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Once Bitten, Twice Dead

Chapter Text

It wasn't that Clementine couldn't run. It wasn't like she didn't want to run. It wasn't like that at all. With the shouting behind her – which came from a man at least twice the size of her seventy pound, not yet four-foot-nine frame – there was no reason not to. But there was a huge difference between not attempting to run and barely being able to.
Rain splattered down on her face, wind blowing it into her eyes and all over her, obstructing her eye sight. The mud on the forest floor was making it much more difficult to stay upright, but the surrounding trees and the darkness of the night made it even harder to figure out where to go.

Clementine slowed, as the rain began to pick up; she wiped the water from her face and quickly turned her head, just in time to hear the angry shouting that came from back behind the trees.

"Get the fuck over here! NOW!" the man shrieked, like a child throwing a tantrum. A tantrum, Clementine reminded herself, that included more than one deadly weapon.
She jumped when she first heard the demand, and scrambled behind the nearest cover, a tree. A loud squelch of mud reached her ears; she didn't dare peak out to see if he'd stopped, but the sound of slow, wet footsteps was answer enough.

"Motherfucker!" he grumbled. Clementine heard more of the slow, wet footsteps, which sounded like they were beginning to move away from her. She could run. She could get away – maybe she could hide. She didn't know where. The only idea in her mind repeatedly echoed, away from him, away from all of them.

Kneeling, she peeked out from behind the tree. The man was facing away, to Clementine's left. His back – or rather his bag and several bundles – was turned to her, as he spoke, "Come out here, girl." He spat this in a condescending manner. "I'm not fuckin' around!"

There was a rock parallel to where Clementine was, to the right of the tree. Could she fit behind it? Maybe, if she was squatted down. She took the leap of faith – and promptly failed. The man turned, as soon as he heard movement, shouting something she couldn't make out. He made a mad dash towards her; with every amount of energy she could muster, she took off, away from him, narrowly avoiding the large rock, and the smaller ones that dotted the ground.

"Get the fuck over here!" came the shouting behind her.

A humongous boulder and a narrow log resting on top of it stood in her way. At the last second, Clementine dove underneath it, then swiftly stood up and continued her run forward into a patch of long, dried grass.
She let out a gasp of fear as she stopped in her tracks for barely a second, nearly colliding with a female-looking walker. It let out a deep throated growl as Clementine ducked underneath its outstretched arm – and then she stopped.

Stretching across her path was a huge tree log – nearly as wide as she was tall, with several large branches stretching out that looked like they could impale an elephant. So Clementine turned back to the walker, which turned around, facing her and shambling closer. Behind the walker was the man, who said something that sounded like, "Fuck." followed by a few more choice words. He kicked the walker's thigh, knocking it down onto the ground, and then stomped on its decomposing head, effectively killing it.

He turned to Clementine, who had backed herself against the log; she grabbed a hold of the nearest branch, a thick, pointy one with several pieces sticking out, and turned back to him, holding it protectively in front of her. She darted to the left hastily as he ran at her. The man stopped just before he ran into the branches.

The man let out a shriek and yelp as she stabbed her branch into his shoulder. She took off again in the opposite direction as the man screamed, "Jesus, are you fuckin' kidding me?"
Clementine's run was cut short when she stopped herself, sliding and landing on her backside. The ground ended in a sudden ledge, dropping off several feet into a quickly-moving stream that seemed to only get faster with each passing second.

Her clothes were streaked with everything from sweat to mud, and her knees both felt as though they were scraped and bleeding. He'd chased her, he'd tried to hurt her, and God only knew what the other men who'd chased after Christa had done, or were trying to do. She felt a pang of panic in her chest. It was with great, pent up frustration and fear that she screamed, "LEAVE ME ALONE!"

The man grabbed her from behind, lifting her up off the ground as she squirmed and fought back.
He replied, "Then stop fucking running! Stop squirming!" He wrapped his arms around her, using his knee to keep her elevated as he tried to get a better grip on her. His hands rested, unguarded on her shoulders – as quickly as she could, Clementine buried his thumb in her mouth, down to the carpel bones, and bit down as hard as possible. A painful howl reached her ears as immediately as it was let out, but she held out.

She shifted his thumb slightly as the man tried to pull it from between her teeth. Clementine placed more panicked pressure on the pad of his thumb and the bone and tissue underneath with her molars and left canine – and she finally tasted the choking, irritating coppery blood, joined by a sickening crack as her captor's screams reached their highest intensity.

"ARGH – LET GO, YOU LITTLE BITCH! Jesus Christ!"

Clementine let go of his thumb at the same time he dropped her. With her mouth, and part of her nose filled with his blood, she immediately darted towards the hollowed log that lay a foot away, extremely grateful for her small size. She crawled into it hastily, and then scrambled to grab onto anything she could, as a pair of bloody hands grabbed a hold of her ankle.

"Come out of there!"

She let out a cry of fear as her nails dug into the insides of the log, and she kicked the man's hand with her free foot multiple times. Her hands slipped away from the inside of the log; he dragged her out, despite the small girl's cries and squirming. With a delicate hold against her foot, Clementine reached out to the nearest object: a thin tree. In the dark, it was one of the only things she could see. She wrapped her arms around as tightly as she could. The man's grip had loosened slightly; Clementine supposed it was his bloody and likely pain-filled thumb that was preventing him from pulling her with his full strength.

"Jesus, are you fucking kidding me?" the man repeated, lifting her lower body off of the muddy ground by her leg. But there was no way in Hell that Clementine was going to let go of her only lifeline. "Come on, girl!"

A strong, well timed tug pried Clementine's hands off of the tree – and it knocked the man pulling her to the ground.

"Kid, you are on my LAST FUCKING NERVE!" he shrieked, lunging towards the downed child, positioning himself over her as she turned. He grabbed the bony fists that she'd waved in her blind panic, and was promptly met with a kick to the chest, from one of her bent legs. Eyes wide, Clementine kicked his sternum again with the other leg.

"Stop fucking kicking!"

Growling and a clap of thunder filled her ears as a walker with torn clothing shambled towards the man. But he didn't seem to notice. The walker suddenly fell on the splintered stump, only inches away from them both. It began to reach out, and though Clementine knew for a fact that it wasn't picky about which of them it was going to rip open, she knew it was reaching out for her captor.
Carefully, Clementine continued to press her feet against the man's chest, squirming and resisting so that she could move herself further left. The walker was on the right, reaching out towards the man's shoulders, and just the right amount would tip him into it. She pushed against him, legs beginning to cramp under his weight, and then aimed a well-timed kick at his groin, effectively shoving him right into the arms of the walker.

The walker grabbed his arm as he cried out. Clementine backed away, heart still pounding, and stood up, only to be greeted by a slimy, rotting hand grabbing her wrist as well. She cried out, pulling away from an androgynous walker with close to no skin left on its bloody face, when another hand latched onto her other arm: her captor.
She looked over to see that he seemed to be free, and with a sickening crack, the walker's arm detached from its body. He'd pulled her away, but Clementine knew that it wasn't for her own good. No, he wanted her for himself. The two of them both hit the ground, with the arm landing a few inches away.

Clementine looked back to her left to see another walker, this one both taller and larger than the previous, greedily grabbing the air in front of it and coming straight towards them both. Just as she moved from her position and got to her feet, the walker fell right onto the man, who shouted and screamed in fear. The walker pinned him down and tore right into his throat with a horrifyingly disgusting noise that Clementine could only think of as a cross between a thump of a heavy object on a sopping carpet and a choking, gurgling noise.

She backed away slowly at first, but then took off in the opposite direction when she finally realized it – she was free. The man who was trying to do God only knew what was dead, not chasing her, and she could get away. She took off right back into the trees, away from the feasting walker and that ledge, jumping to the side in surprise when the one armed walker from earlier lunged from the brush. It fell to the ground, and Clementine turned, only to be faced with two more, thoroughly mutilated walkers.
One was missing its arm from the elbow down; the other was wearing a sports jacket. Both of them had the flesh and skin rotted away from their faces.

Clementine ducked and changed direction when the walker in the jacket lunged at her, turning back towards where she'd come from, and back towards her former captor's corpse, and the reanimated corpse that was feasting on it. The walker that was feasting on the man, like the others, lunged at her, receiving a shriek in response as Clementine leapt to the side to avoid its touch. And immediately lost her footing, tripping herself on a rock.
She turned onto her backside, a whimper of unease leaving her mouth as she attempted to back up. Every part of her body suddenly felt like jelly as she grabbed the first rock her hand touched – one roughly the size of her fist - and examined the walkers several feet away.

There were six of them coming from different directions, creating a semi-circle around her escape route. Clementine launched the rock at the walker in the middle as hard as she could manage to, though the rock missed by a few inches. Mouth open and eyes wide, she backed up, reaching her hand back to grip the ground. It was only after she'd backed up that she realize that there was nothing but air to grip, and she remembered the ledge.

Clementine's heart skipped a beat as she tumbled into the freezing stream several feet below, water immediately filling her mouth and nose, forcing its way down her throat.

Chapter Text

Cold. Every sense was dulled by the cold.

When Clementine’s eyes began to adjust to the light, the first thing she became aware of was the fact that she no longer wanted to see this light. Her eyes felt as though someone was pushing down on them, and sharp, stabbing pains raced through her head. She tried to take a breath, chest aching, and flinched when she felt a similar pain race through her ribs.

The water droplets on Clementine’s skin were icy knives piercing her skin, while her fingers, which were clinging to the shoreline dirt and sediment, were stiff and numb.
Her clothing was soaking wet and felt nearly frozen to her skin, which she noticed when she began to slowly move her arms. Body aching, she coughed several times, her stomach forcing up bits of dirty water, then carefully sat up, pulling herself out of the water.
She pulled her baseball cap out from underneath her, crumpling it to her chest, and then crawled several inches away from the icy stream.

Clementine carefully wrung water out of her cap as feeling began to return to her fingers, then placed in on her head. Her mind was still fuzzy, and for a split second, she wondered just where she was and how she’d gotten there – but immediately, memories from what seemed like only minutes before came rushing back, full force.

Christa, and the three men that had come after them – and the man who had come after her; it hit her like a ton of bricks. She quickly moved away from the stream as a sudden rush of adrenaline hit her – probably shock, she thought – and did her best to stand with the pins-and-needles feeling that effected both legs from the knee down. Her shoes were water logged and spongey, which only made the feeling worse.

For several seconds, it was difficult to breathe. Her chest felt stuck in place, unwilling to move. Clementine took in a deep breath, and then her surroundings, trying to block out the thoughts and the images that plagued her mind.
For one, it was day. It was difficult to see if it was morning or the afternoon, but whichever it was, it was day. How long had she been out for?
A sick feeling crept into her stomach as she tried to block out her thoughts about Christa and the men. The eleven year old knew exactly how little time it took to kill – bang, one second, one bullet, one death – and if Christa wasn’t dead, then God only knew what had been done if she hadn’t gotten away. Clementine knew all too well how bad people could get when they were desperate.

The ground underneath her was muddy sand and sediment that mixed together; patches of yellowing grass and cattails dotted the surrounding area. Slowly, and several feet away, the ground transitioned from sand to humus soil and larger patches of yellowing grass, as well as a much more hilly terrain.

Clementine heard nothing but the rush of water, and for a second thought about calling out, simply to see if anything or anyone would answer. She chided herself for this thought a second after it crossed her mind; that would be asking to attract any walkers that could be lurking in the area.
She wrapped her arms around herself, peering around at her surroundings, unsure of what to do. Inhaling the frigid air through her nose physically hurt, while the pain in her head and chest weren’t letting up any time soon. She had to find somewhere to take shelter; she couldn’t just stand there all day shivering. Though she wasn’t sure if any shelter around this area would help.

Just a few feet away in the water was a wrecked canoe, a reminder of the unforgiving rapids, and a small cliff-like incline that held a shattered pier, which led to a set of wooden, rickety looking stairs. The pier itself was over land, though pieces seemed to have been snapped off at many different angles. It was below level to the rest of the ground that it hung from, but seeing nowhere else to go, Clementine began towards it, still hugging herself tightly.

The lowest piece that hung from the pier was at least a foot higher than she was tall. She stared up at it for a moment, then leapt up with all her might, arms outstretched. The aim for the hanging piece failed. She bent her shaking knees slightly, arms completely outstretched as long as they’d go, and jumped.
Her hands caught wood that she did her best to hold on to; her mostly bitten off nails clung to it as she inched her fingers further around the wood. As soon as she managed to wrap her fingers and hands around the wood – which seemed rather strong for such a splintered piece – she began to lift herself.

Clementine felt pain rip through her arms as she attempted to lift her thin body up the best she could. She reached out to another piece of the pier and gripped it, pulling herself along. After over a minute of pulling herself up, she twisted her leg over the wood, and dug her heel into it. She gripped a hold of a further board and carefully pulled the rest of herself up with a grunt.

Her fingers were not only freezing, but now aching. She stood up with another grunt, and lightly stepped until she’d reached the stair case.

With a deep breath (and another sharp pain in her chest), Clementine took a hold of the handrail and took several uneasy steps up the stairs. They felt rickety, like the tiniest bit of weight – even as little as she carried – would cause a complete collapse. She let out a sigh she hadn’t known she was holding when she finally reached the top, and solid ground.

The area was surrounded by woods, though they looked much less dense than the ones she and Christa had camped in. The ground was dust and dry; dust colored pockets of glass dotted the area leading up the tree line.
Even if it had been night the last time she saw it, she knew this wasn’t where she’d been. It was too unfamiliar and different in a certain way. Sure, there were splintered tree logs, but she knew they weren’t the same. This wasn’t anywhere near where their small camp had been set up.

A few feet closer to the trees was the corpse of a walker. Something neon yellow stuck straight out of its skull. Slowly, Clementine moved closer to it, curious to see exactly what that thing sticking out of its head was.
It was a sign, she figured out upon moving closer, and the bottom of the sign was sharpened. The sharpened end seemed to have been forced through the walker’s skull; the skull looked already like it was partially collapsed before it had been pierced, however.

Clementine continued on past it, unable to stand the smell any longer (hadn’t she once been told that she’d get used to it?), and ventured further down the dusty trail that split the brush in two. She could only hope that it would lead her somewhere safe.

Chapter Text

She tried to avoid jumping at every little sound she heard, but the rustling of bushes and constant, sudden loud cawing of birds continued to go above and beyond its expectation to be unsettling. Clementine knew she had to be cautious; she had no weapon, after all. Maybe being neurotic in this case was better than not being careful at all.

Clementine found nothing but the occasional bird on the ground as she continued on down the dusty path. There were several crows and sparrows that seemed to enjoy hiding in bushes and then flying away, panicked, when Clementine approached them, as well as a few other birds that didn’t seem to take off until she was right up on them.

When she finally found herself in a clearing, she was greeted by another sign. This one she actually read. It was bright, neon yellow with several pictures on it and the words:

You may encounter:
Black bears
Coyotes
Mountain Lions
Poisonous Snakes
Or other species

BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS.

Turning slowly, Clementine panned the area for any signs of active or passive movement, the warning of wild animals echoing in the back of her mind. She thought walkers were bad enough - but they were dumb; they had no sense of anything but hunger and sound. Wild animals were different, and with no weapon, she doubted she would stand a chance.

She made her way past the sign as another chilly gust of wind blew against her, and carefully climbed over another fallen tree.
The dirt, ditch-like path continued on past it. Clementine wrapped her arms around her chest again, rubbing hard against her thin, striped sleeves in an attempt to warm herself up a little bit. She continued to scan her surroundings, including the gently moving bushes, as she made her way further into the trees.

The brush was thick by this point; it wasn’t difficult to see ahead, but the further she made her way in, the darker it seemed to become. Clementine knew that it couldn’t be evening time – maybe it was the afternoon, but not evening. It shouldn’t have been getting any darker.
She pushed down this complaint, noticing the sudden dead end she’d been faced with.

Of course, it wasn’t an actual dead end. There was no wall, structure, or median in her way. But the trail was gone, simply replaced by grass, bits of rock, and the occasional patch of dirt. The only thing ahead of her were trees and thicker brush; overgrown bushes seemed to have taken over quite a bit of space, and Clementine wanted no part of them even before she noticed the prickly leaves that stuck out horribly. Her arms were already shooting sympathy pains, knowing how it would feel to be stuck with such a point.

A rustling noise forced this out of her mind. The sympathy pains were instead replaced with a sudden feeling of anxiety and dread. She couldn’t handle walkers, she couldn’t handle any wild animals, and she especially didn’t want to be around people. No more people, she had begged herself earlier, please not more. Not after the scavengers.

Clementine forced herself to lightly step forward. Her shoulders tightened as she attempted to make herself smaller in a bid to hide.
She mentally cursed herself when she let out an audible gasp; it seemed that at least some of the rustling had been caused by the three crows that had just shot themselves out of a bush like rocket launchers. They flew off, cawing fading into the distance, but this did nothing to ease her.

Something caught her eye again after several steps: more movement from the bushes. It was a softer rustling noise, and a soft sound of breathing and panting. Clementine could see something between the leaves, just ahead of her. It looked like something furry, like the edge of a white, fluffy tail. Another soft rustle came through.

Hesitantly, Clementine took another few delicate steps ahead, darting her gaze down at every other step in an attempt to avoid stepping on something – like a stick, for instance (how cliché was a thought that quickly galloped its way through her mind). Suddenly, she saw what the thing was, and a smile spread across her face.

It was a dog.

The dog was facing away from her, sniffing something across the ground. His golden brown fur was matted, sticking up in some places. Joining this, at no surprise, were protruding ribs and delicate looking bones and shoulder blades that stuck out at odd angles; his dark blue collar was hanging from his neck, which seemed to be the only part of him that wasn’t overly scrawny. His white and brown tail wagged back and forth slowly, while his pointed face and triangular ears remained interested in the dirt.

Clementine watched him in shock for only a brief moment before he turned, sensing her, and his tail wagging came to an end. His ears remained upright, rather than flattened against his head. Knowing she had nothing to offer him, she didn’t try to hide her hands. Rather, she raised them slightly, showing him that they were empty, then took a hesitant step back as he took one forward.

A guttural growl and bared teeth were the dog’s response; he flattened his ears against his head as a further sign.

Not now, Clementine thought, unable to move her now frozen body. This was why the eleven year old hadn’t wanted to find life in the first place. And she’d never exactly been around dogs regularly. She’d never learned much about them, having never owned one, or about what to do around dogs like this. But she did have one idea.

She didn’t move, and instead spoke in a soft whisper, “It’s okay.” Opening her hands more and exposing her palms, so that he could see that she had nothing he’d be interested in, she spoke again in the same voice. “Hey… it’s okay…”

After several tense seconds, the dog’s ears rose up and his mouth closed, storing his yellowed and most likely rotten teeth for later. His tail whipped back up and began to wag wildly from side-to-side. He let out a loud, husky bark, and took another step towards Clementine.

Her shoulders sagged in relief when his signs of aggression ceased, but immediately tensed back up when she heard his bark echo through the woods. She cringed, but said nothing, and instead moved closer to the dog, then kneeled down to his height.
The dog came up to a little bit past her knee when she stood, but kneeling beside him made it much easier to see the details.

Hands shaking as she approached him, she carefully reached for his collar, then cupped the small, engraved, piece of metal that dangled from it in her left hand. Her right hand lightly skimmed his oily, matted fur (it didn’t smell much better than it looked) as she read the information on his tag.

The dog’s name was ‘Sam’, according to the metal, though she could already tell when she saw the collar itself. Though it was a dark blue, what looked to be black permanent marker stood out against the tearing fabric, reading the same name in capital letters. Clementine looked up, meeting the dog’s – Sam’s, she had to remind herself – eyes.

Sam’s wet, pointed nose snuffled away, ducking down towards her arms and knees.

“Sam…” Clementine said to the dog in a hushed voice. She ran her hand down his oily fur lightly again a small smile coming to her face. “Nice to meet you, Sam.”
Sam looked back at her. His only response was a gaze that could barely count as eye contact and to stop sniffing.

He let out a whine, suddenly looking down the new dirt path.

Clementine gazed down there, unsure as to what he was yearning for, but then noticed him starting to walk that way. Suddenly, his gait sped up to a fast walk, before he stopped, tail beginning to wag a mile a minute. Sam turned back, as if to ask if Clementine was coming along as well.

Curious as what he was thinking – and how she wished Sam could speak at that moment – she decided to humor him, following him with caution. What was he doing? She didn’t see much ahead, but she supposed she could have been missing something that Sam wasn’t.
Her train of thought crashed when Sam barked again, then took off running wildly in the direction that he had been facing.

“Sam,” Clementine spoke, hoping he would hear. The dog’s barking continued, and only God knew who was around to hear it. Sam didn’t turn, nor did he stop, and by now, Clementine had lost sight of him. “Sam!”

Where are you going? She wanted to ask, but it wasn’t as if he’d respond. There was only one way to find out.

Chapter Text

Able to see Sam faintly through the plants, Clementine hurried in his direction. She could no longer hear him barking, though the sound of paws on the ground was apparent. One part of her knew that he’d likely just seen a squirrel and gotten excited, but the other part immediately jumped to conclusions. What if he’d seen another person – his owner? What if he’d seen a walker, or – even worse – his owner as a walker? Clementine had just gotten a new friend, even if he was a dog. She didn’t want to lose him so soon.

So she followed along, catching up to him, relieved. There were no walkers that she could see, or people, or even other animals. Instead, he’d led her to what seemed to be some sort of clearing – which played host, or maybe even home to a campsite. There were no people, simply a broken down looking van, surrounded by trees and other things.

Sam walked ahead of her, sniffing the ground and peering around suspiciously, as though he was expecting something to jump out at him.

A rusty oil drum sat near a tree, while open and empty cans rested against open boxes. Now Clementine could see the damage done to the van, which sat only a few feet away from the oil drum: all of the windows were cracked or completely shattered. The door, which was open, was covered in bullet holes, and exposed the just-as-damaged inside, as well as its cargo. The cargo was a box, branded with the same logo that the others held; everything else seemed to have been stripped from it.

Clementine could feel annoying hunger pangs in her stomach that made themselves more apparent the more she thought about scavenging the camp for food. It looked pretty empty – but of course, she could never be too sure.
She headed towards the van while Sam made his way past her, still sniffing around with the same suspicious manner.

When she looked in the box, she wasn’t surprised at all by what she saw. One, a complete lack of food, and two, a photograph featuring Sam. It was a family of three, plus Sam – a brunette woman in a beige dress with a large, genuine grin from ear to ear, and a plump looking man in a wife-beater, with a similar expression, holding a little girl, also brunette and no older than three years old, in his arms. Sam was at the bottom, looking as though he was in the middle of yawning, facing the woman.

Looks like they were a happy family once, Clementine thought, setting the picture back in the box. Her thoughts moved briefly to her own parents; she pushed the thoughts away, choosing instead to focus on her growling stomach. Hope they left some food behind somewhere

Making her way towards the rear end of the van, Clementine kneeled down and inspected another box. While there was no food or anything that looked edible in the box, it did hold a few other items. A ginger haired doll, dressed in a green shirt and pants was among them, joined by a few alphabet building blocks, as well as a red toy truck. Nothing edible.

Clementine turned back to the rest of the camp, gazing at a broken and torn tent that lay only a few feet away. Though it was barely standing, she couldn’t help but wonder if anyone had been sleeping in there recently. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to wait around long enough to find out.

It wasn’t until Sam was further away that his barking started up again. Unlike earlier, he didn’t move from his spot, and instead simply stood there, body in a defensive position. Clementine could easily hear his barking echoing in the distance. She knew it would draw walkers.

She shushed him and muttered, “Sam, we have to be quiet!”

Sam’s barking tapered off into a deep, throaty growl for only a moment, before it slowly progressed back into a high pitched bark.
When Clementine made her way over to him, she wondered exactly how she hadn’t seen it before.

Sam was barking at a walker that was tied roughly to a tree. Deep, dark blood stained its arm and shirt; the pocketknife that stuck out of its arm didn’t help.
It turned its head only slightly in an attempt to see Clementine and Sam.

“It’s okay.” Clementine told the dog in a bid to get him to quiet down. “He’s dead.” She doubted Sam would understand even the concept of death, much less the concept of walkers - creatures that died, came back, and died again. It was almost her assuring herself; he was dead, and she could see the bite.

The pocketknife stuck out of the area around the bite, and a sickening feeling filled the pit of Clementine’s stomach when she realized just what it was for; he’d tried to cut out his bite. But she knew that wouldn’t work. He hadn’t even gotten the knife all around the bite, only halfway. She no longer had any questions about what happened to the previously smiling and happy man from the photograph.

The walker began to move its unbitten arm and let out a raspy gasp when Clementine walked around to its other side. If she could get the knife out of the walker’s arm, all it would need would be a bit of cleaning, and she’d have a weapon. It had to be sharp – if it could cut that deep into flesh and stay there, it definitely was.

“It’s okay,” Clementine said aloud to Sam, who stared at his deceased owner. “We’re smart and he’s not. We’re smarter than all of them.”

The walker’s skin and facial flesh were gray and decayed – almost completely decayed – leaving its skull exposed. Every bone in its face stuck out like a blade, and to Clementine, the skull looked as though it could be caved in with a particularly hard, blunt object.
She knew what she had to do; she wouldn’t be able to get the pocketknife out of the walkers arm unless it was dead.

Clementine scanned the ground for only a moment before noticing a thick, splintery branch laying a few inches away. She bent down to grab it, then looked over her shoulder. Sam had finally looked away from the walker, and instead met her gaze curiously, then looked over to the branch.
The bark on the branch was rotting and the branch itself was definitely heavier than it looked. Her arms, ribs, and back were already aching; this didn’t help at all.

It took more than one blow of the branch to kill the walker. One blow to the skull made a dent, and a sickening crack signaled the exposure of the brownish blood that followed. Clementine’s stomach turned at the sight. The walker let out another rasp, raising its head up. It reached out pathetically with its unbitten arm.
The second blow to the head had a similar effect, only furthering the dent. The brownish slop that Clementine knew had to have been blood or some other type of body fluid only increased in quantity.

With every bit of strength she had left in her, Clementine swung again for the third time. She let out a whine at the dull ache in her shoulders as she lowered the branch. The walker’s head was down, and there was very little movement.
She eyed it as its head lulled from side-to-side before completely stopping. There was no movement from the head, arms, or body in general – but she had to be sure.

With the fourth blow, a louder crack sounded from the skull. The walker’s head was now resting further, and its body slumped as far forward as it could go with the rope tied around it.
Panting, Clementine grimaced, then dropped the branch with a thud. Sam barked at the now still walker only once. His growling became quieter until it was no longer audible; he simply stared at the corpse.

“See?” asked Clementine, letting out a sigh. “We just have to stay out of their reach.”

She removed the knife from the corpse’s arm with little difficulty. She stared at the blade for a moment, and then gazed down at her damp shirt, which was still smeared with bits of blood and a thin layer of mud and dirt. There were pieces of the pinkish-purple fabric that were clean, though she was unsure if using those parts to clean the knife was a good idea.

Clementine instead wiped the blade on the side of her pants, careful to avoid slicing the fabric.

Still pretty sharp, she thought as she examined the edges. The tip of the knife didn’t look dull, and the edges still seemed razor sharp. Well, if this is the only weapon I have, at least it is sharp. At least it’s something useful.

She folded the knife up, then carefully wedged it into her pocket just as her stomach growled again.

Hunger gnawed at her insides… She needed to keep looking for something to eat.

 

Chapter Text

There was a small barbeque pit in the middle of the campsite. The lid was on its back next to the pit, rusted and forgotten. Clementine kneeled down to examine the bottom, which had a similar fate. She was careful to avoid brushing her hands across the hard, point rust pieces, and simply stared at the bottom. Or rather the grass growing into the hole that took the place of the bottom.
She huffed, her shoulders sagging, and stood back up.

Only a few feet away was another oil drum, also quite rusty. Curious, Clementine made her way over to it, noticing several pieces of garbage – including three empty cans.
She wrinkled her nose as the putrid smell of rotting garbage hit; a small swarm of flies scattered as she came closer to it.

Clementine clenched her teeth when she peered in. She knew what she had to do, but wished dearly that she didn’t. Having lived in an outbreak for two years, Clementine had seen and done a lot of crazy things, especially for food.

She’d just been hoping that eating out of the garbage wouldn’t be one of them.

Well, here we go, she thought, rolling up her sleeves to her elbows. She reached in, her eyes watering wildly from the fetid smell, and tried not to gag. She rooted around for only a minute before her palm closed around something cylindrical, solid, and… full.

Clementine yanked it out as fast as she could; her eyes widened at the sight of a sealed, wrapped can that read “Family Style” in white text against green paper. It was a can of beans.

Oh my Godthank you, she thought, squeezing the can against her chest. She didn’t bother to pull her sleeves back down, too distracted by her treasure. “Yes!

Sam, drawn by her voice, was standing only a feet away, tail wagging at the sight of the can. Though Clementine knew he wouldn’t understand, she held up the can anyway for him to see.

“Look, a can!” she exclaimed, grinning from ear-to-ear. Sam, who was sitting, stared and cocked his head to the side. “That means ‘food’, Sam.”
Sam’s ears perked up at the word food; his tail began to wag bag and forth against the dusty ground.

Clementine’s hands shook as she made her way over to a log to sit. She pulled the knife from her pocket and withdrew it from its covering, then switched it to her right hand, moving the can to her left. Sam followed eagerly, then planted himself directly in front of her.

She stared at the top of the can for a moment, mentally tracing the edges of the top for a good area to start cutting the top off.
Please don’t be bad, she thought as she raised the knife above the top of the can. Clementine brought the knife swiftly and punctured a hole.
She struggled with the metal for several seconds in an attempt to cut the top of further. The metal against metal made a horrible noise – like finger nails on a chalk board – but she was hungry enough that she ceased to care.

Two more punctures to the lid and another minute of fighting with it was what it took before Clementine managed to get it open. She pushed the cut and torn top off with the knife, taking in the sight of the pale brown beans below.

The beans weren’t an appetizing sight, but they weren’t rotten and they were welcomed immediately by Clementine’s stomach. She’d never been a big fan of beans, but that was all she had. There was no way she was passing this up, she thought as she shoveled a handful into her mouth.

Sam’s gaze slid fluidly from the can to Clementine just before he let out a pitiful whine. His tail continued to wag back and forth across the ground at a steady pace, like a metronome.

Clementine paused for a moment, looking down at the can in her hands, and then back at Sam. She bit her lip; she hadn’t eaten in a while – she needed this food… but at the same time… who knew how long it had been since Sam had eaten? Surely his owner hadn’t left a week’s supply of dog food before his death, and she didn’t expect a domesticated dog to know how to hunt well. She couldn’t help but suddenly feel as though his ribs and shoulder blades were sticking out even more than they had been earlier…

“I guess you’re hungry too,” Clementine spoke, voice shaking. She pulled another handful of beans into her palm, then leaned forward and offered them to Sam. “… Here you go.”

Sam looked at her for a moment, then at the beans she offered, and instead lunged for the can. Sharp, pinch-like pain shot through Clementine’s fingers as he nipped at her grasp on the can. She let out a gasp as the can fell to the ground. Victorious, Sam immediately began to gulp down every bit he could get into his mouth.

Panic raced through Clementine’s body as she watched in horror as he forced down her rightly deserved food – she needed that food! That was hers, not Sam’s; she needed it!
Without thinking, she snatched the can up from the ground and pushed it against her chest protectively.

“Don’t eat it all!” she shouted, panting, her eyes wide. Sam looked up at her slowly. His tail was no longer wagging, and his ears had flattened against his head. A deep, throaty growl followed his bared teeth.

And then he lunged at her, sinking his teeth into her arm – Clementine let out a ripe, raw scream as he pulled her down on the ground. The can and the knife both flew from her grasp as she found herself now down on her knees.
Sam lunged again, jumping on to her stomach, just as she turned over on her back. He sunk his teeth into the same spot and began to shake his head wildly.

Clementine let out another yell as the horrible pain engulfed her bloodied arm; the blood covered Sam’s exposed teeth and mouth as well. In multiple succession, she punched him and wiggled around the best she could – but he refused to give in, it seemed, no matter how many times her fist connected to his temple. He continued to bark and growl like a bear, writhing around with her arm, almost as though he was attempting to pull her shoulder from its socket.

Quickly as she could, she jerked her arm in the opposite direction from where Sam was attempting to pull it; he suddenly let go, jumping over to towards her knees.

He lunged again, but Clementine was quicker. Immediately, Sam was met by her shoe. With a panicked kick, he flew backwards over the log. She heard the thud of his body hitting the ground, but also a high pitched whine-bark hybrid that she knew wasn’t from begging. It was from pain. She knew it.

She backed up, cradling her arm to her chest. Her vision was blurry – she could barely breathe and she scooted backwards away from the log, and from the unseen Sam. Clementine didn’t dare look down at her arm. There was too much pain… she could feel it up her arm. The tickling feeling of thick, oozing liquid - blood - inching its way down her arm was all too apparent. A stinging feeling around her shoulder and arm, separate from the bite, were beginning to make their appearance as well.

Her trembling right hand searched the ground around her until she found the knife, which she immediately brought up to level her face. The heart palpitations hadn’t stopped, and the sound of an object being hit behind the log didn’t help at all. But Sam hadn’t gotten back up.

Why hadn’t he gotten back up?

Clementine kept her arm cradled to her chest as she attempted to stand. Her quivering legs made this much more difficult, and the thud against her chest didn’t help either.

She took a shaky step forward, and then another. Gripping the knife tightly, she began to cautiously make her way towards the log, but by now, she could see exactly why he hadn’t gotten back up. It was because he couldn’t.

Sam was struggling on his side, panting and whining some more. A sharp, metallic looking tent pole was sticking up straight through the inside of his thigh. Another poked through his stomach; a sickening, growing patch of blood stained both areas.

A wave of nausea came over Clementine at the sight. She stood there for several seconds, frozen, unsure what to do. Her sweaty palm gripped the knife tightly – what had her plan been anyway? She hadn’t had one. Hadn’t known what she would’ve done.

She backed up slowly, tears of horror coming to her eyes, and then turned away. She couldn’t bring herself to say anything at all to the dog. She folded the pocketknife up and shoved it into her pocket.
Don’t look at him, she told herself adamantly. You can’t help him. Keep going. Don’t look. Don’t look.

Clementine turned, just barely, and watched as the dog continued to struggle. Then, with her body on autopilot, she stumbled in the other direction, leaving behind the campsite and the friend-turned-predator that she wished she’d never met.

Chapter Text

The trek away from the campsite felt like years, rather than seconds. Everything seemed to move in slow motion and unsteadily, as though it was ready to break down. But this was nothing compared to what Clementine could feel in her arm.

The pain from Sam’s bite seemed to reach every inch of her flesh, stabbing at her skin over and over. The pain in her chest seemed to join it, while she struggled immensely to bite back the scream she wanted to let out.

Her trembling hand was doing all it could to block the wound out. Clementine pulled her left sleeve back up and put the small amount of pressure she could manage on it; her right hand shook too hard to grip a hold of it. The warm blood that soaked the fabric had turned as cold as ice, only adding to her discomfort and pain.

The surrounding area didn’t look familiar. It was woods, Clementine knew that, but none of them looked like that tree with the red leaves or that stump with the splintery wood. Maybe, she thought, the problem was that it looked too familiar – maybe it looked too much like what she’d seen that she couldn’t tell anything apart.
A steady pulsing was beginning to start up in her head; it only served to worsen her already fuzzy thoughts.

The hand that Clementine had clamped to her bite was beginning to go numb. It felt cold, stuck with pins and needles, but she couldn’t move it with ease. Her step faltered; her left leg was beginning to experience a similar, yet faint feeling from the knee down.
Shoulder’s sagging, Clementine took in a shallow breath. If there was anything she wanted to do right now, it was sleep. She just wanted to sleep; to rest with no worries about anything.

After all, what was she meant to do in this situation? With this bite? Sure, it wasn’t a walker bite – but it was a bite. Blood still flowed gently from her arm with nothing to catch it but a thin sleeve, and it would keep flowing until… Clementine didn’t want to think about that. She didn’t. But part of her did; it continued to ask, what do we do? You’re bleeding out. You’re hurt.

The pins-and-needles feeling began to increase with each passing second. Another step faltered as the numbness in her leg and foot danced its way up and then down again – and then up again. With a slow, dazed glance down, Clementine was able to see that the path was full of roots, rocks, and patches of plants, though she was still unable to feel more than a small amount of pressure from her leg.

Dull pain made its way up her shoulders. It felt as though someone was pushing down on every little pressure point in an attempt to slow her down. Drowsiness was quickly hijacking her body, there was no doubt about that. She knew there was no way to stop it.

Clementine collapsed only a few seconds later, finally removing her hand from the bite as a sharp, itchy pain crawled through it. Her hands and knees hit the dirt in earnest, barely able to hold her. She sat down, pushing herself against the boulder that lay only a few inches away, and pulled her knees to her chest.

By then, she couldn’t stop, and she didn’t care what she was doing. Steady tears of pain and fear flowed down her cheeks as she automatically tried to hold back hiccups and whimpers. The pain in her arm was building up; Clementine wanted to scream.
Her vision went blurry every few seconds. The background noise of the wind blowing, joined by chirping or screeching birds or other animals flickered on and off. It sounded muffled and garbled, like a radio and its static.

Clementine took a deep breath, and then another in an attempt to get her tears under control. She was shaking, unable to keep still, and barely able to breathe, but she knew this wasn’t going to help. It wasn’t going to do anything but attract walkers. Her foggy mind knew that was what she had to do – she needed to be quiet; she needed to calm down, but something inside her wouldn’t allow it.

A sense of dread filled her entire being when she heard the tell-tale signs of a threat: growling.

Her blurred vision searched around slowly and missed it at first. She caught the movement, perhaps fifty or sixty feet away, and then she made it out. It was hunched over slightly as it shambled, peering around wildly – but it was too loud to be so far, wasn’t it – ?

She spotted the other one nearly fifteen or twenty feet away, and it had easily spotted her before she’d seen it.

Her body protested every movement as she stood up, still alert enough to realize what was going on. She knew these walkers wouldn’t go easy on her – or anyone else, for that matter – just because she was wounded. Her mind suddenly filled with one thought, and one thought only: Run.

Clementine’s hand clamped onto her upper left arm as she lethargically began to limp away from the second walker. Even without looking back, she knew that there were more joining in; she could hear each individual rasp and gurgle from separate walkers that varying distances away from her.

She could only stumble, body aching too much to run or even speed-walk away. The closest growl continued to get louder, until she let out a cry of pain as a heavy object collided with her back, forcing her down on the ground. She turned on her back in panic, pushing as hard as she could against the walker, which was doing its absolute best to sink its razor sharp teeth into the flesh that was her neck.

Something connected with the base of the walker’s neck, slicing clean through it. The walker’s head fell, forehead hitting Clementine’s shoulder, before bouncing onto the ground. Breath caught in her throat, the body was pulled off of her in one motion.

She looked up to see a man – a human, real, alive – no older than thirty, in a dirty, orange shirt, with a machete in his left hand and a walker creeping up behind him. A crossbow arrow suddenly hit the walker’s head with a thunk; brown blood and fluids exploded from its head as it fell.
Clementine turned as quickly as she could to see another man, this one much older, with a crossbow held to his face.

The man with the crossbow turned to his side, towards a third walker, and shot again without a beat. The third walker fell and a fourth took its place as the man with the machete instead kneeled down to Clementine – who still sat, rigid on the ground.

“I’m out!” shouted the man with the crossbow in a gruff, southern accent. “Grab her, and let’s go!”

The other man deposited his machete into its holder, which was strung across his back.
“Come on, kid!” he told her in a similar accent. Clementine let out a groan of pain as he suddenly scooped her up off of the ground. By this point, she felt too dizzy and sick to protest. “We gotta get!”

Clementine closed her eyes, exhausted, leaning against the man’s chest. The two men left the area, with only a machete and an empty crossbow as their weapons, and took off as fast as they could. Clementine felt the younger man’s grip on her tighten as they sped off.

After only a minute or so, Clementine opened her eyes slightly; she could tell they’d come to a stop. The younger man who held her was panting heavily, while the older man didn’t seem to be fairing much better. He slung his crossbow across his back with a strap.

“I think,” the older man began, leaning over. He rested his hands on his knees. “… I think we’re safe.” He stood up to his full height, eyebrows scrunched and eyes widened slightly in Clementine’s direction. The younger man nodded, though both of them scanned the area with worried expressions.

“Yeah…” the younger man said, though his voice shook slightly. “We’re good.”

Clementine’s heart gave a jolt when she heard the younger man speak – much too loudly. Her head was already pained enough, and this wasn’t helping. Her heart rate hadn’t settled down much, either, and this was serving to make it worse.

“Hey, you alright?” he asked at the same volume.

She looked up at him, not meeting his gaze. He was definitely young, maybe a few years shy of thirty years old, with untidy brown hair and a stubble. Unable to think of anything else to say, Clementine muttered, “I can walk.”

The man gave a small chuckle. “Oh, is that so?” he asked in a playful tone. His face darkened slightly. “Because you could bar’ly climb away from that lurker back there… look, you’re in bad shape, kid.”

Both men resumed walking, but Clementine wanted nothing more than to be put down. She could walk… she could, she just needed to rest for a few minutes…

The older man shook his head at the younger, trailing behind him slightly. He tugged on his army-green jacket for a moment, and then looked over to Clementine with the same, half-worried/half-curious expression he’d had on before.

Clementine looked up at him through half lidded eyes, studying him cautiously for a moment. He was definitely older than the other – much older, she could tell – with fair skin, a light gray buzz cut, and a dark beard. She wondered briefly if the two men were related, or simply surviving together.

“What’re you doin’ out here?” he questioned, turning to her. He sounded genuinely concerned, a nice change from other people Clementine had met.

The younger man eyed him. “Where are the… uh, the people you’re with? There is no chance you made it this far on your own.” Clementine clenched her teeth in frustration; nearly everyone she’d ever met seemed to think that she couldn’t protect herself… though with what these two men had just seen, she wasn’t sure if she could blame them.

“I don’t want them thinkin’ we’re doin’ anythin’ but tryin’ to help you.” said the older man, cocking his head slightly.

Clementine gulped. She did her best to form a coherent sentence, despite the fact that her mouth felt like lead, and said quietly, “… My friend and I got attacked.” The memory of the scavenger sent shivers up her spine. A pang of anxiety hit her square in the chest as she thought of Christa, yet again.

The older man nodded. “Hmm… Did these folks mention what they were after?”

“I think they wanted our food.” Clementine responded, not meeting his eyes. “We were cooking this thing we found… I think it was a weasel.”

“They attacked y’all for a weasel? Damn,” The younger man shook his head. “That’s low.” Suddenly, he looked over to the older man and asked, “They didn’t mention any names… right? They weren’t searchin’ for anybody?”

Clementine shrugged. In the back of her mind, the question of why they wanted to know this popped up, but she was too tired to care.
The older man simply let out another, “Hmm.”

They walked in silence for only a moment before the younger man broke it, saying, “Well, I’m Luke. And this is Pete.” He nodded to the other man.

“Hey there,” said Pete with a small smile.

“Hi.” Clementine said simply. “… My name’s Clementine.”

Luke let out a low chuckle when she said this, and looked over at Pete. “Clementine, like the fruit, or Clementine, like the song?” Clementine didn’t exactly find this as funny as he seemed to think she would. When he received no answer from the lethargic girl, he continued on. “Sorry – it’s nice to meet you, Clementine.”

Clementine gave him a small, tired smile, and he continued.

“For now, we’re gonna take you back to our group, okay?” said Luke in a gentler tone than before. “We’ve got a doctor, and you look like you could use some – OH, SHIT!”

Clementine let out a yelp of pain as she hit the ground with an audible thump, her bitten arm caught beneath her side. Luke’s eyes were wide as dinner plates, hands gripping his brown fringe, backing up away from her.

Pete gawked at him, and shouted, “What? What is it?”

Slack jawed with a horrified expression on his face, Luke shouted back, “She’s-she’s been bit, man! Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck! What do we do here?”

 

Chapter Text

"It wasn't a walker!" Clementine managed to choke out between the pain in her arm and the shock from being thrown and discarded on the ground. "P-please, it's from a dog!"

Pete narrowed his eyes at the still-panicking Luke, and then looked back at Clementine with the same look he'd had minutes before.
"I didn't see a dog, Clementine." he spoke in a stern, but gentle voice. He opened his mouth to say something else, but was cut off by Luke.

"Come ON, kid!" Luke hollered, finally removing his hands from his forehead. "We just saw you with those lurkers back there!"

Clementine shook her head, trying to stop the flow of blood that had started up again from her arm. She had the urge to shout back at him, feeling completely overwhelmed, exhausted, and overall, done.
"No, it wasn't from them!" she stammered. "It was from a dog – back at the campsite!" It was only after she said this that she realized they had no idea what she was referring to. She pointed back towards where they'd come from, and then to the right. "Please, just look at it! Please!"

Luke turned to her, eyes wide and eyebrows raised.
"Yeah, and have you sink your teeth into Pete's neck? No way!"

Pete gave the younger man an incredulous look, and asked, "Wait, my neck? Why am the one?"

"'Cause I don't know a dog bite from a mosquito bite from a lurker bite, man!"

"It's not –" Clementine began to say, but winced when a sharp pain seared through her wound. "- a walker bite. Please, just look at it…"

Luke simply stared at her as if she were insane, while Pete was quiet for a moment. He looked at her, then at Luke, and then over her head, in the distance. He then looked back down at her, and calmly said, "All right, let's have a look."

"Woah, hey – watch yourself." Luke responded, arms crossed. He noticed the glare on Clementine's face. "Hey, don't look at me like that! You're the one that's bit here, okay?" He turned, scanning their surroundings, with his back to both of them.

Pete knelt down next to her, carefully taking her arm. Though Clementine was unable to read his face, she knew he had to be in deep thought about this. Carefully, he rolled her bloodstained sleeve up; Clementine bit down on her lip to avoid crying out, and tried to push away the sick feeling that swept over her stomach as she looked down at her wound.

The bite was curved; Sam had bitten down with the teeth on the side of his mouth, after all. The darker red blood that had dried against her brown skin stood out immensely from the bite itself, which was a lighter red color the deeper it got – and man, did it look deep. The fresher blood was smeared every which way around the wound, but it still left it visible enough to see the outline.

"See?" Clementine asked Pete, nodding down towards the wound. She'd seen enough walker bites on people she cared about (and some she didn't) to know that the long, wide bite looked nothing like a smaller, much more rounded walker bite.

Luke turned, face softening only a bit, and asked, "Is… is it like she says?"

Looking up from Clementine, Pete informed him, "It could be a dog. It don't look that much like a lurker bite, though. It's hard to say." He looked back down at Clementine as her shoulders sagged in relief. "Where did this dog go? The one that did this."

"What does that matter, Pete?" came Luke's exasperated interjection. Pete didn't answer.

Clementine felt shame rise up in her. She'd left Sam impaled on those tent poles… how could she tell them that? But she had to be honest – Pete looked like the kind of person who valued honesty above everything else.

She shook her head, and muttered, "I think he's dead. I… left him there."

Luke gave her a confused glare. "What'd you mean? It attacked you and it let you just… walk away?" He was pacing now. "And then he up and died?"

Clementine shook her head again. Her entire body felt jittery, and her hands were trembling again. She could only hope that Pete and Luke wouldn't mistake the involuntary movements as nervous tics or signs of lying.

"I found him in the bushes," Clementine said quietly, looking between the two men. "His collar said his name was 'Sam', and he was near a campsite." Luke had stopped pacing, and was now completely focused on her. Pete looked up at the other man for a moment, then back at her. "I found a can of beans in the trashcan," Clementine looked down, feeling both stupid and judged. "He was whining – so I gave him some, but then he took the whole can."

Pete's facial expression changed suddenly, like he knew where Clementine was going with her story, but he let her continue.

"He attacked me when I took the can back." Clementine clenched her teeth, looking down at her arm. "I… I kicked him. He got stuck on these tent poles." She took in a deep breath, suddenly feeling lightheaded again. "I left him there."

Luke stared for a moment, beginning to connect the pieces. He grimaced.
"You just… left him there? A dog shows up and bites you and you just leave him to die?"

Both Pete and Clementine gave Luke incredulous looks.

"What would you have done?" Pete asked, eyes narrowed.

Luke turned so his back was facing them. "I don't know!" He seemed almost taken aback by the question.

"He attacked me."

"Still! You don't…" Luke paused for a moment. His face dropped. "You don't kill dogs. Or… leave 'em like that."

Sighing, Pete turned back to Clementine, and looked back at the wound, and then up at Clementine, looking her straight in the eye. She felt the urge to look away, feeling almost… vulnerable in a way.
"Clementine," he said in a stern, authoritative voice. She nodded to him as an acknowledgment. "You tellin' us the truth? You look me in the eyes when you answer."

She was telling the truth, she thought to herself. There was no need to be nervous. She was telling the truth, and if Pete's ability to tell when someone was lying was as good as it seemed, she should be okay? Right?

Clementine looked back up at him, and said as clearly as she could, "Yes, I am."

"All right, Clementine," said Pete after several seconds. "I believe you."

Luke tossed his head, looking annoyed. "Well, what else is she gonna say?"

Pete pulled a tan rag from his jacket pocket – it at least looked clean – and carefully pressed it against the dog bite. The fresh blood immediately soaked into the fabric, and though it stung, it did the job. He laid it over the wound, flat, and then took her other hand.

Though it took a moment, he helped her up to her feet, then applied pressure to her wound with the rag. Without looking up, he said, "I've got a good bullshit detector, Luke." He looked back to Luke for a moment, with a small smirk. "That's why you can never beat me at poker."

"You don't always –" Luke began, but then cut himself off, admitting defeat. "All right, how can we be sure?"

Clementine took the rag from Pete and held it to her arm the way he did. She pushed her sleeve up, feeling sudden pressure and pounding in her head. Though she was beginning to gain feeling back in her limbs, she didn't feel much better.

Pete grimaced. "Her story adds up, and the bite don't look too much like a lurker bite – and I know ain't willin' to leave a little girl in the woods to die when we've got a doctor with us who can make a call." Luke placed his hands on his hips, still looking skeptical. "We can get Carlos to take a look at it first."

Luke looked down at Clementine, whose expression of pain and discomfort hadn't changed, then back up to Pete. He sighed, "Nick ain't gonna like this – not with what happened t–"

"You don't have'ta remind me of that, boy."

"Right," muttered Luke, avoiding the gaze of either of them. "Sorry."

Pete gave him a pat on the shoulder, face softening. He looked down to Clementine, then to Luke, and said to both of them, "Come on."

Luke walked ahead of both of them. Pete followed, looking back to Clementine, then back to what was in front of them. Clementine could see a cabin through the trees, but only just. It looked decently sized; she just hoped, whoever these other people were, they were willing to share their space even temporarily.

Clementine slowed, now feeling herself swaying. Her grip on her arm and the bloodstained rag were loosened; the rag was close to falling from her grip, but she couldn't seem to clamp it down hard enough. Now that she was up again and walking, the numbness in her legs was beginning to come back, and every little movement felt faint and disconnected.

She looked down at the ground, which was beginning to look more and more comfortable as the seconds passed, and heard Pete ask, "Clementine, you feelin' all right?"

"… I'm fine… I'm just tired."

"You'd better be all right," said Luke. "'cause I ain't carryin' you anymore with that bite on your arm." Pete rolled his eyes at Luke's remark.

Her vision was blurring again. The corners of her vision were dark, and the darkness was only beginning to spread further and further. She couldn't focus. Her entire body was numb, and the one thing she wanted to do was sleep.

The ground rushed up to meet her.

Chapter Text

Listening to the voices above and around her felt more like trying to listen to someone while having her head shoved underwater. The voices were garbled and muffled, and the ringing in Clementine’s ears didn’t help with that.

“… like hell, you do!” came a woman’s voice, full of discontent, “Did anyone… to ask… she came from?”

Clementine peered through half-lidded eyes to see the woman with a large, obviously pregnant stomach out of the corner of her vision, standing over her, joining Pete and what looked to be two men. One of the men held a gun – a rifle; the other simply stood there, looking as if he’d gotten stuck breaking up a fight, and wasn’t too happy about it.

“For all we know, she could be working with Carver!” the woman scorned, crossing her arms over her stomach, and glaring at Pete and the two men.

Who was Carver? Clementine wasn’t familiar with the name; she couldn’t remember ever even meeting anyone with that as a surname, or a nickname, never mind worked with someone with that name. But they thought she was

Pete’s voice rang out directly after this woman’s. She could just barely make out what he’d said: “… already said she and her friend were attacked, and they were separated. Then she was bitten by a dog while looking for food.”

“What, and you just believed her?” the woman answered incredulously. “You should have put her out of her misery right there! Dog bite, my ass!”

Clementine’s vision had now cleared enough. Carefully, she placed her right arm at her side and moved in an attempt to sit up. She was on the ground, she’d noticed, outside, in the dirt and grass, and all four of the people in front of her stood over her – though none noticed her movement. They simply continued to argue as if she wasn’t even there.

She tried to speak, throat feeling raw and pain-filled.
“… I’m not-”

A deafening shot rang out and a muzzle flash erupted from the end of the rifle the younger man was holding; something hit the dirt next to her with a horribly forceful thud. Clementine didn’t scream, though she definitely wanted to. Instead, her hands flew to her ears, which were already beginning to ring again. She looked up, eyes widened, now seeing the man in the face.

He stared back at her for only a second with wide, blue eyes. Pete, eyes also wide, seized the rifle from the man’s careless hands, and shouted, “Keep your finger off the trigger boy!” The man didn’t respond; he simply stared in shock at nothing.

Clementine only noticed the house behind them when the front door flew open, and she could hear Luke’s voice shouting, demanding to know what was going on. The pregnant woman’s voice joined his, as she scolded the man who’d previously held the rifle.

“You’re the one tellin’ me to fuckin’ shoot her!” he shot back, looking her straight in the face.

“Everybody just calm down for a second!” It was a deeper voice, this one belonging to the broad man who had stayed silent up until now. The woman’s face simply held hostility that his words didn’t seem to help.

Clementine stood unsteadily as Luke ran down the patio stairs. He stopped in his tracks when he reached the others. His eyes, just like Pete’s and the younger man’s, were wide as dinner plates.

“Are you okay?” he asked, first looking to her, and then to the others.

“I’m not…” Clementine pressed her right hand to her left arm. The bite was barely bleeding by now; it simply ached and throbbed instead. She tried to get the words out the best she could through the severe pain in her arm and the rest of her body. “I’m not… working for anyone…” After a moment, she continued, “I just need help.”

Over Luke’s shoulder, she saw a fifth man come out of the house, making his way across the patio.

“We got our doctor right here,” Luke responded in a gentler tone than earlier. His shoulders sagged. “Okay? He’ll have a look.” Suddenly, he turned to the woman and the two men that stood next to Pete. “What the hell is wrong with you people? She’s just scared!”

The woman lifted an eyebrow. “We’re all scared, Luke. Don’t act like we’re the ones being irrational because we don’t buy this bullshit story.”

“No way she survived out here on her own,” the younger man said, cutting the woman off. “Why are we even arguing about this?” He crossed his arms like a pouting child and looked down so that the bill of his red baseball cap obstructed a view of his face.

The fifth man stood behind them for a moment. “Let me take a look at her.” He had a thick, non-American accent, though Clementine was unable to place it; her best guess was ‘some sort of Spanish accent’, as well as dark hair and warm skin. She figured this must have been their doctor.

The younger man with the cap moved out of his way, while Clementine backed up with unease. He was a great deal taller than her short frame, which was slightly off-putting, and she didn’t know him in the least. She wasn’t quite sure just how much she wanted to trust him.

He nodded mutely when he reached her, holding out his hand for the arm that Clementine hadn’t realized she was still holding in a death grip. She looked up at the doctor unsure, and then over to Luke and Pete, who were watching intently.

Luke’s eyebrows furrowed as he told her, “Go ahead. He’s a doctor.”

Clementine looked away, avoiding all of their gazes. She moved her hand down to her sleeve and bit down on her lip as she began to pull the tight sleeve up and over the wound. It didn’t seem to be bleeding anymore, so she knew she didn’t need Pete’s rag to stop it (had he taken it back? She didn’t know), but the amount of blood that had stained her striped sleeve had to have been worrying to the others who didn’t know this.

“Damn,” said the large, broad man from the back. He crossed his arms as a sympathetic look crossed his dark face. “That must’ve hurt.”

Clementine could see the bite as it was at that moment. It was one long, curved gash that ran up the top of her arm. A light, dried layer of blood covered the sides of the bite; bruising had begun to spring up, turning the light brown skin around the bite a purplish green.

The doctor knelt down to her level and gingerly took her arm in his hands, examining it carefully. He looked at the top for a moment, then at the bottom, and then back at the top.

“It got you good,” the man suddenly said to Clementine. This seemed more of him thinking aloud than actually speaking to her as he didn’t look up. Clementine said nothing, but nodded in agreement. 

The man with the cap had his thumbnail in his mouth; he was biting it while fidgeting. Catching Clementine’s eye, he pulled his thumb down and shook his head.
“Th-This isn’t how we do things, man.” He stalked up towards Luke, who turned towards him. Pete turned as well. “When you’re bit – you get put down. End of story.” His face turned to one of rage. “I’m not going through this again!”

“Nick, no one’s suggestin’ that!” Luke responded, grabbing the man’s shoulder.

So that was the man’s name: Nick. Luke’s words back in the woods came back to her suddenly, and they made more sense now that she’d heard his words.

Nick ain’t gonna like this – not with what happened t –’

You don’t have’ta remind me of that, boy.

She didn’t want to intrude. She knew for a fact that whatever this was, it was none of her business, but if there was one thing Clementine had learned in her eleven years of life, it was that knowing what was going on with people was one of the surefire ways to figuring out what their intentions were. If the man – Nick – had lost someone to a prolonged walker bite, then he wouldn’t want to watch someone else waste away from one, would he?

Clementine had put this in the back of her mind. She looked over to Pete, and locked eyes with him for a moment. He knew what it was – or at least, he believed that he knew what it was. Luke was at least being civil, too, which made her wonder if he’d come to his senses and listened to the points Pete made about her bite. She had at least two of them on her side.

She looked down at the doctor, who was still focused on her bite. Surely he’d be able to tell what it was, wouldn’t he?

A sick feeling suddenly filled her stomach; these people didn’t trust her, and thought she was working with someone they obviously didn’t like – this doctor surely wouldn’t tell them it was a walker, would he?

Pete clenched his jaw.

“We could take her arm off.” Clementine’s heart dropped; if not for the doctor’s grip on her arm, she might have yanked away. Pete moved closer to Luke and Nick. “That is, if it’s a lurker bite. I know that worked for a cousin down in Ainsworth…”

Please don’t. Clementine’s body went rigid. She could feel her eyes widening against her will. The doctor looked up at her for a moment, and then back down to the bite; his grip on her arm tightened slightly.

For a split second, her thoughts wandered back to Lee and his arm, and back to Savannah and back to – Clementine took in a deep breath. She didn’t want to think about him. She pushed the thoughts down and away, repeating the same mantra she’d had in mind since she left Savannah and Lee and her parents and everything else there.

The pregnant woman gave Pete a surprised look. She avoided Clementine’s gaze and responded, “It won’t do any good. You’ll just be makin’ it worse for her!”

“That’s crazy!” the broad, dark skinned man shouted. He nervously eyed the others, also avoiding Clementine’s gaze. “No one’s gonna volunteer to do that!”

Pete turned his head slightly, looking over to Clementine. “I would,” he spoke. “If it meant saving her life.”

Nick scoffed. “Then what?” he demanded bitterly. “How would we know it worked?”

Luke’s shoulders sagged. Again, he threw up his hands in Nick’s direction and responded, “Just let Carlos have a look first.”
Clementine added the doctor’s name to this list of the ones she knew. She still didn’t know the names of the broad man or the pregnant woman, however, but she knew she was in no position to ask either of those questions.

Looking down at Carlos again, Clementine asked quietly, “You’re a doctor, right?” She knew this was a stupid question – of course he was a doctor; they’d said that already – but she continued anyway. “You can tell what it is, can’t you?”

Her only reply and acknowledgement that he’d heard her was a lifted eyebrow and a mildly miffed expression. Clementine realized how rude her statement sounded only after she’d said it.

“I promise you,” Clementine continued, doing her best to fix this quickly. “It wasn’t a walker. It was a dog! That’s all it was.” She knew this couldn’t be convincing, but she was telling the truth. Surely, even if all of these people were iffy on what the bite came from, they would be able to tell whether or not she was lying. She had never been a good liar, after all.

Before Carlos could answer, she heard the front door open for a third time. A girl with wavy dark hair and red glasses, no older than fourteen or fifteen, stuck her head out. She looked at Clementine for a moment before asking, “Who’s she?”

Carlos spun around to face her.

“Sarah,” he admonished, “What’d I say?”

The girl looked at him, dejected, and responded, “…‘Stay inside’.” Without another word, she closed the door abruptly.
Carlos took a deep breath with a miniscule shake of his head, and knelt back down to Clementine, who reluctantly offered him her arm again.

“I don’t mean to be any trouble,” she told him. “I just want to make sure it doesn’t start bleeding again – and I’ll go. You’ll never see me again.” Carlos didn’t look up when he responded.

“And where, exactly, would you go?”

She sighed, “I have to find my friend, Christa… we got separated by scavengers.”

“Forget it.” Nick suddenly interjected. He cocked his head to the side, eyebrows furrowed and eyes narrow. “You won’t get five feet.” Clementine didn’t answer. Instead, she glared in his direction.
He had no idea what she had bounced back from. He had no idea what she could do.

“I understand that you’re scared,” Carlos said, looking up from Clementine’s arm. “But we’ve got to be sure. I can’t waste supplies on a lurker bite.” His finger traced over the bite area, though he didn’t touch the wound itself. “This… dog,” he began again. “You say it bit you. How did it bite you?”

Clementine looked at him for a moment, mouth slight agape. She wasn’t sure if he was asking how Sam managed to bite her – and in that case, she didn’t think she wanted to repeat the process again – or what if he wanted to know the way and the angle that Sam had bitten her.

Carlos spoke again, noticing the confusion, and asked for the latter, rather than the former.

“I don’t… really know. He just… grabbed me. I think he used his… his molars.” Clementine admitted, looking away. She tried to remember the process that Sam had bitten her – she’d taken the food back, he’d started growling, and then she was on the ground, wrestling with a dog that was previously friendly. Doing her best to string the events together, Clementine told Carlos and the others this, hoping she sounded credible enough that they would consider this.

“Why would you take food from a dog?” came Nick’s voice again. Clementine looked up at him, noticing the genuinely confused expression that he held. “That’s just asking to get bitten.”
Clementine didn’t know how to respond to this. She knew virtually nothing about dogs, or how to act around them. She had never owned one or been around one for more than a few minutes. How was she supposed to know that?

“I was hungry.” she muttered, unable to find anything else she could say. “I… panicked.”

Carlos seemed to finish his examination only a few seconds after this. He stood to his full height and turned to face the rest of his group, all of whom were silent.

The broad man focused his attention first and asked, “So… what’d you think?”

Was it a lurker?” Nick questioned, calmer now than he’d been before.

Carlos sighed. “A bite like that?” He looked back at Clementine, who held her breath. He hesitated, before shaking his head. “It’s difficult to tell, but that bite came from something with long, narrow jaws, not something that resembles a human. That’s not a lurker bite.”

Chapter Text

Clementine held a look of great relief. She looked down at her bite and clamped her right hand around her wrist, then looked up to the faces of the rest of the group.

“I didn’t think it was.” Pete spoke in response to Carlos. “Damn thing’s way too long.”

The woman – Clementine really needed to learn her name – scrunched her eyebrows up in the way that Luke had much earlier. Disbelief. She shook her head, “There’s no way that’s a dog bite – I can’t even remember the last time I saw a dog! How would one even survive?”

“There’s bound to be survivors out there who keep their dogs with them.” Luke pointed, arms crossed. He looked back to Clementine and asked, “You said it had a collar, didn’t you?”

She nodded, avoiding the suspicious gaze of the woman. “It said his name was ‘Sam’.” Clementine cringed internally when she said the dog’s name. She wished she could go back to when she was calling him “the dog” – it was much less humanizing, and as selfish as it was, it left a smaller mark on her conscience. A spasm of pain ran through her arm, flaring up and increasing the pain she’d been feeling before.

“You okay, Clementine?” asked Luke, turning his head towards her.

Clementine didn’t answer immediately. She took in a shallow breath, clenching her teeth, before answering. “I’ll be fine.”

“Look,” the woman said after a moment. “How can we be sure it’s not just a torn lurker bite?”

Carlos looked as if he were about to answer. Instead, Pete spoke, this time to Clementine, who was still hugging her arm to her chest. “She’d start showin’ symptoms by now, Rebecca. The girl ain’t even feverish… You know how fast a lurker bite works.” Suddenly, he said, “Clementine, come here for a minute.”

Clementine looked up. She trusted Pete, and she trusted Luke, but she had no idea what he had in mind, and quite frankly, she didn’t want to be around Rebecca, the woman who refused to believe her. Slowly, she made her way over to Pete, and stopped in front of him. She gazed at him warily.

Pete looked over to the woman, and then back at Clementine. He pointed his finger at something on the side of Clementine’s neck, and said, “Rebecca, those didn’t come from a human or a lurker.” He sighed, then looked down at her. “I saw ‘em when we were bringin’ her back here.”

Rebecca’s gaze shifted to Clementine for only a moment, and then back to Pete. “You’d damn well better be right about this.”

Clementine reached up to where he had pointed, and only then was it that she could feel inflamed scratches on the side of her neck. She hadn’t even known they were there, or that Sam had gotten close enough to the area to scratch her.

The one thing Clementine never thought she’d think was, Thank God for getting scratched.

She listened for a moment to the back-and-forth between the group. They all seemed to trust Carlos, though at the same time, the woman named Rebecca, and the broad man – whom she quickly learned was named Alvin – seemed uneasy.

Nick hadn’t spoken yet, unlike the rest of the group, who had either expressed their disbelief or some other emotion. He stood behind the others, staring at the ground as if it had just murdered his entire family. He turned on his heel a moment later, and abruptly made his way away from everyone else, and away from Clementine.

“Nick… don’t be like that, man…” Luke muttered, loud enough only for those surrounding him to hear. He followed behind Nick, with one last glance at Clementine. He hung his head, looking both saddened and annoyed at the same time.

“It’s alright.” Pete said, it seemed, to no one in particular. “Boy’s got his mom’s temper.” He looked down at the rifle in he held at his side, then at Clementine. She quickly realized he was talking to her. “But you’re lucky my nephew can’t shoot for shit.”

“Bring her in,” said Carlos in a reluctant tone, walking back towards the patio steps. “I’ll see what I can do for her arm.”

Clementine didn’t mistake the offer of medical care for kindness. Even if Carlos had vouched for her and told them what her bite really was, she knew that he wasn’t anywhere near happy to do it. Of course they don’t trust me, she thought, feeling slow, they thought I was working for someone.

Part of her wondered who this Carver was, and that same part of her wondered why they were so afraid. The other half of her wanted to leave. This person wasn’t – or rather shouldn’t – be her concern at all, and she wanted no part in whatever this group had done, or had had done to them.


 Clementine found herself in the kitchen a few minutes later, sitting on a stool up against the kitchen island. Carlos stood, only a few feet away from her, rooting through a cardboard box that seemed to have been packed to the brim of any type of medical supplies one might need in an emergency.

She didn’t know what time of the day it was exactly, but it was quickly beginning to darken outside. Raindrops echoed as they bounced on the roof and beat against the windows. Clementine could only be thankful for the fact that she wasn’t out there in the rain, as she’d been the night before.

Much to her chagrin, Nick stood in the corner of the kitchen. His eyes continuously darted from Clementine to his rifle, or at Carlos; his thumbnail stayed glued to his mouth as he gazed at all of them from underneath the bill of his cap.

The kitchen door swung open, and in came Luke, who held a full-sized lighter in his hand. He glanced at Clementine, then at Nick, who returned it with a blank stare. He approached the table, where several thick candles sat on their plates next Nick’s rifle and a red and black lantern.

Within a minute, Luke lit several of the candles, producing extra light in the rapidly darkening room.

“Kid, you should prob’ly know that you got blood all over your face.” Clementine looked up from her arm to Luke, who held a small smirk. He grabbed a washcloth from the counter, and set it on the island. “Just thought you should know.”

Clementine had forgotten about the blood she felt splatter her face much earlier. A small amount of embarrassment washed over her at having to have this pointed out. On the other hand, she supposed, there wasn’t much she could do about it.

“Thanks.” She quickly tried to wipe the dried blood from her face with the washcloth, though it was difficult to tell whether or not it had gotten the job done. “Did I get it?”

Luke placed his own finger at the top of his left cheekbone, below his eye. “You got a little here – yeah, there you go.”

Carlos pulled several metal objects from his box, and then two smaller, white and blue boxes. He laid out what looked like an odd pair of scissors, a pair of tweezers, and some sort of hooked needle out on a small towel before looking up.

“This isn’t going to be pleasant.”

Clementine sighed, eyeing the supplies he’d laid out. She knew what was coming next, and she didn’t need to be told. Unable to stop herself, she pulled a face.

Luke held up the lighter, nodding to another set of candles on the counter next to the island. “Do you need the light?”

“That would be helpful, yes.” Carlos responded, not looking up from one of the smaller boxes that he had pulled out.
A moment later, the three candles on the counter were flickering a golden orange, giving off enough light to see.

“Where’s Sarah?”

It was Luke who broke the sudden silence between the four people in the room. Carlos looked up, lifting an eyebrow at the question. Clementine could put the name with the curious face of the teen girl who had stuck her head outside earlier. She had no doubt that this was Carlos’ daughter, and he obviously hadn’t wanted her involved in these things.

“She’s upstairs. She has her book and Rebecca went up there with her.” Carlos pulled a pair of latex gloves from his box, and began to put them on. “She doesn’t need to see this.”

Nick’s erratic behavior may have seemed normal to his group and to Luke and Pete, but Clementine simply stared when he left suddenly left the kitchen, muttering that he didn’t need to see this either.

Clementine turned her attention to Carlos, who was currently dampening another washcloth with a liquid she couldn’t make out. Just as he had earlier, he held out his hand for her arm.

“What is that?” she asked promptly, sounding more nervous than she intended.

“Hydrogen Peroxide.” Carlos informed her simply. “The bite needs to be cleaned before I can stitch it up.”

Clementine responded with, “Right,” allowing him to take her arm. She could smell the harsh cleaner, and no matter how many times she told herself it was a necessary process, she couldn’t help but wish he could just skip the cleaning and get everything done sooner.

“This may hurt a little.”

Dread filled the pit of her stomach.


 “Okay, that’s done.”

Clementine knew only a few minutes had passed since Carlos had begun cleaning the wound, but it felt like an eternity. The smell of the peroxide made her eyes water and every part of her bite stung. She felt as if a million fire ants were viciously attacking the inside of it. Tiny, involuntary tears spilled down her cheeks.

By now, the sight of it was making her feel sick to her stomach. Luke was pacing back and forth, occasionally bouncing on the edge of his feet. He shot her a look of pity. She briefly wondered if he was experiencing sympathy pains, or simply felt bad for having to watch her.

Carlos spoke up as he began to ready his supplies for Clementine’s stitches. He sorted through the tools he had pulled out, each of them belonging in a suture pack, and then held up a small tube.
“I’m going to warn you,” he began in a cautious tone. “It is meant to numb the skin and the tissue so you feel as little pain as possible during this procedure, but if it’s out of date, it’s probably not going to work. So, as I said earlier, this may not be pleasant.”

Luke sat down on the stool next to Clementine, who was beginning to take this in. Her heart thumped wildly against her chest.

“It’s okay if you’re scared, you know.” Luke told her. “You ever gotten stitches before?”

Clementine shook her head. “No. But my friend showed me how they work.” Even before Christa had shown her how to stitch, Clementine had known somewhat how they worked. She’d sewn things together when she was younger, and from what she understood, they had similarities.  “She cut her leg a few months ago and stitched it up with some wire and a sewing needle.”

“Eugh. That… Clementine, your friend has guts, I’ll tell y’that."

Clementine smiled sadly, thoughts drifting again.

“Are you ready?” She looked up at Carlos, whose gaze was split between her and Luke. He held the anesthetic tube in his hand.

She drew in a deep breath, preparing herself for the possibility that the anesthetic might not work. Slowly, Clementine answered him with a nod.

It took eight stitches to hold both sides of the wound together. Carlos was half right about the anesthetic cream – it numbed some of the area, though it left other parts exposed and prickling with pain. But in the end, there was no more bleeding and the skin was held together tightly and neatly. His odd, hook-shaped needle had worked after all.

Clementine had moved to the kitchen table, running her finger lightly over the bandage that was placed over the stitches. It wrapped fully around her arm three times, and the wiry sutures that stuck out against her skin.
Raindrops still beat on the roof and windows forcefully. It was dark outside now, leaving the candles that were scattered across the kitchen as the only source of light.

“You’ll need to watch that for any sign of infection.” said Carlos from the counter. He placed the suture kit back into the box. Clementine looked up. “If you see any pus or redness around the area, then that could be a sign. Don’t touch it.”

She nodded in response, looking up from her arm. “I won’t.”

Luke left the two of them in silence, saying that he would be back in a moment. The kitchen door swung shut with a soft squeak behind him.

After only a few seconds, Carlos spoke again. “Where did you come from?”

“What do you mean?” Clementine asked, looking up from her bandage. Hadn’t they already gone over this? She told Pete and Luke what had happened.

“I mean exactly what I just said.” was the answer she received in response. Carlos turned his back to her, leaning over the kitchen sink. He repeated the question. “Where did you come from?”

Clementine turned to the side of the chair. “My friend and I were in the woods. I don’t know how far away it is from here.” She said nothing about the river, and nothing about how she’d blindly and deliriously wandered through a walker infested forest. “… Why do you want to know?”

Carlos turned to face her, drying his hands on the side of his shirt. Even through the darkness in the room, Clementine knew a scowl when she saw one.
“I don’t know who you are,” he began, “And I don’t know where you came from. But if you’re with Carver, then you need to say it now.”

Carver – again with Carver. Whoever this person was, he had a great deal of influence over these people. Clementine felt both annoyance and slight panic raise up inside of her. Carlos could stitch up a dog bite for her, but he couldn’t believe that she didn’t know this person?

“I don’t know who that is.” Clementine answered truthfully, looking up at him. Though he was across the room, she gave him the same look she’d given Pete earlier that day when he had asked if she was telling the truth about her bite. “I just needed help. I’m not… working for anyone.”

A heavy silence settled over the kitchen for several seconds. Clementine didn’t want to make him angry, but there was no way she was going to admit to something she had no part in. She didn’t have a lot of things left, but she wasn’t going to lose what little bit of dignity she had left.

“Rebecca was worried that you might be working with someone else. That your being here was no accident. I guess we’ll find out. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt,” Carlos finally said, jaw clenched. “But stay away from my daughter.”

With that, he left Clementine in the kitchen. Luke caught the door as the other man left, a bowl in his hands.

“Hey, uh,” He glanced back at Carlos, then back to Clementine. “I brought you some food if you’re hungry.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Luke placed the bowl and a small spoon on the table in front of her, then took the seat across the table. By this point, Clementine didn’t care what it is was or where Luke had gotten it from. Her stomach was ravenous, yearning for something to put inside of it; all she wanted to do was fulfil that request.

Immediately, she stuck a spoonful of oatmeal into her mouth, and then another. The beans from that can were nowhere near filling, but maybe this could be. Besides, when was the next time she would get to eat anyway?

“That’s gonna leave a scar.” Luke pointed out, eyeing the bandage that was wrapped around Clementine’s arm.
She looked down at as she swallowed another spoonful of oatmeal. Pete’s words from earlier echoed in her mind. “That’s still better than losing it.”

Luke nodded in agreement. “Yeah,” he said, smirking. “You can say that again. Scars? They’re way cooler than stumps.”

Clementine paused for a moment, placing her spoon down. Lee, she thought, looking away from Luke. The memory of his stump was vivid in her mind. She wasn’t sure she’d ever forget the horror of seeing it for the first time.

“What?” Luke’s voice interrupted her memory. His face dropped.

Shaking her head, Clementine simply told him, “Nothing.” She picked up her spoon again and took another bite of the oatmeal. She avoided Luke’s sympathetic eyes. “I just had a friend who lost his arm. That’s all.”

Before Luke could say anything, the kitchen door opened. Clementine looked up, expecting it to be Carlos or Pete. Instead, Nick stood, shoulders slumped, in the doorway. Luke looked over to the man, though he said nothing.

Slowly, Clementine took another bite. She watched out of the corner of her eye as Nick made his way over to the table. She didn’t look back up at all until she heard him speak.

“Hey, look.” She looked up just as Nick rubbed the back of his neck. “I just wanted to...” He hesitated for a moment. “I just wanted to apologize for… well, for bein’ a dick out there.”
In Clementine’s opinion, there was a big difference between almost shooting someone and ‘being a dick’, but she wasn’t complaining. An apology was still an apology, after all.

When she said nothing, Nick continued. “I got kinda aggro out there and… that was definitely not cool.”

“Nick’s been known to go off every once in a while.” Luke interjected from the other side of the table. Nick didn’t disagree with this at all, and preferred to stay mute. “Don’t hold it against him.”

Nick shrugged sheepishly. “I guess we all have our moments.”

“You - definitely had one out there.” Luke told him, raising his eyebrow and cocking his head to the side.

Clementine knew she couldn’t hold a grudge against someone who at least bothered to apologize. Nick seemed like a hot-headed man, but not… bad, or even particularly mean. Aggressive, yes. But if he was apologizing, and Luke was vouching for him, that was a different story.

Even if she wasn’t letting him off the hook completely.

Slowly, she turned to face him. Nick was much taller than her – and several inches taller than Luke, as well. Clementine looked up when she spoke to him.

“You were protecting your friends.” she said quietly, resting her hand on the spoon she’d set down. “I get it.”

Nick seemed taken aback at how quickly the child accepted the apology. He stepped back slightly, rubbing his neck again, and replied, “Well, I didn’t mean to be so harsh. I just…” Nick looked away, a devastated look crossing his face as he let out a soft, “Ugh…”
Luke’s face fell as Nick remained quiet for a moment. He looked Clementine in the face as he said, “We had a bad experience once.”

“We’ve all had bad experiences.” Clementine pointed out softly. She could remember every single one that her group had had. Though she didn’t ask, she wanted to know exactly what this experience was.

Nick sat down in the chair next to her. His face stayed the same as it had before. Luke’s voice stole the attention of both of them.
“Nick lost his mom.” Luke spoke to Clementine. His face had sunk into one similar to Nick’s. “We took care of someone that got bit. By a lurker, I mean.”

“It was my fault.” Nick grumbled abruptly. He closed his eyes for a moment. “I…” He trailed off, seemingly unable to finish his sentence.

Luke took over, giving the other man a look full of pity. “It was no one’s fault.” He turned back to Clementine and continued, “It wasn’t… it wasn’t like yours. We knew exactly what it was when we saw it. We thought we could control it.” Shame filled his features and he closed his eyes slowly. “But we couldn’t. And-and then, she turned, and his mom was standin’ right there, and she got attacked.”

Nick didn’t look away as he took a deep breath and closed his eyes as well. He said nothing.

“There was nothin’ we could do about it.” Luke looked down at the checkerboard that sat on the table in front of him, and then at the candles that sat between him and Clementine.

“Anyway,” Nick mumbled quietly. Clementine focused her attention back on him; she wanted to think about anything else except the death of a mother. “Hopefully you understand.” With this, Nick stood from his chair, once again towering over her.

Clementine nodded slowly and said, “I do, yeah.”

Nick said nothing else, and instead offered her a small smile. Without another word to either of them, he left the kitchen. The door squeaked again as it closed.
Picking up the spoon again, Clementine resumed eating. Her stomach still ached with hunger, and her hands still shook a small amount.

Luke turned back to her, and began, “So,” His hands fiddled with a black checker piece as he said this. “Since you’re… pretty much on your own, what’s your plan?”

Clementine stopped eating, yet again, and set the spoon down in the bowl. She hadn’t put much thought into this besides ‘find Christa’. In all honesty, she hadn’t thought she would make it this far. She quickly glanced out the window, only to see nothing but blackness and the reflections of the candles. She couldn’t leave tonight, could she?

“I have to find Christa.” It was automatic. Clementine hadn’t thought past her original plan – if she could even exactly call it a plan at all. Suddenly, every little bit of anxiety that had been pushed aside earlier had returned. “I have to find her.”

Just as Nick had, Luke looked taken aback suddenly. Had he never heard of someone going out on their own? Clementine may have been young, but she wasn’t vulnerable. However, she did have to admit that it was at that moment that she remembered she was an eleven year old girl and this was a man who had only seen her fail to get away from a group of walkers.

“Look, you ain’t seriously thinkin’ about goin’ out there by yourself, are you?”

Clementine knitted her eyebrows when she looked up at him. Luke looked sheepish for a moment, but his expression darkened as he continued with, “I mean, I’m not sayin’ you’re weak or nothin’ – but you’re…” He gestured vaguely in her direction.

“A kid?” Clementine finished for him, face sinking into a glare. “If you’re going to bring that up, then call me what I am.”

Luke’s shoulders sagged and he shook his head. “I’m not sayin’ you aren’t capable, Clementine.” He pursed his lips for a moment. “There’s just a lot of shitty people out there, and lurkers, too. You don’t have a weapon, and you just got – what, eight, nine stitches in your arm? It ain’t a good combination.” 

“I can take care of myself.” Clementine shot back quickly, careful to avoid raising her voice.

“You’d have been lurker food if Pete and I hadn’t found you when we did.”

Clementine didn’t immediately reply to this. It was a true fact. She was silent for a moment, looking up at Luke, who looked concerned, rather than as if he had just won an argument.
But of course he had to bring up that fact; of course he had to point out that she wouldn’t have been able to defend herself in her state.

She thought of the man from the night before – or was it early morning? It was hard to tell. There was no bite then, no blood loss – just Clementine, with no weapon, up against a man who was at least twice her size. That man was dead because she’d done the right things.

“Lurkers aside, Clementine, y’weigh about as much as a sack of flour.” Luke rubbed the back of his neck, avoiding her eyes as he said this. “If you don’t have a weapon, and you get attacked by someone my size, or hell, Alvin’s size – you’re screwed.”

Luke wasn’t a large man, Clementine thought. He might have been slightly smaller than the scavenger, but Alvin was a different story. He was Nick’s height and about twice as large. She didn’t want imagine having to fight him, or someone his size.

Heavy silence hung in the air as Clementine tried to figure out a way to get past this.
Before she even thought about her words, she blurted out, “The last man who tried to hurt me lost his thumb.” She looked away, heat rising to her cheeks at the sudden outburst. “He’s dead.”

Luke’s eyes widened slightly more than they already were.
“He lost his – what, did you bite his thumb off?" He looked down at his own thumb, and then back at Clementine.

Clementine opened her mouth slightly, and was silent for a moment before she spoke. “He attacked me.” She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “I thought he was going to kill me. He grabbed me… I bit him until he let go. He was one of the men who came after me and Christa.” Looking down, she grabbed her spoon and shoveled more oatmeal into her mouth. “A walker killed him.”

Luke looked up as she said this. His eyebrows knitted together for a moment before he spoke. “Damn,” he said, watching the girl. “That’s… I’m sorry y’had to do that.”

Clementine nodded in response. She shrugged. “I didn’t want to do it, Luke.” There was no way she wanted Luke to get the wrong idea about why she had defended herself against the scavenger.

“Wh – no, no, I didn’t think y’did.” Luke stammered out, his mouth hanging open slightly. “It’s just… you’re a kid. Y’shouldn’t have kick a grown man’s ass to survive.”
He shrugged. “Look, you’re welcome to stay here if you need to. I’ll talk to the others. You can let yourself heal up, and take some time to sort things out.”

Clementine hesitated. As much as she wanted to find Christa and get things back on track, she couldn’t deny that the offer was tempting. Luke was offering her somewhere that wasn’t a log or the ground to sleep, and she’d gotten a meal that wasn’t a wild animal. She didn’t want to give in, but she knew that what Luke said was true.

She thought of what Nick had said much earlier – ‘Forget it. You won’t get five feet.’ That wasn’t true; she’d get much more than five feet, but Clementine knew she wouldn’t get far.

“… Do you think everyone else will be okay with it?” Clementine couldn’t help biting down at her lip after she said this. “Because I’ve already been told to stay away from Carlos’ daughter, and I don’t think that lady…” She thought for a moment, trying to remember the woman’s name, “… Rebecca trusts me anymore than he does.”

“They’ll just have to deal with it.” said Luke with a small smile. “Don’t worry too much about it. Rebecca’s on edge right now – she’s pregnant, if y’couldn’t tell. Trust me, the bark’s worse than the bite. Carlos is just overprotective.” He lowered his voice. “Believe me, he’s like that with everyone.”

Though Clementine doubted his last statement, she understood what Luke meant. Like Nick, he was watching out for his group. She thought back to the first few months of the outbreak, and back to the motel. Lilly had tried to lead them, and she had acted in a similar way.

When she looked up, Luke’s expression had changed. They stared at each other rather awkwardly before Luke asked, “Were you and your friend alone?”

“Yes.”

Luke looked away for a second, and then continued with, “If you were with her… what happened to your parents?” Clementine felt her stomach drop as she processed his words. A sick feeling washed over her. “If you don’t mind me askin’, I mean.” When he received no immediate response, he stammered, “I mean -” Luke avoided her gaze. “- I assume what happened to them is what happened to just about everyone’s parents.”

Clementine said nothing. Instead, she looked down at her bowl.

“You’re just so young,” Luke uttered, lowering his voice. “I didn’t think you coulda made it on your own for so long, but… maybe you did.”

“Other people took care of me.” And all of those ‘other people’ died because of you, said a tiny voice in the back of Clementine’s head. “If that’s what you’re asking.”

Luke offered a small nod. “I was just curious on how you made it this far.”

“I just tried to stay with good people and not do anything dumb.” You’ve failed while doing both of those, she thought to herself. She looked down again, wanting to push her bowl away. Now, she wasn’t hungry; she felt sick.

“I’m sorry.” Luke told her quietly, sighing. Clementine didn’t look up. “I shouldn’t have asked.”

But by now, Clementine wasn’t listening. She looked Luke straight in the face and said, “My parents went on vacation and left me with a babysitter. They never came back.” She looked away. “We went to Savannah to find them, but they were already dead.”

“Woah.” Luke whispered, not moving. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Clementine couldn’t stop herself. She closed her eyes tightly. “This man found me and took care of me. We met up with other survivors and we all tried to make it. But,” She shook her head. “It didn’t work.”

Luke’s shoulders sagged.

“His name was Lee.” Clementine couldn’t stop a smile from coming to her face. “He taught me how to survive.” She looked up at Luke and said, “He taught me how to shoot a gun.”

“What happened to him?”

“The same thing that happens to everyone.” Clementine explained quietly. “But he saved me first. Lots of times.”

“It sounds like he was a real good guy.”

“Yeah, he was.”

They sat in silence, neither having anymore to add to this conversation, before the kitchen door swung open, and a much louder voice filled the room.

“I hate to interrupt,” came Pete’s voice as he walked in, positioning himself at the head of the table. “But I’m out there standin’ watch and I can’t help but notice this place is lit up like a goddamn beacon in the middle of the woods.”

Luke looked from him to Clementine. “Yeah,” he agreed. “It’s prob’ly about time to turn in, anyway.”

“Well, get your winks while you can,” said Pete, walking around to Luke’s side of the table. “We’re goin’ fishin’ at first light, and you’re comin’ with us.”

This immediately got Clementine’s attention. “I am?”

“She is?”

Pete shrugged. “Why not? Couple of fresh brookies for dinner! Mmm, wouldn’t that be nice?”

“I’ve never been fishing.” Clementine pointed out as Luke stood up from his place at the table. “I don’t really know how to fish.”

“You’ll be fine.” Pete told her with a smile. “I’ll show you how when we go.”

Luke grinned. “That oughta be an interestin’ sight.” He turned to Clementine. “Come on, kid, it’s late. You can kip on the couch.”

 

Chapter Text

She’d left over half of the bowl of oatmeal untouched. Despite how little she’d eaten, Clementine’s appetite had almost completely disappeared. One part of her didn’t want to eat this group’s food, even if it was being offered to her. But she didn’t like to waste things - she never could be sure when her next meal was, even if Pete was just talking about dinner.

“If you’re done now, we can just save that for later.” said Luke suddenly. Clementine looked up at him and Pete, then down at her bowl. “If y’want, you can finish it off tomorrow. Or someone else’ll eat it. It’s oatmeal – that stuff lasts a long time.”

But not long enough, Clementine thought. She forced herself to choke down another spoonful of the sticky oats; any joy she’d found in the oatmeal before was completely lost, but she didn’t care for the idea of saving it for the next day instead – and Clementine knew already that a cabin with a group this size had to have a dwindling food supply… she didn’t want to seem wasteful, or ungrateful.

Clementine felt Luke’s gaze linger on her for a moment before he and Pete left her alone in the kitchen. She wondered briefly if he had picked up on the discomfort, or if they simply had something else to do.
Her own gaze snapped back up from the bowl when she heard the door open again. In the doorway stood Rebecca, who looked just as annoyed as she looked uncomfortable.

A dark expression crossed Rebecca’s face when she said, “You’re still here.” It wasn’t a question. She made her way to the sink in the kitchen, looking away from Clementine, who simply returned her question with a nod.

“Don’t get comfortable.” the woman continued, leaning over the sink to wash her hands.

“I never do.” Clementine answered, looking up. She shrugged and set her spoon down in the bowl. She knew what Rebecca was insinuating, and Carlos’ words about the woman’s distrust came back to her quickly. “I just needed help, that’s all.”

Looking up from the sink, Rebecca raised an eyebrow. Her eyes quickly narrowed as she let an audible ‘hmm’.
“I don’t know who you are, but you got what you came here for,” she snapped suddenly. A hand went to her hip. “Now go.”

Rebecca left quickly, before any response could be said.

Clementine wrapped her arms around herself and sighed. She knew well what Rebecca was afraid of, even if she didn’t know who she was afraid of. But, Clementine wondered, would it kill her to be a tad more civil?

Her thoughts returned to past experiences; maybe, on the other hand, it was better this way. At least Rebecca seemed like the kind of person to stab someone while facing them – not in the back. Clenching her teeth slightly, Clementine tried to will herself to put those thoughts in the back of her mind; this group fed her, cared for a wound – all things they didn’t have to do. So what if Rebecca didn’t trust her? Pete did. Luke did. Even Nick did.

One night, Clementine told herself. I’ll stay for one night.


 Getting to sleep was difficult. Though Luke and Pete were outside on watch, Alvin seemed to have been stationed inside. She didn’t ask why, nor did she care to. But what did bother her was that from her place curled up on the couch, could hear every slight movement the man made, and every little noise put her on her guard. The man simply gave her a sympathetic, guilty look whenever he noticed her shifting.

Clementine didn’t find a problem in the light, despite the fact that a few candles – positioned away from the windows, at Pete’s request – still flickered. The light was no problem at all, in actuality. Even Alvin’s presence wasn’t as big of a distraction as the room was.
She couldn’t help scanning the room periodically, her eyes snapping open and darting to each of the doors.

Eventually, an unrestful, fitful sleep took her. Only a short time passed before she crashed out of it; pain tore through her chest like a bullet as she took several shallow breaths of the cold air. Hands trembling, Clementine latched onto the fabric on the couch as she attempted to sit up. She ran her hand over her ribs lightly and flinched at the ache.

“You alright?”

Alvin’s voice made her jump; she had forgotten he was still there. She nodded slowly and wordlessly as she looked around the room with caution.
Alvin avoided her gaze, a confused look on his face, as he told her flat out where the restroom was. Clementine simply muttered a thanks to him as she held onto the right side of her ribs, the memories of waking up on the riverbank flooding back to her.

The restroom was off to the side of the front door and left of the kitchen door. She could hear Luke and Pete’s voices corresponding back and forth, and while she couldn’t make out their words, she could easily make out their serious tones.

The restroom was small. Only a toilet, a sink, and a mirror filled the tight room, and the brown and yellow walls held hunting paraphernalia. A thick, green candle sat on the side of the white and brown sink, lighting the room up enough to see and casting large, disproportionate shadows along the walls. That’s good, Clementine thought to herself. It was enough light to see.

Clementine knew that the bite from Sam had taken up most of her thoughts about her own physical wellbeing – so much so that her skinned knees and aching ribs from the night before had taken a backseat. Though her stitched up wound stung and ached, it seemed like nothing compared to burning pain in her chest.
She pulled her shirt up just enough to expose the skin around her ribs, and watched purple and red bruising come into view.

There were three bruises; two of them were smaller, with one across her stomach, and the other on the left side of her ribs. The third was the largest, taking up space on the right side of her ribs and trailing its way down her stomach.

Clementine repressed the urge to poke the bruises, already in enough pain. She scowled at her reflection and allowed her shirt to cover the bruises again, then looked away from the mirror.
A sigh left her as she quietly made her way back to the sitting room and to the couch.


 The path to the river was quiet. So far, Clementine hadn’t even so much as seen a walker. Even so, Pete still held his rifle protectively as they waited several feet away from the tree Nick was currently situated behind.

“Clementine,” Pete nodded in the direction of the path, and set off. Clementine followed him, running her right hand against the bandages wrapped around her arm. Once they were a fair few feet away from Nick and the tree, Pete continued. “How’re you holding up? I could hear Rebecca givin’ you a hard time last night… I’m surprised she didn’t go further. Once she gets goin’, there’s no bringin’ ‘er back.”

Clementine trailed behind Pete cautiously and asked, “I know she doesn’t trust me, but what’s her problem?”

Pete looked back over his shoulder with a small huff. “Well, she’s got a lot on her mind lately.” He looked forward, almost uncomfortably so, and scanned the tree line. “Bringin’ a baby into a world like this…”

Clementine pushed back the thoughts about Christa and her baby, and instead focused on keeping up with Pete. She ran forward in order to keep up with him, instead choosing to wonder about how far they would get before Nick caught up with them, among other things.

“How… far are the fish traps?”

“It ain’t much further.” Pete replied, looking down at her.

The sudden movement of him lowering his rifle caught Clementine’s attention. She moved her own attention down to it, thinking back to her own gun that she hadn’t seen since the day before. The old pistol would have looked pitiful next to Pete’s rifle, but she couldn’t complain; it had kept her alive to this point, after all.

Pete looked over to Clementine, seeming to notice her lingering gaze.
“Anyone ever teach you how to shoot?” Before she could answer, he hastily added, “By that, I mean ‘taught properly’.” His grip tightened around the rifle and he grimaced. “Any idiot with a finger can shoot.”

“My friend Lee taught me.”

The two stopped for a moment at what looked to be an old, unused electric fence. There was space between two posts, where only one of the three wires remained. Carefully, Pete stepped over the bottom wire, shifting himself between the two posts. Clementine copied the movement.

“That’s good,” Pete replied with a small smile. “It’s important nowadays.” He paused for a minute, scanning the trees again. “Nick was about your age the first time I took him huntin’.” Pete stopped in his tracks as he recounted the story, gesturing to the path in front of him. “Saw this beautiful thirteen-point buck just… standin’ there on the ridgeline.”

Pete suddenly aimed, taking her finger away from the trigger, and exclaimed, “The boy takes the rifle, well, he… lines up the shot just like I taught him, ‘n…” He trailed off for a moment and lowered the rifle, then grimaced. “And then I hear him start whinin’. He turns to me and he says, ‘I can’t do it. I can’t shoot it, Uncle Pete… please don’t make me shoot it.’”

Clementine could imagine it quite easily. It seemed to be exactly something Nick would say. She said nothing in response, instead allowing Pete to finish his story.

But the next line didn’t come. Instead, the next thing she heard was an out of breath voice yelling, “Hey!” Nick made his way through the fence posts and towards them, rifle in hand, looking extremely unamused.

”Why didn’t you wait?” he demanded as an irritable look filled his features.

Pete raised an eyebrow, looking amused. “You want us standin’ around while you piss on a tree? You know where the river is, boy.” He turned back to Clementine, shrugging. “Anyway, so I grabbed the gun outta his hand before the buck runs off when – BANG! The gun fires. Boy nearly gut-shot me! And, of course, the buck gets away –”

“What’re you goin’ and tellin’ her this shit for?”

Pete stopped in his tracks, turning, and shot back, “’cause you nearly blew her face off yesterday. It seems relevant.” He sighed. “I’m tryin’ to let her know it ain’t nothin’ personal with you.”

“He apologized –”

“Why’re you always givin’ me a hard time?”

“’cause you’re always givin’ everyone else a hard time!”

“I apologized to her already! She accepted!”

“Okay, well I didn’t know that.” Pete responded in a softer tone than before.

Feeling uncomfortable between the two, Clementine repeated what she said before to confirm this. “It’s fine! He apologized.” She gave Nick a small smile that he didn’t return or seem to notice.

Instead, he shook his head, glaring daggers at Pete. “You’re always trying to embarrass me!”

“You’re doing a good enough job of that on your own!”

Nick didn’t respond. He pushed past Pete and began along down the path. Pete turned, knitting his eyebrows together, and asked, “Leavin’ us again?”

“I know where the fuckin’ river is.”

Pete didn’t respond, though a mournful expression crossed his features. He didn’t look at Clementine as he said, “I found that buck later that season. Shot it right in the neck.” Clementine was only half-listening at this point as she watched Nick disappear in the distance. “I brought it to my sister’s, thinkin’ she’d wanna freeze some of the meat – Nick didn’t speak to me for weeks. You know, sometimes, you gotta play a role – even if it means people y’love hate you for it.”

Clementine took her gaze away from the direction Nick set off to. Pete looked away, scratching at the back of his head.

“You should tell him that, then.”

Pete was silent, not looking the girl in the face.

Nick’s voice echoed down the path. “UNCLE PETE!”

Without a word, Pete looked down the path like a deer in the headlights, then took off in Nick’s direction. Every possibility ran through Clementine’s mind as she followed him as quickly as she could.

The trees broke into a clearing. Nick stood stock still, frozen, at the edge. His back faced them.

“Nick?”

And then they saw just what Nick was facing. Clementine stopped in her tracks; a sick, panicked feeling filled her chest and stomach as she took in her surroundings. Pete was the only one who seemed to be able to get anything out.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”

Chapter Text

Clementine’s gaze jumped to every single body that was laid out in front of them. Some were on their backs and some of them were on their stomachs; one was sitting up, propped up against a large rock. But there was one thing they had in common: fresh blood covered the faces and heads of every single one of them. None of them were walkers.

Pete took a step forward towards the closest corpse, a male on his back. He knelt down to examine the body, then poked it twice with the barrel of his rifle. He stood back up to his full height with a noise that sounded something like a cross between a sigh and a groan.

“Full o’ holes.” Pete told Clementine and Nick.

Clementine couldn’t take her eyes away from the bloody corpses, but managed to choke out, “… Who do you think did this?” Nick, on the other hand, stayed silent.

“Not sure yet.” Pete replied over his shoulder. “… But it ain’t your average group of thugs – that much, I know.”

A miniscule shake of his head was the only thing that clued both of them in that Nick could even move. His eyebrows knitted together as he grimaced and said quietly, “Think about it.” His eyes widened. “You’re Carver. What do you do?”

Carver. There was that name again, and Clementine had had enough of the mystery.

“Who’s Carver?” she finally managed to say, glancing to Nick.

Nick and Pete shared a look, though neither answered her. Instead, Pete simply looked away and told Nick, “Check those guys there.” He nodded to several of the corpses behind him. Nick began to walk over, clutching his rifle like a lifeline. “Be careful. Some of ‘em might still be moving.”

Annoyance and a small amount of fear filled Clementine. Pete trusted her – and Nick seemed to as well – but they still wouldn’t tell her who Carver was. And now she knew that they seemed sure that he was behind the massacre remnants they had just stumbled upon.

Pete and Nick both set off in opposite directions – Nick towards the tree line, and Pete towards the river. Clementine looked both ways and decided immediately that she trusted Pete’s sense of direction and safety a lot more than she trusted Nick’s.

She carefully approached Pete, who knelt down to examine the body of a dark skinned man.
“What can I do?” Clementine asked quietly, staring at the corpse’s bloody face. Had it not been for the blood, the man may have looked like he was sleeping or unconscious.

“See if you can find anything else.” Pete murmured, looking away from the corpse.

“… Like what?”

“Somethin’ that might tell us who did this.” he responded, glancing around at their surroundings.

Clementine turned away, lightly stepping towards a body about two feet away from Pete. This one was also male, lying on his side; dried, brown and red blood was caked around two bullet holes in the back of his head. His hands were positioned on his right side, both splattered with blood.

“This one’s shot too.”

“Through the head?”

“Yeah.”

“Check the rest,” Pete replied as Clementine stood up to her full height. “And look for ammo. We’re runnin’ low.” He looked down at the body he was examining, also standing up, and grimaced.

Clementine moved to turn towards Nick – something caught her eye: there were more bodies on the other side of the small river, and up against the bank.

Nick joined them both, looking alarmed. Pete didn’t look back at him and Clementine immediately.

“This wasn’t no rinky-dinky pissin’ match.” he said, just barely loud enough for them to hear.

“What was it, then?” Nick demanded, an alarmed expression crossing his face.

Pete still didn’t face either of them as he said something that to Clementine, sounded like, “Fubar.” and continued on closer to the river.

“Where you goin’?” Nick demanded again. Clementine looked up at him, alarmed. He seemed just as angry as he seemed scared. “We need to get the fuck outta here!”

Pete gazed back briefly, but then looked back to the river. “We gotta check the rest.”

“What? WHY?

Pete took a step into the shallow river and began to make his way across. He provided no explanation and instead hollered, “Calm down and think about it, son!”

Calm down? We gotta get outta here now!”

Pete had reached the other side of the riverbank by now. “Jesus Christ – get a hold of yourself!” he shouted, annoyance obvious in his voice.

Clementine turned to Nick, though a large amount of dread filled her system. “What if someone’s alive, Nick?” She didn’t know what they would do, but the possibility made her worry.

“Who cares?” was Nick’s immediate response. Clementine knew this was all fear talking, and nothing rational was coming out of him.

“’cause they might just be inclined to tell us who did this!” Pete shouted over to him. He placed his hands on his hips and glared at his nephew, still annoyed. “We gotta do this now.”

There were several rocks that provided a completely dry passage across the water. Carefully, Clementine held out her arms to balance and jumped from one to another until she had reached Pete’s side. She wanted absolutely no part in a repeat of the other night; her ribs ached just thinking about it.

“Stay here,” Pete finally said to Nick. “Keep searchin’ the ones on your side.”

Anxiety was practically radiating off of Nick at this point. He clutched his rifle again, this time not showing an inclination that he would be letting go anytime soon, and backed away apprehensively.

“… This is a dumb idea!” he called back.

“You know, Nick,” Pete suddenly called in response, “I don’t like this either, but sooner or later, you’re gonna have to realize a simple truth.”

“What?” Nick snarled. “That you’re an asshole?”

That nobody in this world is ever gonna give a goddamn whether you like somethin’ or not!” Nick’s facial expression changed to one of a petulant child. “You gotta grow up, son!”

Nick turned on his heel and his only response was, “Whatever.” as he did. He stomped away like a child throwing a tantrum. Clementine scowled; she felt annoyed on her own, but she knew Pete had to feel much worse about that.

He turned around and said, “All right, Clementine. You wanna be useful? Keep an eye on that tree line.” Pete scowled in the direction of the trees. “Whoever did this might still be out there, waitin’ for another sucker to stumble across this mess.”

“Okay, I’ll watch it.” Clementine immediately agreed, not wanting to make him any angrier than he probably already was. She began to turn to the tree line when Pete spoke again.

“You always so agreeable?” He seemed genuinely amused to Clementine’s surprise.

“No.”

“Good. You’ll fit right in with this outfit.”

Clementine turned on her heel, heart jolting, as sudden growling reached her ears. She had expected a group, but instead was only met by a wriggling walker that was trapped between two large rocks against the bank – and it was pinned to the ground by what looked to be a homemade spear.

Pete joined her gaze as he let out a sigh and set off towards the walker.

“Look, just keep your head on straight.” he said, and gazed down at the walker. “Same deal. Shot to pieces. Hope this isn’t anyone you know…”

“No…”

“Good.”

Pulling a face of disgust, Clementine eyed the walker warily as it struggled weakly against the spear. She eyed the weapon as well, a nagging sensation of déjà vu pulling at her mind. Pete pushed his foot against the walker’s chest, ripped out the spear, and immediately drove it into the walker’s forehead.

It wasn’t until the walker ceased movement and Pete tossed down the spear that the memory hit her like a pile of bricks.

The man she had pushed into the jaws of a ravenous walker carried one just like it before he had taken off after her. She remembered exactly what he’d done with it before – how could she forget? Christa’s anguished shriek when he forced it into her foreleg still echoed in the back of Clementine’s mind.

Pete looked over his shoulder, then huffed.

“Damn it. More on that side – you check out these ones.” Obeying his command, Clementine turned to face the other bodies that lay littered around them. Her stomach turned. “See if there’s anything that can tell us who they were.”

Apprehensively, Clementine locked her gaze on one of the bodies. It lay the furthest away from the others around them, and faced away from her. It was on its side, right on the bank of the stream.

When she saw what was lying next to it, she wanted to yell. Her eyes widened when she saw the bag lying only a few inches away, next to a log. Bright purple and child sized, there was no mistaking it; it was her bag.

A plastic water bottle stuck out.

The body moved. It squirmed and its hand reached out towards the water bottle – and Clementine knew that it wasn’t a coincidence. The “body” wasn’t just a random walker. It was one of the two other men who had chased Christa at the same time that that – Clementine tried to put the image of her former captor’s corpse out of her mind – man had chased her.

By now, her knees felt like lead and her heart thumped against her chest so hard that she could hear it. Clementine inched her way towards the bag. She didn’t even reach for it before the man suddenly let out a hacking cough and his eyes snapped open.

The man’s clothes were splattered with blood; several spots were darker than others in a way that Clementine automatically knew that they had to be puncture or bullet wounds. His shallow breathing evened out for only a moment, only to be interrupted by more hacking and coughing. He stared up at Clementine, eyes going as wide as they could. He looked from her to her backpack, and then in a random direction.

“You were in the woods with Christa.” Clementine managed to force out quietly. She recognized him; he’d been the only one with long hair – some kind of dreadlocks – versus her own short haired captor, and the third man with the hood.

The man’s eyelids fluttered as he gasped out, “Please.” He again looked to the water bottle as his weak arm reached for it. Clementine didn’t move towards the bag. Her hands shook too much and the rest of her was frozen. He had to know what they’d done with Christa.

But Clementine’s only feeling was one of dread. What were the odds…?

“… The woman I was with…” she stammered to the man. “What happened to her?”

Please.”

“Tell me what happened to her.”

The man’s eyelids drooped slowly, but Clementine wasn’t focused on that. She felt as though someone was squeezing her too hard. Suspense built up inside as the man opened his mouth to say something again.

Instead, all that reached her ears was Pete’s shouting, followed by a gunshot.

Chapter Text

Clementine’s gaze snapped up immediately. She watched as Pete jumped back from a crawling walker, which immediately fell to the ground after the gunshot rung out. The ringing in her ears was piercing. Pete suddenly looked panic as he continued to shout something else; his voice suddenly sounded strained and hoarse, as though he was in pain.

Pete?” Nick cried out, running up behind Clementine.

But Pete simply looked up at both of them, panting slightly. He bent over for a moment, placing his hands on his knees before standing up.

“I’m fine!” he called back to them. “Just-just lost my footing!” Pete’s gaze didn’t appear to leav the ground as he began to grumble to himself. Clementine felt a small amount of uneasiness fill her at the sight of Pete’s sudden falter. Something was off.

A raspy growl reached her ears, and she turned just in time to see Nick turn to his right and immediately fire off a shot at a walker that seemed to have snuck up on him.

“Lurkers!” he called to Pete, as though it wasn’t something that was obvious to all three of them by now.

“I’m outta ammo!” Pete shouted back, as several more walkers began to emerge from both tree lines.

“Come this way!” was Nick’s reply, as the walker in front of him fell with a gunshot. Clementine suddenly felt frozen to the spot.

She turned back towards Pete, who was on the other side of the stream by now. He backed away from a pair of walkers and fiddled with his gun for a moment before crying out, “Dammit, you get your asses over here! BOTH OF YOU!”

Nick shouted something else that Clementine couldn’t make out as he gradually seemed to be cornered more and more towards the tree line.

Pete wouldn’t just leave Nick there, would he?

Clementine heard Pete shout at both of them again, and before she knew it, she took off towards the stream.
Frantic, she searched for the line of rocks she had used to get through the stream in the first place. Wobbly as she was, Clementine made it across the stream quickly and unscathed. When she finally reached solid ground, she darted to Pete – and then she spotted the walker behind him.

Clementine tried to shout – to warn him – but before she could make a sound, the walker collided with Pete’s back.

“JESUS!” Pete stumbled, managing to twist his way onto his backside as the walker lunged for his neck, grabbing ahold of his collar. His gun fell out of his grasp as he grabbed a hold of the walker’s wrist and planted his boot up against its sternum, howling out a swear.

Immediately, Clementine’s grasp flew to small, wooden board that lay discarded, just a few feet away in a pile. In a panic, she yanked it from the pile and dragged it towards Pete and the walker. The board seemed to weigh a hundred pounds as she raised it above her shoulders and brought it down on the walker’s arm with a nasty crack.

She brought it down for a second time and the walker’s arm split from its hand. Pete held the walker’s hand in his own and stared for half of second before instincts seemed to kick in; he shoved the walker away with his foot, but then faltered.

Clementine raced back to the pile for a smaller piece of wood as the now-one-armed walker stumbled back towards Pete; his eyes were still wide as he began to stand with great difficultly. Grabbing a hold of a smaller piece of wood, Clementine faced the walker again and aimed for its face.

The walker fell quickly, but there was no absence of growls. Pete stood, face contorted, and placed both hands on his knee.

His pant-leg was torn; blood was already beginning to ooze from the chunk that used to be his ankle. Clementine’s gaze locked onto the wound. Her insides froze over as she slowly began to put the pieces together. She looked up at Pete, who returned her gaze with the same expression she held.

The silence was broken by some sort of battle cry from Nick, who still fought against the walkers on the other side of the stream. He held his rifle by the barrel, and swung the butt of the gun against a walker’s head, almost like an ambitious child playing baseball.

The walker barely faltered, though it stumbled, and almost instantly rose back to its full height.

“NICK!”

Pete stood to his full height as well, grabbed a hold of his outer thigh, and limped closer to the stream in an attempt to be heard. Clementine raced after him.

“HOLD ON!”

A gunshot rang out. Nick was back to shooting, having apparently noticed that using his fully-operational rifle as club wouldn’t work. Pete limped closer to the stream, eyes huge, and screamed Nick’s name again.

Nick stopped, suddenly frozen. His eyebrows were screwed up as a he stared back across the stream. The walkers didn’t stop, and suddenly, instinct seemed to kick in; he shot off like a bat out of Hell back into the woods.

Pete screamed after him, his eyes wide, but Nick didn’t turn back.

Clementine turned to her right, watching as the other group of walkers were rapidly inching their way closer to Pete and herself. She tugged on Pete’s arms and shouted back to him, “We have to go!” Nodding over to the walkers, Clementine tugged Pete’s arm again in an attempt to pull him along.

The walkers only got closer as Pete hesitated for a few seconds. He glanced over at the walkers, and then back across the stream; his look of fear turned to anger. And finally, he listened – Clementine jolted slightly as Pete grabbed a hold of her wrist with one hand, and held onto his outer thigh with the other, and took off down the path they’d previously come down.

Chapter Text

Never in her life had Clementine ever seen the inside of an ambulance, much less an abandoned one in the middle of the woods. On one hand, she considered herself lucky – because that meant she had at least never been hurt badly enough to warrant one. But on the other hand, as she scanned the inside of this one, she just wished she knew where anything was.

Especially anything big enough to block the door that Pete currently had himself pressed up against.

Three separate sets of growls and articulations could be heard through the thick doors of the back of the vehicle; each walker contributed a good amount of strength to the small group as they repeatedly slammed into the outside of the doors.

Clementine was kneeled, staying as far away from the doors as she could get, when she noticed several sets of cardboard boxes next to the opposite doorway that led to the driver’s and passenger’s seats.

“Pete!”

She at first thought, sarcastically, that the first box she’d gone for must’ve been carrying bricks. Unable to lift it, she carefully began to slide it towards Pete. He grabbed a hold of the box rapidly and shoved it against the door.

“Grab me another one -” Clementine did just that, and shoved another heavy box his way.
Pete repeated his actions and shoved the other box against the door. He still continued to push against the boxes with the lower parts of his legs before looking back over to Clementine. “Well – they shouldn’t be able to get through me and the boxes.”

Clementine perked up as Pete turned, still pushing himself against the boxes. There was a rather hard thump thrown at the doors a moment later; both of them paused, and two uneasy gazes were thrown back at the doors.

“On the downside, we… can’t get through there either.”

Pete collapsed down in front of the boxes and used them as support for himself. He looked as though he was shaking, suddenly, and didn’t meet Clementine’s gaze. She gazed down slowly, not attempting to meet him, either.

Her sight landed on his ankle – or what rather was his ankle. It hadn’t stopped bleeding. The bottom of Pete’s pant leg was soaked in crimson blood, as was what Clementine could only assume – or rather hope, because she hoped that wasn’t a piece of skin or flesh hanging off – was his sock.

Without a word, Pete pulled his knee towards his chest and gingerly began to examine the wound. His face was pale now, eyebrows knitted together. He stilled didn’t meet Clementine’s gaze.

Clementine didn’t try to speak; her mouth was dry and her chest felt as though it were full of ice.

“What’re you lookin’ at?” came Pete’s voice softly. “Starin’ ain’t polite.”

“You’re bit.” The words left her mouth softly, softer than Pete’s voice. Her heart rate was already beginning to speed up again as she looked down at her arm, staring down at the bandages Carlos wrapped around her own bite. “What – what are you gonna do?”

Pete grimaced and looked back at her in a way that made Clementine genuinely wonder if he was about to smack her across the face. Still, she didn’t back off. His attention turned to something behind her.

“Hand me that there,” he said, nodding to whatever it was.

Clementine turned back and her heart skipped a beat. The object in question was a hacksaw.

Her gaze snapped back after she processed exactly what Pete was insinuating. She began to shake her head and muttered, “Pete.”

Still, the expression that crossed Pete’s face obviously wasn’t one she wanted to mess with. Her hand trembling, Clementine snatched the hacksaw from the top of one of the boxes and practically tossed it at Pete. She just wanted it to be out of her hands.

“Cutting it off – won’t… work,” Clementine said in a stilted voice. “It won’t.”

Pete picked up the saw and clenched his fist around the handle. “Says who?”

Closing her eyes, Clementine forced herself to speak. Her voice came out in a whisper that she hoped Pete could possibly make out. “I knew someone.” she muttered, “He tried it.” Once again, the image of Lee’s bloody, bandaged stump…

“Just because it didn’t work once don’t mean it can’t work at all.”

He flattened his leg out and positioned the saw slightly above his knee, staring intently down at his limb. He gritted his teeth, and raised the saw up, angled down towards his pants and flesh.

There was a tense silence as Clementine backed away, feeling sick. She averted her gaze and raised her hands up to her ears; if she couldn’t convince Pete differently, then she would have to prepare for what she knew was inevitable. (After all, the last thing she wanted to hear were the bloodcurdling screams of a sixty-something year old man who would immediately come to regret his decision.)

But they didn’t come, and neither did what she imagined would be some sickening crack that she would remember for the rest of her life, followed by a gush of blood that she also wouldn’t be able to forget.

Instead, Pete let out a noise that seemed to be a cross between a groan and a growl. He threw down the saw and rested his head in his hands.

Ugh – I’ll bleed out like a stuck pig!” he exclaimed, “What’re you gonna do – carry me out outta here on your back?”

Clementine lowered her hands to her side and let out a small sigh of relief. She said nothing, allowing Pete to lament.

Hell!” he continued, gritting his teeth and narrowing his eyes. After a moment of silence, Pete let out a shaky breath and looked down at the floor. “J-just… give me a minute.”

“Try to get some rest,” Clementine turned, gazing around at the other unopened boxes and containers. She began to think – it was an ambulance after all. They had to have something that could help; maybe some painkillers, or even rations or water. “I’ll see what’s in here. Maybe I can find something to help?”

Pete didn’t respond, instead choosing to take a deep breath. He leaned back against the door and closed his eyes tightly.

Clementine’s gaze turned to her bag, and she suddenly remembered the bottle of water that she’d saved. That was something Pete could need; she didn’t know exactly, one-hundred percent how bites worked, but she knew they killed through a fever. Something she always remembered her mother saying, from a medical perspective, was how important it was to stay hydrated if one was feverish.

She pulled the bottle from her bag. Only a small amount was left, maybe enough for a few swallows.

Pete’s eyes snapped open and several hacking coughs followed behind. He gazed up at the water bottle in Clementine’s hands and hoarsely asked, “Anythin’ in that?” More coughing followed.

“Not much,” Clementine admitted, unscrewing the cap. She offered the bottle to Pete, who practically snatched it from her hands. She had been right; he guzzled it down as quickly as possible.

He pulled the bottle from his mouth with a small gasp and a, “Thanks.”

“I’ll keep looking around.” Clementine promised, nodding to him. “There’s gotta other stuff in here, right?” She zipped her bag and headed to the front of the ambulance.

The key was still dangling freely from the ignition. The seats were worn and smelled of various, putrid bodily fluids. Even so, the glass of the front window was still intact.
Clementine reached for the keys and turned them forward.

The engine made a moderately loud sputtering noise that quickly faded out. She looked up out the front window in alarm; two lone walkers turned towards the noise. One seemed to lose interest fast, but the other one continued looking, and began to limp towards the ambulance.

“Outta gas.” came Pete’s voice from the back.

Clementine returned back to the doorway, where a beat-up looking cardboard box was set. The front read: RED & GOLD and Original Flavor. The box was filled only with smaller boxes of cigarettes.

When Pete asked, she held one of the boxes up. His eyes suddenly widened.

“Gimme one o’ those.” Clementine handed him the box, and he continued with, “Probably tastes like pine tar by now…”

Despite her apprehension towards cigarettes and second-hand smoke, Clementine willingly retrieved her purple, butterfly patterned lighter from her bag, and lit Pete’s cigarette. He took one drag of the cigarette before coughing out a small cloud of smoke.

Already, the ambulance was beginning to smell like smoke. Even then, Clementine could still breathe, so she didn’t complain about the acrid smell.

“Ugh, that tastes about as bad as it smells.”

“What do we do now?” asked Clementine, trying her hardest to ignore the smell.

Pete took another drag. “We wait.”

She had the urge to ask ‘for what?’ before realizing that his group would most likely come searching – or at least Luke would. Surely they would be worried if they realized two members of their group were missing after they trusted someone they thought was working with an enemy.

Right.

Clementine sat down opposite of Pete and pulled her knees up to her chest. Her sleeping patterns had been odd for two years now, and she had slept in some odd places. One couldn’t consider sleeping in an abandoned ambulance in the middle of the day across from a dying man smoking a cigarette to be the oddest circumstances she’d ever had.

Though, she wouldn’t deny that it was quite high up on the list.

Chapter Text

Clementine’s eyes snapped open the moment wheezing hit her ears. She threw her arm out to the side to keep herself from tumbling over, but then her gaze snapped right back to the source of the noise. In a panic, she rushed to back up as quickly as possible.

Pete’s back was turned to her; he was curled in a fetal position, head tucked close to his knees, as his wheezing and hacking increased. He shivered when he finally began to stop, and let out a slow, deep moan.

Instinctively, Clementine blindly reached around for the earlier discarded hacksaw, latching on as her rough palm came in contact with the dulled blade (and if it wouldn’t cut her skin, she thought, there was no way it would have cut through Pete’s leg). She switched over the plastic handle and held in front of her chest, which burned with hard, painstaking beats.

The ambulance went quiet and no sound filled the cold air. Outside the window, it appeared as though dawn was coming upon them. Pete ceased movement.
Clementine’s mouth went dry. Her hands trembled as she struggled to move back while keeping her grip on the hacksaw; the handle was becoming more and more difficult to hold – her grip felt uncoordinated and loose. Her eyes darted around, begging for anything else she could use to protect herself.

If dawn was approaching, then they had been there all night. If they had been there all night, then that meant there was even less time left before… Clementine willed herself not to think about that. She couldn’t. No – she wouldn’t. Any second now, Pete would start coughing again, or sit up and wearily ask if she’d heard anything.

And then she heard it. Pete let out a small gasp for air. Clementine could see his chest moving; she watched him take in air, and then gulp it in like it was water. She let out a sigh, a mix of relief and worry. Pete was alive and breathing, that was the relief. But the worry was a different story.

Even in the dark, the skin she could see was strange. Pete’s once pale skin was tinged gray. Clementine had seen it before. A heavy feeling settled in her chest as she remembered Lee’s bite, and how his dark skin had turned a mottled gray color just before his death. His whites of his eyes had become yellow. His voice had turned hoarse.

A shiver ran down her spine as Pete let out a guttural grunt. A series of moans and grunts followed, obviously from agitation or pain. But even the noise was good hear; he was alive, making noises that made him sound alive, despite his fetal position.

Carefully, Clementine stood, her grip on the hacksaw handle increasing. She took a shaky step in Pete’s direction, brandishing the hacksaw defensively. Carefully, she reached out just far enough to push the tip of the hacksaw against his shoulder. Not enough to hurt, but enough to get his attention if he happened to be awake.

Pete let out a shriek-like series of coughs, wheezing, and turned over to face Clementine. At the sudden noise, she jumped back and the hacksaw clattered to the metal floor with a loud crack.

After nearly thirty seconds, the man’s hacking ceased. With trembling hands, he began to sit up; Clementine cautiously moved closer, keeping an eye on the discarded hacksaw. She crouched down to his level just in time to hear him speak.

Dammit. I feel like ten pounds of shit in a five pound sack…”

Without any understanding as to what that saying meant, Clementine immediately knew it was nothing pleasant. Pete’s voice was hoarse and nasally. Deep, dark circles collected under his yellowed eyes. His sentence was quickly interrupted by a series of coughs and hacking that jerked his entire body.

Pete spat to his left and muttered, “Jesus…” He paused for a moment before quietly saying, “Stuck in this… can the whole damn day. You wanna hear something funny?”

Clementine sat up on her knees and noted Pete’s tone. She clenched her teeth and momentarily, again, thought of the approaching dawn and the hacksaw. Still, she had no other choice but to listen. But before she replied, he spoke again.

“I’ve been thinkin’ – and I don’t wanna die.” A maniacal smirk crossed Pete’s grayed face. He suddenly let out a laugh that quickly progressed into a coughing fit. “Never thought I’d be the kinda idiot to say somethin’ like that. But there it is.”

A few seconds passed as his gaze averted hers.

“I’m scared, Clementine. Jesus, I’m scared.”

Clementine said nothing. Her mouth felt like lead, and a steady thudding had already begun to fill her head. What was she to say to that? What could she say at all? She wanted to tell Pete he would be fine. She wanted to say that he wouldn’t die – but she knew he wouldn’t take it. He was smarter than that.

She was smarter than that.

“Clementine…”

She glanced up to meet Pete’s eyes, which were sagging and tired.

“Would you promise me to look out for Nick? I love that stupid kid… No matter what you think… He is a good boy…”

Nick. Clementine had forgotten Nick. He was out there somewhere, probably scared out of his mind. Maybe confused. Maybe he didn’t even know what had happened to Pete’s ankle. And if his earlier behavior was anything to go by… he wouldn’t take this well.

Clementine clenched her hand around her opposite wrist and averted Pete’s eye for a moment. She was no stranger to looking out for people. She had looked out for Christa after Omid’s death – though, arguably, their relationship was more symbiotic than anything – and she had looked out for Lee at certain times.

“I’ll look after him. I’ll do what I can. ” she spoke in a voice barely above a whisper. “I promise.”

“Thank you.”

Pete laid his head against the wall. His eyes were beginning to go glassy, and though they remained open, and his breathing became shallow.

And that was when the knock – or rather the banging – came.

“Pete?” came the voice, followed by another bang on the door. “Nick? Clementine? Anyone in there?”

And just like that, a weight was lifted from Clementine’s shoulders. She recognized that voice. Luke’s southern drawl stood out against the growling of the walkers – though she realized a moment later that there was no growling.

She quickly stood up and made her way to the door, pushing away the boxes.

“Luke!” Clementine immediately pushed the door open and came face to face with Luke. His hair was messier than it had previously been, and he looked a lot more tired than he had previously.

Luke let out a breath, eyes widening. “Clementine – Pete!”

Clementine darted back to Pete’s side after glancing back. He was barely moving, breathing shallowly. Slowly, he began to turn his head to face Luke.

“Holy…” Luke tapered off slowly, mouth hanging open as he gaped. His eyes flickered down towards the bite mark on Pete’s ankle as all of the color drained from his face. Slowly, Luke reached up to his temples and latched his fingers onto his hair. “ShitPete…”

Pete could barely seem to open his eyes. He looked up at the younger man through half-lidded eyes and quietly spoke, “Luke.”

Luke was shaking his head now, and looked up at Clementine with a horrified expression crossing his face.

“What the hell happened?”

It was at that moment that Clementine looked down at Pete. He made no sound, no movement – Clementine peered back up at Luke, who had stepped into the ambulance, and shook her head, then looked down at her knees.

“Clementine – fuck… He’s gotta be…”

Just as quickly as she had met Pete, he was gone. Then Clementine looked back up at him, and out of the top corner of her vision, she noticed movement. It was the last thing she noticed before Pete lunged, hands latching on to her wrists – his feral roars and growls were entirely that of a walker.

A scream of surprise mixed with fear ripped from her throat as Clementine was knocked onto her back, knees connecting with Pete’s sternum as her back formed an arch. Panic coursed through her mind as she shoved against the man – doing anything she could to keep him from going straight for her throat.
Luke didn’t react immediately, frozen as if he didn’t know what to do, but another shriek from Clementine forced him into action.

“LUKE!”

His hand immediately went for his back pocket, where ripped from it a handgun – his trembling hands seemed to barely be able to hold the gun straight. He hesitated for just a moment –

Clementine felt frozen as well, terrified out of her mind as she tried to fight the walker off; just as she had done with that horrible man yesterday – but Pete was bigger, heavier, and stronger, even as a walker. Her own screaming was joined with Luke shouting something she was unable to make out.

A deafening gunshot sounded out, a loud ringing starting up in Clementine’s ears. Her vision suddenly went red as blood shot out from the gunshot. Pete’s reanimated body went limp, and Clementine shoved him off in a panic, barely able to take in a breath.
Warm blood splattered her face and her shirt; her heart raced and she could barely breathe and she wanted to scream

But she still wasn’t bitten.

Fuck! Clementine? Come on, kid, speak to me, goddammit!”

A steady ache was beginning to become apparent in her head. Clementine slowly looked up to see Luke making his way towards her – but she couldn’t take her eyes away from Pete.

He looked helpless. Blood poured from a hole in the back of his head, staining his jacket. A putrid smell of various body fluids was already making itself known in the small space. Clementine had no idea whether she wanted to vomit, cry, scream, or do all three in that short space of time.

Luke’s eyes were glassy as he made his way towards Clementine. His gaze was focused on Pete, who lay on his side; slowly, Luke shifted his gaze to Clementine and kneeled down next to her. He shook his head slowly and spoke in a low voice, “Are ya okay?”

Unable to get herself to speak, Clementine simply nodded. She looked up to the ambulance door, averting eye contact with Luke and pointed towards the noises of the quickly approaching figures: even more walkers.

“Th-there’s more.” gasped Clementine, nodding towards the outside of the ambulance.

Luke nodded and replied, “R-right – okay, uh –” He paused for a second before continuing, “All right – we gotta go. I’ll take ya back to the cabin –”

He offered his hand to Clementine, and carefully pulled her to her feet, though she was still shaky and her heart rate had not yet gone back to normal.

Carefully, the two left the ambulance, more than eager to get away from the nearest walkers, which were only a few feet away. Luke grabbed a hold of Clementine by the wrist to get her attention, and then nodded in the direction of the nearest trees.

“Come on, let’s go,” he said in between uneasy breaths, eyes still focused on the vehicle. Clementine took one last glance towards the ambulance – and to an extension, Pete. She didn’t know what they would tell Nick. What she would tell Luke. Or the others. She knew what they would think – she was dangerous. What was even worse was that another good person was dead, maybe even because of her.

A wave of dread washed over her as she followed closely behind Luke.

Chapter Text

Clementine didn’t know how in the world Luke could remember exactly where the cabin was. Everything looked exactly the same – trees, grass, more trees, walkers, euthanized bodies of walkers – it was everywhere.

Luke slowed only when they had begun to see a clear path back in the direction of the cabin, though the house itself wasn’t quite yet in sight. His eyes were wide when he turned to Clementine and asked in a hushed voice, “What the hell happened?”

She didn’t meet his eye and simply replied with a shake of her head at first. Luke also averted her gaze and placed his hands on his hips, looking around for what she assumed was any sign of danger.

Swallowing thickly, Clementine said, “He got bit when we were down at the stream. We found –”

“Yeah, me and Alvin saw it…” The massacre, Clementine remembered. At least that was what she assumed she would call it. Luke and Alvin had seen it, they knew that she hadn’t – Clementine suddenly recalled what she had worried about earlier: that they would think she had something to with Pete’s death. That she had killed him.

Don’t do this, she told herself. A man is dead and you just think about yourself.

“Is that where ya found that bag?” came Luke’s voice, yanking Clementine from her internal struggle. He pointed to the purple bag that had begun to slip off of her bony shoulders, and gave her a puzzled look, as if he had suddenly just realized that she was carrying it.
Clementine nodded, and gazed around for any sign of danger. Luke nodded to the path in front of them, as if urging her to keep walking.

“It’s my bag,” muttered Clementine, taking a few anxious steps forward. “One of the men who was…” She gulped again, taking a deep breath. Her heart hammered as she thought of Christa – maybe she was dead, maybe she was hurt… “One of the men was a guy who was in the woods with us. With me and Christa when we got attacked, I mean.”

Luke’s previously unfocused eyes widened with surprise. He rubbed the back of his neck before asking, “Was he a friend or - ?”

“He… he attacked us. I think he was the one that put a gun in Christa’s face. There were three of them – him, the man who chased me, and another guy with a hoodie.” Clementine hoisted the bag onto both of her shoulders and kept her eyes on the path in front of herself and Luke. “I didn’t see the other man, and I didn’t see anyone else there.”

It was truth. It was all Clementine could give him.

And, she remembered, there was one thing she owed to Pete: Nick’s safety.

She turned suddenly to Luke and blurted out, “Did-did you find Nick?”

Luke’s eyes became wide again, as if he had just realized that Nick wasn’t with them, and his face reddened. Clementine wondered briefly if it was from shame of not realizing Nick was gone sooner, but didn’t press the issue. He shook his head.

“I didn’t – Jesus, I didn’t think –” Luke stopped himself, appearing as if he were close to starting to panic. “Okay – Alvin’s out lookin’ too. I gotta take you back to the cabin and I’ll -…” He abruptly stopped and shook his head again. “I’ll go and find him. Where’d y’all get separated?”

“The stream.” Clementine answered quickly. “We got cornered by a bunch of walkers and Nick was on the other side of the stream. He ran into the forest.”

Needless to say, the rest of the trek back to the cabin was hurried and full of tension between both of them. Luke had made Clementine run again, wanting to hurry and get her back to the cabin. He was attempting to mask his rather obvious panic with a concerned façade that wasn’t going away anytime soon, and when they finally reached the back of the cabin, he shoved the backdoor open with such force that Clementine was a bit surprised it didn’t fly off of the hinges.

Rebecca’s gaze shot up from a book the moment Luke opened the door and Carlos turned with the same expression that she held.
They were the only two in the kitchen, and having the gazes of the two people who seemed the most suspicious of her focused entirely on her now was unnerving.

“Nick and Pete aren’t with you?” asked Carlos, who suddenly held the same expression of panic as Luke.

Rebecca joined him, standing up. She looked around and her gaze went from the window to Clementine to Luke as she nearly shouted, “Wait – where’s Alvin?”

Carlos looked to both Clementine and Luke and demanded, “What happened?”

“We got attacked. Walkers.” Clementine forced herself to say. She couldn’t bring herself to meet either of their eyes, and instead looked up at Luke. “Pete’s…”

Luke looked down, closing his eyes, and then back up. In a painful tone, he replied, “Pete’s dead. He got bit.” He looked down to Clementine. “They got separated from Nick and by the time I found them… Pete was… Pete turned almost as soon as I got there.”

Clementine said nothing. She was only half-listening. The looks on both Rebecca’s and Carlos’ faces were much worse than what she had imagined would be mournful. They were like Luke’s, and what she imagined Nick’s reaction would be like.

My God,” Carlos looked to Rebecca, and then to Luke.

Rebecca glowered at Clementine and her shaking voice demanded, “Where were you? Where were you exactly?”

“Down by the stream.” Clementine spat out automatically.

“We gotta go!” Rebecca nearly shouted to Luke and Carlos.

Carlos knitted his eyebrows, but didn’t look surprised at all that Rebecca wanted to jump into the fray without thought at all.
“Just hold on a minute –”

“My husband is still out there!” Rebecca shouted back. Luke’s eyes became wide and he took a step back. “Get the guns!”

But neither of them immediately went for this. Carlos looked down at Rebecca’s stomach, and Luke simply looked too alarmed to move.

Carlos was the first one to speak when he said in a hushed voice through clenched teeth, “Rebecca, you’re eight months pregnant -”

But Rebecca shook her head, and turned, starting for the kitchen door, presumably to get the guns herself, “Don’t bring that up! Don’t try and use that shit against me!”

“Becs, look,” Luke interrupted her before she could go on a rant. Clementine knew exactly what Rebecca was about to say. Back when Christa was pregnant, she had said the exact same thing. She didn’t want to be seen as weak. “You’re gonna hurt yourself, or your baby! Alvin’s probably found Nick by now, and me and Carlos’ll go out and find them. It’s too dangerous –”

“The hell it is.” Rebecca retorted. She shot a glare in Luke’s direction and clenched her teeth, looking down towards her bump. She snarled, “I’ll be fine. I ain’t stupid, Luke – I know how to keep myself safe! And I’m goin’ to find my husband!”

“Please,” Carlos began, taking a deep breath. He looked towards the kitchen door and then back to Rebecca. “I can’t leave Sarah alone. She trusts you.”

Clementine wasn’t quite sure which one of them Rebecca most likely wanted to slap harder (most likely, all was going to be the answer to that question) when Carlos brought up Sarah. She wondered if mentioning his daughter was Carlos’ last resort, and then noticed Luke, who look irritated with both of them. He nearly had one foot out the door, and seemed to be positively itching to leave the cabin.

It was only a few moments later when Carlos left the kitchen very suddenly and returned with a rifle, and then only a few seconds between this and when he and Luke set off quickly, both of them taking off at a run. ‘I can’t leave Sarah alone’ was, indeed, an oddly convincing statement to Rebecca.

It was just then that Clementine realized that because of this, she was now left alone in an unfamiliar place with a woman who didn’t trust her and a teenager who she hadn’t spoken a single word to.

“Luke and Alvin went out looking for you,” Rebecca suddenly said, crossing her arms. Clementine had expected her to look livid; instead, Rebecca just looked mournful – stressed, she assumed. “Damn it, Luke.”

Clementine felt a heavy weight in her chest, and didn’t know what to say to the woman. One part of her wanted to tell Rebecca what had happened, that she tried to Pete. The other part of her wanted to leave the woman alone and let her cool off.

“What book are you reading?”

The question was innocent enough, and unrelated enough to distract Rebecca. It just wasn’t a good time.
Rebecca walked back to the kitchen table, where an open book lay. She picked it up by the edge, closed it, and slammed it back onto the table.

“None of your damn business, that’s what.”

A few minutes later, the awkward and tension-filled air was broken by the sound of the door to the sitting room opening.
From her place of leaning against the counter, Clementine looked up to see the face of Sarah, who didn’t seem to notice her at first. In her arms was a thick, paperback book that looked as if it had been put through the wringer.

“Rebecca, do you know where my dad –” Sarah had turned, and suddenly noticed Clementine standing against the counter. Her eyes widened at first; she looked surprised, but then she smiled. “Hi.”

“… Hi.” was all Clementine could get out, suddenly taken aback by the girl’s friendliness.

Sarah’s eyes were wide with excitement at the sudden realization that Clementine was there. Though she wouldn’t say it out loud, Clementine couldn’t help thinking that eagerness was a bit off-putting – to her, at least.

“I’m Sarah. What’s your name?”

Clementine managed a small smile. With a slightly bowed head, she replied in a low voice, “My name’s Clementine.”

A moment passed, and Sarah smiled as well. She seemed to think the name was funny. Clementine thought back to Luke’s little nudge about her name and repressed the strong urge to roll her eyes. And, of course, she got the question she knew she would get –

“That’s a pretty name. Were you named after the song?”

“I don’t know.” Clementine replied unenthusiastically. “I think my parents just really liked citrus fruit.”

What sounded like a small snicker came from behind her. She didn’t look back to see if it was Rebecca who made the noise, not wanting to make the woman upset if it hadn’t been her who made the noise.

“What’re you reading?” Clementine asked quickly, wanting to get the attention off of herself.

Sarah’s eyes became wide with excitement and she held up the book.
“It’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!” she exclaimed as Clementine examined the cover. It was a thick book, definitely, and the front cover showed a picture of a green, alien looking creature on the background of a galaxy painting. “Have you ever read it?”

Shaking her head, Clementine replied, “It’s kind of big.” She shrugged, then looked back up the girl. “But I like books.”

Again, an excited expression appeared on Sarah’s face. She looked over to Rebecca, who held another book in her hand, then back to Clementine.
“I have a ton of books upstairs. You wanna see?”

When Clementine looked back behind her to Rebecca, she knew that the woman wasn’t going to tell her no in front of Sarah. Still, a small amount of uneasiness resided in her chest as she peeked back for the extra bit of assurance.

Rebecca nodded, slowly and uneasily, rolling her eyes. Sarah didn’t seem to notice, and Clementine nodded to Sarah’s question.

Sarah took her trembling hand and practically dragged her out of the kitchen to the staircase. Both of them raced up, a small amount of joy making its way into Clementine. She was going to have a normal encounter with another kid – even if that kid was a bit older than her. She would be able, maybe, to remove the image of Pete’s body out of her head. A distraction.

Clementine had never been amazing at reading; she read slowly and lost her concentration quite easily. Still, stories were nice to listen to; they were nice to imagine, even if they were most likely far above her reading level. They were distractions, something to lose yourself in. Maybe that was why Sarah seemed so excited about books.

The room Sarah led her to was one of a few rooms upstairs. It had a bed, a dresser, and a closet. A stack of books sat in the corner, and a few boxes were haphazardly sticking out from underneath the bed.

“Those are medical supplies.” clarified Sarah when she noticed Clementine’s gaze on the boxes. “And other stuff, I guess. I don’t really know.”

She turned her attention to the stack of books in the corner and began to read the titles on the spines. After a moment, she carefully pulled one of the books out from underneath and held it up.

“Have you ever read Harry Potter?” 

Clementine shook her head. The name of the book sounded familiar to her, but she couldn’t recall ever actually cracking it open. “Wasn’t that a movie?”

Sarah nodded. “Yeah, in two-thousand-one. I think four years ago?” She shrugged. “I was like, ten or eleven or something like that. My dad took me to go see it.” With a grimace, Sarah continued, “It was okay – but it wasn’t exactly like the book.”

“I think my mom read that. Maybe.” Wracking her brain, Clementine tried to remember if it had been her mother whom she had seen reading the book or if she had simply seen advertisements for the movie. “I don’t… remember. I was really young in two-thousand-one.”

Placing the book on the ground in front of the stack, Sarah looked back with a puzzled expression.
“How old are you?” she asked, sounding rather confused, as if she had thought they were the same age. “I’m fifteen.”

Clementine knew immediately when she saw Sarah that the girl, though not too much older than her, was definitely older than her. “I just turned eleven… I think.”

“Oh.” murmured Sarah in a slightly surprised tone. “When… is your birthday?”

“November twenty-first. So… I think we’re in December right now?”

Sarah nodded, then looked back to the books. She moved around what looked to be a medical book, then a fictional book; after a moment, she looked down to the medical book and asked, “Were you really bitten by a dog?”

Her eye contact connected with the bandage on Clementine’s arm. Clementine herself looked down to her arm; instinctively, her right hand closed around the wrist. She looked away, suddenly remembering Nick’s comment about how she shouldn’t have even tried to feed the dog. Her own guilt returned back as well.

“Yeah.”

“It wasn’t one of the-the lurkers?”

“No. It was a dog.”

Sarah looked up at Clementine and then back down to the bandage. With a small hiss, she murmured, “I bet it hurts.”

Clementine nodded. There was a brief pause between them before she asked in a slow, quiet voice, “You wanna see it?”

Truthfully, she wasn’t really sure where the question came from. But of course, everyone was used to seeing disgusting things. She knew some people found those things to be fascinating, and remembered her mother’s fascination with that kind of thing. Carlos was a doctor, just like Clementine’s mother – maybe he and Sarah were fascinated with that kind of thing too?

To her immense relief, Sarah looked intrigued. She nodded with a soft, “Sure.”

Carefully, Clementine pulled up her sleeve further than it already was. She struggled for a moment to find the end of the gauze strip, then slowly unwrapped it enough to expose the sutures across the wound.

Sarah took one look at before exclaiming, “Ew, gross!”

Both of the girls erupted in laughter as Sarah shouted for her to cover it back up. In between her laughter, Clementine jokingly asked, “What? Does it look infected?”

Carefully, Clementine wrapped the gauze back around her arm. Hot, sharp pains erupted from each area as she wrapped the gauze tighter, until she reached the end.

“Your dad said I have to watch out for infection anyway.” Clementine uttered, shrugging. “It could get even more gross if I don’t.”

There was another brief pause before Sarah looked over to the door and asked, “Have you seen my dad? I was looking for him earlier – where is everyone?”

Another pause as Clementine wracked her brain, wondering if she should tell Sarah the truth or simply say that she didn’t know, or even make up an excuse.

“He and Luke went out.” she muttered, looking away. “Nick and Alvin too.”

Neither of them said anything. Sarah looked away as well, taking in a deep breath. She brought her knees up to her chest and closed her eyes, sighing.

“Sorry.” she whispered. “I know it’s… dumb… I worry about them a lot.”

Truthfully, Clementine didn’t blame her. She still remembered the faces of her parents in the rotting streets of Savannah, as if she had seen them yesterday. She still remembered the fear of being separated from them. She wasn’t going to make fun of Sarah for feeling the same way.

“It’s not dumb, Sarah.”

Sarah stood up and slowly walked to the window, suddenly looking alert. With a small smile, she turned and said, “Oh! Luke’s back!”

Clementine made her way to the window as well, finding a place next to Sarah at the small windowsill. The back of a fair skinned brunet male passed the downstairs railing, looking ahead instead of up. Her heart hammered in her chest. There was something off.

Luke had been wearing orange; this man was wearing a brown coat, from what they could both see. Why would Luke be walking alone, so casually?

She tore out of the room, after Sarah, who had excitedly gone to greet the man. And then she got to the bottom of the stairs, where Sarah had stopped almost mid-step.
In a shaking voice, the other girl said, “Clementine…”

Clementine stopped dead in her tracks when the knocks came at the front door.

“That’s not Luke.”

 

Chapter Text

The stained glass window obscured all view of the man's face, but Clementine knew for a fact, even without Sarah having to tell her, that that was in no way Luke. Her mind continued to scream it – That's not Luke, there is no way in Hell that that's anyone you know at all!

The man pounded on the door again, calling out for someone to answer the door.

Sarah's hands grabbed ahold of her fringe and she whimpered, "I know him." She pressed herself against the wall as Clementine stood stock-still, frozen in her tracks.

The kitchen door opened suddenly, and Clementine covered her mouth to avoid shouting, her heart rate hitting a high level. Rebecca stuck her head out, her own eyes wide. She gripped the door tightly, her knuckles becoming almost white against her brown skin.

"Who is that?"

Her voice shook as she spoke. Clementine felt her own breath get caught her throat as she peered around the corner. She locked eyes with Rebecca, and then looked at Sarah, who looked as if she was having trouble breathing and had begun to sink against the wall, towards the floor.

"It's him." gasped Sarah hoarsely. She looked up at Clementine and whispered, "He can't see us!"

The man continued to pound on the door.

"Hide!" Clementine murmured to the other two, though Rebecca also seemed frozen to the spot.

It was within just a few seconds that Rebecca suddenly tore out of the kitchen and grabbed Sarah by her collar, then by her wrist. Clementine, still frozen to the spot, could only watch as both of them hurried up the stairs, Sarah calling for her to come as well.

Right as Clementine was about run after them, the front door swung open. Sarah and Rebecca were both upstairs and out of sight, leaving her entirely alone. Part of her wanted to run. The other part was completely stuck in place.

Rebecca was afraid of this man; so much so that she was running the fastest Clementine had ever seen a heavily pregnant woman run. Even Christa had never run that fast while pregnant.

And Sarah couldn't breathe. She had panicked.

They'd left Clementine completely alone. Once again, she was vulnerable. Once again, she was probably about to have a brush with death. And goddammit, all she felt was paralyzing fear.

The man, admittedly, did look a bit like Luke. He was older – much older, maybe around the same age as Alvin, who was going gray. If Luke had a mustache, the two could have been brothers, or at least kin.

The man's wavy brown hair was flecked in gray and looked askew; he had seen better days.

"Hello there."

He smiled as he pushed the door aside and took a small step in. Clementine took a step back, scanning him from head to toe. There was a revolver in the holster around his hips, just next to his coat pocket.

Clementine debated what to do briefly. She could say nothing and pretend to be deaf – or even pretend she spoke no English. But, she realized rather quickly, it wouldn't be the best thing to do. She knew no sign language, or really anything except English.

"What's your name?" the man asked, taking another step in. "I'm sorry to intrude on you this morning."

Not answering immediately, Clementine attempted to force her mouth to work against the pounding in her head and chest. Her gaze, once again, fixated on the man's holster and his gun. Either he was ignoring this, or he simply didn't notice – she wasn't exactly sure.

"W-what's your name?" she shot back, crossing her arms in an admittedly pathetic attempt to seem intimidating. She couldn't exactly be intimidating at her height anyway – but she was at least allow an attempt at it, she supposed.

"My name is George, honey."

Immediately, Clementine knew he was lying.

"Okay." she said quietly.

He looked the cabin interior over from his position near the front door, then closed the door and stepped forward, exclaiming, "This is a nice place! Is there anyone else around?"

"… Just me and my dad." responded Clementine, lying completely through her teeth. She thought of her father for a moment, now that the words had come out. He would have liked the cabin. She wished more than anything that he was here.

The man nodded, seemingly as if he believed her fib. "What's his name?"

"Ed." Her father's name was something she hadn't said in quite a long time. But she knew she would have to make an excuse for his obvious absence. "He's out hunting right now. Why are you here?"

Not-George let out a sigh and sagged his shoulders. He looked a bit annoyed at first, but then seemed to throw on a concerned façade.
"I'll cut to the chase – I'm lookin' for some of my people."

"Your people?"

"Yes." said the man, crossing his arms. "Seven of them."

Clementine nodded slowly, counting the group in her head. Including Pete, there were exactly seven of them. She suddenly remembered Rebecca's words from the evening prior – about a man named Carver. How he was… after them.

Her stomach dropped.

"They've been gone a long while." the man explained, still peering curiously around the sitting room. "I'm worried they might have gotten lost. You think you've seen them?"

Trying her best to feign both innocence and ignorance, Clementine looked up to meet the man in his face and attempted her best, naturally confused expression before cautiously asking, "I don't know; what do they look like?" She had to play along. She knew exactly what he was looking for.

"Well, there's a couple of farm boys and an old man. I think he's the father or the uncle of one of the other two, I'm not sure."

Luke, one. Nick, two. Pete, three.

"And a Spanish guy and his daughter. She's a quiet girl, a bit taller than you."

Carlos, four. Sarah, five.

"A big black guy. This big." The man smirked, then held his arms out in front of his stomach, miming a beer gut.

Alvin, six.

"And a pretty little pregnant lady."

Rebecca, seven.

If Clementine had anything in her stomach that day, she would have vomited from the sheer anxiety. She knew exactly who he was talking about. Her front of innocence wasn't going to be enough… or would it?

"That's a lot of people to lose." she said, crossing her arms.

The man grumbled, shaking his head, "Tell me about it. This whole damn thing's a pain in the ass."

He looked around, then noticed the kitchen door. Slowly, he turned to it and pushed it open carefully, peeking in.

Clementine looked upstairs while his back was turned. Nothing. Not a person in sight.

The kitchen door opened fully; the man immediately walked in, his hand nearing his holster, which only made Clementine even more uneasy. She followed him in, watching his every move as he examined… the table.

Yes, the table. Almost as if it were a suspect in a crime.

He turned to the rest of the kitchen, facing the counters, the stove, and every other appliance. Slowly, he panned the kitchen and began walking towards the sink, where a stack of dirty dishes sat.

"It looks like a damn tornado ran through here."

"I'm supposed to be doing the dishes," Clementine spat out without thinking. "Unless you want to help me, I mean."

With a small chuckle, he turned to face her and said, "Nah. I don't do dishes either."

A knife sat on the counter. Clementine noticed out of the corner of her vision as the man continued talking. For a moment, she debated grabbing it. She would have a weapon. But then she remembered that old saying. What was it?

Never bring a knife to a gun fight. Or maybe it was something at least similar to that. This man had a gun. If she brandished a knife, he could either physically overpower her or just shoot her immediately.

"You just passin' through, or you been here a while?"

Clementine shrugged, saying the first thing that came to her mind – "We've been here for a bit."

"Ah." He nodded slowly, leaning against the counter. "Now listen, kid, I hope you're not one of those nuts headed up north, lookin' for Shangra-La."

Clementine did not even attempt to understand what Shangra-La meant. She knew what he was referring to though – Wellington. In his eyes, she was a nut looking for 'Shangra-La'.

"We're planning on staying here for a bit."

"I'd hope so. If I were you, I wouldn't go anywhere after findin' this place."

I hope you go somewhere now, Clementine thought. Her gaze lingered on the knife.

Suddenly, the man snatched the knife up, almost as if he'd noticed it the entire time. He brandished it at her for a moment and a pang of fear ran through Clementine's chest. Then, in a casual tone, he asked, "Where does this go?" like he hadn't just almost given her a heart attack.

Clementine stared at him for a moment before pointing a shaky finger towards the corner of the kitchen.

"Over there… in that drawer."

The man disposed of the knife in the drawer rather swiftly, then left the kitchen with Clementine hot on his heels. Once again, he panned the sitting room. "This is a real nice place. Kinda cozy."

Her heart beat against her chest a mile a minute. Trembling, she rocked on her feet when he turned to look over at one of the couches. Her stomach dropped with a painful pang when she noticed the discarded flannel shirt sitting on the edge of the couch. She could easily gather that Carlos had a thing for flannel – but maybe this man didn't.

"Huh, I used to know a guy who wore shirts like this all the time." Clementine looked down at the floor, sweating. "He was a doctor. Real smug son of a bitch."

Clementine grasped her left arm in her right hand, squeezing the bone tightly to give herself something else to focus on. She had to focus on something else – something else, her mind told her. Don't panic, it said. In a hesitant, low voice, she asked, "What happened to him?"

"Let's just say we had our differences."

Simply to break the awkward tension, Clementine wanted to ask if the differences happened to be over their preference of flannel shirts versus the fur that the man wore on the inside of his jacket. Instead, she kept her mouth shut and feigned an innocent shrug. Maybe he would assume the shirt belonged to her father who definitely wasn't undead and two states away in the middle of a crowded city in Georgia. Maybe he would figure that Clementine had nothing to do with what he was looking for and simply leave.

"Sooner or later, people will find a reason to cross you. One way or another. Happens every time."

Clementine took the man's words in. She didn't know what he was referring to specifically, but what she did know was that the words were… occasionally true. And she could remember, back (it seemed so long ago) in Georgia. The arguments between Kenny and Lilly on how to run their group. She could remember Larry's disgust with Lee. How someone always seemed to find a reason to fight – especially Larry, who seemed content to make fun of Doug no matter what the young man did. Or Lee. Or Kenny.

But it wasn't completely, one hundred percent true. Clementine knew that for a fact.

The man continued to look around. At the chess set, the rest of the sitting room, and even made himself at home upstairs.
Clementine's heart hammered on even harder when he pulled out his revolver and moved himself from bedroom to bedroom. Part of her wanted to think that this was it. Someone was going to be hurt. The other part of her believed that some way, if Rebecca was really that scared of Carver – there was no way in Hell that she would allow herself and Sarah to be found.

Wherever they were.

And then he made his way down the stairs. Clementine followed, lingering several feet behind him in an uneasy stupor. The man was only about ten feet away from the front door when he suddenly turned to her and smirked.

"You have no idea who these people are, do you?"

Panic seized Clementine's every being. She knew that Rebecca and Sarah were hiding in the bathroom – one of the only two rooms he hadn't checked. She knew that the flannel shirt belonged to Carlos. Both things were just that – things. This man didn't know that… at least not for certain.

Clementine felt her mouth grow dry, "What are you talking about?"

But the man continued to smirk. Even more of the sheer dread and panic accompanied her. He raised his head in a way that made his chin jut out and responded with a small shake of the head, "Let me ask you this – how much did they trust you?"

She did not answer.

"If people don't trust you, how can you trust them?"

With no more words between them, the man turned, and walked out of the cabin. Clementine stood in the same spot, watching him as he disappeared in the distance. Her stomach was in shambles as a sick feeling rose up in her chest. She slowly turned her gaze to the direction of the stairs, repressing the urge to throw up, and wrapped her arms around herself.

The first thing Clementine did was check the lock on the front door. She immediately locked the door, hands trembling almost too hard to grip it.
Then, almost as soon as she heard the lock click, she bolted back to the kitchen, threw open the drawer by the sink, and seized the large steak knife that the man had lazily thrown in there.

Her throat felt as if it were beginning to close. Clementine gripped the steak knife handle tighter, until her hands ached, and then sunk down to the floor and pushed herself into the corner of the counter.

She wasn't sure how long it was until there were sounds of an unsteady thumping on the stairs. Uncertain seconds turned into several minutes before the kitchen door opened slightly and she heard her name.

"… Clementine?"

Clementine felt a wave of relief come over her with Rebecca's voice. She had never known until this moment that the voice of someone she trusted so little could evoke such a strong emotion. Trembling, she stood in her place and watched as Rebecca and Sarah entered the kitchen.

Sarah seemed almost robotic, face frozen into a look of terror. Rebecca, on the other hand, held a handgun as tightly as Clementine brandished the steak knife.

"Fuck."

It was Rebecca who spoke first, between the three of them. Clementine struggled to take a breath as she tried to think of a way to respond to the woman.

"He's gone." was all she managed to force out.

"What did you tell him?"

"I told him I live here with my dad," Clementine choked out, her grip on the knife beginning to loosen. "I thought -" She gulped, clenching her fist and looking away. "I thought he believed me."

Rebecca's handle on her gun tightened as well, then she looked from Sarah to Clementine. "Tell me you didn't let him in!"

Clementine shook her head, feeling herself look up at Rebecca with actual surprise. Surely the woman couldn't think she was really that stupid, could she? Clenching her teeth, Clementine shot back, "I didn't let him in! He just opened the door and came in! Why was the door even unlocked?"

"I don't fuckin' know!" Rebecca shot, looking back towards the kitchen door. "I thought Luke and Pete locked it this morning! Dammit, Luke."

Chapter Text

Rebecca seemed close to angry tears by the time the others returned back. Between her and Sarah, all that Clementine was left to do was slowly pace around the sitting room, heart pounding against her chest. Every little noise was something her eyes quickly darted to – every little thing was something that made Rebecca fidget closer and closer to the gun across her lap.

Sarah sat against one of the couch, rocking in a slow, steady pattern that made Clementine uneasy. The girl’s gaze appeared cloudy and empty, as if she were a shell-shocked soldier returning from Vietnam. Between all three of them, their tics were beginning to get on Clementine’s nerves – even her own.

Luke, Alvin, Carlos, and Nick burst into the kitchen at least an hour after the disappearance of Carver. Nick was leaned against Luke, his face red and streaked with tear tracks. Every little bit of speech that came from him sounded slurred. The smell of some sort of alcohol hung heavy in the air when Clementine raced into the kitchen.

“He showed up.” were the first words to anyone in the room who wasn’t Nick. It was Rebecca who spoke first, her voice close to breaking by the time she finished her sentence. “It was Carver.”

Vulnerability was something that Clementine could feel pecking away her own, mildly broken, calm façade. The dread that came with the rest of the group’s return hit her full force, her heart now pounding even harder again. This man they accused her of working for just happened to show up the day after they helped her.
Lowering her head, she tried to avoid looking guilty for something she knew she didn’t do. Something she knew she had absolutely nothing to do with – but the grilling, unknowing gazes of the others did nothing for her anxiety, and it did nothing for her false sense of hope.

What did you say?”

“Dad… Carver… came to the cabin.”

Luke had to hold Nick tightly, curving his arm underneath the other man’s in order to keep him standing up when Sarah said these words. Nick’s reddened and watery eyes became as wide as Clementine recalled Rebecca’s had early – and Nick nearly fell from Luke’s grasp.

“I tried to get him to go!” Clementine suddenly found herself spitting out without eye contact or thinking the words through. “And I didn’t open the door, if you’re wondering.” She said this words with the type of annoyed discontent that she hadn’t used more than a few times with these people; her own frustration built up when she thought about how unfair it was that something like this had to happen the first time she tried to prove she was no threat.

“Then how the hell’d he get in?” asked Alvin, his voice rising in both volume and emotion. He looked from Clementine to Rebecca, and then back to Clementine.

“The lock’s broken, Alvin!” Rebecca suddenly shouted, narrowing her eyes. “I thought you all locked it, but the lock on the front door is fuckin’ busted!”

Every person in the kitchen seemed to spring into action from the moment Sarah’s words pierced their ears. Minus Nick and Luke, the words seemed to spring out in no time at all – each person throwing out ideas on what should be done next.
Clementine simply found herself against a wall, both literally and figuratively, as she forced her gaze upwards, unable to meet anyone’s eye. Her heart pounded. She remembered the words from the night before; how they didn’t trust her, how they thought she was working for him… Whoever Carver really was. But she knew that she had never seen the face of the man before, and there was something about that that was all the more frustrating.

“Did he see you?” asked Carlos, his gaze pointed to Rebecca. Clementine looked up, noting that with him facing away from Sarah, he looked no calmer than her. “Did he just show up or did you he see you?”

“He saw me.”

Clementine shocked herself with how quickly she spat out the words. She took a deep breath before speaking again, locking her hand onto her opposite wrist.

“That man – Carver – he…” Her voice faltered momentarily, as she tried her best to avoid stumbling over her words or incriminating herself into a situation she had nothing to do with. “We thought he was Luke. And then, when we went downstairs…”

Unlike Clementine, Sarah didn’t meet anyone’s eye. “It wasn’t Luke.” she cut in, crossing her arms. “It was him. He talked about you, dad.” She looked up at Carlos, and Clementine noted that neither of their words eased the group at all.

“What did he say, exactly?” Carlos spoke slowly, eyeing both of him in a way that made Clementine wonder if he was thinking about all the ways he could wound Carver without killing him outright.

“He saw your shirt. He started talking about how he knew a doctor.”

“He called you a… I don’t wanna say it.”

Rebecca suddenly shook her head and then growled, “It don’t matter. The big fuckin’ picture is that he either knew or he figured out that we’re here.”

Alvin closed his eyes, clenched his fist, and then suddenly stormed from the kitchen, slamming the door full force – or at least however one can slam a door with no stopper. It swung back and forth, squeaking. Nick, still slurring, let out a whine and tried to cover his ears with one hand and Luke’s shoulder.

“Alvin – wait!” Even the words from his wife couldn’t bring him back in.

Rebecca exited the kitchen quickly, leaving the rest of them to their own devices.

The silence between the remaining people hung heavy in the air. Clementine felt her heart racing from the moment Carver showed up, but now her heart rate was returning to that previous feeling.
Luke, still holding Nick, excused both of them quickly. Nick mumbled something as he stumbled, holding tight Luke’s shoulder, and they both left the kitchen.

The door continued to swing in and out of the kitchen, creaking loudly.

“Clementine,” Carlos spoke suddenly, making Clementine’s gaze snap to him from the door. “I don’t know what he told you – but William Carver is a dangerous man.” His eyes were wide already, but he seemed to become even more uncomfortable as his sentence continued. “He’s the leader of a camp around the Tennessee border.”

Geography wasn’t something that had been heavy on Clementine’s mind. She wasn’t illiterate, per say, but maps only made reading more difficult than it needed to be – and the last time she checked, they were in North Carolina. How far away was the Tennessee border, anyway?

“He’s smart.” Carlos continued, crossing his arms. He looked over to Sarah, then back at Clementine. With a deep sigh, he spoke, “We were… lucky to get out of his camp the first time.”

There was tension in the air. Clementine didn’t know where to look in order to avoid placing unnecessary guilt on herself. She couldn’t make herself look guilty for something she had no knowledge of – it just seemed awkward and wrong. But of course, when she looked up at Sarah, she was met with the widened, terrified eyes of someone not too much older than her; that only drove the guilt of Carver being able to even get into the cabin even deeper.

Carlos peeked out of the window, clutching a pistol tightly, before quickly saying, “Look – I’m sorry to involve you in this, but he’s seen you and if he figured out that we’re here… he’s figured out that you’re with us. You’ll be safer with us.”

“I can’t stay here.” The words were automatic. Clementine stared him right in the eyes when she said it, her only thoughts focused on Christa instead of policing her tone. She remembered the night before how Luke brought up her size versus the size of the walkers outside when she brought up looking for Christa. But if Luke hadn’t said anything… “I have to find my friend!”

Before Carlos could respond, the door swung open and Rebecca reappeared, a nasty expression on her face. “We need to go.” she exclaimed, worry and aggression both evident in her voice. “Luke and Nick are packin’ up – we can’t stay here!”

“I… I know. Sarah,” Sarah’s gaze shot up to meet Carlos’. “We have to go before Carver comes back with… more people. But it’s going to be fine. Go upstairs and starting packing your things up. I’ll be up there in a moment.”

Clementine knew for a fact that he was sending Sarah out of the kitchen because he didn’t want her to hear his next words. Without question, Sarah followed the instructions and slipped past Rebecca, whose gaze focused only on Clementine. Clementine didn’t meet the woman’s eyes, though part of her dreaded her next interaction with Rebecca.

When both of them had left the kitchen, Clementine turned back to Carlos and locked her grasp on her opposite wrist.
“I have to find my friend.” she repeated, clenching her jaw tightly. “She’s… pretty much all I have left.”

“Clementine, you can’t go out there by yourself.”

Part of her wanted to look Carlos straight in the eye and say, Watch me. But Clementine knew for a fact that that wasn’t something that she should say to anyone. The frustration in her chest had already begun to build back up, and this wasn’t helping at all.

“Look – I have to find Christa.” Clementine didn’t meet his eye, and now her worst thoughts about Christa buzzed through her heads. Where was she? Was she safe? Was she even still alive? The last thought made her want to shudder and cry at the same time. Christa had to still be alive. She was strong enough on her own.

Of course, there was the glaringly obvious game of blame that could easily be placed on Clementine if…

Don’t think about that. Don’t.

“It isn’t safe.” Carlos lowered his voice when he spoke, looking towards the door as if he were afraid of Sarah overhearing the conversation. “Carver’s seen you and if he thinks you know where we are – Clementine, he isn’t going to give you mercy.”

The sentence about Carver having mercy on her is what struck a chord in Clementine and made her stomach feel like an ice cube had just slipped into it. He gave her an idea of what kind of person he was just when he showed. She knew he wasn’t going to go easy on her simply because she was a child.

Clementine’s mind floated immediately back to those two years ago when her group was offered food and shelter by what they thought was a kind family on a dairy farm. They had been called the Saint… something’s, it was difficult to remember exactly. She’d managed to block out the memory of their faces and names by now – but the effect that the event changed her that day.
She remembered how one of the two men grabbed a clump of her then long, curly hair and held her hostage. How the other had knocked Lee out with a blow to the head.

And she remembered the bandit attacked, how she and the others were held at gun point by men and women that Clementine later realized where most likely rapists and cannibals.

Worst of all was him. The Stranger, as she had begun to call him in her head. He wasn’t just a father who wanted to help a little girl find her parents. He didn’t have mercy on her just because she was the little girl he wanted to replace his late daughter.

And the thoughts of what Carver and those scavengers could have done – or could do – were terrifying.

Chapter Text

Picking up and leaving wasn't anywhere near as easy as Clementine thought it would be. Maybe it was her lack of experience living in the cabin, or maybe she was still just in shock from her encounter with Carver, but everything felt as if it were going way too slow for comfort.

Granted, the last time she stayed anywhere long enough to get used to it, leaving hadn't been that simple either. It was more of a "run for your life into an RV while former Save-A-Lots employees shoot at you" kind of thing than anything. There simply hadn't been time to do anything. But Clementine knew this was different, because this group had time - albeit not a large amount - and they weren't keen on leaving.

Of course, Nick's drunken state only served to make things much more complicated, as it slowed not only him, but Luke as well.

"I don't wanna leave, Luke!" Nick growled, angry tears pouring down his olive face. From the couch, his fingers were curled around Luke's shirt, stretching it to the point that Clementine was surprised he hadn't ripped it. "Fuckin' - hic - Carver -"

Carefully, Luke managed to untangle Nick's fingers from his shirt and spoke quiet words that Clementine couldn't hear as she pulled her bag onto her shoulders.

Her chest tightened when she looked at Nick, because all she saw in him was Pete. They didn't look at all alike, and it wasn't like their eyes were even the same color either - but Clementine could only think of Pete when she spotted the lost expression that covered Nick's face.

I'm scared, Clementine. Pete had said, not meeting her eyes. Jesus, I'm scared.

And now, with Pete gone, it looked like Nick had inherited Pete's fears.

Clementine didn’t move from the sitting room as she watched Nick and Luke silently, listening for the telltale signs of the others being ready to move. She dug her nails into the fabric of the straps on her bag, staring down at the floor as her heart panged. They weren’t going to let her go when they left, she knew that. Luke had said it himself the night before – she wouldn’t have made it anyway.

And now even Carlos was saying it – she had been seen by Carver, and now she probably had a bounty on her head too. It was a sickening feeling that made Clementine’s stomach lurch; any feeling of being continuously stalked was cause for alarm in her mind.

Nick eventually laid back on the couch, completely letting go of Luke.

“I’m gonna go grab our stuff, Nick.” muttered Luke, patting Nick’s shoulder before he rushed off upstairs. Nick acknowledged neither Luke’s words nor his touch, and pulled his cap over his eyes instead.

Within the hour, they had left the house and rushed out into the fray, vulnerable to anything that they happened to get in the way of.


“Clementine?”

The voice belonged to Rebecca. Clementine’s gaze mostly focused on the ground, her heart racing at the sound of any extra noise that wasn’t from the group, and her fist clenched tightly around the right strap of her bag.
With these distractions, she hadn’t even realized that Rebecca had gotten close enough to sneak up on her.

Slowly, Clementine looked up, not making eye contact. Part of her wondered if Rebecca was about to jump down her throat – and Clementine probably wouldn’t have blamed her. With Pete’s death and Carver’s sudden appearance… well, Clementine wouldn’t have blamed Rebecca for being upset.

But instead, Rebecca seemed calm.

“Look,” said the woman slowly. “I’m sorry for givin’ you shit earlier. And yesterday.” Rebecca sighed, crossing her arms loosely.

“Don’t worry about it.” Clementine cut in quickly. She panned the area in front of her, making note of everyone around and behind her, including Rebecca.

But Rebecca, surprisingly, didn’t seem to let it go as quickly as Clementine would have preferred. Instead, she continued in a sheepish tone, “I’m sorry. I’m just…” She hesitated. “I’m really on edge. With Carver and…” She gestured to her pregnant stomach, and Clementine suddenly felt sick at the thought of being around another pregnant woman. “You know. If it ain’t Alvin I’m snappin’ at, it’s you. So I’m sorry. You really bailed my ass out back there.”

“Well, what else was I gonna do?” When Clementine asked this in a tone that sounded rather joking, part of her was serious. She wasn’t heartless. What else would she have done? “What, he finds you and Sarah… then I die, too?”

Rebecca raised an eyebrow. Clementine’s mouth went dry and she suddenly had a large urge to slam her head into a brick wall.

“I’m… kidding – really. Sorry. Bad joke.”

“I guess you ain’t wrong.”

A small amount of relief hit Clementine in the chest. Good. Rebecca’s body language and catching onto the “joke” seemed to mean she hadn’t taken it to heart.

Between all of the distractions around them, Clementine still had to time to spit out the one question that had bothered her for… quite a while. Well, since she met this group, at least –

“Why is he after you?”

Rebecca didn’t have a chance to answer the question before Luke’s voice hit all of their ears from the back.

“I figure we got about four or five days to reach the Appalachian.” he said in a voice that sounded forced. Clementine peered back at him and watched as he held onto Nick with one hand and pulled a pamphlet sized map from his back pocket. “If they’re trackin’ us, we should be able to lose ‘em there.”

Luke quickly handed off the map to Carlos, while Sarah peered at it curiously from the side. Clementine couldn’t see the entire map, but her prior knowledge told her they were in North Carolina. A first grade education, however, couldn’t tell her if that was anywhere near the Appalachian Mountains.

“We have to stay clear of cities,” said Carlos, showing the map, which held a picture of the state of Virginia. His gaze turned to Luke as well. “You know how urban Virginia is.”

“Yeah,” replied Luke, gazing to Nick. The other man didn’t seem to want anything to do with the conversation. “We’ll stay in the rural parts. Hell,” With his free hand, Luke pointed to a certain part on the far right of the map. “Pretty much anywhere but Richmond, Norfolk, or the Tidewater area are usually pretty sparse. In my experience, anyway.”

Clementine wanted to ask where Carver’s so-called camp actually was. She had assumed at first that it was somewhere much more south – like possibly even Georgia. Or South Carolina. But the fact that he had shown up so casually was… less than encouraging. For all she knew, Carver could be set up ten miles away. He could be on his way back right now –

“Where… is the camp?” The words stumbled from her mouth faster than Clementine could push them down. She seemed to be developing that habit rather quickly around these people.

Luke looked up, and suddenly everyone in the group, except the still oblivious Nick, looked rather uncomfortable.

“Too close.” Alvin suddenly growled, clenching his jaw. “Asshole’s got his camp on the Tennessee-North Carolina border.”

Clementine had never been to Tennessee, and now, she definitely didn’t want to. In fact, she would have rather just continued going north. Away from Tennessee – away from North Carolina and Virginia and this man, Carver. All that Christa wanted to do was find Wellington, the supposed safe haven for survivors – supposedly somewhere around Ohio or Michigan.

“We don’t gotta worry about that.” piped up Luke, in a tone that sounded as if he were trying to calm down everyone – himself included. “If they’re trackin’ us – we’ll lose ‘em, I promise. Carver’s guards ain’t used to the wilderness. Half of ‘em are from Tidewater anyway.”

Rebecca shook her head, taking hold of Alvin’s shoulder. Her eyes widened, eyebrows knitting together tightly. “Luke, five days, though?” Her gaze lowered to her stomach. Clementine could only imagine the pain Rebecca would be in after five days of walking in the mountains.

“It’s gonna be okay, Bec,” Alvin told her quietly. “We’re gonna get through it.”   

Clementine could only hope.


The sun set early – or at least, Clementine thought it was early. Nick had a watch in his hands, one that Luke said was Pete’s, but it didn’t work. The time was permanently stuck on nine o’clock even. Other than that, there were no watches and no way to know of the time.

The darkness around the trees seemed rather intimidating. For Clementine, her thoughts continuously darted back to that man; the scavenger who came after her and Christa. Her heart thumped as she scanned the trees. She clenched her fist tightly, trying to take a deep breath as she urged herself to think about anything else.

Clementine could already feel the droplets of water on her skin, and her knees and ribs ached with the memories. She wiped her hands on her pants several times, a feeling of uncleanliness coming to them with each attempt to rid herself of the imaginary dirt.

She had long since gotten used to being dirty, but this was a different kind. Despite being around an actual group of people, Clementine couldn’t shake the paranoia that someone was going to come after her.
Even walkers weren’t as big of an issue as humans, which was the sad thing that she had to admit to herself.

Of course, there were walkers. It was something that all of them had avoided touching; walkers were everywhere, but it was usually only one at a time that Luke or Alvin or Carlos could take down in a swift blow to the head. Of course they had guns – but even that one, stealthy blow to the head made noise. Using a gun in such close proximity to other walkers was suicide.

Even if they weren’t too big of a threat individually, they were a huge threat as a herd. No one, Clementine remembered, would want to think of the group that attacked her or that had nearly killed her, Nick, and Pete. And none of them would want to think of the one who actually had taken down Pete.

By the end of the day, Nick was sobered up enough to not stumble. He mumbled a quiet apology to Clementine about being drunk, mostly staying quiet and mostly sticking to Luke’s side. In his fist, he held the aforementioned watch, running his fingers over the side.

“What kinda soup do ya want, Nick?” asked Luke, holding out one of the bags that they had brought with them. He looked over to Clementine before shrugging. “We’re kinda limited. Sorry.”

The soup was cold, and so was Clementine when she finally got around to eating some kind of disgusting, possibly rancid beef stew. They all ate straight from the can, as no bowls had been brought – of course, Clementine knew that they didn’t want to waste space that could go to food or weapons loading dishes into their bags.

Clementine didn’t complain. She knew it was just the beginning.

Chapter Text

The next several days continued on similarly to the ones before. Slowly, they had made their way out of the mountainous North Carolina and into the mountainous areas of Virginia.

The air of Virginia was even colder. Clementine’s skin itched under her clothes from the thin, dry air that stung like a thousand pin-pricks with every little breeze. Her arm, on the other hand – well, arm – was surprisingly the only positive part.

The wound was healing well, Carlos said. Of course, Clementine’s skin itched and cracked in the frigid air – but that was something she was used to.

The group itself held together better than Clementine expected; Rebecca and Alvin’s arguing only went on briefly; Nick stuck by Luke’s side even more than he had before, and more than once, Clementine found the two asleep in a small dog pile; Sarah’s anxiety hardly reared its head in a way that was visible.

Clementine was surprised by the group’s ability to hold itself together. When she first woke up on the ground, underneath the conflicting gazes of several different people, the impression of their ability to “hold themselves together” was not strong.

But the biggest issues were food, water, and shelter.

Most of the food that was brought along was canned, and even with the amount that was there, it wasn’t enough. They needed to hunt.

It was the buck that came first. It was an eight-point buck with wide eyes and long, slender legs that delicately crunched the fallen leaves below it. His gaze was focused only on the ground, more inclined to sniff the leaves and look for grass than to pay attention to its surroundings.

“We need that.” Luke’s whisper came in an urgent tone. He turned to Nick, whose eyes appeared dull, while his attempt at hiding his dismayed face failed greatly. “Imagine how long we could feed ourselves with that thing, Nick!”

He continued his words, a small smile coming to his face as if it were about the best thing since sliced bread.

Nick’s shoulders clenched together as he stared ahead, like a shell-shocked veteran. He shook his head slowly.

Luke.”

The grip on his rifle loosened, something Clementine noticed immediately, her own gaze focusing on how he held the gun.
Of course, she remembered how he had almost shot her with that thing – and how he had used it as a baseball bat against the walkers down at the stream.

“Look, I know… But think about it.”

After several seconds, Nick raised up his gun. Clementine had never had deer, but she wondered if this one would feed them – maybe it would keep everyone in the group fed for a day or two, or if it would last even longer. She didn’t care; her stomach growled intently.

She gazed up at Nick, whose eyes squinted as he aimed the gun. His grip tightened and his knuckles suddenly appeared white – Clementine held her breath, preparing for the gunshot and the thump of the body of the buck as it fell to the ground.

It never came.

Nick lowered the gun. “I can’t do this.” His words came out in a growl; he looked to the ground, then at the buck, and then to Luke. “Please don’t make do this.”

Clementine froze in place as she watched the buck’s gaze snap up. He met their gazes for only a moment before quickly scampering off, back into the trees that it had come from. Clementine lowered her own gaze, listening to Nick’s words.

Dammit!” muttered Luke, placing his hands on his fringe and temples. He glanced over at Nick and suddenly said, “Look, I know you don’t like it -”

Nick cut him off, an irritable edge coming to his tone, as he cried, “I ain’t gonna kill any more than I’ve gotta!”

He threw his gun to the ground and stormed away, leaving Clementine and Luke to each other.

Several seconds passed as Luke and Clementine met each other’s gazes. Luke sighed, crossing his arms, eying Nick as the other man stalked back to the rest of the group.

“I shouldn’t’ve made him do that,” grumbled Luke, as if he were speaking to himself. He looked down to Clementine and continued, “I’m sorry. He’s on edge. He’s…”

Neither of them felt that there was a reason for Luke to continue on.


“Nick?”

He was off to the side of the small, makeshift camp that they had set earlier that evening. His head was bowed, his hands holding his head in a way that reminded Clementine of Luke’s own nervous tick. Briefly, she wondered if had picked it up from him.  

Nick didn’t answer, and there was no indication that he had even heard her.

She called out again, this time slightly louder. “Nick.”

Slowly, Nick’s head came up. He turned to Clementine so slightly that the only thing that changed was that she could see a part of his temple, and a part of his mouth and eye.

Her heart hammered against her chest, her palms sweating the same way they did the first time she saw Nick with the rest of the group. Slowly, Clementine took a shaking step towards him, noting with great appreciation that the gun wasn’t there. Since Nick had thrown it down, it was in Luke’s possession. Clementine didn’t want to think about how Nick had panicked and almost shot her anyway.

“Are you okay?”

Part of Clementine’s thoughts shouted, Are you an idiot? Of course he’s not! but she knew the question was all in kindness. The more she thought about the deer, the more she remembered the things Pete said about Nick, and the more questions Clementine had.

“Luke always used to push me.”

Nick’s voice was slurred. Clementine could easily make out his words, even then, but her thoughts still turned back to when Luke dragged him back to the cabin drunk… but he couldn’t be drunk. He had to just be mumbling or something in the same, typical Nick-fashion that she had observed over the last few days.

“He don’t do it too much now, but…”

“You didn’t like it.”

Pausing, Clementine latched her hand around her opposite wrist, digging her nails into her skin in anticipation for Nick’s response.
Slowly, the man turned around on the log, sighing with a shake of his head. His face wasn’t visible below the brim of his cap, but Clementine knew immediately what the answer was.

“He was a pushy kid. Not as much now, but...” Nick clenched his fist. “You know – I never wanted to go into business with him.”

Clementine stayed silent, biting the inside of her mouth, unable to even begin to draft a response to such a seemingly off topic remark. Nevertheless, she listened.

“I remember when he sold me on it – this big, ol’ fuckin’ plan.” He threw out his hands dramatically, as if for emphasis, and continued with, “A case o’ beer in an’ all I heard was, ‘come on Nick, we’re burnin’ daylight!’ and that was that.”

“What… what happened then?”

“After six months… we were broke. Didn’t care. We were havin’ fun. All ‘cause he pushed me into it. Just like he always used to.”

Clementine stayed silent again, silently praying for an excuse to get out of the conversation that she had absolutely no idea how to finish, or how to continue. She tried to look sympathetic, her gaze going from the ground back to Nick; his own expression didn’t seem to change.

“I wish I was like him.” sighed Nick, finally looking Clementine in the face. “I wish I could just keep movin’ all the time. Hell, even you seem to be able to do it.”

Her stomach dropped. Clementine felt her heart clench as she thought of exactly what Nick meant – that she could just keep going and going and recover from every little thing that had ever happened to her.

That couldn’t be true… she remembered every little horrible thing that had happened. Depression and trauma were the new normal now, after all. It wasn’t as if she were some kind of trauma ninja – she couldn’t just, what? Dodge trauma as it came at her?

Was that what Nick was implying?

“I’m not like that…” Clementine spoke quieter than she meant to, but it still seemed to hit Nick’s ears. “I just look like it.”

Nick stayed silent for several seconds before he looked up to her eyes. “I’m just not… built like that. I guess neither of us are.”

There was a pause between them in which Nick placed his head in his hands and wiped away what seemed to be sweat, while Clementine began to scan their surroundings. Slowly, she found the words that she had originally come here for, and one of the biggest questions she had.

“Nick, why… why didn’t you want to shoot the deer?”

Nick turned her head slightly, rubbing the back of his neck. “Pete told you the story about the buck, Clem.” were his only words.

Clementine nodded, a lump in her throat as Pete’s words came back. “Yes,” she uttered slowly. “But… you were a kid. It’s not stupid or anything – I wouldn’t want to kill a deer… unless it was for food.”

“Pete saw it the way you do.” The words seemed to cause pain in Nick as he said them. The sheer look in his eye as he gazed up at Clementine was one that she was all too familiar with, and the mention of Pete only seemed to add to it. “He looked into that buck’s eye and he saw food. I looked into that buck’s eye and I saw a life I didn’t wanna take. I couldn’t do it. I was…”

There was another moment of silence between them, as Nick placed his forehead in his hands again.

“I had to kill my mom, you know.” He looked back up to meet Clementine, who had been taken aback by that statement. “It… it sounds crazy when I say it out loud, huh? Yeah.” With a swallow, Nick suddenly blurted out, “I can’t take killin’ anymore, Clem. I don’t care if it’s a fuckin’ buck or if it’s a person. I’m so… fuck. I’m fuckin’ sick of death. It’s all we even see anymore. We’ll just march to a new place and someone else will die.”


The trees covered any light that might have shone on the camp, leaving the sounds of animals and anything else completely unknown in complete and total darkness. The lack of moonlight served well for camouflage, even if it wasn’t practical.
Clementine remembered Pete’s words from the night she first stayed at the cabin – about how the candles and every little bit of light illuminating the house, and how it made them look just like a beacon for any and every enemy to find.

That was the thing about darkness. It could disguise people well, whether for better or for worse. On the other note, the darkness disguised to mere presence of enemies – and walkers.

And so dinner was spent speaking in quiet voices in almost pitch black, every single member of the group scanning every visible inch of the tree line for movement.

Afterwards, Clementine couldn’t sleep. Her heart raced, while she sat up and felt herself flinching at every little noise that met her ears. The dirt was damp and reeked of rotten flesh and other body fluids. Normally, when she slept, Clementine would bypass these restrictions and sleep, albeit uneasily; that’s how she was with Christa, after all. It was the kind of sleep where she tossed and turned until the slightest noise was made.

It was the kind where she tumbled violently from her slumber with a racing heart and a hand grasping for any weapon she would have kept next to her. Tonight, Clementine clutched a hammer to her thumping chest.

But even then, the sleep was sleep, and Clementine chased it like a starving fox chaises a rabbit. Everyone did. After all, sleeping with one eye open in a post-apocalyptic world was no easier than it was in the world before.

When Clementine sat up and Luke crossed her vision, the first words out of her mouth were, “I can help, Luke.”

Luke flinched, but Clementine had difficulty making out his facial expression through the dense darkness; he probably hadn’t even realized she was awake before this.
Internally, she hoped he would say that he didn’t need help. She was exhausted, both physically and mentally. Maybe it was from Carver showing up and the brief scare that seemed to drag on and on. Maybe it was from the dog bite and Sam and all of the fear and the duress from that. Maybe even from Christa and those scavengers; the thought of them made Clementine’s stomach turn.

She constantly thought of Nick, who had begged Luke to abstain from watch. She assumed that it could only be for one reason – so he could feel like he had something left that wasn’t dead. Clementine was neither naïve nor blind; she could see how Nick and Luke seemed to think of each other, despite the arguing.

‘I’m fuckin’ sick of death. It’s all we even see anymore. We’ll just march to a new place and someone else will die.

The most awkward thoughts filled her mind when she heard these words, as if she had no idea whether she was about to start laughing nervously, back away, or start crying at the thought of just how true that seemed to be.

Her thoughts trailed back to the words of the rest of the group, about how absolutely no one wanted to sit up and strain their eyes for five hours straight while everyone else slept.

“Nah.” answered Luke, as if he were trying to sound uncaring. He turned from Clementine, allowing her to release a small sigh that she had not previously realized she was holding. “Go back to sleep, Clem.”

Clementine lowered her gaze. Part of her wanted to retort that she hadn’t been asleep anyway, but she stayed quiet instead.

Through the sounds of Luke’s shoes crunching the leaves, Clementine hardly slept for the rest of the night.   

Chapter Text

Aches and pains long permeated every single person by the time they reached the rocky, uneven clearing that overlooked part of a river. A red, rusting bridge passed over the river in the distance; the closer they came to it, the more unstable it looked.

Walkers seemed to have been everywhere, and by now it was becoming tiresome in Clementine’s opinion. She was long used to them, of course – that was simply the consequence of growing up in a world like this – but the five days spent with a group of people she didn’t know very well, and their experiences with the walkers, was becoming more overwhelming than she had previously hoped.

Of course, she knew there would be challenges. But Clementine’s own paranoia kept her from even feeling the slightest ease. She had to face it: it wasn’t only this group that was exhausted; she was too.

The boulders overlooking the river were dulled, but high enough to protect Clementine from falling when she wiggled her way onto the edge of it, holding Luke’s binoculars tightly in her fist.

While Luke and Carlos looked through the map of Virginia, Rebecca sat down on another large rock, several feet away from Clementine’s own large boulder. Alvin, Nick, and Sarah also lingered in the same general area, each of them looking just as tired as the rest. Nick’s shoulders sagged, Sarah crossed her arms and looked half-asleep on her feet, and Alvin almost appeared to be, in Clementine’s opinion, contemplating whether to sit with Rebecca or try and look somewhat productive.

When Clementine pressed the binoculars to her eyes, the first thing she immediately surveyed was the bridge. A feminine appearing walker sat motionless against a steel beam, while another limped around towards the right entrance to the bridge.
Her heart sank as she examined the wood through the binoculars. It appeared rickety, so Clementine hastily began to look for any other way that they could get across the river.

“See anything?”

“She’d be better see somethin’. We’ve been walkin’ for a damn week.”

Slowly, Clementine opened her mouth to speak. Quietly, she said, “There’s the bridge. It looks… passable.” She turned to see Luke pull a face that made her feel uneasy. It was difficult to tell if he was disappointed, or if he was in deep thought. She repeated again, “It’s – passable.”

Luke nodded, dipped his gaze slightly, and held up his hand. “Yeah, no –” He sighed almost inaudibly. “It’s fine, Clem. We can check it out. What else?”

“Uh…” Clementine focused on the small building next to the bridge. “There’s a little… house, I think? It’s near the bridge.”

It was hidden quite a lot by the trees, but what she was able to see looked like something residential, which wasn’t something that Clementine could imagine seeing out in the middle of an area like this. Sure, there was the cabin before, but that had obviously been near other cabins in the distance. It wasn’t alone. Maybe it was just her experience with growing up in the suburbs, but Clementine couldn’t shake the sudden feeling of unease that gripped her the same way a walker would. It seemed almost… creepy… to see a house like that in the middle of nowhere.

“How small?” asked Carlos from his place next to Luke.

“Yeah, is it like some kinda shack?” pondered Luke, closing the map. “Could be somethin’ related to that ol’ ski lodge.

Slowly, Clementine panned her gaze through the binoculars a few inches. A lift of some kind appeared in her field of vision, confirming Luke’s previous remark about the ski lodge.

“I’ve never been skiing.” muttered Clementine offhandedly as she slid off of the rock.

Rebecca smirked suddenly, peering to Alvin.

“Bec and I went skiing once.” Alvin looked down towards the ground with as small smile, as if he were embarrassed of some memory related to it.

“It wasn’t pretty.”

A small smile came to Clementine as well; the mental image of Alvin attempting to ski – something she knew would have to take a large amount of skill, or something like that – was a rather funny sight.

“That buildin’ on the mountain,” Luke’s voice suddenly cut in, “sounds like a good place to spend the night.” He spoke quietly, almost to himself and Nick, who lingered closely behind him.

Carlos crossed his arms, sighing. “Then we have to cross that bridge. Let’s go.”

Luke flung out his hands, then quickly peered over his shoulder at the closest end of the bridge near the path ahead.
“Hold on a second!” he began, his eyes widening. “Look, if we all go sprintin’ out there like a bunch of maniacs…” Luke trailed off for a moment, his hands gesturing. “If we get spotted out there, we’re gon’ be trapped.”

Clementine turned back to Luke and his group, her fist clenching around the small, metal and wooden hammer in her pocket. The thought of what or who could lay out there unseen was a nice way of getting her to slow down and actually think about what they were doing. Even then, though, all she wanted to do was get across the bridge and have a chance at a restful night of sleep where she wasn’t sleeping with one eye open.

Pure adrenaline was the only thing keeping them going. Or, as Carlos had put that morning, it was pure spite and an unhealthy amount of caffeine. But either way, they could only keep going for so long. All Clementine knew was that they had to find a way to get across the bridge and up the rest of that mountain without being seen or killed or –

She took a deep breath, again clenching her fist around the hammer. They were going to be fine. They had to be.

“… Okay? Look, I’m gonna sneak across and make sure it’s clear before we bring the whole group over.”

“You think splitting the group up is a good idea?” Carlos lifted an eyebrow, Sarah listening intently behind him.

Luke simply shrugged in response. “I never said it was a good idea. But it’s better than risking everyone at once.” There was a slight pause in the conversation before Luke’s gaze switched from Carlos to Nick. “I was thinkin’ me and Nick could scoot across low and slow and make sure no one’s waitin’ for us on the other side. You up for it, Nick?”

Nick looked up from his rifle, then clenched his teeth. With a small sniff, he nodded. “Yeah, I’ll cover you.”

We’ll have a tough time coverin’ you from back here.” Alvin pointed out, cocking his head slightly.

Luke knitted his eyebrows, his hand going for his machete. “Well, we’ll just turn back if it gets hairy.”

Within the minute, Nick and Luke prepared to set off. Clementine felt a tug inside of her, urging herself to speak; urging herself to do something to help. “Wait!”

Every set of eyes faced her, specifically Luke and Nick. They appeared almost worried. Clementine felt heat rush to her cheeks in embarrassment of how sudden she had sounded, and how urgent one word could sound to everyone else.

“I can help you.”

“Sure.”

Clementine flinched at the sheer suddenness that Luke had spoken, offering no question whatsoever on whether or not it was a good idea to allow a petite, eleven year old girl on what was previously posed as some sort of stealth plus strength mission to secure such a spot.

“I think she should stay here.” Carlos began, eyeing Luke and Nick. “She’s…” He looked over to Clementine, who found herself unintentionally glaring in a bout of frustration. She was supposed to be helping! She was supposed to be pulling her weight in this group! Not staying with the others while Luke and Nick stuck their necks out.

“She’s what?” grunted Luke, crossing his arms. Clementine knew for a fact that he wanted her along, but even with her need to help Nick and Luke secure the bridge, she suddenly wondered just how dangerous the others thought it to be.

“She’s just a little girl, Luke.” Carlos’ response came through clenched teeth, as if he were trying to avoid Clementine hearing it. Even then, she got the message loud and clear: he didn’t think she could do it.

Sure, she was probably less than seventy pounds, and yes, she was maybe four-foot, nine inches tall at the most – but… that couldn’t hold her back. After all, there was that scavenger… Clementine tried to stop herself, once again, from thinking about it. She was small, and yes – very young, but she knew for a fact that, in order for her to be alive, she had to have been able to take care of herself.

Of course she was a little girl, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t help secure the bridge. That didn’t mean she couldn’t take down walkers or pull her weight.

“She’s a valuable little girl.” muttered Nick to Luke, nodding along.

“I can do it.” cut in Clementine, giving every other adult in the group a look that she could only mentally describe as one of confidence mixed with one that begged for them to allow her to help.

“See?” Luke smirked, nodding to Clementine. “No problem.”


 The walker stood directly in their path. Back faced to them, it possessed gray, decaying skin and what looked to be some kind of limp. A few feet away, another hairless, gray-skinned walker slumped against a rock.

Luke sighed, then whispered, “Can’t shoot ‘em, Nick. Too much noise.”

Nick lowered the barrel of his rifle, though his grip tightened on the stock. Clementine, on the other hand, tightened her grasp on the hammer that stuck out of her pocket. She knew it would come in handy sometime, from the moment she saw it lying on the floor of the shed that Luke and the others had gone through before leaving the cabin.

She pulled it out, then showed it to Luke. “I’ll get the one by the rock.”

Exchanging looks with Nick, Luke replied with a slight raise of his eyebrow, “You sure ‘bout that?”

“Yeah,” Nick chimed in as he looked through the scope of his rifle, “Can you even take that thing down by yourself?”

The walker wasn’t exactly big, something that Clementine had an urge to remind them of. But instead, she simply found herself retorting, “I could just get the big one, then.” with a small smirk cropping up.

Of course, then the memories of her struggling under Pete and also under the walkers that Luke and Pete saved her from resurfaced. The smirk quickly dropped, and heat rushed to her cheeks.

“Look, Clem,” Luke began, him and Nick both staring at Clementine as if she had suddenly grown a second head. “I know you got guts, but are you crazy?”

Clementine simply shrugged, avoiding their eye contact. “Maybe I am.” After a few moments of silence, she spoke again, “I can get one of them. You don’t know what I can do.”

“Uh huh.” Luke nodded, whispering quietly as he eyed her. “Okay.”   

Just by his tone, it was obvious he didn’t believe her. Clementine narrowed her eyes at him, then focused her gaze on the smaller walker.

“I can do it.” she muttered, “It’ll be fine.”

Luke pulled his machete from its holster on his back, eyeing the taller walker. “All right. You get shorty, I’ll get that one.”

Nick raised an eyebrow at Luke, his face changing to an expression that quite clearly seemed to read, what about me?

“Cover us, Nick.” Nick grimaced. “Just… come on,” Luke smirked and nodded to Clementine. “I kinda wanna see if she can take that thing on her own.”

Clementine crossed her arms when his words hit her ears. Surely Luke would have had to have figured out that she knew how to protect herself against some things. Granted, she hadn’t had the misfortune of having to kill a walker in five days – but she had survived this long after all.

Nick nodded, sighing. His shoulders sagged and the rifle dropped down to his side. “Fine. I’ll wait right here, then.” The annoyance in his tone was obvious.

Slowly, Clementine and Luke diverged. Luke, machete raised, watched Clementine out of the corner of his eyes as she inched her way towards the rock several feet away. Her grip on the hammer secure, Clementine watched the ground for any signs of rocks or sticks that would make sounds that would give her away.

She reached the walker’s head and the back of the rock almost silently, while Luke inched towards the standing walker.

When she only inches away, Clementine raised the hammer above her head, the claw facing forward, and smashed it down as hard as she could. The one blow of the claw rendered the walker completely motionless in its spot. It hadn’t even had time to react.

There was a sickening crack as the walker’s skull split. Brownish blood streamed from the wound, trailing down the side of the walker’s rotted, gray face and matted hair.

Before Clementine could even pull the hammer out, the sound of metal hitting something hard hit the air like a whip. She peered over her shoulder, watching as Luke withdrew the machete from the walker’s skull. The walker crumbled to the ground, now completely dead.

She turned back to the hammer, the sight of the wound being almost unbearable to look at. Clementine’s head began to emit sympathy pains that she quickly attempted to force away; she wasn’t about let Luke and Nick prove themselves right.

The hammer wiggled, though the claw seemed to be curled around the inside of the skull. There was too much bone and brain matter in the way for it clearly come out the way it had gone.

Clementine began to tug on it with bone hands when she heard Luke’s voice.

“Give it a good pull.” he said from behind her. “It should come free.”

“I know.” grumbled Clementine, gripping the handle with both hands. “I’ve used a hammer before, Luke.”

The hammer came free within a few seconds. Wordlessly, Clementine turned, holding it with both hands. She flashed Luke a small smile, imitating the same head tilt that he had given her earlier.

“Nice work, kid.”

Nick met them just a few seconds later.

“You’re all right?” he asked, his tired eyes flashing to the two fallen walkers.

Both Clementine and Luke nodded. Nick’s face flooded with a sense of relief.

The bridge ahead looked almost like some sort of a wooden train track. It coursed through the middle, leaving two opposite sides of solid metal.
Clementine squinted, peering ahead as best she could. There were a few stragglers left, several hundred feet ahead; the walkers appeared worn down and weakened, but she knew deep inside that she could never be sure.

Slowly, the three of them progressed onto the bridge. Luke shooed Clementine and Nick onto the left of the bridge, off of the wood, and held his hand out as a caution signal as they inched, painstakingly, ahead.

Clementine’s grip on the hammer tightened as she peered over the barrier right next to her. It was only about a foot and a half tall… and then after that, it was just a free fall, thousands of feet into the unforgiving waters below. She clenched her teeth and exchanges a look with Nick, whose eyes widened more the longer he looked.

“Try to avoid usin’ the gun, Nick.” whispered Luke, stopping in his tracks. He stared ahead at the walkers that seemed to rest further down the track. “Only in case of an emergency. We can’t risk –”

“I got it, Luke.” snapped Nick with a roll of his eyes.

Luke sighed, and Clementine watched as the two exchanged expressions that she couldn’t make out. They both seemed annoyed, but she knew that there was no telling for sure with the two of them.

One of the walkers ahead began to growl, as if it had suddenly noticed the three of them. Its body from the waist down was severed, leaving its skeletal body to drag itself by the arms. A feminine looking walker sitting just a few feet away began to pan its train wreck of a face towards them as well. It began follow in suit of the other.

“Luke -” Nick began to smack Luke’s shoulder, his eyes widening to the size of dinner plates as he stared the opposite way.
Clementine turned her head, her heart jumping with a sudden dread. A lone walker was making its way down the side of the bridge they had just come from. Even though it appeared to be alone, she had a nasty feeling that several more were going to follow.

Chapter Text

Shit.” muttered Luke, pulling Clementine back by her shoulder. He pulled the machete from its place in the carrier and brandished it in the direction of the incoming walkers.

“The hell do you want me to do?” cried Nick, swinging his rifle. He raised both eyebrows, his eyes still wide, as he switched between staring intently at the walkers from both sides of the bridge. “I don’t have anything but my rifle!”

No answer came from Luke. Instead, as if he hadn’t heard a word Nick had just shouted, he began towards the approaching, lone walker from the left, crossing onto the wooden tracks.

Clementine knew exactly what would happen just before it did. Her heart jumped to her stomach the second she heard it –

The wooden tracks below Luke shattered, and a shriek like she had never heard from him came out.

“LUKE!” Clementine found herself screaming, along with Nick. He ran across the metal, careful not to run into Clementine – at the risk of both of them losing their footing and tumbling over the bridge.

Luke held on with both of his arms curled around the wooden tracks, his legs flailing freely over the foundation and lake below.

The wooden tracks holding both him and the walker shattered as well.

“Nick! Clem!”

Clementine leaned over the shattered wood. Luke was currently holding himself up by balancing on two separate pieces of foundation. The walker was only inches away from Luke’s feet, seemingly impaled on another piece of the foundation, but it was quickly attempting to jump on its assumed prey.

“I’m okay!” cried Luke, placing himself in a painful looking pose that arched his back. He clenched his teeth, closing his eyes tightly with a hiss of pain. “I’m fine – I’m just stuck.”

“Move!” Nick pushed his rifle behind him and took a position next to Clementine. To Luke, he shouted, “I don’t think I can reach you!”

Luke stared up at Nick, and then at the tracks behind them. “Don’t worry about me – look behind you!”

Even more walkers had joined the two skeletal ones from the right.

Nick was quick to stand, grasping around for his rifle, while Clementine raised her hammer in preparation for a blow that she wasn’t even sure she could make. Suddenly, her mind immediately found itself remembering the semi-circle of walkers that trapped her between a rock and cliff cut through with water. This was exactly the same thing… except now, there was a gun.

“Nick!” she shouted, hoping to get through the obvious panic that set in the man. “Shoot them!”

He shook his head, drawing up Luke’s machete that previously landed on the metal. “I can’t! It’ll just draw more!”

Clementine clenched her fist, watching as a bowlegged walker hobbled its way to only a few feet from her. Suddenly, her gaze connected with its knee – which, not coincidentally, is where her hammer connected with next.

The walker tumbled, landing on its hands and knees, leaving its head exposed. Clementine smashed the claw of the hammer into its skull as hard and as fast as she could. But it kept going. And suddenly, as she tried to yank the hammer out, Clementine realized that she hadn’t hit the skull at all.

She had hit the side of the jaw.

The walker snarled, continuing to try to pull itself closer and closer to Clementine – and her motions afterwards wouldn’t help. She needed that hammer – she needed that weapon! Pulling as hard as she could, Clementine found herself backing away from the wood. There was only so much metal for her to back into, however, which she realized the moment she managed to yank the hammer from the jaw of the walker. Movement didn’t cease when she tumbled backwards, face-first into a piece of the broken barrier.

Suddenly, she found herself dangling feet first over the lake. The hammer fell from her grasp, splashing into the water just a few seconds later.

Her nails gripped the rusted metal, arm curled around the metal that was quickly slipping from her grasp. The walker snarled, bashing itself as close to Clementine as it possibly could get. She kicked against the air – it was a free fall of over hundreds of feet from here and into the harsh waters below; of course she couldn’t let go and take her chances there

“NICK!”

Nick heard her – he had to have. But she could see, even now, that Nick was a bit preoccupied with Luke and the five walkers surrounding him as well. He had pulled out the rifle, but his aim was so sloppy that blood only exploded from the neck of the first walker he had tried to shoot. But he continued on, trying to keep his balance on the bridge.

Clementine didn’t think. Instinct took over and she tried her absolute best to move at all, but it didn’t help. It was like being stuck hanging from a single part of monkey bars because of a lack of strength that it would take to move. The muscles in her arms hurt even more than her pounding chest from the worst panic she had felt since Pete’s reanimation.

She closed her eyes. She knew it was about the last thing she was going to do, because she could practically feel the walker on top of her and her arms slipping.

Neither of them came. Instead, what came was a deafening gunshot that sparked even more panic and caused Clementine to cry out as she felt hands on her. The next thing she was aware of was the feeling of hands around her arms that weren’t digging into her skin or rotting.

Suddenly, she found herself pulled right back onto the metal walkway.

A man’s voice. Not Luke or Nick.

A cry of surprise. Definitely Luke.

A violent splash of water underneath the bridge – the same amount of force that Clementine imagined would come from a body.

Luke –”

“Holy shit!” came the voice from the other man as Clementine’s panicked eyes finally met his. “Hey – hey, are you okay?” It was unclear to her on whether or not he was talking to her or to Luke, but at this point, she didn’t care. This wasn’t Luke. It wasn’t Nick, either, or anyone she did recognize.

Only pure terror raced through her veins and mind, combined with horrific pain from the right side of her face.

“I’m okay!” Luke suddenly screamed, though he was out of Clementine’s view. Even this couldn’t calm her down. Instead, she cried out, feeling more and more pressure building up as she managed to feel and see her surroundings.

Clementine was alive. She was alive and still breathing and feeling everything from the pain in her ribs to the pain in her face and arms.

The sounds of Luke’s voice again followed, joined by Nick’s shouting, but she barely made them out. Her name was something Clementine could make out among the shouting, but just barely. The other man froze in his spot, his head turned so that Clementine couldn’t see all of his face, even when she did look up from the deck of the bridge.

“I think she’s hurt!” shouted the man, placing down some sort of rifle at his side. He sat up on his knees from the place next to Clementine, bordering the splintered wood. “Who the hell are you?”

There was no malice in his voice, but rather concern that Clementine seldom heard in anyone that wasn’t Pete or Luke.

As the man kneeled down, Clementine stared up into his face with wide eyes, suddenly becoming aware that his hands were still wrapped tightly around her upper arms.
He appeared to be some kind of Asian, with dark hair and dark beard that looked like little more than a dark scruff. To his side was some sort of brown rifle

“Thank you.” was the first thing out of Clementine’s mouth.

The man’s brown eyes widened. He slowly let go of Clementine’s arms and asked, “Holy shit… are you okay?”

A gun cocked. Clementine’s and the man’s gazes snapped up immediately. Nick aimed the rifle towards the man’s chest, while Luke held his machete tightly in his hands.

The man threw his hands up, slowly scooting himself away from Clementine. “I think she’s hurt!” he cried, his eyes staying as wide as before. “Who the hell are you?”

Luke bent down, taking a hold of Clementine’s arm. His eyes stayed on the Asian man. Slowly, Luke said, “We’re just survivors, like you.” He took a deep breath, then continued. “All the lurkers came and -”

“I saw that!” the unnamed man cut in, nodding. He gestured to his rifle. “That’s why I came out here. We get people through here all the time. At least one group a day. There’s always walkers out here.”

Clementine listened intently, noting his use of the word walkers as opposed to Luke’s use of lurkers.

“You don’t look like assholes, though.” said the man, flashing a small smile. “Are you assholes?”

“I’m… I’m not an asshole.” Clementine managed to say, her voice faint. She stared out into the water, and then back to the man, silently thanking him over and over. Her heart rate still had not gone down.

Luke seemed to force a chuckle, and Nick asked quietly, “Are you callin’ us assholes, Clem?” in an obviously joking tone.

Clementine forced herself to give him a small smile. “Just you, not Luke.”

Nick rolled his eyes in response.

“… Who the hell are you guys?” asked the man. He nodded to Luke and Nick, then stood.

Luke placed his hands on his hips. “Name’s Luke, this Nick and Clementine.”

“I’m Matthew.” said the man, picking up his rifle from the next to the broken barrier. “You folks headed north like everyone else?”

Luke cocked his head, exchanging looks with Nick. “Everyone else?” he asked. “Depends on how north we’re talkin’.”

Matthew shrugged. “Like I was saying a minute ago, I see about a group a day move through. You know, you all look the same. It’s like the big migration of the dazed and confused.”

“Do you know a man named Carver?” asked Clementine, shakily taking a hold of Luke’s arm to stand.

Matthew didn’t speak for a moment, clenching his teeth as his eyes moved away. He seemed to be in deep thought. Then, with a slight hesitation, he asked, “You mean… like, George Washington Carver? The… the peanut guy?”

A small snicker came from Nick, and he shook his head. “No,” he began. “This guy’s worse.”

“… Oh.” Matthew nodded, averting eye contact. He sounded almost embarrassed to have thought of George Washington Carver instead of William Carver. “Well, now I want peanut butter.”

Clementine placed her hand next to the pained area on her upper cheek. Slowly, she lightly raked a finger over the area, and immediately felt blood. She turned to Luke, who eyed it warily.

“Well, shit.” he grumbled. “How the hell did that happen?”

Clementine shrugged. She assumed that she simply raked her skin up against the broken barrier, and simply forgot about it in the struggle to avoid falling to her death. But Luke hadn’t seen any of this, and she didn’t feel like reliving it through talking about it.

“I gotta say, you guys like look like shit.” Matthew nodded to the shack on the top of a small hill. “If you guys need medical supplies for her, or food, I’ve got stuff in that shack up there.”

Luke smiled in response. “Thanks… Might have to take you up on the food. But we have a small group back there, and one of ‘em’s a doctor, so he can take a look at her.”

Matthew stared behind them, as if trying to gauge where Luke was referring to. He smiled as well, and said, “Really? Damn, I wish my group had a doctor. All we have is a fisherman.”

Clementine froze at Matthew’s choice of words. All we have is a fisherman. He referred to a fisherman… and he referred to the walkers the same way she did. In all of her mindset of looking for Christa, she suddenly remembered the one person who could have been described the same way.

Kenny.

Kenny, the borderline alcoholic, former family man with such a brutal temper that he was known to go off on just about anyone. Clementine remembered his pipe dream about finding a boat in the middle of Savannah and sailing off into the sunset, one that he had become so obsessed about after the death of his wife and son.

It was all she could think about. Maybe because of her separation from Christa or maybe just because she could only think obsessively about this group and her former.

“What’s his name?” she blurted out, her eyes wide as dinner plates.

Matthew froze, suddenly taken aback by such a sudden, oddly specific request. He eyed Clementine closely, then replied, “Uh… Kenny. His name’s Kenny.”

“I… I think I know him.”

The words spilled out of Clementine faster than she could think them through. She knew it. It had to be her Kenny – it had to be. Now, her head began to pound as the cogs in her mind began to spin.

Christa and Omid said he was dead. They said that they were at least ninety-percent sure that Kenny died in an alleyway, trying to put Ben out of his misery… And for all this time, Clementine carried that guilt. But now...

It couldn’t be. Right? It was such a narrow chance that it could actually be her Kenny. It had to be a coincidence.

“Clem, are you sure?” came Luke’s voice from behind her.

Clementine’s mouth felt dry and her face felt hot and her head hurt as she tried to reason through it. Eagerly, she peered up at Matthew and quickly asked, “Wh-what does he look like?”

Matthew crossed his arms, looking away. “He’s white.” he began, biting his lip. “He’s got gray hair and a trucker cap.”

The last she had seen Kenny, he had dark hair and a trucker cap. But he was beginning to gray in some areas… he wasn’t young, after all.

“Does he…?” Clementine gulped, taking in a deep breath. “Does he have a mustache?”

“He used to. He grew his beard out. It’s all bushy now. Does that sound like your guy?”

Yes,” Clementine gasped, perking up. “That sounds just like him!”

Matthew nodded along, then directed his gaze back to Luke and Nick. “Okay then,” he sighed. “Like I said before, I’ve got supplies in the station up the hill… And if you want, you three and your group can come up to the ski lodge and -”

Nick suddenly cut in, holding up a hand. “Woah – the ski lodge?”

Clementine stopped as well, then kicked herself for being so stupid. A group, no matter what size, couldn’t live in that small station, right? There had to be another shelter nearby. It made more sense now. Her heart thumped against her chest. She looked up to Luke and Nick, silently pleading for them to accept Matthew’s offer.

“Yeah, my group lives in the ski lodge. The station is sort of a… hotel, I guess you could say, for me. I come down here every day to give directions and scout. My group and I live up in the ski lodge, though.”

“How many people you got?” asked Luke, crossing his arms.

“Four in total.” explained Matthew. “Me, my partner, Kenny, and a lady friend of his.”

A lady friend sounded rather… odd for Kenny. Clementine wasn’t stupid. She knew that “lady friend” was code for girlfriend, but the thought of Kenny having any relationships other than his late wife seemed foreign. Her heart sank. She knew that it had been a long time since she had last seen him, so part of her dearly hoped that he had just moved on and met someone new, and not that this Kenny was a completely different Kenny.

Luke sighed. He looked down to Clementine, who met his gaze with her previous pleading look. Then, with a rub of his neck, Luke exchanged glances with Nick and said, “There’s seven of us in all – soon to be eight… but, I guess we’ll take you up on your offer, if the rest of our group agrees.”

Chapter Text

"I don't like this."

"Yeah, well when's the last the time you liked anything, Carlos?"

The last thing that Clementine wanted to hear was the arguing of the group. The trek up yet another ledge of the mountain was difficult enough without the pounding headache that she was already beginning to develop, and would inevitably bond with if they continued. Between the pounding headache and a pounding heart, it was incredibly difficult for the girl to force her already trembling legs to work.

The only thought on her mind was Kenny. Maybe he was still alive. Maybe it was her friend Kenny. Maybe Matthew was leading them into a trap. Clementine bit her lip hard at that thought, clenching her fists tightly in her pockets. Carlos did have a point about that, as pessimistic as he always was.

The formation they all held had Matthew leading, a hood drawn over his head to shield part of his face from the cold wind that blew violently against everyone else. Rebecca, though obviously panting by now, kept up well enough – while Alvin instead continuously stared out into the distance, where the sun was quickly setting against the pine trees in the distance.
The sky was a darker, pinkish blue that gave Clementine a feeling of dread. She turned her head slightly to the left, in attempt to see if Sarah was at all worried.

Sarah also kept her hands in her pockets, her shoulders drawn close and tight. Her eyes were glazed over, as if she were in deep thought. There was no way Clementine could blame her; the girl was most likely exhausted and anxious, just like the rest of them.

Towards the back of the group, Nick leaned in closer to Luke after he glanced up at Matthew. "We gotta keep our guard around him."

Clementine listened intently to be able to hear the whispered statement.

"We don't know him." Nick continued, clenching his rifle tightly enough for his knuckles to appear white.

No, they didn't know Matthew. But Clementine simply had no negative feelings about him. He didn't seem like a bad person. He didn't walk like he was guilty of leading them towards a trap. The thoughts compulsively played over and over in her mind however; she continued to focus intently his relaxed body language as they continued to trek.

There was a sharp intake of breath from Luke. "I know, but… face it." He hesitated for just a few seconds long enough for Clementine to tune in readily. "We're runnin' low on food and supplies. And Rebecca…" Luke trailed off, as if he couldn't bear to describe what they were up against in the next few weeks. Clementine shuddered at the thought of Rebecca giving birth, then her heart sunk when she thought about Christa and her baby.

"She doesn't have much time left." Carlos' words reminded Clementine of his comment just a few days earlier ('You're eight months pregnant -'). "That baby is coming – whether or not we're prepared."

Clementine stared ahead, towards Rebecca, who faltered in her steps for only a few seconds. She placed her hands on her lower back, then clenched her fists tightly enough for her knuckles to appear white against light brown skin.

"I'm fine." hissed Rebecca, pointing her gaze towards Alvin.

Alvin had turned, facing his wife, while Matthew slowed in his own tracks. His face held a look of concern and a small amount of pity mixed in, which made Clementine's heart sink, yet again.
She turned back to Luke, Nick, and Carlos, then looked back towards Rebecca. The woman quickly regained her composure, and they continued on.

"That ski lodge is a hell of a better place than a forest to have that kid." Luke's voice progressed down into a whisper. "They got warmth, shelter… clean water, prob'ly."

Carlos hesitated for a second, as if he were trying to find a hole in Luke's plan. "I… don't think we can stay there." He sighed, before continuing, "What makes you think they will just let a group of strangers stay in their home?"

"We have Clem."

Clementine froze as she heard Nick's words. Her mind immediately focused on Kenny. She didn't have that strong of a relationship with him. He was simply someone she knew – someone whose son she played with simply because the boy was the only person anywhere close to her age.

What if he simply didn't recognize her? What if he didn't care?

She took a deep breath, then dug the nails on her right hand into her left shoulder.

"Yeah, there's that." Luke continued, adding on to Nick's comment. "Clem's here, and if this is the same guy she knew… maybe he'll…" He trailed off, as if not wanting to insinuate what Clementine clearly knew Luke was trying to imply.

"What, take pity on us?" It was Carlos who answered Luke's comment with that of a sarcastic one.

Luke simply shrugged, with a small smile. "Better than dying in the cold."

"I think I'd rather take my chance with the lurkers."

"Well, you can do that. But you gotta stay long enough for Rebecca to have her baby –"

The three men behind Clementine went back and forth for about as long as they climbed the mountain. She tried her best to take deep, steady breaths in order to keep herself from passing out from sheer anxiety; now, at least, she knew how Sarah felt most of the time.

Clementine found herself out of breath but the time they reached the top. Around the property was a watch tower, which she found herself staring at as the others continued their way up the small hill. She stood there for several seconds, suddenly thinking about how useful one of those would be for watching for Carver's group before she felt a small pat on her left shoulder.

"Come on, Clem," uttered Luke, with a light grasp on her shoulder. "We're almost there."

All of the windows in the ski lodge were boarded up, at least on the side that faced the edge of the mountain. The double doors held smaller boards over what Clementine could only assume were smaller windows. Slowly, she ran her fingers over the wood to find it wet, and somewhat slimy as well.

"We get the brunt of the rain up here. Some of them are starting to rot." said Matthew, placing his palm on one of the boards near Clementine. "I think I'm gonna replace them soon –"

The double doors immediately swung open, banging against the wall next to it, and Clementine's heart nearly stopped when she saw the faces of the three people who came out.

There, standing in front of her, with a large rifle held close to his stomach, was Kenny, along with a petite, dark haired woman, and broad, pale man. Kenny's eyes widened as she assumed he took in the sight of another group along with his own, and then he suddenly aimed his rifle.
Clementine's eyes stomach dropped as she attempted to pull in a small amount of air. He couldn't see her at all, not with her off to the side, almost hidden behind Matthew. No speech came from her mouth – hardly any air came into her lungs.

"Who the hell are these people, Matthew?"

There was only a split moment of silence before Matthew turned, then looked to Clementine, just as all of the others did. She felt heat in her cheeks and numbness in her hands and pain in her chest. With just a small amount of a sudden burst of courage, she called out to him.

"Kenny?"

The woman behind Kenny grabbed a hold of his shoulder. The other male looked up, then repeated Kenny's words before: "Matthew, who are they?"

"Clementine." The uttering of her name was almost immediate, and almost to faint to hear. But then he shouted it, almost at the top of his lungs. "Clementine!"

"You know her?" asked the man behind Kenny. He stared directly over Kenny's shoulder and a smile came across his face.

She stared him right in the eye. Matthew's words before suddenly hit her full force because she realized immediately that this wasn't a dream. This wasn't some wish-fulfillment of a distant daydream. This was real.

He was real.

"I thought you were dead."

Immediately, Kenny lowered his gun, allowing it to drop to his side.

"I'll take that as a yes." continued the unnamed man.

Clementine found herself taking several uneasy steps towards Kenny. His eyes widened as she stared directly into them, taking in every bit of detail about how he had changed. No longer was he brunet – his hair had grown much longer and grayed. The mustache, just as Matthew had said, was gone. Instead, Kenny had grown a beard and he appeared to have possibly grown taller, too.

Without even a thought, she launched herself towards him and wrapped her arms tightly around his waist. Her trembling fingers dug into his jacket and part of her didn't want to ever let go. Another part of Clementine forced herself to maintain her composure. She couldn't cry because she happy – that would just be stupid. But the other part of her didn't care; she felt tears collecting in her itchy eyes anyway.

All she felt was pure relief.

Chapter Text

The heat that Clementine was hit with the moment she walked into the building was nothing short of the most wonderful feeling that she had felt in at least five days, bar her current feelings around Kenny. And it felt absolutely amazing. Suddenly, she could almost feel her fingers again.

The group streamed in, Clementine in the front. She wrapped her arms around herself, placing her still near-frozen hands into her pockets, and stared at the inside of the room. It was a beautiful place, though it was somehow still obvious that it had gone untouched and abandoned until recently.
The entrance was paved with black and white, domino-like tiles, hat racks, and benches. Beyond that was a large open floor, with only a few half-walls blocking the view.

Towards her left, there was a large room, like a cross between someone’s living room and a waiting room, with a few couches, chairs, and a gigantic fireplace with roaring flames that Clementine yearned to get closer to. A small kitchenette and a dining area took up most of the back –

“Clem!” Sarah repeatedly tapped Clementine’s shoulder. “Look!” The younger girl looked up to see Sarah’s eyes focused on one thing in particular. For just a moment, Clementine couldn’t believe that she had missed it before.
A huge, fifteen-foot pine tree sat next to the stairs, towering the landing and littering pine needles all over the floor. Around it, it looked as if someone had attempted to hang Christmas ornaments on it; it was a bit funny, Clementine realized, because whoever had done this hadn’t managed to hang anything above about six feet.

Clementine’s eyes widened; she felt a grin come to her lips – when was the last time she had even seen Christmas decorations? Other than the remnants of snow, of course. But even that wasn’t quite as impressive as the sight in front of her now.

She peered off to her side at the woman who previously stood behind Kenny. The woman granted Clementine a small smile akin to the girl’s own and said in a soft voice, “Matthew found them in storage. It’s great, isn’t it?”
She held an accent that Clementine could understand well-enough, though she still to had listen closely to make out every word. Nodding back, Clementine couldn’t think of any other words – but even then, she had to admit that it was in fact quite impressive. Of course, she had spent the last year in the middle of a forest, sleeping in the dirt; anything would look impressive compared to that.

“I just started dinner, actually.” The broad, fair skinned man followed behind Kenny closely, speaking over his shoulder to the rest of the group. He turned his gaze to the woman and muttered with a joking smirk. “It’s Matt’s favorite.”

Kenny pulled a face. “Peaches and beans again, Walter?”

The man named Walter shrugged, but appeared almost embarrassed. “It’s all we’ve got. We need to go on another run soon.”

Matthew let out a dramatic sigh, slinging his rifle down onto one of the benches, and murmured, “I don’t doubt your abilities in the kitchen, but I also think I’d rather eat dirt.” He shared an expression with the woman and then a small smirk towards Walter. Clementine figured that this was probably an ongoing joke between them. Luke and Nick shared that same kind of humor when making fun of each other, too.

Just behind her, Clementine could hear the whispered argument between Luke and Carlos, and suppressed a small smile at Luke’s teasing.

“So they’ve got food, shelter, and electricity.” She heard Luke mutter this, almost as if he were extremely impressed with himself for not doubting Matthew’s claims of shelter. “You still want to refuse their help?”

“I still don’t trust them,” was the response from Carlos seconds later. And Clementine, despite knowing Kenny and knowing that he wasn’t going to intentionally harm them, almost understood where Carlos was coming from. Luke was a trusting person, for the most part, but Carlos wasn’t. “Clem knows one person in this group.”

“Were you this paranoid before the outbreak, or is this just a defense mechanism you’ve developed?”

“Would you refer to it as paranoia if I am usually right about it?”

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’.”

Walter cleared his throat, and then turned his head over his shoulder to look at the hanging lights behind him. “Believe it or not,” he said with a satisfied smile, “We still get some power from that wind turbine outside. It powers about half of the lodge.”

“Used to power the whole lodge. Then someone -” Kenny turned, cutting his eyes at Matthew, who seemed to be attempting (and failing) at acting innocent. “- fried the wires and ruined it for the rest of us.”

Matthew nodded along, still attempting to keep up his innocent façade. He held his hands up and replied back, very quickly, “Sarita is the one who dropped the flashlight.”

The woman, who Clementine now knew as Sarita, scoffed and rolled her eyes.

“The point is,” Walter interrupted, loud enough to get everyone’s attention. “we have enough electricity to be able to see and operate a stove.” He sighed, then hesitated as if he were trying to find something to say, “If you all want to rest, that’s fine. I’m making dinner, and I don’t know when your last hot meal was.”

At the mention of a hot meal, Clementine’s stomach growled. The meals they had all had were hot but most of them were composed of stews and other canned foods that seemed about as decomposed as the walkers around them. A home-cooked meal from an actual stove?

Oh God, that sounded like Heaven.

She locked eyes with Kenny, who smiled, just a little bit. His eyes seemed to glaze over for a minute, as if he were in deep thought. He looked over to the rest of the group and Clementine watched as he seemed to look each and every one of them up and down.

Maybe he was curious, Clementine thought, gripping the straps of her bag. Maybe he didn’t trust him – this was still Kenny after all; he wasn’t the most trusting person she had ever met –

“Clem,” he suddenly spoke, loud enough for her to hear, but not loud enough for anyone else to hear. “Can we talk?” Kenny nodded to the sitting area just past the entrance, the same room where the fire roared.

Wordlessly, Clementine followed him, past the entrance. She glanced back at Luke, who met her eye but said nothing. Instead, he broke eye contact and glanced over to Nick, whose grip on his rifle had loosened a bit, but not completely.

Kenny took a seat on the couch and patted the area next to him, where Clementine sat just a few seconds later. There was just a few seconds of silence between them before Kenny finally spoke.

He tapped the bill of Clementine’s ball cap and remarked, “Still wearin’ this dirty ol’ thing, huh?”

“Always.” Clementine responded with a smirk. There was no way in Hell she’d ever let anything happen to the cap. It didn’t matter how much blood, sweat, and other bodily fluids got on it, it was the only thing she had left of her father. That made it all worth it. “You’re wearing yours, too.”

Kenny shrugged and adjusted his own trucker cap. “Force o’ habit, you know? Sarita hates it.” There was another brief moment of silence before he spoke again, “You know, I half expected to see Lee walk up next to you. You two were like two peas in a pod!”

Clementine felt her heart sink. Through the happiness of seeing Kenny for the first time in several years, she had found the bittersweet mentions of Lee and the reminder of her father to be more than enough discussion of their past together. And if he brought up Christa and Omid… well, it might get worse. She braced herself for the discussion.

“Shit,” remarked Kenny, who shook his head. He apparently noticed the look on Clementine’s face. “I’m sorry – it’s just… hard not to think about, you know?”

She could think of one remark as her chest tightened. “It’s my fault.”

What had previously been an exciting moment was completely ruined. Of course, she had to have known it was going to happen – that was why she braced herself for it. At least the trauma wasn’t as raw as it was two years ago.

“Aw, darlin’, don’t say that.” Kenny said, making eye contact with her. “He made a choice, same as the rest of us.”

Clementine found herself looking away. Even two years later, she carried the guilt of Lee’s death in the back of her mind. Talking about it only ever seemed to make it worse – not that she hadn’t tried it… multiple times. It always ended the same that thinking of Omid or her parents did, just a day or a week of depression.

“He was a hell of a guy.”

She met Kenny’s gaze again with his words. It forced a small smile on her lips. It was about the only thing she thought that he could say about Lee that wouldn’t make both of them upset. Though Lee always seemed to fight with Kenny over so many things – group politics, Lilly, rations, Ben, and runs – they had still had a mostly positive relationship.

“When my son… well, he took care of him.” Kenny’s voice lowered to what was almost a whisper. Clementine’s mind returned to the days of their old group, and she remembered – one of the things she remembered so vividly – the look in Kenny’s eyes when Duck was bitten. She remembered the gunshot that took Katjaa from them and the gunshot that rang out just a few minutes later, taking Duck’s life with it. “I’ll never forget it.”

Clementine hoped that with intensive therapy, she could. There would be nothing better than to forget that.

It was as if Kenny wanted to change the subject – and he probably did – when he asked, “So where’d you end up?”

She didn’t want to go into detail. She couldn’t go into too much detail about walking through a herd of dead people and ending up in the countyside of Georgia, and when she finally met up with Christa and Omid, there were the nightmares that would never go away. There was the screaming and the ringing in her ears that almost seemed to mimic all of the gunshots that had taken so many people from her.

She didn’t want to talk about how every walker she saw, she thought could have been someone she knew. Not again.

“After Lee… I found Christa and Omid.” Clementine looked away. Somewhere out there, Christa was either dead or alive and injured… she hoped. “Christa and I were together for a long time. Alone.” She swallowed and tried to force out the words, but they hardly seemed to come out. “Omid… he’s… he’s dead. Christa and I got separated. About a week ago.”

Turning to her right side, Clementine peered over the top of the couch and looked over to where Luke was. He hadn’t seemed to notice her, and seemed to be bickering with Nick.

“That’s how I met Luke.”

“Which one’s Luke?” Kenny looked over to the rest of Clementine’s group, as if he couldn’t tell which one she was looking at.

“The one with brown hair.” It was at that moment that Clementine realized that Pete was the only one out of all of them who didn’t have either brown or black hair.

“That… narrows it down.”

Clementine pointed to Luke, and Kenny nodded.

“What happened to you?” She had to change the subject from herself. And, on the other hand, she genuinely did want to know what had happened to Kenny – Christa and Omid said that he was dead, that had died trying to save Ben… and that Ben died too. “Christa told me you were dead.”

There was a brief moment where Kenny paused, then with a shit-eating grin, responded, “I am. This is all a dream.”

Clementine didn’t respond. Instead, she rolled her eyes at him as he chuckled at his own joke.

“Sorry,” he continued. “Bad joke.” Kenny sighed, then sat forward on the couch. His expression darkened and his voice suddenly became gruffer. “For some reason… I tried to save that fuckin’ shitbird Ben.” He looked away, as if trying hard to recall a memory. “Then it’s all kind o’ a blur.”

Clementine watched for just a moment as he redirected himself.

“I couldn’t help the kid,” he began, sighing. “But I got out. Obviously. Long story, short… I got lucky. Real lucky. I spent a long time alone after that… it, uh…” Kenny trailed off again, once again appearing as if he were wracking his brain to remember something that had simply been long forgotten. He sighed again. “Then I met Sarita, thank God… Gosh, it’s great to have you back!”

He shouted this just a bit too loud for Clementine’s taste, given how close she was too him. But nevertheless, the words filled her with joy – the kind she had earlier, once she finally realized that it was Kenny. She couldn’t feel any better for him; he had found a place for himself, and with Matthew’s previous words about Sarita, Kenny had finally managed to move on from Katjaa, it seemed.

Sarita was just a few feet away, as if she had heard her name within in the conversation. She placed a hand on Kenny’s shoulder and asked quietly, “You two catching up?”

Kenny nodded, holding the type of smile on his face that Clementine hadn’t seen him hold since he was drunk and had seen that she discovered a fifty foot long motorboat in a random person’s shed. It was the look of genuine happiness.

“Clem – this is my girl, Sarita. Ain’t she beautiful?”

Sarita looked away, as if she were slightly embarrassed, but Clementine wouldn’t have denied Kenny’s words at all. Sarita was probably around Kenny’s age, but she was a beautiful woman with large, warm brown eyes and a fairly nice looking face.

“It’s nice to meet you, Clementine.” She patted Kenny’s shoulder and then looked over her shoulder. Matthew was leaned against the door, looking out the window with a cautious expression on his face.

Kenny also turned in the direction. “You goin’ back out there, Matthew?”

“I might. I might be able to do a sweep of area again before the storm hits.”

Luke cleared his throat, and it was if he and Nick had finally stopped bickering like an old married couple.

“Anythin’ we can do to help?” asked Luke, Nick right behind him. Nick avoided looking Kenny in the face, and instead rubbed the back of his neck.

Kenny stood from the couch, and Clementine did as well out of courtesy. If being around Kenny had taught her anything, it was that while he was genuinely kind and well meaning, he could be temperamental – and so could Nick, and by proxy, so could Luke. So she watched their interactions intently.

“Could use a hand outside. There’s some shit outside that needs to be brought in ‘fore the storm hits. Matthew could probably use some help securin’ everythin’ too.”

“Sure.” was all that Luke chirped, as he and Nick immediately turned to go towards the door, where Matthew was standing.

This time, Kenny instead turned to Clementine.

“Clem, why don’t you help Walt with dinner?”

Chapter Text

As the group of dispersed, the sound of chattering voices began to fill the Lodge.

Clementine left the sitting area and followed Kenny with her eyes as she peered over her shoulder. Between the three men, Kenny led the way, his voice booming and echoing off of the wooden walls, as he spoke of the features of the building. Nick lagged a few inches behind Luke, his shoulders hunched forward as his gaze lingered towards a wooden bench near the entrance. Originally, Clementine hadn’t realized that everyone else had left their bags and weapons near the door, because she still curled her fingers tightly around the purple nylon strap of her bag, just in case.

Nick on the other hand, left his rifle sitting on the bench accompanied by several of the bags, blankets, and jackets that draped over the other weapons.

Clementine stopped, watching Nick’s stilted movement as his gaze slid from the rifle to Kenny and then to Luke. Then, suddenly and as if he never stopped, he continued to listen to Luke and Kenny go back and forth; from what she could hear, Luke was asking questions about the Lodge, his voice distant and nearly suspicious in its tone.

But… Nick

Clementine gripped her wrist as she scanned the rest of the room, and attempted to pretend that she hadn’t been eavesdropping. She clenched her fist and sighed inaudibly as she aimed one last, well-meaning glance over her shoulder towards Nick, and then stared forward again in the direction of the kitchen counter towards the other side of the room.

Nick was a grown man, but she still felt… something. Responsibility, maybe. Five days wasn’t enough to even begin to dull the pain of losing a loved one – and Clementine knew that feel well enough that it felt more familiar than her own childhood home. But she also remembered Pete’s words –

Would you promise me to look out for Nick? I love that stupid kid… No matter what you think… He is a good boy.

She shook her head, her hands trembling at the thought of Pete’s corpse and the grip that he had on her before Luke finally himself out of whatever shock he felt –

Think about something else. Think about anything else that isn’t

Clementine immediately snapped herself back to reality before she could finish her thoughts. She realized, that moment, that she hadn’t moved from her spot near the couch, too lost in her obsessive thoughts about things that she wished she didn’t have to think about. At the sound of humming, she turned again, grateful to hear something else.  

Kenny’s so-called “lady friend”, the woman he called Sarita, lingered near the Christmas tree and the stairwell, and then began to loot around in a beaten up cardboard box labeled GLASS ORNAMENTS – FRAGILE. The song that she was half-singing and half-humming sounded familiar, though Clementine couldn’t immediately place it.

Matthew, on the other hand, disappeared off to another part of the Lodge just as quickly as he had appeared on the bridge. But, Clementine thought, no else seemed to be worried; maybe Matthew would just go back out to the bridge and keep watch. There was a lot about separate groups that she didn’t understand – and not just Luke’s group. Being around only Christa for several months hadn’t exactly been great for developing an understanding for other people, in Clementine’s opinion.

Everyone else had begun to spread out and attempt to get comfortable. The Lodge reminded Clementine of a weird cross between someone’s cozy house and a small hotel, so it made sense for everyone to drift as far apart from each other as they could. At some point, the rest of the group had to be feeling at least somewhat claustrophobic, whether it was physically or emotionally. Clementine sure was; it would be nice to take a breather in a safe, quiet room.

The dining area was a bit outside of the sitting area, and held several old wooden picnic tables. Just a few feet away were two different bathrooms – a women’s and men’s. A few feet further away was Walter, who stood behind a long, wooden counter. On said counter was a small, portable burner that a large metal pot rested on, presumably full of something that would hopefully feed eleven people comfortably.

Clementine gazed at the Christmas decorations that had been strewn across the wooden pillars, a few rows of dim fairy lights – several of the lights burned out – that she would have expected to go on the tree instead. A small smile came to her as she remembered the lights that her father would spend at least a few hours trying to wrap around the outside of their house. In the Christmas before the outbreak, he had hung them on the outside of her old treehouse.

It had been such a beautiful time of year, and for that brief second, she felt the tightness in her chest at the thought of it now.

“Hey Clementine,” came Walter’s voice. She looked up to see him carefully rest a wooden spoon against the rim of his pot. “Settling in well enough?”

She nodded, turning her gaze to the decorations on the front of the counter: the word JOY spelled out with a red J and Y, with a small wreath as the O. “Yeah, thanks.”

“Excellent!” Walter shared the same beam as Clementine. Then, as if he had heard Kenny’s suggestion earlier, he asked, “Want to help me prepare a little dinner?”

There was a brief moment where Clementine stepped up just a little bit closer to the counter and found herself just barely able to see high enough to look in the pot. It was that time that she was hit with a familiar smell – more than one, actually. Something sweet, like fruit, and something else, more savory… of course, beans. She hadn’t ever exactly cared for that smell, and after the encounter with Sam…

Well, beans were not a particularly appetizing meal.

It was some type of brown beans – a lot of them – and something else that was mixed together with it, something that she guessed was either peaches or sweet potatoes. Clementine found herself inadvertently pulling a face at the concoction in front of her. Quickly, she tried to force herself to look ignorant. No one could afford to be picky these days, as much as she almost wanted to do.

Walter didn’t appear convinced. A cheeky grin came to his face, but he didn’t push the issue and instead began stirring the concoction again.

“So, how do you know Kenny? He and Sarita have been a huge help.”

“It’s… a long story. I guess.” Clementine shrugged, remembering the entire situation. “I met him the day after the outbreak started. We slept in a barn that night and the next morning, he told me I was lucky I didn’t have spiders in my hair.” She could laugh about that memory now, at least a little bit. But of course, her eight-year old self had not been as enthused.

Walter, on the other hand, appeared as he were trying to avoid laughing at this remark. He nodded and tapped a small amount of salt into the pot. “That sounds exactly like something he would say, even now.” He placed the salt shaker down and began stirring the meal again. “But I am glad you have at least one person here to know… connecting with people is… so important – especially now. I don’t know what I’d do without Matthew…”

Clementine didn’t respond. She wondered if she should ask to help him with whatever the hell he was cooking, but she was still much too short to do much of anything, and it looked like Walter had it all under control anyway –

“You remind me so much of my students.” Walter blurted out. He held a similar expression that Clementine saw in Kenny earlier: one as if he were remembering a fond memory, yet almost sad at the same time. Children were a rarity these days, as Christa had once put it. To see one made for either pleasant experiences in knowing that humanity wasn’t dead, or made Clementine (and any other children around) extremely vulnerable.

Slowly, Walter began to stir his concoction again. “I taught for twenty years. I’ve taught every grade from kindergarten to eighth – but fourth grade was my most recent. That’s about the grade you’d be in, correct?”

“I guess. I’m eleven, but I started school late because of when my birthday is.” Clementine traced the sharp edges of the counter idly, avoiding touching the burner and the metal pot. “Was Matthew a teacher, too?”

Matthew did seem to be that type of person, though Clementine could vividly remember seldom having a male teacher, or even ever seeing them. On the other hand, maybe Matthew was an anomaly, just like Walter.

Maybe that was how he and Walter had met. Although, on the other hand, with Walter’s attitude towards people, even after the onset of the outbreak, Clementine wouldn’t have put it past him to simply befriend and share a dwelling with random people. After all, that was what he was doing now.

Walter stirred the peaches-and-beans concoction a few more times, then nodded. He grabbed the salt shaker and tapped it several times into the pot.

“He was. He used to teach art, but sometimes he would come into my classroom and help me teach English.” He chuckled, and smiled, as if remembering something particularly pleasant. “Matt was debating going back to school to teach English at a middle school. Didn’t work out, obviously.”

“He taught at a school,” Clementine began, watching Walter’s continued stir of the concoction, “but he wanted to go back to school… to teach more school?”

“It… does sound like a bummer when you put it like that, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah. I liked school, but… it was… hard sometimes. ”

“Hm,” Walter shifted his spot, then peered up from the pot with a raised eyebrow. “What did you have trouble with? Math?” The look on his face, Clementine thought, seemed to be all knowing – the same kind of the thing that she could easily recall seeing in one of her teachers before the outbreak; that all-knowing smile was all-too familiar.

For a brief moment, Clementine also smiled in response to Walter’s knowing nature. “Yeah,” she murmured, “Math and everything else.”

Everything else?” asked Walter, lifting his eyebrow, “Surely there’s something you’re good at.”

Clementine merely offered him a shrug in response. Remembering a lot of events before the outbreak was difficult; her memories had become hazy over time, especially when she didn’t constantly dwell on them. She couldn’t remember ever being over grade level for math or reading – her memory of it was always just barely meeting them.

“Recess. Lunch, maybe.”

Walter chuckled and shook his head. “Unfortunately, that’s not something you can put on a report card.”

He tapped his wooden spoon on the rim of the pot, then allowed it to lean against the outside. He paused for a moment, then spoke in a low voice, “I can’t imagine what it’s like growing up in all of this… I thought some of the kids’ lives were hard then.” His expression seemed to darken within the second, and a cold dread filled the pit of Clementine’s stomach. “And they were, but this is… difficult.”

Being reminded of the hellish world outside was one of her least favorite things.

She shrugged, hesitating in the sudden remark. “I’m not dead yet.”

Walter’s expression from before stayed mostly the same. He sighed, but nodded slowly, not immediately looking up at Clementine.

“That’s the goal.” he spoke in the same low voice, then tried to lighten his tone. “It’s all we can do, after all.”

Clementine stood up straight. She looked him in the eye and cocked her head. “Everyone underestimates my ability to stay alive.”  

“I expect you use that to your advantage?”

“… Sometimes.”

“Smart girl.”

Clementine had to admit that this compliment from Walter took her aback. He seemed so much like the kind of man who valued honesty to such a large degree that this seemed like the last thing he would say. But he valued what he must have thought was her cleverness .

Oh yes, she was going to like this one.

Walter pulled out a metal spoon from a drawer tasted just a bit of the pot. “Hmm… almost done.” He pulled open one of the drawers next to the burned and pulled out a second metal and then teasingly asked,  “Would you do me the favor of tasting the first course, madam?”

Clementine’s stomach turned when she looked down at the pot of mush. She remembered now what Walter said earlier, about how all they had were cans of peaches and beans. And she also remembered how Matthew simply remarked that he would rather eat dirt. Now, she was saying nothing about Walter’s cooking ability – maybe Matthew was just particularly picky – but peaches and beans together had to be, quite possibly, one of the strangest combinations she had ever heard. She dearly hoped Walter was joking.

“… What… is it?”

Le Walter Surprise.” He grinned, tapping the wooden spoon on the edge of the pot. “An autumnal, legume salad with a peach roux.”

Clementine may have understood some of those words… separately.

“It’s peaches and beans.” Walter shrugged, now completely serious, yet somewhat sheepish. “It’s all we’ve got.”

Trying to avoid showing her slight disappointment, Clementine attempted to look anywhere except at Walter. Her gaze fell on the can of peaches that sat next to the burner, and Walter seemed to take immediate notice. He held it up and pointed to the picture of the little girl on the can.

“Striking resemblance.”

Surely, he had to be referring to the pigtails on the little girl and nothing else. Clementine glanced at the can and hardly suppressed the unimpressed glare on her face. If there was anything that she learned from the last week of being around Nick and Luke, it was that this was the kind of thing that they would come up with and never let go.

“Anyway,” Walter turned off the burner and took the pot by the handles. “I’ll take it from here.”

He removed it to another counter, and Clementine stared down again at the photograph on the peach can.

Surely, she didn’t actually look like that little girl, right…? … Right? Clementine immediately made a mental note to find a pair of scissors and cut her pigtails shorter than the little girl’s. Or maybe just cut them off entirely. Keep your hair short, Lee had told her.

Yeah, she should follow that advice.

Chapter Text

 “Sire, the night is darker now,

And the wind blows stronger.

Fails my heart, I know not how,

I can go no longer.”

Clementine leaned against the back of the couch that she and Kenny previously sat on as the song’s lyrics reached her ears again. Sarita had softly gone through the song at least twice already, though she had at least taken a break of about a minute between each time. It was a long song, Clementine thought, and Sarita knew every single word.

She raked her fingernails against her backpack and tried to distract herself with this in order to avoid catching anyone’s attention. Part of her thoughts remained on that can, and her thoughts about cutting her hair again, though the others wandered to various things, like Kenny and the others, or Carver. Clementine peaked up briefly and realized that Sarita had stopped singing quietly, and was instead speaking with Sarah.

“What song is that?” Clementine perked up at Sarah’s question. It was the same question she herself had been wondering as well. “It sounds nice.”

Sarita looped a small, plastic hanger into a metal clasp on the top of a green, circular ornament. “’Good King Wenceslas’. It’s my favorite.” She placed it onto a branch a few inches over her head, Clementine suddenly understood exactly why the ornaments were only half-way up the tree.

Sarita grabbed another ornament, this one red.

“I’ve never heard it.” said Sarah, crossing her arms. Clementine looked up again. “I think I’ve heard the tune, but not the song. What’s it about?” 

“It’s…” Sarita looped another plastic hanger into the red ornament, and stood on her toes to hang it up. “… about a king that brings food to a poor man. He and his servant march all night through a winter storm.”

Clementine glanced down to the beaten up box, and debated jumping in to help. She could, if anything, get Sarah to hold her up so that Sarita wouldn’t have to constantly try and fail at hanging the ornaments at a height taller than her.

“The storm is very strong… and after a long time, it gets so cold that the servant can’t go on.”

Sarah reached down and grabbed an ornament for herself, but then looked up at Sarita without immediately hanging it. She scrunched her eyebrows and appeared to be about to speak, but Sarita unknowingly cut her off with, “But the king tells the servant to just… step in his tracks.”

She sang another verse quietly.

Mark my footsteps, my good page.

Tread thou in them boldly.

Thou shalt the winter’s rage

Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

“I don’t… get it.” Sarah murmured, and Clementine had to agree. It was a nice song, but she found the lyrics to be confusing. Why, she wondered, would stepping in the tracks of the king keep the servant from freezing to death?

In response, Sarita smiled. “It means that doing good things for other people can be good for you, too.”

“But the servant wouldn’t have been out there in the first place if the king hadn’t made him.”

“Good point.” Sarita suddenly looked over her shoulder, and Clementine met her eyes. “But I’m not sure if it’s meant to be read into like that. Would you like to join us?”

Clementine looked down at the cardboard box, then over her shoulder at Walter (who was now speaking to Matthew), and then back up at Sarita. Slowly, she nodded and said, “Yeah, sure.”

She took an ornament that Sarah extended out to her, as well as one of the plastic hooks, and began to loop it into the top of the ornament. Sarita spoke up, glancing back to Clementine.

“It’s probably been a while since you’ve seen one of these.”

Slowly, Clementine nodded. She grasped one of the branches in her fingers, originally expecting to feel the texture of sharpened, plastic spindles – like a fake tree. But it felt completely genuine, and, judging by the pine needles littering the floor, it was genuine. It was smaller than the trees she walked past in the forest, but it still stood at at least fifteen feet.

“I haven’t seen a real one in a while,” she answered, bending down to grab another ornament, “A Christmas tree, I mean. There’s plenty of trees out here.”

Sarita turned towards the window and into the direction of the other trees, then looked back up at the Christmas tree. “Matthew found this one.” She bent down and began sweeping the clumps of pine needles into her hand. “It’s smaller than all of the others. He said that it would be better to bring in rather than leave it outside. He was right. It makes a good Christmas tree.”

“How do you reach the middle?” The specific area of the tree was high enough that none of them could reach it, but too far from the staircase next to it for one to lean over and string up the decorations. Briefly, Clementine imagined someone standing on the railing. And failing at standing on the railing. And falling and hitting the ground with a thump. That, she thought, would be her and her luck.

Pausing, Sarita also examined the area that Clementine pointed to and then scanned the other half of the sitting room.

Her voice sounding unsure, she said, “I thought we had a ladder around here somewhere…”

Sarah stood up as tall as she could; she, being even shorter than Sarita (yet still taller than Clementine), couldn’t reach much higher than Sarita could. She smiled to herself, then looked over to Clementine.

“I can’t reach any higher.” she informed Clementine. Sarita didn’t respond, and instead walked over to an area closer to where Walter was previously cooking; Clementine assumed that she made it her new mission to find that ladder.

Clementine shrugged. “You could hold me up. I’ll do it.”

Sarah paused, but then shook her head. “I…” She looked up at the tree, the landing of the stairs, and the railing, then shook her head for a second time. “I don’t think that’s safe.”

“It’ll be fine,” Clementine smirked, crossing her arms. Quietly, she teased, “You’re just weak.”

“No, I’m not!”

“Then pick me up.”

Both girls stayed silent for a moment before Sarah broke the silence with an indignant, “Okay, fine.

Clementine stood still long enough for Sarah to wrap her arms around her waist, but she squirmed when Sarah lifted her only a few inches off of the floor. It was too tight and definitely not the best way to pick up someone Clementine’s size, something she immediately decided when she felt Sarah squeezing her by the stomach.

“No – just – put me down – Sarah, you’re squeezing me!”

“Can you reach it?”

“Sarah, I’m gonna pee if you keep squeezing me!”

Immediately, Sarah put her down, her shoulders hunched and eyes wide. “Sorry,” she murmured, watching Clementine, “Did I hurt you?”

Clementine shook her head, and nearly answered before she heard a soft chuckle from Sarita.

“I suppose we will have to find that ladder, or just resign ourselves to being short.” She had, evidently, been unsuccessful in finding that ladder.

Clementine simply wondered if Kenny took it with him when he went outside with the others. She shrugged, then murmured, “… Well, my life’ll have been meaningless if I’m not at least a little bit taller than you.” At the most, Sarita was only about five-feet, four-inches tall. Clementine remembered her mother being at least an inch taller than that – and her father was probably closer to Luke’s height.

Surely, she would be taller.

“You’re gonna be like, five-one when you finish puberty.” Sarah teased, turning away to grab another ornament.

“At least I’ll be taller than you!”

“I’m five-two, Clem.”

Clementine’s shoulders sagged. She walked right into that one.

She was thankful that Sarita almost immediately steered the conversation from Clementine trapping herself in that insult, when Sarita pointed to the part of the landing that lined up with the top of the tree. “There’s a box up there with some other decorations,” she spoke, then looked over to Sarah and Clementine. “I can either put an angel or a star on the top. Until we can find the ladder. What do you think?”

“… I don’t know.” Clementine admitted, gripping her left wrist with her right hand. She turned to Sarah, who seemed to be having a similar dilemma. “We always had a star. What’d you guys have?”

“An angel.”

“Why?”

Sarah paused for a moment, as if she were trying to come up with an actual answer to the question that wasn’t simply because. “I… don’t know. I think it’s a Catholic thing. I can ask my dad if you want.”

Clementine also paused. Her parents were never particularly religious, despite the celebration of Christmas. They never really went to church, except for when she was younger, and despite the fact that she had previously heard the word ‘Catholic’, she wasn’t at all familiar with what it actually meant.

“What’s the difference between being Christian and being Catholic?”

Before Sarah had a chance to answer, Sarita spoke up. “Catholicism is a section of Christianity. They have slightly different beliefs than most Christian groups.” She looked the Christmas tree up and down for a moment before she continued, “I’m not Christian. My family never celebrated Christmas… but I always liked the culture of it. What do you think, angel or star?”

“Um…”

“Angel, definitely.”

Clementine turned to her side, where a small end-table held a white and orange, wooden duck the size of a small dog. On its head laid a Santa hat, and around its neck was a small wreath. She knew exactly who had placed it there and why. She picked it up carefully from the table – it was heavier than she had thought – and showed it to Sarita.

“We could compromise and put a duck on the tree.”

Sarah’s face lit up as she looked at the wooden duck. “Aw, he’s got a little hat!”

“I don’t…” Sarita chuckled, just as she had before, “I don’t think it will stay on top. It’s probably too heavy for the top branch.”

“That sucks.” Clementine placed the duck back into its previous spot on the end table. “Kenny would find it funny.”

“He would,” replied Sarita, bending down back to her own cardboard box. She pulled out one of the few non-bauble ornaments – a glass hockey stick – and strung it on a lower branch. “Kenny thought it would be funny to put the hat and the wreath on it. I thought it was cute.”

Clementine was right; of course it had been Kenny to come up with that idea. After knowing his son, she found herself unable to look at anything with a duck on it without thinking of him.

“I’ll put the angel on the top, if you want.” She said this to Sarah this time, who’s eyes lit up again.

“Really?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Angels were nice, Clementine thought, though she had never previously had one on a tree. If it made her friend happy, then what the heck? She would put it on there, even though she truly did want to put the wooden duck up there for comedic effect.

She raced up, gripping the railing to avoid slipping on the slick, carpeted stairs, and found herself on the landing. What Clementine didn’t anticipate was Alvin’s voice.

“It’s crazy! Why would they follow us this far?”

Clementine stopped at the top of the stairs. A few feet ahead of her, Alvin, Rebecca, and Carlos seemed to be in an intense conversation, though Rebecca, who was sitting down on a padded bench, seemed to be less involved.

“We can’t be sure.” This reply came from Carlos, while Rebecca simply sighed. Clementine stopped in her tracks at the tense conversation that she had just walked into. She looked over to where Carlos was standing, which was right in front of the cardboard box that she assumed held the tree toppers.
Without saying anything, Clementine pressed herself against the railing of the top stair.

“It’s been a week, man!” exclaimed Alvin, crossing his arms, “We gotta be outta the woods by now!”

Clementine assumed this was a saying, though part of her wanted to pipe up and let him know that, yes, they were in fact out of the woods… and in the mountains. But she, again, stayed quiet and allowed them to speak.

“We can’t be sure. They might be tracking us.”

Tracking us?” Alvin leaned against a bookshelf next to Rebecca’s stool, then groaned. “What d’you think they are, ninjas?”

“No.” Carlos spoke in a firm voice, folding his arms. “Ex-Army. And Dunlap was Special Forces.”

There was silence between all three of them. Rebecca shot a glare up at Alvin, while Alvin clenched both his jaw and one of his fists.

Clementine inched herself closer to where Carlos was standing, planning her quick snatching of the angel tree topper without having to interrupt them. But by this point, she found herself slightly more curious about the so-called ex-military people in Carver’s group – and the aforementioned Dunlap (yet another name she would be kept in the dark about) – than she was worried about getting the tree topper. They seldom spoke of the intricate details of what happened with Carver – why he was after them, why he targeted them specifically –

“Are you trying to get behind me, Clem?”

“Hmm?”

Her gaze snapped up from the box to Carlos, who moved over to the side and away from the box.

“Sorry.” Clementine muttered as she snatched the angel from the box. She peered over the railing to see Sarah and Sarita both continuing to place the heavier, glass ornaments towards the bottom of the tree. Carefully, she stood up on her toes and reached over the landing to grab the vertical branch at the top of the tree, then placed the tree topper onto it.

Sarah’s attention was attracted by the rustling of the tree. “It looks so pretty!” she exclaimed, taking a step back in order to see it better. Sarita also looked up from her place at the bottom of the tree, more pine needles clutched in her hands, and smiled.

Clementine flinched at the grip on her shoulder, and turned to face Alvin, who took a step back.

“You talked to that Kenny guy, right?”

“Yeah…” she spoke, backing against the railing, her eyebrow raised.

“What did he say?” This response came from Rebecca this time, who leaned forward, as if in anticipation.

Clementine shrugged, holding onto her wrist. She paused for a moment, attempting to gather her thoughts. Well, they “caught up”. He teased her about her hat. She told him where she had been and he glazed over his own story. It wasn’t particularly in-depth.

“Not… a lot.” she admitted, looking Rebecca in the face this time. “He’s… kind of… the kind of person who stays closed-off unless he’s angry.” Rebecca looked away from Clementine, who looked up to see the reactions from Alvin and Carlos.
Gone were the days from the Motor Inn, and the moments where Kenny’s arguments with the other group members could shake the paper-thin walls while Clementine attempted to sleep. But Kenny’s group was much smaller – maybe he didn’t argue with them as much as he argued with the group from the Motor Inn. She hoped.

Slowly, Carlos nodded, then sighed. “Do you trust him?”

“He’s not a bad guy.” Clementine crossed her arms. She repressed the urge to look over her shoulders in the direction of the windows that lead outside.

“I didn’t ask if he was. I asked if you trust him.”

“Yeah, I do.”

There was a silence between them again, as Carlos processed that answer. In Clementine’s mind, she found herself doubting that he would take her word for it, seeing as she wasn’t even sure how much he trusted her in the first place. Enough to be around Sarah? Maybe. Enough to take her word for it?

Clementine thought, once again, about Kenny’s escapades back in Macon. And Peachtree City. And Savannah. Georgia, in general.  

The answer was most likely going to be ‘no’.

“What about the other guy?” Alvin exchanged a glance with Rebecca as he said this. “Uh… Walter?”

“You didn’t tell him anything about us, did you?”

Once again, Clementine shrugged. Walter seemed nice. Matthew seemed pretty cool. She liked Sarita well enough. She was at least on speaking terms with Kenny – though more elated today, given the circumstances.

“He said he was a teacher,” she began, peering over the banister. Walter was at one of the counters now, away from the portable stove. Just a few inches away from him were a few stacks of ceramic bowls. “He used to teach kids my age. I think he’s cool, but he’s definitely still stuck in teacher-mode.”

She received three bewildered stares in response.

“What does… that mean to you, Clementine?” asked Carlos, raising an eyebrow.

It was one of those things that Clementine could tell, but that she wasn’t one-hundred percent sure how to put into words. Maybe she should have just described Walter in a different way.

“… I don’t know. You can just kind of tell he was a teacher. It’s not a bad thing.”

Carlos sighed, then shook his head. He looked up to Alvin and Rebecca. “We can figure this out later, but… I’m not sure about these people yet. I’m going to find Luke.” With that, he passed Clementine and retreated down the stairs.

Rebecca held her head with one hand, looking down at her lap. She wrapped her hand around Alvin’s wrist and muttered, “Honey, I don’t feel good.”

“What’s wrong, Bec?” Alvin kneeled down as Rebecca hung her head, then began to knead her forehead with her fists. Clementine turned from the railing and the tree, eyeing Rebecca. She could smell the cooking peaches and beans from downstairs, and so could Rebecca – maybe it was just the smell making her sick.

“I…” Rebecca faltered for a moment; she took a deep breath, covering her mouth. “I just need somethin’ to drink.”

“You got it.” Alvin stood to his full height, towering over his wife. “I’ll be right back.”

Alvin retreated down the hallway and into one of the nearby rooms.

Rebecca again pressed her hand against her mouth as Alvin left her and Clementine alone, then clenched the tissues she held in her other hand. Slowly, she raised her head up and looked ahead at Clementine, who eyed her in a cautious fashion.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m just a little dizzy.” Rebecca spoke nearly in a whisper, lowering gaze down to her lap. She pressed against her left temple with one hand while crushing a small tissue in her other hand, her gaze pointed down at her stomach, her legs, and the floor.

“You’re sitting down.”

Clementine grasped her left wrist, leaning against the railing as she spoke, watching Rebecca’s mannerisms. She looked nauseous, though Clementine found it hard to tell, as she hadn’t exactly known Rebecca very long; Christa used to get sick, something Clementine could easily remember, when she smelled Omid cooking meat of any kind over the fire. At least until she started showing. In the later stages of her pregnancy, Christa didn’t have any sickness or dizziness. But maybe Rebecca was different.

“I know, Clem…” Rebecca twisted the tissue in her hand, her gaze remaining on the floor. “It’s just somethin’ that happens.”

Shifting in her spot, Clementine found herself backing up and leaning up against the railing, just as she had earlier. She gazed over her shoulder after taking her eyes off of Rebecca and looked down at the tree, just long enough for Rebecca to sigh and place a hand over the large bump.

She shook her head before she murmured, “Ugh – I can’t even take care of myself.” Clementine looked up from the tree, silent, only as an acknowledgement that she was listening (after all, Rebecca wasn’t the kind of person who liked to be passively ignored), and focused on Rebecca’s bump rather than her face.

How am I supposed to raise a child?” Clementine met Rebecca’s eyes. “How can anyone?”

Clementine slowly nodded, but immediately switched to shaking her head as she watched Rebecca’s eyes dart from her own stomach to the hallway, as if eagerly awaiting Alvin’s return.

Crossing her arms, Clementine spoke in a low voice. “I don’t know.” She hesitated, but then sighed as she thought of herself. She was still alive. But she thought of Duck – the only other child that she spent longer than a few hours with after the beginning of the outbreak – and she thought of his end, and how Kenny couldn’t protect him.

How Kenny couldn’t protect Katjaa, either.

She thought of Christa and Omid. She thought of their child.

I’m still alive.” Clementine found herself shrugging as she stepped forward from up against the railing. “Maybe… it’s possible?”

The pause between them lasted several seconds, as Rebecca looked down and as Clementine watched intently, wondering to herself if she had said something to set the woman off. Pregnant women, as Clementine (in her expert opinion and experience) had seen with Christa, could be emotionally unpredictable.

Rebecca’s outstretched fingers stroked the outer side of her belly as her lips curled into a small smile as she spoke.
“You’re right. But… it’s hard, I’m sure.” Clementine’s gaze focused on Rebecca’s hand as she watched Rebecca stroke her pregnant stomach. “It’s exciting to meet someone new. I’m already a little less lonely…”

Clementine nodded, her thoughts drifting back to Christa. She wasn’t going to deny her thoughts about Rebecca’s baby, or about the similarities that she saw between this group and just about every other person that she had ever met who died or were otherwise destroyed in some way.

She hoped for better things.

“She’s kicking.” Rebecca suddenly spoke, removing both hands from her stomach. She used one to push herself forward, and the other to reach out to Clementine. “Wanna listen?”

Clementine froze in her spot, still staring Rebecca in the face. Rebecca’s expression didn’t change, and she instead reached for Clementine’s hand, but Clementine’s mind was elsewhere.

Can you feel her kicking, Christa?

I don’t think she has feet yet, Clem.

Blinking, Clementine retracted her hand from Rebecca’s grasp and slowly shook her head.

“Can I… just… feel?”

Rebecca’s lowered smile was subtle, but she nodded anyway as Clementine reached out again, her fingertips barely close enough to feel the fabric of Rebecca’s shirt. Carefully, she placed her palm flat against the area that Rebecca guided her to; immediately, Clementine felt her heart racing.

The smallest thump against Clementine’s hand made her slowly pull it away again.

“I think it’s the smell,” Rebecca peered down to her bump and slowly rubbed it, savoring the remaining moments that the unborn child kicked, “That smells good, huh?”

Clementine crossed her arms, but only to hide the sudden lack of feeling in her fingers as they trembled. Slowly, she asked, “Do you think she’ll be okay?” Just as soon as she spoke them, Clementine regretted it.

And just as soon as Clementine spoke and regretted speaking, Rebecca’s eyes became wide, her eyebrows scrunched. Clementine crossed her arms tighter, her shoulders arched as she did so, and mentally scolded herself. She shouldn’t have said that. She should not have said that.

Just because what happened with… Clementine’s thoughts were cut off when Rebecca spoke in a hushed voice.

“Yes. Yes, of course.” Clementine watched Rebecca’s eyes as they began to look lower than her face, and instead took focusing on Clementine’s hands, which she was desperately trying to hide the trembling of between her arms. In a low voice, Rebecca asked, “Are you okay, Clementine?”

Clementine quickly nodded. “Yeah – sorry.”

For only a few seconds did Rebecca’s gaze linger on Clementine as she sighed, looking back down to her stomach. She looked up for only a brief second, peering in the direction that Alvin had gone off to, and then resumed her gaze down to her stomach.

“What’s wrong…?” The sudden reversal of their previous roles didn’t surprise Clementine. It wasn’t the first time in her life, and it would no doubt be the last.

“It’s not his.”

Clementine froze, her bewildered expression fixed on Rebecca, looking the woman straight in her eyes as she processed the bizarre statement. The words had been in a whisper, as if it were a secluded secret that should be guarded closely. And yet, despite that, Clementine had very little idea as to what the words meant.

Rebecca looked down again.

The realization fell on Clementine like a ton of bricks.

“… Alvin’s?” she murmured, barely audible to herself, never mind Rebecca. But to her surprise, Rebecca nodded.

“I’m sorry,” Rebecca shook her head, crushing the tissue in her fist yet again. She looked up. “But I trust you. And… you’ve got some secrets of your own.”

Clementine felt her mouth go dry. She had spoken to exactly one person about anything in any serious detail related to her life before the cabin that involved her parents, Lee, or Christa. And it had been Luke, unless Kenny said anything. She hadn’t even talked to Sarah about it; not about that.

“What do you mean?” The response was probably way too quick for her own good. Rebecca would easily figure out what the hell Clementine meant by this – it was practically code for I have something to hide.

Rebecca flinched at the sheer suddenness of the response.

“Nothing,” Clementine didn’t believe her at all. On her list of things to do, along with take a pair of scissors to her pigtails (and possibly Luke’s arm), was to go and punch Luke right in his face. She knew that there was no way that he hadn’t said something to the others. But Rebecca continued with, “I get that there’s things that you don’t want to tell us.”

Of course there were. There were always things that Clementine didn’t want to talk about. Hell, even talking to Christa became a difficult thing after Savannah and then after Omid’s death and then after… well, as Clementine thought before, there were many things that she didn’t want to talk about.

The last time that she told someone her private business, she ended up in the locked closet of a crazed man who talked to his wife’s decapitated head.

Clementine found herself beginning to walk away. It was neither intentional nor expected, but the sudden pounding in her chest began to start up again as she stopped approximately five feet away from Rebecca, her back turned as she let her previously trembling hands fall to her sides.

“I’m… I’m not trying to be weird.” Clementine turned back to Rebecca, “I just… I don’t know.” Once again, she crossed her arms and peered over the railing. Both Sarah and Sarita had abandoned the Christmas tree. “I was just… thinking.”

“About what?”

“Christa.”

“Your friend.” Rebecca placed her hand on her bump and looked into the same direction that she had before, as if expecting Alvin to walk back into the room at any moment. “Why?”

“She was pregnant for a while.” Clementine paused, biting the inside of her mouth and her tongue. She avoided Rebecca’s face. “And I don’t like thinking about it.”

Rebecca opened her mouth to speak, but instead suddenly smiled and turned as Alvin walked into the room. Clementine perked up, feeling herself tensing as she thought of the implications that came from Rebecca’s previous words – before Clementine had allowed herself to become so emotional.

“There’s my man!”

Alvin pushed a plastic water bottle into Rebecca’s hands as he asked, “You all right, baby?” He looked from Rebecca to Clementine, and then back to Rebecca with the same smile.

Clementine couldn’t help wondering how much of their previous conversation that Alvin had heard. Hell, Clementine didn’t even want to hear the conversation, and she had been a part of it.

“I’m fine, you big dope.”

Clementine’s gaze focused on Rebecca’s bump just as much as she focused on the words that Rebecca spoke earlier – It’s not his. As in, it wasn’t Alvin’s. Rebecca wasn’t carrying a baby that was her husband’s. If Clementine’s very limited education on the art of where babies came from was any less, then she wouldn’t have even believed Rebecca. Yet, here Rebecca was, pretending that nothing was wrong. Flirting back to her husband.

Her stomach hurt, and Clementine locked her hand onto her opposite arm as she weeded through the other possibilities. Clementine knew that Christa’s baby girl (as much as it pained her to think of that cold, dead face) was Omid’s. She had looked just like Omid, after all, with very little of Christa.

But Rebecca? Rebecca knew. She really, honestly knew.

Clementine immediately thought of the others – the men in the group. If it wasn’t Alvin, had it been one of them? But they all seemed to have something about them that would have immediately put a dent in any ideas that Clementine had.

The sick feeling in her stomach surfaced again as she thought of Carver and his strange way of speaking about Rebecca, all the way back at the cabin. A pretty little pregnant lady, he had said. Pretty.

Clementine turned back to Alvin, wondering if he had any idea.

“You alright?” Not for the first time, Alvin’s voice nearly made her jump. It was more of a flinch, but it didn’t matter.

“Yeah,” Clementine lied straight through her teeth, putting on a fake smile. “Don’t worry about me.”

Chapter Text

Grinning, Rebecca cradled her bump with one hand as she took Alvin’s in her other hand, pulling it towards her. “She’s kicking.”

Alvin’s eyes lit up as he pressed his hand to Rebecca’s bump. He let out a low chortle as he did so, and then said, “It’s the smell, ain’t it? You hungry?”

Always.” Rebecca stood as she spoke, walking past Clementine and over to the railing. She leaned over, peering in the direction of the kitchenette. Walter, his portable burner, and his pot of mystery food were gone out of sight. “Did you hear Walter say when we’re gonna eat?”

Clementine shifted away, turning so that she was facing the direction of the stairs. The sick feeling in her stomach remained, and was now joined with a pounding sensation in her head.  As much as she didn’t want to continue to smell the peaches and beans, the excuse of going to ask Walter about when they were going to eat was a valid one.

“Nah, I didn’t.” replied Alvin, tucking his hands into his jacket pocket.

Without having to say anything, Clementine found herself managing to get down the stairs undetected. The smell of dinner wafted throughout the entire lodge as Clementine leaned against the side of the banister, scanning the sitting room and kitchenette for the others as she did so.

At the sound of a door shutting, Clementine glanced up to meet Carlos, who stood a few feet away.

“Hi,” she murmured, roping her arm around the banister. “Are Luke and Nick still outside?”

Carlos sighed, looking over his shoulder as he began to crack the side door open. “They’re still helping that man, Matthew. There’s a lot of wood outside that needs to be brought in. And… if the clouds are anything to go by, then the storm is coming sooner than we all thought.”

“So… are we staying the night?” Clementine recalled Sarita saying something earlier about giving the group a place to sleep, though she hadn’t seen the actual place in the flesh. Though, truthfully, she would rather have the possibilities of sleeping on the floor in a warm building than sleeping in the dirt in the rain.

“That’s how it’s looking.” Carlos carefully shut the backdoor, and then turned his attention back to Clementine. “Has anyone else said anything?”

“I talked to Rebecca.” Shrugging, Clementine gazed over to the wooden duck on the table. “And I talked to Sarita for a minute. She told me the difference between a Catholic and a Christian.”

In response, Clementine received a slow, short nod.

“Was there a… reason for that to come up?” asked Carlos, who briefly peered over his shoulder to see the wooden duck that Clementine watched.

“Not really. We were talking about tree toppers.” Clementine looked from the duck to the area behind the Christmas tree, half-heartedly wondering where Sarah had gone off to. “Sarah said you guys used to have an angel on your tree, so I asked her why, and…”

She trailed off when she noticed that Carlos looked away.

“Are you okay?” asked Clementine, noticing the sudden change in his facial expression. He had gone from a fairly blank stare to one of a very sudden frustration or confusion.

He hesitated for a moment, rubbing the side of his face as his eyes shifted from Clementine to the door. Carlos shook his head.

“I’m fine, Clem.” He crossed his arms. “I’m sorry – I’m trying to remember what I forgot.”

Clementine didn’t speak after that, and merely nodded as they both stood in silence for about five seconds before Carlos spoke again.

“I haven’t looked at your bite.” He clenched his jaw. “Although I am not sure if that’s the only thing that I’ve forgotten today. But it’s on the list.”

As she looked down at her arm, Clementine felt the phantom pains that she had previously forgotten about (it was the only way to get it to stop hurting, after all) and thought of Carlos’ previous words on the night that he stitched the wound, the ones about checking to make sure that it wasn’t infected. Of course, it hadn’t been the night before. But then again, she hadn’t found herself fighting walkers and holding on to a bridge for dear life yesterday, either.

She pulled up her sleeve and bit her lip at the annoying stinging that raced up her arm the moment that the fabric raked across her skin and the bandage, and began to carefully unwrap it. There was very little blood spilled against the bandages within the last few days, and Clementine could only hope that this would continue the trend.

Clementine repressed the urge to roll her eyes as he attempted to both be gentle and manhandle her arm at the same time. But then again, it was better than losing the arm.

Carlos took her arm, scanning each individual stitch, and then turned it so that he could look at her wrist and forearm.

“The bite is fine,” he said, and tapped his finger against one of the scabbing scratches on Clementine’s forearm, “The scratches aren’t infected either. But –”

The door that Carlos came from opened, and Kenny’s voice suddenly filled the cabin. “Hey, Clem – holy shit!”

Kenny stopped behind Carlos, who tensed. His eyes widening, Kenny gritted his teeth and looked from Clementine’s wound to her face, and then back to her wound. He took in a sharp breath. As her cheeks heated up, Clementine looked down at the carpeting on the stairs.

Carlos let go of Clementine’s arm, turning back to Kenny with a glare, which Kenny ignored. His gaze was instead completely fixated on the stitched wound. Despite its lack of infection, the skin around it was irritated and some of the cracks between the meticulously stitched sutures were filled with cracked, dried blood; Clementine couldn’t help but feel at least semi-self-conscious about it. It was an ugly sight.

But, as she told herself before, it was better than losing it.

Scars? They’re way cooler than stumps.

Luke’s words would ring true if the damn thing ever healed.

“How the hell’d you get that?”

Kenny was now attempting to look her in the face. Carlos didn’t move from his current spot, his glare still aimed at Kenny; he said nothing, however, and folded his arms.

Sighing, Clementine debated on whether or not to tell the truth. She didn’t want to talk about Sam. She didn’t want to talk about the wound. She didn’t want to talk about any of it. But Kenny would, and he would especially want to know the details.

It may have been a while, but the distant memories of Kenny’s escapades and fights in Georgia were beginning to come flooding back.

“It’s a long story.” Clementine shrugged, holding her arm back up for Carlos, who took it with a few seconds’ hesitation. His glare fell into a simple grimace as he moved to a position that kept him from being shoulder-to shoulder with Kenny. Clementine spoke again, “But it involves me… a hungry dog… and…”

Kenny’s gaze softened as he shook his head. “I’m so sorry, darlin’… Jesus… a dog?”

Clementine nodded.

“Shit, where the hell were y’all when this happened?”

It wasn’t a question that Clementine didn’t expect. But as she watched Carlos stop what he was doing, she knew that Kenny had asked the wrong person the wrong question.

“We hadn’t met her yet.” Carlos’ tone was incredulous, though he didn’t look up from Clementine’s wound. “She’s been with us for a week.”

Carlos let go of Clementine’s arm and took the bandages from her other hand. “Let me re-wrap it.”

“A fuckin’ week?”

“That is what I just said, yes.”

“Huh.” Kenny crossed his arms. “And what happened to your…?”

Clementine touched the side of her face with her right hand. The only thing, other than damage to her emotional state, that she had to prove that her escapade and near-death experience on the bridge had even happened was a tightened butterfly bandage on her cheek and a purpling bruise.

She responded with a small smile as she restrained herself from chuckling darkly. “I smacked it. On the bridge.”

“And who’s fault was that?” asked Carlos, tightening the bandage around Clementine’s arm. He was right, in a way; he had said that he didn’t think that it was a great idea for her to go, but that was beside the point.

Clementine immediately deflected. “The walker’s.” she replied, and then ran her fingers over the bandage. “Thanks.”

“That is what I’m good for.”

As he finished his sentence, Carlos moved past Clementine and took a hold of the banister. But before he could escape anymore questions, Kenny asked, “You the medic?”

“Yes.” Carlos left it at this, not turning to face Kenny.

“Doctor?”

“For fourteen years.”

“You oughta be useful these days.”

There was a sudden shattering from the dining room, and Walter called for everyone to stay out of the dining room while he cleaned up a dropped ceramic bowl.
Kenny chuckled to himself as he leaned against the banister. Clementine stayed still, unsure of her current position on the stairs, and looked up to Carlos, who took another step in his attempt to get away from human contact.

“Anyway,” said Kenny, “I guess a medic’s what y’all need. ‘specially with your friend upstairs.”

Clementine surmised from that sentence that he was referring to Rebecca, and her stomach pain immediately came back at the thoughts of Rebecca’s pregnancy. There was literally nothing else that he could be referring to, unless Alvin had some medical problem that he hadn’t mentioned.

“How far along’s she?”

Carlos turned, so that his back wasn’t to Kenny. “That’s… none of your business.”

Clementine watched the expression that crossed Kenny’s face, and felt a shiver go up her spine as she suddenly thought of something else. His eyebrows furrowed, his teeth just slightly bared, as he gripped the banister with a force strong enough to turn his white knuckles whiter.

She found herself stepping to the side as a hammer seemed to hit the inside of her chest. The thoughts that she had while trekking up the side of the mountain with Matthew and the others came back; what if Kenny had changed? What if he hadn’t?

His arguments with Lilly used to shake the walls. His arguments with Lee broke Clementine’s heart. No matter how much Lee used to tell her to cover her ears, Clementine knew that it wouldn’t work. She would still hear Kenny yelling.

“Kenny, can you help me with the tables?”

The voice belonged to Sarita, and Clementine let out a quiet sigh of relief as Kenny turned. His glare turned to a grin, his eyes lighting up again when he saw Sarita, just as he had earlier. Within just a few seconds, he excused himself from the stairs.

Clementine turned to see that she and Carlos held the exact same expression.

“I’m not sure about Kenny.” He said this in a voice low enough to hide from Kenny, but loud enough for Clementine to hear. “Keep your eyes open.”

Before Clementine could respond, Walter’s voice rang out.

“Well, everyone, dinner is served! Come on, let’s eat!”

The sound of tables being pushed against the tiled ground was obvious, as was the clinking of shattered ceramic against its own shards as Walter came from the dining room to dump the ceramic into a trashcan. He looked up with a smile.

“Can you grab Matthew and the others, Clementine?” he asked, dumping the shards into the trashcan. “I think they’re just outside of the door. But knowing Matthew, Luke and Nick are having their ears talked off right now.”

Clementine nodded, stepping down from the lowest step and turning her gaze to the backdoor. Carlos walked past her, and Clementine hesitated as she peered over her shoulder to see Kenny pushing one of the tables – a large, wooden picnic table, clearly of high quality – against another.

She turned back to the door and pushed it open just enough to see into the back area. The cold air stung her nose as she peeked out just enough to see Matthew, Luke, and Nick, who were each leaning against the rocks of the walls. Matthew’s voice hit her ears, and she knew immediately what Walter was referring to.

But, she thought, thinking of her previous words with Rebecca, this would be Luke’s punishment if he really had told her business to the others, no matter what Rebecca wanted to say.

“… Well, anyway, Walt wanted to put the bookshelf – y’know, that really big one I was talking about? – yeah, well, he wouldn’t let me put it in our room. He said it would take up too much space –”

Nick, who previously had his head bowed and was staring at the ground and his shoes, peered up. Luke also turned, grinning to Clementine, while Matthew cut himself off.

Nick’s voice low, he asked, “Somethin’ wrong, Clem?”

“Walter said dinner’s ready.” she informed them, leaning against the door. “… Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”

“No harm done.” replied Matthew. He looked to Luke and Nick, and the nodded towards the door. “Are you guys hungry?”

Hell yeah!” Luke was the first to answer, while Nick simply shrugged in response, as all three of them headed towards the door.

Thankful to be back in the heat – no matter how temporary the frigid cold outside had been on her skin – Clementine turned her attention back to the dining room and away from the three men. The tables were lined up now, five bowls and sets of silverware placed on one side and six bowls and sets of silverware placed on the other.

The dining room past the tables was nice, she thought, once one managed to disregard the fact that all of the windows were covered with boards, just as the doors were. But other than that, it was nice. It was simple.

It was dimly lit, but at the same time, Clementine liked the change in light.

The others streamed in past her, including Matthew, Nick, and Luke. Each of them took seats close together, like children rushing to sit with their friends in a school cafeteria (was that what this set up reminded her of?). Clementine, on the other hand, lagged behind, scanning the open places.

The moment that Rebecca sat – possibly even before she was completely sitting down – she grabbed the spoon and began to eat; Alvin chortled and took a seat next to her.

Walter took his seat next to Matthew, while Nick and Luke sat across from each other; Clementine followed Nick to his side, attempting to avoid wrinkling her nose at the smell of the beans and peaches. Sure, she was hungry – starving, even – but at that moment, she understood Matthew’s… incredibly valid concerns about the quality.

Clementine grabbed the spoon in order to avoid seeming rude; Walter sat only a few spaces away. In true teacher fashion, he was surveying everyone, as if trying to make sure that no one else, other than Matthew, thought that his meal sucked.

Luke, Rebecca, and Alvin shoveled their meals in happily.

As she looked to Nick, Clementine watched as Nick lazily poked at his food with a fork, never completely skewering a bean or a peach segment.
She looked to her own food and dipped the spoon in just enough to coat the metallic edge in the sauce from the beans, and then attempted to separate a bean that stuck to a peach segment.

“You okay, man?” Luke’s whisper drew Clementine’s attention away from dissecting her dinner.

Nick rubbed one of his reddened eyes, his breathing slow and somewhat labored as he did so.

“Yeah…” His gaze focused on his dinner as he spoke in another whisper, “I’m just… really fuckin’ tired right now.”

Clementine agreed with him; the aching and tightness in her body was already beginning to catch up with her, and the aroma from the food wasn’t helping with her already somewhat sick stomach. She skewered a bean with her fork, and then watched the two of them out of the corner of her eye.

To her surprise, Luke reached out and took Nick’s hand. He gave it a very brief, tight squeeze.

“We’re stayin’ the night.” he whispered, “Should be enough to get our strength up.”

Nick suddenly drew back his hand as Kenny stood up from his spot, just two seats down from Luke, and switched spots with Sarita.

“Hey there,” he spoke, smiling to Luke. He placed his bowl down in place of Sarita’s, and pushed hers towards her.

Luke opened his mouth to reply back, but hesitated. He exchanged a glance with Nick, completely avoiding Clementine, and simply replied, “… Hey.”

She watched intently. After his uncomfortable conversation with Carlos earlier, Clementine wasn’t sure how he would react to yet another reluctant conversation with someone else from her group. But then again, maybe Luke was just embarrassed. It would explain his flushed cheeks.

“Hope you like the food.” Kenny swirled his bowl around with a spoon, looking from Luke to Nick, who suddenly shoveled a peach segment into his mouth.

Clementine debated doing the same thing.

“Oh…” Luke pulled a face, seemingly aware that Kenny couldn’t see it. “It’s… it’s great. Thank you.”

Kenny chuckled as he watched Nick shovel another piece of food into his mouth, and said, “Peaches and beans. Great for nutrition.”

Clementine skewered a peach segment with the sharp edge of her spoon, raising it up to choke it down.

“Not too great on the way out, though, I tell you.”

Clementine lowered the peach segment and her spoon back into the bowl as Kenny guffawed at his horrible joke. She cut her eyes at him, and then decided that, maybe, this meal wasn’t for her at all. A bathroom joke was about the last thing that she wanted to hear right now, especially while staring down at a bowl of what looked way too much like feces.

Luke narrowed his eyes, chuckling along darkly, and then dropped his gaze back to his own bowl. He also put his spoon down. Nick, on the other hand, sighed and continued to slowly eat his meal. He was obviously pretending to have not heard the joke.

“… Sorry,” Kenny chuckled, planting his elbows on the table. He looked from Nick to Clementine, and then to Luke. “So… Nick and Luke, right?”

Luke nodded as he raised his fork to eat a few beans.

“You two sure do look like a match.”

Just as Clementine did before him, Luke placed his fork right back into his bowl as he turned. If a look could kill, then Kenny would have fallen off of his seat and died on the floor right there.

Nick bared his teeth, “What the hell d’you mean by that?”

Clementine froze, her heart hammering again. She looked down to the bowl in front of her and grabbed her spoon and the skewered peach segment; as quickly as she could, she shoved it into her mouth, trying to keep herself from gagging on the piece. She would have absolutely no part in this argument. Nope. Not at all.

As she tried to force the peach (and by extension, a bean that was stuck to it) down, her gaze turned to everyone else down the table. Kenny’s comments and Nick’s sudden aggression had attracted the attention of Matthew, Walter, and Sarita.

Sarita also froze, as if unsure of what to do next. Matthew was swirling his dinner absentmindedly as he watched the scene unfold in front of him. Clementine briefly made eye contact with Walter, who was beginning to look as if he would rather have been anywhere else but there.

“Just that you’re good friends, is all.” Kenny replied, his voice wooden. He stopped for a moment, looking between the three of them. “That’s all.”

“Kenny…” Matthew spoke from his spot next to Sarita. “… Not every two men you meet are…”

“I wasn’t implyin’ that!”

“Implyin’ what?” asked Luke, letting his fork fall from his grip. There was something in his voice that sounded much more like he was challenging Kenny to answer the question, rather than genuinely asking it, and it was drawing the attention of the others. He and Nick exchanged glances for the few seconds before Matthew spoke.

“Something… personal.” Matthew cut his eyes at Kenny. “Something he doesn’t need to be asking about over dinner.”

Kenny closed his eyes and let out a low groan. “It don’t matter.”

Clementine gripped the bench as she breathed a sigh of relief. Kenny was finally giving up.

“Anyway,” interjected Luke, “What was your plan here? Hold out for the winter?”

“Actually, we were thinkin’ about movin’ on. Somewhere up north.” He looked to Clementine, “You ever heard of a place called Wellington?”

Clementine perked up at the name. Of course she had! Christa wouldn’t stop talking about it. Every conversation that they had had about travelling within the last six months involved some mention of it.

Luke cocked his head. “Wellington? The hell is that?”

“A place.”

“Yeah, what kind of place?”

“A good one, Einstein.” Kenny snarled, his volume beginning to rise again.

Clementine tried to speak, but Nick beat her to it. He allowed his spoon to clink against the side of his bowl as he leaned in, both elbows on the table.

“Where the hell’s it at?”

“Supposedly, Michigan.” Kenny nodded as he spoke. “But some people’re sayin’ somewhere ‘round the Amish parts o’ Ohio. Either one’s a good guess.”

Nick grimaced. “Michigan?”

Clementine braced herself as Kenny bared his teeth again, just as he had earlier. His eyes squinted, he raised his voice.

“You gotta a hearing problem, kid?” He mocked Nick’s tone, “Yeah, Michigan! Think about it – actually fuckin’ think about it! Clean water, lotsa land … and cold ass winters so the walkers get slow!”

“Sounds like bullshit, if no one even knows where the hell it is.”

There was a brief second where Clementine felt a chill go down her spine as she watched the previously hopeful, excited look melt from Kenny’s face, only to be replaced by one of irritation and of malice. Once again, he raised his voice.

“Listen, Vanilla Ice, I don’t know what the fuck your deal is, but you’re more than fuckin’ welcome to take off in the mornin’!” He slammed his fist against the table as he shouted.

Luke turned to Kenny, his tight grip remaining on his bowl rather than on Kenny’s throat. “You don’t gotta fuckin’ talk to him like –”

“No, Luke,” Nick snapped, leaning forward. “That’s just fuckin’ fine with me!”

“What’s the deal with these guys, Clem?”

“I-I don’t –”

But Kenny cut her off as he kept yelling, while Nick and Luke continued to yell back.

As Clementine looked up, mentally pleading with the rest of the group to stop them. But the rest of the group stared, but the noise felt as if it were only getting louder. And here Kenny was, intentionally trying to get Clementine back into the fight. It only made her feel more sick to her stomach than she already was.

“Hey, fuck you, buddy!” Nick shouted.

Luke held his hands up, resigned. “Just fuckin’ stop, Nick. We’re not stayin’.”

She’s stayin’!”

Clementine felt her stomach drop at Kenny’s unexpected comment; her eyes widened as she looked up to Luke, who stared back at her with a similar expression.

“Wh – ‘scuse me?” sputtered Luke, inching himself away from Kenny.

Her breath was caught in her throat, and just like earlier, the feeling in her fingertips was beginning to leave her as their words continued. They were yelling – way too much, way too loud – and now, no one was going to get along.
Clementine, frozen, stared ahead as she tried to rationalize with herself, but she couldn’t. No one was going to get along; they were all going to fight and it would be all her fault because she was the one who suggested coming here in the first place. She was the one who knew Kenny – who knew what he was capable of – and here she was, letting the entire situation spiral out of control.

In that moment, she wanted to die. She wanted to run.

Wouldn’t that be nice? She could just hop out the window, sprint away like a madman, and never come back. It would be like how everything was before she met Sam – walking through an unfamiliar place, miles away from where she last knew the area, but she would be alone and there would be no more confrontation.

Yet even in her head, Clementine knew this was quite possibly the stupidest possible thing she could do. Running away from her problems had never worked – and she tried. Hard. But never hard enough.

She hadn’t realized that she was crying until the tears hit her neck, and by then, Kenny’s voice hadn’t dampened. He hadn’t even noticed, too caught up arguing with Luke while Sarita and Matthew tried to rationalize with the both of them. But Nick had noticed.

“Clem?” he asked, his voice low. He reached out to put his hand on her shoulder, but she pushed it back with her own trembling hands, and shook her head.

“Don’t.” Clementine whispered. She looked down, taking in a deep breath as she choked.

The words from Walter came from behind her, and she hadn’t even realized that he had gotten up. But instead of being directed to her, the words were for the others, his voice loud and clear.

Gentleman,” he snapped, holding his hands up, just as Luke had earlier, “Please, there’s no need for this.”

Clementine didn’t move as a hush fell over the entire dining room at Walter’s words. The glares between Kenny, Luke, and Nick were more than enough to silence her – they had surely beaten Walter to it.

“Now look,” Walter admonished, “We’ve all had a long day. Please, eat.”

There was another pause in-between his words then and when Kenny spoke again. Clementine stared down at her bowl, not touching her face for fear of drawing attention to the tearstains on her cheeks. She felt Kenny’s eyes burning into her.

Respite – it was what she wanted from the constant arguing; of Kenny and his group, and of her own.

“Clem,” he spoke, his voice gentler now. He nearly sounded regretful. “I ain’t tryin’ to make you upset, but –”

Clementine’s response was automatic, absolutely no thought put into what she did next. Her previous thoughts of running away came back; she turned around without speaking, stood, and found herself walking away, past Nick and past Walter.

“Clementine!” It was Kenny again, everyone else quiet.

Quickly, she left the dining room, ignoring the deafening silence emanating, and found herself running for the front door. In her fit, between the blurriness of the angry tears that started up again, she pushed her entire body against the heavy door in order to open it wide enough for the frigid air to smack her right in the face.

“Clementine?”

Though she didn’t look back, Clementine recognized Walter’s voice, and slowed in her tracks as she held the door open. Just as she had while listening to Rebecca, she bit the inside of her mouth to avoid saying something that she regretted.

As she took in a shuddering breath, she shifted to the side and shook her head. She felt Walter brush past her and heard the soft sound of the door slowly shutting.

“Are you okay?” he asked, his eyes just as wide.

“I’m fine,” snapped Clementine, taking a seat on the top step. She wrapped her arms around her stomach, the sick feeling rising into her throat. Her voice faltered, “I’m… I’m fine. Just… don’t worry about me.”

But Walter was a teacher through and through, and as she suspected before, he was still stuck in teacher-mode. He looked down at her for only a few seconds before he joined her, sighing for himself as he did so.

“I’m sorry about that,” Walter spoke, looking over to Clementine, “They shouldn’t have brought you into their argument.” His unspoken synonym for they – Kenny – was more than obvious as he looked over his shoulder through a crack in the doors.

Clementine kept her gaze fixated on the peak of a tree in the distance and gritted her teeth. “It’s fine.” she parroted to him, once again, “I should’ve just… stopped him.”

She wiped her eyes with her sleeve and avoided looking Walter in the face. Something inside of her said that he cared, but Clementine couldn’t help but feel that his input would make things worse. It was practically a national pastime for adults in a post-apocalyptic world.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry for.” Walter sighed, his voice faltering for a few seconds before he spoke again, “I had a feeling that they were making you uncomfortable. And… I’m sorry that they did. They shouldn’t have put you in the middle of that.”

For a moment, Clementine wanted to reply back with a snarky comment about how no one should have done anything to her – and how she should be used to it by now. But she didn’t, and instead glared at the ground. The embarrassment of what she had just done was almost worse than the anxiety and the confusion that she felt before.

“Remember how I said I used to be a teacher? I remember what it was like to be caught in the middle of two cliques.”

Clementine shook her head. “They’re not eleven. They’re not –”

Me. She wanted to finish her sentence off with that. They weren’t kids that Walter taught. They were full grown adults acting as if they were parents in a custody battle, and she was the child who simply wanted to go live in the woods.

“Even adults can be… challenging to deal with. That’s why I liked working with kids.” Walter gave her a small smile. “Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but kids stop asking questions when you tell them ‘because’. Either they do that, or they would give me a more creative question. Adults… they’re challenging. They’re meant to be fully developed. And smart.”

Clementine shrugged, wiping her face again with her sleeve.

“But instead, what you get are large children who challenge everything everyone says.”

“I just…” Clementine pulled her knees to her chest, laying her chin down on the top of her kneecap. “I don’t understand why everything turns into a fight – I should’ve expected it from Kenny. He’s… he’s got a temper.”

There was another bout of silence that lasted for a few seconds as Walter’s gaze shifted from the woods back to Clementine.
“Can I tell you something?” Slowly, Clementine nodded. Walter hesitated for a moment, before he said, “Listen – relationships are like any machine. You don’t throw them out when they break down.”

He received a bewildered look from Clementine in return. She had known way too many people who had been hurt or killed from bad relationships. Many of them, relating to Kenny. Doug had been shot, simply because he had gotten in the way of Lilly’s attempt to gun down Ben. She remembered the crazed man on her radio; his relationships crumbled and were all but killed because of stupid things that he had done.

Many people were thrown out when they broke down.

“People are the same way. Sometimes, they break down. You just have to get your hands dirty and grease the wheels. You don’t have to throw away everything because of one little slip. Or, in this case, an argument. It’s not going to be the end of the world.”

“Maybe not,” Clementine muttered, “But that’s exactly what it feels like.”

“I suspect they’ll find common ground soon.” Walter replied, placing a hand on her shoulder. “It may take a little bit of time, but that’s just how these things work… everything’s going to be fine.”

Walter stood, and Clementine shakily stood with him. Slowly, he wrapped his hand around the corner of the building. “Walk with me for a minute?”

Clementine slowly nodded, following him as he did.

“With the fighting going on inside… well, we have to unify our factions for a common goal.” He smiles kindly, “You know, like Churchill and Roosevelt. Will you help me with that?”

The names were unfamiliar, which really put a damper on Clementine’s ability to either agree or disagree with Walter’s words. For all that she knew, those two people could have lost some horrific war. But then again, they could have won it, too.

Clementine mulled it over for a moment. What was there to lose? Her mind? Her dignity? The small amount of respect she could get as an eleven year old who had trouble opening up some doors because they were too heavy? No, she would probably lose all three. But if she could get Kenny and the others to stop fighting, then maybe it would be… worth it. Maybe. Possibly.

Probably not.

“How?” her small voice asked as she dragged her shoe in the dirt. “With everything going on, how?”

“Well, to start with, they have to learn how to talk things out.” Walter looked down at her for a moment, and then scanned the rocks lining the walls. “Let me tell you a little secret – the world isn’t over, even if people say it is. People are more political than ever before. All we can do – what we need to do – is to learn from each other. To empathize and to use our heads.”

Christa and Omid always did say that Clementine could be rather hard-headed. It was probably for the best.

“If we learn from each other… well, we can support each other in a better way. I can help you, and vice versa. Kenny, Nick, and Luke can help each other, so that they don’t argue as much. And that benefits you as well, because it takes away something that hurts you.”

“And what if they still fight?” Clementine pondered. She spoke in a low voice, for a moment paranoid that one of them could hear her. “What then?”

But Walter simply smiled in return. “We keep working with them, then.” His shoulders sagged. “’All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.’ Steinbeck. Have you read him?”

Clementine raised an eyebrow. Walter was definitely still stuck in teacher-mode if he thought that she kept up with her summer reading assignments two years into the outbreak. She couldn’t remember the last time that she had actually been able to sit down and read a book cover to cover without getting a headache after the second page.

“No.”

“Ah,” said Walter, nodding, “Well, he was a smart man. He also said, ‘No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose that they are like himself.’ and I think that that’s important to remember. All that we can do is empathize. Use our heads. Try to be the best that we can.”

“Who… is Steinbeck? And why did he say all that?”

It was such a strange concept. Well, not exactly, but it did feel foreign. It felt much more like something that one would learn in some kind of anger management course, or in an anti-bullying seminar at a school.

“John Steinbeck. He was a writer.” Walter chuckled. “You might’ve heard of Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath. He wrote both of them. Matthew’s amassing quite the literature collection. He probably has both of those, if you’re curious.”

Clementine nodded. Sarah might be into those books, too.

Walter continued, as if trying to steer the conversation away from Steinbeck. “My point is: as long as we have our wits about us, we can make the right choice. We can build off of each other and help each other along the way. Right?”

“Right.” Inside, as she said this, Clementine wished more than anything that there was a way to simply wave a magic wand and put Walter’s plan into action. But more and more, as the days dragged on, she knew that the chances of that happening were only getting slimmer. People went mad the day that the outbreak started, never mind two and a half years into it.

But she would stay optimistic for his sake.

Clementine looked away, down to the ground with her red and blotchy eyes as she thought of the others. They had every right to be angry – at Kenny, at her, and at each other. Maybe Walter’s advice would work, maybe for a few hours or days. But in all, they had valid reasons to be angry.

Walter’s frowned. She hadn’t realized that she was already on the edge of frustrated tears again.

“What’s the matter, Clementine?” he asked her in a low voice. It was one of concern, just as thickly as his words had been earlier. He crouched to her height, as Clementine continued to look down at the ground. “Is there something you want to tell me?”

They were both quiet for a moment. She wanted to tell him about her fears of the others for that brief second as her heart thumped again. She wanted to tell him about her discomfort with Rebecca’s current situation (the guilt of keeping that secret from Alvin was minimal, but she knew that it soon wouldn’t be).

She wanted to tell him about Carver.

“You can talk to me, Clem.” Walter assured her, reaching out to take her wrist. “There’s almost nothing you can tell me that would surprise me. I can promise you that.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” replied Clementine, her gaze fixated on the ground. She took a step back. “I’m just… worried.” She crossed her arms and looked at him, feeling her lip quiver. “I’m just… tired of being scared.”

Before Walter could reply, Clementine turned to see Kenny coming down the stairs in their direction, his rifle held tightly in his hands. He hung his head as he and Clementine locked eyes.

“Hey,” he said, his voice hoarse. Clementine concluded that it was from yelling, and wiped the frustrated tears from her eyes so that he wouldn’t see them. “Are you okay, Clem?”

“I’m fine.” she replied, shaking her head. Her voice trembled as she spoke. “I’m tired and… I wasn’t thinking.”

“That ain’t your fault, Clem. I lost my temper. I didn’t even realize you were…” Kenny hung his head again, and loosened his grip around the stock of his gun. He never was good with apologies, but Clementine knew that this was genuine. He had always hurt people obliviously, never intentionally. “Anyway, what’re you kids talkin’ about?”

“Politics.” Walter replied dryly. He chuckled as he stood to his full height.

“The hell?”

“Well, being from Florida, I would imagine you know all about politics, Kenny.”

As the semi-dark tone slipped away, Kenny joined in on the chuckling from Walter. “Man, I know one advantage of livin’ in the apocalypse is not dealin’ with that shit no more!”

He gripped his rifle tightly, chuckling as he began to walk ahead of them. “I was just gonna check the windows ‘round back before the storm hits. Give us a hand?”

“Sure.” said Walter, turning to fully face Kenny.

Clementine hoped to herself that Kenny had fully calmed down – that he would do better. That she would do better. And so she and Walter followed Kenny around the corner of the lodge, wordlessly, until he suddenly stopped, his entire body flinching. And then she saw why.

A skinny, redheaded woman was peeking inside of the exact same window that Kenny was planning on checking, and she evidentially hadn’t noticed their chatter from before. Nor did the woman notice three people – two of them being larger, fully grown men, watching her from the side.

Just as Kenny’s expression darkened, Walter gripped him by the shoulder and shook his head.

“Miss?” Walter called out in a voice loud enough for the woman to hear, but seemingly not loud enough for him to scare her.

The woman jumped, stumbling back without a sound as she turned to look at them – and the end of Kenny’s rifle -- with a set of terrified, blue eyes. Gaunt and pale with sunken cheeks, Clementine thought that the woman looked like just another survivor. Just someone else who was probably hungry, and maybe even lost, by the reaction that she had just given.

She held her hands up as she backed up, her eyes wide as she stumbled in place.
Walter pushed down the barrel of Kenny’s gun as he called out to the woman again, “Are you all right?”

Please,” she begged, her voice soft and strained. Clementine noticed the woman’s heavy southern accent with just one word. “Do you have any food?”

Chapter Text

If there was anything that the woman could say that would keep Kenny from immediately shooting her, then Clementine supposed that it was her begging for food.

“Are you okay?” The words came not from the woman, but from Walter, who stepped forward past Kenny. Without looking down, he pushed the barrel of Kenny’s gun down once more, as if it were a sign of pacifism to the woman. “Are you hurt?”

Clementine saw no wounds on the woman, though she noted that the woman was rather thin. Her sunken cheeks and the small but loose vest that exposed prominent collar bones made this quite obvious. But there were no wounds covering her.

Backing up, Clementine brushed against Kenny.

“I saw the house…” the woman stammered, her eyebrows knitting together. Her gaze turned to the ground. “And… I have a family. We’re starvin’.” She turned, gesturing to the woods in the distance, past the old ski lift, “We live down there.”

“Of course,” Walter took another step forward, as the woman took one backwards. “Why don’t you come in, miss…?”

“… Bonnie.” the woman spoke in a low voice, her eyes flicking between him and Kenny.

Between all four of them, there was a brief pause. Kenny leaned forward, his glare fixated on Bonnie as he whispered to Walter.

“Walt, I don’t know.” Clementine watched Kenny’s grip on the gun increase. “You’re just gonna let her in like that?”

“It’s fine, Kenny.”

There was an edge in Walter’s voice that Clementine hadn’t heard from him before. She backed up, once again looking up to Kenny. On one hand, Walter had allowed her group in, and he hadn’t known them. On the other hand… well, this woman had no link to them.

“We don’t know this girl.”

“Then I suppose we’ll get to know her.”

Walt.”

“How much damage can this poor woman do?”

At Walter’s words, Clementine looked back to Bonnie. Walter had a point. From what she could tell, Bonnie didn’t seem to be carrying even a gun. She was taller than the average woman – maybe five-six – but she was still skinny, and probably wouldn’t do too much harm.

“Do you have any weapons?”

The words came out without thinking, and Clementine wanted to smack herself the moment she spoke.

To her surprise, however, Bonnie’s hands trembled as she reached towards her pockets. She looked from Kenny’s gun to Clementine’s face as she suddenly turned out both of her pockets.

“I got nothin’ on me.” Bonnie whispered, and then pushed her pockets back in. She looked back up at Walter, her face dropping. “Look – thank you, really – but that storm’ll be on us soon… I gotta get back to my family.”

“I’ll bring something out to you, then.”

Clementine watched as Kenny’s hand clenched.

Bonnie put her hands up. “You don’t have to do that.” By the looks of it, the pink tinge on her cheeks was from a little bit more than just the cold.

“No, no, it’s fine,” Walter assured her. He bumped Clementine’s arm with his own as he backed up. She wondered for a moment if he was trying to get her attention, and she stared up at him to watch his facial expression.

“What about your people?” Bonnie asked, gripping her shoulder. She looked down at the ground.

“We’ve got plenty. You stay put. I’ll be right back.”

With this, Walter backed up and turned, heading around the corner and towards the door. In that moment, Clementine thought of about a hundred things, if not more, that could go wrong. She and Kenny exchanged a glance, and then Clementine turned her attention back to Bonnie.

Bonnie took a few unsteady steps forward, and brushed away a loose strand of hair that had fallen from a messy ponytail. She smiled, just enough to show some form of happiness, and peered down to Clementine.

“I have… a little girl,” she stated, her voice barely above a whisper, “Like you.” Bonnie slowly crouched down to Clementine’s height. “How old are you, sweetie?”

Clementine was silent for a moment, the suddenness of the question having caught her off guard. For a brief second, she considered lying, but there really was no point to it.

Instead, she crossed her arms. “I’m eleven.”

Luke had stated several times that he thought she had a baby-face, and that she looked closer to nine years old than eleven years old. But Clementine, as bad as she was at it, knew how to do simple math. She knew her age, she was just tiny for her age.

Bonnie smiled again, nodding. She let out a chuckle. “I’d have thought older.”

Clementine nearly rolled her eyes. If this was the kind of thing an adult wanted to use to break the ice, it clearly wasn’t working. Especially because she honestly did agree with Luke’s words from before; she could barely pass any older than ten.

Without a response, Bonnie stood back up, her small smile slipping into that of an expression that seemed much more worried or bothered than happy or grateful.

The silence between them lasted only a few seconds before the front door opened and shut once more, revealing Walter, who held in his arms a cardboard box. Just from the sound of it – from the movements that Walter made as he brought it around the corner, Clementine heard the sound of several heavy cans moving around. Her heart sank as she thought of the loss of a steady supply of food; her stomach only growled more.

Bonnie’s eyes widened to the size of saucers.

“Here you are, miss,” said Walter as he passed the box to her.

With slight hesitation, Bonnie, her eyes still widened and her open in shock, took the box from him and wrapped her arms around it tightly. She repeatedly glanced from the box to Walter as she seemed to struggle to form a sentence.

“This-this is too much!”

Clementine took one step forward, peering around Walter to see that he simply returned her sentiments with a smile.

“Don’t mention it.” he said, his voice gentle as he did so. He stepped back from Bonnie, who’s hands were now trembling as she grasped the box.

She averted Walter’s gaze and murmured, “I don’t… know how to thank you.”

“Just help someone else down the line.”

“… Thank you so much. I’ll… I’ll be goin’ now.”

“You stay safe.”

“You… you too…”

Within a few seconds, Bonnie and the box of cans were gone.

“Go on inside and get to bed, Clementine.” Kenny said, his tone firm, once Bonnie was far enough away. He nudged her with his elbow. “Walt and I gotta talk for a second.”

Clementine nodded without speaking, cautiously turning and heading back up towards the front doors. She didn’t stick around long enough to hear what she was sure was going to be Kenny tearing into Walter; instead, she thought to herself that this was going to be Kenny’s attitude towards multiple things.

She thought of herself. She was – objectively – the only reason that she and the others were allowed into the lodge, because if she was correct, Clementine guessed that Walter, Matthew, and Sarita rarely got their ways against Kenny.

But maybe he was right in this instance; Walter was awfully quick to trust Bonnie. For all they knew, Bonnie could’ve been lying, or any other variation of things.
Clementine recalled Walter’s words from before, however, and thought to herself that, if anything, she could believe and take someone at face value just this once.

Clementine stopped at the front door, grasping the handle as she peered over her shoulder towards the direction of Kenny and Walter. She could already hear the warning in Kenny’s tone.
Glancing back, she tugged open the door and was once again greeted by the heat against her icy cheeks and the banter at the dinner table. Clementine wrapped her arms around herself and then looked back to the dining room.

They hadn’t noticed that she had come back in, but from the tones that she heard from Luke, Clementine knew that they were either talking about her, or they were discussing something else in a varying degree of severity.

She walked past the Christmas tree and began a climb up the stairs. Either way, Clementine didn’t want to be involved.

Once again, she felt her cheeks burn; the pounding in her head and the sickness in her stomach came back, now that Walter was no longer giving her the strangest cross between a pep talk and a lecture that she had had in quite a while. The distraction was gone.

Hurrying up the stairs, she found herself back in the same loft from before, with the same empty chairs and the same full bookcases and the same empty hallway. The box with the star decoration remained.

Clementine peeked down the empty hallway; she recalled Alvin going down there before and coming back with Rebecca’s water, but she hadn’t seen which room he had gone into before. Instead, she found herself entering the first door.

The bedroom was small, somewhere lingering in limbo between tidy and lived-in. A decently sized bed, fully made (how many people even bothered with it before the outbreak?) with a book lying discarded at the end of it. A pile of books found their home in a corner. There were no windows, and only a gas lamp sitting on a dark bedside table provided light.

She took a shaky step in. Obviously, this wasn’t the room that Sarita was talking about for them to sleep in when she mentioned it earlier, and Clementine almost wished that she had bothered to pay any attention to anything that wasn’t her reunification with Kenny so that she would know what the hell Sarita was referring to.

Clementine stepped lightly – if they heard her moving around downstairs… well, she had a feeling that no one would be happy with her nosy intruding. But there was really nothing else to do. She couldn’t go downstairs. She couldn’t talk to Sarah to pass the time. Her heart beat too hard and her stomach growled too much for her to go to sleep. And so she peered at the other objects sitting around the room, trying to determine for herself who this one belonged to.

A framed photograph sitting on the bedside table gave away the owners; Clementine gazed down at the photographed, smiling faces of Walter and Matthew, their arms around each other. In the dim lighting, they didn’t appear to be any younger than they were now.

For a moment, Clementine paused, watching the body language between the two of them. They looked… happy. Comfortable.

Clementine glanced over to the bed, and then back down to the photograph. In the back of her mind, she remembered Matthew’s words from earlier, about how Walter hadn’t allowed him to keep a certain, large bookshelf in their bedroom. It would explain the books littering the room.

She placed the photograph back down, and wandered over to the foot of the bed. With Matthew’s apparent literature collection and Walter’s constant references to Steinbeck, Clementine wasn’t surprised to see the book on the bed, or the large piles of books in the corner.

A door downstairs slammed. As she turned, Clementine gritted her teeth.

Time to leave, she thought, stepping lightly towards the door.

Carefully, Clementine closed it, turning her attention back to the other doors. She found her way into the room next to Walter and Matthew’s bedroom, and cracked open the door just enough to see inside of it.

The room, just as Walter and Matthew’s bedroom had been, was lit by only a gaslight that sat on top of a bookcase. She spotted several familiar belongings; this must’ve been the room that Sarita was talking about.

She opened it up wider and left it open. It was a clean room, and quite empty. A pile of several blankets and pillows had been left next to the door. The bags had obviously been moved from downstairs into this room, her own included. Clementine took a seat next to the bookcase, bracing her back against the solid wood. With a sigh, she pulled her bag into her lap and stared up at the ceiling.

Her stomach growled for the umpteenth time, leading Clementine to hug her bag tighter to her chest as a distraction. She closed her eyes, joining the dim room in the dark, and bit her tongue. There was absolutely no way that she was going to go downstairs for food.

The strap of Clementine’s bag slipped through her fingers as she felt shakiness in her fingers and hands.

The urge to go downstairs was strong.

Peering over to the bags of the others, Clementine stood on her knees, placing her bag against the wall. She pulled Alvin’s bag towards her and slowly unzipped the largest pocket.

Clementine looked up at the doorway, adequately confirming that there was no one standing there. She looked back down to Alvin’s bag and pushed aside a pack of some kind of ammo, a book, and a can as she dug into the bottom.

She smiled, her hands closing on a cellophane wrapper as she pulled out a discarded granola bar.

“Oh, thank God.” she murmured to herself.

Peering up once more, Clementine checked the doorway again. She rezipped Alvin’s bag again and tucked herself back into the corner with the bookshelf and her bag, the granola bar unwrapped.

Clementine took a bite out of the granola bar, looking up for a third time at the doorway before she turned her attention to the bookshelf’s contents. She squinted, cocking her head to the side as she attempted to read the titles; Sarah would at least appreciate any books that Walter and Matthew were willing to part with.

The name Steinbeck caught her eye. What on Earth had this man done to become so famous, other than write books? Clementine knew of famous authors, but Steinbeck had never been one that came up before Walter’s lecture.

She examined the cover of Of Mice and Men and the book that previously sat next to it, that came out with it when she pulled it out, Gathering Blue by another author that Clementine didn’t recognize.
As she set Gathering Blue aside, Clementine set her eyes on Of Mice and Men. Sighing to herself, she decided that, maybe, it was a good idea to get some perspective on Walter’s point of view. After all, it would be enough to distract her from the anxiety that continuously came and went. Hopefully.

Well, Clementine debated with herself, looking from the cover of the book to the doorway, it could provide entertainment while her brain dissected her previous interactions and situations in the background.

She flipped to the first page.

Immediately, Clementine knew that she wasn’t going to be able to finish the first page. Maybe it was her lack of vision, or the lack of good lighting, or simply her terrible reading skills. On the other hand, maybe it was the language used.

Still, however, she trudged on, attempting to read the small font as she scrunched her eyebrows and clenched her jaw; but as the words – descriptions of what she thought may have been a forest – continued on, Clementine clenched her fist. She started the paragraph over again, her focus slipping through her fingers.

She read the same paragraph again, blinking several times, and then attempted to read the next sentence.

The next thing that Clementine knew, she flung the book across the small room, where it skidded to a stop next to the doorframe.

Clementine looked up at the sound of footsteps. Despite the pounding in her head, she gave a small smile to Sarah, who looked down at the discarded copy of Of Mice and Men.

“Steinbeck?” asked Sarah, picking the book up. She also stared at the cover and then turned it over to read the back of it, her expression lighting up. “I’ve been looking for this!”

“That book?” Clementine rubbed her temples as she spoke.

Sarah nodded, not looking up from the back of the book. She grinned. “It’s a classic. I’ve been wanting to read it for a while, but I couldn’t find a copy!”

She approached Clementine and then sat across from her against the wall, to the right of Alvin’s tampered-with bag. As she put the book back down on the ground in front of both of them, Sarah looked back up and asked, “Are you okay?”

The sudden whiplash in Sarah’s mood caught Clementine off-guard. Sitting up from against the bookshelf, Clementine opened her mouth to reply, but she faltered in her words. Briefly, the two of them locked eyes.

“You were crying.” Sarah said, her voice hushed.

Clementine looked away for a moment, her head continuing to pound. She had. But it hadn’t been intentional – it was about the last thing that she wanted. But, Clementine supposed, it was in Sarah’s nature to be sympathetic in that form.

“And…” Before Clementine could speak, Sarah spoke up once more, her eyebrow raised, “You… you had this look on your face… It was like –”

Sarah imitated a face that looked somewhere stuck between scared and excruciatingly uncomfortable. This only made Clementine grimace in response.

“It doesn’t matter.” Clementine grabbed the copy of Gathering Blue from the floor next to the bookshelf and replaced it, and then turned her attention to Of Mice and Men. She pushed it towards Sarah. “Do you want this?”

Without answering, Sarah took the book and bit her lip. “Clem, it matters if they did something that made you upset.” She messed with the first page of the book. “Just because they were mad doesn’t give them an excuse to make you cry.”

“Don’t remind me,” Clementine muttered, opening her bag. She pulled out her half-filled water bottle and took a sip of it. Lowering the bottle from her mouth, she snapped, “Look – it doesn’t matter now.”

Sarah was quiet for several seconds, but then shook her head. “Did your friend start it, or did Luke and Nick? Do you trust him?”

Clementine glowered, narrowing her eyes. This wasn’t what she needed right now – she needed to be alone, or to have a pleasant distraction with Sarah. But Clementine was silent, thinking about the words that she had been asked so many times that evening.

Do you trust him?

Of course she did. Kenny was a good man. He took care of the group in Georgia, no matter how much he fought with Lilly. They both did.
She thought of the man who she could only refer to as The Stranger. It was the same then; Christa and Omid said that Kenny fought like hell to help Lee get her back from that monster.

She had to trust him.

“Did Carlos tell you to ask me that?” Clementine snapped, the edge in her voice apparent.

“Wha – no!” Sarah shot back, the book falling from her grasp. “No. No, I just – I just wanted to know. It –” Sarah shook her head, “I just don’t like listening to people fight like that. And… I don’t know. I just don’t want this to turn out like everything else has.”

“He’s not a bad person.” Clementine assured, sitting up on her knees. She tried to look Sarah in the face, but Sarah looked away instead, her cheeks flushing. “Kenny’s a good man. He just… he gets angry a lot. You trust Walter and Matthew and Sarita…”

From that moment, Clementine trailed off. Sarah slowly nodded.

“They seem nice. I like Sarita.”

“And I like Kenny.”

They room went quiet as Sarah crossed her legs, opened Of Mice and Men to the first page, and began to read it. Clementine turned again to the bookshelf and debated with herself on reading another book – maybe one with a lower reading level than that of Steinbeck’s genres.

“That’s The Outsiders,” Sarah suddenly spoke, drawing Clementine’s attention. Sarah looked up from the book and nodded towards a book that stuck out from under a pile of other stacked novels. “We had it at the cabin.” She frowned as she spoke. “Pete liked it.”

Clementine felt a tugging in her chest as she thought about Pete. She pulled the book from the pile and turned it over, attempting to make out faded, white words against a lighter gray background.

“His name’s Ponyboy?”

Sarah smiled. “Well, yours is Clementine.”

Clementine let out a soft laugh, and set the book aside. If she could recover from the headache that John Steinbeck had given her, then maybe she would take a gamble at S.E. Hinton.

The floorboards creaked, and both girls looked up to see Nick standing in the doorway, rubbing his eyes with his fists.

“What?” he asked, his voice hoarse, as he glared back at Clementine and Sarah.

“Nothing.” Sarah said quickly, looking back down to the book.

Nick pulled a blanket and a pillow from the piles in the left corner of the room, and then trudged to the other side. Clementine watched as he laid both of them down, and then laid down on his back.

“Nick?” she said, her voice low.

Nick turned on his side and pulled his baseball cap against his chest. “What do you want?”

Clementine paused. “Um… are you going to sleep?”

She chastised herself for not following through with her original words. If she were any braver, then she would ask him if he was okay. If he was angry at her. If he was angry at Kenny.

She would have asked if he really did want to leave in the morning.

“Yeah.”

With this, Nick turned over on his side, facing the wall.

As Clementine took another bite of the granola bar, she held the empty cellophane in her hand and wordlessly glared at it. Her stomach rumbled with the same cold hunger that she was no stranger to at this point in her life. She balled up the wrapper and hid it in her pockets.

For a moment, she debated going back to Alvin’s bag to steal more food, but the presence of Nick and Sarah put a damper on her pan.

This would’ve been much easier a week ago when she hadn’t eaten in two days – save for the beans – and the hunger pangs hadn’t been this regular. She could say a lot about Luke’s group, but they kept her fed. Even the processed shit in a can kept her fuller than the half of the squirrel that she and Christa had managed to cook a few days previously.

Unless

Clementine stared at her knees, debating with herself; surely, someone hadn’t eaten her dinner in the few minutes that she was outside. But then again, she thought of Alvin – he didn’t get to his size eating just his own portion.

She stood, casting her bag aside, and headed towards the door with what she could only describe as an internal sigh.

“Where are you going, Clem?”

“The bathroom.” Clementine lied, and then she left the room without a second glance behind her at Sarah.

As she neared the stairs, Clementine stood at the banister once again, her feet seemingly glued to the spot, and surveyed the downstairs.
Walter and Matthew were at the kitchenette now, and only a few of the others remained in the dining room.

Maybe they wouldn’t say anything.

Slowly, Clementine made her way down the stairs in an attempt to stay as quiet as possible; she set her sights on the dining room, where Kenny and Sarita were seated again, and Rebecca, two bowls in front of her, was seated a few feet away.

Clementine clenched her jaw, and figured that there had to be at least a seventy-percent chance that the second bowl in front of Rebecca had to have been her own, and not another bowl that Walter gave her.

“Hey, Clementine.”

Matthew spoke first to her as she neared the kitchenette, and leaned against the JOY decoration as he said this.

“Hi,” she replied, her gaze focused on the dining room.
The bowl from her spot was gone. Her shoulders sagging, Clementine knew that, even though she didn’t care for the meal, it could’ve done something to keep her full. But before either of the two men asked her about it, she began to speak. “I found Of Mice and Men. Upstairs. On the bookshelf.”

Walter turned to Matthew, nudging him by his shoulders. “Watch out, Matt,” he teased, a grin coming to his face, “You’re going to have a little reading prodigy catching up to you soon. She’s interested in Steinbeck.”

Clementine wouldn’t have called her curiosity interested, but she appreciated Walter’s support as it was.

“Pshh -- I’m not worried,” Matthew leaned back against the kitchenette, grinning, “Because unlike you, I don’t start competitions with nine year olds.”

“Eleven.” Clementine corrected, crossing her arms.

“Now, don’t ever look down on the intelligence and curiosity of a child, Matthew. They do more than you think.”

Walter stepped to the side as he spoke, crossing his arms in a similar manner to Clementine, though his expression remained kinder on Matthew’s part. Behind him, Clementine spotted the pot of what she was beginning to hope was leftovers from dinner.
He peered down to Clementine.

“Did you find The Grapes of Wrath, too?”

Clementine shook her head, and then thought about the title. Maybe a little bit too hard.

“Wrath means… ‘anger’, right?”

Matthew suddenly looked as if he were resisting the urge to laugh. Walter on the other hand, cut his eyes at Matthew and then nodded in response to Clementine’s question.

“It does.” he told her, his gaze sliding to her from Matthew.

“So…” Clementine trailed off at first, but then regained her composure, “Is… is the book about an army of angry grapes?”

Matthew snorted, and Walter simply chuckled.

“No,” said Walter, continuing to watch Matthew out of the corner of his eye, “It’s… actually, I’ve not had the chance to read it. But from listening to Matthew, I can promise you that it isn’t actually about angry grapes. Matt, where does that title come from? You’ve read it a few times, haven’t you?”

Matthew’s laughing ceased. “Yeah, I’ve read it a couple of times. It’s a… a Biblical reference. Maybe. I don’t remember exactly. But Steinbeck took it from a poem called – and I quote – The Battle Hymm of the Republic. That’s way too fancy of a name for me.”

Walter’s lip twitched. “I think that I prefer the poem that Of Mice and Men comes from.”

“Ah, yeah, I forgot about that – Turning Her Up In Her Nest.”

“It’s To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest.”

To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest –”

“—With a Plough.”

Matthew stopped, raising his eyebrow. “’With a Plough’?”

“’With a Plough’.” Walter parroted, nodding. He looked back to Clementine. “Steinbeck originally wanted to call it Something That Happened.”

“Well, everything is ‘something that happened’.” Clementine pointed out, a small smile coming to her face as she continued to speak with them, “Why would he call it that?”

Matthew simply shrugged in response. “To make a long story short, Steinbeck was an interesting man.”

“I guess,” Clementine murmured, her gaze beginning to fall on the pot of leftovers again. “You’d have to be.”

All three of them were silent for a few seconds, Clementine continuing to feel the pangs of hunger in her stomach. Her mouth couldn’t seem to work; her idea of asking for more food hadn’t been well thought out.

“Are you hungry, Clementine?” Walter asked, the small smile returning back to him from earlier. He leaned in close to her and whispered, “Rebecca took your bowl, unfortunately.”

“I noticed,” Clementine whispered back, “It’s okay. She can have it.”

Walter stood to his full height and walked behind the kitchenette, where he produced another bowl from one of the cabinets underneath; he grabbed one of the larger spoons, and then suddenly stopped before he stuck the spoon inside of the pot.

“Is something wrong?”

Clementine hadn’t realized that she had pulled the face that she had; her memories of earlier that evening were beginning to repeat. Once again, offending Walter was one of the last things that she wanted to do, and so was the act of wasting food, but… she had very strong opinions about beans and about peaches.

She shook her head. If it was between this and going hungry, she supposed that she couldn’t turn it down.

“One moment,” Walter put the spoon down and then reached underneath the counter. From it he pulled a small, opened box of crackers, and set it down in front of Clementine. “It’s nothing fancy, but it might suit your palate just a bit more.”

Clementine’s eyes widened on the box of crackers; it wasn’t a full on meal, but she hadn’t expected it to be. An almost full box of crackers was a hell of a lot more than she had had to herself within… what, at least the last year?

“How –” As her stomach seemed ready to eat itself, Clementine still had to restrain herself, and prevented herself from snatching the box up right then and there. “How many can I have?”

Walter smiled and pushed the box across the counter. “Keep it. But be sure not to make yourself sick off of those.” He leaned down and closed what Clementine thought must have been the cabinet door, and then placed his palms flat on the counter. With a glance at Matthew, he spoke again.

“Did you and Kenny ever bring the rest of the wood back in?”

Matthew was quiet for a moment, not meeting Walter’s gaze, and suddenly appeared deep in thought. Slowly, he began to shake his head.

“You know, I don’t think we did – uh, the roof’s shielding it though. You think I should get the guys back out there with me?”

“Nick’s asleep.” Before Walter could answer, Clementine pulled the box of crackers off of the counter and hugged it to her chest. “I don’t think he’s getting back up.”

“After the events this evening, I wouldn’t expect it.” Walter placed a glass cover over top of the pot. “You all must be exhausted.”

Clementine wanted to refute this, but she knew deep inside that she would yawn in the middle of her sentence and ruin any credibility that she had. Instead, she simply shrugged and began to slide her hand into the cracker box.

“I think Luke’s still awake, isn’t he?” asked Matthew. He began to toy with the collar of his hoodie and pulled a string away from the strings. “Your medic’s fairly built. Could get him to do it. Or that other guy – the fucking big one?”

“I have arms, Matt. I can help if you ask.”

Clementine shoved a cracker into her mouth as she began to brainstorm ways to excuse herself from their conversation.

“I mean, if you want to.” said Matthew with a shrug. “Don’t feel like you have to.”

Walter’s expression was incredulous. “I live here.”

“Yeaaahhh,” Matthew dragged out the syllable, and then shrugged. “But you cooked dinner, so I’ll get the wood.”

Walter grinned. “I cook every night.”

Matthew leaned over the counter so that he and Walter were physically closer. Clementine backed away and leaned against one of the room’s wooden support beams, hugging the box of crackers to her chest. Maybe, if anything, she could share them with Sarah; no one could call her greedy or gluttonous in that case.

“Look –” Walter stated, picking up the now cooled down pot by its handles. “I’ll come outside and help bring the supplies in.” He opened the refrigerator with one hand and slid the pot into the bottom of it. He turned back to Matthew.

“No – just go to sleep.”

As Matthew spoke, Clementine remembered the fact that she herself was supposed to be asleep, at least at Kenny’s orders. She allowed herself a small smile as she glanced towards Kenny and Sarita, who sat at the table having a quiet discussion. They didn’t seem to be paying any bit of attention towards Walter and Matthew.

Matthew took Walter’s hand in his own the moment that Walter returned to the counter.

“Come on,” whined Matthew, squeezing his hand around Walter’s, “It’s late.”

And maybe it was. But of everything that they had in the lodge, including the power, there was not a working clock.

Matthew.”

“Shhhhh –” Matthew let go of Walter’s hand and instead placed his own hand over Walter’s mouth; the grin suddenly slipped off of his face. “Ew! Gross! Walt, don’t lick my hand!”

Clementine tried to prevent herself from laughing, and only just barely managed to avoid choking on the cracker she was eating.

Matthew pulled his hand away and wiped it on the sleeve Walter’s sweater, his hyperbole of a physical response only making it harder for Clementine to avoid laughing. Walter’s soft chuckles didn’t help either.

“I didn’t lick your hand, Matt. I’m not a dog.” Walter smirked. “All I did was kiss it.”

“Kiss my ass, old man.”

There was a brief moment where Walter opened his mouth, as if he were about to reply, but then closed it and instead nodded as he seemingly attempted to wipe the grin from his face.

Clementine looked down into the box of crackers, but only because she had nothing else left to do as she pondered to herself why Walter would kiss the palm of Matthew’s hand – especially after what he had been digging around in outside. But more than even that, she wondered why it was a kiss at all.

By watching them and the body language, Clementine had… questions. She thought about the photograph that she found in their room, and while she in no way wanted to give away the fact that she had been snooping, she couldn’t deny the fact that she had questions. Walter and Matthew, in the way of their body language, were beginning to remind her a bit of Nick and Luke.

Slightly, she mentally corrected herself.

Luke liked having his arm around Nick back in the woods, when everyone else was asleep and they were all alone. Sometimes, Clementine was there keeping watch with them at night – most of the time, she was supposed to be asleep, but spent a few minutes stuck in-between full consciousness and sleep spying on them instead.

“So… Nick and Luke, right? … You two sure do look like a match.”

Kenny’s words stuck out in her mind, for more reasons than one.

Clementine hesitated for a moment as she watched the two men joking and laughing with each other, and waited until their laughter died down. She held onto the cracker box tightly, and then took a few steps forward towards the counter.

“Walter?” she spoke, raising an eyebrow. “Can I ask you something kind of personal?”

Immediately, the atmosphere melted away. The laughter and grins from both Walter and Matthew slipped away as Walter crouched down to her level, his eyes wide with the same kind of concern that he held outside.

“Of course.” he said, his voice quiet. “Is everything alright?”

Clementine didn’t meet his eyes as she spoke, her cheeks already feeling as if they were burning. Quietly, she asked, “Are you and Matthew married?”

For a moment, she thought that it was wrong to ask such a question; in that brief moment, she thought of Nick and Luke and Kenny’s words and Matthew’s words in response. It was personal, she knew that. But how personal… well, she didn’t know. Christa and Omid talked openly about each other, and so did Alvin and Rebecca. Kenny and Sarita did.

Matthew laughed, and for a split second, the horrible thoughts that she had offended them dissipated, only to be replaced with that of confusion. Why was he laughing? All she’d done was ask a simple question.

“Don’t laugh at her question.” Walter scolded, though he seemed to maintain his smile as he did so. “You never know if you don’t ask.”

Clementine simply shrugged in response. He was right; it was a valid question.

Walter didn’t stand from his position, and there was something about it that Clementine liked. They were eye-level, just as they had been briefly outside. He was a teacher through and through, but he knew how to be approachable. He turned from Matthew and smiled.

“To answer your question – no, Matthew and I aren’t married.” Walter’s voice was quieter than before; Clementine assumed that he didn’t want to wake anyone who may have been trying to sleep. He looked over his shoulder before he spoke again. “But we would like to be… are you okay with that, Clementine?”

Clementine stared blankly back at him; she’d had a similar reaction to Steinbeck, but this… well, had Rebecca said nothing to her, then she would have never expected anyone to ask her for her opinion on their relationship. Maybe Sarah would, but Clementine was at least ninety-percent sure that Sarah was more interested in books than boys.

“Why do you care about my opinion?” she asked, shifting the cracker box to be held under her arm. “You guys are the ones who are gonna be stuck together for the rest of your lives…”

Matthew shook his head and then patted Walter’s shoulder. “My God, she’s so innocent.”

Clementine glared. She had had this same conversation with Walter while he was still cooking about her perceived innocence.

“There are a lot of countries and states where Matthew and I wouldn’t have been able to get married. We lived in Virginia,” Walter explained, his voice still low. “And it was illegal there, too.”

“Why?”

Walter’s face fell; in turn, Clementine’s did the same, but she watched as he seemed to force himself to smile – to look hopeful.

“Some people can be intolerant of things that they don’t understand. But, like I said before, the best thing that we can do is educate each other. And show each other kindness. We just have to be smart about it.”

Clementine was silent as she took this in. There was still something missing…

Walter seemed to take notice to this. “Something else on your mind?”

“I think…” She hesitated, and then looked over her shoulder. “I think Nick and Luke are like you.”

Matthew sighed, but then nodded in response to Clementine’s words.

“I think they are too.”

Walter turned to the kitchenette counter and used it to help him stand to his full height; Matthew’s little taunt was right. Walter wasn’t an old man in the way that Pete was, but he was probably older than Alvin and Carlos. Maybe in his fifties. He showed his age.

Kenny’s voice rang out from the dining room, and Clementine turned to see that he had turned around from his place on the bench.

“Clementine,” he admonished, as Sarita peered around him to see her. “Thought I told you to get to bed?”

“It’s okay, Kenny. I’ve been keeping her.” replied Walter. He turned back from Kenny to Clementine and patted her shoulder. In a low voice, he teased, “That’s your cue. Time to get your beauty sleep, madam.”

And so Clementine left, the cracker box grasped in her arms, and headed towards the stairs. She was no more exhausted than she had been before, but now, she had both Kenny and Walter telling her to go to sleep.

Upon returning to the room, the first thing that Clementine did was offer a cracker to Sarah, who declined it.

“I’m still full, Clem. Thanks though.” She returned to Of Mice and Men shortly after this.

The moment that Clementine took her previous seat against the book case, she hid the box of crackers on the side, and eyed Nick as he seemed to sleep – or at least rest in the other corner of the room.

Clementine couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt in her chest as she thought of her conversation with Matthew and Walter; maybe… it wasn’t worth having her questions answered if she was going to feel that she had information that they didn’t.

“Y’all in here?”

Luke poked his head in through the doorway and panned the room.

“You comin’ to tuck me in?” asked Nick, turning back to look at Luke. He smirked, and Clementine disguised a light chortle with a cough.

The slightest tinge of pink appeared on Luke’s cheeks.
“Yeah,” he murmured, stepping into the room, “Somethin’ like that.”

Clementine looked down at her bag, feeling her cheeks heat up. Secondhand embarrassment, she thought, fucking sucked. Out of the top of her vision, she peeked up at Luke, who made his way over to Nick and sat down next to him.
She rubbed her eyes as she looked into her bag, placing the half-full water bottle back inside of it and looting around to look for something to do with her time. Her hand hit a crayon; the waxy residue of it and several other broken crayons coated her fingers as she pushed them aside. The only other thing of importance in there was a lighter, one that she really only liked because of the butterfly design. But she had no paper to entertain herself with the crayons, and there was little an eleven year old girl could do with a lighter that didn’t involve arson.

She supposed that she could read the labels on the cracker box.

“You should pro’lly get some sleep, Clem.”

Clementine rubbed her eyes again as she shook her head; one of the shitty parts of the apocalypse was the lack of working clocks. Her inability to tell time based off of the shadows outside gave her little leverage against Luke’s friendly suggestions on a bedtime. She didn’t need Kenny, Walter, and Luke on her about going to sleep.

The rumbling thunder outside took away Clementine’s attention from Luke and Nick; Sarah tightened her grip around her book.
Joining the rumbling thunder was the gentle pattering of rain, the warning of a harsher storm. She shivered as she thought of the cold rain nipping at her skin, as if she were the one sitting outside in the storm. And, Clementine thought again, if they left the next morning…

This rain will turn to sleet, then ice, then snow. It won’t be easy.

Christa’s words rang true. Virginia was the south, but it wasn’t Georgia.

… Maybe it was a good idea to go to sleep, Clementine thought, watching Luke out of the corner of her eyes. He and Nick were now speaking in low voices. Maybe they did have the right idea.

Thump!

Clementine slammed her head on the bookshelf, crying out in pain as something both soft and hard slammed right into her face.
The pillow and her cap fell down into her lap, tears of pain stinging in her eyes.

Luke!” she shouted, her hand flying to the back of her head. As if she hadn’t hit her head enough within the last few days, Clementine thought as she grit her teeth and stared daggers in Luke’s direction.

He held a second pillow in his hands from his space next to Nick, his eyes widening as the realization seem to have hit him, just as hard as the pillow had hit Clementine’s face. And then he laughed.

“Y’alright?” Luke asked, putting down the pillow. He stood, obviously trying to hide the chuckling at Clementine’s expense and walked towards her.

“Don’t laugh!” she cried, feeling the tender bump already forming on the back of her head. “You almost took me out with a pillow!”

“I thought you were payin’ attention!”

Clementine huffed as Luke knelt next to her and reached his hand around the back of her head to feel the bump. She shifted away from him, pushing away his arm with one hand and the pillow with the other.

“Luke, stop, you’re making it hurt worse!”

Outside, the thunder clapped, its sound as full as the sound of Clementine’s skull colliding with the wooden bookcase.

Luke pulled his hand away, his face still holding on to the ghost of another laugh as he chuckled, “Sorry, kid. Honestly – I thought you were payin’ attention.”

Nick scoffed, and laid back down. He murmured, “You knew damn well she wasn’t payin’ any attention.” His voice, while quiet, betrayed some of his own amusement at the situation.

Clementine glared in response, pushing Luke’s arm away again as a clap of thunder shook the floor. It was followed by a high-pitched whistling, and sudden shouting from downstairs – a voice that sounded suspiciously like Kenny.

Luke drew his hand away, cutting his eyes towards the door.

Sarah froze, putting the book down, and then immediately looked to Luke for some semblance of an explanation.

All of them quiet, Nick’s voice rang out.

“What the hell is that?”

Chapter Text

Nick shot up from his spot on the floor, he and Luke exchanging looks of confusion. Clementine instead found herself looking at Sarah as the high pitched whistling continued, only to joined by more of Kenny’s yelling and the yelling of the others downstairs.

Within less than a minute, Clementine followed Luke and Nick out of the room; she turned when she hit the doorway, and locked eyes with Sarah, who held the book tightly against her chest with her own eyes widened.

“That’s not the rain.” Sarah murmured, shaking her head, “Is that the windmill?”

“I don’t know!” Clementine replied. She raced down the hallway to meet Luke and Nick, who leaned over the barrier for only a few seconds as they watched the others downstairs.

It had been Walter who had first gone to the open door; Matthew stood behind him, an arm slung around his neck as they seemed to be listening to Kenny, who had quieted down by now. The worried nature of his voice hadn’t disappeared with the lower volume, however, and Clementine immediately found herself running down the stairs.

As Clementine ran to the nearest window, the sudden burst of fear in her chest did not lessen up. The whistling, as Sarah guessed, came from the windmill. The trees, in the burst of wind that forced the hand of the windmill, were also swaying and bending in ways that Clementine knew for a fact that trees shouldn’t.

She left the window and ran to the entranceway.

“Storm’s got it spinnin’ all outta control! Fuckin’ thing’s a goddamn dinner bell!”

Through the doorway, Clementine watched as Kenny returned to the entrance way, and turned away from the window as he did so.

“What can we do?” Nick passed Kenny and returned to the bench where their bags had previously been stored; now it was only the weapons. He gripped his rifle tightly in his arms as Walter and Matthew both turned away from the doorway. “Damn thing’s gonna bring lurkers, ain’t it?”

Kenny continued into the dining room with a sprint and returned with a similar rifle grasped across his chest. “We gotta shut it down before it draws ‘em! Now!”

“Nick, help me with the guns!” Carlos shouted over the sounds of the wind and the windmill. Nick responded only by following him back through the doorway of the lodge.

Clementine clenched her fist as she glared at the whistling windmill and the impending storm clouds; against the outlines of the trees, she watched as walkers began to shamble out of the woodworks. Once again, she thought, grumbling, something nice was about to be ruined for reasons way of everyone’s control.

“The gunshots will just draw more!” exclaimed Sarita, who turned to yell this at Nick and Carlos. Clementine watched as Sarita groaned, her jaw clenched as if she were a tired mother fed up with her rowdy children.

“It’s fine, hon,” Kenny drew up the scope of his rifle as he spoke, and then aimed at what Clementine assumed was one of the distant walkers. He lowered it, scowling, after a few seconds. “It’s too far to get a clear shot. Gotta get a bit closer.”

Matthew stepped forward, pulling a large knife in a sheath from his pocket. “I’m on it!”

Walter grabbed a hold of his shoulder, balking, “No, not with the knife alone –”

“It’s fine!” Matthew replied, pulling the sheath from the blade of the knife. He flashed a smile towards Walter and cocked his head. “I can knock a bunch of those fuckers down without drawing more. Use the guns as a last resort!" He quickly glanced over his shoulder at the approaching walkers around the tree line, and then back at Walter. "My rifle's on the kitchen table. I'll be back."

"Matt --" Walter's words most likely went unheard as Matthew began to hurry off towards the tree line. "Be careful!"

The doors opened again, and Nick and Carlos were back. Nick drew a pistol from his pockets and held it by the barrel out to Clementine, who simply stared down at it briefly. They hadn't given her a gun at all within the last few days, but she supposed that now she was -- maybe -- trusted enough to be able to have one, rather than a hammer. But it had been a while.

"You know how to shoot?" Nick shouted over the sudden burst of the wind that filled the air. His grasp on the barrel tightened as he spoke, though Clementine attempted to take it from him.

"Of course I do!" she shouted back, pulling the pistol from his grasp.

The windmill only picked up speed with the wind as thunder rolled in the sky. Clementine looked to Kenny, who gritted his teeth as he clung to his own gun. He eyed Clementine for a moment, and then growled, "Clem, I need you to help cover us -- or Matthew!" He looked to the others, and barked to them, "Let's get this thing shut down!"

Clementine checked the magazine in the gun, which held only seven rounds. Seven shots, she thought, and if the walkers kept coming at the same rates, then she was going to need to make them count.

She glanced up from the gun, watching intently as the others raced off towards the windmill itself, and then looked over to meet Walter's gaze. He also pulled a handgun from his back pocket, one that she hadn't noticed that he had been carrying before, and held it with an uneasy manner. Wordlessly, Walter took several uneasy steps forward; Clementine looked in the direction that he had to see a figure in the distance -- Matthew, who moved with a thrilled speed that she had to assume he was enjoying as two walkers, one in front of and one behind him, both fell to the ground.

But the sight of Matthew's excited escapades were ruined as she heard something all too familiar as it pierced the air: the crackling of electricity. Clementine turned, her eyes wide, as she watched every light that did shine in the lodge -- the only half that had electricity -- flicker and shut off, like a candle flame blown out by a gust of wind.

From the top of the small hill that the windmill rested on, Clementine heard Kenny's voice as he called down to both of them, "The transformer must've gone!" He said something else past this, but his voice was drowned out by another clap of thunder.

Walter took a deep breath and looked down at Clementine. "Go see if you can help him out," he said, only half of his attention focused on her. His hands shook once again as he tightened his grasp around his gun. "I'll cover the front of the lodge -- be careful!"

By the time that Walter spoke the last words of his sentence, Clementine was already gone as she broke into a run up the hill, where she skidded to a stop inches from Sarita's side.

"I gotta check the transformer," Kenny's voice only became harsher with each passing second. "But I need one of you to cover me!"

Luke's voice held the same gruffness as he shouted to be heard over the windmill. "I'll go with you!"

"I'll go too!" Had Sarita's voice been any softer, then she would have been completely drowned out by the windmill and the storm.

"No, it's too dangerous!" Kenny replied, his grip on his gun tightening as he looked in Matthew's direction. Clementine watched as Matthew took down another walker, which was in turn replaced by yet another walker. Instead, Kenny's gaze shifted to Luke, "You -- come with me. Nick --"

Nick's knuckles turned white as he grasped his rifle tighter.

"Cover Matthew," Kenny ordered, and then looked to Clementine, Sarita, and Carlos. "Rest of you -- shut the windmill off!"

Kenny and Luke fled into the night.

Nick left them alone at the windmill, next to a panel that was nearly the size of Clementine, and aimed his rifle to take out a walker as it snuck up behind Matthew.

Clementine, on the other hand, lowered her glock and turned to face Sarita, who in turn was looking as if she would rather be anywhere else than here. Matthew's off-hand jab about Sarita causing him to fry the wires within the panel from earlier were beginning to seem less and less like a joke as the seconds passed.

Carlos broke the silence, pulling the rifle that he had strapped over his shoulder into his hands. "Please," he said, his voice hushed, "Tell me that you know how to shut the windmill off."

Sarita was quiet for several seconds, her eyes widened as if she were in both complete panic and deep thought at the same time. Taking a step towards the panel, Clementine also looked up at Sarita, who sighed.

"I -- yes." she said, her fake confidence completely unconvincing, "I do --"

She walked past Clementine and tore open the panel, where a small flashlight hung from a hook. Sarita turned it on, only to reveal a series of buttons, switches, and exposed -- burned -- wires that vaguely reminded Clementine of the many times that she had watched her engineer of a father fix a tripped circuit breaker after a fuse had blown. But even then, she wouldn't even know where to begin. And, with the sight of the burned wires... she felt her faith in Sarita's abilities dwindle.

Carlos turned, his rifle aimed as Nick's gunshots rang out from beside him and Matthew. A straggler had made its way past them and was shambling towards the windmill -- and it wasn't alone, Clementine noticed, as the sound of Nick's gunshots pierced the air.

"Clementine, can you hold the flashlight?" asked Sarita, holding the flashlight out to her.

Without a second's hesitation, Clementine took the flashlight and pointed it again at the panel so that Sarita could see it. She looked over her shoulder, avoiding jolting the flashlight, just in time to watch Carlos take aim at another walker as it began its shamble up the small hill.

Clementine clenched her teeth, both hands trembling, as the tinnitus that seemed all too familiar began to start up. She took a step closer to Sarita and the windmill, the sound now beginning to overtake the ringing in her ears; as she continued to keep her gaze focused on Sarita and the panel, another gunshot rang out from Carlos' rifle, joining the consistent shots of Nick's as he and Matthew continued to grapple with the walkers --

Two more sets rang out, further away; Clementine jolted, taking the flashlight with her, as she turned to see Alvin and Walter in front of the lodge entrance, both of them actively shooting. Quickly, she turned back to the panel and Sarita, watching as her motions became steadier and more focused. Sarita pulled a key from her pocket and pushed it into one of the many openings -- this one accentuated by an orange circle or button, and then --

The windmill slowed, and as if it had never been on to begin with, it stopped. But they weren't out of hot water yet.

The walkers continued to flood through the trees, some originally drawn by the windmill itself and some drawn by the gunshots. Either way, Clementine thought, they were in deep.

The flashlight fell from her grip as she wrapped both hands around the handle of the glock, her heart racing as she watched Matthew and Nick in the distance; and then it dropped as she watched a walker grab Nick by his shoulder.

He tore away from it in an instant, his rifle clattering to the dirt as he did so, and then aimed a swift kick to the walker's knees. As soon as it fell, he stomped on its head, but it wasn't alone.

"Can you shoot?" Clementine heard Carlos asking, though she wasn't initially sure if he was speaking to her or Sarita. As she watched Matthew retrieve Nick's gun, he shouted again, "Clementine, do you know how to shoot?"

"Yes!" Clementine aimed at an approaching walker and pulled the trigger just to show him that she did. The walker fell as the bullet pierced its eye, and a larger one took its place in front of her. She pulled the trigger again, but the walker didn't fall.

Clementine aimed, once more, at the head of the larger walker, and it fell swiftly as the fear in her chest subsided. Why was she so scared of them? She had done this so many times before!

"You need to go back to the lodge!" Sarita shouted over the sounds of the gunshots. She pulled her own rifle closer to her and then fired at a walker that had come from a completely opposite direction, this one from behind the lodge.

Clementine fired her fourth shot, not looking over to or responding to Sarita after this, as the walkers continued to fall like dominoes and be replaced even faster by their lookalikes.

Nick fought against another walker, this one damn near his size, and Clementine felt her heart drop once more as she aimed for the walker's head, but the gunshot didn't come from her. Rather, it came from Nick's own gun as Matthew fired and struck the walker directly in the center of its forehead.

"Holy shit!" Clementine heard Nick exclaim as he shoved the walker's corpse down. "You're a straight fuckin' shot!"

"You can thank me later!" shouted Matthew, as he shot at a skeletal walker behind Nick. Another larger one was fast approaching, "Now watch out for that one!"

Nick looked impressed for all of half a second before he whirled around and kicked the walker's knee, forcing it down to the ground. He stomped once again on its head, while Clementine took her fifth and sixth shots.

"Go back to the lodge, Clem!" Carlos shouted, slinging the rifle back over his shoulder. He pulled out a handgun and took two more shots at surrounding walkers before he turned in Sarita's direction.

Clementine didn't want to listen. The gun was heavy in her hands and itching to be shot at the surrounding walkers, but she had an escape route now -- and it might be her only chance to make it back to the lodge alive and unharmed.

She lowered her gun and, with one last glimpse at Nick and Matthew, she turned towards the lodge. But, she realized as she turned, her path wasn't as open as she had previously thought.

The walkers were coming from other sides of the lodge too, not just from the woods or the left of the windmill. Though Walter and Alvin were both protecting the entrance to the lodge, Clementine realized two things -- one, Walter was not a particularly good shot; and two, neither of them could keep the walkers away entirely. Not from the sides and not from the back.

Clementine's head pounded, her tinnitus starting up again with each individual gunshot giving it life again. She dove behind a large, hollow tree stump, and out of the reach of a bloated, male walker as its gnarled and bloody fingers reached out for her arm. She shot again, the seventh time, and the walker fell limp to the ground, dead, a few inches away. Taking in a deep breath, she stood, her legs trembling, and held the gun close at her side as a second walker approached.

The gun clicked. And it clicked. And it clicked once more. The seventh shot had been the last. How could she have forgotten? -- she had even counted them!

Clementine froze, remembering her escapade back in the woods, as the walker drew nearer. The others were closing in from the same direction, leaving little opening. She bolted into the opposite direction, back towards the windmill and back to where Sarita was previously, her heals digging into the dirt as she forced herself away from the walkers. Her heart began to pound again, and Clementine watched as Nick's rifle fell from his hands and clattered to the ground as several walkers followed his path.

The rifle. It was her only chance.

She ducked down, dodging a skeletal walker as it lunged for her, and let out a yelp as she collided with the ground and slid across the dirt in the direction of the rifle. Panting, Clementine pulled it into her lap and attempted to stand immediately -- but it was heavy, quite possibly one of the heaviest guns that she had ever held, and she struggled to aim it at an oncoming walker.

Bang!

The recoil of the rifle kicked in, and once again, Clementine collided with the ground, hugging the now hot rifle to her chest as the walker neared her. Her ears continued to ring as she stared the walker straight in its bony face as it bared its teeth at her, its half-decay hands reaching out in hopes of ripping into her flesh. But she another idea.

Just as quickly as she had thought of it, Clementine braced the butt of the gun against the ground next to her and aimed it from her spot, and then pulled the trigger.

The walker fell at her feet, and Clementine’s grip on the rifle became loose. She tried to lift it once more, but the weight of it was becoming too intense for her body. But the lodge was in view -- not direct, but in view -- and all that she had to do was dodge the walkers.

With another set of gunshots, two other walkers a few feet away fell, and Clementine stood shakily as Carlos shot a third walker with the handgun. He rushed forward in her direction and gave her a rough shove against her shoulder as a rotting hand grabbed a hold of his arm.

"Go!" he shouted once more, and Clementine didn't need another word out of him. She fled, running as fast as she possibly could past another set of walkers as the thunder crashed overhead and a raindrop hit her square in the eye.

She glanced over her shoulder as she ran back, only to see the others, minus the still missing Kenny and Luke, not too far behind her as they collected near the front entrance. Alvin lowered his gun and raced inside, leaving Walter alone with the others.

Oh my God!” was the first thing that Clementine heard from Rebecca, but it wasn’t the only thing that she heard.

The moment that Clementine reached the inside of the lodge – the moment that Rebecca spoke – there was another noise that rose almost completely separate from the others. Rather than the sound of the gunshots with seconds between them, the noise popped like firecrackers as the bullets came one after the other.

Alvin, Rebecca, and Clementine scrambled to the window, Clementine in front, as she hoisted herself up on the windowsill to watch as four separate muzzle-fires lit up the edge of the forest. Below, she watched as Walter, Nick, Sarita, and Carlos seemed to have the same reaction – and as the walker that stood right in front of Carlos took a bullet clean through her head.

She watched, her mouth dropping in horror, as the four people behind the gunshots and the muzzle fires came out of the woodwork.

She looked, her hands completely numb, at the face of Carver. And beside him –

No,” Clementine whispered, her hands curling around the windowsill. She flinched when Alvin grabbed her by the back of her shirt, pulling her down far enough to obscure her from everyone outside.

Including Bonnie.

She brought her trembling hands to her ears, her gaze fixated on the same reaction that Rebecca held, as she turned away from the window. Her mouth didn’t work beyond the shuddering breath that Clementine drew in as she clenched her teeth.

She should’ve known.

She should’ve known

Her chest tightened as she pushed herself out of view, carefully watching the events unfold in front of her. She felt someone else grab her arm and noticed Sarah out of the corner of her eye, but Clementine found herself too focused on the others, too focused on Carver.

Too scared to move.

None of the sounds could be heard, but Clementine watched as Carver got closer, his mouth curling into a smile as Bonnie and two men – one with a cap, the other with a camo jacket – hung back by several inches. With the others having their backs to her, she couldn’t see any expression on their faces. But there was no way that they could be positive.

As the man in the camo jacket brandished his gun, he took several steps forward. None of them were shaky, nothing like what Clementine saw in Bonnie. The man in the camo jacket simply pushed forward until he was side-by-side with Carver, and then aimed his gun. Clementine watched the man’s lips move as he did so.
In that moment, the knife fell from Matthew’s hand, landing blade-first in the dirt, while Nick and Sarita both moved slowly – near robotically – and placed both of their weapons in the dirt with Matthew’s knife. Carlos, however, didn’t move.

Sarah’s grip on Clementine’s arm increased; Clementine in-turn grasped the windowsill, her nails digging into the plaster. She struggled to draw in another breath – where were Kenny and Luke when she needed them?

Slowly, Carlos took a step towards Carver, the handgun hanging at his side.

Clementine was not the best at lip reading, but as she watched Carver’s face, there was no other way to interpret what Carver spoke than the words, Where’s Rebecca?

She turned, biting her lip, and watched as Rebecca’s gaze hit the floor. No words were spoken between them as Alvin gripped Rebecca’s shoulder. As she looked up, Clementine met Sarah’s gaze – one of terror, one that shook without any other movement.

He’s gonna kill him.” Her whisper was seemingly for no one.

They all heard the sound of shouting before Clementine saw the source; Carlos stumbled back, holding the side of his face as Carver drew back a reddened, bruised fist. His handgun hit the dirt, just as Matthew’s knife had.

Dad!”

“Sarah, no!”

But Clementine’s shriek didn’t stop Sarah, who in her episode of panic, immediately let go of Clementine’s arm and fled out of the front door in Carlos’ direction.
As the remaining three of them watched Sarah approach Carver, only to be grabbed by the arm by Carlos, Clementine covered her mouth.

They were going to die.

But she continued to watch, her eyes wide.

Carver pointed towards the door, and as Clementine watched, she swore that she could make out the word inside. It wasn’t just the word, but an order. Clementine couldn’t speak; instead, the only thing that she could think of was to run. Run, just like she had from that man in the woods. Like they did from walkers. But now, Carver had leverage.

As the man in the camo jacket approached Carlos, he aimed his gun, gesturing toward the cabin; holding on tightly to Sarah’s shoulder, Carlos turned in the direction of the front door, and pulled her along with him.

Clementine backed away from the window as she watched Bonnie step forward; Bonnie looked straight into Walter’s face – and by the looks of it, Walter had also connected the dots. Bonnie mouthed something that she couldn’t make out; Clementine resisted the urge to scream – to run outside and strangle Bonnie right then and there. But she wouldn’t be like Sarah.

The others were fast approaching.

Alvin snatched her arm, and Clementine looked over to see that Rebecca had taken off towards the stairs; just as she had back at the cabin, Rebecca’s movements were violent in a way that Clementine hadn’t seen in a woman since Christa. As Clementine processed this, she grabbed a hold of Alvin’s arm as he nodded towards the stairs, where Rebecca had gone.

They stayed low and went quickly across the living room, behind the couches. But Clementine let go of Alvin’s arm as he scurried up the stairs, as the sudden opening of the front door stole her attention. She froze, watching as Carlos and Sarah were forced in, and Clementine nearly felt her heart stop.

She dove behind the nearest piece of furniture, an armchair, and turned back to the stairs, where Alvin crouched, unmoving. He was at an angle that no one would see unless they walked further in through the entrance way and turned so that they were full on facing the stairs. But Clementine had not been.

Alvin put a finger to his lips and gestured over the couch with his hand.

Slowly, Clementine peeked out from the right side of the armchair, watching as the man in the camo jacket forced Carlos and Sarah further into the entranceway and closer to the kitchenette. Bonnie walked ahead of the man, her attention less on Carlos and Sarah and more on the surrounding furniture.

Look at this place,” Bonnie spoke, looking over her shoulder at the man in the cap, “It’s huge!”

The other man turned to look around at the rafters and the loft that Clementine dearly hoped Rebecca couldn’t be seen from. He brandished his gun as he took a few unsteady steps forward, his gaze still at the rafters.

Clementine looked back at Alvin, who gestured again in the direction of Bonnie and both men. He held up his pointer finger to her, a simple sign to wait.

Staying in place for several seconds, Clementine heard the voice of the second man ring out.

“Can you believe this fuckin’ place, Bonnie?” he exclaimed, and Clementine heard his footsteps tapping away from her. “Power and everything. Lotta windows, though.” She heard his footsteps once more tapping again slower. “It’s huge. Bill would hate it.”

Slowly, she peeked up over the top of the armchair, ducking down as quickly as she could when she noticed that the man in the camo jacket looked ready to turn around. The doors swung open again, and by the sound of it, Carver was forcing the others in. The unsteady tapping of their footsteps was nothing less than a nightmare.

“The rest of them could be anywhere.”

Clementine took a deep breath. Were they going to die? Unless she got a move on, she thought, maybe they would. She lowered herself closer to the ground – the way that only a child could – and watched the body language of all four of her group’s captors.
A momentary glance over her shoulder to Alvin gave her the cue; Clementine checked once more and stayed closer to the ground as she booked it to the bottom of the staircase, her heart rate now out of control. She felt a bead of sweat fall down her cheek as she stayed put, now hidden from view.

But this didn’t mean that their sound could be disguised. Alvin did not end up as a six-foot-five grown man while managing to be completely quiet. Clementine swore that she heard the stairs creak underneath Alvin’s weight, and drew in a deep breath as means of keeping herself quiet.

“How’re we gonna cover these guys and look for them too?”

“Johnny,” Bonnie spoke, her voice somewhere in the middle of commanding and the same nervousness that Clementine remembered from earlier, “Cover that window.”

Clementine saw the faint outlines of the others as they were forced onto their knees by Johnny, Bonnie, Carver, and the unnamed man, and as Bonnie and the unnamed man forced restrains around their wrists. Bound and on their knees, she thought to herself, that was how they were useful. She thought again of Luke and Kenny – maybe they were bait.

She gripped her cheek with a free hand, covering her mouth as she did so, and then looked up at Alvin. As he looked over the stairs, he held his pointer finger to her for several seconds before he lowered it and gestured for her to begin a slow, steady trek up the squeaking stairs.
Alvin took several more barely balanced steps up, his hands trembling as his gesture increased in speed.

Clementine didn’t look back from scampering up the stairs; she knew for a fact that Johnny was approaching.

As she reached the top stairs and entered the harder to see loft, they met a crouching Rebecca, who’s gaze was fixed on the banister.

Clementine peered between the boards along the barrier and bit down on her lip as she watched Carver’s movement; from the edge of the kitchenette, he walked to the middle, closer to where Carlos and Sarah kneeled, and stood directly in front of Clementine’s field of vision.

She ducked down the moment she saw his beginning of a turn in her direction as she felt pain sear through her chest like a knife. She shot a glance at Alvin and watched as he reached out to take Rebecca’s hand.

The lodge went quiet as the footsteps ceased. Clementine peered between the upstairs barriers guarding the loft and watched as Carver turned so that he faced the kitchenette. More specifically, she clamped her hands over her mouth tighter as he turned towards Carlos, who while on his knees, was the only one left who didn’t have his hands tied behind his back.
Clementine spotted the same gun that she saw on him a week ago back at the cabin; maybe Sarah had been right – Carver was going to kill Carlos right there, and then he’d kill the rest of them, except maybe Rebecca. And with their lack of weapons, there was nothing left.

Clementine thought of the man in the woods. Getting away from him was a coincidence of pure luck with the added advantage of being in a dark forest full of walkers. And she had the physical capacity to bite through the man’s thumb. But there was no way, she thought as she lowered her gaze to the floor, that she could do it again. Not to all four of them.

She looked back up to see Carver now standing in front of Carlos, who stared up at him, his gaze unwavering, just as it had outside. But just as Carver had appeared, he nearly ran to Carlos and grabbed him by the collar, forcing Carlos up on one foot and one knee together. Carver’s other hand flying to grab Carlos’ arm, he pulled him up on his feet and had dragged him halfway across the room by the time that Clementine had even processed this.

She felt Alvin nearing behind her; just as Sarah had done to her before, Clementine grabbed Alvin’s arm. They exchanged the same expression as Clementine knitted her eyebrows together, before they both were able to see between the barriers and yet remain unseen by anyone else.

Clementine said a silent prayer to herself. For herself. For the others. For Kenny and Luke.

There was a grunt followed by a low thud, which was in turn followed by the sound of Carlos yelping. Clementine gripped Alvin’s arm tighter; she tried to look away from the events unfolding downstairs, but only found that Rebecca had the same ideas that she did.

Rebecca closed her tear-filled eyes and looked away.

Dad!” Sarah’s voice came as little surprise, but Clementine felt it in her every being. She couldn’t stand hearing her friend hurt before, and she knew that it was only going to get worse from here.

Carlos took several deep, shuddering breaths to recover from a punch to the stomach as Carver, like a vulture, circled his prey. As Carlos forced himself back up on his knees, Carver placed his hands on his hips, his voice cold and pragmatic.

“Listen, I’m only going to ask you once. Where’s Rebecca?”

Rebecca covered her mouth, her eyes still closed.

Instead of replying to Carver, Clementine heard Sarah’s name ring out.

“Sarah, look at me.” Carlos spoke, his voice reaching a desperate tone. “It’s gonna be okay –”

Before Carlos could finish his sentence, Clementine covered her ears as Carver grabbed a hold of Carlos’ hand and a sickening crack split the otherwise silent lodge. Following the crack was a guttural shriek of pain that Clementine hadn’t heard from Carlos before.

But it was justified; a human finger wasn’t meant to bend that way.

“Rebecca!” was the cry that came from Carver’s mouth as he threw Carlos’ left hand down. “Our baby deserves to be raised in a place of safety!”

Alvin shielded his eyes from the sight in front of him, as Carlos was left to deal with his pain alone. His gaze, as he looked away from Clementine, focused on Rebecca. In that moment, Clementine had to force herself not to scream as the fear built up in her chest.

The secret was just as open as Rebecca’s eyes were as she heard Carver’s words.

“I know you’re out there!” taunted Carver, gripping Carlos’ neck. “And Alvin! And Luke! And the girl! This is real simple! You want this over quick? Then you show your faces!”

Clementine covered her ears again as she heard the horrifying noises coming from Sarah. Was it worth it?

“NO!” she heard Sarah beg, even through the shielding of her ears with her hands, “PLEASE DON’T HURT MY DAD! PLEASE!”

But Clementine knew that it was too late for that. Someone was going to die at Carver’s hands tonight, and she knew, somewhere in between her heart and her brain, that Carlos was likely going to be it. Again, she forced herself not to throw up.

Alvin’s voice pierced the loft’s silence in a whisper as Rebecca began to shake her head.

“He’ll kill him!”

“Alvin, no --!”

“We’ve gotta go down there!”

“We can’t do that!”

“Bec,” Alvin whispered, his hands on Rebecca’s stomach, “The baby. You need a doctor!”

No –” Rebecca interjected, shaking her head again, “Where’s Luke and Kenny?”

Clementine spoke quietly, barely able to make a sound. There was no other choice. They weren’t going to get out of this alive if they didn’t comply – no one would.

“We have to help Carlos.”

“Only way to help him is to do what that man says.”

It was nearly quiet again, between the loft and the downstairs. The only sounds that could pierce the night where the sounds of Sarah attempting to stifle her tears and Carlos seemingly attempting to do the same thing to himself.

“What about Luke and Kenny?” Rebecca whimpered as she spoke, her eyes glistening with tears in the little light that there was. She wrapped her arms around her bump.

“Look at those guns.” Alvin nodded to Bonnie, the unnamed man, and Johnny. Clementine, on the other hand, thought of the gun that Carver wore in the holster against his waist. But Alvin had a point -- the guns that the other three carried were more powerful, bigger, and held way more ammunition than Carver’s revolver. “We start shootin’, and people are gonna die – on both sides.”

That was only if Kenny and Luke managed to make it back before…

Another sickening crack met Clementine’s ears followed by the same screams as before.

“Cl-Clem can sneak out,” Rebecca begged, a tear falling down her face, “She-she can find Luke!”

Clementine lowered herself down closer to the ground as the nausea in her stomach continued to fight. She gripped the back of her neck and forced herself to breathe as quietly as was possible; the thoughts of trying to sneak out were impossible. They were cornered. The upstairs seemingly had no windows -- and even if they did find any, it was at least a twenty-foot drop straight down.

They were trapped, like wild animals cornered by a hunter.

“What the hell’s she gonna do?” Alvin asked, recoiling at the sheer absurdity of Rebecca’s words. “And you heard him! Carver knows she’s with us!”

“JUST STOP!” Clementine clenched her teeth so hard that she thought that they might break as she heard the guttural shrieks from a begging Sarah. “DON’T HURT HIM, PLEASE!”

Alvin stopped for just a moment, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. “We’re going down there.” he whispered, the finality of his words hanging in the air. It was the most in charge that Clementine had ever seen him.

“He’ll kill you.”

But the words between Alvin and Rebecca faltered as Rebecca ended her sentence. In that moment, all that Alvin could do was stare.

“Fuck you!” Carlos shouted, the pain in his voice apparent. He screamed once more, not from pain, but from desperation, “SHOOT HIM! SOMEBODY JUST SHOOT HIM –”

The moment that Carlos screamed, Carver pulled a knife from his coat with one hand and grabbed Carlos by the back of his hair, effectively exposing his jugular. Carver pressed the blade against Carlos’ throat and allowed this single action to linger in the air. He knew that they were there. He knew.

Maybe, Clementine told herself, this was his way of offering one last chance before this entire situation invoked a massacre.

A bloodbath.

“We have to go down there.” Clementine was out of breath the moment she said this, and pushed herself up on her hands and knees. She blinked away her tears as she heard Sarah cry out once more. “Rebecca, please!”

They stayed together, quiet, and contemplative as Clementine and Alvin turned their attention entirely to Rebecca. Her hands, though they were trembling, reached up to her face and wiped away the tears on her cheeks.

Clementine, with a second’s hesitation, did the same thing to the tears that she hadn’t realized had spilled out. It was the same thing as earlier, once again.

Rebecca stood to her full height, holding her stomach in a tight embrace as Alvin followed suit. And just as Alvin offered, Clementine took his open hand as he pulled her up into a shaky posture. More than anything right now, she was thankful that he could manage to stay semi-calm.

But they hadn’t seen them yet. Carver wasn’t looking up, and he instead pushed the blade further into Carlos’ throat.

“BILL, STOP!”

Rebecca’s scream echoed throughout the lodge, and Clementine braced herself against Alvin as she watched the piercing gazes of Carver and the others shift from Carlos and Sarah to them upstairs.

“Ah,” Carver said, his voice lower than it was before. He pulled the knife from Carlos’ throat and threw him to the ground. Carlos let out a shout, but stayed in his current posture, almost unmoving.

They went down the stairs, possibly to what would amount to their deaths, and in the back of Clementine’s mind, she thought of her own self-preservation. They could run – she could run. She could run away from Carver and from the lodge, just as she had run from the men who attacked her and Christa and the woods.

She made eye contact with Sarah, who hadn’t stopped crying, and then made another set of eye contact with the man in the camo vest. He aimed the tip of his gun at her and Alvin as Rebecca took a shaky step past him.

“Don’t even fuckin’ think about it.”

He saw her face.

She was even more transparent than she thought herself before.

As Rebecca staggered towards Carver, Clementine looked down to see Carlos’ hand and arm up close, in all its mangled glory. As her stomach lurched again, she looked up to Walter instead.

He and Matthew exchanged glances, and then Matthew simply stared down at the ground.

Rebecca stood stock still in front of Carver, her gaze focused on his chest as she did so, as if she were desperately avoiding his eyes.

Slowly, Carver raised his hand up to her cheek and caressed it with his thumb, as if Rebecca were nothing more than a dog who had done what its master commanded.

She flinched at his touch, but Carver didn’t seem to care.

Fuck you, Bill.”

Clementine also flinched, a sudden spasm of fear stabbing her in the chest as she felt the rough, calloused ands of the man in the camo jacket as he pulled her hands behind her back, forcing her wrists together with a rough, splintery rope. Without thinking, she let out a hiss of pain as the angle forced her boney shoulder blades closer together and her back to curve, only for the man to shake his head in return.

She wondered to herself if this was the Dunlap man that they all referenced before, but had no time to speak before she found herself forced down on her knees; for a moment, Clementine tried to look anywhere else but in front of her – even if it meant looking straight into the man’s face.

Carlos struggled to stand, doubled over in pain; his left cheek was now sporting a bruise from Carver’s punch earlier. Bonnie hesitated as she went up behind him and began to wrap his wrists with the same kind of rope that all the others were wrapped with.

He took a seat on his knees between Sarah and Clementine; between the restrains, his middle and pointer finger were both purple – Clementine felt her stomach roll again – and facing the wrong way.

She wanted to vomit right then and there, but instead forced herself to take in a gulp of air as she shut her eyes.

Alvin, in his restrains, fell to his knees with a thump next to Clementine. Her eyelids fluttered opened as she felt the thump; she turned her gaze just enough to see the dejected, horrified expression on his face – the exact same one that she imagined to herself that he would express if he ever found out about Rebecca’s secret – and then pointed her gaze back down to the ground.

“Please.”

The voice belonged to Walter, as he kneeled two feet away.

Please, just leave these poor people alone.”

Bonnie passed him, the gun in her hands but not pointed at him. With a hesitation – a quiver to her voice, almost – she said, “Just – just shut up.”

“You don’t know what you’re doing…” The next remark came from Matthew, his eyes closed as he spoke. He let out an audible breath. “We did nothing to you.”

He received no answer in response.

Clementine looked up, watching as Rebecca was backed into the corner of the kitchenette by the unnamed man, and then turned her attention to Carver as he began to approach Bonnie.

“Everything under control?”

The crash, the horrific sound of a booming and a thump, came next – the sound as if someone had just launched something into glass. And in fact, someone had. As her terror subsided, she watched as Johnny’s body hit the ground, a bullet right in between his eyes.

Kenny.

Luke.

Someone?

They had hope. They had someone there who knew what Carver was doing. But most of all –

They were in trouble.

Carver didn’t flinch at the noise, but Bonnie and the unnamed man did, their faces wild with surprise and with – terror? Clementine didn’t know. But she watched as the unnamed man brandished his gun in the direction of the broken window.

Carver backed against a support beam, a revolver in his hands as he did so, and bared his teeth.

“Don’t move,” came Bonnie’s voice as she turned away from the hostages, “I mean that.”

The seconds ticked on like hours as the unnamed man did the same as Carver, and hid himself beside another support beam, the tip of his gun poking out.

Clementine took in a deep breath, or at least as deep as she could with the tightening of her chest. Kenny or Luke – or maybe both – had to have caught on by now.

Glass crunched underneath Carver’s boots as he stepped towards Johnny’s body, his gaze fixated on Johnny’s face entirely.
And Clementine, as she forced herself forward just enough to avoid losing the balance that she had on her knees and with her awkwardly curved back, fixated her gaze on the blood splattered across Johnny’s face; dead bodies didn’t bleed after the initial fatal wound, Christa had once told her. But with the blood that ran down his face, he still looked way too alive.

“I can’t see him!” cried Bonnie, who was half-way hidden behind a pillar, just as Carver was, “Bill, I can’t –”

Instead, Carver held up a hand, ripping his gaze away from Johnny’s body. “Watch them.”

Bonnie and the unnamed man seemed to freeze in their spots.

Clementine braced herself against the floor, leaning back against her knees as she watched Carver’s knees from her short posture against the floor. Biting on her tongue, she clenched her bound fists and took in another harsh breath as Carver began to walk in her direction.

But he passed her. He even passed Alvin. He passed Carlos and the standing Rebecca and a quietly crying Sarah.

Carver stood behind Matthew, his revolver brandished in his hand, aimed, and ready to shoot.

The next minute blurred as Clementine felt the taste of copper in her mouth as she tried to avoid crying out in response to Carver’s threat. Her feelings from before, when she thought – when she swore – that Carlos was going to be the next victim of Carver, suddenly came flooding back as she closed her tear-filled eyes.

“No!” The scream came from Matthew, from rather close to her.

“No, please!” Walter’s voice, begging, as Clementine tried to close her eyes tighter.

In the background, she heard words from the others, before Walter’s voice cried out again, this time guttural and thick with horror.

PLEASE!” Clementine hitched her breath as she, eyes still closed, pointed her gaze to the ground. The coppery taste in her mouth only increased as she continued to bite her tongue. “NO, HE HASN’T DONE ANYTHING TO YOU! HE’S INNOCENT –”

The gunshot was cut short by the sickening sound of something solid being hit, something like a mix between a thunk and bang as something solid hit the ground. Something solid, something heavy – but not heavy enough to drown out the cry from Walter.

A hush fell over the room, but Clementine still didn’t open her eyes. She wouldn’t. She couldn’t see Matthew like that – not like Johnny, or Pete, or that other man back in the woods a week ago. She tried to breathe, but instead let out of hacking cough as a trickle of her own blood slipped down her throat; the tiny whimper that she let out was just as involuntary.

Slowly, Clementine opened her eyes, just enough to see the rough outline of Matthew as he lay several feet away, most likely dripping in his own blood, just as Johnny did.

Another whimper slipped through her lips as she clenched her teeth and closed her eyes once again, leaving her only active sense her hearing as she listened for the telltale sound of any emotion from anyone.

The cries from Sarah began again, but were now joined by a heavier, guttural cry from the same direction. Clementine slowly opened her eyes as she held her breath, and turned her head just enough to see Walter’s hunched figure as he fought against his own lack of composure and his restraints.

“Do you even know what you’ve done…?” His voice was hushed, but the tone warned of something worse.

Clementine forced herself to breathe again as she tried to ignore Walter’s and Sarah’s cries, combined with the heavy stomping of Carver’s boots. Slowly, she peered up, just barely moving her head, to see Bonnie stumble towards Matthew’s body.

She held her rifle loosely, her lips parted just enough that she could have made a sound, any sound, in protest. Her gaze against Matthew faltered, and Clementine locked her own tear-filled eyes against Bonnie’s horror-filled ones.

Oh my God, Bonnie seemed to mouth, as if she weren’t shocked enough.

Again, Clementine looked down to the floor as she tugged, writhing her hands against the rope as she felt her own tears hitting her cheeks again. She clenched her fists behind her bag, tugging again as she rubbed her wrists against the sharp rope. She needed to get loose, or they were going to die.

She was going to die.

No, no – there had to be another way, any way, to get out of this. Clementine had been through a lot, and she had always gotten through it. She always made it through. She wasn’t done yet –

Clementine was acutely aware of the dripping of blood on her hands as she continued to pull against the rope, her eyes wet and breathing shallow. She focused on the window, and for a moment, she swore that she saw the tip of a gun. Kenny-or-Luke, whichever one was out there at that point, were close enough to make a killing shot.

More than anything, Clementine yearned to see the bullet from Matthew’s head – focused right in between Carver’s beady brown eyes.

Again, in the moment that it took to aim and fire, the gunshot pierced both the air and the wooden foundation of the pillar that lay just a few centimeters from the far left of Carver’s face.

Clementine’s gaze snapped at the same time that Sarah, as soon as the shriek was cut off, she watched, shaking, as Carver slowly turned. In that moment, Clementine couldn’t see the expression on his face, but there was something about his body language that signaled that the cogs in his head were spinning faster and faster.

Oh God, Clementine thought to herself as she clenched her teeth. Oh God

Matthew was revenge, maybe – most likely – for Johnny. But the shot was missed, and so close to striking Carver in the face, and now there were going to be consequences. As if, Clementine’s panicked mind screamed at her, these weren’t already clear cut consequences.

Rebecca cried out as Carver, glass crunching as it stuck to the bottom of his steel toed boots, stomped towards Alvin with the revolver flashed in his hand.

“Bill, no!” pleaded Rebecca, and she attempted to take a step forward. Clementine watched out of the corner of her eye, scared to turn her head, as the unnamed man stepped in front of her. “Alvin!”

Just as he had done to Carlos and Matthew, Carver forced Alvin to stand. Unlike before, however, he positioned the gun at the base of the back of Alvin’s neck; the wordless gesture acted as more of a command than anything else.

“Hi, Alvin,” Carver’s voice, like the gunshot before him, pierced the air of the scared silent ski lodge. Alvin’s already rigid movements only became more constricted as he took a few unsteady steps forward; Clementine watched as Alvin turned his head just enough to, most likely, see Carver out of the corner of his vision.

Alvin snarled as he resisted Carver’s movement. “You motherfucker –”

“No –” Rebecca cried as the unnamed man once again prevented her from going forward anymore than she already had. Perhaps, he was the only thing keeping her back from tearing off Carver’s head right then and there. Instead, Rebecca looked to the unnamed man and pleaded, “Oh God, please – just tell him to stop!”

But the man stayed silent.

Carver spun the chamber of his revolver with his free finger, the clicking coming to a stop as he shoved Alvin forward. A smile appeared on his face.

“Kenny, stop!” Rebecca screamed, throwing her hands up.

Clementine turned her head, looking past a rigid and near catatonic Walter to stare through tears at the near hysterical Rebecca.

Carver spoke again, projecting his voice loudly enough to gain the attention of the others, rather than just Alvin alone. His voice, now echoing throughout the walls of the lodge, held a tone just as smug as it was before as he yelled; just as he had spoken to – greeted – Alvin before.

He spun the chamber once again as he kept the revolver trained against the back of Alvin’s neck.

Sarah cried out at Carver’s words this time, just as he shouted, “Do you remember George, Alvin?”

Clementine felt herself flinch, most of her upper body twitching as she listened to Carver’s words. But George? Who the hell was George?
She bit the inside of her mouth, yet again tasting bits of her own blood, as she looked up to see Bonnie turning away from Carver’s hostage situation.

“You see,” Carver spoke, his tone silky and full of suggestion, “I do. And –” He continued to push Alvin forwards, closer into the direction of the windows so that only the moonlight illuminated either of their faces and reflected off of Carver’s silver revolver. “I remember a man who was your friend… named George.”

Sarah, from a few feet away, gained Clementine’s attention again when she made a sound – presumably involuntarily – that sounded half-way between a sob and a choke. Clementine simply blinked, unable to form any words – whether they were to be ones of support or otherwise – and listened as Carlos whispered something that she could barely make out.

He’s gone.” Carlos said, though Clementine’s attention snapped back to Carver and Alvin. But Sarah – what did Sarah have to do with this man?

Clementine couldn’t stand this for much longer. Her knees were numb, her wrists were scabbed and bloodied, and her mouth went dry as Carver’s tirade continued.

“I remember when you murdered him in cold blood.”

Clementine’s eyes widened, her heart rate quickening with each passing second. Oh God, she could throw up now – she could, right then and there.

“And why?” taunted Carver, “Because you didn’t like me? Well – you could’ve lodged a complaint… you could’ve…” For just a moment, Carver paused, holding Alvin still as he did so. Slowly, Carver pushed the revolver from Alvin’s neck to his forehead, resting the barrel on the edge of Alvin’s temple. “You could’ve been civil.”

Bill!” Rebecca pleaded, once again stepping forward only to be met by the unnamed man’s advances and gun for the umpteenth time. “I’ll do whatever you want, just –”
But Carver paused, now holding Alvin in front of the fireplace. The fire continued to burn, now casting an orange glow across Carver’s pale face, his eyes shining bright yellow like the irises of a hungry wolf.

What happened next was automatic – as animalistic and instinctive as it could ever be – as Clementine found herself and her numb feet and legs clamoring to a hunched standing position.

They couldn’t do anything, but she would be damned if she would allow Alvin’s fate to remain the same as everyone else’s. He would become another Matthew.

Another Pete, or Doug, or Omid.

Another Christa.

Another Lee –

No, no – she couldn’t, she couldn’t! And with the newly found courage and adrenaline pumping throughout her veins, Clementine charged, her head bowed like a bull as it went in, horns bared, for the killing blow.

She heard Nick’s voice, but nothing else – not until she heard her own screaming as Carver withdrew his revolver from Alvin’s temple to slam it directly into her upper stomach. The bullfighter came prepared.

It was expected for something so stupid and so risky with so little payoff. Clementine heaved as she lost her balance and tumbled onto her side; her ribs collided with the wooden floors as she felt herself choke on her vomit as it spilled out onto her shirt.

Alvin’s voice rang out. “I love you, Bec!”

Clementine turned onto her back, her vision teary and blurred, and made direct eye contact with Carver for only a few seconds before he pulled the trigger.

The only thing worse than the gunshot was the blood as it splattered from the side of Alvin’s head – and the only thing worse than that was Rebecca as her horrified cries turned to horrified screams as she fell to her own knees.

Rebecca!” The voice belonged to Carlos, his voice guttural as if he were in pain, “Rebecca, just don’t look – Clem, don’t --

Where the gunshot ended, Rebecca’s howls and the blood began, and Clementine couldn’t move.

Alvin’s body stared her in the face from both of their positions from where they fell, and for a moment, it was as if she had also been shot dead, in her face, and had collapsed dead next to him.

But no, Clementine couldn’t scream. She couldn’t breathe – not after that blow to the stomach. She didn’t move for what felt like hours – though they were truly only seconds – as she adjusted to the tactile sensation of fresh blood on her clothes and face.

Within seconds, Carver gripped Clementine under her arms, before she could even process his actions or scream at all. Within mere seconds, he hoisted her into his arms and pushed the still hot tip of his revolver into her temple.

No.

No, no, no – she couldn’t die! Not like this! Not after she had failed so miserably before. No, oh fuck, NO!

She closed her eyes, unable to make a sound beyond her choking on tears as she whispered to him.

“Please,” Clementine murmured, as Carver placed his finger on the revolver’s trigger, “Please – I don’t wanna die –”

Maybe he hadn’t heard her, or maybe he simply didn’t care. Either way, he spoke to the others, and especially to Kenny, as he allowed Clementine to cry her silent tears.

“We can do this all night!” Carver’s voice boomed across the room, and for a moment, it was all that Clementine could hear. “Is that what you want?”

Her eyes glazed over as she held her sobs back, silent tears remaining the only outward sign that she was alive at all. Clementine watched only ahead at the sight of the large, front window and its shattered glass and the moonlight that it allowed in.
Carver’s breathing was as gruff as his voice, and somewhat labored as he dug his nails into Clementine’s arm. She was more than just his hostage – she was his human shield.

The door swung open, and Carver’s grip on the revolver tightened as he adjusted his hand on Clementine’s upper body; he took a few steady steps backward as he played with the trigger on his gun.
Clementine, on the other hand, did not move. She did not squirm, or fidget, or even dare to breathe for those few unsteady seconds – even as they dragged on for what seemed much more like hours.

Kenny threw his rifle to the ground at the entrance of the ski lodge, his eyes wide with horror and his hands held up towards the sky; a simple sign of defeat. Of surrender.

Clementine closed her eyes, her teeth bared, as her tears came flooding back in an instance.

They tied him up, and they tied him up tightly; Kenny’s body was rigid, just like Alvin’s, as Bonnie only seemed to tie and tie and tie

It wasn’t until Kenny fell to his knees that Carver drew the revolver from Clementine’s temple. She didn’t move – no, what if he put it back? What if this was a ruse? What if --?

And he threw her to the ground, like a child letting go of a doll.

Clementine didn’t move. Her ribs ached. Her stomach, her legs, her lungs… they all hurt, but more than anything, she wanted to scream and cry in sheer horror as she took her place next to Alvin’s corpse.

There was a moment when everything grew silent; Kenny froze, maybe too stunned to even formulate a sentence. Clementine, her eyes shut tightly against her view of Alvin, let out a shuddering breath as a sob ripped through her throat. She couldn’t muster the energy to pull at the restraints any longer.

Carver’s steel-toed boots left tiny shards of glass in his path, though the crunching continued to emanate throughout the lodge as he walked down the line of his hostages.

“Where’s Luke?” he asked, his hands on his hips. He stopped in front of Carlos, whose gaze remained on the floor. “Finally cut and run, huh?”

Another cry tore through Clementine’s throat, but this one was quieter than the first. She shut her eyes once more.

They didn’t find Luke. Kenny didn’t bring in or bring up Luke. No, it was, for that brief second before Carver’s words, as if Luke simply didn’t exist. Where had he gone?

She feared the worst, and tried to muffle her cries by biting her tongue.

“Why am I not surprised?” Carver spoke again, presumably to Carlos, “I warned you – I warned you not to follow him – and look where he led you!”

Clementine shifted in her spot as Carver’s boots began to sound as if he were walking away from her. Slowly, she turned back onto her side, just enough to be able to open her eyes and stare intently in a direction that avoided Alvin; instead, she watched as Carver approached Rebecca.

“But you’re safe now.” he spoke, his voice softening as he neared her. “We’re going home. As a family.”

His words were definitive, and Clementine found herself once again frozen – paralyzed – on the ground as his heavy boots stomped in her general direction.

She went limp on the floor once again, her only movement coming from her hands as they trembled in their bloodied restraints. Clementine forced herself to take in a deep, shuddering breath, and then shut her eyes tightly as the footsteps drew nearer.

“All right,” Carver’s voice lingered above Clementine, as if he were standing right above her as he spoke. He took a step dangerously close to her face, and she swore that she could smell rubber and blood as he did so. “Round ‘em all up. We’re headin’ back to camp.”

Clementine felt Carver’s presence linger for several seconds as his words hung in the air, though she simply heard them. At that moment, she didn’t care what they meant – no, just how long it took until he walked away. Far away.

The presence dissipated, and Clementine opened her eyes just enough to see his outline walk away from her, towards the door, and out of sight.
Clementine froze in her place again as tears spilled into her vision. He was gone for now, out of sight, but far from truly gone. She felt a choking sob in the back of her throat as she felt the sharp pains that ran up both of her arms; the sensation was permeated only by the dull throbbing aches in her ribs and forehead.

The feeling was like a flashback to earlier, during dinner, when she hadn’t realized that she was crying until she felt the tears on her neck; yet, it was different now. Different, only in the way that she realized it, as she opened her eyes to fixate on Alvin’s and Matthew’s bodies. Clementine, the human shield and not the living little girl, felt like an undiscovered cadaver as she watched Bonnie and the man lead the others out of her sight, towards the door.

It was like being underwater, or just simply drowning, or even like listening to an out of range radio. She knew, logically, that there was truly nothing to make her pass out, but the feeling refused to subside, just as it had back at the cabin when she had woken up from being passed out on the ground. She remained the same in her place on the floor, and found herself instinctively pulling her knees towards her chest.

Maybe the others were crying too, maybe even screaming as they passed by, but all that Clementine could hear was herself as she failed at biting back whimpers that turned into louder, stifled cries.

She drew in a breath and flinched as she felt a set of ice cold, calloused hands touch her arm; her eyes snapped open and she bit back a scream as she was suddenly face to face with Bonnie – and that was enough.

Without thinking, Clementine let out a shriek, punctuated by her heaving cries as the pain from screaming tore into her throat.
No, no – Bonnie couldn’t touch her. Bonnie would only cause more pain. Bonnie would only cause more trouble. Bonnie would only cause more suffering.

Please,” The voice was Walter’s. It was pitched and scratchy as if he had been screaming, and maybe he had beyond Carver’s hostage taking of Matthew. Walter’s footsteps were uneven, as if he were dragging himself across the wood. “She’s – she’s upset. I can help her calm down, just untie me –”

Bonnie said nothing, and Clementine looked through her teary gaze to see that he had gotten closer while Bonnie backed away from Clementine instead.

Walter spoke again, his voice low. “Clem-Clementine?” He drew in a labored breath as Clementine attempted to look away from his face as his reddened eyes drew out tears of their own. Walter’s words were interrupted as his voice broke at the end of her name, his gaze sliding away from her. “I… I need you to breathe –”

Let’s go!”

Walter flinched; Clementine whimpered, unable to hold in the sound again. She watched as Bonnie’s hands went to Walter’s shoulder and wrist, her face dropping as she did so. Carver’s command was gospel, wasn’t it?

Bonnie returned for Clementine within thirty seconds, her gait faltering as she slowed. The unnamed man grabbed a hold of Kenny’s arm, forcing him to stand; Kenny pulled his arm from the man’s grasp, gritting his teeth.

“I’m fucking goin’!” Kenny snarled, turning so that he was facing Clementine. “Clem! Oh God, Clementine?”

Clementine didn’t answer him and instead, her gaze watery, stared at Bonnie, who stopped in front of her. Slowly, Bonnie bent down; Clementine, on the other hand, bit the edge of her tongue.

“We have to go,” whispered Bonnie, though her voice trembled as she spoke. “I’m sorry, just – please don’t scream – I won’t hurt you, I promise –” She forced Clementine to sit up, though Clementine herself knew that she wouldn’t be able to stay that way for very long as the energy she had previously dispersed.

Bonnie pulled Clementine to her feet, though Clementine found herself trembling as she slumped against Bonnie. With her arms bound behind her back, it was nearly impossible to keep her balance, and with the added manpower that it took to stand on numb legs, Clementine could barely find herself able to move.

She bit back a cry of pain as Bonnie’s hand rested on her wrists; they could have been wet with sweat or blood, but the intense stinging spoke for itself.

As Bonnie forced her forward, Clementine bit her lip and glanced back over her shoulder at the three corpses that lay on the floor. For just a moment, she felt that she could join them again, and it wouldn’t make any difference.