Arvo walked back to the hotel as a feeling of numbness began to settle over him. Even Rowan was a few paces ahead, and she usually tried to stay with him, but he was used to being at the end. The walk back from the gate felt longer, longer than it took to walk out there in the first place, and much longer than it had when he and Rowan had first discovered it. They should be inside by now.
The baby had started to cry again, but the noise sounded as if it were miles away. Everything was within his sight, but somehow miles away at the same time.
"He's crying again." Jane said, in a way that implied she intended to do nothing about it.
"He is cold." Arvo responded automatically, not bothering to look up. The ground below him was so blindingly white, and cold. He was cold too.
When they had made it back inside, it seemed as if he was beginning to gain his senses again. He ran his hand through his hair, acutely aware of his own movement. He couldn't feel the wind whipping around him or the snow dragging him down anymore. A chill remained in the room, but it was still now.
"Are you okay?" Clementine asked him, her voice hanging in the air.
It took him a second to realize she was talking to him. Rowan was the only one who had ever been consistently worried about his well-being, really the only person he had been around at all, that it was a foreign feeling to hear that question coming from someone else.
"What?" He mumbled.
"You don't look so good, that's all." She said.
It felt like she didn't mean it in a physical way, as if he had some sort of illness.
Arvo stood there without moving, trying to clear his head. He didn't want to stay here. They couldn't stay here.
"I want to see the truck. Take me to it."
"Why? I told you, that thing is totaled...Unless you think we're lying about that too?" Jane deadpanned.
"I want to see." He insisted. "I can fix it."
At least, he figured he knew enough to where it wouldn't be a waste of time to at least go out there and look at it. To try.
The woman narrowed her eyes dismissively and sat down on the torn up sofa by the broken window.
"He's being serious." Rowan said. "But if you know how to, then go do it yourself."
Jane considered it for a minute before finally saying, "Fine. I'll take you. But we should go now or we won't be back before it gets dark."
Arvo nodded at Rowan. "Come on."
Rowan only gestured towards Clementine and AJ, and said uncertainly, "We can't leave them here alone."
"I've been on my own before." Clementine said.
"With a baby?" Rowan countered.
"Stay with them, then." Jane told her, before turning back to him. "Let's go."
Arvo stood there as if he were frozen, but Rowan was staring at him with pleading eyes, and he swallowed his bitterness. She was right. They shouldn't leave a baby all alone with a little girl, if they didn't have to. He didn't want to go anywhere alone with the woman, she'd probably snap his neck if she wanted, but the quicker they had a working vehicle, the better off they'd all be.
Maybe she regretted staying behind and letting Arvo go with Jane alone. She couldn't tell yet. Knowing what she knew about Jane, it felt wrong, but it felt worse to leave a child and baby all alone, even though there was likely not much she could do to help either of them if something serious were to happen. Jane wouldn't purposely kill Arvo, but she wouldn't help him if he got into trouble either. She wasn't the type, she had proved that fact almost constantly for as long as Rowan had known her, which wasn't very long.
Rowan knew that she thought very little of him, she had even said so. Why? Because he had a bad leg? Because he was distraught over Natasha dying? Probably the second one. Or both. Either way, it felt evil in an almost alien way to her, to disregard a person because of those things. She couldn't imagine it. However, she did imagine being in that position herself, and watching everyone abandon her because of one excuse or another-in fact she had thought about it happening to her so often that she knew she never wanted to do something so horrible to anyone else.
Rowan leaned back into the ruined couch Jane had been sitting on an hour before and came to the conclusion that her life was just one constant state of regret and apprehension, and there was no decision she could make that would ever leave her content. If she had went with Arvo just to make sure that Jane wouldn't feed him to a bear if it'd give her a head start at running away, the guilt of leaving two kids alone in an abandoned building would have gnawed at her, so she stayed, and now worried if he'd come back alive.
Rowan buried her fingers deeper into the fabric of the sofa, a bit unnerved at how it reminded her of years past once she closed her eyes. It wasn't the type of nostalgia that was strong enough to bring back distinct memories, but the kind that reminded her of something and just left her unsatisfied that she couldn't place the exact feeling. She might as well just keep her eyes open.
The time she had spent contemplating was time she hadn't spent actually watching Clementine and AJ. Clementine was sitting behind the lobby in one of the rolling chairs, it squeaked as she shifted back and forth. AJ was tucked in a blanket sleeping, in a cardboard box that she supposed was meant to be a makeshift crib.
Rowan wondered if Clementine felt the same way she did, even though she was much younger. She watched as Clementine's gaze would always wander back to the sleeping baby and realized that she had her answer. She didn't want to abandon a baby to die either, and Rowan knew that the girl had to have been the one to convince Jane to not do so. It felt strange to witness the same rope of responsibility wound around someone much younger. But then, she wasn't so old herself, and imagined what an adult would think if they had seen her sitting there, watching the two kids.
The first thing he realized when walking alone with Jane was that it was much easier for him to ignore that this was the same woman who had robbed him and threatened to murder him for no reason, the one who had inadvertently orchestrated his sister's death when they were not the only two sharing a space. But now, he was with her and only her, and found that these things were all he could think about. They invaded his thoughts with every step he took. Arvo stayed quiet because the thought of having to talk to her infuriated him, so he made a point of saying nothing. If he tried, he'd just shout at her, or worse-cry, and he had gone through enough humiliation in these few short weeks, more than he ever had in all his other years combined.
Much to his chagrin, she did not seem to share his feelings. At first, they had walked side by side down the street without saying a single word to one another, and he would have been fine if things had progressed like that for the rest of their trip. Both kept an eye out for walkers, though Arvo was acutely aware that his gun was devoid of bullets, and he couldn't do anything to change that on his own unless a pile of ammo materialized right in front of him. Arvo had to rely on her to protect him. I might as well already be dead. He still had the screwdriver in his pocket, so at least he wasn't completely defenseless.
He was wary about setting off any other traps. Death could be anywhere, made out of anything-and it left him feeling hunted. Like a spear could shoot through his ribs at any minute, though that manifest of his fear felt like something out of a bad movie. Their surroundings were even quieter than they were. Though neither of them were speaking, the sound of snow crunching under their feet and the aggravatingly consistent whine of his brace served as a very resounding substitute.
"So..." Jane spoke, trailing off as if she were expecting him to respond.
Arvo was pleased with himself for not doing so.
"I'm not an idiot. I know you don't like me, but this will probably go smoother if you at least try to communicate with me."
He held his silence.
"Okay, I'll start. My name is Jane, in case you didn't catch that the first few times." She said awkwardly. It felt like she didn't even know how to speak to him when she wasn't waving a gun in his face.
"I have nothing to say to you." He said venomously.
Jane was visibly taken aback by the emotion in his voice, but recovered so quickly that the look on her face faded as quickly as a light did when the switch was flipped to "off".
A few seconds later, she didn't speak again, but instead held out something to him. Arvo didn't look, not out of spite this time, but because he had already resumed searching for danger.
"I don't want to be responsible for your well-being any more than I know I'm already going to have to, so you better just take them." She said, extending her arm even further. "They aren't poisonous."
He looked over to her to see a few rounds in her hand, ones that would fit his revolver. Once he got over his surprise at her offering, he plucked the bullets from her and loaded his weapon. He didn't bother responding to her snide comments, but instead nodded his head in thanks.
"I was tired of watching you walk around pretending that thing was loaded when we both know it isn't."
Arvo noticed frantic dents in the snow, and recognized them as his own footprints. They were on the main road again, the same street he and Rowan had ran down earlier. On second glance, he also saw red flecks of blood in the snow and raised an eyebrow. Neither of them had been bleeding when they had passed through here. The blood of walkers was practically black sludge at this point. Where had that come from?
He felt the sudden urge to ask Jane how close they were to the crash, but he knew he had already burned that bridge. It wasn't worth asking, even though she had given him some sort of peace offering, it'd be pathetic of him to break his resolve now over a simple and pointless question, so he didn't say anything. They'd get there eventually.
"You killed Kenny, didn't you?" Clementine asked.
Rowan was shocked to hear that kind of question from across the room, as if it were a secret she didn't want getting out. But it wasn't a secret, and it was so quiet inside that it sounded like Clementine was right next to her and not absentmindedly spinning in an office chair a few meters away.
"You...you saw, right?" Rowan replied, the only words she could let out.
Clementine put her head down and shrugged. "I thought Jane would leave without me if I didn't get in the car. I didn't want to be alone out there."
Rowan recognized that loneliness, and wanted to say so, but she had to defend herself first. "He was going to kill me. You heard him, he wanted to kill me." She didn't want someone else mad at her.
"I know. It's weird to think about how I thought he was dead once, and now he really is dead."
"...What do you mean?" Rowan asked, confused.
"A long time ago, he was in the same group I was. Everyone else died, and I thought he did too. But he made it, somehow. It just feels like he died a second time."
"Was he your friend?"
"Not...not really?" She said, as if realizing it for the first time. "He scared me sometimes, back then. And he scares me even more now. It just feels...really weird, that he's gone." Clementine said slowly, having trouble processing her thoughts. "It feels weird...because he's the last one I knew from when all this started."
"I didn't want to do it." Rowan said. "Honestly, I didn't. I've never killed a living person before." She had killed countless walkers, but it never felt like killing people. She had seen them die already, it was laying a moving corpse to rest.
"I have." Clementine said softly.
Her eyes widened, wanting to ask her why she did it. Didn't she have someone older watching her, helping her? She must have had someone.
"I did it for my friend." Clementine continued. "He was too weak, he had been through too much and couldn't do it, and that man was going to kill him if I didn't." Clementine swallowed, her voice trembling a little before she repeated, "I did it for my friend."
"There." Jane pointed at the truck.
It didn't look as bad as he thought it would. Arvo had half expected the vehicle to have been blown to bits with the way she had talked about it. It had crashed into the streetlight for sure, and upon closer inspection he saw that the front tires had been utterly shredded. He walked up to the hood of the car and opened it. The battery must be dead by now.
"So, can you fix it?" She asked.
"I don't know. I'm not an…" He couldn't think of the word. "I'm not the best at this, but it probably needs...new battery, and...tires." Arvo pointed at the clawed up tire rubber littering the ground beside the truck.
"It cannot be fixed in one day. Need to get the parts first." And I don't know where to do that. Arvo checked a few more things, observing the vehicle to make sure there wasn't anything else wrong with it. He found that as he became more absorbed in his observations, he naturally assumed Jane would keep an eye on things while he was occupied. Out here, her life was on the line too, and he knew that she'd at least fight hard to preserve herself. He could benefit from her watchful eyes.
"Did you get what you wanted?" She asked after a few minutes had passed.
"He probably needs something better than a box." Rowan commented cautiously, peering down at AJ who was now in Clementine's arms.
The girl shrugged in response. "I don't know. I don't think one blanket will be enough to keep him warm...We found cans of baby formula in suitcases up in one of the rooms. Jane has been trying to break into all of them, we found the key for the one with the formula. Some have locks that can be picked, but most don't and some are barricaded up."
Rowan unzipped her backpack and pulled out Arvo's now empty and folded up bag. Most of the contents were vitamins and over the counter painkillers, some were prescriptions, she had no idea what for-but she had already emptied them from the bag and relocated them to another section of her pack.
"Maybe we can put him in this?" Rowan offered. "Until we can find something better, I mean."
"Arvo probably wouldn't like that." Clem laughed.
Rowan shrugged. "It'll be better than nothing, like a little bed for him. See if he fits."
She gently lowered him into the sack and smiled when he fit inside easily.
"Hey! Can someone help me?" They heard a voice calling from outside.
Both instantly reached for their guns, unsure of who was out there or why they had come. Rowan froze, but watched as Clementine quickly gathered up AJ in his new bed and quickly moved to the main desk, placing him behind the counter.
"Is anyone in there?"
Rowan paused, waiting for someone to speak up and direct them, and at that moment it dawned on her that she was the closest thing to an adult in the room. "Come on" She motioned to Clementine, walking towards the door cautiously.
"I'm going to come in." The doorknob turned.
"Don't!" Rowan had yelled, but the hand that was moving the knob had stopped before she had even said a word. Nobody had come through.
She wasn't going to be the first one to go through the door. Rowan figured both of them would be safer inside, and instead crept towards the window, knowing she'd be able to see the stranger at an angle, just like Jane and Clementine probably had when she and Arvo were walking up to the motel.
Her eyes widened once she saw who it was. The girl she had met in the woods days or weeks ago, however long it had been, was standing outside.
How did she find them? What did she want? Rowan backed away from the window before the girl could turn towards it and see her, and aiming her gun, finally told her to come inside.
The doorknob completed a full turn and the girl came through with a heavy limp, though Rowan didn't notice any wound on her. She was clutching her side tightly, Rowan then saw the bright red smears through the creases in her fingers. Her breath caught in her throat and she looked away quickly.
The other girl looked even more surprised to see Rowan, but repeated, weaker this time, "I need help."