It sounds almost like a lullaby when she talks about unicorns and mermaids.

Rick smiles, forgetting the sound of all the walkers pressing themselves against the doors outside. Instead, he hears siren wails and remembers the ocean. Remembers family trips with his brother Jeff and their parents, aunts and cousins. He's assaulted by the smell of the sea, and as he looks down at the necklace she's stroking, he can't help but feel an overwhelming peace inside.

When she talks about her sister, he can practically feel the love emanating from her, but also the regret. He knows that regret all too well, knowing what it's like to have a younger sibling. Jeff, a child with a disability, had grown into a scornful person, a man so mad at the world he became a bitter junkie. The cop in Rick casted his brother out, and as she talks about her sister he can't help feel what it's like to have an estranged relationship with a sibling. She masks it so well, with words of adoration and sweet smiles, but he sees through her and sees the strain, the guilt she carries.

Still, all she has to do is bring up the ridiculous question that only a person with too high morals could ask, "would it be considered looting?"

And all thoughts of Jeff leave him and he chuckles at her ridiculous suggestion.

She grabs the necklace and sticks it into her pocket, and when she smiles up at him he feels a personal connection with this beautiful stranger who, not one hour ago, was pressing a gun to his face.

And for a moment, a blink in time, Lori and Carl are not there in his mind as they had been every second of every day after he woke up from that coma.

When the walkers break the first set of doors, they both jump back and she grips his arm, shaking. The walkers are now against the second set of doors, one of them with a rock, and Andrea breathes heavy and feels a fear so great in her heart she bites her bottom lip, hard.

"This is it, isn't it?"

Rick doesn't want to answer, but he doesn't have to. They're trapped in a department store in the middle of a walker infested Atlanta. They could climb up the stairs, head for the roof, but it's only a matter of time. They have no food, no water, and sooner or later the herd will find them and obliterate them all to pieces.

She chuckles, and he looks at her disbelievingly. But she doesn't seem happy, and suddenly she shakes her head ironically.

"That whole life flashing before your eyes thing… " she explains. "What a load of bullshit."

Rick smiles sadly. "You think?"

She looks at him and her eyes are icy blue and vulnerable, but there's a strength in them that somehow keeps him from panicking.

"Are you seeing your life flash before your eyes?" she says and looks at the walkers.

Rick bites down on his jaw, narrowing his eyes at them, too. And all he sees is death. Right there. Not their death, but his own. The knowledge that he'll die soon. There's no light at the end of the tunnel, no life flashing before his eyes. Nothing. Just a resolution, a surrender that doesn't seem to alarm him as much as he thought it should.

He shrugs his shoulders, because all he sees is a fade to black and that fade to black, he knows, will be quick and in the history books, of no importance.

"Not seeing much right now."

She sniffs, but when he looks over there are no tears. "I should've done things differently," she says, as if she's confessing her sins. She speaks quietly, like it still matters whether they're loud or not. "I should've…" she shakes her head and looks down. "I should've been a better sister to Amy."

He nods his head, not really surprised because he'd seen it in the way she'd talked about her sister like her sister was a saint. You tend to do that, when you feel like you've let someone down. Revel them as if you could talk to them directly and tell them how much you love them because you never actually did.

He looks down and wants to comfort her. But he doesn't know her. He only knows her name is Andrea because someone called her that, but he has no idea who this stranger is. But he wants to reassure her. It's the southern gentleman in him.

"Well," he says and smiles at his shoes. He doesn't know what to say, though. He can tell she's not the type to be moved by Sunday sermons. His own belief in God dissolved the minute he woke up to this world. He's never read any poetry, never been a man of words. In fact, his own marriage had been in trouble because he was never the type to communicate or say the right thing.

There's nothing he can say to her.

Nothing he can say to her that would make Lori feel better.

So he just thinks, fuck it, and says whatever the fuck he feels like saying to make the moment better.

"I guess…"

He digs deep down, and it doesn't matter, because they'll be dead in two seconds, so he feels like saying the first thing that comes to mind, and he smiles, "I regret my last meal was that can of beans."

It works. She looks at him and laughs and it's the first time he sees she has dimples. Her happiness is such a contrast to her anger, and for a second he feels like making her laugh makes him feel like he knows her.

Except he doesn't.

She smiles and nods, looking towards the herd outside and her smile remains despite it. "I had half a can of chicken broth."

Rick raises his eyebrows. "Well, your death's not gonna be as messy as mine, then."

Her smile diminishes a little bit and she looks down. She seems reluctant for a second but then he can practically feel her resolve give away. They will die in five minutes, probably less than that, and nothing they say or do matters. Nothing is stupid, nothing is ridiculous. If anything, it's their last words, and no matter how silly they are, they will be memorable in his mind.

"I actually came on this run…"

She begins, but then stops. She shakes her head and scrunches her face like she's admonishing herself for opening her mouth. But he's too curious now, and they're about to die and they can't afford the silence. They're about to be eaten by the dead and in their last minutes of life, he wants to feel as human as he possibly can.

He needs to feel human.

"Because…" he encourages her.

She rolls her eyes, smiles at the floor, then rolls her eyes again and looks around the department store like the answer is obvious.

"I came on this run…" she sighs, then lets it out, "because I wanted to get some nice underwear."

His turn to laugh and he looks at her with new appreciation. "Really."

"It's stupid," she says, shrugging her shoulders. "But I just miss those things the most."

"Nice underwear."

"All those things," she says, "the little things."

He smiles at the dead. "Like ketchup?"

"Waffles." She nods. "With bananas and Nutella."

"Baseball."

"Getting my nails done."

"Chinese."

Andrea smiles. "Yeah, Chinese's good."

"And giving tickets when I'm in a bad mood."

She looks at him. "Okay, that one only relates to you."

"Well, you got the nails one, so."

She smiles, and the list ends there. And the silence once again reminds them of their fate, and they can't bear it. They can't think about the fact that they're about to die, they need the distraction of conversation.

It's Andrea who can't stand it any longer and just blurts the first thing that comes to mind.

"I really miss sex."

Her confession surprises him so much he frowns as he looks at her.

"Trust me, you've only been awake a couple of days. You'll realize soon how much you'll miss it, especially when our bodies are stressed out all the time," she explains.

Rick nods, looking down. "No, I get it," he says. "Not that I had much of it."

She looks at him, surprised. "But you were married."

"Exactly."

She smiles sadly, returning her attention to the walkers. "Not just sex. I miss intimacy, you know? There's a few couples back in camp. One in particular constantly sneaks off into the woods and I… I kinda wish I had someone. I think it would make things easier."

"Maybe."

Andrea nods and smiles. "Plus, waffles and baseball are nothing compared to a good orgasm."

Rick colors red and looks down. He can't help it. He's always been the shy type and talking about sex, even with Shane, always made him feel too aware. Talking about sex with a beautiful blonde in the middle of the apocalypse does it even more. But then he hears the snares and looks up, and knows it'll be over soon, and he, too, realizes the impact of what she's said.

He'll never have sex.

He'll never get to touch someone, ever again.

He'll never get to hold hands.

He'll never kiss, never embrace, never caress, ever again.

It tugs at him and he turns serious, and looks down before he asks, "How long now, do you think?"

She looks at the herd and bites her lip again. "Hopefully longer than it seems."

Silence creeps up on them again and it's unbearable. It's asphyxiating. It's toxic, the thought of their deaths, of being shredded to pieces. He thinks about those things, all those little things she'll miss and he'll miss and he can't put on a baseball game or give a ticket.

But he can look at her, and when he does he finds she's been staring at him, too.

He doesn't really see much, just the moisture in her eyes and his fist gripping her shirt before his mouth is on hers.

Her lips are soft and full but he doesn't linger on them too much, knowing they don't have time. His mouth finds the flesh of her neck and he showers it with kisses at first, then licks, then bites as he realizes, who cares if he gives her a hickie? Not like anyone will see them, ever again.

Her own hands are in his hair and she's the first one to grind pelvis against pelvis. He grunts at the intensity of that feel, unable to remember such a touch making him feel so alive and aroused. She's wearing a shirt with damn buttons and he thinks of ripping them apart, not that she'll need it, but she steps back for a second and peels it off her body. The separation sears him and makes him feel so alone and desperate that she's barely got the garment at her wrists before he pulls her towards him again.

Their mouths find each other and she nibbles experimentally before reality hits them again. And then she's biting hard, and he's biting back with a hunger so ferocious he wishes he could somehow swallow this whole moment. And when her hand wanders down and she presses it against the front of his pants, he feels like a wild animal and pins her strongly back against the counter. Jewelry flies off the shelves and his arms wrap themselves around her waist and he lifts her onto the glass surface. She peels his shirt off, and he takes care of her undershirt, and she takes care of his undershirt.

He cups her breasts through her bra and sighs at the feeling, and she moans as he begins to kneed, pushing the bra down to her waist. Her breasts are glorious, a thing of beauty, so large and round he presses his face into their valley. Her hand rakes through his hair as he takes one nipple into his mouth while caressing the other, and she moans loudly when he takes the hard peek in between his teeth and bites hard, and does it again and again before she sighs,

"Rick."

He looks up and suddenly she looks like a siren, with her hair wild and gold, and with a look of such pure pleasure on her face he feels himself grow impossibly harder.

"Please."

He doesn't need the encouragement. His lips find hers again as his fingers work the button of her pants, and he pulls them all the way down along with her underwear. He wraps her legs around him and grinds into her hard, pressing himself into the valley between her legs and the feeling is so glorious he almost comes undone right there. But he can't, because if a good orgasm is all she wants it's what he's going to give her.

With one hand he reaches down and unbuttons his pants, pulling the zipper down and letting them drop down to his ankles. He's on her in an instant, taking only a few seconds to figure out how they'll fit. She's so wet and so willing he barely has to push in, it's sleek and her own body pulls him inside.

She cries when he's all the way in, and Rick knows they don't have time to stop and savor the feeling. His arms grip her so tight he thinks he might hurt her but he doesn't care. He needs her, needs her pressed against him tight so he can remember, die a man, die human.

But then she pulls at his hair, tight until it hurts, and he knows it doesn't matter how as long as they get there.

It's fast and hard.

But in a way, it's also special. Because it's the last time he'll ever touch a woman.

She grips his face, her mouth breathing into his cheek with such need, such want, such desperation he's not sure what's real or right or life anymore. Her moans of pleasure engulf him in flames that have him pumping harder into her and the whole time he doesn't know whether they're dead or alive anymore.

They could still be alive, or they could've been devoured minutes ago. It doesn't matter. Whether they're on Earth, heaven, or hell…

What matters is the hot wave between her legs, her fingers threading in and out of his hair, his hands gripping at her ass tightly, the way her internal muscles grip at him just as desperately as she clings to him.

But her pallid, porcelain skin, her fair hair, also have him caressing her with delicate strokes of his fingers. Fingers that second later reach down, and he finds the wet nub between her legs and he strokes, not even bothering with a pattern. She cries louder and her body begs for his and he can't remember ever being this wanted.

And he can't remember ever wanting this much.

The whole thing seems to last ages but in reality it's just a few minutes, and when she comes it's so shattering her body can't deal with it and starts to pull away from his.

But he won't let her, and as she orgasms he continues to pump in and out hard and she clings to him desperately, digging her nails into his skin and shaking. He's never seen someone orgasm so hard, but he gets it seconds later when he feels the release and his own orgasm is so intense he has to stop moving, push his forehead into her neck and he has no control of his body as he spills himself into her and she holds him upright.

It takes a while for his vision to return, but when it does he looks at her. She looks peaceful and calm, despite the fact that it'll be any minute now. The glass is already cracking and the dead are coming for them, yet she smiles and he finds himself smiling, too. It'll be messy, their deaths, but he takes her gun and makes sure there's two bullets inside, one for him and one for her. She gets it, and covers his hand over the pistol, glad for this comfort, that he won't let her be devoured.

Then a miracle happens, and the group is suddenly back and his mind is reeling and her body is on fire but they don't have time to think.

The group is back and they're all determined to live, and with his foolish determination, they formulate a plan.

When she stands on that roof top chanting, "come back, come back, come back," she doesn't understand yet the weight of that plea.

And when he does come back, and they're finally on their way back to Atlanta. When her fears about Glenn are qualmed. When she realizes she'll get to see Amy again. That she'll get to live.

He tears his eyes away from the road and looks back. And when his eyes lock with hers they know they get to live and all they can ask is…

What now?

They get their answer when he stumbles into camp and finds his wife.

/-

Months later, when they're no longer in Atlanta but at the farm, he's standing next to Lori and his hand strokes his hair.

He feels so tumultuous and so… so much of everything he has to pace back and forth for a few moments to understand what it is he's feeling.

In the end, he realizes what he feels is a combination of betrayal, regret, and guilt.

Betrayal. Not because she slept with another man when she thought he was dead, but because that man was his best friend.

Regret. Because the last time they spoke before the world went to shit, they were both practically waving divorce papers at each other.

Guilt. Guilt for what happened back in Atlanta with Andrea, with her blonde ponytail moistured in sweat and her legs wrapped tightly around his pevils.

Guilt for ever second that his eyes unwillingly find Andrea within the group and they linger on her too long, and he remembers the touch of her breasts, the taste of her mouth, the sounds of her unraveling as he pumped hard, in and out of her.

And the words that come out of his mouth surprise even him.

"I know."

Lori's eyes widen but he can't look at her.

"Of course I know."

But not of course because he knew. Of course because the moment she says the words, "Shane and I" his mind flashbacks to Atlanta, to that department store, and he hears Andrea's voice.

There's a few couples back in camp. One in particular constantly sneaks off into the woods…

And he knows that couple couldn't have been Ed and Carol.

That couple couldn't have been Morales and his wife, not with two little ones to look after constantly.

The other only female in camp, Amy, was too young and didn't have any romantic attachments.

It doesn't take a mathematician, especially when the tension between him and Shane keeps increasing by the day.

But he can't be mad. Well, he can. And he is. But he feels he has no right to feel this way. Because for those minutes, back in Atlanta, he and Andrea knew they were going to die and their desperation for a connection, for a touch, for love and intimacy had been so severe they succumbed to it without hesitation.

He forgives Lori. He has to.

He wishes it was that easy to forgive himself.

/-

The next time they interact, it's cold and bitter and angry.

He's fought so hard for his marriage, and so hard against his attraction towards her, that he's ignored every single inch of her existence, and has, instead, submerged into the lost hope that is his marriage.

Maybe you should stop leaving.

The words sting him so hard he has to look away from her, because he just can't. The constant tension in the distance between them is suffocating and those five little words all but crush him.

But they don't crush him quite like the words that come out of Glenn's mouth a day later.

"And Andrea?"

He knows they can't go back. They could, but they can't. She could be dead. She's probably dead. But he doesn't even get the chance to mourn her, because his marriage continues to unravel at a faster pace and they're on the road with no food or water. He never gets the opportunity to sit down or think about the fact that she's not here anymore. He feels the void, they all do, but the void is overshadowed by the constant hunger, constant cold, constant exhaustion and thirst.

And the never ending swell of Lori's womb.

When she does enter his mind it's in dreams. Dreams about mermaids and flashes of her blonde hair and her blue eyes rolling to the back of her head as he makes her come.

He always wakes up hard and knows that even if he tries, Lori won't touch him back.

It was tougher on the road. He'd have to walk away from camp and take care of it while keeping an eye out for walkers.

Easier at the prison. He'd simply retrieve to the showers and think about Andrea's full legs wrapped tightly around him, the tension in her nails as she dug them into his skin, her moans of pleasure blowing air against his cheek. The way he clung to her like she was the last beacon of hope, the last thing he ever truly had.

And every time he comes he feels like shit afterwards.

Not because of Lori or his act.

But because 8 months later, just the thought of Andrea makes him feel more alive and human, more sexual and unraveled, than anything going on in his current life.

But mostly because he chose to leave her behind.

/-

He doesn't know what to make of the look on Michonne's face as Merle stands right behind teasing them.

But he doesn't care.

All he hears is the Governor and Andrea and he's just losing it.

It takes every last bit of strength in him not to take Michonne and shove her against a tree, put a gun to her temple and pull the trigger, then turn around and put a bullet to Merle's forehead. He doesn't care that he might need Michonne. He doesn't care that Michonne brought all that formula to the prison. He doesn't care that he needs the man power, or that the group would be safer with more people.

All he cares about is the fact that she's known. She's known all along about Andrea. For 8 months he's had to live out there, thinking Andrea was gone, but this stranger has known, and didn't say anything.

He approaches her, his blood pumping fast and his fingers twitching. "Do you know Andrea?"

But the stranger chooses to stay quiet, for God knows what reason and it makes him even angrier. He's in her face again, but she matches him with a glare and he's never hit a woman but he has to fight hard not to.

"Do you know Andrea."

She doesn't answer and he's not surprised but behind him he hears Merle. Merle saying Andrea was nearly dead when they found her. Merle teasing Michonne and making some kind of innuendo.

Then Merle suggesting Andrea has gotten involved with the Governor.

The anger is blinding and shattering and he can't even speak. He paces back and forth like a caged animal and off in the distance he hears the echoes of Merle, Daryl, Glenn, and Maggie arguing, but he can't make the words out.

When he sees her walk up to the prison he doesn't know what takes over.

He's blinded by anger and frustration and takes it all out on her. A part of himself watches him and asks him what he's doing, throwing her around and shoving her to the ground as she begs his name over and over. But the anger is so blinding, so blinding that she could be with that piece of shit after everything she's been through with the group, with him, that all he sees is red.

The group stands back. No one utters a word. They all hold their guns, but not one person has it at the ready. They're all stunned, so shocked to see him act like this, throwing Andrea, Andrea, their Andrea around like she's a rag doll. He catches glances of them here and there, but he can't.

He can't stop.

Because off in the distance, Lori is haunting him again. Off beyond the fences Lori stands there, wearing her wedding dress and looking at him and making him feel like such a piece of shit. Because in that department store, back in Atlanta, Andrea made him weak and strong and he still thinks about it constantly.

And now, as he shoves her about, all he can think is the fact that she's been sleeping with that piece of shit Governor and he wants to shoot her. Shoot her. Right in the head for doing this to him. He's like an animal, reacting on sheer adrenaline to dual ghosts - the ghost of Lori, and the ghost of their union in that department store. And both ghosts torment him.

When he pulls her to her feet and treats her worse than he treats the walkers, no one helps him.

And when he guides her into the prison and Carol embraces her, kisses her, thanks her for keeping her alive, he can't think straight.

Right away they're attacking her for information, pinning her against a corner, and when she expresses ignorance over these things "Philip" has done he wants to vomit. There's tears in her eyes as she confesses she didn't know about Maggie and Glenn, didn't know about the prison assault, and the passion in her voice tells him right away she's being honest.

But he doesn't want to believe her.

Because it's better to be mad at her. Easier to deal with. She talks about innocent people and tries to beg him to think clearly about this and he can't even look at her. He walks away and leaves her behind with the group and takes the aggression out on the walkers.

/-

Afternoon begins with the sound of crickets and he's exhausted. He's managed to clear some of the fields but walkers still roam outside. Still, he doesn't have the energy anymore, but at least the rampage managed to dull the anger. Now he's numb, unable to think, wanting nothing more than a shower and at least an hour of sleep.

When he walks back he sees her in the distance and turns the other way. But his body won't allow him and he stops, turns around, and sees her crying. She's alone, the group apparently having given up on her, and he knows he's not in the right state of mind to do this, but just looking at her makes him angrier again and his body bolts towards her.

When she sees him she steps back, fear in her eyes as she thinks he's going to rough her up again. A part of him feels like shit that he made her feel like that, especially when he remembers he brought her so much peace and comfort with a touch the day they met. But he's not that same man anymore.

"Why are you here?"

She stops walking backwards and he sees the old fire, the one she always gets in her eyes every time she gets ready to fight.

"Why am I here?"

She sounds like he's just offended her and he has to look away before he narrows his eyes and looks at her again. His fingers are itching on his hips. "He send you?"

Andrea takes a deep breath and frowns at his insinuation, that she's a spy. That she came here to gather information and report back to the Governor. That she's perfectly okay watching them all die. That she's that kind of person.

It's her who takes one step forward this time. "I had to escape to make it all the way out here," she tells him and her voice is piercing. "My life is in the shit for being here. Really, Rick? Why am I here?"

Still he refuses to acknowledge the logic, because it's easier to just be livid. He looks away again and somehow feels like she's the one interrogating him as she waits for an answer he doesn't know how to give. So he clings to the bitterness instead.

"If this is some sick First Lady third world charity run then thanks for the visit," he says coldly. "We're just fine."

Tears well in her eyes again and the pool is blue and clear, but he can practically see the red consuming her and he braces himself. The fire in Andrea has always burned hotter than anyone's back at the camp, he knows from experience, watched her after the death of her sister, watch her rise like a Phoenix.

When she takes another step forward she's practically shaking and he can feel the heat of that fire burn him. "I've been trying to get here since the moment I found out you were all alive. I've been trying to escape that town for days to get here and warn you. And then I finally do, and now I'm a piece of shit?"

He looks down, not letting the words get to him. Other words are in his mouth, and he wants to say them. He wants so bad to make it personal and throw it in her face and make her feel the same way he felt when he found out about her and the Governor. He wants her heart to feel like his felt when Merle teased Michonne with those vile words. He wants her to feel the countless sleepless nights, when all he had was images of her with some psycho.

He wants to hurt her. He wants to hurt her so bad his hands ball into fists.

But he doesn't have to say it, because she knows what he's thinking and he feels the air shift around them. Suddenly he hears her breathing hard and he feels a great explosion coming.

"You don't get to judge me about this."

And then, once it's out, it's easy. He looks up instantly and there's tears in her eyes but she looks like a lioness, ready to defend the cub that is her pride.

And he's like a hyena, ready to pounce.

"Right," Rick sneers, nodding and stepping back. "First Shane, now this psycho. I'm starting to see a pattern."

Her face hardens even more as she digests the words and when she lunges at him and pushes at his chest, he doesn't defend himself.

"You don't know shit about what I've been through." Her eyes are wide and wild, but he can't bring himself to look at her as she pierces holes into his face. Her hands are shaking, he can see that, and she's gearing up to roar. "Do you know how ill I was when he found us? I was done. My body... I couldn't even walk anymore. Our plan was to keep on dragging me until she would've had to leave me behind. Did she tell you that?"

He doesn't answer, and merely tenses his jaw.

When he doesn't say anything, she huffs sarcastically. "Let me guess. She came over and told you everything. About the heads, Penny, the National Guard, Glenn and Maggie? You know what she told me? Nothing. I asked her for the truth and she just walked away and what the hell was I supposed to do? I saw a good man leading this amazing community. He was polite, he was nice, he was charming and... he saved all these people. He saved me! He saved me when you left me to die."

He takes the blow so severely he almost wishes she'd shoved him again instead. Suddenly physical violence seems so much easier than all this vile, all this bitterness between them.

All the regret.

Because at the core it was regret more than anything else. Neither wanted to see it.

"Do you really think I slept with him because he's some crazy psycho?"

Once again he says nothing because he wants to hear it. He wants to hear it all and he wants it to hurt him, make him feel alive again. When he dares look up he doesn't see the anger he thought he'd find. Instead, she looks hurt with a constant stream of tears spilling out of her eyes.

"Because he kidnapped Glenn and Maggie and tried to kill Michonne? Is that what you think gets me off? Is that what you think of me?"

It pierces into his heart and he tries not flinch, but he has to look down. He still takes it, because he knows she needs to say it as much as he needs to hear it.

She grows quiet, and he knows then this is when the hyena is about to be devoured. He gears himself up for it, but no amount of preparation can spare him from the blow. He's looking down and only sees her boots approach him and when she speaks it's with a hurt so intense it's like she's been wounded.

"Should I remind you that 10 minutes after we met you were fucking me in that department store and you didn't give a shit that I'm the evil whore you apparently think I am?"

He finds her face with a painted look of hurt on her and her lower lip trembling, and he can't stand it. It hurts more than her words, than her anger, than the misguided betrayal that's had him fuming for days.

He doesn't say anything. It hurts in his chest and in his throat. She waits, but then he hears her give up on him with a sigh.

"Fuck you, Rick."

It takes him only a second to realize she's walking towards the gates with all intentions of leaving. Leaving without her gun, without a car, without a weapon. Leaving without protection and it strikes him, then.

Leaving to die.

Once again.

Andrea walking into the world to die.

Before he knows it he's got his hand wrapped around her arm and he's pulling her back, hard. Her muscles tense immediately and she turns around to slap his arm away, but his other hand grips her wrist hard.

"Let me go, Rick."

He struggles with her the same way he struggled with her earlier, except this time she fights back and they end up on the ground. He tries to wrestle her but she's small and quick and fighting with a fire that consumes him, too. She's slippery in his arms and almost gets away from him several time in her resolute goal of leaving the prison, but each time he pulls her back.

Rick bites down hard as he grabs her. "Stop."

"Don't touch me."

She tries to get away again but he presses both his legs to her sides like a vice and crosses her arms across her chest, pinning them with his own arms against her body. Yet she continues to struggle and begins to kick, a true testament of the new woman she is, and he imagines her struggling like this against walkers the night he decided to leave her behind. It's how she's stayed alive. This stubbornness has kept her alive. She's like a bull, struggling even when she's caged, fighting even when she's cornered. He's got her between his legs, crushing her against him, but she continues to squirm and he knows she has the energy to keep on going and if he doesn't win now, she'll overpower him any second.

"Stop," he exclaims, shaking her hard, biting down hard and grunting into her ear. "Andrea, STOP."

It's only the urgency in his tone, and not her lack of energy, that finally has her relenting. Her breathing is fast and ragged and her muscles are still tense but she's no longer fighting him and finally he breathes. His pulse is quick and his breathing fast, his body already exhausted, and it makes him realize she's been out there fighting while he's been in here nurturing an insanity. Tiredly he brings his head forward, trusting her enough to know she won't fly now, not after he's been so raw and honest in his plea.

Dust settles around them. Seconds pass and her breathing slows down and while her nails are digging into his arms, she's no longer squirming, and the tension in her muscles begins to ebb away.

It's only then that he presses his nose against the back of her ear and suddenly it's like no time went by. Like Atlanta was yesterday. Like her legs were wrapped around him only an hour ago. He feels her in his arms and it's so familiar he just wants to bite down and eat her until he swallows her all and she only belongs to him.

He feels her muscles weaken and she eventually grows calmer, softer in his arms as he holds her wrists over her breasts and presses her back to his chest tightly. Her breathing evens but she starts to cry, and then starts to weep and spasm. Weep not because of him. Weep because she's just realized she's in deep fucking shit, that she's been sleeping with a man who would kill her in a second, a man who will kill all her friends and all of Woodbury and as much as she tries to mediate, it won't work. He knows she weeps because she feels foolish, stupid. She weeps, he knows, because she feels violated, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally by the Governor.

He tightens his arms around her and her head drops and she continues to weep and he doesn't know where the anger went but it's been replaced with pity. She looks and feels so much smaller and despite himself he finds his body rocking her from side to side. He presses his forehead to her shoulder blade.

"Is that what you think I think about you?" he says lowly and she lets out a sob. "That you're an evil whore?"

She sighs and sits up straighter and he takes the opportunity to pull her towards his chest. "They all do."

He doesn't know what to do or say. Michonne herself, the woman who spent 8 months in the woods with Andrea, turned her back on her. The group doesn't trust her. Only Carol still showed a modicum of acceptance.

And him.

The pain was so severe, so intense that he willingly physically hurt her. And shoving her around the prison felt good. He feels so ashamed of it now, but at the moment something took over him and he couldn't stop.

And now he has all this information and she's in some deep fucking shit.

And now...

How could he hate her? How could he hate her after what happened between them and after finding out she's only been lied to by everyone? How could he hate her when Carol still adores her, when Carol, in her infinite wisdom and great judge of character, was the first one to welcome her back with an embrace and a kiss?

How could he hate her, when she's partly in this situation because he left her behind?

And how could he hate her, when a year later she's still such weakness that when he looks up Lori is nowhere to be found?

She continues to weep and he presses his nose to the back of her head. Wishing now things could've been different for them. Because if they'd met in another life he knows, he knows he would've called that lawyer that very same day to draw those divorce papers. He never would've waited a day, never been miserable and make his family miserable because they thought you should stay with your spouse forever. He would've asked for her phone number, he would've called her in an instant, taken her out for drinks, to the park, to movies and plays, to his apartment, only to never let her leave his bed.

And now she's back, and another chance is being taken by their current circumstances. He sighs, feeling the hopelessness. "Don't you know I haven't been able to stop thinking about you since that day?"

"Don't," she sobs, crying over her situation, knowing she has to, HAS to go back and protect all those innocent people from the Governor, and knowing she'll die in the process.

He knows she'll most likely die, too.

She's too good a person, too honest, too open. And the moment she steps into Woodbury, Rick knows the Governor will see right through her and kill her and she'll die, and she'll choose to die, if it means protecting the people she loves.

The reality of it slashes at his heart and he holds her tighter.

He feels a knot in his throat the the reality of her situation. He's lost her once, but he's gonna lose her once again and this time he won't lose her to save Carol. This time he'll lose her to an evil psycho who won't just shoot her. He'll capture her first, then torture her for days until he grows bored with her and kills her.

The thought terrifies him.

He could ask her to stay. Beg her to stay, to be in their lives again.

But he knows her nature, knows her kind heart, and knows that for as long as there's people in Woodbury who need her protection, she'll try to protect them tooth and nail.

Even if she has to die for them.

After all, didn't she die for Carol?

She can't bear the thought of seeing the Governor again, and merely thinking about him makes her skin crawl, makes her nauseous. She peels herself away from Rick and he only lets her go reluctantly, but instead of fleeing she sits to face him and brings her knees to her chest like a scared child. It breaks his heart and he scoots near.

"So what now?"

Andrea sniffs and brings her hand to her face to wipe away at the last tear. "Carol thinks," she breathes for a few moments, "she says I need to kill him in his sleep."

The moment the words come out of her he feels the bile rising up his throat, the anger balls his hand into fists, adrenaline pumps through his body. The mere image of that asshole touching Andrea in any way makes his heart boil and rationality gives him several options: they could leave the prison, they could find somewhere else to live. They could go on the road; they're good at that. With Daryl and now Merle as hunters, they could have food, maybe not much water, but at least they'd be safe and alive.

But then he remembers they now have a baby. He remembers Hershel only has one leg. And he realizes, quickly, they'd be dead in a day. They have to stay.

They have to find a way to bring peace. She's right. They can't fight the Governor's army and they can't fight the world. They have to, have to, somehow figure out a way to make this work, to wave some kind of white flag.

Yet the thought of the Governor fooling Andrea into his bed and having her every night, and the thought of her going back there willingly to do what Carol suggests, failing, and having to stay in Woodbury forever in the name of peace...

He feels a rage so intense at the thought of that man with Andrea, his Andrea, that he rejects every notion of peace and understanding. Andrea might try. Other people from the prison or Woodbury might try to persuade him to come to a peace treaty.

But there's no peace as far as he's concerned. The mere feel of her skin fills him with a determined compulsion to kill this man for everything he has taken from him.

Including her.

Carol's plan, however, is something out of a Harlequin or Marvel comic book novel. He can't see Andrea going through with it, even if she tries. She'd never hurt a fly, can't lie to save her life, and it'll only get her killed.

"Don't," he tells her, and quickly he realizes part of his plea is fueled by rationality.

The other part by jealousy.

She looks at him, and he knows she's made up her mind but he has to try.

"Don't sleep with him again." He realizes he sounds desperate, but he can't help it.

"I'm the only one who can get close enough."

"Don't," he whispers, scooting closer and touching her leg. "Please."

She doesn't reply, but looks away for a second and then looks at him.

He knows right then it's a battle he's lost. She's always been stubborn as a mule and in her mind this is the only way and she'll go back there and try to carry out Carol's plan. She'll die in the process. And he'll never see her again. He'll see her in dreams and get a whiff of her scent every once and again in the Spring air. She might even come back and haunt him the same way Lori did.

But he'll never touch her again, never talk to her, never be near her.

His forehead drops and it's then that he sees the torn spots on her pants, and he feels even more guilty.

"I hurt your knees."

She looks at the torn fabric, her eyes stoic and numb. "I'm fine."

"Let me see."

She fights him but he pulls her pant legs up to reveal two angry red skids on the skin of her knees. He feels like shit, knowing he put them there, and runs his fingers through the still fresh blood. The blood stains her skin and he wipes at it but pinkish spots remain. He kisses one knee, then the other and when he looks up at her there's fresh tears in her eyes.

"I'm sorry."

He pulls her into his arms and she doesn't fight him.

/-

An hour later she stands by him as Glenn brings her a car. The group is gathered around them, everyone with their guns at the ready. He wants to admonish them, tell them to back off, because when she looks around and sees them so cold, so hostile, she shrivels and just nods in their direction with a numb goodbye.

Rick watches her get into the car, hears her sigh deeply and sees the sorrow in her eyes. This is it, he knows, the last time he'll ever see her. Tonight she'll crawl into the Governor's bed, seduce him and try to kill him. But she won't be able to. He knows because he knows her.

His fingers itch at his holster. His eyes can't stop staring. His jaw is tense and he can't hold back.

"Andrea."

Some of the group members look up. He feels their eyes scrutinize him but he doesn't care. He needs this, needs this closure. Needs to say goodbye and needs her to know he'll stand right by her during her final moments.

He hands her two rounds, and she looks surprised at his generosity. And when he hands her her gun he feels a tug in his stomach. Her gun, the first thing he saw before he saw her. Her Ladysmith pressed to his face as her hand fist over his heart and she shoved him against that department store. Tears well in her eyes as she looks at her gun, her gun, her gun that was taken away by so many people. Dale took it away from her first, then Shane, then the Governor.

When he hands it to her, knowing it's such a huge part of her she feels naked with out her, he doesn't care that she might've been a spy all along.

"Be careful."

She looks at him sadly and he doesn't know what to do, doesn't know how to make this right and when she lowers her eyes towards his chest, his heart, he feels them tugging. She looks up again and her eyes are blue but sad, and her hair is beautiful but pale.

"You, too."

She drives away and Rick feels her dragging something of him with her.

He hopes it keeps her strong enough to survive.

And long enough for him to come up with a plan.

For the first time his mind is clear and filled with a determination.

That night Beth is singing. For the first time since Judith was born, he picks his daughter into his arms and she doesn't cry. And he's not clouded by memories or whispers of insanity. And he feels determined, for the first time in so long. Determined take their small numbers and arm them to the neck with weapons, determined to defend the prison, determined to save his family, determined to prove himself the leader he knows how to be.

Determined to go back to Woodbury and rescue Andrea.