Katjaa often dreams and thinks about crying over Kenny’s body. She remembers shutting his eyes, and rushing up to the train so she would not have to see Lee put a bullet in her child’s head. She remembers not talking, not eating- wanting nothing more than to go and be with her husband and son. But who would she be to leave smiling young Clementine, who seemed to always be by her side now that the small girl’s only friend was gone? So the Belgian woman stuck by that little girl until the former got caught in that alleyway as she tried to put that loud teenager back together. But in the end, Ben got devoured and she ran until Savannah was nothing but a nightmare.
She went back to the train, once, but it was abandoned. Before the train could send her into a flashback and/or meltdown, she left. Katjaa always tried to find a place to settle down, like the motor inn. She wanted a group, she wanted a family again. But as months passed, all that happened was death. More children died, and whenever that happened, Katjaa packed a bag and ran. Every time that a small body fell to the ground, all she could see was her son pressed up against that tree.
Then, she met Sarita.
A group of bandits had tried to take her small amount of supplies, and though she refused to kill them, she made sure they would know not to mess with her if they saw her again. She barricaded herself in an old diner and found the farthest corner from the door. All she could think about is that if that had happened a few months back, she would not have been able to defend herself. They would have beaten and killed her as she begged for mercy, but now she was a force to be wary of. As much as that seemed like an accomplishment, Katjaa cried. She did not want to be tough, she wanted her family back. It was about an hour later that Sarita broke the door down, and instead of hurting the woman, the Indian woman carried her up to a small cabin that she had been staying in by herself.
They stayed in that cabin for three months. Katjaa tried to distance herself from the other woman, but there was something about the way that Sarita was so open and honest that made Katjaa want to be the same way. The blonde woman began to treat Sarita’s cuts and bruises when she got them. Sarita made Katjaa a warm cup of tea or cocoa or whatever she could scavenge up every time the latter had a particularly horrible day. They were okay.
The day that they lost that cabin, Katjaa gave Sarita a peck on the cheek. Or, at least it was intended to be that way. Obliviously, Sarita turned her head at the last possible second and their lips accidentally hit each other. Maybe Katjaa would have started to apologize if Sarita had not kissed her back. Before either of them could explain, they heard laughing and then smelled smoke.
It was the assholes from three months back that Katjaa had encountered. They must have been tracking her, probably angry that they had gotten beaten and stolen from all those weeks ago. The two women gathered up the important supplies: some food, ammunition, weapons, and fought their way out.
Food had been out of supply for two days when they stumbled across a bridge. Katjaa was beginning to develop a sickness, and even though she could still do most of what she could three days ago, the lack of nutrients in her body were taking a toll on her. Sarita decided that the big building up the mountain looked like a nice place to spend the night, so they went. There were no harmful walkers or people, so it would have been quite an easy journey if Katjaa was feeling well. Sarita kept their spirits up, talking about all of the cocoa she could make in a building like that.
They made it to the top, and Sarita made Katjaa wait by the fence as she made sure no one was inside. She was just about to find a way to break the door down when an Asian man stepped out, squinting at them.
“You don’t look like assholes. Are you assholes?”
Sarita had laughed, though it was more for the sake of being polite than for the sake of being genuine. “We are just people. My partner, Katjaa, is not feeling well. We were hoping to stay here, but we see that it is occupied. I am sorry for disturbing-“
“No!” The man had said, quite loudly. “Um- sorry, but you don’t have to go. My name is Matthew, and my partner Walter also is staying here. If you two can help us out, you two can stay.”
Katjaa should have felt relieved, but all she felt were butterflies over the word partner.
It takes Katjaa three days to be back to normal. She explains that she was a veterinarian before all of this, and that Sarita was the only person she has completely trusted since the first few months of this whole ordeal. The blonde woman never notices how much Sarita lights up at the words.
Since Sarita had introduced them as a couple earlier„ they sleep in the same bed. It is not a problem, as sometimes when Katjaa had nightmares Sarita would hold her throughout the night anyways.
It is one night in particular when they are lying in bed that Katjaa turns to look at Sarita.
“I often forget that you are not truly my partner.”
Sarita smiles softly- maybe a little sadly, too, and then kisses her.
Sarita and Matthew go on the majority of the runs. There are jokes that “‘Rita and Matty” were getting closer to each other than they were to their sweethearts, but that reoccurring joke is not true in the slightest. Walter makes meals and keeps their living space neat; Katjaa keeps a lookout on the borders of the cabin. It is not something that she likes to do or is even good at, but with only four people it has to be done.
Katjaa has just gotten back from going on a quick border check when the ski lodge group hears banging on the front door. They all freeze, turning to see what looked to be half a dozen people outside. Matthew reacts first, grabbing his rifle and tossing Sarita a pistol. “Walt, Kat, our other weapons are upstairs. We don’t have time. Just don’t die.” He smiles, giving Walter a soft peck on the cheek.
A man in a ball cap, a chubby man with glasses, a pregnant lady, a man in plaid, and a young girl with glasses greet them, all looking startled. The man in the ball cap draws his gun, and Matthew draws his in response. Katjaa can see another person sprinting towards them, and a smaller figure in the tower.
“Hey, it’s okay! We can talk this out before we draw weapons,” Walter coaxes, putting his hand up to the man in camouflage pants.
“Tell him to put his rifle down, then.” The man from the other side sneers, glaring at Matthew.
“Who are you?” Sarita demands. “Are you trying to rob us?”
“Excuse me, honey, but do I look like a fucking thief?” The pregnant woman from the new group asks rhetorically, crossing her arms.
“Everybody, just stay calm,” Katjaa says firmly. “There is no need for this, we are not being aggressive. You drew first. You lower your weapons, and I promise that we will lower ours.”
Everyone except for the man in front seems willing to comply, but none of that matters when a small figure pushes her way through.
Her whole world stops. “C-Clementine!”
“Wait, you know this lady?” A voice sounds, but Katjaa does not care. In a second, the young girl is in her arms, and their are tears in both of their eyes.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Walter says, and just like that, no one is nearly as aggressive. Matthew lowers his weapon. So does the man on the other side.
After she releases the young girl from her arms, she declares that they can come on inside.
“Katjaa and Sarita have been staying with us for several weeks,” Walter tells Clementine as they walk up the stairs. “Matthew and I didn’t really know what to do with this place before, so we’re grateful for the help.” He turns to the rest of the group. “You can all leave your weapons by the door.” The man, Nick, looks hesitant, but after a nudge from his chubby friend he drops his rifle onto the ground, with the rest of them following him.
“Here, follow me, I can show you where you all can sleep,” Sarita says, and Katjaa cannot help but to watch her partner with a fond look.
“You two probably have some catching up to do,” Matthew says with a grin. “I’m Matthew, by the way. Nice to meet you, kid.” Clementine smiles back at him and for a second Katjaa thinks they might be a pain in the neck.
Katjaa and Clementine find their way to the old, worn-out couch, staring wordlessly at each other.
“Where did you end up, Clementine?” She asks, knowing full well that Lee had not lived past that final day. He had been getting so sick.
“I was with Christa and Omid. Omid … he didn’t make it.” Katjaa can tell that Clementine is hurting, so she offers the child a sympathetic smile in response. “I was with Christa for a while, but then we got separated, and I found these guys about a week ago. They’re … decent.”
“You do not seem so sure,” Katjaa says with a crooked smile. “Have they hurt you? Should we make them go?”
“No! No, it’s not that. It’s just, don’t be angry with them when I tell you this, because they were just scared.”
“Okay. I will try.”
Clementine pulls up her sleeve to reveal a bite. Katjaa is horrified for a second, but then she recognizes the sharp curve of a dog’s jawline. It does not take her very long to connect the dots. “They thought you were bitten. What did they do?”
“They, uh, locked me in a shed. I sewed up my own arm.”
“Oh, my God. Well, you said that that was a week ago, and you are alive. So I will thank them for that.”
Clementine gives her a thankful smile. “So, how are you alive? Christa and Omid said that there was no way you were getting out of there alive.”
“I went to check on Ben, after he fell down into an alleyway. He had a pole through his stomach. I tried to pull him off with Lee but there were walkers. I had to leave, but I could not go up with Lee when the time came. I was not able to put Ben out of his pain in time before they got him, so I just … ran.
“And then, I met Sarita. My goodness, Clementine, it is lovely having you back.”
“Are you two catching up?” Katjaa did not notice that Sarita had appeared after showing the new group to their beds. The Indian woman put a hand on her lover’s shoulder.
“Clem, this is my partner, Sarita.” Katjaa introduces with a genuine smile.
“It is very nice to meet you, Clementine. Say, why don’t you get cleaned up? We have showers, but we can only run one at a time or the water runs cold. I already have warned the rest, and if you get there quick enough I think you can take the first one! We have a trunk full of clothes in one of the back rooms, so go through that before you shower.” Clementine smiles at Sarita and her words, thanking her with an awkward hug before bounding up the stairs.
“I almost forgot about that little girl, you have not mentioned her in so long.”
“She was like Lee’s daughter, back then. She is grown. It has been around two years, and she looks so much older now. She was … very close with my son. It has been a while.” Katjaa has talked much about Lee and Clementine and that group, but she rarely talks about her son or husband. Sometimes Kenny would turn up in a conversation, but Duck? Duck is still a broken part of her.
Kat turns to see Nick and his pudgy-but-attractive friend talking to Matthew, presumably about helping out around here. Katjaa will never admit it, but she is excited to be able to lay back on some of the work.
“Walter will be working on dinner soon. The run that Matty and I went on yesterday should last us a good three days, which will be enough time until the other group is ready to pitch in. Remember, Katjaa, the snow means the holidays!”
“Sarita, I’ve been thinking … and I know that we do not celebrate Christmas, but if we can, I think that maybe having some sort of holiday celebration all together will be a good way for us to bond for this new group. It is still late October, I believe, so we have time.”
Sarita smiles, and kisses her lover’s lips. “I would love that very much.”
At first the tables for meals were divided between the two groups, but after a week or so, that changed completely. Luke, Nick and Sarah seem to sit with Sarita and Katjaa now, while Walter and Matthew like to chat with Carlos and Alvin about educational subjects that Katjaa has not thought about in a long time.
Clementine wears a thick gray sweatshirt that is probably meant for a boy a size or two bigger than her, though Katjaa is just glad she is not swimming in it. Clementine usually sat next to either Luke or Katjaa, and though she did not talk as much as she used to, she is nice for listening.
“Katjaa and I want to have a celebration for the holidays,” Sarita announces to the people eating around her one morning. The children immediately perk up, looking at each other excitedly. “Of course, not all of us celebrate Christmas, so it would just be some big holiday party. We do have a ton of gift boxes in the back room, so if someone wants to get someone a present …” Sarita finishes with a smile to Katjaa. Katjaa smiles back.
“I like the sound of that,” Luke agrees with a grin, referring to having a celebration. He nudges the eleven-year-old sitting next to him. “Maybe we can find a guitar. I used to play all the time.”
“Luke tried to pick up ladies with one, but they thought he was toddler-cute instead of boyfriend-cute so they never went out with him,” Nick explains with a chuckle. Clementine begins to laugh, choking a little on her water. Luke scowls, but the mood is still light-hearted.
“Could I go on the next run?” Clementine asks Katjaa. Luke, Nick, and Sarah did not seem bothered by this request, but it hit Katjaa a little too hard.
“If you swear to me that you will be extremely careful. I cannot have you getting hurt, Clementine.”
Katjaa is heading to her and Sarita’s bedroom when she hears whispering coming from the room next door. It sounds like Clementine and … Nick? What are they doing? It is a bit earlier than midnight, what are they doing awake?
“Wait, are you serious?” Katjaa hears Clementine say through the door. “Why wouldn’t he tell anybody?”
“I don’t know, probably because he wants to be all manly and stuff,” Nick says with a laugh. “But, it’s in a week. I saw a guitar on the last run I went on with Matthew, and I think we could grab it when he’s out. We can’t have many people finding out, though. This is gonna be a surprise, alright, Clem?”
“Alright, alright. Wasn’t gonna tell anyone. Anyways, I should probably get to bed. Night, Nick.”
“Night.” His voice is followed by footsteps, as if he is walking away from her.
Katjaa slips into her bedroom before Clementine can see her lurking, smiling behind the door. She is worried for Clementine’s safety, but all they are doing is scheming a birthday present.
“Kat?” The blond woman turns to see her partner curled up in bed.
“Come on. I’m tired, and I do not like sleeping without you here.”
“Where’s Luke?” Clementine asks during lunch, slumped in between Nick and Sarah.
“He, Matthew, Sarita, and Alvin went on a run about an hour ago. They said it would be a long one, so they do not expect to be back until right before dinner,” Katjaa explains. “They were headed to a town two dozen miles away from here.” On the first day of November, Sarita and Matthew had come back from a run with a Pilot. The car was already filled with gas, but there was no other fuel around, so they have been conserving the fuel for a large run. This must have been it.
Nick and Clementine exchange a glance, nodding in silent agreement. Katjaa knows where this is going. God help her. She lowers her voice so only the two of them can hear her. “Your secret mission should take place soon. Do you need anything before you go?”
Clementine looks at her in surprise, before accepting the fact that Katjaa somehow figures out everything all the time. “I think we’re okay. Ready when you are, Nick.”
The two of them slip out, going upstairs to assumingly pack their bags. Sarah looks at Katjaa questioningly, as they are the only two left at the table. “The two of them have a little surprise planned for their friend. Nothing bad at all, do not worry.”
The “it’s the zombie apocalypse, you don’t have to get me a present” stage passed eventually, and now everyone (minus Rebecca and Sarah) had been on a run at least once in the past two weeks to get a present for someone. Today, it was Katjaa, Luke, and Nick. Nick and Katjaa were successful in getting Luke to avoid the music store, knowing that he would question why a guitar, sheet music, and picks had all magically disappeared.
“Let’s see,” Luke says, squinting at the crumpled piece of paper with the list of things they needed to grab. “We got the conditioner, deck of cards, I think that’s- oh! Nick and I wanted to go into the huntin’ store over near the clothes store, we saw somethin’ in there that we think Clem might enjoy.”
Katjaa smiles. “That’s fine. I might look around in the clothes store, I want to grab something for Clementine and Sarita.” It was nice to have something to distract Katjaa from all of the corpses walking around, even if it was just for a few moments. Since this town had been cleared out by the group when they first arrived, Katjaa did not feel the need to have company.
“Sounds good, if ya shout loud enough we’ll hear ya, it ain’t like yer far.” Luke beckons Nick over and the two men head into the wooden building. The blonde woman enters the clothing store, and she is immediately greeted by the scent of pine. The windows to the building have been smashed down, letting the scent of the trees that line the backyard flow into the store. Well, it is much more pleasant than the smell of walkers, Katjaa thinks, absently moving towards the children’s section. Sarita is not in need of clothes, so it would be silly to get her something from here.
Katjaa brushes against soft fabric, and tugs it close to reveal a sweater. The color is lilac and it looks a little bit smaller in size than that old gray sweatshirt Clementine has been wearing. Deciding that this is much cuter and more comfortable anyways, Katjaa tucks it into her bag.
She is just about to leave the store when she notices a plastic container in the corner. The container resembles what she used to store all of her family photos in, big and bulky and cracking around the edges. Why not give it a shot? Katjaa kneels beside it and pops off the lid. There is a broken camera, a pack of cigarettes, what looks like oxycontin, nothing she could use as a Christmas present. However, she does pocket the oxycontin just in case. At the bottom of the tin lies what looks to be a miniature wooden piano. Hesitantly, Katjaa picks it up, turning it around. On the backside is an on/off switch and a wind-up key.
She places two tentative hands at the base of the key, and twists it once, twice, three times.
The prettiest music Katjaa had heard in years flows out of the music box, and Katjaa instantly realizes that Sarita will fall in love with this just as quickly as she did. She gently places the music box in her backpack, knowing that it is cushioned by Clementine’s sweater.
They decide to have their holiday party about two weeks later, after Luke’s not-so-secret birthday. They have music playing, and they have actual cooked meat. A few of the adults had gone out on a hunting trip the other day, which is rather out of the ordinary, but when they come back with three rabbits and a deer, they decided that they may make hunting trips happen more often.
The makeshift calendar in the living room says that the party is that morning, so Katjaa, Walter, Matthew, and Sarita wake up early to decorate the downstairs. Since the ski lodge was already very Christmas-y, all they really did was get some lights from the back room and hang them over the windows.
Rebecca and Alvin come down first, smiling and laughing. For a solid twenty minutes everyone discusses baby plans, since Rebecca is eight and a half months along. Rebecca reveals that she hopes that the baby is a girl but feels as if they will be a boy, and Alvin feels the opposite. Rebecca laughs and says, “you never have had a sense about these things.”
Carlos and Sarah come down next; Sarah swoons over the lights and excitedly talks to her father. Katjaa can tell that the two of them have an unbelievably close bond, and for a moment she is reminded of Clementine and Lee and her heart hurts. Sarah also seems to be close to Rebecca, as she goes over and talks about how well this place will be for the baby and that maybe everything will finally be okay and Katjaa is left wondering how much hardship this group has been through. Luke had mentioned that they were on the run, but they had been in this place for a good few months now, so Kat was not worried.
Luke and Nick are bickering as they walk down the stairs, but their facial expressions state that they are joking. They see everyone smiling and relaxed, and Luke says that once Clementine is awake he will get his guitar for some mood music. They decide to give her another thirty minutes before they allow Sarah to go jump on her bed to wake her up. Thirty minutes come and go, and Clementine has not come downstairs yet, so with a nod from Carlos and a smirk from Nick, she sprints up the stairs.
A minute later they hear a screech and Katjaa can see that Luke is just about to grab his gun and pray to God that Clementine had not turned, when a few seconds later they hear the loudest burst of laughter they have ever heard so they relax and laugh. A gap of time passes, which is assumingly for Clementine to not look like she has just woken up, when Sarah pulls her down the stairs and Carlos looks like he is about to tell Sarah to loosen her grip but the two kids both look like they are having the time of their lives so no one says anything.
The morning passes by uneventfully and their full stock of food prevents anyone from going on any kind of supply run. There are at least a dozen gift boxes under the Christmas tree and the children plus Nick keep eyeing them, so of course they have to wait until mid-afternoon.
The moment the watch on Nick’s wrist hits 3:00, he jumps and says, “Guys, c’mon, it’s time for presents!” Katjaa notices the childish heart that that man has inside of his chest, and for a second she is reminded of how Duck would run around on Christmas morning. It only hurts a little, because mostly she feels joy and love.
Within seconds, the two farm boys and Clementine and Sarah are sitting criss-cross in front of the Christmas tree. Katjaa and Sarita exchange loving smiles before they pull up a bench from the dinner tables for the older adults to sit on. “Daddy, come on! Open yours first.” She hands him a starry-themed box, and when he opens it, he looks at her in surprise.
“Sarah, how did you …?” The tone gets rather emotional, but Carlos is smiling, so everyone assumes that it is okay.
“Mommy gave it to me, before. I thought you would like it!” Carlos gently lifts it out of the box, and everyone’s eyes widen a little at the pretty golden locket that comes out of the box. Katjaa notices Carlos’ hands tremble as he opens the locket. Katjaa is not quite sure what was in it, but the teary smile he gave his daughter let her know that it was welcomed.
“Thank you, sweetie. It means a lot.”
The next gifts are just as meaningful. Alvin gives Rebecca a diamond necklace, Rebecca hands Sarah a diary, Luke gives Nick a case for his watch. Katjaa half-expects Clementine to be tapping her foot in impatience, but in reality, she seems in such awe from the mood that she does not seem to mind at all that she had not received anything.
“Clementine!” Katjaa says, smiling at the young girl. “That red box, over there, has something for you.” Clementine smiles gratefully at her old friend and reaches under the fake Christmas tree, letting out a high-pitched hum when she gets her hair caught in some of the plastic pine needles.
The eleven year old opens the box, and is ecstatic at what she sees. “Does this mean I won’t have to wear a sweatshirt made for someone Nick’s size anymore?” The black-haired man laughs and gives her a gentle push on the shoulder. Clem marvels over the clothing for a second before she let out an “oh!” and scrambles under the tree, grabbing a (badly) wrapped present and giving it to Sarah. “This one’s for you, I thought you’d like it!”
Sarah opens it with a gasp. “This is- no way! Queen of Hearts! I’ve wanted this book since it came out, like, when I was twelve! Thank you, Clem!” The eleven year old blushes a little at the positive attention and stutters out something about how she was sorry that she did not get the whole series. Sarah brushes it off, saying “this is perfect.”
Sarita hands Carlos a plaid sweater with fur lining, saying that he will need it and that it will get much colder out than it already is. They share a smile, and Katjaa is excited to give Sarita that little music box.
Luke and Nick give each other a questioning glance, before nodding and tapping Clementine on the shoulder. Nick’s hand gets too close to the back of her neck, and she shrinks, her shoulders going up so they touch her ears. Nick smirks as Luke slides her a box. She gives them a suspicious look, though they seem innocent enough so she opens it. The young girl gently removes the tissue paper from the box, and she beams as she pulls out what seems to be a hunting knife attached to a thick chain.
“Y’know, we figured you could find a way to make it look cute. Look at the case!” Luke instructs, pointing to the thick leather. Clementine studies the case, and Katjaa can just see the “❤ Luke + Nick” engraved into it. Clem grins at them, and the way that her whole face lights up makes Katjaa think that that girl will never take it off. The knife is slipped out of the case and examined. Clementine seems to deem it useful, and after a few demands to put it on, she tucks it back into the case and lifts the chain up and around her neck.
There is only one present left under the tree, and Katjaa can see from here what it is. “Sarah, will you bring me that last one? It’s for Sarita.” Sarah obediently hands the present over, which makes its way to Sarita immediately. She gives Katjaa a small smile before lifting the top of the box off. There is one second that no one says anything, not even Sarita, and the only thing you can really hear is Clem fiddling with her new knife/chain.
Sarita lifts a pretty, piano-shaped music box from the box and inhales, examining both sides of it. Katjaa clears her throat. “It’s very pretty. Play it.” Sarita finds the wind-up key on the back and turns it, and the same lovely tune hits everyone’s ears. The mood lightens a bit at the sound of the music.
“It is lovely. Thank you, Katjaa.” Katjaa gives her partner a peck on the lips and Clementine smiles. It could stay like this.
As the day goes on, Luke retrieves his new guitar and plays some holiday-themed tunes that Katjaa vaguely recognizes. About a half-hour after the last present is opened, Clementine pulls her aside. “I wasn’t sure if you would appreciate me giving this to you in front of everyone, because of questions being asked and stuff … so, uh, here.” She hands over a crumpled and folded piece of paper. As Katjaa unfolds it, her heart aches. She remembers this. The paper is a drawing that Clementine had drawn all those years ago, of Katjaa, her husband, and son. When the foreign woman closes her eyes she can almost see eight-year-old Clementine holding up this picture, and asking her if she wants to keep it. Katjaa remembers her answer, too. “No, honey. You keep it. You will always remember us, okay?” She is just about to deny it when Clementine intervenes. “I know what you’re going to say - but now I have this sweater to remember you by. Now, you’ll have it to remember me and them by. Please, take it. I want you to have it.”
Katjaa could not resist. She smiles, and tucks the picture in her pocket. “Thank you, Clementine. It means so much.”
The last present of the day is Katjaa’s personal favorite. She and Sarita are lying in bed, holding each other close, when Sarita gently takes Katjaa’s arms and pushes her slightly away. “I have a gift for you. It is a bit more personal than something I could have given earlier.”
Katjaa lets out a positive hm. “Oh, yes? I’m excited.” Sarita smiles, before reaching into her back pocket, and pulling it out so the object is in between the two women. Katjaa is just about to ask what is is, when she sees it glimmer. She tilts he head, and it glimmers again. Is that-
Katjaa carefully picks up the ring, twirling it around in her fingers. “Sarita, is this …?”
“I know it has only been about six months since we met, Katjaa, and you do not have to consider this an engagement, if you do not want. But I am in love with you, and I have never been so devoted to anyone or anything before I met you.” After a second of silence, she adds, “may I put it on you?”
Sarita takes the ring back so she can slip it on Katjaa’s finger. “I know you said I do not have to, but may I consider this an engagement, and you my fiancee?” Katjaa asks, admiring the ring as it twinkles on her finger. Sarita lets out an exhale of what may be relief, or possibly happiness.
Her only answer is a kiss. It’s more powerful than words could describe, so Kat is okay with it.