The moment he stepped into the house, he knew.
It wasn't reasonable, it wasn't even logical, but he just knew. It gnawed at him, a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. It tugged and pulled and told him that something was off, something he couldn't see, but something he could feel. He just knew.
Rick Grimes had awoken from a coma induced by a gunshot three weeks earlier. Everything had been groggy at first, coming back to him in flashes. Like pieces of a puzzle that didn't quite fit. He remembered it slowly in the beginning and then it came back to him like water bursting through a dam.
Lunch with Shane, the radio call, the chase, the bullet hitting his vest and then another hitting his back and tearing through his flesh with a red hot pain he didn't think was possible.
He remembered Shane's pained face, his hands pressing down on his chest where the bullet had made an exit wound, and then everything had faded to black until he woke up in a hospital bed so many weeks later.
But ever since he woke up, those three weeks ago in Harrison Memorial Hospital, things hadn't been the same.
At first it had been great. Being with Lori, being with Carl. It was as if all those arguments before the coma had never happened. But when he was allowed home, when he had healed physically, it was as if nothing had changed and suddenly everything was the same again.
The arguments, the screaming, the cruel words, and Carl listening from his bedroom.
"I'm not a mind reader, Rick!" Lori would yell at him, hoping more than anything that he would say something; just speak.
Use your words, he told himself again and again. But anything he could say, or would say, came up short and so he would always just leave instead because it felt easier.
He had been welcomed with open arms back at the station but not from his own wife. Maybe some things couldn't change, maybe he and Lori were incapable of it. But she was his wife, the mother of his child, he had to try.
That's why he cut his shift in half without telling her, to surprise her. He had spent the morning with Leon Basset (dumb kid, he didn't think much of him) because Shane was out with a case of the flu, the poor son of a bitch.
He held a bouquet of roses as he entered through the door of his house but something didn't feel right. Lori wasn't cooking or cleaning, hell she wasn't even about the house doing whatever it was she did while he was working.
It was just... silent.
He waited, but heard nothing.
He pinched the bridge of his nose with this thumb and forefinger and exhaled slowly. Then he turned left, entering through the entranceway that lead to their room.
That's where he found them.
Shane and Lori. His best friend, his brother, and his wife.
They were together. In his home, in his bed. Lori's nails clawed at Shane's back and Shane's lips claimed her lips, lips that weren't even his to kiss in the first place.
He stood motionless unable to comprehend the sight he was witnessing. The roses fell from his hand and suddenly everything was unfolding at a pace too fast for him to register.
"Oh shit, Rick!" Shane exclaimed loudly, shell shocked as he moved to cover himself with the sheets.
"Rick?!" The surprise and horror was evident in Lori's voice as she scrambled too, pulling on one of Rick's t-shirts. She was out of the bed in a matter of seconds, the t-shirt hanging just above her knees.
"Rick, baby, this isn't-" and when she reached out to touch his face, he recoiled.
Jaw tense, his eyes holding the betrayal he felt, Rick stepped back as if her touch burned him. He was there, but he wasn't there. Lori's voice faded out into the background and the sound of nothing caved in. He felt as though his eardrums were losing their ability to hear. Like everything was being swallowed into a black hole of nothingness and he stood at the centre.
There were no excuses to be told. Lori couldn't say it wasn't what it looked like because it was exactly what it looked like. She stood, her face shattered, her legs buckling as she covered her mouth with her hands.
"I guess the flu is the new code word for screwing my wife? Am I right, brother?" Rick directed at Shane the moment he found his voice again.
But he spoke so evenly that he had to wonder who the hell the voice belonged to because it sure as hell wasn't him. He was so calm, so still, but his insides were vibrating with a range of emotions that he couldn't even begin to comprehend or even understand.
Shane bowed his head, there was nothing he could say, no way he could even begin to make it right or explain.
With Lori's cries echoing in Rick's ears he turned around and left, slamming the screen door without so much as a glance backwards in the process.
He got into his car and he drove. He drove until he didn't recognize the scenery anymore, until night was almost upon him. Low on fuel he came to a stop outside of a farm. He sat alone with his thoughts for a while and when they caught up to him he beat his hands against the steering wheel, the noise from the horn so loud that the horses in the field ahead scattered in fright.
It didn't feel real. Was it real? He felt like he was floating, white noise buzzing in his ears.
"What happened to us?" He asked aloud, his thoughts bouncing around the car, his eyes squinting as the sun's lowering rays penetrated the windshield in front of him. "Is this… is this real?" He all but whispered, touching the steering wheel gingerly. His eyes found his left hand in their aimless travel and he stared at his wedding ring, the wedding ring which served as nothing but a mocking purpose at that point.
'Till death do us part. Yeah, right.
He pulled it from his finger with a pained sigh and examined it closely. He looked at it, rolled it between his fingers, clenched it in his fist and gave a moments thought to throwing it out the window.
Tossing it onto the dashboard he exited the car and decided to lean up against the fence a few feet ahead, the one looking onto the farm where the horses had been grazing not long ago.
"You alright there, son?"
Rick craned his head around to see an elderly man behind him who stood with a basket of freshly picked eggs. The farmer, he assumed.
The man looked at Rick closely as if he was examining him. Rick looked defeated, he hadn't even answered the male's question and the man wondered if he even had an answer for him.
"One could say that you are trespassin'," the man added slowly. He walked until he stood beside Rick and lowered the basket onto the ground beside his feet with a heavy breath.
"S- sorry," Rick stammered, his eyebrows scrunching. "I'm a cop." It was all he could seem to say at that point.
The man dismissed him with a wave of his hand and a nod ahead. "Beautiful, aren't they?"
The horses that Rick had scared off earlier were now at the top of the field grazing on the grass in front of them. Rick was hesitant but he followed the man's gaze anyway. He watched the horses, the way their mane's moved and bobbed with each dip of their head, the way they brushed off one another and lived a quiet and calm existence.
Suddenly Rick felt a wave of calm serenity wash over him and he wondered if that had been the man's goal all along.
"I'm Rick Grimes," he introduced with a fleeting smile while offering his hand.
"Hershel Greene," the older man replied, taking his hand in a firm shake.
"Tell me Rick," Hershel started after they shook hands and spent a moment in silence watching the horses, "what's got you troubled?"
Rick exhaled an ironic laugh. He didn't even know where to begin. He wasn't sure where his troubles started or where they ended, or if there were any in between.
But he found himself spilling his thoughts anyway.
Every time a car passed, its headlights beaming in through the window, Lori got her hopes up. And every time the vehicle continued on, she was let down. It wasn't Rick. It was never Rick.
"He should be back by now…" she spoke aloud, pacing the length of the living room. Her fingers played with the necklace around her neck and in the corner sat Shane, watching her.
"He just," Shane paused to exhale, "he just needs time. Lori, he'll come back." He reassured her. Though, truthfully, Shane wasn't even sure he wanted him to.
"It's been hours." Lori continued, choosing to ignore Shane's words. "He's not like that, he would never just leave." She knew what she was saying was true because even if Rick could bring himself to leave her, he'd never leave Carl.
Shane stared down at his hands, narrowing his eyebrows in thought. Like Lori his mind was racing but their thoughts were polar opposites. It was the end of the world for her, but it felt like the beginning of his.
"Maybe I should call his brother," she started, "he could-"
"Lori," Shane cut her off with a deep exhale and a breathy laugh with a quick smile. He stood up slowly and crossed the distance to close the gap between them. "Hey," he cupped the side of her face and forced her to look at him. "Isn't this what you wanted?" He asked her. "You and me? Rick knows now, see…"
Shane came to a sudden stop as he saw the look of appall spreading onto her features. She shook her cheek free of his hand and stepped back, her hand up in defense like she couldn't believe he was saying such a thing.
"He is my husband," she told him forcefully, "and I love him. This was just…"
"What?" Shane shot out, his patience wearing thin. "What was it, Lori? Tell me, go on," he dared her.
Lori closed her eyes momentarily. "A mistake," she exhaled evenly.
"Nah, see that's bullshit." He closed the gap between them again, aching to touch her. She felt the same, he knew she did. His judgement was clouding but he refused to believe that she didn't feel the same.
Lori didn't retreat this time. She simply stared at him, her conflicted eyes staring into his pained ones.
"Shane," she spoke in protest as he backed her into the wall by the fireplace. He had his hand on her hip and was reaching under her top. "Shane," she repeated with her tone wavering.
More firmly now, he was groping her skin. Lori attempted to push him away, tried to grab a hold of his shoulders but found she was unable to under his crushing strength.
"Shane, don't do this." There was desperation in her tone as his nose brushed against her neck, his lips following in open-mouthed kisses, and she felt disgusted.
Shane told himself that Lori wanted it, of course she did. Of course she did, of course she did, of course she did. It was a mantra in his head.
His hand was getting dangerously higher, his fingers skimming over the material of her bra.
"Please," she cried out. She continued to try and push him away but she felt pinned, was pinned, and couldn't find a grip strong enough to break free.
Shane kissed her jaw line, ignoring her pleas because she wanted this, he was so sure she did. She never stopped him before, she was just confused. So he moved his hand lower and lower and lower…
"That's enough!" Lori yelled as she found her footing and her nails came in contact with his neck, scratching him deeply and forcing him off of her with a yelp.
Shane was stunned and stood back, his eyes full of shame and regret. He looked down at his hands as if they were foreign to him.
Lori swallowed deeply, holding in a sob as she shook her head.
Carl appeared in the doorway with a confused look on his small features. He glanced over at Shane and then at his mother, wondering what had happened between the two. He was young, but he wasn't stupid.
He got no answer, no explanation, no anything.
All three stood in silence until Shane made the first move, telling Carl to, "go hug your mom" before he made his exit.
"Mom?" Carl repeated but earned no response from his mother. He got the feeling that something big had happened between his mom and Shane but what that was exactly, he didn't know. So he did as Shane had said and walked over to where Lori stood, his arms encircling her in a tight hug.
Lori returned the embrace and dropped to her knees so she could enjoy it better and as she did, tears rolled down her cheeks.
After explaining everything to Hershel like he was a priest at confession, Rick stared ahead unsure if he wanted to hear the old man's opinion. He had just spilled his guts, told this stranger everything he felt, everything that had happened and everything he had witnessed.
"Rick?" Hershel spoke after countless minutes had passed.
Hesitantly, Rick turned his head to look at the old man.
"Do you love your wife?" Hershel asked him simply.
It was such a simple question but Rick froze, he hadn't expected such a direct response from Hershel.
Rick paused to think it over. He did… didn't he? He was so sure he did. It was Lori, his childhood sweetheart, his wife, the mother of child. Of course loved her.
"I do," he answered with a terse jaw.
Hershel gave him a sad smile and Rick wondered why that was but as soon as he heard the man's next question, he understood.
"Are you in love with her?"
Rick fell silent, his head lowered.
"There's your answer," he told Rick, patting his back solemnly.
Rick didn't want to be that man, the kind of man who stayed with his wife out of obligation. It wasn't fair to him, it wasn't fair to Lori, and it certainly wasn't fair to Carl.
He thought about it during the drive home. He filled up on gas, ate a burger, and drove through the darkness. Hours passed and he thought. He just... thought.
He loved Lori but as Hershel pointed out, he wasn't in love with her. Or maybe he was and he was just confused. He was allowed to be confused, he was allowed to feel hurt and betrayed. But somehow he felt as though he was the one that owed her an explanation.
When he arrived home he entered through the doorway like a dead man walking. He was exhausted, so much that he wanted to get into bed and sleep for days, but there was a talk to be had and as he turned into the living room, he spotted the source of his confliction sitting with their sleeping son.
Lori looked defeated. She barely glanced at him, she just stroked Carl's hair, his head on her lap. Through the moonlight that lit the room he could see her cheeks, glistening with tears.
"I was shot," he spoke, out of nowhere really, confusing the hell out of his wife.
Lori parted her lips to speak but he silenced her with the slow shake of his head, and stepped a little closer.
"I was shot," he repeated, his voice finding more of a ground, "and I was in a coma and Shane was there."
She now understood what he was doing. She looked at him from her position on the couch to find he was looking at her so intently awaiting an answer that she gave him a nod.
"Shane was there when your world went to shit and then I woke up and it was like before. Our world went to shit and Shane was there. He was there when I wasn't."
"I…" she exhaled and stopped. She really didn't know what to say. She didn't know why Rick took it upon himself, took the blame upon himself, but it was a trait of his. He took the world on his shoulders and everything affected him personally.
Rick walked over slowly and bent down to place his hand over Lori's on Carl's head. He stared at their hands for a moment, hers wearing a wedding ring and his bare.
"Are you done?" Lori asked him after moments had passed and he hadn't said a word.
Rick noticed she was referring to their marriage. The fact that he was without his ring wasn't lost on her.
Exhaling, Rick looked up and their eyes locked for a good few seconds before he spoke.
"I don't know."
I would have had this chapter up sooner but my internet was gone for a couple of weeks. Sorry about that.
This chapter was too long, I had to cut it in half (and maybe in three, it depends), so the next part should be up soon. There's still a fair bit of story to tell, both from Andrea and Rick, before we get to their eventual (proper) meeting, but hopefully you're enjoying the story and will stay with me. :)