Disclaimer: I don't own The Walking Dead or any of its characters. I don't even own Annie, she belongs to Sophie, who you can find on YouTube under xSoppySofax. Read on, darlings, and enjoy!

This chapter takes place during 1x05 "Wildfire" and 1x06 "TS-19"

Chapter 9

"I told you we'd never get far on that hose," Dale stated. The caravan was forced to stop when the RV's engine overheated. Annie stood beside the older man, waving her hand in front of her face as they popped the hood and steam poured out everywhere. Mostly everyone else was out as well, surveying the area, weapons at the ready in case of walkers. Pointedly, he stated, "I needed the one from the cube van."

"Can you jury-rig it?" Rick wondered.

"That's all it's been so far. It's more duct tap than hose." Before Rick could suggest it, Dale quickly added, "And I'm out of duct tape."

"Bright side? You got your hat back," Annie commented lightly.

"Yes, ma'am," he retorted, tipping it once more. She bit her lip and shook her head, trying not to laugh. Rick let out a chuckle though. It felt good to laugh after all that had happened the past few days.

"I see something up ahead!" Shane announced from ahead of the group, binoculars in hand. "Gas station, if we're lucky."

"What is it with you cops hoping for luck at gas stations?" Annie muttered to Rick with a shake of her head. Jacqui rushed out of the RV, telling them in a panic that Jim was bad and she didn't think he could go any further. Shane volunteered to go ahead, T-Dog saying he'd go with and watch his back, to see what they could find and bring back. As the two went off, Rick took off his hand and rubbed his head, heading into the RV with trepidation. "I might be able to get this fixed, if they don't find anything," she told Dale.

"How's that?" he wondered. Jogging back to the Cherokee, she opened up her pack and rummaged around a moment before running back to Dale with her find. Smiling, she held up a roll of tightly compacted roll of bandages and adhesive tape from a first aid kid she'd swiped weeks ago. "We're definitely going to have to keep you around!" he cheered with a laugh, clapping her on the back.

"It's what he says he wants," Rick whispered to them.

"And he's lucid?" Carol questioned incredulously.

"He seems to be," he replied with a slow nod. "I would say yes."

"Back in the camp," Dale began, "when I said Daryl might be right and you shut me down, you misunderstood. I would never go along with callously killing a man. I was just gonna suggest that we ask Jim what he wants. And I think we have an answer."

"We just leave him here? We take off?" Shane asked and shook his head. Him and T-Dog had returned only moments ago, proudly sporting a new hose for Dale, when they heard the discussion going on. "Man, I'm not sure I can live with that."

"It's not your call," Annie told him. "Its not anyone's call. It's Jims."

"If we give up, it's over. No one can ever count on anything," he whispered to her. Annie frowned, watching him wrestle with Jim's request.

"You can't save everyone, Rick. And you know it," she told him wisely. "I get that this is hard for you, but this is what he wants. This is his decision, not your failure." Soon enough, Rick and Shane were carrying Jim as gently as they could out of the RV. They carried past the cars, off the road and set him down amidst the trees. Jim looks worse than when Annie last saw him; he was much paler, sweaty, he looked half dead, like a walker already.

"Hey, another damn tree," Jim joked quietly, wheezing. In one last ditch effort, Shane knelt in front of Jim and told him that it didn't have to be like this. "No. It's good. Breeze feels nice," he said weakly. Shane nodded and walked away, unable to deal with it. Jacqui whispered sweetly to him, kissing his cheek before leaving him with tears in his eyes.

Rick walked up, gun in hand and asked, "Jim, do you want this?"

"No. You'll need it." Knowing the other man needed to hear the words, he told him, "I'm okay. I'm okay."

"Thanks for…for fighting for us," Dale said with a sincere smile. Jim nodded.

One by one, everyone filed past him, each one paying their respects. Everyone but Annie and Daryl. Annie hadn't known Jim as well as the others, so it didn't feel right to say something to him. Instead, she nodded to him and he painfully smiled back. Daryl, on the other hand, he walked a little closer to Jim, crossbow raised high and, for a moment, Annie thought he would kill him. Instead, he nodded his head, a sign of respect and a farewell. It surprised that someone kin to Merle could show such respect, especially to a man he'd been so eager to kill before. Everyone piled back into their cars. The caravan headed out once more. All the vehicles slowly passed Jim, leaving him behind, watching him disappear out their windows and mirrors.

The caravan pulled to a stop. Rick was the first to step out of his car then, one by one, all the doors opened and the group exited their cars. They stood there, in a line, mouths open as they took it in. the steps of the CDC were an urban battlefield. Dead soldiers, some shot in the head, some half eaten, and all of then rotting filled the street and lined the steps. They'd obviously gone hand-to-hand with the countless walkers that filled the streets. It had been a massacre on both sides. Flies buzzed all over, the stench was unbearable. Carol held Sophia close as she and Lori took in the horrific sight. Jacqui just stared in shock beside Dale, who was shaking his head in disbelief. Glenn studied Rick, then Shane, and then traded a look with T-Dog that clearly said, "What now?" Carl held Annie's hand tight and watched his father lead the group towards the CDC.

"All right, everybody, keep moving," he whispered, rifle in hand. Annie nudged Carl towards his mother, pulling her own gun out and moving to cover the group from the left side with Glenn. Daryl and T-Dog had the back while Rick and Shane took the lead. "Stay quiet. Let's go. Keep moving." The closer they got to the doorway, the more bodies there were.

"Keep it together," Shane told them. Everyone was urging the person next to them to move quickly, which only led to everyone shushing each other. It was getting dark and the dead were more active then. They had to keep it quiet.

"Almost there, baby," Lori whispered to Carl, holding him closer. Rick tried the main entrance. It was locked. He saw an intercom panel, pressed a few buttons, but it was dead.

"Nothing?" Shane asked as he got into a squat and tried to lift it up. It wouldn't budge. He banged on it a few times. Nothing.

"There's nobody here," T-Dog realized.

Rick argued, "Then why are these shutters down?"

"Walkers!" Daryl called out. The kids cried out in fight, looking around as one of the dead soldiers walked towards them, Daryl taking it out with his crossbow. "You led us into a graveyard!" he accused Rick.

"He made a call!" Shane snapped at him.

"It was the wrong damn call!"

"Shut up! You hear me? Shut up!" Shane roared, pushing him away from Rick. "Rick, this is a dead end!" Carol cried in a panic, asking where they were gonna go. "Do you hear me?" Shane asked his partner. "No blame!"

"She's right!" Lori added, quaking in fear. "We can't be here this close to the city after dark!" Rick turned back to the doors, panting, looking at them, waiting for a miracle as Shane told him that Fort Benning was still an option.

"You think it'll be any better than here?" Annie questioned. "If anything, it's probably worse!"

"On what? No food, no fuel – its a hundred miles!" Andrea pointed out.

"A hundred twenty-five, I circled the map," Glenn corrected.

"Forget Fort Benning! We need answers tonight! Now!" Lori demanded.

Rick turned to them, trying to remain calm and patient, and stated, "We'll think of something!" Shane didn't come to his friend's defense this time. No, this time, he told everyone to get back to the cars. In a panic, everyone started to move away but Annie remained by Rick, trying to pull him with her back to the car. "The camera, it moved!" Everyone looked at him as he stood frozen at the doors, looking up. Dale calmly told him he imagined it. "It moved. It moved," Rick repeated, eerily calmly.

"Rick, it didn't, man. It's an automated device. It cues, okay? It's just one, now come on," Shane reasoned, pulling at his friend's arm but Rick shook him off. "Would you listen to me? Just look around this place! It's dead! It's DEAD!" Rick pushed him off and rushed at the door, pounding on it.

"Rick, there's nobody here!" Lori screamed at him but Rick ignored her, hitting the door again. Annie balanced herself on her feet, anxious about the noise they were making. All it was going to do was draw more walkers to them.

"I know you're in there!" Rick screamed at the camera. "I know can hear me! Please! We're desperate! Please, help us! We have women, children, no food, hardly any gas left! Nowhere else to go!" Lori left Carl and ran to her husband, standing in front of him, trying to push him away from the door, begging him to go.

"Walkers!" Annie called out, pulling Carl close to her side when he ran towards her. More soldiers got up and a few walkers ambled along the road, drawn to them.

"What do we do?" he cried, clutching her waist.

"We trust your dad," she told him.

"If you don't let us in, you're killing us! PLEASE!" Still no answer and Shane grabbed him.

"Rick!" Annie shouted, firing her gun to kill a walker near her. "Rick, do something!"

"Come on, brother! Let's go!"

"You're killing us! Please! You're KILLING us! YOU'RE KILLING US!" A bright light flooded them from behind. The group turned, weapons raised and ready, trading looks in stunned silence. They cautiously approached the entrance as the light disappeared and the group quickly scrambled inside and looked around, amazed and smiling at the feel of air-conditioning. "Hello?" Rick called out cautiously, gun still raised. "Hello?"

"Daryl, cover the back! Close those doors," Shane ordered. "Watch for walkers."

"Hello?" Rick called out again. His response was the sound of a shotgun being cocked. Everyone raised their own guns in response. Rick stared up the hallway to see a man standing there in the shadows.

"Anybody infected?" he called out.

"One of our group was," Rick told him honestly. "He didn't make it."

The man cautious stepped forward and asked, "Why are you here? What do you want?"

"A chance," Rick answered hopefully.

"...That's asking an awful lot these days." All Rick could do was shrug at him.

"I know." The man took a moment to look over the group, at the frightened children and scared women, the cautious men eying him, trying to figure out in they could trust him or not.

"You all submit to a blood test," he ordered. "That's the price of admission." Rick assured him with a nod that they could do that. The man lowered his gun and told them that, if they had stuff to bring in, they needed to do it then; once the doors closed, they stayed closed. Rick, Glenn and Daryl immediately ran out and got what belongings everyone had carried with them.

"I wasn't scared," Annie lied to Carl, a fake yet reassuring smile on her face. "Were you?"

Carl quickly wiped the remnants of tears from his face and answered, "Nope."

"Good boy." The man swiped his key-card on the door panel, it lit up green, and spoke into the box, telling Vi to seal the main entrance and kill the main power in that area. Immediately, both orders were done and he led the group further into the CDC.

"Rick Grimes," he introduced.

"Dr. Edwin Jenner." As the group was led into the massive elevator, Daryl asked him if doctors always went around packing heat. "Oh, there were plenty left lying around. I familiarized myself." Looking around the group, he said, "Well, you look harmless enough." His eyes landed on Carl and he lightly teased, "Except you. I'll have to keep my eyes on you." The moment they were off the elevator, Jenner led them down a series of hallways. Annie sighed in relief and smiled at Rick, squeezing his shoulder as Dale slapped him on the back. He looked around, the group exchanging looks with Rick, acknowledging that he was right. Carol asked if they were underground; to his question if she was claustrophobic, she answered a little and he told to try and not think about it. Great advice, Annie thought with a sneer. "Vi, bring up the lights in the big room!" he called out and the lights turned on. "Welcome to Zone 5."

"Where is everyone? The other doctors, the staff?" Rick asked curiously, looking around the vacant room.

"I'm it. It's just me here." Lori asked him about the other person he'd been speaking to. "Vi, say hello to our guests! Tell them…welcome."

Hello, guests. Welcome.

Jenner stared at the group as they realized Vi was a computer. "I'm all that's left." Everyone let that sink in, that he was alone. That maybe their hopes for help and cure and information were for naught. "I'm sorry."

Everyone was led to another room and each took their turn getting blood taken from them. Rick went next, leading the others by example. The kids went next, holding their mothers' hands for comfort. When it was her turn, Annie sighed heavily and turned her head away as he stuck the needle in, clenching her fists into her pant legs. She'd always hated needles and especially hated doctors. Going her check-ups when she was a kid had always been a nightmare. She nodded at the doctor and rushed as fast as she could back to her seat beside Rick, legs bouncing up and down. Rick stared at her in confusion, wondering what was wrong, but she just shook her head at him.

"All done," Jenner announced. As Andrea stood up, she felt light headed and nearly collapsed but Jacqui caught her. "You okay?"

"She hasn't eaten in days. None of us have," Jacqui explained, helping Andrea to a seat. Jenner looked at each of them and nodded, telling them to follow him.