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Allegiances

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A hail of gunfire erupted through the peaceful ranch. Clementine clutched her three-year-old boy as she weaved through the halls searching for a way to escape. The ranch house she ran through was scattered with the bodies of the people who had kept her safe for the past year. Tears flooded her eyes as once again she had to watch her friends die without any means to stop it.

 

A piercing blow ripped through her right calf as she toppled to the ground. Her golden eyes met with a blue and a brown one. His sick toothy grin made her stomach twist as she desperately tried to crawl away from him, the pain in her leg slowing her down considerably.

“Not so fast, girly.” The man spoke in a gravelly voice.
With one arm he lunged at her, ripping the child from her arms as she clung to him for dear life.

No! ” She screamed as the terrified boy was taken away from her.

Her cry was cut short as the man brought his boot down on her neck, leaving her struggling for a breath. Clementine gasped for air as her nails viciously clawed into the man’s leg. Her efforts only seemed to bring maniacal laughter.

“Oh, I like you.” He laughed, only pressing harder on her throat. “A fighter.”

 

“I think we’ll keep you.” Was the last thing she heard before a boot connected with the side of her head and the world faded into nothing.

 

---

 

The next two years were the worst of her life. She didn’t know if having a history with the commander made her the luckiest or the unluckiest soul that ever fell into their special pit of hell. Lilly certainly gave her special treatment, but that didn’t mean it was positive.

The days, the weeks, the months, they all seemed to blur together. She could never tell how fast the time passed, between rigorous training, recon missions, and endlessly staring at the walls of her solitary cell, how much meaning could time have for someone who couldn’t feel its passage?

 

The only ray of hope she had left was Alvin Jr. Though she was only permitted to see him rarely, those fleeting visits were the only thing that kept her alive. It was obvious he was not being treated well, it seemed every time she was him the boy was thinner, with scars and other wounds that had not existed at the previous visit. Seeing her boy was the only thing that could cut through the numbness that surrounded the rest of her existence. Every time she laid eyes upon the fragile child she would burst into a frenzy of sobs and apologies, swearing up, down, left, and right that one day she would rescue him from these monsters.

 

“Attention, soldier.” An all too familiar voice broke Clementine out of her deep thought.

 

Without hesitation, the girl stood from her bunk with a straightened spine and a dead expression on her face.

 

A pile of clothes landed on the floor in front of her, she didn't flinch.

“Get dressed and then sergeant Lind will escort you to the briefing room for your new assignment.” Lilly gestured for the sergeant to close the cell door.

 

She shifted through the pile at her feet, removing her navy blue scrubs and slipping on a beige henley shirt, a yellow hoodie under a dark denim jacket as well as green cargo pants and a pair of sturdy knee-high hunting boots. She ran her fingers through her tangled curls, her hat had been given to AJ so he wouldn’t forget her. Through the glass, she could see Lind scanning her body with an almost hungry stare.

 

Bastard.

 

She walked behind sergeant Lind along a path she could have walked in her sleep. Part of her wondered what new hellish assignment she would be put to this time, but she found it difficult to care too much.

 

Following the procedure that had been drilled into her skull a million times over, she calmly took a seat at the table and stared straight ahead, not daring to make eye contact with the commander.

 

Lilly paced around the room, a smug grin pointed towards the young girl.

 

“I am prepared for my next assignment.” Clementine spoke with a hint of fake enthusiasm which always made Lilly chuckle.

“I’m sure you are, and I promise you’ll like this one.” Lilly unfolded a map in front of Clementine with a location a few days travel away circled in red. She realized that the location was in the middle of a forest.

What could be out there that she wants so badly? She thought.

 

“Pack your backpack, Clementine. You're going back to school.”

Chapter Text

Fallen leaves crunched under her boots as she walked the lonely trail on her way to ruin more lives. Her bag bounced lightly against her back, only been provided with the most basic supplies being a hunting knife and about a day’s worth of food.

All these years and Lilly’s still stingy with the food.

 

Clementine shook the memories of her Macon days out of her head to focus on the task at hand.

 

Her senses remained alert as she searched for any sign that she might run into the group she was searching for, but all that surrounded her were a canopy of trees and a cool autumn breeze.

A guttural growl ended the calm moment as the decayed walker stood up from within the brush. Its bony arms flailed in excitement as it charged her. One swift high-kick to the temple was all it took to take it down, a sickening crunch as her boot shattered its soft skull. She stepped over the now fully dead creature, eager to get away from the smell.

 

The sound of two voices in the distance lead her to jump for cover into the trees as two figures traipsed through the trees uncomfortably close to where she hid.

 

“Oh, C'mon!” A girl with a southern accent called to her companion.
“I’m sure there’s still plenty of stuff to see out there!”

“Yeah, like dead people, dead people, and more dead people.” another voice responded unenthusiastically.

 

They sound young.

Clem thought.

The school must be nearby.

 

She sat as still as a stone until the footsteps had passed, not willing to risk detection for a peek.

 

Time to get the fuck out, Clementine.





She quickly made her way towards the direction the girls had come from. The leaves of the forest floor were matted down with frequent travel. Clem knew she was getting close.

 

Now let's see,

She thought.
Helpless Maiden,’ or ‘Wounded Passerby?’

 

So many angles she could play, but which would get their attention in the right way?

 

Maybe even ‘Wounded Maiden.’

 

She thought of what the commander had told her about this ‘Marlon’ character.

 

“Just another coward with a soft heart.” she spit.

“I imagine you’ll play him like a fiddle.”

 

Helpless Maiden it is then.

A flash of red caught the girl’s attention to the left. A faded red ribbon was wrapped around the tree trunk several times. Clementine carefully examined the fabric, her fingertips just lightly brushing the weather-worn strips.

They can't be this stupid to leave markers right their base.

 

She glanced at similarly marked trees leading down the trail.

 

Something tugged at Clementine's ankle as she attempted to continue on. She shook her foot, attempting to break free from what she assumed was a vine. the struggle only caused the snare to tighten until her feet were sharply tugged from underneath her. Clem let out a yelp as her head came down hard on a rock. As the blood rushed to her head and her vision faded to black, the last thing she could process was the sound of footsteps sprinting in her direction.

 

---



She almost reached the turn in the hall when she realized her The harsh afternoon light stung as she opened her eyes. A hand immediately going to her throbbing head, fingers grazing a heavy gauze bandage. Clementine sat up with a start. A bad decision, the sudden movement causing pain to shoot through her skull.

 

Not exactly how I planned to get inside, but whatever works.

 

She was sat on a bunk bed, the blankets musty and unused for some time. The floorboards creaked under her weight as she carefully searched the rest of the room. Trying the door was a fruitless effort.

 

Of course, it's locked.

She swore internally.

 

She paced the room, searching for something to aid her escape. Her bag was missing and the room was barren of utensils. She scanned the closet for anything useful, shifting through empty cardboard boxes and moth-chewed clothing.

Clementine's eye was caught by the sight of a box barely visible from her height resting on the top shelf.

 

Clementine cursed her short stature as she was forced to balance on a rickety old chair to reach the sticker-coated box. She dug through the bin of pencil crayons until her hand scraped something sharp. She smirked as she twirled the palette knife in her hand.

 

This’ll do nicely.

 

With one swift motion, she jammed the small blade into the locking mechanism in the door and popped it open. The door squeaked loudly on its hinges as she stepped into the empty hallway. Graffiti lined the walls and long dead wires hung from the ceiling. Clem stepped over loose papers and fallen debris as she wondered the extent of the dilapidation.

 

What a shit hole.

 

She quickly backtracked as she realized her footsteps weren't the only ones echoing in the empty hall. Quicky, she backtracked to behind a trophy cabinet just to avoid being seen by the boy who approached the room she had been locked in. Gripping the palette knife tight, she stayed silent as she watched the young boy who couldn't be older than thirteen. The child brandished a small knife of his own as he surveyed the room.

 

“Hey there.” she called.

 

Without saying a word, the boy immediately threw his hands up in surrender.

 

“Drop the knife.” Stabbing a child wouldn‘t get her on the group's good side, but she wasn't about to let him stab her first.

 

“How ‘bout you do the same.” a third voice spoke from within the shade.

 

Through the darkness, she could easily see the arrowhead pointed at her skull by a boy who appeared to be about her age. His face was hard to read but his actions were clear.

 

“Easy there, you’re safe now. Just let him go.” He seemed to be trying to defuse the situation, but she wasn’t buying it.

 

“How about an expression of good faith, you drop yours, I’ll drop mine.” She didn’t act when the boy backed away from her towards his companion.

 

The two teens stared each other down. Slowly, they both lowered their weapons in unison.

 

‘Wounded Passerby’ after all, then.

Except she was hurt for real this time.

 

“Where am I? Who are you?” Both loaded questions.

 

“I’m Marlon.”

 

Figured.

 

“This is Tennessee.” he gestured to the shaken boy.

“He’s the one who’s been taking care of you. He uh, doesn’t talk much.”

 

“Clementine.” she introduced plainly.

 

“Nice to meet you, Clementine. C’mon, we can talk somewhere else.” Marlon beckoned her to follow him out of the building.

 

Clementine squinted against the brightness as she examined the courtyard and the brick walls surrounding it.

 

They have good strong walls.

 

Glancing around she could only see a few kids scattered around the yard. The school seemed like a large place, there were probably more kids elsewhere.

 

Hopefully enough to keep Lilly off my back for a while.

 

“As you could probably tell, this place used to be a school.” His voice broke her out of her thought as she sped up a little to keep pace.

 

“Where are the adults? Who’s making the calls?” Clem found it hard to believe a commune of only kids could last eight years in the middle of the woods.

 

“Well, that would be me. Sounds odd… Kids, run by a kid, but we do alright for ourselves.” His smile was kind and proud, something she hadn’t expected from him. Something about that mullet just made him look like an asshole.

 

“I can’t imagine what it's like to be out there all alone.” She shot him a look as she got the sense he was pitying her.

 

“Takes as much luck as it does skill.” She shoved away the memories of those that were less lucky than her.

 

“Luck is right. I’d hate to imagine what woulda happened if a walker had found you before Aasim did.” Marlon spoke but Clementine’s attention was focused on an odd looking boy who was staring at her quite closely.

His teeth were crooked and his hair was messy and he didn't try to hide his stare.

 

“I uh… appreciate it.” She tried to ignore the creepy kid but he only moved closer to her.

 

“Can I help you?” What was wrong with this child?

 

The question just made him run past her to what she guessed was a makeshift watch tower next to a gate.

 

“You’ll have to forgive him, we haven't seen anyone like you in… ever.”

The two of them jumped as the boy from earlier yelled something about the walkers outside.

 

There’s going to be a lot of walkers outside if he keeps yelling like that.

 

Clem wondered how the kid could make such a rookie mistake.

 

“If you want your stuff back, I left it with Louis.” He said while stringing an arrow.

 

“Louis?”

 

“Just follow the music.”

 

With that, the blond leader ran towards the gates and Clem was left to wander her way over to the admin building.

 

The sound of distant piano notes filled the room as she followed the noise down the hall to a wide open room and a boy in a trench coat with dreads sat pressing the keys on a beat-up grand piano. She stood in the doorway almost entranced by the sound. She couldn’t remember the last time she heard music.

 

“You’re not dead, that's good.” He turned to her.

“Most little bunnies that get caught in those traps aren't so fortunate.”

 

“Bunny?” She scowled.

 

He shrugged before introducing himself.

“I’m Louis.” His tone was almost flirty.

 

“I’m Clementine.”

 

“Oh yeah, I totally forgot. Marlon left your bag in here somewhere.” Clem scanned the room until she spotted the faded muddy bag.

 

Clementine examined the contents to make sure nothing was missing. Not that there was much to take anyways. Satisfied with her findings she flipped her knife around her fingers, admiring the heavy blade.

 

“Pretty cool trick there. Do that around Mitch he might just fall in love.” She rolled her eyes at that, not knowing who Mitch was.

 

“I'm pretty good at throwing them too, up for a little target practice?” A jest of course, but a little fear might make him a little less annoying.

 

I'll pass.”

 

Coward.

 

She smirked at that. Louis turned back to the keys and began playing at the time he had when she walked in.

 

“You don't know any others?” she teased.

 

“Well there is one, but you're armed.”

 

He must have taken her arched eyebrow as a go ahead because he to play a song Clem had heard way too many times in her childhood.

 

“Oh, my darlin’,

Oh, my darlin’,

Oh, my daaaaarrlin’, Clementine.”

 

You've got to be fucking kidding me.

 

“You are lost and gone forever…”

 

“Stop, now.” If he was always like this she might end up stabbing him before the others come to collect.

 

The smug grin on his face hadn’t shrunk as he snuck in the final line of the verse.

 

“Dreadful sorry, Clementine.”

 

“You wanna give it a try?” he moved over on the bench to make room for her.

 

“Not a chance.” She turned away from the boy’s disappointed expression to see Marlon running into the room.

 

“Hey, have you seen Rosie?” He asked, slightly panicked.

 

“Nope.” Louis stood from the piano.

 

“Shit. We’ve got a bit of a situation out there.” He turned to Clem.

“Hate to ask, you just comin’ to and all, but we could really use the hand.”

 

“You up for taking out a few dead-heads?”

 

---

 

The three of them gathered at the gate along with a blonde girl who was admiring her cleaver.

 

“We got a hunting party trying to get back inside so we gotta go out and clear the way.” Marlon explained.

 

“Careful around those traps, you don’t seem too good with those.” The blonde girl spoke.

 

“Vi.”

 

“I’m just saying. She doesn’t seem too careful.”

 

“We haven’t met.” Clem deadpanned.

 

“Nope.”

 

“Ahem.” Louis interjected.

 

“Hello Clementine, I’m Violet. Nice to meet you.”

 

“What he said.”

“It’s time for you to put that weapon to use.” Marlon called as the four of them made their way beyond the gates into the forest beyond.

 

“Don’t mind Violet. She uh, grows on you!” Louis swung what looked to be a makeshift bad over his shoulder, the end of it having nails protruding every which way.

 

He caught her odd look and explained.

“Oh, this? It’s a chair leg. I call it ‘Chairles’.”

 

God, what a dork.

 

They spread out to sweep the area for walkers. The sounds of groaning echoing in the trees and the familiar stench of death filled the air. Two walkers charged her from behind an abandoned car. She quickly took out the knee of the first one, plunging her knife into its skull before jamming it through the jaw of the second one.

 

“Woah! Nice one, Clementine!” That bothersome voice called from her right.

 

She turned to see Louis caving in a walker’s skull with “Chairles”.

 

“I wasn’t sure if you were just all talk but apparently you're an actual bada-” He cut himself off with a gasp as her knife came flying in his direction. The knife sailed just over his shoulder, sinking into the face of a walker with a thud.

 

Louis turned to see the walker fall to the ground hardly a foot behind him. Shocked, he looked to the now weaponless Clementine as another walker approached her.

 

Clementine raised her hands against the opposing walker. She steadied her footing as she kicked it to the ground. Bringing her boot down hard on its head, she saw Louis was still watching her in awe.

 

She walked past him to retrieve her knife.

 

“Pay attention or you’re going to get yourself killed.” she warned.

 

“I-uh… Yeah.” He stammered out.

 

Marlon and Violet regrouped with them along with three other kids, each of the new ones holding a dead rabbit slung over their shoulder. Along with an American Bulldog who turned out to be Rosie. Clementine shuddered as she watched the dog lick the walker blood on its face.

 

“Alright let’s go. I’m fuckin’ starving.” Marlon lead the rest of them inside.

 

“You’re not the only one.”

 

---

 

Clementine wandered the yard while they waited on the boy known as Omar to finish cooking their dinner. She made her way to a small nook just off of the main yard where a few wooden crosses stuck out of mounds in the dirt. Violet rested a hand on Tenn’s shoulder as the boy put a small bundle of flowers on two of the mounds.

 

“Hey guys.” the two turned around to face her.

 

“You guys still do the whole graveyard thing?” She tried not to sound insensitive, but she was genuinely curious.

 

“Kinda, sorta.” The blonde responded

“There’s no one buried here, really.”

 

“This is where we buried Tenn’s sister's belongings. Minnie and Sophie. Twins. Lost ‘em both about a year ago.” The names rang a bell with Clementine.

 

She’d never met them, but Lilly had mentioned a previous deal involving a set of twins between her and Marlon. If he was still in charge, the rest of the group had to be none the wiser about what he’d done.

 

Just another asshole who doesn’t give a shit about anyone but himself.

 

Clem knew better than to buy into his nice guy persona in the first place.

 

“What happened to them?” She examined the letters carved into the boards.

 

“Walkers.” She said with a sullen look.

 

Every murderer’s scapegoat in this world.

 

She wondered if walkers would have almost been a better fate for the two.

 

“Stew’s done!” Louis triumphantly called out.

 

“Looks like you earned your supper after all.” Marlon lead her to one of the picnic tables.

 

Rabbit stew was certainly an upgrade from the bland bullshit they called food back at the Delta. She had to admit, Omar’s cooking was quite good. She hadn’t had a meal like this in years.

 

“My compliments to the chef.” she joked

 

“Yo, Omar!” Louis yelled at the other table.

“She likes your cooking!”

 

“Everyone does. I make sure of that!” He called back.

 

After they ate they stacked their bowls in a pile and pushed it aside.

 

“Time for the real fun to start.”  Louis pulled a deck of playing cards out of his pocket and held it up for the others to see.

 

“Oh, God. ” Ruby exclaimed as she left the table.

 

“Goodnight.” Commented Brody as she followed her.

 

As the others went on to do other things, the table was left with Marlon, Louis, and Violet.

 

“What’s the game tonight, Lou?” Marlon asked

 

Here come the theatrics.

 

“War. A game of man and beast alike. The only game there is.”

 

Called it.

 

“Winner gets to ask Clem here a question.” She shot him a look.

“What? I want to get to know you better. We all do.”

 

“And if I win?”

 

“You get to ask us something. It’s only fair.”

 

They each flipped over a card and laid it on the table. Violet’s Jack of Hearts claimed the first victory.

 

“How long have you been out there on your own?” Her voice was sympathetic.

 

“Years. I learned my lesson not to fall in with broken groups after the first few tries. It’s hard to find good people who have their shit together these days.” Memories of the cabin group flashed in front of her eyes.

Two weeks. They were all dead in two weeks. Just her and Kenny to raise Rebecca’s little boy.

 

“Well, maybe you’ll find it’s better here.” Marlon spoke, bringing her back to the present.

 

They flipped again, Clementine’s Jack of Spades taking the lead.

 

“So whaddya want to know?” asked Louis.

 

“Did you all know each other before? Like, you were all students here, right?” Glancing at the other kids who nodded in agreement.

 

“Yeah,” Louis confirmed.

“You're the only fortunate soul who never had to deal with the headmaster.”

 

“Was he that bad?” Clementine wondered how private school different from the public school she had attended.

 

“He was the worst!” Violet exclaimed

“He had this wooden stick he always carried around and if you misbehaved he’d beat you with it.”

 

“I still have a scar on my knuckle from when I got caught skipping class.” Louis held out his right hand revealing a pale scar about half an inch in length across his knuckles.

 

“Even in general the dude was an outright dickwad. Never gave a damn about any of the kids here.” Violet added.

 

“First thing I did once the fucker ran off was set up shop in his office and befriend his dog.” Boasted Marlon.

 

The subject passed as they all reached for their decks.

 

“Booyah!” Louis proclaimed as his Ace of Spades won the round.

 

His expression went from cheerful to nervous as he glanced at Clementine.

 

“Spit it out” Urged Violet.

 

“So, uh, ever um, ever have… a boyfriend?”

 

“Oh my God.” Violet’s words matched Clem’s thoughts as a blush crossed the boy’s face.

 

“What? It happens. Perfectly valid question.” He defended.

 

Goddammit.

“Never.” she asserted.

 

“Not even once?”

 

“Never.”

 

The disheartened boy flipped over his next card.

 

A Queen of Clubs finally gave Marlon a Victory.

 

“So, Clem.” He leaned in.

“Who used to take care of you, in the beginning?”

 

Clementine sucked in a shaky breath. The face of the one person she couldn’t bear to think of flooded her mind. After everything, the memories of him were still the most painful of all.

 

“Lee. His name was Lee.”

Her fingernails dug into the unfinished wood as she tried to keep her mind steady.

“He was the first person to teach me about survival.”

 

“The most important thing?” She met his gaze

 

“It doesn’t matter, he’s gone now.”

 

She scrunched her nose as she forced back the tears that pricked her eyes. She couldn’t lose it in front of them.

 

Marlon nodded as they all reached for their next card.

 

A Ten of Spades gave Clementine her second victory.

 

“Who would you say is the best fighter out of all of you?”

 

Eyes on the prize, Clementine.

 

“Me.” Violet declared, raising her hand.

 

“Bullshit.” Marlon grinned

“You’re tough, Vi. I’ll give you that. But with my bow? I could pick you off long before you got close to me with that cleaver.”

 

“Not if I’m already too close.” With that, she pushed him off the bench with her foot sending him onto his back.

Louis and Violet erupted in laughter joined by a few other kids who witnessed it. Hell, even Clementine couldn't resist a chuckle.

 

“The king has fallen! Bow before your new queen!” Vi cheered as Louis helped his friend off the ground.

 

“I think that’s enough for tonight.” The leader decided through his slightly bruised ego as he brushed the dirt off himself.

 

---

 

Clementine retired to the room she was originally trapped in. Pulling her jacket closer to her against the chilly night air that leaked in through the broken window. Exhaustion set in as she flopped onto the dusty bed, half hugging the pillow as she laid above the covers. The night left nothing but her own thoughts to fill the silence.

 

Marlon, Louis, Violet, Brody, Tennessee, Aasim, Mitch, Willy, Ruby, and Omar.

 

One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten.

 

Ten more soldiers for Lilly.

 

Ten more lives to save AJ.

 

Unwarranted tears slipped from her eyes and dripped onto her pillow and her throat felt tight as if an invisible dog collar was tightening around her neck.

 

“Property of the Delta.”

 

If she wasn’t this weak, would AJ be safe by now? Maybe they wouldn’t have been caught in the first place. She pushed the what-ifs out of her mind as she succumbed to the numbness of her emotions until they brought her to sleep.

Chapter Text

Her foot kicked the loose papers that were scattered around the floor of the admin building.

 

“Marlon wanted to talk to you, he’s up in his office.” Brody had told her.

 

Her hand grazed the worn wood of the railing as she ascended the stairs to the second floor, the engraved double doors just at the top. Clem pushed the partially ajar door open all the way to see Tenn playing on the floor with an assortment of toys.

 

The boy stopped rolling his fire truck across the floor and gave her a nervous greeting.

“Hi, Clementine.”

 

“Hey.” she responded, studying the scars on his head.

 

The mutilated skin had scars crossing every which way. Obviously burns. She wondered if it had any connections to the charred building outside.

 

“Marlon wanted to see me?” She looked around the office, the leader nowhere in sight.

 

“I’ll go find him.” Clementine didn’t have time to utter a thank you before the boy hurried off, leaving his toys behind.

 

His nervousness towards her made her feel a small bite of guilt. She couldn’t pinpoint what, but something about him reminded her of AJ.

 

Now alone, she wandered the room checking out the knickknacks strewn about. Her eyes caught a dusty picture frame on the table. Picking it up, she brushed off some of the dust and examined the photo of two young boys in sports uniforms. A freckle-faced kid with dreadlocks had his arm around another boy with a blond mullet.

 

Louis and Marlon

 

A smile couldn’t help but tug at her lips as she saw how much Louis’ ears stuck out.

 

They’ve really known each other forever.

 

She quickly set down the photo as the door creaked open. To Clem’s confusion, no one entered. She could see the empty hall beyond the opening.

 

“Marlon?” She asked tentatively.

 

The door was pushed open further by the snout of Rosie, who eyed Clem with an angry expression. Clem jumped back a bit as the dog stalked towards her, snarling with her teeth bared. Rosie still moved closer, barking. Slobber dripping from her mouth.

 

Her heart raced as Clementine’s fingers slowly grasped around the knife in her pocket. Her back bumped into the desk as she ran out of space to run. She gripped the desk to stabilize herself as her knees threatened to buckle.

 

“What the hell’s goin’ on in here?”

 

Marlon lunged for Rosie’s collar. He held on to the chain firmly as he scratched her ears.

 

“Shh… Shh… It’s okay girl.” He looked to the shaken girl, whose knuckles were white around her weapon.

 

“Didn’t know you were so scared of dogs, I’m sorry.” his expression was earnest.

 

Clementine grimaced, rolling up her sleeve, revealing the jagged scar running up her forearm.

 

“A dog did that to me. Unprovoked. Sorry if I’m not too trusting of the things.” Her arm stung with pain from the past.

 

“I swear she’s not as scary as she seems, she just doesn’t know you.” He offered his hand to her.

 

“Let me show you.”

 

Memories of her encounter with Sam flashed through her mind as her eyes darted between him and the dog. What if it bit her? Clem had held on to all of her fingers this song she didn’t want to break her streak. Then again, if the dog learned to recognize her, maybe it wouldn’t try to maul her every time they came across one another.

 

I’m going to regret this.

 

She pushed back her fears as she held out her hand.

 

He brought her hand down to the dog’s face, letting her sniff it. She flinched at the touch of the animal’s cold wet nose. Her eyes remained locked on Rosie for any signs of aggression. A moment of panic rushed through her as the dog opened her mouth towards her fingers, just to be met with her wet tongue.

 

Gross.

 

“See? Not so bad.” Marlon chuckled, letting go of her hand.

 

Clementine released a breath she hadn't noticed she was holding.

“I’m sure the reason you sent for me wasn’t to play with your dog.” she wiped the slobber on her jacket.

“What do you need me for?”

 

“Straight to the point, I like it.” He commented

“I’m sending you out hunting with Louis and Aasim.”

 

---

 

She found the two chattering at the gate. Aasim adjusting the string on his bow while Louis haphazardly took some practice swings at the air with “Chairles.”

 

“Chairles.” Goddammit.

 

She still wasn’t over the pun.

 

“Great, you’re here.” Greeted Aasim.

“Let’s get going.”

 

“Hey, Clementine.” Louis fell in stride with her.

“I trust you slept well?”

 

“Well enough.” She was only half paying attention to his attempts at small talk. Her senses busy scanning the trees for any smelly intruders.

 

“Hunting grounds are usually clear of walkers.” Aasim explained.

“Sometimes they get caught in the snares and shit though. As you probably already figured out, a ribbon on a tree means a trap is nearby. So maybe stay away from those.”

 

“I’m never gonna live that down, aren’t I?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“I never have to worry about that. I’m basically a ninja!” Louis tossed his makeshift bat from one hand to another.

 

“You weren’t so ninja-like yesterday when I saved you from being eaten by that walker.” She joked.

 

“A fluke.” He said in a dramatic voice.

“I was so entranced by your proficiency in ass-kicking that the situation escaped me.”

She pursed her lips to keep her smile invisible but his grin was very apparent.

 

“We’ve got work to do.” Aasim cut in.

“We don't all have the privilege of being Marlon’s lapdog.”

 

“Ouch.” He put his hand over his heart.

“Someone’s a little jealous.” He leaned towards her.

 

“In my defense, I totally get things done. To me, survival is more of a day-to-day task.”

 

“That’ll get you killed.” How could someone live so casually? He could never hope to make it on his own with that attitude.

“You need to have a backup plan if you want to stay alive out there.”

 

“At least someone gets it.” Aasim let out a huff as he examined an empty snare.

“My strategy is to play the long game. You’ve gotta have plans B, C, and D If you want us all to keep living.”

 

Clementine cut of his rant as she heard a familiar growl from somewhere close by

“Shh. Shut up a second.”

 

She pulled out her knife as she peeked through the trees seeking the source of the noise. The others readied their weapons as well as they crept forward. A swinging motion caught her eye. Entering the small clearing, a walker hung from one of the snares. Its arms swung towards the trio and it’s growling increased.

 

Louis let out a laugh as he poked it with Chairles.

“Look at this guy. He’s like a walker pinata!” He stayed out of arm’s reach as he continued to prod the rotting corpse.

 

“I’m going up ahead. You two cut this thing down and reset the snare.” Aasim walked off, leaving her with Louis to deal with the walker.

 

“Sorry about Aasim . I promise he isn't so lame all the time.” He stepped back from the walker.

“He’s always on my case about having a good time, talking about ‘We need to guarantee our future!’ and all that horseshit.”

 

“Sounds pretty important to me.” She still couldn’t understand him.

 

“Well here’s how I see it.” His overly happy demeanour seemed to fade a bit.

 

“There’s only one guarantee: This moment. That's all we’ve got. The only thing any of us got.”

 

“So we might as well enjoy it.”

 

Living for the moment.

 

I sweet idea in theory. Clementine longed for such an outlook on life. Her life at the Delta seemed like a world away compared to the relative peace of this forest. She wondered how much AJ would like this place.

 

“Wanna take a swing?” She turned to see him holding Chairles out to her.

“You know you wanna.”

 

“I don’t, actually.”

 

“Bullshit.”

 

“Perhaps you’re just feeling sympathetic towards this guy. I mean, you were him yesterday.” He teased.

 

Clementine grabbed the chair leg out of his hand. He recoiled slightly, a little unsure who she would swing it at. The weapon was heavy in her hand. She inspected the nails that protruded through the end, the wood around them stained with walker blood.

 

She held it over her shoulder like a baseball bat, taking one good swing at the head of the walker. A loud crunch sounded as its skull shattered. Dark blood dripped from its head onto the dirt below. Even with the damage, it still emitted small gurgles as its arms weakly tried to reach her.

 

“Wooo!” He cheered

“If the Olympics were still a thing, You’d get a silver for sure.”

 

“A silver, huh?” She adjusted her footing and prepared to swing again.

 

“Well, that could have been a lucky shot.” She immediately proved him wrong as her next swing caused the walker’s head to break away from its body. The head bounced a few feet away before it came to a stop.

 

A smug grin adorned her face as she turned back to Louis. His mouth was wide open as he watched her.

 

She flipped Chairles upside down. Pressing the bottom of the handle to his chin, she closed his mouth.

 

“You'll catch flies like that.” She passed his weapon back to him.

 

“You are incredible.”

 

“I know.” She turned back down the path to follow where Aasim had gone.

 

A smile still wide on her lips as she made her way down the path.

 

---

 

Clementine carefully reset the final trap before regrouping with the others.

 

“Job well done, team!” Louis beamed.

“Looks like we’re eating tonight.”

 

“Not all of us.” Aasim examined the rabbits they had caught.

“Four rabbits isn’t enough for eleven people.”

 

“Where else can we look?” There had to be more ways of getting food around here.

 

“Violet and Brody went fishing this morning, maybe they had some luck.” said Aasim.

 

“If they haven’t killed each other yet.” Louis added.

“Let’s go see what they've got.”

 

---

 

Bird calls sounded from overhead as the pair made their way down the path.

 

“So what do Brody and Violet have against each other?” She asked.

 

“That’s... complicated.” He spoke unsurely

“Brody has nothing against Vi, I can tell you that.”

 

“But…”

 

“But… about a year ago we lost two people.” He continued

 

“Minerva and Sophie.” Letting him know she knew.

 

“Yeah, they were really close with Violet. Brody was there when… when they died. I guess she blames her, at least a little.” He looked at the ground with a solemn expression. Obviously a difficult memory for everyone.

 

If only they knew the truth.

 

She pondered her presence in these woods.

 

I guess they will, one day.

 

Once I do my job.

 

---

 

They reached the river soon enough. Calmly flowing water between them and a rundown building just on the other side.

 

“Where are Vi and Brody?” There was no sign of the girls around. Just a walker with a spear sticking out of its head.

 

“Vi wouldn’t have just left this out in the open.” Panic started to creep into Louis’ voice as he looked around for his missing friends.

 

Clem looked down the river to see if she could spot them. There was nothing in the distance but foliage.

 

“Clem.” She looked up at Louis, who was on the porch.

“The lock’s busted. We might not be alone.”

 

Clementine drew her knife as they cautiously entered the building. Vines grew all over the inside walls and grass peeked through the broken floorboards. Plants seemed to be the only living things inside.

 

“This place is totally trashed!” Louis exclaimed, examining the upturned furniture.

 

How can he tell?

 

The place seemed to be pretty ruined, to begin with.

 

The faint sizzle of the dying embers drew her attention to the fire pit. The wood had been burned out for a while but the core still glowed orange. Clementine's hand reached for a familiar object that sat at the pit's edge. Her blood ran cold as she examined the half-smoked cigarette. The hand-rolled bible pages sent a chill up her spine.

 

Why is he here?

 

Surely they weren't ready to pull her out so soon. It had only been two days! Yet here was that bastard Abel, sticking his nose into her investigation.

 

“Did you find something?” Louis turned to her, noticing her uneven breathing.

 

“Nothing.” She panicked, tossing the cigarette into the remains of the fire.

“The fireplace is still hot, if someone was here they've only been gone a few hours at most.”

 

“Fuck. You think they'll be sticking around?” He ran his hands through his dreads as he paced.

 

“Probably not. It was most likely just a survivor looking for some supplies.” She attempted to downplay the situation.

“They took what they felt was useful, then moved on.”

 

“That doesn't mean they couldn't stumble across the school or something.” He shifted through what was left, figuring out what had been taken.

“I thought you were the worry-wart here.”

 

“I know how travelers think, that's all.” A sudden realization hit her.

“Wait, what about Vi and Brody?”

 

She wouldn't put it past Abel to take them separately and screw over the plan. Although, that appeared to not be the case. As if on cue, the two girls entered the wrecked shack, startling the two already inside.

 

“What the hell's going on?” Violet demanded when she saw them.

 

“Oh, thank God you guys are okay.” Louis ‘ demeanour changing from worried to relieved as he saw his friends.

 

“Uh, yeah. Why wouldn't we be?” Brody asked, confused.

 

“Someone broke in. Look at this place. There's shit thrown everywhere!” Louis kicked one of the chairs that laid on its side.

 

“Someone robbed us!?” Fear filled Body's eyes as she looked around the room.

“Did you see anyone?”

 

“Was anything taken?” Violet demanded.

 

“A couple spears, some tools, bait, and our best net.” Clem crossed her arms and remained silent as Louis did all the talking.

 

“Dammit.” Violet swore.

“We just walked a mile of river and the traps were all empty. No fish. None. We speared some out of the water, do you think it's enough?”

 

“Maybe. Rations might be slim tonight.” He said as he examined the bucket.

 

“We have to tell Marlon about this!” Brody tried to usher the others outside.

 

“Calm down, Brody. Freaking out isn't going to help the situation.” She spat.

“What do you think, Clem.?” Violet forced her out of her silence.

“You think whoever did this is coming back?” Her tone wasn't suspicious, but honest.

 

“No.” She lied, looking Violet in the eyes.

“I think we're in the clear.”

 

“You don't know that!” Her nervousness only grew.

“If they took some of our fishing supplies they might be planning on sticking around the river.”

 

Yeah, she didn't have a good excuse for that one.

 

Goddammit, Abel.

 

“Breathe Brody, breathe.” she muttered to herself.

 

Brody ran her hands through her red hair as she stepped away from the group. Her breathing was hard as she tried to suppress a panic attack.

 

“Just stay calm. We’re fine.” Clem attempted to calm her.

 

“We’re not fine! Who knows how many people we’re even talkin’ about! What if they find the school? If they’ve got guns they could kill us all!” This was getting out of hand.

 

“That’s not going to happen.” Her frustration creeping into her voice.

 

“How do you know? You have no idea what people are capable of out there!”

 

At that moment Clementine just saw red. She grabbed a handful of Brody’s shirt, jerking the girl forward.

 

“Think again.” Her words full of venom.

 

How fucking dare she.

 

To suggest that she of all people was ignorant to the way people were made her burn with rage. Clementine felt that after everything, no one knew it better than her.

 

“Hey, that’s enough.” Louis’ hand on her shoulder is what made her back off.

 

With a slight shove, she released her grip. Pushing past Louis and Violet she made her way to the door.

 

“Well if someone is still around we should go back to the school before we run into them ourselves.”

 

---

 

Most of the trip back was spent with Clementine walking ahead of the others. She could hear them muttering amongst themselves in some kind of argument. Her attempts at eavesdropping lead her to hear them discussing the likelihood of them being discovered.

 

Clementine ran a hand through her bangs, partly wishing she still had her dad’s hat with her as the late afternoon sun shown through the leaves.

 

God, he would never recognize me.

 

 

None of them would.

 

She couldn’t even recognize herself.

 

Footsteps fell in stride with her. She didn't look up.

 

“Are you alright.?” Clem didn't respond to Louis’ question.

“Look, I’m sorry about Brody. She really lost it back there.”

 

“I think we both did.” She studied the ground in front of her as she walked.

 

“Well, she didn’t mean it. She gets that way when she’s scared, that’s all.”

 

“So you came to apologize for her?” She kicked herself for still being upset.

 

“I came to make sure you were okay.” She finally met his worried look.

“You don’t have to say anything. I know you’ve been through a lot, more than any of us.”

 

If only he knew.

 

“But I- We are here for you. So you don’t have to isolate yourself from us.”

 

This wasn’t good. She was getting too close. How could she help it? There was something about his presence that was comforting to her. Her chest tightened as she tried to turn off her emotions. She needed to stop being so soft.

 

“I’m just so… tired.”   She confessed.

 

“I know, but you get to rest now. You’re not on the run anymore. You’re safe .” The guilt ate at her chest with every word he spoke. She knew she wouldn’t forget about him for a long time.

 

For AJ.

 

For AJ.

 

She chanted in her head. Her only means of justification being her love that little boy. Her son .

 

“No one’s ever really safe.”

 

“Well we’re definitely safer together.” The cheerful inflection returning to his voice.

 

Clementine didn’t have the energy to ponder how wrong he was.

Chapter Text

Brody was the first one through the gate once the school was in sight. Immediately, she pulled Marlon aside. The stress still evident in her voice as she recapped the afternoon’s events.

 

“You aren’t listening to me, I’m telling you, Marlon. The place was ransacked!”

 

“It’s fine. We’ll deal with it.” He brushed her off.

“There’s no use freaking out over every random survivor we come across.”

 

“But they stole from us! What if they’re more? What if it’s-”

 

“That’s enough.” Marlon cut her off, raising his voice.

“Calm down. We can talk about this later .” He looked past her at Clementine and the others. Clem raised an eyebrow, not hiding the fact she was listening.

 

“Hey.” Louis surprised her as he appeared at her side.

“Wanna help Omar and I with dinner?”

 

“Uh, I don’t really know anything about cooking.” Her standards in food were set to “Edible.”

 

“As if Omar would actually let anyone else cook anything. We’re just preparing the meat and stuff.” He lead her towards a fire pit with a large dented cauldron hung overtop. Omar adjusted the wood as he lit the fire.

 

Clementine already knew how to dress an animal, her skills actually impressing the perfectionist chef. Carefully, she diced the meat to the size that he demonstrated. Sensing a pair of eyes on her, she glanced over to see Louis watching her work. He studied her meticulous movements, hardly paying attention to his own work.

 

“Watch what you’re doing, Louis. Your blood isn’t part of the recipe.” Omar snapped him out of his inattention.

 

“Sorry, chef.”

 

“So what’s your story, Omar?” She asked.

“Not much to tell I’m afraid.” The cook stated.

“In and out of different foster homes my whole life until finally, they sent me to this hellhole.”

 

“Foster homes?” She looked at him with concern.

 

“Yeah. Y’know this school is actually the longest I’ve ever lived in one place.” He let out an exasperated sigh.

“I always swore that one day I’d finally escape Virginia, but now I doubt there’s anything much better out there.”

 

“There are still some good people out there. Few and far between, but they're still there.” Her mind travelled to a long broken promise.

 

“Your dad ever teach you about baseball?”

 

“Not really.”

 

“Well, you come back, and I’ll teach you and AJ all about it.”

 

“It’s a deal.”

 

“You’ve just got to avoid the bad ones for as long as you can.”

 

---

 

Clem and Louis handed the chopped meat to Omar before dunking their hands into the wash bucket. Clementine rubbed the callouses on her knuckles, scratching away the blood. A practice she was used to, though not often animal blood.

 

She shook the excess water off her hands before wiping them on her jacket. She felt one of the cold droplets hit her nose as Louis playfully flicked the water at her. Reaching back into the bucket, she got her revenge by splashing him back. His green shirt became speckled with dark spots.

 

“Ahrg! You win! I surrender!” He dramatized, hand over his chest as he pretended to be wounded.

 

When Clementine chuckled in response, Louis seemed to have accomplished something.

 

“What?”

 

“Nothin’.” He stated, a big goofy grin still on his face.

“It’s nice to see you smiling all the time, that's all.”

 

“Don’t get used to it.” She rolled her eyes.

 

Looking at his freckled face caused an odd sensation in her chest, making her look away

 

“Oh, I think I will. I just gotta keep up my Class A humour to make sure you’re all smiles from here on out.”

 

She gave a nervous laugh as her ears turned red.

 

Why is he like this?

 

---

 

That night’s dinner was just as good as the one previous, even though the portions had been cut slimmer. Clementine found it hard to keep up with the ongoing conversation at the table. So many thoughts crowded her mind that it was difficult to focus. She ended up tracing her spoon around the inside of her empty bowl, the scraping sound ringing in her ears. She hadn’t even heard Marlon’s voice until the third time he called her name.

 

“Clementine?” Asked the boy who sat across from her.

 

“Uh, sorry. What did you say?” She shook her head, trying to regain her senses.

 

“I asked if you were feeling okay. You seemed spaced out.” Marlon, Louis, and Brody all looked to her with concern.

 

“I’m… fine. Just tired.” She still couldn’t think with any clarity.

“I think I’m gonna call it a night.”

 

Picking up her bowl, she headed to the wash bucket before Louis stopped her.

 

“Here, I’ve got it. Go get some rest.” His hands rested softly over hers, attempting to take the bowl.

 

Nodding wearily, she gently slipped her hands out from under his and made her way to the dormitory.

 

---

 

Clementine stumbled her way through the darkened hallway to her room. Fumbling with the handle, she let herself inside closing the door behind her. Her knees became weak, her body sliding down against the wooden door until she fully sank to the ground.

 

What is wrong with me?

 

Her chest ached. Any attempts to lift herself off of the floor was met with uncooperative legs. Numbness slowly encompassed her body. She gave up. Closing her eyes, she resigned herself to being slumped against the wall.

 

---

 

She must have fallen asleep at some point because when her eyes reopened, they were met with the pale moonlight as it seeped between the window boards. She stretched, cracking her stiff joints as she staggered to her feet.

 

As the fog of her mind began to clear, she realized what had woken her up. Clementine stared at the exposed pipes in the ceiling. Strange noises echoing through the metal.

 

Voices?

 

The muffled shouts were in clear distress.

 

Abel wouldn’t be here yet, would he?

 

That would go against the whole plan, but Clementine couldn’t shake the almost encounter from earlier.

 

Adrenaline shot through her veins as she ran down the hallway. The voices grew louder as she reached a metal door.

 

“Basement.” She squinted her eyes through the dark to read.

 

Pressing her ear to the cold metal, she held her breath as she tried to make out the words. Two voices bickered with each other in the depths of the school. It was no use. She tried the handle, letting out a frustrated growl when it didn’t budge.

 

Lock from both sides.

 

Can’t pick it.

 

An idea sprung to mind as she snuck her way into the yard. Thunder boomed overhead as the wind blew through her curls. The storm would be upon them soon. Approaching the heavy cellar doors, she fiddled with the padlock on the handle.

 

I’ll need to try a heavier hand at this.

 

Her hands ran through the cool grass until her fingers were met with the rough surface of a brick. She bounced the heavy object in her hand as she raised it to swing.

 

Clang

 

The brick made the first contact with the padlock, pieces of it chipping away as it dented the metal.

 

Clang

 

Clementine hoped the sound of the thunder disguised the sound of her breach.

 

Clang

 

With one final swing, the lock broke apart. She carefully opened one of the doors just wide enough to squeeze herself through, closing it silently.

 

She kept her body low as she snuck towards the now intelligible yelling.

 

“You will not put this all on me.” Marlon declared.

 

Clementine crept closer. The only light illuminating the otherwise pitch black basement was the flashlight he held in Brody’s face.

 

“You don’t even have any proof it was them! You can’t go freakin’ out like this every time some random person passes through.” Clementine hid behind a rusted metal shelf, peeking between the boxes.

 

“It’s been a year! We haven't seen anyone for a year and now all of a sudden we got someone sneakin’ around and stealing our supplies!” Brody practically screamed.

“Those bastards are back and it’s only a matter of time before they find us!” The glow of the flashlight shimmered off the fearful tears that streamed down her cheeks.

 

“You know what will happen if they find us.” She choked.

 

“I don’t know shit, and neither do you! ” Marlon snapped, inching closer to her, causing Brody to back away.

 

This isn’t good.

 

If Brody was being so adamant about the presence of strangers in the area, Clementine feared for her cover. She knew it was still too early for her to go back, and if the others found out who she was, they might disappear farther south. She cursed internally at the frustration of the situation.

 

“There you go again getting so mad!” The girl sobbed, fists full of her fiery hair.

 

“What do you want me to do? You’re making me mad! ” The way he growled the words at her was sickening.

 

“I can’t live like this anymore, Marlon.” She broke.

“Oh, we have to tell the others about what you did!”

 

Clementine’s foot kicked a metal pipe under a desk, the scraping noise horribly apparent.

 

Fuckin’ peachy.

 

“Who’s there?” The flashlight suddenly illuminating her hiding place.

 

Slowly, Clem revealed herself from her hiding place. Shock crossing both their features. Brody looked away, frantically wiping the tears from her eyes as Marlon got in her face. She squinted against the bright light, still ready to make a move if he decided to try something.

 

“What are you two doing down here, screaming at each other in the dark?” She questioned, already knowing all the answers.

 

“Brody and I were just talkin’. Why don’t you just go back to the dorms and get some sleep.” It felt more like an order than a suggestion.

 

“Didn’t sound too much like talking. I could hear you both from my room.” Fighting him wouldn’t be a good option. Clem just couldn’t help the way he made her skin crawl.

 

“S-so sorry about that.” Brody stuttered.

“I didn’t think anyone would hear us.”

 

“Is there something going on that I should know about?” She pushed.

 

“No.” He insisted.

“Nothing that’s any of your business.”

 

Rat Bastard.

 

“Fine then.” Brody looked up at her in surprise as she dropped the subject.

“Just keep it down, would you?” She hadn’t even fully turned her back before Brody yelled out to her.

 

“Marlon let them take the twins!”

 

Fuck.

 

“What?” She asked in fake confusion.

 

“There’s this group from the north. A few of ‘em came across our hunting party outside the safe zone last year. Marlon let them have Minerva and Sophie so that he could get away!”

 

“Shut the fuck up!” The enraged boy yelled.

“You were there too! I saved us both that day!”

 

“At what cost?” She cried.

“Every time I look at Tenn or Violet I die a little more inside.

 

“Shut up.”

 

The tears returned as they slid down her already puffy cheeks. All Clementine could do was watch as all the bottle up guilt overflowed.

 

“I can’t keep lying to them anymore. Not for you.

 

“I said shut up! ” Her words enraging the boy beyond reasonable thought.

 

As Clementine saw him raise his arm, she didn’t even think. She grabbed Marlon’s wrist just in time to block the flashlight from bashing in Brody’s skull.

 

She pushed the larger boy back. He growled at her. Saying nothing but preparing to have his fists do the talking as he squared up.

 

“You’re going to regret this.” His first punch hit her cheekbone. Her face stung as she caught the second fist. A calculated strike to the carotid sinus was all it took to leave the young leader sprawled unconscious on the harsh concrete floor.

 

Told you.

 

He was fast, but she knew what she was doing. Skill beating haste.

 

“Marlon? Marlon? ” Brody yelped as she rushed to the boy’s side.

 

“He’ll live. Unlike you, if I hadn’t been here.” She put a hand on the red head’s shoulder.

 

“Grab his keys. Let’s go.” She urged her up.

 

“W-what? We can’t just leave him here.”

 

“We can and we will.” She grabbed the ring of keys out of the boy’s pocket herself.

“If you really want to expose him to the others, we need to do it now. Before he wakes up.”

Clementine helped Brody up, dragging her along by the hand into the rain outside.

 

---

 

The two ran like mad. Pounding on each door in the dormitory as if the sky was caving in on them. Drowsy and panicked kids emerged from their rooms, clothes dishevelled and weapons in hand. Confused how Clementine and Brody were calling for an “Emergency Meeting” without their leader in attendance. The group gathered in the Admin Building lobby.

 

“Would someone please explain why you two just ran through here like the world was ending again? ” Violet growled, annoyed from being woken up.

 

“And uh… Where’s Marlon? ” Louis asked with a yawn.
“Why does he get to sleep in?”

 

Clementine looked at Brody, who leaned against the stair railing.

 

“Well?” She asked the nervous girl.

“The time is now, Brody.”

 

Clem stood a bit in front of Brody as she recalled that grisly day’s events from the year prior. Confused faces turned to those of shocked horror and disbelief as one culprit’s lies were written over by the other culprit’s truth.

 

Clem noticed Violet’s breathing had become shaky and uneven. Her glassy eyes filled with renewed grief.

 

“N-no... This is all some kind of sick joke, right?” Louis begged.

“Marlon wouldn’t do something like that!”

 

You.” Violet gasped.

“I knew it. I knew it was your fault. ” Her words as sharp as her cleaver.

 

Tennessee hugged onto Violet’s arm. Whether it was to comfort her, comfort himself, or hold her back, it was probably a mix of all three.

 

“Marlon manipulated her into silence.” and silent Brody remained. One cloak of guilt no longer enwrapped her it was as if a new one was sneaking at her heels.

 

“But… But Marlon said they died!” Tenn cried out.

“How could he lie about something like that?”

 

Poor kid.

 

“Easy, because he’s a coward.” Clementine announced.

“I saw it myself. When Brody threatened to expose him, he tried to kill her.”

 

So many emotions crossing so many faces. The disbelief, grief, and anger fused into a cloud of dread and sorrow as they contemplated this betrayal. Louis wouldn’t meet her eye. Something in her chest reached out to him but she couldn’t find the words to say.

 

“Where is that fucker.” Mitch grunted, eyeing the stairway up to the headmaster’s office.

 

“He attacked me as well.” That made Louis look up. She rubbed the sore spot on her face.

“I knocked him out and left him in the basement.”

 

“Damn.” Aasim muttered.

“We should bring him in here. So that we can all talk to him.”

 

Several of the kids nodded. Mitch put an arm around Brody as he lead her somewhere deeper into the school. He eyed Violet as she was half dragged by Tenn outside.

 

---

 

The storm seemed to mirror the emotions of the group. Swirling and cracking and booming in the confusing darkness. The group halted their walk towards the basement doors as a flash of lightning illuminated a figure standing ahead of them.

 

“Marlon!” Louis yelled over the sound of the rain.

 

“Stay where you are, Marlon. Brody and Clem told us everything.” Aasim called out

 

“You bastard! Violet screamed, still attached to Tennessee.

Her tears mingled with the raindrops as they slid down her cheeks.

 

“They trusted you! We trusted you! ” the blonde lashed out in her rage.

“What about me, huh? What about me? It was supposed to be me instead of Brody.

 

Her wave of anger seemed to pull back as her shoulders dropped and her voice became small.

 

“Would you have given me up too?”

 

“I was trying to protect all of you.” his voice was barely audible over the storm.

 

The fight in him was long gone. All that remained was an empty shell that used to be a person.

 

“That’s all I ever wanted. To keep every one of you safe.”

 

“By giving my sisters away to some strangers?” Tenn didn’t appear angry, just confused and sad as he refused to let go of Vi.

 

“I wanted to save them, Tenn. Stage… some sort of rescue… I just couldn't. I was too afraid.” Tears welled up in his eyes.

“Just let me leave.” He suggested.

“You’ll never see me again, I promise. Just let me become… a bad memory…” His knees sunk into the mud.

 

“No!” Louis ran halfway between the group and the boy.

“You’re my best friend, Marlon. Hell, you’re practically my brother .” He didn’t seem willing to let him go that easily.

“The things you did were fucked up, but you can’t just up and leave.”

 

“He’s right.” Aasim spoke up.

“We’re a family here. The only one any of us has left.”

 

Clementine was stunned as the others stepped forward in support as well.

 

How could they support someone who gave away two of his friends?

 

Their loyalty was almost disgusting to her.

 

“This isn’t good enough.” Another crash of thunder sounded as she spoke.

“We can’t just welcome him back with open arms as if nothing ever happened.”

 

“She has a point.” Ruby muttered.

 

“A vote.” Clementine suggested.

“We lock him up for the night and then vote on what we're going to do with him in the morning.”

 

If they voted to kick Marlon out, getting him to the rendezvous point would be simple enough, but if they did it now it would be impossible to track him in this storm.

 

“I guess I can get behind that.” Violet conceded.

 

The rest of them agreed to hold the vote tomorrow morning.

 

The group split up. Aasim and Omar locked Marlon in the basement, Willy and Ruby ran off to check on Mitch and Brody, while Tenn lead Violet back to her room.

 

All that left was her and Louis. The two took cover under the veranda of the dormitory. They stood close in silence for a while as the rain poured in front of them. Lightning illuminating the sky. Clem looked at him, his head drooped. She watched the rainwater drip from the soaked dreads that concealed his face.

 

“Are you alright? She asked.

 

“I…” He trailed off

“I don’t know how to answer that.”

 

“You know he’s dangerous.” She pointed out.

 

“He’s always had anger issues. Hell, that’s why he's at the damn school.” He turned to her, finger’s just grazing the bruise under her eye. She flinched away at the touch, a new chill running through her body.

 

“I just never thought he was capable of something like this.” He pulled his hand away at her reaction.

 

Clementine tugged at the soaked clothes as they clung to her body. Louis noticed this.

 

“If you want, you can borrow one of my shirts until your jackets dry.” Heat rushed to her cheeks at the thought of wearing his clothes.

 

“I-I mean or y’know one of… one of the girls might have something extra for you.” He jammed his hands into the pockets of his trench coat as he attempted to backtrack.

 

“I’ll find something.” Her face burned.

“Goodnight, Louis.”

 

“Goodnight.”

 

---

 

Clementine scratched her hands through her curls as she tried to think.

 

Why am I always like this around him?

 

She never understood her own feelings anymore. Wracking her brain, she tried to recall some kind of memory. A moment where these feelings occurred before.

 

Playfully splashing him with water…

That feeling…

 

Reminds me of the time I learned to play Euchre.

Chapter Text

 

The ten of them gathered in the library the next morning. Shelves of mold ridden books lined the room. The group gathered at the center table, tension filling the air as Violet started the meeting.

 

“Okay. We all know why we’re here.” Dark circles hung under the pale girl’s eyes. It was clear that no sleep came to her last night.

“Marlon is a lying bastard and a murderer. Even if he didn’t kill Minnie and Sophie himself, he sent them away to be as good as dead.”

 

“He has to go.”

 

“You can’t really mean that, Vi.” Louis pleaded.

“He’ll die out there!”

 

“I don’t give a shit.” She slammed her fist against the desk.

“Sending him out there on his own is more of a mercy than he showed the twins. You can’t actually say you still trust him after what he did.”

 

“It could have been me, Lou.”

 

“I-I know, Vi, I know.” Louis bit down on his bottom lip. Clementine tried to read what his decision would be. Though the way he scrunched his face told her he wasn’t sure himself.

 

“It’s not like he wanted to give them up! We were cornered! Those bastards could have taken us all if they wanted!” Brody pleaded with the blonde, who showed no mercy.

 

“Bold talk from someone who’s on thin fucking ice herself.” She spat.

“Pretty curious he didn’t give you up, too. Any reason for that? Why would he risk keeping someone who might -and did- tell on him?”

 

Brody dug her nails into her arms.

 

“Do you think he regrets it?”

 

“Back off, Vi. You had your say.” Mitch chewed the nail on his thumb.

 

“Let’s just calm down for a second, everyone.” Ruby stepped in.

“We all say our piece, then we vote.”

 

“You know where I stand.” Violet stepped back.

 

“Tennesee.” Ruby spoke softly.

“Your vote probably counts the most. So, what do you think.”

 

All eyes were on the nervous child.

 

“I…” He began.

“I think Marlon should stay.”

 

“Tenn.”

 

“No, Vi. You don’t get it.” He looked at her.

“He didn’t do it to hurt them. It was a problem with no right answer. Marlon thought that he was at least saving somebody.”

 

Violet looked at him in shock.

 

“The fact that he lied about it was bad, but… he thought he was protecting us.”

 

“Marlon should have given himself up.” Clementine spoke up, directing the attention to her.

“That’s what a real leader would have done. Sophie and Minerva had family here they needed to come home to. They were the ones who needed to be protected the most.”

 

Tennessee fell silent for a moment.

“He stays, that's my vote.”

 

“Alright, Tenn.” Ruby said

“I also think Marlon should stay.” Tenn smiled at her.

“We all know he ain’t a bad person at heart, just… maybe he shouldn’t be callin’ the shots anymore.”

 

“I agree.” Aasim sided with Ruby.

“I’m tired of this Safe Zone thing cutting into our food supply.”

 

“I think so too.” Omar agreed.

“It would be nice getting to cook an actual meal for you guys instead of the scraps the hunting grounds produce. He stays , but he ain’t in charge.”

 

Mitch was the next to speak up.

“He tried to kill Brody and Clem. I don’t think we can trust him anymore. He goes.

 

“I’m with Mitch.” was all Willy had to say.

 

Brody continued to hold her arms tightly crossed.

“Marlon should stay. I’ve made up my mind.” The look in her eyes caused no one to challenge her.

 

“I guess you’re up next, Clem.”

 

Clementine was actually conflicted on whether or not she wanted Marlon gone. The vote could still go either way. If they voted to cut him loose, tracking him through the woods would be easy enough assuming he doesn’t get himself killed before nightfall.

 

Their leader would be a nice contribution before I can get the rest.

 

It was a bit of a risk, but this mission would likely end in a standoff. The last thing they needed was another opponent. Maybe handing him over early would buy her and AJ some time.

 

“Marlon leaves.” Her vote bringing the score to 4:5.

 

The attention was drawn to Louis. He hadn’t officially voted yet, though it would be no surprise what he would choose. If for some reason he chose to kick him out, the tied vote would cause more issues.

 

“I… I…” Louis’ eyes fell on Clem.

“I’m sorry, Clementine.”

 

Why is he apologizing to me?

 

“He… He’s my best friend. He has to stay.” His shoulders fell in defeat as if he had just fought a battle within himself.

 

Figured.

 

“I guess that settles it then.” Violet went along begrudgingly.

“Marlon stays.”

 

---

 

Even after given freedom, Marlon seemed to rather spend the day locked away in one of the empty dorm rooms. Now that Violet was deemed their new leader, she was busy looking over a map with Aasim, planning their next hunt with a new perimeter. The others tried to resume business as usual, but how could they when their community was just flipped on its head. People seemed to be keeping to themselves and their own emotions. A slight tension between opposing voters keeping everyone on their toes.

 

Clementine wandered the school aimlessly, mapping out the halls in the back of her mind as she tried not to get herself lost in the identical rows of classrooms. She felt like she had to be doing something , but no specific task could come to her. She supposed Violet would have something for her to do, but the emotional force that kept the others apart seemed to touch her as well. She walked for hours, exploring every graffiti-ridden room until the repetition bored her. Eventually, she managed to wander her way back to the music room.

 

The afternoon sun shone on the worn piano, left unattended to her mild disappointment. She wondered how Louis was handling this whole mess. His best friend was just revealed as a traitor, and now some of their friends were turning against him.

 

It’s not my problem.

 

Clem tried to convince herself, but she couldn't help thinking about it. She took a deep breath, giving in to her nervous habit again and scratching her fingers through her curls. She forced herself to back away from the room, entering the courtyard in search of a task to keep her mind away from things.

 

“Violet.” she spoke to the girl who seemed lost in thought, staring into the ashes of last night’s campfire.

“Vi?” The second time seemed to bring her back to earth.

 

“Uh, yeah. Sorry.” She stood from her seat.

“What’s up?”

 

“I wanted to know if there was anything you needed me to do.” She watched their frazzled newly-deemed leader scour over her map for any leftover tasks.

 

“Mitch and Aasim came back from their hunting trip a half hour ago. Ruby managed to convince Brody to go out and repair the fish traps with her, they’ve been back for a while… and you’re already scheduled for watch after dinner…” She shook the map in her hands as if the action might reveal something new.

“I guess there’s always perimeter but that's kinda dangerous and kinda pointless.”

 

“Are you alright?” The heavy fog that laid over the school seemed to cloud her head the most.

 

“Yeah. I… I’m okay.” She let out a heavy sigh.

“I just wanted to say thank you for this morning, for sticking by me.”

 

Violet drooped her head, her side-swept bangs concealing her eyes.

 

“To be honest I wasn’t sure if you were still here. No one’s seen you all day since the vote and with the decision… I was worried you might have taken off.” She folded the map back into her pocket.

 

The comment stung a little but she would never admit it.

 

“Sorry about that, I was just taking some time to think.” She kicked herself for being absent.

 

“I think we all just need time to think.” Violet let out a weak laugh.

“God, what’s happened here.”

 

Vi slumped back into her chair, Clementine taking a seat next to her.

 

“I can’t stop thinking about Marlon. What he did to Min and Soph. I don’t think I can ever forgive him.” An almost dazed smile crossed her face.

“But I keep imagining what it would have been like if they had come back that day, instead of him and Brody. They wouldn’t have lied about it. Minnie told me everything.”

 

Clementine listened in silence as Violet unburdened her heart to her.

 

“But then Louis’s best friend would be gone forever, not to mention Brody. God, I’ve been such a bitch to her .” Clementine could tell this was the overflow of a long time bottling up her troubles.

 

“Louis was there for me and Tennessee more than anyone else after they ‘died’. And I sat in that room, right in front of him , trying to convince the others that Marlon was better off dead than anywhere near here. Then, just, fuck. The shit I said to Brody. I can’t forgive her either but fuck, she didn’t deserve that.” Violet’s voice broke, her throat on the edge of a sob.

 

Clem opened her mouth but was unable to find any words.

 

“The king has fallen! Bow before your new queen!”

 

The words from that first card game the night she came here echoed in her head.

 

She wondered if they echoed in hers too.

 

“I’m sorry for laying that all on you. I just had to get it out, y’know?” She tried to shrug off her emotions.

“I’m good. I’m good.”

 

“It’s alright, we’re... friends, right?” The words fell easier off her tongue than she thought they would.

 

“Yeah, I guess we are.” She smiled

“Can you go see if Louis is okay? I don’t think we’re ready to talk to each other after this morning.”

 

“Where is he?” He wasn’t in the music room, nor was he anywhere in the school during her exploration.

 

“I think he’s still sitting outside of Marlon’s dorm.”

 

---

 

Faint whispering could be heard through the empty hall as Clementine turned the corner. Louis sat with his legs crossed and his back leaning against one of the door’s aligning the walls. He didn’t notice her. Through the dreadlocks that hung over his face, Clem could discern the slight movement of his lips. As she got closer she could make out the details of a baseball game he was retelling.

 

“Louis?” He jumped at hearing his name, so lost in his story he hadn't heard her approach.

“Are you okay?”

 

“So you are still around. Violet was worried.” He dodged her question.

 

“I talked to Violet already.” She looked at the locked door behind him.

“Has he said anything?”

 

“Nothing other than basically telling me to fuck off a few times, but when have I ever done what I’m told? Right, Marlon?” He elbowed the door, eliciting no response.

 

His smile was forced and dropped as quickly as it appeared. He leaned his head back with a thump, looking away from Clem.

 

“He just needs time. Everyone does. I can’t lie, things are never going to go back to the way they were but that doesn’t mean it won't get better.” God, she was starting to sound like Louis herself.

 

“A sudden optimist, I guess my stunning demeanour rubbed off on you.” She kicked his leg lightly at that comment.

 

“Don’t push your luck.” His smile was sad but real this time.

 

“I’m sorry.” Her apology surprised him.

“I guess I got a little carried away this morning.”

 

“No. You have the right to speak your mind around here.” His eyes fell to the purple mark on her face.

“How’s your eye?”

 

She leaned against the wall but stayed on her feet.

 

“Better, it only stings if I touch it.”

“I’m fine.” She said slightly louder, hoping her voice would fall on the ears of the boy inside the dorm.

 

“So what do we do now?” His voice fell into his serious tone. She seemed to be hearing it a lot more lately.

 

“We push on. We fight on. We look forward, never back.” She quoted the words of a man who lived at the McCarroll ranch. The words of Ol’ Richard often ran on repeat inside her mind when the talons of her horrid memories threatened to slice her to shreds.

 

“Wise words.” He chuckled.

 

“Indeed they are.”

 

“I’m not leaving until he talks to me so you might as well go on.” His head drooped once more, dreads hiding the emotions on his face.

 

“I’ll talk to you later then, Louis.” She decided to leave him be. Her words from before reverberated inside her skull as she made her way towards the light outside.

 

We push on. We fight on. We look forward, never back.

 

We push on. We fight on. We look forward, never back.

 

We push on. We fight on. We look forward, never back.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: Fracture Point

 

Three days had passed since the group voted for Marlon to stay with the group. Louis eventually managed to convince Marlon to leave his room, though it was rare for him to speak to anyone else other than his best friend. Shame seemed to be eating Marlon alive, choosing to complete whatever tasks he’d been given without help from anyone else. Marlon wouldn’t so much as make eye contact with Clementine or Brody. At least Rosie treated him as if nothing had changed.

 

Tension still ran between the group’s members but some of the cracks had begun to close over time. Another day of damaged relations came to a close as the sun set over the forest. The final rays of sun shining through the orange leaves left a warm golden glow over the school.

 

Clementine was unable to feel the warmth, however, as the final breaths of day faded away to night, she prepared herself for the next step in her mission.

 

---

 

The halls of the dormitory grew still as its occupants drifted off to sleep. All but one, that is. Only the faint creaking of the floorboards could be heard in the otherwise silent night as Clementine snuck away from her temporary home. The harsh brick scraped her hands as she scaled the outer wall of the school, landing in the dirt on the other side with a thud.

 

The overcast why made it difficult for her to see. Clementine relied on her ears to signify any dangers nearby. Pulling her denim jacket tight against the chill of the wind, she trekked further through the forest towards the rendezvous point.

 

She had been dreading this night for a while. Being around people her own age was comforting. Clementine hated most adults. They seemed to rather solve problems with bullets rather than actual civilized solutions. She pushed her opinions out of her head.

 

Thinking too much will get him killed.

 

Her mind wandered instead to AJ. That sweet little boy was all she cared for in this shit world. She could be free if she so chose. Missions like these offered ample opportunities for escape, but how could she? Clem had promised so many people that she would keep him safe. So many of her friends, dead. All so she and that boy could live. It felt as though Alvin and Rebecca were with her. Watching her. Begging her to save him at every turn. Their screams only becoming louder in her dreams. Just thinking about their broken family caused her chest to hurt. Her heart raced, she steadied herself against a tree and tried to calm her breathing.

 

Why am I like this?

 

Her legs felt weak underneath her but she pressed on still. The trees began to clear as she made out the shape of the weather-worn roof in the distance. The train station looked more like a junkyard. Decayed boxcars littered the area, the wind whistling through the rusted out holes. Hopping the fence, she stepped over the dead plants that used to make up a garden.

 

Someone must have been living here at some point.

 

This placed seemed to be as dead as the rest of the outside world.

 

She took one final deep breath, staring at the cracks in the old wooden door.

 

Don’t fuck this up, Clementine.

 

Two knocks.

 

Then one.

 

Then three.

 

The door swung open, the toothy grin of Abel visible in her peripheral vision as she stared blankly ahead.

 

“Right on time as always.” He greeted, stepping aside to let her enter. The smell of his hand-rolled cigarette filled the small room.

 

The inside of the small building was trashed, clearly unoccupied for some time and picked over again and again by any scavengers who’d come across it. Her foot crunched over the remains of a glass jar as she moved to stand at attention before the woman she dreaded seeing.

 

“Welcome back, soldier.” Lilly smirked, leaning back in one of the chairs.
“How was your first week of school? I trust you learned a lot?”

 

“Yes, commander.” She said flatly.
“It has been quite eventful these past few days.”

 

“I can tell.” Abel stood uncomfortably close behind her. He reached around, harshly flicking her bruise causing it to sting.

 

She tried not to flinch.

 

Clementine recapped the events that transpired surrounding Marlon and Brody and the revelation of what truly happened to the twins, a devilish smirk across Lilly’s face all the while.

 

“I told you that little bastard was a pansy, Lilly.” Abel laughed.
“I’m surprised he didn’t run away or just off himself once they found out. That kid has coward written all over him.”

 

“They’re suspicious that our forces might be in the area.” Clementine warned.

“Not of me, but the robbery of the fishing shack has them a bit on edge. New management wants to significantly upgrade the defences just to be sure.” She mentally cursed out Abel for doing something so pointless. Everything was a lot more complicated now because of him.

 

“On what grounds?” Lilly asked, leaning forward.

 

“Pure anxiety, I believe. I disposed of the bible cigarette that had been left behind before they discovered it.”

 

A sloppy and careless mistake. If Brody had seen it…

 

“Are you saying I almost blew the operation?” Abel accused, his hand grabbed the back of her neck tightly.

 

“No, sir.” She spoke through gritted teeth.

 

He released his hand, but never backed away.

 

“Tell me some specifics about these kids. Basic rundown.” Lilly ordered.
“I want to get to know your new friends.” The smile on her face was sickening

 

“There’s ten of them in total, eight of them are of a decent age to fight being between about sixteen and eighteen.” She began.
“There are two kids about twelve or thirteen who would be better used as… leverage pieces. ” She winced internally at the thought of Willy and Tennessee in the same boat as AJ.

 

Clementine continued to describe the members of the boarding school.

 

“Marlon is as you remember. Emotionally weak, quick temper, but a good shot.”

A coward who did the wrong thing for the right reason.

 

“Violet is their new leader. Typically uses melee weapons, but I’ve observed her being pretty accurate with a bow. She was Minerva’s girlfriend.”

A good friend who had her heart broken too many times.

 

“Brody is emotionally unstable. Her anxiety causes her to shut down, which has only become worse as of late.”

Brody and I really are alike, aren’t we?

 

“Mitch is a fighter. Ruthless against walkers. He hand-crafts tools and weapons for the group.”

Fiercely protective of his friends, especially Willy.

 

“Omar is the cook of the group. Knowledgeable about spices and local plant life. Appears physically strong but I’ve never seen him fight.”

Kind-hearted soul, looks out for everyone.

 

Clementine’s heart ached as the list went on. She forced herself to keep her voice steady.

 

She couldn’t lose it here.

 

“Tennessee and Willy are the younger ones. Tenn is the younger brother of the twins. Both are usually given watch duty since they can’t really do anything else.”

A couple of sweet kids, they’re not going to last once we take them.

 

“Aasim is a hunter. Practical dead-eye shot who knows how to track game through most conditions. He does whatever it takes to make sure everyone gets fed.”

He was never afraid to challenge any of Marlon’s decisions. One of the bravest.

 

“Ruby is the group’s doctor. She was trained by an actual nurse who worked at the school. She knows how to patch people up, medicine and such. She often looks out for the kids the most.”
A sweet person with a big heart.

 

Someone was still missing. The one she could never quite figure out. Emotions were a tricky business, and he made her feel all kinds of those.

 

“Louis is…” She trailed off, trying to get her thoughts aligned. There were so many things she could say about him, but she had to be careful which ones she vocalized.

 

“...an optimist.”

That’s safe, right?

 

“He always looks out for everyone.”

A shoulder to lean on so we don’t have to suffer alone.

 

“His weapon is a makeshift bat.”

Heh, ‘Chairles.’

 

“He lives life in the moment and doesn’t like to think long-term.”

This moment is all we have after all.

 

“Louis…” She bit her lip, trying not to get carried away. Everything here seemed wrong. Her heart was beating so loud she wondered if Lilly could hear it.

 

Clementine started to lose herself again. Her throat dried up as she struggled to find the right words. A thousand words could be used to describe Louis but none were safe to say. If she showed any real attachment to these people she would be pulled immediately, but she couldn’t help how she felt, even if she couldn’t explain why. Her knuckles went white as she clenched her fists at her sides, her nails biting into her palms.

 

“Louis is going to die when we send him to war.”

 

“They all will, Clementine. You know that.” Lilly hissed, raising an eyebrow at her.

 

She stood from her chair, approaching her. Clementine felt infinitely small practically squished between the two towering adults. She shuddered as she tried to retain her composure. Lilly grabbed Clementine’s chin, her sharp nails scratching her skin.

 

“Don’t forget what’s at stake here.” Lilly leaned in until her face was only a few inches from hers.

“Are these people really worth his life?”

 

“Never.”

 

“That’s what I thought.” She finally let go.

“You are dismissed, soldier.”

 

---

 

Clementine was a mess by the time she was far away from the train station to feel alone. A walker emerged along the path, no doubt drawn by her breathy sobs. Its boney fingers clawed at her jacket as she struggled against it. The stench of death stung her nose as she kicked its leg out. She threw herself on top of the walker, her sorrow turning to rage as she plunged her knife into its face over and over, splattering her tear-stained face with its dark rotten blood.

 

“Come on then!” She screamed at the darkness surrounding her. More undead snarls came from the blackness as she raised her knife. One by one they fell. Each stab not nearly as satisfying as she wished it was.

 

There was something odd about the next walker that challenged her. Something about the way it carried itself was unnervingly alive.

 

“Stop.” Clementine’s eyes shot wide as the walker spoke to her. She tried to convince herself she imagined it, knife still poised to attack.

 

To her further surprise, the walker backed away, pushing past two walkers headed in her direction. Picking up a sizable rock, he threw it far into the trees with a few loud thunks that drew the walkers in the other direction.

 

Clementine stood there shocked, knife still in hand.

 

“I-I uh…” was all she could muster.

 

“I’m sorry the herd attacked you. I tried to steer them away but we were already too close. Are you alright?” He spoke lowly, keeping his distance.

 

As Clem looked closer, she could see human skin peeking out behind the rotted mask. His soft brown eyes clearly not matching the clouded-over look the dead had.

 

“A Whisperer…” She had heard rumours about a group that wore the skin of walkers in order to live among them, but she could hardly believe such a group actually existed. This boy was young, too. Couldn’t be much older than her.

 

This world is always full of surprises.

 

“Not anymore but… I used to be.” He rubbed his arm.

“I’m surprised you’ve heard of them. Most people who encounter the Whisperers aren’t so lucky as to tell the tale.”

 

“I’ve heard stories.” She sniffed, finally lowered her knife and trying to act composed.

“Didn’t think they were true.”

 

“You’ll find truth in a lot of stories these days.”

 

The two stared each other down for a moment. Both unsure but neither threatening. The boy was the first to break the short silence.

 

“I have a small camp nearby if you’d like you can stay there for the night, and I’ll take you to the school in the morning.” Her eyes widened at that.

 

“How did you know I was from the school?” Has he been watching them?

 

“Good guess, I suppose. I’ve lived in this area for a while. I usually stay away from your territory but I know a group of kids live there.” He didn’t mention her only recent appearance. Maybe he was just a loner trying to survive after all.

 

“I uh, appreciate the offer…”

 

“J-James.” He studdered, almost unsure.

 

“I appreciate the offer, James, but I need to get back before they know I’m gone.” She wiped the blood off her face with a shaky hand.

“I’m not supposed to be out by myself. I just needed to get out for a bit and got carried away.” A convincing enough excuse, not that it really needed to be. She could feel his eyes wander to the purple mark on her cheek, but he didn’t bring it up.

 

“As long as you know your way back. Safe travels.” After that, the two parted ways. James disappeared to rejoin the herd as Clementine continued on towards the school, reaching the walls just as the sky began to lighten.

 

---

 

She snuck back into the school the same way she had gotten out. Clementine was exhausted both physically and mentally, her body still shaking and her chest aching with every rapid beat. Even though she was incredibly tired she knew no sleep would come to her in the few hours she had left to rest. Her sloppy footsteps were met with a more steady sounding set as she realized she wasn’t the only “Early Riser” in the dormitory.

 

“Someone’s up early.” The quiet yet cheerful voice of the exact last person she wanted to see at that moment whispered from behind her.

 

I hope he didn’t see me sneak in.

 

“Good morning, Louis.” She stopped for only a second, not turning towards him before continuing to walk towards her room.

 

“Hey, what’s wrong?” She didn’t answer him as she closed the door behind her.

 

“Clem?” He sounded worried.

“Are you alright?”

 

She tried to muffle her sobs with her pillow gripping it for dear life as fell from the bed to the floor. Why did he have to make her feel this way? Why couldn’t she just ignore it?

 

“Clementine?” Hearing the thump his voice became frantic. When his knocking received no response, he tried the unlocked handle.

 

Of course, I didn’t fucking lock it.

 

“Oh my God.” He rushed to her side immediately.

“Clem, please , tell me what’s wrong.”

Clementine couldn’t do this. She just couldn’t take it anymore.

 

She abandoned her pillow, throwing her arms around Louis’ torso and burying her face into his chest. He didn’t hesitate to return the embrace, resting his chin on the top her head as he stroked her hair.

 

“It’s alright, Clementine.” He tried to calm her as she practically hyperventilated in his arms.

 

It wasn’t. It really wasn’t, but her throat was too tight for her to do much but choke out sobs as she sunk into the warmth of the hug.

 

“Shh… I’m here. I’m right here.” He continued to hold her close as she continued to stain his shirt with tears.

 

“Please don’t leave.” Her hoarse voice made the words barely audible

 

“I’m not going anywhere, I promise.” Louis pulled his coat around them both.

 

“Ever.”

Chapter Text

 

Clementine fought to stay asleep. She didn’t want to leave the warmth that enveloped her, a feeling of safety that felt almost foreign. Though her eyes remained shut she could tell from the songs of the birds outside the window that day was upon them. A rhythmic thumping in her left ear began to lull her back into sleep before a light hand running through her hair made her realize what that sound really was. Her dry eyes stung as she opened them, all of the moisture being cried out a few hours earlier into his pine-green shirt.

 

“Good morning.” Louis said with a soft smile when he noticed her begin to stir on his chest, the two still wrapped up in his coat.

“Or, afternoon, I think. You slept for quite a while.”

 

Heat spread across her cheeks as she slowly removed herself from his embrace. They both remained seated on the floor, each leaning against opposite beds. She pulled her knees to her chest, embarrassed by how she acted that early morning.

 

“I’m… sorry, that you had to see that.” Her voice was hoarse and her face still felt sticky from the dried tears.

“...and that you had to sit here with me.”

 

“You don’t have anything to be sorry for.” He comforted.

“I just hope you’re feeling better.”

 

“I think so.” Her body was stiff and sore but she still felt better rested than any other day at the school.

“Thank you, for staying. You didn’t have to do that for me. I’m used to getting through this by myself.”

 

“But you shouldn't have to .” He leaned forward, his tone was almost pleading.

“You shouldn’t have to need to get through these things on your own. It isn’t fair to yourself.”.

 

Did she even have a choice? Talking about the things that plagued her mind was absolutely not an option. So how could Clementine open up without… opening up? She scratched at the callouses on her hands, unable to look him in the eye.

 

“You don’t have to be alone anymore.” He tried to meet her gaze but her eyes seemed more interested in the floorboards below them.

“I’m not gonna force you to talk about it. I’m just saying, it might help.”

 

“I don’t think I can.” She sighed.

“I understand. Whenever you’re ready, I’ll listen.” He managed to catch her eye, his smile contagiously causing the corners of her mouth to rise. She gave him a soft nod.

 

He only pitties you.

 

She flinched at the voice in her head. Intrusive thoughts talking too much sense.

 

“Why?” Clem questioned, her voice barely above a whisper.

 

“Why what?”

 

“Why do you care so much?” A little something at ate away at her heart.

 

“Because I know what it’s like to be surrounded by people and have no one to talk to.” Louis’ smile faded.

“The people here… they’re my family. But, they don’t really take me seriously. I guess that’s kinda my fault for not really acting seriously. I just wish we could still have fun, y’know? What’s the point of surviving if you don’t get to enjoy living?”

 

She stared at him speechless. Did the others really think so little of him? Louis was so sweet. He seemed to always look out for everyone. What was wrong with trying to raise morale?

 

“What about Marlon? He’s your best friend.” Surely he didn’t treat Louis so coldly.

 

“Yeah, he is.” He seemed almost unsure.

“He’s had to deal with a lot of stuff over the years, being our leader and all. Having fun wasn’t exactly too high on the to-do list but he still humoured me every now and then.”

Everyone must have changed quite a bit once the world ended. A bunch of scared kids forced to grow up too early just as she did. Yet something told her that Louis had stayed mostly the same. His usual cheery demeanour was a product of the old world that he saved over the years. His smile reappeared as he began to tell Clementine a story.

 

“I remember the day he showed up in this hellhole. An angry little kid with scruffy hair and a scowl on his face. I had already been here a year so I figured it was up to me to show him the ropes of survival under the headmaster’s fist.” His tone lightened as he recalled the story.

“So I sat down right next to that asshole and did what I do best. I talked, and I never shut up. Eventually, he began to tolerate me as most do and soon enough we were inseparable.”

 

Clementine giggled at the thought of Louis annoying a kid into friendship. His face lit up at her laugh.

 

“Who was your best friend?” He asked.

“I didn’t have a lot of friends in school.” She admitted.

“I guess my best friend would’ve been my babysitter, Sandra.”

 

It’s been so long since I thought about her.

 

“My parents worked a lot so she would pick me up from school and watch me until they got home. I used to make her play this stupid game with me where we would pretend we were secret sisters. I always wanted a sister, and I guess Sandra was the closest I could get.” Distant memories of the final days of the living world.

“She was watching me while my parents were on vacation when everything happened. A walker broke into our house one night and bit her. It was so early in we didn’t know what was going on. Thankfully I wasn’t around when she…”

 

“Damn.” Louis commented plainly.

 

“I met Lee a couple days later.” She noticed Louis perk up when she spoke about Lee.

 

“You mentioned him during the card game.”

 

“He found me in my treehouse one day and decided to take care of me. We met up with a group of survivors and we all tried to make it, but… it didn’t work.” She grimaced.

“We ended up in the city my parents were staying in a few months later. I wanted to go find them, but Lee told me they were most likely gone.” Fresh tears pricked her eyes.

 

I should have listened to you, Lee. You were always right.

 

“But you had to try, right? They were your parents.” Louis seemed to share the logic of her nine-year-old self

 

“I thought so too, and Lee did help me look, but… there was this man who said he knew them. I was stupid. I went with him, and Lee was bitten trying to get me back.” She crossed her arms tightly, nails digging into her sleeves.

“Lee had cut his arm off. He looked like hell and was weak from blood loss when he found me. They got into a fight and Lee was losing. The man dropped his gun during the scuffle, so I picked it up myself.”

 

She left it up to Louis to imagine what she had to do next. It was the first life she had ever taken. First of many over the years.

 

“After we left that place, Lee didn’t last much longer.” She grit her teeth hard.

“I-I… killed him . He asked me to shoot him. He didn’t want to become a walker.”

 

“I’m so sorry, Clem.” He wasn’t sure what else to say.

“I can tell he meant a lot to you.”

 

Clementine hadn’t realized she had started crying again until one of the droplets hit her hand. She quickly rubbed the tears from her eyes as she regained her composure.

 

“It was a long time ago.” Clementine thought of some of the people who’ve come and gone since then. Luke. Kenny. Javier. She knew she’d failed them all in some way. She couldn’t break the ice fast enough before Luke drowned. She lost control of the car and got Kenny killed because of the crash. She lost Kate in the herd while Javi went after Gabe, and then broke her promise to return once she located AJ.

 

“I think I feel a bit better now.” Clementine told him, the smile that crossed her lips wasn’t completely genuine, but there was still some honestly in it.

 

For a moment the world only consisted of them. Sitting on the hardwood floor of a dorm room, sharing memories both pleasant and heavy. It was peaceful. There was something unexplainably comforting about his presence as if the world was a little more tranquil whenever she stared into his deep brown eyes. An odd sense of joy overcame her as she suddenly broke into a small fit of giggles.

 

“What?” Louis asked with a chuckle, her laughter contagious.

 

“I don’t know.” She gasped through the giggles.

 

She suddenly snapped to attention when she realized how long they’d been in her room. It was at least noon, the sun no longer visible by a peek out her window.

“Wait, how did I get to sleep in this late?” She stretched, picking herself up off the floor.

“Surely Violet has something for me to do.”

 

“Violet stopped by actually.” Her head shot up when he said that.

 

Oh God, Violet saw us like that?

 

Clementine wanted to collapse inward again.

 

“She saw the door open a bit and came in. I told her you weren’t feeling well and to leave you be for the day. I think she understood.” He also seemed slightly embarrassed at the memory, letting out a flustered chuckle as he stood.

 

Clementine let out a groan, feeling her face heat up again.

 

“Don’t worry, Vi’s not one for gossip. She wouldn't tell anyone what she saw.” Louis assured.

 

I just hope she took it as innocent as it was.

 

“I… I should go see if she needs me to do anything.” She didn’t want to leave, but it didn’t feel right for her to be relaxing all day while the others worked.

 

She tried to make her way to the door before Louis stopped her, putting a hand on her shoulder.

 

“Hey, maybe you should just take it easy for the day.” He suggested, his voice filled with worry once more.

“If Vi needs anything then I’ll take care of it.”

 

“I should be helping.” she looked down.

 

“You should be resting .”

 

“I’m fine, Louis. I don’t want to be cooped up in here all day feeling useless. ” She snapped a little harsher than she intended.

“I’m sorry.”

 

“How about a compromise?”

 

She turned to him, raising an eyebrow. Clem wondered what kind of compromise he could have in mind. His mischievous grin not helping her curiosity, not to mention mild concern.

 

“Why don’t we see if Violet will let us go on a scouting mission or something. There’s a town not that far away that we used to hit all the time before the safe zone crap. We could be in and out just enough to see if the place isn’t completely overrun by the smelly patrol and be back before sundown.” It seemed like a decent enough plan at least.
“You won't be cooped up in your room, we’ll be getting something done, and it’s not that difficult.”

 

The thought of getting away didn’t sound so bad. She remembered seeing the town on the map before she arrived at the school, not very large and probably picked through a hundred times. If the Delta had already gone through it, there was nothing left but the dead.

 

“What do you say, my lady?” Louis held out his hand to lead her.

“Are you feeling up for an adventure?”

 

---

 

Violet wasn’t a huge fan of the idea at first. The sun was already high in the sky, not giving them that much of a comfortable timespan to be back before dark should they get stuck somewhere.

 

“C’mon, Vi, we’re just gonna scope the place out.” Louis tried to convince her.

“We won’t even go that far in, just enough to see what’s what, and then we’ll go.”

 

“I don’t like this.” Vi told him, going over the map again.

“Are you sure you’re… both up for it.” Violet tried to make the question sound like it was for both of them but Clementine knew it was directed at her.

 

“I’m fine.” Clem felt frustrated with herself for letting anyone see her like that.

 

“Are you sure? You looked-”

 

“I can do this.” Clementine didn’t let her finish that sentence.

 

“She’s got this, Vi.” He put his hand on her shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly.

 

“Fine.” Violet said, defeated.

“Just… take Rosie with you, and be back before dark. If you’re not back by then we can't go looking for you until dawn.”

 

They nodded, taking the map from her.

 

“Be safe out there.”

 

---

 

Clementine leaned against the cool bricks near the gate with her eyes closed, taking in the sound of the breeze through the forest beyond the walls. She waited alone as Louis went off to find Rosie.

 

“Clementine?” She opened her eyes when she finally heard the voice of the boy who hadn’t spoken to her in five days.

 

Marlon stood before her with his hands jammed into his pockets. He seemed to try to make eye contact with her but averted his gaze every few seconds.

 

“Uh, hey Marlon.” She glanced around looking for Louis, but he was nowhere in sight.

 

“I’m sorry… I wanted to talk to you sooner but I just couldn’t get the nerve.” He bit his lip.

 

He came to apologize?

 

“I-I just had to tell you I’m sorry for… for that night in the basement with Brody. I don’t really know what came over me…” He seemed sincere, but Clem didn’t feel like buying into it. Her bruised cheek stung with the memory of that night.

“I thought that everyone would hate me if they knew the truth. That maybe they would kick me out… or kill me.”

 

“Well, you were right about the first part.” She scoffed, not willing to forgive him that easily.

“I’m pretty sure everyone here hates you on some level.”

 

“I just didn’t want to hurt anyone any more than I had to.”

 

This son of a-

 

“I’m not going to listen to you stand there and try to justify giving away two of your friends to a group of raiders and then bully another one into silence.” She snapped at him, her words full of venom.

“Your lies only made everything worse for everyone. Not to mention your response to being caught was to attack Brody and me .”

 

He flinched slightly at her response, though his eyes told her it was the one he was expecting.

 

“Look, I’ll never be able to make up for what I did. And I don’t expect you to forgive me. I just… wanted to tell you that I’m going to try. I’m going to try to make things right even if it isn’t possible.” Marlon actually seemed like he was about to cry.

“I just want to help.”

 

“I don’t need your fucking help.” She spat.

 

“Alright.” He sighed, holding his hands up in surrender.

“I’ll leave you be. I just wanted you to know.”

 

“Marlon?” Louis returned with Rosie on a leash with Chairles slung over his shoulder. He looked between his best friend and Clementine.

“What’s going on here?”

“We were just talking.”

 

“He was just leaving.”

 

Marlon looked at Rosie, who was whining for attention at his feet. He bent down to pet her, giving her a good scratch behind her ears.

 

“What are you guys doing?” Marlon asked, letting the dog lick his hand.

 

“Scouting mission. We’re gonna go see what’s what with that town we used to get supplies from.” Louis explained.

 

“That’s pretty far outside the safe zone.” Marlon frowned, but he knew it was no longer his call.

“Are you guys gonna be okay out there?”

 

“There is no ‘safe zone’ anymore, dingus .” He tried to make light of the situation.

“We’ll be fine, nothing’ll happen to us or your precious pooch.”

 

“Let me come with you.” he pressed.

“I can help watch your backs.”

 

Not. Fucking. Happening.

 

“No can do, my dude.” Louis slapped a hand on his shoulder.

“Vi’s still got you on lockdown, remember? She’d kill us if we took you anywhere.”

 

Clementine didn’t want to argue this further

 

“We don’t have time for this, we’re burning daylight.” She said coldly.

“He stays, we go. End of discussion.”

 

Clementine didn’t wait for a response from either of them before she flung open the gate and began to make her way down the trail.

 

---

 

The streets of the town were lined boarded up buildings and rusted out cars with rotting bodies scattered all around. They were only a block in, yet the carnage was almost shocking. Clementine made sure to examine the corpses carefully as they passed them, jamming her blade into the skulls of any that might still be moving.

 

“Damn.” Louis commented.

“And I thought this place looked like shit the last time we were here.”

 

“You know this place better than I do, where should we start?” Clem couldn’t imagine this place would be anything but a bust.

 

“Anywhere’s better than on this damn street. This place gives me bad tingles.”Louis kept a good grip on Rosie’s leash as she sniffed around.

 

“Bad Tingles?”

 

“Yes, tingles of the bad variety.” He joked.

 

Dork.

 

“If I remember correctly, there’s an old hardware store on the next street over. We can bust in there and see if there’s anything left.” Louis lead the way.

 

So far, not many of the bodies around them were active, but who knows what was being contained inside the buildings.

 

The glass doors of the hardware store were long shattered, remains of what appeared to be some kind of wooden barricade were left on the floor inside. The sunlight from outside did little to illuminate the long dark aisles. The shelves seemed bare, this place didn't seem worth the risk.

 

“Maybe we should go somewhere else.” She didn’t feel like they were alone in there.

 

“Maybe.” he replied, furrowing his brow.

 

Louis swung Chairles against the metal frame of the doorway, echoing loudly throughout the store.

 

“What the hell are you doing?” Clem whispered.

 

“Watch.”

 

They both waited, staring into the blackness waiting for something to appear. One minute passed, then two, yet nothing emerged from the dark.

 

“We’re good.” Louis declared.

“Let’s just stick to the shelves in the light for now.”

 

“Aisle by aisle. You take the left I take the right.” She planned.

 

Louis nodded as they split, finding themselves searching with a tall row of shelves between them. Clementine ran her hands across the cold bare metal, finding not even a single screw to take back with them. She sighed, moving on the shelf just behind her. Her foot picked something heavy as she approached. She looked down to see a cardboard box peeking out from under the shelf.

 

“I think I fou-” She hardly got a chance to call for Louis before a hand clamped down on her mouth.

 

She tried to throw the body off of her but the strength that could only come from a living person forced her knife out of her grasp. It crashed to the floor with a loud clang.

 

The sound of Rosie barking filled the store and the stranger finally let go after Chairles connected with his back.

 

“Get the fuck away from her!” He yelled, preparing to swing again as the large man picked up her hunting knife and throwing her against the row of shelves, holding her there by her neck

 

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, boy.” He growled in his raspy voice.

 

Rosie snarled at the man, slobber dripping from her bared teeth. Clementine gasped for air as she struggled against his grip, digging her fingers into his thick coat.

 

“L-Lo..u…” She struggled out.

 

Louis let out a yell as he charged the man, aiming Chairles at the hand holding the knife as Rosie sunk her teeth into his leg. The stranger screamed with rage as he tried to shake the dog off, swinging the knife wildly and managing to slice into Louis’ left arm.

 

Louis cried out in pain, blood rushing out of the deep wound in his bicep. He let out a grunt as he brought the business end of his bat down on the man’s head, knocking out and releasing his grip on Clem’s throat.

 

Clementine collapsed to the ground, coughing and gagging as stars danced across her vision.

 

“Clementine!” Louis cried, rubbing her back as she heaved.

“Oh, fuck I’m so sorry.

 

“I… d-didn’t even… hear… him.” She gasped out as she tried to regulate her breathing.

 

He shakily pulled her close, adrenaline still pumping through both of them. Clementine returned the embrace, feeling something wet against her fingers when she touched his sleeve.

 

“Oh shit, you’re bleeding.” She examined the torn material, blood already soaking down his sleeve to his wrist.

 

“I’m alright.” He assured, wincing at her touch.

“Tis but a scratch.”

 

“We need to get you back to Ruby so she can patch you up.” She looked for something to stop the bleeding in the meantime.

“Take your shirt off.”

 

“What?” He gasped.

 

“I need to tie that up so you don’t bleed out on the way back.”

 

He proceeded to remove his coat followed by his shirt, cringing as he pulled the blood-stained fabric over his wound.

 

“Hold still.” She told him, wrapping the green shirt tightly over the cut.

 

She couldn’t help but notice his freckles also spread to his chest.

 

“That’ll do for now.” She said, still shaken from what just happened.

 

Clementine froze when she felt Louis’ fingers tracing her neck. His touch was light, barely tickling her skin.

 

“More bruises.” He frowned at the red marks left behind by the strange man.

“I’m sorry.”

 

“I’m okay, I promise.” She took his hand in hers, squeezing it tight.

“Let's just go home.”

“What about him?” Louis gestured to the unconscious man being watched heavily by Rosie. Blood trickled from his forehead but the shallow movement of his chest signified he was still alive.

 

“Leave him for the walkers.” Clementine decided.

 

Louis stood, helping Clem to her feet with his good arm. Neither of them letting go of the other’s hand as they left the town behind.

Chapter Text

The golden light of the sun warmed her cheeks as Clementine stared up into the bright blue sky. The dark grey clouds of an approaching storm peeked over the horizon, the faint roar of thunder in the distance just barely audible on the breeze.

 

The courtyard was unfamiliarly empty, lacking the presence of the other kids bustling around completing their daily tasks. If a storm was on its way, surely they would need to prepare, right? Yet the sound of the wind rustling the branches of the trees was the only noise filling the vacant area.

 

Where is everyone?

 

“Hello?” She called out to no one in particular.

 

“Hello, soldier.” A dreadfully recognizable voice answered her from behind. Clementine’s blood ran cold as she slowly turned.

 

“Lilly?” she gasped, looking around again for any sign of the others but finding nothing.

 

Clem didn’t even see Lilly’s hand swing before it made contact with her face, backhanding her to the ground. Pain shot across the left side of her face as she laid in the dirt, not daring to stand.

 

“That’s commander Lilly to you, you little shit.” The woman spat.

“You didn’t make it easy on yourself but a job well-done nonetheless.”

 

“I-I’m sorry, commander.” Fear and confusion raced through her veins.

“I don’t understand what you mean, my assignment isn’t over yet.”

 

I still have time here...

 

...don’t I?

 

Lilly grabbed a fistful of the girl’s hair, harshly dragging her off the ground by her curls. Clementine grimaced, scrambling to her feet to alleviate the pain. Once released from Lilly’s grip, she stood at attention. Clem tried to remain still as her body shook with anxiety through every breath.

 

“We have what we need.” Lilly declared with a smile that made her stomach twist.

“All thanks to you.”

 

A loud crash of thunder overhead made Clementine flinch as it caught her by surprise. A puffy storm cloud blocked out the sun, bathing the yard in pitch darkness as the wind blew vigorously. The light that came to illuminate the courtyard once more did not come from the sky, but from the ground as the brilliant flames torched the overgrown weeds.

 

The loud whistle of the winds became mixed with the sound of horrified screaming. Clementine watched as Delta soldiers burst from both the admin building and the dormitory dragging her terrified friends away as they struggled for their lives.

 

“No…” She mumbled. Her feet moved on their own, instinctively moving towards them to help.

 

“Where do you think you’re going, soldier?” Lilly whispered in her ear as she wrapped her arm tightly around Clem’s shoulder.

“This was your doing.”

 

She felt as if her heart had stopped beating as she watched them scramble helplessly. They all flailed helplessly, crossed between struggling against their own attackers and trying to reach out for each other. Clementine could do nothing but watch as this family was forcefully torn apart in front of her, all screaming each other’s names, fighting tooth and nail to retain their freedom.

 

All but one, it seemed.

 

There was one member of the group whose eyes were locked on someone different.

 

“Clementine!” Louis screamed her name, struggling against the woman pulling him away.

 

Time slowed. Her breathing stopped. Jagged claws seemed to tear at her chest as he reached for her, betrayal and panic in his soft brown eyes yet still he tried to get to her. She couldn't bring herself to look away no matter how much she wanted to.

 

I did this.

 

The freckled boy sharply jammed his elbow into his attacker’s jaw, managing to break free from her grasp. Out of the corner of her eye, Clem noticed Lilly’s hand reaching for her pistol.

“NO!” She yelled, her fist connecting with Lilly’s throat.

 

The woman staggered backwards, gasping for air as Clem raced towards the boy.

 

Barely. Their fingers had just barely touched before the world faded into a flash of light and her back hit the mattress.

 

---

Clementine felt winded as she sucked the dusty air of the dorm room into her lungs. Her loose curls clung to her face, slick with both sweat and tears. Rays of early morning sunshine filled her room with a golden glow. She rolled onto her stomach, weakly propping herself up on her elbows as she tried to recover from that surreal nightmare.

 

Nightmare, or premonition?

 

Surely the images her mind conjured to torture her were not a far cry from the future.

 

She leaned back against the wall, running her hands through her damp hair. Flashes of what she had witnessed in her sleep continued to flash across her vision. It seemed yesterday morning was her only reprieve from the exhaustion that overtook her every other morning as she slumped limply back onto her pillow. Clementine groaned, forcing herself to stand on wobbly knees.

 

Leftover anxiety from her dream tugged at her chest as she walked down the empty dorm hallway. She stalled at the door, fingers tracing the rusted metal of the handle.

 

Get a hold of yourself.

 

Clem shut her eyes tightly as she turned the handle, walking forward until she felt the warm sun on her face. She opened her eyes slowly, feeling them sting as they adjusted to the bright light. A wave of relief washed over her when she saw her friends dispersed around the courtyard, all going on with life as normal. She caught sight of Violet who was seeing off the hunting party at the gates. Clem tried to catch her attention by waving to her. The blonde smiled as she waved back.

 

“What’s the plan for today?” Clem asked, looking for a distraction

 

“For you? To take a fucking break.” She laughed

“Things are going fine, and you could definitely use a day off.”

 

“Violet, for the last time I’m fine .” She huffed at the unconvinced leader.

 

Violet didn’t take the news well about what happened at the hardware store. Once she confirmed neither of them were dying, she made sure to give Louis an earful about not being careful enough.

 

“Clem, you got strangled yesterday.” Violet crossed her arms, shaking her head.

“I’m not gonna let you work yourself to death.”

 

Clementine let out an exasperated sigh, frustrated with her injuries making her seem frail.

 

“A couple of bruises never killed anyone, Vi.” She snapped.

“Louis had it way worse than me.”

 

She remembered how pale Louis looked by the time they got back to the school. Exhaustion and blood loss taking a toll on him to the point where he had an arm around her shoulder to steady himself. The makeshift bandage had long since soaked through, blood still dripping down his sleeve.

 

“How is he?” Her worried expression was mirrored on Violet’s face.

 

“Sleeping in. Ruby checked on him a couple hours ago.” Vi glanced over Clem’s shoulder to the dormitory.
“The wound isn’t infected, he’s just tired from the blood loss.”

 

I’ll have to go check on him later.

 

“He saved my life.” Clementine didn’t know Louis had it in him to attack another living person with such ferocity. This was the same boy who made Aasim snap the necks of the rabbits caught in their traps, bringing his bat down on the head of a human being.

“He almost killed someone for me.”

 

“He’s never killed someone before.” Violet told her.

“None of us have, really. It’s different from putting someone down.”

 

“Yeah, it is.” You never forget that last look in someone’s eyes right before it ends for them.

 

It was a look she never wanted to see in any of them.

 

“I know you said you wanted to bulk the defences…” Clem began.

“But I think we should take it a step further. Turn this place into a fortress.”

 

Her heart began to thump loudly in her chest.

 

What am I doing?

 

She didn’t quite know. Her brain came up empty but her heart seemed to know the way, so she decided to trust it.

 

“Do you know how to do that?” The leader asked.

“Where would we start?”

 

“I was once part of a siege in a town called Richmond.” Her arm burned at the memories of the New Frontier. The first time she really lost AJ.

“We should start with the walls. Repairing any weak spots and improving where we can.”

 

So much of the school wasn’t included in Marlon’s safe zone… there must be a breach somewhere.

 

“We used to keep barbed wire in the greenhouse.” Vi suggested.

“No one’s been out there in forever though. We lost someone out there a while back, walkers overran the place and Marlon banned us from going there.”

 

“Then that’s where we’ll start.”

 

---

 

“I guess I didn’t realize how long it’s been…” Ruby commented as she, Clem, and Mitch approached the busted up greenhouse.
“...how much it’s changed.”

 

The glass panels were caked with grime cracked from years of neglect. Missing panes replaced with wooden planks acting as a limited fortification that wouldn't keep much more than the raccoons at bay.

 

Ruby tried the door, forcing her shoulder against it without success.

 

“Uh, this ain’t budgin’” Mitch stated the obvious.

 

“Well are you gonna stand there sulkin’ all day, or are you gonna do something useful?” Her southern accent full of sarcasm.

 

“Well, we need that barbed wire.” Clementine sighed.

“There has to be another way in.”

 

The three of them scanned the perimeter of the building, searching for a way inside. Clementine wiped her sleeve against the glass, disappointed to find most of the dirt was on the opposite side.

“Ugh. I can’t see shit.” She grumbled, not being able to make out much more than foggy shapes through the windows.

 

“Yeah, there’s too much condensation on the inside.” Mitch said, flicking the glass.

 

Condensation? That's a big word for you, Mitch.” Ruby laughed

 

“Shut up.”

Clementine smiled as she shook her head. Her eyes caught sight of a broken ladder hanging off the side of the greenhouse, the rung missing almost all the way up to the roof.

 

Bingo.

 

“I found something.” She called to the other two.

 

Part of the skylight near the top of the ladder seemed to have been busted in by a falling branch, the majority of the panel missing leaving just enough room for her to slip through.

 

“If I can just get up there I can get the door open from the inside without having to break more of the glass.” All Clem needed was a boost.

 

“Are you... sure you’re good?” Mitch asked hesitantly.

 

She switched her gaze from Mitch to Ruby, who also seemed to share his concerned look.


Oh for fuck's sake .

 

“Ugh. Not you guys too.” She groaned.

“Look, I already got an earful from Violet before coming out here and I don’t need to hear it again.”

 

She grit her teeth in frustration. Why couldn’t they realize she was tougher than they thought?

 

“We’re not insinuatin’ nothin’ we just-”

 

“Shut up and give me a fucking boost.”

 

They looked at each other before giving in to her demand, lifting her feet until she was able to grasp one of the few intact rungs. She pulled herself up to the roof, looking back down at them.

 

You're making them scared of you.

 

“Hollar if something grabs you. Otherwise, we’ll come once you give the all-clear.” Ruby’s words went unanswered as Clementine slipped through the broken window onto the table below.

 

Her feet landed on the old wood with a loud thump, boots crunching in the fallen shards of glass. The inside of the greenhouse seemed just as overgrown as the outside. The planter beds were overflowing with unkept vegetation.

 

This place certainly needs some work.

 

A low growl echoed through the building. A walker stood up from its spot against the wall across from her, it’s stiff joints cracking from disuse. It’s rotted lips almost formed a sickening smile as it charged towards her.

 

“Clementine! You okay?” She heard Ruby yell to from outside the door.

 

Clementine readied her knife, ignoring Ruby’s cries. She swung her foot, kicking out the walker’s knee and jamming her blade up through its jaw as it fell.

 

“I’m fine.”

 

“Oh, thank God.” Ruby gasped

 

Fine for now, at least. More moans came from behind her as two more walkers emerged from behind the plants.

 

Shit.

 

They came at her from two directions, cornering her. Clementine only had a few seconds to make a decision. She spotted another knife sitting on the table. She grabbed it, sending it flying into one of the walker’s skull with a thunk just as the other one reached her. The smell of death filled her nose as the corpse slammed her against the window. She struggled with it, its boney fingers locked around her wrist. She managed to squeeze her leg in between them.  Pressing her foot to its abdomen and using all of her strength to throw the walker off of her. The second its back hit the ground Clementine launched herself on top of it, sinking her knife deep into its head before it had the chance to attack again.

 

“More walkers? Didja get ‘em?” Ruby knocked on the door again.

 

“Do you hear any walkers? She got ‘em, calm down.” Mitch seemed to be having enough of her worry-wart demeanour.

 

“I’ll get the door open.” She tried to catch her breath as she removed the wood boards that had been jamming it shut.

 

Ruby gave her a smile and a nod before making a beeline for the planter beds to see what remained. Mitch examined the three dead walkers that laid around them. He seemed almost impressed.

 

“Not bad.” He told her.

 

Never underestimate me.” She warned.

 

“Guys, look.” Ruby spoke excitedly.

“Wild ginger, eastern prickly pear, Jerusalem artichoke, false Solomon’s seal.”

 

Clementine followed her as she named the different plants she found. There was a sparkle in her eyes told her that Ruby really enjoyed gardening.

 

“Let’s just get that barbed wire and anything else that might be useful.” Mitch groaned, disinterested in any of the plant life.

 

“You can only eat the same bland rabbit stew so many times before you go crazy.” Ruby said to Clem, paying him no mind.

 

“Jeez, don’t let Omar hear you say that, or you might be in the next stew.” She joked.

 

“These herbs are going to do wonders for morale, you wait and see.” The read head smiled.

 

Clementine began a sweep of the building. Other than tangled weeds and empty pots, there wasn’t much left to see. Nothing really worth taking other than a few gardening tools and a prybar.

 

“I don’t see any barbed wire anywhere. Are you sure this is where you kept it?” It didn’t seem like a thing you could easily miss.

 

“Yeah, this is where we had it… I think.” Mitch didn’t seem too sure.

“Oh shit, maybe it’s in here .”

 

Mitch knocked on an old metal cabinet. It was the only place they hadn’t looked, so it seemed like a good bet. He tried pulling on the handle, frustrated when it refused to budge.

 

“Damn, lock’s rusted shut.” he determined.

 

“I got it.” Clementine lodged the prybar in between the two doors, breaking them open with a little force.

 

“Bingo!” Mitch cheered as they uncovered the three large spools they were searching for.

 

“This’ll do nicely.” Ruby said as she carefully pulled the spools from the shelf.

“We should get these back to Violet.”

 

“Hold up, we can use this too.” Mitch studied the fertilizer bags that had also been locked away inside.

“We can make bombs out of these.”

 

“Bombs… Are you serious?” It was at this moment Clem realized that this boy was going to get them killed.

 

“Totally!” Mitch was acting like a kid in a candy store.

“It’s... the kind of stuff I used to make back home.”

 

“He used to blow shit up.” Ruby said bluntly.

“That’s why he’s a ‘Troubled Youth.’

 

“Guilty.”

 

Mitch seemed pretty enthusiastic about the idea, and if he really did know what he was doing…

 

This could be useful.

 

“All I need is some propane and something to create a spark. The, we’ll have ourselves a nice little homemade explosive.” Mitch laughed mischievously.

 

“Where would we find something like that?” Clem asked.

 

“There’s a science lab just off of this greenhouse.” He pointed to a set of double doors blocked off by a heavy metal shelf.

“Might just have what we’re lookin’ for.”

 

Clementine pushed all of her weight against the old shelves but could hardly get them to move an inch.

 

“Let me give you a hand.” Mitch and Clementine pushed against it together, heaving the metal shelf out of the way. It landed on the paving stones with a loud crash.

 

Hopefully, nothing on the other side heard that.

 

Mitch pressed his ear to the door. Everyone held their breath, listening for any sign of more of those things.

 

“I think we’re good.” He said after a minute.

 

“I’ll go in first.” Clementine gripped her knife as she slowly opened the door.

 

The science lab wasn’t what she expected. Another overgrown room with paving stones for a floor, weeds peeking in between the rocks.

 

Clementine had hardly taken a few steps into the room before something grabbed her wrist tightly. She dropped her knife in surprise as she struggled against the trapped walker. She pulled back, fighting against it until eventually, its rotted joint gave way before its grip did.

 

“Fuck. Fuck. Gross.” Clem gagged as she shook off the severed hand.

 

“Are you alright?!” Ruby asked, hearing her cry out.

 

“We had a scare, that’s all.” Mitch answered for her.

 

Rudy let out a shuddered gasp once she got a good look at the walker.

 

“O-oh no…” The redhead held her hands over her mouth.

 

This walker was a woman. Her remaining hand tied to the trellis behind her. She sat in one of the overgrown gardens, the moss and vines crawling over her corpse. Many different coloured flowers bloomed from her skin, creating something almost inexplicably beautiful about her.

 

“Who was she?” Clementine asked.

 

“Her name was Ms. Martin.” Ruby strained through her choked voice.

“She was the nurse here, at the school.”

 

Ruby couldn't take her eyes off of the former nurse, standing just out of reach of her missing hand.

 

“She was the only one who stayed when all the others left. God, she looks…” A few tears slid down her rosy cheeks.

“You can hardly recognize her. She’s… she’s just like all the others.”

 

“I’m sorry, Ruby.” Clementine put her hand on the girl’s shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly.

 

“I j- I just wish I could make her look like she used to.” Ruby had to look away, unable to face her former friend any longer.

“We came out here one day, lookin’ for food. Walkers attacked us. We thought we could fight ‘em off but… there were too many. Ms. Martin told us to run… and we did.”

 

A sad smile crossed her face as she reminisced her old memories.

 

“She’s the one who taught me to patch people up. Stitchin’, local anesthetics, painkillers, fever reducers.” A few more tears fell.

“I… I can’t do it. I cant… take care of her...”

 

“I’ve got it.” Clementine said softly, giving her one more pat on the back before retrieving her knife.

 

Ruby flinched at the sound of the knife piercing the decayed nurse’s skull.

 

“Come on, guys.” Mitch finally spoke up.

“Help me find that propane so we can get the hell out of here.”

 

Does he even care about her?

 

“Let’s take a look around then.” Clementine left Ruby alone for a moment to search the shelves.

 

She found a strange metal object in one of the boxes. Two connected metal rods leading to a round cap at one end.

 

“Uh, Mitch? Is this useful?” She held it up to him.

 

Fuckin-A. I was hoping there would be one of those! It’s an igniter. We can use it to make a spark.” He took the metal contraption from her, flipping it over in his hands.

“Should go nicely with this bad boy.” Mitch lightly kicked a propane tank he had found in one of the cabinets.

 

“I guess that's everything then.”

 

“No.” Ruby said with a whimper.

“We have to bury Ms. Martin first.”

 

“Why bother? It’s a walker.” Mitch said coldly.

“Let’s drag it out back, we can burn it.”

 

“Wh-what? No! After everything she did for us?” The girl sobbed.

“Ms. Martin is the reason we’re all alive!”

 

“And?”

 

“Mitch, you can’t be that heartless.” Clementine was flabbergasted by his indifference.

“Getting to bury someone you love isn’t an option that comes by often these days!”

 

Clementine grabbed the shovel she had found.

 

“We bury her.”

 

---

 

“Did you find it?” Violet greeted the group as they reentered the yard.

 

“Yeah, we got it.” Mitch said flatly, pushing past the others.

 

“The hell’s his problem?” The blonde questioned.

 

“Long story.” Ruby sighed, also cutting the conversation short.

 

Violet turned, confused as she watched them leave.

 

“What happened out there?” She asked Clem.

 

“We found Ms. Martin.” Was all she had to say for Vi to understand.

 

“That was… long overdue. At least she can rest now.” Violet crossed her arms.

“By the way, Louis is looking for you.”

 

“He is?”

 

“Yeah, he kinda freaked out a little when he heard you went to the greenhouse.” She scratched the back of her head.

“Guess he’s still shaken up by what happened.”

 

Clementine hadn’t gotten the chance to talk to him much since they got back. She felt slightly guilty for leaving without saying goodbye.

 

“Where is he?” Clem asked.

 

“Dunno for su-”

 

“Clementine!” The freckled boy jogged up to them.

 

“Nevermind I found him.” Violet joked, leaving the two of them alone.

 

“Heh, I wake up and find out you’ve gone off on an adventure without me.” He laughed off his worry.

“You never slow down, do you?”

 

“That’s how I’m still alive.” She smiled devilishly.

 

“I’m just… really glad you’re okay.” Louis fiddled with the collar of his coat, still seeming on edge.

 

“Hey, I’m alright.” She said softly, her eyes moving to the bloody tear in his sleeve.

“How’s your arm?”

 

“Better, just stings a little if I try to lift something.” He rubbed his arm.

“But hey! Now I have an excuse to slack off.”

 

That made her laugh. His winning smile was contagious.

 

Why is he so damn… cute?

 

They just stood there for a moment, smiling and laughing with each other. The way he made her feel was almost intoxicating, making her want to spend every moment she could by his side. Something… Someone … she wanted to fight for.

 

Someone she didn’t want to slip away.

 

Someone she wished she could save.

 

Clementine knew she didn’t have a true plan, but maybe… just maybe … there was a way for her to get away with this. To rip that collar from her neck once and for all. But there was one issue... she wasn’t sure if she would be saving her boy’s life or certifying his death.

 

I can’t do this shit anymore.

 

Perhaps the light that she’d found here could guide her to a new home. If she would give it a chance instead of snuffing it out as Lilly planned for her.

 

I’m smart.

 

Smarter than all of them.

 

This time was different. It was only a thread, but still enough to grasp at.

 

I’m going to get you back, goofball.

 

I’m going to save us all.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: Equilibrium

 

Beads of sweat dripped down Clementine’s forehead as she stood under the late afternoon sun, her jacket and hoodie discarded across a nearby couch. She held her breath as she lined up her arrow. The wooden target swung slightly in the light breeze, arrows sticking out around the red painted bullseye mocking her faulty aiming.

 

This is easier with a gun.

 

Her fingers felt raw against the rough wood as she released the arrow. It stuck with a satisfying thunk just barely within the center circle.

 

“You’re uh, getting pretty good at that.” A nervous voice came from behind her. She turned to see Marlon standing hesitantly a few feet back, his own compound bow in his grip.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you drop that bow all week.”

 

“It's been a long time since I shot a bow.” She twirled another arrow in her fingers, barely looking at the blond boy.

“I need to get used to it again.”

 

“Mind if I… join you?”

 

Probably easier for him to talk to me now that that damn bruise is gone.

 

“Just don’t get in my way.” She spat, pulling the other arrows from the wood.

 

They each took turns firing at the target, the former leader having no problems hitting the bullseye. Clem bit her lip in frustration as her arrows landed scattered across the different rings of the target. Once the arrows ran out Clementine leaned against the couch with a sigh. Had this been a real competition, Marlon would have won by a mile.

 

“You're too good at this.” She said as the boy plucked out the arrows.

 

“I’ve had a lot of practice.” He smiled

“Though I imagine if we were shooting guns instead of bows you would be the one schooling me here.”

 

“I don’t doubt that.” She managed a chuckled.

 

Marlon still seemed a little nervous to be around her, but grateful he was able to do so. Unlike someone else, she was at least willing to give him the time of day.

 

“Did you talk to Brody recently?” She asked but the sombre look in his eyes told her he hadn’t.

 

“She won’t even look at me.” He sighed, crossing his arms.

“She’s been avoiding me like the plague for over a week.”

 

“You put her through a lot.” Clementine shrugged.

“Now that she has other people to open up to it’s going to take a while for her to be around you again.”

 

“I don’t expect her to forgive me, and honestly I don’t deserve it.” His gaze fell to the dirt.

“I put her through hell for the past year all because I was too afraid to tell everyone the truth. I hurt her… so much… because I am a coward .”

 

Marlon’s voice broke as he tried to get the words out. Clementine couldn’t help but pity him. It sometimes felt hard to judge him too harshly. Hurting others to protect someone you care about rang pretty close to home for her.

 

“I just have to let her go.” He decided.

“Brody and I… I don’t know what we were… before the twins were taken. Everything changed once that happened. The feelings were still there, but they were all so… twisted .”

 

“That might be for the best.” Clem flashed a small smile.

“There’s no point in trying to force it if it just makes you both miserable.”

 

“Yeah.” He nodded with a slight smirk, examining the bow in his hands.

“We’re not like you and Louis.”

 

“Excuse me?” Clementine choked on her own spit. She coughed for a moment as heat rushed to her cheeks.

 

Please don’t tell me he thinks there’s something going on between me and Louis.

 

“Oh, nothin’ .” He teased.

 

Clementine crossed her arms with a huff. She knew her face was bright red. She wondered what gossip had spread about them.

 

“Try shooting with this one.” He held the compound bow out to her, changing the subject back to archery.
“It’s a lot better than those wooden ones we scavenged.”

 

Clementine took the bow. The fact that it was metal made it significantly heavier than the other one she had been using. Pulling back the bowstring took extra effort, making her overworked muscles even sorer. She fought against the discomfort as she lined up her shot. The arrow flew with a lot more power, dropping less mid-air before it sunk into the middle of the target.

 

“I finally got it!” Clem smiled proudly.

 

“Indeed you did.” The boy smirked.

 

Clementine looked over the bow one more time before handing it back to Marlon.

 

“Keep it.” He said, refusing to accept it.

“You’re the protector these people deserve. You should have the best weapon.”

 

“Thank you.” She nodded, wanting to feel happy but unable to shake the claws of anxiety digging into her chest. Clementine wasn’t sure if she would be able to live up to Marlon’s words.

 

I have to be certain.

 

The bow suddenly felt heavier in her hands

 

I don’t have room to second-guess myself.

 

A week of deliberation did nothing to help Clementine fully make up her mind. She knew what Lilly was capable of, the lengths that evil bitch would go to to get her way. If worse came to worst, Clementine was afraid she would have to abandon her new friends to keep AJ safe.

 

God, when was the last time I saw him?

 

She had been denied the opportunity to say goodbye before they loaded her onto the ship. Closer to cargo than to a member of the group.

 

Thirty-two days ago.

 

It was a thought that slowly picked away at her heart, shaking the ground beneath her as she tried her best to stay on her feet.

 

“Clementine?”

 

Her eyes shot open as she blinked back the first pricklings of tears. Clem felt as if she had lost time as she realized her surroundings, a concerned Marlon included.

 

“Sorry, I just… zoned out.” She laughed weakly.

“It’s too hot out here.”

 

“I see you two are getting along finally.” The cheerful voice of Louis chimed as he approached, smiling hopefully.

 

“Don’t push your luck.” Clementine smirked at the freckled boy, trying to calm the gnawing feeling in her chest.

 

“What’s up, Lou?” Marlon asked his best friend.

 

“I uh, wanted to talk to Clem for a minute.” Louis said, scratching the back of his head.

 

“Really?” The blond teased.

 

“Dude, shut up.”

 

“Can we go inside?” Clementine suggested, wiping the sweat off her forehead with her bare arm. The sun felt like daggers in her somewhat watery eyes.

 

“Sure.” Louis cast one final glare towards Marlon before he lead her towards the admin building.

 

---

 

“Where are you taking me?” Clem asked as she hurriedly followed behind the taller boy, her steps moving twice as fast to keep up with his longer strides.

 

“It’s a surprise.”  He kept facing forward but his smile was wide enough for Clem to see how the corners of his mouth curled upward.

“Trust me, it’ll be worth the suspense.”

 

“Are you always this dramatic?” She giggled as she followed him up a winding stairwell. Their footsteps echoed as they ascended.

 

“I prefer charming and theatrical .” He winked, slightly out of breath as they continued to climb.

“Entertaining is another word that comes to mind.”

 

They climbed flight after flight until they finally reached the top. Clementine leaned against the railing, panting from her efforts to keep pace with him.

 

Why are tall people so damn fast?

 

The top of the stairwell ended in a small room. Cobwebs hung from every corner and a layer of dust covered the floor, their footprints being the only thing that had disturbed it in some time. Louis stood in front of an old rusted metal door, hand reaching back to the handle as he faced Clementine. Golden rays of the outside sunset peeked over his shoulder through the cracked glass window of the door, causing the boy to be slightly silhouetted

 

“Right this way, my lady .” He struggled with the rusted handle for a moment before getting it to open. The door squeaked loudly on its hinges as Clementine stepped past him onto the outside roof.

 

She squinted, using her hand to shield her eyes from the light of the sun as it hung just above the treeline. From up here, Clementine could just barely see overtop of the expansive forest that surrounded their school. Puffy clouds scattered the sky above, painted in soft, warm hues by the sinking sun. The dark trees reached for the heavens with their pointy branches, unable to taint the beauty of the sky with the corruption of the earth below.

 

“It’s incredible up here.” Clementine gasped.

 

“I know, right?” He took a spot beside her.

“It feels so suffocating down there sometimes, almost like we’re stuck in a cage. But up here? It’s like we’re above everything like nothing can touch us.”

 

“Free.” She said softly, admiring how the sun turned his soft brown eyes to pools of honey.

 

“Exactly. It’s easy to forget that there’s a big wide world out there.” His face seemed wistful as if he was stranded.

“You’re the only one here who’s seen it. The way it is now, at least.”

 

“There’s not much to see I’m afraid.” Nothing but the dead for as far as you could go, and worse, the occasional living.

“Everything out there is either overgrown or broken down.”

 

“There’s gotta be something left to enjoy.” He jammed his hands into the pockets of his trenchcoat.

“But hey! Since we can't on a vacation out there, how about we have a little one right here.”

 

“Uh, what?” Clem raised an eyebrow at him as he grinned.

“How is this a vacation?”

 

“Simple. People go on vacations to get away, right? Have some fun? Well, up here, we can forget about all of the other bullshit going on down there. No walkers. No people. No stress or worries!” He spun as he let his theatrics take over for a moment before slowing again, pulling his card deck from his pocket and holding out towards her.

“One game?”

 

How could I refuse?

 

“What’s the game?” Clementine accepted the halved deck, kicking a few broken twigs out of the way as they sat on the roof facing each other.

 

Twenty Questions . Nothing crazy.” He smiled, shuffling his half of the cards.

Simple and fun!”

 

Her heart fluttered as she messed with her own deck, pulling her first card. Her seven of spades defeated his five of diamonds.

 

“So…” She smiled devilishly as she held up the winning card.

“How’d you lose that tooth?”

 

“When I was thirteen I was doing this song and dance routine out in the yard trying to annoy slash cheer up Violet into smiling for a change.” He chuckled at the memory.

“There was one part where I jumped onto the picnic table, but my foot slipped on the seat and I hit my face off it instead.”

 

“Seriously? That’s what you did?” Clementine couldn't help but burst into laughter at the mental image.

 

Hey . I’ll have you know it worked like a charm.” He smirked, shaking his head.

“Violet didn’t stop laughing at me for a week.”

 

He’s such a dork.

 

Clem continued to giggle as she drew another card, pulling the high card once more.

 

“Two in a row.” She pondered what to ask.

“Hmm… Where are you from, before everything?”

 

Louis looked down for a moment, biting his lip. Clementine felt a tinge of regret as she hoped she hadn’t brought up any painful memories.

 

“You don’t have to answer tha-”

 

New York City , actually.” He cut her off.

“Always loud and busy all the time, but the skyline at night was a sight to die for.”

 

He looked off towards the woods sadly. Louis really was a long way from home.

 

“You usually couldn’t see any stars from all the lights on the buildings, but those were pretty enough to admire.”

 

“I grew up on the outside of Atlanta.” She reminisced.

“Born and raised in the same house before everything changed. I’ve been all over since then.”

 

All these years later but if Clementine went back to her old home tomorrow, she knew she could walk the halls blindfolded.

 

“My parents and I went into the city all the time, I used to love it when we drove past the skyscrapers.”

 

They shared an empathetic smile, silently flipping over their next cards. Louis’ king of hearts gained him a victory against her four of clubs.

 

“Third time’s the charm!” He cheered, holding the card high.

 

“Just ask your damn question.”

 

“What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?” He raised an eyebrow.

Surely a badass like you has had a few interesting adventures.”

 

Clementine paused to think for a moment, attempting to pick a story he would find most impressive.

 

“I once helped a former baseball player overthrow a corrupt government and save an entire community from a herd of walkers.”

 

Louis’ jaw dropped. He stared at her in awe, completely speechless.

 

“His name was Javier Garcia, he was pretty cool. His nephew, Gabe, was really sweet. I hadn’t met someone my age in forever.” She smiled as she thought of another card-playing dork she once knew.

“I miss him.”

 

“Was he uh, good looking?” Louis’ smile dropped as he stared at his deck.

 

What kind of question is that?

 

“I didn’t think about that, but he was cool, I guess” Clem was confused why that was the part he was interested in.

“The city of Richmond used to be run by a group called the New Frontier, lead by this psycho bitch who raided other towns to get supplies.”

 

Clementine’s right hand scratched hesitantly just above her left elbow. She took a deep breath, finally deciding to roll the sleeve of her henley shirt up farther, revealing the circular branding scar.

 

“I used to run with them before Javi showed up, this was their initiation.” She bit her lip, the feeling of the red hot metal scorching her flesh still a crisp memory.

 

“That is fucked. ” Louis said plainly, staring at the angry red mark.

“How could you let them do that to you?”

 

“I didn’t have a choice. I was all alone, barely able to keep myself going and I…” She trailed off, digging her nails into her palms as she tried to remain calm.

“I had… someone … I needed to protect.”

 

Clementine pulled her legs up to her chest, resting her chin on her knee. She watched the sun dip below the trees, unable to look back at Louis.

 

“I’m sorry.” Louis apologized.

“I didn’t mean to bring back bad memories.”

 

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Lou.” She assured, hiding the brand once more.

“I’m alright.”

 

The first cold breeze of the night blew past them, causing goosebumps to form over her exposed skin.

 

Dammit, I left my jacket down there.

 

“I think it might be time to bring this vacation to an end.” Louis stood, offering the shorter girl his hand.

“Let's get inside before you freeze.”

 

She graciously took his hand, bringing herself to her feet. Clem’s face felt warm while the rest of her was chilled. Hardly thinking, she wrapped her arms around the freckled boy. Her arms wrapped around his torso inside of his coat, head resting on his chest. His heart rate picked up, causing her own heart to feel giddy. Louis immediately returned the surprise embrace, wrapping his coat around her. Neither spoke before she pulled away, the boy releasing her.

 

“Thank you, Louis.” She brushed a few loose curls behind her ear.

“I needed this.”

 

Through the last light of day that dwindled on the horizon, she could see his cheeks dusted red.

 

“I can’t wait for our next ‘vacation.’” She smirked at the flustered boy before making her way back inside.

 

Maybe next time we can actually call it a date.

 

---

 

Clementine yawned as she read over the school map for what felt like the millionth time. The flickering candle was the only thing dimly lighting the music room. The pale moonlight barely able to shine through the clouds outside. The tip of her pencil lightly traced the creases in the paper as she tried to organize the new defences. The barbed wire had been set, the sharp coils guarding the top of the brick walls that surrounded their home.

 

This won't be enough.

 

A few practice drills and barbed wire wouldn’t be enough to hold off Lilly and the others. Somehow, Clementine was going to have to turn these teenagers into real fighters. The collection date was fast approaching, less than a week before the Delta would come knocking on their door. She used what remained of her closely chewed nails to scratch the wooden writing desk.

 

“Clementine?” Violet’s voice broke her out of her thoughts.

 

Shit, Vi you scared the hell out of me.” Clem practically jumped from her chair upon hearing her friend’s voice.

 

“Sorry, I just uh… wanted to talk to you.” The blonde seemed on edge. Clementine was starting to think it was something she’d done to make them act this way around her.

 

“About what?”

 

“Well, about that.” She gestured to the map that Clem had been practically burning holes in with her eyes.

“You spend almost all your free time locked away with that thing.”

 

“I’m planning our new defences.” She looked back to the paper. Every mark, fold and tear was already memorized in her brain.

 

“Yeah? Well, it seems more like you’re gearing up for war.” Violet said almost accusingly as she crossed her arms.

“What’s going on with you?”

 

“I just want us to be ready for anything .” She scribbled on the desk with her pencil tight in her grip.

 

“Well, it feels like you’re getting us ready for something .” Violet walked around her to be back in her line of sight.

 

Shit.

 

“I’m not a dumbass, Clem. You’re worried about something out there. The drills, the training, this fucking map .” She sat on the edge of the table.

“You know the outside world better than any of us.”

 

Clementine’s heart started to race as she waited for what her friend would say next.

 

“Do you know something?”

 

The graphite tip of her pencil snapped She let it clatter onto the desk as she took a deep breath. Clementine felt almost as if she was back in that train station. Her little boy’s life hanging in the balance of the words she spoke.

 

“I-I…” She tried to find the right words.

“I know… of… something.”

 

A lie, but not quite. The truth, but not full. Something of a balance between the two.

 

“There’s a war going on up north. Two communities at each other’s throats. I’ve been trying to get away from it for a long time.” She still couldn’t meet Violet’s eye.

“One of the communities has been moving farther and farther in this direction. If they find you, they’ll take you. Make you fight for them. If you don’t, they’ll hurt you, or they’ll hurt someone you love.”

 

“Shit.” Violet cursed.

“Do you… do you think that’s what happened to Minnie and Soph?”

 

Clementine finally looked up at her. Violet’s face was twisted with grief as if she had just lost the twins all over again.

 

“Yes, I do.”

 

A heavy silence hung between them for a moment. Violet began to pace the room a bit, contemplating this new threat.

 

“If you’re right, and they come back for the rest of us…” The blonde panicked.

“What are we going to do?”

 

“We’re going to fucking fight.”

Chapter Text

It’s almost time.

 

Her last day of peace. Once the sun set, all hell would break loose.

 

Might as well enjoy it.

 

The fall breeze played with her hair as she stepped out into the sunlight. The sun may be cheerful but gloom hung on the wind, infecting even the most optimistic member of the group.

 

“I have other stuff I need to do.” Louis argued with Violet at the entrance of the admin building.

 

“What stuff? ” The blonde retorted, crossing her arms.

 

“Nothing, it’s just… it’s important.”

 

Goddammit, Louis. Take this seriously for once in your life.” The argument grew more heated as Vi refused to back down.

 

“I’ve been taking this seriously for fucking days! Over a week!”

 

“So has everyone. Get over yourself.” Violet growled at the boy.

 

She watched Louis stomp away from Violet, his dreads swung in front of his face as he walked right past her. Deciding to give him some space, she went to get some answers from Violet.

 

“Hey.” Clementine caught the blonde’s attention.

“What’s going on?”

 

“We still got shit to do but Louis would rather goof off or whatever the hell he’s doing than help.” Violet let out a heavy sigh as she crossed her arms.

“He’s always been like this, finding every excuse to do as little work as possible and it’s fucking frustrating .”

 

“Do you want me to talk to him?” Clementine anxiously scraped a rock back and forth beneath her boot.

 

“Yeah, he seems to listen to you at least.” Her angry expression changed to an apologetic one once the words left her mouth.

“Sorry, I- uh… shit. I just want to make sure we’re ready. If you’re right and they find us … I don’t want to lose anyone else to those bastards.” Her voice caught in her throat. The stress of keeping everyone together was evident in the bags under her eyes.

 

“I’m not going to let that happen, Vi.” Clem assured her, determination in her tone.

“If those fuckers try to get at anyone in this school they’ll have to kill me first.”

 

“That’s one of the things I’m afraid of.” She confessed.

“I don’t want you to get hurt either, Clem. You’ve dealt with a lot of bullshit the last couple weeks but you never ditched us. You could’ve just left. You could’ve kept running from the war but instead, you stayed to help us. I don’t think I ever thanked you for that.”

 

“You don’t need to thank me for staying.”

 

Please don’t thank me for staying.

 

Those words caused an all too familiar feeling in her heart.

 

“I don’t want to go back to the way things used to be. It was killing me. I’m not sure how much longer I could have gone on.” A heart so empty of life it felt like it sometimes forgot to beat.

“I’ve never been in a group like this before. A real family.”

 

“You’re a part of that family too. We all care about you.” She smiled somewhere over Clem’s shoulder.

“But I think there’s someone who cares about you more than the rest.”

 

She followed Vi’s look to see Louis at the archery target. Brow furrowed as each arrow missed the wooden circle completely, sticking out of the dirt below it.

 

Clementine’s cheeks turned pink when she realized what Violet was suggesting. She opened her mouth, prepared to deny it all… but something was different. Her heart skipped a beat and for once, it wasn't out of fear. It was… hope .

 

“...Do you really think so?” She gave a nervous laugh as a smile tugged at her lips.

 

“Ah, so you do like him back.” Violet teased as she poked the blushing girl’s arm.

 

“Shut up.” She almost whined, her face growing warmer after revealing her secret, but inside herself, there was no denying how she felt about Louis.

 

He needs to know.

 

I want him to know.

 

“Ugh, it’s so cute I’m going to puke.” She joked, making a fake gagging noise.

“Marlon and Omar are out at the greenhouse and Aasim and Willy are working out some trap ideas so I guess I’ll go board up the back hallway since Louis isn’t going to do it. Can you see how the others are doing?”

 

“Sure.” She looked back towards Louis again.

 

“Don’t spend all your time on him, okay? I want to know if everyone has their shit together.” Violet wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to privately tease her friend about her little crush.

“Go get him, tiger.”

 

Violet, I swear to god.” Her face burned with embarrassment.

 

Violet held her hands up, smirk unfading as she backed into the admin building.

 

Clementine let out a groan as she pondered if that was a good idea or not. Looking over at Louis, still struggling with archery, she decided to find someone else before facing him.

 

According to Ruby and Brody, there was a lot of walker activity not far outside the walls than usual. It made hunting more difficult but maybe the dead would help keep Lilly at bay just a little. Mitch’s test bomb refused to go off meaning he would need as much time as he could get to figure it out.

 

The yard already looked like a war zone. Flipped tables creating barriers and narrow paths from the gate to the admin building. The rotten eyes of the decapitated walkers heads decorated pikes all around. Crudely painted banners and graffiti with messages such as “Leave or Die!” and “Fuck Raiders” among their other more decorative features were hopefully enough to at least make them look like more than a bunch of kids with sticks going up against a bunch of adults with guns.

 

“Hey, Clem.” a small voice came from behind her.

 

“What’s up, Tenn.” She greeted the excited boy.

 

“I wanna show you something!” He grinned ear to ear as he lead Clem by her hand to another one of the few unflipped tables in a shady spot in the yard. A few pencils were strewn across the boards surrounding a single piece of lined paper.

 

“Since you’re helping protect us from the bad people, I wanted to make you something, as a thank you.” The boy eagerly handed the page to her.

 

Clementine studied the little graphite figures, recognizing each member of the school standing in front of what appeared to be the admin building. The short girl with poofy curls standing in the middle appeared to be her, bow in hand with a proud smile.

 

Aw.

 

“It’s beautiful, Tenn.” A similar smile as depicted in the drawing spread across her face as she carefully folded it up into her pocket.

“I’ll keep it safe.”

 

The boy was pleased with Clem’s reaction. The grin on his face reminded her of AJ whenever he gifted her one of his masterpieces . Her blue cap loose on his head as he adjusted it constantly as he eagerly showed her the scribbled figures of the people he encountered in the Delta. Some she could kind of recognize, others were strangers. Her little boy gifted her many of his drawings. Clementine wished she had been allowed to keep them.

 

“I know a little boy like you. A lot younger, but he loves to draw, too.”

 

These two would be great friends.

 

“You do?” Confusion crossed his features.

“Where is he?”

 

“He’s… gone.” She took a deep breath, her smile becoming partially forced.

“But I’m going to see him again, one day.”

 

I will.

 

I will.

 

I promise.

 

“My sisters are gone, too, but I don’t like to think about it like that. I like to think about where they would be now.” His words caught her a little off guard.

“Sophie was really good at making stuff. She would build a place big enough for all of us and paint it too, and Minerva would be singing would be singing whatever new song she’d wrote.”

 

“Heh. That does seem like a nice way to think about it.” Her and AJ living free was all she could ever hope for.

 

Tennessee went back to his drawings as Clem thought about what it could be like if she really brought AJ to the school.

 

Clementine pictured what the school might be like on a nice summer day.

 

Relaxing on the couch under the sun, taking in the sweet breeze as she listened to the squeals and laughs of the AJ, Tenn, and Willy as they ran around in whatever game of make-believe they’d concocted. The others smiling and nodding whenever they passed by during their daily duties. She’d smile and wave back, resting her head on Louis’ shoulder as he wrapped his arm around her.

 

We could be happy here.

 

“God dammit! ” Louis exclaimed, swinging his bow in frustration as he plucked the arrows out of the dirt.

 

“Are you alright?”She asked. He glanced over with a small momentary smile before falling back into his downcast look.

 

“In a couple of months, or weeks, or days, or hours we’re going to be caught in the middle of a war we have nothing to with and a bunch of raiders are going come, burn down our home and steal or kill us.” He looked back down at the bow in his hand, biting his lip.

“And then It won't matter how much I sucked at this.”

 

“The raiders aren't going to burn anything or steal anyone.” It was disheartening to hear him on the verge of giving up.

“I’m not going to let that happen.”

 

“You sound like a one-woman army. Like you’re going to take them all down single-handedly.” He joked.

Not that I’m doubting you could or anything . You are a certified badass after all.”

 

“Well, I have walked through many herds of walkers and come out unscathed.” She blushed at his praise.

“What’s a couple of asshole’s with guns, right?”

 

“Deadheads don’t shoot back.” He said flatly, not joining in on her joke.

 

“I’ve dealt with people who do, Louis.” Clementine pulled back the collar of her jacket, revealing the round scar where a bullet had torn right through her shoulder. He stared at it almost in horror.

“I was eleven when that happened. Haven’t been shot since.”

 

Well, not really.

 

But grazes don’t count!

 

“The fact that that might change soon is what terrifies me.” He leaned against the back of the couch.

“I want to be able to protect you, Clem. If something happened to you because of me… like at the hardware store…”

 

“Louis, what happened at the hardware store wasn’t your fault. Not to mention, you saved my life that day.” The look of pure rage on his face when he slammed Chairles into the head of that stranger was something she never expected from this soft boy.

 

“I… I’ve never killed someone before. I know that guy didn’t die… probably… but it’s the closest I’ve ever gotten.” His freckled face was scrunched in frustration.

“What if I need to when the fight comes and I can’t . If you got hurt or worse because I couldn’t kill someone… I-I can’t carry that for the rest of my life .”

 

Clementine’s heart ached as she saw him like this. Anguish in his watery eyes. Words on his lips he seemed to be biting back.

 

“I’m not going anywhere, okay? I believe in you. So believe me until you believe yourself, alright?”

 

“Easier said than done.” The light chuckle he produced didn’t feel genuine in the slightest.

 

Loud shouting sounded from the admin building startling the two. Louis squeezed her hand one more time before they wordlessly went to investigate.

“Because you’re boring and your idea is stupid!” Willy yelled at a beyond frustrated Aasim.

“Oh, I’m being stupid? You’re the one who can’t think straight. If you could hear yourself-”

“Guys, what the fuck?” Violet stormed out of the admin building behind the arguing pair.

“We were trying to work on the traps together but Aasim won't listen to anything I say!” The boy continued to raise his voice.

“That doesn’t mean you have to scream at each other.” Louis crossed his arms.

“I had the idea to use duffle bags full of bricks to drop on the raiders if they made it into the admin building.” Aasim explained.
“But Willy here wants to use a giant idiotic swinging log to take out one raider at most.” Both boys looked to Clementine for a solution.

“If we rig a bunch of duffel bags like mines above the stairwell they’ll have a hard time getting past without getting crushed.” She decided.
“Practical, discrete, and deadly. That's what we go with.”

“Mine’s all that too!” The young boy pleaded.

“No, it isn’t.” Aasim continued to go after him.
“It’s exactly something a child would come up with!”

A swift punch to the gut to Aasim shocked the group as Willy quickly ran away inside. The boy groaned in pain and mumbled curses under his breath as he took a seat by the fire away from the others.

“Great.” Violet growled.
“We’ll all kill each other before the raiders get a fucking chance.”

 

“I have an idea on how to release some of the tension ‘round here.” The two of them plus Tennessee followed Louis to join their brooding friend by the fire.

Here we go.

“Hey, buuuddy, how’s it hangin’?” Louis greeted with a wide grin as everyone took their seats.

“Dude, fuck off.” Aasim brushed him off.

“Sulking in the corner isn’t going to help us fight off the raiders, or turn that frown upside down.” The freckled boy juggled his box of cards from hand to hand.

“You get more annoying every day.”

Regardless, I’ve come up with a plan to make everyone feel better.”

“What are we playing tonight, Lou?” The mullet-wearing boy asked.

“Truth or Dare!”

“You don’t use cards in Truth or Dare.” Violet pointed out.

“You do in this version. High card asks, low card answers.” Louis insisted as he dealt a pile to each player, squinting suspiciously when he noticed Aasim glancing somewhere else.
“If you want to ask Ruby to join, I don’t mind waiting.”

Oh shit.

“Shut up dude!” He panicked as Louis revealed his little secret.
“I swear to God.”

“You’ve got a crush on Ruby?” Violet teased the poor boy.

 

Aasim’s little crush became a running joke for the first half of the game, including a cruel dare from Clementine herself involving Aasim asking his dear, sweet Ruby for a kiss . A request that ended with him being promptly slapped in the face, sending the group of teens howling with laughter.

 

“I got this.” Louis said confidently as he drew the high card against Clementine.

“We’ve been pretty hard on poor Aasim here, teasing him about sweet Ruby. I think it’s time for us to mercilessly tease someone else about unrequited love.”

 

I don’t like where this is going.

 

“So.. Clem .”

 

Shit.

 

“Anyone here you… like-like?” Clementine didn’t know what was worse. The question, or the fact that Louis was the one asking. Her face began to feel warm and she prayed the others couldn’t tell how red it was in the dim evening light.

 

Like-like? What are you, six?” Violet’s comment gave her a few extra seconds to think up a response.

 

Seven , thank you.”

 

“I... uh.” Clem mumbled flusteredly.

 

Fuck it.

 

“Yeah.” She confessed, her face blushing more.

“I’ve definitely got feelings for someone.”

 

“Ha! Who is it?” Louis asked over excitedly.

 

“Not telling.”

 

Violet smiled at Clem with a knowing look, who in returned glared daggers at her.

 

“One more round.” Louis declared, his grin didn’t fade as everyone drew their next cards.

“Aasim! You’ve got the high card. And the loser is… Tennessee.

 

“What’s something you never told anyone because you were afraid they’d make fun of you?” Aasim’s question made the nervous boy seem a little relieved that it wasn’t something worse.

 

“I think… I think walkers won’t always be around. They’ll go away someday.” The boy said hesitantly.

“The world goes in cycles, right? Stone age, Ice age, some other ages… So someday this age will end, and a new one will start.”

 

The group sat in silence for a moment, pondering Tenn’s perspective.

 

An age without walkers, like it used to be.

 

Such a world seemed like a lifetime ago, almost unreal. A world AJ had never known.

 

“Why is everyone looking at me like that?” The poor boy seemed to regret his words.

“Did I ruin the game?”

 

“I think that’s beautiful, Tenn.” Clementine assured him, sharing a warm smile.

“I never thought about it like that.”

 

“I think that feels like a good place to call it.” Louis collected his cards as everyone stood.

 

“We should finish our work, anyways. It’s getting dark.” Violet stretched as she stood.

“I’m going up to the bell tower to check our defences from up high. You can come with if you want, Clem.”

 

Or you can hang out with me instead.” Louis poked her shoulder.

“There’s something I’ve been working on for a while and I want your opinion on it.”

 

Violet rolled her eyes and waved as she left the two alone.

 

Sorry, Vi.



---

 

“Is this another ‘Vacation?’ ” Clementine asked as they entered the mostly dark music room, a few candles casting a golden glow over the grand piano.

 

“Almost. Kinda. Sorta.” He laughed nervously as he leaned against his prized instrument.

“I want to show you something, but I need your help first.”

 

“Help? With what?”

 

Louis reached behind him, picking a specific key and pressing on it. The sound it made was far from melodic.

 

“Sounds awful, right? All we need to do is tune it.” He smirked.

“That’s why I need you.”

 

“You realize I know nothing about pianos, right?” How did he expect her to help?

 

“It’s easy, just take a seat and I’ll tell you what to do.”

 

She ran her fingers lightly over the smooth keys as she sat at the bench. There were so many. It was a mystery to her how Louis could know the sound each identical key made.

 

“Now press the A key.” He told her as he fiddled with the strings.

 

“Uh, which one’s the A key?”

 

“Y’know, the A key, next to the B key, after the G key.” He tilted his head as he pointed out each one. She pressed down on the key producing an off-tune note.

 

“Great! Now press the peddles while I make some more adjustments.”

 

Clementine followed his steps hoping she was actually helping.

 

At least he seems to know what he’s doing.

 

“Alright, now one more thing.” He stated.

“Blow on the strings.”

 

I stand corrected.

 

“It sound’s weird, I know.” He must have caught the suspicious look on her face.

“Cooling the temperature helps set them in harmony .”

 

Clementine stood reluctantly as she leaned over the body of the piano, blowing on the lines of piano wire before shooting him a glare.

 

“Great! That did nothing because that’s not at all part of how you tune a piano.”

 

I fucking knew it.

 

“But it was funny!” He laughed, his winning smile making her heart jump as always.

“I could have done something on like a molecular level, or maybe, it’s good luck to blow on strings.” He pressed down on the newly-tuned key, seeming satisfied with the noise.

 

“Okay okay, you got me.” Clementine couldn't help but laugh out loud as she scooted over, allowing him to sit next to her. There was a fluttery feeling inside of her chest as they sat so close on the short bench.

 

“It’s good to see you like this.” He said softly before turning his attention to the piano.

 

His fingers love elegantly across the keys. Playing a soft yet emotional tune. Louis seemed to become lost in the music, spilling his heart into the air with every note.

 

“What are you playing? -And don’t say ‘a piano.’”

 

“A song… that I wrote.”

 

He wrote this?

 

“What’s it called?”

 

It’s beautiful.

 

“I don’t know yet.” He shrugged, finishing off the last few notes

“There. First time played. We should mark the occasion!”

 

Louis pulled his knife out of his coat, carving an L into the wood before offering it to her. She carefully added her own initial to the left of his, also carving a little plus in between.

 

C+L

 

Clementine and Louis

 

“Are you done tattooing that piano?” He was only joking, but she wasn’t done yet. Something was missing here.

 

Clementine continued to cut into the wood. Her heart began to beat rapidly as she almost felt unsure of her bold and permanent move. Louis watched her movements in confusion before it began to dawn on him what she had drawn.

 

“Oh, uh… that’s a… that’s a potato?

 

Really? That’s your first guess?

 

“It’s a heart! Yep, I see it’s a heart.” His face grew red as he tried to laugh off his mistake.

“That’s… super cool. Really cool .”

 

Clementine rolled her eyes playfully as her cheeks grew warm. Her hands nervously played with one of the buttons at the bottom of her coat.

 

“Hey, uh. I’m about to dig myself into a deep hole from which I’ll never emerge. Cool? Cool.” He loudly took a deep breath.

“Time to get serious.”

 

“Serious? Wow. Are you feeling okay?”

 

“Not really, nope. Mm mm.”

 

Clementine began to worry once more. It was clear that this was a side of him he never let any of the others see. The brave face falls and his smile drops revealing the struggling boy underneath. The people here have known him forever, longer than she probably ever would and they still failed to see through his facade.

 

“Thanks… for being here. Listening. Blowing on the strings. Coming to help me with my project even though you probably have way more important things to do, and… for everything I’ve had to work through, for myself.” He rested his hand on the bench beside her, their fingers barely touching.

“Everyone hears the jokes, the piano… and then they stop listening. But you didn’t.”

 

Clementine’s heart thumped loudly in her ears as she stared into his eyes. She didn’t want to wait any longer, her heart might collapse otherwise.

 

I have to tell him while I still have the chance.

 

“Louis I…” Her mind drew blank, all the words she had planned to say became caught in her throat. He looked at her expectantly with worry in his eyes as she struggled to say anything.

 

Clementine gave up on words. Looking into his eyes she leaned forward and pressed her lips against his. Louis tensed up for a moment in shock before melting into the kiss, lightly cupping her face with his hands as she slid one of her own to the back of his neck. Slowly, they broke away, pressing their foreheads together as they peered into each other's eyes.

 

I can’t believe I just did that.

 

“I think that saves me the trouble of actually asking you out.” He smirked.

“Which is good, ‘cause I was a little worried you’d stab me if I tried.”

 

Clementine buried her face into the collar of Louis’ jacket as a fit of giggles overtook her. A little lightheaded with giddiness, she wrapped her arms around his neck and sunk into the warm fluff of his jacket.

 

“I know what to call the song.” he said as she sat up, their hands locked tightly together.

‘Clementine.’ Y’know, cuz I like fruit, and I like you even more so… there .”

 

“You are such a weirdo.” Clem giggled, shaking her head.

 

“Yeah? Well, apparently you dig that. So who’s the weird one now?” He teased.

“It’s both of us.”

 

Clementine’s response to that was cut off by the frantic calling of her name.

 

“Clementine? Clementine?!” Ruby’s panicked voice sounded from down the hall, finding them in the music room just as Clem and Louis stood from the piano.

 

“Ruby! What’s going on?” She asked, but she already knew the answer.

 

“There’s someone outside!”



Chapter Text

“They had horses, an-and carts.” Ruby relayed to Clementine as they raced into the torch-lit yard meeting up with the rest of the scared teens.

“Probably to carry people away.”

 

The time had come and now they all looked to her.

 

“You all know what to do. If they get inside, fall back to the admin building while I distract them.” Right into their traps.

 

“Those fuckers won’t know what hit ‘em!” Aasim said confidently.

“Those duffle bags will break bones easily.”

 

“Just look for the ropes, we strung up a bunch.” Willy added.

 

Traps, set.

 

“Mitch, once I get their attention, plant the bomb under those carts.” Clem ordered.

“That’ll make it harder for them to carry anyone off.”

 

“It’ll work.” Mitch assured, looking over the device in his hands.

“I promise.”

 

Bomb, armed.

 

“I’m not going to let them hurt anyone else.” Marlon stepped up, a fire in his eyes.

“We end this tonight. Any way we can.”

 

“Brody.” Clementine said softly. The red-head was already pale and shaking.

“Stay with Tenn and Willy. Once you see an opening get them inside and find someplace to hide.” The poor girl could only give a weak nod in response.

 

Friends, ready.

 

That was everything, right? Lilly wouldn’t be planning on a fight. Mild resistance, maybe, but nothing like what Clementine had in mind.

 

They all have to die.

 

If even one soldier reported back, the boat might leave before she could sneak on board. If that happened, AJ would be lost for sure.

 

I can do this.

 

We can do this.

 

She wasn’t alone this time. She looked at her friends as they stood around her, afraid yet determined.

 

“Let’s kick some-”

 

Clementine’s words were cut short as the first shot of the fight rang through the air. She felt a whoosh of air as the bullet flew over her shoulder and ripped straight through Omar’s leg. The boy fell to the ground with a yelp as they all looked around for the sniper. Torchlight reflected off of the glass of a scope as Clem made out the outline of a figure perched in a tree just outside the walls.

 

Dorian.

 

“Go! Now!” Clementine yelled to the others as they dashed for cover.

 

All but one of them, at least.

 

Marlon and Clem both grabbed tightly onto Omar’s vest as they dragged him behind one of the picnic tables. The boy groaned in pain, blood staining his pant leg. Clementine looks frantically for her bow, spotting it sitting with its quiver of arrows a few tables down.

 

“J-Just go. Leave me.” The injured boy grunted, seeing her eye the distant weapon. A flash of fire flew over the tall gate as a molotov cocktail exploded on their side, setting the barricade alight.

 

“I’ve got him.” Marlon assured, gripping his knife as he peeked over the flipped table.

“There’s no time. Go!”

 

Clem nodded to the boys, turning on her heel and diving across the table to retrieve the bow. She slipped the strap of the quiver over her shoulder just as a loud crash came from the gates. Each slam that came next shook the metal bars, the barricades barely holding the intruders at bay.

 

“Knock knock.” The sickening voice of that demon woman sang as the raiders finally busted through their defences. The metal gates made a sickening scraping sound as they dragged along the paving stones.

 

That didn’t hold as well as I’d hoped.

 

“Clementine!” Lilly called out across the yard causing the girl’s blood to run cold.

“I know you’re out here.”

 

Clem bit down on her lip as she tried to steady her breathing, demanding her fear to fuck off. She could practically feel the confused looks of her friends burning into her without even seeing them. This wasn’t the time to cave in. Not the time for tears. It was time to breathe in, and take a fucking stand.

 

“Show yourself. That’s an order.” Lilly growled

 

You asked.

 

“LILLY!” Clementine practically screamed at the group of armed adults as she stood, drawing her bowstring and pointing the arrow right between that bitch’s eyes.

 

There’s only five of them.

 

Lilly with Abel at her side, another man and woman she’d seen before, as well as Dorian in the tree.

 

That’s right, look at me, motherfuckers.

 

Clementine kept her eyes trained forward as she watched the careful movements of Mitch and Willy sneak around the raiders.

 

We push on. We fight on. We look forward, never back.

 

There you are.” The woman spoke to Clem as if she was talking to a small child.

“School’s out, Clementine. It’s time to come home.”

 

“I am home, Lilly.” Clementine tried to stop her hands from trembling.

“I’m not going to let you hurt these people.”

 

“No one will get hurt if they come willingly.” Lilly scowled.

“We’re not leaving without our new recruits and you are certainly not being left behind either.”

 

“I told you this would happen, Lilly.” Abel said matter-of-factly.

“The fruit’s gone soft.”

 

“That’s enough, Abel.” Lilly silenced him. She took a few steps forward, actually smiling at the girl.

“You don’t honestly believe you’re making the right call, do you? You say you want to protect these kids but you know fighting back is only going to get them killed.”

 

“Not if I can kill you first.” She hissed. Her knuckles turned white from her grip on the metal bow.

“You’re a fucking monster!”

 

“Shoot her if she moves.” She ordered the woman next to her.

 

Lilly’s sickening smile didn’t fade. It was as if she was staring directly into Clementine’s soul. Her throat began to tighten up as they stared each other down. She hated this. She hated the power this woman had over her. Forever ago, she had looked up to her like a big sister, someone Clem had trusted to keep her safe… but now?

 

Why do the monsters always outlive the good people?

 

“I’m a monster?” Lilly scoffed, seemingly finding humour in the suggestion.

“I think a monster is someone who abandons a little kid for a group of strangers. That is what you’re doing, right? Giving up on him so you can have a fresh start?”

 

No.

 

No no no.

 

Never… Never…

 

AJ…

 

“If that’s what Lee thought of you maybe he would have lived longer.” Lilly’s words were like a bullet to the chest.

 

“Fuck you!” Clementine finally choked out the words as her face twisted with rage.

“Oh, I’ll get him back. I’m going to get him back and I’m going to kill every one of you fuckers who tries to stop me!

 

I’ll rip that compound apart before I leave AJ behind.

 

“Enough of this nonsense.” The woman sneered as she adjusted her grip on her rifle.

“Surrender now and maybe I’ll find it in my heart to forgive you for this little standoff. I promise it’s going to be a lot more painful if we have to take you by force.”

 

Clementine didn’t move. Her eyes darted from soldier to soldier, ready to drop to the ground if their trigger fingers got too twitchy.

 

Any time now, Mitch.

 

“We shoulda sent that red-headed chick instead of her.” Abel didn’t seem to be speaking just to Lilly.

“She actually knows these kids, woulda made this easy.”

 

“Ah, Minerva. ” Lilly sang.

“She did say she had a girlfriend back here, didn’t she? And that little brother she misses so much?”

 

Shit.

 

“Where are they?” Tennessee spoke up as he slowly emerged from his hiding place.

“I just want them back, please .”

 

Fuck fuck fuck.

 

“Let me take you to her.” Lilly extended a hand to the boy.

 

“Don’t do it, Tenn!” Clementine yelled desperately.

“She’s lying. Don’t let her take you!”

 

“Lilly.” Marlon stared at the woman blankly as he approached with his hands raised.

“Just let him go.”

 

“Marlon, what the hell are you doing?” Clem begged to know.

 

None of this was going according to plan.

 

“We made a deal once.” The blond boy started, ignoring Clem.

“Maybe… Maybe we can make another one.”

 

What the fuck?

 

Was he… going to hand her over?

 

I can’t go back.

 

I can’t.

 

Fear started to cling to her once more before the former leader said something she didn’t expect.

 

“Take me, not them.”

 

What?

 

“You take me and I’ll fight for you, but you leave my friends alone.” The boy pleaded.

 

Clementine caught sight of movement on her left. She snuck a glance at the dormitory, watching Louis struggle to crawl out of his hiding spot behind the brick half wall as Violet held him back, one hand firmly clamped over his mouth.

 

Her attention was diverted back to the adults when she heard Abel’s guttural laugh.

 

“When the hell did you grow a spine?” he chuckled.

“I’d almost say you’re ‘brave’ but I have to go with ‘stupid’ since that is a terrible deal.”

 

“Maybe it takes a stupid person to pull off the bravest ideas.”

 

A loud hissing noise drew the raider’s attention behind them as Mitch and Willy rushed away from the bomb. The explosion sent the yard into total chaos as smoke and dust filled the area. Debris from the destroyed cart flew past the adults as they dove to the ground. The horses reared up as they tried to get away, still tied to the remaining carts.

 

Kill them all.

 

Don’t think, just move.

 

“Shit. Shit. ” Lilly cursed as she scrambled to her feet, just to be tackled back onto the dirt by the knife-wielding Marlon.

 

A bullet ripped through Clem’s hood as she just barely dodged Dorian’s shot. Clementine let instinct take over as her first arrow landed in the thigh of a large man who tried advancing on Marlon. The other kids followed her lead, launching arrows at their attackers before making a break for the admin building.

 

Clem tried to get an angle on Lilly with her bow as the boy used all of his body weight trying to push his knife through Lilly’s chest. The woman struggled against him, Marlon may be strong but she had the size advantage.

 

Managing to get a foot under him, Lilly kicked him off and with one quick slash of her knife, Marlon was on the ground drowning in his own blood.

 

Time almost slowed for a moment as Clem watched wide-eyed as he went down. A pool of crimson gushed out of the deep slash in his throat spreading along the cracks of the stones as the boy twitched and gurgled.

 

“Kill who you have to! Take the rest!” Lilly let out a frustrated growl, before making sure Marlon would not be getting up again.

 

“MARLON!” Louis screamed as Violet tried her best to keep him behind her, wildly firing arrows at any raider who tried to get at them.

 

Clementine grit her teeth in a blind rage as she pulled another arrow from her quiver, sinking it into Lilly’s shoulder as she screamed for her friends to run.

 

Brody, Aasim, and the younger kids booked it for the admin building, Clementine bringing up the rear. They raced up the stairs just as Abel busted through the doors with two others.

 

“Kill the traitor.” Abel ordered them as he decided to hang back, blocking their way out.

 

“Brody, get the kids out of here!” Clem noticed she looked about as scared of her as she was the other raiders. She obeyed anyway, grabbing Tenn and Willy and practically dragging them down an empty hall.

 

Clementine had her eye on the limping man she’d shot outside. She pressed her knife against the rope of the trap as she waited for the right moment. Slicing through it, she watched the man let out a confused yelp before the brick-filled bag silenced him permanently.

 

“No!” screamed the woman as she watched the man fall, blood pooling under his broken skull.

 

Clem and Aasim took the stairs two at a time as the woman fired at them, each shot only missing by inches.

 

“The couch!” Aasim pointed, a plan in his eyes.

 

They both pushed it towards the stairs with all of their strength just as their pursuer rounded the last flight. Gravity took hold of the heavy piece of furniture as it slid down the stairs, slamming into the furious woman and pinning her firmly against the wall.

 

“Fuckin’ useless.” Abel growled as he decided to finish the job himself, a lit Molotov in his free hand.

“I told Lilly you wouldn’t cooperate!”

 

He tossed the flaming bottle at the two teens who jumped away in opposite directions. The bottle smashed between the two, flames bursting and blocking them from each other.

 

“Find Brody!” Clementine coughed, barely catching a nod from Aasim through the smoke before he sped down the hall.

 

Clementine’s lungs burned as she breathed in the smoke. She backed away from the hot flames into Marlon’s office, closing herself inside. She coughed out the rest of the toxic air from her lungs just in time for Abel to kick the door in.

 

“I always hated the soft spot Lilly had for you.” He scowled, approaching as she back away further.

“But Lilly ain’t around this time. So you and me are gonna have a nice little chat.

 

He reached out to grab her, only for Clementine to slash her blade across his palm.

 

“Stay away from me you bastard!” She slashed her knife through the air, hoping it would be enough to intimidate him despite her small stature.

 

It didn’t work through. He only laughed as he lunged for her again, kicking her knee out and sending her to the floor. The knife clattered just out of reach. Abel took a fist full of her hair, a searing pain in her scalp as she was dragged to her feet by her loose curls just to be slammed against the wooden desk. The worn wood scraped against her cheek as her arm was twisted behind her back.

 

“Y’know, I always wondered something about you when we first found ya.” He didn’t have much trouble holding the short girl down.

“Weak, small, afraid, and still alive? I wonder how many folks died to get you this far.

 

“F-fuck yo-u.” She struggled out. The answer was too many for her to think about.

 

A paperweight caught her attention and an opportunity was seen. She wedged her free arm out from under her and grabbed the lighthouse figure, stabbing it straight into Abel’s eye. The man let out an enraged cry as he stumbled backwards.

 

The second his weight was off of her she wasted no time landing a swift kick to his stomach, sending him sprawling against the glass balcony door. Clementine refused to give him time to recover before she tackled him right through it, glass shattering and raining down on both of them. The sharp crystals cut her face as they fell from her hair.

 

You die tonight, you bastard.

 

Clementine couldn’t stop. Punch after punch connected with his disgusting face until it and her knuckles were busted and bloody. She threw get weight against him as she fought, each shove bringing the bannister closer and closer to collapse.

 

“FUCK. YOU.” She screamed one more time as the bannister finally gave.

 

She took what she thought would be her final look at those different coloured eyes as she shoved him into the open air. But Abel wasn’t the type to go down without dragging someone down with him. His nails dug deep into her skin as he pulled the girl forward as well. The balcony below her feet disappeared as they flew to meet the ground below.

 

Clementine’s entire body ached as she sluggishly propped herself up on her elbows. The screams of the man that laid under her came into focus as she realized what -or who - had broken her fall.

 

Abel screamed obscenities into the air as he writhed in the pain of his very broken leg. His leg was bent wrong at the knee and blood squirted from where a bone protruded through his jeans.

 

Clementine didn’t have a chance to stand or crawl away before she was looking down the business end of a rifle.

 

Lilly stood over her “perfect“ soldier. Confliction in her features as the barrel almost touched the girl’s forehead. Blood stained the right side of her jacket, that arm hanging slightly limp.

 

“This should be easy.” The woman muttered to herself.

 

“I’ll see you in hell.” Clementine growled, exhaustion setting in as she was faced with her defeat.

 

It’s not that Clementine had been expecting to die tonight, but she certainly wasn’t surprised that it was happening.

 

“You’ll be there a good long while before I show up.” Lilly pressed the barrel directly against Clementine’s head. She focused on the coldness of the metal as the final sensation of life as she closed her eyes, waiting for it to all be over.

 

I’m sorry AJ.

 

The gunshot rang in her ears, but her body still ached and the stones below her still scaped her hands. Clem opened her eyes, shocked to find herself still alive.

 

Clementine found who had been her saviour. Violet scratched at Lilly’s neck with her nails a few feet away. The skinny girl struggled to maintain her grip against Lilly.

 

Clem grabbed at Lilly’s discarded rifle only to be pulled back by the somehow still awake Abel.

 

Are you fucking kidding me?

 

She frantically kicked back at the broken man, desperate to save Violet from Marlon’s fate.

 

An onslaught of barking came to Clem’s rescue as Rosie made an appearance, viciously tearing into her attacker’s arm. She mentally thanked the dog as she turned her attention back to her friend.

 

Violet let out a terrified shriek as the woman from the admin building dragged her towards the cages by her hood. She struggled to get her footing but the woman only threw her down each time.

 

Across the yard, Louis grappled for Dorian’s rifle. The sniper knocking him across the face with the butt of the gun. Louis wiped the blood from his nose before sloppily attacking again.

 

They need my help.

 

A split second. That was all the time she had to make a decision.

 

Violet or Louis.

 

Her best friend or her boyfriend.

 

She bit her lip and followed where her heart aimed. Clementine released the arrow, watching it sink into Dorian’s back.

 

Louis ran back towards the admin building once Dorian became more concerned with escaping than taking him.

 

Clementine tried to load another arrow but she was too late. Violet’s limp body laid on top of 3 of her other friends.

 

“We cut our losses.” Lilly announced to the remaining raiders.

“Fall back! Pull in and fall back!”

 

The three women managed to get the horses moving out just in time for the walkers to show up fashionably late.

 

Of course.

 

Of fucking course.

 

Several of the dead poured in, drawn from the gunfire. The flames catching on their tattered clothing causing the putrid smell of burning flesh to waft around the yard.

 

Clementine let out a frustrated scream as she quickly retrieved her arrows. Running on pure adrenaline alone, she rehomed each arrow into the body of a walker.

 

Ruby and Mitch quickly shut the gate once the coast was clear, sealing them away from what lurks outside.

 

Crackling flames and muffled sobs replaced the sounds of gunfire as the raiders disappeared with four of her friends.

 

Aasim, Omar, Brody… and Violet.

 

AJ…

 

Lilly took them all.

 

Clementine stared helplessly through the bars of broken gates into the dark woods beyond. Did they really win? Four of their friends were about to be forced into a war they wanted no part of, Marlon is dead, and AJ was in more danger than he ever had been before, and now… everyone knew her secret.

 

She squeezed her eyes shut tight as she roughly ran her fingers through her hair, wracking her brain for her next move. Clem didn’t have much time to think, however.

 

A sharp yank on her hood took the girl by surprise and she nearly lost her footing as she was thrown backwards. Her attacker wasn’t a stray walker as she expected, but a very angry Mitch.

 

“This is all your fucking fault!” Mitch yelled aggressively.

“You’re one of them. You’ve been one of them this whole time.”

 

“Mitch, please just let me explain.” She couldn’t really argue that he was wrong.

 

This was all her fault.

 

“You've done enough talking.” He hissed as he grabbed the collar of her denim jacket, receiving no resistance from the guilty teen.

“Marlon is fucking dead, not to mention the people who got fucking kidnapped because of you!”

 

All Clementine could do stand there as the rest of the kids surrounded her. Looks of shock, disbelief, and fear decorated their faces. She looked past them all. Her eyes were frozen on the freckled boy who kneeled in a pool of blood next to his deceased best friend. The look of utter betrayal and anguish across his tear-streaked face was more than she could take. Their eye contact was broken by the tears that blurred her vision.

 

“I’m sorry.” The girl whispered, her body felt heavy with defeat.

 

“It’s too fucking late for that.” No one stepped in when he swung at her. Clementine could barely feel the pain through the numbness. Not the punch that knocked her to the ground, nor the kick to her stomach that stole her breath. Tears silently rolled from her eyes as she succumbed to unconsciousness.




Chapter Text

Clementine’s back felt stiff as she shifted in her seat. She looked around through blurred vision, trying to determine her surroundings as she slowly regained her senses.

 

Where am I?

 

A single window cast rays of the early morning sun across the basement, reflecting against the aged metal pipes. Memories of the previous night’s events flashed before her eyes as the girl shot upright. Her body ached in protest at the sharp movement and her limbs refused to move an inch from where she sat. Clementine struggled against the tape that tightly bound her arms and legs to the desk chair. Her efforts were in vain as the old wooden chair rocked from side to side yet refused to break.

 

“That ain’t gonna work.” A familiar gravely voice echoed through the dim basement.

 

Clem felt her blood ran cold as she noticed Abel on the other side of the room, restrained similarly to herself. A small puddle of blood stained the floor below his twisted leg, his pant leg drenched in the long-dried liquid. He flashed a crooked grin at her through his somewhat laboured breathing, clearly still in pain.

 

Clementine was too disgusted with the fact that he was still alive to find the words to express it. Ignoring him, she continued to pull at the tape. It’s sticky grip refused to release her as she pulled and wiggled, only continuing to exhaust herself.

 

A low growl sounded over the ruckus she had made. She swung her curls out of her face as she turned back to see the school’s guard dog eyeing her from next to the boiler. Rosie’s chain scratched against the concrete floor as she shifted around.

 

Clementine froze as she made eye contact with the canine. Abel’s laugh made her stomach turn as it sunk in how fucked she probably was.

 

“Even if you got out of that chair you’d never make it past the mutt.” He chuckled.

“Guess that means you’re stuck here with my ugly face.”

 

“Fuck off.” She said weakly, defeat continuing to wash over her as she slumped back. Her body was terribly stiff and sore and not being able to stretch out made it a whole lot worse.

 

“Aw, c’mon, don’t be like that.” He teased.

“Maybe this could be a chance for a little… heart-to-heart chat.

 

The way he looked at her made her skin crawl. The look in his different coloured eyes always made him look as if he had some kind of ulterior motive than what he claimed.

 

“Don’t… Don’t fucking say anything.” Clem could make as many demands as she wanted, but it wasn’t like there was anything she could do to stop him.

 

“Oh, but I got a lot to say to you, sunshine.” He smirked, watching her cringe at the nickname.

“Like about that shit you pulled that got us into this mess. I’d say I got a few burning questions for you.”

 

“I’ve got nothing to say to you, you son of a bitch.” She growled, wanting nothing more than to slink into the shadows. Anywhere where he couldn’t see her. The feeling of his eyes on her made her skin burn as if he was touching her without being near. A simple glance made her feel disgusting and small and even though they both sat restrained, the feeling of vulnerability swirled inside of her.

 

“I’m just wondering what made you finally snap and abandon us like that.” He spoke accusingly as if she was the villain here.

 

Clementine dug her nails into her palms, squeezing her eyes shut as she tried to ignore him.

 

“We kept you and your boy warm and fed for the last couple years. All we asked in return was for you to help defend our home.” He worded it as if any of this was a choice for her.

“And now? Yonatan is dead, we are hostages, and that little brat of yours is going to experience a whole new world of hell.”

 

She grit her teeth hard, biting back any reaction. Clem wanted to scream, attack him, claw those horrible eyes out of his skull.

 

Just stop looking at me.

 

“I told Lilly there was something going on with you, but I’ll be damned if she ever listens to me.” He shook his head.

“Although I expected some resistance from you, I didn’t think you’d turn these little shits into an army of your own.”

 

“Fuck you.”

 

“You gave up on that kid, huh? Took longer than I thought it would.” His accusation burned in her chest.

“A shame, really. So many people died for him to live and you’re just going to quit on him?”

 

“Shut the fuck up!” Clementine began to raise her voice. He was wrong. He didn’t know her at all. This was all to save him. She could still save AJ… right?

 

“You abandoned him for your little boyfriend, didn’t you?” His sickening smile only widened when Clementine shot upright in response.

“You seemed to have a favourite when you told us about them. Makes ya wonder.”

 

“I didn’t abandon AJ!” She yelled, lunging forward. The chair squeaked against the rough floor as it skidded forward a few inches. Her body seethed with anger.

“I’m going to get him back if I have to kill every one of you motherfuckers.”

 

“Maybe you won’t have to.” Abel intrigued.

 

What?

 

“You might still be able to fix this.” His words reeked of bullshit to Clem.

“Lilly ain’t quick to get rid of someone as useful as you. Keep your mouth shut and play along and you and your boy might get out in one piece.”

 

“Go to hell, Abel.” Clementine spit.

 

“I’ll see you there, then.”

 

The double doors that lead to the yard swung open with an ear-piercing squeak, flooding the rows of shelves with sunlight. The light interrupted by the silhouettes of two people entering the basement. They spoke low, one seeming more hesitant to approach than the other.

 

“Just give me a second.” She heard Louis speak, the shadows obscuring his face from her view.

“Look, I don’t care what you do to him, but… just don’t hurt her .”

 

“She tells us everything we want to know then I won't have to.” Mitch. That was definitely Mitch.

 

I guess it’s time for the interrogation.

 

They certainly took their time. Clementine imagined the others must have held a funeral for Marlon before dealing with their captives.

 

“Rise and shine.” Mitch called loudly to the already awake prisoners, his voice reverberating off the metal pipes.

 

Clementine couldn’t help but look past him at Louis. She watched him lean against the wall next to the stairs, arms crossed, finding more interest in the floor than looking up at her.

 

“Don’t look at him.” Mitch stopped her before she could call out.

“I’m the one you’re gonna pay attention to right now.”

 

Mitch’s threatening tone didn’t scare her. She couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t hurt her if she failed to cooperate, but honestly, it was hard for her to bring herself to care about her own well being. Numbness settled in her chest cavity, stealing away most emotions.

 

“I didn’t want any of this to happen.” She mumbled.

 

“I don’t know what to fuckin’ think about you anymore.” The tall boy glared uncertainly, pacing in front of her.

“You spent so much time goin’ on and on about these fucking ‘raiders’ but forgot to mention you’re one of them . Hm? Did it just slip your mind?”

 

“I needed you all to trust me.” Clementine tried to explain.

“If you didn’t we all would have died.”

 

“Oh, like Marlon? Or maybe getting taken would have been worse, like four of my fucking friends. ” Mitch was fuming,

 

Clem understood his frustration. She lied to them, used them. Involved them in a plan they didn’t know the details of. Clementine was practically a traitor.

 

“That Marlon kid was coward.” Abel spoke, getting Mitch’s attention.

“I knew it the day I met him with those three redheaded girls. Handed those sisters over with hardly a fight.”

 

“Where are they?” the boy demanded, grabbing a fistful of Abel’s sweater.

 

“That’s none of your business, kid.” He flashed another toothy grin. His cockiness earned him a sharp punch to the stomach.

 

“That bitch of a leader talked about Minerva, if she’s with you, you better fucking speak up if you wanna stay alive.” Mitch raged, ignoring the man’s forceful coughing.

 

Abel writhed in his chair, blood spewing from his mouth as he puked up his insides. The massive amount of blood splattered over himself, covering his mouth and clothes in a thick red. His head fell back as his breathing became more laboured than before. Mitch stepped back in shock at the gruesome scene before him. Even Clementine felt her stomach turn at the sight.

 

That isn’t good.

 

“N-No… no…” Abel wheezed through broken breaths.

“Fuck.”

 

“The fuck’s wrong with you?” Mitch asked in slight horror.

 

“You did this.” The man turned to Clementine, who sat wide-eyed watching him.

“When you pushed me off that balcony, something musta’ burst inside of me.”

 

“Good.” Clementine said flatly as she glared back at the man who ruined her life.

 

I just wish I could have killed him myself.

 

But I guess I kinda did.

 

Mitch stood awkwardly between them, unsure of this new dilemma.

 

“Well if you’re dying then hurry up and fuckin’ answer me.” He blurted out, now keeping his distance from the bloody man.

“Where the fuck are my friends!”

 

“Lilly will never give ‘em up!” He coughed, spitting more blood onto his soaked sweater.

“We came here for more manpower, and losing two good fighters for four sprouts who can barely hold a gun? Even a dummy like me can do the math on that one.”

 

“We’re going get them back.” Mitch asserted with not quite convincing confidence.

 

“I don’t know how much your friend in the other chair told you about what’s going on outside but it’s a fucking blood bath . We’re only doing what it takes to keep our home safe .” Abel was starting to become physically weaker. His time was clearly running out.

“It’s a good home. I’d do a lot to protect it.”

 

“Raiding, kidnapping, torture, enslavement, yeah that sure is a lot.” Clementine snapped.

“You ruin more lives than you think you’re saving.”

 

“I do what it fuckin’ takes.” He looked Mitch straight in the eye.

“But I guess none of that matters to me now.”

 

His voice grew weak and his chest heaved with every breath. Just a sorrowful, bloody, husk of a man.

 

“I’ll cut you a deal, kid.” He tried to sit up, only to slump back after a few seconds.

“I’ll tell you where to find Lilly if you swear to stop me from turning.”

 

“You don’t deserve to be put down.” Clementine spit. After everything he’d done, mercy was the last thing he deserved. Clem knew many good people who were left to turn, Why should someone like him receive a mercy they were denied?

 

“C’mon, I’m begging ya.” His voice became desperate, whatever bravado he had before seemed to have bled out of him.

“What if… What if they can feel it … when they turn?”

 

“I guess you’ll find out soon enough.” Mitch deadpanned.

“Maybe people just get stuck in there, along for the ride.”

 

“Clem! Fuckin’ say something. Make him stop me. You know no one deserves to turn.” Abel must have been pretty desperate if he was trying to appeal to her.

 

“Abel, there is not a soul on this fucking Earth that wants you to turn more than I do.”

 

“Yeah, I figured.” He sighed

“O-kay, okay. In my boot, there’s a paper with everything you need to know.”

 

Mitch hesitantly reached into the boot of Abel’s intact leg, pulling out a folded piece of paper. He mulled over the contents of the page for a moment before reading them aloud.

 

“‘Collection Goals: Sullene, Dorian: Overwatch; Michael, Yonatan: Horses, Haul; Rendevoux Point: Lilly, Me: Meet with the asset at Train Station; Fisher’s Launch: nine miles, Marina: thirteen miles; Phrases: Allegany, Tazewell, Augusta, Rockingham.’”

 

“We got a boat docked not too far from here.” He wheezed out.

“The phrases are city names. We use ‘em like a call and response so we don’t go shootin’ our own. Only one we use these days is ‘Rockingham’ .”

 

Mitch seemed satisfied with the notes, carefully folding the page back up and sliding it into his pocket. He crossed his arms as he stared at the dying man.

 

“I gave you what you wanted.” His words were almost unintelligible as he wasted away before them.

Please , don’t let me become one of those things.”

 

“Let him.” Clementine wanted nothing more for those disgusting eyes to become clouded over, to match the muddy water colour of all the people she’d been forced to leave that way.

 

“I wish.” Mitch relented.

“We can’t risk him getting loose and tearing someone up.”

 

A shame.

 

Clementine would have to settle with him at least not being able to hurt anyone. Even if it wasn’t the justice she wanted.

 

“Thank you… Thank y-you…” The man could barely hold his head up.

 

His time had come.

 

Mitch pulled a knife out of his back pocket, cautiously approaching him. There was hesitancy in his movements.

 

He’s never killed someone before.

 

“Let me do it.” She knew the first kill was never easy, even if it was out of mercy.

 

“N-No.” He turned his head halfway over his shoulder, barely casting her a glance.

“I got it.”

 

He placed a hand on one side of Abel’s head, holding him steady. In one quick motion, Mitch jammed his knife into Abel’s skull. The man made horrible cries as his brain shut down, blood squirting from the wound. Mitch removed his knife, taking several steps back as Abel flopped forward, the bastard finally dead.

 

“Are you alright?” Clem asked, watching his shoulders rise and fall with heavy breathing.

 

“I’m fine.” The boy said, wiping blood off of his hand.

 

“You know you’re a good person if it never gets easier.” A reason why she believed she was not good herself.

 

“The hell did you get caught up with these assholes in the first place?” Mitch turned back to her.

“You put up one hell of a fight for someone who lives with them.

 

“They took me. Just like they took your friends.” The gunshots from the past rung in her ears.

“I was living on a ranch. The Delta’s people showed up demanding we give them our horses. When we refused, they killed everyone.”

 

Her chest tightened as she remembered scurrying down the halls with AJ in her arms. The feeling of him being ripped away from her shattered her heart.

 

“There was a little boy I was raising. He was just a toddler…” She bit her lip, trying to hold back her tears.

“Abel decided killing me would be a waste, so he took AJ away from me and forced me to go along with the Delta’s fucked up agenda or else they would hurt him.”

 

“They took a toddler ?”

 

“Are you really surprised?” A nervous laugh escaped her throat.

“If I don’t stop Lilly from going back to the Delta she’s going to kill him.”

 

Or worse, brainwash him into believing Lilly’s bullshit.

 

“Are Minnie and Sophie on this boat of theirs?”

 

“I don’t know, maybe. I don’t know who she is.” She remembered seeing a girl with ginger hair briefly during her transfer, but who knows who she was.

“I’m not a real member of their community. They keep me locked up alone until they need me. I’m just a trained dog to them, not a person.

 

Clementine finally glanced back at Louis, who looked at her with his mouth agape, horror in his features.

 

Mitch followed her gaze to the boy, frowning. He walked towards Louis, placing a hand on his shoulder.

 

“I guess it’s your turn.” Mitch nodded to him before leaving.

 

Louis stepped fully into the light. Grief crossed his freckled face as he stood over the girl he had fallen for. His eyes were still puffy from a night spent in tears. He said nothing for a while, mouth opening a few times but no words exiting.

 

Clementine couldn’t do anything but stare expectantly at him, her heart racing.

 

“Who are you?” He asked in all sincerity as if the two of them had never met. As if the two of them had never confided in each other. As if they had never shared that kiss only the night before.

 

“You know me, Louis.” Her voice broke.

“You know me better than anyone.”

 

“Do I?” Louis snapped, causing her to recoil slightly.

“‘Cause I think I was missing a few pretty major details.”

 

His face softened a little, mulling over his thoughts.

 

“Did you mean any of it?” The boy asked softly.

“The things you said… The things you did… and… last night in the music room. Was any of it real ? O-Or was it all part of some act?” He practically pleaded for a response, his eyes becoming glassy with fresh tears.

 

“All of it!” Clementine cried through shaky breaths.

“Of course I meant everything! Louis, I wouldn’t do that to you.”

 

Did he really doubt her? After everything? Guilt clawed at her heart as tears pricked at her eyes.

 

I can’t lose him.

 

“Louis, please. ” Clementine begged.

“You have to believe me. I wasn’t lying about how I feel about you. I…”

 

Her words trailed off as her throat became clogged with tears.

 

“I can’t keep watching the people I care about die because of me. I can’t keep watching my little boy suffer because of that bitch.” Why did she continue to fail at protection? Was she really that worthless?

“I just wanted us to be free.”

 

“You did all this to protect your kid?” He seemed to begin to understand.

“But then why did you fight back? You said Lilly’s gonna kill him when she gets to him, so why didn’t you just hand us over like you planned?”

 

Do you really need to ask me that?

 

Maybe he just needed to hear it from her.

 

“I couldn’t lose you.” Her voice came out as a croaked whisper.

“I’ve never had someone like you before. Someone who looks at me and sees something more than a broken shell of a person. Someone who tries to put me back together instead of leaving me on my own to figure it out myself.”

 

Other groups she’d infiltrated never really gave a damn about her. They tended to treat her like a stray cat, giving her food but mainly keeping their distance. This was something she’d come to expect… Until she met Louis.

 

“You were there for me like no one else, someone I could lean on.” Someone she desperately needed.

 

Hot tears began to slide down her face, flowing freely as she didn't have the freedom to wipe them away. Clementine sat before him a pitiful mess.

 

“I was going to tell you everything, once this was all over. I was going to sneak onto the boat and go save AJ myself and bring him back here.” She wanted to fold in on herself, to disappear.

“It was a stupid plan but it was all I had and now Lilly got away, Violet, Omar, Aasim, and Brody are gone, and Marlon is dead and it’s all my fault.

 

I don’t deserve to be alive.

 

“You're wrong.”

 

What?

 

“That shit isn’t your fault.” Louis said assuredly.

“We all would have died or been kidnapped if it wasn’t for you. You saved as many of us as you could.”

 

Clementine couldn’t begin to describe how much those words meant to her. She was so sure that Louis would hate her but… perhaps a part of him did. It wasn’t plausible for him to just forgive her like that.

 

“And to be honest… we need you.” He confessed.

“Half of us are gone, we’re scared, and we don’t know what to do.”

 

He placed his hand on her right arm, leaning in slightly as they locked eyes. Several emotions swirled in his soft brown eyes. He stared for a long moment, before letting out a defeated sigh.

 

“If you’re really one of us…” With one slice of his blade, Louis cut through the tape that held her forearm to the chair.

“...then help us.”

Chapter Text

Within the hour Clementine found herself hiking through the forest along with Mitch, Willy, and Louis. Mitch lead the way, map in hand, guiding the four of them towards the river where the boat was docked. The silence between them was deafening. The shaken trust left a gap that made her feel isolated from the rest of them. Every time she glanced over at Louis, he always had his eyes trained forward, concentrating on the path ahead, as if he was struggling not to look back at her. Louis claimed he forgave her, and maybe he wanted to, but Clementine could see a darkness in his eyes that held some semblance of coldness.

 

He hates me.

 

Clementine bit her lip and tried to focus on the task ahead of her, following along without a word.

 

“There it is.” Mitch picked up the pace as they entered a clearing above the river.

 

The four of them ducked low as the boat came into view. Clementine retrieved a pair of binoculars she’d looted from Yonatan’s body. She scanned large vessel, noting the guards patrolling both the pier and top deck.

 

“This is it.” Clementine confirmed. The rusted sheet metal haphazardly welded on hardly made the ship look seaworthy, it was honestly a miracle the thing could float.

“Prisoners are kept on the second deck. I know the way, it’s where I was held when they brought me here.”

 

“Why did they put you in a cell?” Willy asked.

 

“They always told me I was one of their people but it was never true.” She spit, holding but the memories of the shit Lilly had put her through.

“They treated me like an animal, kept me in a kennel. I wasn’t allowed in general population.”

 

Four blank walls and only my thoughts to keep me company.

 

Hell .

 

“I only went along with it to keep AJ safe. I’d never met a group that seemed worth the risk of fighting back before.”

 

“Well, I’m glad we had that effect on you.” Mitch said almost jokingly.

 

Movement caught her eye on an opening of the third deck. The woman she’d pinned with the couch escorted a young blonde girl at gunpoint. Clem spotted the girl’s head turn in her direction, taking a fleeting glance at freedom before disappearing back into the boat.

 

“I saw Violet!” Clementine gasped, her friend within sight but out of reach.

 

“We really found them.” A glimmer of hope shined in Louis’ eyes at the prospect of successfully bringing everyone home.

 

Finding them would be easy, actually getting onto the boat in the first place was another story. The pier itself had been messily lined with crates, creating a decent amount of cover, but the only way to actually reach the pier was to walk through a wide-open path. Absolutely no cover.

 

We’re going to need one hell of a distraction.

 

A loud shout from one of the raiders on the pier caused them all to jump in surprise. They froze for a moment before realizing they weren’t the cause of the alarm. Three active corpses stalked their way towards the guard. He didn’t even have a chance to fire his gun before each walker dropped to the ground in front of him, each picked off by Dorian from the top deck.

 

If she spots us we’re dead.

 

There wasn’t a better sniper within their ranks.

 

“So what, all we need is like, a dozen walkers?” Louis chimed in, only half amused.

“How hard can that be?”

 

“Maybe not as hard as you’d think.”

 

“Hey guys, check this out.” Willy called to them in a hushed voice.

 

A few more docks lined the riverbed, each loaded with crates of furniture and building materials. Nothing but a few ropes prevented the wooden platforms from floating away.

 

Spoils from the train station most likely.

 

“We should have that stuff.” The young boy’s tone was filled with frustration.

“I could build traps, weapons.”

 

“That could work as part of our distraction.” A plan was starting to form in her mind.

 

“I saw some horses tied up down the path.” Mitch pointed out.

“We could use the torches to burn the hay and the cut the rafts free, divert their attention in as many directions as we can.”

 

“Sounds like a plan, now all we need is a shit-ton of walkers to get us right to the boat.” Clementine was starting to feel confident in their odds.

 

We’re smart.

 

Smarter than all of them.

 

“How exactly are we going to lead a herd of walkers to the boat without getting chewed up?” Louis was understandably skeptical of the idea.

“Where the hell are we even going to find that many walkers?”

 

“I think I have a way.” A previous encounter sprang to her mind. A boy in the woods who might be willing to lend them a hand. Clem didn’t know how much their brief meeting was worth, but it couldn’t hurt to ask.

 

Right?

 

Clementine couldn’t really say she trusted James. He saved her life once, sure, but Clem knew the stories that surrounded the group that wore walker skins. Ruthless bastards who believed fiercely in survival of the fittest. She wondered how much of that mentality stuck with him since his escape. Clementine would lead with caution around him. The last thing she needed was to lose someone else because of misplaced trust.

 

“I… snuck out. About a week after I showed up here. I ran into a boy in the woods who used to be part of a group that could control walkers.” Clem felt best to leave out the gory details of the Whisperers.

“He lives somewhere in the area if we can track him down maybe I could convince him to help us lure enough of them to the boat.”

 

Honestly, any plan was better than no plan at this point.

 

“Why the hell would he help us?” Mitch’s disapproval was clear on his face.

 

“He wanted to help me when we met in the woods. Offered to let me stay in his camp for the night. If all I’m asking is for help moving some walkers, he might be willing to lend a hand.” It couldn’t hurt to ask, right?

 

Mitch crossed his arms as he considered bringing in a stranger to help them.

“Fine, but you’re not going alone.” He wasn’t a fan of the idea but it was as good a bet as any.

 

“I’ll go.” Louis piped up, stepping forward.

“You two go back and tell the others about what we saw, I’ll go with Clementine to find this guy.”

 

Clementine flashed him a small smile which he only briefly returned.

 

“Fine, but be careful around this guy.” Mitch bid them good luck as they split into two groups and headed in opposite directions.

 

As the two of them walked the trail alone, Clementine struggled to find something to say. Anything to fill the silence. She didn’t have to though, because Louis decided to speak first.

 

“Why did you sneak out?”

 

“What?” Her voice caught in her throat for a moment.

 

“You said you met James on a night you snuck out.” He glanced at her nervously but spoke as if the question had been eating at him.

“So… why uh, why was that?”

 

Raider business.

 

Clementine would rather not let him know she had been spilling all their secrets, but how could she keep lying to him?

 

“Part of my mission was to check in with Lilly and Abel. Tell them what I’d learned.” The memory made her sick to her stomach. Willingly going back to her captors like an obedient animal. Telling their enemy everything they wanted to know.

“I’m really sorry.”

 

“O-oh.” The look on his face told her that was the answer he was hoping not to get.

 

“That was… the morning we ran into each other. Before the hardware store.” Clementine felt

chilled in comparison to the warm memory of falling asleep in Louis’ arms.

 

Will we ever be the same?

 

She guessed it was too soon to tell. Maybe after all the bullshit with the raiders. Maybe then, they could figure out what they were now.

 

A loud chop echoes through the trees as they made their way down the path. They froze in place, readying their weapons.

 

“A raider?” Louis whispered as they ducked behind a moss-covered tree.

 

Clementine carefully peeked around the tree. Another chopping sound guided her eyes to a girl with flaming orange hair. The girl held an axe high above her head before bringing it down on a small log, splitting it in two. She didn’t seem to be a patrol unit, which gave Clementine some hope that Mitch and Willy wouldn’t encounter anyone this far into the treeline on their way home.

 

A soldier.

 

“Stay here, I’ll see if they know anything we can use.” Clementine flipped her knife around in her hand.

 

Louis nervously glanced between her and the raider before giving her a determined nod. A silent message to be careful.

 

Clementine tread carefully over the fallen leaves, leaving not a single crunch to give her away before she stood only a few feet behind her.

 

“Rockingham.” She said with conviction, causing the redhead to flinch mid-swing, missing the log in front of her.

 

The soldier spun on her heel towards Clem, expecting one of her comrades but instead getting her axe violently ripped from her grasp. Clementine kicked out the girl’s leg, sending her to her knees with an arm twisted behind her back and a blade pressed to her throat before she had a chance to cry out.

 

“The people you stole.” Clementine spoke with words laced with venom.

“Did Lilly hurt them?” She knew Lilly’s tactics. Inducing fear early on to break any will to escape.

 

“I-I don’t know what you’re-” The girl’s words were cut off by the knife being pressed harder against her skin on the verge of slicing it open.

 

“I’m not fucking around.” She growled. She held no sympathy for any of these people.

 

“N-no. They’re fine.” The redhead claimed though Clementine wasn’t too convinced.

 

“Clem! Stop!” Louis rushed over, keeping his voice low.

 

The Delta soldier took the moment of distraction to wrestle her way out of Clementine’s grasp, sending the smaller girl backwards with a shove. The girl eyed the axe laying in the dirt for a moment though she never dived for it, instead freezing when she saw the boy who stood next to her attacker.

 

“Hi, Minnie.” Louis said in slight disbelief.

 

Clementine looked back and forth between the two past friends.

 

This is Minerva?

 

He slowly approached her, pulling her in for a brief hug. Minerva rested her head on Louis’ shoulder, lips slightly parted in shock at the chance encounter. She buried her face into the fur of his collar before pulling away.

 

“After the attack… I wasn’t sure. I mean, I heard they burned half your school down.” Minerva spoke in a soft, slightly gravelled voice.

“Who survived? Marlon? Ruby? Tenn?

 

Her little brother.

 

“Tenn’s fine, so is Ruby, b-but Marlon…” Louis’ words faltered as he bit down on his lower lip.

“He didn’t… didn’t make it.” His voice grew soft as his gaze fell to the grass below his boots.

 

Minerva seemed to share his moment of grief, Scrunching her nose in not disgust, but sorrow at the news of her betrayer’s death. Disgust eventually did cross her features though, but only when she had Clem in her sights.

 

“Clementine.” She spit, crossing her arms.

“You’ve got some fucking nerve showing up around here after the shit you pulled. Fucking traitor.”

 

“I never wanted to be a part of the Delta. I saw a way out and I took it.” Her loyalty had always been empty. Reinforced by fear instead of respect.

 

‘A way out’? By turning my friends into an army and leading them into battle?” She raised her scar-crossed eyebrow.

“It’s a miracle Marlon was the only one who died from your dumbass idea. You ruined our whole plan.”

 

“That is some grade-A horseshit.” Louis countered.

“Clem saved us. Lilly would have taken us all.”

 

“And you all would have survived it.”

 

“You really think it would have been better if we’d just given up?” Clementine challenged.

“You really think it would have been better for your little brother to be caught up in all this? It’s bad enough they’ve already got Violet.”

 

Tennessee deserves better.

 

No one deserves to be a slave to the Delta.

 

“At least we’d be together as a family again.” The stoic girl’s demeanour cracked with a hint of emotion at the mention of her younger sibling and former girlfriend.

“Unlike you. Your little boy is fucked because of what you did. At least at the Delta, he has people who care about him.”

 

“You shut your fucking mouth!” Her voice began to rise. This was all for AJ. Why was that only apparent to her?

 

“Easy.” Louis put his hand on her shoulder, attempting to deescalate the situation.

“Minerva, where’s Sophie?”

 

Minnie’s eyes widened before being squeezed closed. The girl hesitated for a moment, taking a deep breath before responding to his question.

 

“Sophie…” Her voice wavered at the mention of her sister.

“Sophie died protecting the Delta. A hero.” The amount of pride in the way she spoke of her sister’s demise made Clem’s stomach twist. Lilly had dug so far into this girl’s head she wasn’t sure if there was anything they could do to undo it.

 

Louis let out a fatigued sigh, emotionally exhausted from losing so many of his friends. Old wounds no doubt reopened from lost hope of bringing both of the twins home.

 

“You could still come home, Minnie.” Louis pleaded.

“Disappear right now, help us get the others back later. We can do this.”

 

“I can’t. Someone would get hurt if I up and deserted too.” The taller girl cast a sharp glare at Clem.

“I can take care of myself, Louis.”

 

Clementine knew it wouldn’t work. Minerva had clearly completely drank the kool-aid. The collar she wore wasn’t coming off anytime soon.

 

“Minerva!” A sickening older voice called from the path ahead. Clementine practically shoved Louis into cover as a sharp burst a fear shot through her chest.

 

“Rockingham!” The girl called back, finally retrieving her axe.

 

We’re fucked.

 

Clementine’s nails dug into the leather of Louis’ coat, prepared to drag him away from this place if Minerva showed any sign of giving them away. Both teens held their breath, not daring to make the slightest sound as they sat at the mercy of whatever bond she still valued with her former friends from the school. Minerva cast them a side glance, pursing her lips together as Lilly appeared at the end of the trail.

 

“Finish up your work. I want to be in before dark.” The evil woman ordered with annoyance in her voice.

 

“Yes, ma’am!” Minerva didn’t immediately out their presence to Lilly, but once the girl was out of sight down the trail she wasted no time dragging Louis away from that place.

 

---

 

Clem spent a decent portion of their walk filled with paranoia, shooting a glance over her shoulder twice a minute for any sign of pursuers. Each peek coming up empty but doing nothing to calm her nerves.

 

“Do you really think Minerva would tell Lilly that she saw us?” Louis didn’t seem willing to believe it.

 

“She’s not the same person that you knew, Louis.” Clem knew Minerva was too far gone to be trusted.

“Those people brainwash you into believing what they do. It doesn’t take long to lose who you used to be.”

 

“Shit.” He tried to focus his attention on the path ahead, his shoulders drooped and Chairles swung loosely in his right hand. Suddenly his pace shifted, the space between them closing as he walked by her side.

“It doesn’t change anything. We still need to get onto that boat.”

 

Even the heat of the afternoon sun couldn’t warm her skin. Her body constantly felt cold. As if liquid nitrogen ran through her veins. But standing so close to Louis she could practically feel the warmth radiating off of him. She swung her hand out a little father than her natural pace dictated, her fingers just barely grazing his. A simple, fleeting touch that sent electricity through her arm, feeling it deep in her heart. Louis didn’t seem to respond to her touch, but the concentrated expression across his freckled face made it difficult for her to read his thoughts.

 

Her eyes fell closed as she walked next to him. Piano notes danced through her mind on repeat.

 

Clementine.

 

The song he named for her. The song he poured his heart and soul into.

 

The song played vividly in her ears as if they were back home, sitting in the piano room. The music swirled through her, her heart fluttering with every gentle press of the keys. The feeling of his lips against hers was something she’d never forget, and something she feared deep down that she wouldn’t feel again. The time they spent together the night before was the happiest she’d been in longer than she could remember.

 

Last night.

 

All of it, not even twenty-four hours ago. God, how could everything become so fucked in just a short amount of time?

 

A sudden jolt broke her out of her own head as she stumbled forward a little. Her ankle stung slightly from the impact of the root she’d tripped over.

 

“You alright?” Louis shot her a quick concerned look.

 

“Yeah, I just tripped.” Clem brushed it off, speaking slightly out of breath. She hadn’t realized how unsteady her breathing had become.

“Let’s just find James.” Her limbs felt heavy as the beginnings of her exhaustion clawed at her heels.

 

Clementine was just eager to get this over with before the thumping ache in her chest sapped away the rest of her energy.

Chapter Text

The air that filled the vast forest rushed past them causing Clementine’s curls to dance in front of her eyes. The smell of decay on the breeze carried with it the melancholy of this never-ending day. The afternoon sun stung her eyes as it created an uncomfortable contrast between the heat of its rays against her hair and the overall chill of the air around her. The second set of footsteps by her side crunched twigs under his boots as he followed her lead.

 

She looked around with a weary gaze, searching for any sign of that boy she’d met those weeks ago.

 

Maybe he moved on.

 

No, she hoped not at least. James had spoken as if he’d been in the area for a while. He knew about the school and who inhabited it after all. Though perhaps the gunshots of the night before convinced him to roam elsewhere.

 

Whisperers lived with walkers, right? Clem scanned the ground for any signs of disturbances. The dried dirt left little footprints to leave their mark in, but she spotted a familiar scaping dragged repeatedly across the ground. Several bodies sloppily marching along the trail.

 

We’re getting closer.

 

Louis and Clementine both stopped dead in their tracks as undead groaning filled the air. They both ducked down, weapons at the ready as they snuck around the remnants of what appeared to be a ruined camp. Walkers flooded the area, pacing back and forth around the trashed clearing as if guarding it. A familiar looking cart laid abandoned among the debris, a clear sign of who exactly caused this madness.

 

“Looks like Lilly came through here.” She pointed out, keeping her voice at a hushed whisper.

 

“Is this your friend’s camp?” Louis matched her volume as they scanned the area for any sign of the living.

 

“It’s gotta be, right? Who else camps out in the middle of the forest?” This setup was clearly recently used. Hot coals still glowed from the fire pit and the tent pitched between two crossed fallen trees had not been taken down by the weather.

“I don’t see him anywhere though.”

 

“If Lilly and her people came through here… do you think she took him?” Louis’ question didn’t have a chance to be answered before the sound of someone clearing their throat behind them caused the two teens to nearly jump out of their skin.

 

They turned to face the boy who had silently snuck up on them. Although this was the first time she had seen his face without the walker skin mask, Clementine recognized his soft eyes to belong to the same boy she met a few weeks ago.

 

“James.” Clementine greeted with a concerned look at the frazzled boy.

 

He knelt down with them, wincing at the pain of his tightly bandaged arm. Blood had seeped through the gauze, staining the outside of his sleeve.

 

“What happened here?” She asked the injured boy, who simply shook his head as he put a hand over his wound.

 

“Those people… they looked like they had kids from your school.” James grit his teeth as he recalled it.

 

“They charged right through my camp. Horses and carts. I barely got away once they started shooting. Walkers flooded in after all the noise.”

 

“Bastards.” Louis swore.

“Let’s get out of here before those dead heads spot us.”

 

“I can’t leave yet.” James stressed, looking out across the destroyed camp.

“My bag is still in there. I need it. But my mask is in there too, I’ve been trying to lure the walkers away for hours but they just won't leave.”

 

“Louis and I will handle it.” Clementine assured him as she unsheathed her knife, but the sight of it only made his face twist further in worry.

 

“Wait, just… I ask that you don’t harm them.” The quiet boy spoke nervously.

 

“You want us to… not kill walkers?” Louis raised an eyebrow, gripping Chairles firmly in his hand.

“And do what? Have a nice chat?”

 

Please.” He begged.

“Just draw them away while I grab my bag. I only need a minute.”

 

Clem bit her lip as she considered it. She knew they needed James on their side. How hard could distracting the walkers be? As long as they managed to not get cornered James’ request wouldn’t be too difficult to honour.

 

“Clem, we’ll get chewed up out there.” Louis argued, uncertain of the plan.

 

“We’ve got this.” Clem assured.

“Get their attention, but keep your distance.”

 

Louis nodded, uncertainty still present in his eyes. The pair split up from James.  Clem ran along the edge of the campsite, the smell of the dead stinging her nose as she kicked the knee out of any walkers that got too close. Knocking them down only gave her a few seconds before they rose to their feet, ready to charge her once more.

 

Any time now, James.

 

Louis seemed to be doing alright at least. Although his performance lacked his usual bravado. His brows were knitted together as he wordlessly swung Chairles into the bodies of the approaching walkers, the nails of his bat tearing into the rotted flesh causing dark blood to stain the light wood of his weapon.

 

Clementine looked away just in time to jump out of the way of a walker that lunged at her.

 

“We can’t keep this up!” She ran to James who continued to search for his missing bag.

 

“I can’t find it! The horses must’ve-” He stopped when his eyes caught sight of the small blue pack lying at the foot of an approaching walker.

 

“HEY! OVER HERE!” Louis yelled across the clearing. He stood atop a log, waving his bat in the air. It was clear the living wasn’t his intended audience.

 

“Louis, no!” Clementine called in surprise as all of the walkers began to make a beeline for him. Snarls erupting from their rotted throats as they hungrily grabbed for their newest target. Adrenalin shot through her as she looked around anything to draw them away.

“The cart!” She and James nodded to each other as they pushed the heavy damaged cart across the clearing, the bent wheels making a loud screeching noises as the two teens struggled to get it to move. Clementine used all of her strength against the stubborn metal, eventually managing to push it down an incline causing a loud crash before the two dashed just into the treeline.

 

They circled back around to the camp. Clementine let out an audible sigh of relief when she saw Louis unharmed.

 

“That wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.” She tried to joke.

 

“We’re okay.” The freckled boy cast her a small but genuine smile, looking relieved to see her uninjured as well.

 

James rooted through his pack, seeming satisfied with its contents.

 

“Thank you. I couldn’t leave this behind.” The walkers had left but his voice still carried a whispery tone. His face quickly switched from cheerful to confused as he stood to face his two incidental saviours.

“I didn’t think we’d run into each other again. What are you doing out here?” His words were more directed to the girl.

 

“Actually, we came to find you, James.” Clementine crossed her arms, nervous about what she was about to ask of him.

 

“Me?” His confusion only grew.

“Why?”

 

“You were right about what you saw. Those people attacked us, took some of us and even killed another.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Louis squeeze his eyes closed as he turned his face towards the ground.

“We have a plan to get them back, but we need walkers. A lot of them.”

 

James scratched the back of his neck as he cast her a skeptic look, brows knitted together as he considered the consequences of her request.

 

“I wouldn’t ask you to fight for us, James.” She clarified, voice turning to a desperate tone.

“All we need is walkers. Name your price, I’ll do what it takes.”

 

“If you really want my help… I need you to know what you’re asking of me.” He looked to both of them.

“There’s something I need to show you.”

 

---

 

The weather-worn walls of a dilapidated barn stood out from the endless rows of trees. The clearing was lined by an old wooden fence twisted with the weeds of the surrounding brush. A rusted weather vane of a rooster squeaked overhead as the wind passed by. James stopped in front of the barn doors, holding his mask in his hands as he turned to Louis and Clem.

 

“My people… my former people… had a practice.” The quiet boy beckoned them forward as he carefully grasped the door handle.

“We called it… collecting.

 

Clem and Louis through the crack in the door James had created. The foul stench of death was almost overwhelming. At least a dozen walkers roamed within the relatively small space, wandering from wall to wall as they decayed within the warm building.

 

He… collects them?

 

She bit her lip as her stomach turned, backing way before yesterday’s dinner could make a reappearance. Louis looked at her, their faces mirroring a similarly disgusted expression.

 

“They used them as a weapon, but I do this to protect them.” James explained, closing the door tightly.

“That’s why I brought you here. To see them as I do. As people. ” James’ words made no sense to Clementine.

 

“People? Inside of walkers?” Clem knew he couldn’t prove that. To be trapped inside of one if you turn… The idea sounded like utter hell.

 

“Well… Not people exactly, but something in between. Part of us is still in there, deep down.” He shared his philosophy with them.

“So few of us die anymore. We… turn. Not dead. Not alive.”

 

“Doesn’t sound like a very pleasant existence.” Louis commented, his stare untrusting of James.

“I think I’d rather be one or the other.”

 

“Think about it this way.” James continued.

“Has someone you cared about turned?”

 

The small scar above her right eyebrow began to burn. Time had faded the physical mark but it could never fade the memory. The scrapes and cuts that covered Kenny’s half-limp body as she desperately tried to help him. Her final goodbye to her dear friend would be a moment forever crisp in her head, as well as the screams he unleashed as the walkers tore him apart.

 

He’s out there, somewhere.

 

Crawling.

 

Clementine shivered in the afternoon heat. Her pained expression was the only answer James needed.

 

“I’m sorry. Perhaps this wasn’t the best way to explain.” The boy’s head drooped in shame.

“Didn’t mean to bring up difficult memories.”

 

Not sure what you expected.

 

“I lived with walkers for years. Still do in a way. Alone, walkers are harmless. Innocent. ” His tone became pleading.

“If you want my help, you’ll have to walk with them.”

 

His price.

 

“You want her to walk into that death trap?” Louis interjected.

“Fuck that.” He took a step forward, moving slightly in front of her.

 

“You need to understand what I’m talking about.” James challenged right back.

“She’s completely safe as long as she moves slow and stays quiet.”

 

Clementine had walked through herds before, but this was a new method of travel. You could die from not smothering yourself thoroughly enough in guts, so how effective could a simple mask be? She would be doomed if she was spotted. The cramped quarters between each walking corpse left no room for a hasty escape. Clem could vaguely hear the mumbling moans of the dead just beyond those doors.

 

“If it’s so damn safe then I’ll do it. Give me the mask.” Louis reached for the offered mask before Clementine snatched it from James’ hands.

 

“I’m doing it.”  The skin felt like dry leather. She hated touching walkers, the squishy diseased flesh was the most unnatural feeling. Yet here she was, about to wear one. She shuddered in anticipation, but there wasn't a chance in hell she was letting Louis walk in there.

 

“Clem, you can’t be serious.” Louis pleaded with her, fear for her life filling his eyes.

 

“I’ll be alright, I promise.” She smiled slightly, placing a reassuring hand on his arm.

“I’ve done this before.”

 

“Not like this.” He frowned, and he was right. This felt a lot less safe than covering herself with guts, but it seemed to work for James. Who was really safe around walkers anyway?

 

“Violet would do it for us.” A statement the boy couldn't argue with.

 

She’d do it for him, at least.

 

She hoped Violet would forgive her as he had.

 

Please just be okay.

 

As long as the others were safe Clem figured she could live with their opinions.

 

It was hard to remove her hand from Louis’ arm. Leaving him out there to surround herself with the dead. Clementine pulled the skin mask over her head, loose ringlets of her hair poking out through the opening in the back. The sickening reality of wearing another person’s skin made her face itch.

 

How the hell does James do this so casually?

 

This was way worse than the guts.

 

“The mask will disguise your scent.” James gave her a half smile as he prepared to let her in.

“Touch the windchimes, then tell me if you still think walkers are simply monsters.”

 

Clementine took a deep breath, the air tainted with the smell of rot. Her peripheral vision was slightly obscured by the mask, but she still caught James giving her a nod as she pressed open the barn door and slipped inside.

 

Low moans echoed off the walls as the undead wandered aimlessly withing their enclosure. Clementine stood frozen for a long time, almost certain she was about to be spotted. The walkers paid her no mind, however. The herd’s gazes were more transfixed on every little noise that snuck in from the outside world.

 

Clementine placed an attentive foot forward, inching her way through little by little. The walkers growled and gurgled from every direction. A thin, pale walker with a missing jaw lurched out in front of her, stopping the girl in her tracks. She held her breath, praying the thumping of her rapidly beating heart wouldn’t give her away. The empty muddy eyes of the walker stared into her soul as it tilted it’s head to the side. The loud caw of a crow made her flinch as her eyes, as well as the walker’s, darted up to the rafters. The black bird flapped its wings as it peaked in through one of the many holes in the roof. Clem mentally thanked her tiny friend as the suspicious walker moved on.

 

Her teeth clenched tightly together as she caught sight of her goal. The metal chimes twinkled in the rays of light as they softly swayed.

 

There they are.

 

Her anxiety got the better of her for a moment. Her feet moving too swiftly. Too distracted to see the walked that swung at her. It’s hand collided with her chest, knocking the girl back with a small yelp. She froze once more, hands trembling as she traced the handle of her knife. The walker quickly lost interest in her however when another one shoved it from behind.

 

Another lucky break.

 

Clem wasn't sure how many of those she had left.

 

The chimes were so close…

 

Just a few more steps…

 

Clem looked up at the metal contraption as it hung above her head. Half of the original metal pipes had been replaced with screws and other scrap metal, each piece making a soft tink as they bumped into each other. Clementine reached up with one of her shaky hands, her arm only inches from one of the surrounding walkers. So close that she could feel it’s disgusting breath against her exposed skin whenever it made a noise. She ran her hand across the handing metal, the chimes ringing beautifully as the pieces clashed.

 

The increasing groans from behind her broke through the tranquillity of that moment. The creatures paid her no mind though. Their soulless eyes trained on the chimes. They all stared in what almost seemed like… curiosity. Heads tilting from side to side as they took in the music she had created. Unthinking, unfeeling beasts with eyes of wonder at the swinging metal.

 

The thought that there might be something else to walkers… Clementine didn’t like it. Walkers being so far removed from the living is what made them easy to kill. Killing walkers was an act of mercy. That’s why she shot Lee… Somehow getting caught in this in-between seemed even more hellish than before.

 

The second Clementine was released back into the fresh air of the outside, she ripped the make from her face as she took a deep, clean breath of fresh air.

 

“Clem!” Louis threw his arms around her, squeezing her tightly before frantically checking her over for bites.

“Are you okay? What happened in there?”

 

“I’m fine.” She assured with a smile.

“Still not bitten.”

 

Relief flooded his freckled face as they remembered they weren’t alone. Clementine handed the mask back to James, Thankful to not be touching it any longer.

 

“So… do you still only see them as monsters?” James asked eagerly.

“Now that you’ve seen them at peace… Any different? At all?”

 

“I… I don’t know.” Clementine’s eyes met the ground as she became indecisive on her answer.

“Maybe.”

 

People in walkers….

 

I never want to turn and find out.

 

“I’m not surprised.” James didn’t seem satisfied with her answer.

“I’ve never met anyone who understood.”

 

“Look, James, we really need your help. I walked through your barn, what more will it take?” Clem was emotionally fed up with this situation.

 

“I thought I could do this… but I can’t .” James confessed.

“So many walkers would die! I’m sorry Clementine… but I can’t have any more blood on my hands.”

 

“Excuse you? She just walked through your creepy walker barn to get you to help us and now you’re backing out? ” Louis’ anger and frustration mirrored her own.

 

I can’t believe this.

 

“James.” Clementine said coldly.

“That walker with the two different coloured eyes. What’s her name?”

 

“Her... Her name?” The question caught the boy by surprise.

 

“What about the one next to the windchimes? What’s his name?” He began to step back as she moved closer to him.

 

“H-how am I supposed to know-”

 

“Aasim. Brody. Omar. Violet. My friends all have names.” She scowled harshly at James, venom in her words. Having some philosophy about people inside of walkers was one thing, but putting their lived before those of the living?

“Do yours?”

 

James closed his eyes, contemplating her words.

 

“I may be stubborn, but I am not heartless.” He let out a heavy sigh.

“I can tell you have a good heart, Clementine. If your friends are anything like you, I don’t doubt they’re worth saving.”

 

Clementine flashed a smile to which he returned before slipping his mask over his face.

 

“We’ll meet you at the beach tomorrow night. Others will join the herd as we move.” There was still some slight hesitancy in his movements as he reached for the door handles.

“I can’t undo this.”

 

The moment the double doors opened wide the walkers within flooded out. James joined them as they moved, limping along as one of the dead.

 

“Let’s go.” Louis tugged on her sleeve.

“We need to tell the others about this.”

 

Chapter Text

As soon as the pair re-entered the safety of the school walls they split off from each other, Louis headed to find Mitch somewhere in the admin building, leaving Clementine alone to her own devices.

 

Clementine took the moment she had to herself to survey the damage. The smell of smoke and ash still swirled through the air as piles of charred debris littered the ground. Bullet holes from the previous night’s war dug holes into the toppled picnic tables.

 

Clem wondered what they had done with the bodies. She couldn’t bring herself to enter that basement again to see if he was still there. Dead or alive she relished in never having to see his face again. Yonatan’s crumpled corpse would have no doubt been moved from the hallway by now, dumped for walker food somewhere outside the walls. Then, of course, there was…

 

Marlon.

 

The blood had long dried on the ground but even without touching it she felt as if it would never leave her skin. The stain of her plan going to hell. Her eyes wandered from the crimson pool to the mounds of dirt aligning the graveyard.

 

One grave stuck out from the others. Grass had grown over the previous graves yet the dirt of one laid loose and fresh. The quiet whines of Marlon’s loyal companion broke Clementine’s heart as Rosie rested her body on the mound. Clem reached her hand out to the dog, letting her give it a sniff before she gave her a scratch behind her ear.

 

“Thank you for saving me.” She said to the dog as she ran her fingers over her warm rust-coloured fur.

 

Rosie gave her hand a lick as if to say “You’re welcome.” before leaving Clem alone with the grave.

 

A ring of golden flowers hung around the simple cross, the carefully twisted stems no doubt Ruby’s handiwork.

 

This grave shouldn’t be needed.

 

Clementine slowly sank to her knees as the name carved in wood stared back at her.

 

“I’m sorry, Marlon.” Sorry didn't even begin to describe how she felt about everything that had happened.

“I should have stopped this. You shouldn’t have died.”

 

Nothing but an eerie silence filled the air as she sat in silence among the graves. She didn’t know if he could hear her, or if he was even anywhere, but she hoped that somehow, he could.

 

“This isn’t going to happen again. I’m going to bring everyone home.” AJ included.

“Your death won't be for nothing. I promise.

 

---

 

Clementine’s feet carried her a little too anxiously to her dorm room. Turning the corner suddenly, she nearly collided Ruby as the short red-head peeked over the pile of pillows in her arms.

 

“Oh! Sorry I didn’t uh… didn't see you there.” She nervously laughed in her southern accent.

 

“What are those for?” Clementine pointed out the tightly clutched pillows, trying to remain casual.

 

“I was… thinking we could have a fun little hootenanny before we go rescue our friends. To raise spirits, y’know?” Ruby truly had a heart of gold. Even with her face still puffy from mourning her lost friend, she was still here going out of her way to make sure no one gave up hope.

“Tenn’s helping me set up the music room I was just grabbin’ these so we ain’t all just sittin’ on the floor.”

 

“That sound’s like a nice idea.” A moment to distract them from tomorrow.

 

“You can come if you want.” Ruby invited, giving Clem a warm smile.

“You don't have to if you don’t want to, but y’know.”

 

“...I’ll think about it.”

 

---

 

Clementine leaned against the door as she closed herself off inside her room.

 

A party, huh?

 

The emptiness of her dorm felt more inviting. Perhaps it was no longer her place to sit among them so casually. Curling up with her dusty pillow alone might save everyone the awkwardness of her acting like a wallflower, picking at the vines that poured in from the broken window, or spending her time just letting Rosie lay on her lap.

 

I doubt they’d really want me there.

 

Clem ran her hands through her hair as she flopped back on her bed, the old springs digging into her spine as she bounced slightly.

 

I just need to focus on tomorrow.

 

Tomorrow. The day the fight continued. They get their friends back and then for the kids of Ericson’s, the fight ends. Clementine couldn’t bring herself to include them in her own personal rescue attempt. Even if she succeeds, when all is said and done, when Lilly has gone and AJ is by her side, what would become of her? Would the others really be able to trust her again? Or would they decide it best for her to take her little boy and leave?

 

Clementine squeezed her eyes shut tight, too frustrated to think of the tomorrows yet to come. The days that don’t exist yet. The days she couldn’t touch. The only thing she really had? This moment.

 

Who better to remind her than the boy who came knocking at her door?

 

Three calm knocks caught the girl’s attention as she slowly sat up, rubbing her eyes.

 

“Come in.” She said, barely loud enough for him to hear her.

 

Louis quickly shut the door behind him when he entered. Clementine looked at the freckled boy expectantly as she stood.

 

“There’s uh… something I wanted to talk to you about but I wanted to wait until we got back.” The boy’s shoulders slouched as he leaned against the bookcase, arms folded and face deep in thought.

“You saved me last night. You shot that raider I was fighting… but you saw them dragging Violet away, too. She needed your help more than I did, but you still picked me. Why?

 

Louis’ words became weaker as he spoke, his voice growing uncertain with himself. By the time the final word escaped his lips, it was barely above a whisper and the way he slouched made it look as if he was trying to cave in on himself.

 

“I mean, I wouldn’t have picked me. Hell, I don’t know anyone who would have picked me.” This time his words flew out in a frenzy, eyes glued to the floorboards.

 

Haven’t I made it obvious?

 

“You were in trouble, too. I saw it and I couldn’t risk Lilly getting her hands on you”

 

God only knows what she would have done to him.

 

“You’re too important to me, Louis.” Their eyes finally met.

“I can’t lose you.”

 

Louis left his spot against the bookcase, pacing over to the boarded up window. He looked longingly through the cracks at the outside world.

 

“I know I’m always teasing her, trying to get her to do that one eye roll she does -you know the one- the one where it’s like ‘You’re such a dumbass’ she has to do a full-bodied eye roll.” Louis wasn’t one to be afraid to say how he felt about the people he cared about.

“I do it because when I do manage to make her laugh… It’s worth it.”

 

“We’re going to bring her home, Louis.” Clementine knew Vi was smart enough to keep her head down.

“Aasim, Omar, Brody. We’ll bring them all home.”

 

“I hope so.” The fear in his voice was poorly hidden.

 

“I’m going to make this right, Louis.” She promised.

“We sneak on, get the others out, and then I go after AJ myself.”

 

“Wait, you’re going back? ” Louis spun on his heel, shock mixed with horror swirled in his eyes.

“Clem they’ll kill you!”

 

“I don’t have a choice. I couldn’t live with myself if I just let him go.” Her nails bit into her arms.

 

So many people died to get us this far.

 

I can’t give up on him now, not while I’m so close.

 

“He’s my little boy. I’ve gone through hell to keep him alive, I’m not giving up now.”

 

My little Goofball.

 

“Well, you’re not doing it by yourself.” Louis took a step towards her, lightly grabbing her shoulders.

“I’ll help you save him. We can bring him home together.”

 

“I can’t ask you to do that for me.” This final battle was hers. It didn’t feel right for her to ask any more of her friends.

“If they caught you and didn’t just shoot you, they’d do things that would make you wish they would.”

 

“Which is exactly why I can’t let you go alone.” He refused to drop it.

 

“It’s exactly why you have to.” Clementine knew what to expect, how to be careful. Louis had no idea what he was getting himself into.

“I told you, I can’t lose you.”

 

“Well, I can’t lose you either.” Louis slowly closed the gap between them, his breath just brushing her lips as if debating if he should or not. Clementine could only stand frozen, waiting for his decision as she closed her eyes. Louis gave in, letting his lips crash into hers. Clementine’s fingers gripped his shoulders, bringing him as close as possible as she melted at his touch. The two only broke away when their breath ran out. Clem sank into the soft fur of his coat as he pulled her close. A soft smile refused to leave her face as she felt his lips press against her forehead.

 

“Glad you didn’t secretly hate me.” She chuckled, a warm feeling in both her heart and face.

 

“Thought about it, couldn’t do it.” He rested his chin on the top of her head.

“It felt way too damn wrong.”

 

“You’re still not coming with me.”

 

“Guess we’ll have to talk about it later then.”

 

Clementine let the topic rest for now, but she knew she couldn’t let him risk himself for this. She stepped back from him. She couldn’t help but match the smile on his goofy face.

 

Dork.

 

“So, shall we head out?” Louis smirked as he held his hand out to her.

“Ruby could probably use a hand putting the party together.”

 

Clementine bit her lip nervously, still feeling uncertain about her attendance.

 

“Are you sure everyone would want me there?” Her chest tightened with anxiety.

“I mean, I’m pretty sure Mitch is still pissed at me.”

 

“Mitch is always pissed about something. ” He joked, waving his hand dramatically.

“If Mitch has a problem he’s just gonna have to deal with it. You’re one of us. Nothing’s changed.

 

She couldn’t begin to tell him how much that meant to her. All Clementine wanted was a chance to fix what she had broken, but it seems she had underestimated how much they cared about her.

 

One of them

 

Part of their family.

 

Clementine slipped her hand into Louis’, intertwining their fingers.

 

“Let’s go then.”

 

---

 

Ruby and Tennessee busied themselves planning decorations for their little party idea. The redhead held her hands up, framing an area she wanted for a banner. The two of them greeted Clementine with warm smiles.

 

They’re really not angry.

 

“Need a hand?” Clem smiled back.

 

“Sure, these damn candles have been givin’ me trouble forever” Ruby furrowed her brows.

“I wanted to light this place up all pretty but I can’t decide on a colour.”

 

Clem examined the three dyed mason jars in front of her, something about the purple standing out to her from the red and green ones.

 

“Purple was my dad’s favourite colour, so how about this one.” She carefully held the glass jar in her hands, the calming purple brought back memories of the small garden her dad kept in the front yard. The glistening jar held the same hue as the tiny petals of the flowers she helped him plant.

 

“I heard purple’s the colour of royalty.” Ruby enthralled.

 

“And that describes us exactly not at all.” Louis piped up with a snide joke. He leaned an arm against a dust-covered gramophone as he flipped through the record selection.

“This old thing used to belong to the headmaster. Dug it out so I’m not stuck on piano duty all night.”

 

“Got any classical in that pile?”

 

“A woman after my own heart.”

 

Hell yeah.

 

“Hey, Clem” A small voice called from behind her. Tennessee greeted her kindly with a paint can hanging from his left hand.

“Wanna help me make the banner?”

 

“A banner?” Tenn nodded to her as he held up part of a long sheet of fabric.

 

“I was gonna paint something motivational on it.” He spread the rough sheet flat across the floor as Clementine kneeled down next to him.

 

She wasn’t one for arts and crafts, at least, not in recent years, but the feeling of the brush in her hand as she swirled the paint across the banner was freeing in a way.

 

We’re bringing them home.

 

It was a simple message, but a hopeful one.

 

“I think that’s all I need for now.” Ruby confirmed seeming pleased with the plan.

“By the way, Mitch and Willy wanted to talk to you up in the office. Said they had an idea to stop them raiders from coming back.”

 

---

 

The door to Marlon’s old office hung open upon her arrival. She stood hesitantly in the doorway, lightly knocking on the wooden frame as she peered inside.

 

“Come in.” Mitch barely looked up from his spot on the floor across from Willy, the two of them fiddling with a suspicious looking plastic jug. The floor was scattered with open books turned to various pages.

 

Knowing Mitch and Willy that thing’s another bomb.

 

“Ruby said you wanted to see me?” She stepped into the room but kept her distance from the probable explosive.

 

“We were tryna figure out how to stop those fuckers from coming back after we rescue the others, and Willy here came up with an idea that just might work.” Mitch smiled proudly as he ruffled the boy’s hair.

 

“We’re gonna blow up the boat!” Willy cheered.

“We stick this baby into the boiler and BOOM! No more raiders.

 

I fucking knew it.

 

“I’m noticing an explosive trend going on at this school.” Clem smirked with her hands on her hips.

 

“You bet your ass there is.” Funny how Mitch’s hobby seemed to match his anarchist personality. A trait that certainly rubbed off on Wily.

“Bombs are epic, and this little dude is a goddamn prodigy .”

 

“Aw c’mon, I’m not little.” Willy’s objection only earned him a playful noogie from the older boy.

 

“You’re shorter than me, kid, that makes you little.”

 

Clementine giggled at the exchange. A lighthearted moment in the midst of all this careful planning.

 

“Hey Willy, how ‘bout you go see if Ruby needs any help.” The younger boy caught the older one’s hint, giving him a nod before exiting the office.

 

Clementine felt her nervousness grow as Mitch returned to his serious demeanour. He gazed at the floor as he crossed his arms, letting out a sigh.

 

“I’m sorry.” His face softened as he looked up at her.

“For y’know… knocking you out, and tying you up. Everything felt so damn hectic I didn’t know what else to do.”

 

“I lied to you all, and your friend died because of it.” Clementine wished she had had the strength to tell them sooner, no matter how much the lies rotted in her stomach, the truth remained frozen in her throat. Lilly exposing her was something she kicked herself for allowing to happen.

“You had every reason not to trust me.”

 

“That doesn’t make it feel any less shitty. You risked a lot to save us, I get that. You had your reasons for doing what you did. Hell, If I had to pick between a group of strangers and Willy...” He scratched the back of his neck as he paced, gazing through the shattered balcony doors.

“I’m mostly worried about Brody. Like, if you just mention the possibility of someone coming to attack us she has a panic attack. I doubt she’s holding up okay.

 

“I’m still going after AJ once we get the others back.” She declared.

“I won’t involve any of you, but once I get him back… Can… can we both stay here at the school?” Her confidence drained as soon as she began to vocalize her question.

 

“What the hell kind of question is that? Of course you can.” Mitch chuckled.

“I’ll even take him on as another student.”

 

“You are not teaching my kid to make bombs.”

 

Mitch shrugged his shoulders before kneeling to pick up the mess of books.

 

The sound of music drifting through the halls caught their attention, signifying the party had started.

 

“Go on, I’ll catch up.” Mitch waved her away as he continued stacking books into his arms. Clementine gave him one last thank you before following the music to rejoin the others. She hadn’t even arrived to Ruby’s party yet her spirits we’re already feeling lifted.

 

---

 

The elegant tune of the classical record she’d chosen blared from the gramophone, decorating the air with a graceful melody.

 

She caught Louis spacing out next to his prized piano, eyes closed, nodding his head along with the tune. His lips parted in a lively grin as his dreads swung with his movements. He seemed at peace. Naturally, Clementine decided to interrupt him. She managed to move closer unnoticed to the point where she now stood only a foot away from him. She raised an eyebrow, before giving him a light tap on the tip of his nose. The startled boy jumped at the sudden touch, his eyes widening to meet her mischievous grin.

 

“The party just started and you’re already half asleep.” Clem smirked.

 

Please, I was just resting my eyes.” He gazed around at their friends, smiles adorning the face of every kid. The soft light of the candles reflected in his eyes as it bathed the entire room a brilliant purple, mingling with the moonlight spilling inside.

 

Louis slipped his hand in hers as they wandered to around the room, their bodies slightly swaying along to the music as they walked. She glanced back over her shoulder at the “potato” carved into the piano. It wasn’t exactly small. Clementine didn’t care if the others noticed it. It was probably pretty obvious to the others at this point about how she and Louis felt about each other.

 

The two said nothing as they moved with each other, clasped hands swinging between them. Louis twisted to stand in front of her, slipping a hand around her waist. The moment felt so whimsical, like something from a fairytale her mother would read her before bed. The prince and the princess dancing together as one during a grand ball. Though royalty they were not, no fancy clothes or pristine ballrooms, this moment was one she’d remember as magical for a long time.

 

“Alright everyone, gather ‘round.” Ruby set a bunch of steaming mugs on the floor as the others assembled themselves sitting in a circle amongst the pillows.

“I got a game for us.”

 

Clementine slowly sniffed the dark contents of her cup. The sweet aroma brought a warm feeling in her chest.

 

Tea.

 

“What kind of game?” The first small sip scalded Clem’s tongue but she didn't mind as she enjoyed having a hot drink.

 

“A guessing game. Since we’re all goin’ on this crazy rescue mission tomorrow, you should know who we really are. Ruby slapped the top of a box stuffed with folders.
These are our official Ericson’s psych evaluations and probationary reports! Basically, all the bad shit we did to get sent here.

 

And all the bad shit we kept doing that got us stuck here.” Louis added.

 

“I’ll make sure it’s someone you’ve actually met.” Ruby opened up the first file and cleared her throat.

‘While otherwise a remarkable student, Blank continues to be plagued with fits of anger, uncontrollable cursing, and repeated altercations with the senior faculty…’

 

Well, that really narrows it down.

 

“Come on that's like, all of you.” Clementine could name three off the top of her head that would fit that bill.

 

Hey, I am the most mild-mannered troubled youth ever.” Louis nudged her playfully.

 

“That’s Ruby’s file!” Willy blurted out in a fit of laughter.

 

“Holy shit, seriously?” Ruby always seemed like the mother of the group. The sweet one who looked after everyone.

 

“Our sweet Ruby here was... Kinda a nightmare when she first showed up.” Louis laughed nervously.

 

“She used to chase the adults all around the school. They were terrified of her.” Mitch added

“It was badass.

 

“That was a looong time ago.” the redhead laughed.

 

Holy shit.

 

Don’t underestimate the nice ones I guess.

 

She sat patiently as Ruby continued to flip through the box searching for another file. Her face slowly fell as she flipped on and on, looking for someone who was still with them.

 

“I… I hadn’t realized how many we’d lost…” Her fingers slowed as she let out a sad sigh.

 

“Remember that Justin guy?” Willy asked.

 

“And Therissa. And Jasper…” Tennessee continued naming their lost friends.

“That one girl with the coloured braces. And Joey. Maddie. Lamar…”

 

“Erin.” Louis’ sombre voice seemed to struggle to find volume.

“She had the braces.”

 

“Alex. Dewey. Trey. Stephanie.” Willy’s list seemed never-ending as the names continued.

“Holy crap, how many of us died?”

 

“Thirty-two.” Ruby’s number caused the kids to grow quiet as the feeling of loss hung over them.

 

All the friend’s they’ve lost.

 

So many kids, abandoned for no reason.

 

Ruby had scrolled all the way to the end of the alphabetical list when she carefully pulled out a file of someone gone, but hopefully not lost.

 

“Whose is it?” Clementine’s tone grew quiet.

 

“Violet’s.”

 

Vi…

 

“Should we read it?” Willy asked with hesitancy.

 

“I could tell you my story instead. What got me sent here, I mean.” Louis interrupted quickly, turning to Clem.

“Only if you want.”

 

Why Louis was sent away.

 

The look on his face told her it wasn’t a great story. Most likely his deepest, darkest secret. Clementine tried to guess in her mind what he could have done to be sent so far away from home. He wasn’t violent. He wasn’t mean. He was nice and sweet. What could he have done to deserve any of this?

 

“I was hoping you’d tell me one day.” She gave him an encouraging nod as he began to speak.

 

“So, my family was stupid rich. Parents gave me everything I wanted when I wanted it. Except for one thing: singing lessons. God, I begged my dad. Told him I wanted to be a real musician. But all he said was ‘You get to be happy, or you get to be rich, can't be both.’ I know now that he was just trying to teach me some dumb "dad" lesson... but I hated him for that. So I decided I teach him a lesson.” Louis bit hard on his lip as he paused.

“I thought, ‘I'll break up my parents' marriage. That'd hurt real bad, right?’ So I broke into my dad's credit card accounts and made all these purchases in his name. Did this for over a year . This is how rich we were: he never noticed that he was spending a fortune on a mistress that I'd made up for him. But I made sure my mom did. Sent her all the receipts for the hotel rooms, the jewelry... all of it. They had a fight all night long. He denied it. She wouldn't have it. I sat in a corner and cried to help it feel more real. When their divorce was final... I told them the truth. I said: ‘You get to be happy or you get to be rich. You don't get to be both.’

 

Louis’ eyes became glassy as he choked out those final words. Clementine sat almost frozen in shock.

 

He did that to his parents?

 

Louis always seemed afraid of hurting the people close to him. Always making sure they smiled and laughed, even at his own expense. Clementine now knew why.

 

“You know, those two would've been happily married forever. But then I had to go be a vindictive fuckhead .” His face contorted in anger, but only at himself.

“I came here... the week after”

 

“I can tell you regret it.” She said sympathetically.

 

“They told us we were bad people, Clem.” His voice broke.

“They weren’t wrong.”

 

“That person you used to be, that’s not you anymore, Lou.” Clementine knew he was just a kid who made a mistake, no matter how bad that mistake may have been.

“You’ve always been nothing but kind to me, even when I didn’t deserve it. You’re a good person, and I believe that whole-heartedly.”

 

The smallest of smiles appeared on his lips as if to say “Thank you”

 

“I’m sorry. This was supposed to be fun.” Ruby packed away the box.

“I guess I’m not really a ‘game’ person.”

 

“You said it yourself, Clem should know who she’s heading into battle with. ” Louis picked at a loose string in the rips of his jeans.

 

“Hey, Louis...” Tennessee spoke up from behind the pillow he was hugging.

“Do you remember when Minnie used to sing us ‘Don't Be Afraid’ when we all used to get scared?”

 

“Of course I do. I helped her compose it.”

 

“Could you maybe… play it for us? If Violet was here, she could sing the words. But…”  The scarred boy only grew more nervous.

 

“Yeah.” He said quickly.

“Yeah, I’d love to, Tenn.” His voice lacked enthusiasm but he moved towards his piano anyways.

 

Clementine saw him stare at their hearted initials for a moment before turning to the ivory keys. He ran his fingers lightly across the smooth buttons as he adjusted his position.

 

“This is for you, Minnie.”

 

The way he played was just as elegant as ever. Clem swayed from side to side as the notes filled the room A soft, gentle tune. A song written by a girl who once fought for these people, but now only worked against them. Surely it wasn’t too late for Minerva to come home. The Delta’s conditioning was brutal, but if Clementine could break free, so could Minnie. Right?

 

Soon the song faded out, the noise of the crickets outside filling the silence. Louis got up from his piano and rejoined the group, and picking up his mug.

 

“I think that deserves a toast.” He said, raising his cup into the air.

“To our last night alive!”

 

That’s encouraging.

 

“How about…” Clementine raised her own mug.

“To bringing everyone home!”

 

“Yeah… I like that one better.”

 

“To bringing everyone home!” The group all raised their forgotten cups, clinking them together as they drank its cooled contents.

 

To bringing everyone home.

Chapter Text

Clementine stood in the shadows as she felt the rumble of the train below her feet. Soft golden sunrays flooded in through the boxcar door. The breeze caused her cream-coloured skirt to flutter around her legs as she stepped closer to the open door. The air was a sweet smell. Wildflowers and autumn leaves.

 

A blur of gold and blue flashed by as the train looped endlessly, travelling without a destination. This train wasn’t heading to Savannah, which was good since that was the last place she ever wanted to be again. Cities were terrible, that’s all that place had taught her. Thousands of the dead hunting for any unfortunate soul who remained; the rotting stench suffocating every bit of air.

 

Ben, Molly, Chuck… nearly Kenny as well…

 

Any lost name was one too many. The names of those who tried to keep her safe only piled higher.

 

Katjaa and Duck.

 

Those who didn’t make it to the city.

 

Not to mention those who were lost from the start.

 

Mom and Dad.

 

The soft, kind smiles they always wore upon seeing her were replaced with the hungry grimaces of the dead at their final meeting with their daughter. Their dull skin ripped and riddled with bites. The sight searing into the young girl’s eyes.

 

Clementine grabbed the brim of her hat holding the unstained cap in front of her as she sat on the edge of the cool metal, her legs swinging freely off the side.

 

She traced her fingers over the seam of the D, the insignia showing no signs of wear. The surrounding white showed brightly. Her fingertips moved to the blank location of the one stain that never came out. The blood of the man who was by her side since the beginning. The stain was a reminder of her stupid, childish mistake, and the man who died trying to correct it.

 

Clem hugged the hat close with one arm, the other feeling through her tied-back hair. She let her fingers catch in the knots as she raked her hand through.

 

“I wish you wouldn’t do that, Sweetpea.”

 

Clementine’s heart jumped at the familiar nickname. She looked over her shoulder at the smiling man, so real in front of her it was as if the past eight years had not occurred. Same blue button-up over a long-sleeved white shirt.

 

Lee.

 

“Helps me focus.” Was all she could mumble out as her hand fell to her lap, replacing the cap on her head.

 

She focused her eyes on the weeds flying past, unable to look up at him as he joined her on the edge.

 

“The train again…” He stated.

“You always pick the train.”

 

The train where everything changed.

 

“This is where it all started. Where I learned to be a survivor.” Clem pointed out.

“Where you taught me to shoot and cut my hair.”

 

Clementine knew she’d let him down. Lee taught her better than this, but she still became just another monster.

 

“I’m sorry.” Her voice caught in her throat.

 

“You say that every time.” Lee let out a small laugh.

“And I still don’t think you have anything to apologize to me for.”

 

She glanced over at him, his kind eyes looked at her with a pride she didn’t hold in herself.

 

“It’s happening again. My friends are dying because of me, because I’m a liar.” Despair in her words as they rolled off her tongue.

“This group… I’ve been with so many, but this one is different. I want to stay with them. I’m sick of starting over.”

 

She just wanted to stop, even for just a moment. A moment to rest. A moment without a war. A moment without thinking about the next fight. A moment of peace.

 

“I’m scared, Lee. The others are counting on me, and I don’t know if what I’m doing is right.” Clem picked at the hem of her skirt.

“I don’t know where AJ is, or if he’s even still alive. And Louis… he doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into.”

 

“I don’t know what I’d do if I lost either of them.” Clementine bit her lip hard, taking a deep breath as she held back the tears.

 

“So Louis is your boyfriend, huh?” The man teased, trying to cheer her up.

 

“Shut up.” Clementine felt her face grow warm.

 

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, Sweetpea.” Lee chuckled as he patted her head.

“Finding love in a world like this, that's something worth fighting for.”

 

“He doesn’t even know AJ, but he still wants to help me save him.” She crossed her arms tight as a familiar fear crept up her spine

“If he got hurt or worse because of me, I couldn't live with myself. He doesn’t know what he’s up against. If he did, he would understand why I have to go alone.”

 

Her words hung in the air for a moment. Clementine’s frustration and fear hanging over her like a heavy fog, blocking her senses from all else.

 

“He understands that that boy means everything to you, and to him, that’s enough of a reason to fight.”

 

“Do you think AJ will like it at the school?” The physical conditions of the boarding school were rougher than at the Delta, limited food and no power or running water. But they’d be safe, and together. That would be enough, right?

 

“I don’t think that kid would care where he goes if he gets to stay with you.” Lee assured.

“How was he, the last time you saw him?”

 

God, it was so long ago.

 

“Okay enough, I guess.” But there was a worry that had been bothering her for some time, like an itch that couldn’t be scratched.

“I’m worried that Lilly’s been trying to get into his head.”

 

Lilly wasn’t exactly a positive influence on the boy. She was a master of manipulation, Clem feared it would be all to easy for her to shape AJ into whatever tool she wanted him to be.

 

All the more reason to kill her sooner.

 

“Lilly.” Lee’s voice was low, almost like a growl as the words passed his lips.

“I knew the day we kicked her out that she was turning into a monster. I just wish I’d noticed it a few seconds sooner.”

 

Carley.

 

“To think of all the trouble I might’ve saved you if I’d just gotten payback then and there.”

 

“You’re not the revenge type, Lee.” Clementine couldn’t imagine Lee gunning down Lilly on the side of the road for what she’d done.

 

“I didn’t think I was either until you got nabbed.” The man’s hands clenched into fists at the thought of that stranger.

 

“You were just protecting me. That’s why you kill, to protect people. That’s why I shot him, to protect you.” The second she’d pulled the trigger the gun felt as if it had grown a hundred times heavier, slipping through her shaking fingers as his body hit the floor.

“I’ve hurt so many people since then. People who didn’t deserve to die.”

 

She told herself it was what had to be done. But no amount of self-justification could take away the crushing knot in her stomach whenever she did it.

 

“I want Lilly to be the last. I don’t want to hurt any more people.” It was the closest Clementine felt to James’ pacifism. Yet killing walkers left no burden on her.

“Lilly dies, and I bring Violet and the others home.”

 

Hopefully, their rescue would make up for all of her lies. The sound of Violet’s screams as she was dragged away echoed in her head.

 

I hope you’re okay, Vi.

 

“I know it’s hard, Clem, but having people you care about? That's a good thing. ” Lee’s soothing voice gave her a sense of calm.

“You’ve got a little boy who thinks the world of you, and he’s waiting for you to go get him. Another boy who loves you, and would fight for you without hesitation. A best friend who risked her life to save yours. And all the other friends you’ve made. You’ll all be home soon, I promise.”

 

“You can’t promise that.” She knew Lee had no sway in the events to come.

“You’re not even really here.”

 

The man who stood before her was nothing but a wishful dream.

 

“I wish I was, Clementine. I guess we’ll just have to make do with pretending.” His smile fell as he let out a sad sigh.

“The last thing I wanted to do was leave you alone in the middle of this mess.”

 

“The world turned to hell, and you got stuck taking care of a little kid.” How long would Lee have lived if their paths hadn’t crossed? Surely longer than a few mere months.

 

“And it seems you followed right in my footsteps.” He jested. Lee had a point, circumstances be damned their situations had played out eerily similar.

 

Clementine glanced over at the man as he rose from his spot, catching his balance as the train rumbled beneath him. Lee stepped away from the light, the shadows of the dark car nearly obscuring his facial features.

 

“I’m so proud of you, Clem.” His voice caught with emotion.

“Don’t you dare forget that.”

 

Clementine couldn’t hold back anymore. The little girl jumped to her feet and flung her arms around him. She hugged him tightly as if he might disappear into the wind. A sob escaped her tiny body as her tears stained the blue of his shirt.

 

The train’s whistle cutting through the silence signified that their time was coming to a close. It took a lot for Clementine to force herself to let go of him, but when she did, Lee’s eyes filled with amazement as he saw his little girl all grown up.

 

“Wow…” He gasped.

“Just look at you.”

 

Clem took a step back as she blinked tears from her eyes. Her worn denim jacket and mud-stained cargo pants replacing her innocent summer dress and tights. Dark curls fluttered around her face no longer held back by her hat or hair ties.

 

“I’m done running, Lee. I have a home now. A family.” She promised him she’d always keep moving, but now she’d found something better.

“I have one more battle, then I’m done fighting as well.”

 

“Then I guess you’re off the hook.” He laughed.

“A home and a family is more than I ever could have hoped for you.”

 

The train whistled again, a rude reminder that it was time to go. Lee shook his head disapprovingly, seeming just as annoyed by it as she was.

 

“There are people that need you, Clementine.” He reminded with a soft smile.

“Come see me again once you bring everyone home. Okay, Sweetpea?”

 

“Okay, Lee.” Her heart felt like it was being ripped apart as she watched him disappear into the shadows

“Goodbye.”

 

The shadows swarmed around her, blocking out the golden hues until they were replaced with the overhead bars of her cold bunk bed.

 

Clementine sat up, stretching her arms over her head as she looked around the empty moonlit room.

 

A knock at her door made her jump.

 

“Clementine?” She heard Mitch call from the other side.

“It’s time to go.”

 

One more fight.

Chapter Text

The silver beams of the full moon guided them through the dark, twisting branches of the forest as the kids marched towards their final battlefield. The stars danced above, bidding the teens good luck on their mission.

 

Anxiety ran high at the possibility of failure. Being killed, or worse, being captured was a fate Clementine tried desperately to push out of her mind.

 

We push on, we fight on, we look forward, never back.

 

Clementine held her head high with her eyes trained forward at the path ahead as her boots stomped through the dirt. Her fingers fiddled with the strap of her quiver, making sure it was fastened securely as she gripped the metal bow in her other hand.

 

A smooth draw.

 

It was truly the best weapon the school had in their arsenal, but it couldn't compare to even a revolver. God, she wished she had a gun. Yonatan's rifle had been missing from his corpse once the dust cleared. Such a precious weapon no doubt snatched back by one of the other soldiers.

 

The burning orange glow of the distant torches cut through the blue of the night.

 

“You all know what to do.” Mitch addressed the group as they reached the clearing.

“Willy, you get the raft. Ruby and Tenn, free those horses. Me, Louis, and Clementine will go after the others and plant the bomb.”

 

A decently solid plan.

 

“Only the group going up to the boat needs to douse themselves in guts.” Clem added

“If we don’t regroup before the bomb goes off, don’t wait around too long. Every walker in the county is gonna make a beeline for this shore.”

 

Suddenly, a bright white light flooded the area as the kids threw themselves to the dirt. The spotlight paid them no mind as it moved past, focusing instead, on a walker lumbering towards the source. A loud gunshot rang, signalling the end of that walker’s journey.

 

Hopefully, James brought enough of them for us to sneak past her.

 

The kids kept their heads low as they picked themselves up.

 

“I guess now we just wait for your walker friend to show up with his herd.” Ruby whispered.

 

Speak of the devil.

 

“Won’t have to wait too long.” Clementine smirked, seeing the masked boy accidentally sneak up behind the redhead.

 

“Good Lord!” Ruby tried to contain her surprise at the sudden stranger.

 

“Uh, hi.” James stood awkwardly as the group stared at him. This must have been his first time around such a group in years.

 

“Guys, this is James.” Clem introduced.

 

The others didn’t seem too sure how to react upon actually meeting the guy who wore human skin. Their faces mostly held mild unsettlement mixed with wonder. That is, except for one.

 

“You’re mask looks so cool. ” Willy didn’t hide his enthusiasm but at least kept his voice down.
“How do you get the skin like that? Can I try it on?”

 

“I... uh… Clementine?” James begged for help. Even with all of the control he held over the walkers, he was powerless against this excited child.

 

“Willy. Cool it.” Mitch interjected before Clem got the chance.
“We got a job to do.”

 

“Right. Sorry.” Willy backed off, and James let out a small sigh of relief.

“It just looks so real.”

 

I mean, it is.

 

“Functional, and fashionable. I’ll take two.” Louis comment got a lighthearted eye roll from Clem and a small chuckle from James.

 

“The walkers will be here soon. I’ll lead them to the boat, but that’s as far as I go.” He reminded them.

 

“Thank you, James.” Clementine smiled before looking at the other kids. They looked back at her with confidence, which was reassuring.

“See you on the other side.”

 

When the group dispersed to wait out the arrival of their undead distraction, James pulled Clementine aside. She followed him to the edge of the path, where they stood just within the treeline.

 

“The noise from the boat will draw the herd towards the water.” He explained.

“You can join them as they pass through.”

 

“Then we can get on board and save our friends.” Clementine said determinedly.

 

A lone walker stumbled across the path, no doubt only a prelude for what was to come.

 

“Your friends aren’t what I expected. They’re… different. Open-minded. Accepting.” He seemed surprised.

“That’s not usually how my first impressions go. That one kid even called me… cool .”

 

“They could be your friends too, y’know. Once this is all over, you could come back to the school with us.” Clem offered.

“I didn’t think I could trust a group again after getting screwed over so many times, but these people are different. It really feels like a home.”

 

“I haven’t lived with a group in a long time but...” Clementine noticed him smiling through the hole in his mask as he thought about having a home.

“It does sound nice… I’ll have to think about it.”

 

James reached his hands behind his head, removing his mask and revealing his face. Clementine looked at the skin mask in his hands. Wearing it was one of the more unnerving things she’d done. She couldn't imagine wearing it full-time.

 

“There’s something I wanted to show you.” Nervousness crept into his tone.

 

The boy reached into his pocket, revealing a small plastic bag with a Polaroid photo inside. He cupped the photograph gently in his hands. Depicted in the photo were two boys, one who was clearly James several years younger, and another boy around the same age as him in the picture who also appeared to be of Korean descent. The other boy sat with his arm around James’ shoulder, the two boys smiling happily at the camera.

 

“This is… was… my boyfriend, Charlie. We joined the Whisperers together.” James confessed, admiring the photo with a wistful smile.

“But it changed him. In a way that couldn’t be undone. It changed both of us .”

 

“What do you mean?” All the stories Clementine had heard spoke of cruelty beyond all words. Closer to animals than people.

 

“The Whisperers were my.. Family … from a young age.” He continued, looking shaken as he recalled his past.

“I witnessed so much death and suffering. Eventually, I became the cause of it.”

 

James’ story began to mirror her own a little bit.

 

“Weakness was considered a poison, and I believed in that. Fiercely. One day, our Alpha had ordered us to attack a community that had wronged her in some way. And when another boy expressed sympathy for them…” James bit his lip as he held a hand over his face.

“...I slit his throat without hesitation.”

 

What?

 

“That doesn’t sound like you.” Clementine was taken aback by his words. James killed a member of his own group? Just like that? It sounded like he was telling the story of some other boy. It was hard to believe such a violent and bloodthirsty act came from the kind-hearted boy standing next to her.

 

“You killed a child?”

 

“I didn’t consider who he was, what he felt. Honestly, I don't even remember his name . All I knew was that someone like him would only slow us down.” James grimaced at his own actions.

“After he died, I kept hearing his words in my head over and over. ‘Those people are like us! Just on a different path!’ I stopped killing after that. I changed . But no one else did.”

 

Some evils just can’t be undone.

 

“The Whisperers preyed on the young especially, twisting their minds with their sick methods. I don’t want what happened to Charlie to happen to your friends.”

 

Clementine’s next words were cut off by the moans of the dead emanating from the path. Several of the undead began to emerge from the forest, following the light right to the boat.

 

“The herd will be upon us shortly. Soon there will be enough of them to provide cover.” James adorned his mask once again as he moved to inspect the herd’s progress.

“Good luck out there.”

 

Clementine nodded as she stepped out of sight back towards the clearing.

 

“Clem?” The small voice of Tennessee caught her attention. He played with his hands as he stood before her sadly.

“Louis told me… about my sisters.”

 

Poor kid.

 

“He said that… Sophie died… and Minnie is one of them now.” He looked down at his hands as he seemed to fight back tears for a moment.

“If you see her… can you tell her I forgive her?”

 

“Tenn…”

 

“I just want her to be happy. Where ever she decides to go.” The scarred boy said pleadingly.

 

“Tenn, look at me.” She knelt down to his height.

“I can’t promise how things are gonna go in there, but I can promise that I will try . If we find her, I’m going to try to convince her to come home. I mean, I changed, maybe she can too.”

 

“I changed, but no one else did.”

 

James words suddenly echoed in her head.

 

Would their stories end up following a similar narrative?

 

“Thank you, Clem.” The now smiling boy hugged her tight.

 

“Stay safe out there, okay?” Clementine smiled back.

 

“Okay.” With that, they parted ways, and Clem began to search for Louis.

 

---

 

She found Louis standing alone, leaning against a tree. His eyes were trained on the boat. The dreadlocks that swung in front of his face cast shadows that made it hard to read his expression, but Clem could guess what he was thinking.

 

“This is really happening, isn’t it?” He said slightly panicked as she approached.” We’re about to walk onto a boat of armed adults, save our friends, and somehow, blow that shit to hell while getting out in one piece.”

 

Well, when you say it like that it only sounds more impossible.

 

“I can take us right to the cellblock, and the boiler room is on the way.” She assured.

“The Delta will be so occupied with the walkers that if anyone is there, maybe it’ll be one guard. Between the three of us? I like those odds.”

 

“Damn right.” He said low.

 

She hoped her confidence would rub off on him. Once they were inside, hesitation wasn’t an option.

 

“I just don’t want to fuck this up. People’s lives are depending on us. Depending on me. God, I just…” It was clear that the stress was beginning to get to him.

 

“Louis, we can’t fall apart right now. Violet’s lost if we don't go. They all are.” Clementine didn’t want to think about her friends befalling the same fate as her.

 

“I know. I know.” He took a deep breath, stepping aside and mumbling to himself.

“C’mon, Louis. Get it together.”

 

“We’re going to be okay.” She tried to smile.

 

“Clem, can you do me a favour?” His eyes were serious.

 

“What is it?”

 

“I need you to slap me.”

 

Excuse me?

 

“Right here.” Louis pointed to the right side of his face.

“Just to help pull me out of this.”

 

Clementine watched him in mild amusement as he stood with his eyes closed, bracing for impact. She rolled her eyes and took a step forward.

 

She stood on her toes. Also grabbing a fistful of his shirt in order to reach her lips to his. Louis tensed for a moment, expecting a slap and getting a kiss, but quickly melted into it as he pulled her close. They savoured it, on the off-chance it was their last.

 

They broke after a moment, foreheads pressed together, their breath warm on each other’s faces.

 

“I uh… don't know if I feel more focused or less .” He chuckled.

 

“Don’t worry.” She assured him one more time.

“We’ll be home by sunrise.”

 

“Hey lovebirds.” Mitch called from a short distance away, startling the couple.
“The walkers are ready, let's get a move on.”

 

---

 

The groans and snarls of the herd were almost deafening as the three blood-soaked teens approached. The spotlight was blinding as it pointed to the mass of the dead. The voices of the Delta soldiers could be heard faintly. Orders barked left and right. For a moment, Clementine thought she could hear Lilly among them.

 

The crack of a gunshot rang out as a walker a few feet to Clem’s right fell still on the ground.

 

“Stay behind the walkers, use them as shields.” She whispered to the two boys.

 

The spotlight no longer focused its attention on the herd, swinging over towards a raft of supplies floating off down the river.

 

“Good job, Willy.” She heard Mitch mumble under his breath.

 

The yelling only increased as the panicked whinnies of the horses sounded and a bright blaze of hay lit up the night.

 

They tried to stay relatively together as one by one the herd was thinned out. Whenever that spotlight found its way to Clementine, she dove for a walker, gripping onto its torn clothes and rotting flesh until the bullet meant for her dropped the walker instead.

 

More soldiers began to emerge from the boat to fight the herd just as the three reached the pier.

 

“We can’t risk leaving cover, we’ll have to crawl along the side of the dock.” Clementine lead them as they dipped into the freezing water. She felt a chill run up her body as they scurried along the side, gripping onto the soggy wood. The water around them became a dark red as the guts washed from their clothing. With their camouflage gone, escaping would be a little trickier.

 

The gap above the door was barely large enough for Clementine to squeeze through, and with walkers on the way, the time-crunch made it even more difficult. Mitch held off any of the dead that got too close as Louis boosted her up. It took some maneuvering, but she managed to twist her way in, slamming the lever to open the door.

 

“Let’s blow these sons o’ bitches to hell.” Mitch examined the bomb in his hands, which he somehow managed to keep dry while wading through the water.

 

Clementine nodded, ducking and diving through the halls of Delta, a soldier prowled around, trying to get an angle on the advancing walkers.

 

We’re so close.

 

She dove for cover once more as a raider rounded the corner, but not quickly enough.

 

“Who’s there?” The deep voice of the large man echoed through the metal hall. He let out a low growl before beginning to creep forward.

“Give me a damn city name.”

 

“Rockingham.” Clementine blurted out, hoping he wouldn’t recognize her voice.

 

“Well hurry up and get the fuck out there before we lose the whole ship to these things!” The man hurried down another passageway as Clem, Louis, and Mitch finally reached the boiler room.

 

“There ya go, Mitch’s Masterpiece .” Mitch grinned mischievously as he placed the explosive in the bottom door of the boiler.

 

Oh God, he named it?

 

Clem didn’t have time to question it before they booked it through the final stretch of their journey. Clementine was correct in the cellblock only containing one guard, but of course, that guard had to be…

 

“Minerva.” Clementine called to her.

 

Minnie immediately drew her crossbow, her brows crossed in a scowl. Clem and the others returned the favour by drawing their weapons as well.

 

“What the fuck are you doing here?” The redhead stared in shock at the three that stood before her, focusing her anger mainly on the girl.

“If you got my little brother mixed up in this I swear to God I will gut you before the commander gets the chance.”

 

Jesus.

 

“Tenn’s fine.” Clementine told her, still being cautious in case Minerva had an itchy trigger finger.

“He wanted me to tell you that he forgives you.”

 

Clementine lowered her bow as a gesture of good faith and saw Minerva’s stance become more hesitant.

 

“Come with us, Minnie. Tenn wants to see his big sister again. It isn’t too late.” Clem begged.

“We don’t belong to the Delta. We have a home, and it isn’t with them.

 

They stared each other down for a moment before Minerva slowly lowered her weapon.

 

“Fine. I’ll help you get the others out. Then we go.”

 

The four of them searched for the cells that contained their friends.

 

“Clementine?” Aasim exclaimed in surprise.

 

Omar let out a groan as he stood from within the same cell as Aasim, limping on one leg.

 

“Are you okay?” Mitch questioned the injured boy.

 

“I’m alright, burns like hell though.” Omar said as he leaned an arm on Aasim for balance.

 

“Clementine, help me with Vi and Brody while they get those guys out.” Minerva lifted the latch at the bottom of the door, allowing it to swing open.

 

Clementine cautiously stepped inside, finding the two girls huddled away from each other against the far wall. She didn’t even get a chance to get a word out before the butt of Minnie’s crossbow connected with the back of her neck, sending her crashing to the floor. Her ears rang as her vision blurred, barely being able to process the sounds of three people yelling before her vision fully faded to black.

---

 

The sound of broken, muffled sobs brought Clementine back to reality. As the blurred vision finally subsided, she was able to focus on the source of the sound.

 

The shaking form of Brody sat in the corner with her knees pulled tightly to her chest and her face buried as if the poor girl was trying to make herself so small that she could disappear from this awful place.

 

"Brody?" Clem called softly, eliciting no response.

 

"She's been like that since we woke up here." Violet's voice came flatly from where she sat slouched against the wall, focusing on her hand that was picking at the rips in her jeans.

"Seeing Minnie again only made it worse."

 

"Are you alright?" She tried to get her best friend to look at her, and when she finally did, Clementine's blood ran cold at the sight of the ice in her gaze.

"...Vi?"

 

"I didn't believe her, y'know. When she started spouting all that shit about you being one of them, and all that shit about the kid… I thought she was just trying to fuck with our heads." She spoke in a frustrated growl.

"But then I knew. I got grabbed. We locked eyes, and you looked away ."

 

Clementine didn't know how to respond. She chose to save Louis instead of Violet. She knew this would happen. She had no excuse.

 

"I'm sorry, Violet." Clementine practically pleaded.

"I didn't want any of this."

 

"You didn't want it to happen, but you knew it would. " The blonde spit back.

"And you lied about it."

 

"I'm going to make this right." She swore.

"We came to bring everyone home, and that's what we're going to do."

 

"Then we're all going to die like Marlon did." Violet's face softened, the ice in her eyes melted leaving them empty with hopelessness.

 

Clementine turned to locate her other friends, to find someone else already waiting by the door.

 

“You’ve really flown off the fucking rails, haven’t you?” Minerva scowled at her through the bars.

“You put everyone on this fucking ship in danger. My brother in danger. On some pointless rescue attempt. Fucking traitor.

 

How could she have the audacity to call Clementine a traitor? She was the one actively working against her friends for the people who kidnapped her away from them.

 

“This is bullshit, Minnie.” Louis challenged her from the cell across the hall.

“How the fuck could you go along with this after what they did to you and Sophie?”

 

“Minerva, please.” Clementine gripped the metal bars tightly.

“This is our chance to all go home, don’t you see that?”

 

“You’re on real thin fucking ice, Clementine.” She growled, their faces only inches apart with the bars of the cell between them.

“Just sit down and shut up, or that kid of yours will get a bullet to the head right in front of you before we even leave this dock.”

 

What the fuck does she mean?

 

“Is she awake?” That sickening voice asked from somewhere Clem couldn’t see.

 

“Yes, ma’am.” Minerva answered obediently before stepping back, allowing her commander to step into view.

 

“I see you’ve decided to return home after all.” Lilly sang.

 

“Fuck you.”

 

“It’s nice to see you too.” The woman smiled as she pulled her pistol from the holster on her hip.

“Back up.”

 

Clementine obeyed, slowly stepping backwards as Minerva opened the latch to let her into the cell. She was basically trapped in the corner with Minerva’s crossbow pointed right between her eyes. Lilly took a seat on the cot along the wall, the metal frame creaking under the sudden weight.

 

Clem looked at her two friends also trapped with her. Brody’s laboured breathing only worsened with the threat now only a few feet away. Violet actually scooched closer to the terrified girl, putting her arm around her in an attempt to quiet her down.

 

“I’m not the only visitor you have today.” The smile never faded from her lips. Lilly nodded to Minerva, giving her some kind of signal.

 

What fucking game is this?

 

Clementine felt her heart jump into her throat as Minnie stepped to the side, allowing her little boy to squeeze past. Clem’s shocked expression was met by AJ’s unsure gaze.

 

“AJ?” Clementine cried out as she stepped towards him, only to be blocked by Minerva’s threatening weapon.

 

He looked nearly the same as the last time she saw him, the only difference she could tell was that his hair had been cut shorter, not sticking out under the blue baseball cap as much as it had been before.

 

AJ said nothing as he turned his head towards Lilly, who patted the spot beside her on the cot. The child took quick steps to meet at the instructed spot, sitting on the far side of Lilly from where Clementine stood.

 

He was right there. Right there. So close, yet still that evil bitch stood between them.

 

“AJ here has barely said a word the last few days. He’s been terribly upset after he heard about you abandoning him for a brand new family.” Lilly imitated a pouty tone as she taunted the girl.

 

“Don’t you fucking DARE twist his head like that!” Clementine began to burn with rage.

“AJ isn’t stupid. He knows better than to believe you.”

 

“AJ isn’t stupid and that's why he’s still alive. He knows better than to disobey orders. He knows better than to go against the people who cared for him.” Lilly wrapped her arm around AJ’s shoulder.

“He’ll make a better soldier than you ever were, considering you ended up being such a disappointing failure.”

 

“Get your fucking hand off of him.” Clementine growled with a voice full of venom.

 

“Clem…” AJ finally spoke, an uneasy look across his face as he froze against the woman’s touch.

 

“Shush, AJ. She doesn’t deserve your attention.” Lilly cooed.

 

I’m going to fucking kill her.

 

“And that’s exactly the kind of insubordination we can’t tolerate.” The woman looked back over at Minerva.

“Minnie here is a shining example of everything you were supposed to be . Of course, she and her sister got off to a rocky start when they first joined our ranks, but look where she is now.”

 

Minerva’s eyes appeared to be empty of her own free will. She stood as if her limbs were tied with strings, moving only when the puppeteer saw fit.

 

“Let me tell you a story, I call it: The Parable of the Twins .” As Lilly spoke, Clementine saw the icy blue spheres of Minnie’s eyes fill with fear.

“Two girls were taken from their home, and brought to a new place to live. They had to leave their friends and family behind and that was hard at first. They shed a lot of tears.

But the new place was a good place. The people grew corn and raised pigs, and the girls ate well for the first time in years. They had hot showers. Clean clothes. Beds. They were given guns and trained to use them.

The people there were kind to these girls. All that was asked for in return, was that they help defend the group. You see, this place had a lot of enemies, killers and thieves, people who wanted what they had. They needed help fighting, or they’d lose everything they’d built. Their crops, their power, even their lives.”

 

“I wonder if that’s how the twins would tell it.” Clementine interrupted. Stealing a couple of kids away from their home? Nothing could justify it.

 

“One of the twins would.” Lilly smirked.

“One of the girls saw this was a place worth fighting for, and her tears dried.

But the other twin… she could never forget her old home. She rejected every gift. Every opportunity. Stirred up trouble every chance she got.

She convinced her sister to help her steal a raft and leave on the river. Of course, they didn’t get far.”

 

Clementine’s stomach twisted as the story continued.

 

“What happened then, Minerva?”

 

There was a moment of hesitation before the tall girl’s eyes drained of fear, refilling with malice.

 

“I killed her.” Minerva’s words although quiet, set off an explosive response to those listening.

 

Confused cries of disbelief came from the teens in all three cells.

 

“What the fuck?”

 

“Holy shit.”

 

“Is that true?”

 

“You killed your own sister? Why would you do that?” Lilly locked eyes with Clem, sending the girl a sinister stare. This was a demonstration of power. Lilly proving her dominance over the others.

 

“She was twisting my head with her lies.”

 

“And?”

 

“I made a mistake. I needed to show my loyalty to the place I called home.” Minerva spoke with scary certainty as if she fully believed in the things she was saying.

 

“You fucking brainwashed her!” Louis yelled, slamming his fist against the cell door.

“You sick fucks!”

 

“Pull the mouthy one out of the cell.” Lilly called to Dorian before turning back to Clem.

“He clearly didn’t get the moral of the story.”

 

Clem looked over Minnie’s shoulder, seeing the fear in his eyes as Dorian approached his cell.

 

“Don’t you fucking hurt him!” She growled, trying to step forward but once again stopped by Minerva and her crossbow.

“Lilly, I’m the one who screwed you over. Do whatever you want to me, but don’t hurt any of them.”

 

Especially not him.

 

“You misunderstand.” She sang.

“This isn’t a negotiation.”

 

The door to the adjacent cell swung open as Dorian stepped inside. Mitch quickly stepped between them giving the taller woman a threatening glare.

 

“Don’t.” Mitch spit.

 

Ey yo, you better get out of the way or you gonna get yourself hurt.” Dorian shoved the boy out of the way, grabbing Louis by the collar of his shirt, cleaver in hand.

 

Mitch jumped at her, pinning her against the wall as Louis fell back into the cell. Dorian swiped her cleaver at her attacker, slicing deep across Mitch’s cheekbone. Blood began to run down his face as Dorian threw him back into the cell, slamming the door. Mitch grimaced in pain as he pressed his hand to his face, attempting to stop the blood flow.

 

“Enough of this shit.” Lilly stood, tugging on AJ’s arm as she pulled him away from the cell.

“Dorian, start the boiler. I want us out of here.”

 

Minerva slammed the door behind them as Lilly and AJ disappeared down the hall.

 

This ship is going to blow. We need to get the fuck out.

 

Clementine tugged on the cheap steel, enough force, and maybe she could break the hinges.

 

“Get the fuck back!” Minerva barked, her voice almost on the verge of tears.

“This is all your fucking fault!”

 

Her fault?” Louis yelled back.

“You killed Sophie? What the fuck?”

 

With Minerva’s back turned, Clementine tried to force the door again. A pair of hands dug into her shoulders, ripping her backwards and pinning her to the wall.

 

“What are you doing?” The blonde fought.

“You’re gonna get us all killed!”

 

Violet tried to keep Clementine down, but her thin frame was no match for Clem’s muscle. She tried not to be too rough as she released herself from Violet’s grasp, pressing her forearm to her friend’s throat as Clem pinned Vi against the wall.

 

“What the fuck are you doing?” The choking sounds caught Minnie’s attention as she unlocked the door to break up the fight.

 

Wrong move.

 

Clementine launched herself at the door, effectively knocking the crossbow from the redhead’s hands. Clem landed a knee to the other girl's stomach as she knocked her backwards. She reached out and undid the lock to Louis and Mitch’s cell before Minnie could recover= but, of course, Minerva had gone through the same training she had.

 

Minerva landed a swift kick to the side of Clementine’s knee, knocking her leg out from under her. She sat on top of the smaller girl, brandishing a large hunting knife and using all of her weight to try to push it into Clem’s chest.

 

They grappled with each other, Minerva having the size advantage. The tip of the knife dug into Clem’s collar bone, the beginning of her losing this battle.

 

Mitch grabbed Minerva by the hood of her jacket, pulling her off of Clem and slamming her head against the wall. Unconscious, but alive.

 

“You guys get the others out of here. I’m going after AJ.” Clem ignored the drops of blood rolling down her chest as she grabbed Minerva’s knife.

 

“I’m going with you.” Louis insisted, squeezing her hand.

“I promised I’d help you save him, after all.”

 

---

 

Louis and Clementine crept across the top deck of the boat, following that evil woman’s voice as she fed the boy all kinds of lies about Clementine.

 

“I’ve known Clem since this all started. She had a weak man teach her all of the wrong lessons, the same lessons that would have gotten you killed.”

 

“Commander! We found these two in the herd.” A girl with close-cut blonde hair revealed two more prisoners.

 

Shit.

 

“Tennessee.” Lilly sang.

“My my how your big sister has missed you.”

 

Her gaze moved from the young boy to the older one. She ripped James’ mask off his face just as he began to regain consciousness.

 

“No wonder there were so many walkers.” Lilly tossed the mask aside in disgust.

“Tell me there aren’t more of you?”

 

“You don’t fucking scare me.” James hissed at the woman.

 

“They’ve got James and Tenn,” Clementine whispered.

 

“Shit.” He swore.

“What are we gonna do?”

 

“The thing about people like him, AJ, is that they’re too broken to fit into a community. They won't fight for anyone but themselves.” Lilly spit on James.

 

“Kill it.” Lilly ordered.

 

Oh fuck, James!

 

Just as the blonde woman pointed her rifle at James, Tennessee grabbed the gun off her belt, aiming it wildly between the two soldiers.

 

“Stop hurting people!” The boy begged.

“Just give me my friends back, o-or else…”

 

Lilly stared at the boy, seeing what was obvious to everyone. She bent over, pressing her forehead to the end of the barrel.

 

“Do it, then.” She called his bluff.

“Save your friends. That’s what you came to do, right?”

 

Tennessee’s hands shook like mad. What little bit of confidence he had faded as the tears started to drip down his cheeks.

 

“Oh I see, you came here to cry.” Lilly easily snatched the gun from Tenn, turning it on him.

“You’re not a soldier either.”

 

Louis and Clem took that moment to spring into action. Louis grappled for the blonde’s rifle as James put her in a chokehold.

 

Clementine tackled Lilly to the ground. The short girl was easily thrown off, however, her knife skittering across the deck and the gun flying from the woman’s hand.

 

Clem crawled for the gun. Not fast enough as Lilly grabbed a fistful of her hair and painfully yanked the girl back. Lilly pinned her to the ground, an ugly scowl on her face as her fingers tightened around Clementine’s throat.

 

Louis wrapped his arm around the woman’s neck, putting her in a headlock and pulling her off of Clem, leaving the girl gasping for her breath. Lilly was still much bigger and stronger than any of them, slamming her elbow into Louis’ jaw and knocking him to the ground.

 

Just before Lilly could pounce on Clem again, AJ buried Minnie’s knife deep into Lilly’s thigh, brandishing a revolver of his own as she screamed in pain.

 

“AJ wait!” Lilly cried, looking for mercy in the young boy’s eyes.

“Clementine can’t take care of you like we can. The Delta is your home now. She's trying to steal you away from it.”

 

“We had a home! You stole us ! Just like you stole the twins and made one kill the other.” Clem’s little boy shakily pointed the revolver at the bleeding woman, the ball cap dipping low, almost obscuring his eyes.

“You’re not gonna make me kill Clem!”

 

“AJ!” James approached slowly.

“She’s been beat, put the gun down.”

 

“You didn’t see what she did!” The boy argued.

“She took me away and made Clem do a bunch of awful stuff to get me back!”

 

Clementine couldn’t let this happen. Let AJ take a life? At such a young age? It was something she never wanted him to have to do at all.

 

I can’t let him kill her.

 

Clementine stopped thinking, and let her rage take over.

 

An animal-like screech left Clementine’s body as she threw herself at Lilly. She ripped the bloody knife from the woman’s leg, Lilly screaming in agony, the woman turned to attack the girl, but was unable to dodge her next attack.

 

Clementine swiped the knife at Lilly’s face, cutting right through the woman’s right eye. Lilly screamed again as she fell onto her back clutching her face, blood gushing from the now empty socket.

 

It wasn’t enough. The pain wasn’t enough. She needed to feel more. Clementine raised the knife again and again, puncturing the woman’s torso over and over long after she stopped moving. Lilly didn’t deserve to die so soon. She deserved to feel it all. Every stab and slash. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks but she couldn’t stop. The face of every person who died because of this woman’s desires flashed through her mind. Every stab was another soul avenged. Before long Lilly’s chest became nothing more than a lump of blood, mangled flesh, and protruding bones.

 

Rot in hell you fucking bitch.

 

Yet still, it didn’t feel like enough. All the torture she an AJ had gone through, nothing could take that back. Clementine raised her knife again, aiming for where her heart would be if this monster of a human being even had one. A firm hand clasped around her wrist. She looked up through her tear-blurred vision to see James staring down at her in horror.

 

“It’s over, Clementine.” James pulled the bloody knife from her hand, which she didn’t resist.

 

Louis helped her up, holding her close even though her clothes were soaked with blood.

 

“It’s over now.” He whispered in her ear as he stroked her hair.

 

Clementine couldn’t focus on him, instead taking in what she had just done. Lilly now looked as if she had been attacked by a walker. It did not look like the work of a human being.

 

I’m still the animal she trained me to be.

 

AJ had never moved through the whole ordeal. The small boy stood soundly with both hands gripping his gun. He hardly flinched at the horrid sight before him.

 

“She was a monster, wasn’t she?” He asked, his eyes going from Clem to the mangled corpse.

 

“Yeah, and I stopped her.” Clem was finally free, but couldn’t find the will to smile.

“She’s not going to hurt us anymore.”

 

She wanted to hug her boy, to pull him close and make him believe she’d never leave him again, but she couldn’t. Not like this, covered in Lilly’s blood.

 

“We’re gonna go home now, okay Goofball?” Her voice broke as fresh tears cut through the blood that stained her face.

 

The clatter of the knife hitting the deck made her jump slightly. Clem turned to see James staring intently at the body in front of him.

 

“You… you ripped her apart. ” James gasped in disbelief at what he had just witnessed.

“It was like watching a wild animal!”

 

“I had a history with her. You don’t know what she’s done to us.” Clementine wouldn’t let him make her think this killing was anything but just.

“She deserved it.”

 

“Nothing could justify such a slaughter .” He hissed.

 

A loud boom shook the entire deck, nearly knocking them all to the floor. Black smoke rose from the smokestack as Clementine realized that their borrowed time had run short.

 

“Oh shit, the bomb!” Clementine tackled AJ to the floor just as the shockwave of the explosion knocked her against the metal wall.

Chapter Text

The ringing in Clementine’s head was deafening, managing to temporarily drown out the roar of the flames that began to engulf the deck of the sinking ship. She slowly pulled herself to her feet, The formerly cold metal railing burning with the heat of the fire.

 

Looking over the side, the shore was a warzone.

 

The sound of gunfire was the only thing that rivalled the flames. Delta soldiers scattered the beach, firing shots at the neverending onslaught of the undead, but ultimately outmatched. The second one of them ran out of ammo, the walkers would descend upon them and in such numbers, it was doubtful they’d leave anything behind. Walkers continued to pour in from the forest, vastly outnumbering the herd James had brought them.

 

I hope the others made it past them.

 

Another explosion rocked the vessel with earthquake intensity as the ground beneath her began to severely tilt to the side. The shockwave sent her back to the floor, groaning as she searched her will for the strength to continue.

 

The mangled corpse of Lilly slid next to her, leaving a crimson streak where it travelled down the incline. The unrecognizable body slumped next to her, the sight now causing her stomach to turn.

 

I did that.

 

Her face felt itchy as the woman’s blood dried on her skin, but there was no time for a bath just yet.

 

I have to get out of here.

 

The last thing she wanted was to join Lilly again.

 

“AJ!” The bloodstained girl practically screamed over the chaos.

 

He had been right here.

 

Right next to her.

 

Where is he?

 

Clementine felt bile creep up the back of her throat when she thought of the walker-infested waters below. Such a small boy… A blast like that could’ve thrown him far… Her eyes scanned the deck wildly as she crawled along the rail, the boat growing closer to tipping at every second.

 

“AJ! AJ where are you?” Smoke began to engulf her, cutting off her breath and stinging her eyes.

“Louis? James?”

 

Anyone?

 

A lifeboat swung loosely from two fraying ropes, the only bridge between the gap in the railings. Clem launched herself onto the boat, landing hard against the wooden benches.

 

“Clementine!” The voice came from above her.

 

Clementine looked to see AJ barely hanging by the upturned boards surround the hole the bomb had blasted through the ship, the space below him nothing but a steep slope into a pool of walkers.

 

Fuck, we’re running out of time.

 

“AJ, look at me.” She called to the boy.

“Let go, and I’ll catch you. I promise!”

 

AJ looked hesitant, but the slope became steeper with each passing second so he made his decision. He swung himself towards her as best he could before releasing his grip on the wood, sliding down the deck as Clementine reached out to him.

 

She caught his arm at the last second, the sudden weight nearly sending her over the side as she struggled to maintain her balance. The blue cap flew from the boy’s head, but Clementine’s grip never faltered even as the last piece she had of her parents sunk into the waves below.

 

“I’m slipping!” AJ cried as Clementine heaved him back up with all of her strength. She pulled her boy in for a tight hug, never wanting to let him go again. Part of her heart broke at the loss of her hat, but she had something far more precious to her in her arms. Sadly the hug was brief, as another blast rocked the boat, reminding her of their dire circumstances.

 

“We need to get off this ship.” Clem could see fear in his eyes. She rested her hand on his shoulders before looking for a way out of this.

“You have to jump across first, you’ll need a running start. Climb along the railing and jump down onto the roof of the pier.”

 

“It’s far!”

 

“I know it’s far but it’s the only way!” She couldn’t let him break right here.

“Don’t think, just move .”

 

AJ did as he was told, just barely making the jump and grabbing onto the railing tightly as he began to shimmy across. He looked back at Clem, who was preparing her jump before the boat just as the state of the rope caught her attention.

 

Oh shit.

 

Clementine only had a second to react as the fibres of the rope quickly snapped before her eyes. She dove backwards, clinging to one of the wooden benches as the front of the boat fell, the small vessel now only hanging by a single rotten rope. The rough wood dug into her skin as gravity threatened to send her plummeting. Hands of the dead bobbed in and out of the water, hungrily reaching for her.

 

“Clem, I’ve got you!” AJ began to move back to her.

 

“Don't!” She pleaded for the boy to keep moving.

“There’s nothing you can do, I’ll find another way!”

 

“I can’t just leave you!” The boy scanned the area, trying to find some way to help her.

 

“I’ll make it! Just go!

 

Clementine gained some footing on the bench below her, throwing herself onto the railing of one of the lower decks. The metal was almost unbearably hot as the flames roared too close for comfort.

 

Another explosion rocked the ship. The shockwave sent AJ falling onto the fabric roof of the pier, breaking his fall. Clementine made the final jump, landing next to him.

 

“C’mon, we have to find the other kids.” She pulled him along, helping him to the ground just as an arrow stuck into the pillar with a thunk.

 

“I saw you, you little bitch!” A man wielding her bow yelled as he took aim at them again.

“Lilly should’ve killed you when she had the chance.”

 

But, she didn’t.

 

Clementine grabbed the arrow as she ducked behind a crate, jamming it into the man’s foot as he approached. The man let out a furious scream just as Clem’s elbow connected with his jaw, grabbing the bow from his grasp and sending an arrow into his jugular. She left the bastard to bleed out as she reclaimed her quiver as well.

 

The intense sound of metal collapsing resounded as the tilt of the ship became too much, tipping over completely in one last burst of flames.

 

Clementine grabbed AJ’s arm, pulling him along to escape the blast as it threw them both to the ground.

 

Smoke clouded the area like a thick curtain. Flashes of gunfire and the echoes of screams filled the beach. Vague shapes moved within the mass, one growing larger as it stumbled towards them. Clementine scrambled to her feet as the walker emerged into view before falling dead in front of her, the back of its head crushed inwards.

 

“Louis!” She cried as the boy dropped the large rock, wrapping his arms around his girlfriend as she clung to him.

“You have no idea how happy I am to see you right now.”

 

“I think I have some idea.” He said as he pressed his lips to her forehead.

 

Clementine felt AJ’s hand grab hers as he stood hesitantly in front of Louis.

 

“Hey there, little man.” Louis greeted him gently.

“My name’s Louis, we’re gonna get you outta here, okay?”

 

“Okay.” AJ responded confidently.

 

“GET THE FUCK OFF OF ME!” A sudden scream broke the moment as the three of them turned to see Violet struggling to pull herself out of the water, a walker trying to knaw its way through the toe of her boot as it struggled to pull her under.

 

Clem and Louis nodded to each other, Louis retrieving his rock to take care of the oncoming walkers as Clementine drew her bow and fired an arrow through the rotting eyesocket of the walker.

 

Violet, now freed, crawled her way onto dry land. Parts of her clothes blackened with ash and scorch marks.

 

“Violet!” Clementine raced to her friend, feeling sorry for what she had done to her earlier.

 

“Clem, where are you?” The blonde looked right at her, but didn’t see her. Couldn’t see her.

 

Bloody red and black burns splashed across the girl’s face, the flames having painted her with their anger. Her right eye, formerly green, now bleached completely white resembling deadness of a walker’s. Her remaining green eye searched helplessly for the face of her friend, squinting through the pain of her injuries.

 

No…

 

No. No. NO!

 

“Vi, I-I’m right here.” Clementine didn’t know how to help. Could Ruby fix this? Perhaps such an injury was beyond her expertise.

“Oh fuck, Violet, I’m so sorry.

 

“Minnie and I tried to stop the bomb and just… fuck. ” Violet gripped Clementine’s arms as she bent forward, a new wave of pain overtaking her.

 

“I… Louis! Get over here, she’s hurt!” Clementine half-held her friend as she called for help.

 

Louis couldn’t hide the shock and concern on his face when he found them. He gently put his hand on Vi’s shoulder.

 

“It’s gonna be okay, Vi, I’ve got you.” He took Violet’s hand, helping her stand.

 

“Shit… Can… Can you see? ” Clementine hoped the answer would be the opposite of what she feared.

 

“I-I don't…” She mumbled out with a broken voice.

“Just don't let go of me, okay?”

 

The sound of a horse whinnying caught their attention. Through the smoke, they saw Ruby atop one of the Delta’s horses attached to a cart. Willy was the one providing cover, sinking his arrows into the skulls of any walkers that got too close.

 

The rest of their captured friends took cover near some boulders, waving them over quickly.

 

“Thank god you guys are okay.” Aasim said relieved.

 

“Clem. Give us some cover.” Mitch instructed, his arm around a still shaking Brody.

“We’ll make a break for the cart.”

 

“Alright. I’m right behind you.” Clementine drew an arrow from her quiver.

 

“I’m staying with you.” AJ insisted.

 

“Thanks, buddy.”

 

“Clem?” Brody squeaked out, judging by the other’s reactions it was her first word in a while.

“Thank you… for coming back for us.”

 

“Of course.” She smiled at the redhead as the others began to move towards Ruby’s position.

 

“Be careful.” Louis put his hand on her cheek, brushing away the stray curls and pulling her in for a quick kiss.

 

“Just like the ninja I am.” She joked.

 

“The ninjas we are.”

 

Clementine released arrow after arrow into the approaching walkers. She listened unsympathetically to the screams of the Delta soldiers as one by one they all fell to the herd. That was until one specific scream caught her attention.

 

“Sullene! NO!” Minerva screamed as the woman who was with them during the raid was chewed to pieces by several of the dead.

“Get away from her!”

 

The crazed redhead grabbed her pistol and fired useless shot after shot into the walkers around the woman. The walkers quickly descended on her, the first one ripping a chunk out of her left arm.

 

Now, Minerva was truly lost.

 

“She’s lost it!” AJ spoke over the groaning of the herd.

 

I’m sorry, Tenn.

 

Clementine couldn’t look away as another walker latched itself it the left side of Minerva’s face. The girl screamed as she blasted its head off with her gun, blood flowing from the gaping hole in her cheek. Minnie pressed her hand to her face as the two girls made eye contact.

 

“CLEMENTINE!” Minerva screamed as she pulled a grenade from her jacket and ripped out the pin with her teeth.

 

Shit.

 

Clem tackled AJ to the ground as it was thrown their way. They dodged the blast, but the sound sent Ruby’s horse into a frenzy, causing it to race away with everyone else already in the cart.

 

Now they were alone in a sea of the undead.

 

Clementine wasted no time as she grabbed tightly to AJ’s hand, pulling the boy along as they weaved through the gaps in the herd. She had come too far to give up now. Coming up to a clearing, she realized to her slight horror that not everyone had escaped with Ruby.

 

“Tenn!” Clementine raced to the boy who was wielding a large hunting knife.

“Are you alright?”

 

“I’m okay.” He assured, casting a curious glance to the child next to her.

 

“We need to find a way out of here.” Clementine tried to usher the boys forward just as Tennessee grabbed her arm.

 

“What about Minnie? She’s still out there somewhere.” Tenn looked back into the herd, looking for any sign of his sister.

 

“I-I’m sorry, Tenn.” Clementine didn’t have any way to sugarcoat what she’d seen.

“She… got bit. She isn't going to make it.”

 

Tennessee froze for a moment, looking into Clem’s eyes as if begging for it to be a lie. She could tell he was forcing back tears as all hope of his sister's return was squashed. He looked down, holding out his knife by the blade as he offered it to the older girl.

 

“Then she’ll be with Sophie soon.”

 

Clementine lead the way as she tried to find a path to lead them around the herd, dispatching with any walkers that stood in her way. Rounding a corner against a rockface, she nearly stuck her blade into the head of one walker who wasn’t as dead as the rest.

 

James and Clementine had a momentary standoff before recognizing each other. To the girl’s surprise, her pacifist friend wielded to substantially large knives, tucking them into his vest once he realized who had approached him.

 

“I’m sorry you got caught up in everything on the boat.” Clementine felt guilty for the deal going farther than they intended.

“I’m glad you got out.”

 

“I couldn’t let them take the kid.” He said in his normal hushed tone, gesturing to Tennessee.

 

Their reunion was cut short by the hungry snarls of the dead as the herd began to catch up to them.

 

Do these fuckers ever go away?

 

“There’s a cave entrance this way.” James pointed to a split in the cliffside.

“It may be our only option of escape.”

 

“We don’t know where it goes.” Tenn protested.

 

“Well, we know there are walkers in the other direction.” Clementine examined the narrow entrance. It would be a tight fit, but not impossible.

 

“Let’s go, dummy!” AJ raced ahead of the others, his small size allowing him to slip easily between the rocks.

 

“AJ, wait!” Clementine squeezed her way more slowly through the opening, her bow and quiver nearly causing her to get stuck at some points.

 

To her surprise, the inside of the cave was quite large from what she could see, although the lighting coming through the thin mouth of the cave didn’t offer much illumination. Clementine ripped the shirt from an already dead walker and wrapped it around a stick, striking her knife against some flint to create a torch.

 

The inside of this cave truly was vast. The light of the torch reflected off of the stalactites hanging from the high ceiling. Water rushed from a thin waterfall, running along a river that cut the land in half with the cavern continuing on the other side. The river gushed out another tall waterfall through what Clem hoped wasn’t the only exit to this cave. The moon reflected off of a lake in the distance surrounded by more forest for miles.

 

“We don’t have long before those walkers get in here.” James warned as a dark and decayed arm flailed from between the rocks. His mask obscured his face but the tone of his voice was easy to read.

“If they do… I’ll… I’ll have to kill them.

 

“Then let’s find a way across before they do.” Clementine caught sight of a hollow log jammed across the waterfall, most likely having been washed down here by a storm.

 

Let’s hope it’s solid enough to walk across.

 

They didn’t really have any other options.

 

“James, help me move this.” Clem and James heaved the soggy piece of wood until it was able to flow freely in the current, getting stuck against the rocks creating a makeshift bridge.

 

“They’re through!” AJ called.

 

Walkers began to pour in through the entrance, the boys standing awfully close.

 

“Everyone across, now!” Clementine drew her knife to save her dwindling supply of arrows.

 

The kids crossed first, the log holding their light weight. James crossed next as the walkers drew closer and closer. Clementine finally burst across with the dead on her heels, gravel scraping her chin as she landed hard as the walkers dislodged their bridge from the rocks sending it plummeting down the second waterfall along with the walkers that tried to advance on them still.

 

AJ lifted her arm around her shoulder to help her up, while James was already heading down the tunnel.

 

The next part of the cavern was much smaller and empty, with many tunnels leading off in different directions. Any one of them could lead outside or get them lost further, possibly turning this place into their tomb.

 

“Okay, does anyone see a light coming from one of these tunnels?” Clementine stuck the torch into the ground, peering down each dark passage finding them appearing the same as the last.

 

James pulled his mask from his head, letting it drop to the ground. He faced away from them with his hands clenched into fists at his sides.

 

“James?” Clem slowly stepped towards him with caution. Something wasn’t right.

 

“I can’t forget what you did to that woman.” He growled, turning to face her with disgust across his features.

“You killed her, but that wasn’t good enough for you, was it? You massacred her.”

 

“Lilly was a monster,” AJ piped up, stepping between the two.

“She always did bad stuff to us. She made Clem do bad things even though she didn’t want to.”

 

Regardless of who Lilly was as a person. The way you enacted your revenge on a person who had already been defeated was revolting, lacking any kind of humanity whatsoever.” James never dropped his glare from Clementine.

“You tried to convince me that you and the people of your school were different from the murderous scum everyone else portrays themselves as, but you’re all the same. You put yourselves first not caring how many bodies you leave in your wake. I can’t stand it.

 

How fucking dare you.

 

“You don’t get to judge me.” Clementine hissed.

“So take this guilt-trip of yours and shove it up your ass.

 

“Oh, ouch. ” Sarcasm dripped from his words.

“All you know is violence. Once we exit this cave, I’m done. I’ll leave, and hopefully, we’ll never see each other again.”

 

Frustration nearly overtook her body. His pacifism had taken many steps too far.

 

“You can’t fucking force your ideals onto other people. The world out there may not be ‘Kill or Be Killed’ but it’s damn near close!” Clementine said through gritted teeth.

“Violence and killing have a lot of the time been what’s kept me alive. What’s kept AJ alive. I’ve had to hurt a lot of people in my life and if it came down to it I’d do whatever it takes to protect the people I care about. You’ve lived out there alone . It’s easier to think the way you do when you’ve got nothing to lose. But I do. I have a home now . A family. Having those things means defending them. Whatever the cost!”

 

The tension in the air was so thick you could slice it with a knife. The anger melted from James’ face, leaving him looking conflicted. He opened his mouth as if to give a response, but his words were quickly cut off by the growling of an unwanted audience.

 

Walkers stumbled through the way they had come, reaching out for their next meal.

 

“Go , I’ll make sure you aren’t followed .” James pulled his mask back over his face, unsheathing his blades.

“Your family needs you, now go.

 

A cold breeze blew through Clementine’s hair originating from the cavern to the far left. She nodded a goodbye to James, silently hoping he also finds means of escape before leading the kids out into the cool night air.

 

Clementine took a deep breath, not realizing how suffocating that cave had been until the fresh air hit her lungs. She looked around at the surrounding forest, attempting to collect her bearings.

 

“So… The shore is that way, so the school must be… this way.” Clem tried to hide her uncertainty but it was honestly difficult having only lived in the area for a few weeks, she hardly knew the terrain.

 

They walked in what she hoped was the correct direction for a few minutes. Clementine kept her senses alert for any sign of the dead wandering about when a heavy foot snapped a branch just ahead of them. Clem drew her knife, ready to pounce when the freckled face of her favourite dork came into view, hands raised in surrender and relief in his soft brown eyes.

 

“You’re not dead, that’s good.” Louis’ joke hardly masked his delight as he practically ran towards her, squeezing Clementine tight as if she was about to float away in the wind. As the embrace ended, their hands remained clasped together, neither willing to part.

 

Clementine managed to pry herself from getting lost in his eyes long enough to wonder about the fate of everyone else.

 

“Did everyone else escape?” Clem brought herself back to reality after a moment.

 

“Damn right they did. They took that cart and hauled ass back to the school.” Louis beamed.

 

“But you came to look for us.” She raised an eyebrow.

 

“I thought I lost you.” He cupped the left side of her face with his hand.

 

“Only for a minute.” She smiled, nearly melting at his touch.

 

“Longest damn minute of my life.”

 

Louis let out a deep sigh, moonlight sparkling in his eyes as his grin widened further.

 

“It’s over, Clem. The raiders are gone, you and AJ are free, and we got everyone out alive. Ruby said Violet’s eyes aren't infected so that’s good too.” Louis seemed amazed by the whole situation and honestly, Clementine was as well. Their plan didn’t work as perfectly as they hoped, but their end goal had been completed.

“Now we just gotta get home.”

 

“Any idea which way that is?” Clem really didn’t have much of a clue where she was going.

 

“If I remember correctly… there’s an old bridge not too far from here.” Louis pointed off into the woods.
“If we cross it, we won't be far from the school.”

 

“We really got a real home now?” AJ asked, nearly bouncing in excitement.

“What’s it like?”

 

“It doesn’t have electricity or running water like the Delta but it’s not bad.” She kneeled down to his level.

“The people there are good people. You’ll get to make some friends.”

 

“I can be your friend.” Tennessee smiled.

“Do you like to draw? I have a lot of art stuff.”

 

“Cool!” AJ seemed happier than Clem could ever remember.

“Clem, I could draw you stuff, and no one can take it away this time.”

 

“I-I’d like that a lot, Goofball.” Clementine was biting back tears. This moment right there was where the weight lifted. Where she felt as if she had grown wings and could fly anywhere she pleased.

“Let’s get going, then.”

 

She locked her finger’s with Louis as they lead the way with the kids in tow, having their own conversation about the friends AJ would make and the games they’d play upon their arrival.

 

Louis’ fingers loosened their grip on her hand for a moment before squeezing back. Clementine saw through the dreads that hung in front of his face the concerned look in his eyes.

 

“What is it?”

 

“I really thought we were going to die on that boat.” Louis confessed, residual fear in his tone.

“The dumbest shit always goes through my head when that happens.”

 

“Like, your life flashing before your eyes?” She inquired curiously.

 

“Yeah, kinda. My old pet turtle, Geoff. My grandma’s phone number. The word that lost me the fourth-grade spelling bee: ‘Recommend.’ ” He let out a half-hearted laugh.

“Stupid shit.”

 

“Anything new this time?”

 

“Before my parents divorced, they were building a house. I begged my dad to put in a skylight. Begged. ‘Please, if you love me, you’ll do it.’” His brow remained furrowed as he reminisced.

“That shit certainly didn’t work.”

 

Does it ever?

 

“Ha, that never worked with my mom.” Clementine had tried such a line over and over in her childhood. Whether it be for a new doll she saw on tv or fast-food on the way home from school. Her mom was too smart to fall for her antics, though. Her dad, on the other hand, was a little easier to convince.

 

“Eventually, I convinced him to make a deal. If I got straight A’s, he would put a skylight right in my room.” Louis looked up to the stars in the sky as if imagining himself lying in his bed as a child, falling asleep to the twinkling lights.

 

“And you just remembered the skylight?” Clementine was used to sleeping under the stars after being on the road for years. Her dorm offered a solid roof above her head and an unlocked door as a welcomed change.

 

“...They never got to build the house.” His head dropped as his voice became quiet.

“I didn’t even know what colour it was going to be. I should’ve asked.”

 

“Well, what colour did you want it to be?” Clementine gave his hand a small reassuring squeeze.

 

Well, uh, maybe... Purple?” He stuttered as his smile slowly returned.

 

“Is that your favourite colour?”

 

No, but you don't see a lot of purple houses around.” He reasoned.

“Why not stand out?”

 

“Of course you’d say that.” Clem giggled.

 

“Of course.”

 

He does have a knack for standing out.

 

Clementine and Louis became enamoured with this dream house. Four floors painted a brilliant purple, and as a finishing touch? A beautiful mahogany piano that never lost tune.

 

“You could teach AJ how to play.” Clementine remembered how much AJ enjoyed music when he was little. Humming a tune or singing a verse was sometimes the only thing that could calm him down.

 

“And uh, you too… if you want.” He blushed.

“You can return the favour by teaching me how to throw knives like that first day you were with us.”

 

Clementine rolled her eyes playfully, remembering the time she had to save his life the day they met.

 

“When we get back to the school, we are building that house. ” Louis said with determination.

 

“You really think we can?”

 

“I sure hope we can.” Louis stopped the group as they rounded a bend.

 

The dilapidated covered bridge stood before them, an abandoned truck sitting halfway across. The river far below roared ferociously. Falling into that would most likely result in death.

 

“Go slow, watch your step, and keep an eye out for walkers.” Clem knew getting cornered here wouldn't end well with their limited weapon supply and close quarters.

 

Clementine stopped when they reached the truck, quietly crouching down to make sure nothing was waiting underneath to chew on their ankles. Clem slid over the flatbed as Louis helped the kids over. She stopped the second her boots hit the planks. A large section of the bridge had been taken out but a falling tree, leaving a gap several feet wide between them and the way home.

 

I knew it wouldn’t be that easy.

 

“I think we can jump it.” Louis said confidently. Sure, he and Clem could, but Tenn and AJ?

“The next river crossing is miles up, the others are going to worry if we take too long.”

 

“Okay then, how about we-” Clementine was cut off by a haunting melody travelling along with the breeze. She saw Louis’ face pale as they all turned with dread towards the way they had come. It was then, that the tune rang familiar in Clementine’s mind.

 

“Nevermind the darkness,”

 

“Nevermind the storm,”

 

“Nevermind the blood-red moon,”

 

“The night will be over soon.”

 

The pale frame of Minerva came marching up the path, clothes stained with blood and a fireman’s axe slung over her shoulder. The words she sang fit the melody of the music Louis had played for them at Ruby’s party. Though the name of the song was “Don’t be Afraid” Clementine suddenly felt terrified.

 

She’s not alone…

 

Along with her singing came a chorus of moans and growls as Minerva lead her herd to corner them.

 

“Tenn!” Minnie cried in a sickeningly sweet voice. Her breathing seemed laboured and her movements were weak. She didn’t have much time left.

“I finally found you!”

 

“Minnie?” Tennessee’s eyes filled with horror upon finally reuniting with his sister.

 

“Don’t look, Tenn.” Clementine tried to shield him from what his sister had become, to protect him from the sight of her gored face.

“I know that looks like your sister, but the real Minnie is long gone.”

 

A bullet struck the metal of the truck only a foot from her head. Minerva held her pistol out with a shaking arm. The rest of them ducked for cover, but Tennessee held his ground.

 

“DON'T YOU FUCKING SPEAK TO HIM!” She shrieked

“Tenn… come with me… please…

 

“You… You’re dying.” The boy took a step away from her but Minnie never stopped moving.

 

“Yes, I am. I’m finally going someplace better.”

“With mom and dad... and Sophie… You need to come too.”

 

“A place… where everyone gets to be a person again?” Tenn couldn't really be buying this, could he?

 

“Tenn, don’t listen to her she's trying to kill you. ” Clem didn’t dare leave cover lest she get her head blown off.

 

“I-I know... but…”

 

Clementine dived for him just as Minerva unleashed a flurry of bullets at her younger brother. They whizzed over their heads as she knocked Tenn to the ground.

 

The herd paid their leader no mind as they passed her by, advancing on them instead.

 

The truck won't hold them off.

 

“Get across, I’ll hold her off.” Clementine growled as she drew an arrow from her quiver.

 

Minerva’s presence became lost in the numbers but Clementine kept an eye out for her bright orange hair in this sea of dull and rotting colours.

 

Clementine unloaded her quiver into any walker that tried to climb across the truck.

 

“I got AJ across but Tenn won’t budge.” Louis gestured to the poor boy who cowered against the wall with his head in his hands.

“Behind you!”

 

Louis reacted before Clementine could, practically throwing her to the side as Minerva’s axe came down right where she had been crouched. He jumped at Minerva, grappling with her axe before she knocked him across the face with the wooden end. Minnie charged him into the wall of the covered bridge, effectively knocking the wind from his lungs.

 

Clementine grabbed her from behind as she pulled out her gun, putting the taller girl in a headlock before she could put a bullet in Louis’ skull. She wrestled the gun from her hand, dropping it when Minerva spun the shorter girl off of her back, knocking Clem in the jaw with her elbow. Minerva took another overhead swing at Clementine, who didn’t see it coming until the last second. She tried to dodge, but when the axe came down it sliced through her boot splitting open her entire lower leg.

 

The pain was more intense than anything she’d experienced before. Electricity ran up her entire leg as dark spots began to cloud her vision. She dropped to the ground as Minerva readied her final swing.

 

“I won’t let you take my brother from me you bit-” Minerva let out a cry of pain and surprise as a bullet tore through the center of her chest.

 

“I’m sorry, Minnie.” Louis said softly as he lowered the gun, watching the girl fall backwards into her own herd.

 

Minerva let out a blood-curdling scream as the walkers tore her to pieces, piling on top of her as they took her life.

 

“Minnie! Minnie! ” Tennessee finally snapped out of his fear as he raced towards her, only to be caught in Clem and Louis’ grip.

 

“I throw, you catch. Now go!” Clementine practically shoved Louis towards the edge as he jumped to the other side where AJ waited helplessly as he watched everything go down.

 

Clementine grabbed Tennessee before he could run to his sister. The poor boy pulled and screamed as his sister was devoured before him.

 

“She’s gone, Tenn! We have to go!” Clementine struggled with him as more walkers crawled across the flatbed. They were out of time.

 

“Louis! Get ready!” Balancing on her good leg, Clementine kicked the back of Tenn’s knee effectively eliminating his balance as she dragged him to the edge. She built what momentum she could as she heaved him across the gap where Louis caught his arms, pulling him to safety.

 

“Clem look out!” AJ yelled as Clem found herself caught between a herd and a two-story drop.

 

Time seemed to slow. She could feel the fingers of the dead grazing her clothes as she stood so close to the edge. Her eyes were locked on Louis, whose face was twisted in fear with his mouth open wide as he screamed her name.

 

Clementine flung herself forward, pushing herself off the ledge.

 

Flying.

 

Then falling.

 

The two reached for each other, her fingers sliding down his forearm until finding grip on his wrist. Time caught up with her as she swung in his grasp, digging into the sleeves of his coat with both hands. She felt her grip beginning to weaken and her hands beginning to slip as Louis desperately tried to pull her up.

 

“I’ve got you, don't worry!” It wasn’t only Louis who had her. Tennessee and AJ appeared at his sides, offering their own strength to aid her.

 

The second Clementine was able to crawl back onto solid ground she threw her arms around all three of them. She couldn’t find words to express her gratitude. They made it out. All of them. She hugged her boys tight as walkers splashed into the river below, the rapids carrying them off into oblivion.

 

No hopeful moment seemed to last outside the walls. More walkers drawn by Minerva's gunshots began to fill the are.

 

Do these fuckers ever end?

 

Louis helped Clementine to her feet. Putting weight on her leg reminded her of the splitting pain. She shot a glance towards it, seeing a smear of blood on the ground where she had kneeled.

 

No time to wrap it now.

 

Clementine grabbed the axe that had caused her injury, opting to give the gun to AJ.

 

“We have to find an opening.” Clementine scanned the area. The paths were swarming but there was a stone ledge that wouldn’t be too difficult to climb if they could get there. Although Clem wasn't sure if she would be able to climb it in time.

 

“There!” Louis pointed to a chain link fence that offered a path along the cliff.

“I’ll climb over first, then help you down.”

 

“The kids, then me.” Clementine boosted Tenn up as Louis helped him down from the other side.

 

“Shit, Louis, behind you!” Clem gasped as walkers appeared from his side of the fence as well.

 

“Shit.” Louis mumbled, kicking the leg out from under a walker that lunged at him.

 

“Get Tenn back to the school. We’ll meet you there.” Clementine gripped the fence as the walkers closed in at all around.

 

“Clem, I can't leave you here!” Louis pleaded, not wanting to split up again.

 

“We’ll make it, I promise.” A promise she swore to keep as she ran -or rather limped quickly- to the rockface.

 

Clementine tossed the axe onto the ledge, lifting AJ up as they began to climb. Clem’s left leg begged for her to stop but she fought through the pain, trying to shift most of her weight to her right as she climbed.

 

“Grab my hand!” AJ said as he reached the top first just as the walkers on the ground closed in on them.

 

Their fingers just barely touched before Clementine was abruptly yanked backwards, nearly causing her to lose her grip.

 

The sharp edges of the rock cut into her hands as she tried desperately to free her screaming leg from the walker’s grip. She kicked wildly as she suddenly felt an immense pressure dig into her skin.

 

Fuck.

 

Fuck, fuck, please no.

 

Clementine’s next kick successfully connected with the skull of the walker, freeing her leg as she finally managed to pull herself onto the rock.

 

She fell onto her stomach, laying in the dirt for a second before flipping onto her back.

 

Please.

 

Please tell me it didn’t get me.

 

Not now goddammit.

 

“Clem… your leg…” AJ’s eyes reflected her own fear.

 

Her hands shook as she grabbed the edges of her torn boot. She didn’t want to look, too scared of what she might find. But her mind screamed for an answer. Clem pulled the bloody leather back, revealing the split flesh where Minerva had made an attempt on her life. Scraps of fabric from her pants stuck out of the gaping wound, doing nothing to stop the bleeding. She couldn’t tell through the blood how deep it went, but she wouldn't be surprised if the axe had grazed her bone. Clementine’s eyes followed the gash from below her knee to above her ankle where she found a second injury. One so small yet so more severe than the last.

 

The world came crashing down as suddenly, her newly formed wings had been clipped.

 

Oh my fucking god please no.

 

Why?

 

Why now? After all of this?

 

Several small cuts formed a crescent shape along her ankle and Clementine found herself uttering the words she hoped she wouldn’t need to for a long time.

 

“I got bit.”

 

Chapter Text

As the sun rose, turning the dark blue sky to shades of soft orange and gold and the fluffy clouds pink and blue like cotton candy, Clementine’s future crumbled before her, the debris crashing down on her. Her ribcage felt as if it was squeezing every bit of air from her lungs, leaving her gasping as she stared at her mangled leg.

 

The life she had been building had been suddenly snatched from her grasp. Dying along with everything else in this godforsaken world. Dying like she was now dying.

 

Dying.

 

Forced to now leave them all behind.

 

With one single bite, her lifespan depleted from potential years to mere hours.

 

This can’t be happening.

 

She gripped the torn material tightly, resisting the desperate urge to claw the bite from her flesh as if it would somehow save her.

 

It didn’t save Lee.

 

“C-Clem?” She suddenly remembered the little boy who sat shaking next to her, tears welling in his eyes.

“Please don’t leave again. I-I-I just got you back you can’t leave me again!”

 

“AJ…” Clementine didn’t know what to say. They both knew what would happen now.

 

Her eyes stung with tears and she pulled him close so that he wouldn't see them fall. The boy sniffled and shook as he clung to her denim jacket while Clem squeezed him tight as the tears silently slid down her face, the anguish felt between both of them unbearable.

 

No time to cry now, Clementine.

 

You still have a job to do.

 

“AJ, look at me.” She held his shoulders. Seeing his cheeks glisten with tears broke her heart, especially that he was crying over her.

“We need to get you back to the school. The people there will take care of you. You’ll be safe. I promise.”

 

“But what about you? You always said we’d escape together.

 

Clementine knew how hard it was to start over alone with a bunch of strangers, but she knew he’d be okay with them. She knew they would look out for him. She knew Louis would protect him.

 

Louis…

 

Did he even make it out? Did Tenn? All she could do was hope they’d be there when they got back.

 

If she made it back.

 

Just let me say goodbye…

 

That’s all I want…

 

“We don’t have time, AJ.” She positioned the axe to give herself leverage as she attempted to stand, her leg screaming in protest. Louis said they wouldn’t be far from the school, right? They just had to keep moving forward.

“Push on… Fight on... Look forward…”

 

Clementine fell to her knees as her leg refused to hold her weight, her body heavy and slow, weak from blood-loss. She pressed her forehead to the end of the wooden handle, mustering the strength for another attempt.

 

“Never back.” AJ finished the mantra for her. He looked to her with a steely gaze to fight his tears. They both knew neither of them could fall apart right here.

 

“That’s right.”

 

Clementine forced herself to her feet once again, her head beginning to feel foggy as she began to march along one step at a time. She leaned her weight against the axe, using it as a makeshift walking stick.

 

---

 

They followed the path with AJ taking the front. Though she couldn't see his face, she could hear him sniffling every now and then.

 

"Just don't think about it right now." She didn't need to be psychic to read his mind right now.

"Just think about something else. Anything."

 

“What are the other kids like?” He asked nervously.

 

“They’re good people. They look out for each other. They’ll look out for you too.” She assured.

“They forgave me when they found out about the Delta. Trusted me to help them bring everyone home. They’re… a family. A real one. And they wanted us to be a part of that family.”

 

“Me?” AJ asked in confusion.

“But they don’t know me. How do they know I’m not bad?”

 

“Because they know me and they know how much I care about you.” And all the lengths she’d go to protect him.

“That’s good enough for them.”

 

The boy still seemed unsure and saddened. There really wasn’t a way to dance around the topic without the constant reminder that there would soon be someone else taking care of him.

 

“There’s nine of them. Most of them are closer to my age but Tenn and Willy are a bit closer to yours.”

 

Clementine continued to describe the members of the boarding school.

 

“Violet was the blonde girl that got taken. She’s really strong and fierce. Protects the group.”

I hope she won't take out what I’ve done on AJ.

 

“Brody was the other girl. She’s been through a lot since the first time the Delta came after them, but things are going to get better now.”

Now she can finally start to heal.

 

“Mitch is smarter than anyone gives him credit for. He’s the one who made the bomb that took out the boat, and had the guts to go toe-to-toe with Dorian .”

He stuck up for Louis, I hope I get to thank him for that.

 

“Omar is a really good cook. The food is way better than what the Delta gave us, or, what they gave me at least.”

Hot meals every day for the rest of AJ’s life.

 

“Tenn and Willy are the youngest ones. Tenn is really smart and he loves to draw, like you. Willy is a bit of a troublemaker, which is a given since Mitch practically raised him, but he’s a good kid.”

They’re both good kids. I hope they have the chance to be kids for a while longer.

 

“Aasim is an expert hunter. He makes sure everyone has enough to eat and will do whatever it takes to get food on the table. He also has this diary thing he calls his ‘History Book’ where he writes down things that happen at the school.”

He’ll have one hell of a story to tell about all this.

 

“Ruby is really sweet and looks out for everyone, especially the kids. She’s the doctor of the group and she’ll help you if you get hurt.”

She’d be willing to help him if he got sick, unlike The New Frontier’s doctor.

 

“And then, of course, there’s Louis…” Clementine felt a sudden pang of guilt.

 

“Louis is the sweetest person I’ve ever met.”

I’m so sorry…

 

“He’s really funny, makes everyone laugh.”

We were going to build that house together.

 

“He loves music, he sings and plays the piano. He could teach you how.”

We were going to be a family… the three of us.

 

“He taught me how to live, not just survive.”

He taught me how to love as well.

 

“Is Louis your favourite? You sound like you like him more than you like the other people.”

 

Clementine nearly choked on air.

 

“Uh… yeah, he’s uh, my favourite. ” Clementine managed to chuckle through the despair.

“He’s going to look after you when I’m gone.”

 

Clem's pace slowing more and more as they travelled. She moved as fast as she could to keep up with him but her body began to betray her already. AJ's pace began to slow as well until he walked by her side, taking her hand as he squeezed her fingers.

 

"I'm sorry I lost your hat." He said with a tone of shame, unable to look up at the older girl.

“I know I was supposed to protect it for you but I lost it and now it’s gone.”

 

Clementine had grown used to not having it with her. Yet still, watching it fall into that pit of walkers felt for a moment like losing her parents to the walkers all over again. That hat had seen about as much death and torment as she had, maybe now it would be able to rest as she soon would be able to as well.

 

“AJ, it doesn’t matter.” She said as he finally met her gaze.

“My hat meant a lot to me, sure. But it was just a thing. You’re more important than a smelly old baseball cap.”

 

“I love you, Clem.”

 

“I love you back, kiddo.” She wanted to stop for just a moment. Just a moment to enjoy the time spent with him.

 

Peace.

 

Peace.

 

She fought so hard for it all she wanted was to feel it for one goddamn second.

 

Her steps became clumsier and heavier. Whether it was from blood loss or infection she didn’t know and didn’t really care. Her left boot squelched with each step, her foot sticky with her own blood.

 

“I-It’s… It’s not that far.” She stuttered out through her rapid yet laboured breathing. Telling both AJ and herself.

 

“Wait.” AJ halted in place, gripping his pistol tighter.

“Something’s here.”

 

Clementine stopped, the axe barely holding her up. She tried to listen, to sense what he sensed, but the ever growing fog in her mind made it difficult to concentrate.

 

The sound of bodies clumsily meandering through the trees slowly came into focus too slow for them to avoid the threat of being quickly surrounded.

 

Why are there so many this far from the ship?

 

The path around her seemed familiar as she spotted the dilapidated frame of James’ barn peeking out from within the trees. She knew it could keep walkers in, but could it keep them out?

 

Clementine tried to run, but her leg betrayed her at the most crucial moment, sending her crashing to the ground as the herd continued to surround them.

 

Get up. Get up. Get up!

 

Clementine screamed at herself as she pushed down on the axe, her boots digging into the dirt. She let out a frustrated grunt as she willed her body to cooperate.

 

A body hand harshly grabbed her hood in an attempt to pull her up that was definitely not good-natured. She tried to swat it away, not having enough strength for both of the tasks at hand.

 

A bullet ripped through the walkers skull and slumped to the ground nearly on top of the sickly girl. If they didn't already have the herd's undivided attention, they certainly had it now.

 

"C'mon Clem, please!" AJ pleaded, pulling her right arm over his shoulder.

 

She leaned against his tiny form as they hobbled quickly towards the barn's double doors. AJ managed to not only hold her weight but shoot away the dead that got too close. Clementine couldn't believe how much he'd changed. He was still her little boy, but the amount of skill he possessed was far beyond his years.

 

The Delta will do that to you.

 

Clementine didn't so much as push the doors in as she more fell into them, sprawling into the scratchy hay as AJ slammed the doors behind them, the herd immediately on their heels. Clem leaned against the doors with all of her weight, unable to actually push. AJ helped, though the strength of a girl an inch from death and a five-year-old wouldn't be able to hold back the unfaltering wave of the dead outside.

 

"AJ... f-find something!" Her feet dug deep past the hay into the dirt as she desperately rammed her back against the aged wood.

"We need to... brace... the door!"

 

AJ frantically looked around for something sturdy to stick between the handles. Without his small amount of effort holding the doors became exponentially more difficult. She prayed there was something to find.

 

“Clem, I found something!” The boy pulled out a rake with a sturdy looking handle from beneath a pile of hay.

 

“Do it!” She yelled, feeling herself slipping forward under the pressure of the hungry dead outside.

 

The moment AJ shoved the rake through the handles of the door, Clementine held her breath as she slowly leaned off the door, testing the waters of whether or not it would hold. Hold it did, and Clem let out a sigh of relief before the walkers reminded her that you can’t run from death forever.

 

With the door sealed shut, the walkers moved on to other potential points of entry, resorting to tearing through the walls of the barn if it meant getting at the two living inside. The snarls outside grew angrier as if the dead were frustrated that the two had the audacity to lock them out.

 

“AJ, get out of here.” She looked up to the roof where several holes allowed the first rays of daylight pour in, illuminating their only way to salvation.

“They’re going to tear this place apart you need to go!”

 

“What? I can’t leave you here!” He cried, aiming his gun wildly at the walkers who tore at the wood from all directions, ripping the fragile building apart at the seams.

 

“I’m dead anyway!” The words felt like bile in her throat but at the same time, they felt very true.

 

She looked at her little boy and saw a fire in his eyes. A spark of determination that she recognized in herself whenever she participated in a fight.

 

“Cover me.” He nearly ordered, holding his gun out to her.

 

The metal felt frigid against her scorching skin. She held the heavy object with a shaking hand, trading the gun with her knife.

 

AJ bolted to the stall doors, metal screeching against metal as he heaved it along the rail. It slammed shut just as the walkers burst through the wall. They slammed their bodies against the sliding door but thankfully it didn’t even budge. The child ran in a zig-zag pattern, slamming closed every door as the arms of the walkers swung wildly through the bars. The snapping of wood came from every direction as the dead began to flood in. Clem watched in horror as AJ slid the final door closed, only for a bony hand to slip between the gap and force it back open.

 

“Get back!” Clementine screamed as she focused her aim on the walkers who entered, firing shot after shot and while some landed in the walls behind them, others sent them crashing to the ground. More entered, however, and the empty clicking of her pistol upon pulling the triggered sent a new wave of fear up her spine.

 

AJ looked back. As their eyes met she found her fear was not mirrored in them. His steeled bravery burned onward as he raised his knife. He went for the knee, ruining the walker’s balance and causing it to fall where its head was within reach. With one final stab, the walker was dead, but there was always more where that came from. Ducking and dodging, Clementine was amazed at his capability, dispatching of two more in the same manner with little difficulty.

 

What did they teach you?

 

How much did I miss?

 

Clementine sat helpless as he frantically attempted to slam the door closed once more, the track becoming blocked by a walker crawling on the ground who lunged at the boy, it’s rotting arm grabbing his foot and pulling him towards it’s snapping jaw.

 

AJ didn’t hesitate, plunging his knife into the walker’s skull repeatedly until it released him. Kicking it back to the other side it was finally over for now as the final door slid shut.

 

“G-Good job, AJ. You did it.” Clementine let out a whimper as her back hit the hay bale, leaning her head against it as she lacked the strength to hold it up any longer.

 

So this is the end.

 

All of this was unnervingly familiar

 

Is this how you felt, Lee?

 

Locked in a small space. One bitten, A child about to be left alone surrounded by the dead. She looked at AJ and saw her younger self staring back at her. A child’s eyes full of fear as their protector lay bitten and wasting away in front of them.

 

Clementine felt like a mere shell of the person she used to be. Her skin pale and clammy, her eyes adorned with dark circles hanging underneath. She squinted at the sunlight that peeked through the holes in the ceiling, her eyes stinging against the brightness only making the pounding in her head worse. The smell of the corpses who’s hands reached for them from between the bars made her stomach lurch. Clem resisted the urge to vomit, though she hadn’t eaten since yesterday evening she doubted there was much to come up.

 

“Come on.” AJ said through panting breaths, mapping a way to climb to the roof.

“The monsters can’t reach us up there. It isn’t that hard, we can do this.”

 

All Clementine could do was give him a hopeless look. She couldn’t even stand, how could she possibly climb?

 

“You have to try, Clem. Please. ” The boy begged, urging her onward.

 

Try Clementine did, though she didn’t get far. Every movement sent a sharp ache through her joints, the ever growing pain sapped what little energy the girl had left in reserve as she slumped down back in her spot after her fruitless effort.

 

“You can’t give up!” AJ tugged on her arm in an attempt to raise her to her feet.

“Not now!”

 

“AJ, please stop.” She whimpered weakly, pulling her arm back.

 

“I need you.” Tears welled in his round eyes once again as the reality of what was happening sunk into them.

 

“You don’t need me…” Clementine dismissed. The guilt of her past failures only weighing her down more.

“All I ever did was get you into trouble. Look how well you did just now. I’m so… proud of you.”

 

Clementine always saw herself as a magnet for trouble, as if she was some kind of bad omen. A black cloud that emanated from her being, infecting all who crossed her path and dooming them all to pain and death.

 

Now it was finally catching up to her.

 

“My… little Goofball.”

 

“It’s Alvin Junior.” He said stubbornly.

 

“You’ll always be Goofball to me.” Clem felt a tear drip onto her hand. She hadn’t even realized she was crying.

“I’m so sorry, kiddo. This is just what happens sometimes.”

 

“But it wasn’t supposed to happen to you. ” The tone in his voice broke her heart. She didn’t want to leave him. She would give anything to stay and watch him grow up like she promised so many.

 

“AJ, look at me.” She urged the boy to come closer which he obliged, kneeling next to her with his hands in his lap and his head hung low.

 

“You’re such a cutie, how did I get so lucky?” She placed her hand on his cheek, raising his head to see his face. She smiled although he wore a mournful expression.

 

She took her hand and quickly booped him on the nose, a tactic that before when he was younger would send him into a fit of giggles. She let out a small laugh even though her weak attempt to cheer him up even a little failed.

 

“Please don’t be silly right now.”

 

“I just wanted to see you smile.” Clementine let out a shaky breath as more tears slid down her pale cheeks.

“Just… one more smile, before I go?”

 

Through the tears that fell down his face, the boy was able to manage a small smile. He was only able to force it for a moment before it faltered, falling back into the gloom.

 

“Lovely.” Her voice struggled to remain above a whisper.

“AJ, I need to know you remember… the things I taught you… the rules.”

 

Their rules hadn’t warranted much use over the past few years, but still, just like Lee, she never stopped teaching. Teaching him the rules he would need to follow upon their eventual escape, though she had hoped she would have more time to guide him.

 

“What’s rule number one?”

 

“Never… Never go alone.” He stammered.

“Which is why I can’t leave you here!”

 

“AJ…”

 

“It’s your rule!”

 

“You won’t be alone… not for long.” The others would take care of him.

“You just have to get back to the school.”

 

“I don’t know where it is.” He argued.

 

“It’s easy, it’s just West of here. So keep the sun at your back, and let your shadow lead the way.” The school wasn’t far. He could make it. She knew he would.

“Remember the first thing I taught you? You need to make sure they can’t smell you.”

 

She waved her hand in the direction of the rotting corpses that laid fully dead in front of them. She cringed as AJ swung the axe down on the walker’s torso, sticking his hands inside and rubbing the disgusting red all over his clothes and face.

 

“Now, what’s rule number two? What do we do when the monsters come?”

 

“We shoot ‘em in the head.”

 

Clementine looked almost disgusted at the silver pistol she held weakly in her hand, the clip emptied into the walkers that laid around them.

 

“Got any ammo?” She croaked, her throat drying up.

 

“No, it’s all gone.”

 

“Fuck.” Clementine pronounced in mild horror as she looked at the axe.

“And… the last rule?”

 

“Clem, no… I-I want to stay here, with you.” AJ cried as he gripped the axe in his small hands.

“I know what will happen, and I don’t care. You always said we’d get out together, but if I leave then that won’t really happen! But if I stay… then we can stay together, just, a different ‘together.’”

 

What was he saying? He’d rather turn? Clementine couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

 

“Not a chance, kid. I’ve got a job for you.” Clementine’s dismal gaze hardened as she forced out the words.

“I need you to go to the school, sleep in a bed, and have friends, and grow tall, taller than I ever was.”

 

I’m not letting him give up because of me.

 

“I need you to live, AJ. For me. That’s your job now.”

 

“Okay… Okay, Clem.” The blood-soaked boy gave in to her wishes, no matter how obvious it was he’d still rather remain by her side.

“That’s my job.”

 

“Last rule.”

 

“No!” AJ gripped the axe tightly in his hands.

 

“What do we do if I get bit?” As brave as Clementine was, they both knew there was something that scared her above all else.

“Are you gonna make me say it?”

 

AJ couldn’t formulate a response, all he could do was cry.

 

“You have to leave me, AJ.” No words felt sourer as they rolled off her tongue. Vocalizing it somehow made it all feel more real.

 

What a fitting place to turn.

 

James’ barn of the dead.

 

Clem wondered if James was still alive and if he was if he would return here find her. The first walker in his new collection.

 

“But before you said-”

 

“I know, but now that we’re here? I can’t make you do it. ” She could recall the deathly look in Lee’s eyes as if it happened yesterday. She wondered if she appeared the same to AJ.

“I had to do it for Lee, and it never left me. I don't want you to have to live with that on you.”

 

“No. I won’t let you become a monster! ” AJ raised his axe above his head in defiance swinging it down onto the girl who was his protector.

 

AJ knew he’d have to live with what he’d done, but he knew he could, because this time, Clementine was wrong.

Chapter Text

AJ ran until his lungs burned as tears streamed down his cheeks, cutting tracks through the smears of walker guts. The boy heeded Clementine’s advice, the sun’s hot rays burned against his back as he let his shadow guide him until he stood before a giant metal fence. The original bars were bent and busted, sheet metal affixed to block the wall’s occupants from outside view.

 

The small boy heaved and wheezed as he tried to catch his breath, his mind feeling fuzzy and dizzy as he stumbled forward. AJ tried to call out, form any words at all, but the sentences came out broken in shards as he struggled to remain standing. Completely exhausted, he sank to the dried leaves below, looking up and seeing a thin figure leaned over the wall.

 

“Mitch! Louis! It’s the kid!” The boy’s raspy voice carried loudly through the air. AJ wondered why he would yell like that. Monsters would hear him even from far away.

 

A smaller gate off to the side let out a metallic shriek as it was quickly swung on its hinges, clattering loudly against the brick. Two figures bolted from the opening, one wearing a big coat he remembered was Louis. Louis fell to his knees next to AJ, putting his hands on the blood-soaked boy’s shoulders.

 

“AJ, are you okay? Where’s Clementine?” His eyes darted wildly to the forest around them, frantically searching for her.

 

“C-C...lem go… got…” AJ coughed out, wheezing and choking on the smell of his own gut-smeared clothes.

 

We have to go back for her!

 

Louis sent the other boy a concerned look before AJ was scooped up into his arms.

 

“It’s okay, buddy. I got you.” He assured as AJ struggled to stay awake.

 

Louis called out for someone as he placed the boy down at one of the picnic tables, most of the others immediately crowding around. AJ still shook as his breathing began to calm, though the words remained clogged in his throat. Not even he knew what to say, however, as a flurry of faces he had mostly only seen in passing before had now surrounded him.

 

“Alright, all y’all give the kid some space!” A loud and commanding voice came from a chubby girl with bright orange hair. Her imposing tone immediately vanished once she kneeled down in front of him, her eyes turning soft and trusting.
“Hey there, sug’, I’m Ruby. Are you hurt at all?”

 

“No.” He breathed out, rubbing away some of the guts on his face with his sleeve.

“But Clem is.”

 

Ruby and Louis both froze. They stared at him with eyes filled with even more worry than before.

 

“She got bit.

 

Everyone around him became quiet and still. Horror across their faces hidden with varying levels of obscurity.

 

“No…” Louis broke the silence as he stood, hands gripping tightly at his dreads, a mannerism he’d seen in Clem many times.

“That’s not fucking true. No fucking way. Not her. Not her.

 

Louis paced in a small circle as a few tears cascaded down his freckled face. Another tall boy with an angry red cut stitched up across his cheek put a hand on his shoulder, pulling Louis into a half hug.

 

“Clem said you’re a doctor.” He pleaded with the girl.

“So you gotta help her. She’ll die if you don’t.

 

“AJ I can’t fix a bite. Nothing can.” She said solemnly, her voice beginning to break.

 

“I got rid of it though!” He argued.

 

“What do you mean?” Louis stepped forward, face painted with pain and confusion.

“How did you ‘get rid’ of a bite?”

 

“I cut her leg off.”

 

---

 

AJ lead the way as Louis followed quickly beside. Ruby with her medical bag and a boy named Aasim with a bow in his hand brought up the rear as the four of them raced through the trees to find their lost friend. Birds soared through the branches overhead, twittering almost mockingly as if trying to make the people below jealous of their speed and freedom.

 

What remained of James' barn sat in a clearing at the end of the path, the walls having had huge holes torn into them by the onslaught of walkers that now lay dead around its perimeter.

 

"What the fuck happened here?" Aasim asked in shock as he checked for any around them that might still be moving.

 

"Clem got too sick to run, so we hid." AJ jumped over each rotting corpse, having previously made sure none would come back again.

"I stopped them from getting in."

 

Louis didn't stop to listen to the boy's response as he threw open the double doors. AJ was hesitant to enter, not entirely sure what he'd find inside. He watched Louis look around before rushing down to where Clementine had been laying with Ruby following him in. Were they too late? AJ felt he owed it to Clem to see for himself, no matter the final result of what he'd done to her.

 

She's gonna live. Stop thinking like that, dummy.

 

Clem's the toughest ever.

 

AJ forced every step forward until he crossed the threshold. Louis crouched next to her, muttering lowly into her ear, his voice catching every few words. The older boy ran his thumb across her pale cheek, eliciting no response from the unconscious girl. The shallow rise and fall of her chest being the only sign of life.

 

AJ couldn’t watch her deathly face any longer, his eyes instead moving to where Ruby sat on the other side of Clem. She unwrapped the blood-soaked hoodie from the stump he had tied it to, the infected segment of her leg laid detached less than a foot away. Everything about this looked so wrong to AJ.

 

“You… cauterized it?” The girl said with a tone of surprise. The smell of burning flesh still emanated from the wound.

“Where’d you learn that?”

 

AJ just crossed his arms and shrugged. He knew the people at the Delta were bad, and they taught him a lot of things. AJ feared if he told them too much they might think he was bad too.

 

They must have thought Clem was bad.

 

Clementine told him when you do bad things you have to ‘atone’ for them. Maybe this is why they helped her now because she ‘atoned’ for the bad things she did because of the Delta.

 

AJ recognized the bottle Ruby held in her hand. Medicine for cleaning. He remembered how horribly it burned whenever he got a bad cut. He watched Clementine’s face intently, disheartened when she showed no reaction to touch.

 

“She’s so cold…” Louis croaked, his voice barely above a whisper as he rubbed Clementine’s frozen fingers in his hands.

 

“This is all I can do for now.” Ruby declared as she fastened the final bandage.

“She’s no doubt suffering from hypovolemic shock, and if she was as sick as AJ said she was, she could still turn.”

 

“She’s gonna make it!” AJ refused to believe otherwise.

“None of you know Clem like I do. She’s stronger than anyone.”

 

The redhead looked at him with eyes of pity as she let out a disappointed huff, looking back at Clementine's expressionless face.

 

“Only time will tell I suppose.”

 

---

 

The walk back felt excruciatingly slow. Louis held Clem tight as he carried her with AJ holding the girl’s limp hand.

 

“Keep an eye on her breathing.” Ruby reminded. Casting them a nervously worried glance.

 

She just doesn’t get it.

 

Aasim waved to the same boy who was on watch before, signalling for him to open the gate. Upon entering, they were greeted to a rather distraught welcoming party.

 

“Is that them? Is she alive?” A blonde girl with bandages wrapped tightly over her eyes stood from her spot at a picnic table and tried to wander to way over to them, her arms waving wildly in front of her.

 

Violet, that was her name.

 

She was stopped by Tenn as he ran up beside her, grabbing firmly to her slim arm and narrating what he saw to the blinded girl.

 

“They all came back, and Clem… her leg really is gone…” His voice began to stutter.

 

“Clem? Clementine?” She tried to approach further, crying out to her friend.

“Is she dead? What happened?”

 

“She… ain’t out of the woods yet.” Ruby announced to the group.

“We just gotta wait and see if she wakes up… or if she… turns.

 

“She’s gonna fucking make it, Ruby.” Louis hissed.

 

AJ followed after Louis as he took Clem into one of the school’s buildings. The hallway was littered with graffiti and bits of debris. Each wall was lined with rows of doors. He followed the older boy until he stopped outside a specific one.

 

“Can you get the door?” He asked to which AJ obliged, finding the sparsely decorated interior.

 

Louis placed Clementine on the bunk to the left, handling her as if she was made of glass. He watched him stroke her hair for a moment before stepping back to take in the horrid sight. The older boy fiddled with something in his pocket as he scanned her uncertainly, finally shaking his head and pulling out a roll of duct tape.

 

“What’s that for?” AJ asked as he hesitantly approached.

 

“Something that’ll at least get Ruby off our backs a little.” He said as he took her left hand, rubbing his thumb across her palm before bringing it to the metal post of the bed frame. AJ flinched at the sound of the ripping tape as Louis firmly attached Clementine’s wrist to the post.

 

The boy jumped up onto the bed next to his protector, his feet swinging off the side. He pinched her side in a spot he knew she was ticklish, begging for any response. The dark circles that hung under her eyes almost seemed to weigh them shut.

 

“How did this happen?” Louis’ voice was barely above a whisper.

 

“Right after we split up.” AJ answered.

“We tried to climb the rocks but she was already hurt and slow.”

 

It’s all Minerva’s fault.

 

AJ had never spoken to Minnie directly more than a couple of times, but the way her ice cold eyes always stared into him gave him a weird feeling. He always knew there was something weird about her, but he couldn’t have guessed she was that crazy. She was supposed to be the friend of these people, but she attacked them, and tried to kill her own brother! Clementine always taught him that family protects each other no matter what.

 

“Goddammit.” The tall boy stomped his foot as he began to pace around the room.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m fucking sorry.”

 

“She wouldn’t blame you, y’know.” That got him to stop pacing.

“She wanted you to protect Tenn, and you did. So she wouldn’t be mad.”

 

“That doesn’t make abandoning her like I did any more right.” Louis sniffed as he wiped his nose with the sleeve of his coat.

 

“That’s bullshit.”

 

Louis suddenly coughed, choking on nothing but air. He stared down at the boy and let out a small chuckle.

 

“I find it highly unlikely that Clementine lets you cuss, so I don’t think I should either.”

 

Damn.

 

“But thanks, kiddo.” He smiled.

 

The moment of levity in the air seemed to diminish as quickly as it appeared. Blowing out the window as they both glanced back at their reason for being in this room.

 

“What do we do now?” He asked Louis as he sat down hunched over on the opposite bunk, elbows resting on his knees and his head hung low.

 

“I guess we wait.”

 

And wait they did. Long minutes of silence quickly turned into hours as the room remained quiet with nothing but the soft wheezing of the girl in the bed to fill the void. They waited. Waited for her to show any signs of anything, but the girl’s small noises and shallow but steady breathing played over and over like a song on loop. A song that felt nothing like the music AJ knew. The sickly tunes held no resemblance to the sweet melodies she used to sing to him. All he could do was wait and hope that soon a more cheery theme would begin to play. Until then, they sat until the room began to grow dark with the setting sun.

 

A humble knock at the door was enough of an atmosphere change to cause them both to jump. Ruby entered holding a couple bowls of water in her hands, each with a tattered cloth hanging off the side.

 

“One for Clem’s head and the other to clean you up, little mister.” Ruby stated in a hesitantly cheerful tone.

 

AJ had forgotten about the state of himself. His loosely-fitting shirt stuck to his skin with the dried walker blood. The same stuff smeared dry and cracked on his face and hands, caked around his nails. He sat cross-legged on the floor with the bowl in front of him, dipping his hands into the cool water and watching it become tinged with red as he scrubbed his hands.

 

Ruby made her way over to Clementine and placed the back of her hand against the girl’s forehead, then moved to check her pulse.

 

“She ain’t runnin’ a fever which is good, but her pulse and breathing are still weaker than normal.” The redhead furrowed her brow.

“We’ll have to keep a close eye on her through the night, but there’s nothing we can do for her right now but let her rest.”

 

“How long until she wakes up?” AJ asked from his spot on the floor and was met with an apologetic look from the girl.

 

“If she does, It’ll either be sometime tonight or tomorrow. Which is why we should just make her comfortable and let her heal.”

 

Louis opened his mouth to speak but Ruby answered his question before he could even ask it.

 

I don’t know, Louis. I wish I could tell you there was more I could do, but there just isn't. ” She let out an exasperated sigh as her resolve began to crack and she turned away from them, heading to the door.

“Omar said dinner’s gonna be ready soon. You should see if Tenn or Willy have any old clothes for AJ, I’m gonna go check on Violet.”

 

AJ caught the edge of tears in her voice.

 

Louis left as AJ continued to scrub the blood from his skin. The chill of the evening air was amplified by the cool water. He stared at the now stained cloth sitting in the red water in front of him. He pushed it to the side, getting up and sitting on the bed next to Clem.

 

“Clementine?” He asked in a small voice.

“Can you hear me?”

 

Of course, no response came, but AJ wasn’t about to let that stop him.

 

“Ruby said you need to sleep a lot to get better, but don’t stay asleep too long, okay? Everyone’s really scared.”

 

AJ remembered something she had told him a long time ago.

 

“You’re the toughest boy in the whole world, AJ.”

 

“I’m not scared though. You taught me how to control my fear. How to be brave.

 

“It’s okay to be scared, but never let it control you.”

 

“So I’m gonna be brave for everyone else. Just like you were brave for me all the time.”

 

AJ walked over to the dresser and pulled the fresh cloth out of the cold water, squeezing it and letting it drip back into the bowl. He carefully brought the damp cloth to Clementine’s face, wiping away Lilly’s blood.

 

Thinking about that evil woman gave AJ an odd feeling in his stomach. A feeling of something rotten and twisted. She made Clem do all kinds of bad things to people. All he wanted was to keep Lilly away from her. To protect her, just as she did for him. So AJ washed the remnants of Delta from Clementine’s skin.

 

They can’t touch us now.

 

The door creaked open again as Louis entered with a stack of clothes folded under his arm.

 

“These are from Tenn, back when he first got here. They should fit you.”

 

“Thank you.” AJ said as he put the cloth back into the bowl.

 

“Chef Omar, the cooking god of Ericson’s himself, has worked through the pain of the bullet hole in his leg -to Ruby’s dismay- and prepared us his signature rabbit stew.” The worry behind his smile was painfully obvious.

“If you don’t want to sit with the other kids yet that’s okay, I’ll bring you a bowl after you get changed.”

 

“Are… you gonna eat in here too?” Part of him didn’t want to be alone.

 

“Of course, little man.” He chimed optimistically.

“It’s up to us to look after Clem while she gets better.”

 

It’s our turn to take care of everything.

 

Louis held his hand out for a high five, to which AJ happily obliged. Louis cast the sleeping girl one final glance before heading off to the courtyard.

 

AJ rooted through the pile of clothes Louis had left behind. He chose a pair of plain blue jeans and a green t-shirt depicting what used to be his favourite toy.

 

Discooooo Brrroccoli!

 

He grabbed the rest of the pile and unceremoniously threw it into the bottom drawer of the wooden dresser, leaving the blood-stained garments piled against the wall. He stopped at the door just before he went to follow Louis, turning back to the girl on the bed.

 

“I’ll be right back.” He said to Clementine.

“I promise we won't talk too loud.”

 

You get to rest now.

 

Just like you always wanted.



Chapter Text

Ruby was wrong. 

 

The morning sun came to pass into the night sky once again but Clementine’s eyes never so much as fluttered. Tension rose as hope fell with every passing minute. By the time the sun rose on the third day Ruby was bombarded with questions with every visit. They knew she was no doctor, but she was the only one they could beg who would possibly hold the answers they sought.

 

“It could be the virus taking longer to go through her system.” Ruby said with a sad huff.

“We’re all already infected anyway, getting bit could be like activating it in a way. We don’t know if cutting it off even works, not to mention the blood loss.”

 

“At least this way she has a chance. ” Louis continued to bicker.

 

AJ’s head hung low as he tried not to listen to them argue. It seemed to be all they did since they got back. Clementine told them these people were a family, but this family didn’t sound like the one she had described.

 

“Sometimes people just don’t make sense.”

 

She sure was right.

 

“You want me to help, but you won’t listen t’me cuz I’m not tellin’ you what you wanna hear!” The fiery redhead let her frustration soak into her tone.

 

“Cause you keep saying she’s going to die!” Louis started to raise his voice.

 

“That ain’t what I’m sayin’ and you damn well know it. ” She retorted.

“I’m being realistic, Louis. Clementine is about as tough as they come but this? This might just be beyond her. There’s no guarantee she’s gonna bounce back. There is a chance she’ll wake up but a chance is all she has and it gets slimmer every day. I know you know it, you just don’t want to admit it.”

 

Louis crossed his arms as his eyes met the floor. The momentary silence leaving the room feeling heavy and exhausted.

 

“Fighting about it isn’t gonna make her get better.” AJ was sick of listening to them bicker, getting a word of his own to verbally get between them.

 

Louis opened his mouth for a moment, contemplating his next words.

 

“I… yeah. You’re right.” He said with a sigh as he stepped back.

“I know I’m being an asshole, but I just… I don’t want to think about that shit. I can’t .”

 

“You just need to take a breath, Lou.” Ruby’s tone turned gentle.

“You’ve been so wound up since she got back, it’s not doin’ anyone any good.”

 

“How long can she stay alive sleeping?” AJ’s small voice began to break ever so slightly. Clem couldn’t eat or drink like that. The boy hated the sickening pains and growling he felt whenever he was denied food for misbehaviour. It was sometimes enough to make him cry. He could imagine Clementine felt the same way now.

 

Ruby took a long look at the sleeping girl, once again forcing herself to give the answer no one wanted, but needed to hear.

 

“A week at the most before she dies of dehydration.”

 

A stern knock sounded from the door a moment before Mitch entered. He took wandering steps towards them as if he regretted his actions before even committing them. The boy gave Ruby a nod before she gathered her medical bag and made her way out of the room, mumbling something about checking on Omar.

 

“Hear me out.” Already AJ got the feeling he wouldn’t like this.

“I need you to go down to the river and get us some fish for tonight.”

 

“Why us?” The small boy questioned. He needed to stay here and protect Clem while she got better! What if she woke up alone? She can’t walk anymore, what if no one could hear her?

 

“I wouldn’t ask you guys to do shit if I didn’t have to, but we’re running low on reserves.” He explained.

“Aasim, Willy, and I are about to head out to try to find some game but between the explosion and all the damn walkers that came through there isn’t much runnin’ around out there, Ruby and Tennessee are tied up with Vi and Omar, and Brody will barely leave her room let alone the school.”

 

The look on his face was serious yet empathetic. It was clear he didn’t want to send them out just as much as they didn’t want to leave. 

 

“What if something happens to her, and we’re not here?” Louis began to pace the room as his fingers dug into the sleeves of his coat. 

 

“I know you care about her, dude, but there’s nothing you can do for her right now. ” Mitch stepped forward, grabbing him firmly by the shoulders.

“You gotta snap out of it. Think for a fucking second and realize there’s ways to actually help other than suffocating in this fucking room feeling sorry for yourself.”

 

“Don’t you fucking-”

 

Not again…

 

He just doesn’t know the things Clem taught me.

 

So I should teach him.

 

“Louis!” AJ found himself breaking up yet another fight.

“Mitch is right just like Ruby was. You’re scared and I’m scared and I think we’re all scared. But you keep letting it take control! We have to be brave. Clem says if we let fear take over then bad things happen. If we get scared we don’t think, and then we do dumb things like argue and be mean.”

 

Mitch released his grip on the other boy, nothing but apologies hanging in the air for a moment.

 

“We’ll be back in a few hours.” Louis said flatly, brushing past Mitch as he moved towards the door.

“C’mon AJ.”



“We’ll be back later, Clem!” He called over his shoulder as he ran to catch up with Louis.

 

---

 

“Stay close to me while we’re out here, okay?” Louis reminded him as they approached the dilapidated shack.

 

AJ nodded as he looked over his shoulder, making sure nothing was following them. He had barely made it back before without running into walkers at every turn, but now the forest seemed eerily quiet and devoid of the dead.

 

Water rushed loudly beneath their feet as they crossed the rotted bridge, the boards creaking with every step. Small splashes burst up from the current at random as the fish swam on their merry way upstream.

 

The shack itself seemed it had been well neglected over the years. A fallen tree had torn a hole into the roof and the paint on the exterior was sun-faded and chipped. The interior was somehow even worse. Weeds poked out from between the boards and collapsed sections of the floor. Furniture lay scattered and toppled in the small space. An overall musty smell choked the air and AJ hoped they’d find what they were looking for soon.

 

“Here we go.” Louis said as he pulled two long spears from against the wall. He looked back at AJ before raising an eyebrow and frowning as he surveyed the size of the spear.

“Might be too big for you to use.”

 

“I’m not that little.” The boy pouted.

 

“Whatever you say, little dude.” Louis smiled as he handed AJ a spear.

“Grab a bucket and try to nab us some dinner by the bridge, I’ll only be a couple yards down.”

 

AJ plopped his bucket down with a metallic thunk . He looked over to his left at Louis who stood some distance upstream. His brow was furrowed as he took out his frustrations on the fish who swam by, stabbing his spear into the blue and dropping the still twitching fish into his bucket.

 

Maybe Louis was a little right about the spear. AJ held the long handle with both hands as he tried to find a sense of balance with the heavy bladed end. The blurred forms of his targets swam against the current, slowing them almost to a standstill.

 

Dumb fishies.

 

He buried his spear into the first fish he saw, overestimating his force and nearly slipping forward into the bank but the spear lodging in the mud and prevented his fall. He took a second to regain his balance, leaning over the water as he used the wooden handle to push himself back upright. 

 

AJ dropped his first fish into his bucket and taking a stab at a second. 

 

Shit.” He swore as the spear caught nothing but open water. He quickly glanced back at Louis in case he had been heard, but the older boy seemed lost in his own world. AJ let out a sigh as he gazed down river. He was about to turn back to his work when something stuck against a rock caught his eye. 

 

The boy dropped his spear immediately and made a beeline for the object. AJ couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the faded blue of Clementine’s cap poking out of the water, pinned to a rock by the current. 

 

AJ got on his knees, reaching out far to grab the hat. His fingers barely grazed it as the current dislodged it, sending it floating down the river. Instinctively AJ lunged towards the precious item, causing the soft shoulder on the edge of the river to collapse, sending him into the water.

 

The shockingly cold water caused him to gasp as his toes barely touched the muddy bottom. AJ flailed his arms forward as his index finger hooked on the strap on the back of the hat. Just as he pulled it close a large splash shocked him and a strong arm wrapped around his torso. AJ struggled against whatever grabbed him, desperately trying to avoid being bitten before he felt himself being flung back onto dry land.

 

AJ coughed water from his lungs as he flopped onto his stomach, seeing Louis crawl out after him.

 

“AJ, are you okay? What the fuck happened?” Louis patted the younger boy’s back, the both of them now soaking wet.

 

“The.. h-hat..” AJ coughed out as he caught his breath, gripping it close to him.

 

Maybe this’ll help Clem get better.

 

Louis’ brow was knitted in concern as he reclaimed his discarded coat as he wrapped it around the boy.

 

“Let’s get you inside.”

 

---

 

AJ sat cross-legged in front of the small hearth in the fishing shack. Louis struck his hunting knife against a piece of flint causing sparks to scatter across the pile of dry wood and scrap papers, soon resulting in a small but growing flame.

 

“So you jumped into the river to get your hat back?” Louis let out a small light-hearted chuckle as he removed his boots, dumping river water out of them.

 

“I fell .” The boy corrected.

“And it’s not my hat. It’s Clem’s. I was supposed to take care of it while she was gone.”

 

The greenish stains and caked mud convinced him he hadn’t done a satisfactory job.

 

“She wasn’t allowed to keep stuff, but I was. So she gave stuff to me so Lilly wouldn’t take it away.” Just saying that woman’s name tasted like poison in AJ’s mouth.

 

“Clementine didn’t tell us too much about what happened at the Delta, she was mostly just worried about saving you.” He told him, nudging the boy’s arm.

“She’s gonna be really proud of you for saving her when she wakes up.”

 

“You don’t think she’ll be mad that her leg is gone?”

 

“She’ll be sad about it, in a ‘I wish it didn’t have to happen’ kind of way… but she’s not going to be mad at you.”

 

“Maybe getting her hat back will make her happy.” AJ hoped as he examined the peeling D patch.

 

Maybe me and Louis can fix it up.

 

“She told me it used to belong to her dad and it was really special. I couldn’t let it disappear.”

 

“I’m sure she’ll be happy you rescued it then. This is the only thing I have left of my parents.” Louis pulled a thin chain out from the collar of his shirt, a golden ring adorned with several shining gemstones dangled from it.

“It was my mother’s wedding ring, she gave it to me when I was sent to Ericson’s.”

 

“I don’t have anything from my mom and dad.” AJ said as he thumbed a small rip on the edge of the cap’s brim.

“Clem said my dad got murdered before I was born, and my mom got sick and turned into a monster after she had me.”

 

“Well your name is A J and ‘J’ usually stands for ‘Junior’ so what’s your full name?” The freckled boy inquired.

 

“Alvin Junior.”

 

“I’m willing to bet your dad’s name was Alvin, then. So that’s something you have, his name.” He smiled at the boy.

“It’s not something physical like a hat or ring but it’s still pretty special. Some would even say it’s even more special.”

 

AJ smiled as he put the tattered ballcap in front of the fireplace so the heat of the flames would dry it. He had always protected it so fiercely, not letting anyone else touch it. Part of him was sad to finally give it up, but he knew it was going back to the person it really belonged to. 

 

“...Louis?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“What’s it like having a mom?” AJ didn’t know much about his parents, Clementine herself hardly knew them, but AJ imagined the way Clem treated him was what it was like having a mom.

 

Oh, Well, uh…” Louis laughed nervously.

“Moms are like… Moms take care of you, and protect you, and they love you no matter what. Even when you do really dumb shit, they forgive you.

 

Louis’ smile changed from natural to forced as he struggled to keep the mood lifted. 

 

“So Clem is kinda like my mom.” AJ decided.

“She always protected me. When we first got to the Delta I was really little, and Clem fought them all the time . But she’d tell them not to hurt me no matter what. She’d tell them to hurt her instead, that’s why she has so many scars.”

 

Louis looked down at the fire as he bit his lip. He took a deep breath before closing his eyes and shaking his head.

 

“I don’t know how either of you could take all that, for so long.” Louis said in a low voice, scratching a mark on his right hand.

“You’ve been with them for years, but you still stayed strong. Held on to who you really were. Not like Minnie. I looked at her and I just… didn’t recognize her.”

 

“Clem and I kept fighting because we were fighting for each other. Minerva murdered her sister, so she had nothing to fight for. She had scars too, I think, but her’s were different.” AJ tried to think of a way to describe it.

“Can you get scars on the inside?”

 

It felt like a pain in his chest but with no wound to show. He felt it when he tried to remember what happened at the ranch. He tried not to feel it when Clem was gone, but for some reason, it was stronger when they did let her visit. 

 

“Yeah, you can.” Louis’ voice became especially serious as he looked the younger boy in the eyes.

“It’s called ‘trauma’ and sometimes it just doesn’t go away. Everyone has some these days, some more than others.

 

“Is that why Brody is so scared all the time? Because she has a lot of trauma?”

 

“Yeah, but she’s got people to help her get better. Mitch mostly, but we all help each other.” He put his hand on AJ’s shoulder.

“You and Clem have a lot of trauma too, and I want to help make it better. I don’t want either of you to be hurting.”

 

“I think Clem would like that.” He smiled.

“She told me you’re her favourite out of the other kids.”

 

The answer caught him so off guard that Louis burst into a small fit of laughter. He took a second to collect himself but ended up doing so poorly as giggles still escaped him.

 

“Well, I’d say she’s my favourite as well.” He chuckled again.

 

The dying embers that sat before them emphasized the darkness closing in. AJ looked at the sky through the hole in the ceiling to find the originally blue afternoon sky was now painted orange with the setting sun, the last rays of day peeking through the gaps in the structure.

 

“Shit, we’re late.” Louis said as he also noticed the time.

“They’re probably wondering where we are, let’s get goin’.”

 

Louis ruffled AJ’s fluffy hair, eliciting a giggle from the boy. The two of them grabbed their buckets and made their way back down the path with a new spring in their steps.

 

I wonder if Clem will be awake when we get back.

 

I hope she isn’t worried.

 

AJ felt his pace quickening in anticipation.

 

---

 

The two boy’s arrival at the gate was met with a few worried greetings and a practically livid Ruby who immediately made sure she didn’t have two more patients on her hands. Louis laughed it all off and left to help Omar prepare dinner, leaving AJ to his own devices.

 

“Hey AJ.” A familiar voice called his name.

 

He turned to see the boy who had quickly become his first friend since joining this group.

 

“Tenn?” AJ was surprised to find him without his blonde counterpart by his side.

“Where’s Violet?”

 

“She’s with Clementine right now.” He said, glancing over at the dormitory.

“She’s not awake yet, but Vi wanted to sit with her for a while. She said she wanted to be alone, but I think she was waiting for you to come back.”

 

“For me?”

 

“Yeah, I think she wanted to talk to you… about what happened on the boat.” The boy looked down as he fiddled with his hands.

 

“Okay, I guess.” AJ had barely spoken to Violet since his arrival, mostly just “Hello”’s, “Hi”’s, and questions about Clementine’s condition.

 

AJ couldn’t help a slight nervous feeling as his footsteps echoed down the empty hall. He creaked the door open just a crack as he peeked inside

 

Violet sat on the bunk opposite to Clementine. She had the bandage over her left eye pulled up revealing the angry red scabs forming crisscrossed scars surrounding her pale green eye. AJ could hear her muttering to the other girl under her breath. He couldn’t make out the words, but her tone was sorrowful.

 

“Violet?” He called hesitantly, making the girl flinch as she realized there was someone else with her.

 

“AJ? Is that you?” She squinted at him. Her eye didn’t seem to be completely focused on him. 

 

I wonder how much she can actually see.

 

“Tenn said you were waiting for us to come home.” 

 

“Is Louis here too?” Violet blinked rapidly against the light as she looked around.

 

“No, it’s just me.” He began to step closer.

 

Violet let out a sigh as she gripped the post of the bunk bed’s ladder, mindlessly rubbing the worn metal.

 

“Look, I know you don’t like, know me , but I just wanted to apologize for that shit I pulled on the boat.” The shame on her face was evident.

“I fought back against the wrong people. I let Minnie get in my head and Clementine paid the price.”

 

AJ wasn’t sure what to say. Violet was hurting on the inside, just like that “trauma” Louis talked about.

 

“I guess I kinda paid for it too for trying to stop the bomb. I should’ve helped you. I should’ve helped Clem . If I’d been there maybe she wouldn’t’ve…” The girl’s voice began to break as her eye became glassy.

“She needed me and what did I fucking do? I attacked her. I was so caught up in my own shit I let this happen.

 

A tear began to slide down her face which she instinctively rubbed away a little too harshly. Violet cursed under her breath as she held her sleeve to her stinging wound, resisting sobs.

 

She needs someone to help her get better.

 

AJ jumped up onto the bunk and sat beside her, not entirely sure what to do but he had to try something.

 

“You didn’t hurt Clem. Minerva did. Then a walker did. Then… I did. But not you.” AJ played with the hem of his shirt.

“The Delta does bad things to good people to make them bad too. That’s what they tried to do to you, but you weren’t bad, just confused.”

 

“I could’ve done something.

 

“That would have been dumb. They hate it when you don’t listen.” AJ had a few scars of his own to show for it. 

“They would have only hurt you more.”

 

“Heh, I don’t know how a kid like you survived living with them.”

 

“Clementine is how. She’s the strongest person ever.” AJ said triumphantly.

“That’s why I know she’s gonna wake up. We just gotta wait for it to happen.”

 

A small yet hopeful smile formed on the girl’s lips as she reached out and patted AJ’s hair.

 

“You’re a good kid, AJ.” Violet said as she pulled her bandages back over her wounds.

“I’m glad to have you with us.”

 

The door swung open, causing them both to jump as a familiar freckled face greeted them.

 

“Ah, there you are, Violet.” Louis said in a cheerful tone.

“What’s new on your avenue?”

 

Violet snorted as she stood and faced the direction of his voice.

 

“Now that’s the Louis I know.” She grinned.

 

“Uh, what do you mean?” He raised an eyebrow.

 

Please, that’s the first jokey thing you’ve said in days.” She shook her head.

“A little fresh air did you some good after all.”



“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Louis denied as he walked over to Clementine.

“Still nothing?”

 

“I think she was talking in her sleep or something like an hour ago.” Violet crossed her arms.

“I think she was having a nightmare.”

 

“Really?” AJ gasped.

 

She really is gonna wake up.

 

“Ruby said it’s a really good thing, that her mind is becoming more active.”

 

Louis knelt down next to her bed with wide eyes, touching the back of his hand to her cheek.

 

“What is going on in that head of yours?” he whispered.

 

Maybe she can hear me now.

 

“Clem…” The boy held her ballcap in front of him.

“I got your hat back for you. I know you said it was ‘just a thing,’ but it’s still special. I’ll leave it here so you can put it on when you wake up.”

 

AJ placed the stained cap on the wooden dresser. It looked kinda gross, but AJ guessed that it was better than not having it at all.

 

Tennessee came into the room to call them all to dinner, taking Vi’s arm as he carefully guided her to the courtyard. The smile Louis wore as he greeted the others seemed to be contagious among them, the other kid’s happy to see at least his anxiety lifted at least a little. Smiles that faded just a little when he still elected to eat his dinner in the confines of Clem’s dorm room, not wanting to miss anything when they were this close.

 

Louis and AJ both sat on the bunk adjacent to Clementine. Each enjoyed a bowl of stew made from the fish they had caught while Louis attempted to teach AJ a card game with the similarly themed name of “Go Fish.”

 

Real fishing is more fun.

 

As the sunlight faded AJ felt his eyelids grow heavy, finding himself leaning against the older boy just to hold his head up. Louis opened his coat as he wrapped it and his arm around the boy, the both of them far too sleepy to go to the effort of moving. Instead, they accepted their fate of sleeping while sitting on that bed, surrounded by loose playing cards and leaning against the wall.

 

“Goodnight, Louis.” AJ said as he snuggled into the warmth of the coat.

 

“Goodnight, kiddo.”

 

Goodnight, Clementine.