Stealing quiet on my bed
And fighting wars inside my head
While counting the footprints on the ceiling
Blank and colorless tapestries
The voices yell inside of me
And I knew then that the paint was peeling
The stench of death suffocated his senses—choked and choked, squeezed and throttled, pressed and held—it suffocated without compassion. God, how it was suffocating.
He felt somewhere deep within himself trembling. Trembling so terribly that he could feel it in his bones. His heart was aching, his eyes were stinging, his lungs begged to taste anything but this godforsaken room.
Green-gold eyes lifted slightly, wavering between a once-upon-a-time confident rogue and an utterly helpless broken soul. God, the things he had seen. The things he had done!
All around the broken conman were others just like himself. Sitting, waiting, shaking—helpless creatures all at the mercy of the people that had promised to protect them. All around him the others were slick with red death, worn and ragged, broken and powerless with festering and neglected wounds. They all sat and awaited their fate.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Would they ever come? Would anyone ever return to this suffocating room and liberate them? Or would they simply succumb to the heat, succumb to the stench—succumb to the Infection? Maybe the longer they sat here, inhaling death, they'd start to crave it for themselves. Crave not just the taste of it that was so familiar on their tongues by now, but the feel of it! The feel of warm blood between their fingers, on their skin, on their faces, on their lips. Oh, God, maybe he was Turning!
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Someone's watch nearby was so loud as it ticked away the seconds. Nick wanted to find this person, wrap his fingers around their throat and crush the air from their windpipe. He wanted to make this person suffer. Wanted to let them know how insane he felt hearing every little second ticking away. He wanted to feel death between his fingers. He wanted to make it stop. Make that god damn ticking noise stop.
"You." The man seemed to have materialized out of nowhere, because Nick swore he hadn't heard him approach—it must have been that ticking noise. Yes, that ticking noise was so loud, so very, very loud... "Come with me."
Nick made no effort to move, just kept sneering up at the man with a 'touch-me-I-dare-you' sort of sneer. The soldier complied and reached down to pull him roughly to his feet. In an instant Nick found himself jerking free, his fist cocked back and came forward to connect solidly with the soldier's nose. Blood exploded everywhere, hot and wet, crimson and beautiful. Nick's fist came back again and again. The soldier crumpled and Nick was standing over him, fist beating over and over, tendering the flesh into a pulp of blood and gore. God, he could feel it between his fingers, slick and warm. He could taste the splatter on his lips. Die. Die. Die. Die. Die.
"Sir? Sir? Hello, sir?"
Nick's gaze lifted to the soldier's face—there was no blood. Just concern—pure altruistic concern. Nick made a soft noise, his mind unable to comprehend. The soldier took his arm a little more firmly and the conman found himself leaning against the other as he led him from the room. Eyes followed them, haunted, jealous eyes that wished more than anything that it was them leaving and not him. The looks made Nick feel guilty, filthy, disgusting.
He didn't know how long they walked or even what the soldier said. He had no idea where he had been taken or why. When his eyes finally started to see again he found himself sitting across a desk from a very weary, very concerned looking man. Why was everyone giving him that same look?
"Nick, right?" the man said as he adjusted his glasses. Nick said nothing, his gaze had shifted down to stare blankly at the mug full of assorted pens. Huh… what a strange color. Was that a blue? Or a purple? "Nick, your blood work came back and you are negative for the Infection. You will be moved to the medical ward where you will be treated for your injuries, washed and mentally evaluated. Do you understand?"
Understand? Sure, he understood. Time to wake up. It's time to get up and go to school, Nick. Time to get your lessons, time to learn. Wait…wait… No, no that's not right. That's not right.
"Who are you?" Nick asked, startled. It was the first time he became aware of where he was.
"Oh, I'm sorry, my name is Dr. Deidre. I guess you don't remember me, but I was the doctor that took your blood when you first arrived." The doctor hesitated, then nodded slowly, encouragingly. "You remember me, right?"
Nick twitched where he sat, really not sure what to say. He felt his mind turning hazy with… Wait, was this what it was like to be insane? Oh no, oh no, oh no. Shit, shit, shit. You're fine, Nick. You're okay. You're all right, buddy. Nothing's wrong. You're gonna be okay.
"Where are my friends?" Nick blurted out. Where was Ellis? And Coach? And Rochelle? Where'd they all go? He couldn't remember.
"If you came with others, they are probably still in quarantine," the doctor said delicately. "When their blood work comes through, they'll be moving to the medical ward too. It can take a few days for some people to get through."
Nick felt his eyes twitching and his mouth worked itself into a frown. How long had he been in the quarantine room with all those other people?
"But I was just in there," Nick breathed, shaking his head. "I didn't see them in there. I didn't see them. Where were they? Why would you separate us? Why would you put me in there with all those people but not with them?" His voice was shaking, his body was too. Where were they? Where did they go? Where had they put them!
The doctor sat back in his chair, brow furrowed and he suddenly looked very concerned. He worried his lips for a moment, cleared his throat and adjusted himself in his seat. Finally he spoke, and he sounded sincerely alarmed, "There was no one else in that room, Nick. You were alone. We quarantine everyone individually to minimize contamination."
Alone? Nick hissed in a breath through his teeth. No, that wasn't right. He had seen all those people in there. They had all been piled into that tiny room. Everyone had been bloody and—and… and… and dead. Everyone… they had all… He had seen them.. But… They were…
Nick's mouth moved but no words came out. Oh, God… Oh, God… Please no. Please don't take away my mind. Please, please, please!
"Nicholas, please understand that what you have been through has been very traumatizing," the doctor said gently. He leaned forward and cautiously reached across the table to place his hand over Nick's. "You're going to be all right. We're going to take very good care of you, all right? Do you remember where we're going to be taking you next?"
Nick's lips pressed together in an unspoken 'where' and his terrified eyes searched the hand touching his so gently. God, where was he going again? Come on, brain. Come on, we can do this. We got this. We're okay, you're okay. We're okay.
"We're taking you to the medical ward, Nicholas. Okay?"
"Yeah, yeah… okay." Nick stood up quickly and the soldier that had escorted him earlier moved forward suddenly, almost afraid that he was going to make a dash for the door. Nick, instead, smoothed out his ruined suit coolly and slicked back his hair with one hand. In that instance, he had gathered himself expertly. You've got this, man. You're okay.
The soldier escorted him down a narrow corridor that was lined with doors. Each door had a number. Four-hundred fifty one, four hundred forty nine, four hundred forty seven…. Nick read each number as he passed it, trying hard to occupy his mind with something sensible. Numbers made sense. They always did. They had to—else they were just stupid. They were wrong. These numbers made sense though.
Wait—shit! When did he get here? Nick jumped slightly and jerked away as he noticed the woman patting gently at one of his wounds with an antiseptic cloth.
"Oh, I'm sorry, sir! Did that hurt? I'll try to make this quick." With skillful hands she finished cleaning the wound and bandaging it. My God, when had she started? When had he become clean? When did he start smelling like shampoo and disinfectant? Oh, God, oh God. What happened to the numbers? Where did they go? "Sir? Are you okay, sir? Sir?"
Nick tried to say something but it came out as an incoherent blubber. God, he was so confused. Tears of frustration clouded his eyes. What was happening to him? What was going on? Where were the others!
"I need to get out. I need to get out of here," Nick stammered, pulling at the fresh bandages that seemed way too clean, way too perfect.
"Sir! Stop, you can't take those off yet. Sir!" The nurse grabbed at the conman's hands but he proved far stronger. The bandages began to tear away, leaving little trickles of blood on the newly cleaned and bothered wounds. "Doctor! I need a doctor over here!"
A shadow of people surrounded the conman but he hardly noticed. He was too fixated on removing all of these bandages. When had they gotten there! When had all of this happened? Something poked into his arm and he jerked his arm away from it, snarling and slapping at the offending object. Then he suddenly felt heavy with sleep. He fought against the darkness, tried to stand, tried to get away, tried to run, but everything simply disappeared.
Christ, he was alone. All around him the sound of the Infected moaned and growled from the darkness. A shuffle of bare feet on the pavement to his left sent him spinning about, gun leading. But it wasn't a gun anymore, it was a white flag. Surrender, surrender. There is no escape. He screamed in frustration, throwing down the useless thing and sprinted into the darkness, terribly, terribly aware of how alone he was.
The darkness seemed to consume him, pulling at him and suffocating him. There were voices all around—wailing, screaming voices in that darkness. He slapped at the invisible hands that tore at his clothing and skin. He screamed wordless screams that were harsh and hoarse. The sound of a Witch in the distance caused him to choke on his screams—no, no, don't startle her! His mother's voice joined the screams, next his sister's and then his brother's. He heard Ellis screaming for help behind him, Rochelle's pleas to his right, Coach's to his left. All around him the world was collapsing.
The ground beneath him started to sink and the darkness wrapped tighter around him, flooded down his opened mouth and began to suffocate him. Invisible hands became real, clasped and clutched at his body, pushing him through the floor while all around him the world exploded with chaos.
He screamed and screamed and screamed—
The conman jerked up, screaming, clawing at his body to try and pull away hands that were not there. Tears flooded down his horrified face, his voice choked and caught in his throat.
"Nick, hey… Nick…" Real hands, warm and gentle, took a place on both of his shoulders and turned him towards the voice. It took Nick a long moment to register that familiar face. It was Ellis. "Hey, man. It was jus' a bad dream. Yer okay."
"Ellis," Nick said, he sounded confused. The conman's hands trembled as they reached up to grasp the southerner's face between his palms. His jade-gold eyes searched desperately in those soft blues.
Ellis smiled slightly and nodded, "Yeah, Ellis," he agreed softly. "Nick, man… They had ta sedate ya. Ya went crazy in the medical ward. Are ya gonna be okay?"
The memory came flooding back and Nick let go of the others face and leaned back in the bed he just noticed he was lying in. He shuffled his legs close and pulled the covers tight around himself. Yeah… yeah, okay. He remembered that. He didn't, however, remember what had triggered his violent reaction.
"Ellis," Nick choked out. The little southerner scooted closer, listening intently. "There's something wrong with me."
Ellis offered a slight smile and reached out to pat the others shoulder comfortingly. "It's okay, Nick. Yer gunna be okay. Ya jus' need a little time ta relax. We're safe now. There ain't no zombies an' the people here are real nice. Ro an' Coach are okay too. They're out tryin' to make sure they get paper work down fer findin' their families an' stuff."
"You? What about you? Why are you here?" Nick's face scrunched up and he reached up to grasp his hair between his clenched fists. "Where am I?"
"I've been out of quarantine fer a few days now, so I already got my stuff filled out an' stuff." The little farm boy shrugged slightly, letting go of the conman. He leaned against the bed, arms crossed over it as he sat back on his heels. "We all got assigned a room an' all. Since we came in tagether they said they'd like ta keep us tagether. Which, ya know, makes sense an' all 'cause if they need room fer other survivors it's best if we all got put with people we already know. There's a lot of people here, ya know, Nick. A lot of Survivors." Ellis buried his chin between his crossed arms and closed his eyes. He let out a little sigh and then opened his eyes again to stare up at the conman. "Nick, they wanna take ya an' lock ya up an' stuff." Nick looked sharply at him as he said this. But Ellis plunged on, "They think yer dangerous an' shit, but I know tha' ya ain't an' so I told 'em I'd watch over ya until ya snapped out of it."
"You?" Nick snorted out a laugh. "Why would you want to do that?"
"'Cause we're friend's an' all. An' thas wha' friend's do," Ellis said matter-of-factly. He stood up, hands on his hips now as he stared at the laughing conman. "Why's tha' so funny? Ya ain't thinkin' 'bout sayin' after all this time we ain't friends… 'Cause we are."
"Sure. Sure thing comrade." Nick leaned back against the pillows and let out a long, harsh sigh. "Jesus, Ellis… Don't tell me you haven't been feeling… weird since you've gotten here..."
"Wha' do ya mean?"
Nick looked quietly to the other. The kid was absolutely reeking with innocence still. The way he was staring with those wide, perfectly naïve and undisturbed eyes made Nick know that the kid hadn't been affected in the least bit. Fucking son of a bitch.
Nick kind of found himself wanting to throttle the life from Ellis. Maybe that'll make those innocent eyes open and see the real nightmare they had been left to suffer through. Maybe that would calm the jealous rage filling in Nick's stomach, burning and consuming his damaged soul.
All the while, the young southerner simply stared down with gentle, compassionate eyes that, despite their good intentions, were only driving the conman even further into his insanity.
You say you know this misery
Well that's no more than sympathy for me
Because this time you were faking
Your motive, very questioning
This silence is so deafening
Now, see, you've got me shaking
A/N: Things you Know by Bright Eyes (Conor Oberst, actually, written when he was really young) is the title of the story and the lyrics belong to that song. The rest of the song will continue to pop up periodically throughout this story. For some reason that song just seriously gets to me every time I listen to it. I really needed to write this for myself. I'm sorry, Nick, for fucking with you like this, but man, I feel just as insane as you do. I need this, buddy. So, bare with me.
If I continue this (I imagine I will, considering how effed up my mind is right now), it'll work itself into being a NickxEllis sort of story.
This chapter was meant to be confusing, by the way.