A/N: Growing Pains was written while the episodes of The Walking Dead Game Season 2 were still being released. The first chapter debut on March 12th 2014 a week after A House Divided, and the final chapter released on July 6th 2014 a month or so before Amid The Ruins. This story was written out of my love for the game, and coming back to do the revision that I did, it means more to me now than it did when I first wrote it.
This is not a what-if story on my version of a Season 2. Although Growing Pains takes much of this storyline from Season 1, and through most of Episodes 1 and 2 of the second season with minor alterations, it follows it's own A/U [alternate universe]. My aim was to write a buddy adventure on my two favorite characters and their sibling dynamic from Season 2.
So on one final note: This is going to hurt.
The Walking Dead
Chapter 1: Frostbite
The droplets fell on the fresh snow, one after the other, the deep red of their color standing out against the pure white of those woods. All she could do is stare at them; watching as more and more of the dark liquid dripped onto the ground, her insides feeling numb, her breaths shallow.
Clementine had lost.
It was over.
Death was a usual occurrence in her life. Before she was seven, her grandparents on both her Mom's and Dad's sides were gone. Every one of their funerals she had been to, still remembering so clearly the sad faces, the crying from well rehearsed speeches, to the flowers and the coffin…four times. Then there was her pet hamster, Bubbles, whom she'd buried at the end of the garden, after he sneaked out from his cage in the day and got electrocuted when he had chewed through a live wire. Mom offered to buy her a new one, but that had only made Clementine sadder. She couldn't replace her grandparents, and to her, Bubbles was no different back then.
Not long after her hamster went, had the world fallen apart. Her babysitter got sick from acreep to have bitten her arm, and both Clementine's parents were miles away from home. The only people she could trust were a bunch of strangers, who soon became her new family over those months surviving together. Yet Clementine couldn't let go; she kept wanting to leave their shelter in the Motor Inn to get to Savannah and find her Mom and Dad. When they finally did get out with no choice in the matter, their numbers declined; friends were lost or abandoned so quickly with little time to mourn, until eventually even Lee, the man who had found and rescued her, was dead too. Then in time so was Omid, Christa, their baby boy…
For Clementine, death followed her everywhere, killing those she cared about, to the people who deserved it, or perhaps didn't. Even when she was to gain some security in a new group after so long, and fought to gain the trust of all of them, they too were lost. One by one, each picked off through the struggles of this world that dwindled them down to a small few, that when the winter finally set in and the heavens opened up in an endless snowfall, only Clementine and Luke remained.
All they could do was keep moving, to find safety in the land that kept trying to kill them at every turn. A community up in Wellington where hope still survived; the news of a place spread through word of mouth alone among other survivors. There was no certainty any of it was true, or if it would still be waiting there for them at the end of it all. But those long miles they continued to trek through the heavy snow, scavenging for supplies in the homes and buildings of the deceased, while if often, avoiding the living and dead.
Bad luck it was that the latter was to finally be Clementine's downfall.
It wasn't really their fault. The pair of them were often careful, making sure each building they checked was secure and infected-free and keeping their wits about them everywhere that they went. The problem for them was that they'd focused too much on what they could see around them, not beneath them.
The snow had fallen so much, nearly reaching up to Clementine's knees, so it made traveling difficult. The only way she could keep up with Luke was by walking in his footsteps with the trail he made through the snow. Even still, she was slowing him down, and the weather wasn't letting up. It'd gotten so cold, the dawn doing nothing to warm her or her cold hands which were naked of gloves. Clementine did have a pair before, those purple knitted ones with the butterflies on them that she had really liked, but, she'd forgotten them when a large pack of walkers had found the place that they'd been hiding in hours before daylight, and in their rush to get out of there, grabbing their coats and gear, her gloves had been left behind.
Because of this, Clementine had needed to keep both her hands inside her coat pockets most of the way, blowing on them in white smokes of vapor after each time she'd needed to climb over a fence or under some barbed wire. It was this reason of sustaining the heat in her hands that she had fallen over, her balance unsaved as she was unable to grab onto a nearby tree when her foot caught on a root hidden under the snow. And with the weight added to her from her backpack, it brought Clementine down even harder onto the ground.
Suffice to say, if her hands weren't cold before, then they were after her little fall and having them burrowed deep into the snow.
"You alright kiddo?" Luke had asked, her friend already having backtracked to go help her. Clementine refused that hand offered to her, choosing to get up on her own as she brushed the snow off from her clothes and straightened her baseball cap, before rubbing her numb fingers.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she'd answered, despite still being so tired and hungry and wishing she was out of the cold and someplace warm. They hadn't even eaten breakfast yet, or what could be called a breakfast with those cans of food on them. To be traveling without a meal in her belly, was not something Clementine favored. She was relieved when Luke mentioned they'd tried to find someplace to stop soon once it was brighter and they were out of the woods with no puns intended, so they could rest a little and have a bite to eat.
"So, on the menu today we got corn, corn and corn; take your pick."
The upbeat question by her friend, or the attempt to be upbeat, it didn't sit well with her. The man had walked in silence a couple of steps ahead of her, trudging on through the snow as he'd cut a trail for them within those unusually quiet woods, with not a critter or bird to be seen or heard.
"Chocolate," Clementine had answered.
"Hmm…alright, corn it is!" Luke said, with a smile over his shoulder to her.
Wearisomely Clementine had sighed, feeling it too early for jokes. It was after that she'd nearly tripped again, and while Luke was in the amidst of reminding her to watch herself next time…Clementine had seen it, a figure moving out from the trees on their left, stumbling right between them as it went for her friend, only to fall flat on its face in the snow.
"Behind you! Look out!"
It was a walker, joined shortly by five more that just seemed to appear out of nowhere as if the dead were camouflaged in those woods. Those walkers had all soon caught sight of the pair standing there unprepared, as if triggered by their presence. Before even she and Luke had time to do anything, more rotten bodies were stirring from under the snow, and another six or seven other walkers rose up, groaning hungrily as they slowly crawled or dragged their way towards her and Luke.
Within moments they'd been surrounded by a whole load of them, with nowhere to run.
"You gotta be fuckin' kiddin' me," Luke cursed under his breath from beside her, the putrid smell of the dead filling the cold morning air. Few of the walkers resembled their once humans selves, being that they were far down on the decaying walker-chain, from peeling flesh and exposed bones, missing jaws and limbs...but still...
A pistol had been forced into Clementine hands as the dead had begun to box the pair in, the gun Luke kept on him that had barely half a clip left.
"Take it," he'd ordered her, pulling out the machete from the sheath on his back. "Make em' count and stay close; I'll try cuttin' us a way through!"
But Luke couldn't, because it hadn't been as simple as that. There'd been too many walkers, with no simple escape plan, that all she and Luke could do was fight. So they did. Clementine had gunned down six of them, doing her best to fight her nerves and the cold as so not to waste a single bullet. Luke did his part too, slicing the heads off of many of them, while pushing or kicking back any that got too close. One walker nearly took a chunk out of his neck, grabbing at him from behind by his rucksack, but Clementine caught it just in time, pulling the trigger and blowing open the back of the walker's head in a burst of red and gray, its frail corpse falling lifeless as Luke shoved it away.
That was the last bullet she had.
The gun clicked empty the next time Clementine went to use it on another walker Luke was quick to take out…the same time that she had felt something grab at her ankle.
A legless walker had crept up on her from out of the snow, its bony fingers latching onto her leg as it'd been about to take a bite. Clementine had stomped her foot down on its head, succeeding in stunning it briefly with a crack of its skull, but in doing so she was brought down in the struggle.
She wasn't loud enough. Luke hadn't heard her, too overwhelmed by the dead trying to get at him to have even seen her go down, or the legless corpse that was on top of her trying to bite down on her face. There were too many walkers between them for her friend to have even reached her, so with nothing but that empty gun to defend herself with, Clementine had slammed the weapon into the walker's skull, striking it again and again. Blood splattered out across her face and coat with each blow, until enough damage was dealt to the walker's brain that it was reduced to nothing more than a twitching corpse by the time she pushed the thing off her.
By then, the last of the walkers were taken care of, the final one beheaded by Luke's machete as the exhausted man had soon bent over hands on knees, catching his breath in the aftermath of that gory massacre they had brought to that once winter wonderland.
"Clem...? Clem!" No longer swamped by the undead to have separated them, she had heard Luke come running as soon as he'd seen her standing there idly over the walker she had killed; that bloodstained pistol still tightly gripped in her hand. Only when Luke grabbed her shoulders did she finally snap out of her daze. "Clementine! Kid, are you alright!?"
In that moment, all she could see were the faces of the people to have died. It was Duck's memory Clementine focused on the most, recalling how he went quiet after he'd gotten bitten during the raid, that he had never said a single word to her or anyone else after that, not even when Katjaa had carried him away into the woods, and the two of them never came back. Was it fear that had made Duck lose his voice, fear that stopped him from saying anything whenever situations were too much for his innocent mind to take? If it was, then Clementine finally understood what it felt like to be in his shoes.
She couldn't bring herself to tell Luke, could only sniffle a sob as she'd bowed her head, allowing for him to figure it out on his own. And Luke did soon enough, quick to take hold of her wrist, to where he noticed the blood dripping from her left hand, riddled deep all over from human teeth marks.
It was all Clementine could say.
They found a river not far from where the walkers had attacked. Most of the water's edge was frozen up in a thin sheet of ice, but the river still flowed as it should and would no doubt be lethal if either one tried to cross it to reach the farmlands on the other side. It was too cold to step in, and yet, Clementine thought about it, that maybe it would be better if she jumped in and let herself freeze to death.
She didn't want to end up like the others, and the alternatives weren't looking bright.
Luke showed no intention of having them take the plunge. Instead he was crouched down by the river, breaking some of the ice away to give him room in the water to clean up the machete caked in the blood of the undead. Meekly Clementine sat herself down on one of those large rocks while she watched him, not even bothering to brush aside the snow that covered that stone or wipe the blood off from her face where tears silently fell. Her hand burned with pain, the injury slowly bleeding drop by drop with no signs of stopping, and Clementine still chose to do nothing about it.
What did it matter anymore what happened to her, or what she did? She was a lost cause now. The sight of her chewed up hand reminded her of that. There was no magical cure that would save her and she wasn't immune. Nobody ever was. But maybe what scared Clementine most, other than just dying, was that Luke hadn't said much since he'd discovered the bite. She remembered too well how he'd reacted when both he and Pete saved her from the walkers in the forest so many months before; the pain of when she was dropped to the ground still vivid as was her frustration at the distrust that group had for her at being unable to believe a child's words that she wasn't bitten, or to side with her completely. And now here they were again, stuck in that same crisis, except now the threat was real and no dog was to blame.
Either Luke would leave her, or he would put an end to it like Nick was willing to do, a rifle and lantern on the kitchen table, just waiting for the word from Carlos so she could be taken out from the cabin and, and shot. Even thinking of her friend turning on her like that, Clementine wasn't sure if she should just get up and go…or let it happen so she didn't suffer like Lee.
Right then and there as that thought crossed her mind, Luke spoke. But his words weren't of guilt, or apologies for not being there when she needed him, Luke gave out a direct order.
"Getcha coat off."
Clementine blinked the tears out of her eyes, trying to not to sound sad. "What? But it's freezing."
"Don't matter; just take it off and roll your sleeve up. We ain't got no time to be wastin' here." There was an urgency in the way Luke said it, just as how he was when he'd been in a hurry to get them down to that river. Clementine assumed it was because he was concerned about more walkers showing up from her firing that gun and didn't want them getting swamped a second time. But it wasn't that, no. Only then when Luke lifted the machete out from those waters, the blade washed clean of blood and gleaming in that dawn's light, that Clementine gripped the wrist of her injured hand as the fear closed around her heart with suffocating force, sending the blood pumping faster through her veins at finally realizing what it was that he was planning to do.
"You're not taking my arm off! You can't!" she cried, almost tripping back on those stones as she retreated away in a fight or flight state, despite the idea of hurting her friend being something Clementine could never think of doing, nor did she have anywhere to escape to. "Please don't cut it off, don't! It won't work, Luke!"
"It's the only fightin' chance you got left. I...fuck! We gotta try something okay? I don't know what else to do!" The grief on Luke's face was all too real. Yet he didn't let go of that blade, despite looking stressed out as hell about the whole thing. Luke never had been good at masking his emotions, always an open book. "It might not be too late. If we catch it now, maybe-"
"It won't work! It never works!" Clementine repeated futilely, her vision becoming bleary as she started shaking. "Cutting it off won't fix anything! You'll only make it worse!"
"But it might save you, Clem! The cousin, Pete said-"
"I don't care what Pete said!" She yelled. "It killed him! I-It killed Lee! I've seen it! I've seen what happens!"
Cutting off the limb bitten from a walker, it never did any good. Lee had tried it, chopped off most of his arm and he still died in the end, unable to walk another step and escape with her out of Savannah. Pete too, he had just bled to death in the back of that truck over the belief that he would survive a walker bite by sawing off his own leg. Pete had died in agony, the saw still wedged halfway in his thigh bone when Clementine left him in that delivery truck, her clothes covered in his blood as she'd ran through those woods in a panic back to the cabin. Clementine didn't want that end. She didn't want to go out like that! Once you were bitten, that was it. So what of this cousin it'd worked for. How could she trust that old man's words after what she had seen with her own two eyes? And it was her body, her arm! Her own life that was at stake!
Luke had quickly moved forward and made a grab for her arm when she'd gone to back away again. The machete went clanging down on the snow and rocks of that riverbank as he'd struggled to get control of the situation and calm her down. "Clem! Just quit it will ya! Stop!"
She'd pulled at her arm to try wrenching it away, stomping and kicking at her friend's legs and feet, unable to use her free hand to break his grip on her as it was the one the walker had chewed on, droplets of blood from it landing everywhere on both snow and stones in her frenzy to break free.
The tears fell uncontrollably, Clementine cried out in vain. "I don't want to lose my arm! Just leave me alone!"
"Stop it! Stop talkin' like that! Fuckin' hell you're just a little kid!" Luke had said, outright shouting at her as he refused to let go through everything that she did. Those gloved hands seized her shoulders as he went kneeling down in front of her, his voice full of pleading as she shook her. "Clementine, look at me! LOOK!"
She hadn't right away, still running on the impulse to flee. But those words knocked some sense into her, enough to prevent her lashing out anymore at her friend, who looked racked with as much pity and guilt as he had when he and the others had her locked inside that shed back at the cabin all that time ago. It was in those brown eyes, Clementine saw something else within that familiar gaze.
"I know you're scared, alright, I know. But we gotta try, Clem. If there's any chance of this workin' we gotta take it. I ain't lettin' you kick the bucket too. You owe it to yer folks not to go quittin' on them! Please kid!"
Mom and Dad, for months Clementine dreamed of seeing them again, only to find them in that street, turned into one of those things. They weren't a perfect family. Sometimes they didn't always get along; tantrums and arguments were as frequent as the smiles and laughter. Yet her parents, she never doubted once that they loved her. No matter how bossy or overprotective, Mom and Dad always wanted what was best for her and so had Lee when he had stepped in to take care of her and became that third parent to her. If any one of them were still alive and here with her now, they wouldn't want her to give up. They'd take that chance to save her if they could, like she would do if it'd been them who needed saving.
What if there was a chance and it wasn't too late? Could she really go that far, losing an arm? What if all just went wrong again, like with Pete, like Lee...?
Whimpering Clementine looked down at her injured hand, the sight of it torn down to the bone and the pain resonating from it making her insides churn. "But you don't know for sure if it'll do anything for me. You don't."
The man hesitated, that sadness in his eyes revealing clear he wasn't one to give false hope in that moment. It resonated in him, that uncertainty, as did the truth.
"No, I don't. But-"
A sound from not far off interrupted Luke, the two of them in almost perfect sync looking out at the woods they had previously run from. It was the sounds of the dead, long starved moans and mindless wails resounding over and over in their endless search for living flesh. No walkers could be seen, although for how much longer couldn't be said for sure, only, that it wouldn't be safe here forever. Gunfire attracted them. No matter how far away the shots were fired, they always showed up.
Luke gripped at her shoulders firmly, turning back at her. "Look, we don't have time to be talkin' about this. It's now or never, you understand? I ain't no doctor, not like Carlos. Lurker bite or no lurker bite, it's gotta go; now you with me on this or not?"
That walker from before had shredded her hand up like the blades of a blender. Without a decent surgeon or a doctor, she'd get gangrene. Whether or not she was bitten by the undead, it was fatal left untreated. Clementine was going to lose that hand either way, that's what Luke was getting at. Cutting it off, it had to be done. If she had a chance to make it through this, then she had to do it. Even if she was scared, Clementine had to try! If Lee could be brave enough to go through with it, then so could she.
Twigs snapped in the distance, the groans of walkers getting closer, with time slipping away with what last possible chance she might have of living to fight for another day.
Clementine gulped, and gave her friend a weak nod.
A few minutes, that's all they had to cut it off, bandage it and go. The cold and fear, they weren't the best put together, not when hearing the slowly approaching threat of the dead nearby or facing the daunting aspect of losing that hand. Clementine was shaking so much that just the task of unzipping her coat proved difficult. In his rucksack Luke had gone about tearing up one of his shirts to use as makeshift bandages, not having any left in that near empty first-aid kit of theirs to contain only a few band-aids and disinfectant wipes. A great deal of use those would be for her now.
Clementine winced on tugging her damaged hand through the sleeve of her coat after sliding off her backpack, acknowledging with a stolen breath that soon most of that arm of hers would be gone and she wouldn't feel it anymore; a single realization that further intensified both fear and panic into a corrupt mass within her belly, so overpowering that Clementine thought she was going to be sick.
'Be like Lee, just be like Lee.'
The bare-bones of a skeleton walker stumbled slowly out from among the trees, some twenty or so meters away within the woods. It hadn't noticed them yet, though soon would, very soon. Luke had spotted the walker too and hurried; he was quick to brush the snow off one of the large rocks with the smoothest surface.
"Rest yer arm down on there." Luke said.
The rock felt ice-cold against Clementine's skin through the fabric of her sleeve, as did the winter air that ate away at what warmth her body had from where she sat on the stony ground on her knees, the snow gradually beginning to melt, seeping into her jeans. Her teeth chattered, every hair on her neck standing on end, quickly missing the shelter her coat once gave from the elements.
But it wasn't just the cold that left her shivering. She was scared, terrified. The fast beating of her heart increased when Luke pulled up the sleeve of her striped shirt and tied the tourniquet high on her left arm. He gripped her wrist securely, a drum feeling like it was banging inside her ribcage that would break at any second and she would die.
Clementine looked up at her friend, doing nothing to hide the fear on her face or the tears. It wasn't any easier for Luke either, those brows furrowed in sympathy for her when their eyes briefly met, appearing just as scared. He was probably wishing that it was the other way around, that it was him dealing with this rather than her, like he had once said to Clementine when he told her of the time he'd lost his parents, burdened with the same looks of regret whenever another member of their group had been claimed victim to the dead or to the living.
Hacking apart walkers, to skinning and cutting up meat for dinner from hunted prey, none of that had made the man any less immune when it came down to this, to removing the infected hand of a living person, a friend. For once did Clementine wish Luke was better at bluffing, because him mirroring her own fear didn't help her in feeling more brave about this.
"I gotta take more off above the bite, to be sure. Now just, just be keepin' yer arm still, okay?" Luke said, and as more tears filled Clementine's eyes, she thought she'd felt a tremor go through his own hand that was clamped around her wrist tightly. "You ready?"
Like she really had a choice; the sound of the walkers nearby alerted them to the urgency of things, and to the infection that was spreading out from the bites on her hand, if her whole body wasn't infested with it already.
A single small nod was the best Clementine could manage.
She clenched her eyelids shut, sniffling when blade rested against her forearm over that fresh healed scar inflicted from a stray dog's bite, before Luke raised the weapon again. And with several tensed breaths, he swung the machete down.
One strike was all it took...
When Clementine was six, she had fallen out of her treehouse and broken her leg. The bone had gone right through the skin and everything. It was gross.
Her mom was in hysterics, blaming her Dad for putting the treehouse up in the first place and telling him over and over in the hospital after Clementine's leg was in a cast and fixed up that he should take it down that same summer he'd built it for her. Naturally despite the seriousness of her injuries, Dad declined. He had argued that they couldn't protect her from everything, that things like scrapes, bruises and even broken bones were a part of growing up and that there were going to be times when she'd fall down and have to get herself back up again without their help. He was right of course, yet on her Mom's insistence, he did install a better ladder so it was easier for Clementine to climb up to that treehouse once she was well again, not that she really went up there much after that.
The pain of that broken leg Clementine had gotten that day, it...it didn't compare to the pain she was experiencing now. No, by far it was the worst pain imaginable, as if her arm was being held down in boiling hot water and she couldn't pull it back out. It was so bad, that with every living, breathing second spent in that unrelenting suffering, she wished Luke would just kill her.
Her crying soon attracted those walkers out from the woods, as Luke rushed to bandage up the severed stump of her arm gushing with blood. Clementine hadn't the time to put her coat or backpack on, not able to muster the strength through the pain to even try, let alone to crawl and to get her feet. It was down to the Luke to drape the coat around her, swinging her small backpack over one shoulder with his own as Luke picked her up and carried her off with only seconds to spare, those walkers within barely a few steps of reaching them. Clementine could hear them, see over Luke's shoulder the pursuing dead, arms outstretched with gaping jaws of broken teeth, their stiff legs unable to carry them fast enough in the cold, that some toppled over like drunks in their failure to catch up to them. But there were more on the treeline that kept Clementine and Luke trapped on the river's edge, lured out by the smell of fresh blood.
Everything else became a blur; she was unable to focus through the pain and blood loss that was making her dizzy. All Clementine could hear was Luke's voice while he ran, trying to keep her conscious as the blood from her arm bled through onto her clothes from those makeshift bandages, her body trembling as she felt herself starting to go into shock.
"It's gonna to be okay, you're gonna be alright! C'mon stay with me, Clem!"
The last thing she saw was the sky above them, a pale blue that was hollow and cold as the winter that had stolen the last of their friends away: a final thought to process through her mind before her eyes rolled into the back of her head and everything went dark.
In her nightmares, she dreamed of Lee.
They were back inside the jewelry store; his right arm handcuffed to that radiator, his body slacked against it without a single breath of life coming out of him. Clementine standing in the doorway of that office, small and afraid like the child she'd once been as she watched him stir. Lee's once kind eyes turned to a milky white, resembling two blank canvases. The man he used to be was gone, and in his place was a mindless cannibal, just the same as all the others to have once been human beings...
'You have to shoot me, honey.'
Somehow a gun came to be in her hands…somehow Lee was freed and walking slowly towards to her in that store. A handcuff jangling on one wrist, the severed stump of the other arm rose up, reaching out to her with an invisible hand as the corpse of her friend let out a hoarse moan, towering over her.
She squeezed the trigger, again and again, but it wouldn't fire. It just clicked, clicking, click, click, click, click, click!
He didn't want to turn; Lee never wanted her to see him like that.
The streets of Savannah in the dead of night, outside The Marsh House hotel, the one she and parents used to stay at. The crowds of walkers were everywhere on that street, walking in slow lumbering steps around her as if she didn't exist. Their faces were familiar, they were the strangers she'd met, friends she'd lost and the family she never got a chance to say goodbye to, all reduced to rotten decaying corpses, nothing but the empty vessels of their former selves.
Mom, Dad, Lee, everyone, they were all here.
In her hands, the gun was gone, and in its place Clementine was holding something made of plastic. It was the walkie-talkie Carley had given Clementine, her favorite stickers from Ben still there.
How did she—
'Clementine, oh Clementiiiiine.'
She dropped the walkie-talkie the instant that voice crackled out from its speaker, the voice of that of the stranger whose name she had never caught, because on his insistence he had told her to only address him as Daddy and nothing else; going into a fit of rage if Clementine refused to.
The man who told her…told her…
'I know where to find your parents, Clementine. Come outside; I'm right outback see? But don't you tell anyone; it'll be our little secret.'
Her baseball cap, it blew off in the wind as she climbed over the metal fence behind the big house. Before Clementine could climb back and grab it from the lawn where it landed, the stranger plucked her right off from the fence and started dragging her by the wrist, pulling her down the alleyway.
"W-wait my hat!"
"There's no time; you're parents are in danger! We have to go to them, now!" the stranger lied, skittishly looking back with hastened steps, his grip so tight on her wrist it was hurting her. Too tight, breaking the bones, bleeding, blood, her hand ripped clean off with inhuman force…
'You stupid girl; stupid little Clementiiine.'
An office with glass doors, wooden furnishing, a seat by the window revealing a world trapped in twilight, with the house unsettlingly quiet around her. The couch Lee slept on after a stressful break-in and escape from Crawford, it was empty. She walked towards it, across the old big rug, and by the coffee table, her small hand touching the armrest…becoming stained, thick splatters of blood appearing on the couch, in the space Lee once sat.
Clementine should've woken him up before she left, when the stranger called her…but she was so upset, she'd just…
'It's all your faaaault. They're dead because of you.'
The walkie-talkie sat on the coffee table, the hysterical laughter from the stranger filling the room that just wouldn't stop.
'Poor little Clementine. Stupiiiiid little Clementine!'
They died because of her. Clementine had let it happen; she had let that man take everything from her. Ben might never have fallen, Omid might not have gotten shot, Christa might not have lost her baby and turned into a walker, Kenny might still be with them...and Lee, he might never have gotten bitten. She got them all killed.
Tricked, nothing but a lie.
"I hate you...I-I hate you!"
The baseball bat from the store was in her hands as if it'd always been there, and Clementine raised it high above her head, screaming as she brought the bat down on the walkie-talkie, smashing it.
"I hate you! I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU!"
The walkie-talkie fell off the table, and she struck it, again and again, black plastic and wiring flying out everywhere across the room, no longer vivid, changing.
'Clementiiiine! Clementiiiiine! Clementiiiiine!'
Blood seeped out from the insides of the walkie-talkie, the distorted laughter of the stranger coming from it making her swing the bat harder, hitting it with all her strength as the world shifted, transforming.
Clementine screamed at the top of her lungs, as that baseball bat snapped clean in two.
"I HATE YOU!"
The mocking voice of the stranger was gone, her hands unable to feel the broken baseball bat anymore. It was just her alone in the empty house, her house, her own home.
Static, long waves of static coming from all that remained of the walkie-talkie.
The voice was different, but she recognized it straight away. How couldn't she?
Clementine fell to her knees, the pieces of the walkie-talkie crumbling to tinier pieces by her touch as she grabbed at them, as if too fragile.
No answer. Static, static, static, static…
Darkness began to set, blood falling onto the floorboards, like tears.
"I'm sorry. I-I'm so sorry, Lee."
She was falling, fading into the void, where an infant's cries of agony screamed, loud and piercing in her ears as it followed her down, down…
Falling, her back landed against a wooden surface, her right arm hanging off the edge into nothingness. It...was it...a table?
Pain, too much. Her heart kept beating out of rhythm in her chest, the blood gushing loud in her ears.
"—ou hear me? Clem?"
A hand patting frantic at her cheek, the heavy weights on her eyelids receded, enough for her to open them. Hazy, everything out of focus, but somebody was there.
The mutter of a curse, the person went. The sound of somebody rushing around the place, doing something. Her head was heavy, dizzy, eyes fluttering open and closed, dark spots clogging up her vision. She was going, passing out...
"—te me for this."
Fire. Reddish and yellow flames flicker, the brightness and heat intense. There was a strong hand on her arm, the left one-
Searing pain erupted, causing her to scream. Burning, fire burning through flesh, muscle and bone; the smell of meat cooking breathed sharply in through her nostrils. Too much, it hurt too much!
A scream escaped her throat again, drowning to nothingness before reality slipped again…
Flames rose high into the night sky from buildings set ablaze. The fire spread like the plague to each street, carried quickly by the winds and the close proximity of those wooden buildings that went up in smoke faster than the blaze could be contained. It was hell on earth, an inferno they had to get out from before they were burnt to a crisp too.
A community that couldn't be trusted, those that had long since imprisoned Clementine and the others without a shred of remorse for their actions. There was chaos all around; those men and women trying to put out the flames with mere buckets of water and dirt alone, while others shot at the mass of walkers attracted for miles by the fire to engulf that town and wilderness surrounding it. It wasn't supposed to end up like that; nobody was meant to get hurt, even if most deserved it. They couldn't stay there, kept like rats waiting to die. They had already lost Kenny and Sarita at Carver's own hand. To stay would've been the death of them. They had had to escape! Yet that carefully planned distraction to make such an escape possible quickly got out of control and became that fiery deathtrap, leading to the survivors of their group being separated.
They'd tried to cross a street, not that far from where all the vehicles and trucks were kept locked up, but chaos erupted in the town before the second half of their team could cross, leaving Clementine, Sarah, the girl's dad Carlos, and Alvin left behind to find another way to regroup with the others without being caught. They'd lost Alvin short time later, a pack of walkers having grabbed the man from the shadows of one building they were passing around the back of.
"Help! Oh god help me! Please!" Alvin had shouted as the dead shoved him to the ground, pinning him down. Carlos was already there, taking the action needed to depose of those walkers with a few well delivered headshots. Clementine remembered helping the doctor pull the corpses off from Alvin, the portly man lying there shaking in shock, in pain. They'd seen it at the same time, the bites all over Alvin's back, exposed through the tears in his dirty white shirt reddening from blood. Alvin, he'd given Rebecca his coat just before…there wasn't anything they could do.
"Becs, I gotta find…please…" Clementine recalled those words so faintly, the way Alvin's broken glasses were worn crooked on his face, framing the desperation in the man's eyes to once be so kind and thoughtful. He had tried to get up, but it was no use. Alvin had taken a bite to the neck, and was losing blood too fast.
Screams and gunshots from the burning streets were that more frequent, with Carver's followers running from walkers on fire, the flames spreading. Alvin's pleas to find his wife before the end were denied by Carlos in that moment, the doctor already having too much at stake to risk losing his own daughter to assist an dying man who wouldn't make it. And so had Clementine watched him hesitantly raise that pistol, guilt ridden on his face.
"I'm sorry," was all the Spanish man said, before he'd shot Alvin dead and put an end to the man's suffering.
Clementine had quickly looked away before the gun was fired, realizing what he'd been about to do...however, Sarah right beside her, she hadn't. The teenager had seen everything, her hands thrown over her eyes some seconds too late as she'd let out scream after scream, the sound having hurt Clementine's eardrums.
No matter what Carlos had said, he'd failed to calm his crying teenage daughter down. And because Sarah wouldn't stop screaming, it was how they soon came to be discovered by a follower of Carver's, and they were pursued.
Nate, he'd been as persistent as Carver in tracking them. At first impressions meeting him weeks before, Clementine thought Nate to be weird; a cruel man with a mocking sense of humor that'd had him making as many bad jokes as he had done when beating up the others like some playground bully. But the weirdness derived from how he was always nicer to the female members of their group...too nice. Nate hadn't fooled Clementine as to why. She saw right through to what his true intentions were, because of the things Christa warned her about.
'There are bad people in this world Clementine, those that would look at a little girl or boy your age and not even think twice about hurting you. Unless they have family with them, unless you know for sure they're decent people, DON'T, trust them!'
When they were free from Carver's camp, Nate came right on after them. He'd hunted them down like animals, smiling from ear-to-ear as he brandished that shotgun he would fire up at the sky, enjoying making them run scared through the woods, a living breathing maniac who made the St. Johns seem sane in comparison. The only gun the trio had on them was with Carlos, but he had quickly run out of ammo when downing walkers and taking shots at their taunting pursuer. They had nothing to defend themselves with, forcing the doctor to make the decision that he had...
"Come out come out wherever you aaaare!"
They'd taken cover down by some trees, the sounds of Nate searching for them in those very woods nearby; he was calling out more taunts for them to show themselves. They were tired and out of breath, chased by a madman that wasn't going to disappear or give up until they were caught.
That's when Carlos came out and said it.
"Sarah, listen to me sweetie. I need you to go with Clementine now and to get as far away from here as possible. Can you do that for me? Just keep running and find someplace safe to hide until I come find you."
Clementine didn't even have to ask what Carlos intended to do. She knew, but Sarah hadn't; the young teenager was already panicking as she'd clung to her dad's arm, refusing to let go as the rain had started falling above through the branches of the trees overhead.
"W-what no, Daddy no! He'll kill you!"
Carlos had just pulled her away, a hand going to her confused face as he'd cupped her cheek, the doctor burdened with the look of a man that was scared, but ready to throw his life away for the one thing he loved most in the world. "No, no he won't. I promise sweetie. I'm just going to buy you some time, okay? I'll be right behind you both! So don't argue with me on this. I'll be okay. Now please, just go!"
He lied. Carlos never came looking for them. They never saw him again...because they heard him die, forced to listen to him be beaten to death as Clementine had to drag Sarah on by the arm through those woods to stop the screaming teenager from running back. The tragic thing about it was, that Carlos's sacrifice had only bought them a few minutes...
They'd found themselves out on the road, spotting buildings in the distance: a bunch of warehouses. Clementine had led them there, the two girls running across that parking lot as the rain came down heavier and drenched them to the bone. Clementine remembered it still, that run-down warehouse they'd taken refuge in, surrounded by metal shelves reaching as tall as the ceiling, filled with boxes and useless furniture nobody had much use for anymore. It was dark in there, near impossible to see anything, but that's what Clementine had been counting on as a deterrent to keep Nate away. But she'd been a mistaken. Her plan worked against them, because the vastness of that warehouse amplified Sarah's crying; the teenager was still a wreck after having to leave her dad behind.
And who should so happen to hear her cries, but Nate himself.
"Little lambs, hey where'd you go little lambs? Come ooon, don't you both go hiding on me now. You're missing all the fun with Papa Wolf, right here!" The echo of Nate's footsteps were carried far with his sing-song voice as he'd called out to her and Sarah; the rain drumming loudly on the roof of that warehouse. A light kept sweeping back and forth through the packed rows of shelves; a flashlight! Nate had one carried in the front pocket of his jacket, something Clementine hadn't known of until that moment.
"Look, if it's about before, don't worry yourselves about it. I never liked those assholes much to begin with anyway. Set up was nice sure, but they were just a bunch of greedy fucks that kept all the good stuff for themselves, and the ladies...so why don't you two come on out now, and we'll put aaall this behind us? Dead and buried, water under the bridge? Whaddaya say girls?"
Through the gaps of those boxes stored on those shelves, Clementine had seen Nate several aisles down. A shotgun in hand, his clothes and smiling face stained in fresh blood that the rain had done little to wash away. It was Carlos's blood.
She and Sarah were crouched low behind a forklift, yet it hadn't been a safe enough place for them to be hiding. At her side, Sarah had been shaking uncontrollably, her frightened brown eyes wide as she'd choked out one broken sob after the other, starting to hyperventilate. Sarah's inability to keep calm was drawing Nate ever closer to them. Even when Clementine begged her to be quiet, Nate's taunting had only made Sarah worse.
They couldn't stay...
Clementine had turned to the fifteen-year-old, taking her hand with a hushed whisper. "When I say, run with me, okay?"
The request might've as well have been the equivalent of asking the teenager to jump off a massive cliff with rocks below it, that was how much worse it made Sarah, the girl immediately shaking her head.
"No, no, no!I can't! No-"
"Trust me Sarah! Please!" Clementine had paused to glance out from the side of the forklift, looking down the end of the aisle they were in, where the light from that flashlight loomed dangerously close. "It'll be okay. Just keep running and don't let go of my hand. I'll get us out of here."
"But..." Sarah had only sniffled out another strangled cry, never finishing. The older teen's hand squeezed Clementine's hand painfully tight, both from fear, but also in agreement to go along with her plan, as Sarah had shifted up to balance on her toes from where they were hidden low; ready to run as Nate came slowly walking down that aisle.
"I can hear yooou..."
The main entrance they'd come through was risky, but there were enough vehicles out there for cover until they could get back in the woods to go find the others. It was all Clementine had been counting on as she whispered out that order to Sarah. They both made a break for it.
Shoes pounding on the floor, the two broke into a run, darting out into the open with each other's hands linked together as Clementine had pulled the tearful Sarah along, pleading with her to hurry.
"Hahaha! There you are!" Nate called out gleefully from behind them. They didn't get far before that gun went off, the sound booming out like an explosion in that warehouse, ears ringing as shrapnel struck the side of the metal shelf to their right after both girls had run clear of the aisle, darting out of range. Nate was in hasty pursuit, the light of that flashlight shaking all over the place, illuminating their path with their sprinting shadows stretching across the floor.
The exit was up ahead.
"Hold stiiiill!" Nate's laughter echoed all around them, the man having pulled back to cock and aim that shotgun.
Another shot was fired shortly afterwards, and that was when…
'A pinky swear's forever.'
One second Sarah was running and then the next she wasn't. No scream, no cry of pain, Sarah's hand had simply loosened and slipped out from Clementine's fingers.
Thinking she'd stumbled, Clementine skidded to a stopped and looked behind her, prepared to dash back and grab her…only to have caught sight of the older girl in time to see her body come crashing to the floor like a rag doll, dead. Nate had shot Sarah right in the head, the blood just gushing out. A dark puddle had gathered down by Clementine's feet, as she'd watched Sarah's broken thick rimmed glasses disappear within it, too numb to comprehend anything.
In the blink of an eye, Sarah was dead. A month they'd known each other, all those times telling stories, playing games, and she was gone; another person dead in a time span of barely an hour...and Nate, he'd just found it hilarious, sniggering at the sight of the poor dead girl as he'd whistled impressed at his own handiwork.
"Well fuck, there I had to go and ruin myself a feast. Not that you were much of a looker," he'd said walking through the blood, to where Nate poked the muzzle of that shotgun into Sarah's side and he'd cruelly let off another round, her body jerking as another hole was blown into her as big as the one in her skull. The ringing still in her ears, Clementine had stood there trembling in shock, edging slowly back when Nate raised that bloodied weapon again, smiling crookedly at her. "Guess I'll have to aim lower with you little one; wouldn't want to spoil the dessert!"
The trigger was never pulled; Clementine was never shot. Like some crazy luck of the draw, a stray walker came stumbling out from the aisle closest to Nate, throwing itself on the unsuspecting man. Clementine was eclipsed back into darkness as Nate went to fight the thing off him, crying out as human flesh was ripped opened by rotten jaws of the undead. Clementine didn't waste her chance. She was gone, taking off into the stormy night without looking back as that shotgun went off within that warehouse, with Nate shouting out in a rage like some beast that'd finally been awakened.
"I've been bit…fuck! Bitch! You little fuckin' whore! That's it! I'm through with this shit! Get back here! YOU'RE GONNA PAY FOR THIS!"
Clementine had let her newly found friend down; she'd let Sarah down and got her killed. But there hadn't been time to mourn her or the others, or else Clementine might've soon been joining them.
Nate must've hounded her for hours in a game of cat and mouse that felt like it would never end. Even when bitten, out of ammo and his time short, Nate never gave up the chase. It felt like being separated from Christa all over again with the endless rain, and a hunter that never let up in a maze of trees to be illuminated with every burst of lightning...there were too many times Clementine believed she would die out there that night, that she wouldn't be so lucky to escape a second time.
It was on some unnamed road in those woods Clementine at last gained reprieve from her hunter. A truck had come charging around the bend from where the flames of a burning town still scorched much of the skies. The headlights blinded her on approach, the engine revving from that vehicle she'd mistaken for hurtling towards her.
Clementine sprinted off the road, fleeing into the woods on the other side among the cover of the trees. Yet as it'd turned out it wasn't her the driver had been going for; this was quickly made obvious when the wheels screeched on that wet road when slamming on the brakes and Clementine heard the beginnings of a scream right before the truck knocked down the man to have been chasing her, the killer enraged at being outsmarted by a little girl.
From hiding, she'd heard two people jump out, one going towards where Nate had landed in the ditch, and the other running around the truck to the edge of the road in the direction Clementine had gone. When that person called out her name, she'd known then that she was safe.
It'd been Luke and Nick; they had found her when searching around for the rest of their group with the truck they'd taken during their escape. The memory to Clementine was one of great relief, having rushed out of hiding to greet them, practically tackling into Luke in a fit of tears after being so close to getting caught by the crazed Nate, who given a minute more, may have beaten her death with that empty shotgun, or acted out the horrible things he'd threatened to do.
Nate resembled nothing more than road kill after Nick hit him with that truck. His body lay in that overgrown ditch, limbs crooked and broken as that man had groaned in pain, coughing up blood that he'd been losing fast. Yet Clementine hadn't cared that he was dying or that it would be painful, only glad that he wouldn't hurt anybody, not anymore. But they had lost so many that night. Seven cut down to a mere three, or rather four with the new addition to the group...Rebecca's baby. She was there in the passenger seat, that newborn wailing loudly from inside that truck; wrapped in nothing but a table-cloth, the only thing they'd had time to dress the baby in after she was cut out from her mother before Carver's town went up in flames. Rebecca was gone too, dying within Carver's camp as her husband had, probably not even far from each other.
They were all that had survived that night, and many more perhaps could've too, if it hadn't been for Nate.
"You sick fuck! Fuckin' bastard! I'll kill you, you piece of shit!"
Her arms had been around Luke, her fingers clinging tightly to the back of his shirt soaked through by the rain as she'd listened to Nick take out his anger on that barely conscious monster living in a man's flesh; kicking and stomping Nate with such force, Clementine had squirmed at every sickening sound of bones snapping through the pouring rain.
"Nick, that's enough! Nick!"
"Shut up! Don't tell me what to do! It's never enough!" Nick had stopped, angrily thrusting a finger at the bloody bandages wrapped around his head. "The bastard cut out my eye and fucked with the rest of us! And then what, he thinks he can get off at shooting pregnant women and chasing little girls!? Excuse me if you don't have got a problem with that Luke, 'cause fuckers like this don't deserve shit!"
Luke's arms around her fell away as he'd straightened up, yelling at his friend through the storm. "You think I ain't pissed off too? Believe me, I hate him as much as the next son of a bitch, but pull yourself the fuck together Nick! Carver's gonna be out here lookin' for us and you stickin' around here kickin' the shit out of that asshole ain't gonna do us no favors. The horse is dead, don't beat it no more!"
"Oh yeah that'll be a lot of fun won't it, runnin'. Hah! Like a shitload of good that's ever brought us! And it'd done us a whole lot more favors if you hadn't taken the stupid baby! Why didn't you just take Carver's kidney while you were at it! Now he'll never get off our backs!"
"The whole place was overrun! What the hell did you expect me to do? Leave it with the lurkers for a fuckin' barbecue!?"
"Anything's better than-"
"Will you two just STOP! You're not helping anything so just, stop it!"
Thunder rumbled overhead, the rain falling heavier as the two men had ceased their quarrel. And as they'd all stood there listening to the crying newborn and tried to decide on the words to say on where to go from there...the familiar sound of walkers grazed the edge of Clementine's hearing; her eyes quickly spotting the undead from through the trees on all sides, lured there by the commotion from all the shouting.
Nick hurried in climbing out from the ditch, removing the gun from the holster on his hip, not to shoot down walkers, but the half-dead man they'd knocked down with their truck just minutes before.
Luke hadn't given him the chance. "Leave him, Nick! He ain't worth the bullets!"
Begrudgingly Nick obeyed with a curse under his breath, reluctantly holstering the weapon again as he'd gone to join them in making their getaway. Maybe Clementine would've gotten in the truck straight away on Luke's insistence, yet the sight of Nate lying there on the verge of death stirred something in her, a hatred she had never felt so strongly before.
Because when she looked at Nate, all she saw was Sarah lying dead in that warehouse, and...
Full blown rage overpowered her, that within the split second of Nick going past her, Clementine reached out and snatched the gun from its holster strapped to him and marched off with it.
Over to the crippled man she had marched while the dead lurked closer from all around, not near enough just yet to be a danger to her, she didn't care. But before Clementine even reached Nate's body, Luke grabbed her arm, stopping her in her tracks.
"The hell you think you're doin'? Clem, this ain't the time for-"
"Let me do it," she cut him off coldly. Clementine couldn't listen to him; she couldn't let any of what Nate had done go without payback. It didn't matter if walkers feasted on him; she wanted to be the one that did it, that killed him.
Perhaps in some way Luke had realized that too, after she'd refused to budge. "Kid, this ain't the same as shootin' a lurker, don't you get that?"
The memory of that stranger to have been strangling Lee in that hotel room came back to her, right before the bullet pierced his skull at the press of that trigger; dead by her own hands. And then Lee, when he'd asked her to shoot him so he didn't turn, that final sad look given to her before he turned his head away and closed his eyes forever.
Clementine gripped the gun closer, the weight of it heavy in her hand as the rain had continued to fall.
"I know, but I have to."
"No, no you don't. Just, you can walk away from this, alright? It don't make you no coward for it."
Nate wouldn't have lived. No ambulance would've come by and taken him to a hospital, where doctors and nurses would be forced to save the life of somebody who didn't deserve to be saved. Nate was going to die, whether she'd put a bullet through his head or not.
Revenge did things to people, drove them to do things they wouldn't have dared thought of. Clementine had seen that first-hand with Kenny, when he had tried to kill Ben over losing Katjaa and Duck. And then there was Lilly who'd shot Carley in the face for thinking the woman was the one trading with the bandits. Then there was the stranger that had wanted Lee dead, all because he blamed him for the death of his family…to even Lee himself, who had told her that he had murdered a man for having an affair with his wife in a moment of uncontrollable anger, the same anger that had driven Lee to kill the St. Johns after what that cannibal family had done to them and Mark, and countless others...
Some people didn't deserve to die over revenge, but Nate, he was one of the exceptions.
Beneath her favorite cap, Clementine had looked up back at Luke with her eyes open like windows, letting him in to see that it had to be done. Her decision couldn't be changed.
Time ticking away, Nick yelling from the truck for them to hurry up as those walkers were near to breathing down their necks, Luke unwillingly let up, allowing Clementine to take those last few steps to the edge of the ditch where Nate laid mangled up in the grass and nettles. The monster hadn't even known she was there. Nick had beaten him senseless, his every breath wheezy and bubbling with eyes swollen shut as the rain had kept washing away the blood running from his broken nose. Despite how pitiful he looked, it did nothing to sway her, as she'd raised the gun, aiming it at his head.
There, she tried to recall the precise words of guidance from Lee all those years ago, at the time when her old friend had set up the target range within that moving train, hands placed over her ears as she practiced shooting at those green glass wine bottles.
'To aim, you look right down the top, through that notch. Line up the site at the end with your target.'
Breathing deeply, her finger rested on the trigger.
'Keep it steady.'
Clementine fired, and that was it. Nate was dead.
Soon as the deed was done, Luke had grabbed her by the wrist, ordering her to hurry as they'd made a dash for the truck, dodging one walker on the way there. Helping her to climb up onto the passenger seat, she'd seen Rebecca's infant for the first time, wailing and wrapped in that cloth on the seat, still covered in blood and gross gooey stuff. Clementine had carefully taken the baby into her arms, moving over as Luke climbed on in, and once the truck door was shut Nick drove the lot of them out of there, away from the dead.
She'd remembered the window wipers going back and forth, rain falling heavy against the windscreen, the truck headlights on the road that went off into complete darkness, sometimes revealing a dear or a walker or two they'd swerved to avoid along the way as they drove and drove. She recalled Luke and Nick talking a lot on what to do next, where to go, what to do about the baby, and a few spats going on between them, especially on Nick watching the road and Luke insisting he should drive. Clementine was numb all of it, and couldn't say anything other than hold that newborn baby close, the child having finally fallen asleep in her arms. She was reminded of a cruel fact again and again to be realized by the lack of people in that truck.
It was only them left, only them four.
Clementine held no regrets killing Nate, but it didn't change a single thing. Members of their group were still gone, and she gained no sense of justice or escape from mourning their friends by taking out the man to have murdered a handful of them. It always happened, people dying all around her needlessly, and how many more times would it happen again? The cycle just seemed unending with no way to break it, and Clementine was scared, scared that she would soon join the unmarked graves of all the others.
Home, she wanted to go home.
She awoke to pain: the sharp stabbing kind that was fast in bringing her back to the waking world and keeping her there within its clutches. Her body seized up as her tired eyes opened, and through the haze of her vision she saw a ceiling decorated in cobwebs, a soft orangey glow cast unsteadily across it like the embers from a campfire.
Clementine wasn't in the cold anymore, the woods and snow gone. It was some old bed she had been sleeping in, a couple of blankets tucked around her small frame with comfy pillows propped behind her head. They all smelled faintly of mold, like they hadn't been used or washed in a long time.
Her arm, it hurt.
The springs of that bed creaked under her weight, and she found it a fight just to sit herself up. Tipsily Clementine's head fell forward, her stomach knotting as bile reached her throat, and she struggled to keep the contents of her stomach down. Her mouth was dry, so dry. She needed water.
It was dark in that room, night-time judging from the lack of daylight coming in through the drapes. It was somebody's house, framed paintings on the walls, but nothing sentimental like family photographs or trinkets. A spare room for guests, maybe. It had its own fire stove too over on her far right: a small metal thing that burned bright enough to supply some light and keeping the room warm.
Combing a hand through her hair by her ear, there was a small burst of panic on realizing her dad's baseball cap was missing. Clementine hadn't needed to look far to find it, seeing it resting on the nightstand on her bedside. She hadn't lost it. But by the sound of a murmur, she nearly jumped out of her skin when finally noticing the figure sitting in the chair on her left, the glow of the stove dancing off the contours of his features to which she recognized as belonging to the face of a friend.
It was Luke. He was fast asleep, snoozing lightly with his head leaned awkwardly forward, his arms crossed in front of him with his winter coat and gear gone. That wooden chair had been pulled up close to her bed, as if he'd been keeping an eye on her for some time, or had tried to. Even while asleep, he looked exhausted. Then again come to think of it, neither of them had slept too well these last few weeks on the road. Things hadn't been right for a long time, even before they met.
Away Clementine wiped the sweat from her forehead, the need to vomit again too great that she nearly gagged. She really didn't feel good at all, her strength brittle, and the dizziness going around inside her skull like a whirlpool was disorienting. And unfortunately for her, besides that strange beating in her chest, an annoying pressure in her bladder well-informed Clementine that she was in desperate need of using the bathroom too, alongside needing something to drink. She had to get up.
What was she doing here? Why didn't—
"Hrm!" Clementine nearly cried out at the unbearable pain to intensify from her left arm when she had gone to move it. Her eyes immediately fell on the covers of that bed, where her aching arm was hidden beneath them. And it was then with much nauseating dread she remembered it: the walker bite, the river, the machete, the blood.
'Clementine, honey. My arm is gone because I cut off.'
'Why would you do that?'
Shaking, she gripped the edge of the blankets, fast in peeling them back.
The sleeve of her shirt had been rolled up to the elbow, with fresh bandages tightly wrapped around the limb, covering up the beginning of that brutal scar she'd gotten from Sam in the rundown camp site belonging to a dead family. The further down the bandages went, the more discolored into a light red they became in the low light from that stove, until finally the bandages abruptly ended halfway down her forearm…wrapped around a stump.
A tiny whimper escaped Clementine as she carefully raised her arm. With every rapid blink of the eyes, she wished, prayed, what she was seeing wasn't true, that it was all some trick of the light and everything before hadn't really happened, nothing other than a bad dream...it wasn't.
Part of her arm was gone.
It was gone!
She'd seen it there, that severed hand of hers down by the river among the rocks in the snow and blood. It was still out there now, part of her left to rot to the bones, or to be chewed to pieces by the walkers. They had done this to her. After all these years fighting and running, they had finally caught her...
It hit her with a wave of fear, her current symptoms no longer so innocent for things like being thirsty or dizzy from blood loss. Was she sick now? Was she dying? No way, there was no way it could've worked! She was going to end up like Lee and like her parents. She'd die the same as everyone else!
'We'll be back before you know it; you'll be fine...'
Something broke within Clementine then, like a dam falling apart and destroying everything within its path, and she didn't fight it, letting herself give into that heavy weight of that grief to crush her from the inside out. Once the tears started flowing, they wouldn't be stopped.
Nobody should've died, no one. Now she was next.
"Not now, not...I-I don't..."
It hadn't taken long for the sounds of her crying to have woken Luke up. The man was quick in consoling her like the big brother she had never had, giving her a long needed hug that Clementine clung onto with her life, afraid in letting go, and angry, so angry.
"Give it back! G-give it back!" she cried into her friend's shirt, letting out everything repressed. Luke, he had just held her, patting her back gently like how her Dad used to whenever Clementine had bad dreams as a little kid. But none of Luke's words would make anything better, nor any of that borrowed time he might've given her, because it was already running out, she was sure of that.
"It's okay, Clem. It's okay. You're gonna be fine."
For once, Clementine wished that he was a better liar.