"Ma?" Ellis' voice quivered a little as he walked down the aisle, trying to find his mother. She'd gotten caught up talking with some neighbor from a few streets down in the store and ten-year-old Ellis had been bored out of his mind. He didn't think twice about walking down to the toy section to wait her out. Hell, he'd even asked first, but she wasn't paying a whole lot of attention.

And now she wasn't anywhere.

He turned the corner and nearly ran into another kid whose hands were full of bags of fireworks. The other boy dropped his cargo and narrowed his eyes at him.

"Aw, goddamn kid…what'd ya go and do that for?" the boy exploded, kneeling down to pick up the packages.

"I didn't do it on purpose," Ellis said defensively. "And I ain't a little kid." The other boy, scrawny and barely half a head taller than him, snorted.

"Yeah, sure. Ya gonna help me pick this shit up or what?" Ellis' eyes widened.

"Oh, yeah!" He knelt down and started picking things up. His earlier annoyance was forgotten almost immediately as he sifted through the considerable arsenal. "Hey! You gotta lot of good stuff here…my ma never lets me get anything like this. We always end up buyin' those little sparkler things. Ya couldn't make those things blow up if you tried." The other kid stopped picking up and looked up with an eyebrow raised. "Hey…where'd ya get that scar? Did ya get in a fight or somethin'…?"

"Shit, do you talk a lot!" the other boy interjected. Ellis shrugged and grinned.

"Yeah, that's what ma's always tellin' me. She says she can't even get a word in edgewise half the time. My name's Ellis. What's yours?"

"Goddamn, kid…you are..." he shook his head, "Keith. Name's Keith."

"Where'd ya get that scar, Keith? I got one on my back from slippin' on the divin' board waaaaaay back in third grade…" Keith snorted.

"I shaved my eyebrows off last summer," he said matter-of-factly.

"What'd ya do that for?"

"Did it on a dare. Jimmy Adams said he'd pay me ten bucks if I did it. He didn't think I'd do it…so he made me jump halfway through. I was bleedin' so much, my ma wouldn't lemme finish. Son-of-a-bitch never paid me, neither. Said I never finished the job. So I punched him in the nose an' called it even." Ellis nodded seriously.

"Yeah…my friend Dave said he'd give me a dollar just to eat a spoonful o' cinnamon las' week." He looked at Keith seriously. "Don't do it. It sounds easy, but that's where they get ya! I coughed up cinnamon all over the counter and I needed to drink, like, a thousand gallons of water after." Keith shook his head.

"You are a crazy little shit, ya know that? How old are ya, kid?"

"I'm gonna be eleven in May."

"So, you're ten."

"Almost eleven!"

"It's June."

"So?" Keith shook his head again.

"I'm thirteen," he said with a hint of pride, "So I really shouldn't be hangin' out with a fifth grader." Ellis' face fell. "Aw, shit, kid, lemme finish! Anyhow, I shouldn't be hangin' out with a fifth grader, but I really need help draggin' this shit back to my place." Ellis brightened almost immediately.

"Alright!" The boys finally got back to picking up the rest of the bags and went for the entrance. "What're ya gonna do with all these fireworks, anyway?" Keith shrugged.

"Blow shit up."


"Ellis!" Both boys craned their necks around at the sound of a shrill female voice behind them. Ellis' mother stood just behind the registers behind her cart, her hands on her hips, normally friendly blue eyes narrowed menacingly. "Ellis Eric McKinney, you get your sorry butt back here, now." Both Ellis and Keith walked over to her. She put a hand on Ellis' shoulder. "You had me worried sick, young man!"

"I jus' went over to the toy section…" he said defensively.

"You should've told me, Ellis!"

"But I did…"

"Not that I heard." She looked at Keith for the first time and sighed, her anger fizzling out quickly. "Who's your friend?" Ellis' cowed expression transformed into a wide smile.

"Oh, this is Keith! I ran into him when I was lookin' for you!" She turned back to Keith, who reddened.

"Uh…nice to meet ya…Mrs. McKinney…" he said, extricating a hand and trying his best to remember his manners. Ellis' mother half smiled and shook his hand.

"Technically it's Ms. Ladin, but you can call me Lisa. Nice to meet you too, Keith. Now, where were you two off to in such a hurry?" Ellis beamed.

"Keith said we could go blow shit up!"

A/N: So there it is…my take on how Ellis and Keith met as kids (he's real, damn it!) I always saw him as a few years older than Ellis, and quite the bad influence (Lisa's not going to appreciate the potty mouth you're giving her son, Keith!) Let me know what you thought! I have another L4D story posted if you want to check it out!

Also, all the names in here came from either the game, the voice actors/face models, or the song I was listening to at the time.