There was a definite chill in the air as Andrea sat perched atop the RV, but she was hard pressed to tell if she was shivering solely on account of the weather. Her binoculars seemed to be drifting of their own accord towards the flattened patch of grass where Dale had fallen only a few hours earlier. She kept trying to push the older man's face from her mind and focus on the task at hand, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to fight the sadness intent on creeping into her thoughts.
Frustrated by what she felt was her own weakness, she sighed and shook her head. "You can cry later," she muttered to herself. "Gotta protect the group." Taking a deep breath, she brought her binoculars to her eyes once again, scanning the horizon, determined to do her duty.
A sudden rustling of canvas drew her attention, and she turned her head to see a tall, dark figure emerge from a nearby tent. The height and stance of the silhouetted shape told her immediately that the figure was Rick, and she watched with interest as he raked his fingers through his hair and began to pace in an agitated manor. Clouds shifted and he was quickly illuminated by the moonlight. He had yet to notice her curious gaze, and she took the opportunity to admire the unaware Deputy Sheriff.
Tall and leanly muscled, he cast a striking figure, clad as he was in black jeans that hugged his slim hips and long legs. His ever-present utility belt was slung low, holding his Python in a holster that rested against his right thigh. He'd thrown on a rumpled canvas shirt, the collar of which was unbuttoned enough to reveal a swath of pale skin and a sprinkling of chest hair. His strong jaw was tightly clenched under a day's worth of stubble, his vivid blue eyes almost imperceptible under his deeply furrowed brow. The waves of his thick, dark hair were slightly bedraggled, likely from an earlier effort to sleep.
Andrea smiled to herself, then shook her head. It felt like years had passed since she'd introduced herself to Rick by shoving a gun in his face. She felt like it had been longer still that she'd been attracted to him. She took pride, however, in the strength she'd relied on to prevent herself from acting on that attraction, knowing from experience that no good would come from chasing a married man. Still, she told herself there was no harm in looking.
The sound of Rick clearing his throat startled her from her thoughts, and she blinked a few times before quickly meeting his slightly bemused gaze. How long had he been watching her stare at him? Feigning nonchalance, she lifted her hand in a wave of acknowledgement, then turned away from him, fumbling for an instant with her binoculars in an effort to make a show of returning to her sentry duties.
Moments later she heard the faint clinking of boots on the RV ladder. "Any action out there tonight?" Rick asked as he sat down next to her chair.
Andrea cast him a sidelong glance. "Nope."
He turned his head slightly towards her. "You doing okay?" He asked. "I know you and Dale were… close."
She nodded. "I'll get there," she replied without inflection,
"Because if you need some time, Daryl or I could take over for you, or-"
Andrea smiled faintly as she cut him off. "I'll be fine, Rick." She thought she saw him bristle slightly out of the corner of her eye, and was quick to add, "but thanks for the offer."
Turning back to stare into the darkness, Rick offered a pensive "Hmm," in response.
Silence ensued, punctuated only by insistent crickets calling to one another across the endless fields bathed in darkness around the RV. Andrea was all too aware of the Sheriff's presence, just as she had been so long ago when they had stood next to one another, alone in the department store. From beneath her lowered lashes, her eyes scanned his long legs stretched out in front of him, and she was sure she could feel his body heat seeping through her thin cotton shirt. The silence between the pair stretched out; the night air began to feel thick and smothering to Andrea, and she felt compelled to break into the quiet. "Can't sleep?" she said at last.
Rick sighed. "Nope. Brain's too wound up."
Andrea turned to face him. "Might help to talk about it," she offered.
"You sound like Lori," he said dryly, with a wry smile.
"God, I hope not," Andrea snorted without thinking. Rick swivelled his head quickly, pinning her with a surprised look.
She blushed slightly, and said rapidly, "Sorry, sorry. I didn't mean it like that. I just meant…" Andrea paused, searching for a diplomatic way to express her dislike of the woman. "It's just that… your wife and I don't really… see eye to eye on everything," she finally offered.
"Mmm." He rubbed absently at the stubble covering his jaw.
There was a brief silence once again, and Andrea silently chastised her big mouth, certain she'd deeply offended the man.
Just as she opened her mouth to offer another apology though, he spoke again. "I suppose that's fair enough," he conceded. "There are things she and I don't see eye to eye on either."
"That what's got your brain wound up?"
Rick exhaled loudly, and a small smile tugged at his lips. "Sort of."
Andrea nodded, and waited to see if he would continue.
"I guess I just…" He paused and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger before bringing his gaze back to meet Andrea's. "I probably shouldn't lay it all on you."
She rolled her eyes. "I'm pretty sure I can take it Rick," she retorted. "Just go ahead and lay on me all you want."
Rick's eyebrows shot upwards.
Andrea realized the implication of her words immediately, and turned her face from him, though not before he noted her furious blushing. "Oh shut up," she grumbled as she heard him chuckle. "You know what I mean."
His mirth passed quickly. "Yeah, I do." He shifted his focus to the horizon. "It's this whole Randall thing, I guess. I mean, I stood in a barn today, prepared to kill a kid. Hell, if Carl hadn't shown up, I probably would have done it. And I… I feel like I'm someone I don't even know, you know? I mean, what the hell happened to my morals? I used to see myself as… as a good man. I took care of my family. I helped people as a cop. And now…" He closed his eyes wearily. "Now I'm a guy prepared to execute a defenceless child if I need to."
Andrea look sympathetically at the man next to her. "And what does Lori say?"
He sighed. "She says that if I think I'm making the right choices, she supports me."
"Jesus, what a cop-out."
Rick frowned at the blunt response.
"Oh come on, Rick," she said with exasperation. "Either Lori has an opinion that she's not sharing with you, or she can't bring herself to decide one way or the other about such a horrible thing, so she's just letting you do the heavy lifting. Now, I've spent time with your wife, Officer, and you and I both know that if she's got an opinion, she speaks her mind."
Andrea felt within herself the spark of passion she used to feel in the courtroom, felt herself gearing up. "It's awfully easy for the people in our group to pass judgement on your decisions, but I don't see any of them standing up to make the tough calls. I don't see anyone else tying nooses in barns or asking a child for his last words."
She saw him opening his mouth to speak, and anticipating his question said, "Daryl told me."
Rick nodded, his expression unreadable.
"And as for morals," she continued, "Rick, the morals of the old world don't exist anymore. The only morals that matter now are dictated by survival. Nothing from your old life could have prepared you for the decisions you make now. You're in No-Man's land. And yet, every time there's a hard choice to make, you step up and you make it. And I'll tell you something else: I'm pretty sure you've done the most moral thing anyone can do. You saw a group of strangers, and you decided to put the weight of the world on your shoulders and make us your responsibility. You put yourself at risk to keep us safe. Your kid looks at you and sees a man who protects those who need it. Anyone willing to do what you've done is a good man, Rick."
Her diatribe over, Andrea fell back against her chair heavily. Damn, that felt good, she thought. Like a closing argument. Like her old life. She sat smiling for a moment, enjoying the satisfaction, realizing how long it had been since she had felt it, realizing she had missed it. Her happiness began to dissipate however as moments stretched into minutes, and her companion failed to utter a single word. Had she over-stepped? Failed to convince him? Offended him somehow? She looked down at her hands, studied them. Finally, she convinced herself to look at him. He was staring at her, his expression inscrutable. She thought perhaps she saw admiration in his eyes, and possibly something else. Something that made her feel simultaneously warm and anxious. She wondered if she was just seeing what she wanted to see. She squirmed slightly under his intense study of her, until at last she blurted, "Well Jesus, Rick, say something."
His lips parted in slow, wide smile that made her stomach flip-flop. "I'll bet you were one hell of a lawyer," he drawled, his voice a low timbre. He tucked his legs underneath himself and stood, keeping his eyes fixed on hers as she tilted her face upwards to follow his movements. Looking down at her, her face framed in the moonlight by errant blonde tendrils of hair, he found himself wondering if her eyes had always been such a beautiful blue-green color. Impulsively, he bent down, placed his hand beneath her chin. With excruciating slowness, he pressed a soft, gentle kiss to her cheek. "Thank you," he murmured, before straightening back up and moving to the RV ladder.
Andrea unconsciously brought her fingers to her face, feeling the warmth on her cheek where his lips had been. Her eyes followed him as he sauntered back to his tent. She watched as he unzipped the entrance to his tent, and her breath caught in her throat when he turned to give her one long, final look before disappearing into his make-shift home.
Feeling a heat that had nothing to do with the weather, Andrea turned back to the dark of the night. A few deep breaths in an effort to slow her erratic heartbeat told her that she was in trouble.