There's something that I can't quite explain
I'm so in love with you
You'll never take that away
And if I've said it a hundred times before
Expect a thousand more
"We're gonna be back out there tomorrow," Ellis said quietly.
They were leaning against the boat's railing, shoulder to shoulder, both squinting against the high noon sun. It smelled and tasted like sea-salt and the thickness blanketed them in a strangely comforting way. He didn't look afraid as he said it, more thoughtful. His brow was furrowed, a slight frown on his lips, the blue of his eyes as bright as bright could be.
"Yeah..." Nick shifted slightly, his arm slipping under Ellis' to take his hand nonchalantly. Ellis blinked at him, but Nick continued to just stare out at the waters without any indication that he noticed that curious stare. Green eyes searched that seemingly endless expanse of water. He swallowed thickly, blinking once. "Don't worry, El. We're all going to get out of this. Together, all right?"
Ellis flexed his fingers under the older man's and Nick's grip tightened. Ellis smiled. "I really hope so, Nick."
"Hey." Hand slipping away from his, the conman shifted onto his elbows and slowly worked off the ring on his middle finger. The ring wasn't exactly the most intricate thing, almost plain except for a worn of design engraved into the gold. He took Ellis' right hand and slipped it onto his ring finger. Ellis flushed red. "My father gave that to my mother. Sort of a tradition, I guess. Husband gives it to the wife, then wife then gives it to the eldest son when he's of marrying age and... so on. Don't ask. It's kind of a weird tradition."
Ellis admired it, a lopsided grin wrinkling his face cutely. "You callin' me your wife, Nick?"
Nick snorted in response, but he didn't sound offended or annoyed at the suggestion. "Well, no. But. You know what I mean." He struggled for a moment. "I was married once... but I never gave it to her. Never crossed my mind, actually. Sort of forgot about the whole tradition." He shrugged, and slowly a look of embarrassment seemed to overcome him once he realized exactly what he had just implied.
Frowning, Ellis looked to the ring again and then slowly twisted it off. Nick looked at him, startled, and his face slowly fell.
"Ya put it on the wrong hand, Nick." The mechanic slipped the ring onto his left hand and then tilted his wrist, letting the light dance off it. In the natural light he could make out some of the designs. They looked like words, but Ellis wasn't sure if he recognized the language. Was it Italian? Or French? Maybe something else...
His thoughts tumbled away as fingers twisted in his hair and he felt Nick's lips to his forehead, tender, almost unimaginably so. When he finally pulled away he had tears in his eyes—but he was also smiling. And that smile was so very, very beautiful.
The next morning their feet touched land again. By the next week, the bombs were falling.
They had struggled every step of the way to the bridge. Hordes had descended on them as though they were the last feast they would ever see. Guns in hand they had cut them down, tore them to pieces and left them withering and coughing phlegm and blood as they lay dying in the streets.
They had left a trail of death behind them. Every corner they had turned was now littered with the dead, their festering wounds oozing in the Louisianian sun. Faceless corpses that would soon decay with no one to ever cry for them.
But now, the bombs fell. They shattered roads and struck down buildings like angry gods. More than once the bombs had come far too close. A half-dozen times or more the devastation had been so great they had to backtrack to find another route. But they had found the way. After almost a week, they had found a way.
The bridge was barely even standing. It was a miracle that the weight of all the abandoned cars and Infected hadn't already forced it to collapse into its misery. It bowed and groaned under all the weight, whining with discontentment and wanting nothing more than to sever its lines and collapse into the sea below in eternal peace.
Leading them was Coach, muscles flexing, blood damn near soaking him throughly as his machete cleared the way. At the end of the bridge in a clearing that God himself must have created just for them, waited the promised helicopter. Six men moved towards them, unsoiled uniforms separating them from the creatures trying to tear them to pieces. The blades hummed even over the chaos around them, encouraging them to move faster. Closely behind Coach was Ellis, a little behind him, Nick.
"Nick!" Ellis called. He pointed ahead as he glanced back at the conman. Nick smiled. He saw it too. Their saviors. At least, they had to hope. It wouldn't be the first time a rescue had gone bad. But in his heart, Ellis knew this was the end. He just didn't realize exactly what that meant until the moment came.
Their eyes met—briefly. Like every other little moment when they would catch each other's gaze and continue onward, a shy smile now adoring their features. But this time, Nick's gaze shifted right, his mouth opened slightly and his fingers flexed, gun lifting. Ellis' eyes were barely fast enough to follow Nick's gaze—but then a blur, a scream, a horrible, terrible awful scream, and Nick was gone. Swept off the bridge, swept out of his life in a handful of incomprehensible seconds.
A wave of dizziness over came Ellis. His gun slipped from his fingers as they drew numb, his vision faded, head light, heart heavy. He made two steps toward the edge of the bridge Nick had been carried off. He wasn't exactly sure what he meant to do, follow, probably. Something inside of him compelled him to leap off that bridge—the only regret being that the two of them had to be reunited in death.
But then a hand caught him under one arm. He twisted against that hand, but another grabbed his other arm. He must have started screaming. Because they looked at him as though uncertain that they had just grabbed hold of a Survivor. Uncertain if they should toss him back to the ground and put a bullet in his head in an act of pity. Ellis' cries were savage, nearly inhuman. Ellis wept and begged them to leave him behind.
The soldiers did not let go.
One month later...
He walked the same route, saw the same faces, said the same greetings every time he came. He came here at least once a week, if not more. Whenever he had time he would quietly excuse himself and slip off. No one ever questioned where he was going—they probably knew. They probably felt sorry for him. That was why they never asked questions.
"Right this way."
He followed without a word. It was always the same lady, always in that same white uniform. Always with that same sympathetic expression. He sometimes wondered why she never asked why he always came back; but decided the answer was clear.
"How is he today?" Coach asked quietly. They drew to a stop. The door was locked heavily. The woman pulled out a key and began to undo each one.
"Worse than usual. He keeps talking to himself and getting irate. We've had to sedate him a few times since your last visit. And... lately he's been talking to.. someone named Nick?"
Coach swallowed thickly and he felt a burn in his eyes. "A man worth more words than I could find to describe." The lady paused, looking at him until she nodded slightly.
The door opened to a sight Coach would never get use to.
Vacant eyed, curled onto himself the young mechanic sat. His eyes were wide—but lifeless. He twitched slightly as the door opened, but made not other indication that he realized he was no longer alone. Coach moved slowly into the room before sitting against the wall opposite of the other. The door closed.
"Hey, Ellis. I just came by to..." The big man cleared his throat. No matter what he said, nothing ever seemed right. Hey, kid, I know you've completely lost it, but I'm still your friend and I still remember everything you did for me. I just came by again to see if there's a little bit of you left. But, no. Not today. Today there was that nothigness. "How... how are you doing?"
Ellis didn't reply. He very rarely did. One time when Coach had entered, Ellis had thought they were back on that rainy night when they had become separated from Nick. Ellis had been infuriated, insisting that they go out and look for him. No matter what Coach had said, no matter how many times he told him this wasn't that night, Ellis refused to believe him. Ellis had even tried to knock him senseless like had had all that time ago. But then he had come to a startling realization—this was not this night and Nick was very much dead. Ellis had crumpled to the ground in a heap of sobs and wails.
But every time Ellis spoke or noticed him, it had never been good. Coach almost preferred the days like this, when Ellis would sit, hallowed eyed and unmoving. Shit, they both tore at his heartstrings, but something about watching Ellis attempt to tear himself apart at the thought of losing Nick... Coach wasn't sure how many more times he could witness it.
"Ellis." Coach fished in his pocket. He tried to hold back the emotion, the uneasiness, the second thoughts. Was this the right thing to do? Would it just make Ellis hurt more? "Ellis, I promised I'd get this back for you. I'll talk to the lady here, make sure she lets you keep it but... but I just wanted to make sure you got it."
"Sir, you have to give us everything. Sir." The young soldier was almost as distraught as Ellis. Every time he tried to reach for the piece of jewelery, the only thing on Ellis' naked and battered body, the man would scream and yell, curling onto himself in effort to protect it. His hands were covered in blood, the ring soaked as he pressed the bloodied thing to his chest. He was sobbing so hard, talking in between gasping breaths with unintelligible words.
Everything has to go. Every little piece of yourself, every little thing that's seen this horrid chaos has to be burned. Every picture you ever carried in that old wallet of yours, that wedding ring, that necklace you got from that someone special, it all has to be destroyed. If you're lucky, we may burn you too—but only if you're Infected or a Carrier. So you better pray that there's something wrong with you, kid, because you don't look so good.
But they were neither. And their lives had been spared. Coach had traded the nightmare to be a volunteer at the makeshift orphanage where sad-eyed children begged to hear fairy-tales that now broke his heart while Ellis had taken solace in a room with four-padded walls and an empty heart...
Out came the golden ring, scrubbed clean of any signs of blood and gore. Smelling of disinfectants and hospitals. Coach lifted his hand slightly and Ellis' gaze shifted. Those blue eyes stared at the ring. He did not move.
"I thought you might want it back. I know they said everything got destroyed, but I knew how much it meant to you. The soldier that took it, Private Garris, he's partly to thank too." Ellis continued to stare. Coach smiled slightly and set the ring in the middle of the floor between them. "When you're ready, take it. I'll be back tomorrow to see how you are."
Blank-blue eyes never lifted as Coach quietly excused himself and the door was latched and locked behind him.
It took him hours to build the courage, the strength, to crawl those few feet. He cradled the ring in his hand, hunched over on his knees, face pressed into the ground. He wept as images of that day returned. Of those green-gold eyes flashing in that bright sun—how they had almost looked gray. Remembering those tears, that smile. And of that promise that they would be together forever.
The city's not the same,
But all the streets they know your name.
They ask me all about you, but my answers pull up lame.
I'm staggering in last night's clothes and it's starting to rain.
And you are gone, gone, gone.
3 months later...
She looked at him oddly, like she had never seen him before. Out came the clipboard and she scanned through the names. She seemed to find what she was looking for and so she led him down the hallway, glancing back at him every few moments as though she still couldn't grasp why he seemed so familiar. The locks on the door were undone, the door unlatched and was opened. He entered with a slight nod and she left him, door closing behind.
He stood quietly, hands in his pocket. He was smiling slightly, but the pain behind his eyes was immense. "Hey, El... What the hell are you doing in here?"
Ellis glanced over. Even though his heart lifted, his mind simply sighed. Even though he willed his emotions to die, tears still filled his eyes. "You're not real, Nick. Go the fuck away." How many times had the ghost of the man he loved walk in through that door the exact same way? That little grin, slight sway to his gait, hands in pockets, suit completely unsoiled and of perfect whiteness. This suit, oddly was not white. It was black.
Nick moved closer, he had a slight limp and he grimaced as he moved. He eased himself to sit beside the mechanic. Ellis stubbornly turned away. A flurry of tears escaping the corners of his eyes. Even though he wished with all his heart that these hallucinations were real, ultimately they never were. He would fling himself into Nick's arms, sobbing and clutching only to soon realize that the arms that held him back were not really there. It broke him every time. Destroyed him a little more inside.
"Hey," Nick rose one hand, taking Ellis'. Ellis jumped at the roughness of those hands. The familiarity of them. How they felt so fucking real. "I'm sorry it took me so long to find you. But I'm here now. Ellis? Look at me. Please."
Ellis looked the other fully in the eyes. Ellis' mouth was a tight-line, eyes fierce. "Tha's whatcha say every time, Nick. Don'tcha get it? You ain't real." With his free hand he reached up to brush away his tears. "You're fuckin' dead, man."
"That's what I keep hearing." Nick twisted their locked hands together gently. And it felt so fucking real as his thumb brushed over the top of Ellis' hand. But it always did. It always fucking did. "Ellis, baby, I'm here. And I'm not going anywhere." He leaned over to end the few inches of space between them with a soft kiss to Ellis' cheek. The mechanic could feel the stubble brush against his face, the warm exhale of his breath, the wetness of his lips as they left him. "I'm really here." The conman's voice shuddered with emotion. He squeezed Ellis' hand hard. "A lot of shit happened. It took me awhile to find you, but I swear to God, Ellis, I'm here now."
A sob left the mechanic and he shifted over, head resting against Nick's shoulder, both of his hands coming up to clutch at Nick's arm. Nick shifted back against him, head resting against Ellis'. "You're really...? It's really you?" Ellis managed.
Nick let out a breathy chuckle, burned with emotion. "Yeah, Overalls. It's really me."
Ellis believed it. Every time.
A/N: Lyrics "Calling You" by Blue October and "Gone, Gone, Gone" by John Ralston.
I'll letcha decide whether or not Nick's really alive. Harhar.
But, really, I thank you all immensely for reading and reviewing and helping me along with this. I apologize for how long it took, but I also thank you for sticking with me and continuing to encourage me to write. I hope y'all enjoyed it.
P.S. I seriously had a lot of issues writing this story, I don't feel I wrote it nearly as strong as I could have and it seems incredibly lacking to me. I apologize if you felt gypped or cheated throughout the story. I ended up writing this during a time where I sincerely thought I had the time and patience, but sadly my schooling annihilated a good majority of my creativity.. If I find the patience, this story may get revisited and lengthened/updated when I have more time.