After reading a page on TVTropes, I discovered an old glitch in Left 4 Dead 2, where Ellis wouldn't say another word after Nick dies. I thought 'How would the Survivors see that?'. This is the result. I do not own Left 4 Dead, or the Midnight Riders' music.

'C'mon, kid; ya can't sit there forever."

I sigh, and stand up. My t-shirt is sticking to my chest in the Southern heat, as well as the heat wash of the bombs. The military has started carpet bombing New Orleans to deal with the Infected. What a pity we are still in the streets, looking for the same military that is trying to kill us.

He was right after all. The world really was going to shit.

But he was gone.

And I saw it all.

I take off my trucker cap, and leave it on the sidewalk where we last saw him. He deserves this small favour.

"Let's keep moving, Ellis," Rochelle says gently, laying a companionly hand on my shoulder. But I push it off. A drop of something salty runs down my face. Is it sweat, or tears?

Who knows?

I turn from the alley, taking the lead while my new buddies Rochelle and Coach follow. I hear them murmuring between themselves.

"… what's up with Ellis?"

"Dunno. Maybe he's not feelin' too good?"

"You don't think it's 'cos …"

"Nah; that guy was always picking on the kid."

I know they are talking about him, but my mind doesn't process it. He's gone; dragged off by the horde.

I know we're in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, too. But it doesn't feel like it.

I'm hungry. I'm tired. But I don't care anymore.

I just want to kill every one o' them sons-a-bitches in my way.

I think Coach has noticed. "Ellis, you on fire!" he shouts, after I beat a Smoker to death with my bare hands. I feel no pride, though. I feel nothing. Like that smoker's tongue is still wrapped round my heart like a python.

I feel empty now. Only vengeance drives me.

Is this what it's like to be a zombie?

I got 'Professional Zombie Slayer tattooed on my arm a long time ago. I can still see it when I swing my axe around.

Doesn't seem so funny, now.

We got to the safe house that night without any major problems. Coach took a beating from a Big Arm, and Ro got clawed up bad by a Witch, but the pain slowed them more than the injuries did. Ro is knocking up some beans on toast … only without the toast. Coach is cleaning up his gun.

"Hey, Ellis; you did good today," Coach said, catching my gaze.

I look away, staring at the little portable tellie a previous Survivor left behind. It's dead, but if I stare hard enough, I think I can imagine it working.

"Ellis, sweetie, are you alright?" asks Ro from the cooker.

I nod slightly. But everything aches.

"Yo ain't talked since Nick …"

I shut the rest out. Hearing that name is too painful.

"Why don't you tell us about your buddy Keith?" Rochelle suggested.

I would. On any other day, I would tell them about my stupid buddy Keith until someone would shut me up. They think that one day, we'll meet again. But I know the truth. The whirlybird tumbling from the sky. Must've been an Infected on board. As much shit as Keith's survived, I don't think even he'd escape that inferno. I just keep telling them about our adventures before this zombie shit-storm kicked up. Coping strategies; that's what Ro calls 'em.

"Ya can't ignore us forever, kid."
"Coach, leave him alone. He'll be alright soon."

The next day. I still can't keep bring myself to speak to either of them. I keep seeing little reminders of our time together. I saw a Witch in the park, and remembered how he used to always joke that he could hear his ex-wife. And the time that he booted up that jukebox at the abandoned wedding just to piss off the 'bride'. I remember how we'd had a go at him for ages for it, but now I guess it was kinda funny.

Then there was the time we used to tease him about being such a grouch at Whispering Oaks. That was kinda funny, too.

I kick the jukebox in the bar we were hiding out in frustration. To our surprise, it bursts into life.

Well, I'm a half-ton son-of-a-gun

With a suitcase full of pistols and money …

One Bad Man. One of my favourite Midnight Riders songs. But it merely makes me think of him.

"Never heard o' them. They any good?"

That was the first time that he'd spoken to me in a way that wasn't snide or sarcastic. Who would have thought such a whiner could have an ordinary conversation over how good a band was? I didn't believe it at first.

The others never could fathom why I would like a guy like him. I dunno. Sure, he whined all the time, and threw insults as often as pipe bombs, and may have a criminal past. But I liked him. Isn't it strange, how the universe picks such random people to become friends?

I shut off the music before the noise attracts more zombies. That's when we hear the grunts and feel the shaking.

"TAAANK!" screamed Ro, seconds before the brute punched its way through the wall.

I'm not sure what actually happened next. All I know is that Coach and Ro are stuck under the crushed counter, and I trapped under the bleeding, battered monster. It snorts like a bull.

I hear the rat-a-tat-tat of an assault rifle on its last legs, and see the Tank begin to fall like a tower block. I roll out of the way, grabbing my fallen gun. But it is dead. I look to see who our saviour is.

"I've not come this far to die now. Now help me with this!"

I grab the end of the counter, lifting it off Coach and Ro. My mind is stunned. That voice; surely it's not …

"Nick? What'd I tell ya 'bout runnin' off on us?" Coach almost laughs.

"Not like you helped."

"Nick!" I yell, grabbing that once-suave man in a tight bear-hug. "We thought you were dead, man!"

Nick squirms uncomfortably. "You gonna get off, kid? I don't want hillbilly-germs all over my suit."

We can tell he's joking; his suit may have been $3000, but I bet it ain't worth half that much now, what with all the rips, tears, blood, boomer puke, goo-shit burns and actual shit from that sewer so long ago. It's just a friendly jab like always.

"You know," I say, releasing Nick, who takes a deep breath, "this reminds me of the time my buddy Keith …"

Coach groans, Nick face-palms. I guess things never change, after all.

But who cares, now that my best buddy in the world is back?