Ballad of the Broken
By: Mahiri Chuma
Rating: T
Disclaimer: I don't own anything related to L4D2 – it all belongs to Vault – if it belonged to me I would have added more cut scenes … seriously.
A/N: Put this in with Rivolta as I decided I want to keep them all in one place – so in reality, not really a new chapter – just reformatting a bit. Sorry for any confusion, I want my L4D fics in one place.

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Rivolta Silenziosa:
Ballad of the Broken

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"Well goddamn! Would y' look at that!" Ellis couldn't help himself as he traipsed though the stinking swamp, his boots thick with mud and his socks uncomfortably soggy.

"Would you keep it down! As if we didn't just fight off an entire hoard only moments before – are you trying to get us killed? Never mind, don't answer that …" Nick's voice seemed to trail off as he approached the hulking frame of a downed commercial aircraft.

He had never seen one up close let alone ridden in one. As he approached he let out a low whistle, pulling off his hat and scrubbing his hair before placing it back on his head.

"Boy, you get yo' fool ass back here, or so help me Lord, so help me!"

Rochelle came up behind Coach as he waded through the ankle deep water, stopping to rub his aching right knee.

"That boy," he huffed breathlessly, "That boy is gon' get himself killed."

"You alright, Coach?" She watched with concern as the older man stood erect, his hands on his hips as he caught his breath. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Nick, his white suit a beacon amongst the swampy earth tones, making his way towards Ellis – no doubt to keep an eye of the rambunctious southerner.

"Yeah, yeah I'm alright. Just bone tired and my knee 's acting up again." Rochelle patted the man's shoulder and waited for him to regain his bearings.

"Here, let me help you." She reached for the first aid kit he was carrying and he relinquished it without a word, happy to lose the weight for a moment. He was a strong man, no doubt, but when his joints started acting up, the extra weight became a nuisance.

"Thanks, girl. If anyone's got my back, and Lord knows I wonder, it's you."

They walked together towards the wrecked 747 where Ellis was crawling into the exposed cabin. Nick stood at the nose of the plane; he let out a loud curse as he hit a sinkhole, the water suddenly at knee level.

"Son of a bitch!" He stepped back towards the more shallow area, squeezing the fabric around his knees and scowling at the green fluid that dribbled down his legs.

"Mother of a whore! There better be a damned dry cleaners in New Orleans and he better be open, apocalypse or not."

Ellis' muffled laughter could be heard from within the cabin; he couldn't help but enjoy seeing the gambler's precious suit become victim of abuse, the damn thing was so ridiculous anyways.

"That's what y' get for wearin' white, Nick. 'S like, well shit, 's like wearin' white to a funeral."

"It's like wearing white to a fucking zombie apocalypse, that's what it's like." Coach added as he approached the wing of the plane.

Nick trudged over towards Coach, the water sloshing up to his knees continuing to stain the light, absorbent material – if he ever saw a swamp again it would be too soon.

"I've got more damn class in my lapel than you two have in your entire wardrobes, what, between Coach's gym short collection and the kid's free T-Shirt cannon shirts."

Ellis, seated comfortably in a blue seat marked 13A, looked up from the safety pamphlet he found on the cabin floor and shook his head in protest.

"Free? Naw, this cost me five whole dollars."

"Point made. Try a couple grand, kid." Nick hoisted himself up into the cabin and knelt over what looked to be a food cart wedged tightly between the cockpit door and the bathroom wall.

"A couple grand? There ain't much I'd spend that kinda money on, 'specially not some white suit."

Rochelle rolled her eyes as she listened to the exchange from the aircraft's wing. Their mindless banter didn't bother her, the exact opposite actually; rare moments like this were welcome; a reminder of what 'normal' had been. The only time she objected seemed to be during those all too common moments where they were fighting for their lives; not unreasonable, she figured.

"Well," she interrupted their conversation, "If you two girls are finished talking about clothing and shopping, I'd say we should get a move on."

Coach grunted in response as he dried his pistol on his shirt – their weapons would be no good to them waterlogged.

"Aww, c'mon, Ro'! I ain't never been in a plane before, look, they've got TVs in the seats … in the seats, Ro'!"

"You've never been on a plane, Ellis?" Rochelle asked, intrigued by the idea – her job and just life in general had required her to fly far too often; she couldn't imagine never having flown before.

"Naw, don' got anywhere to go." She nodded, pleased by the pure logic in the answer.

"Oh yeah," the three survivors looked over at Nick as he popped the door off the food cart, "Looks like we're having a feast tonight."

"Yeah, what you got in there?" Coach's interest had been piqued and he took a few steps forward hoping to catch a glimpse of the bounty within the silver crate.

"Sorry, no chocolate but I hope you like peanuts – time to catch up on our protein." Coach's expression fell, the man clearly displeased with the find. Still, he tucked the pack of nuts Nick tossed him into his pocket, comforted by the prospect of some sort of nutrition.

Nick tossed a few packs to Rochelle and then to Ellis who thanked him but then tossed them back.

"Y' got anythin' else in there? 'M allergic." Nick grunted as though the fact was some sort of great annoyance.

"Not a good time to be picky."

"I ain't picky. Like I said, I'm al-err-gicc." He emphasized the word hoping to get the point across, his accent thick.

Nick shook his head and continued to search the compartments, picking his way through old, decaying meals and open soda cans. He was almost uncomfortable with how much he was coming to know about his fellow survivors – truth be told he hadn't planned on sticking around this long. The last thing he wanted to know was the fact that Coach had four pins in his knee or that Rochelle hated snakes but didn't mind spiders or, the newest fact, that Ellis was allergic to peanuts.

They were all getting dangerously close, in his opinion.

Nick continued his rummaging and came up with two cans of unopened soda – one a Coca Cola, the other a Sprite – a bag of pretzels and a small bottle of vodka. He tucked the latter in his pocket and tossed the bag of pretzels to the southern man still lounging in the plane seat.

"Thank ya' kindly." Nick grunted in response.

"Man," Rochelle was licking her salt covered fingers, having devoured one of the packs of peanuts, "I hate to bring up painful memories but I would kill for a cheeseburger right about now."

"Ooh, yeah," Ellis nearly shivered in delight as his mind wandered to food, "myself, I'd kill for some grits … some sweet tea, mmm-yeah. What about you, Coach?"

Coach had taken a seat towards the front of a plane, sitting sideways towards the gaping whole in the plane's side. He leaned back and licked his lips.

"My wife's pot roast. Never met a better cook in my life and I never will in the future neither."

Nick popped open one of the soda cans, taking a long sip before handing the can to Ellis. He handed the other to Rochelle who proceeded to share with Coach. The carbonated sugar syrup was like a shock to the system; his body immediately felt the sudden introduction of the beverage and he felt both invigorated and shaky at the same time.

Rochelle let out a small burp, not bothering to excuse herself.

"What about you, Nick?" she asked while Coach crushed the can before tossing I over his shoulder.

"Open Bar." He said with little need to ponder and reflect upon the question.

"Sorry to break it to you, but that ain't food." Ellis was now searching underneath the seats on his hands and knees.

"All the sustenance I need." Nick offered while he crawled over the food cart and into what was left of the cockpit.

"C'mon, Nick! Humor the boy." Rochelle laughed slightly, the soda having done wonders for her system – she only regretted the sugar crash that would come.

"Fine. Las Vegas style buffet," Nick paused to think, his hand in the dead pilot's shirt pocket, "That and an Open Bar."

"That don't count, that's like sayin'-" Coach sighed as Ellis continued to draw out the long due to end conversation.

"Son, that's as good an answer as your gonna get, so quit while your behind."

Ellis seemed to accept the fact and continued to check the seats. He dug through a few bags and had come up empty. He reached for a small, houndstooth purse and grinned as he herd the familiar rattle of a pill bottle.

"Hell yeah!" He pulled the purse open and to his surprise found two bottles, he squinted and read the labels out loud, "Well looks like we've got ourselves some Amoxicillin and Hydrocodone – looks like our lucky day."

"Your tellin' me, Overalls." Nick lifted a victorious hand, a bright orange flare gun his bounty. It wasn't the perfect weapon but it would no doubt serve some sort of purpose in their future. They had all become mini-McGyvers – a rubber band was a tourniquet, a number two pencil a weapon, an old acoustic kindling, and so on – Nick figured he would qualify for the Seals once this shit storm ended.

"Let's see what else we can salvage, but then we need to get going, as fun as this rest stop has been." Rochelle joined the two men in the cabin and began her search. She spotted another bag of pretzels and tucked it in her pocket – it was like some sort of morbid treasure hunt.

It was all sort of disturbing, but the thing that was the most unsettling was the complete lack of bodies – save the heavily decayed pilot. Whatever had been out here when this plane went down sure got to the passengers bodies fast. There was blood staining the seats and every so often her foot would graze what look like bone, but otherwise it was eerily lacking in gore.

"Ya'll find anything else? I'm sick of standing in this swamp water." Coach groaned as he watched the younger survivors scour the plane. The last thing he wanted was trench foot.

"Found some paddles." Coach watched as Ellis pried the defibrillator kit off the wall.

"I doubt that'd do much good – if you're that dead, you stayin' that way." Coach snorted. Ellis shrugged and threw it over his shoulder anyway.

"I found a few more packs of pretzels and peanuts." Rochelle offered. Nick shook his head; he hadn't found anything else of real use in the cockpit.

"Alright then, let's get the hell out of here." Rochelle went to exit the plane when Nick stopped her.

"I don't think so," Rochelle gave him a confused look while Coach continued on, clearly ignoring Nick's protest.

"Suit yourself. There's a sinkhole surrounding this thing and I have no idea how deep it is."

Rochelle and Coach shared a collective sigh.

"A sinkhole? Oh man, this reminds me of this one time when Keith and me went down to the Everglades to visit his cousin, we commandeered a swamp boat and Keith, well he ain't never driven one before and –"

"Ellis, hon," Rochelle resisted the urge to massage her temples while Nick looked as though he were near strangling the poor boy, "If we can't go around it Nick, what do you propose we do?"

Nick pointed over at the emergency exit on the plane's right side.

"Easy, we pop the door open and walk out on the wing. It ain't rocket science." He said, mocking Ellis' accent. Nick wandered over towards the edge of the gaping hole and offered a hand to Coach.

"Need a hand old man." Coach gave him a sour look but accepted the man's hand, his knee groaning as he lifted himself up.

"Alright, let's do this." Ellis said as he approached the door. He pulled against the red lever, his muscular arms straining against the rust encrusted steel. Eventually it gave and Ellis pushed, watching as the door fell outwards and off the wing onto the ground.

For a moment there was silence and it seemed they would be able to go on their merry way.

Any hope at an easy out was quickly destroyed, however, as an ear piercing alarm began to sound, startling the survivors, all of who lifted their guns.

"Aw, Shi-it." Ellis hissed, well aware of what noises like that ultimately meant.

"Ellis, you dumb piece of shit – what the hell'd you do?" Ellis whipped around, his shotgun at the ready.

"You're the one who told me t' open it!" he defended himself. They all stood nervously, ready for an onslaught. "Y' didn't say nothin' 'bout an alarm."

"You're the mechanic, genius –" Nick was shushed, Rochelle putting a quaking finger up to her lips.

"Shhh! Listen."

The alarm rang loudly, echoing through the swamp with a cacophony akin to those of air raid sirens. Nothing but the siren and the shuffling of the survivor's feet and their heaving breathing could be heard. The swamp toads had gone silent, as had the near constant churning of the water.

They listened and for a moment it seemed as though they were safe.

Then came a groan … then a scream, and soon after that the sounds of sloshing and grunting and choking.

Ellis lurched forward suddenly as an undead jumped through the open hatch and into his turned back. He grunted as he lost his footing and whipped around to deliver a quick head shot.

All chaos broke loose.

Ellis had turned around to face the undead that had quickly clambered onto the plane's wing, trying to force their way inside through the small opening. They clawed at the door only to be blown away by the shotgun round, the bullets scattering and hitting multiple zombies as they grouped together.

"Just like fish in a barrel!" he couldn't help but shout despite the fact that his comment had fallen on deaf ears.

He felt something whizz by his head and shortly after that, the splattering of something cool on the back of his neck.

He could only hope that the other three were watching his entirely vulnerable back. He could hear the puttering of an automatic, the growls of a chainsaw and the quick pop of a pistol – he would just have to trust that unusual orchestra.

While Ellis covered the door Nick, Rochelle and Coach had their hands full with the horde that was coming from all directions.

"Jesus fucking Christ!" Nick shouted as he hurried to reload the automatic cartridge, slamming the butt of the gun into the face of an infected as it took advantage of his vulnerable position. "Jethro here just had to trip that god damned alarm. Kid said he was a mechanic!"

Ellis, having somehow heard the insult, shouted back to the blood splattered man in the white suit.

"I told you, a car mechanic!"

Nick ignored the response and grabbed at one of the infected that was attempting to pull an already engaged Rochelle into the swamp waters.

Rochelle kicked at the hideous creature; it's facial bones crunching under her boot, as she unloaded her rounds liberally into the heads of the groping undead. She flinched as she felt fingernails dig into her skin and she turned, just in time to push the thing off her before it bit into her flesh.

In front of her Coach was hacking away at limbs and necks with a roaring chainsaw.

"I fucking hate flying and I ain't dying in a goddamned plane!" He shouted as he worked furiously to dispose of the seemingly endless horde. Coach stumbled as the ground moved slightly below him, but he was unaware of the danger before Nick's voice rang out above the siren and the desire of the zombies.

"TANK! Coach get your ass down!"

Coach turned to his right, the bellowing of the Tank now clear and frightening. He turned, deciding it was better to face it than to attempt dodging it – where would he go anyway?

The chainsaw sputtered and he hoped it would last just two more seconds. As the beast roared his feet fell from under him, He went down hard, his bad knee shooting blinding pain as his forehead bounced off the carpeted ground. He opened his eyes just in time to see a massive foot fall a mere inch from his face, the beast leaping over him and catapulting himself –

– right into the unprotected back of Ellis.

There was a sickening crunch as the hulking brutes weight crashed into Ellis' body and they both flew out of the emergency door, disappearing from view.

"Shit …"

"Ellis!"

There was no time to worry, however, as the undead continued to flood the cabin. Coach ditched the chainsaw, now sputtering to a stall, and grasped the fallen combat rifle unleashing a powerful round into the zombie standing above him.

"Cover me." Nick said to no one as he made his way for the door Ellis had disappeared into. Rochelle followed him, shooting zombies as she moved, noticing with miniscule relief that the masses were beginning to thin.

She watched Nick climb out the door. She caught a glimpse of the hulking tank but no Ellis. Her stomach churned in worry but she forced herself to turn back to the monsters before her.

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Ellis lay on his stomach completely breathless. He felt like he had just been hit by a bus – no, a tank was more appropriate.

He waited for his breath to come back to him, his arm curled around his aching ribs; eventually he let out a long suffering cough, the air coming back in strangled gasps. He had no time to recover however as he rolled over only to be grabbed and tossed towards the end of the wing.

He felt something snap and he would have screamed if he could; the pain was blinding. He forced himself onto his back, crawling backwards as he fumbled, trying to focus his rifle on the tank before him.

He shot at it, meat flying from that giant fist. It howled, angry at it's prey. He tried to focus as his head began to throb, he could feel his eye beginning to swell shut and the warm blood on his fingers was making the gun terribly slick.

He shot again and missed. The creature stood over him; the giant arm that now resembled ground meat was raised above the beast's head.

Holy shit, I'm gonna die –

He clenched his good eye shut and waited for the final blow.

It never came.

Instead he heard an enraged shout, one that sounded sort of like Nick, and then came the sound of bullets against flesh. The Tank roared, Nick shouted and then the ground rattled.

He let himself fall back, his chest heaving awkwardly as he loosely held onto his gun.

Nick's face appeared above his but he couldn't hear him; his mouth was moving, sure, but nothing was coming out. He blinked tiredly; how'd he get so tired? He felt something tap his cheek, lightly at first than a little rougher.

His vision began to swirl and he suddenly couldn't remember what was going on.

Nick was the last thing he saw before he passed out, welcoming the warmth of unconsciousness.

xxxxx

Nick watched as the Tank threw the southern man clear across the wing. The kid was obviously in a bad way and probably wouldn't be able to fight much longer. He watched as the Tank's hand exploded; at least he got one shot in.

The next one missed, pinging off the metal behind him.

"Hey, you ugly son of a bitch!" He pulled the trigger of the AK-47 and watched as blood, guts, whatever, spilled from the monster's back. It turned around, enraged and began a slow charge towards the former gambler.

A fine stream of blood ran down into his eye, caking his lids and making it hard to see. He aimed for the Tank's head and pulled the trigger again.

The Tank kept going and abruptly fell inches from his feet, howling in undead agony as it fell.

Nick would never admit it, but had he been a man of a weaker constitution, he would have pissed his pants.

Luckily he wasn't a man of a weaker constitution.

He could hear the sounds of gunfire behind him but it had become far fewer, sounding as though the firefight was coming to an end. Rochelle and Coach could do without him for a moment.

He approached the downed Southerner, leaping over the Tank's body and watched as the man fell backwards, his arms flopping to the side, the rifle still in his grasp.

"Hey, Overalls!" The younger man's chest heaved, each breath sounded painful and unhealthy.

"Ellis! Hey! I don't feel like carrying your ass across this swamp." He tapped the man's face lightly but received no response. Ellis' eyes were slowly glazing, his hold on the conscious world clearly slipping.

"No way in hell, you stay awake … Ellis!" He was beginning to feel the inklings of panic and watched in slight horror as the man's eyes rolled back in his head, unconscious.

"Shit," he shook the man for good measure, hoping that maybe it was just a lapse in consciousness, "Fuck!"

"What? What happened, oh Lord –" Coach came up behind him looked even more ragged than he had before.

Rochelle joined them at the wings tip, her hands on her gun ready to defend them. She didn't like the sounds she was hearing in the distance. This certainly wasn't a good place to pass out.

"We – we can't wait here. There'll be more." She eyed her surroundings and could see a few infected lingering in the fog, it wouldn't be long before they would recapture the attention of the beasts.

"Well what the fuck do you want me to do?" Nick spat; he didn't regret the harshness of his words. What the fuck was he supposed to do? They couldn't carry the kid's dead weight very far, not with Coach about to pass out himself and there was no way Nick could do it alone.

Rochelle slung the first aid kit she had relinquished from Coach from her shoulder and began to rummage through it.

"Anything?" Coach asked as he peered inside. There was an ACE bandage and a dirty four-by-four, underneath that he spotted what looked to be some sort of medical tape. He sighed as Rochelle shook her head solemnly.

"Nothing. We got to wake up him, it can't be much further." She knelt down, taking in his battered face – frowning as she lightly cupped his cheek.

"Ellis, sweetie," He moaned and leaned into her touch but didn't wake up.

"Kid, get your sorry ass up! We're all hurtin' here!" Rochelle glared at the man and slightly shook the southerner's shoulder. He hissed in pain, his eyes shooting open as he moaned.

She pulled her hand back, clearly having just grabbed a tender area and quietly apologized.

"Ellis? Ellis, I'm sorry but you got to get up, we got to go." He opened his eyes, his brow furrowed in confusion and his eyes glossy.

"Go? Where?"

"C'mon son, let's get you up." Ellis was in no shape to be hoisted up and forced to move through the swamp but he had no choice. He winced as Coach and nick grabbed him by the arms. He bit his cheek so hard he could taste blood.

He was breathing heavily and he pitched forward falling into Coach's outstretched arm. Nick watched the color drain from his face and gave Coach a look. If they were going to make him trudge through hell they'd need to give him a minute.

He wavered for a moment before lifting his head, his eye terribly swollen.

"'M sorry…" He said hoarsely.

"It's okay, sweetie, we just got to get goin', okay?" He tried to give Rochelle a small smile but failed; he settled for a weak head nod.

"Coach." Nick gave him a look and handed him his gun before slinging Ellis' arm over his shoulder.

"You owe me big time Overalls. If I get killed because I'm lugging your sorry carcass around." He trailed off, his heart not in the insult.

The stepped off the wing of the plane into the soft ground and began their slow wade through the swamp.

The going was extremely slow as Ellis and Nick staggered together, their footfalls unnecessarily loud. Rochelle would take the occasional pot shot at a zombie that strayed too close.

Nick grimaced as his shoulder began to throb; with each step he seemed to take more and more of Ellis' weight. He was hoping the movement would have helped the younger man gain some awareness but if anything, he was becoming less lucid.

"C'mon, kid. It's not too far." Ellis nodded once again, uncharacteristically quiet.

They trudged on and luck seemed to be with them for the moment; Rochelle's sigh of relief was universally felt as she spotted a silver door touched with red graffiti.

' The End is Extremely Fucking Nigh' was written across the door that was propped open by a rock. It looked as though someone had left will all intent to return – she didn't need to guess the reasons for their absence.

Coach peered inside, his weapon drawn as he scanned the room.

"Okay ya'll, we're good." He allowed Rochelle inside and then assisted Nick, taking Ellis' other arm. The man's body was nearly as limp as a rag doll, they had made it just in time.

"Over here." Rochelle said, her voice trembling slightly as she cleared the metal table attached to the wall. "Put him here."

They hoisted Ellis up, putting him in a sitting position as he mumbled incoherently. Nick kept him from falling backwards while Rochelle and Coach took a look. Rochelle seemed to have a rather good touch when it came to their injuries and Coach had dealt with enough football injuries to tell a break from a sprain.

"That Tank sure did a number on you, boy." He pulled the neck of Ellis' shirt down below the collarbone pulling a face. It was clearly broken, the area swollen and bruised and the bones clearly abnormally set. If he didn't do something it would stay that way or eventually make an uncomfortable external appearance.

"Y' should've gotten out of the fucking way …" He wasn't really angry, more frustrated and somewhat apprehensive about what he would have to do. He didn't like field first-aide, not at all.

"Had m' back turned…."Ellis muttered, his good eye looking at Coach, tired and worn. His face was encrusted with blood making him look even more grim; it matted his hair and made his eye sticky, making it hard to open.

"Lay him down, Nick – gotta set this collarbone." Nick looked unsure but helped Ellis lay down, which was more keeping him from falling on his face.

"You sure about that, Coach?" So far no one in their little rag-tag team had required any sort of injury to be set. They had been stitched up and bandaged; they had all suffered a broken rib or two at some point but there wasn't much you could do for that.

"Do we have any pain pills?" Rochelle asked as she watched Ellis watching them move about the room. Nick had already begun his search, flicking on the dim light in the other room. There were two rooms, three if you counted the closet bathroom and it had been pretty cleaned out by it's previous occupants.

A few provisions lay scattered around, some unopened and the medical kits looked thoroughly ravaged. It wasn't just Ellis that needed medical attention; he had a rather painful gash on his arm that refused to stop bleeding and he was sure there was something wrong with his shoulder – it clicked and cracked with every small movement and was beginning to throb without mercy.

Rochelle had clearly been favoring her right side and he was sure he spotted blood on her shirt. She looked exhausted and had Ellis been better off he was sure she would have promptly collapsed into a deep coma-like sleep as soon as she was able.

He returned sans pills and looked at the younger man on the table with pity.

"Sorry, Coach. The place is pretty cleaned out." Coach nodded grimly and palpated the swollen collarbone. Ellis groaned, awareness more clear in his eyes now that he was allowed to rest. Everything hurt and he honestly couldn't imagine it being worse – the look in Coach's eyes clearly said he was in for it.

"Alright, guess we're doing this." Rochelle watched, grimacing as she watched. Then she remembered something.

"Wait! Remember on the plane, he found some pills – hydrocodone, right?" She patted his pockets down and felt two containers in his left pocket. She pulled them out with a grin and popped the top open, depositing two white pills into her hand.

Ellis suddenly tried to sit up but was pushed back my Coach's hand.

"Think you can choke these down?" Ellis looked up at him murmuring a small "I'm fine".

"Like hell you are, is that why I had to lug you through the asshole of Georgia?"

Rochelle leaned against the table and offered the pills with a dirty water bottle.

"C'mon, El. Just take these, okay?" He continued to insist he was fine even as he took the pills, leaning back after he was done. The water had made him feel a little nauseous and he was suddenly uncomfortably cold.

Nick pulled Rochelle aside, holding a stitching kit in his hand.

"Let's take a look at your side while we wait for the drugs to kick in." It wasn't really a suggestion as he sat her down on a crate. She nodded wearily, lifting her shirt from her skin; she hissed as it stuck to the wound but after a moment she managed to peel it off.

The wound was ugly but relatively clean. It wasn't jagged and looked as though it would heal decently well when stitched.

Nick poured some water over the area and forced his hands to stop shaking as he lifted the pre-threaded needle to her skin. He expected the blood loss was beginning to make him feel a bit faint – he had tied some dirty bandage over the wound and it seemed to stem the bleeding for now. Still, what he had lost in the swamp was profound enough to make him feel off.

She popped a pill herself, hoping it would work quickly as Nick dug the needle into her skin. He made quick work of it, despite his shaking hands and she sighed as he bandaged the wound, the pills beginning to take effect.

"Thanks, I owe ya'." She smiled, pulling her shirt back down.

"Nick, can you help me out for a second." Coach waved him over and he got to his legs, waiting for the rush of dizziness to pass.

"Sure, Coach."

"Alright, I need you to hold his legs. I've set a collarbone before but shit did the boy thrash. I rather not fuck this up, so –" He gestured to Ellis' legs and Nick forced himself to do as asked.

He placed his hands just below the man's knees and watched as Coach pushed on the bone eliciting a soft moan from the half conscious man on the table.

"I ain't gonna lie, Ellis. This is gonna hurt."

"'kay, Coach." Ellis muttered sleepily. His face was scrunched up in preparation for the pain to come. For a moment, Nick's stomach dropped as he felt a wave of sympathy for Ellis.

Coach pushed down on the offending bump and was rewarded as the bone ground together, falling back into place. It was quick and effective and it hurt like hell.

Ellis shouted, bucking against Coach and Nick, as he broke out into a cold sweat and dry-heaved. He couldn't help but whimper as Coach fixed his arm to his chest, the jagged ends of the bones grating against each other – at least they were in the right place.

Ellis muttered something that sounded like 'thanks' and for the second time lost his hold on consciousness.

Coach sighed, exhausted and in pain.

"That should do it." Nick patted him on the shoulder.

"You did good, Coach. You did fucking good." Coach chuckled lightly.

'Yeah we'll see. Don' thank me just yet."

"You get some rest, Coach. I'll keep an eye on 'em." Coach nodded, far to weary to protest and to damn tired to want to. He wandered over to where Rochelle lay hunched over, fast asleep. He sat down across from her and grabbed what looked like a dirty cloth from the floor, bunching it and placing it behind him to act as an impromptu pillow. Within mere seconds he was sound asleep.

Nick stood there, the silence eerie after the day of commotion. He would have killed for a cigarette right about now. He patted his pockets and suddenly remembered the small bottle of vodka.

Thank God – whomever the fuck was still listening – for small mercies.

It wasn't enough to get him drunk, not even buzzed, but he hadn't tasted alcohol since before all this happened. This was like the goddamn Holy Grail of the zombie apocalypse.

He twisted the top off and brought the bottle to his lips. The liquid glided down his throat, the warmth spreading to his limbs, his body nearly shaking in ecstasy as every cell in his body seemed to awaken at the reappearance of his old friend.

He breathed in heavily, closing his eyes, as he felt, for a moment, normal. The small drink brought back so many memories, memories of a life that had once seemed so mundane and monotonous. Now – now having lived through what he had, it all seemed so much better.

He wandered over to Ellis' side. His foot caught on something and as he looked down he realized it to be Ellis' hat. He picked it up and batted it with his hand, trying to get rid of the dirt. It was a worthless gesture. The damn thing was filthy, covered in blood, guts and other terrible things.

He held it in his hands for a moment, thinking, before placing it next to the younger man.

He watched the man take in shallow breaths, his face etched with discomfort. He wanted not to care, wanted to be able to hardly give a shit should the hick die over night. He wanted to have the option to walk out that door without feeling any guilt. He wanted to know he could point the gun at one of them and pull the trigger without difficulty should he need to. He wanted all these things, but most of all, he wanted to know what happened to make these all impossible.

When did he start caring who lived or died? Why did he worry about their health? He had never given a shit before, not even in his time as a part of functioning society.

Leave it to him to gain a conscience after the world had already ended.

Ellis muttered something and Nick was surprised to see his eyes open, appearing more alert than he had all night.

"Overalls?" Nick wasn't sure whether the man was actually awake or caught in some sort of pain-induced dream.

"…said thanks," he swallowed heavily, trying to keep his eyes focused, "thanks f'r savin' my ass."

"Yeah, well, you owe me." Ellis gave his best attempt at a nod, his eyes taking on a pained sadness.

"'kay." Nick shook his head. He forgot how sensitive the damn kid was. Well, not sensitive, perhaps. Rochelle had once admonished him, suggesting that maybe, just maybe being treated like shit got old.

"Shit, Ellis, I don't actually mean that." Before he knew what he was doing he place his hand on the other man's shoulder, patting it lightly before retracting it awkwardly.

"I just –uh- well, I'm tired of seeing your ass get handed to you. Do you even try to defend yourself?"

Ellis' eyes narrowed.

"I told y' – m' back was turned." Ellis exhaled heavily in what Nick expected was an attempted laugh, "So, It's ya'lls fault."

"Sure, kid. Whatever helps you sleep at night. We can't watch your back every second of the day."

Ellis coughed, wincing as he jarred his broken collarbone and Nick felt bad once again – what was happening to him? He didn't feel bad for people, ever.

"'M just worried 'bout ya'll, thas' all." He said pathetically; his voice sounded tired and it was clear he was losing the battle to stay awake.

"Us? You need to set your priorities straight, you can't stay safe for more than ten minutes, not if your life counted on it and guess what, it does."

Ellis swallowed as the words sliced through him. He didn't mean to make them so angry, he was trying to help, he truly was … it's just sometimes he got a little distracted.

"Well, next time, Nick, jus' lemme die then." That angered him. It wasn't how pathetic it sounded or how ridiculous it was that pissed him off; it was the complete certainty and conviction. Ellis meant it.

"Fuck you. You want us to let you die, then fine, that's what you'll get. Saves me from having to drag your ass around the damn swamp."

"Didn' mean to make y' mad." Ellis tried to sit up but decided against it when he felt as though his collarbone was about to bust through his flesh. He groaned and watched Nick's face grow red.

"How wouldn't that make me mad, you dumb hick?" Nick looked as though he were going to punch him – who knew, maybe he would.

"No offense, Nick. But since when do y' give a shit?" Nicks expression became somber. He had been asking himself that exact same question for days now.

"I don't." He knew that was not true but it had flown out of his mouth, quick and easy.

"Right. Like I was sayin'."

Nick felt the frustration growing in his chest. What the fuck did he know about what was happening to him? He usually stuck with what he knew: girls, money, gambling and alcohol. There wasn't much of that around here, so what'd he have now?

"Listen, it's just easier when one of you doesn't keel over. More manpower." He offered. That answer didn't even feel right to himself, let alone Ellis.

"Okay, Nick." Ellis was tired and hurting. He just wanted this never-ending nightmare to end – something that wouldn't happen until he was dead, it seemed. He just wanted to sleep.

Nick sighed as Ellis stared up at the ceiling, his eyes drooping. Nick looked back at Rochelle and Coach who were dead to the world.

"Overalls, listen," he wanted to feed him some bullshit about how life was tough and he would do what he needed to survive. He would use them until they were dead and be on his merry way, that he could give two shits if they got killed tomorrow; he wanted to say that but he decided – why he would never know – to be honest, just for this one second at least.

"I don't want to see any of you get hurt, because well," he turned the bottle he had nearly forgotten over in his hands, "I'd miss the company."

He watched as Ellis smiled slightly.

"Not to say any of you morons are good company, better than a damn Spitter or a Witch, at least."

"I knew it, y' like us."

Nick knew he could've denied it; he already had a biting reply ready to go. He could say something terrible and bring them back to where the conversation had started. He could, but he didn't. Instead, he remained silent and let the statement hang in the air; a comfortable fact lying between the two of them.

"I knew it." Ellis smiled lazily as his eyes drifted closed.

Nick watched him for a moment before sinking to the ground. He raked a grimy hand through his equally grimy hair, he empty bottle falling from his hands to the floor.

Ellis was right. He cared and there was nothing he could do about it. He sat there and thought about that fact, that terrible life changing fact.

He sat there until dawn and decided that for now, for at least this day, he would embrace it.

xxxxxxxxx

Aww, Nick and Ellis are just to darned cute. I apologize for all the swearing but seriously, they all have potty mouths in the game, so there.

I hope ya'll enjoyed, I sure enjoyed writing it and I'm considering a short and sweet epilogue, depending on what the dear reader's think. If you have a moment, please review, it would be most appreciated.