It's no longer the train. The opened boxcar flashing sunlight of the open woods that illuminated it, contrasting to its dark and closed inside. The rush of warm air from the speeding train didn't call out. The woods stood still, no wind to make them dance so gently. The crates stacked high and in scatters, now diminished and gone. The cold metal of the walls, along with it's splintering wooden floor had ceased to exist. This was no longer a happy place.
Instead, there was a familiar tan painted house in a normal neighborhood that sat dormant, never to be used again. Not in this world anyways. The paint seemed to chip off of the house, revealing a displeasing gray undercoat. Most of the windows clouded with dust as they have been closed for ages. The window to the little girl's room seemed the most dark and clouded, nothing able to peer into that small abandoned space.
The tire swing was tied loosely to a branch, it swayed lightly even with no breeze accompanying it, desperately searching for a user. One it shall sadly never receive. The blackness of the tire was now a darker gray, holes and slashed embedded into it.
The tea set that was in front of the tree was old and faded, sitting upon the wrinkled and dirty mat. The inside of the cups were bone-dry, having not been used.
The gate that led to the street seemed broken in. The metal was severely rusted, and it was tilted down towards the concrete as the hinges holding it up were decaying. There were dents in the wall where it had been smashed repeatedly into, caused by weather hopefully.
The fence that led to the small patch of woods was reclaimed by nature. Plants and vines grew up and over, coating it in layers of dirt. Some rocks that were near the fence has moss grown onto them, that had traveled and connected it. The original brown color now had a white tint to it. It was different as expected, but the same from when Lee had jumped over it.
But with all this; the tree house had remained completely the same. The wood hadn't been cracked or changed colors, it didn't decay, it wouldn't crumble at a touch. The leaves surrounding it was the same green, as the branches were still strong and swarming around it. The wooden ladder rungs still had their few scratched from climbing up and down it. The small hatch of the tree house still had the polished gray hinges, the door had never squealed when it was opened and closed.
It was small and quiet. Seemingly insignificant from the outside view as any other house would have been. But it wasn't, not to her.
Here the start of the journey in the new world. Where the story of the little girl has truly began. Not as a survivor, knowing what to do it any circumstance. Instead as herself, learning to adapt to the changes. As Clementine...
"Hey, Sweetpea." A deep and soothing voice sounded behind her, calming her down and breaking her from her thoughts.
She quickly turned, to be greeted by the sight of him. Her best friend, her guardian, her savior. Lee.
He was still the same, as well. Wearing his blue rolled-sleeved denim shirt along with his long white undershirt. His khaki pants which stretched down to his dress shoes. The short black hair with his trimmed beard. His dark skin was coated in the same smile as always.
The dark brown eyes of his scanned around the yard, looking down to her tiny frame, a small smile tugging on his lips: "Why did you choose the house?"
Her eight-year-old self responded without hesitation," This is where it all started." She looked up to him, "Where I met you."
"Where I met you." He mirrored.
Brown eyes met golden eyes. Both looking to each other in adoration, comforted by each other. Memories flooded back to her: about him, about herself, about them, about what they represented together. He always felt more family to her than her own family. Sad, but the truth in this world. And honestly, she wouldn't want to have it any other way. He guided her, saved her, and taught her everything she knew. From survival to saying goodbye to learning how to love again.
After a moment of calm silence, Clementine laughed quietly," I can't believe I had the thought of dropping a hammer on your head."
Lee smirked."Now where would we have been if you did that?"
"I'm not sure if you would've known what hit you." She lightly punched his shoulder.
What was left of his laughter filled the air, "Probably not."
"I'm glad I didn't though." Clementine innocently smiled, looking up at him with wide eyes.
"I am too." He chuckled.
She sighed, looking up at the tree house she had been starving in for three days. She was very glad and relieved when Lee had come and helped her.
"I don't think I could've made it out without you."
"I'm sure you'd find a way, like you always do."
He glanced over to her staring up at the tree house, also remembering what she is.
He grinned,"But, I'm also very glad when I came."
"Tch, yeah. Breaking into my house."
"The door was open."
She stammered for a response, to which none came. Lee laughed at her failed attempt to counter him. He was enjoying this way too much.
They exchanged a few more comments and banter, reminiscing on simpler times. Him about his life and working as a professor; to which he had told her many stories about. Her just talking about what her normal life was; it definitely wasn't much, but she still knew what it was like to be a kid. He enjoyed hearing that. They had sat on the greenish-brown grass, which was brittle and overgrown. They didn't mind, just as long as they were talking together.
Eventually the subject turned to the people they met, Clementine had a hard time talking about all the amazing people she grew attached to and lost, Lee's own story included in there. She spoke with venom about all the people she hated or who have wronged her. She spoke compassionately about the friends she had now. And she spoke very motherly over her child, AJ. Lee related to her feelings.
Soon, Lee got up walked around, staring at all the things he could. Often making small one-off comments about what he was looking at. Things like the gate, house, saying something about how the decor over the last few years have downgraded. Until eventually, he walked back over to where Clementine had been sitting; watching him with her golden eyes.
He held something in his hand. She reached out to grab it, and see what it was he had given her: it was a picture. Of him, the one he had ripped out from that photo so many years ago. The photo that Clementine had since she was young. It was an item of so much value. Before, it was hope and promise of a new day; that he was still here with her. Maybe it was just a reassurance that Lee was here, maybe it was just to show that it was still here with her. But, at that moment, it didn't matter.
Now, all she saw at this moment was not the photo. But the bite on his wrist she had caused from what had felt like an eternity ago. It was no longer a fatal wound (not that it really ever was one), but a scar of teeth marks indented perfectly onto his wrist. She could tell that Lee knew she was looking, as he put his hand back to his side. Clementine knew Lee never blamed her, he was too good a person for that. But she still blamed herself.
Small tears pricked at her eyes, but she didn't want to let them fall. Let herself know that even she was weak. Lee smiled genuinely at her, like he always did. She couldn't hold back anymore, wrapping her arms around him. He didn't have to think about returning the embrace, holding her just as tightly.
Muffled in his shirt, she sighed," I'm sorry."
"What for, Sweetpea?"
"The bite...", She shook her head slowly, sadly,"...I caused it."
"No, you didn't." He insisted.
Clementine snapped her head up and looked at him exasperatedly,"I did!"
"If you hadn't tried to get me, maybe you'd still be here..." .What she did seemed irredeemable in her eyes, she never really told anybody that part of the story, just because of how much guilt she harbored over it. Lee has called her ridiculous for it before, but her mind never changed on the subject.
"But you wouldn't."
"Maybe." Images and horrid thoughts flashed in her mind,"But you've seen what I've done."
"You've seen the things other people have done, too."
"Yeah, I have." She let out a dark and unamused huff of a laugh.
"Clem, think about it. You have done some bad things," Clementine glared at him to which he chuckled,"But here, now, you're trying to protect your friends. You've always tried to protect your friends. We've seen people who sacrifice others for themselves, those who have done worse than imaginable."
"But, you've also always had the strength to keep moving forward. Make it to places other people couldn't. You've stood up for your friends, you've always kept going. And with all of that, you took care of a kid!"
"I know, what if-"
"No what if. What happened, happened. Things can't be changed."
He sighed,"And honestly, I don't want it to change as long as your okay."
He looked down at her who had removed her face from his shirt to look at him, she still had a frown that was threatening to become a smile,"And I couldn't be anymore proud of you."
She knew he was right, like always. The past was set in stone, she couldn't change it as much as she wanted to. With guilt and regrets, she still had to keep moving forward. And sometimes, it was exhausting. Sometimes she wanted to crumble and break, like a piece of stone would do under the pressure she had to endure on a daily basis. And even though Lee was right, and she felt awful for the truth, Clementine found hope in his words. Or what she thinks he would say, anyways.
They stayed like that for a few moments. Clementine didn't know what to say, to argue back; so she didn't. Just stayed trapped in his arms like she was when he was still with her, never denying her. Lee also wanted to say the right things to her, to give her the company she needed. The shoulder she could cry on. Unfortunately, he knew she would need more than him in this state. For now, they were just acting on the presence they wanted.
Before she could finally comment on the incite he had given her, he spoke quietly,"You know, I had always seen it coming."
She tilted her head sideways, trying to rack her brain for a quick explanation,"What do you mean?"
"I knew I wouldn't make it long."
Clementine looked at Lee with a face of confusion and appall.
"Even though I knew it was coming, it- it was still a surprise."
She seemed a bit distraught and the knowings that Lee held for his own death. He shook his head slightly, a small frown adorned his face.
"You'll never know what's coming."
She scoffed,"Yeah, no kidding."
"And that means-" And horn sounded loud in the distance:
"Soon, you'll have to wake up, Clementine."
"And soon our time will be over."
"But soon, we'll be together again."
He smiled softly at her as she disconnected from his mid-section, looking to her with admiration. Once again, she had become what she was now. The sixteen-year-old survivor, one that Lee didn't know as well but was still proud of nonetheless.
"I still can't believe how much you've grown." He looked at her face. Now with sharp cheeks and a matured look, small scars littered across her face. The most noticeable ones being on her cheek and nose. She had grown to copy Lee's denim style with her rolled-up jacket sleeves and with a white undershirt. She looked much more fit for the survivor's world as he ever did, sporting nice combat boots and camouflage-type pants.
Clementine is a survivor. Setting her own destiny, making her own choices, going by her own rules. She had her own moral compass, and she followed that path. Never backing out of a challenge.
She chuckled at that, looking over her own outfit,"Me too."
A horn sounded louder in the distance. A signal that she must wake up soon, as much as she didn't want to.
Lee seemed slightly disappointed,"I guess our time's over soon."
"I don't want it to end."
"Me neither, Sweetpea. But it does."
She looked to the ground sadly. Her times with Lee were the best she has. She was still young and growing, needing to act like a mature adult and not the teenager she should be. But even she, the proclaimed badass, needed guidance every now and then. Lee's smile returned and bloomed in a wide one as he tucked a finger and pushed up under her chin to make her look at him. She felt safe with him, looking into the eyes of one of the best people she has had the honor of meeting before. Even if he wasn't really there.
"I'll miss you."
Clementine opened her eyes.