The train rumbled with mechanical ferocity as it sailed across the rails. The world died around the metal machine, like a withering flower, leaving only walkers and carcasses behind. Within the train's only boxcar, the group sat in uncomfortable silence. Chuck stood a few inches within the door, gazing out at the trees and fields whizzing by. Lee stood behind him, his eyes resting on Katjaa and Duck in the corner. The poor boy stared lifelessly beyond his mother at some unseen object. He lay lifeless, mouth frozen in an agape contortion; his clothes were covered in dried sweat and blood. Katjaa never lifted her gaze from him, the hope within her dying alongside her son and soul. Clementine sat a few feet away to Katjaa's right, between the older woman and Chuck. Her heartbroken eyes scanned Duck for any signs of improvement; a little twitch, a rolling eye, anything; she found nothing but a losing fight. Dominic relaxed beside Clementine, an arm around her as he peered up at Lee, defeated. Carley stood next to Lee, gazing at him with soft eyes, looking up at him for any sign of stress. Finally, Ben rested against the wall, isolated from everyone else on the opposite corner of the boxcar. His eyes were fixed on his shoes as guilty thoughts spread through his mind like a virus, chewing away at every cord it could munch. As Duck continued to cough, any sense of hope that remained was extinguished.
To his right, Lee heard Chuck's deep voice grumble, "Got to be hard on ya, eh? Four adults, taking care of four kids…" He gazed down at Dominic and Ben, "No disrespect."
Ben stared in defiance as Dominic sighed, "I'm not even sure how old I am anymore, could be twenty now for all I know." He glanced out of the boxcar door as he pondered for a moment at how long he might've been here.
"Still young, son," Chuck shrugged.
"There were more of us," Lee voiced, joining the older man at the open boxcar door.
"Dead get 'em?" Chuck asked, turning to look at Lee.
His eyes fell to the wooden floor as he murmured, "No."
"Ah," Chuck let out a heavy sigh, returning his gaze to the passing trees. "Livin' got 'em."
"Lee!" A woman's voice cried, agony ripping away at the cords. He shot his head at Katjaa, just in time to see Duck cough once again, blood flying out and covering his face. "Lee, I need you, right now! I need you to go get Ken," Katjaa screeched, tears dripping onto her son's crimson face.
"What's…" Lee started, but Katjaa's next request cut him off.
"Would you get that off his face?" She gestured towards the rag on the ground beside her, fingers trembling as she fought to support her son, the blood staining Duck's face as another cough released another wave of blood and mucus. "My hands are full here," she yelped, more tears flowing down her cheeks. Lee rushed to her aid, seizing the clean rag from the wooden floor and frantically wiping the crimson blood away, gasping with disgust.
Katjaa peered up at Lee, an uncertain smile spreading on her face. "Thank you..." She sighed as the inevitable weighed down on her, stealing more tears and hope than any cough her son had endured. "He's out of time; we need to stop this train."
"Okay," Lee sniffed. He hesitated, staggering as he stood up. Every step was a mile, scene after red hot scene flashing with every thunderous pound of his feet. "Why did you let this happen," one scene screamed. "Why didn't HE warn us of this?" Another exclaimed. If he ever finds out about Dominic, would he try to kill me… or Dominic… in vengeance? He approached the doorway, noticing the bullet shocked glass as he delayed opening the door, a horrible image bursting through his mind; himself laying on the ground, blood spilling from his skull, a red, tear stricken Kenny above him, smoking gun in hand. This was not a conversation he was looking forward to having, Lee half prayed this was a dream; all a fucked up dream and Clementine would shake him violently, as if he could feel himself shaking at that moment. But, this wasn't a dream; there was no other way.
Lee glanced to his left, the crimson vision burning to ashes as he saw Dominic flash a look at him. Guilt and grief contorted his face, his hands falling off of Clementine like lifeless noodles. It was a feeling the boy was getting far too accustomed to.
"Please…" Katjaa pleaded one final time before returning her tear-blurred gaze to her son.
"I'll come with you," Carley offered, taking his hand as her face fell into a sorrowed frown.
"Alright," He heaved, forcing his legs to move before reaching for the god-forsaken door next to where Katjaa held Duck in her arms, leading out to the main engine.
As they closed the door behind them, Carley sighed, freezing where she stood. "Lee, this is getting bad. The group's falling apart," her voice faltering as events played through her mind for the millionth time.
"I know," he breathed softly as he turned to look at her, watching her slumped posture waving as she inched closer. "But we can't give up hope yet. Dominic was able to save you, maybe we can save the group." His eyes grazed her face, the muscles around her jaw slipping as her eyes lay broken.
"Dominic saved me because he knew what was going to happen," Carley countered, "We don't. And he hasn't exactly been forthcoming about it." Anger escaped her teeth, suddenly craving answers for this disaster.
"He has a lot on his mind," Lee mumbled, resting his elbows against the railing, "Am I upset that he didn't tell us about Lilly? Of course. But I understand his reasons, even if I don't agree with them." He noticed, for the first time since exiting the boxcar to his railway to Hell, the brief winds hitting his face as he glanced out to the forgotten trees, the sun beaming down on them.
"Has he told you anything else? About Duck?" She croaked, taking another step, now gripping the railing and holding herself up beside Lee.
"Nope," Lee shuddered, tearing himself from nature, or what was left of it. "The way things are going, I don't think we even needed his help on that one," He sighed, laying his head atop his hands.
"I didn't think Lilly would ever pull a gun on me," She muttered, her eyes closing as the images of Lilly flashed through her head, the gun entering point blank in her mind. "In that moment, I was so scared." She shoved her head into her hands as she collapsed against the railing, allowing the guilt and vulnerability to consume her. "I felt guilty that he got shot trying to save me. Now, I'm not so sure if I wanted him to." Her voice finally cracked at her last words. She lifted her head up, revealing puffy eyes as she peeked at the trees. Let something disguise my meltdown, damnit.
Lee picked up his head, his eyes softening as he watched her, "You don't mean that." He whispered.
She sighed as another tear threatened to escape her eye, "He almost died because of me, Lee," she gasped, laying her head on his shoulder, the tear breaking through.
As tears poured down her face, he pulled her into an embrace. "It's okay," He whispered in her ear, "You're alive, he's alive. He did what no one else could do."
She sniffled as she looked up at him, "But if he would've died trying to save me, there's no way I could've forgiven myself." Her lips shook as the words spilled out.
"Try not to think about it, okay?" He asked, caressing her cheek unconsciously and wiping away a stray tear. "We're going to make it through this. No matter what, I've got your back; to the very end."
She smiled, a stray tear slipping through as she chuckled; she felt happy for the first time in a long time. She suddenly didn't care about being vulnerable; she wanted to accept this moment the way it was. "I'm going to hold you to that," she whispered, staring into his eyes.
"You need to stop the train," Lee whispered, leaning against the glass; for physical or moral stability, he couldn't grasp. He stared, motionless as the train rumbled the tracks with brutal force, as if escaping inevitable reality itself. Kenny continued escaping as Lee whispered again, while a tear slowly numbed his cheek. Looking over his breaking friend like a concerned father, Lee grasped the moist rag in his palm. Kenny continued to stare off ahead of them, ignoring the man. Lee exchanged a sorrowed look with Carley before nudging Kenny, immediately cutting him from his stupor, and placed the bloody rag he had used to clean Duck's face before his eyes.
"Katjaa needs you, Kenny…" Carley whispered behind them, her hands gripping the metal doorframe.
"Duck will be fine." Kenny insisted, his voice cracking as his eyes remain fixed on the train tracks ahead.
"I'm sorry, Kenny. But you know that's not true," Lee countered, gasping for composure.
The Floridian turned to look at Lee, his eyes shooting knives as his face burned a fiery red. "Just go back there and tell my wife everything will be fine," He snapped, "What's the goddamn deal? He's a little sick, but we can't just quit. It's a scratch! He's not like the others. Jesus, all ya'll are just makin' it worse!" He returned to the tracks ahead, clenching the stick and forcing the train faster.
Lee sighed, "This isn't about Duck." He watched the Floridian, eyes beating for a plea and change of sentence.
"It's not about my son dying?" Kenny scoffed, sarcasm spitting from his lips. "The hell do you know? You're not my friend." He grumbled, his knuckles bleeding white from the pressure.
"I don't hate you..." Lee insisted.
"You sure as shit haven't done anything for me."
Lee sighed as he stared at his friend. Now what do I do? Everything that has happened to them is piling up like bodies, sapping away everyone's sanity and filling the void with cold insanity. The group in its entirety were losing grips to healthy faces, only gaining tired, black eyes and weightless bodies. This wasn't only about mental exhaustion; it was the exhaustion of body and soul, tearing away their very being. Kenny was about to lose his son, one of the two things in this world he cared about, and that was enough to drive any father crazy.
After a brief pause, Lee pressed on, hoping to change his friend's mind, "You think you're the reason Duck was bitten, like you had this coming or something?" His eyes narrowed as he gripped the chair, glaring at the man. "You aren't to blame for Hershel's son getting bitten, and neither is Duck."
"I know, Lee… but I could've done more." Kenny cracked as he sniffed back tears. "I could've prevented that boy gettin' bitten, and now it's catching up to me…" Kenny's voice trailed off; his eyes falling to the mechanical controls and levers for the train.
"You can't blame yourself for what went down, Kenny. It wasn't your fault. Dominic told you to save Duck while we helped Shawn. You looked out for your kid and a bad thing happened to someone else's, but we saved that boy's life." Carley stared at Lee as he retold the events from the farm, eyes beaming in horror as the tragedy filled her ears.
"What happened to the boy?" Carley whispered.
"He got trapped underneath a tractor, we pulled it off him, but he still got bit. Dominic suggested we take the leg off…" Lee muttered.
"Did it work…?" She pressed, oblivious to their current mission.
"Yeah." Lee finished.
Kenny wiped away a tear as he continued, adjusting topics. "There ain't no way this world lets my son live when I helped ruin another father's life, and destroyin' his kid's!" More tears spilled into the floor as Kenny hung his head in defeat.
"That's not the way it works, you know that," Lee insisted, laying a hand on the father's shoulder, "Stop the train, man."
Kenny looked up to Lee, worry filling his glassy gaze. Lee returned the favor, reality flowing through their minds like telepathic language. Kenny turned towards Carley, apologies running through his head as he hoisted himself out of the chair, switching the lever in the process. The brakes squealed as Carley gripped Lee's arms, while everyone else held their ground as the train pulled into Reality Forest..
"Sorry," Carley whispered as she stood up straight, stepping towards the boxcar.
Do my choices even matter anymore? Dominic thought to himself, holding onto Clementine as the train eased to a stop. I saved Carley and Shawn but… am I being punished? The frown that etched it's way across his face mere seconds ago now turned into a scowl. Now Duck and Katjaa are next, because I screwed up. Then it'll be Chuck… He shook his head slightly, shoving these horrid ideas to the trash; he refused to let Chuck die. Just this once, he wasn't letting fate win.
Chuck reached out to Katjaa, gripping her hand and supporting Duck. "Let me help ya up."
"Thanks…" She grabbed the older man's hand as he pulled her up, Duck still resting in her hands like a weightless doll.
Chuck assisted Katjaa with carrying Duck to the edge of the boxcar door while Clementine scooted out of the way and used what little strength she had to help Dominic to his feet. The wound pulsed with agonizing pain the instant Dominic moved a muscle, rendering movement an unbearable endeavour. Ben stayed in his corner as his eyes focused on Duck's writhing form, forcing his back to clench to the wall, like a devilish plague. Clementine and Dominic sat down on the other end of the boxcar, their feet dangling out. Out of the corner of their eyes, they saw Carley, Lee and Kenny climb down from the engine, all with defeat in their eyes.
As the trio approached, Katjaa sent a grave look into her husband's eyes, both of their eyes full of hopelessness and sorrow. After a brief moment of silence, she sputtered, "Ken. It's… I think it's time."
Kenny's face contorted as fear, sorrow, and grief washed over his body, chills spilling like ice over his nerves and adrenaline surging like a forbidden drug. As Chuck hopped out of the boxcar, Kenny half-spat his next words, "The boy's been bit, in case you haven't figured that out." The older man gazed at him in what Kenny could only decipher as pity. He took a step further, a single tear trailing his cheek as the thoughts filled his head. I can't live with this….
"Take as long as you need," Lee muttered to Kenny and Katjaa. This was their son dying, he wasn't going to force them to hasten the poor boy's awaited death.
Kenny's eyes sifted on Lee, his dreary eyes wide and teary as he sniffled the words, "There ain't no time left to take." He gloomed back to his wife as his voice lowered further, "What are we gonna do?"
"We can't allow him to become one of those things…" Katjaa groaned, fear striking her splitting voice as tears fell and smashed like fragile glass onto the limp body. She stared at her son in desperation, but knew that there was no other choice: they had to kill their only son.
"But… what if…" Kenny started, "What if he doesn't?" Kenny tried to grasp the only hope he saw, but knew it was gone before he said it.
She gazed at her husband, "Kenny, I love you very much; I love our son more than life itself." Her voice cracked as she fell apart, "I need you to hear me… what you are saying, that he may not turn, is foolish."
"But…" He looked one more time at his son's lifeless body, a whimpering groan filling the air.
"No." She insisted, now standing defensive in front of her husband.
"There's…" Kenny shook his head as the fitful rage pressed his wits. "Come on, Kat…"
"If you think of one, you let me know…" She whispered as she stepped towards the boxcar.
"Isn't there some sort of pill, or something we can just give him…?" He spoke. His family was crashing down around him, and he didn't want his boy to suffer any more than he needed to.
"Stop…" Katjaa muttered.
"He can just drift off to sleep, right hon? I mean, Jesus, this is our son!" He snapped, punching the boxcar, receiving gasps of horror from mixed voices.
"I KNOW." Katjaa shouted, sputtering her words. "But we know it's… here." She pointed toward her head, indicating the brain. "Or nothing." She spat her last words.
"Well… fuck… just… who then?" Kenny whispered, his hands covering his face, "You want me to?"
"No, Kenny…" Katjaa sighed.
"I'll do it," Kenny insisted, marching towards the boy and reaching an arm out.
"No… you don't have to." She whispered, looking into her son's glassy eyes again.
"Kenny, you're his dad…" Lee interjected, forcing his way into the conversation, "You do it."
"Kenny needs to do it," Dominic added from his spot at the boxcar door.
"I'm his mother," Katjaa shot back, looking at the audience behind her.
"They're right… and don't give me that 'I brought him into this world' junk," Kenny added softly.
"Shush," Katjaa whispered, her eyes returning to their helpless son, "He's still a baby boy… It would be different if he were older…" She looked up at her husband one last time, "Let me do this."
"Then I'm coming with you," Kenny demanded, now side by side with his wife.
"No, hon… stay with Lee and Dominic. Your son loves you and you should remember him as the silly boy we used to…" She choked as she forced the words. "Have… not this."
"Katjaa…" Dominic started, the rest of the sentence stuck in his throat as she turned to glare at him, "Katjaa, please don't do this…"
"I'm doing this, Dominic. It's my decision." She shrieked, her voice dripping with anger.
"Please… just let Lee and Kenny do it," He stared into her eyes, a single message conveying across. I know what you're going to do, and please don't do it.
She sighed as her eyes fell to the ground, "I'm sorry, Dominic." She hoisted her son into her arms, giving one last glance at Lee and Kenny.
"I can't…" Kenny whispered, his voice cracking as the tears threatened to burst through the dam, his body crashing to the boxcar doors. His hands ran to his face as drops fell from his eyes.
She gave him a heartbreaking stare before turning to the man next to him, "Lee, be with him?"
Husband and wife exchanged one final stare before she treaded off into the woods, disappearing into the brush. Lee slowly reached out for Kenny, putting a hand on the man's shoulder, but let go as the Floridian collapsed to his knees.
From behind him, Lee heard Clementine's voice, staring at Dominic, "What's happening?"
The boy's eyes fell to the floor, bursting into silence. Lee walked over to Clementine as she hopped off the boxcar ledge, the older man kneeling down in front of her, "Katjaa's… taking care of Duck." He gave a curious glance to the younger man before returning Clementine's saddened gaze.
"I thought he was going to die…"
He sighed softly, "She's... putting him out of his misery."
"Oh…" She looked down at the dirt beside her foot as she pondered what he said.
"Lee, you need to get to her, now…" Dominic interjected as he stepped toward them.
"What's going to happen?"
"She's going to-" A deafening pop pierced their ears as they looked into the brush. Katjaa had fired. Dominic's tone shot from desperation to grievous, "Go, now!"
Kenny and Lee sprinted into the forest as Dominic turned toward Clementine, "Listen, Clem. I know things are grim, but no matter what, I'm going to protect you. I will NEVER let this happen to you. Do you understand?" His frantic eyes searched for immediate meaning in the little girl's.
Her eyes fell as the weight of the situation crushed her. "You don't know that."
"I do. I really do." He spoke, forcing his tone to lower into a hushed whisper. She looked up at him with curiosity before he pulled her toward the train. "Come on, we've got a lot to talk about."
The train roared to life once more as it's unfortunate passengers filed aboard one-by-one. No one dared mention Katjaa and Duck, especially not in front of Kenny. It wasn't long before Lee and Kenny returned after another deafening crack of a pistol; Katjaa killed herself, rather than kill her only son. She chose the easy way out rather than live with the consequences of their actions. Kenny left the train in desperation, but came back broken beyond repair, silent beyond words as he climbed into the cabin and forcing the train to carry on.
Now, Clementine and Dominic sat alone within the confines of the boxcar. Lee joined Kenny in the cabin, only silence following the squeals of the doorframe. Carley joined Ben on the scaffolds of the engine, a silent conversation flowing between them. Chuck leaned against the railing at the front of the train, enjoying the feeling of the wind blowing against him and the trees flying past his eyes. They were down to seven survivors; leaving a trail of loved and forgotten ones behind them.
Dominic flailed his legs back and forth over the edge of where Clementine and him sat in the boxcar, watching the tracks sail by like a rusted road, his foot occasionally tapping a tall stone or crooked limb Besides the roar of the wheels against the tracks, everything remained silent.
After what felt like an eternity, Dominic spoke, "Hey Clem?"
"Yeah?" She asked, curiosity feeding his eyes.
"I have something I need to tell you. Promise me you'll take it seriously?" He glanced quickly to be sure no one was in earshot before returning her gaze. She nodded in understanding, silently waiting for her protector to continue.
"Well," He began, his eyes falling to his flailing legs as his thoughts filed into order, "There's some things you should know about me... I've told Lee and Carley about this, but I haven't had a chance to tell you yet." When she said nothing, he went on, "I don't really know how to explain this, but… I'm from the future. I don't know how I got here, but I have. I know everything that's going to happen for the next two years, more or less. I knew about Lilly trying to shoot Carley, and I knew about Duck getting bitten… " He bit his lip after the last words, momentarily preparing his ears for screams. "And I know this sounds a bit far-fetched, but….. just ask Lee. I've told him about the events that've happened in the past day over a week ago."
"I don't understand…" She stretched after a moment's silence. Her eyes searched the room as she let his words sink in.. How could Dom be from the future if he was here? How could he know anything about the future? She sighed as she looked back at him in confusion.
"I don't quite understand myself," Dominic sighed, rubbing his forehead as a headache flared like a beast, "But please believe me, it's the truth…" After a brief pause, he came up with an idea, "Ask me a question, anything, about the future, and I'll tell you."
"Uhhh…." She thought it over, trying her best to think of a good question. "What's gonna happen in two years?"
Dominic laughed softly as events played through his mind, "Well, for one, you're gonna grow up to be badass."
"Swear." She lectured with a smile, pointing her finger as if she was a scolding sister.
"Sorry," He chuckled, "I couldn't resist. Anyway, you meet this group of people in… I wanna say North Carolina? And, you find out that they're running from some guy named Carver, who's a bit of a bast-... mean guy. So you guys escape." He sniffed as each member of the Cabin group died in his head, "They are quite the heroic group."
"What about you and Lee?" She questioned, wondering why he hadn't mentioned either of them.
"Well, I wasn't there… it's hard to explain. But Lee, well, that's a long story that we shouldn't get into right now." He faked a smile, hoping that he could hide the pain underneath his usual guise. It seemed to succeed as she smiled back.
"Aaaand," Dominic started, his voice heavy as ready to drop the biggest bombshell on her, "I know about the man you've been talking to on your radio."
Her eyes grew wide, "You do?" She shrieked, her voice carrying outside.
"Yep. Clem, please don't trust him. He's not who you think he is." He lectured back to her.
"But he said he's gonna help me find my parents…" She whimpered as his voice grew stern.
"He's lying, Clem," He whispered, looking into her eyes, "Don't trust him, please."
She stared back, realizing his severity, "Okay, I won't."
"Good," He smiled at her before changing the subject, "Now I feel much better, getting all that off my chest."
"...Dom?" She started, looking at the boy sitting next to her, "What is it like? Knowing everything that's gonna happen?"
"It's…" He sighed, "It's difficult, Clem. Every day I find myself deeper and deeper into crap I can't change. No matter how hard I try, sometimes I just fail. Like when Mark and Larry died, then… Katjaa and Duck. I couldn't stop their deaths, and it hurt. Hurts. It's like someone is stabbing me in the back every single second of every day. So much that I feel like I can't breathe. I never expected to end up like this: Living with the guilt that despite what I know, some people can't be saved..." Dominic let out a heaving sigh as he looked out into the trees, silent memories playing in his head before turning back to Clementine, a puzzled gaze frozen upon her face. "In the end, all I can do is carry on like nothing ever happened."
She looked up at him, whispering softly, "How do you do that?"
He laid his head against the door, taking in a deep breath before muttering the cursed words, "You forget."