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The Ghost In You

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Ellis had never felt like this before the Infection hit. It was like a tidal wave of many incompatible emotions had swept him away amongst the dead, the devastation, the chaos. Of course there was confusion, then fear, and just a little bit of anger thrown in for good measure. By the time he had made his way to The Vannah, a supposed evacuation point, he wasn't even sure just what he was supposed to be feeling anymore.

How are you supposed to feel about the Zombie Apocalypse?

But he knew what he felt the moment he met Nick. Nick, axing this way through a sea of zombies just as Ellis had entered the lobby, chopping them to bits with a glint in his cool green eyes and a colorful vocabulary of swears on his lips. He'd been the first human, well, non-zombied human, Ellis had seen since he got to downtown Savannah. It was a welcome sight, the way he had swung his weapon with confidence, a cigarette hanging off his lip and yet perfectly secure. He'd turned towards Ellis, and nodded, a smirk starting to grow on his face.

'Hey kiddo, wanna help me out here?' the suave Northerner had called to him, as if they had known each other forever. And Ellis had felt his heart thud in his chest, it occurring to him that it wasn't just out of fear either.

'Uh, yeah, sure,' he'd answered, and they had killed zombies together. Once they were finished, Nick had clapped him on the back.

'Nice work,' he'd stated, flashing a smug grin his way. 'Want to tag along?' And Ellis had beamed back, excitedly.

'Okay!' was all he could think to say.

From that point on Ellis had declared the two of them 'bros', and followed the older man like a puppy. It had annoyed the gambler at first, but he eventually accepted it. And by eventually, one would mean it was two days in. Ellis wasn't sure how he'd won him over so fast, especially since the con man would still argue with Coach and Rochelle from dusk til dawn and back again.

It was in one of the safe rooms in the Mall that he realized his heart was still flying when talking to Nick, even though they weren't in any immediate danger. It only beat faster when their hands touched, briefly and accidentally.

It fluttered pleasantly when they would talk all by themselves, confiding in each other and sharing personal secrets that hadn't left their confidence before. He wondered if anyone else knew that Nick used to cut class just so he could go play pool, or that he loved Frank Sinatra but hated Frank Jr. Or that they shared a love for candy bars (while Nick preferred Twix, the mechanic's favorite was Milky Way, naturally. He had gone on for almost ten minutes about his love for those treats, and Nick hadn't even told him to shut up, not once).

It nearly burst from his chest in Rayford, oh God Rayford. Everything had all happened so fast, one moment they were arguing, and the next they were…. Ellis didn't even know what to call it really, but it involved stroking and lots of rubbing against each other. Before long he was coming all over their stomachs, and then making Nick do the same. It was confusing, and he couldn't wrap his mind around it, mostly because he had learned that guys weren't supposed to make guys feel like that. But he really liked feeling like that, and if he liked it, and it wasn't hurting anyone, he didn't see a problem. There were bigger things to worry about outside of who he was getting a hand job from. And for him, the best part wasn't the dry humping or the jerking off; it was when Nick kissed him after all of it. It was sweet, and seemed very out of character, like it was an intimacy that was rarely shared with anyone else. Ellis liked that. It had been the start of a sneaky relationship, one that was based on physical intimacy, covert journeys out of the safe houses, and a need to feel more than fear and sadness. He never thought in a million years that he would have willingly sought out sex with another man, but with Nick it was like he couldn't get enough of it. And Nick couldn't seem to get enough of him, either.

'Just so you know, this doesn't have to mean anything, kiddo,' Nick had said as he looked down at Ellis, about to take that one piece of the mechanic that no one had ever taken before. 'I'm used to just fucking and moving on.'

'Yeah, I-I know," Ellis had responded, heart sprinting at the prospect of having sex with this man. It hadn't been everything he dreamed it would be, but it wasn't wretched, especially considering they were both dirty and grimy and had little to no lubrication outside of a small bottle of hand lotion they'd found. They made do.

And his poor thudding heart had nearly broken when all of it had just stopped. It was like they had been going great, they had fucked once again, their third or fourth time, in the Shantytown of the swamp, but then…. Nothing. Not even an acknowledgment that anything had even happened. Not of the sex, not of the kisses, nothing. Ellis had tried to initiate one night, when Nick was on watch. The mechanic had sat next to him and tried brushing his hand again, like in the Mall, wondering if such electricity would run through the gambler, as it ran through himself. But Nick just pulled away and went back to talking about the best casinos he'd been to, and Ellis barely listened as dejection set in. But he'd let it go. It was more important to get somewhere safe, and he didn't want to be hung up on the way he felt that prickle of hurt when he thought about all of it.

And now he was in a panic. Because it was raining like mad, Virgil was waiting for them (but wouldn't wait forever), and Nick was MIA.

"He should have been back by now!" Ellis exclaimed, pacing the floor, the water lazily rising around his ankles. "He said he'd be back by sunset!"

"Sweetie, try to relax," Rochelle stated, placing her hands on his shoulders.

"But he said he'd be back by sunset and it's LONG past sunset," Ellis repeated, unwilling to stay in one place long enough for her comforting touch to phase him. "I shouldn'ta let him go alone."

"Son, you know Nick," Coach offered half heartedly. "He had to get more diesel, and he wasn't gonna let you come along." That was for sure. They had almost gotten back to the dock, past that garage sale and nearing the playground, when a horde had caught them off guard and low on ammunition. So Nick had removed the gas can he'd been carrying on his back, tossed it at the crowd, and ignited it with his last Molotov. It had staved off the infected, but put a dent in their fuel supply. It had occurred to him too late that they all had blunt and bladed weapons they could have used, and that there would be ammo back in the safe house they'd passed through earlier. Because of this thoughtless choice he felt incredibly stupid, which in turn made him stubborn and crabby. In the safe house the gambler announced he was going back for more fuel. Ellis had insisted that he go with, but Nick had been adamant that he was to go alone. It was his rash decision that had put them in danger, and he was going to fix it on his own. It was surprisingly noble of him, but in turn it scared the mechanic to death. 'If you try and follow me, kid, I'll throw you to one of those Witches,' the con man had growled.

'But Nick-!'


And so he'd stayed.

"I should've gone with him," Ellis repeated, ignoring Coach. "It was so stupid of me not to! Anything coulda happened to him out there! There are all those zombies, an' the Witches, an' the rain makes it damn near impossible to see anything-!"

"Ellis, you have to calm down," Rochelle stated, voice starting to sound strained. It was clear that she was worried too, even if she didn't want to show it. "…. And we need to figure out what we're going to do just in case….." She stopped herself, realizing that maybe it wasn't the best time to bring such a thing up, what with the youngest member of the group in such a tizzy.

"What?" Ellis asked, stomach starting to twist and gnarl. "Whaddya mean, Ro?" She sighed, and averted her gaze.

"…. We need to figure out when we're going to decide it's time to go signal Virgil," she replied, sadly. "… Because if he isn't coming back…." She trailed off, and opted to look out one of the barred up windows instead of continuing. Ellis wasn't sure if it was because she was sad, or because she couldn't handle the way he was looking at her. Coach ran a gloved hand across his face, and exhaled reluctantly.

"….. Son, you're gonna hate me for saying this, but she's right," he said, and Ellis just shook his head, unable to accept that. "If he isn't coming back-."

"Well then we have to go find him," the mechanic stated, crossly.

"Ellis-," Coach began, and Ellis held up his hands, shaking his head.

"No, if we're goin' to the boat I want to be sure that we ain't ditchin' him here!" he snarled. "What if we leave an' he was just delayed? What if we left him here alone, an' he came back and found us gone?"

"….. He said sunset," Rochelle murmured, still staring out the window into the blackness and rain. "…. I don't think we have to worry about that."

Ellis bit his lip, and continued to shake his head. "We can't jus' leave him here. I can't jus' leave him here! Rochelle, Coach, it's NICK. I can't jus' leave Nick here." He began to march towards the door.

"Ellis, stop!" Rochelle pleaded, reaching for his arm and yanking on him. "You can't go out there!"

"I'm goin'!"

"You CAN'T!" Coach stated, pulling him back into the middle of the room. Ellis tried to shove past the oldest member of the group, but the man's football background was in top form tonight, and he was blocking the smaller mechanic with ease. "If you go out there you could be killed!"

"But NICK could be killed too!" Ellis exclaimed, trying his best to move past, but finding it perfectly impossible. He suddenly couldn't breathe at the thought of it, the thought that somewhere in a sugar cane field, or an abandoned factory, Nick was lying on the ground, broken and dead…

The mechanic could feel that thudding mass in his chest start to crack apart again, and was about to lose balance.

"No, no no no," he stated, shaking his head, tipping towards the edge.

But there was a sudden pounding on the metal door to the safe house, making all three of them leap in surprise and fear.

"Goddamn it, would you open the door?" the familiar and sarcastic voice shouted, and Ellis straightened up, heart racing for what had to be the hundredth time at the sound of that voice. Rochelle sighed in relief, and rushed for the door, Coach by her side. They unbolted it and Nick burst in, new gas can in tow and sopping wet.

"NICK!" Rochelle exclaimed, throwing her arms around him. He chuckled and pat her on the back ."We thought you were dead! What happened to 'before sunset'?"

"Psh, like you can even tell if it's before sunset out there," Nick replied, setting the gas can down and leaning against the door, catching his breath.

"What happened to you?" Coach asked. "We thought for SURE you were-."

"Oh, well, going back through the Sugar Mill wasn't a walk in the park, but the rain scared the Witches off anyway," he replied, standing up straight and reaching into his coat. "Got the gas pretty easily, gave my ax a work out too. And actually, I probably would have been faster, but I had to get something else."

"Like what?" Rochelle asked skeptically, and Nick removed a plastic baggy from inside his coat. Inside the bag was a pack of cigarettes. "Are you fucking serious?"

"Hey, I was jonesing," Nick replied, and smiled arrogantly. "The trailer outside the factory had cigarettes, but I had to find something to protect them with. I'll be damned if the one pack of cigs I find is ruined by the goddamn rainstorm. THAT took me awhile, but I found something. And it looks like it did the trick."

"You had us worried out of our mind for cigarettes?" Coach asked, shaking his head. He was obviously irritated, but didn't seem surprised in the least.

"It's a filthy habit, I know," Nick replied, taking one out of the pack and lighting it with his Zippo. "But hey. We got gas. We can go, right?"

"Well let's wait for the rain to calm down a little, but yeah," Rochelle said, also irritated, but like Coach, not surprised. "Unless you wanted to stop for booze too."

"Nah, I'm fine," Nick winked, and then turned to Ellis, who hadn't moved from his spot. The older man grinned his way, and walked towards him. "Oh hey there, kiddo. Hope you weren't TOO worried. Aw Scarecrow, I think I missed you most of-."

Before he could finish his clever jibe, Ellis drew back and decked him across the face. Rochelle shrieked out a bit as Nick stumbled to his knees. His ring adorned hand cradled his cheekbone, and he scowled up at the younger man.

"WHAT the FUCK-?" he began, but Ellis pointed down at him, eyes blazing in a red hot fury.

"You FUCKIN' ASSHOLE!" he shouted, and before anyone could react he turned around and stormed up the steps of the safe house, leaving the other three survivors surprised at his outburst. They'd NEVER seen Ellis like that throughout the entire journey. They thought that he didn't have an angry bone in his body!

The mechanic wasn't familiar with the house in any way, shape, or form, but he found a room for himself to rage in, thinking that if he was left alone for a little while he could calm down at least a small amount. He kicked the side of the bed, and crossed his arms. Cigarettes. Fucking cigarettes. They were about to leave him behind because the bastard needed a nicotine fix. It was infuriating and ridiculous, but at the same time it was how Nick did things. And ultimately, Ellis was overjoyed that he was okay. Even if he was enraged.

The door to the bedroom opened, and Nick stamped in, looking probably just as furious as Ellis did. "What the FUCK was that about?" he demanded, and Ellis shook his head.

"If you hafta ask-."

"Christ, stop acting like my fucking ex-wife!" Nick sneered. "Why'd you clock me?"

"Why do ya THINK I clocked ya?" Ellis spat. "You had us all scared t'death, Nick! We thought you were dead, and the whole time you were just lookin' for cigarettes!But I guess I shouldn't be surprised, should I?"

"What's THAT supposed to mean?" Nick demanded, closing the door behind him so Coach and Ro wouldn't hear them fighting. It wasn't really their business as far as he was concerned.

"What d'ya think it means? It means you're so caught up in yourself that ya didn't care what WE were thinkin'!" Ellis threw back, resentfully. "Who cares if you're late, REAL late, so long as YOU'RE happy that's all that matters, right?"

Nick snorted, and mimicked Ellis' stance by crossing his arms too. Normally he'd just blow it off and let the antagonist stew in their own juices, but he felt that this should probably be hashed out. Especially since he had to trust Ellis with his life, ultimately. "Look, I'm back, aren't I? I mean, yeah, I was delayed and shit, but I'm SORRY if time management is kind of difficult during the goddamn Zombie Apocalypse, Overalls."

"Time management my ASS-."

"Hey, you don't know!" Nick snarled, pointing at him. "You don't know what I had to face out there! I didn't mention it downstairs because I didn't want to frighten Coach and Ro, but…. Well, it was pretty hairy out there. There were Chargers, there were Spitters, a few Hunters…. I was getting through by the skin of my teeth. For awhile there, I didn't think I was going to make it… So that's why I took so long."

Ellis examined his face for sincerity, and raised an eyebrow. "Is that true?"

"… No," Nick admitted, caught.

"I knew it!"

"Okay fine, so I really wanted cigarettes and lost track of time!" Nick snapped, starting to feel a little bit of shame. "The point is that I'm here now and we can go as soon as the rain stops!"

"No, the point is that you only care about how you feel," Ellis said, but it was less angry and more weary. "You don't let people affect you, so you think that you must not affect people either."

Ellis sat down on the bed, shaking his head, and Nick scratched his neck, uncomfortably.

"Is this about that whole sex thing?" the older man asked, trying to sound nonchalant about it, and Ellis snorted, but didn't answer. "Because, shit kid….I didn't realize that it meant all that much to you-."

"This isn't about the sex!" Ellis insisted, hotly. "It's about how we were gonna leave ya, all because you were too caught up with your stupid cigarettes!" He leaned his elbows onto his knees as he entwined his fingers together, trying to calm himself down, as he didn't want to give Nick the satisfaction of driving him this crazy. "I mean, THEY wanted to. I didn't. I was gonna go back an' find ya."

"…. Why the hell would you do that?" Nick asked, shocked. "If you thought I was dead-."

"I'm askin' myself the same question," the younger man replied, shaking his head. "…. Nick…. We were havin' a pretty good time, at least I thought so. I mean, we got along real well, an' we were havin' fun with the, the sex an' stuff… but then you just stopped. An' I was wonderin' if I did somethin' to make you change your mind?"

"So….. this IS about the sex then," the older man said, voice neutral and even. Ellis swallowed, and shrugged. Yeah…. It was. At the heart of it, it was. His anger had been so much more powerful than Ro's and Coach's because he had completely fallen head over heels, in spite of everything he was taught, in spite of how he thought he was supposed to feel when it came to romance and love and who to fall in love with. In spite of the fact it wasn't supposed to mean anything.

"So what if it is?…. It's just….. I really like you, Nick. I can't stop thinkin' about you, an' I was ready to go find you because I'm pretty sure I'd do just about anything for you if you wanted me to," he confessed, unable to keep it all in, needing Nick to hear it. Hell, he needed to say it, just in case there wasn't another chance. "Even before we did that stuff, I was crazy about you, real crazy… An' I thought that maybe you liked me too…?"

They were quiet for what felt like forever to Ellis. He'd tried reading Nick's face for any indication of what he was thinking. But years of being a gambler meant that the con man had perfected his poker face, and it was impossible to know what was swirling around in that mind of his.

So when he finally smirked, Ellis knew that he was going to get an answer from him. And yet he could also tell that he wasn't going to like what he was going to hear.

"I tell ya, kiddo, I thought for sure, for SURE, that of all the people I could have fucked, you would have been the one to shut up about it and never speak of it again," the gambler chuckled, shaking his head in amazement. "I mean, Jesus, look at you. You're a goddamn good ol' boy who no doubt feared The Gay more than you feared the zombies the first time you saw them. But NOW you just can't get enough of dick, huh? Like this whole 'end of the world' shit is your own personal 'Coming of Age' movie."

Well that seemed rather harsh to the younger man, and his stomach began to twist about again. "…. Wha-?"

"And you know, that may be, but Christ, you're clinging like a goddamn girl, and you should just knock it the fuck off," Nick stated, firmly. "Why is it that everyone I service suddenly thinks that I'm their Prince Charming, white horse and happily ever after included? I mean, Jesus, Overalls, what did you think was going to happen after that? Did you think that I was going to give you my pin and ask you to go steady?"


"Because we're two completely different people with completely different lives! And let's be completely frank here while we're at it," Nick continued. "Best case scenario: only HALF of the U.S. population is dead. Did you REALLY think, REALLY, that you and me would just settle down together? Because I didn't settle down for my high school girlfriend, or any of my rich boyfriends, or my GODDAMN wife. So WHY would I settle down for a backwater hick from Savannah, Georgia who doesn't know his way around a cock to save his life?"

The words cut deep, the deepest of any words that had cut the mechanic in his short life. He figured that had Nick just punched him in the gut an kicked him in the ribs a couple of times for good measure it probably would have been better than it was right now. He opened his mouth, making one more feeble attempt to get some word in edgewise, but Nick was too fast for him.

"So I'll give you a piece of advice, kiddo," he sneered. "Don't take any dumbass risks for me, because I sure as shit haven't done and wouldn't do the same for you."

Ellis really, REALLY hoped that he wasn't showing how much this was hurting. He tried to keep a hard face, tried to seem like he was just going to brush it off. But his stomach was clenching and his throat was tightening, and he knew, just knew, that he looked like he was going to cry. He really didn't want to cry, the humiliation was already at its boiling point and if any more came upon him he would need to crawl into a hole and just die. So he swallowed, took in a deep breath through his nose, and muttered an "Okay then." He stood up, turned around, and left the room briskly, knees wobbling. How could he have been so stupid? How could he have convinced himself that he meant anything to the cocky gambler? It should have been clear from the get go that Nick was only there because he knew he'd have a better chance of surviving if there were three other potential targets with him. Why not get a little sex from a willing mark while he was at it?

Ellis slowly walked across the hallway into the bathroom, and closed the door before he started to let the tears stream down his cheeks. He sank to the floor, wiping his eyes with his arm and trying to be as quiet as possible as his chest heaved.

Nick paused a few moments, looking out the window at the dwindling rain, and reached into his coat pocket to remove a cigarette. But his hand grasped the other object instead, and pulled it out.

That Milky Way bar wasn't easy to obtain. He'd had to double back AGAIN, back into the Sugar Mill (past a couple of Witches who hadn't been troubled by the rain) just to get it. Not only that, but in the room with the vending machine a Hunter had been waiting for him. He could hear it down the hallway, he KNEW it was in there. But he went forward anyway, and ended up pinning it down and strangling the zombie with his bare hands before he smashed the glass for that candy bar.

He snorted bitterly, and violently threw the chocolate into the corner. It was a stupid gesture anyway. And while he was at it, he swept his arm across the shelving on the wall, knocking books and knick knacks to the floor. Had he thought it wouldn't have drawn attention, he might have taken the entire room apart. But instead he just pushed down everything inside of him, and left the room with that usual cool smirk across his lips, hoping he wouldn't have to see how badly he'd wounded his companion, and hoping that he wouldn't show just how much HE was hurting too.