When Ellis had started to turn, Nick did the only thing a sane man would do. At least, as sane as anyone could be in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. As sane as anyone could be when they were in love.

He found a strong leash and a shock collar.

It definitely had not been easy at first. Especially since El turned so goddamn slow.

Goddamn his strength. Goddamn his spirit.

The kid had nearly crushed his own.

Ellis had stared at him with hard wet eyes as he showed him the collar he would soon be wearing. "Yew should shoot me," he said. It was one of his last few coherent sentences; he said it every day for a week. "Yew should shoot me… but I love yew."

And he had held those hands, those calloused hands that had grown so frighteningly the past few days, the metacarpals and phalanges extending, knuckles swelling. The hick complained of the pain they brought him. Nick had found him medication for arthritis. It had helped take the hurt away, but his hands still grew, fingertips sharpening into points themselves, nothing nail clippers could fix. He held them, laced his own fingers with his and gripped tightly and Ellis rocked back and forth, eyes squeezed tightly shut because it was so hard to resist digging his claws into the flesh of the man's hands.

As it was, Ellis had attacked him a few times before losing himself. Three times, total. The first the hick had pounced on top of him and immediately pounced back off, slamming himself into a wall head first. He kept hitting his head until Nick grabbed him and forcefully shoved the hat back onto his head, seizing his face in his hands and willing him to stop. The mechanic cried all night, no matter how much he tried to soothe him, and he kept apologizing over and over and over.

"Yew should shoot me."

His answer was always the same. "I'm not going to."

The second time was what finally prompted the collar. His restraint had been slower– he only came to when he saw Nick's blood on his hands. He had been horrified with himself.

Thankfully the wound hadn't been deep, but it stung for a long time underneath the gauze. "Tell me a story," Nick had insisted, trying to calm him. Ellis didn't want to, but he eventually gave up his sobbing to relay an adventure with Keith, and the memory brought a smile to his face. Nick had smiled too.

"I ain't got much more time…" the hick had said, stooped against the wall. His posture had too begun to degenerate, leaving him hunched and stooped whenever they paused. He tried to keep upright when they went out, but Nick could tell it had been a painful endeavor– that physically his back was changing– that the vertebrae had re-aligned the S-curve into a single ugly C. "I kin hold on tuhnight…" he mumbled. "I want'chu to make luv tuh me… this'll prolly be the last time while I'm still me…" His voice had trembled so much, so hard. At the time Nick had found it curious that the boy acknowledged he had no plans to stop– once he had changed.

As it turned out, El did hold on. They went all night. It wasn't a stretch to stay up; they both had become insomniacs, unwilling to spend precious moments while El was still El asleep and unconscious.

And after they had made love that final time as the sun came up, Nick had collared him.

And fuck if the boy didn't thank him then, as he slowly slipped the collar around his soft neck, fastening it tightly. "Thank yew, Nick…" he said, trembling fingers touching the cool metal. "Fer luvin' me enough tuh dew this…" Nick had had to blink back tears. "I prolly would'a done the same thing in yer place." Then a few moments later, as Nick cradled him in his arms. "I'm really gonna miss yew…"

"I'm going to miss you too."

"I'm so sorry, El…" he had whispered.

But Ellis had gone to sleep.

And he barely saw him the next day. While El didn't attack, he didn't act like El either. He just sat, hunched and in his corner– the corner he had decided he liked which was next to the couch and by far the darkest in the little inhabitance. Nick hadn't tried to make him fight that impulse, an unnecessary added torture. He didn't peek out until mid-evening, as Nick sat on the couch, knees hugged to his chest. Ellis crept out of his corner and drawled, one final time, "I luv yew."

The words had turned him inside-out because he had just spent the whole day convincing himself of the fact that he wouldn't be seeing Ellis again, that the wait was finally over. "I love you too…" he replied hoarsely. The kid crawled up onto the couch, crawled up to him, crawled into his lap.

And attacked him the third time.

Nick's fingers had been on the remote all day; they curled around it in a heartbeat and sent electricity through the kid's body before he could strike, the force of which made him fall to the floor.

"Ellis…!" Nick yelled. "Are you okay?"

The hick let out a wail as he rose. "Shoot me!" he screamed at the conman. "Shoot me!"

Nick shook his head and Ellis screamed again, digging his claws into his own chest. "Shoot me, shoot me, SHOOT ME!"

And even though the kid had technically been in his 'right' mind, Nick pressed the button again. And Ellis collapsed.

He never saw or heard from him again.