A/N – I'm a huge Daryl and Carol fan but I have this idea for a story that's outside of that realm and is a little different. This is that story and I'm challenging myself to do it justice. I hope you like it! Please read and review!

Imagine a Walking Dead where Sophia wasn't in the barn. Imagine all that time on the farm and they never found her. For the purpose of this story, Sophia wasn't in the barn when Shane broke down the doors. Everything else on the farm will probably still happen how it happened but we aren't there yet. Dale will be gone, Shane will be gone, and the herd will have created enough chaos that the group abandons the farm like they did on the show and their search for Sophia. For all intents and purposes, they all (Carol and Daryl included) will probably have assumed that there was no way she could have made it. She's only 12. But what if she did make it… what if she made it and she met up with someone who helped her to survive along the way. There might be flashes of the rest of the group in here while we learn Sophia's story, and hopefully a reunion at some point.

This story should be kept fairly clean as far as sex stuff since Sophia is obviously only 12, so I'm rating it T, but keep in mind there will be swearing and derogatory stuff in some chapters and definite angst and horror.

Disclaimers – I own nothing. I may create some OC's at some point but if you recognize a name or a place, I don't own it or take any credit for it. I also apologize if any part of this story becomes or is unrealistic in any way. I'm making it up as I go along – locations, dialects, character backgrounds and personalities. I will try to make up for unrealism with consistency as I go.

Chapter 1

Sophia felt like she'd been running for days. She had no idea where she was. The woods surrounding her appeared identical everywhere she looked and she had no idea how far she'd traveled from the highway. She was sniffling as she shuffled along. She kept telling herself not to cry. That it was stupid to cry. She was too old for crying over being lost. She was twelve – practically a teenager.

She had tried to retrace her steps. When Rick left her hiding by the stream, she had tried to retrace her steps back to the highway, back to her mother, and back to the group. But she must have gotten turned around. Because suddenly she just seemed deeper in the woods, further from the highway, and everything was darkening and scary around her. She stopped for a moment to catch her breath, and to listen. She could hear birds. She could hear the wind. But she couldn't hear anyone calling for her. She was certain they would be looking for her. She couldn't have strayed that far away… could she have?

Maybe they left me. Maybe my mom decided she was better off and they just packed up and left. The invading thought almost made her laugh. That was ridiculous. Her mom would never leave her. In fact, Sophia was fairly certain that her mom was going to be pissed at Rick that they'd ended up separated. Not that it was Rick's fault. He had to leave her behind to lure the danger away. She hoped Rick was okay. There were two of them and only one of him but he seemed pretty capable. Much more capable than her at least.

Sophia was so mad at herself for crawling out from under that car when she did. She should have waited. She knew she should have waited. But her mom had been right there… just one car over. And she had needed her mom. Twelve years old and she still wanted her mommy. She wasn't proud of it, and it probably meant she was still just a great big baby… but still. The world's falling apart, reanimated dead people are out there trying to eat you… of course, a girl is going to want her mommy.

Sophia sighed. And here she was now. In the middle of nowhere, out of breath and dirty, running through the woods, probably putting more and more distance between her and the group. She thought about the books she'd read, and the movies she'd seen. They always said when you were lost to stay in one place so someone could find you. But what if no one was looking? What if another herd had gone past and they were all dead. What if she was all that was left?

Now the tears were at the brim of Sophia's eyelids. There was no way she was going to hold them back. She was alone. She was alone and had no idea what to do or where she should go. She was as good as dead too.

She kept moving though. Pressing forward through the dense woods. It was growing darker outside and she figured it must be well past dinnertime the way her stomach was growling. She pushed through a bush and stepped out into an open area. Water! She was back at the stream… or maybe a different stream, she wasn't sure. She moved out into the open area, across the wet, sandy muck to the water in the center. She kneeled down to drink. She could practically hear her mother yelling about not drinking unsanitized water. But what choice did she have at this point. She had no matches to start a fire for boiling, and even if she did – what exactly was she going to use to boil the water? Her hopes and dreams?

So she drank. She drank and drank until her belly felt expanded and full, even though it was just a way of fooling her stomach to stop its growling. Quit its bellyaching. She started to giggle at the thought. Bellyaching – that sounded like something she had heard Daryl Dixon say. She had never really understood what that term meant, but she didn't think it was supposed to be literal. Her belly did ache though. The water wasn't going to make her any less hungry, but at least she could pretend her stomach was full until it remembered it wasn't.

A sound in the woods on the other side of the stream alerted her. She noticed how quiet it suddenly was. No chirping. That couldn't be a good sign. She stood up abruptly. There was still some light in the clearing where she stood, but the woods were dark and ominous around her. Sophia felt spooked. She wasn't safe here. Her hair stood on end as she waited, her gaze fixed on the area that had rustled. Her body was poised to run at the slightest provocation. She heard a low growling that wasn't from her stomach and the leaves started to sway violently. She turned and ran, having no idea if she was running back where she had just come from or in an entirely different direction altogether. She just ran. Her legs moving quickly in the dark, her thighs screaming that she should stop and a cramp in her side from all the water she'd drank threatened her pace, but she hastened her step and kept moving. She hadn't seen what it was in that bush, but she needed to get as far away from it as possible.

As quickly as she started running, she was forced into a stop as the cramp in her side increased and made her double over in pain. She clutched her side and panted. She didn't know how far she had gotten but there were birds chirping here again. Crickets even. She breathed heavily and her heart raced. It was then she realized she had left her doll. She had put the doll down to drink from the stream and, in her panic, had forgotten to pick it back up.

Sophia sobbed inwardly at the loss of the doll, but she wouldn't allow herself to cry. This wasn't the time to act like a baby, to cry over the loss of her favorite childhood friend. It was kind of pathetic to have a doll for a friend anyway, at her age. But still, she felt the loss of that doll like she would have felt the loss of a brother or a sister or a pet. She could still remember the day her mother gave it to her.

It was after a particularly bad night with daddy. A night where Sophia had hid under the bed while she listened to the sounds of her daddy and her mother in the other room. A night with shouting and screaming and punching and kicking. It hadn't been the first night she'd heard it happen, and she probably should have been used to it by that point. But she was only five at the time, and there really isn't a decent way for a five year old to get used to something like that. That was the night he'd come in the room afterward and burnt her leg with his cigarette. She hadn't realized she wasn't fully concealed under the bed, until she had seen his legs in the room, and then felt the hot sear on her skin, the sizzle of burning flesh. She had yelped and pulled her unconcealed leg under the bed, curling up in a ball and hugging her knees to her chest while the wounded leg twitched and seared in pain. Daddy had just laughed loudly and viciously, and said something about it serving her right.

The next day her mommy had given her the doll. And Sophia had loved it ever since. Her mom had said that the doll would protect her. That when she was scared or upset, the doll would be there and she could talk to it and hug it until the danger passed. Of course, at five, she had believed her mom then. Since then, Sophia had obviously learned that a doll couldn't protect her. That a doll couldn't stop the beatings when her daddy got angry with her or her mom.

But the doll was always there, and it had always sort of comforted her even without it being able to actually protect her. Her mom protected her as best she could, she tried to take the beatings meant for Sophia, but even she was probably more comfort after the fact than protection during. What Ed wanted to hit, Ed got to hit – whether you want it or not. Far as he was concerned, they – Sophia and her mom – were always asking to get hit. Not long before the world went crazy with living dead people, Sophia had stopped thinking of him so much as Daddy, and had starting thinking of him as just plain mean old Ed. Ed the ass. Not that she ever told her mother that. Her mother would never have approved of her using the word 'ass' to describe anyone. Even Ed. Her mother wasn't like that. Her mother was better than that.

Sophia never swore out loud… just in her head. She'd called Ed lots of names in her head when he struck her. She'd imagined doing all sorts of mean things to Ed in her head. And she was glad when the dead people took him down. She would never cry over that mean old ass. Her daddy had been dead to her for a long time before he actually died.

Some people in the group had gotten to calling the dead people that took down her daddy and Amy and the others, 'walkers', and some others called them 'geeks', although she'd always thought that a geek was a nerd, which meant a really smart, but un-cool person, so she didn't get the connection there. She never actually met a real geek or nerd before because she always thought everyone she met was pretty cool. Cooler than her, at least. She kind of thought the dead people were zombies because that's what books and movies usually called the living dead people that showed up and tried to eat people's brains and stuff.

When the cramp in her side subsided, Sophia started walking again. She still had no idea where she was going, but she figured if she kept walking sooner or later something had to look familiar. She didn't know how far the woods kept going, but they had to stop somewhere… she hoped. If she could find a road, maybe she could follow it back to the highway, back to the others, back to her mother. It was really dark now, but she kept going. She was getting tired and her legs protested some, but she knew she had to keep going. If she fell asleep out here, all alone in the dark, something bad might find her. Movement was all she had right now to keep her safe.

She thought she heard something not far away through the woods to her right… like gravel crunching beneath tires. A car! She started to run again, moving quickly through the woods, swatting the low branches away from her as she moved. She burst out onto the pavement, directly into the path of oncoming headlights. She froze in the light, scared to death and unable to move, and the only thought she could think was – they'll stop, they have to stop… it's me they're looking for… right?