So when the chariot arrives, you'd best enjoy the ride
Cause when we get to heaven's gate, we're not getting inside

"Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!"

As a shotgun slug screams past his ear and into a bed frame, Nick's mouth curls into a fantastic grimace. He manages to shove back the last of the horde, before slamming the business end of a cast-iron frying pan into some poor motherfucker's face. "You did not seriously just quote Die Hard right now, did you?!"

He hears Ellis whooping, and Rochelle picks off the stray few that are left with her pistols, her dark face spattered with someone's brains. Ellis tromps in from the other room, Coach not far behind, looking like a kid at Christmas, except the only song is "Deck the Halls with Human Entrails."

"Man, Die Hard is probably my favourite movie," says Ellis, not noticing when Rochelle comes over to him to inspect the rather apparent gash on his left bicep. "Me and Keith watched it like, shit, a hundred thousand times? Anyway, this one time, me and Dave and Keith, well, we decided we was gonna be like the stunt guy in that movie and jump off'a something real tall and land in one of those big squishy mattress things. 'Cept for all we had was Dave's little sister's bean-bag chair, but Keith figured he could do it anyway—"

Ellis continues, and Rochelle is still trying to wrap gauze around his arm. Nick is attempting to clean the blood off the front of his suit jacket, and with Ellis' nattering in the background, his already frayed temper is not faring.

"—90% of his bones were broken, and the doc, well, he was sure that Keith was never gonna walk again, but that son of'a bitch Keith, nothing could keep him down 'cept maybe—"

"Ellis, would you shut the fuck up?! I've only heard two hours of your bullshit but I am sick and tired of you telling us about your gay Dukes of Hazzard adventures! I don't care. None of us give a fuck about you or your retarded friends, okay!"

Ellis shuts his mouth tight, for once, and Rochelle finishes wrapping Ellis' arm. Her weary eyes aim at Nick, part of her grateful that he got Ellis to stop talking, but the other half seems to be reprimanding him – after all, it's probably just Ellis' way of coping.

Giving up on his suit jacket, Nick scoffs, and surveys the damage to the rest of their motley little team. He's only just met these idiots, and he already hates every one of them. Well, Coach is something of a help because he seems to know the way around enough, and hell if he doesn't have a mean swing with a fire axe. Rochelle, well, she's female and therefore not as strong, but she seems to have a decent knowledge of first aid and her aim is passable. Ellis, however, pisses Nick off to his very core. It bothers him that they're in the middle of a fucking zombie apocalypse and the only thing that seems to irk the story-telling son of a bitch is that everyone else isn't shitting sunshine as well. The only reason Nick hasn't shot him is because Ellis seems to be the only one that understands that aiming for the head is generally the best tactic.

"Come on now, Nick." Ellis' voice strains, and he clears his throat, his hands gripping his shotgun for dear life. Coach shifts with unease – he can hear the groans of more infected on the other levels. It's just going to get worse if they don't start moving. "It's not like none of you guys talks, anyway. I need something to listen to other than screamin'."

"So fucking hum or something." Ellis pushes his mouth together tight, the dimples in his cheeks looking deeper because of the ash. He looks away, a little embarrassed. Nick just wishes he'd known from the start how damn obedient the kid is. "Just don't do it out loud, okay?"

Ellis' shoulders sink a little, but he nods. Coach pats him on the back, drawing his hand back awkwardly after a moment. None of them know each other; they have no reason to stick together other than a base need for human survival.

They slink back into the dank hotel hallways like a funeral procession.

Down half a tank of gas, Ellis looks like he's about to fall asleep. They've been awake for over a day, probably longer, and he keeps shifting in his seat, or drumming his knuckles, or sliding his cap back and forth on his head. Rochelle keeps giving him these looks, like she's afraid he's going to crash the car into a tree. They've long been out of the city, and deserts of pavement stretch ahead of them. They've long ago stopped running over infected – the population has thinned out.

Coach is the only one sleeping, his head against the window in the back seat, snoring a little loudly. His knee's been bothering him a lot, since that last sprint for the gas canisters, and the Tanks knocking everyone around. Rochelle is surprised that they got off relatively unscathed, even if she is bearing evidence of Nick's 'friendly' fire on one of her legs.

In the back seat, Nick is smoking Pall Malls, the window cracked enough so Rochelle will stop bitching at him. The hot night air blows on his face, and he sighs, runs his hand over the stubble on his chin. He's exhausted, but he doesn't trust these people enough to just fall asleep with that idiotic hick driving. He's got his shotgun balanced between his knees, and he's ready to run if he has to.

"We need to pull over and get some shut eye," says Rochelle. She's abrupt and to the point, no nonsense about her. Nick looks over, and Ellis' fingers tighten on the wheel. "We've been driving for hours."

Ellis shakes his head, knocks his cap back off his dirty forehead. "Nu-uh." He doesn't expand, and he probably doesn't want to piss off Nick, because Rochelle's suggestion is making him look like he's ready to pick up that shotgun and use it.

He grinds out his cigarette on the back of the driver's seat, and flicks it out the window. "Overalls is awake enough to drive. Besides, we sure as fuck can't just sleep in this car. We'd be open from all sides." Not to mention Nick is pretty much attempting strange yoga positions in the tiny excuse for a back-seat, while Coach takes up most of it.

"Well, we can't just drive forever!" Rochelle slams her fist down on the dash, and kicks her feet out in a brief show of immaturity. From what Nick's seen, she's managed to keep a level-head thus far. He's waiting for a breakdown from her. She takes a deep breath. "Look… if we can find a building out here or something, we really do need to sleep."

"Look, I can drive if Bullwinkle here can't keep his eyes open. There's no sense in all of us stopping just because it's past his goddamn bedtime."

The car swerves a bit, and Rochelle grips the arm rest for dear life. Coach falls listlessly onto Nick's shoulder, and it rouses him. He rubs his big palm over his eyes, and looks around, a little embarrassed that he fell asleep so easily. "What in the hell was that? We hit something?"

"No, bright eyes here learned to drive in a Goddamn bumper car though." Nick crosses his arms, and slouches back in his seat. "I say we keep going until we absolutely have to stop. Otherwise the evac choppers will outrun us, and we'll be stranded out here in Buttfuck, Georgia."

Coach's eyebrow slowly raises towards his hairline, and the car swerves a little again, and Rochelle keens low in her throat. "Man, you best be shitting me, because I don't know about you but I can't go around trolling for zombies on nothing but a Hershey bar and a power nap. Soon's we find a place, we're pulling over and we are all getting a few hours of Z's if I have to knock you out my damn self."

His lips curl back and he more than anything wants to bite back some sharp retort, but Coach could very well beat him into next week. He can't resist getting the last word, however, as he mumbles a, "Fuck, fine, but you get first watch."

About an hour later, they find themselves at some sort of old retirement home in the middle of nowhere. There's nobody in the house, from what it seems, save for a few dead bodies in the upper bedroom. After checking the house, Ellis closes that door, and heads back down to where they've all decided to camp out for the night.

It's not exactly a safe house. There's more than one door to defend, so they decide to do it in shifts of two by two. Ellis and Rochelle are the first to sleep, with Nick and Coach keeping watch. Even though it doesn't look like there's much out there, the faint cackle of a Jockey can be heard off in the distance, the hiss of a Spitter, the moans of the standard infected—it's necessary to be alert. They've made it out of Savannah, they can't get sloppy.

Ellis is standing over the bed, his eyes foggy with sleep. Out of necessity, he and Rochelle are sharing a bed—they can't afford to be separated if on the off chance a horde or a Tank appears. It was her decision, not his. He doesn't think it's quite proper, but he's exhausted.

She walks into the room with her head low, and she yawns. "Boy, if you don't get your ass into that bed, I swear I'm gonna—"

"Okay, okay." He knocks his hat off of his head, and stands there awkwardly. He doesn't exactly want to sleep in his coveralls and his boots, but in case of emergency, well, it's best he keep them on. Not to mention it isn't within his moral compunctions to sleep in a bed with a girl he barely knows.

Rochelle curls up into a ball on the right side of the bed, and Ellis lays flat on his back. It's dark, and there's a shotgun on one side of him. The noises outside are alive, and every once in a while he can hear a pistol shot ring out. There aren't many around, but still, some infected creep near with the promise of fresh meat.

He presses his arm against his eyes. He can't sleep, and by the sound of Rochelle's breathing, neither can she. It's nearly two in the morning, and they're both exhausted, but raw, powerful fear keeps their eyes open.

Finally, Rochelle's voice cuts through the dark, low and sleepy. "You haven't talked much since Nick flipped his shit on you. You all right, sweetheart?"

Ellis swallows around his tongue. They ate earlier, dry breakfast cereal, Nick with the box clutched to his chest, hoarding it all. Granola bars, cold canned soup, anything they could get their hands on. He vomited most of it back up, but he won't tell Rochelle that.

She turns towards him, and he shifts to look at her. He can't see her at all in the dark. "I know it's hard to hear, Ellis, and I get the feeling that nobody's ever told you before, but you talk way too goddamn much." She pauses. "I don't mean that it's bad, it's just a hard situation and it gets distracting when you talk so much."

"Well, shit, if I'd knowed I was so fuckin' annoying, I woulda blown my brains out on the hotel roof. Saved you folks the trouble." He knows it's not fair to her, and he adds a breathless laugh to soften the blow.

"Ellis, honey, it's not that we don't want you around. We need you. It's just, you say things at the wrong time, and it's hard to pay attention to what we're doing. And don't mind Nick, he's just afraid. We're all afraid."

"Naw, I ain't. I ain't scared of nothing." Rochelle scoffs, and she moves a little bit closer. Ellis' hands are shaking, and she slides her thin palm into his. There are hot tears on his face, and he snorts, wiping the back of his free arm across his nose and mouth. "Anyways, I reckon the only reason I talks so much is 'cause none of you say nothing about your lives. I ain't used to not knowing anything about the people what I'm with."

"What do you mean?"

"You ain't told me no stories or nothing. Keith and me always used to tell stories, even if they ain't all that true." Well, all of Ellis' stories were true– he doesn't have a lying bone in his body. His ma raised him right.

Rochelle clears her throat. His fingers feel like sandpaper, and she rubs her thumb over the back of his cut up knuckles. "Well, I'm afraid my stories aren't as good as yours. But I can try talking if that's what you want."

"Yeah." Then a softer, "Yeah."

"Well… hm." She pauses, trying to think of somewhere to start. Something easy. "You know, I always wanted to be a journalist. Somewhere along the way, I gave up on that, and decided to become a vet. That went out the window when I found out I was allergic to cats and dogs. Now, I didn't much know what to do after a two years at community college, so I got myself a job as the go-for girl at a TV station. And then this infection shit sprung up, and I found myself in the middle of it, on my first real reporting job."

She laughs, and mumbles, "That was a damn awful story."

"It ain't that bad. But I learned one thing, y'know."

"What's that?"

"Best hoping we don't run into no zombie dogs."

"Ha-ha, very funny."

The night fades around them, a starless sky, while Nick lights up another smoke outside, shotgun balanced on his knees. Coach leans up against the banister, his leg out in front of him, rubbing his big thumbs into the sore tendons. He's overexerted it, and it's damn near killing him.

Nick watches him carefully as his cigarette burns to the filter, and he flicks it haphazardly onto the ground. "How'd you fuck up your knee?" He doesn't ask because he particularly wants to know, he just needs to know how much it is going to hinder their fighting. How much Coach is going to drag them down.

"Muthafucking football injury. And boy, let me tell you, it hurts something fierce." His face twists as he works the tendons. The injury aches low in his bones, to the very sole of his foot, and he can barely walk on it sometimes but he can't bring himself to get a cane. It makes him weak.

He nods, filing that information away for later. Nick knows that they won't all make it through this, hell, none of them might survive, but he thinks that either Coach or Ellis will be the first to go. Coach, because he isn't as fast, not as much stamina, Ellis, because he's too fucking stupid to comprehend what's going on around him, and because Nick thinks it's very likely that he might shoot the annoying hick before the zombies can even get to him.

Coach stops massaging his knee and simply leans back with a groan, the back of his head hitting up against the banister. There's a raw screech in the air out of nowhere, and Nick is up in an instant, and before the word, "Hunter!" can even come out of Coach's mouth, hand reaching for his pistol, he's blown it straight out of the air, a rain of skull fragments and blood showering down onto the front step and Nick's shoes.

Coach snorts. "Son, you getting pretty good with that shotgun. Nice work." Nick can still feel his heart in his throat, and he sits back down on the step, flicking a rogue, bloodied index finger out of the way of his seat.

The sun is already rising, but Nick can't help but feel that it's going to be night forever.

He half expects Ellis to kneel down and start kissing the wheels, when they find the highway too congested with parked cars to continue. Nick straps a first-aid kit on his back, while Rochelle stares on at the cars, and the sign beyond that. Coach is grinning. "Aw, shit, it's Whispering Oaks! I used to come to this place all the time as a kid!"

"Great, now we can die here as adults," snarls Nick, checking over his shotgun one last time before trudging onward. There's no sense in waiting around, and Ellis is the last one to follow the group, whispering a forlorn, 'I love you', to Jimmy Gibbs' abandoned stock car, which pisses Nick off more than it should.

Thankfully, there's not much around, save for a few spare wanderers. They take them down easily enough, and it's not at all like the scramble that first foray as a group was. However, Nick realizes that with this odd amount of peace, he can afford to go on ahead while Rochelle fixes a jam in her pistol and Ellis attempts to help, Coach watching both their backs.

About halfway down the off-ramp, Nick realizes his critical error, and finds a Jockey plastered to his face. He can barely open his mouth, finding a zombie foot dangerously near to it, and he stumbles, feeling the back of his leg touch against a car, and he topples down to hear the distinct warbling cries of an oncoming horde.

The first thought that comes to mind is just how fucked he is, and the second thought is that one particular scream doesn't sound so much like an infected. Soon enough, he finds the Jockey ripped clean off his face, and Coach wielding a crowbar like some kind of excited crate-ripper, and he's hefted back to his feet with little preamble. His neck hurts like a bitch, but he's got his shotgun up in time to find a fucking Tank charging at them, Ellis and Rochelle firing bullets like they've got them in spades.

The monstrosity roars, and bends over to rip buckled concrete out of the road, and throws it over his head. Ellis pushes Rochelle out of the way, and Nick and Coach both throw themselves to the ground, the concrete staggering the car behind them. Rochelle's on the ground, and the Tank has its head down, and she unloads a full magazine from her SMG and Coach caps it off with a wide swing of his crowbar. Nick nearly laughs when he realizes that it's the crowbar that finally brings it down.

The next thing Nick knows, Ellis has offered him a hand up, which he brushes off to stand on his own. He stumbles a bit, and Ellis catches him, his eyes oddly eager as he stares at Nick's face. "Hey, you all right? Your neck's looking kinda like a bruised apple, if you ask me."

Nick slaps his palm to his neck, having temporarily forgotten about the Jockey, and he immediately yelps in pain. Ellis is laughing at him, and he scowls. "I'm fucking fine, okay?"

He starts to walk away, and Coach has him by the shoulder, and he looks down with distaste at the way the smudges of blood on the man's hand are interfering with the already compromised cleanliness of his suit. "Look, I know you've got this 'all-for-one and one-for-me' mentality bullshit going on, but if you go rushin' on ahead like that all the goddamn time, you're aiming to get yourself killed."

Coach reaches to his side, and pulls up a nearly empty bottle of pills, passing them to Nick. "I don't suppose you've ever had yourself in this fine situation before, but we're gonna have to work together if we want to get through this."

"Yeah, like a team!" injects Ellis, and he looks around, waiting for someone to shut him up. Nobody does. "Kinda like… like the A-Team or something!"

"I don't think Mr. T had to fight off any fucking zombies." Nick swallows down the pills dry, his nose wrinkling, and Rochelle awkwardly laughs at his stupid joke. Nick sort of laughs, too, and he feels a little better because it's Rochelle laughing, and not Ellis, for once.

Resettled, they start back down the highway, Coach whacking the dead Tank a good one with his crowbar on the way by. He makes sure Nick is in the back this time, looking over his shoulder every so often, while Ellis hums the theme-song to the A-Team, twin pistols picking off infected in the distance.

"Ellis, come on, we ain't got time for this shit!" Ellis is steadfastly working his way up to seven hundred and fifty points, playing the fucking shooting gallery when the whole rest of the world around them is a living breathing example. Coach groans, shooting a Smoker off in the distance before his ridiculous companion can get dragged off by one. Rochelle and Nick are gone, because Rochelle had to attend to her girly needs for a restroom, stating that she isn't 'some bushman who can just stand up and piss to the wind'.

The bells behind him ring, and Coach's spine prickles in the fear that it might alert something, while Ellis whoops and moves over to the side of the booth. Coach hadn't been paying attention before, but Ellis is now cradling something in his arms.

"Lookie, lookit here, I done won me a mighty fine prize!" He presents this prize in front of Coach's face, and Coach finds himself staring at the grinning face of a gnome. "Gnome Chompski! He got left at this here carnival all alone."

"Boy, you best put that thing down and get out your gun." Ellis sticks his lower lip out, and gives Coach the biggest puppy eyes he can muster, but Coach is damn used to that, what with his students trying to cheat their way out of phys-ed all of the time. "I ain't settling for no crocodile tears, you put it back."

"I promise I'll be able to fight with it. See, I can still use my machete one handed." He demonstrates, with the gnome tucked under his arm and his machete in his free hand, waving it about as if it were plastic. It's a little awkward, and Coach can see he won't be able to manage that way forever.

Coach rolls his eyes, and Ellis' grin gets that much wider, and it's not long before Rochelle and Nick are back. Nick gives the gnome a pointed look, as if to ask, 'What the fuck is that,' and Coach doesn't have the energy to explain to him that it's the thing that's probably going to get them killed. Rochelle decides to entertain Ellis' strange childish fantasies, and weakly pats the gnome on its ceramic head. "Seems like we have ourselves a group of five."

He straightens his knee, and takes up the back of the group. He doesn't know if Ellis is just like an innocent little kid, or if he's starting to go crazy. His bet is on the latter.

Ellis stops in front of him, abruptly, and Nick crashes into his back. It's damn dark and wet, and Nick wants nothing more than to get back outside. He's getting serious tunnel vision in this stupid swan ride, and the fact that they're almost cornered in every room is not helping.

"Why are you stopping," hisses Rochelle. She's bleeding a bit from a head wound, a Charger having rushed her from around a corner. Thankfully, they'd shot it off before it could do much damage to her.

Nick looks around Ellis' shoulder, and he sees her. "Witch."

They'd known she was around here somewhere, her cries having reverberated throughout the tunnels, but they didn't expect her to be crying directly in their path. Coach is at the back, and Nick knows well enough that he's already starting to turn back. "Stop," he whispers, and Coach grunts quietly in distress. "We'll have to kill her."

"Well, I'm sure as hell not goin' charging at her," snaps Rochelle. "She'll kill us before we can get two shots fired."

"Yeah, that's true," says Ellis, his voice wavering, his grip tight around Chompski's cold body. "But, if we gets real close and fires a shot right between her eyes, that'd take her down, right?"

"That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard from you, Overalls, and that's saying something."

"Well what the hell's we s'posed to do, then, throw a Molotov at her and see if it hurts more when she's clawin' you on fire?"

The Witch starts growling.

"Aw, fuck, you two just had to start your squabbling and piss her off! Now what the hell are we supposed to do?" Coach already has his crowbar raised, ready to defend himself if he has to.

Resignedly, Nick pulls up his shotgun. "Now, Ayullis," he says, mocking the southerner's accent, "you might want to move out of my trajectory or you're going to find yourself with—"

The Witch leaps up, screaming, and it's about that point that Nick realizes he had his flashlight on the entire goddamn time, and when the bitch starts rushing at him, he can only start to imagine the pain of her claws as he goes down onto the ground. However, they don't come, and when he looks up, all he sees is Ellis standing there with wild fear in his eyes, and a blood soaked garden gnome over the bludgeoned head of the witch.


Rochelle appears in his field of vision, her eyes wide. "Ellis…"

Coach just keels over laughing.

When Coach wakes up, he finds himself about an inch away from a sea of broken glass. He groans, pulling himself up, and the chopper is on its nose. He looks down, half expecting his chest to be littered with shrapnel, but he only finds busted pieces of brightly coloured ceramic.

"Well, I'll be damned." Chompski had sacrificed his little gnomish life to save Coach from the delicious taste of windshield glass. He grabs a piece of the gnome and tucks it in his pocket. Maybe it's a good luck charm.

He starts to sit up a bit and gather his bearings, when he hears a, "Hey, Coach?" from outside of the door. He looks around, and manages to crawl his way out, but his left arm is aching something fierce, and his knee has had better days.

Finding Rochelle on the other side, he lets her help him up. Immediately, he notices her left hand is a little swollen, as is the corresponding side of her face. Technically speaking, things could be worse.

"You okay? I got a first aid kit if you need it," she offers, and he shakes his head. Miraculously, he has very few in the way of cuts, just some shallow ones over his eyebrow that he can feel.

"We have some good fucking luck." Rochelle half-smiles in response, before she nods her head over to where Ellis and Nick are noticeably ignoring each other, even while Ellis is messily stitching the open wound on Nick's upper arm.

"Would you watch where you're jabbing that fucking needle! That fucking hurts, dammit!" Ellis grips him by the elbow, practically red in the face out of anger and concentration. It's strange to Coach, seeing the kid upset, but he recalls a damn good reason for it.

"I still can't believe you shot the goddamn pilot! That's gotta be dumber shit than I ever done! Now would you hold the fuck still, or else this is gonna get infected with pus and shit." Nick just snorts, and he winces when Ellis pulls the needle taught.

"He was turning! If you were looking at him instead of that stupid gnome, you'd realize that he was becoming a fucking zombie! I had to shoot him!"

"Oh, shit! Where did Chompski go?" Ellis nearly leaves the needle hanging in Nick's arm in his haste to return to the grounded chopper, when Coach comes over and shakes his head, and presents the piece of Ellis' beloved gnome. He sees the pissed off fold itself into disappointment and Ellis finishes up the stitching on Nick's arm. He simply shoves the bandaging into the man's arms and stands up, storming away.

Rochelle goes to deal with Ellis, while Coach kneels down and grabs Nick's arm nice and proper, even if his grip is a little bit rough. He meticulously bandages it himself, even if it's a little on the tight side. Nick winces, and pulls his shirt back on. It's missing a bit of material because of the glass, and his suit jacket is stained red. Nick looks a little pale.

"Fucking hell, you saw it, didn't you? The pilot was a fucking zombie, and he was going to have us for a meal instead of get us to New Orleans." Nick bends over to pick up his baseball bat (his shotgun got knocked out of his hands at that rock concert from hell), and Coach rolls his eyes, heading up to where Ellis is. He's still got the gnome piece in his hand, and he tucks it back into his pocket.

Ellis has his cap low on his face, and it's evident that he's pretty pissed off. Coach wonders why, to a degree, as it was just a gnome and the pilot was, in fact, changing. Maybe it's the fact that he wasn't fully changed, was still talking as he puked up blood all over the floor. Maybe Ellis is just not right in the head.

Maybe Ellis is just pissed off that they're in swamp territory.

The first thing that becomes apparent in the safe house is that there is no food. Well, not enough to sustain four of them, anyhow, and since Ellis gives Rochelle the half-mouldy bread he finds, there's really nothing to eat. She pukes it up anyway, sick from the smell of swamp water, and from the humidity and the heat.

"Shit, I can't take any more of these damn bugs!" Rochelle groans, and rolls onto her side on the floor, trying to keep her face out of the pillow because it smells so disgusting. She sits up, looking ill, and her shoulders are shaking a bit. Coach frowns and starts to move closer to her, but she stops him with a sharp, "Don't!" and he settles back into his position against the wall.

She stands up, and undoes the belt across her shirt, tossing it to the floor, and she strips off her beloved Depeche Mode t-shirt, and tosses it down too. Nick looks up from where he's been focussing on his arm, and gets a rather disturbing eyeful of Rochelle peeling out of her jeans in a fit of rage, her boots kicked dangerously close to his direction.

Ellis slaps his hand over his eyes. "Jesus, Ro', what the hell're you doing?" His ears have gone pink, and it isn't like he hasn't seen a girl naked (probably), it's just that it's a very strange situation for all of them.

"It's hotter than goddamn hell in here, and my clothes are sticking to my skin. That ain't no way to sleep right." Rochelle starts to settle back onto the floor, but Nick tosses her his suit jacket, and she looks at him a little disgruntled.

"That pillow smells like shit. Use that." Coach looks at him warningly, as if Nick is trying to score brownie points with a mostly-naked girl, which he might very well be doing, but Rochelle drops off into sleep like a rock, and Nick simply leans his head back against the wall and looks away.

Coach follows Rochelle into an uneasy sleep soon after, his snores reverberating through the room. Nick's too hungry to sleep, and Ellis has his back pressed up against the door, his eyes open and staring at him. Nick looks away, pretending to be interested in one of Rochelle's mud-caked boots, when Ellis murmurs a quiet, "Sorry."

"What're you apologizing for, Overalls? I shot the pilot, everything is my fault, you've got nothing to apologize for."

"Could you stop bein' so damn sarcastic? I'm sorry I was rough when I stitched you up, that's all." Ellis' head falls back against the door with a clang, and he winces, rubbing his hand where it hit. Nick thinks, for a moment, that Ellis is dumb-shit retarded, and he's probably pretty accurate.

They're both quiet for a while, and Nick starts to feel his head nod into sleep, when Ellis starts talking again. "Y'know, me and Keith always used to come out into the wilderness on his useless old Toyota piece a'shit. It was the only thing that could handle most of the mud, y'see."

"That so." Nick yawns, rubs his eyes, and Ellis nods to himself.

"Yeup. An' we'd drive for miles, and Keith would never let me drive because that thing was his baby. We done it ever since he got old enough to drive. Got outta Savannah for a while, and just drove around for hours."

"Ellis, can this wait. I'm trying to sleep."

"Okay." Then a softer. "Okay."

"Holy fuck there's two! There's two! Get fucking moving!"

Rochelle runs full tilt into Ellis, as the mounted gun roars above them, Nick's blood running down his back freely as he fires endless amounts of rounds into the twin Tanks charging towards the plantation house. Ellis scoops her up by one of her arms, and they go back to back, shooting off the horde now coming from every direction.

"How are we supposed to beat this?" she yells over the din, and she realizes she's run out of ammo. She tosses her gun into an infected face, and starts slamming them away with her cricket bat.

"I got no fucking clue!" Ellis can't reload his shotgun fast enough, so he yanks the chainsaw off his back and puts that to better use. But it's almost out of gas, and Rochelle can hear it sputtering.

One of the Tanks is coming at them, and even though Nick is trying his damndest to keep them staved with the mounted gun, there's nothing that can stop that monstrosity. Rochelle almost wants it to be over, but Ellis' hand is at her waist, suddenly, and the chainsaw is thrust into her hand and Ellis is running out into the fray and before she can scream his name in fear he yells 'Puke in the hole!' and suddenly, all infected are charging at the Tank, including the other Tank, and Rochelle is very content to watch them battle it out.

She stands there in awe for a moment, before Coach grabs her hand, and starts running, and Nick is behind her with Ellis clinging to his shoulder, "Let's go, let's go, let's go," and they're going to be fine, they're going to be all right, and the boat is only feet away.

Only, suddenly, Coach isn't hanging onto her anymore, and he's dragging away, and Rochelle finds Ellis on her arm all of a sudden. "Get on the boat!" yells Nick, running away, pistol firing wildly at the Smoker that's got a hold on Coach.

Rochelle, without weapon, does as she's told, pushing down a rather dazed Ellis. "What's happening?" he asks, and she grabs his head, looking at him properly.

"Did you take a hit from a Tank? Jesus, how many fingers am I holding up?"


"Honey, that's two. Lie down, okay?"

She looks over her shoulder, and Nick is half-running, half-dragging Coach back to the boat, a horde rapidly approaching him. Rochelle shrieks at him and jumps back onto the dock, reaching him in seconds to take up Coach's other arm, and the three of them make their way back to the boat like a six-legged monstrosity, and the driver hits the gas as they all fall onto the deck.

Rochelle watches corpses fall into the water, and she hopes to God that they sink.

Ellis is a bit feverish, but at least he's standing, wandering around the boat asking each of them delirious questions. Finally, Coach volunteers to put him back to bed, and as soon as his hand touches Ellis' skin, he realizes just how warm the boy is.

"Come on, kid, you need some good old shut-eye." And some good old drugs. They're in the lower deck, where there's little more than what a safe-house has, but at least there's food, and at least it's not filled with the undead.

He's finally laying down, his hat on the ground beside him, and Coach is getting ready to go back up to the deck. Ellis makes a noise in the back of his throat, and he looks back down. "Yeah, Ellis?"

"Youse guys don't hate me none, do ya?" Ellis' eyes are watery, and he can't quite focus on anything in front of him, from the looks of it. Coach knows about this sort of thing, from his years of coaching and dealing with cocky idiots with head injuries. "I mean, I know Ro doesn't, but sometimes it's just like you and Nick want me dead."

"Boy, you really are dumb-shit, ain't ya? 'Course we don't want you dead. Nick saved your ass today, didn't he? More'n once." He grabs a bottle of pills close to Rochelle's make-shift bed, and shakes out a few for the mechanic. "We got your back."

"Yeah, but that don't mean you like me."

"Boy, it ain't that I don't like you. I just don't know nothing about you enough to like you." He opens his mouth thoughtfully, nodding his head. "And I gotta say, in this situation, I don't wanna know you. It's nothing personal, but it makes accepting death that much harder."

Ellis, in his haze, doesn't quite look like he's paying attention. Coach sighs, and hands Ellis his pills, and one of the water-bottles that Virgil had on deck. Ellis takes the pills dry, and rolls onto his side. Coach goes to leave, but he stops again when he hears Ellis muttering, "Well, I reckon it's cause none'a you guys wants to hear my stories."

"Well, I reckon I learn more about your friend Keith than you in your stories."

"Well, I reckons how I don't have any good stories about myself. It was always Keith doing all the crazy shit." He rolls onto his stomach, his limbs splayed out in every which direction. "I ain't got no good stories. You should tell me a story, Coach. Tell me a happy n'good one."

"I ain't got a happy one."

"Then tell me a sad one." Ellis sounds tired, sounds frustrated. Coach hasn't often seen him this way. Resignedly, he opens his mouth, and wracks his brain for a good one to tell.

"Well, here goes." He rubs a palm over his head, feeling the soft stubble building up there. He picks at something, pulls his hand away. Dried, crusty Boomer puke. "Back in college I was a defensive linesman. Biggest guy on the team I was, toughest too. We made it all the way to the finals in my last year there, kickin' ass and takin' names, boy, let me tell you." Coach looks off for a bit, eyes starry with good memories. He only continues when Ellis makes a noise of confusion. "Anyhow, it was our rival team we was playing against, and the running back was this slippery little fuck who somehow managed to make it past all our guys, and I was the only one left in the way. The sonofabitch decided it would be a good idea to do some fancy kung-fu shit Chuck Norris style flyin' kick at me and busted my knee right backwards. He busted up his ankle and all, and neither of us ever played football again."

Ellis sighs happily. "That's a real nice story."

"Kid, you best get your ass some sleep, we only got a few more days on this boat." Coach pinches the bridge of his nose, before he gets up and looks down at Ellis, all elbows and knees on the ground.

Sometimes, he wishes he was that young again. Sometimes, he knows better.

He goes back up to the deck.

There are fireflies by land, the sky overwhelmed by clouds. The boat's anchored for the night, Virgil sleeping in a different room from the left of them. Rochelle can't sleep. Instead, she sits on the stern of the boat on one of the supply crates, the hunting rifle she's accepted from Virgil between her knees. Every once in a while, an infected will clamber towards the water. If it's a male, she'll shoot his balls off. Female, well, there go her tits. A male infected appears in her peripheral vision, and she raises her sights. Bang.

"Ten points." She looks behind her, and there's Nick, a dirty looking cigarette between his lips, and a pack of matches he must've pilfered from Virgil. He lights up, and she looks away. "Why aren't you sleeping, Ro?"

"Just can't," she replies, and she rests the rifle on her knees. Her legs are numb from sitting for so long, but she doesn't want to get up and walk away. She's been standing for so long, been running for so long. She looks up at Nick. He looks haggard – he's been running longer than her, in every sense of the word. "What about you, Mr. Gamblin' Man?"

"Ellis' girly whimpering kept me up. And Coach kept talking about waffles or watermelon or some shit in his sleep." He plays with the smoke in his hand, and Rochelle watches the light flicker. She's amazed he can handle that shit, even when it's probably been soaked in swamp water.

She laughs to herself, shaking her head. "Yeah, well he probably misses it. Lord knows what I wouldn't do right now for a shower and some of my mama's home-made bumbleberry cheesecake."

"I was half expecting you to say fried chicken and collard greens, but whatever."

She punches him in the shoulder, and her sharp knuckles do genuinely hurt. He pulls away laughing, and she laughs with him. "Shit, you really are an asshole, Nick! Probably the only thing you want is some hookers and blow."

"Maybe a new suit. The jacket on mine is scratched to shit." He takes another drag, exhaling the smoke through his nose. Rochelle laughs again, wipes the sweat off her forehead. The night's hot.

"Why you care about that thing so much, man? You look like the guy off of Miami Vice."

Nick scoffs, runs his fingers through his greasy hair. His shirt is wrinkled and sweat-stained, with spatters of gore virtually everywhere. Rochelle's long since thrown off her shirt, wearing only her bra instead – the heat is far too much for her. Nick seems a little more concerned with appearances, however.

She spots another infected off in the distance and raises the scope to her eye. Bullet to the groin. Another ten points. "What do you suppose Coach and Ellis miss? Well, Ellis is easy enough to figure out. Probably his buddy Keith," she murmurs, before lowering her rifle back down to her knees.

Nick shrugs. "I don't really give a shit."

"That's a damn lie and you know it."

"Look, if Ellis misses his gay, Brokeback fuck-buddy, it's really none of my business," says Nick, a scowl creasing his face. He leans against the guard-rail.

"Why you keep making gay jokes about Ellis? He just likes his—"

"And for all I know, all Coach misses is Ronald and Colonel Sanders and that pig-tailed bitch with the square hamburgers."

"The who-now?"

"Nevermind, you're missing the point. I don't care."

Rochelle chuckles to herself, and hops off her crate. She snatches the cigarette out of Nick's surprisingly white teeth, and takes a long drag off it, despite the foul taste, before throwing it into the water. "You can keep telling yourself that, sugar, but I think the problem is that you do care, and it scares the shit out of you."

"That was my last one," says Nick, forlorn, watching as his smoke tumbles into the fetid water. He scowls and watches as Rochelle swaggers back to their shared room, hunting rifle rested on her bruised shoulder. Rochelle just laughs again, and Nick takes one last look at the fireflies, and follows her back down.

It's their 4th night on the boat. Ellis is once-more among the living. Coach sleeps most of the time. Rochelle enjoys throwing spare bits of wood out at infected, because she can't afford to waste any more bullets. She can't throw far enough, but it's entertaining, nonetheless. Nick is pretty sure he's getting cabin fever.

It's about that point that Virgil takes pity on them and gives the four of them a bottle of vodka to share, and four slightly-chipped shot glasses. He then ventures off to bed. Nick is first to suggest a game of 'Fuck the Dealer', but Ellis doesn't know how to play, and Coach points out that they have no cards. They throw back and forth a few more suggestions, before Rochelle suggests a game of 'I've Never'. It seems to fly, and Coach twists the top off of the two-six, and pours them all a shot.

They start off with simple things. I've never owned a dog, I've never worn spandex, I've never watched an episode of CSI. The amount of alcohol in the bottle lowers, and Rochelle gets a little giggly, while Ellis looks particularly blissed out, while Coach, who is older and generally more experienced, has consumed most of the alcohol himself. Nick, surprisingly, is the one who has drank the least. Rochelle calls him out at least once, saying he's, "Honest to fucking god lying, you telling me you haven't ever listened to no Dr. Dre?" He still doesn't really trust all of them enough to be thoroughly intoxicated around them. He doesn't trust them with his secrets.

"Shit, kids, I had better stop. Ain't no sense in waking up with a hangover tomorrow morning," says Coach. His voice slurs a little bit, and Ellis laughs at his expense. Coach heavily gets to his feet, kicks over his shot glass in the process. He makes rounds to say goodnight to everyone, patting Rochelle on the head, swarming Ellis in a bear-hug, and nearly falling on Nick, who pushes him away irritably. He disappears back into the boat noisily, and Rochelle pours them all a shot to commemorate Coach's leaving the game.

Nick puts it back quickly, his lips pulling away from his teeth at the burn. "Fuck, this is some foul stuff."

"Yeah, well we can't all afford that Grey Goose shit all the time," says Ellis, wiping off his mouth with the back of his hand. He grins, all wide and teeth, and Nick stares for a bit, before looking away. "Sides, now that Coach is gone we can get to the good shit I know he don't approve of."

"What, you don't have the fear of God in you, kid?" says Nick, dryly. Rochelle pours them all another shot, to start the next round.

"Ain't you heard the news, Nick? God is dead. I heard the zombies killed him," Rochelle laughs, and so does Nick, but Ellis' mouth twists into an awkward smile, and he looks down at his hands. "Anywho, let's get this game re-started, shall we? I've never had a one-night stand."

Nick is the only one that drinks. Ellis goes next while Rochelle refills his glass. "I ain't never had sex without a condom before," he says, and his cheeks go a little red. Nick drinks again, Rochelle refills for him.

He has to wrack his brain to think of something to come up with. It's becoming increasingly hard with all of the liquor he's consumed, but he manages something. "I've never had sex with someone older than me."

Rochelle drinks. To his surprise, so does Ellis. Rochelle giggles. "Explanation, please?" she says, and Nick does them the courtesy of topping off their glasses once more.

"Well, uh, my ma, she was real protective, so she made me get babysat up until I was fourteen…" His speech is drowned out by Rochelle's loud, raspy laughter, and Nick can't help but burst out laughing too, and Rochelle and Ellis both look at him like he's just declared he's going to marry a Boomer or is bearing Jimmy Gibbs Jr's son. That stifles Nick immediately, and he calms it down to his usual sarcastic chuckling.

Rochelle's turn. "I've never had sex in the backseat of a car." Both Nick and Ellis drink. She refills their glasses.

"Dunno if I should've drunk. It wasn't no backseat," Ellis says, twirling his emptied shot glass in his hand.

"What kind of car?" asks Nick.

"69' Camaro SS, two-seater, cherry red with a V8 engine, an' the detailing was all done chrome. My daddy restored it afore he died. You?"

"Don't know, I was just there to score some pussy. It was black and it was ugly as fuck. Maybe it was a limo."

Ellis laughs, probably because Nick knows nothing about cars. Nick leans back onto his palms, feels the alcohol fizzle through his brain. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea to do this. It's different, seeing Ellis and Rochelle happy, compared to the frantic, desperate way they are everywhere else. It's almost relaxing.

"Now, I think it's about time for Rochelle to take another drink. I ain't never had sex with a guy," says Ellis, and he's all laughter until he notices Nick is drinking too. To Nick, the sound of his shot glass hitting the deck again is almost deafening, because he hadn't realized until drinking that he sits in the presence of a God-loving, beer-drinking, fag-bashing Southern boy.

"What," he says, noticing Ellis' suddenly tight mouth.

"Well, I didn't know you was queer is all. Thought you had a wife," says Ellis, and he looks away. Rochelle's eyebrows lower, and she drapes herself up against Nick, her head resting on his shoulder in her intoxicated state.

"Ex-wife, thank you."

A laugh escapes Rochelle, he feels her warm puff of breath against his neck. "Aw, Ellis, honey, it's no big deal. He probably just likes both. Why choose between cake and ice cream, right? Nicky, your hair smells really bad. Does mine?"

Ellis adjusts his ball-cap on his head again, and Nick notices the bob of his Adams apple as he swallows. "Best be going to bed, now. Night, y'all."

He stands up and trips on his feet a bit, before following off down to where Coach went before him. Rochelle is leaning heavily on his shoulder, and Nick collects the shot glasses with his fingers, and swigs the last of the shared vodka right out of the bottle before throwing it off into the water. Rochelle stumbles to the edge and vomits, the lines of tension showing on her arms.

Nick feels the bile rising up in his throat for a completely different reason.

His back is pressed up against the wall, two tall silos on either side of him, and he doesn't quite know how he got separated from them all. There had been two Chargers, and one had pushed Nick out of the way, sending Rochelle after him yelping with her machete waving. Ellis, well, he doesn't know where Ellis is, or if Ellis is alive or not.

There is a witch on her knees in front of him, and all that Coach knows is that it is very, very possible that he is going to die.

She lifts her head a bit, and he damn near stops breathing, claps a big hand over his mouth while his other hangs listlessly at his side. He's already dealt with one of the bitches, because they all played rock, paper, scissors to see who had to face her when she was directly in their path. Rochelle had lost, and even though she was willing to go and try her best to take care of her, Coach couldn't let her do it, and took the beating himself. She'd shredded the shit out of his arm, and he had claw marks on his neck and cheek as well.


He snaps his head around. Ellis, somewhere, sounding ragged and scared. He wants to yell to him, tell him to shut the fuck up, young'un, but he can't manage the words. The witch is growling, now, and his breathing is quickening, he can feel his heart going hard in his chest and after a diet of candy bars and nothing for the past few weeks, he wonders if his aorta is as clogged as his doctor used to say, and that he's going to die of a heart attack rather than death by a pissed off banshee.

He can feel rain on his forehead, on his cheeks. Some of it's probably tears, because he's honestly so fucking scared, he wants to die. The witch seems to calm down a little bit, bowing her head again, her clawed hands covering her eyes. Then, Nick, somewhere not far off, "Coach!" Rochelle's voice following.

He sees them come closer, all three of them, Ellis on one side with Rochelle and Nick keeping each other upright. They all pause as they see her, and Coach beyond there. All they have left are melee weapons, too little ammo to keep the other ones running.

There is no possible way to get around this. Ellis raises his axe and looks over at Rochelle and Nick. Coach feels a nervous laugh bubble in his throat when he sees Nick got stuck with the frying pan while Rochelle wields a machete.

He can't let them charge into shit like that. He has to protect them. He lifts his shotgun before they can move and fires a shot into the side of the bitch's head, and he closes his eyes as her pained howls rattle through his body.

He can barely feel it as she shoves him to the ground, her screech burning through his ears, the sting of her claws and the thud of Ellis' axe as it goes through her chest.

The rain falls softly around them. It's so quiet.

The elevator. Coach is barely conscious, and Rochelle keeps him hopped up on pills and adrenaline until they can make it to a safe house. She stands there, her leg twitching to a song in her head.

"You know, we wouldn't have been so beat up right now if someone hadn't forgotten the Goddamn gun bag," says Ellis, his voice low. He's in a heap on the ground, one leg pulled up because he's busted up his other one skidding the ground too many times. He's got his axe on the floor beside him.

Nick scoffs. He's bleeding from a nasty cut at his temple, and his elbows and chest are missing chunks and are riddled with gravel. "Fuck you, Ellis. Nobody told me to grab it, I'd assumed your gun happy ass had taken it."

"Oh, you would know all about takin' ass, wouldn't you?"

The muscles in Nick's jaw work, and Ellis keeps his hard stare on him. Rochelle keeps her leg moving, keeps singing the song in her head. Coach moans in pain, runs a palm over his sweaty forehead, and the elevator reaches the floor. They don't open the door yet, they don't want to move.

The wind picks up in the distance. Coach moans, his head rolls against the back of the elevator wall. "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name—"

"Christ, kid, if making queer jokes is all you can come up with, then you're stupider than I thought."

"Well at least I can share and actually give a shit about the last remaining people in the south! Fuck, maybe in all of the U.S.A., God only knows!"

"Fuck God! If God wanted us, he'd have saved us already!"

"Maybe God ain't here because you sinned too much!"

"—and forgive us our trespasses and forgive those who trespass against us—"

"Don't you get it? The only one who's going to save us out here is ourselves! And I wouldn't have gotten charged by that fucking thing if you had been watching my back instead of sitting there wondering how disgusting it is that I like dick! God, this is why I hate the South!"

"Yeah, well if you don't like it here, you can find your own fucking way to salvation, man, a'cause I ain't helping you no more because you're so fucking ungrateful!"

"Stop it! Shut up, shut up, shut up!"

Rochelle deafens them. Nick shakes violently, terrified she's summoned a horde, because he can't handle it in his current state. None of them can.

"And lead us not into temptation," Coach murmurs, "and deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory. For ever and ever." He trails off.

Ellis heavily gets to his feet, and knocks open the elevator door with the butt of his axe. Rochelle helps Coach up, her teeth gritted, and they follow out in a straggled procession with little order or reason. Nick storms ahead into the cane field, pushing past Ellis with his shoulder, because the kid is way too slow with his busted leg. He hears Coach groaning in the background. Forget them. He doesn't need them. They are dead weight.

He hears the vague cry of a Witch in the distance, but he pays her no mind.

Rochelle chews her lip, and helps Coach along. She's useless with her weapons while she's doing this, but Ellis won't help her, and neither will Nick.

Coach hums an old gospel song to himself.

Ellis knocks back his cap. He knew he should've died in Georgia.

The air settles around them and it's quiet, save for the high cry of a Witch. Or the wind. They move through the field, with Nick further ahead of them, his frying pan in an iron grip.

Ellis freezes, his eyes grow wide as he realizes exactly where Nick is going, to the gas station, but his voice coils in his throat as the tip of Nick's shoe touches her, and at the same time, Coach's leg bumps another hidden under the grass.

The screaming in the air is horrifying, and Rochelle yards on the gun on Coach's shoulder, tearing it off, "Run like hell!" and Nick is barrelling back to them, Witch with her claws out behind him, Ellis has his hands wrapped around Coach's thick arm, Rochelle firing round after round into the second one's forehead, sobbing, screaming, and she's out of bullets but Nick shoves the frying pan into her hand and tears the machete off her back slicing a line up her shirt, ramming it down into the top of the Witch's head, Ellis stumbling towards the gas station, and Nick yanks Rochelle by her upper arm, and they're running, and running, and running.

The slam of the safe room door echoes like thunder. They crash into a heap in the ground, and Nick sobs into the pavement where he can't hide his fear, and Ellis pukes all over the floor.

Coach pets Rochelle's shaking back.


When Nick wakes up, there is lightning. He groggily wakes, rubs his eyes, and is entirely aware of just how much his body aches. He looks over. He slept on Coach's shoulder, and the big guy's arm is still around his body. He's got bandages all over his chest, so Rochelle must've patched him up at some point, but she's completely out cold on the other side of Coach's broad shoulder.

He looks at his arms. She bandaged him up too. Probably somewhere between sleep and awake. He can't remember a thing.

His mouth is bone dry, and he's starving. Sliding out of Coach's grasp, he flicks on his flashlight for something to eat, and he nearly jumps when he finds Ellis' big eyes staring up at him, rimmed with tears. "Jesus Christ, kid, what are you doing awake?"

"Same reason as you, I reckon," he mumbles. "Cheerios?" Nick tentatively sits back down beside him, and sticks his hands into the box. "I looked for something to drink, but all we gots is some V8 Juice which tastes like shit but it's good for you."

Nick nods and accepts one as well. There's two more, one for Coach, one for Ro. He cracks the tab on it, and takes a drink. He kind of likes it. "I feel like hell warmed over."

"Yeah, me too, man."

He turns his flashlight off, and eats Cheerios in the dark, drinks the V8 juice, trying to savour it as much as possible. Listens to Ellis' teeth crunch down on the cereal. Coach's snore in the background, and Rochelle's quiet sniffles.

"Look," starts Ellis, "I'm sorry for getting on your case about being a queer and all. My friends always used to call me a queer too, cause I used to hang out with Keith all the time, and we didn't have no girlfriends. Least, no long-term ones."

"Was Keith gay?" asks Nick, before taking another handful of Cheerios, sticking them into his mouth one-by-one. He feels the heat of Ellis' body next to him, the shift of his arms as the discomfort level rises. He doesn't like the subject, it seems.

"Well no. He—at least, I don't think he was. Naw, he couldn't have been, I've knowed Keith since I was just a pipsqueak." Ellis shakes his head, and pulls off his cap, setting it to the ground beside them.

"What about you, Overalls?"

Ellis gasps quietly, but he doesn't get offended, which bugs Nick a bit because to a degree, he wishes the kid would. "Me? Hell no. I mean, it's gotta be fucking weird to have sex with another guy. Too many dicks, thank you kindly."

It goes a little flat after that, because Nick's opinion is that you can never have too much dick, but he isn't about to tell Ellis that. He drinks more of his V8, and Ellis says something he doesn't catch. "Hm?"

"You've… you've taken it in the ass right?" Nick is glad they're in the dark; he figures Ellis wouldn't ask this if Nick could see his face.

"Yeah. Once in a while."

"Seriously? That's damn vile, that." Ellis makes a noise of disgust, and Nick's lip curls, but he resists making a snide comment. "Shit, I didn't mean to say that out loud. It's just, it's kinda, well…" He trails off, and Nick eats more Cheerios. "Does it hurt?"

"It can, if you're not careful." Nick keeps his voice low, and he tries not to look at Ellis' face as he talks. He doesn't think the kid could bear it. Then again, straight guys are probably always curious about it, but too chicken shit to admit that it might feel good to take something up the ass.

"But you done married a woman, right? So you ain't completely queer, are you?" Ellis reaches for another tiny handful of cereal, and so does Nick. Nick pulls back. Ellis doesn't. He just pushes the circles around, not wanting to eat too many.

"No. I actually prefer women, for the most part. Not that it's any of your fucking business, Overalls." He laughs, a little awkwardly, and so does Ellis, but he quiets into whimpers.

"I'm so fucking tired," says Ellis, and Nick hears the threat of tears in his voice. He reacts with his body before his brain does, and swipes the kid into his arm, pulls him hard to his chest. Ellis sticks his head against Nick's neck, and Nick can smell the kid's sweat and blood and tears as his mouth falls onto Ellis' hair.

He leans his head back as Ellis falls asleep on his shoulder.

The rain falls steadily outside.

Rochelle can't see her hand in front of her. She's got it looped into Nick's belt, and they've lost Ellis and Coach somewhere along the way. The rain's thinned everything out, and the only danger is getting lost in the fucking maze of houses.

"Hey, hey I—and that lightswitch—they're making a—"

She can't hear Nick's voice for shit, and she just yells 'Okay!' as loud as she can, and he starts trudging harder through the deep water. She squints, looking as far forward as she can. There are lights on. Ellis and Coach are leaving them a trail back.

The Burger Tank sign snaps on, not far in the distance. A horde shrieks behind them. Rochelle knows she will be fine, because the red dot of a sniper rifle watches their backs from the rooftops.

"Augh, this Smoker's got me!"

Ellis slides off the rooftop, and the tile is slippery beneath Coach's feet. He can barely aim a gun in this damn weather, so he takes the damn ninja sword he found along the way and goes roaring off the roof to rescue. Nick and Rochelle call out, but he can barely hear them, and his ears prickle as he hears the call of a Charger behind him, but it never comes because Nick blows its huge arm off with his shotgun, and Rochelle runs ahead of them to shoulder-check the Smoker off of Ellis, and slap it silly with a baseball bat.

"You all right?" asks Rochelle, and Ellis nods, getting to his feet with Coach's help. Nick hands him the assault rifle he's got spare.

The boat horn blows loud, and thousands of infected shriek their plight. A Tank barrels towards them at full speed.

Backs to the water, they level their weapons.

No fear.

Flat on their backs, in the back of Virgil's boat, and Nick can hardly believe he's alive. The sun was hot throughout the day, but the night brings silence and warmth, even if it's humid and still relatively disgusting from the aftermaths of the storm.

They're bored. It's almost a relief. Ellis and Rochelle have both lost most of their clothing to the heat, and Coach finally sits up to fling off his shirt. None of them can care anymore. They've seen each other at their absolute worst.

Nick lets his head loll to the side, and he Rochelle is lying to his left, eyes closed as she bathes in the moonlight. "You know, despite the whole zombie apocalypse thing, the south isn't so bad," says Nick, offhandedly, as Rochelle's eyelashes flutter on her cheeks.

"Except for the swamps," she murmurs.

He chuckles. "Except for the swamps."

"Moonlight's real pretty," says Ellis, and Nick looks over Rochelle, and he's laying there with his head pillowed in his hands, strong arms tense from holding his head. He hasn't lost his hat. Ellis licks his dry lips and Nick tears his gaze away. "You know what I miss most about civilization?"

Nick laughs at the way the kid pronounces it. Coach grunts his vague affirmation.

"I miss watching UFC. And Wrestlemania. Nascar, too. Me and Keith watched that shit for hours, man."

Rochelle snorts in a decidedly unfeminine manner. "Man, why you missing TV of all things? I miss clubbing with my girls. I had just hit it off with this real cute guy, too. What about you Nick, what you miss?"

"Hookers and blow, Rochelle, you know me."

"Naw, man, really," says Ellis, pulling his cap lower on his face. He yawns, and that goofy smile pulls at his lips. "We know that ain't you at all."

"Okay, then, I really, really miss my electric razor. And fingernail clippers. And general, y'know, cleanliness."

The three of them laugh, and the silence hangs while they wait for Coach. "What about you?" offers Rochelle, and she wipes a bit of sweat off from her upper lip.

"My wife."

Before he can stop himself, Nick's hand is on Coach's arm, squeezing reassuringly. He almost pulls it back, but he feels the tension in Coach, so he stops, and just holds his forearm. Ellis and Rochelle remain silent, but Ellis is up on his elbows looking over, and Rochelle's breasts are pushing up against Nick's other side as she looks on in concern.

A shuddering breath slides out of the older man.

"Favorite movie and why," he suggests, his voice wavering. The silence passes, but the sadness is still clear in him, and Nick doesn't let go. He clears his throat. "Mine's gotta be The Green Mile. Damn good movie, if you ask me."

"Shit, Dude, Where's my Car's gotta be mine! Can't tell you how many times that happened to me and Keith. 'Cept, without the aliens, y'know. But this one time we was joy ridin' and I was real drunk and—"

"Anything by Alfred Hitchcock. That man is a movie making genius, and his shit is damn scary."

"You guys wouldn't want to hear mine," says Nick, and his face flushes a bit as he realizes that Ellis is close enough to hover over him. His skin is tanned and his face is freckled, his lips huge and swollen from being bitten so much. Nick has to force himself to look away, again.

"Shit, man, we wanna hear!"

"Yeah, come on, Nick."

"The Little Mermaid," he blurts, and he wishes he could stop it, but these people make him do things he normally wouldn't do. Ellis starts laughing at him, and he can hear Coach, too. "What? It's a fucking respectable choice if you ask me. Look, my ex-wife loved it, okay, I don't really like it at all."

"It's okay, man," says Coach, and Nick laughs awkwardly. "I love that movie too."

Rochelle balks. "That is the most sexist movie I ever saw. Shit, she sells her soul for a pussy an' a man she just met!"

Ellis hums a few bars from 'Under the Sea', and curls up on Rochelle's side.

The water laps at the base of Virgil's boat, and Ellis' humming tapers off. Coach's breathing slows beside him, and Rochelle makes a pillow of Nick's sweaty chest.

"You know what else I miss," she murmurs to him, as she undoes the topmost buttons on his shirt. The fabric sticks to his skin.

He lets her slide it off of his shoulders. There's an old tattoo on his left pectoral, but it doesn't mean anything. Not anymore.

"What's that, Ro?" he asks her, as she balls up the shirt and sticks it beneath his head as a makeshift pillow. He leans back, and she takes up her spot once more.


Ellis' giggling shakes her against him, and Nick's bark of laughter fades off into the warm night.

"Woo-ha, New Orleans!"

Rochelle cocks her shotgun, and she grins triumphantly. Coach shakes his head, a smile wiped across his face, because Ellis is usually the one yelling like it's the fourth of July. Nick waves to Virgil as he putters off, and brings the baseball bat off his shoulders.

"Man, I can't wait to get to the first safe room," says Ellis, bouncing from foot to foot. "I wonder if there's food left. I could eat a horse, man."

"Me too, sport." Nick starts first, making his way up the ramp as the other three clump tightly behind him, and keep an eye out. New Orleans means rescue. They aren't stupid – they know they'll need to get there, first.

"I wonder if they'll have showers. I could kill for a shower right about now." Rochelle's voice is husky with humour, and Nick chuckles just in time to slam his bat into an infected face, sending his head flying off into the distance.

"Well, that looks like a home run!" says Coach, aiming his assault rifle at an oncoming Charger, Rochelle already killing at Spitter.

Nick runs headfirst into the horde, Ellis at his back whooping and hollering. Batter up.

It isn't exactly a shower, but Rochelle is practically in orgasm as she realizes that the water here is still running. The first safehouse they've found—it's a tiny shop with boxes of half-eaten food littered around the aisles, and an apartment attached up-top. Ellis regrets to tell her that the upstairs bathroom is where the people hid out, and the shower is stacked with bodies. She picks the downstairs shop bathroom, and is forced to use a sink and a wash cloth. It's not much, but it's a start.

As she flicks on the light to the bathroom, she's distinctly aware of how bad she smells. Like sweat and blood and the harsh musk of Boomer vomit. Her nose wrinkles, and she looks at her hands, dried out and bloody. Chipped purple nail polish. She raises her hand to her mouth and bites off a hangnail.

There's no mirror in this bathroom. She doesn't really want to look at herself, anyhow. She hasn't had to in two weeks, there's no sense in breaking that particular tradition. She sets down her washcloth on the lip of the sink, bends over and undoes the buckles on her boots. She kicks them off to the side, and squirms out of her pants. Shirt goes next, then bra, and her filthy underwear. She piles her clothes into the sink to run water over. Nick had found old men's clothes in the house, and given them to her for later.

Rochelle has never been more thankful for soap. To her luck, the water isn't frigid, but it's not exactly warm, either. As she lathers the cloth with the soap, she tightens her jaw, and leans over, scrubbing her face until it's raw. As she pulls it away, she nearly laughs at how dark the cloth has gone from dirt. Just from her fucking face.

The door creaks open behind her, and she jumps, and Ellis', "Oh, shit, sorry, Ro'," is hurried and embarrassed. But he doesn't leave, and stands there with the door open and a shocked expression on his face. She can't help but notice how his eyes linger on her body, even though she looks like hell and hasn't shaved her legs or armpits in over two weeks.

"You looking for an invitation, sweetie?" she says, gentle sarcasm on her voice, the cloth still clenched in her hands. She's not upset with him, but it's damn weird with the door open. Not to mention the fact that he knew she was in here. Her eyebrow piques at the thought, but Ellis steps in and closes the door behind him. His face is beet red.

"Ro', I don't mean to be intrudin' or nothing, but… uh. I can wash your back for you, if you want," he says. He sounds so innocent, too, like a little kid wanting to shower with his mama. She turns her back to him, a bit self consciously. It's not like Ellis hasn't seen her naked before, but it's different when it's all of them.

"But if you want me to leave, that's fine too."

He sounds desperate for human contact. For someone to talk to, who won't turn him away. For someone to comfort him with their body. She knows that Nick would do it gladly (well, maybe not the talking part), she sees the way that he looks at him, sees how often Nick watches Ellis' back when they're fighting for their lives, seen Nick give Ellis his pills even when he's clearly about to fall over. But as far as she knows, Ellis doesn't swing that way.

She hears his overalls hit the ground when she doesn't give him an answer. The drop of his shirt to the floor, as she runs the cloth down her neck, the valley between her breasts. She looks down at her toes, painted too, and she can feel the heat of him behind her. She laughs nervously when she realizes this is the one time he isn't talking, and his hand travels up her ribcage, and she nearly moans when his fingers touch the underside of her breast.

"This is weird," he says, and she nods her head and laughs, but pushes her hips back against him. Tears rise. New Orleans is crawling from head to foot with infected. Somewhere, she knows that this is probably the last chance she'll have to make love with anyone. She just never imagined it would be Ellis.

He holds her tight to him as she shakes a bit, suppressing rage and fear, and when she's done, he takes the cloth from her hands, and runs it clean under the water. Some of it overruns the sink, pours down to the floor, but neither of them really gives a damn. Her toes feel cold.

Ellis isn't gentle with her as he scrubs the grime from her skin. Her flesh prickles and burns where he takes the dirt off her, but it feels good, and she feels cleaner than she has in weeks. He's softer when he gets to her breasts, and he hands the cloth from one hand to another to palm them together, his fingertips toying with her dark nipples. She can hear him gasp, feel his cock throbbing against her lower back. She barely reaches his shoulders.

"I ain't never had sex with a black girl 'afore," he murmurs. His accent is thicker, his voice raspier. A bolt of arousal goes through her, and she leans herself down against the sink, her tiny palms gripping there as he continues rubbing the cloth down her abdomen. He brings it around and washes her back, cold water dribbling down her body, pooling before her on the floor. "My mama would kill me for this."

"You're going to hell anyway, Ellis, denying yourself a natural pleasure ain't gonna save you at this point," she says, and moans as his fingers hit the apex between her legs, and he drops the cloth to press his callused fingertips against her clitoris. His other hand grips her hip, and she can feel his breath hot against her neck. She's barely aware of how tense she is, but it all flows out of her as an orgasm hits. She buckles against the sink, and he catches her before she falls.

"Damn, girl, that was quick," he says, and she sort of chuckles before she's turned around to face him. He's sort of crying, and she raises a hand to wipe the tracks under his eyes. Ellis wraps his arms around her and holds her tight, and they shake together.

When he pulls away, she reaches down, her gaze following and he mouth curls into a smirk. Her hand closes around his shaft, red and hard, foreskin pulled back as she moves her hand slowly. "Damn, white boy, you won the genetic lottery." He laughs quietly at her attempt to lift the oppressive mood, but soon he lifts her up onto the rim of the sink, one hand lifting her leg open, the other guiding himself into her. Rochelle doesn't make a sound as he pushes into her, and his needy gasp is loud and clear in her ears.

She comes again, jerking in his hold as he pushes to the hilt. He kisses the side of her mouth, his stubble leaving prickles of pain against her skin. He starts fucking her through it, and she can only sit there, her head leaned back, her legs pushed open by his firm hands.

Thoughts pass through her head. What would they do if Nick and Coach showed up? Play it off like nothing happened? Hell, at this point, Nick and Coach would probably just join in. A laugh ripples through her, and Ellis looks at her with that crooked grin, but his eyes are searching to see if she's comfortable. If she's okay. If she isn't just losing her fucking mind. He's always so worried about everyone else.

Her hand touches the side of his face, and he leans into it. Her eyes close, and she moves her hips to his rhythm, using the sink as her leverage. His breathing goes ragged, and his movements are fast and uncontrolled, but she matches his pace exactly. She knows everything about the way he moves, and so does he. Neither of them say a word. Neither of them have any stamina. She knows it won't take him long.

When he orgasms, the noise is so close to pain that it brings tears to Rochelle's eyes. He leaves bruises on her upper thighs, and he looks at her apologetically as he lowers her to the floor. But the tension has flown out of him, and he looks ready to sleep. She wets the washcloth again and washes him down, taking extra care of his face, under his arms, around his groin.

"Come on, yeehaw, let's get you to bed," she murmurs, and he nods sleepily. She throws on the clothes that Nick brought for her, the dark peaks of her breasts visible under the thin white shirt. She hangs up her clothes, and his, on the towel racks, as he yawns next to her, puts on the pants he must've snagged as well.

It's dark upstairs. The windows have all been boarded over, as have half the doors. Coach is snoring on the sofa. Ellis crashes on a sleeping bag on the floor. Nick and Rochelle have the bed tonight, but the door is open just in case.

She yawns as she gets in, and Nick rolls onto his side. His hair is messy, and he looks exhausted, but not asleep.

Rochelle closes her eyes, and she wants more than anything to fall asleep. This is the first time she's had pillows in ages.

"So was he good?"

Nick's voice borders or sarcasm. But she knows more than anything that it's probably just raw, powerful envy.

"I'm sorry," she mutters. Sorry that she did it, sorry because Ellis came to her instead of him, she doesn't know. Her eyes open, and she curls closer to Nick, and he wraps an arm around her. "How'd you even know?"

"You smell like him."

She laughs, and he kisses her on the mouth once, fleeting and unromantic. He shakes his head and it lands back on the pillow, conflicted and peaceful. Rochelle rests hers in the juncture of his shoulder and neck.

She knows that he's disappointed he couldn't comfort Ellis with his own body. She knows that he's glad that someone, at least, could.

Coach talks of a woman named Sheila in his sleep. Ellis dreams in silence, his legs kicking like a puppy, running for a future he'll never reach.

"That's gotta be the CEDA checkpoint just up there," Coach says, and he exhales noisily, kicking a squalling infected as he passes by. Nick gives an uneasy look behind him, a Jockey's cackle not far off in the distance.

It's quiet, and Rochelle takes the time to start dabbing a gauze pad at the open gash on her bicep, a Hunter that got a little too close. Nick leans himself up against a wall, runs a hand through his hair. Ellis is reloading his shotgun, his thumbs and fingers all bloody.

Coach knows they're trying to distract themselves. They're getting closer and closer to their salvation, but they're running out of time. Eventually, the South will be abandoned. Coach knows if the infection spreads to Mexico, the entire Northern continent is doomed.

He wipes the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand, and jerks his assault rifle off his back. "Soon's everyone's ready, we're getting our asses moving. Can't afford to waste no more time."

They sink back into a familiar formation, with Coach in the lead, Ellis and Rochelle back to back, and Nick taking up the rear as they slink down a narrow alleyway. The wayward Jockey must've come back, as Coach hears Nick's magnum go off, and his smarmy laugh following. He grins, and shakes his head, as they pass into an open zone.

"Man, this here's gotta be where they lined everybody up. Christ, look at all the bodies. Musta got infected before CEDA could even get 'em through." Ellis edges his way past a pile, and Coach and Rochelle start searching for any supplies left behind.

Everyone stops at Nick's horrified, pained noise.

"Jesus fucking Christ."

Rochelle doubles back to him, and Coach follows as he expects the worst, and Nick has one of the bodies flipped onto its back. It's decaying and smells strongly of death, but hollow, blue eyes stare back up at them.

"They're…" Rochelle trails off. They're not infected. Ellis has jogged back to them, and he turns over another body. A teenage girl. Not infected. An old woman. Not infected. A businessman. Not infected. A child. Bullet holes in the heads, all of them. Executed.

Rochelle whimpers in the back of her throat, and Coach seizes her up by the arm as she tries to pull away. "Don't you start now, girl."

Nick laughs harshly to the side of him. "Some great fucking plan. Going to New Orleans for evacuation. Even if we do find CEDA around here somewhere, they'll probably just blow our brains out anyway!"

"Now hold on—" starts Ellis, but Nick cuts him off.

"I say we turn the fuck around and go north. Like hell we've come this far only to get the goddamn consolation prize!"

"I don't want to die," says Rochelle, quietly, and Coach starts to speak but the ground rattles, and the sound is deafening. All four raise their weapons reflexively, anticipating a Tank. But the sound spreads around them, and fire rises in the distance.

"Now they're bombing us! Great! Fucking fantastic!" Nick storms away, and Coach follows him, grabbing the retreating gambler by the back of his tattered jacket. Nick starts thrashing immediately, but as Coach's other hand settles on his shoulder he quiets down. "I hope you know that we're going to die."

"Well, wait a fuckin second, okay?" Ellis brings Rochelle over to them, and though she seems to be getting her bearings, Coach can still see the hysteria in her eyes. "Bombs mean helicopters 'n planes and shit. That means people. Real people still here, and they gotta be runnin short on those. They probably just shot all these folks 'cause they was scared. I mean, we don't even know when this happened. They gotta be evacuating everything they can now. Right?"

Ellis' eyes search for affirmation, and Coach's mouth twists but he nods. "If we go back now, we gon' die. I can't take more of that runnin' around shit."

"But if we go towards the people bombing the city, we're probably going to die." Nick crosses his arms, but his will is retreating. Coach knows him well enough now to understand the way he works. He looks over at Ellis, the boy's gaze concentrated on Nick's face, and the two men stare at each other for a good long while before Nick finally looks away. Surrendering. "If we stand around here fucking talking, we'll die too. Whatever, let's just get moving."

Nick stands in position until Coach is ready to move again. Coach, however, is not ready. He feels Rochelle shaking next to him, and when she looks up, there are tears in her eyes. "Girl, don't pay any attention to him. We're not gonna die."

She sniffs loudly, and Ellis' hand comes down to pat her back. "This just all feels so useless," she says, and she shakes her head. "I want to go home."

"We're all a'scared, Rochelle," he says, and when she looks at him, he gives her that familiar crooked smile. Coach squeezes Rochelle's other shoulder, and Nick moves closer as well. "Look, we don't know what's gonna happen. For all we know, there could be a big ole welcome party with like Boomer piñatas and shit."

"That would be the worst piñata ever, Overalls."

"Shit, you get my point. We'll be fine! We made it this far, didn't we? Ro-girl, I promise ya, if worst comes to worst, we'll shoot the CEDA guys our damn selves and fly the helicopters up to Australia or some shit."

"Ellis, Australia is down."

"Quiet, you! But you know what I'm saying. We all got each other. We're watching each other's backs."

Rochelle nods, and her hands brush the tears off her cheeks. Coach realizes how small her hands are. He always forgets how tiny she is when she's roaring full-on at a Tank with a shotgun and a chainsaw strapped to her back.

The image makes him laugh, and Coach laughing makes Ellis chuckle, and Rochelle's lips tug up into a slight smile while Nick just shakes his head.

"The A-Team, right, Overalls?" The conman elbows Ellis playfully, and he nods in agreement. Rochelle cracks her neck, takes a deep breath, and her moment of uncertainty disappears. They're ready. Coach knows that they're ready to face whatever's beyond the checkpoint, and further still, the bridge. Beyond that endless abyss of uncertainties.

As they head forward, Coach closes the compartment door behind them. He says a silent prayer for the families before theirs that did not have a chance to make it through to salvation.

All that is before them now is a seascape of cars, coils of iron and hundreds of infected like hurricanes around their constraints of sea and metal. The bridge groans as bombs rattle around it, but it holds.

Rochelle holds her breath as she crams shells into her shotgun. It is their last possible chance at freedom, and the outcome is looking bleak. There is a radio buzzing outside, and Coach wants them to rush through this safe house as fast as possible. Ellis wants to spend the night first and try going in the morning. Nick, for once, has no opinion. His hands are shaking too badly to even get a magazine into his rifle. He is letting his poker face slip. There's no point in caring anymore, as they are very likely running straight to oblivion.

"Look, we're gonna all just fall asleep on our feet if we try takin' on that bridge right now. I says we snooze for a few hours and then we get goin."

"Boy, we don't have a few hours. If we're gonna get outta here, we have to haul ass. They ain't gonna wait around forever. 'Sides, I can hear that damn radio crackling, and I bet you if we went and yelled into it, someone would hear us," Coach replies, and he swipes up an adrenaline shot. Rochelle knows if they're going to take on this bridge, they're going to need to do it fast.

Ellis shakes a pipebomb in his hand. "Well, okay. Guess we should go try, then."

"Hopefully, the military will do something right," says Nick, before he pops a few pills and shakes his head. Rochelle chews her lower lip, and Nick pops the bar out of the safe room door, and they straggle out together to where the radio lies in a man's cold, dead hands.

"Rescue 7, this is Papa Gator, over."

Rochelle's nerves hum to life. Rescue. They could be safe from all of this. Her leg starts shaking and she sings a song in her head. They're so close. Nick clears his throat. "Um, hello?"

"Rescue 7, that's coming from the bridge!" Ellis whoops in the background, and Rochelle smiles, even as she shakes her head, her leg still shaking against the ground. "Bridge, identify yourself!"

"My name's Nick. There's four of us on the…" He looks around, a little disoriented and he finds the sun. "On the west end of the bridge."

"Bridge! Are you immune?"

This question seems to momentarily stilt Nick. Rochelle looks uneasily at the three of their companions. They're human, aren't they? They're immune. Unless that safe room graffiti about carriers meant something…

Nick simply says, "We are not infected."

"That much is fuckin' clear," says Ellis, quietly, but the grin on his face is huge. He is excited to be saved. Rochelle can't be that optimistic.

"Negative, Bridge. Are you immune? Have you encountered the infected?"

Coach barges in at that point. "Encountered? Boy, I am covered in zombie blood and puke and eyeballs and twenty other parts I don't even recognize. We are immune as shit!"

Rochelle laughs nervously. The radio voice continues. "Rescue 7, are you equipped for carriers?"

"Affirmative, Papa Gator."

"Bridge, we have pulled out of that sector." Rochelle's heart falls down into her stomach. The voice continues. "Your only other available pickup is on the other end of the bridge. Our last chopper is leaving in ten minutes. You need to lower the span and get across the bridge." Nick's breath hisses out through his teeth. "God be with you."

The radio crackles out, and Nick lets it drop back down to the dead man. "Ten minutes," he says, quietly. Ellis goes over to the panel and looks at it, but the silence that falls around them is deafening.

"There's gonna be a shit ton of infected on there, boy, let me tell you," says Coach, and runs a broad palm over his head. He lets it drop over his face, as Ellis fiddles with the controls.

"Well, we just gotta go fast then, right?" he says. "Get all our asses to safety 'n shit."

"What happens if someone gets jumped? Like, we're running, and then someone slips and falls or something," says Rochelle. "What do we do then?"

"Well, that's easy, we just goes back for 'em," says Ellis. Rochelle bites her lip. She can feel Nick and Coach's hard looks at the youngest man. It isn't so simple any more.

"Young'un," he starts, his tone soft and the regret hangs in his voice. "We only got ten minutes. We won't have no time to go back for anyone."

"What you mean?" says Ellis, his big eyes turned on Coach. He looks back, and hits the button to bring the ramp up. The mechanical beast grates, and the sound will surely attract any monster nearby.

Rochelle can see the muscles tense in Nick's jaw. "What he means, Ellis, is that it's better that one or two of us live, rather than all of us die."

The understanding is clear. Every man for himself. It's a horrible thing to think, because Rochelle knows that she'll likely never find anyone she can trust as much as she trusts these men. But she knows that if it came down to one of them being able to survive, she would cover them until they disappeared from her sight, and die protecting any one of them.

Her heart swells in her throat, and she grabs Nick and Ellis by the collars of their shirts and drags them close, and Nick's hand snaps out to grab Coach as well.

"Shit, I love you guys," she says, and she sniffles back tears.

Ellis laughs, but his voice cracks a bit. "Man, if we survive this, Nick, I'mma let you fuck me right in the ass."

"God, Overalls, don't say that right now."

The ramp crashes down against the pavement. That's their cue. Coach gently knocks his forehead against Rochelle's, Nick sets his wristwatch, and with Ellis' yell, "Pipebomb out!" they funnel between the buses, their legs going as fast as they can carry them.

"Ellis? Shit, Ellis!"

He coughs. The Smoker he'd shot didn't go down easily, and not before Richard Simmons girly slapping him across the face. It hadn't hurt that bad, it was just annoying as fuck.

Even more annoying was how he found himself going back for the kid. They have five minutes left, tops, and Coach and Rochelle are already long gone. The Tank that'd found them had knocked a car in between them, and now Nick knows he isn't going to make it to the helicopter. He knows he could if he leaves Ellis behind.

But after all the kid's done for him, the least he can do is not let Ellis die alone.


He hears a groan from behind a red sedan, and his guts clench painfully. He hopes that Ellis isn't stuck under that thing.

Nick climbs over the hood, and finds Ellis flat on his back behind it. He's lying in a puddle of Spitter goo. No wonder he got stuck. His shirt's been burned off his back, and his flesh is exposed, but his face has been missed. Nick kneels down, wiping dirt off the kid's cheek. "Leave it to you to get covered in a strange woman's body fluid."

"Shut the hell up," he says, and he laughs, but it turns into coughs and he rolls over onto his side, and Nick helps to pull him out of the acid. His left leg is chewed down to the muscle from the effect. "God, everything hurts right now."

Nick nods. He hears the whirring of helicopter blades off in the distance. Rochelle and Coach are probably getting onboard now. He imagines they'll repopulate the species with little linebackers or some shit.

He's completely taken by surprise when something slams into his back, and he's vaguely aware of his chest slamming into a car, and he can hear Ellis' hoarse cry behind him, the thunder of his pistols off to his right. He feels something break in his chest. Pain surges through him.

He knows that he is going to die.

Suddenly, everything crumples, and he's back down on the ground, flat on his face.

"Nick. Nick! Shit, fuck, shit are you okay? Answer me. Answer me, fuck!"

Ellis' hand is shaking his shoulder, and all that does is bring more pain. Nick barely can get up to his elbows, and he's barely aware of the blood running out of his mouth. He's disoriented and he can't see anything straight. He hears Ellis fumble with something, and a jab of pain erupts in his neck.

"…What happened?" he slurs out. He can still breathe, but his chest aches, burns.

"Charger," says Ellis, weakly. "God, I thought you was a goner. You still breathing, though, so's I reckon you're okay."

He spits more blood onto the pavement, and his vision starts to clear. The adrenaline Ellis gave him is helping with the pain. He rubs his hand over his face, and nearly punches himself in the nose doing so. "Jesus."

Nick lies back down, and struggles to breathe. He brings himself to his side, and that only hurts more, so he rolls to his back. He turns his head every now and then to spit out more blood.

Time passes. It feels eternal.

Ellis is a starfish beside him. The kid turns his head, and his smile is genuine. "Hey, now that we've got time, you reckons how I could tell you a story? From start to finish this time."


"This one time, me and Keith went—"

"Is every story of yours about Keith?" He's jealous. It's not like he wants to spend forever with the kid. He just wishes he had a little more time to fuck his brains out. To shut him up. To only talk about him, instead of hearing Keith's name out of his mouth every five fucking seconds. To moan his name with that stupid accent. To be around for a while, just a little while longer, so Nick can learn what he's like under all of the stories.

"You tell me a story, then."

Nick takes a breath, ready to retort. He doesn't like talking about himself. Everything that's happened in his life is depressing or disgusting or worse.

They're about to die. He supposes he can change his rules for once.

"When I was fifteen, I found my calling in life."

"An' what was that, card games?"

"No, dumb shit." He closes his eyes, and swallows blood. His voice is watery when he speaks. "It was Shakespeare. I read Macbeth for the first time, and I knew that I wanted to teach about it to people. So, after I graduated, I set out to get a teaching degree."

"Jesus shit, I woulda never guessed."

"Yeah, wait on it, kid, it gets better. Anyway, around the same time—" He coughs up blood, and the force of it leaves his entire body aching, "I met my ex-wife. Her parents died when I was with her, and I felt bad for her, so I let her live with me. Well, there went my fucking student loan, and then she got knocked up, so I had to do something about it and I was already working two jobs. So I started getting into card games and shit. I was really fucking good at counting cards."

"So you have a kid?"

Nick shakes his head. "No, it… he… well, he was a preemie kid, and he died within the first month." Nick stops talking, his mouth shut tight.

Ellis' fingers touch his, and the kid wraps them tight around his palm. Nick closes his hand.

"But I got caught doing it by the wrong guy, and he started threatening me, and we got into a fight. He brought a knife, and I managed to get a hold of it, so I stabbed him twice in the gut and once in the chest. I got off with manslaughter because it was mostly self-defense, but I spent two years in the slammer."

"So you killed a guy, huh?"

Nick's silence is an answer.

"I'm sure that God'll forgive you."

Nick laughs, but it's mostly just air escaping his chest.

"I wonder what death's like. If it's like, shit, purgatory, or somethin'."

"You believe in heaven, Ellis. Tell yourself you're going to heaven."

"Naw, man, I don't want to go to heaven. Won't know nobody there."

"So you're saying you've got friends in hell."

"Well, I will. Soon."

Nick closes his eyes. The timer is beeping on his watch. "Guess that's our exit, kid," he says. He's not as afraid of dying as he originally thought. Maybe it's because he's accepted it. There's nothing more he can do. At least Ro and Coach are safe.

He's vaguely aware of the shadow that falls over him, and when he looks up, Ellis is looking down at him with a pained expression on his face. The kid's hand cups his cheek, his thumb brushing against the patchy beard there, and the kid leans down and kisses him with those full lips. Nick swallows the blood in his throat and raises his hand to seize Ellis' hair, pulling him tighter. The kid is surprisingly forceful, and they're desperate together, and Nick doesn't want this to be the end. He would give anything for more of this. The taste of Ellis' tongue, the shape of his mouth imprinted into his forever.


Rochelle's banshee cry breaks them free of it, and Ellis struggles to sit up. He screams himself hoarse, waving his arms, and Nick can barely get up to his elbows. His vision is starting to white out with pain.

She barrels over to them, and she's utterly topless, her chest is mangled to a horrifying degree. Coach follows after her, limping, and his arm is burned to shit, the side of his face following suit. When Rochelle's hand reaches for him, Nick realizes that she's missing three fingers. "Jesus," is all he can say, and he can barely stand. Rochelle supports him, and Ellis is on Coach's back.

"Why the hell did you guys come back?" he snaps, as they start to make the final stretch back to the chopper.

"We couldn't leave without you," says Coach, and the pain is clear in his voice. "The, shit, the pilot said we could go and get you. Can't afford to leave no one behind no more."

Rochelle doesn't speak, because it's clear she's barely holding herself together. Nick realizes that she's nearly missing half a nipple. He vomits blood onto the pavement, shaking violently against Rochelle.

They are together, fumbling towards freedom.

They are together, as the rest of the world disappears.

They are together, and they are dying.

They are together.

This is all that matters.

Ellis is flat on his back, his arms sprawled out, and Nick is next to him puking up blood as the chopper sways up into the air. Ellis can hear the explosion outside, the clang of metal as it hits the sides of their way out.

He remembers a story.

"I remember this one time… me and Keith was out in the swamps in his piece a'shit Toyota, right? I think I told you this one, Nick. Anyways, we got up on the hood, and Keith, well, Keith fell right asleep 'cause he drove all the way there. I stayed up, hell, till the sun came up." He clears his throat, and it's thick because there are tears in his eyes. He can hear Rochelle's whimpers of pain, as she twists her right hand in front of her gaze, phantom fingers keeping her restless. Coach just puts his head back against the steel wall and his breathing is low and even.

"Why'd you stay up, Ellis?" says Coach.

They've come a long way from everyone shutting him up. Ellis smiles, and Rochelle's whimpers rise to full blown screams of agony.

"I spent all night lookin' at the sky. Lookin' for them constellations, maybe I was lookin' for God."

"Did you find God," Nick croaks, and vomits again, his hands shivering across the steel.

"No, I didn't, I suppose. Didn't even make no wishes on nothin fallin," he says, and his hand finds Nick's hair even as the edges of his vision start to black out. Nick nearly moans at the comfort, and he retches again.

Coach chuckles. Ellis knows that wishes couldn't have saved them from this.

Rochelle's screaming only increases, and she thrashes against the wall. "Why'd you stay up then, young'un?" asks Coach. He pulls Rochelle tight against his body, and her bruised and scratched breasts press up against his chest, leave blood smears on his shirt.

"I was lookin' at the stars," he says, and his voice sounds faint, even to him. "I ain't never see'd so many stars."

The fading sun bleeds over the sky.

Author's Notes

This fic has been in works for about a month now. Many thanks to Rii for betaing and putting up with my nattering for as long as you did. Credits for the title and song lyrics go to TV on the Radio, and the prayer within the story is The Lord's Prayer. I thank anyone who manages to get through this monster, being as long as it is, and I hope you enjoyed it.

Archy the Cockroach