Disclaimer: I don't own AMC's The Walking Dead or any of its characters, wishful thinking aside.
Authors Note #1: This is my fill response to a prompt posted on LJ at the TWD Kink Meme community: "Shane: Death Echo. Shane's spirit is a death echo reliving how he died in that field over and over every night." *Rated for: cannon character death, adult language, adult situations, angst, hurt and comfort, and maybe even a hint of unrequited Rick/Shane love if you squint.
A Sonata for Icarus
"Now listen to me Shane. There is still a way back from this. Nothing has happened here. We're gonna lay down our guns and we're gonna to walk back to the farm together…"
It's been years now, maybe even decades. He knows because things have changed around him. The trees on the edge of the clearing had grown. Their seeds had spread and taken root, dotted through the clearing like errant, half-grown children. The field had long gone fallow. Springing up and then mouldering back down into soil more times than he could count – the new growth covering dull porcelain as the grass and roots curled around his bones like a living skin.
It was fitting, he supposed. …The whole circle of life thing and all that.
The difference between the past and present is jarring now. With tall shrubs and half grown saplings interspersed throughout the clearing where there had once been only wild wheat and tall grass. It was disconcerting and distracting because it forced the memory to splinter, getting caught in mid-play like one of those old fashioned record players trying to make sense of a chip in the vinyl.
It was hard to describe. But like a camera going in and out of focus, the scene would often stall – pausing in mid-motion as Rick or that awful specter of himself would crash through the barrier of the past and into the present. With one of them walking right through a half grown sapling or a leaf-stripped hedge before snapping back into the memory of how the clearing used to look. Sort of like that one DVD in your collection that has a scratch in the disk. …The one that always freezes in mid-scene despite all your attempts to skip past it.
The first time it happened he'd nearly keeled over, feeling sick to a stomach he no longer had as a phantom-like vice suddenly closed around his neck. It'd felt a whole lot like he was being pulled in two different directions. Like his soul was being torn apart right then and there before the scene suddenly corrected itself, rewinding all the way back to the start just so he could relive the entire fucking thing all over again.
If there really was a god, he was certain that the smarmy bastard didn't like him all that much.
He didn't know when they'd arrived, but one night, just as the moment cycled back to the start. A tired, desperate little whimper issued from between his clenched teeth as he lurched back into the field, they were suddenly just there.
Perhaps they'd arrived sometime during the day, or maybe even the day before. The specifics didn't matter much, only the fact that they were here, now. After all this time… in spite all the odds, they'd come back. …They'd come home.
"Back to Lori… Back to Carl… Put this all behind us…"
For a long moment he simply stood there. Letting the ghosts shift and ripple around him, as the nightmare began anew. But he barely even noticed the scene playing out behind him, unable to do little more than blink, staring wide-eyed through the veil that separated the past from the present.
His hands fell limp at his sides as he watched them crest the final hill that stood between the field and the farm house. Trying and failing to quell the little flutter of hope that sparked in his chest as they began angling towards him. Relishing every whisper of conversation, every distant echo that heralded half a dozen car doors slamming as the rest of the group began unloading the vehicles back at the farmstead.
He wondered how many of them were left. He wondered who they'd lost – and perhaps even who they'd gained. …Friends, allies, and enemies alike. He wondered if the world had indeed kept on turning, and if things had gotten better. But most of all, he wondered why there were four of them making their way towards him through the overgrown pasture.
It wasn't until they'd cleared the rise that he recognized the man walking at the front. …Rick. Awareness hitched as he took the man in from head to toe. Cataloging everything from the slow, careful way the man put shoe to ground and the worn, burnished gleam of the man's old Colt as the barrel shined through the ragged holster at his waist. All easy posture and too-long legs as the man's spine curved inward with age.
Because even now, in spite of everything, he would have recognized that man anywhere.
And interestingly enough, it was a skill that ended up being put to the test, because if one thing was certain, it was that the years certainly hadn't been kind. Somewhere along the line Rick had gotten old, and unlike those that are lucky enough to age gracefully, it didn't look good on him. His hair was shot through with silver and peppered with grey. Even from a distance the man looked old, scarred, and tired.
During the intervening years, deep lines had taken up residence on the man's previously youthful face. It was as though someone had taken a knife and cut into him. Creating craggy pits and hairless patches of smooth, pink skin where dark beard used to grow. Even his eyes looked as though they'd seen the deepest pits of hell before clawing their way back again. Shining out, dark and far too bright, as the man surveyed the field around them, apparently lost for words.
…Though, all else considered, he supposed there was probably a premium on aging gracefully these days…
Carl was there. That was what he noticed next, all tall, strapping and powerful. The boy – or should he say man, was clearly in the prime of his life. There was something in the way that he owned his stride or how Rick's old hat sat more firmly on his head than it had as a child that belayed a confidence and self-awareness that some men go their entire lives without ever attaining. Hell, coupled together with the way he rested his hand on his holster and slowed his stride to match Rick's, it seemed as though Carl had grown into more than just his father's old uniform.
His gait was slow, but confident, with a just hint of that boyish swagger he remembered from back before all this. Before the laws of nature had flipped and the worst thing Carl had to worry about was cleaning his room and making sure he did his homework on time. But like Rick, he wasn't unmarked. In fact, he now sported a strip of folded cloth over his left eye and an ugly scar that stood out, angry and raised across the side of his neck. Almost as if someone had tried to slit his throat from behind but had failed halfway through. But somehow it worked for him. It made him look hard and seasoned. But not bitter. Not changed in all the ways Lori had feared.
As strange as it was to admit, Carl had grown into a man. His freckles had faded and his face had thinned; having lost the chubbiness of youth to at least a few days' worth of dark brown stubble and a face smoothed together with angled lines and high cheek bones. In a way he couldn't get over it because even now, Carl still looked so much like Lori - so much like Rick that even in the dark the mere sight of him was enough to make his chest ache.
And as he stared across the distance at the man he no longer knew, he figured that at the end of the day, he could add yet another regret to his ever growing list. Regret for everything that had happened. Regret for being too wrapped up in his own god damned problems that he hadn't taken the time to recognize that it wasn't just him that was suffering. Regret for not being there to watch the child he'd cared for, the child that he'd shed blood for, grow up into a man.
Sometimes he swore that his life was just one big list of regrets. But other days he wondered why the fuck the universe hated him so god damned much. Then again, maybe that was the point to this whole mess, that you needed a balance to gain traction on either side. …Right or wrong.
Maybe that was what had really killed him in the end. Not Rick. Not Lori. Not this whole messed up world. …But himself.
A/N #1: Thanks for reading. Please let me know what you thought! Reviews and constructive critiquing are love! – There will be one more part after this. Sorry about the wait and the smaller chapter. I moved across the country, then my computer died, and then I moved again and so on. It has been a bit of gong show around here and I am only just getting back into the swing of writing again.
"Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets." - Arthur Miller