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Quality Time

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Clementine and Mitch had a rocky relationship. After AJ shot Marlon when he was no longer a threat, he viewed them as dangerous cold-hearted murderers. He voted for them to be kicked out of their community. Seeing them return albeit bloodied and exhausted in the woods by raiders pissed him off far more than Violet refusing to give a eulogy for his friend. Things got better in the greenhouse with some mediation. Clementine proved she could hold her own in a locked room with walkers. She was caught off-guard by the flora-covered walker of the nurse that had taught Ruby her medical skills, and he had helped her fight it off. With bits of silly banter and background between them, Ruby reported to Violet that they were getting along.

“That’s good,” Violet said with a bittersweet smile. “We need everyone to work together if we want to have even a chance against the raiders. We’ve got to keep this up.”

“What do you think they can do?” Ruby asked. “Mitch is our bomb expert; Clementine can’t really help him with that.”

“But we need to feed the group. Supplies from the train station will only last so long. Those walkers are probably still over there.”

“Then we should stick to the safe zone.”

“Yeah.” Violet walked over to the giant window that overlooked the courtyard. “I know Mitch isn’t going to like it, but I’ll send them out together to go fishing. We might not be running extremely low on food, but the better they get along, the better we can fight. Everyone needs to get comfortable.”

“Well, Mitch is the only one who still has a problem with her,” Ruby stressed. “But I think you might be right about sending them to fish together.”

Violet smiled at her. While she wasn’t inherently a fan of Clementine spending too much time with everyone else, but it couldn’t be helped. Solidarity above anything and everything. She wanted to start fortifying the school the next day, though. She knew that Mitch would want to start working on his bomb. It wouldn’t mean anything if they ran out of food. They didn’t know when Lilly and her entourage would be on their property. They had to remain stocked.

So that was that. Violet asked Ruby to bring Clementine and Mitch to the principal’s office. She told them that they needed to go to the old shack to fish.

“Why? We have enough food, remember?” Mitch protested. “Besides, some of us actually have things to do—like me and the main thing needed for this plan. Send someone else with her.”

“I get it,” Clementine sighed. “He doesn’t want to be shown up by a girl.” She flashed a cocky smirk.

“What did you say?” Mitch scowled at her before Violet told them to stop. There wasn’t any changing her mind. After all, she was the only one to step up and start calling the shots when Marlon died. He didn’t like Violet—liked her less than Clementine—but he wasn’t going to disobey her. He crossed his arms. “Fine, I’ll go, but if I don’t have enough time to make the bomb, it’s all your fucking asses.”

“Well, we’ll all die together,” Clementine sassed. “Family, right?”

Mitch rolled his eyes at her. “We’re not family.”

“It’ll be a bonding experience,” Violet said. “Just make sure you get back before sun down. More than likely, the raiders will come at night when they think we can’t see them. Pay attention to how long you’re out there, and if you’re not catching anything, come straight back here.”

“What about the train station?” Clementine asked.

“After meeting Abel and all the walkers that ended up there, I don’t think it’s smart to go back yet, especially with our two best fighters.”

“Alright, fair.” Clementine turned for the door then stopped. “Mind if AJ comes along? If I’m gone for too long—”

“Only if you take his gun away,” Mitch stated without hesitation. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten what he did.”

“Fine.”

Violet started to doubt what Ruby had said. They didn’t seem like they were getting along at all. Clementine was simply better at mediating the situation than Mitch. She sent them on their way, reminding them to get back before it got too dark.

They walked together to the dorms without speaking to each other. Whether it was out of spite or there was truly nothing to talk about, neither of them seemed interested in the other outside of how to strengthen their stronghold. When they left the grounds with AJ in tow, though, Mitch became more talkative…and paranoid of the boy.

AJ had left his gun in the dorm, but he still had his shiv. Who was to say he would just go crazy, stab him in the back of the leg, and then take the opportunity to slit his throat? He had threatened Clementine, and as she said, the last person to do that wound up with a bullet through his head.

“AJ isn’t going to do anything,” Clementine reassured him. “I told him that what he did to Marlon was wrong, and he wants to make it up. If he does anything like that to you or Violet or Louis or anyone else, I promise that I’ll take responsibility.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Mitch grumbled. “It doesn’t matter anyway. It won’t bring him back.”

Clementine just sighed. It was probably a good thing it wouldn’t bring him back. Chances that he would have been a walker were exponentially high if he hadn’t been shot in the head. But of course, she couldn’t say that and didn’t want to if she wanted his friendship.

They arrived at the old shack by late morning. AJ wandered around looking at the scarce fish swimming up the river while Clementine and Mitch grabbed a couple spears to start hunting. There was a condition set by Mitch that AJ wasn’t allowed to use a spear, and while Clementine agreed to it, she still found it kind of silly that he was so suspicious of him. Still, they were going to be there for some time, so might as well do what it took to keep him happy so they didn’t go at each other’s throats.

“Aw, Clem, this isn’t fair,” AJ complained. “I want to help, too.”

“I know you do, but I just don’t want any fighting,” Clementine lectured. “We have to work together. When people are scared, they can do bad things, remember? So how do we deal with fear?”

“We tell it to fuck off!” AJ was smiling, and Mitch remembered when he first cursed with him. He couldn’t help but smile at it, and Clementine caught him much to his chagrin.

“That’s right. And we can tell it to fuck off by trying to make other feels comfortable. When people aren’t a threat, we are nice to them. We’re helpful.”

“Helpful. Got it. But why can’t I fish?”

Mitch tried to explain it to him at Clementine’s request, and it seemed to go over better. He didn’t seem like the type that could at least talk to children in an understand manner. Whatever worked.

Clementine smiled at the little boy, allowing him to return to watching the fish zip around. They didn’t bother to use the fishing traps; there weren’t enough to justify springing them then resetting them. She and Mitch were going to spear them out of the water the old-fashioned way.

AJ watched the buckets they brought, the fish weakly floundering about in them. He soon got bored of that and found a stick and some mud to play with. Mitch eyed him then Clementine.

“I’m taking a break,” he said, laying down the spear and sitting on the rocks by the bank. For an autumn day, it was a bit hot and humid. He was sweating a lot more than he would have liked. And all that perspiration was being wasted on fish and not his bomb. He knew he could have taken off his coat, but something made him feel like it would be…weird and intimate. It wasn’t completely off the table, but this was Clementine. He exhaled deeply as he leaned back. “Clem, you should, too.”

“I guess—there isn’t a lot to catch anyway,” she mumbled.

She did the same, laying down the spear and sitting next to him. The stickiness around the river made wearing her jackets unbearable. She took them off at least until they were done fishing. Mitch couldn’t help but watch her take them off, and the shirt she was wearing underneath all the layers revealed something he had never seen.

It was relatively faint, but it was there. On her left arm, there was a circle of raised skin and dark spots. It was some sort of scar, and the way it looked told him that it was a bite. But it wasn’t a walker bite—she would have gotten sick and died and turned. The bottom and top rows of teeth marks were too far apart and long to be a human bite, and he had noticed her initial apprehension near Rosie.

“How did you get that one?” he asked. His face softened, as if showing genuine interest and possibly concern. Or maybe she was more of a badass than he thought, as if her fighting off walkers alone wasn’t already.

Clementine looked at the scar. It was a long story, and a painful one. She had already somewhat told Violet and Louis her past and how she had survived for so long, but she hadn’t told Mitch much of anything. She didn’t look for his sympathy, but maybe if he knew where she was coming from with AJ and why she was teaching him the way she was.

“I got bit by a dog,” she said.

“Just attacked you?” he followed up.

“Kind of. It was a dog I’d found near a camp. His family had left him behind or died—he was just alone. I thought that maybe I could befriend him and take him with me, but when I ended up finding a little bit of food, he attacked me. I couldn’t blame him. He was super hungry. But I ended up getting him off me and accidentally throwing him onto some of the tent rods that were still up. I couldn’t leave him to suffer, so I…I killed him out of mercy.”

Clementine looked disappointed since the experience had left her nervous around dogs. Mitch didn’t know what to say other than:

“I didn’t think you’d have the balls to do it.” He stared at the running water. “I mean, killing walkers is easy as shit if you don’t get attached like Ruby does. Killing a live human is hard, but killing a dog…that’s rough. Sorry, Clem.”

“Nothing to be sorry about. I’ve…had to do a lot of hard things.”

Mitch straightened himself as he turned to face her. He wanted to know what she meant by that, but Clementine decided that they should at least try to catch something. She made it a game. If they each caught a fish, she would tell him more.

He obliged. Picking up his spear and preparing to stab a fish out of the water, he wanted to know. The only problem was that he wasn’t exactly fast; he was more suited to being a game hunter, not a fisher. Clementine had an easier time catching one, but she couldn’t help but laugh watching him struggle.

“Don’t laugh!” he snapped at her.

“Why not? I thought you were good in a fight,” she teased.

“Yeah, well, fish aren’t exactly fighters.”

After a few minutes, he scored one, dumping it in his bucket then waited expectantly for Clementine to explain herself. What were the hard things she had to do to get to where she was now?

She talked about when everything started. She had been rescued from her tree house by a man named Lee. She made friends with a family from Florida and others. She was friends with Lilly until she murdered the person they saved from the walkers. Everything was falling apart around them, and then she learned that Lee—her savior and father figure—had been bit.

“Oh shit,” Mitch replied sympathetically. “Guess you had to leave and never look back.”

“In a way, yeah. Lee taught me so much, but when he was dying, I knew it was time. I couldn’t let him turn.”

“Fuck.”

“I was just nine when I shot him, but…but we were both happy knowing that he wouldn’t become one of them.”

“He was happy? Right, I doubt anyone is ever happy to be shot in the head.”

“Well, in my dreams, he’s happy. I miss him so much.”

In this rare moment of vulnerability, Mitch felt ashamed for making her recount the memories. He returned to the water, spearing another fish. And when Clementine caught her next fish, he started to say that she didn’t need to say anymore, but she rolled right into the next memory involving the father of the Floridian family named Kenny.

After Savannah, he had gone missing for the two years she traveled with a woman named Christa. She ended up finding him again, but he had severely changed. He had lost everything, and he was clinging to life with the hope that he would find a reason to survive. Clementine remembered all the times he got mad when things didn’t go his way. AJ was the one that kept him grounded for the most part.

“That reason was AJ,” Clementine said.

“The kid? Why?” Mitch asked.

“AJ’s parents were both dead, and Kenny took him to raise. He wouldn’t leave me behind, either. But AJ became his sole priority. Jane stole him and hid him in a car to make a point, and…”

Mitch waited; he was deeply regretting this game now. “This Kenny guy took her out,” he finished her sentence.

“They got into a fight, and I had to choose. Either shoot Kenny or shoot Jane. Both were my friends. I couldn’t bring myself to shoot either of them, and because I hesitated, Kenny killed Jane.”

“Well, that should have made it easier, right? This Kenny guy sounds like a fucking asshole. Hell, if I were in your shoes, I would have shot him. But Jane sounds like a bitch. She abandoned you after a quickie with that other guy.” He pounded his hand. “World’s just full of assholes, you and me included.” He cleared his throat. “Continue. Because that’s not the end of it, is it.”

“No, it’s not. I stayed with Kenny because I didn’t think I could raise AJ on my own. When we got to Wellington, Kenny wasn’t allowed to stay. They didn’t have enough supplies to help us, but they weren’t going to leave children out there. That was where we said our goodbyes for a little while.”

Mitch let out a puff of air. “Well, at least you didn’t kill him like you did Lee.” He walked to the river again. He focused on the fish. “Listen, Clem, you don’t have to tell me anymore.”

“You wanted to know,” she countered.

“Yeah, and now I feel like shit for asking.”

There was an awkward silence between them that was only broken by the sound of something rustling on the other side of the river. Clementine and Mitch’s attention immediately homed in on the sound. AJ threw away the stick he had been playing with, running to Clementine’s side with his shiv ready.

“Who’s out there?” Clementine interrogated.

“Clem, don’t,” Mitch warned her.

“Show yourselves!”

“What the fuck are you doing?”

She remained on alert. She didn’t have the gun, and they were only armed with spears and a shiv. Mitch didn’t have any sort of weapon on him other than that as well.

A couple emerged from the bushes. They looked weary and hungry. And they had a gun. They stated that they were just looking for something to get by with. The man of the couple noticed AJ.

“Ain’t you two a bit young to have a kid?” the man asked. “Where are your parents?” He looked around. Thanks to the thick woods, Ericson was hidden from sight, and with just the little shack behind them, it truly seemed like they were a young couple that had found a place to stay. “How old are you anyway? How old is that kid?” He took a step.

“Stop right there,” Clementine growled. “We live here in this shack, and this river is our property.” She tightened the grip on her spear.

“W-We’re sorry!” the woman frantically apologized. “We won’t bother you anymore if you just give us a couple of those fish.”

“Yeah, we ain’t looking for a fight,” the man assured.

“Drop your weapon then,” Mitch ordered. “Don’t want a fight, don’t pack any heat. Leave it over by that tree. And I’ll be watching your girl.”

The man seemed reluctant, his partner egging him to do as they said. He left the gun by the tree, and the woman stood near it to make sure no one else came to steal it. AJ and Mitch watched them while Clementine kept an eye on the bucket of fish. The man cautiously walked up, took two fish, then stepped backwards to the tree, his girl, and his gun.

“Alright, you got your fish,” Mitch snarled at them. “Get lost.”

And the couple left after a gracious thank you from the woman. It was probably the easiest encounter they had had in years, but it rubbed him the wrong way that they were so close to the school. If the others were to find out about them, everyone would panic. Clementine looked up at the sky. It was getting dark.

“We should head back,” she said, though she was disappointed that they only picked up two fish. “This sucks.”

“At least we got something,” Mitch consoled in a standoffish way. “Bright side, we didn’t have to kill anyone.”

“I thought you’d be disappointed,” Clementine laughed.

Mitch groaned at the idea that she thought he was still a heartless prick who enjoyed seeing living harmless people die. AJ grabbed the bucket of fish—after both were put into one—while Clementine and Mitch stepped inside of the shack to put the spears back. It was just as stuffy in the shack as it was outside, and once they had made sure that the spears were hidden out of sight, Mitch exhaled. He looked at Clementine then reached out his arm to her.

“Uh, what are you doing?” she asked suspiciously.

“Well,” he stammered. “Granted I made you talk about some shitty stuff and then we get spooked in the woods by some stragglers, I thought I should…” His face was turning red. “Ugh, forget it!”

“You thought you should what?” Clementine leaned on the wall, a mischievous smile on her chapped lips.

“I don’t know, try to make you feel better…like you had a friend or something—I-I don’t know!” He kicked the wall like how AJ did when he was mad.

“Are you blushing? Mitch!”

“Oh, shut up, I am not!” His eyes widened. “Do not tell Louis.” He crossed his arms, pouting and unable to look her in the face. “Don’t need anyone to know about this.”

Clementine let out a hearty laugh. She’d never have expected him to get so bothered about a good gesture, and it was—to say the least—cute. For all the time that he put up a tough act, it was something. She walked up to him, patting his back.

“I appreciate it, Mitch,” she said, still with a little giggle left in her. “You’re not so bad, you know?”

“Okay, don’t get mushy on me.” He extended him arm again to give one of those chummy one-armed hugs, and Clementine accepted the gesture in good faith. She had to give him kudos for trying. “Let’s get going. Violet’s gonna have a bitch fit if we’re late.”

Clementine moved from under his arm, stared at him for a bit, then joined AJ outside. She picked up her jackets, and the three of them started back to Ericson. Mitch walked a little behind them, trying his best to get the pink out of his face before they got back.