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alone, myself, i stand

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What sets him off is the Polaroid photograph of Sarah that he finds lying discarded on the floor.

The blood in Clementine’s veins freezes when she watches his eyes focus on the photograph, and for a moment - there’s just a brief moment - it seems that she can’t bring any air into her lungs.

The beginnings of a grin come to the man’s face; it’s one that shakes Clementine to her core.

He bends down so close to the floor and so close to the bed - so close to Sarah’s hiding place that he must be able to hear her breathing. He must have. When the man examines the photograph, he stands and looks from it to Clementine with his gaze moving slow enough that she can almost see the cogs spinning in his head.

And they do.

“Who is this?”

His voice is silky, and full of suggestion when he speaks, something that he previously tried to hide. But Clementine knows now that she was dead wrong about what she previously perceived was an… innocent intention.

Clementine doesn’t speak for several seconds. Multiple separate things come to her mind - excuses, ways to get out of this, methods of maybe subtly manipulating this man into… what, letting her go? Everything in the back of her head tells her to run and to not allow the sweat forming in her clenched palms to be visible for this home-invader to see.

“I don’t -” She hesitates, gripping her left wrist tightly as her voice suddenly cuts off in the middle of her sentence. “I don’t know.” Clementine glances to her shoes and the floor. Again, her eyes flick to the photograph clenched between the man’s dirt-coated fingers. “Maybe she was someone who used to live here.”

His nod is slow, and his grip on the photograph tightens. The smirk on his lips slowly slides from his face is replaced by the narrowing of his eyes; he glares in his heinous attempt to stare into Clementine’s eyes.

“Must be,” he grunts, then lowers the photograph to his side. It’s then that the unnerving smirk returns, playing on his lips dangerously. “You have no idea who these people are, do you?”

Again, the man’s smirk once again melts into a scowl - well, more than a scowl, more than a glare. It’s an expression that makes Clementine wish that she had to the ability or the time to simply run out of the room instead of being paralyzed, switching her gaze from the man to the floor over and over. But her legs don’t cooperate, so she stands there, frozen, unable to force her voice to work.

“Where are they?”

Clementine says nothing at first, and instead finds herself backing away just slightly. Shaking her head slowly, she murmurs, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The words run together as they race through her head, repeating over and over rhythmically.

She has to keep telling him this - she has to lie and participate in her self-preservation and keep him from whatever it is that he has in mind -

Her mind instantly shoots back to just the day before when that scavenger chased her through the dense forest - the same event that set off a chain reaction of events that continuously spired out of control.

She has an idea of what this man has in mind.

And this man, whom she’s now almost certain is the aforementioned Carver, knows who and what he’s looking for. Just not where. But while watching him through the house in his interrogation of every little displaced object, watching him play stupid when she asks him what he’s looking for - dear God, Clementine almost believed him. Almost.

And that is something that terrifies her.

Where?” the man - Carver - asks again, allowing the photograph to fall from his dirty grip so that it flutters to the floor, like a leaf that falls to the ground. “Where are they?” His voice deepens, now gruffer this time; it takes on a tone that immediately betrays the calm, concerned facade that he previously put on.

There’s a short-lived moment when Clementine stares him straight in his eyes in her futile attempt to look intimidating. His pupils are pinpoint dots against brown, his eyebrows ruffled in a way that makes him appear much more similar to a wolf than a human.

There’s silence between them for only a few seconds before Carver speaks again.

“Lemme ask you this…” He sighs, then stares at Clementine again. “When you met ‘em, how much did they trust you?”

They didn’t trust her at all.

Carver nears her, coming even closer to her than Clementine is comfortable being with anyone - so close that she can hear his gruff breathing… so close that she can feel her heart pounding even faster as she struggles to look up to meet him in the face.

“... I don’t… know…”

Her words dry up the second that Carver’s hands fly up to her shirt collar, his fingers latching around the bloodied fabric as he grumbles to her, “Wrong answer.”

Clementine yelps as he pulls her closer, very suddenly and violently; he works one hand to the area between her chin and her jawbones and the other to her wrist. He tightens his grip, bone on bone, and forces her to glance up at him.

She doesn’t scream - she can’t scream - but rather lets out a barely audible gasp as her heart drops to her stomach. Carver’s grip on her boney chin tightens even more, to the point where Clementine suddenly fears for the fate of her jaw bone -

Her wide, reddened eyes bore into his squinted eyes as he growls, “You’ve got a thick, fuckin’ skull, girl.”

And just like that, Clementine shouts as he finds him gripping her by the waist and dragging her out of the room and down the solid wooden stairs as if she’s nothing but a rag doll to a careless child. Her limbs shake and tremble as she kicks and squirms in Carver’s grasp as he yanks her from the bottom stair.

Within her view of the fast approaching sitting room is the kitchen door. There’s a moment when she remembers the knife that he brandished before.

She could get that knife.

She could defend herself.

She could -

The cocking of Carver’s gun is audible. The cool, bumpy metal of the tiny barrel brushes against the reddened skin around her throat as she feels Carver’s grip around her waist tighten. He forces her forward, nodding towards the kitchen door.

Panic seizes Clementine again as she thinks of the knife again, this time in a different light.

“I’ll ask you again.” he says calmly, “Where are they? Luke - where the fuck is he?”

“I – don’t – know –” Clementine gasps back, her voice trembling as Carver presses his colt python into her jugular again. The pressure increases as he jams it harder into her throat, but she isn’t even sure what she’s supposed to tell him. What he wants to know. Where had Luke gone? What’s she supposed to tell him - yes, he’s out somewhere in the North Carolina wilderness, somewhere around her, looking for Nick?

The physical pressure, if it’s even possible at this point, increases as Carver steers Clementine towards the kitchen. By this point, it’s difficult to feel her hands and her knees because of the dread - oh God, the dread. Nothing but dread.

Her mind flashes back to Carver’s threatening brandishing of that knife earlier - that horrible, disgusting kitchen knife - and how she thought he was going to stab her or even kill her.

Her lip trembles and she holds back tears as he forces her through the swinging door and towards the outside of the counters. Clementine’s eyes meet with the rusty sink and all of its dirty dishes; the stove that smells like burned meat; all of the drawers filled with pointy and dangerous tools and silverware.

Carver pulls her towards the front of the stove that doesn’t work anymore, right next to where the corners of the counters meet. He deposits the gun back into his holster and rips out open the drawer just a few inches away.

It’s that kitchen knife again.

In a dangerous voice, he growls, “We can do this all day.” He takes a deep breath and sighs as if mimicking a disappointed parent. “Since you don’t seem to be learning from the gun, we can do this the hard way.

In one swift movement, with incredible ease, Carver shoves Clementine against the counter with a great force that catches her off guard. It’s the force of her temple clattering against the edge that causes her to emit the unholy screech that comes out high pitched and violently.

Her vision clatters around, going dark for a few seconds before it clears again. Terrified, she shakily looks up at him from her position in the corner, feeling her entire body tremble.

There’s a few, unrelenting seconds between the time when Clementine finds herself on her backside in the corner, panting and nursing her temple, and the moment that Carver squats down to meet her gaze.

“We can do this shit all day.” he whispers again, shaking his head slowly.

There’s a pause as Carver holds the knife at his side. Then without warning, he brandishes it again, this time lower.

Much lower.

Clementine screams when he jerks her body at the same time he forces his hand and the knife towards her abdomen, holding her tiny wrists with the other hand. Crying out again, she tries to pull herself away – she tries.

He rips up both of her shirts and thrusts the tip into her abdomen with just enough force to cause pain without fully breaking the sensitive skin.

With little movement, he forces the blade down so that it’s flat. All that fills her head is the pain and the burning when he begins to push harder - and when he pushes harder, that’s when the skin begins to break, and the bloodshed starts; first, in tiny beads, and then it begins to seep together to form a slow drip of sorts.

Clementine pushes herself against the counters, forcing herself down into the corner as she breaks Carver’s grasp from her arms. Her hands fly to her wound – it’s burning. It’s nearly the worst she’s ever felt because not even the dog bite hurt like this – maybe it matches the way stitching it up herself felt like, but she can’t push past it.

Tears spill down her cheeks, but she bites back the scream of pain that she doesn’t even seem to have the energy to force out, no matter how much she can feel the steady stream of blood spreading around the bottom long-sleeved shirt.

Carver bares down on her with a glare. Maybe it’s annoyance at what an inconvenience she’s being, but Clementine doesn’t care. All she does is try and fail to repress the wails that escape her small body, shaking every inch like a leaf in a rainstorm.

“Are you ready to talk now?” he asks this in the most casual voice, as if he’s just asked about the weather. He raises the knife again, then looks down at the bloodstained blade.

Clementine is unable to force her mouth to work. Beyond the steadily increasing tears are the beginnings of hyperventilating, unable to take in enough air through her whines and wails.

Trembling, she tries again to force herself to speak again. Truthfully, there’s not much for her to say. She could tell Carver that yes, the people he’s looking for do live here, and they’ll be back soon… she could tell him she doesn’t know.

That’s what the group thought - that she was helping Carver, a man who she didn’t even know.

And either way, she knows, deep inside, he’s going to make it even worse. No matter what she answers, it’s like being between a rock and a hard place – there’s no way this can get better, and everywhere she turns is another path to an even worse option.

He keeps her contained in the corner of the two connecting counters.

“Ain’t ready to talk yet?” Carver nods to himself, as if answering his own question. And he’s more than correct. “Well, I’ve given you enough chances by now, but… here’s what we’re gonna do,” He sighs, relaxing in his position, then pulls Clementine’s chin up, forcing her tear-filled eyes to meet his own. “I’m gonna count to three, and if you don’t tell me where Luke and Carlos are at… well, there’s gonna be real consequences.”

The worst runs through her mind. He doesn’t call this a real consequence? Her hands are stained in blood from the shallow, yet painful slice across her stomach. Her chest is thumping so hard that she can’t breathe, with her mind is running a mile a minute trying to figure out what she can say that will save her skin without getting someone killed.

She always gets people killed.

“One.” Clementine tries to put a stop to her tears at the sound of just one word – she tries the most she can to form a coherent sentence. “Two.” She tries to yank her hands from Carver’s and looks up at him in earnest, the tears in her eyes clouding her vision.

“They’re…” Her voice falters for a moment, “Th-they’re ou-out…” Taking the deepest breath she can muster, Clementine bites her lip as hard as she can. “Th-they went t-to look for… for Nick.

For a moment, it’s as if he’s going to stop. Like he’s going to turn on his heel, walk out the door, and look for them. Almost.

“Three.”

There it is. The sound of a zipper coming down. Clementine stops; every part of her does. Every part of her aches and every part of her screams for everything to stop. Mentally, she’s screaming, because even the violent wails coming from her sore throat aren’t enough to express her emotions. She cries to Carver, wailing as his wandering hands come to her, pinning her against the sharp corner between a counter and the old refrigerator. She begs and begs for him to reconsider. She repeats the same words as before – They’re out.

But he doesn’t let go.

“That’s fucking disgusting!”

The moment his fingers grip the hem of her pants, Clementine suddenly finds herself trapped on top of a puddle of her own urine. All that she originally wanted was to be brave and to get him to leave – not this. Another howl of humiliation and true fear escapes her, at least until Carver’s hands grab hold of her jaw again.

Shut the fuck up!”

She cries and screams and begs. And none of it works.

She feels him on every inch of her body. The pain, the humiliation – all of it. And it seems, the fear is comparable to all those months, the two years, ago when she was locked in a closet, fearing for her life and Lee’s.

It’s comparable to a day ago when she was attacked by that stupid scavenger, fearing for her life, and for Christa’s.

She thinks of Christa. Anything to use as a distraction. Anything. And she wishes more than anything that the woman would come here and save her, and when she thinks of Luke and Pete, she wishes more than anything that Pete would miraculously walk through that door, alive, with Luke and the others and make everything okay again.

Just like they did yesterday.

When Carver leaves, he leaves Clementine on the floor and in the corner. He ignores her cries that turned to anguished shrieks, and he ignores the damage he did and the blood and the puddle of urine and her anguish -

With a small, friendly smile, he simply says, “You have a nice day, now." And he leaves, slamming the door behind him.

Clementine isn’t sure how long it is before Sarah comes downstairs, hesitant, using the empty pistol she found as her only source of protection. She can’t speak when the girl comes into the kitchen, calling her name, asking if she’s okay –

The pistol clatters to the floor, joining the kitchen knife.

“… Clementine?”


 

The moment he comes to the back kitchen door, Luke can sense that there’s something wrong. Not something in-particular that he can sense. Something is wrong.

Something hangs in the air. And, he thinks, maybe it’s the voices from inside that tip him off. Without saying anything, Luke holds up a hand to the rest of the group who follow him.

Nick bites his thumbnail on one hand, increasing the grip on his rifle with the other. Alvin and Rebecca exchange glances, while Carlos’ eyes get wide. All three of them go for their weapons as well.

Every single one of them can hear the voices inside.

Just go!” the voice belongs to Clementine, and within just that sentence, Luke can hear the breaks in her voice. “Just leave me alone!

What did he-what did he do? Clem!” It’s Sarah.

Who is he? For just a brief moment, Luke feels panic building up in his chest, but he manages to maintain his composure in front of the others (because the moment that he began to panic was the moment that Nick would panic, and that would cause Rebecca to panic. Carlos would panic regardless, even if he didn’t show it - and Alvin would remain the only sane man).

It only takes a moment for Luke to grab hold of his machete before he grips the doorknob of the back door. Then, as quickly as he can, he forces it open.

Neither girl screams when he opens the door, but Luke almost wishes that he could. His gaze is immediately drawn the corner in the kitchen, near the stove and the two connecting counters. There, in the corner, is Clementine curled into herself and simply bawling; and Sarah, just a few feet away, her hands noticeably trembling.

“Dad!” It’s Sarah who speaks first, her words dissolving into a cry for help. She shakily stands races over to Carlos and hugs him with a death grip.

“Holy… shit.” Luke speaks second, staring. He finds himself moving around the edge of the counter and fully taking in the area around Clementine. But he knows in the future that he’ll eventually come to regret this.

He tries to ignore it for her sake and the sake of his own mental health and to avoid anyone else panicking, but he’s not the only one to see their surroundings, and he’s not the only one to see that damned steak knife with blood covering it or –

Her pants are bloodied and barely above her knees. Below her is a puddle of what looks to be a combination of blood and urine and the look in her eyes is too much -

He wants to throw up.

And suddenly, Luke’s not the only one to process this. The others are taking it in, recovering from a temporary shock that left them speechless.

“What happened?” asks Carlos to Sarah, his eyes wide as dinner plates. And Sarah cries, holding on to him with the same death grip. Through her tears, they make out Carver and screaming and knife.

Carver.

As they jump into action, Clementine barely notices. Nothing is in her thoughts except that it’s too loud. Too loud to fit in her head. Too loud for anything.

Rebecca takes Sarah out of the room, though the older girl’s sobbing does absolutely nothing to help them. Nick and Alvin soon follow; from Luke’s point of view… well, the expression on Nick’s face is nothing short of traumatic.

Clementine,” Luke’s voice is quiet when he first speaks to her as he slowly rounds the counter, “Clem, you’re safe now. No one’s gonna hurt you –”

In her eyes, he can tell that either she’s not listening or she’s so far gone that she simply can’t hear him. The pressure in his chest increases and he glances back up at Carlos, who has a similar reaction.

“Leave me alone...” Clementine glances up from her knees when she says this, and almost immediately dissolves into tears the moment that her sentence is completed.

She gave away their position. She gave in. And yet, Carver still

Clementine can remember multiple times when her self-loathing, self-harming thoughts intruded when they weren’t welcome. She can remember all of the times that she wished she would just die in her sleep. This is one of those times.

They won’t leave her alone. She just wants them to leave her alone with her thoughts to die here as she should. When Clementine looks up at Luke for just a moment, The Dreaded Thoughts come back again. She wishes that Carver had killed her.

It would have been kinder on his part if he had just let the knife plunge a little bit deeper because it would have been better than he what he really had in mind and what he forced her to do.

Deep inside, she knows she betrayed this group.

Luke’s gaze falls to the steak knife with the spots of blood on his blade, which he hastily kicks to the side, and then tries to focus on the situation at hand. From his position, he can clearly see that there’s at least some blood staining Clementine’s shirt and it’s not the same spots that they were in last night after they took her out of the shed.

“Clementine,” his mouth feels dry now. Luke exchanges glances with Carlos, then turns his gaze back towards the girl. He finds himself kneeling on the floor, about three feet in front of her. What’s he supposed to say now? “Clementine – come on, you gotta come outta the corner. We need to make sure you’re –”

Clementine shakes her head quickly, clenching her jaw tightly so that she can’t cry. She can’t cry. She can’t. And she won’t leave the corner – no, she won’t because this is the only safe place she can find because if she moves –

It isn’t as if she knows Luke’s group very well, either.

For just a few seconds, the hot tears running down her face are silent. She stares up at Luke through blurred vision and feels her lip tremble hard enough that there’s no way that she would be able to form a coherent sentence.

The pain in her stomach has become almost nothing compared to the pain from where Carver… from where he… She can’t even think about it.

Luke has moved closer by now, and Clementine hears Carlos speak – though doesn’t make out what he says – and the squeaking of the kitchen door swinging back and forth from the force of being shoved open. And it doesn’t stop; it’s the same noise that it made when Carver shoved it open when he dragged her down. The shrill, ear-grating sound feels almost unbearable.

Clementine covers her ears.

“Clem…” Luke trails off for a moment, trying to make eye contact with Clementine. She doesn’t seem to be having it. “We’re gonna leave, okay? All of us together. We’re gonna go away from here, and this is never gon’ happen again. I promise – ”

Slowly, she pans her gaze up and shakes her head.

“Look,” Luke’s breath hitches when he speaks and clenches his fingers around his knee. He tries to look up at Clementine and not at the blood or anything else that she has exposed. “I know you’re scared. I know.” When he says this, he says it as gently and softly as he can because he needs her to trust him. “But you’re hurt – and we just wanna make sure it don’t get worse.”

He knows that Clementine isn’t going to be thinking straight – fuck, he’s barely thinking straight and he isn’t even the hurt one in this situation. But she’s not thinking straight, and with the glazed over look in her eyes, Luke finds himself internally praying for some way to get the little girl out of this corner. He has to. He could, if he wanted to, ambush her and grab her and pull her out, but Luke has the urge to slap himself when that thought crosses his mind.

“Carlos is gettin’ some medicine for ya, Clem.” Luke’s voice comes out breathy, his heart pounding as he inches his way closer to Clementine. She doesn’t seem to be taking this too badly as if she doesn’t even notice that he’s gotten closer at all. “And then we’re gonna get cleaned up, and we’re gon’ leave, alright?”

Clementine looks up for a few seconds and then down at herself, then back up at Luke. Her eyes narrow, eyebrows knitting together, but Luke can easily tell that it isn’t in anger; it’s grief. The grief is starting up again, and it’s about to hit her full force.  

The door swings open and Clementine hastily covers her ears again, crying out at the sound of the rusty door hinge. It’s Carlos with a box in his arms, one that Clementine is quite sure is the old box of medical supplies that she saw him pull out last night.

“Clem,” she hears him speak quietly enough as not to alarm her, but loud enough for his voice to still be audible. “I need to make sure you’re not hurt.”

She doesn’t answer immediately and instead attempts to meet Luke’s eyes. He does the same and nods towards Carlos’ direction, then murmurs, “We’re gonna get you fixed up, okay?”

He holds his breath for just a moment before Clementine slowly nods and whispers what sounds to be a very quiet, okay.

Clementine hesitates, and at that moment, she suddenly feels hyper-aware of her physical situation. When she moves her legs to lean forward, she feels pain. And not the kind of pain that she would normally feel from sitting in the same position for what feels like hours – it’s the kind of pain that she remembers feeling after her run-in with the scavengers; she was just so tired.

Luke moves close enough to Clementine that he can reach out and touch her on her shoulder. He places his hand on the back of her left shoulder and slowly begins to push her forward. Clementine flinches from the moment that she feels the pressure of Luke’s palm on her back and she stops for just a moment before she hastily begins to pull her pants back up to conserve the only dignity she has left.

She stands, unsteady, like a newborn foal. It isn’t her knees that hurt, not even her thighs hurt - she knows what it is, but she can’t stand to say it. All Clementine knows is that she wants to be out of these clothes. She wants to be out of her skin.

“D’you have extra clothes?” Luke’s voice is low when he speaks as if he doesn’t want to embarrass her. Of course, she’s too far past that; everyone already saw the fact that she pissed herself like a small child and not a fully capable, eleven-year-old girl. And then there’s the other circumstances. “Nick said y’found your bag -”

Slowly, she nods, and mumbles hoarsely, “... It’s upstairs.”

She has to convince herself that what Luke says is true. She would clean up and get out of her soiled and blood covered clothes, and then they would leave and never see a trace of Carver again.

When she thinks of Rebecca, Clementine answers her unspoken questions from the night before - Whose baby is it? and Why are you scared of this man?

She knows exactly why.

Clementine follows Luke around the corner of the counter, acutely aware of the pressure and he holds on her shoulder.

Sarah can be heard from the other room, and Clementine tries to tune it out - she tries. But she what she can make out from the other girl is not what she wants to. Every single word runs through her like physical pain, so it’s no surprise that she already feels herself crying again. Sarah heard it; she heard it all. She heard the screaming and the wailing and the crying, and she saw everything that Carver exposed against Clementine’s will.

When Luke guides her to the kitchen table, one hand on her shoulder and the other holding her hand, Clementine allows Carlos to clean the wound between her hip bones, though she doesn’t look down or hesitate to allow herself to cry. It just isn’t something that she can do right now - not after what happened.

Luke’s voice can be vaguely heard, but she doesn’t focus on it. Instead, Clementine finds her gaze falling on the kitchen table and the swirls in the wood. Her eyes trace them as the stinging onher skin continues.

“It doesn’t need stitches,” Carlos speaks quietly, and Clementine notices his eyes flick towards the bandages on her left arm. She allows herself to breathe now; the only of relief she has is the thought that she isn’t going to have to relive last night. “It’s shallow, but I’ll put a bandage over it to control the bleeding.”

It’s less of a bandage and more of a long, thick piece of gauze that Carlos places over the wound, which he holds in place with copious amounts of medical tape (“Normally, I’d use a different kind.” he tells her, “But we’re out of it. This will have to do for now.”) in order to cover the entirety of the laceration - which, Clementine finds herself realizing, is six inches long at the very least.

For just a moment, she feels the cold, smooth metal of the blade against her sensitive skin and she flinches.

“Please stay still.”

Luke moves past the kitchen table and makes eye contact with Clementine.

“I’m gonna go grab your bag, Clem. That alright?” She nods slowly, and Luke places a hand on the kitchen door, preparing to push it open. “We’re gonna leave in a few minutes.”

It’s that same phrase again - we’re gonna leave.

That’s all that Clementine wants to do. For as long as she lives, she never wants to see this cabin again. Or Carver.

Not ever.

“What happened?” It’s Carlos that breaks the silence after Luke leaves the kitchen; well, the silence that was previously broken by the rusty door hinge. “The lock on the front door is broken. Is that how he came in?”

She watches in silence as Carlos packs up the remaining medical supplies, and instead of answering, her mind goes back to that moment when she stood near the doorway, too terrified to move. It was that moment where Clementine realized that Carver was coming in, whether or not she liked it.

Or maybe, if she had just gone upstairs with Sarah when the older girl fled, none of this would have happened. Carver would have gone away.

This is entirely her fault.

Slowly, Clementine nods. She stares blankly at the patterns in the wooden table again, focusing on mentally tracing where the swirls connect and separate, and where the chips in the wood have been taken off. The table has likely seen better days.

“I’m sorry to involve you in this,” is Carlos’ response, though neither of them look at each other. “But after what Carver did to you, you’re safer here than out on your own.”

Clementine still doesn’t look up at him, and hardly acknowledges that he said anything at all.

The rusty hinges turn, the door opens again, and it physically hurts to listen to. Luke steps into the kitchen with Clementine’s purple bag hanging from his hand. She turns and reaches out to take it, and then hastily hugs it to her chest.

“Why don’t you go get changed?” Luke’s low-voiced suggestion is more of an order. “Is that all you got?”

She doesn’t answer, and instead hastily makes her way out of the kitchen and towards the downstairs bathroom, past Alvin and Rebecca and Sarah too -

Clementine tries to block them out of her vision and instead sets her sights on the door to the half-bathroom, where only a toilet and sink stay.

The door is promptly shut and locked, and Clementine allows the purple backpack to fall from her loosened fingers - they won’t hold anything. Why won’t they hold anything?

They’re numb all of a sudden, and so are her knees. So are her arms and the inside of her bony thighs -

She catches herself in the mirror. Her old ball cap is missing, though she manages to calm down slightly when she remembers that it’s in the kitchen, not lost, it’s just in the kitchen. It’s for several seconds that she finds herself staring into the mirror and examining herself because it doesn’t feel real.

Clementine brushes her pointer finger over the bruise on her temple and then drops her gaze down to the floor, where her bag fell a few moments ago.

She undresses quickly with her eyes closed and then puts on an old sweater that Christa found abandoned at a campsite three months ago; it’s slightly too big for her but it should be warm enough, and it should cover enough.

The mirror catches her attention again. The clean, non-bloodied pants and sweater are strangers to her small body, but they cover her nonetheless. Yet, the moment that Clementine finds herself gazing back into the mirror is the moment that she locks her eyes back on the bruise, and lower than that. She didn’t notice the marks on her neck before. Stepping closer to the sink and the mirror, Clementine brushes her fingers on the red and purple marks near her throat. For just a moment, she feels cold metal touching her jugular on one side and someone else’s hands touching the other side.

Carver did this to her.

It hits her. Carver did this.

Clementine covered her mouth to avoid the sounds of herself crying to be heard. Carver did this. She isn’t dreaming. She isn’t imagining this or going batshit insane. This is real. She isn’t going to wake up from this nightmare. Suddenly, the pain between her legs that has gone ignored for too long smacks her right in the face.

Carver did this to her.

Her thoughts about that male scavenger were right; they were just placed on the wrong person. Or maybe, she thinks, they both had the same intentions. Those scavengers wanted… what? An undercooked weasel? An ornery woman with depression? A tiny, eleven-year-old girl to use for - ?

But Carver didn’t want those. He wanted information. Or, she thinks, he wanted to make her feel the pain that this entire game of keep away made him feel. Maybe. But what he did… would it make him feel better?

Christa called it rape once. Once was the only time they ever spoke of it.

Clementine finds herself sitting on the floor, while her numb fingers attempt to grip the nylon straps of her backpack. Her eyes trace the texture of the white, somewhat moldy paint on the walls - this one resembling the wood staining on the kitchen table.

She doesn’t know how long she sits there. It isn’t until Luke opens the door with a concerned expression on his face and a sharpened bobby-pin in his hand that Clementine comes back to the present - to the issues at hand.

Wordlessly, she follows him, her backpack slung across her back with one hand holding her own strap and the other holding the nylon on Luke’s bag as she follows him and the rest of the group to the back of the cabin.

She tries not to cry when her mind hyper-focuses on the kitchen door’s rusty hinge and that horrific noise that it makes and instead grabs her cap from the floor. With that, they leave. Each one of them leaves something different, but Clementine can’t bring herself to care.

Chapter Text

Christa never talked about the bleeding. She never talked about the physical pain, or the bruising, or the sheer mental numbness. And now, Clementine knows why – it's just as bad as talking about the act itself. Christa only spoke of the act once while intoxicated with adrenaline after narrowly escaping a physical run-in with a male scavenger who wrapped his fingers around her neck as he pressed himself against her back, the one time that Christa dared to turn her back on her surroundings while they were out scavenging.

Hey there, pretty lady… the man cooed when he spoke – Clementine had heard him from just around the corner, as her blood froze at the same time.
She remembers gripping the gun in her grasp with such a ferocity that her knuckles seemed to glow white against brown skin as her finger hovered over the trigger. A mental battle between an attempt at rescue, or running and saving her own skin.

She was nine years old. It was a month after Omid died.

And Clementine froze in her tracks as the man’s fingers tightened around Christa’s throat, effectively crushing an chance she had at screaming as his free hand wandered down to the buttons of her pants.

How about we have some fun, you and I?

Clementine couldn’t move when she heard this, and she considered it lucky for both of them that there was enough room – that Christa was flexible enough at this point in time, having not yet shed every bit of her pregnancy weight yet – to shove the heel of her boot directly into the man’s crotch with a deafening cry as he let go of her throat.

And they had run far away from that store and hidden deep in the trees near a highway that night, far away from the man who attempted the unspeakable.

You have to be prepared for that kind of thing, Clementine. The words were the first thing Christa said when they finally managed to stop, her tone casual as if she had experienced it multiple times. Looking back, Clementine thinks that this was likely more for Christa to keep herself from getting upset and losing her composure.

Do you know what he was trying to do to me?

No. She hadn’t. That night’s discussion fixed everything in place for her, though.

By the time that they stop for the first time, her underwear are already soaked through with the trickling, disgusting blood that Christa never told her about; it joins the pain that Christa also never spoke of in this context – no, she briefly discussed menstrual blood, not this

Clementine hides the blood on her pants with the sweater that also hides her upper body – her stomach, her wound, her boney ribcage and hipbones… she pulls it down further to conserve her dignity. One day, she thinks, she’ll have an even bigger sweater, and maybe it will hide everything. It will have a hood, she thinks, and she can hide her face as well. A long hood would work better than her hands, after all.
The blood has begun to lessen and to dry, just like the walker blood that splattered her clothes yesterday did. The blood covering and staining her hands dries in a different manner; some of it is stained in darker and larger patches, while the rest of it is caked underneath her nails in a black line and in brown spots. Out in the forest, there’s very little chance of finding water to clean herself with, but maybe they would find a stream.

Probably not.

Pete’s still gone. And as Clementine tightens her grip on Luke’s bag’s nylon strap, she turns her gaze to the trees that all look the same, watching and waiting for any sign of that dreaded ambulance. Surely, it would still be swarmed by gluttonous walkers, probably vying for Pete’s already infected flesh and blood.

“How’re ya holdin’ up, Clem?” Luke looks down at her as he speaks. With one hand, he reaches down – Clementine’s gaze flies to his hand as it moves in a swift, sudden motion – and he quickly redirects his hand to his pocket, where he pulls from it a single, folded pamphlet. As Luke unfolds it, Clementine shifts her gaze back to the ground and to the stumps of the trees in their path. Luke continues to unfold the pamphlet completely, something Clementine sees through the upper corner of her vision. He hesitates for a moment, and then looks back down to Clementine. She scratches her nails against the nylon strap on his bag as the two of them briefly make eye contact. Slowly, he opens his mouth, as if he’s about to speak, and then sighs.

“’bout how much further is the ambulance?” he says in a low voice, panning the path in front of them, “Now you said it’s not too far from the stream, right?” Clementine tenses as Luke places his hand on the back of her shoulder as he speaks, using the pamphlet in his other hand to point ahead. He looks over his shoulder, Clementine following him with her eyes, and then looked back at the path in front of him.

Clementine hesitates, gripping the bottom of her sweater, tightly winding it between her fingers. The path is empty of walkers - of sounds - and anything else that would signal any sign of life or lack thereof. And if everything is empty and identical, then she won’t remember. Not where the stream is. Not where the ambulance is. Not where Pete is.

Not where Pete was.

“I don’t know.” The words run together when she attempts to speak, avoiding Luke’s eye - avoiding his entire gaze. Her words are probably too quiet and too incomprehensible for him to understand, but she can’t bring herself to speak any louder. Part of it is her throat, raw and red (most likely) and the other part is…

A lot of things.

“What’d ya say, Clem?” Luke continues to keep his hand on her shoulder as he speaks. Her skin crawls; it’s a mixture of feeling as if she’s been rubbed too hard by some kind of rough fabric and a bit of a mild sunburn, but it manifests as pain and a reminder. Not a reminder of Luke.

“I don’t remember.”

It’s as if she’s attempting to think through molasses - the memories of this morning are distant. It’s divided like a “before” and “after” progress picture in her memory; “before the stream” and “after the stream”.

“I don’t remember.” repeats Clementine, her voice breaking - shattering - like a ceramic plate hitting a tiled floor. And again - “I don’t remem…” She trails off this time, pulling the bottom of her sweater between both hands, and then shakes her head. If there were a sinkhole in these woods, then she would one-hundred percent jump in and never look back.

She feels eyes on the back of her head and neck. Probably Nick, she thinks. Poor Nick, so drunk or hungover and worried. And sad.

No matter what you think, she remembers Pete’s words more than she remembers where she left him, he is a good boy.

I love that stupid kid, he said.

And she left Pete after he said that. Maybe if she hadn’t left him, she wouldn't have met Carver. And none of this would have happened. She feels her lip quiver, unable to look up and unable to speak of Pete or of Nick or of the forgotten locations for fear of spilling tears.

“Okay.” Luke murmurs, taking in a heavy breath. He looks down and Clementine looks down further. He’s disappointed. Upset, even. And there is nothing within her that deflects the silent criticism. Clementine pulls again at her sweater, pulling it so tightly that, logically, it should have ripped now. Luke’s gaze falls on the rest of the group - specifically Nick - for just a moment before he looks back at the pamphlet and then the path ahead. “Okay - we’re gon’ find him. We’re gon’ find him.”

The moment that Luke speaks, Clementine stops dead in her tracks. Her gaze snaps up while her hand flies to Luke’s sleeve. In the distance, a clearing is guarded by the trees, where two walkers lurk next to it. One, dragging itself along the ground, both legs missing, looks up and reaches out a feeble arm. The other, hunched over and into itself, stays still and put, as if minding its own business.

“That’s it.” Clementine says this the way that she spoke before: quiet and near incomprehensible, despite her attempts to enunciate her words. But this is it; she remembers - just barely - running past the legless walker this morning when (she clenches her fist against Luke’s sleeve when she thinks about it) Pete shouted for her to run back to the cabin. She remembers just barely avoiding being grabbed on the ankle by that walker.

When she speaks again, her voice is louder this time, as if Luke can’t hear her - “He’s there.” Lowering her head, Clementine avoids - intentionally - any stares from the rest of the group. Instead, she looks directly down as Nick suddenly speeds up, passing her with his arms wrapped around his rifle.
He stops when he is only a few feet from the walkers, who both peer up at him and begin to reach out in his general direction. The one with legs takes an uneasy step towards him, reaching out with its boney, bloodstained hand in a fruitless attempt at grabbing him.

“Nick, don’t shoot them!” Luke calls. He pulls his sleeve from Clementine’s grasp and sighs, following Nick over to the walkers, where he proceeds to unsheathe his machete and immediately slice into the standing walker’s head. Nick steps back, turning his gaze towards the direction further away from where Clementine can’t see from the angle, suddenly frozen in his spot.

Luke repeats the same motions with the pathetic, legless walker the moment that it dares to reach out and attempt to grab Luke’s ankle. And, just as Nick did, Luke places his machete back into the case strapped to his back and then pauses in his own spot. He and Nick turn, exchanging a glance before Nick suddenly aims his rifle.

“Don’t do nothin’ stupid, Nick!” calls Alvin from the back, walking forwards just enough that he can be heard.

And Luke turns, just as Alvin finishes his sentence and shouts back, “I think we found it! Clem?” Clementine turns her own attention to Luke, who continues with, “You said it was an ambulance, right? With lurkers ‘round it?”

She perks up, unable to speak, and instead takes off towards them, letting go of her sweater. Stopping behind Luke, Clementine once again finds herself face-to-face with the rusty red ambulance that she left Pete in all because he told her to.

What are you gonna do? he asked so sarcastically, his voice so hoarse and bitter, as he threw down the hacksaw that he wanted to use to self-amputate. Carry me outta here on your back? I’ll bleed out like a stuck pig.

And so she left him.

Nick races to the back of the ambulance without any words spoken between the three of them. The doors are cracked open, blood splattered on the outside and left over – maybe from Pete and maybe from the walkers, but Clementine clenches her jaw tightly.

This is all your fault, the voice in the back of her head hisses as she watches Nick open the doors to the back of the empty ambulance. All your fault.

“Pete?” Nick nearly screams this until Luke runs up behind him, grabbing him by the shoulder. Nearly jumping out of his own skin, Nick flinches at the moment that Luke’s hand touches his shoulder, his head snapping back to look Luke in the face. For just a moment, Nick looks back into the ambulance. And then he looks back at Luke and slowly shakes his head. “He’s not in here – Clem?”

Clementine’s hands tremble as she makes brief eye contact with Nick, his eyes wide and red-rimmed. Maybe he’s still hungover, or maybe he’s crying, and she doesn’t blame him for either of those things. Slowly, she speaks in the same quiet, hoarse voice – the only one she can muster after spending so long screaming, “This was the last place we were at.” She shakes her head slowly as she speaks, finding herself carefully walking towards Nick and closer to the ambulance.

Alvin pulls his bag from his shoulders, then scratches the back of his head. “Maybe he’s around here somewhere.” he suggests as Clementine turns back around to face him and the others. “He can’t have gone too far.”

Brandishing another rifle, Carlos sighs. “Then we’ll look around. All of you – stay in sight.”

Nick immediately splits from the group, wandering into the ambulance – empty of Pete, Pete’s leg, and walkers – while Luke is drawn to the right side of the ambulance. Clementine sees the movement of the others in her peripheral vision as she turns back to face Nick, Luke, and the ambulance – just as Luke disappears beside the vehicle. She stops for a moment, pulling on the end of her sweater, and then makes the decision to follow him.

Clementine does not grab the nylon on his bag as she follows him over to the right side of the ambulance. She doesn’t speak, either, because Luke doesn’t speak, and for good reason. They both stare down at the crimson red blood coating the dirt and the dead grass, leading behind the ambulance.

Nick!” Luke throws his arm out, pushing it against Clementine’s chest and against the heart that may as well have exploded by now. Because walker blood isn’t crimson red; not now. No – it’s a darker, blackish red that looks much more like tar. This is human. And too coincidental.

Luke lowers his arm as soon as Nick hops from the back of the ambulance and darts over to join them, his eyes widened and wild. Clementine also stops in her spot, staring down and intently at the bloodied trail as she feels the presence of others behind her. But she doesn’t look behind her, just down at the ground.

She bolts around the corner of the ambulance, acutely aware of Luke’s shouting of, “Clementine!” as she does so. Her hand wraps around the front corner of the boxy trunk as she catches herself just in time to keep herself from falling straight onto Pete’s disemboweled corpse.

His disemboweled corpse with a bullet in the head.

Oh… my God.” Luke is the first to break the deathly silence, but his voice is like a distorted radio on the wrong frequency, and Nick –

Oh God, Nick –

She feels his hands on her arm before she hears him, his voice reaching a pitch that she hasn’t heard from him before as he screams out his choice of words – so earsplitting –

What happened? WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?

Clementine presses a hand against her mouth, unable to move from her current posture, examining the entrails hanging out of Pete’s stomach; his intestines lying on his jacket and his face, pale and grayed as death, coated with his own blood. And the bullet hole. Just as she looks at it, the sick voice creeps into her head – They’re going to think you did it. But she doesn’t have a gun. Doesn’t have a weapon except for the hammer that Luke took from the shed and handed her about thirty minutes after they left the cabin.

Her own hot tears spill out as she meets Nick’s own. She maintains the eye contact for barely a second, keeping the hand over her mouth as she hears the others in the background. Her own words are muffled, but she has to explain – has to explain that she isn’t the one who did it, just like how she didn’t tell Carver where the cabin was, and how she didn’t ask for him to –

“He’s been shot.” Carlos breaks the silence when he says this, his gaze meeting Nick’s as Clementine tries to formulate anything. Anything at all.

Slowly, Clementine finds herself pulling at her pigtails this time, both hands tied around them without signs of letting go as she stares down at Pete. Part of her expects him to move, to get up despite his horrific wounds and gunshot and disembowelment and everything else, and speak.

She remembers how her voice faltered when she tried to speak to Carver.

“Th-they’re ou-out…” she stammered as she tried to avoid looking him in the eye. It had been the last option before… she couldn’t think of it – she wouldn’t. Only her words, “Th-they went t-to look for… for Nick.”

It meant one thing: Carver knew that Pete was around. Carver knew that they were all around. Or had he simply killed Pete on his way to the cabin?

Had he known?

Against her will, Clementine lets out a sound that makes her press her hands against her mouth and hold her eyes closed as tightly as she can She already cried today, too much, too many times. She already saw something that she didn’t want to see. Way too much. Too much on Carver and on herself. Too much this morning with Pete and his jaundiced eyes and skin and Nick falling all over himself, drunk. Too much to think of Christa and what Christa never told her about rape and about life in general.

Luke engulfs Nick in a hug that Clementine watches through her tear-filled eyes that spill over as soon as she sees Nick hide his head in the crook of Luke’s neck, their rigid body motion becoming tighter as the seconds wear on.

They leave Pete, unable to carry him or to bury him or to do much of anything. They leave behind the bloodstained grass and dirt and the pathetically legless walker, and the walker that tried to mind its own business. Just as they left behind the cabin and the blood covered knife.

Clementine doesn’t listen to Luke, though he says something about Virginia. Something about the Eastern Shore and Chincoteague Island. Something about Carver’s men. Something about food. Something about the mountains. But Clementine’s mind filters it all out in favor of replaying the same scenes from today, and of her own pain before Carlos finally caves in and hands over an entire bottle of ibuprofen of which she’s instructed to take one, and only one of at her body weight.

It’s not enough to numb the pain when every step moves her abdominal muscles and the slice near her navel, but it dulls it enough. But, honestly, the wound is the least of her worries for now.


 A break at the end of the day leaves a lot to be desired. It’s raining now, sprinkling with the telltale signs of getting worse. It started only after Alvin managed to make a firepit that could capture a fire, and only after Carlos finally managed to light a match that didn’t immediately blow out.
From below the shelter of the trees, Clementine sticks out her hands, watching the small raindrops landing in uneven patterns along her skin. She withdraws her left hand and uses it to hold onto the strap of her bag, though she keeps her right hand, the more bloodstained of the two, in the path of the raindrops.

“You bleedin’, kid?” Turning, Clementine withdraws her right hand from the path of the rain, joining her left, and looks up at Luke with a clenched jaw. Instinctively, she pulls her sweater down further to conserve the bloodstain on her pants, as if that’s going to do anything.

Instead, he looks down at her right hand. The rain has combined with the dried blood and turned into a pinkish-red color that does, in fact, look a small amount like pure blood, but just barely. It’s the only way to wash it off at this point – they’ve found no streams and she doesn’t dare ask if she can use someone’s drinking water to scrub her hands and fingernails raw.

“No.” she responds, folding her hands, letting the bloody raindrops drip off of her wrists and into the dirt below, “It’s just from earlier.”

Luke doesn’t respond immediately; Clementine watches his facial expression carefully, noting his shifting eyes and the slightly open mouth, as if he’s about to speak but is rethinking his words. “Why don’t ya come closer to the fire?” He nods over his shoulder, in the direction of Alvin’s semi-functional firepit, and then crosses his arms. “We’re heatin’ up some cans. You hungry?”

“No.”

It isn’t a lie. Going all day – and sometimes multiple days – on empty is normal, and after so long of doing this, her hunger cues will probably never be normal again. After all, her thoughts are enough of an appetite suppressant that she might as well become the poster child for it.

Luke hesitates again before he speaks. “Okay – well, come away from the edge. It’s gettin’ pretty cold out here, ain’t it?”

“Yeah.”

Clementine knits her shoulders together, and then pulls her hands into her sweater, coating the edges of the sleeves in the bloody water. Her gaze falls on the fire, not roaring but functional. Hot enough to cook with wood that isn’t too wet to burn. Alvin’s made a small stack of cans next to his bag and the rock he’s sitting on, presumably one for each of them.

Sarah has a book out, which contains a gray cover with what appears to be a girl over-lined by a tree. Now, Sarah with a book out is something that Clementine would usually ignore, but this specific cover reminds her of the memory tucked in the very back of her mind of the one and only time that she ever walked in on her parents watching a horror movie – this one being Silence of the Lambs. The covers are rather similar.

“So… are ya comin’ back here?”

She shrugs, but acquiesces to his beckoning and follows behind him towards the firepit. Briefly, Sarah glances up and over the edge of the book she’s reading and they lock eye contact; she breaks it within a few seconds as Clementine takes a hesitant seat against a tree, about two feet away from the firepit, digging her heels into the dirt as she does so.

Alvin stabs one of the cans with a hand-held can opener, digging the point into the top until it stays put. Clementine watches him for just a moment before turning her gaze to the fire, the flames occasionally flickering as Rebecca feeds it pine needles and twigs, one after another. For just a moment, she remembers the events two days ago when she fed a single, dry stick to the fire that Christa spent an hour making.

The wood’s too wet to burn, Christa told her, poking the existing sodden wood with yet another, soaking wet stick.

Pulling her bag from her back, Clementine places it into her lap and opens the first bag, her gaze flickering back up to the fire. She peers back down into her bag and past the soiled clothes and crayons; it’s at the bottom of the bag that she finds the capped, square lighter, about half-empty of its oil. It matches the bag, the same lilac color, though the little cartoon butterfly on the front sets it apart.
As she wraps her fingers around the lighter, she looks back up to the fire and to Rebecca struggling to feed it with her dry pine needles and twigs, and then down to the lighter and the soiled clothing in her bags. The smell of urine, sweat, and blood hits her in the way that the smell of a walker usually does, so she immediately tucks her clothes back into the bag and zips it back up. With her grasp remaining on the lighter, she again looks back at Rebecca and sighs softly.

“Do you want my lighter?”

Rebecca looks up, tossing a small twig into the bottom of the fire. “What?”

“My lighter.” Clementine holds it up to show her, uncapping the top to show her that it is, in fact, a lighter. And a valuable one. Hopefully, she thinks, Rebecca isn’t going to think that she’s an arsonist or some kind of crazy person. “It has some fluid left.”

“Hold on to it for now,” says Rebecca, placing a hand over her bump. She averts eye contact for a moment before she speaks again, furrowing her eyebrows. “We might need it later.”

Clementine keeps her hold on it as she looks away from Rebecca and the fire, her gaze now falling on Alvin again as he prepares the cans to be cooked. Her stomach turns at the thought of trying to force anything down her throat right now – even just the smell of the fire itself is beginning to feel a bit overwhelming. Maybe it’s just because it’s been a while since she’s eaten, or maybe it’s the extenuating circumstances surrounding her, but…

She shakes her head and caps the lighter, turning it over in her hands as she avoids looking up at the others.

“Is that a lighter?” Sarah looks up from the book that she was previously thumbing through, the one with the cover reminiscent of Silence of the Lambs. She looks curious, almost confused, as to why Clementine has it – after all, Clementine's a bit too young to smoke, though one could say that about a lot of things.

“I’m holding onto it,” answers Clementine, capping and uncapping the lighter again, “Just in case we need it.”

She and Sarah make eye contact again. In that moment, Sarah gives out the same signs that Clementine recalls seeing in Luke earlier – as if she’s about to say something, or is reconsidering saying something. Clementine, on the other hand, wants to say something about the wide eyes that Sarah and Luke also shared, but she stays silent.

Maybe Sarah just doesn’t want to talk to her. But – in that case, why did she ask about the lighter in the first place? Leaning her head back against the tree, Clementine looks straight up and into the pine needles above, just in time to receive a raindrop straight into her eye.

“Ugh.” She blinks away the raindrop, which falls down her cheek like a tear. Instead, she rubs both of her eyes to hide this. She isn’t crying. Just tired.

Alvin dumps all of the cans into the one metal pot that he tries to cook over the fire with, though it looks a lot more as if he’s continuously attempting to dodge the flames and keep from burning his hands as he places the pot.
As she stares at the cans, Clementine wraps her arms around her stomach. Even by now, there’s still very little hunger, if any at all. It doesn’t matter, either way.

“Anyone up for first watch tonight?” asks Luke, taking a seat against one of the other trees a few feet away from Clementine. He rubs the back of his neck, looking over to Nick, and continues, “I mean – I’ll do it. But I ain’t gon’ be the only one awake at the ass-crack of dawn.”

Everyone is silent for several, awkward seconds as it seems that Alvin, Nick, and Carlos all attempt to avert Luke’s gaze and not make any eye contact with him; Clementine barely musters a small smile – half of one anyway – at the behavior that reminds her too much of several schoolchildren when they don’t know the answer to the question that the teacher is asking.

She picks up a wet stick that Rebecca discarded earlier and then, without looking up, murmurs, “I can help, if you want.”

“Okay.” Clementine looks up as Luke says this with an uncaring shrug of his shoulders. If it’s good enough for him, then it’s good enough for her. But not the others.

“You think that that’s a good idea?” asks Carlos, folding his arms. He looks from Clementine to Luke, and Clementine quietly sighs. She didn’t expect anyone to put up a fight about it – not now, at least. A watchman is a watchman, after all.

Luke shrugs again. “Hey, she’s the one who volunteered. I ain’t gonna force her to stay up. If she wants to help, why can’t she?”

They’re all quiet by now. Even Sarah is sneakily glancing over her book to watch the ensuing debate, while Rebecca is no longer feeding twigs and pine needles to the fire. Clementine looks down at her stick and at the dirt beneath her, pretending – against all odds – that she can’t hear Carlos’ following words that honestly sound a lot more like he wants to take the argument into a more private setting. Like he doesn’t want to say anything else.

“She’s… she’s just a little girl, Luke.”

“She’s a valuable little girl.”

Carlos is silent again. Clementine sneaks a glance up at him, and he has the same look on his face from before. Yes, she’s just a little girl. But the same little girl that he and half of this group thought capable of something completely different.

The same little girl who survived Carver.

Standing watch for a few hours isn’t completely impossible for her. It’s not as if she was planning on sleeping tonight, anyway.

Looking back down at the dirt and her too-wet-to-burn stick, Clementine ignores the comment from before and draws a circle in the dirt.

“Fine. But both of you need to be careful.”

Without answering to Carlos’ words, Clementine draws two rounded triangles on the top of her circle, scratching into the dirt to make it look like the texture of fur, brushing away the excess dirt. Inside of the circle are three smaller circles – two eyes and a nose. And a little smiley face leading downwards from the nose.

She thinks of Sam and his pointed ears and starving bird bones and his snarl and instantly regrets drawing her picture the way that she did. She could’ve just drawn one of those floppy-eared, sniffing police dogs instead.

As the chatter continues on, Alvin continues to cook the rest of the canned stew in the one metal pot above the fire, while Luke keeps an eye out around the small rest area. Animals, he said previously, might be attracted to the smell of the meaty stew cooking. Nick, who previously traced his finger around the action of his rifle, looks up at Luke’s words and mutters something about not ‘shootin’ anymore of those goddamned bucks’.

“That a cat?”

Peering up from her shipwreck of a dirt-drawing, Clementine shakes her head. Luke scoots over a little bit closer and looks down at the dirt-drawing with a small grin on his face. If he likes that, Clementine thinks, then he should see the terribly scribbled drawings that she had leftover from when she was barely nine years old.

“It’s a dog.” she answers, thinking of the dog bite on her left arm. Luke’s grin drops from his face as his own gaze lingers towards the bandage around her arm. She’s quite sure that he likes dogs, so Sam’s attack hasn’t been well-received with him.

Clementine watches as Luke’s hand touches hers; his attempt at taking the stick, as he asks, “You mind if I try?” She hands over the stick, and his grin comes back once more as he stares down at his canvas of a wet, dirty ground.

“You know, I majored in art in college.” continues Luke after a brief moment of hesitation. His voice is quieter as he says this, and his eyes flick up at the others, as if they don’t know and this is some huge secret that he wants to keep silent. But Nick simply rolls his eyes as he watches the two of them with the stick. “I majored in art history.”

Next to the dog, he draws a few ovals and circles. Clementine stares.

“What is it?” she asks, tracing the lines with her eyes.

“What do you think it is?”

“Uh…” Clementine stares at it again and then looks up from the drawing to Luke. “A piece of shit.”

Luke’s mouth opens indignantly. Nick chuckles to himself, while Carlos’ gaze snaps up from the fire. “Clem.”

Just as soon as she hears this, Rebecca leans over to look past the fire and at Luke’s dirt-drawing. With a small smile, she murmurs, “No, I think he literally drew a piece of shit.”

Luke shakes his head, his mouth still open as he looks from Rebecca to his drawing and then back up to Rebecca, and then back over to Clementine.

“I hate both of you.” he says, looking down at his piece-of-shit drawing, “It’s a caterpillar.”

Nick looks up from his rifle, his eyebrow raised. “It’s a shit caterpillar.”

Alvin chuckles to himself, then looks back down to the metal pot across the fire. Clementine takes the stick back from Luke and looks back down to both of their drawings. She smudges the dirt-dog with her foot, effectively clearing her canvas, and then drags the stick in a random line along the side of her shoe.

“Food’s about done,” Alvin says, picking up one of the now empty cans. He pulls a large metal spoon from a bag sitting behind him and uses it to fill the first can, which he hands over to Rebecca.

Luke turns to look at Clementine and her randomly drawn dirt-line. “You hungry, Clem?”

“No.” she speaks almost immediately, her eyes flicking up for just a second to look at Luke before they go back to her drawings below. Her stomach starts to growl as she draws her next line.

Chapter Text

“I just asked you to stay still!”

“It hurts!”

“I’m aware. But it will hurt a lot less if you stop moving.”

The slice on her stomach is not easy to ignore; not because it’s so long, but because of the shape. From the moment that the blood pooled into the gauze that was long taped across her lower abdomen, the cut was more than just a slow, singular slice. It mimicked the blade that it came from – a steak knife with edges like a bumpy hill. And the skin, once the blood was finally wiped away, reddened around the misshapen cut. It’s as if the blood was never wiped away, and it’s a damn good thing that Clementine keeps her gaze up at the rapidly darkening sky.

Some parts of the wound are cleaned the same way that they were cleaned at the cabin – with peroxide: the edges, specifically. Clementine clenches her teeth as she thinks back to the peroxide in the cabin and in the shed, the same bottle of peroxide that she dropped after crying out in agonizing pain. Maybe – definitely – dumping hydrogen peroxide onto a large, open wound was far from her smartest idea. But it worked. It did what it needed to. And this too. But that smell is… something else.
Carlos cleans the rest of it with a small amount of soap and water on a rag, and then bandages the wound again, using the same, long type of gauze and enough medical tape to keep the long gauze in place across her lower abdomen.

“Sorry about the peroxide,” Clementine finds herself saying as she runs her hand over the bandage. She stops as the ache from her muscles hits with a force, her thoughts turning to the shed and the unpleasant memories associated with it. “I guess I’ve wasted a lot of it in the last couple of days.”

As he packs up the rest of his medical supplies into his bag, Carlos doesn’t immediately respond and instead shoots her a look that she doesn’t exactly catch a meaning to.
He sighs and then says, “It’s necessary in this case.” He continues to pack up the bandages into the bag; Clementine feels herself involuntarily tense as she hears him zip the bag.

They’re both silent for a moment; Clementine takes the chance to smooth down the fresh bandages.

“You thought I was working for Carver.”

“What did you say?”

“You thought…” For just another moment, Clementine stops as she continues to smooth down the bandage the best that she can around its edges. She lays her head against the tree so that she’s looking up to the dark sky again and the outstretched branches of the trees. She speaks again, her voice still hoarse, “You thought I was working for him.”

Somewhere behind her, she hears Nick say something about Luke’s badly drawn caterpillar from earlier and the sound of a stick etching into the damp, sandy soil. “It’s fuckin’ ugly, Luke.” he says in a voice thickly laced with irritation. Clementine looks over her shoulder and around the trunk of the tree just in time to see Nick, over Luke’s shoulder, pull his cap over his eyes and lean against the tree behind him.

“Well, we obviously know that you weren’t.” Clementine’s gaze snaps back to Carlos when he speaks, not looking up from the bag. He sits up on his knees and briefly gazes back up at her, and then looks behind her, in the direction of Nick and Luke. “And… we were wrong. About a lot.”

“Yep.”

“And no matter what you may think, we are sorry about the shed.”

Clementine wraps her hand around her temple – it’s bruised, but without broken skin – and continues to gaze up into the dark sky. She attempts to distract herself from the thoughts about the shed, and instead takes a notice of the lack of light sufficient enough to spot space between any of the clouds.

“I killed the dog that did it. He was hungry.” She slowly nods as she says this, for no particular reason. “So was I. I was just… stupid about it.”

In response, she receives a concerned, bewildered expression from Carlos. Talking about killing Sam, Clementine suspects, is something that he hasn’t heard her mention, at least not in this nonchalant of a manner.

What happened to this dog, Clementine?

I… I killed it.

… You don’t just kill dogs.

The words from Pete and Luke sum up just about everything that she would expect anyone to say about Sam, and about the attack, and about Clementine’s own self-defense. But she didn’t mention the tent poles as they pierced Sam’s thin, delicate flesh and soaked into his tanned fur. She didn’t mention the terrible, high-pitched yelps as they sprang from his throat.

And so, a knife to the throat was the best that she could do for his impaled body. She watched his paws stop as his legs stopped flailing and as his head sank to the ground for the final time.

“Sorry,” she mumbles, her gaze falling down to her left arm, the bandages covered by the sleeves of her sweater. “They didn’t tell you.”

“Let me take a look at it.” replies Carlos after a few seconds of, Clementine assumes, processing what she said about Sam and about what Pete and Luke didn’t tell him and the others.

Clementine feels her shoulders sag. She thought she was finally finished with the talk of the dog bite, and having random wounds patched up. Today is… enough. Yesterday was enough. Together, they are more than enough, and if she has to have yet another wound cleaned or fixed up, Clementine swears to herself that she will be the next one to do the biting, not a walker or a starving dog.
Slowly, she peels the sweater’s left sleeve up and holds out her arm to Carlos, who carefully attempts to unwrap the bandages.

The only healed parts are the very edges of each side of the wound, dotted with cracked and dried blood, though the tightened fishing wire holds everything together well enough. The fishing wire is still large, or at least larger than what Clementine previously assumed most sutures looked like. But Christa stitched herself up with fishing wire that one time, and she turned out okay, after all. Well, mostly functional.

But in Clementine’s case, the wire stretches a bit further. Four stitches capped her threshold for pain back in the shed, no matter how many she knows that she should have put in. Four stitches, and they look about ready to rip her skin open again.

“It’s healing.” Carlos points out as he cautiously turns her arm to the side. Clementine looks away in order to ignore the bruising on her wrist as he does this; whether it’s from Carver, or from falling in the river, or those walkers, or from that scavenger… is irrelevant now. “Just be careful with this arm. Four stitches are not normally enough for a wound this size.

He rewraps the wounds as Luke turns against the tree that he and Clementine are braced against, both of their voices having caught his ear. Luke looks down at the wound, squinting as he does so.

“What’s the normal amount?”

“Likely closer to ten or fifteen.”

Clementine shifts in her spot, holding her arm closer to her chest.

“Well, then it’s a damn good thing you’re the only lefty here, and not her.” Luke turns from Carlos and scoots closer to Clementine as Carlos gathers the rest of his things up, and asks in a hushed voice, “You still up to help watch, Clem?”

"Yeah. I'm ready whenever you are."

Carefully, Clementine stands, pulling her sweater down fully to cover the top of her pants and then looks back up at Luke with a rather small, forced smile. Luke also stands from his spot in the sandy dirt and returns her smile with one of his own, then turns in the direction of where Nick is, his cap still pulled over his eyes.

"I can help you, Luke." says Nick without removing his cap. He feels around blindly for his gun, which makes Clementine raise an eyebrow. Nick wraps his fingers on one hand around the stock of his rifle, which lays on his lap, and pushes his cap back up with his other hand.

Shaking his head, Luke says, "Nah, don't worry about it. It's..." He looks back at Clementine, who in turn looks down to her shoes and to the dirt, while Luke takes in a deep breath. "It's been... a long day. Just go to sleep, Nick."

In turn, Nick raises an eyebrow of his own, now cradling his rifle in his arms. Without an answer, he simply shakes his head and leans back against the tree behind him, the rifle falling back onto his lap. Clementine looks up from her shoes and meets Nick in his face as she watches it fall into a grimace. She, Luke, and Nick remain silent for a few seconds before Nick, his shoulders drooping, shakes his head again and pulls the top of his cap over his eyes once more.

Over the next hour, she paces non-stop, back and forth in the same path. Every movement hurts in two separate places: her stomach and between her legs. But maybe the bleeding has stopped.

On the other hand, Luke stays in the same spot, his head moving back and forth as he scans the dark, walker-laden woods in front of them. In her hands, Clementine grasps Luke's stolen-shed-hammer, squeezing its handle tightly in her palm.

The woods are dark, and Clementine follows a very specific pattern of pacing in order to avoid stepping on someone's hands or tripping on anyone while they're asleep. Or tripping on a rock, or stepping on a stick, or running into a walker that she didn't hear or see coming. But Luke doesn't move, except to occasionally turn around, or to look down at Nick's sleeping form just a few feet away from him. Nick's rifle is set up a few inches away from his sleeping form, thankfully with the safety turned on, and within close enough reach for Luke to be able to grab it in case of an emergency. Or for Clementine to do so.

A gun like this would knock you on your ass, she remembers Pete saying on their way to the river as he grasped his own rifle in his hands.

 Clementine averts her gaze into the dark woods and looks back to Nick's rifle. Maybe, as Pete said, the kick from it would knock her on her ass –- but if it did, then that would mean that she would have gotten a bullet or two out of it. It would mean that her attacker, whether walker or human, would either be hurt or at least scared by the gunshot, if she managed to shoot it in the first place.
She looks down at the hammer grasped in her fist and then back at Luke; he should really consider giving her a gun, if he doesn't want to be knocked down on his ass by a walker or some other attacker.

Anyone teach you how to shoot? And by that, I mean "taught proper". Any idiot with a finger can shoot.

Of course she had been taught. Granted, she was only nine years old and she was shooting at still, empty beer bottles left on an old freight train by an even older hobo, but she knows how to shoot, even at moving targets. But Christa hardly ever let her have the gun after Omid died. And in this case, Clementine finds herself quite sure that Luke probably doesn’t even realize that she’s capable of being able to shoot.

"Clem!" Luke's voice is hushed as he turns and backs up, his gaze quickly shooting from the edge of the camp – the area that looked into a deeper patch of trees and shrubs -- and to his feet, as he moves closer to Nick's sleeping body. "Look –"

Clementine immediately stares into the patch of trees. A rather low sound meets her ears suddenly, the sound of shoes dragging along the dirty ground, a sound that she’s much too familiar with at this point in time. She spots the lone walker a few feet away from Luke, who looks to her over his shoulder and places a finger to his lips. Clementine also looks over her own shoulder, scanning around for any sign of other walkers as Luke withdraws his machete from its sheathe.

In the same swift motion that he performed earlier at the ambulance, Luke immediately takes off the head of a thin, malnourished looking walker. A rotting one. Pulling a face, Clementine watches as Luke glances around his surroundings, muttering about the disgusting creature.

Turning in the direction of the extinguished firepit, Clementine glances over just in time to see Rebecca sit up from her own sleeping spot. For just a moment, Rebecca blinks several times while she and Clementine establish eye contact. Neither speak at all, and neither make any sudden movements until Rebecca turns in Luke's direction and locks her gaze onto the euthanized body of the rotting walker, its head newly severed from its neck.

Luke also turns and pulls a face that Clementine believes is the picture definition of a child with its hand caught in a cookie jar. But Rebecca says nothing of the sort.

She sighs and, in a low voice, suddenly speaks, "It's too damn early for this shit." and immediately lays back down.

Clementine represses the urge to say to Rebecca that it's hardly early. She looks back at Luke, who shrugs and kicks the head of the walker a few feet across the dirty ground. Great, she thinks to herself, shifting her hammer from one hand to the other, this is just another putrid scent that she'll be forced to smell for the rest of the night.

But things go back to normal -- as normal as this kind of thing can be, anyway -- as Luke hastily lifts the corpse and shoves it several feet away from the edge of the camp, and then wipes his hands on his jeans. He places his machete back into his sheathe and then, his hands on his hips, turns his attention back to the same area where the first walker came from.

Clementine only steals a single glance in that direction, her own attention falling on everyone else, all asleep. Slowly, her gaze slides from the firepit, to everyone's bags, to Luke, and then to Sarah, who is fast asleep with her face hidden under her jacket. Her book -- the one that reminds Clementine far too much of Silence of the Lambs -- sits a few inches away from her, its front cover bent in the corner from having been laid in the wrong position.

Well, Clementine supposes, checking over her shoulder for any sign of walkers, the book gives her some idea of distraction from her thoughts. As long as she's awake, she's a watchman, and they'll be fine. The first sign of trouble and she'll immediately throw down the book, Clementine promises herself, and fight back against the walkers or against whoever else. Hanging her head and looking back down at the book, Clementine hopes to the God that she barely believes in that there won't be any more trouble. Maybe a malnourished, rotting, and bony walker like what Luke took down. But nothing else.

She reaches down to pick it up, noting the lack of light from the clouds blocking the moon, and strains her eyes to read the name of the author and the title of the book.

Laurie Halse Anderson, the very top of the front cover reads in small, capital letters. The author's name is focused right between two overlaid, grayed tree branches. And, as she thought previously, the art on the front was, in fact, a young girl. The eyes are wide, though it’s difficult to make out a color. No mouth. Just the nose and eyes.

Speak, it says in the right corner of the cover, in larger, lowercase letters next to some stamp with the title of some writer's award.

She doesn't turn the book over and read the summary -- no, the dog-eared page in the back of the book is distraction enough. Sarah's doing, Clementine would have to assume. Clementine spent her first night at the cabin struggling to read through one of Sarah's older science fiction books (partly because of the poor lighting and partly because of her own lack of reading ability), and that book had been full of them.

So, she opens it to the last page, where the dog-ear is. Clementine flinches when she notices her own name written in the margins.

save for clem!

The sentence is underlined, right next to --

Clementine's gaze is drawn to the small paragraph that it's written next to; the paragraph is circled in the same black (or blue? it's hard to tell) pen that Sarah wrote her name in. And her heart hammers from the moment that she manages to stutter her way through the first sentence --

IT happened. There is no avoiding it, no forgetting. No running away, or flying, or burying, or hiding.

Clementine takes in a deep breath as she reads the sentence, her attention falling down to the narrator's use of IT. IT? What does that mean, and why the hell would Sarah circle it and scribble notes in the margins?

The next words leave a pit in her stomach, or at least the feeling as if she's been punched. She takes in a shuddering breath as she reads the next line of the same paragraph. This is why Sarah circled it, why she wrote a reminder to save it for Clementine, but why Sarah thought that was a good idea... Clementine found herself at a loss.

Andy Evans raped me in August when I was drunk and too young to know what was happening. It wasn't my fault. He hurt me. It wasn't my fault. And I'm not going to let it kill me. I can grow.

Slowly, Clementine closes the book. She doesn't bother with the final few paragraphs, or with the narrator's explanation. She doesn't even bother to fix Sarah's dog-ear back in place. She clenches her fist around the handle of the hammer, hugging it to her chest as she grinds her teeth together out of habit; and quietly, Clementine places the book back down next to Sarah.

Silence of the Lambs, she thinks, raking her nails against the smooth handle of the hammer, has nothing on Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak. Nothing. Her vague memories of that movie have nothing on Speak, at least.

Staring back down to the ground, Clementine wishes that she could make an excuse that another raindrop hit her square in the eye. Maybe then, someone would believe her. Maybe Luke would. Sarah would. The stupid tears slip down her face, but she bites down on her tongue hard enough to stop the noise. She has to be quiet. There are walkers out there who would love to eat her face off, regardless of her emotional and physical traumas.

Maybe Andy Evans -- whoever the fuck he was in this book -- is the narrator's Carver. Someone who thrives only on pain caused by others. She doesn't know. Clementine clenches her fist and bares her teeth, no noise coming from her; she doesn't know. She can barely fucking read as it is. But she and this book will never cross paths again, as long as she lives.

It's an inappropriate time for the firepit to be empty. More than anything, she wishes she could set that book on fire and let it burn worse than the dry fire wood that Alvin used to cook dinner, or those stupid pine needles that Rebecca fed it later on. That would be nice.

No. No, it wouldn't. It would terrible. Rebecca would definitely think Clementine is an arsonist if she did that.

Maybe, arson is sometimes okay. Maybe.

It wasn't my fault. He hurt me. It wasn't my fault, the narrator said, her repetition creating that stupid effect that Clementine remembers too well from Sarah's science fiction book. Why do they all have to have so much repetition? It doesn't help. Maybe the narrator isn’t at fault, but Clementine --

I could've blocked the door. I could have hidden. Maybe I could have even fought back.   

“You keepin’ watch, Clementine?”

She flinches again, like when she saw her nickname written down in the book. Peering up at Luke, Clementine blinks away those goddamn tears that she can’t blame on rain this time. Luke cocks his head to the left, lightly raking the tip of his foot against the dirt. He doesn’t have a dirt-scribble to cover up this time, not like with his shitty caterpillar.

Clementine nods, looking away from Luke’s face, and turns to face the woods and the walker’s beheaded corpse. Just as she turns her head back to him, not even five seconds later, Luke suddenly retracts his hand, as if he were reaching out to tap her shoulder. She takes a step backwards, looking back up to meet him in the face once more as her hand that grips the hammer drops down to her side. He must think she's much too tired, or too lazy to keep watch tonight, no matter what kind of silence was concentrated between them. Maybe it's just what she is.

"I'm watching..." she trails off, looking over to where Alvin and Rebecca are sleeping, "Promise."

“You hungry?” Luke looks over when he says this, as if he’s ready to bust out the non-existent leftovers and reignite the firepit.

Sure, Clementine feels the discomfort in her stomach as it begs to for the food that she’s seldom had in the last three days. But there is none. So, she lies through her teeth.

“No.”

"Was Sarah's book any good?"

"No."

Luke grimaces when she says this. Maybe he's read Speak, and maybe he likes it – Clementine doesn't know what the rest of the book is like. Maybe it's really good and just contains that one upsetting part. Maybe Luke just feels bad because Sarah likes it, or because he pities Clementine. Maybe it's a mix. Clementine wrings her hands together, pushing the hammer from hand-to-hand as Luke's awkward expression slides away in the darkness.

He begins to pace, just as Clementine did earlier. Back and forth, a similar path each time as he seems to watch for hands and sticks and people's sleeping bodies.

"Why is Carver after you, Luke?" Clementine's mouth goes dry the moment that she says this. But Luke didn't answer her question yesterday. And neither did Pete, or Nick, or Rebecca. And Sarah spoke nothing of it after Carver left the cabin. Clementine bites her lip as she waits for Luke's voice to hit her ears. She deserves to know why, or at least who he is. Now, he knows her.

You have no idea who these people are, do you?

Clementine tries – she really does – to push away the memories of Carver's words, his voice so silky and filled with suggestion after suggestion. She didn't know who Luke's group were at the time; she still barely does. But Carver is a different kind of unknown.

Luke blanches when he turns to face her, his lips parting as he raises both eyebrows. He murmurs, "It's... it's kind of a long story." In response, Clementine stares, feeling her jaw instinctively clench as she watches him.

Luke grips his sheathe's strap across his chest and swallows. "A lotta.. shit... went on between him 'n me. And between him 'n Rebecca... and Alvin. He kinda..." Luke runs a hand through his hair. "... shit went down with all o' us, y'know?"

"No..." Either Luke is intentionally avoiding a sensitive subject, or he's just incredibly bad at explaining things. And knowing Luke, Clementine decides that it's likely both. But that explanation is less than passable in her eyes.

Yeah, she knows – shit went down, as Luke phrased it. Shit went down back at the cabin in the corner of that kitchen, too. If that's what he means, of course. Unless...

Clementine looks over to Rebecca, and then back to Luke.

Luke places his hand on his neck, shifting in his standing posture. "He's not a good guy."

Clementine looks him straight in the face, her tone dripping in sarcasm. "Really?"

There's a moment between them in which Luke hangs his head. Even in the darkness, Clementine can see that he regrets his choice of words. Good, she thinks. He should. It was a moronic thing to say.

"Okay," he whispers, "I didn't mean –"

"Just..." Shaking her head, Clementine closes her eyes. "Just forget about it."

"Clementine..."

She turns to look into the woods, opposite of where the now-beheaded walker came from. Her side, she thinks, where she was the only one watching until a few minutes ago. Clenching her jaw, Clementine watches intently for movement, her hammer clutched in her fist, ready to strike. Carver could come now. One of his men -- or women, whatever -- could come now. A walker could come now. Anything to distract from this stupid conversation.

Truthfully, Clementine expected something completely different. But, why had she expected Luke, of all people, to be straight forward about it? About Carver? About his past involvements with Carver's people? At the very least, she expected an explanation.

Sometimes men do it to women, Christa explained many months ago, back when they hid in those woods by that god-forsaken highway. Sometimes women do it to men. Or to other women... and sometimes men do it to men... It's... supposed to be about power, Clementine. Not just... sex. That's why we don't stay in groups.

That's why we don't stay in groups.

Why her, of everyone else that Carver could get his hands on?

Luke speaks up again, effectively yanking Clementine from her memories of Christa and of Christa's words. Still, she doesn't turn. If Luke won't just drop it and leave her alone and guard his side of the camp, then the least that Clementine can do is guard her side of the camp.

"How do ya feel right now?" he asks, his voice lowering to a near whisper. But it's... it's warm, Clementine is quite sure. Maybe he's not just trying to pity her to make himself feel better, or to make himself feel righteous. Maybe he cares.

She can't bring herself to answer, or else she's going to start crying. She knows this for sure.

"I mean, I imagine you’re pro’lly feelin’ a lotta different things right now."

Luke moves just a few steps closer, and Clementine resists the temptation to turn. She resists the other temptation to run, because if it were up to her, she would run and hide and she would rather die in her sleep peacefully than to have this conversation with Luke, or to think about Carver and the imaginary dirt caked underneath her skin.

Clementine doesn't have to speak in order for the waterworks to start up, and more than anything she wishes it were raining so that she could blame the rainwater, and not the tears that escape and make their way down her cheeks. Slowly, she turns to meet Luke, who is only a few inches behind her. She does not meet his face, and hides her own beneath her ball cap.

"I'm sorry..." Suddenly, Luke kneels down to her height, now able to look her in her face. Carefully, he reaches up and gently takes a hold of her upper arm. Clementine yanks away, silent, as she meets Luke's gaze, tears and all. He speaks again, his voice shaking now. "Is there anythin' I can do right now, Clementine?"

"I just wanted to know why."

"Why he – ?"

"Why’d he do it to me?" Her hands trembling, Clementine drops the hammer in the dirt as she cries this out. It hits the ground with a dull thump and bounces before it completely stops, its metal claw scratching into the dirt. "Why do it at all?"

There's a large chance, Clementine suspects, that Luke doesn't have the answer to this question. Through her watery gaze, she watches him look away, in the separate directions of the others – who, she notes, haven't woken up yet. Maybe they've all just gotten too used to sleeping during arguments, or during noisy events, like Alvin's snoring. But when she looks back at Luke, he sighs, his own eyes now glassy.

"Because he doesn’t – he doesn't stop. It's ‘cause he don't give two-shits who he hurts as long as he gets what he wants." Luke reaches out again to grab Clementine by her arm, and yet again, she pulls away.

"I gave him what he wanted..." Trailing off, Clementine sniffs and then picks up the hammer from the ground. She looks back up at Luke as she bares her teeth. "He – I told him."

"Wait, what're you – ?"

"He said things would get bad if I didn’t tell him where you all were." She lets out a low growl from the back of her throat, like a walker, and the hammer falls from her trembling fingers again. "And I was stupid enough to believe him!"

The silence between them is enough to tell Clementine exactly what she needs to hear: maybe she's gone too far in saying this. She looks down to her own shoes and to Luke's, and to the dirt in the darkness. She'll attract walkers now, Clementine tells herself, as she releases the breath that she didn't realize she was holding. After several seconds of her own self-loathing, she crosses her arms and glances back up to Luke, who averts her gaze and runs a hand through his unkempt hair.

"Clem... why don't you wake up Alvin?" Sighing, Luke turns his back to her, looking in the direction of Alvin and Rebecca. He glances from them back to Clementine as his shoulders sag and he tugs on the strap across his chest. His voice hushed, he says, "He can take watch tonight. You can... pro'ly just go to sleep."

In the darkness, Clementine can make out just enough of his expression through his eyes that she feels her own eyes itching again. Now she's done it -- worried him, made him upset... and made herself upset. She probably attracted nearby walkers, too; maybe they're stalking around in the darkness, waiting for just the right moment to strike.

Clementine watches Luke bow his head, the same way that Nick always does when he's upset. Her heart pounds in her chest as she grips her wrist with the opposite hand, sinking her nails into the fabric of her sleeve and into her skin.

Clementine brings in a shuddering breath, lowering her own gaze. "You said I was valuable."

Luke shakes his head, kneeling down to pick up Clementine's discarded hammer. "Okay," he says, his eyes closed as he grips the hammer in his hands, "I know. That don't make you invincible."

"You said I could help."

Her voice breaks on the word help as tears of frustration cloud her already blurry vision as she focuses her stare of malice in Luke's direction. He dodges someone's bag as he makes his way in the direction of Nick's sleeping form, the rifle, and his own bag and belongings.

"I know, but – Clem, you can barely keep your eyes open. You're tired."

"I'm fine."

She flinches at the sound of the zipper, dropping her gaze down to the ground and away from Luke and his bag. When Clementine peers back up, she watches as Luke zips his back closed. He grasps a blanket, one with a color too dark to make out in the black night, underneath his opposite arm. Clementine simply sighs.

"Now you're gettin' cranky." As he approaches her again, Clementine takes the blanket with her trembling hands and pulls it to her chest. Luke’s face falls again as he nods to his right, “Come on, I’ll wake up Alvin.”

Clementine steps back as Luke reaches out to touch her shoulder, running her fingers over the stitches of the blanket. She looks up through her upper peripheral vision as Luke returns his hands down to his sides. They make eye contact again as Luke holds out the hammer.

She takes it, holding it across her chest as she follows Luke back to the same area where Nick is asleep. For just a moment, Clementine watches him as he dozes, his chest falling up and down with every breath, completely unguarded. Exposed. If Luke truly wanted to, he could very easily sink his machete straight into Nick’s sternum. Nick wouldn’t even have time to react. It’s the same thing with a walker – she won’t be able to guard herself from anything, whether it’s walker or living human, if she is asleep the way that Nick is.

Especially not from living humans.

Hugging the hammer to her chest, pressing it hard into the blanket, Clementine steals a glance towards Alvin’s sleeping form.  

“Alvin — hey!” Luke hisses as he taps Alvin with the edge of his shoe.

Alvin stirs after a few seconds. He sits up, rubs his eyes, and fixes his glasses back in place as he gazes up at Luke, glancing between him and Clementine. Slowly, he blinks, and murmurs, “The hell do you want?”

Clementine turns back to where Nick is, judging the distance between his sleeping posture and Luke’s bag — about two feet — and tosses the blanket down, holding the hammer tightly as she does so.

“I need ya to do watch for tonight.” Luke turns away from Alvin as he speaks over his shoulder, and instead glances to Clementine, who immediately averts his gaze.

She peers back down to her discarded blanket, avoiding Luke’s gaze and hiding from Alvin’s vision. The eavesdropping afterwards is natural, she hopes, as she listens intently to the words exchanged between Luke and Alvin.

“Clem’s not doin’ well right now. And I can’t do this shit by myself.”

Slowly, she kneels down and unwraps the blanket, her trembling hands barely able to grasp the quilted fabric as she focuses entirely on the almost invisible stitching separating each piece of the blanket.

Clementine flinches as Nick lets out a loud snore, reminiscent of Alvin; she rolls her eyes, smoothing out the sides of the blanket, and then kneels down to it. It’s soft, somewhat fluffy, but the dirt underneath is neither of those things. It’s just the same cold, hard, and uninviting ground that she’s been sleeping on for last goddamn sixteen months, except it’s in a different place. Without Christa. In the background, she hears the quiet words exchanged between Luke and Alvin, though she doesn’t dare look up. Holding the hammer to her chest and her own bag close to her back, Clementine lays down on the quilt, pulling half of it over top of her. The top part of the quilt goes up to her nose, and she holds it there as she braces herself against a frigid gust of wind. The hot little tears that peak out from her eyes immediately grow cold. They’re no help.

“She was readin’ Sarah’s book, and then just…”

Luke trails off. When Clementine peers over the top of the quilt, she spots him through the darkness making a gesture with his hands.

“It was the one that got banned in a buncha schools.”

“Ain’t that Harry Potter?”

“Nah. Speak.”

There’s a sudden silence between the two of them, interrupted only by another gust of wind. Clementine twists the quilt harder around herself as she strains to hear the conversation. She shouldn’t – that’s something that she knows all too well from the months of listening to the first group fight. It only leads to more trouble. But this…

Alvin, that book’s about a thirteen year old girl gettin’ raped.”

The silence between the two men falls again.

Clementine looks to Sarah, who hasn’t stirred yet. The book is untouched again, as unclean as it was before Clementine touched it. Maybe more. She feels her skin crawl just hearing about it, her chest tightening as Luke continues on with his basic overview of the book to Alvin. It’s not a throw-away line, she knows now. The book is about that. IT, as the protagonist called it. IT happened, and there was nothing, the protagonist said, that she could have done about it – because she was too young and too drunk.

But Clementine’s never been drunk. She’s just young. And maybe stupider than she previously thought that she was.


 When dawn breaks, she doesn’t speak about the conversation she had with Luke the night prior. Neither does he. Neither does Alvin. She stays away from Sarah’s book. She eats nothing when offered, and instead distracts herself with drawing in the dirt until the weak, spindly tree branch finally snaps.

She imagines it as Carver’s neck and sighs to herself.

She says nothing about it – nothing about Carver as their journey continues on. She doesn’t ask questions. Doesn’t cry, as much as she wants to whenever she focuses on their methods of running away. She doesn’t ask for anything, except for a sip of water and the clean, non-bloodied child’s pants and underwear that Rebecca found in the trunk of a rusted over, totaled car. For a few minutes, she debates burning the urine-stained clothing from before. She debates burning the bloodstained pants, too.

Clementine does not ask for their food.

It occurs to her on the fourth day of their trip that never in her life has she eaten dirt – she reminds herself of this when her stomach begs for sustenance other than water. But Clementine also reminds herself that she has eaten a lot of strange things at this point in her life; undercooked weasel, beans from a can found in a trash bin, and she’s even licked salt off of a salt lick.

She once almost ate human flesh. But she has never in her life, eaten any dirt.

They’ve found their way towards the mountains by now, and it will probably be the last day that they spend out in the forest before they reach the Appalachian.

Hopefully, by the time that they reach the mountains, there will be plenty of dirt for her to contemplate eating, as her stomach twists and turns at the thought of putting anything in it. Maybe, she thinks, someone will have enough of this; they’ll force something down into the tiny stomach of hers before she can even debate eating dirt again.

Ain’t no way you’re not hungry.

The words came from Nick, his harsh tone and scrunched up eyebrows coming back together as he tried to feed her a piece of fresh brook trout on their second day of the five-day journey. And the second day that she refused a meal. I’m not hungry, she told them, eyeing a piece of the fish that Luke held in his hands.

Her stomach growled, again, just as it had the first time. But Clementine simply crossed her arms and shook her head when it happened. She wasn’t hungry then and she isn’t famished now. Maybe it’s more like a little bit peckish, or even a little bit tired. It’s probably for the best. They barely know her after all. She doesn’t need to take this group’s food. Not after what happened the last time that she took food, anyway.

Jesus, Clem… we don’t need you starvin’ yourself. You sure you don’t want nothin’?

No.

But the guilt washes over her anyway. Now, at least someone other than her is worried. But he doesn’t need to be.

Four days, and maybe she’ll never have the same normal hunger cues again. She’ll never see another kitchen as long as she lives, she hopes.

Clementine lowers her gaze as they begin to come up towards the edge of a lake, a monstrous metal bridge infested with walkers posing its threat of being in their way. The bill of her cap obstructs her gaze for a few moments as she returns her constant attention to the pain in her stomach. Just like she did before, she’ll just drink a few sips of water and get over it. She’s small. She doesn’t need much else.

They say that they want to cross that walker-infested bridge in order to have a much shorter pathway to the old ski lodge on top of the mountain – otherwise, it could take several more days that they may not have before the Virginia grounds freeze over.

The thing about crossing the bridge is that it isn’t the easy part.

“It’s full o’ wooden boards on one side and it’s lookin’ kinda unstable on the other,” Luke continuously looks from his tourist’s map of Virginia to the rickety bridge and vice versa. Nick grits his teeth in response, letting out a low growl as he and Clementine both spot several lone walkers shambling along the wooden boards. “Okay, look – I’m gonna sneak across and make sure it’s clear before we bring the whole group over.”

His first and only immediate response comes from Carlos, who simply asks, “You think splitting up is a good idea?”

“I never said it was a good idea. ‘s just better than riskin’ everyone’s lives at once.”

Nick volunteers to risk his own life, along with Luke. And Clementine finds herself doing the same.

“I can help.” She protests, holding up her hammer. They all stop when Clementine speaks, and she certainly feels each individual gaze on her as her heartrate speeds up. Slowly, her gaze faltering, she murmurs again, “I can help…”

After everything that’s happened, Luke tells her, he doesn’t want her on the bridge, helping – and despite her own protests, Clementine stops herself. It’s because of that stupid conversation. Because he made her go to sleep. Because he thought she couldn’t handle it.

Clementine represses the urge to parrot last night’s words… you said I could help. But in this case, he didn’t. In this case, Luke doesn’t want her help because he probably thinks – no, maybe he truly does think – that she’s nothing but a fucking burden and a liability right now. Something bad has happened each time that Luke and the others left her alone.

“I wanted to help.”

The words spill out to no one in particular the moment that Nick and Luke abandon her to go survey the stupid, rickety bridge. Clementine represses her urge to throw down the hammer and say fuck it and just leave, since they don’t seem to want the extra help. It would show them.

But it would show her nothing. It’s a stupid idea.

“They didn’t leave you behind to punish you, Clem.”

Clementine glares at Alvin as he shifts against the boulder he’s sitting on, his own sheepish gaze lurking behind what she's sure is an attempt to calm her down. It does nothing of the sort, and the annoyed rage burns in her chest as she grasps the hammer in her tight fist. Maybe he doesn't think that this is punishment because he isn't the type who actually wants to or has to go out and prove himself. Alvin's a big guy, after all.
She thinks of that old man – Larry, the one with the heart problems that she met on the first day of the outbreak. Alvin is like Larry in his build, but even taller, and Larry was a big fucking man.

Alvin isn't a sixty-five pound, four-foot nine-inch eleven-year old girl. No one saw him sitting in his own piss and blood five days ago, crying his eyes out, too scared to even speak or to hold his bladder – not like her. No one saw Alvin after the aftermath of Carver's wrath.

Alvin has nothing to prove to this group, not like Clementine.

Definitely not like her.

"They didn't want – help –" Again, her voice breaks on the word help as she grits her teeth, trying to avoid letting go of the hammer. If she does, she'll throw it. Maybe at Alvin for saying this. Maybe she'll run after Luke and Nick after throwing the hammer to the ground in an irate fit of heated emotion. "They think I'm... weak."

"No one thinks that, Clem." The words come from Carlos this time.

Of course, she thinks, they have to be thinking this. Like Alvin, Carlos has nothing to prove. He's a medical doctor, and almost as tall as Alvin, almost as tall as Nick -- none of them are thought as weak.

"Then why can't I help them?"

The silence is the most deafening noise that she's heard in quite a while. Rebecca, Alvin, and Carlos exchange glances with each other, while Sarah avoids everyone's gaze entirely. And when she notices this, Clementine shakes her head. They know why, but they won't say it. She'll start crying if they say it.

Rebecca's hand falls to her pregnant stomach, her gaze joining it as she touches the outer parts of it. She looks to Clementine's stomach, the bandages hidden behind the sweater, in-turn hiding the wound on her stomach. The difference isn’t that hard to determine, Clementine thinks. Maybe – maybe when Carver did it, he fantasized. His sick, twisted fantasy. Maybe it was a torture technique – or perhaps, Carver truly imagined himself cutting open Rebecca and taking the baby straight from her womb.

And a pretty little pregnant lady.

The words cut through her the way that the steak knife cut through her stomach. The way that the words from Rebecca all the way back to that first night at the cabin did as Clementine hid in an empty shower.

Please let it be his.

Let it be Alvin’s, Clementine assumed Rebecca meant. But she never did ask, at least not out loud.

The riddle has a potential answer.

“Why can’t I help them?” She repeats this in an even lower voice, her throat scratchy and her voice continuously hoarse, even five days after screaming her lungs out. Clementine crosses her arms, watching the body language of the remaining four.

“Clementine, you’ll end up opening your wounds.” Carlos speaks again, raising his voice slightly. Just enough, most likely, to get her attention.

Clementine takes in a shaking breath. “Then let me. It doesn’t matter.”

“It sure as hell does!”

The remark comes from Rebecca, of all people. Clementine looks up through a teary gaze as she tries (she really does) to formulate an adequate response to this. Rebecca, of all people – the same woman who suggested simply shooting Clementine in the head just a week ago, thinks that Clementine’s well-being matters.

She thinks about laughing at this. Instead, she doesn’t respond, and instead finds herself leaning a surrounding tree. Carefully, Clementine places the hammer into a loop of her jeans and places both hands against either of her temples. The bruise on her right doesn’t matter.

“Someone cares, Clem.” Sarah has been quiet since the beginning of the conversation; for the last five days, honestly. Sarah saw a lot of what Carver exposed against Clementine’s will, after all.

“Thanks.” replies Clementine, staring at the ground.  

Sarah pauses. They all do.

“I know it’s not a lot, but I’ve got a couple books if you want to read.” She shrugs, completely oblivious to the sudden, wide-eyed reaction from Alvin over her shoulder. “You might like some of them.”

“I read some of your book the other night.”

“Which one?”

Alvin clenches his jaw in the background. Carlos seems to notice this, Clementine watches, as he mouths something to him that looks like, What’s wrong with you?

Speak.”

Carlos suddenly has the exact same reaction as Alvin, just before Alvin can reply to the question. Rebecca covers her face, something that Clementine attributes to secondhand embarrassment, possibly.

Clementine crosses her arms as Sarah’s face falls.

“Oh.” she says, looking away. She grasps the straps of her bag. “You didn’t like it, right?”

“I hated it.” For just a moment, Clementine wants to ask all of her questions. She would spill it all if she could – why had Sarah thought that something like that would help? Why had she thought Clementine would like it in the first place? Why would anyone have liked to read that so soon after – ?

“I-I have other books, Clem.” Sarah lowers her gaze, then suddenly takes off her bag, “I have some you’ll like.”

Clementine feels her head, including her bruised temple. The pain in her headache is bad enough already without the added task of reading books, maybe. But books are adequate escapism, so maybe, if the rest of Sarah’s books are fun fantasy and not the winner of some Young Adult Fiction award, then they’ll help. They’ll help, all right.

“Don’t you have Harry Potter?” Clementine asks, watching Sarah undo the straps on her bag and begin to dig through it. Her chest tightens as she avoids the gazes from the rest of the group. Alvin already knew about Clementine reading Speak because Luke told him, but the others –

Clementine sighs softly, biting her lip. Now she’s made Sarah feel bad, and looking back, it isn’t exactly Sarah’s fault that Clementine picked up the book.

If there’s anything that Clementine wishes to happen, it’s that she’ll magically learn how to shut the fuck up and stop her irritation at random things. But it doesn’t stop. She digs her nails into her arm and lets out a low huff.

“I found it.” Sarah stands from her kneeling posture to hold out a beaten-up copy of the first Harry Potter book to Clementine. She frowns again, “I hope you like it.”

Me too, Clementine thinks, though she doesn’t say this. Instead, she takes it loosely in her grasp. “Thanks,” she murmurs, staring down at the front cover as she runs her thumb over the different textures of the title versus the rest of the book.

 “Shit!”

The exclamation comes from Alvin as he springs to his feet from the rock, pulling his gun back into his arms from his lap.

“Don’t shoot, Alvin!”

Clementine nearly drops the book as she looks up to meet Luke and Nick leaving the edge of the bridge. Another man, hooded and armed, his rifle at his side, follows them closely, his face difficult to see in the shadows of the hood.

Her stomach drops – also as quickly as Alvin drops his gun to his own side as each of them stare, bewildered as the man stops in his tracks.

The man lingers behind Luke and Nick; Luke seems casual, or as casual as he can with dots of walker blood around his face. Nick, on the other hand, appears irritated, or at least mildly inconvenienced. But they don’t look scared – not like they did with Carver. But maybe this is a trick.

Slowly, the man drops his hood, revealing his now easier-to-see face. Unlike Luke and Nick, he appears uncomfortable, as if he isn’t sure whether or not he has just walked into what will eventually turn into a large argument.

“I didn’t mean to intrude,” the man spoke, glancing at Luke with an uneasy expression, “Your friend here said you weren’t going to shoot me.”

“Who are you?” Carlos steps forward as he asks this, his gaze seemingly falling directly on the man’s rifle.

The man also takes a step forward, looking from Luke to Carlos. “I’m Matthew,” he cocks his head to the side as he pans their group, “I live in that Ski Lodge with three other people. He –” The man called Matthew nods to Luke, “—said you all you all were trying to find it. To go up the mountain.”

Alvin crosses his arms. “We were.”

Clementine inches herself backwards from the man, closer to where Sarah has frozen. “Here,” she whispers, barely able to make the sound to begin with. Trembling, she forces the book back into Sarah’s hands and rips the hammer from her belt loop, holding it to her chest. Her only defense if this interaction goes south.

“You’re not the first.” Matthew grimaces, then sighs, “We get people through here a lot. After a while, you all start to look like the great migration of the dazed and confused. Usually people just take our food and move on.”

They’re all silent for a moment, Clementine included. Matthew’s hand doesn’t move; he doesn’t seem to be attempting to take a moment to blow everyone’s faces off. He seems more uncomfortable in his attempts to explain himself; to make conversation. But, on the other hand, it’s a strange way to phrase stealing.

Maybe this is exactly what he’s thinking as well – “We give it to people,” he suddenly explains, peering over his shoulder, “I’ll have to grab some things from the lodge, but – if anyone’s hungry…” Trailing off, Matthew slowly nods. “I can offer you guys food.”

Clementine tightens her grip on the hammer. Food, he says. And he goes on to explain that he’s got food and supplies – some random medical supplies, Matthew claims, that he and his smaller group having lying around in case of emergencies. Some of them, he says, none of them know what to do with.

And they agree to follow Matthew across the rickety bridge and up the dirty mountain and through the thin air to the Ski Lodge. Clementine holds the hammer in front of her, trying to take in as much air as she can in order to avoid panic – to avoid anxiety in general, not just some sort of panic attack faced with meeting anyone new.

She follows without a question.