. That when she says 'are you kidding me?' she's dropping several F bombs in her mind. That when she says 'it's okay' she's counting to 10 in her head.

That when she says 'nothing', she actually means 'everything'.

Two nights later,

"Rick?"

This time he doesn't ask, just holds out his hand. "Come here."

But she doesn't touch it. She just stands there hesitantly like she's delicate china and he's coming after her with a hammer.

He opens his eyes to look at her and it's too dark but he doesn't miss the glisten in her eyes. He reaches for her hand if she won't give it to him, but she doesn't pull away. She lets him pull her down next to him and it's the first time they sleep close, facing each other. Almost touching, but not quite.

In this new world they are children of evolution. It's almost comical. Humanity is ending and yet everyone is evolving, changing, at a faster pace. That night she lies near him and he can feel her breath on his shoulder and he knows she's not asleep. He's not asleep, either. Too scared to move. For the first time, they are aware of each other. They've been aware of each other before, but never at the same time. This is the first time they are at each other's presence and they feel each other. And it terrifies him. It terrifies her even more.

For weeks nothing happens. He figures he must've scared her. He hadn't meant to, and at this point he should've known. At times she is like a little feral cat, getting closer and closer each time but running away immediately if he tries to get near her.

But she's still scared of the dark. She's scared of the dark and now she's scared to come to him. The dark circles under her eyes appear again and he worries. If he tries to talk about it, when he asks her what's wrong, she shrugs it off and walks away with another, "nothing."

He wants to confront her, but he's so messed up himself. It was like life was trying to get them tied together, but they were both so knotted up they were just creating a bigger mess, not knowing where he started and ended, not knowing where she ended and started.

-/

He sees it one day when he's scouting with Glenn. Glenn has found some sort of old Goodwill and they're raiding the racks for clothes and shoes for the winter. As he's walking out he stops, knows he won't have room for it, but he leaves behind the boots he'd picked out for himself. He could always come back and get them. This seems more important.

She frowns when he presents it to her.

"It's a lantern," he says, grinning like he's found some buried treasure.

Andrea frowns. "We don't have electricity, how is it gonna work?"

He chuckles. "No, this is old school. See?" He opens it up, and inside a little liquid still remains. "Runs on gas. You just have to light it up. We have plenty of matches."

She inspects it closely, smiles at it, but then looks at him dubiously. "Rick, gas isn't exactly in abundance these days."

"Eh, a little here and there won't hurt us," he says. Something happens inside of him when she grins. "Take it."

It's a little heavy in her arms, and she looks at the thing like it might be her savior. She probably won't be able to use it every night, he thinks, but it'll at least allow her to sleep when she can.

When Andrea looks up and smiles at him he feels light and warm. And when she reaches up and kisses his cheek he finally feels it. Finally. And he finally wants to do something about it.

"Thank you," she says, and says a million other things with her eyes. They stay there, muted, but he hears the words in his head, anyway.

-/

That night there's light in her room. His heart is beating way too fast inside his chest and he feels like it might break through his skin and run away. She's asleep, looking peaceful next to the small flame of the lantern. He bites his bottom lip, unsure. Thinks he should turn around and attack it during the day.

But he's tired of running. They've been running away from each other for so long and he knows she's just as exhausted as he.

"Andrea?"

Her eyes open slowly and they're a color he's never seen before. They've settled into some happy medium between blue and green to create aqua. It reminds him of the sea and warms him up even more, even though his bones shiver.

"What's wrong?"

He smiles, then chuckles, at her choice of words. She frowns at first, getting up to a sitting position, curious and confused. But when her eyes meet his she gets it. Or thinks she does. She's still confused when she lifts the covers, and he crawls in and it feels terrifying to be on this end. He finally understands what she must've felt like every time she came to him all those nights.

But it's warm under her covers. And unlike all those times, he doesn't cuddle away from her in a corner. He crawls in close and wraps an arm around her middle.

"Rick—"

Their noses bump and she finally gets it, with a quiet, "oh." And when she smiles tentatively, he feels like he's reached heaven.

Her lips are soft and warm against his. They leave it at that. Chaste. No tongues, no open mouths. Just a small kiss. They're too broken, after all. Too weak and too vulnerable to make it more. They can't handle it just yet. They will for sure, some day. But right now, it needs to be like this. Just a small, simple kiss to signal the start of something. Like a contract.

Rick smiles when he realizes what it's like. It's like wedding vows.

He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, thinking of all those times she was right there next to him, all these years they've fought together. Thinks of all the times she made Carl laugh, all the times she made him laugh, too. And thinks about all those nights they shared a bed without saying a word. Words were never spoken, but words were there, anyway. All the time. Surrounding them and creating a story that neither of them knew was being penned.

Rick runs a hand up her back and it settles in her hair. Takes a deep breath and appreciates her sweet scent. He smiles at her and murmurs, "Thank you."

Andrea smiles back, resting a hand on his chest as she closes her eyes. "It's nothing."