"So then, me an' Keith went up top o' the mall and dropped water balloons on the peoples down below us on the bottom floor. It was real funny like, 'cause none of 'em even looked up or nothing'…"

Nick grit his teeth and blasted a hole through the stomach of one unfortunate zombie as Ellis prattled on and on about the 'misadventures of him and his friend Keith'. It felt like the seventy millionth story Nick had heard in just one day. All the boy ever talked about was him and Keith, and the wacky if not retarded things they did together.

The first few stories had been amusing. The next load still funny if not a little tedious, and the rest of them - they kept coming, a bit like the horde- were just succeeding in driving him absolutely ape shit.

He felt a little comforted by the fact that he wasn't the only one going nuts. Just a look on Rochelle's face told it all - and Coach, well…it wasn't as obvious but it was there. He guessed the big man just had more patience than they did. Lucky bastard.

Quite a few times, Nick had seriously considered shooting Ellis. He could pass it off as an accident; misfire in the heat of battling the horde. Or maybe shove him off a cliff somewhere, pretend that he fell. It wasn't past him. But Ellis seemed like a good, nice kid; not like the majority of the youth nowadays. Although most of them were infected now... His only flaw, obviously, was that he never shut up. If he was a little quieter, he'd be perfect.

But hey, Nick was never going to be that lucky. He'd be damned first.

The group successfully made it past the big road block, fighting off a horde at the same time, and reached the safe room ahead. Nick heaved a sigh as he slammed the door shut; reprieve. Finally. He could sit down and rest, reload his gun without worrying about what the hell was over his shoulder, and just relax for a bit.

"And there was this one time where me an' Keith were chased by this guy after Keith went up and yelled to him, 'Hey mister, you dropped your gay card!' and then we had to run 'cause he was reeeeeaaaaaal mad…"

Nick groaned. It was going to be a very long day.

They had to get him cola? Cola?

It was a joke. It had to be.

"Look, sonny, you run across to that store over there an' get me some cola and I swear to you I'll take care o' that truck blockin' your way; otherwise, you can put those fuckin' guns back you stole or I'll shoot your asses."

No. It wasn't a joke.

"All right, we'll get yo damn cola," Coach's gruff voice confirmed, "you betta' not go back on yo word."

"We're actually doing what this guy says?" Nick said incredulously. Coach was heading to the opposite store. Rochelle and Ellis were following him. Yep, they were doing what he said.

"You heard him, he'll get rid of that truck if we do." Rochelle reasoned when Nick caught up.

"What the - why don't we just climb over it?" Nick said. He couldn't believe this.

"Because it's too difficult. Not all of us are acrobats. Besides, we did steal his guns."

"So? He isn't gonna use all of them! And money's got no damn value now!"

"Just shut the hell up and move it, Nick," Coach commanded.

"Hehe, yeah Nick," Ellis chuckled.

Nick glared at him. Look who was talking. Coach gave him a meaningful look and Nick respectively kept his mouth shut…though he didn't like it.

They crossed into the store with no complications, Nick's finger tight on the trigger of his shotgun just in case.

"Cola's always at the back in the refrigerated section," Coach said, "lets go."

"Oh, oh, I gots me a funny story about cola. This one time, me an' Keith decided to shake up a whole bunch, jus' to see what would happen, an' -" Ellis started.

Nick's eye twitched. No. No….not another one. He couldn't listen to another Goddamned story about Ellis and Keith doing stupid shit for fun. He'd heard a lifetime's worth of those. No fucking more. It was worse than hearing the infected's noises.

Something inside him snapped.

"Dear God, would you just shut the fuck up already?" he yelled in frustration. Ellis jumped and looked at him with wide, startled blue eyes. Rochelle froze; Coach paused but kept going for the cola. "Jesus H. Christ, like we haven't heard enough of your stupid stories! Don't you ever quit?"

"I…I didn't realise I was pissin' y'all off…" Ellis mumbled.

"Yeah, you are. Your Goddamned annoying voice is driving me insane!" Nick continued, gaining momentum in his rage.

"Sorry…I'll be quiet from now on…" Ellis said meekly.

"You'd better! Because if you don't, I swear, infected or not, I'm shooting you."

Ellis didn't get a chance to reply; Coach pulled the cola from the freezer and ultimately set off the security alarm in the store. The shrill ringing pierced the survivors' ears, and not a second later the familiar cry of the horde was heard.

"Shit!" Coach cursed, carrying the load of drink in his arms, "we gotta move!"

Loading their guns, they sprung into action, racing from the store to get back to the gun shop owner and deliver his load.

The horde came from all directions as the sprinted back; Nick unloaded his shells into a group coming towards him, Rochelle and Ellis doing the same whilst Coach fended the infected off the best he could with a pistol, one arm holding the drink.

"Shit! Smoker's got me!" Ellis suddenly yelled and Nick turned to see him being dragged away by a putrid pink tongue.

"Hold on!" he shouted and pushed through infected after infected to reach Ellis and shoot the tongue off him.

Ellis didn't say a word to Nick once he was freed, he simply ran back into the action. Nick blinked. Maybe his words had actually gotten through to the kid.

After the last infected was felled, Coach and Ellis headed up the stairs to hand the gun shop owner his cola. Nick and Rochelle stayed behind to watch their backs.

"You didn't need to do that you know," Rochelle said pointedly to him as he scanned the area.

"Do what?" he asked half heartedly.

"Yell at Ellis like that. It was completely unnecessary." She sounded disapproving.

"Are you kidding me? He was pissing you off just as much as me!" Nick exclaimed.

"Sure he was, but maybe all that talking is just his way of coping with all this shit. You ever thought about that?" she told him. She wasn't looking at him.

"Uh…" she had a point, Nick conceded. He hadn't thought about it like that; he'd just figured Ellis was annoying as Hell. Maybe she was right. Maybe it was Ellis' way of coping.

A rocket streaked through the air suddenly, sapping Nick's attention; he had to grip the railing of the stairs as the ground shook when it made contact with the truck, blowing it to smithereens.

"I didn't think so," Rochelle said quietly to him and headed down the stairs. Ellis and Coach were heading their way.

Nick sighed and lumbered down the stairs. He had to bite his lip when he glanced at Ellis; his face was set in a sombre expression and he was silently reloading his gun.

Rochelle glared at Nick, and Coach simply ignored him. Ellis didn't say a word.

Great. Now he felt guilty. Fantastic.

He honestly hadn't thought Ellis would be this quiet.

He hadn't said a single thing for hours. Not a word. Nothing. Nick had to keep checking to see if he was still there with them.

He hadn't spoken during their raid through the Mall, not when they were fighting through the horde and collecting gas to fill up the display racing car to drive away, or during the long and subsequently awkward ride to what they all hoped would be freedom. He was even driving the car. Nick would have thought he'd have said something; after all, Ellis was a mechanic and loved racing cars. He should have gotten out of his (chastened?) state and gushed about how great it was to be driving the car, or something about what he and Keith might have done in a similar car, or something.

But he was silent.

In all truth…it was unnerving Nick. Sure, the "peace" was great at first. No stupid stories or annoying voice insulting his ear drums, he could listen to the quiet, the wind, and the shrieks, screams and possible vomiting of the infected without any interference. But the silence stretched on. And on. And on.

Coach and Rochelle weren't very talkative, and to be honest neither was he (the situation hardly called for it) but…ironically the silence was starting to drive him crazy. Batshit crazy. The kind of crazy that made him want to tear his hair out. Not the kind that made him want to shoot Ellis. That was continentally different it seemed.

He kept expecting the silence to be broken by the boy with his ridiculously cheery tone and stupid stories and all the other shit that came with him. It wasn't. It seemed he'd done a real number on Ellis…and it sucked.

It had taken the drastic, awkward and never ending silence for Nick to realise how much Ellis really gave them all personality and kept it lively between them. Even if he was annoying.

After so long of nothing, annoying sounded like paradise right then.

Silence and infected noises were a lot worse than Ellis' stories, it seemed. Waaaaay worse. And Nick had found out the hard way.

He was, of course, well aware of the gigantic about-face he'd made, too.

He sighed for the umpteenth time and shifted on the back leather seat; Rochelle next to him staring out the window, probably into space. Coach in the front seat, unloading and reloading his gun.

That was it. He couldn't take anymore.

"Hey, Ellis?" he said, breaking the silence in the car.

"…mm?" came the hesitant reply from the boy.

"Have you, uh…" he couldn't believe he was about to say the words, "have you and Keith ever done anything crazy in a car like this?"

The rear-view mirror allowed him to see Ellis' face; it was schooled with surprise as he stared at the road ahead.

"I thought you didn't want me to talk no more?" he said sullenly.

"Changed my mind." Nick said. Ellis didn't look as though he were going to say anything. "Come on…you've gotta have a story." Nick pushed and leaned forward to poke Ellis in the shoulder.

"Well, there was this one time…" Ellis began reluctantly but grew more animated as he spoke, "Keith and me got into this display vehicle at Toyota's unveilin' an' Keith started the car, not realisin' that it was full o' gas, and…"

Nick leaned back in his seat and grinned. Rochelle turned her head and smiled warmly at him and he heard Coach chuckle as Ellis talked on.

There. That was more like it.