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A Simple Game Of Genius

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This wasn’t the result of his victim’s wounds however; it was a result of his own.

“…Clem?”

***

“Give part of yourself so others can live. It’s how the world works now.” These words echoed through Clementine’s mind as she stared down at the mattress where her left foot was supposed to be occupying. She overheard a St. John brother desperately trying to lecture Lee before he rightfully got what was coming to him. The St John’s were a family Clementine considered ‘evil’ in her young age, yet somehow, she’s drawn to this quote for the first time in her life. In a way, she had achieved what the St John said: by sacrificing her leg, she made sure Minerva was stopped, and that Louis and AJ safely returned to the school. It was only down to Alvin Junior’s incredible resolve that caused a twist of fate, changing her life forever. Her boy. Her little angel. Her Goofball. Not a day goes by where he isn’t the main topic of Clementine’s morning rambling routine.

Successive thumps on the bedroom door snap the brunette back to reality. Louis would always wake her bright and early once a week for what he deemed ‘rehab’ exercises. He claimed it would be beneficial for her to build up stamina by doing a lap of the nearby area, though she knew this was just an excuse to get to talk with her alone. Well, when AJ didn’t insist on joining the training session every single time.

“C’mon Clem. Let’s get this over with,” Louis muttered through the door with a sense of fatigue. For as long as she’d known him, Louis always displayed positive spirits even in the worst times. Although ever since a few days ago, he seems to be struggling with something.

“Alright, be there in a minute!” she replied with through a deep yawn. No more time for inner monologues; it was time to start the day. She hastily grabbed a support beam from the bed and pulled herself up where she proceeded to heave herself off the bed using her trusty crutches. It had only been a month since the raid on the Delta’s boat, yet the set of crutches that brought her off her fee-foot had fallen apart not too long ago. But thanks to the improved handicraft from Ericson-enthusiast Willy - and a little flair thrown in from AJ - the second generation of supports had served the handicapped teenager perfectly.

***

Steadily making her way through the dust-ridden hallways of the school, Clementine bumped into – or rather, they bumped into her – Alvin Junior. “Good morning Clem!” he greeted her with his usual cheerful tone. It was common practise for AJ to wake up early in order to rush by Clementine’s side on her weekly walks. And every time he’d be equipped with a big, goofy smile.

“Morning kiddo, did you sleep well all by yourself?”

“Yep! It was kind of scary at first but once I re-checked the windows for danger and saw none, I was asleep in seconds.” Violet had suggested that AJ should try sleeping in his own room at night, this very thought worried Clementine to no end, but it seems to have turned out just fine. If only Violet could physically see how happy AJ is nowadays. Poor girl… She became more reserved lately, possibly thanks to her injuries but more likely because she was still guilty over her actions on the Fitzgerald. Clem had forgiven the now blind-blonde, but it seems Violet has trouble being in the same room as her for this reason. Maybe she should confront Violet about this and set things straight…

Recollecting her thoughts, the brunette gestured outside towards the gate. Louis stood nearby with a ghostly expression staring at the floor, but once he noticed the pair approaching him it quickly shifted into a welcoming smile. “Hey you two, I hope you’ve got your running shoes on because we’re about to take part in the national Ericson’s marathon hosted by yours truly!” Now that was the Louis she had grown to know. Deciding to play on this sentence that would seem normal to any other kid in the school, Clementine put on a convincing poker face and raised an eyebrow, quickly glancing from her missing foot back to the self-proclaimed comedian. Following suite, he too glanced down then back again with a look of guilt enveloping his face.

“Uh… Running shoe then. Sorry I didn’t mean to-”, he fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Clementine let out a small chuckle at his reaction.

“All too easy Lou! Come on, let’s get this show on the road. I don’t need two feet to put you in your place,” she mused while interrupting him before she received a full-blown apology. She was well aware it was cruel to play on her injury but there were some golden opportunities she couldn’t miss out on.

“Hey! What’s the supposed to mean?” A flustered Louis replied, and noticing how spirited Clementine was this morning, began grinning childishly. “No-one else is awake yet, meaning we unfortunately have no spectators for when I gracefully cross the finish line first.”

“We can’t race that’s not fair on Clem,” AJ chimed in, always prepared to support his motherly figure even when it’s unnecessary, “besides even if we are racing I can run so fast I’ll leave you for dead. I can run fast can’t I Clem?” AJ stared at her as if demanding a serious response. That was AJ alright, never one to back down from a challenge. Clementine somewhat admired that about him even if he didn’t understand the humorous intent behind some of Louis’ speeches. But for a kid whose legs were half the size of his competitor’s, she could only let out a small giggle from how confident he sounds.

“Oh yes you can kiddo. We’ve got ourselves out of more than one sticky situation, when it comes to running you had to be a fast learner.” Louis was really starting to rub off on her, she never would’ve made a pun like that before crash landing at Ericson’s. Speaking of which, she thought back to how they barely escaped the train station a few weeks ago. Seriously, who booby traps the supplies they left behind? Who would’ve thought a couple that wanted a peaceful exit in each other’s arms would be willing to blow up a couple of kids just to get them off their property. It’s a good thing they were already dead, because they would’ve ended up as walkers for hurting AJ.

Finishing her inner rant, she turned back to Louis. He shook his head and (almost reluctantly) proceeded to open the gate. For a split second, she could’ve sworn Louis looked in total shock after AJ’s comment. His mundane wake-up call back at the bedrooms, the grim look covering his face minutes ago and now this? Something was definitely off; she would make sure to ask him about it during their trip. AJ himself looked a little worried, but before long he darted ahead leaving the two young adults to follow behind.

***

The morning walk was always peaceful. Sure, the occasional walker would appear out of thin air, but AJ would always carry his pistol in case of emergencies. When danger was nowhere to be seen, that was when Clementine could feel truly relaxed. It became easy over time to focus her attention from the creaking her crutches often made to the forest itself. She took a deep breath, and silently took in everything around her. A gentle breeze swayed the ends of her hair just as it did to the golden autumn leaves above the trio, as they reflected the sun’s rays onto the path in front of them. Clementine never thought that since ‘it’ happened so many years ago she would ever be able to enjoy nature’s beauty again. She was now in a position where she’d catch a glimpse of a squirrel scurrying around, or a bird chirping in harmony with the nearby flock and would not have to think about it being her next meal. And in these moments, surrounded by the most important people in her life, she was at peace.

“Hey, uh, Clem? Do you mind if I ask you a quick question?” Louis decided to break the silence shared between the group. Since they left, the oldest member of the trio seemed as if he had a lot on his mind. Clementine noticed he lagged behind slightly, where he’d stare at AJ from behind, take a quick glance back up to meet her eyes, and finally begin frowning at the long path ahead. AJ had run ahead to get a better view of some animal rummaging around; this was her chance to find out what’s been bothering all day.

“Of course, what’s on your mind?”

“What’s the most important thing in your life? Like, gets you out of bed in the morning. I know it can’t be you being eager to listen to another one of my concerts.” Clementine was instantly reminded of a similar conversation she had with Luke, and how she said “family” with no hesitation. After everything she’s been through, her answer is the same.

“AJ without a doubt. Ever since he was born I’ve loved him from the bottom of my heart, and I have a duty to make all the sacrifices it took for us to get here worth it. Me and him are all that’s left. Kenny, Luke, his parents… I just hope I’ve done a good enough job…”. When she opened up to AJ the day after she got bit, her adopted son couldn’t have sounded more grateful for the protective role she’s played all his life, but she couldn’t help but think how it could be different if she hadn’t made certain mistakes.

“I know Clem, I know. You’ve done the best job anyone here could have hoped for,” he continued with a weak smile. Clementine thought she had gotten pretty close to Louis recently, albeit she hasn’t spent much time with anyone since her accident, but perhaps beneath the class-clown attitude lived a more sombre view of the world. The pair were just about to catch up to AJ, so the brunette wanted to squeeze in one more attempt to help him.

“Why do you ask? Louis if there’s something on your mind you know you can talk to me, right? I’m sorry I haven’t been able to spend much time with you, but if you ever need someone to open up to you know where to find me,” Clementine said in her motherly tone. It’s true that in the small time they’ve been together, neither had been completely transparent with each other – the furthest they’d gone is when Louis revealed his past the night before the raid. She herself regretfully never got around to sharing her own tales, but maybe this could be the catalyst to supporting each other more.

Now was as good a time as any.

Louis paused for a moment, studying Clementine’s features for any sign that she wasn’t serious. Finding none, he marched on. “Um, well to be honest, it’s not something that’s happened while you’ve been here. Other than the fact that people have gunned their way into our home and almost trained us into toy soldiers, these past few weeks have really been some of the best days of my life.” Louis turned to Clementine and matched her worried gaze. “I never had someone who would willingly come and listen to my piano playing, hell, or even just to talk outside of card games and daily jobs. I’m not worried about anything that’s happened. I’ve just can’t shake this horrible feeling it won’t last much longer, no matter how much I’ve tried.”

“Louis I’d never turn on you, you know that. All of us,” Clementine gestured to AJ, who they had now caught up to, “are doing the best we can to make this work, okay? We have, and always will continue to fight for a better tomorrow. All of us, together.”

Clementine rested her right elbow on the corresponding crutch and raised a palm to the teenager’s face. Louis’ cheeks radiated a small warmth towards the gesture as he stared off into the fish traps they were approaching.

“What brought this up Lou? Why do you suddenly feel as if you’ll be alone?” If she wasn’t so heavily reliant on her crutches, she’d no doubt embrace him in a hug. This was clearly a dark time for him, and she wanted to help the best she can.

Louis took one last glance at the girl opposite him and she could see all the pain in his misty eyes, before he shifted back to the direction of the fish traps and pointed towards the treeline behind them.

“Because of that”.

“That?” AJ hadn’t heard the majority of their conversation but picked up on Louis’ concern. All eyes were focused on a single figure shambling towards them from around the fishing hut. It turns out they had only reached the first checkpoint in their lap before running into trouble (which itself wasn’t exactly unusual). “It’s just a monster Louis, don’t be scared.” AJ tried to reassure him as he casually grasped the pistol around his waist and aimed at the walker’s head like a professional.

AJ was right. What made this walker special to kill off his usual upbeat attitude for the whole day? Did he know someone who turned in the area? It would make sense if they had died recently, but in the end, Clementine was only asking more questions. It was only until she heard a gunshot ring out in front of her that she would start receiving some answers.

The walker dropped to the floor. It was a routine kill as far as she was concerned. Despite this, Clementine could sense something was wrong. The shot created chaos among the nearby wildlife, causing birds to frantically call out the each other as all types of animal were fleeing the scene. They were alone. The sudden panic initiated a chain reaction of hurried sounds around them, and just as she could hear rustling coming from the treeline, it was at that moment she realised it. It wasn’t the walker, it wasn’t Louis, it was the sound. That gunshot wasn’t a pistol.

Clementine froze. She could make out two additional figures hastily approaching the trio and she was defenceless. Louis always had Chairles tucked behind his iconic jacket, but that was no good if these strangers were both armed with rifles.

Firearm training or any type of combat wasn’t part of her recovery period, so the only asset the group truly had right now was Alvin Junior. She knew this was never going to end well. With her limited mobility, the brunette would be stuck to this spot during this encounter but that doesn’t mean she can’t try to get the others to safety.

“Get down!” she screamed to the pair next to her. The figures ahead were easily visible now as they reached the walker’s corpse. They had to act fast. AJ was way ahead of her, and was almost about to dive off the path into the cover of the trees. But before he could, another gunshot brought the boy to a halt like a roadblock; the bullet landing in the tree AJ was moving towards.

Clementine was relieved to see her son unharmed, but also anxious that these guys weren’t messing around. She noticed the two were sporting some kind of blue and green uniform as they crossed the bridge near the fish traps to meet the trio face-to-face. Both of the men looked to be middle-aged, one of them was bald who wore a desaturated red scarf in what looks like an attempt to hide a scar on his neck, and the other had almost completely shaved off blonde hair. Oddly enough, Louis hadn’t moved a muscle since the walker appeared.

“We got ‘em boss.” The bald man spoke into a walkie-talkie, with whoever talking on the receiving end being inaudible from their distance.

“Morning kids! Out for a nice Sunday stroll are we?” The blonde joked to himself before fixing his rifle on the youngest member in the trio. The men were standing mere metres away. “You alright there Chuck? Lookin’ a little shaky there. That thing’s not a toy you know. Put that gun away before you hurt yourself with it.”

AJ looked furious; this was bad. Clem was worried about his attitude towards murder back on the Fitzgerald, and she was barely able to convince him to spare Lilly. Right before she threw away her promises and stabbed James…

“Stop dickin’ around Del we gotta job to do, seriously. Come on kid, just put the gun down so we can talk.” The bald man stepped in, trying to ease his excitable friend. He held his rifle towards Louis, figuring he’d be more of a threat than a girl with one leg.

Wanting to bring the attention away from AJ, Clementine quizzed their intentions. “What the hell do you want and why do you know us?” This caused a reaction from ‘Del’ who frowned at the enquiry.

“Listen here missy, we’re gonna be the ones asking the questions when I’m not staring down the barrel of a gun. The pistol goes away, or we’ll do this the hard way.” As seen earlier, these two weren’t doing this for fun. AJ had to surrender otherwise they’d all be in danger.

“Lower the gun AJ,” Clementine uttered to him in a hushed tone.

“We can’t trust these people Clem!” AJ barked back.

“AJ. We’re outgunned here. Put the gun down.” Her voice was stern. He was only getting himself in more trouble.

“Come on little dude, please?” Louis spoke up for the first time in a few minutes, no doubt worried about her son even through all the darkness in his head.

AJ glanced back and forth between his guardians, silently asking “Are you sure?”, and when he received subtle nods from the two, he finally agreed. AJ slowly placed the pistol into his back pocket, much to the dismay of Del. “It’s not going any lower.”

“For God’s sake… Fine. I hope you kids remember roll call ‘cause we need to take your names to make sure we got the right people.”

“…Roll call?”. Poor AJ, of course he wouldn’t know, he never got the chance to go to school after all. Hell, the only time Clementine’s had to go through this name checklist technique in the apocalypse was during her time with The New Frontier. She shuddered at the thought. After every mission they’d take names to see injuries, casualties and sometimes those gone MIA. She guessed this was mostly cases of desertion seeing as though she was about to something similar with AJ until David took him.

“Hey you, Pogo stick. Is it Clementine?” Del pocked fun at Clem’s disability and she was having none of it. This guy really thought he was clever didn’t he? Unfortunately, she couldn’t lose her composure as it would only put AJ in danger. Taking a deep breath, she wouldn’t let anger take over.

“That’s right, Goldilocks.” That last bit escaped her breath, how sick do you have to be to make of this?

“Heh, that’s the spirit Bouncy.” Del, seemingly unphased, brushed off her comment. “Short hair is a survival tactic Sunshine, but I don’t think bouncing around everywhere you go is that smart don’t you think? The walkers will wanna have a go.” If this guy didn’t have a gun on her forehead, Clementine would already be knocking his goddamn teeth out.

“Fuckin’ hell Del would you quit it? I just want to get this over with,” the bald man gave a long sigh. Figuring it would be best for him to ask the boy himself based on the terrifying scowl he was giving Del, he continued, “And you kid, your name AJ?”. After AJ gave him a slow nod, the man sighed again, but this time in relief.

“Fuck. This girl’s only got one damn leg, the boss ain’t gonna be happy about this…”

“Yeah no shit Del, but orders are orders and we’re taking them back.”

‘Back’? Why are me and AJ needed but not Louis? And where are we needed? Clementine thought to herself, her mind racing to find some clues as to what’s going on.

Del took a step towards her. “Now usually I’d tie your hands together and ask you to come quietly but that’s just not gonna happen is it? Instead, I’m gonna tie your hands to those crutches of yours and you’ll hop nice and easy for me won’tcha? Try to keep up a good pace.”

As Del swung his rifle over his shoulder to gather the rope in his pockets, AJ sprung to action and drew his pistol on the blonde. AJ no, please…

“Where are you taking us? Why won’t you just leave us alone!” He was desperately trying to take control of the scene.

“Woah there kid, we’re not gonna hurt you. We’re just taking you to our leader, she wants to make it up to you apparently.” Clementine was grateful the bald man decided to speak up first, he seemed somewhat reasonable compared to Goldilocks over here, even if they’re both in the practise of abducting kids. It’s not like anyone at Ericson’s is unfamiliar to it though.

Noticing AJ was about to shout, Clementine quickly interjected and asked, “Wait wait wait, who’s this leader of yours that wants to show their gracious generosity by ‘making it up to us’? What can you possibly give that I don’t already have?” These were questions that Clementine would come to regret asking for the rest of her life.

The bald man provided a full explanation. “The story goes that she was surprised by your ‘kind farewell’ the last time you met. You especially girly would be a VIP back home. We’re not fighting any kind of war, or some battle, we’re just a division from a larger group looking to protect ourselves. She considers you the only family she has left…” Only family? Clementine couldn’t understand who out there could possibly know her so well that they’d… Oh no. “…so I’m sure you’re already well acquainted with the boss, you probably know her by the name -” Oh no. She had only ever told one person in the last couple of months that they were once family. And that person was… “-Lilly.”

And by that point, it was all over. Clementine’s blood ran cold as she could see AJ in the corner of her eye. His expression mimicked a man she had grown to fear within seconds of knowing him. Alvin Junior looked exactly like Carver when he was beating Kenny. His eyes were wide with murderous intent. This was going to get violent fast. “AJ, please wai-”

“These people are with Lilly, Clem! She killed my friend! Made Violet blind!”

The bald man had his finger on the trigger. The iron sights lined perfectly between the boy’s eyes. He was waiting for less than an inch of movement.

“AJ I know, but please, you have to calm-” Clementine tried to reason with her son with every fibre of her being, but she knew full well that once someone had that look on their face, words would not do the talking.

“These people are bad Clem! You trusted me to know when to use my gun and I will! I can protect us! I can and I will! Just watch!” By this point AJ wasn’t going to be stopped. Bullets were about to fly in a few moments and she needed to act fast. The three of them could all make it out alive if…

Before she could create a plan, she caught sight of Del who hadn’t made a sound since AJ drew his gun. He was pissed, and AJ was about to have two guns trained on him. He wouldn’t make it out of that. If she was going to act it would have to be now! There was no going back from this.

The next few seconds happened in what felt like slow motion. Clementine launched herself from her crutches onto the man opposite her. The bald man, quickly turned to take aim at the girl, but AJ was a step ahead. Clementine was struggling with her lack of stamina, so she shrieked out for Louis to help. Louis, who was standing idly by looking in total disbelief charged forward, wielding Chairles in the process. Before he reached Del, Clementine had pushed his rifle off-centre where two shots rang out, a bullet skidding past her cheek. Without hesitating, Louis fiercely swung Chairles into Del’s left knee. The man collapsed to the side. Clementine, wasting no time, pounced on his falling body as he screamed in agony. She caught sight of the bald man lying dead on the floor with a crimson red circle in the centre of his forehead. Good, now all she had to do was disarm Del and the trio were safe.

“Again!” she bellowed at Louis, directing him to the remaining knee. And with a swing gaining even more momentum than before, the bones exploded beneath the skin, piercing the surrounding muscles. Del released his weapon with a deathly cry as his hands were frantically grabbing his broken knees.

Phew. She really didn’t want it to come to this but even with her handicap she still proved to be a vicious fighter. That was good to know. She felt rather proud of herself but congratulating herself would have to wait. Panting heavily, Clementine took the rifle from behind who she could hardly call the same person now their cocky attitude magically disappeared. She gripped its barrel as if to use it as a walking stick, where she would proceed to check in on Louis and AJ.

Louis wasn’t looking in her direction.  He didn’t make a sound, he didn’t even blink. He stood still emotionlessly but had thin streams of tears flowing from his now reddening eyes.

“Louis, hey, are you oka-”

“AJ.” He only spoke at a whisper. It was all she needed to hear before she turned her son’s direction, and her entire world began to crumble.

Alvin Junior was standing in front of the bald man, surrounded by a pool of blood. This wasn’t the result of his victim’s wounds however; it was a result of his own.

“…Clem?”

Chapter Text

All of a sudden, the forest didn’t seem so peaceful. The stunning scenery Clementine experienced before now only served to taunt her. Everything around her displayed so much life, so much innocence. Yet she could never have prepared for the sight before her. Underneath this illusion of a pre-apocalyptic environment lay dormant the end of the world. And now – at least for this teenage girl – was it finally coming to life.

Standing in the glow of the sun’s beaming rays stood Alvin Junior clutching his neck. Between his tightly enclosed fingers escaped a stream of blood. It was the source of the growing pool Clementine had initially noticed, and now her precious boy was beginning to drown in it. Fully grasping the horrific sight, she screamed the name of her beloved goofball while desperately hopping towards him, “ALVIN!”

The scream echoed from tree to tree, but despite his name ringing for as far as the eye can see, she received no response from the boy in question. Instead, buckshot made of blood sprayed onto the path between the mother and son. AJ desperately tried to breathe, to find a passage not blocked by the seemingly endless waves escaping from his wound. But there was no way up. Beginning to stumble, Clementine abandoned her rifle-support and dived to catch her son before he could fall to the ground.

Losing all strength, AJ fell into her arms as tears landed on his cheeks. Clementine’s one job in the world, was to look after and protect Alvin Junior with her life. But now, her clothes were thoroughly soaked, drenched in everything she had ever cared for. AJ provided hope in Clementine’s world, a true reason to live and enjoy life, but the more and more she was being stained in his own blood, the quicker that hope was vanishing. She was lost for words. Never in a million years had she ever thought AJ would die before her, let alone dying because of her. This was all her fault.

“…no, no no no AJ please you can’t just…” Clementine was barely audible under her constant sobs. “Wait, AJ please, I need you…” The boy faced upwards and weakly stared into her eyes. “AJ please…” Her voice was thin. Clementine could do nothing but beg for her son to hold on, but she knew it would be to no avail. There was no recovering from that wound, especially when they were half a mile away from the school. There was no chance in hell she could bring him back with her crutches, let alone carry him in the first place with her lack of strength. She racked her brain for any way she could help the dying child in her arms. Anything at all.

And that’s when a spark of adrenaline awakened inside her. She wasn’t alone. Maybe she couldn’t get AJ back to Ericson’s where Ruby might be able to help, but Louis could! Without a second to waste, she darted her attention to the man who was silently observing the scene unfold. “Louis! Please! You have to help! Take AJ back to Ruby she can help him! Please!” The final plea was more of a command, but if there was any chance she could save AJ, she had to take it.

“Clem I…” Why? Why was he hesitating? They had to act now!

“Do you want him to die Louis? Do you!?” It was harsh but she had to convince him whatever way possible. It wouldn’t matter if Louis didn’t like her after this, at least AJ would be alive!

“He’s…” Louis could no longer control himself and tears began pouring. Clementine had never seen Louis this way before, but feeling even remotely sorry for each other would have to wait.

He’s what? As long as Louis can actually goddamn do something for once AJ will be fine! We just need to get - Clementine’s thoughts were becoming infected with anger, but before she could finish, a painful voice attempted to speak next to her.

“C-C-” AJ tried with all his might to squeeze out the name of his guardian but doing so only caused his throat to tighten. Clementine went to embrace the boy in a hug, but before she could lean in, attempting to speak caused a vicious reaction on AJ’s body resulting in him coughing up blood all over Clementine’s face. That was when it truly dawned on the now fragile teenager that AJ was on the verge of death. His skin had already lost vast amounts of colour, and now some of the last shreds of life he had left were coating her skin. Her eyes widened at the realisation, and immediately rushed to grab a hold of his pale hands. In response AJ clutched onto his mother for dear life. He looked terrified.

“My little Goofball…” she whispered into his ears. Her tears acted as a waterfall for the blood on her cheeks, causing the static shade of red to be spread down and shine in the sunlight. His hands were losing temperature, and the child lay on top of her began shaking. After a few seconds, there was a stillness, and Clementine felt the pressure of AJ’s hand losing grip. He was gone.

“…”

Her mind went blank. She held in her arms everything she ever wanted and could have dreamed of in a world as cruel as this. A month ago, she believed her luck had finally run out but in a way, it was a fitting end. As long as she knew AJ would be safe back at the school, she was more than willing to sacrifice herself to see it through. But this could hardly be called a ‘fitting end’ for anyone. She heard footsteps approaching from behind. Louis crouched down next to her as they shared a look of total grief.

“What do we do?” Clementine asked the teenager, hoping for any sort of comforting words. Louis reached to her left and picked up AJ’s pistol. She knew what he about to say. First Lee, and now AJ? After all the tragedy’s she’d endured on her travels, she didn’t know if she had the strength to pull the trigger once again. She braced herself for the bitter truth Louis was preparing for.

“I’ll do it,” Louis offered in a hushed tone. This caught the brunette off guard, as Louis gently picked up the body and moved towards the tree where the first bullet of the encounter had landed. Clementine was stunned, she didn’t think Louis ever had it in him to do something like this. Not saying a word would spare her the pain of holding a gun for that purpose again, but AJ was her responsibility. She couldn’t allow Louis to go through this mess any further, when she was the one who had failed to protect him. Louis had placed the body against the tree, moving AJ’s arms to rest on one another above his stomach.

“Wait, wait. No, I can do it. It’s my responsibility,” she shakily called out to him.

Louis looked over her. He didn’t wasn’t any reason to argue at a time like this, so he sighed and simply asked, “Are you sure?”

Clementine closed her eyes, knowing she was about to go through the same torture she had endured when shooting Lee. There was no running away from it, it had to be done or her little Goofball would become a monster. She couldn’t let that happen. “Yes.”

And with that, Louis retraced his steps to find her crutches. Holding them with his right arm, he offered his left hand to help the girl still lying in her son’s blood. She was practically pulled from the floor from Louis, who proceeded to place the crutches beneath her shoulders.

Approaching AJ’s lifeless corpse felt like she was marching towards her own death. Not wanting to waste any time, Clementine gestured for the gun. Louis handed it to her but rooted himself to the spot. “I’m not going anywhere Clem, you can do this.” She began tearing up again, as the two stood tall against the boy who had barely turned six years old.

“Thank you,” she muttered under her breath. Leaning heavily one crutch, she raised her arm to take aim. A light pressure formed on the other, as Louis raised her hand to her shoulder. Exchanging one last glance with him, she took a deep breath and lined the iron sights with up with AJ’s forehead. You should be doing this to me is all she could think to herself. Her finger lightly pressed against the trigger. No, how could she do this again? It was bad enough with Lee, but she had nurtured this child from birth. She couldn’t do it; tears were now streaming down her face as her vision of the lifeless child in front of her began to blur. Her hands were visibly shaking. There was no way she could-

“DO IT!” Louis bellowed next to her, making Clementine jump out of her skin. Taken completely by surprise by the man who had been so silent next to her, she hadn’t realised the shock made her pull the trigger. That wasn’t like Louis at all, but then again, he hadn’t acted like himself all day.

“Oh it’s… it’s, it’s over,” she trailed off, not being able to process what just happened. A fresh red ring leaked blood from the child’s forehead and down his nose. All she could do in this moment was follow the stream of blood trickling down AJ’s face. She noticed that the skin now serving as a path for the river of blood to flow had becoming incredibly pale since she held him in her arms. Clementine knew well enough by now that a few seconds of hesitating more and AJ would have completely succumbed to the infection and turned. Knowing this brought a slither of relief over her now wrecked state of mind. The day started so cheerful; how could it ever end up like this?

“Goodbye little dude,” Louis timidly gave one last goodbye, as he gestured for the pair to leave. The two turned their back on AJ for the last time, as the sight of walkers approaching past the fishing hut.

The slight anger Clementine had felt towards Louis earlier had vanished, but instead was beginning to boil at the sight of the two men who lay on the floor before them. It wasn’t directed at the bald man she had never gotten to know the name, but instead the one a metre away from him. Del. The blonde had passed out from the pain shortly after being brutally crippled in the knees with the work of Chairles. This is the man who had shot AJ. This is the man who stole everything from her. The more Del entered her thoughts, the more she felt an animalistic rage building in the back of her mind. Her breathes became shaky, as she noticed the man beginning to wake up.

Louis picked up on the girl’s sudden change in emotion and tugged at her shirt for them to leave. For all the support he had given her over the last few minutes, Clementine wanted nothing more than for him to be safe. Leaving with him now would obviously be the safest choice and would prevent anyone else she cared about from being under any more harm. She wanted to leave. But this anger swelling inside of her began to take control.

“Give me Chairles.” There was no emotion in those words but staring down at Del gave them all the meaning required. She wanted to make him pay, make him suffer just as she had. He took her family away and he wasn’t going to get away with it. Her heart was beating to the rhythm of an African drum. Louis was shocked at the order.

“What? Clem, I know you’re angry but in your condition this isn’t going to end well! Look, the walkers are already on the bridge.” The brunette hadn’t payed any attention to her surroundings but looking back to the path revealed Louis was speaking the truth. “Look, this is gonna sound fucked up okay? But you aren’t gonna have enough time to…” His eyes began flickering from Del to the slowly approaching walkers. “We’ve gotta go!”

She clenched her fists. “It’ll only take one swing.” Her voice was cold and deep. Louis was speaking so much sense and she knew this well. So why couldn’t she go along with him? Clementine felt as if she gained a purpose from the prospect of revenge. She began to believe that if this was AJ in her position, looking over the murderer…

“AJ would want this.” Her tone hadn’t changed, eyes glued to the crippled raider. If Louis wasn’t going to help, then she would only have to do it barehanded. She heaved herself forward, taking one long step. The rugged nails on her fingers now digging into her skin.

“Oh god, please don’t hate me for this,” she thought she heard Louis mumble to himself from behind. It didn’t matter. This needed to be done. How could they kill a fucking child? she thought to herself, her mind engulfed in a storm that saw no sign of calming. A depthless voice in her mind began to wonder how she had been completely consumed by this craving for bloodshed so quickly, but she silenced it, leaving any rational thoughts remaining to be blown away. She was about to make sure he would never hurt anyone again. He wouldn’t even get the chance to turn once she had finished. That was, until Louis stood in front of her.

“Hey what’re you-” SLAP. A sharp sting in her right check through her off balance. Her mind returned to a blank state, wondering what the hell just happened. She looked up at the source of the pain to see a Louis glaring at her with furrowed brows. Clementine was in disbelief.

“This,” he pointed towards the walkers,” is not what AJ would want! AJ would want you to escape from here and be safe! Not looking to get yourself killed over a bit of revenge! Come with me, we’ll leave these guys for the walkers as bait. That’ll be a suitable painful death, wouldn’t you agree?” Louis had snapped at her. In her selfish desire to make Del suffer, she had completely ignored the fact she was putting herself and Louis in danger. He was right, regardless of what she did the walkers would still use the raiders as snacks, the only difference being in one scenario Clementine would be part of the snack instead of walking away with the last person she considered herself to share a connection with. What was she becoming?

“…yes.”

“Wonderful, then let’s get the fuck out of here. I may be a fuck-up, but I am not letting myself lose someone else today…” he seemed to cut himself off at the end, like he wanted to say more. Clementine stared at the teenager stood inches away from her, as his face tilted off to the side. She stuck to the spot, knowing he had more to say. Death itself was walking towards them, but she couldn’t move. For as hopeless as she currently felt, it was almost as if everything was depending on Louis. Before raiding the Delta boat, the two had begun to form a close bond, even going as far as to share her first kiss with him. All of that seemed to fall under the radar during her recovery period. But now she was starting to see flashes of the Louis she had gotten to know previously appear from out of its shell. He always considered himself a screw-up, but when he put his heart into something his attitude was night and day. Earlier today she hadn’t seen an ounce of the man show his true emotions, but right now in the moment, he had a purpose. Louis pulled on her shoulder to face back the way they came, and lightly pressed her back as he started walking. He took a step forward, his eyes narrowly looking back on the still idle Clementine and after pausing for a second, he finally spoke before quickly looking forward again. “…especially someone I love.”

If it wasn’t for the walkers gaining ground on the pair, Clementine knew this would be a heartfelt moment between them. With Louis’ words bringing her back to life, the pair began making the tiring trek back to Ericson’s. Sparing a second’s pitstop to have a look at AJ, they carried on down the path under the cover of the forest’s trees. Taking a dejected look over her shoulder back towards the opening, she caught sight of Del staring at the scarf that had come loose from the bald man’s neck as he hit the ground.

“…Rich? Hey Richard! Are you- Oh my god…” She could hear Del fully coming to his senses in the distance. He hadn’t noticed the ten-or-so walkers slowly surrounding him. Though before they got out of sight, Del had spotted them. “Hey! Where the fuck do you think you’re goin’ huh?! What the fuck did you do? You killed Rich, and you think you can just-” Del was barking at the pair, but this only served to make himself better bait for the walkers to lose track them. By the way he was cut off, Clementine was sure he had noticed what fate had in store for him. Louis and Clem in unison looked away from the scene behind them. Without the use of his knees, this was the next best way she could have hoped AJ’s murderer would go out. She didn’t need to look, and – as sadistic as it sounds - just hearing his screams would bring her enough closure. Soon enough, she got what she hoped for, and the pair disappeared down the trail without a second glance.

***

Every corner of the room was lit by the rising sun. She couldn’t have been in a darker place, yet at the same time, everywhere she went was bright. She simply could not escape it. Clementine sat in solitude on her bed for what must have been at least a few hours now. Louis gave her the motivation to keep moving forward after AJ was… after he passed away, but once they returned and Louis had left her side to complete some job, she had fallen back into darkness. All she wanted was a place to be alone, without anything to disturb her. It was a foolish desire on a day with weather such as this.

The bedroom felt as if it was filled with the ghosts of those she had just failed. All of those people, all of those sacrifices to keep little Alvin safe. Wasted. And it was all. Her. Fault. She wasn’t strong enough to protect him, she was the one who made decisions that lead to his death. It was Lilly who sent the goons to retrieve the two, and who did Clementine not have the guts to kill on the boat? Lilly. All because she maybe once considered her ‘family’. She wasn’t family. Family doesn’t force you by their side. Family doesn’t let their murderous slaves do their dirty work. A sudden wave of guilt washed over her. You let Lilly live. You killed AJ.

She felt the leftovers from the rage she experienced earlier begin to claw its way back into the centre of her thoughts the more she heard the name ‘Lilly’. Why did she insist on taking kid soldiers? Why did she kill Mitch? James? The boat rescue led to the death of Tenn, Violet becoming blind. And now AJ. Almost every single tragic event from the former Ericson students could be tracked back to that name. Lilly. She may not have wanted to cause them harm today, but again her involvement caused more pain than it was worth. The rage was soon overpowered by guilt once more, as Clementine asked herself, How could I let her live?

She was clearly lying through her teeth as she begged for her life. By letting her live, she put the entire group in danger, not just herself, all because she couldn’t allow the final living memory of her original group die. That selfish act was going to haunt her for the rest of her life.

Lee would never have made the same choice. Lee knew how to protect a group. He died saving people, not being the cause of it. Clementine couldn’t help but draw a comparison to her old saviour: no-one but herself was the cause of Lee getting bit, but he used every last second of his life to protect her and ultimately, he succeeded. On the other hand, AJ had already saved her life once, but now died because of a stupid decision she made, and she could do nothing to stop it. She wasn’t a scratch on Lee Everett. No doubt if it weren’t for her, he and Kenny could have been raising the child and having a peaceful life. Oh, and then there was Kenny. For only a year or so of his life, AJ had a fatherly figure. The man fought tooth and nail to protect AJ on multiple occasions, even though he wasn’t blood related. In his dying breathes, Kenny entrusted, and truly believed that Clementine would protect AJ. All his sacrifices? Gone to waste. She felt as if she had failed every important person in her life.

Clementine would continue to isolate herself for the remainder of the day, locking the door and ignoring all requests for her to attend dinner. There was no way she could face the other kids the way she was. Exhausting her guilt-ridden rant, Clementine fell back onto her bed and simply stared up at the bed railings above. Not a single thought crossed her mind. Her mission in life was to raise AJ, and now because that was gone, she had nothing. She had lost her main reason for living.

The only thing the slightly comes to mind for any kind of hope was Louis. The only problem being she hadn’t seen the man all day since they returned. She wouldn’t be surprised if he abandoned her after seeing the state she was in when she asked for his trusted weapon. She must’ve looked like a monster. Louis wasn’t exactly the bravest soul; it would be no shock if he began to fear her after what she tried to pull. Despite all this she desperately wanted to feel his comfort, he was there with her every step of the way, but now she might have lost him too.

After a while, her head must have gotten tired of the constant war she was mentally having, and she found herself falling sleep in the early evening. Before her dreams had the chance of beating her down too, a knock at the door disturbed her slumber.

“Hey Clem! Hellooo? The door’s stuck,” she could vaguely hear someone attempting to loudly whisper through the door. Was that Louis? It was almost pitch-black outside, what was he doing at this hour? If this was him, she would finally get the chance to talk with him. The idea was captivating: he was there for her; he might be the only one who understands her pain. And for as much as she had already tormented herself, she was desperate to confide with him.

Clementine jumped off the bed at the prospect. Still overcome with fatigue from waking up, she got a hold of her crutches and gradually made her way to the door. Giving the lock a turn, she felt butterflies in her stomach as her hand touched the doorknob. Was it really him? She really didn’t want to see another kid right now. What if it was Violet who had come to apologise again, Ruby to check on her leg, or Willy with some absurd invention? She wouldn’t be able to handle it. Twisting the knob, the door sluggishly creaked open.

“There you are! Whoa, you aren’t lookin’ too good there Clem. I mean, you look good, but you aren’t lookin’ too good right now… Uh, sorry.” It was Louis! Clementine felt incredibly relieved, but at the same time all the thoughts of AJ’s death and the guilt behind it suddenly rushed back. The crutches thudded to the ground as she burrowed herself in his chest, tears beginning to form in her golden eyes.

“Louis, it-- it’s all m-my fault, I should’ve-” She sounded pathetic, but she couldn’t hold back. All the emotions she had bottled up began to leak out as she wept into his signature brown coat.

“Hey hey hey! Easy there Clem, I just wanted to stop by and see how you were doing. Plus I wanted to show you something.” Louis seemed an awful lot more positive than he had been earlier. What could possibly have lifted his spirits after a day like today? “Can I come in?”

“Huh? Oh yeah, sure.” Lifting her head from his chest, she wiped the away the tears and welcomed him inside. Any conversation they were likely to have would be better off not heard by the other kids. It wasn’t fair to wake them up or make them depressed for that matter.

Louis knelt down and handed the crutches back to Clementine. She returned to her seat on the bed, the proceeded to signal for him to sit adjacent to her. Getting off his feet, he groaned out a lengthy sigh as he cupped his head in his palms. Maybe he wasn’t so cheerful as she initially thought.

“Clem I am so sorry for what happened today… No-one deserves this.” Louis decided to get straight to the point, though she wasn’t sure if he was referring to AJ or herself. “I can’t begin to imagine what you’re going through; anyone could tell I’m probably not parent material.” He directed his gaze down towards his feet. No doubt he felt guilty for his part in all of this. “I just can’t help but think, maybe if I didn’t force you into this week’s rehab session, none of this woulda happened. Me making both of you step out of those gates in the morning started all of this. It’s all my fault.”

Clementine felt sorry for him, there was no way his actions lead to AJ’s death. How could he have known more raiders would come? They’d completed laps of the same journey a few times already, plus even if he did know something he’d call it off. She couldn’t let anyone blame themselves for this, this was her burden to bear, no-one else’s.

“Please don’t blame yourself, you couldn’t have known. If I had just,” tears were taking shape again, “if I had just killed Lilly then none of this would’ve happened. AJ would still be here, my little goofball…” She didn’t need to finish the sentence before falling into another fit of sobs. She clutched the opening of his jacket and burrowed her face in his warmth for the second time. She found a great deal of comfort from his presence alone. Louis wrapped his arms around her head and hugged her tightly.

“That’s what I’m afraid of, you know?” Louis glared into the opposing bed. Clementine looked up to see anger sprawling across his features. “That no matter what we do, it would be impossible to save AJ as long as she’s still alive.” Louis was spitting daggers when referring to Lilly, hell, this was the first time she had ever really heard Louis sound so negative towards someone. This must be affecting him more than she realised.

The pair tilted their heads towards each other, making eye contact half-way. “I know what you mean. Whatever death I think of, it always comes back to her. How could she? How could she take my little Goofball away? That big beaming smile,” Clementine thought back to just this morning, where he greeted her shortly after waking up, “I’ll never get to see it again…” Louis’ shirt was soaking up the majority of Clementine’s tears, but it only got worse every time she thought back to her son.

“I know Clem, that’s why I…” That’s why I… what?

“Louis?” His name was muffled beneath his own shirt, but if he had something on his mind she wanted to know.

“That’s why I uhhm…” Louis trailed off again but this time he examined the girl’s expression. He looked as if he was deciding something on the spot. All he would’ve seen is a mess of a girl crying her eyes out into his shirt, still wearing the same blood-stained clothes from earlier.  Overall, an emotional wreck. He eventually came to a conclusion.

“Okay, well, here goes nothing. Clem, I need you to promise me you’ll take me seriously okay? Pretty please?” She wasn’t expecting that. She had no reason to not agree, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t worried about what impossible scenarios he might be making up.

“I pinky promise,” Clem wrapped her finger around his, “if you’re serious, then how can I say no to that?” She gave him a weak smile, the first she’s shown since before…

Sighing, Louis steeled himself. This must be extremely important to him.

“What if… well what if we could maybe… bring AJ back?”

“…”

“Louis we can’t think like that, AJ is…” Clementine shifted her gaze down to the floor. It pained her to say it, but it was true. There was no use working on hypotheticals that would only end up hurting in the end.

“No, I’m serious Clem. Look at me.” The brunette looked up to see a sharp gaze, his eyes were fuelled with determination. He really was serious about this, not that she had doubted him, but this was a strange subject even for his standards.

“What do you want me to do Louis, turn back time?” She really could not see what he was getting at. What happened, happened. There was no going back for as much as she hoped.

“I don’t want you do it, I want both of us to do it.” What was he…? She was completely lost now, and her face reflected this. Taking notice, Louis continued before she could become any more confused.

“Okay wait before you think I’m totally a lost cause… Hmm let’s see… Ah! Let’s play a game. Oh wait, but before we do can you hold out your pinkie please?” Her pinkie? She just went along with it at this point, without knowing if she was just humouring the boy or actually taking him seriously.

“Okay, so! What we’re gonna do is you’ll pick a random number between 1 and 100, and I will ‘guess’ what you picked.”

“Louis, a number game? What are you doing?”

“Clem, please, just let me show you. Think of a number.” After saying this, Louis appeared to be dizzy. He didn’t look too well himself, but she might as well go along with his ‘game’ if it made him feel better. 62 would do.

“Okay I’ve picked, now what do I-”

“62”. Wait what? That number had no meaning to her, there’s no way in hell he could’ve known something about her that would’ve led to that number. She was dumbfounded at the response.

“See? I told you to take this seriously,” Louis chuckled to himself. Clementine had absolutely no idea or how exactly he just did that. She was about to believe it wasn’t dumb luck, but there’s no harm in taking a precaution.

“I wanna to do it again,” Clementine said quickly. She wanted to make sure this wasn’t some elaborate trick to try and cheer her up. Then again, if it were, she would admire the effort.

“Up for round two are we? Great, then how about you hold out your ring finger for me?” Again with the fingers… She held it out and picked 15. This number had no correlation to her as far as she was aware, so it would clearly be Louis outright knowing the number if he guessed it.

“…”

“…” The same spell of dizziness seemed to hit him again. Recovering quickly, a large grin spread across his face.

“15.” What? How? A million questions flooded her mind in the second it took him to answer, and the second it took him to burst out laughing.

 “Louis okay please stop messing around with me just tell me what’s going on,” She need answers ASAP. And how did this relate to bringing AJ back? Her questions would soon be answered, as Louis stated she needed to see it for herself, and that they needed to go to the music room to do so. She didn’t see any reason why not, and if he was telling the truth could they really bring him back? Did she even deserve to care for him anymore? Her questions were now directed at her own ability rather than Louis, as the pair quietly made their way towards Louis’ favourite room. What the hell was going on.

***

The moonlight eased through the cracks upon the boarded windows, dimly lighting the room. Still, it was so dark the only object Clementine could visibly make out was the piano. Louis rubbed his hand along the edge of the instrument as he took a seat in front of the black and white keys. He shifted to the side a little, giving Clementine enough room to fit on just as they had on the night before the raid. That seemed like a lifetime ago now.

“I wanted to teach him, you know?” Louis sounded almost heartbroken. He looked towards the highest notes on the piano, where AJ played the first time they met. “One day while you were still mostly bed-ridden, I told him to come join me in the music room for a lesson. He was so excited. I told him ‘You’ve got to be familiar with the notes to create a song!’, but he spent the whole day happily just hammering away without a care for how chaotic is sounded,” Louis returned his view back to the brunette, “I joked that he was Jerry-Lee-Junior because of it. From the only lesson I ever gave him, I saw AJ truly enjoying himself. And that was a first for me! I never thought I’d see the kid smile when he wasn’t with you, let alone have the time of his life…”

Clementine looked on with the motherly gaze she had often used with AJ. She had no idea the two had bonded over music, and now she felt as if they understood each other’s pain. Louis pushed himself up from his side of the seat, standing with his palms face down on the piano’s now closed fallboard.

“I want to teach him again. I want all three of us in this room, laughing to the songs we sing, dancing to the songs we create… So that’s why we’re gonna use this.” Louis had disappeared into a corner of the room untouched from the moonlight. After what sounded like the rummaging of a bag, he returned with some sort of box. It consisted of a metallic exterior, though it was heavily rusted especially from the bottom. Nails were coming loose from their panels – it looked like it’d been a quick build.

“…A box?”

“Not just any box! This little force of nature was the ace up my sleeve during a little numbers game.” At this point, Clementine only wanted answers before her brain fried from confusion.

“Honestly you confused me so much back in the room that I’m not even gonna bother asking myself how that thing works. Care to help me out?”

“Fair enough. For you see!” Louis flipped the box around to reveal the outline of binoculars with small indents where the eyes should be. “If someone were to look into these little holes, you’ll see your recent memories appear on a little screen, or something, to be honest I have no clue how the hell this thing works but basically if you focus on a specific time you’ll be… teleported? Kind of? You’ll go back to that time, but in your current state. So you’re presently travelling back to the past, where you can change the future… I think. …You get it?”

It really doesn’t help that the person who’s trying to explain how they supposedly travelled back in time to beat you at a numbers game, doesn’t actually have a clue of what they’re talking about. Clementine just stared back, brows raised, and jaw thoroughly dropped.

“I’ll take that as a noooo… Look, how about this? They way I was able to guess your number was I went and asked you straight out what it was, then ran back here, used the time-cube thingy, chose the moment you held out your pinkie, then dramatically blew your mind.”

If what he was saying was true, then she hadn’t even felt anything when it happened. This almost scared Clementine, but she didn’t even know why. Trying to piece the game together, she asked Louis, “Is that why when I was picking a number you looked so… dizzy?”

“Did I? Shit… Well then I guess so. You know, travelling between two different time periods isn’t exactly an easy ride, right?” With this new information, everything was starting to make sense, the only possible way he could ever know her number was if he was physically told and that’s exactly what had happened. It did, just not for her.

“Whoa…”

“Whoa indeed.” There was just one thing that didn’t add up. Where did he even find something like that in the first place? Willy couldn’t have built it. But by now the brunette was willing to believe anything was possible. They were living in an apocalypse after all. And it’s not like that makes any sense.

“Uh Louis? Where the hell’dyou find this magic box?”

He placed the box on top of the piano and relaxed back into his seat. “Do you remember the caravan?”

“The one I sent you and… you and AJ to scout out right?”

“Yes well, Aasim thought he saw a group of survivors in and around that dusty old wagon. It turns out whoever was there had abandoned it apart from this one old dude. He had some musty grey coat on, you should’ve seen it. His pockets were full of letters and notes.” Clementine never got to hear the full report of that mission, she was told at the time it simply led to nothing, other than that the two recovered a few bottles of water and a ‘cube-thingy’.

Louis proceeded to give a full explanation of the trip, and how the old man believed they would need it more than himself. Thinking it had no use, Louis placed it in the music room to tinker with it, hoping it would be useful. Though it sounded more as if he was trying to prove to himself that he hadn’t spent the day talking to some creepy camper in the woods.

“It wasn’t until…” Louis looked at his wrist expecting to find a watch, but finding none, stumbled on his words. “Uh, I guess today then, that I finally found a use for it.”

“You mean, that’s what you were doing after we got back to the school?” That would make sense for why he didn’t come to see her until this late at night. But as always with Louis, nothing is ever simple.

“What? Oh no no no, Ruby got me cleaning out the greenhouse all day. That place is so dirty… I even messed that up when I slipped and got some weird yellow coloured liquid in a test tube up my nose.” He sniffed to make sure there was nothing left in there, Clementine only found herself laughing at how clumsy he could be. It was unbelievable that this was the same person who figured out how to reverse time.

“Alright alright it wasn’t that funny, it wasn’t for me anyways Ruby really whooped my ass, but back to the point! I only managed to figure it out shortly after AJ died the first time.” Louis looked into her eyes as he said this, giving her an all too familiar pained expression. She would’ve moved to comfort him, but what he said didn’t make any sense.

“Wait, what do you mean ‘first time’?” Tears began forming in his eyes at the question. Without inquiring further, she tried theorising why he looked at her in so much pain. She hadn’t felt anything during the card game, and she hadn’t the slightest clue he was messing with such power. If he said this, then surely that meant he’s already been through this day once before. Today was potentially the worst day of her life, and she couldn’t imagine experiencing it all over again. Her heart ached for the man at the thought. She needed to know if her suspicions were true.

“Louis… How many times have you… restarted today? How many times has… AJ died?” Louis let out a stuttered breath as he closed his eyes. This was so hard for him and she couldn’t have even known. How many times had he been through this traumatising day? She readied herself for the answer she would receive after a brief moment of silence.

“…Four…”

“Oh my god, Louis you-”

“…Teen”. Fourteen times?! That explains all of her questions from the start of the day regarding his attitude. No wonder he was so scared and depressed… How he managed to keep his act together at all was astonishing, but that would soon come to end.

It was Louis’ turn to cry on someone, as he rotated on the piano seat and wrapped himself around Clementine. “I’ve tried so hard Clem! You don’t even understand… I’ve tried everything, literally everything! I tried cancelling the walk, I tried going a different path, I tried handling Lilly’s men differently. Everything! And nothing worked…” Louis was wailing on her shoulder, gripping her tight as he continued, “sometimes I thought it worked, then those guys or Lilly would show up and fuck everything up again and again and again and again! I’m so sorry Clem! I can’t do it anymore! I’m so sorry…”

Oh Louis... Clementine felt a stream of her own tears rushing down her cheek at the heartfelt apology. The saddest part for her, was that he was apologising in the first place. He had endured so much pain and suffering all to try and save her boy, and now she was witnessing the man who tried his hardest until he eventually broke let it all out.

“Louis you… went through all that, just for me?” She could feel his head nodding from the side. He let go of her and sat back up straight in an attempt to compose himself.

“Mhm… It was for AJ too of course, I want him to live just as much as you, but the hardest part was your reaction every time it happened. This was my 15th and final attempt. Do you know how hard it is watching you lose yourself that many times?” He had fallen to a whisper, “Especially when this time felt the worst.”

Clementine was lost for words. She stared hopelessly at him, she wanted nothing more than to comfort him, but it was clear he still had more to say. Sometimes it was better to allow someone to vent without interrupting, and Louis was so mentally fragile by now that she wanted to let him take this at his own pace. Before long, he opened his mouth to continue, but turned shy of her before beginning.

“I was ready to give up after the first few attempts, but one time you…” He held his fingers up to his left cheekbone, she hadn’t noticed it before, but he had a light scar where he touched, “one time I messed up, bad. It was just as I was learning how it all worked and I did something that directly caused AJ to… And when it was all over you… you beat me.” She hurt Louis…? So the rage she directed to the raiders could have been on him instead? Clementine felt her stomach drop, now terrified of what she was capable of. She was responsible for beating a guy who was trying so unbelievably hard to help her, she didn’t feel it but also wasn’t stupid enough to not believe every word coming out of his mouth. The intensity of the guilt rapidly crushing her matched how she blamed herself for AJ’s death. First AJ, now hurting Louis?

“I am so, so sorry Louis whatever I did I didn’t mean it… I swear I would never-” she found herself frantically apologising. It was all she could do, the pain she suffered didn’t even compare to his, and the pain she created couldn’t be forgiven. Before she could finish however, Louis was sniffling loudly and coughing to clear his throat. His head snapped to the cube shaped object sitting close by, where he was looking deadly serious.

“That’s why we’re going to fix this.” He rose from the seat and walked around the piano to where the device was resting. Louis looked back to her, “Look Clem, I can’t do this alone. Not anymore. If there’s a way we can save AJ, then I’m going to have to go further back than today. To be honest, I don’t know if I have it in me to set things right… Will you help me?” After everything she had done to him, he was still asking for her help. Her heart began to pound, if he was offering the possibility of bringing her son back into this world then she would damn well not let him do it alone. If she wasn’t going to shake the overwhelming guilt from today, then the least she could do was try to create a better life for the people she cared for.

She joined him in around the piano, as she approached Louis, she cupped his hands between her own. “Of course I will, there’s no way I’m letting you do this all alone any longer,” she replied, now looking into the eyes of the man who was brave enough to ask for help of someone who hurt him. She was fuelled with the desire to make it up him, and she could start right now. With that in mind she was softly spoken and said, “I’m with you. ‘Till the end.”

Louis was visibly relieved at the statement. He muttered a “thank you” under a deep breath before regaining focus on the task. “Right, so I should probably explain some ground rules before I throw you into this, or at least some things I picked up on along the way.” It wasn’t like him to take control of a scene, but like she thought earlier, when he wanted something, he’d give it his all. “So the first thing’s pretty simple, when you time travel, our bodies and everything attached to it stay the same. Like clothes, boots, uh, in your case, boot, for example, everything.” His hand was drawn to the scar on his cheek she must’ve made. He shook his head, not wanting to kill his own momentum. “So if you want to take anything back you think might help us, be my guest. The old dude gave me a couple notes to work with and one had some advice related to this, but we’ll get to that after. Rule number two! Fish traps!”

“Um Louis? What the hell do fish traps have to do with anything?” She prayed he hadn’t abused his power to learn the intricacies of their simply put together mechanisms.

“It’s not the fish traps themselves, it’s what I discovered from them. On my second restart I thought I found something that worked, so before waking you up I scouted out the fishing hut to find those raiders. I couldn’t even find a camp they made, so I thought I might as well do something useful and check the traps for food. As I got to the bridge, a school of fish swam up the stream and eventually some of them got caught. Thinking nothing of it, I harvested what I could and carried on with the day.”

Louis recounted a story about how he went back to the lake after many restarts and begun to recognise the fish. The same ones would get caught in the same traps, so he thought it would be interesting to disable some of the traps to see if the fish would make it.

“Of the ones I disabled, obviously nothing got caught in them. When I checked the active ones though, the same fish had been caught, just in different places. I thought ‘Well that’s one helluva coincidence! These fish must be the stupid ones of the group’. So for a few restarts, I’d meddle with different combinations of traps to see if the same stupid fish would meet the same fate. They did. Every single time. It wasn’t until I finally disabled them all that they happily swam away as a family.”

Clementine wasn’t quite sure what Louis was getting at, she wondered how these fish had anything to do with keeping AJ alive. “What do you mean Lou?”

“The old dude ranted on and on about fate and all that kinda crap. I didn’t believe him, I just thought he was just some weirdo in the forest! But now what he told me makes sense. If I was involved with those fish traps, something ended up dying. I could twist and turn the traps as much as I’d like, the fish would still die unless I removed myself entirely. You see what I’m getting at?”

 Clementine was no stranger to being responsible for people’s deaths. She knew full well her actions directly led to people dying, even if they hadn’t deserved it. This was the case for the early years of when the dead started walking, and it wasn’t until she was all alone with AJ that she felt like she’d escaped her misfortune. But now he was gone too. Is he trying to say AJ would be safer without me? No… The thought of her son with a target marked on his back all this time was unnerving to say the least.

“Louis… does that mean that… AJ would be alive without me?”

“What? No Clem of course not! You’ve got this all wrong. Look, we are the school of fish in this example, but you know who the person setting the traps is?”

“…”

“It’s Lilly. Remember how I said I tried different methods to save AJ? It’s no different to changing the traps if you think about it. Say if Lilly were to, I don’t know, be resting in a coffin right now, then there’s no traps. And with no traps…”

“AJ would still be alive!” Clementine’s golden eyes were gleaming in the moonlight as the words escaped her mouth. The sudden epiphany filled her with a hope she hadn’t felt since AJ was born. Louis smiled back at her reaction, probably excited he had managed to somehow explain all this without someone thinking he’d lost his marbles. That in itself was an achievement, especially for someone who failed to even clean the greenhouse properly. “Well what are we waiting for? Let’s get started!”

“Hold your horses Clem there’s just two small things you need to know! I promise.”

“Ugh fine, just make it quick.” She really didn’t want to waste any more time. She looked towards the metal box, by using this, AJ could be right in front of her again. She would be able to see that big goofy smile, to watch him practise reading, to hug her little Goofball. Pick up the pace Louis!

“Clem, I know you’re eager to jump straight in but I haven’t even explained what to do yet! It’s real simple, because only one person’s supposed to use it at a time, both of us are gonna have to shut one eye as we use it together. I’m pretty sure the old dude never mentioned if there was co-op play with it but hey what could possibly go wrong? Once you look inside, tell me when you can see any moment from… let’s say before the raid. That’ll give us enough time to form a better plan and take Lilly out. We can even save Violet, Mitch and Tenn while we’re at it!”

This plan of Louis’ sounded too good to be true. Clem wasn’t sure how they would come up with something better than what they had the first time around, but at the very least they could give it a shot and hopefully save their friends in the process.

“There’s just one thing…” Oh. Here it is. “I haven’t ever travelled back further than today. And, if I’m gonna be completely honest with you here, I don’t have the foggiest clue how this’ll work.” That... didn’t inspire confidence. But it doesn’t matter, as long as she could return to a time before the raid she had the chance to save AJ. No matter how long she would have to wait, she would give her life for Alvin Junior, just as he did for her a month ago.

“It’ll be fine Lou, as long as we have a chance to change the outcome of that raid, we’ll wait as long as we have to.”

“So, you won’t be mad if I mess up?” Louis was beginning to look nervous, of course he was afraid of screwing up. Clementine wouldn’t allow him to keep doubting himself. She was tired of seeing him like this, especially when he was giving her the chance to amend her mistakes in the first place. Before they snuck onto the Fitzgerald, Clem had seen Louis act like this when they prepared a walker for gutting. He was scared of getting all of his friends killed, but in the end, he came out on top. She knew of one way to make him focus during times like these, and it worked perfectly before. Wrapping an arm around his neck, she pulled herself forward and pressed her lips against his. They closed their eyes and enjoyed the serenity of the moment they shared together. After putting himself through the wringer all for her sake, this was the least she could do to show her appreciation.

After a few seconds, she pulled back to reassure him with a comforting smile, “I could never be mad at you Louis, not after everything you’ve done for me. Thank you… thank you so much… I mean it.”

Louis was as red as a tomato. He scratched the back of his neck as he was sheepish in saying, “Heh, I really have the best girlfriend in the world, don’t I?” He couldn’t have come up with a cornier line, but Clementine only found herself gazing into his eyes at the statement. Despite how clumsy he made himself out to be, deep down was a sweet and caring soul she had grown fond of since they first met. “In a way, that’s actually the last thing you need to know before we do this.”

Louis disappeared back into the pitch-black corner of the room and returned with a stack of papers in his hands. “These are some of the old dude’s notes he gave me… now which one was it… Ah ha! There it is.”

The page he pulled from the stack was generally crumpled all round, but contained a message written in all capitals, it read, “REMEMBER – GO TOO FAR BACK, BODY CAN’T STACK , ME NUMBER TWO , WILL BE THE DEATH OF YOU,” with a small tally that added to six scratched on underneath.

“Told you he was fuckin’ weird.” Being weird didn’t bother Clementine, she was prepared to go through anything for AJ, she just couldn’t decipher what the poem and tally marks meant.

“Any idea what this is supposed to mean?”

“Actually yeah. Me and AJ had enough of the guy and left him in his little caravan, but he called out to us from behind. He wouldn’t stop shouting… Like, I was about to throw this little metal box in his face to shut him up before he grabbed my attention.  He was going on about how the device was broken, and it couldn’t handle transferring his conscience anymore. He apparently met himself but it caused ‘the great rapture upon us’,” Louis impersonated the man during his last sentence, making himself sound old and deranged, “Seriously Clem I’m not joking this guy was nuts, but he was a goddamn genius at the same time.”

She wasn’t going to argue with that logic, if someone was able to construct an item that could manipulate time – even if it didn’t work properly – then they would probably end up going at least a little crazy by the end of it. She looked back towards the tally marks.

“If you’ve caught on, you’ll probably understand why I’m a bit worried if I screw this up eh heh… I mean, this guy’s talking about some end of the world shit if there are two of us. He didn’t exactly strike me as a sane individual, so if what he’s saying is true and we look at the tally marks here…” Clementine didn’t like where this was going. If we’re going to end up far back enough that the machine can’t handle, our bodies can’t ‘stack’ so there’ll be two of us? And if two of us is going to cause some insane natural reaction, that means…

“We’ll have to kill our other selves.” Louis stated out loud. There was a moment of silence between the two.

“…Holy shit.”

“You see why I really don’t want to mess this up?” The very idea of having to kill another version of herself sent shivers down her spine. Throughout her apocalyptic ‘career’, Clementine had to kill tens of people in order to keep her loved ones safe. But she never thought it would ever have to go this far. She would end up having to murder a version of herself that had no part to play in all of this; she’d built up enough guilt over the course of the day and she couldn’t take on anymore.

“Louis I-- I don’t know if I could do it, I’d be denying a version of myself who still had AJ the chance to live on happily without us intervening.” Louis sighed; he was most likely prepared for that answer.

“I was afraid you’d say that, follow me, I need you to see this.” Louis turned his back on her as he made his way over to a wall still lit by the moonlight. He pointed towards a small mirror and gestured her to stand in front of it. For the hundredth time today, Clementine was confused by his intentions but looked into the mirror anyway.

“What do you see?”

“It’s a mirror Louis, I see myself.”

“Exactly! Now,” Louis approached the mirror himself and slammed his fist into it, shattering the glass into smaller fragments of itself, “Ow fuck!” His knuckles were slightly bleeding, and he seemed totally distracted from the point he was trying to make, whatever it was.

“Uhh are you okay there? You know if you wanted to break the mirror you coulda just used Chairles. You could technically time travel back if you wanted…”

“No no! It’s fine, just… forget about me being a dumbass. What do you see in the mirror now?” He was putting on a straight face, but she could tell that hurt more than he anticipated.

“I see myself, just a lot more times now thanks to you.”

“Yeah that’s the point Clem,” he rubbed his other hand over his now damaged one and muttered a curse under his breath, “Sorry, I mean, there can be so many different versions of us, but each time, it’s still you. Every Clementine you see in that mirror is at some point – if they haven’t already – going to lose AJ. Meaning every version of you is going to feel shitty, I’ve seen it with my own eyes around fifteen times. That’s not going to change unless we do something. Besides! It might not even come to that.” Louis tried sounding confident towards the end, but his natural instincts would never allow him to be so straightforward. “And with that, you have everything you need to know. Hopefully.”

The brunette was well aware using this time machine would probably cause some side-effects, but if Louis had given her all the important information then she was ready to go. Whatever happened to her, she needed to do this for AJ. He would do this same. “You ready for this Clem?”

“More than I’ll ever be.” She looked at Louis with fire in her eyes. He took that as confirmation and made his way back to the piano. Sitting down on the stool again, he positioned the device in front of the sheet music. Clementine took a seat next to him as nerves started to settle in. She hoped and prayed this would work, taking one final look around the room, her eyes were drawn to the ‘potato’ with initials ‘C + L’ etched into the piano’s bodywork.

“Man, I really hope we’ll get to see that again,” Louis’ voice was reflective, the engraving meant a lot to him. It served as a reminder to a happier time, and the night he got his first kiss.

“We will,” she assured him. His face lighting up, Louis ran over the plan once more.

“Right, so, we look into the box, we pick a time and focus on whatever image is shown, when we’re sent back we’ll… we’ll kill our other selves if need be, then we do everything the same until we plan for the raid, kick Lilly’s ass, save our friends, teach AJ piano, and then I can finally have a nice hot bubble bath when we’re done. Does that sound right to you?”

Giggling over the end to his plan, Clementine responded with, “Damn right!” Though, if there was one topic she was uncertain about, it was needing to do everything the same. She figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask, “But why do we do everything the same? Wouldn’t it be better to figure out something better even before the we plan the raid?”

Louis paused, and reluctantly replied. “…Because it’s how I treated this 15th attempt. How things played out this time was the exact the same as the first. Despite this being probably the hardest method to go through, I figured it was the easiest way to make you agree to this. On my 14th try, I came to you about this idea of time travel, but because the circumstances were so different, you wouldn’t even listen to me… Look, what I’m trying to say is, if we don’t set the conditions for Lilly showing up when she’s supposed to, she could appear differently. Think about it: We know exactly how everything up until the raid will turn out, but if we do something like not kicking you and AJ out, Lilly would never find you and have a reason to attack when she did. We don’t know what’ll happen then, and we’ll be back to square one! Besides, all it really means is that you and me get to spend more time together in front of this here piano, doesn’t that sound nice?”

That does make sense, not only can we then take out Lilly during the raid, but also the rest of the Delta at the same time. And if we act quickly, whoever’s left on the boat can’t put up that much of a fight. Okay, we can do this! Clementine then realised that Louis must’ve had a long time to think all this through considered everything he’s explained throughout the day has made sense in the end. She wouldn’t do this just for AJ, but also for him as payment for giving her another chance. “Right! Are we ready?” She was getting excited thinking about getting to see AJ again, as soon as Louis gave the go ahead, Clem would find the boy as soon as possible and embrace him in the tightest of hugs and never let go.

“Yes ma’am! Alright so look into- Oh wait!” Forgetting something, Louis darted out of the room. With his mind pre-occupied with making sure she was fully informed, it was no surprise he would’ve forgotten something. She thought it must be pretty important if he ran off that quickly, but the item he held in his hands upon returning melted her heart.

It was her hat. Louis promptly fixed it to her hair, tucking loose strands of hair over her ears and behind the hat. “You uh… Still need to give this to AJ when we’re back to normal”.

“Oh Louis… thank you… so much,” the all too familiar sense of tears emerging settled in, as she embraced him in one last hug before they departed. Her heart was pounding, she had completely forgotten how much her hat meant to her and it belonged in her family. How could she have forgotten is so easily? She would add that to the mountain of debt the man was already owed.

“Come on Clem, let’s get this show on the road. Try and peak into that bottle-cap sized hole.”

Following his instructions, the brunette pressed her head onto the device and stared down into darkness. “I don’t see anythiiiing…?”

“Huh? Oh right, it’d help if I started the thing huh.” They were off to a great start.

Suddenly, she could make out shapes forming deep into the void, it was almost as if she wasn’t looking into a box at all. “Whoa…” A circular shape gathered her attention. It was a little jagged, and underneath stemmed the frame of a human body. But the circular head…? It quickly dawned on her that this was supposed to be AJ and his afro. “Louis! Louis I see him! What do I do? Do I concentrate now?” Her heart was racing, AJ was right in front of her, with just a little push she could be right next to him and-

“What? I don’t see anything!” But before long, the image of AJ had vanished and a jumbled mess of shapes, colours, and environments began tearing across her vision.

“Uh Louis? What’s going on?” He did mention he hadn’t travelled back past today… This was quickly becoming a recipe for disaster.

“Wait no no it’s fine! I can see the school hallways, oh wait they’re gone. Now they’re there again. But… clean? Uhhh oh fuck it. On the count of three, concentrate on whatever’s in front of you as hard as you can!”

I guess that’s as good as I’m gonna get… By this point the device was showing an array of cluttered rooms, people, weapons you name it. She only just started thinking that maybe a device with 2 eye windows was only meant for a single person’s use. This wasn’t going to be pretty, but they’ve come this far, no way was she chickening out now.

“Okay, okay, 3…” Louis started the countdown, he could no longer hide the panic in his voice.

“2…”

“…1,” With barely anything distinguishable, Clementine prepared to look for the first thing that caught her eye, be it a colour, a chair, a field, literally anything. Here we go…

“NOW!” Her eyes darted around the void, wildly searching the amalgamation of images for a clear view… Come on… There had to be something! Beginning to panic herself, she could hear Louis murmuring to himself, no doubt he was in the same position as she was. Wait, was that a bed? It could be one from the Ericson bedrooms, this was the best chance she was going to get. “Louis! Aim for a bed! I’ll see you on the other side!”

And with that, Clementine strained her eyes until they were sore, before a wave of nausea came over her and her vision cut to black. Louis never mentioned anything about what it physically felt like to time travel… Was it working?

Chapter Text

The image Clementine had chosen to step in to was originally a bed. A bed could mean many things or many places, but the ideal scenario would be to find herself under the covers of a thin – but nevertheless comfortable – greyish duvet and lifting her head to reveal the bedrooms of Ericson’s Boarding School For Troubled Youth. There she would find sleeping in the opposite bunk, the boy who she’s defying her own concept of reality to try and save. Then, she would meet up with Louis, prepare a new plan for the raider’s attack on the school, take out Lilly and ultimately save AJ. Despite the circumstances relying on some busted rusty machine, the plan was sound. The execution on the other hand was not.

The bed rapidly coming into view was lined in a navy-blue colour scheme all the way from the pillow to the footboard. It was becoming apparent that with only one eye, focusing on a single object was becoming increasingly difficult with the swarm of everything else the machine was throwing at her. The bed was becoming hazy, and Clementine knew this was her one and only shot at getting this right. She pressed her head against the corroded metal with enough force to create an instant indent around her eye. The image continued to deter, but by practically forcing herself inside the machine, the colour navy was soon enveloping her vision.

She hadn’t managed to achieve perfect results but getting away with any single feature from the target was better than nothing. Her entire world was blue, it felt possible to look around but at the same time she could feel her head remain stationary. In fact, she wasn’t sure if she could feel anything at all except for endlessly staring into the colour she willed into creation. Her nausea had completely faded and the sensation of floating soon had Clementine fearing if she made a mistake or if this was a routine experience for Louis or the caravan man.

It almost felt peaceful. There was not a sight or sound of danger as far as the eye can see, and if it weren’t for the constant anxiety of if she’ll even get out of here, she might’ve found the whole experience relaxing.

Minuscule white dots appeared around the brunette’s vision in a blur. On the belief that focusing on something new might help somehow, she pierced her gaze onto any blurred areas she could make out. This caused the dots to become more prominent across this navy landscape, and many heavily unfocused, but partially transparent, oval shaped sections of white were becoming clearer, but barely changed shape.

The larger of the bright objects began to move at a crawl all in the same direction as one another. Clementine felt a growing pain in her head as she watched her surrounding come to life, where she attempted to close her eyes only to be met with a pronounced case of tunnel vision. As she lost track of her peripherals, darkness was entering her eyesight. Just before it totally enveloped her, she was overcome with a sudden surge of speed. Her eyesight returned in a flash and before she knew it, she was brought to an abrupt stop and was staring into a night’s sky.

Is it over? Was Clementine’s first thought as she finally saw something recognisable. The clouds, the stars, the moon, they were all there. Sound returned to her ears, as the cracking of burning wood provided a calming ambience to wherever she was. Speaking of location, Clementine couldn’t help but notice the stars and moon were somewhat wobbling in the sky, and this was the catalyst for the nausea she originally felt to return in full force.

“Whoa Clem, are you doin’ okay there?” Clementine heard a rough, but also comforting voice in front of her. Her hearing hadn’t become crystal clear yet, but it was obvious to her that this was a familiar sound. Who was that? She dropped her head to face the source of the noise and discovered her vision too was not in great condition. The sudden movement caused the already wobbling stars to merge into what looked like the tops of trees with a substantial blur. Before she had any time to stop, Clementine felt extremely lightheaded with a sharp pain emerging from her stomach. Oh god…

“Oh my god, Clem!” A voice called out to her as the nauseous girl fell to her knees and fell forward only to be held upright by her stretched arms. Clementine instantly felt a burning sensation in her throat as the taste of vomit escaped her open jaws and onto the cold floor beneath her. She was clutching her stomach in pain; as much as the seasoned survivor she was, a certain degree of resilience for the disgusting sights she commonly witnessed had been gradually built up over the years, but she was not immune to her body not taking too well to the idea of time travel.

Holy fucking hell! Clementine thought in between heaves. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been genuinely sick, of course she inevitably ate some dodgy food in her travels, but they were instantly rejected by her digestive system and that was the end of it. Here however, her gut up to her throat was crying out in agony. I knew there would be side effects of using that thing, but none this painful! She winced as her breathing was disorderly. The cool clean air entering her lungs was highly refreshing compared to the stream of fire on the way out. It was as if she was being strangled from the inside by her own organs. How could she have possibly prepared for this? Louis looked dizzy from travelling back only a few minutes, and here she was going back half a decade…

She felt a hand rubbing her back as she was slowly losing consciousness. She couldn’t keep this up; by now, passing out sounded like a reward and it was one she was willing to accept. Trying to regain your five senses all at once was hard enough, let alone when your body can’t handle it. All her muscles that were fully functioning five minutes ago were forced to contract at a grind, and like a bicycle chain without oil, screeched in protest. Her entire body was being crushed down under its own weight. Before losing strength in the arm holding her up, another arm pressed against her chest, preventing her from falling into the putrid mess she had created that was still growing with no sign of stopping. “There there Clem, it’s alright, it’s alright…” were the only words she needed to hear before inviting the heavenly peace to take over.

***

“You know, you can’t really take watch if you’re not gonna watch anything.” Clementine delicately opened her eyes, trying her hardest not to regain awareness of her surroundings. She was frightened of the chances that looking around again might cause the same reaction, so opted to focus on the first thing that caught her eye. A fence only a few feet away towered over the girl, but it served as a perfect way to test her eyesight. Various danger signs were scattered across the railing, she was at the power station.

Strangely enough, all her senses seemed normal. She could make out every bit of iron the fence had to offer, the hand on her back had been replaced with a solid but cold structure, and she faintly heard someone make a joke next to her when waking up. That voice was instantly recognisable now she was fully aware, and it was the same who had come to her aid before passing out. Hesitantly moving her head again, Clementine already felt her eyes begin to water.

It was Kenny. And in his arms wrapped beneath a single blanket, was none other than AJ.

…She did it. The vomiting session was worth it; here he was in the flesh, Alvin Junior. Her son, her little Goofball, was alive and well. And, as an added bonus, so was the man she had once considered a father in all his bearded glory, Kenny, alongside a baby AJ, was sat next to her. They were there. Not getting mauled by walkers, not getting shot in the throat, they were just there. She couldn’t believe it…

“Don’t look at me like that darlin’, it wasn’t that funny,” Clementine found herself unintentionally gawking at the pair, still in utter disbelief that the broken metallic box had actually worked. Here she was, sat with her old family once again under a starry night.

It only just occurred to her that her legs were a lot shorter now than they were ten minutes ago. Wait… Her legs. Clementine was staring down at her left foot in perfect condition, complete with a black shoe and no crutches in sight.

Looking further only revealed the iconic blue jacket given to her by Bonnie and worn for around two years of her life. The leg, the jacket. Does this mean…? The brunette brought a hand to her face. It felt smaller than usual, her jawline and cheekbones felt more defined. There was no doubt about it, she was in the body of her 11-year-old self again. The realisation made her heart begin to thud at an increased pace.

Holy shit. That meant her conscience had successfully been transported back in time without creating another version of her. This was perfect. Sure, it sent her further back than she had hoped but as long as she had AJ again, nothing else really mattered.

“You’re actin’ a little strange even by your standards Clem. Then again, after watching you go through that shitshow of a performance I don’t blame you… You feelin’ better?” Kenny noticed how she was now all over herself, not being able to decide whether to look at her foot or feel her own face. For Clementine who always looked calm and collected, this was fairly out of character for her. She faced the man whose eye was locked onto hers, clearly worried about her wellbeing. It was the same look she’d received many times throughout their journey, and the sudden rush of memories of times they’d spent together broke her composure. The sensation of talking to your deceased family members was something Clementine relished in, but it also caused years of grief to resurface. She flung her arms around the man’s neck and buried herself in his beard.

“Kenny! You’re here, you’re alive! You’re-” Her voice was muffled beneath the hair and she had once again fallen into a fit of tears from the overwhelming emotion, “y-y-y-y-you’re really here… I can’t believe it…” but just as she was reminded of all the good times, they also served as a reminder for what she had lost, “Kenny… I-I-I’m so sorry, I hurt you th-th-then I lost him too… It’s all my fault! It’s all my fault… You trusted me but I couldn’t-” She felt nothing short of terrible. How could she possibly tell him AJ had died under her protection? He had trusted her with the job of protecting AJ in his dying breathes, and ultimately, she had failed. Clementine truly believed it was her fault, but deep down she was begging for forgiveness.

“There there darlin’, it was just a bad dream,” Kenny raised a hand from underneath Alvin and rested it on the back of Clementine’s head. He affectionally looked down at the crying girl, closed his eye and began rubbing her head, “I’m right here, there’s no need to worry, hey look at me,” Clem raised her head and saw all the love and care in his eye she had received for over a year of surviving together. “Me and AJ are alright, okay?” He raised AJ closer to her, the three now sharing each other’s embrace. “All of us are fine, nothin’ bad’s gonna happen. As long as we got each other, we’ll be fine Clem,” Clementine suddenly felt all the happiness of being with the two for so long rush back to her, but also the pain experienced when she caused both of their deaths. With the memories flooding back, she returned to his beard and cried her heart out, her whimpers no doubt loud enough to be heard by the group members sat around the fire. What a day it had been. Kenny gently patted her head, uttering a “Shhh” here and there, as Clementine eventually wore herself out and fell asleep.

***

It was still dark. Clementine awoke to a chilling breeze tickling her face, causing her to shiver. The rest of her body was warm though. Looking down, she was under the covers of a makeshift blanket. A dark green coat covered her from the neck down which had prevented the wind from disturbing her slumber. Her head leaned against something not as soft as a pillow, but also comfortable enough that she hadn’t any neck pains after waking up. She was facing in the direction of where she first ‘landed’, and behind the transformers shone stars that were now contrasting the pitch-black sky. They were ever so slightly wobbling again, but only enough to make her feel uneasy. Her body simply didn’t have the strength to cope with another barrage of bile.

“…Katjaa, Duck, Sarita, please forgive me…” Tilting her head almost upside-down revealed a jacketless Kenny whispering to himself. He’d given Clementine his coat while she slept, and now he was visibly shaking thanks to the lack of protection. His legs were stretched out to give room for her head to rest on his lap, a gesture she was grateful for but also made her concerned for how long she’d been asleep while he froze on the spot.

“…Kenny?”

“Huh? Oh hey Clem, thought you’d be out a little longer…” He seemed surprised to see her awake, but he was cut-off by a sneeze that caused AJ to cry. “I’m sorry little guy, I gotcha, I gotcha,” he cradled the baby in his arms to little effect.

“Kenny, your jacket… you didn’t have to…”

“Nah nah it’s fine. You looked so peaceful when you fell asleep it woulda been wrong of me to keep you in the cold lookin’ as pale as you were.” Wait, was she really looking that bad? The consequences of time travel had a much bigger impact than she ever anticipated, and she still wasn’t through it all. The uneasiness from earlier had settled into making her now feel constantly queasy, there was no way she was moving from this spot. Otherwise she’d be back to square one, and square one was not a fun experience to say the least. She gripped the collar of the coat and pulled it over her mouth.

“Kenny I don’t… I don’t feel too good…” She sounded like a helpless child, but in her situation, it could hardly be argued against. She may have hated sounding like or being treated like a kid, but right now she was truly scared of how fragile she was.

“I know darlin’. I know, and I’m sorry, but once the sun comes up you know we have to keep movin’. We’re low on supplies, and AJ here won’t make it if we don’t find that house soon.” The future hadn’t even crossed Clem’s mind… How was she ever going to walk across the frozen lake like this? She was a burden. Kenny had his work cut out for him this time around if he was going to be carrying a baby and dragging her along too.

She would have to make a plan, there were too many awful events about to happen. Luke… Arvo… Jane… She couldn’t go through all that again, especially in this condition. She might end up in the bottom of the lake with Luke, Arvo’s shot could be lethal, and she might not even make it to the rest stop through the upcoming blizzard. She had so many things to think about in such a short space of time, but right now she wasn’t interested in any of that. She’d figure everything out in the morning once she felt better and could think straight. With that in mind, she closed her eyes and tried to fall asleep, but was interrupted by a deep sigh.

“…Look, I’m sorry Clementine I shouldn’t have kept you out here. You should be by the fire and gettin’ warm, instead I was selfish and now we’re both freezin’…” She looked up at the man who was staring down at the snow. Kenny would always feel and look visibly guilty when he thought he made even the slightest mistake when it came to his loved ones. On the contrary though, hiding under the covers of his jacket led Clementine to be considerably warm despite being surrounded by the cold snow. She wasn’t sure if it was the jacket itself, or the leftover heat in her stomach from before. Of which, she could tell a new batch was simmering and was ready to be unleased at the slightest movement which most likely contributed to her warmth. The thought alone made her nervous.

“It’s just… you’re usually your own little leader. Normally, you take care of yourself just fine and don’t even need me… But when I look down on you now… I’m sorry, you just… You remind me of Duck is all.” Kenny proceeded to cover his eyes with a free hand. The man was still grieving the loss of Sarita which would’ve only been yesterday, and his family were always on his mind during times like this. That explains why and what he was whispering to himself before.

“I… I miss my boy. I miss him so much…” He was staring at the sky, almost as if his son was looking down on him. The first time the brunette had heard all this, she could only be sympathetic towards the lonely father. This time around however, sympathy turned to empathy. His words struck a chord deep inside that felt as if Kenny was speaking directly through her. She couldn’t have related more to him if she tried – they had both lost their sons through the actions of others but would ultimately come to blame themselves. She was all out of tears but looked up at the man with all the misery he was no doubt feeling.

“I didn’t raise him like I shoulda, made mistakes. Wasn’t there a whole lot for a couple years, off on a boat somewhere or other…” The context may have been different, but their situation was the same, only Clementine was given a second chance unlike Kenny. She greatly wanted to pitch in, to admit her mistakes with AJ, but figured it would be better to let him have this moment.

“I thought I enjoyed that time away from them... From my family… But I’d give anything for one more second with them. To play catch with Duck, to touch Katjaa’s face. Anything in the world.” Hearing the pain in his voice a second time only left Clementine feeling somewhat guilty: she too knows what it’s like to lose family, but she found herself being able to bring them back to life. She couldn’t say the same for Kenny, he would go on to hold this pain until the day he died and there was nothing he could do about it. Compared to a man whose death was to ensure their safety, Clem began to feel truly undeserving of the hope given to her. It could’ve been given to someone like Kenny, who she knew would never allow a psychopath like Lilly to run around doing as she pleased. The guilt found itself causing her to feel even more sick.

“…How do you do it…?” The words escaped her lips without her realising.

“Wha? How do I what sweetheart?”

“You lost everything… Your wife, your son, your best friend… How do you carry on? When… when he died, I was just… I was just lost. I couldn’t even bring myself out to eat…” It must’ve sounded like she was referring to Lee’s death, but in reality, it was AJ almost a day ago. “I’ve never felt so… so…”

“I know darlin’… It may seem like I’m always… always chasin’ yesterday, you know? But when you find yourself lookin’ back on everything, somethin’ always turns you back around.”

“What do you mean?”

“Clementine, listen, it’s hard and it’s always gon’ be hard. But that doesn’t mean you can just give up. Somewhere out there, folks are battered and bruised, folks you could be helpin’. You stick it out as long as you can… You help the folks you care about… And eventually you’ll find your feet again.” He gestured down to AJ. “I spent almost a year alone after Savannah, probably the worst part of my life… Sarita she… She gave me hope, took me under her wing, and now all thanks to her… Here I am lookin’ after this boy.” He turned towards the attentive girl and smiled, “And right now I’m lookin’ after you too.”

If her eyes weren’t as dry as a desert, she’d be on the verge of tears from Kenny’s story and advice. She only just learned what it was like to lose a child you hold so close to your heart, yet she found hope after a single day. Kenny on the other hand, spent a gruelling year all alone under the impression everyone he cared for was dead. Yet here he was, urging her not to give up. She had no right to. He’d endured however many times more suffering than her, and if he wasn’t willing to give up, neither was she. She opened her mouth to thank him but was abruptly stopped from doing so by the man she laid her head on.

“Oh… Clem you’re lookin’ even paler than before…” Kenny trailed off before sighing. “No, it ain’t right for you to be out here on watch with me. We need to get you by the fire.” The very thought of moving terrified her. She had to at least try convincing him she was fine, even if what he was saying was the best for her.

“Kenny, please… can I please just stay here with you? I’m… I’m… I’m scared, okay? I don’t wanna go,” she wasn’t too pleased to admit it, but it was the honest truth. All she wanted was to enjoy the company of her family without any worry, it could be such a nice night… but it would be asking for too much.

“Clem listen, I know bein’ under the weather ain’t very nice, but if you stay out in the cold you’re only gonna get worse. Hell, I didn’t even know you were sick until a little while ago. Come on, I’ll help you up.” Kenny positioned AJ close to him as he began pushing himself up. She just wanted to stay here resting on his lap, but she couldn’t argue that how she felt right now would only be doubled by the morning. There was no getting around this, the fire was only a short walk around the transformer, but it didn’t stop her from shaking in fear as her head now lay in the snow. Kenny placed an arm under her back so she could wrap an arm around his neck for support. “C’mon darlin’. Up’n’at ‘em.”

“Don’t let go…” Here goes nothing. How has she got to a point in her life where the idea of standing up scared her?

“I’ve gotchu Clem don’t worry, we’ll be on our feet on the count of three, okay? One, two, three!” Kenny pushed her back up straight where she was heavily leaning on him. Still not used to having a foot back or even walking for that matter, she used the supporting Kenny as she would a single crutch. As she was on her feet again, she could already feel the bile rising in her throat.

“Keep it down Clementine… It’s only a short walk… You can do this,” she repeated to herself for motivation. The pair took short steps because of Clem’s preference to hop on her right foot, and every time she put pressure on it her senses deteriorated.

After a few hops, she was already gasping for breaths. The world around her started to become fuzzy again as bits of railing, electrical conduits and even Jane stood off in the distance were blurring together. It was happening again. She would be put through the same sick-ridden torture. She couldn’t go any further; she had to stop.

“K…Kenny… I can’t…” She stumbled before finishing her sentence, throwing both of them off balance. She found herself losing grip of Kenny’s shoulders and slipped from his support, landing on both feet and hunched over with a hand on the nearby transformer.

“Whoa there Clem! You okay?” Was that Kenny? The sudden pressure she found at her feet caused a shockwave throughout her body. The urge to vomit rapidly returned as Clementine found herself gradually losing sense of her surroundings. Whoever called out to her was imperceptible. She felt cold. Her teeth were chattering but right before they would be flooded by various bodily fluids, she once again found herself lightheaded. Kenny… Help me please… Please help me… She attempted to cry out but found no words coming out of her mouth. Her heart was racing, it was about to happen again, and she was petrified. She begged for someone, anyone to help even though it would be all in vain. Losing all balance, she closed her eyes and tumbled to the ground. Had she even made it to the fire?

“Oh my god, Clem, not again!” …Who was… It had to be Kenny, but his voice was becoming ever more distant and she could only focus on the sound of her breaths. They too, were becoming thinner and thinner.

“Clem… come on! Clem! Clem!”

“…”

***

As it was, a dream was all she needed to cope with what was about to come. At least in her mind’s imagination, she wouldn’t be suffering from some ghastly illness and she could take some time to relax, even for just a second. Unfortunately for Clementine, the world wasn’t finished giving her a hard time. She had no indication to how much time had passed since her fall, but instead of finding a dream, she felt her eyes opening.

No, I never want to wake up again. As soon as I do it’s right back to… She had escaped the worst of it during round two, but she knew she would not get so lucky with round three. The thought of waking up to that again made her shudder and on instinct slammed her eyes shut again.

She could feel a warm material covering her, blocking any source of light from her skin. Not only that, but a soft and almost bouncy one underneath. Kenny could have given his coat away again, but that didn’t explain why the floor wasn’t rock solid. It almost felt like a bed, except as far as she was aware there weren’t any at the power station and there definitely wasn’t one at that half-built house.

A bed… That’s what she originally aimed for in the machine. Did that mean she had finally landed at the right location? She could still feel her left foot, so she must still be in her 11-year old body. If she were to turn up at Ericson’s like this, Louis’ reaction to her being so young would be priceless. Maybe if she were at Ericson’s she could go see what he was up to, after all, he most likely would be going through the same journey as her. In one sense he was lucky, from the start of the apocalypse he’d been living at the school, meaning if he was sent half a decade back too then at least he might have Ms Martin to take care of him. Clementine had… a fisherman and a baby. That couldn’t be called fair.

With the anticipation of her location now building, the troubled teen raised her arms and pulled her cocoon of a bed duvet from over her head. She was in total shock. Dead ahead was a normal bedroom light with a lamp shade designed with pink flowers on a white surface. To anyone else in the world, this would’ve looked like just any ordinary room ceiling. But to Clementine, she was staring at the lamp shade she had grown to love over many years of sleeping in her room. Of course, this could be one hell of a coincidence, but rotating her head to the left revealed a slightly opened windowpane uncovered by the partnering purple curtains. The wall was painted in a light pink colour scheme, and a wardrobe was planted parallel to the wall next to the bed’s headboard, blocking a view of the entire room. There was no mistaking it, she was lying in her house, in her room, in her own bed.

“…Kenny? …AJ?” she called out but gained no response. Using her elbows, she angled herself slightly higher than being lay down to get a better look of the room. She began to wish she didn’t. The movement ignited the sickly feeling to circulate her system. Oh fuck… She wasn’t out of the woods yet. Her heart violently thudded against her chest as the idea of round three was quickly becoming a potential reality. It wasn’t too bad though, it was roughly the same as when she was resting with Kenny, if she just took her time to adjust to the environment everything might go-

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a child crying outside. Her motherly instincts reacted immediately as she bolted up straight and called out for her son, “AJ?!”. This would prove to be Clementine’s biggest mistake of the day so far. The spike in movement – especially because it used the lower abdomen – inflamed her gut into a terrifying uproar. It was bound to happen eventually, but that didn’t stop the girl from mourning for herself. The heat was rising once again and there was nothing she could do to stop it…

But if she was in her own home, then the bathroom was right next door. That would be a more suitable place; feeling the bile reaching her throat, Clementine dashed out the bed and scurried along the floor, still not used to the concept of having two feet again. With no crutches in sight, she had no choice but to drop on her hands and proficient foot to make a desperate attempt of reaching the toilet. She felt a tremendous amount of weight slowing her down, but despite her body placing every possible hurdle in front of her, Clem reached the bathroom and promptly kneeled over the toilet. Here we go… Even her thoughts were shaky and sounded scared.

The next half an hour was grim to say the least. This time she didn’t have the pleasure of passing out like the last two rounds, instead she suffered through each and every heave until she was finally emptied-out. For some reason, this time felt even worse than before as it wasn’t necessarily more painful, she just felt the pain had corrupted a larger portion of her body. This left her heavily sweating, and a dire sense of dehydration overcame her, along with the strain given off from her organs and muscles. This was probably the most damage she’d ever endured in a short space of time; sowing up her own arm paled in comparison to three rounds of a body self-detonating. With one final heave, she prayed that was the last of it, and crawled to the sink to get cleaned up.

Where she only felt an unmatched weight dragging her down just before and during her vomiting sessions, the struggle was constant now and she was about to find out why. Lifting her head level with the mirror provided yet another surprise. Clementine looked at herself in the mirror. She was 17 again. Her hat was in almost perfect condition, and her foot showed no sign of being recently-chopped. She wore the exact set of clothes she had originally set out the day with (the jeans, shirt, white hoodie, blue jacket etc.), only when she marvelled at her new left foot, unlike the opposing side, it was completely bare, and her jeans were rolled up passed where AJ cut-off. The foot and leg were completely shaven, and her nails were pristine. She speculated whether her body had gone under some form of reset while time travelling. Not only that, but it was the same with her hat. The rest of her clothes showed signs of age with the faded designs and scratches, but her hat didn’t have a mark on it bar one. The only sign of its nine years of history… was Lee’s blood.

What the fuck is going on… She wondered, curious as to how she first wound up in her 11-year old body, but now she was back in her ‘original’ self without the major injury. She investigated the rest of her body. The dog-bite scar still stretched itself across her left arm, and just above that the New Frontier brand showed the deep trenches it had formed in her skin. She wasn’t exactly pleased to see it again, but she considered her new/old foot as a physical reward for her efforts today.

Still, she felt as if she was missing something. She hadn’t yet identified when she had awoken to, but apart from the cruel amounts of pain she was - and still is - in, everything seemed normal. Even though things were finally looking up, she couldn’t shake this unsettling feeling she got from just being back home.

That was enough dilly-dallying, she had work to do. First find a new sock and shoe for her bare foot, then identify the source of the crying she heard earlier. A weapon would also be preferable, but there was a high possibility the house was already ransacked. Clementine was so caught up in the excitement of time travel that the thought of protecting herself didn’t even come to mind. If they ended up at Ericson’s this wouldn’t have been an issue.

Fumbling around her pockets to see if she’d accidently brought anything, her fingers landed on a cold metal in the back of her jeans. Breathing a sigh of relief, Clem pulled the object into daylight. The relief turned to sorrow, as she pulled out the pistol she had used to shoot AJ. Of course that was the only thing to come back with her. She couldn’t tell if this was lucky or if it was another way of the world tormenting her. Checking the ammo revealed it was fully loaded except for one missing bullet. Despite the emotional baggage that came with the gun, a weapon was a weapon, and one she wasn’t willing to waste. She returned it back to her jeans and wetting a nearby wash cloth under the sink to wipe away a combination of sick, dirt and specks of AJ’s blood still lingering on her face.

She used the sink as normal without a second thought, but it only dawned on her now that this was the first time she’d seen running water from a faucet for almost a decade – minus once or twice with her time in the New Frontier. Her barren throat cried out for refreshment at the sight, and soon enough, she tilted her head under the metal as cold water cleaned her gums and soothed her aching throat. It was heavenly. Today was probably the final day fresh water ran through Atlanta, so in case she needed any on the go, Clem filled a nearby empty water bottle to the top and stashed it away for safe keeping in an inside pocket of her jacket.

Going in a mess and coming out in style, by clutching strongly to her stomach, she attempted to walk with both feet into the hallway. Needless to say, this was going to take some adjustment, but wasting no time she set her sights on her parents’ room. She had doubled in age the last time she was here, there wasn’t a chance in hell of finding any kind of clothing that would fit from her wardrobe, so her parents attire would have to do. It was only a sock and shoe after all.

Twisting the doorknob to her parent’s room hit her with a wave of nostalgia. All the times she would sit on her mother’s lap eating pancakes on a Saturday morning… Those were some of the best moments of her pre-apocalyptic life and she couldn’t help but faintly smile at the memories. Poor Mom and Dad… By now they’ve probably turned and wandering the streets of Savannah, maybe I can find out how it happened this time… Her parent’s death was something that hit extremely hard at the time of discovery, but even after she had soon accepted their fate, it left a permanent element of sadness engraved into her mind as the pile of deaths only continued to stack over the years.

Fiddling around with the wardrobe, Clementine exited the room with a clean new pair of black socks and an old black running shoe. All of the boots her mother owned weren’t quite Clementine’s size, and this was the next best option. She sure as hell wasn’t going to abandon her trusty right boot just to make it look a matching pair, it was strong and reliable and if it weren’t for that psycho bitch with the axe, the left footed boot of the pair would’ve kept that walker bite out tidily. Though she had to admit, getting used to walking again was made an even more difficult task with an odd pair of shoes to work with.

The next plan of action was to identify who was crying. She figured it also wouldn’t hurt to scavenge the place for a melee weapon to reduce noise as much as possible, so she would have to make a sweep of the garage in the hope it hadn’t been touched. The first obstacle in the way of those objectives however, were stairs. Stairs that also had a bookshelf fallen near the bottom. In a way, she was grateful her stomach was recently cleaned out. It was only temporary, but at least it would give her enough time to tackle these stairs without too much trouble. Ascension only brought the worst out back at the power station, so she had no idea if descension would be any more forgiving.

Walking a few laps of the upstairs landing for balance practise with her new foot, Clementine approached each step with extreme patience. She was becoming a little dizzy at most, but pushing her luck by upping her pace wasn’t the smartest option. This was at least manageable, and when she reached the bookshelf, she lifted it to the side and slipped by before it fell back down. Having her feet back on the ground floor felt like a proud accomplishment; she was expecting that to go horribly considering her recent track record. Okay! Now, where was I?

Truth be told, she did not and wasn’t going to remember exactly how each day/activity played out. She was only eight years old after all, and back then she was more focused on hiding than watching Lee. She would get need to be prepared, then figure out some sort of plan.

Not knowing when danger could strike, she rummaged around the garage and found a brand-new looking screwdriver for her arsenal. Feeling satisfied with her discovery, she headed back into the main room to find whoever was crying. Nearing the television with ‘No Signal’ plastered over a blue background, Clementine’s attention was brought to the answering machine, which displayed a total of three new messages. Curious, she pressed play.

“Message 1. Left at… 5:43pm.”

“Hey Sandra-”

Mom… It had been so long since she heard that voice but she recognised it instantly. She hadn’t had the chance to use the answering machine the first time, and this only made her more intrigued. She might finally find clues as to what happened.

“-this is Diana we’re still in Savannah. Uh Ed had a little incident with some crazy guy near the hotel so we had to get him back to the ER and have it checked out… Anyway, he’s not feeling well enough to drive back tonight so we’re staying an extra day. Thanks so much for looking after Clementine and I promise we’ll be back in time for your spring break!”

Dad had an ‘accident’ and wasn’t feeling well? Oh… Clementine was well acquainted with the apocalypse by now that she knew this means Ed was bitten. Hearing the news so many years later didn’t make it any better, but she was somewhat glad this mystery that remained unanswered to her was finally solved.

“Message 2. Left at… 11:19pm.”

“Oh my god finally! I don’t know if you tried to reach us but all the calls are getting dropped. They’re not letting us leave and aren’t telling us anything about Atlanta. Please, please, just… leave the city and take Clementine with you back to Marietta, I’ve-I’ve got to get back to the hospital… Please let me know that you’re safe.”

They were trapped in Savannah? With all the chaos going on she was still worried about me…

“Message 3. Left at… 6:51am.”

“Clementine baby? If you can hear this… call the police,” Could she hear the moaning of walkers in the background? She figured this must’ve been recorded moments before they died, “that’s 9-1-1. We love you… We love you…… We love you-” the message ended with a beep, and the answering machine’s number display faded.

Clementine stood staring at a family picture. She knew they couldn’t be saved, but she felt obligated to mourn her parent’s death a second time now that she knew the details. Scared and alone, her mother’s sole focus was the brunette’s safety. Calling the police would’ve been futile at the time, but her mother’s final words on the brink of death only brought a tear to her eye.

“…I’m sorry…” She muttered under a heavy sigh.

The last place in the house she hadn’t yet checked was the kitchen, so if anyone was crying it had to be in there. A vast red stain covering the kitchen’s tiles lay between the wall and opposing countertop, and without achieving perfect balance on her new foot, Clementine slipped and tumbled to the ground with a thud. Just as quickly as she’d cleaned herself up, her clothes were now covered on the right side. She had closed her eyes during the fall, but once opening them to the slightly blurred image of her kitchen did a sinister rumble emerge from her stomach. She bolted up straight and rubbed her eyes out of pure fear. Thankfully, her razor fast reactions prevented any further… inconveniences. No. She would not end up in the bathroom again, at least not so soon.

Much to her confusion, looking through the kitchen revealed that no-one was hiding inside. If the crying hadn’t come from here than where else could it have? She asked herself, now finding herself digging through every drawer in case other scavengers had missed anything. Nothing – nothing – junk – rotten cookies – and… a walkie talkie?

Ah. This must’ve been the one Lee found originally. But there was only one of them, and her parents always bought them in pairs, never singularly. In that case, who had the other one? She couldn’t have lost- Oh no. A horrifying revelation suddenly dawned upon her. She knew she was missing something. Making her way over to the window, her suspicions were correct.

Peeking through the door of the treehouse was a young girl with a purple and white baseball cap. No wonder she could hear crying from the bedroom but nowhere else – the treehouse was on the same level as and was in direct view of the bedroom’s window. The figure immediately retreated back into the wooden structure upon being noticed, but the short glimpse Clementine got of the girl sent the same shiver down her spine as when she first heard Louis’ words, of which were now repeating in her head.

“We’ll have to kill our other selves.”

Chapter Text

They had both agreed to it. If the plan took a turn for the worse, one of the consequences would be the machine sending their entire bodies back in time instead of just their conscience, therefore creating two versions of themselves. Keeping them around was said to bring great danger, and the only way to safely carry on would be for only one version to exist at a time. That’s what she was told. Clementine had every faith in Louis, and doing so had already brought her this far, but even he wanted to avoid this scenario at all costs.

Clementine was stood before the sliding doors to her backyard. Outside these glass doors lay her greatest time travel-related challenge thus far. Her eyes were glued to the treehouse, the overlapping leaves and branches blocked the afternoon sun, leaving the wooden structure in a shadow. Inside was a lonely, scared little girl of whom shared the same name as her. The girl was innocent, she hid in the safety of her treehouse purely out of fear and the simple desire for wanted her parents to come home. She knew what happened to her babysitter, her parents had unintentionally abandoned her, and now for the sole reason of existing in this very moment would she end up with a bullet in her head.

Guilt began creeping into the back of her mind because of what she needed to do. She trusted Louis with her life, he was the last person Clementine was fully comfortable with back at Ericson’s, and now she had to put her full trust in him if she would go through with this. He specifically mentioned this effect for a reason, and Clementine knew him well enough to know that Louis would’ve never had the courage to talk about a sensitive topic like this if he thought she wasn’t outright committed to saving AJ. But killing an innocent version of yourself just for a second chance… how far was she really willing to go?

*To the ends of the Earth* was her initial reaction. Without her, AJ would only grow up again to be shot by that bastard in the woods. Clementine remembered the mirror demonstration Louis gave her before making the jump. The person in the treehouse was *herself*. That scared and lonely little girl would only grow up to experience the exact same pains over the years and ultimately, end up as a broken shell of her old self with almost nothing left to live for. This was going to be an extremely disturbing incident, one that may haunt her for the rest of her life in this new timeline, but she owed it to her son to amend her mistakes. She would do this for herself, to atone for her sins. She would do this for Louis, who has the confidence and belief in her even in such a depressive state. And finally, she would to this for AJ, of whom her actions had robbed the boy of a better life.

She closed her eyes. “Come on Clementine, you can do this. It’ll be over before you know it, AJ’s counting on you…” She would often be found talking to herself when alone, but it did help her to focus on the task at hand or work up some confidence. Killing her younger self would officially set her on the path to redemption. It would be a slow journey, but if she were to be convinced that she’ll from now on dedicate her life to protecting AJ, this is how she would do it. This must be done.

Sliding the glass door open, Clementine practised her walking again as she approached the treehouse. She had completely forgotten that on the day of the outbreak, she pulled the ladder up to the structure’s base platform for protection, allowing her to freely choose when to go down, but preventing anything from coming up. Ironically, her intellect was now working against her. The ladder needed to be back in place, and there was only one person who could do that. Here goes nothing…

“Hello?” Clementine questioned in a half-hushed voice. This was going to be hard enough, let alone with any walkers crashing into the garden fence. There was no response from the treehouse, but she didn’t want to start shouting in case it frightened the poor girl. With no other options, Clementine decided being indirect wasn’t going to get anywhere.

“Clem… Clementine? Are you up there?” The brunette was uncomfortable using her own name like this, but she never thought the years of talking to herself would one-day come in handy, the only difference being she would actually receive a response this time. Being direct had worked, as a quiet gasp could be heard a few seconds before the girl poked her head through the doorway. The girl looked somewhat excited, but upon scanning her other self her wide expression soon turned into one of confusion.

“You’re not my mom…”

“Uh… No… I’m not…” Clementine knew already that this was going to be one awkward conversation, but alas, she was a pro at making things up on the spot. Even if she had planned out how the conversion could go, making a convincing story would have been difficult in itself. Improvising seemed like the best approach.

“Um… How do you know my name? Do I know you?”

*Shit, maybe I should’ve at least thought of something beforehand, how the hell would I know her name? Think Clementine, think! Anything, it could literally be anything… What did I do when I was a kid?*

“Huh? Oh, well… I uh, I… used to go to the same school as you. I’ve had to pick up my son-little brother AJ a few times and chatted with his teacher Miss…” Shit, what teachers did I have?! Come on… Clementine quickly glanced around the garden looking for any kind of inspiration. The leaves… Miss Moore taught her leaf rubbings back in school! That would have to do. “…Miss Moore who talks about the other students now and then. She’s mentioned you a few times after showing me some leaf rubbings, mentioned you were a natural.” That covered everything the young girl asked, but didn’t explain why she was here, hopefully the younger Clementine wouldn’t catch on.

A faint smile appeared over the girl’s face which probably meant the story was believable enough. She stumbled over her own words a bit but in the end produced something she could work around. This was as good of a start she could have hoped for, now all she had to do was keep it up until the time was right.

“Ohhh okay, sorry but I don’t know you. Do you want to come hide in my-” the younger Clementine paused, had she realised something? The older Clem felt butterfly’s in her stomach. It was a welcome change of pace from being nauseous, but she couldn’t help feeling nervous that her cover was blown. She crossed her fingers as she was being analysed by the younger girl. A few seconds later, the child’s face lit up. “Hey that’s my hat! You’ve got the same hat as me! Did your dad give you one too?”

Phew. This was exactly the luck she needed.

“Yep! Gave it to me a few years ago as a souvenir, been wearing it ever since. How about you?”

“My dad’s letting me wear it for a while. Mom and dad are on vacation right now so I’m keeping it safe until they come back! Hey, do you want to come in the treehouse with me? It’s not safe down there.”

The treehouse wasn’t the most ideal place, but with no other options available, Clementine agreed, and the ladder dropped down to the two wooden planks nailed into the tree. By using the planks, she would be able to easily get a grip of the ladder and climb for the first time since losing her leg, not that it was a problem now.

What was a problem, was that as she lifted herself onto the flimsy ladder, she was no longer being supported by the ground. She took a glance down, only to find herself succumbing to a familiar sense of falling she had experienced when using the time machine. It only occurred to her now that she might have rushed into this without thinking and should’ve been more patient as she had done with the stairs. Her body hadn’t been responding to quick changes in gravity smoothly after all, and now she found herself dangling in the air. The subtle swaying of the ladder caused the brunette to feel lightheaded, as a faint blur covered her vision of the grass below.

No wait… Not again so soon… It hurts already, argh fuck it burns so much I… Oh what have I done? I can’t see the… grass… I’m out of breath already, holy shit… Strength in her arms gripping to the handlebars was beginning to fade and once again was a hellish recipe beginning to brew from inside. A rumble much fiercer than earlier erupted from her stomach, and this brought Clementine back to her senses at the realisation of what was about to happen.

“Um… are you okay down there?” A squeaky voice called out to her from the platform. The honest answer was that she most certainly was not okay and was about to be a whole lot less if she remained on the ladder any longer. Her stomach was burning, and the wildfire was quickly spreading through her digestive system. There wasn’t any time left to hang around, she needed her feet on a floor right now. Strength returned to her arms in a flash as she rapidly ascended to the treehouse. If she was fast enough, there was a slim chance her body’s onslaught could be contained. Up! Up! Up!

“Woah!” Clementine tumbled onto the small wooden platform supporting the treehouse where her younger version wasn’t expecting an arrival with such careless speed. Without a single thought about the little girl, Clementine darted inside the wooden box and pressed her back against the opposing wall. She could feel the bile edging at her throat, sending her heart beating in a frenzy. “Come on keep it down, just keep it down!” She muttered to herself between rapid shallow breathes. There was a small window to her left, but the last thing she wanted was to use it for disposal purposes.

Her other version creeped inside the treehouse but immediately wished she hadn’t. “Oh my gosh, you look really bad, are you okay?” Clementine ignored the question, instead focusing all her attention on the more pressing concern. Unfortunately, waiting alone wasn’t doing any good, and keeping the sick inside only added fuel to the fire, forcing a pained expression to her face. She shut her eyes and desperately thought to herself, Why can’t you just stay the fuck down?! Jesus Christ this hurts so much… What the hell is happening to me? Please just stop, I can’t take it anymore… Kenny… AJ… please help me! Of course, no-one would be able to help other than herself. This was the fourth time in one day; Clementine was at her wits’ end. Only then did she remember she somewhat prepared for this when scavenging the house. The water!

Clementine’s hand almost ripped her jacket as it reached the inside pocket for the water bottle she’d packed. She unscrewed the lid so quickly it flew across the treehouse as the now very-troubled teen gulped down half the bottle with no hesitation. She wasn’t sure if it was going to help even in the slightest, but trying anything was better than the alternative.

“Oh… are you really sick? I don’t have any medicine or anything… Um…” Looking across the treehouse revealed the alternate Clementine staring at her feet in between taking tiny glances from her radio and her older self.

Goddamnit… She still needed to somehow kill the younger girl, and she already felt like shit. Luckily, the water pushed some of the bile back down and had a somewhat soothing effect, one enough to make the raging fire retreat into the pit of hell known as her volatile stomach. It was by all means still there, eager to be released, but this gave Clementine the break needed in order to deal with the more drastic concern sat before her.

“It’s fine… Really, just pass me the bottle cap please,” her reply sounded as if she was being strangled, but she couldn’t waste all the water in one go - there was a high chance this was going to happen again soon enough. The cap was returned to her, and the bottle returned to its safe haven inside the jacket pocket. She survived. Granted, it was probably only delaying the inevitable, but just knowing it could be stopped brought her a small sense of accomplishment. Taking a deep breath, the stress had brought a minor tiredness to take over. Sleep sounded oh so very refreshing right now, but she still had a job to do.

Just go and get this done already, you can rest later. It’ll be over before you know it. It was all well and good thinking it’ll be easy, but how was she going to do it? Just pull the gun out and shoot like some cold-blooded killer? That’s what she should do for the least amount of trouble. It wouldn’t be the first time she’s pulled the trigger without even getting to know the person, but this wasn’t just anyone, this was just a kid. Before she could further contemplate the morals behind shooting your child-like self, a quiet voice questioned her.

“Um… What’s your name?”

“Huh? My name?”

“Yeah… I invited you up here, but I forgot to ask you before, do you mind telling me?”

Well, saying ‘Clementine’ sure as hell wasn’t going to go down well. Just pick a name. Any name. It won’t matter in a few minutes.

“Oh, well… it’s uhh… V-Violet.” That was the first girl’s name that came to mind and it would have to do.

“Violet… That’s a pretty name,” Clementine received a warm smile, the younger girl probably thought she was about to make a friend. How painfully wrong she would be. “Um, Violet? Do you mind me asking if-” the squeaky voice was drowned out by a thundering set of crashing sounds that couldn’t have come from very far away. “Eeek! What was that?”

Crashing in the woods? At this time on this day, that could only have been the car wreck from the first time she saw Lee. In an hour or two, he’d be here and Clementine was still stuck with not knowing how to kill off her other self. A spark of inspiration hit her. Originally, she had climbed down the treehouse and hopped over the fence to see the wreckage. That meant the young girl next to her would be thinking about making a move sooner or later. This could be taken advantage of. The brunette reached into her back pocket and placed a hand over AJ’s pistol, this was the opportunity she would have to take.

“Hey Clem? That sounded really bad outside, could you take a peek out the door and have a look? It might be monsters.” There was no way she was pulling a gun on a child while their eyes were staring into her own. Not again, not so soon after what she had to do to AJ…

“I know… I don’t want any more to show up. They’re so scary…” The girl’s voice became distant as she pushed the door open. With her focus now set on the forest behind the garden fence, the girl payed no attention to the gun being drawn to her head. Clementine’s arms were shaky, the gun rattling in her hand. This was the second child she would be executing in the span of two short days…

It has to be done. There’s no Louis this time, it’s all on you. Come on Clementine, just pull that trigger, and it’ll all be over.

“I think I can see a car, and there’s a policeman! Hey Violet, should we-”

“I’m sorry…” She looked away from the girl and closed her eyes. The metal framing produced unnerving clicks in her unsteady hand, why wasn’t she pulling the trigger? What are you doing Clementine? You can’t hesitate. Not now. You need to be strong, for AJ!

Bang!

The girl began turning back around but was only met with a bullet through her left temple. The inner walls of the treehouse were now painted in a fresh coat of blood as the body slumped before the doorway. A hammer and walkie-talkie bounced from the falling body to Clementine’s feet. Lettings her arms weakly fall to her sides, she tilted her head up to the roof and after a small peak at the body, re-closed her eyes. It’s over… You did it.

Lee would soon appear but worrying about that could wait. Clementine could only feel relieved about what she had accomplished. It was a gruesome task, but she pulled through. The fatigue growing from a few minutes ago was spreading through the relief, becoming far more concentrated than it had previously been, and Clementine felt herself slowly drifting to sleep as a single sentence played through her mind on a loop. You did it... You did it… You did it…

***

The crackling of firewood flowed through the air. Clementine hadn’t felt her eyes open but was looking into the flames of a small campfire on an angle. It was so calming, but where was she? Behind the flames revealed a man wearing a washed-out orange shirt and a woman with ginger hair in front of a tall grey structure. Luke and Bonnie… She was back at the power station again. The two weren’t talking, and on closer inspection Clementine realised they were both fast asleep. The only sound in the area came from the fire; no-one was talking, there was no wildlife, all that could be heard was the relaxing snapping of wood under a gentle breeze.

Bringing her attention back to herself, she wondered what her head was resting on. Looking down towards someone’s lap, she shifted her gaze skyward to find Kenny sleeping soundly with a baby AJ cradled in his arms. It was then she noticed his jacket covering her, meaning once again she was cuddled up beside him, only this time he wasn’t shivering thanks to the warmth given from the fire. All of this combined made the world around her seem so peaceful, it was almost as if she hadn’t just ended the life of an innocent girl only minutes ago. When she pointed the gun at the child, she was worried that she didn’t have the strength to pull the trigger, and that she would throw away the life-changing chance given to her because of a few seconds of hesitation. Here in this moment however, she had no worries. The jacket and fire provided a comforting heat that eased her muscles from the remnants of tension clinging on from her time in treehouse, and for the first time in what felt like years, Clementine felt relaxed.

She closed her eyes and soaked in the scene around her. This is exactly what she was begging for – a moment of peace to clear her mind, to forget the horrors that plagued her presence. The combined warmth of the jacket and fire, the support from Kenny’s lap, and just being with her family again was all she could ever have hoped for. And to top it all off, the intense nausea tormenting her all day had vanished. Finally she had caught a break. It wouldn’t last long, but Clementine basked in the moment of peace.

I feel normal again… Wow… No burning, no headaches, it’s so nice… Just lying here with Kenny and AJ, feeling normal. A tear was brought to her eye as she marvelled at this perfect world. Being conscious in a time without all the pain and suffering was overwhelming, especially just after the events that occurred in the treehouse.

“…”

She didn’t speak a word, and for a short while, not a thought crossed her mind. She was fully immersed in the dream; it was so good that it was best experienced there and then. No plans or actions, just living in it to the fullest.

“…”

Eventually feeling curious, she began to wonder if she had travelled through time again or if it was simply a dream. Checking beneath the cover of the green jacket unveiled her current outfit, and her body was most definitely not the size of an eleven-year old’s. Ah. If Clementine was ever grateful for one skill she’d accidently learned over the years it was the ability to lucid dream on a fairly regular basis. A dream meant she wasn’t thrown into another complicated scenario, which itself provided an additional sense of calmness.

With no one to disturb, her eyelids dropped as she endlessly gazed upon the flourishing red flames. Tranquillity tugged at the corners of her lips, as she continued to enjoy every last second this dream had to offer. Her weary eyes took one last glance up at the pair next to her. Seeing Kenny and AJ so innocent like this warmed her heart, and despite everything she had gone through today, Clementine was happy.

She cuddled closer to the pair before letting her eyelids completely enclose her vision. She allowed herself to enjoy the warmth for as long as she could, and after a long minute passed, she soon found herself falling into a quiet slumber. A final thought ran through her mind, feeling so grateful for this chance to rest at ease. Thank you…

“…”

“…”

“…”

***

Her dream-like state had translated a broad smile over to her real figure, as even opening her eyes to the bloodied treehouse couldn’t erase the immense sense of peace still lingering from the power station. Clementine awoke in the same position she had in front of the fire only without Kenny’s leg keeping her neck up. Her eyes landed on the walkie-talkie; it was emitting a deep voice through the static radio noise.

“Hello, is anyone there?” It was Lee! The brunette scrambled for the device as she sounded eager in her response.

“Yes! Where are you?” Her dream had left her in a positive mood, so she couldn’t help but feel excited at the chance of meeting her old guardian again. Picking up the nearby hammer, she made her way over to the treehouse entrance.

“I’m in the kitchen looking out the window. Can you see me at all?”

Pushing the small corpse blocking her path to the side, she muttered a quick, “I’m sorry,” before crawling out into the late afternoon sunlight now unblocked by the tree. Visibility through the glass was poor due to the reflecting sunlight, but there he was dressed in his traditional blue shirt, with one side covered in the blood she too had fallen in. Huh.

“I’m up in the treehouse, see?” She gave Lee a wave before noticing just how high off the ground she currently was. She wouldn’t be able to stay up here for very long. As if right on cue, Clementine noticed movement coming from the sliding doors. Lee was still at the window, so that must mean… It was Sandra. How the fuck did she get there? I checked almost every inch of the house before coming up here! As the walkerfied Sandra lunged for the unaware man, Clementine slammed in the walkie-talkie input button with her thumb. “Lee, behind you!”

“What? OH SHI-” his voice cut out; she could see Sandra’s arms flailing around the kitchen in an attempt to grab Lee. She needed to get down there. He only survived the first time because she arrived hammer in hand for him to use, so that’s exactly what she would do again. Only this time provided an extra challenge.

Taking her first step down the ladder, reality completely broke Clementine apart from any dream-like state she was still under the influence of, as she was quickly made aware that she was carrying a full tank of less-than-savoury fluids from earlier. Where she would usually be afraid of this now common sensation, it only left her frustrated. Will you just fuck off for five minutes?! She needed to reach the house and save Lee. No matter how painful this is becoming and will come to be, nothing would stop her. Slamming her eyes shut to ignore the fast changes in vision her body wasn’t accustomed to, she rapidly descended the ladder and upon feeling no steps below, jumped to the ground.

OOF. A tremble from the floor rocketed upwards through her. That might not have been the best idea, her body could barely handle a ladder and now she was attempting to fall from height. The tremble caused a reaction as the crammed pit of hell from inside was beginning to open again. No, I’ve got to reach Lee before… A burning gas emerged from her throat, interrupted her thoughts. Whatever was brewing wasn’t going to take ‘No’ for an answer this time, forcing Clementine to her feet as she dashed up the patio stairs and opened the sliding doors.

Sandra was all over him as Lee desperately tried kicking the walker away to no avail. Holding her up by the shoulders, Lee was gradually losing the battle as the walker moved in for the neck, but not before Clementine dropped the hammer next to the man in danger. “Use this!” There was no way she had the strength to fight a walker right now, and it was taking all her willpower to make sure Lee would be safe instead of releasing her inner demons to the floorboards.

Lee hastily grabbed the handle and proceeded to fling the hammer into the walker’s skull. It fell to the side and just like before, Lee gave Sandra a brutal beatdown. “AH! HU! ARGH!” And with the fourth and final blow, he let out a fierce roar. Sandra’s skull was in pieces, and the dark crimson blood was leaking onto the carpet.

Lee didn’t even get the chance to introduce himself before Clementine had to take care of the next order of business. She tensed her entire body to slow down the process, but without any more threats, she could ‘relax’. The train of fire was swiftly making its way through her system. Yep, no amount of water was going to hold this back.

“You’re safe? Wonderful, now if you’ll excuse me-” it felt like someone suddenly sent a fist straight into her gut causing her to flinch, before continuing “-for just one moment…” And with that, she could no longer hold it in. She held onto the right-hand frame of the door and kneeled behind the wall so Lee didn’t have to witness this monstrosity. Here it comes…

“Holy shit Miss… are-are you alright?” Lee walked outside to see a teenage girl barely able to hold herself up as rounds of vomit clashed against the wooden floor. “Goddamn…”

This was the last way she wanted her reunion with Lee to go. She wanted to jump into his arms, this wasn’t the fictional character she had created in her dreams, this was the real Lee. She had longed for this day to come, but now that is was finally here, it couldn’t have come under worse circumstances. Clementine was starting to get used to this sick-fuelled routine but that didn’t make it any less painful.

“Miss, are you on some meds I can get you ‘cus this is-”

“Heh. No meds are gonna be able to fix this,” she replied between a heavy heave. Each one was starting to violently sting, that couldn’t be a good sign. She looked up at the man who was giving her a look of total horror and tried to give him the faintest of smiles. Turning back down to her mess, her eyes widened at the sight of vomit mixed with hints of blood. Holy shit… This is bad, that hasn’t happened before, she managed to think to herself shortly before her organs tightened and it was back to another heave.

She carried on for another few minutes, Lee stood off a foot away from her awkwardly. This was one hell of an introduction to a stranger, especially one that saved you. In his defence, there was absolutely nothing he could do apart from wait around until she was finished. The brunette heard over her shoulder, “I’ll uh… find you some water. You need it more than I do,” before hearing footsteps re-entering the house. While he was out of sight, Clementine had (hopefully) cleared out her system and fell back onto the door frame taking deep breaths. Looking back to the pile revealed that a higher volume of blood was appearing through each heave, it was only a few specks at first, but they had grown in size enough to make her even more concerned about her health. As far as she was aware, she was sent back in time twice so the damage she originally sustained at the power station could have at least doubled by now. It was safe to say she urgently needed rest, but this only frightened her as the only time she could find any was at the motel, which was over a full day away. And she needed to go through the drug store drama first…

I’m so fucked.

Lee returned with a cup in hand, filled to the brim with cold water. Handing it over, Clementine weakly thanked him before downing it in one go.

“Are you uh… are you good now?” Clementine looked up towards the man towering over her. He was just as she remembered, he was looking down upon her with compassion marking every corner of his face, a look she had often received under his care but now she was getting it as a complete stranger.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m… I’m good, thanks for the water you have no idea how much it helps.”

“After chocking up all of that, I think I have a pretty good idea. So what’s your name?”

“I’m Clementine, this wa-is my home,” saying she didn’t live here wouldn’t have made much sense, she would probably have to tell a couple lies so she didn’t sound crazy.

“Hi Clementine, I’m Lee. Wait…” he looked down to the walkie-talkie seeping through her jean’s pocket. “When that thing attacked me, you called out my name. Do you know me?” And there was another person asking if she knew them. Clementine made a mental note to be more careful of that. But what story could she give this time? Maybe playing it off would work… This was Lee she was talking about though; he would see through a lie like that without any trouble. In fact, anything she said wouldn’t sound convincing, it might have done to an 8-year old who places their trust in others far too easily but not to a genius like him. Her mind going blank, Clementine just stared back with a bewildered expression. Silence is always a valid option. A few moments of silence passed, before Lee decided to drop the matter.

“Okay then… So Clementine, why were you hiding in that treehouse up there? Is that blood?”

“Um… Well you’ve seen this mess beside me, I must’ve coughed some up getting up there.” Luckily the child-murder was mostly inside the wooden structure, but a few sprays had found themselves stuck outside the doorway.

“Oh my god…”

“Yeah, I’ve had a rough day.”

“That’s not up for debate. Have you been hiding out here all alone? Should we go looking for your parents?”

With a heavy sigh, Clementine got straight to the point. “…They’re dead.” There was no point in hiding the fact, he would be better off knowing right there and then. Originally, Lee was the one to discover her parent’s demise through the answering machine but now she might as well give him the blunt truth.

“Fuckin’ hell… I’m sorry Clementine. Um, sorry to ask, but did those things get them…?”

“It’s fine Lee, really,” she had already accepted the reality for over 8 years, any normal person would have seemed a lot more depressed than she was acting right now. Her voice sounded too casual despite being more or less emotionless. “They went on vacation to Savannah. My Dad got bit, turned, and I assume he and some other walkers got my Mom. Now they’ll wander the streets of Savannah. Forever.”

“Oh my god, I am so sorry Clementine… that’s…”

“It’s… It’s fine. This is just what happens sometimes.” She repeated the same words she told AJ on her what-should-have-been deathbed. That was the harsh reality of the world she lived in, and now she was about to go through it all a second time. It was sad to say that she was already prepared for it.

Lee kneeled down beside her, wincing from his leg that had a deep cut around the knee. He looked at her with soft eyes, “How? How could you know all this?”

“You saw the answering machine inside? Mom sent me three messages. They told me everything I needed to know.” Her gaze was fixated on his leg. Now that she knew the basics of sewing up her own injuries, it was possible for her to treat Lee’s wound instead of that farmer. “Your leg’s looking pretty bad there, I can find something to patch it up.”

“Sorry Clementine, but I’ve been through your house and the place is ransacked,” of course it was how could she forget? She felt annoyed with herself for overlooking such a detail. “Plus, I think we need to look after you a lot more than we need to look after me.” Lee looked down at the bloodied mess she’d made. “Eugh…”

Clementine stared down at the floor at the statement with furrowed brows. She felt like a burden. An 8-year old is easier to manage than a sick girl who can barely stand on her own two feet without falling into a fit of blood and bile. Would she even make it to the Motor Inn?

“Look… I’m not gonna leave you out here all alone okay? Come along with me, and we’ll try to make you feel better. I’m kinda out on my own here too, so we’ll have a better chance of survival if we stick together.” Lee was probably the nicest man she had ever known. Here he was once again offering to take care of her even under different circumstances, and it was an offer her heart could not refuse.

“Ha. As if I’ll be of any help with the state I’m in… You don’t know how grateful I am for this Lee, thank you so much.”

“It’s no problem, we have to look out for each other. Now, we should probably get a move on before it gets dark, are you okay to start moving? Or do you want to rest up first?”

The sooner they get to that farm to sleep the better, in truth she was in no condition to move but there were no other options.

“Let’s get out of here before dark, can you help me up please?”

“Sure, here we go.” Clementine extended her right arm to which Lee used to pull her off the ground. Her legs felt seriously unstable, though it came to no surprise with the day she was having.

“Right, are we ready?”

“Hold on, just one sec.” There was something she didn’t get the chance to do before and she damn well wasn’t going to miss another opportunity. She turned to his direction, wrapped her arms around his waist and embraced him in a tight hug, just as she had done in so many of her dreams. This was the real deal, the Lee she knew and loved was back. She couldn’t bottle up these emotions, she had to express them somehow, even if the man in question didn’t understand the reasoning for such a loving act. Tears were forming as she pressed her head against his chest and said, “Thank you… thank you so much.”

Lee was a little shocked from the sudden embrace but didn’t spoil the moment for her. “There there, Clementine, it’s gonna be alright.” He placed a hand lightly on her hat and another on her back. The gesture opened the floodgates as tears poured down her face. She couldn’t help it, years of blaming herself for his death only made her feel ever more grateful that he was standing in front of her. “Come on, let’s get going.”

Snivelling, she pulled her head back, “Yeah… yeah let’s go. Can I maybe hold on to you? I’m not feeling very strong. Oh wait, is the water still running? Can I re-fill my bottle quickly?”

“Of course, here.” He extended his right arm for her to wrap her left arm around. With the other being used to cover her aching stomach, she went to restock her water supply before the pair walked over to the gate where two guys were pushing a blocked car in the road. She vaguely remembered this encounter; they’d get the truck free and be on their way to the farm. Hopefully it would play out the same too.

Lee pushed the gate open, letting out a noticeable sound that alerted the guys. “Hey man!”

The two turned around, looking terrified. “Holy shit!”

“Don’t eat us!”

“We’re not gonna hurt you,” Lee reassured them by holding his free arm up. He would’ve held them both if it weren’t for the girl clinging to it for dear life.

“Phew. Thought for a second you and the girl were gonna give us the chomp.” The man with black spikey hair seemed to calm down much faster than his friend. She couldn’t remember their names, but she recognised one of them as someone who was devoured at the farm. Maybe it was possible to save him? Then again in her condition, maybe not.

“Do you know what the hell this is?” Lee was asking the wrong person. Clementine was sure she could provide a 1000-word essay minimum for the question, regardless, she kept quiet and let the conversation flow as it had previously.

“No idea! So you’ve seen them then?”

“…You could say that.”

“I’m Shawn. Shawn Greene.”

“Lee. This here’s Clementine, she’s uh… she’s not doin’ too good.”

“And I’m Chet.” The quieter man spoke up, seemingly relieved to find people instead of walkers.

Shawn surveyed the area, behind their truck were the corpses of her old neighbours slanted against various broken cars. “We shouldn’t be out here in the open. How about you help us clear the way, and we’ll take you and your daughter out of here, and down to my family’s farm. It should be safer there.” The offer sounded luxurious compared to the first time she heard it, a quiet farm with a good excuse to hit the hay.

“I’m not her dad, I’m…” Lee looked down to the girl still tightly gripping his arm. Clementine could only stare at the pavement, hoping the conversation would finish. It was easier making up a story for finding a little girl than a sick teenager. “Uh…”

“A good Samaritan?”

“Yeah, a good Samaritan.”

“Well let’s get going, staying put for too long is a mistake.”

Lee nodded in response but wanted to confirm whether she wanted to leave her house. “What do you wanna do?”

“The faster we leave the better, let’s get that truck free.” Clementine released her grip of Lee’s arm and held out her hand to quickly balance herself. She walked by Shawn and Chet, placing her hands on the wrecked car’s bonnet. She definitely didn’t have the strength to move the car at all, but it would at least encourage the others to do the same. “Come on.”

Chet picked up on the walkers shambling from around her neighbour’s fence, “Them monsters comin’, we gotta go!” Both Shawn and Lee joined Clementine at the warning and pushed the wreckage clear. She tried to help, but it was obvious that her frail attempts were in vain. With the walkers gaining ground, the small group climbed inside the truck and made a quick getaway. Clementine was sat in the middle seat of the three, taking one last glance over her neighbourhood before Chet who was sat in the cargo bed and the surrounding forest took it out of sight. It was strange, she had lived there her entire life as a child, but now it didn’t feel like home at all. The only place that did was Ericson’s.

“You know, for a good Samaritan, you’ve saved a lot of people today,” Shawn directed at Lee from behind the wheel. He wasn’t wrong, she probably wouldn’t have made it out of the neighbourhood if it weren’t for him, which was just another reason to be thankful for everything he’s done. Still, something about the car ride didn’t feel right. The car jolted as they encountered multiple bumps in the road and pathways, but she still couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Shawn at some point hit a pothole, causing Clementine to bring the side of her hand to her forehead. All of the movement was beginning to make her dizzy, as her head swayed on the head rest around every corner. Fuck. She had forgotten how they reached the farm in the first place.

“Lee…?”

“Hm? What the matter Clementine?”

“Can you roll the window down please?”

“You feelin’ hot? Sure thing.” The cool refreshing air filled the car, but that’s not what she was after.

“Great, now… I’m gonna need to trade seats with you.”

“Huh? Why’s that-” Lee was initially confused at the strange request but upon seeing the green tint radiating from her cheeks, he soon got the message. “Oh shit…”

“Everything okay over there?” Shawn kept his eye on the road but couldn’t help but wonder what these strangers were up to.

“I told you she wasn’t doin’ good.”

“…Shawn…? How long is it gonna take to reach that farm of yours?” If she was going to have her head propped out this window for the entire ride, she needed to know how much suffering she was in for.

“It’s almost evening now so we should probably get there by nightfall.”

Oh dear God…

***

 

With the truck coming to a stop, Clementine burst out the door and fell to her hands and knees. Sweet beautiful ground… After the treehouse and truck, I swear I’ll never leave you again. Lee gave her a look of genuine concern as he closed the door behind him, ignoring Chet who was saying his goodbyes and instead focused on the girl he just met. The ride here was rough to say the least, Clementine had single-handedly given the truck a fresh coat of paint down the bodywork. She was sure Lee noticed this as he exited the vehicle but cleaning up her mess wasn’t her primary goal right now.

A door opening caught their attention. Out stepped an older man in a green attire with a white beard, it was Shawn’s father. “Thank God you’re okay.”

“I was worried it’d be bad here too.” Shawn and his dad greeted each other with a warm hug. Just like the son though, Clem couldn’t remember the parent’s name. There had been so many names in her life that eventually she only remembered the important ones. The two caught up with recent events before the dad brought his attention to the unfamiliar faces who arrived on his land.

“You brought a couple guests.”

“C’mon Clem, let’s meet Shawn’s family.” Lee offered a hand down to Clementine who still had her hands in the dirt. Never before had she appreciated the ground so much as she does now. She took a hold of his hand, and the pair walked around the truck to greet them.

“Your boy is a lifesaver.”

“Glad he could be of help to somebody. So it’s just you and your daughter then?”

“Oh, not his daughter. He’s, well… a good Samaritan,” Shawn chimed in. It would’ve been easier to play along but there’s no harm in telling the truth.

The older man shifted his gaze to meet Clementine’s eyes. His eyes were narrowed as he asked, “Miss, do you know this man?”

Clementine was confident in her answer. She’d spent half a year with him in the beginning then he provided guidance from her mind for the remaining years. It sounded like a silly question to her, but in the context of them only just meeting, it was fair. “Yes. This is Lee, he’s been helping me before Shawn picked us up, I owe him a lot. My name’s Clementine, nice to meet you.”

“Don’t be humble, if you hadn’t arrived with that hammer I’d be dinner by now! I owe you just as much.” The pair shared a quick smile.

“Pleasure to meet you, I’m Hershel Greene. Now, it looks like you hurt your leg pretty bad there Lee.”

“Yeah, it’s not doing too good.” He sounded worried; he was probably hiding most of the pain for her sake, but after taking another look Clementine realised just how swollen it had gotten.

“I can help you out. Shawn, run on in and check on your sister. You, take a seat up on the porch and I’ll go see what I have.” Clementine found this good intention amusing; she was living in a world once again where strangers were nice enough to offer up their medical supplies for no reward. What a crazy world this was…

As Lee took a seat on a bench, Clementine sat on the stairs facing the ground. What a fucking day. The power station, head in a toilet for an hour, the treehouse, the other me, meeting Lee, the saving Lee vomit round, the car ride vomit round, and now here we are. Only a few more minutes and I can finally rest… She was hoping her mind would be generous enough to place her right back into her power station dream, it was heavenly the first time round and did it ever sound like a welcoming comfort after such a long day. She payed no attention to Lee or Hershel who was bandaging the swollen leg, their conversation being relatively the same. Eventually, one of Hershel’s question’s peaked Clem’s interest.

“How did you stumble upon Clementine here anyway?”

“I jumped a fence trying to escape some of those things you’ve been hearing about. I landed in her house, but when I entered, I was attacked and she came to my rescue. Then I found out how sick she was. It’s nasty.”

“Nothin’ a good night’s rest can’t handle.”

“Uh, no Dad, he’s not kidding. She’s sick. I’ve seen it for myself.” Shawn joined the conversation after finishing his business inside. She wasn’t sure if he was defending her or making it sound worse. He then brought up that the farm needed protection, and that they and another family could help out in the morning. Another family? That’s Kenny! Clementine was visibly excited by the chance to meet her old companion for real this time, without getting sent back in time for another few years. Lee glanced over to her, raising an eyebrow as he could only wonder why that lifted her spirits so much.

Finishing his treatment, Hershel offered the two to rest in the barn for the night and asked about Lee’s plans. He was interested in heading towards Macon again, most likely because of his family. Clementine knew he wouldn’t be happy with his findings, but it was something that couldn’t be avoided. Heading towards Macon meant dealing with the drug store and setting their sights on the Motor Inn. There she would figure out a plan, but right now all she wanted was to get some beauty sleep.

Entering the barn, Clementine glanced up to see three people sleeping on the highest layer. There he was… But meeting him would have to wait. Clementine pulled the thin bedding stacked in the corner to the centre and climbed in. It wasn’t anywhere near as warm as being by the fire at the power station, but maybe she wouldn’t have to worry about that once she fell asleep. Getting herself comfortable, it felt amazing to get off her feet and not have to worry about her stomach imploding. A waft of typical countryside smells entered her nostrils, as she said out loud, “It smells like shit huh?”

“Clementine!” Lee looked shocked, but before long his face turned to one of amusement before replying with, “Hm, I guess it does.” Honestly, she only said it to see how he would react with using his old words against him and it was more than worth it. She would have to use her knowledge to her advantage to make some priceless reactions, but not enough that people become suspicious of her.

“Hey, Clem?”

“Hm?”

“I didn’t want to ask when we first met because you were… you know. But now that you seem alright, I’m just wondering…”

“Lee, whatever’s on your mind, just ask. It’s fine.”

“Well… Why are you wearing odd shoes?”

Seriously. That’s what he was struggling to ask? He was referring to the fact that she had one of her mother’s old running shoes on as well as her trusty boot. She sighed, but would give him an explanation. No doubt it would look strange to just about anyone.

“I had a little…. Accident. I had both of these boots originally, but let’s just say there was some crazy bitch with an axe and now I don’t. I’m real lucky to have my foot again.” That last part slipped out, she hadn’t meant to reference losing her foot entirely. Hopefully he wouldn’t catch on to her odd choice of words.

“Jesus, what the hell have you been through these last few days… What happened to her?”

“Hm let’s see… she tried cutting me in two, then deciding she wasn’t satisfied, went to finish me off. So I shot her,” Lee’s eyes went wide. This must have sounded like the strangest girl he could have come across. “It wasn’t lethal or anything, just enough to stop her. And stop her it did.” Her voice was stern at the memory of Minerva being devoured. The only reason she attacked them on the bridge was to get Tenn killed and that’s exactly what she did. “Good riddance.”

The was a moment of silence as Lee processed the story. “…It sounds like you’ve had it a lot worse than me that’s for sure. You uh… got any family left?” That was a good question, the only people she considered family from this farm was Kenny and Lee, but now she’d only just met the one and the former didn’t even know her. Then there’s AJ who isn’t even born yet, and won’t be born for another two or so years… The only person she could reliably say was Louis, and that was assuming he ended up in the same time period as her.

“I… don’t know how to answer that. I have a… a boyfriend… but I think he’s in a different state.” This was the first time Clementine had used the word ‘boyfriend’ when referring to Louis, her cheeks were dyed in a light blush as she thought of everything he’s done for her. She didn’t notice the soft grin forming on her lips, it was all thanks to him that she met Lee again, and soon would meet Kenny. Louis is the only person whose bond with her might have stayed intact in this new timeline, and she wondered how he was getting on. If he was back in his original body too, then that meant he has to spend his time around all the Ericson kids, of whom had actually turned back into kids. That can’t be fun.

“I’m so sorry Clementine, if there’s anything I can do just let me know.”

Lee’s question brought her back to reality. “It’s okay Lee, you’re doing enough as it is. Just keep an eye on me in case I look, you know, dizzy or something. You know what’ll probably happen,” She said with a shudder. Just because she had been through it five times that didn’t make it any less scary. At least when her leg was cut open that only happened once, this was on a whole new level.

“That I do… When did this sickness come on?”

“Would you believe me if I said last night?”

“It’s that bad already!? If you start feeling anaemic or anything, you let me know okay?”

“I will. Thanks again Lee… for everything,” she whispered that last part under her breath.

Lee looked like he wanted to ask something else, but he was done grilling the girl for the night. “Good, now we should get some rest, they’ll be ringing the bell early in the morning.”

“Way ahead of you.”

Closing her eyes, Clementine drifted off to sleep. What. A. Day.

Chapter Text

Clementine’s mind was a cage. She was locked in and endless cycle of despair for years now without any escape. Death after death empowered the chains oppressing her, making any chances of breaking out slimmer by the day. Occasionally, signs of hope would filter through the iron bars enough that she would be inches away from a long overdue rescue. All of these signs had names. They were the names of people, places, or even the brand of food discovered on the brink of starvation. On a day when freedom looked so far out of reach, she found a key. It didn’t have a scratch, and the warm metal shone from the palms of her hands that illuminated her prison, revealing everything she could ever have hoped for behind the bars. Love, laughter, belief. It was all there and by using said key was Clementine able to release a chain from holding its firm grip. Over time, the key started showing signs of use, but she protected it with her life. It was her ticket out, the more chains she unlocked the more she began to feel alive again. Then, when only a single flimsy restriction remained, did the key break. All of her hard work was gone in an instant. The light began to fade, and once more did she feel truly trapped, before an unexpected turn of events broke her from all confinement.

She should have been the host of the party. One could even call it a reunion. The feelings she’d strived to reach for so long were there for the taking. Unfortunately, she had only made the guest list. By being gone for so long, they felt unfamiliar. A place she had thrived in as an innocent child now felt like new territory. The writing was on the wall, and despite achieving her goal, reaching the end after so long only caused confusion. She didn’t know how to feel. She broke the key; did she even deserve to be set free? And how could she possibly ensure she would never be trapped again? These were questions Clementine may never be able to answer, but she would take it upon herself to prove her doubts wrong, and the best way she knew how was to keep moving forward.

Her vision painted a tall silver fence under a pitch-black sky upon her eyes. The canvas was instantly recognisable, as Clementine breathed a sigh of relief in knowing she was back at the power station. This was the only cage known to provide comfort. It offered protection, and inside could you find the warmth of people’s company instead of punishing isolation. She had hit the jackpot; all she wanted was to experience this luxury once more after such a demanding day and her dreams were providing just that. To an extent, her dreams had been a sign of hope from within her cage. The ability to converse with her fallen fatherly-figures provided a support now more important than ever as she stepped into this old world. They may be alive again, but the version’s she had gotten to know and subsequently cherished in her mind were invaluable.

“Good mornin’ Clem, did you sleep well?” a softly spoken voice called from behind. From the angle her head was titled, she knew exactly who was talking. She’d picked up right where she left off the last time she was here, where she was still under the pleasant heat of a jacket and resting on the owner’s lap.

“You have no idea,” her voice was mellow. She had gone to sleep under the pain of an aching nauseous body, and in this world where she controlled her normal self, she found it to be an exceptionally relaxing experience. Her reply earned a brief smile from Kenny, before his expression morphed into one of sorrow as his eyes were trained on one of the group’s still sleeping members. Looking around the same direction, Clementine noticed the original group she was with at the power station had vanished. Where Luke and Bonnie had previously slept was building up thin layers of snow, and the sight further to the left puzzled the brunette. On the corner of the opposite transformer was Lee fast sleep. And this wasn’t the Lee she had just met back at her house, this was the one she talked with on the train so often in her dreams, with his classic shirt having the colour faded from so much use. But why was he here? And why weren’t the others here like last time?

“In your dreams huh?” Kenny’s voice disappeared under a passing breeze as his sombre eyes fell upon the flourishing campfire. It was as if he had read her mind…

“Kenny, are you ok?” she looked up at him with a worried gaze; this was supposed to be a moment of calm, he was sleeping so peacefully before, along with everyone else. She could only wonder if something was wrong. The question only served to make Kenny shut his eye for a brief moment, before opening them and turning to match her gaze.

“Clem… Looking at where we are, right now… What do you want in this exact moment? Be honest with me.” If she were being honest, then it would be to hide under his jacket and enjoy his and AJ’s company as she had done once before. Reliving that dream and the sense of peace it brought… It would be perfect, though it was becoming apparent it would not be so easy to replicate this time around. Kenny sighed and returned to view the flames. “That’s what I’m afraid of Clem. As much as I want to I… I don’t think we can keep goin’ on like this.”

“Huh? What are you saying?” He really could read her mind. It made sense to an extent since he was a figment of her imagination, but even if this was all pretend just like her talks with Lee then he should have nothing to worry about.

“Exactly… I’m just something you dreamed up. Lee over there and myself we’re… we’re just not real. I mean, it was fine for all those years before but now… now there’s a real me, and a real Lee stood outside this gate.” There was no point questioning herself, she might as well say what’s on her mind if he was going to know regardless.

“Outside this gate? Do you mean in the barn where I’m sleeping?”

“Yeah… It feels as if… I don’t exist anymore. It’s like what that boyfriend of yours said with the mirrors. When you did that time jump thing, everything you went through with me and Lee just didn’t happen anymore. There I am, standing in a barn without any of the pain we shared, yet I’m still here…”

“Kenny… please, it doesn’t matter to me if I reversed everything we did, I still just want to be here with you… and AJ… it all happened to me, I felt it all! I won’t ever forget, and-”

“And that’s the problem. It’s just like you said, only one version of us can exist at a time. When you wake up and meet me, are you gonna see me as a stranger or as I am now…?” Clementine could feel her heart pounding against her chest.

“…Kenny? What are you saying?” Her voice was fragile, what he was hinting at terrified her. Maybe she was just exaggerating possibilities in her worried state, but she desperately wanted to act like this conversation never happened.

“What’ I’m sayin’ is… We can’t go on like this because you’ve gotta see me for what I am, and in the real world I’m…” he pulled a pained expression and paused, “…I’m not your guardian, I’m not your family… I don’t even know you. We can’t go on because… It’s no different than what you had to do to your other self.”

Clementine’s heart sank. No… Was her mind about to undo everything? To make her forget years of bonding thanks to another side effect from time travel? Tears welled in her eyes at the thought. There was no way she could just forget… But with how much damage she had physically obtained, there was every chance her mental state was also affected in some way. Her heart was now beating in an uncontrollable frenzy, was he saying goodbye? On behalf of Lee too? “I’m sorry Clementine…”

Her body violently shivered as the icy breeze assaulted her skin. Her cheek was stung by the frozen ground. She was no longer under the protection of the jacket, and her head had fallen from Kenny’s lap, of whom had stood up beside the fire. Looking almost upside down, she could make out Lee approaching the hole in the fence, sparing her a heartbroken glance before exiting the power station. Wait, had she let him just up and leave? That might mean as soon as she wakes up, all of her memories could be wiped… “Wait… no, you can’t just…”

Kenny turned his back to her, taking one last look back, he muttered, “Goodbye, Clementine,” before taking slow steps towards the exit. He was about to walk out of her life too. The fallen snow began absorbing falling tears as she watched two of the most important people in her entire life abandoning her. Everything they had gone through, all the times she watched the man in front break and rebuild himself time and time again, it was all about to be erased. Every step he took brought upon the sick-fuelled state her real body was undergoing. Her aching muscles returned, and she felt genuinely sick from the sight before her. She was being forced into the illness she had so desperately tried to avoid in this dream, and now on top of that she was about to lose everything. This moment was a contender for the most scared she’s ever been. She couldn’t stop them…

Passing the corner of the transformer, Kenny swung around to face the fence, his head dropping down to the hole he had previously taken watch on. Everything fell apart. Before he could take another step, Clementine’s fear took control, as she sprung up onto her feet and sprinted towards him in pure desperation. “No no no no Kenny… KENNY PLEASE!” She flung her arms around his waist, stopping in him his tracks. All she could do was beg and pray she wouldn’t get left alone again. They were both alive again, but forgetting the journey they had all travelled made her feel as if she was losing herself.

“Kenny! Please! Please don’t leave me!” Her voice cracked as she squealed at the top of her lungs. “I beg of you… Please don’t leave… I won’t forget! I promise I won’t everEver forget… Please don’t leave me alone again…” Her voice had drowned beneath the sea of tears flooding down his shirt. She could no longer speak over the intensity of her sobs as she clung on to the man, unwilling to let go of any strength in case he moved for the hole again. As long as she held on, she wouldn’t be abandoned. Her hands were shaking as they clutched his jacket. She was unable to talk through her persistent cries, so her thoughts would have to do the talking. You can do anything, just don’t leave me alone again… I can’t do this without you… Both of you… Please…

“Whoa there missy! Goddamn, you musta had one helluva bad dream.”

Her head bolted up. “Kenny!?” Looking down on her was none other than Kenny himself, except his beard was cleanly shaved. Her eyes were locked onto his, but her peripheral vision revealed they were surrounded by red and white painted wood. If she was in the barn, then how long had she been awake? Her thoughts were an incomprehensible mess; if she had woken up, then she might have forgotten everything. Her mind promptly uncovered every memory of the two men all at once. The motel, the train, Howe’s, Wellington… It was all there! Clementine buried her face in his shirt and continued the momentum carried by her tears as the should-be-stranger she latched onto looked down with a look of total shock. “I remember… I remember…” escaped between heavy breaths.

“Uh yeah, you were just wailin’ on about forgetting somethin’ or other… Are you okay there miss? Runnin’ up and screaming for a stranger ain’t the most normal way to wake up, and how do you know my name?”

“She knew my name too.” Lee’s voice had a hint of suspicion as he approached the pair. She couldn’t see his face from the Floridian’s white shirt, but she could tell both of the men were giving concerned glances. “Name’s Lee. And this here’s Clementine, she’s had a… traumatic few days. Go easy on her.”

“No kiddin’… Well, you heard the lady, I’m Kenny,” Clementine tightened her grip of the man at the sound of their names. Her dream had been able to instil this sheer dread in her mind in such a short space of time, and she was beginning to wonder if she hadn’t woken up. For all she knew this could just be another cruel twist to inspire confidence, only to rip it all away once her eyes opened. The idea of forgetting the two might have only been the story of a nightmare, but considering how inexperienced she was with time travel, she believed it to be a very real possibility.

“Dad we’re gonna build a fence! There’s a tractor and everything!” Clementine’s quiet sobs were silenced by an excitable boy who poked his head around the barn door before running off. She caught a sharp breath realising who it was. It was Duck. Her first, and possibly only real friend from the start of the apocalypse. She didn’t know whether to be happy or sad in seeing Kenny’s son so healthy and energetic compared to how she last saw him.

“We better get goin’, or we won’t here the end of it. But uh, Clementine is it? You mind releasing this bear hug you’re givin’ me? It’s nice and all, but soon enough that boy of mine is gonna give me hell for standing around in this barn all day.”

It was as if she was still in the power station, preventing him from leaving. She could hold on for as long as she liked but eventually the day would begin. It was only delaying the inevitable, though being in her dream-induced state only served to draw a comparison between leaving the barn and forgetting everything. There was a moment of silence before her arms tensed and she worked up an ounce of courage to say, “Just promise… promise you won’t leave me again, both of you… please…” as she used the dampened shirt to wipe the tears from her eyes.

“Uh, sure… I promise I won’t leave you.” Kenny’s voice was full of confusion, but it was better than nothing. Lee knelt down beside her, placing a hand on her shoulder.

“Clem, I promise I won’t leave you, okay? There’s nothing to worry about.” She turned to face the man whose eyes looked up at her in understanding. He couldn’t have known how scared she was from her dream, but he’d seen enough yesterday to realise how much of a fragile state she was in. His voice was a soothing harmony to her restless mind, his reassurance came to Clem’s relief as she had just witnessed the man abandoning her at the power station. Still, she wasn’t fully convinced if she was awake or not, so she decided to ask the man she could rely on to always be honest with her.

“Lee…? Please don’t think I’m being weird, but… am I awake?” She was worried he wouldn’t take her seriously, but it didn’t take him long to provide confirmation.

“Yes Clem, you’re awake. You woke up screaming Kenny’s name and ran straight into him, going on about us leaving or forgetting you. It was just a bad dream alright? Look, we’ll all talk about it later, but right now we’ve gotta go.”

So when I felt my body weakening in the dream, that was me waking up? Holy shit… I didn’t even realise. Now I’ve gone and made Kenny suspicious of me and given Lee another reason to be more concerned. Pull yourself together Clementine! Come on, take your deep breathes, nice and easy. In… and out. In… and out. See? You’re fine. You’re fine…

Psyching herself up, she released her hold from Kenny’s waist. Memories of her dream lingered, and before she knew it, she had grabbed a hold of an arm from each of the men stood next to her. She looked down to the floor, partially embarrassed by her feeble display, and said, “Just until we’re out of the barn, okay?” They exchanged a questionable look, but finding no reason to disagree, Lee, Kenny and Clementine exited the barn and made their way over to Katjaa and Duck.

The sun’s light was a reminder of current times. Stepping out of the shadows allowed the troubled teen to relax, she squinted at the change of lighting, but it confirmed she was well awake. Walking through the door was like a gateway to a new era, she had no idea if the twisted games played by her imagination would lead her down a path impeded with amnesia or one dressed in old scars. The latter would come at the price of inflicting the old wounds upon herself on top of new additions, but at least she knew where she was going. Here her memories were still intact, and the people she clung on to were alive. Breathing a sigh of relief, she eased her grip as she gave them a quiet, “Thank you,” for putting up with her strange request.

“It’s no problem, I’ve had to deal with my boy’s antics for years and it ain’t gettin’ any easier.  Your little stunt was a walk in the park compared to the racket he makes.”

“DAAAAAD!”

“See?” Kenny responded to Duck losing patience with a smirk. He looked so different without the beard and being so young. Wow, he looks so happy, she thought to herself. He was the same when it was just me, him and AJ surviving outside the gates of Wellington. That was before I… The car crash played in her head like a broken CD. The scene of him getting eaten alive repeated on a loop, wracking her with guilt. But now was not the time to mourn him again, if she wasn’t careful, then she might let another of her memories slip out, making her look crazier than she already did. She needed to focus on something else. Regaining Kenny’s trust and loyalty would be crucial in this world, especially now with how mentally and physically weak she currently was, so showing an interest in his family would be a good place to start.

“He seems like a nice kid, what’s his name?” Obviously, she already knew who Duck was, but it wouldn’t do any good to know Kenny’s entire family without even meeting them.

“My boy’s Ken Junior. We call him Duck, though.”

“Dodging, or quacking?” Lee chimed in with a humorous tone.

“Quacking. You’ve only heard a bit of it.” Approaching the hay where Katjaa sat by her bouncy son, Kenny turned to face Lee. “The word is you were on your way to Macon.”

“My family’s from there,” Lee responded in a hopeful matter. How that would soon change…

“Well Macon’s on the way, and personally I’d appreciate the company of a guy who can ‘knock a couple of heads together’ if he has to.”

“I’ll see what the girl would like.”

“Ah! Gotta consult the misses. I understand.” Huh, that exchange was different than last time. If her memory served her correctly, Lee vouched to tag along on her behalf. Maybe because she was older, she was being treated with more respect? Kenny brought his attention back to his family, as he began introducing everyone to each other. “Honey, Duck, this is Lee and Clementine.”

“Oh sweetie are you feeling okay? You don’t look too good.” Katjaa asked the girl she just met with her established motherly tone. Katjaa was nice to just about everyone, and Clementine loved how concerned Katjaa always was with her and the rest of the motel groups wellbeing despite rough circumstances. But now that she mentioned it, the brunette hadn’t thought of the condition she was in this morning. She originally thought she couldn’t have looked worse than yesterday, but after remembering how many times she spewed her guts everywhere she went, the aftermath can’t be too pretty. Other than her appearance, her muscles weren’t aching nearly as bad after a night’s rest, still noticeable but not enough that it hurt. In terms of the pit of misery known as her stomach, she had grown nauseous from her dream which developed some unwanted activity but since then everything’s been under control.

Her mental state was an entirely different story, but if she were to summarise how she felt in one sentence, it would be, “I’m fine, really. Just… tired.”

Kenny looked down and gave her a closer look after noticing his wife’s worried gaze. “Oh, Kat’s right… You mustn’t have gotten a great deal of sleep with that nightmare or whatever it was you had. I don’t know if Hershel would take too kindly to it, but do you wanna go back to bed for a while?”

“No, no, really I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.” With all the talk of her tiredness, she began to notice that she was struggling to keep her eyes fully open alongside having a slight headache. Getting some extra sleep wasn’t sounding like a bad deal now, but she couldn’t have people worrying about her all the time. She wanted to show her independence, she had almost singlehandedly raised a child from birth in a world gone mad and she was proud of the woman she became during those years, but right now she wasn’t fooling anybody.

“I don’t know Clem, it might be best if you lay down for-”

“Well, we should get to work.” Lee was interrupted by Shawn who appeared from around the building where he was working on the fence. He began explaining the need for the fortifications, and swiftly recruited Duck as his foreman. As the two walked off, Clementine debated whether she should interfere to prevent the walker attack. It was the right thing to do, but she had quite a while to go before that happened and right now getting some rest was becoming more appealing. The attack could be stopped closer to when it starts.

“Why don’t you sit with me Clementine, we can visit the others soon.”

“Now that’s an offer I can get behind.” Clementine sounded too exhausted in her response, but Katjaa’s offer was one she couldn’t refuse. A chance to sit down to clear her mind and get her bearing sounded fantastic. She took a seat on the partnering stack of hay as Kenny went to work on his truck, shortly followed by Lee who quickly struck up a conversation.

It felt great to get off her feet, which probably wasn’t a good sign for her stamina but regardless it was nice to take in the fresh air and relax. Katjaa introduced herself and the pair discussed various topics, Clementine found it difficult talking about life before the apocalypse since she’d spent most of her life in it, and when it came to her ‘illness’ she told no more than she’d informed Lee the previous day.

The time between conversations gave Clem the chance to think about what would come next. First, they’d leave the farm after an incident she could – hopefully - prevent, then Kenny would offer them a ride into Macon on his truck. Her stomach let out a rumble at the thought, sure enough her body wasn’t prepared for another car journey. She brought a hand to delicately cover the anxious organ as she stared at the blue pickup truck behind Kenny and Lee. At least this time she would have the chance to mentally prepare for another breakdown, there was no way it was being avoided with such a long drive ahead of them. Letting out a heavy sigh, the rest of the day’s events returned to her mind. Before reaching the motor inn they would arrive at the drug store, there she would meet Carley, Doug, Glenn, Larry, and Lilly.

“…”

Thump-thump… Thump-thump… Thump-thump…

Her heart beat to the rhythm of an African drum again after thinking of the name. It was the same as when she looked down upon the man who murdered her precious goofball. Each thump pounded against her ribcage as her headache was slowly becoming worse. Lilly. The woman who took everything from her, ruined the lives of dozens of Ericson kids, and walked away without a scratch. Every time she heard the woman’s name, she could feel the blood in her brain rioting against her throbbing forehead. Her breathing became irregular as the rage she was unable to release at the time was silently emerging from its cage.

This time could be different. Yes… Clementine’s hand fell upon the handle of the screwdriver hidden in one of her jean’s pockets. It’s her fault AJ was killed in that forest, it’s her fault Violet was blinded, it’s her fault Sophie and Minerva were ripped from their family and forced into slavery. Her eyes rapidly snapped to random blades of grass below in quick succession like a camera lens with her focus set on the kill. Her head began to quiver. She won’t be cutting off anyone’s fingers when I’m done with her, no… How should I do it? Maybe send this screwdriver right into her eyes, and-and then maybe into the back of her throat like she did to James… Or maybe just a bullet to the throat-

“Oh dear Clementine, you’re really not feeling well are you?” The brunette felt a hand gently press against her strained forehead, breaking her from her rage-fuelled thoughts. Huh? Wha-What?

“Your temperature’s rising, and you’re looking a little pale. I had a feeling you were acting strange…” Katjaa wasn’t wrong, Clementine got herself so worked up that she was becoming dizzy, and her stomach began production on the solution it was so experienced with that had been halted after her dream.

…What just happened? She needed to calm down, or else she’d take a turn for the worse. She closed her eyes and took a sip from the water bottle stashed away in her jacket. Taking a moment to ease the heat radiating from head to toe, she questioned how the rage was able to take control so easily. What the hell was that? I couldn’t stop myself, holy shit… It’s like I blacked out for a moment, all because I thought of-

Clementine stopped herself as the rage began to infect the back of her mind. Darkness was already seeping into her stream of thoughts, but she had luckily caught it in time to hold it back. She was beginning to become scared of her capabilities again. Whoa, it’s that easy to take control? I need to calm down, fast. This is exactly what Louis said, when he showed me the scar on his cheek. I beat him… Some version of me, no, I beat up my own boyfriend because I couldn’t control myself… And it can happen at any time if I’m not careful.

Her expression unintentionally showed elements of fear towards her own instability, as the worried mother next to her gazed upon her in silence, patiently waiting for an explanation. “Clementine?”

“Huh? Oh yeah, I’m… I’m fine.”

“You are most certainly not fine, I can tell.” Katjaa let out a deep breath, as she eyed the truck of which Lee had disappeared from. “Go and have a look in one of the sun visors mirrors. See for yourself.” This would be a welcome distraction and she would finally get some answers on her physical condition.

Making her way over to the truck, she passed Kenny and asked, “Is it open?”

His head was buried beneath the bonnet but brought himself up to see what she was up to. “Yeah, what’s Kat got you doin’ anyway?”

“She wants me to see how I look in the mirror, but to be honest, I think I already know how bad it is.”

“Go ahead, I was serious about you taking a rest earlier. God knows you probably need it…” Kenny returned to his truck as Clementine opened the passenger side door and pulled down the visor. Her generally pale skin came to no surprise, but a black aura dangled beneath a pair of bloodshot eyes like a plague. There was no doubt about it, she looked terrible. It wasn’t the first time she’d taken on this appearance however, and both times were a result of pushing her body to the limit. Once was when her leg was axed and subsequently bitten, and the other was shortly after McCarroll Ranch, where she was awake night and day trying to find food, water and a home for a growing AJ. She was never sure if she fully recovered from the latter, but she was sure the former had a big part to play in this. The recovery process after the bite took nearly a full month, and now it was impossible to make any progress thanks to her time travel troubles.

“…Fuck.” She looked and felt absolutely miserable.

“That’s what I figured.” She could hear Kenny mumble to himself from behind the windshield. “Look Clementine, I wanted to follow up on what me and Lee discussed earlier.”

“About Macon?”

“Yeah, you wanna tag along with us? I don’t know what sorta plans you got in mind or if you’re just travelling with your dad but it looks like you could use some help.”

“Oh he’s not my dad, my parents are… they’re dead.” Kenny stopped working on the truck to give Clementine a sympathetic look after a brief moment of shock. She could only return a tired stare, before he continued in a much darker tone.

“Fuckin’ hell… I’m sorry to hear that Clementine. You been all on your own through this mess?” That was a difficult question to answer… She could say he was by her side for almost 2 years, and that they made for an abnormal parent dynamic when raising a stranger’s baby. Hell, she’d only known Rebecca and Alvin for under a week and ended up raising their boy for many years to come. Not any more though…

“Yeah… My entire family’s gone… Well, maybe apart from my boyfriend, but he’s up in West Virginia. I hope he made it back in one piece…” There she goes again mentioning something suspicious, maybe it would’ve been best to not mention Louis at all, but she couldn’t help her heart aching to know whether he’s safe. Still, saying that he returned somewhere when he’s only ever stayed in the school wasn’t a good idea. Thankfully Kenny didn’t know this, but she was proving to be bad at keeping her past under wraps. In a sense, she could say her family’s not gone because Kenny and Lee are both alive again, but she would be kidding herself if she believed it felt the exact same. They were the same people and she knew this well but taking away the bonds they shared was still painful. Then there was AJ, who was an entirely different story. “…I was surviving alone for a while until Lee found me, thank god.”

“I’m sorry darlin’, I wish I could’ve found you sooner. But everything’s gonna be fine now.”

“Wait, what did you say?” ‘Darling?’ It sounded exactly like what he had said when they reunited at the ski lodge…

“I said that maybe if we found you sooner things coulda been different is all, sorry,” he reiterated before sighing. Had she heard him correctly the first time? Or was her mind playing tricks on her again? There was no way he was comfortable enough with her to speak in that manner, they’d just met after all. Clementine would take it as a reminder that the old Kenny she knew and loved was here, just under a fresh start. Even if he hadn’t actually said it, the memory brought a smile to her face. “Sorry, we got a little side-tracked there. You wanna pass through Macon with us?”

“I’d love to. Thanks so much for the offer, me and Lee’ll gladly join you.” In truth, she was thrilled at the opportunity of uniting forces with him and Lee again, and this time she can truly appreciate the friendship they’ll all come to share. That was if all goes well, and the first obstacle was a ride in the truck she was sat in. Whatever she was about to go through didn’t matter, being together as a group was far more important. Her voice was soft as she cherished her old memories, inspiring her to say in a hushed tone, “You’ve got a special family Kenny, I can feel it…”

“You can feel it huh? Funny you should mention that…”

“Hm? What do you mean?”

He paused for a few seconds, looking down into the truck’s engine compartment. His eyes darted from part to part, but eventually he began explaining. “I mean when we were in that barn and you came up to me screaming my name, the hug you gave me for a little while just felt so… right. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a goddamn clue how you knew me and you still haven’t given me an explanation, but I don’t know… When you were screaming about forgetting something and me leavin’, I was a little shocked yeah, but I couldn’t bring myself to stop you. Like I said, before Duck brought me to my senses it just felt… right. I don’t know what other word to use for it. You were a complete stranger, but…” He fell silent.

Clementine took a moment to process the information she’d just received. Holy shit, does… does that mean he’s still in there? Does Kenny feel something from before!? Her eyes lit up at the prospect and her heart was pumping excitedly. She may have been exaggerating his meaning, but the thought of Kenny or even Lee having their connection to her hanging by a thread instead of completely severed filled her with hope. She reminded herself to not blow her cover, and that it would be best to be patient in figuring this out as to not ruin any chances of rekindling an old spark within them. Don’t get too excited Clementine, you don’t know if your body can even handle excitement right now, just do your breathing and calm down. Her efforts were mostly in vain as she couldn’t control her heart that was begging to embrace the man in a hug like they had so often done sat around the campfire outside of Wellington. As much as she wanted to, she would have to earn the right to enjoy such gestures. It wasn’t wise to go jumping into the arms of people you just met after all.

“Anyways, since we’re headin’ on down to Macon, you know any folks there? We could make a stop along the way if you want.” Well, that was one way to calm her enthusiasm. Oh, I know someone in Macon alright. Yes, her name starts with an ‘L’ and ends with a knife in your- Clementine was found stopping herself again. The rage had burst onto the scene at Kenny’s innocent question and was steadily gaining momentum before she locked it away again. Her chest was beginning to feel tight the more she needed contained it. She was experienced enough to know that bottling up your emotions would only aggravate the moment in which they escaped. This was getting worse, she needed to release some of her anger otherwise she could end up verbally or physically abusing the wrong person like she had done to Louis. Just take a deep breath, don’t let it take control. Nice and easy. Just say you don’t know anyone, and it’ll all be fine. …Fuck, that came on fast.

“Um… No. I do not know anyone in Macon.” She sounded unconvincing with such a robotic reply, but it was the best she was going to manage without spitting bitter words at him. Her body wasn’t calming down as much as she tried. When she believed she was making progress, an image of one of Lilly’s cruel acts ravaged through her breathing meditation. It needed to come out, suppressing the darkness only encouraged a larger shadow to envelope her mind. She needed something, anything, to come along before it was too late. But how could she release it with Kenny’s family and Lee around? There was no way she was putting them in danger because she couldn’t control herself. Fuck, Louis would know what to do… He was an expert at this sort of thing.

“It’s alright, I was just wonderin’-” Kenny was cut off by a tractor engine roaring into action alongside a horrifying scream. Fuck! She was so caught up in talking with Kenny she’d completely forgotten about the danger the two boys were now in.

She dived out of the passenger seat and shouted, “Duck!” before exchanging a nervous glance with Kenny and sprinting off to his son’s direction. She saw Lee standing before the tractor not knowing what to do, as Duck was about to be eaten. Clementine eyed the walker grabbing a hold of his shoulders. Duck… her only friend in the past was in danger because of her. If I hadn’t been so fucking ignorant and thought about a scared little boy instead of myself this never would’ve happened. Stopping to look at the walker for half a second, she felt the rage truly thawing from its temporary slumber. Her chest was almost cramping, begging for her to rid her body of the anger she was holding back. If there was any time to unleash it, now was the time. This was her chance. She invited it in; she was the host of the party now.

Her heart welcomed the fiery spirit, as she could hear sudden thuds materialising beneath her ribs that urged her to take action. Allowing herself to embrace her darker side felt good, almost natural. She equipped the screwdriver that she’d envisioned Lilly’s head on in a clenched fist, as she sprinted towards the fence. “Get the fuck AWAY FROM HIM!”

Jumping the fence, she charged into the walker sending it backwards, before swiftly grabbing it by the neck and throwing it to the floor. She felt so powerful… Like she hadn’t spent the last two days barely being able to walk. The Clementine of old was awake now, and there was no stopping her oncoming fury. The walker was pinned to the floor, her legs placed to each side of its chest as she held it down with her left arm and brought the screwdriver to the sky. The sunlight reflected off the cold metal, providing it with a source of burning heat, as Clementine slammed it to the ground, piercing the walker’s skull. She was rewarded with the dark crimson blood filling her palm’s creases. The pouring liquid felt like a warm bath to her dry skin, and it was a feeling she wanted more of. She inhaled sharply and brought the screwdriver out for another round. Blood dripped beneath her eyes as she pulled it above her head and sent the tool crashing into the corroded skin once again. Her mind was set ablaze, being able to release the anger that had built up from AJ’s death was immensely satisfying. She couldn’t stop. The walker had been dead from the first strike, but she found herself piercing its skull again. And again. And again.

The idea had been to let the rage out of her system, but instead it was thriving in the hostile environment. Finding herself at a loss of breath, she channelled all of the swelling anger into one last strike and let out a deathly roar as the walker’s head crumbled from the force. Its skull had become one with the ground, and upon seeing her success did she feel a breeze of relief flutter through her mind. The rage had retreated, and by taking a deep breath did she feel a strange sense of peace.

“Clementine! Help!” But she wasn’t finished. Lee called out from behind the fence where he attempted to pull Shawn from beneath the tractor. She was brought back to her rational senses. She had been solely focused on Duck and her rampage that she payed no attention to the second victim of the farm attack. Oh fuck…

She made a beeline for the two walkers who were only stopped by the flimsy wooden boards. But as she reached the first one, the two walkers broke through. The screwdriver was guided into the first walker’s head, its corpse tumbling down next to the man, though she wasn’t quick enough as the second walker’s jaw encased Shawn’s neck before taking a deep bite. “AAGGGGHHH!” The walker dropped to the floor with a hole in the back of its head, but not before it could take a chunk out of Hershel’s son.

The groans of walkers were replaced with an eerie silence, the only sound to be heard was the footsteps of Hershel rushing towards his son, rifle in his hands. Kenny lagged behind with the rest of his family, just like last time he must’ve run off with Duck. Seeing the bite on his neck, Hershel dropped his gun and knelt beside his injured son.

“I’m ok pop… I’m ok…” Clementine was stunned Shawn was still able to speak, previously, he died before he got to say goodbye. He was bitten, even if he bled out in a few minutes or if his dad could miraculously stitch him up, either way he was a dead man. And this time she was directly responsible. She could’ve saved the life of a kind farm boy in this new world, but instead she was haunted by her past. Shawn was by no means an important figure in her life, but it didn’t stop her from feeling guilty that she could’ve done more.

“I can fix you, don’t worry, we’ll stitch you up.”

“It almost… it almost got me, man. If it weren’t for Clementine, I’d be dead meat.” The irony of the statement made her blood run cold. Of course, nobody knew that a bite was lethal yet and now the boy in front of her was being grateful despite her failure. With her knowledge, the right thing to do would be to end it quickly with a bullet through the brain, but she highly doubted Hershel would be willing to believe anything she says right now.

“I know, son.”

“I…” Shawn brought a hand to the bite, attempting to stop the blood gushing onto the grass. His breathing became a series of shallow wheezes as Hershel looked down on his son in horror.

“Get out… Get the fuck out of here!” Hershel’s demands were directed at Kenny, as his eyes were shooting daggers at the man who prioritised Duck’s safety of Shawn’s. Kenny’s face was drenched in guilt as he saw the results of his actions.

“I’m sorry…”

“Sorry? Your son is fine. You don’t get to be sorry!” He turned away from Kenny and towards Clementine, who was still on the other side of the fence. “Thank you for helping him, at least you tried unlike this piece of shit who left him to die!” He had a right to be pissed, but Clementine thought it wasn’t fair to blame Kenny. It was her fault she didn’t act quick enough; he had his son to worry about while she wasted time bashing the brains out of a lifeless corpse.

“No, you can’t blame him, I… I could’ve done more. It’s my fault.”

“The hell I can’t. Maybe if he wasn’t such a pansy and tried helping this never would’ve happened! Watch out girl… Just you wait, when it’s you who needs his help don’t expect any favours.” She saw Kenny out of the corner of her eye staring at his shoes, Hershel’s words must’ve hurt him the first time, but this was even worse than she remembered. “Please, just go. Get out and never come back.” He showed the group his back as he bent down to inspect Shawn’s injury.

Hopping over the fence, Clementine joined Lee next to the family. Nobody said a word, as Kenny looked as if he was internally debating something. His eyes flickered to Lee, where there was no change in his expression. Looking down towards Clementine, his eyes were fixed on her right hand that was still clutching the screwdriver and was submerged in a layer of dark blood. He took a quick glance at Duck before returning to her hand again, and eventually met her amber eyes while scanning the blood scattered across her face.

“You’ve got that ride to Macon if you want it.” Katjaa and Duck followed Kenny who was making his way towards the truck. Lee stood next to the tractor, no doubt feeling disappointed in himself for what happened to Shawn.

She tugged his sleeve with her relatively clean hand and directed him towards the truck with a simple, “Come on.” He took a glance over his shoulder at Shawn who was still alive and trapped under the tractor’s wheel, before they made their way over to the family waiting for them.

“Do you want to sit in the front sweetie?” Katjaa offered a hand to Clementine while opening the passenger side door. Her voice was delicate, she was still concerned about the brunette’s health and with walker blood contrasting her pale skin, Clementine probably looked like a monster out of a horror movie. She could only refuse the offer; she had already made up her mind where she’d be sitting.

“I’m fine thanks, I’d much rather sit out in the back if that’s alright.”

“It’s okay dear, I won’t mind if the seat gets stained from the blood, it’s dirty enough as it is.”

“No, I just don’t want to cause a different stain,” she said, bringing her bloody arm over her stomach.

“It’s probably for the best,” Lee supported. Katjaa wasn’t aware of how poorly she reacted to car rides, but Lee had a front row seat during the last one. “You want me to sit out with you?”

“Nah it’s fine, besides, I think I’d rather be alone for this.” Clementine was embarrassed enough from her vomit sessions, the least she needed was Lee’s sympathetic eyes looking at her mess the whole way. Climbing into the cargo bed, the starting engine caused the car to rumble, already making her feel queasy. This was going to be another long ride.

The truck was slowly building up speed as the group of five exited the farm and were on their way to Macon. Another fun day huh Clementine? Hey, you managed to kill three walkers today, that’s more than you’ve killed for the entirety of last month. Not bad. Ugh… the burning’s already started, enjoy these last moments of peace while you can… She applied more pressure to the hand covering her stomach as she braced herself. Her head dropped back against the rear windscreen and closed her eyes. Okay, any second now, you’ll be fine. It’s not like you’ve added your own blood to the mix, no, this’ll be absolutely fine. It’s not like you’ll be in total agony… for the next few hours… crying out in extreme pain, yeah, this’ll be absolutely positively… Oh fuck it. Is it too late to get off this thing? I don’t care if it takes us days to get there, it hurts so much I’ve got to get off! Fuck the drug store, Lilly can-

Mentioning the name, a spear of lava erupted from inside, sending her eyes flying open as she hurled herself over the rear end of the truck in a panic. Her head dangled above the ground. At least you won’t ruin Kenny’s truck like you did to Shawn’s eheh… Here it comes… Agh fuck!

“…”

Next stop, Everett’s Prescription’s.

Chapter Text

Tck, Tck, Tck… Tck.

“Well, this is as far as we’re goin’.”

“Then it’s far enough.”

The sound of doors slamming could be heard from both sides of the truck as the group, bar one member, stepped into the rundown streets of downtown Macon.

“Lee? Is uh, Clementine ready to go? She hasn’t moved since we stopped.”

“I don’t know, I’ll go check. Hey Clem? We’re travelling by foot from here on, are you… Oh shit.”

Clementine wasn’t aware of who was talking. She lay slumped over a corner of the cargo bed with an arm over the front, and arm over the side, and her head falling next to the truck’s rear-left indicator. Her eyes were dry, it felt like she hadn’t blinked in hours but from her limp position could she make out splashes from a miniature trail of vomit that had been following the truck, with the unforgiving fluid still dripping from the desert that was her mouth. She didn’t have the energy to think as for the past few blocks, she had been stuck to this position like a puppet without strings, utterly motionless.

“Jesus Clem! Are you alright? Do you need a hand getting up?” That was definitely Lee. Her initial reaction was to assure him that she could handle herself, but her parched throat was inclined to disagree. She was severely dehydrated, causing her continual headache to up the pressure by the minute. Rotating her head to see the worried man, all the she could manage to say through a rusty voice was, “Water… Inside left pocket… Please…”

“Are-Are you sure?” Lee wasn’t thrilled at the idea of rummaging through a teenage girl’s clothes, especially while she was still wearing them, but she couldn’t care less about morals as having a drink right now felt like the difference between life and death.

Please…” She begged for the water as the slowly dripping vomit sucked any remaining moisture out of her mouth with every drop. A hand pushed against her collarbone creating some room for the bottle to be retrieved, and upon Lee placing it in her right hand did she begin drinking it all in one go.

She heard footsteps moving in her direction during this, where she heard a faint, “Fuckin’ hell…” before emptying the bottle. The desert had grown a blooming oasis, where she could feel her body return to life after receiving some much-needed hydration. The headache almost fully died down after some time had passed, and by pushing herself upwards she found both Lee and Kenny staring at her in complete shock. Their eyes in unison darted up the trail of sick she’d left behind that stemmed from the last corner they’d turned up the street and back to her.

Lee scratched the back of his neck. “Well… Uh, at least there’s no blood in… all of that.” She could only appreciate his attempt to lighten the mood instead of giving her endless sympathy. Unfortunately, his observation was inaccurate.

“Blood? Yeah, I ran out of that a few blocks back. Trust me, I know the pain in my stomach well enough by now to know I lost some blood on that trip.” She attempted to have humorous intent in her words, but with her voice not recovering as quickly as her wit, it made it seem like the truck was her death bed.

“Yeah no kiddin’. You look like you haven’t seen the sun in years…” She wasn’t sure if Kenny was trying to be funny, but it looked like the situation finally dawned on him as his head jolted round to Lee. “Wait, she’s coughing up blood?”

“I’m not sure if ‘coughing’ is the right word, but yeah from what I’ve been told, and seen myself apparently, she’s been having these ‘sessions’ quite often. She had one just after saving me when we first met, and uh… there was a bit of blood in it. I told you she wasn’t doing too good.”

“Well now I know first-hand… Look Clementine, are you uh… good to move? All of us shouldn’t really be standin’ around in the open.” He was right, danger could be lurking around every corner and here she was holding the group back. Not wanting to be any more of a burden, she moved to the side of the truck ready to jump down. Thanks to her last attempt at jumping ending so poorly, she extended her arms and asked Lee for help. With his assistance, she wrapped her arms around him and gripped tightly as she was lowered to the ground. The brunette held on to her grip when touching the floor, patiently waiting for strength to return in her legs. It occurred to her that she must have used a significant amount of her body’s small capacity of energy in her fit of rage back on Hershel’s farm and that combined with the car ride left her in a feeble state.

“Clem? You can let go now.”

“Sorry! Sorry…” Letting go, she took moment to balance herself before the three made their way over to Katjaa and Duck, where the group set out towards the drug store. Clementine’s hand covered her abdomen almost out of habit, as every step she took could she feel herself becoming a little more stable. Well, it’s good to know I’ve still got some energy in the tank… That motor inn can’t come sooner enough.

Passing a dozen broken cars and scattered wooden planks, they arrived at the main street with the drug store on the corner. Straining her eyes, she could make out ‘Everett’s Prescriptions’ written in red text on a yellow banner, wondering how she never concluded the place belonged to Lee’s parents as a kid. Amidst her daydreaming, she hadn’t noticed Duck wander into the centre of the street, and Kenny calling out to a walker behind a broken car. “Fuck!”

Her survival instincts suddenly burst to life at the scream. Walkers appeared from around street corners, inside cars, and from under fallen lorries from all directions. Think Clementine, you’ve been here before! Quickly, what happens? Carley and Glenn open the door and start shooting, where we all run inside… Okay, and they start shooting because of… Duck! Her thoughts were rapid, and upon remembering the boy was in danger, she swung her body in his direction and saw the silent walker a few steps away from him. Adrenaline coursed through her, as she gripped the blood drenched screwdriver and re-enacted the scene from Hershel’s farm, only without any time for rage to flourish.

“Get away from him!” Her legs felt empowered compared to a few moments ago as Duck turned around to see the walker aiming to grab his hand. The boy stumbled backwards onto the ground screaming for help as Clementine dusted off an old technique. She sent her boot into the side of the walker’s right knee, making it drop in the same direction where she swiftly bent down to finish the job. Turning her attention to Duck who was staring back in shock, she softly asked with a warm smile, “You okay, Duck?” before multiple shots distracted her. Carley and Glenn had rushed onto the street, urging everyone to get inside the building. Taking Duck’s hand, she pulled him from the ground and kept a tight grip as she sprinted for the door, ushering a, “Come on!” to the group lagging behind.

With the gate locked, Clementine knelt down and quickly scanned Duck for any bumps or scratches as she would do to AJ after a close call. After performing the check, she wondered why she got so riled up whenever he was in any danger. He was her former friend, but by the way he acted alone, a small part of her believed she was staring at her adopted son again. Before the time came when it was necessary for AJ to learn how to fight, the two boys acted almost identical to each other. It was like Kenny once said, all Duck wanted was for people to be happy. Sitting around the campfire outside the gates of Wellington, nothing made AJ happier than when the makeshift family of three had finished the day’s duties so they could spend time with each other. Whether it was playing games or just enjoying the company of his parent-figures, even though he was unable able to speak, Clementine knew AJ made everyone feel better. The resemblance automatically caused Clementine’s motherly instincts to make protecting a child like him top priority, even if she didn’t notice it herself.

Seeing Kenny and Katjaa appear through the door, she didn’t stop Duck from running past her to meet his parents before giving both of them a hug. Seeing them all safe and sound was enough to make Clem satisfied, but the look she received from the boy’s father caused a gentle warmth to overwhelm her heart. It was a silent, “Thank you,” one that was filled with pride. How she’d longed to receive that look again… It was always the same. Whenever she protected AJ or simply completed a difficult task, he would always look at her with the same smile and glint in his eyes that made any trouble she went through worth it. It brought such a sense of accomplishment; he was the only one that truly respected her even though she was only a child at the time. It made her feel grown up, valued even. Just earning that look again... Clementine was becoming excited that she was gaining his trust again so soon and silently hoped she would receive the reward many more times in the future. Sadly, this brief moment of encouragement was short lived.

Lee walked up to her asking if she was fine, and upon giving him a, “Yeah,” Clementine began observing her surroundings and that’s when she heard it.

“We can’t take risks like this!” Clementine thought she was hearing things. The voice sounded awfully familiar…

“And we can’t just let people die, either.” That was Carley, Clementine’s mind was running rampant trying to identify the voice. Who was at the drug store again? There was Carley and Glenn who just saved us, Doug’s on watch by the door, then there was Larry and-

“When I say, ‘That door stays shut no matter what,’ I fucking mean it.”

It was as if the words slammed against a gong inside her head with the blast continually ringing when she identified the familiar voice. Of course it was her, she tried to stop Carley from saving the group the last time too, and who is in the habit of letting kids die? Lilly.

Clementine was staring at the floor in front of Kenny’s family where she didn’t move a muscle as the argument continued. It was definitely her. Clem was in the same room as the one who almost destroyed Ericsons and its community of peaceful kids and sent the order that got her son brutally murdered. Eyes widening at the revelation, she stood up as her thoughts were falling into a state of war.

She could feel the uncontrollable rage stemming from the back of her mind as it emerged from its short retreat. Letting it take control was something she desperately wanted to avoid after Hershel’s farm, so she promptly began her breathing exercises to sooth her ever increasing heartrate. The heavy thumps from her ribcage disrupted her methodical breathing; the more the argument around her progressed, the more she could hear Lilly’s voice. All of the lies, all of the manipulation she put the Ericson kids through, and finally, all of the friends who were lost. It all came rushing back. She could feel the veins around her forehead thundering against her skin. Her rate of breathing had increased to match the rhythm of her heartbeat as they harmonised in the desire to kill. The insanity was gaining ground with no sign of stopping. She was becoming lightheaded, and was unintentionally allowing herself to be consumed by the darkness before a shred of her diminishing rational thoughts picked up on the fact that her hand was clutching the screwdriver hidden in her back pocket without even realising she’d moved for it. This brought a temporary spark of dread as she knew acting now was the only way to prevent a disaster. She couldn’t hold herself back forever; it was bad enough just thinking about Lilly, let alone being in the same room as her. Knowing what she was capable of, allowing herself to be consumed by anger was something she wanted to avoid at all costs, especially with people she cared about so close.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck whatdoIdo? If I hear her voice one more time it’s over, I’ll be putting Lee and Kenny in danger, thinkthinkthinkthink quick you need a distraction, anything! Something to get my mind off it… She was losing the spark, as her thoughts descended into madness. Off it… off it… or, or… I could… she’s right there. Right there. All it would take is one second, the others wouldn’t mind, right? I can kill- No! Shit, shit I’ve gotta do something, come on… If on que, she could feel a hand planted on her shoulder. She drew the screwdriver and jumped around on the spot to face Lee with steam emitting from her ears. She looked as if she was ready to pounce on her target just as she had done to the walker attacking Duck, and Lee could see all of the fearsome rage in her eyes as he took half a step back. “…Clem?”

“Those things outside don’t care!” Clementine couldn’t care less about the context of the argument; her attention was brought to the person speaking. Her entire body tensed; her neck creaked to the pitch of an old door hinge as she slowly turned to face the source of her life-changing misery. Then, during the middle of the war raging in her mind, she stepped on a landmine. Seeing the scowl on Lilly’s face caused a barrage of fire sent straight from Hell to break her composure. She stood still, eyeing up her prey, where her scalded mind gave off several murder-induced commands simultaneously. I’m going to kill her. The image of AJ’s lifeless corpse flashed before her eyes. I’m going to fucking kill her!

“Clementine?”

“What!?” She turned to take a predatory stance towards Lee again whose face was covered in concern and fear. The screwdriver was shaking in her unstable arm. Just seeing him look down on her as if she was a rabid animal was enough to make even her rage slightly falter at the sudden oncoming guilt. Oh fuck, what just happened…? I almost lost control again. No… I did lose control, just look at him. Is he scared… of me? I almost attacked him twice just now, didn’t I? After everything he’s done for me… I… The anger that forced itself across her face morphed into the overpowering guilt as she stared into his eyes in silence while her mouth hung open.

“Clem… you look dizzy again, alright? You’ve been stumbling and swaying on the spot for a while now, I’m just keeping an eye on you like you asked,” he held his hands up in an attempt to calm her down before continuing with, “If you’re feeling sick again, there’s a restroom in the corner over there, see? I don’t know how fast it comes on, but if you need a place to take care of business don’t hesitate. I know how bad it is.” Clementine didn’t know whether Lee believed she was actually sick or was just bailing her out, but this was a golden opportunity she couldn’t pass on. In truth, he was correct in that she had made herself dizzy; only after the guilt saved her did she notice the uneasiness of her stomach. It was containable, but she would still enter the restroom if only to calm her rage.

“Oh, uh, th-thanks…” She was almost about to cry for what she did to Lee. Pocketing the screwdriver in shame, she returned her still blood-stained arm over her stomach. With a face full of sorrow, she spared Kenny and his family no glances when she passed them and approached the restroom door. The argument had broken up since she screamed at Lee and she could feel a room full of eyes watching her every move. Nobody said a word, before Larry decided to formally introduce himself.

“Ho-ly shit… Son of a bitch, one of them is bitten!”

Even when Duck’s not covered in dirt this asshole thinks he’s bitten, she thought to herself continuing her slow pace.

“We have to end this now.” Clementine thought nothing of it as Lee and Kenny handled it the last time, but it wasn’t until she heard heavy footsteps approaching from behind did she realise who Larry was talking about. She looked over her shoulder to see 300 pounds of pure terror charging in her direction. Wait, he thinks I’m the one who’s bitten?!

“You’re not laying a fuckin’ finger on her.” The voice was deep and full of spite. Lee appeared from the shadows and asserted himself before Larry, stopping him in his tracks. After almost attacking him twice, she didn’t expect him to come rushing to her aid so soon. She felt truly undeserving of his help but swivelled herself round to see the scene play out in front of her in case Lee ended up getting hurt. It was the least she could do.

“Don’t try to stop me, Everett. You really think you can? All alone? Ha.” Larry was smug in referring to the obvious weight difference. Lee caught on to his surname being mentioned, as he narrowed his eyes and clenched a fist. Clementine noticed movement coming from the same area Lee first appeared from.

“He’s not alone.” The voice was gritty as a second body barricaded her from Larry. “You enjoy beating sick kids, do you?” It was Kenny. The irony of the situation baffled her. She was supposed to be a hardened survivor, but somehow her actions outside lead to her taking Duck’s place and now Kenny and Lee were both sticking up for her. Why? I almost hurt Lee, and Kenny barely knows me… So, why?

“Don’t you fucking people get it!? We’ve already seen this happen. We let someone with a bite stay and-and we all end up bitten!”

“She wasn’t bitten!” Lee was looking absolutely furious.

“We gotta throw her out! Or smash her head in!”

“Can you believe this shit, Kenny? What are we doing about this guy?”

Before Kenny could respond, Lilly tried calming her dad from the side-lines. Clementine winced as hearing her voice again caused a violent sting to shoot up the back of her mind. The rage from only a minute ago decided it wasn’t finished, and she felt her heart supplying the veins in her head with boiling blood.  No… I can’t let this happen again. Just try doing your breathing, even if it doesn’t work, you have to try. Kenny and Lee are putting themselves in danger for you, you can’t afford to fuck this up. Come on, just in… and out. In… and out… To her great relief, the breathing had stopped her fury from advancing, but she had to be careful to keep it down. After Lilly seemingly made no progress, Kenny broke his silence.

“We’re gonna kick his ass!”

“That’s exactly what I had in mind.” The two crossed their arms in sync, ready for a fight.

“Everyone chill the fuck out!” Carley was running out of patience herself, but this outburst only aggravated Larry.

“Nobody is doing anything.” The rage poked a hole through her breathing’s defence upon hearing Lilly’s attempt to defuse the situation. Just ignore it Clementine, just ignore it… She shut her eyes and concentrated on the air entering her lungs. Little did Kenny and Lee know that they were defending a ticking time bomb at this point.

“Shut up, Lilly! And you,” Larry turned back around to Carley, “Shut the fuck up. They will find us and they will get in here, and none of this will fucking matter.” Turning back round, Larry leaned in towards Lee as he continued with, “But right now we’re about to be trapped in here with one of those things.”

“The hell is that supposed to mean?”

“She’s bitten. That’s how you turn!” Hearing the news, Clementine could see the tension in Lee’s arms loosen as he glanced over his shoulder with a shocked expression. Kenny looked unphased, but she couldn’t help but worry that Lee might believe she had been bitten at some point. They’d only known each other a day, and she’d told him that her sickness only developed the night before, it was the perfect example for someone who might be dying from the infection. “Oh, you look like you’ve got something to say now, don’t you? Out with it. The sooner you admit she’s bitten, the sooner I’m tossin’ her out.”

Ignoring Larry, Lee looked down at her with a sympathetic gaze as he gently said, “Clem, your dad… You mentioned he was…”

This earned a similar look from Kenny, who understood what he meant immediately. She’d shared her family’s fate with him on Hershel’s farm, so it came to no surprise, but this was no time to be dwelling on the past. She gave a quick nod before saying, “Yeah, that’s how my dad died… and probably my mom too, but this isn’t the time for all that Lee.”

“How is it the bite victim’s the only one that sees what’s going on?” Larry was oddly impressed.

“For the last time, she wasn’t bitten!”

“Then prove it! Where is it girly? A shoulder? An arm? A leg?” Clementine’s eyes went wide as the memory of her leg getting bitten replayed in her head at Larry’s accusation. “Jackpot.”

“Who wouldn’t be scared of a towering hunk of meat like you, old man!” Kenny was quick in defending her reaction. She’d checked her leg for the bite mark or even a scar of it in the bathroom of her house and didn’t find one, but she was becoming paranoid that her checks weren’t thorough enough or if it somehow reappeared due to another sick twist in her time travel experience.

“Just look at her! Compare her to those things out there and you couldn’t tell the difference!” Larry was using her ill appearance to his advantage; it was why he accused her of being bitten in the first place.

“Shut. Up!” Lee barked back.

“Roll up the jeans. Hm, let’s see…” He scanned her legs and upon his eyes landing on her odd pair of shoes, predominantly the out of place running shoe, a grin formed on his lips. “Bingo. You,” he stared down Kenny, “Roll up the jean so she can’t hide anything. I want Lee here to see this.” Larry’s voice was full of poison, and Kenny was having none of it.

“What don’t you fuckin’ understand? When we say she ain’t bit, we mean she ain’t bit, so back the hell-”

“Kenny.” The man in question turned to face her with the same anger he’d faced Larry with, but it fell to surprise as he was given a look of total seriousness. This was her chance to dissolve the conflict, she just had to hope that her checks within the bathroom were successful. Thankfully Lilly hadn’t spoken in a while, but she was beginning to feel the rage take a liking to Larry. It made itself known as a subtle heatwave passed through her body with it being eager to spread to a new target. With the clock ticking on her sanity, it was the only option she had. “It’s fine.  You’ve got nothing to worry about, I’m not going to make it weird, okay? We get this done; we prove I’m not bitten. Sound good?”

“Clementine, you… you sure you wanna go through with this?”

Her reply was stern. “Yes. Let’s do it.” Larry was delighted at her compliance.

“The girl’s just agreed to her death, she’s got more balls than both of you combined!”

“Just shut the fuck up already…” Kenny lost his enthusiasm as he gave Clementine a look to confirm if she was alright with it. She was somewhat grateful Larry suggested that Kenny do it instead of himself, otherwise she’d reject his command no hesitation. When it came to the men shielding her, she could put every faith in them to make the best of a bad scenario.

“It’s okay, I trust you. Go for it.” At the confirmation, Kenny knelt beside her, clearly uncomfortable. Placing his hands on the fold of her jeans above the shoe, Clementine was silent but could feel the nerves of self-doubt arise the longer she waited for an answer. He paused for a second and sighed before rolling it up to her knee. Hastily checking the leg from a few angles, he stood back up with eyes shooting daggers at Larry.

“Not a scratch! What do you think about that?” Out of everyone, the news was most relieving to the supposed bite-victim mostly because her body not trying to find away to make matters worse was a breath of fresh air.

“It’s Larry. And I’m fucking sorry. Now, check the other, can’t be too careful.” This enraged Kenny who didn’t want to have to do that again and had lost all patience with Lilly’s dad.

“Oh, why don’t you just strip her fuckin’ naked while you’re at it! Might as well check everywhere right!? You’re not goin’ anywhere near her or my son you creepy old bastard.”

“Fuck this.” Clementine had enough, after all that trouble they’d made no progress, so all she wanted was to escape the room before another argument was bound to escalate. She couldn’t risk listening to Larry any longer, otherwise her rage that was seconds away from thriving again would do the talking. Making her way to the door, turning the knob revealed it to be locked. Great, all that work for a fucking locked door. Just fucking great. Where were the keys last time? Behind the counter. Someone else can get them for me. She looked past her guardians to see Katjaa and Duck stood awkwardly off to the side. They’ll do. “Hey, Katjaa. Could you grab the keys for the restroom? They’re behind the counter.”

“Huh? Oh, yes of course, dear. Right away.” Katjaa was thrown off by her sudden involvement but noticed the brunette’s serious intent and made way for the counter, taking Duck along holding his hand.

“How do you know that’s where the keys were?” Carley shot the girl a suspicious glare as she put a hand on her hips. Clementine was in no mood to be answering pointless questions such as this.

“I just know, don’t I?” She replied in a sarcastic tone. Her patience was running thin, Kenny, Lee and Larry were arguing amongst themselves again and she was starting to agree with the anger she was trying to dismiss. Katjaa appeared from behind Larry but stopped when she couldn’t make it past him. Not wanting to waste more time, Clementine ordered her to throw the keys, where she proceeded to open the lock. Finally, something goes right in this goddamn drug store. Tell you what whatever the fuck’s in my head, let’s make a deal. Anything, or anyone that doesn’t leave me be in that restroom, you can do whatever you want. I wonder if that jackass will be able to keep his mouth shut for two minutes, or else I’m not holding myself back. Wow, I really need some time to cool off huh… 

Turning the doorknob with a click, she welcomed the peace and quiet the restroom could offer, but not before one more obstacle blocked her path. A walker burst through the door, pinning her against the shelves on the left before she had time to react.

“Jesus!” Larry’s yell caught the attention of her guardians who turned around in horror.

“Clementine!” Lee screamed, already taking a step forward to take on the walker.

Noticing this in her peripheral vision, she used the walker’s momentum to her advantage as she flung herself round to trade places with it and slammed its head into the shelf behind, leaving a shallow dent in its skull. A deal’s a deal. Just like the walkers on the farm, this was a chance to release her restraints. Her patience had reached its limit from the corpse blocking her desired alone time, so she was more than happy to grant the rage gnawing its way through her mind time to play. “Back off. He’s mine.”

Almost ripping the collar off the walker’s t-shirt, she held the rotting body up with her left arm and sent a right fist soaring into its face. Its head crashed into the shelf, deepening the skull’s dent as the walker fell downwards from the impact. Before it could reach the floor, Clementine grabbed its collar again, bringing it back up and growled, “I’m not done with you yet,” before blasting it against the shelf once more. The metal surface reflected the dark blood it sustained, and the walker’s face was deformed from only two punches. Regardless of whether it was still alive, she craved more. Each punch was fuelled by the pain she’d suffered over the last decade, and being able to personally destroy those that caused it felt somewhat therapeutic. But what she thought was a remedial experience only served to enable a psychotic nature. The rage was blooming, was she enjoying this? She stood the walker up again and prepared an explosive fist as her words wanted a piece of the action too. Repeating the same technique, she hit the walker again. “Just leave…” and again. “…Me…” and again. “…The fuck…” and again. “…ALONE!” and with the final blow, her fingers felt the stabbing of the shelf, as it eventually created a clean cut through the walker’s skull like an axe through a tree. Standing over the grim sight she’d made, her head spun around to the group where she shouted, “All of you!” primarily looking at Larry. Her eyes slammed shut in reaction to meeting Lilly’s gaze, as she entered the restroom with the door closing to a blast that rang around the drug store.

Hearing the screams and shouts, the sounds of chaotic thumps surrounded the store as walkers tried to break in. Clementine brushed off the danger the rest of the group would be hiding from and made her way to the empty cubicles. Gunshots from an unknown source distracted the agitated walkers, and upon finally reaching a quiet place, Clementine closed the lid of one of the toilets and sat down, burying her hands in her face. What the hell is happening to me? she thought to herself after unleashing her darker side twice in one day. She had an excuse for her weakened state with taking such a giant leap back in time, but this was something else entirely.

I’m losing it. I tried so, so hard to hold myself back just now, but I just couldn’t do it. I ended up almost hurting Lee and went way too far with killing that walker. Not only here, but back at Hershel’s too, where that boy Shawn is dead because of me… You’re broken and you know it. She knew exactly where her problems began. It happened back when AJ was shot too. My heart just shattered, and now that I’m back here I don’t know how I feel. I have a second chance now, I can give him a better life, so why can’t I hold it together? Since he died there’s been a… there’s been something in my head… or maybe it’s always been there, just not as strong. I’m being sick everywhere, I can’t control myself anymore… What the fuck do I do? She could feel the skin on her hands becoming wet as all the consequences of time travel were beginning to sink in. She didn’t want to cry, she just wanted to be herself and show Lee the woman she’d grown up to be, even if it didn’t mean anything to this version of himself. But the realisation of how much AJ’s death affected her and the danger she was putting her loved ones in was soul crushing. Lilly’s going to be with us for months… I couldn’t control myself now, so how am I ever going to in the future? What if… what if I actually hurt Lee one day? Or Kenny? Or even Katjaa and Duck? I can’t…

She sat in silence whimpering to herself, she didn’t make any effort to stop the tears mixing with the blood on her hands. She had lost all faith in herself and had no clue to how the other’s reacted to her outburst. What if they think I’m crazy…? I wouldn’t blame them… I can feel it taking control every single time, and I end up turning into a monster… some-some animal! I’m a monster, there’s nothing more to it. Why does this keep happening to me… My dream might’ve been right after all, what if Lee and Kenny are scared and end up abandoning me? They both promised to never leave, but that was only so I’d stop crying in the barn, and they hadn’t even seen what I was capable of back then… I… I don’t belong here. I come from a completely different world. These are good people… people who are better than me. I’m a danger to all of them… Maybe, maybe it would be best if I-

“-ell then, where’s the other one?”

“Dude, you don’t carry around a single talkie-thingy, it’s gotta be around here somewhere.”

“I picked it up at Clementine’s house, so if I have this one, then she must have the other.”

“…”

“Oh shit.”

“…”

“Dude, take your finger off the button!”

“Huh? Oh-”

Her inner struggle was interrupted by quiet voices and radio interference. Lee, Kenny and… Glenn? While she was sat sobbing to herself, they were figuring out a plan, meaning Glenn was about to head for the motor inn to find gas. She reached for the radio tucked away inside a jacket pocket and debated whether to respond. Glenn would need the radio to be able to contact Lee for help, it was no good staying with her. As she thought about replying, someone beat her to it.

“Clem?” It was Lee. She didn’t want anyone seeing the state she was in, but the radio was more important right now than her feelings.

She placed a thumb on the button and gave a reluctant, “…Yeah?”

“So uh, we need that radio so we can send Glenn off on a mission, you don’t mind if I come and get it do you?” She was fine with them taking it, just not whilst she sat in misery on a toilet seat.

“No! I mean, yes… Sorry, I’ll come out to you, that’s what I meant… sorry.” Her apologies were influenced by the tears still falling from her amber eyes. She hoped Lee or anyone else hearing didn’t find it strange, not that she could appear any weirder. She looked horrible, she was wearing odd shoes, and she killed a walker with her bare fists in a fit of rage. Not something you’d see from the average teenage girl, especially just after the apocalypse began.

“It’s no problem Clem, see you in a minute.”

With the final message ending in a beep, she held the radio with both hands and leaned forward, pressing her head against the output. Come on Clementine, Lee needs you right now, you can finish this later. Just go out there and hand them the radio. Easy. With that in mind, she stood up and walked straight to the door, avoiding seeing herself in the mirror. She hesitated when bringing a hand to the doorknob with knowing the looks she would receive. Just do it, you can come back once they have the radio. Come on, three, two, one, go.

Opening the door, she was greeted with a corpse whose head was split in two, its brain spilling onto the pool of blood it lay in. Wow, I really did that? Fuck… I hope Duck wasn’t watching. She held her head low as she stepped over the walker’s legs and made her way over to Glenn and Lee who were stood in the centre of the store. The tears on her cheeks provided a cool sensation to her skin but she wasn’t bothered to wipe them away, she believed there really wasn’t any point since she’d most likely retreat to the restroom again once the radio was taken care of. Even with trying to hide her face beneath her cap, she could sense that all eyes were on her and it only made her feel worse.

“Ah, there she is. Hey Clem, you uh, feeling any better?” Clementine didn’t show her face to Lee greeting her. Because of his height, he could only make out up to her mouth, and she had no intention of showing any more.

She forced out, “No… I’m not,” to the question through a snivel and lifted the radio to try and change the subject. “Here.”

“Oh, thanks. Here Glenn, you take this one, radio back if you get in a tight stop. Check in with me and get back here as soon as you can.” Glenn accepted the radio and made his way to the rear entrance of the store.

“Now that that’s taken care of,” she could hear Kenny taking charge of the room, “You, what’s your name?”

“It’s Lilly. My dad’s Larry.” Any reaction she might have had to hearing the name was drowned beneath her depressive mindset.

“Keep a good eye on him. These boys will work on getting you your medicine.” As Kenny assigned roles Carley and Doug, Lee filled her in on what happened to Larry after she left.

“So Clem, basically when you went into the restroom, those walking corpses started attacking the building. We think the military rolled through so maybe it’s not so bad out there, but once those things were distracted, Larry over there started ranting on about making noise and his heart started playing up. I’m working on finding the keys for the pharmacy and… hey are you alright?” She was hardly paying attention since she already knew what was happening, and during his explanation she found herself staring at the floor. In response to his question, all she could do was shrug her shoulders. She didn’t want to be here but hiding your emotions from someone like Lee didn’t get you very far. He knelt in front of her just like how she would do to AJ, but she turned away before he could get a good look of her face. “Clem, if something’s bothering you, you can always talk to me about it. Hey, look at me.”

She turned towards him slowly, revealing a set of puffy red eyes and her tears mixed with the blood from the hands she cried in to. “Oh my gosh, Clem… Is this about what happened with Larry and that thing that attacked you?” She gave Lee a short nod, that was the basis of the problem but not all of it. “Do you want to talk about it?”

About you dying? About Kenny dying? About AJ dying? About being abandoned? About my sickness? About my anger? She couldn’t. There was no way she was telling him about the previous timeline, and her current problems were too much to handle, he had a job to do and she would feel terribly guilty for wasting his time. “I… I can’t.”

He brought a hand to her left shoulder, causing her to flinch. He retracted it for a second upon seeing her reaction, but placed it lightly against her jacket and said, “That’s fine Clementine, I’ve gotta take care of this but if you need to talk to anyone, come see me okay? It’s no problem.”

“Thanks, Lee…” she muttered before he stood up giving her a comforting smile and made his way over to Doug. She couldn’t talk to anyone about her problems without them thinking she’d gone insane. But now that the walkie-talkie was taken care of, she didn’t know what to do with herself. She thought about seeing if Lee needed any help, but he didn’t need any the last time so she’d probably only get in the way. There was no way she was ever talking to Lilly, and she didn’t have anything to say to Carley who was fiddling with a radio of her own. Standing around doing nothing, Clementine felt a subtle wave of sickness overcome her. Her stomach wasn’t on fire like normal, but she moved her right arm over her abdomen out of habit at the familiar feeling. She closed her eyes before the tears escaped; all she wanted was a break from the pain but it followed her as if it were her own shadow. She was under the constant threat of receiving or supplying it in this new world, and it only made her feel like an outcast more than she already did.

“Clementine, you got a second?”

“No Ken, she’s gone through a rough day. Leave her be.” Kenny was standing with his family in the corner next to a drink’s station, he wanted to ask her something but was immediately shot down by his wife. She was more inclined to talk to them since they weren’t getting up to much, but she still preferred the idea of being alone for a while, more now thanks to her queasiness.  She could see Duck looking at her with big soft eyes and looking at the innocence of a child she’d protected was enough to convince her. Slightly hunched over her left shoulder, she trundled over to the family and gave Kenny a weak, “…Yeah?”

“Sorry, Kat’s right I should probably wait ‘til later but, I just wanted to thank you for saving Duck. Not only once, but twice. On the farm and now outside this drug store, he wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you, so… thank you.” She barely managed to make a small smile at the praise. It made her feel a little bit better, but she would’ve protected him in any situation. She was more concerned about why he shielded her from Larry and if he was scared after her vicious display.

“Why…? Why did you help me against Larry? I was a… a monster back on that farm and-and it happened again in here… And for all you know I could’ve been bitten so… why?” Her voice was barely raised to a hearable level, but she at least wanted some answers to her endless collection of questions.

“Aw don’t call yourself that,” from the way his sentence was shaping, Clementine’s heart selfishly ached for ‘darling’ to be his next word, but it sank back to reality when it wasn’t said. “Yeah you mighta gone to town on that thing, but you still saved my boy twice. When that old man started givin’ you hell I couldn’t just stand by after what you’ve done for my family. I won’t forget it, trust me. Call yourself whatever you want, but someone who saves a little boy twice a day is certainly not a monster. At least not to me.”

Clementine wasn’t prepared for such support and tears were forming faster than she could anticipate. It was like the old Kenny she’d grown to love was speaking through him, she could see him with his greying beard giving this speech around the campfire. They hadn’t shared the same experiences anymore, but this confirmed to her that this was still the same guy she’d raised a baby with. She stood rooted to the spot, not knowing how to process the information as her eyes were flooding her cheeks with tears again. “Oh shit, sorry! I didn’t mean to-” He tried to apologise but she wouldn’t allow him.

Finally knowing how to deal with her emotions, she rushed up to him and embraced him in a tight hug. She cried into his shirt just as she had done when initially arriving back at the power station, and issued an almost inaudible, “Thank you,” every few seconds between breaths. After a few moments, she felt a hand rest on her cap and upper back, which only further added to opening the floodgates in her eyes. She couldn’t contain the great amount of relief she felt after hearing they didn’t fear her, but not being called a monster had the biggest impact. His words replayed in her head every time she thanked him. “Someone who saves a little boy twice a day is certainly not a monster. At least not to me.” The words wrapped themselves around her heart, with every heartbeat sending a flurry of warmth throughout her entire body. Even after losing herself, Kenny and Lee were both willing to stand by her so soon just after they met, and she couldn’t be more grateful for their support. Holding onto him like this when she was in such a vulnerable state caused her to feel an immense comfort, it was like she was right back in the happiest days of her life outside Wellington, except now he was alive again, and she relished every of it second. It was moments like these that made all the pain worth it. “Thank you so much…”

“Oh, sweetie…” Katjaa commented in a motherly tone.

“There, there, Clementine. I made a promise, remember? We all appreciate what you’ve done, you can count on us to help out when you need it. We sure as hell aren’t gonna abandon someone like you.”

“R-really?” She looked up at the man giving her a look of pride again, but with also a sense of care. Her biggest fears were being resolved, and after receiving a relaxed nod, she buried her head in his chest once more. She wasn’t expecting them to warm up to her like this, at the very least she believed Kenny would see her as a threat, so he would prefer it if she didn’t go near his son. She couldn’t handle the joy of proving her dismal expectation wrong.

“That’s right dear, you come to us anytime you’re feeling down, okay? We all need a helping hand now and then.”

“Yeah! I can help too!” Clementine tightened her grip at hearing the comments from the entire family. Even Duck was offering support… She didn’t feel like she deserved to be shown such positivity after what she’s done, but at the same time it was everything she needed to hear. She wasn’t a monster, she wouldn’t be left behind… There was a small group of people that didn’t see her as some wild beast despite her actions and that was enough to fill her with hope again. She never realised how much she truly missed being around such a caring group of people that wasn’t exclusively people her age. It almost felt like she could be a normal kid again…

After another minute of crying, a deep rumbling from within broke her from the hug as she quickly stepped back put her arm back over her stomach. She was so caught up with the family that she completely forgot about one of the biggest problems troubling her. There was a hint of heat passing through her system as a fiercer sound made itself known to everyone standing by. Knowing where this was heading, she said, “I’ve… I’ve gotta go…” Well, it was nice while it lasted.

“Sounds like it…” She received sympathetic looks from the three. From her performance on Kenny’s truck, they most likely had a good idea of what it meant as well.

“See ya… and thanks again…” She trailed off as she turned her back to them and walked slowly to the restroom, trying not to provoke her stomach. Returning to the cubicles, she sat down on the same seat feeling much better than how she left. Mentally anyway. Right now, she would love to have said something like “What a day,” but the truth of the matter was, it was only halfway over.

Chapter Text

Being forced to spend the day in a restroom was just another card played in a deck of taunts. The world around her found amusement in the same tired tricks it was using to torment a sick teenage girl over the last few days. They were repetitive to a point where the victim knew exactly what was coming but still had no hope of stopping it. Each method used in the world’s relentless pursuit of inflicting despair on the poor girl was equivalent to that of a royal flush; each card it collected was a guaranteed success, and yet, for the first time, Clementine was happy while suffering the punishments for another loss.

Finding herself at the mercy of her body’s onslaught was common practise. Her stomach became further blistered with every heave sending oceans of flames that demanded new fuel to burn. The pain was something she could never get used to, but even the uncurable torture wasn’t able to extinguish a newfound fire of her own. Kenny and his family programmed a hope into her she had been missing since the day AJ died: acceptance. With the loss of her son, any purpose she had in the old world had been stripped away and upon taking the life of her younger self to steal their place, she felt a disconnect from those around her. Unintentional or not, she believed her actions to be unjust in deserving support, and the guilt from previously causing her saviour’s deaths loomed in the air. But here, bent over a toilet seat in a soon-to-be overrun drug store, Clementine felt as if she finally earned her place amongst her old allies. She had so far saved the life of her childhood friend on two occasions, and the family he belonged to rewarded her efforts with the faith she’d most recently lost in herself. It was truly the beginning of a second chance, not even her sickness could ruin this moment. All thanks to a single family, she found the strength to smile - albeit somewhat weakly - through every heave.

Allowing the last of the burning fluid to drip from her tongue, Clementine’s spirits were slightly elevated at the sight of a lack blood from the end product. She theorised that it was most likely due to practical reasons, seeing as how for once she had not directly caused the reaction. This being true or not wasn’t as captivating as the fact that, for better or worse terms, she didn’t feel like complete shit after finishing a vomiting round like normal. Again, this was likely due to a lack of stress placed on her body beforehand, but any further thoughts regarding her health slipped her mind as she used some toilet paper from a dispenser to wipe her mouth while making her way over to a mirror opposite the cubicles.

Welp, you look like complete shit, but you don’t feel like complete shit. That’s an improvement, I guess. Clementine stared into her bloodshot eyes; she was becoming well acquainted with donning a red colour scheme. Her eyes, the blood spread across her face and the dried blood that drenched her right hand were looks she’d obtained mostly through her own doing. She hated to admit it, but Larry did have a point. Her appearance couldn’t be described by any means as normal, and it only occurred to her now that Kenny and his family looked at her with all the care in the world as she presented herself as some extremely-ill-walker-killing-machine. He may have said she wasn’t a monster, but he’d be hard pressed to deny she at least looked like one. It only made her appreciate their gesture even more. With her thoughts returning to the rest of the group, she wondered what happening in her absence.

While my sick tank’s nice and empty I should probably keep up to date with current events. Plus, before we leave, there is one thing I want to keep from this place. Upon searching for Wellington, Clementine was heartbroken at the realisation that she had lost the photo of Lee she’d grown to cherish all thanks to being imprisoned in Carver’s camp. Apart from the blood stain on her hat, it was the only physical memory she had of him, and when her backpack was lost to Howe’s Hardware, so was the picture.

Not wanting to be stuck in a restroom any longer, she opened the door with more confidence this time around and wandered over to the office, where she found Lee in conversation with Kenny, Katjaa, and Duck. Seeing her approach, Lee shared a short greeting with the brunette and both of their neutral faces were overcome with warm smiles. The three people behind him, however, did not share the same look.

“Hey Clementine, you… Ya know, feelin’ any better?” Kenny’s voice called from the corner of the room, where she turned to face the family who all gazed upon her with concern, her reason for re-entering the restroom still fresh on their minds. “That… didn’t sound pleasant.”

“’That’? You don’t mean…” Not entirely sure of his meaning, she noticed his eyes fluttering between her and the restroom. Taking a look for herself, she continued with, “Yeah, I’m good. For now anyways… Wait, you heard all of that?”. Initially she believed he was only referring to her stomach’s growls they all heard before she left, but the thought of everyone in the store having to listen to her being sick for ten or so minutes was quite unsettling.

He hesitated and shared a look with Katjaa before answering with, “Yeah… It was pretty loud.”

“Hm? Did something happen?” Lee questioned the group.

“While you were looking around outside, she came up to us and-” before he could continue, Clem shook her head to prevent him talking about how she cried on him again. Deep down she loved being able to share moments like that with him, but it didn’t make it any less embarrassing with the others around. “-and she was falling sick again. She’s been in there a while, and yeah, it don’t sound good.”

“Sorry, I-I didn’t know I was being so loud...” the news came to her surprise. She thought it wasn’t so bad as previous times had been like on the two car journeys, but she wondered if going through the pain so many times was beginning to wear away at her ability to handle it. “Um… Anyways, what’re you up to now, Lee?”

“I was just about to check the office for anything useful. You wanna come with me?” He offered. It was the place she was already going to, and just being able to spend time with Lee would make it all the more worth it.

“Sure, I could use a change of scenery.” The two bid the family farewell, and after a moment of hesitation when Lee saw the sign reading, “Alive Inside”, the two entered the back room.

Closing the door behind her, she turned to see Lee standing over a bloodied piece of bedding that left a trail from the door to the thin mattress. She heard him mutter to himself, “I can’t… I can’t think about them in here,” before he noticed the family-photo at the heart of the crimson stain. Clementine stood to the side as he knelt down and brought the photo to his hands, a delicate smile overlaying his gloomy face upon observing the family portrait. Seeing the way he reminisced upon his dead relatives, Clementine remembered how he’d previously dealt with the grief alone and was not about to let that happen again. As he tore away his portion of the photo, she spoke up.

“Lee? I’m so sorry about your family…” Her voice was full of understanding, Lee was caught off-guard and swung around to face her. He was shocked at first, but it didn’t take long for his face to fall into sorrow.

“Thanks, Clementine…” He took another look at the photo of his parents and brother again, the regret of his decision to leave the family was clear as day. “They were good people. I shouldn’t have left… Maybe if I was here when all of this started, none of this would’ve happened.” The tone of his dejected voice only made the girl feel even more sorry for him, she hated the way he was blaming himself but at the same time she could understand why he felt that way. She was no stranger to feeling responsible for people’s deaths, and knowing how awful it was, she extended her arms and invited Lee into a hug. The grief lingered on his face as he accepted the invitation almost immediately. By sharing each other’s embrace, Clem could sense the downcast aura he emitted as she felt reluctant heartbeats against her right ear. Even after around eight years of growth, the former teacher still towered over her just as he had in her dreams. After a few seconds, Lee let out a heavy sigh before saying, “Thanks Clem, this means a lot.”

She gently patted a hand against his back. This was the first time in this new timeline that she’d given someone a hug to support them instead of it being the other way around, and she was more than happy to provide comfort to the man who’d risked everything to save her. Keeping her head against his chest, she replied with, “It’s alright. Don’t go blaming yourself, okay? There was no way you could’ve known all of this would happen.” Her hand became still against his back as she could feel his grip abruptly tighten.

Oh Lee… Was it really this bad for him before? I can’t believe I let him go through this alone. I’m not making that mistake again. I won’t just sit around, if anyone’s in a dark place I’m going to be there for them. It’s the least I can do…

He was silent for a few seconds but eventually loosened his grip and acknowledged her statement. “I guess you’re right… My family’s… gone. I wish things would’ve been different, but at least there’s one good thing to come out of all this.”

She looked up at him in confusion, wondering how leading up to his parent’s death bed could be positive in any way. The thoughts drove her to pursue an answer. “What do you mean? What’s good about any of this?”

A heart-warming smile succeeded his sad expression as he looked down straight into her puzzled gaze. “Well, I got to meet you, didn’t I?” Her eyes went wide, the same warmth she’d experienced with Kenny earlier flowed through her once more as it tugged at the corners of her lips. Both of them had looked at her with the same sense of care, both of them had accepted who she was even after the terrible things she’d done. The memory of regaining control from her rage to the sight of a scared Lee as she aimed a bloodied screwdriver at him came flooding back. With the guilt still fresh on her mind, she couldn’t help but apologise after hearing him talk with such kindness.

Her eyes fell to the floor, the tone of her voice matched the disappointment she felt in herself. “I’m sorry Lee, for how I acted back there… I couldn’t help it, I swear. I’m losing myself… a second more and I know I would’ve attacked you. You tried to help, and I could’ve killed you for it. I’m so sorry.” She looked up at him, almost pleading for his forgiveness. Putting your loved ones in danger was one of the worst kinds of guilt she’d come to experience, and the weight of keeping it to herself on top of her other troubles was becoming too heavy to carry.

“It’s alright Clem, I know you didn’t mean it. But that does add to the list of things we need to have a talk about.” His smile didn’t waver, but she could sense the hidden uneasiness of his words.

She let out a small chuckle. He was right, she did have a lot of explaining to do after all. Ultimately, she was simply relieved to have been able to establish a good relationship with him despite the many mysteries surrounding her. “I guess it does, huh?”

“Am I interrupting?” The voice was cold, as if the person didn’t care at all whether they were or not. Clementine looked over her shoulder to see Carley giving the two a serious expression.

Lee and Clem exchanged a quick glance, before he pulled away from the lengthy hug and responded with, “Uh… No, I guess not.”

“Good. Did you find anything in here?” Carley was not messing around. The teen moved herself to the side of the room after remembering the two having a rough conversation the last time, and it played out exactly the same this time too. It began when Lee mentioned the family photo which brought Carley to uncovering his identity and her attitude seemed to ease upon revealing he could be useful to the group. Clementine was half-listening since she’d heard it all before, but Carley’s next point caught her attention. “Did you tell anyone out there,” Carley’s gaze was fixated on her for a second before continuing, “or in here who you were, or that you were tied to this place?”

Lee didn’t look impressed. “The world is ending out there, who cares who I am?”

“If you don’t think people will find any reason to turn on you, especially when the shit hits the fan, you’re insane.” Clementine was suddenly intrigued; Lee was under the impression the girl he was protecting had no idea he was a convicted killer. It had taken months, but before he had revealed his past on the final days of staying at the motor inn, and she couldn’t help but wonder whether he’d do it sooner this time if at all. The two finished their conversation on neutral terms and Carley headed back into the other room.

Letting out a defeated sigh, Lee was ready to get back on track with finding the keys. Making a quick search of a desk blocking the pharmacy door, he discovered his dad’s TV remote and pocketed it for later use. “I’ll move this thing when I’ve got the keys. Well, I’ve got this picture for Doug, and maybe this remote can be useful, you want to head back into the drug store with me?”

She could see the scrap of Lee’s picture swimming amongst the sea of blood in the corner of her eye. “You go on ahead, I just uh,” she brought her right arm over her stomach. She wasn’t feeling sick, but it was a better excuse than saying she wanting to rummage around his parent’s death bed for his photo. “I just want to sit down for a bit, if that’s alright.”

“It’s no problem, I’m not willing to argue with that stomach of yours. Take as long as you need.” He gave her a tender smile, she felt bad for deceiving him like this, but that photo meant a great deal to her. “Right, I’ll see you soo- Oh wait, I forgot to give you this.” He reached for his back pocket and pulled out an energy bar. “I don’t know if it’s a good idea for you to eat anything, but hold on to this just in case you start feeling anaemic. It was bad enough getting you off that truck earlier and we don’t want that happening again.”

He raised a good point. She had no idea how her trigger-happy stomach would react to digesting anything, and now that she thought about it, she hadn’t eaten for days. The last time would’ve been Omar’s stew the night before AJ died. For whatever reason, she hadn’t been hungry once since arriving at her childhood home, but she thought this was most likely due to having a constant source of bile filling her stomach. Right now, she believed herself to be generally weaker than normal, but it was unclear whether this was down to a lack of food, the sickness, or a combination of both. Regardless, she accepted the gift and thanked him before finding herself alone in the office.

She picked up the photo of Lee from the heap of dried blood and stashed it away along with the energy bar in the endless void of space that was her inside jacket pockets. Feeling satisfied, she made her way to the door wondering if Lee needed any help with the keys, but her hand froze on the doorknob as voices travelled through the thin walls.

“Lee, you got a second?”

“Sure.” It was Lee and Kenny. It was wrong to eavesdrop, but she was constantly wondering what they had on their minds. She had no clue if this conversation happened the last time but pressed an ear up against the door when the thought of the two talking about her came to mind. Listening closely, a pair of soft footsteps moving in front of the doorway could be heard before Kenny eventually spoke.

“Back on Hershel’s farm…”

“Yeah?” The voices were muffled through the door, but it was clear enough to relay the emotions their words portrayed.

“I panicked, you know? I’m not proud of it.”

“It happens.”

“I guess… But I can’t stop seeing him in my head.” He was referring to Shawn, who Clementine was also responsible for his eventual death. After being bitten on the neck, he would most likely have turned by now, and Kenny must have realised this upon hearing Larry’s rant from when they arrived.

“Yeah, that’s rough.”

“I killed that boy. Clementine had those dead things covered; we could’ve saved him together.”

“You didn’t have a choice. You think you do when you look back on it, but in the moment, when things are really outta control, you don’t have any choice.”

“…I guess.”

“Try to let it go?”

After a moment of silence, she thought that was the end of it. She was unaware that Kenny felt so guilty over the death of Shawn, which probably meant the same would also apply for Duck, of whom caused the tractor to trap the farm boy in the first place. She made a mental note to be considerate about the topic if it were to ever come up, and that maybe she should talk to them about it herself. As she was about to head back inside, she pressed her ear tighter against the door when the pair of voices were engaging in a much more interesting topic. “And uh, one more thing. It’s about Clementine.”

Her heart skipped a beat. A flurry of nerves emerged from her stomach, here she would find out whether the two truly thought she was crazy, a monster, or anything at all. Her breathing fell silent, she wanted to make sure she heard everything they had to say. Lee took a second to reply, and in that time her mind had become solely focused on securing a clear sound from behind the door. This was the most focused she’s ever been since staring into Louis’ time box.

“What is it?”

“That might be the toughest girl I’ve ever met. She’s got that crazy illness, but she was able to save my boy twice and I can’t thank her enough… But I just can’t help but wondering how she knows us, you know?” Clementine could feel the vibrations of her now thumping heartbeat against the door. Would they lose trust in her now that they had time to think? She was becoming increasingly worried about where this conversation could go.

“You mean back on the farm?”

“Yeah, when she woke up screaming my name… You said she knew your name too, right?”

“Yeah, she did. When I was in her house, she called out my name when a corpse started attacking me. I hadn’t introduced myself then.”

“It can’t have been coincidences, right? I mean, what are the odds she dreamed about a guy with the same name as me, and knew who you were the day before? Hell, I’m not even from around here, we were only passin’ through.” Both of their voices were full of suspicion, yet neither seemed to possess any malicious intent.

“Well, in that sense, she could know who I am…”

“Woah, really?”

“Yeah, I was a professor up at UGA before this started. Being her age, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d heard about some of us. She could’ve gone on one of those taster days or might’ve even started a course this year, but then again I’ve never seen her before in my life…” The thought of going to university or college had never crossed her mind seeing as though her education years were halted at first grade but Clementine knew Lee might also be anxious over whether she’d heard about his criminal actions.

“So, we’ve got some kinda explanation for you, but what about me?” The two men fell silent. The longer it continued, the more she herself grew anxious about their suspicions. She could hear one of them let out a long sigh before Kenny spoke up again. “I don’t think we’re ever gonna get an explanation unless it’s from her, but you know what?” Her ear was glued to the door, the next line could change everything.

“Hm?” Clementine braced herself as the nerves crept up her spine. The seconds it took for him to respond felt like minutes, and her mind prepared for the worst-case scenario. She thought she’d conquered it, but the memory of her dream in which they abandoned her never truly left and it was clawing its way through her diminishing confidence.

“I’ve never seen someone warm up to me that fast, let alone put their life on the line for me and my family so soon after meeting us. This girl should be a stranger, yet when she was hugging me in that barn and again a little while ago… It doesn’t feel wrong. Almost natural. It’s like, I’ve known her all my life, but at the same time I haven’t. Does that make sense?”

“…”

“…You feel that too?” Time seemed to slow down upon hearing the deep voice. Clementine was astonished; this might have confirmed her theory about the two of them keeping a remnant of the bonds they’d created. Like the label on the door, assuming her theory was correct, it was almost as if the old versions of themselves were alive inside of their younger bodies. Her heartbeat was gradually upping its pace at the possible conclusion, and the feeling only served to direct even more of her attention to the ear pressed against the door.

“What do you mean?”

“When we first met back at her house, she was having one of those vomiting sessions, but soon after, she came running straight into my arms. I didn’t think of it much, but when she hugged me again in the office just now, she said something that just… I think it made me feel the exact same way. When it hit me, I started holding on to her tight, like I couldn’t let her go… I didn’t even notice I was doing it for a few seconds.”

Wait, that’s why he suddenly gripped on tight? My hug… did that? Holy shit, I think by becoming closer with him I brought out a spark of the old Lee. Ho-ly shit! Nothing was set in stone, but it didn’t stop her from becoming rapidly more excited. She knew his reaction had a chance of not meaning anything, nevertheless, she was getting carried away with the idea that months and years of bonding may not have gone to waste. Noticing the guys continuing their conversation, she immediately calmed herself down and listened in.

“What the hell… Somethin’ similar happened to me. Don’t know if it had anything to do with how sad she was though…”

“Hm? Was this when I was looking around outside?”

“Yeah… Uh, earlier she didn’t want me talkin’ about it but, well, she was calling herself a monster, man. At least she looks a little better now after… nevermind.” She was a bit disappointed to hear him reveal all of that, but it did make sense why he’d tell Lee. At least he stopped himself from exposing any details involving a tsunami of tears on his shirt.

“Jesus, poor fucking kid. She only told me bits and pieces, but I can’t imagine the things she’s gone through the past few days. It must’ve traumatised her; God knows what’s happening in her head right now.”

“I couldn’t believe it when she said it…” His voice trailed off and he paused for a couple of seconds. “I think I’ve got more questions now than when I started. Like, why was she holding that screwdriver to your face when we got here for starters?”

“Oh, you saw that? Shit.” Clementine had the same reaction.

“Who didn’t with the way she was growlin’… You musta really pissed her off.”

“Uh, well that was uh-”

“Hey there, this is Glenn and uh, I’m kinda in a jam here.” Clem was relieved to find the conversation from escalating any further; Lee would try to defend her but there was only so much that could be said to make her act of rage seem somewhat rational. With Glenn needing a rescue, it was a chance to do something useful other than lazing around the store waiting for the others to take care of everything. Walkers could pose a threat along the way but killing them just so happened to be one of her specialties. She could hear the radio voice impatiently waiting for a response as she prepared to re-enter the other room. “Guys? Guys, are you there?”

Closing the door behind her, she received almost surprised looks from Kenny and Lee before the latter took the walkie-talkie from his pocket and replied. “Uh, sorry. This is Lee, what’s up?”

With Glenn explaining his situation, Lee decided a small group should go to which Kenny agreed, and began debating who to take with him. “I think Doug’s not great around zombies…”

‘Zombies’? Are those supposed to be walkers? She pondered over the foreign word amid Lee’s summary upon hearing this nickname for the first time. There had been walkers, lurkers, muertos, monsters, and even creepy crawlies, but never… Zombies. It sounded horrifying. Breaking from her vocabulary-filled thoughts, she noticed that Lee turned towards Kenny before saying, “And you’ve got your family here. Lilly’s not going to want to leave her dad, I don’t know if I should bother Carley with this, hmm, how about…” With Carley not needing to kill the restroom walker thereby not demonstrating her shooting skills, this was an opportunity for Clementine to take her place.

She brought the blood-stained screwdriver to her equally bloody right hand. “I’m in. Let’s go.”

Lee was visibly surprised at her fast interest. However, he was still under the impression of the lie she had told in the office and therefore valued her health more. “Nah it’s alright Clem, if you’re still not feeling well you can always stay here.”

“That back room was hardly a change of scenery. I’m fine Lee, really. I could use some fresh air anyway.” Lee looked as if he wanted to say something, but Kenny stepped in before he could do so.

“I think you oughta take her with you. Put a hundred corpses between you and Glenn and you’ll come back without a scratch.” Clementine gave him a silent ‘Thank you’ in the form of a nod, and Kenny’s simple argument was enough to persuade Lee.

“Yeah, you’re right about that…” So she was being viewed as a walker-killing-machine after all. She wasn’t sure whether to be proud of this or not. “I guess that settles it. You want to head out now, Clem?”

Teaming up with Lee on a rescue mission? It sounded like something not even her dreams for the last eight years could have provided. She was oozing confidence when giving him a confirmation, and the pair headed for the office once more with the her long awaited reunion with the motor inn finally in sight. With her stomach currently providing a generous amount of time for its inactivity, taking to the streets of downtown Macon with a weapon in hand caused a small adrenaline rush to coarse through her veins. For the first time since losing her leg, she felt like her old self again, ready to take on the world and all the bullshit it threw her way. She took on a fearless smirk as they stepped out into the night, and the two took to the streets where they began the short trek to the motor inn.

***

At least, she thought it was short. A tall sign illuminated through the shadows as the long-awaited motel came into sight. One could call it a literal beacon of hope. Before she could indulge in the luxury of having a good night’s rest and taking time to recover, a handful of obstacles surrounded the building:

1 - From the time it took to walk there from the drug store, Clem concluded the two locations were at least over a mile apart, meaning she had to go through another rocky car journey. Even for maybe a single mile, the chances of her holding it in were slim, and if she were to be successful, her stomach would happily remind her that she would be working off a full tank at the earliest convenience. She’d already experienced it back at her treehouse and it was something she desperately wanted to avoid despite the impossibility to do so.

2 - The motel looked jam packed with walkers. They had no idea where Glenn could be hiding, but it would become a much more challenging task if he was stuck in one of the bedrooms.

Taking cover behind a short wall bordering the hotel, Clem and Lee pushed forward to scout out the area. Upon closer inspection, the teen could make out less walkers than she’d originally anticipated, and the subtle sound of the opening and closing of a metallic door caught her attention. That small container has handles on the outside, meaning a walker can’t be in there because they shouldn’t be able to fully pull it open and climb in. So that must mean… “There’s Glenn!” She exclaimed in a hushed voice.

“Huh? How do you know? It could be one of them.” Lee was right to question her certainty without her knowledge of the walkers. Of course, it could be a walker, but she was sure it was highly unlikely.

“Just watch.” Going with her gut feeling, she moved behind the wall to where the container was, and eventually the door opened enough for Glenn to notice the two.

Guys! Oh man, I’m glad you’re here!” Swiftly getting on his feet, he vaulted over the wall and the three crouched behind cover.

“All right, that wasn’t so hard.” Lee sounded pleased at the rescue going so smoothly, but Clementine knew that if they were to stay here then the walkers would need to be cleared out. She considered herself to be the perfect candidate to get the job done and was about to make the guys aware of her plan after checking in on Glenn’s progress with finding the gas.

“So, did you find anything?”

“I found a couple cans of gas, it’s enough to get Kenny’s car here no sweat. I also found that pizza delivery car parked up over there and filled it up but just as I was about to leave, I heard crying coming from inside that corner room.” He gestured to a room surrounding by two walkers. Wait, someone was at the motel before we got there? And the balcony’s in good shape too… Why didn’t I ever see them before? She was about to ask Glenn about the mysterious survivor, but Lee beat her to it.

“Who is it?”

“It’s a girl. We talked and she got frightened. I was trying to get in and help her and she started yelling and saying I was bitten. I tried to convince her I wasn’t and that’s when all of these guys came out of the forest. A couple almost got me, and I ended up hiding in the ice machine.” Clementine became even more intrigued by the person locked in the room. She wasn’t thrilled about adding another member to the group’s already large numbers, but it was interesting to know what Lee originally went through without her. It also served as an excuse to take out the roaming walkers. With this in mind, she proposed an idea.

“Okay, to see if we can save her, we need to get to that room.” She drew her screwdriver before continuing. “You guys hang back. I’ll take out the walkers and once we’re done, we’ll grab the gas and loop back to the drug store.” Killing half a dozen walkers was an easy task for her, especially with them being so spread out across the motel’s car park.  

Lee was initially in favour of her plan. “You’re goddamn right we’re saving her. Wait, you want kill them all by yourself? It’s too dangerous, Clem. I’ve got nothing on me, but I can’t let you do this alone.”

She was flattered by his offer to help, but with all the hoards she’d walked through, all the walkers she’d cut down in her pursuit of and to protect AJ, a simple task like this didn’t even compare. Her voice was deep, she’d already started making her way over to a walker occupied by a body as she said, “This is nothing.” With her back turned to the two men behind, she ignored any protests and silently snuck behind her first victim. It didn’t take any notice of its predator standing tall, readying her weapon.

Normally, she’d have made an easy job out of a single walker and prepared herself for the next, but instead, she found herself getting lost in thought. Travelling back in time to a world on the brink of collapse put things into perspective; she’d been to her normal house, talked with normal people, and now, knelt before her was part of the source that took it all away. They stole any hope she had for the future, and just when AJ was becoming a true reason to believe in the world again, it shredded that hope beyond repair. Being able to move past each pain was something the troubled teen couldn’t do, she carried them deep in her heart with no exceptions. But the death of her beloved son was the final straw and facing the source of her problems caused her heart to crack under the pressure of its timeless scars. Trapped in a body brimming with despair, Clementine was desperate to get even a little bit of it out. Taking a few second’s glance at the blood covering her right palm and the tool in her hand, a tame flicker of the rage responsible for the red coating emerged at the sight of its handiwork, spurring her to waste no more time. The walker became its prime target which resulted in the metal piercing through the decaying skull with more force than necessary. After being out of action for over a month, she couldn’t deny the ability to fight for one’s self was immensely satisfying.

The remaining four walkers around the car park were no trouble. Taking a route behind the familiar broken RV to avoid being flanked, she made quick work of one standing by the vehicle’s door and another near the flight of stairs using her trusty knee technique. A lone walker slumped against a car required her to backtrack slightly, but after taking care of it with an easy stab to the head she ordered the three to regroup by the stairs. Glenn and Lee were awkwardly trailing behind taking cover near the RV, and Lee was the first to speak up after gathering around a nearby fire axe. “You make it look so easy… How’re you so good at that already?”

The answer was quite simple. “With lots of practise.” The response caused him to faintly raise an eyebrow. With what she overheard him and Kenny discussing back at the drug store, she wouldn’t be surprised if this only created more questions about her backstory. Yeah, maybe that wasn’t the best way to say that.

“Nevermind all that, guys, look what we’ve got waiting for us.” Glenn was smiling at the fire axe protected behind a layer of thin glass on the wall. Realising this is where Lee first obtained it, she aimed her screwdriver at the transparent material. Having Lee armed with a weapon instead of being defenceless like he currently was sounded far more comforting.

“Clem, no! The noise!” Lee was quiet in his protest, despite the concern fuelling his words.

Still on a high from taking out the first set of walkers, the flicker of her unruly rage had built up a little more with each kill to where it influenced her thoughts and injected sarcasm into her response. “What? The walkers stop banging on that door for a few seconds? It doesn’t matter who they’re after, I’ll kill them all. Just leave it to me.”

She was already aware that something broke inside of her following AJ’s death, but because of that she was now beginning to feel a new experience; through this newfound anger issue, she found some form of satisfaction in killing walkers. Looking back on Hershel’s farm and the restroom walker, it was clear to her that this rage she had no control over was directly responsible for the thrill of every kill. Every time she’d offed a walker in this new timeline, she could feel it burning the back of her mind, eager for more chances to grow. And yet, knowing how dangerous it was to endorse the vicious nature, she couldn’t help herself from craving more. It was indescribable. Though the more she craved, the more it sent her mind into a limbo – the bounty of every kill was shared by two parties: one that wanted to release her pain, and another that indirectly caused more. The latter turned her into the monster she was ever so ashamed of being, and yet, when it came to walkers - and only walkers – it made the process of the former feel more natural. To feel a greater satisfaction but also becoming a danger to others was a line Clementine wasn’t sure whether she wanted to cross.

With her mind becoming largely dominated with the walkers upstairs, she smashed the glass, handed the axe to Lee, and hastily began climbing the stairs without a word. The walkers were in sight, and her grip on the screwdriver tightened as each step towards the two became slightly louder the closer she got. Not bothering with her knee trick, the walker turned its attention towards her but not before the metal slammed into its left eye-socket and through the back of its head. As soon as it made contact, Clementine felt a powerful heartbeat against her rib cage, sending a momentary spike of adrenaline throughout her body. She paused for half a second. There it was again in the back of her head; every kill was only adding more fuel to the fire. I should stop, I’m getting carried away so it’s becoming stronger again. This weird feeling’s not worth it. Maybe I should just let Lee handle this one… As the first walker’s head slid off the screwdriver, her heartrate suddenly increased at the sight of the corpse and the final walker shambling towards her. The adrenaline was pumping through her veins, her muscles nagging to take action. But then again… There’s only one more…

Falling into temptation, she unintentionally let out a small roar as the screwdriver met a walker’s eye socket once more. The warm blood spewing onto her hand sent a wave of similar heat down her spine. As the walker fell to the floor, Clementine took deep breathes while standing over the corpses. She was uncertain whether that last kill was relieving at all, but she brought her cleaner left hand to her forehead upon feeling a thumping sensation against her skull. She could also feel the built-up anger slowly diminishing, but as it faded away, it seemed to take her energy with it. Her breathes were becoming heavy and the adrenaline suddenly vanished, leaving her in a much weaker state. Clearing out the motel’s walkers used a lot of the dwindling amounts of energy she had in her, and she found herself leaning on the balcony’s railing with her weight heavily placed on her right arm being used for support. Woah… Fuck, I’m so tired…  That happened… so fast… Having lost trust in herself, she replayed each kill in her mind to test her sanity. Shit, I didn’t lose control again… did I?

“Woah, Clem! Are you alright?” Lee rushed up to her, closely followed by Glenn who both had worried expressions. Her body felt so heavy against the railing that she wanted to simply let go and fall asleep on the floor, but there was still a job that needed to be done.

“I… Don’t know…” She was finding difficulty in speaking through such deep breathes. “I was fine… Then I killed the last one… And now I’m…”

“Oh shit, you’re looking paler than your usual pale. Do you still have that energy bar I gave you? I don’t know if this means you’re feeling well or not, but I think you’re gonna have to eat it, Clem.”

She was terrified of how her stomach would react, but her drooping eye lids were proof enough that he was right. She needed to bring those she cared about to the safety of the motel, and she couldn’t do that by falling sleep.

“Yeah, yeah okay… Could you maybe… Get it for me…?” It was a similar situation to getting off Kenny’s truck. This time however, she was mostly able to move, but her right arm was glued to the railing making it difficult to reach the pocket storing the energy bar. Lee caught on to the familiar task and was more accepting as he gave her a sympathetic look.

“Sure, Clem. Which pocket?”

“Same as before, inside… Left...”

Pulling the jacket away from her chest, Lee retrieved and proceeded to unwrap the bar before handing it over. Her jaw snapped at the first source of food she’d had in days and it wasn’t long before the entire bar was gone. Still wrapped chocolate was an extremely rare find in the later years of her old life, but she unfortunately didn’t have the chance to savour the bar’s taste as her hunger instincts took control, which in itself was a nice change of pace.

“Man, you were really hungry, huh…” Glenn’s voice trailed off behind her. She looked up to see Lee breaking a wooden barrier on the door as a hint of power was returning to her legs. Add that energy bar to the list of debt she was in to him. After multiple failed attempts of gaining access to the room, the mysterious survivor reluctantly revealed themselves, and Clementine understood the situation immediately. Their shirt was torn above the hip, blood seeping out of a bite wound. With there being no way to cut it off, she knew what had to be done.

“You’re hurt…” Lee was the first to comment on her condition.

“I… I said stay away…” Her voice was racked with fear.

“We need to get you help!” Glenn may have been inexperienced with bite victims, but it was still strange for Clem to hear people still hopeful over trying to help them.

“It’s too late for that…” As the woman explained to Glenn and Lee what would happen to her, Clementine hovered her free hand over the gun tucked away in her jeans. In truth, this was just another poor soul she had to send on their way, but where this was standard practise for her, it could be a valuable lesson for her companions. The brunette believed in this moment that it was her responsibility to make sure Lee would adapt to the horrors he would come to witness just as she had. It may be cruel but learning now would make it easier in the future.

“Okay, we’ll leave. Just try to take care of yourself, for whatever time you have left.” The woman looked lost upon hearing Lee’s proposal and a silence succeeded the tragic conversation. Nobody moved. Clementine sighed, it was time to get this over with.

“Miss.” She pushed herself off the railing and after steadying herself after wobbling slightly, she held the gun by her waist. Staring into the woman’s hopeless eyes, she said in a serious tone, “If you want to… I can end this right now.”

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Clementine!” She didn’t break eye contact, ignoring the men who were appalled at her sudden actions. After a moment of shock from the woman herself, her dejected expression was overcome with a broad smile.

“Would you do that? Thank you so much, I know how terrible this must be.”

“Clem! Seriously, what the hell do you think you’re doing?!” Lee was looking down on her, almost in fear. Unphased, she turned to match his gaze.

“What needs to be done.” Lee leaned back with wide eyes at the gravity of her intent. A teenage girl willingly offering to end the life of another in such a way would’ve been shocking to just about anybody, but at this point she didn’t care how insensitive she appeared.

“There’s no way I’m watching this! Come on Lee, let’s go.” Glenn was about to turn back taking Lee with him before Clementine stopped them.

“No. Lee, you stay here.”

“Huh?! Why do I-”

“I need you to see this.” If Lee didn’t look fearful before, then he definitely did now. “Glenn, get the gas and be ready to move. We won’t be long.” The man in question was frozen for a few seconds and muttered something under his breath before leaving the scene. Lee’s gaze was fixed on the man walking down the stairs and turned his head back around slowly to the girl holding a gun. His extreme discomfort of being forced to stay was written all over his face but Clementine was just glad he didn’t object, though she wondered if this had anything to do with either her being armed or the talk he had with Kenny. She switched the gun to her favoured right hand. Her voice fell from being serious to soft and looking back up at the bite victim she said, “Just close your eyes. I’ll make this quick for you, alright?”

“Clem…” Lee whispered to her but again she didn’t break eye contact.

“You’re a good person, thank you so much for doing this…” She sounded at peace. Removing an arm from the bite, she held her chin high and followed Clem’s instructions. As she drew the gun to the woman’s forehead, she could make out Lee’s eyes growing even wider.

“Clem… You’re not really going to…”

“I’m sorry for making you stay, but this is the world we live in now. These are the choices we’re going to have to make for maybe the rest of our lives… You need to get used to it.” She took a glance at the man who was staring at her in silence. Not getting any further comments, she sighed and turned her attention back to where her pistol was aimed. She gave the woman a short, “I’m sorry,” before taking a second to pull the trigger. Her eyes following the corpse collapsing to the floor, the gunshot was a message she hoped Lee would read. Clementine was prepared to ensure every step was taken to avoid losing him again.

Tucking the gun away, she looked up at Lee to see if the message got through. His face was a mix of the initial shock but now it was predominantly full of sorrow. Well, that was better than nothing. As the two shared a moment of silence, Clementine spoke up, causing Lee to almost flinch. “You understand why I had to do that, right?”

He looked lost in thought before he reluctantly answered. “I think so… If what Larry said is true, then a bite is a death sentence, right? But… Still, how can you be so… calm about this?” Her eyes fell to the floor at the question. She wanted to tell him everything, for someone to understand what she was going through. Her vision was met with darkness as she debated her response. Maybe it would be alright to confide in him? There was no way to explain her past that made any logical sense, Kenny and Lee both wanted answers so she would have to tell them eventually. There would come a time where she couldn’t lie to them any further, but even thinking about it made her terrified that they’d lose faith in her. Regardless, doing so now would only slow them down and with this in mind, she shook her head.

“Don’t… Don’t worry about it. Come on, let’s just go-”

Guys!” Clementine was interrupted by a voice coming from the car park beneath them. Glenn was seen staring into the nearby forest, and on closer inspection, she could make out a swarm of walkers appearing from the shadows. “Guys, we gotta go! Now!”

“Shit, come on, Lee!” With no time to hesitate, the pair bolted for the stairs. They were mere metres away from the turning, but mid-sprint the already out-of-breath Clementine tripped upon placing too much pressure on her left leg, in which she felt a jolt of pain soaring through it. The energy bar wasn’t enough, the strange pain was gone in an instant, but the lower half of her body refused to counter the fall. As she tumbled to the balcony floor, she propped her head up to see Lee sprinting back towards her.

“Clem! Fuck, are you okay?” He knelt beside her frantically glancing between the walkers and her motionless body. She tried hauling herself up with her right leg but only slipped to where her face met the ground. This wasn’t good. She didn’t have the energy to get down the stairs, let alone walk all the way back to the drug store. As she lay there, her thoughts were filled with the idea of being a burden again and how she was putting Lee in danger.

“Just… Just go… I can deal with the walkers, I’ll be fine…”

“Not in your condition!” His voice was commanding, he took a final look through the balcony’s railing at the walkers and made up his mind. “Oh, fuck it.” Her body was flipped over and she felt a pair of arms lifting from her knees and upper back. Before she knew it, Lee resumed his sprint as her head dangled upside down, rocking back and forth from the sudden motion. The moment she caught on to what was happening, her stomach reacted to the oncoming information immediately. With Lee descended the flight of stairs, she could feel the chocolate morphing into something far more sinister. Her gut became a choir of deep rumbles with each step down, and as Lee skipped the last one to make a leap for the ground, a scorching gas tore through her throat as a severe warning to stop.

“Put me down… Put me down putmedown!” It was getting worse; she knew what was about to happen in a few seconds, yet Lee was still going. She tried to speak up again but was cut off by an abrupt gag reflex at the taste of her stomach’s persistent toxic gases, causing her entire body to sharply tense. Nothing came out, but her stomach was set ablaze at the reaction and she was silently begging for her saviour to stop. Lee, please… It hurts so much… Please stop…

“Hang in there a little longer, Clem! We’re almost at the car!”

A CAR!?” Nope. Going straight from one torture-filled mode of transport to another wasn’t happening. The sound of the pizza delivery car’s engine was a battle-cry, and fighting her body again in quick succession was a war she’s did not want to take part in. Her eyes drifted in the moonlit sky as she was reminded of a similar scene at the power station. Every time she’d experienced this pain back then, she’d passed out, and that luxury was sounding more inviting the longer she stared into the stars. It was the only way to stop it. Still in Lee’s arms, her earlier fatigue was now in full force, and Clementine’s vision soon became one with the pitch-black sky.

Chapter Text

“Clem…”

Huh? What… Who’s there?

“You… ou… prot… me” The voice was barely audible. Various sentences and words were distorted by a fuzzy mist enveloping her mind. Despite the lack of clarity, she could make out the voice containing childlike characteristics. It was male but somewhat high pitched. Was this a dream? That would be the most straightforward answer, but it didn’t explain why she couldn’t see. Tiredness hindered her senses, making the possibility of arriving at a conclusion for the voice more of a challenge. Thinking of where her body could be right now, she speculated Duck being the possible speaker. That’s right… If she passed out, then it’s likely she was back in the drug store, and Duck wasn’t exactly the quietest kid. It all made sense, but why him? Another string of audio appeared, one that was clearer and therefore easier to identify. It was short but was enough to disprove her theories.

Clem.”

It was AJ. For the first time since his death, she could hear her son’s voice.

AJ! Where… where are you… I can’t… see…

Her thoughts followed the same fatigued pattern as the rest of her senses. Each word made her feel more out of breath than the last, but even if this was only a dream, she was desperate to see his face again. He sounded just inside her arm’s reach, if only she could wrap them around his body and hold him close, never to let go. She wanted to say how much she loved him, to listen to his morning greetings, but most of all, to say she’s sorry. Before long, his voice was becoming lost beneath the black mist.

No… Wait, AJ, don’t go… I’m sorry, I’m so… so sorry… Please don’t go-

“Ken, I think she’s waking up!”

-don’t leave me again… Please forgive me… I didn’t mean for this to happen-

“Uh, Clementine?”

-My little Goofball…

“Clementine!”

“AJ!?” Her eyes flew open at the sound of her name as she propelled the top half of her body upwards. Frantically glancing at her surroundings, she was in fact back at the drug store. Rapid breathes matched the speed of her heartbeat as she found herself sitting on a countertop. Looking to her sides revealed Kenny and Katjaa close by, of whom the latter placed a hand on her shoulder in an attempt to calm her down.

“It’s okay! It’s okay, it was just a bad dream.” Katjaa tried putting on her usual motherly tone, but even she couldn’t hide the genuine worry behind her reassurances. Clementine cycled between glances at the two at either side as she sat there trying to slow down her breathing. The reality of the situation hit her. AJ was this close, but not even her subconscious could provide his image for a single second. Waking up before she could meet him hurt her spirits, and she wondered why she had been lying on the drink station’s counter.

“What… What happened?”

“We were gonna ask you that…” Kenny shared the same worried expression as his wife but decided to provide an explanation. “You guys got back a few minutes ago. Lee burst through the door carryin’ you and asked if we could take care of you. He said you looked like you were about to be sick but passed out before you could. So… are you gonna be okay?”

A raging rumble erupted from her stomach at the reminder of her condition, causing her to bring her arms over the fragile area on instinct. A wave of nausea soon overcame her after returning to her full senses thanks to the sick having time to settle in. It was safe to say by now that the chocolate was a bad idea. She turned to meet his eyes looking like she was about to cry which gave him his answer.

“It’s just... Lee said he’s off to get the keys, meaning we’ll probably be outta here in a little while.”

Meaning another car ride… She already felt like shit, the last thing she wanted was to endure another vehicle. They seemed to cause the most damaging reactions, and knowing the ride would be inevitable, a sequence of tears were brought to her eyes upon thinking about how much pain she already was - and would be - in. She squeezed her lower abdomen and slammed her dripping eyes shut as the torture finally broke her. The more she envisioned herself on the back of the truck repeating the same events as before, the more she couldn’t stop herself from crying. It wasn’t like her to cry from pain but stitching up your own arm or getting bit didn’t even compare to this. At least those scenarios only lasted half an hour at the maximum, this was constant.

“Oh shit! It wasn’t something I said, was it?”

“Oh sweetie, it’ll be okay, I promise.” Those words couldn’t be further from the truth. Katjaa rubbed her shoulder but the kind gesture only felt hurtful because of the promise it was backed behind.

“No Kenny it’s fine, it’s just… You don’t have any idea how much this hurts…” She trailed off after a faint bubbling sensation emerged in her stomach taking on the usual burning heat which caused her to squeeze her abdomen even tighter in fear. How she would give anything right now to go back to sitting in the barn with her leg chopped in half. “Not even dying was this painful… It gets worse each time… and-and now it’s about to happen all over again when we l-l-leave…” Her voice was shaky, saying all of this would, by her normal standards, make her sound absolutely pathetic but for once she didn’t care. Nobody knew about or would ever feel the same type of pain and this time she couldn’t keep it to herself. And for a brief moment, she acted like an innocent girl as her next words carried the weight of all the tears that they were muffled by. “Just make it stop… Please…”

Both of the parents were at a loss for words. There was nothing they could say to make her feel better; witnessing how bad it was for themselves, they must have understood how terrified she was of car rides. A gentle hand rubbed against her back as Katjaa inquired about her illness in a soft voice. “Did a doctor ever tell you what you’re sick with? I can try to find you some medicine when Lee comes back.”

“No medicine can stop this…”

“But… How do you know?”

Because no-one's ever been stupid enough to send their body back in time twice in one go… Who ever heard of a time travel doctor? Other than if that caravan guy knew anything, nobody could've ever made something to help with this. I fucked up using that device. I was too hasty. It's my fault this is happening to me. God, I hope Louis is okay… If he's going through the same thing all because of me…

"Um, Clementine?" 

"Huh?" Kenny broke her from her thoughts. Answering the question fell behind blaming herself for her boyfriend's potential suffering which only made her feel worse. 

"Ken, maybe it's best if you take her to the restroom for a bit. I'll make sure Ducky's ready to leave." 

"Yeah… that sound alright to you, Clementine?" She didn't want to be sick again before they leave, but she wouldn't be able to forgive herself if she had an accident over them. Maybe it would be best to keep away from them while she was in such a nauseous state. The cuffs of her jacket's sleeves were used to wipe away the still flowing tears before agreeing.

"Yeah, yeah okay…" She twisted round to the right to meet Kenny as she gave him a quiet, "Thank you…"

"It's no problem, really. Right, you ready to get down?" He offered his hands so she could use them as supports to get off the countertop.

Taking a hold of him, she braced herself for what even a small drop could do. Before shuffling herself off, she warned him, “Just… just be careful. I don’t want to…” her cheeks displayed a dim red tint in embarrassment for what she was about to say. “…you know, hurl on you…”

“We won’t let it come to that, alright? Come on, the sooner we get you to that restroom, the better. Let’s get you down, nice and easy…” And with that, Clementine pushed herself off the counter. She landed steadily on both feet, but it didn’t go as smoothly as possible as taking the fall caused a surge of bile to spring to the back of her throat. Noticing this immediately, she slammed her eyes shut again and brought a hand to her mouth as her heartrate acknowledged the danger.

“Woah woah woah! Just take deep breaths! You’ll be alright. Take as long as you need.” The voice came directly from above. She hadn’t been aware that at the taste of the bile, she’d naturally rushed up to him for help. Her left arm clung onto his shirt as she began following his breathing advice. Her air intake was loud and disorderly, but she seemed to be making good progress in calming herself down. That was until the bubbling sensation in her stomach eventually advanced to boiling point, inducing a harsh queasiness to spread up her body.

“Eughh fuck…” She clung on for dear life, but the bile wasn’t going down. Her rate of breathing increased as a trail of fire shot up her digestive system. The oncoming extra oxygen fell on trembling nerves; ‘it’ was coming, and she wasn’t ready. Her breathing was changing into a set of whines, and noticing her sudden scared behaviour, Kenny spoke up.

“Hey… Oh shit, are you alri- Fuck!” She couldn’t hold it in anymore. As she exhaled, a large portion of the boiling liquid escaped through her fingers, and she pushed Kenny to the side when she felt more on the way. Falling to her knees, Clementine endured the pain of one big heave infested with the energy bar’s taste. Still having the urge to vomit, she violently coughed to release any leftovers but to her surprise, that was all this round had to offer. By now she was used to requiring multiple heaves to empty her gut, so for there to be only one left her feeling as sick as she started. Taking some time to release the steam emitting from her stomach, she could hear Katjaa swapping her attention from Duck to her and Kenny.

“Ken? What’s… Oh my god, what happened?”

“That’s not comin’ off… Shit, Clem! Are you alright? She’s been sick.” Clementine rotated her neck to see Katjaa looking horrified from over the countertop. Deciding there was definitely no further sick on the way, she pushed herself off the ground but as she turned around, the sight before her fuelled her dried tears with water. Kenny was stretching his shirt away from him as a splatter of her stomach’s produce dripped down the left side of his chest. The one thing she was afraid of doing presented itself for all the world to see. Guilt spread across her face as she couldn’t believe her actions.

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to, I swear!” This wasn’t just anyone she’d been sick on, this was Kenny. The very person in this new timeline who’d given her hope again and put so much faith in her, and this was her way of repaying him. She continued apologising feeling as if she’d betrayed him before he let out a suppressed chuckle.

“It’s alright Clementine, this just means both of us have a reason to go to the restroom now. More importantly, you okay after that?” She would’ve expected it from the old Kenny, but for this version of him who probably viewed her as a stranger to value her health first caught her by surprise.

“Oh… Well, I guess…” She didn’t really know how to respond. On the one hand, it felt relieving to drain her system of it all but on the other hand she still felt nauseous.

“I suppose that’s the best we’re gonna get, now come on. Let’s got off to that restroom, I don’t want this to dry.” Despite him assuring her it was fine, taking a look at his ruined shirt caused her to feel a discouraging guilt. Returning to the habit of holding her right arm over her stomach, she held her head low as she nodded and the two headed for the restroom. Just wanting the day to end, a voice called out the them that made Clementine freeze in her tracks.

“Hey, um, Clementine, is it?” The instantly recognisable voice from behind sent a shiver down her spine. It was Lilly. For a moment, she simply stood there without a thought crossing her mind. Her face was unintentionally showing signs of fear; she wasn’t afraid of the woman herself, but instead what would happen if she talked to her. Just hearing her voice earlier was enough to light the spark on her rage, and she dreaded what she’d be capable of without Lee around to stop her. Her eyes darted up at Kenny a few steps ahead, silently asking for help as her darker side was reawakening. The man looked puzzled by her strange behaviour, but assumed it was because of her illness.

Answering in her place, he looked over to Lilly and said, “Yeah? You might wanna make it quick, she’s really sick.”

“Sorry, it won’t take long.” Clementine’s heart began pounding like a drum. She mentally ordered herself to keep a blank mind; she’d accepted an inability to control this sinister nature so believed this might help to slow down the process. “It’s just, I wanted to apologise for how my dad acted back there.” Keeping her thoughts at bay was more challenging than she anticipated. One side of her understood Lilly’s good intentions here but the other couldn’t care less. It was the same side that wouldn’t be satisfied until it saw a bullet through the woman’s neck and would stop at nothing to achieve its goal. Feeling the war overcoming her mind, she resorted to her breathing technique and locked her eyes on Kenny as a reminder of the danger she could put him in. The man in question was beginning to look worried as his gaze flickered between her and Lilly. She tried focusing on the air entering her lungs over the woman behind her. “I know he’s got a temper, but he really doesn’t mean it. So, I’m sorry for how he pushed you.”

The room went silent as Kenny and Lilly both assumed that she’d say something in return. She was treading on thin ice for even thinking about responding, but the situation was becoming more awkward the longer she took and saying anything at all would end the conversation quicker. Pausing her breathing, she didn’t waver her gaze from Kenny as she replied with, “It… I-I-I-It’s f-fine…” Even her rational side was disappointed in her response. “It’s fine”!? She puts a bullet in your kid, and the next thing you say to her is, “It’s fine”!? She closed her eyes as a stampede of madness rushed through her mind. The restroom. She needed to get to the restroom now.

“…Clementine?” Her vision was greeted by the sight of Kenny looking even more worried than before, almost scared. It was a mild version of the way Lee looked after almost being attacked.

“Hey, is she okay?” Lilly’s voice struck her mind like a shockwave. Her eyes widened as she looked down towards her blood-stained right hand. Her nails were digging into her skin, the unintended force used to clench her fist resulted in her entire arm quivering. She was reminded of when she attacked Lee; falling any further into madness could lead to Kenny taking his place. Get to the restroom. Now! Not willing to risk any more time, she immediately took action and stomped her way over to her destination, taking a hold of Kenny’s hand in the process and dragging him along.

Practically throwing him inside, she pressed her back against the door she slammed behind her and let out a loud sigh of relief. Crisis avoided. She never knew going to the toilet could be so difficult; on the way she’d spilled her guts over someone and almost lost her mind over another, so to finally be here felt somewhat accomplishing.

Kenny was standing idly by in a state of confusion but looking down at the stain on his shirt reminded him of his original goal. “Um, right. There’s still rolls of toilet paper in here, right? Think I’m gonna need some.”

“Yeah, there’s loads.” With the rage settling down, the guilt she felt beforehand was slowly reappearing. She watched him walk past the cubicles to where he cursed at the lack of running water from one of the various faucets. Grabbing a roll of paper, she folded a few stacks together and joined him by the sink where she offered to clean up her mess. “It won’t get it all off, but I’ll try to get most of it.”

“It’s alright, you don’t have to.”

“No, it’s my mess… I’m sorry, again…” He stretched out the shirt and she began soaking up the thin layer of vomit.

“Don’t worry about it. It wasn’t your fault, okay? I signed up for this when I agreed to take care of you, you can’t control what’s gonna happen when you’re sick.” His kind words were appreciated, but it didn’t stop her from finding some way to blame herself.

“Maybe not… But I can control if I’m sick on someone.” The two shared a moment of silence before she realised more paper was required and returned with a clean set. There was a lot more than she initially thought, and the smell only served to reignite her nausea. Trying not to think about it, she hoped Kenny would want to talk about something, in which he eventually did.

“So… what happened back there?”

“Back where?”

“With Lilly, I mean.”

“Ah.” This was going to be awkward to explain. How could she possibly say she was a broken shell of her former self who didn’t have full control over their actions? There was no time to brainstorm a suitable response however, as Kenny explained his concerns further.

“…I’ve seen that look before. When we first got here, you looked like you were ready to tear Lee’s head off. I’ve gotta ask… What was that all about? Why?” Her arm stopped its cleaning duties. She couldn’t lie to him, not after the mess she’d made. The stain was taunting her; despite how hard her attempts to clear it were, it wasn’t fully coming off. It almost summed up her actions in this new timeline perfectly, especially the situation with Lee. She tried to stop it, but…

“If I tell you, please don’t think anything bad of me… please?” It was personally shameful enough and her stomach became a pit of nerves at the thought of either him or Lee thinking of her as a problem. She couldn’t hide this broken nature forever, if they’re all going to stay together at the motel, she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she somehow put one of them in danger because they were unaware of her faults.

“Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad. You can tell me, Clementine. You willingly saved my boy’s life twice now, there ain’t nothin’ that could make me think worse of you.” Clem took a deep breath and took a few seconds to prepare herself. Here goes nothing.

“Okay… So, I have uh… I have a… A p-problem.”

“A problem?”

“Yeah… It started a few days ago, around when this sickness started. But I only really noticed it yesterday on the farm… I…”

The words were stuck in her mouth. She looked up at Kenny who was listening intently, and she continued after he issued her a, “Go on…”

“I… If I’m being completely honest with you, Kenny… I-I can’t control myself sometimes… When you saw me nearly attacking Lee earlier, I just… Couldn’t stop it. And it’s all because of Lilly.”

“Couldn’t stop what? And why Lilly? Do you know her too?” He was sounding more intrigued when she brought up Lilly; this was a way for him to get answers to the questions she overheard him and Lee talking about. Their eye contact was broken upon Clem staring into his shirt after having difficulty thinking of a believable explanation.

“L-let’s just say something happened a few days ago, and she was involved. Please believe me when I say this… but when that thing happened, something broke inside me.” She looked up at him on the verge of tears after thinking about AJ’s death again. He looked shocked at the barebones story, but patiently waited for more. “And-and now… Whenever I think of Lilly, or those walkers that took everything from me…” Her tone became bitter momentarily but prevented herself from falling down the slippery slope into pure anger. Taking another heavy breath, she continued with, “Whenever I think of them, or see them, I just… I feel this rage slowly taking control. And when Lilly was arguing with you guys earlier on it just… reached a breaking point. That’s why I was going to attack Lee… I stopped myself before we came in here but…”

She closed her eyes upon feeling a single tear sliding down her cheek. She was desperate for someone to help, to get this madness out of her head. This was the furthest she’d gone with talking about her uncurable problems, but as embarrassing as it was, she couldn’t stop. The amount of times the two sat around the campfire outside Wellington listening to each other’s problems… It almost felt natural to confide in him. Opening her eyes, she stared straight into his soul as a cry for help. “I don’t know what to do! I’m terrified I might put you, or Lee, or Duck in danger and it’ll be all my fault. I don’t want this to happen to me anymore… Please help me, Kenny, please… I don’t want to hurt anyone.” Her pleas were directed straight through his pupils. It was selfish asking such a request to someone you’d supposedly just met, but right now she was desperately looking for a sign of the old Kenny. His eyes now in this younger state were the same as she’d grown to love, she just hoped they’d display care towards her now that she found so comforting in her times of need. She stood there scanning them for any change in emotion as he processed the information, but her hopes were too unrealistic, as the question she eventually received was soul-crushing.

“Clementine, you’re not… dangerous, are you?” It was as if her biggest fears had come true. If he felt the need to question her, then a part of him must have believed it. Her mind switched off. Had he given up on her? She looked into the man whose expression was one of genuine interest. Like with his conversation with Lee, he didn’t possess any malicious intent, but it didn’t stop the accusation from breaking her spirits. She didn’t know how she felt. Betrayal? No, she couldn’t blame him, he was only putting his family first and needed to know if she’d pose a threat. Realising Kenny’s intentions made her understand that it wasn’t betrayal, but instead disappointment in herself. Any amount of excuses couldn’t prevent the fact that she herself was to blame for her actions, and ultimately, she alone let everyone down. She couldn’t keep running from her problems anymore, she had to start fighting it. And the first way to do so was right here in this restroom.Her mi

“Yes…” Finally admitting she was a danger to her loved ones opened the floodgates in her eyes. “I’m dangerous… That’s why I called myself a monster, okay? I’m a broken mess… I’ve been trying to hold it together but…” She didn’t want to keep lamenting the past which he could never understand but it was the truth. The temptation to reveal everything grew stronger every time they shared these moments. But without establishing a strong bond with any of them, there was no way they could ever trust her. To carry on confessing how unstable she was brought on the ever-present fear of abandonment, and a last-ditch effort to keep him on her side caused a sudden determination to inspire her into action. “I’d never ever hurt you. Please believe me… You, Duck, Katjaa, I’ll protect all of you, I swear… I know I might lose control, I know I’m a burden being sick everywhere, but I swear on my life I’d never hurt any of you! Please believe me… Just please…” Her voice was quickly losing confidence as it was drowning beneath her tears. Dropping the dirty paper, she pulled herself into his chest, ignoring the remnants of vomit clinging to his shirt. She had already lost him once, and all she could think about was losing him again, whether it was by death or simply walking away. “…Please don’t leave me… I’m begging you…”

She took a few seconds to brace herself for his response, but upon receiving none, she reluctantly looked up. She could never have anticipated the sight before her. Through her watery gaze, she saw Kenny with his mouth dangling open and tears of his own welling in a set of puffy red eyes. “Wha… Why are you crying?” She was stunned, seeing him cry was a rare sight but one she secretly wished to see more of.

Through a fragile voice, he said, “I… I don’t know…” He stood with his arms rooted to his sides, he seemed more unsure of his demeanour than she did. “Everything you said just… I’m not gonna lie, it was horrible listenin’ to you say that about yourself, I’m so sorry for askin’ that…” His face was full of guilt and he couldn’t match her gaze. “And then, when I regretted it most, you go on about protecting my family and I just… I couldn’t handle it. I don’t know what came over me, and I still don’t know why you’re doin’ all of this for us, but…” Her eyes went wide as an arm wrapped around her back and another on her cap. “Thank you… for sayin’ that. Really.” Silence flooded the restroom as a tear fell from her cheek. Clementine couldn’t believe it; she was under the impression he was scared of her but in actual fact it was quite the opposite. That made it twice he’d reinstated hope into her during a dark time. Whether this was a gift from the old Kenny or if it had nothing to do with it, she couldn’t be more grateful for his continued faith in her. “Fuck, look at what you’ve got me doin’…” he said in a humorous tone, “You’re really something, you know that, Clementine?”

A broad smile spread across her face as a gentle laugh escaped her lips. The look they shared was beaming with pride, and she felt inclined to give her perspective of their interaction. “How did we somehow manage to go from cleaning my sick from your shirt to this?”

He let out a small laugh of his own. “Ah shit! Forgot all about that. Uh you do realise you’re gettin’ it all over your jacket, right?” She pulled herself away and brushed herself off with a clean roll of toilet paper.

Looking at the spot he was referring to on his shirt, Clementine grabbed a new cleaner set of paper. “Guess I should get back to that, huh? Isn’t that what we came here to do anyways?”

“Yeah. Guess we’re slow workers.” The mood in the restroom was shining compared to its dull state a few minutes ago. Clem used the paper to wipe away her tears before getting back on track with her cleaning duty.

“Oh, and I wanted to ask a couple more things, if that’s alright.”

“Fire away.” She was sure nothing could ruin the mood now, or at the very least, sure she wouldn’t have a mental breakdown again.

“So, first of all, when you were wakin’ up a little while ago, you were acting the same as you did in the barn. This time you were asking someone to stay… and for their forgiveness. So, if you don’t mind me asking… Who’s AJ?” It seemed as if all her positivity was released with a single sigh. If there was one topic she couldn’t, but more importantly, didn’t want to talk about, it was him. “I mean, you called him ‘Goofball’, so I was just curious…”

Not wanting to force herself through another uncomfortable conversation, she said under her breath, “I don’t want to talk about it,” before dropping her head to the floor, muttering, “Sorry.”

Kenny seemed understanding to her reluctant. “No no, it’s alright. If it’s a sensitive subject I won’t ask again. Now-”

A deafening ringing rebounded off the walls. Panic filled the restroom as the two were startled by the sudden noise and were looking around manically to find its source. During the few seconds of confusion, it was then that Clem realised what had happened. “Shit! Lee’s gone into the pharmacy, we’ve gotta go!”

“That thing’s a goddamn dinner bell! Let’s go!” The two burst through the door to find the drug store in a state of chaos. Doug, Carley and Glenn were gawking at the shabby fortifications on the windows as the wood bounced back and forth. Lee and Lilly ran through the office door, with the latter immediately supplying Larry with a handful of pills. Kenny shot off to his frightened family by the drinks station, and Lee ran the opposite direction, shouting, “Clementine!” as he hurriedly checked in on her. “We got the pills, it’s time to go!”

With the ringing circulating a frenzy of nerves throughout the survivors, it didn’t take long for Kenny to take charge of the room. “I’m gonna get the truck pulled up ‘round back!”

“Do it fast, I’ve gotta get my dad outta here.”

“I don’t plan on dilly-dallying.” Lilly and Larry disappeared into the office, and Kenny turned his attention to everyone else while keeping a calm composure. “Honey, take Duck into the office and barricade the living hell out of the door behind me.” He gestured the two to the room who immediately took off for his directions. “Glenn, when you hear me honking in the alley, start getting people out of here!”

“You got it!”

“Doug, Carley and Lee, you guys make sure out defences stay up ‘til then. And Lee, I better take that axe in case I run into any of them on the way to my truck.”

“Here you go!” Lee tossed him the axe as scraping metal against a concrete floor screeched through the front entrance.

“Guys, that door’s not locked anymore!”

“Shit. You three get on it! I’ll get back as fast as I can! Clementine,” she stood idly by, confused on her role in the escape since she did nothing last time it happened, but her ears perked up upon hearing her name. “You’re out the back with me. While I’m getting the truck, you keep the exit clear of those things ‘til I get back. Let’s go!”

“Uh… Right!” She followed him through the office and out the back door. A cold gust of wind settled on her skin as she stepped outside, and Kenny didn’t hesitate in sprinting towards a back alley as a shortcut to his truck. Luckily, the majority of the walkers had gathered around the main entrance of the store, but a small number were scattered across the street heading in the same direction. She could hear Kenny commanding her to get to it, before vanishing beneath the shadows of the surrounding buildings.

Equipping her trusty screwdriver, she wasted no time in taking the few walkers head-on. She zigzagged across the street going from target to target. The body’s dropped like flies, making the various blood splatters look like steppingstones between each adjacent walkway. It was an easy enough job and she’d successfully cleared the scene. Glenn’s delivery car was parked nearby and the sound of an engine roaring in the distance made her realise the corpses could impede both vehicle’s paths, so wasted no time in dragging them off the road and onto the walkways. She was the drug store’s sole protector; her head shifted from side to side in rapid succession to make sure no walkers crept out of the shadows, and eventually a blue truck came to an abrupt stop a few feet away from her.

Kenny jumped out of the driver’s seat. “Good job, now get on! I’ll get the others.” She climbed aboard the cargo bed without a thought about her illness. Her mind was engaged on making sure Lee, Kenny, Katjaa and Duck all made is out safe and sound. The sight of Kenny returning through the door not even a minute later filled her with hope as the first set of survivors raced to the two vehicles. Kenny’s family settled into their truck as Glenn made a mad dash for his car parked behind, closely followed by Lilly, who looked like she was missing something. Her appearance unnerved the brunette, and she began doubting herself that this escape was going more smoothly than it seemed. Perhaps she was forgetting something as well. Wondering why no-one else was coming through the door, it suddenly hit her that Larry almost got Lee killed the last time. Her heart skipped a beat as Larry alone appeared through the door and marched towards Glenn’s car.

Knowing Kenny saved Lee the last time, she shrieked his name. The two appeared to share similar worries, as he didn’t even respond before rushing back into the drug store again. After freezing for a moment, she jumped off the truck herself, but before she made it to the doorway, it swung upon with Kenny making a beeline for the passenger seat. Lee’s figure appeared in his shadow, and she enjoyed a second of relief before hearing Kenny barking at them to get on. The two crashed into the cargo bed as steam from the spinning tires was the green flag for a reckless getaway.

The truck span around to retreat through the alley it arrived through and the group were officially on their way to the motor inn. The sudden 180 threw Clem and Lee to the side of the truck which was the catalyst for her stomach to lose its strength. Trying her best to ignore the oncoming nausea, she noticed Lee bringing a hand to his face. “Hey, Lee, are you okay?”

“Agh… I’m fine. That fucker knocked me flat.” So even in this timeline Larry tried to kill Lee. She made a mental note to personally make him pay for the attempt at murder at some point down the line. She was happy to see him make it out, but it didn’t last long as the car hit a variety of bumps in the road. The fast movements around her brought upon a dizziness she couldn’t simply ignore, and the first sense of fire was being ignited in her stomach.

Finally arriving at the moment she’d been dreading half the day, she clenched her arms around abdomen as the previous fear she’d experienced unfolded itself upon her in a matter of seconds. Like she stated earlier, every time she’d been sick the pain had gotten even more cruel, and now she was about to experience the worst one so far. It was the final price to pay in order to achieve peace at the motor inn. “Lee…”

He removed the hand from his face and understood the situation instantly. Turning himself around, he placed a hand on her right shoulder and tried to sooth the terrified teenager he was facing. “It’s gonna be alright, Clem, okay? I’m gonna be here with you. Can you… can you hold it in? At all?” She shook her head and her stomach interpreted that as permission to begin its heartless torture. The truck hit another bump which caused her to gag. The wildfire was in full effect, and Clementine dragged herself to the rear end of the truck where she propped her body shoulders-up over the side. She shut her eyes and clenched her teeth. No amounts of preparation could have readied her for any one of her vomiting rounds, and this was no different. Feeling a hand on her back, she cringed at every heartbeat, with each thump against her chest lighting the fuse on her stomach’s cannon. Feeling the first shot rising, she automatically gagged again and waited for the wildfire to spread to her throat. Here it comes…

“…”

But nothing came out. She managed to inhale sharply before the urge to vomit took control again, but despite how strongly this feeling was, her stomach’s hellish potion refused to release itself. The blood circulating from the organ spread the intense heat throughout her entire body where she began to sweat. What? What’s happening? Why won’t it come out! She tried to force it out herself, but no matter how hard she tried, no progress was being made. Her stomach was already engulfed in flames, and the longer whatever was brewing down there stayed inside, the hotter it was getting. It had never been this bad before, she was stuck in an endless cycle of ineffective gags that used up her body’s strength in its pointless endeavour. She collapsed on her arms and fell back into the truck, desperately trying to breath beneath the wildfire’s smoke.

“Jesus, Clem!” Lee looked truly horrified. There was nothing he could do, and although she was well aware of this, she couldn’t stop herself from begging for help.

“Make it stop… Just make it stop…” that was all she could manage before the pain was becoming unbearable. The gagging slowed but it only increased her stomach’s firepower. Lying on the truck’s bed, she curled into a ball with her arms applying strong amounts of pressure to her abdomen in a fruitless attempt to ease the pain. Nothing was working, and the sounds of the wind and cars began blending into one. Slipping into unconsciousness was on the horizon, but before she completely lost touch of her senses, she could hear Lee panicking above her as she closed her eyes.

“Clem! Fuck,” she could make out a faint banging behind the source of his voice, “Kenny! Stop the truck! You gotta stop! Clem’s…” the power vanished from his shouts as Clementine lost the will to listen. The sounds of her surroundings soon fell to darkness, and so too did her mind as she couldn’t hold on any longer. The increasing pain won yet again, and she finally passed out.

***

“…no problem. We have to take care of each other.”

“Yeah, we do.” Clementine delicately opened her eyes to the sight of the motor inn. She was still in the back of the truck and stood before her were Kenny and Lee engaged in a firm handshake. In the drowsy state that she was, she weakly concentrated on her hearing to understand their conversation. The more the world around her became clearer, the heavier her body felt against the cold metal as she lay in the same position she’d passed out in.

“Don’t go worrying all by yourself.”

“Shit man, what’s there not to worry about now?”

“With Clementine, I mean. Earlier, you said you weren’t sure if you could help her. I just want you to know that I look at you, and I see the type of guy who makes the best of a bad situation. We’ll all do our part; just remember you aren’t alone on this. That girl’s gonna be just fine.”

“Thanks, Kenny.”

“You got it.” Throughout their talk, a mild headache grew that countered the cool sting of the truck against her right cheek. She saw Kenny making his way back to the truck after using both hands to hold herself up, and it didn’t take him long to notice she was awake. “Speak of the devil. She’s up, Lee.” Before long, both men had crowded around her before Kenny muttered under his breath, “Damn, it’s still bleeding,” and handed her a piece of paper towel. Wondering what he was referring to, she looked down to see blood splashing between her fingers with the source coming from her nose.

Blocking the dripping blood with the towel, Lee informed her, “I saw it bleeding just before you passed out. I got Kenny to stop the truck but we didn’t have anything on us at the time and couldn’t get it to stop. You went through hell and back getting here… How are you holding up, Clementine?”

Squeezing her nose to stop the blood flow, she replied through a nasally voice, “Like shit. But I guess that’s normal now…” She took a moment to absorb the area around her. “We’re here… We’re finally here. That’s all that matters.” And after breathing a loud sigh of relief, a faint smile formed on her lips as she tilted her head back, saying, “Thank God for that…”

“Yeah, I think you out of all people deserve a good night’s rest.” Kenny gave her a comforting smile as Lee was quick to agree.

“Heh. You’re right about that.” All she wanted to do now was climb into a bed and heal her breaking body, but there was something on her mind she needed them to know.

“Guys?”

“What’s up, Clem?” Lee looked instantly worried thanks to her record of needing help every minute, and it only made her appreciate the work he was putting in for her even more.

“I just wanted to say… Thank you. Both of you.” She moved herself to the end of the truck closer to where they stood. Crossing her legs, she stuck the crumpled paper towel up the still bleeding side of her nose so to unblock the other, allowing her to speak in a much clearer voice. “I wouldn’t have made it here without you guys. I know I’ve caused more than a few problems for both of you, so thanks for not giving up on me. You don’t understand how much I owe you both…” The last part referred to the previous, and current timeline. Her appreciation for them radiated from her gleaming eyes as her speech spread positivity among both men.

“Aw, don’t mention it Clem. We have to look out for each other, right Kenny?” Lee displayed a proud grin as the man opposite mirrored his expression.

“Yeah, we do.” They enjoyed a brief laugh between them as they made a perfect rendition of their last conversation with the roles reversed. “So, anyone got their eye on a room? No-one’s picked yet, so it’s first come, first serve.”

Clementine immediately spoke up in a humorous tone. “I don’t care which one I get, as long as it’s on the ground!” With the car ride getting here hopefully the last she’d have to suffer for a while, she could finally laugh at the difficult journey she’d endured for the past few days.

Kenny seemed to take the joke in good spirit and chimed in with, “Yeah, I don’t want to wake up one morning to get drenched in sick again”. She still felt guilty about the matter but seeing the pair in front laugh together was something she’d missed for almost a decade. Shaking her head with a wide smile, she looked around to see everyone else who made it to the motor inn. Glenn was missing, though that was to be expected since he didn’t stick around the last time, but his absence alone didn’t suggest why the group’s numbers felt so small. Doug didn’t make it out of the drug store previously so she didn’t hold high hopes for him, Katjaa and Duck who were rummaging through various boxes, Lilly was attending to the pile of walker corpses, Larry was leaning in the distance on a balcony support, herself, Kenny and Lee were right here, and that just left…

“Hey, where’s Carley? …Or even Doug?”

Lee’s mood went downhill fast upon hearing her question. He sighed, but eventually gave her a blunt answer. “They didn’t make it.”

“What?” She gasped in her response. Clementine knew Carley as a survivor; among the motel group, her shooting skills were unparalleled, and she’d gotten herself out of tricky situation more than once. The troubled teen was almost devastated at the news. She loved having Carley around, the woman was so caring towards her during their three months’ stay at the motel but now she wouldn’t get the chance to enjoy their interactions this time around. What could’ve possibly happened for Carley to not make it out?

“Those things – what do you call them? Walkers? They got through the windows and I was stuck holding the main door closed. Glenn ran off beforehand to help Katjaa with something, and that’s when they were both grabbed at the same time. I couldn’t get anything to brace the door… And because of that, I could only watch as Doug was pulled through a window and Carley was dragged to the floor… I barely got out myself. I could’ve saved them.”

Wait… She realised something upon hearing how it happened. He couldn’t find anything to brace the door… I found and used his dad’s cane the last time. So, does that mean Carley’s dead… because of me? It made sense, if she were there, Lee would’ve been able to help Carley. Even worse, if she were there in her current form instead of the scared eight-year-old she once was, Doug could’ve been saved too. It was just a simple case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It made her feel disappointed in herself, but she wouldn’t allow Lee to blame himself over their deaths. “You can’t save everyone, Lee. Trust me. This is just what happens sometimes. I know you did your best.”

“I don’t know…” He was unsure of how to react to the support, that was just the type of guy she knew him to be. Unless he made sure that everything went perfectly according to plan, he always arrived at blaming himself.

“Well if it makes you feel any better, you holding up our defences made sure everyone else got out alright. That’s gotta count for something.” Kenny joined in trying to make him feel better, but he only shrugged in response. Trying to lighten the mood, Kenny brought attention to their current situation as gunshots and a tank could scarcely be heard over the nearby forest. “I hope that’s the sound of us winning this thing! You know, this motor inn’s pretty damn defendable. We block off the entrances with some cars and keep someone on watch and we could stay here until the military rolls through.”

“Don’t get your hopes up about the military… But yeah, we should stay here.” She didn’t want to break his enthusiasm, but it was better than him living in false hope. Covering her face with her hands, she accidentally knocked the paper towel from her nose to find it was still bleeding. The sight of her own blood reminded her off the trouble she went through just to be able to sit the truck at this very moment, and beneath the shield blocking her vision from the outside world, she let out, “And it only took a few long, painful days…” beneath her breath. Thankfully, her guardians didn’t hear that last part, and they continued feeling hopeful.

“Yeah, it’s not so bad here.”

“We’ve got beds, we’ve got water and most importantly, we’ve got light.” He looked up towards the motel’s glowing entrance sign, and Clementine couldn’t help but think about how dangerous it with how easily it could draw walkers to the motel. Luckily, she didn’t have to worry about that for much longer. “There are worse places to call home.” And if on cue, the lights on the surrounding streetlamps vanished one after another like dominoes.

Welp. Here’s to a new life. A new day. A new beginning. I swear, AJ, I won’t let you down again. That’s a promise. Finishing her inner monologue, she watched almost in amusement as Kenny and Lee were looking around nervously, before the man who was placed the light so high on his priority list realised life wasn’t about to be so easy.

“Oh.”

Chapter Text

The first night at the motor inn. Her aching body rested on top of the bed’s covers; it was a strange sleeping habit brought on after many years of makeshift beds, but it was enough to provide the long-awaited peace. The groans of her battered stomach were silenced by a place free of any troubles, and it didn’t take long for Clementine to find herself slipping into the world of dreams. She was weightless; a far cry from the constant strain placed upon her shoulders for the past few days, and just being able be to escape into her mind away from it all was a luxury she revelled in.

Eager to put the day behind her and to see what her subconscious had prepared, her eyes leisurely opened as a gentle heat wrapped itself around her body. It didn’t take a second for her to recognise her surroundings. A small campfire burned bright against the midnight sky with the sound of crackling wood bringing a sense of calmness over her mind as she entered the scene. It was the power station. The angle her head was tilted, the coat covering her, there was no doubt about it.

Just as she was settling into the cosy environment, her thoughts were directed to the owner of the warm clothing. The last time she had this dream was on Hershel’s farm, and the memory of Lee and Kenny abandoning her caused a rush of panic to awaken her senses. Were they still here? It might have only been pretend, but these dreams felt more than real, and she couldn’t bear the thought of her companion’s dreamlike counterparts vanishing so suddenly. Her head jolted up to see the person whose lap it rested on. The brief panic was put to rest as the sight of Kenny and a baby AJ entered her vision, only something was slightly off. Regardless, her nerves escaped through a sigh of relief and she closed her eyes when her head returned to its temporary pillow. Here she was again, back with her family without a shred of the pain she’d gone to sleep under. She simply lay there, allowing her eyes to flutter upon the gentle campfire. For a few seconds, she did absolutely nothing, absorbing the serenity carried through the winter breeze. She couldn’t stop herself from smiling. The warmth, the people around her, it felt so good.

“Oh hey, Clem. You awake?” Her eyes were fixated on the flames as a soft voice drifted through the air. She quietly giggled at the irony of the question; her mood was almost the polar apposite from how it was back at the drug store.

“I’m not awake, but I’m here now. That’s all that matters…” Her voice trailed off as she snuggled closer to him. There was no danger, there was no pain, it was nothing short of perfect. It might have only been a dream but being with him and AJ like this made her feel a safety she couldn’t experience in the real world anymore. Looking up at her guardian again, she immediately realised what seemed off. “Kenny, what happened to your beard? And your hair… it’s so dark.” She was so used to envisioning him in his older form, the one she’d last seem him alive and well right before his death. But now, his almost fully greyed beard was missing, and he appeared just as he did outside of her dream.

“Dunno. Why, do you miss it?” He offered a comforting smile as he asked out of genuine interest. She would be lying to say she didn’t – it was present from the moment they were reunited at the ski lodge and its aged colours represented over a year of happy days they’d spent raising AJ together. Furthermore, she secretly loved the additional comfort it provided when they shared a hug, it was as if that beard was a part of him. So many great memories could be associated with it; she only now noticed that she was disheartened to see it gone, whether it be in the real world or in a dream.

Her voice was low as she returned her gaze to the campfire. “Kinda… Yeah.”

“Well, technically this is your dream, Clementine. You could probably just give me one next time you come here. But I guess that means you’ve accepted it, huh?”

Wondering if this had anything to do with their previous dream conversations, she pressed him to explain. “’Accepted it’? What do you mean?”

“I mean the guy sleeping in a different room to you at that motor inn who’s back with his family is the same guy you’re talkin’ to now.” His eyes reflected the warm orange light of the fire. His eyes. Just like with his beard, his eye patch was no more. From the angle she looked up at him from the comfort of his right leg, the previously beaten left eye was a projector for the flourishing flames. The light cast upon it as they were matched in a compassionate gaze was a gateway to the hardships he endured, which was countered by the moonlight dawning upon the other. It was like looking at two sides of him. She lay there engrossed by the imagery painted across his face. Through his left eye she could see that it was still there - all of the times she’d took it upon herself to rebuild him, all of the grief they shared over countless deaths… In the orange tint that glazed over his brown iris could she see their campfire outside the gates of Wellington burning as strong as ever. And despite how much these flames refused to die, in the other eye was a sense of purity. It reflected the shining moon like a mirror, possessing no motives for spite, and it wasn’t cursed to burn the fuel of past mistakes. Each eye displayed a different story but were drawn together like magnets. This is who he was now. By going back in time, she hadn’t just given herself a second chance, she’d also offered one to Kenny even if his real counterpart would never know. He was right, through his eyes alone she could tell they were the same person, and this time she owed it him to do her absolute best to protect his heart from breaking again. It was the least she could do.

The moment she’d finished her inner monologue, Kenny seemed to directly respond. “Uh… Yeah… I wanted to touch on that, actually.” In this world of dreams, he’d already proven himself to be able to read her mind, so she didn’t react in shock as she had the first time it happened and instead patiently waited for him to continue. “You said some tear jerkin’ things yesterday… I just wanted to thank you again for saying you’d protect Kat and Duck the way you did.” The smile she received filled her with hope, she was so relieved that he still believed in her after the trouble she caused on the way to the motel. “I know it’s a bit weird comin’ from me, but you take care of them, okay? They deserve so much better… I know I can count on you, Clem.”

“I will.” Her reply was natural, when it came to Katjaa and Duck, she didn’t even have to think before the idea of protecting them became top priority. “I’ll do whatever it takes. They’ll be safe with me, I promise.” Kenny seemed more than satisfied with her assurance as his gaze lazily drifted back to the campfire. Crackling firewood became the soundtrack to the peaceful scene once again as the two shared a minute of silence. No words needed to be spoken, Clementine was simply incredibly grateful to be able to spend this time away from her real body. During the minute’s silence, she focused on the flow of air entering her nose and making its way through her lungs. A cooling sensation swept through her body and was most noticeable on the organ at the source of so much of her recent pain. Her stomach welcomed the coolant with open arms, the soothing stream passing through her scarred digestive system was nothing short of heavenly. Each breath added to the overwhelming sense of relief of her real body’s absent pain. It wasn’t here. She couldn’t stop tears from welling in her eyes as she took a moment to truly appreciate this gift of a dream. It was rare for her to cry tears of joy, but she didn’t let any escape as she took a deep breath and let out of loud sigh of relief. It caught the attention of Kenny, who immediately became worried about her.

“Hey… You doin’ alright? I’m sorry for what you’ve had to go through, darlin’. These last few days must’ve been hell on earth.” Even if she wasn’t a child anymore, she still loved being called ‘darling’ by him. Upon hearing the nickname, she curled herself closer beneath his jacket and closed her eyes.

“I don’t even want to think about it. Everything right now is just…” her voice gradually became quieter before whispering, “perfect…” as a broad smile spread across her face. “This feels so, so good Kenny, you don’t understand. I can finally just… relax…” Fatigue was beginning to settle in, and she knew that meant the dream wouldn’t last much longer. She was determined to make every second count; not wanting to return to her real body just yet, she needed to concentrate on something to prevent the dream from collapsing, resulting in her subconscious ordering Kenny to strike up a conversation.

“So… is there anything you want to talk about?” His tone was almost robotic, but it did get her thinking about how these dreams of hers even worked. People had told her about lucid dreams so she just assumed she became really good at it, but the majority of the ones she had usually consisted of either being with Lee or Kenny, but their pretend-counterparts acted so differently from each other she felt compelled to ask about it.

“Um… Why do you act different to Lee? I mean, when it’s just the two of us here, you can read my mind or whatever, right? But when I’m on the train with him, he doesn’t do any of that so I’m just wondering why you can…” She wasn’t really sure where she was going with the question, and it felt particularly strange asking a part of your mind how it functions. Nevertheless, Kenny took it seriously where he took on a small smirk as his eyes were fixed on the campfire.

“He doesn’t do that? Heh. Amateur.” He sounded somewhat proud of himself and Clementine could only find his remark funny enough where she found herself giggling at the humorous answer. There was a moment of silence that followed, and the tiredness was creeping back, but it didn’t get far enough before Kenny decided to continue. “And uh… I can probably do all that stuff because I’ve had a lot of time to think. What else can I do while you and Lee sit on that train all day? Just to correct you on somethin’, you two aren’t alone on that train, and we aren’t alone in this power station.”

“Huh? What are you talking about? Wait, were you always on the train too?” She thought back to her most recent train dream the night of Ericson’s attack of the Delta boat. It was definitely only the two of them, right? Turns out she was wrong.

“Uh-huh. Who’d you think had to drive the damn thing?”

She looked at him with a mix of surprise and confusion. Now that she thought about it, the only person she saw other than Lee to drive the train was Kenny, so it would make sense if her mind automatically stuck him in the cab while the two spoke in the carriages. “Oh…” She didn’t know whether to feel guilty or plain stupid. “So… Does that mean Lee’s here?”

“Yup. Got him takin’ watch over by the fence.” Wondering if he was really here, she called out to him and before long he strolled around the transformer with a welcoming smile.

“Hey, sweet pea.”

She hadn’t heard that greeting in weeks. No matter the situation, it made her feel better every single time, and just as she opened her mouth to return the warm welcome, Kenny beat her to it. “Aw, thanks Lee!”

“Not you, dumbass.” Kenny burst out laughing to his reaction and Clementine soon found herself joining in. So it was true; even in their respective dreams, the two of them were still there finding a way to protect her. In Lee’s case, it was watching the hole in the fence to stop monsters from getting in, and in Kenny’s, it was driving the train so they could enjoy a safe ride. Scanning the man giving Kenny a scowl, she noticed he was also appeared as he currently did in the real world too. There wasn’t as big a difference since she only really knew him for around three months, but it was still an interesting observation to her.

Her laughter was short lived as it was overtaken by a deep yawn. As disappointing as it was to not have even a small conversation with Lee, she knew this world of peace was coming to an end. “Sorry guys, I-” she was cut off by another yawn causing her eyes to water, “…don’t think I can keep this up much longer.”

“No worries. It was nice seeing you, Clem.”

“Yeah, you too, Lee.” He gave her a quick wave before heading back to the hole in the fence. She readjusted herself beneath the jacket to get comfortable and was ready to head back to the real world. There was so much to do… Establish hunting parties, move furniture for defences, create a watch routine, organise runs into Macon, the list went on and on, but she’d deal with it then. Right now, even if it were just for another few seconds, she’d enjoy the peace to its fullest. The warmth of the jacket surrounded her as good as any blanket would, and her eyes fell upon the campfire as she watched it slowly fade to darkness. Just the sounds of the blowing wind and cracking firewood remained, but right before she could fall asleep, Kenny had one last thing to say. She couldn’t open her eyes to respond, and his words were the last sounds she could make out before drifting away.

“Protect them, Clem. Please… I’m counting on you.”

“I will, Kenny. I will…”

***

The morning sun shone through the gaps in her room’s curtains, Clementine opened her eyes to the dimly lit bed she’d crashed on the previous night. Rolling onto her back, she brought a hand to shield her eyes from the light as she immediately wanted to return to the dream. Her hand slid up to her forehead as a headache was awakening before she could come to her senses. It pulsed against her skull, demanding to get a few more hours of sleep, but sleeping in was a luxury exclusive to living at Ericson’s and no matter how much she may try to avoid it, eventually she’d have to start the day. Her dream had left her motivated to jump out of bed and command the motel into action, but now that she was actually here, the headache was making it sound quite unappealing.

Lying around in her room all day wouldn’t make any progress. She made a promise to protect Katjaa and Duck, and the best way to start would be acting as soon as possible. They wouldn’t be safe without walls. They’d all go hungry if they didn’t find food. With this in mind, she had to get out there. Bringing herself up to a sitting position at the left side of her bed closest to the window, she quickly brought a hand over her abdomen as it cried out in protest. The pain still lingered from the previous night, and now her muscles in accordance with her mind were demanding she went back to bed. She would’ve loved to take them up on the offer; the thoughts of relaxing back at the power station were becoming more inviting the more she realised how damaged her body currently was.

Her attempts to push herself off the bed were grinded to a halt at her abdomen’s outright refusal to strain itself; putting pressure on the area felt like she was being squeezed by a metal chain with the grip tightening the longer she defied it’s objections. She was firmly tied to the bed, where she shortly fell into a series of deep breathes as her small efforts to stand drained her stamina, that is, if she had any to begin with.

Great. Barely five minutes into the day and she already had a raging headache and couldn’t stand on her own two feet. Whatever she needed to tell the others, she was sure to make it fast. “No, fuck it. I can’t do anything like this. Go out there, tell them what to do, get back,” she muttered to herself. Was it possible to live in a dream? Taking a few day’s hibernation might be her best option; fully recovering from her bite took nearly a full month back at Ericson’s but now she was in much more inconvenient circumstances. It’s not like the motel was surrounded by solid brick walls and had a working hunting system. It was selfish, but she truly believed she could be of no use to the group in her condition other than giving directions. All she wanted was to lay in front of the campfire listening to the beautiful sound of crackling firewood and to not be plagued by this beaten body. Unfortunately, that would have to wait - she had a job to do. Hoping it wouldn’t take long, she readied to push herself off the bed once more before three knocks at the door caught her attention.

“Clementine? You awake?” It was Lee.

Her voice was laboured by the constant aches and pains, but said, “Come in,” to where Lee cautiously entered her room. She tried to stand so she could greet him properly and the result was a pained expression growing upon her face as she fell back to her sitting position.

Noticing her struggle, Lee rushed to her side and asked, “Woah, Clem, are-are you alright?”

“Well I… I can’t stand for starters.” Lee knelt down and gave a look full of sympathy. She appreciated his concern for her, but he was about to find out that she wasn’t finished. “And this headache’s killing me… So, uh, no. I’m not.”

“Jesus, I’m so sorry, Clem… I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”

“Neither can I…” She thought back to what felt like only minutes ago when she felt so at peace in her dream. Going from perfect to terrible health in such a short space of time was something she wasn’t sure was possible, it only further increased her desire to escape back to the make-believe reality.

“Me and Lilly are rounding everyone up so we can talk about how to run this place, but maybe it’s best if you go back to bed for a little while.” She wished he hadn’t presented the offer to her, but she couldn’t allow herself to chicken out now.  If I’m not going to be helpful for anything else, then the least I can do is get this done.

“No, no, I’ll be fine. Could you maybe help me up?”

“Sure, Clem. Here.” He offered his hands for support, and upon taking hold of them, she pushed herself up.

But little progress was made. “AHH!” She let out a shriek as she flopped back on to the bed. What felt like the chain squeezing her abdomen reacted harshly to the sudden pressure. The metal was burning, and it would come to no surprise if her organs were branded with the sequence of interlocked shapes.

“Shit! Clem, I’m sorry! Right, you’re definitely staying in bed!”

“I’m not giving up now.” Sitting back up, determination was etched onto her face as she looked Lee straight in the eyes. This was becoming frustrating. She didn’t look forward to spending time at the motor inn to not even be able to walk out of her own room. All she had to do was a simple job, and the longer her body refused to act, the longer it couldn’t rest. “This is nothing. The journey here was worse. You’re gonna pick me up. Then, we’re gonna walk out of here. I’m going to tell all of you what the fuck to do, and then I’m coming straight back so I can live in my dreams instead of this piece of shit body of mine. Sound good?” Lee was stunned by her rant, and noticing the silence he was giving her, she believed she may have gone a little overboard. With her gaze falling to the floor, she said, “Uh… sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so harsh… I’m just really sick of this shit, you know?”

Lee was completely understanding in his response. “It’s alright, Clem. After the last few days, I think you deserve to be.” He took a moment to internally debate the best method for getting her off the bed and settled on lifting her from the knees and back, and slowly allowing herself to drop on her own two feet. She winced at a spike of pain from landing on the ground, but it soon settled down to something manageable. As she steadied herself, Lee tried to lighten the mood. “Alright that wasn’t so bad. Well, if you’re making puns in a time like this, you’re good to join the debate outside. This isn’t gonna be fun…” He started making his way towards the door, but something he said filled her with confusion.

“Wait. ‘Making puns’? When did I do that?” He turned around with a grin but the more he explained himself the more it lost its enthusiasm.

“Oh. ‘Cus you said you were ‘sick’ of it, and you’ve been really sick… So I thought you were making a pun to… Uh… You know what? Nevermind. Let’s just go.” She wondered if the wordplay was entirely accidental or natural. Oh god, Louis really did rub off on me…

Taking a slow pace, sunlight flooded her vision as she exited the room which caused her headache to thump harder before she got used to the drastic change in lighting. Trying to ignore her pounding skull and the aching that came with every step, she joined Lee by the group gathered in a circle near the front of the RV. The pair received mixed reactions; Kenny’s family was full of worry as Larry was looking impatient. Everyone was present: Clementine, Lee, Kenny, Katjaa, Duck, Lilly, Larry. The group seemed so small without Carley…

Kenny was the first to speak up. “Hey, are you guys alright? We heard a scream…” All eyes shifted towards Clem. The truth was that she wasn’t but appearing like a weakling wouldn’t inspire confidence or get anyone to take her seriously.

“I’m…” She looked down at her right hand covering her stomach. It was a habit the others may associate with pain or nausea, but to her, her feelings weren’t as important as the task at hand. “I’m fine. Just… I’m going to make this quick, okay?”

“What do you mean you’ll ‘make this quick’?” Lilly gave her a suspicious glare, placing a hand on her hip.

Clementine closed her eyes; she didn’t want their troubled history to slow her down so took a deep breath to calm herself. A second later, her expression became deadly serious and she took on a commanding tone of voice as she surveyed the group. “First of all - defences. Larry, Kenny, Lee. Find and use any nearby cars or dumpsters to block the exits. If you need to, take any furniture out of the unused rooms to help with the wall. Fortifying this place is our top priority right now. Secondly-”

“Hold your horses, girly! What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Of course Larry was quick to object. She’d guessed this would happen and wasn’t in the mood to argue over pointless topics like this.

She shot him a piercing glare, her voice was full of spite as she countered with, “I’m making this quick. Now shut up and listen.” Staring up at the RV, she continued her confident speech. “Secondly – watch. We’ll use the top of the RV as our watch post, people will take turns in shifts watching the treeline for danger. Do we have any weapons?” The brunette scanned the group who were mostly looking in shock, and Lilly answered upon meeting her gaze.

“I checked the empty rooms. There was a rifle in what looked like the reception.”

“Good. For now, Lilly you take the first shift. Take that rifle and a chair up with you and watch over the construction team. Thirdly-”

“And when did you start making the calls around here?” Lilly wasn’t pleased, previously she’d figured herself as the motel’s leader but here she was taking orders from a teenager. Again, Clementine wasn’t in the mood for objections.

Thirdly.” She paused, taking another breath as to stay on track. “Food. Katjaa, round up all the food we have and search the rooms for anything left behind. You can take Duck with you, of course. We’ll have to make do with what we’ve got ‘till we’ve established hunting parties once the wall’s made good progress.” Now with Carley gone and without Mark showing up yet, she quickly thought of a potential group. Looking up at Lee, she continued her orders. “Lee, Kenny and I will be a part of the main hunting group. Lilly, be prepared to switch out with me if I can’t make it for whatever reason.”

She anticipated a handful of reactions from the group, but she was slightly surprised by the silence dawning over the motel. She looked around for any questions, but Lee and Kenny’s family were listening with full intent, albeit, with a common shock shared amongst their expressions. Lilly and Larry didn’t look too impressed, but she was relieved to know they were at least listening to her. Clearing her throat, she prepared to continue.

“…In addition to our food situation. There’s a stream that leads to a lake not far from the back of the motel. This is where we’ll get all our water. I’ll be setting up fish traps down the stream for extra meals.” Kenny’s eyes lit up at the suggestion.

“Hey, I can help with that! Catchin’ fish is my specialty,” he said somewhat proudly. She knew all about his history as a fisherman and was glad to have someone willingly offering to help.

She gave him a prideful smile. “Great! Then you can also help me carve some spears. I’m also going to set up a little space for spear fishing, so me and you’ll head down after the wall’s sorted and get to work.”

“I can get behind that.” Kenny returned the prideful look, seemingly eager to be able to do something related to his hobby. Clementine turned her attention back to the group, but before she could give further orders, Larry was dumbfounded at Kenny’s agreement.

“What the fuck is this!? You’re taking orders from this girl? Look at her, she can barely stand on her own two feet!” Kenny was furious, she could see him ready to start throwing insults at each other. Katjaa placed a hand on his arm causing him to hesitate, giving Clem enough time to jump in.

Her tone was sinister, her gaze was enough to strike fear into even a retired military veteran like Larry. “I’d be quiet if I were you, Larry. This next part concerns you greatly…” So far, she’d managed to power through it, but her growing frustration with Lilly’s family caused her headache to grow stronger again. Bringing her free hand over her forehead, she closed her eyes for a moment to stop the growing headache. The thumps were like earthquakes against her skull, they showed no signs of slowing down and she had to push on. Doing her best to regain her commanding presence, she continued after a short series of deep breaths. “The hunting party will also make runs into Macon. Obviously it’s full of walkers right now, but once it’s quieter the team will sweep the pharmacy for any medicine they can get their hands on, including your nitro-whateverthefuckthey’recalled-pills.”

Larry was brought to silence. Seeing his surprised expression was incredibly satisfying, and Clementine saw his lack of response as a means to carry on. “Of course, this is not limited to the pharmacy. We’ll search other stores for weapons and food at the same time. Lee, Kenny, that sound alright to you?” She received uncertain nods from both men which was good enough for her. “Good. That’s the main jobs out of the way. Katjaa, once you're finished rounding up the food, begin gathering any medical supplies we have together too. You’re the group’s medic. I know it’s not exactly the same as being a vet, but it’s closest thing we’ve got. I’ve stitched up my fair share of wounds, so I’ll help out where necessary. That all sound okay to you?”

The woman in question seemed anxious at the responsibility, but she soon became confident when looking down at her son. If Duck was hurt, Clem had no doubt in her mind Katjaa would be ready to help, so she needed the supplies at her convenience. “Yes, I can do that.”

“Good.” She wasn’t happy to admit it, but Lilly did a satisfactory job of handling rations last time so figured it made sense to give her the same job. “Lilly, once Katjaa’s finished you’ll be in charge of rations. Everyone gets two meals a day maximum. You’re free to distribute the proportions of each meal depending on how much we have left. Can you do that?”

Lilly’s face was painted in a scowl, but finding no reason to object, reluctantly replied, “Yes.” Clementine was more surprised than anyone that Lilly was even going along with her plans. She was silently thankfully that the group was acknowledging her, even if they didn’t end up entirely following her orders. As long as she inspired them into creating a safe enough home for the ones she cared about, that’s all that mattered. Just as she was about to finish up her speech, the headache returned in full force, causing quite curses to escape her lips. Bringing the hand to her forehead again, her legs were becoming unstable as her full attention was brought her throbbing mind.

“Clem, what’s wrong?” Lee’s hands gripped onto her shoulders out of worry. He’d seen how she could barely stand in her room, so was most likely preparing himself for her to collapse. Feeling herself slowly losing consciousness, she concentrated with her might to stay awake. She’d definitely overdone it this time. She was somewhat surprised she’d even managed to keep her composure for so long despite the growing pain in her head, luckily her abdomen had stopped its own pain inducing endeavours since standing still in the group’s circle. But one way or the other, her body’s cries for rest were becoming too tough to ignore and soon she’d find herself in the realm of dreams once again. Lee had deduced this by himself, and immediately sought to take action. “I think it’s time someone ordered you around, Clem. Come on, let’s get you back to your bed.”

She couldn’t lie. “That sounds… amazing, right now. I think I’ve said… everything… Fuck…” She fell into a set of deep breaths again as her headache induced a wave of fatigue in an attempt at forcing her to sleep.

“Come on, Clem. Let’s go. If I was you right now, I think I’d want to live in my dreams too…” He turned her around and lightly pushed her back to her room. Each step she took was a growing invitation to speed up the process by simply fainting on the spot, and just as her grip on her conscious was letting go, it was forced to hold on a little longer as Larry erupted from his spot.

“WHAT? You’re joking! She gives us all this work to do while she goes and has a goddamn NAP?” The motel exploded into an argument between Larry and Kenny, and she could make out Lee joining in now and then as well, but she couldn’t focus on it. Her eyes were fixated on the back and forth of each of her legs as she trudged back to her room. It was directly behind the RV, she’d picked the corner room next to the staircase leading to the second floor because it was closest to a backup escape plan that was the fence surrounding that corner of the motel. It also allowed her to track any movement if anyone picked a room for sleeping or supplies storage above, so her decision was mostly made from practical reasons. All she could think about as the floor below changed from the car park to the room’s carpet was Lee trying to say something to her, before crashing face first into her pillow. Everything went black.

She almost begged to be put straight back into where she left off at the power station. It was the only thing on her mind the moment she woke up, and now she had the chance again to experience the perfect escape if her mind were to be so kind. It was only morning, but she was prepared to sleep through the rest of the day if it meant avoiding all the ways the world found to torment her.

She could feel a floor beneath her, her eyes were closed, and she was hesitant to open them in case this turned out to be another nightmare. Please… Please let it be what I think it is. She wasn’t currently in any pain, so that was a good starting point. Moment of truth. Her vision blended from black to orange as a campfire greeted her with a comforting warmth. The sight filled her with hope, and her neck darted upright to find Kenny cradling a baby AJ with the former noticing her instantly.

“Oh hey, Clem. Back already?” He looked a little surprised at her sudden return, but this was confirmation that there was no danger as far as the eye could see, and she could peacefully enjoy however long the dream would last with ease. She couldn’t help but let out a victorious, “Yes!” in knowing she could for once spend the rest of the day in happiness. After the rough days she’s had in this new timeline, she deserved to find at least some moments of joy, right? She set out to complete a task and she got the job done, now all that was left was to reap the rewards. And that was Clementine’s first day at the motor inn. It was short-lived, but she slept knowing Lee would take her orders in stride and make it a better place for all of them. And with that, Clem was happy.

Chapter Text

Metal screeched against the concrete. This was the third dumpster to be used in blocking the gaps in the motel’s wall; following Clementine’s orders, they’d been moving dumpsters, cars, and furniture all day. The wall was starting to take shape, and with only a few more pushes would it become safe enough to let the group sleep safely at night. The rotten smell from inside the garbage container made each step more laborious. Lee’s tired muscles yearned for a break in response to the foul odour, so he stopped to take a breather. Needless to say, his fortifying partner wasn’t impressed by his lack of stamina as evidenced by an annoyed sigh.

 “Will you just push the damn dumpster?” Lee was expecting such a reaction from Larry, they’d only known each other for two days but his short temper was something everyone at the motel was growing to dislike.

Not having the energy to argue, Lee said, “Sorry, I just haven’t eaten anything for a while.”

“Yeah, well neither have I! Doesn’t mean I’m being a fucking pansy about it.” Lee only shook his head in response. With all of the action surrounding Hershel’s farm, the drug store, and his constant worrying about the misfortunate girl he’d just met, the need to eat hadn’t really come to mind, but moving such heavy objects in order to build a wall highlighted just how hungry he really was. He looked over the dumpster and towards Lilly, wondering how much of the rations she might have allocated his meal. Knowing he wouldn’t get anything until the wall’s gap was filled, he refocused on the task and the pair began pushing again.

The metallic screeching eventually came to an end, meaning the group’s endeavourers to create a functioning wall were over. Well, between the now closed-off entrance and exit of the motel was only a waist-high barrier of bricks, but Lee hoped the monsters – or walkers if he was going off Clementine’s terminology – weren’t smart enough to figure out how to climb anything. As he wiped the sweat from his forehead, out of the corner of his eye Lee noticed Kenny in the car park approaching the pair from behind a bookshelf.

He looked to be struggling moving the furniture by himself, causing Lee to ask, “Need a hand with that?”

Through the grunts that came with each push, Kenny was quick to respond with, “Nah, I got it.” He tipped the bookshelf against the wall so it leaned against the recently positioned dumpster. “There!” He was panting heavily. “That should stop those things from squeezing between the cracks. Now, when do we eat? I’m starved!” With Kenny and Lee on the same page, the latter called up to Lilly, informing her they were finished for the night. She’d taken a break from watch to organise the rations. Standing around the table full of food, she noticed the wall’s progressed and happily invited the trio over for their food.

“Good work guys. You can come on over and get your meal, I’ve just finished sorting them out.” That was good enough for Kenny, who grinned beneath his admittedly impressive moustache and was already making his way over to the food gathering. Lee was keen to join and pushed the dumpster gate open to return inside the motel’s walls but was stopped as he took his first step.

“Lee, we need to talk for a second.” After their verbal fight at the drug store, Lee wasn’t looking forward to this. He turned to face Larry, who was already giving him an accusing glare.

“What do you want?”

“You like my daughter?” Lee took a moment to think of a suitable response. So far, the only thing he knew about Lilly was that she wanted to leave him, Clementine, and Kenny’s family to die on the streets of Macon. Though he couldn’t deny that she - willingly or not - accepted and followed Clem’s orders, and was about to give him his only source of food for the day. So, with that in mind, he tried to give Larry a neutral viewpoint.

“She’s fine.”

Larry crossed his arms; his words were injected with poison. “Fine, huh? Well just fuck you, Lee Everett.” Nerves crept into his stomach at the sound of his own name. There was only two ways someone like Larry could know him, it was either for his teaching up at UGA, or… “That’s right. I know who you are, and I know you’re a killer. And you go near my daughter or step out of line once… Then so will everyone else.” Larry took a step closer as Lee shot him a scowl. “I know who you are. And I don’t give a shit about what happens to you! But if anything happens to my daughter… Hmph. You watch your ass.” And with that, Larry stormed through the gate leaving Lee to carefully consider his threats. He wasn’t going to let Larry take advantage of him, but he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t unnerved at the thought of his past becoming public. In a way, this apocalypse couldn’t have happened at a better time. It was a chance to start anew, to sweep his past under the rug, but with Larry around, that hope might become more difficult to follow.

A rumble from his stomach brought him back to the current situation, the desire to eat was certainly more interesting than anything Larry had to say. The man in question had already grabbed his rations and sat on a couch near the RV. Lee went to join Lilly and Kenny, who’d gathered Katjaa and Duck around the table.

“Oh man, I’m so hungry!” Duck was jumping with joy at the sight of the various cans in front of him.

“Settle down, Duck. Don’t make yourself hungrier.” Katjaa attempted to calm her son down to no avail, his wide eyes were glued to collection of food as if it were a shrine.

Lilly ignored his enthusiasm and took charge of the crowd. “We have a good amount to last us at least a few days. Since it’s the first day, everyone gets a can.”

“Yeah! I want that one!” Duck was quick to point out his choice. Who knows whether he was choosing based on the actual food or the design of the cans, but Lilly didn’t stop him from taking one before he darted off to a piece of cardboard he’d been colouring on. Lee was somewhat impressed by the kid’s energy; the kaleidoscope of warm yellows and oranges cascading upon the evening sunset was enough to make anybody feel tired, especially after having to move heavy furniture all day. Knowing Duck, he’d probably managed to wear himself out just as much as the group’s builders just by being himself.

Considering his son’s antics as normal, Kenny was keen to claim a meal of his own. “I’ll never understand where he gets that energy from, I swear… Ah well. Let’s get to pickin’.” Lilly had already sectioned off a can of her own, and that left the three to pick at random. Lee held in his hands canned beef – fully cooked and ready to be eaten. It was perfect after a hard day’s work. Satisfied with his choice, his attention was brought to a lone can of fruit sitting at the centre of the table. It seemed everyone else shared the same interest, leading Kenny to ask Lilly, “Uh, do we just have a spare here? Or…” He trailed off as she seemed reluctant to answer.  

Sighing, her answer was short as her eyes traced the rooms of the motel until they reached a destination where they stopped. “No.” Lee, Kenny, and Katjaa’s gaze all trailed behind Lilly’s until they understood the meaning behind her answer. All eyes were on Clementine’s room. Everyone could sense it was emitted a dark aura, the closed curtains sent a strict message to stay away at all costs. The shadow of the balcony loomed over the doorframe warding off the falling sunlight to create a designated line between where only the bravest of the group members would dare to tread. Throughout the day, her speech hung in the air surrounding the motel with her rage ready to smite anyone who chose to disobey. In truth, a small part of the reason they’d all agreed to follow her plan (including Lilly and Larry) was because other than the fact that nobody else suggested new ideas, they were simply fearful of what would happen if she woke up to find anyone slacking. They’d all seen what she was capable of back at the drug store and some had even seen her actions on Hershel’s farm, so as much as it disheartened Lee to share these concerns, he couldn’t help but fall into the crowd’s general opinion of her current state.

Did this mean they saw her as some kind of leader? Lee found himself questioning the group’s views on her as it seemed like a plague of sudden nerves were infecting the four stood around the table. Lilly was staring at the lone can, Katjaa couldn’t bring herself to look at the door any longer, and Kenny was lost in a world of his own thoughts. Nobody knew what to say. The distant call of an owl echoing through the forest was the only sound to be heard as the four waited for someone to speak up. They all looked at one another, silently questioning who would be the one to go, but all eyes inevitably fell upon Lee. Looks like he was nominated. “…Shit.”

“You’re uh… protecting her, right? So maybe you should be the one to go…” Kenny’s awkward attempts to explain his reasons didn’t make Lee feel any better.

“What happened to, ‘We’ll all do our part’?” He was visibly frustrated by the man’s reluctance to help after referencing the talk they had the previous night.

“Well… I just think that if someone’s gotta do this-”

“What? Are you scared of her?” He’d hit the nail on the head with that one. Kenny’s face was riddled with surprise, and he couldn’t match Lee’s sharp gaze.

He paused for a moment, but under a shy voice he replied, “No, it’s just… Did you see the way she looked at Larry earlier? I don’t know about you, but I saw knives in those eyes, man. She’s not in the mood for any kinda bullshit; we haven’t heard a peep out of her all day so who knows if she’ll take kindly to us interrupting her beauty sleep.” Kenny’s eyes fell to the floor, almost in shame. Lee opened his mouth to retort why that nominated him to go but was shocked by how anxious his next words seemed. “I just don’t want that look to fall on me.” Even Katjaa was confused by his sudden change in attitude. Back at the drug store, he jumped at the opportunity to defend her or help wherever possible, so why was he acting this way? Does he know something I don’t? What the hell happened when I was getting the keys for the pharmacy? I’ll have to ask him later.

He couldn’t dismiss his concerns however, Lee knew what it was like to be on the receiving end of one of her death stares, and it almost resulted in a screwdriver meeting the side of his neck. It was one of the most terrifying things he’d ever witnessed, and it came from just a normal teenage girl. But he knew as well as anyone, that Clementine certainly couldn’t be considered ‘normal’ at this point. She was unlike any other girl he’d ever known… There was a look in her eyes even when she was happy that showed years of suffering. It must’ve been obvious to the rest of the group too. Whenever he saw the scars carved around her amber eyes, he couldn’t help but wonder how they came to be. She was always so hesitant to speak about her past, or even why she took such a liking to himself or Kenny, and it only made the former more curious with each question raised.

Sighing, he decided this was clearly something he’d have to do himself. Taking the canned fruit, he gulped as the group’s eyes tracked him like hawks. Even Larry in the distance was taking notice. Each step he took towards the door sent spikes of nerves to his stomach and he couldn’t fully understand why he felt this way. It might’ve been because of Kenny’s statement, but regardless of their source, he had to believe in Clementine, and that he was getting worked up over nothing. He was bringing her something to eat, she surely had to appreciate that, right? His doubts were complemented by the gust of wind sending a shiver down his spine as he stood before her room. He glanced to the window showcasing the curtains that displayed no signs of movement over the course of the day. Everything in his body advised him to head their warning, to let her handle her sickness at her own pace. No, this had to be done. She was growing incredibly weak by the time they arrived here; Lee knew it was for her own benefit that she needed to eat. Even if she didn’t want to, he’d at least hope she’d consider the offer.

Darkness. Twisting the doorknob revealed a pitch-black room as Lee pushed the door only a finger’s width in. Even if she was sleeping, Lee couldn’t shake the unnerving feeling he got from the eery silence. He took a step inside, holding the door open with his left hand. The dim light from the open door illuminated only half the room, but it was enough to easily make out the troubled teen and the bed she lay on. Before making any detailed observations, he propped the door open with a chair and opened the curtains on a smaller window located at the other side of the room before returning to close the door. He didn’t want anyone else to disturb her, and the delicate stream of light from a small window wouldn’t be enough to strain her eyes upon waking up. He wasn’t sure why that last part mattered so much to him, but as Kenny once said, he was going to make the best of a bad situation.

He stood awkwardly before Clementine’s bed, unsure of what to do. Her body was curled to the side facing away from the door, her hands resting idly before her face. It was then that Lee picked up on her strange sleeping habits: firstly, she was asleep on top of the bed’s comforter instead of beneath it, and secondly, she was fully dressed, even her hat was still in place.

He scratched the back of his neck as he questioned how she would react to being awoken. Kenny’s instincts might’ve been right; after the way she commanded the group earlier there was no telling what kind of mood she was in. For all he knew, she could be sleeping with the screwdriver in grabbing distance and he did not want to go through the incident from his parent’s store again.

What!? Fear clawed at the back of his mind as the memory of almost being attacked played like a broken record. The way she roared at him… The walkers were extremely dangerous, but he never truly feared for his life at any point until he heard that single word. If she hadn’t calmed down so quickly, he knew she would’ve had the power to kill him without a second thought. Sweat trickled down his forehead; out of all the people he could’ve stumbled across on that first day it just had to be someone like her. He was beginning to realise the potential of how dangerous she could be if things got out of hand, but despite giving himself such a difficult job in protecting her, he didn’t regret it one bit. There was something about her that struck a chord within the depths of his heart; the sensation was unexplainable. Other than his blood relatives, he’d never experienced such an inclination to protect something like the girl who lay in front of him, and as with the other many mysteries surrounding her, he had no answers as to why. Still unsure of how to wake her, he took a step closer to the bed, hoping that whatever bond they’d formed would be enough to spare him from a violent lecture.

To his great relief, looking down to her face relieved Lee of any built-up nerves. Beneath the shadows of the iconic cap could he tell that she was smiling, and Lee couldn’t help but match her peaceful expression. The sight caught him completely off-guard. He’d never seen her this way before; she was always ready for a fight, no matter how much pain she had to endure. But here… She looked so innocent. It was the complete opposite of the image portrayed by her blood-stained outfit. She was an angel in the devil’s clothing. Lee couldn’t help but feel comforted by the sight before him. To see her so relaxed after everything she’s gone through the last few days was almost rewarding. It made him feel like coming here was worth it; he knew better than anyone how much of a break she deserved.

Just look at that smile… He couldn’t help but feel mesmerised by her genuine happiness in whatever dream she was having. To go from the commanding speech she gave earlier, from all the pain she marched through just so she could stand before them… Man, she wasn’t kidding when she said she wanted to live in her dreams. Wherever she is now must be a hell of a lot better than here… He looked down at the can of food in his hand. It almost felt wrong that he had to go and wake her.

Taking another glance at her angelic expression, Lee took note of the tiny pool of blood dripping onto the pillow. Her nose was bleeding again. On the room’s only chest of drawers lay a box of tissues, and Lee took a handful in order to clean it for her. In a way, it only made him appreciate her tranquil appearance even more; she was still suffering even now, but it didn’t stop her from finding a moment of peace. He knelt beside her and brought the tissue to the pillow. The blood had dried and was barely smudging against the material, meaning it must’ve been bleeding for hours now, making him feel guilty that no-one bothered to check on her sooner.

Making no progress with cleaning the pillow, his eyes were drawn to the source, where a fresh stream of blood trickled down her skin. He hated seeing her in constant pain, and wanting to not be completely useless here, delicately wiped the mess from her nose. When it came to Clementine, no matter how small the detail may be, he felt an obligation to aid her. A nosebleed like this was a pebble amid a war-torn beach. Compared to the unsightly battle she constantly faced against her horrific illness, this seemed so… normal. The road they’d not-long travelled together had led to a point where the former history professor found relief in the brunette suffering only minor injuries compared to what he had come to consider the norm. The paper towel wrapped around his finger was plastered in the girl’s blood, taunting him as it shone in the rays of the rising moonlight from the window. It was a reminder that this post-apocalyptic world would provide greater challenges every time the sun rose in the morning, but none greater than the one lay before him. They were tied together through the loss of their families. Lee was a wandering spirit, looking for a role to call his own, and taking care of Clementine - the only person he could relate to with their family’s fate – seemed to provide him the drive he was looking for. At the very least, it was the right thing to do. To his surprise, his cleaning duties hadn’t woken her up, and there wasn’t even a sign of the slightest reaction from her body.

Wow, she’s in a really deep sleep... Lee pulled the wooden chair used to initially hold the door open over to the side of the bed she was facing and mentally prepared himself for waking her up. Here goes nothing. Clearing his throat, he started with a quiet, “Clem?” No reaction. He tried again, only slightly raising his voice. Still nothing. The nerves he’d previously dismissed were beginning to settle in as he wondered if something was wrong. Dragging the chair closer, he gently shook her left shoulder, anxiously saying, “Clem? Clem, wake up. It’s me, Lee.”

“Hmmmmhmmm…” Her smile faded as a long groan escaped her throat. It was almost depressing seeing her happy expression fall, but it didn’t stop Lee from breathing a sigh of relief at her reaction. He continued gently shaking her shoulder, repeating that it was him waking her up. Her groans became louder, but eventually he finally got her to speak, even if she didn’t open her eyes to do so. “…Lee?”

“Yes, I’m right here, Clem. You mind waking up for me?”

Seemingly ignoring his request, her voice was barely raised above a whisper as she said in a soft, sleepy voice, “…I thought you were on watch…” His instructions for the day were clear – he was part of the hunting group and those who would build the wall in the first set of days, at no point did she mention he was part of the watch routine. He became worried of the possibility that he may have misinterpreted her speech and began explaining himself to try and not upset her.

“Uh, I was working on the wall all day like you said, so… I haven’t been on watch.”

“The wall?” She returned to silence for a moment. Lee wondered if this meant he should explain the progress they’d made, but before he could, her dreamy voice continued with, “Why are you working on a wall...? The fence has got us covered…”

There was no fence surrounding the motel, so Lee was left more than confused by her question. That was his one job for the day – to work on the wall. She was the one who gave the order, and now she was wondering why? It didn’t make any sense. With her refusal to open her eyes and the passive tone of her voice, Lee began debating the possibility that she was still dreaming and decided check for himself.

“Clem, are you… Are you uh, still dreaming in there?”

The tender smile returned to her lips, she let out a lengthy, “Yes…” as she curled up closer to whatever was in her dream.

That does make a lot of sense… he thought to himself. Knowing just how much she loved spending time in the realm of sleep right now, he needed a way of bringing her back to reality without miraculously pissing her off. “Um… Do you mind opening your eyes for me? I brought you some food if you were hungry.”

Don’t want it…” she said under her breath. Shit. Food was the best lead he had, and she shot it down immediately. There had to be something else to use…

He looked around the room for inspiration but nothing visible from the poor lighting stood out to him. Doubt began creeping into the back of his mind; maybe it would be best to just leave her alone, she was clearly much happier without worrying about the motel’s situation, and she could always have her share of rations for breakfast instead. He continued watching her smiling form while trying to come to a conclusion, but after spotting her nosebleed that refused to stop, he couldn’t bring himself to leave.

“Clem, your nose is bleeding again, alright? It’s getting all over your pillow. Please, if you wake up for me, I can get it off for you.”

“…Pillow?” He’d finally caught her attention. “Don’t you mean Kenny’s-” her eyes marginally opened to the sight of her bed, and upon realising Lee was right, she stopped talking. What followed was a brief silence, her eyes refused to open any further than the slither of vision she allowed herself which was likely all taken up by the pillow. He could only wonder what her next words would have been; Kenny’s… what? Had she been dreaming about the two of them? They were questions he’d never hear the answers to unless he worked up the courage to ask. Focusing on the girl in front of him, Lee had never heard her sound so disappointed before when she let out a quiet, “Oh…” She shifted her eyes over to him whilst giving him an almost heart-breaking expression.

Why? Why did the way she looked at him fill him with such misery? He’d only known her three days tops, but his heart just couldn’t handle it. It was scolding him for waking her, demanding that he looked straight into her eyes as a punishment for his crime. He chose to follow his head over his heart in waking her, but he couldn’t have ever imagined seeing her like this could make him feel so shitty. This intense feeling was similar to when she hugged him back when they first met. They were truly unexplainable, and even Kenny mentioned he was having them. Trying to stop himself from mentally raising even more questions, he explained his reasoning for waking her up. “Hi, Clementine… We were handing out rations, so I just wondered if you wanted to have yours.” The atmosphere became as dark as the rest of the room. She didn’t say anything, choosing to instead return her gaze to the pillow as she tried to keep her eyes open. It was clear she didn’t want it, but Lee didn’t want this ordeal to have been entirely pointless. “Look, Clem, do you remember when us and Glenn we here yesterday trying to save that girl? You were getting really weak so I… I think it’s important we get some food in you.”

The heaviness of her eyes won, and they drifted to a close in response to his persuasions. He took that as a sign of defeat, his body sunk in the chair and he was beginning to accept that this was a bad idea. In truth, it was almost embarrassing. Everyone out there was terrified of being the one to do this, even himself. He’d really been nervous about nothing. She didn’t want to hurt anyone, or make them feel bad about disturbing her, all she wanted to do was sleep. That’s it. And that’s what they were all afraid of? We should be ashamed of ourselves… Can of fruit in hand, he stood from the chair and turned his back to her, taking his first step towards the door.

“Okay…”

“Huh?” He swivelled round to see Clementine staring into the distance wall from the same curled position. Her voice was no louder than it had been so far, but it was more defined, showing she was definitely in the real world this time.

“Could you… could you maybe get me a sick bucket? That energy bar didn’t go so well…” Lee was elated. He was so proud she was agreeing to the meal despite her established trouble with eating from the previous night.

He flashed her a beaming smile – even if she wasn’t looking – saying, “Sure thing, Clem. Just give me a second.” If that wasn’t incredibly relieving, then he didn’t know what was. He closed the door behind him, rather pleased with the sudden turn of events. But where to find a bucket… Katjaa had spent the day organising the food, the chance of her seeing anything remotely close to a bucket was as good a chance as any.

He could already feel everyone’s eyes tracking him from the couches placed around the front of the RV, and approaching the group revealed that only Duck was sparing him the heavy stares. Lilly and Larry soon returned to their meals, but Kenny looked on with guilt covering his features. Nobody wanted to speak up, but the Floridian eventually asked, “So… How’d it go?”

Crossing his arms, Lee grumbled, “How nice of you to ask,” still annoyed about his reluctance to help. Thinking it was best not to cause any unnecessary drama, his tone softened as he said, “I could barely get her to wake up. You wouldn’t believe how tired she is. She wasn’t angry, she wasn’t annoyed, or anything like that. Just… sad.”

Kenny’s gaze was brought to Duck, who was oblivious of their conversation and happily drawing away. Lee could hear him say under his breath, “She saves my son, and I won’t even feed her,” before looking back up at Lee. “I’m sorry.”

Kenny clearly regretted his actions, but he wasn’t apologising to the right person. “If there’s anyone you should say that to, it’s Clem.” Kenny took a short glance over to Clementine’s room but hung his head low as he returned to a world of his own thoughts again. Lee interpreted this as an agreement on the topic and decided to get back on track. “Look, I’m here so I could get something for her. Katjaa, you don’t know where I could find a bucket or something like that, do you?”

“Yes, I moved a few around earlier. I think I left a small metal one in Ken’s truck. May I ask why you need one?”

“Clem asked for one while she eats. You can probably guess why…” Katjaa was quick to catch on, and her face instantly sunk into sympathy.

“That poor girl… I don’t know why she won’t let me have a look at her. I could probably find some medicine to help, even if it’s just a little.” Lee was wondering the same thing, but in the end, it would only amass to the endless mountain of questions he was climbing in order to make any sense of her strange behaviour. Taking one step forward and two steps back couldn’t have been a more accurate phrase. At this point he wondered whether he could even ask her a simple question like what her favourite subject was in school without it leaving him questioning if she even went to school in the first place. The outbreak had only been going on for a few days, surely she did normal teenage-girl things before all this, right? Then again, Lee didn’t know how old she was, so he started believing asking such things would only set himself up for disappointment or more confusion.

“No idea… Anyway, thanks, Katjaa.” Lee departed from the group and found the cylindrical bucket amongst various other small boxes and containers. Grabbing it by the handle, he walked back towards Clem’s room with more confidence than before and gently knocked on the door. “Clem? I found you a bucket. Can I come back in?”

“…”

No response. As he went to reach for the doorknob, he realised he was still holding the tissues and therefore had forgotten to clean her nose before leaving. Lee didn’t have children of his own; taking care of a kid was far more difficult than he imagined, especially when they’re sick. He cursed under his breath at his failure, taking note that he still had a long way to go in parenting, if what he was doing for the girl could even be called that.

Slipping inside the dark room, he closed the door behind him. His eyes were immediately drawn to Clementine’s still figure in worry for her lack of a response. She hadn’t moved from her curled position, and Lee couldn’t help feeling an affectionate smile spreading across his face as the answer to her silence quickly became clearer. In the short time it took for him to go outside and find something, she’d fallen asleep again, and was displaying the same angelic expression he’d found her in earlier.

Lee took his seat at the bedside chair, placing the bucket on the floor. He was dreading seeing her smile fall, but nevertheless, placed a hand on her free shoulder and gently shook. “Hey, Clementine… It’s time to eat, remember?”

And there it went. It was the sign that a suffering teenage girl was returning to the realities of the real world. How he could only imagine how much she relished the comforts made possible in her mind’s own creations. She let out another small groan and cautiously opened her eyes. “…Lee?” She craned her neck upwards to get a glimpse of her surroundings before crashing back onto the pillow with a thud. “I fell asleep, didn’t I?”

“Um, yeah, I think you did. It’s no trouble, alright?” He held the tissue high enough for her to see. “Can I get that blood off your nose before we begin?”

Her eyelids dropped to a close as she whispered, “Sure…” Hoping she wasn’t about to fall asleep again, Lee quickly got as much of it off as he could, but by concentrating on her face did he notice even in the poor lighting the dark rings hanging beneath her eyes. They were more than enough evidence to justify her need to stay in bed; after the constant strain on her body especially from the car ride getting here, she must’ve been more tired than Lee ever anticipated. He remembered sitting in the back of Kenny’s truck the previous night, watching her torment accelerate beyond control as she begged for his help. There was nothing he could do, and when he ordered Kenny to stop the truck her body completely froze. His heart stopped; after witnessing the hell she endured up until that point, he truly believed her to be dead. So as he sat here, in front of the girl desperate for a moment’s escape from her torture, he became more determined than ever to defend her recovery from the likes of Larry, and make damn well sure that she would get the rest she seriously needed.

“All right, I’m all done. You ready to eat?”

“…”

“Clem?”

“…mmm… I’m awake!” What followed was a deep yawn, telling Lee enough to know she most certainly was not awake. It only made him feel more guilty about forcing her to do this.

“Let’s get you sat up straight, okay? I’m sorry about all this Clem, but the sooner we get some food in you, the sooner I’ll let you get back to your dreams.”

“And I was having such a nice one too…” She looked and sounded absolutely miserable. It didn’t help the guilt he was building up one bit, but he was undeniably curious of the nature of her dreams, and as she pushed the pillow against the bed’s headboard to sit up, he decided to try his luck in asking. Please don’t leave me asking more questions…

“So, um… What was it about?”

“…huh?”

“The dream, I mean.”

“Oh…”

While she thought of an answer, Lee passed her the bucket to which she propped between her legs and crossed her arms as to let them rest on top of it. Her head was face-first into the bucket as a much louder yawn rebounded around the metallic cylinder. It resulted in her eyes visibly watering, and she looked up at Lee barely being able to keep them open. “It’s the same one I’ve been having for a while now. I just lie down in front of a small campfire in this power station… and that’s it. There’s no danger, nothing hurts… it’s perfect. You wouldn’t understand…”

“No, Clem, I really do. If you find it so nice doing something so normal like that after the things you’ve gone through… Then you more than deserve to enjoy it.” He reached down and took hold of the canned fruit. Something was on his mind. He should just pass her the can and let her finally eat, but the piles of questions he wanted to ask were becoming too heavy to carry. He needed answers, even if it were something small like her dreams. Before handing her the food, he asked, “Listen Clem. Is there uh, anyone else in this dream?”

The corners of her lips dropped as she was clearly uncomfortable with the question. “…Why do you ask?”

“Well it’s just… Earlier you mentioned I should’ve been on watch, and then something about a fence. And then something to do with Kenny so… I’m just curious. Uh, you don’t have to answer, if you don’t want to.” In actual fact, he was desperate to know something about her so was hoping she would, but it wouldn’t be worth disrupting her sleep just to make her feel even worse.

“I said that? Shit…” Her gaze fell upon the empty bucket and it stayed there while the room crept into an eery silence again. Had he gone too far? This was hardly the time for such questioning; she couldn’t keep her eyes open let alone think straight. It wasn’t fair on her.

“Uh, sorry. I shouldn’t have asked. Don’t worry about it.”

“If… If I tell you…” Her voice still pertained its sleepy manner, but at the same time he could sense a hint of desperation. He leaned in to listen closer, his attention solely focused on her next words. “I don’t want to keep everything from you all… but I have to. It’s so hard not telling you, Lee. But I just can’t keep all this to myself anymore, so… If I tell you, you won’t think I’m… weird, or anything, please?” For a moment, Lee was silent. The information was difficult to process, but at the same time, it made so much sense. She was intentionally keeping information… Meaning she might know more about this apocalypse than she was letting on. That would explain why she was so accustomed to it, why she was so good at fighting, and, at a stretch, why she knew him and Kenny. “Please…?”

“Oh, right. Clem, no matter what you tell me, I’d never think of you as weird. I promise.” Her pleads interrupted his thoughts, but as he assured her everything would be fine, he became doubtful if this was the right thing to do. She was on the verge of sleep while they spoke, she clearly wasn’t in the right mind to be discussing such important topics. Am I taking advantage of her with the state she’s in? But I need answers… Oh well, no going back now.

“Okay… If I’m being completely honest with you… You’re there. And Kenny is too.” Lee nodded as she explained the dream. He wouldn’t dare interrupt now he was finally getting to know something about her. “…There’s a hole in the fence, and you’re sat on watch so I can sleep peacefully. And Kenny…”

She stopped for a moment. This was getting interesting, that couldn’t be the end. He gently pressed her to continue. “Go on…”

“…And I’m lying there, with my head resting on his lap as we watch the campfire. He used to have this really big green coat, and in the dream, he covers me with it to keep me warm…” Picturing the scene in her head brought a faint smile to her face. “…Just like he did the first time I became this sick…”

What. He used to have a coat… The first time she was sick… So she did know him before. Holy shit. That’s why she’s so fond of him. That’s one helluva coincidence, we happen turn up at the same farm as him and now… Wait, that doesn’t explain why Kenny didn’t know her-

“Sorry if that makes you uncomfortable or anything, you know, being in my dreams but…” Her watery eyes reflected the raw emotion that filled her next words as she stared directly into his gaze. “…You guys are the only family I have…” He watched Clementine close her eyes as the volume of her voice dropped to a whisper, where he could just about make out, “I can’t lose you again…” before it returned to normal. “So please don’t think it’s weird…”

His heart melted. For her to consider him family after only a few days was overwhelming. This was something he hadn’t even considered, his heart pounded against his chest sending sparks of joy to eradicate any doubts he had about her. He felt like crying. He didn’t know whether he was pitying her or was simply overjoyed. To feel so trusted after the nightmare he orchestrated involving his wife and the state senator couldn’t have made him happier. It turns out it was true: this apocalypse really could be the second chance anyone with a life sentence could’ve ever hoped for. If it weren’t for the girl’s melancholy display, he may not have been able to keep his calm composure. “I… Clem, listen. It’s not weird at all. You do whatever makes you feel safe, okay? And… and thanks for trusting me so much. You saying that really means a lot.”  

“No… No problem. Do you mind if I try eating now?”

“Oh, sure. Here you go.” The sole reason for him disturbing her in the first place had completely slipped his mind. Passing her the can, she held it above the bucket and inspected the label. Lee didn’t know if she liked knowing everything listed as the ingredients or was just being picky, but she was really taking her time. It didn’t take long for him to understand why though. “Uh, I probably should’ve got you something to open it with, huh.”

He received no response, and instead watched as the tired teen drew her blood-ridden screwdriver from her jeans. Jesus. She sleeps with a weapon on her? Clementine wiped the metal down the side of her pants in an attempt to clean it, and after achieving mixed results she didn’t hesitate in ripping the lid open. “Uh, Clem? Is it safe for you to do that? With all the blood on the-”

“Worked for me so far.” Her snappy reply signalled that this was a tedious activity. Her method of cleaning the tool, the uninspired gaze she cast upon the can, it was as if she’d done it a thousand times. To anyone else, he’d be questioning the lack of interest in using more appropriate, or at least, cleaner equipment, but this was Clementine after all. Getting accustomed to her strange acts, he shrugged it off and assumed that if she was doing it then it was probably safe. She held the can with her also still blood-stained hand, to where he realised another mistake he’d made. Her left hand was already inside the can bringing the fruit to her mouth, making him aware that not only did he not provide her a means to open the can, but also no silverware to eat with. “Oh, um, did you want me to get you a fork for that? I probably should’ve thought about all this before I…”

“It’s fine Lee. I’m used to it.”

“I’m uh, sorry for not being very good at this.” He scratched the back of his neck and let out a nervous laugh. “The only thing I’ve had under my care in the last few years was a fish I kept on my desk at work. And, um… See, the thing about fishes, is that…” He had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. The nerves creeping into his stomach directed him into explaining his incompetence in caring for her. “…fishes basically only eat these little leaf or pellet type things, and you only need to clean out their tanks once a week, if that.” Was she even listening? It wouldn’t surprise him in the slightest if he was being ignored, but that didn’t stop him from feeling the need to continue his fish-related tangent. “This one time…”

“Lee.”

“Yes?” His reply was instant, he was making himself look like a fool and braced himself for being laughed at.

Through the call for sleep lingering amongst her every word, Lee could sense all the care of a mother in Clementine’s voice, as if she was the one taking care of him. “Hey, don’t worry about it. You’re doing a great job as it is, Lee. Thank you, really. You’ll get better, trust me. Much better…” She was caught in a yawn and returned her focus to her food. He wasn’t expecting that kind of response. She sounded so sure in his potential to improve that he was filled with confidence, and hoped that she was right for his, and her sake. He would’ve liked to have said the atmosphere inside her dark room had improved, but her now tensing figure was a sign that the girl couldn’t catch a break.

“Clem, what’s wrong?” She’d placed the can to her side while she gripped the bucket tightly. It didn’t take a university professor to figure out the reason behind her change in demeanour.

“Sorry, it’s just…” She took a series of deep, but nevertheless shaky breaths. “I’m having a hard time keeping this down, if you know what I mean…”

Lee moved from his chair to kneel beside her, placing a hand on her back. Her skin was as pale as it had been since they’d met, and he couldn’t stand the thought of her being sick after the hell ride on the truck she went through only the other day. “I know, Clem. I know. Try breathing through your nose, all right? Take as long as you need.”

Following his instructions, Clementine took a minute to battle her misfortune. Only time would tell whether his suggested technique had any effect and he could infer only from his hand placed on her back the fear passing through her every heartbeat. Obviously he didn’t want her to be sick, but he didn’t want to imagine what it was like to actually be in her shoes every time it happened. After the minute passed, she regained her composure, and was determined to not let it beat her. Taking another handful of the fruit, her face was full of regret as she chewed and inevitably tried to swallow the mouthful. “Ughhhhh…” She leaned over the bucket, creating a bridge from one side to the other with her left arm, to which her head dropped so to rest her forehead on it. “Fuck…”

Lee was beginning to panic, was there anything he could do? “Clem… Do you think you’re gonna be sick? I can… There’s gotta be something I can…”

“…”

The two of them knew all too well Lee’s assistance would be pointless. She lay their squeezing her eyes shut, the sight fuelling Lee’s frustration in being so useless in the midst of her pain. Damnit. I can’t let this happen to her again. Come on, think. Medicine, water, I’ve got to get her some-

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way…”

“Huh? Clem? What are you…?”

This. All of it. I shouldn’t even be here. It was a mistake. A small, stupid mistake.” Her dark tone echoed through the shadows of the room. Her meaning was disguised in ambiguity, but it carried the weight of all her pain leading up to this point. How far it could be traced back to was only known to her, but Lee knew enough about her to understand she was being deadly serious.

“Clem, you… you don’t mean that.”

No, Lee.” She was becoming increasingly bitter, and from his lowered position by the bed could he see a fire beginning to thrive in her eyes. Oh no… He knew where this was going, the rage he’d initially been worried about before entering her room was finally becoming the threat it had been patiently waiting for. “It’s all. My. Fault. Do you understand that? I was selfish. It’s just like he once said. I thought I could make everything different, but nothing’s changed. I’m still taking a beating. Every day.”

Lee couldn’t possibly understand her rant, but it didn’t stop him from feeling sorry for her. To him at least, this was the first time she’d expressed her true feelings involving her endless torture. As cryptic as her words were, Lee was certain she was speaking from the heart and wasn’t intentionally holding anything back. Deciding it was best to not interrupt, he listened closely as her rant escalated with no signs of stopping.

“Why the hell couldn’t that bastard have shot me instead? All those years of work… All the sleepless nights, all the days upon days without food, all of it. Gone, just like that. Because of two lackeys. Two… nobodies. Sent by her.” Lee’s skin felt like frost as Clementine’s lips spat out each ice-cold word across the room. The longer he listened in the longer the chill stung his ears. It was painful to listen to; her past was shroud in mystery, but it sounded all too real. This was real. He assumed she’d been traumatised by the opening days of the world ending, but this was years she was talking about. Her problems stemmed from far worse problems; for all Lee knew, an end of the world scenario must’ve seemed trivial compared to the horrors she must’ve faced. It was cruel, but he wanted to know more. Her growing rage could spiral out of control if she wasn’t careful, should he stop her?

“And now she’s back again. She terrorised those kids, took everything away from me. I look into her eyes… and every time, I just want to rip her fucking throat out.” Her eyes quivered around the metal sheets of the bucket. The rampant movement reflected the madness radiating the air around them, it was like watching her falling apart at the seams holding her fragile sanity together.

“But I guess I just have to deal with it. Just fucking ‘deal with it’, right? Like I’m not constantly given enough shit to deal with. Anyone else has this illness, this broken shell of a body, for a day and they’d wish they were dead. I don’t even deserve to be sitting on this bed. You’re all such good people, filled with so much hope for a better future… We came here because you just want to help some sick girl, and Kenny just wants to protect his family…” Her hand reached for one of her jean’s back pockets. Much to Lee’s utter dismay, Clementine pulled out a pistol. It shook within her right hand’s frail grasp. For the first time tonight, her eyes were fully opened, with her emotionless stare locked onto the side of the corroded barrel. “But the things I’ve done to get me here…”

Holy shit! She sleeps with a gun on her too!? This was going too far, the sight before him was nothing short of terrifying. As the sun lost its presence in the sky, all Lee could see was Clementine falling into darkness. The walls took hold of her. Ghastly pitch-black arms wrapped themselves around the heated teen, pulling her down into a void that the Clementine he knew couldn’t escape from. What would remain would be the rabid animal from the drug store who almost attacked him. She wasn’t in there. And now, it was happening again. He had to make a decision. If he tried to stop her, he could come under fire again, only now she was armed and looking very dangerous. But maybe… he didn’t have to worry about that. She was aware of the nature of her rant; if he put a little faith in her, then maybe she’d stop on her own volition. Her words echoed in his mind, ‘But I just can’t keep all this to myself anymore’. Whatever emotional weight she carried upon her shoulders, it was undeniable that she needed to release some of it. The question is, is Lee willing to trust her enough to control herself? Or will he take action, despite how much good it may or may not be doing for her. Kneeling beside the now silent girl, he made his decision.


[ Let her talk ]
[ Take the gun ]
[ ‘Clem, don’t talk like that’ ]
[ ‘You’re the strongest girl I’ve ever met’ ]


Lee put his full faith in Clementine. If she trusted him enough to consider him family, then it was only right that he’d return that trust. This situation was different from the drug store – nobody but himself could trigger a violent reaction out of her right now, and he hoped the hand still comforting her back would serve to calm her down. Gently rubbing her back, he looked up past the pistol to the girl whose scars engraved in her eyes were bleeding at the sight of her weapon. They bled countless traumatic memories, the gun in her hand serving only to mask the emotional wounds brought on with every gunshot behind a formidable display. He was seeing her in a new light. Her shaky hand was confirmation that she was in a vulnerable state, but not like any he’d seen thus far. The gun wasn’t a threat, instead, it was a cry for help. In this moment, she’d thrown away her usual confident mask for Lee to see everything. Everywhere he looked was a black haze, whispers from the past were scattered in an incomprehensible mess where they blended together. The human eye was a canvas for Clementine’s soul, and Lee was looking into beaten, bruised, and ultimately broken young woman. This was who she truly was. She hated being viewed as weak, so for Lee, this was a testimony for how much she really must’ve trusted him.

Yet, despite all the pain lurking amongst the haze, her amber eyes shined on in the moonlight. The gun returned to her jeans, and her head fell to rest upon the bridge formed by her arm on the bucket once more. A heavy sigh drained the room of any tension as it vibrated against the metal. Lee was glad to see she’d settled down, but that didn’t mean it was over. The energy was sucked out of her voice as it regained its tired condition.

“I need to get to work, there’s so much to do…” She began rapidly listing off tasks at speed. “Setting the fish traps, making a plan, runs into Macon, hunting, the bandits, the St Johns, the train, the city, the Stranger, the boat- Agh!” Her body tensed again before she could finish. Lee remembered her having a violent headache earlier in the day, and with her overwhelming fatigue combined with everything on her mind, he guessed it was still giving her a hard time.

“Clem, are you alright?”

“…so much to do… I… I can start by… keeping my strength up…” Seemingly ignoring Lee’s concerns, she reached for the canned fruit as the black rings around her eyes absorbed the shadows surrounding them. Lee didn’t understand the meaning behind half of the tasks she’d listed but overthinking the future in her current state was looking like an unhealthy practise. No, it was definitely unhealthy. There couldn’t have been much left, but she was eating her meal with no hesitation which only worried Lee more. ‘Sorry, it’s just… I’m having a hard time keeping this down.’ She was on the brink of vomiting before earlier, if she carried on like this…

“Look Clem, I think we should call it a day. You can have the rest for breakfast tomorrow.”

“I need to start now. I need to… keep my…” Her stubbornness translated into ignoring Lee’s suggestion as well as his concerns. Her voice trailed off when she scooped a couple of handfuls into her mouth and let the now empty can fall to the floor. Lee could tell from the moment a metallic clang rang around the bedroom that she regretted her hasty decision. Her hands were balled into fists as they trembled atop of the bucket, causing it to rattle. A part of him admired that about her: she was so scared of the pain her sickness would cause yet was willing to push through it if it meant helping the group. Unfortunately, it would appear as if she had been too keen on regaining her strength and was already preparing for the worst. She looked Lee in the eyes. “I’m sorry…”

Her head plunged into the bucket. The sight, the sound, the smell, everything that followed was something Lee was heartbroken in getting used to. He rubbed her back knowing full well he could’ve prevented this. I should’ve taken it away from her. Hell, maybe I shouldn’t have given it to her in the first place, at least then this wouldn’t be happening. Another mistake to add to the list…

A minute passed, her head flung backwards onto the bed’s headboard, eyes lazily shut and mouth hanging open. The slow rising and falling of her chest was a sign that it was over, but more importantly, that Lee’s time disturbing her from sleeping was also over. He couldn’t bring himself to keep her awake any longer, not after putting her through the wringer when it wasn’t necessary. Removing the bucket from the bed, he tried apologising but received no answer. Assuming she had already fallen asleep, or more likely passed out, he mentally scolded himself for causing so much trouble and decided to leave her be.

Before he could leave, his attention was brought back to Clementine’s irregular sleeping position. He couldn’t leave her like this, sat up straight with those pointy weapons making her uncomfortable. If there was one thing he was adamant about getting right today, it was making sure she was able to sleep soundly from now on without anything to annoy her.

“Come on Clem, let’s get those weapons off you and get you under the covers, alright?” To his genuine surprise, she complied immediately, handing him the screwdriver and pistol before her arms went limp again. That went easier than expected…

“Sleeping in that jacket and hat can’t be too comfy… You want to take them off?” Receiving a small nod, he pulled the jacket from over her head and neatly folded it at the end of the bed, letting her cap rest on top of it. He then proceeded to pull the comforter from beneath her and let it drop over her legs as he realised he’d have to push her down himself since she showed no interest in moving. Sighing, he muttered, “Come on Clem…” under his breath as he managed to get the covers to her neck and fluffed her pillow for added comfort. There. All done. Now there was no chance of her strange habits making matters worse.

He refused to look down as he grabbed a hold of the bucket. The smell was a clear warning to save his eyes the displeasure of marvelling at its contents, and it only made Lee feel guilty about the whole event. Her stomach was causing her so much pain earlier that she couldn’t even stand, and he’d just enabled it to get worse. He did manage to get her to eat something, but now it was likely that was all in vein because of what was sloshing around the bucket he dared not look at. Maybe it would prove to have helped in the end, and he would hold on to that hope as he prayed for Clementine’s recovery.

With not a lot else for him to do in her room any longer, he made his way over to the door. All he wanted now was to lie on a bed of his own and put the day behind him. After a day full of heavy lifting, wall building, and riding the emotional roller-coaster that was caring for Clementine, he was absolutely exhausted.

Lee, wait…” A quiet voice called out to him. “I need… to talk to you… about what to do when I…”

“Clem, I… I think it’s best if you get some sleep. You can tell me in the morning, just don’t worry about it for now.” Already learning from his mistakes, Lee forced himself to be more assertive. On any other occasion he would’ve liked to have listened, but for her own benefit, he couldn’t let her get worked up any further. “I’ll see you in the morning… Or whenever you’re up. Goodnight, Clementine.”

“Okay… Goodnight…”

He opened the door, turning back for a second as the guilt guided his tongue. “And… I’m sorry.”

Man… Taking care of a kid is hard. I haven’t even eaten my food yet!