Sadly, I own nothing (except my OCs). If I did, I'd be eating steak and lobster rather than a hot pocket :P

Chapter 1: Seeking a Group

Ryann looked over at her stepfather. "Are you sure about this?"

He chuckled, brushing off her concern. "Yes. It'll be fine, kiddo. Chill."

Ryann bristled. Her stepfather did that a lot these days. He took something serious and made it seem like it was no big deal. When he should have been worrying and being cautious, he was joking around instead. Things like that could get someone killed these days, and Ryann wouldn't put up with it.

Her older sister Nikole turned her nose up at Ryann's bottle of water when she offered it. "It's warm," she complained.

Ryann sighed. Her stepsister was a couple of years older than her, but it might as well have been a decade. Before all this, Nikole had been involved in the fashion world and eagerly enjoyed the finer things in life. Ryann remembered when they were packing their bags to make a run for it and Nikole was trying to stuff heels into a purse.

Nikole was one of those girls who had gotten a spray tan and bleached her hair at every possible chance. Ryann used to call those girls plastics since they so closely resembled Barbie dolls. She wore designer clothes that her daddy bought her and the people at Tiffany's Co. knew her by name.

Ryann could never understand the appeal of all that. While her stepsister was getting manicures and throwing herself into makeup, Ryann was content with a camping trip or riding her horse for hours. They were polar opposites and tended to grate on each other's nerves. Ever since her mom had died, Ryann felt alone. Her stepfather sided with Nikole about everything. Ryann couldn't win any argument.

As petty as it was, Ryann was satisfied to see Nikole's dark roots sprouting from her head, contrasting greatly with her stringy platinum locks. Ryann had never dyed her hair, so it was the same golden brown it had always been. Ryann had gray eyes while her stepsister and stepfather had pretty blue eyes. That had always been something Ryann was jealous of. She felt like her eyes were a boring color.

They continued walking along the road, looking for survivors. A truck had passed them about an hour ago, heading into Atlanta. They figured no one would willingly travel to a big city unless there was a supply run. Assuming those people had a group, they had started walking in the direction the truck came from.

Ryann sighed. Her family may not be cautious, but Ryann was. "Jack, I'm not sure if we should do this," she told her stepfather. "We don't know these people. They could be as violent as the roamers. Maybe we're better off on our own."

Jack laughed again. "Let me handle this. You're too close-minded for your own good."

She stopped for a moment and simply stared at him. "Are you kidding me? The world has ended. How do we know any humanity survived?"

Nikole gazed longingly at her ruined nails. She was probably wishing for a spa day right about now. "You are such a buzz kill, Butch. Just go with it."

Ryann narrowed her eyes at Nikole. "Yeah, okay Bubbles. And when they're shooting you in the forehead, or throwing you to the starving zombies, don't say I didn't warn you."

Ryann knew her taunt would come with consequences. She'd called Nikole "Bubbles" before and was always met with a negative response from her stepfather. She came up with the name after she'd referred to her stepsister as an airheaded bimbo. Then she thought of air bubbles, which in turn gave her the idea for the nickname "Bubbles."

While Ryann was prepared for it, it didn't lessen the pain in her cheek as Jack backhanded her. He looked deadly in that moment and Ryann had to resist the urge to step back. She gritted her teeth when she saw Nikole's smug look.

Jack expected her to back down, but Ryann kept her back straight and held his gaze. "You know better than to insult my daughter," he hissed. "Now keep walking." Nikole practically skipped after her father.

Ryann followed, blinking back tears and refusing to touch the angry red whelp on her face. This had happened many times in the past, long before the apocalypse. As much as she hated him for it, he was still family. Ryann would stay with him until one or both of them died.

They walked further along the road until they heard distant voices. Jack and Nikole grinned at each other before charging forward. They had finally found the group. Ryann hesitated for a few moments, biting her lip. If the group wasn't friendly then it was careless to go barging into their campsite. She took a deep breath and slowly followed her family.

"My name is Jack, and this is my daughter Nikole," she heard her stepfather explaining. She hung back a bit, unnoticed for the moment. Jack was talking to a tall burly guy with dark hair, piercing eyes, and a nose that looked like it had been broken a couple times. "We've been searching for a group, thank goodness we finally found you!"

Burly guy crossed his arms. "And how, may I ask, did you know where to look for us?"

Nikole batted her eyelashes at him. "We saw a truck driving away from this direction. We just had to see if we could find help." Burly guy merely gave her a blank stare. When she started twirling hair around her finger, he looked away.

His gaze finally rested on Ryann, who was cautiously making her way over to them. "And who are you?"

She opened her mouth to respond, but Jack beat her to it. Barely sparing her a glance, he said, "Oh, that's my stepdaughter Ryann."

Ryann gave a little wave and shot the man an apologetic smile. "Sorry to just barge in here, sir. We've been on our own for a long time, and we hoped your group would be kind enough to take us in. We'd be willing to help out any way we can."

The guy rubbed the back of his neck and looked down at the ground for a moment. "Look, I hate to tell you this, but we can't just take in every person that comes wandering into our camp. I gotta protect these people and I can't do that if I accept just anyone's story. Were any of you bit?"

"You're welcome to check," Nikole replied in a breathy voice.

They all looked at her in shock for a moment until the guy cleared his throat. "Um, I can call one of the women over to do it." He looked over his shoulder. "Lori! Come here a minute."

A tall woman with long dark brown hair walked forward. "Yeah?" She looked at the unfamiliar people and her brows drew together. "Who are they?"

"Meet Jack, Nikole, and Ryann. Look, I need somebody to check them for bites. I'd rather a woman check the girls."

Lori chewed her lip before finally agreeing. "Carl!" she called out. A boy looked up. "Stay with Carol and Sophia, alright? I'll be back in a minute." The boy nodded and went back to playing with the girl he was with.

She led Ryann and Nikole over to the RV while Jack went with the burly guy towards a tent. After several brutally humiliating minutes, Lori determined that they were bite-free. They all left the RV and met up with the guys as Ryann finished buttoning her long sleeved plaid shirt.

The guy gave them a tentative smile. "Sorry for the precautions. My name is Shane. You already met Lori. I'll introduce you to some of the others soon, once you're settled. Do you have tents, sleeping bags, or any other supplies?"

Ryann cleared her throat uncomfortably. "We did, but we lost them somewhere around Atlanta. We've been climbing up trees to stay away from the roamers." In all actuality, Nikole had ditched her pack because she simply didn't want to carry it anymore. Ryann had been forced to part with hers until Nikole had ditched that as well.

His brows rose at her news. Then he seemed to consider something. "Roamers? Is that what you call them? We usually call them walkers around here. Oh, and don't worry about the tent and such. We've got extra."

Nikole smiled at him, stepped forward, and placed a hand on his arm. "Thank you so much, how can we ever repay you?"

Ryann shifted uncomfortably and shot a look towards her stepfather. He didn't seem bothered in the slightest, so Ryann assumed he encouraged his daughter to pursue the obvious leader. Shane cleared his throat and stepped away from her. "It's no problem." His eyes met Ryann's for a moment and she gave him a small shrug and another apologetic smile. He cleared his throat again and moved away.

He returned a moment later carrying a folded tent. "Here you go." Ryann quickly stepped forward to take it from him. "You can set it up anywhere over there, preferably close to the others." He pointed to an older man up on the RV. "That's Dale. He'll get you sleeping bags and blankets once you're done setting the tent up. Sorry to run off, but I've got something to do real quick." Then he was gone.

Nikole huffed quietly but followed her father and stepsister as they looked for a place to set up the tent. Jack found a relatively level spot that was fairly close to a couple other tents. Ryann quickly got to work setting up the tent, not even expecting help. Nikole had never seen a real tent in her life, and Jack wasn't the kind of guy to do anything for himself.

Ryann struggled a bit but was able to set it up correctly. She asked Dale for the sleeping bags and blankets, and like Shane said, he quickly complied. Ryann liked Dale, he had a genuine smile on his face and seemed like a pleasant man.

So far, Ryann liked the people in this group. They seemed nice enough, even smiling at the newcomers as they passed. They all seemed to have little chores or goals, which kept them busy but kept the group running smoothly. Ryann figured she just might like it here.

..

Hey guys! I just want to warn you that this story will have a few changes. Certain people will remain in the story, even though they didn't in the show. I need them to properly execute this idea. Don't hold it against me! I'm hoping y'all like what I'm doing anyways. Please R&R, it's much appreciated!