Author's Note: I'm sure everyone though I abandoned this story but in reality my life just got so crazy there was no way I could keep up. My life is still crazy but I needed a distraction. I hope I'll be able to keep the updates from having large gaps between them but I can't make any promises. Please let me know if you're interested in me continuing this story, I'd like to if people are interested.
The first thing Cassandra was aware of when she next came to was a muffled banging like the sound of pots clanging together. The sound, though distant, sent a jolt of pain through her head and she felt her face scrunch into an expression of pain.
"Mom, I think she's waking up!" A voice called out from nearby. "Hey, lady, you ok?"
Cassandra forced first one eye open and then the other, blinking in an attempt to bring the face hovering over her into focus. After a few seconds she managed to regain enough of her vision to realize that it was a little boy, probably 10-years-old or so, with wild brown hair falling into his eyes.
"Carl, give her room to breathe," A new voice announced, as a woman appeared, steering the boy away gently before taking his place and turning to Cassandra. "It's ok sweetheart, you're safe."
Cassandra thought she might have laughed in that moment if she wasn't still feeling so weak and disoriented.
Who was this woman kidding? There was no such thing as safe anymore.
"Where am I?" Cassandra managed to croak out, her throat burning with the effort. "Where's…"
Fear rushed through her form, the feeling akin to being doused with a bucket of freezing water.
"Emma! Where's Emma?" Cassandra sat up quickly, the dizziness almost forcing her right back down again.
"Whoa, careful now," The woman urged, reaching out and pushing her back down onto what she now realized was a bench bed in some sort of camper or RV. "Seems like you took a good knock to the head so just take it easy for a bit."
Cassandra closed her eyes again for a moment and took a deep breath. More like she'd taken a few good knocks to the head not to mention a few other various injuries, malnutrition, and general exhaustion.
She opened her eyes again and met the concerned gaze of the woman watching her carefully as though she was prepared to push her down again if she got any more ideas about sitting up. The woman held out a cup with some water in it and Cassandra tried to drink from it without choking, no easy feat from her current reclining position. Once she had drained the cup she once again turned her attention to the woman before her.
"I need to find Emma," Cassandra told her as forcefully as she could manage under the circumstances.
"Emma? That your little girl's name? We've got her sweetie, she's alright," The woman soothed.
Cassandra felt relief wash over her and allowed her body to relax slightly.
"She ran into camp on her own, screaming bloody murder and pointing back the way she came." The woman was continuing, shaking her head like she couldn't quite believe what she was saying. "Glen went to scout the perimeter, see if he could figure out where she came from and that's where he found you, two walkers hot on your trail."
Cassandra didn't respond, too many questions running through her mind for any of them to actually escape from her lips.
"I'm Laurie by the way," The woman offered, seemingly undeterred by Cassandra's silence. She brushed her long brown hair out of her eyes and gestured behind her to where the boy was still hovering in the background. "This is my son Carl. What's your name?"
"Cassandra," She managed to force out on a whisper.
"Cassandra," Laurie nodded as though that piece of information told her something more than a simple name. "Well, you can meet everyone else when you're feeling up to it. We'll let you rest for awhile longer."
Laurie turned to leave, steering her son by the shoulders in front of her.
Just as they reached the threshold of the RV, Cassandra found her voice and called out the only question that had managed to make it through the fog of her mind.
"Did she say anything?"
Laurie turned back, her gaze questioning.
"Emma. When she was yelling…did she say anything?"
Laurie gave the younger woman a soft and knowing smile.
"She just said 'Momma'," Laurie told her. "Come on Carl, I've got dinner going, you can help me finish up."
With that they were gone leaving Cassandra to feel the full weight of Laurie's words even as consciousness once again slipped away from her grasp.
The next time she woke Cassandra felt substantially more stable though her head still ached. There was another full cup of water sitting next to the bench she reclined on and she drained it gratefully. Her next step was to slowly rotate her aching body until she could get her feet on the ground. She winced at the sharp pain when she put her weight on her injured right ankle but she found herself able to stand if she leaned heavily on the other foot.
Cassandra half walked, half hopped towards the door of the RV and managed to balance herself enough to reach forward and open the door, pushing it hard enough that it swung outward and made contact with the exterior of the camper. The resulting bang was enough to leave her wincing and to draw the eyes of the group of people gathered around a fire a short distance away.
A group of about fifteen was huddled around the fire, eating something out of bowls. At least, it appeared that was what they had been doing before her rather unceremonious entrance.
Cassandra felt her entire body stiffen under their scrutiny. Her contact with humans had been so sporadic since this whole thing started and her most recent interactions with them had been divided between the terrifying attack and the confusing rescue. To be the center of attention of such a large group of people now felt unsafe and wrong somehow.
Against all rational thought she was contemplating somehow making a run for it when a familiar voice emerged from one of the figures and she realized it was Laurie.
"Cassandra, good to see you up," She offered a smile that she probably hoped was comforting. "Join us, we're just eating dinner."
Cassandra scanned the other gathered faces and recognized Carl but no one else. She wasn't sure if she had dreamed seeing her mystery man earlier but he certainly didn't seem to be around now. She didn't see Emma either.
Laurie must have guessed the direction of her thoughts because she quickly spoke up.
"Emma's with Carol resting," Laurie offered soothingly. "Carol's got a girl of her own, Sophia. She'll look after her while you get some food in you."
Cassandra wasn't completely convinced but she was hardly in a position to argue. She limped down from the RV and over to the fire, taking a seat on a log next to Carl who had moved over to make room for her. She was quickly passed a bowl that seemed to contain some sort of liquid with meat that might pass for stew though she didn't much fancy asking what was in it. Finding herself far too hungry to question it too deeply, Cassandra gripped the spoon she was handed tightly and dug in.
"We'll try to find you a wrap for that ankle," Laurie offered. "In the mean time, let me introduce you to some people."
Cassandra half-listened as Laurie gestured around the circle rattling off names. There was an older man named Dale who smiled kindly at her, two blondes she thought were sisters named Andrea and something she couldn't remember, a Hispanic family, and numerous others who all started to blend together in her mind. All in all there were about 15 people eating dinner and she was told there were about 15 more around camp or out hunting.
This was the largest group she'd seen since this all began. She couldn't fathom how they'd all managed to survive this long in what looked to be an at least semi-permanent camp. She figured it probably had something to due with their relatively high altitude and her earlier guess about the zombies not venturing this high as long as they had plentiful food down below.
After everyone had finished eating the group broke up with a couple of women gathering the used dishes to be washed the next day and an appointed man poking at the fire to make sure it was burning low enough not to attract attention but not so low that it went out completely. The rest drifted off slowly towards their own campers or tents, Dale stopping to pat her on the shoulder as he passed, offering her a smile more fatherly than any she'd ever received from her own father.
A woman with short grey hair approached Laurie and whispered in her ear before offering Cassandra a hesitant smile and retreating the way she came.
"Emma's sleeping," Laurie told her, one arm wrapped around Carl's shoulder. "I can take you to see her now."
Cassandra felt the familiar prickling sensation at the corner of her eyes, but predictably, no tears came.
"No," She managed to offer quietly. "I don't want to wake her. I'll see her in the morning."
Laurie couldn't hide her shock at Cassandra's answer, though she did her best to school her face into a neutral expression though the younger woman caught it easily enough.
"Sure, in the morning will be fine, I'm sure you're still exhausted too," Laurie responded.
Cassandra stared intently into her own lap as though it were the most interesting thing in the world. She knew Laurie was questioning what kind of a mother wouldn't want, no need, to see her child was alright for herself as soon as humanly possible. That was just it though; she wasn't any kind of mother.
It wasn't that she wasn't concerned about Emma. She was feeling so antsy without the girl's constant, if silent, presence she could feel it in her bones.
It was just that as soon as Laurie had mentioned that woman Carol, that mother, who had her own little girl and was watching over Emma the way she probably deserved, the way Cassandra just couldn't…she hadn't been able to bring herself to wake Emma and take her back.
She didn't know why she hadn't corrected Laurie, hadn't told all of these people that Emma wasn't really hers, wasn't even really called Emma.
There had been something oddly reassuring about Laurie's assumption that she and Emma were family given that she had no idea if either of them had any actual relatives left, anyone who loved or cared about them on the entire Earth.
She realized belatedly that Laurie was still talking.
"Don't know why the Dixon brothers each need their own tent but no one wants to be the one to try to take one away from them, not even Shane, and they do more than their fair share of the hunting so mostly we let them be."
Cassandra raised her gaze and stared at Laurie blankly. What did any of this have to do with her?
"Daryl's gone hunting," Laurie explained. "He'll be gone a few days, you can sleep in his tent until he gets back and by then hopefully we'll have another arrangement figured out."
Cassandra nodded blankly. Of course she never should have assumed Laurie would just let her keep sleeping in the RV with her and her son. Just because she'd been relatively kind didn't mean they weren't still strangers. She didn't seem to have a husband around and having a random person, injured girl or not, putting them at risk or using up their resources wasn't high on her priority list it could be assumed. Cassandra hated herself for the disappointment that bubbled up within her.
Laurie gestured towards two tents that were set slightly apart from the rest and pointed out the one on the right as Daryl's.
"I wouldn't recommend messing with his stuff," She warned, hesitating before continuing her advice, her tone now slightly guilty. "Meryl will be in the other tent, steer clear of him if you can. You'll be fine though, everyone else is right here so just give a hollar if he gives you any trouble."
Cassandra felt herself nodding, slightly incredulous that this woman she had thought of as kindly was sending her off to sleep within spitting distance of a man her tone was implying was less than trustworthy.
"I meant to ask you earlier,' Laurie plowed ahead, seeming to want to talk her way out of her guilt. "Did you know Daryl? From before I mean? You seemed to recognize each other when Glen first brought you to camp."
Cassandra stared blankly for a moment before the woman's words sunk in.
"That was Daryl?" She asked, wracking her brain for exactly what had passed between them before she'd fainted. "We just…we met on the road. Briefly."
"You said he robbed you," Laurie reminded her cautiously, seeming skeptical of Cassandra's explanation.
"I hit my head, I don't know what I was saying," Cassandra insisted, not sure why she was defending the mystery man. Ok, well he had saved her life, there was that. Still, it was more a sense of self-preservation than anything. He would likely be pissed enough to return and find her sleeping in his tent, she didn't need him thinking she'd sold him out as well.
"I hope you're telling the truth," Laurie seemed frustrated with her answer. "I can't have dangerous people around my son."
Cassandra wanted to say that Laurie had seemed eager enough to send her into the potential home base of this supposed robber and his brother but she bit her tongue and simply nodded.
Laurie sighed and with nothing more than a goodnight and a nod she tuned and retreated into the RV.
Cassandra turned and faced the tent she was meant to be sleeping in for the night and gritted her teeth. Her head and ankle were both still throbbing and she was simply too exhausted to turn down any relatively comfortable resting place, even if it did belong to someone who might cause her harm if he discovered her there.
She shook her head and limped slowly towards the tent, determined not to think about it until tomorrow.
There would be more than enough time tomorrow to figure out a better sleeping arrangement, to figure out how to get up the nerve to face Emma again, figure out how to decide if they should stay or head out on their own again.
There would be plenty of time tomorrow…as long as she wasn't killed by the undead in the night.
That was always a possibility.