"Uncle Shane! Uncle Shane!"
Shane looked up, lowering the ax he'd been about to swing immediately when he saw how close Carl was. He glared. "Lower your voice, kid. Just because we ain't seen any of those geeks up this far doesn't mean they won't come. And slow down; this thing's sharp, little man," he added.
Carl nodded, clearly not listening, and Shane was ready to crawl all up his butt about that, already looking around for Lori.
"Dale says there's a truck coming that he hasn't seen before and sent me to get you," Carl blurted over him, and Shane's attention snapped back to the kid.
"Shit," he muttered, slamming the ax blade down into the stump and starting up the hill for the camp. "How far down is it?"
Carl scurried along at his side and Shane automatically shortened his stride so the kid could keep up. "I don't know. Dale just told me to run and find you."
Shane tossed his arm around Carl's shoulders. "You did good. Go to your mom now," he said as they hit camp.
Dale was on top of the RV with Andrea at his side, binoculars fixed on the road.
"How far?" Shane called up to him, already heading to his Jeep.
"Down at the mouth. Still a couple miles out. It's a pickup truck and a motorcycle."
Shane nodded and cranked the engine. "I'll go down. Keep an eye out and be ready for trouble."
"Shouldn't you take someone with you?" Lori asked, her tone anxious.
Shane shook his head, holding her gaze for a minute. "I'll be fine. Be back shortly. Carl, keep an eye on your mom for me."
As he headed down the road, Shane tried to figure out just how in the hell he ended up here. He was also second guessing coming down alone, but it wasn't like they could afford to spare anyone, really. And while he liked most of the people up there well enough, there weren't any he'd trust at his back with a weapon if he needed someone there.
Grief speared through him once again, because if Rick had been alive and been here, he'd have been at Shane's back where he belonged. Guilt followed right alongside the grief because if Rick was alive, Shane would be burning in the fires of hell for what was happening with Lori.
No, that wasn't true. Because if Rick was alive, there wouldn't be anything going on with Lori.
He didn't have time to do more wondering and worrying, because he was coming to a stop in front of the truck and the bike. There were two people in the cab of the truck, and one on the bike who set the kickstand and swung off to stand with his arms crossed and a look Shane could only describe as douchebag-y on his face.
The driver's door of the truck opened but no one stepped out at first. The biker dude stalked up to the door as a blond with an attitude problem Shane could detect from from his Jeep got out and held a conversation as they both stared at him and he stared back.
Then the passenger door opened, both assholes looked pissed, and-
The first time Shane saw Y/N "just call me Ace, damn it, everyone does" Dixon, her hair was electric blue and she was smoking a cigarette.
In his phone, the useless lump he was still carrying around in his pocket even now, the picture next to her name was a selfie she'd sent him one day with a red bandanna over the lower half of her face, spray paint splattered over it, over her forehead, over gunmetal grey hair; her eyes laughing at him as she flashed a peace sign with paint-stained fingers. She'd sent him the picture with a message that just read 'catch me if you can, Deputy Dickhead' and one of those dumbass winking emojis.
The last time he saw her, she was slamming the door to her apartment in his face after bitching him out for overstepping her boundaries, while she had a bruise in the shape of a man's open hand fresh on her cheek, stitches in a cut on her forehead, and tears in her eyes.
"Hey, brother. Wanna grab a beer?" Rick stuck his head around the corner in the locker room, toweling off his damp hair, and Shane was already reaching for his phone.
"Yeah, sure," he said casually, fingers flying over the keys before he shoved the thing back into his pocket.
The phone buzzed angrily- once, twice, three times. Shane didn't bother to look. He pulled on one of the stack of clean black t-shirts he kept in his locker, checked his off-duty piece and slid it into the holster on his side, and slammed the locker closed. Rick grinned at him as he pulled a t shirt of his own over his head- white to Shane's black, opposites like Rick's skinny-ass frame and the build Shane spent several hours in the gym every week to maintain- and Shane scooped up Rick's towel and chucked it into the basket at the door as they fell into step together.
One hard and fast rule Shane Walsh lived by- if Rick Grimes asked to get a beer, Shane went.
It didn't matter that he'd had date number three planned with a fiery redhead tonight, the one currently yelling at him via the buzzing phone in his pocket. It didn't matter that before he'd left his house, Shane had put clean sheets on the bed and set one of those pumpkin-cinnamon-apple-pie-whatever scented candles every damn woman in the world seemed to go fucking nuts for this time of year on his freshly-dusted bedside table and lit the thing for five minutes while he got his boots and duty belt on. You know, so it would seem like it belonged there- just another step in the elaborate mating ritual of single people in their late twenties.
It didn't matter that Shane had just spent eight hours in a car with the man, talking about life and shit in between routine calls and traffic stops. It didn't matter that he had dinner at Rick's house at least twice a week, with Rick and Lori and Carl gathered around Rick's massive oak table. It didn't matter that every Saturday Shane wasn't pulling an extra shift partnering with Leon fucking Basset, Shane's ass could be found, vaguely hungover from the night before, in uncomfortable metal bleachers watching a bunch of six-year-olds butcher the game of baseball. It didn't matter that he'd spend two hours baking in the sun and listening to the little assholes' parents go on about how talented all their kids were, or that Shane could have told them for an absolute fact that the only one out there even worth keeping one eye on was Carl, and much as Shane loved that kid, destined for the majors he was not.
That was family time. That was Rick, Lori, and Carl Grimes, and while Carl called him 'Uncle Shane' and Shane felt like he earned that, Shane knew he was and always would be just a step removed from the unit that was the three of them.
It was fine, it didn't bother him. It was exactly how it should be, after all. Rick was a husband and a father first these days, and Shane's best friend second. Shane certainly didn't have a problem with that, and he loved seeing his friend happy and settled. He loved Lori and he adored Carl, and he valued the way they reached out and swept him into their family unit without hesitation or question.
But to Shane, Rick was his best friend first and Lori's husband and Carl's dad second, and that was ok too. He didn't push, didn't insist, because he knew Rick had responsibilities and Shane himself was footloose and fancy-free.
But when Rick wanted to get a beer, just the two of them, Shane was all in, consequences- and there were usually consequences- be damned.
He had a full tank of gas, $100 dollars cash, and an American Express card in his wallet. They were good to go, in Shane's opinion.
In Shane's Jeep, top down, Rick grinned and held up a much-abused cassette tape labeled 'workout mix' and rolled his eyes at Shane.
"Seriously? When you gonna upgrade this thing?"
"What?" Shane asked with a grin, snatching it from Rick's hand and shoving it into the tape deck. "The Jeep or the music? 'Cause I'll tell you, brother, the answer to both is never. Music peaked when we were in high school, man."
"Yeah, yeah, I'd say music ain't the only thing that peaked in high school, number 22," Rick muttered.
"Ouch," Shane shot back, but he was still smiling. He cranked the volume as guitar and drums blasted out loud, proud, and heavy.
Rick shook his head even as his fingers started tapping absently on the frame of the Jeep. "Jesus," he muttered. "Take the next exit, asshole."
Shane did, flashing a curious look at Rick. "Where we headed? We goin' to Atlanta?"
Rick nodded. "Yeah, man. Just gotta- gotta get out for awhile."
"Something going on at home, brother?" Shane asked cautiously.
Rick made a face and scrubbed a hand across his eyes. "Nothing serious. I don't think. Lori and I- we just can't seem to get on the same page, is all. Just a phase, I know. We'll work it out, but I needed to get away. And I think she needed me to get away," he added with a faint smile.
Shane nodded, accepting that and letting the subject change to some new bar Rick had heard about from one of Lori's book club friend's husband or brother or cousin (Shane stopped listening at book club), but he mulled it over in the back of his mind. Rick looked worried still, and Shane decided a night of patented Walsh-Grimes revelry was exactly what his best friend needed. For once, Rick seemed in the mood to agree, and Shane drummed along on the steering wheel and hummed under his breath as the wind whipped at them both.
It was gonna be a good night.
The place was few steps up from a dive bar and quite a few steps down from Shane's intended destination with his redhead. As he climbed out of the Jeep, he caught the flash of hair.
She stood by the back entrance, with a couple of other girls and a guy. They were all clearly staff here, head-to-toe fitted black tee shirts and pants, those tiny black aprons anyone in food service seemed to wear, and- in her case- that cascade of shocking, brilliantly blue hair.
Shane stared for a minute, trying to decided if he liked it or if it was just so fucking compelling he couldn't look away. As he watched, she laughed, stubbed out the cigarette on the brick wall where someone had spray painted a wall-sized whiskey label with the place's name- Whiskey Lullaby- and logo, and shrugged at one of her friends. She turned to head into the door marked 'staff', and Rick groaned.
"Shit, brother. You got your eye on someone already? We ain't even in the door yet."
Shane rolled his eyes and fired back something about how he wasn't that much of a dog, Jesus Rick, and the friendly bickering began as they headed inside.
He finally checked his messages when Rick was in the john and found exactly what he'd expected- how dare you cancel on me at the last minute, we had plans, you're a dick, etc.
Woman sure lived up to the redhead stereotype, Shane thought. It was half of what had attracted him to her in the first place, a fiery temper and dramatically over-the-top personality. The other half was even more shallow, but shit. Shane knew who he was and didn't care. He wasn't exactly looking for what Rick and Lori had.
Naw, Shane was more of the shove-him-out-the-window-and-toss-his-clothes-after-him type, not the bring-him-home-to-meet-the-parents type. That was fine with him. He had more fun anyway.
Rick was on his second beer, Shane still nursing his first because one of them had to drive home, and Rick had been on a rare rant about his home life. Normally the man couched even his genuine gripes against Lori in the nicest possible terms, because Rick loved the shit out of that woman and because Shane's friend was a true Southern gentleman.
Unlike Shane, who was a true Southern good ol' boy player, but that was neither here nor there.
By the time that first beer was down and Shane had dropped a few quarters in the jukebox just for the hell of it, Rick had opened up and let forth a blast of built-up anger that had nearly singed Shane's eyebrows from the heat of it. He'd blinked a few times, nodded in the right moments, and made sympathetic noises in others. Rick wasn't after advice, not really, and Shane had learned that a long time ago. He just needed to vent and Shane was always a willing ear.
Shane was maybe the only person Rick could be brutally, viciously honest with. Which would come pretty soon now, he thought as he watched Rick lean against the bar and order his third beer, from the woman with the blue hair he'd noticed earlier. She had it yanked up into one of those bun things women did, he guessed so it was all out of the way, and she leaned toward Rick to hear him over the crowd forming in the bar. She nodded and held up a hand for patience, and Shane let his mind wander as he watched her line up six shot glasses and start dumping contents of various bottles into one of those shaker things.
Rick knew anything he said to Shane about Lori would go in one ear and out the other, to be forgotten the next morning when sanity prevailed again. Lori had been a part of the fabric of Shane's life almost as much as she'd been part of Rick's, and Shane loved her like a sister- or rather, like his best friend's beloved wife. No matter what Rick said about her when he was pissed, he could count on Shane to forget it all and not hold a grudge against Lori.
Shane grinned when the blue-haired bartender lit the line of shots on fucking fire and Rick jumped. She laughed at him, passed the flaming shots to a gaggle of delighted newly-twenty-one year old girls, and strolled further down the bar.
Rick came back with two beers and Shane glanced at the clock, considering. They'd been here for two hours, it was a two hour drive back, and they had an eight am call time tomorrow....
Fuck it, he thought. He drained the rest of his first beer and slid the second closer, then lifted a lazy hand to flag down the waitress. He could go for some nachos and he knew Rick would eat whatever Shane got.
He kept half an eye on her through nachos and beer and someone's shit idea of a playlist blaring through the jukebox. Rick was unloading a couple months' worth of marital aggravation on Shane's shoulder, though, and it wasn't like he was interested in trying to pick her up or anything. For one, he was here for Rick. For two, bartenders flirted professionally. Shane had fallen for that once or twice, and he wasn't going to do it again.
He heard the raised voices over the beginnings of the first decent music choice since they'd come in. As he came out of the john, he looked over to see some big, drunk asshole blocking her path, trapping her between the wall, the jukebox, and himself. Shane's eyes narrowed and he took a step toward her, then gave a low whistle of appreciation when she proved she didn't need anyone's help.
The asshole grabbed at her arm, a 'c'mon, baby, whaddya say?' slurring from his lips. The woman looked downright bored as she shook his hand off and tried again to slide by him, but the guy put up an arm to block her path. She sighed, looked the asshole dead in the eyes with a flirty smile, shifted so slightly Shane would have missed it if he hadn't been watching closely, and slammed a brutal jab into the asshole's nose.
Asshole staggered backward, hands to nose and yelling about the blood, and she calmly stepped around him. Her eyes met Shane's and Shane gave her a nod of appreciation. She shrugged, winked, and headed back to the bar, scooping up empty plates from a table on the way and sharing a laugh with the occupants. Shane watched, delighted, as the huge security guy hustled the asshole out the door and the bartender slid back into her domain. Her partner, a hipster type with long hair up in a knot on top of his head and the sides shaved, held up a fist and she bumped it without even looking, already reaching for the bottle of tequila and the blender for the college girls leaning over the bar and chattering to her drunkenly.
Shane made his way back to the table where Rick waited, well on his way to trashed and as amused by the exchange as everyone else. Shane clapped him on the back and reminded him they had work the next morning, which Rick blew off with a wave and a pffft. He shot a hand in the air, two fingers up, and got a nod from the hipster dude behind the bar.
Shane resigned himself to dealing with Hangover Rick the next morning and spent the rest of the time they were there with one eye on the slugger behind the bar. They stayed until last call, and Shane knew he'd live to regret it.
Last call makes liars of everyone, she liked to say. It was true. That night, Shane and Rick both said they'd be fine in the morning. They weren't.
The third time he saw her, she said she didn't sleep with guys she met at work. Last call made a liar of her when he tucked that blue hair behind her ear and she whispered that her place was fairly close. After, they laughed and decided they'd stick to seeing each other from either side of the bar. Last call the next week had him grabbing her hand and scrawling his number on it in Sharpie.
She said she was done with that asshole she was dating, and last call made her a liar about that again and again. She said he wasn't that bad, and one fateful last call had Shane finding her bleeding on the ground outside Whiskey Lullaby.
Shane said he'd take care of her, whispered it to her as he rushed her to the hospital, and last call found her slamming the door in his face and telling him they weren't friends anymore.
Shane said he'd be there for her even if she didn't want him to be. Last call for the human race found him leaving Rick's dead body in the hospital and running for Carl and Lori, and that was that.
She stepped out of the truck beaten even more to shit than the last time he'd seen her, with her hair three shades of red and orange like literal flames, and old paint all over her jeans and one of those tank tops she loved to wear, with the sides open almost to the bottom and a pretty, lacy bralette thing Shane didn't understand but women seemed to love under it. Shane had been certain she was dead, had told himself that when fire rained on Atlanta so he could maybe find a way to live with the fact that he couldn't make it there to find her.
And there she stood, making a liar out of him and it wasn't even last call.