She had been walking for what seemed like years, wondering if she was the only one left. Her bag was cutting into her shoulder, she hadn't slept more than a few hours all week and she was sweating as she cursed the heat that still gripped the area even though, according to her calculations, it was September. That confirmed her suspicions that she was still deep in the South. The ground tilted and she stumbled, wondering if it was time to give in and admit that this attempt at survival was looking more like slow starvation. She thought that she heard people talking, but she didn't get her hopes up, she was fairly certain that she was hallucinating anyway.
She wasn't sure exactly how it happened, but she found herself on her ass a few seconds later, staring up at the business end of a crossbow. There was a man behind it, but she wasn't exactly focused on him.
"I'm not infected," she squeaked out. When the bow didn't move, she cleared her throat and tried to pitch her voice louder. It came out close to a yell this time. "I'm not infected!"
"Be quiet," the man ordered.
She bit her lip; he was right. A loud noise would bring those things down on them. She hadn't meant to be so loud, it had just been a while since she'd needed to speak and she'd forgotten what a normal level felt like. Also her throat was as dry as dust.
"How do I know that?" he asked.
"I…"she began, but she was cut off when several other people appeared from the brush.
"For God's sake, Daryl!" a dark haired woman said. "She's just a girl!"
"A girl that could be infected," the guy with the crossbow, apparently named Daryl, said.
"So you knock her down and threaten her with a crossbow?" a tall guy with thick, curly dark hair asked, crossing his arms over his chest and raising an eyebrow.
"You got a better idea?" Daryl asked.
"Well, you could try talking to her like a reasonable individual," another man said.
"This ain't the time to be reasonable," Daryl said heatedly. "We got people to protect at that camp back there…"
His words were cut off by the general wave of argument as the woman and the dark haired guy started hissing recriminations at him.
The voice at their feet stopped the argument. The girl had propped herself on her elbows to look up at them better.
"One scratch or bite and I could infect your whole camp. You should know that."
She met Daryl's eyes as he stared at her in surprise.
"I don't mind you checking me over," she said. "It makes sense."
Daryl took a step toward her; Shane yanked him back and said, "If anybody should do it, it should be an officer of the law."
Daryl started to argue, but the quieter guy said, "Or she might feel more comfortable letting a woman do it. Lori?"
The dark haired woman nodded and the girl on the ground stretched her hand up. Daryl reacted first, grabbing it and tugging her to her feet. She was light as a feather.
"Damn girl," he said. "Don't you eat?"
To everyone's surprise, she smiled at him.
"Every chance I get," she answered. "It's just that my favorite restaurants all seem to have closed lately. Middle class America dropped the ball on teaching the average citizen to hunt."
"Well, lucky for both of us, I ain't never been middle class," Daryl answered. "When Lori gets done friskin' you, come to the fire. I was huntin' all last night; I'll put some meat on those bones."
"Sounds good to me!" she said as Lori shooed the men away from the clearing.
He glanced back once as he walked away, feeling unexpectedly disappointed that he wasn't going to get to be the one to check the skinny girl for Walker bites.
"That's the longest sentence I've ever heard Daryl say that didn't involve swearing," Lori said. "My name is Lori, by the way, and the other two were Rick and Shane."
"Which is which?" the girl asked, taking a deep breath and pulling her shirt off, so that the woman could see that she was bite and scratch free.
"Rick, my husband, has the blue eyes; Shane…was the dark haired one. He and Rick were police officers so that should make you feel safe," she motioned for the girl to turn and eyed her. She really was skin and bones. She barely had any breasts and Lori could count her ribs. It was almost painful to look at her. She was also armed to the teeth with throwing knives, much to Lori's surprise. There were several different sheaths and they were all full. "What's your name?"
The girl shrugged and tugged her jeans down pivoting once more to show Lori that she was unscathed.
"Does it matter?" she asked with a shrug.
"Well what do we call you?" Lori said, unsure how to reply.
The girl raised her eyebrows and said, "Do I pass inspection? Whatever Daryl is cooking smells really good!"
"Yes," Lori said, handing the girl her shirt. "Follow me. You can eat and meet the rest of the group."
"Sounds good," she answered, hoping that she could make it to the fire on her shaky legs.
Just as she thought that, the man Lori had called Shane came back through the bushes.
"All done?" he asked.
"Yeah," Lori said. "I can handle this, Shane."
The girl looked between the two briefly and then said, "Everything's fine. Officer…?"
"You don't have to call me that; Shane is fine," he said, offering her his arm. "You looked a little shaky when I left. I thought you might need someone to lean on."
"Thanks," she said, looping her arm through his, happy to have some support.
She heard Lori take in a deep breath, but Shane started walking before she could say whatever she wanted to say. She stumbled, trying to keep up with him and he picked her up without breaking stride. She gasped and he gave her a grin.
"How long has it been since you've eaten?" he asked.
"A while," she said, feeling uncomfortable being this close to a total stranger. "But I haven't had any water today either. I think that's the problem."
"What the hell, Walsh?" Daryl's voice came from behind her, near the fire.
"I'm just being a gentleman," Shane answered, putting her down gently in front of a plate. "You don't recognize it?"
She discovered that Shane was one of those guys who smirked. She hated guys who smirked.
Daryl dropped a hunk of meat onto her plate and she took it so quickly that she burned her fingers and her tongue. She didn't care.
"Ohhhh god," she mumbled around the mouthful. "Oh god, Daryl, that's so good!"
"Well, if you like that, you're gonna love this," he said, handing her a cup of water, wondering if her voice was always that throaty or if she was just dehydrated. He found himself hoping it would stay the way it was.
She grinned before chugging it down. He watched her, thinking that, aside from the fact that she was so thin he was worried that she'd shatter, she was actually pretty hot. She had huge dark eyes and a pointed chin, pale skin and long wavy hair that would have been pretty if it was clean. He couldn't even tell what color it was underneath all that dirt.
"What is it?" she asked.
Her voice was that throaty. Daryl belatedly realized that he'd been staring and said, "Nothin' why?"
She shrugged and said, "Is there more water?"
"Yeah," he took her cup and went to get it, hoping that no one would tell her that she was eating squirrel. She was enjoying her meal so much and everybody had been surprisingly resistant to eating squirrel last month. Their opinions had changed due to food shortages.
She was finishing the meat on her plate when the other officer walked up and sat down beside her.
"How are you feeling?" Rick asked.
"Okay," she said. "Glad to be eating. And sitting. And drinking," she said with a nod to Daryl when he brought the cup back.
"I'm sure Lori told you my name," Rick continued, "but I wanted to introduce myself officially. I'm Rick Grimes, Lori is my wife, and my son Carl is over there." He gestured to a boy playing in the firelight with a small Matchbox car. "We wondered if you were up to some introductions."
"Sure," she said. "Bring 'em on!" She wondered if Rick was aware that he was still doing that cop thing where they asked you a question, but you knew that your answer didn't matter.
He waved the group over and they stepped forward one by one.
"I'm Carol Peletier," a woman with a practically shaved head said. "And this is my daughter Sophia."
"Hey," she said, shaking hands with Carol and smiling at Sophia. "It's nice to meet you." She meant it, she'd always been good with kids and she'd missed having them around.
"I'm Dale," an older man with a white beard said, as he stepped up and shook her hand. "And this is Andrea." A blonde woman, older than her but younger than Dale stepped forward. Her smile looked friendly, if sad.
A big black guy stepped forward and introduced himself as T-dog, then a young Asian guy introduced himself as Glenn.
"And the rest of us you know," Shane said. "Me, Shane Walsh, and…him," he said with a nod to Daryl.
"Daryl Dixon," Daryl said, irritated with the off-hand way Shane was talking about him.
"What should we call you?" Andrea asked.
She just shrugged again as she said, "I never liked my name much; I think I'll just leave it in the rubble that is our society."
"But we have to call you something," Sophia said.
She just shrugged and took another long drink. Lori, who had brought Carl over when everyone had gathered, looked at her, wondering what the girl had to hide. And what was with all those knives? She decided to have a word with Rick at the earliest opportunity.
"Where can I sleep?" she asked awkwardly.
"With me, darlin'" Daryl was so surprised by the thought that he actually looked around the table. He hadn't been this instantly attracted to any girl ever. Maybe it was because she looked so fragile. She appealed to his protective side; an appeal he was determined to shut down. There was no way he was going to consign himself to worrying over her fate. He looked down at his own cup of water, resolved to ignore her.
"The R.V. has some room," Andrea said. "You could come in with us. We still have a working shower too."
Daryl was irritated by how relieved he was; he'd been afraid Shane would volunteer.
"Come on," Dale said. "I'll show to your new home."
She settled in to the R.V., happy to be able to get a shower and a decent night's sleep. Just as her eyes closed, she thought about Daryl Dixon. He was older than the guys she usually found attractive, but she thought he was a good looking guy…practical…and she loved the way he handled that bow. She smiled to herself as she drifted off.
"Rick?" Lori said after Carl had gone to sleep.
"What?" he asked.
"What do you think of the new girl?" she said.
"She sure needs to put on a few pounds," Rick said, thinking of the painfully thin girl. "Why?"
"I think she's hiding something," Lori said. "You need to find out what it is."
"Hiding something?" Rick repeated.
"Yes! Why won't she tell anyone her name? And what's with all the knives? I don't trust her, Rick!"
"Fine," he said. "I'll talk to her. I'm going to give her some time to settle in first, that's all. Maybe she'll open up on her own."