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 2x04 "Cherokee Rose"

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. Hershel's other daughter, Beth, and her boyfriend, Jimmy, helped Hershel carry her into a room near Carl's and put an IV in her arm. 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 remembered asking 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. More important things to worry about than me," she remarked, trying to ignore her headache. "How long was I out? What about Carl? Is he okay? He need more blood? Did-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." Annie let out a heavy sigh, laughing and wiping away tears of relief. "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." Hesitantly, Maggie added that Otis hadn't made it back. She didn't expect these people care about Otis, but she felt compelled to tell the woman regardless.

"I'm sorry," Annie whispered and Maggie thanked her. Otis may have been the idiot responsible for shooting 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.

"Daddy said you aren't to be giving blood anytime soon." Maggie set the tray she'd been carrying down on the end table beside the best. "Brought you a sandwich and some more juice. You gotta get your strength back up."

"I'll be fine." Annie waved off the concern, moving to get off the bed but Maggie pushed her back down. "I need to see him!" she pleaded. She needed to see him with her own two eyes and know for real that Carl was alive and that he was okay, that he'd be okay.

"No, what you need to do is eat, 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 at least and yet, here she was, ordering her around like she was her mother. The thought made Annie relent with a small smile and nod. "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."

"Its okay. I have spares in my pack." Regardless, Maggie went to a dresser 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, bra, socks, jeans, a tank top 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 again that she had clean clothes in her pack. The younger woman shook her head as well and said, "I saw those clothes. They were 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 it Dad could use for Carl."

"Wish there had been something useful," Annie sighed, but Maggie assured her that what had been in her first aid 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 twenty 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 Sophia 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 all over again. 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 and she was doing it all over again.

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."

"Yeah, she's a real hard ass," she joked, trying to make him laugh. "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," T-Dog scolded, patting her on the back. "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. He just held up his hand. "Don't ask." She just held her hands up in surrender, no further details needed.

"Hey!" Glenn shouted, running over to Annie and T-Dog. He immediately plowed into Annie, hugging her tight. "You're okay!"

"Damn it, Glenn! The girl just got vertical!" T-Dog scolded with a laugh.

"Sorry. I'm sorry," he apologized, releasing her. "Just…don't scare us like that again." Annie just smiled and hugged him again.

"Good to see you, too, Glenn." The pair shared a laugh, Annie clapping T-Dog's shoulder as the rest of their group gathered on Hershel's front lawn.

Everyone asked about Carl and Annie had been unsure how to answer. 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 farm where Hershel's people had set up a huge pile of rocks. A memorial 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. Shane praised Otis as he placed a rock on the pile, telling them that the man had saved both him and Carl and that his death certainly did have meaning.

"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. It was the county survey map, showing them all the terrains and elevations of the immediate area. "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 announced, looking over the map. "I'ma head back to the creek, work my way from there." Rick nodded, accepting the unfortunate news, but Shane wasn't so easy. He insisted on going out, taking one of the cars back to the interstate to 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. "We need the gun training we been promising."

"I'd prefer you not carrying guns on my property," the veterinarian told them. That had been a shock to find out, that Carl had a major surgery from a damn veterinarian! It all worked out in the end, she supposed. "We've made it so far without turning this into an armed camp.

"All due respect," Shane interjected, "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 her own gun 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.

"Carol's seen first hand what the bite does to people. She'd understand why it had to be done," Annie assured her. Carol would understand. She'd grieve and be inconsolable, but she'd understand.

"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, asking them if they had any more medical supplies. Glenn quietly explained that she was talking about Merle's drugs, the ones that had saved T-Dog's life.

"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. Glenn nodded slowly and she smirked in amusement as he gulped. "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."

"Yeah! Yeah, no problem."

Patting his back, she walked over toward the house as Rick was making sure Daryl would be okay out on his own. The archer just said that his other plans fell through. He brushed roughly past Annie, making her glare after him and shake her head. She seriously did not understand that man. One minute he was letting her ride on his bike and helping track down Sophia, the next he was meaner than a rattlesnake. Must've been Merle's influence, she figured. Annie brushed aside all thoughts of the Dixon brothers and their bad attitudes and continued towards the main house. Beth still had her clothes and, hopefully, they'd be done so she could get out of everyone's way in the house. Rick was still there only, this time, he was speaking to Hershel about how they could set up camp further from the house but Hershel said that it was best they stay closer to the house.

"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 inside his house, Annie walked over and cautiously 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 with a small grin. "You're our leader, he's theirs. That's why he spoke to you. Not Shane, not Daryl, not even Dale. You."

"Thanks for the encouragement," he laughed. "But 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!" she argued as he opened his mouth to do just that. "And we were squatting in your neighbors home," she finished. "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," she pointed out. "You put a lot of faith in us, when you had no reason to. 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 has gone through since the outbreak started. Maybe they trusted some group of poor souls before us and got screwed over. We'll never know," she shrugged and shook her head. "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 smiled and replied, "Just lucky, I guess."

"Do you think I should ask him to reconsider? See if he'll let us stay?" he asked honestly.

"I don't think I'm equipped to answer that, Rick." Annie shook her head, uncomfortable with the idea of telling him what he should and shouldn't do. She'd encourage him, yes. Give him advice, of course. Back up whatever decision he made, absolutely! But flat out make a decision for him? No. She couldn't do that. "I will suggest that you get him to take a look at your side when you get a chance." She gently poked the healing wound on the side of his chest. "Morgan was the "doctor" of our group but you got a real doctor now."

"Veterinarian. He's a veterinarian," he reminded her. "There's a bit of a difference." They shared a chuckle.

"Not so much that he couldn't help Carl," she retorted.

"I don't need it looked at. I'm fine," he assured her. Annie rolled her eyes. Typical!

"You haven't had that thing properly looked at since Morgan patched you up. Now, I could change the bandage, but I wouldn't be able to tell you if it was okay or not. Hershel can."

"I'm telling you, its fine! Doesn't even hurt anymore." Annie scoffed in disbelief.

"I seriously doubt that. Why are men such babies?" she mused to herself.

""Babies"?" he echoed, affronted but smiling at her.

"Just go to Hershel and see if you have a clean bill of health."

"If it'll get Mother Hen off my back," he conceded. Annie picked a piece of grass from the ground and threw it at his face for that cheeky comment. Mother Hen, her ass. Rick fiddled with the brim of his hat a moment, suddenly serious, and she asked him what was wrong. "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." Annie sighed and shook her head.

"You don't know that," she remarked. Rick let out a breath and stared at the ground, gripping his hat tight.

"He thinks it can be cured," he confessed. Annie's brow furrowed as Rick explained that he'd told Hershel about the CDC, that Jenner said it was global and no cure to be found, but Hershel didn't believe that. "He thinks it'll all turn out okay, that we'll bounce back from this and…God help me, I wanna believe that. I do. But…"

"But you've seen how it really is." They all had. On top of that, they'd seen whatever this thing was and what it did to the brain. It killed everything about a person and just brought back the brain stem. There was no cure for that, not for walking cannibalistic shells.

"And he's lost people! His wife and stepson, but he still believes this can be fixed. How am I supposed to tell him…?" Rick shook his head. "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." He nodded slowly and she gripped his shoulder comfortingly. "I get it. It's not fair, the role you've been forced into but it's what you got." Rick nodded once more and she bit her lip. "When in doubt, trust your gut. It's the one instinct we have that never lies." Annie pecked him on the cheek and dashed off the porch before he could say a word. She'd trusted her gut and took a chance, giving him that little kiss. She just hoped she wouldn't regret it but, if the tingling in her stomach was any indication, she wouldn't. 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.