Actions

Work Header

Light of Day

Chapter Text

Chapter I: In the Pines.
“Little girl, little girl, don’t lie to me.”

 

Clementine.

Clementine thought, This is it.

She thought, This can’t be it.

It wasn’t the first time those two perfectly opposed concepts had struck her back-to-back in the past two years, but now they beat in her head like a drum. Maybe that was only natural, all things considered. In her current circumstances - lost in the woods, surrounded on all sides, and with her arm torn open and the world trying to swim away from her with every step - the first half of the thought sounded especially loud in her head. Clementine was sure she had been in worse positions, but she really couldn’t remember when.

Willing her body to keep going, willing the world to stay with her, Clementine thought, This can’t be it. It can’t be.

Then, like clockwork, But it is.

At least the routine strum of those two thoughts was something to focus on. Better them than the walkers. Better them than the current state of her left arm. The wound was just minutes in the making, but already here Clementine was in a state of woozy borderline delirium, with the world swimming and fogging before her eyes thanks to lost blood. Beyond that, Christ did it hurt. It felt like her nerves  were on fire from wrist to elbow, and every tug of her blood-soaked sleeve against the jagged shreds of her arm sent a stabbing electric jolt through her.

At least it had been a dog and not a walker. Small comfort, but at least there was that.

Clementine thought, This is it. You can’t just keep doing this.

Then, in a bid to squash that voice at least for the time, Wouldn’t be the first time. Just have to keep moving. Keep walking, keep moving forward. Just need to find help, or supplies. Maybe a first aid kit. She added to that, if just to keep her focus from slipping to the husky groans behind her ( god they’re everywhere, how can they be everywhere in the middle of nowhere ), This isn’t it. I can do this. I’ve done it before. Just another hurdle. I can -

Something heavy, wet, and shambling smashed into her. Clementine intuited the cold, damp soil of the ground rising up to greet her, left side first. This was followed promptly by a shredding lance of pain from her arm all the way up to her shoulder, driving the air from her lungs in a sharp gasp of a cry. The walker was upon her at once, and Clementine only just had the wherewithal to brace her good arm against its chest before the rotting, yammering maw could clamp down on her. She tried to raise her left arm to use as further leverage, but she could still barely feel it, let alone use it. Left without any better alternative, Clementine pushed herself backwards in a frantic daze, trying to slip out from under the corpse above her...and felt rock rise up behind her back.

That was when panic finally started to set in.

Not here, she thought, the words more a blur of motion in Clementine’s head as she threw all of her remaining strength into fending off the monster practically sitting in her lap. It was barely enough. The walker was close enough, now, that she would have been able to see into the cracked, decaying cavity of its skull were her vision not still swimmy. Not here, not now, please God no. At least give me time to find Christa. At least give me a little while longer. Not-

What happened next happened in the space of mere instants. One second, the walker’s head was there, gnashing and snarling at her; the next, it was gone, and Clementine took hazy note of the sight of it rolling down the gentle incline of the forest floor in her periphery. The remainder of it slackened above her, its unkillable strength leaving it in an instant, and Clementine lurched - almost flew - into a sitting position for how easily she was able to shove it off of her with her bracing arm. The shock of it widened Clementine’s eyes in more ways than one; as she snapped her head up, immediately searching, the world around her lazily swam back into clarity just in time to give her a good visual on her rescuer.

Or rather rescuers. Above her stood a pair of men, one using a crossbow to pick off walkers a yard or so away and the other maybe just a foot out of her reach. As Clem blinked away the shock of the rescue, the one nearest to her - by far the younger of the two, slim and mousy-haired - bent and extended his hand.

“Can you walk, kid?” He had an urgent tone to his voice and the question was blunt and clipped, but Clem intuited no hostility from him even as her eyes fell on the bloody machete dangling from his right hand and she thought, So that did it.

“Yeah,” she said, sensing the woozy daze of her own voice. “I...I think-”

“No time, Luke,” the older man cut in, lowering his crossbow and glancing back. He was shorter than his companion, stockier and more square. “I’m out. Grab her and let’s get the hell out of here.”

The younger man, Luke, glanced at his companion, then back to Clementine. She could count four walkers down around them, removing the immediate threat, but more were closing in.

“Shit,” he muttered. “Alright.” He gave Clementine an apologetic look and added, “Sorry about this.”

Clem almost replied, but was cut off by the sensation of being scooped up and hauled off the ground. The sudden motion was enough to set her vision spinning again, and she closed her eyes against it as Luke started forward in a run that wasn’t quite a sprint, but almost. The urge to drift off, to just give up and pass out like her body so desperately wanted her to do, rose up and tempted her, but she fought it off.

Need to scope these people out, Clementine thought, organizing a to-do list in her head with the remainder of her consciousness and focusing on that to bring herself back. It worked, at least to a degree, and having her eyes closed helped. She’d had just about her fill of watching the world focus and unfocus. There’s got to be more of them. I need to stay awake, ask questions, get supplies if I can. Help would be better, but I’ll take what I can get. After that…

Clem paused. What did come after that? Her conscience told her that finding Christa came first, came before anything, but the greater part of her knew that doing so would be damn close to impossible. She had no way of knowing how far the river had taken her, nor any way of knowing how far and in which direction Christa had gone in the time they’d been separated. The thought of just leaving her in the wilderness, alone and God only knows where, made Clementine feel ill in ways that had nothing to do with lost blood, but what else could she do?

Keep on keeping on, Clem thought, a saying she’d taken from her dad long ago. The thought warmed and hurt her heart at the same time. It had been long enough that she could barely remember her parents’ voices, and yet that turn of phrase came to her effortlessly. At least I’m out of danger. I have time to take stock.

Clementine cracked her eyes open just enough to see the ever-continuing expanse of misty forest moving past her. It was mocking in a way that was almost perfect. It said: You’re not out of the woods yet.

By the time Clementine’s rescuers finally slowed to a stop, she could just make out bars of white daylight filtering through the leafy canopy above her. Even better, her vision had steadied some now that she’d (more or less) had the opportunity to rest. They were small hopes, but two years had long since taught Clem that small hopes were better than no hopes. Small hopes were what kept survivors surviving.

“I think we’re safe,” the older man called back from a yard or two ahead, one arm out against a tree as he caught his breath. “Least it looks like we lost ‘em.”

“Yeah,” Luke agreed, taking a few more steps to close the distance. Clementine saw his eyes shift as he said it, as if he wasn’t sure whether to believe his own words yet. Clem thought, Smart. “Yeah, I think we’re good.” He glanced down and their gazes met, insofar as they could when Clementine’s eyes were still drowsily half-lidded. “Hey, you doing alright?”

“Think so,” Clem said, the conversation dragging her back to the surface a little. She didn’t think her response was dishonest; she figured it was better than a hard yes, at least. Her circumstances had changed so quickly, she could still feel the greater part of her mind reeling. “I-I can walk, I think.”

“Really,” Luke said, his eyebrows going up a touch and his voice disbelieving. “Looked to me like you could barely crawl away from those lurkers back there. You’re in bad shape, kid.”

They continued on, walking this time rather than sprinting, and Clementine had time to think that, bad shape or no, she would still much rather be walking under her own power rather than trust a perfect stranger to carry her out. Still, the thought crossed her mind, You don’t even know if you’d make it, how dizzy you are. Besides, they saved you, and that’s better than you’ve had for a while.

“What are you doing out here, anyway?” the older man spoke up, glancing back at them over his shoulder. Something about the even keel of his voice put Clem’s nerves a little more at ease, but only a little. “Y’have people with you?”

Clementine considered her options and decided that dodging the truth, now, wouldn’t get her anywhere. Besides, she didn’t really have a reason to lie, at least about this. “Just my friend and I,” she said. “Christa. Some people attacked us.”

Luke and his companion exchanged a glance, and Clementine knew enough now to read what it meant: unease. She hadn’t noticed it before, when she’d been at her wobbliest, but now she finally picked up on an undercurrent of anxiety between the two men - maybe even fear. Clem thought, Well that’s interesting.

“These folks happen to mention what they were after?” the older of the two questioned her. Clementine gave him a little shake of her head.

“I think they just wanted food,” she said. “We were cooking some sort of weasel.”

“They attacked you for a weasel ?” Luke said. She could hear the disgust. “Jesus, that’s low.” He paused a moment, as if in thought. Then: “They didn’t mention any names? Weren’t searching for anybody?”

Clementine shook her head again. As she did so, a thought came to her with almost startling clarity: They’re being hunted. For whatever reason, somebody is after these people.

And for what reason...who knew.

“Well,” Luke said, breaking the moment’s silence. A touch of the nervousness had left his voice, but not quite all. “I’m Luke, and this here is Pete.”

“Hey,” the older man said, finally cracking a smile. It was enough to make her wonder if he’d ever been a grandfather, a thought which was followed by, Doubt it. Not quite old enough.

“Hey,” Clementine returned, feeling...well, if not quite perfectly at-ease, at least reassured. Maybe this was a good thing after all. “I’m Clementine.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Clementine,” Luke replied, smiling down at her. The look seemed to come more easily than it did to Pete. “Got any plans for what you’re gonna do next?”

Clementine thought about it, but it was one of those things that didn’t need much consideration. “I need to find my friend,” she said, in full awareness that she had no idea where to even start. Then she added, more testing, “But I need some supplies.”

“What you need is a doctor,” Pete cut in. “You’re better than you were, Clementine, but you still look mighty roughed-up.”

The image of the four-inch gash down her left forearm came back to her, as did a perfectly clear image of the bite marks that ran alongside it. Then the dog sprang into her mind and Clementine shut the door on that image, having absolutely no urge to relive the attack or what she’d done. She was about to have a major problem if she didn’t speak up now, in any case.

“Yeah, you could say that,” she hazarded, glancing up at Luke. “Could you put me down? I’d like to sit a minute.”

Another exchanged glance between Luke and Pete, but neither of them seemed to question it much. “Sure,” Luke said, stopping in time with his companion and lowering Clementine to the ground with her back propped against a tree. She could see that he still hadn’t noticed her arm, which was for the best. Scared people were hasty people. “Think we’re safe enough. You feeling okay?”

“Yeah. Better.” And that much was true. Her arm still hurt like the devil, but at least she had some clarity back. Clem figured she would need it, as she used her good hand to cradle the injured limb across her lap. “Okay, I didn’t want to scare you, but-”

And that was when Luke finally noticed. Clem saw it in him immediately - the shift on his features, from friendly to confused all the way to alarmed, and the impressively quick paling of his face - and wondered if speaking up was the right call after all. She thought: Well, here goes.

“Oh, fuck, ” Luke breathed, drawing back, his eyes flittering from Clementine’s arm to her eyes. “Oh, shit, you’re-”

“A dog,” Clem cut in hurriedly. She was trying to sound placating, but it came out desperate instead. “I swear it was a dog.”

“Ain’t seen no dogs out here, Clementine,” Pete responded, brow furrowed and mouth set in a frown. He stepped closer, appraising her and studying her wound (at a careful distance, Clem noted). “Swearing doesn’t make something so.”

“Come on, kid, we just saw you with those lurkers back there.” Still wide-eyed and pale-faced, Luke began to pace. “Fuck, fuck, fuck ...”

Perhaps absurdly given the circumstances, Clementine thought, Lurkers. They call them lurkers?

“I’m telling you the truth,” she said aloud, trying for placation again and doing a much better job of it. “I wouldn’t lie about this.” She kept her eyes on Luke for a moment, thought, He’s not going to be much help, and instead moved her eyes to meet Pete’s gaze. “ Please.

The older man stared at her for a long, uneasy moment, giving Clementine just enough time to have the uncomfortable sense of being looked through . Then, finally, he took another step closer and said, “Alright, Clementine. Let’s have a look.”

Luke started. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, watch yourself.” Clem shifted her eyes to him just in time to lock gazes with him instead, and Luke seemed to suppress a wince. “Hey, don’t look at me like that. You’re the one who’s bit here.”

Clem opened her mouth to reply. Then Pete took her arm and moved the ragged sleeve of her striped sweater out of the way, sending a fresh jolt of pain through her and making her hiss out instead, “ Ow. ” Drawing in a breath, she switched her eyes from Luke to Pete again. “See?”

Pete regarded her torn arm, then looked up, eyes searching her face. It didn’t exactly give Clem comfort, but she didn’t look away. “Well,” he said, his tone audibly careful. “It looks mighty long to be a lurker bite, but it’s hard to tell for sure. Where’d this dog go?”

“I-I found it in a campsite by the river,” Clem said, once more fighting the urge to look away from that long, judging stare. “It attacked me for my food. I..." Unbidden, Clementine saw the image of the dog - Sam - struggling against the tent stakes she’d pushed him into in her struggle to get away. She shoved them aside before she could see the rest. “I killed it.”

“So, what?” Clementine saw Luke’s expression turn from passively panicked to actively incensed. In another circumstance, it might have been comical. “A dog bites you and you just kill it?”

“What would you have done?” Pete questioned, shooting Luke a pointed look. The younger man stumbled for a moment.

“I mean--shit, I don’t know. You just-” He seemed to deflate, going back to looking anxious and confused again. “You don’t kill dogs, man.”

Pete looked back. His eyes were serious again, all appraisal. “Clementine?”

Again, Clem met the gaze. Better that way, as difficult as it was. “Yes?”

“You telling us the truth?”

She didn’t even have to consider it. “I am.” Then, in spite of the pain she was in and in spite of her situation and her desperation, she added, “I swear I am.”

Pete regarded her for a while longer. Then his face finally softened and he stood. “Alright, Clementine. That’ll do for me.”

“Well, what else was she gonna say?” Luke protested. This prompted another pointed look from his companion.

“I have a good bullshit detector, Luke,” Pete responded, offering Clementine a hand up as he did so. She extended her own, mentally thanking him and whatever god happened to be listening. “That’s why you never beat me at poker.”

“Hey, you don’t always..." Luke paused, frowned, and crossed his arms. “Alright, fine. But how can you know?”

“Well, I sure as Hell know I ain’t gonna take a chance on leaving a little girl in the woods to die when we’ve got a doctor with us who can make a call.” Clem felt him tug her up to her feet, but her mind was already racing. A doctor. That was good. That was perfect. “We’ll have Carlos take a look at that bite.”

Luke looked down at Clementine, then back up at Pete. “Nick ain’t gonna like this. Not after what happened.”

Pete’s voice turned from pointed to hard. “You don’t have to remind me, boy.”

Clementine glanced up just long enough to see Luke’s expression turn from nervous to apologetic. “Right. Sorry, sir.”

The older man’s face softened again, and he patted Luke on the shoulder in a way that made Clementine wonder if they were family. Then Pete turned, motioning for both of them. “Come on.”

Luke followed him, and Clementine turned to see - finally - the break of the forest’s edge. Beyond it, she could see the sunset, but best of all she could see a wood cabin silhouetted against the yellow-orange light. Clem took two steps forward...and then the world started to swim again, much more suddenly and ferociously than before.

She had just enough time to think, Got up too fast. Then Clem’s surroundings finally blurred into obscurity and she heard herself hit the forest floor with a thunk.

Up ahead, she made out Luke’s voice. “Oh, shit-”

And then she was gone.

Chapter Text

Chapter II: In the Water.
“You feel that you should run, but where are you to hide?”

 

Clementine.

“-with what fucking happened.”

Clementine blinked slowly, regaining consciousness. Her eyes darted around the small group standing over her, recognizing Pete immediately. He and Luke must have carried her back the rest of the way to the cabin. Speaking of Luke, she didn’t see him among the adults. He had probably gone inside, then.

The other three adults who were present, Clem didn’t recognize. She keyed in instantly to the tension around her. The group was arguing about something, judging by their raised voices and hostile stances.

Well, she figured, they were probably arguing about what to do with her. After all, she was a stranger to these people, and on top of that, she’d been bitten. She knew it had been a dog, but these people were clearly quick to assume the worst. She couldn’t say she wouldn’t have done the same. Christa surely would have. Clem’s experiences had taught her not to trust people immediately, and she could only assume that others had learned the same.

It wasn’t like she was planning to stick around, though. She just needed to get her arm stitched up, and Luke had said that his group had a doctor. Clem could only hope that he fixed her up quick enough that she could set out to find Christa first thing the next morning.

“Would someone mind telling me what the fuck is going on here?” A visibly pregnant woman spoke angrily.

“Now hold on, Rebecca!” Pete tried to calm his friend, but the woman continued to fume next to him.

“We got this, don’t worry.” A younger guy, with shaggy dark hair beneath an orange cap spoke. His posture was slightly hunched, as if something was pressing down on him, and his grip on his rifle was so firm that his knuckles were turning white. While his words were confident, his demeanor was anything but.

The woman, Rebecca, didn’t seem satisfied. Her eyes narrowed. “Like hell you do. Did anyone even think to ask where she came from? For all we know, she could be working with Carver!” Carver. That put a name to whoever was after these people. Hopefully, he would stay just that, long enough for her to get what she needed and get on the road. No use getting tangled in these people’s problems. No, that never ended well.

“She already told us that she and her friend were attacked out in the woods. Then she was bitten by a dog.” Pete spoke firmly. Clem appreciated the older man defending her against his own group. That took some guts. She was reminded for a moment of Carley, and how she’d stood up for Ben so long ago… Although, that may not have been the best comparison to make, just because of how it had ended. Clem would prefer nobody get shot this time. She pushed herself into a more upright position, preparing to get the group’s attention as Rebecca spoke, gesturing with her hands.

“What, and you just believed her? You should’ve put her out of her misery right then. Dog bite my ass.”

“Just let m-“ Clementine started, but before she could finish, a loud shot rang out right by her, making her jump.

“What the-“

The bullet had just barely missed her arm. Clem looked up, breathing heavily, and saw the group staring at her. The younger man still had his rifle pointed at her, looking almost as startled as she felt. What did he have to be confused about? He was the one who’d tried to shoot her, what did he think was going to happen? You’re never supposed to point a gun at something you don’t want to shoot, Lee had taught her that.

Pete moved first, grabbing the gun out of the younger man’s hands. “Keep your finger off the trigger, boy!”

The younger man merely gave him a sulky look, shaking his head slightly and moving to the back of the group.

The door swung open quickly, creaking loudly as Luke ran out onto the porch. Clem took the opportunity to get to her feet, wrapping her arms around herself instinctively. She usually did that when she got scared or nervous. Ben had taught her to do it one night a long time ago, when he’d heard her having a nightmare. He’d been a little awkward at first, but had done his best to comfort her. He’d been a good friend…

“Whoa! Whoa! What the fuck?!”

Rebecca shook her head angrily. “You idiot! Every lurker for five miles probably heard that!”

The dark haired man turned to face her, throwing his hands up. “You're the one telling me to fuckin’ shoot her!”

”Everybody just calm down for a second!” A bigger man who had been quiet up to that point spoke, his voice deep. He reached out to Rebecca, placing a comforting hand on her arm. She shook it off.

“Clementine, you okay?” Luke jogged over to the group, looking at her with concern.

“Just let me go… if you don't want to help me, th-then I'll leave. Look, I'm sorry I bothered you.”

”Alright, we'll talk about it later. We got a doctor right here, okay? He'll have a look.” Luke said softly, before turning to the rest of his group. His demeanor changed instantly, glaring at them. “Now what the hell is wrong with you people?! Okay, she's just scared!”

Rebecca took a step toward him, crossing her arms. “We're all scared, Luke. Don't act like we're the ones being irrational 'cause we don't buy this bullshit story.”

The dark haired man seemed to be in agreement. ”No way she survived out here on her own! Why are we even arguing about this?!”

As he spoke, Clementine noticed another man joining the group. The other adults parted for him. Clem could feel her heartbeat in her throat as he approached. This man clearly held some sort of authority in their group. She could only hope he would be on her side.

“Let me take a look.” He spoke firmly and calmly, gesturing to her injured arm. Clementine found herself looking over his shoulder at Luke for reassurance. He nodded and spoke gently.

“It's okay. Go ahead. He's a doctor.”

Clementine gave a small nod in return, and carefully rolled up her sleeve, making sure not to aggravate the bite.

“Damn, that must've hurt,” Someone said quietly from the back of the group.

The doctor crouched down to get a closer look. Clem winced as he touched the area around the wound.

“Hmm. Whatever it was, it got you good,” The doctor said, his voice gravelly.. There was a beat of silence before the trigger-happy man, who had been staring at a patch of grass, turned and walked to Luke, his eyes narrow.

“This isn't how we do things, man. When you're bit, you get put down. End of story. I'm not going through this again.”

“No one's suggesting that,” Luke brought his hands up, clearly trying to calm his friend. Pete spoke up before either of the pair could say anything else.

“We could take her arm off.” Clem gasped audibly, in part because she didn’t want to lose her arm to a dog bite of all things, and in part because it brought back memories of the Marsh House, when she had… well, she’d done what she had to. Of course, it would have been avoidable if she hadn’t been careless, and naive, and-

“I know that worked for a cousin down in Ainsworth. We could try that,” Pete’s voice brought her back to the present, and the very present danger of her arm being cut off, or worse. The group was clearly not in agreement over what to do with her. She had to try and sway someone to her side. She looked around deciding who to appeal to.

“It won't do any good. You'll just be making it worse for the girl,” Rebecca said, and for once Clem agreed with her.

“It's crazy. No one's gonna volunteer to do that!” The man next to Pete said, crossing his arms over his chest. Pete shook his head.

“I would. If it means saving her life.”

“Then what? How would we know it worked?” The dark haired man asked petulantly. Luke shook his head, before speaking firmly to the group.

“Just let Carlos have a damn look first!”

Pete seemed both the most levelheaded of the group, even if he was advocating for cutting off her arm. She focused her attention on the older man.

“You don't want to do something you're gonna regret. Better to be sure, right?” She said, hoping she’d swayed the older man. Pete looked at her for a moment, his gaze calculating, just like it had been in the woods. Seeming to have come to a conclusion, he turned back to his group.

“C’mon...she weighs about as much as a sack of flour. We could take her if it comes to that.”

Just then, the front door creaked opened slightly, revealing a girl who looked to be just a few years older than Clementine. She had dark hair, cut just above her shoulders ( though it was still long enough to grab , Clem noted), and pink rimmed glasses.

“Who's she?” The girl asked, no hint of maliciousness in her tone, merely curiosity. That was a refreshing change from the adults immediate hostility.

“Sarah?” Carlos said, exasperated, before getting to his feet and turning toward the girl. “What'd I say? Stay inside.”

The girl, Sarah, looked dejected, but closed the door nonetheless. Clem figured that she was Carlos’ daughter, judging by their interaction and similar appearance. She felt a pang of sadness as she thought of her own father, but swallowed it down. Now wasn’t the time to get nostalgic.

At this point, Clem had abandoned her plan of getting help from the group. Clearly, they didn’t want her around. The best she could hope was that they let her go, rather than… well, take any more drastic measures. Or her arm, she’d rather they didn’t take that, either.

“I don't mean to cause any trouble. I just wanted to find help. But if you let me go, I promise you'll never see me again,” Clem spoke to the man inspecting her.

The doctor huffed. “And where exactly would you go?”

“To find my friend Christa,” She said without hesitation. They’d been together for so long, and though the older woman had been somewhat cold towards her since Omid… since he’d gotten shot, Clem knew that she would do anything to keep her safe. She needed to know that Christa was alright.

“Forget it. You won't get five feet,” The dark haired guy spat out, and as much as Clem hated it, she knew he was right. She was in no condition to go out and find Christa on her own. She needed some sort of help from these people, or she’d be in trouble.

“Look, I dunno what the hell took a bite outta her, but still… she's just a kid. Worst case, she turns and we can deal with it. We’ve dealt with it before,” Pete said. Clementine appreciated that he continued to stick up for her. He reminded her a lot of the older man they’d met on the train to Savannah, what was his name… something with a C. He’d been kind to her, and to all of them, considering they’d basically hijacked his home, but he hadn’t sugarcoated anything. He was the reason Lee had taught her to shoot, and the reason he’d cut her hair short. Probably the reason she was still alive. He’d even saved her life again when they got to the city, at the cost of his own. Clementine owed a lot to the man.

Carlos finally finished inspecting her bite, getting to his feet and turning to face his group. Clem hugged herself again, partially to calm her nerves, but also because the cold was getting to her. Her clothes were still somewhat damp, and the wind was picking up. Whatever the group decided, she could only hope they figured it out soon. She didn’t want to be out in the cold for much longer.

“So? What do you think?”

“Was it a lurker?” The dark haired man asked. Carlos crossed his arms over his chest.

“A bite like that...could be anything. Her arm is too ripped up to tell. If I had more time… but no. At this point, there’s only one way to find out,” Carlos said, and Clementine honestly had no idea what he meant by that.

“How?” Pete asked, voicing Clem’s thoughts.

“We wait,” The doctor said. Rebecca’s eyes widened.

“What?!”

“By tomorrow morning, if the fever's set in, we'll know if she's gonna turn. In the meantime, we can lock her in the shed,” Carlos said. Clementine took a step back, hands starting to tremble. She didn’t like the sound of that. She couldn’t stay outside for much longer, not in these temperatures. Not to mention, the bite could get infected if she didn’t take care of it. Christa had taught her that.

“What about my arm? It needs to get cleaned, an-and stitched, and bandaged…” Clementine spoke, trying to appeal to the group, but knowing that it probably wasn’t going to do any good. They had all made up their minds one way or another.

“The girl is in bad shape, Carlos,” Luke said, clearly concerned about her wellbeing. She could appreciate that.

“We have all that stuff inside the cabin, we could probably get by with-” The bigger man added, before Rebecca cut him off.

Alvin , please…”

“But, yeah, we can't do nothing,” Alvin said quickly, somewhat sheepishly. Clementine was growing frustrated with the situation. She wished Christa were with her, or anyone… Lee. He wouldn’t let these people lock her in a shed. She remembered when he’d stood up to Larry in the drug store, back in the beginning… she winced. Too many bad memories, it was best not to dwell on them. Especially when her fate was being decided in the present.

“I’m not wasting supplies on a lurker bite. If it turns out you're telling the truth, I'll clean it and stitch it up for you in the morning,” Carlos said, his words holding an air of finality as he turned and walked back toward the cabin.

“But…” Clem tried, but the man didn’t waver, merely heading back inside.

“I’m sorry. It's the best we're gonna get,” Luke said sympathetically, and Clementine probably would’ve appreciated the sentiment more if she weren’t about to get locked in a damn shed overnight with an open wound.

Pete offered the gun back to the dark haired man, who snatched it back swiftly. Pete gave him a look.

“Finger off the trigger, son.”

“I ain't your son,” The dark haired guy glowered, turning away.

“Don't be like that, man,” Luke said firmly, but Pete shook his head.

“It's alright. Boy's got his mom's temper.”

The dark haired guy chose to ignore Pete, turning to Clem and jerking his head forward. “Come on.”

He and Luke led Clementine toward the old shed. Clem eyed the structure as she was marched toward the dingy looking building, noting that parts of it looked somewhat weak. In places, it looked like a walker could easily force their way in. She shuddered.

“This is just a waste of time. You'll see. And when she turns, I ain't gonna be the one cleaning up the shed,” Rebecca said as they turned away, and Clementine felt a wave of resentment toward the woman. There’s only so much bitchiness you can blame on a pregnancy, and advocating for killing a little girl definitely crosses that line, no matter how ‘suspicious’ she may be. Christa would never have done something like that.

“It was a dog, you'll see,” She decided to say, instead of voicing her thoughts on the woman behind her. No use in provoking these people unnecessarily.

“I guess we'll find out in the morning,” Luke said, but his face conveyed that he didn’t feel good about the entire situation. Easy for him to think that, Clementine frowned. He wasn’t the one being locked in a damn shed.

“If I last that long. Maybe you could go look for it?” Clem suggested, knowing that it was a long shot.

“I wish I could. I really do. But it's too risky. Sorry.”

The group reached the shed. Luke stepped forward and opened the door, which creaked loudly, as if it hadn’t been used in a while. Clem looked at Luke dejectedly, and he mirrored her expression. Clem turned away, sighing and steeling her resolve. She walked into the shed, dragging her feet, and Luke closed the doors behind her with an air of finality. Clem paused for a moment, taking in the shed’s interior. She heard the two men’s voices fade as they walked away.

“Why are we doing this? It's so fucking dumb.”

“Because it's safer this way. And I'd rather be sure.”

“Yeah, but safer for who?”

“I can't believe this…” Clem breathed, reassuring herself. “You're gonna be fine, you're gonna be fine…”

Talking to herself was another habit she’d picked up early on. Lee had done it a lot, too.  She’d asked him about it, once, when they were staying at the motor inn. He’d laughed and said it was something he’d done since becoming a teacher. He’d gotten so used to explaining things to his students, that he’d basically narrate everything in his daily life. Later on, after shit had hit the fan, he’d done it as a way to calm himself down. There was something comforting about hearing someone’s voice, even if it’s your own. Clem had done it ever since.

Looking around the shed, she realized that if a walker could probably get in, as she’d figured, she could probably force her way out. She searched for something she could use. Her eyes caught on a tackle box that was pushed into a corner of the shed. Christa had told her once that fishing line was a decent substitute if you couldn’t find any real suture thread, and there was no way she was gonna leave her bite alone until morning.

“Not much left in here…” She said, rifling through the bin, before coming up with a spool of fishing line.

“I guess if I have to, I can use this for stitches.”

Clementine pushed the box to the side, and noticed that behind where the box had been was a weak, rotted piece of wood, held in place by a single board. She tried getting under it with her knife, but to no avail. If she could find something sturdier to pry it off with… She glanced around, her eyes catching on a hammer perched on a shelf that was too high for her to reach… but it was above a folding table.

Clementine unfolded the table from the wall and climbed onto it, careful not to aggravate her bitten arm. She scooted against the wall, leaning one arm on the shelf and reaching the other across to grab the hammer. Right as she was about to get it, the shelf gave out under her weight, and it fell to the ground. Both Clem and the hammer fell as well, the girl letting out a small yell in spite of herself as she landed on her bad arm.

She paused for a moment, regaining her breath and hoping that none of the group had heard her, before pushing herself back to her feet. The girl tried her best to keep her groans of pain quiet, but they forced themselves out louder than she would have liked. She walked toward the fallen shelf, breaths labored, and knelt down next to it. The hammer must have fallen under the board. She winced as she lifted it up, and sure enough, there was the hammer. She grabbed it quickly, thankful that the hard part was over.

She moved back toward the weak spot next to the tackle box, and used the hammer to pry the board away. It took a little exertion, but she successfully pulled it off. She took a small step back, arms still wrapped around her shivering form, and kicked the rotted wood once, and then twice before it fell away. She smiled smugly. If these people wanted to keep her locked in a shed, they were going to have to try harder next time.

Well, hopefully, there wouldn’t be a next time.

Clementine got on her hands and knees and crawled through the gap quickly, before forcing herself to her feet. She needed to get into the house and grab more supplies to fix up her arm. The group would probably be pissed when they found out, but she would be even more pissed if her wound got infected, so they would have to deal.

“They have a doctor… he's gotta have stuff for stitches,” She said to herself, sneaking up to the house. The sun had gone down since they’d locked her in, and the air was biting. She shivered as she tried to open the back door. It was locked. Fantastic. She tried each of the windows, but they were all locked as well. Shit. Just one more window, and then she’d have to try the front door. She knew it was creaky from earlier, and she wanted to make as little noise as possible.

She made her way up to the final window, quickly ducking to the side as she saw Rebecca and Alvin. She had gotten the feeling that they were together earlier, and now, that thought was pretty much confirmed.

“It makes me feel like a fucking idiot when we're not on the same page,” Rebecca was saying, gesturing with her hands. Alvin shook his head.

“We are on the same page!”

“Not out there, we weren't! Not about the girl! I saw you get soft!” Clementine winced, pulling her injured arm closer to her body. She felt a little bad for causing tension in their relationship, before remembering that both of them had let her get locked in a shed. She continued to listen in.

“What do you want me to do, Bec? Put a bullet in her?”

“I want you to think about our family first .”

“It's all I think about. So don't give me any shit.”

There was a pause, and then Rebecca took a step back.

“I need some air,” She said, leaving the room. Alvin sat on the bed, staring down at the floor. He’d been sympathetic toward Clementine earlier… maybe he could help her out. She took a breath and rapped gently on the glass. Alvin peered out, gasping slightly when he caught sight of her. He stood up and opened the window.

“What the hell are you doing?” He asked incredulously.

“I--I need your help.” Clementine said, shivering.

“Me? No. I'm sorry, but I can't do nothing,” The man spoke quickly. Shit, she would need to do some convincing.

“Please. I need to fix my arm.”

“Are you out of your mind? Even if you ain't bitten by some lurker--which you probably are--you can't be here. You gotta get out of here, you understand? Get back into that shed and Carlos'll take care of you in the morning. Damn it, girl. Go,” Alvin said, trying to hurry her away. Clementine was getting frustrated at the entire situation. She gave the man a firm look.

“You'd just let me die?”

“I wouldn't let you do nothing. It's not my call. We're a group,” Alvin said defensively.

“But you could help. And if you don't, isn't that the same?” Lee had helped her out at the very start. If he hadn’t…

The man paused. “I don't know, alright?”

Clementine continued. “I saw when everyone was arguing--you wanted to help,” She said, and it was true. He’d said they had supplies to help her, only backing down when Rebecca had told him off. But Rebecca wasn’t with him now, so maybe she had a chance…

“You didn't see anything.” Alvin glanced to the side. “Look--you gotta get outta here before my wife finds you. I'm serious, you gotta go. I got enough problems already. We got a baby on the way, Rebecca's all emotional, got a mess of hormones causing all sorts of trouble. I don't need any more, get it? Now go .”

Please help. Please…” She said, getting desperate. Alvin softened slightly.

“Don't cry…”

“I’m not gonna cry.” Clem said firmly, and it was true. She wasn’t going to let herself cry. “I’m just… tired.”

The man paused for a moment.

“You're… not with Carver?”

“No.”

“And you didn't get bit by a dead person?” He asked.

“No.” She paused, “I'll do anything I can to help your situation. Anything,” Clementine said, and it was true. If he helped her out, she would owe him.

”Except leave me alone,” Alvin said drily.

“Yeah, I guess,” She shrugged. Alvin sighed again.

“I’m screwed if anyone finds out I did this. You understand?”

“The b...the cut on my arm needs to be cleaned and stitched,” She said, choosing not to answer his question. She didn’t want to guarantee anything. Best way not to break promises is to rarely make them. If Alvin noticed her aversion, he didn’t comment on it.

“Stitched? I ain't doing that,” Alvin said quickly. Clem nodded.

“I’ll figure it out on my own.”

“Alright, look... I don't know what I can find. We're short on bandages, but I might be able to find something clean that would work,” Alvin said, shaking his head.

“I need something to clean out with, and a needle and thread could help, too,” Clementine added. She would really prefer not to have to use the fishing line.

Alvin shook his head. “I don't even know where to look. Carlos has medical supplies on lockdown, and we don't got much these days.”

If Alvin could get her anything at all, he would be a huge help. “Well, whatever you can get. I'll find the rest on my own.”

“Okay. Wait here.”

Alvin left the room, and Clementine glanced around nervously. She didn’t like being so vulnerable and out in the open. Too many people had made the mistake of not having their guard up for her not to be on edge. She jumped as she heard a loud noise, turning, but unable to see anything. She turned again when the door opened inside and Alvin returned.

“I found you some bandages.” Alvin said, handing her the bandages through the window. “And I, uh...I got you a juice box. In case you're thirsty.”

Clementine paused for a moment, but took the juice box from him. It was a sweet gesture, if not the most necessary thing.

“Thank you,” She said, and she meant it. Just then, someone rapped on Alvin’s door

“Alvin, house meeting in five minutes,” Carlos said, thankfully without coming into the room.

“O--okay. Thanks.” Alvin replied, before turning back to Clem. “Now you need to go.”

He took a step back and closed the window firmly, turning and leaving the room. Clementine sighed. She couldn’t get in through Alvin and Rebecca’s room, it was too risky. And she didn’t want to try the front door. There had to be another way…

She stepped off of the porch to try and get a better look at the house. Maybe there was a second story window that she could climb up to somehow… Her eyes caught on something much closer to the ground. A piece of plywood was pushed against the foundation of the house, presumably to patch a hole. Maybe there was a way to get inside from below?

She tried to pull the plywood away with her bare hands, grunting slightly, before noticing that it had been nailed into place. Oh. It was probably best if she used the hammer, then. She pulled it out and used it to remove the nails, glancing behind her as she heard a walker groan. She’d better get moving, she thought, as she pushed the plywood to the side. She crawled through the hole, before getting to her feet under the foundation. She had to duck her head to stand, but made her way under the house looking for some sort of an entrance. The sounds of footsteps and a faucet running made her anxious, so Clementine picked up the pace. Her eyes settled on what looked like a trapdoor.

“Nice,” She murmured to herself, before trying to push up on the door. It didn’t budge. She pulled out her knife, wedging it into the gap, and slowly worked it in deeper to widen the opening. It opened ever so slowly, ever so slowly…

And broke.

“Shit.”

But it had done the job, at least. She reached up again and carefully pushed the door open, climbing up into what looked to be a large storage closet. Clem heard muffled noises through the door, and paused, hoping for them to leave.

“I’ve already made my decision.” She recognized Carlos’s voice.

“Well, Luke has more to say, I guess. Where's Sarah?” Pete.

“She's got her book. She doesn't need to be a part of this.”

Clem paused for a moment, waiting for their footsteps to leave the room, before pushing the door open a crack. She looked around, and, sensing there was no one else there, entered the living room. She took it in first, and she had to admit, it was cozy. She hadn’t been in a place that looked this nice since… well, maybe there were a few places, like the houses in Savannah, and the Saint John’s Dairy, but her memories of those places had been… tainted. Clementine shook her head. Not the time.

She glanced at the coffee table, her eyes catching on a deck of playing cards. She’d loved playing card games when she was younger. Her dad had taught her a couple, but she wasn’t sure she could even remember the rules anymore. The thought brought her a pang of sadness, which she swallowed down. No need to dwell on that, either. She made her way to one of the doors, where she could hear muffled discussion, and opened the door a tad.

“-all we know, she could be connected with Carver,” Rebecca’s voice carried. They were really concerned with that Carver guy. She shuddered. She knew what people were capable of. Anyone who had these people that scared… Well, she didn’t want to stick around to meet them.

“Come on. There's no way. She’s just a kid,” Luke dismissed.

“She could be. We don't know,” Alvin said, and Clementine frowned. She knew that he believed her, but he was trying to appease Rebecca. She guessed it made sense, but she still wished he were willing to defend her.

“She's connected to somebody. There's no way she's out here by herself,” That was the guy who’d almost shot her earlier.

“She said she was with a friend and they got attacked,” Pete said. Clementine was grateful that he’d paid attention to her.

“Yeah, right,” The other man scoffed.

“Whoever she's with, they'll probably come looking for her,” Carlos said. Clem hoped he was right. She really wished that Christa was with her now. Alvin shook his head.

“Great. They show up and we've got her locked in the shed. That’ll make them happy.”

“You think we should bring her in here?” Rebecca asked incredulously. Alvin shook his head again.

“No. I'm just saying it wouldn't look too good.”

“It's just a precautionary measure. Anyone else would do the same,” Carlos said firmly. Yeah, right, Clementine thought. No, not everyone would lock an eleven year old girl in a shed with an open wound.

“You really think Carver would come after us?” Luke asked after a beat, nerves seeping into his voice.

“You think he wouldn’t?!” The dark haired man asked incredulously

“He's not exactly the type to let things lie,” Pete added darkly.

“What happened, happened. There's nothing we can do about it now,” Luke said, almost as if he were reassuring himself.

“Let him come. I really don't give a damn,” Alvin spoke.

“Alvin!” Rebecca scolded.

“What? I don’t,” The man said.

“You brought her back here, not me. You knew she was bit,” The dark haired man said to Luke. He had begun pacing back and forth across the kitchen, hands on his hips.

“What was I supposed to do, huh? Leave her out there to die?”

“Better her than us.”

“You'd've done the same, Nick,” Luke said. So, trigger-happy finally had a real name.

“It wasn't the brightest idea.”

“Oh, and firing your rifle was, huh…? Next time we'll just put up a neon sign that says ‘Lurkers Welcome’.” Luke replied. Clementine smiled in spite of herself. Nick hadn’t shown much remorse over almost shooting her, and she got a little pleasure from Luke giving him a hard time about it. Rebecca moved to leave the room, and Alvin stopped her.

“Where you goin’, hon?”

“I want to get my sweater,” The woman replied.

“We'll be done in a minute,” Carlos said. Rebecca reluctantly returned to the table.

“You're in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by lurkers, about to get eaten alive, and you're telling us it was a dog?” Nick asked, continuing his conversation with Luke. He had a point, but at the same time, what did she have to gain from lying about a bite? She was going to die anyway if it had been a walker.

“Yeah, yeah, I know it sounds crazy, but... look, for whatever reason, I think she's telling the truth,” Luke said genuinely. Nick rolled his eyes.

Pete sighed loudly.

“Look, there's no point in arguing about it now. She's in the shed, she's not gonna hurt anyone,” One of those statements was true. “We'll just see what's what in the morning.”

“But Carlos said she could die if she doesn't get her arm treated,” Luke said firmly.

“Assuming she doesn't turn,” Rebecca said. Clem frowned. She didn’t like Rebecca much at all.

“That true? The girl could really die?” Alvin asked softly.

“If the infection spreads... anything's possible. It could definitely get a whole lot worse for her,” Carlos said.

“Don't we have penicillin? Or something that could, y'know... stop the infection from spreading?” Luke asked.

“We have some. But not enough to spare,” Carlos said, speaking firmly. Clem got that they were doing what was best for their group, but that also meant that she was justified in doing the same. It was only fair.

“We're not wasting anything on her. What if one of us needs it?” Rebecca added.

“Look, I'm just saying, we could help, that's all.”

“We need to think of ourselves first. That's just the way it is,” Rebecca said. Well, Rebecca had said it first, not her.

“We can't just let her die. Not if there's something we can do about it. Let's just say she's telling the truth and she doesn't turn. Then what?” Pete asked.

“We apologize for being assholes. And then we help fix her arm,” Luke said, sounding resigned.

“She can't stay with us. We barely have enough supplies for ourselves,” Rebecca said. Pete scoffed.

“We've got more fish in the traps than we could ever eat,” He said. Nick shook his head.

“Yeah, but she's seen us. She knows we're here.”

“What, you scared of a little girl?” Luke asked, his tone slightly teasing.

“A little girl is not the problem. It's who she might tell,” Nick said darkly.

“We gotta keep an eye on her,” Alvin added.

If she doesn't turn. Which she probably will,” Rebecca said.

“I gotta take a leak,” Nick said, starting for the door.

“Hold on. We're almost done,” Carlos stopped him. Nick sighed.

“Fine.”

“If a little girl can find her way here, then almost anyone can,” Carlos said after a beat. Luke leaned forward.

“Pete, you saw those lurkers, alright? That's more than we've seen in a while.”

Pete nodded. “Yeah. Seems like it's not as safe as it was. Least not like when we found this place.”

“Maybe it's time to move on,” Nick said. Rebecca shook her head.

“We can't just keep running. At some point we've got to settle down. With the baby-”

Carlos spoke over her, voice firm but calm. “We should. And we will. But can we find somewhere safe? I don't know.”

“You seen what it's like out there,” Pete said. Alvin shook his head.

“I was just starting to like this place,” He said softly. Clementine felt a little bad for this group. She knew what it was like to always be on the run… Sometimes, she just wanted to be done running. But as soon as she’d find a place where she felt safe, everything would crash down again. She really did hope that these people found somewhere safe eventually, even if they had locked her in a shed.

“Look, we've had a good run here. But if it's time to move on, then I got no problem with that,” Pete said. Luke shook his head.

“Yeah, but... I mean, where do we go from here?”

“No more cities. We all agreed on that, right? Too many damn lurkers,” Alvin muttered.

“We're not going back the way we came. That's for damn sure,” Nick added. Rebecca sighed.

“We can probably find somewhere better. We just need to look.”

Carlos shook his head. “Wherever we go, we can't get too attached. We'll be fine as long as we keep things fluid.”

“We can't forget we need to check the traps tomorrow,” Pete added. Nick shifted.

“What do we do with the girl?” He asked.

“You're not leaving her here with me!” Rebecca said firmly. If there was anything Clem had learned so far, it was that Rebecca really didn’t like her for whatever reason. Luke shook his head.

“We can't just keep her locked in the shed. We're not animals.”

“Then take her with you,” Carlos suggested.

“What?” Nick asked.

“You want to keep an eye on her, then take her with you. Are we almost done here? I want to make sure Sarah's ready for bed,” Carlos asked, and Clementine began to creep away from the door. Pete stopped him.

“Wait a second. There's something else I want to talk about.”

Clem didn’t want to risk getting caught, and she was already pressing her luck. She quietly left her place at the door, ducking another room. This one was an empty bedroom, which she recognized as Alvin and Rebecca’s, lit only by a couple of candles.

Clementine glanced up at the pictures on the walls, her eyes catching on one in particular, a painting of a duck. As silly as it was, she was reminded of her old friend.

“Duck…” She said softly, pausing for a moment before turning to the desk. On it was a handwritten note, a list of names. Oh, these must be the names that Alvin and Rebecca were considering for their child.

She took a step back. If Alvin didn’t think to look through his own room for supplies, there was probably nothing of use inside. She walked through the living room, the rain pounding on the roof. She decided to look upstairs. Maybe there was a bathroom or something with medical supplies.

She started up the stairs, trying to avoid putting too much weight on one at any given time. She remembered from her time sneaking around own house that stairs were quieter if you distributed your weight evenly. When she made it to the top, she let out a breath. Hopefully nobody had heard her.

She entered the first room on her left, and stepped inside. It was a bedroom, and it, too, was lit by a few candles. She made her way over to the desk and opened the drawer quietly. Inside was a single watch. Clementine looked at it, considering whether or not to take it. On the one hand, it was someone else’s, and it definitely wasn’t Rebecca’s, since Clem had already been in her room. She would feel less bad if she knew it was Rebecca’s watch. And she didn’t exactly need a watch, either, but… Lee had always worn a watch, and this one kind of reminded her of him. She sighed, before pocketing it. If it was Luke’s or something, she’d just give it back.

Clementine looked through the rest of the room, but there was nothing worth taking. She made her way back to the hallway, walking a few more steps before entering the next room. She couldn’t help cracking a smile when she realized she was in the bathroom. There had to be something of use to her here. She closed the door softly behind her and stepped inside, heading straight for the medicine cabinet. There was no medicine that would be of use, only a couple bottles of soap, some band-aids, and a toothbrush. Just as she was about to close the cabinet, she spotted a pincushion sitting on the bottom shelf. Clem picked a needle from it, inspecting it in the dim light.

“It’s clean,” She said, satisfied, before pocketing it. “I’ll still need something to keep it from getting infected.”

Clem moved on the linen cabinet, but it was completely empty.

“They have to have medical supplies around here somewhere,” She said, mildly frustrated. She really wanted to just get this over with. She closed the cabinet and reached for the doorknob, pausing to make sure no one was outside.

“That man sometimes, I swear!”

Shit, that was Rebecca. Clem pulled back, glancing around the room for a place to hide. The shower! She quickly stepped into the tub and hid behind the shower curtain, just as the door creaked open and Rebecca stepped into the room. She could only hope that the woman wasn’t planning on taking a shower.

“Damn it…” Rebecca said, her voice shaking. Clem pressed her back against the shower wall as Rebecca leaned down and began to drink water from the sink. “Just need to have this baby and... oh, God.” She stood up slowly. “Let it be okay and… let it be his.”

Rebecca sighed deeply, before leaving the room. Clementine let out a shaky breath. What did she mean by that? Clementine almost felt bad for Rebecca, even though she didn’t really know what the woman was talking about, before remembering that she’d been a very vocal member of the ‘kill Clementine’ club. Well, she’d have to get in line. Or not, Clementine figured, as most of the people who’d tried to kill her had ended up dead themselves.

She stepped out of the shower and up to the bathroom door, pressing her ear against the door again. This time, she heard nothing, and upon peeking out, nobody was there. She crept up to the final door in the hallway, her hand shaking in spite of her best efforts. Clementine slowly pushed the door open just slightly, but stopped as she heard a startled gasp.

Through the crack, she made eye contact with the girl from earlier. Carlos’ daughter. Sarah.

Chapter Text

Chapter III: Rose-Colored Glasses.
“They show only the beauty, ‘cause they hide all the truth.”

 

Sarah.

(she needed help)

When the thought sprang unbidden into Sarah’s mind, this time as she stood in front of the dresser mirror that dominated most of her room’s door-side wall and with her hand positioned on the zipper of her jacket (her favorite, cobalt blue and with the elasticated wrists she liked), she had long lost count of how many times it had done that in the hour or so since sunset. Sarah thought it might be a record. It certainly wasn’t the first time in her life that a single thought had become lodged in her mind and repeated itself end over end 

(like a broken record, people talk about sounding like a broken record but they have no idea)

but she couldn’t remember a time one had been so insistent.

She hadn’t been able to help herself. She had heard the others outside, arguing and debating and (in Nick’s case, at least; Sarah liked him a lot, as she liked all of their little group, but there was no denying that this was a talent of his) shouting and swearing, and her curiosity had simply been too great. Others often said that she was a quiet person, at least most of the time, but Sarah had barely needed to be quiet to sneak her way down the stairs and poke her head out the door, not when it sounded like the adults could barely hear each other over the sound of their own arguing. When she had done so, Sarah had seen Alvin, Rebecca, and Nick in the yard out front of the cabin, standing with their backs turned to the door, with Luke and Pete across from them, briefly conjuring an image

(battle lines)

so unpleasant that she buried it immediately. Instead, Sarah had let her attention be drawn by the central thing: her father kneeling, as he had done so many times with Sarah herself before her teenage years had made her much taller, in front of a girl who had looked to be perhaps a few years younger than she was. 

Sarah had found, over her fifteen years, that she had an especially keen memory for two things: written information (reading was, always had been, and probably always would be the great love and fixation of her life) and sensory input. That second thing, she had come to realize, was often a mixed blessing; it was terribly uncomfortable, for instance, when it came to the texture of certain foods

(gravy-soaked biscuits, ew)

or the sensation of certain sounds

(the others shouting at each other, double ew)

but absolutely had its uses when it came to remembering recalling the lyrics of songs she liked...or filing memories away by their colors.

White-and-blue cap, white-and-gray sweater, bright purple tee, dark hair and skin. Sarah had noticed those things about the new arrival at once, and then she had registered another color: the dark maroon of drying blood, and a good deal of it, on the sweater sleeve stuck to the girl’s arm. Sarah’s father had been tending to that arm when she had spoken up, the starkness of the image before her giving her an uncharacteristic burst of initiative.

“Who is she?” she’d said. Sarah’s voice had always been soft, always been quiet, always been a little harder to hear, but her father had heard. He always did.

And so had the girl. For the briefest second, they’d even locked eyes, giving Sarah enough time to file away another color: bright amber-brown like autumn leaves.

“Sarah?” Her dad had risen to his feet then, the sigh implied in his voice even to Sarah’s ears. “What did I say? Stay inside.”

Sarah had, of course. Her dad had never in her life given her reason to question or disobey him, even when her curiosity got the better of her. But going back inside had done nothing to stop the wellspring of images, thoughts, and questions dancing and darting about her mind.

Who is she? Where did she come from? Unbeknownst to Sarah, she was the only one of their number not to immediately suspect the boogeyman who had been pursuing them the past few months. Is she alone? Is she…

“Okay,” that last word had almost been, but Sarah knew the answer to that. She had never been good with subtext, had always been even worse when it came to reading people, but blood spoke for itself. She hadn’t seen the wound, but really, had she needed to see it?

And it had been that thought which brought to Sarah’s mind, as she was making her way back up the stairs: She needed help.

First time. Not the last. Far from the last.

Sarah let out a long, soft sigh, eyes fixated on her reflection as she removed her hand from the front of her jacket and smoothed it slowly through her hair instead. It was a motion as unbidden as the thought

(she needed help)

that plagued her, one of a number of little gestures that eased her mind when it raced or took her away from the world when too much was happening all at once. Stimming, her dad called it. He had been the one who first noticed that Sarah wasn’t quite like most kids her age, and he had been the first one to put a name to the why. Asperger Syndrome, he’d called it (a term which came to Sarah as easily as the bright colors in her clearest memories in spite of its technicality), subset of autism. There was science behind it that she’d never quite come to understand, but the functional meaning of it, in the context of what it meant for Sarah herself, was relatively simple: she couldn’t stand certain textures and sounds, she never really knew what to do with sudden change, her relationship with eye contact was fickle at best, and people - most of the time - just confounded her. On the other side of the coin, there were sensations that she loved (the feel and fit of her jacket, for instance) and she processed what she read almost effortlessly, a point which always seemed to delight her father. Once, Pete had put it in a way Sarah had especially liked: “Girl, you read like a starving man eats.”

A knock at the door next to her stopped Sarah midway through another slow, soothing pass of her hand through her hair

(she needed help)

and made her start, but only a little. As soon as the specific sound of the knock registered with her, she settled; Sarah would have been hard-pressed to identify any other visitor by their knock, but this one had been a constant tune her entire life.

“Come in!” she answered, turning just as the door opened. Her father’s head poked in right on cue, silhouetted by a halo of orange candlelight from somewhere outside, followed by the rest of him. He didn’t look mad or even exasperated, in spite of Sarah’s momentary disobedience. That was good. It hadn’t been as nagging as the thought of the girl outside and how

(she needed help)

she had been so visibly injured, but the worry that she had upset her father had been on Sarah’s mind nonetheless.

“Sarah?” No reprimand in his voice, either. Even better. “It’s getting on toward bedtime.”

“I know,” she said, meeting his gaze easily. For no other reason than her dad’s presence, Sarah felt her mouth quirk into a little smile. “Sun’s down.” Unbidden, her eyes shifted to one side, breaking their eye contact. “About earlier...”

Carlos shook his head, and Sarah knew at once that her minute gesture hadn’t gone unnoticed. Where Sarah had absolutely no mind for reading such cues, her father picked up on and saw right through them easily, especially when they came from Sarah herself.

“I’m not going to fault you for curiosity, Sarah,” he said, taking another two steps inside. “But what happened outside was not something you needed to see.” He paused. When he spoke again, Sarah finally heard annoyance or exasperation creep into her dad’s voice. “Or hear , for that matter.”

Sarah flicked her eyes back up so their gazes met again, chancing another little smile. “Can’t account for Nick.”

“No,” Carlos agreed, inclining his head. The grimace left his face, and Sarah judged that he might just look a little amused himself. “We certainly can’t.” He took one final step forward and placed his hand on Sarah’s shoulder. She thought it almost a form of magic, the way that touch could make her feel instantly less anxious. “But it’s dealt with, sweetie. Alright? No need to concern yourself with it.”

Sarah’s eyes moved away again, finding her reflection nearby instead, and sure enough…

(she needed help)

“I believe you,” she responded, not quite ready to make eye contact as she said it. “But...” Her right hand almost went to her hair, but she caught the urge and stopped it. Then, without even realizing it, she began plucking at the elastic cuff of her left sleeve instead. “Can I ask you something, Dad? I...”

Sarah trailed off, feeling her dad’s eyes on her. Whether they were appraising, regarding sternly, or something else entirely, she didn’t know. She thought, Please don’t be upset.

“Alright,” her father’s voice finally broke the silence, the word punctuated by a long sigh. He moved to the edge of Sarah’s bed, sat, and patted the space next to him. “But understand that there are things I would rather not answer.”

Sarah glanced up, nodding. “I know,” she said softly, approaching and taking her place at her dad’s side. “For my own good.”

“Right.” Carlos looked down at her, gently prompting. “What was your question?”

Sarah was quiet for a moment. Finally having this conversation - even if she knew that certain avenues of approach were likely to be a flat-out dead end - had quieted those three insufferable words stuck in her head, and it gave her space to consider her approach. At last, she glanced up and said, “That girl outside. Who was she?”

Carlos sighed, looking at the wall. “We don’t know. Luke and Pete found her, but they don’t know any more than the rest of us.”

“Not with...” Sarah trailed off the last word, not even needing to add it. Even thinking Carver’s name was enough to bring all too clear an image

(tall, long coat, graying hair, eyes like ice)

to her mind.

“No.” Carlos glanced at her, his eyes as reassuring as that one word. That was another thing that calmed her. “Thank God.”

“Yeah,” Sarah agreed. “Thank God.” She paused, considered again, and finally added the last thing, “Then...will she be okay? She looked hurt.”

Her father was quiet for a while, just long enough to briefly make Sarah wonder if he was about to deem the subject closed. Finally, though, he answered: “We’ll know soon enough.”

Not necessarily a straightforward answer, but not necessarily a deflection either. It was...something, at least. Sarah suspected it was also about as far as she could push.

“Okay,” she said, glancing down at her hands, neatly placed in her lap. “That’s all.”

Carlos circled his near arm around her and pulled her tight. Acting almost instinctively, Sarah eased her head onto his shoulder, the anxiety which had been dogging her since she had looked out the front door giving way to a suffusion of relief. No matter how her father tried to keep it from her, Sarah knew full well that the world had gone all wrong, and so many people wound up so very far from okay any more

(nick’s mom, nothing dad could have done to keep me from finding that one out)

that Carlos’ very presence was a more soothing therapy than it had ever been. He was still there. Still safe. Still okay. God help her if he ever wasn’t, but for now?

For now, Sarah didn’t have to think about “if”.

“I’ll be back up soon,” Carlos said after a little while, his voice breaking the consoled silence above Sarah’s head. “Be ready for bed, sweetie.”

“I will,” Sarah agreed. “Thank you, Dad.”

Carlos chortled, the laugh softly rumbling both of them. “I couldn’t very well have made you unsee.” His unoccupied hand came to rest on both of Sarah’s, still folded in her lap. “ Te quiero con todo mi corazón, Sarah Emilia Mendoza .”

Sarah smiled and closed her eyes. “ Yo también te quiero, Papá .”

She felt him hug just a little tighter, just a little more snug. His right hand left her own and instead tapped, with a single finger, on the hinge of Sarah’s glasses. A pair of red horn-rims, they - alongside her blue jacket and a few other things - were just about Sarah’s most dearly-protected possession, for both sentiment and the sad reality that she couldn’t read for the life of her without them.

“Clean these before bed tonight,” Carlos said, more a gentle suggestion than an actual instruction. “Your spares too. It’s been a while.”

“Will do,” Sarah said, opening her eyes again. On further inspection, it had been a while. “Before I start reading tonight.”

Her dad smiled at her (he wasn’t much of a smiler most of the time, even Sarah knew that, but he always made an exception when it was just the two of them), leaned in, and placed a soft kiss on the top of her head. Then he stood, crossed the room again, and closed the door behind him as he left. Sarah watched her father leave, eyes following his tan flannel shirt all the way out, and only let her smile drop when she heard the door latch click safely into place.

When that was done, she turned her head to face the wood-paneled wall and thought.

So she’s a mystery. As the words crossed her mind, Sarah felt herself begin plucking at her sleeve again. Not the worst thing she could be. Not at all. The phrasing her father had used when he answered her third and final question reoccurred to her, and she sensed her brow furrowing a little in thought. And...we’ll see soon enough? What did you mean, Dad?

The answer to that last one was also a mystery. Like a great many things in life - at least this life - she supposed she would have to wait and see what it meant. Sarah didn’t much like it, not when the girl had been visibly hurt, but at least it was better than a solid no. More immediately, it had been a satisfying enough answer to slow the frantic pace of her thoughts, and that was a godsend if ever there was one.

Maybe, she thought, right hand finally pausing over her left sleeve. Maybe if we wait and see and all turns out okay, she can come with us. It looked like she could use a group. The thought brought the smile back to Sarah’s face. Their group had kept to exactly the same makeup since they had left Howe’s

(a nightmare on its own, won’t do to think about it)

and Sarah figured it would be nice to have a bit more company.

Especially to talk to someone younger. Feels like it’s been forever.

Satisfied, Sarah rose back to her feet, once more crossing the small expanse of room between her bed and the dresser. Though the rest of the room was entirely her own, Sarah shared the dresser drawers with her father on account of the limited storage space in the cabin. She didn’t mind at all; they both had a place for their respective things and they were both meticulously organized people, so there was never any want for or conflict over space. Sarah tugged open the second top drawer from the right, idly undoing the zipper of her jacket as she did so, and easily located the small stash of books that traveled with her everywhere she and the group went. Just an inch or so away from them, she saw her spare glasses exactly where she’d placed them when they moved into the cabin.

“Aha,” Sarah murmured, plucking her spares from the drawer and placing them in front of her on the dresser. Another pair of horn-rimmed readers, these were black and considerably less jaunty than her primary pair, but they were still perfectly invaluable. Then, from her collection, she selected the book that had most recently drawn her attention ( The Colour of Magic, it was called, by Terry Pratchett) and laid that out as well. She would need a cloth from the bathroom to clean her glasses, but her nightly routine was going to take her there anyway, so that was no bother.

Sarah turned, about to shrug out of her jacket and leave the room to go about the rest of her routine-

And then the door creaked open.

Perfectly involuntarily, Sarah gasped and took a step back, the sound alone enough to make her start in surprise and the implication of the sound being even worse. In the brief space of time between that gasp and realization, she had exactly enough time to think: Can’t be Dad again. Not so soon. He’d knock. So would the others. Can’t be-

And it wasn’t. As the door swung open enough to give her a visual, Sarah saw - silhouetted by the same halo of candlelight as her father had been - a picture-perfect memory. 

White-and-blue cap, white-and-gray sweater, bright purple tee, dark hair and skin.

Blood-soaked sleeve.

The girl from outside. Staring at her with amber-brown eyes

(like autumn leaves)

as saucer-wide as Sarah’s own. As a touch of her panic drained away and cohesive thought began once more, Sarah’s mind helpfully paraphrased another saying of which Pete was fond: Like a couple of deer in the headlights.

In the piercing silence, she searched her racing mind for something to say.

“Y...You’re not supposed to be here,” Sarah finally managed, her voice barely above a whisper. Part of that was deliberate. The other part was panic.

The girl, who Sarah could now judge to be maybe eleven or twelve, flicked her eyes briefly to the dresser, then to the table up alongside Sarah’s bed, and then finally back to Sarah again. She had time to think, Searching. The girl raised the index finger of her right hand to her lips in a universal gesture. As she did so, she kept her left arm - the hurt one - drawn close to her body, as if to shield it. Then, in a soft voice no higher in volume than Sarah’s own, she said, “I know. No sound, okay?”

Sarah nodded, taking in a breath she hadn’t realized she had neglected. “No sound.”

She couldn’t say for sure, but Sarah thought she saw something soften in the goldish eyes staring her down. “Thanks. Can you help me?”

Sarah swallowed, feeling her eyes draw helplessly downward toward the maroon-stained sleeve stuck to the younger girl’s arm. Even now she couldn’t see the wound itself, but once more she hardly needed to in order to get the picture. Still...

“What happened to you?” Sarah couldn’t pull her gaze away to meet the girl’s, and for once it had nothing to do with the social inconvenience of eye contact.

“A dog bit me,” the girl responded, her own eyes not leaving Sarah. “Out in the woods.”

Sarah flicked her eyes up, just long enough for a brief meeting of gazes, and then moved it back down, transfixed on that ruined sleeve. To think it had looked grim enough at a distance. “Not...one of them? A lurker?”

“No,” the girl said. Sarah could sense something behind that word, but she didn’t know quite what. “Really.”

Again, Sarah shifted her eyes up. She detected no hostility or ill intent in her conversation partner’s voice and no dishonesty in her eyes. Sarah had never been good at reading people, but here she thought there was really nothing to read. No subtext. Just...

(someone who needs help)

“Can I see?” The question came out perfectly unbidden. “If, you know...you don’t mind.”

The girl considered. Then she took a couple of steps deeper inside. “I don’t mind.” She straightened out her bad arm (gingerly, Sarah noted), seemed to fight off most (but not quite all) of a wince, and drew back the sleeve.

Sarah didn’t quite recoil, but she gave voice to another little gasp and thought she felt a touch or two of the color leave her face. What she saw under the girl’s sleeve wasn’t so much a clean bite as it was a big, tearing gash. Sarah had seen pictures of similar injuries the few times she had managed to get a satisfactory look at some of her father’s medical textbooks, but seeing the real thing was multitudes uglier.

“Ooh,” she breathed, raising a hand involuntarily to her mouth. “Ouch. You’re gonna need to bandage that, like Dad does.”

The girl nodded, carefully tugging her sleeve back down. “I know. I just need something to clean it, and then I can get back outside.”

Sarah tracked her visitor’s gaze for a moment, then flicked her eyes to the dresser beside them. Her eyes fell upon the leftmost top drawer, the one her father used to store the medical supplies he didn’t carry with him in his bag, and she swallowed again. The thought of taking something, anything, from his supplies didn’t sit well with Sarah at all, but the girl from outside was now inside and...

Well, she did need help, didn’t she?

“Okay,” Sarah murmured, meeting the girl’s eyes again. She took a step away, moving toward the far end of the dresser.  “I’ll help you. Just...Dad can’t know.”

“Sure. Okay,” her visitor agreed, content just to watch Sarah as she went. “What will he do if he finds out?”

Taking what she thought might qualify as too much care opening the drawer, Sarah regarded the supplies in front of her. There wasn’t much any more, but she knew they still had what was needed. “Well...he gets upset,” she said, bypassing a roll of tape and three tubes of antibiotic ointments in favor of two small plastic bottles toward the back of the drawer. One was opaque (she didn’t even need to read it; 99% rubbing alcohol was hard to mistake), the other brown. A red CVS label on the front read, Topical Solution ISP. Hydrogen Peroxide. Bingo. “He says I should know better and that he loves me and just wants the best for me.”

For a moment, Sarah heard silence behind her. Then, “That’s...it?”

“Yeah,” Sarah said. She selected the second bottle, returned to her arm’s-length distance from her visitor, and offered it to her. “It’s the worst. Here.”

The girl took it and finally cracked a smile. “Good. Thank you.” She glanced down, then back up again, and slowly the smile faded. “So...just so I know. How much will this hurt?”

Sarah tried not to grimace and failed. “On that?” she said, flicking her eyes down to indicate. “Uh. Lots.”

The girl glanced down at the peroxide bottle, a look crossing her face. “Great. Super .” Not giving Sarah time to question it, she looked back up and added, “Still. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Sarah chanced a smile of her own. It wasn’t particularly a big one, but hey, it counted. “I’m Sarah.”

Sarah figured the gesture must have worked, because the girl’s expression lifted a little itself. “I’m Clementine,” she said. “Clem.” She glanced over her shoulder at the door, then back. “Don’t tell anyone I was here, alright?”

Sarah shook her head. “No way. My lips are sealed.” Then, deciding it was a good way to emphasize it if nothing else, she put her right arm out and extended her little finger. “Promise. A pinkie swear is forever.”

Clementine regarded the gesture and cracked another hint of a smile, extending her good arm to reciprocate it. “Forever. Works for me.”

Sarah heard a clatter of dishes somewhere downstairs and drew back, eyes up on the door. Clementine did the same, coiling in on herself like a sneaking cat and turning toward the exit.

“Clem,” Sarah said, dropping her voice a notch further so as just to be audible. “Have somewhere safe?”

“Yeah,” Clementine responded, not looking back. “Outside. Thanks, Sarah.”

Sarah watched as she crept carefully forward, disappeared once more beyond the door, and quietly closed it behind her. As soon as she heard the bolt click home, Sarah let out a long breath, still-wide eyes fixated on the smooth wood of the door. The race of panic had mostly drained away from her now, but the surprise of it certainly hadn’t. Moreover...

That was illicit. Not a word Sarah used often, or had much reason to use often for that matter, but it seemed perfectly appropriate. Not only had she talked to the party’s mysterious visitor, not only had the girl been up here with her completely without the others’ knowledge, Sarah had helped her. Stolen supplies from her dad to do so, no less.

But it had been the right thing to do, hadn’t it? Clementine had needed help, hadn’t she? Sarah’s subconscious (now not yammering at her in the slightest) had certainly fixated on the idea, and the evidence bore it out.

For the second time that night, Sarah slowly raised her left hand to her mouth, but this time it was far from being a gesture of surprise or disgust. She glanced sideward at the dresser mirror again and saw the perfect picture of a conspirator staring back at her.

Sarah thought, So, sooo illicit.

And yet - when she put the thought of her dad aside, at least - it was hard to feel guilty about it.

Sarah drew in a long, slow breath, the subsequent exhalation almost turning into an anxious laugh as it left her. It was all a little tough to process just yet, but what was done was done and she still had a nightly routine to manage. The night had been strange enough without putting that on hold, and if nothing else she needed to take care of it before her father came back upstairs to say good night.

Willing herself out of stunned, ruminating motionlessness, Sarah shrugged her jacket off and folded it neatly, placing it on the dresser alongside her book and spare glasses. Then she opened the door (catching herself glancing down the hallway like the lead of some absurd spy thriller immediately thereafter), made her way down the hallway to the bathroom, and tackled all of the essentials. After brushing her teeth, a process which she spent feeling a deep subconscious gratitude for running water, Sarah opened the medicine cabinet to return her toothbrush...and paused, intuiting something just slightly off-kilter about the cabinet’s contents. She frowned, flicked her eyes down to the pincusion, and understood almost immediately. Most people, Sarah thought, probably wouldn’t have noticed the missing pin, but she had reason to suspect, didn’t she?

Oh, that is gonna hurt. A pang of sympathy went through her, and not just for the fact that Sarah’s first impression of Clementine had been a good one. Remember to clean that before you use it.

Sarah placed her toothbrush neatly back in its dedicated place, closed the cabinet, and regarded herself in the mirror. For the time, the group lacked any actual hairbrushes or combs, so she used her fingers to comb back the out-of-place strands of hair she saw. Sarah knew it was a perfectly pointless effort when she was going to be asleep within the hour, but her routine called for it, and so she did it. When that was done, Sarah fetched one of the hand towels from the rack near the shower and returned to her room, gathering her glasses and The Colour of Magic from the dresser and laying them out on her bedside table. Then she toed out of her boots (wonderfully cozy winter boots, actually, with fleece lining and all), plonked herself in bed, and reached across to the table to retrieve her spares-

And that was when the commotion started.

Chapter Text

Chapter IV: Avalanche.
"If you wanna blame anyone, I would hope you'd start it right here with me."

Nick.

Nick sat on his bed, back hunched, glaring at the wall. This whole day had been fucking bullshit.

First, Rebecca had been acting like he’d pissed in her damn cereal this morning, giving him a hard time about not doing the dishes. Pete had backed her up with his whole “father-figure” routine, and Nick had felt cornered, so he’d gone outside to get some air before finishing his breakfast. He’d been a ways into the woods before he realized he was fucking starving, but there was no way he could go back yet, unless he wanted another earful from Pete. So he’d stayed out another half hour, keeping alert for any lurkers. Thankfully, the area seemed to be clear, and he made it back safe.

By the time he got back, though, breakfast had been cleared, and Luke had eaten his leftover oatmeal. He had been somewhat apologetic, but Nick had shrugged him off. It would’ve been cold at that point anyway. At least it’d been Luke and not Rebecca.

The rest of the day was spent cooped up inside, for the most part. He played a couple rounds of various card games with Sarah, Carlos, and Luke, and he did the damn dishes after Rebecca badgered him about it for most of the day. In the afternoon, Luke and Pete went out to see if they could find a rabbit or a deer or something for dinner- they were all pretty tired of fish- and Nick took a quick nap.

He was awoken suddenly by a commotion outside, and found Pete and Luke setting a passed out kid on the ground.

They’d brought someone with a bite back to the cabin.

Nick felt a pang of anger at that. Luke and Pete, of all people, ought to know better. After what had happened to his mom, Pete’s sister, you’d think they’d have the damn sense not to let someone with a bite around their group. And then Pete scolded him for almost shooting the girl. She was bit, passed out, and suddenly she’s moving again, of course his instinct was to shoot her. If he’d done it before, back in the city… maybe his mom would still be with them.

He was still pretty sure they should shoot the girl- they’d be saving her the pain of turning, after all, and there was no way they were letting her go- not with Carver still at large. Still, it was an alright compromise. At least she wouldn’t be able to get to them when she turned.

He’d gone to his room, and not five minutes later, Pete had entered and given him one of his famous lectures. Nick had talked back, because of course he did. Pete was still treating him like a teenager who’d gotten drunk with Luke and driven around a cornfield all night, and not the adult who was just trying to survive. Trying to do the right things, so that nobody else he cared about died.

Nick was almost thankful when Carlos knocked on the door and told them that there was going to be a house meeting. Pete had sighed and nodded, leaving the room, but not before giving Nick one of those looks that was saturated with stern disappointment. Nick rolled his eyes at the door as it closed. Fucking Pete could save his lectures. Nick knew how to hold a damn gun.

He dragged himself out of the room as he heard people congregating in the kitchen. They mostly argued about the girl and Carver, but at the end, Pete brought up another topic.

“These past few days when I’ve been out, I haven’t seen too many lurkers. Then, today, we find the girl in a decent sized group of them. It could just end there, but… we’ve seen this before, back at Howe’s. When there’s a few days of quiet, the first lurkers you see aren’t gonna be the last.”

Luke frowned. “So what you’re saying is, if we’re getting out of here, we ought to do it soon.”

Pete nodded, and Carlos sighed. “Plus, with the possibility of Carver being onto us… we should leave within the week.”

Rebecca stood up quickly, and Alvin was almost immediately at her side. “I have to go to the bathroom,” She said, her voice sharp, and Pete nodded, resigned.

“Alright, meeting’s over. Get to sleep,” He said, and Nick had to keep from rolling his eyes at the older man. That was the voice he’d used when Nick came home from school with an average report card. All… authoritative and shit.

He did go back to his room, though, and got ready for bed. He’d brushed his teeth, put his cap down on his bedside table, and pulled off his shirt, tossing it on the floor, when he heard a commotion outside. He stiffened, listening. Yelling, coming from the shed, plus, what sounded like a struggle… shit. That fucking kid.

He grabbed his shirt off the floor and tugged it on, before grabbing his hat and rushing out the door.

Nick wasn’t the first one out. Luke, Alvin, and Pete had beaten him there. The door was open, revealing the girl, blood speckling her face. She was cradling her arm, and behind her was a walker that had taken a hammer to the skull and an anchor to the chest. Jesus.

“How the hell’d it get in here?” Nick asked, eyes wide as he took in the scene.

“Little girl’s tough as nails,” Pete said, clearly somewhat impressed.

“Are you alright?” Carlos asked, having just arrived.

“The shed should've been safe,” Luke frowned. It was true. He and Nick had checked the shed for holes as soon as they’d found the cabin. They’d found one, but it was pretty easy to patch up. The girl glared up at them.

“I could’ve died, just because you were scared of a little girl with a dog bite. Can I come inside now?” She asked, her voice shaking at the end. Nick glanced down, not wanting to look the girl in the eye. Instead, his eyes caught on the bite wound, which had been stitched. He frowned, but Luke spoke first.

“You patched yourself up?”

“Where’d you get that stuff?” Nick, and everyone else, knew where he’d gotten the supplies. She’d stolen shit from the cabin. Rebecca voiced his thoughts.

”Did she steal from us?!”

”This doesn't change a thing. She hasn't done anything to us,” Pete said calmly. Rebecca shook her head angrily.

”Says the man not carrying a baby.”

“Enough already!” Pete raised his hands.

”Guys, please,” Luke said, clearly tiring of the argument. The kid spoke up before the argument could continue.

“I did. I took stuff, and I’m sorry. I really am.”

Yeah, yeah. Save the goddamn puppy dog eyes.

Rebecca scoffed. “And you all think you can trust her…?”

“Goddamn it, don't even START! Any of you would've done the same if you were half as tough as this little girl. So just save it,” Pete said, balling his hands into fists. He only did that when he got really angry. Carlos sighed.

“Bring her in and I'll take a look at her arm,” He turned and headed back into the cabin. Nick and the rest of the group followed, and the dark haired man noted that Luke had waited for the girl. Of course he had.

“Damn lurkers sneakin' around out here… we better get inside,” Alvin said as they reached the door. Nick wondered what he thought they were doing. Going for a nice leisurely stroll?

That wasn’t fair to Alvin, though. He was just trying to fill the silence. Nick shook his head and followed Carlos into the kitchen.

Luke and the kid arrived a moment later, and Carlos gestured to one of the chairs by the kitchen bar. The girl sat and extended her arm, and Carlos spent a minute or so looking over the wound. Nick began to bite his fingernail, a nervous habit he’d picked up as a kid that he hadn’t been able to shake. If the girl was telling the truth, and it really was a dog… then he really had been an asshole. The kid had stolen supplies, but they also hadn’t really given her much of a choice. Nick shook his head. It felt like shit when he was wrong.

Luke paced the length of the kitchen, and Nick was about to tell him to stop and that it was bugging him when Carlos’s voice pierced the silence.

“This could hurt a little.”

“Ow!” The girl winced. Luke ran a hand through his hair. He’d always been soft for kids and animals. He and Nick used to do babysitting for a couple neighbors, and he’d always gotten along with the kids. Nick had felt weird around kids. Apparently, that hadn’t changed. He had just attempted to shoot the girl, after all.

“How's she look?” Luke spoke up, his voice betraying his worry and nerves. Carlos sighed deeply.

“Her suturing skills need some work, but otherwise I'd say she should be fine,” He said. Luke shifted.

“So it… it wasn't a lurker bite?” He asked.

“If it was, the fever would've already set in and her temperature would be through the roof.”

As Carlos continued to wrap bandages around the girl’s arm, Nick’s mind began to race. He’d almost killed the girl, and he’d been an asshole to her for no fucking reason, then? Damn it. He shook his head and left the room. He couldn’t stay in there with her, knowing that. Sure, he’d had reason to believe she was bitten - what were the odds of getting bitten by a damn dog in the middle of what Luke had described as a pack of lurkers? But still… he’d almost shot a kid for no reason.

He walked into his room, moving to close the door, before realizing that Luke was behind him. He took a step back and gave Luke a look.

“I get it, man. You don’t have to tell me. I fucked up again. Me and my fucking itchy trigger finger,” He said. Luke sighed, stepping into the room and closing the door softly behind him.

“I didn’t come here to lecture you, Nick. I understand why you did what you did. I mean, I didn’t believe it was a dog bite either. I wanted to, y’know, because she’s just a kid. And I wasn’t keen on the idea of locking her in a shed, but from where we were standing, it looked like she was bit. And with what happened… I understand you, man.”

Nick sighed, slumping back against the wall. “Yeah. Thanks.”

Luke gave him a small smile. “Of course. But, uh, Nick… Clem might not get why you shot at her. At least, not now. She doesn’t know you like I do, and from her perspective, you nearly killed her for no good reason.”

Nick groaned. “I’m gonna have to apologize to her, aren’t I?”

Luke nodded. “You probably should.”

“Damn it. You know I’m shit at apologies, right?”

“Better than anyone else.”

“Alright. Just making sure,” Nick smiled, but it probably looked more like a grimace.

“You scared to apologize to a little girl?” Luke teased. Nick gave him a look.

“I’d be scared to apologize to a bush, Luke.”

Luke snickered. “Yeah, that’s- that’s true. You ready to face her?”

Nick sighed. “Guess I better go out there at some point.”

Luke clapped Nick on the back. “You got this, man. Just… explain where you were coming from, but don’t let it be an excuse. You gotta actually be sorry.”

“Believe me, I am.”

“I ain’t the one you’ve gotta convince,” Luke said, guiding Nick to the kitchen. Just outside the doorway, Nick paused.

“You alright?” Luke asked. Nick shrugged.

“I need a second. Could you… go ahead and thaw her a little bit?” He asked. Luke nodded.

“Yeah, sure. I’ll see what I can do,” He stepped into the kitchen, and Nick took a moment to prepare an apology. After thinking over the main points he ought to mention, he stepped back into the kitchen. Immediately, he caught the girl - Clementine’s - eyes. He shifted awkwardly in the doorway.

“Hey, look. Um, I just wanted to say I'm sorry for… well… for being a dick out there. I got kinda aggro and that was definitely not cool,”

“Nick's been known to go off every once in a while. Don't hold it against him,” Luke added helpfully.

“Yeah, I guess we all have our moments,” Nick said, shoving his hands into his pockets.

“You definitely had one out there,” Luke said, slightly less helpfully.

“You were just protecting your friends. I get it,” Clementine said. Nick relaxed slightly.

“I didn't mean to be so harsh. I just… we had a bad experience once,” He said, a pang of sadness and regret hitting him as he recalled that shitty night.

Clem looked up at him sympathetically. “What happened?”

Nick’s eyes were drawn to the ground, not wanting to go into further detail. Thankfully, Luke spoke up for him.

“Nick lost his mom. We took care of someone who'd got bit.”

“It was my fault. I-” Nick started, but Luke cut him off.

“It was no one's fault. We thought we could control it, but… we couldn't. And then she turned and his mom was standing right there and she got attacked…  There was nothing we could do about it.”

Nick swallowed the lump in his throat. “Anyway. Hopefully you understand.”

Clementine nodded. “I do. Yeah.”

Nick took that as his cue to leave, nodding to her and Luke as he left the room. As he headed back to his own bedroom, he ran into Pete. He almost passed the man completely, but his uncle reached out an arm to stop him. He turned to look at Pete.

“What’s up?” He asked.

“Why don’t you take watch with me tonight,” Pete said. It wasn’t a question, but Nick nodded.

“Yeah. Sure,” He said, following Pete out onto the porch.

Pete leaned up against the railing, looking out on the night. Nick leaned up against the house, biting his thumb. Pete clearly wanted to talk to him about something. He waited for his uncle to speak.

“You’ve gotta keep your head on straight, boy,” Pete spoke finally. Nick nodded.

“Yeah. I know.”

Pete turned to face him. “Do you?”

Nick nodded firmly. “Yeah, I do.”

Pete looked him over for a long moment, before nodding. “Alright.”

Nick frowned. “Is that it?”

“Yup. I trust you to think before you act next time you’re scared. Hopefully, almost killing a little girl knocked some sense into you.”

Nick glared at the back of Pete’s head. “Listen, I know it was stupid, but if she had actually been bit-”

“You missed. If you ain’t thinking straight, you’re no help to anyone. Take a second to breathe, and use your goddamn head. You’re a good kid, Nick, but at some point, you’ve got to grow up.”

Nick didn’t have a response for that. The rest of their watch was spent in silence.