A/N: This is one of my sister's favorite pairings, and I kinda got drawn into it while she was having L4D2 marathons. I'm weak, sue me.
Disclaimer: Left 4 Dead and related characters are © to Valve.
"Oh, stop being such a baby, Ellis."
"How 'bout you ease up on the tough lovin', huh?"
Nick, travelling card shark, one in a group of four survivors of some weird virus that broke out in Savannah and who were doing their best to get the hell out of dodge, and at the moment field medic to another of the same group, sat back and glared at their youngest member with a sigh. "It's your own damned fault you got that little scratch—"
"—you just had to go all Jackass on us and take a flying leap off of a building—"
"It was only one story, c'mon. How else were we supposed to get to the street?"
"Maybe the ladder the city so thoughtfully provided so we wouldn't have to pretend we were drunken lemmings?"
"Ah, yeah… Didn't see that."
"It was three feet away from you!"
Ellis, their mechanic and Savannah native, scratched the back of his head with a sheepish grin, using his left arm, as it was his right that was receiving Nick's not terribly gentle attentions.
Nick called it a scratch because really, in comparison to what you could get in this fucked up situation, it hardly rated a band aid. Ellis, who was in more of a position to appreciate the trouble he went through to get it, rated it as one of his more worthy battle scars, self-inflicted or not. In reality, it was probably somewhere in between.
They and the other two that comprised their group, Coach and Rochelle, had been making their way from rooftop to rooftop through a dense suburban area towards the edge of town. The infected weren't as thick up there and the survivors weren't as likely to get pinned down. But it wasn't always a straight shot from one roof to the next, even in the new subdivisions where homes and businesses were crammed as tightly as possible and realty was premium. Sometimes they had to abandon the high ground, make a dash across roads or highways and scrabble up the next building along their path. It was always tricky and dangerous when times like that came up, and they had developed a kind of leapfrogging system as the safest way to get everyone across in one piece. It worked fairly well, with the occasional little hiccup, but getting better as they got closer to the edge of town and the infected grew sparser. The last of the roofs going their direction was a gas station and as luck would have it, no infected in sight.
Ellis, in his celebratory high, seemed to think that leaping from the roof to the street was the most expedient way of getting down. To his credit he hit the pavement rolling, so no broken ankles or blown out knees, but he rolled right over his machete, which he dropped on impact, and took a good sized slice to his right arm, just below the shoulder.
"Aw, just call it high spirits?"
"Yeah," Nick scoffed. "High spirits that could have turned our nice clear walk into spring break at Key West, Dawn of the Dead style. The hell were you thinking, squawking like a girl?"
"I did not!"
"You attracted some of the infected, Ellis!"
"Half a dozen at most and one hunter. No biggie." He grinned widely, looking like a big teenager. "Kinda worth it for the sweet stuntman moves, though."
Nick shook his head, rolling his eyes and picked up the gauze and bandages. The wound was clean and had been disinfected with supplies found in the safe house, now it just had to be wrapped up before the idiot jumped off another roof. "Uh huh. Just pass up that paper cut, Evel Knievel."
"Man, can you imagine Evel Knievel in all of this?" Ellis said a touch dreamily. He lifted his arm to where Nick could wrap it. "Just ridin' his wheels through the whole mess like he didn't have two damns to rub together."
"I think maybe he'd have a little trouble with the extreme pedestrian congestion, myself," he said, wrapping the bandage tight.
"Naw, man, that's the great thing with Knievel. Just jump straight over the top of the baddies and keep rolling."
"There's so much wrong with that I'm not going to argue with it."
Ellis chuckled, then hissed when Nick tugged at the bandaging, tightening it. He still didn't think it was that bad, not so bad as the boy was making it out to be, anyway, but he relented a little and gentled the touch. Things were bad enough, he supposed, without having to add more.
For a while everything was relatively quiet, which seemed a small miracle in itself. If they weren't running from the screaming, snarling hordes of Savannah's former population, then there was ammo being fired, or Ellis would bust out with one of his rambling stories about his dumbass friends. It seemed like years since Nick last heard his own thoughts.
Of course, it didn't last very long.
"You think Coach is going to be okay?"
Ellis spoke quietly, not quite a whisper, but low enough only Nick could hear him. Taking the cue, Nick was careful when he looked to the opposite side of the safe house where Coach was sitting so that no one saw him do so. The big guy was sitting on a stack of crates, slowly working one leg, and more to the point one knee, back and forth, the absolute stillness of his face the only kind of clue as to the pain the motion was causing him. It was an old injury giving him trouble, the amount of running, climbing, jumping, crawling and what have you making it flare up again. It was the same injury that had landed him as a football coach instead of a player, in fact, and their recent lifestyle was playing merry hell with the old scar tissue. Not that he let it slow him down. He didn't so much as walk with a limp, but when they got these rare moments of rest and patch up you could see how much of a strain it was on the guy.
"I think so," he replied just as quietly. "Big guy's tough. He won't let a tank slow him down, much less a bum knee."
"Hope so," Ellis said, sounding worried. When Nick looked up at him the boy was watching Coach openly, brows drawn close over his nose. "We'd be a lot more screwed without him, y'know?"
Nick grunted his agreement. Much as he hated to admit it, he – all of them, really – owed Coach a lot for getting them this far. They had no real leader, per se, but Coach was used to directing groups and thinking tactically, so he often took the lead when they were on the move. It was the role that suited him best, and the one he was the most capable to fill, so it worked. It was the same reason Ellis was their navigator, having grown up in Savannah, and why Rochelle was their advisor on what they might expect the authorities to be doing, working with the media.
Which was why Nick hated admitting that it all worked pretty well. He was not, by nature, what could be called a team player. He'd always hated sports and could never hold down a job where he had to take orders – his father's hope that he would one day go in for the military had been a stillborn one. Nick was most comfortable in groups that consisted of one: himself. But when hell started breaking out in Savannah even he had been able to see the wisdom of being in a group. It meant investing a lot of trust in other people, which he wasn't good at, but it beat trying to wade through an entire population trying to kill you solo. And if the worst came to the worst, then three live decoys could come in awful handy in a pinch.
Now, though, he wasn't so sure he would abandon them if it came down to it. His ass had been saved one too many times to just cut and run if things got a little tough. 'Desperate' was another story, but with luck it wouldn't come to that.
Movement brought Nick's attention back to the present, and he saw Rochelle, who had been resupplying her ammo and cleaning her shotgun – he'd have to ask where she'd learned to do that – had walked over to Coach and struck up a low conversation with him.
Ellis chuckled again. "Well," he said sounding more himself, "those two are sure gettin' along."
Nick frowned. "You think?" He hadn't noticed any particular closeness between them, but then such things would be easy to miss at times like these.
"Oh yeah, definitely. I even heard Rochelle askin' him if he would be part of her 'survivors project' or whatever when we get back to civilization."
Nick whistled. "That practically makes them engaged, right there."
"You ain't kiddin'. Still can't believe she's thinking about ratings when we're fighting our way out, but I guess everyone deals their own way. I have this one cousin, whenever there's this real loud noise it scares him, right? He always takes this bowl of marshmallows and a cup of—"
"Ellis," Nick interrupted before the kid could get up too much momentum. He already knew far too much about Ellis' family and friends, he didn't need any more.
If he took offense, though, Ellis didn't show it. Nick had the impression that he was too used to having his stories cut short to really care anymore. He didn't respond at all except to shrug and close his flapping jaw.
It lasted maybe a minute before he started back up again, though not about his family or marshmallows, thank God.
"Must be nice, though," he said, still watching Rochelle and Coach, who were sitting together now, the woman pressing a bottle of pain reliever on the big man. "I mean findin' someone special in the middle of this mess. Cheers the heart a bit to see, really." He paused, then looked at Nick, who was finishing up on his arm. "What about you, you got someone waitin' on the right side of the perimeters?"
Nick snorted, tucking the ends of the bandage to keep them getting caught. Nursing was never his forte, but experience was a fast teacher, and anything left to trail was just begging for trouble, to get snagged on something or by someone. "No, can't say as I do. Never seemed to find the time nor the inclination."
"Might be best, all things considered," Ellis said thoughtfully, moving his arm about experimentally, side to side, back to front, and over his head. "Find true love only to have them get infected and try to gnaw off your face." He smiled. "Bang up job on the patch up, Nick. Thankee kindly."
The card shark smiled back, knowing the patch up might be what saved Ellis – and all of them by extension – or might be completely wasted half an hour from now when they headed out again. But still, it was nice to be thanked, and Ellis' smile was infectious – oh, unfortunate word choice – reaching all the way to his cornflower blue eyes. "No problem, kid. Just try not to make any more work for me, yeah?" He turned away and started packing up what was left of the med kit. There wasn't much, but it would be worth taking with them. Hell, every little bit helped out there.
"And you, Ellis?" he found himself saying while he worked. "You have yourself a squeeze you're going to track down once everything settles?"
"What, me?" came the incredulous reply. "Heck no, man. I ain't got no one special to me, and right thankful am I of that right now."
"Really? I would have thought a hometown boy like you would have had a childhood sweetheart or something."
"Naw, not me. No one I ever showed an interest in shared the sentiment, if you know what I mean."
Nick nodded ruefully. "Yeah, I can relate to that. And I get the feeling opportunities are going to become scarcer than ever if this virus is as widespread as we've been thinking."
"Well, then," Ellis jumped up onto the table Nick was working at, sitting right beside the half-filled med kit. "It's going to become a time of stolen opportunities, then, ain't it? Take 'em where you can. Like those two," he nodded towards Rochelle and Coach, making Nick twist back around to look at them again.
"You wouldn't think that in a hell like this there would be any chance of romance and the like, but that don't seem to be stopping them at all. Whatever it is they found in each other, they're grabbin' it whether the world provides a chance or not. And I figure that's as good a way to go about it as any… You see a chance, you grab it."
Nick, sensing a slight change in Ellis' tone, looked back over at the little mechanic, who was staring at him quite intently. His perch made it so he could look down at Nick slightly, and Nick didn't think he'd ever seen the kid look so serious, and there were plenty of examples to choose from in their brief acquaintance.
"So, what do you think?" he asked quietly.
Nick, after a moment of consideration, smiled. He'd been around plenty, and knew exactly what it was the hometown Savannah boy was hedging around. "I think I agree," he said easily. "And I say when the next opportunity comes around, we take it and run like hell."