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Repeat, Rethink, Remake

Chapter Text

When Rick wakes up, he thinks he is having a nightmare. Or perhaps a dream, for the precious few seconds before he recognises the setting. He is back in the hospital room. Rick has had lucid dreams before, but this felt different. He knew that he hadn't exactly been in great mental health since... since Lori died, really, all that time ago. But.. He clenched his fist in the bed sheets. It felt real. Rick could feel the fabric between his fingers, unwashed.

There were also things he hadn't noticed in real life too. The smell, for one. Rick had become used to the smell you get living in this world; everybody stinks, all the time. You acquire dirt from everywhere. This smell now was an unwashed body, yes, but there was no underlying odour of walker. Instead there was still a faint medical smell lingering.

Another thing was the sound. Or lack thereof. No cars or nurses or heart monitors. Nothing at all. That should have tipped him off the first time. But he wasn't like this then. He didn't have the instincts. Now Rick was going crazy with the knowledge just from those two senses that something was wrong.

He shouldn't be feeling like this in a dream.

Rick was starting to have a bad feeling. He didn't want to move. If he just lay here maybe he would fall asleep and wake up again in Alexandria. In his home, with Michonne, with his children. With his child. Carl...

He didn't know why he was worrying; there was no way this could be real. It was impossible. There was a chance he would walk out the door and instead of the hospital, he would be in the station, or his old home, or hell even candy-land. This was just a fragment of a dream.

But still, Rick didn't move. There was dread in his stomach, curling up through his chest, reaching his fingertips. It was crushing him. Laying there he felt its weight pushing him down. If he didn't get up he would suffocate.

Rick took a gasping breath and jerked his arms. And with that first major movement, the illusion was shattered. He pushed himself to his elbows, gasping in pain. This was undeniably real now. The wound on his side was enough to convince him by itself. Rick hunched over and put his hand over the wound. It was more painful than he remembered.

But looking around the room, it was the same. He reached over and touched the dead flowers. Shane had left them there.

Shane was still alive.

Rick was left gasping for breath, hunched over and crying with the realization. His best friend was still alive. Lori was alive. Andrea was alive. So was Amy, Dale, T-Dog, Jacqui. Carl. They were at the quarry, right now.

He had to get there. He could save them, this time. Rick knew things now that he hadn't before, knew how it was going to go. He could save them. He could save Carl.

Was that why he was there? For a second chance?

He swung his legs over the side of the bed and gently lowered his feet to the floor. His whole body felt shaky and uncertain. Empty. Also not how he remembered it but there had been more adrenaline involved the first time, more fear and confusion.

Rick wasn't afraid. He was plenty confused but it was a more abstract confusion; how had this happened? But it wasn't something Rick had to worry about right that second. Unlike last time, he knew what to do and what was happening. But he wasn't afraid.

Instead there was almost an excitement. An eagerness to go forward and change things. It would be better this time, Rick knew it. He would make them stronger this time. This time it wouldn't be just a wisp of a thought of a future that drove them. It would be a concrete, real image of Alexandria that Rick would guide them to. And Alexandria would be stronger for it.

It was hope, this time, that allowed Rick to escape the hospital.

-

The breeze felt nice when Rick stepped out. The only nice thing, in fact, about being outside because he was also immediately confronted by wrapped up bodies. Rick recognised the smell from this at least. He walked past as quickly as he could, warily, but these were just bodies. This was back when people could still die and not come back. Rick wondered at exactly what point they had all become infected.

He should get a vehicle. It had been stupid of him to use a bike last time. A lot of things had been stupid last time.

He was so exhausted. How had he pedalled home in this state? He scanned the area for walkers and spotted one. His heart actually skipped for a moment because it looked so human. The ones from his time had rotted so much they barely resembled what they used to be. It was so far away that it hadn't seen him yet and Rick kept moving, passing the trucks with bodies piled high. Why were there so few walkers? Rick could only guess that it was because everybody had fled to Atlanta.

Atlanta. God, Rick had to get to Atlanta. He definitely needed a car.

It was then that Rick remembered something. And at first he couldn't believe it.

He scrambled up the short hill and there it was. A helicopter. Army tents, vehicles, supplies. A makeshift base of operations. Rick remembers stumbling past this, despairing at how apparently even the military had failed to contain – well, he hadn't known what, but he had figured by then that it was bad. And then he had just left it there. He had never come back to this hospital.

Now, he wandered up to a jeep. It still worked, it still had gas. He leaned heavily on it. There must be guns and ammunition around here. Rick needed a weapon, fast. He couldn't see any undead soldiers; they must have been in the hospital. Rick looked past the tents and took the time to really see it. The hospital was bombed, glass smashed, bullet holes on the outside.

But no walkers.

He's lost track of the one he had seen before. Where did it go? Rick rubbed his forehead. He must be in worse condition than he had thought but he pushed himself upright. He needed to get out of here. Who knows how many walkers were in the hospital, waiting to catch wind of him? He had to get to his house, find his clothes. He needed to... he needed to find Morgan and Duane. Rick released a shaky sigh.

Morgan and Duane. He was going to save them both. But to do that he needed to get there.

First priority was weapons. Is always weapons. Rick glanced down at himself and swallowed. His first instinct now was to look for a good knife and maybe a gun as backup. In the future, guns are for living people. But he felt so weak, Rick didn't know if would be able to stab a walker. He needed a gun.

He pushed off of the jeep and stumbled his way over to a tent, his gait uneven and patchy. No wonder Duane had thought he was a walker. Rick paused outside the tent and listened. Nothing moved inside but he was hesitant to go in. The fear was starting to catch up with him now; here he was unarmed, recovering from being shot, wandering around without any protection during the apocalypse. If he went into that tent now and there was a walker inside, he was probably finished.

And, he realised, they had been different back then. The walkers and the people. But mostly the walkers, Rick thought. They had been faster, smarter. Rick remembered the one with the brick outside the department store and how some had climbed the fence after he and Glenn made a run for it.

Rick had never questioned it – he was never one to question things he couldn't change. He had never asked why the apocalypse happened and he supposed he would never really wonder how he was there now, having seemingly gone back in time. In his head Rick had chalked the change in walker behaviour up to advanced decomposition and left it at that. He didn't think he would ever know the true answer. And he couldn't afford to stand outside this tent and wonder.

The bottom line was; these walkers were more dangerous. But in the end, Rick had to do it because he refused to rely on luck this time. He would trust his instincts and do what was smart. And right now the smart thing to do was check these tents.

He took a deep steadying breath and curled his fingers into the tent flap. He counted to three in his head and on the last number, Rick yanked the tent flap open.

There were no walkers in the tent. Instead, Rick found guns. There was a table in the middle with maps on it and a gun rack that was mostly empty. He grabbed a rifle from the gun rack and a handgun that was lying on the table. He couldn't carry any more in his state but he wasn't worried; he still remembered the gun stores at the station. He slung the rifle over his shoulder and checked the handgun. It was fully loaded, not a single round fired.

It made him nervous that it had been just lying there, discarded. What had happened to its owner? Was he wandering around somewhere close by, ready to chew Rick's face off? Rick kept the gun at the ready as he checked the rest of the tent. He took some ammunition for the rifle but there was none for the handgun.

He stepped back outside and did a quick sweep of the area. Still nothing.

Next priority was food and medicine. Rick moved toward a second helicopter. There were supplies scattered all around, as well as several body bags. The army had had everything; Rick saw plenty of medicine, barrels of fuel, field rations, even a tank. But they had still been overwhelmed.

Rick started picking up anything he thought would be useful and loading it into the jeep but he could only carry so much with one hand while keeping his gun ready in the other. He quickly became out of breath with all of the back and forth. He took a breather, leaning against the side of car, the back of it only somewhat full. He looked around at all the supplies he could still gather and wondered if he should come back with Morgan and Duane.

Just then a sound reached him, coming from a line of tents behind the first one. Rick turned and saw a soldier stumbling towards him. The man had an open wound on his torso, his uniform ripped open and stained brown. He moaned and snarled, coming up fast, going directly for Rick.

Rick stood up straight, brought the gun up and fired. The snarling was abruptly cut off as the walker fell but that was lost as the shot rang out, echoing across the hospital grounds. Rick only had a second to realise his mistake before a woman lurched out of another tent, her medic uniform stained beyond recognition. More followed her, patients and doctors alike.

Rick staggered back against the jeep, hand going to fumble with the handle. There were too many for him to deal with and the gunfire would only attract more. The door swung open and he scrambled in, slamming it shut. The keys had still been in the ignition and Rick peeled away from the base, the walkers now running to catch up. He accelerated over the remaining supplies, running over a few body bags while he was at it.

He swung right to get onto the road but as he did so he saw walkers streaming out of the hospital. This was a pretty small-town hospital but there must still have been hundreds of them inside. They saw Rick's jeep and made for it, moving a hell of a lot quicker than he was used to. They were still too slow for the jeep, falling away into the distance as he drove into the abandoned suburban sprawl that was his home town.

What did I just do? Rick thought.

They would follow the direction the car had gone, gathering numbers as they moved, and killing anyone in their path. Including Morgan and Duane.

Have I just unleashed a herd on this town?

He had been stupid this time, too, Rick realised as he shakily turned toward home. Except instead of making the same mistakes, he had made whole new ones. He shouldn't have hung around the hospital. Just because you can't see walkers doesn't mean they aren't there, waiting just around the corner. And he knew there was a high chance there would be walkers in the hospital. Of course there were.

And now he had a time limit.

As if I didn't have one before.

That was true, he thought. He had always had a timeline in head; it was just accelerated now. Rick took a deep breath. Okay. He had a few hours before the herd would reach his neighbourhood, if they were even going in that direction at all, and in that time he had to collect Morgan and Duane and the guns.

And he had to convince them to leave with him.

Last time, Morgan couldn't leave without killing his wife. Which he didn't manage to do. Would he come with Rick this time, if he knew there was a herd coming? Or would he want to hide out in that house until it passed? Rick wanted to believe he would come but he knew first hand what losing your wife did - to them both. If Morgan thought his wife was still there, he would stay until she wasn't. He might send Duane on with Rick if he thought there was danger, but he would stay.

Rick would just have to take care of the wife himself. What was her name? Morgan had told him, he was sure. He would have to kill her in such a way that Morgan and Duane wouldn't be angry at him, preferably in self-defence and somewhere they would see her go down. But they would be upset and emotionally unstable, no matter how this went down. Rick glanced down at himself. Maybe he could play the sympathy card?

He pulled into his neighbourhood, the memory of this now-unfamiliar place rushing back to him. But it wasn't quite right either; the clean-cut houses he vaguely remembered were replaced in his mind by these cleaned out homes, confusing his recollection of it all. He stopped the jeep outside the house he remembered as his. He sat there for a moment and stared at it. It was like trying to wear an old jumper that no longer fit.

The had been his home once. Then the prison. Then Alexandria.

He stepped out of the jeep and took stock of the street. It was so empty; it had really been nothing more than pure luck that he had survived the first time. That the walkers had all somehow managed to miss him in their aimless wanderings.

He walked up the front path and just stood in the doorway for a moment. Here was the entrance to another life. Rick let his fingers brush the wood of the door before he stepped inside. Everything had been so white. In the future, things that used to be white were now all faded grey. Except in Alexandria.

It was in disarray from Lori and Carl's hurried packing, but the pictures were still missing. Rick moved to the bedroom and began looking through his things. He just put on normal clothes and some old hiking boots he had forgotten that he owned. And he dug out his old winter jacket from the back of the closet. He did grab his keys and holster though, putting the new gun in it and slinging the rifle over his shoulder again.

And then he sat on his old bed, his marital bed. He lifted some of Lori's discarded clothes off it and rubbed the sheets. They had made love here, they had loved here, in this house. But there was a horde coming and he didn't have time to waste. Rick took a fortifying breath, then he got up and left. There was nothing he needed from the house, nothing he could bear to take.

He left it all behind when he walked back out to the jeep. He flung the winter jacket over the passenger seat and grabbed a some kind of protein bar from the back. He was feeling a little better from earlier but he thought he was still weak. He'd need to keep his strength up because the walkers would be here in, he checked his watch, about an hour and a half, give or take.

He only then realised that Morgan and Duane weren't there. When he had left his house last time, they had been in the area but now he didn't see them anywhere. But then again, Rick figured that even with the extra time he took at the hospital, between the jeep and generally knowing what to do, he was a bit quicker this time around. He shoved the last bit of the protein bar in his mouth and dropped the wrapper. That meant he would have some time to find the mother before they showed up.

Rick pushed off the jeep and set off on his mission, gun at the ready and still chewing the last bite of the bar.

Chapter Text

There she was.

Rick was on the porch of one of his neighbours - he no longer remembered the name - when he saw her. She was wandering in the street, a couple of others nearby, still in the nightgown she died in. He was crouched down, hidden from view, and just watched as she ambled closer.

There was almost an intelligence to her, Rick realised. It was the way her vacant gaze almost had some thought in it, how she appeared to be looking at things and understanding them. Rick knew she was not but he could perhaps understand how Hershel had believed these people could be cured.

It was easy to forget that they had been people. The walkers Rick was used to were rotting, grisly monsters. He rarely saw any fresh ones, but even those were not like these. He remembered how Morgan’s wife had come up the porch steps and tried to open the door. She had remembered - and they didn’t do that anymore. Why had nobody questioned this?

They had forgotten, that was why. Less than two years since it all started but it seemed like a decade. Rick didn’t remember much from his life before, truth be told. And there were things, people, he had forgotten about even from his time at the quarry. And he had forgotten a lot of things on purpose, since the prison fell.

He reached up to rub his jaw, scratching at the stubble. It wasn’t quite the beard he had had upon arrival at Alexandria, but he would need to shave if he wanted Lori to recognise him. His eyes tracked Morgan’s wife. Just a little closer. Rick adjusted the gun in his hand, shifted a little to alleviate the ache in his knees. He felt ready.

The wife wandered down the sidewalk, past where he was sitting. Rick stood up, the movement catching her eye. She turned toward him but he already had the shot lined up.

He took it. She fell.

Rick came down the porch steps and looked at her, splayed out in the street. The eyes were the only sign of her being dead, otherwise she just looked like a woman. He looked up the street, where two walkers were advancing. More would be coming. Where were Morgan and Duane?

Rick turned away from the walkers, intending to go check the house they were hiding in, when something hit the side of his face and he went down. He hit the pavement hard, head smacking off the concrete.

Rick groaned as he lay there dazed. Someone was shouting. Someone was crying. Faintly there was the sound of walkers, a sound his hindbrain recognised immediately, even when he was still trying to piece everything together.

“You son of a bitch! You… You son of a bitch!”

That was Morgan. He was screaming, crying, waving a shovel around. Mostly he was crying. He walked away a few paces, rubbed his face with the hand not holding the shovel. He looked at his wife on the ground, sobbed, and looked away again.

Rick turned his head in her direction, the most movement he was capable of. He saw his gun lying by his outstretched hand and Duane weeping over his mother’s corpse. Behind him, two more still moving.

“Morgan,” Rick tried. It came out garbled and unrecognisable. “Watch out!”

Rick willed his body to life, making his hand do an uncoordinated twitch towards his gun. He rolled onto his side, raised the gun with one shaking hand, fired. Missed. Or, he hit it in the shoulder but it might as well have gone wide. Duane startled, falling back over his mother, almost as if to protect her.

Morgan spun wildly at the sound of the shot. Seeing the walkers almost descending on his son snapped him out of his episode. He swung the shovel, catching the nearest one in the face. Rick shot at the second one and caught it in the jaw. It stumbled back a few steps and he fired again, killing it this time.

Morgan was leaning over the other one, hand over his face, shovel discarded. Rick’s hand dropped and he slowly pushed himself to his feet. They were running out of time.

“Hey,” Rick said, approaching Duane cautiously. “Are you alright?”

Rick was taken aback by the ferocity in Duane’s glare. The boy hated him. Morgan spun around when he heard Rick’s voice, striding over and grabbing him by the collar.

“Don’t talk to him! Don’t you talk to him!” Morgan shook Rick. “How could you? That was my wife! My Jenny...” Morgan’s voice choked off.

“Sir,” Rick said in his cop voice, remembering now that he wasn’t supposed to know who Morgan was. “Your wife was dead long before now.”

Morgan shook his head in denial, muttering ‘no’ repeatedly under his breath. Rick holstered his gun and slowly brought his hands up to rest on Morgan’s shoulders. He caught Morgan’s eye, holding it in his unwavering stare.

“I’m sorry,” he said and he meant it. “But there’s a horde coming. A big one, from the hospital. It’s heading in this direction. It’ll be here soon and more walkers will have heard the gunshots. They’ll be coming.”
Rick wondered if Morgan was processing this. His wife had just ‘died’ and he was looking dazed. He really wished he hadn’t had to kill Jenny, but if he hadn’t then there would have been no chance of getting them out of there.

“I have vehicle, close by,” Rick continued. “You can come with me. I’m Rick Grimes. I was… I was a cop. I did what I had to, with… with Jenny, but you can trust me. I can get us into the gun store at the station. Do you understand?”

“We’re not going with you!” Duane shouted, leaving his mother’s side.

Morgan slowly let go of Rick’s shirt and stepped away. He put his hand on Duane’s shoulder, turning away.

“I think you’ve done enough,” Morgan said. “I think you should get out of here before I end up doing something I’ll regret.”

Rick saw in Morgan’s dark eyes a hint of the crazed, grief ridden man that he could become - that he would have become if he’d lost Duane too.

“You won’t make it.” Rick shouted. Morgan stopped turning. “Whatever place you think you can hide, it won’t work. I’m talking about hundreds of walkers here, heading right towards this neighbourhood. And if you do somehow survive this horde? There’ll be another. And another after that. They’ll sneak up on you when you least expect it,” he said, remembering Morgan’s story about Duane dying. “They’re everywhere. And it’s not just walkers you have to worry about anymore. People are just as dangerous now.”

Rick wasn’t even sure he was getting through. Morgan wouldn’t look directly at him - was he even hearing him?

But after a moment Morgan said, “People like you, you mean?” And then he looked at Rick again, and Rick saw that he was lost, floating in a sea of despair. Rick needed to anchor him to the here and now, before he really did do something he’d regret - and cost Duane his life.

“No. Not like me,” Rick said, putting his hand out to stop Morgan leaving. “Because I want you to come with me. I’m offering you, both of you,” he made sure to look at Duane as well, “a chance. For safety, security, a home. No one else is gonna offer you that if you stay here. They won’t get the choice because you’ll be - !”

He was cut off by snarling. Seven or eight walkers, coming between the houses, drawn by gunfire. It wasn’t the hoard yet. Rick had enough bullets if he used the rifle as well but he didn’t want to waste them. He knew that Morgan and Duane wouldn’t be able to take out this many alone with their current level of expertise. They backed toward Rick, Morgan realising that he’d neglected to pick up the shovel again. Duane didn’t have a weapon.

“It’s not safe to stay here,” Rick reiterated. “There’s-there’s a group I’ve heard,” Rick said, struck by sudden inspiration. “On the radio. I’m going to find them - they’re near Atlanta. There’s nothing left for you here,” he cut his eyes to Jenny’s lifeless body, “and I know you’ve both lost a lot. But you can still make a life in this world. It’s not too late.”

The walkers were close now, a few feet away. When he glanced at them again, Rick had to look again because he recognised some of them. They were his old neighbours. He shouldn't be surprised because they were in his old neighbourhood but Rick couldn’t say that he had ever thought of these people again after the world ended and had never considered that they had died. He would not let Duane walk among them.

“Dad?” Duane said, looking between the walkers and his father. It made Rick’s heart ache for Carl.

They both backed up until they were level with Rick. Morgan looked at him, considering, for a few seconds. Perhaps he had just realised how unprepared they truly were, Duane without a weapon and him forgetting the shovel. Perhaps he figured they would be safer in a group. Perhaps it really was Rick’s words, and not the pressure of the situation, that finally convinced him.

“We’ll go with you,” Morgan said. “We’ll find your group outside of Atlanta. And we’ll decide for ourselves if we want to stay.”

It could have gone better, Rick thought as they headed for his house. But, then again, it could have gone a lot worse.

-

Rick waited outside while Morgan and Duane went into their temporary residence to collect their things. The jeep waited just down the road, already loaded up with everything that Rick wanted to bring with him. He had food, some medical supplies, fuel, and water in the back. His watch said it was 3:30pm. Rick had been awake for three hours. In that time, he had stolen a military vehicle, attracted the attention of a legion of the undead, thereby setting forth a chain of events that would destroy his entire neighbourhood, and killed a man’s wife. And there were still things on his to-do list for the day.

First thing; get Morgan and Duane out of here. Still not technically done but he was close. They had agreed to go with him at least as far as the quarry and Rick was confident that they would forgive him in time and consequently stay with the group.

Next thing; get the guns from the station. That’s where they were going next. A whole day ahead of ‘schedule’, a day earlier than the first time. Rick still remembered the tense night he had spent in the house he was standing in front of. He and Morgan had bonded that night, something they had yet to do in this timeline. Rick worried how all of this was going to affect things but spending the night here was not an option with the herd so close.

The police station was not in his old neighbourhood so hopefully by going there they would avoid the herd entirely. But it was close enough that the herd may pass through. Rick was aiming to be out of his hometown altogether and well on the way to the quarry, at least, by nightfall.

Morgan and Duane came out of the house, each with backpacks. Morgan had the shovel and Duane was now carrying a baseball bat. They came up to Rick and Morgan reached out his hand.

“I guess I should introduce myself. I’m Morgan and this is my son, Duane.”

Duane didn’t say anything.

“I wish we could have met under better circumstances,” Rick said. “I truly do.”

Rick nodded to Morgan and then led them to his vehicle. Once they were in, he pulled away, driving for what he hoped was the last time through his old street. But then, he had thought that before.

Morgan and Duane were silent next to him, Duane squashed uncomfortably in the middle. (Rick hadn’t been planning on taking a squad car but he also hadn’t taken into account that the jeep only had two seats.) Rick didn’t know what to say and it was getting uncomfortable. It was difficult to act as if he didn’t know Morgan - a few times he almost went to say something, only to realise that he wasn’t supposed to know that or that it might be a little too specific.

He wasn’t even sure if they were up to conversation - he thought that Duane at least didn’t want to talk to him. In the end he decided to say nothing and they spent the ride to the station in awkward silence.

When they got there, he drove the jeep around to where the cruisers were parked. Then he got out and just looked at the building. It was a feeling like he had at his home - familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. What had happened to his old colleagues? Had they gotten out? Abandoned the station?

He jumped at a hand on his shoulder but it was only Morgan. He was looking at Rick with something like pity.

“You been back here since it began?” Morgan asked.

Rick realised that he had neglected to tell Morgan about the coma, or about his injury.

“No. I just woke up today. I was in a coma.” He pulled up his shirt to reveal his bandaged side. At Morgan’s alarmed look, he hurried to add, “I was shot. I woke up and-and everything was gone. I stopped to get supplies outside the hospital when I was attacked by those things. The gunshots must have carried because next thing I knew, they were all coming out of the hospital, heading straight for me.”

“And that’s how the horde started,” Morgan said, pulling Duane closer to him.

“Yeah,” Rick said and then, struck by sudden inspiration, said, “I was flipping through radio stations in the jeep, trying to figure out what was going on, when I heard them. The group near Atlanta. I wasn’t able to speak to them but I think they would take us in. I… I think my wife took my son there. To Atlanta. I’m going to look for them there.”

Rick thanked every star he knew that Lori and Carl had never actually made it to Atlanta. And then he thanked Shane.

Morgan nodded understandingly and shared a look with Duane.

“We were heading there when this whole thing started. There was talk of a refugee center there. But then, Jenny was too sick to travel and, well… we just stayed.”

Rick remembered having a similar conversation with Morgan in the station’s locker room. That time, Morgan had said it was like he was ‘frozen’. He wasn’t frozen now, thanks to Rick.

“I understand,” Rick said, because he did. He didn’t know what he would have done if somebody had tried to make him leave the prison right after Lori died. He took a deep breath. “Come on,” he said.

Rick unlocked the side door with the keys he had grabbed at his house. The door swung open, revealing a dark hall. It seemed empty, like last time. But Rick had learned never to take that for granted.

He motioned for Morgan and Duane to wait outside while he ventured down the hall. It lead him to the bullpen, which was empty. Across the room, on the other side of the front counter, was the main entrance. The glass doors and windows were unbroken, the street looked deserted.

There were no signs of a struggle, no blood or anything. Everything looked normal. A disarray of paperwork and office supplies, no different to any other office space in existence. Rick saw nothing. He banged his gun on a filing cabinet and waited, but nothing appeared. He went to the other hallway on the other side of room, the one that led to everywhere else in the small building, but it looked clear.

He went back and told Morgan and Duane that it was alright to come in. He led them straight to the locker room, still seeing nothing out of the ordinary on the way. The whole place was deserted.

Rick cheered up when he saw the showers, suddenly feeling all of the two month coma-grime that he had on him.

“When was the last time ya’ll had hot showers?” He asked, going over to the closest one.

“Too long,” Morgan said. “Everything cut out about a month ago.”

“Well, luckily for us, the station has its own generator,” Rick said.

He glanced at Duane’s hopeful look and with a grin and an elaborate flourish, he turned the faucet. The water spluttered at first but then started raining steady. He put his hand under to test it.

“Toasty,” he confirmed.

Duane whooped and Morgan cheered. Rick turned his back on them and stripped off, not shy about his body, and stepped in. After a few minutes, he could hear Duane singing in a stall a couple down from him. Rick laughed and looked over.

Duane smiled at him, having forgotten in his excitement his mother’s death. Rick privately thought, glancing at Morgan shaving and absently noting that he should too, that Duane had done his mourning before that day. Seeing his mother’s still body had upset him, naturally, but he had probably known that she was dead before that.

After showering, Rick pointed Duane towards the changing rooms. The boy left and he and Morgan were alone for the first time, sitting in their towels in the locker room. Morgan was staring at Rick and he didn’t know why.

“Your wife,” Morgan eventually said. “What was her name?”

“Lori,” Rick answered. “And my son’s Carl.”

“You really think they’re out there?”

“I do,” Rick said. “I went back to my house, that’s why I was in that neighbourhood. And I went in and there were things missing. Clothes and things.”

“You know,” Morgan said gently. “Anybody could have come through there.”

“She took the photos from the walls,” Rick choked out, remembering how Lori had done that.

Morgan nodded and put his hand on Rick’s shoulder.

“My wife did the same thing,” he said, glassy eyed. Then he smiled. “I think it’s an omega thing.”

Rick nodded, still thinking of Lori. Then he realised what Morgan had said.

“What?”

Chapter Text

“What?” Rick asked, sure that he must have misheard.

“Oh,” Morgan said, taken aback. “Your wife’s an alpha too? Well I’ve never been one for judging other folks’ loving.”

Alpha? He knew that word, of course, but Morgan wasn’t making any sense. It was the way he said it, like Rick should know what he was talking about. He suddenly got a pit in his stomach; what if this was something different? He had never heard Morgan talk about alphas and omegas before.

What if this wasn’t his world after all?

“I don’t understand,” Rick said, shaking his head. “I’m not an alpha.”

“You’re… Oh! I’m sorry. I just assumed…” Morgan trailed off, looking almost contrite, and now Rick was really confused. “Anyway, Duane and I are both alphas. But you don’t need to worry about that. We won’t try anything,” Morgan said, laughing a little at the thought of Duane ‘trying anything’.

Meanwhile, Rick’s hope was rapidly dwindling. He didn’t have a clue what Morgan was talking about, even though it was obvious that he should. Had he really been transported somehow, into an… alternate reality of some sort?

He didn’t know what to do. What if everything was different? What if there was no quarry group, no family, waiting for him? What if they were all dead?

But everything had seemed the same so far. Rick had been to his house and saw nothing that hadn't been there before. Even the police station was exactly how he remembered it. This was the first sign of anything being different. Maybe… maybe if Morgan explained it, it would make perfect sense. After all, Rick thought desperately, he had only met the man once, before he had gone... Well, Rick didn't like to say that he had gone crazy. After all, the grief of losing a loved one could be devastating. But still. There was always the chance that this was completely normal behaviour for him.

“I don’t understand,” Rick repeated. “Alphas and omegas. I’ve never heard of that before.”

“Never heard…? That’s impossible,” Morgan said, shaking his head and looking unsettled.

Rick didn’t respond. Morgan peered at him for a few moments before realising that he was telling the truth.

“How?” Morgan said. He sat back, away from Rick. “It’s nature, part of who we are.”

Rick swallowed roughly and stood slowly. This obviously wasn't his home. What was he doing here? He paced away, running his hand down his face. What was he going to do now? He ached for his family, for Carl and Daryl and Michonne and Carol and all the others. For Judith. He suddenly felt so far away.

He realised that he was panicking, the first true fear he had felt since waking.

“Hey, hey,” Morgan said from behind him. Rick turned and saw Morgan with his hands out in a placating gesture. “It’s alright. Why don’t we just get dressed,” he said, gesturing to Rick, who remembered that they were only wearing towels, “and we can sit down and talk. Alright? There’s no need to panic. You’ve just been in a coma, right? This could be some form of amnesia. OK?”

The thought didn’t calm Rick; he still remembered everything perfectly. Or thought he did. But he did nod and turn to change. Wanting privacy, he went over to his old locker, around the corner from Morgan so he couldn’t see him, and stood in front of it.

He didn’t remember the combination. And even if he did, would it matter? It could be different in this world.

Rick closed his eyes and leaned against the locker. He heard fabric rustling on the other side of the wall and for a moment his instincts flared, before he told himself that it was only Morgan.

He needed to get a grip. Ok. He took a deep breath. Ok. Even if this was a different... version of reality, it could still be a version close to his own. Evidence so far seemed to support this. So, Rick thought, his family may still be out there. And even if this world was slightly different, they would still be themselves.

Focusing on that idea allowed Rick to calm down. His breathing evened and his shoulders dropped. All hope was not lost. Sighing, Rick turned back to the locker. He used to use it everyday but, like everything else, it had been so long. He ran his thumb along the edge of the door, over a scrape where he remembered Shane had ran into it and caught his belt or his badge on it.

With a calm mind, Rick remember the numbers.

Inside the locker was his sheriff’s uniform. Rick picked up the shirt, feeling the used fabric under his fingers. He had to swallow against the sudden tightness in his throat. He remembered days spent wasting time with Shane in the patrol car, hours at his desk doing paperwork, the confidence and pride when he wore his uniform in public. He remembered being a cop. Solving cases, helping people. It had never been very glamorous in this little town but there had been a few exciting times.

The day he got shot was one of them.

Rick put the shirt back. Then, hesitating, he grabbed his hat. For Carl.

He got redressed quickly and put the hat on. He probably looked ridiculous with a sheriff’s hat on with civilian dress - nothing like the gun-slinging deputy from all that time ago. Rick laughed a little to himself; what would that man have done, if he too knew what was going to happen? Probably not the same things he was doing now.

He shut the locker and left it behind. He heard Duane coming back on the other side of the lockers. He was talking again. Not quite back to the boy Rick had gotten to meet only briefly, yet. But he would be soon.

Apparently, Duane was an alpha. Rick wondered what that could mean. He hadn’t noticed anything strange about himself physically, so maybe it was just a cultural thing.

Morgan was talking to Duane in a low voice when Rick rounded the lockers. He had his hand on Duane’s shoulder and appeared to be talking seriously. When Rick came into view Morgan dropped his hand and nodded to him. Duane was staring at Rick.

“Duane,” Morgan prompted, “go on now.” Looking at Rick, he said, “Duane’s just gonna go out to the bullpen, have a look around.”

Rick reached out to Duane as he walked past, halting him.

“If you see anything, anything, shout for us, ok?” Rick looked him in the eye. “We’ll come and get you.”

“I will,” said Duane and left.

Rick went over and sat on the bench again, Morgan joining him. Rick looked at Morgan expectantly, anxiously waiting for an explanation.

“I used to be a paramedic, before all of this,” Morgan began. Rick was surprised; he hadn’t known this and couldn’t quite picture Morgan before the apocalypse at all. “I’d like to check your head for injuries. I’m no expert on head injuries or anything like that but it’s not uncommon for amnesiacs to get their memories back over time. Is there… is there anything else you don’t remember?”

Rick looked down and shook his head. He cast about in his memory but it didn’t feel like there were any gaps. He remember everything that had happened and everything that was going to happen. Or that maybe was going to happen. If something, somewhere out there, had caused this, why did they send Rick back in time with the knowledge to save people, only to stick him in a world that was not his own, where everything could happen differently?
“Alright,” Morgan said. He shifted closer and reached up to touch Rick’s head. Rick started when he felt Morgan’s hands, his body unused to human contact after months in a coma. Morgan tilted his head forward and began feeling all over for an injury that might explain Rick’s apparent amnesia.

After a few moments he pulled back, not having found anything. Even though Rick knew he wouldn’t, he had still hoped that there would be something, an injury he had forgotten about, at the very least so he could convince himself that he really had just lost a few memories.

“Alright,” Morgan said. He sat back and considered Rick for a moment. “The memories could still come back any time, but in the meantime… I guess I will have to explain it to you.” He thought for a minute then laughed, rubbing the back of his head. “It’s uh… Well, it’s not something I’ve ever had to think about before. The last time I talked about it was probably my high school health class.”

Morgan laughed again. Rick was beginning to get nervous; this alpha/omega thing was apparently physical. Something about sex, if they talked about it in health class. Which meant it was tangible, you could tell if it wasn’t there. What if Rick didn’t have it? How could he explain it to Morgan?

“Ok, so you know there are men and women, right?” Rick nodded. “Well, alpha and omega refers to which set of genitalia you have. Alphas have penises and omegas have vaginas. Does this sound familiar?” Morgan asked awkwardly.

It did not. It also hadn’t occurred to Rick until now that he was going to be getting the ‘sex talk’. And, admittedly, he was pretty lost. Honestly, Rick found it a little funny; everything he’s been through, all the things he’s done, and apparently he doesn’t even know how to have sex.

At least, he thought, the apocalypse wasn’t a surprise this time.

“Why-” Rick cleared his throat. “Why are there male and female and alphas and omegas?”

“Well…” Morgan said slowly. “I guess the easiest way to explain it is this; you’re male or female depending on your top half. Women have breasts, men don’t. Alpha or omega is the bottom half.”

Rick took a moment to process that. He had so many questions. How has this affected gender politics? How does attraction work in this universe? Can you have different combinations, or were men always alphas and women omegas?

Morgan must have seen how overwhelmed Rick looked because he suggested they take a break.

“We had better get going anyway,” he said. “We can talk some more in the car, if you’re feeling up to it.”

Right. They were on a deadline. They had enough gas that they could drive all the way to Atlanta - and then what? If they got there tonight, they could go straight to the quarry and intercept Glenn’s group before they even left for the city. Rick’s thoughts flashed briefly to the Vatos but, although it was selfish, he figured helping them had ultimately been a waste of time, since they had ended up dead anyway. The best course of action would be to get to the quarry as soon as possible.

They still had time, Rick assured himself. As long as they left within the hour, they would still have time.

But it was so much. These recent revelations, constantly checking himself against a timeline, the apocalypse itself. Rick needed a moment.

“I’m going to step outside for minute,” he said, standing shakily. “I’ll show you to the weapons store, so you can start picking out some guns.”

“That’s a good idea,” Morgan said, smiling. He also stood. “Duane’ll have to start learning how to shoot, with things the way they are.”

Rick nodded, silently promising that they would actually teach him this time. He lead the way to the gun store, unlocking it and leaving Morgan inspecting the sniper rifle.

He then headed for the side door, passing through the bullpen. Duane looked up quickly from where he was reading the old community bulletin board. There were bake sales and craft fairs advertised there and in the middle there was a big photo of Rick. Duane relaxed when he saw who it was, though he did move away a bit guiltily.

Rick continued on outside. He took a deep breath of fresh air, letting it out slowly. Leaning against the wall, he took a moment to just try and relax.

Seeing that photograph there, the first image of himself he had seen so far, reminded him that he really did exist in this world. He wondered what had happened to the him originally from here. Maybe he had been transported to the other reality.

Would Rick ever be able to go back? What was happening there without him? Did that world even still exist?

His head thunked back against the wall. He had to stop this. He couldn’t afford to freak out; not now, not with the world the way it was. He would likely never know how this had happened and would never be able to go home.

But he could make a home here. He believed that.

As he sat, he became aware of a distant snarling. It was quiet, just one walker, but undoubtedly coming closer. Rick turned his head and saw Leon Basset stumbling towards him. Rick watched him for a few moments. He had never liked Leon but he had taken mercy on him last time, and likely would again.

Leon hit the chain link fence, reaching through it to try to claw at Rick. Taking in his blood stained cop uniform, Rick wondered if this was what had happened to his other colleagues. It was clear Leon had died here, close by.

Was it because the place had been overrun, or because he was too slow or too stupid to get away?

Rick only felt a bit guilty for wishing it was the second.

He sat staring the walker for a few minutes. Every once in a while, there had been a community barbecue and Basset and his friends would always take the table closest to where the food was being cooked, so they could get first dibs. Except, Shane was always the one grilling, so he would give the best bits to the ladies. Carl had loved those barbecues.

Suddenly, Rick pushed away from the wall, leaping up and striding inside. He couldn’t use his gun in case it attracted others or, God forbid, it redirected the herd. And even though he was still kind of weak from the coma, he thought he would be able to handle Basset through the fence.

He crossed the bullpen again, where Duane was now sitting at Officer Kendal’s desk, going through the drawers. Rick left him to it.

He stepped into the same corridor that held the gun store and as he passed the open door he nodded to Morgan, who was busy compiling the guns and ammo they would be taking with them. Rick passed the room where they kept old files and the cleaning closet, before coming to what he was looking for; the evidence locker.

Rick unlocked the door and stepped in. There were several racks of boxes and various items wrapped in plastic, all part of cases that would never be closed. Rick had originally come in to see if he could find a knife but now he wondered what else could be in these boxes.

What case had he been working when he got shot? He couldn’t remember. A theft, he thought. Or a mugging.

Rick started with the rack at the far left. He worked quickly, rummaging through boxes and discarding wrapped items. Turned out, there wasn’t much of anything useful in here after all.

On the second shelf, he found what he was looking for. It had been booked in what must have been only a few days before everything fell apart. It was a good blade, a hunting knife, well taken care of. It had been used in the stabbing of one ‘Ms Millar’. Had she been a walker, Rick wondered, or a human?

He took the knife out of its bag, getting a feel for it in his hand. He missed his machete but this would do in the meantime.

As he left, he took one last look at the room. He didn’t lock it.

Duane was at a different desk this time, engrossed in a case file.

Outside, Leon was still there. But he wasn’t alone. There was a female walker pressed up against the fence next to him. She had a bandage around her upper arm, her shirt torn and bloody.

Rick walked up to them, gripping his knife firmly. As he drove it through Leon’s eye, he thought that, at the very least, the man had died on the job.

And then Leon fell and Rick was able to see past him, all the way along the curved road that led to the station.

There were more.

Seven or eight walkers, coming down the center of the road. They were still quite far away, likely they hadn’t spotted Rick yet. One was a doctor. On another, Rick thought he could see stained medical scrubs.

Behind them, the horde.

Rick had underestimated them. They moved faster now, and Rick had forgotten. And now they were almost at the police station, hundreds of walkers shuffling relentlessly and single-mindedly in whatever direction suited them best. He could hear them faintly, almost a low buzzing but getting louder quickly.

Somehow, they had gotten on track to the station and now they were here.

Rick ran. He ran back inside, every step along the corridor seemingly taking him nowhere. He burst into the bullpen, not stopping, shouting for Duane to follow him. Duane leapt up immediately, sprinting after Rick to Morgan.

They met Morgan in the hall, after he had abandoned the guns when he heard Rick shout. He had a rifle in hand and a crazy look in his eye.

“They’re here,” Rick said, panting. “Walkers. Outside.”

Chapter Text

“They’re here,” Rick said, panting. “Walkers. Outside.”

“The horde?” Morgan asked.

Rick nodded. Duane looked between them fearfully. They had left the shovel and bat in the jeep. It was too late to get them now. It was too late. He could hear them now, outside. The first ones must be at the parking lot. Rick put his finger to his lips. They all froze as they listened.

The sounds of the horde were clear. They would be passing the fence where Leon lay. Thankfully, the fence was on the front face of the building and the entrance to the parking lot was on the side, meaning that, if nothing diverted them, the walkers would continue straight along the road, past the front entrance to the station, and would have no reason to stray down the alley to the parking lot and the side door.

Rick, Morgan and Duane strained their ears but there was no sound of breaking glass as walkers threw themselves against the front windows or creaking metal as the fence collapsed beneath their weight. They waited for a few more minutes but no walkers appeared.

Quietly, Rick started leading the way further down the hall. They passed by the armory, records room, two interview rooms, and the lockers before he found what he wanted. The stairwell leading upstairs. Rick opened the door and let Morgan and Duane through, before closing it behind them.

The upstairs had the breakroom, the cafeteria and the conference room. Rick was doing quick calculations in his head as he lead Morgan and Duane to the canteen. They should be safe to wait it out until the horde had moved on. But how long would that take?

Still being quiet as they entered the canteen, Rick crossed to the window and looked down at the street below. The horde shuffled past steadily. The road was full of walkers for as far as Rick could see, which, since this was not a tall building, was admittedly not far. Morgan joined Rick at the window.

“I’ve never seen them move like this,” Morgan said quietly, gazing down at bodies.

“I think the more of them there are, the harder it is for them to stop,” Rick answered. “Because they’re all just following each other, they just keep on walking because they think the others are going somewhere, but everybody else is just doing the same thing.”

Morgan side-eyed Rick.

“And you’re sure you only just woke up today?” He asked.

Rick paused, froze for a moment, and swallowed.

“I’ve been told I’m pretty observant,” he said evenly.

They considered each other for a few seconds, before the moment was broken by the sound of a refrigerator opening and then Duane gagging. Morgan broke eye contact and started towards the sound. Rick turned around just as Duane appeared in the kitchen door.

“I thought since the showers were working…” Duane trailed off sheepishly.

Morgan laughed and soon Duane joined in, both quietly, keeping in mind the walkers just downstairs. Rick smiled at the boy’s antics, strained because it reminded him of Carl, but genuine.

“There must be something left that’s still good,” Morgan said.

“I think there might be some boxes of candy in there,” Rick said, “in the back.”

“Dibs on any a them 3 Musketeers bars,” Duane called softly, grinning and disappearing into the kitchen.

“What did you say, Duane?”

When no answer came, Morgan sighed and looked back at Rick one more time, hesitating, before following Duane.

As soon as he was gone, Rick allowed himself a small sigh of relief. How was he going to hide his knowledge from everybody? Morgan was already suspicious. How was he going to be able to save everybody, without tipping them off that he knew what was going to happen?

Rick stared out the window. The horde went on. They wouldn’t be able to make it to Atlanta that night.

They might be able to make some progress, though and still get there early enough the next day to stop the Atlanta run.

He tried to remember all he could from his previous journey to Atlanta. He thought about the gas station and the little girl (and did not think about Carl). And the house with the horse. He couldn’t remember if there were any safe places to stop for the night. They could probably stay in the house - it would be safe enough - but the couple that lived there had killed themselves. Morgan and Duane wouldn’t want to stay in that house. Rick didn’t even want to.

They’d find somewhere. Or maybe Morgan and Duane wouldn’t want to risk it and they’d have to spend the night in the station anyway.

Rick thought about Carl, about how he had to restrain himself sometimes from just running out the door, getting to him as soon as he could. It didn’t matter that this Carl wasn’t technically his, Rick already loved him anyway. And he would protect him. And Lori.

And he wondered if Carl would be an ‘alpha’ or an ‘omega’. Wondered what the others were. Rick was sure there was still plenty he didn’t know about it but, from context clues, he thought that alphas filled in the traditionally masculine roles in this society. But then, did it matter if you were a man or woman? Or just if you were alpha or omega?

Rick would need to question Morgan a lot further about this.

With a last glance out at the ceaseless parade, he went to the kitchen, where Duane was in the back ripping open cardboard boxes and Morgan was trying to get the stove turned on.

“You said this station has its own propane tank?” Morgans asked, glancing up as he fiddled with the knobs.

Rick frowned and walked over, trying the knobs himself. Nothing happened. Rick shook his head.

“Something must be wrong with the tank,” he said. “You happen to know anything about… hell, I don’t even know. Chemistry? Engineering?”

Morgan laughed, shaking his head ruefully. Rick grinned back.

“That I don’t,” Morgan said. “Shame. I can’t remember the last time I had a properly cooked meal.”

Just then Duane let out a whoop of joy.

“I found ‘em,” he said triumphantly.

He hauled a big cardboard box over to the stove, setting it down heavily. Inside, there was an assortment of candy bars, likely meant for the vending machines downstairs. Duane grabbed his 3 Musketeers and a Milky Way and Morgan immediately went for the M&Ms, playfully fighting with Duane when he went to grab them.

Personally, Rick would have preferred the cooked meal. Candy was pretty rare in the future, but a hot meal could sometimes be an unheard of luxury for weeks at a time. Still, Rick grabbed a chocolate bar he didn’t recognise and sat down on the floor with Morgan and Duane, leaning against the oven door.

It was nice. Eating candy and hanging out. Even if the sound of snarling pushed its way through every gap in the conversation.

Duane reminded Rick of Carl. How he used to be. Before. He was so… childish. He’d been through so much but he was still able to make jokes and laugh with his father. It would have to change. Duane would have to do a lot of growing up if he wanted to survive. Carl would too. And Sophia. And.. well, Enid was already pretty grown when Rick met her.

But Rick wanted to savour it. He had tried to make their childhoods last as long as he could. He’d still do almost anything, if they could stay like this forever, as children forever. But it was too dangerous. He would have to make them grow up even faster this time.

After they had eaten, Rick brought up the travel plans. He told Morgan and Duane what he had been thinking and his worries about leaving that night.

“Course we’ll find somewhere,” Duane said immediately. “Ain’t nobody-”

“Duane.”

“-there isn’t anybody around, not anymore. Everywhere's just empty.”

“But it might not be safe,” Morgan said. “But I agree. There’s bound to be a lot of empty houses between here and Atlanta. A lot of people were evacuating to the city. I think we should leave as soon as the herd’s gone.”

Rick nodded. He did have reservations about taking Morgan and Duane out on the road, but he was so anxious to find the others. Besides, they would have to learn sometime.

With that agreed, Rick suggested that they loot the kitchen and then move to the break room, where they would at least be able to wait out the horde in some comfort. With luck, the walkers would disperse soon.

-

The walkers continued to stream past the station for about another two hours. It was around 4PM when the group in the police station stopped hearing them. When Rick and Morgan checked out the window, there were only two stragglers walking down the road and a few ‘crawlers’ in the distance, who had obviously been left behind.

Morgan and Duane carried boxes of food they had taken from the cafeteria and Rick led the way with his knife at the ready. There were no walkers in the station. Outside, the parking lot was clear, the female walker from earlier probably having been swept along by the horde.

Rick pulled his keys out, clicking them and unlocking his patrol car. He knew from experience that it would be ok to drive but he still sat in the front seat to check it as Morgan and Duane put the food in and then began transferring the stuff from the jeep.

The engine started, the car was gassed up, everything sounded good. Rick turned the engine off and took a moment to sit back in the familiar seat. He and Shane had spent entire days in this thing, riding around town, shooting the shit, and, occasionally, bringing in a perp. This car had been through a lot.

Heaving a reluctant sigh, Rick was just about to get out and help, when something caught his eye. The edges of some bits of paper. With a shaking hand, Rick reached up and brought the visor down. He had to swallow roughly as he plucked the photo of his family out of the holder.

He stared at the picture, trying to find any minute difference that might give away the fact that this was a different world. He looked at every tiny detail, the body language, the facial expressions.

It was the same. Rick started laughing, a bit wetly, as he looked at it. They all looked the same. Lori and Carl and him, all smiling. It hit him hard. Harder than the photograph of just himself. They existed. They were here. Rick was going to find them, and they would be the same. They would be his.

A loud clang. Rick jumped, hand already reaching for his knife. He looked around wildly, seeing Morgan and Duane doing the same.

The noise continued and Rick realised that it was only a walker rattling the fence. He immediately relaxed, folding the picture carefully and putting it in his pocket. He got out of the car, signalling to Morgan and Duane.

They all converged on the walker. It had been half eaten, the meat all gone from its legs. It had been a man. Now, he lay on his stomach, shaking the fence futilely, snapping his jaws in vain as he tried to reach for the humans on the other side.

Morgan hurriedly turned Duane around, walking him away. Rick glanced back in time to see them round the car, talking lowly. He caught Morgan’s eye and nodded, getting one in return.

Taking out his knife, Rick knelt down and sank it into the walker’s eye. Then, he looked through the fence, as the other crawlers turned towards them. There were only two others. Otherwise, the road was clear, the stragglers from the horde having wandered on.

He went back to the car, where Morgan had his hand on Duane’s shoulder, giving it a squeeze, before straightening up. Duane looked like he was alright, but Rick knew he was still upset. The sight of that walker was something he never should have had to see, but it was an unfortunate reality nowadays.

Still, Rick couldn’t help but be bothered by it, as they all finished loading the last of the boxes into the cruiser. Duane shouldn’t have to see things like that, and Rick meant it when he said he wanted their childhoods to last. He would just have to think a bit more, plan ahead in the future, in order to protect the kids from things like that.

With everything loaded into the trunk, they all got into cruiser. Duane sat in the back with the box of candy from the cafeteria, Rick drove because he knew this area and Morgan rode shotgun. Rick hesitated for a moment, wondering if they should siphon gas from the other cars, but they didn’t really need it and didn’t have any more time to waste.

In a practised move, he backed out of the parking lot and headed for the road. They turned the opposite way from the herd, these forgotten roads coming back to him now as he tried to figure out the best route to Atlanta.

Rick was concentrating on the road, having to avoid both walkers and other vehicles, so he was surprised when he heard laughter from the passenger seat. He turned and saw Morgan holding up one of his country CD’s and laughing.

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, Sheriff,” Morgan said, still chuckling.

“What can I say?” Rick said, turning back to the road. “I’m Georgian and proud.”

“You’re not going to play it, are you?” He heard from the back seat.

Rick laughed then, even as Morgan was telling Duane not to be rude. He looked in the rearview mirror, at Duane who was clutching all the candy to himself, and felt a rush of relief that he had been able to save them both.

“We can put on something else,” he said, dodging a walker that suddenly lurched out from between two cars. “Shane - my partner- has some in here too.”

“Were you close?” Morgan asked, stopping his shuffling through the music.

Rick glanced over and then quickly back at the road. He felt his throat closing up as he thought about the question. Admittedly, the first memories of Shane that came to mind were of the farm. Of Shane going mad and then Rick stabbing him in the heart. They had hated each other at the end but for Rick, time had worn away a lot of that. Now he just felt sad, especially since now he could also think back to their childhoods together.

Although, there was still a lot of reconciling that Rick would have to do. It was going to be difficult to see Shane again, but Rick was still planning on saving him. Or trying to. The hardest part, Rick thought, was going to be that Shane wasn’t going to know what he had done, how far he had gone, the first time. How was Rick supposed to resolve his issues with Shane that the other man didn’t even remember, while also trying to prevent the same situations from happening again?

“Rick?”

Rick startled at the hand on his arm but it was only Morgan, looking at him in concern. Rick realised that he had been silent was a bit too long. He looked away from Morgan and cleared his throat.

“We were brothers,” Rick said at last. Then added, “I know he’s still alive somewhere. Shane would never have abandoned Lori and Carl. If they’re alive, he’s with them.”

“I hope you find them in Atlanta,” Morgan said.

Rick definitely hoped not, but he appreciated the sentiment. He thanked Morgan and the sombre mood was lifted somewhat. They put on one of Shane’s old rock CDs, after Duane deemed it acceptable, and it wasn’t long before they were leaving town.

It was a very different journey than the last time Rick had driven this way but that was fine by him. If you were able to ignore the wrecks at the side of the roads and the infrequent walker, it was almost as if it was just an ordinary road trip. The weather was good, the conversation amicable, the candy plentiful. By the time the CD started over, Duane was singing along in the back, with Morgan joining in occasionally.

It was so nice that when Rick saw the gas station, he almost kept driving. He actually made it a little ways past the station before abruptly pulling over, citing a bathroom break.

He left the other two at the car. Duane was happy to stretch his legs but Morgan watched Rick as he headed into the woods at the side of road.

As soon as he was out of sight, Rick made a left towards the gas station, jogging quickly. He kept an eye out for walkers, spotting two in the distance, but they hadn’t seen him so he ignored
them.

He stopped at the edge of the trees, surveying the makeshift campsite. The abandoned toys, wrecked tents and clothes strewn about were no surprise to him at this point, but this had been the first overrun camp he had ever come across. He still felt an echo of his old sadness, from seeing it the first time.

And there was the little girl, wandering between two cars. Where were the other members of her group now?

Rick moved quietly, knife at the ready and constantly scanning for other walkers. He snuck up on her, grabbing her hair and plunging the knife into her temple. He laid her down gently, slowing drawing the knife back out.

Crouching there, he couldn’t help thinking of Sophia and Enid. Enid less so, because as long as Rick had know her she had always been able to take care of herself, but this could easily be Sophia lying here. This little girl was younger than her, but Sophia had always seemed so small, and she was smaller still in Rick’s memories.

Rick shook those thoughts away. This was not Sophia or Enid. He didn’t know this little girl, but he still hadn’t wanted to leave her like this.

He was suddenly reminded of the half walker. The woman from when he had stolen the bike. He had been so horrified at seeing her, and so full of pity. He had ended her the first time, but she was still there now. He had forgotten her in his hurry.

He looked around the gas station. They didn’t have time to go back.

He wiped his knife on the grass and stood up, stretching a little. He looked in the direction that he thought town was, even though all he could see were tarp tents and treetops, and thought about the woman, still lying there next to the bike.

He should have done it. He couldn’t believe he’d forgotten. He felt responsible for her, somehow, perhaps because he was the only one who knew she was there.

Somebody else would come along, Rick told himself. She wouldn’t be there forever.

He took one last look at the girl, lying there in the middle of camp, and thought maybe he should do something more for her but realised that he didn’t have any more time to waste.

He started heading back to the car, jogging because he had taken long than he wanted and he didn’t want Morgan and Duane to go looking for him. It would have been safer to bring them with him, but for some reason he hadn’t wanted them here.

He had to make things right on his own. Nobody else should be burdened with the knowledge that he possessed.

Chapter Text

When Rick made it back to the car, Morgan offered to drive. He then regretted it, because Rick sat in the passenger side and, with a devious grin, put on his country music. They took turns to drive all afternoon and didn’t come across any blockages in the road or other living people. They made it most of the way to Atlanta before it started getting dark.

Morgan and Rick were quiet as they slowed down to look for a place to stay for the night, because Duane was asleep in the back. They had passed the house with the horse about an hour back, but they didn’t stop because it was Morgan’s turn to drive. Rick was afraid that
Morgan would get suspicious if he made them stop and then went off on his own again.

Eventually, when it was really starting to be dark and Rick was getting nervous, Morgan spotted another house a ways back from the road. They pulled up and sat for a few minutes, studying it. It was just a typical farmhouse, though looking around, it didn’t seem as if whoever lived here had kept animals. No walkers appeared from the sound of the car so the men decided to check it out.

Rick and Morgan silently agreed to leave Duane sleeping in the car and got out, weapons ready and on the alert. The windows hadn’t been boarded up, although the house did have an air of decay about it. That either meant that the family who lived here had fled during the initial outbreak and abandoned it, or they had turned early and were still inside.

Rick went first up the porch steps, peering in the living room window but only being able to make out shadows in the failing light. He raised his knife and turned back to look at Morgan, who was gripping the baseball bat, and whispered;

“I’m going to open the door and knock on the doorframe to attract the walkers. Then we can take them one at a time when they come through the door instead of them sneaking up on us in the dark.”

Morgan nodded and raised the bat to position. Rick stood to the side of the door and twisted the knob. It was unlocked.

As soon as the door swung open, they heard the familiar rasping noise of a walker. It stumbled out from the direction of the sitting room and Rick let Morgan take care of it as it lurched past him. Morgan got it with one swing to the head, side stepping as the walker fell forward to land at the bottom of the porch steps.

When he was sure that one wasn’t going to get back up, Rick hit the doorframe a couple of times and waited. Sure enough, there was a thud from upstairs, followed by uneven footsteps as the walker tried to get to the noise.

However, when it still hadn’t appeared after a few tense minutes, Rick looked back at Morgan and jerked his head toward the house. Morgan glanced once at Duane, still safely settled in the cruiser, and headed inside.

Rick followed, looking into the living room as he passed. It was so dark now that all he could see were shapes in the darkness. He went straight down the hall and up the stairs after Morgan and emerged on the landing. It was small, in an L shape. All of the doors were closed. Banging was coming from one at the front of the house, but it was weak.

Morgan cautiously made his way toward that door, with Rick following behind, also listening at the other doors for signs of life. Or death.

Baseball bat in one hand, Morgan held the doorknob, waiting for Rick’s confirmation before he opened it quickly. A woman careened out, going straight for Rick, who met her halfway and stabbed the knife into her temple, letting her slide to the floor.

Morgan looked into the room she had come from and shook his head. Rick gestured to the next door and they repeated the process. They did this for all of the rooms but nothing else came out.

There were three bedrooms but none of them seemed used. The reason why became clear when Rick looked at the woman again and saw that she had been quite old. He hadn’t paid much attention to the walker outside but it would make sense, if they were an elderly couple, that nobody else lived here.

But still, the two men swept all of the downstairs - living room, dining room, kitchen, garage, and even the backyard - before they deemed it safe.

Morgan went out to the front, wanting to get Duane in bed as soon as possible. Rick finally put his knife away but lingered on the back steps for a moment. His eyes scanned over the fields, searching for movement, but there were no walkers to be seen.

He had been wrong, though, when he said the couple didn’t keep animals. But he didn’t dwell on the empty bowls by the back door. The kitchen window had been left open, leading to some water damage, but it would appear that the cat, or cats, had been able to escape, to whatever fate awaited them in the wild.

Rick didn’t linger. He shut the door and left the kitchen. He heard a car door opening outside and then Morgan’s low voice. They hadn’t searched any of the rooms for salvagable goods. It was pitch black now, though.

He entered the living room and stood, squinting. It was so dark. A few months ago this whole house would have been lit. Now, some dim moonlight came in, illuminating only the areas around the windows. Rick had gotten used to it, of course, over the last couple of years. But he had never thought he would miss streetlights so much during the literal apocalypse.

Duane stumbled into the house, half-asleep, with Morgan steadying him.

“Duane and I will share a room and you can take the other,” Morgan said, herding his son upstairs.

Although there were three, the bedroom where the walker had been had some sort of dark liquid all over the bed - either blood or something worse - and it stank too.

Rick nodded and followed the other two upstairs, saying a quick goodnight to Duane. The boy was barely able to acknowledge it and shuffled into the room without noticing the walker that was still lying in the hall. Morgan went in with him, even though Duane was technically too old to be tucked in. Rick didn’t watch, instead crouching over the walker. They would need to put her outside before they slept.

After a minute, he felt Morgan come up behind him and turned to look up.

“Should we bury them?” Rick asked.

He couldn’t see Morgan’s expression in the dark but he could hear the sigh that he let out. Rick agreed. He thought they might as well have gone to the other house - if they had, at least the horse’s life would have been better for it.

“This was their home. It’s only right that they be buried here.” Morgan hesitated. “It might be better to do it in the morning though.”

Wordlessly, Rick moved to her head, grabbing her under the arms while Morgan got her feet. Together, they managed to get her downstairs and out the front door. She was heavy and Rick almost fell on the stairs but they did it. The two men laid her next to her husband at the bottom of the porch steps.

Then, they sat. Rick looked up at the stars. He thought about Carl, if he was looking at them too.

“We never did have that conversation in the car,” said Morgan’s voice from beside him.

It took Rick a second, to remember. That this world was not his own. Were the stars different? He couldn’t tell - he had never been a space kid.

He looked at Morgan’s profile in the dark, visible only by the slight light of the moon. He was different. Calmer than the frantic man he was accustomed to. Rick couldn’t tell if it was the world or because his son wasn’t dead.

...It was probably the second.

Morgan was looking back at him, he realised, after what must have been a full minute of staring.

“You OK?” Morgan asked.

Rick quickly faced forward, under the guise of checking for walkers. There was no need, really - they would hear one coming before it even got close.

“Listen. I know all of this, waking up to this,” Morgan gestured around them, “the gaps in your memory, it must be confusing for you.” Morgan stumbled a bit over the word ‘confusing’. “And I don’t know if I trust you yet, but I will help you.”

“I know it must be hard to believe. So, thank you,” Rick said seriously. “There’s still a lot I don’t understand.”

Rick hesitated, unsure what to even ask, what questions were appropriate to ask. Did he need to ask anything? Since these other… classifications hadn’t seemed to create any huge differences between the realities, then how important could they really be? They didn’t appear to have affected anything between Rick and Morgan. It may be possible, Rick thought, that as long as he knew they existed, he could just ignore them.

Besides, Morgan already suspected that something was up. Amnesia was a flimsy excuse, at best. Rick didn’t really want to draw a lot of attention to it by asking a lot of questions. But then, not asking questions would also be suspicious.

And… he really wanted to know.

“Why is there male and female and alpha and omega?” Rick started with the question he had thought of earlier. “Can… men be omegas?”

Rick suspected he already knew that answer, what with Morgan briefly assuming he was one in the locker room. What Rick was really fishing for was detail.

“Sure,” Morgan said. “It’s not true, what most people think. That male alphas and female omegas are more common.” He thought for a moment, then nodded. “Do you remember all those old shows, from when we were growing up?” Rick hummed in acknowledgement. “They all had the typical American family. Alpha father, omega mother, two kids. You know. Well, it’s not true. Boy or girl, it doesn’t matter. The odds of being alpha or omega are pretty much fifty fifty.”

Morgan sat up and sighed a little. It was clear he was more comfortable sticking to medical facts, his area of expertise. He took a minute to pause and think, before continuing.

“As for why there are two different… designations, I guess it all goes back quite a ways. It has to do with… the ideal combination. That’s how a friend described it to me once.” Morgan had to stop again to gather his thoughts. “People who have more conservative beliefs think that every couple should be one alpha and one omega, one man and one woman. Their argument is that that’s the only natural way, because it’s the only way that people can reproduce without… help.”

“Help?”

“Modern medicine. You know, surrogates, implantations, even powdered baby milk. The ideal combination is an alpha and omega to, well. And then when the baby is born, somebody has to feed it, which is why one of the parents has to be a woman.”

Morgan stopped talking and Rick thought he was starting to understand that this may not be something he could ignore after all. It had got him thinking about his own world, about how much of a role gender played there.

Now, Rick believed in equality of the sexes and loving who you want and all, but he had never pretended to know all the terminology or be an expert on social issues. But it seemed to him that this alpha/omega stuff was similar to the other reality. It was in line with how a lot of people thought in his world too. Except…

“Wouldn’t two females be even better? Why does the man need to be there?”

Morgan’s head turned towards him in the dark, and it was quiet for a second. Then, Morgan started to laugh. When he thought about what he’d just said, Rick joined him. Why, indeed?

“That’s - that’s just the question, isn’t it?” Morgan said, over their giggling.

That set them both off again. It felt good to laugh, especially over something so stupid. Rick could forget, just for a moment, that society had collapsed, that this wasn’t his home, that there were two bodies lying a few feet away.

“You know that’s all bullshit anyway, right?” Morgan asked, after they had calmed down. “It doesn’t matter who goes with who. Folks just use it as an excuse to be as bigoted as possible. And, well… This is considered pretty outdated now, but I suspect that people might start forming packs again.”

“Packs?”

“Sure. It’s just an outdated term for a group that follows an alpha. Used to be really common back in the olden days, back before… probably Word War I. Society used to be run based on them. But then, I guess cities started getting bigger, and pack lines stopped being so defined, until there just weren’t any anymore.”

Morgan was quiet for a minute. Rick still didn’t fully understand what a pack was supposed to be. Would his group, when they all came together tomorrow, be considered a pack? And would he be the alpha?

“Anyway,” Morgan said, “the reason I brought it up is, well… I guess I haven’t really explained about scents and bonds yet, have I?”

“There’s more?” Rick couldn’t help but ask.

He had thought the whole ‘alpha/omega’ thing was pretty simple. He’d thought he almost had the hang of it. Until Morgan had brought up packs, it actually hadn’t seemed that important.

“Our entire societal structure is based on this. It’s going to be pretty complicated. Packs may have broken down, but not everything has,” Morgan said, laughing. Then, he sobered up. “You sure you don’t remember any of this? Not even scenting?”

Rick couldn’t quite make out his face in the dark. He was back to panicking again. Scenting? There was supposed to be something different about his sense of smell? Rick hadn’t noticed anything since waking up. Was he supposed to smell different? What if he didn’t?

Should he tell Morgan that he remembered? Should he try and navigate this new and totally unfamiliar hierarchy blindly? He knew he couldn’t do that. What if he said something he wasn’t supposed to?

“I think the coma might have messed me up more than I thought,” Rick said, trying to go for a light tone.

“Yeah,” Morgan agreed reluctantly. “Listen, I don’t feel good being out here in the dark. We’ll pick this up in the morning, alright?”

“Sure,” Rick agreed.

Morgan patted him on the shoulder awkwardly and went inside. Rick stayed outside for another few minutes, inhaling deeply through his nose. But no matter how hard he sniffed, all he could smell was the night air and the bodies lying a few feet away. Eventually, he gave up. He’d only been out of his coma for half a day; he needed to sleep, and so he followed Morgan’s lead and went to bed.