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 2x05 "Chupacabra"

Chapter 16

The rest of their scouting was spent in complete silence. Annie fell behind both men, knowing she'd punch Shane if she was close enough and he started running his mouth again. Rick looked back at her from time to time. She passed it off as him making sure she was still with them, safe, just being a good leader but the back of her mind hoped it was something more. When they got back to the farm, both Rick and Annie passed off their guns to Shane for him to put them away in the RV. Annie stopped at her tent, grabbing her bottle of water and draining it as Beth walked by. Before the teen could move on, Annie stopped her and thanking her for washing her clothes and for letting her stay in the house while she recovered. Beth has assured her it was no problem, that it was the right thing to do, and asked where she could find Rick. Letting her curiosity get the best of her, she asked what she needed him for and she said that her father wanted talk to him. Nodding slowly, a feeling of dread crept in and she pointed behind her, where Rick was speaking with his wife. Seeing a chance to get some time alone with Carl, Annie went to the house and was happy to find him awake.

"Annie!" Carl greeted, grinning at her. She grinned right back and rushed over to help him sit up, reminding him that he shouldn't be straining himself. Once he was settled, she collapsed into the chair beside his bed. "Did you just get back?"

"Yeah," she answered. Before he could even ask, she told him, "No sign of her but we scouted a couple areas pretty good before coming back. And we even marked them so we know we looked there next time we go out." Carl nodded, slightly mollified by her report. "How you feeling today?"

"Better. Think I can go outside soon?"

"Wish I could say yes but I'm not the doctor. Don't be in such a rush, buddy," she teased, affectionately rubbing his head. "You're the only one who gets a real bed!" Carl slapped her hand away, laughing and trying to fix his messy hair. "I think Glenn might be fixing to kick you out of yours," she teased.

"You're lying," he stated with a grin. Annie nodded, rising to her feet.

"Yeah, I am. Because I…" Walking around to the other side of the bed, she sat down beside him and settled herself down, Carl laughing at her. "…am the one plotting to take your bed. Cot just isn't comfy, buddy." She laid her head back on the pillow and sighed contentedly. She really did miss sleeping in a bed.

"You can take a nap if you want, but can we read for a bit first?" Carl reached over to the bedside table and grabbed the book. He passed it to Annie and she smiled, seeing that it was her copy of The Odyssey. Nodding, she opened the book and fingered through the pages until Carl took it from her and opened to where he last stopped.

"You got pretty far already," she commented, impressed.

"Well, there wasn't much else to do besides read at the CDC. Or in the car. Or here."

"I see!" Annie nodded at his sarcastic tone with a smirk. "You'll have plenty to do once you're better. Promise," she assured him. Carl just nodded and placed his pointer finger on where he'd last read, moving it along to keep track. It was a little thing, something all little kids probably did – she knew she did – but it still made her smile.

""But first the ghost of El…El-pee-nor?"

"El-peh-nor," she corrected and the boy nodded.

""Elpenor, my companion, came toward me. He'd not been buried under the wide ways of earth, not yet, we'd left his body in C..." Um, how do you say this?" he asked sheepishly. "I kinda skipped over a couple names before." She chuckled.


"Circe," he repeated and Annie nodded, giving him a thumb's up. ""…we'd left his body in Circe's house, unwept, unburied—this other labor pressed us. But I wept to see him now, pity touched my heart and I called out a winged word to him there: "Elpenor, how did you travel down to the world of darkness?"" Looking at Annie, he innocently asked, "He means hell, right?" The older woman choked on her laughter.

"I don't think your father would appreciate hearing you say that word," she answered, staring at him bemusedly. It was a bit of a shock to hear him cursing, even if it was to innocently ask about a place. Of course, Annie had no room to judge. She said her first curse word, fuck, when she was only eight; her father was a horrible influence in that department. "But, no, that's not what Odysseus is referring to. He's in the Underworld, which, in this story, and I think in all Greek mythology," she added uncertainly, "is a place where a soul goes after death. It's an idea of the afterlife. Understand?"

"So its heaven and hell?"

"Stop saying hell," she scolded.

Giggling, he retorted, "Why?"

"Because I'm the adult and I said so, that's why," she answered, poking his shoulder playfully. "And not really," she said, in answer to his question. "I kind of think of it as limbo, an in-between place, since there were different places in the Underworld that a soul could go to. I remember there was Tartarus, which was far below the Underworld and souls were judged there, and the wicked would receive punishment."

"So Tartarus is hell." Annie closed the book and bit down a smile, pointing her finger at him.

"If you don't stop, I'm gonna take this book away and tell your father you've been cussing." Carl's eyes widened at her threat but he laughed regardless.

"I was just kidding!" Annie quirked a brow at him and held out her pinkie for him. It was a silent offering and he took it, pinkie promising to stop cussing. At least in front of her. "Can we keep reading, please?" She nodded and handed him back the book, which he enthusiastically reopened. "Um, where'd we stop?" She pointed to the line and he thanked her. ""And I called out a winged word to him there: "Elpenor, how did you travel down to the world of darkness? Fast on foot, I see, than I in my black ship."…"My lord, remember me, I beg you! Don't sail off and desert me, left behind unwept, unburied, don't, or my curse may draw God's fury on your head. …Perform my rites, and plant on my tomb that oar I swing with mates when I rowed among the living." "All this, my unlucky friend," I reassured him, "I will do for you. I won't forget a thing."" Carl stopped reading and looked up at Annie. "So he died and now he's asking to be buried? But he's already dead, why should he care?"

"Because he didn't get his last rites." Carl looked confused and Annie sighed, trying to think of an easy way to explain it. "It's like a prayer said for someone before they die, to give that person the grace of God and prepare them for their final journey. But Elpenor didn't get that chance, so he wants Odysseus to swear that he'll go back to Circe's island, and do right by him so his spirit doesn't just wander the Underworld aimlessly." Carl stared at the pages of the book and Annie watched at him, concerned, as his face suddenly turned pensive.

"Can we do that for Sophia?" Annie let out a low breath and slowly shook her head.


"I'm not dumb," he cut off firmly. Carl looked up at her and said, "I know Dad and Mom and Shane and even you, you all think I don't get it. But I do!" he insisted. "I know there's a chance we might not find Sophia. Or, if we do, she might be…you know, one of them." A walker. Shane had been the only person to speak this dreaded thought aloud, although it had been weighing heavily on everyone's minds. It shouldn't have come as a surprise that it weighed on Carl as well, but it was a surprise. "So if we do, and she's not…" He sucked in a harsh breath and clenched the book tightly. "If Sophia's not herself, can we do this? Give her a proper burial? Rites and everything?" Annie gently took the book from his hands and set it down, gently taking his hands in her own.

"I'm sure we will, if it comes to that. But," she stated, perking his chin up so he could look her in the eye, "we aren't gonna give up. Okay?" Carl nodded and she smiled, leaning in to kiss his forehead. His stomach suddenly gurgled and she smiled, amused, as he blushed. "I guess that means its lunchtime, huh?" Marking the page in the book, Annie set it down on the bedside table and rose to her feet. "I'm getting pretty hungry myself. I'll make you something. PB&J is about the extent of my culinary skills though. That good?" He told her that was fine and she made her way to the kitchen, sneaking in and making them both a sandwich as quick as possibly. Last thing she wanted was Hershel to find her and claim she was stealing his food.

Annie had stayed with Carl for a bit longer, until Lori came in to check on him. The woman hadn't exactly kicked her out of the room, but her reaction to seeing her son curled up and reading with Annie hadn't been great. She'd been cold but polite, saying that she was there to watch Carl if she had something else to do. Carl might not have noticed the dismissal but it had been clear to Annie, so she left. She made sure to appear happy and promised Carl she'd come and read some more with him. She made sure he was didn't notice how abrupt his mother's dismissal of her was before quietly leaving the room, then fleeing the house all together. "If she had something else to do", Annie thought viciously. She practically stomped to her tent and threw the flap aside. Letting out a harsh breath, she shook her hands out and tried to clear her head. Just because Lori was rude to her, it didn't mean she had to stoop to her level and definitely not in front of Carl. Find something else to do, she thought to herself. So she checked her water bottles and canteen; all were empty, again. Picking them up, she grabbed the iodine and vitamin C tablets from her med and head back outside. She made her way through the makeshift camp, intent on going to the one well that was still good and provided water for the house. As she walked by the RV though, she heard Glenn telling Dale his theory that when women cycles lined up they all got "super crazy hormonal".

Chuckling, she nudged Glenn and told him, "You're absolutely right." Leaning against the door, she added, "I played softball in high school and all us girls, we'd sync up like a bunch of NASA satellites and it was three to seven days of hell for whatever poor sap crossed us." Glenn started laughing, thinking she was joking. His laughter slowly faded at her dead serious face.

"You're…you're joking, right?" Annie just raised her brows at him and patted his shoulder before walking away. "Right? Right?!" he called after her.

Annie laughed under her breath at how freaked out he sounded. Dropping her stuff beside the well, Annie knelt down and set about her work. Pumping the well, she held one bottle after another underneath the steady stream. Once everything was filled, she pulled the iodine out of her pant pocket and unscrewed the eyedropper. She was careful as she squeezed three drops into each container. She remembered, in high school, how she'd been surprised to learn that iodine, of all things, could purify water so long as it was the proper kind. Stuff looked more likely to poison you than purify something. Once the iodine dissolve, she dropped in the vitamin tablets. Another thing she was running low on to add to her list of supplies to be grabbed during the next run. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something and she started to reach for her knife when she realized who it was.

"I can see you there, you know," she announced, smiling at Rick over her shoulder.

"I wasn't hiding," he assured her, walking over.

"Really? Sure looked like it," she retorted.

"Just didn't want to disrupt you from what you're doing."

Putting the iodine away, she pulled out the bottle of vitamin C tablets and replied, "It's not like it's a secret."

"Hard to tell with you sometimes." Rick sighed and told her about his discussion with Hershel. She listened patiently, shaking her bottles and canteen to let the tablets dissolve; iodine was fine for purifying but it made the water taste like shit. Apparently, Daryl took a horse without permission – and it was missing on top of that – and Jimmy had lied about having Hershel's blessing to go with them. It seemed obvious to her that Hershel wanted to set clear boundaries between his people and theirs and she told Rick just that.

"Despite all his talk about reconsidering letting us stay, he sure does seem to act like we aren't going to be sticking around," she added, placing her foot on the pipe of the well and bending over to tie her loose shoe string. Looking her over shoulder, she had been about to tell Rick more but caught him staring at her backside. When he noticed he'd been caught, he looked away. "Are you checking me out?" she asked incredulously, a tiny thrill going through her body. Rick just cleared his throat and shook his head, silently denying he'd been doing any such thing. "There's no harm in it," she assured him, straightening up with a shy smile, "just tone it down." Rick nodded slowly. Unsure, she took a step towards him. Maybe she wasn't crazy to feel the way she did. Maybe he felt something for her, too.

"WALKER! WALKER!" Annie whipped around at Andrea's shouting. The moment, if it had even been was, had been ruined and both of them hauled ass to the RV. They couldn't really see it clearly, but Andrea was right, there was a walker, coming out of the woods.

"Just the one?" Rick asked and Andrea picked up the binoculars.

"I bet I can nail it from here," she told him, picking up the rifle, as Glenn ran to get his machete and T-Dog his bat. Just to be safe, Annie put her hand on the butt of her knife but didn't remove it.

"No! No, Andrea, put the gun down!" Rick ordered as Shane came out with his pickax, telling her she best let them handle it. "Shane, hold up! Hershel wants to deal with walkers."

"What for, man, we got it covered?"

With that, Shane walked off into the field, T-Dog and Glenn not far behind. Rick cursed under his breath, running into the RV and grabbing his Python before bolting after them, tapping Annie's arm, signaling for her to follow. She didn't hesitate to pull out her knife and run after him. As they all got closer, Annie saw that it wasn't a walker stumbling towards them at all. It was Daryl. He was sweating, filthy, a dirty, disgusting mess. While that wasn't anything new with the group, Daryl especially, this was a whole new level of dirty. He looked like he'd taken a bath in the dirt or something, an image of Pig-Pen flashing into her mind for a fleeting moment. He was limping and dragged his crossbow behind him, spatters of blood all over him. There was a wound on his left side that soaked his tank in blood, not to mention the blood around his mouth. What the hell had happened to him? He looked like a walker! Annie saw the others keeping a tight reign on their weapons, just in case the hunter had been bitten and turned.

"That's the third time you pointed that thing at my head," Daryl growled at Rick. The others visibly relaxed as the redneck mouthed off. "You gonna pull the trigger or what?" A gunshot rang out and Daryl flew backwards onto the ground.

"NO!" Rick shouted, turning around to look at the RV in the distance. "No! No!" Rick leaned over him and checked to make sure he was alive. Daryl's eyes were open, he was breathing and looking at him in shock.

"I was kidding," Daryl groaned as Rick and Shane picked him up.

"Oh, my God!" Andrea cried when she saw it was Daryl, running faster to them. "Oh, my God! Is he dead?"

"Unconscious. You just grazed him," Rick assured her although his tone clearly said he was less than pleased that she had disobeyed his direct order.

"Look at him! What the hell happened? He's wearing ears," Glenn stammered, pointing to the necklace with four ears around Daryl's neck. Annie saw the others from camp approaching and quickly ripped the necklace off.

"Let's keep that to ourselves," she stated, shoving the necklace down the front of Glenn's shirt. He protested and groaned about it but she put his hand over his mouth. "Shut up! We'll bury 'em or something later! Just stay quiet for now, all right?"

"Guys!" T-Dog called from behind them. "Isn't this Sophia's?" Everyone turned around and saw him holding up a doll. They all took it in and realized he was right. That was Sophia's doll, the same one that Morales' little girl had given her.

That night, everyone had a real dinner. Lori and Carol had spent the day in Hershel's kitchen, with help from Beth and Patricia, to thank the family that had taken them in and done so much for them. Glenn sat at what Annie jokingly called the "kiddie table" with Maggie, Beth and Jimmy while everyone else was at the main table. Hershel sat at the head, of course; the only ones not in attendance were Carl and Daryl, both of whom were on strict bed rest. Carl was still sleeping heavily so a plate was set aside and placed in the fridge for him, but Carol had made sure to bring Daryl a plate. Dinner was a silent affair. Annie took a seat between T-Dog and Shane, although she would've preferred not to sit next to the cop at all. Not after everything he'd said out in the woods. Across the table, Rick was glaring at Shane but when he looked at her, his gaze softened. She sent him a small smile behind the rim of her glass, which he returned, and her eyes flickered to Lori, who was staring hard at her. Annie immediately ducked her head and focused on her food.

"Does anyone know how to play guitar?" Glenn asked, looking at the main table with a smile. "Dale found a cool one." Hershel stared at him and no one answered. "Somebody's gotta know how to play!" he laughed.

Patricia, staring down at her plate, solemnly answered, "Otis did."

"Yes, and he was very good, too," Hershel told her. Glenn's good mood effectively died and he turned back to his meal in silence. The rest of the meal continued in silence and, when the awkward affair was finally over, everyone dispersed. Annie noted Lori going to Carl's room but saw Rick hang back. She didn't think much of it and continued on her way, stepping outside into the cool air. Winter would be upon them soon enough and she dreaded it. She'd always hated the bitter months of winter. Hopping up onto the railing, Annie looked up at the clear sky in awe at how many stars she could see.

"What are you doing out here?" She looked over her shoulder and saw Rick standing in the doorway. "It's not safe to be alone after dark, not even here. You know that."

"I can't take care of myself. You know that," she retorted. Rick smiled and shook his head at her. "I was gonna go to sleep but…" Sighing, she nodded to the sky and told him, "I haven't seen this many stars since I was a kid." Rick walked over and leaned against the railing next to her, looking up at the perfection above them. "Some kids had fairytales for bedtime stories. I had Andromeda," she told him, pointing out the constellation. "And Orion. Sagittarius. Hercules. Draco," she listed, pointing out each constellation to him with a smile.

"You said you grew up on a farm?" he asked curiously, remembering what she'd told Glenn days before.

Nodding, she said, "My farm wasn't all that different from Hershel's. Even the house! Same size, same big wrap around porch. All the other kids drew on their sidewalks in chalk, but I had that porch. Always pissed my dad off, too, let me tell ya." Rick chuckled at that and she smiled wanly. "They always planned on having more kids, that's what my dad said, but mom died before they had the chance."

"How, if you don't mind me asking?"

"Spider bite, if you can believe it. Brown Recluse. I was too little to remember but Dad said that she got bite and, by the time the doctors realized what it was, it was too late. Turns out there was a nest in the barn." Her eyes vaguely drifted over to Hershel's barn. It looked so much like the one she'd grown up around, one that looked beautiful in the old pictures but dilapidated and haunted in her memory. "Even after it was cleaned out, he never let me near it and he never went in there again."

"Your father sounds like he was smart man," he told her and Annie scoffed.

"You're a smart man, Rick. My Dad, he was…" She took and a deep breath. "Well, he wasn't like you. He was always telling me how much like my mother I was. How I looked like her, sounded like her, acted like her. I wasn't his daughter. I was his wife's ghost," she whispered in a detached tone.

Rick looked up at her sullen face and hesitantly asked, "Annie, your father, did he…?"

"What, hurt me?" she finished for him. At his nod, she shook her head and looked back at the stars. "No! God, no! He was just…ugh, just so damn controlling. He didn't let me do after school activities, not even dances or field trips, said he needed me close to the farm." Chuckling at the memory, she told him, "When I stayed after for softball tryouts, he reamed into me something fierce. Then, when I made the team, I had to fight tooth and nail for him to let me keep it. I almost died of shock when he did."

"He must've had his reasons," he guessed.

"I'm sure he did, too. Didn't mean I had to agree with 'em. I wasn't an easy teen either, gotta admit. I started skipping classes, didn't do my assignments, got a lot of detentions; even got suspended once. Eventually, I just stopped going." Annie went on to tell him that her grades had been so bad that no college would accept her. Not that she had ever thought that would be an option for her, considering how her father had barely managed to afford sending her to school. "Soon as I could, I packed up and left and he didn't try to stop me. Said I disappointed him. So I went to Atlanta, the big city," she scoffed. Rolling her eyes, she laughed and told him, "Hell, I didn't know anything about cars until I started at that autoshop! Learned how to take one apart and put it back together, though. Learned how to shoot." Annie bit her lip and looked at the ground, shaking her head at herself. "I did whatever I could to not be like my mother, just to spite him."

Rick gently squeezed her shoulder before rubbing her back, "I'm sure he loved you, Annie."

"Oh, yeah," she scoffed, "he loved me so much that he never returned my calls or wrote me, never came to visit. Nothing. I didn't even know he died until the hospital called." Looking at Rick, she plainly told him, "My father wasn't an easy man to love but, for all his faults, I did love him. My biggest regret is not telling him, not being there for him. I haven't thought about him in years but, being here, seeing the stars…" She looked back up and took another deep breath, releasing it slowly to try and relax herself. "It just brings it all back. I have a lot of bad memories about my father, but there are some good ones."

"Like Andromeda," Rick replied and Annie laughed, a stray tear falling down her cheek.

"Like Andromeda," she echoed, smiling at him. Hesitantly, Rick reached up and brushed the tear away. His hand lingered on her cheek, feeling her soft skin, her warmth, holding her there and staring into her green eyes. Annie smiled weakly at him and ducked her head, causing Rick to drop his hand back to the railing. Clearing her throat, Annie hopped off the railing and wiped her face. "Good night, Rick."

"Good night, Annie," he replied, but she was already walking back to her tent.