"Come on, safe house!" Nick said, relieved. He shouldered the door open, the hinges caked with mud. The door left reddish stains on his suit, whether from old blood or rust, he didn't know; after trudging through the swamp knee-deep in filthy water and god-knows-what-else, he gave up caring what condition his suit was in. It was fucked anyway.

"Everyone, get in!" Nick called out again; he took aim and fired over his friends, buying them some time. Rochelle made it in, leaning on Coach's shoulder, her one leg almost useless as blood ran down it in crimson streams. Coach half-carried her into a corner, and Nick watched as he tore open a first-aid kit, frantically searching inside of it.

"NICK!" Ellis' voice shocked Nick back into reality. He raised his gun and looked out, where Ellis was taking a stance, aiming, when a tongue shot out, wrapping around the young man's chest. Ellis dropped his gun as he was yanked off-balance, and he fell face-first as he was dragged further and further away from safety through the filthy mud-water. Nick quickly aimed a few shots at the Smoker's tongue, missed, and instead fired a few random shots at where he guessed the Smoker was hiding. After a few scattered blasts, he saw a burst of thick, green smoke, but only Ellis' legs could be seen flailing in and out of the water.

"Shit," Nick cursed, and he bolted out of the safe room.

"Nick!" Coach yelled, and a glance back told Nick that Coach had left Rochelle to watch him from the doorway, just as he heard a low growling.

"Hunter," Coach half-whispered, his gun raised and ready. Nick ignored him, ignored the Hunter, ignored the hundred other Infected he heard in the distance. What mattered to him right now was Ellis, who had suddenly stopped flailing, the water growing still around him. Nick lowered his gun to help Ellis up, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw it. Out of instinct Nick lashed out, knocking the Hunter off to the side as its claws grazed his arm. Before it could regain its balance, Coach fired a few shots, and the Hunter crumpled into the water.

Without wasting any time, Nick recklessly cast aside his gun and lifted Ellis from the murky waters, unwrapping the Smoker's tongue from his chest. The young mechanic wasn't moving, wasn't breathing; Nick lifted him and bolted back to the safe room with Coach firing random shots over his shoulder. The second he burst through the door Coach slammed the door shut, barring it. Nick slid Ellis to the floor, one hand already feeling his chest.

"No heartbeat," Nick said, his throat tight.

"The defibrillator–" Rochelle started.

"He's soaked," Coach interrupted her. "It would fry him."

Nick tore off his suit jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves. Quickly but gently, he tipped back Ellis' head back, his other hand pinching his nose. He closed his mouth over the mechanic's and watched his young chest rise as he breathed into him twice. He began chest compressions.

"Oh, Ellis," Rochelle whispered. Coach went to kneel beside her.

Nick continued his attempts to resuscitate Ellis, his brow creased with worry. He leaned in for two more breaths, and restarted the compressions again.

"I have not..." Nick grunted, "come this far... for you... to die now!"

He leaned in, gave two more breaths, and jumped when Ellis suddenly coughed, water spilling from his mouth. Nick rolled him onto his side, supporting him as he half-spat, half-vomited on the floor.

"Nick," Ellis gasped.

"I'm here, kid," Nick responded.


"Coach," Nick started, but Coach was already up, a water bottle open in his hands. He handed it to Nick, who propped Ellis up in his lap. Nick poured the water into his mouth a little bit at a time, allowing him to swallow and breathe.

"You got him okay?" Coach asked.

"Yeah, I got him," Nick said, his eyes still on the boy in his lap.

"Let's get you fixed up, now," Coach said, turning to Rochelle. "There's a mattress in another room that's better than this patch of floor."

Rochelle simply nodded, her face contorted in pain. Coach reached down and, after helping her up, they made their way farther into the safe house.

"Coach, toss me a blanket, would you?"

Wordlessly, a bedspread was thrown from a doorway down the hall and landed in a pile beside Nick on the floor. Nick snatched it up and began tucking it around Ellis, who was beginning to shiver, one hand on his chest, the other knotted tightly in Nick's shirt.

"You doin' alright, kid?" Nick asked him gently.

Ellis simply nodded. His hand slid from his chest; he lifted it slowly, reaching for something unknown.

"Easy there, Overalls," Nick said, clasping his hand, their fingers entwined. They lowered their hands together.

"What were you thinking out there?" Nick asked him. "You could've been killed."

"You were... already in safe..." Ellis sighed. "Had to..."

"Ellis," Nick whispered. He let go of the mechanic's hand and raised his fingers to his cheek. He leaned in once more, this time for a kiss. He kept it short and sweet, but he still saw the wonder in Ellis' eyes when he drew away.

"Y'know all those things I said about you, Ellis? I was joking... We... I need you a little longer."