"Ellis, please tell me you aren't planning on killing zombies with that thing."

There was only a goofy grin in response as Ellis continued to swing the guitar around like it was a samurai sword.

"Jesus, you're like a kid on Christmas with that thing. This isn't a fucking holiday. You know that, right?"

"Aah, knock it off, Nick. What're you now, the authority on zombie-killing?" There it was again. Rochelle coming to Ellis's aid. Didn't matter if the kid deserved the reproach or not, Rochelle was bound to come to his rescue. Nick grimaced in annoyance. For some reason, her doting affections towards Ellis bothered him.

This wasn't a game, this was every man for himself. Except that somehow, by some sick twist of fate, Nick had gotten hogtied to this ragtag gang. He guessed it was Lady Luck getting him back for all of the cheating he'd been doing at the tables in the weeks before the attacks started. Or maybe for skipping out on his sister's wedding to go gambling in the first place. Dealing in illegal goods and counterfeit probably hadn't won him any points with the powers that be either. Then there was that time he knifed a guy…whatever the cause, Nick knew he had it coming.

But to get saddled with a loon like Ellis? He must have really pissed somebody off up there. He'd spent enough time in the drunk tank to know a crazy person when he saw one, that was for sure. And Ellis was about as crazy as they came.

The troop was gearing up in a safe house, getting ready to make the trek to the next stop on their way outta this godforsaken state. Nick reloaded his A-K and cleaned the zombie guts from his firehouse axe. He liked to pick'em off from far away, but sometimes the Horde gets in real close and personal and a gun just doesn't get the job done. But the less blood on his suit, the better.

It was getting harder and harder to focus with that kid around, though. Didn't know how to shut his damn mouth, as far as Nick was concerned, and the ideas this kid cooked up…ludicrous. Dangerous. Downright stupid. He was going to get them all killed—it was just a matter of time.

So why stick around? Why not hightail it outta there and escape with what little sanity he had left? He was sure to avoid the attention of the Horde and Tanks on his own, and he could more than handle the stragglers and a few Specials. And he had turned his back on things before. Family functions, birthday parties, dates, weddings. His own, even. Wedding dresses still gave him chills.

So what was it about this kid that made him stick around and risk his neck day after day? It damn well wasn't Coach and Rochelle keeping him around—those two could handle themselves, watch each other's backs. But Ellis? If it weren't for Nick, he'd be dead four times over.

Done stocking up on health packs and ammo, Coach then tossed the safety bar off the door and ushered them out like he was in charge. Ok, old man. Lead the way.

It was raining like hell, the drops bouncing off pavement and striking back at their heels like bullets, mist gathering at their feet. Coach was yelling for them to stick close, not to get separated. In this weather, a wrong turn could be deadly.

Nick brought up the rear, tailing Ellis and his newly found guitar-sword. There wasn't too much to do back there except keep up, what with Coach and Rochelle taking the lead. But he couldn't let his guard down, they weren't safe yet. Maybe would never be truly safe again.

Shaking the dismal thought from his mind, Nick tried to focus on not slipping up in the mud as the group took a turn off the main road. It wasn't as if Ellis, with his guitar in hand, was going to come to his rescue if he was jumped. The rain was getting harder, faster, as if the earth was trying to wash them all away and start over. It was difficult to make out Ellis's bootsteps, so he lunged forward a bit to try and see his teammate better.

Bad call, he soon realized, as his heels slid in the muddy waters, sending him flying backwards and landing on his ass. He barely had time to let loose a wild goddammit before it was on him—a Hunter, clawing at his jacket, tearing at his skin, reeking of death. Its terrible teeth were gleaming with blood, probably Nick's. He'd never seen one this close before, and it scared the shit out of him.

His face stung with the attack, and the sharp claws of the hunter were ripping right through his suit. Might as well have been wearing gossamer, for what good it did. When the monster lowered his teeth to Nick's neck, he knew he was done for. Well shit, it was a good run anyway.

But Karma hadn't come to do him in just yet. Something banked the Hunter right outside the head, sending it sprawling. Then another hit, and another. Nick realized that the zombie's head was being smashed in by a shining red guitar. The twang of the strings and crush of skull was music to his ears.

A panting Ellis stood over the kill for a minute, his body taut from the adrenaline…and could that be rage? Nick had never seen the kid lose it like that. The way he bashed that skull in like he wanted revenge made Nick shiver. In seconds, Ellis was hovering over him, pulling him into a sitting position in the standing water.

"Nick, you ok?"

He was anything but ok, but he lied through gritted teeth: "Yeah, kid. I'm alright. Now let's get back to the others before another one comes." But when Ellis pulled the injured Nick to his feet, the others were nowhere to be found. And Nick was bleeding a fair amount, the blood now mixing with the muddy waters below him.

"I think we lost them…" Nick's head snapped up and looked frantically to all sides. Shit. The kid was right. And judging by the blood all around them, he wasn't going to make it to the next safe house without some serious medical attention. He was starting to feel light-headed and leaned heavily into Ellis.

"Listen kid, we gotta find some shelter, and fast. Or I'm not going to make it." Nick's words came in painful grunts and Ellis pointed out a house not too far away. He practically had to drag the larger man through the mud to get there, and he slammed the door shut behind them.

"Stay here," Ellis whispered to Nick, now slumped against the front door and struggling to stay conscious. Damn, is all that blood mine? After checking all the rooms and blocking all the entrances off, Ellis came back and helped Nick limp up the stairs. There was a bedroom and adjoining bath with three windows where they could keep a close watch on the zombie activity down below, and Ellis helped Nick lie down on the bed. "Ok, we should be safe here."

Relative to what? Nick wondered.

He mentally took stock of the situation. They had one med kit between them but plenty of bullets, definitely enough to last them the night unless several Hordes ambushed them. And maybe the others would notice their absence and show up with more ammo come morning. Nick had to admit to himself that the kid wasn't as dumb as he looked. Hell, he'd saved his life and now seemed to be in a position to protect them both. Nick watched as Ellis set up a small blockade in the room and then pulled out his med kit.

Kneeling next to Nick, Ellis's next words faltered just enough to be noticeable to a practiced poker player: "Uhm, sorry Nick, but can you take off your clothes? I need to see what we're dealing with here." Was he nervous to see Nick undressed? Or was all of the blood getting to him?

"Yeah, sure." Nick shrugged off his shredded jacket and took off his shoes and socks. As he began unbuttoning his shirt, he saw Ellis turn away, a light pink arising on his cheeks. It was kind of…cute, Nick thought, although he immediately shook the thought from his mind. They were both men here, nothing to be embarrassed about, right?

He kept that in mind as Ellis helped ease him out of his shirt and pants, pain shooting through his limbs as he lifted them and slid the white material off his body. Without a word, Ellis got to work. His hands moved swift and soft over Nick's skin, cleaning, disinfecting and tightly bandaging the wounds. It hurt like hell, but Nick never flinched. Not from pain, anyway…

There was something charming about the way Ellis worked: tongue poking out a bit and brow furrowed in concentration. Nick had never seen the kid so serious. When he was done, he handed Nick a few pain pills and surveyed his work. "It'll have to do," he said frowning.

Clearing his throat, Nick struggled to sit up. "Thanks kid…never thought I'd say this, but you really saved my ass back there."

Ellis's frown broke into a huge grin. "Did you see me bust that Hunter's skull open with my Fender?" Mimicking the motion, Ellis happily retold the story in an excruciating amount of detail. But Nick figured it owed it to the guy to keep his mouth shut. One story led to another, and another, and another. Nick thought this Keith guy was either a figment of Ellis's imagination or someone with way too much time on his hands. Still, his slow drawl was more than a bit endearing, and Nick had to admit that the kid had moxy. Maybe Nick needed someone like Ellis around. Ok, now he'd definitely lost too much blood if he was thinking shit like that.

Nick kept one eye out the window as he listened to tale after tale of Ellis's adventures. Damn, the kid could talk. Surprisingly, Nick found that he didn't mind it much. His constant babble was almost comforting. Eventually, he stretched his arms above his head in a huge yawn and patted Nick on the back. "You better get some sleep, Nick. I'll keep an eye on the creepers and wake you up if anything happens." Nick didn't need to be told twice—in minutes he was out, snoring soundly while Ellis watched from the window. He dreamed of a grinning red and white Fender guitar.