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Out on a Limb

Chapter Text

Closing her amber eyes briefly, Clementine tried to focus on spreading the walker’s insides over herself and Sarah, making sure to cover every last bit of live human beings with the stench of death. The teen was trembling as Clementine smoothed the blood over her, complaining in a hushed voice at how disgusting the act was. This whole situation just brought back painful memories of Lee, anyway; Sarah acting exactly like Clementine did when they escaped the Stranger’s house was not helping anything. It took everything she had to swallow the lump building in her throat; she needed to be strong. For him.

“Shh, you need to be quiet, Sarah,” she murmured, wiping her hands on her pants once she was finished. “I promise, this will keep you safe.” This ritual had worked before - like a charm, even - and this was a promise Clementine intended to keep. Sarah was her friend, and no one else in their group was getting left behind.

Carlos was nearby, repeating the same words to his daughter as reassuringly as he could. Clementine gave a nod to him, entrusting him to know what to do to keep Sarah safe as they prepared to walk through the hoard.

“We ain’t got all day here. Everybody ready?” Kenny asked, checking the group for anyone who was still smearing guts over themselves. Thankfully, it looked like they all had done their job; they looked like a group of dirty hobos, but they would survive. Clementine’s gaze flashed into Kenny’s, and she nodded to him, as well. He returned the notion and added, “They’re almost on us.”

And before anyone could respond further, a new voice sounded from behind them. “What the actual fuck is going on here?!” Clementine stiffened at Troy’s loud hiss. She still felt the wound on her cheek from when he had smacked her for attempting to defend Kenny. As far as she was concerned, Troy was a horrible man, and he would ruin everything if he got too loud in this situation.

He babbled on more, demanding what their ‘sick shit’ was, his rifle pointed to the group. Luke reached for his own weapon, but Troy caught him in the act and threatened to shoot him if he moved. Clementine bit her lip, gaze trailing over her friends. It was do or die.

[ Yell to Kenny ]

[ Distract Troy ]

[ Run ]

[ ... ]

“No! Stop!” Without thinking, the child rushed at Troy, attempting to redirect the rifle. Once her hands clamped around the weapon and pointed it towards the sky, a shot rang out, the heat radiating from it burning her ear.

“What the fuck is your problem, you little-!?” he squawked in surprise, cut off as Clementine let go. She backed up and watched as the color drained from his face. Her eyes followed his to the walker hoard, her own heart sinking in her chest.


“Clem! You okay?” Luke cried, sending a swift punch to Troy’s mouth. Dazed, the man staggered, only to charge forward into the walkers with his gun firing freely a minute later. The girl watched him disappear into the mess of walking rotten flesh, wondering how long he could survive without reeking of death. She nodded to Luke, turning back to see the rest of the group beginning to slowly walk into the hoard.

“We need to go,” she whispered, receiving a nod in response. It became evident that the lurker hoard had become agitated by Troy’s shot, and that if they didn’t move now, they wouldn’t make it. Nick joined his friend moments later, and Clementine found Sarah, trying to murmur words of encouragement to her naive companion.

Jane, their mysterious new ally, was softly giving instructions to the group. “Don’t make any noise,” she advised, tracking her eyes about the crowd, “And for fuck’s sake, walk. Act like you belong and you will belong.”

Clementine remembered Lee mentioning something like that - by acting like a walker and smelling like one, the things couldn’t tell the difference. It wasn’t a perfect method of safety, but it was all they had. She couldn’t possibly trust Jane fully yet, but from her own experience, this seemed to be a great way to escape, and their only option to boot.

Tavia and the others were shooting from the rooftop, yelling out demands for more ammo and asking where Carver was. Clementine fought back the urge to cover her head; she didn’t want to risk being spotted by the walkers, but being shot by Carver’s followers wasn’t a pleasant thought, either. She tried not to think about it, and focused on where she was going, and how much further there was to walk. The others’ quiet words of encouragement did help some, as well.

She kept as quiet as she could, taking cautious but full steps and keeping an eye on Sarah in front of her. Carlos was leading the girls, his facial expression spelling out more worry and fear than ever before. However, it was understandable - Sarah was not doing well. She was shaking again, and her breath was quickening, preluding to the panic she felt when things went to shit. Her father encouraged Clementine to say something, and just as she was constructing whatever words she could to make Sarah’s anxiety calm down even a little, a bullet went through Carlos’s neck.

He fell instantly, getting gnawed on by walkers in the process. Clementine watched, suddenly reminded of those she’d lost to walker bites in the past - Shawn, Doug, Duck, Pete, and Lee, oh God Lee…!

No! This isn’t the time!

She wrenched those thoughts out of her head; what was she thinking?! This was not the time to dwell on the past, and Sarah needed her help now. The girl was screaming her heart out, alerting walkers to her status as their prey. Her nails dug into the sides of her head as her despair poured out all at once, and Clementine feared she would sink to her knees at any moment.

The monsters around them were closing in, being picked off by Bonnie and Sarita as best they could manage.

“Run, Sarah!” Clementine cried without thinking, watching the teen sprint off into the hoard blindly. She attempted to follow, but walkers blocked her path. Raising the cleaver, Clementine drove the blade into one’s head with a strong strike and managed to snake out of one’s grasp before it could claw at her. Her weapon drove into two more monsters’ skulls before hearing a low scream nearby.

As she ran towards the noise, time seemed to come to a halt. Clementine’s breath caught in her throat as she stared at the man struggling with a lone walker, his gun clicking uselessly as he attempted to fire bullets that were not there. The creature’s teeth were sunken deep into his wrist as he tried to wrench himself from its grasp. The girl slowed down as she raised her weapon, unsure what to do and knowing she didn’t have much time to think it through.

This was Troy - this was the man who stood by and watched Kenny get beaten, who would have smacked Sarah and smacked Clementine herself without mercy. He treated the group like shit, asserting his authority as Carver’s right-hand man by parading himself around the prison like a slavedriver.

Clementine was fully aware of how horrible he was, and she almost set the cleaver down and turned around to go find Sarah, to aid someone who actually deserved her help. But she saw Troy’s fearful gaze, noticed the way his eyes pleaded with hers silently as he tried to escape and knew he was as good as dead. Something about that look bothered her, but she couldn’t place her finger on why. Just for a split second, she wondered what Lee would have done in this situation - would he have saved an enemy, or at least spared him from being eaten alive?

He’d taken mercy on those men back on the dairy farm, hadn’t he? He’d known she was watching, knew it was a tough decision to make but did it ultimately for her sake. It wasn’t something she understood then, but in this moment in time, it connected with her all-too-quickly. She had to do this, if only to not become a monster like Troy, or Carver.

Carver claimed she was just like him, that she had the same look in her eyes. Well, she’d prove him wrong right here and now - her eyes would not see the death of this man - her enemy - so long as she could help it.

Her weapon raised above her head, she made the decision that would prove her actions different than William Carver’s.

[Hack Off Troy’s Arm]

[Cleave Walker’s Skull]

The blade sliced into Troy’s flesh sloppily with a squishing sound, and he stared over at the child, wide-eyed and in disbelief at the sudden pain surely coursing through his body. Clementine didn’t say a word as she released her weapon, giving one last glance around her before plunging the cleaver through his arm, hacking the limb off and surrendering it to the walker.

Troy clutched his upper arm, his eyes bugging out at Clementine and back to his dismembered limb a few times before he let out a bloodcurdling scream. She didn’t blame him; it looked… well, horrible (not that that was unexpected), a mess of blood, meat, and bone exposed to the world. Clementine winced at the wound, noticing chunks of his flesh dripping from it before she had to tear her gaze away, to meet Troy’s eyes.

Again, not unexpectedly, he was absolutely horrified, expression showing a form of raw terror and agony that Clementine had seen before - more times than she should have. For a moment, after seeing his eyes blink quickly and his body wobble a little, she feared he would faint right there on the spot. If that were the case, then chopping his arm off would have been pointless, for he’d be as good as dead. She still held up her arms, as if she could somehow catch him and drag him to safety. That delusion, thankfully, wasn’t put to the test, as he seemed to gain at least some sense and gave her a shaky nod.

A walker approached the two of them; Clementine raised her weapon and sliced it into its skull, watching it fall to the ground. As quickly as she could manage, she cut a small crevice out of the corpse, retracting some of its guts to smear around Troy's torso. She felt oddly in charge of him now; grabbing his remaining arm, she hissed a low, "Get behind me," and kept her steady pace through the hoard. She had only managed to hit a few before they overwhelmed the two of them; before all hope was lost, however, bullets flew into the skulls of the approaching walkers. Whether those were from the rifles of friends or foes, Clementine didn't know, nor did she particularly care.

“C’mon!” she yelled to Troy, watching him stumble silently behind her. It wasn’t much further, and finally, towards the outer edge of the mass, Clementine spotted Sarah. The girl was curled up on the ground, Bonnie nearby shooting any beasts that got too close. Clementine yelled out their names, knowing not keeping quiet wasn’t going to hinder the situation further.

The redhead turned to see Clementine approaching, shooting two more lurkers that were behind them. “Troy? Y-you made it through...?” she asked, almost bewildered at the survival of her ‘co-worker’.

Before the injured man could respond, Kenny’s strong voice rang out above the walkers’ hungry growls. He shot a few monsters before backing up into Bonnie, turning around and nearly blowing her head off in the process.

“Whoa, whoa! Chill the fuck out, Kenny!” Nick hissed, appearing with Luke and Rebecca mere seconds later. Mike and Jane trailed behind, both with cold expressions on their faces once they spotted Troy.

“Sorry, sorry - still havin’ trouble shooting with one eye,” the older man replied, shaking his head and lowering his weapon. The lot of them were just outside the hoard, which seemed to be focusing on Tavia’s group atop the rooftop (and the blaring announcements regarding Howe’s Hardware’s newest sale on barbeque equipment).

“It’s fine, I’m not hurt,” Bonnie insisted, turning her gaze to Troy. “But… he is.”

Kenny’s eyes widened once he noticed the man, his lips curling into a snarl as he sauntered forward and grabbed Troy’s collar, yanking him closer. “You - you son-of-a-bitch! How fuckin’ dare you show your face around here-”

Troy’s eyes widened as he tried to squirm out of Kenny’s grasp, blabbering out, “W-whoa, f-fuck, I--”

Sarita placed a hand on her boyfriend’s shoulder before he could do anything drastic. “Kenny, please calm down. The man is missing an arm!”

“I don’t care if he’s got one, two, or ten arms, Sarita! If he’s a danger to the group, he’s gotta go!”

Clementine stepped forward, her voice as clear and confident as she could manage - and as mature as she could seem for an eleven-year-old. “I cut off his arm,” she declared, eyes narrowing at Troy. Her light brown gaze shot to Kenny, giving him the same fierce look. “He was bitten. I did it so he could survive.” There had been no choice - she was taught it was all about survival, after all (with a side dish of compassion).

Without warning, Troy started to babble on further: “Y-yeah, yeah, that’s- that’s right, she did. Fuck, I- I don’t know wh- why that happened but it fuckin' did and - and shit fuckin' shit…I...!” His words, of course, didn’t make much sense, and it was obvious he’d lost a lot of blood already. Before anyone could respond to that mess of slurred words, Troy’s legs gave out, making him collapse to the ground like dead weight.

Clementine didn’t jump, but her gaze softened a bit as Sarita bent down to check the man’s pulse. “He’s lost a lot of blood, but he’s only passed out for now. Can we get to a safe place?” she asked.

Everyone looked at one another, and Rebecca was the first to notice that someone was missing. “Wait a minute… Where’s Carlos?” she asked, not realizing Sarah was nearby, a shaking and sobbing mess. It only took a glance at the broken girl to understand immediately what had happened.

Clementine bit her lip, approaching her friend cautiously. “Sarah…?” she murmured, bending down to the other girl’s level on the ground. “Sarah, we need to move,” she insisted, holding out onto her hands. “Come on.”

Sarah seemed to drain of life, her eyes empty and her mouth hung open still in the aftermath of shock. She merely nodded weakly, bloodshot eyes avoiding Clementine’s gaze and standing up, fixing her sights on the ground again.

“Oh, sweetheart…” Rebecca whispered sympathetically, but no one moved.

“Alright,” Kenny began, pointing with his gun towards a building dead ahead of them. “That’s our next stop ‘til we can find that civil war museum.” Leaving no room for arguments, he added, “C’mon, y’all. Nick, grab the asshole.” The man nodded towards Troy, unconscious and bleeding out onto the ground.

“I thought I was the asshole,” Nick quipped sarcastically, quirking a brow at Kenny.

“Well, looks like your position’s been taken.”

Nick merely rolled his eyes and bent down to lift Troy, receiving a groan of pain from the injured man in response. “Shit, sorry…” he murmured apologetically.

“Here,” Luke chimed in, taking some of Troy’s weight to make him as comfortable as possible as he was supported between the two of them. Luke flashed a smile at Clementine before beginning to walk forward with Nick.

The girl smiled back, pleased with how her group was handling her decision. It really made her feel mature; she had decided to save a life, to not be like Carver and let someone weak die. Of course, there was still the problem of whether she’d severed Troy’s arm quick enough, but given Reggie’s experience, it didn’t seem like it would be a big threat. After all, the amputation was nearly instantly after the bite.

From what Clementine could tell from her position, Kenny’s pointed destination seemed like more pieces of a strip mall, broken into several stores like Carver’s camp had been. “Let’s move,” the one-eyed man said, leading everyone towards the building. “Our first stop will be the strip’s pharmacy.”

Oh, the irony. But Clementine didn’t think about the last time she had been in a pharmacy as she went along with her friends (and that one man whom she saved - he wasn’t her friend); instead, she focused on holding onto Sarah’s hand, giving comforting squeezes every-so-often. There was only so much she could do, though; loss was inevitable in a world like this, even when you give your all to fight and save as many lives as possible.

Chapter Text

Clementine let out a sigh, examining the group of survivors around her that were all moving about their own paces. They were all crowded in the pharmacy of the strip mall, the broken front glass boarded up to protect from the walkers hungrily walking outside. It didn't have many supplies left (apart from greeting cards, and there was no need for those anymore, was there?), but luckily it had something, which was better than nothing at all, in retrospect.

Once they had reached the place, everyone seemed to break off into teams: Nick and Luke, after setting Troy gently down on a table, joined Mike in sealing the front of the place to keep the rest of the group safe; Sarah curled up behind a counter, sobbing softly to herself; Rebecca sat down with Kenny; Jane cleared the area of any stray walkers and made sure others weren't hiding in any crevices; and Sarita was currently measuring the damage done on Troy. Clementine wasn't sure whom she wanted to join, but right now, she figured the injured man was her responsibility.

Cautiously, she walked up to Sarita, placing a hand on the woman's shoulder. "Do you… need any help?" she asked, her eyes looking down to the unconscious form on the table. Troy looked terrible; he was a few shades paler, sweat trickling down his face, and the blood around his sleeve where his limb had been detached didn't seem to be clotting any time soon. The girl grimaced at the sight, wondering what he'd have to say when he woke up.

If he woke up.

Sarita turned around and noticed Clementine, giving as warm a smile as she could manage. "Thank you, Clementine. Do you mind looking for any medical supplies? I don't know how much is left in a place like this, but… well, anything would help. I'm going to make a tourniquet, too… If you could find a belt or something similar, we can slow down the bleeding."

Clementine nodded. "Alright. Do you think he'll… make it…?" she was hesitant to ask, knowing that sometimes people did not make it in these sorts of situations, but she couldn't help but be curious. Curious, that is, if her split-second decision had been for nothing or not.

With a shake of her head, the woman responded, "I'm not sure yet. I'm going to do all I can. Oh, and can you check on Kenny for me, please?"

"Of course." Anytime was a good time to talk with Kenny, after all; Clementine smiled and turned around to find the one-eyed man. She hadn't gotten to talk to him much about what had happened with Carver, and now would be as good a time as any to discuss things, she supposed.

Unfortunately, she realized, that would have to wait; she had to take care of Troy first, and get what Sarita had asked for. She gave a nod to Kenny, as if to say, 'We'll talk later,' and once the man gave a warm smile in return, she glanced over the layout of the pharmacy.

It was divided by aisles with varying themes of products in each one, just like any other pharmacy. There were also the counters, which had items below (mostly rotting candy, though). In the back was the actual pharmaceutical section, where prescription drugs used to be sold. Clementine remembered going there when she was very little - around six, she'd guess. She had gone with her mother when her father had gotten a sinus infection and required an antibiotic. Her mother had gotten her McDonald's on the way back home, which contained a Happy Meal toy that was some doll from the most popular girly franchise at the time.

Those memories seemed so crisp in her mind, but failed to actually pop up unless prompted by the image of something she'd touched or somewhere she'd been in the past. Like how the garage-like door at Carver's camp yard reminded her of the jewelry store that Lee had died in. It was all so strange how memories from before the apocalypse were strung so closely to the ones from after in her mind. Maybe it was because she was young, but Clementine remembered the day Duck died as clearly as she did her fifth birthday party. The meat locker incident with Larry was as vivid and fresh a memory as her first day of school.

She didn't even know why she dwelled on the past so much; Lee had told her to keep moving, that she was strong and was smarter than any walker. She was, of course, but it didn't make her any less scared of what was happening, and her heart longed for days where she felt safe - safe with Lee.

Shaking her head, she had to remind herself that that was no longer her life. She could never go back to the Motor Inn, or revive those that she had lost. It just didn't work like that - it never did and it never will. This was her life for now. Surviving together with these people, and fighting the undead that walked the streets.

She'd just have to get used to this.

"Hey, Clem? You in there?" A familiar, Southern-accented voice sounded from beside her.

Shit! How long had she been staring off into space, thinking about stuff that didn't matter now? She blinked a few times and looked up to see Luke's friendly face smiling down at her. Clementine willed herself to smile back, but it was weaker than she'd have liked. So much had happened in the past few hours, and it was still difficult to be strong, even now.

"Yeah, sorry," she apologized, giving him a nod. "I just… spaced out, I guess."

"Hey, no problem, Clem. How're you holdin' up, anyway? Are y'alright? Do you… need anything?" Luke bent down to meet her gaze, a brow quirked in question to her. She regarded him as an older brother-like figure, much like Ben had once been (though Luke was more capable, admittedly).

"I'm okay," she replied, her smile warming up to be more genuine and less forced. He seemed to notice, for his own eyes became gentler.

Standing back up, he continued, "Well, good. That's what I like to hear. If you need anything, though, don't hesitate to ask, okay?"

Clementine nodded again. "Sarita asked me to find some medical supplies for Troy. Want to help me?" she asked, her gaze drifting to the front of the store. The shards of glass from the window had been removed, and a thick layer of wood had been boarded in its place. "It looks like you're done with that," she added quickly.

Not surprisingly, Luke nodded. "Sure, we can check in the back, where Jane's patrolling. Let's head on back, then." Clementine figured he'd be willing to help, even despite his bad blood with Troy. He was just that kind of guy - like Lee had been.

The two of them made their way to the back of the stores, stepping over the debris that had crumbled down from the ceiling and aisles. Jane, one of the newest additions to their group, was bent down in the back of the store, tearing through a few boxes and stuffing things into her pockets.

"What're you doing?" Luke asked, prompting her to turn around as though she were caught in some act. But once she noticed Luke, her frown curled into a challenging smirk, clearly showing she didn't see him as a threat.

"What do you think? I'm looking for stuff," she replied curtly, rolling her eyes.

"What, uh, kind of stuff?" Luke asked, crossing his arms.

Jane stood back up, snapping, "Whatever I can find, genius. Why? You looking for something in particular?"

Clementine nodded. "Sarita asked for medical supplies for Troy - anything you can find would probably be helpful."

The woman scoffed, cocking her head to the side a bit. "Troy, huh? Still dunno why you saved him in the first place, kid. When I saw him standing there with his stumpy arm, I had half a mind to shoot the guy's dick off. He's a regular piece of shit, nothing redeemable in him."

Luke narrowed his eyes. "Well, that may be, but I trust Clem's decision. I'm glad you helped us get out of Carver's camp, but I'd appreciate it if you respected Clementine, as well."

It seemed, to Clementine, that more and more adults were treating her like one of them and not some little kid. There was a world of difference between herself and Sarah, that much was obvious, and it made her more than a little pleased to be respected as mature. Though she wasn't quite where she wanted to be in terms of her place in the group, she couldn't help but be proud of her accomplishments. She was still young, and she knew that having adults trust her to be sensible said a lot about her.

Once more, she thought about how much she owed Lee for teaching her to be strong and mature.

Jane broke her out of her thoughts with her sharp reply, "I do trust the kid. She's smarter than the other girl you got with you - and most of your idiot crew. The rest of you had better find some sense of survival, and fast, or you won't make it another day." Her brown eyes brightened as she looked down at Clementine in slight admiration and determination.

Giving a smirk of her own, the child responded, "Thanks, I guess, but we all pull our weight." She hoped, anyway. Truthfully, she was grateful that they were letting her do what she thought was best, and not ordering her around like a baby. On the subject of Troy, she added, "What happened was a split decision, but I decided to spare him all the same. It's just what good people do."

"'Good people'. Right. But hey, don't come crying to me when he wakes up and starts treating you all like shit," Jane hissed in reply, shaking her head.

"I don't doubt it. When did you arrive? We were long gone by then." Luke asked curiously.

Jane shrugged. "Maybe a week or so ago. Troy just kept bothering me, but I was using it to my advantage. After all, he was on the inside, I was on the outside. We talked a few times, made some deals for supplies and shit. I think he definitely wanted to get somewhere with me, though. Which he would not have done under any circumstances." She seemed to forget that Clementine was there, but once she remembered she was in the presence of a kid, she didn't seem to care, either. "Getting caught with my pants down in an apocalypse? What, did he think I was an idiot?"

Luke cleared his throat, giving a side glance to Clementine next to him, and replied, "Regardless… even if he is a piece of shit, it was Clem's idea to save 'im, so I'm gonna respect that. I'd like you to, as well."

She chuckled. "Whatever. I'm gonna get back to scrounging around this place, then."

"Alright then." Luke turned back to the girl, giving her another nod and directing his gaze to the aisles in the back of the store. "There should be some supplies back there, Clem. Let's go."

Clementine nodded, proceeding to search through some of the bags and containers in the pharmacy. She tried not to think about the last time she was in a place like this, tried not to remember how Lee and Lilly had rushed as fast as they could to get the ni...tro… things for Larry, and kept her sights on searching through the items, looking for something that could help their injured enemy (or whatever he was now).

Lee and Kenny hadn't liked Larry, she remembered. But they still did a whole lot to get him those pills. She could do the same here with Troy, despite how much the lengths she was going to for a man who had struck her with his gun annoyed her.

With a sigh, she realized that Carlos should be doing this, not her. He should be alive, he should be with Sarah and getting medicine and… not where he was. He shouldn't be dead. Clementine didn't have time to mourn him (did she ever have time?), and just thinking about how alone her friend was now was a deep cut. After she made sure Kenny was doing okay with his eye, she made a mental note to check up on Sarah, too.

That didn't fix how lost she was in this scenario with medicine, though. She supposed bandages and a tourniquet would have to do for now. Troy could do without painkillers for now - their main priority was stopping the bleeding.

"Hey, Clem! I found some bandages," Luke called out, just as she noticed a long length of rope hanging on the back wall.

"Good. That'll make a good tourniquet." She pointed to the rope and stood on the tips of her toes, but the rope was still just out of her grasp. Luckily, Luke placed his hands on her sides and lifted her without hesitation. She squirmed a little, shooting him a glare for picking her up without asking first, but ultimately grabbed the rope without a word and crossed her arms. "I could've done that myself."

He merely smiled and handed her the bandages. "Sure. But hey, if need anything else, Clem, and I'll be glad to help. Just gimme a holler." With that, he walked off to Nick, probably going to look for something else he could do while they rested here.

Clementine watched him go and made her way back to Sarita, exchanging a glance with Kenny beforehand. The man was leaning on a counter with his arms crossed, most likely on edge because the group was at a standstill for the moment. Until they figured out the condition of their charge, they couldn't do much, after all.

"Sarita, I brought some bandages, and a rope… Do you think that'll work for a tourniquet?"

The woman turned her head and took the things off Clementine. "Yes, I think this will work just fine. But Clementine, could you help me, please? I'll just need you for a few minutes."

Without hesitation, the girl shrugged. "Sure. What do you need me to do?"

"Can you hold him in place as I set the tourniquet?" Sarita pointed to the bloody edge of Troy's severed limb, or rather the stump that the cleaver slice had left behind. It wasn't the first time Clementine had seen someone's arm cut off, and it wouldn't be the last, she'd bet. This cut wasn't as clean, though, as she'd been in a hurry doing it. It was probably very painful, given that Troy hadn't awakened yet, and indicated by the blood pooling around his limp figure still.

Without responding, Clementine held the man's torso still, noting the way he twitched in his unconscious state, probably indicating how much pain he was in. When Sarita wound the rope around his arm's stump, he only got worse; his teeth ground together and his head moved from side to side, fighting the urge to yell out in pain. His whole body was squirming, and had he been conscious, she was sure he would easily overpower him. Good thing he wasn't, though, because he probably would have been in even more agony. Clementine may not like him, but she wouldn't wish that sort of pain on anyone.

"Almost - almost…" Sarita murmured, and Clementine took a peek at what exactly she was doing. It didn't look… fun, to be honest, and she was glad that her job was only to hold Troy down. Sarita was tying the rope against what was left of his arm, the blood seeping through her fingers and staining her jacket. She kept at it, however, and made sure to knot it in multiple places so it would stay. It sure seemed sturdier than Lee's had been, that's for sure.

Kenny's voice sounded next, behind her. "Sarita, hon, are you doin' okay over there? Why waste so much time on the asshole?" The reason why both of them were working hard to save Troy was above the man's head, Clementine was sure. It didn't make much sense to her, either, but she wasn't as vocal as Kenny was.

"Kenny, please - I'm fine. And you know I can't turn my back on someone who needs help. Have you forgotten when I'd found you?" Sarita asked in response, pausing to look over to him expectantly.

Clementine always wondered how Kenny survived; Christa had told her that he was lost in an alleyway, saving his last bullet for Ben's skewered body. To be honest, Clementine was glad she hadn't been there to see the teen's death and Kenny's supposed demise, though it never would have happened in the first place if she hadn't been careless. To this day, she still blamed herself for a lot of it: Lee's bite, Ben's death, Kenny's disappearance… So many events could have been prevented had she just stayed put.

At least Kenny survived, though it was her fault he'd lost his eye, too. Clementine sighed and noticed Sarita had finally stopped making knots in the rope, and lifted her hands away from Troy. "He's stable for now, I think," she declared. They both knew she wasn't a doctor, but a kind, compassionate woman's helpfulness was all the ground had now, with their doctor dead. "Thank you, Clementine."

The girl nodded in response and let go of Troy, noting how he didn't put up a fight.

After raising a quizzical eyebrow to him, she turned away, eager to speak with Kenny now.

Chapter Text

"So, darlin', I think we have some things to talk about," Kenny's voice still sounded rough and cracked from the pain of his eye injury, and he seemed very tired overall. Exhausted, even. Clementine's gaze softened; she wished he would rest a bit while they could, instead of using his time talking to her.

But still, she also knew there was no arguing with him. She nodded, and sat up on the counter next to where Kenny was leaning.

"What is it?" she asked, blinking at him. Where could he even start, really? There were so many unsaid things between the two of them - and while sometimes, it was good to keep feelings and words to a minimum, it was also nice to let them out.

The older man leaned back even further, placing his palms on the counter and looking down at the rough surface. "Y'remember the last time we were in a pharmacy?"

Great. Of all things, he had to start with that. Clementine sighed and nodded. "Yes, I remember… Lee got me an energy bar and we spent some time in his parents' office."

Kenny nodded, closing his eyes as if to envision himself in that place, in the Everetts' drugstore days after he'd met Lee and Clementine, with Katjaa and Duck by his side again, looking to him for guidance. Everyone they knew was still alive back then. Well, not everyone - Clementine's parents hadn't been, she found out later. But the Motor Inn group was alive and together as a group - as a family.

"That's right, he did… Got one for Duck, too. He always did look out for both of you kids, didn't he?"

Her heart sank as they went into more painful territory of their memories; remembering Lee's guidance was painful enough, but adding her friend in made it that much worse. Duck wasn't the brightest child, but at least he and Clementine had each other when the world around them was crumbling. Recalling the days she'd played with him just caused her chest to hurt; turning away, she mumbled, "I… don't really want to talk about this…"

Kenny must have realized he'd said something insensitive; his eye widened and he shook his head. "Oh, shit - sorry, Clem. I know it's still hard for you - hell, it's hard for me, too."

Clementine nodded. "It's never been easy," she agreed, her gaze lowering.

"So what made you hack that ass's arm off?"

She shrugged. "I just… did what Lee would do." She was confident that's what the man would have done, had he been here. If Lee were here, he wouldn't hesitate to help, even if the person was horrible to him. At least, that was what Clementine believed. She hoped her memory of Lee wasn't inaccurate, and that he really was as kind and compassionate as she remembered. "He didn't kill the St. John brothers," she added, closing her eyes as the memories swirled around her.

That farm was strongly remembered in her mind, as most of her senses recalled what it was like. The smell of fresh grass, the warm nostalgia associated with sitting at a table for dinner, the feel of a cow's coarse fur, and the spine-tingling fear of death… It seemed that the memories with senses other than sight were the strongest in her mind. For a moment, she was afraid she'd open her eyes and see Kenny, Lilly, and Lee arguing in the meat locker.

A hand touched her shoulder, and she nearly jumped. Once her eyes snapped open, however, the illusion was gone, and she was in the pharmacy again with Kenny.

"Clem? You in there?"

Shaking her head, the girl replied, "Y-yeah, sorry. I was just… remembering." Though she tried her hardest not to remember, things always made it past her mental barrier. She doubted those times would fade anytime soon, too.

"It's alright. I was saying that Lee raised you in a good way. I may not agree with everythin' you do, but… well, you're more than capable of deciding things yourself." It seemed to finally dawn on Kenny that she wasn't a little girl anymore - that this world had stolen her innocence and she had moved on without it.

"Thank you, Kenny," she replied with a small smile.

The man nodded, giving her a warm grin back, and then his expression fell. Before she could ask what was wrong, his gaze drifted over to Sarita, a dull look settling in his eyes. "Sometimes, I wonder what Kat would say about me movin' on like this," he whispered.

Though Clementine knew she was more than capable to make decisions an eleven-year-old normally wouldn't be able to, she absolutely could not help in this department. If Lee were here, perhaps he could offer some insight for his friend, but Clementine was just another child when it came to adult affairs like this. She shook her head, turning away for a moment. "I don't know," she admitted, a bit sharply to remind Kenny who he was talking to.

Kenny blinked, the realization of who he was talking to seemingly dawning on him. "Fuck. You're right, this ain't the time, and you ain't the person I should be talkin' about this with. Sorry, darlin'." He placed a hand on her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze, to which she nodded in understanding.

While both of their sights were still on Sarita, Kenny commented, "I wonder if you'll get a thank you in the end for savin' his life."

The girl shrugged. Honestly, she hadn't been expecting one, nor did it really matter in a situation like this. "We're all survivors," she pointed out, "we have to look out for one another, don't we?" That was all she was doing, in the end.

"You sure as hell didn't mind me bashing in that fucker's face."

Well, Carver's case was a bit different. That man had held them prisoner, invoked fear in all of his 'family members,' oppressed everyone with his system, made Carlos physically harm Sarah, and to top it all off, he beat Kenny and made him lose an eye. Clementine never thought any human could top a walker in terms of monstrous behavior, but William Carver proved her wrong in the end.

"That was different," she projected, narrowing her eyes. "He deserved it."

Kenny smirked back at her, showing approval of her words. "I couldn't agree more, Clem."

"Thanks," she replied. "Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?"

"Besides the fact that we're in a drugstore again and it seems kinda quiet without Larry barkin' about at everyone? Nah." Kenny chuckled under his breath, gazing at the floor as he was surely overwhelmed by memories.

Clementine looked away, towards the other set of counters across the store, remembering she had to see Sarah. "I need to go check on my friend," she murmured, "Carlos was her dad… I think she's really broken up over everything."

Given that Kenny had fallen apart after his entire family died all at once, the man surely wasn't surprised. He nodded somberly. "Go do what you need to, Clem. We'll chat more later, if you like."

The girl gave him one last glance before walking across the store, to where Sarah was still curled up and sobbing. She peered over the edge of the counter, whispering her name. The other girl didn't seem to take notice, rocking back and forth as she hugged her knees, her glasses noticeably cracked on her face.

After hopping over the counter, Clementine bent down to her friend's level. "Sarah…? Sarah, it's me," she said, waving a hand in front of her face. "It's Clementine. We made it out of the walker hoard."

Sarah's lifeless eyes drifted to her friend, a very recognizable defeat shifting through her brown irises. Her mouth hung open as she pushed quiet, broken words off her tongue: "...not everyone made it out…"

Clementine's heart fell at the sight of her. Sarah had been so naive - in a way, she reminded her of how she herself used to be. It was human nature to want to protect someone so childlike, she supposed; something so precious as innocence in this nightmare world had to be cherished and guarded. Carlos had wanted to keep the horrors of society (or lack thereof) from his daughter until his gruesome end, but the truth was that no one stayed innocent now.

No one could keep something so treasured for themselves for too long. Eventually, the world would come and snatch it away.

"Sarah… I'm really sorry…" Clementine was horrible at this sort of thing, but she was trying her hardest. She sat down in front of Sarah on her knees, her eyes shimmering with sadness. This had been hard to hear from Lee after she'd seen her parents as walkers, and it would be hard for Sarah to hear, but it needed to be said.

She lowered her head to look the other girl in the eyes. "Sarah, you need to hear me," she hissed quietly, making sure that her friend was looking back at her. She could only see emptiness behind those cracked frames, but at least she was keeping eye contact. Clementine continued, "You're strong, Sarah. You're going to see bad things, but you'll make it. And I'll be here to help you."

Her hands reached for her friends, prying Sarah's cold fingers out of the fists she'd clenched in despair to lace her own around them tightly.

The girl hiccuped, seemingly coming back to life from her previous shell state, leaning forward to wrap her arms around Clementine, sobbing into her shoulder. "I-it… it- it hurts so much…! D-Dad… Daddy!" she wailed, her hands tightening around her friend's.

Clementine let her cry it out, knowing that this would be good for her in the end. Once the girl's cries finally seemed to subside, she lifted one of Sarah's hands and interlocked their pinkies. "You're strong. And we'll be friends forever, no matter what happens," she promised.

She knew she couldn't promise something as sugary sweet as 'I'll never leave you,' because she knew very well that anyone could die at any time. She also realized Sarah would never be the same now, and that she'd have to expose the other girl to the horrors of the world and teach her to protect herself. She'd have to be Sarah's 'Lee'.

Eventually, she shifted so she was sitting next to Sarah, their fingers still intertwined. Leaning her head on the older girl's shoulder, she realized how tired she felt all of a sudden. For now, she supposed she could close her eyes and rest, just like she had wished Kenny would do. Though it was important to be alert at all times, Clementine recognized that they were safe enough for now, and she trusted the rest of the group enough to alert her if anything was breaking in.

With a sleepy sigh, her eyes finally shut, listening to Sarah's breathing even out, indicating she'd fallen asleep, too. Clementine let herself be dragged under by sleep's darkness.

"What the f-fuckin' hell is going on here? Why am I - what the fuck did you assholes do to me!?"

At the loud, rough voice, Clementine's eyes snapped open and she instantly sprung to her feet, one hand reaching for the cleaver she still had in her back pocket. Her gaze, still blurred from slumber, tracked around the room, noting the changes in the room since she'd fallen asleep.

Sarah was still next to her, eyes widened and alert. Clementine saw Rebecca now seated on a cushion of some sort towards the back of the store, Kenny and Mike nearly blocking her from view. Their faces were contorted with anger, directed towards the table where Troy was.


Clementine's eyes whipped over to the table, noting their 'guest' was now seated up, a fierce glare on his face as he struggled to stand up. Luke, Nick, and Jane surrounded him, Sarita a ways off behind them. Tightening her grip on the cleaver, Clementine sprinted over to him, just in the event she'd have to use it.

However, once Troy noticed her with it, his eyes widened in surprise and he seemed to shrink back due to the instinctive fear associated with it. She couldn't blame him there - the same weapon had sliced his arm off.

But she didn't allow him any sympathy. Her eyes narrowed, she snapped, "How long were you awake?"

The man's mouth hung open for a few moments, his eyes darting about, before he stammered out, "I- I don't know! How the fuck did I get here? How long was I out, you little shitstain?"

Bonnie, whom Clementine had nearly forgotten about in their large group, sounded from behind her. "Troy, you should think about bein' nicer to Clementine. She saved your life, you know."

Troy's features softened for a moment before he glared her way. "What the fuck do you mean? Where'd my arm go? Why does everythin' fuckin' hurt? Why does everyone smell like shit? Why do I smell like shit?" He looked around, finally noticing just how many of the group was around him; Clementine narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips, giving him a sour look.

He gave her one right back. "The fuck are you lookin' at-"

Suppressing the urge to roll her eyes, Clementine crossed her arms. "I cut your arm off. Did you forget?" Just for emphasis, she showed him the blade, still stained with his blood; he flinched as he saw it, eyes darting between it and her.

"Wh-why did you…" His teeth clenched and a low growl rumbled in his throat, as if he had trouble connecting the pieces to this puzzle.

"Because you were bitten." Her eyes narrowed further, into slits.

He scoffed, curling his lips to a smirk and wrenching himself off the table, wobbling a bit on his feet. It seemed he wasn't used to being one-armed just yet (obviously), and had to take a few minutes before straightening his spine, as if he could get back that air of authority he had in Carver's camp.

"I-- don't think I'm fuckin' grateful or anythin'. It don't change nothin', either. Back to fucking work, y'all. Do I need to get Bill here to order you assholes around?" he sneered, turning to Clementine when she didn't move. "Did I fuckin' stutter?" It almost seemed like he was desperate to be in charge again, asserting himself as someone above them when he clearly was not any longer.

Luke crossed his arms. "Troy, uh… Bill's dead." At the silent, shocked look the other man was giving him, he continued, "And we're not in the prison anymore. We managed to escape by coverin' ourselves in walker guts. That's what we all smell like."

Nick nodded. "You're a lucky son-of-a-bitch, too. Clem hacked off your arm after you got bit," he reiterated Clementine's earlier words, looking away uncomfortably.

Troy looked flabbergasted. His mouth hung open, eyes looking about, his breath catching in his throat as he tried to speak. "I- wh-what… I don't get-" He shook his head, looking to Bonnie. "Why aren't you orderin' them around?"

Bonnie sighed. "Because I helped them escape, Troy. I couldn't take what Bill was doin' to them any longer. And now you owe these people your life, so I'd recommend startin' fresh here. S'the least you can do, considerin'."

The man scoffed, nearly falling over in the process of walking up to her. "I don't gotta do shit, Bonnie-"

"Actually, you do," Jane replied, taking a step towards him with a wickedly smug smile. "You don't get to make the rules anymore, Troy." She seemed overjoyed at this fact, and the look in her eyes seemed… dangerous.

"She's right," Luke added, "Now, you can comply and be our ally, but if not, we'll consider you a prisoner. It's as simple as that, Troy." While it was clear Luke didn't enjoy Troy's company here, he was at least willing to work beside him if he cleaned up some of his act.

Clementine felt the same, really. She didn't like Troy, and didn't think she would anytime soon, but she'd make sure he didn't put any of her friends in danger. Of course, he was still getting used to his one arm, so it would take a bit for him to get his bearings. He wouldn't have that big rifle he showed off back at Carver's, and would have to rely on blades or smaller guns now.

She shot a frown Troy's way. "It's your choice, in the end."

The man considered his options, his face tightening with tension for a few moments. He looked around at the others, those he'd pushed around and yelled at during his reign under William Carver. But those days were over now, and he was stuck with them for now. Clementine had to imagine that it felt scary, being in a new place with people who hated you - but he brought it upon himself, so she didn't feel much sympathy for him.

In the end, his facial expression clarified that he was very unhappy, but still he nodded. "Fine. I'll stick with you assholes until I can go my own way."

She wondered when that would be, exactly. Hopefully soon.

Chapter Text

After most of the group had had a sufficient rest, it became apparent that they could not stay at the pharmacy. Kenny was the first to speak up after Troy had awoken and spat out insults. The older man was straight to business, as always; approaching the main portion of their group after everyone had grown quiet from the tension with their new 'guest'.

"Alright, we shouldn't let this new baggage," he shot a glare Troy's way, "stop us from our plan to find someplace safe. With Carver out of the way, the threat's gone too, isn't it? I think we should stick together and make our way towards the civil war museum up the road." He scanned the group, eyes settling on each member meaningfully. When his gaze reached Clementine, he nodded to her. "Clem, I'll trust you to make sure Troy doesn't fall behind."

The girl opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted (almost expectantly).

"Excuse me?" Troy snapped, his face twisting in anger. He stumbled forward, gaze glaring into Kenny's. "I'm not a fuckin' baby, you know. I don't want you to put me in the care of this little shit-"

Kenny crossed his arms, narrowing his good eye. "Well that's funny, because frankly I don't give two shits what you want me to do. And like it or not, the fact is that you're… less capable… than you once were. S'just a fact, right?" He raised an eyebrow, giving a sheepish smile.

Jane chuckled lowly, her words like honey. "Don't worry, Troy. It's not like you made fun of Reggie every time you saw him, right? It's a good thing you didn't call him a cripple or broken. Because I mean, that would be just so damn ironic, now, wouldn't it? Oh… wait…" Her smile was even more sickenly sweet; Clementine wondered just who she was, and what her story had been so far. She couldn't help but smile at the snip towards Troy. It was almost refreshing to see someone rattle him up, in a way.

He, of course, didn't take too kindly to that; narrowing his eyes, he snapped, "You got a big fuckin' mouth, bitch."

"Anyway," Kenny interrupted, moving in between the two, "the reality is that you're still a weak spot in the group. Your arm's drippin' blood and you're not used to fighting with your left arm, I'll bet. So the plan remains the same. We're goin' as a group." He smirked and gave stern looks to both Jane and Troy, leaving no room for argument.

Clementine recalled how many instances Kenny tried to become in charge back when Lee was alive; at the Motor Inn, he had bashed heads with Lilly more times than necessary. She was sort of used to it at this point, and their group needed to look to someone confident enough to lead, especially now that Carlos was gone.

The girl looked over to Luke and Nick, who were standing next to her, and asked, "Are you guys okay with that?" When they both nodded, she asked the same question to Rebecca and Sarah, who nodded and looked away respectively.

Since the rest of her original group seemed to approve, she gave a firm nod herself to Kenny, declaring, "We're all fine with that… I think we should move, though."

"My thoughts exactly," Kenny replied. Sarita grabbed the medical supplies they'd found in the drugstore, as well as the small amount of food that had been in aisles towards the back, and placed them all inside a backpack. Luckily, this store still had things like that laying about, just ripe for the picking. Everyone took as much as they could, making sure they could still be able to fight, should a threat come by.

Without another word said, they headed out.

The rest of the strip mall didn't have as many supplies as the drugstore, unfortunately. In fact, its stock was significantly lower overall, prompting Clementine to believe that most of everything had been raided out a long time ago. She'd scrounged up a backpack of her own, as her old one was gone for good (as was the picture of Lee, unfortunately…).

After placing some of the bandages Sarita had collected, and some antiseptic spray, Clementine hauled her bag onto her back and stepped out with the rest of the group. Kenny, Sarita, Bonnie, Mike, and Jane led them; Rebecca was watched closely by Luke, and Nick, Troy, and Sarah were walking in the back near Clementine. The girl was keeping a close watch on her friend, as she knew Sarah was very unstable right now (not that she blamed her).

"Sarah…? Are you okay?" she whispered, light brown eyes flicking over to her friend. The taller girl, still wearing cracked frames for glasses, managed a trembling nod. Clementine reached over and grabbed her hand, squeezing tightly.

Sarah let out a shaky breath, her own hand's grip tightening around Clementine's, her eyes darting around for any slight sign of danger. "I-is there… any way we can stay together?" she asked, her words little more than a squeak as they left her lips.

"Stay close to me," Clementine answered, realizing that was as much of an answer as she could give the older girl. She couldn't promise anything - in fact, she was sure nothing was set in stone at all in the world they lived in. Sarah had to learn that sometime, and hopefully would soon.

Before Sarah could answer, an irritating voice sounded from just behind them. "Hey! Kid! Did any of y'all think to give me a fucking weapon?" For some reason, a grown man was running to the eleven-year-old for help (not that she hadn't seen that before) instead of the other grown man right next to him.

Clementine narrowed her eyes at Troy, muttering, "Why would we give you a gun?"

"Why the hell not?" he shot back.

"Because, asshole," Nick interjected with a roll of his eyes, "we know better than to trust you with a weapon right now. Especially since you've been known to treat us like pieces of shit."

Clementine nodded, flashing a smug smile towards the amputee. "Unless you prove you can be given a weapon and not run, we'll be holding onto them for now."

Troy's lips curled into a snarl, but he kept his mouth shut. Seemed he had a bit more sense than Clementine had thought. She kept her eyes trained ahead, scanning the path they travelled down for any sense of danger. Signs pointing in the direction of Parkour's Run, the civil war museum that seemed to be their best bet for safety. Clementine wondered what would be left of it, but ultimately, she didn't have high hopes. An advertised place like that was most likely picked clean early on.

"Hey!" Nick hissed behind her, prompting her to turn her head to see what was going on. He was shoving Troy, a fierce glare plastered on his face. Clementine noticed his grip tighten around the gun he held in his hands, and raised an eyebrow in curiosity.

"What's the matter?" she asked, blinking.

"This asshole won't stop eyein' me up," Troy replied, cocking his head over to glare towards Nick. "Like he thinks I'll make a run fer it first chance I get."

"Well how the fuck do I know you're not?" Nick snapped in reply, raising his head to meet the other man's eyes.

Troy thrust his face inches away from Nick's, baring his teeth like an animal. "I'm. Fucking. Maimed! Y'think I'll get goddamn anywhere with one arm and no weapons!?" Huffing, he stomped his foot down and added, "Use some goddamn sense for once!"

Nick scoffed. "I am! I don't trust you one fucking bit. I'm makin' sure you don't try to get at Clementine or Sarah or anyone."

The girl nodded. "Listen to Nick. I'll put him in charge of you if you don't watch it." She enjoyed the way his face scrunched up in anger; assigning someone to watch him didn't sound like such a bad idea, actually. Nick was capable enough, and seemed to respect Clementine's decision to spare Troy (no matter how much he may not approve of it).

Troy was probably so used to being one of the top dogs that he'd forgotten what it was like to be on the bottom. Clementine didn't feel a shred of pity for him, not with the wound he'd given her still fresh on her cheek. After narrowing her eyes in his direction, she turned back to Sarah.

"Are you… doing okay?" she whispered, reaching out to hold the girl's hand.

Surprisingly, Sarah accepted her gestured, and returned the grip tightly. "I… I'm not okay. I don't feel okay. Am I going to be okay, Clementine? I… I want my dad. Is he coming…?" She looked behind her, as if Carlos would somehow appear down the path, completely unharmed.

But the reality was all-too-real for Clementine; Carlos wasn't coming, and Sarah needed to know it, no matter how painful.

"Sarah, he's not coming," she began gently, giving her friend's hand a squeeze. "He's… he's gone." She didn't want to be too harsh, but the truth needed to be said. Sarah was naive, and would be quick to jump to any ounce of hope if Clementine didn't wake her up with reality.

The older girl's eyes widened, as if her father's fate had settled in once more, and tears sprung underneath her eyelids. "Wh…" Her voice shook as she tried to push words past her lips, the horror evident in her expression. Arms wrapping around herself, she lowered her gaze and slowed her pace, falling behind on the path.

Clementine's gaze followed her, straggling behind until she bumped into Troy, who flinched at the collision.

"What the fuck d'you think you're doin'!?" Troy yelled, using his good arm to push Sarah forward. "Pick up the pace, you little shit!" The moment he put his hand on her, Clementine moved, grabbing the stump left of his right arm and shoved him away from her friend, her lips drawn back in anger.

At the first hint of a touch, Troy flinched, and let out a yowl of pain when Clementine didn't let go. She tightened her grip around the wound, digging her nails into the light fabric of the bandages. Her fingers dripped blood, and Troy attempting to wriggle from her grasp - unsuccessfully, mind you, and yelling out garbled curses at her.

"Don't. Touch. Sarah. Ever!" she snarled, teeth gnashing together in fury. She didn't often lose her temper (merely showing displeasure from afar, silently), but if this ass thought he was going to pretend like he was still in charge…

Well, she'd have to teach him that he wasn't.

She could feel Nick's hands coming between her and Troy, drawing her arm away from what was left of his. "Easy! Easy, Clementine!" he exclaimed, eyes darting between the two of them.

Troy was panting, his head lowered and severed limb twitching in pain; sweat trickling down his forehead as he struggled to keep his pace with the rest of the group.

"Everythin' alright back there?" Kenny asked, not bothering to turn his head.

"It's fine!" Clementine yelled back, shooting a glare towards Troy.

"We got it under control, old man," Nick added, turning his head to their 'guest'. "A misunderstandin'. Right, Troy?"

The man swallowed hard and took a deep breath, his shoulders sagging and eyes closing for a few brief moments. "Y...yeah. Yeah, s'all it was." Maybe he finally realized he was at a disadvantage here; Clementine would like to have hoped that was what happened, but honestly, she just assumed he was in too much pain to focus. His track record with dealing with others, and the fact that he also muttered a quick, "You little shit…" more or less confirmed her theory.

But she had more important things to focus on. She watched Sarah trail further and further behind as they moved, biting her lip and trying to get her friend to catch up. She understood her grief, and her need for time to recover, but Clementine didn't want anything to happen to her friend, either. "Sarah, we need to keep moving," she urged, noticing with despair how Nick and Troy had passed them up already.

"Um, but… what if my dad…?" Sarah's voice was a broken whisper; she was trying so hard to be hopeful, but it seemed even she realized the truth. Clementine sighed and placed a hand on the girl's back, rubbing it as soothingly as she could.

"It's alright, Sarah," she murmured. "But we need to go. You know that, don't you?" Sarah nodded, although hesitantly. Clementine sighed in relief. Good - she understood why they had to keep their pace; falling behind was dangerous, especially considering they'd just escaped a walker hoard.

Speaking of walkers, the moment Clementine thought back to the snarling infestation of death, she heard the familiar growling in the distance. Turning her head, she gazed down the long road they'd travelled, spotting the strip mall in the distance. In between them and the building was a small herd of walkers, swiping and biting at the air hungrily.

Shit! There wasn't much time before that herd caught up to them; they outnumbered their small group and the lack of weapons on every person was definitely a disadvantage. Clementine was fairly confident they could make it out alive with tactful thinking, but she needed to alert the others to come up with a plan.

[ Yell to Kenny ]

[ Yell to Luke ] 

[ Yell to Nick ] 

[ ... ]

"Nick!" she screamed, prompting the man to turn his head and spot the huge threat not too far behind them. Eyes widening, he alerted Luke and the rest up at the front of the group.

"Aw, shit!" Mike cursed. "Any of y'all got any bright ideas on how to get outta that?"

"We'll need to split up," Jane replied, her tone as icy as ever.

"Sounds like a plan," Kenny agreed, raising his voice. "Luke, Sarita - keep moving with Rebecca. Go as fast as y'can; shoot forward if you need to, but don't look back. Clementine, take Sarah and Troy with you and follow them. Be the second wave - shoot behind if you need to, but only if you need to." His one-eyed gaze trailed over the remainder of the group. "Nick, Bonnie, and Mike - y'all ready to shoot some walkers with me?"

"Hell yeah," Nick replied with a slight smirk, obviously pleased that someone was putting their faith in him.

"Good," Kenny replied, reflecting his grin. "Everyone, just follow the signs and meet up at Parkour's Run. Good luck, and stay safe!"

At the words, Clementine wasted no time; grabbing Sarah's hand, she began to pull her friend forward, charging up behind Luke, Sarita, and Rebecca. She knew their position was more or less to guard Rebecca and her baby, and that was just fine with her; she'd make sure no walker even touched her. Her weapon raised, she glanced around for any enemies in the trees on both sides of them, ready to strike.

Growls and hisses sounded from nearby, but she couldn't quite place where they were coming from. The threat was evident; it made her head spin to not know where it was, though.

A loud yell answered her thoughts, ringing out sharply. "What the - hey, get the fuck off me!" Turning around, Clementine spotted a lone walker clawing at Troy, grabbing his jacket and dragging him into the woods. More walkers lurched behind it, but hadn't reached him just yet.

She moved without thinking, turning back to Sarah for a moment and firmly telling her, "Sarah, stay with Rebecca, Luke, and Sarita. Stay with them. I promise I'll come back." Even though her heart told her not to promise, she couldn't help it; Sarah needed to hear those words. The girl nodded shakily, and Clementine didn't stay to hear her quiet response; she sprinted forward, towards the walker and Troy.

The man struggled with the creature, his good arm trying to pry the dead fingers off his jacket, but it was no use. With no weapon, he'd be as good as walker food without help; though Clementine didn't particularly like saving his ass, it became something that she just felt she needed to do. He was alive because of her - didn't that make him her responsibility, in a way?

Her cleaver sliced into the walker's face before it could take a bite out of Troy, killing it instantly. Gravity sunk in and it toppled onto Troy, who was weakened enough to be pushed down onto the ground by its force.

"Get up!" Clementine yelled, pulling her weapon from the corpse and raising it towards the four or so still a bit further into the woods. With a sinking despair, she realized that she could not take all of them by herself, especially with one weapon. Her gaze drifted to Troy, as if he could be of any help.

He struggled to his feet, glaring at the incoming walkers. "Can't take 'em ourselves," he muttered, tone focused despite the situation, "we'll need to run into the woods to lose 'em."

Clementine's eyes widened. "That - that's just about the dumbest plan I've ever heard! What if there are more in there?"

"Y'really wanna lead them back to the others?" Troy snarled, already backing up into the forest, away from the walkers. "'sides, I know the way to Parkour's Run. Can lead us there pretty quick."

It was hardly the time, but Clementine crossed her arms. "How do I know this isn't a trap?"

"Oh for the love of Christ - y'can do that thing y'were doin' earlier if y'find out I tricked ya!" Troy snapped back, deciding what to do for himself and sprinting into the trees.

"Troy! Troy!" Clementine hissed after him. What an idiot! He couldn't survive by himself, and she didn't want to lead the walkers (and any others that may be hiding nearby) to Rebecca and the others, so what choice did she have?

She'd really have to grab his stumpy arm good when they reached the museum.

After casting a glance back at the others, she yelled, "We'll be fine! Meet you at Parkour's Run!" and chased after the one-armed moron.

He wasn't as fast as she thought; after a few moments, she caught up to him and shot a glare his way. "What the heck is wrong with you? This is stupid!"

Troy flashed her a sour look right back. "Relax, kid. Think of it this way - we'll be good and covered in here."

"Maybe you will be," Clementine muttered, huffing an exasperated sigh. "You're the one in camouflage." With disdain, she glanced down at the jacket Bonnie had given her; though warm, the neon blue color was easy to spot among the dark green foliage of the forest.

"Hey, I'm not sayin' you're a dumbass for pickin' that color, but… you're a dumbass."

She scoffed, rolling her eyes and reminding herself not to take the words to heart, and that this was Troy - he obviously didn't know the first thing about survival.

Aside from constantly licking Carver's shoes, of course.

Chapter Text

The growls of several walkers echoed in the forest, the sunset's streaks of orange splashing on Clementine's face as her feet took her in one direction as fast as she could. Behind her, her one-armed charge was stumbling and breathing heavily as he struggled to keep up. She didn't want to stop - wanted to just leave him to walkers and get to Parker's Run to meet her real friends - but everything would have been for nothing if she did.

And she didn't save him for nothing.

"Hurry!" Slowing down, the girl whipped around and clamped her hand around the camouflaged fabric of Troy's jacket, yanking him along as his pace began to slow down. He was panting, pained gasps leaving his lips as they ran along, and it became clear that he couldn't keep running.

"S- slow down, you little…" he wheezed, the usual venom in his voice disguised as fatigue. No, she absolutely couldn't slow down, not with the walkers behind them snarling and hunting them like prey. Her fingers clasped his sleeve tighter, refusing to let go and stop dragging him.

"We can't slow down," she replied sharply, her tone almost scolding. "You know we can't." Slowing down meant surrendering - which meant immediate, assured death. Couldn't Troy see that, even in his injured state?

He looked on the verge of passing out, his skin paling and his eyes forming a hazy glaze over them, but something kept him on his feet. Maybe it was the pure fear of what would happen if they stopped, or a stubbornness that he couldn't let go of. Whatever the case, Clementine was glad he wasn't collapsing, because that would mean the end, as she couldn't very well carry him (nor did she want to).

Troy was keeping himself alive at this point - she couldn't do so any longer.

And so they raced through the forest, Clementine asking which way to go and Troy providing directions as best he could in his condition, and she could only hope they were on the right track. They weren't on a set path with signs anymore, which would have made things a hell of a lot easier.

But no, someone had to suggest they take the forest route. That certain someone seemed to forget that he was missing one of his limbs and had lost probably half the blood in his body?

How did she keep getting into unlucky situations like this? There were literally mindless creatures following the two of them through the forest, and her companion was about as useful as a sip of apple juice to ease the pain of digging a needle into a wound - how perfect.

Speaking of, that wound still bothered her at times when she moved her arm the wrong way, but luckily her jacket (the same one that Troy had scorned) was keeping it from getting jerked around or cut into deeper. In a way, it was cocooning it until it scabbed over and became a scar.

Troy's injury was a bit different; his would take much, much longer to heal, but at least it had finally stopped dripping blood. The bandages were deep red by now, the rope keeping the blood flow clotted also painted the crimson color, but it wasn't leaving a trail behind them any longer. He may not be completely out of danger, but it was a step in the right direction.

"U-up here, we're gonna turn left." Troy's mutter snapped Clementine out of her thoughts; she gave a nod to him and shifted them in the direction he had indicated. "Do… do you see the path up the hill?" He continued, his voice growing quieter.

She lifted her head; indeed, just as he indicated, the trees fanned out until they had dissolved into an small open space, a nearby hill sloping upwards. It didn't look too steep, and Clementine could scarcely see the markings of a path at the top. If Troy had been correct (and she hoped he wasn't lying at this point, but she never knew with people like him), they just had to follow that path and find the signs that pointed to Parker's Run. It would be easy once they made it up that hill.

Crunching through the fallen leaves littered at her feet, the girl paused and sized up the hill, her gaze flicking to her companion.

"Do you think you'll be able to get up that hill?" she asked, honestly unsure of his capabilities. It didn't look like much for her, but she was small and agile, and he was missing an arm…

He didn't seem to be eager to show his weakness, however. Rolling his eyes, the man snapped, "Of fuckin' course I can. It's not even steep, Clementine; you're makin' a mountain out of a molehill - literally." With no further comment, he marched up to the slope and, after a moment's hesitation, started to climb.

It was sort of pathetic to watch.

He wasn't making much progress, struggling at a spot near the bottom; his stump arm twitched as if he meant to move it to crawl up the hill, but once he realized that that wouldn't work, attempted to save face and use his non-dominant hand to keep his balance.

With a sigh, Clementine grabbed his jacket again and began dragging him up the hill; which, according to him, wouldn't be a problem. She may not see him as a definite threat anymore, but that didn't mean she had to trust his word. Clearly, he didn't even know his own strength (or lack thereof).

Troy, of course, didn't like her decision, but she hardly cared. "Wh- Quit it! Goddamnit, let - let me go!" He growled, wriggling in her grasp and attempting to pry her off. Obviously, however, it didn't work, and he merely looked silly in his attempts.

"Quiet," the girl muttered in response, her expression clearly not amused. "Be an adult and quit whining for once!" For God's sake, she was eleven and she was not acting this bad. How did someone like this survive in Carver's 'community' for as long as he did? It remained a mystery to her.

After a few more minutes of struggling (well, more like Troy desperately trying to flail out of her grasp and Clementine only gripping that much tighter, as if to spite him), they finally made it up the hill. It didn't seem like much when they'd found it, but with the amount of effort she used to merely get up it, Clementine already felt a bit tired. But sleep could wait - they needed to get to Parker's Run, and quickly.

She was worried about the others, after all; the small group of walkers didn't look like much, but she'd seen people die going up against even smaller amounts. It did make her nervous, not having anyone familiar (or friendly) around her, but she needed to be brave. Lee had taught her well.

Once they were safely back on the inclined path the hill had led to, she let go of her companion's jacket. He was glaring fiercely at her and moved to smack her, but the injury had slowed him down considerably, and she was able to dodge out of his way in time.

"Don't hit me!" she scolded, as if he was a child.

"You fuckin' dragged me up there!" he shot back, still catching his breath.

With a deadpan expression, Clementine replied, "Well, you weren't making much progress yourself. I was helping you get up the hill."

The man obviously didn't think it was so funny. "Yeah fuckin' right," he hissed, teeth gnashed together in anger. "A-anyway, this here path leads straight to the museum. See the signs?" Pointing, he indicated the advertisements posted all along the path for Parker's Run. One would have to be blind to not be able to figure out where it was; and even if that were the case, Clementine doubted it'd be missed.

She held her gaze ahead of them, hand clenched around her cleaver's hilt just in case. "When we get there," she began, eyes scanning their surroundings, "we're going to wait for the others. Unless they're already there."

"What about my fuckin' arm?"

"What about it?" She looked at him, noticing for the first time how red the bandages had become; it didn't look infected or anything (not that she could tell, to be fair), but it was already bleeding through the tourniquet a bit - just dripping slightly for now, like a sink faucet that someone forgot to turn off all the way, but she realized that soon it could become a steady stream of blood (blood, she noted, that Troy couldn't afford to lose anymore of).

"Oh," she whispered, his concern making sense now.

[ Deal with it. ]

[ Do you need to stop? ] 

[ We'll get someone to look at it. ] 

[ ... ]

"When we meet with the others, we'll have someone change the bandages," she offered, biting the inside of her cheek absentmindedly. "I'm sure Sarita could help again… she did it before…"

It didn't seem right to make Sarita his caretaker, though; Clementine had been the one who forced him into the group with her split-second decision. Maybe she should change the bandages. It wasn't like she was squeamish; that side of her had decayed long ago after seeing how gruesome everyday life had become. Sewing up the huge gash in her own arm helped numb her to gore, as well.

"Or I could," she added thoughtfully, unsure of where she was even going with her response now. Hopefully he got the point - it would be taken care of, no matter who was doing it.

Scoffing, Troy didn't respond, focusing his own sights on what was ahead of them. Clementine rolled her eyes and followed suit, gazing at the building at the end of the path. Judging by the signs reading 'PARKER'S RUN,' it seemed to be the exact place they were meant to go. There were no signs of the others, unfortunately, but the area was big enough to start scouting for supplies and safe spots.

Once they reached the actual museum at the end of the path - in shambles, but could possibly still be holding some treasures - Clementine turned to Troy. "You look pale," she muttered. "You should probably sit down for a bit." She gestured to a corner of the small first floor of the building, by some displays of some civil war relics.

Troy didn't need to be told twice. Without a word, he obeyed, walking over to the corner and sitting down, his head low and his breathing heavy. She didn't feel sorry for him, but it was still sort of sad to watch. He'd been powerful enough, once, albeit an asshole. "Fuckin' kid…" he muttered, though it was halfhearted.

Watching him settle down and keeping an eye out for any danger around, Clementine decided to look around the museum a bit. There wasn't much left in terms of displays, but what was left standing was quite interesting. Maps and battle strategies were behind glass cases, indicating specific events of the civil war. Clementine hadn't gotten to learn about that in school before the world changed, but all she could think of while scavenging was Lee.

"Lee would've loved this place…" she murmured under her breath, a hollowness washing over her.

She missed Lee so much. It felt like just yesterday he was by her side; every time she was reminded of him, a part of her heart felt as though it'd been ripped out - and she knew she wouldn't ever get those parts of her back, either.

Dragging her gaze from the display (and the memories associated with it), Clementine continued to look around for items, noticing a gray coat seated inside one of the broken exhibits. She picked it up, examining it thoroughly before turning to Troy.

"Do you think Rebecca would like this?" she asked. The woman was probably closer to giving birth than she let on, and even still, she could use something to keep her warm if they were going to keep heading north.

The man shrugged weakly, a glaze over his eyes. "It's a fucking Confederate coat, y'know."

Glancing down at it, Clementine realized that he was right. Lee had told her once about the Confederates and the Union in the Civil War, but hadn't gotten to explore much deeper than that. She did remember Lee saying the Confederates had gray coats, though. She was a bit surprised Troy knew that, but then again, it was common knowledge.

"It's still a coat," she pointed out, shrugging herself. It would be up to Rebecca if she was going to accept it or not, but Clementine seriously doubted she'd have an issue with it. Things like this were so petty nowadays; everything could be useful, despite sour origins.

Actually, that applied to Troy, as well. Maybe he could prove his worth if he cleaned up his attitude a little.

She handed the coat off to the man, and continued to look around, noticing a slightly-sealed opening to a small, office-like room. Tilting her head, Clementine crouched and peered inside.

"There's… there's a whole tub of fresh water in there!" she exclaimed, eyes shimmering at the clean-looking container just out of her reach. "I think I can squeeze in there to get it…"

However, before she could do so, a small chirping noise echoed through the ruins of the museum. It was faint, but she managed to hear it in the quietness of her surroundings; clutching her cleaver tightly, she looked around, following the sound until she found the source.

A fluffy, small raccoon was poking around on the opposite side of the building, sniffing and clawing the ground for anything edible. She stared at it, wide-eyed, and looked back at Troy. She didn't want his advice or anything, but she did want to see if he saw it.

And he did. Eyes a bit wider, he leaned forward and gazed at the animal, eyes flicking back to Clementine. Nodding, he whispered, "Go get it. We could use a decent fuckin' meal."

She did want to say that if he wanted the damn thing so badly, he should get it himself, but she knew he couldn't do that. With an inaudible sigh, she turned back towards the raccoon and silently crept towards it, eyes fixated on its black and gray pelt. Indeed, it would make a great meal, especially for the weaker members of their party.

Holding her breath, Clementine leapt forward, arms outstretched and ready to grab the animal. Once she moved, however, the raccoon was alerted of her presence, thus making it able to dodge her (rather slow) attempt at a pounce. It chirped wildly, as if angry with her for attempting to grab it, and scurried further into the museum. It passed Troy, who made a pitiful motion to snatch it up, but it merely hissed at him in response. His eyes wide, he brought a hand up in defense, watching it climb over his legs. With no care to his comfort, it no doubt scratched up his legs with its claws and moved on, darting around the back of the ruins and outside once more.

Clementine flashed a glare at Troy, who gave her one just as fierce right back. "What the shit was that? You couldn't have done a better job?" he asked, huffing. She merely crossed her arms in response, rolling her eyes.

"You didn't do such a very good job," she grumbled. "And you wanted to get it."

"Because it was meat! It could'a fed a lotta us!" 'Most importantly me' were probably the unspoken words at the end of that sentence.

She shrugged. "Well, sorry we weren't fast enough. We're only two people." Well, no, one and a half people, to be precise - but she was keeping that amusing thought to herself.

He just sighed, leaning further into the wall, his eyes slipping closed briefly. Awkwardly, Clementine fidgeted with her cleaver, flipping it over and inspecting its bloody blade absentmindedly.

"Why did you do it?"

The question was so quiet, she almost thought she'd imagined it; she had trouble comprehending that such a small sound came from Troy. Troy, who had yelled and barked around the camp like the lapdog he was. Troy, who had screamed his lungs off when the blade sliced through his flesh. Troy, who had complained the whole way to Parker's Run and even yelled at her for not being able to catch a swift raccoon.

"I was as good as dead," he continued, voice still uncharacteristically soft, "and yet you lopped my bitten arm off without any fuckin' hesitation. I was a weak link, and I should'a died 'cause of that. Least, that's what Bill would'a said. So... why?"

Eyes widened, she pondered the actual meaning of his words before choosing to answer. She had thought about this before, of course, constantly doubting whether or not she had done the right thing. He'd probably never thank her for the action, but it meant something to her to have saved a human being's life. Maybe it was just the harsh way the world was now that prompted her to choose a more righteous path.

It was what Lee would have done - she was sure of it, now. It was Lee's path, and also the one furthest from Carver's.

"You may have been weak, and Carver would have considered you someone to throw away." That much was true, and they both knew it. However, there was a difference between Carver's philosophy and what remained of humanity in them all. She spoke firmly with her head held high, repeating words she'd heard once before: "But that is not how the world works now."

Chapter Text

Clementine let out a long sigh, propping herself up on the counter and sliding herself forward on her belly, attempting to squeeze through the small crevice to get into the locked office. The sparkling water inside the small room taunted her, just sitting there and waiting for her to grab it. But she realized with frustration that she wasn't quite as small as she'd once been; she couldn't fit in the narrow opening, and managed to even get stuck.

Wriggling around, she let out a quiet hiss, her limbs flailing and trying to pry her body one way or the other. It was no use; she'd have to ask for his help to get out of there – and he'd better damn get her out, because the water would be helpful for everyone, including him. "Troy!" she yelled, grunting with effort and turning her head in his general direction. "Troy, I need help!"

"What? Jesus! Kid, you can't do anythin', can you?" His response was muffled, but she could detect his own irritation plainly in the words.

"I can do more than you," she muttered, rolling her eyes. He seemed to have forgotten who'd saved his ass more than once already (then again, this was Troy). Raising her voice, she added, "Hurry!"

Ignoring his annoyed grumbles, she glanced around the back office while waiting for him; everything looked untouched, despite the state of the rest of the museum. The water tub was most likely a refill for a cooler or something like that – though it didn't matter what it had been used for, because it would be put to good use now. Clementine's mouth felt dry just staring at it; she hadn't had a drink for at least half a day now, and it just looked like heaven in a bottle.

In fact, a closer look revealed that there was another bottle right beside it, fresh for the picking; she almost wept in relief.

A pull on her legs interrupted her bliss. Familiar grunts from outside the office clued her in on Troy's rough efforts to yank her out; he was being careless, and she wasn't sure if it was just because he was injured.

"Be careful!" she snapped, the pulls starting to hurt.

"I'm... I'm tryin'!" he yelled back, though she seriously doubted he was trying to be gentle. "You try doin' this with one arm and see how easy it fuckin' is!" After a few more yanks, she heard him yelp in pain, and she was let go.

"Troy!" she cried, her mind racing. Every second she was stuck here was another second she could be put into danger – and Troy was not helping! She needed to get out immediately, before any walkers appeared.

Oh God, what if he ran off and left her here to die? It would be just like him, too – after she'd just told him why she'd saved him!? That she believed that she needed to do good instead of following Carver's example? But Troy was a part of Carver's community – put in an authority position, no less – so of course he had to disagree. The 'survival of the fittest' lessons were probably ground into his mind by that madman.

She shouldn't have even tried to get in like this; maybe she should've attempted to get into the room some other way. She should have thought it through and realized who she was with and not only his limits, but her own. She couldn't stay small forever, after all. Lee had told her that she was smarter than walkers, but she wasn't so sure anymore. It was too late now, anyway, too late to regret; she struggled harder, her yells to Troy becoming pleas. "Troy! Get me out!"

Her screams were gaining in volume, but before she could realize how much danger she was putting herself in, familiar snarls sounded nearby. Oh no. A sinking feeling pooled into her stomach, her heart speeding up as she whipped her head back and forth in fear, trying to find where the noise was coming from. It was obvious what it was – but where was it?

A walker crawled out from under the desk in the office, its hands already stretched forward as it clawed its way across the floor. It was chained to the radiator near the water coolers, cuff glistening around its rotten wrist. Clementine knew she wasn't safe, though – the metal of the handcuffs was rusted through and the creature's wrist was rotting off, both chipping away at each pull. She swallowed hard, eyes bugging wide as she writhed to get herself unstuck.

"Troy! Troy, there's a walker in here!" she shrieked, watching it grumble and claw for her. Flashbacks to Lee being chained in a similar fashion threatened to flood her mind, but she wouldn't let them. Survival was the most important thing now. "Troy!"

Panic started to crawl through her as the walker's wrist snapped off with a loud crack, and it stumbled forward, lifeless eyes fixated on her hungrily; she'd seen that look before, the look of a hunter that found prey. Stuck here, she was just a convenient meal for it.

No! She'd come too far to die here!

Time slowed down. There was a loud bang, the sound of wood snapping off metal hinges as the office door was forced open. The walker's face was a few feet away from her, rotten teeth already gnawing in preparation for her flesh; blurs of green and red flashed before her, and the creature sunk to the ground.

Her heartbeat thumped loudly in her ears, her hands trembling as she pushed herself up on the surface on the other side of the office below her, peering over the edge to get a better look.

The walker was sprawled out on the floor, its jaw still unhinged hungrily and macabre arms outstretched towards her. It was still as stone, rotten blood gushing from a glistening opening in its head that resembled a black tomato split open.

Was it... really dead?

Clementine pushed the initial shock away, her head lifting to see Troy standing over her, her cleaver in hand, both now decorated with the putrid guts of the dead walker. She hadn't realized that tears had pricked her eyes; wiping them away quickly, she stared up at the man, trying to slow her racing heart.

"Th... thanks," she murmured, suddenly feeling out of breath.

He didn't answer, merely using a hand to lift the office shade, pulling it up far enough (even with his lack of strength) so that she could wriggle forward and fall to the ground. As she hit the floor, she let out a quiet "oof!" and sat there for a few minutes to calm herself down.

She wondered what took him so long, but the answer was clear as she looked around the office; the door had been struck until it snapped off its hinges, probably needing more than a few kicks to get it open. Contrary to her fears, he didn't abandon her – whether that was his own choice or just a twisted way to keep her around to protect him, she didn't know (nor did she want to).

"Y'didn't get bit, did you?" he asked, slitted brown eyes focused on her. Immediately, she shook her head, showing her arms to him to prove the walker hadn't even touched her before he'd intervened.

"No, I'm okay," she assured. "But – but why did you help me?"

Troy quirked a brow, lips pursed in puzzlement. "Well, there was water in here, like y'said. Needed to get at that shit myself if you ended up dyin', anyway." After she flashed him a glare, he added, "'sides, I guess I didn't want to deal with the world's smallest lurker. It would'a just been pathetic to see."

Ugh. He just had to insult her, didn't he? He couldn't say one nice thing? She crossed her arms, pursing her lips. "But you could've just hit me in the head, too, if I turned. You didn't have to help me," she pointed out bitterly.

Scoffing, the man replied, "What, y'didn't want my help? Could'a fooled me, the way you were screamin' my name like you were bein' eaten alive."

Her eyes narrowed. Of course she wanted his help in that situation, but the truth was she just didn't think he'd do anything. In fact, she was almost expecting him to run away; maybe he was smarter than he appeared.

"C'mon," he continued, "we got our asses in here, so now we gotta take the water and leave. It ain't safe here." He scanned the small room, as if more walkers would spring out of and around the dead one at their feet.

Clementine nodded; she knew they had to move. The problem, however, lied in the size of the water cooler - she doubted either of them would be able to carry it. They could always wait for the others to come back, but the possibility of bandits nearby worried her. Maybe she was being paranoid, but she'd seen thieves destroy her group before, and didn't want that to happen again.

Before she could voice her concerns, Troy clutched onto one of the bottles, lifting it with a grunt to his good shoulder. "G-grab the other one," he muttered, teeth gnashed together. His expression was distorted with obvious pain, and the girl noticed that his severed limb was bleeding faster now. They'd have to get to a secluded area, and quick – and then she could take care of him.

But a thought suddenly struck her – the coat! "One second," she said, hurrying back to the exhibit remains and placing both the Confederate coat and her cleaver into her backpack, returning to him as quickly as she could. He merely glared at her, but said nothing.

Facing the remaining bottle, she took a deep breath. This would take a lot of strength – she was still pretty weak physically, and part of her still felt shaken up from that near-brush with death. "Clementine! C'mon, hurry!" Troy probably meant to sound like he was barking orders (like back at Howe's), but his words merely sounded pained and desperate. Without answering him, she crouched, placing both hands on the bottom of the cooler, groaning in effort as she lifted it off the ground. Her back hunched over as she turned around to face the man.

"S'almost as big as you," he commented humorlessly, turning around and beginning to walk out of the office. He stumbled a bit, nearly losing his footing a few times as they left the museum. They both agreed that they'd have to come back if they or any of the group wanted to dig around deeper for supplies, and that water was the most important thing right now, anyway.

Clementine felt the water weighing her down, and nearly fell a couple times herself, her fingers trying desperately to keep a firm grasp on the slippery surface. Both of them kept a slow but fixed pace, keeping their gazes focused ahead as they tried to forget their current struggles – Troy's pain and Clementine's depleting strength.

After traveling down the marked path a little more, the clearing for Parker's Run appeared before them; a giant map of the tourist attraction marked the area, as well as a giant statue of a soldier carrying another. Clementine noticed a tent set up nearby, and almost let out a long sigh of relief. "Look over there!" she indicated, nodding her head towards her discovery.

"Thank Christ," the man replied, his voice sounding far away. Carelessly, he threw the water onto the ground, his legs buckling and his knees hitting the dirt roughly. Clementine placed her water container next to his and approached him cautiously, watching as he hunched over himself, his hand planted firmly on the ground for support.

"Do you think you can crawl into the tent?" she asked, swinging her backpack off into her arms. He just scoffed and muttered that of course he could, and scrambled forward on his hand and knees into the tent.

They were lucky - it was empty. Not the best place to be, but a good enough spot to wait for the others, anyway. She seated herself a bit ways off from the entrance, just in the case that walkers might get the idea to pop in (she doubted it, though).

Her companion seated himself across from her, once more looking pale and weak; he'd most likely pushed himself too far, exhausting his injured body. She wasn't an expert on this, though; it would have been so much better for everyone in this situation (and in general) if Carlos was still alive. Though, Clementine didn't want to think he was just a doctor and was therefore useful to them. Sarah mourned his lost life, so she felt the rest of the group should, too.

They were like family now, after all.

Sadly, nowadays there was barely time to grieve over lost friends and family. Sighing, Clementine decided to think about it later, and trained her eyes over her companion, watching him lean back against the material and close his eyes for a few moments, quiet pants escaping his lips.

"Are you going to be okay?" she whispered, holding her breath in case he wouldn't respond and the worst happened.

Thankfully, though, he opened his eyes, nodding. "Y... yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. It just... it fuckin' hurts." Clenching his teeth and letting out a pained hiss, he adjusted his sitting position to meet her gaze better.

"But at least you're alive," she pointed out, not even bothering to admit that she was also alive now because of him. She was grateful, of course, but she still had her pride. Plus, it was Troy – and she still didn't like him.

He nodded again, breathing a deep sigh. "No shit, Clementine..." He examined his stump arm, his heavy breaths the only sound in that quiet tent. Clementine couldn't even begin to wonder what he was thinking, but if it were her, she'd be growing a bit concerned on how she was going to live with only three out of the four limbs she'd been born with.

After unzipping her backpack and taking out the bandages and things she'd grabbed from the drugstore. She also grabbed her cleaver and kept it near her - just in case of an emergency. Her eyes carefully tracked from the man's pained face to his injury, and then back down to her tools. She was no expert on first aid, but she'd have to try – it was getting critical.

She hesitated, unsure where to even start. What did she do for her arm? That cabin and shed scenario seemed like it had happened forever ago, but it had only been about a week. She'd snuck into the cabin for antiseptic, bandages, and a sewing needle – so she had to clean, bandage, and stitch – oh God if she had to stitch his severed limb shut...

No, she decided against that; she really wasn't sure if she could stitch such a huge wound shut properly, and might end up doing more damage than aid, anyway. She'd clean and bandage it, as well as apply a new tourniquet. That was more than enough right now, and he should be thankful he was getting that much.

What first? It would help if she could get the big camouflage obstruction out of the way. "Troy, can you, um... take off your jacket?" she asked, crawling over towards him with a few rolls of bandages and the quarter-empty bottle of antiseptic. She absolutely did not want to do this, but she had to remind herself that Lee would have. Lee would be happy with her for this; he'd be proud that she was doing such a tough thing for someone so difficult and unpleasant.

The man flashed her a glare, but shook his head. "Don't think I can," he replied, and she believed him.

Pursing her lips, she decided that that they had to remove the jacket. Holding onto his sleeve, she pulled at it so his good arm was released first. He hissed in pain at her jerking movements, shying away from the touch, but she pursued further.

"We have to," she murmured, a bit frustrated at his efforts to rebel against her. Eventually, she got him to worm his way out of the jacket by his head, and carefully pulled it over his stump arm (but not without a few grunts and whines of pain, of course).

Good thing he didn't lash out – though he probably knew what would've happened if he did.

His gray t-shirt underneath was soaked with blood from his right shoulder down, but at least the wound could breathe a little better. Now all she had to do was remove the rope and work with the chopped area itself.

She pointed to the tourniquet keeping the blood flow to a minimum, ordering him to remove it, because she sure as hell wasn't doing it herself.

"Are you kiddin' me?" he asked, frowning. "That'll just make it worse, you little idiot. Remove it and it'll start bleedin' all over. Don't you know what you're doing?"

"I do. Take the rope off," she pressed, eyes narrowing.

"Over my dead fuckin' body!"

The idiot obviously didn't understand how possible that could be if that was left untouched, but was it Clementine's responsibility? Did she really have to take care of Troy? Sure, she wanted to do the right thing, but the man didn't even want her help.

"What do you think we should do, then? Tell me your plan," she snapped, getting irritated with his stubborn behavior. How old was he?

Glancing down at the wound, and then to the items in her hands, Troy replied, "What you got there ought'a work. Spray and bandage. Christ, I should've known better than to trust a kid to help me out. You obviously don't know the first thing about takin' care of wounds."

Clementine's teeth clenched and her eyes narrowed into slits; she could feel herself getting frustrated with him. He didn't know what he was talking about, for one, and didn't think she was capable of doing anything, did he?

"We can't do that without removing the rope, Troy," she insisted.

Hesitation flashed in his eyes for a moment before he broke from her gaze, a frustrated hiss passing through his lips. "Keepin' it on ain't doin' anythin' wrong."

"If the rope rubs into the wound, it'll hurt a lot more," Clementine hissed lowly. "And it's in the way. I'll clean up the rope and wrap it back around until we find another one or a belt or something."

Troy's nostrils flared and he scooted back from her a bit, clearly uncomfortable. "Well, maybe I don't trust some little kid to not fuckin' wait too long and get me killed when my arm's gushin' blood! Can y'blame me!?"

Realization dawned on her. So, he was scared. That made more sense, really; she knew he was on the dumber side, but didn't think he'd refuse so profusely to help himself. He was afraid she'd mess up or something and get him killed.

Well, it didn't change the fact that he was being a baby about the whole thing. And she'd have to prove it to him. She sat back on her legs in a kneeling position, unzipping her jacket and pulling it off with a quiet grunt of effort.

"What are you doin'-"

She merely raised her arm, showing him the bandages still wrapped around her arm. "You see this?" she asked.

"Yeah...?" He quirked an eyebrow, tilting his head slightly in a way that reminded her of Sam.

Deciding that she'd need to change her own bandages, anyway, she peeled the sticky fabric, noticing the sloppy stitchings still in place. Carlos had said she'd done a good enough job with sewing it up, and more or less cleaned it more and bandaged it when he took care of her. She had been a bit relieved that her painful endeavor hadn't been for nothing.

"What the – you get bit!?" The one-armed man edged himself away from her even further, his back pressed against the tent's wall.

Rolling her eyes, she replied, "No. Well, a dog bit me, actually – about a week ago. When I met Luke's group, they didn't believe me, so they locked me in the shed for the night by myself."

"Lot more than Bill would'a done," Troy muttered. "He'd'a probably just cut off your arm and left you in the yard all night to see if you turned anyway."

Thoughtfully, she asked, "Was that what he did with Reggie?"

"That's right, kiddo," Troy replied with a nod.

She decided she didn't like him calling her that, but didn't press it. Instead, she practically shoved her arm in his face, pointing at the stitches. "You see these?"

He moved his head away from her, averting his gaze. "God – get your gross arm outta my face, Clementine! C'mon, I don't wanna see that shit!"

She didn't move. "Too bad. Do you see the stitches?"

"Yeah! Yeah, I see 'em! What about 'em!?"

Pulling back once she knew he got a look, she snapped, "I had to sew this all up myself – with nothing but a sip of apple juice for comfort. I did it, digging the needle into my open wound all by myself in a shed." She traced her finger lightly across the stitches; they reminded her of little black spiders crawling around her arm. After gazing at them thoughtfully, she glared back at Troy. "If I can do that, you can get over yourself and take that rope off so I can clean the wound. You need to quit being a baby and let me help you or you'll die."

And whether she liked him or not, Clementine didn't really want Troy to die. She'd seen enough death, yes, but she couldn't ever get used to it being constantly around her. She wouldn't ever become numb to it, and no matter what, death was a tragic thing. Even if it was the cannibals who killed Mark, or the strange man who kidnapped her. Even if it was Troy. Even Carver.

The man's face hardened, lips pursed and eyes focused, and for a minute Clementine thought he'd refuse again. But he finally nodded, murmuring something she didn't catch under her breath and returned to his original position.

Proud of herself, the girl sat near his severed limb, waiting for him to remove the rope so she could use his removed jacket to stop the blood flow. The man's breathing grew heavy, his eyes focused on the limb, fingers trembling inches away from the rope.

"Troy, c'mon!" she urged, losing patience.

"Alright, just – just hold on..." He hesitated, eyes screwing shut as he took a long, deep breath and pulled the rope off.

Immediately, he howled in agony, horrified at the blood gushing like a river from the remainder of his arm. Whimpering, he yelled, "It hurts! It- stop it! Stop the blood! So much fuckin' blood...!"

She moved quickly, pressing the jacket against the amputated area tightly. Making sure to apply as much pressure as she could, she grabbed the antiseptic and readied it. She fought the urge to soothe his cries; he wasn't a child, and she wasn't his mother, so there was no need (nor did she think he deserved it).

Still, she wasn't going to let him alert all walkers within ten miles of their location. "Calm down. I know it hurts, but you need to be quiet so we don't attract walkers."

The words connected with him, miraculously; he quieted down as best he could, eyes still closed tightly.

"It's going to hurt worse for a bit," she warned, not giving him time to react before she removed the jacket and sprayed the wound with as much antiseptic as she could get on there.

With a horrible hissing sound, the wound bubbled white, showing that the area was being cleaned by the medicine. But Troy wasn't even looking at it; he looked like he was trying not to pass out, his eyes glazed over in pain. His teeth sunk down on the back of one of his fingers, tiny streaks of blood falling from how hard he was biting.

Grabbing his hand and prying it out of his teeth's grip, she placed the jacket in his palm, instructing him to place it on the injured area while she prepared the bandages. With shaking and bloody fingers, he managed to keep the fabric in place (at least, for now).

She turned back to her supplies, unrolling a few of the bandages. None could be wasted, so she had to take out just the right amount to wrap around Troy's limb a few times. She glanced at the man, gasping in pain and trying not to go into shock, and placed one of the bandages' ends onto the area.

"You can let go," she told him, and he obeyed. Immediately, she began to wrap the wound, noting each flinch he made as she did so. Once, twice, thrice... at the fourth or fifth wrap-around, she ran out of bandage, and tied a few tight knots to secure it.

Breathing in relief, she sank back to her knees. "It's wrapped."

His head was hung low again, looking positively drained from that, but he wasn't complaining. He raised his gaze slightly, eyes looking through her. "This is just sweet irony," he groaned, humorlessly snickering.

"What do you mean?" she asked, working on disinfecting the rope as he spoke.

"After Mike cut off Reggie's arm, I was supposed to take care of all the first aid shit," he explained, leaning back and lifting his head to stare at the ceiling of the tent. "Know what I said? 'I ain't coddlin' the asshole' and left him to take care of it on his own. Didn't even care. It probably felt like this, or worse." She raised her eyebrows thoughtfully; perhaps there was some odd justice in her decision to lob Troy's arm off.

As she sprayed the rope up and down with antiseptic, making sure it didn't touch the ground (as the last thing she wanted was dirt to get in it), she commented, "Reggie was so sure he was going to be back inside if he behaved. Was that true?" She couldn't see Carver being that forgiving of a man.

Not surprisingly, Troy shook his head, letting out another dry laugh. "N... nah," he muttered, "Bill was never gonna let him in. Reggie was weak. Not 'cause'a his arm, I think, just... he didn't have what it took."

"And what did it take?" Clementine asked, raising an eyebrow. "Hitting children? Shooting anyone on sight? Asking 'how high?' when Carver asked you to jump?"

If so, Troy had what it took completely – not that that was a good thing.

"No, just... conviction. The ability to make sacrifices."

"Reggie was a sacrifice," Clementine shot back, still bitter about the whole thing. "Because Carver thought of him as an object instead of a person. But Carver's way of thinking was wrong."

Troy narrowed his eyes. "Watch your mouth, girlie," he snarled, "'til you assholes decided to get up and run, things were goin' just fine."

"For you."

"'Cause I earned my place!"

"And look where you are now." With a sigh, Clementine prepared the rope by his bandaged stump. This probably wasn't the best idea, but she had no other means of a tourniquet.

Biting back his pain, Troy just growled, "Look, I'm not sayin' it was perfect, but Bill had a good idea in mind. The strong survive. Killin' one weak link would'a saved the rest."

Clementine's gaze darkened, light brown eyes glittering with anger. "Do you know how Carver died?"


She didn't give him a chance to reply, tightening the rope's grip on his wound. "Kenny beat him to death with a crowbar after shooting both his knees. I watched him. Carver died alone, looking up at people who absolutely despised him."

Troy's expression softened. "What does this have to-"

"If you continue to be like him, that'll happen to you." And she really didn't even care. Her voice grew colder as she finished up the rope's knots, standing up and looking down on him. In a way, it was a good indicator of who was the more dominant one in this situation – who called the shots. Clementine wouldn't put up with his bossiness any longer.

"You'll die alone," she warned, "with everyone you left behind being happy that you did."

She could see the realization dawn on his face, some surprise and unknown emotions mixed in, but before either of them could say another word, a hurried voice called from outside.

"Hey, Clementine? You out here?" Poking her head out of the tent, she found Rebecca and Sarita outside. They both seemed okay enough, simply out of breath, but Clementine noticed instantly the distinct lack of someone that she'd left them with.

"What's wrong?" she asked, that familiar sinking feeling pooling into her stomach.

Sarita bit her lip, her eyes shimmering with worry. "It's Sarah."

Chapter Text

Eyebrows furrowed, Clementine repeated her question. "What's  wrong ?" Her voice was little more than a quiet hiss, frustration settling in. Sarah wasn't with them, though she was supposed to be. Clementine had  promised  her friend they'd meet up again; looking back, that wasn't the smartest thing to do, but  someone  decided to run into the woods like a madman.

"May we come in?" Sarita asked, looking over her shoulder. "Rebecca should rest."

The girl nodded, and held the tent's entrance open for them both to crawl in. As soon as she noticed the blood splattered all over Troy and the area surrounding him, Rebecca gasped, her face twisting in shock before flashing their charge a glare.

"You're still here, I see," she noted icily.

At this point, the man was barely conscious, leaned against the wall with his eyes half-closed and head dropping. Still, despite his condition, he managed to bite back, "How's... how's Bill's kid doin'? He close to comin' out?" With a mocking tone, Troy chuckled, his face in a grimace of pain despite himself.

"What?" Rebecca's expression darkened, her eyes ablaze with anger; she seemed mere seconds away from grabbing Troy's throat and strangling him. "My husband... Alvin is dead and you fucking dare to talk about my baby like that?! We should've left you in the herd, we should've let you be lurker food, for God's sake-"

"Easy, Rebecca," Sarita soothed, rubbing her back as they settled comfortably on the opposite side of the tent. She shot Troy a glare and added, "He's not worth it." The pregnant woman flashed her friend a glance and opened her mouth as if to say something, but simply nodded with a saddened look on her face.

Clementine knew what she was thinking: it wasn't fair that Alvin wasn't here. Whoever's baby it truly was, Alvin was supposed to be the father.

Troy didn't respond to the women; instead, he merely curled his legs further inward, sitting in a rigid position across from the rest of them. With his teeth bared and eyes fiercely narrowed, the man reminded Clementine of a wounded animal; knowing he was injured and unable to fight back against an attack, he lashed out with all the energy he had left.

But honestly, the amputee was the least of her worries right now. Once everyone was settled in the tent, she turned to Sarita and asked, "What about Sarah? Where is she?" Fear simmered in her belly, butterflies going mad as she waited for the woman to reply. Thankfully, Sarita's expression and words revealed worry, rather than straight-up sorrow and grief.

"She was separated from us a while back," she explained, "We ran into Nick and Luke, who went after her. We would have gone with them, but..." her voice trailed off, and she cast a glance at her companion.

"I'm sorry, if I'd been able to keep going, we could've gone to get her..." Rebecca murmured, placing a hand absentmindedly on her stomach. "I just... I needed to rest. I couldn't make the walk, and we saw the clearing up ahead.

"It's understandable," Clementine replied, not at all angry. She wondered how Sarah got separated, when she was practically clinging to the women when the two of them parted. But then again, since Carlos's demise Sarah had been on edge (to put it lightly), and it would make sense if the girl got spooked and ran off.

Clementine couldn't blame her; Sarah had been sheltered and wasn't able to cope with the world just yet. She could understand – it was definitely possible, but it just would take a little longer; sadly, all kids needed to grow up too quickly, and Sarah needed more time to harden herself to the world's horrors. However, she couldn't stay naïve forever.

Before their conversation could continue, footsteps sounded from outside the tent. Cautiously, one hand clutched to her weapon, Clementine poked her head out, and was met instantly with the image of camouflaged pants decorated with walker blood. Raising her gaze, she recognized the panting, terrified tall figure.

"Nick!" she cried, scrambling out of the tent. She noticed instantly that he was alone, and looked around as if Luke and Sarah would appear, as well. After a few moments of stunned silence, she realized that he was by himself, and asked, "What's wrong? Where's Sarah and Luke?" Where was everyone else, as well?

Between heavy sighs, Nick replied, "Oh, Clem... thank God... I... I ran back to get someone. Sarah's... she ran off into a nearby trailer park. She's inside one of the homes, and won't move."

"Is she okay?" Clementine asked, chewing at her lip.

"I think so," the man responded, "but she's scared. Luke said he'd try to get her up, but I ran to get help just in case. Do you think you could come with me?"

She nodded. "Yeah. Just... let me tell them." Without hearing his response, she crawled into the tent once more, taking in everyone's condition all at once. Rebecca was sitting on the right side, Sarita smiling warmly next to her, while Troy was opposite them, his breathing shallow and eyes half-closed.

"Nick's here. We're going to bring Sarah and Luke back. Can you take care of...?" Her voice trailed off, merely casting a glance over at the nearly-asleep amputee.

Sarita gave a sigh, a good-hearted glitter in her eyes despite Troy's nastiness towards her and Rebecca, and nodded. "We'll be able to handle things here, Clementine. Don't worry. Please, be safe."

Clementine smiled; Sarita was very caring to people like Troy, yes, but the girl was also impressed with how motherly she became for the group. Like Kenny became a sort of father figure to her, his girlfriend kept the same air of parental watchfulness.

Flashing a glance back down at her weapon, she offered the cleaver to Sarita, who gave her a confused look in return. Flicking one more gaze over to Troy, she murmured, "In case... in case things go bad, you need to be able to protect yourself." Honestly, this whole situation was a toss-up now; she'd changed his bandages, reapplied the tourniquet, and disinfected the wound. As far as she knew, that was all she could do, save from stitching it shut (which wasn't possible). If he died, it wouldn't be on her hands, as she had given all her effort.

That didn't mean she wanted him to die, though; to say she wanted anyone to die was a flat-out lie.

Hesitantly, Sarita accepted the weapon, keeping a hard stare down at it. "Are you sure you don't need it?" she asked.

With a nod, Clementine assured, "Nick and Luke will be with me. I'll be safe." At least, she hoped; she could always find another weapon, as well. Flashing a glance at Troy and curling her lips into a slight smirk, she added, "Make sure you be good, Troy."

The man barely acknowledged her statement, shooting a glare her way but ultimately not saying anything in response. He looked on the very of passing out, or falling asleep, and she didn't have the heart to bother him at the moment. With a shrug to herself, she nodded to three of them and returned to Nick.

"Okay, I'm ready. Let's go."

Flashes of green whirled by, barely having time to form into visible trees as Clementine's feet took her as fast as she could go through the forest. Heart pounding and ears roaring, panic and determination fueled her to keep running. Though she was smaller than him, she was keeping a good enough pace to keep up with Nick, following right on his heels.

"How much further?" she called, keeping her gaze trained ahead. Nick had entered from the other side of the clearing, opposite where Clementine and Troy had come into it from, so she had no idea what was up ahead.

"It's just up ahead," Nick answered, his voice hushed and focused. Faintly, she noticed the outline of some telephone poles in the distance, followed by the square shape of mobile homes growing closer and closer with each footstep.

The trailer park came into view all at once, a rusty green fence surrounding the perimeter. Trucks and cars parked outside were left abandoned, the corpses of walkers littering the crowd like giant, people-shaped boulders. Nick didn't stop running, leading her to an opening in the fence. Peeking through it, Clementine noted the pieces of a swing set and slide crumbled onto the ground. A small merry-go-round was tilted and distorted despite its happy colors still painted on, with a mushy, mud-covered sandbox sitting next to it. A smaller, wooden fence separated the broken playground from the mobile home in the back, creating the image of a playplace that probably made some kids happy once.

Without warning, Clementine thought of the swing at the St. John's dairy – but only for a moment. She shoved the thought away and turned back to the man; finding Sarah and Luke was the top priority, not being haunted by memory lane.

"Through here," Nick announced, maneuvering around the hole in the fence. Just as she made her way through it, however, he hissed, "Oh shit! Clem, get down!" and ducked behind the swing set. She followed him, getting low to the ground to see what he'd been alerted to.

Unsurprisingly, there were a few walkers on the other side of the wooden planks of the fence, wandering around as aimlessly as ever. Two blocked their path to the next yard, where Nick seemed to be leading them to. With a sinking feeling, Clementine realized she didn't have her cleaver anymore, and the man crouched beside her was weaponless, as well. When she pointed this out to him, Nick frowned, his expression wilting, as though he hadn't thought about that.

"Shit," he muttered, "fuck, of course I didn't ask Luke for his machete before leavin'. Of course..." Tugging the brim of his hat down to cover his eyes, he shook his head, obviously disappointed in himself.

"It's okay," Clementine assured, "we can find weapons everywhere." Lee had taught her that – everything and anything was fair game to be used against walkers. If it was sharp or sturdy, it could slice or smash the brain in with no problem.

Luckily, there were broken wooden planks surrounding the swing set, the edges looking sharp enough to pierce into a walker's skull – or, at the very least, it could bludgeon one to death. She grabbed onto the end and yanked on it, but she wasn't strong enough to break it free. When he noticed what she was trying to do, Nick slid himself forward, taking a hold of the pieces of wood and, with a grunt of effort, pried it free from the wreckage and handed it to her.

"Nice goin', Clem," he murmured, though he had been the one to get it. "D'you think you could get the one closest to us? I'll try to distract it long enough for you to get it."

She hesitated, not exactly liking the idea of him fighting walkers with no weapons. When he noticed her caution, he added, "I can do it. It's just like back in the forest, after Pete..." His voice trailed off, and he didn't dare finish the sentence.

Clementine was aware he could fight off walkers with his bare hands, as he'd done it before to distract them and allowing her an escape, but at the same time, she worried about him. Nick was reckless, though a good guy – she feared he might try to become a sacrifice when all he needed to be was a distraction. Because of that, she glanced around again, hoping to spot something he could use.

There! Pointing to the metal supports that had once held the slide together, she whispered, "You can use one of those pipes. Should be enough to at least smack a walker down."

Nick's eyes brightened and, without a word, he picked up one of the broken-off pieces of pipe, lightly tapping the metal in his hand to get a feel of how firm it was. Pleased, he smirked and met her gaze, seeming much braver than before. "Alright, which one do you want?"

"We can keep the original plan," she replied, "I'll get the one closest, and you go for the furthest one?"

"Sounds good. I've got your back if you need me."

Nodding her thanks, Clementine cautiously stepped out from behind the playground equipment, her eyes trained on the walker on the other side of the fence. A small hole provided her with a path to it; once its back was turned, she made a break for it, leaping through the opening and swinging the wooden plank onto the walker's head. It turned around, empty white eyes glaring hungrily at her, but she pulled back and swung again.

This time, the creature lost its balance, falling to the ground on its back. Wasting no time, she swung the plank at its head multiple times, feeling its head collapse after the fourth or fifth hit. When it finally lay still, she stopped, turning back to Nick.

"Nice job!" he whispered with a smile, obviously pleased. Taking a deep breath, he murmured something to himself and, after hopping the fence, stepped forward, his tall form shrinking down some to emulate stealth. The girl watched him carefully, her hands still wrapped around the bloody wooden plank, just in case.

Nick prowled towards the walker, swinging the pipe through the air and whacking it off its head with a sickening snapping sound. With only one hit, the creature dropped to the ground, allowing the man one extra hit on it before it stopped moving. Motioning to Clementine to follow, he slowly crept through the yard, making his way towards a dumpster, taking out another walker attempting to get over it.

Smiling, Clementine followed his lead, staying low to the ground. Once she reached the dumpster, she peered over it, noticing instantly the small herd attempting to get into one of the mobile homes. Based on Nick's lead, and judging by their shit luck lately, Clementine had to guess that Luke and Sarah were behind that door.

"That's a lot of walkers," she remarked quietly, apprehension worming its way onto her expression. Nick took notice of her worry and bit his lip.

"I know, but we need to get in there. We gotta get to Luke and Sarah..." Something had changed about Nick recently; she hadn't really noticed until now, but it seemed like he had more courage. The fierce determination in his eyes was proof enough that he was more of a hero now, even if he still saw himself as a villain.

Despite what had happened on the bridge, Clementine had started to see him as a hero, too.

"How do we get in?" she asked.

Nick paused, looking around. "Fuck, I – I don't know, fuck, fuck..." He struggled to think of something, anxiety clearly written over his face at coming up with a solution on the spot. "Maybe – I don't know, maybe if we used a noise to distract them...?"

Nodding, she responded, "That sounds good. We could lure them away – over towards this dumpster, so we can maneuver around to the door over there."

The abandoned pick-up truck in the yard gave her an idea. Lee had once told her that back in the Crawford garage with Molly, a car alarm had gone off, bringing tons of unwanted walkers near them. It wasn't exactly the same situation here, but a horn might do the trick. It was surely loud enough to get the creatures away, but they'd need to use something to keep the horn blaring as long as it could.

Looking down at the corpse of the walker he'd had taken care of, she turned to Nick and asked, "Can you drag this guy over to the horn of the truck?"

She could practically see the gears turning in his head, but when he finally seemed to get what she was going for, he nodded. Without a word, he hooked his arms under the walker and dragged it over to the truck. Luck was once again on their side, it seemed; the door to the vehicle was unlocked, and once Nick placed the corpse atop the steering wheel, it was evident that the horn still worked.

Blaring honks echoed like an alarm, causing the walkers clawing at the door to the home to turn their heads and lumber towards the sound. They weren't able to make it over the dumpster and the barricade set up around it, however; stuck growling and swiping at the air, this made a perfect distraction, allowing them to go around to get to the door safely.

The two of them rushed up the stairs of the entrance closest to them, slowing their pace once they were inside. Two walkers were inside, nails scraping against the windows, obviously distracted by the noise outside.

Clementine really missed her hatchet; the walker approaching her was much larger, around Nick's height, and she only had her wooden plank to use. With a quiet grunt of effort, she swung the weapon, hitting the creature's head. It shook off the blow and continued to stumble towards her; backing up, she nearly fell onto her backside before Nick took the walker out with a swing of his pipe.

She turned to see that he'd already taken care of the other walker, its brain smashed in and leaking all over the carpet.

"Th... thanks Nick," she commented, flashing him a smile. Playfully, she added, "You're getting better at aiming."

Shyly, the man pulled his hat down over his eyes, a slight flush appearing on his cheeks. "Nah..." he mumbled, shrugging his broad shoulders.

They continued, hopping down out of one home to the steps of the one they needed to get into. Clementine jiggled the handle, cursing under her breath as she realized it was locked. The walkers had gotten bored with the noise, and began to turn around already, growling at what they saw as two walking pieces of prey.

"Fuck! Clem, we gotta get into that building! Try somethin'!" Nick yelled, raising his pipe to keep the approaching creatures at bay.

Trying to swallow her panic, Clementine balled up her fists, took a few steps back, and attempted to kick the door down. Naturally, the first kick didn't do anything, so she continued, putting a bit more force into each swing of her leg. The locks had obviously been worn, as the door snapped open after only a few strikes. She called to Nick, who stopped striking the walkers and followed her inside the home, slamming the door behind them.

"We gotta block the door, Clem!" Nick called, pushing a large bookshelf near the door in front of the entranceway. Once it was sealed, Clementine turned to yell for Luke and Sarah, calling out their names into the dark hallway of the trailer.

Luke appeared, clutching at his machete tightly. Once he noticed who it was, he relaxed a bit, sheathing his weapon. "Man... I'm glad you guys made it. Thanks for grabbin' her, Nick." He gave a nod to his friend.

"Where's Sarah?" Clementine asked, eyes flicking about the mobile home.

The man's expression dropped. "She... fuck, we found her runnin' towards here when she got separated from Rebecca and Sarita. She's real upset, Clem, and I can't get through to her." Without another word, he turned around and led both of them to a room in the back, where the girl was curled up in a ball, her head buried in crossed arms.

Sarah seemed to be in the middle of an anxiety or panic attack; her body was shaking, her breaths coming in short, erratic bursts. Tears spilled down her cheeks, quiet mumbles leaving her trembling lips.

"She needs you, Clem-" Luke said, but Nick was the one to bend down in front of her first, his gaze focused and detached from everything else going on in the room.

"It's okay, Sarah. On my count, I want you to take a deep breath in through your nose, and I'll tell you when to release the breath through your mouth. Ready?"

Amazingly, the words connected with the anxious girl; she started to breathe in through her nose as Nick counted, releasing the breath once he told her to. Starting with two seconds, they continued this pattern for four seconds, and then six – and finally, at eight seconds, Sarah's breathing became more controlled, more relaxed. She had calmed down some, and was able to wipe at her eyes and sit back against the wall. Her complexion was still fairly pale, but she didn't look as haunted as before.

It occurred to Clementine that Nick was definitely someone who could understand Sarah's panic; he'd been prone to suicidal thoughts before, if she recalled Luke's words right. Even though it seemed like a serious hindrance in the world now, people like Nick and Sarah could learn to survive, despite their setbacks. Anxiety, depression – it all was a part of who they were, but ultimately, it didn't mean they were a lost cause.

Nick turned to her and nodded. "She's all yours, Clem." Having calmed Sarah down successfully, Clementine would be able to speak to her better. The girl crouched in front of her friend, murmuring, "Hi, Sarah..."

The older girl lifted her head, eyes horribly unfocused and fear laced through her expression. "H... hi," she whispered. "Clem, I... I'm scared. I don't... I can't... I want my dad..."

"I know how you feel," Clementine replied, eyes softening. "It's one of the worst feelings in the world. Ever since... the walkers, so many people I know have died. People I love. And I know what it's like to be scared."

Sarah sniffled, raising her head. "You... you do? But you're never scared. You're... one of the bravest people I know. I'm... I'm not like that..."

"I wasn't always like this, Sarah," Clementine admitted, "in fact, I used to be a lot like you. When everything started, I met my friend, Lee. He tried to help me find my parents. He protected me more than anyone else in my whole life."

Loud thumps echoed behind her, and she thought she heard Nick yell out about being surrounded and Luke suggest escaping through the skylight, but she couldn't be completely sure. Her focus was on Sarah at the moment, her light brown eyes focused as if she'd lose her friend at any minute.

"He died to keep me safe. I was so scared. And you know what? I'm still scared."

Sarah nodded, understanding worming its way onto her face. "You're still here..." she mumbled.

"Because he taught me how to be strong – even when I'm scared. He wanted me to live, Sarah. And your dad protected you because he wanted you to live. He would still want that."

A hand on her shoulder interrupted Clementine; she turned to see Nick glancing down at them both. "We gotta go. Lurkers got the place surrounded – only way to go is up. Do you think you can stand up, Sarah?" Worry flashed through his eyes for a moment, until he saw that she nodded, getting to her feet.

Clementine reached over and squeezed her friend's hand, watching Nick give Luke a boost up onto the top of the trailer. The shorter man got on his stomach on top of the building and leaned his hand down, providing an extra boost for escape.

Sarah went up next, Nick's height allowing her to grab Luke's hand with ease and get on top. Clementine followed, hearing a snapping sound the moment she stood up on the roof. It wasn't her weight or anything breaking the trailer, but the door to the small room they'd been in breaking down. Walkers, hungry for blood and flesh, began to stumble in, macabre claws ready to kill.

But Nick was the only one still in the room.

"Nick!" she yelled, panic swelling in her chest. She bent over the skylight opening as more and more creatures lumbered into the trailer from all sides, some breaking the glass of the windows. No, he couldn't...! She didn't want to look, to see her friend being devoured by walkers...!

Luke called out for him, his voice cracking as he searched for his best friend. Just when it looked like he'd been lost forever to the creatures, a large hand appeared at the top of the skylight, and a frightened, familiar face appeared. Nick heaved himself up onto the trailer, flopping onto his back and panting. After a while, he got to his feet with the rest of them, though he still looked terrified, sweat dripping down from his hair. But other than a few scratches from scrambling upwards in a panic, he was untouched.

Safe. He was safe.

[ Thank you. ]

[ Are you okay? ]

[ [Hug Nick] ]

[ … ]

Chapter Text

"So Clem, y'say you found water? Like – like clean bottled water?" Luke's mouth hung open like a hungry baby bird, his eyes wide with curiosity. It was as if he was a dog, panting over the thought of a bone after being stuck with nothing for so long. The thought made Clementine think of Sam, but she pushed it out of her mind before it could make her sad.

Forcing a smile, she nodded. "Yes – Troy and I found two big jugs of water in the museum. We were able to carry them back with three arms between the both of us."

Nick cast an amused glance over at her. "That bastard's still around?" It didn't seem like anyone had much faith in Troy's survival – or at least, they didn't care all that much. Clementine couldn't say she blamed them, all things considered.

Still, she replied, "Yeah... Well, I think so. When I left him with Sarita and Rebecca, he seemed weak... I hope everything's okay." It hadn't been the smartest move, but she hadn't known what had happened to Sarah, and was in a panicked state. At least she made sure they were safe first.

"What?! Clem, y'left him with them?" The color faded from Luke's face; the brush of death he'd nearly had clearly putting him more than a little on edge. "What if he turns? Oh, God, the baby – or, what if he tries t'hurt them? Didja – didja even think that through? I mean, I know it was a desperate time, but I just-"

"Luke, c'mon, lay off," Nick hissed, eyes narrowed towards his friend. "Clem helped us get Sarah out of there."

That seemed to be the mental slap to the face Luke needed. The man ran a hand through his hair, stammering, "Y- you're right, Nick. Shit, I guess we're all on edge right now. Last thing we need is me goin' crazy."

"Don't worry," Clementine added in a confident tone, trying to seem more sure than she was, "They're safe. I left them with my hatchet to defend themselves if they needed to."

Luke brightened. "Nice thinkin', Clem." After she smiled back, he added, "We should probably still head on back there as quick as we can, though. Don't much like leavin' those girls with that guy."

Nick snorted. "Can't say he's the most likeable guy in the world. Think he called us chickens once."

"Once?" The auburn-haired man raised a brow, a small smirk on his lips. "More like a thousand times. Y'know how many times I heard 'C'mon little chickens, let's get to peckin' as my wake-up call? As if he couldn't think'a anythin' else to say when he took us to our jobs."

"Probably didn't," Clementine added, a humorous glint in her eyes. Troy wasn't the brightest, and they all were aware of it. Her comment earned a simultaneous snicker from both Nick and Luke, some of the previous tension dissolving before their eyes.

"Didn't he say he was a rooster?" Luke remarked.

"Think he did," Nick sniggered, shaking his head as if in disbelief. "Though the guy was more of a lapdog than anything else."

"Now hold on there, Nick," Luke replied, "think he was onto somethin' with all that rooster talk. He surely acted like a cock all the time."

Clementine's eyes glittered with amusement, pleased with how they seemed to be relaxing, if only a little. Who knew belittling Troy would lighten the mood this much? It wasn't like they were doing anything wrong, anyway; the man deserved much worse, and it was only for fun. Clementine was confident that neither Nick nor Luke were actually going to throw him out. She trusted them to trust her, after all. Despite their (justified) vendetta against Troy, they were better than him.

"Um... is that man going to stay with us?" A small squeeze to her hand and the soft words uttered next to her reminded Clementine that Sarah was with them; not that she forgot about her per se, just that she'd gotten caught up in the moment.

Still, she nodded to her friend, wondering if Sarah would have a problem with that. Troy had been all-too-eager to smack her if he was needed back at Carver's, and paraded himself around constantly as some sort of threat. Clementine couldn't blame the other girl if she was afraid of him.

"For now," she murmured back, trying not to show how much that truth annoyed her. "Until he can go on his own." She didn't really know when that would be, but it probably wouldn't come fast enough. And honestly, how long could he survive with one arm, anyway?

Sarah bit her lip, lowering her gaze in response. "I... I don't like him. He hurts people and acts like he... wants to do it. But... I- I trust you, Clem. I mean... you saved him for a reason, didn't you?"

Clementine really wished she had a good answer to give her friend, but all she could respond with was, "I just didn't want to be like Carver."

The older girl's eyes widened behind her glasses for a moment in shock, mouth drawn in an 'o' to show her utter disbelief. "C-Clem! Clem, you could never be like him! He's so mean, and you're so nice... you're nothing like him..."

Sarah's naivete was showing again; Clementine wouldn't call herself 'nice,' of course, but that was beside the point. She feared becoming the sort of monster that twisted a human into someone like William Carver. If she lost what was left of her humanity, she was no better than a walker, mindlessly stepping through the world and surviving only because nothing had killed her yet.

Lee wouldn't have wanted her to be like that. She didn't want to be like that. So though it was constantly running through her mind, Clementine had to shove her worries aside and prove to herself that she wasn't a monster, justifying it with her treatment of Troy.

"Carver sure seemed convinced," she muttered, eyes narrowing.

"Carver wouldn't'a bothered with Troy," Luke pointed out, eyebrows knitted down sympathetically. "He'd never go that far for anyone, 'specially someone he didn't much like."

She thought she heard Sarah and Nick chime in with agreement, but she was too lost in her thoughts to acknowledge it. Merely gazing at her friends, she squeezed Sarah's hand again, shook her head, and said nothing.

The rest of their trip to Parker's Run was walked in silence.

Parker's Run was more occupied once the four of them returned. Clementine's eyes lit up as she found Kenny, Mike, Bonnie, Jane, Sarita, and Rebecca all standing outside of the tent. With a smile, she hurried along towards them, relieved that they all survived the small walker herds they'd fought against back in the forest.

"You're all okay," she breathed, giving an audible sigh.

Sarita bent down to Clementine and Sarah's level, flashing a smile of her own. "I'm so glad to see you are okay." Bringing her gaze up to Luke and Nick, she added, "All of you."

"...Sarah, honey, are you doing okay?" Rebecca asked, her lips drawn into a tight frown. In a way, Clementine was glad that Sarah wasn't alone in her grief; like the girl, Rebecca had lost a loved one recently, too. Not that she was happy Carlos and Alvin were dead, but as they say, misery loves company.

Sarah nodded, her eyes downcast and still puffy. A film of tears were clouding behind the frames of her glasses, but she had her hands gripping one another tightly in an obvious attempt to stay strong. Chewing on her lip, she whispered, "I... I'm not okay, but... I know I'm not... by myself..."

"You're right, baby, you're not alone. You never were."

Without another word, Sarah wrapped her arms around Rebecca, tightly embracing around her swollen belly as best she could. More tears freely streaked her cheeks, matching ones starting to roll down the woman's face. Quiet sobs racked through them, and everyone else seemed to back up to give them space all at once.

Kenny turned to Clementine next, warmth glowing behind his one-eyed gaze. "I'm glad you're okay, Clem. Didn't think those walkers back there could do any of us in – 'specially after what we just walked through."

"I'll say," Mike scoffed from beside him, arms crossed and head raised. "Still don't know how we managed to get out in one piece."

Jane rolled her eyes. "I told you it worked. They're little more than senseless animals, after all – our smell is what makes us stand out to them, and not much else."

"That's... mighty resourceful a'ya, Jane," Bonnie commented, rubbing at her cheek and the sticky rotten blood still caked into her skin. "Can't say it's the most glamorous way t' escape, but we're all grateful y'taught us that trick."

"Spare me the gratuities," Jane replied icily, "You all helped bring down Carver, so in a way, we're even." After giving a smirk to herself, she added, "Still think I should've went through with my plan to use Troy as bait, though."

Mike snickered. "That would've been nice, I guess. Though I think he's got plenty'a karma, from the way he looked a minute ago."

Clementine looked around, noticing their newest addition wasn't standing around with the rest of the group. "Where is he?" she asked, gaze tracking around the campground as if the one-armed asshole would just magically appear with the usual scowl painted onto his features.

Sarita pointed to the tent, her voice low. "He passed out a little after you left. We just let him sleep." Amusement reflected in her eyes as she added, "Truth be told, I just didn't want him awake to bother us."

"I can see that," the girl replied with a smirk, gazing towards the tent. "I'm gonna go check, anyway."

Half-expecting a walker version of Troy to lunge at her once she opened the tent, Clementine cautiously pulled back the flap and peered inside, poking just her head in as quickly and quietly as she could, just in case. She learned long ago that it didn't hurt to be hypersensitive of the world around her, and of any danger that may sneak up behind the corner.

However, thankfully, nothing had happened. Once she drew back the opening of the tent, she noted Troy's still form exactly where she'd left him. He was half-sitting and half-laying down in an awkward-looking position, but with his arm, it was clear he was just trying to get as comfortable as he could (and probably was failing at it). His face was scrunched up in pain, sweat gleaming off his skin and hair even in the pale light. The rope tourniquet seemed to be holding up, stopping the blood from flowing out of the wound, but it was still quite worn from all the use it had had in the past few hours. Clementine didn't know how long it would hold up, honestly.

"Just as I thought." Sarita's voice suddenly next to her made Clementine jump. The woman's lips were pressed together in a thin line, her eyebrows furrowed in thought. Quietly, she crouched and crawled over to the man, placing both hands on his shoulders and slowly turning him from his side onto his back.

But of course, Troy had to be difficult, even while unconscious. He let out a groan at her touch, trying to swat her away with his remaining hand. Unfazed, Sarita said, "Troy, you must lay on your back." When he continued to whine, she added, "You'll only make it worse if you flip onto your wound."

He flinched, teeth gnashing together in frustration and pain. To Clementine's surprise, Sarita gave a gentle shushing noise and murmured, "You need to help yourself if you're ever going to heal."

Clementine was very impressed by her compassion; that man had stood by and watched her boyfriend be beaten, and had struck Clementine herself when she had tried to help. Troy didn't do a damn thing to stop Kenny's pain, and prolonged it all for Carver.

Just for a moment, she allowed herself to wonder why Troy was so dedicated to the man, and whether or not he believed in the same ideals or was just scared out of his mind. But after that moment, she reasoned that no intention could possibly justify his behavior.

Still, she couldn't help but feel sort of sorry for him in this state.

Noticing the girl's eyes watching her, Sarita turned to Clementine and explained, "I know, he does not deserve any of this. I just... don't have it in my heart to let anyone suffer. I think that's one of the remnants of the 'old world' that sticks with me, even now."

Clementine blinked. "What do you mean?"

"I used to be a nurse," the woman explained, lifting Troy's wrist to gauge his pulse, as if by habit alone. "Pediatrics, but still. Taking care of people is what I'm used to. And we took an oath to help anyone, no matter who they were."

With a smile, the girl replied, "You don't have to justify anything, Sarita. You're a good person. This is what good people do. You're better than Troy, and Carver, and most people I know."

"Thank you very much, Clementine." After Troy had finally given up and let himself be laid on his back, the two of them crawled out of the tent and rejoined the others. They were still discussing things and most of the scene was the same, but Sarah had parted from Rebecca and was standing closer to the tent. She gave a small wave to her friend as their gazes met.

Sarita turned back to Clementine with a gentle warmth in her eyes. "I should be taking a look at the rest of us, now, I suppose. Especially since Carlos..."

The girl closed her eyes and nodded with a frown. They would mourn him, surely, just as they mourned Pete and Walter and Alvin, but there was no time for grief to hold them back.

Curious, Clementine asked cautiously, "If you know medical... stuff, then back at Howe's... why didn't you help Carlos look at Kenny?"

A distant look crossed Sarita's deep brown eyes before she closed them, her face softening into sadness. "I'm glad he is alright. I... wasn't able to help, I know..."

Before she could continue, Sarah approached them. "U-um... Clem? I think something's going on with Rebecca..."

Biting her lip, Clementine glanced over at the woman, who was holding her swollen belly a ways off. Hunched over, Rebecca seemed weaker than she'd seemed even since they escaped Carver's, using Bonnie as a support as her expression distorted in pain.

After exchanging a glance with Sarita, the girl followed Sarah over to the rest of the group, just in time to catch Mike asking, "Are you okay? How... how does it feel?"

Rebecca shot him a glare and hissed, "It feels wet. That's how it feels!"

"What's going on?" Sarah asked, biting her lip.

"Her water broke," Bonnie replied, flashing a worried glance of her own at the rest of them.

Clementine watched as Sarah's eyes lit up in response, surprisingly knowing what that was referring to. "Th-that means the baby's coming! M-my dad... he would've been able to..." Just for a moment, she let her head fall and squeezed her eyes shut in pain, but her fists tightened after glancing at the smaller girl next to her.

Sarah probably didn't think anyone heard, but Clementine noted the words she whispered to herself, barely audible even in the silence of the clearing. "I- I have to be brave. Like Clem."

"Fuck!" Nick cried, taking off his hat and running a hand through his hair. "What- what do we do?"

"No way Rebecca can travel like this," Luke commented, shaking his head.

Jane bit her lip, her tone of voice still passive despite the uneasiness in her expression. "She's gonna make a lot of noise. They'll be able to smell her, too – we have no choice now but to ride this out and lock ourselves in."

"In? In where?" Bonnie asked, her head swinging around. "There ain't no place t'hide here, Jane!"

"Troy and I found water," Clementine reminded them, "in the museum down the road. It didn't look safe, though... Maybe there's another place around here that is more secure."

"Do we even have time to look around?" Nick asked, worry reflecting back as he gazed at her.

Sarita stepped forward. "Everyone calm down, please. Before all of... this, I worked as a pediatrician. But I can't do it alone... do any of you have experience with babies?" When no one raised their hand aside from Kenny, she added, "Alright then, Kenny and I will take care of the delivery. The rest of you should find some things for Rebecca."

Kenny nodded. "Save some'a that water y'all found for her, definitely. She's gonna need it. And blankets. The rest'a y'all figure out where we should go."

Clementine beamed. "We found a coat for her. It's inside the tent."

"Oh, perfect. I'll grab that for her and search the perimeters for lurkers. Nick, wanna help?"

Nick merely nodded, his hand clutching at the metal pipe he still had from the trailer park.

"I'll check that building by the river," Jane announced, turning to walk towards it without waiting for approval or a response.

"Oh, uh... okay, good. Mike and Bonnie, y' might wanna check that museum and any other buildings out t'see if there's anythin' else," Luke added, "Not that we don't trust you a'course, Clem."

She gave him a doubtful look, crossing her eyes with a dry smirk. His response was merely a smile of his own.

"Where should I go?" she asked.

"That's up t'you," Bonnie replied. "A'course I'd be more than happy for y'to come with me and Mike, but... I think y'better go check out the buildin' by the river with Jane. I'm afraid she's just gonna... take off. We don't know if she'll stick around or not, and we need all the help we can get t'get that baby here safely."

Clementine thought for a moment; she knew absolutely nothing about Jane, so it may be a good idea to go investigate with her. Besides, it seemed like Bonnie and Mike weren't going to find much in a place that she'd already searched. It'd be pointless to return there. Nodding, she replied, "Yeah, okay. I'll go check it out."

The redhead let out a sigh of relief. "Thanks, Clem."

A quiet, shaky voice sounded from next to Clementine; Sarah was hugging one of her arms tightly, pressing it to her side as she kept her anxious gaze to the ground. "I... I sort of know how to help... with babies, I mean. My dad... he t-told me about some things..."

Sarita's smile deepened. "That would be wonderful, Sarah. I'll show you a few things, too, so you can learn even more."

That seemed to really do the trick, for Sarah's eyes once more brightened behind her rose-rimmed glasses. "Y-you would really do that? I mean – is it okay?"

"Of course it is," Sarita chuckled, "and it would help us greatly to have two people with medical knowledge, don't you think?"

With more confidence than anyone had seen her show in days, Sarah exclaimed, "Y-yes!"

Luke smiled and turned to the group. "Alright, then. Sarita, Kenny, Sarah – make sure Rebecca's safe. The rest'a y'all – we're lookin' for anythin' that can help – more blankets, more water, some disinfectant. Anythin' at all like that."

"We have some disinfectant inside the tent, for Troy. Rebecca can use that," Clementine offered.

"Oh shit, I almost forgot about him, t'be honest," Luke admitted. "Once we figure out where t'go we need to get him to move there, too. Does he seem like he can on his own?"

Clementine's eyes narrowed coolly. "We're going to have to make him, I guess." She would let him sleep for now, but if it came down to it, he had to be able to make himself move to a safer place. No one could carry him, either; if he wanted to survive, he needed to start pulling his weight.

"Alright," Luke replied, scanning his gaze over the clearing, as if he had a mental list to check off as he noted what everyone was doing. "Looks like we got us a plan. S'get on it, y'all." His face hardened as he firmly said, "This baby's gonna get t' this world as safely and comfortably as possible."

Jane was sitting by a picnic table by the time Clementine caught up with her; the woman's head was bowed and her eyes were narrowed in thought, lips pursed as if struggling to remember something – or perhaps forget.

"Are you having a staring contest with that picnic table?" Clementine asked, a bit of humor in her tone. She was exhausted, but couldn't help but put a light tone in her words out of habit.

Cocking her head back to glance at Clementine, Jane stood up, brushing herself off and retorting, "It's nothing, kid. Guess I just got lost in thought."

"I do too, sometimes," the girl admitted.

"So," Jane began, brushing off the previous topic, "the gift shop up the stairs looks like something we could use – and God knows we could use a break."

Nodding, Clementine followed Jane's gaze over to the staircase, blinking in thought. The woman silently walked towards it, only glancing behind her once to see if Clementine was following her. Once she knew she was, Jane started up the staircase with Clementine at her heels.

But right at the top of the stairs, once they both stood on the deck raised high above the ground, Jane stopped and turned around, her brown eyes fierce as she stared Clementine down like a lioness and a piece of prey. The girl couldn't help but shrink back at the intensity of the gaze.

"Look, kid," Jane murmured, "I'm going to be honest with you. I know you wouldn't have made it this far if you weren't smart, but... I still gotta warn you."

"Warn me?"

"Yeah," Jane's voice took on an exasperated tone, "Bringing Troy along... it was a bad idea. Your group is cracking – I've seen it before – and he's only going to make things worse. He tends to screw things up just by being around. And... well, a lot of times, it's just better to be on your own."

Clementine gave the woman a fierce glare back, not accepting to be the baby gazelle waiting for the lioness to pounce on her. "You know, bad stuff happens to you when you're alone, too. Bad stuff happens whether you're with someone or not."

Jane's eyes narrowed. "But your odds are better if you're alone."

"If you're alone," Clementine reasoned, "there's nobody to watch your back. No one to help you if you need it."

Had Jane been alone all this time? Clementine couldn't help but wonder, but really, it wasn't something she wanted to dive further into. She knew that being alone wasn't good; there was no one to watch your back, and no one to help if you needed it. No one to offer your help to, either. Plus, running into loners frightened Clementine a little, if only because the stranger who'd lured her away from Lee had been on his own. With no one to help you out of trouble, there was also no one to help you not cause trouble, either. The less people in your group, the more likely you'll start to go by your own rules – or at least, that's what Clementine justified.

Carver was the only exception to that, as he had a whole community living by his own rules and oppressed those who tried to think otherwise.

Jane pressed on. "How much help is Troy? Even if he wasn't a complete piece of shit, he only has one arm. Not much help if you're being attacked by a walker and he needs two hands to fire a rifle. He's pretty much useless to your group."

A good point, really, but Clementine didn't want to think in those terms – 'useful' and 'useless'. It was that kind of thinking that Carver established at Howe's, and she didn't like it one bit. They were all survivors, and she felt they needed to be good people and help one another. Adults and children were the same now, boys and girls; in this world, you were either dead or alive – that was it, no other labels to tack on.

We don't leave friends behind, she recalled herself saying back in Crawford when the odds were turned against Ben. Troy wasn't a friend by any means, but she still wasn't going to abandon him or anyone else in the group.

No one was getting left behind.

But she didn't exactly have an answer that would satisfy Jane; the woman kept prattling on, continuing about Rebecca and the baby, and how the group would be weakened. She described how stupid it was to have a baby in a world like this, like Rebecca asked to carry a child at the worst time possible.

"If all you're doing is criticizing our group, why are you even here?" the girl mumbled, a bit irritated at the woman's 'high and mighty' act. She didn't know any of their stories, and couldn't judge them anymore than they could judge her.

"I just... want to make sure you know what you're doing, kid. Like... that jacket..."

Clementine glanced down at her bright blue coat, giving a questioning glance to Jane. "What about it?"

"It looks warm, but a walker would bite right through that material."

Under her breath, Clementine added, "Troy mentioned that I'd really stand out in the forest."

"Maybe that's why the idiot wears camo. Guess he has to have a few brain cells to make it this far. That, or Carver dressed him every morning." After they both snickered under their breaths, Jane continued, "But no, you would need a green or gray leather jacket. My sister Jaime... she always..."

The woman trailed off, her gaze traveling downward. Clementine quirked a brow, confused as to why she stopped, but didn't press it. They had more important things to do at the moment, anyway. Without another word, she turned to explore around the deck. The view was... nice enough, being up only two small flights of stairs, but the place overall looked empty. A few flags decorated the outside wall and a large cannon sat in the middle of the deck, two telescopes and a map on the outer edge. A small opening that looked sort of like a resting area was at the end of the deck, a giant locked garage-like door next to it. Instantly, Jane crouched down at the door, examining the lock.

"Check this out – this gate's still locked, which means that hopefully no one's gotten to whatever's inside there. Hope it's important enough."

The girl gave it a good look over, commenting, "It looks... secure. Rebecca could have her baby in there."

"Just what I was thinking. I'll try to pick the lock." Reaching into her back pocket, she brought out a nail file and gave a smirk. "Versatility is not overrated."

Clementine just raised an eyebrow at her, watching as she tried to use the nail file to pick the lock. After a few tries, however, it became clear that her tool would not be enough.

Cursing under her breath, Jane said, "You know, I think we should try something a little heavier. Think you could find anything around here that can bust this mechanism?"

Not like I have a choice. Nodding, the girl gave a quick scan of her surroundings, deciding to head straight for the only place that she hadn't really gotten a look at yet – the small nook next to the garage door. Based on what the map near the edge of it said, this deck looked like it had been used for observation. The telescopes confirmed it to be some sort of tourist attraction, anyway.

But the small opening next to the garage looked to be a rest area of some sort, with a few posters of the civil war on the wall near some benches. Nothing in that small opening looked like it could break the lock, but there was still the matter of the garbage can. With a scowl to herself, Clementine almost didn't even bother, but figured if there was anything in there, it would probably be useful. Sighing, she rolled up her sleeve, took off the top of the can, and looked in.

What she wasn't expecting, however, was a large medical bag stuffed into the can, sticking out like a sore thumb among the otherwise useless trash inside. Blinking curiously, Clementine fished it out, turning to Jane to call, "Hey, I found something over here..."

Jane approached, her own inquisition teased by the mysterious bag. Like a pair of felines, the two of them stared at the new object as if it were a new, jingling toy. Without prolonging it too long, Clementine decided to just open it up and satisfy the both of them.

Her jaw visibly dropped as she zipped it open.

"Holy shit," Jane gasped quietly, her eyes widening.

Inside the bag were tons of medical items – from antibiotics to painkillers to water to wash them down. Antiseptic, bandages – everything they'd been hoping for, just sitting here on a silver platter. This was exactly what the group needed, and for whatever reason, they'd been granted it.

But Clementine wasn't stupid; this wasn't hers, and it wasn't the group's. It belonged to someone else, clearly – someone who had stuffed it into the trash can to store it for later. Could Clementine really take these things from them? What if the people needed them just as much as their group did?

Her stomach twisted with a churning blend of guilt and nausea. It was just like the station wagon they'd found in the forest after the nightmare at the St. John's dairy. Everyone had voted to take the things – even Lee. He said that the stuff was theirs now, and that they needed it. Those who had abandoned it weren't around to claim it, so it was free for the taking.

Even back then, Clementine knew that wasn't right. She still knew it wasn't right to take things that didn't belong to her, especially things that people needed. If it was a more serious matter, could she deal with holding the deaths of others on her conscience?

Swallowing hard, she glanced at Jane, who was already picking up the bag. "What are you doing...?" she asked, already fully aware of what the woman's answer would be.

"This is a goldmine, Clementine. We'll put this stuff to good use – think about it. Luke's pretty messed up from Carver's, Kenny's eye's still a mess, Rebecca with the baby..." With disdain, she added, "Troy and his missing arm..."

"But it's not ours," Clementine argued. "It... wouldn't be right to take it. What if whoever left it there needs it? Or intends to come back and get it?"

"We'll just have to watch out for them, then. Look, I'm not leaving this stuff here. We need it too much."


"Clementine, look at me." After the girl did as she instructed, Jane continued, "If Rebecca or the baby dies because we didn't have this medicine... that'd be just that much worse, wouldn't it? Think about her. Think about Kenny. Think about the baby."

Her shoulders hunched over, Clementine gave a defeated nod. It seemed Jane was taking the guilt trip route with this – and it was working. If anything happened to anyone in their group because they didn't get the medicine... she would be even angrier with herself.

"Okay," she finally murmured, unhappily.

Jane nodded. "I'm gonna work on this lock. Go get the others up here to settle in. Once they see this medicine, I swear you'll see – they'll agree with me."

"I know," the girl hissed lowly, "they always do."

"Clem! Oh, thank God, c'mere!" Luke waved across the clearing as Clementine returned from the observation deck area, finding most of the group gathered around the map in the center. She hurried forward to meet them, Luke's tone not at all setting her at ease. The look on the others' faces worried her, as well; was something wrong?

Once she reached them, she asked that same question, only to see their faces show a range of emotions – from concern to indifference. That enough was a hint to what was wrong.

So it wasn't anything with Rebecca, but their newest addition to the group.

"It's Troy, isn't it? What's wrong with him?" she asked, suddenly wondering if he had died since she'd last seen him.

Sarita, who'd been missing from the group in the clearing, poked her head out of the tent, along with Sarah. "Come see for yourself," she murmured, her lips drawn together in a tight line.

With a heavy sigh, the girl crawled into the tent, noticing instantly that something was definitely wrong. The last she'd seen Troy, he was on his back, asleep. Though he had looked pained, it was nothing compared to what he looked like now.

Face contorted in agony, Troy's eyes were half-open and his body shaking as he gasped for air. Remaining fingers scrunched into a tight fist and his legs drawn up towards his chest as he laid on his side, the man looked on the verge of death. He was mumbling something, sweat trickling down his cheeks as his cracked lips trembled out the quiet, nonsensical whispers.

His rasps didn't make much sense, but she managed to catch some of the sounds he was choking out. "C-... C-Co... Col..." Cold? Was that what he wanted to say?

Clementine was honestly speechless. The once-proud guard dog looked like he was about to be put down, and it made her feel sick.

"He has a high fever," Sarita explained, frowning. "I don't think he's going to make it without some sort of medicine, but... Rebecca..."

"We need some for her, too..." Sarah finished, gaze trailing over to Troy sympathetically. "I... I don't want anyone to die..."

The three of them decided to leave the tent, just in case things got worse so suddenly. None of them really had a weapon that would be quick enough to take down a walker in such close range. Rejoining the others outside, they all stood in silence for a few moments.

Now the medicine Jane and her had found would come in handy – not that Clementine was particularly happy about it. Troy had better thank her a million times over if he survived this; hell, she wouldn't take anything less than worshipping the ground she walked on.

"We found some medicine on the observation deck – in fact, we should get everyone there now. Can we move him and Rebecca up there?"

Rebecca spoke up. "Don't... don't worry about me. I'll be able to get there without being any trouble."

"I'll help," Bonnie offered, patting the woman on the back. "We'll go as quickly and safely as we can, don't worry." Rebecca flashed her a grateful glance in response.

"I... I mean, I guess I could drag Troy up there," Nick murmured, rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably. "If no one else can, I mean."

"Hey, you said it first," Kenny replied, exchanging gazes with Mike. "New Asshole is all yours, Vanilla Ice."

Crossing his arms, Nick nodded, probably regretting his decision to speak up at all.

Still, Clementine smiled and thanked him – which earned her a grin in return. Nick should smile more often, she reflected; it was a nice look on him.

"So t' recap," Luke spoke up, breaking her thoughts, "Bonnie's helpin' Rebecca. Sarita, Kenny, and Sarah, I think you should go with 'er. Nick's bringin' Troy up, and Clem and Mike, I think y' should go with 'im, just in case. Jane's already up there, and I'll bring up the rear. Can't see any lurkers just yet, but y'never know."

When they all nodded in agreement, they began their respective duties. Bonnie, Kenny, Sarita, and Sarah began to help Rebecca up the stairs, bringing the medical supplies that were leftovers from the drug store. As they were on their way, Nick slid into the tent, bringing out a barely-conscious Troy. The sick man struggled to keep on his feet, nearly falling a few times just standing there.

"C'mon, Troy," Nick urged. "We can't stall."

The amputee just shook his head, hissing out a low, "Fu... fuck y-you..."

With a roll of his eyes, Nick grabbed as tightly as he could onto Troy and began to half-drag, half-pull the man towards the observation deck area. Mike and Clementine followed swiftly with Luke behind them, picking up anything that the others had left behind.

Once they reached the top of the deck, it looked like Jane had already gotten the garage door open. Inside was a gift shop – but Clementine didn't have time to observe. Rebecca was screaming now, the pain only growing worse as the baby got closer to being born. Once they all seemed to appear at once, Jane's eyes widened and she stepped back, allowing everyone to enter before her.

"The baby's comin'! Mike, lock the gate!" Bonnie yelled.

"On it!" Mike did as she instructed, locking the gate behind the group as they all scurried into the gift shop. Sarah, Sarita, and Kenny hurried the pregnant woman inside, Mike running in behind them. Nick and Troy followed, with Luke right behind them. Clementine hung back for a moment and approached Jane, who was holding the medicine bag.

"Need this?" Jane asked, curling her lips into a smirk.

Not wanting to admit that she'd been right, Clementine just crossed her arms. "It's not like I have a choice," she grumbled.

"Well, you do have a choice..." Jane began as they both crouched and opened the bag. We only have so much medicine here, Clementine. You're gonna have to make a choice – who gets what first?" Jane asked, eyes narrowed.

She knew what they all expected of her, what she should do. What Lee would have done – what the right thing to do was. Rebecca was in labor and needed painkillers first and foremost so the baby could come safely into the world, and that was one of the things that kept their group going. The promise of new life in this hell of a world brought hope to all of them, and that occasion was something that couldn't be wasted.

But, on the other hand, Troy's fever looked on the verge of spiking. Nick had placed him a bit away from the group inside the shop, but Clementine could still see the way his face was so twisted in agony. She had to look away, back down at the medicine; he needed antibiotics if he was ever going to survive, and if she delayed, he could die.

They both needed help, and it wasn't like giving them it would take hours, but it wouldn't be a few quick seconds, either. Both Rebecca and Troy were delirious right now, and would have to be calmed or forced down to take their respective medicine.

Rebecca needed painkillers to ensure she had the strength to deliver the baby.

Troy needed antibiotics to bring his fever down and survive.

Both of them needed the medicine now – but there was only one she could deliver to first.

What should I do?

[Take painkillers to Rebecca]

[Take antibiotics to Troy]

Chapter Text

Clementine stood there, her gaze trained on the antibiotics and painkillers in her hands. Her eyes dragged back and forth between the two items, apprehension slowly creeping onto her features. This was it – she had to make a tough decision, much like Lee had always done for her. Now that he couldn't, she appreciated him doing so on her behalf so much more.

What could she do? Rebecca was the obvious choice, as they were friends, but Troy... he needed these. How on earth could she hold two – possibly three – lives in her hands and make a decision based on who should get help first?

As she felt panic creeping up in her chest, breath hitching in her throat, the familiar, fierce snarls and growls of walkers echoed nearby, a miniature herd showing themselves at the gate Mike had locked. Their numbers kept increasing, their mutilated bodies slamming into the wire obstruction. Clawed hands poked through the holes in the gate, dead eyes glowing white like fireflies on a summer night.

Luke, Mike, and Bonnie left the gift shop to take care of the walkers; those who had guns prepared them, already beginning to fire at the walkers. Shots rang out like deadly fireworks, bullets flying into the skulls of the creatures. Nick followed, readying the rusty pipe they'd found at the playground.

"Clem! Jane! C'mon, we need y' t' help shoot 'em!" Luke cried, tossing a handgun over to Jane. As she caught it, Clementine gazed down at the medicine, closing her eyes for a brief moment before grabbing a bottle of water and running into the gift shop, not looking back.

[Take painkillers to Rebecca]

[Take antibiotics to Troy]

Luke's startled cry sounded behind her. "Clem!? Clem, wait, I need you!"

He didn't. There were plenty of people to give the gun to – he just felt comfortable with her because he'd known her longer than Mike and could probably trust her more than Bonnie currently. But she couldn't shoot the walkers right now; no one else would give a shit about Troy if she didn't help, and they could possibly have another walker on the inside, with easy access to Rebecca. "Give it to someone else!" she called back. "I need to do something first!"

Without hesitation, she knelt down to Troy, noting the man's shaking form felt even more fragile than it looked. Maybe it was because he was always acting like the top dog back at Howe's, but she hadn't noticed how scrawny he really was. His severed limb wasn't bleeding anymore, but it was swollen and red. She was no expert, but it looked infected; combined with the high fever, it made sense.

In the back of her mind, Clementine wondered if he was dying anyway from the bite he'd gotten in the herd, or if he'd been bitten after and had hidden it until now. Quickly, she inspected his shirt, not noticing any teeth marks through the fabric – such was the same of his pants. However, the threat of the old bite still possibly existed, as it wasn't proven that severing the limb would save the victim's life. Clementine just had to hope that this infection wasn't from the bite and could be healed.

Her hatchet was still at her side, of course, just in case she needed it. But she really couldn't put Troy down immediately; she had to try to save him first, after all the trouble she'd already went to.

Chewing on her lip apprehensively, she placed a small hand on his forehead, drawing it back a moment later after feeling how hot it was. The fever had already spiked, it seemed; again, she wasn't the best at this sort of thing, but she was the only one who cared at the moment.

"Troy," she hissed lowly, nudging his shoulder. "Troy, wake up."

"Rebecca, push!" Clementine could hear Sarita and Kenny instructing Rebecca through labor, the pregnant woman screaming in pain. Between the cries of pain and gunshots echoing from outside, the girl had trouble focusing on her current patient. She didn't dare turn around to look, not with Troy on the verge of death.

Overwhelmed by her surroundings, she had to shove him again, repeating her words a bit louder. "Troy, come on! You need to open your eyes!" The overstimulating environment made her angrier; why wasn't he listening to her!? After a few pushes, his head lolled to the side, and for a few frightening moments, Clementine feared he was dead.

However, ragged gasps continue to push out of his lips, and when he still didn't respond, she hit his remaining arm. "Open them! Now!" she snarled, shooting him an intense, frustrated glare. Finally, his tired eyelids lifted halfway to reveal glazed-over brown irises, shifting over to glance her way.

Well. Of course he'd be obedient on the verge of death. Suppressing a sigh and calming herself down, she took out two antibiotics for him and instructed, "Good. Now, open your mouth."

He didn't have a verbal answer for her, his eyes reflecting back a weakness she was a bit uncomfortable with, but eventually did as she said, parting his cracked lips for whatever she would give him. Honestly, his life was – quite literally – in her hands now, and he seemed to realize it. Either that, or he just didn't have the strength to do anything but what she told him to.

After giving him the medicine, she placed the water bottle to his lips, tilting his head up so he could drink. This scene was more than a little familiar; there had been a dying man by the river, hadn't there? One of the men that had attacked Christa in the woods was left to die on the banks of the stream, begging for the water bottle in her backpack. She'd obliged, knowing it probably was his last request and she didn't have the heart to refuse.

She always wondered what the story behind that scene was. Had it been Carver that'd stepped in, and killed all of them? Somehow, she couldn't see Carver showing quite that much brutality from the get-go (as he'd kept a level head when they'd first met). But, as she reminded herself, she couldn't know how such a man really thought, either – despite him trying to claim otherwise.

Shaking her head clear, she told herself that it wasn't the time to think about that, because there was someone now that needed her assistance. Someone that could be saved – hopefully.

Troy choked and sputtered at the water, the pills taking a bit of effort to swallow down, but after what felt like hours, he was able to keep them down. His chest spasmed with a particular heavy sigh, eyes still half-open and watching her like some sort of nearly-dead hawk.

"What?" she asked, eyebrows furrowed. Did he dare give her attitude now? When she'd just risked to get him those – what she'd given up to do so?

To her surprise, he didn't have a comment to make; then again, he seemed too exhausted to truly do that. He simply nodded to her, making a quick, minute bob of his head to indicate that he'd understood what she did for him. If she was being honest, she was a little uncomfortable at his silence. Someone usually so loud not saying a word was off-putting. All the same, his fever was still present, and she wasn't finished with him. But with the antibiotics in him, there was a few moments to spare; while they began to take effect to stop the infection, she could work to bring the fever down manually. But first, she had to give Rebecca what she'd denied her before.

"I'll be right back," she whispered to Troy, crawling over to the other group in peril next to them. Rebecca had the coat from the museum over her lap, Sarita helping to deliver the baby while Kenny eased her through breathing. Sarah stood by, almost hesitant to offer input, but held what little supplies they had nonetheless.

Clementine approached her friend, handing the other girl the painkillers and an extra water bottle to her. "These are for Rebecca," she explained, casting a glance over at the soon-to-be mother. "How... how is she doing?"

Sarah's eyes fell and with a shrug, she accepted the supplies. "Um, I'm not... sure, really. Sarita is letting me hold the supplies and make sure to watch Rebecca, but... it doesn't feel like I'm doing anything so far..."

"A lot of help comes after the baby is born, too," Clementine reminded her. "Sarita will need you, then. And if you want, you could help out with Troy, too."

The older girl nodded, gaze wandering over to the man's frail form, her teeth sinking into her bottom lip in apprehension. "I can help with him, Clem. I mean – I'll try to help with both, if I can-"

Rebecca let out a pained scream, making Sarah flinch and turn her attention back on her.

"Sarah, we need some water!" Sarita cried, her voice drowned out in all the noise her patient was making.

"I'll be back!" As quickly as she could, Sarah ran back to the three, handing the water bottle to them. It was probably a good thing that they found those jugs of water before, as it was safe to assume both Rebecca and Troy were dehydrated, and were going to need as much of it as they could get.

Rebecca's grip on Kenny's hand tightened as she pushed with effort, beads of sweat trickling down her forehead. The gunshots continued to echo outside the gift shop, muffled yells sounding from Luke and the others. Clementine could hardly pay attention to them, though – not with everything going on where she was. Two (almost three) people on the verge of life and death... how could she focus on anything else?

Hurrying over to Troy, Clementine felt his forehead again. There didn't seem to be a change yet in terms of temperature, but his breathing had calmed down a bit. His eyes were still slitted, but open, staring into her almost hauntingly. She didn't see an abusive second-in-command to Carver any longer; all she saw was a frightened, sick man.

"Clem!" Sarah reappeared at her side, an extra water bottle in her hands. "I left some water over there, and Sarita and Kenny will let me know if they need my help again."

Suddenly grateful for her friend's aid, Clementine nodded. "We need to bring his fever down. Any ideas?"

The girl with the glasses thought for a moment. "My, um... my dad used to put a washcloth on my forehead when I would get a fever. We can use a piece of his shirt to make one."

"Good idea." That was right; cooling down certain parts of the body helped with fevers. Clementine could recall how her mother had pressed her forehead with a cold compress when she had been sick herself, and how wonderful it felt.

Without thinking too much about the bittersweet memory, Clementine tore off a piece of Troy's shirt (speaking of, he'd need to bundle up with something soon, or else he'd freeze) and handed it over to Sarah. The girl dabbed water on it, smearing the coldness over the man's forehead. He shivered at the touch, his eyes not leaving Clementine's, but didn't try to get away. At least, he couldn't avoid anyone; whether or not he wanted to, she was unsure.

Awkwardly, she fidgeted as she leaned forward on her knees, checking over his body for anything else that seemed to be bothering him. The amputated area was doing just a bit better, and wasn't bleeding. Changing anything wouldn't do any good right now, so she'd have to wait until he was more conscious to help in that area.

He winced as Sarah continued to press the makeshift rag across his skin, another quiet groan leaving his lips. The girl offered what comfort she could, assuring him he'd be okay. The cloth left a path of cleanliness on his skin as she moved the cloth, collecting the dirt and blood and grease dotted across his face. He let out a weak whine of protest, but didn't give any other sign of fighting her.

This was... weird. If Clementine had been told that the very same girl Troy was okay with hitting would be wiping his forehead as he laid on the thin line between life and death, she honestly would have laughed. Because while it wasn't funny, it was just so damn ironic, considering how horrible he'd been to both girls. They didn't owe him anything, and yet... they continued to help. Despite everything that had happened in the world, the two of them held onto at least a fraction of her humanity and compassion. Maybe Sarah was doing it out of natural compassion, but Clementine consciously wanted to make the right choice.

Are you proud of me, Lee?

"Wh-...why are you... doin' this?" Troy's raspy voice made Clementine jump, snapping her out of her thoughts. At first, she thought she'd imagined it, but the way his eyes were a bit more open and looking straight at (rather than through) her made her respond.

Sarah didn't answer, so Clementine shushed him and replied, "Quiet. Don't move too much, Troy. How do you feel?"

"Like sh- shit. Why are you doin' this?" he repeated his previous question, blinking tiredly. His eyes trailed to Sarah, who purposefully avoided looking at him and concentrated on her work. Rebecca screamed again nearby, making him flinch. Slowly, he dragged his gaze over to her general direction, parting his cracked lips and muttering, "Wh... what the fuck is... goin' on...?"

Clementine followed his eyes to the woman, watching what was going on just a few feet away. Sarah was pressing a similar wet piece of cloth onto Rebecca's forehead, and Kenny was easing her through the process.

"That's it, c'mon, almost there Rebecca, y' can do it..." Kenny urged, patting the woman's hand as she struggled. Rebecca howled in agony, throwing her head back. It was the sudden shift in volume that made Clementine realize that the gunshots from outside had stopped.

Turning her attention to where Luke and the others had been shooting walkers, she noted the way they all yelled something at one another, running inside just before a loud crack shot through the air.

The ground rumbled underneath them; Troy's eyes widened to the size of miniature moons, his teeth clenching. "Wh- what is happenin'?" he hissed, gaze darting around wildly as the panic settled onto his features. Clementine grabbed his shoulder and gave it a squeeze (more or less out of instinct), knowing he couldn't move and was probably very confused.

Plus, she herself didn't really know what was going on.

"I'm going to go look..." she murmured to her friend.

"O-okay." Sarah looked uncomfortable, unsure of where to really go.

"Maybe you should stay here," Clementine suggested, and after receiving a nod in response, she stood up and almost ran into Luke, Mike, Bonnie, and Nick.

"Where's Jane?!" Bonnie yelled out, the three of them crowding around the entrance and blocking Clementine's view of the outside. She could hear something crumbling and snarls echoing from further away, but couldn't see.

Nearly shoving Luke out of the way, she peered outside and instantly took a step back, a frightened look crossing her face. The observation deck was completely gone, in complete shambles below. Walkers were stumbling around, some skewered on the support beams of the deck. Debris was scattered below, a striking golden-orange color sticking out among the browns of the rubble.

Clementine's stomach twisted as she recognized Jane, trapped underneath what remained of the observation deck. "Jane's still down there!" she shrieked, flashing a panicked look towards Luke. He responded with one of his own, not hesitating to turn around and crouch down at the edge, Clementine following behind.

"Jane! Can y' move!?" he called, but didn't receive an answer. She was muttering something to herself, eyes focused on freeing one of her legs caught under the rubble. Her eyes darted to the walkers approaching, the gears in her mind practically visibly turning to ensure her survival.

As she fought against the debris, Luke leaped down from what remained of the deck to aid her. Clementine watched as if she could somehow offer any support (when she knew she couldn't, really).

"That's it, Rebecca!" Sarita's joyful cry was almost drowned out in the blood roaring in Clementine's ears; she nearly forgot all about Rebecca, or Troy, or even the baby in the midst of the collapse. She watched helplessly as Luke fired his gun into the walkers approaching, lifting a few pieces of the deck off of the trapped woman. However, she hissed in pain the moment she tried to stand up, prompting the man to lift her in his arms.

With a yelp, Jane swatted at him. "Put me the fuck down!" she snapped, flailing. Luke held on, though, replying that it was either accept his help or die, and she shut up rather quickly. He attempted to lift her onto the deck, but the edge was too far.

"Fuck! We can't reach!" he cried out, stating the obvious as despair washed over both their faces.

A large figure appeared next to Clementine before she could share their reaction. Nick leaned down, nearly falling over the edge himself, and held out his hand like a lure looking for fish. "Luke! Luke, man, hold on!" he called, his tall stature letting him reach Jane's hand and yank her up. However, even Nick's size couldn't allow him to pull her up alone; Mike and Bonnie grabbed onto the man from behind, yanking up the woman dangling for her life above nearby walker jaws.

Nick barely let Jane up before he let go, bending down to grab onto Luke's outstretched hand. The man appeared on the edge, climbing up onto the remnants of the deck and crawling forward inside, the others following in turn.

However, right before they all rushed inside, Clementine caught Jane's gaze; she still looked rather disheveled, but was trying to play it off by brushing a hand behind her ear, tucking back what little hair she had. But Clementine could see right through her.

"Things are better when you're alone, huh?" she asked icily, quirking an eyebrow knowingly.

Jane's lips parted as though she wanted to say something, but ultimately, nothing came out. Instead, she simply brushed past the girl.

Clementine watched her limp inside and sit down. Her own gaze trailed between Troy still laying in pain and the pinkish brownish squirming thing in Sarita's hands. All at once, she connected the dots; Rebecca's cries had been replaced by those of the baby's.

The baby was alive.

Brightening, she approached the new mother, watching Rebecca smile towards her child. It looked sort of strange, like an alien life-form or something. Clementine wondered if that was the look of all babies just born – if she had looked like that once.

None of the adults seemed worried, so she could only assume that it was normal. "It's a boy," Sarita announced, cleaning off her hands with one of the stray scraps of fabric laid around Rebecca. The mother's gaze melted gently as she held her son for the first time.

"I'm so glad to meet you," she murmured, holding him close. "I wish you could've met your dad, but I'm going to love you for the both of us. I promise." She cast an exhausted look over to the group watching her, nodding her thanks to each of them.

"He's so cute!" Sarah exclaimed, rejoining the group at the sight of the newborn.

"You think? All new babies look the same to me. Like little aliens," Mike replied, crossing his arms.

Bonnie smacked him playfully with a smirk. "They ain't aliens," she snorted, "but I will admit he's really cute for a newborn."

"He is," Sarita agreed, giving a warm smile to the new mother. "We should all give her some space, though..."

Kenny agreed, shuffling the group away from Rebecca. "It got pretty dark out there. Think we should hit the hay – though we should watch 'er in shifts during the night, in case she needs us."

Clementine nodded. "We could use someone for Troy, too..." she added, casting a glance over at the sick man laying nearby. "I think he's more... with it, but someone will definitely need to keep an eye on him."

Luke nodded. "That sounds like a good idea. Anyone wanna take the first watch?"

"I'll watch Rebecca first," Clementine volunteered, raising her hand slightly. "I'm not tired."

Sarita flashed her a warm smile. "That's very kind of you, Clementine. I'll relieve you after a few hours, okay?" The girl nodded in response.

With a sigh, Jane spoke up. "If you're gonna make me do it eventually, I should just get it over with first, I guess. I'll take first watch on Troy." Everyone was a bit surprised, but at the same time, it did make sense. Jane was clever; she wouldn't have to deal with the responsibility if she got through it early.

"You'll need to keep his fever down," Clementine instructed. "I left a bottle of water and a piece of fabric over there..." The man still looked fairly sick, but had settled back down into sleep. Jane's face twisted with displeasure, clearly unhappy with her current task. All the same, though, she replied with a wordless nod.

Sarah's quiet voice sounded nearby. "Um, I can... help after you," she murmured, apprehensive eyes cast downwards.

"That should last us til mornin'," Kenny concluded. "We should head on out at first light."

"Uh, what?" Luke practically squawked, eyebrows knitting down angrily. "Rebecca just gave birth, okay, and she ain't gonna be up for that yet. We should wait a few days and let her rest."

"What good is waitin' here gonna do?" the older man argued. "This place ain't safe – Jane nearly died out there."

"I'm fine," the woman grumbled from the side, narrowing her eyes. "I'm not made of glass, grandpa."

"Regardless," Luke interrupted, stepping in between them before a fight broke out, "it ain't safe to travel like this. How are lurkers gonna get in up here? We'll keep the place guarded."

Kenny shook his head. "We can't afford t' wait any longer, kid, and unless you got a supply'a food hidden somewhere, we could fuckin' starve."

"Look, Rebecca needs to rest," Luke argued. "And God knows we all could use some time to sit down and just collect ourselves-"

"What do you think, Clem?" Nick interrupted, pursing his lips. The girl thought for a moment, though there really was no question here. With Troy, Rebecca, and the baby, there was absolutely no way she could see them traveling safely by the next morning. It was too much of a risk, especially with the new life they were now carrying with them.

Firmly, Clementine replied, "I want to stay here for a few days. It can't hurt us if we keep on guard."

Kenny's teeth gnashed together in frustration, but he clearly didn't want to start an argument with her. Either that, or he realized his choice wasn't what anyone else wanted (not that that had stopped him before).

Sarita was probably the final deal-breaker for him, however, as she stepped up and said, "Kenny, Rebecca and Troy are much too weak to move on immediately. The baby needs time to rest, as well." Once she appealed about the child, Kenny seemed to finally get it through his head. He still looked unhappy, but didn't question it and simply nodded.

Rebecca leaned against the wall, making herself comfortable as she leaned AJ down, under her coat to keep warm. She looked extremely worn and weakened, but still had a proud expression on her face all the same. The fire that had once been in her eyes had dulled to embers; however, at least it was still lit. As long as Rebecca had that fire, Clementine was sure she would make it.

The girl rested beside the new mother, closing her eyes briefly and letting out a long sigh. She could see the others curled up asleep on the other side of the 'room,' all huddled together to keep warm. Jane was sitting a ways off next to Troy, who was still sleeping.

"How's he doing?" Clementine asked, her eyes focused on the child.

"He's perfect. I was thinking Alvin Jr.," Rebecca rasped, gazing down warmly at her son. "AJ for short."

Clementine brightened. "I like that name." And she was sure Alvin would have loved it, too. "Though Alvin was convinced you were having a girl."

She snorted, shaking her head. "That man never had a knack for those types of things. The big oaf couldn't predict the weather even after he'd looked at the week's forecast."

"He'd be happy to know that AJ's healthy, though," Clementine reasoned. Alvin may not have been here to see the birth of his child, but she knew that he was watching over them. At least, she hoped as much; he was watching with Carlos, and Katjaa, and Duck, and Lee...

"Would you like to hold him?" Rebecca asked, breaking the girl's thoughts. She shifted the infant towards her, eyebrow raised in curiosity.

Clementine beamed in excitement. "Could I?"

"Of course. You're family." She cradled the child and moved forward slightly, carefully placing him in Clementine's arms. Once he was settled, she leaned back again, letting out an exhausted breath.

The girl's heart pounded as she gazed down at AJ, her lips curling into a soft smile. It was so relieving to see a new life when death was all she had been seeing for so long. This child didn't know what sort of world he was born into, but he was lucky to have people who care so much for him. Clementine felt her chest swell with warmth; she vowed to protect AJ like a big sister. "You were right, Rebecca," she remarked, "we got to meet someone new."

Smiling back, the woman nodded. "That's right. My little man... and he's healthy, too."

"How are you feeling?"

Rebecca shrugged. "...weak, I suppose. But relieved. Glad it's all over with."

"You should sleep," Clementine suggested. "I'll hold him."

Rebecca nodded, handing over her child without question. Clementine was sort of glad that the woman wasn't like the mother raccoon she'd once seen in her treehouse with her babies. The moment she'd tried to get close to them, she began to hiss and snap her tiny jaws. It was just nature – but Rebecca trusted Clementine enough to let her watch AJ while she slept.

The new mother laid down, covering herself in the coat they'd found in the museum. Within minutes, she was asleep.

Clementine sat in silence for a while, watching Rebecca's side rise and fall in a rhythm. AJ was curled up in Clementine's arms, and if she closed her eyes, she could hear their breaths in sync.

The rest of the group seemed just as still and quiet – save for Luke, who was outside keeping watch on what remained of the deck. Sarah was sleeping between Nick and Luke, the three of their bodies pressed closely together for warmth. Kenny and Sarita were in the same fashion, as well as Mike and Bonnie. Jane was still at her post watching Troy with her bad leg outstretched, the edge of her boot touching his shoulder. Clementine wasn't sure if she meant it, but the slightest touch seemed to keep Troy asleep. It showed that even he needed some comfort, too.

Clementine curled up, drawing her knees to her chest, and tried to blank out her thoughts. It was nice to just enjoy the silence for a while. In a world where she was constantly fighting for survival, the downtime was something she didn't just enjoy, but craved. Anytime where she could just sit in peace and quiet was appreciated.

In fact, the silence was a treasure.

She hadn't realized how long she was sitting there, zoning out and making sure AJ was settled, but both Sarita and Sarah approached her sooner than she'd been expecting.

"I'm here to take over the watch, Clementine. You can sleep if you want," the Indian woman said, warmly. Clementine hadn't even realized that it had been a few hours; the time went by quicker than he thought.

"I'm not tired yet. I'll stay up for a little longer," she replied with a casual shrug.

Sarah smiled, a bit sheepishly, and replied, "I'm not tired either. I mean, I don't have to watch Troy yet – Jane told me to wait a few minutes – but I can't just go back to sleep. It's like my mind's awake now."

"An active mind is a good thing, Sarah," Sarita chuckled, sitting down next to Clementine. The older girl took a seat as well, leaning her head back against the wall.

Clementine wrinkled her nose. "I hate thinking too much."

"Yeah," Sarah said with a nod, "it's the worst... but sometimes all you can do is think, I guess."

"We need better things to think about."

"Yeah! Like... um... how many different ice cream flavors we can name?" Sarah suggested, earning a smile from her friend in response. "Next time I'm overthinking, I'll try that!"

"That sounds like fun," Sarita commented, smiling at the two of them. "Here, I'll take him," she offered, gently picking AJ up when Clementine handed him to her. She cradled the child in her own arms, gently bouncing and shushing him quietly.

"It's amazing, you know," she murmured, her eyes glittering as she looked back to the two girls. "The miracle of life."

Clementine suddenly recalled that the woman had been a nurse before walkers showed up. She'd probably seen her fair share of babies. "Are they all this... squishy-looking when they're born?"

Sarah giggled quietly, and Sarita echoed with an amused laugh of her own. "Yes, I suppose you could say that," she said, "I know Nilani was."


"Oh, pardon me." The woman leaned back, gazing down at the quiet bundle she was holding. "Nilani was my daughter."

A cold sensation suddenly pooled in Clementine's stomach, as if she'd been punched there. Hearing people talk about their lives before everything just made her feel sad; everyone had such normal lives until the walkers, and she already could tell that this story didn't have a happy ending. They never did.

The two girls exchanged glances, both feeling the awkwardness of the situation come on so suddenly. "What, um... what was she like?" Sarah asked, a bit hesitant. Her eyes were wide with curiosity, though, a clear window to her interest.

Sarita closed her eyes thoughtfully, as though millions of memories were flowing through her mind. Or perhaps they were whipping by like pieces of paper in the wind, just out of her reach. With a frown, her eyes opened again and she replied, "She was a beautiful little girl... always happy and smiling. We didn't celebrate traditional holidays, but she was very interested in them." With an almost bitter smile, she added, "The other children in her class made her so jealous talking about Christmas and Halloween. I think she wanted to celebrate with them."

Clementine leaned back more against the wall, listening to Sarita. The look in her eyes when she spoke about her child... it was the same look that Kenny had when he talked about Duck and Katjaa. Nick wore it when he had reminisced about his mother. Jane with her sister, Christa about Omid... Clementine probably had the same look every time she mentioned Lee or her parents.

It was the look of lost love. A look of complete, hopeless, devastating loss and grief. Luke had said that family was the most important thing in this world, but what of those who'd already lost theirs?

"Sounds like she was very loved," she murmured.

Sarita nodded. "Oh, yes. Very much. You remind me a little of her, Clementine. You, and Sarah." Flashing a smile, she continued, "Nilani was very bright; her first spelling test in first grade was a perfect score. She had trouble with the word 'bread' but had practiced so much with me that she knew it like the back of her hand." Softly, she laughed to herself, shaking her head. "I'm sorry, I don't know why I'm focusing on that tiny detail."

Clementine shrugged and grinned. "Sometimes, all you can focus on are the little memories. My dad liked to clip out the comics section of the newspaper every morning. He'd hang them on the refrigerator door for me to read. Er... try to read, anyway."

Sarah picked at her nails, biting her lip. " mom used to fasten my dad's tie every morning. But she never could do it right, so he'd have to redo it once she'd already left for work."

This was the first mention of the girl's mother, and Clementine couldn't help but be curious of the type of person she was, and what exactly happened to her. But she knew better than to pry, and merely gave her friend an acknowledging smile.

Come to think of it, she remembered Katjaa mentioning that Duck was allergic to bees when he was dying from the walker bite. Things like that were so insignificant in every day life, but suddenly became precious memory pearls after the world ended.

Sarita closed her eyes. "Perhaps you both are onto something. We should hang onto those memories we have while we can, and cherish those who aren't here any longer." AJ made a cooing noise, prompting the woman to shush him gently, bouncing him slightly in her arms. "Shh, shh... little one, it's alright..."

Clementine feared for a moment that he'd break out in a loud cry, but thankfully, he calmed down and went back to sleep. She let out the breath she didn't realize she was holding.

Her lips pursing, Sarita's gaze fell onto AJ. After a few moments of silence, she whispered, "Those memories of Nilani... I won't let them die. She was the light of my life." Her eyes darkened, and she dragged her eyes to stare ahead, into nothingness. "Once she was gone, it had been complete darkness for a long, long while."

There it was. Clementine had assumed as much, but she still didn't like hearing about death – though it was the norm nowadays. Fidgeting, she hesitated asking the question that burned in the deepest parts of her mind: What happened to her?

However, Sarita beat her to the punch, not even waiting for the question. As if she could read Clementine's mind, she sighed, "She was killed shortly after her seventh birthday." Her voice cracked, and a film of tears seemed to envelop her eyes, but she shook them away.

Sarah stared, her mouth agape like a fish, but couldn't say anything. Clementine, too, felt helpless, unaware of how to even react. It was the same with Kenny and Duck – she just didn't know what to say to a parent who'd lost their child. She knew how to help Sarah because she was a walking example of the opposite scenario herself.

Sarita continued. "We didn't live in the best neighborhood. Nilani was playing outside when she was struck by a car. She never saw it coming; my little girl's brain was severely damaged in a matter of seconds. My husband and I rushed her to the hospital, of course, but the doctors... They could not save her."

Curling her legs to her chest, Sarita murmured, "I blamed them for so long. The driver, of course, but also the doctors who could not do their jobs and save people. A bit after Nilani's death, I vowed to not be like the doctors that couldn't help her. I studied to be a nurse to help save children. I kept telling myself that I would do better." Her fingers clenched tightly in her free hand, a far-off look in her eyes. "I wanted to make sure no other child died because of inadequate performance. I told myself Nilani could be saved, but honestly... I don't know that for sure."

Without warning, small tears trickled down her face; Clementine nearly jumped in surprise, offering a sympathetic look. Sarah had already broken into a soft sob, as well, leaning her head on Sarita's shoulder. The woman moved her head to nudge against the girl's in return, providing mutual comfort. It all seemed to be coming out at once; maybe it was AJ making Sarita remember what it was like to hold her own child.

"Oh..." she sniffed, rubbing at her arm with her sleeve. "I'm sorry, girls. I don't think of her often, but I suppose every once in a while... I just need to get it out, or it will consume me."

Grief often worked like that. Hadn't Lee told her something like that once? That the moment after she saw her parents, it would be horrible and painful for so long, but eventually, it would subside? That it wouldn't hurt as much someday? That was partly true; it didn't hurt as much as the initial shock of seeing her parents as walkers, yes, but it did still throb dully within her, like a scar. Three scars – one for Mom, one for Dad, and one for Lee.

But the more one bottled up their sadness, the worse it became to them, and Clementine realized this, too. She allowed herself to feel the sorrow of loss, and didn't try to bottle it up – doing so was dangerous, after all.

"Sarita, that's so sad," Sarah sniffed, shaking her head. "How did you get through that? I miss my dad so much, and you... kept going after losing your daughter..."

"Loss is never easy," the Indian woman replied gently. "And it never truly goes away. But... to live on for those who are gone... I think that's even more important in the world now. Kenny... I know he's lost a lot, but he keeps going. We found comfort in one another, and the strength to live."

Clementine nodded, recalling the similar words she'd told Sarah in the trailer. Even now, those words stick with her. Lee would want her to survive.

"I think... I think Nilani would have been happy you worked to save kids' lives," Sarah commented quietly. "It's not your fault she died." Neither of the girls could offer much comfort, but Sarah seemed to be better at it overall.

Sarita did appreciate it, though, judging by the smile on her face. "Thank you," she whispered, turning to both of them. "And Clementine, you asked me why I didn't help Kenny with Carlos before. I can tell you now."

Clementine nodded, rubbing at the back of her neck uncomfortably. Sarah was biting at her bottom lip at the mention of her dad, but shook her head to clear it moments after.

"I... wanted to, I really did," Sarita explained, "I was just struck with the sudden worry that Kenny wouldn't make it, and it would be Nilani all over again. It was one of my main problems in the nursing field; if I knew the person I would be treating, I would freeze up. My best friend's son had to be operated on by someone else because I was having anxiety. It was a mess." She shook her head, running a hand through her dark hair.

Well that explained it, the girl supposed; Sarita was scared, and despite knowing how to treat Kenny, she was too paralyzed by that fear to do anything. Clementine felt a new rush of pity towards the woman; she'd been through hardships, and no one even bothered to ask her these things. Not that people should pry, but not many in the group (save for Kenny) really spoke to Sarita. If they were all going to travel together, the least they could do was get to know each other a bit.

Clementine realized with dismay that that also applied to Troy. A sour taste splashed at the back of her throat at the thought; it seemed like she'd have to force herself to get to know him – if he'd let her.

"I'm just glad Kenny's okay. It's not your fault, Sarita – it's no one but Carver's." The man had, after all, struck Kenny down in the first place. Then again, who'd taken the radio that had gotten him in trouble? Clementine felt that familiar guilt bubbling up within her, but she banished it before it could take control of her. It was the last thing she needed right now.

A yawn passed by her lips, making the girl realize just how tired she really was. Sarita took notice, urging her to go to sleep. "You'll need to be rested when we move on in a few days," she pointed out, shooing the girl off to bed like a parent would.

Clementine normally wouldn't appreciate the mother hen act, but she was too tired to fight it. With a nod, she stood up and walked over to the others, curling up. One of the last things she heard before slipping off into sleep was Sarah taking her post at Troy's side for the rest of the night.

It wasn't quite morning yet; dawn's light hadn't started to shine through the opening on the deck, and some of the birds were still asleep. Clementine's eyes still opened, however, and she was met with the sight of Nick snoring next to her. With an amused grin, she shook her head and flipped herself over, about to go back to sleep again.

However, since there was no one on the opposite side of her, she noticed she had a clear view of Sarah and Troy, who were sitting within earshot. They didn't notice her looking, though, so she curiously kept her gaze on them.

Troy was sitting up now, his face still looking slightly pale but considerably better, and gulped down a swig of the water bottle in his hand. Clearly thirsty, he nearly finished off the bottle, handing it back over to the girl.

"Thanks," he gasped, wiping at his mouth with his arm.

"N... no problem," Sarah replied, looking quite nervous. Clementine didn't blame her, though, and she didn't know why Sarah would volunteer to be one of the first to watch the irritating man. After all, he hadn't been kind at all to her, and she owed him nothing. None of them owed him anything.

But Sarah, like Sarita, was just a good person – that much was obvious in every little action they took.

Troy leaned against the wall, his gaze trailing down to his severed limb. "Fuck," he muttered, closing his eyes.

"What does it, um... feel like?" the girl asked quietly.

"Ever hear'a 'ghost pains'? Think I get why they're so fuckin' annoying now. It feels like it's still there... and it hurts like all hell."

Sarah swallowed hard, fidgeting with the water bottle. "I have heard of those... um, I think it's common in amputees... I'm sorry, though... How do you feel otherwise?"

"What, it ain't obvious? I'm fucking sore, Sarah – and weak as fuck. Jesus Christ, you really are fuckin' stupid."

The girl's eyes narrowed, her lips pursing into a frown. "You don't have to be so mean, you know."

"Gimme a reason why, you little shit."

"Because I helped save your life!" Sarah blurted out, not loud enough to wake anyone, but loud enough to connect with Troy. "I don't know why you're so mean, but we're trying to help you. You... you wouldn't be here... if it wasn't for Clem. She's making sure you're taken care of, a-and we brought your fever down, so... s-so...!"

"So...?" he hissed, making a face. Clearly, he was not keen on being protested against. As someone who was used to being the bully, being the 'victim' must be a hard switch – not that Clementine pitied him one bit; it was his own fault, after all.

"So... s-so..." Sarah couldn't finish her thoughts, and merely shook her head, gazing down. Troy didn't challenge it, though, and merely shrugged, his glare subsiding for the time being.

Clementine felt a silence wash over the two of them, and she almost felt as though she'd begin to doze off again. However, before she could, Troy finally spoke. His words were low and as quiet as he could manage, but she still managed to hear.

"...I guess I shouldn't be yellin' at y'all, then. If you're goin' this far..." he muttered, rolling his eyes. "Don't think that makes me your fuckin' equal, though."

Sarah blinked, her face draining of emotion. "Is it scary?" she asked calmly, keeping her gaze on Troy.

He didn't respond with anger like Clementine thought he would. In fact, she would have bet money (if money meant anything anymore) that he would've said something along the lines of 'None of your fuckin' business, you little shit!'. But instead, he simply stared back, teeth clenched tightly.

"Yeah," he simply murmured. "I... I dunno if I can do it. Survive, I mean." In a rare moment of weakness, Troy lowered his head like a defeated animal. "I keep imaginin' myself dyin' in horrible ways 'cause of this." He gave a long, disgusted look towards the stump left behind from the amputation, eventually pushing a long sigh past his lips, eyes shutting tightly.

Clementine wondered if the fever was making him put his ever-present guard down – if he still was sick at all. He seemed to be doing much better, though still had some physical symptoms. At least he was up and talking, though, despite his words being very... un-Troy-like.

Sarah swallowed hard. "Back before... all this happened, there was a dog, Toby, that lived up the street. He was a good dog! But I think he was, um, abused. Our neighbors got him from a shelter, and he only had three legs." Before he could interject, she flashed him a requesting glance to silence him and continued, "At first, he surprised me a little, just because it was so out of the ordinary to see a dog like that. But Toby was just like any other dog, really; he could walk, and eat, and run... It was like he didn't even notice anything was gone."

Of course, Troy didn't take that as an inspirational story meant for his benefit, like he should have. Instead, his lips curled back in a snarl, voice growing louder in anger as he growled, "Are – are you comparin' me to a fucking dog?!"

The girl flinched at the volume, shrinking back a bit at the fierceness of his words. "I'm – I'm s- I'm s-sor... I'm sorry!"

Troy froze at the apology, the rage practically melting off his face. After a few moments of silence between the two, he finally let out another long sigh. His eyebrows knitting together, he lifted his hand and ran it through his hair, pulling lightly at the dirty strands of brown.

Finally, he spoke – though Clementine really had to strain her ears to hear him. It was a low whisper, very unlike him once again, and held a certain emotion she couldn't quite place.

"No," he mused with a distant look in his eyes, "Y' might've gotten it right. In the end, I guess I am just a dog."

Chapter Text

"Ow!" The man hissed, flinching his body away from the girl as best he could, teeth snapping like an animal. His avoidance only made her hold on tighter to the stump that was once his arm, her eyes narrowed to try to get him to stop wriggling. "That hurts, y'know!"

"Quit moving! Or it's only going to hurt worse," she chided, spraying the open wound again with what was left of the antiseptic. Troy howled in pain, eyes screwing shut.

The brown-haired man scowled, almost pouting like a child would, before he finally settled himself long enough for her to wrap up the scabbing injury. Clementine rolled her eyes and finished adjusting the gauze to the wound, sealing it with a few tight knots. She could feel the man relax underneath her, his muscles deflating as the adrenaline to get away seemed to fade away once the constant pain had died down.

It had been two and a half days since they'd decided to rest at the gift shop, and for the most part, things had been alright. They'd lived sparingly off the small amount of food they'd found at the pharmacy, and all of them had made it through the cold nights – even Troy, Rebecca, and AJ. The three weakest members of their party were recovering slowly; at the very least, AJ was still cared for and Troy seemed to be back to his unpleasant self.

Without hesitation, Clementine placed a hand on the man's forehead, gauging the lack of intense heat as a good sign. "Your fever's gone," she commented with a small smile, "or at the very least, it's not dangerous anymore."

"Good. About fuckin' time," he sighed, swatting at her hand to get her away. Once she was finished changing his bandages, she sat back on her knees and gave him a quick glance-over.

Really, she knew exactly why she was the one taking care of the amputee, but it didn't make it suck any less. Troy complained and whined a lot, but at least he wasn't half-dead anymore. It was bittersweet, she supposed; he was feeling better, but once more was opening up his mouth.

"Do you think you'll be alright to travel?" she asked. If he said no, she wasn't exactly sure what he'd do; he'd have to move. Thankfully, though, he merely nodded, leaning back against the wall.

Looking around, Clementine checked to see if the rest of the group looked like they were fit to leave. Nick and Luke were preparing whatever items they could find in the backpacks left over from the drug store, arguing about who should carry what. Kenny and Sarita were making sure Rebecca could stand and hold onto her baby safely, while Sarah hovered nearby for support. Bonnie and Mike were both stretching, as though they'd just awoken, and Jane was off to the side (brooding, as usual).

After Rebecca was standing and steady, Sarah hurried over to Clementine and Troy. "Um, how are you feeling?" she asked the one-armed man, who simply gave her a nonchalant shrug in response.

Since the little chat between Sarah and Troy that Clementine had overheard, the two had gotten along a little better; he wasn't as hostile towards the girl, and didn't seem more than ready to hit her every time he looked at her, either. It was almost like Troy was a dog, a wounded animal being taken care of by a kind soul, and feeling loyalty to that person as a result.

He was growing used to Sarah being around him, at the very least. In return, Sarah didn't seem as frightened of him, and almost didn't hesitate before asking, "Can I... check your pulse?"

Quirking a brow, Troy opened his mouth to argue, but (presumably) thought better of it and just shrugged again. "I don't care. You're gonna do what y' like anyway, ain't you?"

The girl smiled, placing her fingers onto his wrist and paused to feel and gauge the rate of Troy's heart. The silence that befell the three of them was awkward, Sarah not meeting the man's eyes and choosing to focus on her friend instead. Clementine gave her an amused look, mouthing two words that would clue Sarah in on what to think about: 'ice cream'.

Sarah giggled, turning to her patient. "What's your favorite ice cream flavor?" she asked, her grin stretching wider.

Troy blinked, almost as though he was unsure he'd heard her properly. "Does it fuckin' matter?" he finally growled. "World's turned to shit, anyway. Ain't gonna find any ice cream around."

Frowning, the girl replied, "Well, I – I guess you're right, but... if the world wasn't all... bad? Or, um, think before – what was your favorite?"

"Why do you wanna know?" Troy snapped, eyes narrowing into a glare. "Seriously, this shit has nothing to do with anythin', so just keep your trap shut!"

Sarah flinched, gazing down at his wrist. Her fingers tightened around it, her eyes closing. "...I think it's good to remember things from before. Just... in case you're ever sad, you can think about your favorite ice cream flavor, or maybe what you liked to do on the weekends–"

"It don't matter," the man repeated, a bit quieter. "Look, I don't like t' think about that kinda shit. Y' gotta forget about bein' 'sad' completely. S'the only way t' survive in this shit world."

Clementine narrowed her own gaze. "Maybe people don't want to move on. Maybe we lost people we care about and don't want to forget about how much we miss them."

"Sometimes y' gotta," Troy snarled. "You brats ain't the only people who lost someone, y'know." His heart wasn't in the malicious tone he usually tacked onto the end of his words, and he ended up shaking his head to clear it. "Look, I don't – let's just forget about it, alright?"

Sarah's gaze fell, but she nodded in return. "I was just trying to help... sorry. From what I know, um, your pulse seems normal. Are you having anymore ghost pains?"

Troy rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. "Yeah, they're still there. Been goin' in and out for the past few days."

"I think that's normal," the girl replied, biting her lip. "And we can't do anything about it."

"I know," he replied with yet another shrug. Clementine supposed with one less limb he was prone to using his shoulders to express himself more often now – either that, or he really just was passive or clueless about everything Sarah was asking.

"Hey, Clem! Can you c'mere?" Luke called out from across the gift shop, waving her over. Thankful for a distraction and knowing that Troy was in good hands with Sarah, she hurried over to the man. Nick was standing next to him, the two giving her their attention; she glanced up at them expectantly.

"What is it? Are we ready to go?"

Luke bent down to her level, meeting her eyes. This was one of her favorite things about Luke; he treated her with respect and met her gaze, rather than always looking down on her. She smiled as he gave a firm nod. "Yeah, we should be just about ready. How's Troy doin'?"

Clementine shrugged. "Fine, I guess. His fever's gone, and according to Sarah, he seems to be stable..." She knew scratch about medical treatment apart from the basics, so she was useless if he wanted any details. It didn't seem like he was that curious, though, judging by the way he once more nodded.

"I don't know how she can handle him, to be honest," he murmured, looking over at the two of them. Clementine followed his gaze, noting the way Sarah looked a bit more comfortable than before speaking to Troy. He had a look on his face that he wasn't too interested in whatever she was saying, but he also didn't look hostile, either.

Things between them were odd, but so long as he wasn't hurting her, Clementine didn't care. At least he wasn't threatening to hit her every few seconds, nor bragging about how hard he would do it.

"Maybe she sees him as an injured animal," she suggested with a shrug. "Kind of like... a bird with a broken wing."

Nick nodded thoughtfully. "I guess that makes sense. Sarah's the type to pick up something like that if she saw it was hurt, I think – even an asshole bird."

"Like a rooster," Luke chimed in, giving a chuckle.

Brightening, the girl smirked. "He'll be good to go soon, but we need to give him something better to wear than a t-shirt. Oh, and a weapon would be good, too." She didn't like keeping watch on him; Troy knew his way around a gun, that much was certain, and if he could just use it to protect himself, it wouldn't be a problem.

Nick looked apprehensive. "I'm just... a little hesitant. What if he shoots one of us?"

"We can easily overpower him, and he knows it," Clementine pointed out. "I don't think he'll try anything." She was honestly surprised by her own words; since when did she have so much faith in Troy? Who was to say he wouldn't shoot someone the moment they gave him a spare pistol? Somehow, it just didn't feel possible now, not with how much she went through just to keep the asshole alive.

He wouldn't hurt his saviors, would he?

Nerves gnawed at her insides; what was the right option?

[ Give Troy a gun ]

[ Don't give Troy a gun ]

"We have to," she pursued, shaking her head in dismissal. "Without a weapon and with only one arm, we'd be sending Troy to death."

Luke pursed his lips in thought. "Clem's got a point. He can't really defend himself in his condition without somethin'."

Nick blinked. "Fine, fine, just – be careful."

Clementine had to smile; since when was Nick, of all people, concerned about being careful? The man who'd nearly shot Clementine herself the moment they met, for no reason other than an itchy trigger finger? It was a sign that he was changing, at least; he seemed more cautious nowadays, which wasn't a bad thing.

"Okay, do we have any guns to spare?" she asked, looking around at the group. It looked like Kenny, Mike, Bonnie, Jane, Luke, and Nick had guns at their sides – but were there any extras?

Fortunately, Luke nodded. "We took what we could from Howe's. Think there's an extra revolver – hey! Mike!" He called over, turning his head to look at the man with the scarred ear. Mike was standing against the wall, waiting for the group to be ready to move on; he approached them once Luke waved him over.

"What's up?"

Clementine requested the aforementioned revolver, crossing her arms when his eyebrows raised in almost... surprise.

"Uh..." Mike stammered, rubbing the back of his neck, "What's a kid gonna do with two guns?"

"I'm not just a kid," Clementine snapped, narrowing her eyes. "And it's for Troy."

Understanding wormed its way into the man's features, but a scowl still settled on his lips all the same. "Yeah, not so sure Troy deserves anything I'd give him, but... I guess you got a point and all. Guy's gonna be lurker chow if we don't give him something..."

"I can hear y'all, y'know!" Troy hissed from a ways off, flinching as he attempted to get into a kneeling position. Clementine raised a brow as she watched him struggle to do it, waving off Sarah as she attempted to help and getting his trembling knees on the ground. Once he made it that far, he went further, standing up shakily before using the wall behind him as a slight support. He did seem to be doing better, though – the rest had been worth it for that.

Mike snorted and called back, "So? You gonna dispute it? You won't get a gun if you put up a good argument."

Troy's jaw clenched tightly in frustration, but he ultimately said nothing.

"Seems he got the point," Luke commented with a shrug.

"Anyway," the girl continued sternly, reaching out her hand. "The gun?"

"Yeah, yeah..." Mike sighed, clearly reluctant, but reached to his side and unhooked the small revolver, handing it over to the child. "It's got enough bullets to last a little while. I hope he knows we can't waste 'em, though."

Clementine shrugged as she gazed over the silver weapon. "Hopefully." She didn't doubt he knew the value of a weapon, knowing he always had one to tote around back at Howe's. With a nod to the three, she made her way back to Sarah and Troy, pausing before handing the gun over to Troy.

"I'm going to give this to you, but only if you promise to use it for killing walkers only," she began carefully, casting an icy stare his way. "Please don't make me regret this, Troy."

The man sighed, shaking his head and pushing himself forward off the wall, standing as straight as he could and meeting her gaze. His jaw once more clenched tightly, a habit she'd noticed him doing often the more she was around him. With a firm nod, he replied, "I know. I ain't gonna. Believe it or not, I don't got a reason to turn on y'all. If anythin', I can... sorta see why y'all would wanna turn on me." With a scowl, he added quickly, "Don't mean I ain't keepin' my eyes on you!"

With a roll of her eyes, Clementine replied, "Same here." He was right – they had no reason to trust him. At least he was aware of it, though; that alone made her feel slightly better about her decision to give him a weapon. If nothing else, she could say Troy knew his place.

"Not a bad gun, though," he replied thoughtfully, inspecting the revolver. "Colt Python, .357 Magnum. Fires nice, handles well... Bill had one'a these."

Pursing her lips, Clementine snapped, "We probably got it from him, then." She didn't really know the origin of the gun, but Troy's admiration for the gun – and his former leader – was enough to make her question what he was ultimately going to do with the firearm. "After Kenny killed him."

Troy's brow furrowed, an annoyed look crossing his features, but he merely placed the gun on his belt.

Sarah perked up suddenly, clearly oblivious to anything related to weapons. "Oh! I almost forgot! Be right back." Sarah turned around, darting deeper into the gift shop and rummaging through something behind the checkout counter. Troy and Clementine exchanged a glance; she seemed so determined to find whatever it was that they couldn't help but be curious.

After a few moments, the girl returned, a dark blue hoodie in her hands. "This looks like it's your size... I'm glad I found it." Handing it over to Troy, she smiled as he reached out to grab it, a sheepish look crossing her face. "Sorry about... what's on it."

Troy got a good look at the jacket, his eyes growing wider as he noticed the bright white block letters spelling out "PARKER'S RUN," splotches of neon colors dotted over the letters in decoration. Clementine stifled a chuckle; she'd seen such souvenirs before – they reminded her of those sold in boardwalk shops at the beach. Apparently, the civil war gift shop also liked to sell them, making her believe they were popular with tourists. She'd never wear one herself, though.

Reminded of how he'd mocked her bright blue jacket, she absentmindedly commented, "I'm not saying you're a dumbass for wearing that color, but... you're a dumbass." A smirk crossed her lips at the sour look he flashed her in response.

"Can it," he snarled, heaving a heavy sigh. "At least... it looks warm..."

"I think it looks cool!" Sarah exclaimed. "I wish I would've found one in my size."

Scoffing, Troy slipped the jacket on over his t-shirt as best he could, wincing as the fabric brushed against his wound. His eyes trailed over to the sleeve hanging limply at his side, a despondent look on his face. His feelings were quite clear, a sadness crossing his features rather quickly at the thought of wearing a jacket without a limb to place in a sleeve.

Without a word, Clementine reached forward and rolled up the sleeve, knotting and bunching it just below where his wound began. Her eyes met his, and he merely nodded his thanks in silence.

"So now that you're equipped," she finally spoke after a few more moments of quiet, "we can get going."

Troy nodded. "Yeah, fine. This is gonna suck..."

"Don't even start," she hissed back to him with a half-hearted glare. "You're lucky to be alive."

To her surprise, he nodded, acknowledging that he couldn't have gotten to this point without her. With a quick glance at his empty sleeve, he simply murmured, "I know."

The group trudged on slowly, making their way through the snow like molasses. Clementine hugged herself, the bright blue jacket almost blinding in the white snow as she forced her frozen legs to move. She could clearly see her breath puffing out in air in front of her, the teeth chattering being one of the only sounds as they moved along.

Winter was silent – a beautifully cruel season. Instead of snowmen and snow angels, the eleven-year-old had to focus on staying alive by securing warmth and food. Gone were the days of simple snowball fights, where a mug of hot cocoa and a heated blanket would fix any degree of shivers.

Not that she ever did those things herself, being from the South, where it was always warm enough to keep the snow away. But from the Christmas specials she watched on television, those seemed like fun activities to do in the snow.

She let out an extra-long sigh, the breath practically freezing instantly in the cold air. Hugging herself tighter, Clementine glanced at the rest of her group, who was in similar stances.

"F-f-f-fuck, it's cold..." Troy shivered next to her, doing his best to cover himself with his remaining arm. Sarah was on her other side, nodding in agreement with her head lowered. Behind them, Rebecca staggered with Sarita and Bonnie, looking weaker and weaker each step she took.

Nick, Luke, Kenny, Mike, and Jane were spread out ahead; Nick, who was barely in front of Clementine, gazed back at Rebecca, shooting a glare towards Troy. "Stop complaining. It's not gonna change how cold we all feel."

Troy narrowed his eyes and clenched his jaw. "Listen, asshole, I just got over a -"

"Yeah, yeah, a fever. I know. I carried your sorry ass up to the observation deck, remember?"

"...what?" The amputee's eyes widened for a moment, processing the question. Clearly, he didn't recall such an event; avoiding Nick's gaze, he snapped in reply, "Well, no one fuckin' asked you to."

Nick was just about to respond when Sarita called ahead, a worried tone to her voice. "Kenny! Kenny, we need to slow down."

The man shook his head. "Can't do that, Sarita! We gotta get somewhere safe before sundown. Gotta get to Wellington..."

"But Kenny..." Sarita chewed on her lip, glancing at Rebecca, who was clinging to her tightly with one hand and holding AJ in her other. Her frame was barely supported by Bonnie, who was trying her best to help.

The new mother shook her head, her fingers tightening around Sarita's jacket. "No, I... I can keep moving. You don't have to stop."

"No, Rebecca, you need to rest," Luke chimed in, shaking his head. "Kenny, I said we gotta stop!"

"I said we can't, goddammit!" Kenny hissed, snapping his head back with a glare. His raised voice woke up AJ, who started to cry at the loud volume. The man's face instantly softened, and he slowed his pace. "...alright, fine – but not for too long. How 'bout here?"

All at the same time, everyone slowed down, coming across an abandoned campsite. All the equipment was buried in snow, making it barely useable for even sitting on. Rebecca didn't seem to mind, though; she stopped with the rest of the group, sitting herself down on a snow-covered chair.

Sarita crouched near her, her tone growing more anxious. "Just focus on AJ, Rebecca. It will be okay. You'll be alright..."

Clementine approached the weak woman, glancing over her frail frame. Her hands were trembling, clutched tightly around the bundled baby in her lap. With her body hunched over and her head drooping, she looked as though she was... dying.

Her eyes lifted to meet Clementine's, and the girl's heart nearly stopped. The fire was gone, no trace of a spark in her brown irises.

No. She really was dying.

Clementine's blood ran cold as she gazed at Sarita, who had the same grief-stricken look, and bent down to Rebecca's level, murmuring, "Rebecca...? Rebecca, how are you doing? Can you hear me?"

The woman barely noticed her at first, the weakness from birth and physical exhaustion proving too much for her. Finally, her tired eyes did meet the girl's, the smallest of smiles cracking on her lips. "He's so... handsome..." Her frozen fingers curled around the baby more, a shuddering breath leaving her.

"He is," Clementine replied, her voice cracking. "He's very lucky he's going to be taken care of by so many good people."

Rebecca's head leaned down even more, her arms physically wrapping around AJ protectively. "I love you... my little man... Please be safe."

Clementine's eyes went dull as she watched the woman take her last breaths, bringing up her gun. The barrel was pointed towards the mother, but she showed no fear of dying; instead, a desperate plea was evident quite clearly in the browns of her eyes.

"Wh- what are you doing?!" Sarah cried suddenly, grabbing onto her friend's arm. "Why are you going to shoot Rebecca!?"

"I have to, Sarah," Clementine muttered in response.

Luke placed a hand on the girl's shoulder. "She's dyin', Sarah. And you know what happens..."

Or maybe she didn't. Maybe Carlos sheltered her so much that she didn't know that bite or no bite, everyone was infected and would turn when they die. That even Sarah herself would become a walker if no one was around to put her down. Perhaps, Clementine reasoned, that that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. So long as Sarah knew how to fight walkers and know to put people down when they were bit, the other parts weren't necessary to know...

No, that was selfish of her; what if Sarah was with someone, alone, and she went to sleep feeling safe but the other died in their sleep and attacked her? What if she came across someone who she thought was just sleeping but really they'd already died? All sorts of scenarios flew through the girl's mind.

Now she could see some of Carlos's plight. But Clementine owed it to her friend to be truthful, and not hide anything from her. "Even if you're not bit, you still turn after you die," she whispered, turning her attention back to Rebecca. Before she did, however, it was hard to miss the horrified look in Sarah's eyes.

Rebecca merely focused on AJ, the child blissfully unaware in slumber. Her breath began to slow down, but her eyes didn't yet close.

Clementine nearly pulled the trigger there, but a loud shouting stopped her. Raising her gaze in the direction of the noise, she heard a faint squeaking sound, along with a figure limping a while away from them.

"Hello!" the person cried, waving their arms.

"...What is this?" Mike asked.

"No idea," Bonnie replied, patting the gun at her side. "But we can't be too careful..."

"Damn right we can't," Troy snapped, stepping forward and yelling, "The hell do you want!?"

Jane leaned forward and grabbed his shoulder. "What are you doing, you idiot?!"

Troy shot a glare her way and snarled, "We don't know them! They could be anyone!"

"So give 'em an incentive to shoot us?!" Nick hissed. "Just keep quiet for once, you stupid rooster!"

"What the fuck did you call me -" The amputee looked as though he'd rip Nick's skin off, but the figure yelled out a greeting once more, its staggering form revealing a tall teenage boy with a leg brace and glasses. Clementine had honestly never seen him before, but he seemed to know them.

She glanced around, receiving shrugs and blank stares from the rest of the group.

"Uh... hello there," Luke called back, lifting an arm awkwardly in a wave. "What, uh... what can we help you with?"

"Greetings," the boy replied, creaking to a stop in front of them. His voice had a heavy accent to it; was that... Russian? Clementine couldn't be sure. "You are those who stayed at the Parker's Run, are you not?"

Kenny stepped up, eyes narrowed. "Yeah, what of it? Who's fuckin' askin'?"

"I am Arvo. And... er... you are...?"

Clementine stood up. "I'm Clementine," she greeted, trying to make this situation at least a little less awkward. It didn't really help, though, but at least Sarah joined in and introduced herself as well.

"Oh, I am so glad to know... ahem... so glad that your group is... Теперь здорова, yes?"

"Uh, can we get that in motherfuckin' English?" Kenny asked, receiving a glare from Sarita.

Arvo's eyes narrowed and his smile suddenly vanished, a deep frown taking its place. "Healthy now. So I would like to say... you give us your things now. Place on the ground, and no one will get hurt." He held up a gun, his hand trembling.

Troy snorted. "You think you're gonna hurt anyone with that revolver? You can't even fuckin' grip it."

"I will – I don't want to shoot! Do not – do not make me shoot! Сволочи!"

"Whoa, whoa..." Mike began, holding up his hands. "Just take it easy there, kid. Maybe we could work out a trade of some kind..."

Jane narrowed her eyes. "We're not giving anything to the likes of you. You're awfully brave to try to rob us alone."

"Rob? Rob you?!" Arvo cried, his gaze darting to the forest. "Теперь здорова!"

Before Clementine could even blink, a few other strangers came out into the open, two standing behind Arvo with guns in their hands. Others appeared in the forest, weapons pointed towards the group.

"Wh- who are these people?!" Bonnie cried.

"And what the fuck is goin' on?" Troy squawked. The rest of the Russians – at least, she assumed they were all as such – cackled, their dark laughs echoing throughout the quiet white landscape. Arvo's eyes glittered with resentment, still holding his gun up.

"Wh- why are they laughing?" Clementine asked, trying to get in front of Sarah as best she could. The girl was clinging to the material of her jacket, panicked breaths leaving her rapidly.

"They think it is funny... that you are just a маленькая девочка, er... little girl. Do you steal all supplies that you find?" Arvo asked, his voice cold.

Kenny looked down at her, bewildered. "You stole from these guys, Clem...?"

Clementine shook her head. "What? No!" What could they be talking about? Her eyes darted around, looking at each member of the group as if they had the answer.

And suddenly, it dawned on her the moment she looked at Jane. The supplies they'd found – the medicine that had saved Troy's life – had belonged to this group. And despite her not originally wanting to, she had stolen them. She'd taken from these people just as the Motor Inn group took from the stranger's car.

Still, she tried to plead her case; it had to be different! "That stuff... it had been tossed into a garbage can! And – and we needed it!"

"Нет!" Arvo snapped back. "You are not special! You do not get to take things without последствий – without consequence!"

"Арво, это воры? Они украли запасы?" One of them called out.

"Да, это они. Они забрали лекарства," Arvo answered.

"Что ты делаешь? Положил оружие!" The girl next to Arvo, who seemed pale, hesitated on bringing her gun out. "Она – маленькая девочка!"

"Заберем все, что у них есть!"

"Посмотрим, как им это понравится!"

The yells in Russian were overwhelming; Clementine felt the tension crawl through the air like spiders through a web. She picked at the hem of her coat, biting her lip.

"We didn't know those were your supplies," Sarita explained, her hands raised in defense. "Please, we have to get the baby and his mother out of the cold."

"You have a baby with you..?" Arvo practically gasped, his eyes widening behind his glasses. Turning to his cohorts, he said, "Стоп! Не стреляйте!"

"I- I'm scared, Clem!" Sarah cried. "What are they saying!? Why are they pointing guns at us?!"

"Look, we don't want any trouble!" Mike yelled, retracting his gun nonetheless. Troy reached for his gun, as did Luke, Nick, Bonnie, and Kenny. Sarah cowered behind Sarita, who was doing her best to protect the girl.

"Тогда бы вы не украли наших лекарств!"

Clementine retracted her weapon as well, just in case, but not before easing in front of Rebecca. She hadn't gotten the best look at the dying woman until now; she had become paler, a horrible purple color to her skin. Her eyes, now closed, reopened with an almost feral glow to them.

Why did this happen!? Was it really because of the cold, or was this the result of not being given painkillers in time? Because Clementine had chosen the life of a man who didn't deserve it over a laboring mother?

"Fuckin' back up now if you want out of this!"

"Everyone, put your guns down! Please!"


"I- I can't breathe! S-Sarita, I can't-"

Her sadness was eaten by panic when she noticed the reanimated woman begin to growl and swing her arms, not yet noticing the little snack sitting on her lap.

[ Shoot Rebecca ]

[ Call for help ]

AJ was in trouble! Clementine didn't hesitate; she pointed the gun at Rebecca and pulled the trigger. Unfortunately, though, that was a signal to the others to begin shooting, and the world disappeared in a blur of gunshots and screams.

Chapter Text

It was like time had frozen still. Clementine could hear every breath she took, the roaring of the shots oddly muffled as she hit the ground for cover. The world was white, the tundra environment biting at the exposed skin; what she wouldn't give for some gloves right about now.

But frostbite was the least of her worries; screams sounded from all around, clogging her senses and rendering her almost helpless to the situation. She tried to get a good look at what was happening, but it was so cold and loud – and yet quiet at the same time.

Her hands brushed against the dirt and snow as she crawled below the bullets, vision blurry and disoriented. She recognized Arvo a few feet away, attempting to get down and dodge the attacks. The girl that had been standing next to him covered her head, but yelled out as a shot pierced her abdomen, collapsing to the ground.

Arvo screeched in surprise, yelling out a muffled cry in Russian, and leaned over her. "Natasha! Natasha, Natasha, Natasha нет!" Before his eyes – and Clementine could practically see the despair sinking in – the girl began to convulse, her head lolling from side to side as if she was having a seizure. Arvo panicked, and once she finally lay still, he began to perform CPR on her, his hands working at a frenzied pace to jumpstart her heart.

Mike staggered in front of Clementine and the scene before her, holding his shoulder. "Shit. Shit, I'm hit!" he screamed, his voice echoing in her roaring eardrums.

Her eyes scanned her surroundings, keeping her head as low as possible. Luke was hidden behind a chunk of broken stone wall, shooting in one direction. Jane and Bonnie were nearby, following Luke's direction of fire and calling out to Mike, respectively. One of the Russians was on the ground, scrambling backwards as he returned fire. Kenny was behind a tree, hissing some insults as he attempted to gun down some of the other party, two Russians aiming in his direction.

Sarita, Sarah, Nick, and Troy were nowhere to be found.

A baby's cry struck out over all the yelling and gunfire; Clementine's eyes widened once she spotted AJ, still swaddled tightly, wailing on the ground. Rebecca's corpse sat a few feet away, having dropped him onto the ground.

Both parties were still shouting, nothing but pure anger and hatred in the tones. She couldn't make out what anyone was saying anymore, and it didn't matter. She had to get to AJ.

Her fingers felt numb as she dragged herself through the snow, keeping her head low and looking for somewhere to hide once she grabbed the baby.

However, before she could, she felt someone grab her leg from behind. Crying out in surprise, she thrashed out of instinct, trying to get loose. "Let me go!" she hissed, scrabbling in the icy dirt.

"Calm down, you little-! It's me, Troy!" The voice sounded familiar, though muffled by gunshots. She lifted her head to see Troy crouching over her, an irritated expression etched onto his features. His lip was cut, mud caked in his hair, but his eyes were wide and alert. "I'm tryin' to fuckin' help you!"

"AJ!" she cried as he continued to haul her away, only a short distance of a few feet. They ended up behind the cover of another stone wall, this one across from where she'd seen Luke, Bonnie, and Jane a few moments ago.

Angrily, she turned to Troy, who didn't seem to notice what he'd done wrong. She smacked his lone arm, hissing, "Why did you do that? What about AJ!?"

He blinked, his face scrunching up in confusion. "Who?"

With a disgusted look, she was about to turn around and crawl out in the line of fire again to grab the baby, but a hand on her shoulder stopped her. Glancing in its direction, she found Nick crouched near her, his other hand tightly clamped around a pistol.

Now that she had gained at least some of her bearings, she found both Troy and Nick were using this partition as cover, raising their heads for a few seconds at most to shoot across the clearing and then duck again. However, after a few moments it became clear they weren't alone in their cover; Sarita was nearby, keeping Sarah's head down and away from any stray bullets.

Clementine raised her head slightly to look over the wall, just in time to see Luke attempt to get the baby in the middle. A particularly loud shot rang out shortly after, echoing across the small makeshift battlefield. The young man stumbled as a bullet went through his leg, collapsing just behind their cover beside Sarah and Sarita.

Nick turned his attention away from the enemy to crawl over towards his wounded friend. "Are you okay, man?!"

Luke nodded towards Nick, stammering out, "I- I'm fine! I'm fine. Aaaargh!" He latched onto his leg, eyes bugging with panic.

Sarita placed a hand on his shoulder. "Let me see..."

Clementine got a closer look, too; she could see blood trickling down his lower pant leg. The fabric slowly started to dye red, a painful reminder of the small scuffle that they'd gotten themselves into. Luke's breath came in pained sighs as his fingers clenched his leg, trying in vain to stop both the pain and bleeding.

"Are you sure you're okay...?" she asked, swallowing hard. She was no doctor, but thankfully, Sarita was able to examine him quickly enough.

"I think? Fuck, I don't know. I don't know if it went through or what, but just – fuck." Luke wasn't making much sense, but she couldn't blame him; it looked painful.

"He'll be alright. The bullet went through," she announced, tearing off a piece of her sleeve and wrapping it tightly around his thigh. He gave a muffled howl, biting down on his lip until Clementine noticed trickles of blood seeping down his chin. She grimaced, turning away from the sight to glance back over the wall.

He hadn't managed to get to AJ; she could see the child still out in the open. She whispered his name in a panic, catching the attention of Sarita. Once she had knotted the fabric around Luke's wound, she followed Clementine's gaze over to the helpless baby.

Sarita looked back in Sarah's direction, her lips pursed and eyebrows furrowed. Glancing back to Clementine and Luke, she said, "I have to go get him."

"Sarita, it's – it's suicide," Nick protested.

Luke nodded in agreement. "Nick's right. They know AJ's out there now. They'll wait for you to try and get him. Like he's some kinda bait."

She didn't say anything in response, but the look on her face told them all that she knew exactly what would happen.

Clementine was about to respond – to plead Sarita not to go, to try to find a different way, or something that might help – but Sarah's head snapped up before she could, a fearful expression settling onto her face.

"You're... you're going out there...?" she whispered in disbelief, her eyes wide behind her glasses.

Nodding, Sarita replied, "AJ is alone. I have to at least try to get him. I'll never be able to live with myself if something happens and I did nothing."

"B-but... but we need... we need you here!" Sarah protested, flinching as another gunshot sounded from close by. "Who's going to be the doctor?!"

"I've taught you plenty," the woman replied somberly, "and if I don't come back, I know you can go on without me. You can save lives."

"N-no! No, I- I can't... not without you!" she cried, latching onto the woman's jacket. "Please! Please don't leave me like – like my dad...!"

Frowning, Sarita pulled the girl into a quick hug, shaking her head as she held the girl like a mother would. "I have to, Sarah. Don't you understand?" she whispered, closing her eyes briefly. "I can't let another child die."

"No! No, no, no, noPlease!" Sarah wailed, clinging tighter and shaking her head in anguish.

Sarita eventually let go, leaving Sarah trying to hold on in vain. "I'm sorry," she sighed, and said nothing more; turning to Clementine, Nick, and Luke, she gave a firm nod. "Please tell Kenny I'm sorry, too. This is just... something I have to do."

Clementine's family wasn't overly religious, but the three of them did go to church every Sunday; she recalled hearing about 'martyrs' in the scriptures, and asked what they were. Her mother had simply put that martyrs were people who bravely died for a cause, who sacrificed themselves for something they believed in.

She didn't know why this was all suddenly coming back to her, but Sarita was most definitely a martyr. The woman prepared herself for death with such courage it was a complete tragedy that she had to die at all.

Clementine watched her take a deep breath, peeking over the wall for a gap in the shootings to make a run for it. Swallowing hard, the girl exchanged a glance with Nick, Luke, and now Troy, and kept her sights trained on their martyr from behind the wall.

Sarita darted from cover, making a sprint towards AJ. She kept her gaze focused ahead of her, not even flinching at the gunfire and yells sounding all around her.

"NO!" Sarah cried out, getting to her feet and attempting to go after her.

"What the – keep your fuckin' head down!" Troy snarled, grabbing the girl's arm and yanking her down. He kept her pinned under him, not phased by her wriggling and crying.

Once she knew Sarah was safe, Clementine focused once more on Sarita. Kenny had noticed her moving, and cried out her name in a panic, signaling the Russians to set off their guns. The shot almost covered Kenny's screams, but Clementine could hear the horrified gasp he let out as he watched bullets fly towards his girlfriend.

One shot pierced her back, causing the woman to topple over onto her knees with a hiss of pain. With what little strength she had left, Sarita gently covered AJ, tucking the child into her chest but making sure he was still able to breathe. Just as she did so, one of the Russians approached her on the ground, mercilessly putting a bullet into the side of her head.

"You son-of-a-bitch!" Kenny bellowed, firing into the head of the enemy standing over Sarita's still body. "Sarita! Sarita, are you alright?!" He almost took off from his point of cover, but was distracted by a few more bullets aimed in his direction.

Turning to the nearest ally, he hissed, "Aim your guns at the bastards in the forest! I gotta get to her!"

"Kenny, don't be stupid!" Jane cried. "You're gonna get yourself killed!" With a groan of annoyance, she fired a shot towards another Russian peeking out from behind a tree, finally managing to snipe him in the head.

The battlefield looked emptier now, only one set of shots seemingly targeting any of their group. Some bullets grazed Sarita's corpse in the center; Clementine was just glad she was there – if she hadn't been, AJ would have possibly been hit. Speaking of, the baby was still crying, proving he was still at least alive.

"Хуй тебе!" One of the last Russians (and the only one being aggressive) yelled out, not budging from his hiding spot.

Obviously fed up with the gunfight and impatient to get to Sarita, Kenny shot in the Russian's direction long enough to sprint towards Arvo, grabbing and pressing the barrel of his gun to the teen's temple.

"You get out here, or I put a bullet in this kid's head!" Kenny yelled.

"Положи оружие на землю!"

Clementine stared in horror as the man held his hostage close, his eye glaring towards his enemy's hiding spot. She could see it in his gaze; he was completely serious. He would kill Arvo without hesitation if his ally didn't surrender. "Kenny! What are you doing?!" she cried.

"I'm endin' this." He barely looked her way for a second and snarled, "Get out here! Right fuckin' now!"

"Отпустите! Пожалуйста!" Arvo cried out as he wriggled to get free and back to the girl sprawled on the ground. She didn't even seem to be breathing now; Clementine flashed a worried gaze towards Arvo and her, unsure what to do.

"Stop squirmin', dammit!" Kenny growled, keeping a tight grip on the boy. Arvo continued to struggle, however, yelling out phrases in Russian so fast Clementine couldn't even recognize the sounds as anything more than noises (then again, she didn't know the language).

Finally, the teen's desperation lured out the remaining Russian; the man stepped out too far from his hiding spot, providing Kenny a clear shot to his head. After the last bullet flew, the whole scene seemed to turn even more still and quiet – like a graveyard.

"Cестра!" Arvo was let go after his ally was dead, scrambling towards the girl on the ground. "Natasha, Cестра!" His fingers ghosted over her wrist, eyes closing tightly as he took some deep breaths and muttered something under his breath.

"Sarita!" Clementine's attention snapped back to Kenny, who was completely dead-set on getting to his fallen girlfriend. "Sarita, Sarita, Sarita...!" he repeated, collapsing to his knees in front of the woman and taking her in his arms. She didn't move, her lifeless eyes staring into nothing. The man lifted a trembling hand, gently closing her eyes and holding her close.

"Oh, fuckin' god... not again... not fuckin' again... I can't lose you too," he shuddered, loud enough for Clementine to hear from her spot. Her heart began to ache for Kenny; this was just like Katjaa and Duck.

He had to lose all he had left all over again.

Just like her with Lee, in a way. After her parents' demise she didn't want to lose anyone ever again, but she had had to put down Lee a few moments after. Life now was so unbearably cruel sometimes; she looked away from the broken man in the center of the field, turning to look at her companions.

"How many are left?" Mike cried out from behind his half of the wall, breaking her thoughts. "I only got so many bullets, y'know!"

"Two left," Nick announced, his words somber as he pointed towards Arvo and the girl on the ground. "It's over."

It's over. Those words echoed in Clementine's mind. The enemies were mostly dead, but she didn't feel as though she'd just won something. If anything, it was a bittersweet triumph; they'd won, but the bodies of Rebecca and Sarita were enough to earn them nothing but grief.

Before she could even think of who to approach first, a squawking voice cut through the quietness of the scene. "Clementine!" Troy hissed, shooting a glare over at her from behind the wall, still in a crouching position next to Sarah. "Get over here and help me!"

Upon seeing her friend in possible distress, the girl dashed over, noting how Sarah was curled up with her knees to her chest, her hands wrapped around her legs as panicked gasps left her lips.

"I can't – I can't breathe..." she was mumbling, her eyes squeezing tightly as she rocked forward in rhythmic motions.

"She's been like this after she squirmed her way outta my grip," Troy muttered, his expression frustrated but not enraged like Clementine had expected. "The hell is wrong with her?"

"A panic attack," the girl replied quietly, crawling forward and patting her friend's knee. "Sarah, um... just... breathe." She struggled to remember what Nick had told her so many days ago; however, before she could, the man in question was already rushing over to make sure she was okay.

Clementine grabbed onto Troy, dragging him back away from the two of them. "What are you doin'!?" he barked, but she silenced him with a glare. It was clear that Nick and Sarah needed to be alone for the time being.

"Ready? One... two... three..." Slowly, he counted as she took some deep breaths in, beginning again once she breathed out in turn. Her wide, terrified eyes seemed to dull after a few moments of the synced ritual, and she nodded in thanks to Nick. The man nodded, patting her back.

"Nick, um... wh- where is... Sarita? And Rebecca?" Sarah whispered, her voice cracking. Nick merely shook his head, his eyes closing briefly. There was no doubt in Clementine's mind he was thinking about when he'd lost Pete.

After a few moments of silence between the two of them, Sarah practically melted into the snow, an anguished cry echoing in the otherwise quiet clearing. "Sarita, Rebecca, no!" The girl's hands clawed at the ground until her fingernails were caked with dirt, her face becoming red as she sobbed and sobbed.

"Shit... Sarah..." Luke limped over to Nick after a few moments, sitting down with his friend in front of the girl. It hit Clementine suddenly that the three of them were the last of the original cabin group, and their bond was deep for that very reason. Kenny was the only one left of the ski lodge, but at least he knew Clementine before – and Mike, Bonnie, Jane, and Troy were all from Howe's. The large group that once made up Clementine's allies was dwindling, and only three remained from those that had allowed her into their small family.

Suddenly wondering if she was intruding, Clementine walked out to the clearing away from the three behind the wall, hearing Troy's quiet footsteps behind her. Swallowing hard, she inspected the scene before her.

Kenny was cradling Sarita's corpse, his back turned to the group. Mike was holding his shoulder, wincing at the bullet wound left behind from the fight. Bonnie stood between him and Rebecca's body, flashing a sad glance towards it. After swallowing hard, she quietly approached Kenny and Sarita, her hands held up in defense as she merely picked up AJ and backed away. The child wasn't crying anymore, but wasn't deadly silent, either; gentle coos sounded from his bundled form while Jane stood idly nearby, her gaze trained on the woods.

Arvo was weeping beside the girl on the ground, his head lowered and choppy hair covering his face. "Она мертва... Sh- she... she is dead..."

At the heartbreaking whisper, Clementine's stomach dropped. She glanced at Arvo sympathetically, watching Mike gently approach the teen. The man's eyes showed an astonishing compassion; once again, Clementine was pleasantly surprised at the kindness of the members of her group.

"Hey, kid..." he began, only to startle Arvo. The teen snapped his gaze towards Mike, his eyes wide with fear as though he'd be shot at any moment. His body trembled as he kneeled there, teeth sinking into his bottom lip anxiously.

"P-please! Please, do not – she... she is dead! M-my sister... dead...!" he choked out, sobs racking his skinny frame.

Clementine softened her gaze, noting Arvo's gun lying uselessly by him – not close enough for him to reach it, though. His shoulders were shaking, his hands grasping those of his sister (Natasha?) as he whispered words in Russian.

It seemed as though the only voices heard in the clearing were those grieving; Kenny was mumbling Sarita's name, Sarah was still quietly sobbing about Rebecca and Sarita, and Arvo was speaking to his dead sister. Everyone else was gravely silent.

"Arvo..." Clementine began, realizing that Natasha would need to be 'taken care of' before she could even think of comforting Kenny, "Arvo, we need to..."

She wasn't able to finish that statement, for Mike stood in front of her, holding an arm out and nodding to her, indicating that he could deal with this. Clementine gave a nod of her own in return, but didn't move just yet. "You need to put her down, kid. She's gonna turn..." Mike whispered, gently getting closer to him.

"No... no, please, I... I cannot shoot her..." Arvo mumbled, shaking his head.

"I know," Mike murmured, his palm clasping Arvo's shoulder. "I know it's hard. But you don't want her to be one of those things, do you?"

The Russian teenager shook his head, his eyes closing tightly. Mike snatched the nearby weapon and placed it in Arvo's palm, silently encouraging him to do what had to be done.

"Wait a fuckin' minute! Don't give him a gun!" Stepping forward, Troy tried to interject, "Are you sure this is a good idea-"

"Yes," Mike replied immediately, narrowing his gaze. "You wouldn't want anyone else to put down your sibling, would you?"

Troy froze, his eyes wide and somewhat distant for a moment before his teeth clenched tightly, his lips almost curling upwards in a snarl. He tore his gaze away, letting out a low growl like some sort of animal, but saying nothing. Clementine gazed up at him curiously, about to ask what his deal was, but decided to let it go for now. Troy didn't need a reason to be defiant, anyway.

A sudden, screeching gunshot made her jump; it had been expected, but she still could never get used to the loudness. Arvo crumpled next to his sister's body, a bullet hole through her head. "Natasha...!" He spread himself out on top of her, crumbling into a sobbing mess. It seemed as though the angry young man that had attacked them for revenge was no more; in his place was a scared little boy, just as scared as the rest of them (if not more), not ready to live without his family.

Clementine felt horribly guilty. It was her fault that this started in the first place, as she'd used that medicine they found without a second thought. She hadn't wanted this fight to end in bloodshed, and definitely not to kill any of the Russians – it was never her intention to kill anyone, as she'd proved with Troy – but she had no control over what had happened. She wished there could have been a way for this to end as anything but a 'us or them' situation, but ultimately that was what it had come down to. And she knew none of it could be changed; Rebecca and Sarita would not come back, and neither would any of Arvo's group.

Loss was inevitable.

Tearing her gaze away from the broken teenager, she decided to next focus on who she was most worried about: Kenny. It was still hard to believe that Sarita was dead, just like that. Just moments ago, she had been telling Sarah what a good job she was doing picking up the medical techniques; only a few days back, she'd told the two girls about her daughter.

Sarita couldn't risk another child dying; it was a noble way to die, but it didn't suck any less. It didn't change the fact that she was dead, and that they would all miss her – especially Kenny and Sarah. The girl was able to get her grief out through tears, but Kenny was a different story.

Lee had told her Kenny let out his sorrows through anger – and she'd witnessed it before, as well. After Katjaa and Duck's deaths, the man became more irritable, and less... sturdy. Like something had cracked and broken beyond repair. She didn't talk much with him normally after that moment.

When she finally saw Kenny's face, she had to pause in her steps to take a few deep breaths. The man looked absolutely horrible, his face scrunched in anguish and his gaze set on Sarita's still face. Just as Clementine thought, his grief was much different than Sarah's. In fact, the sadness almost immediately melted into anger once he noticed her approaching.

"Why did you let her go?" he growled, his tone quiet with a dangerous edge to it. She stopped in her tracks again, blinking in confusion at his words.

"I didn't let her go," she said, crossing her arms. "She decided to go herself."

Kenny snapped his gaze up at her, eyes narrowing fiercely. "You could'a stopped her!"

"What could I have done!?"

"Goddamn it, you... stupid kid! You could'a grabbed her arm! Could'a told her no! You could'a done somethin' more! She didn't have to be – she didn't have to be no goddamn shield! Damn it, Sarita was so much fuckin' more than that!"

"I know, Kenny!" Clementine cried, shaking her head. "Sarita was a good person. I liked her. A lot!" She would never want Sarita to risk her life like that – it had been the woman's choice. Couldn't Kenny see that? And why was he blaming this on her, anyway?!

The man closed his eye, stroking Sarita's cold face and murmured, "Do you know what it feels like to get beaten almost to death?"

Clementine stared at him, her heart pounding and nearly leaping from her throat, but she couldn't get any words out. She merely continued to look at him, her lips drawn in a helpless frown.

"Peaceful. It feels... peaceful. Like I was floatin' away, watchin' the whole thing happen to me." Kenny's expression darkened and he continued, "And then I woke up again, and nothing's changed. I'm still takin' a beating, every day. Duck. Katjaa. Sarita. No peace – no rest."

Her heart broke for the man, but Clementine couldn't get over the fact that he'd just tried to blame her for Sarita dying. It scared her, if she was honest; maybe that was selfish of her to focus on how it made her feel, but it still frightened her a bit nonetheless.

And he kept going. "Why couldn't Carver've just finished me off? Obviously, I ain't helpin' anyone by bein' here."

Clementine let the words settle between them before letting out a long sigh and replying, "You help me out. You help us all. I know a lot of them are scared, and need you to be strong."

Kenny pursed his lips, gazing down at Sarita once more. "I'm tired'a bein' strong."

"Well, too bad," she snapped. "You have to be. We're all being strong, even when we're tired of it." Clementine sauntered forward, hesitantly placing a hand on his shoulder. She could feel his muscle rippling underneath, causing her to retract her palm immediately; the last thing she wanted was him striking out at her.

But nothing happened, and the man finally rested Sarita's body down, closing his eyes and murmuring, "This ain't easy, and y'know, sometimes I forget. That you're just a kid, I mean. Ain't very fair'a me. I just... I don't got much left."

"No one does," she pointed out somberly.

He got to his feet, his one-eyed gaze burning into hers. She swallowed hard, feeling a bit nervous. This wasn't the first time she felt uneasy around Kenny, and she was certain it wouldn't be the last, but she stood her ground. As much as she hated him, Carver was right about one thing: Clementine wasn't afraid to push past fear and look it straight in the eye.

Kenny opened his mouth to reply, but something caught his gaze in the distance. All at once, the man's eye clouded and he stomped past her, anger practically radiating off him.

She turned around, watching him storm towards the center of the clearing. She'd noticed that the remains of the cabin group had rejoined the rest of their party, Sarah standing nervously with her head focused towards the ground between Nick and Luke.

After Kenny brushed past everyone else, Clementine realized who he was heading for almost immediately.


"Wait! Stop!" she called, following him. The man ignored her, of course, and dragged Arvo to his feet, ignoring the protesting pleas in Russian, and his fist collided with the teenager's head, making him squeak in pain and nearly lose his footing.

"Hey!" Bonnie cried out, handing Clementine the baby and turning to the older man.

"Stop!" Mike yelled, grabbing a hold of Kenny and pushing him backwards, taking a stance in front of Arvo protectively. Luke followed his actions, limping over to protect the Russian from any violence thrown his way. "It's over, man. He ain't a threat to us."

"How can you say that? Of course he is!" Kenny spat, holding a gun towards the three of them. "Get out of the way! Time to do the same thing this asshole tried to do to us!"

"It doesn't have to go down like that," Mike replied.

"Kenny, please!" Bonnie chimed in. "He's just a scared kid!"

"He tried to shoot us!" Kenny roared, anger blazing in his eye so fiercely Clementine's heart skipped a beat, prompting her to hold AJ closer instinctively.

Arvo cowered behind the two men, stuttering out, "I – I no shoot. I never... my gun... it only shoot Natasha. Please, listen!" With tears still streaking down his cheeks, he continued, "There is house. Food! Please, I can take you!"

"Bullshit," Troy snapped, though not as maliciously as Kenny's previous words.

"No, no! Is true. We have place. Not far. Food."

"See?" Luke said. "He wants to help."

"Oh, don't be stupid. He's just tryin' to save his skin!" Kenny snapped. "Why the hell would you help us? Huh?"

The teenager lowered his gaze, shaking his head. "I... I not want to see more people dead..."

Kenny's eyes glittered darkly. "Then close your eyes and I'll make it quick."

Clementine narrowed her eyes, frustrated with Kenny's rage. Arvo had initiated the confrontation, but who had taken the medicine in the first place? Who had remembered how the stranger had been so vengeful after the group had taken his things that he kept tabs on Clementine and eventually led her away from Lee – and still used the medicine despite that?

Whose fault was it, really?

"We need the food," she pointed out quietly. "None of this will matter if we all starve to death."

"And if he's lyin'?" Kenny asked, turning his eye on her angrily. "Then we'll all be led into a trap and be dead anyway!"

Finally, the yelling became too much for AJ, and he began to cry. Clementine attempted to rock him in her arms, shushing him gently like she'd seen Sarita do a few days ago. Kenny's attention was caught by the infant, his lips pursing in frustration.

"Sarita died to save AJ," Clementine murmured, her eyes closing briefly. "He'll starve, too, if we don't take the risk and go for the food. And then she'll have died for nothing." It was harsh, yes, but it seemed that harsh words were what Kenny needed to hear for anything to connect.

"C-Clem's right." A quiet voice sounded from behind Nick; once he moved aside, Sarah cautiously stepped forward, in front of Arvo with Mike and Luke. "...Sarita wouldn't have wanted this. She helped Troy... she would help Arvo if he needed it. Sh-she didn't want anyone to die. She'd never want you to kill Arvo – especially like this!"

Clementine noticed Sarah's legs trembling, the fear reflecting in her eyes behind her glasses, but she held her ground nonetheless. A smile crossed the girl's lips, proud of her friend for standing up for what she believed in. Sarah really was growing more confident as the days went on.

After a few moments of a stare-down between the two, Kenny finally lowered his gun and retracted it with a sigh. "We got somethin' to tie him up with?"

Bonnie nodded quietly, replying, "Yeah. I got somethin'." She pulled a few pieces of rope from her backpack, approaching Arvo gently and began to bind his wrists together.

"Just gimme a reason..." Kenny growled.

"Yeah, man, he gets it." Luke snapped, glaring towards the other man. "You can stop soundin' like a broken record now."

Clementine sighed and watched the group bicker more, keeping her efforts focused on AJ and keeping him calm. The baby looked up at her with wide eyes, and she stared back with what she was sure was the same curious expression he gave her.

Of course, she wasn't able to limit her attention to AJ for long, because a moment later she heard Mike ask in an irritated tone, "What the hell are you doin', Troy?"

She glanced over, just in time to see Mike flash a disgusted glance Troy's way. The one-armed man was crouched near the body of one of the Russians, beginning to unzip their jacket. He grimaced and rolled his eyes, replying, "What? Y'all never looted bodies before? Jesus. No wonder y'all have so little stocked up."

"Save it," Nick snapped, crossing his arms. "You got most of our medicine, anyway. That could'a been used for Rebecca."

Troy narrowed his eyes. "I didn't ask for you to use it, y'know."

"Well you could be a little more grateful!"

Clementine stepped up, eying both of them. "Nick, it's okay," she assured, shooting a glare Troy's way, as well. She couldn't deny that he had a good method of survival, taking things from others that didn't need them anymore, but she didn't like it. "If you don't want to do it, you don't have to. I'm not."

"Don't see why not." Jane, of all people, seemed to agree with Troy and checked over one of the corpses by Sarita. "Taking ammo and weapons is what everyone thinks about first, but food and clothing can be just as important. They're not going to need their supplies anymore."

"It just seems... so disrespectful," Bonnie commented quietly, shaking her head.

Jane scoffed. "They're dead. Not like it matters now."

Arvo looked away, muttering what sounded like curses in Russian. "You are bad people," he said through gritted teeth. "You... you take my friends' things... off their dead bodies..."

"Yeah, well, we didn't ask to be shot at, kid," Troy snapped, yanking off some clothing for himself. "This one's just got a warm-lookin' coat, and a few bullets with his pistol. Jane, what about that one?"

The woman crouched by the corpse near her, flipping the man over and inspecting his pockets. "Some jewelry... and a few packets of crackers. Among other things."

Clementine was dumbstruck; these two, who were at each other's throats a few days ago, were acting as though they were business partners now, curtly responding to one another as they took clothing and food from bodies that were probably still warm. It was disgusting, if she was honest, and she made a mental note to never do something like this. Like Jane said, weapons were one thing, but taking clothes... it just didn't seem right.

"Oh, jackpot! The girl's got some bandages and... leather straps? The fuck are these for?" Troy barked, inspecting what he'd found with a confused expression.

"No, please... not Natasha. Leave her, please! Do not – do not use those. They are..." Arvo pleaded, glancing down at his braced leg. "They are for this... My leg, it was hurt... those are in case the brace breaks."

"We can bring them along," Mike assured. "In case we need 'em for you."

Kenny interjected, stepping towards Troy and Jane. "Let's go, you two. Your fucked-up lottery is done," he said humorlessly, eyebrows furrowed.

The two looters shrugged and collected what they'd found, placing it all in the group's backpacks for safekeeping. Clementine was secretly impressed by their haul, though it disgusted her a little. Still, the group now had more medical supplies, some food, and more weapons. Everyone else began to get ready to leave; Bonnie took AJ into her arms again, Nick slung Luke's arm over his shoulder and let him lean on him, and the rest grabbed what they could.

"Clem," Sarah murmured, approaching her friend. "Are we just... gonna leave them here? Without saying goodbye?" Her eyes flashed over to Sarita and Rebecca, her words causing everyone to follow her actions and avert their attention.

With a sigh, Kenny bent down and carefully lifted Sarita's body. Giving her forehead a gentle kiss, he placed her next to Rebecca. "I'm sorry, hon," he whispered so softly Clementine almost didn't catch it. He swallowed hard and turned back to the others, his gaze empty. Mostly everyone walked forward to surround the two fallen members of their group, their heads bowed in respect to the women. The only ones that were not a part of this vigil – Troy and Arvo – were still standing close by, frowns on their faces.

"I guess the cold was just... too much for Rebecca," Luke murmured gravely, closing his eyes. "I wish we could'a helped her more. If I could'a just taken AJ off her for a bit..."

"That's enough," Mike replied, shooting him a glance. "It ain't nobody's fault."

"She would have been a good mom," Sarah whispered, her voice cracking.

"Yeah. She would have. You rest easy, Becs. We'll take care'a your boy," Bonnie promised. "And... Sarita, thank you. Thank you for takin' care'a AJ. He may not be here if it weren't for you."

"He probably wouldn't," Nick commented quietly, lowering his head. "She... was shieldin' him. I saw it."

"Yeah. She cared too much for this fuckin' cold world," Kenny growled, clenching his teeth and tearing his sights away. His boots crunched in the snow as he began to walk away, looking over his shoulder at the rest of them. "Let's go. We need to get AJ outta the cold. And kid, I swear to God, if you're leadin' us into a trap..." He cocked his gun, pointing it at Arvo to finish that sentence without words.

Arvo shook his head, his voice still trembling. "I... I swear, I will take you."

"Let's go, then." At the words, the group began to continue through the cold, huddling around themselves and pretending to ignore the blood peppering the snow.

Clementine turned around one last time, frowning at the two women they were leaving behind. They were both martyrs, giving their lives so the smallest and most vulnerable member of their group could live. They sacrificed everything for AJ – and Clementine wasn't about to let anyone forget that, nor was she going to let anything Rebecca and Sarita did for him be in vain.

Chapter Text

The icy wind blew at her hair, sending chills through Clementine's small body. Her arms wrapped around her torso in an attempt at warmth, but it was hardly doing anything for her. Still, she was grateful she had the jacket Bonnie had given her; whether or not it was pretty, it was keeping her alive. Her legs felt heavy as she dragged herself on, nearly catching her tongue between her chattering teeth.

The others traveled just as slowly, leaving many sets of footprints as they trudged onwards to God-knew-where. With Arvo leading them to a supposed safehouse, all they could ultimately do was hope that they wouldn't freeze to death or let exhaustion take them before they reached at least a midway point.

Their main concern now was AJ and his safety; besides promising Rebecca, Clementine felt a protectiveness over the child, and vowed to take care of him. Everyone seemed equally as worried about the baby (except for Troy and Arvo, who looked like they couldn't care less), offering what they could to make sure he stayed warm. Bonnie was doing a good job holding him tightly against her chest, preventing most of the wind chill from getting to him. Jane was walking in front of her, protecting the child even further from the cold.

Kenny and Mike were following Arvo at the very front of the group, their reasons for doing so very different. Clementine was aware that the younger man was only there to make sure Kenny didn't snap and hurt Arvo; enough damage had been done. The teen was limping as it was, and who knew what cracks now covered his soul after putting down someone so close to him? Clementine had been there, she'd known that pain; it was something one couldn't return from.

Letting out a sigh (or was she trying to warm herself?), the girl glanced around weakly, noticing Sarah steadily keeping pace with her, the three younger men behind them. Nick was helping Luke walk after that bullet went through his leg, and Troy was walking ahead of them a bit. Biting her lip, she looked her friend over, noting the way her eyes were glazed over and her cheeks were still stained where tears had fallen.

Sarah had such a big heart; she reminded Clementine of Duck, in a way: so naïve and innocent. But all innocent things must be twisted by this world to survive, sad as it was. Hesitantly, she whispered, "Are you okay?"

Sarah met her eyes, her mouth drawn in a tight frown. Shaking her head, she replied, "No, I'm not okay. I… I don't know how you can keep doing this, Clem."

"Doing what?"

"Losing people. Living on. It's so hard; how do you manage?"

The younger girl's expression saddened as she murmured, "I don't like it, but I have to keep going for those that aren't here anymore."

Sarah lowered her head, her eyes narrowing as if studying the ground. "Like... like Sarita," she choked out, "she... kept going for Nilani, even after she died. She took care of others after losing her own daugther..." It was clear that that story had inspired Sarah in some way; Clementine could see how Sarita losing her daughter made Sarah recall her own losses, and took the woman's life choices as inspiration for her own. Not a bad role model to have.

"I want to be brave like Sarita. I want to keep going. I want to help out and be a good doctor, but... it's so hard," she repeated, through gritted teeth and shaking fists. "It's... it's so hard! I miss them so much, I can't even think straight sometimes. All I can focus on is my dad, and Rebecca, and Sarita. I keep thinking they're just – they're just gonna show up behind us. That my dad will come back. But...!" She sniffled, bringing a hand up to wipe at her eyes, her glasses pushed aside.

"But... he won't," Clementine finished for her, reaching a hand over to clasp onto hers, giving a tight squeeze. "You... you know that, right?"

The girl seemed stricken; she flinched and gazed at her friend in disbelief, only to nod a few moments later. It became obvious to Clementine that Sarah was trying so hard to be strong; it was difficult, and didn't happen overnight.

"I do know that," Sarah replied, closing her eyes and slowing her pace. "I... I just..."

"You don't have to get 'strong' overnight, Sarah," Clementine pointed out, "This isn't an easy thing to accept. And besides, I think you're strong right now."

Sarah blinked, her eyes softening a bit at the words. "...thanks, Clem," she murmured, "Sarita was so sure I could do this, but I'm scared. What if I mess up?"

"You won't. But even if you do, it's not the end of the world. You'll be okay. And I'm not going anywhere, either. Maybe you could teach me a few things," Clementine suggested with a nonchalant shrug. She didn't know squat about medical treatment, save for how to stitch wounds shut; maybe it would benefit her to learn some techniques.

"...yeah, sure. I'd like that," Sarah replied with a small nod, her pace still slowing. Clementine let go of her hand and decided to give her friend some space. It was really hard on her, she knew, and it was hard to develop the survival mindset so quickly.

What would Lee be doing right about now, if he were here? Would he be proud of who Clementine became, or disappointed? Would he agree with her decision to save Troy, and bring along Arvo, and to help Sarah accept her loved ones were gone? Would he be mad at her for letting Sarita die, or at Kenny for blaming Clementine?

What would Lee say about Kenny, anyway? The man was worrying her; she tried to tell herself that it may be because Sarita had just died, but she was anxious about his misdirected anger. If he kept blowing up at people like he had with Clementine, she couldn't see things going well with the group.

If they were going to stay a team, they could not turn on one another.

They weren't Carver.

A quiet scuffle of feet snapped Clementine out of her thoughts; turning to look behind her, she saw Sarah slow down to a near-stop, making a very irritated Troy run into her.

"Goddammit, Sarah!" the man hissed, making her freeze with horror.

"S-sorry!" she cried out, wincing as the man lifted his hand as if to strike her. However, he merely placed his palm on her shoulder and used her as a crutch to walk past her, shaking his head in frustration. She stared at him in sheer surprise, exchanging a glance with Nick, Luke, and Clementine, who were both equally floored by his behavior.

Well. Who said the leopard couldn't change his spots?

Clementine gave an amused smirk to Troy as he began to walk in pace with her; the man noticed instantly and flashed a sour look back at her, his lips pursed tightly. "What?" she asked, quirking an eyebrow and feigning innocence.

Troy merely scowled deeper and hissed, "Why are you lookin' at me like that?"

"Well you didn't hit Sarah, for one," she pointed out, shrugging.

Rolling his eyes, the man snapped, "Shut up. She was draggin' her feet, not robbin' me at gunpoint."

Eyes widening for a moment, Clementine was about to point out that Troy had been all-too-willing to hit her back at Howe's for no reason at all, but she kept her mouth shut. He'd only deny it, anyway. Instead, she peered back at her friend, who was keeping pace with Nick quietly.

"I'm worried about her," she murmured, more to herself than to her companion. "This isn't easy... and Sarah's pretty sheltered..."

"What, does she hope things'll get better or somethin'?" Troy asked.

"I don't know," she said. "I think we all have that secret hope, though."

"She's tryin' to stay positive and shit, but it's showin' right through. She knows, don't she," Troy commented quietly, glancing behind him briefly. "She knows things ain't good, and that she gotta change how she sees things to survive. Sarah ain't as stupid as I thought. I dunno how I figured it out, but I just... think she actually does know what's goin' on."

Clementine shot him a glare, his voice like nails on a chalkboard for her at the moment, his deep Southern drawl particularly grating and irritating. "Duh," she snapped, crossing her arms. "Sarah's never been stupid."

"Well excuse the fuck out of me for seein' a girl who don't listen and curls up in a ball the moment someone raises their voice at her as not the brightest," he scoffed, shaking his head.

"You shouldn't make assumptions," she replied tartly, frowning. "Sarah thinks differently, and there's nothing wrong with that." Clementine couldn't even begin to imagine what it must be like having an anxiety disorder of some kind (she didn't know what specifically) in an apocalypse. She admired Sarah – and Nick, as well – for being able to live on despite her setbacks. "She just needs to learn more survival tactics. She's never had to before this, you know, with her dad protecting her."

Troy rolled his eyes. "Don't fuckin' lecture me. She may not be as dull as I thought, but that don't mean she's outta the danger zone yet. I mean, fuck, she wanted to go out into the line'a fire after Sarita – without a gun, even! Don't she know how to shoot?"

The girl shrugged. "I started to teach her before, a while ago, but I don't think she knows very much about how to handle a gun."

"Guess I'll have to teach her, then."

"Wh- excuse me?"

Troy's gaze looked so smug it made her skin crawl. "I said," he repeated, "I guess I'll have to teach her how to do it. Hell, you never know; maybe it's the missin' piece of the puzzle."

That idea sounded... extremely dangerous, but Clementine could also see the logic in it. Troy knew his guns, that was for sure, and Sarah could learn best from someone who was as familiar with them as him. She considered it, but decided to cut that subject off for the time being.

Gazing over at Troy, she noted, "You seem to know a lot about guns – names and numbers and everything. Where'd you learn all that? Howe's?"

Shaking his head, the amputee shrugged. "Nah, it's just my thing. Was in the military."

Flashbacks of a certain air force member appeared in her mind; just before complete starvation settled in at the motor inn, some supplies had been granted to them by a friendly face. Clementine smiled at the memory for only a moment, thinking of how kind Mark had been. She'd practically hugged him when they first met and he offered her an apple.

"Did you guys bring supplies to Howe's? The military, I mean." Maybe that was how Troy got stuck in Carver's community; he'd offered food and had just stuck around like Mark. The hardware store seemed to be well-stocked with food, after all; though, on the other hand, she couldn't see someone like Troy willingly signing up to go help others. He'd probably want to keep all the food for himself.

The one-armed man scowled, lowering his voice. "No. I didn't – I wasn't actively stationed at the time. I was with... some folks, and we found Howe's." There was a distant look to his eyes, as if he was reliving old memories.

"Why would you stay?" she asked, a bit surprised. If he chose to stay under Carver's reign, what did that say about him and the people he was with? Were they even sane? Who would think that was a good situation? "I mean, there were... supplies, yeah, but... Carver ran it."

"And?" Troy snapped, shooting a glare her way. "Bill wasn't as bad as y'all like to think."

"He killed Reggie!" Clementine hissed.

"Look, he wasn't always like that," he snarled, "and ain't nothin' you can say to change my mind. He was better than the alternative at the time."

"Which was?"

Troy bit his lip, his eyes growing listless again as he seemed to be mulling over telling her or keeping silent. His gaze focused on the snow below them, shoving his hand inside the pocket of his newly-acquired coat (one snatched from the Russians' bodies). She was about to give up the conversation and just march in silence with him when she heard him take a deep breath and mutter, "Starvation."

More flashbacks to the St. John's Dairy. Starvation. They'd all nearly starved before they found the cannibals' farm, and afterward they were fortunate to fall upon the stranger's car and his supplies. What would have happened had they not took those, like Clementine would have wished?

She had been so intent back then to leave the supplies where they'd found them, but a few days ago she'd taken medicine that didn't belong to her after only some convincing. Things were so much different now – now that the decisions were hers alone, and not Lee's.

"I'm sorry," she found herself saying, unable to express sympathy for the man just yet, but not at all liking what had happened to him.

Troy merely shrugged, brushing it off casually, like it didn't matter. "I don't need any fuckin' pity, Clementine," he snapped, rolling his eyes. "I knew what I was gettin' into. I just didn't care at the time. Hell, I never cared." With that, he sped up his pace, falling in line ahead beside Mike and Bonnie. Clementine let him go without saying anything; it was clear he didn't want to talk to her anymore.

But someone else did, clearly, because Jane appeared at her side within a moment. "God, I thought that asshole would never leave. Hey, Clem," she greeted with a smirk, "how are you holding up?"

Clementine blinked; she didn't know when Jane decided they were buddy-buddy, especially enough to call her by her nickname, but she couldn't exactly fight it. They were allies, like it or not. Still, she frowned and narrowed her eyes suspiciously, replying, "I'm okay, I guess." Sarita and Rebecca had died less than an hour ago; how was she supposed to feel?

Jane nodded, glancing behind them for a moment. "Look, I'm not gonna sugarcoat it; I'm a bit worried about Sarah."

"Worried?" Why was Sarah the hot topic all of a sudden?

"Yeah," the woman shook her head. "I saw her try to go after Sarita, and the way she broke down after her death. The way she is... she's gonna cause problems."

Clementine's fists tightened at her sides; again, Jane had nothing to offer her except for criticisms of the way the group worked, and its members. Last time she was complaining about Troy, Rebecca, and Kenny, and now Sarah. Light brown eyes shot down to the woman's ankle, noting the slight limp as they walked on. Surely Jane didn't forget what happened on the observation deck? How Luke and Nick saved her life – something she wouldn't have been able to do if she was alone?

Pushing back an exasperated sigh, the girl replied, "Too bad it isn't your decision who stays in the group."

Jane raised an eyebrow, arguing, "Look, I've just seen this thing before. I don't want it to bite you all in the ass later on. I don't mean to sound harsh, but... she's a liability at this point if she can't even shoot a gun."

"Troy's going to teach her," Clementine shot back, surprised at her own words.

"Yeah, I'd watch that," Jane spat. "He's not to be trusted, and you know it." Her face softened as she continued, "Anyway, I'm just worried about you, Clem. My sister, Jaime – I couldn't save her. I really wanted to, but in the end, she just... gave up."

This was the second time Jane had mentioned her sister; curiously, Clementine pushed on for more details, asking, "What happened to her?"

"Well, she... she was like Sarah," Jane replied quietly. "She didn't really function well in this sort of world. I had to drag her across four states. And every morning, she'd say she wasn't getting up, and I'd have to convince her. Or push her. Or goddamn carry her if I had to. Until this one time..." Her voice trailed off, shaking her head again. Clementine didn't press her any further; it seemed she couldn't continue.

"Sarah isn't giving up," the girl promised. "I know she won't."

"You can't be sure."

"I am. And anyway, I told you before – we don't leave friends behind. And Sarah's my friend," Clementine hissed, shooting another glare to her companion to shut her up. Jane was on her last nerve with her 'survival' tactics, and she didn't want to talk about them anymore.

Jane was about to respond, probably to retort something, when they both heard Troy call out towards the front of the group, his barking tone distinct among their small cluster.

"Hey, Kenny! You think you could fuckin' stop for a second? We got people here that got shot, y'know." He cast a glance towards both Luke and Mike, his teeth gnashing together in frustration.

"Hell no," the older man snapped darkly, "bet that's what Russkie wants us to do, so a buncha his friends can ambush us again!"

Arvo shook his head, a desperate look on his face. "No, I... I lead you to house only! I promise..."

"Yeah fuckin' right," Kenny snarled.

Bonnie spoke up. "Troy's got a point, though. With Luke's leg and Mike's arm... plus your eye, Kenny, and Troy's arm... we really should stop to change some bandages, at least."

"I said no, so we ain't stoppin'!"

"Kenny, man..." Luke tried to interject, but as soon as he took another step, he stumbled, Nick having to catch him before he fell face-first into the snow. Letting out a loud groan, he bit his lip and fought the pain to stand back up, leaning heavily on his friend.

"Fuck, are you okay?" Nick asked.

Luke nodded shakily. "Y-yeah, yeah, I'm fine. I just... I put more weight on it than I should've."

"Wait up! We really need to stop," Mike called, eying Luke and the way he tripped over himself. Kenny ignored the plea, giving Arvo a rough shove to keep moving forward.

Clementine watched as Troy marched up to the front of the line, mumbling something about how he wouldn't bleed to death because 'some asshole wouldn't stop marchin' us to hell'. Throwing his face into Kenny's, he hissed, "I said we need to fuckin' stop!"

That seemed to tip Kenny over the edge. Already agitated, the man clearly didn't like Troy's choice of words.

"You don't make the goddamn decisions anymore, asshole! I do!" he yelled, slamming a hand at Troy's neck and wrapping his fingers around his throat tightly. Clementine ran forward instantly, trying to not focus on the way Kenny's nails dug into the skin, surely creating a puncture wound. Troy's eyes bugged out instantly as he processed what was happening, his eyes flashing with fear.

But Kenny didn't seem to notice, or just didn't care; ignoring the pained gasps from the one-armed man, he continued, "Remember this, you son-of-a-bitch. If you remember nothin' else in that fuckin' empty head'a yours, remember that your place here is temporary. We can kill you, leave you for fuckin' dead – and no one would care. You're nothin' anymore."

"Kenny!" That was it. Clementine narrowed her eyes into a glare, a hand lifting to try to pry Kenny's arm off Troy. The younger man was struggling to breathe, his hand pawing at Kenny's fingers to try to regain what fraction of air he could. "Get off him!" she cried, pulling with all her might to get him to release his grip.

"P-please stop!" Sarah's terrified voice cried out, though she was frozen to the spot where she was standing. Everyone seemed to be stopped, watching and waiting for something to happen. Clementine was the only one who moved to help Troy out.

Were they afraid of Kenny that much, or did they just hate Troy? She really couldn't tell. Maybe it depended on who it was.

After a few moments of suspense, however, Kenny released Troy. Given his choice of words, it was clear he was not intending to kill him in the first place. So was it a scare tactic? Clementine frowned; she didn't want Kenny to do something like that – it reminded her too much of Carver. She'd never voice that out loud, though.

Everyone stood in silence, Troy's hacks the only sound in the quiet clearing. They were in the middle of snowy woods, Clementine realized, so they could afford to stop for a second to recuperate.

Kenny didn't move, crossing his arms angrily but nodding. Nick took that as the okay, and gently guided Luke to a tree stump, settling the other man down as comfortably as he could. Everyone else spread out among their small space in the forest, most of them away from Kenny's spot.

"I'm gonna try to talk to him," Mike murmured, "he can't be scarin' everyone, especially since we got a kid here." Both Sarah and Clementine looked at him, about to retort something no less, but he raised his hands and clarified, "Whoa, whoa, I meant AJ."

Smirking, Bonnie approached him and said, "Fine, just take AJ. Maybe it'll soften anythin' Kenny wants to say. I'll see what I can do for Luke."

"Uh... okay..." Mike trailed off, a bit unsure as he carefully cradled the infant in his arms. Giving a weird look to the redhead, and then down to AJ, he shrugged to himself and walked off, eager to talk to Kenny.

Sarah pursed her lips and looked back over towards them. "I'm... gonna make sure AJ is okay," she said, nodding to Clementine as she rushed over. Jane, standing a ways off from everyone, followed both of them silently to Kenny.

Turning back to Luke, Bonnie bent down, examining his wound. "That sure got ya," she commented quietly, "but at least it went through, right?"

"I guess so?" Luke said, a bit sheepishly. "I mean, it hurts like hell..."

"Don't you even fuckin' start," Troy hissed.

Luke didn't seem to respond to the malice, however, and just chuckled halfheartedly. "Yeah, guess I could have it much worse."

Nick blinked. "Still, don't take it lightly, man. We should change the bandages. All we have on there is... a piece of Sarita's jacket..."

Somberly, Clementine gazed at the dark blue fabric; it was all they had of Sarita now, at least physically. Carefully, she reached forward to untie it, taking the piece carefully in her hands and gently setting it on the ground. She'd learned a long time ago that she couldn't afford to keep mementos of everyone. Hell, she didn't even have her picture of Lee anymore; the most she had was her hat from her father. Besides, something told her that keeping a bloody piece of Sarita's jacket wasn't a fair thing to keep to remember her by, anyway.

The bullet hole in Luke's thigh seemed to look worse than it was – bloodied, dark crimson, and crusty around the edges. Clementine grimaced; it surely wasn't a fun sight to behold, but at least it could be worse.

Bonnie grabbed a small roll of bandages and antiseptic from her backpack, beginning to unravel a fresh strip of white to wrap around Luke's thigh. Before she could move, however, Troy interrupted, his fingers rubbing at his throat.

"Mind keepin' some'a that for my neck?" he rasped.

The redhead paused and gazed up at him, quirking an eyebrow. After a few moments, she rolled her eyes and replied, "You look fine, Troy. Kenny just left a few bruises, but there ain't nothin' we can do about that." After giving a long sigh, she added, "What is it with you guys?"

"What do you mean?" Luke asked.

"Every man I've known is always tryin' to let each other know how tough they are. Put 'em in their place. Buncha dominant, alpha male horseshit. And it always ends the same way," Bonnie muttered, beginning to wrap Luke's wound.

"I've noticed that, too," Clementine commented quietly. "I don't know why it has to be that way." Lee never did something like that – at least, not that she saw. She wondered, briefly, if he ever got into 'matches' with other men, or tried to prove himself. Maybe when he was younger; Clementine let herself smile briefly at the thought of a teenage Lee, and then frowned again.

Bonnie shook her head, clearly disappointed. "It just is. You get two of 'em in a room together and it's just a matter'a time before they're challengin' each other to somethin'."

"Well, don't look at me. I ain't that kinda guy." Luke's response only received a snort from Nick.

The taller male crossed his arms and said, "Yeah, right. We've definitely gotten into pissin' matches before. Don't you remember our last challenge?"

Luke paused to think, the gears visibly turning in his head before he brightened. "Oh, yeah... the wake-a-thon?"

"Yeah. Kicked your ass." Nick smirked, adjusting his hat proudly.

"Wake-a-thon?" Clementine echoed, with a raise of her brow.

Luke flushed a bit, rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment. "Nick and I wanted to see how long we could go without sleep. Whoever stayed up the longest won, and the loser got to do whatever the winner wanted. Hence, wake-a-thon. We nearly gave ourselves heart attacks with all the coffee we drank."

"Speak for yourself; I was chugging Monsters like nobody's business," Nick replied.

"Yeah, whatever. Point was, caffeine could only keep me goin' for so long. I crashed after forty-eight hours or so... slept for a few days after that, too."

Nick beamed, laughing. "That was one I definitely felt after it was over, but I'm glad I won. Luke's face when I made him eat those worms was priceless. Wish I still had my phone to show you the picture; it was my wallpaper for a while."

Bonnie blinked, placing her hand on her hip. "Worms? Oh, I'm sorry, I thought y'all were grown men, not second graders." Clementine smiled at the humor of the situation, grateful for a distraction from everything for the time being.

"I saw my friend Duck eating worms, once," she commented, keeping her voice down in case Kenny could hear her. Thankfully, though, he didn't, and she merely smiled at the memory. "Though he was pretending they were ramen noodles."

Troy scoffed. "What a weird fuckin' kid. Hell, you're all weird, but I can't disagree with the challenge thing. Me'n my brother used to get into extreme matches with each other to settle stuff. Guess it's a guy thing." He rolled his eyes and continued, "But anyway – only two days? I would'a kicked both your asses into the ground if I'd'a been in on it, and still been rarin' to go when y'all woke up days later. I barely sleep as it is."

"Man, if the world's ever normal again, I'm takin' you up on that," Nick said. "But only because I wanna see the rooster eat some worms of his own."

Luke nodded. "Good idea, Nick."

"Are you kiddin'?!" Troy yelled, frowning. "And what the fuck is with y'all callin' me Rooster?"

"Don't you remember, Troy?" Bonnie chuckled. "It was always 'This rooster's gonna be on your ass,' or 'This rooster ain't happy with what he's been seein' in the pen,' or 'Y'all don't wanna make this rooster mad'. Every damn thing you said had to do with poultry."

"Hey, fuck you!" Troy snarled. "It was a way'a keepin' them in line."

"No it wasn't. In fact, that just made me wanna punch you in the face more," Luke admitted sheepishly.

The one-armed man just frowned and narrowed his eyes, making a face that reminded Clementine of the one he made after she told him not to kick her back at Howe's. He looked... sour, his lips pursed out like he was pouting, and the skin on one side of his nose lifted to create a snarl-like look.

Honestly, though he was trying to be threatening, she just found it funny. Exchanging an amused glance with Bonnie, she focused back on Luke's wound, noting how much better it looked with some proper bandaging.

"Alright, that should hold for now. Who else needs fixed up?" Bonnie asked, standing back up.

"Mike got shot," Clementine pointed out, glancing over at the other half of the group. "And of course we have Kenny and Troy..."

"I'm fine," Troy growled. "Go check on One-Eyed Willie over there."

After flashing a glare his way, Clementine grabbed a roll of bandages and antiseptic for herself and said, "I'll go... try to help Kenny out." 'Try' was the key word there, and they all knew why.

"Alright. I'll go fix up Mike," Bonnie said. "Luke, y' gonna be alright here?"

Nick cleared his throat. "Don't worry, I'll make sure he stays put."

Luke flashed a grin towards his friend, and then nodded in response. "Yeah, yeah. How can I not be alright when I got one and a half guards here?"

Troy merely glared darkly at the snipe, but said nothing. Clementine smiled a bit at his reaction, pleased he wasn't striking out or yelling, and turned towards the others. It seemed like Mike was deep in conversation with Kenny, but judging by the glares on the men's faces, it was getting a little intense. Jane was engaged somewhat, adding in a few words here and there before crossing her arms and huffing, looking quite annoyed. Sarah merely took AJ from Mike and was trying to shuffle away from the group.

On her way over, Clementine stopped her friend and asked, "How are things... over there?"

Sarah grimaced. "They're still fighting... over what, I'm not really sure. Arvo, I assume, but... yeah. Speaking of, he's just sorta been sitting there for a while now... I wonder if he's okay?" She cast a concerned glance to the Russian teen, who was sitting on the cold ground a few feet away.

Clementine frowned. "I'll make sure he's alright, too," she promised, because nothing about this situation sat right with her. Watching a grown man bully a teenager was off-putting, to say the least. With a frown, she gazed down at AJ and watched him nod off to sleep, trying to appreciate the small bundle of innocence that he was. That innocence would never last, and she knew it.

"No, I... I got it," Sarah said. "I'll check on him, I mean."

Blinking, Clementine nodded to her friend and began to make her way over to the three. She'd just caught the end of their conversation, by the sound of it.

"No one's asking you to trust him," Jane was hissing, "but you can't beat him up every time you get frustrated with him."

"Oh yes I fuckin' can," Kenny snapped back. "It's his fault Sarita's dead. If his group'a trigger-happy Russkies hadn't attacked us in the first place, she'd still be here."

Mike grimaced and argued, "It ain't the kid's fault. You can't be pushin' him around like that."

Kenny opened his mouth to retort something when he noticed Clementine approaching. Whatever he was going to say died in his throat; the moment he saw her, his attention was directed. Frowning, the man lowered his gaze and said, "You here for me?"

With a nod, the girl wordlessly stepped forward, watching Jane and Mike disperse almost immediately. Clementine stood in front of him, showing him the antiseptic carefully.

"What do you, uh... got there, Clem?" Kenny asked, as if he didn't know.

Biting her lip, she hesitated and finally said, "Can I... change your bandages?"

The man stared at her with a long, steely gaze before muttering, "You shouldn't have to do stuff like this..."

To that, she couldn't help but snicker. She'd done plenty worse than changing bandages – and he knew that, too. "I cut off Troy's arm and closed a gash on my arm by myself," she pointed out. "I shouldn't have to do a lot of things, but I did, and I will keep doing so."

Pursing his lips, Kenny merely sighed and began to comply. "Hopefully this don't scare you..." he mumbled, removing his hat and curling his fingers under the crimson rags that were once bandages, stripping them off despite the crusty blood around the area. Clementine winced after he finally peeled them away, leaving an ugly dark red mess underneath.

"So," he continued, "how's it look? Am I still gonna be pretty when this heals?"

She felt the corners of her lips being tugged down, a lump forming in her throat as she recalled what Carver did to Kenny. That man had permanently damaged someone so dear to her; she didn't want to, but she was sort of happy he was dead.

"I'm... I'm so sorry, Kenny," she whispered, closing her eyes.

"That bad, huh? You ain't got nothin' to apologize for, Clementine. This... wasn't your doin'." For a moment, something dark flashed in the man's remaining eye as he glared over towards Troy. "And I'm still havin' trouble believin' we got one'a that bastard's men in our group."

Suddenly she felt guilty for bringing Troy along; she didn't regret it (not yet), but bringing a direct reminder to Kenny of all the pain he'd gone through wasn't a very smart move for her to make. Still, she knew she did what Lee would have, and that was all she could hope for.

"He's suffered enough," she replied, following Kenny's gaze to the one-armed man.

"Don't tell me you trust him."

"Trust? No, of course not. But... I believe in second chances."

Kenny's eyebrows raised for a moment, contemplating that sentence before he leaned forward. "Well, let's get this over with."

Nodding, Clementine soaked the rag with antiseptic, pausing before she placed it on Kenny's wound. Something held her in place, like she was... afraid of touching him. Given that he'd yelled at her less than a few hours ago, and so violently too, it was no wonder why she instinctively didn't want to get close. But she had to do this – and he wasn't right back then. He was okay now, wasn't he?

"This... is gonna suck," she muttered, gently leaning forward to place the tip of the rag onto his eye. At the slightest touch, however, he leaned back, letting out an angry snarl like an animal, curses flying from his lips. Eyes widened, Clementine fought the urge to scramble back, away from him, but ultimately stayed put.

Once he caught his breath, Kenny gritted his teeth and gave her the okay to try again. Wishing he'd stop squirming, the girl carefully brought the rag closer once more, this time making contact and not having to retract it moments later. The man flinched, obviously in pain,

"So you really stitched yourself up? In the arm?" Kenny asked, biting back a hiss from the medicine's stinging. "That's pretty tough, Clem."

"Yeah," she replied. "It... wasn't fun. About as fun as this is to you, I'm guessing."

"Well, just proves you got those survival instincts. The same kind AJ's gonna have as he gets older."

A small smile crossed her lips. "Definitely. Just like his dad."

"Agreed. Alvin may not have looked like – hnrk! – looked like much, but guy had a pair of 'em. Wish we could've brought him along with us. Wish we could've saved him. I'm gonna think about that... every time I look at that baby. Alvin should be here, with Rebecca – raisin' him. It shouldn't... have to be us. It should be his parents."

"The best you can do for them... the best we all can do for Rebecca and Alvin... is to raise him right. All of us." After she finally wiped away the majority of the blood from Kenny's wound, Clementine let out a sigh. "Okay, I just need to get this covered up."

The man remained silent as she wrapped his eye again, careful not to rub the wound too roughly and to be as gentle as possible. She remembered doing this with Troy not so long ago; come to think of it, Kenny had had a significantly less dramatic reaction to the antiseptic. At least he didn't cry out and yell at her like she was doing something wrong.

At least the hard part with Troy was over, though, and he seemed to be recovering well enough. Hell, they all were now; given the injuries among the surviving members of the party, things weren't as bad as they could be.

Knock on wood.

Quickly, she finished wrapping his eye, placing his hat back on his head with a small smile. "There. All fixed up." For now, she added silently.

"Thanks, darlin', I – wait, what's she doin' with him?" Kenny's attention was snapped to the scene a few feet away. His voice raised in anger as he stood up, eye narrowed fiercely over at where Arvo was. "The fuck are you doin'?!"

Clementine glanced over where he was; Sarah was sitting by Arvo, helping to reapply the support to his leg. The girl froze at his voice, looking like a deer caught in the headlights, eyes wide with fear and hands hovered just above the Russian's leg.

"I – I was – h-he needed his brace switched out! W-we had the supplies..." Sarah stammered, biting her lip.

"And? What the fuck makes you think we're gonna waste it on him?"

Clementine frowned. "We're using it on him because it's his stuff to begin with. It was on his sister. He has the brace. Why wouldn't we use it on him?"

"She's right," Mike chimed in, approaching the teenagers and standing in front of them. "Kenny, I'm gonna tell you one more time: Leave the kid alone. Like it or not, Sarah was helpin' him out."

"He's part of the group now," Nick pointed out from his spot next to Luke.

Kenny snickered at that. "He's only 'part of the group' until he shows us that house. Then he's outta here."

"Why you gotta be like that?" Luke asked, glaring towards the older man. "He ain't botherin' anybody."

"He knows the area," Jane reminded them, trying to appeal with logic. "If anyone can get us to where we're going, I'm betting on him."

Kenny's fists shook at his sides, as if he was ready to strike out against anyone at any moment. Clementine hesitantly took a step forward, instead of backwards (because her instincts liked to put her into danger, rather than get her out of it). She placed a hand on the man's arm, shaking her head once his eye met hers.

Finally, after the moments of silence in the group stretched on into what felt like hours, Kenny relaxed his tense shoulders and growled, "Fine. Fix him, and let's go. We can't be here all day. Luke, can you walk?"

The man nodded, struggling to a standing position and leaning on Nick. "Yeah, I... think I'm okay." He avoided the other's eyes as everyone shuffled back into a small group for traveling, Sarah hurriedly fixing up Arvo's leg.

"There," she finally said, patting his knee. "Does that feel okay?"

Nodding, the teen replied, "Yes... thank you."

Sarah gave a small smile and asked, "How did it happen, anyway?"

Arvo shrugged, standing up and glancing down at the rope binding his wrists together. "Was on ice. Fell, leg snapped like twig. Took long time to heal... is getting okay, though. At least I can walk."

Sarah's eyes widened. "Wow... sounds like it hurts. Just let me know if it needs fixed again, okay?"

"You did good job, Sarah... Thank you," Arvo repeated, genuine relief shown on his face. Clementine offered a smile to him, too, but he didn't catch it before he was shoved to the front of the group by Kenny.

She pondered, briefly, how much weight compassion held in this world; did it have a bigger effect than intimidation and fear? She'd always chosen to be kind rather than mean, but she couldn't help but wonder which one allowed people to last the longest. Fates weren't sealed, she knew that from Troy – and also, showing kindness could definitely spare a person's life.

Had Carver focused his community on truly being a family, rather than the prison system that mocked an actual working community, would things have ultimately turned out for the better? Or would everyone have died out anyway?

Clementine couldn't help but wonder this as they marched on towards who-knew-where, relying on what tiny shards of trust they had in Arvo and that he was scared enough to lead them to the place he promised.

Chapter Text

"Arvo, is this where the supplies are? Where the food is?" Clementine doubted it; just one look at where the Russian had led them, to a small power plant surrounded by a fence, and it was obvious this wasn't what Arvo had in mind when he mentioned a food-stocked place. Frowning, Clementine repeated her question when he was silent, prompting Kenny to give him a shove.

"Answer her, goddammit!"

The teen stumbled a bit, flinching at the stiffness of his leg, and eventually shook his head. "No... no, is more walk. Few hours."

Kenny roared in frustration, the gun still pointed in Arvo's direction as he shook his head and gnashed his teeth, one hand ironically holding AJ's cradled form as gently as possible.

The weapon constantly trained on Arvo was getting on Clementine's last nerve; why did Kenny insist on treating him like he was going to attack them at any moment? He had shot his own sister before she could turn; that was enough to destroy anyone psychologically, at least for a little while. The fact that Arvo had initiated the fight didn't help things, either. He couldn't be in a good place, mentally; not like any of them were, though.

Clementine stared down the hill towards the power plant, noting that the area was covered by a fence on all sides. That could mean safety for at least a few hours; everyone seemed tired, but was it worth the risk to stop to rest? She blinked and exchanged a glance with whoever was standing next to her - which happened to be Sarah.

"Do you… think that's safe enough to stay the night?" the older girl asked, chewing on her lip as she voiced Clementine's thoughts.

"Don't see why not," Mike replied, and turned to face Kenny. "I mean it's surrounded - and we can sleep in shifts like we did back at Parker's Run. It'd be nice to get some actual rest for a change."

Kenny swept his eyes over the group, probably taking in how exhausted his companions were, and his sights fell on AJ. The baby was sleeping peacefully, cradled in a blanket and kept snug against Kenny's chest for warmth, but there was no way he would last if they kept going until nightfall. If they couldn't get him food just yet, fire would keep the infant alive.

Eventually, after brief moments of thought, the older man nodded. "Fine," he huffed, trudging through the snow and shouldering past Arvo. "We gotta get a fire goin' and figure out the shifts as quickly as possible, though - it's almost sundown and I ain't freezin' to death."

Clementine felt a rush of relief at his answer, seeing the same expression in the faces of the rest of the group, and followed Kenny down the hill. She heard the faint footsteps of the others following her, silently creating a deep path of prints in the snow.

I hope we can have at least one quiet, peaceful night. She thought, though that didn't seem likely.

The sun was beginning to set. Clementine focused her gaze on the orange splashes along the horizon, noting the way the barren trees seemed to blend into the warm colors the sky was producing. She let out a small sigh, seeing her breath leaving in a puff of visible frozen air. Huddling into herself, she gazed around the group seated around her.

Everyone had such a tired, defeated look upon their faces; she couldn't look at anyone for too long, as if she could catch the despair etched onto their expressions like some sort of disease - or like a plague that reanimated corpses after death.

Clementine felt another shudder course through her and scooted towards their fire, which was little more than a small, pathetic flaming bundle of bristles and twigs. The members of the group that were smart enough to sit by the only source of warmth - Bonnie, Mike, Nick, Sarah, Luke, and Kenny - soon followed Clementine, getting close enough to feel the heat radiating onto their faces.

Jane and Troy, on the other hand…

For whatever reason, those particular members of the group thought they were somehow above warmth, or were just too prideful to join everyone else. But she supposed it didn't matter; like the saying went - you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. And those two horses were more stubborn than anyone Clementine had encountered so far.

Oh well, their loss. She thought, turning her head to look at the two adults, who had their backs turned to the group. They weren't near each other per se, but rather were in the same general area; Troy was sitting a ways off from Jane, picking at the ground with his hand. Jane just had her arms crossed, brooding about who-knew-what.

Sarah's hand on her shoulder snapped Clementine back to reality; turning to the older girl, she flashed a small grin her way.

"How are you doing, Sarah?" She asked, though in retrospect it was a stupid question. None of them were doing well, so there was only one answer to that.

Still, her friend gave a shrug and replied, "I'm okay, for now at least. I feel kinda sorry for Arvo, though…" She cast a glance over at the Russian teen, who was bound by his hands and over in a corner of their campsite; his head hung low, quiet sobs making his shoulders shake. A soft, sympathetic look crossed Sarah's face as she whispered, "Sarita wouldn't have liked this."

Clementine had to agree with that; Kenny's rage at the boy was misguided, as he was more angry at the death of someone so beloved to him than anything. Still, Arvo was his chosen punching bag, and she could do little to stop the abuse. Arvo had provoked the fight, but ultimately, he didn't hurt anyone.

She sighed, curling her knees up to her chest and mumbling, "I feel bad, too. He just put down his sister." For once, Clementine was glad she was an only child; she couldn't imagine shooting someone close to her age that had been around for most (if not all) of her life. In fact, the chilling thought made her shudder.

Kenny, luckily, didn't hear their conversation, and was gazing down warmly towards AJ. The baby was asleep, evident by the lack of cooing from his bundle, and seemed peaceful for now. In fact, everyone seemed to be calming down a bit after their hellish day. They needed it; after the lives they'd lost just hours ago, a mental break was definitely necessary.

Clementine tried to put on a smile for the group, tried to break herself from the harsh reality and just enjoy the peacefulness, even if it was an illusion. Maybe if she tried hard enough, she could trick herself into believing everything was okay; that was a rather amusing thought, as nothing up to this point had worked in her favor. A rather hopeless grin spread across her cheeks instead, but she quickly buried it underneath a frown.

She just could not let this world break her. It wasn't an option, and she wouldn't give herself the luxury of becoming bitter.

Luke's voice drowned out her fruitless attempt at cheering up, thankfully distracting her from her thoughts. His face looked rather distant as he announced, "Today… uh, today's my birthday. At least… I assume it's around this day. Yeah."

Blinking, Clementine felt a natural smile come to her cheeks and replied, "Happy Birthday, Luke." She remembered all the birthday parties she'd had and went to as a child; days of pinatas and ice cream cakes seemed so far away now. What she wouldn't give for a chocolate chip cookie…

"Yeah, Happy Birthday, man," Mike echoed, and the rest of the group followed with similar wishes. "How old are you?"

"Uh, twenty-seven. Heh. Sure as hell feel a lot older, though," Luke replied sheepishly, running a hand through his hair.

Nick elbowed him. "You're only a year older than me, dude. Don't make me feel old."

"Oh, c'mon, don't you two start with that shit," Kenny clucked, shaking his head with a smirk.

Luke gave a half-hearted smile in return. "I got outta college five years ago… feels like a million years." His face fell, eyes trailing off to stare at the ground. Clementine couldn't help but notice how forlorn he looked, despite the lighthearted topic. "At least I don't have to worry about payin' off them student loans."

"I hear that," Mike chimed in. "I'm sure there's some asshole sittin' on that paperwork… waitin' to collect. I'm lucky I went to a state school - wasn't as much cash to dish out."

"What did you study?" Clementine asked, glancing at both Luke and Mike. She'd heard of the dreaded 'student loans,' but thankfully hadn't had to deal with them before the apocalypse.

The two exchanged glances, and Mike answered first. "Pre-med. Like I said, state school meant not as much for tuition… but that was for the first part of school. I still had to work my ass off and was headin' for more schooling before all this shit."

Luke raised his eyebrows, clearly impressed. "Damn. And here I was just gettin' a degree in art history. With a minor in agriculture to keep my old man happy."

"That sounds cool," Sarah commented.

Kenny snickered. "Sounds like you majored in workin' in a coffee shop."

"Pretty much," Luke admitted, exchanging a smirk with Bonnie.

Said redhead seemed to light up all of a sudden, reaching down by her knapsack and mumbling to herself, eventually bringing up a large bottle. "Oh, I almost forgot! I was savin' this for a special occasion, and well… it bein' your birthday and all, figure… it's as good a time as any." As she moved it about, thick liquid inside the bottle sloshed around.

Clementine had seen that sort of thing before; it was some kind of alcohol. With a bit of a sly smile (oh, what would Lee think of her now?), she said, "I'd like a sip. I mean… after you… obviously."

Nick gave her a sheepish look. "Really?" The last time she'd had a sip of something like that was in the shed with him, and they both remembered how badly that had gone.

"Absolutely fuckin' not," Kenny snapped, flashing a glare towards her. "You are not drinkin'. That is that."

Sarah scrunched up her face. "Yuck! Kenny's right; we're not supposed to drink that yet, Clem. Where did you even get that, Bonnie?"

A rough, unexpected voice sounded from over near the fence. "She stole it from fuckin' Bill, how else do you think?" Troy had turned around, his eyes narrowed fiercely. The dark of the spot he was in only made him seem more menacing, though Clementine could see right through his bullshit.

"Oh, Bill didn't like to drink anyway, Troy," Bonnie reasoned. "What was the harm in takin' it?"

"Yeah? Well, y'all won't be gettin' help from me if you're too drunk to defend yourselves. Irresponsible little shits…" The man's voice trailed off into grumbles, and he turned back around, no doubt glaring towards the fence.

Clementine sighed to herself, rolling her eyes; she had almost forgotten how annoying he was in the peace of the situation, but he just had to remind her. Luke chuckled at her irritated look, gazing down at the bottle he'd been given. "Well, anyway, I feel a little guilty, takin' the first…"

"Whoa, wait. You gotta make a toast first," Bonnie insisted. "Come on, birthday boy - it don't have to be fancy. We'll just pass the bottle around afterwards and have a sip."

Luke took another slow look at the group, eyes focusing on each member of the group before he cleared his throat. His voice trembled a bit as he lifted the drink up, choking out, "To the loved ones that we've lost along the way… and the hope that we see them again. Someday."

Clementine frowned, watching everyone's faces melt into pensive thought, each person reflecting on their own lost friends and family. Just for a moment, she found herself thinking of Lee, of her parents, of Sandra… of everyone she'd met and had to say goodbye to since this whole thing began. Closing her eyes, she pretended that Lee was next to her again, and tried to convince herself that the warmth of the fire was his hand gently rubbing at her back. The illusion was so strong, she swore she heard the word "sweetpea" for a moment. But of course, once she opened her eyes again, Lee was gone, and the fantasy died away… just like him.

The next moment, however, Sarah's hand squeezed hers, and she gazed over to her friend. The girl's eyes were saddened, but she was clearly trying to be strong despite that. Clementine forced a smile for her friend's sake, turning her attention back to the adults.

"Here, here," Mike chimed in, raising his hand.

"That was… nice, man," Nick commented.

Luke smirked. "Yeah? I didn't mean for it to rhyme… It just sorta did." He pressed the bottle to his lips, taking a long sip of the drink. Pulling back, he wiped his mouth off with a rough sigh, handing it over to Bonnie.

"Thanks," she murmured, her sights set on the two members of the group refusing to get warm. "Hey, Jane! Troy! Y'all want a sip of this? For the toast?" Clementine caught the hopeful look in her eyes.

"Maybe later," Jane merely called, and Troy shook his head with another dark glare.

"Sheesh. Crapapples," Bonnie snorted with a shake of her head. After she took a sip herself, she passed it along to Mike. "Still, I did like that speech, Luke. It's hard to forget the lives we left behind, that's for sure…"

At those words, Sarah suddenly lit up. "Oh! Wait a minute, I have an idea!" She scurried over to one of the backpacks, digging around and mumbling to herself. "Oh, c'mon… where is it? One second…! Here we go!" After a few moments of searching, the older girl returned with a bunch of rope in her hands. Sitting back down, she cracked a wide, nervous grin.

"What's that for, Sarah?" Nick asked.

"Um… so…" The girl began nervously, chewing on her bottom lip. Clementine nodded in encouragement to her; with a small smile, she bobbed her head in return and continued. "When I was a kid, I had a lot of pet fish. I wasn't allowed to have much else, not like a dog or a cat or anything…"

"Unsurprising," Luke commented, rolling his eyes with a soft smirk. "I can't see Carlos likin' the idea of a big dog rompin' around ya, Sarah."

The girl smiled back sheepishly. "I… I guess that sounds like my dad, doesn't it? But, yeah, I only had fish. They usually didn't last long, though, so we had to keep getting more… whenever I lost one, I'd bury it in my backyard. There was a whole graveyard at one point, with headstones and everything!"

"Sounds sorta creepy," Clementine joked, imagining a bunch of tiny headstones out in a backyard, like they were just another part of the scenery.

Sarah nudged her friend. "No, it wasn't - it was cool! All my neighbors thought so, at least. So, um, eventually, there were too many fish graves to really remember who was who. Like, Fishy was next to Swimmy, but I couldn't figure out where Nemo went, and - anyway, I had this idea one day, when I found some rope in my dad's shed." Holding up a piece of rope, she pointed to the ends. "I would make a knot for each fish I lost - and just keep the rope in my room. That way, everyone was accounted for, and I had something to hold onto."

Luke brightened. "Oh, I get it, so you're sayin' we should do that, now?"

"Yeah!" Sarah exclaimed. "I mean, if it's okay - I know we only have so much of this, but… I think it'll help. I've been wanting to do it since…" Her words trailed off, and she merely shook her head clear. "Is it okay?"

Bonnie nodded. "A'course it is. Clem, can you cut pieces for everyone?"

"Sure. How many?"

"Um… Well, there's Kenny, me, you, Bonnie, Mike, Luke, Nick, and… I think we should keep some for Jane, Troy, and Arvo, too." Sarah nodded to herself, as though to confirm it.

Clementine raised her trusty hatchet and sliced into the long piece of rope, watching it split into halves, and thirds, and quarters, and so on. She did think it was a good idea, and wished she'd thought of something like it before; she could keep her own rope pieces in her pocket from now on, to keep Lee and the others close to her.

The group around the fire fell silent as they received their slice of rope, gazing down at it and pondering how many knots to make. Clementine did the same, only pausing to watch Sarah approach the other three and offer them a piece.

She overheard Jane mumble her thanks, but Troy had a bit of a different reaction. Clutching the small piece of rope in his hand, he threw it a few feet away from him, hissing loudly, "Fuck, I don't want that, Sarah! Doin' that… rememberin' shit only slows you down. Don't y'all know that?"

Sarah frowned and stared at her feet, mumbling apologies. Mike called over, "Oh, pay him no mind, kid. I bet he's just pissed he's got no one to knot into that rope."

Troy was practically red in the face from Mike's comment, but Sarah didn't notice and cautiously approached Arvo. She murmured something to the teen, placing a piece in his hands. Afterwards, she made her way back to the fire and sat down.

Clementine glanced around, noting the knots that everyone had made. She looked down at her own rope slice, and made three knots - for Lee, and for her mother and father. Though she'd lost so many, those three were the most heavy on her conscience. Their memories constantly ate away at her, taunting her for being alive and not doing more to save them.

Frowning, she heard Sarah begin talking and focused her attention back to her. "Does anyone want to, um, share theirs? I'll go first." Holding out her piece of gnarled rope, she counted the knots. "One, and two - for my mom and dad. I… I miss them so much." Clementine flashed her friend a sympathetic glance, somewhat proud of her for being so open about things, though.

Luke volunteered to go next. "I, uh… I made a few for my folks - for my mom and pop, and my aunt. We all lived in a house way south from here, together, and after the lurkers, shit just… happened, and they were gone. Also made two for Rebecca and Alvin. So that's five for me."

Nick placed a hand on his shoulder, giving it a squeeze. Quietly, he placed his own rope piece in front of him. "Two knots - one for my mom, and for Pete." His eyes glazed over with pain, but Clementine could see something different in them for once - a burning desire to continue, to live. Again, she wondered - what had changed in Nick so suddenly?

"Pete was a kind man," Bonnie commented. "And I'm not just sayin' that - I always thought he had a goodness inside him that was too pure for Howe's. He cared too much." After Nick nodded his thanks, she continued, "Anyway, I made one for my Mama and Pop, who are hopefully watchin' over me nowadays. Now, as for my big brothers, I don't know where they ended up, but I have a lotta confidence they're still alive. Strong sons-of-bitches, they were."

"How many brothers did you have?" Mike asked.

"Four, if you can believe it. And I was their 'baby' sister - though I was never a baby around them. Toughened me up, though, I guess." Snickering, she added, "And these last two, well… I was with some folks before I ended up at Howe's - I mean, before the group I came in with. Leland, and Dee… they were such kind people. I can't ever repay them for what they did for me." Her eyes reflected deep regret in them, and Clementine wondered what had happened to them, and how it all went down.

"Damn," Mike commented, scratching the back of his neck. "I made one for my younger sister, who I was… separated with before comin' into Howe's. I don't think she's dead - at least, I hope to God not - but just in case. And one for my mom, too - she was such a badass woman. Fought to get us both out of the house when the lurkers attacked."

Bonnie next gave him a look of compassion, frowning. "Your mama seemed like a strong gal."

"Amen." Mike snorted, still in enough of a good mood to put humor into the situation. Clementine liked that about him - he kept things light. "If I'd have died in that herd, I just know she'd be nagging my ear off - well, the good one."

Clementine smiled slightly, holding up her piece. "I made two for my parents, who were in Savannah when this whole thing started… and then, of course, my friend Lee. He took care of me, and gave his life so I could live." Her stomach churned with uneasiness at the memories, a deep sadness looming over her heart. Just for a moment, she let herself feel that loss, that sorrow - and then forced it out as best she could. "He taught me how to survive."

"You mentioned him before," Luke murmured. "He seemed like a good man, too."

"Oh, that don't even cover half of it," Kenny retorted. "Lee was one'a my best friends. We may not have agreed all the time, but we were partners in the end. He and Clementine were two of a kind, never saw one without the other. Hope you don't mind, Clem, but I put one knot on my piece for him. And…" The man's eyes clouded for a second, the past overtaking him. "And a knot for my wife, Katjaa, one for my son, Duck, and of course… one for Sarita." He closed his palm around the object, closing his eyes in thought. "Made two for Walter and Matthew, too."

Nick's face drained of color at those last words, and after exchanging a glance with Luke, he cleared his throat. "Uh... uh, Kenny?" he croaked nervously. "I gotta confess something to you, man."

"Is this really the, uh, place, Nick? After we're havin' us a good time talkin' about loved ones?" Luke asked, raising an eyebrow and shaking his head. Clementine tried to relay that same message over to the man, but he was persistent as usual. 

"No," he insisted. "I have to! It's now or never, and I can't take it anymore. Kenny... before we found the cabin, Clem and Luke were talking to Matthew on the bridge. I... I thought they needed help, because they waved to me. I was so fucking stupid, and I..." His voice broke as he hung his head low. "I shot him. Right off the bridge. I'm... sorry. I'm so sorry." 

Clementine gazed at Sarah, whose whole face painted her sympathy. The older girl curled her knees closer to her chest, heaving a quiet sigh to herself. 

No one said a word as Nick's shoulders shook with tension and guilt, his head lowered in submission. Kenny's eyes were unreadable, his lips drawn into a tight frown as he studied the younger man. It was clear that Nick was haunted by his decision, but did that mean anything to Kenny, or did he want him to suffer for what he'd done? 

Finally, Kenny let out a long breath and murmured, "Kid, we've all done things we regret, even if we thought we were doin' the right thing at the time. Hell, I... I killed an unconscious man who might'a lived, had I not smashed his face in. I can't say it's okay, but there ain't no need to torture yourself; I ain't gonna lash out." He flashed as gentle a smile he could manage at Nick. "I don't think Sarita would've liked that very much."

Nick was speechless, his eyes shimmering with unshed tears as he replied, "Thank you... thank you, Kenny." 

Kenny nodded, but said nothing more on the matter, clear that he was finished talking about it. But Clementine knew that that was exactly what Nick needed to hear; that while it wasn't something he should be okay with, the fact that he killed Matthew was something he needed to put behind him. It was only dragging him down. 

Nick's leg bounced up and down nervously as he sat, and Luke patted his knee in comfort. The two friends exchanged smiles, and Clementine felt another warm feeling of relief wash over her. 

"Well, I hate to cut this moment short," Kenny announced suddenly, standing up. "But I'll go on first watch, I guess."

"We're pretty secure with this fence," Mike pointed out.

"Can never be too careful."

"But…" Clementine was worried for him, yes, but her concern mostly lied with AJ, who was still in Kenny's arms. Did he really intend to deny the infant warmth because of his own 'obligations'? "Can you leave AJ with us?"

Kenny shrugged. "Sure. Little guy should keep warm, anyway. Here, Bonnie." He offered the child to the redhead, who took him in her arms gently. "Now, I'm off." Without anything more, he marched off to a corner of the small, fenced-in area, most likely to reflect.

Clementine couldn't blame him, as they'd been through so much, and the 'icebreaker' activity they'd just had wasn't helping to keep their minds off things. Not that she thought that was the best method - sometimes you needed to let it all out, and keep those you love and lost on your mind. There was a time and place for that sort of reminiscing, and when Sarah proposed it, it was okay.

But most of the time now, it wasn't.

"I'm going to go see if Arvo needs help with his rope piece," Sarah announced, standing up. She waved to Clementine, and without another word, made her way over to the bound teen away from the rest of them.

Really, Clementine pitied him; it wasn't her decision to tie him up, nor to leave him in the cold. She wished the others wouldn't be so cruel.

"Clem, can you see if they want to join us by the fire?" Bonnie's voice snapped her out of her thoughts. "Maybe try bringin' that bottle, see if it works in persuadin' them."

The girl nodded, taking the alcohol (damn, this was heavy) and approaching Jane first. The young woman seemed in a daze, her back turned to the group and her arms crossed at her chest, gazing outside the fence as though there was a ghost or something there she couldn't quite see. When she was approached, however, she turned around and nodded in greeting.

Clementine offered the bottle to her, which just made her scoff. "They expect you to lure me over there with alcohol? I wouldn't have expected a bottle to last that long, honestly." Jane rolled her eyes, though she wore a playful smirk.

"We just want you to get warm, Jane," Clementine replied with a shrug. "This is a bonus, though, if you want it." She held it out, an expectant look on her face.

Jane pursed her lips. "What is it?"

Inspecting the bottle's label, Clementine replied, ", I think it's rum…?" She didn't know much about alcohol - thankfully! She could only imagine her father and Lee's faces if they knew what she was doing now.

With a quiet laugh, Jane nodded, taking the alcohol without a word and pressing the tip to her mouth. After taking a gulp, she brought the bottle back down and muttered, "Why does this feel like I've signed a contract or something…? Still, it's pretty good. Want a sip?"

Instantly, Clementine shook her head. "No thanks." With the memory of her loved ones so recent, she didn't think they'd approve of the act; it was easier to say no (though she was curious).

Jane snorted, her eyes studying the bottle's label absentmindedly. After reaching into her pocket, she pulled out her own piece of rope from Sarah's… activity, one tiny knot tied into the center. "What'd you think of that rope thing… ?"

"I liked it," Clementine answered, honestly. "I think we all need to remember who we lost along the way."

"Even if we feel nothing about them?" Jane questioned, not giving her a chance to reply. "My sister - Jamie, I've mentioned her before if you remember… she… gave up one day. Didn't want to get out of bed, even. She said she couldn't do this anymore. And can you really blame her?" Bitterly, the woman knitted her eyebrows in frustration.

Clementine frowned. "It's… it's hard to keep going sometimes. What happened next… ?"

"I had to drag her ass to the roof of the house we were staying in, and she still refused to move. So I just… left her there." Jane crossed her arms, shaking her head. "When I say it like that, it sounds so… weightless. Like I'm just talking about the weather or what I ate for breakfast; fuck, I left my sister to die. Even if she was too weak to continue, and I don't regret it, shouldn't I feel… something?"

It was clear that Jane had numbed herself to the pain of losing her sister - either that, or she truly did have Carver's instincts from the start, choosing to let the weak die and rise above them in the end. Clementine really hoped it wasn't the latter, but she didn't really know Jane. The way she talked about Jaime was mechanical, almost like a robot or something.

Biting her lip, the young girl didn't really know how to answer that. She didn't know a lot about things like this, truthfully - she just knew how she felt about things, and chose what she assumed was right (and what Lee would have done). But without guidance, Jane had to make her own decisions… even if they seemed like the wrong ones afterwards.

However, before she could even form a response, a figure approached them, its shadow flickering next to theirs. A familiar voice broke through the awkward silence like nails on a chalkboard, the thick Southern drawl almost squawking (which was… fitting, considering the speaker).

"What the hell did you just say, Jane?" Troy stepped forward, his face dark with anger. "You left your sister to fuckin' die? Just willy-fuckin'-nilly? Like she was nothin' but old newspaper? The fuck is wrong with you, bitch?!" His eyes were fierce, his tone aggressive as he shoved his face into Jane's.

The young woman didn't take too kindly to him being so close, naturally, and shoved him back. "Watch it, stumpy. I didn't realize you were such a good judge of character. Who was Carver's mutt, again? What, did he promise you a bone the moment you were done mocking the 'chickens' in the pen? In more ways than one, I assume."

Clementine didn't know what that meant, but it sure did make Troy mad. The man's lips curled back like a dog's, his voice low. "Y' just don't get it. Older siblings are supposed to watch out for the younger ones. Are you fuckin' stupid? Why would you do somethin' like that?"

Underneath all that rage, Clementine could almost detect a bit of hurt and… something else. There was definitely another emotion there, but she couldn't tell what it was, exactly. Whatever it was, it wasn't normal Troy-behavior, that was for sure.

"Troy, what's gotten into you?" she murmured, reaching forward to grab onto his sleeve.

Roughly, he shoved her off. "Oh, fuck off, you little shit. We ain't buddies, and there ain't no way I'm stayin' here any longer than I need to."

"Good," Jane snapped. "You can leave whenever you fucking want, you know. Unless you have a bit of an inferiority complex, and need someone to tell you what to do. Well, here, I'll say it again: you can leave, Troy. And don't you ever question my actions again. You weren't there, you can't judge how it felt to leave Jaime behind."

"It don't matter!" Troy roared, his fist shaking at his side and his head lowering to hide his eyes. "I heard what you were sayin'. You were supposed to be there for her, and you let her down. It was all your fuckin' fault she died." The anger was barely present anymore, replaced by a practically tangible misery that both of them could detect quite easily.

"Troy, are you…?" Clementine began to ask if he was alright, but he whipped himself around and trudged off, shouting to Sarah.

Jane folded her arms in front of her chest, blinking. "I don't… know what just happened," she admitted, stupefied. "I mean, I'm not stupid, am I? That definitely wasn't aimed at me, right?"

Clementine shook her head. "No, it wasn't. I don't know what's wrong with him - besides the obvious." She forced a little smirk on her face, exchanging it with Jane. "I am going to go see what he's doing with Sarah, though."

"Be careful. I don't want him to be your downfall." The woman kicked at the ground with the tip of her boot, adding quietly, "But it looks like he's got some demons of his own to slay. Hope he can, before they eat him alive."

"That's everyone's burden," Clementine pointed out. "But we can all slay our demons together."

Jane chuckled. "We can sure as hell try, Clem. I think I am going to go sit by the fire now - just being around Troy gives me chills." She gave a dramatic shiver, huddling into herself for effect. At Clementine's surprised glance, she added quickly, "And not the good kind of chills, trust me."

The girl nodded, giving another small smile. "Okay. Thanks, Jane. And… no matter what happened with your sister, um… you're welcome in our group." She tried to remain positive, after all, as painful as it was. And holding Jane accountable for her actions before they met wasn't fair.

After giving a small wave, Clementine turned to see Troy and Sarah standing together a bit away from the group, bottles and a gun in hand. She could only assume that Troy was holding true to his word, and helping Sarah learn how to shoot; Clementine would have to make sure she was present for the lessons, just to be safe.

As she made her way over, however, she stepped on something around the area where Troy had been sitting. Crouching down, she inspected it.

[Look At: Rope]

It was the slice of rope that Sarah had given Troy, she assumed - but it didn't look the same as before.

In the middle of the piece were two large, distinct knots.

Chapter Text

"Alright, Sarah, remember that it ain't a toy." Once Clementine was within earshot of Troy and Sarah, she heard the man begin his instructions on handling the gun. Troy held the weapon gently, as though it was a child, and had the barrel pointed down and away from them. If nothing else, it could be said that he knew how to hold a gun properly.

Truthfully, Clementine was quite nervous about this; she still couldn't trust Troy one hundred percent, and his little outburst a few moments ago didn't do him any favors in that department. As she approached the pair, her eyes were locked onto Troy, ready to intervene if there was trouble.

However, the man nodded towards her once he noticed her presence, straightening himself. "Great, Clementine, you're just in time. I'm gonna teach Sarah how to shoot one'a these." Lifting up his pistol, Troy gave it a once-over and stepped towards the fence. Near the edges of their caged perimeter, a few run-down crates were set up with bottles on top of them.

"How'd you, uh…" Clementine began, pointing to the makeshift targets. They were unpleasant reminders of shooting things like that on the train with Lee.

"We found those just thrown around this place. I think they're beer bottles or something…" Sarah replied, her face scrunched up in disgust.

"Thank God for litterers," Troy added with a snort, earning a halfhearted glare from both of the girls. "What? Had they not been careless, we wouldn't find their shit tossed everywhere. Don't blame me." He gave a shrug, inspecting the targets. Crouching down and placing the gun on the ground, he adjusted the bottles to make sure they were in a good spot on each of the crates. After they met his standards, Troy turned back around and handed the gun, handle-first, to Sarah.

The older girl simply stared at the object as though she didn't really see it there, chewing on her lower lip and raising her gaze to look into Troy's eyes. Clementine caught the fear and hesitation almost hidden behind the red glasses, noting the way she shifted her weight from one foot to the next anxiously.

"I, um… I don't know if I can… um…" Sarah stammered, fiddling with the strings of her hoodie in apprehension. "One of those… sh-shot my…" Her voice trailed off and she lowered her head, eyes screwed shut in mental pain.

Clementine placed a hand on her shoulder. "Sarah, I know it hurts, but you do need to learn." How else would Sarah survive this cruel world? If she couldn't shoot a gun, she'd have to rely on other people to live, and that wasn't safe or really possible anymore.

"Clementine's right," Troy remarked, though his voice didn't hold its usual menace. "S'time to grow up, Sarah." Pushing the weapon further, he placed it in her palm and stepped behind her. With more gentleness than Clementine would have thought the man was capable of, Troy guided Sarah's arms with his hand as best he could, lining up the barrel of the gun with the bottles near the fence.

Sarah whimpered, glancing back at him with fearful eyes. "But… but what if… what if I hurt someone?"

Troy scoffed. "That's kinda the fuckin' point, kid. But if y' mean your 'allies,' check what you're doin' now: takin' your eye off the gun. Not a good idea, see, and could get people killed if you ain't careful." Correcting her aim even further, he added roughly, "Shoot to kill. Aim for the head, but if y' can't, the kneecaps." He pointed towards the bottle squarely, squeezing an eye shut in concentration.

The girl was visibly trembling, a sheer contrast to the last time she'd held a gun. While Clementine was glad she wasn't foolishly holding a weapon to her head as a joke, she still was worried about her apprehension. An itchy trigger finger was not a good thing to have, even if it was triggered by nerves.

"It's okay, Sarah," she encouraged, remembering Lee's lessons to her. "To start, you should take a deep breath and let it out slow while you pull the trigger. And for aiming, look through that notch at the top. Line it up with your target." Going through a mental checklist of things she'd learned, she quickly added, "Oh, and always pull the trigger steadily - don't yank it."

Sarah blinked incredulously, as though it was hard to digest all of this new information. It probably was very difficult, but she had to learn. Troy had put it in a rude manner, but Sarah did need to be an adult.

After a few quiet moments, the girl nodded and took a deep breath. "Okay. Um… here goes…"

"Wait a second." Another voice sounded before she could continue; when Clementine turned, she noticed Mike approaching the group, his arms crossed. "Troy, are you crazy? You didn't tell anyone you were doin' this kinda shit? What if we just heard gunshots and came running?" His eyes narrowed, clearly trying to glare holes into Troy.

The one-armed man wasn't fazed, though. "Oh, fuck off. You're lucky I'm willin' to do this in the first place." He scowled, turning back to Sarah to line up her aim.

After Mike waved over to Bonnie and made a motion to indicate what was going on, he walked a bit closer to the two to inspect Troy's work. "Man, you're way off. Here, Sarah." Stepping in, his hands guided a more accurate place for her to shoot - much to Troy's irritation.

Once she seemed to have the approval of both adults and a nod from her friend, Sarah sucked in a deep breath, letting it out slowly and squeezing the trigger. The resulting shot rang out and barely missed the mark, making her yelp and drop the gun immediately.

"Hey! Don't fuckin' drop it! It could go off!" Troy hissed, picking it up immediately. "Try it again."

"Don't yell at her," Clementine snapped. "Sarah, that was good. Maybe aim a little to the left now." She smiled, trying to be encouraging.

Sarah reflected that smile. "O-okay, Clem. I know what they're supposed to sound like, it just… I guess I wasn't expecting that."

Memories flooded Clementine's mind - memories of the train and how hesitant she'd been to hold a gun at first, too. "It's okay, that's normal," she assured, "Remember, it's just a thing."

Sarah merely huffed, doing as her friend had instructed and aiming towards the left. At the second shot, the bottle she'd been aiming for exploded into dozens of glass shards.

This time, when Sarah shrieked, it was of joy. "I did it!" she exclaimed, looking as excited as a child at the accomplishment. Clementine couldn't help but smile and murmur her approval as Sarah lined herself up for the next shot, casting an unsure glance at the two men.

Mike smiled. "That was good. Now, a little to the right this time, Sarah."

"I'd say she's dead-on," Troy mumbled.

"You would say that," Mike shot back. "But I think I know what your problem is, man."

"And what the fuck is my problem-"

Another shot burst through the air before they could continue, visibly startling them both. Another bullet had hit the fence behind the bottles, barely missing the mark. A frustrated cry of "Dang it!" escaped Sarah's lips as she stomped down.

Clementine chuckled. "It takes some getting used to. But Mike was right; try to the right."

Grimacing, Sarah once more lined up her shot; Clementine could visibly see her trying to do as she'd instructed, sucking in a long gulp of air and pressing it out slowly through her lips. Her eyes narrowed behind the red frames, a deep concentration embedded into them. Her gaze was completely locked with the target bottle, and once she squeezed the trigger, the bullet shot right through it.

"Attagirl!" Mike cheered, pumping a fist in the air. Even Troy nodded his approval. Clementine flashed her a thumbs-up.

With a bright smile, Sarah made sure her next shot was in range and fired a bullet with almost no hesitation. After she'd barely missed the bottle, another shot rang through the air, hitting the target dead-on. Grin widening, she bounced up and down. "I did it! Yes, yes, yes!" she cheered.

"Hey!" Troy squawked, leaning forward to take the gun by the top of the barrel. "Don't be jumpin' with this in your hand." Growling, he snatched it from her and added hastily, "Seriously, Sarah, I mean it - not a fuckin' toy. You use this to kill."

"Or hurt," Clementine pointed out. "If it's not a walker."

Rolling his eyes, the one-armed man snapped, "It's better to kill regardless. Keeps you and the people you're with safe. Clementine, I figured you'd know that, survivin' this long." His eyes flickered with a boldness she wasn't comfortable with, almost like he was mocking her.

Thankfully, Mike glared his way in response. "Lay off them. Sarah, that was awesome. Keep practicing and you'll be used to it in no time."

Sarah nervously chuckled. "I'm not so sure I'd want to be used to it, but… I guess I have to. Thanks, Mike. And Clem. And - and Troy." She nodded to each one of them in acknowledgement.

"Hey, anytime," Mike placed a hand on her shoulder and replied, "I'm serious, you're doing good, kid. You're learning how to protect, and that'll keep us all that much safer." His smile faded after a moment, however, and his eyes cast over to Troy. "Speaking of learning…"

Troy blinked, hostility clear in his gaze. "What the fuck are you lookin' at?"

"I'm not blind, man. You're strugglin' with that arm and being left-handed now. Lemme guess - you weren't trained on how to shoot with both hands? I could see it plain as day before - where you were telling Sarah to shoot was way off target." He took out his own gun and pointed it with his left hand towards the remaining bottles. "Try holding it like this."

Troy seemed as though he was about to maim Mike on the spot, his eyes widened with rage and his lips curling like a dog's. Clementine shot him a warning glance, but he didn't catch it; thankfully, though, he calmed himself down and recognized when he needed help (for once, at least), attempting to mimic Mike's stance.

"How d' you even know how to do this?" he murmured, clearly unhappy.

Mike smirked. "I'm ambidextrous."

"Fuck, is that contagious?!"

"...what? No, you dumbass - it means I can do shit with both hands. Taught myself in middle school. Figured it'd come in handy someday… no pun intended. Though I didn't know I'd be teaching how to shoot lurkers."

"Yeah? No shit you didn't know. And what do you want from me?" Troy demanded. "I know how this works. Y' ain't gonna give me tips or nothin' for free. So, what're you after?"

Almost seeming offended, Mike wrinkled his nose. "You're joking, right? Troy, we're not in Howe's anymore. It don't work like that now."

Clementine glanced between the two, noting the way Troy looked once more a bit out of touch with reality. In the end, though, she said nothing and turned back to Sarah. "We should go," she whispered. "I can help you out with shooting more later, if you want."

The older girl nodded. "Sounds good." A yawn passed through her quickly, and she rubbed at her eyes behind the glasses. "I'm getting tired."

"Me too," Clementine agreed, turning to the two men. "We're going to go join the others. If you keep shooting, try not to attract any walkers…"

Troy scowled. "Well, it's like everyone's been sayin' - place is secure enough. But we still got Kenny doin' security."

Quirking a brow, the girl pointed out, "He can't do it all night. We need someone to take over for him about halfway through."

A roll of eyes was her answer. "Fine, fine, I get what you're playin' at. I guess I'll have to do it next, then."

The answered startled her; she hadn't even asked him to do so, nor was she implying anything of the sort. He just assumed she wanted him to - and he was going to do it regardless. Blinking a few times in shock, she eventually forced herself to reply her thanks, which Troy waved off almost immediately.

"Just get t' bed. We leave bright an' early tomorrow, I'm sure, if Kenny has anythin' to say about it," he muttered lowly with a frown.

Sarah beamed. "Okay! You're probably right. Goodnight, Mike! Goodnight, Troy! Get some sleep too, okay?" She gave a small wave to them and left with Clementine towards the fire.

Once the two returned, everyone seemed to be drifting away into sleep. Everyone but Luke and Nick had curled up to sleep around the fire, huddled into themselves for warmth. The two young men were just about to settle down when they noticed the girls.

"Hey, how'd it go, Sarah?" Luke asked. "Did y' learn some stuff about shootin'?"

Nodding, Sarah exclaimed, "Yes, I sure did! Um, it's a bit scary still, but I got some bottles! I think I'm getting better." Clementine nodded her agreement. She was impressed with Sarah's learning; was Lee proud of Clementine like that when he taught her?

"Good job!" Nick praised, patting her lightly on the head. She giggled in response and pulled both Luke and him in for a hug. The three held each other closely for a few moments; Clementine smiled at the scene, happy that the cabin survivors were growing into closer friends.

She almost felt like she was intruding - until Luke placed a hand on her shoulder. His expression bright for the first time in a while, he simply nodded to her and wished them all a good night.

"Goodnight," Clementine murmured, finding herself reflecting his happy look. She gazed once more over at Troy and Mike, catching the way the former man's shoulders slumped almost in defeat, and the way he looked like he was in another world.

Maybe he had simply zoned out, but Clementine couldn't stop thinking that something was wrong - that Troy hadn't been himself ever since they'd gotten here… or perhaps even earlier.

Not like he'd ever tell her anything, anyway; she shook her head clear and banished the curiosity, deciding that sleep was much more important. It probably wasn't anything serious, anyway.

"Goodnight, Sarah," she whispered to her friend, closing her eyes and drifting off almost immediately.

She had been enjoying the quiet of the night, the way the snow had stopped and the gentle glow of the dying fire licked at her face. The flickers of the flames lulled her to a light sleep, her small body curled up like a cat's next to Sarah's. The warmth of the other girl's body only added to Clementine's comfort; for a long while, she felt like she was floating in a comfortable, warm bubble, away from the harshness of reality.

It was so perfect. She honestly had not felt like this in ages; it almost felt like she was back with Lee, safe as a child in his arms…

A loud crash broke through her warm half-dreams, her eyes snapping open and a hand darting for the gun at her side. Expecting a walker right in her face, she hyperfocused on the area around her, eyes darting wildly to locate the danger.

To her surprise, she couldn't spot anything wrong. Sarah was still asleep next to her, Luke and Nick sleeping across from them. The fire was low but not completely out, and the sky was still black and the sun hadn't yet peaked over the horizon.

Blinking the rest of sleep from her eyes, the girl gazed around the whole site, seeking what could have made that noise. Perhaps it wasn't as loud as she'd thought, but it still was enough to wake her from her comforting sleep, so she was a little irritated. Everyone else was spread out a few meters away, probably floating on their own warm clouds and not yet ready to move on. Clementine had been jerked away from her own dreams and, consequently, was left wide awake.

Carefully removing Sarah's arms from around her torso (the girl was clingy in her sleep, it seemed), Clementine got to her feet and stretched. She might as well go find the cause of the noise, and maybe take over the watch while she was at it. Not like she was able to sleep again after that had startled her.

Hearing a slightly quieter 'clink!', she reached for her gun and softly padded in the direction it came from - the corner of the fenced-in area with the generator. It was where Kenny had gone to take his first position watch, she remembered - but, as she made her way there, she passed his sleeping form, seated with AJ in his lap.

So who…? Or what?

She had her answer moments later, recognizing the tan pants of Troy spread out lazily against the fence, shoes scraping against the metal. As she got closer to him, she could plainly see Bonnie's bottle of alcohol placed next to him, a gun in his only hand. He had the pistol pointed out towards the fence, on complete edge as though a walker was coming for him.

But after standing there for a few moments, holding her breath and hoping he wouldn't notice her, she realized there was no danger. It seemed to dawn on him, too, for her placed his weapon down ran his hand through his hair. It was then she noted the shards of glass strewn about him, colored the same as the bottles he'd collected for Sarah to shoot earlier.

"Troy?" she whispered, taking some steps closer.

He cocked his head towards her, eyes hazy and glassed over. His lips curled into a sneer and he swiftly shot out his arm to drop the gun and pick up one of the shards, the pointed edges cutting into his skin, and threw it against the fence. It made a quieter clinking sound, but still wasn't pleasant to hear.

Clementine scowled and hissed, "What are you doing?! You're going to wake everyone up! Stop it!" Didn't he realize they all needed as much sleep as they could get?

The one-armed man simply snorted, not sparing any energy to even try to be quiet. His dull eyes once more casted over to her, a frown settling on his lips. "And you're gonna try to stop me?" he slurred, and while she wasn't even that close to him, she could recognize the harsh smell of alcohol on his breath.

"You're drunk?" she asked, incredulously. What did he think he was doing?

"Yup," he replied simply, picking up the bottle next to him. Bringing it to his lips, he shakily took another drink, some of the liquid escaping his mouth and sliding down his chin. After a few gulps, he pulled it back and let out a long sigh. "Damn, that stings goin' down, but… it's nice, y'know? You should'a had a drink. Too late, though - it's all fuckin' mine now."

"Troy, give it to me," she demanded, extending her hand for the bottle. When he didn't move, she stepped forward and reached over for it, resulting in him scooting further away with an offended look on his face.

"The fuck are you doin'?" he snarled, like an irritated animal. "Y'all had your turn at the 'toast'. Now I got mine."

Any patience she had with Troy was rapidly wearing thin. "You didn't want it," she reminded him. "And it's not good to have it right now. Why are you drinking it?" It made no sense to her; Troy had refused a drink before, and had scolded everyone for even partaking in the toast at all. Did he just prefer to be alone when he drank, or was there another reason?

The man chuckled, a smirk crossing his face but his eyes showing no mirth whatsoever. "You ever have to put someone down, Clementine?"

It became so quiet she could've heard a pin drop into the snow; that was the absolute last question she'd expected him to ask, and the timing was completely wrong. Her breath caught in her throat as she shoved the memories of shooting Lee in the jewelry store office from her mind, finding the terror she still felt associated with those thoughts not practical for her survival at all. Maybe it was because of Sarah's activity before, but the feelings associated with Lee, while easier to push back most days, became almost physically painful.

"Well?" he pressed. "Have you? Have y' had to pull the trigger? Seen the look'a death in their eyes 'fore you did?"

"Wh-why would you ask that?" she whispered, crouching down next to him, on her knees. For some reason, her heart was beating wildly and she almost couldn't hear him past the loud pulse in her ears. What was he getting at with this sort of talk? Why was it necessary now - and did it have anything to do with his recent change in behavior? She had chalked it up to Troy just being his usual moody self, but if there was something more…

She didn't have to continue to ask, because he surrendered the answer almost immediately. "Well, I had to. I mean, a lot'a times we did it at Howe's - Bill would ask me t' take 'em into the comic book store and just put 'em down - but I didn't know them; it wasn't personal. But twice… two times, I had t' shoot folks I cared about in the fuckin' head."

Clementine could only blink, completely stunned by the honesty in his words. He didn't give her an opportunity to answer, however, and continued.

"My older brother and niece came with me to Howe's. They were… the only fuckin' family I had, even before things went to shit. My brother - Colton - damn, he was… everythin' I wasn't. And Kylie, she was probably around your age, but much more fuckin' naive." He paused to readjust himself, Shit, why am I even tellin' you all of this?" He flashed his eyes over to her, lips curled in an almost snarl.

She honestly didn't know. He had always been so guarded since he joined the group, not revealing anything about himself personally apart from a few things here and there. Something had triggered this sudden change, and she didn't know what it was - or why he was revealing all of this now.

"I have no idea," she admitted, expression softening. "And you don't have to continue, if you don't want to." In the back of her mind, she hoped he wouldn't; he was making her very uncomfortable all of a sudden.

Humanity and Troy just didn't click with her yet, it seemed.

He waved her off in response, the alcohol sloshing around in the bottle as he did. "Nah, I might as well," he mumbled, "It's not like I'm gonna be spillin' the beans like this again."

"Can I ask one thing, first?" she asked, and he raised an eyebrow in acknowledgement. "Why are you drinking?"

At that, he gave a bitter laugh, shaking his head. "Kid, folks don't need any fuckin' reason to drink… but yeah, guess I had one tonight. I just couldn't face that shit anymore. With that kid shootin' his sister… with Jane all proud'a the fact that she's a shit older siblin'..."

"Why does that bother you so much?"

"Gettin' to that, shh. Besides all that stupid shit, you and Sarah fuckin' save my life, and that asshole Mike teaches me how to shoot better with my left hand - for free! I don't get it, Clementine. I don't get why y'all are bein' so nice… I ain't shit."

There was such a sour tone to his voice that she wrinkled her nose. Though she once would have agreed with him, she couldn't say that was true - at least, not completely. He wasn't worthless, and did provide some benefits to the group, like teaching Sarah to shoot. That meant something. "People need to be nice now," she explained quietly. "Humanity is all we have left."

Troy scoffed. "Nice hero speech. Practice that shit?" When she narrowed her eyes at him, he rolled his own. "Don't give me that look, you little shit. Y' asked me a question, and I answered. I don't get that sort of 'humanity' thinkin', and - well, it's all remindin' me of them. And that's why I'm drinkin' - because I'd rather poison my blood with booze than face what I fuckin' did."

What he did? Puzzled, Clementine asked, "What do you mean? What did you do, Troy?"

"Jeez, will you - will you fuckin' let me talk without interruptin'?" After she shut her mouth, he straightened himself against the generator and continued, "Me, Colton, and Kylie found Howe's after nearly starvin'. It was a blessin', as you can imagine. Bill was real nice to us, offerin' a kindness I'd never been shown by a stranger… or, hell, almost no one before."

That was a strange thought; she never even considered Carver could be anything but the dictator she'd seen running Howe's. Troy had mentioned that he wasn't always the monster that had made a spectacle out of beating Kenny nearly to death, and by the way he spoke, it seemed that Carver was once a lot kinder.

Troy went on with his story, leaving her no time to ponder. "For a while, things were goin' good. I mean, fuck, me and Colton felt sorta safe there. We thought it would be a good place to stay, settlin' ourselves into Bill's growing 'family'. Kylie even started t' smile again."

The image of a little girl smiling around Troy just wasn't possible for Clementine. She had trouble believing he didn't smack around his niece just like the rest of the children at Howe's, but from the way he spoke, it seemed he did really love her.

"What did Kylie like to do?" she asked, trying to get him to expand on that subject.

He snickered. "Anythin' and everythin'. Like Sarah, she was sorta… spacey, I guess. Had a big imagination. Liked to color. Hyper as fuck most'a the time, too. No matter where you'd be, she'd always be listenin', and felt the need to weigh in her comments. A real fuckin' chatterbox." Despite his annoyed tone, it was hard to miss the slight smile that settled onto his lips.

Clementine found herself smiling, as well. "Sounds like she was nice. Probably someone I would've been friends with at school." She remembered a few of her classmates being particularly energetic, too.

"Yeah, maybe. She was a real good kid - and I don't just say that shit about anyone. I fuckin' hate kids, but Kylie… she was…" he trailed off, his smile fading.

"Your family," she finished for him. "Right? It's different when it's family." Or a found family, as Clementine had found out.

Troy rolled his eyes. "I guess so. It was just nice, for a while. We all did our jobs and kept safe for the most part, until…" His voice cracked as it broke off, and it took a few moments of his mouth hovering open for any words to continue out.

"Until one day, Colton'n me were assigned to work inside while Kylie was outside. We didn't think it was a good idea or nothin', but Bill assured us it was fine - that kids could do outside jobs too, and she wouldn't have to do nothin' too strenuous. That was enough for her daddy, and for me." As he spoke, Troy's expression grew more pained, as though he was bracing himself for the devastating turn this story would surely take.

"Kyles - sorry, Kylie - did everythin' just fine that day. Didn't make a damn mistake. But someone else did." He closed his eyes, taking another swig of the alcohol. "Me and Colton… fact is, we let her out without anyone really watchin' her. And no one noticed the hole in the fence until a lurker's hand had broken through it."

His tone once more grew quiet. "She screamed, and Colton was runnin' like a madman. He got the thing off his daughter, but it ended up bein' too late. She got bit in her side." With a bitter, joyless laugh, he added, "She was askin' for a Band-Aid. Didn't even… realize what had happened."

Clementine's expression fell, her heart practically throbbing in pity. She could picture the scenario all-too-clearly - a little girl, innocent and naive to the way the world ended up, ending up getting captured and bitten by a stray walker. A father and uncle with no one else to turn to left with the decision of her fate.

"You said… you said before that you had to put someone down," she mentioned. "Why didn't Colton do it? That was his daughter, wasn't it?" Then again, Lee had put Duck down… Clementine couldn't even imagine the pain of a parent having to put a child down - or even the opposite. She knew she probably couldn't have put her own parents down, or at least not at the time.

Troy continued, "After the bite happened, he just… went into denial. Told me to let it go, that she'd have to get better. Me'n Bill told him it didn't work like that, but he didn't want to hear any of it. It came to the moment where she got sicker and sicker, and we had to do somethin'. And even then, he wouldn't do shit." An angry look crossed his face for a moment, but a moment later, the drunken haze returned to his eyes.

"So I shot her. Didn't even tell her I was doin' it, I just… did it. And it was over." He took a particularly long drink of the alcohol then, closing his eyes in thought.

Clementine wasn't sure what to say. He didn't continue, so she sat there, dumbstruck, for what felt like hours. He was looking towards her, but not really at her; his gaze seemed distant, as though he was in another time period. Eventually, she mustered up the courage to at least ask a question. "What was Colton like? Um, before Kylie was…" she inquired, not wanting to finish that sentence.

Troy's expression changed quickly again, and his mind really seemed to go off into another world. "Colton… heh, he was the only one that outmatched any'a the kindness y'all have shown me. I swear, the guy put Sarah t' shame with his naivete and optimism. He always thought things would turn out alright, even before Kylie got bit. 'Troy, you'll see, the world's gonna get better,' and 'The three'a us will always stick together.'."

It was clear that promise didn't last, but she didn't dare point that out. Troy's hand had begun to squeeze the neck of the bottle tightly, his grip trembling with emotion.

"Fuck," he muttered to himself, "this is why I never fuckin' drink. It all just comes out all at once - 'specially when I don't want it to. Fuck." Shooting a glare over towards her, he hissed, "Don't think you're gettin' another part'a my sob story after tonight, y'little… It's not everyday I do this sort of thing."

"Obviously," Clementine replied dryly. "But go on. I'm listening."

Troy mumbled something under his breath - most likely curses - before he began speaking again. "Well, anyway… that line'a thinkin' turned out to be the idiot's downfall in the end," he snarled, the shakes spreading to the rest of his body to make it look like he was shivering. With a sharky sigh, Troy forced out the next words, "I had t' shoot him, too. Put a bullet in the head'a the only person I ever looked up to. The only one who ever gave a shit about me!" With a frustrated growl, he threw the bottle towards the fence, watching it split into pieces and splatter the rest of the liquid onto the snow. She jumped at the noise, eyes darting towards Troy in case he wanted to do anything drastic.

His eyes met hers, a burning regret blazing in the brown irises. The look was so raw, so haunted - she honestly didn't know how to respond. Her eyes once more softened, lips drawn into a frown. This sounded like it would be very hard for Troy to admit normally, but the mask of alcohol was letting him say it without remorse. Though she knew it would have repercussions later, she couldn't help her curiosity and asked, "And… how did Colton get bitten?"

With a snort, the man faced the fence, focused on the shards of glass littered onto the ground. His legs curled up to his chest, and suddenly he looked a lot smaller. "I never said he was bitten," he muttered, an empty grin crossing his face.

Startled, she raised her eyebrows and gave him a look of confusion. "What? What do you mean?"

Troy just chuckled, the pain evident in his tone. "Y' sure are stupid, Clementine. You should know that things worked… differently at Howe's. Bill told y', I'm sure - think about Reggie. He was weak of will, of character."

She blinked, recalling the philosophies Carver had recited to her in his office. The older man had been so confident that he was doing something right, something just… But that wasn't the case, given what she'd seen. He was only deluding himself and his underlings.

And Troy kept going. "Colton was… weak. Not like me - Bill even told me that… that I was stronger. That I could see my brother was sufferin' and put him out of his misery. And that was a thing only a strong man could do. So I did." He said it casually, but Clementine could tell just speaking this was hurting him. The alcohol clearly wasn't helping with as much of the pain as he'd intended.

He tore his gaze from her and lowered his head, refusing to meet her eyes. "And… and y'know what the fucked up thing was?" he asked, his voice barely louder than a whisper. "I didn't want to. I really, really didn't want to. Guess that makes me weaker'n Bill thought. It sure as hell proved to be that way later on, though. Anyone could see he was gettin' tired of me."

He wasn't wrong - she had overheard Carver say something about Troy being 'a fucking idiot' in his office, and it wasn't hard to see that Troy was getting on his nerves. It made her wonder how long Troy had been there, and if he had been getting close to outliving his usefulness to Carver.

"That doesn't make you weak," she began, trying to do what she could to comfort him.

However, he spoke over her a moment later. "Don't interrupt. And don't give me a lecture like I'm fuckin' Sarah or somethin'. This is somethin' that I don't need a pep talk for, Clementine. I just needed t' let it out before it ate me alive."

"...okay," she muttered. "Okay, I'm sorry. I won't say anything. Keep going."

He didn't hesitate to do so. "Like I said, Colton was like Reggie," Troy explained, his head shaking, "Too pathetic to continue. After Kylie's death, he just… stopped. It was like… he wasn't there anymore. And Bill made it clear that we couldn't have that at Howe's. Not with what we had at stake."

Colton sounded a bit like Sarah after Carlos had died, but she'd gotten a bit better - if Carver had been patient with the man, would he have snapped himself back to reality, as well? Would he have carried on, as well? And if he was alive, would things have changed at Howe's? She didn't think Troy would be the same, surely, but she supposed she'd never know.

Troy's voice fell to a whisper. "He deserved to die. He put us at risk with his incompetence. Killin' one in order to save many is part'a survival. It's one of the tough decisions that a… a weaker person couldn't make."

Clementine recognized that speech; it was the same one Carver gave to her after he'd killed Reggie. Troy was reciting it word for word, like he'd heard it so many times before. Actually, it wasn't hard to believe that he had heard it on repeat, and memorized every last syllable.

Despite his earlier warnings to not interrupt, Clementine wasn't liking where this was going. She didn't want to hear any remnants of that monster's morals, and was about to tell Troy to stop, that what he was saying was just an excuse, but she stopped short once he turned his head towards her and she got a good look at his expression.

Now, she had only seen one man cry in her lifetime, and that was Kenny when he'd lost Katjaa and Duck. She hadn't caught complete sight of it, either, merely seeing him wipe his eyes on his sleeve and hang his head down low. Her own father had never shed tears in front of her, so it was a completely alien experience to her.

Troy was not crying. No tears were falling from his eyes down his cheeks, nor were any unshed ones pooling behind his brown hues. However, his eyelids were narrowed and his lips were drawn in a tight frown, eyebrows scrunched together in an expression of so much agony that it almost was like he was. His jaw tightened, bone clicking as he put so much pressure on it she almost feared it would snap off its hinges.

She'd never seen that sort of look on him, not even when he was on the verge of death. He was so vulnerable, so torn up and... human – and honestly, she didn't like how it made her feel.

"Colton... deserved to die," the man repeated, his voice rendered to a hushed whisper. He may have been justifying his own brother's death through his words, but Clementine could see in his eyes, see by that completely broken gaze, that he didn't believe a word of what he was saying.

Silence fell between them, until Troy eventually collapsed onto the ground in exhaustion, falling asleep almost instantly. He was laying on the glass shards, but if they were cutting into him, he didn't seem to notice and slept on, dead to the world.

Clementine took over the watch, seating herself nearby but not too close to him. As she swept her gaze around the camp, she caught the gaze of one person - one curious soul that was close enough to hear almost everything Troy had just confessed.

"Don't say a word," she mouthed to Jane, who was staring back at her with wide, cat-like eyes. The woman's gaze flicked to the unconscious man, and back at Clementine, before she nodded firmly. It was impossible to tell just how much Jane had heard, but if they both could keep this under wraps, it would be better for everyone.

Hopefully, Troy got what he needed off of his chest… if only for his own mental state. Clementine wasn't so sure why she cared about him feeling better, but she did nonetheless.

It was almost like he was becoming a real part of their makeshift, foster family group.

Chapter Text

Clementine had trouble meeting Troy's eyes the next morning. Thankfully, though, she wasn't the one to wake him up, as she'd moved back over towards the dying fire in the middle of the night while he slept. She didn't want to have to deal with him when he finally did awaken again, so she chose to leave him for now and keep watch from another location.

Jane was the first to wake, although Clementine couldn't be sure she'd ever truly went back to sleep after Troy's confessions last night. The young girl was almost sure she herself had chosen to stand sentry around the camp because of how much his words bothered her; seeing a human and pained side to someone she'd only seen as a monster until very recently was startling.

She could only wonder how Jane felt, having met the man at an earlier time. Had Jane been there when Colton and Kylie were? Unlikely, given her wide-eyed reaction to his drunken ramblings, but still. Was there a bigger distinction between the man Jane had first encountered at Howe's, and now? And was that difference even measurable?

A sigh escaped her lips as she reminded herself that it didn't matter, in the end. Troy sharing his past didn't change a damn thing now, except maybe how Clementine regarded him - but what others thought was worth virtually nothing in a world where survival wasn't guaranteed.

Once more seeming to zone out, she almost didn't notice Nick sitting up nearby, a sleepy smile on his lips. Rubbing at his eyes, he rasped, "Mornin', Clem. You look real tired." Scrunching his eyebrows down, the man seemed to connect a few dots in his head and asked, "Did you sleep at all last night?"

Sheepishly, she shrugged. "Someone had to keep watch." It was a poor excuse, and she couldn't help the way her eyes drifted over towards Troy's still-unconscious form a few feet from the fence (she'd since dragged him from the edge of the chain links, just in case any walkers got hungry in the night).

Nick's face soured. "Wasn't Troy supposed to watch after Kenny? Did the dumbass sleep in or somethin'?" He scoffed, leaning back onto one of the logs encircling the fire.

Clementine shook her head. "No, he did his shift. I just took over afterwards." Troy's secrets weren't hers to blab, so she wasn't keen on letting anyone know about them. Besides, some small part of her felt a bit touched that he trusted her enough to let it out; it probably was because of the alcohol, but still. Troy was making progress nonetheless.

"Ah. Gotcha. Well, we should probably get movin' soon, huh?" Nick murmured, nudging Luke beside him. "Rise and shine, man." The sleeping man groaned slightly, shifting onto his side before his eyes snapped open and he sat up.

"Oh, mornin' Clem. Nick." Luke nodded to each one of them, poking lightly at Sarah nearby.

The girl stirred and shifted to a seated position next to them, yawning and adjusting her glasses. "Morning, everyone," she whispered, her voice still sleepy. "Is, um… everyone feeling a bit better than last night?" Her hands dug into her jacket, fishing her piece of rope out for reference.

Clementine could feel the weight of hers in her own pocket, and found herself nodding in response. "I do, a little," she admitted. "It was a nice thing to do for everyone. I liked it."

"Me too," Luke added. "It, uh, really help put things into perspective. Made me think no one was really gone, y'know? That they're always gonna be with us, now." He paused to chuckle, a nervous sort of edge to his voice. "Guess that sounds a little cheesy."

Sarah brightened at the words. "No, it doesn't at all, I promise! I'm glad it helped! I… I needed it, too."

"Good. Thanks for… y'know, brightenin' the mood, Sarah," Nick said with a slight smile of his own. "I'm glad we're all still alive, out of our original group at the cabin. Don't get me wrong… I miss 'em all so much." He paused to lower his head, as if in tribute. "But I'm… real grateful the three'a us are still together."

"Me too, man. Though, we ain't bein' the most polite to Clem here." Luke snickered and rubbed the back of his head nervously.

Clementine blinked, smiling a little. "It's okay. I know you guys have a bond - just like me and Kenny, from when we traveled together."

"Yeah! It doesn't make you any less important, Clem," Sarah exclaimed. "In fact, you're, like, pretty much my best friend."

Friend. The word sent a warning of unease through Clementine, but also a quiet mixture of satisfaction and relief. Just for a moment, Sarah's declaration of friendship made the girl feel normal again, like this was a playground and she'd just been inducted into a secret club. Like she'd make snow angels with Sarah instead of trudging to a safehouse half-frozen, or show her a collection of bracelets she'd gathered that weren't pieces of ropes tied to keep the memories of those that had been brutally killed.

For just a moment, Clementine felt like a normal girl again - and then, just like people in this world, the thought came and went.

She shook her head clear, banishing the delusions from her mind. What was she thinking? Right now, her focus was getting to the supplies Arvo had promised, and to keep AJ alive. To keep Sarah alive - to keep Nick, Luke, Kenny, Troy… all of the group alive. She kept telling herself the next death wouldn't hurt as much as the last, and while that was partially true, she could never quite get used to the look of lifelessness in their eyes. Her senses were just not numbed enough to the image of a corpse, whether it was walking or not.

"Hey, Clem," Luke nudged her slightly, noticing she'd gone quiet. "You know we're your friends, too - and we ain't goin' anywhere."

You can't promise that. She didn't want to say it, but it echoed in her head like a drum. Still, the smile on Luke's face was comforting, and she found herself nodding as if she believed him.

Nick took off his hat, running a hand through his messy black hair. "We cabin folks gotta stick like glue - includin' you, Clem."

"Yeah!" Sarah cheered in agreement. "I mean, who else would know how lame and boring that cabin was?"

"Hey!" Luke snorted, nudging her a bit. "I happened to bring us there, y'know. That the thanks I get?"

The older girl simply nodded. "Boring!" she repeated with a giggle.

Clementine felt herself getting lost in the laughter and playfulness of the conversation, and she almost missed Mike finally sitting up nearby. He gazed on with amusement, simply watching until they noticed him staring.

"You guys are awfully chatty," he scoffed lightheartedly, rolling over to nudge Bonnie awake. Kenny was surprisingly the last to wake (besides Troy), but he was the first to stand up and get packed and ready to go, already telling the rest of the group to hurry it along. Clementine frowned, disappointed that the small moment with the remaining cabin members was over, but she knew as much as anyone that they all needed to keep moving.

It was only once everyone else was up and ready that someone finally noticed the one-armed dumbass near one of the generators. And of course, it was Kenny. The older man grimaced down at the sleeping figure, giving him a slight kick to the stomach. "Hey, asshole. Wake up! I know you didn't do this shit with Carver!"

A good point, Clementine reflected, but Troy probably hadn't gotten drunk at Howe's.

The younger man moaned and flipped himself over, shooting a glare at Kenny that showed more malice than Troy could probably say through words at that moment. Still, he kept quiet and stumbled to his feet, shaking his head - and probably the lasting effects of the alcohol - clear.

"Fuck, my head hurts," he mumbled, but no one paid him any mind. She couldn't help but cross her arms once he caught her gaze, and sighed to herself as he approached her.

"Good morning, sunshine," she snarked, not being able to resist the urge to smirk. He looked… well, Troy was never pretty, but he looked like even more of a mess now, with wrinkled clothes and his brown mop of hair a mess. The scowl he wore wasn't doing him any favors, either; she had to suppress a snicker at how crabby he looked. Definitely not a morning person, then - or a hangover person.

"Stuff it," he snapped, teeth grinding together. "I don't remember all'a what happened last night, but I know I told you dumb shit. Keep that to yourself, and we won't have a fuckin' problem, y'hear?"

She merely rolled her eyes in response. "Why would I want to tell that stuff to anyone? It sounded personal, and I'm not a tattletale."

He snorted. "A fuckin' tattletale? How old are you again?" Before she could answer, he shook his head. "Never mind. Just keep your trap shut and things won't have t' get nasty." His words were serious, and he looked quite grumpy and hungover, but she could hardly be afraid of him. This wasn't like Howe's; he held no power here, and they both knew it.

"I told you I won't tell. You'll just have to trust me," she remarked, knowing that Troy putting his faith in anyone at this point was a long shot. But still, it wasn't like either of them could argue semantics; like it or not, they were stuck with one another. Troy didn't seem to be able to go anywhere anytime soon.

And Clementine was starting to get used to that.

Luke called to the two of them before the conversation could continue. "Clem! Troy! We're getting ready to go, alright? Hurry along, now!" He waved them over, looking quite chipper for however early in the morning it was.

Clementine smiled; the atmosphere was nowhere near cheerful, but she felt as though some of the grim mood hanging over their heads had been cleared. Sarah's rope-knot activity the previous night seemed to have rekindled some of their spirits, if only for the reminder that they weren't leaving the dead behind, not really - their memories would keep them alive, and their new physical mementos would, as well.

Speaking of…

She cast a glance towards where Troy had been sitting the previous night; it seemed the piece of rope he'd thrown onto the ground - the one with two knots for Colton and Kylie - was gone. Had he pocketed it, after all? She didn't dare ask, but she couldn't help but wonder.

"Yeah, yeah," Troy groaned towards Luke, brushing past her and holding his hand up to his head. "Jesus, this hurts like a bitch," he mumbled under his breath, and she knew he didn't mean his arm.

The girl did a quick survey of the group before returning to the others. Kenny, Luke, Nick, and Sarah were standing close to the entrance to the fence to get moving, Mike and Bonnie were getting Arvo untied near one of the generators, and Jane was impatiently waiting by herself nearby. It seemed like everyone was ready to keep going; after exchanging a wordless glance with Troy, they both joined the rest.

"Hope y'all got enough sleep," Kenny muttered, "There ain't gonna be much stopping on the way. Though I hope there won't be any problems, y' never know." He cast a glare towards Arvo, who limped over to them with Mike and Bonnie.

The Russian teen swallowed hard. "I… I lead you there, I swear. F-few hours, at most." His voice shook and he looked paler than before, Clementine noted with slight concern.

"Are you okay?" Sarah asked him, unknowingly voicing her friend's thoughts. "You look kinda… sick. Do we need to rest for a little longer? I'm not really tired, but-"

Arvo whipped a frightened gaze towards her, his mind elsewhere for a moment, before he shook his head. "N-no! No, I… I am fine!" He seemed to be convincing not only Sarah and the rest of the group, but himself, as well. The older girl flashed him a sympathetic look in response, but said nothing.

"He better be fine," Kenny growled, giving the teen a shove towards the front of the fence. Arvo cursed something under his breath (probably in his home language) and shuddered as though in pain. "He's gonna get us to that safehouse, or whatever the fuck it is, and he is gonna get us there before sundown. You got that, Ruskie?" He gave the boy another push for emphasis.

Arvo merely nodded miserably, keeping his head low.

"You don't gotta be like that, man," Mike murmured, flashing a glare towards Kenny.

"Yeah, I do. 'Cause who knows what he's planning? Just get us there in one piece, kid, or you'll wish you were dead," Kenny growled, clearly not having any arguments. Clementine did, however, catch the way he gazed down at AJ, nestled in his arms comfortably, for a few moments, as if recalling who they were all moving so quickly for.

AJ had to be given a chance to live; it wasn't fair otherwise.

Trudging through the snow wasn't particularly hard for most of them, though both Luke and Arvo seemed to be struggling the most. The latter was leading, however, and had to keep up the pace in fear of Kenny's gun pointed at his back. Clementine didn't approve, not by a long shot, but she couldn't exactly confront Kenny at the moment; he wouldn't listen anyway, as the man always did what he thought was best.

She huddled closer to herself as they walked on, Troy and Sarah the closest to her. Troy seemed to be keeping an eye on her, as if she'd go up to someone and just spill out all his secrets (how rude, honestly), while Sarah seemed slightly more confident as she walked along.

"Um, thanks, for teaching me before," she murmured, seeming to be talking to both Clementine and Troy. "I hope I don't have to use a gun anytime soon - seems scary - but I… want to be able to protect myself. I want to get stronger." Closing her eyes slightly, she whispered, "It's what my dad would've wanted, I just know it."

Clementine forced a small smile, nodding to her friend. "Anytime, Sarah. We can practice more later too, if you'd like."

Troy merely grimaced. "Don't fuckin' thank me for teachin' you the most basic shit. I didn't want y' comin' to me when things got hectic and whine for me to protect you. Now you can protect yourself." He scoffed, adding with a bitter tone, "And really - y'all can keep hopin' you ain't gonna have to use the gun, but you will. You'll always find a reason to use it."

Sarah frowned. "I, um… I know you always find a reason to use a gun…" she muttered.

The man raised his eyebrows in surprise, as though he hadn't been expecting sass, and hissed, "Shut the fuck up. I'm trying to help you out so you don't get bit and we have to put you the fuck down!"

Sarah flinched, her confidence dissolving immediately as she shrunk back. She wasn't able to speak right away, gazing over to Clementine for help.

The younger girl smacked Troy's side, unafraid of him. Her resolve hardened as she caught his eyes, a warning in her glare. "Stop saying stuff like that. No one's getting bitten." As soon as she focused back on Sarah, her expression softened. "Don't worry about him. Troy's just grumpy, and I think he knows why."

Immediately, Troy raised a hand to hit Clementine, but she snapped her eyes back on him before he could. The hostility in her brown orbs must have made him freeze, and he slowly lowered his arm before snarling some curses under his breath. "Piss off," he finally grumbled, picking up the pace leaving them behind, choosing to walk with Bonnie and Mike instead.

Clementine understood, now, why Troy was going off about getting bitten, but it excused nothing, and honestly, his attitude pissed her off. There was no reason to be mean to Sarah, or anyone really - though the younger girl had to admit she was a little protective of her friend.

Still, it was nice to know he wasn't completely stupid and knew that if he laid a hand on anyone, he'd probably be left for dead immediately.

"I didn't mean to make him feel bad…" Sarah whispered, hugging her arms around her body. "I thought he was being a little nicer, since he showed me how to shoot a gun and all…"

"I think he's always going to be a sourpuss," Clementine admitted with a shrug. "I think he's still learning how we function as a group, too." Maybe once he adjusted better…

Wait, what was she saying? Wasn't it his idea to leave once he felt safe enough to do so?

She once more cleared her head, focusing on her environment. Once they'd left the power plant-like area, there'd been strings of wires and electrical towards almost making a path for them to follow.

Arvo happened to be leading them that way, too, making her wonder if the Russians had made use of where they'd slept the previous night. It made sense, given the semi-fresh tracks of snow leading back to their campsite and towards their next destination. They were humans' prints, too, and not walkers, judging by the steady patterns.

Sarah and Clementine brought up the rear of the group; Nick and Luke were walking in front of them with Mike (with AJ), Bonnie, Jane, and now Troy more towards the front by Kenny, who led behind Arvo.

Everything surrounding them was snow and trees, a tundra forest that just made Clementine chilled from head to toe. Shivering, she bundled herself closer to the bright blue jacket, suddenly thankful to Bonnie for giving it to her back at Howe's.

"You sure you're good?" Mike's voice made her lift her head, and she noticed he was addressing Luke. The younger man was still limping, after all, leaning most of his weight onto Nick as they walked.

"Yeah - yeah, I'm good. If I start to crap out, I'll let you know," Luke replied, wincing as they dragged along.

"You do that. It's no trouble, man," Mike assured, nodding to them.

Kenny's voice sounded next, from the front of their line. "How much further?" It didn't take a genius to figure out who he was talking to.

"Close. Very close." Arvo seemed to be talking through gritted teeth, small whimpers leaving his lips as he walked. Though she couldn't see his face very well, the way he was walking made every step seem like agony, and it was obvious he was holding in the pain.

"You've been sayin' that shit every time he fuckin' asks," Troy mumbled in irritation.

"He has," Kenny agreed. "Maybe you and Ruskie should start hangin' out, Troy - both'a you seem like assholes who are useless without their little pals in charge."

"Excuse the fuck outta me?" Troy practically squawked, rage making his voice shake as he dashed up towards the older man. "You just watch your fuckin' back, you old fucker - too bad y' only got one eye to do it with, though. Makes y' all sorts'a vulnerable for bullets!"

Kenny snorted. "You'd know all about vulnerability and handicaps, wouldn't you?" he snapped.

"That's enough!" Bonnie sighed exasperatedly. "Will you two give it a rest? We get it, y' don't like each other. We can't do anythin' about that now, except… at least try to tolerate each other? For Clem, at least." She shook her head, red ponytail bobbing back and forth like a horse's tail.

The two of them were so busy arguing, they didn't notice the walker lying on the other side of a rock as they passed it. Nick noticed it first, crying out, "Watch out! Lurker!"

Before he could react, the walker was on Kenny, tackling him to the ground and snapping its jaws for a bite of flesh. He cried out, fighting off the predator using all the strength he could to keep it at bay, arms prying away the thing's torso. Clementine reached for her gun, but a premature shot sounded nearby, missing everyone completely and ringing in her ear.

Sarah shakily held her own pistol - an extra one that had belonged to one of the Russians - eyes widened as she realized how off her mark she was. The weapon fell from her hand and Clementine retrieved it, aiming towards the walker's head. After that one extra shot, the walker slumped onto Kenny, returning back to the nonmoving corpse it should have been.

"T-thanks Clementine," Kenny huffed, standing up and brushing himself off. "Fucker came outta nowhere."

Clementine let out a breath she didn't realize she was holding, exchanging a glance with Sarah. The older girl swallowed hard, a small film of tears over her eyes. Clementine shook her head in reassurance, handing her back the pistol. "You didn't hesitate," she observed. "That was good. We just need to work on your aim. You're still learning, so you're not going to hit your mark every time yet."

With a trembling nod, Sarah wordlessly took her gun back, placing it on safety the way Troy had showed her and returning it to her hoodie's pocket.

Once the blood finally stopped roaring in her ears from adrenaline, Clementine realized AJ was crying, most likely because of the loud noises. Frowning, she wished she could do something to comfort him, but Mike was already bouncing him lightly in his arms, trying to soothe him as best he could.

"Shh, it's okay, little guy," he said in a hushed tone to the infant. "It's just a gunshot. You'll hear plenty of those, trust me."

Luke chuckled. "If he's lucky, he'll find a place where he won't need to, but… that sounds a bit too optimistic, so I gotta agree."

Bonnie rolled her eyes. "Those gunshots were real loud - hopefully there ain't more of 'em."

"Yeah, well, let's move - we don't want to be around to find out," Jane snapped, marching on ahead.

Arvo sighed, a defeated look shining in his eyes behind his glasses as he muttered, "Is very close. Come." He continued to limp forward, clearly in pain as he cursed quietly in Russian.

Sarah nudged her side. "I hope Arvo's okay."

With a nod, Clementine replied, "Me too. I wish we had something to give him…"

"We don't have any more painkillers?"

"No, I don't think so… We used the last on Troy and Rebecca. Maybe there'll be something at the house he's taking us to, though…" Clementine just hoped he had been telling the truth - for his sake, just as much as theirs.

After walking for a few more minutes, the trees finally stopped appearing and Arvo stopped before a wide, white clearing. In the distance, a half-completed house could be seen, looking abandoned with half of the structure exposed to the cold. It sat atop a hill, a long frozen lake stretched out between them and the house. The ice shimmered as a gust of wind tore through the air, snow from various clumps piled on the banks fluttering about.

Clementine shivered, exchanging a glance with Sarah, a bit confused at the state of the house. Was that supposed to be a safe place for them? For AJ?

It seemed she wasn't the only one with doubts. "That piece of shit? You're takin' us there?" Troy demanded, disbelief edging his tone.

"I can't fuckin' believe this. It's half-built. What good's that gonna do for us?" Kenny asked with a frustrated snarl. He shoved Arvo for good measure, the barrel of his gun poking at the teen's back. "You tryin' to fucking play us, Ruskie?!"

Jane stepped up next. "We're here for the supplies," she reminded them. "Not the house."

"Is warm," Arvo assured. "Very warm. Fireplace. Me and… sister live there for some time. Must be careful around ice." Unable to point with his hands bound, he nodded towards the frozen lake.

Nick raised an eyebrow in suspicion. "You want us to just… walk over?"

No one replied, and the group wordlessly walked to the edge of the frozen lake's bank, staring out at the icy surface extending out towards their destination. The frosty bridge seemed solid enough to walk on, though it was impossible to truly secure safety. Clementine swallowed hard, anxiously gazing at the others.

"There's no way around?" Bonnie questioned, and Arvo merely shook his head.

"Would take days to walk around," he replied softly. "Cannot find clear path, anyway…"

"Then I guess we got no fuckin' choice here. We gotta cross this," Kenny muttered in frustration.

In the end, they all decided to spread out and not clump together, to keep their weight from breaking through the surface of the ice. Arvo was once again in front, leading them through the frozen lake with Kenny close behind him. Everyone else was separated the best they could while still being within earshot, with Clementine, Sarah, Nick, and Luke being the last to walk out onto the ice.

Kenny had demanded Arvo go first because he had been confident they could walk across just fine. The squeaks of the teen's leg brace were the only prominent sounds around them, save for the occasional gust of wind.

The first step had been frightening, and Clementine almost slid right then and there, but once she regained her balance, she was able to slowly step forwards, following the rest of the group. Sarah had nearly fallen, as well, but with a startled yelp managed to keep herself standing.

"That's it, y'all… Just keep the weight spread out." Bonnie's encouraging voice sounded from up ahead, keeping Clementine focused on their goal. The adults were taking their time, so she would make sure she followed their example. This was one area she didn't feel confident going off alone in; ice was unpredictable, and Science hadn't been her best subject.

She kept her eyes on the ice, keeping watch for any cracks - and urged those closest to her to do the same. Sarah nodded and whimpered, her anxiety clearly skyrocketing as her breaths became short and light.

"Sarah… try to keep it together," Nick murmured. "Deep breaths. Remember?" The man looked extremely nervous as well, though, and didn't seem like he should be giving anyone advice at the moment.

But the words connected nonetheless, for a few long sighs escaped from Sarah's lips, and her steps seemed slightly less wobbled as she followed nearby. Clementine could keep a clear eye on her, though even if they were too close, she doubted their combined weight would break anything.

It was all so painstakingly slow, and each crunch of boots on ice made the tension in the air grow thicker and thicker, until it was difficult to even think about anything but walking forward. One step, two steps, three… Clementine decided to count each step, giving her something to focus on besides the fear of fissures in the ice running too deep.

Once she counted to fifteen steps, she felt an unpleasant crackling sound, and sure enough, the shape of a crevice carved its way onto the ice below her, spreading out erratically like a spider's web. She froze immediately (no sick pun intended), her heart rate skyrocketing.

"We're okay," Luke sounded from behind her, a shakiness to his voice despite himself. "Don't worry."

Nick's voice came next. "Keep on movin', it's gonna be alright. We're almost there."

Clementine took a deep breath and pushed herself forward, going back to her mental counting. Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen…

At nineteen, animalistic snarls broke through the silence; the girl whipped her head around, seeing walkers fearlessly beginning to tread across the ice in pursuit of prey.

"W-walkers!" Sarah cried out, warning the rest of the group. Everyone turned their head to look carefully, taking in the situation.

"It's only a few of 'em," Mike finally called back. "We can make it."

An angry shout from Kenny came next. "Hey! Stay with us!" After noticing the monsters following them, Arvo was walking a bit faster now, his quickened pace echoed in the faster squeaks of his brace.

Behind her, Clementine heard the ice break and plunge something into the water underneath with a loud splash. Everyone stopped and stood still, almost literally frozen to their spots.

Clearly afraid to look back, Sarah whispered, "...Luke? Nick?"

"It was some lurkers," Luke replied, sounding further away than he had been.

Everyone seemed to instantly regain their senses, and once more gazed behind at what had happened. The hole that the walkers had made wasn't very large, but it was clear that more than one of them had broken through. Some more breaks in the ice spread out from their collapsed section, threatening to spread to where everyone was standing and split the light coat of frozen snow keeping them alive.

"That's two less to deal with. Just stay spread out and we'll be fine," Jane said.

Arvo didn't take those words to heart, however, because he broke into as fast as a sprint as he could manage, clumsily limping towards the other side of the lake. Kenny yelled curses after him, speeding up to a run across the fragile surface. Time seemed to slow down as the older man sprinted like a cat chasing a mouse, after a boy who was currently mewling with pain as he ran.

"Shit! He's gonna kill him!" Mike hissed angrily. Despite AJ being in his arms, he decided to also race forward, going after Kenny to try to stop any stupid actions he might do in his rage.

"Get back here, you piece of shit!" Kenny snarled, and just as Arvo gazed back at him, the boy cried out in pain and went tumbling down, the ice breaking and water swallowing up the bottoms of his legs.

The teen scrambled forward in desperation, his bound hands making it difficult to claw at the ice. His good leg was kicking wildly to get out of the water, shivers already running through his body.

"нет! нет, нет, нет!" Arvo screamed, which Clementine could only assume meant 'no' or a similar protest. Kenny grabbed him moments later and fished him out of the hole, dragging him to his feet and pushing him forwards, onto the snow on the other side of the lake.

She let out a small sigh of relief. And moments after Kenny and Arvo, Mike and Bonnie had crossed over to the safe side as well, with Jane and Troy following them in turn.

With six members of the group making it to safety, Clementine felt more confident that the remaining four could cross, as well.

"C-Clem, I'm scared," Sarah whimpered under her breath, but loud enough so they could hear. "Nick, Luke, I'm… I'm really scared."

"Don't worry, Sarah. Like we said, it's gonna be fine. We're gonna be fine," Nick assured, nerves practically keeping his words to a whisper. "Go on ahead of us, Sarah - you're light enough to make it to the other side, no problem. And we'll follow shortly, don't worry."

Sarah exchanged a worried look at Clementine, but the younger girl merely signaled to hurry her pace. The older girl nodded shakily and stepped forward, making her at the lead of the group that were left. She was currently the closest to the other side, and seemed to be focused on getting there in one piece.

"W-we got this, guys," Luke's murmured from behind, his voice not at all sounding confident.

Clementine found herself nodding all the same, though, and turned back to look at the two behind her.

She wished she hadn't.

Nick was in front of Luke, closer to where Clementine was, but the latter man had stopped completely, limbs spread wide for balance. Cracks like an earthquake spread underneath his feet, instability keeping him rooted to the ice. Fear ripped through his face, his legs trembling beneath him - which only made the surface that much more unsafe.

Clementine must have looked frightened at the sight, for Nick caught her expression and turned around, his own stance beginning to wobble. "L-Luke!" he called, turning around to go back for his friend.

"Stop!" Luke's voice was full of terror, that much was clear, but there was a rawness that cut through his fright and truly showed how desperate he was to keep Nick away. "Don't come over here. Don't, Nick." His eyes seemed to be begging for help, but he didn't want anyone to get near to share his fate, should he fall in.

False confidence settled in next, the brown-haired man mumbling to himself. "I- I can make it. It's fine. I'll be fine. I just - I just need some time, okay? Give me a minute."

Nick shook his head. "There are lurkers behind you! I'm not leavin' you behind. Let me help-"

"No!" Luke snapped, a frantic effort to keep his friend away from danger. "No, I can do this, I just gotta be careful…" The moment he took a step forward, however, the ice crumbled beneath him, and his injured leg slipped through.

"Luke!" Nick yelled, not hesitating to run forward. "Oh, fuck no - no, I'm coming, man!" He hurried along, only to be stopped by his friend once more.

"If you get closer, you're gonna fall in too!" Luke cried, shaking his head furiously. "Do not get any closer! You too, Clem!"

Clementine hadn't even realized she'd turned back until she heard Luke's warning, stopping and planting herself on a spot that was covered with the least cracks. Just once, she looked back, pleased to see that Sarah had made it to the other side safely. The older girl clearly wasn't happy, though, and had almost walked back onto the ice, if it wasn't for Bonnie grabbing and pulling her back.

She was calling out their names in alarm, that much was clear, but any other words were lost on Clementine as the familiar rush of adrenaline began to course through her body. She turned her complete attention back to Luke, who was still partly in the water.

"You need help, Luke!" Nick shouted, slowly inching towards him.

"No, you two will fall through if you get any closer!" Luke argued, trying with all his might to keep everyone away from him. When Clementine tried to dispute it, he cut her off and hissed, "Don't you get it? I need you to shoot those lurkers. Okay? That's all I need - a little time!" His eyes bugged out, fingers pinned to the surface of the ice, as though the cold wasn't making him numb.

Nick looked towards at her in panic, an equally-palpable fear written all over his face. "Clem, we have to help him. You're light, you can get to him and I'll shoot. It's the only way I see us all makin' it to the other side."

Clementine had no choice but to oblige. Despite Luke's warnings, she cautiously stepped forward, ignoring his - and the rest of the group's - immediate protests. This was for his own sake, she reflected; this was his only chance of survival, and she wasn't going to let him die here.

They'd come so far. Luke could not die like this.

Nick's shots rang through the air, downing some close walkers. The corpses fell onto the ice, surprisingly not breaking through where they lay. All the while, Clementine tried to ignore the obvious threat she was walking towards and kept her focus on the panicked Luke, now halfway in the freezing water.

"Please," he begged through blueish lips, "just go back. Get back to safety, Clem."

"You need help, Luke. I got you," she called back at him. "It's going to be alright."

"I - I'm scared. God, I'm so fuckin' scared…" Luke whispered under his breath, as though he was trying to hide it from her. But she knew - she knew that he wasn't the unbreakable wall he fronted himself as. Luke was as human as the rest of them - and he needed help.

"You need help," she repeated, louder this time as she inched forward.

"I… I need help," he echoed, hanging his head. "God, you're right… shit… I'm sorry, Clem. P-please, help me."

It must've felt nice to finally admit that, Clementine reflected; if it wasn't relieving, it was probably embarrassing for him. But it didn't matter either way, because she was not giving up on him now. Deciding she couldn't quite concentrate on the way his body drooped miserably while staring at the ice, she opted to count her steps again. One… two… three…

Before she could even get to five, a horribly loud crunch sounded, and the area below Luke broke through, swallowing him whole. Clementine stared at the spot where the ice had caved in, her eyes growing wider after every damn millisecond that Luke was not there.

He wasn't there anymore. He had been crumpled there - waiting for someone to rescue him or time to run out or perhaps either - but now he was… not. It took a few seconds for her to process that Luke was simply gone, and she'd failed him so terribly.

She had failed him!

But someone else was not about to give up like she had - someone would not accept the fact that friends don't ever last long in this world. A pained shout from Nick snapped her out of her senses, and the man rushed forward without hesitation, sinking to his knees below the hole.

Miraculously, the ice didn't crumble around Nick, though he was deliberately choosing spots that seemed more solid to stand on. Pete had mentioned he'd gone hunting with Nick, once - maybe the man had learned some trick to frozen lakes or something then. Or maybe he got lucky; either way, he wasn't falling in and was reaching into the frozen water with his bare hands to retrieve Luke.

Time stood still as he fished around desperately, arms reaching further into the dark abyss to grab hold of an arm, or a piece of fabric from a shirt, or virtually anything he could. Clementine's heart pounded against her ribcage like a drum, tension keeping her standing where she was, like a coward.

Finally, Nick pulled back, letting out a grunt of effort as he pulled something large and pale out of the water. Luke's lips were blue and the color had drained from his body as he curled into a fetal position, trying to push frightened words off his tongue but unable to. Immediately, Nick slung Luke's arm around his shoulders and pulled him up, using all the strength and luck he had to get to the other side of the lake.

And for once, fate smiled on them. They had made it to the other side, making Clementine hurry her pace along to follow them. By the time she crossed over, Nick was already inside the house, bundling Luke in as many pieces of clothing as he could from a backpack. Clementine was suddenly grateful they'd decided to snag so many clothes from Parker's Run.

"Luke! Luke, are you okay?!" Sarah cried, fear gripping her tone as she rushed inside with the others. The room they were in was slightly exposed to the outside, but for the most part, it was protected from the wind. There was a staircase leading to an unfinished upstairs nearby, and many random pieces of furniture in-the-making strewn about the room.

"We need a fire, Sarah, he's gonna freeze to death!" Nick breathed, his own adrenaline clearly not diminishing just yet. "I'm not letting you die!" he added to Luke, who was unconscious on the floor and shivering uncontrollably.

"F-fire! Fire, okay!" Sarah replied, looking at the adults for help. "M-my dad never let me use matches! Does anyone have them? Please!"

Jane nodded, fishing some out of her pockets. "Here, let me just…" She knelt next to the fireplace, striking a match on the box and throwing it towards the lumber already placed inside. Once a small fire started kindling, Nick dragged Luke as close as he could to it, rubbing his hands over his friend's frail form, trying to warm him up with friction.

"C'mon… c'mon, man," he muttered, attention completely focused on saving Luke's life. Thankfully, the fire seemed to warm the freezing man, and Luke sighed slightly in content, his shivers dying down to slight tremors. When he'd calmed down completely and stopped shaking, Nick leaned back on his knees, taking off his hat to run a hand through his hair.

Kenny whipped his head around to glare at Arvo. "What the actual fuck was that? You said it was safe, you little shitbird!" He walked up to the boy, staring him down like a piece of prey. "This place is a stack of fuckin' toothpicks! Bet those supplies aren't really here neither, are they?"

Arvo didn't respond, his head lowered submissively, but the older man shoved him, making him wince in pain.

"What? No speaka de English?" Kenny mocked, his temper flaring up like the flames in the fireplace.

Protectively, Mike thrust his way between them, meeting Kenny's eyes. "Do not, man. Leave him alone," he hissed. "It wasn't anyone's fault, and this place looks safe enough for now. That's all it's about, right? For fucking now."

"What? Mike, if there ain't no supplies here for little AJ, he's gonna starve, and we'll all be next! Don't give me that bullshit!"

"It ain't doin' anyone any favors squawkin' at each other like chickens," Troy pointed out, the sneer on his face betraying his words. The son of a bitch was enjoying the discord, wasn't he?

Jane narrowed her eyes at him. "That's funny, coming from you of all people, rooster-boy."

"Oh, shut up," Troy snapped with a scowl.

Kenny ignored the conversations around him, once more roughly grabbing Arvo and pushing him forward, like some sort of playground bully. "Start talkin', kid. Now."

"It wasn't - it wasn't Arvo's fault!" Sarah pleaded. "He's hurt and he was sc-scared! I was scared, too…" She trembled under Kenny's gaze, fingers folding together and picking at her nails anxiously.

Clementine stepped up beside her, more confidently raising her head to look at the man. "It wasn't his fault, Kenny. And we all made it across, anyway. Luke has a fire, he'll warm up and be okay." Pursing her lips, she gently placed a hand on his arm. "Kenny, listen to me. Please."

Kenny's eyes flashed with something she couldn't quite pinpoint, but his hostile expression began to soften and he eventually nodded, turning away from the Russian teen and towards her. "...thanks, darlin'. I'm gonna go look around, though, for those supplies."

"I think we'll all explore the place a bit," Mike added quickly, clearly still suspicious of Kenny. The other adults gave nods of their own in agreement, and it was settled.

Clementine moved to join them, but found herself overcome with sudden exhaustion, and wobbled on her feet a bit. Sarah gazed curiously at her, asking if she was alright, but she couldn't really answer before sitting back down.

"Tired," she mumbled, not wanting to admit that crossing the ice took a lot out of her. Then again, with what happened with Troy, she wasn't able to get much sleep the previous night, so it made sense. The sun was still high in the sky, probably around mid-afternoon, but she felt as though she could sleep for hours.

"It's safe to take a rest," Bonnie assured her. "No one would blame y', Clem."

"I'm staying to make sure Luke is alright," Nick pointed out. "So I'll keep watch. Sarah, you can sleep too, if you want. You both look like you're 'bout to fall over."

Sarah blushed, waving her hands in front of her face. "D-do I really look that tired? Well, um… I guess it couldn't hurt to sleep for a little bit. What do you think, Clem?" She turned to her friend, a question in her gaze.

Clementine didn't hesitate. The warmth of the fire nearby and the comfort of everyone being in a safe place was lulling her to sleep, and she didn't want to resist if she didn't have to. She bobbed her head in agreement to answer Sarah, curling up on one of the pieces of furniture in the room. "...'night," she whispered, her words slurred from fatigue.

"Goodnight, Clem." Without another word, Sarah crawled near Luke on the floor, lying down close to keep warm. She wasn't close enough to touch, of course, but it was probably comforting to have someone she trusted within reach. Nick was also beside her, seated with his back against the piece of furniture, eyes focused only on Luke. His hand held onto his friend's shoulder tightly, fingers gently tracing any exposed icy skin, as though the man would break into pieces should he stop and let go.

Clementine stared at Luke for a long while, taking in the sight of him swaddled in extra clothes, his breaths shuddering and his lips still blue despite everything. The embers in the fireplace continued to grow larger, however, and she was confident that they would keep him from freezing even when night approached.

Comforted by the feeling of security and warmth, Clementine's eyes began to droop. She focused on Luke even as she felt herself drift away, the image of him asleep by the fire the last one she saw before sleep claimed her.

If only that peace had lasted. It hadn't even felt like she'd been asleep for more than a few seconds before a loud shriek woke her, growls echoing nearby.

Chapter Text

Clementine's eyes snapped open too quickly, the world around her hard to make out through the blurs. All she could pinpoint were nearby shapes, large and moving quickly, as though in panic. The sight frightened her, but it was only when her vision cleared did she realize how close to danger she was.

The threat didn't connect right away, nor did the sheer reality of the situation settle in her mind. What she saw was just so immediately inconceivable that she almost rejected the idea outright. But just like always, the shock dissolved once she realized her life was at stake, and she scrambled up from her sleeping position.

Sarah was curled in on herself towards the corner of the room, head ducked and body trembling almost violently. Despite that, Nick was still asleep a bit away from them; Luke was on his hands and knees nearby, closing in on her as she screamed for him to stay away.

Only it wasn't Luke... but something much, much more horrible.

Clementine's heart sunk when she recognized the walker version of her friend, the skin around his face still blue from the water he'd sunk into. His clothes hung off his skinny frame, some of his body already rotting away after death. All images of the proud and level-headed cabin group leader went up in flames; reduced to something inhuman, Luke could only be put down like a dog and nothing could be done to help him.

Luke had helped Clementine so much, been her support when she was in need of some hope at Howe's. It wasn't fair that she couldn't give him the same now.

But really, with Sarah in danger, there was no time to grieve at the moment. Overwhelmed with fresh adrenaline, Clementine scrambled for her gun, moving to shoot. But Luke had gotten too close to Sarah, and from her position, she risked shooting the older girl, too.

"Use your gun! Shoot him!" she yelled, but Sarah was too paralyzed by fear to hear the instructions, let alone even move to get her weapon. But if they didn't do something soon…!

"L-Luke! Wh-what's wrong?" Sarah stammered, eyes wide and terrified. "P-please, leave me alone…!"

"That's not Luke anymore!" Nick suddenly cried out, awake and alert within milliseconds. He leapt to his feet, waving an arm to try to distract the walker. "HEY! Over here! Come and get it, rotten bastard!"

The creature lifted his head, glassy eyes trailing over to what he probably saw as a larger meal. Giving a feral snarl, Luke crawled towards Nick, teeth snapping and fingers bent at claw-like, grotesque angles. Nick appeared to brace himself as he approached, fists tightened around the gun at his side. He backed up, further from the fireplace near the staircase that Arvo was tied to.

The Russian teen, just rousing from a restless sleep, noticed the walker immediately. The color drained from his already-pale face and he leaned as far back as he could, tugging on the ropes keeping him pinned to the stair supports.

"Уходи!" he screamed, his writhes more wild the closer Nick got to him. "G-get it away! Please, do not let it get closer!"

"Don't worry, kid. I'm luring him here, but I won't let him get you," Nick muttered, his eyes trained on the threat as the walker crept forward. "That's it, buddy... c'mon... I'm right here. Just you and me, Luke..." His voice trailed off before he choked out, "Like old times."

He cast a glance to the girls, gaze focused and determined despite seeing his best friend reanimated in front of him. "Sarah, Clementine, someone - get ready to shoot the minute I say to." His voice was cool and collected,

Sarah still shook with fright and was muttering to herself, but Clementine readied her gun as she was told. Holding her breath, the girl watched as Luke drew closer and closer to Nick, the grotesque noises getting louder. Her fingers tightened around the base of the gun, brown eyes narrowing in concentration.

The walker hissed and lunged forward, tackling Nick to the ground. The man's hands shot up in front of his chest to protect himself, but Luke only scraped and scratched at him, shredding the material of his sweatshirt. Clementine aimed her gun and waited for the best shot – when Luke bent down his head, he'd be in the perfect line of shot.

"Stop it! Stop! Please!" Sarah begged beside her, tears forming behind her glasses. "Why won't he stop, Clem?"

"You know why, Sarah! They never stop!" Clementine hissed. Why didn't the girl understand yet that Luke was now little more than a wild animal? Didn't she have enough experience with them?! Clementine had been very patient, but with the threat of both Nick's death very prominent, she couldn't afford to be anything but pushy.

"T-then we have to shoot, Clem!" Sarah exclaimed, pointing her weapon a bit lower than Luke's head. Without waiting for a response, she took a deep breath and squeezed her finger around the trigger like Troy had taught her.

Despite the shot being so close to Clementine's ear, she barely registered the noise and kept her eyes on Nick and Luke. The walker flinched, a bullet piercing his back, but looked relatively unshaken. On the contrary, it seemed to just anger him more. With a roar, he put his full weight onto Nick, jaws rapidly clicking in hunger.

Nick grunted with effort, trying to fight off his walker-fied friend. His limbs flailed in defense, a terrified expression on his face despite his heroic move. While Nick seemed to be weakening, Luke didn't have human limitations anymore. The creature would keep moving and biting until he either ate or was killed.

"N-now! Shoot hi-!" he yelled out, a pained gasp cutting off his words.

Without hesitation - without even remembering who she was shooting - Clementine fired, the bullet hitting Luke straight in the back of the head. The angle wasn't perfect, but it was enough to make him sink down and lie still. Once he was down, it was clear he wasn't going to get back up again - if the pool of black blood leaking from his head was anything to go by.

Luke's remains were slumped onto Nick, the man's breaths heavy and labored as he tried to push the corpse off. His whole body trembled and his eyes were widened, his strength clearly depleted. He tried a few more times to get out from under Luke, but eventually gave up his efforts, sitting in silence. Clementine approached him, offering a hand.

There was nothing to say to him, at least not about Luke - what could she honestly say? 'Are you okay'? 'Sorry your friend just died, want a hand to step over his corpse'? No, saying anything now would be merely noise to him, mindless mutters that she didn't have the energy to spare for. So she kept quiet, lips drawn into a tight frown, as she tried to push the reality of what had just happened out of her mind for now.

For now, she wanted Nick to take her goddamn hand.

The man was very clearly in shock, however. When he finally managed to notice her nearby, he merely dragged his gaze up to her, a haunted expression etched on his face and misery set into his deep blue eyes.

There was something so familiar about the image of fear and despair he wore; it churned Clementine's stomach to try to match the expression with those she'd been with in the past, but she couldn't place it just yet. Nick had just lost his best friend since childhood, she reasoned; that must be why he looked so drained.

Clementine was faintly aware of Arvo and Sarah crying out hysterically for help - as well as AJ crying in his makeshift cradle - but she could barely hear any of them. All she could do was focus on Nick's eyes and how suddenly frightened he looked.

Then again, he was now facing a world without Luke - as was she. Losing such a close companion wouldn't be easy to get over.

The loud yells in the room had apparently alerted the others. One by one, the adults came rushing in through the doorway from another part of the safehouse.

"What the fuck is goin' on!?" Troy was, of course, the first to comment, his voice an irritated squawk. Clementine finally wrenched her gaze from Nick to shoot the one-armed man a glare, quite annoyed herself at his voice.

"Wh-what is all this?" Bonnie gasped next, holding a hand up to her mouth in disbelief.

Clementine watched their faces drain of color as they took in the horrible sights in the room. The recognizable dead walker on the ground was bad enough, surely, but add in the crying AJ, fearful Arvo, weeping Sarah, dazed Nick, and frazzled Clementine, and it was just a complete mess.

"What the hell happened?" Mike echoed Troy's question, not daring to move yet. "Is that -?"

"Yeah. It's Luke," Nick murmured, failing once more to push the weight off him. With a growl of frustration, he hissed, "I got him away from the girls in time, thankfully. …guess he turned into a lurker overnight."

Mike flashed Nick a sympathetic glance as he approached the scene, pushing Luke's corpse off him as gently as he could. It was a respectful gesture, and the pained look on Mike's face gave Clementine a glimpse of just how popular Luke had been back at Howe's.

"Here, man," Mike offered a hand now, and Nick took it this time.

The taller man struggled to his feet, still breathing heavily. He looked ragged, the dark circles under his eyes more prominent and his shirt ripped to bloody shreds. "The cold was too much for him. Just… too much." His voice cracked as he set his gaze back on his best friend's corpse. "He attacked Sarah… we had to take him down…"

"Oh, Nick," Bonnie murmured, flashing a sympathetic look at him. "We understand - y' did what you had to. I-I'm real sorry this happened. Luke was... he was a good man. Kind as ever, determined, brave..."

"Yeah, he was," Nick agreed miserably, lowering his head further. "Deserved someone who doesn't fall asleep when he swears he'll keep watch - who could've done more for him in the end. Guy's there for me my entire life, and when he needs me, I let him down." His eyes closed, and he rubbed at the back of his neck uncomfortably.

"He fell into freezin' water," Kenny argued, the first words he'd said since coming back inside. "There's no messin' with that. Y' tried your best, though - givin' him a fire, tryin' to keep him warm… It was all you could do."

"Kenny's right. Take it from someone who was studyin' medical shit, man - hypothermia is irreversible past a certain point," Mike added, and paused for a moment as something clearly dawned on him. He turned to Arvo, who was still chained up and shaking like a baby deer. "Speakin' of freezin' water - are your legs okay, kid?"

Arvo's expression twisted into sadness before melting back into fear. "I- I can feel them," he mumbled. "Th-they are cold, though…"

"I almost forgot that you fell in, too," Mike replied apologetically. "We gotta get you near the fire, alright?" He approached the Russian cautiously, hands raised to show he meant no harm.

The teen's lips pursed, and he almost straightened up and let Mike unchain him. However, some cruel reality must have settled into his mind, for he quickly flashed a terrified look Kenny's way and shook his head. "N-no, I am- I am fine… I-is not necessary."

"Damn right he's fine," Kenny sneered. "He ain't gettin' off that post. No way in hell." His face twisted smugly into a dominant grin as he spoke. Clementine decided she absolutely hated that look on him.

Mike flashed him a defiant look, anger blazing in his eyes. "Are you fuckin' serious, Kenny? He could freeze just like Luke!"

"At least he'll be chained up, if he ends up turnin'," Troy pointed out with a shrug.

"That's… that's inhumane, you bastards!" Mike's lips curled back in a snarl, and he moved to stand in front of Arvo protectively. "The kid doesn't deserve to go out like that. I ain't gonna let you do that!"

Kenny shoved his face towards the younger man like the leader of a lion pride, a challenge burning in his gaze. "You want to try me, Mike? Because I'm not really in the fuckin' mood for this shit right now. We lost another one of our own, and you're worried about that brat?"

"He ain't a brat! Hell, he don't even need to be our prisoner anymore! We can let him go!" Mike tried to reason. "Think about it - he brought us to the safehouse. What more use is he?"

"Like hell!" Kenny snorted. "He'll just run, and we'll be shit outta luck when he brings more'a his Russkie buddies back to blow our faces off."

"Then just let the kid get warm! That's all it fuckin' takes, Kenny!"

"I'll let him get warm - in a pool'a his own blood, if he takes so much of a step outta line-"

"PLEASE STOP!" A strained yell echoed through the small room, the voice belonging to the shaking girl in the corner. Sarah was almost in hysterics, but the look in her eyes was more clear than ever before. "Please let Arvo by the fire! I don't want anyone else to die! Please!"

"Sarah…" Nick began, but Sarah just fell to her knees and shook her head in protest, covering her face in her hands.

"L-Luke died," she whimpered, trying to wipe at her eyes despite the glasses. "And you're all… f-fighting like it means nothing! Please… stop and let us say goodbye! Let… let us just say goodbye…" Her voice cut off as she succumbed to the sobs, curling in on herself in the corner of the room.

The outburst seemed to calm down the raging males in the group; AJ could be heard crying once more in the background, prompting Kenny to give up the fight and pick up the child with a shushing noise.

"There, there," the older man shushed, surprising Clementine with his gentle side once more. After shooting a quick glare towards Mike, he snapped, "Fine, put him by the fire. But I want one'a you watchin' him."

"I'll make sure he stays put," Jane volunteered with a casual shrug. Kenny gave her a nod of approval, and she nonchalantly went to undo Arvo's chains. The rest of the group agreed to return where they'd been - if only to let the last of the cabin folks say goodbye.

"It's gettin' late," Bonnie mentioned, making Clementine wonder just how long they'd been asleep. "Sun should be settin' soon. We'll keep this fire goin' and open up some of this food, and you take care of 'im however you like, Nick. We'll be here if y' need us."

Nick nodded. "Thanks. Me'n Sarah will say some words outside, I guess. And Clem, if she wants." The girl merely gave a nod in response.

"Alright," Bonnie replied gently. "And again… Luke didn't deserve to go out like that, but it ain't no one's fault he did." Her eyes flashed sympathetically from Luke's body, to Nick, and then over to Sarah. With a shake of her head, she walked back outside with Mike. Kenny bounced AJ gently in his arms, whispering to the child as he followed the other two out of earshot.

Once everyone began to move, Troy almost automatically shifted towards the body, clasping his hand around its arm and beginning to drag it towards the door with a grunt of effort. And automatically in return, Nick stepped up to block his way, a hardened look on his face.

"Didn't you hear Bonnie? You're all goin' to get food goin', and we're takin' care of Luke," the taller man hissed, almost like a protective animal. "So let him go. Now."

"Look, I heard and all, but I think y'all are fuckin' idiots. I don't know how y' took care'a your dead before," Troy retorted as he rolled his eyes, "but this shit's gonna start to stink soon, and I ain't gonna sit here and-"

Nick gave the other man a warning shove, cutting off his words. "I said let him go! I'm not gonna leave him here, so don't worry about that - I just don't want you doin' anything to him. So shut the fuck up, Troy, and stop actin' all high and mighty!"

Troy obviously didn't respond well to the physical aggression, his lip curling back and his brows knitting together. "Y'all think I was born yesterday? It's this sentimental shit that's gonna get you killed one day. A dead lurker's gonna attract more lurkers, and we'll be swarmed with 'em soon enough, all 'cause you wanna keep your boyfriend here a little longer! Get the fuck over it!"

With a roar, Nick's fist flew into Troy's jaw, knocking the smaller man backwards a few feet. Troy rubbed at the wounded spot before spitting something pink onto the floor and charging forward. Giving a frustrated yell of his own, the one-armed man attempted to punch his adversary, but Nick was able to dodge him and grabbed a hold of his arm, subduing the only means he had to attack with.

Struggling, Troy seethed, "Let go'a me! That ain't fair, y' son of a bitch!" He pulled at his arm, trying to back away, out of the grip. However, yanking too hard made him flinch; clearly, the strain was a bit much for the stump on the other limb. The wound might not be life-threatening anymore, but it probably still hurt like crazy.

Clementine exchanged a glance with Sarah (who was still in the corner of the room) before hesitantly calling, "Nick, please calm down! He's not worth it."

"Ain't fair? Ain't fair!?" Nick echoed, teeth grinding together. He completely disregarded her words, or perhaps didn't hear them; his eyes were wide and focused now, reflecting both burning fury and pain. "You know what ain't fair, Troy? I had to shoot Luke! He was - he was like a goddamn brother to me, and we had to kill him!"

His voice cracked at the end of his words, a film of unshed tears over his eyes. The hand that held onto Troy was trembling and he let go, still standing tall to protect Luke's corpse. There was a wall of determination and reckless loyalty that Clementine knew no one could penetrate.

Troy stared towards Nick, his eyes equally widened as he backed up, his face pale as though he'd seen a ghost. His legs wobbled and he almost fell as he forced distance between them, unable to meet the other's gaze.

Swallowing hard, the smaller man muttered a brief, "Wh-whatever. Do whatever you fuckin' want, I don't give two shits," before turning around and striding outside as quickly as he could.

Clementine hesitated for a moment, wondering if she should go after him and make sure he was okay, but she opted not to in the end. She'd much rather say goodbye to Luke, and it wasn't like Troy would willingly tell her anything, anyway.

Sarah finally came out from the corner she'd been stuck in, casting a fearful glance where Troy had left. Clementine assured her not to worry, as he seemed affected by Nick's words. Of course, only the younger girl knew why, but it couldn't be denied that he looked spooked.

"You think he'll come back?" she asked, still nervously peeking around the corner where he'd left.

Clementine shook her head; honestly, it seemed like he'd be staying away for quite a while, and she couldn't decide whether that was a relief to her or not.

The room grew quiet, the crackles from the fire nearby the only sound. Jane and Arvo occupied the other half of the living room, but they were far enough away and didn't seem to be paying attention, anyway, so the space they occupied felt intimate enough for the three - four - of them.

Sarah broke the silence, heaving a long sigh, her eyes locked onto what remained of Luke. "I just… I can't believe this was Luke," she whispered, another tear slipping down her cheek. "H-he was alive when we got here, and now…"

Both Nick and Clementine joined her, almost in vigil, to inspect their fallen friend. The wilted walker's arms were still outstretched, his mouth still open wide in search of a meal. But he moved no more, his lifeless eyes staring off into nothingness as more dark liquid gushed from the bullet holes in his back and head.

No doubt they'd all seen walkers before, their presence almost normal in everyday life now, but the sights became even more horrible and twisted when a personal touch was added to them. When the walking dead became reanimated friends and family, the monsters were ten times scarier.

"He must've… passed in his sleep," Nick finally murmured, his voice like gravel. A hand trailed to his friend's glassy eyes, lowering the lids to give him a more peaceful expression. "I guess it's good to know he didn't suffer."

"I don't think he did," Clementine agreed. "And you put him down so he wouldn't have to go on as a walker."

Nick's shoulders slumped. "Yeah. I didn't do enough for him, when he was still alive."

"That's not true!" Sarah exclaimed, shaking her head. "Nick, y-you did a lot for Luke! More than I did… or anyone…"

"She's right," Clementine agreed. "If he had any chance of survival, it was because of you."

Nick pursed his lips, considering the girls' words but still looking quite miserable. "I just… I don't know," he began, unable to continue what he wanted to say just yet. With a long breath, the man seated himself next to Luke, curling his knees to his chest. It looked like a rather uncomfortable stance for such a lanky and tall person, but it truly did make him seem as small as he probably felt.

"When we were kids," he tried again, his voice a shaky murmur, "I was always followin' him around. It was hard to find one of us without the other. We did some stupid things, yeah, but he always had my back. When my dad - well, when he left, Luke was there, offerin' what he could. He was always just… so damn giving."

"But even Luke needed help too, in the end," Clementine pointed out quietly. "When he was on that ice… he admitted he was scared. He was human, just like the rest of us - not someone to fully depend on, because he had his own feelings."

"Yeah, he did need help," Nick agreed. "And I… I tried to save him. I really did." His words suddenly sounded like a little boy's, pained pleas that he absolutely didn't mean for it to happen - that he'd tried his best, and failed regardless.

Clementine found herself kneeling next to Nick, placing a hand on his shoulder. "I know," she whispered, pretending she couldn't see the tears slipping from the man's cheeks out of respect.

She definitely felt the same sadness, though - it was thick in the air, like a toxic smoke. Once she took in the sight of their fallen comrade again, the reality hit her all at once: Luke was not coming back. Though she knew that was just how the world worked now, that she wouldn't ever see Lee or her parents or anyone that had died again… it still hurt. And for someone like Luke - whom she'd grown close to in the past few weeks - to suddenly pass away… well, she wouldn't pretend it was easy.

Loss would never be something she accepted; it got easier to cope with as more and more loved ones disappeared from her life, but it was never just something she instantly got through.

And Luke… he'd led the group spectacularly; away from Carver's trail, through Howe's tyranny once they'd inevitably been caught, the walker herd… He'd been such a big help for others, and what did they do in return?

They let him die.

It wasn't anyone's fault, Clementine knew, but she couldn't help but feel guilty when she thought of what Luke's final thoughts were. He must've been freezing, and wondered why no one was around him to give him warmth.

To die like that... with nothing and no one to give him comfort in his last moments… It must've been horribly lonely.

"We'll bury him in the water," Nick murmured, breaking the silence. "Not the classiest - definitely less than he deserves - I guess, but it'll do. Much better than havin' him rot."

With a grunt, the man lifted his friend's corpse, carrying him gently as though he were merely asleep. The girls followed him somberly, watching as he left the house and placed Luke gingerly onto the icy ground.

The three of them stared at him for quite a while, the sunset casting orange and yellow reflections onto the ice. Despite the sun showing itself for the first time in days, it didn't feel any warmer.

Nick kept his eyes on Luke, seeming as though he was hesitating to move. His hands hovered over the other man's prone form as he let out an audible gulp, his teeth gnawing at his lip. Eventually, he let out a long sigh and turned back towards his younger companions. "This is it, then."

Sarah frowned deeper, exchanging a glance with Clementine. "We… have to say goodbye to Luke." Clementine nodded wordlessly, not having anything to weigh in.

Nick's gaze swept around the white world, his sight fixing on a small hole in the ice nearby. It seemed like a perfect burial spot, big enough to fit Luke's body through without cracking it any further and endangering anyone standing surrounding it.

Gently, he laid his hands on his friend's torso and began to push him forward, his form sinking into the exposed surface of the lake the moment it got close. All at once, Luke's body was engulfed by the water, and he was swallowed whole like prey, falling down into the depths.

It all happened so quickly; one moment Luke was there, and then he wasn't. It only took an instant for him to disappear completely from their lives, literally and figuratively.

Clementine closed her eyes for a moment, reflecting that that was the last time she'd ever see someone she considered a close friend. There was never any time to grieve in the fast-paced world they lived in, so she was grateful for quiet, reflective moments like this.

Thank you for everything. Goodbye.

Her fists tightened at her sides, and she lifted her head to stare at the darkening sky, noting how quickly it was growing dark. With the setting sun, it would grow even colder than it was, and standing outside for too long would grow deadly quickly. Clementine's arms wrapped around herself as she huffed out, watching her breath dissolve into the cold air.

Beside her, Sarah sunk to her knees onto the snowy grass near the ice, huddling into a small ball with her gaze focused on the ground. Nick stared at her for a moment before bending down, his arms opened as an invitation.

The girl didn't hesitate, latching onto the man as tears freely escaped her. She practically melted into him once he settled into her hug, bearing their mutual pain as best they could.

Clementine took a few steps back, trying not to stare. They'd known Luke so much longer, and she felt like she was intruding on a private moment. Nick's eyes screwed tightly shut as he held Sarah, clinging to the only person of the cabin group he had left.

"Why? Why did this have to happen?" Sarah whimpered. The words brought about painful memories, of a younger Clementine's anguished cries over both her parents as walkers and Lee's death.

She learned long ago that there was no answer to that sort of question. Things didn't have a reason for happening - they just did, and they had to deal with them as they came. Mom, Dad, Lee - it didn't matter who, it was all the same to the world.

"Things just happen," she whispered. "There's no one and nothing to blame."

And she closed her eyes and ignored the sharp pricks of tears around them.

That night, they all huddled around the fireplace in the main room, kindling the flames to keep it going strong. Unsurprisingly, no one felt like talking much, and mostly everyone kept to themselves in deep thought. It was the complete opposite of the chatty night they'd had the previous night, with Sarah leading them all in a discussion of loved ones left behind.

With a new 'knot' to add to their ropes, it just didn't seem like a good conversation topic right now.

Sarah and Nick were the quietest, sitting a bit away from the fireplace as though it was cursed. Then again, Clementine could see why they would think something like that, untrue as it was. She couldn't blame them, though she wished they would allow themselves to get warm with everyone.

Arvo, who'd been allowed to sit near the fire per Mike's relentlessness, was as far away from Kenny as possible, his eyes wide with fear behind his glasses.

The rest of the group members weren't happy campers by any means, of course. No one could think of anything to say, proving just how much Luke kept everyone in good spirits. With him gone, it just felt… different.

"I think we need to start thinkin' about where we're goin' after this," Kenny suddenly announced, his voice low even in the quiet of the night.

Mike nodded. "I think this is much too cold for AJ, personally - if we ain't careful, he could freeze."

"Yeah, well, if we're not careful anywhere, he could get eaten," Jane pointed out coldly, promptly earning a glare from mostly everyone in the group. "What? There aren't as many walkers around here, in case you haven't noticed."

"She ain't wrong. Kid's got less of a chance'a bein' lurker chow out here. Fuckin' sucks for us, though," Troy growled, his chin in his hand. "Dunno where y'all are thinkin'a headin', but I know there ain't anythin' for us back where we came from."

Bonnie crossed her arms. "Not even Howe's? I get it was run out by lurkers, but it should be empty by now. Lots of supplies - food, ammo, shelter. It'd be backtrackin' a little, but I think it'd be a good idea still."

Troy shook his head. "Ain't no way Tavia'n them would let us stay. Are you fuckin' stupid?"

"You really think those guys are still there?" Mike asked. "They're either dead, or were sent packin'. Far as I'm concerned, it's anyone's to take now."

Kenny shifted himself so he was leaning back against one of the couches, gazing down at the child in his arms. "Wellington has always been our plan, so we'll stick to it," he muttered.

Clementine gnawed on her bottom lip, gauging everyone's reactions to Kenny's plan. No one seemed too happy with how Kenny expected his word to be law, but it wasn't as if they could come up with a better plan at the moment. For now, the group just listened and didn't protest, if only to keep the tone as peaceful as possible.

As she swept her eyes around the room, Clementine took note of how everyone seemed to be doing. Troy and Jane were unsurprisingly calm, their empathy levels clearly too low to be affected by everyone else's grief. Mike and Bonnie were exchanging a glance, and Arvo merely stared at the fireplace. Kenny nodded to himself, probably assuming he'd convinced everyone to follow his plan, and rocked AJ a bit in his arms. Sarah was curled up still a ways off, silent as ever, and Nick looked… different.

The look on his face made Clementine uneasy; the way his eyebrows were scrunched down, revealing the wrinkles around his forehead that shouldn't be there for a man his age, and how high his shoulders were raised in stress were clear indicators of how tense he was.

She was about to ask him if anything was wrong, or to at least put a hand on his shoulder, but he suddenly stood up, startling her with how quickly he moved.

"I need to say something."

The tone in the quiet room suddenly changed as Nick's voice trembled, a solemn look painted onto his face. "There… ain't no gettin' out of this. I'm sorry, I can't just say nothin'."

"Wh- what is it, Nick?" Sarah asked beside him, her eyes as wide as miniature moons.

"Well, Sarah, actually… there's somethin' I need to ask you to do, specifically," Nick replied, his voice a grave tone. "Somethin' only you can do, as the last member of the cabin group."

The words felt like stones hitting Clementine's stomach. "Th-the last member?" Sarah echoed, eyes wide in confusion. "What do you mean, Nick? You're still here, too…"

Nick's lips curled into a tired, mirthless smile. "I won't be for long. Look." His fingers clutched the collar of his shirt, pulling the fabric to the side. Once he revealed his collarbone, gravity finally settled into the situation, and Clementine understood at once.

The look of fear she had seen before in his eyes - it wasn't that he was afraid of living without Luke, but following his fate.

Against his pale skin color, the deep purple and red colors were striking. Small nicks the size and shape of teeth made a trail just below where his shirt covered, forming a cluster of coin-sized lumps underneath his swollen flesh. There was no denying what the marks were, and there was no escaping the reality of what needed to happen soon.

"Oh, god, no," Bonnie whispered, the words leaving her breathlessly. "Nick, not you, too."

Clementine felt her heart race, the disgusting, dreadful feeling of loss she'd never get used to pooling into her belly. It wasn't fair - she'd just said goodbye to Luke, and now Nick too?

She cursed herself for thinking like a child; of course it wasn't fair, the world was never fair now. Loss was inevitable, and practically assured - if the damned world taught her anything, it was that.

"Why did you hide it? You put us in danger!" Troy yelled, his lips drawn into a tight frown despite his words. He wasn't happy Nick was bitten, that was sure.

Instead of snapping words in return, he merely stared at the ground with an anguished look, the life seemingly draining from him. "I didn't want to hide it, I just - I wanted to say goodbye to Luke first." His shoulders shook as his head drooped further, the rim of his hat covering his face.

Clementine couldn't hold her emotions in any longer; without warning, she leapt to her feet and wrapped her arms around Nick, squeezing him as though he'd float away if she didn't hold on tight enough. Burying her face in his shirt, she once more held back the horrible stinging in her eyes, pricking at her irises like needles.

"I'm sorry I didn't shoot quick enough," she whispered. "I'm so sorry."

"Hey, Clem, it- it wasn't your fault. It wasn't anyone's fault. I'm glad you two are safe." He cast a quick glance to Sarah, too, a pained smile forming on his face.

"Nick…" Bonnie stood up next, closing the distance between them and hugging the man as well. Sarah was next, wrapping her arms around Nick from behind and quietly sobbing into his shirt. He stood there, three bodies pressed closely against his, before accepting the extra weight and sinking into the embrace.

When they all parted, Mike walked over and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Thanks, for takin' care of the girls, man," he said.

While Troy, Jane, and Arvo were completely silent, Kenny spoke his own recognition. "You did good, Vanilla Ice," he muttered, nodding in approval.

Nick sucked in a shuddering breath, a slight smile on his face despite everything. Tears pooled behind his eyes and some escaped down his cheeks; he rubbed at his face and a noise escaped him, a noise that was halfway between a laugh and a sob. Bits of broken sounds broke through his lips, but he couldn't quite get them out to form into more.

They all stood there, listening to the attempts of the man with one foot in the grave to speak his last words, but found himself unable to say anything comprehensible. Clementine imagined he was trying to thank them, but she'd never ask to find out.

"What was it you… wanted me to do for you?" Sarah asked, her voice almost a whisper.

Clementine had followed Sarah and Nick outside to say her final goodbyes; it was obvious what Nick was requesting of the older girl, but she hadn't caught on just yet.

When he finally told her, plain and simple, that he needed her to shoot him, Sarah's eyes stretched even wider than they'd been, the look of horror on her face unbearable.

"I- I can't do that. I can't," she stuttered, her breaths quickening in panic.

"Deep breaths, it's okay," Nick soothed, crouching to her level. He was already looking paler than before, or perhaps it was just a trick of the eyes - regardless, they didn't have too much time to waste. "I know you can. I saw you shootin' those bottles with Troy and Clem and Mike - you learned quickly."

"But why- can't we find medicine for you?" Sarah's tone indicated that she didn't believe her own words, and was merely grasping at the shards leftover of the naivete that once filled her way of thinking. After losing her father and other members of their group, it was obvious that Sarah's view behind her rose-colored glasses had been muddied.

After Nick just shook his head, she continued, "O-okay, that was silly of me to say, but - but there has to be another way. Can't, um… we cut it out of your skin? It doesn't look that deep…"

"The infection's already swimming through my blood. It's too late for any of that, and it wouldn't have worked unless it was a limb, anyway."

"Then - then I don't know!" Sarah cried, frustrated and pained tears running down her face. "I don't want you to die!"

"I don't want to, either. I'm sorry." Nick closed his eyes thoughtfully for a moment. "But it would mean the world to me if you were the one to put me out of my misery - as the last member of the cabin crew." Quickly, he glanced over at Clementine. "No offense, Clem."

Clementine had almost forgotten she was physically present for this, and not just watching it through a lens; when Nick spoke her name, she jolted back to awareness, giving a swift nod. "It's okay. This is something between you two. I think Sarah should do it, too."

"But Clem's way better with a gun," Sarah reasoned.

Nick chuckled bitterly. "This'll just be practice for you, then. Don't worry - this target won't move, either. I'll be as still as the bottles."

Sarah sighed, her eyes cast downwards, onto the ice. The three of them were right next to where they'd put Luke, and decided that Nick would be placed into the same spot of water after he'd been shot. This way, the two of them could still be together.

"I hate this," the older girl muttered, her fists tightening. "I - I hate this. I hate having to say goodbye."

"Believe me, I know," Nick replied. "This is how I felt when I lost my mom and Pete. It's the worst feeling in the world. But Sarah, you're strong. You can shoot, and be a medic in your dad's place - you have so many willing to help you. You'll be fine."

Almost hesitantly, he ran a hand through his hair and removed his hat, eventually holding it out to Sarah. "It needs a wash, but… I want you to have it. If you want it, that is."

Sarah blinked, eyes trailing back and forth from the hat to Nick. "You - are you sure?"

Like Clementine had her father's hat, now Sarah had a chance to keep Nick's memory alive and with her at all times. She nudged her friend, nodding at the notion and urging her to accept it. It would provide Sarah an opportunity to heal enough to keep going, as Clementine had from her parents' deaths.

The older girl accepted the hat, holding it tightly between her fingers as if it would break into pieces should she drop it.

Nick next reached into his pocket, taking out two rope pieces and handing them to her. "Hold onto my rope for me - and Luke's too. I took it from his body. And… could you tie knots for us, too?" Nick asked, his voice breaking.

Sarah looked absolutely miserable. "I will. Of course I will. You two… you were… like family." She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around the man's broad shoulders, scrunching her eyes shut. "Thank you for saving us, for saving me, before. I'll… try to be strong."

"I know you can do it," Nick replied with a small smile. "Right, Clem?"

Once more, Clementine found herself grounded to the tragic situation - reminding her that she was not just observing these people interact, but she was very much involved, too. This was as much her loss as anyone's.

Still, she forced as confident a look as she could muster. "Yeah. Like you said, we'll be fine, Nick. You just… rest easy."

Like he was just going to sleep after a long journey, she wished him the best - wherever he'd go now.

"Thanks. And I'm glad I met you too, Clem," Nick replied, his smile fading. "Truth be told, I'm… pretty scared to die. But I hope, if there is somewhere to go afterwards, I can… see my mom. And Pete. And Luke. And… everyone I lost." He rubbed at the back of his neck anxiously, eyes cast downward. "And I'll keep watch over y'all if I can."

Sarah squeezed him tighter. "Thank you. Thank you…"

Clementine found herself joining their embrace, closing her eyes tightly and feeling some tears escape her. The reality of losing both Luke and Nick so suddenly slammed into her all at once, the grief catching up to her and letting her cry for them.

"You saved us. You're a hero," she murmured, and watched him smile at those words.

When they finally parted from their hug, they all collectively knew it was time. Sarah raised her gun as Nick got on his knees, smiling up at her despite everything. Through her sobs, the girl managed to aim her weapon correctly and took a deep breath. She whispered a goodbye and squeezed the trigger, a single loud shot ringing out and meeting its target.

It was like the ending to a play. The main actor stood alone center-stage as the curtains drew to a close, making him disappear and ending the story for the audience.

Nick's story was over.

Chapter Text

Clementine's mind was clouded and her body felt numb as she returned to the group with Sarah. Leaving two more friends behind at just about the same time was taxing on her, no matter how strong she set herself up to be.

Next to her, the older girl walked quietly, her empty gaze set straight ahead. Her face was completely expressionless, her fingers curled around Nick's bloody hat as though the wind would carry it away at any moment.

"Are you…" Clementine began, eyeing her friend carefully. However, Sarah simply turned her head in response, the look on her face unlike Clementine had ever seen before.

Sarah looked… hardened. Like a bit of play-doh let out in the open too long, her soft exterior seemed to stiffen and solidify, the depth of the emotion in her eyes much deeper. She was not broken, but something had been destroyed all the same from Luke and Nick's deaths. The eyes that looked back at Clementine were foreign, someone she'd never seen before. Almost like a complete stranger.

It was a bit frightening.

"How did you do it?" the older girl asked quietly. "Back when Luke was… attacking me, all I could think was, 'He's gone. He's one of those things now,' and it consumed me. I couldn't even think to shoot because I was… too sad. So how did you look past that and shoot him?"

The answer was simple, and something Clementine thought about often; it wasn't so much about looking past it, but rather forgetting it temporarily. "I learned a long time ago to clear my mind when things like that happen. I can grieve and feel sad later; in that moment, you were in danger. I had to do something," she explained. "You need to clear your mind of any emotions in that moment, and make a decision based on keeping yourself and others safe."

"I see…" Sarah's voice trailed off as she mused her friend's words, half-lidded eyes scanning the cold world around them. There seemed to be something she wanted to say, but her mouth hovered open with not a word pushed past her lips. She ran a hand through her black hair and shook her head, fists curling tightly. "That was… so hard to do."

Clementine knew what she was referring to, and didn't dare mention Nick's name. "It's always hard. But he would've been a walker otherwise, so you saved him, Sarah." She was a bit surprised Nick was so hellbent on having Sarah put him down, but she supposed it might have pushed her in the right direction in the end, anyway.

It was so hard for someone to adapt in this world, and Sarah especially seemed to be struggling. Troy and Mike made some progress with her by teaching her how to shoot, but Nick caused another leap of maturity in being her first mercy kill. It wasn't a smooth path to adulthood, lacking the usual awkwardness that adolescence had and replacing it with a painful, bitter feeling that crushed one's heart and made emotions difficult to feel anymore. Clementine herself struggled to keep herself from shutting down and closing the world off, in the hope that somewhere, the little girl she once was still resided in her.

"Yeah, I feel like a real hero," Sarah mumbled, the rest of her feelings clearly indicated by her jaded expression.

Yes, it was clear Sarah was now learning to leave her child personality behind, as well - much as it sucked, it was the only way to survive.

Clementine wondered what Carlos would think now, but she hoped he would be at least happy she was going to be safer. Harder, more bitter, but definitely safer.

Once the two girls entered the abandoned house, they were greeted with the image of the adults once again huddled by the fire, this time with blankets they'd found. Everyone looked exhausted, the effects of the deaths in the group catching up to them all. Clementine herself felt like a shadow was constantly following her, whispering all those lost loved ones' names.

She settled herself down next to Kenny, noting that AJ was now wrapped up in more blankets and asleep in the man's arms. "We found some baby food here, too. This place was fully stocked," Kenny murmured quietly, smiling Clementine's way. "Guess Russkie didn't lie to us, after all."

Repressing the urge to narrow her eyes at the comment, Clementine merely nodded, dragging her legs in to meet her chest. She suddenly felt so small, so helpless - but in time, she knew this hollow feeling would fade. It would still be there, of course, but eventually, the chaotic smoke clouding her mind would dissipate into something manageable.

For now, she simply sat there, curled up tightly, and tried to tune out the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, it didn't work so well with the adults talking all around her, but she didn't have to engage in their conversations, at least. Still, she couldn't help but listen to their hushed words as her mind grew more and more clouded with exhaustion.

"We really need to think about what we're doin', and where we're goin'. I mean, with Nick and Luke… gone, we're really dwindlin'," Kenny said.

"Less mouths to feed, at least," Troy pointed out. There was a heavy pause, and Clementine would've felt a bit amused at the glare the others gave him if not for the cruelty of his words. "Not that I think those two kickin' it was good or nothin'," he added hastily.

"Can't do nothin' about 'em now, but… God, all those we've lost along the way… it's gettin' harder," Bonnie admitted, more than a hint of sadness to her tone.

"AJ's safety is our priority," Kenny rasped. "If nothin' else, we gotta make sure this little guy grows up."

Everyone more or less nodded in agreement, the idea of AJ surviving to at least be able to gain survival skills their only option. But wanting something was meaningless without putting a plan into action to achieve it.

"I know I said it before, and y'all didn't like it, but… we probably should consider goin' back to Howe's," Bonnie pointed out. "Hear me out - without Bill, it could work. May need a little fixin' up, sure, but we got enough folks to make it functional again."

"It's not a bad idea. AJ could grow up behind safe walls," Jane reasoned, crossing her arms.

Kenny shot her a quick glare, and shook his head. "No, Wellington is the safe place. Y'all can backtrack if y' like, but I know where I'm goin' with AJ."

"He ain't your kid," Mike snapped. "Why not go with what's best for him?"

"Funny, I thought I was. Goin' back to Howe's would be stupid. For all we know, the place could'a been ransacked and destroyed already - or even taken over by some other group!" Kenny scowled, pausing to breathe a deep sigh through his nose. "But I'll give you the benefit of the doubt; say we go back and try to live there again. Do you really think there isn't a certain asshole here that would let the leftovers of that environment get to his thick head?"

The words sunk in for all but two seconds before everyone's eyes shot to Troy, who promptly grew red in the face - from embarrassment or anger, Clementine didn't know.

He certainly sounded furious when he responded, though. "Are you fuckin' kidding me?! Christ, I just want to live and be safe just as all of y'all do!"

Mike couldn't help but chuckle, lightening the mood of the room for a minute. "Okay, okay, listen - I'll play devil's advocate here. Kenny may have a point, but are you even going to stick around, Troy?"

Troy blinked. "What do you mean?"

"Well, are you stayin' or goin'? I seem to recall you saying you'd stay with us long enough to get back on your feet. You seem fine to me now, so what's keepin' you?" Mike didn't sound accusatory, but it wasn't a welcoming tone, either.

Another brief silence fell amongst them, and Clementine almost thought she'd managed to fall asleep with her eyes open. But the crackling of the fire could still be heard, and the subtle wind blowing just outside the house - not to mention the creaks of the wood as people shifted in their seating positions.

"I don't know," Troy muttered finally, almost whispering. "But… I figure there ain't anythin' better out there for me."

Mike chuckled under his breath. "I think that's the case for most folks these days."

"Well, that's why we can't go to Howe's - it's assholes with swelled heads like you that'll ruin it." Kenny barked, and Clementine sat up abruptly, giving up on sleeping for the time being. It just wasn't worth it to try when there was clearly conflict to come.

She rubbed at her eyes, exhaustion still trying to drag her under. "Do we have to do this now? After all that's happened?" She did the quick math in her head; counting their surviving members once they combined with Kenny's group - plus Troy - they had once been eleven strong.

"Clem's right," Mike chimed in. "We don't need this now. And I don't think Troy would be a problem if we did end up going back to Howe's - we'd easily overpower him."

"I don't care. We ain't goin' back, so there's no need to even debate it."

Everyone let out quiet sighs, clearly too exhausted and defeated by recent events to argue at the moment. Then again, Kenny was headstrong; Clementine doubted anyone would be able to fight him off or change his mind. If he wanted to get AJ to Wellington, there was no doubt in her mind that he would, one way or another.

"Okay, fine, we won't talk about that right now," Mike muttered. "But there is something we need to figure out: when we're letting Arvo go." He pointed over his shoulder at the teen once more tied to the staircase.

"When we're what?" Kenny echoed harshly.

Sarah cleared her throat quietly. Clementine had almost forgotten she was right next to her; Sarah hadn't said anything during the Howe's or Troy conversation topics, but clearly wanted to voice her thoughts now. "Do we have to fight over Arvo like he has no say in anything?"

"He ain't part of our group," Troy pointed out.

"Neither were you, until I decided to bring you along," Clementine snapped.

"...alright, got me there."

Clementine rolled her eyes. Idiot.

"I am a little worried about Arvo," Sarah admitted, biting at her nails thoughtfully. Without warning, she stood up to approach the teen by the staircase. "How are you feeling?" she asked him, examining him gently. From what Clementine could see, his head was lowered and his eyes half-lidded; upon closer look, he seemed to be shivering, his slight whimpers almost drowned out by the chatter of his teeth.

Sarah didn't hesitate to press her hand to his temple, drawing back her hand in surprise. "He's burning up!" she declared, eyes wide.

Clementine blinked, stepping closer to the pair. "Arvo, are you okay?" she asked quietly. She didn't expect an answer - and it was a stupid question, in retrospect - but the teen simply gave a trembling nod. He sure didn't look okay, but something told her that the others in the room may have affected his decision to tell the truth.

"Do we have any antibiotics left, or did Troy use them all?" Sarah asked, turning to direct the question at anyone who would know the answer.

Troy shrugged. "I took another before we left the power plant, and I feel fine. Those work like a charm, I'll tell ya. We may have a few left in one'a the packs."

"Great. Clem, can you hand me one?" Sarah requested.

With a nod, Clementine moved to open one of their supply backpacks, but Kenny held out a hand to place on her arm. It wasn't an aggressive gesture, but it didn't make her feel as though she would be able to grab the medicine.

"Jesus, not you too, Clem," Kenny sighed, exasperation clear in his voice. "Don't fall for his sick act. The kid's plottin' something, obviously."

Then Sarah, of all people, shot Kenny a sharp look. "You can't be serious," she murmured, frowning and furrowing her brow. She didn't necessarily look angry, merely… disappointed. It was a look somewhat reminiscent of Sarita, come to think of it.

Kenny seemed to notice the similarity too, or was just startled at Sarah's forwardness. He hesitated before responding, but finally retorted, "I am serious. Don't trust his kind - remember, his friends tried to kill us!"

"No one's forgotten that, Kenny!" Bonnie hissed, narrowing her eyes. "But y' have to admit, you're bein' way too tough on the kid. I mean, look at me - look at Troy!"

Troy snorted, looking offended. "'scuse me? What the fuck's that mean?"

"We ain't exactly known for always havin' a good moral compass. Hell, we still don't know where exactly yours is lookin'." Bonnie rolled her eyes once she saw Troy open his mouth to reply, and cut him off immediately, "My point is, he's bein' awfully harsh on Arvo, and he ain't much older than Sarah and Clem. What's the difference between the three'a them?"

Kenny scowled. "I know Clem, for one. And neither one'a the girls killed Sarita."

"I- I sorry," Arvo choked out, shaking his head. "I - I no want to kill. Really! My sister-"

"I've had enough of you cryin' about your goddamn sister!" Kenny roared, practically shoving AJ into Bonnie's arms and marching over to the teen. "You could'a not attacked us! You could'a left us alone and kept on your merry fuckin' way, but no! No, y'all chose to shoot at us, and now you're whinin' because there were some casualties!"

Arvo closed his eyes, his breath hitching. "Then- then please-"

"Please what? You have to speaka de English for me to understand, boy!" Kenny roared. He stomped his foot in front of the cowering Arvo, looking more like a monster than Clementine had ever seen.

"Please -" Arvo choked out, snot and tears trailing down his face as he lifted his head. "Please kill me!" He met Kenny's angry gaze head-on, his eyes wide but clear. He seemed winded from the crying and pleading, but it seemed like he'd finally found clarity, even while sick.

The room fell, Clementine holding her breath as she flicked her gaze between Kenny and Arvo. The tension crawled around them through the air, thick and stifling, and no one moved or even breathed out of place. Just by a quick glance at the others, everyone else seemed wide-eyed and frozen where they sat.

"What do you mean?" Sarah finally whispered. "Why… do you want to die, Arvo?"

His voice trembled a bit, but it was loud and held an anger Clementine hadn't heard before. "I-if I no use - what good? Without сестра, I can't… be here! Don't want to." Tears pooled behind his cracked glasses and he hung his head again. "Please. Can't live without сестра - sister. Please."

Clementine's heart broke at his hopeless tone, her stomach twisting at the familiarity of someone not wanting to continue living.

Kenny seemed stunned by Arvo's desperation, his mouth hanging open without any hint of a reply to utter. He simply stared at the teen, eyes wide. If Clementine didn't know any better, she would've thought he had seen a scene like this before - and hell, who really knew, maybe he did.

Arvo seemed to crumble all at once, his shoulders trembling as he choked on quiet sobs. "Kill me," he repeated, over and over until he ran out of breath. All his crying tired him out, it seemed, as he was dragged under by exhaustion to an uncomfortable sleep.

No one in the room moved without care, afraid to wake him. Everyone looked at one another in silence, their eyes saying more than their mouths ever could. One by one, they made their way back to the fireplace, where their main source of warmth was dying out.

Jane knelt down in front of it, sparking some logs with her lighter again. Though the fire refreshed itself, the room still had an eerie chill to it.

Once they were seated again, Bonnie posed a question. "Listen, y'all… I think we should have a talk. About what to do with the poor kid. Now, we all know he wants to die…"

"No," Mike interjected, tone harsh and tired. "Absolutely not."

"I'm not suggestin' we should," Bonnie argued. "I'm merely sayin'... look, maybe we should take a vote."

"Seriously?" Sarah asked, voice noticeably stronger. "Y-you can't expect us to vote on something like that!"

"She's right," Clementine muttered in agreement. "You're aware that's something Carver would do, aren't you?"

Bonnie seemed stricken at that, avoiding the others' eyes and murmuring, "I… I know, but it sometimes was all we could do. I'm votin' no, of course, if we do decide to vote."

"I like to think we'd all vote no," Clementine shot back.

Jane shook her head, scoffing under her breath. "No offense, but you'd be naive to think that, Clem. If the kid wants to die, then he'll keep slowing us down until we adhere to his request. If we get it out of the way, we won't have to deal with him for long."

"You gotta be fucking kidding me," Mike growled under his breath. "He's sick, Jane. I don't exactly think he's in a great state of mind right now. And even if he was… I can't get behind it. I just can't. It's bullshit!"

Kenny hadn't weighed in yet, which surprised Clementine a bit. The older man took a long, deep breath and said, "I never thought - never mind. What… what do all of y'all think? Just to see where we stand."

Clementine, Sarah, Mike, and Bonnie had already voiced their thoughts. Jane suggested fulfilling Arvo's wish to tie up loose ends - but strangely, Troy didn't weigh in. The man seemed to squirm in his seat, avoiding any eyes on him and studying the ground.

"Well?" Mike prodded lightly. "It's not like you to be quiet about these things, Troy."

"I - I don't know," Troy mumbled, oddly nervous and twitchy. "I just- I don't fuckin' know, okay? Don't count me in with this. I don't want any part of it."

That seemed to startle the others, as they'd only known Troy as an angry, trigger-happy guard all-too-eager to smack young girls and abuse his power. Back at Howe's, he probably would've been in favor of putting Arvo down, to rid the group of the 'weak'. And the image of a selfish asshole was fairly accurate, of course - but Clementine had had the opportunity (misfortune?) to see another side of him.

It made too much sense, really - a convenient callback to Troy's drunken ranting the other night. Seeing someone so utterly broken after losing a family member, so much so that they completely shut down and wanted to die

Well, Troy's reaction spoke for itself.

"You don't want to be part of our decisions? That doesn't prove a high position in this group, Troy," Jane pointed out with a smirk. "Or has the guard dog lost his teeth?"

Clementine rolled her eyes; Jane had been there that night, had overheard at least a little bit of Troy's pity party, and knew why he was reluctant to give an opinion. Why did she insist on poking at people's wounds? Or was it a sort of twisted exposure therapy?

Whatever it was, Troy didn't appreciate it. Narrowing his eyes, he growled, "Look, I just don't feel like it. I don't care what we do, but I suggest we get some shut-eye in before fuckin' dawn comes around. Clocks may not work anymore, but the sun went down a while ago."

Kenny nodded, the conversation's redirection welcome. "Fine. Not like we're gonna decide somethin' like this tonight, anyway."

Mike shook his head, anger flashing in his eyes. "I can't believe we're waiting on the decision to execute someone. You're all fucking insane."

She had to agree with that, as putting someone down who wasn't bitten sounded a lot like Carver's way. Arvo wasn't convenient for them - he was, as Jane would put it, a 'liability,' or a 'danger'. But they were all people, and as long as they were alive… didn't that count for something?

No one really reacted to Mike's outburst, save for Bonnie placing a hand on his shoulder. "It's okay, we'll just talk more in the mornin'. No one's decidin' anything rash," she assured quietly.

"Whatever. I'll get first watch - I'm pissed enough to stay away all night if I have to," Mike snapped, shrugging her off and storming away, towards the other side of the room. Clementine couldn't really blame him for being angry.

Kenny sighed, shaking his head and gave a long glance towards Arvo. Traces of sympathy reflected in his expression, his eyes sad and his lips in a tight frown. Clementine didn't understand how he could change his mind so quickly about Arvo, but perhaps the reminder that the teen was indeed human was all he needed. It was a refreshing perspective to see Kenny consider, as he'd been so unstable lately.

When she settled down for sleep, she couldn't help but think that Lee would've liked Kenny regaining some of his empathy. It gave Clementine a sense of something akin to hope.

Clementine awoke to a muffled shriek, and immediately sat up, almost expecting another walker version of Luke to be in her face. But no, aside from that quiet cry, the sky outside still looked dark, the group still curled up fast asleep. Clementine almost ruled it as just an animal outside, and she very nearly went back to sleep herself, but a nagging feeling kept her awake.

That same instinct made her swipe her gaze around the room, and she realized a few members of the group were missing. Her half-asleep mind didn't really register who wasn't around, just that the numbers were off and the group seemed smaller than usual, even without Nick and Luke. Blinking through her sleepiness, she yawned and dragged herself to her feet, curiosity getting the better of her.

Cautiously, she peeked out the front entrance of the shelter. The wind blew gently outside, brilliant white snowflakes contrasting the black night sky. It was almost hypnotizing, in a way - the scenery was beautiful, reminiscent of a Christmas Eve night with all its white and peaceful quiet, and just continued to be tranquil regardless of what was going on around it. The world could be completely falling apart - and hell, it actually was - and it would still look goddamn beautiful.

She wished the others could see it, but she didn't dare wake them just to look at the world outside; besides, they'd seen enough snow and ice recently, anyway. For now, she was content with observing, finally catching a quiet moment to collect herself.

Nick and Luke were heavy losses to the group - not to mention, they were good friends - and their absences could be physically felt. Everyone felt quieter - emptier, really, like all the life had drained from them.

With a heavy sigh, she tried to get lost in the image of the snow, attempting to will away all the painful memories of the past few days, but it was difficult to concentrate. She tried to be on her toes at all times, anyway, and getting distracted just went against her instincts.

Another sound tore her attention completely away from the scene, anyway - this time, it was a groan. It was quieter, and clearly human, prompting her to cautiously step back inside and pace towards the origin of the noise.

As she carefully stepped over sleeping bodies, she wondered idly where their watch was - if Clementine was able to make her way towards the front of the home without spotting Mike even once, he clearly wasn't doing a good job at watching.

Actually, once she looked closer, she noticed he wasn't anywhere to be found at all. Had something happened? Worry wormed its way into her mind until she heard the sound of a hushed voice, alerting her to something in the backyard of their shelter.

Were they being attacked? Grabbing both her pistol and her hatchet, Clementine cautiously crept through the small house, being careful to avoid any squeaky floor boards. Nearly everyone was curled up by the fire, but she couldn't be too hasty to sneak out the back.

Clementine tightened her grip on her weapons, fully expecting to find an intruder or walker. But once she finally took a step onto the snow, she was face-to-face with the sight of Arvo, Mike, and Sarah, all in the midst of tiptoeing through the backyard area.

"Wh-what the hell is going on?" Clementine hissed quietly, eyes wide and furious. Whipping her head to glare at Sarah in particular, she demanded once more what they thought they were doing, no longer caring about being quiet.

There was a heavy pause, giving Clementine time to fully look at the scene before her. Arvo had been limping and was now hissing in Russian under his breath, clearly in pain by his jerky movements. He'd come to a halt beside Mike, leaning slightly against the man's taller frame for support. Even in the snowy weather, she could notice his eyes seemed a bit clearer and his face less flushed, making her believe he'd taken something for his fever. The three had their heads down low, like cats caught beside an empty canary cage.

Sarah in particular looked stunned, eyes as wide as miniature moons and mouth gaping open in shock. She fumbled with her words, stammering out fractions of sounds to try to explain herself.

But before she could get a word out, Mike turned to face Clementine and spoke with a clearer voice than she'd ever heard from him. "We're leaving. Kenny's not thinkin' clearly, and that's dangerous - especially for Arvo. And I can't be in a group that seriously considers executing a kid. I just can't do it."

Clementine blinked, taking note of the guns that both Mike and Arvo had at their sides. If she tried to stop them, would they shoot at her? She swallowed hard, steeling herself to appear strong and confident when she replied.

"Is this really the only way?" she asked coolly, crossing her arms. "You know that you'll leave tracks. What if Kenny decides to go after you?"

"Snow still fall," Arvo argued with a shake of his head, pointing to the sky. "Is enough time to cover footprints."

She shrugged, considering that answer. It was true, the snow would be enough to replace their tracks, but… she somehow didn't put it past Kenny to have super Floridian tracking skills or something. As familiar as she thought she was with the man, there was still a lot to him that she didn't know. He was seeming more and more like a stranger since they'd remet, but she didn't blame the time for hardening him.

"What about you, Sarah?" she demanded, failing to keep the hurt from her tone. "Are you leaving us? Leaving me? After everything?"

Sarah's eyes widened and she shook her head vigorously. "No, no! No, I'm not leaving, Clem. I promise. I woke up to check on Arvo, and I saw Mike untying him… I offered to give them some medicine to leave with."

Clementine felt her fists tighten at her sides. "But why?" she whispered.

"We can't stay here. They'll kill him, or at least deny him medicine," Mike pressed. "I'm sorry, but some of these supplies are ours, too. Hell, most of them are his to start with." He nodded towards Arvo.

It angered her to see them leave, but Clementine knew she was powerless to stop them. Well, in theory she could go wake up the others, but she was still a bit wary of the guns Mike and Arvo held - as well as if they'd be desperate enough to fire them, should they be threatened. Clementine didn't intend to find out or test them.

"You're not taking any of AJ's things, are you?" she couldn't help but ask.

"No, of course not," Mike promised. "We're not taking anyone's guns or anything, either - all of it is extra shit, you won't even know it's missing."

Kenny will. She wanted to argue, but it was pointless. Mike had clearly made up his mind, and she couldn't say that this was a wrong choice. If they wanted to leave, who was she to prevent that?

"If you've made up your mind, I can't stop you," she finally said with a shrug, nodding towards Mike and Arvo. There wasn't much she could do alone, apart from causing even more chaos in their thinning group by alerting the others.

"Thanks, Clem," Mike replied, looking genuinely grateful. "And good luck."

Clementine didn't respond back to him, and turned to Sarah instead. "You're really not going with them?" she asked, just to make sure.

"I promise I'm not," Sarah insisted, biting her lip. "Please don't be angry, Clem, I want to help people. It's the least I can do, after I was useless to help Nick and Luke."

Clementine pursed her lips, knowing that her friend wasn't useless, but not in the mood to argue it. Truthfully, though, she wasn't angry with Sarah. Her friend had seen someone in trouble, and it was her nature to aid them however she could, even if she was giving away some of the group's resources. She never thought Mike was a bad person - or Arvo, really - and truly wished them well wherever they went; she just wished there was an easier way to cut ties.

Still, Mike had a good point, in that they were merely taking their share of the supplies, and nothing more; they didn't take any weapons from anyone, nor any of AJ's food or blankets. It was merely two members leaving of their own accord and taking what rightfully belonged to them - not that big of a deal, the more she thought about it.

Back when she'd first met Lee and before they found the motor inn, Glenn had been considered a part of their new 'group'. And he'd left to aid his family, taking what he needed as he did so. Clementine hardly saw any difference now.

It didn't strike her as much of a surprise that it happened, either; she let herself feel sad for at least Mike's absence, but deep down, she'd had a hunch this was coming. The group was stretched like a rubber band - sooner or later, someone had to snap and leave. It was only natural… unfortunate, but natural.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Clementine awoke to the sounds of crashing and yelling.

"Where the hell did they go!?" Kenny's voice shook with anger as he lashed out, a few objects knocked off the half-finished mantle in his fit of anger. "I swear, if they took any supplies-"

Jane moved to stand near Kenny, blocking Clementine's view. "Kenny, you have to calm down-" she protested, holding up her arms in protest.

"Do not tell me what I fuckin' have to do, Jane!" The man roared, kicking violently at an empty can of beans near the fireplace. "Did you tell 'em to go? Huh?"

"Why would she?" Troy asked incredulously, moving to stand next to Jane. "She was the one in favor'a executin' the kid, remember? What good would it do her to let 'em loose?"

Clementine nearly missed the grateful glance Jane flashed at him before she turned back to Kenny, arms crossed. "No one here told them to go," she snapped. "The sooner you realize that they chose to do it themselves, the better."

With a groan, Clementine sat up, ears ringing thanks to the adults fighting so early in the morning. A quiet whisper next to her indicated that Sarah had fallen back asleep next to her, and was just woken up. Clementine turned to see the other girl's eyes wide and frightened at the arguing. "Clem? Is this about… you know?" she asked.

"Yes. I'm going to try to calm him down," Clementine whispered, leaping to her feet and slipping past Jane and Troy. Kenny stood near the mantle - back turned, shoulders shaking, and fists curled into tight balls at his sides.

Cautiously, she took a step towards him, softly saying his name. Kenny turned to look at her, his expression tight and pained. Sure, the physical violence was enough of a hint to his fury, but Clementine could tell he was hurting underneath it all.

"They left, Clem. Mike and that stupid kid…" Kenny muttered, shaking his head. "They just up and went in the middle of the night, God knows where. I can't help it - I feel duped."

Clementine bit her lip, wondering if she was betraying Kenny further by keeping the truth from him. Then again, the fact that she knew about Arvo and Mike and did nothing to stop them wouldn't exactly sit well with her old friend.

[ Tell Kenny the truth ] 

[ Keep quiet ]

She decided quickly that the cons of telling him outweighed the pros, and she didn't want him to be upset about something that couldn't be helped now. Besides, she didn't feel anger towards Mike and Arvo, anyway, and didn't see the need to rat them out like she was back in school.

"Did they take anything?" she asked, as if she had no part in what had transpired.

"Nothin' much, I checked our supplies – they grabbed just enough to get by. But it just… it pisses me off. How fuckin' dare they?" Kenny's voice dropped to a growl, and he kicked at the mantle in frustration.

She looked down at her feet. "We can't do anything about it," she admitted. "It happened, and we'll have to move on. We've lost… other members of our group recently, too. This isn't much different."

Sarah's voice sounded from beside her. "Sh-she's right, Kenny," she agreed, her voice shaky but still louder than usual. "Besides, you said Arvo was never one of us, anyway…"

Kenny turned away, running a hand down his face and shaking his head. Clementine couldn't help but notice how old he looked, a man taking on all the burdens of the group by himself, whether or not they wanted him to. The silence in the room was painful, a direct contrast to the quiet Clementine had admired in the middle of the night.

"I did say that," Kenny finally agreed, his voice even and quiet. "I just… I need a minute. To get calm."

"Need more than a minute," Troy muttered. Before Clementine could even shoot him a glare, Jane elbowed him in the ribs, and he winced. "Ow! The fuck?"

Jane didn't respond, and merely shook her head. "I'll be outside," she muttered, storming off towards the back of the shambled cabin. For half a second, Clementine wondered if she'd leave the same way Mike and Arvo did - but then she scolded herself for thinking in paranoid terms like that.

"Me too. Uh, good luck," Troy added, giving Clementine an uncomfortable expression that pretty much spelled out exactly what he was thinking: Yikes. She rolled her eyes in response, watching him leave behind Jane like a puppy. Didn't he know she wasn't afraid of Kenny? He could be scary, sure, but she wasn't scared of him.

Kenny took another deep breath, removing his hat and running a hand through his hair. "Clem, there's a truck outside, and those two bastards didn't take it. I'm guessin' something is wrong with it, but maybe there's a way to get it up and runnin'. It's worth a look, at least."

At the tiny twinkle of hope in Kenny's eye, she couldn't help but soften her expression. "I hope so. I can help you, if you like."

"Sure, but take your time. I gotta cool off on my own for a bit."

Clementine nodded, completely understanding. She was able to take the hint - Kenny wanted to be alone. Everyone else was outside as well, but she was sure they wouldn't have a problem giving him some space. She watched quietly as Kenny took some more deep breaths and eventually stalked outside.

"Sarah, do you want to come outside with me?" Clementine asked, turning back to her friend.

Sarah had been standing over the makeshift cradle they'd made for AJ (which was really just an empty fruit crate stuffed with blankets), her eyes fixed on the baby as she bit her lip uncomfortably.

Clementine slowly approached her, calling out her name. Startled, Sarah snapped back to reality from whatever trance she was in. "O-oh," she stammered, clearly caught off-guard. "Sorry, I was just making sure AJ was okay. And, um… trying not to eavesdrop. Dad always said it was rude to listen in on things…"

Shaking her head, Clementine replied, "Don't worry, it's okay. You were in the room, anyway."

Sarah nodded. "I did hear your question, though. I think I'm just gonna hang around in here for a bit. I sort of wanted to look around this place, see what I can find. We didn't have much time to look since we've arrived…"

That was true, they'd been rather busy with… certain events to have really searched the place beyond a few glances at the boxes in the main room full of food. Sarah showed good initiative, Clementine reflected, by thinking there'd be more in the other rooms.

"Good idea," she complimented. "I'll be outside if you need me, okay?"

"Okay," Sarah replied, giving a small wave. "Be safe!"

Just as Arvo and Mike had predicted, whatever footprints they'd made had been completely covered by the moonlighted snow - and of course, it wasn't falling from the sky anymore, so they'd left at the most opportune time.

It was quite clever of them, she had to admit. Though she didn't approve of their choice, she could still begrudgingly respect that they were logical about it.

Outside, the remaining members of the group were scattered around like statues. No one seemed to be in a talking mood, and Clementine couldn't really blame them. Jane and Troy were standing awkwardly in the snow, but Bonnie was seated on the back deck stairs, a cigarette in her hand.

An excavator was parked to the right of them, its bucket half-dug into the snow, while a ladder was to their left. The Russians' safehouse was clearly still in the process of being built - whether by the Russians themselves or someone else, she didn't know.

However, the two landmarks didn't matter nearly as much as one parked a bit further away, near the forest behind the house. Just as Kenny had said, a pickup truck was sitting right under their noses the whole time. His head currently buried in the hood of the truck like an ostrich, Kenny looked to be fiddling around with some wires and cursing under his breath.

Things were at a standstill for now, the future pretty uncertain for now. Clementine didn't know what to do at the moment either, so she chose to sit down next to Bonnie on the stairs.

Once she plopped down, she gazed over and saw that the redhead looked pretty miserable. Well, she was in good company. "This sucks," Clementine mumbled.

"You're tellin' me," Bonnie replied, her voice rusty. "I didn't expect to lose everyone so quickly. But here we are – all that's left is me, you, the baby, Kenny and… those two." She narrowed her eyes towards Jane and Troy.

"They're not that bad," Clementine argued with a small smirk. "Not very friendly, though."

Bonnie snorted. "Yeah, we lost all'a the nice ones, didn't we?" She chuckled humorlessly. "I just can't believe Mike up and left us."

Curiously, Clementine wondered why it meant so much to Bonnie, but she didn't ask. Instead, she said, "It sucks, losing people. No matter how you lose them."

"Don't get me wrong, but I'm kinda hurt Mike didn't ask me t' go along with them. Now, I wouldn't have gone with them, a'course, but I thought…" Bonnie's voice trailed off as her eyes glazed over, a distant look crossing her face. "Never mind. Whatever I thought, I thought wrong."

Bonnie gave a hopeless sigh, taking a long drag of her cigarette and closing her eyes. Clementine didn't know what exactly cigarettes did to people, but something kept them addicted - they clearly offered some sort of feeling or peace that only adults knew how to chase.

However, it seemed the redhead wanted to try to share that feeling, for a moment later, she leaned over and offered Clementine a cigarette. "Want one?"

Shaking her head, the girl waved it away. "No thanks." Lee would come back to life and kill her if she accepted - not to mention Kenny being within watching distance. Bonnie gave a small smile at that, almost pleased at her answer.

Silence fell between them for a moment before Bonnie murmured, "You ever done somethin' you regret? Even if it's somethin' you knew you had to do?"

It wasn't an odd question, and by now, Clementine was used to people asking such personal things on a regular basis. Strangely enough, though Bonnie thought Jane and Troy were so different, the two of them could answer that question with an undoubtable 'yes' - given their respective histories and decisions. Between Troy with Colton and Jane with Jamie, those two supposed outcasts of the group could attest to regretting 'necessary' choices.

But Bonnie didn't know that, nor did she need to - Clementine just found it ironic.

"I try not to have any regrets, but… yeah, I've done things like that." There was no escaping the truth, really, and she'd be a liar if she tried to say she hadn't regretted anything.

"Does Troy count as one'a those regrets?" Bonnie asked.

Clementine shrugged. "Not really, no." She had made peace with their unpleasant guest, and after getting to know him a bit better, she couldn't see why she ever feared him. Though she would definitely change some things if she could turn back time, saving Troy wasn't one of them. "He's not that much of a burden anymore, anyway."

Bonnie nodded firmly. "At least y' stick with your decisions. Can't fault you for that." She sighed once again, breathing out smoke. "Damn it, I got to be honest with you - I never thought I'd meet another man with a temper like Bill's. I thought 'that's it, that's the epitome of alpha male horseshit'. But holy hell, Kenny's gotten pretty damn close lately."

Though true, the words saddened Clementine. She curled her knees to her chest, studying the piles of snow at their feet. "I know," she murmured, closing her eyes for a moment. It hurt, seeing someone she once considered a father figure breaking down and being so frightening. "I wish he wouldn't get so upset, but… he's hurting."

"We're all hurting," Bonnie replied, a bit of sharpness to her tone. "All he's doin' is puttin' us in danger with his hasty decisions and refusal to listen to anythin' but what he wants to do. It's puttin' the little one in harm's way, too. We need a level-headed leader, and… there ain't one here. Except you, Clem."

"Me?" Clementine blinked, the question startling her. "I can't be our leader."

"Why not?"

She hadn't ever really thought why - just understood that it wasn't possible yet. Her age was a possible reason, of course, but that didn't stop Carver from seeing a leader in her. His idea of her wasn't accurate in the least, but her being young was never an issue.

Did she create that problem herself? She'd been so used to being taken care of in Lee's group, and eventually fell into a follower when she'd met up with different people. The prospect of leading others never occurred to her, and she wasn't exactly sure how it made her feel.

"I honestly don't know," she confessed quietly. "I guess I just never thought about it. But I don't really feel like a leader."

"Well, a day may come when you have to run things your own way, or make decisions for others. I just hope y' can be ready for that." Bonnie stubbed out her cigarette on the step, and wordlessly retrieved another from the pack. "I'm just tryin' to look out for you."

Clementine nodded and smiled softly. "Thanks. I appreciate it." And she did - any advice directing her towards a future where she could be a safe and smart adult was always welcome. Though she found it difficult to imagine herself as someone in charge, it certainly was possible.

She decided to leave the woman to her thoughts, and stood up to explore the backyard a bit more as she waited for Kenny.

Once she hopped off the steps, Jane and Troy were within earshot, but they were murmuring things Clementine couldn't make out. When she approached the two, Jane turned her head and nodded to her in greeting. But before Clementine could respond, Jane walked away without a word, her shoulders brushing against Troy's as she did.

Clementine raised an eyebrow at the motion, looking towards Troy for an explanation. He provided none, of course, and merely smirked as Jane walked away.

"Hey, squirt," Troy greeted, in a surprisingly good mood given the recent losses to their group. Then again, he'd never been much of a team player. "What were you schemin' over there with Bonnie about?"

Coolly, Clementine replied, "What were you talking about with Jane?"

The man's expression turned sour, and she stifled an amused smile. "Oh, shut the fuck up."

"Bonnie thinks I could be a leader someday," Clementine admitted. "Someone to make important decisions."

Troy didn't look impressed. "Yeah? You gonna go off the words of some junkie? Don't let it swell your head, kid." His voice lowered as he added, "Though, between you and me, there're leaders, and there're followers, and… well, let's just say I know where I stand. You, though… I dunno. Guess that's up to you."

That was surprisingly supportive of him… or as close as he could get to it, being Troy. Clementine smirked, crossing her arms and lifting her head to meet his eyes. "Wow, thanks - that's actually kinda nice," she pointed out snarkily, quirking an eyebrow.

He merely scowled, looking away. "Well, outta all that's left here, I'd say you're probably the one I'd trust the most - that ain't sayin' much, though, given what we got."

His words weren't the most polite, but she understood what he was saying, and it was appreciated. He'd come a long way from the angry guard at Howe's, but losing an arm does seem to humble people, if only a bit.

"What do you think about Mike and Arvo leaving?" Clementine asked, dropping the previous subject.

Troy shrugged. "Didn't really care. After Luke'n them tried to leave Howe's, other people at Howe's got some ideas to follow 'em. Mike was one of 'em - that's why he stayed in the pen so long. I never cared much for him. Smartass."

"He did help you shoot with your left hand, though," Clementine pointed out.

Briefly, Troy gazed down at the stump of his right arm, and sighed. "Yeah, I know. It's hard as fuck to shoot lefty, but… it's all I got now."

"Maybe you and Mike could've gotten along eventually."

"Too bad world don't work in 'maybes', kid," Troy muttered. He didn't say anything else on the matter, but Clementine could tell that in his own way, in some degree, he was grateful to Mike.

"Hey, Clem!" Before the two could continue their conversation, Clementine heard Sarah's voice as the teen ran outside, a strange look on her face. It wasn't a happy expression, but considering what had just transpired in less than twenty-four hours, her eyes seemed brighter than they had been.

Turning to Sarah, Clementine asked what was up, noting the scissors clutched in the other girl's hands.

"I found some sewing supplies inside, and I sort of… well, look." Sarah quickly straightened out her jacket, pointing to a particular spot near the right breast pocket. After little more than a moment or two, Clementine recognized a familiar logo stitched into the material with white thread.

"Is that… the symbol that was on Nick's hat?" Clementine - naturally - loved hats, so she paid attention when someone was wearing them and what sort of logos were on them.

Sarah nodded, her cheeks a bit red. "Y-yeah, it is- was. It was on his hat, but I cut it out and stitched it to my jacket."

Troy wrinkled his nose. "The guy gives you his hat, and you just destroy it to make some dumb patch? Jeez. I'd be rolling in my grave."

Clementine shot him a glare, but Sarah didn't flinch or apologize like she predicted. In fact, she didn't even look upset by the comment, and her expression could only be described as irritated. Her lips pursed and eyes narrowed, Sarah looked downright annoyed by Troy's words, rather than frightened.

"I buried the rest of the hat in the water, but I think the most important part is staying with me. I don't think he'd care, as long as I have something to remember him by." Sarah almost scowled, brushing off his words like she was a ball of rubber and Troy was glue. "And I know you think you're too good for it, but a big part of having friends is trusting in them."

It was hard to keep a straight face when Clementine saw the man's expression. He definitely wasn't expecting Sarah to respond to him like that, given the way he looked simultaneously angry and surprised.

"Anyway," Sarah continued, "what do you think, Clem?" She did a little twirl, showing off how the patch swung around with her jacket.

Clementine smiled, nodding in approval. "I like it. I think Nick would've approved, too! It's sort of like you're immortalizing the symbol, and who wore it." She shot a glance at Troy, smirking as he gave her a sour look.

"Whatever… you find anythin' more useful than some scrapbooking shit in there?" Troy snapped, giving a small huff of annoyance.

Sarah brightened. "Actually, I was just going to show you – look, Clem!" Reaching into her coat pocket, she retrieved two familiar items and held them up proudly.

"Walkie-talkies?" Troy questioned.

Without warning, Clementine found her mind whisked away from reality, back to a time with Lee and Carley and Lilly – back when her pretend talks with her parents were the only ritual that would help her sleep, the comfort of being reunited with them soothing a child version of her into slumber. In a way, Clementine envied that little girl; she had no idea of what was to come – of where her parents really were - and still had a sense of naivete and hope to hold onto.

Clementine sucked in a breath as she felt all the memories associated with walkie-talkies hit her all at once; it was a painful slamming feeling in her chest, but a tiny part of her was happy to see them again, if only to keep her parents' memory alive.

Sarah couldn't understand why her friend was quiet, but she didn't press Clementine. She simply stood there waiting for a reaction, a small smile still on her face.

"I- that's a good find," Clementine blurted out, not knowing what else to say. "We can definitely use those."

With a proud giggle, Sarah handed her one of them. "Okay, I'm going to go inside real quick. I want to test them. Wait here!" She hopped up the steps inside, disappearing through the doorway.

Troy glanced at Clementine with a questioning expression. "Uh... now, how can I say this politely..."

"Go on, I believe in you," Clementine dryly encouraged.

"...are there some parts missing from her brain or something?"

Rolling her eyes, Clementine decided she wasn't even going to give that question a response. Instead, she explained, "She's been through so much. Let her have a little lighthearted fun. Wasn't Kylie like this once?"

Troy flinched at the name, his lips curled into a snarl. "I told you not to mention that shit again-"

With a shrug, Clementine replied, "It's not exactly easy for me to forget. But all I'm saying is that I'm sure you were patient with Kylie – be the same with Sarah."

Troy opened his mouth to reply, but a buzzing voice sounded from the walkie-talkie in Clementine's hand. "Hello? Clem, can you hear me? Over!" Sarah's voice was coming in loud and clear, and Clementine once more had to smile at the nostalgia.

"Yes, I hear you," she murmured into the walkie, then adding a quick, "over!"

Within a minute, Sarah reappeared on the deck, holding up her device proudly. "I was in front of the house. It seems like they're good on batteries, and we could probably go far distances."

"Oh, yeah. Those'll get some miles," Troy commented. "The Russians weren't fuckin' around with this kind."

"That's good. You can hold onto them for now, then." Clementine smiled, handing her walkie back to Sarah. She swept her gaze over the backyard again, noting that nothing really had changed.

Kenny was still over fixing the truck, but hopefully enough time had passed. He didn't seem as angry, at least… Cautiously, she approached him, taking slow steps in the snow like she was going to pet a deer. Kenny lifted his head and his expression seemed much lighter than it had been; Clementine took that as a signal that he was ready to talk to her, and grinned in return.

"How're you doing?" she asked quietly, leaning on the side of the truck.

"A bit better, I guess. Thanks for giving me time to myself," Kenny admitted. "I'm still pissed at those two assholes, but… what happened, it's over. I figure AJ needs us now; we gotta stick together on this thing Clem - alright?"

That sounded a bit more like the Kenny she knew. Nodding, Clementine replied, "Okay. Can I help at all with the truck?"

Kenny's gaze flickered back to the truck, and he shrugged. "Honestly, I've been tryin', but I'm not sure. I'll fiddle around with some things if you hit the gas for me." Without waiting for an answer, he handed her the keys, dropping them into her palm and pointing towards the door.

The truck's front was high up, but she managed to pull herself onto it with a well-placed hop. Placing the keys in the ignition, she watched Kenny move things under the hood, wondering if he knew what he was doing.

"My daddy always had a half a dozen wrecks he was fixin' up," Kenny commented, chuckling lowly. "He was a mean son-of-a-bitch, but he taught me respect. Wish I could pass along the same values to some of the more… stubborn members of our group here."

Clementine frowned, knowing who he was referring to, but said nothing. When Kenny requested it, she turned the keys in the ignition, leaning out the open door to see if anything was working. The engine sputtered and sounded like it was trying, but it didn't start all the way yet.

"We're so close, Clem. With a little bit of luck, I could get this thing runnin', and then we can get out on the road and really make some distance!" His whole face brightened and his eye glittered. "Wellington's gotta be out there. The rumors can't all be bunk…"

She nodded in agreement, trying the keys again. Kenny fiddled with something under the hood for a moment, and grew frustrated when there was no further response from the truck. Letting out an irritated growl, he kicked at the truck, his mood dropping in a split second.

"We'll get it," she pressed, trying to remain positive. "Maybe Troy or someone knows how to fix cars?" That'd be pressing their luck, she was sure, but it couldn't hurt to ask…

Shaking his head, Kenny muttered, "No, I see what the problem is - the battery needs a charge, but there ain't any cables to do it around here. Nothin' in the trunk, either, or the backseat. It's… just empty."

"Sarah did find a bunch of stuff inside the house, like sewing needles and scissors," Clementine pointed out. "Maybe she found what you're looking for?"

"Hey, Sarah!" Kenny called over to her. The girl flinched and lifted her head, eyes wide and frightened. Thankfully, Kenny lowered his voice to a more gentle tone and asked, "Could you c'mere, darlin'? I need to ask you somethin'."

Sarah flashed a worried look towards Clementine, but the younger girl merely nodded in confirmation that it was okay. Hesitantly, Sarah walked over. "Y-yes?" she asked.

"Did you happen to find any spare jumpers inside? Somethin' like a long wire, with alligator-lookin' clips at the ends, or anythin' that might've looked like it belonged in the truck?" Kenny asked, pointing to the truck over his shoulder.

"Um… I don't think so, sorry," Sarah said, shaking her head. "I've seen jumper cables before - I would've brought it out. I mean, I can take another look, if you want, o-or you can go see for yourself…"

Kenny shook his head. "Nah, it's fine. I doubt they'd be inside, anyway." With a sigh, he took off his hat and ran a hand through his hair. "One of us will have to scout around, then."

He walked towards the deck, making himself within earshot of everyone. "Listen up, y'all," he announced, watching as all eyes turned to him. "It looks like the truck's just missin' a jumper cable. If I find it, I can connect it to that over there for power." He nodded towards a large generator near the ladder. "All we need's the connection to the truck and we should be able to get 'er up and running."

"That sounds simple enough," Bonnie commented, trying to smile a little.

With a shake of his head, Kenny said, "Unfortunately, I don't know where to even begin to look. This place ain't got the stuff, so we'll have to look around here. Thing is, I don't know the area."

Troy raised his good arm. "Uh, I do. I know it pretty fuckin' good."

Kenny grimaced. "Yeah, uh... I was hopin' to have someone a bit more reliable searching. No offense, Troy."

"Oh, no goddamn offense taken!" Troy snapped. "Why can't y'all let me do shit? I ain't broken, and like hell I'm gonna be treated like dead weight. You think Bill had us search just by the river area to find the cabin group? No, we came up here beforehand, hopin' they'd fled to an area that would slow 'em down."

"Well – what about Bonnie?" Kenny pressed. "She was with you by the bridge, right? She could go look around for supplies. I'd trust her more than you."

"Bonnie ain't no guard!" Troy hissed. "God, it's like I'm tryin' to be helpful, but y'all won't hear me!" He stomped towards Kenny and lifted his head to meet his eyes. "Y' ain't even givin' me a chance to be useful!"

Carefully, Bonnie stepped between them before a fight broke out. "C'mon, this is hardly the time to fight... Kenny, Troy's right – he was the guard, so he went on more outings; he knows the area better by far. We can send someone to go with him, if y' like."

"There's no way I could send him off with you or Jane," Kenny spat. "You'd probably just walk off with the shit we need."

Jane looked ready to spit something back in a retort, but Bonnie interrupted her. "Then who would you trust? I assume you won't want to go yourself?"

Kenny nodded. "I'm staying here to ensure the truck stays in the exact way I left it."

"Then what about Clem?" Sarah suggested. "I mean, I don't think I could go. She's way more capable."

"No! Absolutely not. Like fuck I'd trust that asshole to keep her safe."

Now it was Clementine's turn to look annoyed. Crossing her arms, she pointed out, "I don't need anyone to keep me safe, Kenny. And I know Troy by now – he won't hurt me." It disturbed her how deeply she believed that – how much she'd grown to trust him. "He has one arm, anyway. I could take him in a fight," she added, giving a smirk.

Troy narrowed his eyes, but said nothing against her. Instead, he agreed: "Yeah, let me take the little sh- Clementine along. There's a rest stop 'bout a mile or two up ahead. I'll bet truckers used that place when shit was normal - should have some parts to spare."

"We'll go look there, and won't go any further. I won't let Troy leave," Clementine promised with a smirk, enjoying the sour look he gave her. While she did believe Troy wouldn't run off, she was trying to appeal to Kenny's twisted sense of paternity.

Kenny shot a glance over to Bonnie and Jane, only to bring his one-eyed gaze back to Clementine. He stared at her for an eerie stretched silence; she nibbled on her bottom lip, not sure what to say if he refused. There was hardly another option, after all.

Finally, Kenny murmured, "I'll trust you, Clem. Just... make sure you come back safe and sound, y'hear?"

Clementine nodded and stepped forward, wrapping her arms around Kenny's middle. He felt him stiffen in surprise, but eventually he returned the notion. "Thank you," she murmured into his shirt. "It means a lot."

"Of course. We're family, Clem." He squeezed her tightly before they parted, a small smile on his face.

Sarah coughed and stammered, "I- I hope I'm not interrupting, but we can use the walkies I found to keep in contact! That way, we'll know you're both safe." She beamed at Clementine, handing her one of them.

Clementine's grin widened. "Thanks, Sarah. I'll be sure to contact you if we run into any trouble - and make sure you do the same."

"Of course!" Without hesitation, Sarah wrapped her arms around her friend, giving Clementine her second hug in mere seconds.

It was a bit startling, but not unwanted at all. It wasn't often she felt physically reassured and cared for like this, so she wanted to savor the comfort as long as she could. Closing her eyes, she pretended for a moment that things were all okay, that she was merely being hugged by a good friend for no other reason than their closeness.

It was such a nice feeling, she wanted to pretend that things were okay for a little longer. But Sarah let go, and reality snapped back to Clementine - along with a sense of duty, and a new goal.

Chapter Text


It couldn't have been five minutes, and Troy was already complaining. Really, if Clementine was honest with herself, that was four minutes more than she'd expected of him.

Rolling her eyes, she shot an annoyed glance over at her companion, who was slowly dragging himself up the snowy hill they'd encountered. It was quite steep, she wasn't going to lie, but his moaning and groaning wasn't helping anyone, and was just plain irritating.

They'd encountered this hill shortly after leaving the group, headed away from the frozen lake into a large, snowy plain. It wasn't a gentle incline, stooping to a height that would make drivers press down their pedals further, if not all the way to the floors of their cars. Clementine grew up in a place that was generally flat, so hills always looked a bit intimidating to her.

"Fuck this hill!" Troy growled once again, kicking at the snow with a boot.

Quirking a brow, she shot him a dry look and muttered, "I have a hard time believing you complained this much when you were with Carver. So why do it so much in front of me?"

Troy scoffed, shaking his head. "He'd probably skin me for bitchin'. You, I ain't so afraid of." She was almost about to retort something, but he continued, "Plus, y' had plenty of opportunities to wring me out before, but y' didn't. So I figure I must be alright with y'all." With a nod of affirmation, he seemed to be absolutely sure of himself.

Well, it wasn't like she could argue. They all had had moments where letting Troy die would be more than possible - convenient, even - but they consciously continued helping. Clementine and Sarah especially seemed to care about keeping him alive, and that was a strange thought considering all he'd done to terrorize them at Howe's.

But that was in the past now, Clementine argued with herself. There wasn't anywhere to go but forward.

"I guess that's true," she admitted, gazing upwards at their climb. "But you don't have to be so loud about it. I know it sucks, but once we're over it, we'll be fine. And it'll be fun going back." Even she couldn't deny the childish pleasure in running down a hillside.

Troy scoffed. "Y'know, the last time I came 'round here with Bill's group, it was easy to walk up. But now…" His eyes shot to his right arm, frowning. "Well, it ain't so easy anymore. I feel all kinds'a fucked up."

"I can imagine," Clementine replied, grunting as she stepped over a rock in her path. "But we'll be getting what we need to leave this area, so it'll be worth it."

Despite giving another quiet mumble of protest, the man kept trudging on, his left arm swaying gently to keep himself balanced. Though he cursed under his breath and complained about doing it, he wasn't stopping or even slowing down. His discipline was admirable, if nothing else; it must have come from the army.

She didn't want to actively encourage him - because, knowing Troy, that might actually make him stop in protest - but when they exchanged a glance, she merely smiled and nodded. He rolled his eyes but gave a small smirk in return, puffing out a little sigh of effort.

A few minutes later, they were at the top of the hill, and Troy was bent over, catching his breath with his hand on his knee. Clementine realized this was the most strenuous activity he'd had since he lost his arm, though it was evident by his harsh breaths.

"That wasn't easy, but thanks for agreeing to come with me," she eventually said.

"Yeah, yeah, shut it." Troy waved her off, shaking his head and straightening himself out more.

He tried to drop the topic, but she didn't want to just yet. "No, I mean it - I feel like you're helping out a little more. Like abstaining from voting about Arvo, or giving info about the area. It goes a long way, especially since our group's become smaller," she admitted, flashing him a small smile.

Troy scowled in response, but his words betrayed his expression. "...well, look around. We're all a fuckin' mess - I figured I'm the only man with his shit together left, so I better step up. It don't mean nothin'."

"It means something," Clementine assured. "I'm grateful for it, and I know Sarah is, too, at least, especially since you helped her begin to handle a gun."

A roll of brown eyes was his response. "Speakin' of Sarah - you know what that kid said to me before we left? She said she was sorry for sassin' me earlier, and to be safe. The fuck is with that?"

That definitely sounded like Sarah. Clementine smiled and replied, "It's what she does - she's a good person. Good people wish each other well, and apologize when they do wrong."

Grimacing, Troy retorted, "I don't get why that's necessary. Y'all like to talk about your feelings so much, but honestly, it's probably best to keep 'em buried underneath. Makes it all so fuckin' bearable."

With a shrug, Clementine pointed out, "That may work for you, but it's not for everyone. And we aren't the only ones that talk about our feelings, you know." She narrowed her eyes, not liking him insinuating she was weak for having emotions.

"Tch. Whatever." It seemed he really was trying to drop the subject again, so she let him this time. Troy's gaze drifted over the hill they'd just climbed, and swept over to the plain up ahead.

"Ready to move on?" she asked.

He nodded. "There're more hills nearby, but they're more in the direction of Howe's, so we don't need to go that way."

Clementine blinked. "Wait, what? We're near Howe's?"

Troy shook his head. "No, not really. Howe's is about… a couple hours' drive, maybe?" He pointed towards a patch of trees that stretched east. "That there leads to a large-ass forest that goes on for-fuckin'-ever. Walk that for a day or two and if you don't get lost, you'll eventually reach Howe's."

She didn't realize they were that close to their beginning point; it sort of felt like they'd gone in a circle… But she was more of a visual learner, so she quickly picked up a stray stick and began scribbling in the dirt.

"So here's where we started, at Howe's," she began, drawing a rectangle to indicate the hardware store. After dragging the stick down to make paths, she sketched squares for both the strip mall drug store and Parker's Run.

Troy snatched the stick from her. "This way was where we were supposed to go - or at least, where I thought y'all were going," he muttered, waving the twig above the snow to the right of Parker's Run. "But this is the direction that Russian kid brought us." He dragged a deep line to the left, and made another square.

Clementine continued, "Okay, so we stopped there, at the fenced-in area with the generators, and continued west. Then we encountered the lake." She watched Troy draw out what she'd indicated, nodding to herself. He scribbled a large area to indicate the lake, and added another rectangle for the Russians' unfinished house.

She watched carefully as he dragged the stick upwards to the right, making a path towards what she presumed would be a marking for the rest stop. Once he scribbled a symbol for their destination, he closed the gap between it and the original Howe's point. "See, it's quite a while away, but we sorta went in a circle to end up here," he explained.

Examining their 'map' a few more moments made her conclude that Wellington must have been more north of where they were going - and that they originally came to Howe's in from the east. It was all a bit confusing, so she was actually grateful for the visual. It helped organize her thoughts and solidify just where they were going, and how much they'd travelled.

"Alright, so it shouldn't be a long walk to the rest stop, right?" she guessed, tilting her head at the map.

"Yeah, if we move our asses, it shouldn't take more than an hour. Let's go." With nothing more to say, Troy began to hustle forward, in the direction Clementine could only assume was correct.

She hurried after him, matching his pace with ease. Though his injury was looking better by the day, it still slowed him down considerably. He didn't look in pain, though, and she was grateful for that - seeing him in such a state before was horrible, even if he wasn't her favorite person.

As they made their way through the snow, Clementine tried to think of what to say. She had little in common with Troy, but she was curious about a few things. Whether or not he'd give up that information was unknown, though.

But it was better than silence, so she might as well. Her mouth opened to ask a question - but before she could get the words out, Troy stopped dead in his tracks. He held out his arm to stop her, as well, turning his head and focusing on something nearby. His expression was unreadable, a subtle determination in his gaze.

"What's the matter?" she whispered, but he just harshly shushed her. It seemed he could hear something she could not, for as much as she tried to concentrate, the world still seemed completely silent to her.

Troy took two steps forward and smashed his foot down. A loud, sickening crunch sounded, and dark blood seeped off his shoe when he lifted his leg. A motionless walker was hidden just under all the white, trapped under the weight of the snow and unable to move until it was too late.

She gazed at Troy in awe. "How did you know that was there?"

Troy just shook his head. "I could feel some vibrations under the snow - the thing was tryin' to claw its way up to the surface. Figured it could've been a lurker or an animal, and either way, I was squishin' it." He shrugged. "Army teaches you to pay attention to your surroundings, if nothin' else."

That was surprisingly resourceful, but she didn't doubt that he knew some tricks or two. "Do you think there are any more under there?" She asked, nodding towards the snow.

"Lurkers usually aren't alone," he pointed out with a one-shouldered shrug. "So I'd watch where you're steppin' if I was you."

With another firm nod, Clementine cautiously stepped forward, keeping her ears perked for any slight sound or movement. As hard as she focused, though, she wasn't able to distinguish anything. She gave a soft frustrated huff, shaking her head and looking to Troy as though he held the answers.

His face was blank again, lost in his own concentration. After a few moments, he began to trudge forward again. "Nothin' yet, but be careful," he warned, and she followed in silence. "If I return alone, they'll fuckin' have my head."

The rest stop didn't end up being too far away, just as Troy had indicated. On the horizon, a small building sat, its front doors clear with a small glance at the inside. The building itself wasn't that big, holding enough space for what looked like bathrooms, vending machines, and an information desk.

Behind it, or at least as much as Clementine could see through the glass doors, some old playground equipment was set up, surrounded by at least one car. At the edges of her vision, she could see the corners of more cars, as well as a pavilion. It wasn't unreasonable to think there were more vehicle beyond the small scope she could see now - hopefully a truck or two.

The second it hit Clementine that she was so close to their ticket to a safer place, she quickened her steps. Her eyes were dead-set on the building, the cold air blowing against her barely an afterthought.

"Troy, c'mon," she urged, hurrying her pace almost to a jog.

"Wait, hold on a sec-!" Troy hissed from behind her, but his words didn't connect in time. She'd been so preoccupied with finding the jumper cable they need, she forgot all about their strategy of moving across a deep snowy area.

Her feet shifted the snow just enough for a hand to smash through it, curled fingers constricting around her ankle. The grip was unbreakable, causing her to lose her balance and fall. Crashing onto the ground, she scrambled back just in time to dodge the rest of the walker that emerged from its white hiding place. Milky white eyes looked to her, the creature's empty gaze somehow still seeming predatory.

Her pulse quickening, Clementine reached for her hatchet, kicking at the walker to let go of her. When its fingers just bent around her leg more, she tried not to panic and swung the weapon down onto its skull. Blood spurted and it twitched, but its mouth still snapped open and shut hungrily. She swung again, desperate to keep its teeth away from her ankle.

Another set of hands sprung from the ground behind her, snaking around one of her arms. Yelping in surprise, Clementine realized she was now sprawled out on the cold ground, pinned by a leg and an arm by two walkers. Blood roared in her ears as she brought her hatchet down again and again onto the first one, its rotten blood flecking her face after each swing.

The walker that had her by the arm was gnashing its teeth as she writhed, trying with all her strength to escape. With a panicked shriek, she twisted and contorted about in the snow, praying that there weren't any more walkers frozen underneath her. Her world spun, head and heart pounding as she pleaded with whoever was out there to help.

A third hand wrapped around her torso, hauling her backwards. She flailed, trying to get out of its grip with all her might by hitting her captor with her fists. It wasn't until she heard a yell that sounded human did she realize that not only were the first two walkers were dead, but Troy was currently pulling her away from them.

Her heart still hammering in her chest, she muttered her thanks and realized just how that show of desperation must've looked to him.

Troy scowled, letting her go to fall against the snow. "What the fuck was that? Did you forget that we were bein' careful the whole way here? Did you think the lurkers would just stop appearin' just 'cause we're where we needed to go?" He looked halfway between disgust and amusement, and her cheeks burned.

"No, I just… was excited about getting away from all this snow," she offered, knowing it was a poor excuse.

"Thought you were smarter than that, squirt," he said with a roll of his eyes. "Bein' overeager like that could get you killed one day."

It sort of felt like he was lecturing her, rather than just insulting her for the fun of it - almost like he was worried she'd make a dumb mistake like that again. Because of his weird Troy-like concern, she found it hard to be that angry with his words.

"Okay, I'll be more careful," she promised, standing up and brushing herself off. "Thank you, by the way."

"Don't mention it," he muttered, facing the rest stop in front of them. "At least we're finally here."

Nodding, Clementine cautiously followed him through the doors. Just as she'd thought, it was a small building, about the size of two rooms in an average house. A few vending machines were toppled over, the glass broken and contents removed. An empty information desk sat in the corner, next to a door to the outside playground and pavilions; behind the desk was a bulletin board, event flyers still pinned in place. Two bathroom doors were on the opposite side as the entrance, a water fountain between them and a small informational stand with pamphlets placed in the corner.

During the summer months - back when everything was normal, of course - Clementine could see this place being popular for truckers or traveling families.

She wasn't a stranger to these kinds of rest stops. Her parents loved to travel and took the opportunity for getaways as often as they could. Since she was a baby, Clementine joined in most of the family vacations; the only reason she didn't go to Savannah those fateful few weeks was because school was starting, and they were only going to a wedding and didn't want her to miss any classes.

But on the trips she did go on, she enjoyed every moment of them. Briefly, she remembered her parents stopping at a place that was similar to this place, to stretch their legs and use the bathroom. She absolutely loved looking at all the fun pictures in the pamphlets (and, of course, begging her dad for a snack).

In a pointless effort to feel a ounce of that same innocence, she approached the stand with the information packets and picked one up. Inside were faded pictures of nearby attractions, photos of smiling people who probably weren't alive anymore - or at the very least, were no longer smiling like that.

"Oh, look, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are playin' at the National Theater," Troy's voice made her jump, as she didn't expect to see him appear next to her so suddenly, his eyes on her pamphlet. "I hear they're pretty good live. Think we can make the show?"

Though it wasn't really the time for a stupid joke, she still snickered under her breath. "Maybe we could sneak in, or scalp a ticket outside. I've never heard their songs, though."

"What?! Really? Californification is a jam that can't be fuckin' beat." Troy shook his head. "Damn, kids today."

Clementine raised an eyebrow. "How old are you, anyway?"

With a grimace, the man replied, "Not that old, sheesh. I ain't sure what day it is anymore, but I'm somewhere 'round twenty-eight."

She wanted to argue that Luke had known his birthday and she kept track of her age, but she supposed everyone ran on their own clock of sorts - Troy's just happened to be not very functional.

"Did you ever go on family vacations?" she asked. Yes, they were here for a specific reason, but she had wanted to learn more about the guy if she was able, and the opportunity to ask arose.

Unfortunately, he didn't seem too happy to be asked that. "Not as a kid - like fuck my dad would'a wanted my ass to go anywhere with him - but I did go on a trip or two with Colton when I was able to get leave time."

She nodded. "I went with my parents a lot. I remember they were really fun."

"Nice to get away from all the shit, I'll give y' that," Troy agreed. She wanted to ask what sorts of things he expected her to 'get away from' as a child, but something about his tone told her that she shouldn't ask.

It seemed he was done talking about it, anyway. He turned away from the bathrooms towards the information desk, eyes focused on the door to the outside.

"Well, I guess looking at old event pamphlets isn't helping us get a jumper cable," she murmured to herself, setting the paper back where she found it, and turning towards the door leading to the playground.

Once they were outside, Troy swept his gaze across their snowy surroundings. There was some playground equipment, as well as two pavilions nearby and a few cars parked around the area. All the tires were gone from them, their windows shattered. So far, she didn't see any trucks…

"Everything looks ransacked…" she murmured, frowning.

"Yeah, but there's a parking lot 'round the corner. Can't remember if I saw a truck when we came through here, but maybe. I'll go take a look - why don't you go swing or somethin'?" A shit-eating grin stretched across Troy's face, and she narrowed her eyes in annoyance.

Did he think she was five? "If you think I'm staying here to play, you're out of your mind," she growled, giving him a light shove as she brushed past him. He continued to snicker behind her, and she shook her head. Idiot.

Around the corner, there was indeed a large parking lot, the snow covering it mostly undisturbed. Some cars were more covered than others, indicating that they'd been scavenged through already. Her eyes scanned the lot, trying to find anything that looked larger than a car.

"Bingo," Troy said beside her, nodding towards a large snow mound in the corner of the lot. When he approached it and brushed it off a little, Clementine realized that it was indeed a truck.

Brightening, she began to inspect it with her companion. The door looked frozen shut, but the window was still intact - someone hadn't scavenged through it yet! Clementine's heart sped up; were they going to find what they needed inside?

"How should we break through?" She asked, placing a hand on the surface of the window before drawing it back with a quiet hiss. It was more than just cold - it was frozen solid.

When she told him that, Troy muttered something under his breath and took a closer look for himself. Pressing his knuckles to the window, he gave it a slight nudge to test its thickness. "I think I can break through it."

"Why do you think people ignored this truck?" She asked, a bit suspicious that it was one of the only vehicles untouched.

"We couldn't see it from where we were inside the stop, and it was already pretty hidden by snow," Troy guessed.

Clementine nodded. "I don't really care anyway, as long as it has what we need."

"Same here." With a deep breath, Troy placed his elbow on the window, his eyes focused. "This'll be harder with my left, but… here goes." He pulled his arm back and, with one swift motion and a low yell of power, he thrust his elbow into the glass. Clementine jumped when it broke on contact, shards falling through onto the seat and down into the snow.

Shaking off his arm, Troy reached forward and unlocked the truck from the inside, swinging the door open. "That was too fuckin' easy," he boasted.

With a roll of her eyes, Clementine hopped up on the truck's seat, mindful of the glass. She remembered that important things in vehicles are usually kept in the glove compartment, so she carefully maneuvered over to the passenger's side and opened it up.

A bunch of items dumped out of the compartment, making a mess on the floor. She scrounged through the pile, turning tangled white charger cables and CD cases, before realizing that there wasn't what she was looking for here. Cursing under her breath, she reported as much to Troy, who growled to himself as well.

Deciding to check the whole interior of the truck, she turned around and crawled towards the back seat, the vehicle feeling giant compared to her.

And there, sitting like a beacon of hope, the jumper cable sat on the back seat of the truck. She smiled brightly, reaching forward to grab it.

The moment she did, however, a walker sprung out at her from the floor, jaw gnashing and arms clawing to grip something. She screeched, reeling back and kicking at it, but it held onto her leg and pulled her forward once more.

It was getting frustrating to be ambushed again, but she decided she could be annoyed about that after she was safe. Grabbing for her hatchet didn't work, for her arm's movement caused the walker to pull her more, slamming her head down on the passenger's seat and making her hatchet tumble down out of her reach.

"Troy, help!" The last thing she wanted to do was rely on someone, especially him, but she had no other choice at the moment, and it was the most logical solution. Placing her trust in him, she dared to look past the predator and saw Troy opening the back door of the truck, pointing his gun at the walker.

He fired a shot, but his aim was shaky, and it only hit the beast's shoulder. That distracted it long enough, though, for him to put another bullet into its head. After the second shot rang out, Troy reached forward and snatched the cable out of the back seat before turning his attention back to her.

"Damn it, Clementine - I thought I said you gotta be more careful!" he snarled.

"I was," she insisted. "I just didn't expect one to be in the truck, quiet as a mouse." Lowering her head, she mumbled, "But… you saved me twice today. Thank you."

Troy didn't seem to be in the mood for accepting praise. He looked agitated, swinging the front door open and motioning for her to get out. "I didn't want to have to shoot, and my fuckin' stupid bad aim made me do it twice. Any lurkers in this area probably heard."

Now she understood why he was so anxious. With a firm nod, she quickly retrieved her hatchet from the floor and hopped out of the truck.

Pointing to what Troy had in his hand, she asked, "That's the exact thing Kenny was asking for, right?" She knew next to nothing about cars - granted, she was so little when the world ended and she hadn't had much of a chance to learn about them since.

But Troy seemed confident in his reply. "Yep. I know enough about cars that break down, trust me - used to drive a beat-up piece of shit that always broke down. This little baby comes in handy." He held up the cable, pointing his chin towards the clips on both ends. Just like Kenny had indicated, they looked like miniature alligator mouths.

It was kind of neat to see, but they didn't have time to waste. "We ready, then?" she asked.

He nodded. "Yeah - let's get the fuck out of here before the lurkers get any ideas."

They did their best to be careful leaving the area, mindful of the snow and any walkers waiting to spring up like daisies from underneath it, but didn't run into any issues. Like Clementine had predicted, it was much more rewarding to walk down the hill than it was to walk up it. It was almost fun, actually - even Troy seemed to be relieved it was an easy trip.

Somewhere along the way, however, they must have taken a wrong turn, or strayed a little further from their original path. Things seemed a little unfamiliar, and Troy was having trouble figuring out which way was correct.

"Fuck, I'm sure we were goin' the right way…" he mumbled, eyes sweeping the surroundings. Trees enveloped them, the forest stretching further out than he must've realized.

Clementine looked around for herself, noting nothing but trees and snow for what looked like miles. But there had to be a break in the forest, right? They'd crossed a few small plains of only snow to get to the hills, so they had to be close…

Taking a moment to pause, Clementine tried to imagine that map they'd sketched in the snow, and where they were on it right now. She wasn't the best at directions yet, but it seemed like they needed to head more towards the east to get back to the house; the question was, which direction were they facing now?

"Any other army skills you'd like to tap into now, Troy?" She asked, a bit dryly. "They'd sure come in handy right now. Any tracking tips?"

He scowled. "What do I fuckin' look like? A boy scout?"

Well, she'd definitely settle on some untapped boy scout abilities at this point - anything to get them back to the others.

The others! Clementine had almost forgotten about her way to get in contact with them. They probably couldn't help with directions, but at least she could feel better letting them know they were on their way back.

"Hold that thought. Try to think of something while I contact the group," she said, turning away from him and fishing the walkie out of her pocket. Pressing down the button, she quietly spoke into it. "Hello? Sarah, are you there?"

There was a brief moment of silence before the other girl's voice sounded through the speaker. "Hi, Clem! Is everything okay?"

It was still nostalgic and bittersweet to hear the static-y filter of a walkie-talkie. With a small smile, Clementine replied, "Everything's fine. We found the jumper cable - can you let everyone know we're on our way back?"

"Oh, yeah, sure! Um… I think they're all outside right now, but I'll go tell them!"

"Thanks, Sarah. We also got a little off the trail, so it'll take us longer to get back. Don't be alarmed if we get there a little later than expected, okay?" Clementine said, making sure that her friend understood.

"Got it," Sarah replied, her voice sounding firm. "I'll see you soon then, Clem!"

"See you," she murmured into the walkie, and put it back in her pocket. She then turned to Troy, as if he magically came up with a solution.

Of course, he didn't, but still thought of something. "We probably ain't as lost as we think we are. If we keep goin' straight, we either'll hit more hills - which just means we're headin' to Howe's and should turn around - or the frozen lake. Shouldn't be that tough," he explained.

Clementine nodded. It wasn't the best answer, but it wasn't the worst, either. Wordlessly, she followed him forward, keeping her eyes and ears trained for any signs of danger. The snowy forest floor wasn't nearly as deep as the meadow-like areas were before, so she didn't have to worry about walkers hiding underneath.

"So once we get back…" she murmured, trying to recap the situation and make conversation, "This cable will start the truck, and we'll finally get out of here."

"Yeah," Troy agreed, "but who the hell knows where our fucked-up group is gonna decide to go?"

Our. The implications behind that word weren't lost on Clementine, but she didn't comment. It spoke more to her to catch Troy using terms like that on his own, rather than pointing it out to him and hearing him deny it.

So she smiled to herself for a moment, and nodded her head in agreement. "The truck looked like it could only fit four people. And we have six, plus AJ."

Troy knitted his eyebrows down, a puzzled expression on his face. "Four seats, huh… sounds like someone'll have to sit on my lap."

Clementine scowled. "No, absolutely not! You're out of your mind if you think I'll-"

"Who said I meant you? Fuck no." He almost looked offended at that suggestion.

"Then who? Sarah?" she bit back.

"What? No, not her either! No fuckin' way," Troy hissed. "I was talkin' about-" He paused, his words dying away as if he suddenly realized what he was saying. "Never mind."

Clementine didn't understand, but she didn't exactly want to, either, so she let the subject drop, noting Troy's embarrassed expression and shaking her head. That… oh-so-pleasant exchange of words helped kill a few moments of silence walking in the snow, at least.

Thankfully, though, as they continued along the forest path, the trees began to spread further apart, making the surrounding area easier to see. Clementine brightened; there were no hills in sight, which meant they must be getting closer to the lake.

However, the moment the trees started to thin, it was easy to notice something in the distance, sticking out like a sore thumb. Clementine squinted at the brown shapes, realizing what they were once she got closer.

A few logs were set up in a circle, around a put-out campfire that was still smoking a little. Empty cans of beer and pop littered the ground, as well as other litter. The area looked like it had been slept in, as several patches of snow were disturbed. Someone was here - very, very recently - and it didn't just seem like one person.

Clementine wrinkled her nose and Troy began to scavenge, watching him pick through trash in search of something worth taking or consuming. He was focused, just like he'd been walking through the plains; she realized, not for the first time, that perhaps there was a reason he had survived this far.

"Do you think Arvo and Mike stopped here?" she asked.

"Doubt it. They left in the middle of the night, right? They'd have been further away by now, I think. And there are prints goin' the opposite way." Troy pointed towards a snowy path, marked a long way with footprint indentations. It wasn't snowing currently, but the clouds overhead looked dark enough to hint at snow soon; the prints could be covered within minutes, so they had to be watchful.

"Then… someone else?" Clementine bit her lip, unsure of who it could even be. For a moment, she considered Christa, and her heart fluttered a little. She let herself think of finding her lost friend, and joining her once more. The woman would be so surprised to see Kenny alive, and hopefully things would be okay between them. Maybe a friend from the past could even help Kenny.

Of course, that was a fantasy. She'd seen an unarmed Christa surrounded by three men in the woods. Christa had told her to run, and she did (like a coward), and a gunshot went off. She never saw Christa again after that, even when running into the men who had cornered her. It wasn't hard to connect the dots, painful as they were.

So she let those hopes burn away like a photo thrown into a fire, returning to reality. Who, realistically, could this campsite belong to?

She watched Troy dig around some more, until he picked up a particular item. It was a box of cigarettes, some brand name she wouldn't know anything about. But by the look on Troy's face, it seemed like he was familiar with it.

"What is it?" She asked, quirking a brow.

Troy just kept staring at the cigarette box, his face becoming unreadable and puzzled. "This brand… it ain't common to see 'round these parts - s'possible it wasn't even sold here, and someone brought it with them from another state."

"Really?" Clementine raised her eyebrows in surprise. "But you have seen people use this kind before?"

With a nod, Troy muttered, "Yeah, but the only place I've seen it is at-"

Loud static from Clementine's pocket cut him off. She jammed her thumb on the button of the walkie and hissed into it, "Hey, Sarah? Is everything okay?"

There was no intelligible response, only more crackling. Her pulse quickening, Clementine tried again, calling Sarah's name and trying to hide her worry. The radio went silent for a few long, heavy moments before a hushed voice sounded on the other end.

"C-Clem, Clem please, they've got the others, please help us-"

Clementine's heart felt like it plummeted into her stomach. "What's wrong? What's going on? Who's there?" She exchanged a fearful look with Troy, who even looked a little startled.

Sarah's words became broken up by static. "Please -- here, they've -- Mike -- to us -- vo -- hurry! -- on't want to die!" And all noise cut out again. Clementine waited for a few more minutes, shaking the device as if it would get a response of any kind.

"Hello? Sarah?" She attempted one last time to get in contact, but it continued to be silent. Her heart lurched as she realized the danger her friends must have been in.

"Something's happening," she heard herself say, as if it wasn't obvious. She glanced up at her companion, noting the serious expression on his face. Anxiety chewed away at her insides, and she pictured all of her friends ending up like Christa. It was pathetic of her to say, but she couldn't help but whisper, "I don't want to lose everyone again." She wasn't ready to accept being alone again.

"Then don't waste no more time!" Troy growled, and his hostility was somewhat refreshing. "Don't bitch and moan - let's go back and get 'em!"

She didn't need to be told twice. Without saying anything further, Clementine spun around and decided to take her chances on the road that she could only hope led to where they needed to go. She took off into the forest, the sounds of Troy's steps behind her sounding more comforting than she would admit.

Chapter Text

Blood roared in Clementine's ears as she ran, the adrenaline pumping through her veins pushing her forward even when her legs ached in protest.

She prided herself on being strong, but she was so, so scared. It was one thing to pretend to hold it all together, but it was another completely to lose everything all at once.

Who could've possibly attacked her friends? There was no sign they were being followed, or at least none that Clementine or anyone else noticed. Did Arvo return with more Russian allies? Did Mike have second thoughts and return with guns and a thirst for revenge?

None of the possibilities her mind thought up made any sense to her, for this scenario just came out of the blue. Their last human enemy was Arvo's group, and that felt ages ago. She'd become too comfortable, too careless and trusting - of course someone would be along to break the peace. Just like always, a threat would come to destroy any shards of happiness they had left.

"Who could've done this? Why didn't I see it coming?!" She hissed to herself.

She must have been louder than she intended, because Troy obviously heard and answered, "Does it really matter who or why? It could just be some random group'a thugs, you don't know. We just gotta focus on gettin' there, not on wondering what happened." His tone almost sounded chastising, and she hated it.

"Shut up," she snapped, moving just a bit faster to get further away from him. He was right, of course, but she didn't want to admit it.

It didn't take long to reach their destination - or perhaps it was long, and Clementine just was too focused on running to notice. Her lungs were screaming for air by the time she stopped her pace, the low temperatures giving her chest a cold burning sensation.

"There!" Clementine cried as she caught a glimpse of the unfinished house, the half-structured roof contrasting the gray sky it was set against. Messes of footprints littered the snow below them, looking quite fresh and leading right into the backyard area. She realized with a sick feeling that there more than two sets, meaning it couldn't be hers and Troy's.

Swallowing hard and shoving her anxiety down for now, Clementine kept a sharp eye out for any opening to sneak through. They were still in a forested area, so cover was easy to obtain - but it would be difficult to make it through the exposed area surrounding the house.

The only hope they really had for an ambush was if whoever had attacked the group had moved to the front of the house - but that was probably hoping for too much.

Troy had gone silent again, his eyes focused ahead of him and the gears in his mind almost visibly turning to find an answer. For once, Clementine found herself relying on his survival instincts, as she could barely think through her own panic.

They came to a stop at the edge of the forest, crouching down low in the bushes. Squinting, Clementine scanned their surroundings for anything that seemed threatening or familiar; in a lucky break, it didn't look like anyone was in the backyard of the house.

Quickly exchanging a glance with Troy, Clementine opted to creep closer, relying on the bushes as far out as they stretched. They did thin out, however, and disappear near the deck.

Her heartbeat was so loud in her ears, Clementine almost didn't hear the hushed whisper from her companion. "Get to the steps, but be quiet about it - they should give you good enough cover."

With a firm nod, the girl stuck a leg out carefully, stepping in the snow and praying to any gods listening that there wasn't a threat in the backyard at all - or, if they were in the front, she hoped they didn't hear her. The ground crunched under her shoes as she tiptoed through the yard, hearing the second pair of footsteps behind her.

A crying sound struck through the sky, and Clementine recognized the sobs of AJ. Her heart nearly dropped into her stomach as she pushed herself forward, swallowing her worries for now.

They were able to make it inside the house without a problem, given that the back room turned out completely empty. Clementine carefully padded into the living room, shrinking back by the stairs the moment she caught a glimpse of someone through the front door. Troy caught her movement and copied it, pressing his back against a wall.

"What did y' see?" he whispered.

She shook her head and placed a finger to her lips to shush him. She hadn't gotten a close look, but whoever was in the front yard had seemed far away enough to not have spotted her. Just in case, though, she waited a few moments before peeking her head out from the staircase.

Past the doorway, she could barely make out how many people there were, but squinting made her realize that no one familiar was on their feet. Once she focused harder on the image, she saw three figures standing tall above a crouched group.

Kenny, Jane, Sarah, Bonnie, Arvo, and Mike were all on their knees, hands tied behind their backs and heads drooped down low. Every one of them had a different look about them, but obviously no one looked confident or happy about this predicament; the snow around them was tousled to signify a previous struggle.

Next, Clementine squinted towards those guarding her friends: a skinny man with a beanie, an average-looking man, and a woman with short blond hair. All three of them held a gun in their hands, and it was easy to tell that they weren't happy, either. Dark expressions were carved into their faces, and the man with the beanie gave Arvo a little shove as he passed him.

Jane and Kenny looked positively furious, flashing back equally-frightening glares to the captors. Arvo and Mike looked defeated, more bruises and cuts on their faces than the others. Bonnie met the eyes of their enemies, almost as if she was familiar with them. Sarah studied the ground, but didn't look as scared as she once would have been - on the contrary, she just looked to be pensive, lost in thought or off in another world.

AJ's cries had died down to quiet sobs, echoing from a box placed in the snow. Clementine breathed a little easier; at least he only seemed frightened, not hurt.

"They've been captured," Clementine relayed quietly to Troy, casting her worried gaze over to him. "I can only see three people, but they've got guns." She wondered if there were more enemies around - three people with guns shouldn't have been enough to overpower the four Troy and Clementine had left behind, surely? Or maybe the group was simply caught off-guard…?

"What do they look like? Men, women? Speakin' English?" Troy asked, his eyes narrowed.

"Two men and a woman. They're not saying anything, but Arvo's tied up - I'm going to say that they probably aren't his friends."

"Arvo? That kid's back?"

She nodded. "Yes, and Mike too - I don't know why."

Troy clenched his teeth together. "Damn it. Okay, we gotta be careful here. Follow me, and keep low." The one-armed man carefully clutched at his pistol, stepping forward and keeping himself as close to the floor as possible. It was sort of odd to watch, as she'd never considered Troy a capable person - if anything, she'd regarded him as quite weak and spineless back at Howe's, but it seemed he knew how to shape up if the situation called for it.

It was… almost admirable.

She swallowed hard, shaking her head clear of unnecessary thoughts. Gripping her own weapon, she followed Troy to the front of the living room, where they crouched on each side of the open doorway. Troy moved his head to look out, and she watched in confusion as his eyes widened and he leaned back a bit.

"What is it?" she asked, a disgusting feeling settling into her stomach at the strange look he had.

"I… I know them," he breathed, jaw slack with shock. "They're guards from Howe's."

The words settled into Clementine's stomach, her mind almost not comprehending at first. She could feel her heartbeat echoing in her ears, as loud as a war drum.

Really, she shouldn't feel this stunned - of course there'd be survivors from Howe's. Of course they'd want revenge for Carver. No one seemed to stop hunting in this awful world, the humans taking example from the walkers and always lurking about behind each other.

And yet - and perhaps this was the most terrifying truth of the situation - if it had been one of their group, Clementine knew that Kenny would be the one seeking revenge, just as the three guards were.

Come to think of it, Troy had seemed like a sort of 'captain' of the guard dogs at Howe's. He probably knew those three pretty well. "What can you tell me about them?" She asked, keeping her voice to a low whisper.

Troy craned his neck to peek around the corner of the doorway, eyes narrowed as he squinted to get a better look. "The guy with the beanie is Lowell, the other guy is Tyler, and the girl is Vera."

Okay, names were a good start. Lowell, Tyler, Vera. Clementine felt a little less scared, as the names added some humanity to them, at the very least.

"Lowell is younger'n me, I think. He's got a temper, but overall he's kind of a chill guy. Probably smoked a lotta weed before all of this," Troy scoffed. Clementine raised an eyebrow at him, and he smirked and continued, "Right, right, guess you want relevant information. Uh… well, he definitely isn't the go-getter type - more of a lazy fucker - but he always listened to me pretty good if I told him to do somethin'."

Hope fluttered in Clementine's chest. "Think he'll listen if you ask him to let them go?"

"I don't know. Vera's with them, too," Troy replied, shaking his head. "She's got a worse temper, doesn't hold a candle to Lowell's. She's like a firecracker when she gets mad; if she disagrees with somethin', she'll voice it. Bill and Tavia were the only ones she respected. When they weren't around, she acted like she was in charge of everythin'. Not that I blame her - we all had a sorta power high goin' on."

That did make sense, given how mean everyone had been at Howe's. Clementine shrugged, saying nothing, and let him continue.

"She'll be the most trouble - the hardest to persuade, with Tavia outta the picture. Her and Lowell will probably be at each other's throats since they… well, they…" his voice trailed off as though he realized who he was talking to, and just said, "Never mind. Grown-up stuff. You'll learn when you're older, if you live that long."

Clementine flashed him a dirty look. He had to bring up kissing stuff when her friends were tied up at gunpoint a few feet away?

He continued, though, unfazed: "Tyler, though. Tyler's got a good head on his shoulders, and always kept outta drama. He thinks things through - doesn't just jump the gun right away. More mature than the other two, for sure."

"He might be our best bet for a compromise, then," Clementine mused, and Troy nodded in agreement. "Could… you try to talk to him?" she asked, her shaky voice betraying her calm expression.

Troy waved his hand to shush her, nodding his head towards the doorway. "Let's listen for a bit. Then we'll decide," he whispered.

So listen they did, peeking their heads to look through the doorway when it was convenient. And for a while, no one spoke. Mike coughed at one point, Sarah breathed a little heavier at times, and Arvo whimpered - but no one said a word. It was like a moment frozen in time, and all Clementine could do was watch and wait.

Eventually, though, the one Troy identified as Tyler did get closer to the doorway; he shuffled a bit closer to the entrance, but leaned on the railing instead and sighed heavily. Finally, the silence was broken when he muttered, "This is taking longer than I thought."

Those words somehow breathed life into the scene, as if they were all waiting for some sign or permission to speak again. Vera ran a hand through her hair, tugging lightly at the messy blond strands. "I know. I would think these guys were enough, but I guess we can't be too careful." Her voice was distinct, lacking the Southern twang that both Troy and Tyler possessed in their speech.

"I'm a bit worried; you never know who's lurking about in these woods - besides actual lurkers, that is." Tyler shifted his feet uncomfortably, casting his gaze over to Lowell. "Any thoughts, man?" he asked.

"We're sittin' here twiddling our thumbs, Tyler. Not that I'm really complaining - we've done all that was asked of us for now. Why not just chill out a bit?"

With a long sigh, Vera placed a hand on her hip. "No offense, but the minute we relax, the minute we're outnumbered by reinforcements or some shit. Tavia went looking for anyone else, yeah, but what if they're hiding in a different spot?"

Next to her, Clementine saw Troy stiffen, his breath sounding caught in his throat. "Tavia's behind this, then…" he muttered, barely audible with an unreadable expression.

"So, what? We stake it out with our dicks in our hands, ready to fire on anything that might rustle a bush, and accidentally kill Tavia?" Lowell spat. "No offense, Vera, but that sounds like a shitty idea."

Troy couldn't help but smirk and shake his head with a mumbled, "Like I said, lazy as shit."

"Hey, if you want to be eaten, by all means. I'm sure the world wouldn't miss you," Vera said coldly.

"Lowell, Vera, shut it," Tyler snapped, clearly trying to keep the peace. "I know y'all have your issues with one another, but can we cut the high school drama for once? It wasn't cute back with Bill, and it sure as hell ain't any more charming now."

Clementine exchanged a glance with Troy, not missing the amused glint in his eyes. "Told you," Troy whispered with a grin. There was clearly a story there as he'd pointed out, but she honestly couldn't care less when her friends were in danger.

Lowell opened his mouth to retort something else, but just shook his head and wandered back towards the house. For a moment, Clementine stiffened, thinking he was coming inside, but he stopped out on the front porch area, peering out around the surrounding woods.

Though she was a bit further away, Clementine could still see Jane roll her eyes at the argument and flash a glare towards Vera, who was now standing over her knelt form.

"Trouble in paradise?" Jane asked, quirking a brow in amusement. Clementine was surprised she had the guts to be snarky being held at gunpoint.

In response, Vera merely fixed an irritated look Jane's way, and trudged past her with a huff.

"Listen up," she commanded, standing before the line of kneeling prisoners. "You all were part of the pen back at Howe's and we won't let you forget that. Your escape was clever, I'll give you that, but you violated a key rule in our community." Vera said.

For the first time since they'd returned, Clementine heard Kenny speak. His voice was low, dark, and sounded like gravel. "Did you fuckers really think we'd sit there and be treated like dirt by that son-of-a-bitch? Much less by his lackeys?"

"Yeah? You don't know how good you had it. Bill's community was just fine before you all fucked it up," Lowell spat.

Clementine wondered why these people would constantly chase down those that they thought 'fucked everything up,' but logic didn't seem to be their strongest area. They were just angry and vengeful.

Kenny's expression turned into a wry smirk. "Wish you could'a seen Carver's last moments. He didn't give two shits about any of you, he only was interested in tauntin' us."

" would you know that?" Tyler asked.

"He didn't beg for his life, I'll give him that," Kenny replied darkly. "Kept goadin' us until I smashed his face in with that crowbar."

Lowell stiffened, visibly shaken by the words. "You- you did it?" he whispered darkly, marching up to Kenny and placing the tip of his gun to the man's head. "Hate to tell you, but the prize for murdering our leader is a goddamn bullet to the skull!" Though Kenny didn't look scared in the least, Clementine still held her breath, her heart beating wildly in her chest and her legs itching to run forward to protect him.

"Stop it," Vera said, before Clementine could move. "Tavia wants them all alive for now."

"He killed Bill! I'm sure Tavia would understand if he ended up biting the dust," Lowell protested, but Vera and Tyler's disapproving glares were enough to get him to back off. Raising his hands in exasperation, he muttered, "Fine then. God fucking forbid I try to give this bastard some karma. Jesus Christ, I'm going to see if they got any beer here."

With a slight jump, Clementine realized what those words meant. He was coming inside to look - inside, where they were currently crouching and listening from. Her mind spun as she tried to figure out a good hiding spot, falling onto her backside in the process. But Troy… had other plans.

Troy just stood up, catching Lowell's gaze the minute the man got close to the doorway.

She didn't even have time to crawl away, for the guard caught sight of her quickly, his eyes widened. "T-Troy!?" He squawked, alerting the other two immediately.

"Wait, what? Did you just say-" Tyler stammered, hustling inside the house. He cast a glance down at her, then Troy, then outside, and back at Troy. "Wh- I don't… aren't you dead?" His voice was quiet in disbelief, his own eyes bugging out, like he'd seen a ghost. Based on what he just said, maybe he did think he was looking at one…

Troy didn't look frightened or intimidated in the least. He quirked a brow and retorted, "Do I look fuckin' dead, Tyler? I would'a thought you could tell the difference between lurkers and people, but maybe not."

Tyler froze, lowering his gaze to study the wooden floor like it was the most interesting thing in the world. Swallowing hard, he mumbled, "I didn't mean that, and you know it."

"Then what did y' mean?"

Lowell stepped up next, his eyes almost level with Troy's. "We thought you died in the herd, man. We saw you disappear into it, and you never came back. Whatever was left of you, I mean, we didn't even want to look for." There was almost a sadness in his eyes, as if Troy disappearing had affected him in some way.

"Well, I ain't dead, as you can see-"

"What… what happened to your arm?" Vera asked, still outside but focusing her attention towards them. She looked a little hesitant - not as confident as before.

With a scowl, Troy replied, "I was gettin' to that, Jesus. Some lurker decided to chomp on my wrist for a bit like I was his fuckin' evening snack, and I figured I really was dead then. But the kid here," he nodded towards Clementine, "cut off my arm, and well. Here I am."

Lowell's jaw dropped. "Wh… whoa. So it was like Reggie, huh…? I still can't believe chopping it off works."

"You and me both." Giving a listless shrug, Troy stepped closer to Lowell. "But tell me - why did y'all follow us all the way out here, huh?"

It was subtle, but Clementine was looking at Vera when Troy spoke to Lowell, and she caught the way the woman's eyes narrowed at the word us.

Vera took a few steps closer to the doorway, and called in, "Come outside, Troy, and then we can all talk. Bring that little girl with you."

Clementine shrunk down, feeling her skin crawl at the words. Troy seemed relaxed around these guards, but she sure as hell wasn't; as far as she was concerned, they were just as much of a threat as anyone else they'd encountered.

"Uh, fine. Whatever. C'mon," Troy mumbled, ushering Clementine outside. She opened her mouth to argue, but realized that it would be pointless - she'd already been spotted, after all, so it wasn't exactly like she could hide.

So she followed Troy, Tyler, and Lowell outside, gaze locking with Sarah's once she was within sight.

"Clem!" her friend cried, visibly brightening. "I knew you'd come back!"

Once she was stopped in the snow outside, she nodded towards Sarah, sweeping her gaze over the rest of her friends. Kenny also appeared overjoyed to see her, Jane and Bonnie looked relieved, but Arvo and Mike refused to meet her eyes.

Vera trudged up to her, mouth pressed into a firm line as she stared down at her. "On your knees, kid," she muttered, the tip of her gun pointed in Clementine's direction.

Swallowing hard, the girl didn't try to argue; she knew that the minute she grabbed for her own pistol, one of the guards would shoot her - even if they were under orders to keep them alive, there would be no hesitation to still hurt her. These people weren't messing around.

Tyler was, at least, gentle when he tied her arms behind her back. She knelt down next to Sarah, flashing her friend as confident a smile as she could muster.

"I was worried," Sarah whispered, glancing at the guards.

"I was, too," Clementine replied softly. "About all of you."

Troy cut off any reply Sarah might have had. "Hey, hey c'mon now - there ain't no need for that." He tried to argue, nodding his head pointedly towards Clementine, but Vera merely turned her gun on him next, causing his eyes to widen in surprise.

"Don't… please, don't make this difficult," she muttered. "As far as I'm concerned, you're with them now, Troy. You get on your knees, too."

Lowell flashed her an incredulous look. "Are you serious? It's Troy. You remember him?"

Vera crossed her arms, huffing. "It's not that I like doing this. But he can't be trusted right now, either. Once Tavia comes back, we can talk to her about it… sorry, Troy." She cast a reluctant glance over at him, the authoritative tone in her voice absent.

With a glare, Troy replied, "That the best you can say? 'Sorry'? You better pray Tavia comes back quickly. And how the hell do you think you're gonna tie me up? I only got one fuckin' arm!"

"Just tie his feet together," Vera suggested, ignoring her old coworker's anger.

"You sure about this?" Tyler asked, clearly hesitating. But his companion nodded, and the man added a quiet "sorry" of his own to Troy, gently lowering him to his knees and tying him at the legs.

"Get their guns, if they have any," Vera said, and Lowell moved this time. He knelt down in front of Clementine, gently taking the gun from her belt loop.

"Any other weapons, kid?" Lowell asked, and she shook her head. That was enough for him, as he moved on and did the same to his former comrade.

Troy curled his lips to a snarl after his gun was taken, his expression looking as though he was trying to burn a hole into the guards just using his eyes. Clementine couldn't even find his frustration funny, as he was her hope of talking down the strangers.

Vera walked in front of all of them like a stereotypical army sergeant, taking a look at all the prisoners and nodding in confirmation of each one. "Alright, now that things seem settled here, I need to radio Tavia. Once she hears we found a straggler from the group, and a surprise, I'm sure she'll return quickly. Tyler, watch the backyard, and Lowell, stay here. I'll be right back."

Without giving her comrades any chance to argue, she stormed off, walking a few yards away in the snow - thankfully, out of earshot.

Tyler decided to listen to Vera's instructions, but Lowell just shrugged and muttered, "Fuck this, I said I'm getting a beer," and walked inside the house.

Finally! This gave Clementine a chance to check on her friends. "Is everyone okay? I mean, no one's seriously hurt, right?" She looked to everyone for confirmation, at least able to see that no one looked too injured physically. They all nodded their heads anyway, bringing some relief to the stressful situation.

"I'm just glad you're alright, Clem," Kenny whispered, flashing a smile her way. She gave a grin of her own in return, happy that Kenny hadn't provoked the guards too far and gotten himself killed.

"Clem," Sarah whispered, "I thought about shooting my gun when they first ambushed us. But when the opportunity came… I couldn't do it. I'm sorry."

With a shake of her head, Clementine replied, "It's okay, it might not have been the best thing to do, anyway. Despite what Troy in particular thinks, shooting first and asking questions later isn't always the best strategy." She could feel Troy sending a glare her way, but just continued to focus on Sarah.

The older girl shrugged, a small smile crossing her lips. "Thank you, Clem."

Clementine couldn't help but grin back, realizing just how mature her friend had become. It wasn't a giant leap in personality or anything, but something told her that Sarah would have been cowering in fear a few weeks ago. Now, she seemed almost calm and reserved during this crisis, as though her life wasn't in direct danger.

It was refreshing to see any progress, especially so in Sarah's survival skills.

But those thoughts of pride were put on hold for now - Clementine couldn't keep quiet any longer. "Okay, I… don't really understand what happened here," she muttered, shaking her head. "How'd they find us?"

Mike let out a heavy sigh. "It's our- my fault. I'm so sorry, this isn't what I wanted."

Sarah flashed Mike a sympathetic glance before turning to Clementine. "Mike and Arvo said that the guards caught them on their way away from here."

"Yes, they capture… B-beat us, too," Arvo whimpered.

Mike nodded in agreement, his bruised face wilting with sadness. "Listen, we didn't want any trouble when we left - we were just gonna go and be outta your lives. And then they forced us back here. They had no idea who Arvo was, but they recognized me - assumed the others were nearby."

"Didn't… get very far away before capture," Arvo added in quietly.

With a heavy sigh, Mike turned to look at the group, the remorse in his eyes so clear, it hurt to see him like that. "I'm sorry, I wouldn't want any of you to get hurt because of me. They were gonna kill us if we didn't lead them back."

"It would've been what you deserved," Kenny growled, but Clementine shot him a glare. The short time away from him was probably best for her, as she'd gained a little more confidence to speak her mind.

"That isn't what we need right now. It's fighting that made our group split and dwindle in the first place," she snapped, wiggling a bit in her ropes. "So please stop arguing!"

Kenny's eyes widened a bit at her response, but ultimately, he gave a nod. "Clem's right. I'll call a temporary truce until we can get out of this mess."

"How heroic of you," Jane retorted under her breath.

Clementine ignored her and smiled back at Kenny, grateful that he was able to see reason. Arguing while in the middle of a hostage situation would only make things worse, and possibly get them killed.

Speaking of danger…

"Is AJ okay? He's in that box, right?" Clementine asked, nodding towards it in the snow, just a few feet away. She couldn't quite see into it, but did catch a glimpse of a few blankets. At least the guards weren't so cruel as to let an infant freeze to death; the very thought that there could be people like that nowadays chilled Clementine to the bone.

She shook her head clear of the thought, catching Kenny giving a nod. "He's fine, they just brought the box outside with everyone else. I think the girl put some more blankets on top of him." His eyes flicked to Vera, adding quietly, "Motherly instinct, probably. Wouldn't put it past these guys to be shitheads, though."

That made sense, and helped soothe Clementine's fears that they were just waiting to be executed like animals (despite what Tavia apparently ordered before she left). At least AJ was safe - if nothing else, that was comforting enough. "Thank God," she murmured, sighing in relief.

"Not to change the subject, but… did you end up finding… you know?" Bonnie whispered, eyeing the house to indicate, what Clementine assumed, was the truck behind it.

With a nod, the young girl squirmed a bit in her ropes again. "It's in my pocket, don't worry." Lowell hadn't searched her pockets, so he hadn't found the jumper cable stuffed away. If nothing else, at least she could take comfort in the fact that she was still holding onto what she left in the first place for.

"Bonnie," Troy hissed, more agitated than before, "didn't you try to talk to those idiots?"

The redhead nodded. "I did try, Troy, I swear it. They didn't listen to me - thought I was a traitor for leavin' with everyone."

He scowled in response. "I heard them sayin' Tavia brought 'em here. Did you see her? Was there anyone else with her?"

"She was with them at first, yeah, and helped ambush and tie us up. Then she left to scout out the nearby area, takin' a walkie from Howe's with her." Biting her lip, Bonnie added quietly, "She was alone when she left… I don't think anyone else from Howe's survived."

Troy's face lit up with surprise for a moment before he masked it with anger again. "Damn. Well, still ain't bad odds, I guess…"

Lowell returned with a beer in hand, chugging the liquid quickly (presumably before Vera returned). He crunched it up and threw it on the ground; though littering was the last of their worries right now, Clementine couldn't help but flash a sour look his way. He didn't notice her, and just approached Tyler, muttering something to the other man.

A few moments later, Vera rejoined the other guards, adding to their conversation. Clementine couldn't hear exactly what they were saying, but the name 'Tavia' did come up a few times.

The silence that fell was strangling, and Clementine could feel the weight of the situation in the air. The guards chatted amongst themselves away from them, but no one else could find words. Maybe they were all trying to think of some way to overpower their captors and escape, but it all felt futile. The minutes dragged on, and she studied the snow below her as if it was the most interesting thing in the world.

"I'll be damned."

Finally, a distant voice broke through the quiet, and a familiar figure appeared at the doorway to the house. A rifle tightly clutched in both hands, Tavia marched down the front porch steps, slowly stepping towards the group. Her expression was tightened, lips pursed tightly together and eyebrows furrowed.

Clementine watched, holding her breath, as the woman dragged her sharp gaze across each of her friends, until a set of dark brown eyes finally settled on her. The girl's heart pounded in her chest, feeling as though it could break her rib cage at any moment.

Tavia had nothing to say to them yet. Instead, she turned to her guards and said, "You weren't kidding, Vera. I can't believe Troy survived - one arm down, but still kicking. Incredible."

Vera, Lowell, and Tyler lined up next to her immediately, their stances straightening up respectfully. Vera was the first to speak, her tone much less assertive than before. Troy wasn't kidding when he said she'd grow quieter the minute any authority came around.

"Tavia, ma'am, as I told you on the radio - we found him and the girl coming back through the house. I don't know what they were doing, but they were returning from somewhere and we caught them," Vera explained.

"I see." With a thoughtful nod, Tavia decided not to press the issue or ask for any more details yet. Instead, she asked, "Any word on the missing ones? Luke, Nick, Carlos, Rebecca? The Indian woman?"

Kenny clenched his teeth tightly, growling, "Her name was Sarita."

"And we told you, they're all dead," Jane scoffed.

"All of them, huh? You somehow lost five members of your group in a week or so?" Lowell questioned, quirking a brow.

Sarah spoke next, surprising Clementine with a clear voice. "We can't exactly believe it either, but it's the truth. M-my dad… and everyone else you mentioned is gone." She was biting her lip, tears pooling under her eyes, but she seemed adamant to not shed them.

Tavia was unmoved. "Is that so? Luckily, Rebecca had her baby - he turned out quite cute, didn't he?" She flashed a quick smile towards the box holding AJ.

Kenny clenched his teeth together. "If you so much as touch a hair on his head…"

With a roll of her eyes, Tavia shifted her weight to one foot, giving her stance a casual look. "You're serious, aren't you? You think I'll hurt an infant? Christ, I'm not that heartless."

"You haven't exactly given us reason to trust you," Jane snarled.

"I guess I haven't… yet, that is. Well, in any case, we'll be taking you back to Howe's," Tavia announced, as if it hadn't been completely obvious.

"Why?" Mike dared to ask. "That shithole can't be in one piece. Why would you even bother?"

Giving a glare, Tavia slowly walked up to him, her gaze piercing as she looked down. Without warning, the butt of her gun struck Mike in the cheek, almost knocking him over. As he gasped in surprise and pain, Tavia sneered, "I don't think you understand the severity of what you all did. So let me explain it to you: Bill is dead, and Howe's is in shambles. Most of my guards are dead. Our community is dead."

There was a pause, and everyone held their breaths until she continued, suddenly wary of how her gun could be used if they spoke out of turn.

"But Bill always did preach that communities can be rebuilt. Time and time again, we'd lose members, and gain them. Ask Troy and Bonnie - they'll tell you, we've had a lot of people come in, and some die off. But there's always room for improvement - always room to start over again," Tavia explained, a wicked grin on her face. "That's where you all come in."

Clementine could almost feel her heart leap up into her throat, her nerves all standing on end like she'd been electrocuted. The look on Tavia's face was downright terrifying; she truly meant every word she was saying.

"And what if we refuse to take part in this?" Jane asked, the expression on her face growing dark.

Tavia just continued, "Oh, I assure you - you don't get a choice here. We'll be taking you back in trucks - they're parked nearby, in the forest. We brought two between the four of us, you see, and you'll be going in the one used for cargo." She paused for a moment, gaze bouncing from each of her prisoners, her head bobbing as if she was counting to herself.

"There's seven of you here now, including the child," she reported. "I expect there to be seven when we return, but I can't be held responsible if you fuck up and lower that number, can I?"

Bonnie quickly whipped her head around to the others, doing the same mental math in her head before turning back to Tavia. "Tavia, there's nine of us here," she pointed out, her tone wary and cautious.

Clementine understood her anxiety; if Tavia meant they were going to start with seven, then what did they plan to do with the two extras…?

"There are nine of them, the baby included," Lowell agreed, scratching his chin. "Will they all fit? Do we need to off some of 'em?"

The casual way he said the words made Clementine squirm a bit. As she lowered her head, the ground grew shaky as her vision blurred. Sarah seemed to be equally frightened, though she showed it less in her posture and more in her eyes. She scooted herself over slightly, the movement slow and small enough not to be noticed. The two girls pressed briefly against each other, and Clementine couldn't deny that it was a bit comforting to be near a friend right now.

Tavia interrupted the nice moment, though, with a cold and cutting tone. "No, Lowell - that's not what I had in mind," she said, and set her eyes on Bonnie.

The redhead swallowed hard, looking very much like she would rather be anywhere else in the world at that moment. But Tavia just regarded her casually, lifting her head as she spoke.

"Simply put - Troy, Bonnie, I'm offering you both your old jobs back." The words were heavy, so no one responded before she continued, "Return with us and you'll have the chance to be guards again. I'll have to demote you just for a few weeks - or even days, depending on behavior - just to make sure you're still trustworthy. But I need more loyal guards now more than ever, and finding you two still alive could just be a blessing."

Troy's mouth hung open. "You're - you're kiddin'," he stammered quietly, expression unreadable.

"Why would you want us back?" Bonnie asked, suspicion laced in her tone.

"I believe she just explained that. Maybe listen next time?" Vera snarked.

Shaking her head, the redhead continued, "No, I heard her, I just don't understand. Why would you even consider such a thing, especially when at least I willingly left you?"

"Must be desperate," Mike mumbled from beside her.

"Maybe, or… you didn't know I went'a my own accord?" Bonnie guessed.

Tavia only sneered, shaking her head. "Oh, please. I knew what happened with you. Just because we lost sight of Troy in the herd doesn't mean you weren't seen clearly walking out with the pen prisoners."

"Those words don't exactly spell out good intentions to me," Jane pointed out.

Tavia sighed and waved a hand in exasperation. "Says the girl we found poking around outside with shit smeared all over her face." She shook her head, dropping the conversation. "Look, just think about it for a moment. I'm offering you something great, and asking little in return for it."

"I doubt things will go back to normal, even for the guards. There's no way Tavia of all people will let Carver's utopia change in any major ways," Mike spat.

With a shake of her head, Tavia replied, "Just because I want to keep many of his rules doesn't mean I won't add my own flair to them - a flair I think you'll find much more effective, if you give change a chance." She smiled, turning to her former guard. "Besides, Bonnie, don't pretend like I don't know you."

"'scuse me?" Bonnie asked, tilting her head a tiny bit.

"When we picked you up with Vince and them, I could tell just what kind of life you had before all this. I know you're not a bad person, Bonnie, even if you've had some… less than favorable habits in the past."

That remark seemed to really anger Bonnie - with her eyes narrowed so fiercely, Clementine could swear she saw the daggers reflecting back in them. "Fuck. You," she growled.

Tavia continued, unaffected. "You're an empathetic person underneath it all. I want to begin a new, kinder era at Howe's - and I could use your input. We could use your compassion in a place of authority."

For a brief, anxiety-inducing moment, Bonnie paused - but, thankfully, she was just as furious, indicating she hadn't changed her mind one bit. "If this is your idea of a kinder era, y'all can go fuck yourselves," she sneered, a smug sort of hatred etched into her expression. "I'd rather die ten times over before joinin' in Howe's sick shit again."

Tavia was like a robot, not bothered in the slightest by the redhead's outburst. With barely a shrug, she replied in an almost monotone voice, "You're sure about this?"

"What part'a fuck you don't you understand?" Bonnie snapped, spitting on the ground in front of her former boss's boots. Tavia stepped back in disgust, shaking her head in disappointment.

"Attagirl," Mike whispered, flashing a smile towards her in encouragement. Bonnie's cheeks turned as red as her hair, and she lowered her gaze to the ground with mumbled thanks in return.

"That's fine, Bonnie, really - you aren't the one I know I can count on, anyway." With a 'tsk', Tavia walked away from Bonnie, focusing her eyes on Troy. The one-armed man had been knelt at the end of their line, next to Clementine. She could see his body tighten its muscles as Tavia approached - an instinctive remnant of his old guard days, probably.

Once Tavia was close, he lifted his eyes to meet hers, his face still blank. Come to think of it, Troy hadn't said anything since his initial disbelief of Tavia's offer; what could be going on in his mind? Clementine raised a brow, keeping her eyes trained on him.

"Hello, Troy. I'm glad to see you alive," Tavia said, kneeling down in front of him with an expectant look.

His brow twitched, his face otherwise blank. "Thanks. It was a close call," he said in a clipped tone.

Nodding, Tavia replied, "I'm happy not just because I consider you a friend, Troy - I'm relieved to see one of Bill's best guards still around." Her tone indicated that she could not have been more obviously buttering him up, but he didn't seem to take notice.

"I can't exactly do my duties well without my dominant hand," Troy pointed out dryly.

That didn't seem to be a problem for Tavia, as if she'd considered the response. "Oh, don't worry - I can help you get back on your feet. Train you to use the other hand, if you like. We'll find a place for you that's just as good if you don't want to guard, though."

"C'mon, man! It'd be so good to have you back," Lowell chimed in from behind his boss.

With a roll of his eyes, Troy said, "Shut up, Lowell - you three morons decided to tie me up like I was your fuckin' enemy! Don't tell me you'd all welcome me back with open arms."

Clementine felt a bit of pride for his answer - it didn't seem like he was going to just believe anything proposed to him, and was taking the time to personalize his rejection to them. She couldn't help but give a tiny smirk at the thought of him cursing them all out.

"We tied you up because we wanted to be sure," Vera argued, her tone a bit sweet. "I know you're still our friend, Troy - you're still a valuable member of our crumbled community."

"That's right, you are," Tavia said. "And here, to prove it." She moved behind him, kneeling down to his legs and snipping the rope holding them together.

With a surprised glance, Troy realized he could stand up, and cautiously got to his feet. Clementine's eyes widened at the sight, realizing that with one of them free, there might be a chance to work together to get out of this!

"So, what are your thoughts?" Tavia asked, her eyes finally level with his.

The man just shrugged. "I think I can see what's goin' on behind this stupid offer."

Coolly, Tavia raised an eyebrow. "And what is that?"

"We all know you don't intend to change a damn thing at Howe's - at least not for the better. The chickens'll be in the pen, y'all will be parading around with guns, and everythin' will be the same. I ain't gonna believe you have a kinder image in yer mind… no one here is that gullible, I'd like to think."

"What made you come to these conclusions?" Tyler asked. "You never questioned authority before."

Giving a scoff, Troy's eyes scanned the line of people kneeling down. "I've been livin' in a whole new kinda world with these folks, y'see."

"Yeah, yeah, we've all seen Aladdin, Troy," Vera snarked. "What's your point?"

"Just that I ain't believin' just anything you tell me," Troy replied.

Tavia snorted. "Well, look at you. Some time away, and suddenly you're Mr. Independent. But don't insult my intelligence either, Troy - I don't think you're that brainless. You know a losing fight when you see one."

Narrowing his eyes, the one-armed man muttered, "And I'm guessin', in this situation, you're seein' yourselves as the roosters bossin' the chickens around."

"If you want to put it that way, yes," Tavia replied. "Wouldn't anyone sensible enough see that? But look, Troy - the point of all this is: you can leave in the back of a truck, or sit in the front. You can sleep in a cold yard, or in your old room. You can wait a week or so to get back your gun, or never hold one again."

Thankfully, Troy still looked skeptical. "And you'll just accept me back, after everythin'? Outta what? The goodness of your heart?"

"Yes, I will. Bottom line: you're sensible enough to follow the top dog without hesitation - I saw how loyal you were to Bill. You're not meant to lead, but to follow - and you can't do so very well from the bottom of the food chain."

Now she was insulting him? Though Clementine wouldn't exactly consider Troy a friend, he was someone she felt somewhat closer to now, and the jabs at him being an idiot irked her. She'd seen many times that he was not stupid when he put his mind to things, that he had things to teach her, just like everyone else - and that she'd listen to those lessons like she would any adult that took on a mentor status.

"Troy's been helpful," Sarah pointed out quietly, unknowingly echoing her friend's thoughts. "He might be a little mean, but I don't think he's a bad person anymore. H-he's smarter than you give him credit for."

In response to those words, Troy stiffened a bit, casting a glance down at Sarah in bewilderment. It was clear she'd caught him off guard, but Clementine couldn't really see why he looked almost… conflicted at the remark. It was true, after all.

Tavia clicked her tongue. "Cute, now you have a fanclub! Maybe this time, you can choose to fix the fence, instead of letting the little girl do it." Her tone was smug, eyes confident and head raised.

Troy's jaw clenched. "How did you…?"

"There were no secrets between Bill and me, Troy. My condolences, by the way; I didn't mean to bring the past up unnecessarily, but it does tell me exactly what I needed to know about you: you’re strong enough to get shit done, no questions asked. We need you back with us."

"Enough of this shit!" Kenny finally yelled, breaking the moment. Both Tavia and Troy turned to look at him, startled out of their conversation. With a glare, the older man growled, "Hey asshole, I trusted you with Clem. Don't forget that."

Blinking, Troy mumbled something under his breath, but Clementine couldn't hear it. He turned back to his former boss, eyebrows scrunched down as if in conflict.

Yet… why should he look so troubled? She would imagine it would be tough to reject someone who had made you feel safe before, but… Troy had just said that he wouldn't believe just everything they told him.

Then again, all he had been doing was rejecting the idea of them changing. He had never outright denied their offer, or expressed disdain towards it like Bonnie. What was he thinking…?

Tavia gave a toothy, wicked smile. "Your place is with us, and you know that. You've always known it," she said sweetly. "What do you say?"

There was silence, and Clementine opted to break it. She whispered his name, trying to snap him back to reality; in just a moment, he would give a curt 'no, fuck you' or something, right?

But Troy's eyes just seemed to glitter for a moment, and Clementine could almost see the gears turning in his brain as he processed everything. She gave a low clear of her throat, once more trying to get him to just look at her.

And he did, casting his muddled gaze over to her - but his eyes didn't look familiar anymore; they were unfocused, almost as though he was looking right through her.

He broke the silence with a single word, but it seemed to freeze time in place.


Chapter Text


The word struck Clementine deeply; like he'd slashed her in her lungs, she was rendered breathless and trembling as Troy turned away from her. Her eyes widened, her heartbeat quick and pulsing, as she helplessly tried to meet his eyes.

He refused to look at her, instead turning to Tavia and the guards. "I'm in," he said, giving a slight nod. Clementine's entire body went cold, her heart sinking down into her stomach.

"What?" she found herself hissing, unable to keep her shock contained. "What the hell are you doing, Troy?"

The man continued to ignore her, his tone cold as he rasped, "I said I'm in."

Tavia visibly brightened, and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I knew you'd see, there's really no better place for you than Howe's," she said with a smile. "I'm glad to have you back."

"You… you can't be serious," Bonnie interrupted in disbelief. "Troy, I didn't think you were this shitty. Are you seriously betrayin' us?"

Scoffing, Troy curled his lips to a smirk. "You call this betrayal? I never saw myself as one'a you, anyway - y' helped me, sure, but I side with the strongest, in the end."

"The strongest? What in God's name are you talkin' about?" Bonnie exclaimed angrily. "This ain't some war!"

Troy stomped closer, throwing his face in hers. "That's where you're wrong; life is war now, so go ahead and cry me a fuckin' river!"

Bonnie seemed stunned by that, scrunching her face in bewilderment and leaning back a bit. But Clementine had recovered from the initial shock, and felt her frustration with him grow to a point where she couldn't hold it in anymore - she had to say something.

She scooted herself forward just a few inches, stretching herself to her full height - or rather, her full height when kneeling - and glared straight at Troy.

"I can't believe you!" she spat. "Why would you even want to go back with them? After all we've done for you? After all I've done for you?" Maybe he needed a very angry reminder of who fed him antibiotics when he was literally on the verge of life and death? Or who chopped off his limb in the first place, allowing him to live and make these traitorous decisions?!

She was practically seeing red, her heart hammering in her chest. "You saved my life more than once, and I saved yours! Why would you do this?" She didn't understand - couldn't understand. There was just so much about this situation that didn't add up, didn't make sense in her eyes.

The tiniest light of hope that maybe, maybe he was tricking the Howe's guards still fluttered in her chest, but it wasn't very bright. Something told her Troy was not smart enough to formulate a plan like that, anyway.

Beside Clementine, Sarah looked to be just as shocked, her body rigid and trembling. "Clem's right. I don't get it - we trusted you." She also tried to meet his eyes, tried to connect with him as she would with any human being - but he was refusing to look at either of them.

He turned his head away and closed his eyes briefly. "Just shut up, you two," he muttered, eyes opening again and looking everywhere but towards them. "It's just how it is."

That didn't sit well with Clementine at all, but Sarah seemed even more fed up with his vagueness.

"But why?" The older girl repeated, thrusting her head forward. "You started to teach me how to shoot a gun! You helped us get supplies, and took watch at night, and put in your opinion when we made decisions! Don't you consider us friends?"

Tears welled up in her eyes as she shook her head; it seemed the stress of the situation was all boiling inside her, just as it was inside Clementine. Sarah was much more visibly emotional, though, so it was easier for her to let it all out. She didn't actually cry, however; her face was red with frustration, her words dripping with hurt as she desperately tried to understand Troy's decision.

But unfortunately, and despite her own confrontation towards him, Clementine was starting to understand. Troy's actions were unpredictable, and thus couldn't be comprehended. Though they might have once felt differently about him, he was truly a coward to his very core - and cowards do what they do.

"You were part of our group," Sarah murmured, lowering her gaze to the snow. "Once Clem saved you, I never thought otherwise."

Troy opened his mouth, presumably to spit out a retort, but stopped short once he considered the words. His lips pressed into a thin line as his brows scrunched down almost in confusion or bewilderment - as though he could not understand why Sarah would truly think of him as an ally.

He just sighed and turned his back to them, unable to face the consequences of his actions. Clementine was about to hiss something else, but was interrupted.

"That was fun and all," Tavia said, rolling her eyes, "but if we could cut the drama, and have all eyes on me, that'd be great, thanks."

Like she'd said a magic word, the three other guards stood up straight, lining themselves next to her. From the weapons in their hands and the almost mechanical way they moved, they suddenly seemed more like machines than humans.

"Now," Tavia began, once more looking over her prisoners. "As I was saying before, we're all going back to Howe's tomorrow morning. I have two cargo trucks here, which I'm sure you're familiar with. I'll be driving one with Tyler and Vera, with Lowell and Troy in the other. Only one truck has a back door that shuts, so you'll be taking that one. Lowell will be your chauffeur tomorrow, so I expect you to behave and not give any trouble.

Once we get back to Howe's, you'll be taken back to the pen. We have a lot of cleaning up to do after that herd, so I expect you to work hard. If I see improvements in attitude and ethic, I may just let some of you back on the inside."

"What about AJ?" Kenny interjected, casting a glance over to the box the infant was still nestled in. "Gonna bait him to the fuckin' walkers?"

Tavia's expression softened at the mention of the child, and for a brief moment, Clementine was almost relieved to see she cared about him at all. "Like I said, don't worry about him - he'll ride with me. I'd never let a baby ride in the back of a truck, let alone leave him out in the yard. What am I, a monster?"

Nearly everyone in the group opened their mouths, thought for a second, and then promptly closed them.

Scoffing, Tavia ignored that and continued, "There's plenty of food in our community for him. I'll raise him to lead Howe's when he grows up - it's what Bill would've wanted." She nodded to herself with a pleased expression that made Clementine sick.

"So, what, he's like an heir to your kingdom?" Jane spat, but Tavia just nodded.

"Good, you're getting it. Now… there is one matter we need to get to, before we lock you up for the night," Tavia said carefully, scanning the group. Her tone sounded too much like Carver's for Clementine's comfort.

The woman turned to Troy. "I realize that you know where you belong, and I shouldn't worry about you becoming lost again, but I need you to prove your loyalty to me," she simply said.

Troy raised an eyebrow. "Prove it?"

"Yes. I don't necessarily need you to do anything too hard, but… do you think you could do what I tell you to?" Tavia asked, narrowing her eyes with a smug smile. "To follow my orders no matter what they are, like you did with Bill?"

"You don't have to say yes, Troy!" Sarah blurted out suddenly. Clementine didn't miss the way Tavia's eyes narrowed into slits, her lips pursed.

With only a beat of hesitation, Troy replied, "Yeah, a'course. I don't got much choice if I wanna live."

"That's a good boy." Almost sweetly, she patted his shoulder again and scanned the group still tied up and kneeling on the ground. "Let's see…" She studied her victims for a moment. "That Russian kid isn't really necessary, and he's crippled to boot. Off him, if you would," she said, as though she was merely deciding which paper on her office desk to discard.

Troy stared at her, his jaw hanging open. "Whatever happened to bringin' them all back?"

"Perhaps I've changed my mind."

"He could have allies 'round here, y'know. More members to bring in," Troy pressed.

Rolling her eyes, Tavia reasoned, "And I'm sure they'd just come willingly if we asked them nicely. I hope you haven't gone soft, Troy. Now, are you going to listen to me, or do we need to have a chat?"

With a sigh, Troy scowled, but didn't protest anymore. It was clear to everyone, including him, what the term 'chat' implied. Reaching towards her hip, Tavia extracted her pistol and handed it to Troy without a second thought. She had another gun on her other side, but Clementine wasn't so sure giving away weapons to people she'd just recruited back was a good idea.

Regardless, though, Troy didn't take advantage of the trust, and stepped closer to Arvo with the pistol clutched in his hand.

Arvo didn't look as afraid of Troy as he was of Kenny, but there was still fear in his eyes. He trembled as he stared up at his soon-to-be murderer, mouth open in shock as he tried to push broken English past his lips.

"Please… no…"

"I thought you asked us to kill you before, kid. To go see your sister, yeah?" Troy asked, tilting his head.

Arvo's eyes widened, realizing that he was, in fact, getting what he had been hoping for earlier. Despite being still clearly afraid, he didn't protest anymore after Troy pointed it out. Perhaps he was scared, but the thought of meeting his sister in the afterlife was enough to shut him up.

Everyone else didn't share Arvo's acceptance; they all stiffened, but Mike was the one to move over towards the teen. It was obvious in the way they left together, but Mike's protectiveness of the teen was quite heartwarming. In a way, it reminded Clementine of her own relationship with some of the other adults in her old group, like Lilly.

But there was no time for fond memories, for Troy loomed over the Russian teen, his eyes looking detached and ready to kill.

Mike was poised like a mother hen ready to attack a hungry fox for getting too close to her chicks, his back erect and his jaw clenched tightly. "Leave the kid alone," he growled, his voice low and dangerous. "He's done nothing to you, nothing to any of you."

"But he wants this," Troy protested, but Mike just made a face of disgust at him.

"You didn't want to be a part of that decision, remember? So let it the fuck go!" he yelled, spitting in front of Troy's feet.

Chewing on her bottom lip, Clementine watched the scene and wondered exactly how she should intervene - if she should at all. She swept her eyes over the others, noting how uncomfortable they looked. Kenny made eye contact with her, and she noted that even he looked a bit at a loss.

She would've imagined Kenny would be quite happy to see Arvo executed, but maybe the man finally thought otherwise.

[ Speak up ]

[ Stay quiet ]

Inching forward on her knees, Clementine swallowed hard. "A-Arvo is part of our group," she said, turning to Tavia to appeal to her. "He can still be useful, and do just as much work with an injured leg." She mentally pleaded to whoever was listening that Tavia would see reason.

Luckily, Tavia quirked a brow in interest, and Clementine jumped on the opportunity to continue.

"You let Reggie live without an arm - not to mention Troy now. If Troy can do the work, Arvo definitely can." She spat his name with such venom, glaring over at the man and wishing he could feel every ounce of her anger.

His eyes met hers for a moment, but he merely frowned and shook his head, looking away (like a coward).

"She's right," Sarah agreed, nodding. "Arvo's also… been through a lot, like all of us. He's not useless! Not at all!" Though she was definitely intimidated by Tavia (who wasn't, in this scenario?), Sarah's words were clear and her voice was firm.

Tavia did seem to consider their appeal. She held out a hand to Troy, stopping the man from stepping any closer to Arvo. "I guess they have a point. Anyone can have use in our community," she pointed out with a shrug. "Maybe I was a bit eager to pick someone off, and that clouded my judgment. We'll let him be, for now."

Narrowing his eyes, Troy huffed, but said nothing in protest, stepping back and letting his superior in front of him.

Mike flashed a grateful glance over to Clementine and Sarah, nodding his appreciation. Arvo still looked frightened, but gave a thankful glance to them as well. Though he'd wished to die, perhaps it hadn't been as much as they originally assumed.

She smiled back towards them, noting how relieved they both looked. Beside her, Sarah released the breath she'd been holding, the reality of the situation not lost to either of them: their combined efforts had saved Arvo's life.

However, despite their good feelings, Tavia obviously wasn't finished with her torturous ideas yet.

"Point taken, everyone," she said, addressing them as though they were her friends. "No need to kill off potential workers. I get that. However, I still do need to test Troy. What can I have you do…" Once again, she looked at everyone, her eyes settling on each person meaningfully, as if she was carefully considering something.

Clementine met her eyes head-on when her gaze set on her, trying to seem both unafraid and as intimidating as she could be. But it didn't matter anyway, because Tavia did move on from Clementine, shifting her attention over to the girl next to her.

"Aha! I've got it. Both of those girls had outbursts earlier, but that one in particular needs correction," Tavia said, scrunching up her nose like she'd smelled something foul. "One smack with that gun and she should shut up. Be a dear, won't you?"

Sarah sucked in a trembling breath from beside Clementine, whispering sounds of disbelief. Her eyes widened behind her glasses, flashbacks from Howe's and a certain way Carver had asked her father to correct her surely churning through her mind.

Even Troy looked hesitant, staring down at the gun and back to his boss. "Can't I just slap her?" he reasoned, his casual tone sounding forced as he gave a light shrug. "All she did was yap. Don't much think that deserves a smack with a gun, y'know?"

Tavia snorted. "I remember you saying you would 'slap the shit outta her' if Carlos hadn't done it back at Howe's. I figured you'd enjoy going one step further." Her face darkened as she continued, "Or are you feeling sentimental about these prisoners? Perhaps you'd like to join them in the truck on the way back?"

A brief look of fear crossed Troy's face, but he recovered quickly and nodded. "No bullshit sentiments here. I gotcha." He clutched the handle of the pistol, his grip tightening so hard his knuckles were white.

Swallowing hard, Clementine felt a protectiveness surge inside her as she pressed closer to Sarah. Sure, she was terrified - possibly even more than she had been back at Howe's when her friend had first 'spoken out of turn'. Getting slapped by her father had been terrible, but the thought of Sarah getting pistol-whipped was enough to churn her stomach.

"Troy, don't," she warned as the one-armed man glanced at them. He still couldn't give her a real answer or response, and just stared down at Sarah with a dumb look on his face.

"Wh-why ain't you scared…?" he whispered, almost in disbelief. He seemed to be studying Sarah's expression, trying to look for hints of fear (to take advantage of, perhaps?).

Sarah paused to think it over, considering his words, before finally shooting back, "Why are you?"

Silence fell between them temporarily, and Troy just closed his eyes and sighed deeply. "I don't know what you're talkin' about," he mumbled. "Look, just… don't mouth off anymore, and this won't be happenin' again," he finally said with a low tone, raising the pistol like he would a hammer to a nail.

Despite being afraid, Sarah lifted her head to make eye contact - something others would have never thought possible for her. But Clementine had had enough time to bond with Sarah to know that she was stronger than she looked.

True, she would have probably been cowering back at Howe's, but things had changed since then. She had grown considerably; Clementine was proud of her strength. It wasn't easy to cope with the anxieties the world brought, and yet… Sarah prevailed.

Now she stared up at Troy, her expression neutral and almost accepting.

For a brief moment, it seemed like he'd moved his lips to say something else, but Clementine couldn't hear anything, and the two fell silent. She wasn't entirely sure she hadn't imagined it.

It was almost a horrible end to a story, Clementine couldn't help but think. Sarah had done so much to help save Troy's life at one point, but now he seemed to have forgotten what she'd done, and was biting back at her like the stray dog he was.

At least it was quick. With no further ceremony, the pistol's handle struck across Sarah's cheek. She yelped as the force knocked her over, smacking her head against on the ground. Blood flecked the snow as she shivered in pain.

The sight made Clementine sick; she leaned over her friend as best she could, eyes darting about worriedly and searching for any serious injuries.

Sarah weakly lifted her head to stare at Troy, who had turned his back on them already. Clementine wanted to break the ropes that held her arms together and lash out at him; she didn't know exactly what she'd do if she got the opportunity to get her hands on him, but she knew it wouldn't be pleasant.

But despite being furious at her attacker, Clementine's first priority was making sure Sarah was okay. "A-are you okay?" she whispered.

Thankfully, Sarah nodded. "Y-yeah…" Her eyes were clouded with unshed tears, one frame of her glasses cracked a bit from where she'd hit the ground - not to mention the deep cut across her cheek - but overall, she didn't seem too hurt. Clementine imagined it was the shock more than anything else that affected her.

Despite it all, though, Sarah still looked concerned for Troy. Clementine didn't know how to get her friend to stop looking at that man with such pity, and it disgusted her. What right did Troy have to gain Sarah's compassion? An hour ago, it wouldn't have been a real issue, but now that Troy had proven where his loyalties lied…

Well, the whole time they were growing closer to him as an ally (or, as she hated to think, a friend), they could've just been treating him like the dirt he was, and the same results would've happened.

It infuriated her.

"Goddamn," Tavia breathed with a whistle, breaking Clementine's thoughts. She was inspecting Sarah's fresh wound, almost impressed. "You really didn't hold back."

"Why would I?" Troy demanded through clenched teeth. "You asked me to do it, so I did it."

"I know," she said with a shrug. "I'm sorry I doubted you, then."

But that casual tone wasn't enough for Troy. He scrunched his eyebrows down in irritation, hissing, "What the fuck was that all for, Tavia? Are you gettin' off on this or somethin'?"

Clementine didn't know what that meant, but clearly it amused Tavia, for she laughed. "Oh, Troy, I missed your vulgarity. Don't worry, it was all a half-hearted test anyway. I didn't have many hangups about you," she replied. "You pass. Now, c'mon, let's get them in the truck."

He pursed his lips, but said nothing and followed behind her like the dog he was.

Troy avoided every single one of their gazes as he stood by the truck, positioned to attack anyone that dared to try to run. He only had one arm, but in that remaining hand was a hunting knife; one aimed slash, and it would all be over. It also didn't help that Lowell and Tyler were standing nearby for backup.

Everyone was still tied up by their hands, anyway, so it was a moot point trying to make a quick move. Troy was not looking at his old allies, focusing all his attention on the other guards - which did not sit well with one member of the group in particular.

"Can't even look at us, you coward?" Jane demanded, baring her teeth with fierce, narrowed eyes. "I'm sure Colton and Kylie would be so proud of you."

That definitely made Troy whip his head towards her, shock written into every inch of his expression. His mouth hung open, trying to grasp at words to respond to her. "I- how- that's not-"

"What would Kylie say about you hitting a kid not much older than her, hm?" Jane asked, her tone venomous and mocking.

"I- I don't know how you know them, but it's all ancient history now," he said, his face betraying the snarl of his words. He dared to take a step towards her, but it wasn't to be threatening - he almost looked stricken.

But Jane was having none of it, as she shoved him away with her shoulder. "Save it, you son-of-a-bitch," she hissed.

In turn, his expression melted into anger to match hers, and he grabbed her arm roughly, forcing her to keep walking. "Fine. Get comfortable, 'cause you'll be here all night." More to Jane, he added lowly, "And there ain't no remorse here for savin' myself. 'sides, you hardly ever gave a shit about me."

Clementine hadn't ever seen Jane so completely livid. "I did. That's the problem," she snapped, raising her head high and briskly marching past him, before he could get in another word. Troy just stared after her, dumbfounded for a moment before shaking his head clear.

"Hell hath no fury," Kenny mumbled under his breath from beside Clementine.

"I'll say," Mike said with a nod in agreement, matching Kenny's uncomfortableness.

One by one, they hopped into the back of one of Howe's trucks, just as they had when Carver caught them. This time, however, the truck was mangled and broken; the walkers had definitely chewed up both trucks they'd driven here, but of course they were still in one piece somehow. Still, Clementine was having a serious case of deja vu, right down to Troy watching carefully to make sure they don't escape.

When it was her turn to climb into the truck, she paused and finally made eye contact with Troy. Her gaze was apathetic as she studied him, her lips drawn to a tight frown. He didn't look happy, but whether or not he wanted to do this was irrelevant, as he still did it in the end. He still chose to help the guards, he still hit Sarah with his gun. As far as Clementine was concerned, him having remorse or not mattered little.

"This ain't nothin' personal," he murmured. "I swear."

"Whatever," she snapped, turning her head away from him and hopping up into the back of the truck. "Tell someone who cares what you have to say."

She sure as hell didn't anymore.

Clementine curled her knees to her chest, unnerved by the dark atmosphere of the truck. The cold floor seemed to seep past her clothes and chilled her bones, and it took all her strength to stop shivering. This was not the behavior to show right now, especially since the rest of the group was cracking and crumbling.

What she wouldn't give to have Lee back right now - she wondered what he'd do in this situation. Would he propose an attack, or think it over? Would he be as angry as she was at the betrayal of someone she was beginning to care about - or would he just let it go and be an adult, like she was having so much trouble doing?

It was a bit frightening, really - the more days passed and as time stretched on, she couldn't quite remember what Lee chose to do in conflict.

Her choices were becoming her own, influenced by her mentors but not copying them outright. Like a sponge, she tried to soak up all the lessons Lee had given her up until his very last breaths, but she was all dried out now. She had to wring herself out and try to go her own way.

She decided checking on her friend might be a good place to start. Leaning over towards Sarah, she broke through the silence.

"How's your cheek…?" she whispered, realizing with a frown that that was a stupid question. It looked like it really hurt, so her question was utterly pointless.

But Sarah didn't seem upset at it, thankfully. "Honestly? It hurt a lot at the time, and I can still feel it throbbing a bit, but it could've been a lot worse. Right now, it's not so bad." The girl put on a slight smile, as though trying to keep herself in high spirits. It was admirable, really.

"We match now," Clementine mentioned, a bit dryly. She pointed to her own cheek, which still had a scar from when she'd tried to stop Carver from beating Kenny's eye in. Come to think of it, that was Troy that struck her, too, wasn't it…?

Perhaps that should've been her first hint as to what he was capable of.

Still, as much as Clementine wanted to talk about how much she wanted to make Troy suffer for hurting her friend, she didn't think Sarah needed another reminder of what happened. For now, she decided that if Sarah wasn't complaining about anything hurting, it was okay to drop for now.

Sarah did, at least, find her comparison amusing. With a slight smile, the older girl replied, "Yeah, I guess we do. I would've rather made friendship bracelets, but…" She tried to force a chuckle, but it sounded dry.

Still, at least she was trying to lighten the mood. Clementine grinned back, nodding in agreement. "Some kids have secret handshakes - we mirror each other's scars." It wasn't funny, but the sort of bitter humor was all that they had in this dark truck.

"Heh. Makes sense," Sarah replied, though her voice trembled. "To be honest, though, I… I am scared."

"I would think there was something wrong if you were, Sarah," Clementine said, a lightness to her tone. "We're all terrified, that's nothing to be ashamed of."

Sarah grimaced, trying her best to smile. "I guess so. But what do you think is going to happen to us? I know what they said, but…"

Biting her lip, Clementine shook her head. "I don't know. I guess they'll take us back to Howe's, but after that… I can't tell if what Tavia told us was the truth."

Sarah took a deep breath, closing her eyes tightly and trying to calm herself down. She was letting her breathing steady itself, counting to ten just like she'd done with Nick. Clementine reached over and gently squeezed her palm, offering support to her friend when she could. Sarah flashed back an appreciative look as she continued to calm herself.

Silence fell between them briefly, allowing Clementine to collect her thoughts. She wondered what state Howe's was in now; was it still sturdy enough to house people, or were there spots where walkers could easily break in? Was the 'pen' area secure enough for her to sleep safely, or would she have to keep herself awake just to see the light of morning?

Just as her mind spiraled into that dark possibility, Jane spoke up to break through the quiet, her voice soft but loud enough for everyone in the truck to hear.

"These may be shitty circumstances, but at least we're not dead. I'll count that as a blessing," she pointed out.

Kenny rolled his eyes. "Yeah, because you're one to always look on the bright side, ain't you?"

"That's not what I mean - I don't intend to stay if I can help it. Look, we all know we're going to concoct a plan to escape again. I'm saying their power fetish or whatever is going on may be to our advantage - they seem to be hellbent on having prisoners, so it won't be like we'll just be executed like that."

Bonnie spoke up next, her voice hushed. "I don't doubt it's goin' to their heads, but I hate to break it to you… Tavia has no intention of treating us right once we get back. I imagine it'd be like it was with Bill - only this time, there's anger and hatred fuelin' the violent acts. Can guess there'll be a few casualties soon."

"What do you mean?" Mike asked cautiously. "They did back off'a Arvo because we convinced them he'd be useful, right?"

"Yeah, but… that was here. We ain't at Howe's now, but once we get back… Tavia sees that place as hers to rule, like a queen would a country," Bonnie replied with a bitter scoff. "Sure, it'll seem like she's bein' nice at first, but things'll change. Maybe it'll start by someone bein' overworked, or more accidents like Reggie, but soon it'll be clear what she's doin'. Truth is, we know now just as ruthless as Bill, and I know she'll start pickin' us off once we get back." She glanced sympathetically at Sarah, and the fresh wound still on her cheek.

Sarah didn't seem to notice, or she didn't want to acknowledge it. "Picking us off?" she echoed instead, her eyes wide. "Wouldn't that be wasting all this time they spent tracking us down?"

Bonnie shook her head. "No, 'cause now Tavia knows she's won. If she kills us all, on her terms in her own time, and in her kingdom… it'll be like the ultimate victory - and revenge for Bill's murder." Her gaze darkened as she brought her knees up to her chest. "Soon enough, we'll all be dead, and she'll have AJ to 'rule' next."

"But what about workers? Don't they need them?" Clementine asked, her voice tight in her throat.

With a nod, Bonnie replied, "Oh, for sure. We'll be worked to our fullest potential, and once we're done, I bet they'll just take in more folks. Plenty'a suckers like me stragglin' around in groups, starvin' and desperate enough to believe anythin'."

No one spoke a word, processing what was said. As much as Clementine hated to admit it, Bonnie had a point; Tavia and the guards were obviously not interested in running a fair community, not even in a false sense like Carver had. No, they chased down their prisoners just to bring them back, just to strike fear into their hearts like animals waiting to be slaughtered.

And Bonnie was correct about AJ, as well - the way Tavia spoke of him, it seemed she considered him an 'heir' of sorts. Honestly, this sort of system was just a perfect look into how the world worked now - before the walkers, none of this would have been considered acceptable. 

Howe's would be just a normal hardware store, not a place to be taken to die.

Chapter Text

They'd been stuck in the truck for what felt like forever now, but Clementine honestly couldn't tell the difference. It could've been hours or minutes - everything seemed to blend together.

There was enough room in the truck to move around this time, though the spacious state was almost like a dark reminder of how large their group had been before. Though Sarah and Clementine were seated close to one another, the rest of the group were all spaced out a reasonable distance away. This was probably to give everyone a chance to sit in their own thoughts, but Clementine couldn't help but worry.

She wanted to respect their privacy, but also felt she needed to check up on certain members of the group.

[ Talk to: Arvo ]

"Arvo, how are you feeling?" Clementine whispered, crawling over closer to him. Now that she got a close enough glance at the teen, he had the look of someone who'd given up - worn, bruised, and hurt. His good leg was curled up to his chest, the bad one stretched out in front of him.

Blue eyes shifted over to look at her, a pained look reflecting back. "Fever has calmed," he murmured, biting his lip. "But is not only problem."

"No?" Clementine asked. "What's wrong, then…?"

With a mournful sigh, Arvo just shook his head, placing his chin on the knee in front of his chest. "Everything wrong. Tried to escape, but captured and brought back. Now stuck here, with… Демон." After spitting out that word, he stared directly at Kenny, eyes narrowed. Clementine didn't know what that meant, but she couldn't see it being a nice word.

"I'm sorry you got wrapped up in this," she confessed quietly.

"Did you mean to take supplies from trash can?" Arvo asked, his tone suggesting he already knew the answer.

"We didn't know they belonged to someone," Clementine reasoned, "and besides, with our wounded… there was no other choice." It felt like forever ago, but she could clearly remember how Jane had persuaded her to take the medicine. With two sick members of the party at the time, there really didn't seem to be an alternative, but if Clementine could go back in time and choose to deny a certain someone antibiotics…

She shook her head clear; poisonous thoughts would do her no good now.

Arvo seemed to consider her answer, though. With a sigh, he replied, "Honestly, I may have done same thing if I saw it there. I… I'm sorry I keep blaming you; you were not the only one at fault." He scrunched his eyes closed, a shuddering breath passing through him.

Her heart twisted. "Don't apologize, you don't have anything to be sorry for, Arvo. And for what it's worth, I never wanted any of this to happen to you."

"No one want things to happen, little girl," Arvo replied sadly. "They just happen. I don't want to come to America at all, but I here now. I don't want Natasha dead, but she is. Do I want to be all alone? And yet, I am." With another long sigh, the Russian screwed his eyes shut in frustration.

It was just occuring to her now, but Clementine hadn't really been giving Arvo enough thought. He was as much a part of the group as anyone - despite Kenny treating him like a prisoner up until now - and he deserved her respect as much as everyone else. Hell, she thought she put more care into being kind to Troy before she did Arvo - and that thought boiled her blood.

"You were born in Russia, then?" she asked, trying to change the subject. "Why did you come to America?"

It seemed like an innocent enough topic, but Arvo just looked pained as he answered. "Natasha and I come over with some family… most killed before we got here. Ones who survived the boat did not survive… you." He didn't look particularly angry, but not happy, either - as though he was too numb to care about the events he was recollecting.

Then the people that were killed in the scuffle - Clementine didn't dare refer to them as 'people they killed' - were Arvo's family…? It made sense, so why was she surprised? His sister had been there, hadn't she? Why didn't she think about other members of his family being with him, too?

"Were those people…" She couldn't even ask; the reality that she'd help orphan Arvo in this cruel world was heavy on her shoulders.

She never wanted to feel responsible for things like this.

"My uncles, Buricko and Vitali. Strong men, worked me and Natasha hard. They were not the kindest, but… still семья. Still family." Arvo closed his eyes and shook his head, clearly trying to ward off any unpleasant memories.

Clementine could understand to a degree - her family had its fair share of rotten apples, too. One of her aunts had been to prison if she recalled correctly; her mother never talked about her, but it was clear there was some conflict there. Clementine wasn't sure how she'd have survived if she'd been with her aunt instead of someone like Lee - in fact, she knew she probably wouldn't have.

It wasn't the first time, but she felt an eerie connection to someone she never would have spoken to before the apocalypse.

"I'm sorry," she repeated in a whisper. "I know we can't start over after all that's happened, but… I hope we can work together from this point forward, wherever we go." And she truly meant that - whatever they were doing, she imagined Arvo being there with everyone else. He was just as much a part of the group as anyone, really.

The teen didn't say anything else, considering the words, until a rough voice broke through the silence like rocks through a glass window.

"If you're even plannin' on staying with us this time, that is," Kenny's rough voice sounded out of place after their quiet conversation. He was close enough to hear them, it seemed - or at least the gist of their conversation. "Which seems unlikely, given past incidents."

Arvo stared at the man, the words processing. Instead of being upset or angry that Kenny had jabbed at him like that, the teen merely asked, "Why you not want me to go?" He looked genuinely curious, rather than demanding. "I have no one else to go to, now. I cannot bring back more people to fight. I don't want to stay where I am not wanted."

Kenny quirked a brow. "You were our prisoner, so I needed y' to stay."

"But why?" Arvo pressed. "What could I offer more?"

It seemed Kenny didn't have an answer to that. He opened his mouth to reply, but held an eerie silence for a few long moments. Finally, he sighed. "Actually, I don't really know. Guess it was sorta me just not wantin' you to get away, after what you did to Sarita."

Arvo frowned. "Sarita - she was your жена, yes? I am sorry that you lost her. I did not want anyone to die."

Gritting his teeth, Kenny spat, "Yeah? Well, too fuckin' bad. She did die, because'a you bastards, and I'll never forget or forgive that."

"But Buricko and Vitali… and Natasha… they all die, too. Жертвы on both sides." Arvo dropped his gaze, playing with the hem of his hoodie. "Can't change what happened."

Clementine was in awe of this conversation, watching quietly as Arvo spoke more calm words to Kenny than he'd probably said collectively in his short time with them. She watched Kenny stare at him, as though desperately trying to keep his grudge against Arvo as the teen continued to speak steadily.

She knew him long enough to know that the look in his eyes proved he was wavering.

"Did you mean what you said before, kid?" Kenny asked abruptly. "When we were decidin' what to do with you, you asked us t'... kill you. Did you really want to die?"

With a heartbreakingly sad smile, Arvo nodded. "I would rather not be in this world much longer, if it's in my control," he said with a nonchalant shrug. "There is nothing left."

Kenny watched him, closing his eyes and leaning back against the wall. "Well, that's selfish'a you, if you ask me."

"Selfish?" Arvo echoed, squinting. "It will not harm anyone but me."

"Yeah, but - you don't just end it 'cause it's hard… you stick it out, to help the folks you care about," Kenny snapped.

Arvo opened his mouth to reply, but Kenny cut him off, continuing, "I know it seems like you don't have anyone to care about left, but I say that's bullshit. Look at Mike. Look at Sarah. Look at Clem. They care about you for some reason, and they're all pretty good people."

"If they care, it would not be for a long time," Arvo argued under his breath. "I am a stranger."

"Then think of that sister'a yours. She wouldn't want you to just quit, would she?" Kenny pointed out. "Think about all that, think about her, next time you wanna just give up."

Speechless, the Russian eyed him. "You hate me. Why do you care what happens? If I was dead, would you not be happy?"

Kenny shook his head. "Look, kid, I may not like you much, but suicide is still the worst way to go in this god-awful world. That would bother me, a whole fuckin' lot. Because no one needs to go that way."

Blinking, Arvo considered Kenny's words. "You speak from experience," he pointed out quietly, but Kenny didn't confirm or deny it.

Clementine knew what Kenny was thinking about; she was glad she hadn't been there to see Katjaa's body. Being so young at the time, she wasn't sure she would've been able to handle it.

"Just remember what I said. I'm done talkin' to you," Kenny spat, turning away from the teen. Clementine blinked, hesitating at first to approach him. But the soft glance he sent her way was comforting; it seemed he wasn't angry, merely saddened by his memories.

And Clementine could definitely relate to that.

[ Talk to: Kenny ]

"Are you okay, Kenny…?"

She shifted her attention over to the older man, raising her eyes to meet his. Upon closer inspection, he looked more weary than she'd ever seen him. His age showed in the deep wrinkles and a tired, half-lidded eye on his face. But he still tried to show that old Kenny fire to her, smiling a bit as she focused her attention on him.

Instinctively, she found herself scooting closer to him; despite his temper, despite his cruel moments, Clementine still regarded him as a father figure. Seeing him talk with Arvo like a normal human being would… it was comforting, and let her still feel safe around him.

"Yeah, darlin', I'm fine," he rasped, shifting himself to sit closer to her, as well. "Sorry, I guess I sorta butted into your conversation with Arvo there, huh?"

With slight curiosity, Clementine noticed that that might've been the first time Kenny called Arvo by name, but she wasn't about to point it out. Instead, she simply shook her head. "Don't worry, I didn't mind at all. I think it's… good, that you two talked some things out."

Kenny scoffed. "Well, I don't think I'll ever like the kid, but I think I got it through my head that fightin' is the last thing we need right now."

Pleased, Clementine nodded. "I agree. And you don't need to like Arvo, just to let him be here for now."

"Yeah, always had a problem with people I don't much like bein' in the group. Remember Lilly and Larry?"

She felt faintly insulted that he'd think she forgot them. "Of course," she replied, maybe a bit snappily. "But there's going to be people you don't like in every group, just like there'll be people you do like, and respect."

"Yeah… you can say that again," Kenny agreed.

Thinking about where this particular group started, and where they were now - it broke her heart, how many good people were lost. What she wouldn't give to see what Luke would do in this situation, or how Nick would weigh in. Would Rebecca be as sassy as always, or would Pete try to get through to one of the guards?

The absences only cut into her the more she thought of them, though, so she quickly shook her head clear of the lingering thoughts and memories.

Kenny must have noticed she was spacing out. He put a hand on her shoulder, glancing over her.

"I haven't really had the chance to talk to you lately, Clem," he said, gently. "It's either been me throwin' a fit or us bein' attacked or captured… I know these ain't ideal circumstances, but… do you need to talk about anythin'?"

Warmth spread through her chest at his concern; this just proved that the Kenny she knew was still here, caring about her as always. It reminded her that there were still good people, despite all the negativity she'd seen as of late.

"I'm… not okay, but not not okay, either," she murmured, knowing that that made no sense. She didn't want to lie to Kenny, but she also didn't want him to worry about her, especially considering what they were in the middle of.

"I kinda get what you mean. Are you hurt anywhere?"

She shook her head. "No, I'm just… angry," she admitted, balling her hands into fists in her lap. "We didn't do anything wrong." What had the group done to provoke the Howe's guards? Aside from killing Carver, of course - but then again, who had put some of them there unfairly in the first place?

"Believe me, I know," Kenny replied, shaking his head. "It turns my stomach, the way these bastards got the upper hand on us so quickly. We weren't prepared for an attack. I'll admit, I've been so focused on gettin' to Wellington that I never really considered Howe's folks may come around."

"I don't think anyone thought that," Clementine muttered. "I didn't think Troy would do that to us, that's for sure." She couldn't help but let some of her bitterness pass through her tone, swallowing hard and closing her eyes for a moment.

Despite the threat of being killed outright at Howe's or worked to death being much more prominent in Clementine's mind, she couldn't help but focus on how much Troy's decision had really hurt her. The rage inside her was continuing to boil like a tea kettle, bubbling in her stomach as though she'd swallowed poison.

Honestly, she didn't know why this stung as much as it did. Troy was a bastard from the start, and it wasn't like she had any intention of making him an ally when she saved him. It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time, so she barely hesitated and went through with it - and now look where they were.

She felt like a fool for growing to trust him, to care about him, even - like she would with any other member of their group, she found herself getting used to Troy being there, and even looking to him for input in certain situations.

It was… so stupid of her. She was almost embarrassed to be so easily tricked.

Kenny gave her a long look, his eyebrows knitting down together in thought. "You seem to really be affected by what that asshole did. He must'a meant something to you, huh?" he guessed, frowning. "I'm sorry, Clem. It hurts a lot when folks you think are your friends betray you."

Slowly, she nodded. It did hurt, incredibly so, but she knew she couldn't stop what she was doing and just sulk about it. She should turn the betrayal she felt and turn it around to something progressive, something worthwhile that would help someone, but she couldn't. As much as she wanted to, this was one mental hurdle she wasn't able to jump over yet.

But that didn't mean she was going to mope, as being so unfocused was almost a clear death sentence nowadays.

She just wished she could shake the nauseating feeling from her stomach, and not care as much as she did.

"You should get some rest, Clem," Kenny said. "The way I see it - they're givin' us this time to sleep, so we might as well. Ain't no point tryin' to escape now, when they're all on watchful eye."

Frustrated as she was with the circumstances, that did make sense. With a defeated shrug, she said, "Okay, I guess I'll try. Goodnight, Kenny."

"Night, darlin'."

As Clementine turned to move back to where she was sitting before, she heard Arvo whisper his own goodnight wishes, along with, "Thank you, Clementine."

She smiled and nodded towards him, not saying anything more as she reached her original spot next to Sarah. Suppressing a yawn, she curled up against the wall of the truck, trying to get as comfortable as possible. It was just as cold and damp as always, but she figured huddling in on herself would provide at least a little more warmth. Sarah's back was also against her, which definitely helped keep away the harshness of the cold.

Sarah whispered her goodnights, and Clementine felt her eyelids growing heavy.

Her friend's breathing was soft, growing more rhythmic as she drifted off. But despite how comforting the sounds were, Clementine couldn't stop her mind from buzzing with thoughts. So many things had changed within the past few hours; she almost couldn't believe that the last place she'd slept was at the Russians' house, feeling as safe and warm as she was allowed to nowadays.

Flipping onto her back, she stared up at the ceiling of the truck, her eyes unblinking. She wished she didn't have this restless energy, for sleeping seemed like the best option for the time being; like Kenny had said, they couldn't do anything now, so why not take advantage of rest while they could?

Time dragged on as she waited for sleep to greet her, only to be continually stranded in the conscious world. With a frustrated sigh, she sat up, shifting carefully; she didn't want to wake Sarah, who was now in a deep sleep beside her.

Dull noises sounded from outside the truck; it had to be past midnight now, but it seemed they were still being guarded throughout the night. Clementine gave a long sigh, trying to imagine herself as far away from here as possible - somewhere safe and warm and comforting.

And in her fantasy, she imagined Lee there with her, as well.

She didn't even realize she'd fallen asleep; the next thing she became aware of was sunlight cracking through the doors. Blinking herself awake, Clementine slowly sat up, wiping off stray drool that hung at the bottom of her chin.

Sarah stretched beside her; the older girl's messy hair would be a humorous sight in any other situation, but Clementine couldn't muster up even the smallest of giggles at it. In fact, she was sure her own hair would look just as bad, if it wasn't for her father's hat.

"Morning, Clem," Sarah whispered, frowning. "So… it wasn't a nightmare, huh…"

Clementine shook her head. "I guess not." How she wished this whole thing was just a horrible dream - maybe she'd wake up back at the safehouse with Luke thawing up next to the fire cold but alive with Nick beside him? Or, more ideally, Sandra would be waking her up after a long nap, to tell her that her parents had returned home from Savannah.

She suppressed a sigh at that; nostalgic thoughts like that weren't getting her anywhere.

The sight of Sarah rubbing her cheek brought her back to reality; Troy's show of 'loyalty' had really done a number on her. Clementine gazed at her in concern, which Sarah noticed almost immediately.

"I'm okay! Don't worry, it's just sore," she said, waving it off. Clementine wasn't convinced, but she merely smiled slightly and nodded, dropping the subject.

Looking around, Clementine noticed that everyone else had been awake for a while now, probably letting the two youngest members sleep until they were either woken up or did so naturally. She smiled slightly in appreciation, greeting them with a quiet, "Good morning."

The rest of the group murmured their own responses, and Kenny leaned over towards her. "Mornin' Clem. Sleep well?"

She gave him a look that probably should have made that answer obvious. Upon seeing her almost deadpan expression, Kenny smirked and shook his head. "Should'a known better than t' ask that, sorry."

Despite it all, she smiled. "It's okay, I know what you meant. When I finally did sleep, it was fine."

"Well, good," Kenny said. "Actually, I wanted to talk to everyone, but I was waitin' for you to be awake to hear it."

She blinked, watching curiously as he scooted himself to a place where he could easily see the rest of the group.

"Hey, y'all," Kenny raised his voice just a little, getting everyone's attention. "Listen up - come 'round closer, so I don't have to shout."

With little protest, the rest of the group scuttled closer, seating themselves in a half-circle in front of Kenny. Many of them seemed just as lost as Clementine in this situation, desperate for anyone to point them in the right direction.

"We're gonna need to put our heads together about what to do here," Kenny began, sweeping his gaze over everyone. "I know we're all a little antsy to escape."

"Understatement of the century, grandpa," Jane mumbled under her breath.

He ignored her, continuing, "Granted, my last idea was to punch my way outta the truck, and that didn't work - that bastard Troy even yelled at me for gettin' my restraints off. I dunno if that'll work as well in this situation."

"I agree," Bonnie spoke up. "This feels a lot… different, than it was with Bill. Tavia seems almost more dangerous - more calculating, more aware. I don't know, maybe it's 'cause they got the drop on us and I'm spooked, but…" She curled her knees to her chest insecurely, giving a sigh and not saying any more.

Jane shifted her feet to cross her legs causally. "I never should've stuck with you all," she mumbled, mostly to herself. "Carver was bad enough, and now Tavia's a complete lunatic… why do I get myself into these situations?"

Despite the harsh words, Mike's response was sympathetic. "Jane, I know you're upset because of what happened with Troy, but-"

The look Jane shot back was honestly terrifying; her eyes were almost slits, her teeth bared like she was a lioness about to strike. "If you want to be able to have kids someday, I wouldn't continue that sentence."

Instantly, Mike lifted his palms as if in defense. "Okay, okay, I get you. I didn't mean to touch a nerve."

"You didn't," Jane snapped. "I don't appreciate slander, is all."

Clementine huffed a frustrated sigh and interrupted them. "We don't have time for this. Jane, Mike, what do you think we should do about escaping?" she tried, not at all sure herself. For the first time in a long while, she felt completely lost and misdirected; like she was traveling through a cloud of smoke, all options just seemed out of reach and impossible for her.

The two didn't reply, so she pressed, "Nothing? Anyone else, then?"

"We're going to be stuck there forever, aren't we?" Sarah sighed, her expression forlorn.

Kenny chuckled, giving a wry smirk. "Don't you worry, hon, I'm not gonna let these bastards keep us in their prison twice now."

Sarah didn't look convinced, still frowning as she asked, "But… do you even have a plan yet?"

"...okay, not exactly. Yet. But I do have a proposition of sorts," Kenny said, causing everyone to look his way regardless. "Look, y'all, these assholes are the enemy, and arguin' with them last time didn't work none. We don't owe them any words, so I'm callin' it here and now - we don't say nothin' to them. No matter what, no words whatsoever. Can we agree on that, at least?" Kenny asked, looking around at everyone expectantly.

The group had mixed expressions, but no one seemed outright opposed to the idea; most looked just outright puzzled. Clementine herself hadn't thought about it, but it did make sense. Her mouthing off to Carver back when they were first being brought to Howe's had earned her a smack on the cheek, and Sarah talking out loud during Carver's speech had resulted in her own. Last time, they questioned things, spoke out of turn and angered Carver, and were just hasty in their desperate attempts to escape before the walker herd passed by - and ultimately, it ended in them losing some members of their party. This time, it couldn't hurt to be more cautious and quiet, could it?

"Silence is a common protest technique," Jane pointed out, furthering Clementine's train of thought. "It's like saying 'fuck you,' without actually saying, well, anything. And doesn't give them the chance to jump on us for being 'defiant'."

"But would it work?" Sarah asked, fidgeting. "I mean, um, I'm fine with it if everyone else is, but… what if they get angry at us? Or hurt us for not talking?"

Clementine placed a hand on her friend's shoulder. "If they start making threats like that, then I think it'd be okay to speak."

Kenny nodded. "That's exactly right. We want to keep everyone safe above all else, and not speakin' is a way to keep ourselves protected. But if we need to speak to protect… well, a'course you can."

Sarah nodded, still a bit shakily. "Okay, that does make sense, then. I like that plan. I can do that."

Clementine smiled brightly, squeezing Sarah's shoulder supportively.

"Alright, then, that's the beginnin' of our approach," Kenny said. "But before we come up with an actual escape plan, let's go over what we do know: Howe's is plannin' on makin' us their workers again. We're headin' back there as soon as those bastards say it's time."

"Wait, Howe's ain't even that close," Bonnie pointed out. "We're a couple'a hours' drive away."

Kenny raised his eyebrows. "Ah, I see. So we got some time to hatch somethin' up."

"If we actually manage to concentrate, and not talk about shit that doesn't matter," Jane hissed, giving Mike one last glare.

No one paid her any mind, instead focusing on what Kenny and Bonnie had said. It did make sense; despite the ambiguous response, Clementine did feel better hearing Kenny in particular rationalize it. She let out the breath she didn't know she was holding.

"All we have to do is manage to break outta here, when the time comes," Kenny explained, further quelling her worries. "But since they have AJ in the other truck, that makes things a little more complicated… we'll have t' wait until the time is right."

Bonnie nodded. "Okay, so… what can we do now, while they're all still probably asleep?"

"They're not all asleep," Clementine pointed out. "I heard some voices outside last night, meaning that someone's probably out there guarding us now. I don't think they can hear us, though."

Kenny considered her words. "Alright, then… we better make sure, first. Clem, can you see anythin'? Through the crack over there?" he asked, adding a sheepish, "I'd look myself, but it's… kinda small."

With a small nod, Clementine wasted no time. She crawled towards the doors, using the dented walls to keep herself balanced. Murmurs hummed nearby, and there was enough of a crack between the closed doors to peer through; it didn't give her much visibility, but if she closed one eye and looked carefully, she could see forms outside, just beyond the truck. From the lack of arm on one, and a beanie on the other, she could only conclude that it was Troy and Lowell.

"There's two," she whispered as she looked back at her friends. Sarah flashed her a thumbs-up, and she looked again, listening more clearly this time.

"I can't believe we've been out here all night," Lowell was whining, his voice strained.

"Yeah, well, you wanna leave the chickens unattended? We didn't have enough rope to shut the doors and keep them tied up, y'know," Troy pointed out, though he did sound annoyed.

Lowell's shoulders slumped. "I guess you're right. Good thing we've been saving the last of it to tie the doors shut. Think you can manage doing that?"

Troy paused, his tone harsh when he replied. "A'course I can. What, do you not trust me or somethin'?"

Lowell sounded almost offended at that. "What? No, that's not it. I was just saying with your arm and all, it may be hard, and we have to be careful with what little rope we have…"

"It ain't that bad, I can still shoot a gun. So shut it, I can do it just fine," Troy snapped. He paused, going silent for a moment. His head moved a little, indicating that he was looking across the small clearing, eventually settling his gaze on something or someone that Clementine couldn't see.

"There's the signal." He gave a nod to whoever it was, and promptly turned back towards the door. "Let's get the chickens up."

She scooted back, realizing that they were about to open the door. "They're coming," she relayed to the others, as though her movements didn't imply that at all. Everyone shuffled into a casual-looking position, as though they were just waking up and didn't know what was going on.

Luckily, neither of the guards were the brightest, and didn't notice anything strange when the doors were pried open. The sunlight streamed in brightly and without mercy; Clementine brought a hand up to cover her eyes.

Lowell laughed a bit at her hiss of annoyance, placing a boot on the inside of the truck and leaning forward. "Aw, sorry friends. Did we wake you?" he mocked.

Everyone just him a glare, and no one said a word. Their silent vigil was almost eerie, but Clementine was determined to uphold it. So she stared back, just as everyone else, keeping her expression as blank as possible.

Quirking an eyebrow, Lowell exchanged a glance with Troy. "I kinda like 'em better quiet," he snickered. Troy shrugged, once more avoiding looking her or anyone else in the eye. But, when given the chance, he obviously decided to take charge.

"As long as they'll work, that's all that matters," he pointed out, staring at a spot in the back of the truck and nowhere else. "We'll be on the road soon. Anyone gotta take a shit before we go?"

Sarah wrinkled her nose in disgust, but that was about the most reaction anyone had to the question. Everyone else remained silent and blank-faced, so much so that Troy looked a bit bothered by how compliant they were being.

"Damn, guess they finally figured out who's boss," Lowell said, clapping a hand over Troy's shoulder. "I'm glad, actually. They seem like they were good buddies to you - I wouldn't want to lose anyone unnecessarily."

The one-armed man scoffed, shaking his head. "They ain't my buddies, so you can quit that. But I'm glad, too. Compliant prisoners are good ones." The smirk on his face seemed slight, but it was still there.

Two more sets of footsteps approached the truck, and sure enough, Tavia and the remaining two guards came to check on them, as well. Tavia, noticeably, had AJ bundled up in her arms, and was gently rocking the child with a disturbingly compassionate look on her face. Clementine scowled; how dare she look like that when the rest of them were being treated so badly?

"Good to see everyone," Tavia said, and seemed like she was being honest. "I'm sure Troy and Lowell told you that we'll be moving out soon. Keep your spirits up; we'll start rebuilding Howe's once we get back."

Kenny's anger showed on his face as he stared between Tavia and AJ, but he didn't say anything.

Tavia noticed the angry look, and curled her arms more protectively around AJ. "Don't you worry about the little one," she promised, "As I said before, he'll be safe and sound with me."

Clementine just stared, narrowing her eyes as though in annoyance. It was hard to cross her arms when they were tied up at the wrists, but she would have definitely done so if she could. If the worst she could do to Tavia right now was show her indifference, she'd do it.

Tyler looked to Vera beside him, and then towards his leader. "Anyway… um… this is gettin' kinda creepy. Can we just go now, Tavia?" he asked, swallowing hard. "I warmed up our engine."

"Great to hear," Tavia replied. "I wish these two would've thought of that."

Troy lowered his gaze, muttering, "Bill never let us keep the engine runnin' for too long."

"I guess that's true." Tavia waved the words off, glancing back at the group. "Anyway, get comfortable. It'll be a little while, so settle in." When no one answered, she rolled her eyes. "We'll have to talk about this whole silent thing. Tyler's right - it's giving me the creeps." With a shudder, she gestured towards her two guards to follow her, and turned around.

Giving one last nod to Troy and Lowell, she walked away with Vera and Tyler trailing behind her obediently.

"Alright then!" Lowell exclaimed. "Let's get this show on the road! I'll go start 'er up. Troy, you sure you got the doors?"

"For the last time, yeah," Troy muttered, nodding to the other man. "Go on."

Lowell nearly bounced away, suddenly full of energy for some reason. Troy shook his head after the younger guard, reaching for the doors to shut.

As he shut the first door, Clementine finally caught his gaze. The look he gave her was blank, but not hostile. He wasn't looking through her, either; it was as though any emotion he wanted to show her got caught and pulled away, like a dog reeled back on a chain. He simply blinked and paused for a moment, making sure to pointedly stare towards her. And then, as though someone had snapped him out of a trance, he broke eye contact and shut the other door.

The darkness enveloped them rather quickly, and she heard the shuffling of rope just outside, wondering what that look could have possibly meant - if it meant anything at all.

Howe's was approximately two and a half hours away, according to Bonnie - which gave them some time to collect themselves before coming together for a plan. Clementine knew she needed a few minutes to bring herself back to reality - back to a state of mind that wasn't focusing on being quiet or analyzing some asshole's facial expression.

It was a rather bumpy ride, as they traversed what Clementine could only assume was the snow-covered terrain and large hills she'd climbed on her way to the rest stop. Her little scouting trip with Troy had only taken place a half a day ago, and yet it felt like an eternity ago - like it happened to some other Clementine.

The truck was definitely damaged by walkers, but it was sturdy enough to keep everyone seated well enough. Every once in a while, there would be a rough, sudden lurch, and everyone would startle and have to reposition themselves. Clementine's heart hammered in her chest at every jump, and she hated how difficult it was to hold on with restrained hands.

"This sucks," she muttered, just to herself - because it really did.

Sarah heard her, though. "You can say that again," the other girl mumbled.

Everyone else mostly kept to themselves, hopefully formulating plans on how to both escape and rescue AJ. Clementine herself was certainly thinking about it; she weighed the risks of distracting the guards, sacrificing herself, using others as bait… there were so many possibilities, and yet, she couldn't think of one plan that would have genuine success. In every scenario she imagined, she could see a guard or two grabbing a gun and shooting her or anyone else dead before they even had the chance to get AJ. Tavia herself was armed, so how would they disarm all five of their foes, when they had no weapons whatsoever?

With a sigh, Clementine was just about to ask Sarah for her own input when she noticed Kenny shakily standing up. She tensed in alarm, wondering if he was going to do anything rash, but relaxed when she noticed him gently shifting along the wall, his expression neutral. Thankfully, it seemed he wasn't going to make a rage-filled attempt to escape like last time.

But she still couldn't stop herself from murmuring, "Please be careful, Kenny."

He gave her a smile and nodded. "Don't worry, I ain't jumpin' out or nothin'. All I want to do is see what we're dealin' with here. How sturdy the door is, and all that."

"Good idea," Bonnie chimed in. "Seems like it's not in the best shape, thanks to the lurkers."

"You can say that again," Kenny said as he felt up a particularly large dent in the wall. "Good for us, though."

He continued along the wall adjacent to Clementine, feeling for any weak points that could possibly be broken through, or those that were just less strong than others. He seemed to like what he was finding, going by the pleased hums he was giving as he worked.

Once he reached the doors, he gently placed his tied hands on the handles. "Let's see how strong those ropes were…" he muttered to himself, giving the smallest of nudges.

Without warning, the truck jerked slightly as though it had hit a bump in the road. Everyone was roughly jerked around, crying out in protest; it was something they were still getting used to, but not uncommon. Because they were clearly going up a hill, Clementine felt herself slowly drifting downwards towards the back doors. She placed her hands on the ground to steady herself, watching the others do the same. It seemed the sudden jump had caused Kenny to drift, too, and his body was now leaning on the doors.

But the action was enough to cause the doors to break open, and Kenny tumbled out with a yell of surprise before anyone could even move.

Clementine stared wide-eyed at the spot Kenny used to be standing at, her brain taking its time realizing why he was not there anymore. She looked from the spot back to the others, taking in their shocked expressions as well.

Everyone was thinking the same thing: they didn't even have to think of anything - just like that, the escape route presented itself to them.

"Kenny! Are you okay?" Clementine called out, watching the man roll down the hill until a tree made him stop.

He lifted his head instantly, wasting no time in gesturing his hands for them to follow. "C'mon!" he yelled, not even bothering to be quiet anymore.

Jane didn't need to be told twice; she practically leaped to her feet and dashed out of the back, tucking and rolling swiftly to somersault down the hill. Clementine's gawked after her, surprised she was able to do that so quickly and perfectly.

But there was no time to ponder. Bonnie stood stood up next, wobbling a bit as she tried to steady herself. With the doors wide open, it was difficult to stand, but the exit in sight was enough of an incentive. "Let's go!" she cried, helping Mike to his feet beside her.

"H-hold on, the kids-" Mike protested, gazing towards Arvo, Sarah, and Clementine.

"We'll be okay! Go!" Clementine heard herself calling. She turned over to Sarah, saying, "We need to get Arvo to stand up."

Sarah needed nothing else to be said. "Arvo, here, let me help!" she creid, crawling over to get him to his feet. Without hesitating, she slung his wrist over her shoulder and wrapped her hand over his side, keeping him sturdy as he stood up. His bad leg was a bit shaky, but otherwise looked okay.

Clementine was so overwhelmed with the time-sensitive situation, she almost didn't have time to feel as proud of Sarah as she did. Instead of acknowledging it, though, she focused on standing up herself, calling over to her friend. "We have to jump together! If you fall, keep your head tucked in and hope for the best!"

Sarah shakily nodded, exchanging a glance with Arvo. "A-are you ready?" she asked him.

"Пойдем!" Arvo exclaimed, and the two tumbled out of the truck, leaving Clementine to jump last.

She watched her friends coming to a halt on the hill, skidding down a few extra feet but definitely stopping. Everyone seemed unharmed, and able to balance being on such a steep hill just fine.

Clementine swallowed hard as she made her way to the open door, hearing everyone calling out her name. This was it. She held her breath and closed her eyes, pretending she was about to jump in a swimming pool, and leaped.

Unfortunately, she wasn't as graceful as she imagined, and ended up falling down rather awkwardly. She took her own advice, though, and tucked her head as she plunged; that, at least, kept her from any major injuries.

In a desperate (albeit stupid) attempt to stop, she spread all four of her limbs out, burning any exposed skin on the friction of the snowy dirt. Though it was painful, her strange method of stopping did seem to help her, well, stop.

As she slowed, she lifted her head to gaze after the truck, which was still making its way to the top of the hill. It was traveling slower than she thought it was, but it was a steep incline, so it made sense.

"Is everyone okay?" Kenny asked from beside her, shaking his head clear. Everyone murmured in acknowledgement or nodded their heads, but no one else seemed up for reacting otherwise just yet. "That was… pretty fuckin' intense." Despite his rasp, the look on his face was purely of relief.

Clementine felt that same alleviated feeling, like a giant weight lifted from her shoulders. They weren't done with the Howe's guards, as there was still AJ to rescue, but at least everyone was safe for now. She felt some of the worry churning her stomach dissolve away, as she knew that her friends were fairly unharmed.

As she swept her gaze around the group, assessing each of their states to make absolutely sure they were fine, her eyes caught sight of a piece of rope attached to Kenny's jacket. It must have snagged onto him when he first fell out of the truck, the ends fraying and torn.

Kenny followed her eyes, chuckling a little in amusement. "Well, seems a friend followed me." He tore it off, throwing it into the snow.

But something about it intrigued Clementine for a reason she didn't even understand, and she felt her hand closing around it before she could stop herself. Smoothing her fingers over the material, she felt her heart sink. Quickly, she whipped her head around and gazed up at the truck. It was just reaching the summit of the hill, allowing her a split-second glimpse of the back doors hanging open. And there, she saw all she needed to see - or not see, in this case.

There was no rope on either of the doors. The only piece used to shut it was…

She glanced back at her palm.

A small cut of rope with two distinct knots.


Chapter Text

"That son-of-a…!" Clementine yelled out, giving the ground a frustrated punch. She furiously threw the rope piece away, knowing full well who it belonged to and what exactly it meant.

Sarah picked up on her anger, looking a bit alarmed as she placed a hand on her shoulder. "C-Clem? Is everything alright? What's the matter?"

Letting out one more labored sigh, Clementine turned to her friend. "You don't recognize that rope?" she asked in a low voice, nodding towards the frayed piece in the snow. "Maybe you will if you see this one…" She dug deep into her coat pockets, still pleased to find the small piece of rope inside. As she pulled it out, she noted its three knots tied around the center.

Sarah gasped, her hands flying up to cover her mouth. "S-so that… that was yours, but… that one…?" She gazed over at the piece in the snow in disbelief.

Clementine nodded. "It's Troy's."

A dead silence fell over the group, as though the words were heavy enough to constrict their very bodies. The weight of reality was not lost on anyone, it seemed.

"So… he used that to shut the doors?" Sarah asked, gnawing on her lip apprehensively.

"Yes," Clementine answered quietly. "He did it so it would be unsturdy and break open easily - so we could escape."

Jane's eyes flickered with hope for a brief second - so brief, Clementine wasn't sure she hadn't imagined it - before suspicion clouded over. "Do we know for a fact that it was for us, though? What if that was all the rope they had, and he was just stupid…?"

Clementine shook her head. "No, you heard the other guards - they had a small amount of rope, but they had some. He was expected to use that to tie the doors shut."

"But instead, he… used his own piece, from Sarah's activity all those nights ago," Bonnie breathed. "I… can't believe he hung onto that, for one."

"Hard to believe," Mike agreed with a nod.

Kenny shook his head, arguing, "We don't have time to wonder about that asshole. He did us a favor, on purpose or not… but the only thing we should be focusin' on is when and how we're gonna rescue AJ - and we can't afford to fuck that up."

Getting AJ to safety was absolutely important, and Clementine wasn't denying that. But she wasn't able to concentrate on the infant at this current moment; a cold numbness washed over her, the same empty feeling that she'd first felt when Troy betrayed them. This time, though, it was because of the opposite occurrence - someone she thought had turned on her for good had done something to help.

All of her bitterness and hatred just evaporated like water on a hot day, not even a drop left as though it was never there in the first place.

She had been… wrong in her assumption that he had abandoned them. Though she still doubted he helped for completely for altruistic reasons, Clementine had to face the fact that Troy had done something to save them.

He'd saved her life a few times in the past, but she'd just assumed that was like a reflex, as she'd done so many times for others. If she saw someone in danger and she had a weapon, she'd usually help them out, regardless of who they were; she'd just assumed Troy lived by the same principles. But this had been a planned act of complete selflessness; he was still stuck with the Howe's guards, and had risked his safety with his new allies to let the old ones free.

It was so blindingly unlike the type of man she thought he was - even when she considered him an ally - that she couldn't think straight for a few moments. Her mind churned with conflicting emotions and thoughts, memories blurring into a contradicting mess.

"I… I don't understand why he…" she began, the rest of the sentence dying on her tongue.

"Clem," Kenny said, his voice startling her out of her thoughts. "We can think about that later, okay? Right now, we need to come up with a plan to go after AJ." She followed his gaze to the tire tracks in the snow, traveling in a pattern up the hill and then surely over it.

It wasn't hard to imagine what Kenny was thinking, so she nodded and replied, "O-okay, sure. We'll need to follow the tracks quickly, though… before the snow covers it." The large snowflakes gently falling from the sky didn't look too threatening, but snow was unpredictable, and they needed to follow that trail.

"Y'all can't be suggestin' we follow a truck on foot," Bonnie snorted, crossing her arms. "Y' must be Olympic runners if you think you're gonna catch up."

Kenny narrowed his eye. "So what do you suggest, Bonnie?"

Bonnie quirked an eyebrow, her expression almost asking if he was seriously asking her. "Did y' already forget what you were tinkerin' with back at that house, Kenny? The very thing we had Clem 'n Troy go out to find a part for?"

Kenny's face brightened with the realization; if he was in a cartoon, a lightbulb would surely have went off right above his head. "Ah," he only said, "Yeah, I reckon a truck would be a good thing to chase after a truck with."

"Speakin' of," Bonnie added quickly, looking over at Clementine. "You do still have that jumper cable, right Clem?"

Promptly, Clementine searched through her pockets and smoothed her fingers over the cable. "Yep," she replied with a smile.

"Good! And I'm so glad we finally agree on something," Mike chimed in. "Let's head back."

Kenny cleared his throat. "Hold on just a minute."

A collective groan spread through the group, but Clementine gave Kenny her attention. After everything she'd talked about with him the night before, and given how clear-minded he seemed overall, she assumed whatever he had to say was important.

Almost… nervously, Kenny adjusted his hat. "I know it ain't the best idea to split us up, but I don't wanna waste anymore time."

"Then let's stop talking and go-" Jane tried to interject, but Kenny wouldn't let her.

"If those tracks disappear," he continued, a bit louder, "we're shit outta luck, and AJ is gone forever. I ain't takin' that chance." Kenny's fists shook at his sides, his eye squeezing shut tightly. "I'm gonna try to follow 'em on foot, to at least scout out the route."

The rest of the group was quiet for a moment, processing this idea. No one seemed to immediately reject it, at least, and Clementine didn't think it was out of the question.

"But what if you get in trouble?" Sarah asked, wide-eyed. "We wouldn't have any way to know where you are."

Now it was Clementine's turn to have an imagined lightbulb above her head. "I know what we can use!" She rustled around in her pocket, extracting the walkie she still had on her from before. Once more, she thanked whatever gods were out there that the guards didn't search her before tying her up.

Sarah's face lit up when she saw what Clementine had, and pulled out her walkie from her own pocket. "I see!" she cried, waving it a bit in her hand. "I'm so glad we found these!"

"Me too," Clementine replied with a slight smile.

"Hold on - Clem, I ain't sure I want you goin' with me," Kenny argued. "We won't be armed."

She crossed her arms in irritation. "It's not your decision to make for me," she reasoned. "I'm going, and that's that."

Kenny blinked and paused, as if thinking over whether to argue or not.

Clementine decided to cut off any protests he'd try to make. "Besides, I can't leave Troy there," she said with a reluctant sigh. "As much as I hate it, Troy is… a part of our group. I know he's my responsibility since I let him in, so I'll go after him, and bring him back."

"If we find him and the other guard, they can lead us to AJ," Kenny pointed out. "I'll go with you. We'll bring back AJ and that douche - if he wants to come back, that is. And he don't mind a little chat with me later."

Clementine scoffed with a smirk. "I wouldn't be opposed to that," she said.

"Can you, um, kind of… hit his shoulder for me?" Sarah asked. "I - I mean, not his bad shoulder! And not to hurt him, kind of a…" Her words trailed off and she lightly bopped her palm on Clementine's shoulder. "Kind of like that."

"As a Sarah-brand 'fuck you,' I assume," Mike chuckled, and Sarah turned red.

"N-not exactly! Just a, 'You really had us fooled! Don't be mean like that again!' kind of thing?" She fidgeted, picking at her nails absentmindedly. "I know he's not a terrible person anymore, but I'm still mad."

"Yeah, you seemed to be pretty forgiving after he pistol-whipped you," Jane noted. "Why is that?"

Clementine was curious about it, too; she turned to Sarah expectantly. Once she noticed she was in the spotlight, the older girl blushed and rubbed the back of her neck nervously. "W-well, because… he apologized," she said. "Before he hit me, he whispered that he was sorry."

It almost wasn't a shock; Clementine did recall seeing the man's lips move slightly before he struck Sarah, and it seemed her eyes didn't deceive her. He'd really apologized to her, and seemed to regret that he had to do such a thing to show loyalty.

"It doesn't excuse his actions or anything, but… I remember thinking that he must really not want to go through with it." Sarah laughed a little. "At Howe's, he was, um… very willing to do it, so I could see a big difference."

Clementine smiled. "Yeah, for sure. But you always do see the good in people, so I'm not very surprised."

"Bit of a bad habit," Jane mumbled, though it was half-hearted.

Sarah just blushed in embarrassment. "Well… still, thank you, Clem." She giggled softly, her facial expression melting into seriousness. "B-but I don't think we should be wasting any more time. AJ and Troy are counting on us."

"She's right," Kenny said with a nod. "Let's head on out, then."

Clementine agreed, and turned to Sarah once more. "We'll have to check up on each other with the walkies, like before."

With a nod, Sarah replied, "I just hope I won't have to contact you in a panic this time."

"I think we'll be okay," Clementine assured, though she couldn't be certain. It sure didn't seem like Sarah's side would be the one in danger, this time.

"If we happen to get the truck workin' quickly, we'll let y'all know immediately. Maybe we could meet somewhere in the middle," Bonnie suggested.

"Will we all fit in truck, though?" Arvo asked, a bit timidly. "Not seem that big."

Mike shrugged and suggested, "We'll have to squeeze in if we have to, or someone could stay back at the house and guard the supplies. There's no need for all of us to risk our necks at once."

Arvo nodded in understanding. "I stay back," he volunteered, then added softly, "But… I will help, if really needed. Good luck, Clementine." He nodded to her - only her - and struggled to his feet. Sarah was at his side quickly, helping him stand.

"They'll be fine," the older girl reassured to him. "Clem's a tough cookie."

Clementine snorted at the nickname, chuckling under her breath.

Kenny stifled down a snicker of his own, forcing his face to seriousness. "That she is. But we need to go now," he said. Clementine followed him to the road path, leaving the others behind in the cover of trees.

Snow continued to fall, but the flakes were getting larger and more frequent, the wind picking up as well. No longer did the sky look bluish or even white; rather, it darkened to a miserable gray hue, a telltale sign of a storm approaching.

Clementine swallowed hard as she studied the weather for a few more moments, praying that whatever was coming would hold off until they brought AJ back safely.

Gazing back at the others, a sense of dread settled its way onto her.

"See you later," she whispered.

And she hoped, with all her heart, that this wouldn't be the last time she saw them.



As far as the tire tracks seemed to stretch out beyond the hill, the two of them were not on the road for as long as Clementine would've thought. It was a bit further down through the forest, and up another slightly smaller hill, but they finally came upon the sight of a stopped truck in a large patch of snow and trees. Thankfully, it hadn't stopped in the middle of a clearing, so there was enough cover to duck down into.

When they first noticed the stopped vehicle, Clementine instantly crouched down and crawled towards a nearby bush. She heard the louder footsteps of Kenny as he maneuvered behind her, trying his best to be covered by the smaller shrub.

Once she was settled, she raised her head far enough to peek over the tops of her cover, cautiously observing the scene before her.

Lowell and Troy were standing around near the truck, both of their backs turned. They seemed to be chattering amongst themselves; Lowell was kicking the door to the truck, while Troy just shook his head.

They didn't seem to be talking yet, so Clementine took this opportunity to keep her friend posted about her situation. "Sarah," she murmured into her own walkie, "we found Troy and Lowell's truck."

"That's awesome, Clem!" Sarah called back, a little too loudly.

"Shh! Sarah, we need to be quiet," Clementine reminded her, continuing, "They're stopped for now, but I don't know if they're going to turn back to chase us or keep going. We'll listen in and decide if we need to stop them."

"Got it," Sarah replied, much softer this time. "We're still walking back to the safehouse. Let me know if anything changes."

Clementine nodded, even though she knew Sarah couldn't see her. "Sure. Will do."

The line went silent, and she pushed the walkie back into her pocket for now.

"Things seem to be alright," Kenny noted, and she nodded wordlessly.

Clementine bent down against the brush to further hide herself, Kenny doing the same beside her. The two of them crouched motionless, their ears perked and eyes focused.

Lowell finally gave an irritated growl, clutching the walkie in his hand. "I cannot believe this shit, man! How did they manage to get out? How the hell did they all escape so quickly?" For good measure, he kicked the back of the truck again, a dull thud echoing through it.

Troy shifted so his face was visible, looking as neutral as a guilty party could. "I dunno. Might've been your shit driving - we must've ran over like ten fuckin' potholes."

"Is it my fault that the forest path wasn't fucking paved, Troy?" Lowell snapped, turning around to face his comrade. "Just hang on, I gotta radio Tavia about this." He pressed the button on the walkie, bringing it up to his mouth to speak.

Before he could, however, Troy stepped towards him, cutting any words off. "Now hold on. Tavia already thinks we're fuckin' idiots, Lowell. If you call her right now to tell her we lost the prisoners she's been chasin' for forever, well… do you think that'll end well for us?"

Lowell hesitated, biting at his lip. "I don't think so, no, but I also don't think we can do this by ourselves. There's two of us and like ten of them."

"Well, there's really seven…"

"Same thing! Seven versus two? Even if we don't count the kids, that's five adults versus one man with a gun and one without an arm! Anyone can see we'd be outmatched," Lowell argued, shaking his head. "C'mon, Troy, use your head."

With a scowl, Troy retorted, "Alright, Lowell, since you think you're so fuckin' smart - don't you think they'd be miles away from where they fell out by now?"

Lowell blinked in confusion. "Um, but when did they escape? You said you didn't feel or hear anything, but I swore I felt the whole truck get lighter after a while." He paused briefly, the gears in his head clearly turning. "But still, why didn't you want to stop? At that point, we suspected something was wrong…"

Troy's eyes darted around, and Clementine's heart sank when she realized how transparent he was being.

"I… y-yeah, I didn't hear 'em originally, but doin' the math based on when you started to suspect things… it was a while ago, y'know?" The tremor in Troy's voice was unmistakable, and Lowell seemed to pick up on it almost instantly. "And maybe only you thought somethin' was wrong."

"Troy…" he began, slowly. "You tied the door shut this morning, didn't you?"

"Yeah, a'course I did. Why?"

"Didn't it strike you odd that we were carrying seven people in our truck and then suddenly lost the weight of all of them, and you didn't feel it?" Lowell asked, his words slow as he worked out the logic. "If I were you, I'd be worrying that I didn't tie the doors shut tight enough, because they wouldn't have opened otherwise, right?"

With a scoff, Troy still tried to play it off. "You know I wouldn't worry about fuckin' up. I never do."

"Yeah, I know you don't, but… in this case, it sure seems like… you knew they would escape."

"W-what? No, why the fuck would I-" Troy stammered, but Lowell cut him off immediately.

"You were the only person who made sure the door was shut. If you knew they escaped, it was because you were the one who made it happen…" Lowell's words died away as his eyes widened, his jaw dropping in disbelief. Troy stared back, his expression unreadable but clearly on edge.

"Oh, fuck, Troy, you didn't."

"Didn't do what?" Troy asked, his tone definitely defensive. His hand shot out and gripped Lowell's collar, giving the other man a challenging push. "You too chicken-shit to say what's on your mind?"

The next few actions seemed to spill out one after another, like a filled can of paint splattered onto the ground. Lowell leaned his head towards the speaker of the walkie, beginning to relay something to the other side.

"Tavia, the prisoners have escaped, and I think Troy-!"

Without warning, Troy lunged forward. It didn't seem like he intended to knock the other man down, but the sudden movement was enough to startle Lowell; with a screech in surprise, he fell down, hitting his back against the ground with a painful-sounding thump. The radio fell from his palm, skidding a few inches out of his reach. Troy stood over him, gazing down but keeping silent.

In a panic, Lowell crawled towards the radio and pulled a knife from his side, pointing it towards Troy shakily. "D-don't fucking move!" he ordered. Unfortunately for him, Troy was on the offensive and, if his unpredictable actions weren't clue enough, he clearly didn't think he had much to lose. Without hesitation, he stomped over to Lowell in a single stride, kicking the radio further away.

With Lowell gazing after the walkie in despair, this gave Troy a very small window of time to bat the knife out of the other man's hand. It was quick, it was stupidly risky, but somehow, it was pulled off.

Getting Tavia's attention seemed much more important to Lowell than subduing Troy, though; he leapt to his feet and rushed over to the walkie, his weapon all but forgotten for the moment. Once he retrieved it, he picked it up and called, "Tavia, please come back, Troy's gone fucking nuts-!"

Troy paced towards Lowell, who only backed up nervously. His legs trembling, Lowell pressed the walkie's button and tried again to communicate with his boss.

A hiss of static sounded from the other side, Tavia's voice finally breaking through. "We hear you - try to pin him down and hold on. We're turning back now, should be there in five to ten minutes."

"O-okay," he replied shakily.

Vera's voice came through the static next. "Lowell? Do you have a weapon?" she asked, more than a hint of panic in her tone.

"He got rid of my knife…"

"Then use your gun, you fucking idiot!" she snapped.

That idea seemed to haven't dawned on Lowell until now - as if he was the Scarecrow suddenly remembering that he had a brain, after all (or in this case, a gun). He reached into a pouch on his hip, taking out the pistol he'd had this whole time. Pointing it threateningly at Troy, he called into the radio again, "Okay, I've got it on him. Hurry, though."

"On it," Vera responded, and the radio line cut out.

Troy shook his head, apathetic at the gun's barrel staring him down. "It ain't any of my business, but Vera seems kinda worried about you. That's sorta cute. It may be worth it t' tell her if you're feelin' the same way."

Lowell paused, the words catching him off-guard. "What the fuck are you talking about?" His face flushed, though it was hard to tell if it was from anger or embarrassment. "Just shut up, asshole! I don't need advice from a traitor!"

Troy lifted his arm up in surrender. "Okay, okay, I'm crossin' a line, I get you," he said lowly. "Though… I do think it's worth keepin' the drama to a minimum, yeah? 'Specially in groups like Howe's."

Lowell's eyes narrowed, shoving the gun further in Troy's direction. "Just fuck off! I know what you're trying to do, and talking about Vera isn't going to do it!"

Troy raised an eyebrow. "Oh? What am I tryin' to do, then?" he asked, tilting his head like a curious dog.

With a frustrated growl, Lowell stepped closer to him, within arm's length. "You're trying to get my guard down, trying to get me to drop my gun. I'm not going to. We're gonna stand here and wait for Tavia and the others to come back, and they'll decide what to do with you."

"Still too lazy to come up with your own ideas, huh Lowell?" Troy sneered, chuckling. "Too bad y' did exactly what you said you wouldn't."


Troy rolled his eyes. "You let your guard down!"

And he moved quickly, this time fully intending to bring Lowell down with a straight-on tackle. However, the push caused the gun to go off right before they both tumbled to the ground, the shot echoing through the quiet forest. The weapon skidded a few feet away from them, but the released bullet had torn into Troy's side. Blood burst from the fresh wound and he let out a yelp, but it didn't seem enough to make him waver; in fact, he was still strongly trying to pin his foe with only one hand to do so.

There was a flash of limbs as they batted at each other like cats, swearing and spitting in anger. Lowell's hand swatted at Troy's face, shoving the man's chin up and away as far as his arms stretched. Troy managed to snag his wrist and wrestle his arm down, leaving the other one free.

Unfortunately, Lowell had even more than the advantage of having two arms. Troy was still fighting, but the injury in his side was clearly making him weaker. Lowell dug his fingers into the wound, grinding his dirty nails into the bloody mess as violently as he could. Troy howled in pain, clutching his side with his only arm and leaving himself open.

And Lowell jumped on the opportunity, quickly flipping their positions so he was straddling Troy now. His hands went for Troy's throat, squeezing as tightly as he could. "No smartass comments, huh!?" he spat, eyes burning like fire.

Troy suffered and gasped under him, trying in vain to use one arm to break the grip of two. Clementine's heart wrenched looking at his panicked expression, and instinct nearly made her stand up. In fact, she was almost to her feet when Kenny laid a hand on her shoulder, pulling her back down with a shake of his head.

"Don't put yourself in danger like that. This is his bed - let him lie in it," he whispered. It wasn't what she wanted to do - but her legs felt like jelly and her heartbeat was so loud in her ears, she doubted she'd be able to move in time, anyway.

So like a coward she stayed there, watching helplessly as Troy was strangled. He thrashed violently under the other man, trying in vain to break free. It just made Lowell's grip tighter, however, his expression darkening into a terrifying picture of bloodlust.

But just as Clementine feared the worst, some last bit of strength seemed to release through Troy. In less than a split second, Troy snaked his arm out towards Lowell's stomach, something glimmering in his hand. It remained outstretched for a long moment, gasps from both men filling the cold air. Finally, Lowell's grip on his throat loosened, a sharp hiss leaving his lips.

Troy choked for more air as he pulled his arm back just as quickly, globs of liquid dripping down his fingers and painting the snow red.

It didn't take Clementine long to realize what he had in his hand: the hunting knife he'd been given by Tavia herself, glistening with Lowell's blood. In less time than a blink of an eye, Troy had sunk the blade into his old colleague's stomach and dragged it back out again.

Lowell's arms trembled and his breaths became raspy, his eyes bugging out in shock. "H-how… how did you…?" he gasped, eyes screwing shut in pain.

Not able to say much more, Lowell fell forward and collapsed onto Troy with his forehead against the man's chest. Troy flinched as his wound was touched, but ultimately let Lowell lean his weight onto him. The only sounds in the still winter air were Lowell's gasping breaths, quickly turning into weak wheezes.

"Ta...via…" Lowell's head shifted around, glossy eyes continuously searching for his boss. "Come… quickly… I've got him…"

In a rare moment of kindness, Troy murmured something to him, but Clementine couldn't hear what he said. It seemed like soothing nonsense, though - something she didn't know Troy was capable of thinking up (especially to a man he'd killed himself).

Troy didn't say anything more, and simply slid the knife's blade into Lowell's skull, killing him instantly. Clementine had to look away, her eyes screwed shut. Kenny placed a hand on her shoulder, giving it a comforting squeeze.

It wasn't a cruel thing to do, in terms of preventing the turn into a walker and stopping the pain - like an animal being slaughtered, it was quick and merciful. But that didn't make it pleasant to watch, either.

After a minute, Clementine gazed back, just in time to watch Troy crawl out from under the corpse, cringing a bit at the strain put on his wound. His breathing hitched as he placed a hand on his side, blood clearly visible despite the dark material. Sucking in air through his teeth, the man finally managed to struggle free.

It took a few long moments, but Clementine's heart lifted when she saw Troy finally stand up. He didn't seem that hurt, just winded. Taking a few deep breaths, he finally seemed to recover, directing his gaze down at Lowell's lifeless body.

"Just my fuckin' luck, huh?" he sighed, presumably talking to the body. "I didn't even want to do that, but it ain't like I had a choice. Sorry, man."

It felt weird to hear Troy of all people directly apologize like that, even if it was to a person no longer alive.

He frowned, brushing himself off and eventually crouching down next to Lowell again, only to take the gun. Looking it over, he placed it on his belt and grabbed the body by the wrist. With a few grunts and groans of efforts, he began to drag it away from the main clearing, towards some bushes.

And of course, those bushes he chose for the body-hiding were exactly the same bushes Clementine and Kenny were hiding behind.

Clementine held her breath, trying to stay as still as possible in case Troy decided to walk past.

But luck just wasn't on her side, for Troy practically toppled over her as he approached the bushes, shouting in surprise and searching for what could've tripped him.

And once he spotted her, Troy's face grew even more pale than it was from his injury. "C-Clementine!? Oh, fuck!" he shrieked, dropping his grip on Lowell. The body flopped lifelessly into the snow, but he didn't seem to care at all. "I'm seein' things… I gotta be seein' things," he mumbled to himself, rubbing at his eyes to try to will her image away.

"Nope, I'm really here," she confessed, with a small sheepish grin. It wasn't like she was happy about any of these circumstances, but an awkward sort of nervousness forced her to smile nonetheless.

Troy let out a long groan. "No, no, no," he mumbled, shaking his head in frustration. "What the fuck are you even doin' here…? Why are you here…?"

She frowned, unsure of why he seemed so angry. "What do you mean by that?" she couldn't help but ask, not bothering to hide a bit of irritation of her own.

"You- you weren't supposed to follow, you little shit…!" His mutters grew in volume as he focused most of his fury into the sky, as though yelling at a god or fate itself. "For fuck's sake, let me catch a goddamn break!"

She rolled her eyes, almost feeling relieved that his normal pigheaded attitude had returned, in place of the previous cold indifference that was downright unnerving.

This was her chance to talk to him again, like normal; it almost didn't feel right, considering what they had at stake, but she longed for the simplicity of considering him a harmless idiot. Chewing on her lip, Clementine spoke carefully, "Troy, are you… okay?" She studied the wound on his side, noting that it wasn't bleeding profusely but still seemed painful.

Troy followed her eyes and seemed to just remember he was hurt. "Oh, uh… yeah, this ain't nothin'. Just a scratch."

"Oh. Okay, then." She didn't believe him completely, but he did seem rather casual about it, and she didn't want to dwell right now. Instead, she decided to inquire about his past choices - something that had been haunting her since she found out the truth. "Did you… did you really leave that rope for us-"

" easily escape? Yeah," Troy finished for her, rolling his eyes. "Y'all didn't take advantage'a the opportunity to run like fuck in the other direction?"

"Most of us did," Clementine admitted. "Everyone else headed back to the safehouse to get the truck." She wasn't so sure she should be telling him this, but something made her keep talking. "They'll meet up with us later."

Kenny cleared his throat, trying to stop her from saying any more on the subject. "And honestly, asshole, think about it. There ain't no way in hell we're leavin' AJ behind."

Troy must have not noticed Kenny until that moment, for he nearly jumped at the man's words. And then all at once, realization swept over his expression, as if he hadn't considered that logic. Actually, his words confirmed just that: "Fuck, I forgot about that stupid baby. Figures y'all would find a loophole or do what you want anyway." He sighed, studying the snowy ground. "Well, it was the best I could come up with on short notice, so… my bad, I guess."

Clementine shook her head. "No, it was a smart plan, and helpful. It… it saved our lives." She felt her voice quake with emotions as she met his eyes - a feat she hadn't been able to do for a while. "Thank you, Troy."

He looked stunned from the praise, blinking in surprise. His jaw hovered open, but it took a while for any words to come out. "I- Y-yeah, whatever. Don't mention it, you little shit." He coughed, a bit embarrassed, and looked away.

Kenny narrowed his eye. "We heard the distress call to your boss from your, uh… buddy," he said, pointedly staring at Lowell's corpse at the last word. "The truck they're drivin' has our little guy in it. Any idea on how to ambush those fuckers?"

Troy scrunched his eyebrows down in confusion. "What? Ambush? There's three of them with three guns, you idiot. Y'all have none. Do the math - you'll be shot on sight this time."

"But we have to get AJ," Clementine pressed. "If they continue towards Howe's, we may lose them in the snow."

"Trust me, they won't keep goin'. Tavia may be a crazy bitch, but she's focused, I'll give her that," Troy murmured. "She's gonna wanna find y'all and either capture you all again, or kill y' right away. I don't know which. It'll be a distraction for a while."

Clementine swallowed thickly, not wanting to imagine Tavia walking down a line of prisoners on their knees, executing them one by one. She shook her head clear of the thoughts, arguing, "We can't leave AJ. Isn't there anything we can do once they get back here?"

"No, there ain't," Troy snapped. "Not then, I mean. Y'all know where Tavia's endgame is - she'll get that kid t' Howe's no matter what. If y'all can regroup and meet her there, or cut her off on her way back, then you can grab the kid."

That did make sense. Clementine glanced at Kenny, trying to determine the emotion behind the man's expression. "I guess that may work," he said, not seeming completely convinced.

Troy nodded. "A'course it'll work, I know what I'm-"

A rumble off in the distance shut him up immediately, startling all three of them. Troy especially seemed spooked, turning away and cursing under his breath. He hurried towards the middle of the clearing, bending down and looked around frantically. He scooped up whatever he was looking for and returned to Clementine and Kenny quickly.

"Here," he whispered, noticeably out of breath. "Let me take care'a this. Y'all need to go, like I fuckin' wanted in the first place." He handed them what he'd picked up off the ground: Lowell's radio.

Clementine hesitantly took it, glancing back to him. "You aren't going to come with us?" She scrunched her eyebrows down in confusion; there was enough time for him to hide at least, wasn't there?

But he simply shook his head, reaching down to his belt to grab Lowell's gun. "No, I ain't."

She was about to respond when Troy actually bent down to her level - something he'd never done with her before. Stunned, she could only note how his eyes were now on par with hers.

Like he was no longer looking down on her.

Without saying a word, he handed the gun over to Clementine, pointedly looking down at it and back up at her. "Y'all best get outta here fast," he murmured. "Ain't much time."

She nodded firmly, trying not to think too hard about any of this.

"Wait, asshole!" Kenny hissed, stomping down. "We didn't agree to this. I ain't gonna just run while those fuckers-"

Troy snapped his gaze towards the older man. "Y'all will get the chance t' attack later, I swear. Just let me do my thing." After a brief pause, he stood back up and faced Kenny. "I got no reason to ask for this, but… just trust me."

Kenny's mouth hovered open to reply, but Troy cut him off - and shut him up -with a single word:


Not another word was said. The rumbling was suddenly much louder and clearer, the source definitely growing closer. Clementine felt her heart speed up at the sound, looking hesitantly towards Kenny and Troy.

But Troy just turned his back to them, beginning to lug Lowell's corpse in the opposite direction. He kicked at the ground, shuffling the snow a bit so it looked sporadic and the blood stains were all mixed up. By the time the truck finally came into view, the ground was a mess and hid any certain direction the body had been dragged in.

Clementine ducked down further into the bushes, afraid of being spotted. Kenny did the same, flattening himself against the forest floor as they both exchanged a glance.

"I can't just leave him," Clementine whispered. "Even if he wanted us to go… I don't think it's right."

Kenny pursed his lips. "He means t' stall them so we can leave, but… I ain't goin' anywhere."

Clementine frowned. "Kenny, please don't jump out-"

He shook his head. "I ain't doin' that, either, don't worry. We'll see what happens here, first - but I think he had a point where gettin' AJ from Howe's could be the worst case scenario."

A bit of pride kindled in Clementine's heart at the man's response. She felt immediately relieved that he was willing to wait instead of jumping in head-first - something she knew he was very fond of. Trying to hide the emotion from choking her voice, she murmured, "Thank you."

Kenny smiled and nodded back, and they both simultaneously grew silent and watched carefully through the brush. The snow had started to pick up a bit, making the view a bit obscured, but it wasn't quite that bad yet.

The truck stopped a few feet away from Troy, who was clearly pretending to have been 'caught' in the act of dumping Lowell's body. Within seconds, Tavia and the other two guards practically leaped out of the truck, swinging open the doors with force and hopping down into the snow.

Once they paced closer to him, Troy promptly dropped his grip on the corpse. "Y-you got here so quickly, huh," he noted, straightening himself up. Old habits died hard, it seemed, for his stance mimicked a soldier's: calm, collected, and ready. He was standing quite a few meters away from Clementine, but she could easily see the serious look that settled onto his face.

Tavia didn't seem in the mood for Troy's false sense of loyalty, though. Her posture was equally proud, face tightly drawn and voice cold as she responded. "Honestly, I wasn't expecting much, yet somehow, it seems I was let down anyway." She shook her head, looking very much like a disappointed mother - like Troy had been caught drawing on the walls, and not murdering his coworker.

Vera noticed Lowell's body right away, audibly gasping and staring straight at it in horror. "Y-you killed him!?" she demanded, her voice quivering. "How- why would you-"

Tyler stepped in, filling in the gaps in her words. "Why would you do such a thing?" he asked, a dangerous expression on his face.

"He had his hands 'round my throat, stranglin' me," Troy explained, closing his eyes briefly and looking away. "I didn't want to have to do it, but it ended up bein' me or him."

"Well, I wish it had been you!" Vera snarled, her fists tightening their grip around her gun. She took a step towards him, but Tavia held out her arm to hold her back.

"There was definitely a struggle," Tyler noticed, his expression turning rather melancholy. "I can see you got shot, but… I know Lowell wouldn't have turned on you if you hadn't done somethin' to set him off."

Troy looked down to his side again, fingers pressing gently into the wound. With a wince, he muttered, "Yeah, the son-of-a-bitch got me pretty good."

"Good. I hope it hurts like hell," Vera added, spitting at Troy's feet. "God, I was so right not to trust you when we found you again. We should've never let you back in."

"Before we interrogate him, get the last of our rope," Tavia instructed, her tone clipped, "and tie him up against that tree."

For a heart-stopping moment, Clementine feared they'd tie him to the tree nearest to her and Kenny's location, but it seemed they chose the one on the opposite side. She held in a sigh of relief, but did feel some of the adrenaline in her veins dissolve.

Troy didn't even struggle. They retrieved the rope from the truck and shoved him towards the trunk of the tree. And he just stood there through it all, allowing himself to be handled roughly and restrained. It wasn't as if he could do much with one arm, but he was awfully compliant for someone once so argumentative. He didn't even speak, and let them pin him to the tree.

Once he was secured, Tavia sighed and calmly closed her eyes. "So you really couldn't break your weak ties with them," she murmured. "I assumed you had some sense of self-preservation and would recognize who was the safest to ally yourself with, but... you were just playing us all along, weren't you?"

To everyone's surprise, including Clementine's, Troy started to chuckle. It was a low and raspy - not to mention out of place - and Clementine wasn't sure if she was hearing things at first. But then, it grew louder and more distinct, until he was full-on laughing in Tavia's face.

It was almost like she didn't have time to react to him in an offended way - her face only showed puzzlement. Tyler and Vera exchanged a glance, their eyes a bit wide and also confused.

Troy's cackling finally died down and he shook his head, snickers still escaping from his lips. "Well, now. Y' caught me, Tavia," he said with a dramatic sigh. "I was playin' you - in fact, I was the puppetmaster the whole fuckin' time! I was right under your noses, and you saw none of it."

Tyler blinked, stepping towards him a bit. "So you were plannin' on releasing the prisoners this whole time? When did you even come up with this scheme?"

"I'd like to know that, as well," Tavia added lowly, her voice almost a growl.

"I was plannin' on leavin' with them at the very beginnin'. All my plans led to us meetin' here, Tavia." Troy smirked, his words confusing Clementine. She knew better than anyone that he hadn't planned on leaving with them originally.

What is he doing? she wondered.

"Wait, you willingly left with them? I thought they cut off your arm," Tyler pointed out, looking just as lost as Clementine felt.

Troy shrugged, one-shouldered. "And what of it?" he asked, baring his teeth in a not-so-happy grin. "This whole plan'a mine started way back at Howe's, a bit after I killed my brother.

"Shortly after Bill had me runnin' the guards, I predicted this would all happen. I was pretendin' to fuck up, got Bill on my bad side, 'cause I knew the herd would change things. I knew those prisoners would come back, and I knew I'd have to go with them when the time was right. So I did. And I figured you idiots would follow us, and capture us again. So I gained your trust, went with Lowell. Killed him to bring y' back. And I waited here, for you to come to me. Predictable as always, Tavia."

Tavia narrowed her eyes for a moment, her eyebrows scrunching down in confusion. After giving a brief glance to her colleagues, she turned back to Troy. "Alright, I'm going to stop you there, because I think you must've been smoking something, or hit your fucking head. So please, tell me what in all the hells you think you are talking about, Troy."

Troy just chuckled again, prompting Vera to snap, "Are you being serious?"

And he scoffed in response, the smirk on his face not fading in the slightest. "Nah, I'm just fuckin' with y'all." He paused, letting the words sink in before continuing. "Well, actually, I should say first that I'm flattered - really, I'm fuckin' ecstatic you think I'd be capable of that shit - but that was all bullshit. None of it was planned. Just a spur-a-the-moment kinda thing, y'know?"

Now Tavia's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Excuse me?"

"I was just fuckin' around," Troy repeated, snorting. "I ain't very good at tellin' tales, but I guess you're just that dumb."

"So it wasn't planned," Tyler muttered.

Troy shook his head. "Nope, not really. Me lettin' them go just sorta… happened. When I was given the rope to tie the truck shut, I decided on a whim to use my shitty piece of string instead to let the door open itself. And yeah, I wanted to do it in that moment. But when y' asked me to come back originally, I wasn't plannin' nothin'. I was just gonna go back and be a guard." Troy shrugged, grinning ear to ear despite himself. "Guess my brain decided t' switch on for a moment and realize just who was on my side, in the end."

"I hope your brain came to the conclusion that we're the only allies you've ever had, Troy, and we have your best interests in mind," Tavia said through gritted teeth and narrowed eyes.

Troy shrugged, one-shouldered. "I ain't so sure. I know if Bill was still around and saw that I fucked up that hard outside, gettin' bit and losin' my arm and all, well… I would've been stuck in the pen for months."

"William Carver had rules that were effective, Troy," Tavia spat. "If you didn't perform well enough, you didn't deserve the privileges. So everyone tried their hardest, and his system worked."

Troy didn't look convinced. "But… maybe it wasn't that great, if people were that desperate to get out," he pointed out, a bit quietly.

"Oh, don't give me that shit," Tavia chastised. "You were perfectly fine with your guard position. You were on top of things, did your duties fine, and seemed to enjoy pushing the prisoners around in the yard."

Frowning, Troy muttered, "Yeah, well. Maybe Howe's was a good fit for me. Maybe I can't function outside a community tellin' me what to do. But… shit, once I started to get away from it, it's like… I started to feel differently."

"Differently how?"

"With those folks, I started feelin' less like 'the guard' and more like… well, Troy," he said, studying the ground. "It was kinda nice."

"Yes, I'm sure you were so useful to them," Vera snarked under her breath, speaking up for the first time in a while.

"Those 'folks' fucked everything up, Troy," Tavia added, angrily. "We were all doing just fine until those parasites decided to kill our leader."

With a scowl, Troy hissed, "Them parasites saved my life. I owe a debt I ain't never gonna be able to repay." He shook his head. "I lost sight of what all that mushy shit meant to me, but I found myself again when I was given the chance to save 'em all in return. And I went for it."

Tavia rubbed the bridge of her nose in exasperation, clearly irritated by Troy's change of perspective. "Have you forgotten, you idiot? You wouldn't have had a life for them to 'save' at all if it wasn't for Bill. He's the one that took you in, gave you a job, and a gun - gave you a purpose." She closed her eyes briefly, letting out an annoyed sigh. "And you turn around and betray that trust and companionship he so generously gifted to you."

Troy nodded, not arguing with her. "I know I did. And if he were here, I may even say sorry for that, I dunno. Believe me, I'm thankful to him that I'm still alive - but goddamn, Tavia… that's all I am."

Tavia raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

"At Howe's, there was nothin' to me but a man so desperate to stay alive, he'd do anythin'. And I mean anythin'." Troy's expression melted into a scowl. "Well, y'know what? Fuck that. I'm tired of other people givin' me orders. I'm makin' the choice here."

Rolling her eyes, Tavia asked, "And what is this 'choice,' Troy?"

"Well, I already made it." Troy said, a wide grin spreading across his face. "And it was to talk to you fuckers long enough to stall, so that you'll never find your precious prisoners."

Tavia's face went faintly red for a moment and her fists shook at her sides. She was clearly trying to control herself, closing her eyes and holding in her breath before letting it out slowly through her nose. The ferocious expression when she opened her eyes again was quite frightening, her violent intentions all at once clear.

"I… see," she said, through clenched teeth.

Troy sneered, his face just mocking Tavia and the guards. "Reckon they're miles away by now."

Tavia studied the ground for a minute, then gazed back up at Troy with an empty expression. "Reckon you won't be seeing them again," she tsked, her words almost sad. "I'm not ashamed to admit you were one of the best guards we had, so this is… hard on me."

The one-armed man just shrugged, unfazed. "Thanks for the praise, but I think Bill had a better way with words."

Clementine felt uneasiness begin to stir in her stomach at the glares they were sending to him, and the way they all exchanged glances with one another and nodded in unison.

Tavia shot a disgusted look towards the man tied to the tree and growled, "Shoot his knees and leave him for the lurkers."

Vera smirked, nodding. "With pleasure."

"Once you're done, head back down the road - towards where we originally found the prisoners," Tavia instructed. "I'm going to zigzag between east and west, hopefully finding those sons of bitches somewhere. Who knows where they could be at this point?"

"Right away, ma'am," Tyler said, his tone obedient and professional.

"However, keep yourselves alert," Tavia warned in a low voice. Contact me if you see anyone or anything."

The two guards nodded in unison.

"Such a pity it had to end like this, Troy," Tavia said, shaking her head and raising her gun to the sky. She fired off two shots, the ringing echoing through the trees and shaking a few stray birds loose from their perches.

"That should bring some lurkers about. Rough him up if you want, but don't waste any more time than you have to. He doesn't deserve a quick death."

With that, she turned around and almost dissolved through the thick snow. The sound of her truck humming on followed shortly, and the sound faded as she drove away.

"Alrighty, Troy, let's not make this easy for you," Vera snarled once Tavia was gone, her expression almost deranged.

"Ooh, I like that face on you, Vera," Troy teased, "but I think Lowell would've liked it more."

Vera raised her gun and Clementine turned around, screwing her eyes shut. She didn't feel strong enough to see Troy being shot, not when he'd just essentially sacrificed himself to save her.

Kenny also looked away, and the two of them sat there wordlessly as two gunshots went off. Troy's hisses of pain were loud and inviting for walkers; Vera or Tyler were clearly hurting him more, for Clementine could hear their grunts of effort followed by held-back whimpers and yelps from Troy. Once they clearly got their anger out, they stepped a few feet away from him.

"Alright, now let's go," Vera snapped finally, sounding out of breath.

"Wait, we don't have a radio," Tyler responded. "How are we supposed to contact Tavia…?"

Vera scoffed. "I don't give a shit, we'll figure something out." She gave another grunt as a door was opened - presumably the one on Lowell and Troy's truck. "Now c'mon, let's go catch those bastards," she urged.

It wasn't long before the other truck drove off into the distance, unknowingly leaving behind two people they were supposed to find. But Clementine hardly cared about them at the moment; her mind was swimming with so many conflicting emotions and thoughts, she couldn't keep them straight.

Once she stopped hearing the truck's rumbling, the air grew deathly silent and still.

Chapter Text

The snow was getting worse.

Clementine had trouble seeing through the bushes, the white surrounding her almost blinding. Shivers trailed up her spine, her jacket not accommodating enough for the low temperature. Once upon a time, it had been enough to keep her warm, but the stakes seemed so much more different now - more serious and deadly.

The wind whipped around her dangerously, frost biting at any exposed skin; huddling in on herself, she attempted to block out the elements, but it wasn't very effective. She didn't even have a hood to put over her head, her worn hat being the only thing shielding her head from the snow.

Kenny was still beside her, shivering just as much with his head down low. Despite their best efforts, it seemed neither of them could really get warm. As much as it sucked, and as much as the snow around her was clearly starting to become a problem, Clementine would just have to ignore it as best she could for now. There were more dire things to focus on, after all.

Honestly, Clementine's first instinct after listening to that whole scene was to run out and assess the damage. Troy had clearly been hurt badly, and the fact that he still wasn't making a sound was enough to worry her. She didn't even want to think about what his current state of injuries could be like - not until she actually looked at him, at least. Her imagination had a tendency to fill in the blanks rather incorrectly, so she tried not to habitually assume the worst.

Still, before she could do anything for Troy, she had to take care of one more thing.

Without saying a word to Kenny, she retrieved the walkie - hers, not Lowell's - from her pocket.

At the time, she hadn't been able to see why Troy was giving her the extra device, but it did dawn on her once the guards left. Vera and Tyler had noticed they were without a radio and still went on without it - but Tavia had no clue. If she needed to contact them, she'd be speaking into a radio that fed her words directly to Clementine.

It was a smart - almost tactical - strategy. She certainly wouldn't have been able to come up with that on the spot like Troy had, especially with an oncoming threat approaching so quickly. Once again, she was reminded that he was smarter than he let on… or at least for certain situations.

"Sarah," she hissed into the speaker. She had to speak a bit louder because of the roaring wind that picked up every few minutes. "There are two guards coming back your way."

A crackle of static, then: "Okay, Clem. Thanks for the heads-up! What about you guys? Everything okay over there?"

Clementine swallowed hard, not sure what to say. She didn't exactly want to lie, but… part of her wasn't willing to be entirely truthful, either. Besides, if she didn't have to worry Sarah, she didn't want to - so she chose her words carefully.

"Me and Kenny are okay," she assured, getting the completely true facts out of the way first. "We're still working on getting Troy to come with us." Not technically a lie, so it would have to do for now… and she'd just have to make sure to clear things up later on - with Troy, preferably, even if he retold the events in his very vocal way.

"Alright, cool," Sarah responded, none the wiser, "I'll tell the others about the guards, so we can surprise them and be on top of things!"

"Good plan. I'll talk to you again soon." Clementine smiled, and placed the radio back in her pocket. She exchanged a quick glance at Kenny, squinting through the snow even though he was a few feet away, and curled in on herself with a long sigh.

"Kenny, I'm… a little nervous," she confessed. "I don't know if I want to go out there."

"Then don't," Kenny replied, as if that was obvious. He scooted over closer to her, placing an arm around her shoulder in an attempt to keep them both warm. "You ain't responsible for him, Clem - hell, you never were. Sure, y' did a really nice thing before, keepin' that bastard alive and whatnot, but that don't mean you have to see it through to the end."

She frowned, knowing his words were correct, but still disagreeing nonetheless. Every part of her didn't want to leave the safety of these bushes, to push through an escalating snowstorm just to prove someone was truly dead. She didn't want to risk her life out there, with walkers surely on the way from those earlier gunshots.

And yet.

And yet, she needed to. It wasn't a matter of wanting it anymore - she was way past that point. It was like starting a book, reading almost all the way through, and then stopping just before the ending and leaving it on the shelf forever. Every story had a natural conclusion, and stopping here would just leave her wondering. And her mind really didn't go easy on her; anxiety crept mercilessly about her, various possibilities all swarming in her head like buzzing wasps.

"Back at Crawford," she said suddenly, the memories of the past flashing before her eyes as clear as if they were happening at that moment. "Almost everyone wanted to leave Ben behind, but I voted for him to stay. Do you remember that?"

Kenny seemed taken aback, but eventually swallowed hard and nodded.

"I may have been younger and definitely more naive, but… I still believe that I made the right choice." She sighed, watching her breath escape in puffs of warm air. "I don't really want to go out there and try to save Troy again… but it's like I said back then… we don't leave friends behind."

The implications of her words weren't lost on her - and judging by his shocked expression, neither were they on Kenny. But she shut those thoughts away for the moment, focusing on the task at hand.

"At the very least… if he's dead," she continued, choking on the words, "I should make sure he doesn't turn."

Slowly, Kenny nodded supportively. There really was no question nowadays regarding mercy killing; unless it put someone in explicit danger, it was just common decency. Lee had hesitated when asking her to shoot him - perhaps to preserve what was left of her innocence - but some part of her knew she'd have to do it the moment she saw his bite. No conscious part of her could let that man - the man who gave so much for her, even his life - suffer as a walker for the rest of time.

She hadn't realized she was shaking until Kenny placed a hand on her shoulder, patting it a bit in comfort. "Hey, it's okay, Clem," he shushed. "It's okay. I understand. Well, sorta."

After she quirked a skeptical brow at him, he chuckled and added, "...alright, maybe I actually don't understand - but I don't need to. You're grown enough to make your own decisions here, and I trust you."

Clementine's chest warmed at the praise, and she nodded. "That… really, really means a lot."

Kenny gave her a smile in return, the kind crinkle around his eye reminding her of an expression Lee once wore. It was a look reminiscent of… pride, almost.

It was a lot to take in. Kenny was… proud of her. Her heart lifted at that reality, and she instantly felt ten times stronger.

"And for what it's worth," Kenny continued, "I know Lee would be happy with who you've become. You're growin' so much every day - you're more than just survivin', which is what I think he always wanted for you."

Clementine definitely agreed. Though survival was the number one priority, she was still capable of learning and developing as a person - a good person, preferably, just like Lee had been.

"Thank you, Kenny," she replied, a bit shy at all the sudden praise. After flashing one more smile his way, she decided to shift the conversation topic away from herself; taking a deep breath, she proclaimed, "Now, I'm going to go out there, and see what we're dealing with. What about you?"

Kenny paused, taking the time to think it over. "If we all end up dead or far away from here, Tavia'll take AJ back to Howe's regardless - Troy made a lotta sense there, at least," he admitted, crossing his arms. "So I don't think chasin' after her on my own without a weapon is the smartest thing."

Clementine nodded in agreement. "Do you want to take the gun…?" she asked a bit hesitantly, eyeing the pistol in her hands - but Kenny shut her down with a shake of his head.

"Absolutely not, Clem," he hissed. "I wouldn't dream of leavin' you defenseless like that. I can't exactly stop you from goin' out there and checkin' on that bastard, but at the very least, you have a gun."

It made sense, and she couldn't find an argument for him. Instead, she merely offered another nod and as confident a smile as she could muster. "Please stay hidden, then, until I figure out what to do with Troy," she advised.

"You got it. In fact, I'll hang back here and keep watch for y'all, okay? Just in case any'a them guards - or even walkers - decide to come back and pay us a visit." Kenny's eye scanned over top their hiding place, squinting against the snow, but it seemed he couldn't see anything, either. "Well, if nothin' else, I'll try to listen carefully," he muttered.

Clementine smiled despite herself, appreciative for his help. "I know we won't be able to hear each other well either, but I'll keep myself alert for anything. Thank you, Kenny." Without even thinking about it, she snaked her arms around his middle, and clutched at him tightly.

He definitely appreciated the hug, and returned it with a gentle squeeze of his own. "Anytime, Clem."

All of Kenny's words invigorated her, bringing a new sense of courage powerful enough to let her step forward.

But as she carefully maneuvered over the bushes, she couldn't help but turn around once more and ask, "If we can take him with us, we will, right?"

She was relieved to see Kenny nodding. "Of course," he assured, a twinkle in his eye. "Now, go make sure that asshole's okay so we can get to AJ."

While the overall probability of Troy being unharmed was low, perhaps he wasn't too injured. Maybe the guards took mercy on him, or he moved at the last second - any crazy circumstance would've worked, really, for the bullets to miss their mark by just enough.

Clementine knew better than to take that possibility seriously, but she still let it settle in her mind for a few moments before shaking her head clear of it. She knew better than anyone that it was pointless to hope for something like that.

Regardless, she pushed through her snowy surroundings, eyes keen and aware for anything that wasn't pure white. It took a few moments of stumbling around (and almost tripping on several sneaky branches), but she finally did come across what she was searching for - or rather, who.

When she scoped him out through the frost, Clementine audibly gasped.

Troy was still tied to the tree trunk, his head hanging low and blood dripping from his brow. His legs were bent at painfully wrong angles, uselessly sprawled out in front of him like he was a broken doll. There were two large red and white lumps where his knees should have been, indicating just how shattered the bones were from the bullets. The original gunshot wound on his side hadn't ceased bleeding, either, so he was just a mess of blood and bruises all over. The slush below him was bright crimson, like some kind of macabre cherry icee.

The whole scene made her stomach churn, bile splashing at the back of her throat; she swallowed hard to keep it down, taking care to step silently through the snow towards him. The pistol he'd given her was still at her side, naturally, so she felt a bit calmer; if he turned out to be a walker already, she had protection. That safety net was enough to let her kneel down in front of him, albeit a bit further away than she would normally.

"Troy," she whispered, her eyes not leaving his face. A familiar sense of dread fell over her like a blanket; was she too late for him?

Her hand hovered above his shoulder shakily; fear began to pound through her, though she wasn't quite sure why. Despite him having a last-minute change of heart, a part of her was still quite angry he was originally just going to go with his old allies. However, a larger part of her knew that was just silly; holding onto grudges wasn't very smart in this world, after all, and her kinder side always ended up winning over her heart, anyway.

Just because she hadn't fully forgiven him yet didn't make a lick of difference to her anxiety, though, because as much as she'd like to deny it, Clementine did care about Troy. There was a very strong part of her that did not want to see this man die, just as much as she didn't want Luke to die, or Nick, or anyone.

When she first chopped off his arm, she'd thought his death would make her grand moral dilemma for nothing. And for a long while, that was all she regarded him as - a righteous deed for herself to feel good about, a trophy for being '#1 Asshole Saver'. But between talking to him like she would anyone else, realizing he was, in fact, a human being - with human emotions and a human past - her regard for him turned into a sort of weird friendship.

"We don't leave friends behind."

And though she was coming to terms with it being true, she really did consider Troy a friend now. Sure, he was prickly and unpleasant, but he came through in the end for her and the rest of the group. Surely that warranted being considered more than just an ally?

Maybe she was naive, or too young to truly understand. Being friends with Troy wasn't what she would've ever pictured, and she wasn't sure if he'd even agree that they were. But… he surely would say they weren't enemies, and they both clearly gave a damn about one another as allies would, so… it was something.

A gush of cold air snapped her out of her thoughts, and she realized that her hand was still floating above Troy's shoulder. He hadn't moved yet, but the wind did cause him to take a weak, shuddering breath. The sound was more like a wheezing shiver than anything, but it wasn't a walker growl, so Clementine relaxed.

She murmured his name again, which seemed to finally stir him. His eyelids twitched and opened slightly, brown irises sliding over to focus on her. It took him a few minutes to truly recognize her, though, but once he finally pushed through the haze of waking up from unconsciousness, it was visible all over his face.

His jaw and eyes both opened wide and he blinked rapidly, shifting his eyes to the ground or sky and then back at Clementine, clearly trying to convince himself she was actually there. When he finally did speak, his voice was raspy and cracked, but strong enough to convey his shock and, surprisingly, irritation.

"What the fuck…" he slurred, blood seeping through his teeth. He spat out a glob of it onto the snow, grimacing as it made a particularly striking red dot in the snow. "Jesus Christ, you… you really don't listen, do you Clementine?"

She opened her mouth to reply, but he coughed a few times and cut her off.

"I… I mean, fuck… I gave y' two chances to get away, and y' just… stayed anyway. The fuck's wrong with you, kid?" Troy looked upset, but not furious at her like he would've been at Howe's - no, his mood wasn't from a place of frustration at not being listened to, but one of worry.

And suddenly, she felt a little bad for staying, if only because he looked downright concerned - and that was not a look she wanted to see on someone like him.

Still, she decided to keep the tone as light as possible; she drilled into her head that this didn't have to be a goodbye if she acted quick enough and kept a positive attitude. With a small snicker, she replied, "Nothing's wrong with me." With a sheepish grin, she added, "But I am sorry for making you upset."

That earned her a scoff, and she was almost pleased his usual personality was shining through. "I ain't upset. Just thought you were smarter'n that."

"I am smart," she protested, pursing her lips, "I just don't listen to bad ideas. And after all that you did for us, leaving you to die here sounded like a very bad idea."

With a defeated sigh, Troy mumbled, "Guess it ain't worth arguin' at this point, since it's over'n done with. Tavia and them are out lookin' for you, and you were here the whole time…"

Clementine nodded. "I let Sarah know the two guards were coming after them, so with any luck, they'll be able to get the jump on them. We'll have only Tavia to worry about then."

"Only Tavia," Troy mocked, scoffing. "You really have no fuckin' idea what those words mean, do you?"

Clementine closed her eyes briefly, the briefest glimpse of a memory flashing through her mind: Kenny, crowbar in hand, swinging violently to bash a man's face in. When she opened her eyes again, she swore she could still see the dirty bloodstains on the ground.

"We've dealt with worse," she pointed out, her voice low.

Troy went silent for a moment, so Clementine took the chance to try to cut him free. Leaning forward on her knees, she inspected the rope around his body and noted that it wasn't very tightly secured. She was able to pull on it, but it didn't create enough slack for him to slip out of - not to mention she wasn't even sure he could move right now, let alone maneuver around a rope.

She tried to tear it apart with her hands, recognizing quickly that it was still made of strong material and wasn't going to break at some measly tugging. Still, she tried, her palms eventually burning from the friction.

"Clementine, stop," Troy interrupted, pointedly looking down at his pocket. "Grab my knife, you little shit."

Oh. Right - Troy had exactly what she needed, didn't he? With a hiss, she pulled her hands back, rubbing them onto the snow to cool off, then retrieved the hunting knife from him. Ignoring the bloodstains still fresh on the blade, the weapon was still in very good condition - easily able to slice through the rope.

Once it was broken, Troy's torso began to fall forward in a snap-like reaction. She reached out her arms and stopped him with ease, trying to ignore his body's trembling and how freezing his skin was, and leaned him back against the trunk of the tree.

"Fu-fuck," he muttered, his shuddering breath visible in the cold air. "Thanks. That shit was holdin' me steady, I guess."

"Seems like it," she agreed, flinching as a gust of freezing air blew through her. Troy winced as well, unable to do much, apart from riding out the chill. "How are you feeling, overall...?" It wasn't a smart question, but the words were out of her mouth before she realized it.

"I'm f-fuckin' cold," he muttered in response, as if that wasn't obvious.

"I can see that," she replied quietly. "That's… probably not good."

He just shrugged lifelessly. "Lotta things about this are probably not good, but whatever. I did what I did, and ended up where I am." Smirking, he bared his bloody teeth, turning his head to spit on the ground again. "Still don't regret a goddamn thing."

She wanted to chide him and claim he was just being dramatic, that they could easily get out of here if they both tried hard enough and asked for Kenny's help, but there was a very real part of her that doubted her own intentions. However, a sudden thought struck her, and this was by no means the appropriate time to follow through with it - but it was enough of a distraction for now, so she didn't care.

"Before I forget..." Gently, Clementine bopped Troy on his good shoulder - or whatever was closest to 'good'. She felt a little guilty when he winced a bit, but he was able to shake it off quickly and shoot her an annoyed look.

"The hell was that for?" he demanded.

She flashed a sheepish grin. "Sarah told me to do that."

"For hittin' her with a pistol?"

"Yeah. I'd consider yourself lucky that's all she wanted me to do. If it had been me…" While she tried to be a merciful and kind person, she couldn't deny she would want to do much worse if she'd been the one to receive the injury.

Troy didn't seem to consider her thinly-veiled threat, though, for he just snickered under his breath. "Oh, I know y' would've done worse - literally anyone but Sarah would've, probably."

"You're not wrong," she replied, almost humorously. "She did mention that you apologized to her before doing it, though."

"Er…" He almost looked embarrassed at that, squirming a bit and avoiding her gaze. "W-well, yeah, I mean… Sarah did a lot for me. I didn't want to hit her like that, y'know?"

Clementine was about to point out how eager he was to hit her back at Howe's, but the difference was obvious and she seemed to finally accept that Troy had changed somewhat. He wasn't the same man from before, at least not entirely - and both of them knew it.

"Sarah's definitely not the same stupid kid I thought she was," the man continued, seeming a bit reluctant to admit it. "But she'll need more practice with a gun, for sure."

"You're a shit teacher, but… I think she's still grateful." Clementine said, then suggested, "You can continue helping her once we regroup."

Troy laughed lowly, looking very amused at her choice of words. "Yeah, sure, I'll get right on that," he sneered, his tone dripping with sarcasm. "Just make sure she can do it soon, alright?"

"What do you mean?" Clementine demanded, about to tell him off for deflecting her praise - but he changed the subject almost instantly.

"Never mind that. More important things to focus on; tell me kid - is there a slap or anythin' from Jane to deliver?" he asked, a disgusting smile crossing his bruised features.

"No…?" Clementine's stomach churned at the cheeky expression, and she had to swallow any excess words she thought of. When he frowned in disappointment, though, she added, "But, um, for what it's worth, I think she's… pleased that you made the right decision in the end."

Troy chuckled, giving a light shrug. "Okay, that's fair. I'll have t' take that, then. Tell her thanks, then, kid, and leave it at that." He seemed to be holding back words of his own, but hell if Clementine could ever figure out what they were - that distracting kissing stuff wasn't exactly what she wanted to ever experience, after all.

But something was worrying her about what he collectively did choose to say. A hollow feeling dropped into her stomach like a stone; through context, it didn't seem like Troy thought he was leaving here… and that was not only bothering, but alarming.

Unfortunately, though, she didn't get the chance to point it out. Not even two seconds later, Troy perked his head up without warning, turning it to the side and closing his eyes. He focused on listening for something through the harsh wind, eventually looking back at Clementine. "Lurkers, nearby. Sounded like two of 'em, but I can't be sure."

"Y-you can hear them?"

"Feel 'em, more like. Like they crawled outta the ground or some shit." Troy rested his head back against the tree, keeping his eyes locked in the direction he expected the walkers to emerge from.

Swallowing hard, Clementine gripped the knife at her side, carefully following his gaze with her own. She wanted to avoid using the pistol for many reasons, the most prominent being that the noise would draw more walkers. Holding her breath, she squinted through the white, trying to make out even the outline of a threat.

And while it did take a few minutes, two walkers stumbled into view, their arms swinging around while they moaned hungrily. Clementine tensed, readying her weapon, and backed up a few steps. The walkers seemed completely focused on her, lifeless eyes staring dead at their next prospective meal.

When one got close enough to her, Clementine fired a bullet into its head, stopping it almost instantly. Dead weight, the walker dropped, revealing the second one was not that far away.

"Don't waste anymore bullets - aim for the knee. Kick it and take it out with the knife," Troy wheezed, his voice sounding distant.

Solid advice, she couldn't help but think. Stretching out her leg, she bashed in the remaining walker's knee and watched it go down, slicing into its brain to kill it.

The second walker went down much easier than the first, she couldn't help but note - she definitely wouldn't forget that technique.

"Thanks for the advice," she said earnestly, smiling gratefully towards Troy. A shiver rose up her spine as she got a closer look at his state, however.

His lips began to turn a faint shade of blue, alarming Clementine even further; she decided that it wasn't the time for chatting anymore, and Troy's small window of time was running out. "We need to get out of here quickly," she urged, "to get you some help."

His gaze shifted over to her in pure confusion. "The hell… you mean? Help?" he rasped. "I ain't goin' nowhere."

A feeling of dread dropped into her stomach like a stone. "Don't talk like that. Kenny's nearby; we can ask him to help get you up and moving."

Eyes narrowed, Troy hissed, "Does it look like I can go anywhere? My knees are all sorts'a fucked up, in case you didn't see." He glanced down at his bloody body, curling his lip back in disgust. "Seriously, I only got one workin' limb left! What the fuck am I supposed to do!?"

Though she didn't mean to, Clementine felt herself flinch at his words; it wasn't necessarily the harsh way he said them, but the implications behind them. But still, she refused to give up just yet; she'd seen people bounce back from worse - or at least, she kept telling herself that, because it was the only thing she could do at this point.

"We… we can drag you if we have to…" she murmured, her eyes studying the ground.

"No thanks," Troy scoffed. "That'll just hurt worse… or even kill me faster, who knows? I ain't takin' the risk. I'm good right here."

"Don't talk like that," she chided, shaking her head. "Seriously, it's starting to get annoying."

In confusion, Troy weakly quirked a brow. "Annoyin'...?" he questioned, shaking his head. "This hurts like a motherfuckin' bitch, Clementine, and you want to move me t' make it worse. What do you want me to say?"

Her heart pounded against her ribcage as she felt anger course through her veins, like a fire had been lit in her belly. "I want you to stop thinking you're going to die!" she yelled. "There has to be a place with supplies around here. That kind of talk is not helping anyone, Troy - least of all you."

She expected an angry response, but he just smirked with a mouth full of blood. "Sheesh, kid, look… there ain't nothin' that's gonna help me at this point."

Frustrated, she punched his shoulder again, not feeling bad at his flinch this time. "Shut up. Just shut up! You lived through a severed limb - and then that limb getting infected. You survived so much and so far already, and now you're just giving up?"

Troy just lifelessly shrugged, his mind clearly made up and unshakeable. "There ain't nowhere else to go at this point - I'm tired."

"Then you can sleep when we get you to safety," Clementine pressed.

"Not that kinda tired. You know what I mean." With a roll of his eyes, Troy flashed a lifeless smile. "It's the end of the line."

Her body quivered, both in anger and shock. So many emotions were flooding through her all at once, she wasn't able to comprehend them. Reality and logic tried to perch on her shoulders like two heavy vultures, but she wouldn't let them; she'd just have to spit in the face of whatever was trying to happen, and attempt to save this stupid man's life yet again.

But what if...?

No. What right did she have to worry about failure now - after all those she'd lost? She had absolutely no right, not after watching so many people who helped her die.

Duck, Nick, Luke, and countless others were killed, and she had no opportunity to help or save any of them. Not to mention - she killed Lee.

…and she had the nerve to think Troy would somehow be the one to survive here?

The thought was so ridiculous, it was almost humorous; she could've bitterly laughed at it if she wasn't so busy being miserable. What right did she have to get attached to this asshole? What business did her heart have, sinking at the thought of losing him - the same way it did for Kenny, or for Sarah, or for anyone that she cared about?

Fuck this.

"You're not… you can't be stupid enough to stop here. Come on." Clementine knew they were weak words, but they were all she could come up with in the moment. Gripping his shoulder, she shook him again - perhaps a bit too eagerly, judging by his wince of pain at the motion.

"I'm definitely that stupid," he mumbled, shaking his head.

"Then surprise us all by surviving," she offered, attempting to bargain with him if she could. "It's- Troy, it's not too late. It can't be. Please."

He didn't even grace her with a direct answer, his mind clearly in another place. "I didn't get it back then, when I had to kill Colton - he just sat there and accepted it. But I think I get it now," he muttered. She was silent, so he took that opportunity to continue, "You know when your time is up. You can go out fightin' or cryin', but there ain't nothin' you can do to stop it."

Gazing down at the bloody snow, and then up at Troy's pale face, Clementine swallowed hard. She could feel herself begin to tremble - but whether that was from the cold or something else, she couldn't tell.

Troy closed his eyes and continued. "Killin' one in order to save many is part of survival," he repeated words she'd long forgotten. "So… just let me be the dead one this time, yeah?"

"…seems too noble for you." She tried to reply with dark humor, but the words tasted sour on her tongue. Despite her inner protests, she had a feeling this was the right way to respond - that he truly didn't want to focus on the depressing reality, and would rather go without much ceremony.

In fact, his reception was faintly shown on his face; it was difficult because of his fading strength, but she could tell he was trying to smirk as mischievously as he'd done before. "W-well, I agree… but maybe I wanna go out seemin' better than I actually was."

"You weren't that bad," Clementine replied, and she found herself truly believing that.

"Heh… I'll take it. But enough… enough'a this mushy shit." Simply speaking had become a struggle for him, but still he ground out words with a grimace. "Y'know… I don't remember much from bein' drunk that one night, but… I think I asked you if you ever put someone down."

She went quiet, her mind spinning, but he didn't let her stay that way.

"…by shootin' 'em in the head? Right, Clementine?" he pressed, struggling to keep his focus on her. "I did ask that?"

Clementine nodded, feeling a little guilty for her silence. "Yes, you did. I remember."

"Well, I don't remember gettin' an answer." He looked almost reluctant, but she already knew what he was going to request from her.

So shakily, she bobbed her head down again. "I've done it before, and yes, I'll do it for you."

His eyes widened for a moment, holding more emotion than they had for a while. "T-thank god," he breathed, letting out a long sigh. "How many bullets you got left?"

Quickly, she opened the pistol and peered inside. Of course. "One," she reported, a bit irritated. However, she was grateful that Troy had warned her earlier not to shoot the second walker, as they'd both be shit out of luck.

Troy groaned, shaking his head in disappointment. "Fuckin' figures. Think you could still use it on little ol' me…?"

The emotion swelling in her chest made her hesitate - something Troy interpreted as uncertainty. He continued, "I really… really don't wanna bleed out slowly here, Clementine." His voice shook as he spoke, close to pleading. "And like fuck I wanna become a lurker."

It seemed that Troy felt the same way they all did; no one wanted to be reanimated and linger around after their deaths, and some were definitely more vocal about their fears than others. Despite the differences and conflicts between humans in this new, post-walker twisted world, no one could argue that their common goal was to survive - and if that should no longer be possible, to be killed as cleanly and quickly as possible.

"I said I would do it," she reminded him with a frown, "and I will."

Troy let out a small sigh of relief. "Good. Then just pull that trigger for me, alright? Trust me, it's easy - one-two-three, bam."

Easy, he said. It was never an easy thing to do, and it never became easier. She wanted to point that out, but she had to remember that she wasn't the one dying here; she shouldn't be arguing with a man on the verge of death, and there was absolutely no point in it, anyway.

"Okay," she said hollowly, her vision growing blurry. No, don't get like this. It's just Troy. she ordered herself, brushing her sleeve over her eyes, but her heart protested.

She took a deep breath, steadying herself and trying to banish any unpleasant memories from her mind; the last thing she needed was that nagging voice in the back of her mind, reminding her just how similar this situation was to Lee's. Her hands started to shake as she remembered pulling the trigger on her surrogate father figure. Despite it all, tears began to slip down her cheeks just from that overwhelmingly traumatic feeling.

When she focused back on Troy, she could see his eyes widening, as if he thought she was crying for him; she wasn't, not really, but her heart did ache with sadness at the thought of what she was about to do.

"I… this reminds me of… a crossroads I've been at before," she blurted out, trying to justify herself.

After a moment, Troy merely nodded in understanding. "Ah, yeah… I know what y' mean. Though… for me, it's backwards this time; kid's puttin' down the adult." He laughed a little, gazing up at the snowy sky. "Probably how it's supposed to go."

No doubt it was, but Clementine still didn't think any of this was fair. But she didn't really know what else to say; the mixture of memory and reality pain was too busy seizing her every thought, travelling through her veins and paralyzing her to that spot, knelt down in front of Troy.

She studied the pistol in her hands, every groove and design etched into the metal, and then back at the mortally wounded man in front of her. Slowly, she held up the pistol to him, noticing the expression on his face almost instantly.

He was afraid.

Though he was trying his best to mask any hint of fear as he stared down the weapon, she could still see it in his eyes. Reality seemed to finally sink into Troy, and he was finally openly fearful of his impending death.

"Sh-shit," he ground out, wrenching his gaze away from her. He began to mumble under his breath, no doubt trying to calm himself down. "It's just a gun. I know guns. I know them so fuckin' well, I know that that one is a Glock 17. This- this don't make sense. I've never felt scared'a guns before, so why am I now…?" His voice trailed off into nonsensical rambling before he fell into a panicked silence.

She placed a hand on his good shoulder, squeezing it gently. "It's… it's alright, Troy," she murmured awkwardly, trying her best to comfort him - while also knowing that it absolutely was not alright, and that she was a liar.

Without warning, her thoughts flooded back to the last person that had to be put down - Nick. The memories were so clear so suddenly, she swore she could see him kneeling on the ice in front of her.

"Nick said that after he died, he hoped to see his family and Luke again," she said, remembering the man's last few words to her. "Um, maybe… Colton and Kylie will be waiting for you too, on the other side."

That finally seemed to snap Troy out of his anxiety; he snuffled in response, no longer having the strength to laugh - but the implications were clear. "Oh, fuck… no, I'm gonna stop you there." Rolling his eyes, he weakly sneered, "If there is somethin' after death… there ain't no fuckin' way I'm headed to where they are."

She opened her mouth to argue, but found no words. He took her silence as agreement, and actually managed a chuckle.

"Th-thanks for stoppin' that pity party, I appreciate it. You ain't… ain't a bad kid, y'know? Lot better than I thought back at Howe's." Troy let out a low cough, his body drooping even further against the trunk of the tree. Clementine could tell she didn't have much time to waste; his energy was bleeding out almost as fast as his actual blood.

"Troy…" she began, but he continued without acknowledging her.

"I mean… really. I ain't any good at that goodbye shit, but…" Troy took a shaky breath, managing a small smile. It was weak and faint, but the sincerity was unquestionable. "Thanks for, y'know, givin' me an extra chance, Clementine. Fuck knows I didn't deserve it, but y'still… well. Yeah. Thank you."

[ You're welcome. ]

[ (Hug Troy) ]

Her body shifted before she could comprehend what was happening; like with Luke in the comic store, or Kenny at the ski lodge, she was just so overwhelmed by the emotion of the situation that she moved on instinct. Her arms wrapped around Troy's freezing form gently, her eyes closing.

He stiffened at the hug, but ultimately didn't push her off - though, whether that was because he didn't want to or he physically couldn't wasn't clear. She decided that it didn't really matter regardless, because she'd already done it.

"F-fuck, c'mon squirt, I don't need a goddamn hug…" he muttered once she pulled away. He didn't sound happy, but the grateful expression on his face blatantly betrayed his words. "No more fussin'. Just get it over with, Clementine," he sighed, slowly shutting his eyes and letting out a long, visible breath in the cold air.

Her arm felt heavy, her fingers sticking to the leftover blood on the surface of the pistol. A numbness pooled into her stomach and travelled through her veins until it reached her mind, detaching her from the scene before her.

It was as if she'd split into two; one Clementine held the pistol towards her friend, the other stood by and gawked. She raised the gun, pointed it at Troy, and began to gently squeeze around the trigger - and all she could really do was watch herself do it all.

But instead of the damning bang, she heard the unexpected chirp of the radio in her pocket. She stopped, her breath catching in her throat; Troy was startled by the noise as well, his eyes snapping open.

Quickly taking out her walkie, Clementine was about to reply, but another buzz of static sounded from her pocket. It dawned on her who was speaking on the other end - and just which radio it was.

She pulled out the correct device and listened carefully, keeping her finger away from the button to respond.

"Tyler? Vera?" Predictably, Tavia's angry voice sounded from the other end. "I heard some gunshots a little while ago - I'm heading in that direction now. Almost there. I trust you two are on your way, too."

The static that followed didn't register right away, the words continuing to echo in Clementine's mind. She felt her heart nearly stop, a very raw kind of fear overwhelming her. A heavy sense of dread and anxiety overcame her like a raincloud, clamping tightly onto her and not letting go.

Nearby, Troy let out a growl that almost sounded inhuman. The sound startled her so badly, she nearly pulled the trigger right then and there, thinking he'd become a walker. Thankfully, she managed to catch herself beforehand, and good thing: Troy was still alive and human - for now, anyway - and had simply hissed in frustration.

"Oh my fuckin' god," he choked out angrily, blood dripping from his teeth. His lips curled to a snarl and threw his head back against the trunk of the tree to force out a bitter, strangled laugh. Clearly, though, he was not actually amused by the situation; his expression was laced with venom as he retorted, "I can't just… die peacefully, can I? Fuck Tavia."

Clementine couldn't exactly disagree with the sentiment, but she was still drowning in her worries. It wasn't as if she hadn't considered the possibility of Tavia returning - but did it have to be so soon and so suddenly? She didn't feel prepared, which just made her more vulnerable; if she couldn't see Tavia, that didn't necessarily mean Tavia couldn't see her. The moment she became unguarded, she was at risk for being killed on the spot - not to mention her friends, as well.

She prided herself on almost always keeping a cool head, but this time she couldn't stop the panic from creeping up on her, her breath quickening. "Kenny?" she called, squinting through the snow. "Kenny, are you there!?" She felt alone all of a sudden, not caring about the increasing volume of her voice.

There was no response, prompting her to believe that Kenny couldn't hear her over the harsh wind - and with the world so white as it was, she couldn't tell the direction she'd come from. Troy was the only thing she could really see; nothing else recognizable was in sight.

Sure, she might be able to make it back to Kenny in time, but what then? They still had a measly pistol with one bullet between the two of them, and Tavia could use her truck to find them - not to mention, she had a rifle of her own.

"I- what do I do?" She cursed inwardly at how pitiful and despaired her words sounded. Her teeth bit down into her lip, eyes locking onto Troy - as if a dying man somehow held all the answers.

Troy silently studied her for a long time, his expression eerily calm. She squirmed under his stare, unsure if he was truly thinking anything or if his brain had already begun to rot. Hesitantly, she whispered his name, but he only looked away, still deeply pondering something.

His gaze flickered to the snow below, focusing on the ground as if it were the most interesting thing in the world. He stared at the walker corpses a few feet away, the white sky above them, the blood patches seeping into the snow below him, and then back at Clementine. His lips were pressed firmly together, a fire flickering in his eyes for the first time in a while.

"Fuck," he coughed. "Fine - fuckin' fine. I'll tell you what to do, and you gotta do it exactly as I say." He looked irritated and annoyed, but still determined enough to look her dead in the eye.

She nodded firmly. "Okay, I understand."

"Even then, it may not work," Troy warned, closing his eyes for a moment in thought. "But it's all I got. We're gonna have to try."

There was no hesitation in her gaze as she responded, "What are we waiting for, then?"

Chapter Text

Sitting and waiting was a lot harder than it seemed, especially on high alert. It wasn't like this was her first stakeout situation - definitely not - but it was nerve-wracking nonetheless.

Clementine hadn't been an impatient child by any means, making sure to listen carefully in school and not rush through her homework, but the type of patience required in the apocalypse was far more demanding. Watching and waiting was taxing on the body, especially in the cold. To be fair, she had had no idea she'd end up sitting in a blizzard - but that fact did nothing to keep her warm.

She hadn't realized it until she had a moment to think for herself, but the low temperature in the air was also making her a bit drowsy. Though she obviously couldn't fall asleep, she had to resist her attention slipping even in the slightest. The threat was incoming, and she was ready - or, at least, as ready as she'd ever be.

Yes, she was cold, tired, and maybe also a bit hungry - but these were just typical complaints from her body nowadays, and she'd learned to ignore them to a degree.

Unfortunately, she never had found Kenny, but she hadn't diligently searched for him, either. Right now, she was more focused on setting things up per Troy's instruction, and planned on looking for Kenny the minute Tavia was dealt with. Until then, she just had to trust that he'd be okay.

And as much as she hated it, Troy's plan was her only hope right now - and even that had a fifty-fifty shot of failing if she was careless. But she had to keep telling herself that no other outcome but her survival would be accepted; it would take concentration and a bit of luck, but it had to work.

So she sat, huddled in on herself behind a bush, staring off into the white nothingness and keeping her ears perked for anything out of the ordinary. And for what felt like hours, she stayed that way, her legs growing numb from sitting still too long. Her gaze was focused ahead of her, wide and unblinking, and her mind grew fuzzy like tv static. The intense focus made her head ache, seconds dragging on and feeling like hours.

Memories fluttered through her mind briefly, recounting everything leading up to this moment.

"First off, we'll need t' pick a spot for you to wait," Troy had instructed her, dragging his tired gaze over the white. He nodded towards a smooth patch among the thick ruffles of the snow, and the row of nearby bushes. "...Right here should be good enough."

"Are you sure? What makes it so special?" she'd asked.

"Well, nothin', really - I'm just tryin' to scope everythin' out. Gimme a break here - we don't got much time."

The memory was cut short as the powerful wind pushed against her, each gust loud enough to drown out all other sounds. In the brief moments when the air wasn't trying to carry her away, she could hear absolutely nothing but the quiet stillness of a dead winter's day. Had this been any other situation, she might have felt solace in the silence, but now it was just unnerving.

But the moment something else did sound out from nearby, she immediately wished for that quiet again; a low rumbling in the distance signaled exactly what she was dreading, and she knew she wasn't ready - like a war drum, it indicated the final standoff. However, no amount of preparing and planning could've made her feel secure; this was just something that shook her to the core.

Time dragged by at a snail's pace, the rumbling growing louder and louder; she couldn't quite pinpoint which direction it came from, but it wasn't behind her and it was getting closer.

Clementine clutched at the pistol in her hands, praying she didn't have to use it but comforted by its presence nonetheless. Squinting through the snow, she eventually made out a small gray mass in the distance, and could only assume it was Tavia's truck.

Despite the incoming threat, she knew that the best thing to do right now was to stay quiet and keep focused. Worries could dance their way through her brain, but she had to pay them no mind while she was in the moment. Fixated on one task to complete and not stopping to analyze the steps needed, she became aware of her surroundings to an almost disturbing degree. She was a soldier with a plan, ready to put it into action when given the right signal.

Troy had helped solidify this strategy for her, and she wouldn't ever forget it. It was the least she could do, considering what he'd given in exchange.

Though she kept her mind disciplined, her body wasn't so cooperative. Her breathing still refused to even out, her heartbeat quickening with each exhale. In time, her whole frame shuddered, and that threatened to break her concentration.

Swallowing hard, she tried to remember the techniques Nick had once taught Sarah to calm down. Sure, things definitely weren't the greatest right now, but Clementine was determined to regain her composure. Drawing a breath, she counted to two, and then released it for the same amount of seconds. She repeated this with four seconds, then six, eight - and she did feel calmer.

Thanks, Nick. she thought, smiling to herself briefly, and continued her exercise.

As she breathed, the obscured object grew closer, revealing a clearer image of the vehicle. It definitely looked like Tavia's - or at least, it was larger than their own truck back at the safehouse - but the driver was hidden behind frosty windows and furiously moving wipers.

The truck's swerving through the thick snow jerked it back and forth in a zigzag, the steering growing more wild and out of control. The shrill screech of the breaks cut though the air, slowing the vehicle down enough to eventually come to a stop. It was still off in the distance, but still uncomfortably closer than it had been.

A door was wrenched open and of course, it was Tavia who hopped out. Not that Clementine honestly thought it was anyone else, but the world couldn't have decided instead to throw a nice stranger her way?

Apparently not.

AJ crossed her mind briefly, and whether or not he was alright, but she concluded there was no way to confirm or deny the infant's fate yet. She wasn't able to hear or see him, so all she could do was hope that he was still safe inside the truck.

Tavia stumbled a bit through the snow, as horribly underdressed for the weather as Clementine herself. She looked frazzled and almost deranged, movements jerky and desperate like an animal. Her breaths were heavy, each gasp making her shoulders rise and fall dramatically.

Her head whipped around in Clementine's general direction, and the girl ducked down behind the bushes more in fear. Tavia was far from the most frightening enemy she'd faced, but the combination of solitude and snow made Clementine feel terribly vulnerable.

"You'll need t' be sharp," Troy's past words whispered in her ear. "Be on the lookout for Tavia comin'. She'll come 'round eventually - when she does, keep yourself outta sight."

Though he was but a memory, she fought the urge to roll her eyes. What did he think she would do - twiddle her thumbs until Tavia comes to shoot her in the head? Wave her arms when she noticed the woman, yelling for her to come closer? Honestly, none of that needed to be said, but he still felt the need to give orders like she was a naive child; she may be a child, but like hell she was naive.

Still, she didn't mind it so much at that moment, as it was so like him and gave her a sense of twisted nostalgia to distract her from fear.

Tavia continued to lumber through the snow, her gaze focused ahead as if she knew exactly where she was going - which, given the blizzard surrounding her, was unlikely. Maybe she was good at tracking like Troy had been, but Clementine doubted the use of those skills in the middle of a blizzard.

And continuing with the unlucky streak of the situation, Tavia somehow ended up moving in the right direction. The paths in the snow had long since been covered, but she was on her way towards her target unknowingly. Clementine cursed under her breath, wishing the wind could somehow bring a giant gust to sweep Tavia away into the distance.

Clementine's body started to protest being in the same position for so long, so she adjusted herself slightly and kept movement to a minimum, lowering herself further towards the ground. If she'd been standing, the snow would be piled up past her knees, so it definitely covered at least half her body while she crouched. This was a bit of a blessing, though, as it provided cover - after all, just because Tavia was coming closer didn't necessarily mean she'd spot her.

So she hid down, lamenting over the fact that she was not able to obscure herself like a fact, it was quite the contrary; her bright blue jacket was practically a beacon amongst the whiteness, an invitation on a silver platter. But she still bided her time, praying that the snow was enough to cover her.

Her mind threatened to wander again, so she took to remembering more of Troy's crass words: "Tavia is a tough bitch, but… well, so are you, I guess. Despite it all, you're pretty fuckin' badass, kid."

Though she'd never call herself a 'tough bitch,' the words were comforting - and she could tell they were genuine when he'd said them. She smiled to herself, feeling a bit more brave. I'll be fine. I can do this.

Tavia's voice could be heard when the wind rested, her words becoming a mad mantra to herself. "Fucking ingrates," she hissed, stomping through the snow with resolve. "Thinking they can escape? After all they've done? I'll kill them - I'll fucking kill them." The rage could practically be felt in her words, her intentions loud and clear.

To a degree, Clementine understood the woman's anger - they'd killed Carver, after all, and left her and her colleagues for dead - but she wished Tavia would understand that it wasn't their intention to be trapped there in the first place. If Carver had never forced them back into a community they had no part in, they wouldn't have been so desperate to escape.

In fact, many (if not all) of the deaths since the lodge wouldn't have happened at all, and their group could still be going strong.

Clementine knew not to dwell on what-ifs, but it made her a bit angry; Tavia was here, wildly marching through the snow and hunting her like this was something that needed to be done, when in reality… in reality, none of this was necessary.

Inevitably, Tavia did grow closer; Clementine held her breath and tried to calm her hammering pulse. The world fell still, as if the only two people left were her and Tavia. Her eyes never left the woman, completely focused on her; every slight movement was seen, every last twitch and blink.

She watched Tavia lose footing a few times and nearly fall, watched her kick at piles of snow in frustration and screech into the sky. Through it all, Clementine didn't move and kept her sights on the woman, knowing that a wrong move could cost her life.

Sometimes, it seemed like Tavia would fall off her path and go another way, but every time she'd end up still trudging along towards Clementine.

It was a twisted game of hide and seek, and Clementine was just an unwilling player. And though it was unavoidable in the end, her thundering heart still nearly stopped when Tavia's eyes finally locked with hers.

"Shit," she whispered.

At first, she hoped maybe the snow had been enough cover to hide the fact that they were looking at one another, but recognition instantly settled in Tavia's gaze, and a wicked smile stretched onto her face. Clementine had seen countless horrors by this point in her life, but that grin was haunting - she didn't think she'd be able to forget it any time soon.

"Found you," Tavia mouthed gleefully. Even with the snow covering her partially, the woman's wicked expression was chilling to the bone.

Clementine scuttled back as best she could, afraid of moving too far away from her stationed point. Her breath hitched as she fumbled for the pistol at her side, frozen fingers positioning it towards Tavia just in case.

"Hey! What's the matter, Clementine?" Tavia's yell shot through the air, a sickeningly fake sweetness to her voice. "Why would you need to hide from me?"

Feeling like a rabbit cornered by a fox, Clementine could only sit frozen, listening to the blood roaring in her ears. Her body trembled in fear, and she wondered if she'd have time to pull the trigger - or even if she'd hit Tavia with one bullet in the snow. The risk was high and she was alone, making her panic even more.

Tavia was a few yards away now, stepping closer meaningfully. Clementine still had the cover of the bushes, but it didn't mean much after she'd been spotted. What good would a couple branches be against bullets? Still, she couldn't help but duck lower instinctively, wishing she could turn invisible.

"Aww, you're scared," Tavia pointed out mockingly, the smile stretching further across her face.

"I'm- I'm not," she muttered, berating herself for being a liar.

"You look it." All at once, the woman's expression darkened and she frowned, eyes gleaming with hatred as she took a few steps forward. "It's okay. All things considered, you probably should be."

Clementine knew she wasn't being completely honest with herself; like Carver, the St. Johns, and the stranger who kidnapped her, there were some monsters she just naturally feared. Despite always trying to be tough, this was a humbling reminder that she was still a child. Though she was plenty capable of making decisions and saving lives, there were still many things in this world that frightened her.

She wasn't unprepared, though - and being scared didn't mean she couldn't fight.

Despite her shaking body, she found a strange confidence edging into her words. "Maybe I am afraid," she admitted, lifting her head to meet Tavia's eyes straight-on, "but I'm not going to die today."

Tavia threw her head back and laughed - a sound that reminded Clementine of nails on a chalkboard. "Die? Oh, you poor thing. You think I'm going to kill you right off the bat? Just like that? Like you've earned that mercy?" Her eyes glittered and she smiled again, the joy in her expression absolutely sickening. "No, I'm going to have you and all your little friends wishing for death. By the end of it, you'll be begging for a bullet to the skull."

Narrowing her eyes, Clementine glared up at the woman, lips drawn tightly together in a grimace. Despite the harsh threats, she wasn't fazed.

Her eyes briefly locked onto a particular spot on the ground, just in front of Tavia: a small, slightly-raised snow mound, completely concealed to the eyes of those not searching for it. In other words, it looked pretty much like any other bump in the deep snow, and clearly Tavia didn't take any notice of its peculiarity.

"Nothing to say?" Tavia sneered. "It's fine - I'd advise against running, though, if you still want use of your legs." She took a single step forward almost cautiously, like she was approaching a wild animal; Clementine registered the movement, but was almost completely focused on her previous conversation echoing in her mind.

"And I'll wait right… here," Troy had instructed, eyes focused on the same spot in the snow. Clementine had held him up with as much strength as she had, trying not to focus on how violently his body was trembling. Getting to the spot had been difficult, too; Troy had nearly passed out standing up a few times, and she'd have to gently rouse him. But once he was satisfied with their vantage point and voiced his plan, Clementine had protested at first.

"There's no way she won't see you." she'd argued, shaking her head. "No offense, but you're like a giant moving stop sign at this point - bit hard not to see." She tried to joke, but the amount of blood dripping from his knees had caused her stomach to churn.

Troy snorted. "Guess we'll have to even the fuckin' odds, then." And with a mischievous smile - as much as he could manage with a bruised and beaten face, at least - he said, "Bury me in the snow - deep, so the 'stop sign' will be hidden. When she gets close, I'll jump out and get her."

Tavia took another step forward, hands tightening around her rifle.

Almost. Clementine thought, not moving a muscle. She didn't dare look at the snow mound, either, and simply watched Tavia emotionlessly.

Another step was taken.

Troy's idea had seemed stupid at first, and it took an embarrassingly long time for her to realize just what he was getting at. "You're going to jump out and attack? Without a weapon?" she'd inquired, brow quirked in confusion.

Yet another step.

Just a little closer. With her body in the present and her mind in the past, Clementine held her breath and braced herself, muscles tightening just in case.

When Tavia took one last step, the snow below her twitched.

"You kiddin'?" Troy's cackle echoed in Clementine's ear. "I'll have the best weapon: my teeth."

As if on cue, Tavia's leg fell through the snow. She let out a sharp cry of surprise and instinctively shifted her attention to the ground that had ensnared her foot, no longer looking at Clementine.

"What the fuck?" Tavia growled, merely frustrated as if she'd stepped in a puddle in the rain. It was just an inconvenience to her - or so she thought.

The snow crumbled into large chunks as a hand burst from below, a head and torso following quickly. A macabre scene unfolded before Clementine: Troy emerged and pushed all of his weight onto Tavia, clamping stiff fingers onto her leg. The sudden force knocked her off-balance, and she went down easily with another startled shriek.

Troy's sporadic movements were almost purposeful - not to mention spiteful and in-character - that for a very short moment, Clementine thought it was actually him. But the moment she got a real look at his face, it became clear how mistaken she was.

Pale skin, milky white eyes, animalistic growls - despite his movements making him look like a human, his appearance was obvious enough to say otherwise. His gray teeth gnashed together fervently, desperate to tear past Tavia's clothes to bite into her flesh. Clementine instinctively recoiled at the sight, backing up slightly.

It was horrible to look at, watching Troy claw at his prey with only one working limb. Though a large part of Clementine's heart knew this was the inevitable outcome, a smaller part had wanted to hope for something better. But the truth was laid out in front of her, terrible as it was.

He wasn't Troy anymore - just another hungry walker.

Though she'd been gaping at the scene for more than a few moments, her brain was still processing what was happening. Despite seeing it dozens of times, this type of thing was still difficult to witness - especially when it involved a friend.

Tavia's eyes went glassy with horror as Troy sunk his teeth into her neck, tearing into her hungrily and without mercy. The life drained away from her rather quickly, her mouth still wide-open in a scream cut short. It wasn't pleasant to see, but Clementine cared most about escaping now.

Troy seemed too preoccupied with his meal to take notice of her, but she still felt uneasy being this close to a walker. Cautiously, she moved her hands and legs backwards in a slow crabwalk, eyes not once leaving the sight before her. The coldness of the snow bit into her, leaving angry red marks on her palms, but she was reluctant to even blink at this point.

Is this really what you wanted, Troy? He'd been so set on this plan, but now that it had unfolded, Clementine wished they could've come up with a better one. If only there'd been more time, or more weapons, or…

No. She cut her own thoughts off, not dwelling on the hypotheticals when she was in the middle of evading a very serious threat nearby.

Once she was a far enough distance from them, Clementine got to her feet and bolted as fast as she could. The snow was deep and difficult terrain to travel through, but she pushed on and on, never once looking back.

Memories flashed before her eyes - Troy giving advice not to be so hasty stepping through the deep snow, for walkers were often hidden underneath. It was a good tactic, and she'd insisted she wasn't normally that reckless, but something instinctive continued pushing her forward. The desire to escape was so prominent in her mind, she wasn't even thinking of slowing down and checking for danger below.

She had no idea where she was even going, thesurrounding snow whipping at her face. The snowflakes felt more like shards of ice, digging into her face without mercy. But she kept going, gulping for air as she pushed her body to its limit; towering way above her head were the forest trees, their branches distorting into grisly claws. They seemed to chase after her, faster than any walker or killer and never-ending.

A steep hill revealed itself in the distance, but she had no trouble trudging up it as quickly as she could. However, the moment she began to descend down it on the other side, her foot struck something unexpectedly. A large rock, deeply embedded into the ground, knocked her off-balance.

Swallowing a cry of surprise, she wobbled and tried to keep steady, but it was a losing battle. The rock was too large and the stop in movement too sudden, so she went down, down, down into the thick snow.

She tumbled over the hill, her body violently tossed around. Her world flipped upside down, the brightness of the frozen tundra blinding. Eyes squeezed shut, she braced herself for impact - but unfortunately, she collided with the bottom of the hill rather forcefully.

As soon as she hit the white of the snow, the whole world went black.

"...Clem? Clementine!"

The girl's eyes burst open and she snapped up, mind desperately trying to place where she was and if there were any threats nearby. The world was hazy and dark, memories fluttering through her mind - tauntingly just out of reach, of course.

Her head swiveled back and forth, trying to register the sights before her. A gentle vibration coursed through her, swaying her rhythmically, and she could hear the churning of mechanics just below her. It was warm, indicating she was out of the snow (inside?), but so many things felt wrong. Her whole body seemed tinier and more fragile, and her hair was longer, just tickling the back of her neck.

Blinking a few times, her vision finally cleared and she registered what was just in front of her - or rather, who.


The man was seated beside her, looking puzzled as though she was the one out of place here. Her heart skipped a beat as she stared, slack-jawed, at the man who had given everything to her - even his own life.

"It's just a bad dream, sweet pea."

Clementine's gaze once more swept through her surroundings, realizing she was back in the RV with Lee. Kenny and Katjaa were up in the driving seats, the murmurs amongst themselves most likely about what to do with Duck. Nearby, Ben was nodding off with a pistol in his hand, the tip pointed across the table from him, towards Lilly. The woman looked haunted, her eyes studying her hands in shock, as though she couldn't believe what she'd just done.

This scene was achingly familiar, and Clementine could remember every last detail, but it made no sense. She was older now, and this all happened so long ago… didn't it?

"What was it about?" Lee's question brought her focus back to him. "Duck?"

"He's… bit…" Clementine heard herself say, her voice sounding younger.

"We don't know how this works yet," Lee pressed. "Who knows? Maybe it's like a cold. His mom's a doctor, maybe she can help him."

Oh, Clementine wished she could believe his words, but she knew much better now. Her mind searched for memories to justify her feeling of disgust, and they weren't hard to find. She thought of the more recent case of Nick showing the group his bite and asking to be put down, and the sadness in both his and Sarah's eyes. And then there was Troy's recounting of his niece, and how his brother had refused to believe anything was wrong until it was much too late.

Then she saw Lee, lifeless and chained to a radiator in a small office, his face bloody and his eyes already dead.

"It's not like a cold," she murmured as she returned to 'reality'.

Lee nodded sadly, as though he could read her mind and memories. "No, it's probably not."

They fell back into silence, and a question kept nagging Clementine in the back of her mind.

"Are you… are you proud of me, Lee?" she asked, holding her breath. Truthfully, she'd wondered this for ages now, constantly thinking about whether or not Lee approved of all that she'd done.

She knew that Lee wouldn't know what she was truly thinking about, but it was still a relief when he replied, "Of course I am, Clem. You're the smartest, toughest kid I know."

"I don't feel so tough or smart right now," she admitted, fidgeting a bit. "I can't even protect the people I care about."

Lee quirked an eyebrow. "Do you mean Duck?" he asked, eyes flicking towards the front of the RV. "You know that's not your fault at all, Clem."

Of course, she didn't expect Lee to see into the future or read her mind, but his ignorance was still painful. He had no idea what he would face after this scene in the RV - what she would also face.

Clementine looked around the RV again, locking eyes with Lilly for a moment. The woman broke contact first, turning her head away to stare at the wall. With a frown, Clementine asked, "Why did you… choose to bring Lilly with us?"

"I don't know," Lee admitted. "We both saw what she did. There's no excusing that, no going back from it. But when I looked her in the eyes, it was like… I couldn't make myself leave her. I didn't want to be responsible for another person dyin' out there, Clem - no matter who it was."

Clementine felt her heartbeat quicken at his words - at how familiar they seemed.

"What do you think?" Lee whispered, his own gaze sweeping over Lilly and Ben. "Should we have left her behind?"

"No." The answer came so naturally and clearly.

"Maybe we should've. I don't know if we did the right thing."

"How can you tell?"

"Well," Lee explained, "it's not like math, Clem. There isn't always a right answer. You just… take each situation as it is. It sounds cheesy, but… you should trust your heart."

Those words were so like Lee. Emotions welled up in Clementine's chest, and she felt the beginnings of tears sting her eyes.

"That's a good thing to say - you're a good person, Lee," she whispered.

"I don't know about that, but I'll take your word for it. Thank you, Clem." He let out a soft chuckle, the sound making her heart ache. "You're a good person, too."

Was she? Clementine was trying her absolute best, that much was true, but was she truly a good person?

"Thank you," she breathed, despite herself. "And… and I'm sorry." Closing her eyes, she pressed her head into his shoulder. If she concentrated hard enough, she could feel the fabric of his jacket, smell the strange mix of blood and soap on his clothes… she wanted to soak in every piece of him here that she could no longer in reality. She wanted to remember this moment, as if it were really happening now.

A hand patted the top of her head, and she smiled softly at the comfort that hand gave her. "You don't have anything to be sorry for, Clementine," Lee murmured, his tone as gentle as ever.

But I do. He had no idea how many people's deaths she felt guilty for - how much she still blamed herself for Lee's death.

Perhaps the trauma of nearly shooting Troy in the almost exact same way she did Lee had opened up these terrible memories in her subconscious. It reminded her just how useless she was to save people, no matter who they were.

"Is something on your mind, Clem?" Lee murmured, as if he could sense her worries.

She had so much she wanted to say to Lee, so much she wanted to tell him about how she kept trying in vain to follow in his footsteps, not to mention how useless she'd felt in general… but none of the words would come. Instead, she could only confess something recent that weighed heavily on her mind - the last thing she thought about before blacking out, to be exact.

"I keep messing up and people keep dying," she blurted out, squeezing her eyes shut. "My friend… is dead, and he died to save me."

Am I even worth it? Why did people keep risking their lives for her? Clearly it didn't have any payoff for them in the end, so why…?

"Well, maybe it's like we were saying before, about Lilly," Lee suggested. "At the time, Troy just knew what had to happen. You can't blame yourself for any of that."

Her eyes widened further, not registering the context of his words. "You think so…?"

Lee kept gently patting her head. "Clem, I can't speak for him, but… he probably sensed the end, and decided to go out doing something good." The man smiled, the peacefulness in his eyes comforting. "At least, I know that's how I felt, when it was time for me. And I could never regret it."

She paused for a moment, the words settling in before finally, she recognized Lee couldn't have known about his own death or Troy at all. The words he chose weren't what he said in the real RV. At that realization, the world trembled around her, more violently than the simple swaying of the motor engine.

"Wait… Lee, how do you know about-?" Before she could ask him what he meant, the world around her began shifting.

No, not yet! She'd grown too comfortable in this setting, in her early and innocent role, and found herself wanting to stay. But what she wanted never quite worked out, and reality latched itself onto her tightly.

The images of Lee and the RV blotched out of focus, dissolving completely before her eyes.

"...Clem? Clem!" The world around her slowly faded back into view, blurs of white shifting into focus. The humming of the RV's engine had been replaced with cruel gusts of wind, bringing back the cold of the blizzard to chill her to the bone. Her whole body was shaking and it took a few seconds for her brain to realize she was shivering, but at least there was a source of warmth nearby: two arms held her steady, belonging to another familiar face.

Against her bright surroundings, Clementine spotted Sarah's dark hair and striking red glasses. The older girl's expression softened from fear to relief, a gentle sigh escaping her lips.

Letting out a small laugh, tears sprung to Sarah's eyes as she wrapped her arms around her friend. A sob tore through her as she tightened her grip, burying her face in Clementine's shoulder.

"Oh my God, it feels like forever since we've seen each other," she whispered with a hiccup. "I don't know what I would've done if I never saw you again."

Clementine still felt stunned from her dream, and her mind couldn't process much beyond what was right in front of her. So for the moment, she chose to just return the hug, eyes squeezing shut and her own tears pricking at the edges of her eyes.

"I-I'm okay," she assured, patting her friend's back comfortingly. Truthfully, the words were as much for Sarah as they were for herself; yes, she was physically alright - despite all that had happened, she wasn't bitten or even harmed. Her heart felt heavy in her chest and her breaths felt shaky and weak, but at least she was alive.

Sarah finally let go of her, wiping away a tear. "I'm just… so, so relieved. When we found you in the snow, everyone was afraid you'd- B-but you woke up!"

Clementine smiled, letting out a little laugh. "Of course. You said I'm a tough cookie, didn't you?"

With a little amused giggle, Sarah nodded. "The toughest, for sure." She leaned back on her knees, allowing her friend even more room.

The air was still cold, but Clementine noted that the snow had slowed down somewhat; it was no longer impossible to see a few feet in front of her, and her range of vision was much larger now. As soon as she looked beyond Sarah, she almost immediately noticed another person standing nearby.

Her spirits lifted.

"Kenny…!" she exclaimed. She struggled to her feet, hurrying over to the older man and hugging his middle, eyes tightly closed. It wasn't until she had her arms wrapped around him did she notice the bundle of blankets in his arms, nestled right above her head. She could feel the tension built up in her shoulders relax, and a long alleviated sigh left her as she heard the familiar cooing. "And AJ…!" The infant looked unharmed - completely content, in fact.

"He's safe," Kenny assured her. "Thank God you're both safe, now." The relief was practically tangible as his voice shook with emotion, his eye growing misty.

A smile settled onto her lips and she chuckled a bit. "How did you…?" she began, but he cut her off gently.

"I went ahead a little and found Tavia'n her truck," he explained. "Crazy bitch left the doors unlocked, so once she left, I hopped on in and grabbed AJ. The truck's turned off but if we could find the keys, it's definitely still drivable."

"Tavia might have them on her," Clementine mused.

Kenny arched an eyebrow. "And, uh, where is Tavia?"

"She's… taken care of," Clementine replied, not wanting to explain further. "We might be able to find the keys, we might not." She didn't want to think about the other things she'd find with Tavia's corpse.

Blinking, Kenny replied, "Alright. Well, I suppose we can go lookin' in a bit, then. Good news is, I found these guys without much trouble." He nodded knowingly behind him.

Quickly, Clementine scoped her gaze beyond those in front of her and instantly noticed more people nearby. Mike, Jane, and Bonnie were standing around almost awkwardly, staring as though they'd interrupted something private. In the distance, she could see the truck from the safehouse, engine still running and puffing out hot air.

"And then we all went searching for you!" Sarah added.

The notion that her friends all thought to regroup and look for her made Clementine well up with emotion. She couldn't help but feel touched and appreciated - it seemed her role in the group really mattered to all of them, and that made her happy beyond words.

Though she had about a thousand more questions, Clementine had one in particular niggling at the back of her mind: "Where's Arvo?"

"Back at the safehouse," Mike replied. "He said he'd stay behind, remember?"

It was fuzzy, but she did recall the teen saying something like that. She nodded slowly, sweeping her eyes across her friends. They all seemed safe and in one piece, which was almost a surprise given how much things had sucked lately. It was refreshing to see, but also just a temporary state of safety.

But enough of those worries for now. "What about the guards…?" Clementine inquired, remembering the last time she'd contacted Sarah was to warn her of the approaching danger.

Jane pointed back to the truck. "Got 'em right there," she said dryly.

Clementine had to squint and maneuver a bit, but it was just as Jane said: both Vera and Tyler were seated in the rear of the vehicle, bound with ropes around their torsos and wrists. Tyler's eyes were focused towards the ground, but Vera held her sights straight at the group, almost trying to kill them with her glare alone.

"I'm glad you caught them," Clementine commented, watching Vera's eyes narrow further into slits.

Bonnie nodded. "We managed to ambush them before they could do anything. Good thing y' warned us beforehand."

"It was pretty easy to get 'em tied up with everyone workin' together," Mike added. "Even Arvo did his part - as well as he could, anyway."

Clementine beamed, invigorated by the thought of her friends all banding together to fight off a threat. Things truly were better as a team; it took a severe conflict to realize it, but she was glad it was realized all the same.

"I'm just thankful no one was hurt," Sarah murmured. She paused to look around their group, head bobbing slightly at each person as if she was taking count. "Um… come to think of it… we're not all here yet, are we? Where's Troy?"

That simple question caused Clementine's heart to wrench, remembering the reality of his fate all-too-clearly. The image of his walker variant was so crystal clear, she could almost see him struggling in the snow before her.

"Did you manage to get him to come with you…?" Sarah asked, her words growing quieter and quieter the more she looked at Clementine's grieving expression.

"He was supposed to," the younger girl sighed.

The implications behind her words must have been obvious, judging by the way Sarah's expression lit up with shock and then fell. The older girl closed her eyes for a moment, brow furrowed and fists shaking at her sides.

"Oh," she muttered, looking frustrated and hurt. "This… this sucks."

Clementine nodded solemnly in agreement. "You can say that again."

Everyone seemed to take pause as the information sunk in, the realization that the more mouthy member of their party was now gone. Clementine knew she had trouble believing it; no matter how many people she lost, she still didn't ever get used to them being gone.

In the end, no one said anything for Troy, but they all simultaneously decided to form a respectful moment of silence for him. In a way, Clementine figured that was most appropriate for him, and probably was what he would've wanted - no 'rest in peace bullshit', as he'd probably scoff.

"Vera? Vera, what the hell do you think you're-"

A sudden voice broke through the silence. It seemed while everyone had been lost in their own thoughts, Vera took advantage of the opportunity to suddenly crawl out of the truck. As she hit the snow with a loud thump, Tyler leaned over the edge and had called after her. She ignored him and hauled herself to her feet, shooting a glare at the group.

"Fuck you all!" she snarled. "How… how dare you kill literally everyone that meant anything! I'm fucking done with all of it! With all of you!" Spitting on the ground in front of her, she began to back away.

"Vera, please stop. Think about what you're doin'!" Tyler yelled, shaking his head in protest. His words were not enough to stop her, though. Vera continued to go backwards until she was at a reasonable distance, then turned tail and charged blindly through the snow.

"No, don't…!" Clementine called after her, knowing what probably lurked nearby. But Vera ignored her warning, continuing to charge up the nearby hill. All the while, she laughed as if she'd made some great escape - but she failed to notice the familiar walker stumbling into view behind her.

It was faint, but Clementine could see the outline of Tavia, her arms swinging in front of her. Vera's restraints only required more effort to move with, and kept her from being able to fight back.

So just as Troy had to her, the now-walker Tavia latched onto Vera, sinking her teeth into Vera's neck. With a piercing scream, Vera went down, Tavia following her, and the two of them tumbled down the hill and collapsed in a heap. From there, it turned into the typical scene of a walker having a meal - with Tavia ripping out strings of muscle from Vera's throat.

"Shit," Mike said, sucking in air through his teeth. He pulled out a gun - presumably one of those they had back at the safehouse - and released two bullets, one into each woman's head. The shots echoed through the sky, finally signaling the end of a long conflict. Vera and Tavia's bodies slumped together, a mixture of black and red blood pooling out to stain the white below them.

Everyone collectively let out a sigh. It wasn't a happy end by any means, but it wasn't as if they had any choice.

Kenny sighed, shaking his head. "Guess we can get what we need now." And without further ceremony, he bent down and looted the keys from Tavia's corpse. "That's that, I suppose."

"Well, it ain't over just yet…" Bonnie said, casting a glance over at their remaining prisoner.

In turn, everyone at once turned to Tyler, unsure of how to regard him. He blinked back at them, coolly holding his gaze steady. Despite trying to stop Vera, it seemed he wasn't very fazed by his boss eating one of his coworkers.

"If it means anythin'," he rasped, frowning, "I have no intentions to fight anymore - I just want to leave. I'm the last one left of Howe's now, I think."

"Probably. But why should we let you live?" Jane hissed. "Everything considered, I don't think you've earned that right."

"I… I don't necessarily think so, either, but…"

Kenny scowled. "But what? You expect mercy? Like fuckin' hell!"

Tyler opened his mouth to respond, but Clementine stepped between them. "If we kill him now, while we have him defenseless, it makes us no better than Tavia - than Carver," she said, turning pointedly to Jane and Kenny.

It truly hurt her to let this man go, but if she advocated for his death now… well, she would've learned nothing from her experience saving Troy.

"I'm with Clem," Sarah said, her voice clear and firm. "I'm… so, so sick of people dying."

Kenny and Jane in particular didn't seem happy, but they didn't argue against the decision. Tyler's shoulders relaxed and he let out a sigh of relief; the sight only angered Clementine, as he had the nerve to feel safe around them.

She hadn't forgotten he'd helped beat Troy to death.

"I'm alright with not killin' him," Bonnie said, crossing her arms, "but… should we really untie him? Or just let him go like that?"

[ Untie Tyler ]

[ Keep Tyler tied up ]

"Untie him," Clementine decided, knowing she was putting everyone at risk. But while she didn't trust and definitely hated him, she at least didn't want to straight-up sentence him to death out in the forest. It wasn't like she'd be giving him a weapon, either - and now that he was without allies, she didn't imagine him returning to seek revenge.

Tyler lowered his head. "Thank you. Really - I won't bother you again," he promised.

Before anyone else could move to free him, Clementine took out her knife. Her eyes stared into Tyler's, down at the blade of the knife, and then back up again. If he didn't know the weapon's origin, perhaps he could pick up its importance - not that she'd clarify anything, anyway.

And just like that, the knife - still stained with both Lowell's and Troy's blood - cut through the ropes and set the last of the Howe's crew free. The group fell silent, all eyes on their enemy as he stretched his limbs.

Clementine wanted to regret cutting him loose, wanted him to prove that he was as hellbent on revenge as Vera so they'd put him down - but above all, she just felt numb about the whole thing.

What did it matter? Whether they killed Tyler or left him tied up for the walkers, it wouldn't change anything - nor would it bring back the dead.

She was just so tired after the recent emotional turmoil. Her adrenaline was finally ebbing away, making room for sheer exhaustion. More than anything, she wanted to get out of the snow, and take a goddamn rest.

Jane's cold tone cut through the silence. "Get out of here before we change our minds."

Tyler nodded and politely thanked them again, running up the hill, over the bodies, and into the distance. This time, there was no run-in with walkers - or at least, none that they could hear. He disappeared into the white, hopefully never to be seen again.

Just like that, there were no more Howe's members pursuing them. Sarah in particular - being the last survivor of the cabin group - must have felt the most relief from this fact, but Clementine couldn't deny the joy it brought her, as well.

"It's finally over," she breathed.

It didn't feel over, but for the moment, it looked like all relevant loose ends were tied up. Of course, she knew there was something missing, something not addressed yet, but she didn't get the chance to acknowledge it.

"But Clem… what will we do now?" Sarah asked. "I mean… now that we're not being chased or captured anymore… where do we even go from here?"

That was a good question; unfortunately, Clementine barely had the strength to consider an answer. She was still shaken up from her experience with Tavia - not to mention her dream. Luckily, Kenny piped up before she had to really think of a response.

"Isn't it obvious?" The older man scoffed. "Now that those assholes are gone, we stick to the original plan: gettin' AJ to Wellington."

The rest of the group grew quiet, exchanging glances with one another. Clementine could tell right away by their expressions that they didn't exactly agree.

Jane was the one to step forward. "It's stupid going all that way for something that may not be worth it, Kenny. I'm going back to Howe's." Beside her, Mike and Bonnie murmured their agreements.

"What?" Kenny squawked, incredulously.

"Not like Tavia intended, trust me. But it's got walls, food… with some fixing up, we'd be safe for a while." Jane crossed her arms, looking almost unsure. She was trying to hide it, but it was obvious she was also a bit shaken - was it because of Troy? Clementine supposed she'd never truly know, nor was it her business to ask.

If Kenny noticed her uneasiness, he didn't show it. "Are you kiddin'? That place don't have enough bad memories attached to it?" He snorted, shaking his head. "How long do you think it'll stand before another group'a assholes attacks? Or maybe even the one we just let go comes back for revenge."

Clementine was about to point out her earlier observations of Tyler not caring enough to return, but she decided to keep her mouth shut.

"I don't doubt we could take anyone that comes our way," Jane snapped.

Bonnie cleared her throat. "If it's worth pointin' out, we're much closer to Howe's."

"Might as well make it ours," Mike agreed. "We got some supplies back with Arvo at the safehouse - we can all ride back there and pick 'em up."

Sarah shuffled her feet awkwardly, playing with the hem of her sleeves. "I, um… I want to go back to Howe's, too. It… may give me a chance to really say goodbye to Dad."

Clementine smiled at her friend's decision, realizing that this would be a huge step in the girl's life. Huge, but necessary.

Kenny looked all around the group, the realization that he was in the minority dawning on him. "Well, that's all peachy keen, but AJ needs a place like Wellington the most."

Realizing she needed to shift her thinking for the moment, Clementine decided to focus on AJ's needs first and foremost. Where would he need to be to grow up as healthy, happy, and safe as he could?

Would AJ thrive at Howe's, or be put more in danger as they fixed everything up? Could she honestly say she'd protect him without fail?

She remembered Troy talking about Kylie's fate, how he'd thought everything was secure on the outside of the place and a simple oversight caused her to be bitten. Who was to say that couldn't happen again - with a much easier target this time around?

Wellington was a bit of a gamble, but if word was true, he'd have a much better time settling into that community. The winters would be harsh, but the cold would keep walkers away, and they probably had much better resources too - maybe even some other kids.

Did the mystery shrouding Wellington outweigh the risks Howe's obviously held for an infant?

"I think… I think Kenny's right. Wellington may be best for AJ," Clementine admitted. "It'd be easy to transport him there with Tavia's truck, too."

Kenny lit up. "I couldn't agree more, Clem. And hell, we just got the little guy back, too - I ain't lettin' him go again anytime soon."

She nodded, agreeing with his point - after all they'd gone through to retrieve AJ, perhaps jeopardizing his life further at Howe's wasn't the smartest idea.

"So, it's settled," Kenny declared after a few moments. "The rest'a y'all can do whatever the fuck you want, but Clem and I will be takin' him to Wellington."

Something in her protested to his words immediately, but she couldn't reply right away. The intense emotion behind his eye made her shrink back, afraid to speak up just yet. He truly expected her to go with him - something she would've been willing to do at one point, but now…

Now, it was a bit more difficult. After everything she'd gone through, everything and everyone she'd lost… didn't seem worth it to travel all that way and put that strain on her body. More than anything, she wanted to rest and feel safe for a while.

And she knew Kenny wouldn't want to wait - he hadn't wanted to stay a minute longer at Parker's Run than they had to. The man was impatient and protective of AJ, and wouldn't accept holding on so she could solidify her choice.

Her heart sped up and she could feel her breath go shaky, but after all she'd encountered today, Kenny definitely didn't seem all that intimidating.

"Wait, I- I don't know," she admitted, studying the ground.

"What? You just said he'd be better at Wellington," Kenny protested, eyebrows crinkled down in confusion.

"And I meant that. I just don't know where I choose to go yet."

Clementine quickly cast her gaze over at Sarah, studying the worried expression on her friend's face. It wasn't like Sarah would try to hold her back from leaving if she chose, but she also would have trouble in her absence.

Could she just abandon Sarah, after everything? The older girl still needed to be taught more, and Clementine promised to take up her gun instruction at least.

It became clear to her, now: though she was just a kid, it was obvious she was needed here at Howe's, as well. Perhaps she was meant to be a leader, after all.

And yet… on the other hand, she didn't want to say goodbye to Kenny again, either. It seemed she was faced with yet another dilemma, this decision seeming particularly heavy and pivotal.

Was she going to choose to be a part of AJ's life growing up, or support the majority of the friends she'd already made?

Should she go with Kenny, or Sarah?

[ Go to Wellington ]

[ Stay at Howe's ]

"I want to go back to Howe's," she decided with a nod. Sarah visibly brightened, but Kenny's face fell.

"Clem…" he began.

"I- I'm sorry, Kenny," she whispered, feeling a lump form in her throat. It truly hurt her to leave him, especially since they'd only recently reunited, but she had to trust her own intuition. This would be best for her - she truly believed that.

"Are- are y' sure?"

"I'm sure."

Kenny closed his eye tightly, taking a deep breath and holding AJ closer to his chest. "I- okay, Clem. Look at you, all grown up. If this is absolutely what you want, I can't stop you." Despite himself, he forced a smile; he was clearly doing it to cheer her up, but she could see right through him.

"It is. But AJ needs someone to take him to Wellington - someone to raise him." Clementine smiled despite the pain in her chest. "Someone who already has experience being a dad."

"Oh, darlin'..." Kenny brought his arms around her again. The embrace was as comforting and familiar as ever, but also held a degree of sadness this time. She could practically feel the farewell in the delicate way he held her close.

"You'll do great," she insisted, fully believing her words. "And if anything goes wrong - anything - come back, okay? We'll be here."

Kenny's eye twinkled, and he nodded. "Of course."

"We should go back to the safehouse first, anyway - to regroup and assign supplies to everyone," Mike suggested.

"That's true," Bonnie agreed. "We can divide everythin' up and let Kenny take what he needs for AJ."

Jane nodded. "It doesn't have to be a goodbye right here and now, Clem - save it for when we're inside and warm."

Clementine nodded and opened her mouth to reply, but the sound of faint growls nearby cut her off. Everyone jumped, high-alert and ready, and turned in the direction of the noise. But the source really couldn't be classified as a threat - far from it, really.

A single walker crawled down the hill, slowly dragging itself towards them. It must have followed the noise, or the trails of rotten blood left in the snow by Tavia. It staggered pitifully, its single arm scrabbling and head whipping back and forth, blindly searching for food in the midst of deep snow.

"Oh, fuck…" Mike said, sucking in air through his teeth.

"Troy," Sarah whispered.

No one said anything more, simply staring at the creature with mild, morbid fascination. The transformation from wise-cracking human asshole to… that was unnerving for sure, and Clementine nearly watched it happen in real time.

"Looks like I'll have to have a goodbye here after all," Clementine sighed, shaking her head and turning to the others. "I'm going to go take care of him - he was my responsibility from the start, so I'm ending this." Her pistol was still at her side, its only bullet meant for Troy.

"Do you want me to go with you…?" Sarah offered, a bit hesitant despite her words.

Clementine shook her head. She knew she could handle it - provided she took a meaningful pause to collect herself. Holding her breath for a few moments, she mentally counted to ten. When she released the air, she felt more ready.

This was promised, after all.

"I'll be right back."

God, he looked even more feeble up close - like she could just step on him and he'd shatter into a million pieces. She couldn't help but wonder if he'd feel offended at that observation - knowing him, he'd probably scoff and curse at her for it.

Crouching near the wobbling creature, she placed a hand on her chin. "I thought you didn't want to be a walker," she snarked, quirking a brow. "Right? But you insisted on this. You still died alone." Despite herself, Clementine's heart fell at her own words, realizing that he truly was gone now.

She didn't want to think of how he must have felt, both freezing and bleeding to death below the snow. He'd died at the right time, though, just as he'd predicted; it was almost eerie how well his plan had worked. In other universes, Clementine was sure things never would have happened quite as conveniently - but she was kind of thankful they did.

It wasn't like it all turned out well or okay, but it did happen as Troy intended - and she had to give him credit for it.

"I think everyone had just gotten used to you, Troy - so naturally, you die and make us all miss you." It was almost appropriate for how much he protested their group in life; it figured he'd finally find his place after death.

She was about to thank him again, one last time, but swallowed the words. There was no way he was still in there to hear her, anyway, and the thought of saying it just worsened the lump in her throat. So instead of lamenting, she clutched the pistol tighter, studying his broken form.

With only one limb working, he struggled to even move; had it not been for the element of surprise, he definitely would've been no match for Tavia. But in the end, he did it - and that was something Clementine would never forget.

"You're an idiot," she chastised, the words sort of cathartic. "You have a chance to be good, and you choose your old ways. Then you decide you don't want that, so you save us… only to admit what you did and get yourself killed."

He obviously couldn’t respond, but she continued nonetheless, on an anguished rant she didn't want to stop.

"You- you don't think, do you? You put me in this position - as if putting you down while you were alive wasn't bad enough." She heaved a sigh, shaking her head. "I hate this - I hate that you're making me do this."

Though Troy was trying his hardest to get her, Clementine didn't move a muscle. It was kind of strange, but this was one of the only times she felt assured of her own safety around a walker; though she'd initially been paralyzed with fear as he took down Tavia, now she could see he was absolutely no threat.

Nibbling on her lip, she continued, "And y'know what? You'd probably be mad at me for saying this, but…" Her voice trailed off, and she paused to think over her words. "All that acting tough and hardcore, but look at you now. You make a pretty sad excuse for a walker."

Troy, of course, still gave no indication of hearing her; he just growled and shuffled closer to her. His arm shot out towards her, weakly clawing at the air; she moved about half and inch to the side, and was able to make him miss her completely and fall to a heap on the ground.

Pausing, she lifted the gun towards his head, half-expecting to be interrupted yet again - like the universe itself was trying to stop her from putting Troy out of his misery. Well, the universe could fuck off - after all he'd done toagainst, and for Clementine, she decided to give him this mercy.

"Yeah, you're definitely a pathetic walker," she scoffed. Her lips curled to a sad smile. "But… all-in-all, a pretty okay human."

And this time, she was able to pull the trigger.

Chapter Text

A few months later...


A loud shot split through the air, its bullet shattering the skull of a nearby walker. The creature crumpled to the ground in a heap, but in its place came several more. More gunshots rang out, hitting their intended targets with precision.

Clementine held her gun tightly, eyes peeled for more threats. She'd been notified by the current lookout of the danger, and promptly left the front gate of Howe's to investigate. It was her turn to be out in the field, luring the walkers away from the establishment and killing as many as she could. Above her, the lookout would shoot from above, picking off any she'd missed.

There didn't seem to be any more, but she held her breath for a few moments just in case.

Finally, the confirmation came from above; Sarah called out from up top with a wide smile on her face. "We got 'em! All clear from what I can see!"

Wiping sweat off her brow, Clementine flashed a grin of her own up at her friend. "Good to hear!" she yelled up, and watched Sarah scramble down from her post and reopen the front gate.

"You were great! As usual," the older girl said, offering a high-five.

Clementine gladly slapped her hand against Sarah's. "All thanks to your signal. You're pretty good up there."

"Thanks!" Sarah exclaimed, giggling softly. It wasn't hard to notice that the other girl smiling and laughing more frequently; time and patience seemed to be just the things she needed to be able to grow. She'd been developing into a medic for the group; anytime they'd find new medical supplies, Sarah would study them as best she could, trying to memorize the purpose of each tool and bottle. As such, when someone encountered an injury, she'd be the first to help administer first aid.

Though she was more focused on healing than harming, that didn't mean Sarah couldn't fire a gun; as promised, Clementine finished teaching her how to shoot, with additional help and practice from Mike. It wasn't long before she was able to hit the targets they set up dead-on, and she was fully prepared when the first real walker attack came to Howe's.

It wasn't nearly as large as the herd they'd initially escaped in, but it was more than some stationary bottles, so it definitely put Sarah to the test. Thankfully, she was able to shoot her first group of walkers without much difficulty, and from a safe distance.

Clementine was incredibly proud of Sarah's progress - and knew that in his own way, Troy would be, too.

But fortune itself wasn't limited to Sarah; things actually seemed to be going pretty well for most of their party.

Arvo, who was currently sleeping, had recovered from his illness shortly after they returned to Howe's. His leg had mended for the most part too, and only left him with a slight limp.

Come to think of it, Arvo also smiled a lot more now.

Mike and Bonnie were productive and helpful, as well, and Clementine really respected them. They supported her, of course, but also gave her room to grow and learn for herself. In a way, they reminded her of Omid and Christa's roles in her life - not to mention, they seemed to be getting similarly close recently.

Unfortunately, not everyone was still around; though it had been Jane's idea to return to Howe's, the woman had ended up being the first (and so far only) person to leave. She stayed for the first few weeks or so before deciding to go off on her own, insisting there were "too many ghosts" around for her to sleep peacefully.

Clementine wondered if, at the end of the day, Jane just preferred to be alone. She supposed she'd never truly know.

Not a day went by without Clementine wondering how Kenny and AJ were doing. She missed them both terribly; it wasn't as if she regretted her choice of Howe's, but she still had trouble accepting that they weren't here with her. She hoped AJ was growing up well, eating a lot and managing to stay safe.

And though she knew better than to hope in this kind of world, a small part of her heart still held onto the chance of seeing them again someday; after all, who knew for certain? However slight, the possibility was always there.

"Mike and Bonnie are out on patrol, right?" Sarah's question snapped her back to reality.

Clementine nodded. "They went out a little bit ago. Should be back soon." The two adults of the group had set off to do a perimeter check, and were set to go on a food hunt tonight, as well. Howe's was still fully stocked, but it was helpful to keep extra inventory in the freezers, just in case.

Raiders and bandits hadn't come by yet, but that didn't mean they'd never come; Clementine knew from experience it was better to be over-prepared than under.

The duties were always taken in shifts, and shuffled around so everyone had fair treatment. While some slept, others guarded, and then the positions would switch the next day. They all had a nice system going, and everyone did their part to keep the place thriving.

And most importantly, no one ever slept out in the yard.

It wasn't as if things had always been this neat and organized, however; when they first arrived back at Howe's, there was a lot to clean up. The walls needed to be fixed and secured, not to mention the bodies that were decaying in and around the building itself. Carver's corpse in particular still lied untouched, flies having a feast upon his rotting flesh. One by one, the bodies were dragged to a pile on the outskirts of Howe's, rolling into a nearby ditch. It wasn't a kind burial for any of the people, but they didn't have the luxury of a cemetery handy.

Sarah didn't find her father, indicating that Carlos must still be around as a walker somewhere, lurking about mindlessly. The reality settled in rather quickly, and tears were shed - but Sarah was getting better at coping every day. Clementine was definitely impressed by her friend, and all the help she'd been since returning. Anyone who ever claimed she was useless was gone now, so what did that say about her, really? It spoke wonders for her worth - the worth that Clementine had always, always seen in her.

The two of them continued to walk together, making their way into the central area of Howe's and coming across by a table set up near the front doors. The surface was decorated with a nice sheet of fabric and candles found in some boxes in a storage room. Small, knotted pieces of rope sat along the center, their placements reminiscent of graves. And indeed it was a sort of graveyard, for some of the rope slices belonged to those that had died - namely Nick, Luke, and Troy. Out of respect, everyone had set their pieces down as well; it was as close to a proper memorial they'd be able to get.

As they moved past the table, Clementine gently placed her hand on it, feeling the smoothness of the fabric. It was a nice little setup, she had to admit; naturally, it had been all Sarah's idea. The older girl never intended to forget those left behind, and wanted physical reminders.

With a small smile to herself, Clementine continued to walk with Sarah through the main area of Howe's. Her eyes inadvertently flicked up to a particular room above them, and a feeling of dread pooled into her stomach at the very sight of it.

Aside from initially checking it for walkers, that one particular room had yet to be used: Carver's office. It was an area Clementine specifically didn't want to touch; it wasn't as if she was afraid to go in, but she was hesitant to confront the memories associated with it. The last time she entered that room, it was to listen to Carver drone on about how alike the two of them were. It was honestly quite a frightening talk, and still felt eerie to think about despite Carver's death.

It wasn't only her qualm, though: both Bonnie and Mike had admitted to feeling uneasy around the space. Clementine wasn't sure she believed in ghosts, but if any man would come back to haunt an office just to keep people out, it would be Carver.

Unfortunately, it was a good room to use, and it would be wasteful to let it sit. So now, after a few months of it being untouched, she wanted to revisit the old demons. If she could conquer this concern, she'd feel much better about her own capabilities and strength.

When she told Sarah what she wanted to do, the older girl's eyes went wide. "R-really? Are you sure, Clem?"

"Well, no," Clementine admitted with a shrug, "but I figure there's nothing to be afraid of anymore. So why shouldn't we use the rooms we have?"

Sarah nodded. "That makes sense. Do you want to wait for the others, though?"

"Yeah, I think that'd be best."

It didn't take long for Bonnie and Mike to return and Arvo to awaken. Once they gathered their little group together, the five of them faced the closed door to the office. Clementine felt her hands tighten into fists as she glared at the room that once housed a monster.

"It's a nice room. PA system'll let us communicate better with each other," Bonnie pointed out. "I know there's some… bad mojo associated with it, but I think it'll be worth it."

"Agreed. But hell, I remember I was terrified of bein' called up here," Mike said, rubbing the back of his neck. "By the end of things, Carver didn't seem like that scary of a guy, but at the time… fuck, I feared him as much as I hated him."

Arvo crossed his arms. "This man, Carver… he ran community here?"

"It was more like a prison," Clementine muttered.

"You wouldn't'a liked him at all, Arvo," Bonnie said. "He was angrier and more violent than Kenny ever was."

Clementine didn't appreciate the comparison, but at least she hadn't put Carver and Kenny on the same level.

"Well, we're only wasting time standing out here," she declared, and took a hesitant step forward. Her hand was a bit shaky as it landed on the doorknob, but she was able to take a deep breath and swing it open without much trouble. After exchanging a glance with the others, she cautiously walked inside.

The room was dark and cold, a thin layer of dust sitting on the furniture. The air smelled like mold with a twinge of rancid sweetness, evident by the basket of rotten apples atop the main desk. Besides the unpleasant stink, it wasn't all that revolting of a space.

"Huh. It's… not as bad as I thought it'd be," Clementine admitted her misconceptions, taking more steps into the small space. Someone flicked on a switch and light poured in from above, allowing her to see more of the room.

She gazed over at the chair where Alvin once sat and died in, empty now after the walker cleanup. A rush of sadness tore through her, as she couldn't help but wonder if Alvin would be disappointed she'd let his son go someplace she was not. Would he agree to Kenny raising his child?

Shaking her head clear of the thoughts, she convinced herself that Alvin would be glad they kept AJ safe regardless.

I'm sure Kenny's taking good care of him, Alvin.

Carver's desk had a large map of the area on top of it, large circles and notes scrawled at specific points. She couldn't really understand a lot of what he wrote, but it seemed to be just the places surrounding Howe's - like the strip mall and Parker's Run.

The seat behind the desk creaked as she moved it back and, without thinking too much about it, she sat down. She felt strangely detached from this whole situation - like all that anxiety built up hadn't actually meant anything. Beside the map, she noticed a mug with the words "World's Best Boss" printed on. Idly, she picked it up, grimacing at the coffee stains around the edges.

"Heh. Troy found that in the back," Bonnie snickered. "Gave it to Bill, I remember. He was definitely tryin' to suck up. I thought it was kinda funny."

"What was he thinking?" Clementine snorted. "Carver was far from the world's best boss."

"Well, who knows? He could've had really shit bosses before - ones that made Carver look like the Virgin Mary," Mike chuckled. "Or maybe the rooster really was that stupidly loyal."

Clementine half-expected to hear a sniping comment from Troy, maybe defending himself or protecting Carver's honor, but of course there was nothing. She still hadn't quite got used to the fact that she'd never hear him again - and how that managed to hurt her more than she thought it would.

Shaking her head, she decided to change the subject and mused, "I wonder what else we can find here…"

"Maybe look through the desk, Clem?" Sarah suggested. "You never know what you'll find."

With a shrug, Clementine slid open the desk drawer, rifling through its contents idly. She shuffled through various CD cases, stale cigars, a lighter, an ashtray, and some weird things Bonnie and Mike took off her immediately - probably adult stuff, she didn't know.

Amongst all that junk were a few scraps of paper, stapled together with 'Important' hastily scribbled on top. When she unfolded them, she was surprised to find them completely covered with notes. Upon closer look, they appeared to be organized plans of what to do and how to evacuate if there was an incoming threat.

"It says, 'Emergency Lurker Attack Options'..." Clementine read. "I guess it's about what to do if too many walkers show up."

"Y'know, everyone around us at the cabin said 'lurkers,' but you say 'walkers,' Clem. But there's no difference, right?" Sarah asked.

"Yeah. I think it's just different people calling them different things."

Arvo nodded. "That is true. My family and I called them живые мертвецы - living dead."

"Huh." The older girl paused, crossing her arms in thought. "Before we met Luke, my dad called them something else."

"Oh yeah? What was that?" Bonnie asked curiously.

Sarah grinned widely. "Well, we're Spanish, so… muertos."

"Ooh. I like that," Mike chimed in. "If you wanted to call 'em that, I wouldn't mind."

"Same here," Clementine agreed, then turned her attention back to the plans.

"Mind if I take a look at those, Clem?" Bonnie asked, and was promptly handed them. She began reading them over with an intense stare, eyebrows furrowed down in concentration. "Seems it lists areas around here that are predicted to have less lurker activity, and how to get to 'em discreetly. Shit, I had no idea he had any'a this."

"Really? He didn't tell his own guards?" Mike asked.

"If he did, it wasn't to me." Bonnie said, humming in thought. "Well, this is mighty useful. We could use this in a pinch."

"Hey, goes to show that even Carver can be useful beyond the grave," Mike joked.

That was true. As frightening as Carver was and as wrong as his ideals were, Clementine could at least admit he was prepared. His plans could be a potential help to them if an emergency arose - and she honestly had no doubt one would eventually. Though there was a lull in the chaos lately, danger always returned to show its ugly head sooner or later.

"With or without the plans, I think we'll be okay," Clementine admitted, nodding to herself.

She wasn't the leader of the group - that role hadn't been given to anyone, really - but she still felt somewhat responsible for her friends. Trying to ensure the safety of four people was difficult, as life was never guaranteed.

Though her thinking was focused on others' survival as much as herself, she couldn't ever think of sacrificing one person for another. It just wasn't something that ever crossed her mind.

Placing her palm on the desk, Clementine attempted one last time to put herself in her enemy's shoes. She tried to see the world through Carver's eyes, to understand the weak vs strong mentality that kept so many adults ablaze with power in this world.

She saw herself standing before her fellow humans, regarding them as mere cogs in a well-oiled machine. Walkers were seen as second-tier enemies in her imagined society, as her own workers would put others at risk with their mistakes.

"We're more alike than you think."

No - in the end, they really weren't.

Where Carver saw necessity and hope, she saw despair and pain. That kind of world struck fear into hearts, clogged the air with the stench of death, and turned people into monsters far worse than anything outside the walls.

Clementine tried as hard as she possibly could to understand that viewpoint, but she couldn't - she just couldn't. For that, she was oddly relieved; none of that felt real or promising for her, and thus wouldn't be her future.

So she made a silent vow, right then and there, to stay true to herself. No matter what danger came her way, she'd do her very best to grow into the person she wanted to be. Lee, Kenny, Sarah, Troy… any influences on her so far only helped guide her towards some paths, and deter her from others - but at the end of the day, she made her own decisions.

She alone claimed her identity.

Above everything else, she wanted to stay compassionate. It would be hard, given the threats she'd already faced and those to come, but… that didn't matter. These trials came time and time again, and it wasn't likely they'd ever stop - but she'd be ready for each and every one of them.

Clementine would continue to stand defiantly against a world of walkers and insist upon humanity - after all, she knew for a fact that a little kindness went a long, long way.