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!

Sorry about the lack of update, guys. I got seriously caught up in my Fast&Furious story.

Chapter 14

Rick and Annie had done two transfusions each for Carl and both were extremely sickly looking. Both of them were exhausted both neither were willing to rest until Carl was okay. Unfortunately for Annie, she didn't have much of a choice in the matter as she passed out in the kitchen, spilling her orange juice everywhere. Patricia helped Hershel carry her into a room near Carl's and forced an IV into her arm as well. Annie was vaguely aware of the world around her, floating in and out of consciousness. The first time she woke up, it was only for a moment and it had been to the sight of Hershel checking her vitals. She asked about Carl, as best she could in her state of delirium, but passed out again before she could hear his answer. The next time she woke up, she was much more lucid and feeling a little better. Annie blinked a couple times and saw Maggie checking on her, smiling when she saw she was awake.

"Hey! Everyone's been worried about you," she told her, helping her sitting up.

"They shouldn't bother," she remarked, trying to ignore her headache. "How long was I out? What about Carl? Is he okay? He need more blood? Did Shane and Otis get the stuff for the surgery? Did they get back in time?" she asked and Maggie waved at her to calm down.

"You've only been out a day and you needed it. Carl's gonna be just fine. It was touch and go there for awhile. Dad almost had to start the surgery without the supplies, but Shane got back just in time. Otis didn't make it," she told her and Annie told her she was sorry for the loss. Otis had been responsible for Carl but she never would have wished the man dead, especially not after volunteering to go into a hot zone to help the boy he nearly killed. Maggie also told her that she wouldn't be giving blood anytime soon, her father, Hershel's, orders. "Brought you a sandwich and some more juice, gotta get your strength back up."

"I'll be fine," she told her, moving to get off the bed but Maggie pushed her down. "I need to see him."

"No, what you need to do is eat, then you can take a shower, clean yourself up, and then go see that boy." Annie stared at her, stunned at the firm tone. The young woman looked to be in her twenties, a decade younger than her and yet, here she was, ordering her around like she was her mother. The thought made Annie relent with a small smile. "Good. Eat that and then get out of your clothes, Beth'll wash 'em for you while you're in the shower." Maggie pointed to the door behind her, telling her the shower was just through there. "We look about the same size, you can borrow some of my clothes." Maggie went to a draw and started rooting through the clothes.

"This is your room?" Maggie nodded. "Thank you. I didn't mean to be a bother."

"No bother. You needed it and there's other rooms." Maggie set the clothes on the bed for her. Fresh underwear, a bra, socks, pair of capris and a loose, long sleeved shirt. It was a peach-pink color, beautiful, something Annie never normally would wear. "Those should do." Annie shook her head, telling her that she had clean clothes in her pack. The younger woman shook her head as well and said, "I saw those clothes. They're not clean and they're getting washed, too."

"You went through my pack?" she asked, annoyed at the invasion of privacy.

"You were the only one with a bag when y'all first got here," she told her with an obvious tone. "Just before Shane got back, when it got real bad, I looked through it, thought there might be something in there Dad could use for Carl."

"Wish there had been something useful," Annie sighed, but Maggie assured her that what had been in the kit had been put to its best use. "Luckily it all worked out. Thanks, again." Maggie nodded, telling her to just leave the dishes and dirty clothes on the bed, she'd be back to get them in about ten minutes.

Annie scarfed down the food in record time, happy to have something that wasn't canned in her stomach. She winced getting undressed, remembering all the strenuous activity that she'd done the past couple days. All the running since they'd left the CDC, sliding and hiding under a car when the herd past, chasing after Sophia in the woods, killing those walkers, trying to track her down and she certainly hadn't slept well at all that night, then they'd gone back at dawn to hunt for the little girl again and they'd been running around, then they had to run again, four miles, all the way to the farm. Standing under the hot water, Annie let all the events of the previous day wash over her. She really had needed the sleep and it felt good to take a shower, even if she was crying under the stream. Funny, the first shower she had since the outbreak, she'd been laughing in joy. Now look at her...

Apparently Carl had, had a seizure because his brain wasn't getting enough blood. Rick risked going back into a coma and dying to give his son the blood he needed. But, like Maggie had said, Carl was fine and, with the exception of Otis' death, everything turned out okay. Life for a life and all that, Annie figured, not that the sentiment would do Patricia any good. Walking downstairs, clean and hair dried, she looked around for a sign of anyone. Reaching the bottom step, Annie saw the house was empty and a rush of fear flooded her. Hurrying over to Carl's room, she stepped inside and was immediately pulled into a tight hug by Rick.

"You okay?" he asked, pulling back and looking her over. "Maggie said you were up but didn't want us disturbing you."

"I'm fine. I'm fine. How is he?" she asked, Rick leading her over to the bedside where Hershel was checking Carl. He was still unconscious but he looked so much better, he looked alive.

"Fever's gone down," Hershel told them.

"Thank you." Annie tore her eyes from Carl and saw Lori sitting on the other side of the bed, looking at her. "Thank you." Annie nodded at her, looking back at Carl as he shifted around and woke up, asking about Sophia, if she was okay.

"Fine. She's fine," Rick lied

"Rest, we'll be right here. Okay?" his mother told him.

"Okay." Carl closed his eyes, going back to sleep. The sound of engines filtered through the house and T-Dog came in – when had he gotten to the house, Annie wondered – telling them the others had arrived. Annie took one last look at Carl before following the man out to the porch.

"Gave all of us a scare, girl," he scolded. "Glenn and I got here, you were passed out, looked half dead."

"Well, I'm okay now. How's your arm?" she asked, nodding to the stitches.

"That woman, Patricia? She stitched me. Said Merle's clap saved my life." Annie stared at him, confused, waiting for further explanation. "Don't ask."

Their group gathered on Hershel's front lawn, asking about Carl. Lori told them that he'd pull through thanks to Hershel, his people and Shane. It would've been a lost cause had it not been for Shane. When asked how it happened, Rick explained that it had been a hunting accident, just a stupid accident. Everyone walked over to the far side of the far where Hershel's people had set up a huge pile of rocks. A grave for Otis. Hershel said a prayer but asked that Shane speak for him. Patricia begged him to tell them, tell her, his final moments, needing to know her husband's death had meaning. Annie watched Shane as he told the tale about how he was limping and they were down to pistols. He said Otis told him to go ahead while he covered the rear and, when he looked back...well, he left it unsaid that he'd died. Shane praised Otis, telling them that the man had saved both him and Carl and that his death certainly did have meaning, placing a rock on the pile.

"How long's this girl been lost?" Hershel asked as he gathered with everyone around the Cherokee.

"This'll be day three," Rick told him. Maggie came up behind them with a map, telling them it was the county survey map of the area of terrains and elevations. "This is perfect. We can finally get this thing organized. We'll grid the whole area, start searching in teams."

"Where do we start though? Back at the creek?" Annie asked.

"Not you two. Not today," Hershel announced. "Rick, you gave three units of blood and, Annie, you gave two and passed out. You were unconscious for a whole day. Neither one of you would be hiking five minutes in this heat before passing out. And your ankle," he continued, looking at Shane, "push it now, you'll be laid up a month. No good to anybody."

"Guess it's just me," Daryl said, looking over the map. "I'ma head back to the creek, work my way from there." Rick nodded, accepting this unfortunate news, but Shane wasn't so easy. He insisted on going out, taking one of the cars back to the highway and search for her there.

"Tomorrow then, we'll start doing this right," Rick told them.

"That means we can't have our people out there with just knives," Shane explained reasonably. "Need the gun training we been promising."

"I'd prefer you not carrying guns on my property," the veterinarian told them. "We've made it so far without turning this into an armed camp.

"All due respect," Shane told him, "we get a crowd of those things wandering in here..."

"We're guests here. This is your property," Rick told Hershel with a nod, "and we will respect that." Rick gave his partner a pointed looked, setting his Python on the hood of the car. Annie did the same with hers and, after gritting his teeth, Shane followed suit. "First things first: set camp, find Sophia."

"I hate to be the one to ask," Shane began with a sigh, "but somebody's got to. What happens if we find her and she's bit? I think we should all be clear on how we handle that."

Rick paused, looking at him before lowering his head and telling everyone, "You do what has to be done."

"And her mother?" Maggie wondered, looking at them in shock. "What do you tell her?"

"The truth," Andrea answered shortly. Maggie looked like she wanted to protest but her father shook his head at her.

"I'll gather and secure all the weapons, make sure no one's carrying, find a practice range off sight," Shane announced. "I do request one rifle for anyone on lookout. Dale's got experience."

Noticing Hershel's hesitance, Rick told him, "Our people would feel safer, less inclined to carry a gun." Eventually, the man nodded at the request and he was thanked for it. Maggie asked them about the stuff they brought, the antibiotics, which was news to Annie, asking them if they had anymore medical supplies.

"Just what you've seen," Andrea told her, walking off to follow Shane.

"You already used what you could out of my kit?" Annie asked and Maggie nodded.

"We're short already. I should make a run into town." Rick was worried, asking if she wasn't seriously going to go to the same place Shane had gone. "No, there's a pharmacy just a mile down the road. I've done it before." Annie walked over to Glenn, tapping him on the shoulder as Rick explained he was their go-to-town expert.

"You feel like making a run?" she asked.

"Um, sure. Sure. When?" he asked.

"Whenever she's ready," she answered, nodding at Maggie. "She says she's done runs before, but we'd all feel better if you went with her. Just as a precaution. And, if you could grab stuff to restock my first aid kit, I'd appreciate it." Patting his back, she walked over to the porch as Rick was making sure Daryl would be okay out on his own, that his other plans fell through. He brushed roughly past Annie, making her glare after him and shake her head. She continued towards Rick, who was speaking to Hershel about how they could set up camp further from the house but Hershel said that wasn't necessary.

"I don't say this easily, Rick. We don't normally take in strangers. I can't have your people thinking this permanent. Once you find this girl and your boy's fit for travel, I expect you'll move on. We need to be clear on that."

As Hershel headed back into his house, Annie walked over and asked, "Trouble in paradise already?"

"He's just setting down the ground rules. Wants to make sure we know them," he assured her.

"You mean make sure you know them," she retorted. "You're our leader, he's theirs. That's why he spoke to you. Not Shane, not Daryl, not even Dale. You."

"I can understand him not wanting us to stay," he sighed. "Can't say I blame him. I wouldn't be so trusting of new people myself."

"You trusted me and Morgan," she reminded him.

"That was different," he insisted and she laughed, sitting down on the porch steps.

"When you met Morgan, you saw him kill what you thought was a man in street and I threatened to slice you up. You were tied to a bed, delirious, scared out of your mind – don't deny it! – and we were squatting in your neighbors home," she stated. "What must've gone through your mind. Probably thought were a couple of crazed murderers on the run and you were next on our list." Rick laughed, taking off his hat and nodding his head as he sat next to her.

He admitted, "Thought may have crossed my mind."

"But you stayed with us. You put a lot of faith in us. You believed us when we told about what had been going on. You trusted us not to shoot you in the back."

"Or stab me," he joked.

Annie laughed, "Or stab you. Point is, not everyone is trusting like you. We have no idea what Hershel and his family have gone through since the outbreak started. Maybe they trusted some group of poor souls before us and got screwed over. We'll never know. And we should just be grateful that he decided to help Carl at all, 'cause he sure as hell didn't have to. All that blood," she told him with a frown, "could've drawn any walkers in the immediate area straight to his doorstep. He took a big risk taking us in. And he's taking a bigger one letting us stick around. Anyone that complains about that needs to just shut the hell up and count our blessings. We got lucky, can't ask for more than that."

"How is it you always seem to know exactly what to tell me?" he wondered.

Shrugging, she replied, "Just lucky, I guess."

"Do you think I should ask him to reconsider? See if he'll let us stay?" he asked honestly. "He doesn't know what it's like out there. This place, this farm, it's so serene, untouched. If he knew what it was like out there, he wouldn't ask us to leave."

"You don't know that," she told him with a shake of her head. Rick sighed and looked at the ground, gripping his hat tight.

"I don't want the responsibility, I sure didn't ask for it, but everyone looks to me for answers." He let that hang there, not wanting to vocalize that they wanted answers he didn't always have. "Everyone but you..."

Annie sighed and ran a through her hair, telling him, "I can't make this decision for you, Rick. I wish I could, but I can't. I don't have all the answers, despite what you think, and neither do you, despite what everyone else thinks. I get it. It's not fair, the role you've been forced into but it's what you got." Rising to her feet, she squeezed his shoulder. "When in doubt, trust your gut. It's the one instinct we have that never lies." Later that day, she saw Rick sitting on the porch again, this time with Hershel. It seemed he decided to ask the man to reconsider letting them stay after all.