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The warmth of sunlight upon her face woke Hailey the following morning. She stretched and let out a content groan, rolling over sleepily to put her arm around Lacey. She missed so she reached a little further… and missed again. Hailey's eyes shot open, her heartbeat instantly increasing to three times it's normal speed. Lacey wasn't by her side, the mattress was cool.
"Lacey?" she stood quickly, looking around the cramped camper. Hailey stood up, ducking her head quickly to check beneath the table – there weren't exactly many place in there for someone to hide, even someone as small as Lacey.
Hailey hurried out of the RV, swearing under her breath, trying to keep calm. She squinted against the glare of the sun as she scanned the camp for any sign of her sister.
"Lacey?" She called out again, her voice sounding strung with panic.
"Good morning, Hailey!" Came the cheery voice from the top of the Camper. Dale smiled down at her, waving his binoculars. "How'd you sleep?"
"Dale, did you see where Lacey went?" Hailey asked quickly, ignoring Dale's pleasantries and trying not to sound as hysterical as she felt. God only knew how long ago that little girl had woken up and wandered off.
"She's over there." The young boy, Carl, pointed just beyond the RV. Hailey whipped around and spotted her instantly. She was sat on a log by a dying fire outside of the Dixon's tent, close to an uncomfortable looking Daryl Dixon who was cleaning his crossbow of with a tattered rag.
Hailey huffed and stormed over to the young girl, overwhelmed by the feelings of relief and fury battling for dominance within her, now that she knew she was safe.
She heard Lacey singing as she approached. Her tiny legs were swinging wildly as she recited what she thought to be the alphabet.
"H, I, J, K, emmallello, P!"
"Think you messed that last part up a little, Kid." Daryl muttered, his eyes never leaving his weapon.
"Where?" she asked, genuinely shocked.
Daryl huffed and wiped the sweat from his brow on the back of his wrist, looking frustrated. Lacey's gazed was fixed so resolutely on Daryl that she didn't notice her older sister approaching.
"Lacey!" Hailey snapped, her hands on her hips. The young girl spun to face her, instantly looking guilty as her eyes met Hailey's. "What have I told you? Never out of my sight, ever. If you need to go somewhere, you wake me up. What were thinking?"
Hailey's resolve crumpled as soon as Lacey gave a feeble shrug and guilt swelled within her. The poor girl had been through a rough few weeks, Hailey loosing her temper at her all because she'd woken up early wasn't fair. She sighed.
"Just wake me up next time, alright?" She said, far more gently.
Lacey jumped up instantly at that to cuddle her sister. Hailey lifted her up and squeezed her tight, relieved that she was alright.
"Daryl's been teaching me to sing the alphabet." Lacey chirped happily and Hailey couldn't help but to quirk an eyebrow at the hunter.
As soon as her eyes meet his, Daryl glanced away quickly. "Asked me to teach her them words I told her 'bout yesterday. Figured no one round here'd be too pleased if I followed through on that one."
Hailey couldn't help but to smile at that.
"How long have you been out here, Lacey?" she asked.
"Not long." She said.
"Long time." Daryl corrected her with a scoff.
"I'm sorry." Hailey offered genuinely. Really, it wasn't his responsibility to watch Lacey so that she could have a sleep in.
It appeared that Daryl had finished cleaning his crossbow. He hoisted it up and slung it over his shoulder without so much as a glance in Hailey's direction. Instead, he walked away, heading past the camper towards the water. He had a canteen in his hand – he was heading off once again to hunt.
"Wait." Hailey called, taking a few quick steps to follow him. He stopped and turned to look at her over his shoulder. "I never thanked you last night… for saving us."
"Was nothin'" He mumbled.
"No it wasn't. If it weren't for you, we'd still be out there… or, you know, worse…" Hailey cleared her throat uncomfortably and looked away, she wasn't good at this sort of thing. "Thank you, Daryl. Really, thank you."
Daryl stood there, awkwardly regripping his crossbow. "You done?" He asked slightly aggressively, not quite meeting her eye.
"Yeah." Hailey answered, feeling stupid.
He turned away from her again, resuming his march down to the water.
"A, C, B, D, E, F, G."
"Come on, button." She said, scooping the child up. "We're going to get some stuff together and then we'll go down to the water to wash up."
It wasn't until that moment that Hailey realised she actually had nothing to change Lacey into, or herself for that matter. She looked over towards the RV, Amy and Andrea were both roughly her size. Surely they'd have a shirt or two that she'd be able to borrow from them. It wasn't really herself that she was concerned about anyway. She was wearing jeans and a tank top, she was fine for now. Lacey, however, was in a flowery little dress, the one she'd been wearing while they'd hid in the city. The one she'd put on the morning that they'd heard the first strange story on the news… about the people with strange fevers who had been bitten…
Hailey shook the thought away and spotted Sophia and her mother. She sighed, determining that it was their most likely option.
Hailey offered a small smile once she reached them. "Morning, Carol."
"Good morning, Hailey. How'd you sleep last night?"
"Better than I have in a long time." She confessed. "Look… I hate having to ask this after everything you've all done for us already… but I don't have any clothes to put Lacey in. I was just hoping that maybe you'd have something of Sophia's…"
It was then that Ed approached, Carol's husband. Hailey had 'met' him the previous night, or rather Shane had introduced her and her sister to which Ed had grunted, mumbling something about 'more mouths to feed'. Hailey had a feeling that this man did little to nothing in terms of contributing to the group – let alone, taking on the responsibility of providing food for everyone. Hailey did her best not to scowl. She saw the way both Carol and Sophia flinched away from him whenever he moved suddenly or unexpectedly. She knew that fear all too well. She knew men like Ed.
"We ain't got nothin' that'll fit your kid." He told her. "'Sides I'm sure you'll understand that we gotta hold tight what little we got. Don't know how long we gon' be out here. Can't afford to go givin' shit away."
"Ed, I'm sure we can spare one shirt-" Carol cut herself off when Ed threw her a warning glare.
"That's ok, Carol." Hailey's eyes never left Ed, and she moved to stand in from of Lacey to hide her from his line of vision. "I'll ask around, see if anyone has anything we could borrow."
Once the sisters had turned to leave, Ed took hold of Carol's arm, pulling her dangerously close to him. "If we start givin' out clothes they'll want more than just that next time. They ain't none o' your concern. You need to start worryin' more about your own and not tryin' to coddle every damn kid that pouts at ya."
Hailey turned and took hold of Lacey's hand, guiding her away. "Lacey," Hailey murmured, once they were out of earshot. "I want you to stay away from that man, you understand me?"
They passed by Daryl as she spoke. Hailey didn't see it, but his eyes flicked up to her at her words, before his gaze fell upon Ed. Lacey had seen him though and she pulled away from Hailey in order to run towards him. He made no attempt to hide his groan upon seeing her approach.
"Are you going hunting again, Daryl?" She asked.
"Can I come with you?"
"I'll be super quiet!"
Daryl snorted. "I doubt that, kid."
"When will you be back?"
"Lacey, come here." Hailey called. She met Daryl's eye and once again he glanced away quickly. He took the opportunity to stride away from the young girl and her sister, heading for the tree line, into the woods.
"Bye Daryl!" Lacey shouted, waving enthusiastically to the back of the man's head. He didn't respond, he didn't so much as wave over his shoulder, but Lacey didn't seem phased at all. She was happy to watch him walk away, off to search for food.
Hailey watched Lacey stare after him. She knew the others had said she ought to discourage Lacey from looking up to Daryl but honestly she couldn't bring herself to do it. At least not yet. There'd been no harm done so far… in fact… Lacey hadn't cried today. She hadn't cried since Daryl had found them in that tree. He made her feel safe, she really saw him as her hero.
That rough, blunt, rude redneck. Hailey smiled a little, ignoring the concern that simultaneously rose up within her. She'd leave her be for the time being.
It was then that a voice shook her from her thoughts.
"I heard you were looking for clothes?"
Hailey turned towards the voice to find a man of roughly 30 standing behind her. He smiled warmly at her, his hands in the pockets of his jeans. He was a handsome man, tall and broad shouldered. His hair was black and his eyes a startling green.
"Hi," Hailey said gently. "Yeah I am. Mostly for this one. She really shouldn't be running around in a dress in these sort of conditions."
The man smiled. "I'm Grant. I have some stuff that the two of you are welcome to."
He held out a small bundle of clothes, pushing them into her arms. Shirts, singlets, socks, pants. Hailey was taken aback, staring at the gift the stranger offered freely to her. She looked up at him, speechless.
"They… they were my daughters… she uh, she didn't make it."
Hailey looked up at him, horrified. She held the clothes out to him, her hands shaking slightly.
"I can't take these from you."
"Please." He said gently. "It's what we do now. We help each other. You can't exactly let her run around in a dress for much longer."
Hailey offered a sad smile, "Thank you, Grant… if there's anything I can do for you, please just let me know."
He smiled at her once again before turned and retreating back to his tent.
"Are we going swimming?" Lacey piped up, shaking Hailey from her thoughts. She was still rather flustered by the kindness they were being offered by strangers.
"Yeah," she said finally. "Let's go."
Carol looked up from her washing to see Hailey spilling water over Lacey's head, doing her best to clean some of the grime out of her hair.
"She hasn't cried for her mother." Carol murmured.
"Huh?" Lori looked up from her washing.
"That little girl, she hasn't once cried for her mother. Daryl found them out in the woods, chased up a tree by a walker. She must have seen some horrible things coming from Atlanta… but she hasn't cried once for her mom."
Lori watched them for a moment, her brow furrowed, before returning her attention to Carl's dirty shirt.
When night fell, the survivors gathered around a small fire, their features only just illuminated. The fire barely kept them from shivering but it had been agreed that it were better to keep the embers low; they couldn't risk being seen from a distance. God only knew how many walkers were wandering around out there in the darkness.
Hailey sat with Amy and Andrea, each of them picking at a small can of tuna – their dinner. The canned supplies that the group had managed to salvage wasn't much, and a heavy tension hung over the group as they were all becoming far too aware of the fact that sooner or later a supply run would have to be made. Someone was going back into Atlanta.
Hailey stared into the dancing flames of their fire as she absently ran her fingers through Lacey's blonde waves. Her tiny head was rested on Hailey's lap where she'd fallen asleep. Hailey had covered her with her hoodie and let her be. She'd had a lot of trouble getting the little girl to sleep lately so she didn't want to risk waking her by moving her to a tent.
Hailey glanced up over the flames. Over beside the group was another small fire. Ed's fire. He sat, lounged back, with his wife and daughter sat opposite him. His property, Hailey determined and this time she didn't bite back her scowl.
Amy looked up and followed her gaze. "Circumstance sure did bring a strange group of people together." She murmured. "I think we've been lucky mostly… but that man…"
"Seen the bruises on Carol's arms?" Andrea asked, still chewing her tuna. "Look an awful lot like fingerprints to me. Like someone's been throwing her around."
"I know his type." Hailey told them, her eyes not leaving Ed. "My daddy was a drinker, he took to getting violent on occasion."
Amy glanced over at Hailey and then to Lacey's tiny frame. "He hit the two of you?"
"Not Lacey." Hailey answered. Her hand clutched protectively – instinctively – over the little girl. "Never her. Not yet… now I guess he'll never get the chance."
"He died? When-when it started." Amy prodded gently, too curious to leave the issue be.
"I don't know." She answered simply. "He wasn't with us when it all happened. I moved out of home as soon as I'd graduated. I rent a shoebox apartment in the city. Lacey's mom had brought her out to visit me while she went to run up some more credit card debt on more shoes she didn't need. Finding out where he is, that's the last thing I'm concerned with doing."
"Lacey's mom." Andrea repeated. "Not yours, too?"
Hailey looked up at the sisters, their eyes were glued to her, waiting for answers. It's not like Hailey could blame them for their curiosity. There wasn't really much for any of them to do for entertainment at the camp, especially at night. And in truth, Hailey had been wondering herself about where each of them had come from, how they'd all been so lucky to escape the Dead, alive and unharmed.
"You guys aren't going to give until I spill, are you?" She said with a smirk on her face.
"Not like there's anything else to do," Amy smiled at her. "Pretty sure Desperate Housewives is experiencing some sort of hiatus right about now."
Hailey laughed a little, admitting defeat. They were going to keep prodding until they got her story out of her. It wasn't like any of it mattered anymore anyway. It sort of seemed erased now – irrelevant. Wherever they'd come from, whatever they'd been… there was no going back to that.
"My mom died when I was little. Cancer. When she first got sick they did the best they could but we weren't exactly well off, and between the Doctor's bills and the medicine… it all adds up. They really must have struggled, and I've got a few good memories of them both back before all that. They did their best, and they were good people but they were only kids themselves – both seventeen when mom fell pregnant with me.
"Mom just kept getting sicker and we could barely afford to eat by the end of it. I still can't bear to eat canned beans; it's all I lived on for a good six months. After mom died, Dad was left with a five year old daughter and a hell of a lot of unpaid medical bills. He started drinking. I was six years old the first time he hit me."
Andrea followed Hailey's gaze, she was staring at Carol's fragile looking daughter, Sophia.
"As I got older, I kind of withdrew into myself. I decided I wanted to make something of myself, looking around and seeing all the kids with their nice, new clothes and talking about holidays their families went on and their new phones and computers. I wanted all that, but I knew I'd have to make it for myself, so I buckled down and studied hard for the last four years of high school. Graduated top of my class and moved to Atlanta, worked two jobs to pay the rent and get myself through college.
"Then a year after I left home, Dad won the lottery." Hailey smirked at the looks of horror on each of the girl's faces. "Funny how things work out, huh? He bought the big house and the fancy car. Blew a lot of it on a trip to Vegas and came back with a wife – a stripper he met there named Chastity. She's only a year older than me. She had Lacey ten months after they met and I tried not to care. I didn't want a part of it at all but when I first saw that tiny little baby girl in her crib with our drunken Father yelling at her 'no good, dumbass bitch' of a mother… I realised he hadn't changed. All the money in the world wasn't going to make him happy. Men like him will always be miserable. And I was never going to let him do to her what he did to me. I honestly think I've spent more time raising her than the two of them combined."
Amy and Andrea sat in silence, letting the story sink in. She had spoken so disconnectedly about it – like she'd been explaining the plot of some movie she'd watched a week before. She looked at them and saw the sympathy and the horror in their eyes. She only smiled.
"Everyone's got a sob story." Hailey murmured. "And I really think what each and every person here has experienced in the last few weeks puts anything before that into perspective. I really think I had it pretty good before, you know, by comparison."
They sat in silence for a while, all staring at the fire before them, all lost in thought.
"Hailey… how did you get out of Atlanta alive?" Andrea asked. Out of the corner of her eye Hailey saw both Shane and Lori glance towards her. "The city is crawling with those things. We were sure anyone left in there was dead. How'd you make it out?"
Hailey opened her mouth, attempting to form words. Her heart started to race and she did her best to remain calm. She couldn't talk about that. Not with strangers. Not with the group of people who had taken them in and fed them, kept them safe… the people who could turn them away, force them back into that world of running… alone… if they knew-
"Well, what have we got here?" Came a startlingly loud voice.
All eyes shot towards the approaching figure of Merle Dixon. Instantly the atmosphere changed completely, every member of the group seemed to tense up.
"Hey Shane, I heard you yesterday introducin' the fresh meet to these yahoos. You forget about ol' Merle or somethin'?"
Thanks once again for reading! Any feedback you might have would be great! I'm going to try my best to get one more chapter up before Christmas! But if not, Happy Holidays everyone! I hope Santa is good to all of you :)