A/N: Thanks to Fanfiction users TheDomdotCom and Screamin' Eagles for beta reading this little story of mine. I really appreciate all the help, thank you kindly.
A massive thank you to DeviantArt user viralsanctity for letting me use their fantastic art as the cover art for this little story. You're amazing, thank you so much! Make sure to check out their work on DeviantArt, it's absolutely phenomenal.
I decided to upload this way before I thought I was going to, simply because it's been sitting in my Google Drive for a little while, now. Next chapter will be out on my birthday, April 18th. Until then, enjoy the first chapter of this little project. I'm so excited to share this with you all. If you enjoyed, be sure to let me know.
"A sister is both your mirror - and your opposite."
- Elizabeth Fishel
"This is our chance, Clem! Don't you ever want to know what it's like to live your own life?"
How brilliant those words had sounded, all those days ago.
The snow covered forest is quiet and peaceful. The tops of the trees are sheeted in the white substance, glistening slightly. Within the forest, three figures are sitting on an overturned tree log. A frozen stream runs near to them, which the second youngest of the figures keeps glancing to with sad eyes. As if thinking about something. Or someone.
The eldest of the three looks down at her younger companion, watching as she rocks the baby slowly in her small arms. The little girl looks truly miserable, her shoulders slumped and her eyes low. The short-haired woman watches the cap-wearing eleven-year-old carefully, noting the way she's really trying her hardest to smile for the baby boy in her arms, and the way it comes off as a tiny grimace.
"You okay, Clem?" the woman tries to grab her attention. The little girl doesn't respond, bobbing the baby up and down. She sighs, looking away for a moment. Ever since the incident back at the rest stop, the little girl doesn't talk too much, save for asking if the woman would hold the baby while she sleeps. To which the woman will begrudgingly oblige, remembering with a sinking feeling in her stomach how often the baby pukes when he's laying in her arms. Maybe today will be the day the kid starts to talk again.
Her gaze falls on the small girl next to her and she gives a weak smile. Clementine. Her cap is tugged over her eyes, blue and white with a capital 'D' emblazoned on the front, representing some baseball team she doesn't recognise. Her heart twitches at the sullen look in the girl's once bright and hopeful eyes, and a similar sensation rises in her gut when she sees the girl's gunshot wound out the corner of her eyes. Agh. She spots the baby curled up in Clementine's lap, and resists the temptation to grimace. Being lumped with it is one of the - very few - tradeoffs of traveling with the little girl.
Pain in her chest and leg has Jane grunting weakly, tensing. A cut in her jacket, and a cut in her thigh. Bandages are wrapped firmly around her leg, but the laceration that's torn her jacket is on its own. Only skin-deep, but enough to hurt like a real bitch.
The silence is deafening. She hisses in her breath as her stab wound sears, the cold wind aggravating the bloodied spot on her leg. She clamps a hand over the injury, counting to ten through gritted teeth while she waits for the pain to fade. She shouldn't have tried to incite that psychotic fucking -
Not your fault. Not your fault. He was off his fucking rocker. You had to show Clem, somehow.
The woman keeps the heel of her palm pressed against the stab wound, closing her eyes. Clementine looks over at the sound of her hissing her breath in, watching the woman with slumped shoulders for a long few seconds.
"Are you okay, Jane?" Jane jolts in surprise at her quiet voice, opening her eyes and smiling at her little companion. "Does it still hurt?"
"Nah, it isn't so bad. Just - agh - stings, a little, now and then," Jane assures weakly. The eleven-year-old looks back to the little baby curled up in her arms and bobs him up and down, trying to keep the baby boy quiet and calm. Jane watches the eleven-year-old, trying to gauge whether or not the little girl hates her. Not that she'd blame her.
After all, the eleven-year-old had to shoot her oldest living friend to save Jane, from a confrontation that was built on a false premise. She can't begin to imagine what that does to a child. Even if that child is as strong-willed as Clementine. Watching her break down while she said her final goodbyes to Kenny, crying and claiming it was all her fault.
How little she knew.
The plan was stupid, looking back on it. She should've thought it through more, rather than throw something together on the fly. All Jane wanted was for Clementine to realise how dangerous Kenny was. She didn't want the poor girl to have to shoot him.
"I'll fucking kill you!"
"I - I knew you would!"
Jane winces, remembering the feeling of her cold knife being pushed against her chest. She shudders, Kenny's face burned into her mind's eye. The blood trickling from around his animalistic eyes, his features alive with fury, the way he was shaking with rage. He'd looked like a demon possessed. Evil incarnate.
She glances down to the same knife sheathed against her pants, before letting her gaze fall on the pistol the eleven-year-old she's sitting next to had used on Kenny. The young woman can't imagine that leaving the little girl alone with her thoughts is going to help her any. So she shuffles just a little closer to her, hoping she won't get her head bitten off.
"Do you want to talk, Clem?" Jane asks in a soft tone, crossing her arms over her legs apprehensively.
"No," her small voice is sullen, making the woman's heart sink slightly.
"I ... I understand if you're still annoyed, with me."
"I'm not that annoyed with you… I'm just really ..." Clementine lapses back into silence, chewing her lip fretfully as she talks. "I wish you didn't lie to me…"
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean…" she takes a breath, considering her next choice of words. "Clem? You - You don't hate me, right?"
The little girl looks away guiltily, considering the question at hand. There's something in her eyes, a hollow look to her. There's the smallest hint of sadness in those golden orbs, enough for Jane to fidget uncomfortably. Clementine looks up at her, the little girl's lips tugging down as she seems lost in thought.
"I don't hate you," she mumbles finally, bobbing the baby gently. "I'm just really, uhm..." Clementine looks away, mumbling to herself as she casts around for a word. She seems to find one, looking up at the woman with wide eyes."P - Pissed?" Clementine stutters the word, enough for Jane's heart to melt a touch. She smiles bitterly, nodding.
"Pissed is fair."
"I - I don't want to be pissed with you, though. I don't - I don't have anyone left," Jane hears Clementine's voice crack, and her lips tug downwards. Jane begs mentally that the little girl doesn't start crying. She can't stomach when children cry.
Clementine lets out a quiet, upset, noise as she shuts her eyes, and Jane watches with a sinking heart as tears trickle through her closed eyelids. The little girl sniffles, before starting to whimper and whine to herself quietly.
"No, hey, come on," Jane bleats, reaching a hand out to the little girl sitting next to her. Her hand hovers near the girl's shoulder, before she wraps her fingers around it. "I've got you. It's going to be okay. I promise."
"I don't -"
"It's okay," she murmurs, remembering back to when Jaime was alive. When stuff like this was a nightly occurrence. "I'm here. It's okay. I've got you," she repeats the reassuring words, the same she said as she pulled the girl out the lake, smiling gently as she squeezes her companion's shoulder. The woman shushes her softly, trying her best to calm the only friend she has left.
She could lie, and say the sole reason she's trying to calm Clementine is to stop walkers from being attracted to the noise. That, by crying, there's a risk of the undead stumbling upon their little camp and mauling the two - three, if you include a baby - people sitting around the fire.
But that'd be a lie.
Not that you're a stranger to the concept of lying.
The real reason is she can't bear to watch the girl who's been through so much, who's usually so strong and brave, break down and cry. It feels wrong, given how she feels it's her fault. Jane keeps her thin hand clasped around the scrawny little girl's shoulder, who sniffles again. Clementine lets out a strangled hiccup, trying to hold back her cries. She doesn't want anyone to see her break down.
"No, hey. Don't be sorry. It's not yourfault. I shouldn't have -" she pauses, deliberating. "It was a stupid plan. I didn't mean for you to get hurt, Clem," Jane's voice is scarcely more than a whisper as she assures the girl. Her cold fingers hold Clementine's shoulder tight, not wanting her to be alone in this moment. "I just thought - I thought it was best. I didn't think he'd go that far."
"It's okay," Clementine sniffles, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. "I'm s - sorry."
"Don't be," Jane advises gently, "Okay?" the little girl nods, her head bowed. Jane smiles weakly, looking around her surroundings. The forest they're in is still quiet, but the woman doesn't want to push her luck. "We should get moving. You good to move?"
"Can't we sleep?"
"Yeah, just not here," Jane mutters, pushing herself to her feet. She gasps as her wound is aggravated by the motion, so she wiggles the leg slightly to try and block out the pain as she talks."I don't want to sleep in the snow. Might get a flu, or something. I don't think I want it getting sick, too," she points with a limp finger at the baby in Clementine's arms. The little girl arches her little eyebrows, her eyes a little puffy and red.
"He's not an 'it', Jane," Clementine tells her, her tone laced with impatience. "He's called AJ."
"D'uh - Yea, yea, right. Him - AJ. Yeah. Right. Cool."
Clementine frowns a little at the woman in front of her, shifting the baby in her short arms. Jane fidgets, bouncing slightly on her heel as pain flares in her leg again. She grimaces, gasping quietly in discomfort. The little girl tilts her head, watching the woman anxiously.
"Are you sure you're okay? We have medicine -"
"No, no, I'll be - gah - yeah, I'll be fine. Just a bit sore, I think."
"How 'bout you? How's your shoulder?" the little girl rolls her shoulder at that, wincing to herself. Jane grits her teeth and lets out a quiet sigh at the question, an ugly feeling in her gut as she looks at the bullet hole.
"It hurts," Clementine whispers the words, glancing down at the red stain on her jacket. Jane clicks her tongue, smiling sadly down at the little girl.
The incident of her getting shot is still fresh in the woman's mind. The tiny breaths Clementine had been taking as Jane frantically patched her up, trying to tune out the deafening screams from the forest as Kenny took off after the rest of their group. Clutching the little girl close to her as she waited for Kenny to open the truck door, the eleven-year-old's blood slicking her pale hands, quietly begging that the little girl pulled through.
She can't - won't - lose another sister.
"Move it, c'mon!" Jane gives a harsh shove to her younger sister, pushing her up the rest of the stairs. She slams the door shut behind her, her heart sinking as she catches a glimpse of the herd of walkers pushing after them. She grabs Jaime's hand, tugging her towards the edge of the roof. Her gut twists at the sight of more walkers in the street below, her eyes widening in horror. Her brown eyes take in her surroundings, the way the roof they're standing on towers over those nearby. Maybe, just maybe, they'll see another day yet.
A smash against the metal door is enough for Jane to let go of Jaime's hand and start her run up, backing up slowly.
"You're gonna have to jump! It's - it's not that far, okay? You'll be fine!"
"I'm not going," her voice is so quiet, yet Jane can hear her clear as day over the sound of the walkers.
"Wh - Yes, you are! It's not up for debate!" the metal door buckles, but the two women ignore the scraping noise of the metal grinding against the gravel on the roof. Jane races back towards her sister, grabbing her arms and dragging her towards the edge of the roof. "Just - fucking jump across!"
"I'm not going to! Just leave me here, I don't want to do this any more!"
"Do what, survive?! Don't be an idiot, just jump! They're almost here!"
"Jump!" Jaime wrestles free at the word, pushing away from the young woman. Jane stares at her, her eyes huge. "Dying like this is fucking stupid, Jaime! Do you think this is what mom and dad wanted for you?!"
"You can't - you're not doing this, to me!"
"You're… you're all I have left! Please, just - just jump for me!"
"I'm not going to die because of you, Jaime! Get over yourself, and fucking jump!"
The younger girl still doesn't respond, hugging herself and looking towards the door. There's a longing look in her eye, one that Jane shudders at. The angry dead slam at the door again, a loud bang. Jane backs up, looking between her sister and the door with huge eyes.
"F - fine! You want to stay here, with them -" she flings an accusing arm at the door, and Jaime follows the fingers. "Then you can! You can just stay here, and die!" she doesn't wait for the younger girl to reply, taking a running jump off the roof. She curses, her fear forgotten for a single exhilarating moment as adrenaline courses through her lithe body.
She lands awkwardly, rolling over and landing painfully on the lower roof. She hears the hungry groans of walkers getting closer, and chances a glance over her shoulder for a half moment. They're on the roof. Closing in on Jaime with outstretched hands and snapping jaws. She's not even panicking, her eyes closed and her head held high towards the sky.
Jane turns and runs, not looking back.
She shakes her head. That was a long time ago. Clementine's not like Jaime. She's made of sterner stuff. She won't go the same way as her. She'll make sure of it.
"I'll take a look at it later. Once we're somewhere that's not out in the open," Jane offers quietly, wrapping her arms around herself and looking around the forest. "Howe's is still a couple days away. Maybe a week. We'll keep walking down the trail, try and find someplace to bed down. That sound good?" Clementine shrugs slightly, looking down at her purple sneakers. "Clem?"
Jane picks up on her small friend's sullen tone. The little girl is staring at the ground in front of her, misery contorting her scrawny form to make her look even shorter than usual. Her head is bowed, hiding her golden eyes under her tatty old cap. The woman puts a hand on her hip, observing the kid carefully.
"Something's up. You can tell me."
"Tell me," Jane presses, trying her best to not sound impatient. "It's okay,." Clementine looks up at the woman, clearly thinking hard. Her mouth opens, aaaaand ...
The little girl winds up just shaking her head, shifting the lump of human in her arms and clicking her mouth shut again. The short-haired woman sighs, rolling her eyes, but she doesn't make to force her to talk. Instead, she gestures southward, and the two figures start to walk. The baby whines quietly, earning a gentle shush from the little girl.
Snow starts to fall, earning a filthy cuss word from the young woman. Clementine frowns a little, seemingly finding the choice of words offensive, but after a moment of pondering she looks down at her shoes. Jane watches the action, her lips twisting.
The baby coos, looking up at Clementine, and the little girl's smile widens a little more. Jane is watching the two with an arched eyebrow, sighing quietly. Clearly, the warning she'd tried to give at the makeshift house a couple of nights back, before the 'Kenny incident', had fallen on deaf ears.
Jane looks to the liability - uhm, baby - curled up in Clementine's arms, and her brow furrows a little. She's quietly grateful it isn't vomiting everywhere, or crying, or … doing whatever babies do.
She's not an idiot. Jane understands why someone would bring a baby into the world they live in. Injecting a little bit of normality, of hope, into the world,. sShe gets it. But she never wanted children in the old world, and she definitely doesn't want one now that dead people are coming back to life and eating people. Babies are just noisy things that can only be taken care of. They can't fight, they can't run - they can't even fucking talk. And yet, and yet -
Jane shakes her head, looking back ahead of her. If Clementine wants to look after the baby, more power to her. Saves the de facto leader of the group the hassle of having to worry about it. Except when Clementine's taking a nap, and Jane's put in charge with it. Then… blech.
The two figures trudge further into the night, their shivers increasing in tempo as the snow starts to fall heavier and heavier. Clementine looks bitterly cold, her teeth clattering, and Jane looks down at her boots sadly. She can't help but feel sorry for the scrawny little girl, the sight of her freezing form spurring the older woman to try and find a source of warmth for her.
"You keeping up okay?"
"Mmhmm," Clementine hums, rocking the baby slightly as she walks. "My arms are kind of tired."
"Need me to hold it for a bit?"
"Him, Jane, not -" Jane waves the argument away with a flick of her wrist, a tiny smirk on her features. She holds out her arms slightly, and Clementine tilts her head.
"D'you want me to, or not?"
"You'll just drop him when he pukes," Clementine points out, a tiny giggle coming from her mouth. Jane shudders just at the thought of listening to the baby retching as the viscous liquid bursts from it, and she finds herself shrugging.
"If you're so desperate to tire your arms out, be my guest."
"I like holding him. He's cute."
"Jane!" Clementine scolds, looking hurt. The baby gurgles, and the little girl rubs circles on the little boy's back. The little girl narrows her eyes at the short-haired woman, who arches her eyebrows.
"What? All he does is -"
"He's growing up."
Jane shakes her head, continuing down the trail and focussing on the path ahead. Her mind casts backwards, however, the rest stop swimming into her mind. Images of Kenny pressing against her, shoving her against the glass and digging his fingers into her throat. The horrible look in the man's eye. If looks could kill, and all that.
Looking back on it, Jane feels more and more disgusted about the situation she'd created. While the conclusion to the fight had been horrific, everything about it must have been pretty damn scarring for the eleven-year-old as well. Watching as Kenny went into some berserker-like rage, only stopping when he had a bullet in him… Jane can't even begin to imagine.
And it's all her fault.
She shakes her head, physically dismissing the thoughts. The past is just that, the past. She can't kill herself over it. It's over. Done. Finished. She just has to make the best out of it, for her and for Clementine. Jane supposes she's been doing that for a while, though. Making the tough decisions for them, calling the shots here and there. Telling the little girl the harsh truths about the world, and helping her do the hard things.
The minutes murmur past, the oldest group member looking at the forest around her with a keen eye. Anything that can keep the chill off will do, at this point. Her proverbial prayers are answered when the shape of a log cabin slowly starts to form in the gloom. A small thing, but at least she won't get coated in snow while she catches forty winks.
Finally, something's going right.
She turns to look at her younger companion, a gentle smirk playing on her features. The little girl looks at the cabin, her shoulders slumping slightly. Jane looks between the cabin and Clementine, confused. The little girl's eyes drink in the cabin for a few moments longer, before she lets forth the tiniest of sighs.
"Try not to squirm, Clem."
There's a pause, where the little girl sits as still as she can. The woman slowly moves the peroxide drenched rag back towards her, hoping Clementine will do as she says. It's clear that won't be the case, however, as when the cloth makes contact with her wound again, Clementine lurches away suddenly and lets out a pained yelp.
"Ow!" Jane chuckles, a genuinely warm noise, as Clementine rolls her shoulder, before she gives the little girl a few seconds to collect herself.
"You're gonna need to stay still, or this will take way longer," Jane tells her, putting on a gentle tone of voice for the sake of the eleven-year-old. The candlelight flickers wildly - ach, nearly at the end of its wick - and the woman lets out an aggravated huff. "Wait there okay?" Jane squeezes Clementine's bare shoulder, and she nods slowly.
The skinny woman stands quickly and crosses the cabin, scowling towards the melting candle with perhaps more fury than it deserves. But if it did it's fucking job, she wouldn't be annoyed. She reaches for a fresh one, lighting a match and watching the flame for a moment. A smoke would be really good, right about now. Or a drink. Either would be pretty solid. Jane sighs, lighting a new candle and blowing the old one out.
Clementine is staring out the window while Jane crosses the room towards her, taking her original place behind the plucky eleven-year-old. She picks up the rag, watching Clementine cautiously from behind. She seems to be in a whole different world, counting the stars while she waits for the pain to come again. Her hat is being twisted in her grip, the hatband making the same crinkling noise as the velcro comes undone and is then resealed, over and over again. Jane's never seen the girl with it off before, and can't help but smile a little as she starts to talk.
"Heh, I knew it was a smart haircut."
"Thanks," Clementine mumbles, a small smile tugging at her lips. She giggles slightly. Clearly, she's thinking of something that's tickled her. "You're not going to put gum in it, are you?"
"I hadn't planned on it," Jane assures the small girl, laughing quietly. "But don't give me any ideas."
The smile fades slightly as she inspects the wound, replaced by a pained grimace. It's not infected - at least, she doesn't think - but it definitely doesn't look healthy. The hole in her shoulder has crusted blood clinging to the outside, and around that the area has gone a hideous shade of purple and a little swollen. The woman sighs audibly, delicately dabbing the cloth at the wound. Clementine hisses in her breath, but to her credit she barely wriggles this time.
The two sit in near silence, Jane occasionally audibly groaning or whispering something to herself when she catches a full look at the wound and Clementine occasionally asking if Jane can stop for a moment.
"Jane?" Clementine pipes up as the woman in question starts cleaning out the wound again. The woman gives an affirmative hum, showing she's listening, and the little girl pauses for a little moment. "What's it really like having a sister?"
That question catches the twenty-three-year-old off guard, and for a moment she retracts the cloth and thinks about that one. The eleven-year-old looks over her shoulder guiltily, her lips tugging down and her eyes widening.
"O - Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to -"
"No, no, it's - it's okay," Jane says, in a voice which suggests anything but. She takes a deep breath and plasters on a smile, remembering her younger sister fondly. That is, despite the choice she made at the end. "Well, it's like I said the first time," she mutters, going back to cleaning Clementine's wound. "It's easy to be mean. You sort of just… play pranks on each other, and stuff."
"You sound disappointed," Jane observes drily, taking another look at the gaping wound and wincing. Clementine gives a little shrug of her shoulders, her stubby pigtails bouncing slightly with the action. A tiny smile works onto the woman's face.
"Sandra used to say it was different to that," Clementine tells her, her voice becoming a little bit like a squeak as Jane presses the cloth against the wound. The woman wrings the cloth out into the bowl resting precariously on the couch, letting the girl talk as she wets the rag again. "She said she always got along with her sister."
"Sandra was probably lying," Jane teases, rolling her eyes with a smirk. "Nobody always gets along with their sister. That's kinda like saying there are guys that are always nice. It's just, y'know, false."
"Luke was -" Clementine starts, but stops talking suddenly. Jane winces at the name 'Luke', but doesn't say anything. She knows how much the farm boy had meant to the little girl. The poor guy, spent his last couple of days looking over at Jane like a puppy that had lost its master, wondering why she refused to even breathe in his general direction. He definitely deserved better than drowning in an icy lake.
No words come to the young woman, so she just keeps her mouth shut and focusses on fully cleaning out the disgusting wound. Clementine sits almost completely still, looking consumed by her thoughts, and Jane can't help but feel it's her fault. If she hadn't made that stupid comment, she wouldn't be thinking about this shit.
"How d'you get that?" Jane asks, indicating the bandages on Clementine's left arm. It looks like a nasty injury, judging by how much of her forearm is completely covered in the thin cloth things. The little girl looks down at her forearm, fiddling with the bandages self consciously.
"A dog," Clementine mumbles, her golden eyes glued to the floor.
"A dog?" Jane repeats the words, sounding incredulous. Her eyes are widened, and she pays undivided attention to the girl as she slowly moves the cloth in circles around the wound. Just to make sure.
"Before I met Lu - uhm - the others, there was this dog called Sam. He tried to take my food."
"And - ?"
"I tried to take it back."
"Ah," there's a beat of silence, when neither party speaks. "Definitely not your smartest move, then," Clementine pulls a face of indignance, fidgeting as Jane dabs the wound with the drenched cloth. The little girl frowns, clearly thinking of a suitable response. A wicked grin spreads onto her face when she seems to find one.
"Says the person who ate glass."
"Tch, you're not going to let that go, are you? I was, what, thirteen? Maybe even younger."
"You still ate glass, though," Clementine laughs, a wide smile on her face. Jane clicks her tongue, moving the rag away and reaching for the bandages.
There's a gentle silence as Jane sets about dressing Clementine's wound, carefully wrapping a clean set of them around the sensitive area. She mumbles out a 'sorry' whenever she hears the little girl hissing her breath in as she ties them too tight. Jane decides to just sit in silence and concentrate on covering up the wound. Better to do a job quickly than take twice as long while trying to distract your makeshift patient.
The little girl sits patiently, shuddering every now and then when Jane's cold hands touch her bare skin. The woman apologises whenever she flinches, a truly guilty look on her face. She supposes it's mostly her fault, the more she thinks about it. She shouldn't have convinced the little girl to steal supplies from the scared teenager on the observation deck. But, hey, she's her own person. They both made this bed.
It's just unfortunate that the little girl is the only one to lie in it.
"There you go. All done," Jane talks as cheerfully as she can. Which isn't very cheerfully, considering she's just seen Clementine's hideous wound. The little girl smiles, fiddling with her hat a little more. She looks a little uncomfortable, fidgeting. "We'll need to check that soon. When we get to Howe's, I'll clean it again and redress it. Just to make sure."
"Thank you," the eleven-year-old fiddles with her hat some more, twisting it awkwardly in her grip. She wriggles, the bandages digging into her young skin making her fidget in a way that looks more than a little uncomfortable.
"Yup. You should, uh, get dressed and get to bed. Lots of walking, tomorrow," Jane tells her friend, rocking back on her heel. Her tone is uncertain, a perfect mirror to her facial expression. Clementine nods, heeding her advice hastily while the woman looks out the window pointedly.
The forest that surrounds them seems devoid of life, undead or otherwise. The woman peers into the gloom, hoping the forest stays that way. While in the old world, she may have appreciated the snow - hey, at least she'd have an excuse to not go out - she borderline fears the freezing weather. Despite the benefit of the walkers moving way slower, there are far too many disadvantages. It plays tricks on your eyes, slows you down as you start to get colder, makes your clothes get drenched when you warm up. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
As Clementine zips up her jacket, the sounds of a baby crying reaches both of their ears. Jane sighs, watching as the little girl dashes into the room where the baby is wailing away, hastily fixing her hat on her head. The eldest of the three travellers hooks her thumbs through her jean belt loops and ambles after her little friend, not looking thrilled as the baby cries louder still.
God, just shut the fuck -
"I think he's hungry," Clementine mumbles nervously, bobbing the baby in her arms. Her wide eyes find Jane, who's standing awkwardly in the doorway. "Do - do we have much baby food left?"
"We barely have enough for us, let alone for -" the woman immediately goes quiet, regretting the words as soon as she's said them. Clementine's eyes have gotten, amazingly, even wider. Jane is very quiet indeed, meeting the little girl's eyes but not saying anything.
"W - What do you mean?"
"Uh, n - nothing, nothing. Just, eh, making a joke," Jane forces an uneasy chuckle, rubbing the back of her neck. Clementine looks up at her older friend, looking genuinely worried. The baby's crying goes on and on, but for a few moments the little girl heeds him no mind, paying full attention to her only talking friend.
"It's not very funny, though."
"It's -" Jane sighs, looking down at her friend uncomfortably. "Just drop it, Clem, okay?"
"But if we don't have any food …"
"I didn't say we don't have any."
"But we don't have much?"
Jane can't believe she's arguing semantics with a little girl, and folds her arms. The little girl in question frowns back at the woman, looking genuinely upset. Their eyes remain locked for a moment, the older of the two wriggling under her friend's piercing gaze. The look in her eyes is one of hurt, and the message she's trying to send is readily obvious.
Why are you lying to me?
Her gut twists at the little imaginary voice talking in her ear, considering what to say.
"We'll be fine," her attempt at reassuring the girl, despite being a pathetic and half-hearted thing, seems to somewhat do the job, judging by the small girl's matching smile. "We've not come this far to not be."
"Does AJ have enough?"
"Probably," Jane eyes the baby apprehensively, as if nervous that the bundle in the little girl's arms is listening in on their conversation. "I dunno how much they need to eat. Might just have to feed it - I mean, him - less."
"Okay," the little girl holds the baby close with one arm, her other bunching up into a small fist and rubbing at her eyes. "Could - could you hold him while I sleep, please?"
"I …" the woman's hesitance shows, her tone uncertain and her face looking like she's just been told to perform surgery on the little boy, as opposed to the simple task she's been entrusted with. She watches the baby with a look of mild horror, and Clementine sighs.
"You've held him before."
"And he's puked every time."
"He doesn't puke on me, you must be doing it wrong," a tired, sly smile has worked onto Clementine's face. Jane smirks, rolling her eyes and shaking her head with an amused chuckle.
"Hmph, I'm pretty sure he's chucked up on you once or twice. I think I can still remember you yelling 'ew ew ew!'" she waves her hands slightly, a mocking gesture as she put on a higher tone of voice. "Just sayin'," the girl's nose wrinkles, and the woman takes on a triumphant look. Said look fades when the little girl holds out the baby for her. She hesitates, not wanting to hold the thing close to her. They're so… disgusting sounds about right.
And there are the puppy dog eyes. Damn, she's good.
"Agh, alright, fine," Jane finally relents, easing the baby out of her scrawny friend's arms. "You try and get some rest. I'll just …" she looks down at the child, staring at him worriedly. "Watch him."
Jane rubs her eyes, the wooden chair digging into her back in an incredibly uncomfortable fashion. The heel of her palm pushes against her half-closed eyelids, a futile attempt to ward off the inviting embrace of sleep. Little Alvin Junior is curled up in her lap, the woman begrudgingly granting him shelter there while she watches over Clementine. The girl had been freezing, shaking like a leaf in the bitter cold, and so Jane had taken the liberty of tossing a blanket over her. She's not got a heart of stone, after all.
She rocks back in the chair, wriggling a little more. Her fingers lace together, intertwining in a confusing jumble. She really hadn't envisioned this being where she'd end up - looking after an eleven-year-old and a two week old baby, hiding from the undead, all before the age of thirty. Mom and dad would be real proud.
Shuddering at the thought of what her parents would say, were they here now, Jane brings her attention to the little girl sleeping a little ways away from her. Every now and then, the girl mumbles something, and the woman strains to listen. She's not really sure why. Maybe just to get a better insight into what she's thinking, seeing as the eleven-year-old is at best a puzzle. And at worst…
The words make Jane jolt, sitting bolt upright as she watches Clementine breathe the words in her sleep-ridden state. The woman's eyes are huge, fidgeting in the wooden chair as she watches her little friend. Seeing this more innocent side to her is bizarre, to Jane. The side she'd never seen, until after Kenny was shot by her. The side that whimpers at night and clutches some old photo close to her. She'd tried to catch a glimpse of what was on the photo when she'd first noticed it in Clementine's hands, and all she could make out was some guy. Probably her dad, or something.
Again, the words rattle around in her brain, an eerie echo that reminds the young woman too much of her long gone sister. She'd been helpless in the days leading up to … what happened to her.
She can still remember Jaime saying almost the exact same thing every time the older sister would go out to look for supplies, or to get a lay of the land, or even to have a sneaky smoke or drink if they had any on hand. The pleading look in those brown eyes they shared as she grabbed her arm, tugging her back. Begging her to not abandon the younger sister, and Jane either tearing her hand free and stalking out or relenting and sitting next to the longer haired girl as she clutched her arm like a vice.
One thing that Jane remembers with perfect clarity is that, if she stayed with the younger sister, she'd have to do the stupidest shit to get her to sleep. Whether it be quietly reminding her of their old favourite movies, telling her stories about her extremely brief time in college, or even - and her stomach twists whenever she remembers it - humming old songs that Jaime liked.
Hey, what are sisters for?
She's shaken from her thoughts suddenly at the sight of Clementine sitting up in the tiny bed, the blanket wrapped around her like a cloak. Her scrawny form is shaking like a leaf - though, in Jane's mind, the girl is shaking enough to be worth several leaves, at this point. Both survivors stare each other down, not entirely sure what to say. The little girl looks frightened, the nightmare clearly disturbing the little figure, while Jane mostly just looks worried.
That look of worry intensifies when, after about a minute of staring, the little girl buries her face in the blanket. She chews her lip, unsure of how best to act in this situation. Comforting her seems like a good idea, but that's - blech.
Time to not make it weird.
"You, uh, want to talk?"
"No," her small voice is filled with defiance, and Jane arches an eyebrow curtly.
"Oookay, that's fine."
"Is -" Jane can just about make out a strangled hiccup, and she swears she feels her heart melt a little. "Is AJ okay?"
"Uh -" a quick glance down at the baby, the infant, the brat, reveals he's still at the very least asleep. "I - uhm - I think so?"
"Could I hold him? Please?" Clementine's voice is nervous, for some reason, and Jane almost eagerly holds the baby out for the little girl.
"I didn't want him in the first place," she's not just referring to the current situation and, judging by the slight flash in Clementine's eyes, she recognises this. Immediately, Jane regrets her words, and bows her head to avoid meeting the little girl's eyes. She's half expecting the little girl to scold her, but the worry is unwarranted as Clementine starts to coo for the baby.
She draws her knees to her chest, practically curling up in the wooden chair as she watches Clementine bob the baby with a tiny smile on her face. The woman feels a smile of her own crossing her face, if only for a second, as the small smile grows into a warm grin. She rocks the tiny human in her arms, looking hugely grateful for the baby's presence. Jane cocks her head to one side, watching her little friend curiously for a couple of moments.
"Feeling better?" the little girl gives a tiny nod, and Jane's smile returns. "Good. That's, that's good."
Silence fills the gap in their conversation, enough for the eldest of the two to be quietly - some would say silently - grateful. She starts humming, an old tune she doesn't fully remember, but it's enough to keep her amused. Clementine's eyes dart to her and Jane, suddenly self-conscious, stops her noise making almost immediately. The golden-eyed little girl watches the woman, tilting her head in that innocent way that only she can.
Without the humming, the room is eerily quiet. Jane rocks herself on the chair, her poise garnering a little more heat than the way she'd been sitting before. Man, she wishes she'd kept the blanket for herself, right about now. But seeing Clementine's form bundled up in the blanket makes that thought fade, and the smile gracing her features threatens to spread into a full on smirk. She ducks her head, not wanting to be caught grinning like a fucking idiot.
"Can - can I stay with you? Please?" Jane falters at the request, almost cricking her neck at how quickly she glances up from her boot's laces. Her hands half-heartedly tug against the thin rope, thinking hard. The girl is staring at her with wide eyes. "I don't … I don't want to…" her voice trails off, the usually confident tone replaced by that of a frightened girl. The sound of it has Jane pausing, watching Clementine worriedly.
"I, ahh…" Jane fidgets on the wooden chair. The creaking breaks the silence, filling that fragile void with an irritating noise that the woman finds oddly comforting. The little girl rocks the baby, sitting with the blanket curled around her. Jane's head is tilted to one side, watching her small friend for a short - heh - while longer. She lets out a resigned sigh, her lips pursing as she regards the girl.
You owe her a whole lot more than your company.
The thought is but an imaginary whisper in her ear, and yet it's enough for her to relent and hesitantly perch next to the girl who's sitting on the tiny bed. They stare at each other with wide eyes, both seemingly surprised to be in the situation they've found themselves in. Jane wriggles, the bed creaking again. A tiny smile creeps onto the girl's face, but it disappears almost immediately. The woman's lips tug down, watching the girl in her company with saddened eyes.
"You, uh, you sure you don't want to talk?"
"I don't know…"
"You dunno if you want to talk?" Jane smirks, tilting her head. Clementine looks up, another little smile on her face. The baby reaches up, interrupting their conversation as it gurgles. The woman eyes the little lump nervously, expecting it to cause issues. Its hand smushes against the little girl's nose, said girl letting her smile widen for the baby's sake.
"I was just thinking."
"Not the safest habit."
"You said that, before."
For some reason, the grin on Jane's face returns at the little aside from Clementine. She remembers. A sense of something like pride flares in the woman's chest, a nice change from the lacerations searing. She shifts, nodding as she waits for the girl to continue. The eleven-year-old is staring up at her, though, as if inviting her to say something. Hesitantly, Jane clears her throat, and starts to talk again.
"You, uh, wanna talk about what you were thinking of?"
Clementine seems to be mulling that one over, rocking the baby close to her in an almost possessive way. The little thing seems to be simply thrilled by this turn of events, giggling and wriggling as the girl holds him a little tighter and looks at her friend with sad eyes. Her mouth opens, then shuts. Her features fall.
"Tell me. It's okay."
"It's just…" Clementine hesitates, wriggling from her perch, before looking up at Jane and mumbling out a name that has a shudder run down the woman's spine. "Sarah."
Jane fidgets. It had been her idea to abandon her, at the trailer park. Poor Clementine had tried so hard to convince the teenager to get up and run from the walkers. But some people are just beyond helping. Still, that probably doesn't help the girl rest any easier. Hell, she still thinks about it, and she's seen some real shit. Can't begin to imagine what that'd do to a girl Clementine's age, even if she's hard as nails. She's surprised the little girl hasn't melted down from all this shit. Mind you, Jane had worried she might after Luke fell through the lake. He didn't deserve that.
But she's kept on the straight and narrow, doing the tricky shit that a girl her age just shouldn't have to do. Including what happened to poor Sarah. The teenager's pained screams play in her mind, the frantic cry of 'Clementi -' before her throat was ripped out having the woman pause to gather her thoughts. The eleven-year-old is looking miserably down at the baby boy in her arms, swaying him gently.
"I couldn't have saved her. R - Right? I - I had to leave her…" Jane sees where this is going, and shifts herself so that she's looking at the girl's eye level. The girl is looking at the wooden floorboards, refusing to meet Jane's - or even the baby's - eyes. Jane sighs through her nose, taking a long breath
"I don't think you could've saved her. Even if you did get her out of there, that doesn't mean you would've saved her."
"But I should have tried -"
"Not hard enough," Clementine sounds bitter beyond her years, as if she's actually an adult trapped in a kid's body. Though, Jane supposes that's what it takes to survive. Kids can't be kids, grown ups - as it were - are the only survivors. Still. She shouldn't be … thinking like that.
"Clem…" her hand is carefully laid on Clementine's shoulder again. Not a firm grip, like back in the forest, but more … tender. Caring. "You can't … I mean, it was the same with Jaime, and …" she trails off, Jaime's poor face flashing in her mind. Brown shoulder length hair, bloodied clothes, tears spilling from her eyes. The little hands clutching her jacket, crying at the things they've seen. Their final moments, Jaime's silence as Jane yelled at her. I'm so sorry.
"It's no one's fault. People like Sarah, they … they aren't meant for this world," Jane's sorely tempted to continue, to argue that Clementine has done the poor teenager a favor by leaving her to die. But uncertainty stays her tongue, not wanting to risk drawing the ire of the girl. Heh, scared of a little girl. "It's not your fault, okay?" Jane, out of other ideas, settles for moving her hand up and down the girl's shoulder as she says that, hoping that Clementine's taking this lesson onboard. A lesson in grief.
"Maybe…" Jane feels her gut twist at the miserable look on Clementine's face, that monstrous feeling of guilt, that is with her more than it isn't, rearing its ugly head. She squeezes the shoulder, hoping to elicit a warm response from the girl, but is met with more silence. Her teeth dig into her lower lip as she shifts her hand from Clementine's shoulder, and they go back to sitting in silence. Before all this - 'this' being her living 'situation' - silence was a shroud. Something like a comfortable blanket for her to hide beneath, safe from walkers and bandits. Now, however, with the girl wiggling next to her, she's not quite sure silence has ever felt so uncomfortable.
A cursory glance out the window reveals the weather outside has only gotten angrier and more frantic. The earlier snow has whipped into a frenzied storm, the delicate snowflakes lashing out the windows of the cabin. Jane shivers, the candle flickering in the corner doing nothing to instill a sense of warmth. But that might just be to do with the paper thin walls of the cabin, rather than a lack of effort from the source of light.
"How 'bout you try and get some sleep?" Jane tries her best to put on a cheery voice, her often crisp and cutting voice replaced by something nicer for the time being. "I can, uh, keep ya company," she squeezes the girl's shoulder briefly, a smile on her face as she retracts the hand. Clementine watches the hand go with something like sadness in those eyes of hers, a twitch forming in Jane's stomach at the look on her face.
"Are you going to leave?"
"Hadn't planned on it," she's happy that she's at least being honest there, smiling wryly down at the scrawny kid next to her. "'Less you want me to."
Clementine shakes her head, a wordless response to the half-sarcastic offer. The girl wipes her eyes with the sleeve of her little jacket, the article of clothing rustling against her skin. The baby gurgles at the noise, his huge eyes staring up at Clementine before shifting to Jane. She shudders, gritting her teeth and wriggling.
Still, the girl seems to be satisfied enough with her surroundings, cuddling the baby tight to her and easing her eyes shut after shuffling back against the wall the bed is pressed against. Jane maintains her vigil on the edge of the bed, watching the snow fall with a half wistful eye. Memories, those tricky things, dance through her mind, and for a few seconds she's powerless to resist them. Her little sister squealing in her ear, bouncing up and down in her pink rain boots, begging and begging for five minutes with her in the snow.
"We - We'll build a snowman, Jane, and we can have a snowball fight, and make snow angels and -" Jaime's recounting their de facto itinerary on her fingers, looking at the eighteen-year-old with huge eyes. The older sister shakes her head, going back to her book.
"It's freezing out there, forget it."
"But it never snows here!"
"Y -You n - never spend time with me! Please, Jane?" the girl looks on the verge of tears, tugging at her hand desperately. Jane sighs frustratedly, looking out the window for a moment. She comes to her decision, rubbing a hand over her face for a moment. The things she does…
"Agh…" a frosty sigh punctures her sentence, Jane begrudgingly sitting up. "Where're my gloves?"
Her brown eyes find Clementine, breathing slowly in and out with the baby cuddled close to her, and her lips tug down for a moment for the kid that barely got a childhood before all this.