"You know, if you're gonna give someone a ride somewhere it's only polite to give them a ride back."
Andrea looks up and smiles, and he notices right away how tired she looks. "I'm sorry," she tells him, maybe even a little embarrassed. "She wanted to see the horses. She's just a kid; I didn't wanna scare her."
Rick scrutinizes her and knows right away something's off. But he doesn't want to be aggressive about it. True, he didn't spend much time with Andrea when they were alive. But they spent enough time together for him to know she never responded well to ultimatums.
"It's okay." He sits at the log beside her with a heavy sigh. His eyes find her hands; they are resting at her knees neatly. "Are you alright?"
She nods too eagerly and smiles as she looks at him. "You talked to Carol?"
Rick doesn't miss the blatant attempt at changing the subject, but he remembers his reunion with Carol, then, and everything he learned. Time seems irrelevant here. Yet somehow he feels like he doesn't get enough of it. Everything is happening too fast and all at once. He's not allowed time, time to think, time to grieve or deal with everything he learns.
It might be his own fault, he thinks, because he's so thirsty for knowledge. But the farm has left him exhausted and he just wants to sit here and take a break.
And he still needs to come to grips with what Carol told him.
In a way, being a man, he feels ashamed. It's the caveman in him, he thinks, bruised because he lost a woman to another man. But he's also human, and right now all he needs is a friend. And as he looks at Andrea he wonders if she needs one, too.
He doesn't want to put her on the spot.
So he puts himself on the spot instead, hoping to earn her trust.
"She told me about Lori."
Andrea presses her lips together and looks at him apologetically. "God. I'm sorry, Rick."
"You knew?" She merely nods and looks at the water. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I don't think it was my place," she says, honestly. "Carol knew Lori better. She knew you better."
Another thought enters his mind and it leaves him feeling dread. "Does everyone know?"
She cringes slightly then, like she's the last person who wants to answer the question. But he doesn't need her to.
"Great," he groans, feeling ashamed, wondering what they're saying, what they're thinking. His shame ten-folds as his head drops and he wishes he could sleep, for an hour, or maybe a lifetime.
"No one thinks anything of it," Andrea tells him gently.
He shakes his head in disbelief. This place, he wonders if he'll ever make sense of it. And the process. He's starting to develop a hatred for the word. He thinks of Lori, too, wondering where that leaves her. Will she be one of the last ones? He doesn't know, yet somehow gets the feeling it won't be her death he'll have to come to terms with when they meet.
He's not ready for it, he knows that. However much he wants to speed the process, the prospect of meeting Lori, especially now, leaves him heavy hearted. He feels like he failed her, failed himself, failed Carl and Judith and the vows he took before God. He always knew, deep down, if he looked inside himself he could've found it. But he chose to blind himself and allowed the unsightliness to engulf her, too.
Rick sighs as he looks at the water. Its usual calming effects don't reach him. "You'd think she would've told me herself."
"It's not like that. It would've been worse if you'd heard it from Lori. You wouldn't have believed her," Andrea says. "There's some things here that you face on your own, but with other things... sometimes you need a bridge. Carol was your bridge."
He nods, though a part of him still feels resentment. Lori should've told him herself, she's his wife...
Except she's not. Not anymore. It's hard to accept, hard to swallow, but after a long silence he knows she's right. He wouldn't have accepted it if it came from Lori. She would've tried to reason with him, convince him, but he wouldn't have believed it. They would've yelled at each other, hurt each other, kill their relationship and parts of themselves all over again. It was always like that on Earth. She always knew more than he did. She knew when it was time to fight and eventually time to let go.
He never caught on. He was a bull at the sight of red. Never stopping, never relenting. Always consumed by a furious need to go, go, go, when they only need to stop.
"Are you okay?"
He nods again at her concern and as he stares at the water he tries to make sense of it. "I just feel..." It's bad that he can't feel it, even worse that he can't verbalize it. "I don't know." The internal struggle leaves him as his shoulders sag. "We were married for so long."
"I know," Andrea tells him.
He feels the sympathy in her voice and knows, somehow feels their regrets tangle. They may not have had similar losses, but it's their regrets, their should've beens, that bind them in that moment. And he realizes that they're both at a standstill, too, at least in this place. And maybe always.
Then he thinks about what Carol said, everything is right here, and he hangs on to those words and tries to extricate some strength from each one of those letters. Because if everything is right it means everything will be right for him, eventually.
It wasn't always like this for him. It's something he learned from the new world. Before the turn, he was the proverbial Charlie Brown with his shitty disposition stuck in a tree. Strangely, the death of the world was the birth of the new Rick, who had to learn to rely on the next minute, the next hour, the next tomorrow. The dead world taught him that surrender, or even the mere thought of it, brought with it death. One pause. One blink. One negative thought - and that was it.
He saw proof of it in the ones that neared the darkness and were too cautious of the light. He saw it in Jim, who let the hopelessness take the fight from him. He saw it in little scared Sophia, who clutched her doll so tight one day the darkness took them both. He saw it in T-Dog, who saw him and the group lose their humanity and died clutching his own. He saw it in Lori, who spent the last 9 months of her life weary of a pregnancy that maybe she knew all along would kill her. He saw it in Andrea, who took the future years of her life and crushed them down into just about enough days worth of energy to save them all.
He accepts it. It is what it is. He has to. He's learn to. The dead world taught him how. It is what it is. He can't argue with anybody about it. He can't sue God... or whoever owns this place. He can't kill Shane again. He can't fight for his marriage. She's not his and that's that.
"So," he hears himself say and a silence stretches. He feels Andrea next to him, perhaps waiting for a response or maybe not even hearing him. But it is what it is. Even thoughts and words. Feelings, too. He feels an urge, a rightness, to express them. "So much for that whole soulmate crap."
Andrea chuckles and shrugs her shoulders. "Oh, I don't know," she says. "Maybe she's still back on Earth? Or maybe some people are just meant to be alone. I mean, what about nuns?"
He half smiles at the thought. Nuns, children, priests... then, maybe, it doesn't matter. Maybe some people are just meant to be alone. The thought isn't as depressive as it ought to be. After a lifetime, and partly an afterlife, of heartache, the thought of loneliness is alluring. With a shrug of his shoulders (because it's been too long a day and he can't afford more emotional investment) he turns to Andrea. "What about you?"
"No," she says quickly. "Amy, though. She went to high school with him," Andrea smiles. "I remember him. They never even went out on a date; he was always too scared to ask. Now they're practically inseparable."
"I was wondering where she was off to."
Andrea smirks. "She's my baby sister. I'd rather not think about that."
He smiles as he looks at her. She's so beautiful, always was, that he can't imagine anything less than adorers coming in hordes to fight for her affections. "There has to be an old flame. An old friend?"
"Honestly, Rick, that's the least of my concerns," Andrea says quickly.
He nods slowly, knowing how right she is and watches as her demeanor changes, her aura becomes darker. He thinks of the farm and what happened. He doesn't want to be aggressive, he doesn't want to push or pry. He wants to be as delicate as he can. But he also needs to make his peace with her. It's about time. Andrea died before Carol, after all. It's long overdue.
"What's going on, Andrea?" He turns to her to study her reaction, but she merely looks down as if she's willingly blocking his words. This doesn't surprise him. Andrea was always difficult. "You used to love that farm."
She shakes her head then and her brows furrow slightly. "I can't stand it there."
He can't help recoiling and rejecting the slight bitterness in her tone. That farm was their first heaven, their first real home. They found family there. Happiness. "Why?"
She doesn't answer him right away and he wonders if he's pushed too far. But nothing happens. Her breathing is even and she's solid sitting next to him. He waits, letting her decide if she wants to talk or not. His own experiences here have been too overwhelming. Still, he feels an itchiness inside of him, a want to push even though he knows he shouldn't. It's in the tip of his fingers and it starts to spread in.
It's like he's starving and there's a feast right in front of him. He wants to grab at her, shake her, eat all the words until he feels full. He doesn't because he knows he would feel like shit afterwards, but the need is strong.
Finally, she shakes her head and looks at the ground. "When we got there and I learned how to shoot... I was so good at it." Her hair covers the side of her face and he wonders if it's deliberate. She doesn't seem to know how to continue, but it's in her nature to always finish what she starts. She's bullheaded like that. Moments later she shrugs her shoulders and her eyes stay on her fingers.
There is something about this place, or maybe the people in it. He was never that good at reading people before the turn. And after the turn he became such a cold, calculating killer that he further lost touch with people. Even his children learned quickly to detach themselves from him. It wasn't ideal. But it ensured survival. Too much mourning killed you. Too much emotional attachment turned you into meat. Carl learned that lesson before him.
This is new, though. The way he can feel their emotions. When something in them changes he feels it inside. He feels it now when Andrea bites down hard, her jaw setting with determination. But there is sadness in it, too. And more. But he's still too new to know what.
Finally she shrugs her shoulders and with that little motion he feels as if she's unplugged herself from him, and he no longer feels her.
"I really thought I was going to make it."
He smiles sadly. Didn't we all, he wonders? But it's different. And then he realizes every single one of them has talked about how glad they are to be here. Except for her.
"I thought you were, too."
Andrea smiles appreciatively and looks to the water. "I've been trying to deal with it," she says, and it's the first and last honest thing she tells him before she shakes her head quickly as a deflection. "I don't know. But there's people from my life I haven't been able to see, so who knows."
"Old boyfriends?" he teases to ease the moment.
She merely smiles and huffs. "Old friends, old co-workers. My parents."
Rick gives her an encouraging look. "Maybe they're alive."
"No," she says quickly and her smile wilts. "Amy sees them. And I think... I think sometimes they see me, but I can't see them."
"I don't know."
She's honest when she says that, he can feel it. But he finds it odd. Everyone seems to have answers. Everyone seems to have it together. He feels that bond strengthen, but it's a knot that leaves him somewhat troubled.
"You've been here a long time," he says as he thinks about everything Carol told him. What Dale told him. Andrea died shortly after Lori. He frowns as he looks at her and asks, "Why don't you just go home?"
"I like it here," she says, and not for the first time, he thinks.
"I forgot how beautiful it was," Rick grants her.
He looks around the area and he can't blame her. It's so quiet, so remote, so peaceful that even he finds himself coming back. It's serene, it's lulling, like being asleep and dreaming of flying. After their last terrible moments on Earth he can't blame her for always being here.
But it's not living, he thinks. Not that they're alive, but... there has to be more to this place, to her process. More than a man made lake and old rocks.
"I remember the day after you came back, Amy and I went fishing," she continues and he listens and pays attention to her movements. There's a genuine smile on her face. The knot tightens. "That was our thing with our dad. I must've spent half my childhood on a boat. We promised Carl we'd teach him, but that night Amy..."
He looks at her, and something within her changes. Her smile shrinks, she looks down, and her breathing deepens slightly. He knows what's gonna happen now; it doesn't take a genius.
Rick reaches for her hand quickly and it stops.
Her eyebrows arc sorrowfully as she looks at their threaded fingers. He can tell she's troubled by this, like his hand in hers means something terrible. He doesn't know what it means, himself, but he knows it means something. And whatever it is, he is involved and it's affecting him as well. Why else is he always finding himself back here?
As he holds her hand he inches closer to her on the log and his eyes try to find hers, but her head ducks. It doesn't stop him. The meek, Officer Friendly in Atlanta was nothing like the fierce, no-nonsense killer he was at the end. Officer Friendly avoided all kinds of personal confrontation. The Killer thrived on it.
"I want to talk about this," he says, settling his tone between a suggestion and an order.
"I don't," she matches him.
His whole demeanor changes and he becomes that cold leader she never got to meet.
"Well, here's the thing, I've got your hand and whatever it is that happens, I know you don't like it."
It doesn't work, he knows, when she tugs slightly on her hand. He realizes, then, that Andrea wouldn't have taken the bullshit of his later days. Had she survived, she would've given him hell. So his voice settles on a gentler tone as he reminds himself to be patient.
"I also get the feeling this doesn't work with Dale and Amy, because it didn't work with Sophia."
"Sophia's just a kid," she says defensively.
"She was someone important to you," he adds. She looks away and he remembers she always did this. She always looked away when she knew she had lost an argument. These days, she's looking away a lot, he realizes. And it makes him feel more confident in his prodding. "And I also get the feeling that if I let go you'll disappear. So the least you could do is answer my questions."
Andrea's eyebrows furrow angrily as she looks at him. "Is that an ultimatum?" she says authoritatively and he can see the old lawyer in her re-surfacing.
"No," he says, and knows he's hit a delicate spot but it's out there now. "I wanna help."
"Why?" she she says quickly, shaking her head at him, her old stubborn attitude returning. "You don't owe me anything. You went to the farm on your own, you know. You could've gone without me."
"So why did you come along?"
She looks down, away, and huffs, hoping he'll take that as a sign of annoyance rather than vulnerability. Because the truth is she doesn't want to tell him she only went because she didn't want to lose the feel of his hand. Or that as soon as they got there and she lost it and faced that spot, she vanished and was taken right back to the house. And now she's here, and she doesn't know if she's here because she's strong, or because he's holding her hand. She wants to believe the former, she wants desperately to believe she's strong. But there's a fear inside her, telling her that if she lets go of his hand in the stressful state she's currently in, they'll take her.
They've been taking her too often lately and she doesn't know what that means but it can't be good, not when she wakes up tired and tired and even more tired each time.
He squeezes her fingers and leans a little closer. She inches away. "Where do you go?"
She sighs quietly, feeling exposed and vulnerable under his intense gaze. And so tired she can't even think. And angry. God, so angry that he's doing this to her. But she can't run in this place. Whoever made it, whoever is in charge... they've beaten her time and time again and she can't lie here. She can't cover everything up, she can't escape. She can deflate, that's the most they allow her. She tries now.
"I don't know."
It's not enough for him. That bit still hasn't changed. It's never enough with Rick.
"Yes, you do. Because I know you don't like going there, so it has to be an actual place," Rick says authoritatively, pressing on her hand hard and she wishes she could press back harder and obliterate him. "Don't lie to me, Andrea."
Deflate. It's the only break they allow her. And she deflates, and deflates, and deflates so much that the drift ten-folds and she's already going.
Rick watches her, and he knows he's pushing her, but he also knows he has the upper hand. So to speak. As she takes a moment he watches her and he can tell she hates him so much right now that if she had her gun she'd kill him a second time.
Finally, she takes a deep breath and looks aside. He can tell right away she feels ashamed. He doesn't see it on her face but he feels it in her hand, like she can somehow transfer that feeling to him. He was ready to deal with the anger, with the hatred, with the sadness. But this shame is new and troubling. Andrea never showed shame. Not ever. Even when they all stood around her with reproach, all of them silently shaming her for her relationship with the Governor, she always stood tall. Proud. Never an ounce of shame in her.
Not so much anymore.
He realizes then he's broken his promise. He tried not to push, to thread the waters delicately. It spins him into a place of unknowing, and though he still has the upper hand he fears he's not using it properly.
When she doesn't reply he adds, much more gently, "Andrea."
She takes a deep breath and instead of looking at the water, as she normally would, she looks down to let her hair cover her face. He waits a few moments, wondering if she'll actually answer him, and when she finally does it's barely audible and full of anger.
Rick's eyebrows furrow at the new information. Alarm bells sound off in the distance and he foolishly ignores them. "Whose house?"
She lets out an irritated sigh and quickly takes a deep breath. It's like part of her wants to let go while another part wants to fight. But the fighter is losing that battle. He can see it in the slowly gathering moisture in her eyes.
"I don't know."
"Is there someone there?"
She exhales. Then something comes alive, suddenly, and she tugs once more. But something else takes over again. He empathizes with the duality. Part of him wants to stop, to just let her be. Another part, a stronger part, is screaming at him to push her. Push her more.
He grips her fingers.
He nods slowly, remembering the farm and the CDC. "Can you take me there?"
Rick jumps back as she snaps, and he has to look at his hand to make sure it hasn't turned into fire and burned her. She finally looks at him and he can see the red in her eyes, the disbelieving look on her face that tells him he's crossed a terrible line.
She feels so violated by the mere implication that she stands up quickly, trying to extricate her hand from his. She doesn't want to go back to the house, but she'd rather do just that than get poked and prodded like this, like she's a damn criminal being interrogated.
She pulls, but he doesn't let go and it makes her feel even more caged. Andrea looks at him angrily and starts feeling agitated. "You shouldn't ask questions."
Rick frowns at her, aghast by her reaction. "Why not?"
"Because," she says stubbornly, like an overwhelmed child. Her eyes begin to flood. "It is what it is."
He only feels anger when he hears that once again. And it makes everything worse. "Says who?"
She takes another step away from him but he doesn't let go. "Dale."
Of course, Rick thinks angrily. Anger that blinds him and then he's not himself anymore. "Who's Dale to make the rules?"
"I don't know," Andrea cries, trying to pull her hand out of his and almost succeeds, but his other hand circles her wrist. "Rick, let me go!"
He tries to pull her towards him instead, feeling her agitation and his own heart accelerating to a point beyond turning back. "What's Dale got to do with this?"
Her face is wet and red, her body so desperate to get away from him she doesn't even seem to be hearing him anymore. "Please."
Officer Friendly tries to ring alarm bells in his head, telling him to let her go. Officer Friendly would be so good at this, so calm, so caring and soothing. But The Killer seems to have control of the body and won't let him go another minute without answers. Answers that he needs for himself, for her.
Why can't she understand that? I'm trying to help you.
"What, is he God?"
"I don't know," she whimpers, and finally twists her hand free of his, taking several steps back.
Something in his chest snaps as he seems to come to wake and witness what's just happened. The realization lags him, his legs aren't quick enough, and she's gone before he can reach her again.
A lifetime hits him in the span of a second. Everything that happened comes to him in a flash and an exhaustion claims him. It's both emotional and physical and he has to take a step back to brace himself. And this is the worst kind of confusion he's felt since his death. Even a slight nausea claims him as he tries to find a pattern to his breathing. But he can't, he can't breathe. He can't think of anything other than what he's forced.
And suddenly he can't accept it. Agitated, he turns around, looking for her. But she's nowhere in sight. He looks up to the camp but it's empty. He doesn't see it whole, not from down in the quarry. But he doesn't feel a single soul up there. He's not strong yet, too ashamed to even call out her name.
He feels his pulse quick, his hands shake. He's caught between exhaustion and a frustrating exhilaration at what's just happened. He paces, waiting, knowing - he should not have pushed her like that. It was never his intention. But he's so tired and so wild with grief and confusion that he let his emotions overtake him.
As his breathing evens, he sits by the log. She has to come back, she always does. She's always here. It's something about the water, he theorizes. She grew up in Florida, spent half her childhood on a boat. The water must make her feel calm, at peace.
She'll come back.
But then nothing happens. Hours (or what seems like hours, then days) pass and she doesn't return. He goes to the farm, even goes to the CDC, but she's in neither of those places. No one is. He calls out to them, but no one appears to him. He wonders with dreadful fear if he's done something terrible. He wonders if they know. And he starts to fear, because if he doesn't make peace with Andrea, how will he continue with his process?
And then: to hell with his process. To hell with it when he waits and waits and she doesn't show up. To hell with it when he's left alone even by the rest of them.
A darkness comes, but it's not sleep. It's like a black mist that appears at the other side of the quarry and passes him like gentle breeze. It's not a new day, he knows there are no days here. It's not sleep, nor rest, nor time. It's like a drunkenness, like he folds into himself for several hours. And when it's gone he feels its hangover hit him heavily.
And she's still not here.
His voice is still hoarse from calling her name and knowing it's futile, he doesn't try again. But he tries inside. He tries picture her and find her, somehow silently call her. But it doesn't work.
And then he feels a presence and he can't deal with this again. He shakes his head, looking down. He feels so old.
"If you're here to confuse me even more then you can go ahead and keep moving. I'm done with your bullshit."
Dale smiles as he walks up and sits next to Rick in front of the water.
Rick turns to him with an incredulous smile? "Rough day?" He chuckles sardonically. "I only just found out my wife, who I thought was the love of my life, turned out to be my best friend's. Every time I see someone new it's like being gutted. I still have no idea where I am or what this is supposed to be. I have no idea what I'm doing, and Andrea..." Rick sighs. He wonders how long she's been gone. He wonders what happens to her when she is.
Nothing good, he knows. Why else would she fight it? And he sent her there. He made it happen.
It makes the soulful hangover worsen. "I don't know what's wrong with her, but I think I made it worse and I don't know how to fix it."
Yet instead of giving him an understanding, or even a pitiful, look, Dale merely smiles at the water. As Rick's breathing evens Dale waits, and when minutes pass the old man looks at him.
"Do you know why I couldn't see that damn RV for so long?"
Rick looks down, gearing himself up for another emotional punch. He wants to go, he wants to disappear. He wants to stop existing. He's so tired he can barely shake his head at Dale.
Dale sympathizes with him, Rick can feel it. The old man isn't an enemy, he knows. He's just trying to help him.
And Dale then nods at the water, knowing. "I couldn't face my wife's death."
Rick looks at him then, feeling a connection pass between them. His mind goes back to the prison and all those days he walked around in a hazy agony, seeing Lori in every corner. The grief was so heavy he lost his mind, for days, and nothing the others could do or say helped. He imagines it must've been much the same, or worse, for Dale, who was alone with no children to give him love and support. He feels the agony just thinking about it.
That's when he finally makes his peace with Dale.
The old man continues without saying anything about it. It passes between them, but it doesn't linger.
"But I knew I had to come to terms with it. You know what part of my process was?"Dale says and Rick listens. "They made me relive it." He tells him and the pain in his eyes is visible. "I had to sit by her bed and watch her die in pain all over again. Breast cancer is a monster, Rick. Carol's cancer... I'm not saying she was lucky. But she had the sense to ask Daryl to put a bullet to her head once she knew what she was in for. Irma lay in agony for months and there was nothing I could do but hold her hand."
Rick looks down as he tries to imagine the scene, and for the first time feels lucky that he wasn't there to watch Lori die. Sometimes, back on Earth, he wished he had been there, to hold her hand and press her to him and tell her everything would be okay. But then other times he considered himself lucky, that he didn't have to be there to see her last breath escape her lips. He always felt terribly guilty and selfish thinking that; he should have been there. But the universe knew what it was doing that day, because if he had been there, he would've put a bullet to his head and ended his life with hers.
"When I came here, I couldn't move on from that damn camp," Dale continues. "I felt trapped. Unlike you, I knew what I had to do. I knew Irma was the key. I just couldn't bring myself to... watch her die all over again and accept that there was nothing I could've done."
He looks away as he thinks of his process and everything he's had to face, and once again, just like in life, Dale makes him see.
"Rough day, Rick," Dale says with a smile. "Now you know about Lori, now you know about the farm, you made your peace with Sophia. But you just got here, and you've come this far. You're one of the lucky ones."
Lucky. He almost sneers at the word.
But then he mulls the words over and wonders about the others. As calm as she is now, he wonders what it must've been like for Carol, to have to face Sophia's death after all the guilt she suffered on Earth. He wonders how much it took each of them. The early ones must've gone through it faster. The later ones must've taken their time. Yet they've all forced on and Dale's words make sense again.
He knows who the unlucky ones are.
He looks around the quarry and it's still empty. He wonders how long he's waited. He wonders if he's waiting in vain.
"What's going on with her?" His voice is low and raspy with exhaustion. He doesn't have to embellish. Not that he could, with the little information he has.
Dale follows Rick's eyes and Rick feels his heaviness where this topic is concerned. He felt it in Amy, too.
"Andrea can't accept that she's here," Dale says and something clicks. It hits him like heavy bricks and makes him feel even worse. What he did... pushing her like that... suddenly he wishes he could slap himself.
"It's easy for most of us. We accept that we died and that's when everything falls into place." Dale stops and smiles. "Irma thinks it's a lot like birth. Dying, I mean. Some babies come early, some come right on time, but some refuse to be born and the doctors have to cut them out. She thinks it's the same with death."
Rick fails to see the humor in the situation, but feels he might know what Dale means. It's a recent but distant memory. "She's," he says, thoughtfully, remembering Jacqui's words, "like Jenner?"
Dale looks at him and it's the first time he's had one up on the guy. "Did you see him?"
"You probably won't," Dale says in a low tone sprinkled with regret. "He still hasn't forgiven himself for locking us up at the CDC. Or for losing his wife. He can't seem to deal with it, that guilt. Only Jacqui sees him. It's a shame."
Rick nods slowly as he tries to understand. But he doesn't, not fully. He can't find any similarities between Jenner and Andrea...
Except suicide. Is that it? Could that be it? Are they being punished, somehow? He remembers vague sermons in church, old people preaching about suicide being a sin. He never thought so himself. But truthfully, he never knew someone who had tried. He had no opinion on it one way or the other, but if there's Andrea and there's Jenner... it's the only thing that links them.
He turns to Dale and tries to communicate the thought, but the words that come out are different. "Is that why she's always alone?"
Dale shrugs. "She has Amy, just like Jenner has his wife," the old man explains. "She has good days. It was harder in the beginning"
In the beginning. He tires to imagine. Amy, Dale, Jim, Sophia, Lori... Shane. It must've been those people who greeted Andrea when she passed. People of conflict. People of deep, emotional turmoil. People she knew in a world of chaos and death, who, themselves, died without peace. It's another piece of the puzzle, but he doesn't know where to put it.
He nods slowly. "Doesn't seem easy now."
Dale smiles a smile that takes him back to those first days. Those days when there was so much turmoil and conflict within the group. Those days when sometimes, when he was at a loss, all he had to do was find Dale's smile and then he knew he'd be fine.
But there's more sadness to that smile now, as Dale looks at the white pebbles.
"Shane was like that for a long time, too," he explains and Rick feels a heaviness weigh him down at the mere mention of his best friend's name. He wants to turn back now, but Dale is suddenly in a chatty mood and Rick can't find his voice.
Dale continues. "When he came through he couldn't see anyone. I felt him and reached for him. He was stuck for a very long time. He only started to come around when Lori came through."
He feels the knife twist in his heart and he can't do anything but bite down hard on his jaw and remain silent.
"I'm sorry, Rick," Dale apologizes, but Rick doesn't find the empathy in the old man's tone. And then he remembers again. It is what it is. And then he knows Dale is not sorry, because Dale, more than anyone, gets that. Fate is fate no matter where they are or how much they wanna fight it.
He wants to be mad, but he can't. The words leave him easily. "Me too." He looks down and sighs. He wants to take everything out on Dale. It's a constant urge. But Officer Friendly holds him back each time. Maybe because once, in the before, Officer Friendly and Dale used to be the greatest of friends. And he needs a friend.
He shrugs his shoulders as he gives in to that need. "Thing is," he rasps, letting Friendly do the talking as the Killer takes a backseat. "I don't know how to be sad about it, you know?"
"And I know I should be. I should be pissed."
The old man smiles. "You're smarter than that. You're catching on quickly."
"I don't know why," Rick mumbles. "Doesn't seem fair."
Dale nods understandingly. "It's tough on Amy."
The sentence seems unfinished but Rick doesn't need to hear Dale say it's been tough on him, too. Dale always spent so much of his time on Earth trying to save Andrea, trying to rescue her from herself, it must be equally frustrating not to be able to do something for her up here, too.
"I don't get it."
"I'm not sure any one of us does. I don't even know if she does," Dale says. "When she has good days she's around all the time. But then sometimes... something snaps and she goes somewhere. It used to happen to Shane. Jenner, too."
His head is fogged with too much information and too many feelings, and all he can do is nod. He can't dwell or even begin to wonder if, why, or how Shane went through the same thing Andrea is going through. It's too much, too much. He wants to sleep, to close his eyes, rest. But he can't. Most of him is urging on too often without his consent. Know more, move more. It's a hunger that doesn't leave him. It's draining the life out of him. But he doesn't know how to need less.
It leaves him desperate once again for straight answers.
And it's all on Dale. Andrea talked about a bridge. Carol was his bridge to finding out about Lori. But Dale... Dale has to be a bridge to everything else.
"You seem to know more than anyone around here."
Dale smiles. "I know some things."
Rick chuckles slightly, humorlessly, as he looks at the quarry but then turns to Dale with narrowed, determined eyes and all pretenses gone. "Who are you?"
The old man chortles. "Rick, I'm Dale."
"Drop it," he spits. "Even back then you always seemed to be on our shoulders."
Dale smiles with amusement. "You think I'm an angel?"
"I think you were down there for a reason."
"But you, especially." His eyes narrow and he resents the shit eating grin Dale gives him, but Rick doesn't stop. He feels the spin again, taking him somewhere crazy. And he wonders once again if this is a dream, or if he's drunk. "Are you?"
Dale looks at him. "Am I what, Rick?"
"An angel." The second the words leave him he feels ridiculous, but Ridiculous might be the name of this place. He shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders. "Or God, or... whatever."
Dale chuckles. "You've seen the dead come to life. Why is it that you feel the idea of God is ridiculous."
Rick frowns and knows this is just another riddle. Dale is good at that. Raising questions while trying to give answers. He doesn't have the patience for it anymore. "Why?"
"There's no such thing as angels," Dale says. "And I can assure you, Rick: I'm not God."
Dale shifts in place and Rick feels right away he's about to be punched again. "Some of us have been around a long time. We're born and we die and then we're born again."
Rick nods. "So all that shit about reincarnation was real."
"I wouldn't call it reincarnation. Not everyone goes back," Dale says and then smiles reassuringly. "Don't be alarmed, but Carl is one, too. That's why he's so grown up at such a small age."
Rick is left with an unknown feeling at the revelation. His son always knew more than him. That was true. Carl was wise even as a baby. He matured when the rest of them stayed innocent. He came into the world and the second Rick looked at him, he saw right away that Carl knew something he didn't. He briefly wondered how many of them were like that. Dale, Carl. The people who were and are wise despite their years. He knows right away he's not one of them.
"You get the hang of it after a few rounds," Dale continues and Rick has to mentally jug to catch on. "This time around, I went to two wars. I fought, and I saw death and I should've died in those fields. I was always weak, slow. But I didn't. I was in two car accidents. Both cars totaled. But I never died. After a while it became clear. I knew what I needed to do, why I was down there, why my wife died before I did. I knew why I survived the outbreak."
He can't help seeing Dale in a new light, suddenly. All bitterness and resent him leaves him and he knows right away he's going to need Dale. Maybe more than anyone else. But then, it doesn't surprise him. Dale left a hole in his heart that was never replaced.
Dale smiles that knowing smile again. "I didn't know which sister it was. When Amy died it became obvious," he explains. "That's why I couldn't leave her at the CDC."
Rick stays quiet as he tries to digest the information. Andrea. Instinctively, he looks around again. She's not back. And he feels it in his heart: she won't be back. Not for a long time. And it's all because of him.
Jenner, Shane, Andrea... if Dale and Carl are the old souls, Rick wonders where that leaves Shane and Andrea. He wonders why they seem destined for turmoil, both alive and here. It doesn't seem fair.
That day at the CDC... all she asked for. All she ever prayed for was that she wouldn't die being devoured.
That's exactly how she died.
He feels a pang of anger as he turns to Dale again. "She would've died peacefully. She wouldn't be like this."
"If she'd died at the CDC everything would've been different. Worse," Dale says with an angry determination that takes Rick back to those early Randall days. "She wasn't done."
Rick nods angrily. "Was that her choice? Or yours."
"It was fate's choice," Dale says and the anger ten-folds. "Or whatever you wanna call it. God, Buddha, the earth, destiny, aliens... it was just what needed to be done."
What needed to be done. He sneers at the thought.
"I had to make her change that... view that you all had," Dale continues. "That kill or be killed mentality. Death destroyed half the world and you were going to kill the other half by murdering each other."
He presses down on his jaw hard. It sounds like bullshit. It even smells like bullshit. And he doesn't know why it makes him so angry. "Why Andrea? Why not... Maggie."
"Because she's a fighter and she had no one, and when you're a fighter and you have no one, you fight for everyone," Dale says.
And though Rick hears the words he doesn't want to digest them. He doesn't want to think that some of them were mere ploys, toys. He can't. He remembers covering her body with a blanket. He remembers carrying her back to the car. He remembers rejecting Daryl's assistance. Her weight was HIS weight to carry. He remembers burying her.
And for what?
"Maggie gave up the prison for Glenn, didn't she?" Dale adds. "Maggie would rather see everyone dead than see Glenn die. And the world doesn't need... just Glenn.
He doesn't bother saying anything, and wishes he could block out most of the words. If Dale senses this, he doesn't say anything. That's Dale. You don't ever get what you want from Dale. But when Dale wants to give, he gives all.
"I had to make her see it," the old man adds. "That the world is still worth living in. I had to make sure she always knew that people are... good, Rick."
He almost laughs. Good. People are good. He doesn't remember them being good towards the end.
Dale continues, unaware. Or maybe aware and willing to ignore it. "When she finally agreed with me about Randall I knew I'd done my job. I went into that field to die, so I could finally be with Irma."
Rick frowns and feels the accusation leave him quickly. "You opted out?"
"No, I just decided to come home," Dale says. "My job was done. I did what I had to do, so that when she died, you would see it, too. And you did, didn't you?"
See, he thinks. See what? Just another dead friend. Just another loss. Just another reminder that their days were numbered. What else was there to see?
But Dale is one up ahead. "Andrea's death made you realize you need to fight for the world, not just for yourself. And you passed that on, when you died. You passed it on to Glenn. And he'll pass it on to someone else, and so on, until civilization returns."
He shifts in place and feels so exhausted he just wants a time out. A break. This is all too much. Too much information. He wants to laugh. Information is all he's wanted. And now that he has it... it's knocking him right off his center.
He shakes his head in defeat. "Dale, just-"
"It's not fighting that's going to save the world, Rick," Dale interrupts as if he couldn't hear him. "It's humanity. It had to start with Andrea."
He bites down hard again and he doesn't know if it's the guilt or the bitterness, but he feels a pressure in his throat. "She had to die for that. That's not fair."
Dale smiles. "Whoever said life was fair was probably on top of the world."
"We're not alive anymore, Dale," Rick says accusingly.
"I told you she's a fighter. She'll fight."
There's so much positivism in Dale's tone that Rick suddenly can't help thinking the old man is a fool. "You think she's fighting? What's happening to her, do you call that a fair fight?"
It's twice that he feels he's had one up on Dale, because the old man doesn't seem to know how to answer. And it makes him crazy. Crazy that this world is just as bullshit as the old one. Crazy that they were sent here to rest, yet nothing about it feels like peace.
And when Dale, the Answers Guy, suddenly finds himself mute, Rick can't help but feel an energy take over and he stands up tall, looking down at the old man. Officer Friendly is gone. The Killer is back.
"I'm not gonna ask you to see Lori anymore."
Dale smiles, nodding. "Good."
But Rick tenses his jaw and makes sure Dale sees the determination and sheer power in his eyes. He's done asking, he's done asking permission, he's done tip toeing. He's done being told what to do. He feels his strength, his power overtake him and once again he becomes the Rick that kept everyone alive by sheer coldness and dominance when he asks,
"I want to see Shane."
to be continued