As the two fell into the safe room, arms of the infected reached across the door frame after them. As she fell to the floor dragging herself in the room, He quickly lunged at the red painted steel door and pushed as hard as he could against the infected's advances to enter. Letting out a loud grunt, he thrust the door shut using his right side and bolted it shut. After the two were safely inside, he fell powerlessly to the floor.
For a good sixty seconds they just panted, attempting to catch their breath. Ellis and Dani laid on the floor as if they just sprinted a marathon. Realizing she had just lost the kid who was like a little brother to her and the guy she was falling for, Dani let a soft cry ring out beneath her breathless breathing. She crawled deeper into the safe room and painfully sat up against a wall. Drawing her knees close to herself, she buried her head in her hands in silence.
Ellis knew how she felt. He knew what it was like to lose people who seemed like family to you in the middle of the apocalypse, and he knew what it was like to hold the person you slowly grew to love, as they lay dying in your arms from zombie inflicted wounds.
Watching Nick bleed out next to Coach's corpse as Rochelle shivered in the warmth of his arms and her own blood was the worst nightmare Ellis had ever lived. He remembered the last look Nick gave him. He remembered the look of Coach's splattered and strewn torso along the floor. And he remembered Rochelle, sweet Rochelle, as she looked at him with frightened eyes. The look on her face said 'save me' yet Ellis knew he didn't know how. Blood seemed to flow endlessly from her as she shakingly gripped his yellow t-shirt. The tighter he held her, the more she seemed to shiver, yet nothing would bring her back. He knew he was loosing her. As she began to seize, he brought her close to his chest with his arms wrapped around her. He remembers his tearful words as if they were yesterday. 'Please, Ro. I love you. Don't die. Don't leave me'. But with a few long breaths, she was gone. Ellis lost all the friends he had left that day, and it had been 3 years since the incident.
After loosing the three of them, Ellis changed. He seemed to grow up over the past three years, and instead of being naively optimistic, his demeanor shifted to that of an aged soul. One who was jaded by the apocalypse, someone who's spirit had been broken. His hair was a bit longer and he grew in a shadow of light hair on his face. He looked his age in his late twenties, and wore more scars on his arms than before. A bit taller and more muscular, he still had those same bright blue eyes. Those same eyes that lost hope three years ago until he met three kids named Dani, Ricky, and Wynn.
Wynn was the older of the three. At 24, he was a carefree jokester, that usually took risks and practiced wild heroics. With a head full of messy black hair, and tattoos that resembled Ellis', he was the leader of the three before Ellis came along. After his last feat of heroics almost got them killed, Wynn began to look up to Ellis after he saved the kids from near death in a sticky situation. Though he often challenged Ellis, Wynn knew the greater authority.
Ricky was the youngest. At age 17, he could hold his own, yet he never seemed to make the right decisions. He was a confused teen, who often smoked cigarettes and drank copious amounts of alcohol. He looked as if he could be related to Wynn as brothers, yet the only difference being Ricky was of Mexican descent, whereas Wynn was of Korean. That never stopped their brotherly dynamic.
As Ellis finally collected himself, he sat back against the opposite wall of the crying girl and watched her in silence as she tried not to be noticed. Her long fiery brown waves of hair fell softly over her hands. The mocha brown color of her skin looked more pale than usual, and she sat slightly pigeon toe'd with her black converse as the rips in her jeans on the knees met together baring her skin. Ellis watched her as she sat, wanting to comfort her, yet not knowing how. His eyes went to the floor and then slowly his blue eyes drifted to her once again. He took in her beauty and really looked at her for the first time in a while as they sat there.
Her name was Dani. She was 21, the product of black and white parents, and a nurturing and carefree spirit. Though Wynn and Ricky were louder and took more commanding initiative than she did, she often held the true leadership to the group due to her logic and insight. Ellis could tell she took a school girl liking to him, yet knowing Wynn had a thing for her, he often acted lukewarm toward her. He wasn't cold, yet he was never loving.
Ellis recalled a moment with her after they first decided to travel together. Though he couldn't see her eyes at the moment, he remembered their striking pale gray color and big almond shape.
Wynn and Ricky had gone to sleep in the upper rooms of a suburban house they encountered on the west coast, and Ellis stood in the middle of the living room, watching a fire in the fireplace that he had started himself. He reflected on Rochelle and the pain came back.
"I brought you something"
A soft voice rang out from behind him distracting him from himself. As he turned, he saw Dani with a big folded quilt draped over her arm. It was cold in the house, and she wore Wynn's hoodie, yet for the first time since they had met, her hair was down over her shoulders and not pulled back in a ponytail. She was beautiful, and quite frankly the best looking thing Ellis had ever seen. In his head, he wished that he was a year or two younger, yet he just marveled at her and her beauty as two full pink lips spoke to him.
"It's just in case you get cold.." she said with a small hesitant smile.
She still didn't know how to interact around Ellis because he was a new creature at that time to her. Older, handsome, and very skilled and experienced in combat. He was just short of making her stutter while she talked.
Ellis smiled at her and turned back to the fire, yet she could see that there was sadness in his eyes.
"Yeah, Dani?" he said in his same southern accent.
"Are you okay?" she said as her heart softly pounded in her chest.
He turned to look at her and saw those same gray eyes staring back at him, really wanting him to be okay.
Ellis sighed, "I'm fine I'm just thinking about things, you know? Nothing big." As he looked at her, he was reminded of Rochelle by the shape of Dani's frame, and he quickly turned back to the fire. Dani walked over to Ellis after putting the quilt on the floor and she placed a hand on his shoulder as she walked around him, her finger tips running along his bicep as she came to stand in front of him.
"You're not okay." she said as she looked to the ground in sheepish regret, yet then her eyes flashed back at him and stared into his. "It's okay... I'm not either."
Ellis couldn't sense her intentions, yet in the numbness of life's events he decided to let it happen. After loosing the people you hold most dear, stopping the advances of a younger woman with a crush on you were not on his priority list of emergencies. To him life seemed to blur together and nothing concern or excited him. Not until she stood in front of him in that moment.
She moved closer to him as Ellis looked down at her, all the while not moving an inch. She stopped herself just as she got close enough to feel his warm breath brush across her long bangs and the heat radiating from his body warm her. Their bodies brushed and she could feel his breath begin to quicken slightly, yet their eyes never left each other. With a shrug of her shoulders she let Wynn's zip hoodie fall to the floor behind her, revealing a striped camisole lined with the lace that teased and revealed itself through the open zipper earlier. Ellis couldn't help but look down at her golden skin and he noticed how her lip slightly quivered as she breathed. He couldn't tell if it was nerves or the cold. He felt her hands softly press against his hips as she pulled herself to him, and with a smooth motion, their bodies pressed against each other. She wrapped her arms around his stomach softly and put her head against his chest. She was trembling, and she was leaning into his arms. Ellis looked down slightly at the girl who was connected to him not knowing what to do.
"Dani..." he whispered in her hair.
"You need this, Ellis." she said as she curled herself close to him.
His mind raced with what she meant by that and what she could be he reached his arms around her and brought her closer to him while pressing his mouth against the top of her head. He felt his own heartbeat as he held her, and wanted to savor their embrace. He could feel through her hug the love and care she had for him, even though she hardly knew him. But in the zombie apocalypse anyone you meet that hasn't been bit or infected is family. Its all there is left.
"Dani... why are you doing this?" he said in his southern acccent as he held her.
"Because you need someone right now. You need someone who knows you're hurting... and I need you too."
After she said this, she began to cry silently, reflecting on all the pain she had held inside. All the things she had never told Wynn or Ricky. The pain of loosing her family and not being able to save her little sister from death. And the destruction she had seen. She let herself cry for the first time as tears stained Ellis' yellow shirt.
He closed his eyes as tears began to well behind his eyelids. He knew she was crying yet Ellis never knew what to do in times like this. Though his heart had been hardened from loosing his friends, he still held deep inside him the same emotions from before all this happened. Inside he was still the same guy that had a friend named Keith and fixed cars for a living. The same guy that childishly told stories to his friends. He still had a heart. And through all the layers and all of the walls he had built over the last 3 years, Dani had broke through them all. Her tears cut right to his heart.
Dani's grip tightened around his body as he held her, and as her body began to shake and tremble, she gripped his shirt with her fists. Finally she released everything she held inside, and with her head buried in his chest she began to cry loudly against him. At the sound of her tears, Ellis pulled her in closer to him and brought his head down next to hers to calm her. He knew the pain she felt. And for the time being, they shared it as one person. Her pain was his pain, and his pain was hers.
After her cries had calmed to small breaths and sniffles, she opened her eyes and rested her forehead near Ellis' neck. She stopped and looked at him. His eyes were closed, and he still held her, not letting her go. She could feel that if just for a moment, this man loved her and didn't want any wrong to happen to her. She could feel that he didn't want her to cry anymore, and as she reflected on that, her tears and sniffles stopped.
Ellis opened his eyes and looked down into hers. She could see the pain in his eyes, and the desperate plea they held toward her. His eyes told her that he really wanted her to stop crying. He really wanted her to be okay.
Ellis took one hand and brushed the hair out of her face that began to wet itself with tears. As he did, she closed her eyes and turned her face toward his hand as it drifted down her cheek. She kissed his palm softly and opened her eyes to look back into his. Ellis put his hand under her chin and raised her lips toward his as his breath got deeper. She closed her eyes completely bent to his will.
As he looked at her he knew everything he wanted to do. He knew everything he wished for in the future with her, and he knew the hopes he had for her and how beautiful she was. Kissing her would change everything. It wouldn't just change the way they interacted, but it would destroy the wall between them. The emotional barrier of protection from shear ruin if the other got hurt. The pain he would cause if she loved him and he were to die. In Ellis' mind.. he couldn't ever do that to her.
They're lips got closer, yet he stopped himself from letting them meet. She could feel his breath against her lips and the warmth he held, yet they didn't dare get any closer. Resisting all temptation, he pressed his forehead against hers and closed his eyes. His deep breaths covered the sound of her hardly breathing as they stood there and it took all they had to use self control in the moment.
Ellis dropped his head, and as a release of all the pent up emotion he held, began to passionately kiss her neck. Dani lost all control in his arms as she ran her fingers through his hair. Her breaths became quick and deep and her knees became weak beneath her. Ellis could feel that he loved her. He could feel that he wanted all of her. But most of all, he never wanted to hurt her. Before Ellis could lose himself in the moment, he broke away from her and walked out of the living room into the kitchen, leaving Dani alone by the fire.
She ran her hands through her hair as she tried to catch her breath, stunned by what just happened. And as Ellis stormed into the kitchen, he slammed both hands on a counter-top, trying to regain control of himself. He knew he wanted to go back to her, yet he knew he couldn't. He knew the importance of emotional distance in the apocalypse and he knew that his days were numbered. If he went back to her, she would fall for him, and if she fell in love and something happened to him, Ellis knew he'd be responsible for single handedly destroying her spirit and her hope. He looked back over his shoulder toward the glowing fire light of the living room longingly, yet as he saw a shadow shift in the light, he knew that she had left.
As they sat in the safe room, and Ellis looked at her, he recalled the moment in the suburban living room as clear as it were yesterday. That was the moment that he began to treat her lukewarm to spare her. That night defined the basis of their whole interaction. The unspoken words, the silent, unmentioned and awkward looks. The emotions that they regrettably kept inside and the attraction they held, which never left. Ellis looked at her, not knowing what to do to comfort her, yet as she cried across the room from him, all he wanted was for her to smile again.
It's crazy to think that just 10 minutes before, they had all been laughing at one of Wynn's jokes and coursing through the hallways of an abandoned corporate building. Yet it only takes a few seconds to change someone's life. It started when Ricky was attacked. Wynn went after him, then in an instant there was a Tank out of nowhere. The resounding clicks of Wynn's empty rifle and a hidden witch were their undoing. When Ellis and Dani finally reached them, Dani planted one bullet in the skull of the Witch killing her instantly as she dropped to the floor. Blood was everywhere. It striped the walls in crimson horror. Looking at what the witch had been digging her claws into mercilessly, Ellis stood frozen as he noticed what it was before Dani did. When she saw his reaction, she flashed back to the bloody heap. Ricky was dead, and thanks to the Witch, his blood was pooling on the tile of the floor. Dani dropped to the floor on her knees in disbelief and covered her mouth in grieving shock. Yet before they had another moment to react, a moan was heard from the other side of the conference room, near the corpse of the Tank.
"Wynn?" Dani whimpered as she scrambled over to the noise.
Ellis ran to him and helped move the Tank's arm which pinned Wynn by the torso. Dani struggled and pulled to move Wynn closer to her, away from the tank, and as she did he moaned in pain. She began to check him, to see if he was alright and as she did, Ellis felt a familiar feeling of hopelessness... of pain and regret.
"Dani, its not that bad.. I'll be fine." Wynn said as he struggled for air for his words.
Lifting up his shirt, Dani found a rip in his stomach so deep that blood gushed out with every breath he took. She gasped when she saw it and looked at him in desperation. Tear welled in her eyes.
"Wynn... no." she whispered as she stared into his eyes.
Ellis could hear the sounds of the horde as they approached from the hallway corridors. He wanted to comfort them yet he knew they needed to leave now if they had any chance at survival.
Dani began to cover his wound yet as she worked on him, he grabbed her hands and stopped her.
"Okay Dani... you know I'm not good with goodbyes, but you and I both know-"
"STOP IT!" she screamed, scaring both Wynn and Ellis. "You can't die... you can't die Wynn! You're my best friend! I love you! I love you!"
As she said this, she burst out in tears and she threw her arms around him, crying. Wynn weakly reached his arms around her and kissed her forehead as a tear fell from his eye.
Ellis looked back at them and all of the pain came back. He remembered how he desperately gripped Rochelle and told her he loved her. He remembered the feeling of shell shock when he stood up all alone. He remembered and at once the pain he felt- the pain Dani felt now- all came back to him.
"I love you too Dani, but you've got to leave me here." Wynn whispered to her as she held him tight.
"I'm not leaving you. I can't." she confessed through tears.
Wynn looked up at Ellis who had turned to watch for the horde approaching. Yet as soon as Ellis looked back at them he could see the resolution in Wynn's eyes. His eyes said it all. Wynn knew how Dani felt about Ellis the whole time, and he could pick up on how Ellis felt about her. Though he only challenged Ellis on a daily basis because of this, none of that mattered right now. The only thing that mattered was that the woman they both cared about was in danger, and that she had her arms draped around a dead man. Wynn knew his time was up, and as he looked at Ellis, they both came to terms with the situation.
"Ellis, get her out of here." He said as the horde got louder and louder.
Ellis came over to them and put his hand on Wynn's shoulder. "Ima miss you Wynn. Stay strong." As Wynn released his arms around Dani, Ellis pulled her up as she struggled tearfully to get back to Wynn. She screamed and fought Ellis, yet as Wynn closed his eyes, Ellis forced her out of the room as she cried out Wynn's name.
Ellis sat recalling the past 15 minutes, and he finally began to pick himself up off the floor. He emotionlessly began to rummage through the supplies and broke open a health pack while staring off into space. With robotic duty, he began to patch up his hand which felt broken and covered with cuts and bruises. And as he finished binding himself he grabbed bandages and gauze and turned to the girl, covered in Wynn's blood. He knelt down in front of her and observed her for a second. Seeing that her arm was bleeding, he took it into his hands and began to wrap gauze around it.
Looking into his eyes as he worked on her arm, she saw nothing. They could have been glazed over for all she cared, because the emotion was gone. After all they just went through this angered her. How could he be so stone cold after loosing Ricky and Wynn? Did he care about them at all after the months he spent with them? Yet Ellis continued to concentrate on her arm until all the gauze had been carefully applied. As she stared at him in shock and furious anger for his lack of emotion, she was stopped by his words.
"I used to have a friend named Keith once..." his speech stopped as he stared off into space. Dani looked up at him, quizzically until he came back and began to tell his story. His voice was sad yet docile at the same time, and his expression was the same. "Him and I... we were best pals.. this one time, when we were real little, he got in trouble for stealing a chicken from a neighbor's farm, and hid at my house for four whole days. Thats when we first became best buddies, you know?"
Dani waited on his words to finish the story as she looked up at him yet nothing came out. He attempted to reflect on Keith to make himself feel something, yet the emotional barrier he had built was too strong for him so even react to his story about Keith.
"Why?" asked Dani, interrupting him from his thoughts.
"Why didn't you leave me with Wynn?" she asked bitterly.
Ellis didn't give an answer yet just looked at her and saw the hurt she felt. He saw her breaking from the pressure of pain.
"Why didn't you fucking leave me with him?" she screamed loudly as tears filled her eyes.
"You and I both know the answer to that, Dani. He was a dead man." he snapped back coldly in his accent.
"Well at least he wasn't afraid to love me!" she shouted.
Ellis stopped. He knew what she meant by that. He knew she had remembered the night at the fireplace and how he never kissed her. He knew she remembered how he broke away from her and treated her like nothing happened after that. He knew she remembered and he knew she'd never forget just like he had never forgotten. Yet he knew she didn't know the truth.
As she looked at him with accusing eyes, he got up from his perch on the floor. He stood and rested his hands on the table across the room as she stood to her feet behind him and continued.
"You held me that night and looked me in the eyes and I knew... I knew what you felt and you knew what I felt but you were too afraid. You didn't want to love me, I get it.. but all I wanna know is why? Why, Ellis?"
Suddenly Ellis slammed his hands against the table and turned around to her angry. He walked over to her and she backed up against the wall as he approached her.
"I love you more than you'll ever understand, Dani! But it just hurts too much. You see, when I lost my friends three years ago it broke me because I loved them. And I knew that I never wanted to do to you what that did to me! I never wanted to break you like Wynn's death just did!" Getting flustered at him, she pushed him in the chest, "That wasn't your decision to make!"
"I was protecting you!" he yelled back at her.
"I didn't want you to protect me! I WANTED YOU TO LOVE ME!" she screamed as her tear broken voice cut across the room. He stared at her as she stared back at him. Both of them broken and seething with emotion, breathing heavily.
Ellis suddenly reached his hand into her hair and kissed her passionately. He pulled her closer with his other hand as he released everything he had held from her, sparing her nothing. The hair rose on the back of her neck as his arm ran down her back and pulled her closer to him. She could feel every inch of his body against her, and it drove her insane. She broke their kiss to catch her breath and gather herself from what just happened. She sat breathing against him, remembering the night at the fireplace and how much she had wanted this. He looked down at her and moved closer to her, backing her against the wall.
"Ellis." she whispered breathlessly, eyes closed.
"Dani." he growled beneath his breath as his emotions took over him.
He kissed her neck and lifted her legs around him as he pinned her to the wall. Helpless against him, her breath began to build deeper and deeper as he kissed her. She moaned beneath her breath and he kissed her passionately against her lips, calming her noise. As he broke the kiss, she could tell he was having trouble restraining himself against her. She looked him in the eyes and he stared back at her as their foreheads met. His breath, deep, anxious and steady.
"I'm not afraid to love you." he said through his breaths.
"Then love me." she whispered.