A/N: So, I wanted to do a Walking Dead fic for awhile now - especially one that starred my favorite characters, Carl and Michonne - but, all that I am, I have to have a bit of originality (as in original characters in there), so this developed out of that. None of my other fics (which have long since been deleted) really stuck with me, or me with them. So this is my attempt to rectify that. Since this is intended to be a romance/hurt/comfort type story, I should probably throw out this disclaimer: There will be homosexual relations in here, but I'm not much into smut, so... it may or may not be in here, but don't expect it. Just warning you up front. And I'll probably write from each of the character's points of view at least once, so I'll try to clarify who's point of view I'm writing from somehow, depending on the scene... The first scene, however, which is a flashback, I'll write in third person, just because I never usually do flashbacks in first person. The rest should be first person though, so we'll see how that goes...

Anywho, after that obnoxiously non-necessary A/N, we can finally begin. I do hope this is at least semi-enjoyable. I'm actually going to try to finish this one, but that completely depends on interest. So review, favorite, follow, the whole shebang so I know someone out there actually cares about this... Enjoy!

((Also, for all those who may just be curious, this takes place after the midseason finale of Season 4. I decided to be a rebel and not have this story take place at the prison.))


"The thing about society screeching abruptly to a halt is that there's no warning.

The news never predicted it. There was no warning signals, no change in the air. The president didn't have enough time, even, to give a speech about it. How does civilization as you know it end without even the slightest hint that such devastation was on the horizon? I believe its because the great minds of this world were looking in the wrong places. You see, the problem with looking at the big picture all the time is that the tiniest details tend to slip past you. Global warming, nuclear warfare, overpopulation, pollution... Ask any scientist of the day, and they would've told you that it would be one of those that brought an end to everything we know and love. But they were just looking at the big picture. At the what if's, the could be's, and the maybe's, if you will. And that was a mistake...

Oh, such a mistake.

It happened without warning, as most disasters often do.

One day, the citizens of Earth were carrying out their everyday lives as they had since the day they were brought into the world. The next, they were gone. Or, most of them at least. No explanation of how it started, where it started, what it was, or why. It just happened. The dead were coming back to life. And at the rate it was happening, no man-made weapon, biological or machine, could contain its spread.

To illustrate my point further, I'll tell you how it happened to me. What is written here and thereafter is the true account of how the end begins and how one survives the end into a new beginning."

- Tanner Bradly


Life is dull for Tanner Bradly.

At sixteen years old, closing in on his seventeenth birthday, he is nearing the end of his high school career and has set his sights on college. Medical school. As exciting as that may sound: it isn't. Tanner isn't even in the least bit excited about college. Because it meant that he would be leaving his humble little abode in Texas and going off on his own to Atlanta, where he would be attending school. Deep down, he knew it was his fault he was even having to put up with the hassle of this move. After all, he had decided it would be best to move out. He had decided that, if he in fact was going to move out, it was going to be as far away from home as he could possibly get. If his mother had gotten her way, he'd have lived at home through college, but Tanner was not having that. No sir. But the move was much more of a hassle then he had bargained for. Paperwork for the school. Paperwork for the apartment. Lots of flying back and forth between both places during his school holidays. It was fucking exhausting, and Tanner Bradly was someone who liked to keep things nice and simple. So exhausting, in fact, that as he approaches his soon-to-be new apartment, two large boxes full of more junk from back home, the only word he can utter to express his frustrations is: "Shit."

This was it. The day he would finally finish moving and, at long last, be able to take a break until the school semester started up in August. To his right, he can see the familiar tan SUV his parents had driven two days to get here. Normally, they wouldn't make such a big deal out of events in Tanner's life, because they were so busy handling the affairs of his 14 year-old brother, Mike, and 13 year old sister Anna. But, being that he was moving so far away, his mother had assisted they help him move the last of his things and at least see his new abode before giving him a proper send off. And, in a way, the sentimentality of it all was nice, if not overly exhausting in and of itself.

"These are the last of the boxes!" he heard himself shout, as he stepped through the threshold, kicking the front door shut behind him.

It hadn't taken his father long to unpack a reclining chair and plant his ass in it. In seventeen years of life, Tanner couldn't ever remember going a day without seeing his father rocking away in some form of recliner. Sure the man worked to provide for his family, but when 6 PM rolled around every evening, he was home, ass firmly planted in his recliner until he finally fell asleep from exhaustion. The teen simply rolled his eyes and moved passed his father, sitting the boxes he was carrying down in the tiny kitchenette near the back of the room. As if on cue, his mother rounded the corner from the hall that led to the bedroom and promptly grabbed a small rag from the sink, wiping the dust that had collected on her hands from the boxes clean off. The woman was shorter than Tanner by a good foot, and was a complete bundle of nerves. As Tanner was her first child, this was obviously her first time experiencing a child moving out of her nest - far out of her nest - and she wasn't taking it well; though better than he had originally given her credit for, when he first proposed the idea a year prior.

"I went ahead and hung up your clothes in the central closet in the hallway." she was saying, laying the rag in the sink once more. "Are you sure you got everything from the car?"

Tanner casually rolled his eyes and offered her a soft smile, "Yes, Mom. Every last one."

She simply nodded her response. One look in her hazel eyes said the rest. It was about time for them to head out. They had a long two day drive back to Texas and Tanner's father wasn't one to waste time. Even now he was lifting himself out of his perch in the chair he'd unpacked and begun gathering their own things for the trip back. His mother eyed him, biting her lower lip. The teen could always tell when his mother was fighting back tears. And, even though he was eager to begin his new life away from home, seeing her there looking like that pulled at his heart strings. Wordlessly, he wrapped the smaller woman in an embrace and told her that everything would be fine, and that he would be okay.

Little did he know it would be the last time he'd see her, or any of them, alive.

The goodbyes were long and tearful, and Tanner took an especially decent chunk of time saying his farewell to his younger siblings. Though they seemingly made it their goal to pester the living shit out of him back home, he had to admit that he would miss them. He would miss them a lot. Finally, as the sun began to set on the Atlanta skyline, the teen stood on the balcony for the first time, alone, waving as his family's tiny SUV faded into the distance. With a large sigh, he stepped back as they faded from sight, and then entered his apartment. For truly the first time, the silence hit him all at once. No one talking. No mother barking at him to do his chores. No father screaming at some sports team he liked on the television. No brother or sister screaming at each other at the top of their lungs. Shutting the door behind him, he gently leaned back against it, closing his eyes to take the moment all in.

"Shit." was the only word he could muster.

####

Ever have those sudden moments where you're still asleep, and yet are aware that you a dreaming?

Usually its the moment directly before you actually become conscious again and wake up. And so I become aware of that cruel reality. It was just a dream. A memory, but a dream. I'm familiar with the dream. I've had it too many times to even begin to give an accurate figure. That was the last time I saw my family. The last time I heard their voices. The last time that everything was truly normal and as it should be. The infection had hit a week later. No one had even seen it coming. A sudden ray of light brings me back to reality and I slowly open one eye to confirm what I already knew. Morning was here; the sun's persistent rays pushing its way through the slits in the blinds on the window just above where I am sleeping. Its a small house I'm staying in. Moved into it about two days ago when I'd stumbled upon the little neighborhood in a town whose name I didn't know. I figured I'd stay here a day or two more before moving on. The neighborhood, despite the obvious overgrowth of the lawns, and general disarray that came along with the world coming to an end, was fairly tranquil. I had only seen a few of the dead lingering around in the distance when I had arrived.

It was a nice feeling, not having to always worry about when those fuckers would try to bash in your door.

Even still, in this world, if you stay in one place for too long, you become complacent. And complacency leads to death. At one time, I was the happy-go-lucky type that was just content to be where I was. That "me" is gone. And so, knowing that I can't leave at all without restocking my supplies, I begin to prepare for a day of scavenging the surrounding houses. I had a fairly large backpack with me; the kind you'd see hikers carrying on long treks through the wilderness, which allowed me to carry several days worth of supplies with me at a time. If I really crammed shit in it, and didn't use the supplies recklessly, sometimes it would last me an entire week. And yet, going through what I had left in it, the realization dawned on me that I was running dangerously low on just about everything. I could only see two bottles of water, and of those, one seemed to be partially drank. I only had about three cans of some strange vegetable left. Funny, in the good ol' days, I hated anything green. Its amusing how much one's taste changes when the times call for it.

"Shit, looks like I got work to do." I mutter to myself.

Glancing over to the nearby wall, I spy my weapon, or should I say weapons, of choice. They're a pair: a Japanese nodaichi (a long sword) and a wakizashi (short sword). It never ceased to amuse me how much I was ridiculed by my family when I purchased these things years back with some of my savings money. As it turns out, the younger me was quite a nerd: fascinated by Japanese manga and anime, which spurred my initial interest in the traditional weapons of the Japanese samurai. My dad, ever the gun-touting Southerner, who'd never use a weapon that lacked a trigger, had simply scoffed and said they'd do nothing but "collect dust" on my shelf. But, being the nerd that I was, I never listened to him and bought them anyways. Of course - all that I was back then - I could never resist a chance to practice with these things. And so practice I did. Every morning for years, in the large field behind our tiny abode back in Texas. Back then I had done it as a hobby; a way to relieve my stress when things got too out of hand. But now, years later, that practice is all that keeps me from being another fleshy meal for the undead.

Moving swiftly and efficiently, I worked to strap both swords to me - wearing one strapped around my upper body, so that it was resting against my back, and the other strapped at the waist for easy reach. Once done, I slung the large, yet mostly empty backpack on my back, on top of the first sword and then began to push the couch I had wedged against the entry door out of the way, allowing me to twist the knob and step out into the fresh morning Georgia sun. The air is a tad bit nippy, but it would warm up quickly, so I didn't think too much of it. A general sweep of the area didn't reveal any immediate danger, but, as you learn quickly in this new world: danger doesn't always lurk in plain sight. And so, right hand resting on my wakizashi like a makeshift armrest, I set off towards the street to begin my salvaging.

####

((Carl's P.o.V.))

Numbness.

The word isn't strong enough, but that's the only thing I can feel as I make my way down the dirt path through the trees. Behind me, the pained wheezing indicates that Dad hadn't fallen too far behind. I didn't care. Neither of us had said much of anything to one another since the prison. It had only been about a week, and yet, the memory of that bloodbath was a fresh as if it had just happened only mere moments ago. The image of Herschel kneeling, a small, yet soft smile on his face just before the Governor brought Michonne's sword down on him, severing his head from the rest of his body. I feel my muscles instinctively cringe as the image comes back to me. Herschel was a good man. Almost like a grandfather to me. He had done nothing to no one to deserve the fate that he received. Suddenly, a gasping shriek from behind me snapped me back to reality and I wheeled around to face it.

"Carl!" it was Rick, my dad, still holding his bruised torso from where he had been injured during the fight. "Slow down!"

Dad was trying his best to sound authoritative and demanding, but I could see that he was using everything he had just to muster up the wheeze that came out instead. My response is instinctive, if not somewhat intentional. Its not a vocal response, but the glare I give him says more than any words I try every will. Turning back, I start back down the path. At this point, I wonder how my legs are even carrying me. The numbness growing in my chest is unbearable, and yet, even so, its better than facing the pain that hides underneath it. The pain of loss. It was bad enough to lose everything and everyone when hell first broke loose a year and half prior. But now, I was forced to go through it again:

Michonne, Daryl, Maggie, Glenn, Beth, Herschel... Judith.

I clenched my eyes at the thought of little Judith. But the thought quickly turns to hot, stinging tears that I'm fighting hard to keep from showing. In a way, I hate myself as much as I hate Dad. I was her big brother. I was supposed to be the one protecting her and I let her down. The numbness in my chest is sudden replaced by a blazing anger. If only Dad hadn't given up, made us farmers, and had helped Daryl and Michonne hunt down the Governor, none of this would have even happened. They could've killed the Governor and lived at the prison in peace. But that didn't happen. They were all gone now. No one was coming back. And the thought of this made my blood boil even more when the same raspy voice called out to me a second time.

"Carl..." the voice of my father snarled.

I turn.

"We're... we're going to be al-"

I'm not having it. We are most certainly not going to be alright. Everytime he had ever said that, shit had hit the fan. The camp outside of Atlanta, the farm, and now even the prison. Everything crumbles eventually and I have finally come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as being "safe" or "alright" in this new world. And so once again, my answer is not verbal, but a glare. And it seems that this time, he gets it, because he stops in mid-sentence and glances away. I take that as a cue to keep walking. I can see houses in the distance. Rest is on its way.

####

((Tanner's P.o.V.))

Another day has passed uneventfully.

Yesterday's scavenging had proven to be a huge success. The houses around here had barely been touched since the world had ended, and there was still a wealth of bottled water, canned food, and other useful knickknacks that I had now tightly packed away in my overflowing backpack. Over the past year and a half, carrying around such a heavy pack had naturally increased my strength and stamina. To the point that carrying such a load was hardly an issue anymore. I barely felt it. The afternoon sun was now peaking through the house's windows and I knew that tomorrow I would again be on the move, searching for another base of operations to settle down at for a few more days. Still, there was one more thing I intended to do before I left this humble little neighborhood. One of the neighboring houses had a fairly nice looking pickup sitting in their driveway. I haven't driven a truck since shit hit the fan over a year ago, but even I had to admit that driving beat the hell out of walking any day. So, assuming I could find the keys in their house somewhere, and assuming that there was enough gas still in the tank, tomorrow, I'd be leaving out of here in style.

And so it was with that in mind that I set out from my base of operations and began to swiftly make my way up the street. The sidewalk curved as I reached the edge of the neighborhood, where the house sat, but my brisk stroll was brought to an abrupt halt as a gunshot rang out. Instinct took over and, before I could really comprehend my own actions, I was flat on the concrete; mostly hidden by the overgrowth of the lawns. Silence reigned for several seconds before another gunshot rang out. Then another. And then another. Having grown up around guns all my life, and having hunted numerous times with my outdoor-centrist father, I could tell the shots weren't being made with too great of precision. They were frantic, as if whoever shot them was desperately trying to ward off an attacker. Suddenly, I lose sight of my original goal, slowly making my way to my knees. I scan the horizon for any signs of movement. I can feel my heart pounding away in my chest cavity, so hard it threatened to burst out of my chest. When your world has been mostly silence for the past year and a half, the sudden sounds of gunshots were quite the frightening noise.

Even so, there isn't a single sign of movement. Regardless, I had heard the direction the shots had come from. The question is: do I follow the sound the source and investigate, or do I seek shelter? I know one thing. I cannot stay in my present position. Sound tends to draw the undead for miles around, and so whether only one or two, or an entire herd is on its way, I know I only have a few minutes before the creepers rear their ugly, decaying faces. Leaping into a standing position, I barely register that I am moving towards the source of the shots. Investigation it was, then.

You know that saying "curiosity killed the cat"? One day, that'll apply to me. Ever since I was little, my curiosity always got the best of me. So far, that mentality has never gotten me into a compromising situation, but in the back of my head, I knew the day would soon come where that luck finally ran out. I just hoped it wasn't today.

I round the corner of a small white house and catch my first evidence of the day. A pile of dead corpses, four high, stacked one on top of the other. My pupils constrict as I home in on my targets. It doesn't take much for me to deduce that they are what were being shot at. There were bullet holes in each of their heads and the last corpse had multiple gunshot wounds, starting from the lower corner of its neck which then trailed upward until it finally found purchase in the brain. So I was right. Panic. These fuckers must've caught someone off guard and caused them to frantically fire their weapon in an attempt to escape. From the looks of the scene, they had succeeded. And yet, no sooner had I finished observing the foul smelling bodies that I noticed another unpleasant odor in the air. And its source was directly next to the bodies themselves.

Vomit.

Well, there goes my appetite for today.

There isn't much of it, but its there. My stomach lurches and I'm forced to turn away. Ironic, isn't it? I can stand the smell and sight of four dead corpses, but the sight of vomit turns my bowels inside out. Its fucking embarrassing.

Get a hold of yourself, Tanner.

New questions are now swimming in my head. Whoever left this mess here had obviously already gotten away, but they couldn't be too far.

If I were them, I'd seek shelter in one of these nearby homes, I thought to myself.

As if on cue, sounds of commotion begin to rise from the neighboring house. Though I can't be sure precisely, it sounds like a struggle. My predatory instincts begin kicking in and my right hand unconsciously tightens its grip on the hilt of my still sheathed wakizashi. And even though I know its probably a bad idea, I begin to make my way towards the source of the noise. I approach the neighboring house slowly and cautiously. By now I can hear the sound of a door frantically being slammed from one of the upper rooms. Glancing around, I notice there is a back door into the home, which looked mostly untouched. Bingo. An entrance. I make short work of the lock with the handle of my sword. Its a skill I'd perfected over the last year and a half of scavenging, and one that has never failed me yet.

The first thing I noticed upon entering the home was that the sounds had stopped. That either meant that whoever it was had escaped... or that they had met a very gruesome demise. From his position in the backmost room, he could see through the narrow hall that the front door of the home was ajar. Whoever was here obviously didn't believe in covering their flank. Seconds passed and now I can hear faint noises coming from up the stairs. They aren't the hard struggling noises I had heard just minutes prior, being much softer. It sounded to me almost like something was meandering around in one of the upstairs bedrooms, and I had a hunch I knew why. A hunch that was only confirmed when I made my way to the top of the stairwell.

A message left in chalk: "Walker inside. Got my shoe, but it didn't get me."

I felt a grin slowly creep across my face. These days I rarely smiled. Even on the off chance that something managed to amuse me, I kept it inside. Numbness tends to rule you after so long of seeing nothing but death and destruction. But, even after all I'd seen and been through, I couldn't deny when something - even something this damn cocky - was funny. A quick glance around confirmed that there was nothing of particular interest in the upstairs. Upon closer inspection, however, I noticed that the chalk was still fresh. Whoever had wrote this message, had scribbled it out just mere moments before I had arrived here. That meant I could still catch up to them.

And that gave me an idea.

A few minutes later, I exited the back door of the house, a brown shoe under my left arm, and a bloodied wakizashi clenched tightly in my right hand. Quickly glancing up at the sky, I noticed that the sun was beginning to make its descent in the sky. It'd be night in a few hours and I now needed to find this shoe's owner. Crossing the back yard, around the side of the house, and into the front lawn I was yet again reminded that whomever I had been following around all day was still alive.

An empty tub of chocolate pudding.

Obviously, someone was hungry.

Like the chalk on the door, the pudding residue within the can would suggest it had only recently been opened and eaten. The undead don't eat pudding. Nor does a person in fear of their imminent death. I glance around once again, just to be sure I'm not being watched. At a time like this, the only thing I can do is continue on and hope to stumble into this person eventually. I couldn't possibly be far behind. I advanced down the street towards another row of houses. Once again, there is a turn in the road, leading through a short patch of shrubs and small trees to get to the next patch of homes and it is there that I finally get my answer. A rustle in the leaves to my left catches my attention. On instinct, my right hand, still firmly clutching my wakizashi's handle, swings around jabbing directly towards the source of the disturbance. Luckily, I register the source before I can go all the way with the kill.

A boy. Thin. Pale. His long dark-brown hair stuck together with sweat and dirt. Crystalline cerulean eyes staring back at me and a brown sheriff's hat on top of his head. But that's not all that is staring back at me. He has a pistol, firmly gripped, and aimed directly between my eyes. Finger on the trigger. Of course, that would intimidate me, if it weren't for the fact that the tip of my wakizashi was resting right against his jugular. The slightest twitch and I could cut him right open. 'Course, he could shoot me too, but something told me neither scenario would unfold. Because I noticed the chocolate smudge in the corner of his mouth and one look down at his shoeless foot tells the rest of the story.

My glare catches his.

"I think I have your shoe."