The argument in the yard was finally starting to die down. Clementine, with the help of Louis, had managed to talk Marlon down.
"Just let me leave. You'll never have to see me again,"
Marlon pleaded to everyone as he slowly took a step towards Clementine.
"Just let me become... a bad memory. Just give me that.. Please.."
He continued, sounding lost.. like he had no fight left in him anymore. Clementine thought about it. She had a hard choice to make.. But she already how they would be doing this. They'd let Marlon stay, just not as a leader, and give him a chance to atone for something he'd done out of fear.
Clementine said as Marlon stood next to her looking almost helpless and just.. waiting. Everyone else waited, too. Even Rosie was silent. And then... the silence was interrupted with a loud bang, that of a gun. And as Marlon fell down on the ground in pain in front of the others and revealed AJ was holding the gun, that he was the one to pull the trigger, everyone looked.. shocked, horrified. They looked at AJ, unable to believe what he'd just done.
"What.. the hell, dude?!"
Louis was the first one to yell, giving a frustrated and scared look to the kid. And in the middle of all that once more started panic everyone stared at Marlon, already thinking for a moment that he was dead, and in the background they could hear Rosie's angry barking change into a whimper as she forcefully pulled herself free from her leash and ran straight to Marlon, indicating that he was actually still alive. But he was in a really bad place.
Eventually, after getting over the initial shock, Ruby stepped up to take charge.
"Okay, someone help me with this! Someone go get something we can use to try and patch him up!"
Ruby said and Willy ran off.
"And.. whoever's able should help me carry him inside. We'll take him to the admin building."
As they worked together to get Marlon inside, Clementine, now looking pale, turned to AJ who was still holding the gun, standing next to a pool of blood.
"AJ. We need to talk,"
Clementine said in a serious tone.
AJ said with a quiet sigh. The last thing the two of them heard before entering the dorms was Marlon groaning in pain, Rosie whimpering and Louis yelling:
"Fuck... Kid shot him right in the stomach..!"
As Clementine and AJ entered their room and she closed the door behind them, a lot of thoughts kept running through her mind. The same scene of Marlon getting shot and then falling on the ground right next to her kept playing in front of his eyes again and again. Like a play or movie that she had no control over. She couldn't do anything to stop it or change its course.
she said shakily as she sat down on her bed.
"Why did you do it?"
It was a serious question and had to be asked.
"I.. I don't know.."
AJ said back, the gun now resting next to him on his own bed.
"I just.. I was scared. Marlon was so angry. I.. I thought he was going to kill you."
"I.. I know, but.. AJ. Listen. It looked really bad, but Louis helped me talk him down. And when you shot at him, he was no longer a threat to us. He understood that he'd done a lot of things wrong. And we were going to help him make it up to everyone. We.. still are. If he lives through this,"
Clementine then tried to explain calmly, while constantly keeping an eye on AJ.
"Did I do it bad?"
the kid asked.
"Yes, AJ.. I understand why you did it, but it wasn't right. If Marlon survives this, we really have to show him that we can still be trusted.. and to make sure that nothing like this happens ever again. We always try to talk things through first. Gun is always the last resort. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Clem.. Yes, I do.."
AJ responded to her and finally properly looked at her.
"There was so much blood.. Some of it's on you, too.."
he then pointed out, causing Clementine to sigh once more.
"I know.. I was standing right next to Marlon. He seemed to be in a really bad way.."
"Are they going to kill me now, Clem?"
AJ then surprised Clementine with his next question.
"What? No. No one's going to kill anyone. There's gotta be another way to solve this. And there is. We just--"
Clementine cut her sentence midway as they both heard a faint knock on the door. It opened and Tenn stepped inside.
he briefly said and looked at both Clementine and AJ. Then he spoke again, pointing his next words to Clementine.
"Vi asked me to come and get you.. To go see Ruby. I think she might need some help with Marlon. Or maybe she just wants to talk. Anyway, I came here to keep AJ some company while you're gone."
"Thanks, Tenn, that's really thoughtful of you.."
Clementine said, smiled apologetically before standing up and leaving the room, leaving Tenn and AJ by themselves. She soon stepped out of the dorms and briefly stopped outside to look at the spot where Marlon had collapsed, and then continued her way to the admin building with confused thoughts and a heavy heart.
As Clementine stepped in, she was greeted with a dead silence. The usual sounds of Louis playing his piano were completely absent. Clementine sighed and took a couple deep breaths before continuing forward. Soon she walked up the staircase and was greeted by Ruby who was keeping an eye on Marlon, pretty much like Tenn had said.
"Hey.. How is he?"
Clementine asked as she walked closer.
Ruby said, looking a little distraught.
"I don't know.. I patched him up the best I could, but he's in a lot of pain. I don't know if he'll pull through, yet. There was.. so much blood.."
she continued, turning back to Marlon.
"Is he awake?"
"More or less. I haven't heard him say anything, yet. If we don't count his painful, occasional whimpering. He's got a fever, too. This.. this is so messed up, Clementine.."
"I know.. I.. I'm sorry about all of this."
"Why'd you let him do it?"
Louis asked in a muffled tone. He was sitting in the staircase not too far from where Marlon was being treated, and just.. sat there holding his head. Had been ever since they brought Marlon in. Clementine turned away from Ruby and Marlon to go sit next to Louis. All the time she was expecting him to stand up and walk away, or at least look the other way. But to her surprise, he stayed.
"I.. I didn't want to. I never wanted him to shoot anyone. And it all just.. it seemed to happen all so fast. Louis.. I'm not defending AJ's actions,"
Clementine said as sincerely as she ever could, and Louis turned to get that first actual good look at her. He seemed to be hesitating.
"I.. I know.."
he then said in a quiet tone. He briefly froze when Clementine touched his arm.
"But everything's just.. so fucked up, Clementine.. I.. I know that Marlon did some things I never thought he'd be capable of doing. You were right.. he did lie to my face all this time. And I was mad.. so mad, I still am. I don't know who I'm more mad at, Marlon or AJ. Maybe.. both of them. I was mad at you, too. But.. he's still alive, and.. Clementine, I don't know! I've never had to deal with anything like this before,"
Louis continued while Clementine quietly listened to him without interrupting. Only once Louis had stopped talking, she spoke again.
"I know, Louis.. I know. It's okay, you don't have to say anything more.. I understand why you feel the way you do. Breathe.. Take a deep breath and hold it in. Everything will turn out to be better."
Louis did as Clementine gently instructed him to do, and his breathing calmed down.
"Thank you, Clementine.. Again. For.. listening to me and trying to be the voice of reason. It's.. good that you're around."
Their much needed chat came to a brief halt when they heard Ruby call out for them. Both Clementine and Louis turned to look in her direction.
"Hey, Clementine, can you go get Rosie? She's outside. Marlon is asking for her."
Clementine said right away and stood up. Louis followed her example.
"I'll come too,"
he said as they walked down the stairs.
"I need some air."
Soon they got outside and saw Rosie right away. She was in her usual spot right by the stairs, but she seemed really distressed. As Louis and Clementine walked to her, they both fixated their eyes to the red splatter of blood in the ground a little ways away from them.
Clementine heard Louis say, and reached out to softly touch his arm.
"It'll be okay.."
she whispered to him. Louis took a few deep breaths, nodded and said:
"...I know. Thanks, Clem.."
Clementine said and smiled.
"Now.. let's get Rosie,"
she added and finally moved closer to her. She still felt a little nervous being around the dog, but after she and Rosie had learned to know each other earlier in Marlon's office she was a little more relaxed. So she proceeded to whistle at the dog, which caused Rosie to perk up and turn to look at Clementine.
"Rosie, come on, girl, Marlon wants to see you,"
she said to Rosie. And as soon as Rosie heard Marlon's name, she stood up and very carefully wagged her little tail. She let out a quiet whine.
"Shh.. it's alright, Rosie.. Let's go."
Rosie turned, walked up the steps and followed Louis and Clementine inside. As the doors closed behind them, Rosie's careful and slow pace became a little faster. Soon she passed Clementine and Louis and continued up the staircase on her own. It was like she knew where her dear owner was. Louis and Clementine looked at each other and then at the dog again. There was no way to stop Rosie to keep her from being with Marlon. After all, she had spent this whole time crying right outside the admin building.
"Let's.. give them a moment.."
Clementine quietly said to Louis and so they decided to hang back.
"Hey.. Hey, Rosie..."
they soon heard Marlon speak in a quiet, still clearly painful voice. It soon got followed by Rosie's worried but affectionate whimpering.
"Shit.. I never understood she was so worried about him.."
Louis basically whispered to Clementine. She just nodded in agreement.
"I.. I missed you, girl.."
Marlon continued and judging by his sudden, yet weak laughing Rosie was licking his face. But soon the laughter was interrupted with a quiet groan of pain. Rosie whimpered again and very, very carefully rested her head on Marlon's chest.
Some days later Marlon was back on his feet despite Ruby's wishes that he would stay still for at least a few more days. But even though he was still feeling pain, he'd gotten sort of sick of doing nothing. But no matter what, he was still wise enough to at least take the small steps and not do too much too soon. And Rosie was keeping an eye on him, following him like a shadow and not let him take a step without her around. After the whole incident and Marlon getting hurt Rosie had become even more protective of him and never left his side. The recovery was slow and painful but Rosie was there to stay forever by her dear owner's side. Marlon's movement was slow, far from his usual pace. But still he tried to convince himself that it was better to try and walk around than just stay still. At least that way he had a chance to do something, and focus on it. But he couldn't make the pain just go away. It came in waves and usually didn't give him much of a warning. It didn't do so this time, either. And as Marlon stopped and briefly collapsed, Rosie was there with him faster than anyone else could have been. The dog whimpered and very carefully placed her head under Marlon's arm to try and support him the best she could.
"Rosie.. thank you, girl.."
Marlon said, clutching his stomach. Rosie's whimpering grew louder. She was a very good girl. And right now she was really worried, too.
"I'm.. I'm alright, don't worry.."
Marlon continued, trying his best to calm her dog down. But she wasn't really buying it. And neither was someone else.
"Dude, did you sneak out or something?"
Louis asked, jogging closer. Rosie turned to look at him and whined.
"I know.. See, even Rosie knows what's going on. She knows that you shouldn't still be walking around. Come on, I'll help you,"
he continued and walked to Marlon's side. Rosie was still standing on the other side. Soon Louis very carefully lifted Marlon back on his feet and after doing so, Rosie parked herself exactly next to Marlon. She wasn't going anywhere. Right then and there, Marlon didn't say much. It could be that he was still feeling really, really sorry for everything that happened in the basement that night.
"Stop acting so tough,"
Louis then broke the silence. Marlon barely looked at him, but it didn't stop Louis.
"You know, it's alright to show weakness. In fact, I don't think I've ever before seen you so vulnerable like you were that night. Right before.. AJ did whatever he did. And when it happened.. we were just all so scared."
Louis took a reassuring breath before he continued talking.
"I was scared that you were going to die."
He was going to say something else, too, but then Marlon cut him off.
"Maybe it would have been better."
"Dude, don't ever say that,"
Louis was quick to interrupt before this type of conversation advanced any further. But Marlon shook his head.
"Lou.. if I ever say something anymore, just let me say this. You could've at least kicked me out, I wouldn't have held a grudge. I lied to you for such a long time. I let you all down.."
he said, sounding a little down. Louis carefully pat his back and then decided to say:
"I'm not sure if you knew this already.. But it was Clementine's call to let you stay with us.. but we also chose a new leader. Whatever you did.. it's pretty fucked up. But you're still my friend, almost like my brother. That hasn't changed."
Louis gave Marlon a genuine smile, and he tried to smile back the best he could. While they were talking, they'd made it back to the admin building's stairs and Louis, thinking that Marlon could use a little break, helped him sit down before sitting right next to him. Rosie laid down close to them.
"Who's in charge here now?"
Marlon then decided to ask, now looking at his friend.
"Oh, right, you don't know it yet. We chose Violet to.. to take your position,"
Louis said carefully, sounding a little hesitant.
"You know.. good for her. Surely she'll be able to run this place better than I did,"
Marlon reassured him and giving his approval to Violet.
"Marlon.. Dude, you kept us going for so long and always gave us courage. You kept the fight alive in all of us, no matter the price you had to pay for it. It sucks that it all ended like this,"
Louis said, wanting to get at least some weight off his chest.
"And.. I know I left you to deal with all the tough decisions and the sleepless nights. I could've done so much more to help you, but I just chose to close my eyes from it all."
Now it was Louis who sounded guilty.
"You did your own thing and did whatever you felt like was the right thing to do,"
Marlon reassured him.
On the other side of the yard Violet was having her own chat with Clementine.
"Looks like the guys are bonding again,"
she said to Clem as she sat down next to her. Clementine nodded.
"They sure are. And it's good that they're doing so.. it's good for both of them to clear the air."
"Yeah.. You're right,"
Violet said and sighed. Clementine looked at her.
"You alright, Vi?"
"Yeah.. more or less. Still fighting my own battle.. to get over the truth about what happened to the twins. Someone should have guessed something. And if at least some of us would've been wise enough to ask some questions, maybe none of this fucked up shit would never have happened. It's.. it's just so stupid.."
Violet said and Clementine looked at her feeling some sympathy.
"I understand how you feel. But we'll all make it through this together,"
she said and then decided to change the subject.
"So.. how's leadership treating you?"
Violet accepted the new topic and chuckled briefly.
"I'm getting used to it. Despite what he did, Marlon did leave some big shoes for me to fill.."
"Well.. I think that you're doing really good,"
Clementine praised Violet.
"So does everyone else. You're like a natural born leader. Headstrong and determined."
"Now you're just flattering me, Clem.."
Vi pointed out.
"Thanks, though. It.. it feels good to hear it."
Violet turned to look at Clem and gave her a small but genuine smile.
"It's been a crazy year.."
"But.. as much as it sucked at first, it kind of feels relieving to know what really happened. With the twins, and with Marlon.. I really hope that from now on things will be better,"
she said, telling her wish to Clementine. And she had just the right thing to say to Violet.
"They will. We'll learn to work better together. Everyone and everything will be alright."