Who else is over the Governor? I decided to set this story about a year in the future, when season 3 is just a distant memory. Everyone on Team Rick (which now includes Tyreese) is still alive because I didn't have the heart to kill any of them.
Andrea flicked the wipers on to clear the snow from the windshield, leaning forward as far as her seat belt would allow to peer through the glass. After living most of her life in Florida, she wasn't used to driving in such icy conditions and it still made her nervous, especially on a starless night like tonight.
"You want me to take over?" Rick, who was sitting beside her in the passenger seat, asked.
"No, I've got it," she assured him. He'd already been driving for the better part of the day; even though he would never admit it, she could see that he was exhausted, his eyes bleary and rimmed with dark shadows. "We'll change over again in a few hours, but until then, you should try to get some rest."
"Your call," he told her, sinking back into his seat and letting his head fall lightly against the window.
Andrea followed his gaze to the rear view mirror, sharing his smile at the sight of his children asleep in the back like matching bookends, Judith strapped securely in her booster seat while Carl stretched out across the remainder of the backseat. While she knew she would never be able to replace Lori, in the months that they had been together, she had fallen in love with Rick's little family. Until recently she had thought helping him to raise Judith was the closest she would ever come to having a child of her own, but it was beginning to look as though that might no longer be the case.
They continued on in silence for a dozen miles or so, the highway deserted except for the two cars that carried the rest of their group, until Rick ordered, "Stop".
Andrea obediently slammed her foot on the brake. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Carl bolt upright as the car lurched to a halt. "What?" she asked Rick, one hand on the wheel, the other flying instinctively to the gun holstered at her side.
His attention was focused on something outside his window. "See that road?" He pointed to a narrow track that snaked up the foot of the mountain and vanished among the trees. "I want to find out where it goes."
It wouldn't be a bad plan in the daylight, but it was pitch black outside. "Are you sure that's a good idea, Rick? We don't know what's up there. We could be driving straight into a herd."
"When was the last time you saw a walker?"
Hours had passed since they had encountered another soul, living or undead; while it was true that the walkers appeared to be thinning out the further north they travelled she wasn't sure it was a sign that they should go exploring.
"That doesn't mean they're not out there," she protested, thinking that they should at least wait until morning.
"We've been on the road for days without stopping except to trade places," Rick insisted. "How long do you think we can keep this up?"
She knew better than anyone that sooner or later they would need to find a place to hunker down for the winter, but that didn't mean it had to happen tonight. "As long as we have to to keep from becoming walker bait."
"Dad's right, Andrea," Carl piped up from the backseat, startling them both into silence. "You need to sleep – both of you. And so does Judy. She's really hot. I think she might be sick."
Now that he mentioned it, Andrea could see that Judith was a little pale, her normally rosy cheeks flushed a brighter shade of pink than usual.
Rick unbuckled himself and lent into the back, pressing his palm to his daughter's forehead. "Shit, she's burning up," he confirmed for Andrea's benefit. "We need to get her someplace warm."
He returned to his seat, staring into the trees while he thought this over. "Here's the plan," he said finally, "We go slow, and at the first sign of trouble, we turn back."
"Okay," Andrea agreed, putting the car back into gear, "but if anything goes wrong, I'm eating you first."
He chuckled, rewarding her with a brief lop-sided grin before his mood turned serious again.
"Carl, get your gun ready," he told his son, drawing his own pistol. "I want you to watch that side. I'll watch this one. Andrea, you just worry about the road."
She flashed her blinker to signal to the others that they were turning and began the slow ascent up the mountain.
There was nothing but trees on the way up; as they neared the top, a huge stone and wood structure came into view.
"What is that?" Carl asked, appearing in the gap between the seats.
Rick's eyes drifted from the building to the remnants of a now defunct chair lift. "It looks like some kind of ski lodge."
"Can we go in?"
Rick turned to Andrea with a questioning look.
"Food, water, shelter… I bet they even have a generator," she agreed. "This could be the answer to our prayers."
"You think we should risk it?"
From the outside it appeared safe, but so had the CDC and Woodbury and so many other places that had claimed the lives of people in their group; there was a part of her that wanted to tell him that they should keep driving, but the other part was so weary that she couldn't bring herself to put up any more resistance.
"You said it yourself – we need to get Judy inside or who knows what will happen. Right now this is our only option."
Rick nodded and she let the car roll to a stop, far enough away from the building that they could still make a quick retreat if they had too.
"We'll wait for the others to catch up," he told them, "and then I'll take Carl and Daryl and go check it out."
They were meant to be a team. "Rick," she complained, but he cut her off before she could argue any further.
"This is not a debate. I need you here in case we don't make it back. Keep the engine running, and if anything happens, you drive and you don't stop until you reach someplace safe."
She shook her head stubbornly. "No. I'm not leaving you – any of you." She remembered all too well what it was like to be stranded.
"Yes, you are," he insisted. "I mean it, Andrea. This isn't about you and me – this is about Judith. I need to know that you'll protect her."
Andrea sighed. He had her there. It was one thing to risk her own life, but she couldn't put his daughter in danger. "Of course I will, Rick," she assured him.
She laid her palm against the stubble on his jaw. "Just… be careful, okay?" She needed him in one piece if she was going to make it through the difficult months that lay ahead.
"I will if you will," he agreed, threading his fingers lightly through her long hair as he leaned over the gearbox to kiss her. His mouth lingered on hers, pressing a second smaller kiss to her lips before he pulled away and climbed out of the car.
Carl followed suit, and Andrea watched them approach the vehicle behind them, holding hurried conferences with the rest of the group. Daryl hopped out of the last car and then they were off, weapons at the ready as they disappeared around the side of the lodge.
Andrea remained in the driver's seat, drumming her fingers anxiously on the wheel as she waited for them to return.
When ten minutes passed without any sign of them, she considered going in after them, but she had promised Rick that she would stay with his daughter.
"What's taking them so long, Judy?" she asked her, adjusting the rear view mirror so that she could see her without taking her eyes off the lodge.
The little girl just blinked at her in sleepy confusion.
Andrea let out a breath she hadn't known she was holding when, after what felt like an eternity, all three of them finally emerged from the front entrance looking no worse for the experience.
She rolled down the window, poking her head out as soon as they were within shouting distance. "What happened?"
"It's clear," Rick called back. He stopped alongside their car while Daryl continued on to update the others. "A few walkers in concierge uniforms but nothing we couldn't handle. With a bit of luck, we might be able survive the winter here."
"You have no idea how glad I am to hear you say that." She killed the engine and opened her door, stumbling slightly when she tried to stand up too fast.
Rick grabbed her arm to steady her. "You're not coming down with something too, are you?" he asked, grazing her cheek lightly with the back of his fingers to gauge her temperature. "You don't seem to be running a fever."
"I'm fine," she assured him quickly, flashing him a watery smile. "Just need to get my land legs back." She was pretty sure that it had more to do with the fact that she was at least mildly anaemic, but then who wasn't these days?
To her relief, he seemed content with this answer. "You know, I don't blame you for feeling a little faint," he teased her gently. "When was the last time any of us had a decent meal?"
"Or a shower. Or slept in a bed." Mindful of the fact that Carl was standing a few feet away, no doubt listening to every word, she raised her eyebrow discreetly and Rick broke into a sly grin in response.
They moved the cars up to the main entrance, and then Carl went with Rick to help him unload their bags from the trunk, leaving Andrea with the unenviable task of trying to wrestle an irritable one year old back into her coat and boots. Once she was satisfied that the little girl was sufficiently rugged up against the biting cold, she lifted her onto her hip and headed over to meet the others.
"Everyone stay close," Rick told them as they all filed into the lobby, chattering excitedly."I think we should stick to the first floor tonight, then if all goes well, we can spread out."
They claimed two large suites at the end of the hall: Rick, Andrea, Carl, Judith, Michonne and Tyreese in one, and Glenn, Maggie, Hershel, Beth, Daryl and Carol in the other.
They were beyond starving at this point, after weeks spent rationing what little food they did have, so they raided the industrial size kitchen next. The contents of the bank of gleaming stainless steel refrigerators had long since gone bad, but they managed to find some packets of pasta and canned tomatoes that were still inside their expiration date, allowing Carol and Beth whip up something that almost tasted like spaghetti bolognaise.
But the real highlight of the meal was the wine Daryl found in the cellar when he went to check on the generator. By the time they had cleared their plates, everyone was a little tipsy.
Everyone except Andrea.
"You're not drinking?" Rick asked her when he noticed that her glass was still full.
She didn't want to have that conversation in front of the others, so instead she jerked her head pointedly at his daughter, who was sitting between them, picking up fistfuls of pasta from the plastic tray of her highchair and shoving them into her orange mouth.
"One of us has to stay sober," she reminded him. "Who's gonna change her diaper if we're all drunk?"
"I never thought of that," Rick admitted, scratching his head sheepishly, and everyone at the table laughed. He pushed his own glass away. "I should probably slow down too."
After dinner, people began retiring to their rooms. Andrea felt slightly nauseous from having a full stomach for the first time in weeks, so while Rick got Judith settled in the room she was sharing with Carl, she chose a novel from the shelf in the common room and went to lie down.
Less than a chapter into the story, she knew that it was unlikely to become one of her favourites, but it was so nice to unwind without the threat of being attacked that she was willing to forgive almost anything.
"The kids are asleep," Rick announced when he joined her in the bedroom, easing the door shut behind him.
She lowered the book to her chest. "Romantic," she teased him.
"It is when you're a parent."
He stood with his hands on his hips, regarding their surroundings appreciatively, his eyes travelling from the bay window that took up most of one wall, to the fireplace opposite the foot of the bed. "I can't believe we have a whole room to ourselves. How long has it been since we had this much privacy?"
She pretended to think about this, even though in reality, she could calculate it more or less down to the day. "Too long," she agreed.
He removed his gun belt and yanked off his boots, crawling onto the bed until he was hovering over her. "Well in that case, we better make the most of it," he told her, plucking the book from her hands and tossing it onto the nightstand as he moved in to kiss her.