A bath. Nick never thought he would see a bath tub with running water again. The safe room in the swamp was little more than a shack like those surrounding it, but for now it was zombie free, and it had running water.

Rochelle had called dibs on the tub and the young woman had groaned and moaned in pure joy as she splashed in the tepid water.

"Danged ole skeeter," Ellis snapped as he swatted another insect. ""fraid I'll be sucked dry before we get out of the swamp," the young man grinned innocently at his companions. Nick had to shift uncomfortably at the image that brought to mind. The last couple days had been difficult for the older man. Ellis and his annoying Labrador puppy high spirits got on his nerves, but he had to admit the boy was easy on the eyes.

"I am sure you would know all about that," Nick said dryly. The happy grin stayed in place, Ellis was almost completely incapable of taking offense.

"Man, the things I could tell you about the swamp," He started happily. "One time me and Keith and maybe Dave, or was it Bubba?" Ellis paused in his story to ponder the identity of the third companion.

"You have to be joking, kid," Nick interjected. "You actually know someone named Bubba?"

"Why sure," Ellis switched tracks as quickly and smoothly as anyone Nick had ever met. "I know lots of Bubbas. Keith's cousin Bubba, Bubba Junior down at the store, Bubba McGee who owns the video place, my aunt Bubba,"

"Enough!" Nick held up one hand and rubbed at his temples with the other. "I do NOT need to hear any story that involves a woman named Bubba."

Coach gave a grunt, maybe agreement, maybe just the heavy man's lungs protesting. "Girl, save some for the rest of us!" He finally called toward the tiny room that served as a bathroom. He needed his couple of minutes away from the two arguing next to him, even if it was just in a closet.

Rochelle appeared before Ellis could start back up on his story and push Coach over the edge with his patience. The door snicked shut and water was heard running into the old enameled tub.

"Sweet Mary and Joseph that feels good," Rochelle swore as she squeezed water from her hair with a towel. "I don't think I have ever enjoyed a bath that much."

Another rather thread bare towel was wrapped around her thin frame and she glared at the two men sitting on the floor across the small room. "As much as I hate to put these dirty clothes back on, I sure as hell am not doing it with you two staring at me."

Ellis blushed an amazing shade of red and quickly turned his back mumbling apologies too "miss Rochelle", Nick casually leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. "Don't worry, Girl," He assured her, "I am not peeking." The obvious smirk in his voice made Ellis face him and actually slap at his arm.

"Don't you dare!" He looked genuinely shocked. "You let Miss Rochelle get dressed!" Nick was so surprised by the vehemence in the boy's face that he actually found himself facing the wall.

"Calm down, Ellis," he tried to sooth the kid, "I didn't mean anything by it." A dark part of him wished that Ellis' reaction had been out of jealousy that he might be looking at the pretty young woman and not out of respect for her. That though almost mad him blush.

Where was this coming from? Ellis? Of all people. The problem wasn't that he found the boy attractive, he had been with enough men to know that he wasn't exactly straight, but this was getting ridiculous. This was not a time to be thinking about this hick kid who didn't even change out of his grease covered coveralls as a potential lover. The boy had no money, no political power, nothing he could use, take, or hold against him. In other words, the boy was useless, so why did he still want him so badly.

Nick was still thinking about Ellis and his unreasonable attraction to him when Rochelle announced that it was safe for him to turn around again. For a moment there, he had forgotten why he was sitting there staring at a wall.

Ellis shuffled and blushed some more as he got up and began pulling canned foods out of the little cabinet by the door. He was obviously uncomfortable.

"Pork 'n Beans, Pork 'n Beans, and more Pork 'n Beans," he rolled a can toward Rochelle. "Hey, y'all check it out! We're having Pork 'n Beans fer supper!" Nick groaned but took the can that rolled toward him and Rochelle just sighed in resignation. They really had no choice but to eat what they found, but why did everyone around here seem to have stocked up on Pork and Beans? Why not Chunky Beef stew or Ravioli in a can?

"Fer dessert we can have. . ." Ellis paused for effect. "Pork and Beans!" Anyone else, Nick would have assumed they were being sarcastic, but not Ellis, the kid seemed to be genuinely amused.

"Jeeze, Kid," Nick groaned, "You don't have to be so happy about it.

"Awww shucks," Ellis pouted, "This ain't nothin'. Least we GOT pork 'n beans. There was this huntin' trip me and Keith went on, excepting we both fergot to bring food. See, I thought Keith was bringin' it and he thought I was bringin' it and we get to the deer camp and find that alls we got is 2 cases of beer and a package of beef jerky we got at the gas station. So we. . ."

"Ellis, honey,' Rochelle said gently before Nick could tear into the boy. "Eat your beans before they get even colder."

"Umm, right, good point," Ellis started to shovel the canned food into his mouth like he actually enjoyed it.

Nick was hungry enough to eat the goopy mess in a can, but not enough to enjoy it. He was beginning to wonder how anyone could actually enjoy it when Coach came into the larger room dripping onto the floor boards and grinning like a fool as he opened his can of unnaturally colored mush and vaguely pork like products.

Not waiting to see what Ellis was doing, Nick quickly slipped into the bathroom. He slipped off the battered and formerly while jacket and slacks before folding his blue shirt and stacking them all on the sink to keep them from the damp floor. Outside he heard Rochelle crow in triumph as she located a battery operated radio and Ellis started in on some other story about the much adored Keith and their redneck exploits.

Nick turned the knobs and felt the pipes rattle as the slightly murky water began to flow into the cracked and stained tub. He didn't want to admit it, but he felt a little jealousy when he heard Ellis ramble on about his "buddy" Keith. How close were they? Where they really just friends. . . The thoughts tumbled and built up on each other as he bathed. The water wasn't clean enough that he would consider drinking it, but it was good enough that he was able to feel more human and less like the swamp monster from an old film.

What little warmth had been in the water was gone and there was nothing more he could legitimately scrub, so Nick got out of the tub. He would have to go back out there and listen to Ellis chirp and bubble his way through another evening, Coach would growl and Rochelle would just smile and pet Ellis like a puppy. Ah, just like family.

"Oh good!" Ellis hopped up like a jack-in-the-box when Nick stepped in to the room," I was beginnin' to think you had fallen asleep in there. Thought we might have to send Coach in to pull ya out." That big shit eating grin, Nick wanted to just smack it right off his happy little face. Or kiss him until he shut up. Stick his tongue right down the boy's throat.

Whoa, he needed to stop that train of thought right now!

"Just go take your bath, Ellis," he growled, trying to hide his confusion. "You are starting to smell worse than the zombies."

Ellis just stuck his tongue out and happily dashed into the bathroom.

Luckily, neither Coach nor Rochelle were paying any attention to him. He dressed in his battered shirt and suit and lay down on a pile of rags that might once have been a mattress. Rochelle was still playing with the radio and had begun trading out scratched and abused CDs to see if any of them would play. Coach had taken the only other thing pretending to be a bed.

Oh shit. He realized what was about to happen. There was no way Rochelle was going to sleep in the same bed as him, that meant Ellis was about to crawl onto the sagging piece of fabric and sleep. How in the ell was he supposed to sleep now? He couldn't get up and go lay down next to Coach. Great.

The radio gave a squawk and started to play. Rochelle gave a whoop of triumph, and the shack was filled with the nasal cowboy voices of Big and Rich.

"Cause I saddle up my horse
And I ride into the city

I make a lot of noise

Cause the girls

They are so pretty

Riding up and down Broadway

On my old stud Leroy

And the girls say

Save a horse, ride a cowboy.

Everybody says

Save a horse, Ride a cowboy"

Nick groan theatrically and covered his head with the still damp towel when Ellis practically threw himself out of the bathroom with an exclamation that sounded suspiciously like "whhooo eeee" Problem was, he forgot to wrap the towel securely around his hips and it dropped almost as soon as he got through the door. The noise had brought Nick to upright and as soon as he saw Ellis in all his naked glory, he threw himself back down and turned to the wall. He was not going to get any sleep that night. None at all.

Even the mobile dead were quiet tonight. Nick lay there, turned away from the gently snoring Ellis wishing it was safe enough for him to go outside, have smoke, have a wank. Anything to get him out of that bed next to Ellis.

Then the worst happened, Ellis rolled over in his sleep and wrapped his arms around Nick and hung on like a koala bear on a limb. Hot breath tickled his neck and warm strong arms wrapped around his waist.

He tried to turn over to push Ellis onto his other side, but when he got twisted around he found himself face to face with the boy and before he knew it he was kissing those soft lips. It was pure bliss.

Without thinking he rolled Ellis onto his back and deepened the kiss, pushing his tongue into the hot mouth, and Ellis responded by wrapping his arms around Nick's neck. Ellis had not put his shirt back on and Nick ran his hands down lean smooth sides as he pushed his erection against the boy's thigh. Then Ellis opened his eyes.

Nick thought his heart would stop in his chest, and tensed, waiting for Ellis to start yelling, push him off, and do whatever redneck men did when they woke up to near strangers kissing them. Strange men at that.

All Ellis said was a muffled "oh yeah," as he turned his head to let Nick at his neck. "I'll be damned," Nick mumbled, but took his chance kissing his way along Ellis' rough jaw and thick neck. The boy's Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed convulsively and he jerked his hips up to meet the older man's.

Rough mechanics fingers pulled the white dress pants open and tugged at Nick's arousal as he worked his way down along the smooth chest. Nick licked and gently bit first one nipple then the other before continuing down. He had to pull himself out of Ellis' hand but he wanted another look at what he had glimpsed earlier.

It didn't take much work to slide the overalls the rest of the way down and he was able to take Ellis in his mouth. The boy was salty but clean from his earlier bath and Nick swallowed as much as he could.

An exuberant moan from Ellis made him sit up and cover his enthusiastic young lover's mouth. "Quiet," he hissed and looked across the floor to the other mattress. Coach still snore steadily and Rochelle's eyes were still closed.

"Apparently I can't let you or your mouth alone for one minute, can I?" Nick tried to sound stern, but he couldn't help but smile at Ellis' completely guileless face staring up at him in the dark.

Attacking that pretty mouth again, Nick almost whimpered himself when Ellis wrapped his hand around both their erections and began to stroke.

Most men would like to say that they have stamina that lets them last for hours, but Nick had to be honest with himself. After days of running from zombie and nights sleeping next to the best looking redneck he had ever seen he just wasn't going to last.

With a stifled grunt and a not so gentle bite to Ellis collar bone, Nick spilled himself on the boy's stomach, and was gratified to feel Ellis doing the same. At least he hadn't embarrassed himself in front of the boy.

Grabbing the towel from the floor near the bed, Nick quickly cleaned up their mess and helped Ellis redress himself.

Contentedly, he lay back down and pulled Ellis in close. Now he would sleep just fine. At least for tonight.