Disclaimer: I do not own The Walking Dead in any way and by no means profit from writing this fic, Charlotte and her family however are of my creation so in the nicest way possible HANDS OFF! The only reward I get is some extra space up in my brain thanks to freeing an idea...and hopefully a little ego boost with each review.

*FIGHT FOR LIFE*

Four weeks. Twenty eight days. Six hundred and seventy two hours. Forty thousand three hundred and twenty minutes. That's all the time it took for the world as we know it to end and fall into complete and utter chaos. This time last year I was just your average thirty-something woman living in Rochester, New York working long tiring hours as a doctor while spending most nights juggling a very quiet social life with extremely strong family commitments...back then I would have called it boring and mundane but compared to life now I'd give anything to have it back to the way it was dullness and all.

The 1978 wood panelled station wagon chugged sluggishly down the disserted highway passing several abandoned cars on its way; I gazed out of the dusty windshield at the clear open road before me sighing softly once realizing that those cars weren't as empty as I first thought. In the last couple of weeks things concerning the outbreak had rapidly gotten out of hand, what had started out as a few cases scattered across the country quickly became a major problem with identified infection being diagnosed around the world; the government tried to keep the public in the dark for as long as possible but when the dead start coming back to life it becomes harder to just brush under the rug... after everything was out in the open it didn't take long for the major cities to fall which is why I like to keep to small towns as much as possible.

Surviving in a post-apocalyptic world is hard and if it weren't for my upbringing by an army colonel father than I don't think I'd have made it this far; thanks to an early tip off from my brother (Major Jason Ellis) we were able to gather together as a family before things got super bad. Jay, his wife Jaime and their five year old son Sean lived in Florida and couldn't make the trip up to D.C -where my parents resided- so that was when my father decided that the rest of us (consisting of himself, mom, me, my younger sister Lacey and her daughter Ashley) would make the risky journey down to them and hopefully gain entry to the well protected and armed Camp Blanding. Even with the head start and all of my dad's planning things didn't turn out so well and following an extremely tragic and emotional event I became the sole guardian of my fifteen year old niece. With the majority of the family deceased uniting with what was left seemed all the more important which is why heading to The Sunshine State was still our plan of action; in the early days the further out from the big cities you got the less infection you found but over time that lessened considerably and now finding an untouched community was almost impossible. I was pulled from my musings when a loud splutter sounded from under the hood, a strange rumble had been growing in the engine over the last week but so far the old beast of a machine had kept working which I'm mighty thankful for because if there's one thing I know shit little about its cars.

"Is everything okay?" Bright baby blue eyes flicked up to the rear-view mirror, instantly locking with the set of dark brown ones belonging to the teen sitting in back. My sister was always a bit of a wild child growing up, she would go out for hours on end only coming back when exhausted, hungry or out of money -which was usually stolen from one parent or the other- personally I believe she only acted like that to get some attention from our workaholic and hardly home father. Lacey was only fifteen when she fell pregnant, the same age Ashley is now coincidentally, after finishing high school young mother and child came to live with me in New York due to the endless arguments Lace and dad would get into. I loved my daddy with all of my heart but Colonel Patrick Ellis did have his fair share of flaws and it took a very patient and special person to put up with him...which just made my mom that little extra amazing. "Charlotte?"

"Huh?"

"I asked about the car." Ashley shuffled forward so that she could rest her crossed arms atop the back of the front bench. "It's making that weird sound again isn't it?"

"Yeah and it's louder than yesterday." I moved my tired eyes back to the road, quickly wiping away a bead of sweat as it slowly trailed down the side of my face. "I'm not sure what the trouble is and seeing as we can't exactly drop by an auto shop to get whatever's wrong fixed we're just going to have to hope that this bucket on wheels can last until we get through Atlanta." Before the radios went down they were broadcasting local safe zones with the Georgia capital being one of them; on my travels it had become clear that almost -if not all- of these so called havens had failed in their claims of safety and protection. The route my father had originally penned led straight into Atlanta which at the time was still under control with a strong military presence, but adding in resent events and the fact that the place was now no doubt crawling with walkers made it a no go zone.

"Do you think it will?" The young teen asked, her slightly quivering voice betraying an otherwise calm facade. I glanced back at the dark haired girl momentarily, catching her gazing out of the window with her head resting against the glass pane; my niece had always been a very beautiful girl something she had inherited from her mother but the world we now lived in had started taking its toll. Her once healthy sun kissed skin was now dull and ashen looking almost as though the life had literally been sucked from it and as well as a substantial amount of weight she had also lost the spark from her chocolate brown orbs making my heart clench in despair...this isn't the life a young person like her should be living...this isn't a life any of us should be.

"I really hope so." Turning back to the empty highway once again I trained worn-out eyes on the open road ahead determined not to let my uncertainty and fears for the future show on my face...if only for Ashley sake.

~#~#~#~#~

With all the back roads left clear of any traffic it didn't take long at all too reach Atlanta. We made a quick pit stop so that I could take another look at the map in hopes of finding the safest -and shortest- possible way round, while breaking Ash took the time to scout the surrounding area using the lone set of binoculars from our supplies boxed up in the back; she felt it relevant to my task to point out that the main road leading into the city was almost completely blocked on the outbound side.

"Are all the people who own those cars dead?" Ashley asked quietly after gracefully climbing over into the passenger seat; the slim index finger of my right hand paused midway down one of the many red roads drawn on the map as the words of her question slowly sank in. It was entirely possible that not only were all of those people dead but everyone in the Georgia capital too, Ash and I could be two of only a handful of survivors left in the US...or even the world. This startling realization sent an icy chill down my spine which then continued throughout my entire body, that unsettling sensation was immediately followed by the sudden urge to empty what little was in my stomach.

"I don't really like to think about it." I finally answered, taking a deep breath to settle my suddenly buzzing nerves...and nausea. The car soon fell into an uncomfortable silence with the only sound coming from the dark haired teen beside me as she tapped her nails lightly against the inner side of the door, after five minutes of only that soft tapping echoing around inside the confined space I looked up from the newly edited map and turned to Ash. "Alright, so I've managed to find us a safe way around using only back roads so that we don't have to go anywhere near the main city. If the way ahead is clear then we should be in Greenville before dark, that way we can find a secure place to bed down for the night; in the morning we'll head to Fort Valley and then take interstate 75 all the way to the Florida border."

"How do you know that it's going to be any better there than it is here?"

"I don't...but what else can we do?" I tossed the crumpled map onto the dashboard, making sure that it landed the right way up so that the route was still visible. "The world has gone to hell and we're running low on supplies, our best option is to stick to the original plan and head to Camp Blanding." With a quick flick of the wrist the station wagon was brought back to life, an unhealthy cough spluttering loudly from the ancient engine.

"The only reason we're going there is because that's where Uncle Jason was last we heard from him." Ashley twisted around in the worn leather seat and pinned me with an anxious look. "Things have got real bad since then...what if he's de-"

"Don't." I stated firmly, steel blue eyes trained forward while small hands clenched tightly around the wheel. "All we've got left in the world besides each other is hope...it may be false, but it's all we have." The teen moved her dark orbs off of me and down to the set of hands joined together in her lap; guilt immediately started to build as I glanced over briefly to find the chocolate haired girl looking close to tears. Even before the outbreak Ashley and I had an extremely strong bond, my sister was still quiet the party girl after Ash's birth which left it down to me to look after the tiny tot; this was the main trend for most of the girls life with Lacey playing the part of best friend as to that of mother. It was very rare for me to lose my temper thanks to years working as a doctor where the patience of a saint was needed a lot of the time and although it may seem that nothing's happened you have to realise that never have I so much as once raised my voice to Ashley. Taking a deep steadying breath I reached out and placed a hand over my nieces clasped ones. "I'm sorry. Jason..Jaime..Sean..the rest of the people at the base, they could all be dead...I just can't think that way." Swallowing thickly, I ducked my head to hide the tears which threatened to fall. "I've tried to be strong Ashley I really have..but the thought of anymore of our family being gone is just too much to take." The car was quiet once again, or it would have been if the mass of machinery hidden under the hood wasn't churning like a chainsaw.

"We should probably get going if we want to be out of here by nightfall...it's getting late." Our eyes locked for a second and in that moment I could see that everything was forgiven and that we were back to normal (or as normal as things get nowadays); after a quick reassuring squeeze of Ashley's hand I shifted the station wagon into gear and pulled out of the secluded parking area and back onto the road.

~#~#~#~#~

From birth my parents had raised me to be a strong, open-minded, independent woman. They made sure I knew that I didn't need a man to be happy like so many others seemed to believe; some of the looks I used to get from people when they found out I was mid-thirties, single and childless...seriously you'd think I'd just told them that I was a freaking alien hell bent on world domination or something. A frustrated sigh slipped past my lips as I looked down with squinted eyes at the smoking object before me, we'd been driving for about an hour when the rust bucket finally packed in leaving the two of us stranded at the side of the road in the middle of a small patch of woodland; the only good thing about breaking down around here is that coming into contact with any walkers was incredibly unlucky as they tend to stick closer to the cities as opposed to more rural areas. It goes against every feminist bone in my body to admit this but I really wish there was a guy around right now because I could really use one.

"Can you fix it?" Blowing a strand of damp raven hair out of my face I pushed back from the busted engine and moved around to lean against the passenger side of the car. "I'll take that as a no."

"Something's wrong with the engine, it could be overheated or one of the little doohickeys could be broken I don't know." My head fell back hitting the roof with a soft thump. It might seem like a trivial matter seeing the current way of life but did this really have to happen in summer, I mean Jesus if the dead don't kill me than the damn heat sure as hell will.

"We're super screwed now right?" Ashley stated knowingly while leaning out of the open car window; I glanced down at her only to find brown eyes already trained on me.

"Understatement." Even with the heavenly shade provided by the surrounding trees the heat was still unbearably stifling. I'd already stripped off the thin khaki coloured shirt (now tied around my waist) which used to cover the dark green vest top I also wore, so unless I wanted to start wandering around barefoot and trouserless there was nothing left to take off. Cerulean eyes started to drift closed as a light breeze brushed softly against my heated skin, in that moment of silence a loud snap sounded clear as day from the nearby woodland; I was instantly on the alert with my eyes hurriedly surveying the surround area.

"Charlie?"

"Shhh." Ashley quietened immediately and then she too began looking around. Another crack emanated from within the trees but this time it was even closer, with the car out of commission the pair of us were going nowhere so the only option left was to find out what we were up against to see if there was any chance of making it out of here in one piece. "Pass me my gun." I whispered softly. Without making much noise the teen slowly scooted over on the front bench to retrieve the semi-automatic pistol hidden under the driver side seat, once back in her original position Ashley handed over the firearm.

"You're not going in there are you?"

"Haven't got much of choice Ash, we're sitting ducks." Thanks to my father's need to have all his children prepared for anything I had been handling guns of all shapes and sizes since before I'd even hit puberty. After a quick check of the magazine I slipped the pistol snuggly into the waistband at the back of my jeans; walkers are attracted to loud noises as well as the small of flesh so getting through this situation without firing a shot (if possible) was certainly a good idea. "I'll need the bat too." She gave a curt nod before turning round to snatch up the silver baseball bat from its place laying on the floor in the back. Rustling leaves off to the left caught my attention and almost immediately I had a tight grip on the handle of the gun still housed in the back of my pants, the area fell silent again but my nerves refused to settle.

"Here." Ashley murmured holding out the bat.

"Thanks." I took the metal object from her and grasped it tightly between my hands. "I want you to roll up the windows and lock all the doors...if anything comes out of those woods besides me get down and stay out of sight." She gave another quick nod before getting to work locking up the doors of the station wagon; I stayed put by the side of the car and watched silently for a moment -mentally noting the way Ashley's hands shook- once all the catches had been pushed down securing the vehicle as much as possible the dark haired girl returned to the front seat clasping her beat-up canvas backpack between trembling fingers.

"What if they find me?" The way her tiny voice cracked as she spoke broke my heart...compared to that friendly, bubbly, upbeat girl Ashley had been before all of this happened she was almost unrecognizable. "What if you don't come back?" I swallowed thickly as the dark brown eyes belonging to my niece speedily filled with tears. There was another rustle of leaves from behind causing me to cast a brief look into the trees, it was clear that whatever was making the noise from in the woods was getting closer and the time I had to find and deal with it before it found our main position was growing shorter by the minute. Straightening up and spinning back round I pinned the worried looking teen with a compelling look.

"Ashley, whatever happens I'll come back." Freeing up one of my hands from the bat I reached through the still open window and gently cuffed the soundlessly crying girl under the chin so that she was looking at me instead of the floor. "If things get real bad and you need help then make as loud a noise as possible, grab the gun grandpa gave you from in your bag and hunker down because if I hear you I'll be back in a second okay...nothing's going to happen to you honey, I promise." With nothing else left to say I offered a gently smile in hope of easing Ashley's fear if only slightly, she continued to watch me for a second and then after what felt like an eternity the teen returned the gesture her tears finally stilling. "There you go." She pulled her eyes from mine, clearly embarrassed at the water works previously displayed.

"Sorry."

"Don't be." With Ashley finally dealt with I turned my attention back to the more serious matter at hand. "I'm going to go check out where that noise is coming from alright, hopefully it's just an animal or something but we need to be sure." Taking a deep breath to steel my nerves I rounded on the spot to once again face the tall line of trees. "Close the window..and keep down until I get back." There was a low squeaking from the car as Ash quickly rolled up the glass screen; once I was certain the task had been completely fulfilled I started forward towards the woods, metal baseball bat gripped tightly between shaky palms. Like most people I had my fair share of phobias, for example: spiders, heights, flying (over open water)...clowns; but something that had never bother me until now was woodland even though it was normally always dark and creepy. Shining sapphire eyes shot around the vicinity a mile a minute never keeping on one spot for more than a few seconds, since entering the greenery the noise which had drawn me inside in the first place hadn't sounded once making me wonder if maybe it had just been a wild rabbit or something after all. Unfortunately that miniscule spark of hope was quickly extinguished when a loud crunch of a snapping twig echoed through the trees from somewhere close by; instinctively I froze to the spot, heart beating wildly within my chest. Okay so without doubt not a rabbit, could be a stray dog or perhaps even a deer? Another loud wooden crack sounded...and this time it was right behind me.

A harsh breath caught in my throat as the creator of the ever moving noise crept that little bit closer, making the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. So this was it, after weeks of fighting for mine and Ashley's lives I was going to meet my maker in the middle of a forest leaving the scared teenager hiding back in the car all alone with nobody there to protect her. The feel of the intruders close presence soaked straight through the material of my thin green vest and deep down into my skin, with the knowledge that this could be my last moment on Earth as a fully functioning human being I straighten up gripping the sturdy bat so tightly that every knuckle turned stark white. Well if this was how I was going to go out...I sure as hell wasn't going without a fight. In one swift movement I spun around, aluminium club held high ready to knock the head off the walker getting ready to take a big 'ol bite out of me; just as the bat was coming down for a hit a strong muscled arm shot out grabbing the end of the metal object before it could make contact and do any damage. What the hell? Since when did those walking corpses start fighting back? My eyes shot straight up and instantly locked with a set of stormy blue ones.

Stood at a little under six feet (giving him at least a good five/six inches on me) dressed in khaki trousers, a pair of large well worn work books and a sleeveless shirt which had more than likely been white at some point in its existence was a living breathing man; there was a mess of dark blonde/sandy brown hair atop the strangers head as well as an extremely intimidating crossbow slung over his shoulder. My heart began to slowly return to a somewhat normal rhythm with the undead threat now put out of mind for the time being due to the fact that the origin of the disturbance was standing right in front of me. The small clearing we currently occupied remained undisturbed as the two of us continued our silent battle of wills...we must have been there for a good five or ten minutes before the big guy begrudgingly decided to break the stalemate.

"This how you usually greet people lady?" A subtle southern accent laced his voice making it pretty clear that he was a local to these parts. The continued silence and wide eyes must have given off the wrong impression because a large furrow appeared across the tall mans brow as he looked down at me in confusion. "You slow or somethin'?" What! I was immediately on the defensive thanks to the insult, my muscles tightly coiled and eyes narrowed into thin slits.

"Are you rude or some-thing?" I replied tersely, putting added emphasis on the end of the last word. The strangers blue orbs darkened in irritation at my tone and he took a slight step forward which only increased his towering presence over me; not wanting to show even an ounce of the fear I was currently feeling I carried on staring up at him with fierce determination. "And for your information I thought you were a walker."

"Do I look like one of those flesh eatin' bastards to you?" He asked indignantly and due to his tone I made it a point to look him over closely before finally answering.

"No...but you smell like one." An evil smirk tugged at the corner of his lips as he scowled down at me.

"Well you ain't exactly sunshine and daises yourself there sweetheart." With one hard tug the baseball bat was removed from the still nameless strangers grip; he eyed me with silent suspicion as I took a few steps back to regain some of my lost personal space. God! The day just keeps getting better and better: firstly the car breaks down in the middle of nowhere leaving Ashley and I stranded in an unsafe area, secondly weird noises start sounding from in the woods leading me to believe the undead were close by and then thirdly it turns out said undead was actually an ill-mannered redneck with a knack for sneaking around. Turning on the spot with the metal bat hanging limply at my side -eyes quickly locking with the man's own once more- I was just about to speak when a high pitch whistle echoed through the trees scaring the surrounding birdlife making them fly off hurriedly from their homes; both of us turned at the sound and after noting the direction my heart clenched painfully causing a soft gasp to slip past my dry lips.

"Ashley." Without a second thought I sprinted forward like a flash, back towards the road where the car was parked. There was a slight commotion behind me as the southern stranger began to give chase.

"Hey!" The thin wiry braches of the smaller trees wiped against the bare skin of my upper arms, stinging like hell and more than likely cutting through to draw blood. "Get back here!" His calls fell on deaf ears as there was only one thing on my mind at present and that was to get back to Ashley as quickly as possible. The trees were beginning to thin out a little so I knew I was close, tapping into the last of my reserves gave my aching legs just that little bit of motivation needed to drive forward faster and in less than I minute I finally burst free from the green prison and out onto the road... ...right into the path of a rifle wielding madman.