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Buried With Our Past

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Ben looked over to his friend with a smirk, watching as she traced the clouds in the sky with her eyes. He bit down on his lip, hesitating for just a second before raising a hand to point up at the sky.

“That one looks like a clementine,” He joked, his lips pulled into a smirk.

Clementine squinted her eyes, turning her head to face the teen. She raised her hand, as if to smack his shoulder, only to stop when Kenny’s voice sounded out.

“Y’know we were havin’ a real nice moment there, Ben,” He grumbled, a hint of a joke in his words. “Why you gotta go and ruin it?”

“You’re just grumpy,” Ben replied, sitting up with his own smirk.

Kenny reached over Clementine quicker than either teen could react, wrapping an arm around Ben’s neck to pull him to his chest before digging his knuckles into the boy’s hair.

“You gettin’ a bit too rowdy these days!” Kenny practically shouted, laughing through his words as he continued his onslaught, Ben’s protesting cries echoing.

Clementine’s laughter only grew, not even muffling her laughs as she sat up onto her palms to watch the pair go at it for a few more uninterrupted seconds, only stopping when Ben finally broke out of the man’s grip. He smacked Kenny’s palms with a pout before working to fix his long hair.

Kenny sighed out a laugh, turning his head back towards the direction they came from. He stared for another beat, his brows furrowed before turning back to the children besides him.

“Y’all ready to head back?” He asked, tilting his head.

Clementine shrugged, looking to where they had come from. “If you want to.”

“Why don’t Clem and I hang back,” Ben perked up, smiling. “Y’know, some like, bonding.”

Kenny raised a brow. “Me? Leave y’all two alone?” He paused, shaking his head. “Y’all are nothing but trouble together.”

“Oh come on!” Ben deadpanned, “We’re really not that bad.”

Clementine snorted, trying to hide the noise but failing. “Okay, we’re a little bad, Ben.”

Kenny chuckled softly, patting Ben’s leg before turning to Clementine. “You gonna watch him if I leave y’all alone?”

Clementine smiled, nodding her head. “Just like the old days.”

“Yeah haha,” Ben pouted, crossing his arms to look at Kenny. “Real funny.”

Kenny shook his head growing serious. He looked out to the sunset, his anxiety bubbling in his stomach at the prospect of leaving the pair alone. He shut his eye, taking in a deep breath before laughing.

“Y’all be home by sundown, alright?” He instructed, looking over to the pair.

Clementine nodded eagerly, Ben nodding just as intensely.

Kenny tilted his head, taking off his hat before smacking it down over Ben’s head. “You been fighting over growing your hair out so you keepin’ this on till you get it cut,” He muttered, fixing the boy’s hair around the accessory. He tucked his long bangs behind his ears, ignoring Ben’s protesting cries before sitting back with a satisfied smile, Clementine’s snickers not going unheard.

“There ya go.”

Ben only stuck his tongue out, hoping to take away from the red burning his cheeks. He realized his ploy didn’t work as Kenny patted his head before coming to a stand.

“I’ll see y’all soon,” He spoke, patting his other palm over Clem’s own hat. “You got ‘bout 15 minutes or I’m comin’ back out, hear me?”

“Unless Ben passes out here, we’ll be back,” Clementine teased, elbowing the teen. She laughed when the boy yelped before looking up to Kenny. “Promise.”

The man chuckled softly, shaking his head. “You’ve always been good for a smile, Clem,” Kenny spoke, a genuine smile on his lips.

“Get outta here,” Ben teased, gently shoving the man’s legs. “We’ll be back soon.”

Kenny laughed one last time, looking over the boy as he reached down to ruffle his hair. “I’ll see ya soon,” He stated, his words more of a promise as he began to walk back. The pair of children behind him sent the man their own waves, smiling as he disappeared into the tree line.

Clementine let out a surprised yelp as Ben fell back onto the grass, fixing the hat on his head.

“He worries more than anyone I’ve ever known,” The teen mumbled, rolling his eyes as he looked to Clementine. “I swear!”

Clementine chuckled, taking off her backpack. “He’s a dad,” She pointed out, her words coming out easier than she realized.

Ben furrowed his brows, looking over to the girl. “What?!”

Clementine’s eyes widened, blinking as she avoided looking to her friend. “I-I mean- like-” She paused, working her jaw before sighing. “He treats us like his kids.”

Ben blinked, the man’s words from long ago echoing in his head. He smiled mischievously, looking to the girl. “Y’know you called him dad,” He whispered, his words nothing short of a tease.

“I- What?!” She gasped, turning to the teen. “What! You’re ly-lying!”

“No I’m not!” Ben laughed, raising a hand to his lips. “When you w-were sick, you called him d-dad.”

Clementine’s shoulders fell, staring out to the sunset with wide eyes before turning to Ben, smacking his arm repeatedly. “You-! I-”

“Hey! Hey-!” Ben cried, sitting up and scooching away. “It’s not my fault! Leave me alone!”

Clementine only grumbled, stopping her attack as she dropped her face into her palms, groaning loudly.

“I can’t believe this.”

Ben hid his laughter, clearing his throat before speaking. “I don’t think he thought it was weird,” He spoke softly, growing serious. “He thought… He thought it was sweet.”

Clementine didn’t look up from her hands despite relaxing slightly. “I know he thinks you’re his son,” She mumbled.

“That’s not what we’re talking about now!” Ben whispered loudly, as if he was scared the man was still around. “You called him dad!”

Clementine finally looked up, turning to the boy. “So he sees both of us as his kids,” She murmured, “I think it’s cute.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Ben spoke, rubbing his bright maroon cheeks in hopes to displace the heat gathered there. He paused, looking out to the nearly hidden sun. “I think it makes him feel better.”

Clementine furrowed her brows. “What do you mean?”

“Like- He can take care of us,” Ben murmured, rubbing his arm. “He likes to know he can keep us safe and stuff. That’s why he’s so protective.”

Especially you,” Clementine teased, smiling widely.

“Shut up.”

Silence descended on the pair, the sun now hidden behind the trees, its red and pink rays still casting over the field. Ben shut his eyes, taking in the warmth before sighing, turning to his young friend, only for her to begin talking.

“If Kenny’s like our dad does that mean we’re like… siblings,” She mumbled shyly, not looking over to Ben.

Ben’s entire chest exploded with warmth, barely able to stop himself from cooing as he looked over to his friend. He watched as he cheeks grew bright pink, her eyes wide as she focused ahead.

“Don’t- Don’t say anything!” She shrieked, embarrassed. “Forget it!”

Ben only giggled, wrapping an arm around her back. He rested her head against his arm, laughing at how tense she was.

“Relax,” He spoke softly, rubbing her side. “I think you, despite being evil sometimes, are a great sister.”

Clementine only burned even brighter, not moving away from the teen’s touch. “You’re… an annoying brother.”

Ben burst out with a laugh, shaking his head as he tickled her side, the girl jumping away and shoving him with her own giggles.

“You’re dumb,” She mumbled, grabbing her backpack. “Come on, before Kenny comes and gets us.”

Ben stood up, picking his cleaver up off the ground. “You mean dad?”

“Shut up.”

Ben shook his head, tilting his head towards where the came from. “You got a flashlight in there?” He asked, looking at her backpack.

Clementine nodded as she stood up, pulling out a flashlight and clicking it on before turning to Ben. She grabbed her pistol as well, placing it in her waistband before stepping forward.

Ben laughed, leading the way forward as he held his cleaver tightly. Clementine walked by his side, their shoes crunching in the grass and through the trees. The dark world was only lightened up by the light in Clementine’s hand, everything else otherwise hidden by the shadows.

“Do you think Carlos made spaghetti for dinner tonight?” Ben asked, looking to his friend. “I’m getting kinda hungry.”

“I hope so,” Clementine responded, her nose wrinkling. She looked to Ben, her brows furrowing.

“What’s that smell?” Ben asked slowly.

Clementine seemingly froze, her hand around Ben’s forearm tightening to the point of being painful.

“It smells... It smells like burning!”

Ben’s heart fell into his stomach as he slid his hand around Clementine’s palm, tightening his grip there before all but sprinting. He felt his heart slam in his chest, his grip around his cleaver painful as Clementine ran besides him, nearly outpacing him.

Thick ashes fell from the sky, Clementine letting out a shocked whimper as she ran even faster, practically pulling Ben as they exited the thicker woods, stumbling onto the clearing of the cabin.

“Oh no.

Ben and Clementine could only stare as flames engulfed their once home.

Chapter Text

Ben could barely move as he stared at the flames ahead, his eyes wide in fear as he continued to stare. He finally found the courage to move at the sound of a shout from Clementine, his eyes flying to where she pointed.

Just besides the cabin, a man was walking towards what appeared to be a large commercial truck. Ben jolted forwards, running after him only to stop just in front of the cabin, a large explosion of flames nearly burning him as he threw his arms up.

“Ben!” Clementine screamed, running up besides him.

Ben felt the words in his throat dry up as he lowered his arms, making eye contact with the man in the harsh lighting. He could’ve sworn the man smiled as he fixed what appeared to be the collar of his vest before climbing into the the passenger seat of the large truck.  

“Who the fuck are you?!” Ben shouted, his chest heaving. He watched as the truck began to slowly drive away, his eyes widening as he watched for another second. Another large crack erupted from within his once home, flames exploding from one of the upstairs windows. Ben was quickly ripped out of his momentary shock, pulling off his large parka as he sprinted straight into the burning cabin, leaving Clementine in shock.

“Benjamin!” Clementine shrieked, as she started after the teen, ducking under the burning arch of the front door. She coughed sharply into the elbow of her jacket, the thick smoke in the air choking her up as it wrapped around her figure, burning her eyes. “Ben!?”

The boy was nowhere in Clementine’s sight, flames eating away at the walls and floor as she stepped deeper and deeper into the home, coughing even more harshly. She raised her palm just over her brow, hoping to spot the teen.

“Ben!” She called again, her voice more of a croak. “Ben pl-please!”

What could only be described as a wail sounded out from the other side of the house.

“Kenny!” Ben’s voice echoed distantly, the loud fire around Clementine nearly drowning out the faint call. “Kenny- Kenny !?”

Clementine opened her mouth to call for the teen as she continued forward, her lungs burning as she delved into a coughing fit. She leaned one hand against a nearby wall to stabilize her weak legs, her mind fogging up as the air seemed to grow thinner and thinner.

“Ben!” The young girl practically whimpered, getting a moment of strength as she continued to stumble down the hall.

The main hallway was completely drowned in flames, the dangerous fire nearly touching Clementine’s nimble frame as she continued down the hall, barely making any progress. She could barely see with the thick smoke that drowned out the space, hanging high in the ceiling. The kitchen was unrecognizable, the flames already taking over the entire room as it spread through the dining and living room.

A loud crack erupted above Clementine, a gasp breaking past her lips as she stared up to the crackling ceiling above, barely having a second to scream as a beam came crashing down. The tip of the wooden beam connected with Clementine’s forehead, knocking her back to the ground with a scream as the world dissolved into darkness around her, the faint sensation of blood trickling down the bridge of her nose.

The young girl just barely registered the sound of panicked cries and her body being moved as she fell into unconsciousness.

“Please- Please Clem-! I’m sorryimsorryimsor-”


Pain flooded Clementine’s frail body, her breath shuddering as she inhaled, her entire body stiffening as she hissed. She slowly noticed the sensation of something underneath her head, her body laid out with her knees curled as he shoes brushed against something solid. Her jacket was no longer on her, instead she was in her off shoulder tan shirt, the fabric irritating against her warm skin.  

Clementine sluggishly blinked her eyes open, adjusting to the darkness. It took a moment before her amber gaze focused on the figure above her, suddenly realizing her head was resting in Ben’s lap. She opened her mouth to speak, only freezing when she noticed the dried tear stains on the teen’s cheek. The sight was nearly too much as she realized his hand rested over her neck, as if to keep check on her pulse, while he rested his other arm over his chest, his temple resting on the glass window of the car door.

“B-Ben?” Clementine croaked out, shutting her eyes as she fell into a fit of coughs, shutting her eyes. She felt Ben shift beneath her, his other hand cupping her cheek as he stared down at her face.

“D-D-Don’t mo-move,” Ben seemed to whisper, his eyes wide as he met Clem’s gaze.

The young girl raised a finger to her forehead, coming in contact with fabric wrapped around her skull. Wetness seeped into the pad of her fingertip as she flinched with a gasp at the pain erupting underneath the fabric.

“Don’t to-touch!” Ben coughed out, shaking his head. He grabbed her hand, holding it against her stomach, his thumb rubbing circles into her knuckles.

It was then Clementine noticed the boy’s exposed forearms, his brown sweater seemingly ripped and burned away. His skin was twisted and red with what appeared to be burn marks, spanning the inside of his left forearm.

“Y-Your ar-arm!” Clementine breathed, attempting to sit up, only for Ben to hold her down by her stomach.

“Do-Don’t move- Don’t-” He croaked, coughing for a moment before speaking again, “You could b-be concussed.”

Clementine furrowed her brows, fighting the teen again as she grew dizzy, only to give up after another moment, the boy’s strength superior to hers.

“Ben…” She murmured, her eyes burning for entirely new reasons.

“Rest,” The boy whispered, shaking his head. “Morning.”

Clementine couldn’t fight the teen as she felt his fingers in her hair, briefly questioning where her hat had gone off to, before giving into the comforting feeling. She protested in a few more mumbles for another beat, only for her eyes to grow heavy.

Clementine fell into darkness once again, the hand around hers never wavering.

Chapter Text

The next time Clementine awoke, the pain in her head was nowhere near as harrowing as it had been. She registered the sensation of being actively moved, followed by the sound of birds and wildlife. Her eyes took a long moment to completely open, blinking away what felt like blinding sunlight.

Clementine realized then her legs were wrapped around Ben’s waist, her arms over his shoulders as he held her from beneath her thighs. Her forehead was resting against the nape of his neck as he continued to seemingly walk through the area, her eyes adjusting to the morning sun for another moment before lifting her head off the boy’s back.

“Ben?” She groaned, her eyes squinted. Her head drowned in a temporary wave of pain when the teen jolted.

Ben came to a stop after a few more steps, stopping ahead of a downed tree. Slowly, and as gently as he could, Ben pulled Clementine around to his waist before setting her on the ground just ahead of the log. Her back rested against the wood, a hiss leaving her as Ben kneeled in front of her, his hand on her shoulder.

Clementine cracked her eyes open when she was sure she was stable, immediately meeting Ben’s utterly exhausted gaze. The girl only focused on his eyes for a beat before looking over his ragged form, her eyes immediately locking onto his burnt and exposed forearms.

The inside of the teen’s left forearm was still bright red, his once pristine brown sweater sleeves now cut off at his elbows. His right forearm seemed to be relatively unburnt, only bruised from something Clementine could only imagine. The boy’s face was drawn with what looked like both lack of sleep and trauma. His old parka was wrapped around his hips, Clementine’s small purple backpack held in one hand alongside his cleaver.

Before Clementine could speak, Ben’s hands were suddenly cupping her face, his fingers inching up to the makeshift bandage around her head. He moved the bandage upwards, Clementine's hat nowhere to be seen.

Blood had since clotted over Clementine’s right brow, the growing scar straight down from her forehead to just above her forehead. It hooked slightly, just barely over the size of the pad of Ben’s thumb.

“Is it-t bad?” Clementine whispered, her fingers wrapping around Ben’s boney wrist.

Ben shook his head, clearing his throat.

Clementine waited for the boy to speak, unable to stop her frown when he didn’t. Instead, Ben fixed her bandage, the material no doubt from his sweater, before sitting back. He didn’t mention the way Clementine kept her hand around his wrist as he looked around the space. Clementine did the same, taking in the unfamiliar surroundings.

The pair were no doubt still in a forested area, the sun rising in the warm air. Birds chirped from the above trees, the grass below just as bright as the leaves.

“Where are w-we?” Clementine asked, coughing slightly.

Ben seemed to jolt, swallowing as he met Clementine’s gaze. He shrugged, curling his knees up to his chest as the young girl crossed her legs beneath herself.

Silence descended on the duo, Clementine growing more and more anxious at the teen’s quiet nature. She hadn’t seen him like this in a long time.

“Ben?” Clementine murmured, hugging herself.

The teen blinked as he rested his chin on his knees, not meeting her gaze.

“Are you… are you okay?”

Ben seemed to stiffen, his nails digging into his own thighs as he hugged himself. He heard the young girl prompt him again before he gathered the strength to speak, his throat aching.

“Lost.”

“W-We’re lost?” Clementine replied, looking around. She tried not to focus on how scratchy his voice was, whether from disuse or smoke, she wasn’t sure.  “Do- Didn’t- Weren’t we in a car last night?”

“Br-Broken,” Ben replied sadly. He cleared his throat, moving to rub his burnt arm, only to freeze.

Clementine couldn’t stop as she reached forward, pulling his arm into her lap as she stared down at the red and twisted skin. She bit back the rising vomit in her throat, her eyes searching the wound and fighting the teen as he tried to pull his arm back.

“You took care of me and now it’s my t-turn to take care of you,” Clementine replied, her voice not too kind as she met the boy’s gaze. “If it- We have to take care of each other.”

Ben flinched, but otherwise gave in, staring down at his arm. He was silent for another beat before speaking, his voice shaking.

“Ju-Just be gen-gentle,” He mumbled, not looking away from the burnt skin.

Clementine nodded, slowing down as she let out a long breath. “Wh-What do we have?” She asked, tilting her head as she met the teen’s gaze.

Ben moved his other hand to grab Clementine’s backpack, placing it between their legs with a shrug.

Clementine grimaced, knowing the scarce materials that would be in there. “I only had half a bottle of water and….other stuff.”

Ben nodded. “I gave you so-some,” He murmured.

Clementine blinked, looking up from her backpack to meet the teen’s gaze. “Did you use any on your arm?” The boy shook his head. “How about to drink?”

Ben shook his head again, not meeting the girl’s eyes. “We can f-find more,” He mumbled.  

Clementine fought the anger in her throat. “You can’t just take care of-f me and not yourself,” She seethed, trying to meet his eyes. When it became apparent the boy was obviously fighting not to, Clementine squeezed his leg. “Ben.”

“M’older,” The boy grumbled, shaking his head. “You got hurt.”

Clementine tightened her grip on Ben’s upper arm, narrowing her gaze. “And you did too!”

“You got hurt b-because I was stupid, Ben corrected, his voice barely above a whisper.

Clementine froze, her heart sinking into her stomach. She felt herself grow cold, the sudden memories and pain from yesterday night seemingly drowning her already pained mind. Her fingers grew numb as he heart raced, an uncomfortable lump in her throat.

“D-Did you—wa-was there… was there anyo-one?”

Ben didn’t look up to Clementine as time seemed to slow, his grip around himself tight as he felt the young girls nails dig into his skin. He barely managed to swallow the memories nearly eating him alive, the heat, pain, and utter horror encompassing his mind only be drowned out by the sharp pain in his arm.

“No.”

Clementine wanted to be flooded to relief, only to find her eyes pricking with wetness. She bit down on her lip, seemingly caught in the emotion growing in her chest. She lifted a hand to her face, rubbing her palm into her eyes.

Ben froze, the girls grip on his arm falling away as she raised both hands to dig into her eyes. Her sniffle didn’t go unnoticed by the teen as he found himself still frozen, only moving forward when he was sure the girl was crying.

Clementine all but melted into the boy’s one armed hug, hiding her face in his chest as her head rang. She shut her eyes, squeezing tight enough that it hurt as she held her tears in to her best capability.

You have to be strong, Clementine mentally berated herself, hoping to ignore the hiccup she had just let out. H-He needs you.

“I got you, kiddo,” Ben whispered softly, his hand rubbing circles in her back.

Despite the very real strength Clementine had, she couldn’t control her tears as they slid down her cheeks, a sob ripping out of her aching throat. She clutched the teen’s sweater, continuing to cry into his chest as he hugged her close. It didn’t take more than another minute before Clementine’s pain outgrew her sorrow, her entire figure slumping against Ben’s completely.

“I got-t you,” Ben repeated, this time even softer. He slowly maneuvered the girl back against the log, wincing as she held onto her head. The teen worked quickly to gather the backpack and his cleaver, holding them in one hand. He crouched and turned his back to Clementine before helping her onto his back. Slowly, Clementine was situated, her legs immediately wrapping around his hips as he fixed his grip. Ben came to a wobbly stand, ignore the spiking pain in his knee as he took his first step.

“Okay.” Ben murmured, turning his head to the almost asleep girl.

Clementine nodded, her arms around Ben’s neck. “Okay.”

Ben nodded sharply, hesitating before taking his next few steps. It was another minute of painful movement before his weaker leg adjusted to the weight, the teen keeping a steady pace as he held his cleaver tight.

Clementine fell asleep soon after, falling asleep to the beating of Ben’s heart.

Chapter Text

Clementine finally felt her mind pull itself out of its slump, her mind spinning as she groaned, furrowing her brows. It took another moment before she fully realized that she was lied down once again, this time on what felt like a jacket on the cool ground, her head under what could only be her backpack.

The young girl groaned again, the echoing sounds of wildlife registering in her head, followed quickly by what sounded like rushing water. Light blinded her eyes, the sun peaking through the tree leaves bright.

Slowly, Clementine sat up, her eyes still shut. She stretched her arms over her head before crossing her legs with a yawn. The sun wasn’t nearly as harsh the second time around when Clementine opened her eyes, looking around the small space.

Clementine’s back was nearly up against the trunk of a tree, Ben’s old parka below her small figure. She stared at the dark green jacket with wide eyes, blinking as she looked around the small space.

Multiple trees formed a circular-esque shape, Clementine nearly in the middle. Birds rested in the trees high above, the sun starting to set over the horizon.

“Ben?” Clementine croaked, clearing her throat before calling for his name again. She swallowed before reaching for her backpack, sliding it closer to herself as she pulled out her gun. Her fingers trembled as she checked the weapon for ammo, breathing out a sigh of relief at the sight of the bullets resting in their cartridge.

It took a moment longer before Clementine gathered the strength to stand, grabbing her hat out of her backpack and putting it on, noting the missing bottle of water. Slowly, Clementine took her first few shakey steps toward the sound of moving water, her legs buckling slightly at the weight. Her head swam with each step but slowly evened out as she adjusted her movements, making sure not to jostle her head too much.

The soft grass beneath the young girl’s feet gradually became dirt, her eyes widening at the sight of her friend bending over the small stream. His sweater was on a nearby low hanging branch, hanging as if to dry alongside his old white shirt.  

Clementine quickly registered the teen’s arm beneath the water’s surface, his burned forearm resting in the clear water. His agonized face didn’t go unnoticed by his young friend as she quickly stumbled over, her gaze locked on the scar protruding on his back.

“Ben?” She nearly cried, her face contorted in unfiltered concern as she rested a cautious hand on his right shoulder, crouching besides him.

The boy all but jolted, turning to his friend as he fell onto his backside, just narrowly missing the stream. “Cl-Clem!?” He gasped, fixing his seating. “Y-You shouldn’t-t be walking!”

The young teenager ignored his words, instead reaching for his wrist. She met his gaze, assuring that he was okay with the touch, before pulling his injured arm towards her chest. Clementine worked quick to access the damage to his forearm, her eyes widening at the sight of various blisters growing in his twisted skin.

“Y-You should’ve taken c-care of this before!” Clementine chided the teen, her fingers not daring to touch the skin. “It wouldn’t have been this bad.”

Ben shook his head, not having much to say to the girl as he looked over her own bandages, his other hand coming to rest on the side of her head. He flinched as she did, their eyes meeting.

“You shouldn’t b-be walking,” Ben murmured, frowning. “You have a con-concussion.”

“And your arm is burnt to hell and back!” Clementine replied shortly, her voice nearly a hiss. She softened when the boy flinched, although her anger went nowhere. Her gaze quickly flickered to the boy’s scarred stomach, her eyes resting on his much smaller yet violent scar on his shoulder.

Ben seemed to withdraw then, his arm pulling back to his chest as he came to a stand. He worked his jaw before limping his way over to his t-shirt and sliding it over his frame. He cringed at the sensation of the fabric connecting with his burnt skin, slinging his sweater over his shoulder before turning back to Clementine. He held his good arm out for the girl, gesturing for her to get closer.

Clementine straightened her jaw, coming to a stiff stand before walking over to the teen. She leaned into the touch as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, helping her walk as he grabbed the water bottle off a nearby tree stump.

Together, the pair made their way back to their ‘camp’, Ben helping Clementine walk alongside him. He came to a stop just in front of his jacket, coughing slightly as he helped the young girl take a seat. The teen didn’t even have a chance to step away before Clementine practically pulled him to the ground.

Clementine took a long moment to look the boy over, her brows only furrowing even more at the sight of the dark bags beneath his eyes. She hadn’t missed the way he walked with an even more prominent limp, nor how much thinner he looked.

“Have you found anything w-we can eat?” Clementine asked, still attempting to meet his gaze.

Ben swallowed, nodding his head. He grabbed his friends backpack, pulling it closer to them before digging through it with his good arm. The teen pulled out a small energy bar, holding it out between himself and his young friend.

Clementine hid her disappointment as well as she could. “Where di-did you find this?” She asked, tilting her head, only to freeze at the pang of pain erupting in her skull.

“Cars,” Ben replied quietly, beginning to rip the bar open. “Went looking in a pile up.”

Clementine’s frown deepened. “Alone?”

Ben shrugged, snapping the bar in half. “You were there.”

“I was asleep,” Clementine corrected, swallowing the lump in her throat. “That’s dangerous.”

“Not having f-food is dangerous,” Ben replied effortlessly, holding the girl’s share of food out to her. “Eat.”

Clementine wanted to refuse, hoping the lack of action would teach the teen a lesson, but decided against it. She would need to be as healthy as possible in order to take care of both herself and her friend. Her hand slowly reached out and grabbed the evenly cut food, slowly chewing on it.

Ben didn’t say anything, only nodding sharply. He felt Clementine’s eyes on his figure but did his best to ignore it, half wishing he could disappear into the ground. His chest ached with each breath, the exhaustion and utter defeat eating away at his frame.

“Wh-What’s the plan?” Clementine asked, finishing up her bar as she reached for the bottle of water.  

“Rest,” Ben replied quietly, finishing up his own food. He shut his eyes for a long beat, nearly struggling to open them back up.

“Both of us,” Clementine spoke, her voice firm and just as quiet.

Ben shut his eyes for a much longer moment, his entire figure slacking as he focused on breathing. “Both of us.”

Clementine seemed to relax, sighing herself as she nodded her head. She patted the jacket beneath her before looking back up to the setting sky, her heart aching.

“You need to co-cover your arms,” Clementine whispered sadly. “Walker food.”

Ben nodded slowly, pulling his sweater off his shoulder. He looked at it sadly, the burnt edges of the sleeves and soot covering the fabric sending an ache through his figure.

“We can get you a new one,” Clementine murmured, daring to rest a hand on his knee. “Maybe ev-even a hoodie?”

Ben pushed his tears back as he nodded, sliding the sweater over his weak frame. He curled his knees up to his chest, wrapping his good arm around his legs before resting his bad arm inside of his curled up figure.

“Is your head hurting bad?” He murmured, fixing the brim of Kenny’s hat, his sweaty hair sticking to his neck.

Clementine thought for a beat before speaking. “It feels like every word is echoing through my skull- but it’s better,” She confessed, meeting the teen’s gaze. “How’s your arm?”

Ben shrugged, looking down to the wound in question. “Hurts,” He mumbled, twisting his arm. “Don’t know if I can… if I can f-feel it.”

Clementine furrowed her brows, watching the teen closely. “Like-Like feel the skin?”

Ben nodded slowly. “Like… Like when I got-t shot.”

Clementine stared for a beat, her eyes wide before looking down to his hidden arm. She hadn’t thought the injury to be severe enough that he’d lose feeling in his skin. Her knowledge of burns was minimal at best, Christa and Omid’s teaching focusing more on cuts and other abrasions.

“It’ll heal,” Clementine settled on, meeting Ben’s gaze firmly. “We c-can find better supplies. There has to be somewhere that-t has them.”

Ben blinked, staring at the ground. “Prescott.”

Clementine stared at the teen, her eyes widening. “We- You wanna go there?”

Ben nodded slowly. He didn’t say or move for along beat before slowly uncurling his legs. His good hand dug into his pocket, pulling out a deep red fabric with a black symbol etched into the thread. The teen laid it out on the ground between them, his fingers trembling as he smoothened out the edges of the cut away fabric.

“Wh-What is it?” Clementine whispered, her voice barely audible.

Ben worked his jaw. “It w-was where the truck was,” Ben replied, his voice shaking. “Whoever, or whatever, did this. This- This is their calling c-card.”

The symbol was dark enough to nearly drown out the the bright maroon red it sat in. What could only be described as a nearly complete circle, the inside filled with a symbol mimicking the number seven, a small o rounding out the symbol before reconnecting with the incomplete circle.

Clementine nodded slowly, her head barely moving as she stared at the symbol with pure rage. “We have to find ou-out who it is,” She stated, looking up to the teen.

“We g-get to Prescott,” Ben continued, nodding his head. “We can fi-find out who did this. Find out where they are.”

“We can get everyone b-back,” Clementine finished, meeting Ben’s fiery gaze with her own fueled rage.

Ben nodded sharply. “Everyone.”

The pair held one another’s gaze for a long beat, what felt like a promise being made. The moment was cut short at the sound of a groan from just behind the pair, Ben jumping to his weakened legs in less than a second, his cleaver in hand.

A walker was slowly making its way through the thick forest, it’s eyes glazed over with years of wear. It wasn’t a direct threat quite yet, but it could very easily be one if not taken care of.

Clementine watched with fear as the teen slowly made his way over to the being, his cleaver held high in his stronger arm as he brought it down over the walker’s head, silencing it once and for all. The young girl let out a sigh of relief, watching as the boy kicked the being to ensure it was dead before making his way back to his friend.

Ben managed a small, yet reassuring smile, his eyes aching as he sat back down, this time sighing loudly.

Clementine spared a glance back up to the sky, the sun nearly gone, the colorful and vibrant echoes of color not present. She looked back down to her friend, watching as he wiped his face with his palm, looking over to her with a tired look.

“You okay?” Ben asked quietly.

“Yeah,” The young girl replied, almost immediately. “Are you?”

Ben looked up, staring into the woods for a beat before nodding his head. He was positive the girl saw through his lie, satisfied when she didn’t point it out.

“Can we sleep now?” Clementine asked quietly, almost anxiously. “It’s almost dark and w-we can both use it.”

Ben hesitated before looking back over to the girl, a small smile on his lips. “Okay,” He settled on.

Clementine’s entire figure nearly decompressed in relief. She slowly laid back onto her backpack once more, blinking her eyes as pain coursed through her head.

Ben slowly moved to lie besides the girl, relaxing onto the jacket when she made room for him. He adjusted his hat over his own head before fixing Clementine’s as well, making sure not to disturb her bandages.

“I’m sc-scared” Clementine whispered, looking up to her friend with sad eyes.

Ben furrowed his brows, swallowing loudly. “Wh-Why?”

Clementine’s lip trembled as she attempted to shake her head. “Y-You’re not-t taking care of-f yourself,” She mumbled, sniffling.

Clementine turned her face into her backpack, hoping to hide the very real fear and despair that was slowly consuming her. The mere thought of losing her friend, her brother, on top of being separated from everyone else was too much to bear as she curled into herself.

“Clem,” Ben whispered, sitting up. He placed a hand on her shoulder, shaking her gently to grab her attention. “Clementine.”

The young girl only shook her head, screwing her eyes shut even tighter.

“I’m st-still here, kiddo,” Ben murmured, tucking a thick strand of the young girls brown hair behind her ear. “I-I’m right here.”

“You keep- You keep doing stu-stupid things!” Clementine stammered, still not meeting the boy’s eyes. “You-You’re going to get y-yourself hurt-t or worse!”

Ben’s shoulders fell, his hand resting back in his lap as he stared down at the ground, swallowing loudly. He flinched with each sniffle the girl let out, his eyes staring holes into the back of his parka.

“I’m sorry,” The boy whispered, his voice cracking.

Clementine rubbed her face, looking up to the teen with wet eyes.

“I- It’s not fair,” Ben continued slowly, hugging himself. “I-I- I’m not- I’m being reckless.”

“You’re not t-taking care of-f yourself,” Clementine shuddered, her voice cracking. “Just like-Just like…”  

Ben froze, already knowing what his friend was saying. He felt his heart slam in his chest, what felt all too much like vomit rising in his throat as he shut his eyes.

“Just like when S-Sarita died.”

Clementine nodded her head, saying nothing else as she sniffled.  

Ben took a deep, shuddering breath as he focused on grounding himself, his fingers digging into his side as he waited for the wave of of grief crashing over him to subside.

“Y-You almost... You almost di-died,” Clementine continued, looking up to her friend.She all but flinched when the boy met her gaze, his own eyes filled with sorrow.

Silence descended on the pair, Clementine’s sniffles echoing in the forest air. She leaned into Ben’s palm when his hand came to a rest on the side of her head, his thumb continuing to brush her sweaty hair.

“I-I won’t- I’ll stop,” Ben finally whispered, nodding his head. “I won’t k-keep doing th-this to you.”

Clementine hesitated, blinking her aching eyes. She found her arm reaching up to the teen, wrapping around his neck to pull him down besides her as she slowly calmed down, relaxing even more when the teen laid down next to her own aching figure before pulling her arm back to her chest.  

“Tomorrow I can walk,” She mumbled sleepily, rubbing her eye with her palm. “No-No more carryin’ me like a baby.”

Ben chuckled, the feeling almost foreign as he rested his uninjured arm beneath the side of his face, resting on his good side.  “If you say so,” He teased, hoping to alleviate the pain the young girl was feeling.

Clementine found herself chuckling softly, turning to look at the teen besides her. She hated how much more grown he looked in just a day, the boy she once knew an echo. Her heart slammed in her chest as she turned onto her side as gently as possible before scooting even closer to the teen.

Ben blinked, looking down as Clementine rested her forehead against his chest, curling her knees up to her chest. She seemed to relax entirely, leaning into the touch when Ben rested a hand over her side, careful not to brush his injured arm over her clothing.

“Promise me you’ll sleep?” Clementine whispered, her words slurring.

Ben let out an affirmative hum, shutting his own eyes. “Promise.”

Clementine seemed satisfied with the answer, her eyes shutting once and for all. She barely managed her last few words as sleep slowly consumed her.

“I’ll see y-you tomorrow,” She murmured.

Ben scooched even closer, nodding his head as he made sure the child was comfortable. He hesitated before shutting his own eyes, the ache resounding through his entire figure pulsating as he let his body relax for the first time in what felt like days.

“Goodnight, kiddo.”

Chapter Text

Ben wrapped his arms around his too large green hoodie, pushing against the aching scar on his stomach as he leaned forward, staring down at the table in front of him. The booth he sat in was worn down and as old as it had always been, barely any more comfortable than the tiled floor.

“Welcome back, honey.”

Ben looked up from the table, his eyes wide as he met the gaze of his departed friend.

“I haven’t seen you in a few weeks,” Sarita murmured, seated across from the teen with her practically permanent smile.

Ben nodded his head, his arms digging into his stomach as he all but sagged, his face pulled into a frown.

“Things were going good,” He mumbled, staring down at the table. “Really good.”

Sarita’s smile faltered, tilting her head. “That changed,” She stated softly, her brows furrowing.

Ben nodded, biting down onto his lip as he held back tears. “Bad...Something bad happened.”

Sarita’s hands flattened out over the table, her eyes filling with pure concern. “What happened, baby?”

Ben felt himself flinch, his arm lighting up in pain as he quickly pulled it away from his hoodie, resting his elbow on the table before hiding his face in both palms.

“It’s just m-me and Clementine n-now,” Ben whispered, not daring to look up to the woman’s face.

The wind outside the restaurant beat against the aging and cracked windows, howling loudly as the pair inside sat in silence.

“I-I do-don’t know what ha-happened,” Ben confessed, his voice breaking. “I-I lost… I lost K-Kenny. I-I failed.”

Sarita’s palm wrapped around Ben’s unburnt wrist, squeezing the thin bone tightly as she moved his hand away from his face.

“Don’t you hide your beautiful blue eyes from me,” She murmured, her smile not wavering. “Talk to me.”

Ben took a deep breath, his lip trembling as he stared down at the table, not quite ready to speak.

“You’ve grown so much,” Sarita whispered, her hand stretched out to cup the side of his face. “You’re not that little boy I met almost four years ago anymore.”

Ben shook his head, swallowing the lump in his throat. “I-I’ve grown.”

“And you’ve learned so, so much,” Sarita pointed out, her hand falling from the boy’s face. “So much.”

Ben shut his eyes for a beat, taking in the woman’s words before shaking his head. “I-It’s just- ever since you left , it’s like I don’t know how to…” He paused, sighing. “I don’t know how to h-handle anything.”

Sarita wrapped both hands around Ben’s palm, her thumb making smooth circles over his knuckles as she spoke. “Grief is something you cannot learn, Ben,” She spoke, her voice soft yet firm. “You can only experience it. Only live through it.”

“I can’t- I don’t think I c-can handle it!” Ben all but sobbed, looking up to the woman. “I lost- I lost you and now- now I lo-lost Kenny!”

Ben shook his head, tucking his chin into his chest as he held in his tears, trying his hardest not to fall apart.

“Do you know how proud he was of you?” Sarita murmured softly, no longer smiling despite the love in her tone. “How much he loved you?”

“I kn-know,” Ben replied, looking up as he wiped his cheeks. “But I feel- I feel like I’m letting y-you both down.” He paused, holding in a sob. “I can’t do-do this without you both!”

Sarita reached forward for both of Ben’s hands this time, squeezing his nimble fingers as she spoke.

“I told you I am always here, I will always be here,” Sarita spoke adamantly, nodding her head firmly. “And there is no doubt in my mind that you are making both Kenny and I proud.”

“You are still growing, still learning, Ben,” She continued, meeting the boy’s eyes. “And you did not stop learning after the day you learned how to shoot, I can assure you that much honey.”

Ben couldn’t help the wet chuckle that broke past his lips, sniffling as he kept his gaze steady on Sarita’s face.

“Now you have to take care of yourself, you have to be strong,” She went on passionately. “You have to keep moving forward  for the people who love you no matter what.”

Ben nodded his head, taking a moment to breathe in sharply, his breath nothing short of a shudder. “I know.”

“Kenny is waiting for you, he’s probably just as worried as you are,” Sarita teased, squeezing the teen’s hands. “You know how he worries.”

“More about me than anything else.”

Sarita nodded. “More about you than anything else.”

Ben swallowed, looking out the window at the grassy fields surrounding the small building. The grass swayed lazily with the wind, the bright sun shining down on the abandoned road without a trace of any walkers in sight.

“It looks good on you,” Sarita joked, smiling as she looked up to the accessory on top of the boy’s head. “Very stylish.”

Ben grew red, chuckling as he fixed the hat on his head. “He thinks it’ll keep my hair out of my face,” He replied shyly, lifting one hand from the woman’s grip to brush a brunette strand behind his ear.

Sarita only smiled fondly, taking a moment to look over the teen before speaking. “Looks like you’ve got searching to do,” She murmured, cupping the teen’s face. “I’m always going to be here when you need help. Always.”

“I know,” Ben replied, shutting his eyes as he leaned into the touch.

Sarita smiled softly, reaching her other hand halfway across the table. “Pinky swear?”

Ben opened his eyes, returning her smile. He didn’t hesitate to reach his own hand across the space, curling his pinky around hers.

“Pinky swear.”

“I’ll be waiting, honey,” Sarita whispered, her voice the last thing Ben registered as his world drowned in white.

Chapter Text

The soft drumming of rain awoke Clementine, the young girl taking a moment to blink her bleary eyes open, furrowing her brows. She found herself curled up in the passenger seat of a car she didn’t recall, her head resting against the window with her knees rolled up to her chest. A sea of green was quickly passing by from just outside, the trees just off the highway blurring into one another as the small car rode forward.

Clementine flipped onto her back, stretching her legs as she looked over to the driver seat, finding her friend already looking over to her, a small smile on his lips.

“Mornin’ sleepyhead,” Ben greeted, his voice soft as he placed a palm over her knee, focusing back on the empty road. “You feeling okay?”

Clementine nodded her head, rubbing her palms into her eyes as she sat up, looking over. “When did you get a car?” She croaked out, clearing her tired throat.

“This morning,” Ben replied, lifting his palm off her knee to lazily hold the steering wheel. “It’s almost noon, I think.”

“You didn’t wake me up?” Clementine asked, pouting.

Ben chuckled quietly, shaking his head. “You looked peaceful,” He answered, smiling. “Besides, I thought you’d wake up when I carried you.”

Clementine rolled her eyes, thankful the speed of the car wasn’t making her dizzy. “I thought you couldn’t find a car that was working,” She mumbled, sitting up all the way. She blinked at the sight of her backpack on the floor of the car, furrowing her brows even more at the sight of a large puffy blue jacket that did not belong to her.

“I hot-wired this one,” Ben replied nonchalantly, shrugging.

Clementine looked over to the boy. “Kenny?”

Ben tried to hide his flinch, knowing he failed when the girl cringed as well. “Yeah,” He mumbled, “He, uh, taught me how to do it a while back.”

Clementine didn’t respond immediately, thinking quickly on how she could change the subject. She reached for the blue jacket on the ground, finding it to also be accompanied by a small red coat and scarf.

“What are these?” She asked incredulously, scrunching up her nose.

“You needed a jacket,” Ben spoke, sparing a glance over to the girl. “I thought you’d like both, or one. I don’t know.”

Clementine chuckled, lifting both jackets up. She wore the red coat first, smiling when it fit relatively fine. “It’s a bit big on the sides,” She pointed out, looking up to Ben. "You don't have a jacket, though." 

Ben shrugged. “I tried my best,” He replied, feigning annoyance before shaking his head. "I'll find one eventually." 

Clementine rolled her eyes as she relaxed back into her seat, pulling her backpack into her lap. She waited for the teen to seemingly focus back on driving, the boy humming to himself, before digging through her pack.

A cold weight grew in Clementine’s stomach as she stared into the pack, her fingers shaking around the old photograph of her oldest friend. She continued to stare at the man’s face, the solace and sheer sense of loss only making her chest ache, her head spinning.

“Whatcha got there?” Ben asked, not looking away from the road.

Clementine jolted, dropping the aged photograph into her backpack as she shook her head, pulling out her new notebook. “Ju-Just this,” She mumbled, placing her small backpack onto the floor of the car.

Ben smiled, watching as the girl opened her notebook. He looked back out his windshield, squinting as rain continued to pound against the aged glass. “You gonna draw?” He asked, trying to keep the girls mind on lighter things.

“I haven’t drawn in years,” Clementine replied with a snort. “I probably suck now.”

“I doubt it,” Ben replied, shaking his head. “I haven’t played in a band in years but I could play decently if I found a trumpet.”

Clementine couldn’t hold in her laugh, looking to the teen with an incredulous look. “What?!”

“What?” Ben repeated, laughing himself.

“Trumpet?” Clementine asked, looking over to the teen. “Why- What?!”

“You didn’t know?” Ben chuckled, shaking his head. “I was in band! I played the trumpet for my high school’s marching band.”

Clementine continued to softly laugh, shaking her head. “I did not know that,” She replied. “How did I not know that?”

Ben shrugged. “It wasn’t a secret,” He assured, chuckling. “Why did you think I had that big ol’ varsity jacket back in Georgia.”

“I don’t know!” Clementine spoke, looking back down to her notebook.  

Ben only shook his head, sighing to himself as he decided to continue speaking. “I played in the marching band with my old friend Travis,” He explained, a tinge of longing in his voice. “He was my only real friend back then.”

Clementine looked back up to her friend, surprised by the boy’s story. It was then she realized she barely knew much about Ben’s life before everything, from his time in school to the bare minimum she knew about his old family.

“Was it fun?” She asked, tilting her head. “High school, I mean.”

Ben snorted, shaking his head with wide eyes. “No- Not at all,” He replied in a huff, as he snorted. “It was hell.”

Clementine furrowed her brows, pulling her knees to her chest. “I was only in first grade,” She mumbled. “High school looked fun from the movies.”

“Movies were nothing like real life,” Ben assured with a chuckle, still shaking his head. “It was hell for me at least.”

“Why?” Clementine asked, her frown growing.

Ben seemed taken aback by the question, blinking for a good second before speaking. “I don’t know…” He mumbled, shrugging. “I was just... it just wasn’t for me. I didn’t have a lot of friends. Just Travis really.”

“How come?”

Ben was taken back again, sparing a glance to Clementine to find her staring at him already. “I don’t know, Clem,” He spoke again, looking back to the road. “I’m me.”

Clementine squinted her eyes, crossing her arms. “So?”

“So not a lot of people thought I was cool or something,” Ben replied, shaking his head. “It was a long time ago, it’s fine.”

“You have a lot of friends now,” Clementine pointed out, furrowing her brows. “And you’re great! You’re funny and have two best friends, not just one. Me and Sarah.”  

Ben laughed, nodding his head. “I do.”

Silence enveloped the pair, the lack of conversation not uncomfortable as Clementine continued to look over her friend. She was struck by an sudden, mischievous idea as she smiled, tilting her head.

“Did you have any girlfriends?” She asked the teen, barely able to stop her snort when the boy jumped.

“Clem- What?!” Ben cried, his cheeks going red. “No! I didn’t!”

“Oh,” Clementine mumbled, feigning disappointment. She gave the boy a second of reprieved silence before speaking again. “How about any boyfriends?”

Ben choked then, the tips of his ears as bright as his face as he spluttered for a long beat, barely stabilizing enough to answer the child besides him.

“No!” He assured rather loudly, shaking his head. “I didn’t- I didn’t have any boyfriends or girlfriends!”

“So you like both?” Clementine asked, grinning widely. “You like boys and girls.”

Ben stammered once more, not noticing how he sped the car up in obvious embarrassment. “Yes! Okay! I like both,” He confessed quickly, hoping the girl would get off his back. “Now can we stop talking about this!”  

Clementine snickered, curling up in her seat with a knowing look. “That’s cute.”

Ben only groaned, his heart racing in his chest. “Thank you, Clem.”

The girl let silence befall them once again, giving the boy a chance to relax. She smiled as he casted a glance in her direction, her lips turned upwards in a grin.

“I bet you were cooler than you think you were,” She stated, her voice tinged with laughter.

Ben sighed, rolling his eyes as he let one hand go of the steering wheel to nudge the girl’s shoulder gently. “You were probably just as cool and evil in first grade,” He spoke, laughing.

Clementine shrugged, giggling. “I was,” She replied without missing a beat. “I let out the frog out of the science classroom once.”

“You let it loose?!” Ben practically shouted in disbelief, his eyes wide. “What?!”

Clementine continued to giggle, nodding her head. “His name was Froggy.”

Ben laughed, shaking his head. “You really have always been so mischievous, haven’t you?”

Clementine shrugged, smiling.

The pair fell into a comfortable silence, Clementine happy to have given her friend a nice moment where he wasn’t worried about the world or thinking about what had recently happened. They both needed to take a second for themselves.

Yet, Clementine knew the moments of bliss were never long enough.

“We’re uh, headed to Prescott now,” Ben mumbled, not looking over to his friend. “It’s a few miles away but I think we’re going to run out of gas before.”

Clementine nodded, sparing a quick glance to her friend, noticing how his fingers dug into the steering wheel, his gaze locked on the windshield. “How long have you been driving?” She asked, narrowing her eyes.

“Only, like, an hour,” Ben replied, nodding his head.

Clementine nodded her head, opening her notebook. She idly took notes, writing what the boy had spoken about, from his old high school stories to their current destination. She sketched the model of the car to her best ability, adding a small drawing of her own hat on the corner of the page.

“You havin’ fun?” Ben asked, looking to the girl.

Clementine hid her embarrassment, rolling her eyes. “Yeah,” She answered, nodding. “It’s nice.”

“You know I found it, right?” Ben teased, smiling. “It was in an old car a mile or so away from the cabin.”

Clementine looked over, shaking her head. “Just sitting there?”

Ben nodded. “It was in the dashboard,” He continued to explain, shrugging. “I ripped out the pages about groceries and taxes and stuff.”

“Fucking rude,” Clementine joked.

“Clementine!” Ben shouted, looking over. “Swear!”

The young girl’s jaw dropped, turning to the teen with crossed arms. “I can curse!”

“Uh, no you can’t!” Ben replied, shaking his head with more ferocity. “I’m older here, I make the decisions.”

Clementine didn’t stand down, her eyes narrowing once more. “You’re not the boss of me!”

“No, but I am your brother!” Ben responded effortlessly, only to grow red at his own words.

Clementine immediately grew another smirk, relaxing into her seat with a shit eating grin.

“Shut up.”

The young girl didn’t say anything, only turning to the boy with the smile on her lips. She stared at him for another beat, noticing how tense he was and just how pink his face had grown to be.

“Go back to drawing,” Ben grumbled, not looking over.

Clementine snickered as she turned back forward, curling her knees up to rest her notebook against her thighs. She rolled her eyes before going about her own entertainment, unable to hide a smile when the boy besides her began to sing under his breath, his eyes back on the road.

The suffocating warm summer heat was suddenly no longer as foreboding as the pair had once thought it to be.

Chapter Text

Ben’s eyes ached as he watched his young friend kick the tire of the now empty car with her foot, her arms crossed in anger.

“I don’t want to walk,” The young teenager complained, pouting. “We barely had an hour with it.”

“I told you it was empty, kiddo,” Ben replied, smirking. “It sucks but we have to walk.”

Clementine’s shoulders fell, her backpack hanging off one of her shoulders as she turned to the teen, growing serious. She looked over his frame, nearly making him self conscious with the intensity of her gaze.

“You need more rest,” Clementine stated, furrowing her brows. “You look tired.”

Ben shrugged, turning to stare down the road. He was thankful for the sun’s presence in the sky, at the very least guiding them with light for their journey.

“We can rest at Prescott,” Ben replied, nodding his head in the direction of the road, his arm reaching out for the girl. “Want me to carry you again?”

Clementine gave the boy a deadpanned look, stomping past him. She rammed her shoulder against his, careful not to be too forceful, before continuing down the road.

Ben shook his head with a small smile, joining alongside her, looking over her with his own critical gaze. He searched her for any other signs or symptoms of a concussion, looking to see if she were any better or worse off than she had told him earlier.

“I’m fine.”

Ben chuckled softly, looking back forward as he fixed his grip on his own cleaver. “Just making sure,” He assured, rolling his eyes. “You hit your head, you know.”

“I think I know that, Ben,” Clementine replied smartly, rolling her own eyes. “If I weren’t fine, I’d tell you. Or better yet, I’d take care of myself.”

Ben huffed, shaking his head. He didn’t offer the girl a response, only gently elbowing her.

Clementine smiled proudly, playing with her own gun. She messed with the chamber of the weapon, ensuring that it wasn’t damaged from the last few days. Her eyes counted back over the number of bullets, hoping she would at the least not need any for the current time being.

The sound of an engine alerted both of the teenagers, Ben’s hand immediately clasping around Clementine’s forearm as he spun around to the sound. To his relief, the vehicle hadn’t yet come into view, giving both ample time to duck out of sight.

“Come on!” Ben whispered rather loudly, pulling Clementine behind the nearby bushes, ducking down. He ensured both his own frame and the young girl’s was hidden from the road, his eyes just barely able to make out their now abandoned car.

A large, commercial truck barreled down the highway, coming to an abrupt stop only a few feet of the lonely vehicle. Ben felt Clementine shift her hand to wrap around Ben’s own, her nails digging into the back of his palm.

“Stay quiet,” Ben breathed, squeezing her hand back with just as much intensity. He watched with wide eyes, his figure beginning to shake in fear as the truck’s engine shut off.

It took less than a beat for the doors of the lofty vehicle to open, the sound of multiple men immediately reaching both Clementine and Ben’s ears.

“Check that shit,” The first voice sounded out, more yelling than talking.

“I’m already fuckin’ on it,” Another voice responded, grumbling as the man made his way to the old car. He didn’t hesitate to smash in the front window, reaching in to unlock the door before all but ripping the door off its frames.

“Fuckin’ hell, man,” A third voice called out, shaking his head. “We’re not in fuckin’ Richmond and that other sad excuse of a settlement is not that fucking far. Chill the fuck out.”

“If you’re gonna fuckin’ complain, you can get out here and do this yourself,” The second voice replied before digging into the vehicle.

Ben swallowed, his lips trembling as he watched the scene unfold. He felt himself grow still as the first man stepped onto the grass only a yard ahead of them, his back to both Clementine and Ben.

“Stop arguin’,” The closest man shouted, crossing his arms. “I’m not dealin’ with any fucking walkers right now.”

“Well then tell this jackass to come help!” The man from the car retorted with a yell, standing back out of the car. “I ain’t the only one here. He can fuckin’ do something!”

“Just shut up!” The second man exploded all at once, stomping over.

As if the world came to a standstill, multiple gunshots rang out, connecting with the man besides the vehicle. He fell to the ground, Ben barely able to hide his gasp as he stared with wide eyes.

“Jesus fuckin’ Christ, Badger!” The closest man hollered, running over to the man with pronounce agitation. “What the fuck is wrong with you!?”

“He was pissin’ me off, Max!” The man, Badger replied, “He’s been doin’ nothing but crying and complaining all goddamn day.”

The third man, Max, stared down at the dying man on the ground, his hands on his hips in anger. He let out a sigh of complete anger, shaking his head before stomping back to the large truck.

“Lets fuckin’ go,” He all but shouted.

“Gladly.”

It took less than thirty seconds before the men had driven off, leaving behind the stilled body. Silence stayed wrapped around the pair of teenagers in hiding, Clementine the first to break the silence.

“Ben?” She whispered, swallowing the lump in her throat as she looked over her friend.

The older boy didn’t respond, his gaze locked ahead where the trio of men had been. He seemed paler, his complexion gleaned over with sweat.

“Ben,” Clementine tried again, her voice nearly a whimper. “You’re hurting my hand.”

The teen jolted then, shaking entirely as he jumped away, pulling his hand out of the girl’s grip, his eyes wide.

“S-Sorry,” He stammered, shaking his head. He immediately moved to hug his arms around his midriff, flinching when his scarred arm connected with the fabric.

Clementine could only watch, her eyes widening as the teen continued to tremble, his breath hitching as he stared ahead. She dared to rest a hand on his shoulder, barely able to hold a flinch when the boy twitched.

“Ben…” Clementine began softly. “We’re s-safe. W-We’re okay.”

The teen didn’t respond immediately, not entirely sure if he could. His throat constricted tightly as past memories attacked his mind, fighting to keep himself grounded.

“Th-They left,” Clementine continued gently, rubbing his shoulder. “They ca-can’t hurt you.”

Ben sat silent for another beat before slowly nodding his head, still not blinking. “B-Bandits.”

Clementine felt her heart sink into her stomach, growing sick as she stared at the teen for a much longer moment, not daring to look away. Memories of the teen’s pseudo-father telling her stories about Ben’s past, how terrified he was of bandits, attacked her mind. She felt herself sinking into the past, goosebumps growing on her skin as she remembered certain nightmares her friend had before.

Those were always the worst.

“W-We can leave,” Clementine finally managed, nodding her head. “Prescott is safe. We-We’ll be safe.”

Ben didn’t shift quite yet his eyes wide as he stared forward, finally managing to swallow down the lump in his throat. He shut his eyes for a long beat, relaxing into Clementine’s soft touch as he focused on the sensation of the girl’s hand against his back. Slowly, Ben nodded his head, letting out a sigh.

“Yeah. Y-Yeah.”

Clementine very nearly sighed out in relief, giving the teen another second as she came to a stand, immediately reaching her hand out to help him up. Ben enclosed his trembling fingers around hers as he stood up, still nodding his head.

“I’ll go see if h-he has anything on him,” Clementine stated, looking over to the dead body. “Maybe a gun.”

Ben stilled, looking over to the girl with wide eyes as he shook his head. “N-Not alone.”

“Ben-”

“Not alone,” The teen repeated firmly. “I-I’m okay.”

Clementine wanted to fight the boy, deciding against it as he began to step around the bush. She followed him immediately, wrapping her hand around his wrist in hopes to keep him calm.

Together, the pair made their way to the body on the ground, their eyes widening at the sight.

The man had multiple bullet holes in his chest, each bleeding out separately. His jacket did little to shield him from the onslaught despite saving the pair of the gruesome wounds.

“Holy shit,” Clementine whispered, staring down.

Ben swallowed, crouching down. He hesitantly crouched down and reached for the man’s pockets, only to jump back when the not so dead man coughed.

“Fuck!” Ben cried, stumbling backwards.

The man coughed, blood sticking to his lips as he wheezed. His eyes cracked open, hazily meeting both teen’s gazes.

“He’s alive,” Clementine gasped, stepping back. Her eyes widened even more at the sight of the all too familiar tattoo marking his neck, her nails digging into Ben’s hand. “Ben- look.”

The teen’s eyes widened even more, looking to where the girl pointed her shaking finger. He felt as if he were suddenly soaked in frigid water, his entire body freezing up as he stared down at the man.

“H-Help…” The man croaked, reaching a bloody hand up to the teens.

Clementine blinked, her grip growing even tighter around her friend’s.

“Do-Don’t… Don’t l-let m-me…”

“Who are you people?” Clementine interrupted shortly, crouching down. “Y-Your ta-tattoo. Who-?”

The man cut the girl off with a series of wet coughs, his entire frame shaking with each breath.

“What's Richmond?! Where is it?!” Clementine continued, shaking her head with fervor. “Answer me!”

The man only groaned, his eyes sliding shut.

Ben felt his hands shake as he stepped away from his friend, ignoring her shout in favor of slamming his cleaver down on the man’s head, silencing him once and for all. He stood up, the blood on his weapon sliding down the blade, dripping onto the gravel as silence over came the duo.

“He was dead,” Ben spoke, his words nearly inaudible.

Clementine didn’t reply, her eyes wide as she looked over her friend, watching as he didn’t look in her direction.

“Let’s go,” The teen muttered, turning away from the body. He stepped a few feet away, shaking the blood off his cleaver before coming to a stop. “Clem.”

Clementine shook herself out of her thoughts before turning around and running up to the teen, her hand instinctively wrapping around his wrist. She looked up to her friend, hoping he’d meet her eyes, only to frown when he stared straight ahead, a distant look in his eyes.

“We’re going to find out who they are,” Ben whispered, his voice nearing on a hiss. “And I’m going to kill ... every. Last. One of them .

The young girl could only stare as her friend continued forward, following his steps after a beat.

Clementine tried hard not to think about the blood on Ben’s cleaver.  

Chapter Text

Ben walked besides Clementine, their silence palpable. The sun had set long ago, the one flashlight held in Ben’s hand bobbing with each step. His other hand was occupied with his own cleaver, Clementine’s nimble fingers wrapped around his wrist. Not a word had really been spoken between the pair, Clementine almost scared to even speak to the teen.

She couldn’t recall a time Ben had ever been that scary.

Prescott was no doubt close, the promise of a place to hopefully spend the night ringing loud in their heads as they continued each painstaking step forward.

“How’s your head?” Ben asked, nearly jolting Clementine completely.

The young girl blinked, raising her free hand just above her eyebrow to rub against the tattered remanent of Ben’s old sweater. A pang of pain echoed through her skull, Ben all but smacking away her hand with a shout.

“Don’t touch, Clem!” He cried, his voice laced with concern as he stopped. He crouched down on one knee, his dropping his cleaver and flashlight to the ground before raising both palms to her head. “You don’t want it getting worse,” He grumbled, slowly lifting the fabric up and off the wound.

“It only hurts if I touch it or move to fast,” Clementine replied, equally as disgruntled as the boy. She waited for the teen to fix her makeshift bandages before stepping away, crossing her arms as best she could with the pistol in her hand.

“Do you need a break?” She asked, her entire demeanor dropping as she grew concerned. “I’m okay.”

Ben shook his head, holding his hand out for Clementine as he looked down the aged gravel road. “It’s less than a mile out,” He murmured, taking a step. “We’ll rest there.”

“Are you sure?” Clementine asked, not moving forward as she looked down to the teen’s weaker knee.

The teenager nodded, following her gaze. “I’m fine, Clem.”

“Are you sure you’re sure?” The girl responded, furrowing her brows. “Or are you just pretending so you can act all tough?”

Ben sighed. “Clementine,” He began rather dejectedly. “Can we just go?”

The young girl worked her jaw. “The moment we get there, you’re sleeping,” She stated shortly, walking past the teen as she let go of his hand. “I don’t care what happens.”

Ben’s shoulders fell as he stared at the girls back, waiting for her to come to a stop. When it became apparent she wouldn’t he only sighed again.

“Could you at least hold my wrist?” He mumbled, not moving from where he stood.

Clementine stopped, exhaling sharply before turning to the teen. “How come I have to listen to you but you don’t have to listen to me?” She asked, frowning.

Ben didn’t respond for a beat, looking straight into the girls eyes before walking straight passed her, flexing his hold on his cleaver.

“You could’ve said no.”

Clementine frowned, but followed the teen regardless, the hand not holding her pistol curled into a fist.

The sounds of groans and hisses echoed through Ben and Clementine’s skulls, their hearts slamming equally as hard in their chests. Clementine’s grip was tight around her older brothers wrist as the navigated through the woods as quietly as possibly, trying their hardest to avoid the herd only a few yards ahead.

One wrong step and it would be the end of them both .

“Just stay l-low,” Ben whispered, crouching down to his best ability. “I know we’re close. I know it!”

Clementine stayed crouch beside her friend, nodding her head quickly. She was practically weaponless, even with her pistol. It would be nothing short of stupid to even attempt to shoot at the beings, the noise of her gun would only attract more walkers and make death an even closer possibility. Ben’s cleaver would have to do.

Slowly, the pair edged closer and closer to the herd, making sure to keep their steps as quiet as possible. Ben inspected the ground with each shoe he laid down, ensuring he wouldn’t accidentally snap a twig. His grip on his cleaver had grown sweatier and sweatier as he tried his hardest not to look as scared as he felt.

Ben wasn’t sure how well he was doing.

The sound of yelling erupted from ahead of the pair, the voices without a doubt belonging to humans. Ben felt the hair on his neck stick up immediately as he tightened his grip on Clementine.

“We gotta run around them,” He rushed out, calculating their soon to be path with narrowed eyes. “There’s no other way.”

“It’s too dangerous!” Clementine replied, her voice just as quiet. “One wrong move and they’ll hear us.”

“They’re heading in the same direction as us- we have to beat them to Prescott or we’re going to be stranded out here for days until they leave!” Ben explained, looking to his friend with wide eyes. “Trust me, Clem. We can do this. I promise.”

Clementine bit her lip, looking between the loud herd and Ben for a long beat before reluctantly nodding.

“Okay.”

“Okay,” Ben repeated, nodding his head quickly as he swallowed the rather loud lump in his throat. He watched the herd for another beat before climbing to a quick stand, tugging Clementine’s hand as he took off.

It didn’t take much effort for Clementine to practically out run Ben, her hand pulling on his as he struggled to run any faster with his growing pained limb. The young girl would only slow down when Ben needed to take down a stray walker with his cleaver, making sure to incapacitate the being with a quick kick to it’s knee before the boy would slam his weapon down over it’s head.

Together, the pair continued through the thick woods, their chests aching as fear nearly consumed them both. Walkers were predictable, that was true, but they could easily kill, maim, and harm them like humans.

“To your right!” Ben cried in a sharp whisper, yanking Clementine’s hand to pull her to an abrupt stop as a hidden walker all but grabbed the girl, just narrowly missing. He pulled his young friend behind him, kicking the stray being back a step as it continued to advance toward them, hissing loudly. Ben didn’t hesitate to slam his sharp blade down on the walker, ensuring his cleaver connected with it’s head and silenced it once and for all before continuing forward.

The noise of their last fight easily attracted the attention of walkers as the soft forest ground gave way to gravel, another road springing up beneath Ben and Clementine’s shoes. They dared to stop for less than a second, the younger of the duo all but letting out a relieved cry.

“Th-There!” Clementine pointed her gun just down the road, directing Ben’s attention to a high wall, lights shining from the inside. The teen could’ve very nearly collapsed from relief at the sight, a renewed fire raging in his chest as he nodded.

“C-Come on!” The boy urged, pulling Clementine’s hand as the sounds of walkers grew closer and closer. He felt the pain in his battered knee spiking, ignoring it in favor of continuing forward in the darkened world.

Within a few minutes, the pair were upon the gates of Prescott, each panickedly searching the wall for an entry, only to freeze when a bright light shined down on them both, nearly blinding them.

“Who the hell are you?!” A mysterious voice called out, ringing loud as Ben and Clementine each threw their arms up, covering their eyes from the blinding light.

“M-My names Clementine!” The younger of the pair shouted, slowly lowering her arms. “This is Ben! We just need sh-shelter for the night- Please!”

The groans of the undead only grew louder and closer, the herd no doubt making its way over.

“Shit- they’re kids,” Another man hissed from behind the light, his face hidden in the shadows.

“We dont let in bitten folks!” The first voice yelled, shining his light down at the taller of the two.

Ben’s heart sank into his stomach, his entire figure stiffening as his eyes widened. His fingers grew numb as he looked down at his figure in utter horror.

“Be-Ben?!” Clementine screamed, looking to her friend. She braced herself for the sight of any open wounds, finding none on his figure before looking back up to the light. “H-He’s not bit!”

“His arm!” The first voice shouted again, “We see it from up here! You’re allowed in but he ain’t.”

Ben felt himself regain some of his composure, only to quickly lose it at the sound of a gun cocking from behind the light. Before he could move, Clementine was now standing in front of him, her arms up as if to protect him.

“Cl-Clem,” Ben stammered, turning his head to the encircling wakers. “J-Just go!”

“H-He’s burnt- Not bit!” She screamed once more, shaking her head as walkers slowly edged closer in her peripherals. “Please!” I’m telling the truth! Y-You don’t want to g-get two kids k-killed!”

The man behind the shining light grumbled for another second, the light lifting off the pair as it focused on walkers. All at once, gunfire sounded out, Ben and Clementine ducking quickly as the walkers behind fell. The loud gate slid open, a hand on the inside quickly ushering in the pair.

Ben all but stumbled as Clementine pulled him through the gate, the metal barely staying open as they slid inside.

Not even a second after the pair had come to a stop, a tall man stood ahead with a rifle pointed straight at the eldest of the pair, Clementine immediately jumping in front of her older friend. The man sported a scowl on his face, his blonde beard and large blue zip up overalls making him nowhere near as intimidating as his weapon.

“Step aside and let us see his arm right now,” He ordered, looking to the young girl. “If he’s bit, I promise to give you time to say goodbye.”

Clementine clenched her teeth, fighting the urge to raise her pistol up to the man.

“Clem,” Ben whispered, resting a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay. Don’t worry.” He slowly shifted the girl to his side, keeping his good hand on her shoulder as he dropped his cleaver, laying his arm out to the man with narrowed eyes.

“It’s just fucking burnt,” Clementine stated once again, her chest falling and rising rather rapidly as she stared the mysterious man down.

The man blinked as he stared over the injury before stepping back with a less threatening frown. “I see that now, but a couple of seconds ago it sure as hell didn’t look like it,” He stated, lowering his rifle completely. “I had to be sure.”

Clementine only frowned, moving Ben’s hand off her shoulder in an attempt to look more intimidating. “You almost let us die out there,” She replied shortly. “You would’ve been okay with that?”

The man didn’t respond, only furrowing his brows as another voice sounded out from behind him.

“Lay off ‘em, Tripp,” A woman spoke, her voice one filled with ease and relaxation as she approached the man, resting her own hand on his shoulder. “They’re just kids. Ain’t no reason to make a huge fuss.”

The man, Tripp, sighed before dropping his shoulders, shaking his head. “I’m Tripp,” He stated, reaching a hand out to Ben. “I’m the leader of Prescott.”

Ben fumbled to shake the man’s hand back, clearing his throat. “I’m Ben,” He introduced, pulling his hand back. “This is Clementine.”

“His sister,” The young girl added not to kindly.

“Oh they’re just adorable,” The woman besides Tripp spoke, smiling as she reached to shake both Ben and Clementine’s hands. “I’m Francine, the supply runner of this place.”

The pair shook her hand rather contentedly, Ben having to nudge Clementine into abiding to the gesture.

“Get them a room for the night,” Francine spoke, shaking her head as she gently patted Tripp’s shoulder. “They need the rest, look at them.”

Clementine crossed her arms, looking a bit on edge. “Just like that? No catch?” She asked, furrowing her brows even more.

“I know we gave you both a rough welcome but we try to help everyone,” Tripp began rather tiredly, rubbing a hand down his face. “And I’m real sorry ‘bout that. But shit’s been tough around here. Bandits and the like attackin’ and stealing our supplies.”

Ben and Clementine stiffened their eyes focusing on Tripp.

“That happened to us,” Clementine whispered, looking down to her shoes.

Tripp and Francine shared a widened look before focusing on the duo, both not meeting the adults gazes.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Tripp whispered, crossing his arms. “They’ve been giving us hell a lot more recently.”

Clementine nodded again, uncrossing her arms as she moved to hold Ben’s hand. “We had friends who...who came here a f-few times,” She mumbled, not looking up. “Their names were Luke and N-Nick.”

Trip and Francine were equally shocked, their eyes widening.

“Luke and Nick?!” Tripp all but blurted, his jaw hanging. “They- Y’all knew them?!”

Clementine nodded again, squeezing Ben’s hand. “We all l-lived together,” She murmured. “We… We were a f-family.”

Francine’s face fell, looking between the pair of children before clearing her throat. “Let’s get you two a room for the night,” She murmured, squeezing Tripp’s shoulder. “You two need the rest.”

Tripp nodded, clearing his throat. “Eleanor’s gone to bed but tomorrow she can check your arm out,” He assured, looking to the teen. “She’s our doctor.”

Clementine looked up eagerly, nodding her head. She squeezed Ben’s hand, finally getting him to look up from the ground and back up to their new friends.

“Francine will take y’all somewhere you can rest and I’ll send someone to get you guys bright and early so we can talk,” Tripp spoke, uncrossing his arms. “Any friend of Luke and Nick is a friend of mine.”

“Thanks,” Ben whispered, clearing his throat. He finally looked to Clementine, giving the girl a small nod.

Francine smiled softly before tilting her head behind her, leading the pair deeper into Prescott.


 

The small room was one that just barely kept the outside world outside, the harsh, metallic walling just enough to shield Ben and Clementine from the hot air. The two sleeping bags that rested on both sides of the small room were a welcome sight to both teenagers, their hearts soaring in anticipation of the soon to be welcomed comfort.

“The door doesn’t lock all the way but you won’t be disturbed anyway,” Francine spoke, standing at the door way as she watched the pair look around the small room. “We don’t got blinds either but I’m sure you won’t mind.”

“This is more than enough,” Clementine replied, nodding her head as she turned around to look over the woman. “We’ll be fine.”

Francine smiled, her eyes locking with Clementine’s as she nodded. “You two rest now and I’ll see y’all in the morning, alright?”

“Good night,” Ben murmured, turning to stand besides Clementine as the young girl waved at the departing woman.

The loud door shut behind Francine, echoing around the room. A lit lantern just outside the room allowed for some light to bleed into otherwise dark room.

Clementine startled Ben as she let out a long sigh, digging both her palms into her eyes before turning to the teen besides her, meeting his wide eyed gaze.

“I’m exhausted,” She breathed, looking to the farthest sleeping bag. Ben’s soft chuckle barely registered with her as she moved to the sleeping bag. She stared down at the rough yet unbelievably tempting bag before looking back to where Ben stood over his, frowning.

In one quick effort, Clementine dragged her sleeping bag across the room, startling Ben as she slid it into place right beside his shoes. She didn’t look up to the teen as she came to a seat on the soft surface, kicking off her shoes before crossing her legs beneath herself.

Ben only hid a smile, taking off his own shoes as he attempted to sit down as slowly as possible, his knee spiking in pain. He leaned into Clementine’s grip when the girl wrapped her hands around his upper arm, hoping to guide him down slowly.

“Easy,” Clementine whispered, relaxing when the boy was seated with his legs laid out in front of him.

Ben nodded, mumbling a small thanks as he slowly maneuvered himself out of his brown sweater. He looped his arms as gently as possible, taking extra care in not allowing for his burned skin to brush against the fabric. His entire body sagged in relief as he stretched his sore arms in his white t-shirt, taking a second to just breathe before looking to his younger friend.

“You can take your jacket off,” He joked, smiling. “No walkers are gonna get in here.”

Clementine rolled her eyes before complying, shrugging off her backpack before taking off her large blue coat, fixing her off-shoulder tan shirt as she placed her hat on the ground besides her. She dropped her coat onto the top of the the sleeping bag, creating a makeshift pillow before digging into her backpack and pulling out her spare red coat.

“You can use this as a pillow,” She mumbled, dropping it besides the teen.

Ben smiled softly, before leaning closer to his younger friend, his hands hovering over her head as he tried to meet her gaze to assure he was welcome to touch her head.

Clementine didn’t even look up to Ben as she threw her arms around his chest, hugging him as tightly as she could without hurting the teen.

Ben blinked, staring down at his friend with surprise before wrapping his good arm around the girl, blinking once more.

“Clem?”

The girl in question squeezed her eyes shut, hiding her face in Ben’s shoulder as she mumbled into his shirt.

“I’m sorry for getting mad at you,” She spoke, her fingers clenching the back of Ben’s white shirt. “N’ I’m sorry for not listening.”

Ben felt his own heart ache as he hugged the girl with even more strength, shutting his own eyes.

“Clem.”

“I-I just want t-to make sure you’re okay,” She continued, her voice wavering. “I...I just… I  don’t th-think I can lo-lose you too.”

As much as Ben hated to, he forced himself to push Clementine off his chest, his hands curling around her shoulders. He needed Clementine to meet his gaze, his own eyes drowning in worry.

“Clem, I’m not going anywhere,” He assured gently, his voice as soft as he could manage. “You’re not going to lose me, kiddo. I’m not leaving you.”

“They al-almost shot you!” Clementine whispered harshly, looking down at her lap. “They th-thought you were bit and-and all I can think about is wh-what would happen if you died!”

“Clem we’re a team , Ben stressed, shaking his head. “We’re working together to find our family again.”

The young girl didn’t respond, only staring down at her lap as she blinked away the pressure in her eyes.

“I know….I know I was being stupid,” Ben spoke, dropping his hands off the young girls shoulders, holding himself. “I shouldn’t have ignored my own injuries in favor of taking care of yours. I wouldn’t w-want you doing that. And… And I shouldn’t have told you to leave me outside of Prescott.”

Clementine nodded slowly before looking up to meet her friends gaze. “We h-have to take care of  each other. We have t-to be a t-team.”

Ben’s brows knitted in concern at the sight of the girl’s teary eyes, his own heart aching. “I know, Clem,” He assured.

“W-We can’t split up or-or do anything stu-stupid anymore,” She continued passionately, “No more taking c-care of me and no-not you.”

“I got you, kiddo,” Ben replied immediately, hoping to keep the girl from crying. “We’re a team, like you said. I-I don’t-t plan on le-leaving you. Never ever.”

Clementine didn’t seem convinced quite yet, looking up to the teen with wide eyes. “Promise?”

“Promise,” Ben replied, not missing a beat.

Clementine shifted then, pulling her hand up. She pulled all her fingers but her pinky into a fist, holding the small pinky out to the teen.

“Pinky promise?”

Ben just barely stopped himself from recoiling, his heart sinking to his stomach as he stared at the girl’s nimble finger. He fought against the memories attacking his mind, blinking rapidly before curling his own pinky around Clementine's.

“Pinky pr-promise.”

Clementine stared at their linked fingers for a long beat before all but collapsing back against her friend in another hug. She couldn’t help the wave of relief that overcame her body, hugging the teen even tighter.

Ben hugged the girl back, swaying slightly as he placed his chin over her hair. “It’s okay, kiddo,” He whispered, “We’re gonna be okay.”

Clementine held on for another moment before pulling away, meeting Ben’s equally teary eyes. “I know.”

Ben smiled softly as he watched Clementine scooch back an inch, seemingly much more contentful after their small moment.

“I said you’d sleep right away,” She joked, looking up to her friend with a smile.

Ben chuckled softly, gently nudging Clementine’s shoulder as he sighed. “You in any pain?” He asked, zeroing back in on her bandaged head.

Clementine shook her head slowly, happy with the lack of real pain from the movement. “Just a little sore and tired,” She assured. “Are you?”

Ben hesitated before nodding. “Leg hurts pretty bad,” He answered honestly, looking down to his arm. “Burn only hurts when I touch it or air blows past it.”

Clementine nodded slowly, looking up to the teen’s eyes. “Tomorrow the doctor here will make sure you’re better,” She stated firmly. “And me.”

“And you.”

Clementine chuckled before falling back against her sleeping bag with a small ‘oof’ , taking a deep breath. She sat up on her elbows to see if Ben needed help lying down, only to find him staring down at the hat in his hands, her throat drying up.

“Ben…” She whispered, her brows knitted in concern.

The teen shook his head, flexing his hold on the hat before gently placing it besides the top of his sleeping bag and lying down.

“We’ll find them,” He murmured softly. “It’s okay.”

Clementine wasn’t entirely convinced of the teen’s sudden ‘okay’-ness, but settled on letting go. She watched carefully as Ben flipped onto his good side, facing Clementine with a tired look.

“Sleep time,” He mumbled rather tiredly, gently pushing Clementine back onto her makeshift pillow. “Just close your eyes.”

Clementine scrunched her nose as she shoved Ben’s hand off her shoulder, giggling when the teen snorted. She turned onto her side to face the boy, smiling softly.

“G’night Clem,” Ben mumbled, humming out a note.

Clementine stared at the teen, working her mind before scooting even closer. She reached for the arm Ben had resting over his hip, pulling it over her own side before curling closer to the teen.

“Good night, Ben,” She replied, shutting her eyes.

The pair of siblings fell asleep soon after that, breathing as one.

Chapter Text

 

Ben felt a rather bright ray of sunlight stretch over his face, nearly burning into his eyelids. He groaned, pulling his elbow up and over his face to shield himself.

The sound of scratching suddenly registered with the teen as he found himself unable to fall back asleep. He furrowed his brows, struggling to crack his eyes open as he lifted his elbow off his face. Ben raised his head to look in the direction of the source of noise, finding his younger friend seated with her legs crossed underneath her.

Clementine was still sitting on her sleeping bag, her hat lazily resting besides her as she worked in her small notebook. Her focus was on the page she was currently working on, biting down on her lip as she seemed to not notice her awoken companion.

Ben smiled rather sleepily, collapsing back onto his sleeping bag. He shut one eye, focusing on his friend for another second before shutting his other eye. In a rather messy manner, Ben reached up to gently push Clementine’s shoulder, missing her by a good few inches as he let out a soft chuckle.

“Well finally!” Clementine teased, dropping her pencil onto the page before shutting her notebook completely, putting it besides her. “You’ve been asleep for years.”

Ben chuckled again before groaning, hiding his face again. “I”m tired,” He groaned, ignoring the young girl as she rested a hand in his hair. “Leave m’alone.”

Clementine laughed again. “I’ve been awake for an hour,” She pointed out with a smirk. “You’re always tired.”

“You’re right,” Ben replied in another groan, reaching to push Clementine’s hand out of his hair. “Just a few more minutes.”

Clementine narrowed her eyes, her smirk nearly growing mischievous. “One.”

Ben furrowed his brows, not opening his eyes. “What?”

“Two.”

Ben opened his eyes immediately, not even daring to test the young girl. He was immediately met with Clementine's hands hovering over his side, no doubt preparing to tickle the teen mercilessly.

“Hey!” Ben all but cried, jumping upwards with a cry as the girl tried to tickle him anyway. He barely managed to keep her away from him as he laughed between his shouts of ‘Don't!’. His hands held her a good few inches away as he continued to laugh at her failed attempts to get closer.

“I’ll always be taller than you!” Ben teased, his long arms requiring little effort in keeping the onslaught at bay. “No matter what!”

Clementine gave up then with a pout, looking up to the teen. “You don’t know that!” She exclaimed, crossing her arms. “I’m only thirteen! I’m still growing.”

“And I’ve been this tall since I was sixteen,” Ben informed with a growing smirk. “So you have two years.”

Clementine grumbled under her breath, rolling her eyes as she sat back onto her palms, ignoring the older boy’s laughter in favor of not feeding into his obvious teasing.

Ben calmed down after another second, relaxing as he stretched his arms above his head. He watched as Clementine did the same before curling her hands into her lap, looking to the teen expectantly.

“I hear people outside,” She whispered, blinking. “It’s like… it sounds like my old house where I lived.”

Ben finally noticed the noise in question, the sound not too far from what he could remember of his home town. His chest seemed to ache at the thought but he quickly shook his head.

“Let’s go find Francine,” He instructed, nodding his head. “Maybe her and Tripp will have breakfast too.”

Clementine seemed happy with that, climbing to a stand immediately. She helped the teen up as well, ensuring his leg was okay before wrapping her fingers around his wrist.


 

Ben couldn’t recall the last time he had seen what he could only describe as a functional community. He could only feel his eyes widen as he stared around the bustling town of Prescott.

People were freely walking through what looked like the main street. Some lead horses behind them, the animals relaxing in their owners grips.

“Wow,” Clementine whispered, blinking.

“Yeah. Wow,” Ben replied just as quietly, still taken aback. “This looks… too good to be real.”

Clementine lazily punched Ben in his upper arm, hiding a smile when the teen let out a cry. “See, it’s real.”

Ben narrowed his gaze as he looked down to his friend, sticking his tongue out.

“Ben! Clementine!” A familiar voice greeted rather cheerily.

Francine was seated on a large brown horse, approaching the pair with a wide smile as she waved with one hand. She pulled on the horse’s reign, coming to a rough stop just in front of the duo.  

Clementine looked up in awe, looking over the large animal with a wide smile. She hesitantly reached out to run her hand down the snout, looking up to Francine to ensure it was alright.

“Go ahead!” Francine assured, rubbing her horses side. “She ain’t gonna bite, she’s got attitude but she don’t got a mean bone in her body.”

Ben watched as Clementine gingerly ran her fingers down the horse’s face.

“Her names Juniper,” Francine continued, smiling. “She already likes you.”

Clementine laughed as the horse snorted but otherwise leaned into the touch. She smiled before stepping back to Ben’s side, looking up to Francine.

“Tripp and my husband are waiting for you two,” The woman explained, smiling. “They’re down at Eleanor’s.”

“Eleanor?” Clementine asked, furrowing her brows.

“She’s our doc,” Francine explained, “She’s loyal as ever, a sweetheart too. Head on down that way and you’ll run into them.” She pointed down towards the end of the busy street, her horse backing away from the pair. “I’m goin’ supply running so you two be good and if Conrad or Tripp give you trouble, I’ll kill them.”

“Got it,” Clementine smiled, nodding her head. “Thank you, Francine.”

The woman waved before whipping her reigns against her horse, taking off in the other direction with a laugh.

“She’s cool,” Clementine whispered.

Ben laughed softly, nodding his head. “C’mon,” He murmured, beginning to walk in the direction the woman had pointed them in. His lips couldn’t help but pull into a smile as his young friend looked around with wide eyes. Clementine’s gaze didn’t rest on one place or object for more than a second, small gasps breaking past her lips as her eyes searched the town.

Even Ben couldn’t keep his surprise and near amazement out of his face. Their were people walking around, sitting outside of their homes, and even talking with one another. An upwards of ten buildings, all put together with various scrapped sheets of metal and wood along with tarps as makeshift ceilings. Ben found himself in equal awe, a voice pulling him out of his reverie after another moment.

“There y’all are!” Tripp called, waving his arm to the pair. “I thought I saw y’all comin’ this way!”

The burly man was standing outside of a small makeshift building, what looked to once be an airplane exterior used as the wall. A much smaller woman stood besides him, her hands on her hips as she sported a small smile. Another man stood on the woman’s other side, his arms crossed over his chest as he sported his own smile over his scruffy face.

“Hey,” Clementine greeted tentatively, narrowing her eyes. Her grip on Ben’s wrist grew even tighter as she took a step closer in an attempt to seem more intimidating.

“Mornin’,” Tripp replied, picking up on Clementine’s justified hostility. He cleared his throat, sparing a quick glance to the pair on his side before speaking. “This here’s Conrad, my right hand man and owner of the bar.”

The man in question waved, raising a brow. “You all look a bit too young to be drinking, though,” He teased, holding his hand out.

Clementine shook the man’s hand first before Ben repeated the gesture, looking him over.

“And I’m Eleanor,” The woman beside the two introduced, waving. “I’m the doc around here.”

The pair of teenagers waved in greeting, Clementine’s grip still strong around his wrist as she slowly grew less wary.

“Tripp told me about your arm,” Eleanor spoke, her gaze landing on the injury in question before fluttering over to Clementine’s wrapped head. “He also mentioned your head.”

Clementine focused on Tripp for just a beat before looking back to Eleanor and nodding her head as slowly as she could.

“We uh, kinda owe you this for almost shooting you yesterday,” Trip explained, scratching the back of his neck. “I figured we could talk while you two got patched up.”

“That sounds fine,” Ben replied quietly.

Tripp managed a short smile, patting Conrad on his shoulder before indicating for the pair to sit on the small bed just besides the door. Eleanor waited for the pair to take a seat before she pulled forward a chair, noting how the younger of the two kept her hand around Ben’s wrist.

“Who’s first?” She asked, hoping to alleviate any fear.

“Her,” Ben spoke immediately, moving his hand out of Clementine’s grip to rest his palm on her back. “She hit her head pretty hard.”

Clementine frowned, opening her mouth to protest, only for Ben to shake his head.

Eleanor nodded, scooting closer as Tripp and Conrad hung back, leaning against the makeshift building.

Ben watched carefully, moving his hand from her back to hold her hand again, his eyes narrowing as Eleanor looked to the older of the pair.

“I’m going to pull back the bandage now, is that okay?” She asked Ben before looking down to the young girl.

“Okay,” Clementine whispered, her nails digging into the back of Ben’s palms.

Eleanor smiled softly, murmuring a comforting word before undoing the bloodied makeshift bandaging completely.  She let the fabric fall onto the bed besides the pair, furrowing her brows as she opened her first-aid kit.

“Looks like it’s healed up decently,” She stated, nodding her head. “The only issue I see is it might scar.”

Ben cringed, but took the news as best he could. “Does she still have a concussion?” He asked, holding onto Clementine with even more force.

Eleanor blinked, looking down from the cut before meeting the girls reluctant eyes. “I’m going to shine a light in your eyes, okay?” She explained, clicking a small penlight in her hand. “It might sting for a second.”

Clementine nodded stiffly, swallowing loudly as he grip around Ben’s hand grew even tighter.

The bright flash of light nearly blinded Clementine as she hissed, blinking away the blurriness rapidly. She faintly registered the teen beside her scooting closer, his other hand coming to a rest over her knee.

“Your eyes aren’t dilated, that’s a good thing,” Eleanor explained, turning off the light as she ripped open an cleansing wipe. “Now can you tell me a little about yourself? I want to test your memory?”

Clementine furrowed her brows but agreed anyway, watching Eleanor carefully as she began to wipe away at her injury.

“What’s your name, let’s start with that,” Eleanor instructed, her voice light.

“Clementine.”

“Like the fruit?”

Ben snorted, hiding the noise in his shoulder as he patted his friend’s knee.

Clementine ignored the boy, planning her revenge for later.

“And how about your friend’s name? How did you meet him?” Eleanor continued, wiping the now scabbed over wound.

“He’s my brother,” Clementine stated shortly, barely stopping herself from frowning. “His names Ben.”

Eleanor smiled. “And lastly,” She asked, sitting back. “Your first pet’s name?”

“Peanut,” Clementine answered flawlessly, albeit growing a bit red in the face. “He was a goldfish.”

Tripp laughed then, looking over the girl as Conrad smiled widely. “I’m guessin’ she passed then?” He asked.

Eleanor nodded. “You don’t seem to have any intense symptoms anymore,” She explained, discarding the bloodied wipe. “Avoid bumping your head and any strenuous physical activity for a few weeks and you should be back to normal.” The woman turned to Ben then, nodding her head. “I’d like to check up on her every few days just in case, but she’s definitely as fine as you can be with an injury like hers.”

Ben nodded quickly, unknowingly thumbing her knuckles in an attempt to not only assure himself that the young girl was alright, but also help comfort her. “G-Got it,” He answered.

Eleanor smiled before ripping open a small bandaid and looking back to Clementine, giving her a small nod. “I just want to keep it covered in case the wound reopens- which it shouldn’t,” She clarified before leaning closer. Carefully, Eleanor placed the small bandage over the young girl’s hooked scar, ensuring it didn’t obstruct her eye.

The band aid came to a rest sideways on the skin just above her eyebrow, comfortably covering the majority of the scab.

Eleanor sat back, admiring her work for a beat before turning to Ben, her gaze immediately falling to the teen’s arm.

“That looks painful,” She grimaced, looking up to meet the boy’s gaze.

Ben cringed, letting go of Clementine’s hand as he flexed his fingers, just barely resting his elbow overtop his thigh.

Eleanor inched closer to Ben, leaning down to look over the injury. Her hands hovered over his wrist, nearly touching his boney joint before looking back up to the boy’s frightened face.

“I’m just going to lift your arm upwards and closer to me, is that okay?” She asked, furrowing her brows.

Ben swallowed before nodding, holding onto Clementine’s palm with his other hand as tightly as he could.

Eleanor stretched the teen’s arm out, holding it out as she looked over the scarred and red skin. She swallowed, twisting his arm around to gather a better understanding of the blistered injury.

“It could be worse,” Eleanor mumbled, not looking up to the teen. “It’ll definitely scar over. From here-” She pointed to just below his wrist to just above the inside of his elbow. “-to here, it seems.”

Ben nodded slowly, watching the woman carefully. “I-Is there a-any permanent d-damage?”

Eleanor furrowed her brows, not looking up to the teen before shaking her head. “Other than scarring? I don’t think so,” She answered, “It looks like the scarring might just be it.”

Ben nodded slowly, releasing a pent up breath. He nodded his head once more, as if to solidify that everything was in fact okay.

“I do have some Aloe Vera I can rub over the burns,” Eleanor added, looking up to the teen. “It’ll help with the scarring and pain too.”

Ben stiffened at the suggestion, staring down at his arm with wide eyes. He wasn’t sure he was quite comfortable with the woman even touching him, not to mention somewhere that was a constant source of pain.

“It’ll help?” Clementine whispered softly, looking up to the woman.

Eleanor nodded her head. “We have a garden that I use to grew anything that might help medically, along with community food,” She explained, “The Aloe will at least help heal as much as possible, especially if I wrap it afterwards.”

Ben grew even more anxious, his eyes still staring down at the reddened skin. He wasn’t sure how comfortable he was letting someone he barely knew to try and treat him. His palm ached as Clementine’s grip grew even more painful.

“Okay,” Ben whispered, “That’s a good idea.”

Eleanor smiled, ensuring the boy’s arm wouldn’t fall before reaching for her medkit again.

“We got some breakfast for y’all once you get this over with,” Tripp spoke then, a stressed smile on his lips as he attempted to be comforting.

Clementine effectively ignored the man, not looking up to him as she watched Eleanor’s every move. She squeezed Ben’s hand as Eleanor held a small see-through ziplock bag with a shiny white gel. Her brows furrowed looking up to the woman with her own confused look.

“I’ll just rub this on slowly,” Eleanor instructed, scooping some of the gel into her fingers as she met Ben’s fearful gaze. “It shouldn’t sting too bad but you’ll feel it.”

Ben slowly nodded, taking a deep breath as he awaited the harsh stinging pain. He shut his eyes, squeezing Clementine’s palm as he felt the cool gel connect with his skin. His entire body stiffened, Eleanor maintaining a slow and circular motion in the reddened wound. Despite Ben’s initial fear, he couldn’t deny the cooling and almost relieving sensation that was brought on by the gel. The stinging pain was definitely present, echoing throughout his entire arm as he nearly shuddered.

“Done,” Eleanor spoke after another moment, nodding her head as she looked up to Ben.

The teen slowly cracked his eyes open, his gaze immediately dropping down to the arm in question. His wounded hand was now glazed over, waves of coolness sinking into his skin.

“Now I just need to place a thin sheet over it,” Eleanor added, wiping her hands off on a towel as she placed the ziplock bag back into her medkit. She dug through for another second before pulling out a white cotton sheet. “I can’t wrap it around due to the healing so I’m just going to tape it over.”  

Ben nodded, watching carefully as the woman did exactly as instructed. He faintly registered Clementine’s thumb rubbing over his knuckles, mimicking his own comforting movement from only minutes ago.

With the thin sheet placed, Eleanor sat back. Ben didn’t hesitate to lift his elbow off his thigh and slowly look over the now concealed wound, a wave of relief overcoming him as he stared down at the hidden injury.

“Okay?” Clementine whispered, squeezing his hand as she met his gaze.

Ben nodded immediately, clearing his throat as he blinked. “Okay.” He took a deep breath, pulling his arm back to his stomach as he looked between Eleanor and the others.

“What now?”

Tripp stepped forward then, clearing his own throat. “Talkin’ over breakfast,” He stated, nodding his head. “We got some stuff to discuss.”

Ben nodded, climbing to a stand. He helped Clementine up besides him, murmuring a small thanks to Eleanor, smiling back when the woman beamed.

“I gotta head to the bar,” Conrad spoke then, patting Tripp’s shoulder. “But I’ll catch y’all in a bit.”

Trip nodded, patting the man’s arm as he took off.

Ben and Clementine sent the man a courteous wave before looking back to Tripp, his hand waving them in his direction.

“I’ll see you around, Tripp,” Eleanor said, coming to a stand.

Tripp waved, blinking before turning around, Ben and Clementine on his heels.



Tripp’s office was nothing short of interesting to the pair of teenagers. The ‘room’ was parts of metal sheets bolted to the cockpit of an airplane. The windshield looked out to the streets of Prescott from high above, not too far from the likeness of a lookout. The control board of the plane was overflowing with papers and maps, a large chair in the center.

Tripp sat down in the seat with a large sigh, looking over the streets of Prescott before turning back to the pair.

“I haven’t gotten any chairs in here,” The man mumbled, shaking his head. “I should probably get on that.”

Clementine shrugged, watching as the man fixed his chair to face them. She didn’t say a word as the man looked them over, her hand gripping Ben’s good forearm tightly.

“I know it ain’t really my business,” Trip began, clearing his throat as he rested his hands over his knees, staring at the ground. “But… But I knew Luke and Nick real well. They were… They were good people.”

He paused, looking up to the pair of teens in hope he hadn’t upset them. Despite the obvious sadness in their gazes, Tripp continued.

“I just… It seemed y’all had it real good,” Tripp murmured, meeting Ben’s gaze with furrowed brows. “How… How the hell did y’all lose a heaven like that?”

Ben worked his jaw, not wanting to put Clementine through recounting the rather traumatic night they both endured. He took a deep breath, shifting his hand into his pocket to pull out the fabric decorated with the haunting symbol he saw in his nightmares.

“Our home was set on fire by these bastards,” He hissed, holding out the symbol for Tripp. “They took…. They took everyone inside.”

Tripp stared down with wide eyes, his jaw hanging open as he reached for the fabric, taking it into his hands. He blinked before looking up to Ben, swallowing loudly.

“The New Frontier…” He whispered.

Shivers ran down Ben’s back, the hair on his neck coming to a stand as he stared into Tripp’s gaze.

“The… New Frontier?” Clementine whispered, furrowing her brows.

“They’re… They’re these military bastards who have been raiding settlements all over the damn state,” Tripp explained quietly, shaking his head. “They’re the damn reason we’re on such high guard here. We’re waitin’ for them to attack.”

“Where are they?” Ben growled, his breathing nearly painful.

“Richmond,” Tripp answered, sitting back as he let the fabric slide back into Ben’s hands. “Couple miles out from here. It’s… Prescott is nothing compared to them.”

“What does that mean?” Clementine asked, crossing her arms.

“Prescott? Prescott is a village compared to Richmond,” Tripp continued, shaking his head. “They got running water, electricity. Fuck, they probably got helicopters with the people they got.”

“And they’re all bad?” Ben asked, his voice short.

“I doubt it,” Tripp answered, letting out a long breath. “They’re protective of their own but hell. I don’t think it’s known what they do, not with the sheer numbers they got.” He paused, looking back out to Prescott. “We average around seventy five to a hundred folks around here. Richmond has to have thousands.”  

Silence fell over the small room, no one daring to break the silence for a long second.

“How do we get there?” Clementine asked, looking up to Tripp.

“To Richmond?” Tripp asked, furrowing his brows. “Just the two of you?”

Clementine nodded. “We’re getting our family back,” She stated rather shortly, “We need to get in and find them and then get back out.”

Tripp blinked, shaking his head. “No one can even get near the damn doors without getting shot,” He explained. “They got these big gates with hundred guarding the walls, all armed to their damn teeth.”

“There has to be another way inside,” Clementine nearly barked, growing angry.

Tripp only shrugged, shaking his head. “Francine has gotten close enough to maybe see the gates,” He stated, “She don’t get any closer and I don’t advise it.”

Clementine opened her mouth to retort, a frown painting her features as her nails dug into her own forearms, only to be interrupted by the teen beside her.

“There was a truck,” Ben whispered, looking up to Tripp. “If we go in under the cover of that we could get in.”

“Y’ain’t gonna find those anywhere around here,” Tripp snorted, shaking his head. “I don’t think I’ve even seen these bastards leave their empty shells on the ground. They conserve everything. A truck go down? They scrap it all and head back on foot.”

“What about any car?” Clementine asked, stepping closer. “Do you have any?”

Tripp shook his head. “We only got one for the whole community, everything else is run on horses,” He pointed out before coming to a stop, thinking for a long second. “There’s a junkyard a mile or so from here. You might , and I mean might, find yourself something to work with there.”

Ben straightened up, nodding his head. “Which way?” He asked, his hands curling into fists.

“Take a right from the gates and just cut through the woods straight ahead,” Tripp explained, pulling out a map from his makeshift desk. He laid it out for the teens, his finger running through a forested area before coming to a stop alongside a road. “You can’t miss it.”

Ben breathed in deeply, moving to place his hand in the middle of Clementine’s shoulder blades. “Then that’s where we go,” He muttered, looking up to the man.

“Just y-you two?” Tripped gasped, shaking his head. “Are y’all sure about this?”

Ben nodded shortly, his hand landing on the blade in his waistband. “We can handle ourselves,” He assured, nodding.

“Let me help,” Tripp stated, coming to a stand. “Luke and Nick were my friends too.”

Ben shook his head. “We’ll be fine on our own, don’t worry.”

“We’ll bring back supplies,” Clementine stated, taking a step back. “To pay you back.”

Tripp frowned, sighing again. “At least eat,” He stated, not backing down. “You gotta be healthy and full of energy for the crazy shit y’all about to do.”

Ben hesitated before nodding, his hand still on Clementine’s back.

“Okay,” Clementine agreed, relaxing a bit.

“Good,” Tripp whispered, nodding back towards the door. “Follow me then.”

Ben and Clementine walked behind the leader of Prescott, the fire in their chests burning powerfully.

Chapter Text

Ben walked alongside Clementine, his hand tight around his cleaver while the young girl carried a too big shotgun in her hands. The sight was amusing to the teen as the weapon was nearly the size of her entire body. Her large blue jacket and scarf were adequate enough to keep the girl protected from the nearby herd. Ben wore Kenny’s old parka over his frame, thankful the jacket wouldn’t be scratching against his burn no more. He couldn’t deny the utmost relief from the treatment to his burn, nor how much better he felt from both eating and sleeping.

Tripp had forced the pair to stay in Prescott till late afternoon in hopes of waiting out the herd as well as gather more rest. It was just a bit before dark by the time Clementine and Ben had headed out, refusing to hold back and wait for much longer.

Clementine kicked a rock with her boots, humming an old song as she walked besides her older friend. She fidgeted with her shotgun every few seconds, seemingly caught off guard by just how big the weapon was.

“You know how to use that?” Ben teased, looking to the girl with a raised brow.

Clementine stopped her humming, looking over to her friend with a frown. “Of course,” She replied, scrunching her nose. “I’ve used these before.”

“I’m just making sure,” Ben replied, almost singing as his smile grew mischievous.

Clementine’s frown only grew. “Why’re you smiling like that?!” She hissed, her face growing red.

“Nothing!” Ben replied, shrugging. “I just wanted to make sure. Y’know? Just like how you wanted to make sure I knew how to shoot when we first met.”

Clementine only grew more red, shaking her head. “That’s because you didn’t use to know!” She retorted, her words still a hiss. “I’m sorry for caring!”

Ben let out a loud chuckle, bumping his hip against her side. “I’m joking,” He answered, chuckling softly. “You make me laugh.”

Clementine only burned a deeper shade of red, focusing on the gravel beneath her feet as she continued down the road. She couldn’t hide her own smile when the teen bumped his hip against her again, rolling her eyes.

Ben seemed to sober up then, letting out a long sigh. He looked over to his young companion’s bandaged head, resting a palm on her back.

Clementine looked up to the teen, her eyebrows raised as their gazes met.

“We’re going about this smart and safe,” Ben whispered, looking back ahead. “We’re not going to do anything stupid. Nothing that’ll get us hurt, right?”

Clementine nodded immediately. “We...We’re going to be nice,” She replied rather quietly, looking to the teen as she avoided dropping her gaze to the boy’s cleaver. “We don’t…. No hurting people who don’t try to hurt us.”

Ben looked back ahead, working his jaw. He tried hard not to think about the fear in the girl’s eyes nor the harsh beating in his chest. “We’ll do what… what will get our family back,” He mumbled, shaking his head. “It’s fine, Clem.”

The young girl came to a stop, dropping one hand off her shotgun to squeeze Ben’s wrist tightly. “Ben.”

“Clem,” The teen replied, not looking down to his friend.

“Please,” She whispered, casting a quick glance to their darkening surroundings. “I don’t… I don’t like it when you get… get like that.”

“Like what, Clem?” Ben replied, clearly exasperated. “I’m not getting like anything!”

Clementine was unconvinced, her frown only deepening as she shook her head. She opened her mouth to speak, only to be jolted by what sounded like a large boom from just around the bend in the road. The pair froze, Clementine’s nails nearly digging into Ben’s wrist as she stared in the direction they were heading.

“Stay close,” Ben whispered, crouching down to the best of his ability before pulling Clementine behind him. The older of the two continued down the street, his hand around tightening around his cleaver as he continued forward.

A trail of smoke peaked over the tip of the trees, Ben’s gaze widening as he followed it with his eyes, planning their next few moves. He slowly led Clementine to the thick trees, hoping to keep their cover low as he all but ran towards the source of the noise.

Ben half hoped the noise was nothing more than something old and decrepit finally giving away after years of disuse, yet the boy also hoped it was the very people they were looking for. He was practically begging for any, any, hint of the New Frontier.

As carefully as they could, the pair crouch-walked their way to the stream of smoke, their eyes widening at the sight of a large truck in the side bank of the road. Smoke rose from the front of the vehicle, the windshield broken as a man stood with his back to the pair, staring into the other side of the street.

Ben was suddenly pulled by Clementine as she came to a stand and slowly snuck across the street to the large crashed vehicle. The girl let go of Ben’s hand as she ran up beside the vehicle’s wheels, cocking her shotgun before coming around the side of the vehicle to face the man, her weapon held up high as Ben came to a stand behind her, his hands wrapped around his cleaver with a frown.

“Don’t fucking move,” Clementine hissed, watching as the man froze before cocking her weapon again.

“Al-Alright,” The man replied, complying to every word the child said. “But listen- I’m not like-”

“Drop the gun,” Clementine interrupted, hoping her voice was as menacing as she hoped it was.

The man seemed to hesitate, not moving an inch before his shoulders fell. “Alright, f-fine,” He muttered. Not even a second had passed before the sound of metal reached both the teenager’s ears, the man’s pistol now on the ground beside him.

“Good,” Clementine breathed, watching him closely as she stepped closer before kicking the weapon back towards Ben. She casted a quick glance to her friend, ensuring he grabbed the pistol before turning back to the man.  

“Can I turn now?” The man grumbled out in a rather unfriendly manner, “I don’t want to cause any trouble, really. I’m just trying to get back to my family.”

Ben and Clementine shared the same heartbroken look, their eyes meeting for a beat. Clementine nodded before stepping back a few steps and letting a small hum of affirmation.

Slowly, the man turned around to face the pair of teens with wide eyes. His white and blue jersey hung loose against his frame, his wrists bound together with rope as he blinked his wide eyes.

“You’re just a pair of kids,” He whispered, blinking. “Kids.”

“Kids who could kill you,” Clementine replied sharply, nudging the shotgun in her hand as she stayed in front of Ben, almost as if to shield him.

The man blinked, but didn’t do anything else as he practically examined the pair.

“No mark,” Clementine whispered, looking at the man with an even more scrutinizing gaze. “You’re not one of them.”

“You mean the fuckers who kidnapped me?!” Javi replied, looking from Ben to Clementine. “Hell no, I’m not one of those.”

Clementine seemed to relax just a bit more, looking back to the truck. “That’s their truck? Did they take you in it?”

The man nodded, looking back to the vehicle with a frown. “I thought I could get the driver to stop but I might’ve overcompensated,” He muttered, shaking his head before looking back to the young girl. His eyes drifted to Ben, his brows furrowing before looking back down to Clementine. “Does your friend not talk?” He asked, tilting his head.  

“My brother , Clementine corrected, tightening her grip on her weapon. “And he does what he wants.”

Ben barely hid his smile as he stepped closer, hiring his cleaver before the man could even move before bringing the blade down on the restraints, startling both Clementine and the stranger.

“Jesus!” The man cried, jumping back as the rope fell to the ground. “You could’ve given me a warning!”

Clementine snorted, watching as the man rubbed his wrists for a beat before speaking. “If you’re not one of them then who are you?” She asked, narrowing her eyes.

“The names Javi,” The man spoke, looking between the pair. “I got separated from my family at the junkyard just a half mile from here.”

Clementine blinked, fixing her grip on her shotgun. “That’s where we’re headed,” She muttered, turning to the teen behind her. “They beat us there!”

Ben furrowed his brows, looking down at his shoes for a beat before meeting Clementine’s gaze. “If they have this truck, who’s to say they don’t have more.”

Clementine pulled her lips into a thin line, nodding as she turned back to Javi. “How many of the New Frontier were there?” She asked, her voice unkind.

Javi seemed taken aback, blinking as he looked between the pair. “I couldn’t tell you,” He answered, shaking his head. “My family and I travel, we don’t ever stay in one place for more than a few hours, if that.”

Ben’s frown grew, stepping forward. “We helped you,” He stated plainly, flexing his cleaver in his hand. “There’s no way you’d be able to make it back to the junkyard with your hands tied up, not with all the walkers hanging around.”

“Now it’s your turn to help us,” Clementine continued, nodding her head.

Javi looked between the pair, taken aback before shaking his head. “I just need to get back to my family, I don’t want to get involved in any of this,” He informed the pair, growing exasperated.

“That’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” Ben replied, stepping forward.

Javi met Ben’s gaze, staring into his crystal eyes for another beat before sighing. “Fine,” He breathed, shutting his eyes for a moment. “Only because you’re kids.”

Clementine rolled her eyes, raising her shotgun in the direction of where they were headed. “We need a truck like theirs,” She stated firmly, “And you’re going to help us get one.”

“From the junkyard,” Ben added, holding Javi’s pistol out in his direction. “Got us?”

Javi stared once more at the eldest of the pair before nodding, wrapping his hand around the handle of the pistol. “Got you.”

Clementine nodded, nudging her head towards the end of the road. “Let’s get going,” She ordered, holding her shotgun up ahead as she gestured for the man to walk ahead.

Ben followed the pair, his grip on his cleaver as tight as ever.

Chapter Text

Ben kept his eyes around their surrounding area, pretending not to be as invested in the conversation Clementine was having their new ‘partner’, Javi. The teen was far from trusting of the rather kind man, but he found him easier to get along with. Clementine had already been speaking with him for the duration of their journey, getting more and more information from him without the man seemingly knowing.

Ben couldn’t help but snort at a few of the things he said.

“So you’re family,” Clementine continued, her grip somewhat relaxed as she held her heavy weapon. “Who’s in it?”

Javi walked besides the girl, raising a brow at her rather curious yet relatively ‘nice’ nature. “Me, my niece, nephew, and sister in law,” He answered, smiling fondly as he looked back ahead. “Been just us since the start.”

“You kept everyone together?” Clementine asked, blinking her eyes. “Alive?”

Javi sighed, nodding his head. “We’ve had…many close calls,” He answered, shaking his head. “But yeah. We’ve survived. Relatively well.”

“That’s amazing,” Clementine whispered rather softly. She cleared her throat after a beat, sending Ben a glance to ensure he was alright.

“Has it been just you two since the start?” Javi asked, furrowing his brows as he looked back at Ben as well, “I know you said you were looking for your family…”

Clementine took in a deep breath. “Something like that,” She answered, clearing her throat. “We….We were safe for two years. Then the New Frontier happened.”

Javi cringed at the child’s sad tone, feeling bad for asking. “Well, at least you guys are close to getting them back, right?” He stammered out with weak attempt at a smile, only to falter when he shook his head.

Clementine ignored the man in favor of stopping, waiting for Ben to come up on her side. She looked over him again, focusing on his leg for a beat before turning to Javi as he spoke.

“You’re both injured,” The man murmured, furrowing his brows. “My van doesn’t have a lot of good medical supplies but-”

“We’re fine,” Ben assured, clearing his throat. “We don’t need supplies.”

Clementine nodded, instinctively reaching up to the bandaid over her her forehead. “You’re the one who crashed an entire truck,” She pointed out.

Ben snorted, not even bothering to cover up the noise.

“You really are a handful for your age,” Javi muttered, shaking his head. “I told you that was an accident.”

Clementine rolled her eyes. “How old are your niece and nephew?” She asked, looking up to the man.

“Around your age, actually,” Javi answered, “Fifteen and ten.”

“How old do you think I am?!” Clementine asked, feigning offense.

Javi raised his brows, looking over the girl for a long second as they continued walking. “Fourteen,” He guessed rather confidently.

“Nope,” Clementine replied, shaking her head. “Close though, thirteen.”

“Damn,” Javi muttered, looking back ahead for a second before turning his head back to the pair. “And how bout him?” He asked, raising a brow.

“Guess,” Clementine teased, smirking mischievously.

Despite Javi’s tall stature, Ben still towered over him by a few inches, even with his rather slouched posture.

“Twenty,” Javi guessed, shrugging. “I have no idea.”

“Nineteen,” Ben replied, hiding his smirk.

“You’re really both teenagers,” Javi mumbled, shaking his head. “Two teenagers who I don’t even know the names of.”

Clementine snickered before turning to Ben as if to ask him if it were alright to reveal their names. The boy shrugged before nodding, his gaze landing back on the other man.

“I’m Clementine,” The young girl introduced, her gaze still scrutinizing the other man in a careful manner. “He’s Ben.”

The older teen only nodded when Javi met his gaze, focusing back on the road ahead.

“Nice to officially meet you both,” Javi joked, “It’s nice to meet friendly people, especially when almost everyone is trying to kill you just for being alive.”

“How do you know we won’t kill you?” Clementine asked, raising a brow to the man. “You just met us.”

Javi blinked before shrugging. “Wishful thinking?”

Clementine snorted, looking around the surroundings. She stiffened at the sound of loud moans and groans erupting from just past the trees. Her hand dropped from the shotgun in her grip, wrapping around Ben’s wrist as she crouched down, nearly pulling him down as well.

“Walkers!” She cried, her eyes wide as the pair beside her dropped down beside her.

“W-Walkers?!” Javi cried, furrowing his brows. “You mean- You mean muertos?”

“The dead?!” Ben whispered out, shaking his head. “That’s- That’s what you call them?!”

“You know Spanish?!” Clementine interrupted, looking up to her friend. “Since when!?”

“I barely remember anything!” Ben explained in a rush, “I took it in high school!”

“Why do you call them walkers!? What if they run?!” Javi asked, seemingly more concerned in the name than anything else.

“They’re all fucking walkers!” Clementine replied shaking her head fervently. “What matters is we’re cut off from the junkyard!”

“Fuck!” Javi hissed, peeking over the bush to look into the entrance of the junkyard. “I gotta get in there!”

“There’s no way you can get past them and survive,” Ben spoke, his hand wrapping around Clementine’s wrist. “No way in hell. Even if you snuck in they’ll be here till morning. We have to head back.”

“My family’s in there!” Javi pointed out angrily, shaking his head.

“And they’ll lose you if you go in there,” Ben replied immediately, “Don't be stupid. You’ve survived this long.”

“Damn it!” Clementine hissed, interrupting the conversation. “We got so fucking close!”

“We can come back,” Ben replied with a growl. “Maybe those bastards will be back. Then we can fuckin’ get what we deserve.”

Clementine noticed Javi’s rather cautious glance in Ben’s direction but didn’t say anything, settling on walking backwards. “Let’s go,” She whispered, pulling Ben’s hand.

Ben moved after a beat, looking to Javi. He found the man already looking at him, his brows furrowed.

“Come on,” The teen instructed, nodding his head in the direction they came from. “We’re not done with you.”

Clementine blinked, tugging on Ben’s wrist as if to reprimand him. “Let’s go, Ben,” She hissed.

Ben reacted immediately, turning on his heel to follow the pair. Javi was only a step behind them, casting a longing glance back to the junkyard before cursing and following the pair.

Together, the trio raced back to Prescott, Javi’s fear of the pair only growing.


 

Ben hated just how much relief exploded in his chest at the sight of Prescott, the small town untouched since they had departed. The dark air was lit up by the various lights illuminating the modest settlement as the grew closer and closer.

“Where the hell….?” Javi murmured, stepping up to the gates.

Ben hit his fist against the metal, sparing a glance back to Clementine as he hugged his aching frame.

“Ben!?” Tripp’s voice sounded out, startling the new member of their ragtag group. “Clementine?! Who the hell’s with ya?”

“Uh…” Clementine began, looking between Ben and Javi. “A friend.”

Javi blinked, smiling as Clementine grew red.

“I only said that so he wouldn’t shoot you,” Clementine grumbled, glaring at the man. “Trust me, he wouldn’t have hesitated like we did.”

Javi blinked, opening his mouth to retort, only for the large gates to creak to an open, startling him.

Ben easily slipped in through the small gap, pulling Clementine behind him before Javi stepped through. The man came to a standstill, looking around the town with wide eyes.

“That ain’t Nick or Luke,” Tripp stated, climbing down the metal staircase before resting his hands on his hips right in front of the trio.

“I’m Javi,” The man greeted, looking just as confused.

“We saved him,” Clementine stated, crossing her arms.

“I already was f-”

“Is he New Frontier?” Tripp asked, interrupting his retort.

Ben shook his head. “They kidnapped him,” He explained, looking towards Tripp. “But they were close. Too close.”

Tripp cursed beneath his breath, shaking his head before reaching his hand out to the other man. “The names Tripp,” He introduced, “I’m the leader of Prescott.”

“Prescott,” Javi whispered, looking around. “Damn. I didn’t think their were any cities left.”

“I wouldn’t call this a city,” Tripp muttered, shaking his head. “More like a village, or a truck stop...but like, on an airstrip.”

Clementine hid her snort, squeezing Ben’s hand as she looked down to the boy’s knee, noticing how he favored his other leg.

“Did y’all make it to the junkyard?” Tripp asked, furrowing his brows as he seemed to look the children over for any injuries or worsening side effects.

Clementine shook her head, nearly pouting. “The herd is everywhere,” She explained, her voice filled with frustration. “We couldn’t even make it into the entrance.”

“Damn,” Tripp muttered, shaking his own head. “Those fuckers always chose the worst time and place to show up.”

“Don’t need to remind us,” Clementine replied rather rudely. She turned to Javi, finding the man looking around the small town with an amazed look. Her lips pulled into a small smile before she turned back to Tripp.

“His family is back in that junkyard,” The young girl began, looking between both men. “We need to get him back to them while finding ourselves a truck. The New Frontier is getting closer.”
“If those fuckers are gettin’ closer then Prescott’s in danger,” Tripp breathed, muttering a curse before looking to Javi. “Are y’all sure they can’t trace you back here?! Why’d they have you kidnapped anyway?!”

Javi’s eyes widened, looking between Ben and Clementine with a rather frazzled look.

“If they find their way here, you’ll be ready for them,” Ben spoke, looking to Tripp. “We didn’t run into any of them on the way over-”

“They know where we are,” Tripp interrupted, shaking his head. “If they want us, they got every damn gun left in the world to take us down. We don’t even know what they’re capable of.” He paused, sighing loudly, before looking down the main street. “We can’t risk you guys goin’ out there anymore. Not if you want to come back in here.”

“What?!” Clementine gasped, her eyes narrowing.

“We’re goin’ into lockdown mode,” Tripp explained, crossing his arms. “No one in. No one out. Not till we’re sure those bastards don’t plan on attackin’ us.”

“Our families are out there!” Javi cried, pointing to the gates. “You’re keeping us from them, from finding them.”

“You can’t do this Tripp,” Ben hissed, stepping closer to the man. “You can’t hold us hostage here!”

“I gotta do what I can to protect Prescott!” Tripp replied, his hand flying out towards the street. “I have to keep ‘em safe, my people safe.”

“What about our people?!” Javi cried, his palms curling into fists.

“Your people-”

“They could be alive or dead or walkers or worse!” Ben interrupted with a shout, raising his cleaver as he wrapped his other palm around Clementine’s wrist. “You are not fucking keeping us here! We’re fucking leaving!”

Tripp’s eyes narrowed, his own hands resting on his hips as he stared down the teenagers, his gaze fiery. “You leave outta those doors, you’re not welcome back,” He spoke, his voice barely above a whisper. “And if you try to come back, I won’t hesitate again.”

“Don’t count on it,” Ben replied in a hiss. He waited for another beat, staring straight into Tripp’s blue eyes.

Silence descended on the four, only the loud echoing wildlife outside the gates.

“Open up,” Tripp shouted, not tearing his gaze from the teen.

Slowly, the large metal gates creaked open, with just barely enough room for the pair to step out. Ben kept his gaze locked on Tripp’s, his eyes narrowing before he turned around completely, pulling on Clementine’s wrist.

“C’mon, Clem,” He whispered.

Javi watched as the two teenagers exited out of the gates, not turning back. He looked between their backs and Tripp before sighing and shaking his head.

“That’s my family,” He whispered, stepping backwards. “I can’t leave them out there. Not with the New Frontier so close.”

Tripp didn’t reply, only frowning as Javi slid out of the gate, watching as the man ran to catch up with the pair of teens ahead.

Chapter Text

Ben rubbed his hands down his face, his figure seated on a fallen log as he groaned.

“Why did you let me do that, Clem?!” The teen whined, looking to his younger friend seated beside him.

“I couldn’t stop you!” Clementine replied, sighing loudly. “Besides, he was being an asshole.”

“An asshole that could’ve given us a place to sleep tonight,” Ben mumbled, his palms digging into his eyes.

“I mean, he was being irrational,” Javi added rather awkwardly, leaning against a tree. “I don’t really blame you.”

Ben sent Javi a deadpanned look before placing his face back in his palms. He leaned into the hand that rested against his back, shutting his eyes for a beat before turning his face to Clementine.

“How’s your head doing?” He asked.

“I’m fine,” She replied, moving her hand to brush a strand of hair behind the boy’s ear. “Your limp is worse.”

“I know,” Ben mumbled, shaking his head. “I can’t do much about it now because I’m an idiot.”

“C’mon, Ben,” Javi spoke, daring to step closer to the pair. “I think you did what you had to. Hell, I would’ve come out whether you two did or not.”

“Thanks, Javi,” Clementine deadpanned, sparing the man a glare before looking back to Ben. She didn’t hesitate to pull the brown hat off his head, shushing him before placing it in her lap.

“Your hair got all messed up,” She explained, pulling the tie out of his long brown strands. “Dangerous.”

Ben sighed, relaxing as Clementine pulled his hair back into a much tighter ponytail before putting Kenny’s hat back over his head.

“Thanks,” The boy mumbled, staring down at his shoes.

Clementine nodded, turning to find Javi looking over them with a rather soft smile. She furrowed her brows, hoping to hide the pink in her face as she rolled her eyes.

“So I guess we head back to the junkyard at dawn,” Ben muttered, looking around the forest. “Sleep here?”

Clementine frowned, not finding a better answer.

Javi shifted then, catching both teenagers attention with a frown. “There… We drove by a building not too far from the junkyard,” He spoke in an almost unsure manner. “It… It looked like a factory of some sorts.”

“Was it abandoned?” Clementine asked, perking her head up. “Could we stay the night?”

Javi seemed to hesitate before shaking his head. “I couldn’t tell you, but I didn’t see any trucks. We didn’t stop to check because we weren’t sure we had enough gas in our van to start it again.”

Ben knitted his brows, staring at the ground for another beat before looking up. “There’s two outcomes,” He began, meeting Javi’s gaze. “Either it’s abandoned and we have a place to sleep tonight or-”

“Or it’s New Frontier and we get the truck we’ve been looking for,” Clementine continued, looking to her friend.

“That’s right,” Ben answered. “We both get what we want. If we get a truck we can easily get you to the junkyard before making our way to Richmond.”

“If not, we wait out the night and then head to the junkyard,” Clementine finished, crossing her arms. “Everyone wins.”

Javi blinked, looking down at his crossed arms before nodding, meeting Clementine and Ben’s gaze. “Doesn’t look like we have another choice,” He answered, uncrossing his arms. “I’m in.”

Ben let out a breath of relief, silently thankful to have another person to watch over Clementine. “Good,” He spoke, climbing to a stand.

“But-” Javi interrupted, putting his hand out to the teens. “I need my own weapon, you know, the one you two stole off me?”

Clementine snorted, rolling her eyes as she swung her backpack round, unzipping the purple bag before pulling out the pistol. She held it out for Javi, not letting go of the weapon when his hand wrapped around the handle.

“We’re trusting you,” She spoke, her voice firm. “That’s not something easy to come by.”

“Trust me,” Javi began, nodding his head. “We’re both about family and I know what happens when you seperate someone from who they love.” He paused, sparing a quick glance to Ben. “I wouldn’t dream of betraying you two.”

Clementine smiled, letting go of the weapon before climbing to a stand. She fixed her grip on her backpack and shotgun before turning to Ben.

“Ready?” She asked, tilting her head.

“Ready.”


 

Ben had seen many abandoned buildings and structures in his years in the apocalypse, yet the large factory ahead was one that had him nearly gasping.

The factory stood tall, large broken smoke stacks, the last of the three chipped away with age. Glass windows decorated the front of the easily eight-story building, a chain-link fence separated the trio from the concrete parking lot, Ben’s hand curling through the holes of the fence.

“Holy shit,” Clementine whispered, ignoring Ben’s elbow to her shoulder. “It’s huge.”

Javi nodded, blinking his aching eyes. “It’s a slaughterhouse,” He replied just as quietly.

Ben swallowed, his stomach twisting at memories from years ago. “Do you see anyone?” He asked, looking over to the man.

Javi shook his head. “Looks empty- but I hear walkers.”

“Me too,” Clementine replied, looking to Ben. “Should we try going in?”

“We need to eat,” Javi murmured, looking to the pair. “Not to mention you two look beat. At the very least we could try scouting it out. See if we can scavenge anything.”

Ben thought for a long second, looking between Clementine and Javi. “One of us has to stay out here,” He whispered, flinching when Clementine wrapped her hand tightly around his wrist. “Someone has to keep watch.”

“Javi stays,” Clementine stated, shaking her head. “End of discussion.”

“He can’t stay,” Ben retorted, shaking his own head as he met the man’s gaze. “We don’t trust him yet.”

“I’m not leaving you,” Clementine replied, her nails nearly digging into Ben’s wrist. “No way.”

“You’ll be better out here,” Ben whispered, dropping his cleaver to intertwine his fingers with Clementine’s, squeezing her hand. “You can keep both Javi and I safe-”

“I’m not leaving you!” Clementine repeated, shaking her head. “You promised me we wouldn’t split up! We’re a team!”

Ben chewed his lip, looking up to find Javi sporting his own frown. He looked back down to his nearly teary-eyed friend, moving to wrap his hand around her shoulder.

“Clem,” He began softly, meeting her gaze as he attempted to crouch down. “It’d be less than thirty minutes. Just so we can see if it’s clear or not.” He paused, swallowing as he nodded his head slowly. “I’m not going to do anything stupid. I’m not going to get hurt-”

“You don’t know that,” Clementine replied, shaking her head. “Y-You’re already hurt!”

Ben opened his mouth to speak, only for Javi to interrupt, the man stepping closer to the pair with a frown on his face.

“Clementine, you’d keep us as safe as possible if you stayed on watch,” He spoke, looking down to the girl. “I can keep an eye on Ben in there and I promise I won’t let anything hurt him. Not a walker or a person.”

Clementine didn’t look convinced, her eyes locked on Javi’s soft brown gaze before turning to Ben, her brows furrowing. “I-I couldn’t yell for you,” She weakly objected, knowing deep down that there was no other argument to keep Ben and Javi from going into the building.

“Your flashlight,” Ben answered, looking over her shoulders to the backpack on her back. “If you go down the fence just a little bit more you can shine it right through the windows. We’ll see it immediately.”

Javi nodded pointing to the glass exterior. “No matter how deep we get in there, I’ll make sure one of us has eyes on the windows at all times,” He assured, “You won’t be able to see us if it’s dark but we’ll be there.”

Clementine bit her lip, looking back up to Ben. “I don’t w-want you to leave me.”

Ben faltered, his heart sinking in his chest as he dropped his hand from Clementine’s wrist, wrapping his arms around her figure and crushing her to his chest. His arms tightened around her, moving his hand to rest in the back of her hair.

“I’ll be back,” He whispered, managing a small smile when Clementine tilted her face upwards, her chin digging into his chest.

“You owe me,” She spoke, furrowing her brows. “Big time.”

“First piece of candy we find is yours,” Ben promised, hoping to earn a smile out of the girl. He couldn’t help but chuckle softly when the girl did as he expected, smiling widely before hiding her face back into the teen’s brown sweater.

Javi watched as the pair held onto one another for another beat, his own heart strings tugging. He waited for them to pull apart, watching as Ben fixed Clementine’s hat before stepping back.

“You be good,” He mumbled, patting the girls head.

Clementine rolled her eyes as she pulled her flashlight out. “You be safe.”

“You too,” Ben replied, nodding his head before turning to Javi. “Ready?”

Javi cocked his pistol, nodding his head. “Let’s do this.”

Ben managed a stressed smile, shaking Clementine’s shoulder before walking beside Javi.

The teen looked ahead, not quite trusting himself to turn around and meet what would definitely be Clementine’s sad gaze.

Chapter Text

 

Ben heaved himself into the second story window, Javi easily holding his weight as he helped the teen through the broken glass. The boy rolled onto the hard tiled ground, letting out a small huff as he quickly searched the room, finding it clear. His grip slowly loosened from around his cleaver, his gaze searching what looked like an office.

Multiple lockers and cabinets lined up the walls of the room, a desk sitting just in front of the teen with a knocked over chair. A wooden door was just barely cracked open, but otherwise the undisturbed.

“Ben!” A harsh whisper sounded out from outside, alerting the boy. “Is it clear?! Everything okay?”

The teen jolted, shaking his head as he turned back out the window, his arm immediately reaching down to help Javi. “It’s all good,” He whispered back, sending a tentative glance to the surroundings for any threats.

“Don’t use your hurt arm,” Javi instructed, nodding his head. “I can help myself up I just need you to keep me from hitting the ground.”

Ben hesitated before complying, using his bandaged arm to hold onto the aged windowsill. “Come on, I’m good.”

Javi hesitated, looking back to where they had left the much younger teenager. His eyes strained to make out any figures past the chain link fence, giving up after a beat before looking up to the boy waiting for him above.

Ben’s arm was stretched out, the child waving his fingers as if to encourage the man to jump the few inches separating them. Javi heaved out a breath, shaking his arms before crouching and jumping up to Ben, his hand clasping around the teen’s much lankier arm.

Ben couldn’t help the cry he let out as he nearly fell completely out the window, his fingers digging into the windowsill as he groaned, pulling Javi up with what little strength he had. He felt the man quickly scramble for a hold onto the windowsill, pulling himself up with his own grunt before falling right past Ben and onto the ground.

“Fuck,” Javi hissed, using the desk to climb back up to a stand. He dusted himself off, letting out a long sigh before turning to Ben. “You alright?”

Ben nodded, hoping the flexing of his hand wasn’t too obvious. He hadn’t realized just how weaker the last week or so had made him.

“I, uh, think they’re some walkers in here,” The boy mumbled, looking away from Javi. “I heard something.”

Javi furrowed his brow, pulling his pistol out of his waist band as he rounded the corner of the desk, cautiously stepping towards the door. He waved Ben to follow him, the teen comically pulling out his cleaver before running up to behind him.

Javi kept a cautious arm behind him, practically shielding the teen behind him as he slowly poked his head out of the small crevice in the doorway. Half his torso peaked out into the hall, his gun low as he looked up and down the dimly light hallway.

To his left, the building led on for a few more closed doors before the end of the hall stood, a window squarely fitting in the center. To the right, Javi spotted what looked to be a few more doors, all probably containing similar offices, before opening to what appeared to be a large open space with no more doors.

“Is th-there anything out there?” Ben whispered, trying to squeeze himself into the doorway.

Javi shook his head, stepping out completely into the hall, Ben on his heels. He narrowed his eyes, trying his best to see through the deep darkness, the bright moon barely shining through the window.

“We’re good,” Javi whispered, making his way to the courtyard. He didn’t dare touch any of the closed doors, his ears straining as he vaguely registered the various sounds of banging and clattering from somewhere distant. “Something’s off.”

Ben nodded, coming to a timid stand beside the man. Together, the pair made their way down the hall, careful not to make too much noise before entering the larger space, finding railings lining the center of the room. The rest of the building appeared to be lined up similarly, with multiple other floors all leading into a central staircase.

The railing beneath Ben’s hands creaked as he looked down, the height nowhere near high enough to be deadly, yet more than enough to send his stomach flipping. He leaned away, the mere height enough to make him sick.

Javi pointed to just across the staircase, directing Ben’s attention to the other side.

“We can scout out the opened rooms over there,” He pointed out, already walking in that direction. “You stand in the doorways in case Clementine signals us.”

“Good idea,” Ben replied, coming up besides Javi’s side as he limped around the staircase, trying to distract himself from the very obvious smell of something rotting.

Javi casted what he hoped was a rather discrete glance towards the teen’s limp, his eyes narrowing on the boy’s right knee, the joint seemingly the source of the hindered movement.

“It’s old,” Ben spoke suddenly, jolting Javi’s attention from his leg to the side of his face. “Doesn’t bother me.”

Javi blinked, clearing his throat before looking ahead. “Clementine seemed worried about it,” He stated, eyeing the several doors they were coming upon.

“She worries about everything, just like Ke-” The boy clamped his mouth shut, his free hand curling into a fist as he cleared his throat. “She just worries.”

Javi nodded, deciding not to pry on the sudden change of demeanor. “You two are close, it’s sweet,” He murmured, stopping in front of the first cracked open door.  

Ben snorted, looking over the man with a raised brow. “Shouldn’t siblings be close?”

Javi seemed to freeze, his hand around the doorknob hovering for a beat as he furrowed his brows, staring down at the aged metal.

“Yeah,” He whispered softly, not looking away. “They should.”

It was Ben’s turn to cringe as he opened his mouth, only to shut it again. He felt a slight sense of guilt curling up his throat, nearly making him sick. “I, uh, used to have another sister,” He began, clearing his throat. “Back before… before everything.”

Javi turned his head, looking at the obviously anxious child with raised brows.

“She was… a lot like Clementine, actually,” He mumbled, moving to curl his arms around his midriff. “Except she… I didn’t get to see her turn into a bad ass who can use a shotgun.” Ben chuckled softly, the sound sad, as he shook his head, growing somber once again.

“What I’m trying to say is I get… I get losing siblings,” The teen finished, not looking up to Javi. “It doesn’t really g-get easier. A hopeful, s-sad part of you always misses th-them.”

Javi blinked again, no longer able to stand the silence as a small smile grew on his lips.

“Thanks,” He replied, his smile growing gentle when Ben’s wide eyes met his gaze.

Ben only shuffled on his feet, shrugging. He looked up when Javi pushed the door open, ignoring his soft chuckle in favor of looking deeper into the office.

The inside of the room had a similar layout, only a few papers resting on the desk with an upright chair. Javi stepped even further into the room, opening up the various filing cabinets and looking through for any sign of something to salvage. He moved to the lockers next, letting out a soft gasp as he reached deeper into the metal.

“What is it?!” Ben cried, his eyes widening as he stood on the tips of his shoes, trying to glance over Javi’s shoulder.

Javi stepped back with a wide grin, holding out a can to the boy through the dim light. “Food!” He exclaimed, unable to hold back a relieved chuckle. “Looks like some sort of soup.”

Ben let out his own relieved sigh, rubbing a hand down his face as he relaxed against the door frame. He shut his eyes for a beat, his temple coming to a rest on the wooden frame as well as he let himself breathe.

“You’re doing a great job,” Javi spoke up suddenly, meeting Ben’s gaze when the boy jolted upwards.

“Wh-What?” Ben questioned, furrowing his brows as he looked over the smiling man.

“Taking care of her,” Javi explained, tossing Ben the can, snorting when the teen caught it messily before turning back to look through the lockers. “Taking care of kids isn’t easy.”

“Speaking from experience?” Ben asked, hoping not to look as relieved as he felt.

Javi laughed, shaking his head. “I don’t have any kids of my own,” He replied, smiling. “But my niece and nephew are more than enough. Love them to death, though.”

Ben found himself smiling, the love in Javi’s voice easily heard. He watched as the man moved to the next locker, looking through it before looking back to Ben.

“I know you’re trying to get your family back,” Javi began, moving to the next locker as he chose his next words carefully. “How many we- are there of you?”

Ben blinked, clearing his throat. “Including me and Clem, eight of us.”

Javi let out a surprised laugh, turning to the boy. “Wow, that’s a lot of you,” He spoke, smiling through his words.

“Yeah,” Ben replied, finding himself smiling. “One… One of them acts a lot like… like a dad to me and Clementine.” He paused, hiding a snort at a certain memory.

Javi smiled, pausing his searching to look at the teen and let him continue.

“We also got a younger sister, well younger for me,” Ben went on, still smiling as he looked down at the ground. “Her name’s Sarah and we share a birthday month. She’s seventeen.”

“Lots of kids,” Javi commented, leaning against the locker. “Must be fun.”

“We had some snowball fights and stuff,” Ben remembered, smirking as he shook his head. “There’s also AJ.”

“AJ?” Javi repeated, smiling.

“He’s just a baby,” Ben explained, grinning. “He’s only a year and a half old but he’s really fiery. He teases Luke and Nick a lot.”

“Luke and Nick?” Javi asked, raising a brow.

“They’re kinda like uncles, I guess,” Ben explained, shrugging shyly. “They’re a lot of fun and make us all laugh.”

Javi chuckled, taking in the child’s somewhat relaxed manner, proud of himself for helping to alleviate the boy’s stress. “My niece, Mari, she’s the jokester. Gets her brother Gabe going pretty easily.”

Ben smiled at that. “Clementine is the mastermind of everything, usually. Her and AJ are hilarious together,” He continued, laughing. “Carlos, Sarah’s dad, he’s also a doctor and he sort of takes care of us all.”

“A doctor?” Javi blinked, surprised with the teen. “He’s valuable, damn.”

“He’s a great doctor too,” Ben mumbled, unconsciously rolling his once injured shoulder.

Javi raised his brow, but didn’t comment further. He settled on smiling, turning back to the next locker. “Well I’m sure they’re all waiting for you, I know my family is.”

Ben smiled softly, shaking his head as he refocused at the task at hand, unable to explain the lighter feeling in his chest. He let out a long breath, casting a glance to the window at the end of the hall before daring to step inside, leaning his back against the wall, only to jolt.

Above, the what should have been a dead light bulb, turned on. Ben could only stare as he jumped off the wall, looking between the light switch and Javi with wide eyes.

“There… There shouldn’t be any power,” Javi whispered, his eyes just as wide.

Ben’s jaw stayed hung open before he slammed the light switch off once again. “Wh-What- Why-!?”

Javi scurried over to Ben, pulling the teen back into the hallway with his hand tightly wrapped around Ben’s forearm.

As if on cue, a bright light bled in from the nearby window, the light moving as it wrapped around Ben and Javi’s figure.

Ben swallowed the unfiltered lump of fear in his throat, not daring to move an inch as he spoke.

“Cl-Clem’s on the other side,” He whispered, feeling the man’s grip tighten around his uninjured arm.

The light was quickly followed by the sound of rubber on gravel, no doubt belonging to a vehicle.

“Oh no.”  

Chapter Text

Ben has felt real fear many, many, times in his relatively young life. From being chased by the undead to having a gun in his face.

Yet, Ben still has it in him to be surprised by just how often he was absolutely and wholeheartedly terrified out of his mind.

Javi’s tightening grip around his forearm quickly brought Ben back into the present as the man all but dragged Ben across the hall and into what appeared to be a custodial closet. The small room was barely large enough to fit the pair inside as Javi shoved his younger companion towards the back of the room, letting go of his arm in favor of raising his weapon high.

“W-We’re not s-safe in here!” Ben cried out in a whisper, shaking his head as he stared around the nearly pitch black room.

“We don’t have a choice right now,” Javi replied, swallowing as his heart slammed in his chest. “They might’ve seen the damn light!”

Ben bit down on his trembling lip, his grip around himself growing painful as he nearly hit into a shelf carrying cleaning supplies. “Javi w-we need to run!” He tried again, shaking his head fervently. “We’re trapped here! Wh-What about-t Clem!”

The wavering of Ben’s voice was enough to finally call the attention of Javi, alerting the man as he spun his head around to face the teen. What little light that bled through the door frame barely illuminated the very panicked face the younger boy was making, Javi’s eyes widening.

“Hey- Hey we’re going to be just fine- Clementine's f-fine,” Javi assured, lowering his gun as he lifted his other palm in a calming manner.

“They’re b-bandits!” Ben whimpered, looking past Javi to the door. “They won't kill us! They’ll d-do worse things!”

Javi shook his head, preparing to speak, only for the sound of doors opening followed by footsteps to jolt the pair into horrified silence. Javi instinctively shifted back towards Ben as if to protect the boy, his gun tightly wrapped in both palms as he awaited any sign or shift from the other side of the door.

“If they get close, we run for it,” Javi whispered, blinking his wide eyes. “We’ll be fine.”

Ben only lifted a hand to his mouth, hoping to silence himself completely as he slid onto the ground, curling his legs up to himself.

Javi hesitated, sparing a quick glance to the door before crouching down in front of Ben, not daring to actually touch the child as he sat down on his knees.

“Listen b-buddy,” Javi began in a soft whisper, his eyes wide as he put his pistol on the ground, his hands out in caution. “I’m not gonna let them hurt you, okay? I’m gonna get you back to your sister.”

Ben looked up with wide eyes, staring into Javi’s soft yet determined brown eyes. He felt his chest ache in pain as his heart pounded rather harshly, his twisting stomach only making him feel sicker.

Javi nodded, thankful the teen was actually meeting his gaze as he managed a small smile. “You j-just gotta trust me, which I know is hard,” He tried to joke, his strained smile only growing more tense as he stared into the child’s gaze. “But I’ll get you outta here, I promise.”

Ben stared for another beat, his entire figure trembling in fear as he waited for the man to continue. Before Javi even had a chance to say anything, a loud voice reverberated throughout the building, stilling both boys.

Javi quickly raised a hand to his lips, his hand picking back up the pistol on the ground as he turned to face the door. He raised his weapon higher, narrowing his eyes as he strained his ears to make out what the voice was saying. His entire figure stiffened even further as a hand curled around the back of his shirt, jolting his head back.

Ben looked even worse than a moment ago, the teen pale as a sheet as sweat drenched his brow, his hand curled around Javi’s shirt as if for comfort. Javi only swallowed loudly, nodding his head in an attempt to reassure him that they would be alright.

Suddenly, light outside the door grew in intensity, no doubt in both boy’s minds that they hall light had flickered on, sending both their hearts sinking.

“...Don’t understand why the hell we’re back here,” A male voice sounded out, no doubt coming up the staircase only a few yards away.

“Tango,” Another, female, voice replied, the tone short. “If you complain about every, little, thing that we do, you’re going back to base.”

The voices carried closer, their accompanied shadows bleeding below the bottom of the doorframe. Javi only froze, watching as the shadows moved across the ground before disappearing into the room the pair were just in.

“W-We need to go!” Ben whimpered, shaking his head as he began to uncurl his legs, only for Javi’s palm to land over his calf, stopping him.

“Sh!” Javi stressed in a sharp whisper, shaking his head as he looked between the door and the panicking teen. “Ben, just s-stop talking! It’s okay!”

Ben shook his head, preparing to stammer out another panicked few words, only for another voice to erupt in the hall.

“What’re we going to do about Romeo?” The third voice questioned, stepping into the room with the other bandits. "He still doesn't know."

“Nothing yet,” The female voice replied, sounding seemingly more stressed out about the conversation. “We can't do anything with the dead bastards downstairs.”

“They’re restless,” The first man, ‘Tango’, replied. “Something’s got them spooked.”

Javi’s throat dried up, his eyes widening as he slowly connected the dots between the earlier banging and clattering from below to the conversation at hand. He felt himself slowly grow even more and more horrified, daring to turn to the teen behind him, only to wish he hadn’t.

Ben looked very close to being sick, his hand back over his mouth as he looked right into Javi’s gaze, his entire body shaking.

Before Javi could even try to comfort the teen, the voices across the hall seemed to grow quiet, followed by the distinct sound of a door shutting.

Silence fell onto the pair, Ben seemingly barely breathing as he stared at the door with fearful tears. Javi took a second to move, seemingly testing the waters as he shifted towards the teen, his movement barely letting out any noise.

“W-We gotta make a run for it, buddy,” Javi whispered, nodding his head as if to encourage him. “You got me?”

Ben swallowed before shaking his head, not even able to get a word out with the intensity of his trembling lips.

“Ben,” Javi stressed, looking back to the door for a beat before meeting his eyes. “You have to trust me. I know we can do this.”

“I-If they see us they-they’ll kill us!” Ben replied, his voice an octave higher as he shook his head. “There c-could be more of them!”

“We have to risk it, buddy,” Javi responded, his voice laced with stress as he wrapped his hand around Ben’s thin wrist, careful not to touch his burns. “Come on, on the count of three.”

Ben’s lip trembled, scrunching his eyes shut as Javi slowly came to a stand, shakingly pulling up the teenager. Javi turned to face the door, shutting his eyes for just a beat as he took a deep breath, opening his eyes almost immediately.

“One,” Javi counted, his voice nothing but a whisper as he held onto his pistol tightly.

Ben only cringed, swallowing loudly.

“Two.”

The tense grip of Ben’s cleaver was nearing on painful as he finally opened his eyes, staring at the back of Javi’s head, finding himself nearly sick with anticipation.

“Three.”  

With as much speed and care, Javi cracked the door open as quietly as possible, immediately looking for any sight of other people. He looked up and down the hallway, blinking away the brightness before pulling Ben’s hand and all but dragging him out of the small closet.

Javi crouched down, staying low as he cast a careful glance to the room with now muted voices. He found the layout to be clear as he ran while crouching, his hand around Ben’s wrist only tightening as they  neared the staircase.

The pair paused near the railing, cautiously looking down, only to stiffen at the sight of more people below. Javi jumped back in fear, not wanting to be seen as the banging and clatter of walkers below erupted.

“Shut ‘em up!” A voice called from below, both boys not daring to see who the source of the shouting was as they rushed forward.  

Within another thirty seconds, Javi slowly came to a stand at the broken window they had entered from. He stood up straight, casting a quick glance down to where they had climbed up from earlier. The sight of another truck like the one he had been kidnapped in earlier sent his heart to his throat, the man looking to Ben with wide eyes.

“It’s the New Frontier,” He whispered.

Ben suddenly grew rigid, his eyes locked on the vehicle outside. The pair were both too caught in the sight to recognize the sound of incoming footsteps from just beyond the staircase.

“Can we hurry up and load them up so we can get goin’?” The second male voice from earlier spoke, jolting the pair. "Prescott's waitin' on us."

“Prescott isn’t the target anymore,” The female voice replied, growing closer as Ben and Javi ducked back down, hoping not to be spotted. “They know we’re coming. Hilltop is priority now.”

“We have too many walkers on our hands,” Tango replied, his voice even louder as he stayed too far from their gazes to be seen clearly by Ben and Javi. “They gotta be either put to use or put down.”

The second male voice let out a growl, as he descended the stairs, any words he said disappearing into the bottom half of the building and now indecipherable.

“Come on,” Javi whispered, his hands now on the windowsill as he looked below. The drop was nowhere near high enough to even be daunting, the gravel below no doubt painful regardless if one were to fall without preparation. “You first.”

Ben shook his head as his heart slammed in his chest, suddenly growing dizzy as he stepped away from the window. “I-I can’t ju-jump!”

“What!?” Javi whispered, turning to the teen with a shocked look. “You have to! We don’t have time!”

Ben shook his head, taking another step back only for Javi to pull his wrist, hoping to jolt his attention to his eyes. Ben only shook his head with more intensity, curling his arm around his stomach as he blinked rapidly.

“Ben, look at me!” Javi nearly ordered, his voice rising as he grew even more tense. “We have to- I’ll be right be-behind you!”

Ben let out a whimper of pure fear. “I can’t- I just can’t! I’ll fall!”

Javi contemplated pushing the child out, only to cast away the thought as he looked back down at the harsh ground. He stared for another beat before pulling on Ben’s wrist, gathering his attention.  “I-I’ll jump first and catch you,” He stated, not looking away from the teen.

Ben wanted to protest but Javi was quicker, letting go of Ben’s wrist as he climbed into the window. He nodded, taking his own breath before slipping out the window and falling the few yards to the ground.

The sound of Javi’s shoes connecting with the hard ground jolted Ben forward, his eyes wide as he prepared himself to see a bloodied and broken sight of the man, only for him to already be looking up. Ben couldn’t hide the relieved fear on his face, his tears only making everything much worse.

“C’mon, Ben!” Javi encouraged his arms held out. “Quick- It’s not high!”

Ben stared, feeling his figure sway as he looked down at the ground, shutting his eyes as he shook his head, a whine breaking out of his throat as his grip on the window grew painful. “M-My legs-s bad!”

Javi shook his head, hoping to call for the teen’s attention as he called his name as loudly as he dared. “Ben! We have to go,” He pleaded, looking between the chain link fence and the teen above. He didn’t think it would be beneficial to mention the lack of light shining from the flashlight, or rather the complete absence of their younger friend in the dark. “I’ll catch you!”

Ben felt his chest shake as he took a deep breath, scrunching his eyes shut as he nearly let out a rather loud sob. He waited a beat to speak, not wanting to cry as he opened his eyes, only for a shout behind him to disrupt him.

“Who the fuck is this!?” A voice shouted, belonging to none other than the same man Ben had seen on the side of the road only days ago.

Ben felt his heart sink into his chest as he stared right into Badger’s eyes, his knees almost buckling.

“Ben!”

Chapter Text

Ben knew the moment his gaze landed on the other man’s, he would be sick. Yet, the surprising feeling of nearly fainting still shocked him to his core as he stared with wide eyes.

The man who went by two names that Ben knew of, both Badger and Tango, stared straight into Ben’s eyes with a steep frown, his hands raising the pistol to the teen’s head from a few yards away.

Who the fuck are you?!” Badger shouted, easily alerting the others as more footsteps sounded out from behind him, no doubt running in his direction. He only stepped closer to the boy, his gun cocking.

Ben just barely registered the shouts from just outside the building as he stared in fear for another moment, his throat tightening as he stumbled backwards, only to completely lose his footing. The teen reached for anything to hold onto before coming to the heart stopping realization he was already tilting out of the window, a bullet whizzing past his head.

Ben barely managed a scream as he fell backwards and through the air. He scrunched his eyes shut, awaiting for the piercing pain to stab through his stomach, only to roughly fall into none other than Javi’s arms.

Javi let out a grunt as he caught the teen, ignoring the very real jolt of pain as Ben’s fingers dug into his neck and arms as if to hold on for dear life. Javi didn’t hesitate as he spun around, Ben still squirming in his arms as he sprinted away from the building, his heart slamming in his chest.

Gunshots rang out behind the man as he ducked his head down, Ben’s arms wrapping around his neck as he held on tightly. He shook with such intensity that Javi nearly convinced himself the teen had been shot himself, but wished away that fear as he sprinted for the chain link fence.

“Don’t let them run!” The female voice boomed as more voices shouted in their direction, Javi terrified the boy in his arms would be hurt.

To the man’s well deserved relief, the fence was now only a few feet away. The small hole the pair had entered through was nowhere near wide enough for Javi to step through with the teen in his arms, sending the man’s heart racing as he looked around for an alternate escape route. When none came, Javi only swallowed his fear, running just a bit further to the broken part of the fence that stood at only half height.

“Get ready!” Javi shouted before pulling Ben off his figure, only to practically toss the thin teen over the barely hip chest-high edge. He flinched when the boy connected with the ground on the other side as he jumped onto the chain, pulling himself up.

Before Javi could completely get over the top, a sharp pang of pain erupted on the side of his upper arm, sending out a cry from the man as he maneuvered over the edge of the fence, falling onto his feet. He cupped his injured bicep, pulling his hand back to find blood caking his fingers.

Javi ignored the exploding pain in his arm in favor of looking down to the still downed child, his eyes widening at the prospect of him not only being shot, but hurt from the fall as well. To his relief, Ben shifted up onto his palms, letting out a whimper as Javi crouched besides him and began to pull him up.

“We need to go, Ben!” He practically yelled, pulling the teen to his feet before sprinting forward, his hand around Ben’s wrist.

The dim moonlight was barely enough to light up the surrounding forest as Javi blindly ran through, looking for any sight of the teen’s younger sibling. He focused in that moment at just running ahead, praying that the younger girl hadn’t been taken or worse.

It took longer than Javi would’ve liked before the gunshots had slowly drowned out, the forests now nearly unrecognizable as he continued to sprint forward until he felt his lungs strain with each breath. His eyes spotted a knocked over tree less than a few yards away, settling on stopping there to rest for at least a few seconds as he focused on anything but the growing wet sensation on his arm.

Slowly, Javi came to a stop after another moment, his hand slowly letting go of Ben’s wrist as he turned to face him, only to find the teen collapsing onto the ground with a groan.

“Ben!?” Javi cried, dropping besides the teen with an ounce of relief as the child landed on his back rather than his face. “Fuck- shit- I shouldn’t-”

Ben only covered his face in his trembling hands, his chest rising and falling with enough intensity to be more than worrying to Javi. He nearly touched the child’s arm in hopes of gathering his attention, only for the boy to sit up and curl his knees to his chest, effectively crossing his arms over his knees and hiding his face.

Javi’s chest ached as he scooted closer, seemingly unsure of what to do. He searched through his mind for any possible solution, temporary or not, to calm the teen down, only for the much thinner child to decide for him.

All at once, Ben’s arms wrapped around Javi’s much larger chest, pulling the man closer as he hid his face in his shoulder.

“Be-Ben?” Javi whispered, his tone soft as he hesitated to hug the frail boy back, terrified of hurting or scaring him away. He slowly overcame that fear as Ben’s trembling grew in intensity, his arms curling around his figure with strength.

“F-Fuck,” Ben whimpered, his hands bunching up Javi’s shirt as he felt his heart race rapidly. “Sh-Shit- Th-They- I-I-”

Javi only shook his head, squeezing the teen extra tight as he slowly inched his hand up to the back of the boy’s neck, holding him still against him as he swallowed the lump in his throat.

“I-It’s okay, buddy,” Javi whispered, trying his best to monitor the teen’s own health as he continued to shake. “I-I told you- I told you I’d get you out-t. I got you.”

“H-He saw m-me- He sa-saw me, Ja-Javi! He-He s-saw m-me-”

Ben whimpered, cutting himself off as his head began to swim, struggling to get the sight of Badger out of his mind. He suddenly felt like the scared, sixteen year old child who was defenseless against the last group of people who did very similar yet horrible things to him and his friends. An array of terrible memories attacked the boy’s mind as he struggled to get his breathing under control, his lip trembling as he scrunched his eyes shut once again.

“I-I need K-Kenny!”

Javi felt himself stiffen, his eyes widening as he stared into the grass behind the child. He had no clue who the teen was crying for, yet something deep inside him knew the boy was yearning for a parent.

The man only shut his eyes, settling on squeezing the broken child even tighter, hoping to bring any comfort he possibly could with what little knowledge he had. Javi took a deep breath, his hand rubbing up and down Ben’s back as he sought to bring him back down from the high strung and anxious state he currently was in. He couldn’t find it in him to truly care about the bleeding wound in his arm as his heart ached for the teen.

Seeing a child act their age was always, always , jarring for Javi.

Before Javi could even try to speak, a rustle erupted from behind him and the boy in his arms, sending his heart to his throat as he held onto Ben with one arm, his other hand reaching for his pistol to aim at the source of the rustling as he held the boy even closer as if to protect him.

Javi was unable to even rest his finger over the trigger before a figure stepped out in a rather frazzled manner revealing none other than the boy’s younger sister.

“Ben?!” Clementine gasped, her face contorted into one of utter horror.

The teen in question jumped out and away from Javi, turning to look to the girl with wide, teary, eyes. His lip trembled dangerously as he stared onwards, not even able to get a word out as the child closed the distance.

Clementine all but ran to the boy, dropping onto her knees before he could get up as she threw her shotgun to the side, her arms instinctively wrapping around the teen roughly.

Ben seemed to fight the girl’s grip for a moment, wanting to appear strong as he tried to wipe away his tears and reddened face. He gave up when the girl only held on tighter, her hand in the back of his hair as she held his face against her shoulder.

Javi stared, his eyes wide at the sight in front of him. He nearly flinched when Clementine looked up to him, her gaze fiery and filled with pure hatred.

“What did you do?” She snarled.  

Javi shook his head rather quickly, holding his hands up in surrender as he feared the young girl’s next move.

“I-I- The New Frontier showed up,” He explained quickly, his eyes wide. “I-I got him out-”

It was then Javi finally felt the injury in his arm, unable to hide a hiss as he clutched the wound, daring to look away from the teens.

“You’re hurt…” Clementine whispered, blinking her wide eyes. “Shit.”

Ben pulled away then, ignoring Clementine’s protest as he turned to Javi, his bright blue eyes widening at the sight of blood seeping into the man’s much larger palm.

“Y-You… you-you got-t sh-shot?” Ben whimpered, staring at the injury with wide eyes as his skin grew even paler.

“Ben-

Javi could only stare as Ben’s eyes rolled into the back of his head, letting out a groan as he fell back against Clementine, nearly taking her down with him.

“Ben!” Clementine all but screamed, her hands cupping her face as she placed his head in her lap. She repeated his name again, this time even louder as she all but smacked the child’s cheeks.

“Clementine- Clementine stop!” Javi nearly shouted, grabbing her arm with his bloodied hand. “You-You’ll hurt him!”

The young girl in question looked up to the man with a face of unfiltered fear, her eyes nearly watering as her lip trembled. “He-He’s- He’s not wak-waking up!” She panicked, “Wh-Why won’t he wa-wake up!? Is h-he hurt!”

Javi couldn’t stop the girl as she frantically looked over the teen’s frame, whimpering as she looked him over for any sign of blood. Her lips continued to quiver as she stared, barely able to focus on Javi as he began to speak.

“Listen-Listen to me, Clem,” Javi nearly ordered, trying to meet her gaze. “Clementine he-he’s just unconscious. Do-Does he not like blood? He probably got spooked!”

Clementine’s lip only shook with more intensity, looking between Javi and her brother as she began to stroke his face, hoping to wake him up in a much gentler manner.

“H-He’s fragile,” Clementine whimpered, shaking her head. “H-He has- He can’t-”

“Here-Here follow my lead, Clementine,” Javi instructed, his hand wrapping around her wrist as he led her fingers down to the teen’s neck. He gently pushed the pads of her pointer finger and middle finger to the boy’s skin, relaxing when the girl let out a relieved cry.

“He’s just… He’s just sleeping,” Javi assured, still looking over Clementine’s heaving chest. “You got him. He’s okay.”

Clementine took a second before she began to nod her head, sniffling loudly as she used her other hand to brush the boy’s bangs off his forehead. She hesitated before taking off his hat, placing it gently on the ground beside her before resuming her movements through Ben’s hair.

Javi let the blanket of silence rest over him and the pair of children in front of him, hoping to bring some solace as he looked them over. He dared to look away after another moment, Clementine’s sniffles no longer as loud nor pained as he looked down to his arm. His eyes narrowed as he twisted the appendage closer, letting out a relieved breath at the sight.

Despite the gathering of blood, the wound was nothing more than a close call. A stray bullet had just barely nicked Javi’s upper arm, the injury nowhere near life threatening as long as he kept an eye on it.

“H-He got shot-t near there,” Clementine whispered, looking up to Javi.

“Wh-Who… Ben?” Javi stammered, not quite capable of registering such a traumatic and life threatening injury with the skinny child in front of him.

Clementine nodded, shuddering slightly as she blinked her aching eyes. “H-He… It was r-really, really, bad,” She continued quietly, biting down on her lip. “He al-almost didn’t make it an-d-d I didn’t- I didn’t think he’d st-still be scared of-f blood.”

Javi took a moment to just stare at the children ahead, nearly cursing every entity in existence for putting the pair what they had been through. He settled on staying quiet for another beat, hoping to let the silence around calm Clementine back down.

“He… He got startled b-by the New Frontier,” He began slowly, gauging the girl for a reaction. “He called them… called them bandits.”

Clementine stiffened, her gaze locked on the fresh tear tracks that were slowly drying on the boy’s face. She felt her chest burn in rage as she stared, unable to organize her words through cloud of fury for a moment.

“They… They did bad things to him,” She whispered, not looking away from Ben’s face as her words grew cold. “He… He doesn’t like them. They sc-scare him.”

Javi could only stare, waiting for the young teenager to continue as he felt his skin crawl.

“He didn’t… I don’t kn-know exactly wh-what happened,” Clementine continued, her voice barely loud enough for Javi to hear, as if she feared the boy would awaken and listen in. “But.. But the nightmares. Th-They were always, always , worse.”

Javi swallowed rather loudly, shutting his eyes for a beat as he angled his head away from the pair, taking a minute to just register the girl’s words clearly. He found it nearly impossible to distance himself from the rather horrifying possibilities, instead settling on changing the subject entirely.

“H-He asked for someone… someone named Kenny,” He stated, opening his eyes.

Clementine grew still her eyes widening as she stared straight down at the teen in her lap. Her face grew red as her own aching eyes grew wet, sniffling as she refused to look up from Ben.

“H-He was our d-dad.”

Javi couldn’t help the wave of utter and complete anguish that crashed into him, nearly making his heart skip a beat. He stared at the pair with his own pained eyes, unable to hide the look of despair as he waited for Clementine to make the next move.

“He got-t taken wi-with the others,” Clementine whispered, blinking rapidly. “I-I… He ta-takes care of us th-the most. He...He saved Ben. He saved him e-everytime.”

Javi felt a renewed sense of determination bloom in his chest, the frown on his face growing into one of resolve. He leaned forward, meeting Clementine’s gaze as he nodded his head.

“I’m getting the food out of his pocket,” He assured her, not touching the teen until she gave him the okay.

Slowly Javi unlatched Ben’s cargo pant pocket, pulling out the can of soup before closing the pocket back up. He watched as Clementine slowly brushed her hands through Ben’s hair, the movement delicate and gentle as possible with the trembling of her fingers.

“Once he wa-wakes up and gets some food in him, he’ll feel better,” Javi assured softly, holding the can in one hand. “I promise.”

Clementine looked up to the man, blinking before looking back down to Ben and nodding. She settled on staring down at the teen in her lap before quietly mumbling her next words.

“I-I can help p-patch you up.”

Javi blinked, swallowing loudly as he looked between his wound and the younger girl. He settled on shaking his head with what he hoped was a light chuckle, moving to rip the sleeve of his blue long sleeve undershirt. Slowly, he wrapped his injury with the light fabric, covering the wound in its entirety with nothing but a hiss as he tied it tightly.

“That’ll do for now,” He assured, nodding his head. “I’ll be okay. Don’t worry about me.”

Clementine watched for another beat before nodding. She wrapped kept her hands in Ben’s hair, watching as Javi moved to pull back the can’s tab. The aged can creaked open, the smell of the soup filling Javi and Clementine’s senses as they licked their lips in anticipation.

“W-We need to le-leave some for Ben,” Clementine whispered, meeting Javi’s gaze.

Javi managed a small, yet comforting smile, giving the girl a nod. “We will,” He assured, his smile not faltering. “Don’t worry.”

Clementine paused, sniffling as she nodded her head. She looked down to her friend, brushing his hair gently before sighing rather loudly.

“He’s s-so, so, stubborn,” She muttered, sniffling once again. “He d-doesn’t t-take care of him-himself.”

Javi frowned, shaking his head. “This… was out of his control,” He whispered, frowning. “Things went bad, really quick.”

Clementine looked up from the teen, her brows furrowed together as she stared at the man, waiting for him to continue.

“This wasn’t his fault,” Javi spoke, looking down at the ground. “Everything fe-fell apart really, really, fast.”

“I tried to use my li-light but they got close and I had to run,” Clementine explained, her brows knitted together. “I-I couldn’t wait for y-you.”

Javi nodded his head, letting out a long breath as he stared down at the soup in his hands. “They were quicker than us,” He began, meeting Clementine’s gaze after another beat. “Ben got scared and we just, we just hid until it was good to run.”

“How did you get out-t?” Clementine asked, looking between Ben and Javi.

Javi cringed, nearly flinching as he cleared his throat. “I jumped out the w-window,” He answered slowly, unable to truly battle the growing sense of failure in his chest. “Ben… Ben fell out.”

Clementine blinked, her gaze still on Ben as she took a moment for Javi’s words to sink in. Slowly, she looked up to the man with a blank look, blinking once again before repeating the man’s words.

“He… fell?”  

Javi swallowed, looking down at his lap with a nod. “He wouldn’t jump out, so I just- I just tried to beg him to and he… I don’t know what happened,” The man stammered out rather quickly, hoping to make sense of what happened. “But he just f-fell right out.”

“I-I caught him!” Javi added quickly, shaking his head. “He- He didn’t hit the ground. I didn’t let him!”

Clementine blinked slowly, her gaze flickering back to Ben before locking on Javi. In a rather terrifying manner, the young girls face contorted into one of pure rage, her chest heaving as she began to speak.

“You made him- you made him jump out of a window!” She scream-whispered, her hand in Ben’s hair tightening in a protective stance.  

Javi held up a hand, hoping to calm the girl down as he shook his head. “Clementine- Clem he had no choice!” He tried to explain, shaking his head. “I couldn’t- we would be dead if we didn’t!”

“He h-hates heights!” Clementine continued with just as much anger. “He’s- He’s scared of them and you m-made him jump!”

“Clementine, we had no choice!” Javi tried again, nearly touching her arm. “Clementine, they’re- they’re monsters. They would’ve done much, much worse to us.”

Clementine swallowed loudly, shaking her head as she stared down at her friend’s face. She gently brushed the rip of his forehead, her other hand resting in the middle of his hair as her lip trembled.

“Ke-Kenny s-says Ben has… has something that m-makes him mo-more scared,” Clementine whispered. “He-he called it an-an….”

“Anxiety?” Javi guessed, furrowing his brows as he looked over the struggling girl.

Clementine nodded. “He said it-it’s like he gets mo-more scared about more things,” She continued. “A-And he has tr-trouble calming do-down. So-Sometimes h-he j-just freezes-s.”

Javi frowned, his lips pulling into a frown. “He’s really scared of heights and bandits more than most people,” He spoke, hoping to help Clementine see that he understood what she was saying, only for his own heart to sink, his eyes widening. "Th-That's why he fell out the window."

"He w-was terrified."

The young girl nodded her head, not looking up from the boy. “He g-gets scared and som-sometimes needs people to ca-calm him down,” She whispered. “Us-Usually it was Ke-Kenny. But sometimes it-t was me.”

Javi nodded, watching as the girl continued to slowly brush the teen’s hair, the gesture seemingly help her calm down. “He appreciates it, I’m sure.”

Clementine only nodded, sniffling rather loudly as she kept her gaze on the teen.

Javi took a breath when Clementine didn’t respond, shutting his eyes as he slowly recalled the information from the slaughterhouse, his chest heaving slightly as he grew sick.

“The New Frontier is- they’re sending walkers. Attacking with them,” Javi explained, opening his eyes. “The whole slaughterhouse, all of it. It’s all walkers. They plan on attacking Prescott… but Hilltop, whatever it is, it’s next.”

Clementine stared at the man, her eyes wide in what appeared to be fear and horror. She felt her own stomach twist at the mere thought of walkers being used as weapons, wondering just how many the New Frontier had gathered.

“W-Walkers make more walkers,” Clementine whispered, shaking her head. “They… They use them as w-weapons.”

Javi nodded, shuddering slightly. “They had so many from what we could hear,” he explained, his skin crawling. “But… I don’t think Richmond knows this. We overheard them t-talking about someone high up, Romeo. I don’t know…. I don’t know who they are but they have to be important. We need to tell them.”

Clementine slowly looked back down to Ben, her eyes shutting as she let out a long breath, the noise hitched as she shook her head.

“We didn’t- We didn’t a-ask for this.”

Javi flinched at the crack in the girl’s voice, his heartstrings pulling as he watched her shake her head. “Clem-”

“We were happy!” She nearly exploded, “We were s-so, so, happy! And th-they took that all away from us!”

Clementine sniffled, her hands tight around Ben as she could only focus on fixing her breathing, her eyes welling with tears. “We have a b-baby,” She whimpered, “AJ- He’s… He’s innocent! He d-didn’t do anything!”

“Clem, you’ll get them back,” Javi assured, unsure of what to say as he felt his own heart race. “I know you guys di-didn’t deserve this. No one deserves to be taken from their family.”

Clementine’s lip trembled for another beat as she focused on breathing, not quite noticing the movement in her lap as she kept her eyes screwed shut. She all but jolted when the teen in her lap let out a groan, her eyes flying open as she pulled her hands out of his hair.

“B-Ben!” Clementine gasped, cupping his face. “Ben- Ben wake up- pl-please!”

Javi placed the can of soup on the ground, leaning closer to get a look at the teen as his heart lodged in his throat, his eyes widening when the boy slowly cracked his bright blue eyes open.

Clementine couldn’t hold herself back as she all but collapsed down at Ben, cradling his face in her arms as she shook.

“You idiot!” The young girl sobbed, not even flinching when Ben’s arms stretched up to wrap around her chest, hugging her back as best as he could.

The teens stayed wrapped around one another, only pulling away when Ben slowly began to shift. Clementine sat back, her eyes wide as she helped Ben sit up as well. She kept one hand on his back as he scooted between Javi and Clementine, his palm resting over his forehead.

“T-Take it easy,” Javi stammered, his hands hovering as he looked between the pair. “You passed out.”

Ben blinked, looking down at Clementine with a frown. He flinched at the hanging tears in her eyes, holding his arms out for the girl.

Clementine’s lip trembled as she immediately melted into Ben’s arms, hiding a cry into his shoulder as her hands gripped the back of his sweater tightly. She shook in his hold, nearly shaking Ben with the intensity of her emotions.

Ben didn’t hesitate to pull the small girl into his lap completely, shifting her head to rest against his collarbone as he held her tightly. He kept one hand on her back and another over her side, holding her close as his chin came to a rest over her hat.

“M’here,” Ben murmured, shutting his eyes. “I got ya, k-kiddo.”

Clementine held on for another beat before pulling away, wiping her eyes with a frown. “You-You-!”

Ben fought a shudder nodding his head as he moved to wipe the girls own tear stained face, careful not to disrupt her own harsh breathing as he tried to shush her gently, his heart slamming in his chest.

Clementine sniffled loudly, nodding as she took a moment to just calm on. Her hand shakingly raised to the teen’s chest, resting over his heart. It took less than a second for the teen to follow her lead, lacing his hands with her as he relaxed.

“I got you, kiddo,” Ben whispered, his voice light despite the trembling of his words. “I’m right here.”

Clementine only took a long, shaking breath as she held focused on the beating of his heart, her eyes screwing shut. She wished away the horrible, unthinkable thoughts that plagued her mind, instead settling on stammering out a few words, shaking her head.

“I-I’m sorry I-I wasn’t th-there,” The young child began, “I-I c-could’ve he-helped!”

Ben only shook his head, his hand cupping Clementine's cheek as he looked her over. “That was… stupid pl-planning on our part,” He mumbled, pausing for a beat before turning to Javi. He nearly flinched at the man’s saddened and worried gaze, his own eyes locking on the wrapped makeshift bandage on his arm.

“Th-They shot y-you?” Ben whispered, blinking.

Javi jumped to cover the wound with his other palm, shaking his head quickly. “No,” He assured, swallowing. “Just a scratch. Nothing bad.”

Ben hesitated before nodding, finally letting Clementine’s hand fall from his chest albeit keeping their hands intertwined. “Th-That’s good,” He murmured, looking over Clementine’s distraught figure as he ran a thumb over her knuckles. “How lo-long was I out?”

“Barely ten minutes,” Javi answered, speaking slowly as he looked the children over. “You should take it easy. You’ve been through a lot today.”

Ben let out a sigh, blinking slowly as he grew cold at the mere reminders of what he had been just through. He settled on shaking his head of the memories, his arms curling around his stomach.

“We should eat,” Javi spoke softly, holding out the can to both children. “It’ll help us all feel better.”

Clementine eagerly took the can, shoving it into Ben’s hands as she nodded enthusiastically. She watched as the teen hesitated, giving him a scowl, before rubbing his back as he continued to drink the soup.

“Wh-What do we do next?” She asked, keeping a cautious eye on her brother.

“We spend the night here,” Javi answered immediately, looking around the quiet forest. “It’s safe. We can’t risk walking further without exhausting ourselves or running into Frontier folks.”

Clementine nodded immediately, taking the can from Ben as he handed it over. She look in to find a third was gone, settling on taking her own sips.

“We should tell Tripp,” Ben whispered, catching the others attention.

Javi blinked, a slight frown on his face as he registered the teen’s words. He settled on nodding after a beat, letting out a long breath. “We tell him, then get back to the junkyard,” He spoke, looking back up. “I can’t stay separated from my family, not for much longer.”

Ben nodded. “We need to warn him a-and maybe they’ll help,” He continued, “Help us all.”

Clementine pulled the can away from her lips, looking to Javi as she handed him the cylinder.

“I’m not that hungry,” Javi stated, shaking his head. “I’m more than fine. You two finish it.”

Clementine frowned, shaking her head. “None of this bullshit,” She scowled, shaking her head. “Eat.”

Ben watched before nodding his head, meeting Javi’s gaze. “Don’t try to fight her,” He stated simply, shrugging.

Javi sighed before taking the can, drinking the last third in one swell swoop. He placed the can to the side, looking down at it as if more soup would appear, only to shake his head.

“I’ll keep watch for another hour,” He stated, looking back up to Clementine and Ben. “Not the whole night but long enough to ensure we’re safe.”

Ben frowned, hating how relieved he was to hear that. He settled on nodding, his arm wrapping around Clementine’s shoulders. “Thank you.”

Javi felt a real smile pull on his lips, his care for the children only growing with the night.

Chapter Text

Ben limped forward, Clementine’s tight grip around his lower back helping to guide him through the wooded area. The bright sun just barely peaked out from over the trees, lighting up their every step as the trio walked forward in silence.

The night had passed without many issues, Javi staying up to watch over the exhausted children. Ben had fallen asleep first, nearly passing out once again as Clementine curled up in his arms, holding him even closer. As much as Javi hated doing so, the man woke the pair up at first sight of dawn as they head out towards Prescott.

“Are you okay?” Clementine whispered, nearly startling Ben as she looked up to him.

Ben nodded quickly, moving to pat her upper back gently with a smile. “All good,” He murmured, looking over her smaller figure. “How’s your head?”

“Good,” Clementine mumbled, flexing her hold on her heavy shotgun. “Is your arm still hurting?”

Ben shook his head, still smiling softly. “Don’t worry, kiddo,” He assured, bumping his hip against her. “M’all good. I promise.”

Clementine wasn’t entirely convinced, yet the teen’s soft voice was one that always made her feel better. She settled on nodding, turning to find Javi already looking over them both.

“You need to sleep,” Clementine pointed out, furrowing her brows. “You didn’t sleep at all.”

Javi shrugged, blinking as he looked back ahead. “I’ll be alright,” He replied, shaking his head. “I’ve gone days without sleeping.”

“That’s not healthy,” Clementine retorted, frowning. “Your family won’t be happy to see you didn’t sleep.”

“Kate might have a go at me, yeah,” Javi chuckled, shaking his head. “She always worries about me.”

“Who’s Kate?” Clementine asked, scrunching her nose.

“My sister in law,” Javi answered, a fond smile on his lips. “She’s more like a sister at this point. We co-parent my niece and nephew.”

“Oh,” Clementine spoke, “What’re their names?”

“Gabe and Mariana,” Javi replied, his smile widening at the girl’s interest. “I think you two would like them. They’re a lot of fun.”

Ben looked down to Clementine with a hidden smile, her curiosity in Javi’s nephew and niece entertaining to him. His smile only grew when Clementine grew quiet for a bit, seemingly thinking about the new information.

Clementine nodded slowly, looking back up to the man. “Do you think you’ll leave as soon as we warn Tripp?” She asked slowly, looking back to the ground almost immediately.

Ben turned his head to Javi, his own brows knitted together as he watched the man grow quiet.

“I don’t know,” Javi answered quietly, letting out a deep breath. “I don’t know.”

Clementine nodded, clearing her throat as she looked forward once again. She wasn’t quite sure where they currently were, nor how far from Prescott they were, but she had a good sense that they were close anyway.

“What if Tripp tries to kill us?” Ben asked suddenly, startling both Javi and Clementine out of their thoughts.

“I don’t think he will,” Javi answered, flexing the grip on his pistol. “He might not be happy to see us but he’s not the kind of man to just shoot on sight.”

“He almost shot Ben,” Clementine pointed out, frowning.

“But he didn’t,” Javi countered weakly, managing an even weaker smile. “If he tries, we’ll shoot quicker.”

“I don’t think killing a leader of a community inside of his community is a good idea,” Ben replied, shaking his head. “That’s…. never worked.”

Clementine shuddered, tightening her grip on Ben as she felt him stiffen. She wished away the haunting memories as she shook her head slowly, clearing her throat.

“Then we talk it out,” Javi settled on, looking over the pair with a stern gaze. “You guys hide until I’m sure we’re in the clear.”

“What if he shoots you?” Clementine replied, her eyes narrowed.

“I got fast reflexes,” Javi shrugged.

Clementine snorted at that, turning to find Ben grinning. She relaxed at the sight of the teen’s enjoyment, her anxiety dulling for a moment.

The trio would only be able to relax for just another moment as the sound of multiple footsteps erupted from ahead, jolting them to a stop. Javi immediately stepped forward, throwing his arm out as he hired his pistol.

“Hide!” He rushed out, looking to Ben and Clementine.

The pair didn’t hesitate to obey the man’s words, Ben wrapping a hand around Clementine’s wrist as he pulled her behind the nearest tree, slamming his back against the harsh bark. He pulled Clementine against his front, practically hugging her to his chest as he stood up straight. One hand rested on the back of Clementine’s head, another on her back as he kept her still, his heart slamming in his chest.

“Shh,” Ben breathed, flinching when Clementine’s arms wrapped around his midriff. He stiffened even more as he heard the footsteps approach, no longer able to see Javi from where he stood.

“Who’s out there?!” Javi called, stilling both Clementine and Ben’s figures as he raised his pistol, swallowing loudly. He kept his gaze locked on where the noise came from, his heartbeat nearly deafening him as he stared onwards. “Come out or I’ll shoot!”

A tense moment descended on the trio, the anticipation growing to be nearly too much as they all held their breaths. Javi nearly spoke again, his grip not shaking as he stared into the tree line, his jaw locked.

“Don’t shoot,” A voice suddenly sounded out, startling Javi complete as his weapon lowered, his brows furrowing.

“Tripp?”

The man stepped out, his hands up as he stepped through the tree line, his eyes wide as he held a pistol in his right hand. “I ain’t gonna try nothin’ stupid,” He stated slowly, “So you can go ahead and lower your gun.”

Javi narrowed his gaze before nodding, slowly lowering his own weapon with a stern gaze.

“Where’d the kids go?” Tripp asked, lowering his own hands as he placed his pistol in the back of his waistband, looking around. “They’re not…”

“Clem, Ben,” Javi called, turning to where they hid. He watched as Ben stuck his head out first, looking for any sign of a perceived threat. He hesitated before stepping out, his hand around Clementine’s wrist as they made their way to Javi, standing behind him with a glare.

“Shit,” Tripp groaned, rubbing a hand down his face before resting his hands on his hips. “I...I came to find y’all and apologize.”

Javi furrowed his brows, his lips drawn into a thin line. “Why?”

Tripp sighed, looking to the ground as he shook his head before looking back up to the trio. “I acted like a real dickhead for no reason,” He stated, looking past Javi and to the children behind him. “If my family was taken… then damn. Nothin’ could keep me away from them. Nothin’ on hell or earth.” He paused, growing quiet. “I’m real sorry.”

“You feel bad?” Clementine hissed, her arms crossed over her chest. “Good. You should be!”

“Clem,” Ben whispered in a reprimanding manner, shaking his head before looking up to Tripp. “You came out here to apologize?”

“Uh, Francine would’ve killed me if I hadn’t,” Tripp grumbled, scratching his neck. “She found out they left and, uh, wasn’t too happy with me.” He shook his head, an apologetic smile on his lips. “Decided I’d come find y’all and see if I could help y’all at the junkyard first thing in the mornin’.”

Javi narrowed his gaze before sighing, his arms relaxing at his side. “We haven’t gotten there yet,” He mumbled tiredly. “Things went… rough.”  

“What’s that mean?” Tripp asked, only to shake his head. “Come on back to Prescott and we can talk. Y’all look beat.”

“How do we know this isn’t a trap?” Ben asked suddenly, calling the attention of both men. “You’ve already threatened our lives.”

Tripp blinked before speaking, seemingly even more apologetic. “People… People are being taken, killed, and worse by those New Frontier fuckers,” He confessed slowly. “I… It wouldn’t sit well with me to let y’all fall to the same fate. Especially after what y’all told me.”

“I got so caught up in protecting my own people I didn’t realize their ain’t reason for me to act so hostile to innocents,” Tripp continued, sighing loudly. “I don’t need to be making anymore enemies. Not when I could be making allies.”

Silence wrapped around the four, Tripp growing anxious as he looked for any reaction from the trio ahead.

“I, uh, meant to mention,” Tripp began awkwardly, a smile on his lips. “Your family is with us at Prescott, Javi.”

Javi’s eyes widened, blinking as he stared at the man before all but blurting his next few words. “Th-They’re safe?!” He gasped, relief bleeding into his words. “A-All of them?!”

Tripp nodded eagerly. “Your boy and little girl, along with their mama,” He answered, his smile widening. “They’re all safe. Francine ran into them while they were sneaking out of the junkyard. Not an injury in sight.”

Javi nearly collapsed in relief, raising a hand to his face as he let out a long breath. “Th-That’s good,” He murmured, relaxing completely. “That’s fantastic.”

“Come on,” Tripp spoke, waving the trio. “We got a lot to talk about.”

Javi looked to the children behind him, giving them a question nod as if to ask them if they were comfortable with leaving. He waited for both to give him a nod, Clementine clearly looking unhappy before he stepped forward, his hand out to the pair.

Ben moved first, letting out a long breath as he kept his hand around Clementine’s wrist, his grip tight.

“Yeah, a lot to talk about,” He muttered, fear nestling itself into his stomach as he walked on.

Chapter Text

Ben and Clementine stood to the side as Javi was all but ambushed by a three different pair of arms, each wrapping around him tightly as the man nearly tumbled backward with a laugh. His arms wrapped around his family, holding them close as he rested his face in the tallest person’s hair.

Ben subconsciously wrapped his arm around Clementine’s shoulder, pulling her to his side with his own smile as he rubbed her large jacket, looking down with a reassuring look when she met his gaze.

Clementine managed a small smile, looking back to Javi when the man chuckled softly, hold the pair of children in front of him close.

“Hey Kate,” He greeted, a tired smile on his lips when their gazes met.

“You’re an idiot, you know that right,” The woman replied, her words betrayed by a relieved smile as she rested her hand on her hip. “You had us worried.”

Javi only shrugged, rubbing both children’s shoulders as he looked down at both. “You two took care of each other, right?” He asked, his brows raised.

“Of course, Javi,” Gabe replied, looking up to the man with tears in his eyes. “But- Y-You- You just disappeared!”

“You told us to hide and w-we did,” Mariana added, her eyes equally wet as she hid her face in Javi’s stomach, squeezing him closer. “But it was scary without you.”

“I-I’m here now,” Javi assured, holding the children even tighter as he looked up to Kate, nearly flinching at her own fearful eyes.

Kate cleared her throat, nodding her head before looking over to the pair of teenagers standing to the side. Her eyes widened, flickering between Javi and them for a beat before speaking.

“I’m Kate,” She introduced, stepping over to the pair and effectively catching her family’s attention.

Ben stumbled to a proper stand, nowhere near quick enough to speak before Clementine had already begun talking, pulling out of Ben’s grip.

“I’m Clementine, he’s Ben,” She spoke rather quietly, her tone nearing on friendly. “We found Javi a few miles out from here.”

“Saved me, actually,” Javi cut in, coming to a stand beside Kate. “They came right in the nick of time.”

Clementine smirked, looking up to the man with raised brows, only for her gaze to drop to the pair of children coming to a stand on both sides of Javi. She blinked focusing on their faces as she slowly processed their presence.

“Guys,” Javi began, looking between the children. “This is Gabe and Mariana. My nephew and niece.”

This time, Ben was the first to react, waving to the pair with a smile on his lips. He watched as Clementine slowly raised her own hand, a shy smile on her own face.

“How old are you?!” Mariana asked, her own lips pulled into a toothy smile as she stepped forward. “You’re the first kid I’ve met since forever!”

Clementine blinked, her own smile growing. “I’m thirteen,” She answered, her energy nearly matching Mariana’s. “I haven’t met any new kids in a long time either.”

“Is he your friend?” Mariana asked, tilting her head to look up at Ben,

Ben raised his brows, shaking his head as Clementine spoke.

“He’s more like my big brother,” Clementine replied, “Big… annoying brother.”

Mariana giggled, her hands on her hips as she looked to Gabe. “That’s what he is too,” She teased, pointing a hand in his direction. “A big, annoying brother.”

Clementine’s gaze slowly drifted to the boy across from her, finding him looking at her and Ben with a slightly flushed look. The girl only furrowed her brows, tilting her head.

Javi’s hand came to a rest on Gabe’s back, chuckling softly. “I’m glad you are all getting along,” He beamed, his smile contradicting the deep bags beneath his eyes. “It’s… it feels good- after everything.”

Ben cleared his throat, nodding his head. “Yeah,” He spoke, taking a deep breath. “I’m guessing you guys are leaving now…”

Javi blinked, looking down to his shoes as he straightened his jaw, he opened his mouth to speak, only to shut it again after another beat. He wouldn’t have another moment to speak before Kate spoke up for him, her voice quiet.

“Whoever was at the junkyard,” She began, looking to Javi with a frown. “They took everything they could from the van. The engine, tires- all of it.”

Javi gasped, his brows raising. “Wh-What?!”

“If it weren’t for your friend Tripp, we’d be dead,” She continued, looking down to the children beside her, instinctively wrapping an arm around Gabe’s shoulders. “We barely made it out.”

“Kate kept us safe,” Gabe managed, looking to Javi. “There were walkers everywhere. A-And those bad guys- They-They were around too!”

Javi nodded slowly, rubbing Mariana’s back as he sighed. “We’re stuck here, then,” He mumbled, looking back towards the gate to find Tripp talking with Conrad and Eleanor.

Kate nodded slowly, clearing her throat. “It’s not all bad,” She piped up, feigning a smile. “They’ve got a nice room for all four of us. It’s… only got sleeping bags but it’s safe- at least until we figure something out.”

Javi nodded, letting out a long breath from his nose as he crossed his arms, looking back to Tripp. “We’ve got bigger fish to fry.”

Kate furrowed her brows, giving Javi a concerned look, only for the man to nod towards the other adults. He looked back down to the children around him, settling on a small frown before speaking.

“Clementine,” He began, catching her attention. “You and Ben mind showing Gabe and Mari around town. I’m sure they’d love to see it.”

Clementine blinked, furrowing her brows. “Where are you going?!” She asked, crossing her arms.

“Yeah!” Gabe protested, looking up to his uncle. “What’s happening?”

“I need to go talk to Tripp,” Javi explained, looking between the children. “It’s just boring adult talk. You don’t need to hear it.”

“I’m not some little kid,” Gabe pointed out, crossing his arms. “Why can’t we come?”

“Because I asked you to stay,” Javi replied, his voice still soft. “I promise, once we’re done we can all do something.”

Gabe looked ready to protest once again, only for Ben to speak up, stepping forward.

“I have some few choice words for Tripp too,” The teen spoke, his brows furrowed. “We both went into the Slaughterhouse. Not just you.”

“Then I go too,” Clementine added, stepping up to Ben, only for the teen to look down at her with a frown. “Don’t you-”

“Clem,” Ben interrupted, sparing a glance to Mariana. “Just a few minutes.”

“You can’t- You can’t keep treating me like some kid!” Clementine seethed, her hand wrapping around Ben’s wrist. “We both know y-you-”

“Just a few minutes,” Ben cut in again, his hand over hers as he squeezed her fingers. “Trust me, okay?”

Clementine looked ready to speak again, only for Tripp to shout for Javi, the group turning to find him waving the man over. Javi nodded to Kate, before stepping towards Tripp, Eleanor, and Conrad, nodding to Gabe and Mariana.

“Behave,” He warned, Kate by his side. “Be nice to Clementine.”

Ben looked to Clementine, smiling softly as he reached under her hat to ruffle her hair, catching her off guard. “Show them around but stay close,” He spoke, nodding his head as he crouched down to her level, careful not to hurt his leg. “No trouble.”

Clementine pouted, gently nudging the teen’s shoulder before grumbling beneath her breath. Ben took it as a sign she was alright, coming back to a stand with her help before waving to the trio of children and running after Javi and Kate.

Kate smiled at the boy, looking between him and Javi for a beat before speaking.

“You’ve been gone for twenty-four hours and you come back with two new kids,” She teased Javi, looking up to him with a smirk.

Javi let out a laugh, shaking his head to nudge the woman with his elbow. “They found me , remember,” He chuckled, rolling his eyes. “Trust me, I’d probably be dead meat.”

“I’m nineteen, you know,” Ben grumbled, his cheeks growing red. “And yeah. You’d be dead.”

Kate only laughed alongside Javi’s own small chuckles as they made their way to the others, the atmosphere quickly sobering.

Ben casted one last glance to Clementine, relieved to find her chatting rather fondly with the other children before turning back to Tripp, taking a long, deep, breath.

“I’m guessin’ it’s bad news,” Tripp spoke quietly, a frown on his face.

“Really bad,” Javi replied, crossing his arms. “You’re all… not going to like this.”

Conrad’s eyes widened, blinking for a beat before speaking. “How fucked are we?”

Javi sighed, uncrossing his arms as he looked to Ben, meeting his own guarded gaze before speaking again. “We… The New Frontier is worse than we thought,” He began, looking between the trio. “It’s worse… worse than you’d ever think.”

“How much of a threat are they?!” Eleanor asked, looking to Tripp. “Do we need more weapons? What happened to the lock down?”

“Let him finish, Ella,” Tripp whispered, looking over to her with a hopefully reassuring gaze. “We gotta be rational about this.”

“Aw Hell,” Conrad muttered.

“We couldn’t make it the junkyard, so we had to find somewhere else for the night,” Javi began again.

“After you threw us out,” Ben added in a grumble, looking away.  

“Yeah… After that,” Javi sighed, shaking his head to refocus himself. “On our drive to the junkyard, Kate and I spotted what we thought to be an abandoned building. So after leaving Prescott, we made plans to head there for a place to sleep.”

“You didn’t,” Kate whispered, her eyes wide as she wrapped a hand around his upper arm.

Javi shut his eyes, shaking his head. “It’s a New Frontier base,” He spoke slowly, looking between the others. “And they have a lot of weapons.”

“Shit,” Tripp cursed, his entire figure stiffening. “Shit shit shit!”

“That’s way too fuckin’ close for comfort,” Conrad hissed, looking around. “Way, way , too fucking close!”

“We raid it,” Eleanor offered, panic evident in her voice. “There’s no way in hell we can keep it there- not with it only being less than five miles out from here.”

“It’s walkers,” Ben stated rather sharply, his jaw locked. “They’re using walkers as weapons.”

Silence fell over the small group, the echoing surroundings nearly reverberating through their ears as they stared at one another, silence falling over them for a long, long, moment.

“Walkers…?” Tripp whispered, stepping closer to Ben.

Ben didn’t back down despite the repeating memories plaguing his mind from the hellish encounter he had just been through. “They wanted t-to attack Prescott.”

The air seemed to grow heavy, Tripp staring at the teen with shocked eyes, his jaw hanging open as Conrad only spluttered for a beat, his own eyebrows raised.

“Wh-When?! Should we evacuate?” He pressed the teen, stepping closer.

“They changed their plan,” Javi interrupted, putting a halt to their panic. “They’re going after another settlement, Hilltop, I think.”

“Shit,” Tripp cursed, shutting his eyes. “Fuck- We have trade deals with them. That’s less than fifteen miles away!”

“We have to stop them,” Eleanor spoke up, her eyes wide. “We can’t- If they got Hilltop, we’re done for.”

“What else did you learn?” Kate asked, her eyes wide in concern as she squeezed Javi’s arm, only to jump when he flinched. A gasp broke past her lips at the sight of the bandage around his arm, red tingeing the makeshift wrap. “Y-You got hurt!”

Javi shook his head, brushing the woman off gently as he moved to meet her gaze, ensuring she wouldn’t panic. “It’s just a scratch, I promise,” He assured, nodding his head. “I just needed to get back here in one piece, and I did.”

“Eleanor here’s the doc,” Tripp spoke quickly, his own gaze dropping to the injury to ensure he was alright. “She can clean it and give you a real bandage.”

Javi nodded, double checking that Ben was also alright before speaking. “Richmond and the New Frontier aren’t allies, not really,” He continued, looking between the trio. “Someone high up in Richmond doesn’t know a thing about what they’re doing. About the walkers, the Slaughterhouse, all of it.”

“The way they spoke…” Ben began, nearly hesitant. “If whoever this person, or Romeo, is, the entire operation would fall apart if they found out. Every last bit of it.”

“We have to get them before they get us,” Conrad agreed, nodding his head. “If we send a few of us out there with the evidence, this guy’s gotta listen. Especially if we’re friendlies.”

“They don’t exactly like us,” Tripp muttered, nearly growling. “No one’s been able to even get close to the walls. They have scouts.”

“We have to go in peacefully,” Javi stated, looking around the others. “We can’t storm in there, we’ll all die. But if we can get them to turn on one another, they’ll be too busy with one another to care about us.”

Tripp nodded, his hand on his chin as he stared at the ground, shaking his head slowly. “There’s no guarantee they’ll even listen to us,” He whispered, looking back up. “How do we know this’ll even work.”

“It’s worth a shot,” Ben spoke up, stepping closer. “I’ve seen what they can do. I’m not scared of them. Not anymore.”

Javi looked to the teen, giving him a concerned look and nearly speaking before the boy continued.

“If they unleash those walkers on your city, you’ll all die and create more weapons,” Ben went on, his voice grave. “First Hilltop, then Prescott. God knows what else they can do.”

“Or who they can take,” Javi finished, “They took his family for no damn reason. Be it for recruits or something worse, we can’t let that happen to us.”

“And we need to get them back,” Ben added sharply, his voice even sharper. “They have to pay for what they’ve done, and for what they’ll do.”

The adults all focused on Ben, only Javi really noticing how anxious he was. The man subconsciously stepped closer to the teen, his arms crossed.

“We have to do something, you know we do,” He whispered, looking between Kate, Eleanor, Conrad, and Tripp.

A tense blanket wrapped around each figure, trapping them in the moment as they could only look around one another. The all too foreboding feeling of the incoming few days was nearly suffocating.

Tripp breathed out a long breath, looking back to Prescott. His eyes flitted over the children a few feet away, their bright smiles lingering in his gaze before looking to the various people walking about. The tall, makeshift, buildings had weathered every storm and every herd, standing strong with the people of the small town.

Slowly but surely, Tripp spoke.

“We don’t have a choice.”

Chapter Text

Ben felt all of his bones settle down as he laid back onto the relatively comfortable sleeping bag, letting out a long sigh. He shut his eyes, his pained stomach and leg aching while the world around him settled.

The sound of shuffling from his left slowly caught his attention as he cranked one eyelid open. Ben watched with a soft smile as Clementine slowly pulled off her own blue coat, dropping it on the ground beside her before looking down at her sleeping bag. She seemed to contemplate for a moment, her lips pulled into a frown before reaching down and lifting up her sleeping bag.

Ben didn’t have more than a few seconds to feel hurt as Clementine walked around him only to come to a stop on his right side. She dropped her sleeping bag beside the boy before promptly falling on top of it as well with an oof.

“You okay?” Ben chuckled out, furrowing his brows as the young girl met his gaze.

Clementine nodded, turning to her side as she scooted even closer to the teen before promptly resting her head over his shoulder.

Ben could only watch as his heart filled with warmth, wrapping his own arm underneath her side to hold Clementine close. His eyes traced the girls face, finding her eyes already shut.

“You know it doesn’t hurt anymore, right?” Ben murmured after a beat, his left shoulder aching slightly.

Clementine made a half-hearted attempt at a shrug, resting her hand over Ben’s stomach, double checking her hand was nowhere near any of his scars.

Ben sighed once more, gently patting Clementine’s back. He let the sounds of Prescott slowly relax him even more, his own eyes sliding shut.

“Get some rest before we head out,” The teen mumbled, his hand absentmindedly rubbing circles into her red coat, “We only have a few more hours left.”

“You should sleep too,” Clementine whispered back, finally opening her eyes to look up to her friend. “You had a rough night.”

Ben hummed a short note, swallowing the lump in his throat as he opened his eyes, staring at the ceiling of the dreary room. He blinked rather harshly, hoping to pull his mind back from the haunting memories of the slaughterhouse.

“O-One of them saw me,” Ben croaked, his heart beginning to race.

Clementine sat up almost immediately, her eyes wide as she stared down at her friend. She didn’t hesitate to wrap her hand around Ben’s much thinner palm, her grip nearly painful as she looked him over.

“H-He probably knows my name t-too,” Ben continued, not looking over to the girl as he nearly shuddered. “Wh-Which… can be dangerous.”

“We’ll be f-fine,” Clementine stated firmly, hoping her voice didn’t sound anywhere near as scared as she felt.

Ben didn’t respond immediately, only taking a long second to breathe as he finally organized his words. “We might have to split up a-again,” He spoke, finally looking over to his sister.  

Clementine blinked and all at once, her face pulled into a rather nasty frown. She crossed her arms, immediately shaking her head as she began to speak.

“We’re not splitting up again!” She practically hissed, glaring at the teen. “Ben- I don’t care if they know everything a-about you!”

“I care, Clem,” Ben replied softly, “I am taking care of you-”

“And I’d take care of y-you if you let me!” Clementine interrupted harshly. “But you’re so- so stuck on being all tough a-and strong you don’t s-stop to think that we could do this as a team!”

“Clementine I’m not letting you get hurt,” Ben retorted with a groan, sitting up on his elbows. “You already got hurt-”

“Because you decided to do something alone!”

Ben frowned, a flash of hurt flickering over his features as he met the young girl’s gaze.

“You charged i-into the cabin alone,” Clementine hissed, shaking her head. “You decided t-to take charge b-before and e-every single time it’s ended up b-bad for one of us!”

“So s-stop trying to do things a-all alone and let me help you,” Clementine whispered, her voice filled with hurt. “B-Because if you don’t? O-One of us is going t-to get really, really, hurt.”

Ben could only stare, the words hurting worse than he had expected them to. He knew he had been stumbling through the last few days. He knew he had made many, many, mistakes. Yet- hearing it seemed to always hurt more than knowing it.

“Okay,” The boy whispered, laying back down to stare at the ceiling, his chest aching for entirely new reasons. “I understand.”

Clementine swallowed, staring down at her lap as she nodded slowly. She crossed her legs beneath her self, holding herself as he stomach twisted anxiously. Despite obviously hurting the teen, Clementine couldn’t say that she regretted it, not really.

“I think I’ll go see wh-what Gabe and Mariana are doing,” Clementine whispered, coming to a stand.

Ben looked over to the girl, his eye bags seemingly deeper. “You don’t want to rest?” He asked quietly.

Clementine shook her head, dusting her jeans with one hand as she threw her backpack over her shoulder. “I’ll wake you up when it’s time to leave,” She replied quietly, already making her way out of the room. She paused just before the door, hesitating for just a second before speaking one more time.

“Get some rest,” Clementine mumbled, opening the door. “You’re going to need it.”

Ben shut his eyes, flinching when the door shut behind his companion. He could only cross his arms over his stomach before turning onto his good side, his back now to the door.

He screwed his eyes shut, biting down on his lips as the quiet air enveloped him. Ben couldn’t help the aching and nearly overpowering debilitating loss that flooded through him, his aching eyes cracking open as he stared at the wall. His thoughts slowly flooded him with the utter fear and feeling of absolute failure, his heart slamming in his chest at the mere prospect of getting Clementine hurt.

Again.

You don’t think things through! Ben berated himself, his teeth digging into his bottom lip. If something- If something happens to her?

Kenny will never, ever , forgive you.  

Ben’s heart sank into his stomach as he shook his head, screwing his eyes shut. He had half a mind to chase after Clementine, the thought alone of her getting hurt sending an ache through his very bones. He didn’t think he could stand to see her hurt again.

  She’s angry at you, Ben muttered to himself. Leave her alone. She needs her space.

Ben settled on opening his eyes, staring at the blank wall as he awaited his sister’s return, the dread growing in the pit of his stomach nearing on painful.

The teen could only sink into his anxiety at the prospect of what waited for him at Richmond.

Chapter Text

The late afternoon sun shined down on the group’s back, the waning summer heat making the air nearly intolerable. The sunlight just barely peaked through the trees above, the rays sparkling and shimmering as time went onward.

Javi walked alongside Kate, his nephew, and his niece, the youngest holding his free hand as he juggled holding his pistol in his other. Kate held Gabe’s hand on the other side, her unoccupied hand wrapped around her own gun.  

Tripp led the group ahead, his own eyes locked on their surroundings as the day grew on. He kept mostly to himself, occasionally speaking with Conrad who walked alongside him. Eleanor was relatively silent as she walked on the other side of Tripp, her medical bag hanging off her shoulder rather haphazardly. Francine had taken charge of Prescott with their absences, settling on giving the pair of men a rather loving goodbye.

Ben and Clementine walked completely silent alongside one another, a good few inches between them as they continued onward. They hadn’t said more than a few words since their earlier argument, instead focusing on just keeping their own thoughts to themselves.

Clementine, in simple terms, felt relatively upset with herself. She didn’t blame Ben for her head injury, she never had, and to say she did was… horrible. Yet, Clementine couldn’t help but feel some semblance of relief at the thought of Ben finally listening to her.

To put it short, Clementine was tired of seeing her brother hurt.

Ben, alike his sister, was swamped with guilt. He had made many bad decisions that led to him getting hurt and Clementine feeling worse- all decisions he thought were relatively okay decisions. They weren’t the best choice, nor were they safe, but Ben didn’t think he had much of a fighting chance in any other decisions he could make.

The pair were stuck in their own silent, destructive, cycles.

“We’re nearing up on the gate now,” Tripp called suddenly, gather everyone’s attention all at once. “I don’t… I don’t know how we’re all gonna get in.”

“We ask for Romeo,” Javi answered, coming to a stop as the rest of the group followed in suit. “They get testy we tell them we’re from Prescott, easy.”

“And that’ll keep them from shooting us dead?” Eleanor asked, furrowing her brows.

“They might not try it if they see the kids,” Tripp muttered, looking between Gabe and Mariana. “But…” He paused, looking to Ben with a locked jaw

“They might recognize me,” Ben whispered, finishing the man’s thought process.

Silence fell over the group, Javi looking over the teen with his own remorseful gaze. He couldn’t help but feel upset with himself for the entire Slaughterhouse fiasco.

“So we need to split up,” Conrad spoke, looking over the teen and Javi. “We can’t risk him costing us everything.”

“He wouldn’t-”

Ben cut Clementine’s protest off with a hand on her shoulder, squeezing her red coat tightly as he looked up to the others. “I’ll split off and find another way in,” He stated, nodding his head. “It can’t be hard to find a way in with the size of the damn city.”

“I’ll come too,” Javi added firmly, squeezing Mariana’s hand. “It’s best-”

“We need a spokesperson, Javi,” Tripp reluctantly interrupted, his arms crossing over his chest. “We gotta have someone who was actually in the damn Slaughterhouse- not to mention your family. You can’t leave them again so soon.”  

Javi cursed beneath his breath, looking to Ben with a saddened look. “You take Clementine with you,” He murmured, looking to the girl.

Ben didn’t hesitate to nod, squeezing her shoulder once more. “I wasn’t planning on leaving her behind anyway,” He mumbled, almost shy. “I’ll keep- We’ll keep an eye on each other. I promise, Javi.”

Javi didn’t look too comforted, but nodded nonetheless, turning back to Kate and the kids beside him. “The rest of us will stick together,” He state firmly, meeting Tripp’s gaze. “This has to work. We… We don’t have another choice.”

Tripp nodded, looking behind to the abandoned buildings that littered the aged and broken road beneath his shoes. The uneven gravel nearly tripped them up on their journey inward.

“We’ll keep each other safe,” Kate spoke up, nodding her head as she placed a hand on the back of Gabe’s head. “No one will get hurt.”

Mariana instinctively scooted closer to her uncle, resting her temple against his ribs as she looked over Clementine and Ben. She frowned, only to smile when Clementine met her gaze, hoping to give her new friend encouragement.

Tripp opened his mouth to speak, only for the sound of something falling to echo from the nearby roof of a destroyed building. The entire group jolted, Javi and Kate instinctively shoving their children behind their figures as they pulled out their own weapons.

Eleanor, Conrad, and Tripp all stiffened, Eleanor stepping forward alongside Tripp as they edged closer to the sound of the noise, watching as Clementine and Ben stepped backwards, the youngest of the pair wrapping an arm around the older teen’s arm.

“Whoever the hell is out there,” Tripp shouted, cocking his pistol. “You best come out if you wanna not get shot up by my folks.”

“Come out!” Eleanor shouted as well, her grip on he own weapon tightening as she aimed towards the sound. She met Tripp’s gaze with a nod, both inching closer as Javi spoke.

“We won’t hurt you unless you give a reason to,” Javi added, making sure Ben and Clementine were behind him.

A tense silence wrapped around the entire group, everyone on alert as Tripp edged closer and closer to the building, his weapon tracing the roof as he kept his gaze locked on the potential threat. If the noise had been from a walker, it would’ve come out by now by the sound of voices, leaving the threat to be either an animal or human being.

The group wasn’t left to wonder for much longer as a voice called out, a man peeking out from behind the cobblestone ridge of the roof.

“Don’t shoot,” The man called, his white beanie stark against the muted surroundings.

“Put your damn hands up and get the hell down here or you’re gonna be dinner to a few buzzards,” Tripp threatened, his eyes narrowing.

“He might be New Frontier,” Eleanor cautioned, watching the man’s stilled nature. “If he’s been following us… or even just listening in…”

Tripp tightened his grip on his pistol, his throat drying at the mere thought. “You got ‘bout three fuckin’ seconds before I light your ass up.”

The man stayed still for another beat, only shifting when Tripp cocked his weapon once more. The man peaked over the side, glancing to the smaller balcony below him before dropping down. He braced himself for less than a second before vaulting over the rickety fencing and onto the street below.

Tripp and Javi didn’t hesitate to close in on the man, Kate pulling Gabe and Mariana closer as she watched cautiously.

“Ch-Check his neck!” Ben warned sharply, his eyes locked on the man as Tripp quickly searched him for any weapons. “H-His neck will be marked if he’s New Frontier!”

“I’m not New Frontier,” The mysterious man hissed, looking over Tripp with his own scrutinizing gaze. “If anything, you here are the threat.”

Tripp only stepped closer, looking over the man’s neck and other visible skin for any sight of the mark. He only stepped away with a shake of his head, looking back to the others. “He’s clear.”

“Then why was he spying on us?!” Eleanor asked, stepping closer.

“Because I’m here for the same reason,” The man replied shortly, furrowing his brows. “I’m here for the New Frontier.”

Javi seemed to freeze, his brows slowly rising as his jaw fell. He stared at the long haired man for another beat, taking in his ragged yet seemingly well dressed appearance. This wasn’t a man who had been suffering and struggling for long, but rather had just recently experienced something that had troubled him. The dots quickly connected in Javi’s mind, making their current situation all the more worse.

“You’re from Hilltop,” He whispered.

Silence once again wrapped its uncomfortable hands around the group, nearly suffocating the air out of everyone’s chest. Mariana and Gabe looked between their step-mother and uncle, almost scared, as the silence only stretched on.

The man nodded his head slowly, looking up from the ground with a set jaw.

“I was.”

Tripp was once again the first to break the silence, stepping away from the long-coated man with a swear. He turned, cursing even louder and louder with each step as he sharply looked back at the man.

“We’re from Prescott,” Conrad informed, his voice solemn. “We… We’re sorry for what happened to Hilltop.”

“Prescott?” The man blinked, only to furrow his brows. “How the hell do you all know what happened to Hilltop?”

It was Javi’s turn to step forward, casting a cautious hand back to the children behind him. He nearly jumped as Ben stepped up beside him, the teen still holding onto Clementine’s hand.

“The New Frontier has a base not far from Prescott,” Ben answered, swallowing the lump in his throat. “Last night, we barely had time to even get back to Prescott. But they talked about attacking both Hilltop and Prescott.”

“There was no way we could’ve made it to you guys in time,” Tripp added, his face pulled into a frown. “We…We couldn’t have done anything that they couldn’t counter.”

“This base,” The man began, his voice nearly a hiss. “Is that where they hold their walkers? They ones they used to attack? To nearly wipe out our entire population?”

The entire group cringed, Kate wrapping her arms even tighter around the children now holding onto her. She looked between Javi and the other man, contemplating for another beat before speaking.

“We’re well aware of what they’re capable of,” Kate spoke, her voice firm.

The long haired man blinked, finally focusing on the children within the group. He seemed taken aback for a beat, not speaking as he sighed heavily. It was another moment before he spoke, letting out a long breath before placing his hands on his hips.

“Hilltop prides itself on being rational and peaceful,” He spoke, looking back to Tripp. “Prescott and us are friends. We’ve traded for nearly two years now.”

“These bastards ain’t gonna hurt no one else,” Conrad assured, nodding his head. “We’re here to put a stop to it.”

“Stop- How?” The man asked, shaking his head. “They had an army. An army of walkers and guns and trucks.”

“We have intel on how to collapse everything from right underneath their feet, without the use of violence,” Eleanor answered, looking over the man. “It might not work but it’s the only chance we have.”

The man seemed to contemplate her words for a moment before slowly nodding, shutting his eyes for a beat before speaking. “Violence… has always been something we at Hilltop have strayed from. Violence begets violence. Nothing gets solved.”

  Javi thought for a beat, looking between the group as he met Ben’s gaze before speaking, seemingly questioning himself before looking back to the man. “Are you headed into Richmond alone?” He asked, his hands on his hips.

The man shook his head. “Just scouting. I was sent to see if I could gather any information on what I could about the New Frontier,” He answered, shaking his head. “This wall is impenetrable, not unless you walk right through the front gates. Or take the sewers.”

“The sewers?” Ben asked, stepping forward.

Javi barely managed to cast a glance to the teen before the other man was already speaking, piquing everyone’s interest at once.

“I walked the perimeter as close as I could,” The man answered, looking back down the street and towards the wall. “There’s a few large tunnels just outside of the ruins, but there are hundreds of manholes. They lead right into the city but I don’t know what lies on the other side.”

“We can take those,” Clementine seemed to gasp, her gaze flying up to meet Ben’s blue gaze. “They’ll get us in without anyone spotting us.”

“With a force like the New Frontier, you really expect the sewers to be completely clear and safe?” Tripp asked, looking to the pair. “If anythin’, they’ll have those protected even more than they have the walls.”

“We don’t have another option,” Ben answered, “I can’t go in through the front doors and we don’t have time for you all to get in and potentially get out.”

Javi stared at the ground below his shoes, unable to fight off the wave of uneasiness in his chest. He knew there was no other choice.

“He’s right,” Javi muttered, turning to Ben. “You have to find your family… That takes priority over everything.”

Tripp groaned out a sigh, shutting his eyes for a beat before turning to Ben and Clementine. “You’re both some tough sons of bitches,” He began, “And I know y’all have been through hell but you gotta keep on goin’, ya hear me?”

Ben seemed momentarily flustered, Clementine once again coming to the rescue as she spoke up.

“We’ll be fine,” She stated firmly, squeezing Ben’s forearm. “You guys look out for yourself.” Clementine waited for Tripp to nod before turning to the other man, raising a brow. “Where was the nearest tunnel?”

The long haired man pointed behind the group, just beyond the hill. “If you head in that direction you’ll pass by a bookstore. Right behind it there’ll be a pothole that is wide enough to fit both of you and if you head south, you should end up right beneath Richmond after not too long. Just keep heading right.”

“A-Are you sure it’s safe?” A small voice called out, all eyes turning to the teenage boy beside Kate. Gabe seemed to shrink at the sudden attention, his face growing red. “I mean th-the tunnels. It could be dangerous.”

“We can handle ourselves,” Clementine answered, her grip fixing around her pistol. “Don’t… um, worry. We’ll be fine.” She managed a smile, her lips only widening when Mariana smiled as well.

“Then let’s get going,” Javi spoke, looking around the group before meeting the other man’s gaze, tilting his head. “I’m Javi, by the way.”

“Paul Monroe,” The man replied without missing a beat, a smile on his lips. “But my friends call me Jesus.”

Javi couldn’t help but chuckle at the name, turning back to meet Kate’s gaze. He looked over his nephew and niece, making sure they were okay before looking to Ben.

“When we get in there, we’ll be on the lookout for you,” Javi spoke, looking between the pair of teens. “Until then, watch each other’s backs. Don’t let… Don’t let anything happen to you.”

Ben couldn’t find it in himself to form any words, settling on nodding firmly as he moved to wrap his hand around Clementine’s, squeezing her palm.

“We got you,” Clementine answered as she nodded her head. She met both Mariana and Gabe’s eyes. “I… I’ll see you guys again, soon. Okay?”

Mariana nodded her head, giving the other girl a thumbs up and toothy smile. Gabe smiled shyly as well, waving his hand in her direction.

“Seriously, being safe is priority,” Eleanor spoke up, “If you can’t get in or you have to head back to Prescott, do that.”

“We understand,” Clementine assured, looking to where Jesus had pointed. “We’ll see you soon.”

Javi managed one last smile as the pair of teens nodded, heading in direction of their entrance.

The incoming clouds above were nowhere near as foreboding their future, Javi hoped.

Chapter Text

The last time Ben was in an abandoned city, he had fallen off a balcony and been impaled.

Needless to say, Ben wasn’t a fan.

The large, looming buildings of the empty city only served to echo more groans and growls from nearby walkers, sending Ben and Clementine’s hearts racing. The pair walked right behind one another, Ben leading Clementine through the city with one hand wrapped around her wrist. He kept his gaze focused on the ground and surrounding area, trying his hardest not to feel too sick about how similar his surroundings felt.

Clementine seemed to sense her friend’s discomfort, yet couldn’t quite place what exactly wais upsetting him. She hoped it had nothing to do with their earlier ‘argument’ and that the boy wasn't too upset with her. She was already feeling guilty.

Despite the emotion lodged in the young girl’s throat, talking was absolutely out of the picture. The walkers, despite not being in the field of view, were way too loud to be far.

The sprawling cityscape was littered with broken roads and overgrown forestry, large vines crawling their way up buildings and weaving into shattered windows and doors. The air was not only filled with the calls of the undead, but the settling of the aching buildings also echoed throughout the city.

Ben’s shoes echoed every so slightly off the concrete sidewalk, careful not trip or stumble over the uneven and broken ground. He ensured Clementine was behind him and still safe every few moments, making sure he was still on the right path.

The road the pair were on was quickly cut off by a large, cylinder tank truck lying on its side. There was no safe way around the vehicle, at least none that wouldn’t be loud. Ben dared to huff out a loud breath, looking around, only for Clementine to tug his hand, calling his attention.

Clementine was pointed at an alley just across the street in the direction they had to head, the thin break between two buildings neatly hidden in the landscape. It was the perfect detour to get them to where they needed to go, no doubt leading directly to the bookstore.

Before Ben could even attempt to protest, Clementine was pulling the teen in the direction. She looked both ways before crossing the street, peering over the other cars for any walkers before leading the way. It only took another beat before the pair were upon the alleyway, Ben promptly pulling them both to a stop.

The shaking of Ben’s hands was by now noticeable, Clementine’s brows furrowing as she looked up to the teen. She slid his grip from around her wrist to fit neatly in her hand, squeezing his bony fingers in concern.

“Ben…?” She whispered, watching as he stared into the empty alley.

The boy didn’t respond immediately, still staring emptily into the small space. He dared to raise his gaze to the windows of the buildings above,  his limbs going numb. His mind quickly flashed to a sunnier, brighter alley with a balcony. The sounds of walkers only getting louder in his ears as his heart beat echoed in his head. He wasn’t entirely sure he was even breathing.

“Don’t let them get-t to me!”

“Ben!” Clementine’s voice echoed louder, startling the teen out of his mind as the young girl shook his entire arm. He all but jolted when their gazes met, swallowing loudly as he shook his head.

“Ben- wh-what is going on?!” Clementine practically pleaded, her nails digging into the boy’s uninjured arm as she tried to meet his gaze again. She fought between raising her voice and physically moving the boy for his attention, unsure which would truly help him.

“I-I’m fine,” Ben stammered out, shaking his head as he blinked rapidly, his breathing much quicker. “I-I just… I’m f-fine.”

Clementine wasn’t too convinced, yet couldn’t find a second to get a word in as the boy stepped into the alley, this time wrapping his fingers in her hand. She squeezed his nimble fingers, hoping to comfort him as she followed in suit, prepared to question him the moment she had the chance.

The alley that seemed to send the teen into a panic was practically empty, littered only by two dead walkers. The end of the alley was cut off from the other street with a chain link fence standing only a foot or so higher than Ben.

Quickly, Ben pulled the young girl through the alley, the concrete beneath their shoes echoing off the buildings beside them before coming to a stop just in front of the fence. Despite the years passed, the fence was nowhere near weak enough to break with their bare hands. Ben growled, letting go of Clementine’s hand in order to shake the metal to no avail.

“We gotta j-jump over,” Ben muttered, turning to Clementine. He reached over her shoulder, placing his cleaver into the backpack resting on her back as she looked into the street.

“There are some walkers,” She whispered, blinking her wide eyes as more and more of the beings poured into the street a few blocks away. “A-A lot of walkers.”

Ben cursed, following Clementine’s gaze. He found his eyes widening at the other end of the street, his brows raising as he pointed at a small, tucked away shop. “Th-The bookstore!” He cried happily, nearly sagging in relief. “W-We can hide in there!”

Clementine followed his gaze before nodding. The windows of the building were only cracked, the door intact with the front of the building. If locked, it would only take a moment to get down before they would be able to sneak in.

Ben slowly kneeled, hissing at the pain from his bad knee as he decided to ignore it for a moment. He wrapped his fingers around one another as he looked back up to his friend.

“You climb over and I’ll follow,” He ordered, nodding his head reassuringly. “J-Just stay quiet.”

Clementine hesitated before nodding, fixing her backpack before wrapping her fingers through the metal links. She heaved herself up onto Ben’s knee, her shoe in Ben’s hands as he helped her up the metallic fence. Slowly, the small girl kicked one leg over the top of the fence before dropping onto the other side, just barely maintaining her balance.

Ben mirrored the girl’s smile as he climbed back up to his feet, stumbling slightly before brushing off his hands.  He took a few steps back before breathing deeply and running up to the fence. The teen launched himself onto the metal, barely reaching the top of the fence. It took a bit longer for the boy to throw his leg over the side, Clementine holding her hands out as if to catch him. Luckily for both, the teen landed on his feet, nearly stumbling onto his backside were it not for his younger friend.

“Th-Thanks,” Ben mumbled, not hesitating to wrap his hand around her wrist once more.

Clementine only nodded, looking back over to wear the emerging herd of walkers approached. She blinked, taking in a shaky breath as Ben led the way into the street. The teen all but sprinted across the street, Clementine by his side. Their shoes echoed off the pothole they would soon descend.

The old rickety steps led up to the two glass doors, both dirtied to beyond recognition. It was practically impossible to peer into the building as Clementine tried to anyway, trying to get sight of any movement inside.

“Watch my back,” Ben whispered, shaking the metallic door handle. The door only shook, locked from the inside.

“I’m going to try and pick the lock,” Ben stammered out, crouching down. He looked around the entrance before grabbing a rock from the ground, raising it over the door handle. “I-If it gets too loud, y-you gotta tell me.”

Clementine nodded, fixing her grip on her pistol as she turned back to the herd. She watched as they edged closer and closer. Her heart raced, the nearby car only providing basic cover as she turned back to Ben, the teen slamming the rock on more time into the door before it gave in, the glass nearly shattering.

“C-Come on!” Ben cried, all but dragging the girl into the building.

The inside of the small store was disguised in a maze of dust and shelves, books caked over with years of age. The room was wide, a cash register in the back with another small wooden door beside it. Despite the glittering dust that traveled through the air, the store was nothing short of suspended in time.

Clementine stepped deeper into the store, looking down the rows of shelves in awe, nearly coughing at the inhaled dust. She barely registered Ben shoving another shelf in front of the door as she continued deeper. Her feet carried her down one row, tilting her head as a wide smile grew on her lips, her brows raising.

“Clem?” Ben called out, unable to see her through the rows of shelves, his voice filled with fearful concern.

“Over here!” Clementine called, stepping out from the row she was in to greet the boy, her smile still on her lips.

“God, you can’t just run off,” Ben grumbled, making his way down the aisle as he rolled his shoulders. The teen had only made it halfway down the hall before nearly screaming as a walker growled from behind his sister, the being wrapping it’s practically skeletal hands around Clementine’s shoulders.

“CLEM!” Ben all but screamed, launching at the girl as she let out her own terrified shriek. The being pushed her to the ground, nearly digging its teeth into the back of Clementine’s neck, only for Ben to kick it right in the head, sending it off of Clementine and into a nearby shelf.

The being only snarled as Clementine scooted backwards, nearly hitting another shelf. She could only watch with wide eyes as Ben grabbed the heaviest book nearby, lifting it over his head before smashing the thick weight over the walkers head multiple times. It took another beat before the being stilled completely.

Ben’s heaving breathing was the only noise for another second, the teen looking over the permanently dead walker before all but spinning around to Clementine. He dropped to his knees, nearly holding her face in his hands as he looked her over.

“D-Did it get you?!” He practically shrilled, his eyes wide as he looked for any sight of blood.

Relief was too simple a word to describe just how Ben felt when the girl shook her head.

“I-I didn’t s-see it!” Clementine cried, shaking her head as she checked herself over, her entire figure trembling. “I-I didn’t-”

Ben’s hands only tightened around her shoulders, checking her over one more time before hugging her close. His hands curled into her road coat, squeezing her as tight as he dared before pulling back, his face nearly a scowl.

“You know to check the perimeter first!” Ben scolded, shaking his head. “You know you’re not supposed to wander off without me!”

Clementine’s face mirrored Ben’s, her jaw locking as she nearly shouted back. “I’m not a baby, okay!” She replied just as angrily, scooting away from the boy. “I-It was a stupid mistake-”

“One mistake is all it takes, Clem!” The teen retorted, growing even more upset. “You don’t j-just leave me!”

“I don’t need you t-to watch me,” Clementine hissed, hoping to hide the shaking of her hands.

Ben opened his mouth to reply, only to stop. He stared for another beat before letting out a breath and sitting back, looking away from Clementine.

“You never, ever , get further than two feet of me,” Ben began, looking back to his sister, “Never! Do you understand?”

Clementine furrowed her brows, not looking back to the teen. She only nodded when the teen called her name again, his voice curt.

Ben sighed once more, shutting his eyes. He let a moment of silence pass, waiting for his heart to stop its rapid beating before looking back to his young friend. His chest filled with guilt at the girl’s curled up state, a frown on his lips.

“Wh-What were you looking at, anyway?” Ben asked.

Clementine didn’t look back to the teen, her elbows crossed over her knees, her chin over her arms. She mumbled into her arm, not meeting the boy’s gaze.

“What?” Ben asked, hoping to pry the girl out of her hurt stance.

Clementine sighed before slowly resting her arms in her lap, her knees laid out. “I said I found some c-comics,” She murmured, still not looking up to the boy.

Ben blinked, his chest filling with warmth as his lips pulled into a small smile. He turned to the row where the girl had disappeared to. “Well come show me,” He tried, forcing a lighter tone in his words.

Clementine hesitated before coming to a stand, brushing her clothes off. She stood, helping Ben up as well before turning down the aisle she had been in earlier.

The shelves were graciously dusted off by Clementine, revealing the many colorful comic books littering the shelves. Many titles caught Ben’s eyes, his enthusiasm and excitement only growing with each fleeting gaze. The teen hadn’t seen so many book in so long.

“Holy shit,” Ben whispered, blinking his wide eyes. “Clem- I can’t believe this!” He moved quick to grab as many books as he could, turning to his sister with an ecstatic grin. The young girl smiled rather timidly, taking her backpack off as she opened it wide, the boy quickly handing her comics to put in the bag.

“I-I’ll only put these few but you go and grab more!” Ben instructed, picking one up to flick through in his hands. “Get something you and Sarah will like- Maybe even a book for AJ!” He couldn’t help an excited giggle as he turned to the girl before looking around the shop. “A-And if-if there’s any books about… about anything K-Kenny would like…”

Clementine blinked, her smile now soft. “I got you,” She finished for the boy, waiting for him to nod before turning around and descending deeper into the shop.

The dimly lit shop was illuminated by Clementine’s old flashlight, her light scanning the various shelves and books with interest. She came to a stop in front of a few toddler-aged books, her heart aching as she grabbed a book about trains. Her hand gingerly flipped to a page, a small smile growing on her lips.

Clementine shook her head of her thoughts as she made her way into another row, finding a row of chapter books, a thin book standing out. Her eyes searched for any interesting titles, blinking as she slowly read the title of a bright red book.

“Cord-er-oy.”

The girl repeated the word over once again, sounding out as she looked over the little bear on the cover. Her eyes widened, not flipping through it as she placed it back into her backpack.

Clementine continued before looking for books Sarah would enjoy. She found herself wrinkling her nose at the sight of a much thicker book.

“Ma-til-da. Matilda!”

The girl looked over the book for another beat before brushing off more dust and shoving it into her backpack.

“Clem?”

“I’m good,” Clementine answered, making her way back to the teen.

Ben nodded as he watched the girl make her way back over to him, looking back over the shelves before turning back to the glass panes. He took a deep breath before making his way to the glass, standing a good few feet away. His arm held Clementine back another step as he focused on the incoming herd, his eyes narrowing.

“We’re trapped…” Clementine whispered, looking over the incoming herd. “Aren’t we?”

“Just for a little bit,” Ben answered immediately, his voice just as quiet. “We’ll have the cover of darkness to help us, at least.”

“The sewer’s will already be dark,” Clementine added with a frown in her words, still looking outside. “What if my light goes out?”

“With what Jesus said it won’t be more than half an hour under there, we can figure it out,” Ben assured, nodding his head. “Don’t worry.”

Clementine didn’t seem all to convinced but nodded nonetheless, crossing her arms. “What do we do until then?” She asked once more, looking back up to the teen.

“Well,” Ben began, turning back to the shop. “We have entertainment and we’re safe, so we can just relax until then.”

The young girl beside him shrugged before looking back to the shop, spotting a large armchair towards the end of a row. She settled on making her way to it, holding her two books in her hands as she climbed up into the comfy seating, her feet hanging off the ground.

Ben followed with a slight smile, hoping the awkward tension in the air would dissipate as he settled on the ground of the armchair. He flinched as his knees bent, feeling Clementine’s eyes on him with each movement. His back came to a rest beside the girl’s calves, nestling back comfortable as he rested the back of his head, shutting his eyes.

“Are you going to sleep?” Clementine asked, looking down at her friend.

Ben shrugged, crossing his arms over his waist. “Just wanna rest, I think,” He mumbled, opening his eyes to look up to his friend.

“I can keep watch,” Clementine offered, tilting her head as she avoided her friend’s gaze.

Ben smiled, looking back down to his lap. “If I fall asleep then go ahead,” He answered. “I’m going to close my eyes at least. Just make sure to wake up when the walkers leave.”

Clementine nodded, cracking open her Corduroy book. She smiled at the soft drawings, immediately thinking about how her younger brother would absolutely adore these images, not to mention the story itself.

“Thanks, Clem,” Ben murmured, his eyes shut once again.

Clementine swallowed, not replying as she felt guilt crawl up her throat and practically leave her silent. She lifted one hand off the book she held open in her lap, hovering over Ben’s hair. Her palm trembled ever so slightly before slowly retracting back to her side, coming to a rest back over her thigh.

The walkers outside were nowhere near loud enough to drown out the sound of Clementine’s beating heart.

Chapter Text

Clementine wasn’t exactly a fan of the rather suffocating darkness that enveloped the sewers. She kept open the pothole just enough so that Ben could slide through, her heart slamming in her chest out of pure fear of what was waiting below. The teen held his young friend’s flashlight in one hand, the other tightly gripping the sewer ladder as he descended.

The dark abyss below was deep, Ben’s shoes just barely grappling onto the metal rungs as he made his way down. He hoped his anxious state wasn’t nearly as noticeable as he felt himself to be, blinking hard as he adjusted to the darkness.

Within another minute, Ben’s feet had connected with the dark concrete ground below, the boy whipping around to flash his light around surrounding area.

The underground was quickly revealed to be none other than a large canal-esque system. Two sides of the large tunnel held concrete sidewalks with a deep groove in the middle, no doubt once running water. Barely a few inches of water was left, sluggishly moving around with each step Ben took. The boy kept his gaze focused on the murky water before looking around once again, checking for any signs of humans or walkers.

“Ben?” Clementine’s voice echoed, startling the teen.

“Come down!” Ben called back, looking up. “It’s safe.” He made his way to the ladder, holding his arms out as if to catch the girl just in case she fell. The metal grate scratched against the gravel ground above before shutting, a loud metallic echo vibrating through the sewer system.

“That was loud,” Clementine groaned, fear bleeding into her words. She was thankful the flashlight was pointed up at her, giving her the ability to focus on making her way down. Slowly but surely, Clementine was nearly against Ben as she reached the bottom, the boy looking her over quickly before handing her the flashlight.

“You can shine the way for me and I’ll hold the weapons, okay?” He spoke, nodding his head.

Clementine took the light with a short nod, shining around like Ben had just done. She couldn’t hold back her own small ‘wow’ , noticing the teen’s soft chuckle.

Ben held his hand in Clementine’s much smaller palm to grab her attention, indicating the way they were heading with a nod. The young girl quickly shined her light in the direction, silence descending on them both.

The silence was only quiet in regards to the pairs voices, their shoes echoing loud enough around the tunnel. It was eerily dark and quiet, leaving both children with the hairs on their neck standing up. It only took another minute before Clementine couldn't stand the silence for much longer.

“D-Do you like Gabe and Mari?” She asked, looking up to the boy.

Ben seemed surprised at the question, smiling softly. “They’re fun kids,” He answered honestly, looking back down to her. “I know you must be excited.”

“Why?” Clementine asked, furrowing her brows.

“Well,” Ben began, a smile bleeding into his words. “I know I’d love to have friends my age. It’s hard to find teenagers.”

Clementine contemplated the boy’s words for a moment, finding herself almost sad at the realization that Ben was indeed the only ‘kid’ his age. She pouted, focusing back ahead.

“They’re your friends too,” She stated firmly.

“I know, goofball,” Ben teased, hitting his hip against her arm. “But it’s different.”

“Sarah’s close to your age!” Clementine nearly gasped, “And she’s like your sister!”  

“Duh,” Ben replied with a chuckle. “But she’s family.” He stopped for a beat, contemplating his words for a moment. “Maybe you’ll get it when you’re older.”

“I am older,” Clementine muttered, crossing her arms while maintaining her flashlight ahead.

“You’re still little,” Ben teased, his words filled with love. “It’s different, I promise.”

Clementine didn’t respond, letting silence fall upon the duo as they continued forward. She contemplated his words, wondering if it truly was different when you get older. Would she lose her family and friends over the years, just like Ben had? Alone with no one left?

It was a scary thought.

“What ha-happened to your family?” Clementine whispered suddenly, flinching immediately at her own words when the boy beside her nearly tripped. She shot a hand out to stabilize him, finding him already catching his footing as he cleared his throat.

“I-I’m fine- j-just some stupid crack-”

“I-I didn’t mean to ask,” Clementine blurted out, her nails digging into her palm. “I-I- You don’t have to answer.”

Ben was silent for another beat, this moment adding onto the list of times Clementine felt as if she had once again made the teen upset. She bit on her lip, prepared to apologize, only for him to speak.

“I don’t know what happened to them.”

Clementine’s head snapped to the teen, her eyes wide. “Y-You don’t?”

Ben didn’t meet her gaze, stiffly shaking his head as he focused his head. “I… I never made it back home,” He mumbled, his hand curling into a fist as he played with his grip on his cleaver. “I don’t know what happened to th-them.”

Clementine blinked, slowly refocusing back onto the corridor ahead. “K-Kenny never t-took you back home?”

Ben slowly shook his head, the man’s name more than enough to nearly send him to tears. “We… I-” He stopped, taking a deep breath. “By th-the time I could walk decently … It had been six months since I saw them, if not more… A-And even then… I didn’t-”

Ben shut his eyes for a long beat before opening them once again, his words slow.

“I didn’t think I-I had the right to ask that of K-Kenny.”

Clementine nearly stopped, her eyes widening before spinning her head back to the teen. “W-What!?”

Ben couldn’t stop his flinch, continuing forward in any attempt to distract himself from the pain in his chest and the ache in his eyes.

“A-After Kat a-and Duck…” He mumbled, looking down at the ground. “It… It just didn’t feel right.”

“Th-They could be a-alive and looking for you!” Clementine all but shouted, her eyes wide. “I-I found my parents-” She shut her mouth almost immediately, swallowing loudly before looking back down to the ground. “They… They we-weren’t okay but I-I know wh-what happened to them.”

Ben nodded slowly, his grip around Clementine’s palm tightening ever so slightly as he breathed out his next few words.

“I didn’t th-think I could live with myself if I didn’t find them alive,” He confessed softly. “I didn’t want t-to know what happened.”

Clementine looked up to the teen with furrowed brows, her eyes filled with an undeniable sadness as she stared. Her heart ached for the boy, stepping just a bit closer as if to comfort him now.

“I-I’m sorry you d-didn’t get to see th-them again,” She murmured, her heart hurting.

Ben squeezed the girls hand in thanks, taking a long breath as his chest ached. He blinked away the ache in his eyes, settling on focusing on the task ahead as he idly played with the thin blue bracelet on his wrist.  

“You r-remind me of my sister sometimes,” Ben began, hoping to lighten the sad mood.

Clementine blinked, looking up to him. “How?”

“She could be just as sneaky as you,” He teased, smiling. “She loved jumping on my bed when it was time to sleep. Absolutely hated going to bed.”

Clementine giggled quietly. “Did you guys share a room?”

“God no,” Ben answered with his own laugh. “She was way too loud, loved her though. Her favorite way to wake me up was to just scream for me. It was funny.”

“Wow,” Clementine smiled, looking up to her friend. “What was her name?”

“Leah,” Ben answered, the name leaving a soft, fluttery, feeling in his chest.

“How about your parents?” She asked, hoping she wasn’t overstepping her boundaries.

Ben seemed to hesitate before answering. “My mother’s name was Hannah and my father’s name was Jameson,” He replied slowly, swallowing the lump forming in his throat.

Clementine seemed to notice the boy’s sudden shift, settling on straying away from any talk of parents. “You never really talk about your family,” She pointed out, looking to the boy.

Ben shrugged, looking back ahead. “I don’t really think I have a reason to,” He mumbled in response.

“Well,” Clementine began, suddenly more firm. “If you ever want to, I’m here.”

Ben smiled, looking down to the girl. “I know, kiddo,” He answered, lifting his hand to gently tap the rim of her hat.

Clementine returned the teen’s smile, satisfied with the conversation. She hated how little she knew about her brother despite how much he knew about her, it didn’t seem quite fair. Clementine silently promised to herself to change that, nodding to herself before focusing back ahead.

The darkened tunnel was no brighter as they continued through, silence now reigning over the pair. Their collective breath was almost as loud as their echoing footsteps, the hair on their necks standing up. Faint moans and groans were beginning to reach their ears as they got closer and closer to their destination.

“Careful,” Ben whispered, his hand tightening around his cleaver. “Hopefully they’re far.”

“If they’re not?” Clementine asked, looking to Ben.

“We’ll either head up from where we came or find another way out,” The teen settled on. He wrapped his free hand around Clementine’s wrist, pulling her closer. “Come on, we’re close.”

Clementine nodded as she held onto Ben, pulling her backpack while maintaining a steady light ahead. She wasn’t sure if the teen beside her was shaking or if it were her imagination. It wasn’t exactly impossible for the boy to be at that point of stress again.

“What happened up th-there?” The young girl asked, looking up to her friend.

“What do you mean?” Ben replied quietly, not looking down to his friend.

“When you froze,” Clementine explained, her eyes glossing over her friend’s tense features. “In… In the alley.”

Ben didn’t respond immediately, his jaw locking as he swallowed. He tried to focus ahead and not on the fear in his chest, not entirely succeeding.

“Was it a b-bad reminder?” Clementine asked, her voice barely audible.

A beat passed before Ben settled on nodding rather stiffly, his hand instinctively moving closer to his stomach.

Clementine grew silent, her gaze falling back onto the ground below her feet. She took a few deep breaths, the few details she was aware of regarding that particular tidbit of trauma.

It bothered Clementine to no end just how little she really knew about her friend.

“When we get up th-there,” Ben began, changing the topic entirely. “We have to act normal. Don’t be too afraid or scared or anything like that.”

“Or too angry,” Clementine added quietly, sending the boy a look.

“... Or too angry,” Ben mumbled, elbowing her gently.

Clementine couldn’t hide her snort at the boy’s annoyance, satisfied with herself. She thought for a moment about just how different and big Richmond would be. It was relatively safe and she wondered if her family was okay. If they were also safe.

If they missed her.

The young girl shook her head to bring herself out of her thoughts, looking up to Ben. She looked over just how aged he had grown to be in the last few days, from the eye bags beneath his seemingly dull blue eyes to his gaunt cheeks. Even his hair had grown longer.

“Y-Your neck!” Clementine exclaimed, her eyes widening.

Ben immediately reached a hand up to his skin, nearly smacking himself in fear, only to hiss at the pain.

“Clem- What?!” He grumbled, rubbing his red skin.

“No you dummy,” Clementine spoke, shaking her head. “We don’t have the mark! They’ll know we’re sneaking in!”

Ben blinked, coming to a stop beside his friend. He frowned at the realization, pouting slightly as he thought for a beat. All at once, the boy handed Clementine his cleaver before pulling his hand off her wrist. He lifted both his hands to his hair, pulling out Clementine’s hair tie before fixing Kenny’s hat over his shaggy hair. His hands worked to brush his hair over his neck while maintaining a comfortable way to wear the hat.

“Your turn,” Ben mumbled, fixing her hair tie around his wrist.

Clementine blinked, shaking her head. “That’s not allowed!” She pointed out incredulously. “You always keep your hair short!”

“I know, Clem-”

“That’s the first rule!” Clementine interrupted. “That’s something Lee taught us both.”

Ben hesitated, breathing for a beat before softening. “I know, but where we’re going, there won’t be any walkers.”

“A p-person grabbed my hair, not a walker,” Clementine replied in a mumble, looking away. “There’s people. It’s dangerous. A-And you should tie your hair back up.”

Ben frowned, nearly crouching down to Clementine’s level were it not for the ache in his leg. “Kiddo,” He began, his hands on her shoulders. “I know it’s scary-”

“We always listen to Lee,” Clementine mumbled quietly, looking down at her shoes. “A-Always.”

“You’re right,” Ben agreed, making sure not to hurt the girl. “But sometimes the rules have to be bent in order for us to be safe.” He paused, moving to tilt the girls chin up. “And we can put our hair right back up the moment we leave, got me?”

Clementine hesitated, not wanting to give in. She only shifted when Ben murmured her name once more, every cell of her body yelling protest against the idea. Yet, Clementine couldn’t fight Ben’s logic.

Slowly, Clementine undid her side ponytail, her dark, curly, hair brushing her shoulders. She let out a shaky sigh, Ben squeezing her shoulders in support.

“Thanks, buddy,” The teen whispered, smiling softly when she met his gaze.

It took another minute before Ben moved his hands back to hold the girls wrist, taking his cleaver back. He waited for Clementine to retake control of her flashlight, lighting the way ahead.

“It shouldn’t be much longer,” Ben assured, squeezing her hand. “Just stay quiet.”

Clementine nodded, moving to intertwine her fingers with Ben’s. She squeezed his palm back in support before looking ahead, moving her head slightly as she adjusted to the new feeling of her hair being down.

The sound of walkers was soon drowned out by the sound of voices and movement from above, no doubt belonging to what could only be the very lively city of Richmond. The pair grew even more nervous as the noise above got louder before drowning out ever so slightly, their hearts racing.

All at once, Ben came to a stop right in front of another ladder, his eyes wide. Clementine followed his gaze upwards, shining a light up at the pothole above. A thin beam of light bled through the covering, Ben taking a deep breath before turning to Clementine.

“Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

Ben was nearly light-headed by the time he poked his head through the manhole in Richmond, having held his breath long enough in fear of alerting the citizens of where he was. The shield of darkness kept both Ben and Clementine hidden as they climbed up, the oldest of the pair scooting onto the gravel ground before reaching for his younger sister. When both teen’s were onto solid ground, Ben slid the pothole back over the hole, securing it shut as well as he could.

“Wow,” Clementine whispered, catching Ben’s attention as he raised his gaze from where they had emerged from.

Ben’s own jaw hung open, his eyes taking in their surroundings with a small gasp.

If someone were to tell Ben a modern city would exist in this day and age, filled with people and tall buildings, he wouldn’t believe them.

Multiple tall buildings surrounded the pair of teenagers, rising high into the sky with little to no damage to their exteriors. The pair blinked harshly as they slowly realized the buildings were bleeding light into the outside, a few tall street lamps also lit up with what appeared to be electricity.

“Holy shit,” Ben whispered, still blinking.

The sound of footsteps alerted the pair, jostling them both out of their temporary reverie. Ben scrambled up to the best of his ability, scampering to the closest building with Clementine on his heels, her hands wrapped around his wrist. Ben ran to the side of the building, hoping to avoid the main entrance as he found a side door propped open by a box.

“Bring ‘em out to the truck,” A voice called, startling Ben and Clementine to their very souls.

Clementine was quick to hide behind a dumpster lined up against the wall of the building, hiding both her and the lanky teen in the nick of time as two figures walked out of the building, each carrying their own boxes. The younger girl poked her head as they reared their way to the back of the large building, disappearing.

Ben jumped up suddenly, pulling Clementine after him as he beelined it for the door, sliding into the building after ensuring no one was in the immediate hallway. He pulled Clementine into the first empty room to the right, shutting the door behind him before turning to his younger sister.

The boy nearly spoke, only to widen his eyes at the sight of the room. The room was undoubtedly an old deserted hospital care room, only the medical bed left. Ben’s jaw hung open as he looked to Clementine, blinking.

“We’re in a hospital,” She whispered, hugging herself.

Ben nodded, flipping the light on, blinking his wide eyes when the room lit up. He couldn’t help but gasp, looking back to Clementine.

“A functioning hospital,” He added, just as quietly. “L-Like with doctors and electricity.”

“This place is crazy,” Clementine murmured, taking a seat on the bed as she looked around. “How’re we going to find Javi and everyone?”

Ben hummed a tired note, climbing to sit beside Clementine in order to rest his legs. He let out a long sigh, rubbing his hands down his face. “W-We can look through here for anyone, maybe Eleanor is here, if not we just… look around.”

Clementine frowned but didn’t say anything, not having a better answer for their current struggle. She reached a hand up to her bandaged head, pulling the bandaid off before rubbing her hand over the healing scar. She flinched, hissing slightly.

“Don’t hurt yourself,” Ben warned, shaking his head as he turned Clementine to face him, his brows drawn in concern. He looked over the scar on her temple, his frown growing as he sighed.

“It doesn’t hurt that much anymore,” Clementine assured, putting the bandaid back over the wound with Ben’s help. She sighed, looking back down to Ben’s wrapped arm with a frown. “Have you looked at it?”

Ben shook his head, immediately looking down to the white cloth around his burned arm. “I’ve been... trying not to think about it,” He mumbled, nodding his head slowly. “It’ll heal.”

Clementine nodded as well, moving to gently rub the boy’s back, only to stop herself. She sighed once more, staring at the tiled flooring.

“Do you think everything will be okay?” Clementine whispered, not looking up to the teen.

Ben didn’t hesitate to nod, looking to his friend. “Of course,” He answered, not even daring to think about any other possibilities. “Why do you think it won’t be?”

“Bad things always happen,” Clementine replied nearly silently, swallowing the lump in her throat. “We…. We always lose people.”

“Well I’m here,” Ben stated, nodding his head stiffly. “And I’m not letting us lose anyone. We’re going to get everyone back and we’re going to all find ourselves a new home.”  

Clementine didn’t respond, her eyes still locked on the ground. Her uneasiness was palpable in the small room, nowhere near as convinced as she would have usually been.

Clementine isn’t entirely sure on when she lost her confidence in Ben.

“It’ll be fine,” The teenager assured, rubbing his knee. “I know it’s… tough. But we’ll get everyone back and get out of here.” He paused, nodding his head as if to encourage himself. “We can settle back in Prescott and build our own home and everything.”

Silence fell over the pair, Clementine and Ben both staring at their shoes as they took in deep breaths. Their earlier endeavors had taken a lot of energy out of them both, combined with being alone for the first time once again frankly hurt. They couldn’t help but feel the deep suffocating sadness of their lost family, their hearts yearning to once again be with them.

Ben broke the silence with a long sigh, his eyes shutting for a beat before slowly shaking his head. He came to a stand, stretching his arms before moving to the side table. His hands move to open the side table, looking for anything in the empty drawers with a frown.

“Anything?” Clementine asked, raising her brows.

Ben shook his head with a sigh, crossing his arms as he leaned against the counters, looking to the door. “You ready to go see what we can find?” He asked, raising his brows.

Clementine nodded, sliding off the bed with Ben’s help. She stayed on his heels as they both made their way closer to the door, Ben slowly cracking it open.

The hallway just outside was long, lit up by more lights the further down they pair went. The wall was littered with empty hospital beds and unused equipment, no signs of any people just yet.

“It’s… quiet,” Clementine breathed, keeping her own breathing nearly silent. It felt weird not to hold her flashlight or pistol, settling on holding her own hands in one another. She looked to Ben, finding the boy’s cleaver hidden in the back of his pants, his own arms pushing against his stomach.

Ben only nodded, stepping further down. The hall was closed off suddenly by two swinging doors, the oldest of the pair meeting Clementine’s gaze before slowly pushing it open.

The hospital opened up to what appeared to be the entrance, a large desk sitting against the back of the wall with multiple chairs and couches in the middle. To the pairs horror, someone was seated in the desk, idly writing on a clipboard.

Ben let out a silent breath as he slowly straightened, swallowing the fear in his throat before walking down the closest hallway. The dark haired woman at the desk sent the pair a look, raising a brow but not saying anything.

Clementine panicked, raising her hand to wave, only for Ben to grab her wrist, pulling her behind him with a stressed chuckle. The woman stared but didn’t say anything, looking back down to her clipboard with a shake of her head.

Ben let out a breath of relief, turning to stare down at Clementine. The girl didn’t say anything, a guilty smile on her lips. Ben couldn’t find it in himself to reprimand the young teen, letting out a stiff breath. He continued down the hall, his hand still tightly wrapped around Clementine’s wrist with a determined face.

Before Ben and Clementine could get much further, a door to the right opened, startling both to their core. The pair jolted up in the air, spinning to face whoever would be coming out of the door, only for their jaws to drop.

Gabe all but crashed into the pair, the boy blinking wildly as he looked them over. He gasped, his jaw falling in utter happiness as he grabbed both their wrists, pulling them into the small room.

“Holy shit!” Gabe cried, throwing his arms around them both and squeezing them tight. The pair looked between one another before hugging the teenager back, Ben patting his back.

Gabe pulled a way with a flustered look, not quite able to talk before a gasp sounded out from behind him. Ben and Clementine looked past the boy, their eyes widening at the sight of Mariana laying in a hospital bed, waving her hand excitedly.

“Mari!” Clementine cried, running to the side of the bed. “Wh-What happened?!”

Mariana was wearing a hospital gown, the lower half of her body hidden below a white blanket. She looked happy, her eyes lighting up at the pair.

“Sh-She got hurt wh-when we got close to Richmond,” Gabe stammered, sitting beside his sister and taking her hand. He squeezed her palm, Ben and Clementine noticing the tinge of red around his eyes.

“I fell,” Mariana explained, lifting her other arm to reveal a large cast. “The doctor said it wasn’t a really bad break but I have to stay in bed until the morning just in case.”

Clementine nodded her head, looking between Gabe and the boy. She swallowed loudly, her heart slamming in her chest.

“Wh-Where is everyone else?” Ben asked, “Are they okay- hurt?”

“We found our Dad!” Gabe suddenly exploded out of excitement, smiling even wider. “He’s li-like a big leader here and he helped us get in!”

“But Javi and everyone but Kate got taken somewhere,” Mariana added sadly, “Kate went to get us food with our dad.”

“Shit,” Ben hissed, crossing his arms. “Did you find Romeo?”

Gabe and Mariana shook their heads.

“We found our Dad and everyone got separated after that,” Gabe explained, “We haven’t had time to talk to anyone or say anything.”

Clementine nodded, looking between the siblings, nodding her head. She focused on Mariana’s casted arm, a sad frown on her face.

“It’s okay,” Mariana assured. “The doctor and nurse were really nice a-and Javi carried me!”

Ben chuckled softly, his arms crossed over his chest. “We’ll get him and our friends back,” He agreed, nodding his head. “We’ll be okay.”

The door opened, jolting everyone in the room as Ben prepared for an attack, his hands raised up in preparation, only for his jaw to drop, Clementine’s gasp echoing loud.

In the doorway stood none other than Carlos and Sarah, their eyes equally as wide.

Chapter Text

Ben was of course, not the first to shift at the sight of his family. He stared for what felt like an eternity, only for Sarah to shoot forward, throwing her long arms around both Ben and Clementine.

The movement was enough to jolt Ben out of his thoughts, his own arms wrapping around the girl tightly as she hugged them both close, letting out what could only be described as a sob.

“Oh-Oh my god!” Sarah cried into Ben’s chest, squeezing both Clementine and Ben closer. “You-You guys are okay!”

Clementine nodded, sniffling as she hid her own face in Sarah’s shoulder, her hands gripping the back of her friend’s green flannel tightly. She wasn’t quite able to get her words out yet, the lump in her throat sitting rather painfully.

Sarah pulled away suddenly, keeping one hand on each of her friends as she looked them over. She gasped at both Clementine’s injured head and Ben’s arm, her eyes widening.

“Y-You’re both hurt!” Sarah gasped, looking between them both before spinning around. “D-Dad-”

Ben and Clementine looked to the stilled doctor, the man looking very nearly on the edge of tears. The man continued to stare as Sarah stepped to the side, her brows raising.

“Dad?”

All at once, Carlos practically ran to the pair, looking between them both before mimicking his daughter’s actions, pulling them both into his arms. He lifted both of the teens off the ground in his tight grip, his arms only tightening.

Ben and Clementine were silent, only hugging the man back tightly before they were put back on the ground. Carlos rested on hand on Clementine’s shoulder and another on Ben’s forearm, looking between them both frankly.

“Thank God,” The man breathed, his eyes wet. “You are both here- y-you are safe.”

Clementine nodded first, her own eyes stinging as Sarah stood to her side, hooking her arm around her elbow.

“W-We’re okay,” Clementine assured, her own eyes stinging as she sniffled, moving to brush her eyes with her sleeve.

Carlos nodded, clearing his throat before looking back to the door. He seemed to silently gasp, making his way to the door before shutting it, this time locking it. He peaked past the blinds that covered the glass, his eyes narrowing before spinning back to the children, his eyes looking them over.

“Wh-What happened to you two?!” The man all but gasped, his voice rushed and filled with concern. “Ben- Y-Your arm- a-and Clementine!”

The teen only shook his head, ignoring the injury as he looked over the man and his daughter, unable to hold back the utter relief and sadness in his chest. He wasn’t able to stop himself as he moved forward again, hugging Carlos and Sarah as tightly as he dared once again. He felt Clementine’s arms wrap around him as well, her head resting over Ben’s back.

“I-I missed you g-guys so much,” Ben croaked out, his eyes stinging with tears.

Carlos hugged the three children in his grip tightly, letting out a shaky sigh as he nodded. He couldn’t help the emotion he was being flooded by, only pulling away when Ben did so. He resumed his hands on both Ben and Clementine, his gaze focusing on their injuries.

“I knew you too would be o-okay!” Sarah sniffled, holding both Ben and Clementine’s hands, squeezing their palms. “M-My dad said your bracelets would keep you s-safe.”

Clementine nodded with a wet giggle, playing with the bright orange bracelet the girl had made for her long ago. “W-We knew we’d f-find you guys again,” She stammered out, swallowing the lump in her throat. “Wh-Where’s everyone el-else?”

Ben stepped up then, Sarah instinctively squeezing his palm. “Wh-Where’s Nick a-and Luke?” He asked, his eyes wide. “A-And.. And where’s Kenny?”

It was Carlos’ turn to look away, the man shutting his eyes as he angled his face to the side, tilting his face to the ground.

“We don’t know,” He whispered.

Clementine stiffened, blinking her wide eyes. “Wh-What?!” She nearly shouted, moving to grab the back of Ben’s arms. “What d-do you mean!?”

Sarah let go of the pairs hands, stepping back with her own saddened look. Her father’s arm immediately wrapped around her shoulders, holding her close to his side.

Carlos looked up with a long breath, sending a quick glance to Mariana and Gabe, his brows furrowed.

“Th-They’re friends,” Clementine spoke up her voice cracking. “Please- Please where-”

“We don’t know,” Sarah murmured, still practically hiding in her father’s grip. “We can’t…”

“After they took us from the Cabin,” Carlos began slowly, finally meeting the teen’s gaze. “We were placed in the truck. It was a rough, hot, journey but we all made it here relatively fine…”  

The doctor let curled his hands into fists, turning his face once again. “Kenny… could not contain his anger and upset,” He whispered, swallowing the lump in his throat. “He began to lash out, screaming at anyone who dared to approach us and then…”

Ben felt himself grow dizzy, Clementine’s sharp nails being the only thing keeping him grounded where he stood. His throat felt nearly dried up, the teen not entirely sure he was even breathing.

“Whoever lead the group, he- he couldn’t take Kenny anymore,” Carlos breathed, turning back to the pair. “They took AJ from his arms which only left him… even more emotional.”

“W-We don’t know where AJ w-went,” Sarah cut in, the girl practically crying as she hugged her father tightly. “They took him aw-away and he was crying and sc-screaming-”

“Fuck!” Clementine growled, her breathing growing heavy. “What- Where is he!? What’d they do t-to Kenny!?”

Carlos kept a careful look on Ben, the teen looking paler and paler with each passing second. He nearly stopped himself entirely, only deciding on continuing due to the pure desperation lining the boy’s eyes.

“They dragged Kenny away from us,” Carlos spoke, shutting his eyes. “They d-did something to his leg, what they did, I do not know.” He paused, ensuring the oldest of the three wasn’t about to pass out before speaking once more. “The-The leader, whoever he was, inflicted the damage and took him away. We...We haven’t seen him since.”

Silence fell on the room, only Sarah’s sniffles interrupting the otherwise tense environment. Carlos kept his gaze on both of the children, holding his daughter even tighter.

“I’m sure wherever he is, he is fine,” Carlos assured nodding his head. “I know they wouldn’t threaten any of them. Especially if they want to keep me and Sarah working.”

“W-We told them we would do everything th-they asked as long as they would keep everyone safe,” Sarah explained, her voice filled with tears. “But w-we don’t know where AJ and K-Kenny are.”

“What about Luke and Nick?” Clementine whispered, her own eyes filled with tears as she held onto Ben.

“They let m-me speak to Nick once,” Sarah spoke, suddenly growing more confident. “H-He wasn’t hu-hurt but he said h-he wasn’t allowed to s-see Luke. He looked li-like he was going to cry.”

“Whoever these bastards are,” Carlos spoke up, resting a hand on Clementine and Ben’s shoulders. “We will leave with everyone. From our little AJ to Kenny.”

“Wh-Where was Ni-Nick?” Clementine asked, “H-He could help us get out.”

“He told me he worked with the enforcement system,” Sarah answered, “He didn’t t-tell me where…. We only had f-five minutes together and h-he just wanted to make sure I was okay.”

Clementine nodded, giving the girl as bright of a smile as she could manage in their circumstances before looking up to her friend. She found Carlos already looking at the boy, Ben’s gaze wide and locked on the ground in front of him.

“Ben,” Carlos spoke, taking a step forward. “Maybe you should sit down for a moment, you’re looking very pale.”

The teen didn’t respond, his entire figure stiff as he barely even registered anyone else’s words, his arms digging into his stomach as he tried his hardest to focus on not passing out or throwing up.

Before anyone else could speak, the sound of the door knob turning alerted everyone. Ben was just barely able to snap out of his mindset, the sound of Carlos’ hushed order sending him back to the present.

“G-Get behind the bed, quickly!” The man ordered before turning to the children on the bed. “Gabriel, Mariana, play along with me, alright?”

The two children obeyed immediately, nodding their heads as Ben and Clementine hid behind them. Mari took extra care in fluffing up her blanket, making it appear as inconspicuous as possible.

Carlos double checked that the teens couldn’t be seen before turning the doors lock and swinging open, making sure to take up as much space as possible in the doorway.

“What is it, Lindgard?” Carlos stated, his eyes narrowing.

The man took a look at Sarah, his own eyes glazed over before looking into the room. He focused on Mari and Gabe for a beat before looking back to Carlos, crossing his arms.

“It’s against protocol to lock doors,” Lindgard deadpanned, moving to fix his glasses. “You should know this by now, Dr. Flores.”

“Mariana was frightened by the noises,” Carlos explained, not taking to lightly to the man’s use of his last name. “I assured her everything was alright, but with her current injury and her mental state, I decided to shut the door and lock it.”

Lindgard stared at the man, sniffling as he looked behind him. “Well, her father wanted a report on how she was doing,” He stated, crossing his arms once again. “How is Mariana?”

“Healing,” Carlos replied, letting up just a bit. “Her broken arm should not cause her too much pain. It was only a hairline fracture and I have assured her that she will regain full use of it once again.”

Silence fell upon the two men, Carlos holding his steady gaze for another beat before Lindgard looked away.

“I’ll report to her father immediately, then,” He spoke, taking a step before turning back to Carlos. “No more closed doors, Dr. Flores. Otherwise I’ll start believing there’s some dissent rising. Would hate to see you end up like… a friend of yours.”

Carlos only narrowed his eyes, his hands curling into fists as he stared at the other man. He watched as Lindgard made his way down the hall before stepping into the elevator and disappearing from sight.

In one swift movement, Carlos spun back around, turning to the children in the room. He instinctively wrapped one arm around his daughter, letting out a sigh of relief.

“It’s clear,” Carlos spoke, nodding his head. “You can get out, Ben and Clementine, it is safe.”

Clementine was the first to pop out from the other side of the bed, her eyes wide and cautious as she met the man’s gaze. She watched as Ben slowly climbed up as well, his own eyes still wide and looking nearly shell-shocked.

“What d-do we do now?” Gabe asked, looking between Clementine and Carlos.

“We have to get to everyone,” Clementine spoke, wrapping her hand around Ben’s. “What happened to Javi?”

“Your friend was taken by Foxtrot and Victor,” Carlos spoke up, looking between the four. “I believe he was taken to meet with Alpha and then to the holding cells alongside the group you entered with, Gabe.”

“Shit,” Clementine cursed, nearly flinching when Carlos looked at her with raised brows. “I mean… crap. We need to get to Javi and get him out. Maybe they’ve already met Romeo!”

Carlos nodded slowly, crossing his arms. “Sarah and I cannot leave the hospital unless we are escorted,” He stated quietly, his brows furrowed. “But the holding cells are across town, you can get there easily if you just head south. You can’t miss it.”

Clementine nodded, looking to her friend as they both made their way around the bed, standing in front of the bed. “We can get there and out under the cover of dark,” She spoke, determination filling her voice. “I don’t know if we’ll make it back here, but we can try.”

“Whatever you do, please be safe,” Sarah whispered, stepping forward to hug her friends again, squeezing them both tightly. “W-We have to all make it out, together.”

Clementine and Ben both stepped back, the youngest of the pair turning to her new friends. “We’ll come back and get you guys if anything goes wrong, okay?”

Gabe nodded, squeezing Mariana’s uninjured palm. “We’ll be fine, I’ll watch over her,” He stated. “Just please… make sure Javi and Kate are okay.”

“We will,” Clementine assured, smiling softly. “Don’t worry.”

Carlos looked over the pair, his confusion apparent but quickly overtaken by concern. “What are you two planning on doing?” He asked. “A-At least let me tend to your injuries.”

“We’re starting a war,” Ben finally spoke, his hands curled into fists. “Nothing is what it seems… This ‘haven’ is filled with nothing but criminals and kidnappers.”

“Ben,” Carlos whispered, stepping forward. “Do not do anything to put yourself in danger. You know Ke-”

“I’m doing what I have to,” Ben interrupted, meeting Carlos’ gaze with a fiery look. “They’re going to regret every single thing they did to our family.” He paused, looking behind Carlos and Sarah to the door that lead to the hallway. “I’m going to burn this place to the ground and leave every single person who dared to touch what we had to burn with it.”

Carlos could only stare, his mouth slightly agape and the shaking and angered boy with wide eyes, nearly stepping forward to intervene.

“When it comes time to break out of here,” Ben hissed, looking back up to the man. “You run and take Sarah with you.”

“Ben..”

“Come on, Clementine,” Ben interrupted, pausing to look at Sarah. “We’re going to get everyone back-”

Tonight .”

The doctor could only stare, his heart in his throat as the boy stormed out with his younger companion. The once hurt and scared teen was now fueled with nothing but hatred and revenge.  

Carlos hated how he couldn’t recognize the boy anymore.

Chapter Text

Clementine held onto Ben’s wrist tightly, her chest nearly aching of the intensity of her heart beat. She attributed half the ache to having to leave the girl who had grown to be her sister, as well as the man who had essentially become a second father to her. Ben’s own anger over leaving them was not hidden to Clementine, the girl knowing him better than the back of her palm.

She could tell just how broken the boy was to leave them so soon. 

The streets of Richmond were relatively quiet, guards walking about armed with multiple guns in hand. The pair were near the heart of the city, only walking alongside quietly as they tried to avoid looking to suspicious. Ben had noticed Clementine’s rather consistent hand in her hair, the child looking more and more uncomfortable with it down with each passing moment.

He wasn’t exactly sure if there was anything he could do to help her.

The harsh gravel between the pair’s shoes echoed in the hot night, Ben leading them onwards. The few guards who had given them a quick glance seemed uninterested, the duo keeping their heads down as they weaved through the various buildings. The bright streetlights were a welcome sight over the rather suffocating dark, making their journey all the less terrifying. 

 It was only another few moments of silence before the large police station was in view, the back of the building coming into their sights first. The teens quickly picked up their pace, running up to the brick walling of the large property. Ben scaled the side of the wall, peaking over the side to see if any guards were at the front steps. 

Clementine cursed softly at the sight of two armed men, both standing and idly talking with one another. She looked up to Ben, finding the boy frowning just as harshly, letting out a stiff sigh.

“H-How do we get in?” The girl asked, her brows furrowed. 

Ben growled beneath his breath, shaking his head. He looked back towards the side of the building, looking for any entry way. His mouth hung open for just a beat, preparing himself to speak, only to be cut off by a loud whisper.

“B-Ben?! Clem?” 

The pair jumped, Ben’s hand instinctively going for the cleaver in his waistband, only to register the voice coming from below him. His eyes widened as he looked to the ground, finding a small barred window just above the ground. He wasn’t nearly as quick as his young friend, Clementine dropping to her knees in an instant. 

“Eleanor?!” The girl gasped out, only to lower her volume. “Wh-What’s going on?!”

The woman was just barely visible through the bars, Ben and Clementine now both on the ground as they looked down. They found the woman on the tips of her shoes, Conrad beside her with equally wide eyes. 

“Jesus, thank god you two are alright,” Conrad breathed out, shaking his head. “We thought you were goners.” 

“W-We’re fine,” Clementine assured, nodding her head as she spared a quick glance back to the teen beside her as if to make sure he was okay. “We met up with Mariana and Gabe!” 

“Is Mari okay?” Eleanor fretted, seemingly standing even higher. “I-I tried to help her but-t-” 

“She’s fine,” Clementine interrupted, sensing the woman’s own panic. “Carlos is taking care of her a-and she’s with Gabe. He’ll keep her safe.” 

“Carlos?” Conrad questioned, raising his brows. 

“He’s family,” Clementine answered without missing a beat. “And a doctor.” 

“Good,” Eleanor breathed out, relaxing into the hand Conrad placed on her shoulder. “Have you two seen Javi? O-Or Tripp?” 

“They kicked them out alongside Javi’s brother and Jesus!” Conrad added frantically. “They’re keepin’ us here as leverage! We have no damn idea where they went!” 

“Damn it,” Ben cursed quietly, looking between the two. “We were told they were here- how long has it been since they left?” 

“Has to have been at least two hours,” Conrad answered rather angrily, shaking his head. “I have no fucking idea where they went!” 

Clementine let out a rather harsh breath, turning to look to her friend with a frustrated frown. “Do we wait for them to come back?” She questioned, unsure of what to do herself. “But what if they don’t….?” 

Ben stared at his white knuckles, not sure when he had curled his hands into fists. He fought the many thoughts in his mind, banishing away the very real urge to just lie down on the ground and wait for the world to make a move for him. 

He was most definitely in over his head. 

“David… I don’t think he’d leave Javi out there,” Eleanor spoke, shaking her head. “He was very panicked about the kids and Kate. I doubt he’d want his brother out there.” 

Ben sighed, shutting his head as he sat back onto his jeans, his hands resting over his face as he groaned before all but falling onto his back, hissing at the ached from his scar. 

“Is he okay?” The teen faintly registered Eleanor’s voice, deciding on ignoring it in favor of just taking a moment. 

“He’s fine,” Clementine replied hesitantly, looking over the boy before turning back to them. “We just… want to find everyone.” 

Eleanor frowned, the man beside her looking equally as saddened, both looking up to the teens with sad looks.

“I know,” Eleanor whispered, instinctively reaching for Conrad’s arm to hold onto. “And you’ll get everyone back. Even… Even if it’s a bit tough in the meantime.”

“Exactly,” Conrad agreed, his voice a bit louder and firmer. “We’ll all be fine. Javi can hold his own, so can Tripp. From what I’ve seen of you two, y’all will get what you want done too.” 

Clementine gave the pair a strained smile, her eyes filled with genuine gratitude despite her inability to truly voice her thanks. Ben’s faltering will was detrimental to them both , even if Clementine didn’t completely agree with the boy, nor exactly trust him.

They were all they each had left.

 Before anyone else could get a word out, footsteps sounded out behind the teen’s, Ben jolting up into a seated position as Clementine fell back, her eyes wide in horror. The pair faintly registered the adults below them call their names, only for the pair of children to not reply, their gazes locked on the source of the footsteps. 

“N-Nick?” Clementine croaked out. 

Neither one of the teen’s was able to move before the man all but dropped onto his knees, throwing both arms around the children tightly, crushing them to his chest. The duo hugged the man back just as tightly, their figures shaking in his trembling grip. 

“Y-You-” The man dry sobbed, squeezing them even tighter. “Fuck, you guys-” He hid his face in their shoulders, his hands grabbing a good bunch of their shirts tightly, sealing his eyes tight in hopes of keeping his tears at bay.

“Nick…,” Ben breathed, holding onto him even tighter. 

“I got you b-both,” The man croaked, sitting back with his hands now on the side of either child’s face. “I’m here, I-I won’t let a damn thing happen to you- I promise.” 

Clementine reached her hand up to her eyes, rubbing at the ache that grew there. “Ni-Nick- We found Carlos-s and Sarah and-” 

“Now you found me,” The man finished, nodding his head as he looked them over. “Fuck, k-kids. I thought I’d lo-lost you all ...” 

Clementine shook her head eagerly, Ben joining in with his own light shake as tears sat on the edge of his lashes. “W-We were going to find y-you all again.” 

Nick nodded, pulling his hands back to push into his eyes, shoving the tears in his eyes back. “I’m so glad y’all are okay,” He stammered, nodding his head as he moved to hold the pair’s hands, squeezing their fingers. “I-It’s dangerous o-out here!” He suddenly realized, sitting up. 

“We-We need to find our friend!” Clementine explained in a rush. “H-He was in the j-jail earlier-!”

“With a really bearded guy?” Nick asked, “A-And the man in the blue coveralls?” 

“Yeah!” Clementine gasped, nodding her head. “H-He’s supposed to help us g-get everyone together!” 

Nick cursed under his breath, looking to the window to see the pair of confused adults. He furrowed his brows, letting out a breath before looking back up to the teens. “He was taken to the Slaughterhouse,” He explained, “Whatever he accused of Alpha… it wasn’t good. So they sent him to get ‘evidence’.” 

“That’s a death trap!” Ben hissed, looking to his friend. “W-We need him! It’s a trap from whoever’s in charge to get him killed!” 

“Fuck,” Nick cursed, shaking his head. “Y-You guys need to get to him, d-don’t you?” 

Ben and Clementine nodded solemnly, watching as the man’s face fell.

“I-I don’t thi-think I could keep you safe,” Nick whispered, his shoulders falling. “I-I can’t even leave this building. Th-They haven’t let me see anyone since Sarah.” 

“N-Not even Kenny?” Ben croaked, his eyes aching even more.

Nick shook his head, sniffling. “I-I don’t know wh-where he or AJ or L-Luke are!” He confessed, his voice cracking. 

“We’re going to-to get everyone back, Nick,” Clementine whispered, squeezing both Ben and Nick’s hands. “We-We can. We just ha-have to get to Javi first.” 

Nick nodded slowly, letting out a shaky sigh. “Do-Do you know how to get out of here un-undetected?”

Ben and Clementine nodded in unison, the youngest of the pair speaking. “W-We took the sewers to get in-” 

“The sewers?!” Nick practically gasped, his eyes wide. “A-And you-you survived?”

Clementine furrowed her brows, her eyes narrowing. “Wh-What?” 

“Th-That place is infested wi-with something bad,” Nick answered, shaking his head. “I-I don’t know wh-what it is. But… But it’s not safe down there. I-I’ve only heard rumors.” 

Ben leaned closer, his brows shooting up. “Rumors?” 

Nick nodded fervently. “So-Some say there’s nothing but bandits do-down there,” He continued, his voice grave. “Others say it’s just a shit ton of walkers- walkers like you’ve never seen.” 

Ben swallowed, the hair on his neck coming to a stand. “W-We heard walkers but-t we didn’t see an-any.” 

“I don’t know what it is,” Nick whispered, looking down to his lap for a split second before looking to the pair. “I don’t want y’all down there.” 

“Ho-How do we leave then?” Clementine asked, squeezing their hands.

Nick spared a glance to Eleanor and Conrad, giving them a stiff nod. “If you head straight for the wall from here, you’ll be at the outskirts where the wall is weaker, just past the town square,” He advised. “It’s weaker and there’s even a crack that you two could slip through if you get there undetected. It’s a shit ton safer.” 

Clementine nodded, looking to Ben. “Sounds like a plan,” She spoke.

Nick nodded, looking down to his lap. “Please, just be safe,” He murmured, looking back up to them. “Y’all… We’re family. A-And until we can act like one again, I need you two to look after each other.” 

Ben managed a sad smile, nodding his head as his heart ached. He registered Clementine giving the pair of adults below them a rundown of the information before turning back to Nick, finding him already looking at him. 

“I-If… If you see Luke,” Nick whispered, staring down at his lap. “Just… Just tell him I’m okay. And… And that I l-love him.” 

Ben nodded quickly, reaching to hug the man. He was immediately engulfed in his arms, Clementine being pulled in right after. 

The broken family held onto one another for what felt like only seconds, dreading even thinking of letting go.

Chapter Text

 

Ben and Clementine just barely squeezed through the weakened wall, avoiding the various security measures Richmond had in place. Various guards, scouts, and even armed trucks monitored the wall. The pair weren’t exactly sure how they got out without being spotted but decided not to question it too much.

The warm night air wrapped around the teens, making their journey all the more uncomfortable. Ben scratched at his green parka, his wrapped arm already stinging with sweat.

“You should’ve let Carlos check your arm out,” Clementine mumbled, nearly startling the older teen. The pair had been practically silent since leaving Richmond, running and weaving through the destroyed city ruins without a word before finally reaching the city limits and eventually wilderness once again. 

Ben shrugged, fixing his grip around his cleaver. “I-It’s fine,” He replied quietly, taking extra care to stop messing with the bandaging. “It’s healing.” 

Clementine opened her mouth to speak, sparing a glance at the boy, only to focus back ahead, letting out a stiff breath. 

“How’s your head?” Ben asked, his voice just a bit louder and sturdier. 

“It’s fine,” Clementine assured, not looking over to her friend. “I only feel it if I move too fast or something.” 

Ben nodded his head, subconsciously moving a few inches closer to Clementine as they continued forward, dissolving into silence once again. 

The calls of an owl was the only decipherable noise in the rather loud night. Crickets chirped loudly, fireflies gently floating around them as they danced in the dark. 

“Wh-Where do you think Kenny is?” Clementine asked, her voice barely even loud enough for her brother to hear. 

Ben felt his organs flip, the mere mention of his lost friend. Many thoughts plagued his mind as he focused on begging and praying that the man was okay. 

The man who loved him first- despite everything.   

Ben blinked away the blurriness in his eyes, swallowing the lump in his throat as he nodded. He could easily feel Clementine’s gaze burning holes into his face. 

“Pr-Probably with Luke an-and AJ,” The older teen croaked, staring ahead.

Clementine nodded slowly, unconsciously playing with the bracelet on her wrist. “D-Do you think that AJ’s okay?” She asked, furrowing her brows. “H-He doesn’t talk much a-and I know he gets up-upset if he’s left-t alone…”

Ben looked over finally, beginning to lift a hand, only to stop. He shook his head, clearing his throat. 

“I’m sure wherever th-they are, they’re all okay,” He spoke, his words cracking dangerously. “AJ… He’ll be okay.” 

Clementine sighed but didn’t say anything else, her eyes locked on the ground.

“Luke’s probably taking care of him,” Ben added quietly, looking through the trees as he focused on anything but his friend. “Luke… He wouldn’t let anyone get hurt. H-He never has.” 

Clementine looked over to her friend, a hopeful glint in her eyes. “Y-You think so?” 

Ben nodded quickly, the tips of his fingers beginning to shake. “I do,” He assured, “I-If they to-took him from Kenny, h-he’s with Luke. No d-doubt about it.” 

The hint of a relieved smile pulled on Clementine’s lips, the girl focusing down on her hands as she shut her eyes for just a beat, letting out a long sigh. She blinked her eyes back open, looking ahead with a lighter feeling in her chest. 

Ben’s sense immediately lightened up at the sound of voices, his eyes widening as he shot his arm out, stopping Clementine as he froze. He raised his cleaver-clad hand to his lips, curling every finger but his pointer finger down, resting it against his lips.

Clementine’s eyes widened as she followed the teen’s movement’s, keeping her own footsteps quiet. The pair registered the distinct sound of voices faintly in the distance, their eyes widening.

“Javi?” Clementine whispered, looking to her friend.

Ben shrugged, crouching down as they made their way through the trees, taking extra care to keep their footsteps quiet. The voices were still indecipherable as they grew louder and louder, the pair picking up their pace. 

Soon enough, the surroundings grew all too familiar, no doubt Ben and Clementine were nearing the aged fencing of the Slaughterhouse. Clementine instinctively wrapped a hand around Ben’s wrist, sticking even closer as they made their way deeper through the woods. 

It was a few more minutes of silence before the pair were upon the voices, immediately recognizing them to be none other than their friends. Ben and Clementine still hid behind a nearby bush until they were absolutely positive, their brows furrowed at the unknown voices.   

Ben stepped out first, pulling Clementine up beside him as they immediately walked into Javi’s line of sight. The man stopped his sentence immediately at their sight, Tripp standing beside the man with an equally shocked look. 

Neither Ben or Clementine could speak before Javi was suddenly in front of them, throwing both arms around them tightly, practically picking them both off the ground in a tight hug. 

“Holy shit!” Javi breathed, into both their necks, squeezing them tightly. “I-I panicked! I thought something happened to you!” 

Clementine couldn’t help but chuckle into the man’s chest, rolling her eyes as she hugged him back, Ben’s arms around the man as well, his face hidden in Javi’s shoulder. 

“We’re okay,” Clementine mumbled, finally stepping back, the man’s hands on both her and Ben’s shoulder, squeezing tightly. “Are you ok-” 

“I’m fine!” Javi assured, interrupting as he looked them over frantically. “I was worried about you too more than…” He cut himself off, seemingly embarrassed as he shook his head. “I’m glad you guys are okay.” 

Ben could only laugh, watching as Tripp came to a stand beside Javi, looking equally relieved. 

“Where’d Jesus go?” Clementine asked, her brows furrowed in concern. 

“He headed back to Hilltop,” Javi answered, his arms crossing over his chest as he looked away. “Something about… his people.” 

Ben nodded, his attention immediately being pulled away by the sight of another person. His eyes widened, locking on an unknown woman, her hands on her hips as she looked straight at Ben. Her scarred face and bare skull told enough about her demeanor,t he frown on her face just as intimidating as the rifle on her back. 

“This is Ava,” Javi introduced, his hand still on Ben’s shoulder. “She’s David’s second in command.” 

“David?” Clementine asked, looking past Javi and to the woman. She watched as a third man came into view, a frown instantly growing on her face. The man in question wore a pale yellow sweater with a dark grey vest on top, giving an equally intimidating frown to the pair of teens. 

“David is my brother,” Javi spoke, “Also known as, uh, Romeo.”  

Clementine would only have time to gasp, turning back to look at Javi with a wide-eyed look. She was nowhere near ready for the utter scream of agony that left her brother’s mouth, the teen pushing past Javi and Tripp before all but slamming into David, the pair collapsing to the ground. 

“You son of a bitch!” Ben bellowed, sitting over the man’s chest as he landed a solid punch into David’s face, pulling back his arm to land another hit just over his nose. 

“You took them from me!”  

Clementine was nowhere near quick enough to pull the teen off David as an unseen man pulled out his rifle, slamming it into Ben’s neck and sending the boy to the ground with a choked gasp. 

Javi’s shout, alongside Clementine’s scream, didn’t register in Ben’s mind as David climbed on top of Ben, the man immediately moving to wrap around Ben’s throat, his knuckles going white as he squeezed with all his strength.

Ben’s palms wrapped around David’s wrists, staring up at the his fiery eyes as his vision began to darken, the boy barely even able to let out a choked breath. 

The sound of a gunshot rang louder than anything Ben could ever recall hearing as he felt himself lose the last bit of air he had.

Chapter Text

Javi very nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of a gun going off mere inches away from him. His hands instinctively raised to his ears but the man had no time to really focus on himself as he ran to his brother, watching in horror as the man clutched his arm, David now on the ground beside Ben’s figure. 

“Fuck you!” Clementine screamed, pushing past Javi and to Ben. The girl’s hands trembled as she looked over the boy, her eyes wide. 

The teen in question was thankfully alive, the boy curled onto his side and coughing rather harshly. Clementine panicked as she lifted the teen up by his shoulders, holding his violently shaking frame against her own. 

“I-I got-t you- I got y-you,” Clementine nearly cried, flinching with each harsh cough and gasp the boy gave. She nearly jumped away at the sensation of a hand on her shoulder, spinning her head around with a scowl.

“I don’t know what the fuck is going on,” Tripp spoke, looking over the teens with fearful eyes, “But is he alright? Jesus-” 

“That crazy fucker jumped David and you’re asking if he’s alright?” An unknown man asked, just barely registering in Clementine’s head. 

“Shut up, Badger!” Tripp replied with a snarl, “They’re fuckin’ kids-” 

“Get off me,” David spoke from beside the pair, pushing Javi a good few inches away as he clutched his arm. “I’m fine-” 

“It just barely nicked you,” Javi pointed out, frowning as he rolled his eyes, turning to Ben. He immediately crawled closer, resting a tentative hand on the teen’s back as he let out a series of ragged breaths. 

“Just keep on breathing, bud,” Javi murmured, his voice soft as he hoped the rubbing of his palm between the teen’s shoulder blades would at least help calm him.

Clementine sent Javi a glare, watching carefully as David and Badger shifted behind them, Ava helping the pair stand. Badger’s grip on his rifle was tight, his eyes filled with even more fire then before. 

“He needs to just breathe for a sec,” Tripp informed, looking down with his hands on his hips. “That motherfucker had a tight ass grip around him.” 

“I’m right fucking here,” David replied, his hand up against his nose, blood pooling down his arm. “Fucker broke my nose!” 

Javi glared at the man. “Ben would never attack without a reason,” He stated, his volume raising. “What the hell did you do…?” 

“I have never seen that fucker in my life!” David replied, cursing as he brushed the rest of the blood away. “Move the fuck over and give me a chance to break his fucking nose.”

“Y-You-” Ben rasped out, finally pulling back from Clementine. “Y-You fu-fucking to-took my fa-family!” 

A heavy silence fell onto the group, Ben and Javi’s gazes locked as Clementine gasped. The blood trickling down David’s face and arm were nowhere near as threatening as Ben’s scowl, the skin of his neck bruising in various vibrant shades of red and purple. 

Clementine slowly looked up from Ben, her eyes wide as she looked past Javi’s shocked face and looked to the bloodied man, her eyes wide. 

“David…?” Javi whispered, slowly turning to look to the man. “You…” 

David’s eyes narrowed, his hand falling from his face as he got a better look at the teen. He felt both Ava and Badger stiffening beside him, their grips tightening around their weapons.

“You… You took everyone,” Clementine breathed out, “You’re the one… the one who burnt down our home.” The girl stumbled to a stand, leaving Ben in Javi’s grip as she began to tremble. 

“You took everything fro-from us!” Clementine shouted, nearly charging at the three were it not for Tripp’s grip on her arm, keeping her still. “You fucking kidnappers !” 

“Clementine!” Javi cried, looking between the still coughing teen in his arms and the angry child, his heart in his throat. “Just-Just calm down!” 

“Calm down!” Clementine nearly screamed, turning to the man as she fought Tripp’s grip around her arm. “Let me go! H-He’s a fucking criminal!” 

Tripp only tightened his grip, pulling the girl’s arm closer as he pulled the pistol out of her grip. “Clementine- Just think for a second!” He interrupted, fighting her squirming as gently as possible. “Think-Think about Ben!” 

The young girl fought for another beat, her gaze finally landing back on her brother. Her eyes widened as he met her gaze, his eyes tired as he rubbed his neck gently the brightening bruises only filling the girl with even more rage.

“He al-almost killed Ben!” Clementine heaved out, looking to Javi. “Y-Your bother almost ki-killed mine! He took everyone from me!” 

“If you don’t stop screaming we’re all going to die,” Ava interrupted, meeting Clementine’s gaze. “At the very least can we get into this Slaughterhouse.” 

David only sneered at the young girl turning alongside Badger and Ava as they turned towards the building, walking ahead.

Javi was quick to climb up to his feet, pulling Ben up beside him. He kept one arm around the teen’s shoulders while his other palm rested over his chest, holding him close.

“Talk to me, buddy,” Javi murmured, his eyes locked on the teen, watching each ragged breath that left his throat. 

“Let me go-” Clementine snapped, finally pulling out of Tripp’s grip as she grabbed her pistol, practically stomping to Javi and Ben. It took a minute for the girl to fix her jacket before looking up to the teen, meeting his pained gaze. Her eyes locked on the boy’s neck, the all too obvious indents of fingers in his skin. 

“M-M’okay,” Ben assured in a rasp, coughing slightly as he looked up to the retreating figures of the New Frontier. “I-I... “ 

Clementine only shushed the teen, sending a glare to Javi as she moved closer, wrapping her arm around the back of Ben’s waist.

“He’s dead,” She hissed, her eyes filled with fury. “The moment I get a chance, any chance. Your brother is dead .” 

“We- I just need to talk to him,” Javi replied, his brows pulled in concern and what appeared to be heartbreak. “I-I… I just need to understand.” 

“Well understand this,” Clementine retorted, not missing a beat. “Your brother kidnapped my family, burned my home down, and nearly killed Ben.” She paused, as if allowing her words to sink in. “I don’t care of your history- I don’t care if he apologizes- He’s dead .” 



The Slaughterhouse maintained its dark and rather unnerving appearance as it was only days ago, sending a familiar and horrifying chill down both Ben and Javi’s spines. Although the main lobby’s light was on, the pair couldn’t help but stare.

“There’s nothing here, like I said,” Badger hissed, looking to David. “Your brother’s been doing nothing but feeding you lies to distract you.” 

“There were walkers ,” Javi replied. “We know they’re here and we know why you guys have them!”

“For attacking?” David repeated, his nose now wrapped in a weak bandage. “If the New Frontier wanted to attack we’d use our weapons and our army. Not flimsy walkers.” 

“That’s exactly what happened to Hilltop,” Tripp pointed out, raising a finger to the trio of New Frontier members. “Y’all were tryna fuck with Prescott and just barely failed.” 

“You have no proof of any of your allegations,” Ava spoke up, her hands on her hips. “This slaughterhouse is empty. There’s no one. Not even a single walker.” 

“Then why does it have power?” Clementine pointed out, her eyes narrowed. “You wouldn’t go through all the trouble of wasting generators on an empty building, would you?” 

“It’s a blip in the system,” David replied, nowhere near convinced. “This was nothing but a waste of time and you know it.” He turned to face Javi, glaring at both him and Ben. “You’re choosing to believe two children over your own family. Your own blood.”

“You’ve been gone for four years!” Javi replied, instinctively tightening his grip around Ben’s shoulders. “Anything could have happened to you.” 

David drew his lips into a thin line, his frown growing. “I trusted you with my children, I trusted you with Mari and Gabe,” He stated, stepping closer. “And I trusted you with my fucking wife!” 

“And Mari shows up with a broken arm, Kate fucking despises me,” He sneered, his brows furrowing. “And I thought maybe, other then my son, my own brother would be on my side.” 

“David they’re killing innocent people!” Javi exploded, stepping forward and away from Ben. “You’re kidnapping people! This isn’t you!” 

“Everyone has to do what they need to in order to ensure their own survival,” David retorted sharply, his voice a shout. “We’ve all done shit-” 

“Kidnapping innocent people has nothing to do with your own survival!” Clementine yelled, her hands curled into fists. 

David opened his mouth to retort, sharply turning to the girl to speak, only for Badger to speak up, his hands holding his rifle close.

“You know, David,” He hissed, staring down at Ben and Clementine. “That body Max and I found, one of our guys- the one who was murdered. Found with multiple bullet holes.” Badger focused on the teens, stepping closer. 

“And if y’all have been on our tails, going to Prescott, getting to the Slaughterhouse…” He paused, tilting his head. “That puts your right there for the murder- Hell, that pistol your little firecracker there has, that might be the weapon itself.” 

“You shut the hell up!” Clementine shrilled. “We didn’t kill anyone! We’re not murderers!” 

“Our own member murdered by these two,” David hissed, looking up to Javi. “You’re traveling with literal murderers and you think I’d just let that slide?” 

“These kids wouldn’t lay a hand on someone who didn’t deserve it!” Tripp interrupted, his voice loud. “Y’all just tryna find any reason to pin what y’all did to them! Y’all are the monsters-”

“Tripp’s right,” Javi added angrily, pointing at the trio. “I know Ben and Clementine-” 

“For how long?” Badger asked, crossing his arms. “A week? Not even that? And you chose them over your own brother?”

“Bullshit!” Ben spoke up, his voice cracking but much louder, seemingly regaining his voice. “You ha-have no evidence!” 

David stepped forward, his eyes narrowing as he raised his hand, slowly pointing at the teenagers. “I… I know who you two are now,” He spoke, his voice quiet at first. “Oh, I know exactly who you are.” 

“You’re Kenny’s kids.” 

Ben stiffened, staring at the man with a renewed hatred. Were it not for Tripp’s grip around him, the teen wasn’t entirely sure he wouldn’t have jumped the man again, his fury growing.

“Damn right we are!” Clementine shouted, “You know- The man you took from us!” 

“Calm down,” Ava hissed, “Romeo, this isn’t the fucking time-”

“No, No it is,” David sneered, smirking. “I think it’s time they know the truth, the truth about what really happened at their precious home.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Ben nearly whispered, swallowing the ache in his throat. “What… the fuck…” 

“Oh, Ben,” David smirked, clicking his teeth. “I didn’t set your cabin on fire, no.” He stepped even closer, nearly a foot away from the teen as his eyes grew fiery. 

“No, Ben,” He continued, his voice only getting colder. “That was all your dear friend Kenny’s fault.”

Chapter Text

 Ben just faintly registered Javi’s grip back around his arm, his palm tight as if to keep him still. The man’s other hand was around Clementine’s much thinner arm, her eyes wide.

“N-No,” Ben breathed out, shaking his head slowly. “N-No he didn’t- No he didn’t- he wouldn’t.”  

“David- Just stop! Just fucking stop!” Javi snapped, looking between the pair of teens and his brother. “Just leave them alone!” 

“They wanted to fucking know!” David exploded, staring at Ben before turning to Javi. “You are so fucking convinced they’re angels- that they haven’t done a damn thing wrong in this world, but those people don’t exist anymore, brother!” 

“You calm the fuck down and step away,” Tripp ordered, pulling Ben back a bit, looking to Javi as the man did the same with Clementine. “You’re out here making unfounded accusations ‘bout shit you don’t know!” 

“I was fucking there!” David hissed, looking to the man. 

“Kenny wouldn’t fucking do that!” Clementine shouted, pulling against Javi’s grip. “He wouldn’t! We’re a family and he just w-wouldn’t!” 

“You don’t know that man,” David seethed, staring down at the young girl. “You don’t really know a man till he’s backed in a corner, till he’s got nothing left to lose.” 

“For fuck’s sake,” Tripp grumbled, moving his palm to shove David back. “Shut the fuck up for once in your damn life.” 

David looked prepared to retaliate, both Ava and Badger jumping to his side, only for Javi to let out a shout. 

“Back off and tell us the truth, David!” Javi yelled, “Enough with the fucking games!” 

“He set that whole fucking house up in flames all because he felt threatened,” David sneered, looking straight at Ben. “He wouldn’t listen to reason! He just had to sabotage everything!”

“Shut the hell up!” Ben shouted, nearly pulling out of Tripp and Javi’s grips. “Kenny wouldn’t do that! You’re a fucking liar!” 

David growled, stepping forward only for Ava to wrap her palm around his arm, pulling him back with an alerted cry.

“Romeo we are not here for this!” She hissed, meeting his wild gaze. “We need to get some fucking evidence and report back to Alpha and Echo!”

“Joan was fucking here!” Tripp exasperated, shaking his head. “I’m tellin’ ya Javi heard her voice here!” 

David growled once again, finally tearing his gaze away from Ben and Clementine, ignoring the girl’s muttered curse as he turned to Badger and Ava. 

“Joan wouldn’t keep anything from me, especially not attacks or weapons,” He hissed, furrowing his brows. “The New Frontier values honest and being a community- not fucking hiding shit. There’s nothing here.”  

“We know where the walkers are!” Javi interrupted, finally daring to let go of Ben. “I’ll show you where they are.” 

Badger rolled his eyes, scoffing. “If there were walkers you’d hear them,” He retorted, obviously annoyed. 

“Then you won’t have a fucking problem with us looking for ‘em,” Tripp replied, tilting his head with raised brows, his hands on his hips. “Unless y’all got something to hide.” 

Badger maintained eye contact, snarling as he looked back to David. “You’re going to allow this? These people are nothing but traitors- They ain’t one of us.” 

Ava seemed to focus on Badger for a beat, her brows furrowed as she looked through the lit up lobby. “It wouldn’t hurt for David and I to explore either,” She stated, crossing her arms. “If you and Jo- Alpha have nothing to hide, their shouldn’t be a problem.” 

Badger snarled at the woman, preparing to speak, only for David to start walking to the right, his bloodied hands curled into fists. Ava was quick to run after him, followed by Badger and eventually the rest. Javi kept a tight grip around Ben’s arm, careful not to hurt him as he helped the pair of teens stay close. He watched as Tripp was equally as cautious and careful with the pair, noting Clementine’s ragged and harsh breathing. 

“Listen, we’re goin’ to get outta here real quick,” Tripp assured, holding onto Clementine’s shoulder. “But we can head out us three and wait in the courtyard-” 

“No,” Clementine interrupted with a harsh shake of her head, looking to find Ben shaking his head with just as much ferocity. “We’re getting what we came here for.” 

“Your family,” Javi whispered, staring at the back of David’s head.

Clementine nodded sharply, her hand wrapping around Ben’s as she walked beside him, pulling out of Tripp’s grip. “Our family.” 

A tense silence fell over each member, David leading the group deeper through the Slaughterhouse. He came upon a set of double doors, the circular plastic windows nowhere near clear enough to be seen through. His palm wrapped around one of the handles, pulling against it, only for Badger’s palm to slam the door back shut.

“Badger,” David hissed, turning his head to look at the man. “What the fu-” 

“If there were any damn walkers in there, you’d hear ‘em,” The man stated sharply, looking up to David. “But you don’t, so let’s keep movin’.”

“If their are no walkers-” 

“Shut the hell up, Tripp,” Badger interrupted, snarling at the man before looking back to David. “You don’t trust me, David?” 

David maintained a steady lock on Badger, his brows furrowed in both confusion and anger, his mind racing a mile a minute. The silence from earlier returned, this time with a fearful edge as the group watched the pair of men stare one another down. It was another beat before David lifted his hand off the door handle with a small nod, watching as Badger pulled his own palm off the door.

Neither Ben nor Clementine could react in time as David turned to punch the shorter man, sending Badger to the ground with a shout. The older man only shoved his way into the room, pulling both handles out. Javi was quick to run after his brother, Tripp, Ben, and Clementine following in suit as Ava helped Badger up, making sure to kick his gun far from his reach.

“What… the fuck,” David breathed, going rigid. 

The inside of the large room was lined with rows of stables, no doubt once holding live cattle. Instead of carrying animals, each stable was stock full of walkers, no sounds making their way out of the mouths of the being’s, their eyes fogged over and pale white as the reached for the gates. 

“Th-That’s- That’s a-a lot of fucking walkers,” Javi whispered, his grip instinctively tightening around Ben, the teen’s arm wrapping around Clementine’s shoulders to pull her closer.

“What the fuck,” Clementine breathed, nearly hiding behind Ben. “Wh… Why aren’t they ma-making any noise?” She jumped when a walker stretched it’s arms past the gate of the stable, it’s pale unseeing eyes staring down the group.

“We call ‘em… we call them silent herds,” Badger hissed, grabbing the groups attention back to the doors.

“Badger,” David scowled, his chest falling and rising quickly. “What the fuck is going on!?” 

The man only glared, his nose flaring as his eyes grew ice cold. 

“You don’t know shit, David!” Badger exploded, noting just how much closer Ava stood to the other man. “So much is hidden under your fucking nose and you haven’t noticed shit!”  

David stepped forward, pushing past Ava, only to be stopped by Tripp, the man’s arm holding out. 

“What the fuck are these for!?” Tripp nearly screamed, staring down Badger. “I got half a fuckin’ mind to put your ass int he ground right fuckin’ now!”

“What a-are silent herds?!” Ben shrilled, his eyes wide as he stayed focused on the beings. “What the fuck-” 

David jolted the entire group as he stomped past both Tripp and Ava, his hands immediately pushing Badger against the wall, his hands bunching up the front of his shirt as he stared him down, snarling.

“What the fuck are they for!?” David shouted, pushing the man roughly against the wall. “Get to fucking talking before I get Alpha-”

Badger’s pained scowl quickly grew into a bone-chilling smirk, his eyes narrowing as he stared straight into the other man’s gaze. 

“Joan already fucking knows, ” He sneered, his smirk only growing. “You think I’m leading this?! You think i’m the mind behind all this shit?!” The man only leaned closer, his gaze locked on David’s own fiery brown orbs. 

“She’s the one who’s been playing this all behind your back!” Badger continued in a yell, “She’s organized the attack, she kept me and Max in control of hiding it from you, and she’s been the one gathering up the walkers!”

David growled, pulling back his hand and curling it into a fist before aiming for the man’s face, only for Tripp to reach forward and grab his palm, stopping him from punching Badger.

“Why the fuck are y’all gathering the silent ones?!” He shouted, shaking his head. “What’s the fucking point to all this!?” 

Badger sneered at the man, curling his lips as he looked between the pair. “Whiskey and Alpha found out that walkers start losing their ability to growl and hiss after ‘bout three years of being dead,” He explained in a hiss, his eyes narrowing. “They’re completely silent and can attack without being detected till it’s too late.” 

“Lindgard’s in on this?!” Ava gasped, her eyes wide. “What the hell-” 

“Everyone but you two and Clint is on this shit,” Badger informed, smirking. 

“You’ve been using them to attack!” Clementine exploded, still standing close to her older brother. “You guys used them on Hilltop!” 

“Yeah we fuckin’ did,” Badger replied, “And we almost had them used on Prescott but we settled on the bigger threat- the settlement that was actually thriving.” 

“Go fuck yourself,” Tripp snapped, stepping forward. “You people are fucking animals!” 

David tightened his grip around the collar of Badger’s shirt, his hands bunched up even tighter as he reached to raise the man off the tips of his shoes.

“What the fuck have you done?!” David raged, shoving the man hard. “What the fuck-!” 

“You were already recruiting people!” Badger shouted back, grabbing the man’s wrists. “You think you’re some holy knight?! Stealing and kidnappin’ people under the guise of ‘saving’ them!? Ask those kids if they fucking agree!” 

“Shut up- both of you!” Tripp yelled, pulling David back from Badger, pulling them both to a stop. “What matters right fucking now is that David knows what the fuck is going on and he oughta but a stop to this shit!” 

“He’s right,” Ben croaked, stepping up beside Javi. “We need to head back to Richmond. Clementine and I need our family back and Javi you need yours.” 

Javi nodded, looking between the teens before finding his gaze back on Badger, the man smirking once again.

“You didn’t notice the empty stables?” He sneered, raising a brow as he focused on David. “You really are one thick-skulled son of a bitch.” 

Ava stepped back, her lips parted slightly. “What the fuck did you do, Badger?!” She screamed, turning to the man. 

“I really thought you two could figure out a-”

“A distraction!” Clementine gasped, her eyes wide. “Y-You’re- What did you do!?” 

David slammed Badger to the wall once again, shaking him as he all but screamed into his face, shaking him. “What the fuck did you do, Badger!?” 

The man groaned, fighting David’s grip, only for the other man to tighten his grip, slamming him into the wall again. 

“Alpha said we had to cu-curb the population and create more weapons!” He finally confessed, growling. “It’s a controlled attack through th-the sewers!” 

David’s eyes widened, his head shaking slightly. “Those sewers are fucking infested!” He shouted, “We’ve been holding walkers down there for weeks!” 

Badger’s eyes mimicked David’s, his gaze wide in fear. “What-” 

“We have to have collected dozens!” Ava shrilled, looking to the man. “Alpha gave us the go ahead.” 

“She’s going to erradicate the whole fucking city,” Javi breathed, looking to the teens beside him. “Everyone in there-” 

“We need to go, now!” Ben shouted, looking to Clementine’s equally frightened gaze. “Everyone in there…” 

Before anyone else had the chance to speak, Badger had seemingly loosened David’s grip just enough, kicking the man in his knee before breaking out of his hold. He managed to break through the doors and into the lobby of the Slaughterhouse.

“Hey!” Tripp shouted, the first to run after him. The whole group managed to make it into the lobby just in time to watch Badger break past the front doors and into the outside world. 

David ran after the man immediately, following him only for Javi to shout for him.

“Let him go, Javi!” Tripp cried, wrapping a hand around his arm. “We gotta get back to Richmond- to your family!” 

“Fuck!” Javi growled, turning to the man. He let out a tense groan, looking around the slaughterhouse wildly before Ava caught his attention, the girl’s gaze lost. 

“Ava,” Javi began, looking down to the woman. “You know a way we can get back there quick?” 

The woman nodded her head. “If this is a outpost there has to be trucks around back,” She explained, digging into her pocket before pulling out keys, pausing before speaking again. 

“My duty is to Richmond, not David,” She breathed, nodding her head. “If you plan on stopping whatever the fuck they started, then I’m here to help.” 

Javi nodded, looking to Ben and Clementine. “We all have people there, whether we like it or not,” He whispered. “Let’s go get them back.” 

Ben nodded, holding his hand in Clementine’s as he followed their steps, the ache in his throat nowhere near as debilitating as his fear.

Chapter Text

Javi sat on the floor of the truck, his figure bouncing with each rough turn and bump in the road. He kept his arms crossed, the last few hours being more draining than he truly ever expected them to be. 

Ava drove the truck to Richmond, sitting up front with Tripp beside her, the man deciding on keeping her company whilst also making sure she wouldn’t betray them. Javi, Ben, and Clementine sat in the back of the truck, having no ability to communicate with the front seat as silence descended upon them. 

“The last time w-we were in a truck it didn’t g-go nearly as peaceful as this,” Clementine grumbled, her shoulder rubbing against Ben’s.  

Javi grimaced, looking at the pair with a pained look. He knew by now that they pair had been through their own fair share of… trouble, yet each hint of a new story always felt like a punch to the stomach. 

The silence that fell over the trio only grew, Javi carefully observing the teens. His eyes locked on the bright purple bruises over the boy’s neck, his stomach twisting at the obvious discomfort the teen was probably feeling. Ben had yet to speak since the Slaughterhouse, Clementine having been the way to try and awkwardly pry any words out of him. 

David.

Javi’s relationship with his brother had always been… strained, to say the least. The good times were always outweighed by the bad- the endless tears and pain were never comforted and the bullying never ceased, even when they had both grown up. 

Yet, Javi couldn’t help but feel the small seed of hope that his brother had changed in the last four years. That he was more accepting, more kind.

That he had at the very least learned to love his younger brother. 

He could only hope Mariana and Gabe would understand.

The slight jolt of the truck pulled Javi out of his thoughts, the man blinking as he looked up to the teen, finding Clementine already looking over at him. He noted her hand on Ben’s thigh, the touch one of comfort.

“We have to head straight to the hospital,” Clementine murmured, meeting Javi’s gaze. “Mari, Gabe, Carlos and Sarah all have to be safe.” 

Javi began to nod, only to stop, his brows furrowing. “Carlos… The doctor!? And h-his daughter!” He gasped, his eyes widening. “You found them?!” 

Clementine beamed, nodding her head eagerly in what felt like genuine happiness. “Yes!” She exclaimed, still nodding. “We-We found our friend Nick too! He was in the jail-”

“I know him!” Javi interrupted excitedly. “He was- He gave Tripp and I water when we asked for some! He was the only one who actually cared!” 

Clementine’s eyes widened, her lips in a small, pained, smile. She let out a small sigh, looking back down to her legs with a dwindling smile.

“Yeah,” She breathed. “That’s Nick.” 

Javi nodded slowly, grimacing slightly. He hesitated for a beat before scooting across the large empty space, sitting just in front of the pair of teens. He winced slightly at the pain erupting from his arm, deciding to ignore it in favor of looking over the duo.

“How’s your neck?” The man murmured quietly, his brows furrowed. 

Ben took a moment to answer, the teen barely even managing to shrug his shoulders as he didn’t look up from his lap.

“I don’t think anything is broken,” Clementine mumbled, focusing on her own legs. “He talked…. Fine.” 

“Probably just a bit sore, then,” Javi assured, plastering a fake smile on his lips. “I’m sure of it.”

Ben didn’t respond, only curling his legs up to his chest. He winced at the pain in his knees, ignoring it in favor of wrapping his arms around his legs, setting his chin over his knees.

“We’ll get you to Richmond,” Javi spoke, his words more of a promise. “And when we get there you two are getting back to your family. This ain’t your war-” 

“We haven’t found everyone,” Ben nearly hissed, his voice filled with what could only be described as agony. 

Javi blinked, taking a moment to gather his thoughts as Ben refused to meet his gaze, the boy looking even more broken than before. He swallowed loudly, looking down to his intertwined hands with a sigh.

“When all this blows over, the first thing I’m going to do is get your family back,” Javi spoke, meeting the boy’s broken blue gaze. “It’s my responsibility. My brother did this-” 

“It’s not your fault or you’re responsibility,” Clementine interrupted, shaking her head as she rested a hand on Ben’s shoulder. “It’s David’s fault-” 

“And he’s not going to make up for this, so I will,” Javi continued, his voice even firmer. “I’m promising you both right now. I’m not resting till we get back everyone you two lost, understand?” 

Ben and Clementine looked between one another for just a second, the sadness in the girl’s brown eyes only counteracted by the defeat in the boy’s blue ones. Despite their shared pain, the duo nodded, Ben quick to look back down to his lap. 

“Good,” Javi murmured, sighing as he sat back onto his palms. He looked around the dark truck, blinking for a long beat before looking back to the teens. 

“Whatever hell we’re about to face,” He began, his voice slow. “I want you two to stay safe. To keep one another close and to not do anything stupid, okay?” 

Clementine furrowed her brows, holding onto Ben even tighter. “Why’re you saying this?” 

“Because, Clem,” Javi began, nearly sighing. “I’m scared. I’m scared more people are going to get hurt because of my brother. Because of this empire they’ve built.” He stopped, looking down at his hands. “I couldn’t live with myself if something bad happened to you- you two got dragged into this for no good reason and I don’t want…. I don’t want something to happen.” 

Silence fell over the trio, wrapping them in a bone-chilling embrace as they avoided one another’s gaze. The looming threat of what was to come, the sheer level of destruction more than any one of them could anticipate or expect. The New Frontier was the biggest, most dangerous threat that any of them had ever faced. 

It was all the more terrifying know your family is at stake. 

Javi relaxed, crossing his arms as he shut his eyes. He fought the fear in his chest, his arm pulsating as he ached even more. 

The truck turned sharply, a barely audible shout igniting from the front as Ben and Clementine hung onto one another. Javi was quick to grab both their arms, practically hiding them in his chest in fear of them being hurt. 

To everyone’s relief, the truck didn’t turn sharp enough to spill over, Javi taking another beat to breathe before letting go. He sat back, his eyes wide as muffled screams and gunshots erupted from the other side of the metal doors. 

Slowly and carefully, Javi made his way, unhooking the bottom of the lift-up door. He cast a quick, horrified , glance to the teens behind him, making sure both were prepared with their respective weapons. 

The early morning sun, a light that had always sparked a belief in hope and second chances, was tainted with smoke and fire.

Chapter Text

The large gates to Richmond were open, the inside of the city on fire with multiple vehicles being the culprit. Screams were echoing from the other side of the large settlement, no doubt the large crack in the whole of the wall the reason why.

Herds of walkers flooded into the city, all eerily silent as they traversed forward. The beings didn’t hesitate to bite, attack, and kill multiple civilians as gunshot rang out, no doubt many of Richmond’s citizens already dead. The few dozen walkers who did groan and growl had already merged with the silent herd, only adding numbers to the growing attack.

“Fuck!” Javi cursed, his eyes wide. He didn’t have another second to stare as both Ava and Tripp rounded around the truck, Tripp reaching a hand to the man as Ava shot the approaching walkers. 

“We gotta get movin’ Javi!” Tripp practically shouted, pulling Javi out of the truck before lifting Clementine and Ben out.  

Javi didn’t hesitate to pull out his own weapon, nodding his head before reaching for Ben’s hand who in turn wrapped his own palm around Clementine’s. He momentarily panicked about not having a hand to hold his cleaver, only to realize their was no way he could use it- the walkers needed to be killed quickly, requiring a gun.

Ava and Tripp were quick to cover the area as Javi pulled the teens through the gate, dodging the few walkers that had managed to escape their onslaught. Javi made sure to shoot the dead beings behind Ava and Tripp as he lead the way, Clementine clearing their front. 

“Run for the hospital!” Ava yelled, shooting more walkers as they poured in from the various streets. The gate creaked as it struggled to close, the towers above the wall blaring with alarms. 

Tripp assured the group was still together, shooting a close walker with a shout as he continued forward. The bullets of various armed New Frontier men shooting past their heads, the metal whizzing dangerously close as they continued to frantically rush towards the hospital, ignoring the many screams and cries erupting around them. 

Utter chaos consumed the entire city, vehicles belonging to the New Frontier racing through the city, large numbers of near silent walkers banging against various doors and windows in an attempt to break into where people hid. Many walkers fell to the onslaught of the New Frontier but it appeared that equal amounts of humans had been bitten or worse already. Once living people were turned already, groaning alongside the herd as they stalked aimlessly through their once home, their wounds still fresh. 

The doors to the hospital were already locked shut, the only other option being the side door that Ben and Clementine had gone through only mere hours ago. Javi only stood still for a second, any long would no doubt bring their deaths upon them. Ben took the lead then, pulling both Clementine and Javi down the side of the building and into the alley. The youngest of the group just barely dodged a stray walker, the being grabbing her jacket, only for Tripp to quickly pull the walker away, shooting it immediately. 

Javi was quick to pull the duo of teens behind the dumpster, not daring to stop as he bee-lined for the much smaller door. He let go of Ben’s hand for a beat, sparing a glance to the other pair behind him before jiggling the lock.

“Hurry!” Tripp shouted, shooting the few walkers who had bled into the alley, coming straight for them. “I don’t know how much ammo I got left!” 

Javi gasped as the door cracked open, only to be stopped by what felt like a large weight. He hissed, jamming his uninjured side into the door multiple times before it finally gave in, the aged metal opening slowly. 

“Come on!” Javi ordered, resuming his grip around Ben’s wrist as he pulled him and Clementine into the thin hall, Tripp and Ava quickly following in behind. A large rolling cabinet was sandwiched behind the door, no doubt the source of what kept the door shut. 

Ava didn’t hesitate to slide it back into place, locking the inside of the door before firmly pressing the cabinet up against it. 

The group stood still, their hearts loud in their ears before Tripp leaned forward, resting his hands on his knees with a long sigh. He screwed his eyes shut, cursing out a string of swears before shaking his head.

“What in the goddamn hell…” 

“Everything’s fucked!” Ava hissed, her own breathing loud. “This- This was never something the New Frontier would have done-” 

“But they did,” Clementine interrupted, looking to the woman. “They did this and they’ll do worse with what’s left of Richmond.” 

“Was there no contingency plan for something like this!?” Javi asked, looking to Ava. “For an invasion or an attack or anything!” 

“We did, under Joan and David!” Ava replied, “Not a plan if Joan was behind something like this and David fucked off!” 

“What about- You mentioned Clint,” Tripp spoke, stepping forward, “What the hell- Where is he?” 

“He’d be at the greenhouse but I don’t know where he is now!” Ava replied in a shout. “I don’t know what the hell is going on!” 

A tense silence fell over the group, the screams and destruction from just outside of the door reverberating through the large building, the hairs on everyone’s necks standing up from the sheer horror.

Ben could only pray that his family was okay.

“We have to get to Mari and Gabe now,” Javi spoke, nodding. “We can make a move from there, but we need to make sure they’re okay first. That they’re safe.” He began to step away, ensuring Clementine and Ben were right behind him before heading down the hall and into the lobby. 

The once lively lobby was now slewn with discarded furniture and equipment, smears of blood on the ground. The receptionist desk was a dreadful mess, the counter idly dripping splatters of blood onto the tiled flooring. 

Javi was quick to pull the teens down the familiar hall, subconsciously trying to shield them both from the bloody environment. He continued forward, dodging and weaving through the various obstructions through the tight space. It was only another beat of relative silence, the electricity buzzing loudly as various lights flickered, before the group came upon the familiar door. Javi didn’t hesitate to twist the knob of the door, his heart slamming in his chest in both fear and excitement. 

Disappointment was too simple a word to describe how the group felt at the sight of an empty hospital room. Not a single person remained in the room, the sheets of the hospital bed still a mess as the machines blinked rapidly.

“Where’d they go!?” Ben gasped, looking around wildly. “They-They should be here!”

“Shit,” Ava cursed, her eyes on Javi. “Did they tell you they’d go somewhere else?” 

Clementine shook her head, growling. “They said they’d be here! They said so!” She practically cried, her head shaking fervently. “I-I don’t know why-why they left!” 

“We’ll find them,” Javi stressed, nodding his head stiffly. “W-We gotta. They-They couldn’t have gotten far- no way in hell.” 

“With Mariana’s arm they had to stay safe,” Tripp muttered, looking to the bed. “And Eleanor and Conrad… I… I hope they made it out.” 

“H-Have you seen Kate since you got here?” Ben asked, looking to Javi.

The man shook his head. “David took her right after Mari got checked out,” He lamented, letting out a sharp sigh. “I don’t know where, he took me to the jail right after for a ‘talk.’” 

Tripp growled, preparing to retort with a rather snarky reply, only to freeze as fast footsteps erupted from the hall just outside the door. 

The entire group went silent, each tightening their grip on their respective weapons as they stared through the doorway. The tension in the air only grew as the footsteps echoed louder and louder, Javi instinctively stepping in front of the group, his brows furrowed in anticipation.

Just as the unknown person made their way through the doorway, Javi was already in their face with his pistol, aiming directly at their skull.

“Not another fucking-”

“LUKE!” 

Clementine all but pushed past Javi, Ben on her heels with equal speed as they both practically charged into the man, their arms wrapping around him tightly. 

Luke nearly fell backwards, dropping the rifle in his grip as he stumbled a few steps and into the hall, his back hitting the opposite wall. He didn’t seem to care as he lifted both Ben and Clementine in his arms, holding them tight against his chest with a gasp.

“F-Fuck!” Luke breathed, squeezing the teens closer as he swung with them in his grip, his eyes scrunched shut. 

The rest of the group stared in a soft way, taking in the sight with gentle gazes. It took another beat before the teens pulled away, Luke wrapping his arms around their waists as he looked them over. 

“W-we can talk but we gotta get somewhere safer,” Luke spoke, nodding before looking to the other behind him. He blinked for a beat, his brows raised.

“Holy shit!” Tripp gasped, practically ramming into Javi as he stomped past him, stopping just in front of the other man. “You’re alive!”

Luke’s jaw fell as he pulled his hands away from Ben and Clementine, hesitantly reaching his hand to shake Tripp’s hand. “Tripp!” He exclaimed, grinning.

Tripp surprised the other man as he wrapped his arms around his stomach, effectively lifting the smaller man up in his arms in a tight hug. Luke could just barely register Clementine and Ben’s snickers, his face growing red as he hugged the man back.

“I knew you weren’t dead!” Tripp grinned, stepping back after a beat. “No one in Hell anythin’ could kill you and Nick off.” 

Luke managed a goofy grin, looking over his friend. “Thank you for looking after Ben and Clementine for me,” He spoke, his eyes filled with genuine gratitude. 

“Please,” Tripp chuckled, “They looked after me and Javi more than I did with them.” 

“I’m guessing you’re Gabe and Mari’s Uncle Javi,” Luke spoke, smiling.

“Yes!” Javi replied in a gasp, stepping forward. “A-Are they safe- Is everyone-” 

Luke was quick to nod, his hand back on both Clementine and Ben’s sides. “We’re all safe,” He assured, looking to the others behind Javi. “Follow me and I-I can explain.” 

Javi was quick to step into the hall, watching with a half-smile as Luke took both Ben and Clementine’s hands in his, leaving his rifle to hang against his chest.

“N-Nick and I got everyone to the top floor of the hospital,” Luke explained, beginning the descent down the hall, “I-It’s safer up there.” 

“Y-You found Nick?” Clementine gasped, looking up to him with wide eyes. She faltered slightly at the obvious redness in the man’s eyes, seemingly registering his shaking hands then.

“Yeah,” Luke murmured, squeezing both her and Ben’s hands. “Well, he found me.” 

“Is-Is he okay?” Ben asked, his eyes widening. 

Luke was quick to nod, looking between the pair as he pushed open the door to the stairs with his leg. “Yeah,” He assured, “Just… It was just a wild ride for a bit there.” 

Clementine instinctively squeezed the man’s hand tighter. “W-Well you found him a-and Carlos and S-Sarah and us!” She reassured, smiling. 

Luke tried to smile, his lips falter as they ascended the stairs. “I-I haven’t seen Kenny yet,” He whispered, unable to stop himself from looking over to Ben. 

Silence fell over the group, Javi’s eyes drifting to Ben’s back. He felt Tripp take a stiff breath, the man watching over them.

“We’ll find him next,” Luke assured, squeezing their hands extra tight. “I promise you two that much, got it?” 

The teens both nodded, Ben’s movement a bit slower as he felt Luke tug on his hands just a bit more. He settled on taking a deep breath, looking ahead as the man beside him pushed open a door to what seemed to be the top floor of the rather large building.  

The hallway looked relatively emptier, the amount of discarded equipment practically nonexistent. Bullets and screams echoed off the walls, reminding the group of the horror going on just outside of the building. The group only had another moment to take in the sobriety of the moment before Luke let go of Clementine’s hand, moving to knock on a door to his right. 

“Nick?” Luke whispered, repeating his knocking pattern. “It’s me.” 

It was less than a second between the knock and the door opening, revealing none other than Nick. The man didn’t even look at anyone else as he threw his arms around his boyfriend, immediately hiding is face in Luke’s neck before planting a kiss on his lips. Luke chuckled softly as he pulled away, clearing his throat.

“I brought friends,” Luke spoke, smiling awkwardly.

Nick blinked widely, looking around the man to find his younger friends, his jaw dropping. He all but shoved Luke deeper into the room before holding both Ben and Clementine once again, hugging them tight. 

The duo of teens wouldn’t have a second to take in the touch before another pair of arms wrapped around them, followed by two more pairs of arms. 

Nick, Luke, Carlos and Sarah hugged Clementine and Ben tightly, their first semi-family hug in what felt like years despite it only being a little over a week. Ben and Clementine’s collective figures sagged in relief, hanging onto them for what felt too short before being let go.

“Are you both alright?” Carlos asked, looking them over meticulously. He kept one hand on Ben’s shoulder and another on Clementine’s arm, squeezing them tightly. “I- We were very worried.” 

“Just fine,” Clementine replied, wiping her arm over her eyes. “W-We missed you all.” She only leaned into the touch when Sarah wrapped an arm around her side, pulling both her and Ben into the room. 

The rest of the group bled into the room, Ben and Clementine immediately gasping at the sight of their other friends. 

Mariana was on the hospital bed, the younger girl beaming at the sight of her friends and Uncle. Kate sat right beside them on the far side of the bed, her hand carding through Mariana’s hair as she smiled, her gaze locked on Javi. Conrad and Eleanor stood on the far side of the room, each looking even more relieved. 

“Tripp!” Nick exclaimed, smiling wildly as he hugged the man, Tripp not hesitating to wrap his own arms around him. 

“God damn this feels good,” Tripp chuckled, pulling away to let go of the man, looking between him and Luke for another bit before passing them to Eleanor and Conrad, hugging both tightly. 

“Crazy son of a bitch,” Conrad murmured, hugging his friends tightly.

Ben and Clementine watched as Javi made his way to his niece and sister in law, hugging them both tightly. He squeezed his family close, screwing his eyes shut as he placed a kiss on both Mariana, only to lean back his eyes wide.

“Where’s Gabe?” Javi breathed, fear settling into his stomach. 

It was then Javi recognized the telltale signs of dried tears on Mariana’s cheeks, his heart nearly stopping as he looked up to Kate, the woman looking just as fearful. 

“D-Dad took him!” Mariana croaked, her voice cracking as she looked up to her uncle. “A-And he tried-d to take me a-and Kate too!” 

Javi felt his mind spin, his vision blurring dangerously as he stared at Kate. He could just barely make out the barely noticeable trembling of her lip, something he had learned to notice over the years. 

“Wh-What!?” Clementine gasped, her eyes wide. “H-He took him!” 

“He-He said that-t you had lost it,” Kate explained, her words shaky. “That you punched him and you w-were going to kill him and he came to protect us- to get us a-away from here before the attack started.” She paused, tightening her hold around Mariana. “But I didn’t let him take Mari and then… it all happened so fast- H-He was just go-gone and Gabe-Gabe-!” 

“That son of a bitch!” Tripp cursed, slamming his fist in his palm. “Fuckin’- God knows where they’re at now!” 

Javi swallowed the lump in his throat, holding onto Mariana even tighter. He straightened his jaw, placing a kiss in her hair before leaning back, cupping the side of her face. \\“I-I’m going to get him back,” Javi promised, his voice firm despite the fear in his stomach. “I’ll get Gabe back safe.”

“But it’s too dangerous!” Mariana cried, “I-I hear the muertos and the guns-” 

“Nothing will happen to me, honey” Javi assured, cutting the young girl off as he adjusted her hair in the bright hairband. “I promise you I’ll be just fine and I’ll get Gabe back, okay?” 

“I know where he could’ve gone,” Ava spoke up then, startling the group. 

“Where?” Ben asked, spinning to meet her gaze. He hated the way his stomach twisted in anger, the mere thought of what David did hitting way too close to home. 

“He has a garage just outside of Richmond,” Ava explained, crossing her arms. “He has his own choice stuff- a truck, motorcycle, some weapons. It’s where he goes when he needs his own time.” 

“Then we go to him,” Javi settled on immediately. “We go there and find him and get Gabe back, no matter the costs.” 

“We have the manpower,” Tripp agreed, his hands on his hips.

“It’s too dangerous for some of us,” Carlos spoke up, stepping forward. “Mariana and Kate should stay behind-” 

“He’s my son!” Kate interrupted, her gaze fiery. “If your child-” 

“I would do anything to keep Sarah safe,” Carlos cut in, his hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “But you need to also watch after your other child.” 

Kate opened her mouth, only to shut her lips as she looked down to Mariana, her arm still around the child. She instinctively squeezed her closer, Mariana hiding her face in Kate’s shoulder. 

“She has already lost one parent,” Carlos murmured, looking down at the girl’s arm in a cast. “She doesn’t need to lose another.” 

It was only another moment of silence before Javi stepped forward, looking between the others. 

“We need to stay safe,” The man spoke, his hands on his hips. “Carlos, Sarah, and Kate, you stay here with Mariana.” He paused, turning to Conrad and Eleanor. “Eleanor and Conrad, I trust you the most to keep my family safe. So I’m trusting you to stay here.” 

“That’s not going to be enough,” Eleanor spoke, frowning. “Lindgard was here earlier.” 

“What does that have to do with anythin’?” Tripp asked, tilting his head. “He that big a threat?” 

“No,” Nick answered, groaning. “He told us that if the power goes out completely, we’re effectively fu- screwed.”

“All the defenses go down. The auto locked doors, the main security. We’ll be dead within minutes,” Conrad informed, sighing loudly. “We need someone outside the main building- people outside.”  

“Nick and I can handle that,” Luke assured, stepping up to hold his boyfriend’s hand. “We’ll be just fine- we got our weapons.” 

“But Clem and Ben stay with us,” Sarah objected, her hands wrapping firmly around both their wrists. “They’re my siblings and they need to be safe, just like us.” 

Ben surprised both Sarah and Javi as he pulled his wrist out of her grip, his face apologetic.

“I’m not staying put till I find Kenny and Aj,” Ben stated firmly, shaking his head. “I can’t and nothing you say will keep me here.” 

“If Ben goes I go,” Clementine added, “No way he’s staying out there without me.” 

“We’ll go with you and get Gabe back,” Ben affirmed, “And we’ll find Kenny and AJ. We need David to know where they are.” 

“Ava and I will come along,” Tripp spoke, “That bastard has wronged us both.” 

“He fucked Richmond up and for that he’ll pay,” Ava added, cocking her pistol. “No way in hell he’s getting off easy.”

Javi nodded, locking his jaw. “We’re going to get everyone back,” He promised, nodding his head. “Every family member my brother took.”

The plan was laid out, each member of the growing group somewhat satisfied with the result. Ben and Clementine allowed Javi to say his goodbyes to Kate and Mariana, their own attention drawn away by their own family.

“You promise to be careful?” Sarah whispered, her hands on both Ben and Clementine’s wrists. 

The pair nodded, looking up to the girl’s father when he cleared his throat, his eyes somber. 

“Kenny would be proud of both of you,” Carlos breathed, his hands on their shoulders. “Just as proud as we are.” 

“And AJ would give you both the biggest, wettest, kisses,” Nick added, smiling as he rested his head on Luke’s shoulder. 

“They’re both right,” Luke added, sniffling slightly. “And we’re waiting for you to bring them back, okay?”

“Okay,” Clementine replied softly, her shoulder rubbing against Ben’s arm. “You guys stay safe, please.”

“Worry about getting yourselves safe,” Nick spoke, ruffling Ben and Clementine’s hair.

The duo laughed, their eyes bright despite the overall sadness in their voices. They settled on hugging their family, their grips tight as they were engulfed in a warm embrace. 

Ben held onto the warmth, trying his hardest to fight just how wrong it felt. 

Chapter Text

The outside world quickly reminded the group of just how chaotic their immediate surroundings currently were. Gunshots, screams, and fires erupted across the city, sending the New Frontier scrambling at its hardest to gather whatever they could in an attempt to salvage what was left. Bodies were strewn throughout the streets, fresh blood coating the harsh graveled roads. 

“Get movin’!” Tripp shouted, cocking his pistol as he began to shoot the various walkers ahead. He alongside Ava took care of the immediate ones, looking back at Javi.

“Main priority is getting there safe,” Javi spoke, looking between Ben and Clementine. “We stick together and close, you hear me?” 

“Got it,” Clementine replied, her hand wrapping around Ben’s, the teens interlocking their fingers. 

There was no longer than a second before the group was moving once again, more walkers emerging from the various buildings and streets. Droves of trucks rammed their way into the multitude of walkers, taking out dozens at once. Armed men exited the vehicles with their weapons in hand, taking to shooting the beings at high speeds. 

An explosion just beside the group jolted them forward, Tripp nearly losing his footing as he tripped. The man didn’t have a second to raise his weapon at the nearing walker thrown at him from the explosion, the being wrapping its palm around his wrist before lunging for a bite. 

Javi nearly screamed his friends name, daring to aim at the walker, only for another weapon to take the being out just before it sank its teeth into Tripps arm. 

“Well, this isn’t a much better greeting then our first one,” Jesus joked, the man saddled on top of a brown stallion with a wide smile.

“Jesus!” Javi exclaimed, his lips pulled into a blinding smile as he momentarily forgot the immediate danger. “It’s you!” 

“You really are Jesus,” Tripp breathed out, shaking his head as he looked up to the man. “You saved my ass there.”

“Pay it forward,” Jesus shrugged, his long katana dripping with blood. 

“Why are you here?” Ben asked, his eyes wide. “D-Did you get kidnapped too?” 

“Hilltop prides itself on peace and rationality, remember?” Jesus replied, his brows firm. “We can’t have peace with the New Frontier around, but it’s possible with Richmond.”

“The New Frontier did this,” Javi explained, his lips pulled into a frown. “They launched an attack on their own people.” 

“And we’re getting justice on those who did but first we’re getting his son back,” Ava spoke.

“We’ll deal with this herd while you go get your boy back,” Jesus affirmed, nodding his head. “We have enough manpower, even if they’re silent.” 

“You know about the silent herds?” Ben asked, his eyes widening. 

“Hilltop’s had eyes on them for a few months but they seemed to be disappearing on their own,” Jesus answered, his face pulled into a frown. “At least now we know what really happened to them.”

“You and your people stayin’ here and fightin’ then?” Tripp asked, his brow furrowed.

“We’ll be here,” Jesus assured, nodding his head. “Go get your kid.” 

Javi nodded stiffly, meeting Jesus’ gaze. “I owe you one,” He spoke.

“We both get out of this alive and I’ll call it a date,” Jesus replied, smirking. 

Javi stammered for a beat, faintly registering Tripp’s burst of laughter as he blinked, nodding numbly. 

“G-Got it,” He mumbled.

With that, Jesus whipped the reigns in his hands to hit against the horse he rode atop, winking before taking off in the other direction. The man made quick work in taking down multiple silent walkers with one blow of his katana, coming to a stop before yelling over the destruction, shouting orders to his people.  

“That’s another reason to come back alive, I guess,” Ava spoke, a tinge of teasing in her words as Javi spun around, meeting her gaze with his own reddened face. 

“Let’s get moving,” Javi muttered, casting an embarrassed look to Ben and Clementine, finding the pair smirking. 


 

The trail of destruction following the group dissipated the further through the city until they exited, only killing a few walkers that were still attempting to enter Richmond's walls. The garage Ava spoke of was only a quarter of a mile away from the walls of the city, sitting at the top of a hill. The surroundings buildings were cut off by a high chain-link fence, an open yard in front of the garage piled up with various trucks and cars, each looking more and more broken down. The handful of walkers that had managed to slip into the space were slowly flittering and groaning between the vehicles.

“Come on,” Tripp mumbled, nodding his head. “Lets try not to kill them with our guns. It’ll only set ‘em off and let David know we’re here.”  

Javi joined in with his own nod, his eyes locked on the outside of the fence, only to come to a stop. He reached for the long brown wood that stood out, a small chuckle breaking past his lips.

“I’m not sure we have time for a game right now,” Ava whispered harshly, looking to the man with a rather exasperated look.

“I know how to use these,” Javi replied, smiling just a bit as he looked back to the others, swinging the baseball bat in his hands. “I used to be a professional player, you know.” 

“Really?!” Clementine gasped, her eyes wide. 

“Mhmm,” Javi hummed, testing the bat in his hands. “Used to swing these for hours a day. Got pretty good.” 

“Then you quit,” Ben spoke, his voice barely audible.

Javi looked at the teen with wide eyes, a tinge of a smile on his lips. “You watched me play?”

Ben’s ears grew red, crossing his arms as he stared at the ground. “I, uh, my father liked baseball. A lot, He mumbled, scratching his sleeve. “I thought you looked familiar….” 

“That’s genuinely hilarious,” Ava deadpanned, looking between the two. “Hell falls to earth and we get a baseball player.” 

Javi only shrugged, laughing as he held the baseball against his shoulder, looking back to Ben. “I’ll autograph something for you when we get back to Richmond, cool?” 

Ben only burnt an even brighter shade of red, shrugging his shoulders as he ignored Clementine’s snickers. 

The momentary relieving moment quickly ended as a walker groaned from behind Ava, jolting the woman. She quickly spun around, stepping back as Javi ran forward, smashing his bat into the being’s head, rendering it dead. 

“Alright,” Ava breathed, staring at the dead walker. “You are good with that.” 

Javi laughed as he nodded, beginning to step towards the entrance of the garage. He led the group forward, knocking any walkers in their way to the ground. The opened garage door sat at the end of the yard like a warning, filling Javi with dread as he tried his hardest to focus on Gabe and Gabe alone. He didn’t want to think too hard about the potential symbolism of finding a baseball bat where he did. 

The sound of a sharp call erupted through the air, Javi instantaneously recognizing it to be none other than Gabe’s voice. He felt his heart jump into his throat as he sprinted forward, jumping over various strewn parts and dodging vehicles. 

Soon enough, Javi all but stumbled into the garage, lowering his bat in favor of pulling out his gun. He held it up, preparing to fight anyone and anything for his nephew.

“Javi!” 

Javi’s eyes landed on the teen, his eyes wide in fear at the sight. Gabe was leaning against the truck, his lips pulled into a wide smile at the sight of his uncle. He began to step forward to hug his uncle, Javi nearly making it there before David stepped out from around the hood of a truck. 

“Gabe,” The man ordered, his hands tight around a rifle.

“I-It’s just Javi,” Gabe stammered, looking back to his father. “I just wanna say-”

“Get back here, Gabriel-” 

“Leave him alone!” Javi shouted, his hands tense around his pistol. “You’ve gone too fucking far, David!”

“Here you are again, taking me from my family!” David replied angrily, looking behind to the group that had entered the garage alongside him. “You’re traveling with murderers and you think I’m just going to give you my son back?!” 

“You brainwashed my family!” David yelled, shaking his head as he raised his pistol to the man. “You have them thinking you’re some saint- telling them that I left because I wanted to!” 

“You’ve lost your shit in the four years you’ve been gone, David!” Javi shouted back, “But it doesn’t take a genius to realize you’ve been a bully since our childhood!” 

“Stop it! Both of you!” Gabe cried, looking between the two. “You-You’re brothers! You have to g-get along and love each other!” 

Javi stared at his nephew, immediate guilt filling his chest at the sight of tears and betrayal in the boy’s eyes. 

“He’s the problem, Gabe!” David snarled, looking to his brother. “He has always been the damn problem!” He reached his arm out, wrapping a palm around Gabe’s shoulder as he pulled him back to his side, his gun still pointing at his brother. 

“You have been trying to tear my family apart!- since I got fucking separated it’s been nothing but you trying to sneak your way in to what’s mine! ” David shouted, his voice only getting louder. “You took Kate and Mari from me-!” 

“I didn’t take anyone from you, David!” Javi interrupted, growing just as angry. “You lost them and now you’re trying to take Gabe from his family!” 

David’s grip around Gabe grew on painful, the boy whimpering as he looked up to his father, trying to pull out of his hand, David’s grip only growing stronger. 

“For fucks sake David!” Javi nearly screamed, “Leave him alone! Punch me, kill me, I don’t care! But let Gabe go!” He instinctively took a step closer, only for a loud bang followed by an explosive pain in his leg to erupt, sending a cry out from the man.

“Javi!”  

Before he knew it, Javi had fallen to the ground, his hands clutching his thigh as he let out another shout. He hadn’t realized he’d screwed his eyes shut, only hissing as he pulled his hands back, the inside of his palms tainted with red.

“You son of a bitch!” Ben screamed, dropping down to Javi. “What the fuck-!?”

More shouts erupted from the group, Gabe’s screams the loudest as he fought David’s grip, only to be taken and shoved into the passenger side of the truck.

“Fight back and I’ll shoot his head too!” David threatened, slamming the car door shut. 

A bullet whizzed passed David’s head, nearly hitting him were it not for his awareness, the man spinning around and pointing a gun at the group. He shifted his aim to Gabe, looking over the others.

“One more fucking bullet and you’ve got my son’s blood on your hands!” He boomed, “I’m fucking serious!” 

Javi watched as Ben’s shaking hands hovered over his leg, his palms reluctantly wrapping over the bullet wound. He briefly met the teen’s horrified gaze, barely able to focus on the boy before looking to David.

“Don’t you fu-fucking do this, David!” Javi shouted, his voice breaking. “H-He’s your son- I-I-I-”

“I’m you-your brother!” 

David’s gaze flickered amongst the group, his snarl no less as he slowly rounded the vehicle, his gun aimed at the trembling child in the truck. All at once, he opened the door to the front seat, turning the keys in the ignition. Clementine screamed for Gabe, the girl panicking as she nearly charged forward, only for Ava to hold her back. 

“Don’t do this, David!” Javi screamed, trying to scoot closer, only for Ben and Tripp to hold him back. David!”

No one of the group was nearly fast enough to try and round the vehicle to stop David, the man jumping in as he slammed the accelerator, speeding out of the garage.

Ava was quick to jump to Javi’s side, her hand pushing down on Ben’s as she held the bloodied wound, watching carefully as Trip relaxed the man’s legs out, his own rushed and attempt at comforting words breaking past his lips. Javi only struggled in their grip, his screams turning into breaking sobs as he felt pressure behind his eyes build, his entire figure shaking with one final scream.

“David!”   

Chapter Text

Ben peeled his bloodied hands back to himself, watching as Tripp and Ava quickly took over with Javi. Clementine was by his side in an instant, watching in horror as she curled her own hands around his wrists, looking down at the man.

Javi was a mess on the ground, the man struggling as he tried to get up and follow the truck that had disappeared. He ignored both Ava and Tripp’s shouts of protest, trying to keep the man still as the woman pushed down on the wound.

“I-It went straight through,” Ava stammered, her eyes wide as she looked to Tripp. “Th-This is bad- w-we need to get him to Richmond now.”  

“Shit, shit, shit!” Tripp hissed, already slinking an arm around Javi’s back. “Man, we gotta get you to the hospital!” 

“NO!” Javi boomed, his chest hitching. “No! I need- I need to g-get Gabe! He-He took him!” 

“You’re shot, Javi!” Tripp replied just as loudly. “You can’t e-even walk!” 

Javi only struggled again, trying to break out of their grips as he shifted violently. “L-Let me go!” He shouted, “I-I have to g-get Gabe!” 

Tripp growled, getting closer to Javi so he was facing him. “You can’t move!” He repeated, shaking his head harshly. “You’re bleedin’ out and if you don’t ge-get to Richmond in the next hour you’ll be dead!” 

“I don’t care!” Javi shouted, his chest rising and falling rapidly as he continued to struggle. “I-I’m going after him an-and I’m going now!” 

“No the hell you’re not!” Ava hissed, looking up to Tripp. “He’s still losing blood- a lot.”  

“We’re goin’,” Tripp stated firmly, shaking his head. He quickly ripped off his sleeve, pulling the fabric before shifting closer to the man’s wounded leg. His hands made quick work of wrapping the makeshift bandage around his thigh. 

“We can’t le-leave Gabe out there!” Javi nearly screamed, “I n-need to go g-get him- I have to!” 

Clementine stepped forward then, finally peeling her gaze away from Ben’s shaking, bloodied hands. She cleared her throat, meeting Tripp’s eyes. 

“I-I’m going after him,” She spoke, nodding her head stiffly. “Me and B-Ben.” 

Javi’s head snapped up to the pair, looking between them both wildly. He tried to scooch up onto his legs, only to let out a sharp cry.

“You two can handle yourselves better then anyone I know,” Tripp spoke, nodding his head. “You go get his boy back. We’ll take care of Javi.”

“Please, make sure he’s okay,” Clementine replied, meeting Javi’s gaze. “W-We’ll get Gabe back, I promise you. We won’t let David take your family too.” 

Javi stared, unable to get a word out as another wave of searing pain erupted from his leg. 

“Take his motorcycle,” Ava instructed, tilting her head to the back wall of the garage. “He hides it out back and he always has it full on gas.” 

“G-Got it,” Clementine replied, her voice getting stronger. “W-We’ll meet you guys at Richmond soon.” 

“Hurry!” Tripp exclaimed, both in reference to the teens leaving as well as helping the bleeding out man. He slowly crouched up to a stand, bringing Javi up with him, the man heavily favoring one leg. 

“We’ll see you soon,” Ava promised, cocking her pistol. 

Clementine nodded, meeting Javi’s gaze for a split second before heading out the side door of the garage. She pulled Ben behind her, the boy still silent and pale. 

The motorcycle in question was propped up against the side of the garage, looking much cleaner and pristine than any other vehicles in the yard. Clementine made her way over, finally letting go of Ben’s wrist as she pulled it back and off the wall, the heavy motorcycle nearly toppling over her.

“I-I can drive,” Clementine stated simply, turning back to Ben with a nod, only to find the boy staring down at his bloodied hands. She faltered, stepping closer to the teen whilst resting the bike back against the wall.

“Ben…” Clementine whispered, cautiously making her way over to the boy. She swallowed the lump in her throat at the sight of the blood on his hands, her own stomach twisting.

“I-I n-need- I need to w-wash my hands,” Ben stammered, his eyes wide. “I-I need to g-get this of-f-f.” 

Clementine nodded slowly, her heart in her throat. “W-We can do that so-soon, okay?” She assured, only to flinch when Ben shook his head fervently. 

“I-I c-can’t- It’s ev-everywhere!” Ben whimpered, his hands trembling. 

Clementine felt her heart race, her grip tightening around the teen’s wrist. “Ben,” She stressed, wracking her brain for any ideas. She panicked, finding no possible solution before pulling Ben’s hands to her stomach. 

Ben yelped as Clementine worked to wipe the teen’s bloodied hands over her tan shirt, working quickly to get as much of the blood as she could off the boy’s hands. It took another beat before she was satisfied, pulling Ben’s hands back her figure and looking down at them.

“I-I can help you clean them all the way later, ok-okay?” She spoke, her voice gentle despite how tense she was. “But we need to go. Gabe n-needs us and we have to leave right now. But I promise, Ben, I promise we’ll get somewhere to wash your hands as soon as we can. Just- Just try to hang on until then.”

Ben didn’t have any option but to nod, settling on breathing in deeply. He tried to ignore the heavy feeling between his fingernails and crevices of his palms, his figure still shaky.

“I-I’ll drive,” Ben spoke, looking to the bike as he tried his hardest not to break down right then and there. “Y-You’re too small to hold on c-correctly.” 

Clementine frowned, unable to fight the teen’s words as he easily pulled the motorcycle off the wall. He swung his leg over turning the key before looking to Clementine.

“Hang on, okay?” Ben croaked, clearing his throat.

Clementine nodded before climbing on behind Ben, instantly wrapping her arms around his waist. She was careful not to touch where she knew his scars to be, taking in a deep breath.

“Let’s go.” 


 

It appeared as though even the once thriving city that surrounded Richmond had befallen the same fate as Savannah, the old city a haunting memory for Ben and Clementine.  The barren ruins and piled up cars was no match for the weaving of the motorcycle, the pair able to get through the broken down vehicles and tight streets.

Still, Ben and Clementine couldn’t help but feel scared at the prospect of not finding Gabe ever again.

They weren’t okay with losing their friend so soon. 

Clementine clung to Ben’s back, her head turning and twisting for any sight of the runaway truck. Her heart slammed in her chest, her teeth digging into her lip as she squinted her eyes. She dared to peel one hand back to rest on her brow, only for Ben to let go of the handle and quickly pull her arm back around him. 

The setting sun was an even bigger threat than the various walkers about, the threat of being exposed in the dark alongside being away from any safety only made their fear grow. 

David and Gabe could very well be miles away by now.

Ben weaved through another street, avoiding the various barricades that still existed years after the beginning of the end. He cast a sorrowful glance at the hidden bodies that were strewn on the street, he avoided one side of the road, hoping Clementine hadn’t seen before turning down a much larger street. 

The pile up that greeted the pair was practically impossible to get through, Ben letting out a frustrated growl. He began to turn the motorcycle back down towards the way they came, only for Clementine to shout.

“There!” The young girl gasped, pulling her arm out from around Ben’s waist to point down the crowded street. “The truck!” 

Ben came to an abrupt stop, nearly flinging himself forward as he struggled momentarily to bring the motorcycle to a stop. He was as close as he could be without crashing the vehicle, settling on halphhazardly parking the vehicle before jumping off as well.

Clementine had already taken off by the time Ben was standing up, his mind racing as he followed his young friend. He was nearly consumed by the fear of finding something neither him nor Clementine would want to see. 

“Th-They’re gone!” Clementine gasped, looking through the window of the truck, her heart in her throat. “Th-There’s blood!” 

Ben ran up beside the girl, cupping his hands around his head as he peeked into the truck, his heart slamming in his chest. To his dismay, blood caked the inside of the vehicle, their fear only growing.

“J-Javi?” 

Both Ben and Clementine jumped back, spinning to the source of the croaking voice. Clementine took off first again, calling for her friend.

“Gabe!” She shouted, her eyes searching wildly. “Gabe! It’s us!” She didn’t hesitate to speed off down another line of piled up cars before gasping. Her heart leapt into her throat as she called for her brother, practically screaming for Gabe as she sprinted.

Ben was not far behind as he rounded the line of cars, his cleaver up just in case any stray walkers were close by. He felt his heart slam in his chest, his eyes wide as he felt Clementine gasp. 

“G-Gabe!” 

Ben’s feet finally came to a stop beside his sister, his gaze instantly locking on Gabe’s figure. He barely held in his own shock-filled gasp, dropping to his knees with a grunt as he stretched his arms out to the boy. 

“I-I’m okay,” Gabe stammered despite the blood pooling down his face and covering his figure. He coughed weakly, his entire figure trembling. “I-I just- I think I fu-fucked up my l-leg.”  

A large cut was actively bleeding from Gabe’s forehead, the blood sliding down the side of his face as he clutched his side. There were no other visible bloody injuries on his small frame.

“H-Hey buddy, it’s okay,” Ben murmured, biting back the bile in his mouth as he reached his hands out to the boy, hold his palms in his own. “Wh-Where else are you hurt?”

“Here,” Clementine stammered, ripping the bottom of her own tan shirt. She held out the long cloth for her brother as she crouched beside him, taking in Gabe’s hand in her own. 

“I-I’m not-not bit,” Gabe croaked, trying to shake his head, only to flinch. “I-I just f-fell and th-the car crash-” 

“Shh, sh buddy,” Ben whispered, shaking his own head as he gently wrapped the cloth around the wound in his head. “It’s okay, Gabe. It’s okay, w-we’re goin’ to get you back home, okay?” 

Gabe hissed but didn’t say anything else, his grip on Clementine’s hand tightening. He whimpered in pain, his other hand gripping Ben’s leg tightly. 

“I-Is Ja-Javi okay?” He stammered out after a beat, his words more of a sob. “I-I saw-I saw th-the blood-” 

“He’s back in Richmond, Gabe, he’s okay,” Clementine assured quickly, swallowing the lump in her throat. “Just… Just focus on yourself now.” 

“M-My dad- D-David just-t left me!” Gabe sobbed, his tears sliding down his cheeks and pooling with the blood on his face. “I-I don’t- I don’t know wh-where he we-went-” 

“Gabe- Gabe calm down, buddy,” Ben interrupted, tightening the wrap before placing his hands on the boy’s cheeks careful to avoid the blood as he forced their gazes to meet. “Look- W-We’re going to get you back to your st-step mom and your sister and your uncle- your real family- you go-got me?” 

Gabe sniffled, looking to Clementine as she nodded eagerly. She squeezed his hand, hoping to hide the trembling of her own fingers. “Wh-Which leg is hu-hurting?” She asked, sparing a glance back to his shoes.

“I-I think I tw-twisted my ankle,” Gabe whimpered, daring to shift his pained right foot. “I-I can w-walk- I can. Pl-Please just-just don’t le-leave me!” 

“Gabe, Gabe I promise,” Ben spoke in a rush, beginning to shake. “M-Me and Clementine? We-We’re gonna get you out, you just hang tight, okay?” 

Gabe looked between the two, sniffling harshly as he swallowed the building sobs in his throat. He nearly flinched at the sound of Clementine’s voice, her hand tightening as she spoke.

“I-I don’t think h-he can w-walk,” Clementine whispered, meeting Ben’s sullen eyes.

“He won’t have to,” The teen replied, setting his jaw. He scooted closer, flinching at the igniting pain in his knee as he came to a crouch, the pain only growing. 

“You hang on tight, okay?” Ben instructed, moving his arms closer. He watched as Gabe let go Clementine’s palm, reaching out to him in a similar matter. 

Carefully, Ben slinked his arm beneath Gabe’s thighs and around his back, pulling him to his chest. He climbed to a shaky stand, nearly falling back down were it not for Clementine’s steadying hand on his side. 

“Clem, clear the w-way,” Ben instructed, fixing his weak grip around Gabe. He waited for the girl to pull out her pistol before she led the way, keeping close to the boys.  

Clementine was thankful for the lack of walkers that appeared, only needing to kill a spare few that had heard the noise. She avoided looking at the truck, smoke still rising from the front of the smashed hood. 

The motorcycle was thankfully still in decent condition as Clementine climbed on top first, starting the vehicle. She was quick to turn the bike in the direction they came, waiting for Gabe to sit first.

“Hold onto Clem, okay?” Ben instructed, gently lowering the teen. He waited for the boy to let out a grunt of confirmation before putting Gabe down, climbing on behind him. Ben’s lanky arms tightened around Gabe and Clementine, holding onto them both as he relaxed Gabe against his chest, making sure he was secure.

“You can close your eyes,” Clementine murmured, revving the engine. “We’ll be back quick.” 

Ben tightened his grip around the pair before nodding, his eyes locked ahead. 


 

The closer to Richmond the motorcycle became, the more walkers began to appear, each ghastly being groaning and hissing as they followed the roaring bike. Ben seemed more occupied on the hurt teen in his care, fearing growing in his chest at the realization of just how close Gabe was to certain death.

Ben didn’t even want to begin to think about David.

“I-I’m growing low on-n gas!” Clementine cried from the front of the bike. 

The eldest teen only growled, holding onto both of the younger teenagers closer. He was sure they were close to Richmond’s outer walls, no doubt nearing back to David’s garage. His heart grew even more painful in his chest as he realized just how much quieter Richmond had become, even from this distance. 

Ben didn’t realize he had unfocused, a mixture of fear, pain, and exhaustion making everything more difficult as he blinked harshly. He managed to focus once again as he recognized David’s garage, the yard now overrun with walkers. 

The terrifying sight was more than enough to send shivers down his spine, focusing back on the road.  The teens could only hope that Javi and the others had made it out okay. 

Ben’s heart jumped into his throat as he focused back onto the road, only to be met with a herd of walkers. He barely yelped in time for Clementine to notice, the girl having not seen them as she began to panic. 

“Careful!” Ben shouted, his grip tightening on the pair. He watched with horrified eyes as Clementine barely avoided the herd, speeding up only to begin to slow back down against her will. 

“I-I’m out of gas!” Clementine cried, her panic growing. She looked up ahead of her, squinting her eyes as she just barely recognized the walls of Richmond.

“We have to run!” Ben shouted, waiting for Clementine to come to a complete stop. He only paused for a beat before jumping off, turning to Gabe.

“I-I can’t run,”  The boy stammered, his eyes wide in fear as he turned to look at the walkers trailing behind them. “I-I can’t-t-” 

“I got you!” Ben interrupted, pulling the teen up from where he sat and into his arms. He clumsily held him, not even fixing his grip as he began to run, Clementine shooting the close walkers.

“Clem, now!” Ben nearly screamed, turning to make sure the girl was behind as he ran forward. Gabe’s arms were wrapped around his neck, the boy hanging on for dear life, not noticing how he rubbed against his friend’s bruised neck.

Ben and Clementine sped forward, their breathing loud as they grew more and more tired with each step. Still, they persisted forward, not having another choice as the herd of walkers grew closer and closer.

“Th-The main gate’s our only chance!” Clementine spoke, her eyes peeled. “W-We can run through it!” 

“Just keep going!” Ben shouted, nodding in agreement as he ran beside her. He felt Gabe stammer in fear, settling on holding the boy even closer. His arms sagged from pain, his knees burning from the weight and growing ache. Yet, Ben had no choice but to keep moving, even with the pain he felt.

Richmond’s gate was still open as the trio grew closer, the sounds of yelling and gunshots now loud enough to be heard. Metal creaked as the teens continued forward, their hearts all sinking into their chests at the realization of what was happening. 

The gate was slowly closing. 

“Fuck!” Clementine screamed, speeding up. “Come on! Hurry up!” She didn’t hesitate to shoot a few stray walkers, the beings bleeding into the road from the various buildings and alleyways.

Ben felt his panic grow as his limp grew more painful, his legs barely able to carry his and Gabe’s weight. He stumbled a step, watching with horrified eyes as Clementine shot more walkers, the girl a few steps further ahead. 

The gate continued to slide shut as they neared, the various shouts and screams of Clementine going unheard as she begged for the people of Richmond to hold it open. Her disregarded pleads only brought Ben even closer to the daunting realization he was faced with. 

There was no way Ben could make it in time.

The teen bit down on his lip hard, looking between the boy in his arms and the gate as his mind sped a mile a minute. He worked fast to try and come up with a solution, finding only one as he scrunched his eyes shut.

Ben took in a deep breath, swallowing down the fear in his throat. He gave himself another second to breathe before opening his eyes, looking back down to Gabe.

“Gabe,” Ben stammered out, his eyes wide. “I-I need you to get ready to t-tuck your arms and head into y-your chest, ok-okay?”

The boy’s eyes widened as he looked between the closing gate and Ben, his lip trembling. “B-Ben- Ben no- wh-what!?” 

“On the count of th-three!” Ben breathed, nodding his head. He timed his footing, ignoring the burning ache as he mentally counted, his breath a tremble. He watched as Clementine barely slipped into the gate, not even having a second to spin around as Ben shouted.

“Three!”  

Ben quickly stumbled as he lowered Gabe, the boy practically tossed onto the ground as he tripped and practically rolled into the settlement, the gate shutting with a resounding boom right behind him, leaving the older teen on the other side.  

Clementine felt her world freeze as she spun around to the gate, not sparing another glance to Gabe’s figure as she ignored the screams and gunshots from behind.

“Ben!” Clementine whimpered, her shaking palm coming to a rest against the metal. “Ben!” 

“I-I’m here!” Ben stammered back, his voice muffled. “Cl-Clem- Clem I gott-gotta go! I-” 

“Wait- Wait we can open th-the gates!” She stammered, turning around to look for any members of Richmond, only to find no one but Kate, the woman meeting her gaze as she crouched beside Gabe with a horrified look.

“Clem- Clem I gotta go- I’ll- I’ll try to b-be back-” Ben’s muffled voice sounded out, obvious pain bleeding into his words. “I-I’m sorry-” 

“Ben!” Clementine screamed, banging her fist. “Ben- Ben don’t do this! Ben!” She continued to bang her fist, nearly missing the boy’s last few words. “Ben- Ben promise me! Pro-Promise me, Ben!”

“I-I’m sorry, Cl-Clem-” 

The young girl let out a pained, raw, scream, still slamming her fist into the wall as she called for the boy’s name, repeating the same few words over again. She ignored the sharp igniting pain in her hand in favor of slamming her fist against the gate again, her tears spilling past her eyelids and down her face.

“BEN!”

 Clementine only screamed louder when a pair of arms wrapped around her stomach, pulling her away from the gates and off the ground She fought back against the tight grip, her screams and shouts dissolving into full bodied sobs as she gave up, her mind growing numb at the voice in her ear. 

“I-I got ya, darlin’- K-Kenny’s got ya."

Chapter Text

Clementine’s sobs shook Kenny’s figure, the man cradling her to his chest as he sprinted back to the hospital. His left leg ached with each step, no doubt his once-shattered ankle worsening with each step. He ignored the pain in favor of running ahead, sparing a quick glance behind to ensure that Kate and Luke were close, the man holding Gabe in his arms. 

The dozens of walkers were still slowly being dealt with, each being killed once and for all by either a member of Richmond, Prescott, or Hilltop. The three communities were gradually pushing the attack back into their favor, stabilizing the defenses of the city. 

Kenny’s shoulder slammed into the door as he pushed it open, each one of Clementine’s cries like a knife to the heart as he tried his hardest not to break. He had seen the blood covering her shirt, the new scar on her forehead, and the obvious swelling of her hand- praying that all were not permanently damaging. 

Kenny didn’t want to think too hard on what could be going on with Ben. 

The gates resounded with an echo as Kenny’s screams fell on deaf ears, his shouts for both Ben and Clementine going unheard. He ran as fast as he could, ultimately not making it in time as the gates slid shut, the teen stuck on the other side.

“C-Carlos!” Kenny shouted, pulling himself out of his thoughts as he ran down the hospital hall, the girl in his hands wailing. “Carlos!”  

The doctor in question stepped out of a room to the right, stammering for a beat before running over to the man, his eyes wide as he looked over the crying girl. He feared the worst as he looked to Gabe, finding the boy equally as distraught in Luke’s arms.

“G-Get them inside!” Carlos ordered, turning down the right and into an empty hospital room. He cleared the way as Kenny set down Clementine, the girl thrashing against the hospital bed.

Kenny’s hands quickly worked to wrap around Clementine’s, trying to keep her thrashing to a minimum as he spoke, his eye wide.

“Clem- Clem, baby, it’s me- it’s Kenny!” He practically pleaded, attempting to meet her gaze. “I-I know, darlin'- w-we can g-go-” 

“Eleanor!” Carlos shouted into the hall, his gaze wild. “We need your assistance!” He turned back to Luke and Kate, finding the woman practically cradling her step-son in her arms, his entire figure trembling as he stammered.

“B-Ben- Ben- h-h-h-he-” 

“Sh- I-It’s okay,” Kate whispered, looking up to meet Luke’s distraught gaze, “Just t-tell us what happened to y-you- what hurts?” 

Eleanor stepped inside then, her face determined as she took to Gabe, looking him over while sparing a glance to Clementine. 

“He’s concussed and his ankle seems to be hurt,” Carlos rushed out, watching as the woman was quick to begin fixing the teen up. “The bleeding has been subdued momentarily.” 

Eleanor nodded, grabbing bandages and alcoholic wipes from the bag on the table beside the bed. Her heart slammed in her chest at the sound of Clementine’s cries, her hands nearly beginning to shake. 

“K-Kenny- Kenny she needs to calm down,” Carlos instructed, “Either you calm her do-down or-” 

“I’m tryin’!” Kenny barked, his hands moving to clutch Clementine’s cheeks, forcing their gazes to meet. He took in a deep breath at the sight of her tear-filled eyes, the girl whimpering as she tried to speak, her breathing nearing on dangerous. 

“Cl-Clem, Clem, darlin’,” Kenny whispered, sparing a quick glance to Carlos as he moved to help Eleanor with Gabe. “Clem, w-we’re gonna get him back- we can g-get him back but y-you gotta breathe with me- you gotta take it easy-” 

Clementine sobbed, shaking her head slightly. She tried to speak, only to let in a gasp, her entire figure hitching with a sharp breath.

“W-We can get him back, Clem,” Kenny tried to assure, nodding his head slowly. “You kn-know I’m gon’ get him back. You know i-it.”  He paused, thankful for the slight delay in her cries as he leaned forward, pulling her to his chest before wrapping his arms around her. 

Clementine seemed thankful for the comfort as she cried into the man’s neck, her arms staying at her side. She felt the man rub small circles between her shoulder blades, the movement bringing more comfort as he hysteria slowly bled into full-fledged grief.

“B-Ben- Ben’s g-gone! ” She sobbed, her figure hitching as another pained sob left her body. 

“We’ll get him back,” Kenny replied immediately, gently swaying with the girl as he shushed her, shutting his own eye. “You know we will, darlin’, you know it.” 

“H-He didn’t pro-promise!” Clementine wept, shaking her head once again as her sobs only grew, practically wailing into her pseudo-father’s neck.

Kenny bit down on his lip, turning to look to Carlos. He found the man already hooking up another IV beside the bed, nodding his head in Clementine’s direction.

“Darlin’,” Kenny whispered, his brow resting against the side of Clementine’s head as she shook. He felt his own emotion nearly get the best of him as he screwed his eyes shut, squeezing her tight. 

“I-I’m sorry.” 

A slight prick in Clementine’s arm was nothing compared to the overall emotional distress she was in, her mind disregarding it as she continued to cry. Kenny’s swaying seemed to work as she found herself slowly getting more and more exhausted with each sob. She didn't recognize the tube connected to her wrist as she slumped against her caretaker, no longer having the energy to cry. 

Kenny only held on tighter.

“There, there ya go, darlin’,” Kenny whispered, swaying slightly, his fingers in the back of her hair. “Just close your eyes, I got ya. You’re safe with me.” 

Clementine sniffled, shuddering as she couldn’t help but follow the man’s instructions, her eyelids growing heavier and heavier. 

“B-Ben…” She whimpered, a weak sob slipping past her lips.

“Shh, Clem,” Kenny whispered, still swaying. “It’s alright. Just t-take it easy.” 

It took a few more moments of Clementine’s weakening sobs before the girl grew practically silent, effectively knocking out against Kenny’s figure.

“Lay her back quickly,” Carlos murmured, turning back to Kenny. He watched as the man did as he was asked to do, Clementine laying back gently onto the bed, her figure still. 

“I-It didn’t hu-hurt her, right?” Kenny stammered out, his eye wide.

“No,” Carlos assured, looking back to Gabe. The boy was in a similar state, his head fully bandaged alongside his ankle. Eleanor was working alongside Luke to wrap the joint, Kate holding his hand. 

“H-How’s he doin’?” Kenny asked, looking to Eleanor. 

“His concussion is thankfully not severe,” She answered somberly. “His ankle should just need some rest and the fluids we’re giving them both should help.” The woman paused, looking to Clementine. “Her concussion… I helped with. She should be fully recovered now, for the most part, but the rest is really good. She… She’s been through a lot.” 

“And is still going through things,” Carlos interrupted, his brows furrowed as he raised her palm into his hand. “Her ring finger is broken.” 

“Fuck,” Kenny cursed, looking down to find that the finger was indeed swollen, no doubt broken from when she had slammed her fist against the gate. He cursed again, watching carefully as Luke looked between the pair.

“Javi’s doin’ better, right?” He asked, “Should I… should I get him and the others?” 

“Sarah might be upset by seeing her friend like this….” Carlos spoke softly, shaking his head. “They need their rest, as does Javier.” 

“He bled too much too fast,” Eleanor stated, looking down to Kate. “But he’ll pull through, he’s like a wall, isn’t that right, Kate?” 

Kate managed a small smile, her eyes welled with tears. She leaned into the hug Eleanor gave her, the woman’s arms around her shoulders. 

“Both my ba-babies are hurt,” She croaked, sniffling. “A-And Javi… he’s like my brother a-and I-” 

“You are taking care of them,” Carlos spoke, his voice firm. “You are doing everything you can to ensure they are alright.” 

Kate nodded, wiping away her tears with the back of her palm. She sniffled, moving to hold both of Gabe’s hands with her own.

“Kenny…” Luke whispered, looking to the man. “Wh-What... what h-happened to Ben?” 

The man visibly flinched, his grip around Clementine’s hand tightening as he felt the pressure in his eyes return. His panic grew once again as he shook his head, looking up to Luke.

“I-I’m goin’ after him n-now,” He stated gruffly, nodding his head. 

Carlos looked up sharply from where he bandaged Clementine’s fingers, his frown nearing on threatening. 

“No you are not!” The man nearly barked, his eyes meeting Kenny’s. “You are still injured- you still have a cast on your ankle-” 

“I don’t care, Carlos!” Kenny hissed back. “My- My boy is out there! I-I ain’t leavin’ him out there to get bit or shot or worse!” 

“You can’t even run, Kenny,” Luke stepped in, his voice quieter despite the firm tone. “David shattered your ankle-” 

“I could give less of a hell about my leg right now!” Kenny shouted, his gaze flickering between Luke and Carlos as his chest heaved. “Y-You don’t know if he needs m-my goddamn help!” 

“Kenny, you are absolutely forbidden from leaving this hospital room!” Carlos retorted sharply, shaking his head roughly. “You have to rest your leg. You have to worry about Clementine’s health, and you will not survive out there with the walkers!” 

“The lurkers are still around- the silent ones you haven’t even faced!” Luke added passionately, “God knows how many are still out there and how many new lurkers we have to face.” 

Kenny growled, letting go of Clementine’s hand as he stood up. He didn’t even get a step in as Carlos pushed his chest gently, holding him still.

“Kenny,” Carlos spoke, meeting his teary gaze. “I cannot let you leave, even if… if I have to physically stop you.” He took a moment, shaking his head. “You are my friend , Kenny. Ben… Ben wouldn’t want you to go out there and die .

Kenny let out a harsh breath, his chest rising and falling quickly as he felt the pressure in his eyes grow. He opened his mouth to retort to the man, only for his words to break, the pure emotion in his throat making even speaking difficult. 

Carlos didn’t need words to understand what the man was going through. 

The doctor wrapped his arms around Kenny, hugging him close as he felt the man stiffen. He felt the man shake ever so slightly, no doubt holding in all the pain and fear in his chest, trying to appear strong despite the very real crushing emotions pushing down on him.

Kenny was scared.

“He will be alright,” Carlos whispered, “He has held up on his own before and he will do it again.” He paused, his arms still around Kenny’s back. “Once the walkers dissipate, we can try and find him carefully. Together.” 

“All of us,” Luke joined in gently, his hand on Kenny’s shoulder. “As a family.” 

It took another beat before Kenny regained his composure, the man sniffling loudly as he shifted out of Carlos’ grip, moving to wipe his face with his palm quickly. He ignored the wetness he felt, no doubt the redness in the eyes would be more than enough to give him away, as he stared at the ground, his chest aching.

“H-He’s still got my hat,” He mumbled, crossing his arms over his stomach, not too unalike Ben.

“Well, then I’m sure he is more than fine,” Carlos replied softly. “It is quite the good luck charm.” 

Kenny couldn’t help but snort, his breath shaky. He turned back to Clementine, fighting the defeat in his chest as he held her uninjured hand, sitting onto the hospital bed. His gaze searched over Clementine’s face, his heart racing as he memorized every blemish before focusing on her newly acquired scar. 

Kenny tried his hardest not to think about just how badly he had failed once again.

Chapter Text

Clementine’s eyes ached as she slowly made her way back to the realm of consciousness, her entire body plagued with various ached. She couldn’t help but groan as all her senses attacked her mind, everything too loud and bright . Her head swam with each thought as she fought through the cloud in her mind, letting out a sharp hiss as she managed to finally blink her eyes open.

“E-Easy, easy, Clem,” A soft voice spoke, the words not unlike a blanket of warmth. “I-It’s okay, just take it easy.” 

Clementine turned to focus on where the voice was coming from, blinking her bleary eyes before relaxing completely.

“S-Sarah?” She groaned, the pressure around her wrists registering as her friend’s soft hands wrapped around hers. 

The girl nodded eagerly, her gentle eyes wide as she scooted closer onto the hospital bed, her lips pulled into a tense smile. 

“It’s me, Clem,” She whispered, “You’re okay, just take a m-minute to breathe.” 

Clementine couldn’t help but relax into her friend’s touch, Sarah having always been one of the most comforting people in her life. She took a moment to fight through her aches and pains, Sarah’s soft voice helping her the rest of the way. Her heart slowly relaxed, her mind flittering with specks of her memory from what happened- she couldn’t quite recall why she was currently lying down next to Sarah. 

“Clementine?” Sarah murmured, squeezing the girl’s hand as she scooted closer. She paused, looking back to the hall before opening her mouth, her voice louder. “Kenny! Dad!” 

All at once, Clementine jolted up, a gasp leaving her lips. She was barely able to let out a raw, pained , call for her brother before being gently pushed back down onto the hospital bed, Kenny’s hands wrapped around her shoulders.

“H-Hey, hey, kiddo,” Kenny stammered, his eyes wildly searching the girl. “I-It’s me, darlin;’, it’s Kenny.” 

Clementine nearly began to hyperventilate as she shook her head, her eyes pricking with tears. She moved to hold onto the man, only to flinch at the pain erupting from her hand, letting out a sharp cry.

“Careful!” Kenny gasped, wrapping his hand carefully around her wrist. He held on gently, careful not to startle the girl nor hurt her.

“Your finger is broken,” Kenny murmured, meeting her gaze. “Take it easy, okay? I’m r-right here.” 

“Wh-Where’s Ben!” Clementine cried, her other hand clutching at Kenny’s shirt as she looked wildly over the man. “Wh-Where is he, Kenny!? Where is he!?” 

Kenny was quick to shush the girl and her stammering, shaking his head quickly.  He wrapped his arms back around her, pulling her to his chest gently as he sat back, hugging her tightly. Sarah joined in without missing a beat, the girl resting her head between Clementine’s shoulder blades.

“Just take a m-moment to breathe, darlin’,” Kenny murmured, nodding his head. “I’m right here, we’re all okay.” 

Clementine managed to calm herself, albeit nowhere near a level Kenny would’ve liked as she sniffled, pulling away.

Kenny didn’t hesitate to cup the girl’s face, Sarah clutching her upper arm with both hands. 

“Don’t you panic,” Kenny began slowly, nodding his head. “W-We’re gonna get Ben tonight-t, you got me?” 

“H-He’s still g-gone!” Clementine nearly shouted, looking around the room wildly. “H-How long has it b-been!?”

“Stay with me, kiddo,” Kenny spoke, taking a deep breath as he fought his own fear. “I-It’s only been a day-”

“A-A day!?” 

“-but we had people out there lookin’ last night,” Kenny interrupted, trying to calm the girl. “We had scouts killin’ the walkers and we had people outside the w-walls lookin’ for him.”

The man paused, pulling away slightly. “I-I haven’t… I couldn’t go far,” He whispered, swallowing loudly. “But- But I’m headed out tonight t-to find him.” 

Clementine stared, her eyes wide as she stammered, only shutting her eyes when Kenny hugged her back to his chest, pulling in Sarah as well. He hugged both the girls close, allowing them both to relax and breathe for a moment.

“He’ll be alright-t,” Kenny murmured, his voice quieter. “We’ll get him back, we just-t gotta trust him.” 

Clementine hiccuped, leaning into the touch as she fought the various voices telling her that Ben was most definitely in desperate need of help. Her throat ached from past screams and shouts, the sensation of Kenny rubbing her back the only real relief she felt. 

“How is she?” Carlos’ voice interrupted, jolting Clementine back and out of Kenny’s grip, Sarah’s hand immediately intertwined with hers.

Carlos was standing beside where Kenny sat, his brows knitted in concern. He managed a genuine, small, smile for the girl as he watched her wipe her eyes, his worries spiking. 

“Better,” Kenny answered, “Can she take anythin’ for the pain?” 

Clementine looked down at her hand, blinking wildly at the sight of a finger splint around her left index finger. She blinked at the sight of a different shirt on her figure, immediately blinking wildly.

“The shirts from Kate,” Sarah spoke, smiling when her friend met her gaze. “She says it was too big on Mariana but it fit you fine.” 

“I-Is Gabe okay?!” Clementine gasped suddenly, looking between the three. She finally registered the fact she was in a different room then she had entered in, gasping at the flickering light above her.

“You’ve been asleep for a day,” Carlos informed gently, taking a seat beside Kenny. “Power has returned, Richmond is stabilized.” 

“Gabe’s in a room with Javi,” Kenny added, stroking her wrist with the pad of his thumb. “They’re both doin’ better, Gabe’s still out but he was up earlier. Javi’s… walkin’ around with some crutches and complain’ ‘bout it. But he’s okay.” 

Clementine swallowed, taking in the man’s words. She shut her eyes, trying to rest as much as she could as her chest felt as if a weight was on her chest, shuddering. 

“D-Do you have A-Aj?” She whimpered, meeting Kenny’s gaze.

Kenny seemed taken aback, his entire figure flinching as he widened his eye, immediately locking his gaze on the bed. He fought the dryness in his throat, his heart pounding in his chest.

“I-I don’t.” 

Clementine fought her tears as she nearly sobbed, her own chest aching painfully. She almost wanted to disappear into the bed again, falling back to sleep where everything was fine- where everyone was still alive and she could imagine for as long as she wanted that things never went wrong.

Where Lee was still here. 

“Lindgard informed us of where he was taken,” Carlos spoke up quietly, his hand on Kenny’s shoulder. “But we most focus now on recuperating,” He paused, squeezing the man’s shoulder tightly. “All of us.” 

Clementine slowly cracked her eyes open, looking over her friends. She noted Kenny’s ankle in a cast, his own face and body looking more exhausted than she recalled in years. Her eyes flittered to Carlos, finding him looking equally as tired whilst Sarah rested her head on her shoulder.

“We’re gonna get Ben back,” Kenny whispered, his eyes shut. “H-He’s in more danger. He we c-can get tonight.”  

“Wh-Where’s AJ?” Clementine asked, her voice a croak.

“He’s… he’s at a ranch,” Sarah mumbled, drawing everyone’s attention as she looked just as sullen, her fingers playing with the bracelet on her wrist.

“He is safe, for now,” Carlos assured, nodding his head. “The McCarroll Ranch is another outpost of Richmond just ten miles away.” He spared a glance to Kenny, ensuring the man was okay before continuing. “It hasn’t been affected by the attack and according to Clint, it is safe.” 

Clementine blinked, furrowing her brows. “Cl-Clint? Is- Is he a go-good guy?” 

“He’s the one who was in charge of me,” Kenny muttered, crossing his arms. “Runs the greenery and shit. Takes care of the plants and what they grow here and how it’s rationed.” He cleared his throat, shaking his head. “Nice enough guy.” 

“He was under strict order of keeping Kenny away from everyone,” Carlos spoke softly, his hand still on the other man’s shoulder. “But he did not approve of the damage David did to him- he allowed Lindgard to treat his injury whilst also giving him time to say goodbye to AJ.” 

Kenny looked increasingly more uncomfortable, something that wasn’t unnoticed by the others. Carlos settled on clearing his own throat as he pulled his hand back from his shoulder, his gaze locking back on Clementine and his daughter.

“Richmond is slowly recuperating,” He began, nodding his head. “The walls are repaired and electricity is slowly returning to each building. The casualties…. They are being dealt with.” 

“A-Are Nick and Lu-Luke and Javi and ev-everyone else okay?” Clementine asked, looking between them all. 

“Yes,” Carlos assured, “Javi survived his injury and with rest he should recuperate without a permanent ailment. Gabe is recovering fine as well and Mariana’s arm required only rest for now.” 

“You gotta focus on yourself for now,” Kenny murmured, moving to run his thumb over Clementine’s knuckles, his gaze locked on her bruised hand. “Just recoverin’ and takin’ it easy.” 

“H-Have you seen… D-David?” Clementine asked, ignoring Kenny’s words. 

Kenny furrowed his brows, immediately shaking his head roughly. “If I so much as get a glance of him, I’m beatin’ him into the ground.” He stated, his free hand curling into a fist. 

Clementine swallowed, her eyes pricking with tears at the memories attacking her mind, her heart beginning to race once again.

“H-He hu-hurt Ben.”

Kenny’s gaze slowly grew redder and redder, his breathing nearly coming to a stop as he felt Carlos and Sarah stiffen beside him, the younger girl gasping. He just barely registered Carlos’ voice through his wave of fury, his nails digging into his palms.

“His neck,” Carlos whispered, his brows knitted in concern. “It was bruised-” 

“What the fuck did he do to him!?” Kenny boomed, his eye wide. “What the fuck did h-he do to my boy?!” 

Clementine sniffled as she shook her head, screwing her eyes shut as she felt another sob build in her chest. She hadn’t even stopped to think if Ben had been severely injured by what had happened to him, from his lack of sleep and food to his physical injuries. Her mind was quickly bombarded by the memories of the last few hellish days, a choked sob breaking past her lips. 

Sarah was quick to wrap her arms around Clementine, pulling her close to her chest as she hid her own face into the girl’s neck. 

Kenny felt his world spin as Carlos quickly pulled him up and off the hospital bed. His palms closed around the man’s upper arms, pulling him further and further away as his chest rose and fell violently, no doubt nearing back into panic-attack territory.

“Carlos! Carlos what’d he do!?” Kenny nearly shouted once they were in the hall, his entire figure shaking. “Carlos- y-you saw him-!” 

“Kenny breathe,” Carlos interrupted, shaking his head as Kenny’s nails dug into his forearms. “You are going to hurt yourself!” 

The man shook regardless, looking over his friend wildly as he begged for answers. His mind played a million different scenarios once again, different ways Ben could be hurt or worse. He already missed the boy, his son, more than he thought he could take. Every day since he had last seen him was like another stab to the chest, his wounds not treatable by anything but the sight and return of the teen.

Kenny didn’t want to live a life without Ben. 

“His neck has some non-concerning bruising,” Carlos finally spoke, hoping to calm the man back down. “His arm was burnt from what I could only assume was the cabin fire-” 

“H-He needs to see you!” Kenny stammered, shaking his head. “H-His leg’s probably hurtin’ him and if-if his shoulders achin’ bad he-he shouldn’t be out-!” 

“Kenny!” Carlos interrupted in an exasperated whisper, immediately meeting the man’s gaze with a nod. “You can get him back soon, this I promise you.” He paused, nodding encouragingly when Kenny’s breathing slowed down. “Any ailments or injuries I can deal with, every single one.” 

Kenny whimpered pitifully, his jaw locked. “Wh-What if he-he’s bit?”

Carlos couldn’t stop himself from flinching as he stared at the man, just barely managing a shake of his head. 

“He knows how to avoid the undead,” He replied, “He is adept at staying quiet and he knows your teachings by heart.” He paused, managing a tense smile. “He still has his own cleaver as well, not to mention your hat. He will be fine.” 

Kenny rested the back of his head against the wall, his eyes screwed shut as he took a few breaths. He repeated the old exercises he had once taught Ben, the memories now painful as he forced himself to follow the counts, the pressure in his chest slowly dissipating.

“Once that sun goes down,” Kenny whispered, his voice a croak. “I am goin’ past that gate, I don’t care what happens to me and I don’t care who tries to stop me.” He stopped, meeting Carlos with fury in his gaze. “I don’t give a shit if David’s out there or it’s a million walkers-”

“-I'm gettin’ my son back.”

Chapter Text

 Kenny’s old and weary bones ached against the harsh gravel road, his heart somehow in even more pain as he stared into the darkness ahead. He couldn’t recall the last time he slept, no doubt it had been more than twenty-four hours. His eye struggled to adjust to the dark road and cityscape ahead as he kept his arm tight around Clementine’s shoulders.

The pair were seated just in front of the main gate of Richmond, the fires behind the wall crackling as the door was kept cracked open just a sliver. It was well past midnight, the duo having to rest after spending the evening searching. The majority of search crews were already back inside of Richmond, the search for missing people and the bodies of those lost still ongoing days after the initial attack.

Ben had been gone for nearly two days.

Kenny refused to even entertain the idea that Ben was missing or gone for any longer- that the teen hadn’t found somewhere or someplace to be safe- despite the reports back from Hilltop and Prescott that no refugees had appeared. 

The envoys from Hilltop and Prescott had brought necessary backup and people. Conrad had reunited with Francine, Tripp had hugged his friends tight, and Jesus was once again leading his own people alongside a short haired woman and her husband. Kenny had many questions but saved them for later, deciding to focus on his own family.

Clementine shivered in the dark, her flashlight barely highlighting her facial features as she focused the beam ahead. Her short-sleeved orange shirt displayed multiple fruits alongside the name of some old company, her arms covered by Kenny’s leather jacket. The man’s own arms were bare, his tan shirt leaving his skin exposed. 

Kenny only sighed as he pulled Clementine closer, the girl resting her temple against his chest as she leaned into the touch, her eyes wide. Her brown eyes searched in the night for any sign of her brother, her hand switching and playing with the bracelet on her wrist. 

“He’ll come back,” Kenny whispered, his lips in Clementine’s hair, her hat forgotten back in the hospital room. He shut his eyes, placing a soft kiss in her scalp as he felt her hiccup, hugging her just a bit tighter. “He will. I promise you that.” 

Clementine sniffled, wiping her eyes harshly. She cleared her throat as she felt Kenny pull back and away from her hair, his arm still tight around her, before blinking and focusing ahead again.

“H-He knows the sewers are b-bad,” She whispered, not looking at her friend. “N-Nick told us they h-had something bad down th-there but none of us kn-knew that’s where most of th-the silent walkers were.” 

Kenny let out a stiff breath, his heart pounding with more fervor as he nodded, trying his best not to scare the girl any more than she already was- not that he expected Ben not to return. 

“I’m sure he’s holed up in some dinky little buildin’,” Kenny spoke, his words spoken with a forced lightness. “Waitin’ until these walkers get by and then he’s gonna head right on back.” 

Clementine sniffled, wiping her face as she nodded. “H-He is good at sp-spotting walkers… and h-he has his cleaver,” She stated quietly. 

Kenny nodded, unable not not chuckle at the girl’s words. “He ever tell you where he got that damned cleaver from?” He asked, tilting his head to meet her gaze.

Clementine shook her head, her brows furrowing. 

“Well,” Kenny began, “It was mine first, for a few weeks at least. Hell, it must’ve been a few months before I handed it over.” He paused, chuckling softly as he fixed his grip around Clementine’s back, clearing his throat. “Picked it out right in the mansion I took him to after… after he got hurt.” 

Clementine blinked, her mouth slightly agape in shock. “He’s had it for that long?”  

Kenny hummed a small ‘mhmm’ , his lips turning up in a small smirk at the memory of Ben practically stealing the weapon. “He wasn’t havin’ it when Rita and I got ourselves some guns and he had nothin’ but a rolling pin.” 

“ A rolling pin!?” Clementine gasped, her eyes wide.

Kenny’s smirk turned into a chuckle as he nodded, bumping his shoulder against the girl’s. “Yup, he hated me for that,” He teased, the corners of his eyes wrinkling. “Thought it made him look like an idiot.” 

“Did it?” 

Keny snickered, shrugging. “I thought he looked like an idiot regardless.”  

Clementine smiled fondly, her eyes lighting up just a fraction as she leaned even more into Kenny, the man squeezing her tightly.

Silence fell upon the pair as they continued to stare out into the dark world, their hearts nearly sitting in their respective throats. They couldn’t help but fall back into their negative and scared mindsets, their minds racing a mile an hour as they waited for the boy they both loved. 

Clementine was missing her brother whilst Kenny missed his son. 

“Is your ankle okay?” Clementine asked quietly, her gaze on the man’s joint as she looked between his weathered face and his injury. 

“Yeah,” Kenny whispered, his eyes not shifting from the darkness ahead. “Lindgard actually patched me up under Clint’s orders almost immediately.” He paused, clearing his throat. “He was kinda concerned ‘bout me. I’m pretty sure he had a rough talk with David about what happened.” 

Clementine nodded slowly, her hand wrapping around Kenny’s wrist as he squeezed his wrist, swallowing loudly.  

“Eleanor helped m-me and Ben,” Clementine murmured, her words barely audible as she thought back in her mind to the memories of before. “His arm wasn’t… it wasn’t too bad but Eleanor gave him medicine and wrapped i-it up. She helped with my concussion too.” 

Kenny couldn’t help but pull the girl closer as his heart raced, swallowing sharply at the many horrifying thoughts consuming his mind. He had let both Ben and Clementine get hurt- the two people he swore he’d protect with his life.

The two children he had promised the people he cared about most that he would take care of.

Clementine’s nimble fingers continued to play with the bracelet on her wrist, her backpack forgotten in the hospital room. She ached for her friends and family, her thoughts drifting to Gabe’s panicked cries after waking from his induced state. Both still hadn’t seen Javi since he’d gotten shot.

Kenny’s sigh caught Clementine’s attention, her eyes locking on the man’s figure as he reached his free hand up to his face, brushing his hair back. His dark locks of hair were slowly graying towards the roots, no doubt the last few years were taking their toll on him. 

Clementine couldn’t explain the sudden sadness in her chest at the thought. 

“He’s been through worse,” Kenny whispered after a beat, his eye locked back ahead as he swallowed the lump in his throat. “He’s tougher than I am, hell, he’s tougher than all of us.” He paused, letting out a shaky sigh. “I know he’ll come back, he has to.” 

Clementine was silent for another beat, her fingers still playing with her bracelet as she breathed out a long breath, her eyes back down on her lap.

“D-Did Ben ever talk ab-about his old family?” She asked, not looking over.

Kenny seemed taken aback, his body stiffening as he furrowed his brows. He nearly whipped his head around to look at the girl, looking her over meticulously.

“H-He… he talked about them a little bit,” Clementine mumbled, pulling at her bracelet. “He didn’t s-say much… just.. Just that he remembers them.”

A moment passed before Kenny nodded, his arm around the girl tightening just a bit. He sighed loudly before focusing back ahead, slotting the information into the back of his mind. 

Silence once again descended on the pair, Kenny’s gaze falling to his lap as he shut his eye. He focused on breathing, calming his swarming thoughts. His mind repeated Carlos’ words over and over again, the man promising him that Ben would return- that he’d be fine was barely doing anything to still his anxious state. 

All at once, Clementine stiffened, her figure scooting forward an inch as she dropped both hands to the ground. Her heart slammed in her chest, her lips hung open while her gaze locked ahead. The young girl squinted, Kenny looking ahead with a gasp.

It only took another second before Clementine climbed up to her feet, nearly stumbling as she stared ahead. Her uninjured hand curled into a fist as she gasped loudly. 

Ahead, a figure practically limped in the dark landscape, heading closer and closer to the lights illuminating Richmond’s gates. 

Clementine could recognize the limp anywhere. 

“It’s him!”  

The girl practically bolted to the approaching figure, the teen just barely stepping into the light as Clementine all but rammed into him. Her arms immediately wrapped around his stomach as he stumbled back a good few steps, nearly falling back as he hugged her with an intense hold.

“I-It’s you!” Clementine sobbed, her face hidden in Ben’s ribs as she cried. “I-I- Y-You came b-back! You-You-” 

Ben squeezed the girl even closer as he nodded, his entire figure relaxing despite the very real pain consuming him. He wasn’t quite ready to pull away quite yet but had no choice as the trembling girl in his arms stepped back. Clementine was quick to wipe at her face as Ben’s gaze lifted from her small shape, looking behind her only to freeze. 

Kenny was only a few feet away from Ben, the man staring over him with a wide look, his mouth hanging open. He didn’t look away from the teen’s blue eyes, his heart nearly stopping as the teen shifted first, his hands trembling.

Ben was quick to swipe the hat off his head, holding it out to the man in his shaking fingers, his gaze locked back onto the man’s face. 

“I-I k-kept it s-safe,” Ben practically croaked, a sob lodged in his throat as his entire figure shook in the summer air. 

Kenny’s gaze flickered down to his aged hat, the accessory looking no worse than it had just a week ago. The man could do nothing but stare for another beat before looking up to Ben, the tears in his eyes nothing short of painful. 

Kenny lurched forward, pushing past Ben’s hands to crush the teen to his chest, leaving his hat to fall to the ground as the boy’s arms wrapped around him just as tightly. He couldn’t help but let out a harsh sob into the teen’s neck, his face planting there as Ben’s hands curled into the back of Kenny’s leather jacket. 

The pair practically swayed in their own tears, Kenny placing a multitude of kisses on the boy’s head as he squeezed him even closer. His arms held on tighter when the boy sagged, his tears soaking Kenny’s hair. 

Clementine’s arms wrapped around the pair as she hugged them both close, her own tears sliding down her face. 

Kenny fixed his arms to hold both of his children, cradling them both as tight as he could as his heart grew full, every ache in his body seemingly disappearing. 

“I-I h-here, I’ve got-t you both,” Kenny whispered, his knuckles white. “Y-Your dad’s got ya.” 

The family held onto one another tightly, their love for one another stronger than anything the universe could ever throw at them.

Chapter Text

 

Kenny had to fight the ingrained feeling in him to carry both Clementine and Ben in his arms as the trio made their way through the hospital, Kenny effectively leading the way. Both him and Clementine had an arm wrapped around the small of the teen’s back, helping him limp to the room Kenny knew Carlos to be in. 

“M-M’okay,” Ben stammered out, his eyes burning from the pressure and lack of sleep that had built up over the last day. He couldn’t deny the very real urge to just collapse into his friend’s arms, only stopping himself at the sight of his bandaged ankle. His mind was swarmed with a million different questions and concerns, setting them aside as he focused on putting one foot in front of the other.  

“A-Almost there, ki-kid,” Kenny breathed, his voice cracking on the last word of the sentence, his heart nearly in his throat. 

Kenny and Clementine continued to lead the teen through the halls, their grips tight on Ben’s side as they roughly turned a corner, Kenny nearly bellowing for the doctor. 

The next few seconds were a blur, Ben still stuttering a few ‘I’m okay’ s as he found himself sitting back on what felt like a bed, his green parka no longer covering his arms. He blinked at the growing pressure on both palms, blinking to refocus his eyes as everything ached. Warmth engulfed the boy’s face, finally a strong enough push Ben needed to ground himself.

Of course, the warmth belonged to none other than Kenny.

“Hey, t-talk to me,” Kenny nearly ordered, his voice shaking as he looked over the boy. His hands tightly held onto the teen’s cheeks, forcing their gazes to meet. “What’s hurtin’- what-”

Kenny was abruptly cut off as Ben leaned forward, resting his chin on the man’s shoulder rather roughly. HIs eyes shut almost immediately as Kenny’s arms wrapped around his waist, holding him close. 

“M-Missed y-you,” Ben croaked, his entire figure hitching. 

A choked sob nearly broke past Kenny’s lips as he held the teen close, sending Carlos a panicked glance. Clementine only squeezed the boy’s hand tighter, sniffling. 

“I’m here, kid-d,” Kenny assured, his hand in the back of the teen’s hair. “Come on, what’s hu-hurtin’?” 

Ben couldn’t help but whine as he was slowly pushed back against the back of the hospital bed, reclining but not laying back completely. He felt Kenny’s rough fingers wrap around his wrist, turning his arm gently. 

“This is h-his burnt arm,” Kenny breathed, turning to Carlos. “I-It looks ba-bad.” 

Carlos didn’t hesitate to close the distance, leaning over the side of the bed to carefully examine the arm. His eyes made quick work of assessing the damage as he lifted the sleeve all the way up to his shoulder, his gaze swiftly shifting to the bruising of his neck.

“H-His fuckin’- His fucking neck-” Kenny hissed, scooting closer as his own hands hovered over the discoloration, his gaze flickering up to meet the boy’s dull blue eyes. “Ben- Ben can you talk right? Is your th-throat hurtin’?” 

Ben shook his head, squeezing Clementine’s hand just a bit as he breathed out a long breath. “J-Just tired.” 

“D-Did you eat at a-all?” Kenny asked, practically interrogating the boy while Carlos began to set up for treatment, connecting a see-through bag into an IV machine. 

Ben shook his head, his gaze flickering over his caretaker as he searched for answers on his whereabouts. 

“Wh-What happened to your f-foot?” Ben cried, his voice hoarse. “I-Is i-it a bi-” 

“Ben,” Kenny interrupted, stressing the word as he clamped his hands back over the teen’s cheeks, forcing their gazes to meet. The boy wasn’t answering his questions in the slightest, only leaving more confusion and fear to grow in Kenny’s heart. “Answer my questions!” 

Carlos was by Kenny’s side in an instant, shifting Ben’s arm in Clementine’s grip gently. He was quick to look over the older teen, ensuring he was momentarily occupied before inserting the tube into the boy’s wrist. 

Ben didn’t flinch, not quite noticing as his head continued to be clouded by a fog of exhaustion. He finally processed Kenny’s question, shaking his head before speaking again. “Di-Did you g-get hurt?” 

Kenny nearly let out a sob, the boy’s selfless nature, even when hurt, was nearly painful. He needed the teen to focus on himself- for once. 

“I’m fine, k-kid, everyone’s ok-okay,” Kenny quickly assured, only scooting back an inch when Carlos grew closer. His hands fell from Ben’s face, locking around the uninjured part of his burned arm before turning to the doctor.

“The fluids will help,” Carlos quickly assured, looking over the teen. “He seems to be dealing with exhaustion and sleep deprivation- all things that can be addressed and dealt with.” 

“Wh-What about his neck an-and arm?” Kenny asked, looking over the burned skin. “I-Is there nothing y-you can do?” 

“I am positive there is burn cream but I would need to ask Lindgard for its whereabouts,” Carlos replied, his voice softer as he rested a palm on his friend’s shoulder. His other palm reached for a bottle of rather cool water, holding it out for Kenny. 

Kenny didn’t hesitate to take the bottle in his hands, uncapping it rather roughly before scooting back closer to the boy. He made eye contact with the teen, ensuring the boy could see what his next move before placing the bottle on Ben’s bottom lip. His eyes watched carefully as Ben swallowed the water, looking for any disruption in reference to his bruised neck. He only relaxed when Ben pulled away, seemingly drinking without difficulty.

“H-He’s okay, right?” Clementine whispered, looking between Carlos and Kenny.

“He is,” Carlos assured, taking the bottle out of Kenny’s hand as he stood back, watching carefully as Kenny helped relax the teen even more. He moved closer, reclining the hospital bed back until it was flat, allowing for the boy to be completely lied back.

“Rest,” Kenny mumbled, scooting close enough to brush the teen’s bangs back, his other hand over his chest. “I’ll see ya r-real soon, okay?”

Ben shook his head, barely registering Clementine as she scooted closer, her hands wrapped around upper arm. 

“Clem?” Ben croaked, meeting her gaze. “You good, ki-kiddo?” 

Kenny watched with his heart in his throat as Clementine nodded, wiping her sleeve across her face. She squeezed Ben’s arm before shifting closer, the teen seemingly understanding what she wanted.

The pair of adults nearly jumped forward when Ben shifted to the edge of the bed, only to watch as Clementine climbed in beside him, careful not to disturb the IV. The girl didn’t hesitate to lay down on her side, her forehead against Ben’s shoulder as she looked up to him, unable to stop herself from wrapping her arm over his stomach.

“Don-Don’t do that again,” Clementine whimpered, screwing her eyes shut. 

Ben nodded, leaning close to place a small kiss on her forehead, nearly flinching at the intensity of Kenny’s grip. He turned back to Kenny, the man cracking a teary-eyed smile, his hand still in his hair. 

“You two are n-nothin’ but trouble,” He croaked, still smiling. “My trouble.” 

Both Clementine and Ben let out their own chuckles, Ben’s heavy lidded eyes only growing heavier with each passing beat. He slowly turned to look at Kenny, watching him closely before shifting to place his hand over Kenny’s, brushing his knuckles. 

“You two res-rest now,” Kenny whispered, nodding. “I’m gon’ be right here when you wake up. I promise.” 

Ben managed a rather weak yet genuine smile, his eyes finally sliding shut as he relaxed into the mattress of the hospital bed, his heart no longer so heavy.

Chapter Text

The next time Ben awoke, his entire figure was one giant ache. He could barely really move, only a groan leaving his lips as he tried to blink his eyes open.

The blank white ceiling above the teen was illuminated by a bright light, his eyes aching at the level of brightness. The boy blinked once again, focusing as best he could before jolting at the snore erupting from beside him.

Ben looked over to his right, barely able to stifle an ‘aw’ as he looked over Clementine’s sleeping figure, her hands tangled rather messily around his unburned arm. Her brow rubbed against his shoulder as she slept, her mouth hanging open as she just barely snored, no doubt she was just as exhausted as the boy.

The teen’s gaze remained locked on the younger teenager for another beat before looking to his other side, finally registering another weight beside him. He looked down to his burned arm, finding Kenny’s hand tightly wrapped around his own palm, the man equally as knocked out as Clementine, his head on the foot of the bed.  

The man’s exhausted state only left Ben feeling an undeniable sense of relief, relaxing at the realization that he was in fact both okay and resting. He shifted his grip in the man’s calloused hand, turning to intertwine his fingers and squeeze his palm.

“He has been like that for hours,” A voice murmured, jolting Ben’s attention.

Carlos was sitting on a chair beside the bed, his hands crossed over his knees as he smiled softly, exhaustion eating away at his own face. Still, his bright smile was more of a comfort than he would’ve expected.

“That’s good,” Ben croaked, his throat aching just a bit more than he was used to. This was quickly remedied as Carlos practically jumped up, a glass of water in hand. The doctor didn’t even hesitate before placing the glass against Ben’s lip, nodding.

The teen didn’t have a second to protest the man’s insistence, settling on taking a rather long and satisfying sip. He couldn’t deny the absolute and utter euphoria, his throat instantaneously improving. Carlos waited for the teen to finish before pulling the cup back, nodding as he placed the glass onto the side table. 

“They have not left your side since you were brought in,” Carlos added just as softly, his eyes soft. “It is very endearing.” 

Ben’s ears grew red but an undeniable smile spread on his lips anyway, looking between the two people beside him. 

“H-How long have I been asleep?” He asked quietly, afraid of the answer.

“Around eight hours,” Carlos replied, “It’s just after noon, don’t worry.” 

Ben nodded, getting even more comfortable in the bed as he shut his eyes. He let out a long sigh, his breath trembling just a bit. 

“Are you in a great deal of pain?” Carlos asked after a beat. 

Ben shook his head, his eyes still shut. “M’fine, just tired,” He assured, sighing once more. “Nothin’ hurts, I promise.” 

Carlos only scooted his chair closer, looking over the teen with his own eyes as if to ensure he was in fact fine. “Does it hurt to speak?” He questioned, not entirely convinced.

It was then Ben realized a new feeling on his neck, tilting his head as best as possible to just barely make out a thin bandage. He furrowed his brows, his lips in a thin line. 

“Wh-Why the bandaids?” 

“Kenny… found them upsetting to look at,” Carlos answered after a moment, his eyes on the tiled flooring. “Your arm could not be covered due to the healing but the applied cream certainly helped with the rawness.” 

Ben didn’t say anything immediately, his gaze locked on the twisted red skin stretching over his arm. The redness had definitely subsided but the skin was still upsetting enough. The scarring stretched from his inner elbow to his wrist, leaving Ben with a rather unsettling feeling in his stomach. 

He wasn’t sure how comfortable he was with such a visible scar. 

“It will look damaged for the remainder of your life, I believe,” Carlos spoke then, his voice barely a whisper. “I wish there was more I could do for it.” 

Ben nodded, clearing his throat quietly. He shifted a bit, hoping to divert some of the obvious anxiety painting his face to anywhere else as he felt Carlos’ saddened gaze on him. 

“I-I usually wear sle-sleeves anyway,” Ben mumbled, nodding his head. He found himself clearing his throat once more, unsure whether it was due to the building emotion or soreness. His thoughts were already beginning to wander into dangerous territory, as they often did when he thought too hard about his scarred figure. 

The teen’s thoughts were quickly interrupted at the flinch from the man at the end of the bed, his gaze immediately locking onto his older friend. 

Kenny shot up with a gasp, his eye wide as he whipped his gaze to the teens in the bed. He tightened his grip on Ben’s palm as he stood up, practically sitting on the bed as he leaned forward, his other palm on the teen’s stomach.

“He-Hey!” Kenny practically shouted, his eye crinkling in utter happiness at the sight of Ben being awake. “Morning, kid. H-How are ya feelin’?” 

The teen was unable to hold back a wide smile when Kenny scooted closer, his hand on the side of Ben’s face, his eye back to searching him. 

“M’okay,” Ben assured, ignoring the numbness growing around where Clementine held him. “Ho-How’re you?” 

Kenny only shook his head as he scooted even closer, barely having any room to rest on the bed completely. He flinched as he adjusted his ankle, still looking over Ben.

“You should still be restin’, kid,” Kenny grumbled, his thumb brushing gently over the teen’s cheekbone. “You look tired as hell.”

“You look just as tired,” Ben retorted with a smirk. 

“I prefer the terms ‘gettin’ old’ , Ben,” Kenny replied, smiling just as wide. 

Ben barely even managed a chuckle before Kenny shifted closer, wrapping one arm below the teen’s back before gently raising him to his own chest, hugging him with as much strength as he dared. He was cautious in not waking up the young girl sleeping beside him, gently lowering Ben after another beat. His hand resumed its place over the teen’s cheek, squeezing gingerly.

“Caution with your ankle, Kenny,” Carlos sounded out suddenly, jolting the pair. 

Kenny didn’t even turn around, only brushing the man off with his palm. His eyes instead flickered down to the teen’s burned arm, his eyes narrowing. He raised a calloused finger over the boy’s burns, not touching the sensitive skin quite yet. 

Yet, before the man could even question the teen’s burns, Ben was already speaking. 

“Wh-What happened to y-your ankle?”

Kenny brushed the boy off, not even looking up from the boy’s arm as he spoke, his words a mutter. “David.” 

Ben felt his chest heave in anger, his eyes widening as he focused his gaze on the side of his caretakers gaze, prepared to jump up and protect him if needed. 

“M’fine, kid,” Kenny interrupted, turning to look at the rage-filled boy. “It’ll heal, it’s already been through similar shit before.” 

Ben couldn’t help the small groan of protest, wanting to get more information out of the man as his anxiety grew. He fought with his thoughts for another beat before shoving them to the side with a sigh.

“A-Are Javi and Ga-Gabe okay?” He mumbled, looking between Kenny and Carlos.

“Both are fine,” Carlos replied with a smile. “They are resting with one another alongside Kate and Mari.” 

Ben nodded, not even flinching when Kenny’s hand wrapped around his, the man’s much larger palm squeezing his nimble fingers. He looked to Clementine, thankful she was sleeping, only to register the small binding around her finger, his eyes wide.

“Her finger broke,” Kenny explained softly, reaching his hand to gently rub the girls shoulder. “She’s fine and it’s gonna heal without any problems- I promise.” 

Ben wasn’t entirely convinced as he searched the girl for another beat, his heart slamming in his throat. He had half a mind to hold her close to his chest, protecting her once more from the world.

To no one's surprise, Kenny appeared to notice the boy’s worry, settling on squeezing his palm a bit tighter. 

“You kept her safe,” The man murmured, brushing a strand of the teen’s hair behind his ear. “She’s alive. You’re both alive. You took care of one another, just like I knew you would.” 

Ben stared for another beat at his younger sister, her echoing screams nearly deafening him as he tried his hardest to focus on the rise and fall of her chest.

“In good news,” Kenny began, trying to distract the teen. “That sick bastard Badger was found hanging from Richmond’s gates- half the New Frontier was.” 

“Kenny-”

“No, Carlos,” The man interrupted, turning back to his friend. “This is to give him peace of mind. He ain’t gonna recover knowin’ that bastard is still out there.”  

Ben swallowed loudly at his caretaker’s words, his eyes locked on the ceiling as he croaked. “Wh-What about Da-David and Max?” 

“I took care of Max,” Carlos spoke rather quietly, his voice more even then he ever recalled it to be. “He is no longer an issue.” 

 Kenny snorted but didn’t say anything else as he looked back down at the tiled flooring of the room. His palm around Ben tightened subconsciously as his thoughts drifted, taking in a deep breath before speaking.

“David’s still missin’, but we’ll find him and serve him the justice he so rightly deserves,” He hissed, not looking back to Ben. “He’ll pay for everythin’ but until then, we focus on us.” 

Ben settled on nodding rather slowly, a long and shaky sigh leaving his chest. He had half a mind to protest and fight for more information, but settled on shutting his eyes and relaxing back into the bed. 

“Hey,” Kenny spoke up then, somehow closer from when Ben shut his eyes. The teen cracked his eyes open, scrunching his brows in confusion as he awaited for the man to speak.  

“I love you,” The man murmured, brushing the boy’s hair back. “Y’know that?” 

Ben ignored the heat that stretched from his neck to his ears, settling on nodding quickly. 

“Good,” Kenny mumbled, ignoring the feeling of Carlos’ knowing eyes bleeding into his back. “I just w-wanted to make sure you did.” 

“I-I love you too,” Ben replied, ignoring the building pressure in his eyes as his voice cracked.

Kenny only smiled softly as he patted the boy’s chest, his other hand working through the teen’s thick locks. 

“Now get some sleep ‘cause when you wake up, your hairs getting chopped off,” Kenny teased, his eyes shimmering.

Ben chuckled softly, raising his burned hand to gently smack the man’s shoulder before relaxing back down and into the bed. He shut his eyes almost immediately after, his heart slowing down as the room grew warm. 

The two teens were as relaxed as ever, their comfort knowing no bounds.

Chapter Text

Surprising wasn’t exactly the right word Ben would use in describing just how he felt when Javi’s big arms wrapped around him, squeezing him tightly against his chest. He was nearly lifted off the ground were it not for Carlos’ quick intervention, the doctor concerned about their respective injuries.

“Thank you,” Javi whispered, his arms still around the teen. “You brought m-my nephew back!” 

Ben couldn’t help the small, relieved , chuckle that left his own body as he hugged the man back just as tightly, Kenny’s palm resting on his shoulder after a beat.

“Alright, come on,” Kenny mumbled after a beat, his eye locked on Ben’s weaker knee as the teen stood tall. It was another beat before he looked up to Javi, the man finally awake enough for Kenny to get a good look.  

“Ar-Are you Ben and Clementine’s dad?” Javi blurted, his eyes wide as he held tightly onto the crutches beneath his arms. 

Ben quickly grew a bright shade of red, stammering to himself as he looked away. Clementine was just as red, her own eyes wide and locked on the tiling of the hospital room. 

Kenny didn’t look too shocked despite the other man’s words, his eye still wide as he spoke. 

“Ye-Yeah,” He answered with a quick nod, clearing his voice. “I heard you, uh, watched after ‘em for a bit.” 

“More like they watched after me!” Javi exclaimed with a smirk, his smile genuine. “You raised them both to be real fighters, you should be proud.” 

Kenny couldn’t help his own wide smile as he hooked an arm around Ben’s waist and an arm around Clementine’s shoulders, squishing them both to his own sides. “Damn right I did!” He cried happily. “These two are the best survivors I’ve ever come across, I swear!” 

Javi grinned, looking between the obviously happy yet red-faced teens, his heart full. He looked between them both, his grin slowly faltering into a happy smile.

“I want to thank you both for bringing Gabe back, and coming back too,” He spoke softly, obvious relief in his words. “I don’t know what I would’ve done if…” 

Clementine didn’t wait for Javi to speak once more as she stepped forward, wrapping her arms around the man tightly. She felt Ben come up behind her, the teen hugging both her and Javi tightly, hoping to comfort the older man. 

Javi sunk into the hug as he hugged them both back tightly, finding comfort in the touch. He waited until the teens pulled away first, clearing his throat with a nod. 

The man wouldn’t have another second to speak before an array of footsteps erupted from the hall just outside the room, the source of the steps peaking in within another second. 

Gabe, Mariana, and Sarah quickly ran into the room, Gabe limping with his own crutch as he all but planted into Ben’s chest, the boy throwing his arms around Ben.

“You’re okay!”

Ben was quick to wrap his own arms around the young boy, a surprised smile fading into shock when he realized the boy was shaking rather harshly, a muffled sniffle reaching his ears. He moved to hold the teen back by his shoulders, meeting his gaze with wide eyes.

“I-I thought you di-died!” Gabe nearly sobbed, his eyes full with tears. “I-I don’t know wh-why you did that and th-they couldn’t find you an-an-” 

“Gabe, buddy,” Ben stammered, his brows furrowing. “I’m okay, I told you I would be.” He paused to squeeze the boy’s shoulder, trying to find the words of comfort. “Everyone’s okay, alright? Me, Javi, your sister- we’re all good.” 

Gabe nodded, lifting a hand to wipe his face as his uncle stood behind him, hugging Mariana to his side and Gabe to his front, looking between them both. 

“Everything's alright, mijo,” Javi whispered, squeezing the boy tighter. “Everyone that matters is okay.” 

Gabe nodded, lifting to wipe his face with his arm as he tried to look as brave as possible. He cleared his throat, finding even more comfort in Mariana’s hand around his, squeezing her palm tighter. 

Clementine gave Gabe her own comforting smile, leaning her head against Sarah’s shoulder as she relaxed, the girl’s father looking over the injured children with a cautious eye. Kenny was equally silent as he watched, ensuring that everyone was okay. 

“Richmond is already being repaired,” Carlos spoke suddenly, ensuring his voice was even. “Everyone here needs to recuperate but rest assured the city is being rebuilt.”

“Is Jesus still around?” Javi asked, his gaze locked on Carlos’. 

“I saw him!” Sarah piped up with a smile, her hand wrapped around Clementine’s wrist as she held onto Ben’s hand as well. “Conrad and him were cleaning up parts of the outer wall.” 

Kenny raised a brow but didn’t say anything as he stood tall, his braced ankle letting out a sharp spike of pain which he ignored. “Luke and Nick were in the town square last I checked,” He added, nodding. “Two of ‘em we’re handing out supplies with Clint and Lindgard for those who got hurt.” 

“So…” Ben began, raising a brow. “What do we do now?” 

“We,” Kenny spoke, resting a palm on the boy’s shoulder. “Are gonna get a nice place for us to temporary rest- somewhere outside of this old hospital.” 

“Where?” Clementine asked, looking between the others. “And… will that be all of us?” 

“Clint spoke about apartment spaces,” Javi murmured, looking to the door of the room. “I’m guessing that’s where Kate is, she’s probably already setting up a room for us at least.” 

“Damn,” Kenny breathed, chuckling slightly as he looked to Javi. “Don’t think I’ve lived in an apartment since I was your age.”  

Javi shrugged, a smile on his lips. “Hey, it’s better than the van we’ve been living in.” 

Kenny snorted before looking between Ben and Clementine. “You two head over with Javi and stick close to him, alright?” He ordered, his brows raised. “M’gonna help Carlos out with the hospital before comin’ over. Take Sarah too.” 

Sarah clapped excitedly as she pulled both Ben and Clementine to Javi, flashing Mariana a rather excited smile. “I wonder if we’ll all get our own rooms!” 

“I can’t sleep with Gabe, he snores,” Mariana grumbled, holding her hip with her free arm. “Or Javi.” 

“No I don’t!” Gabe protested, his face beet red. “Stop lying, Mari!” 

The girl only giggled with a shrug, winking when Clementine broke a wide grin. 

Kenny shook his head with his own genuine smile. “Get on outta here,” He chuckled, helping rally the many kids into the hallway. He waited for Javi to lead the way, giving the man a firm nod, the man returning the gesture. Clementine walked behind, with Gabe and Sarah on either side of her, the trio chatting idly as Mariana walked beside her brother. 

Ben lingered with a small frown, looking to Kenny with wide eyes as he blinked. 

“Go, kid,” Kenny murmured, smiling softly. “I’ll be over soon, I promise.” 

“I could help you,” Ben mumbled, scratching his unburnt arm, “It really isn’t a big deal….” 

Kenny rolled his eyes with a smirk, his chest filled with warmth as he leaned forward, surprising the teen with a hug. He held the boy tightly, turning to hide his face in the teen’s neck before pulling back, his hands resting on Ben’s shoulders.

“Good?” He asked, still smirking as the teen’s face grew red. 

Ben nodded as he cleared his throat, trying his hardest to hide just how comforted he was by the man’s touch and words alone. He waited another beat before meeting the man’s gaze.

“I-I’ll see you soon, ok-okay?” He breathed, nodding his head.

Kenny chuckled softly before ruffling the boy’s hair. “Get outta here.” 

Ben rolled his eyes before racing after his friends, casting a quick glance behind him to find Kenny still standing there, his hands on his hips. 

The teen looked ahead with a smile, catching up to his friends. 


 

Kenny entered the police station with a scowl, his hands pulled into fists as he pushed past the various people and made his way to the back of the building. He was immediately greeted by Luke and Clint, the two men looking equally as angered.

“Where is he?” 

Luke only nodded as he tilted his head to his left, gesturing for both him and Clint to follow. He walked slowly down the hall before entering another room and holding the door open. He waited until both men had entered before shutting and locking the door.

The room was none other than the viewing area for an interrogation room, a large glass being the only way to view the other room connected by a large door.

Kenny stifled his breath as he stared through the glass, his gaze locked on the man in the other room with a fiery gaze.

“David.”

Chapter Text

Clint’s palm wrapped around Kenny’s shoulder, practically holding him back as he stared at the man he had once called a brother, his brows furrowed. 

“We gotta at least tell Javi,” Clint whispered, his other arm on his hip. “It ain’t right-” 

“This man nearly killed my son,” Kenny hissed, pulling his shoulder out of Clint’s grip. “He could’ve killed my teenage son and daughter!” His jaw locked, staring Clint down as his chest heaved. “He kidnapped a fuckin’ infant and you think he’s got any rights?!”

“It’s still his brother,” Clint replied, his own jaw clenched. “We can’t just kill him-” 

“You’re making excuses for a man who kidnapped a fuckin’ family and separated them, then went on to not only choke and nearly fuckin’ kill my boy but leave his own son for dead!” Kenny seethed, “He’s dead and I’m the one puttin’ him where he belongs.” 

Clint opened his mouth to speak, only to be cut off.

“Kenny’s right,” Luke whispered, his arms crossed as he stared ahead. “He can’t stay alive. Not with us here. Not with what he did.” 

Clint looked nearly disappointed, his gaze flickering between the pair before letting out a long sigh.

“This isn’t how Richmond needs to operate,” He spoke, his voice nearing on pleading. “We have to show the people we’ve changed. That the New Frontier is dead.” 

“Yeah, and killin’ David is the first step to that,” Kenny hissed, pushing past Clint as he made his way to the door connecting the rooms. He ignored the other man’s shouts as he pushed the door open, his face twisted into a fiery scowl. 

David’s hand was handcuffed to the table he sat beside, the metal chair beneath him creaking as he turned to look. His face didn’t shift from the frown that seemed to settle there, the pair of men staring each other down.

“You’re here to kill me, I’m guessing,” David spoke, his voice sending an invisible chill down Kenny’s neck. 

“Doesn’t take a genius to realize that,” Kenny replied, still standing in front of the shut door. “You know what you fuckin’ did.” 

David snorted, not even looking away. “You sure you can do that with your lack of eye and leg?” He asked, raising a brow. 

Kenny nearly took the bait, barely stopping himself from charging the man. He could feel both Luke and Clint’s gaze on his back as he stepped deeper into the room, a snarl growing over his face. 

 “You got any last words?” Kenny asked, his hands curling into fists. “I’ll give you that luxury and that alone. Only ‘cause your dumbass decided to come crawling back after all you’d done.” 

David raised a brow but didn’t say anything at first, his hand twisting beneath the metallic handcuff before snorting, looking back up to Kenny. 

“Tell me,” David began, his voice venomous. “How’s Ben doing? He seemed awful quiet after-” 

Kenny didn’t let David finish as he jumped forward, his fist colliding with the side of David’s face, effectively silencing him for a good few moments as he hissed, raising his other hand to his face as if to try and soothe the ache.

“You really seem to give a whole lotta fucks ‘bout my boy when you left yours to fuckin’ die!” Kenny shouted, his chest heaving. 

“I didn’t leave him,” David hissed, looking up. “I went to f-find him help! He was knocked the fuck out-” 

“You keep makin’ all these bullshit excuses but do you really think any of us give a fuck?!” Kenny interrupted in another shout. “You ain’t got no excuses left. Nothin’ left for you but a painful death, jackass!”

“You and your little posse should have been thankful for what we did for you!” David shouted back, lunging closer to Kenny but not quite able to touch him. “We gave you a home-”

“You took us from our home,” Kenny hissed, “And you are gonna pay for that, for laying a hand on my kids, for takin’ AJ.” 

“You don’t even know where he is,” David pointed out, his eyes narrowed.

“Oh we do,” Kenny assured with a slow nod, his eye narrowing. “Max croaked. Asked for an easy death in return for information. Helps when you got a doctor on your side, don’t it?” 

“Lindgard.”

“Carlos, actually,” Kenny snorted. “Lindgard helped, supplied the drugs. Carlos administered them.” He paused, snarling. “You don’t got a single body on you side. Not Lindgard, not Max, not Joan.” 

“Where is she?” David hissed, “You’ll kill me, but she was behind it all. She’s the leader. She’s the core of it all.” 

“We find her and she dies,” Kenny assured, “You’ll be dead by then, that’s for sure. But rest assured she’ll join you in Hell.” 

David was silent, only staring Kenny down. 

“I’m just payin’ you back,” Kenny hissed, his words growing colder as he cracked his knuckles, advancing closer and closer to the other man. “Can’t say it’s been a pleasure knowin’ ya.” 

Luke didn’t look away as he stifled a harsh breath, trying not to notice the way Clint flinched. He settled on staring for another beat before turning to the man, finding him already looking in his direction. 

“How can we trust Kenny now?” The man hissed, his eyes narrowing. “He’s-” 

“You mess with Kenny’s family, you deal with Kenny,” Luke replied immediately, trying his hardest to tune out the noise from the other room. “He ain’t ever lay a hand on a soul who didn’t deserve it- trust me, I’d know.” He paused, breathing out of his nose before shaking his head. 

“That man, just like everyone else, has been through hell and back. He lost his eye takin’ quite a beatin’ for the people he loves and trusts. Hell, I don’t doubt he’d take one for you considerin’ you were the only person who showed him any kindness,” He continued, his brows furrowing. “You mess with his family? You get what you deserve. And I’ll tell you, there’s twice as many people who’d stand up for him too.” 

Clint didn’t say anything, despite the very obvious want. He settled on staring down at his shoes, his face still twisted in a frown as he crossed his arms.

“That man might scare you, but he’s filled with more love than rage,” Luke added, his voice somewhat softer. “And if this little settlement didn’t take his damn son and daughter away from him, you’d probably never even see him like this.” 

The pairs rather one-sided conversation came to a quick end at the sound of the door opening, neither Luke nor Clint looking through the glass as Kenny walked through the door. He wiped his blood-soaked hands onto his already filthy jeans with a grunt before looking up.

“He ain’t comin’ back.” 

Clint only blinked, looking over the untouched man, still frowning. 

“We takin’ the body to the Backyard?” Luke asked, looking between the two. 

Kenny didn’t answer immediately, rather looking up to Clint. “It’s his call,” He replied, crossing his arms. “You wanna bury the man who was responsible for nearly destroyin’ half the damn population inside the city walls?”

Clint was silent for a beat before shaking his head slightly, letting out a deep breath. “I’ll bury him at the garage,” He spoke quietly. “Leave it to me.” 

Kenny seemed satisfied with the answer, walking past Luke and Clint as he made his way to the door. “M’goin’ back to the kids,” He stated, pausing for a second. “You know where to find me if you need me.” 

Luke nodded, settling on staying behind to at least try and help Clint as he watched his friend leave. He cleared his throat before looking back to the other man, his gaze staring through the glass.

The sight of the now dead man created both a twisting in his stomach and a flood of relief in Luke’s chest.

Chapter Text

Kenny quickly made his way up the stairs of the rather large apartment building, his speed only picking up with each floor he made his way through. He wasn’t quite accustomed to the lights that flickered overhead, his entire reintroduction to electricity rather rapid. 

Still, Kenny focused on his last floor to conquer, his ankle aching with each step as he didn’t quite trust the elevator yet. He ignored the pain as per usual before coming to a breathless stop just in front of a brown door. 

Unit 402

An elated smile grew on Kenny’s face as he raised his fist to the door, eagerly knocking on the wooden frame as he practically bounced on his good leg. His excitement only grew at the sound of approaching footsteps from the other side of the wall, his smile nearly painful. 

The lock behind the door quickly unlatched rather loudly before the door swung open, none other than Ben standing on the other side with an equally excited grin.

“Kenny!” The teen greeted, barely having a second to gather his footing as the man all but pounced him, his arms wrapping around the teen tightly.

Ben chuckled softly despite the red tinging his ears, hugging him back just as tightly before being gently pushed away. 

“You showered?” Kenny spoke, his brows raised in awe as he realized the teen was in fact significantly cleaner, now sporting a pair of gray sweat pants and a dark green t-shirt. His wet brown hair clung to his forehead as he smiled in a rather goofy manner, nodding his head eagerly. 

“Goddamn, why’re you huggin’ me then?” Kenny joked, cringing. “I ain’t even realize they had functioning water here.” 

“They have everything!” Ben practically exploded, pulling Kenny deeper into the apartment. “Ev-Even shampoo!” 

The inside of the apartment was surprisingly clean, the doorway opening up to a kitchen and living room. The kitchen stuck out with white marble countertops, an oven, microwave, and fridge along side the wall. A long countertop sported with stools stood opposite of the appliances, marking a cut off of the kitchen as it bled into the living room. The living room had sported two large couches alongside a coffee table and television, a glass door no doubt leading to a small balcony just beside the television. The opposite side of the longer couch held a dining room table with six chairs. 

Two hallways led in opposite directions from the living room, no doubt leading into the bedrooms and bathrooms of the unit.

Suffice to say, Kenny was amazed.

“Clem and Sarah already chose our rooms for us!” Ben exclaimed, pulling on Kenny’s hand as he led him down the hall to the left. “We get a big room with a bathroom in it, it’s huge!” 

Kenny could only chuckle as he followed Ben’s lead, his eyes taking in the various paintings and decorations hanging on the wall. He watched as Ben surpassed a shut door to the right, following the teen into the door on his left as he was all but dragged in. 

The room was painted a soft white, a large bed with pale blue sheets resting against the farthest wall. Two side tables sat on both sides of the head of the bed with a closet parallel to the foot of the furniture. A door was to the right of the entrance, cracked open just enough to reveal none other than the bathroom.  

“Holy shit, this is fancy,” Kenny murmured, taking in each detail with a wide eye. He stepped deeper, feeling self conscious about his shoes touching the rug as he slipped out of his boots, his socks sinking into the fabric. 

“I-I know!” Ben erupted, stepping past Kenny to sit on the foot of the bed. “A-And it’s big enough for me and you and Clementine! We’ll all fit in here and-” The teen cut himself off, seemingly losing his excitement all at once as he grew shy. 

“I-I mean if you want me- us in here with you,” He mumbled, scratching his arm. “I-I can sleep in a different room or apartment-” 

Kenny snorted as he stepped up to the teen, raising a brow as he gently ruffled Ben’s still wet hair.  

“You really are an idiot, aren’t ya?” He teased, chuckling as the boy grew even redder, shoving Kenny’s arm away.

“Stop it!” Ben cried, his embarrassment knowing no bounds. “I-I just wa-wanted to make sure, ok-okay?” 

Kenny’s laughter only grew as he rolled his eye, his hands back on his hips. “I don’t think I could sleep without you and Clem next to me,” He mumbled, looking around the room. “God knows I didn’t sleep well the whole time…”

Ben nodded, clearing his throat as he whispered out a small ‘yeah’. He wouldn’t have a chance to speak before Kenny shifted again, the man stepping back.

“Now m’gonna shower ‘cause God knows I smell and look like shit,” He spoke, snorting at the teen’s rather drawn out ‘ew!’ as he stepped back. “We got any spare clothin’ in here?” 

“We do!” Ben cried out excitedly, jumping up off the bed and moving to the closet. He pulled the doors open rather abruptly, already speaking. “I found some clothes th-that should fit you! And I think you’ll like them- I already picked them out!” 

The teen turned around, holding a pair of checkered pajama pants and a tan shirt in his hand with a rather wide grin.

Kenny couldn’t help the rather love-filled smile that grew on his face as he gladly took the clothing from the boy, already moving towards the bathroom. 

“Once I’m outta there we can figure out what’s for dinner,” He smiled. “Don’t you go nowhere, got me?” 

Ben nodded, his hands in his pants pockets. “Got you!” He assured, still grinning. 

Kenny chuckled softly before shutting the door, his relief and anticipation growing stronger. 


Kenny emerged from the bathroom feeling like a new man, his new clothing helping him feel lighter than he had in years. He had half a mind to burn his old clothing, settling against that as he realized the possibility of their being a washing machine too. Regardless, the man made quick work of finding the children of the home, his eyes taking extra measure of admiring each and every detail of the apartment. 

The bedroom he would call his was empty of the teenager that was there moments ago, his brow raised in confusion. Kenny forced himself to push away his panic as he made his way into the hall. He peeked his head through the open door of a different bedroom, finding another similar layout with a large queen bed in the smaller room. His eyes quickly searched for the teen before coming up empty, pulling back and into the hall as he made his way to the living room, preparing to call for the teen.

“Ben?” 

“In here!” The boy replied almost immediately, his voice more than enough to relax the man.

Kenny was more than relieved upon finding Ben in the kitchen, the boy leaning against the countertop beside the microwave with a furrowed brow. He looked up to his friend after a beat, smiling widely.

“Hey,” The teen greeted, his eyes crinkly at the sight of his friend. “Now you look presentable.”

Kenny only grumbled a curse as he continued towards the teen, coming to a stop beside him but not before bumping his shoulder against his arm. He looked to the teen’s hands, finding him carrying none other than a can of food.

“You cookin’?” Kenny asked, raising his brows. 

“Trying to is a better word,” Ben mumbled, looking between the can and the stove. “I haven’t used one of those in a long time.” 

Kenny smiled softly, settling on stepping to the otherside of the teen. “Watch carefully, alright?” He cautioned, his eye set on reading the front of the stove. He mentally ran through his years of knowhow before carefully flickering on the gas. His brows raised in realization that the machinery indeed still worked, turning to Ben.

“Was there a lighter around here?” He asked, searching through various drawers before Ben handed him the one in his hand. 

The man was quick to flicker the flame below the heated metal, gasping when a flame did indeed light up. He let out a loud chuckle at Ben’s own excited gasp, turning to clap the boy on his shoulder.

“There it is!” 

Ben leaned in as close as he deemed safe, blinking before looking to Kenny. “It w-won’t spread?” He asked quietly, his brows furrowed. “Th-the flame… I mean.” 

Kenny ignored the lump in his throat as he shook his head, flickering the stove off. He wrapped a hand around the teen’s boney shoulder, pulling him back and away from the stove.

“How is your arm?” He asked softly, already reaching for his wrist. His eyes flickered up to the boy’s, ensuring that he was okay with the touch, before pulling his arm closer.

“S’okay,” Ben replied just as quietly, watching the way Kenny examined the wrapping on his arm and neck. “It’s not hurting. Neither is m-my neck.” 

Kenny nodded slowly after a beat, his hand moving to hold the teen’s hand as he cleared his throat, looking behind him.

“Clem?” He called, his voice raised just a bit.

The sound of pattering feet erupted soon after, earning a chuckle out of Kenny as he turned to lean onto the outward facing counter, his hand still around Ben’s. He smiled widely at the sight of both Clementine and Sarah coming out from the opposite hall, the girls both dressed in their own pajamas. 

“Kenny! I was wondering where you were,” The girl happily exclaimed, nearly skipping over to the pair. She didn’t hesitate to climb onto the stool, sitting happily as Sarah climbed beside her.

“What were you two doin’? I’ve been here for a while!” Kenny laughed, leaning forward to gently tap the rim of Clementine’s hat. 

“Decorating my room!” Sarah replied, smiling widely. “We’re painting one wall- Ben already put his hand print there!” 

Kenny couldn’t help the burst of laughter at the thought, realizing the tips of paint coating the girls hands and sleeves. He couldn’t help the warm laughter that continued to bubble out of his chest, half of it being the unbelievability of it all.

Never in the last few years did Kenny ever believe he would be living a comfortable, safe, life with the people he cherished most- to live in a fully functioning city ever again. It all felt too unreal yet real enough. A most well deserved break in the recent bad luck that plagued the man’s life. 

Kenny wasn’t a pure man, he probably never would be, but he liked to think he did what he had to to protect those he loved. 

“- Javi and his family live right across the hall so they can come over whenever they want,” Sarah spoke, her words slowly bleeding into Kenny’s mind after a beat. “Dad says we can even have sleepovers if we want!” 

Kenny managed a smile then, squeezing Ben’s hand just a bit tighter before letting go. He took both Sarah and Clementine’s hands into his own, raising them up a bit.

“Only if y’all do your chores, you hear me?” 

Both the girls giggled rather loudly, Clementine groaning out a long ‘Kenny’

“I ain’t jokin’!” The man chuckled, squeezing their hands. “That includes you too Ben! You all gotta do your chores and keep your rooms clean.” 

Ben couldn’t help the roll of his eyes as he bumped his hip against Kenny’s, rolling his eyes. 

“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say,” He replied, snorting. 

Kenny joined in with his own laugh, the new apartment quickly becoming a home.

Chapter Text

 Ben’s not entirely sure what time it is as he relaxed into the couch of the living room, his hands delicately carrying one of the comics he and Clementine had scavenged from the book store. Both Sarah and Clementine were snuggled up on both sides of Ben, their own hands carrying their respective books. 

The trio read rather silently, the bright lamp to the right of the couch illuminating the otherwise dark room. The sun had only set an hour ago, the world not hesitating to drench into darkness once again. 

The eldest of the teens blinked as he tried to narrow his hearing down to the words barely making their way from his bedroom, the voices no doubt belonging to both Kenny and Carlos. The two men weren’t arguing, but rather speaking in low tones as if to keep their conversation hidden from the trio on the other side of the door.

Unfortunately, the men’s hushed conversation only served to ignite Ben’s curiosity and anxiety, making it hard to really focus on his comic. He knew the men were purposefully speaking away from him and his two friends yet he couldn’t help but feel a tad bit offended, his brows furrowing. 

Ben stifled a sigh before shutting his comic, placing the thin sheeted book onto the coffee table. His movement alerted both Clementine and Sarah, the duo raising their heads of Ben’s shoulders to give him an equally confused look. 

“I gotta ask Kenny a question,” Ben explained in a mumble, forcing a smile to his lips. He ignored Clementine’s scrutinizing gaze, instead moving to gently pat both their thighs. 

“Be right back,” He spoke, coming to a stand. The teen barely even got more than a few steps away before finding both the girls had rearranged on the couch, both getting comfortable once again.  

Ben was once again stifling a heavy breath as he made his way down the hall, coming to a stop just in front of his bedroom door. He strained his ears once again to try and register what was being said, only to fail. The boy had no choice but to raise his fist, knocking against the aged wood with a frown.

The other side of the door quickly erupted with the sound of movement, the two men silencing themselves as footsteps approached the door. 

Kenny’s face instantly greeted Ben’s as the man swung the door open, staring wildly before visible relaxing, his face twisting into a look of confusion. Ben peered past the man, finding Luke and Nick sitting inside, alongside Carlos, the pair of men looking disgruntled. 

“What’s up, kid?” Kenny asked, not quite letting the teen into the room as he held the door knob.

“I was just checking on you,” Ben asked, craning his neck a bit. “Wh-What’s going on?” 

“Nothin’,” Kenny answered simply, his brows furrowing. “We’re almost done talkin’, you go ahead and stay with the girls till we’re done.” 

Ben didn’t move, his own face twisting into a frown. “Why can’t I come in?” He asked, nearly pouting. “I’m ninete-”

“It’s grown up talk,” Kenny interrupted, shaking his head. “Go on now, we’re almost done.” 

Ben didn’t shift, only crossing his arms. “What’s so important that you all have to hide it from me?” He asked, locking gazes with Nick, only for the man to look away. The secretivity of it all only made the teen angrier, his jaw locking. “You know I wasn’t with you guys the whole week, right?” 

The teen instantly regretted his words as he watched Kenny flinch, the man instantly looking away as he grew stiff. Ben wouldn’t have a chance to speak before Carlos shifted from behind, pulling Kenny’s shoulder back. 

“We’re all finished now, Ben,” The doctor announced in a quiet voice, patting Kenny’s shoulder as he made his way past him and the teen. 

Luke and Nick followed in suit, the pair looking relatively somber as they exited, not exactly meeting Ben’s gaze. The overall shift was more than enough to erupt a twist in Ben’s stomach, the teen’s arms pushing against his stomach. 

Kenny sighed then, dropping his hand off the door knob before moving deeper into the room. He leaned against the wardrobe, his arms crossed over his own chest as he stared at the ground.

Ben followed the man, not too unlike a small puppy would, before sitting at the foot of the bed, his gaze also locked on the ground. His nails dug into the uninjured skin of his arm as he let go of his burnt arm, allowing the appendage to hand loosely at his side.

“Is it hurtin’ much?” Kenny asked, jolting the teen.

Ben swallowed rather loudly, shaking his head. He was quiet for another beat before shifting his weight, his chest hitching slightly.

“I-I didn’t mean wh-what I said,” He mumbled, staring at the ground.

“You didn’t say anythin’ wrong,” Kenny replied almost immediately, although his tone short. “You weren’t with us, simple as that.” 

“I… I know, but y-you didn’t need another reminder,” Ben replied, unsure why he suddenly felt all the more worse. “I-I’m re-really sorry.” 

Kenny stared at the boy for another beat, his arms tensing as he kicked off the side of the wardrobe. He made his way over to the large bed, sitting beside the teen before wrapping an arm around his shoulders, pulling the boy’s head to rest on his shoulder. 

“S’all good,” The man murmured softly, his lips in Ben’s hair. “I-I’m here now, you ain’t gotta worry ‘bout nothing.” 

Ben took a moment before wrapping his arms around the man, shifting to fully hug him as he hid his face in the crook of Kenny’s neck. He hated just how much more relaxed and comfortable he was in the man’s arms, the feeling alone more than enough to push tears to the edge of his eyes. Ben screwed his eyes shut, melting even more into the hug.

“You can come on in, darlin’,” Kenny’s voice rumbled, vibrating against Ben’s chest. The boy barely registered the soft footsteps from behind him, the bed dipping on the other side of Kenny shortly thereafter. 

Kenny’s arm quickly made its way around Clementine’s waist, pulling her to his other shoulder as he hugged both of the teens, planting a kiss on both their scalps before relaxing into the embrace. 

“This is gonna be our new home for awhile,” Kenny murmured after a beat, still holding onto the pair. “We got everythin’ we need here. Food, water… we’re safe.”

“Forever?” Clementine asked, turning her face to look up to Kenny, her eyes wide. 

“Maybe,” Kenny replied after a beat, settling on looking down at the rug. “It could be. We don’t know yet.” The man paused, letting out a long sigh through his nose. “A-Are you two… happy here?” 

Both Ben and Clementine took a moment to respond, their own minds working through the heaviness of the man’s question. Clementine was the first to nod, her arms around Kenny tightening. Ben followed suit almost immediately, nodding his own head.

“Good,” Kenny breathed, shutting his eyes. “I-I know… I know we need to get AJ back. I know.” He stiffened when both teens shifted to get a better look at his face, the man growing somber. “But we’re gon’ do that real soon. We’re gonna all live happily.” 

“How are we going to get him back?” Clementine asked, her eyes wide. 

“Don’t worry ‘bout the details,” Kenny replied with a shake of his head. “We can all worry about that in the mornin’. What matters is that it’s gonna happen and we’re all gonna be safe and happy.” 

“What about making a plan?” Ben asked, his brows drawn together. “Shouldn’t we all be together?” 

“Well you’re both still recovering and so am I,” Kenny pointed out, holding the children back against his chest. “And we’re still waitin’ for the last of the walkers to be put down or escorted away. Not to mention the whole damn Slaughterhouse.” 

“You know about that?” Ben asked, looking up to the man. “Javi-?” 

“Yeah he told me, so did Ava and Lindgard,” Kenny grumbled, “The only reason Lindgard’s still breathin’ is ‘cause he’s a surgeon. That’s it.” 

Kenny shook his head, effectively stopping the conversation there as he sat back onto his palms. He looked out the window, the slight blur of lights outside just barely seeping into the room as he stared for another beat.

“Let’s all get some rest first and foremost,” Kenny murmured, “I’m tired as shit.” 

Ben couldn’t argue with that as he nodded, his own eyes aching from the lack of sleep. He dropped straight back onto the mattress, ignoring Clementine’s giggles. The girl crawled to the top of the bed, already climbing beneath the covers despite the warm air.

“You both know not to snore,” Kenny teased, dropping his hat onto the side table before fixing his hair. “I don’t want any kickin’ either, got me?” 

“You’re the one who snores!” Clementine protested, her nose scrunched up. 

Kenny only raised a brow, stretching over to the mattress to flick Ben’s nose before digging his hands into Clementine’s side, the girl quickly erupting into a sea of giggles as she wiggled, pushing Kenny’s palm away. 

“Alright come on you two,” Kenny chuckled, sitting in the middle of the bed. He hooked a hand under Ben’s good shoulder as if to pull him up. The boy let out a yelp as the man did just that, planting Ben on his other side.

“Now close your damn eyes,” Kenny grumbled, reaching over Clementine’s already snuggled figure as he shut the lamp off. He gave his eye a beat to adjust to the darkening room before slowly sliding off his eye patch, the skin beneath instantly relieved of the pressure. He was thankful for just how much more… decent his eye looked after it’s original sight, his stomach still twisting at recollection of what it once looked like. 

“Hope I don’t give y’all nightmares without the patch on,” He mumbled, half jokingly as he threw the patch next to his and Clementine’s hat, only to flinch when Clementine’s hand nudged him. 

“I thought you wanted to sleep why are you still talking,” The girl mumbled into her pillow, pulling on Kenny’s shirt to get him to lie down. 

“And stop with the stupid jokes,” Ben added, turned on his side to face the man. “You still look like our d- Kenny.”  

Kenny’s brow raised at the boy’s mix up, watching with an amused smirk as the boy’s face dissolved into pink. He didn’t comment, only reaching to ruffle his hair before lying down. 

Both of Kenny’s arms instantly wrapped beneath Ben and Clementine’s figures, the pair not hesitating to rest their faces over his large chest. They both snuggled into his hold, Kenny careful not to accidentally brush his hand over Ben’s burnt arm or Clementine’s broken finger as he placed a respective kiss on both their heads before lying his head down against the pillow. 

“Goodnight, kiddos,” Kenny breathed, holding them both close. 

The trio fell asleep almost immediately, barely shifting through the night.

Chapter Text

“You’re not leaving me here!” Ben all but shouted, pointing his finger out in Kenny’s direction, his brows furrowed angrily. “I am not staying! I don’t car-” 

“You don’t care, that’s the problem!” Kenny replied just as passionately, not quite yelling as his hands curled around his hips. “I ain’t lettin’ you out there with your burnt arm! End of discussion!” 

“Oh but Clementine’s broken finger is totally fine and okay,” Ben retorted in a hiss, crossing his arm over his chest. “How is that fair?!” 

“Nearly your entire arm is burnt, Ben!” Kenny answered in an exasperated breath, staring at Ben with a wide eye. “Your neck is still bruised and you were without any fuckin’ food for nearly two goddamn days!” 

“A week ago!” Ben growled, clearly just as exasperated. “Ja-Javi is going and he’s got a limp! Y-You still have a cast around your ankle!” 

“That’s different, Ben- And Javi’s not taggin’ along,” Kenny spoke, his hand pinching his the bridge of his nose as he nearly hissed. “I knew you were gonna fight me about this.” 

“Of course I’m going t-to fight you about this!” Ben replied in a near shout, his eyes wide. “You’re treating me like a little fucking kid!” 

“No, Ben,” Kenny countered, sighing heavily. “I’m trying to keep you safe-”

“By not letting me do anything!” The teen argued back, his hands clenched into fists. “How co-come Javi and C-Carlos and Tr-Trip can all tr-treat me like an adult but you- you can’t!” 

Kenny shut his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose even tighter as he grew even more exasperated, not quite in the mood to handle Ben’s argumentative state.

“Th-They all let me in on discussions a-and planning and ev-everything!” The boy continued just as passionately. “But y-you always, always, exclude me- like I-I’m some little kid!” 

“I’m not talkin’ ‘bout this with you any longer,” Kenny grumbled out, beginning to turn away, only for Ben’s hand to clasp tightly around his elbow, turning him back around.

“For fucks sake, Kenny!” The teen shouted, his fingers digging into his caretakers arm. “Can you at least talk to me?!”

Kenny stared for a long beat, noting the rather ragged breathing and heavy rising of Ben’s chest, his brows furrowing as he met Ben’s crystal gaze, his chest filling with a rather painful emotion.

“You wanna talk, Ben?” Kenny began slowly, his voice icy. “Let’s talk then. Let’s talk about how acted like an absolute goddamn idiot the whole week I was gone!” 

Ben faltered, his grip around Kenny loosening as he stared, blinking for a beat.

“Yeah, Clementine told me how many times you got hurt or tried to do some dumb shit in the name of bein’ an adult!” Kenny replied in a snarl. “You ain’t ready to be treated like an adult! Not when you’re makin’ childish decisions with no care about your own goddamn well being.” 

“She told me how you ain’t give a shit about your arm till hours later- how you didn’t even try and take care of it,” Kenny continued angrily, pulling his arm out of Ben’s grip, his voice echoing through the apartment. “The whole goddamn reason she had a concussion was because of your fucking lack of thinkin’! Your arms burnt ‘cause you ran into a burning goddamn building!” 

“You didn’t think shit through and you got both yourself and Clementine hurt!” Kenny nearly exploded, “You think after an act like that I’m goin’ to let you do anything!”

“And that is so, so, fucking different than getting your fucking face beat to hell and back so bad that you lose an eye over trying to cover for someone!” Ben shouted back, his hands shaking. 

Kenny stared, his eye wide as his jaw hung open. He watched as Ben’s chest rose and fell rapidly, the teen’s face slowly falling before his gaze locked on the ground. Ben backed away with wide eyes, seemingly shocked with himself as Kenny could only stare, not quite able to move as the boy shook his head.

“I-I’m… I-” Ben stammered quietly, his gaze flickering up to Kenny’s face. He didn’t say another word before his feet began to back away, his throat dry. It was another second before the teen turned around and made his way out of the bedroom, leaving the door open.

The older man stood still as the front door opened and shut, the apartment dissolving into silence. 


 

Ben hugged himself as he curled up on the rooftop of the apartment building, his figure nowhere near the edge as he sat on the concrete ground. His knees were against his chest as he stared up at the clear sky, his wide eyes aching. He was almost surprised at just how many stars were dimmed out due to the light from the city below, the change almost heart wrenching.

It couldn’t have been more than an hour since his fight with Kenny, his anger quickly diminishing into sadness as he couldn’t do anything but wallow in his anguish, tears filling his eyes. 

The teen sniffled as he hugged his knees even closer to his chest, rubbing his wet face against his knees. He was thankful for the rather hot air, the idea of being cold on top of his already worn emotions would no doubt make him feel worse. 

Ben wouldn’t be surprised if Kenny didn’t come up and try to console him. He had definitely crossed a line, from his cursing at the man to bringing up a rather painful memory. Still, Ben couldn’t help but feel that he had made his point across- he was tired of being treated like a little kid who was incapable of doing anything. 

A beat passed as Ben stared up to the sky, finding just the tiniest bit of comfort in the lights shining brightly. He swallowed rather harshly before resting his chin on his knees, hugging himself even tighter. 

Ben ached, wishing he wasn’t such an irredeemable fuck up.

The breeze blowing past Ben did little to actually cool the teen down, the warmth in the air much more powerful as he kept his arms around his knees. He could at the very least feign comfort as he stared up at the stars, his mind moving a mile a minute as he tried his hardest no to think too hard about his latest fuck up.

Yes, Ben knew he had done some really risky things when with Clementine. He hadn’t even realized how badly he was taking care of himself- how he made even more reckless decisions until long after they had happened. The entire week was more or less Ben just trying to get back to Kenny, no matter what it took. 

Ben sighed, lifting a palm to rub the ache out of his face, hoping to at least somewhat rid his skin of the red tint he knew would no doubt be there. He had already cried himself hoarse, finding solitude and a place to do so on the roof. The teen couldn’t really be hurt by the lack of anyone coming after him. 

There was only one person he really thought would. 

A dull clanging noise quickly drew Ben’s attention away from his own self pity as he spun his head around, recognizing the sound to be none other than the rooftop door opening and shutting. His bloodshot eyes only widened as he felt his heart get stuck in his throat. 

“I thought you hated heights,” Kenny murmured, not exactly looking to Ben as he made his way over, sitting on the ground beside the boy with a grunt. “This is the last place I would’ve expected ya- which makes sense why you’re up here.” 

Ben was quick to rub his face with his palm, scooting an inch or so away from his friend as he swallowed the lump in his throat. His mind only seemed even more scattered as he struggled to find anything to say, his eyes wide. 

“At least it ain’t cold, huh?” Kenny spoke, his voice a semblance of a dry chuckle as he laid out his legs as comfortably as possible. He leaned back onto his palms, staring up at the night sky, inching closer to Ben as inconspicuous as possible.   

All at once, Kenny shut his eyes, his entire figure heaving out a sigh. He shut his eyes for a long beat before shaking his head slightly, his hat nowhere to be seen.

“I’m sorry, kid,” The man whispered, sitting up as he met Ben’s wide eyed look. “For earlier.” 

Ben blinked hard, diverting his gaze down to his lap as his heart slammed in his chest. He opened his mouth to speak, only for Kenny to let out another heavy sigh, the man shaking his head once more.

“I know… I don’t treat y-you like I should so-sometimes,” Kenny began slowly, his brows furrowed together. “It’s not ‘cause of your level of capability or nothin’- hell, you’ve proven that you can handle your own more than once!” He assured quickly.

“It’s… The problem is me,” Kenny sighed, looking away from the teen and back out to the city skyline. “I know you’re strong as hell, I know you can survive this world, and I know you’re smart but I just… I just can’t…”

Ben stared as Kenny swallowed rather roughly, shutting his eye for a long beat. He nearly placed his palm on the man’s shoulder, his concern spiking once more, before Kenny began to speak again, his voice rough.

“I tr-trust you, I wholeheartedly do, Ben,” Kenny began again, his eye locked on the sky. “I-It’s this world I don’t trust.”

Ben blinked as he watched Kenny’s chest rise and fall rather heavily, his entire figure shifting with the movement.

“Every time we think we-we’ve got the upper hand, the world throws somethin’ else at us,” Kenny continued, his words slow. “I-I thought we had the walkers figured out and now we have silent ones. I thought we would be safe at the cabin and that all went to hell.” 

“I ca-can’t trust that th-the world ain’t -gonna change and that we’ll both b-be able to adapt in t-time,” Kenny confessed, his eye sliding shut once again. He locked his jaw, his breathing still fast as he grew quiet.

“I-I know,” Ben whispered, staring down at the concrete ground as he felt Kenny’s gaze land on the side of his face. “I-It’s sc-scary t-to think that w-we… we’re ju-just running on borrowed time and th-that one day w-we won’t have any left.”

Ben cleared his throat gently, his fingers gently brushing over the scarred skin of his arm. “I-I’ve already almost di-died twice,” He continued quietly, his voice weak. “And ev-every time something scary happens or w-we get into something dangerous… I always think th-that this time is it. That-t my ti-times up.” 

“That’s why you’re s-so reckless,” Kenny breathed, still looking over Ben’s face.

The teen swallowed rather loudly as he began to nod slowly, his gaze locked back onto his arm.

“I-I already… I already ha-have a bad leg. And now I-I’ve got a burned arm,” Ben whispered, his fingertips just barely brushing over his skin. “M-My stomach is all kinds of-f fucked up and I get c-cold quickly and I j-just… it just makes s-sense.” 

The silence stretched on, the seconds bleeding into minutes as Ben’s stomach twisted and turned rather violently. He couldn’t help as his anxiety sky-rocketed, his eyes widening. 

“Pl-Please… do-don’t be mad,” Ben panicked out in a croak, his arms curling over his stomach as he squeezed himself in a faint attempt at comfort.

Kenny was quick to shake his head, his entire figure shifting closer to Ben. His heavy palm came to a rest on the boy’s shoulder, drawing the teen’s attention up to his face.

“Ben,” The man began in a rather stern manner, his wetness in his eye betraying the strength of his voice. “I need you to listen to me real good now, you got me?” 

The boy stammered as he nodded, his heart slamming in his chest.

“I don’t ca-care if you lose an entire hand,” Kenny began, his voice even more firm despite the breaking of his words. “I don’t give a shit if we gotta have you on cr-crutches for the rest of your life. Y-You ain’t allowed to take any kinds of bullshit ri-risks just because you’re already ‘damaged’ . He was silent for a beat as he scooted closer, moving to cup both his hands around Ben’s face, their eyes meeting.

“This world’s fucked u-us both over more than once,” Kenny continued passionately, his gaze locked onto the boy’s crystal eyes. “A-And I know tha-that it’s tough, I-I swear I d-do. But you can’t… you can’t value your life less just-t because you’ve go-got a fuckin’ limp or-r you got a scar, kid.” 

“I get be-being reckless to save someone, I’ve do-done it before an-and it’s my fault you think it’s okay. I got-gotta set a better example for you,” He went on, his voice even firmer as he sniffled. “But y-you not feedin’ yourself, takin’ unnecessary ri-risks. All that, it’s all g-gotta stop, kid.” 

Kenny scooted closer, his knees brushing up against Ben’s thighs as he nodded quickly. “I don’t… I wa-wanna be sure that you-you’re gonna be safe as-as you would be with me when you-you’re alone,” He nearly ordered, his eye wide. “I-I w-worry so fuckin’ much about you. So fucking much, I don’t… I can’t survive losin’ you, you know that.” 

Ben couldn’t help the choked sob that broke past his lips as he nodded in the man’s hands, already feeling pitiful before Kenny even pulled him to his chest. Still, Kenny’s arms wrapped around his head, tucking Ben’s trembling figure beneath his chin as he held him gently. He placed his lips indefinitely in his hair, holding onto him even tighter as he sighed, holding back his own tears.

“Please, Ben,” Kenny nearly begged, “N-No more sel-self sacrificin’ bullshiit.” He held onto the teen until he felt the boy nod. His lips pursed in Ben’s scalp once again, placing another kiss there as he hugged the boy to his chest.

“I-I’ll treat you be-better, I promise,” Kenny added, still hugging the shaking teen. “I’ll be better- f-for you and Clem and everyone else.” 

Ben nodded into the man’s neck as his fingers bunched up his leather jacket, his eyes screwing shut. 

“I’m s-sorry too,” The boy spoke, sniffling loudly. “I-I shou-shouldn’t h-have yelled at-t you.”

Kenny let out a wet laugh, setting his cheek down in the boy’s scalp. “What’s that sayin’? Sometimes you gotta yell at your old man to get him to listen?” He replied, smiling softly when the teen let out a chuckle. “But yeah, I was bein’ an ass so I’m sorry too.”

Ben accepted the man’s apology with an even tighter hug, leaning in as close as he could get as he sniffled, his arms wrapped tightly around the man’s bigger frame. 

The pair sat on the roof for just a bit longer, the stars still shining bright.

Chapter Text

“It’s that easy?” Kenny asked, his brows drawn together in both disbelief and relief. “You sure that’ll work?!” 

“McCarroll is under Lingard’s command,” Clint answered, his arms crossed. “No one there knew of the New Frontier. No one there worked for ‘em.” 

“Can Richmond afford losing you right now? You’re one of the only people here that’s an original leader,” Javi pointed out, leaning slightly onto his crutch. 

“You stay here, you’re the liberator to these people after all,” Clint replied, snorting a bit. “Richmond had no idea what the New Frontier had been doing, if they did… well, just think of a civil war breaking out here.” 

“So who’s goin’ whos staying,” Kenny spoke up, his hands on his hips. He felt Ben stiffen up beside him, the teen standing tall. “Whose taggin’ along?”

“Ben, I assume,” Clint spoke, nearly smirking when the teen immediately nodded, his arms around his stomach. “You’ll need a doctor just in case the journey there and back gets rough.”

“We have a whole staff set up there, doctors, security, everything,” Clint continued, nodding his head. “It’s just a large outpost for the perimeter of what we call our territory. But it wouldn’t hurt to be safe.”

“We’ll take Sarah,” Kenny stated after a beat, his brows furrowed. “She’s everythin’ we’ll need. She knows AJ and knows how to protect herself. We can’t afford to lose Carlos or Lingard.”

“Eleanor’s already back in Prescott and helping out Jesus with Hilltop,” Javi pointed out, “Sarah seems like a safe bet.” 

Kenny nodded. “You rest your leg until we get back,” He mumbled, looking to Javi. “Take care of your family while I go get mine back.”

Javi replied with a stiff nod, obviously reluctant to hang back. He was still recovering from both blood loss and the wound in his thigh making any really physically demanding work painful.

“You take care of your dads ankle while you’re both out here,” Javi teased, looking to Ben. “I know it’s probably aching like hell.” 

Before the boy could respond, Kenny was already grumbling, his hand on Ben’s shoulder. “It ain’t hurtin’, Ben’s got me regardless,” He assured squeezing the teen’s shoulder.

Javi chuckled, shaking his head a bit before sobering up. “What about David? What if you find him or Joan there?” 

Ben furrowed his brows at the realization, his nails digging into his unburnt arm. “What… do we do?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Kenny answered gruffly, looking away. “What matters now is gettin’ AJ. Anyone who stands in the way of that is a direct threat.” 

Clint stared at the ground, waiting for anyone else to make a move. Surprisingly, it was Javi who nodded, the man’s hand coming to a rest on his hip.   

“Bring back AJ and we’ll decide what we do next,” Javi instructed, nodding his head. “Take one of the enforced trucks and all the people you’ll need. Richmond will be fine.” 

Kenny nodded slowly, looking between Clint and Javi with a frown. “Nick and Carlos are at your disposition. You need them, they’ll help. Luke’ll tag along with me and Ben.” 

“Tripp’s still in Richmond,” Javi spoke, his own brows furrowed. “Take him too, he’ll be more than glad to have something to do.” 

“He hasn’t gone back to Prescott?” Kenny asked, raising a brow.

“He said something about forming some sort of relationship between Richmond and Prescott,” Javi replied, rubbing a hand down his face. “I’ve been… hashing it out with him and Clint. It’s not a bad idea.” 

“It makes sense,” Ben added, raising his brows. “If we have Prescott and Hilltop we’ll be more than fine.” 

“That’s the plan,” Clint answered with a stiff nod. “We just gotta work out logistics, pool in resources. The usual executive bullshit that Jo-... that I didn’t deal with.” 

Kenny took in a deep breath, looking around Clint’s office. He couldn’t help but smile at the various plants decorating the room, the bright morning sun bleeding through the blinds.

“We’ll figure it out with Jesus and Tripp when we get back,” He assured, moving to wrap his palm around Ben’s wrist. “Until then, I’m gettin’ everyone ready.” 

Javi nodded, fixing his crutch beneath his armpit. “I don’t think you’ll need it, but good luck you two,” He spoke, nodding his head. “I’ll see you all by tonight.” 

“Count on it,” Kenny replied, holding his hand out to give the man a handshake. He nodded once more to Clint before patting Ben’s shoulder, leading the boy out of the office. 

The bright morning sun greeted the pair, preparing them for the mission ahead. 


 

Ben sat on the floor of the apartment patiently, his good knee pulled up to his chest as he wrapped both of his arms around his leg. He rested his chin on his knee cap as he awaited for the man behind him to settle onto the couch, his feet coming to a rest on both sides of Ben. 

Kenny clicked the scissors in his hand, taking a deep breath as he reached forward with his free hand, pulling the teen’s bangs back before looking over the boy’s head, meeting his gaze.

“You ain’t nervous?” Kenny asked with a slight smirk.

Ben couldn’t hold back his own smile, raising his brows. “Should I be?” 

Kenny chuckled before ruffling the teen’s hair rather messily, taking extra effort to fix the wet strands as he shook his head. “Nah,” He replied, still smiling. “I just remember the first time I cut it. You wouldn’t stop shaking in your seat!” 

“Well yeah!” Ben retorted, growing embarrassed. “You and Sarita said it’d just be a trim but I couldn’t trust that!” 

Kenny’s chuckle grew soft as he rolled his eyes, beginning to gather the various long strands of hair on either side of the boy’s head. He was careful as he began to cut the long dark locks, his eyes trained on each projected movement.

“M’glad you ain’t nervous this time around,” Kenny spoke after a beat. “Gives me all the more motive to catch you off guard and give you an ugly cut.” 

“You wouldn’t dare.” 

Kenny’s laughed rather loudly as he continued with the cut, his chest feeling light. He was careful not to brush against the back of the boy’s neck, the bruises still fading despite the time passed. 

“Isn’t it Clem’s turn next?” Ben asked, taking a deep breath. “Or Sarah's?” 

“Clem’s,” Kenny answered, focusing. “Sarah got her dad to do it. Well, he wanted to. His daughter and all.” 

“You’re like, everyone’s dad, now,” Ben pointed out, not quite registering his own words as he was met with silence. He felt his face quickly heat up as the truth set in, his shoulders shifting back. 

“That’s sweet of ya to say, kid,” Kenny replied, his voice significantly softer as a small smile grew on his lips. “Means a lot more than you think.” 

Ben burnt even brighter as he found himself folding in on himself in an embarrassing fit. He wouldn’t have much longer to feel like melting into the ground before the front door opened, a small laugh melting into the room.

“You’re literally an idiot, you know that right?” Clementine laughed.

“Shut up!” 

Kenny turned his head, finding Clementine already looking over, the girl waving her hand. Gabe stood beside her, his foot no longer in a cast as he sported his own goofy smile. 

“What’re you two doin’ out and about?” Kenny asked, lifting a hand to wave them over. He waited for the pair to round the couch before returning to his task, Ben raising his own hand to wave at the teens.

“Ha!” Clementine exclaimed, pointing at Ben. “He finally got you!” 

“Shut up,” Ben grumbled, glaring at the girl before looking to Gabe, giving the boy a smile. “Hey buddy, how’re you feeling!” 

Gabe looked a bit unsure as he managed a weak smile. “I’m okay, I was just hanging out with Clementine in our apartment,” He replied. “I-I can leave if I’m interrupting-” 

Clementine rolled her eyes as she planted down on the other couch, pulling Gabe down to sit beside her. 

Kenny chuckled as he continued to cut Ben’s hair, casting a glance at the children across from him. “You two been stayin’ outta trouble?” He asked, raising a brow. “I’m not gonna get no complaints from anyone that you tried to steal a car or somethin’, right?” 

“N-No sir,” Gabe immediately replied, his eyes wide. “Clementine and I wouldn’t do that!”

Kenny’s brows furrowed as both Ben and Clementine erupted into giggles. “Sir? I ain’t that old!” He cried in fake hurt. He watched as the boy’s cheeks grew red, his stammering nearing on hysterical to Ben and Clementine.

“I’m jokin’ with ya, Gabe,” Kenny spoke, settling on giving the boy a little reprieve. He waited for the child to relax, nudging Ben’s thigh with his foot in an attempt to calm both him and Clementine back down. It was another second before the pair did, Clementine still snickering into her palm.

“In all seriousness, how are ya feelin’? How’s Mari?” Kenny asked, genuinely curious as he began to finish up Ben’s haircut. “I haven’t seen the pair of you in a few days.” 

“We’re both good,” Gabe answered, scratching his hand as he elbowed Clementine. “Kate’s been helping Javi and Mari a lot. Her arms almost halfway healed which i-is good.” 

“M’glad, kiddo,” Kenny replied, smiling as he finally finished up Ben’s hair. He put the scissors down beside him before fixing the child's hair with his fingers, combing through to straighten out the cut. His figure leaned back against the couch, waiting for Ben to turn around before beaming.

“There’s your face!” The man exclaimed, not even hesitating as he leaned forward to cup Ben’s face, tilting his head in his palms. “You lookin’ brand new!” 

Ben had no control of the heat that burned across his face as he waited for Kenny to let go of him. He didn’t rush to pull away when the man did, clearing his throat as Kenny laughed, patting his head. 

“Alright Clem, your turn,” Kenny announced, waving her over. He helped Ben up to a stand before sitting back and allowing Clementine to sit where he was. His hands were quick to take her hat off and let her hair out of the one tie, his brows raised.

“What happened to your other hair tie?” Kenny asked.

“I gave it to Ben to tie his hair,” Clementine replied, pointing to the boy’s wrist where the tie sat. “His hair kept getting everywhere.” 

Kenny chuckled, shifting closer before casting a glance at the boy’s on the other couch, finding them watching intently. 

“Well, he’s more than welcome to give that back now that his hairs back to bein’ manageable,” He teased, laughing when the teen stuck his tongue out in return. “Your hair ain’t gonna be nearly as bad as Ben’s, don’t worry.” 

“Oh, I know,” Clementine replied, smirking. “Does Gabe want a haircut?” 

Kenny widened his eyes as he looked to the boy, finding him already shaking his head with a weak smile. 

“I-I’m good, I promise!” Gabe assured, “If anything, Javi w-will cut it.” 

“Makes sense,” Kenny murmured, continuing to cut Clementine’s hair. “Carlos cut Sarah’s hair last night, made it up to her shoulders or so.”

“It looks so cute,” Clementine added, nearly nodding her head. “I love it.” 

“You want a different style than the usual?” Kenny asked, pausing his scissors. “I can try n’ do somethin’ different.” 

“It’s okay,” Clementine replied, nodding for Kenny to continue. “I like the usual, it feels normal.” 

Kenny chuckled softly, nodding his head in understanding as he went on with the cut. He wasn’t exactly focused on the trio’s conversation as they began to speak, finding them diverging into stories and fantasies that Kenny had no idea about. He vaguely understood a few of the card games Gabe was talking about, a small smile growing on his lips.

Soon enough, the man was finished with Clementine’s hair, his eyes looking over his work as he ran his own hand through her thick brown hair. He was satisfied with his work, smiling before allowing Clementine to pull away, her own hand running through her hair.

“Thanks, Kenny!” She immediately exclaimed, beaming. “I think it’s awesome!”

“M’glad, kiddo,” The man replied, ruffling her hair. “Now we’re ready to get goin’.” 

Clementine immediately sobered up, looking to Ben with a cautious glance, the boy meeting her gaze.

“Who’s going to get AJ back?” She asked quietly.

“You, me, Ben,” Kenny began, nodding. “Sarah’s taggin’ along and so is Luke and Tripp. We’re more than enough.” 

 Clementine blinked before nodding her own head, turning to tie her hair into a pigtail, growing more determined.

“You’ll all be safe, right?” Gabe asked, his eyes big.

“McCaroll is a safehold, we’ll be more than fine,” Kenny assured, “It’s just a matter of pickin’ him up. We’re only taking so many people in case of walkers, that’s it.” 

Gabe seemed reassured as he smiled, looking between the trio.

Kenny stood up with a heavy breath, his hands on his hips as he nodded stiffly, his gaze firm.

“Let’s get AJ back.”

Chapter Text

Ben kept both hands wrapped tightly around the steering wheel, his eyes locked on the road ahead. The sunset was beautiful despite the anxiety building in his chest, the bright orange and pink rays sinking on the horizon. The view was most definitely one that helped relax the teen’s frayed nerves, his senses on high alert.

“I think you’re a cheater, Sarah,” Tripp sounded out from the back, leaning forward on his knees as he held a few cards in one hand. “There ain’t no way both you and Clementine are beating me this bad.” 

“You just suck,” Clementine replied, smiling rather widely. “You can’t cheat in Euchre.”

“Oh you can, Gabe’s one to cheat, I just know it,” Tripp replied, looking down at his cards. “Just seems to me that y’all are better at it than he is.”  

“I think you’re cheating, both of you,” Luke added with his own deadpan, a somber look on his face as he stared down at his cards. 

Ben chuckled softly before focusing back on the road, sparing a quick glance to the passenger seat. He found Kenny was still sleeping rather soundly, his arm curled against the window as he rested his head on top. His quiet snores were reaching Ben’s ears, no doubt the man was absolutely exhausted. 

Ben was just happy the man was getting his well-deserved rest.

The journey to the McCarroll ranch was no doubt nearing its end, the written out driving instructions being the only guide Ben really had. He argued with Kenny in regards to getting to drive there, citing the man’s injured ankle, his cast no doubt making it uncomfortable to drive. His persuasion had thankfully worked, giving him some much needed time to rest while Ben began to plan what they would be met with. 

If everything went according to plan, which Ben begged it would, the journey would be smooth. It would be as simple as walking in, asking for AJ’s whereabouts and walking out. Ben had his own set of items to verify who he was, a flag of Richmond, Clint’s signature, and the armored truck he was currently driving. He doubted the McCaroll ranch would be too difficult with him, as long as they all stayed calm it would be fine- as long as Kenny stayed calm. 

There was no doubt in Ben’s mind that the man was more upset than he let on in regards to AJ’s disappearance. The man was extremely protective of everyone he cared about, even Nick and Luke. His attachment to those he cared about, to those he considered family , was incredibly strong and powerful.

Ben just hoped Kenny would be okay. 

“How much longer we got left, buddy?” Luke asked suddenly, jolting the teen just a bit. “You still okay with drivin’? I can take over.” 

Ben shook his head, looking up to the rear view mirror to find the man leaning forward between the seats, smiling softly. He watched as Luke chuckled at the sight of Kenny’s sleeping figure, his smile soft. 

“I’m okay, I like driving,” Ben replied with his own smile. “It shouldn’t be much longer, if the directions are right.”

“Well I’ll tell ya you’re a much better driver than Nick,” Luke joked, his voice a bit quieter in hopes of keeping Kenny asleep. “He gets me car sick every time.” 

Ben snorted, sparing a glance at the man before focusing back on the road. “What? How does that even happen?” 

“Uncle Pete taught him to drive,” Luke answered, shaking his head. “Both of them drove like maniacs. I swear, when we were kids, I'd have to take a paper-bag with me whenever either one drove because I’d gotten in trouble for just hurling all over the backseat.”  

Ben’s laughter broke past his lips as he sent the man an incredulous look, his eyes wide. “No way,” He choked out in a laugh, “You’re not being serious.” 

“One hundred percent,” Luke replied, chuckling as well. “If anything, it let me be the driver for most of the dumb shit we got up to as kids. I got my way at least.” 

 “I’m guessing you never rode a plane?” Ben asked, looking back to the man for a split second. 

“Hell no,” Luke answered, “I’d probably throw up my lunch before it even took off. I could never.” 

Ben grinned as he turned down another road, his gaze flickering back to the quiet man, only to find him looking over him already. He furrowed his brows, preparing to speak, only for Luke to whisper rather quietly.

“Your arm’s not bothering you, is it?” Luke asked, staring at the burned skin that stuck out from the boy’s sleeve.

Ben subconsciously lowered the sleeve of the green parka, shaking his head. “It’s fine,” He assured, “Doesn’t hurt much anymore.” 

“Much?”

“Only if I stretch out my arm a lot,” Ben explained, clearing his throat as he spared a quick glance to Kenny, ensuring he was still asleep. “It’s fine, I promise.” 

“I got you,” Luke replied, giving the boy’s hair a quick tousle. “You just keep us updated on it, alright?” 

Ben nodded, rolling his head as he shifted a hand to fix the ruined bangs of his hair. He was thankful, at least, that his hair was no longer a nuisance. He’d have to remember to give his hair tie back to Clementine.

Silence fell between the pair as Ben focused back on the road, looking between his directions and the road. The described surroundings were becoming much more recognizable, no doubt they were within a few miles of their destination. As much as Ben hated to, he reached a hand over to Kenny, gently jostling the knee of his uninjured leg.

“Kenny,” Ben murmured, his voice a bit louder as Luke announced to the trio behind. “Dad, we’re almost there.” 

Kenny grumbled in his sleep, shifting with a sigh before all but jumping. He blinked his eye open, sitting up as he looked around, immediately looking over to Ben.

“Shit,” The man mumbled, clearing his throat. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep.” 

Ben only smiled, his hand still on the man’s knee. “It’s okay, everything’s fine. We’re just almost there,” He informed, sparing a quick glance to the man. “You slept okay?” 

Kenny nodded, rubbing his face before resting his hand over Ben’s, squeezing the boy’s fingers. “Yeah, yeah I’m good,” He assured, clearing his throat again. He looked into the back of the car, finding the others looking just as fine as they were earlier, Luke meeting his gaze with a smirk. 

Ben sat up in the seat as his nails dug into the steering wheel, the approaching destination only making him more anxious. He took in a deep breath, the silence in the car nearly suffocating as everyone prepared themselves. Kenny clutched the pistol in his hand, ensuring that he had ammunition. Sarah fixed the backpack on her back, carrying multiple emergency medical supplies as Clementine checked the ammunition of her own weapon. Tripp carried a rifle, the gun strapped over his shoulder as Luke nodded slowly, his own glock in his hand. 

“Hopefully we won’t be needin’ these,” Tripp murmured, looking around. “I’m ready for some pacifism.”

“We won’t,” Kenny replied, his eye narrowed. “And if we do, so fuckin’ be it. Nothin’s standing in the way of us.” 

The conversation around Ben drowned away as the teen stared ahead, leaning forward in his seat at the sight of thick smoke clouds. He felt his heart sink into his stomach, his eyes wide as he nearly stammered out Kenny’s name, his hands beginning to tremble.

 The McCarroll Ranch was finally in view, the once beautiful building now up in flames

Chapter Text

Ben’s not entirely sure how he ended up alone, nor where everyone had disappeared to, as he found himself standing alone in front of the truck. The large flames of the building were echoed only by various screams and shouts, gunfire echoing loudly through the air as Ben nearly trembled. His arm ached in a new, agonizing, way as he grabbed his elbow, his breathing shallow.

Under no circumstances did Ben expect himself to be this terrified. 

An explosion rocked the world around Ben from just ahead, the teen stumbling as he caught himself on the hood of the truck. He forced himself to take a few steps closer, his heart pounding in his ears as it became very hard to breathe. Still, the boy forced himself to continue onwards, hoping to at least find his father-figure, someone who would absolutely keep him from being hurt again.

Ben tightened his grip around his cleaver, his fear only growing as he stepped towards the burning building. He looked around anxiously, hoping to ignore the various bodies strewn about. His gaze searched wildly for any potential assailants or even his friends, his mind struggling to recall exactly where they went.

He could only hope they were alright. 

The barn doors to the McCarroll ranch were up in flames as the teen approached, various people rushing passed him. Horses neighed rather loudly, kicking and struggling in their pen before breaking free and running loose. Ben barely made it through the building before being nearly trampled by the various animals and people. He fought to keep his cleaver close, terrified of accidentally hurting someone who could potentially be a Richmond citizen. He racked his mind to try and understand what was going on, his heart in his throat. 

Ben nearly fell to the ground as a heavy weight collided with his shoulder, the teen tripping a good few steps forward before nearly colliding with a wall. He spun around, his eyes wide as he was met with a stranger’s wild gaze.The man sported a black goatee and beanie, his hands cupping around Ben’s shoulders as he nearly shouted in his face.

“Get the ki-kids out!” The man ordered, practically shoving Ben in one direction. “Hurry the hell up! People are going to die!” 

Ben stammered before following his direction, the man pulling out his weapon and shooting at a crowd of people in the opposite direction. Ben didn’t stick around before sprinting down a burning hall, ducking low as bullets and flames whipped around him. 

Very quickly, Ben found it nearly impossible to breathe. His chest heaved in a desperate attempt to gather enough air to not faint, his hand blindly reaching for any door or gate to escape the hall. The boy wouldn’t get that far as a pair of arms wrapped around his waist, nearly pulling him up against their chest as the teen struggled. He was quickly lowered to the ground before being spun around to face the mysterious person, looking up to find Kenny already holding his face. 

“F-Fuckin’ shit, where’d y-you go?!” Kenny nearly shouted in the teen’s face, his eyes wild. He didn’t give the teen a moment to answer before crouching and walking forward, one hand around Ben’s wrist while another rested in his hair, keeping his head low. The lower to the ground Ben was, the much easier it was to breathe. Still, the teen coughed quietly, his eyes burning.

All at once, Kenny turned to the right, leading both him and the teen down a different hall. His heart slammed in his chest as he followed in suit, the man turning into a rather large opening before disappearing into a room. 

Kenny slammed the wooden door, his back against it as he pulled Ben in front of him, holding the teen’s sides as he coughed into his shoulder. The man held the boy tightly, hoping to calm his own racing heart and harsh breathing as he held the boy.

 The man pulled the boy away after a beat, holding him at arm’s length as he looked him over. “Y-You good?” 

Ben nodded coughing a bit before nodding his head once more. He looked around, his eyes taking in the room with a fearful curiosity.

“Where’s everyone else?” The boy croaked out, looking back to Kenny. 

“Clem’s with Tripp, Sarah, and Luke,” He answered, looking around as well as he stepped away from the door, his palm around Ben’s wrist as he led him deeper in. “They’re… off somewhere. I know th-they’re alright.” 

Ben nodded slowly, following the man’s lead, only to freeze when the sound of small crying erupted through the air. The teen was yanked rather harshly as he followed the man’s footsteps, his heart immediately resting back in his throat as he nearly shook. He looked around wildly, looking desperately for the source of the cries, his mind growing hopeful. His stomach twisted in anticipation as he begged and pleaded for the source to belong to none other than the baby they were here for, the toddler who was without a doubt a younger brother to the teen, a son to Kenny. 

Ben wasn’t sure if Kenny could take the disappointment of the cries belonging to anyone else. 

The teen followed closely in suit with the man, his hand tightly wrapped around his own cleaver as Kenny’s hand stayed tight around his wrist. The pair wouldn’t reach the source of the cries before a large crash erupted from above, the ceiling erupting in flames as it snapped. Ben could only gasp as he was sharply pulled forward and all but dropped to the ground. He barely had a second to register the harsh ground that collided with his chest as another heavy weight landed on top of him, nowhere near as painfully as the ground had been. 

Ben could do nothing but wait out the various cracks and explosions that shook his body to the core, the minutes stretching on before he felt the weight above him shifting. The teen was quick to sit up and spin around, Kenny adjusting his hat over his head as he stared at the flames behind him. The man had covered the boy with his own body, protecting his lanky figure from the threat of debris.

“A-Are you okay?” Ben had to shout over the crackling flames, reaching for Kenny’s hand with both of his own. 

Kenny was quick to nod, turning his hand to tangle his fingers with the fingers of Ben’s burnt arm. He climbed to a stand, pulling the boy up before continuing forward. 

The cries from earlier seemed to get louder as the pair raced on, their tired legs carrying through a pair of doubleset door, the tan wood aged and cracked, the ground beneath their feet growing warmer. 

Kenny prepared himself as he tightened his grip around Ben’s hand, kicking down a shut door with a roar. He aimed his gun high, his eye widening before faltering.

“Don’t shoot!” Clementine shouted, clutching AJ to her chest with both arms. Her eyes were wide in fear as if she anticipated to be hurt, only to relax at the sight of their familiar faces. She immediately smiled widely, hugging AJ’s whining figure even closer as she stepped to the side, another figure standing behind her.

Kenny only stared at the man standing to the side of his children, his mind nearly stuttering to a stop as he gasped.

“Omid?!”

Chapter Text

Kenny doesn’t quite register the man in front of him, only really believing he was there when he all but stormed past Clementine, pushing to Kenny before all but lifting him off the ground in a nearly suffocating hug. 

“Holy fuck!” Omid practically cried, squeezing Kenny even tighter as he put him back onto the ground, the man finally having enough room to hug the shorter man back. Kenny couldn’t deny the redness of his ears as he looked to Clementine, his eyes nearly welling in tears at the sight of the baby in her arms.

“Omid’s been taking care of him!” Clementine assured, bouncing the baby in her arms as she tried to calm him down a little more. “H-He’s okay, Kenny.” 

Omid pulled back then, his grin nearing on painful as he met Kenny’s gaze with his own tear-filled eyes. 

“You’re fucking alive!”  

“B-By some fuckin’ miracle, you are too!” Kenny replied in an equally elated chuckle, not quite believing his eyes either. 

“Th-That’s- you’re real!” Omid cried again, his hands firmly gripping Kenny’s shoulders. “I-I was sure you died in-in that alley! Lee said-” 

Ben couldn’t help the shiver that ran down his spine as he stared at the man, the memories of that alley paired with the sight of Omid making him feel uncomfortable to say the least. Much to his dismay, the movement was more than enough to catch Omid’s attention, the man looking away from Kenny and back towards Ben. 

The echoing destruction did little to sway the focus Omid had on Ben, his brows furrowed as he stared at the teen in silence. He didn’t even shift when Kenny chuckled, his hand resting on the shorter man’s shoulder.

“Yeah, I pulled him outta there with me too,” Kenny spoke, his smile bleeding into his words as he stepped back, wrapping an arm around Ben’s shoulders. 

Ben was growing uneasy under the man’s gaze, somehow managing to wave at him.

“You… Ben?!”  

Clementine’s explosion of laughs didn’t do much to warn Ben as Omid charged forward once again, hugging the much taller teen, practically squeezing him. Ben’s yelp only served to make the moment all the more amusing, Kenny chuckling as well as he placed his hands in the middle of the boy’s shoulder blades. 

Omid just barely pulled his head back, full tears now edging in his eyes as he stared up at the teen. “How the fuck did you- I don’t-?!” He looked between the teen and Kenny, stammering for a beat. “Y-You’re friends?!”

“Family,” Kenny corrected, moving his hand off the boy’s back to ruffle his hair. “But yeah. And those babies behind you are practically mine too.”

Omid let out a wet chuckle as he looked between the four, reaching a hand to wipe his eyes. “I-I never thought- I was sure you w-were all-” A sob nearly broke past his lips as he reached his arms out, pulling them all in for a hug. Clementine only laughed as AJ wiggled in her grip, blabbering a few words before reaching out for Kenny.

“Alright, Alright AJ,” Kenny spoke, pulling out of the hug to hold the baby to his chest, placing a multitude of kisses all over his face and scalp before hugging him close. He felt Ben’s hand come to a rest on the baby’s back, his lips also planting a small kiss on AJ’s face.

“W-We’re all family, Omid,” Clementine explained, practically holding his hand. “W-We found each other…” 

“That’s… That’s fantastic!” The man sniffled, reaching up to playfully tap the rim of her hat. “We missed you, darling.” 

Clementine smiled widely, her eyes widening after a bit. “We?” 

Omid nodded eagerly, cracking a smile as he looked between the trio. “You think I could’ve made it this far without Christa?” 

Kenny and Ben gasped in unison, their excitement knowing no bonds as they stared at the much shorter man, his eyes glimmering.

“She took Olive to safety,” Omid explained, nodding almost rushedly. “Ev-Everything- o-our home fell apart!”

“I know, I saw that shit go down,” Kenny hissed, only to blink slowly. “Wa-Wait, Olive?” 

Omid’s face twisted into a blinding grin as he hugged himself. “Yeah, that’d be our little girl. She’s AJ’s age!” 

Kenny stammered for a beat, his own lips pulled into an equally wide smile as he all but jumped forward, pulling Omid into an even tighter embrace. Ben gasped himself, his eyes even wider as he found himself chuckling softly. Clementine only held onto herself tighter, her own brown eyes welled up in tears. 

“Ol-Olive?” Clementine stammered, meeting Omid’s eyes when the man was finally let go. 

“Yeah, Olive Hope,” Omid answered, crouching down to Clementine’s level. “When… When we lost you we… we never gave up. You were- are like our kid. So we wanted our own biological kid to be named after you in a way. Clementine and Olive, two fruits.”

“Holy fuck,” Kenny practically chuckled out in disbelief, his own eyes building up with pressure. “I- A baby!?”

“Yeah, she’s a little darling,” Omid answered, “Christa finally caved and said I could call the baby Omid if it was a boy, but Olive threw a wrench in my plans. But Hope’s the english version of my name so she let me have that for a middle name.” 

“She… Olive…” Clementine whispered, still in disbelief. She felt Ben’s hand come to a rest between her shoulder blades, as if he knew her next move. Clementine couldn’t help herself as she jumped forward and hugged Omid incredibly tight, a few tears slipping past her lips. 

“We’re gonna find Christa and get our little family back together,” Omid whispered into her ear, holding her tight. “I promise.” 

Clementine held onto the man for another beat, feeling Ben’s own arms wrap around her before Kenny’s arm wrapped around too, still holding onto AJ. Together, for just a moment, the world around them disappeared as they held onto one another, the past and present disappearing. 

The sharp crackling of a wooden beam was more than enough to bring the group out of their momentary reverie. Ben was quick to hold onto AJ even tighter, preparing to protect him, before Kenny took him into his own arms, holding the baby close.

“We’re gettin’ everyone the fuck outta here,” Kenny spoke, looking to Omid. “And we’re gettin’ the gang back together.” 

Omid’s lips pulled into a determined grin, the edges of his eyes crinkling. 

“Let’s fucking do it.” 

Chapter Text

The earlier reunion, although utterly delightful, was nowhere near enough to distract Ben from the very real life threatening situation he was in. The caving in walls and crackles of fire were loud and terrifying, the flames very nearly flickering onto Ben’s clothing. 

Still through it all, Kenny’s hand stayed wrapped around Ben’s wrist, keeping him close while also leading the way. Clementine held AJ in both arms as Omid led the entire group, shouting various demands and directions. His hands were wrapped tightly around his rifle, his eyes wildly searching as he sped through burning halls and collapsing rooms. 

“We gotta get the fuck outta here, Omid!” Kenny shouted, his heart in his throat as he tried his hardest to project his voice over the echoing crackles of the breaking interior. 

“I know!” Omid replied in a stressed shout, continuing forward without another reply. 

The group suddenly turned a sharp left, heading down a new hall, only to halt.

“Shit!” Omid cursed, his eyes wide as he raised his rifle. “Get down!” 

Dozens of unknown men turned into the direction of the gang, their own weapons aimed at them as they shouted threats. The attackers didn’t hesitate to begin shooting, Ben lurching to the side as Kenny pulled both him and Clementine behind a pillar, hugging them all closely as he shielded them from the onslaught of bullets. Omid was on the other side of the hall, shooting from behind a different pillar. 

Kenny slowly let go of the teens, keeping them hidden as bullets ricocheted off the wall. He worked quick to pull out his pistol, AJ’s cries echoing loudly. 

“Stay down!” Kenny nearly screamed, fighting Ben’s hand around his own arm as he bolted across the hall, barely avoiding the various bullets that whisked past him. He all but rammed into Omid, the man keeping him from getting shot as he stabilized him. 

“Yo-You can’t be doing stupid shit like that, Kenny! You’re a father!” Omid practically shouted, his eyes wide in disbelief. 

“I’ve made it this far bein’ reckless,” Kenny replied, cocking his gun. “Besides, you think I’d let you have all the fun?” 

Omid couldn’t help the wide grin that grew over his lips, his eyes bright. He chuckled before being brought out of his momentary glee, gunshots ringing out from close by. Both Omid and Kenny spun around to the source, finding none other than Ben aiming at the few attackers. 

“Ben! Stand down!” Kenny screamed, his own figure stiffening.

“Well I can see where he gets his recklessness from,” Omid pointed out before following the teen’s direction, spinning to the side to shoot. 

Kenny could only growl before following in suit, his gun aimed at the various armed men, having to duck back as he was shot at, the bullets thankfully missing. He waited a beat before peering from behind the pillar, Omid’s gun landing a bullet in the last attacker. 

“All clear,” Omid breathed, double checking that the children on the other side of the hall were okay before stepping out. He made sure their were no more bullets before breathing out a breath of relief, his eyes wide. 

“Let’s keep going,” Omid ordered, nodding his head stiffly before looking up to the creaking ceiling. “We don’t have much time left.” 

“We need to find the others too,” Clementine pointed out. “We can’t leave without them.” 

“Wasn’t plannin’ on it, darlin’,” Kenny assured, squeezing her shoulder, “We get you, AJ, and Ben safe then we get the rest. I know Luke’s got his eye on Sarah.” 

Clementine hesitated before nodding, bouncing the whining boy in her arms before following Kenny’s lead. She noted Ben’s apparent discomfort, his entire figure rigid before relaxing just a bit when Kenny’s hand came to rest around his wrist, tugging him closer. 

The group continued down the hall, the bullets from other sides of the ranch dissipating as the sounds of fire and onslaught of destruction echoed through the space. Still, their hearts raced as various pillars and foundation collapsed, entire rooms filling up with flames. 

Omid’s directions were nearing inaudible as the nosies grew louder, his words practically going unheard. 

“We’re almost to the entrance!” Omid informed in a shout, his words muffled over the smoke as he raced forward. “We-We’ll be safe soon!” 

True to his words, the group were essentially in the lobby within minutes, the entire space filled with flames and the sound of bullets. The group had no choice but to race through, the smoke covering the exit doors. 

Kenny was quick to pull his hand off of Ben’s wrist in favor of wrapping an arm around Clementine’s coughing figure, the girl shielding AJ in her jacket as she continued onward. Their speed picked up as the surrounding space grew hectic, only for everything to quickly fall apart.

Ben hadn’t realized how far behind he had gotten in the mere seconds Kenny was holding onto his hand, his eyes widening as he stumbled forward, only for a glass bottle to clink onto the ground in front of him. Ben felt his heart sink as he came to an abrupt stop, his scream barely even loud enough as he tried to sprint for cover, the explosion sending him to the ground. 

The entire world dissolved into a ringing silence as Ben groaned, the heat around him growing. He struggled to open his eyes immediately, barely managing to raise himself onto his palms as he hissed. His vision was blurred entirely, barely able to make out any shapes as his hearing slowly returned. 

 “Go go go!” A shrill voice practically screamed, “We’ve got everything we needed!” 

Ben looked into the direction of the woman’s voice, his eyes still adjusting as he felt a chill overcome his body. He didn’t know why he suddenly began to shake, nor why his body grew cold as his vision made out the bare colors of the woman’s dark green jacket, not having another second to focus as she disappeared from view. Her raspy voice continued to echo for a beat before he was pulled back onto the ground, his eyes widening as he met Kenny’s brown eyes.

“Get up-! Get up! I-I got y-you! Le-Let’s go!” Kenny screamed, pulling the teen up onto his shaky legs. Ben wasn’t in complete control of his body as the man wrapped an arm around his shoulders, holding him close before running, the boy struggling to keep up.

Soon enough, the dark smoke around Ben dissipated, instead replacing the teen with an undeniable sinking feeling in his stomach.

Chapter Text

Ben’s head spun, his entire stomach lurching forward as he stumbled alongside Kenny. His mind worked to try and stabilize where he was, or rather what was going on, as everything around him grew warmer, only to immediately cool down. 

The teen quickly recognized his surroundings once again, the smoke in the sky blocking out any potential natural light as the ground beneath his shoes became dirt. He felt Kenny’s arm around him tighten, the man’s words loud and echoing. 

“Sarah! Sarah!” Kenny nearly shouted, waving the girl down with his other hand. “W-We’re here!” 

The girl spun around with none other than Luke, the pair practically sprinting over to the group. Sarah gasped, her arms out to take AJ into her arms as tears pricked her eyes. She was nearly shoved to the side as Luke all but pushed through to see the baby, letting out an excited squeal. He continued to fawn over the child as Sarah took AJ into her arms, the baby clinging to her flannel.

“Oh my god.” 

Kenny looked up almost immediately, looking past Luke and Sarah before his own eye widened. Ben seemed to straighten up as well, his fogged up mind clearing for just a beat. 

No one could stop Clementine as she all but sprinted forward, her arms wrapping tightly around the woman straight across.

“Christa!”  

The woman all but lifted Clementine, falling to her knees as she cradled the girl against her chest. The pair rocked back and forth, tears pricking in both their eyes as they all but melted into one another. 

“Honey! You’re okay!” 

Christa looked up immediately, still hugging Clementine as her lips pulled into a grateful smile. Her gaze quickly flickered to the two boys standing on the other side of Omid, her jaw dropping. 

“No-” Christa gasped, shaking her head as her brows narrowed.

Omid snorted as he helped Christa to a stand, looking to her back as a large grin broke over his face. He was quick to reach into the backpack, scooping out none other than a small baby. 

“There’s my baby girl!” Omid cooed, looking back between Christa and Kenny. “Why don’t we save this little fun reunion when there isn’t a building on fire behind us?”

Kenny blinked, a surprised laugh breaking past his lips. “Glad to see you’re still with this dunce.”

Christa laughed, reaching up to wipe her eyes. “Glad to see you and your little idiot made it out of Savannah.”

“Hey!”

The group was abruptly cut off as a loud engine roared, rolling up to the group rather roughly. Luke held instinctively to Sarah, pulling her back as the truck stopped just parallel to them, Kenny raising his gun.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here!” Tripp all but shouted from within the truck, waving them from the window. 

The group was quick to gather themselves and all but sprinting into the vehicle. The gunshots and explosions seemed to slowly stifle, various trucks and other vehicles fleeing. Kenny all but rallied everyone into the truck, jumping in last before shutting the doors. 

“I got everyone out on the horses a-and backup trucks,” Christa breathed out to Omid, her chest rising and falling quickly. “They’re all headed to Richmond, Eddie’s in charge of the Nursery truck.”

“Thank god,” Omid replied, bouncing Olive in his lap, the girl practically asleep in his arms. 

“So uh, who are you?” Luke asked, blinking as he looked between Christa and Omid.

Kenny chuckled, patting the man’s shoulder. “This is Christa, Omid, and Little Olive,” He introduced, his lips pulled into a wide smile. “They’re real old friends.” 

“Oh shit- You’re the people who watched after Clem!” Luke realized, gasping alongside Sarah. The girl held her friend's hand tightly, squeezing it as she bounced. 

“That’d be us,” Omid replied, smiling as he looked to his wife. “We…. We’re a little family.” 

“I’m a bit more surprised about you two,” Christa spoke, leaning forward with wide eyes. She focused on Ben, her gaze flickering down to his stomach before meeting his crystal gaze. “You two…”

“Yeah,” Kenny replied, throwing his arm around Ben’s shoulders and crushing him to his side, the boy immediately growing pink. “Fished him right outta Savannah and I’ve had him by my side ever since.” 

Christa smiled softly, watching as the man messed with the teen’s hair, ruffling it gently. “Never in a million years would I have thought I’d run into both of you again.”

“I found them after w-we got separated!” Clementine joined in, nearly giddy. “They’ve been taking care of me since!”

“The three of them? Absolutely chaotic,” Luke added with a laugh. “The names Luke, this here’s Sarah. We got a whole posse back in Richmond.”

“A family even,” Kenny added in a mumble, quickly clearing his throat. “What the hell have y’all been doing?”

Omid chuckled, looking down to his daughter. “We needed somewhere safe for Olive,” He answered. “Took a few months but we found Richmond. They took us in immediately after we saved one of their leaders from getting eaten alive, Romeo, I think.” 

The atmosphere of the truck immediately dropped, a chilly air wrapping around Ben as he felt Kenny’s arm around his shoulders tightened. 

“What have you guys been doing in Richmond? We heard about the attack but it’s been near radio silence until yesterday,” Christa replied. “We were completely prepared to get over there and access the damage if it weren’t for Echo’s message.”

“Clint’s always thinking ahead,” Luke chuckled, shaking his head. “We’re glad you kept little AJ safe for us.”

Christa smiled, looking to the baby who was now sleeping in the man’s arms. “He was a little angel. Him and Olive got on a little too well.” 

Kenny laughed, shaking his head. “That boy’s a little firecracker, I tell ya,” He chuckled, “He was always tryna pull on my beard when he was younger.” 

“It’s a good look,” Omid pointed out, smiling. “You look like a pirate now!” 

The sound of snickers exploded from Sarah, Clementine, Luke, and Ben, Kenny looking practically offended as he cursed at the man. Omid was quick to dissolve into his own laughter, a smile growing on Christa’s lips. 

“Well, this has been a wild night,” Kenny breathed, shaking his head as he relaxed into the seat. “It’s an hour and a half drive till we get back, so get comfortable.” 

Christa laughed as Omid leaned against her, holding Olive even closer before shutting his own eyes. Clementine did just about the same as she leaned against Ben, Sarah curling up beside her with Luke leaning the opposite way. 

The sun set as Kenny got comfortable, holding Ben close to his side.

Chapter Text

Ben’s groggy mind faintly registered the jostling of where his head laid, the pressure around his hip tightening just a bit more as he groaned faintly. He shifted just a few inches as he found himself snugly held once more, his mind growing foggy again. 

Kenny sent a cautious glance down to the teen leaned against him, barely enough light spilling into the back of the truck as he insured the boy was okay. He felt his breathing even out after a beat, the teen letting out a content hum before going still. 

“Never in a million years…”

Kenny looked up, his brows furrowed in confusion, only to feel a tinge of heat bloom over his ears. He was quick to fix his seating, still holding tightly onto Ben before briefly looking over everyone else, making sure they were at the very least still asleep and comfortable. 

“Yeah,” The man murmured, clearing his throat. 

“What… What happened to you two?” Christa asked quietly, her brows furrowed in worry as she held onto the baby in her arms even tighter. 

Kenny sighed deeply, still looking over Ben. “A lot,” He answered quietly. “A lot of shit.” 

“You both look like you’ve been through hell,” Omid added, grunting as Christa’s elbow landed on his side. 

Kenny didn’t reply immediately, his gaze slowly falling to the teen sleeping beside him. He couldn't help himself as he tucked a few strands of the boy’s bangs behind his ear, relaxing his shoulder in an attempt to help the child feel even more comfortable. 

“It hasn’t been anywhere near easy,” Kenny murmured, his eyes on the boy’s face. “He’s had it rougher than me- which I hate.” He paused, swallowing the lump in his throat. “He’s the best thing to happen to me since… since I lost my wife and son.” 

Christa nodded slowly, her eyes filled with sorrow. “You got him out of Savannah. That in itself had to be a miracle.” 

Kenny sighed heavily, his eyes locked on Ben’s limp hand. “He did that all on his own,” He answered, “It was his own will. I-I could’ve gotten him outta that alley but he survived that shit- that injury.”  

Omid instinctively held onto his own daughter small palm, squeezing her nimble fingers before looking over Ben.

“He looks healthy.” 

The edge of Kenny’s lip twitched upward, genuine relief flooding his system as he looked over the teen. He spared a quick glance to Clementine, AJ, and Sarah, his eyes insuring that they were okay as well.

“He’s got some complications and shit,” Kenny murmured. “I worry ‘bout him more than the rest ‘cause of what he’s dealt with.” He paused, shaking his head slightly. “And he’s selfless to a fault.” 

Christa blinked. “He’s grown a lot,” She spoke, furrowing her brows. “I remember him being a scared little kid.” 

“He’s still a kid,” Omid added, “What is he- eighteen?”

“Nineteen now,” Kenny answered, smiling. “He was only sixteen back in Savannah, believe it or not. He’ll be 20 in February.” 

“That’s sweet,” Christa murmured, resting her head against Omid’s shoulder. A beat passed, a sigh leaving her frame as she stared down at her daughter before flickering her gaze to Clementine’s sleeping figure.

“Losing Clem… That was the hardest thing we went through,” She murmured, a haunting tone lacing her words. “I’ve been shot at, nearly bitten more times than I could count, hell, I even gave birth with no medical assistance. But losing her...” 

Omid was quick to place his lips in his wife’s hair, curling her closer against him before looking to Kenny, a fake smile on his lips. “And now we’re all back together!” He spoke, his voice filled with fake cheer. “A-And baby Olive has so many siblings now, I’m jealous!”

Kenny immediately played along, painting his own an attempt of a smile on his lips. “And I could swear you even got taller Omid, it’s really a miracle!” 

The joke was just enough to make Christa chuckle, the woman rolling her eyes as she snuggled against her husband. Omid attempted to look offended, but the relief in his eyes was too genuine.

“Leave him alone,” Christa teased, smirking. “He’s already worried Olive will be taller than him, it’s practically eating him alive.” 

“I am not!” Omid protested, his voice a rather loud whisper. “I don’t care if she’s taller- I told you I hope she is!” 

Kenny couldn’t help but join in with his own chuckle, the boy in his arms shifting a beat before relaxing once more. He felt his chest fill with warmth as the boy mumbled in his sleep, the words nowhere near understandable as he sighed. 

“So Richmond, huh?” Omid spoke, “You all live together now?” 

“Yup,” Kenny replied, smiling softly. “We all have one big ol’ apartment, our friend Javi is runnin’ the city now- Ben and Clem actually saved his life.” 

“Of course they did,” Christa chuckled, holding her baby tighter. “I have a feeling Richmond’s going to be very different than what it was the last time we saw it.” 

“Shit, probably,” Kenny snorted, “It’s already been changing in the past few weeks we’ve been there. It’s more peaceful and less like a dictatorship.”  

“I wonder if you three had anything to do with it?” Christa asked, her brow raised. “Seems like trouble always follows you.” 

“Oh we already fuckin’ know it does,” Kenny replied in an exhausted breath, “But we’re all together and that’s all I care about.” 

Omid held onto his wife with just as much strength, turning to look to his wife with a love filled smile. “Oh I know, we’re the same here. I couldn’t do anything without my little cute munch-” 

Christa interrupted the man’s words with an elbow to his side, her nose scrunched up as heat spread over her face. Omid only burst into a series of snickers, placing a sloppy kiss over her temple before calming back down. 

“I hate you, you know that?” Christa mumbled, rolling her eyes before resting her head back on his shoulder. 

Kenny could only smile fondly as he watched the small family, his heart full as he relaxed for the first time in a while.

Chapter Text

Richmond was never really silent, albeit the much quieter atmosphere that echoed at night was one that was nothing short of welcoming. Kenny took in a deep breath, his heart feeling just a bit lighter. Christa jumped out beside him, holding Olive’s sleeping figure close as she looked around wildly.

“Holy shit,” She murmured, looking up at the various buildings and lamps in awe. “How...?” 

“Kenny!”  

The man looked up to find none other than Javi practically sprinting over, the man’s once-wounded leg lagging behind him as he came to a stop in front of his friend, looking practically terrified. 

“I-Is everyone okay-?!” He asked, his brows furrowing as he met Christa’s gaze, blinking. “I-Is- Who is this?” 

Kenny chuckled softly, sending a lazy wave to Nick who walked over, before placing a palm on Javi’s arm. “This is Christa and Olive, she’s an old friend from way back when,” He answered, smiling.”And everyone’s fine, Ben took a couple bumps per usual but a quick check up with Carlos and he’ll be fine.” 

Javi seemed to relax all at once, nodding his head as he let out a long breath, meeting Christa’s gaze with a genuine smile.

“I’m Javi,” He greeted, holding out his hand. 

“He runs this place,” Kenny added slyly, rolling his eyes. “Believe it or not.” 

“Oh- You’re the leader?” Christa repeated, blinking. “Wow- I didn’t realize.” 

Javi only shrugged, a lopsided smile on his lips. “I try my best,” He answered, ignoring Kenny’s snort as he looked to the baby in Christa’s arms, his eyes lighting up. “Oh she is precious.”

“Her and AJ get along like a house on fire,” Christa replied with a genuine, happy laugh. “Her names Olive.” 

Javi beamed, his eyes nearly as bright as the moon as he looked behind her, finding another man exiting as well, the man yawning loudly as he stretched his arms.

“Here already?” Omid asked, rubbing his eyes as he looked around, his jaw falling in awe. “Holy fuck.” 

“And that would be my husband,” Christa breathed, watching Omid make his way over with wide eyes before wrapping an arm around her. “This is Omid, Omid meet the leader of Richmond, Javi.” 

“Oh shit,” Omid stammered, reaching out his own palm. “It’s an honor.” 

Javi looked momentarily flustered, blinking at the man as he shook his palm as Tripp rounded his way around the truck, shaking his head.

“Y’not gonna wake the kids up?” Tripp asked, his brow raised. “Oh, and Luke.” 

Nick snorted as he walked past the four, spinning to quickly shake Omid and Christa’s hands. “I’m Nick, uh, a good friend of Kenny’s.” He paused, his brows furrowed in almost fear. “D-Did you get AJ?” 

Kenny smiled softly before nodding, shaking the man’s shoulder as he signaled for him to get into the truck. Nick only hesitated for a second before practically sprinting into the back, his smile evident.

“I feel like we’ve missed out on a lot,” Omid murmured, looking  rolled his eyes as he watched Luke disappear into the back of the truck. “Who would’ve thought you’d have this many friends?” 

“Har har, jackass,” Kenny replied, elbowing Ben as him and Javi dissolved into a flurry of snickers, the teen letting out a protesting cry. He immediately sobered up at the thought of the children waking up and coming out to the stressful conversation that had to be had.

“Javi, later, we gotta talk,” He stressed out quietly. “Me, you, Clint, Carlos, and Tripp. Anyone else you trust sure. But shits going down.” 

Richmond’s leader blinked, his brows furrowing in concern as he nodded stiffly. His serious demeanor was quickly replaced as he looked up to find the Nick coming out of the truck, his lips pulled into the widest smile he had seen on the man’s lips in a long time. Luke followed behind him, his hand on his shoulder, as they stared down at the sleeping baby in his arms.

Clementine and Sarah were soon to follow, both looking equally as tired as they blinked, naturally gravitating to Kenny’s side.

“Where’s my dad?” Sarah asked, her arm locked with Clementine’s. “I-Is he here?” 

Javi shook his head, smiling. “They’re all at headquarters,” He answered, “We’ve been waiting for you. Lingard and Eleanor were working at the hospital.” 

“This one’s gonna need to be repaired, Javi,” Tripp sounded out, the man standing at the front of the truck with the hood up. “It’s lookin’ like the engine’s fucked.” 

“Is it fixable?” Javi asked, his brows furrowed in concern. “I’d hate to have to scrap it.” 

“Should be,” Tripp replied, nodding his head as he wiped his brow with the back of his palm. “Just need the crew and some tools.” 

Javi nodded, his hands on his hips as he let out a long sigh, looking around to the group before smiling.

“Let’s get these babies to bed and rest,” He stated, “We can all talk tomorrow first thing in the morning.” 

“Are you gonna actually sleep tonight?” Kenny asked, his brow raised. “Y’know, with your sister and your kids.” 

Javi seemed to momentarily stammer, his ears red as Omid snickered to himself. He hesitated before rolling his eyes, crossing his arms over his chest. “Let’s get inside, at least,” He stated firmly. “There’s an apartment in our building that should be empty, it’s only one bedroom but if a bigger one opens up we can fit you in there.”

Christa and Omid looked taken aback, their eyes wide.

“Our own apartment?” Christa asked, her words laced with uncertainty. “Is that…?”

“We’ve got space,” Javi assured, smiling once again despite the obvious exhaustion in his eyes. “Besides, any friend of Kenny is a friend of mine. Not to mention I’m guessing you worked at the ranch, so you’re Richmond people.” 

Christa nodded, only Kenny noticing just how much relief flooded her figure. He smiled to the woman before turning back to Javi.

“Let’s all get some rest,” He murmured, looking to the group around him. “We all deserve it.”  


Ben sat on his bed, Carlos sitting across from him with one hand holding his chin, the other a small flashlight. He shined the bright light in both of Ben’s eyes, Sarah standing beside him as if to observe.

“No concussion,” Carlos murmured, sparing a quick glance to Kenny’s worried figure, the man’s arms crossed over his chest. “His breathing is a bit ragged which is to be expected.” He sat back, clicking off the flashlight before putting his stethoscope on correctly, holding the cool metal in his hands. His hands paused just over Ben’s chest, waiting for the teen to lower the collar of his shirt before shifting closer and placing it on the boy’s warm skin.

Silence enveloped the room, Kenny watching the teen with tensed hands before his gaze flicked to Carlos as he sat back, nodding. 

“Just rest is all I can prescribe,” He assured Kenny, nodding his head. “No excessive movement or physical activity.”

Kenny seemed to relax, his hand resting on Ben’s shoulder. He turned to look towards the door, excessive laughter erupting from the other-side. 

Christa and Omid were already quickly adjusting to the sheer number of people, the pair engaging and conversing with laughs. Olive and AJ had yet to awaken, the pair of babies sleeping on Carlos’ bed. 

“You up for sittin’ with them?” Kenny asked, his brows furrowed. “Don’t stress yourself out.” 

Ben nodded eagerly, already climbing to a stand. He waited to see if Kenny would argue against him, only for the man to nod and ruffle the boy’s hair.

“I’ll follow ya out, take Sarah with ya,” Kenny assured, smiling. The teens were already grinning widely before they all but sprung to the door, the conversation echoing even louder before the door shut once more. 

“I was prepared for you to force him into bed,” Carlos joked, his arms crossed over his chest. 

“Shut up,” Kenny sighed out in a chuckle, rolling his eyes. “He would kill me. He’s ecstatic to be with everyone.”

“I cannot blame him,” Carlos replied, “Their baby is adorable. I’m sure her and AJ are already close.” 

Kenny let out a soft chuckle before sitting beside his friend, running a hand down his face. “Javi greeted us all, he looked more than excited,” He spoke, shaking his head. “You’d think all the stress he’s under he’d be more frantic.” 

Carlos shrugged. “The same could be said for you,” He pointed out, smirking.

A beat passed before Kenny snorted, gently bumping shoulders with his friend. He stretched his arms out, blinking before coming to a stand.

“M’sure they’re waitin’ for us out there,” He spoke, nodding his head in the direction of the door. “C’mon.” 

Carlos took Kenny’s outstretched arm, climbing to his own stand before stretching his arms. 

The pair made their way to the living room, the laughter greeting them warmly.