"DROP IT!" Lee growled, digging harder into her skin as he pinned Lilly against the RV. The gun fell to the ground with a soft clank, her eyes never leaving Dominic's motionless body.
"I… I…" She stuttered, glancing at the glock in horror and disgust. "I didn't mean…" She froze as tears threatened to flow over, Dominic's body unmoving.
"Dominic!" Clementine screamed, nailed to the RV door frame as Kenny and Katjaa rushed to his aid; dropping to their knees and examining the gunshot wound.
"Holy fuck!" Kenny gasped, eyes searching the younger boy with horror before looking to his wife, "We need to get him in the RV! Ben!" The frightened boy's eyes darted to Kenny as he heard his name, "Go see if there's any medical supplies in the RV!"
"Ken, he's going to bleed out!" Katjaa screamed, frantically looking for something to cover the wound, finding nothing but blood soaked asphalt and rocks. She pushed down on the it with her hands instead, trying to slow the bleeding.
"Just, help me get 'im inside!" He screamed; the duo picked the boy up with a grunt, hustling him in and laying him down on the couch inside by the window. Carley watched the scene in horror, unable to comprehend what was happening.
Lee slid his attention back to Lilly, who stared at the ground, motionless. Kenny stormed out of the RV a second later, yelling, "Get in, we're leaving this crazy bitch!"
"I didn't mean…" she croaked.
"Shut up," Lee seethed, his eyes narrowing as he sought for death row. "You're not coming with us."
His words pierced her ears but she didn't turn away. "But…" She stammered, searching for any sign of dark humor in his eyes. "But I'll….. die out here," she quivered, flabbergasted by his words.
"I don't care," he breathed, gently shaking his head as he let her go, picking the gun up from the bloodstained grass.
"You're a murderer, Lilly," Kenny accused, pointing his finger at her as if he was the judge, and Lee was the executioner, "We can't have you with us." His words spat as if it were the sentence themselves.
She scoffed, "I'M a murderer? You've had Lee with you this whole time!"
"I DON'T CARE WHAT HE DID BEFORE!" He shouted, his finger transforming into a fist, wailing furious in the sky.
She stood for a moment, starstruck, as what he said spread through her mind, "...You know?!" Her voice shook, rising from terror to absolute bewilderment.
"Yeah, he told me," Kenny shot, "I don't give a shit! If we keep you with us, how long until you shoot me?!" His arms raised as he spoke in exasperation.
"I was trying to protect all of us!" She defended, "I didn't even mean to shoot him!" She paused as the image of Dominic's lifeless form dropping to the ground replayed in her mind. Her eyes lowered to the bloodied cement, "I don't have anything left," she weeped.
Kenny's eyes bored into her like a vulture before finally stating to the others, "Let's go you guys."
Lee gave Lilly one last look as Kenny marched off into the RV with Clementine in tow. Lilly's eyes watered as tears welled up within them. Lee shook his head in contempt, turning away from her for the last time. Carley stared at him as he walked past, her mind in overdrive.
As he approached the door, Kenny's voice echoed from inside the RV, "You found one? Good job, Ben. Good fucking job!"
Lee gestured for Carley to go in first, not saying another word as he slammed the RV door shut behind him. He gave one last glance as Lilly stumbled into view of the window; body limp as she slowly turned away, her already broken hard-ass attitude falling deeper in the moon's light. She swiveled around as the sound of walkers pierced the air, a cry creeping through her throat.
"Lee, take over here; I'm gettin' us outta here," Kenny interrupted, handing Lee the box of supplies Ben had found. He sat down in the driver's seat and pressed hard on the gas pedal, distancing them from Dominic's would-be killer. He stared in the mirror as Lilly dashed into the forest.
Katjaa examined Dominic and sighed with relief, "Looks like the bullet went right through; there's an exit wound on his back." She eyed the gaping hole in the young boy's back with a mixture of disgust and horror.
"Does that mean he'll be okay?" Kenny asked as he stared at them through the rear-view mirror, scared of the answer as a gleam of hope beamed in his eyes.
"Lee, help me bandage it," She stated, ignoring Kenny's question and holding out a roll of bandages they found in a first aid pack to him.
Lee did as he was told, grabbing the tan bandages from her. Anger boiled within him like a fire as he applied them onto the boy. She was going to shoot Carley… if Dominic hadn't stopped her. His thoughts ran as his hand shook with anger and hurt as it boiled over the edge, spilling out onto his body, turning his knuckles white. How could she do this to us… He sighed, trying to release the pressure, a tear squeezing through his rebellion.
Katjaa looked over Dominic once the wounds were bandaged, making sure the blood wasn't seeping through. She sighed in relief, "Looks like he's going to be fine." She stood up and brushed the blood off her hands, desperately trying to cleanse herself as if the last few months have turned blood from a needed fluid, to a poisonous drink.
Behind them, Clementine watched in terror, her mind unconsciously trying to process that, for a brief moment, she nearly lost one of her best friends. How quickly it all happened sent a shudder down her small back..
"Help me lay him up," Katjaa heaved, glancing at Lee as the older man grabbed a hold of Dominic and assisted him into a sitting position.
The RV plunged into silence as they breezed past the surrounding woods, Lilly fading into an already distant memory throughout the group. Dominic's head slumped against the seat; the only noise emanating from him being pained breaths. Everything had gone wrong since the moment they came back from the supply run into Macon. As it now stood, they have kicked out their leader, and almost lost Carley and Dominic. Katjaa returned to the front to be with her husband and son while Lee packed away the medical supplies. Ben laid his head against the table, the events that have transpired weighing heavily on him. Carley sat opposite Ben, her eyes staring into empty space as the image of Lilly brandishing a gun imprinted on her brain. Clementine hesitated before plopping herself down on the couch next to Dominic, staring at his resting body as she cautiously patted his arm. Lee packed away the first aid kit into a cupboard next to the RV's kitchen sink.
A few minutes later, Katjaa called out from the passenger seat, "Lee, a word please?"
Uh oh… Lee exchanged a glance with Carley and Clementine, who both peered at Dominic with worried glances. Lee slowly paced his way to the front, silently preparing for the worst as he looked over at Katjaa, who held Duck in her arms. The younger boy stared lifelessly at the ceiling, his eyes gently darting across his eyelids. His body lay, the skin tone rapidly changing from tan, to green, to a discolored grey. Duck's mouth nearly lay agape as he wheezed in his mother's arms.
"What's up?" Lee asked as he gazed at the sick boy.
Kenny and Katjaa peered back at him, their eyes glistening as tears began to well up. "Is uh," Lee stammered, "Is Duck feelin' alright?"
She lifted Duck's shirt slightly, a bright red bite mark seemed to glisten on his side. Lee's eyes grew wide, "What the fuck…" He whispered.
"Happened during the raid," Kenny mumbled, forcing his eyes to never leave the road.
Lee sighed as the inevitable question rose from his chest to his lips, "What's the plan then? We've never had a bite victim in the group before." He stood his ground as he waited for Kenny's rebuttal.
Katjaa turned her head towards him, "I'm going to keep an eye on him and see what I can do," her voice lowered as her gaze went back to her dying son, "from a medical perspective, anyway," she grumbled.
"We keep the same plan unless something changes," Kenny growled, "East." He took a sharp turn, as if his words were spat with the wheel.
"Guys…" Lee started, but was cut off by Katjaa.
"What else is there to do?!" She snapped, holding a furious and helpless expression before taking a moment to regain her composure, "We thought you should know," she countered in a whisper.
Kenny finally turned to look at Lee, his expression turning from remorse to guilt, "Important to stay honest with each other," he sighed as he returned his gaze to the endless road ahead.
"Anyway," Katjaa shifted, "if you could tell Clementine, we would appreciate it."
Lee nodded slowly as he trotted towards the other room. It was going to be a difficult conversation to have, but he knew that it was unavoidable. He returned to the couch where Dominic and Clementine sat, silently slumping down into a space next to her. She wormed her way against him as he wiggled his arm around her. He sighed as he attempted to gather his thoughts, before finally getting the courage to mumble out the cursed words.
"Duck is bitten."
She looked up at him in confusion, "Huh?"
"He got bit by a walker trying to escape the motel," Lee clarified, peering back down at her as her gaze dropped to the floor.
"I…" She mumbled, tears welling in her already puffy eyes, "I don't feel good…" A brief moment later, she looked back up at him, "Is Dom going to be okay?" She gave her friend a fleeting glance before returning Lee's gaze.
"He's going to be fine, sweet pea," Lee reassured her. His eyes instinctively went to the unconscious boy next to them. His frown deepened as regret tore at his stomach like a starving walker.
They sat in silence as trees flew by in the window. The whole world died around them, ceasing to exist. The road they drifted on reflected into the clouds that danced passed them through the looking glass. To Lee, it actually felt peaceful for once. Ben and Carley sat straight as silhouettes of leaves brushed the window and past the RV.
Lee took in a deep breath before finally breaking the silence, "I'm glad I have you." He looked into the little girl's face.
A smile crept across Clementine's face as she piped up with joy and gratitude, "Me, too." She let out a soft giggle, "I heard you two outside my treehouse that day and thought about dropping a hammer on your head."
Lee's face twisted as the image of the hammer he used to kill Clementine's undead babysitter crashed atop his skull, "Hmm… that's nice." A nervous chuckle escaped his lips.
Her eyes locked with his, "I didn't though."
He laughed softly, "Thanks."
Clementine smiled before laying her head against him, slowly falling asleep.
Dominic screamed out as his eyes flew open. Panting, he gazed up at a familiar white ceiling. His hand subconsciously grasped his shoulder, his eyes growing wide as he realized the bullet wound was gone. He hoisted himself up, gazing around the room, inspecting every inch as if a walker would appear out of thin air. Warm blankets embraced him as the room slowly came into focus. The familiar poster-covered wall stood beside him, accompanied by a large desk and monitor just below the line. Along the left side, a television stood atop a table, posing with its famous blank image. A closet was packed just beyond the foot of his bed, and at the other foot, a small end table. As he continued to gaze around the room, he reached over for his glasses. Without a second thought, he slipped out of bed, his footsteps muted like a silent movie.
He marched towards the closet, throwing on his favorite Crown The Empire baseball tee and a pair of black jeans. A moment later, he turned towards the door. As he reached out for the doorknob, he jerked back as his vision blurred, turning into nothing.
A quick flash appeared before a picture froze the scene. Soft laughter reverberated within the towering walls of what used to be a busy living room. Dominic's best friend, Josh, sat on the couch, holding a controller in his hands as his fingers reached for the buttons. His other friend, Steve, slouched in a chair on the adjacent wall, holding an iPad and gazing into his bright computer screen. The wooden floor reflected a ceiling fan, frozen in a moment of time, hovering over the center of the large room like an eternal guardian. The television glowed on a single frame: a car idling on a busy highway, the surrounding vehicles blurred, as if flying past. The scene suddenly began to burn away as Josh and Steve's merry voices echoed into the eternal flames.
"Dominic, wake up! It's like five o'clock!"
Another picture rose from the ashes; the color burned from the darkness. Dominic's door lay ajar, revealing an empty bed and a bright cellphone silently vibrating on the end table. Clothes lay on the desk chair, awaiting their master. No light shone from the ceiling, leaving the only light source filtering between the cracks of the curtains. Josh stood in the doorframe, his beanie-covered head hung low, his long hair brushing his shoulders and surrounding his face, masking his goatee beneath. He laid his head against the hinges, staring into the room with a blank stare, as if he blamed himself for his friend's disappearance.
The scene dissolved and twisted as his name rang out in the mist, "Dominic! Where are you?!"
The picture faded into nothing before flipping, revealing a blank polaroid. Color slowly rose from the edges, revealing Steve and Josh huddled against a black door.
"Life just hasn't been the same without him," Josh whispered, slumping and falling into the darkness, his eyes closed tight as he fought back tears.
"He'll be back," Steve's hushed voice sighed, his eyes wandering towards the desk on the other side of the room, "But if he doesn't, I call dibs on his PC." Steve shrugged as he tapped the PC.
The photo ripped in half as another scene bursted into the foreground. A rusted brown door slowly opened, revealing Steve's face in the sunlight, his mouth agape underneath his brown beard. Josh stood behind him, a hand on the older boy's shoulder, gazing at who stood just beyond the door. The concrete walls holding the hinges in place glistened white under the summer heat.
The scene froze; the image of their shocked expressions shook as it faded into the darkness for the last time. Their voices echoed in some far off place, "Dominic, is that you?"
"We got somethin' up ahead," a voice called out as Dominic groaned in pain. His entire body ached; his shoulder burning in unbearable agony. His eyes fluttered as his blurry vision revealed two silhouettes sitting beside him. Where am I?
"Ugh," He gasped, clutching the wound on his shoulder.
The silhouettes jumped up from the couch as his voice pierced the air, the taller one sighing in relief, "Thank God you're okay."
"I don't feel okay," Dominic mumbled as his vision cleared. Lee stood before him, his face softening with concern, while Clementine reached out to Dominic, grabbing his hand. To his right, Carley and Ben sat at the table, staring at him in awe.
Carley leaned forward, examining the boy before asking, "Do you need anything, some water, or...?" Her voice broke off as her eyes landed on his shoulder, swelled and bruised.
"I'm fine, Carley," Dominic grunted as he stretched out, gasping in pain when his wound flared in retaliation.
"Stay down," Lee's calm voice echoed through the burns as a rough hand guided his shoulder back to the cushions, "Don't overexert yourself."
Just beyond them, Dominic could see Kenny behind the wheel, looking back at them, "I'd hate to break up the party so early, but you guys should see this."
Lee sighed, walking to the front of the RV, "What is it?" His voice died as he saw the view. What looked to be a twenty-car train blocked the road completely. Rust dripped from the mainframe, but still glistened white below the residue. Wires peaked near the base mechanism, with the black rails still heavily connected to the tracks. A door was opened, revealing a mixture of empty beer bottles and open boxes. The striped warning bars were still high in the air, the crossing sign showing a similar pattern of aging. A forest added a nice finish to the rural picture, surrounding the scene, and creating barricades on either side, rendering it an impossible dead end.
"Now we gotta deal with this," Kenny groaned, holding his head low. A thought rushing through his mind to blow through the barricade, before dismissing the ludicrous idea as he glanced at his wife.
Kenny eased his foot on the brakes, forcing the RV to a standstill. A moment later, Lee, Carley, Ben, and Kenny stepped out. Behind them, Dominic leaned against the doorframe, trying, and failing, to hold back the pained grunts.
"Is there any way to get around it?" Ben asked the trio beside him.
"Doesn't really look like it," Kenny shrugged, hands on his hips and looking over at the boy, "On foot, maybe; can't really afford to do that now." His eyes glanced at the young boy in the doorframe before returning his gaze to the mess before them, noticing the twigs strewn across the ground, and the possible hazards Dominic or the kids may have.
"This seems like a safe area," Lee suggested, his eyes moving from one side of the road to the other, "All this brush will stop anything from creeping up on us."
Behind them, Clementine, Katjaa, and Duck hopped out of the RV. Duck clung to his mother like an upset son. Clementine gazed at him, a tear escaping her eye. She turned around as Dominic's hand rested on her shoulder.
"Let's go sit down," He whispered to her, hoping he could spare her the tears. He didn't have to tell them about Duck, he could tell they already knew. He mentally kicked himself for not helping Lee save Katjaa and Duck yesterday at the motel.
Dominic and Clementine huddled over to where Katjaa and Duck sat; beside a dead tree with a fallen log. Dominic carefully rested on the wooden plank as Clementine took a seat beside him. Dominic glanced over to see Katjaa giving her son a worried look, before returning his gaze with a hopeful grin. Duck inched closer to his mother, groaning as his face seemed to sink deeper and deeper into the crests of his skull. Clementine watched without a word, only laying her head on Dominic's uninjured shoulder.
To his right, Dominic overheard Ben say to Lee, "Why don't you and I go look around?"
"Yeah, everyone else relax," Lee added, walking over and getting down on one knee in front of Clementine, "Clem, stay close to Dominic, okay," he pleaded, casting Dominic a smile. His eyes gave way to something, like a sorrow for not grasping Lilly's intentions sooner.
She nodded in understanding as Katjaa insisted from the tree stump she and Duck sat on, "Lee, if you come across anything to drink, if there's a dining car or something, I think Duck's a bit dehydrated." She looked into the glassy eyes of her son, knowing already he may never return the familiar gaze.
"It's a freighter, hon," Kenny mumbled from beside Dominic before looking up at Lee, "Be careful in there." Kenny held his gaze for a moment before looking off towards the RV, images of his son full of life ripping from his hands as he slumped down on the log, a helpless sigh escaping him.
"What, you think there might be something dangerous inside of an abandoned locomotive?" Lee mused as he turned towards the train. "Hadn't crossed my mind."
As he walked away, Kenny turned to Dominic, eyeing his gunshot wound. "So, uh, you feelin' alright?"
"Well, my body's aching, and it feels like a thousand needles are piercing my shoulder, so, not exactly," Dominic mumbled as his gaze dropped to the dirt and twigs on the ground, a lonely ant breaching the sand above him. "I'm just thankful to be alive at this point, though." He looked up at Kenny and gave him a cheerful smug, then returned to the advocate insect scanning his shoes.
"Yeah, thought we were gonna lose you there for a minute," Kenny muttered, forcing every word in his desperate vocabulary. His eyes fell as the horrifying scene played in his head once again. For a brief moment, Dominic almost died. For a moment, so did Dominic himself. If he ever saw that woman again, he would not be responsible for his actions. It was unbelievable.
"Without all of you, I probably would've," Dominic shrugged, taking a quick look at his new family.
"You're the one that's the goddamned hero, though. I don't think I could've done that," Kenny added, poking the young man with his knuckles; it still amazed him that Dominic risked his life for Carley. What shocked him the most was that Dominic was the only one that saw her even brandish the gun.
Before too long, Lee returned to the group, approaching Katjaa and Duck with a water bottle, "Here, I found some water."
Katjaa grabbed a hold of the water bottle, the conversation around them completely forgotten. She smiled, "Ah, thank you, perfect." After a brief pause, she stated into the air, as if suddenly oblivious to Lee's presence. "He's allergic to bees."
"Is that right?" Lee asked, raising an eyebrow.
"It's all I can keep thinking about, like somehow that matters," She mumbled as she held onto Duck tightly.
"It doesn't." He whispered.
"I know," She sighed, a tear rolling down her cheek as they both avoided the impossible. "Well, I don't, but you're probably right."
"Anyway," Lee sighed, his eyes wandering back towards the abandoned trained, "Let me know if anything changes here."
Carley hugged Katjaa as she silently began to cry into Duck's pale shoulders. She cautiously patted the broken woman's back, uncertain her comforting presence would do any good.
"It'll be okay…" She whispered.
"No it won't," Katjaa whined, switching from Duck's now soaked shoulder to Carley's chest.
As Lee walked away from the scene, Clementine and Dominic's sad demeanor caught his attention. He shuffled over to them, kneeling beside Clementine. "Hey sweet pea, you okay out here?"
Her eyes immediately went to Duck, mumbling in hushed whispers, "I don't think Duck feels good."
"Me neither," Lee responded just as quietly.
"The kid doesn't deserve this," Dominic interjected as his eyes passed between Lee, Clementine, and Duck, "No one really deserves this." His words seemed forced as he winced.
Lee's frown deepened as he stood in front of the teenager, pulling the boy aside, speaking in mere whispers, making sure Clementine was out of earshot. "Did you know all of this was going to happen, Dominic? The raid? Duck? Carley?"
Dominic raised his head; his gaze bearing deep into Lee's eyes. "Do you really want to know?" The boy whispered, the unbearable sadness within him seeping out like blood, brandishing the dark holes around his eyes.
"Did you know?" Lee insisted, gripping the boy's shoulder. He trusted Dominic, but things have gone to shit since his predictions, and he knew that Dominic was holding things back, STILL holding things back.
"Yes." Dominic sighed, releasing the tension between them.
"Why didn't you tell me?" He stared at the younger man, his eyes glistening of urgency. Please tell me…
"Because it would've only made things worse, Lee," Dominic huffed, tears threatening again as his mind raced back to the moment the bandits arrived at the camp barely a day ago, "Because foreknowledge is dangerous." He hissed, unable to withstand the pressure cooking inside his throat. "The fact I have to live with it is hard enough; I don't want it to consume you too…" His voice trailed off as he wiped away a tear. They now stood a foot apart from each other; like two sides allowing themselves to become allies with different reasons for the same goal. Two halves of a story seaming together. "I have to live with that knowledge every single day. Would you want that? To know who lives and who dies?" Dominic glared at Lee, slowly feeling the envy burn in his heart knowing that Lee won't suffer like him. "Knowing that even the ones you care about the most are going to die?" His deadpanned voice cracked as tears began to fall, "Carley would've died Lee. Lilly shot her. Could you imagine how much that would've destroyed her, knowing that before her death?"
The duo grew silent, except the sobbing of the young man. Lee stared in awe at the boy, as if he was seeing for the first time the weight he had bearing on his chest this entire time. He was broken. He has been broken since the St. Johns, and he's only going to break more. All the knowledge weighed him down like an anchor, plunging the boy straight down into the depths of his own personal hell.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you about the bandit raid, Lee," the man wept, "but there's just so much shit going on, and so much shit to come, I can't keep up with everything."
Lee knelt down and embraced the soldier, "It's okay, just, let me know if something's going to happen that we can change, okay?"
"Okay," Dominic sighed, wiping the tears off his face and looking at the older man.
Lee turned back towards Kenny, everyone oblivious to their conversation as they talked amongst themselves. He still had the map of the train routes in his hand that he had completely forgotten during his conversation with Dominic. Strolling over, he gave it to Kenny, stating, "Ben and I found this in the boxcar back there." He gestured towards the boxcar immediately behind the engine.
Kenny gazed at the map in light interest, until it finally hit him, "Whoa, is this what it looks like?" His eyes bright as he glanced at Lee.
"I think so," Lee answered.
"These tracks lead right to Savannah…" His voice trailed off as an idea dawned in his head, "Holy hell, can you guys see about moving that thing? We could have something here."
"Yeah, we're on it." His gaze returned to Dominic behind him, staring down at the ground with sad eyes, "Mind helping me out, Dom?"
"Sure." He muttered, the lump in his throat still present.
A solid twenty minutes of work later, the train was ready for takeoff. There was only one problem remaining, the train was still attached to a derailed car somewhere down the line. The job of freeing the lost wheels rested solely on Lee's shoulders, with Dominic's help. They marched to the back of the train, finding the derailed car directly behind the boxcar they found the map in earlier. Using a wrench he found in a compartment on the engine; he wedged it between the pin and the latch holding the train to the wreckage, grunting as he pushed down hard, forcing the pin out with a satisfying click.
With the train free, Lee yelled in triumph, "Hey Kenny, we're loose!"
"I'd be surprised if he actually heard that all the way up there," Dominic deadpanned as they hopped back into the train car, sneering in silence.
"He probably didn't," Lee shrugged, his eyes going to the mattress laying at the back of the car. Had someone really been living in this thing? Perhaps I should ask Dom-
"You touch any of my stuff?" A deep voice grumbled behind them, forcing the duo to swivel around quick. Dominic laughed softly when he realized who the man was. Oh Chuck, my have I missed you.
The older man gave him an odd look before strolling up to Lee, staring at him almost menacingly.
"I took the map of the train routes…" Lee muttered, inspecting the hobo before him. He wore a brown leather jacket and a pair of tattered black jeans. His silver hair was matted with a thin stache. For living in wreckage, he was skinny, with a petite beer belly. Yet his eyes were the most drawing portion of character, as he held no emotion as he stared at Lee.
"That's fine, you can have that," Chuck shrugged.
"Really," he groaned, inspecting the man again, half sure he was about to brandish a bizarre weapon, like a rubber chicken. The only thing worse was the fact Dominic seemed to not mind at all. In fact, it looked as if the boy happily embraced this strange character. The people you meet in the wild….
"Yeah, I got 'em all up here," The man smiled and aimed his finger at the side of his head. A brief moment later, he turned to look at his 'home', sighing, "I guess it's no worse for wear." He shrugged as he turned back to Lee and Dominic, reaching his hand out, "Name's Chuck. Charles if you're fancy."
"Pleasure to meet you, Charles," Dominic cheered with a fake British accent, shaking the older man's hand, "My name's Dominic, and this is Lee." He gestured to the man beside him, finally noticing his displeasure.
The older man laughed softly, "I like your style, Dominic. That your crew outside?"
"Yeah," Lee affirmed before Dominic could make him any more uncomfortable.
"And the guy up in the cab?" He glanced towards the front of the train.
"I saw you walking through here and thought about scaring the pants off ya," Chuck said with a devious smile.
"What?" Lee gasped, eyes wide and fingers clenched.
"But I couldn't force myself to do it."
After a brief pause, Lee blurred, "You're still kinda freakin' me out." His eyes narrowed as if positioned for attack.
"Train folk'll do that," Chuck shrugged, "Already met everyone outside; they all warmed to me right quick in direct sunlight."
He hopped out of the train card without another word, heading over to where the rest of the group sat on the fallen tree. The duo followed shortly behind. Lee flashed a look at Dominic. You know this guy?
Yeah. Dominic winked before strolling off.
Clementine rushed over to the two men, beaming. "You met Chuck," she squealed, jumping.
"Yeah… we did," Lee muttered, still unsure about the older man.
"It's so nice to meet someone normal for a change," Katjaa interjected from her tree stump, actually taking her eyes off of her son and examining this new fellow with a smile on her face.
Lee opened his mouth to speak, but Clementine cut him off, "He gave us candy. Ben, too!" She rushed back over to her spot on the log, eagerly listening to everyone around her and munching on her leftover taffy.
"And none for me, yay." Dominic mumbled as the younger boy exchanged furtive glances between the group, along with Lee.
Lee walked over to Chuck, semi-apologizing. "Well, welcome," the two finally shook hands before they both sat down on the stump, a conversation erupting.
"Thank ya," he chuckled as he rested.
"You met Kenny?" Lee asked, glancing towards the engine of the train where Kenny continued to work.
"Sure did," Chuck affirmed, "Man shares my love of the road," a smirk creeped up on the older man's face as images of before the apocalypse whispped through his conscience.
Lee let out a dry laugh, "That's for certain." He looked over towards the engine, finally noticing just how banged up it was; the glass was shattered, as if someone had shot the engineer multiple times. Not to mention, the familiar pattern of white and yellow rust pertained to this car, along with mechanical bits slouching off of the rails, as if at any moment the entire contraption could fall apart.
Duck began to cough and hack, interrupting Lee's spectating. Chuck's smile faded as he approached Katjaa, getting down on a knee, "I'm awfully sorry your son's not feeling good." He eyed the boy, who stared off into space, losing himself to whatever infected him.
"I appreciate your concern," she muttered softly, a small smile rising on her lips as she looked down at her son, hugging him tightly.
"I just want him to get better," she whispered, a tear falling from her eyes.
"Well, with a little TLC I'm sure he'll be fit as a fiddle in no time," He heartened, standing back up, "And I can offer ya'll whatever I got, although it ain't much." He looked around the group, feeling prideful to help such a disheartened group out.
"Thank you," Katjaa added, "We'd like to do the same."
"Yes, we'd really appreciate it," Carley spoke, breaking off her conversation with Ben.
"Why don't we hold off on…" Kenny started as he approached the group.
"Stay with us," Katjaa interrupted, sending a stern look in her husband's direction, "We'd like the company."
Chuck nodded to both of them before sitting down next to Clementine and picking up his guitar that had been resting beside the stump, unnoticed. As he played a soft tune,. Clementine watched him with mild interest, while Dominic and Lee stood next to her. Josh would get along well with this guy; they both share the love for music.
Lee was the first one to speak, "Hey, Chuck," he began.
"Howdy," came the reply, the older man's eyes never leaving the guitar.
"Where are you from? You live around here?" Lee asked, narrowing his eyes.
"Georgia boy," He affirmed as he looked up at Lee, meeting his stare. "You saw where I live."
Lee decided to ask one more question, "Why are you alone?"
"Why not?" Chuck shrugged, keeping the song going. "Seem to be doin' all right."
"Fine, then," Lee sighed, turning towards Clementine.
"I'm sorry," Chuck started, forcing Lee's eyes back on him, "I do like being around you all, actually. It's nice." Chuck glimpsed at his new friends from different perspectives; the familiar dirt road family with an ill child; the business woman making eyes with the darker business man, questioning him; the college kids, who seemed to not get along; and the little girl beside him, watching every stroke his fingers made on his guitar.
"You caught us on a bad day," Dominic interjected, sitting beside Clementine, wrapping an arm around her as he watched the old man play, before looking him in the eyes.
"Eh, you still got a couple of kids," Chuck laughed as he looked at Clementine, "And this one's got a good spirit." He gave her a curt nod before finishing, "That's some kinda somethin'." He stared down with pride at his guitar before returning everybody's gaze.
Lee nodded slightly before kneeling down next to Clementine, whispering sweetly, "Hey, sweet pea… That candy Chuck gave you, it taste okay?"
"It was really good," Clementine giggled.
"No funny aftertaste?" Lee asked, eyeing the old man as he spoke to her.
"No…" She mumbled, considering the taffy Chuck had given her.
He turned to look at the train, which hummed softly, "Train's cool, huh?" He asked, abruptly changing the subject.
"I guess," She stammered, eying the massive train behind her, "Scary, kind of." She leaned back towards Dominic as she stared at the massive thing Lee was questioning her about.
Lee smiled, "Well, I'm gonna go talk to Kenny real quick, stay close to Dominic, okay?" He suggested, turning away and leaving Clementine.
"Okay." She said, her eyes following Lee's figure walking away.
Kenny stood next to the train, examining the mechanics for any potential hazards, but turned around as he noticed Lee approaching him, "So that's it? We're cut loose?" He asked, smiling at the thought of being on the move again.
"Seems that way, yeah," Lee confirmed, acknowledging the big hunk of metal before them.
"Great!" Kenny smiled, "Let's get this thing movin' then," he exclaimed. They strolled over to the group again, ready to unveil the news, "We don't got much left, so just gather whatever you have. Let's go," Kenny cheered, eagerly assisting his wife and child.
Everyone spoke in excited murmurs as they began to stand one by one. Ben rushed towards the train without a word, as Carley eyed him suspiciously before stepping forward to embrace Lee, before making her way herself. Clementine pulled Dominic up off the stump, both grunting as he succeeded. Lee marched over to help Dominic walk to the train, holding an arm under him for support. As the group headed for the train, Chuck sat idly on his stump, watching his new friends leave him one by one.
As they began to file into the train, Kenny looked over his family and asked Chuck, "Want a ride?"
"Well, it sounds like you're taking my home," Chuck deadpanned, offense spilling out of this once kind man's lips.
"That's a yes then," Kenny laughed, the insult escaping him.
Chuck laughed softly, "Haven't found anything better for keeping the creepy-crawlies out than that boxcar." He grabbed his guitar and headed for the doors.
While Chuck climbed aboard, Clementine approached Dominic and Lee, lowering her head as she spoke, "Duck's sick."
"Get on the train, Clementine," Kenny insisted, avoiding her concern. Carley pulled her aside and into the car, leaving Dominic, Lee, Katjaa, Duck, and Kenny remaining outside.
"He's getting sicker," Katjaa told her husband.
"Let me look at him," Kenny insisted, examining his son. Duck tried to lift his head to look at his father, but failed as his chin bumped feebly against Katjaa's chest, a weak hiss escaping his mouth.
"Is the train really a good idea, with Duck like that… maybe we should focus on one thing at a time," Lee suggested, which made Kenny shoot glares in his direction.
"YES. What can we do here?" Kenny snapped, turning on his friend. "We get on the train and find something better. That is the plan." He stood neck and neck with Lee, a finger jabbed into his chest.
"I think Lee just wants to talk it through," Katjaa muttered, holding her baby.
"Kenny… Let's not-" Carley began, returning from the boxcar after hearing the chatter.
"It's TALKED THROUGH," Kenny shouted once more, before settling his expression and turning slumped, instantly regretting his attitude, "Get on, Kat." He sighed.
"Kenny, you should listen to Lee, it's too dangerous," Dominic countered, appearing beside the entrance of the boxcar.
"Then what do you propose we do then, Dominic?" Kenny roared, "Don't you turn against me too!" His face turned blood-red as he shot a glaring look at the young man.
"Kenny…" He started, but the man waved him off and hustled into the boxcar.
"I'll be up front. I don't want to hear any nonsense until we get where we're goin'." Kenny hissed as he turned the corner, towards the cabin.
They exchanged sad glances, Lee helping Katjaa and Duck aboard, before helping Dominic.
"He's losing it, Lee," Dominic sighed as he stared down at the older man below.
"I know, I'll take care of him," Lee affirmed as he stared off towards the cabin, before returning Dominic's gaze. "Take care of Clementine for me while I'm up there."
Lee disappeared around the corner as Dominic crouched down next to Clementine, whimpering as their legs dangled out the side of the boxcar. They struck up a conversation as the ground began to move beneath them. Carley lay her head against the boxcar doors as she grabbed her notepad from her pocket, writing personal notes about the day. Chuck moved to the front of the train, wishing to feel the wind, and to have a beer in his hands; he was excited to travel again. Ben closed his eyes, sitting at the back of the boxcar, tears falling as he thought about his old life; memories of his parents fading away, his school life being some of the only vivid memories he had left. It's been so long…. Katjaa held Duck in her arms, the boy now limp and gasping for air as the wind rushed past him. She cried as her only son tried to move, but only dangled and let out weak moans.
It had been a tough day, but Dominic knew it was only going to get worse. Clementine wiggled against him as the train moved faster, the sound of the wheels screeching against the rails reverberating into the forest. He wrapped an arm around her as a tear began to fall from her eyes.
He wiped the tear away with a finger, whispering the biggest white lie of them all, "It's gonna be alright, Clem."