A/N: Sooo! Walking Dead! I know there are a ton of these fics already out there, but hopefully you guys like my take on this awesome series as well! It'll follow the show, but I might add in details from the comic here and there. Perhaps. Maybe. Er... yeah. Anyway, it says on the timeline for the tv show that Lori and Shane left and got caught on the highway to Atlanta about 15-17 days after the initial outbreak, and that's when this story begins! Cookies to everyone who read this. If you like it, don't like it, whatever - please leave a review saying why! :D Thank you!
Disclaimer: I do not own the Walking Dead, only Audrey and Myra.
Action and Reaction
Ch 1: Dark Days
The traffic had been backed up for hours. People had turned off their cars and opted to start talking with others who had decided to stretch their legs, some even setting up camping chairs outside their vehicles. It seemed as good a thing to do as any - they hadn't moved an inch, and many of them had been in their cars for most of the day trying to get into Atlanta.
And yet even after hours of sitting, Audrey O'Connor found that she couldn't bring herself to get out of her car. She sat in a daze in the driver's seat of her old Grand Cherokee, forehead leaning on the steering wheel, staring dully into her lap. The emergency broadcasts and those of the refugee center gargled in the background, but she wasn't paying attention anymore. Her mind was blank. The more she tried to wrap her head around the situation, the more she found that she just couldn't accept it – she didn't want to.
She didn't want to think about how she was stuck out here in the open, practically sitting on a platter with who knew how many other refugees, waiting what seemed like eons to get to the safety they had been promised - to the safety they had been assured would be there. Seriously, what the fuck was happening for things to be going this slow? She would expect it to be hectic, but they weren't even moving anymore!
Nor did she want to think about how easy it would be for one, or two, or ten of those… those freaks to just wander towards the highway and find them all sitting there, trapped on the road. It would be utter chaos if they were caught like this, without protection or any place to hide. And chaos only seemed to attract more of them… more of their horrible stench... more of their unsettling groans and moans and their sickening gasps and gurgles... more of their desperate hands and gnashing teeth and glazed, undead eyes that never left you once they caught you in their gaze-
A shaky breath made it past her lips, and Audrey clenched her eyes shut. No. No, she wouldn't think about that either. She whimpered, burying her face in her hands. She had to be calm. A panic attack now wouldn't help things. Deep breaths. Deeeeep breaths. I'm gonna be fine. Traffic will start moving soon enough. I'll be in Atlanta before I know it and everything will be okay. They won't get me. They won't get me. I won't let them. She chanted the words like a mantra in her head, swallowing a lump in her throat.
A shrill whine from the backseat snapped her out of her thoughts and she glanced up into the rear view mirror, meeting a pair of big, brown eyes. Her puppy, Myra, stared at her from behind the bars of her kennel, and Audrey felt herself slowly becoming calmer as she stared back into those warm orbs. With a sniffle, she looked down at her hands and realized that she had been shaking. And she didn't know why, since there really was nothing humorous about the situation, but suddenly she was laughing at herself.
"I never thought I was one to lose my head in traffic… but I guess there's a first for everything, eh Myra?" Even for dead people walking around.
The puppy's ears perked at the sound of her owner's voice and she pawed at the metal door of her kennel, whining again.
"You need to go out, sweetie?" Audrey crooned, and she saw the little mutt shift excitedly in her kennel at the magic word. Audrey smiled one last time at the reflection in the mirror before glancing wearily around outside. More and more people were getting out of their cars, some wandering ahead to see how far the traffic went, and others simply trying to ease the tension by conversing with their neighbors.
She shifted her gaze to the trees at the edge of the road, staring into the forest for any sign of movement, any shambling corpse making its way through the shrubs to take the group by surprise, but there was nothing. Everything was still in the forest, and with a resigned sigh, Audrey finally rallied her resolve enough to push her door open. Sitting in the car wasn't doing her good anyway, she decided.
The sun was just barely hovering over the tree line, but it was still warm enough that Audrey could sit comfortably in her jeans and t-shirt. If anything it was a bit humid, but after living in Georgia for four years, such weather hardly even registered to her anymore.
She sat on the side of the road, Myra's leash loosely hanging from her wrist as the puppy sniffed curiously at the grass close by. It was uncomfortable sitting on the pavement, but in her hurry to escape the apocalypse, Audrey had been more preoccupied with snatching food, medical supplies, and other essentials rather than grabbing her camping chair.
Silly me! She thought, huffing bitterly.
She would've gotten settled back in the car, but it had been getting stuffy in there and from her walk with Myra, she could tell that they probably weren't going anywhere anytime soon. She had decided to venture ahead and there had been nothing to indicate that they were going to be making it to Atlanta before sunset, much to her dismay. As far ahead as she dared to go, as much as she squinted to see ahead in the traffic, there were no signs that people were turning their cars back on or packing up their things, and so she had decided to head back and sit it out in the fresh air.
There were still soft murmurings between the refugees, but everyone was keeping relatively quiet. They knew just as well as she did that it was safer to stay hushed. Even though many were trying to appear calm and cool, there was still a sense of underlying tension in the air, and Audrey wondered how long it would take before the blood would start boiling and some of the surlier customers here would start getting a little rowdy. If anybody here was a mad driver before the world went to shit, she didn't want to see what their road rage was like now that the world had ended.
She tried to stay calm and take comfort from the fact that she wasn't currently surrounded by cannibals, but she still found herself fidgety. The longer she sat there waiting, the more she wanted to just get up and leave. She didn't like staying out in the open like this. But where the hell else was there to go? Her family was waiting for her in the sanctuary in Atlanta, and she sure as hell couldn't go back home. She supposed she could backtrack a little; find someplace a bit off the beaten path to ride out the night if she really wanted to. But would she be any safer isolated and alone than she was here?
"Best pray we get into Atlanta soon, Myra. I might end up going crazy if I have to sit out here any longer." She grumbled, only half kidding.
The puppy looked up from her sniffing for a moment, acknowledging Audrey's voice, before romping clumsily back towards the road, tail wagging. Her attention wasn't fixated on her owner, however, but rather on someone else entirely. Audrey spun around, alarmed that someone could have snuck up on her. She became even more alarmed when she didn't see anyone right away. Was someone watching her? She held Myra's leash taught, ensuring the pup couldn't run around the back of her vehicle and out of sight.
At first, no one appeared, and Audrey hoped that maybe someone had just been passing by and caught Myra's attention. But after a few seconds, two hesitant forms made their way around her jeep and Audrey felt herself relax. It was just a couple of kids.
Before she could ask who they were, the boy spoke up and introduced them both.
"Um… I'm Carl. This," he motioned to the girl behind him, "is Sophia. We didn't mean to bother you. We just saw your puppy and, um. We just wanted to see if we could pet it…" The kid trailed off and looked from Audrey, to Myra, then to the ground, shuffling uncertainly. Audrey smiled as pleasantly as she could manage at the pair.
"Oh, no, no! Sorry if I sounded harsh before. I was just… daydreaming and you two caught me by surprise, is all. But go ahead, you can pet her. She loves meeting new people. I'm Audrey. That's Myra."
Carl gave her a small grin and nodded his head before getting closer. "It's nice to meet you, ma'am." he said, crouching down to ruffle Myra's ears. Sophia hesitated a second longer, and Audrey noticed her glancing back at something before getting down beside Carl.
For a couple minutes there was silence between them, except for the occasional giggle or baby talk to Myra, and Audrey decided that this was nice. It was a small moment, but it was a welcome break from all the mayhem that had plagued the last two weeks.
"What kind of dog is she?"
Carl and Sophia glanced at each other and snorted.
"I asked what kind of dog Myra was. Were you daydreaming again?" Carl asked, a teasing lilt in his voice. Audrey couldn't help but smile sheepishly.
"Er… yeah, I can do that a lot. I tend to over think things. And she's a foxhound border collie mix."
"She's so small." Sophia's voice was quiet, and if Audrey hadn't caught the girl looking at her, she wouldn't have been sure if the girl had said anything at all.
"Well, she was the runt of the litter. But she's only four months old and she has a lot of growing up to do still. Sometimes runts can grow bigger than their siblings, ya know? They're just late bloomers is all." She replied. For the first time, Sophia smiled at her before turning back to rub Myra's belly, cooing about how she was going to grow up big and strong.
She was a sweetheart, Audrey thought. A bit timid, but Audrey had been pretty shy when she was a kid, so she couldn't say much. Carl seemed like a good kid too. Were they siblings? There didn't seem to be much of a resemblance between the two. Cousins, maybe? Were they even family? She was about to ask them a bit more about themselves when a woman's voice called out.
"Carl? Carl, where are you?"
Carl froze and looked up at Audrey with a face that clearly said he knew he had done something wrong. He quickly stood up and jogged back out of sight around the car and Audrey heard him talking to a woman. She glanced back at Sophia, who was giving her the same regretful look as Carl.
"... Did your parents know you were over here?" she asked, eyes narrowed. Sophia pursed her lips and shook her head, choosing to look at the pavement rather than at Audrey now. With a sigh, Audrey figured she should explain the situation and stood. As she was brushing off the dirt and gravel from the backside of her jeans, she heard another woman call out Sophia's name and the girl was gone in a flash. Myra let out an indignant whine at the sudden disappearance of her attention givers to which Audrey simply leaned down and swooped her up.
"No noise, little tyke." She murmured, walking around the Jeep to follow after the kids. A woman with buzz cut gray hair was leaning down, cupping both of Sophia's cheeks and speaking softly but urgently to the girl. Carl stood before a skinny woman with long brown hair, a color that matched his, and a muscular looking man. Both looked a little less than pleased with him, but relieved nonetheless.
"You can't go runnin' off like that, Carl. You were close, but we couldn't see you, man, we didn't know where you were."
"I was just-"
"Don't argue, Carl. You led Sophia off too and her mother was worried sick. Now sweetie, we're not mad at you, but this isn't the time to be wandering off. You are to stay within our sight at all times. You understand?"
Audrey watched the scene awkwardly and finally chose to approach when it seemed the family had come to an agreement.
"Um… excuse me."
All eyes turned to her. The kids didn't seem troubled, but their parents eyed her wearily and Audrey felt herself tense up slightly. Maybe she should've just kept her nose in her own business, like she had been planning to earlier. Dealing with people had never been her strong point.
"Uh, I'm sorry to butt in. My name's Audrey O'Connor. The kids had seen I had a puppy and came over to ask if they could pet her. I let'em, but I guess I should've asked if their parents were alright with it… or if you even knew they were with me…" she trailed off and was met with a moment of silent stares from all three parents that practically screamed, 'Yes. Yes you should have.' It was the long haired woman who finally broke the silence by leaning down to look at Carl.
"Is that true?" A nod from the boy and the woman looked back to Audrey. "Well, thank god they're safe at least. Thank you for being so kind to them. I'm Lori Grimes. This is Shane." She motioned to the man who nodded and said a quick greeting.
"And I'm Carol. Thank you for keeping my daughter safe." The woman with the buzz cut spoke up, and though Audrey wanted to say that, really, she hadn't done anything to keep them safe besides sit with them for a couple of minutes, she smiled nonetheless and instead said that it was nothing. Because really. It had literally been nothing.
"Where's the rest of your group?" Shane questioned, looking into her vehicle at the empty seats.
Audrey hesitated for a second, not totally sure about confessing that she was alone to a bunch of strangers. But Carl and Sophia had seemed like nice enough kids, and surely the parents that raised them would be good people too.
"…I'm alone. My family is waiting for me in Atlanta."
Another brief moment of silence while Lori and Shane shared a look, almost like they were silently debating with each other, before Lori spoke up once more. "It's going to be dark pretty soon and we're only a few cars behind you. Maybe you could bring Myra back and we can all keep each other company until the line starts moving again."
At first, Audrey wasn't sure what to say to such kindness. She still felt nervous about sitting overnight on the road. But even if she tried to leave and find a less exposed area, there was no guarantee she would be safer. And if this was the traffic now, it would probably set her back in line by miles to leave and try to rejoin in the morning. Glancing back to the hopeful faces of Sophia and Carl, Audrey remembered how much more relaxed she had felt when she had been in their presence, even for a few short minutes. Their company would be a welcome distraction.
"I'd love to."
Just as Audrey had predicted, they hadn't moved an inch.
The small group had done their best to keep conversation flowing, but the fact that they still hadn't made any progress in line by the time the sun had gone down was making them all uneasy. They did their best to stay distracted. Audrey had handed the leash over to the kids, who promised they would be careful not to let go of it for a second - Myra was still a puppy and had a habit of wandering off from time to time, she warned them.
"Then again, I'm not sure I should trust you two with her - you seem to have the same problem." she'd teased. Carl rolled his eyes and Sophia stuck her tongue out at her before the two continued with trying to teach Myra to roll over. They really were good kids, Audrey thought. They all seemed like good enough people, really. Shane didn't really acknowledge her that much, but he seemed like he was more absorbed in his thoughts at the moment, so she looked past it. Although she wasn't completely sure about Sophia's father. When Carol had introduced her to Ed, the man had been gruff and dismissive. Audrey could have forgiven it - after all, saying that things had been rough lately would've been an understatement - but she had been taking note of how both Carol and Sophia seemed to act when he hovered around with the group instead of sitting in the driver's seat of his truck, listening to the radio. Something was definitely off there, but it wasn't her place to pry.
Conversation had been light: where they had come from, what they did for a living, small jokes or memories every now and then. But after a time, they had run out of topics for small talk and Myra had grown tired of the kids' pestering and had opted to take a nap. Carol decided to bust out a checkerboard to keep Sophia and Carl occupied. She, Lori, and Audrey sat and watched them play while Shane sat in his car, listening to the broadcasts for any updates. Myra was napping safely under the Peletier's truck, Sophia loosely holding the leash.
That was when they heard the helicopter flying over.
As time had gone on, the refugees on the highway had grown a bit bolder. They were talking louder now, some walking around with flashlights up and down the road, others even venturing off into the woods for bathroom breaks. But as the helicopter flew overhead, there was a moment of silence as similar questions started forming in everyone's heads.
"Are we gonna go soon, Mommy?" Audrey heard Sophia's question, but she was too distracted to hear anything that came after. She stared intently at the fading lights of the helicopter, suddenly tense all over again. Was there a situation at one of the checkpoints? Was that why they hadn't moved in so long?
Audrey bit her lip and clasped her hands together, ordering herself to stay calm. All she could do was have faith that the military could handle it. They had tanks, they had machine guns, they had bunkers, and they were all specially trained. It was nothing they couldn't handle. They would hold out, and they would have a place for her, and the Grimes', and the Peletiers, and she would see her family safe and sound, and they would ride this thing out together. That's what she told herself.
But she couldn't help the nagging doubt in the back of her mind as the sound of the helicopter got fainter and fainter.
She saw Shane passing by in the corner of her eye and heard him say that he was going to go ahead and see what he could see.
"Wait!" She reached out and grabbed his arm as he passed and the man stopped, turning to raise an eyebrow at her. "I'll go with you." Audrey said, trying her best to keep her voice even.
"Wait - what about Myra?" A glance back to the kids and she saw Sophia holding the leash out to her. Audrey sighed, but smiled comfortingly at the girl; there was no need to worry the kids if they were still oblivious.
"I wouldn't want to wake her up from her nap! I know you'll take care of her while I'm gone, and I shouldn't be gone long anyway. I'll trust her with you, sweetie. " Sophia gave her a puzzled look but nodded and leaned over to murmur something to Myra under the truck. She really seemed to have taken a liking to the little pup.
After Lori and Shane had said their brief goodbyes to Carl, the two walked on up the line of traffic and Audrey followed.
Once they were a good distance away from the Peletier's truck, Lori leaned closer to Shane and murmured something. Audrey could almost feel her eyes grow to the size of dinner plates.
"They what?!" She whispered furiously, closing the distance between her and the older pair. Shane glanced at her briefly, but didn't answer her. Lori gazed at her with an apologetic, exasperated expression, but didn't stop to explain either, both pushing further ahead down the street. Audrey followed after them, mind racing.
They stopped the broadcasts?
"Do you think they're turning people away?" She heard Lori ask. Audrey wrapped her arms around herself, trying desperately to keep calm, and quickened her pace to keep up with the two. No. No no no no no. Please, Lori, I need you to be wrong.
"They're gonna have a riot on their hands if they try."
You're god damn right they will!
She could feel herself starting to shake a little at the thought of being turned away. What was she supposed to do if she couldn't make it to her family? Where the hell was she - or any of these people - supposed to go if they couldn't get into Atlanta?
The three of them walked on and on up the line, and if Lori and Shane said anything else, Audrey wasn't paying attention enough to hear what it was.
A loud boom was heard and people on the highway started shouting. Christ, was it going to storm on them now?
Please... I just want to get into Atlanta and see my family...
The trio had to push their way through a fight in order to keep going. People were starting to lose their cool now, too. Fan-fucking-tastic.
Please, just please, let everything be okay.
Just then, three choppers flew overhead in the direction of Atlanta and everyone on the road seemed to pause. Audrey even heard the men fighting behind them fall silent to watch the choppers pass. The morbid realization that something was wrong showed on the grimaces and terrified faces of every refugee on the highway. Audrey caught Lori's eye for a second, but the woman just looked back to where the choppers had headed and muttered what they were all now thinking: "That's not lightning."
Audrey couldn't help the soft, panicked exclamation that escaped her as she stared into the black sky after them. She didn't notice Shane had kept pressing forward until she felt a hand on her shoulder. Lori was giving her a sympathetic look, but the way it seemed strained on her face reminded Audrey that she wasn't the only one who was probably panicking. Lori had a son to look out for, and yet she was keeping her cool the best that she could, even pulling Audrey along behind her. Audrey thought of how pathetic she must have seemed, to both Shane and Lori. She had to keep it together, she told herself. She had to be mature about this. Keep a level head.
Yet as she ran along with Lori, Shane leading them into the woods at the edge of the road, she got a clear view of the city of Atlanta.
She saw it all as it happened. And suddenly all of her motivation to keep calm seemed to disintegrate.
The three choppers were flying in formation towards the city. Suddenly, one street went up in flames. Then another. Then another.
Audrey felt her legs give out. She was on her knees, staring in wide eyed horror, wanting to look away but unable to find the strength for even that.
"They're droppin' napalm in the streets..." Shane's voice broke as he said it, and in that small moment she could hear how desperate even he sounded.
Even from this distance, you could hear the faint screams of those in the city. Audrey clasped both hands over her mouth, her breathing heavy and uneven, her body quivering. She could feel the burning sensation of tears building up behind her eyes. Her father. Her mother. Her little brother. They were supposed to be waiting for her. They were in one of the camps down there. She was supposed to find them. They were supposed to be safe.
More and more streets went up in flames and Audrey's vision started to blur from the tears. The screams were still going. There were still people down there, living people, and they were screaming for help.
Her family was down there with them.
Finally, she couldn't bear it any longer. She tore her eyes from the scene and bent over, face in the dirt, and started bawling. Her body heaved from the sobs. She didn't care how she looked or who may have been watching. One hand still covered her mouth, and even though she had buried her face in the forest floor to escape the sight of the burning city, the other hand had moved over to desperately cover her eyes. But she could still see them. She could see them all so clearly. Her brother being ripped apart by a horde of the infected. Her mother and father set ablaze in the streets. She could see it all so clearly in her head, and as she listened to the screams of the forsaken, she imagined it was her family screaming and she felt herself lose control of her wailing.
She felt Lori get on her knees beside her, trying to drape her arms over Audrey's crumpled form and crying with her, trying to hush her and telling her that they needed to get back to their cars as quickly as they could, but she couldn't bear to listen. What was the point anymore?
Her family was gone. The city of Atlanta was supposed to be a safe haven from all this shit, and it had been overrun. And if the military couldn't hold their own against this plague, then what sort of hope did the rest of them have?