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[personal profile] driftinginnines
Title: Stone Cold
Fandom: Left 4 Dead
Characters: Louis, Ellis
Word Count: 6146
Date Finished: March 2010
Author's Notes: Louis and Ellis are my two favorite L4D characters. Which surprises me since I'm not usually a fan of optimistic characters like them. ;)

Stone Cold

"What a crazy turn of events," he murmured, looking at his hand of cards.

"Oh shut your trap and draw, Louis."

Shooting a sarcastically angry look to Francis, Louis leaned over and picked up a card from the stack. "You're supposed to say, go fish, Francis. That's the name of the game."

"Well you asked me for a two and I don't have a two and you say 'Oh my dear goodness me what a pish-tosh turn of events'..." Francis' forced high-pitched voice cracked as he mocked Louis. "You say that to me and I'll reply however I damn well please."

Peering at his hand again, Louis absently took stock of the situation. He found himself doing that a lot the past few weeks, ever since this zombie shit started happening. Coach and Bill were standing guard by the door, laughing about something, Zoey was eating a can of fruit and reading a comic book she had found in a store they had fought their way through a few days earlier, Nick and Rochelle were asleep across the room, their backs against the wall and Rochelle's head on Nick's shoulder and Ellis was watching him and Francis' maddening game of Go Fish.

"You got a match," Ellis leaned over and pointed to the card Louis had just picked up.

"I know!" Louis pulled the cards away and grabbed the two fours, putting them in his match pile.

"You weren't doing anything about it, man. I was just helping ya out."

Francis chuckled quietly and shook his head.

They were awaiting rescue by the Army in a safe house they had found along the shore of the Atlantic in South Carolina. It was a reinforced and had a closed in porch connected to a lavish beach house (which was almost fully destroyed now). Soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg one state north had contacted them through a radio they had found in the kitchen of the house and told them to stay put. They would arrive to take the eight of them back to Fort Bragg in six days. It was the afternoon of the third day and time seemed to drag by. Waves of zombies would attack every couple of hours, some assaults lasting a good twenty or thirty minutes. Not to mention all the Smokers and Boomers and Spitters (Louis almost regretted coming down south cause it was the first place he saw those slimy skanks) and the like that stumbled across the place they were holed up in. The door had been strong when they got there, but with all the beatings it was taking they knew it wouldn't last much longer.

"Zoey, we got another can of that crap lying around anywhere?" Bill spoke over the cigarette he had dangling out of his mouth.

"I think this might've been the last one." Zoey looked up from her comic and brushed her bangs out of her face.

"Yeah," Louis had been listening and now looked from his cards to Bill. "I actually think that's the last of our food. Except for maybe some raisins."

"Gross," Ellis said.

"Time for a trip out then. Who's turn is it?" Coach peered out between the bars in the door. It looked safe now. But who knew for how long.

Bill shifted the machine gun he was holding to his right hand and took the cigarette out of his mouth with the left, motioning with the ashy tip to where Francis, Ellis and Louis sat on the ground. "Winner of Go Fish goes out."

Francis dropped his cards instantly and held his arms up. "Forfeit. Louis wins!" He made an almost hissing sound with his mouth, as if recreating the sound of a giant cheering crowd at a sports game. Francis drove the point home by reaching over the messy pile of cards between them and grabbing Louis' free hand to raise in the air. "Collect your prize!"

With a loud sigh, Louis dropped his cards in front of him and pulled himself to his feet. Francis and Ellis stood with him, joints popping and backs aching all around. He knew it wasn't a good idea to argue with Francis. It wouldn't get them anywhere and by the end of it they would still be out of food (except some raisins).

"Redneck here can go with you," Francis slapped Ellis on the shoulder, causing the younger man to flinch. "It'll be a grand time, I'm sure."

Grabbing one of the scoped hunting rifles, Louis started towards the door, tossing only a passing glance to Ellis. "Come on."

The kid was alright to be around, sure. He was a good shot, he was helpful, he was polite, yeah. But sometimes he just got annoying. Always blabbing about him and his stupid friend Keith's adventures or making horrible jokes. Louis even got annoyed with him while the kid slept. The safe house they were in wasn't that big and their corner to sleep in -- which was taken up by six people at night (the other two stood guard) -- was small enough that they all touched when they slept. Louis was usually between the wall and Ellis. Kid always, always, tossed and turned and mumbled about random stuff in his sleep. It kept Louis up. Louis was usually jovial, but that was because Louis usually got sleep.

Coach opened the door for them and let them both pass, the first with his hunting rifle and the second with an automatic shotgun and a first aid kit Bill had thrown to him on the way out. "Good luck, boys."

"Thanks Coach!" Ellis turned and walked backwards away from the safe house, waving with his free hand. Once he saw Coach and Bill lowering the bar back in place against the door, he shifted to face forward again, his eyes meeting with Louis' hunched over shoulders. "Y'okay, Louis?"

"I'm fine." Louis grumbled.

"Aw, come on. It'll be an adventure!"

"Yeah, sure it will, kid."

Ellis slung the shotgun over his back and took his pistol from his waist, checking to make sure it was loaded. "Why d'you always call me that? I'm twenty-three, you're twenty-six. You're only three--"

"It's enough."

"Okay," Ellis responded instantly, sounding almost apologetic.

That shut him up. Of course, Louis felt a little guilty after that. The kid hadn't done anything wrong and now thanks to Louis' sudden flare of annoyance, he was following him like a puppy with his tail between his legs. Risking a glance behind him, Louis saw Ellis a good ten feet back, pistol in one hand and eyes on the ground in front of him.

They were walking down a residential street on the beach, towards the intersection of Main and Juniper where a small corner store sat. It was a mom-and-pop sort of place, ground floor filled with essentials and goodies and the upper floor housed the apartment of the store's owners. That was what Louis gathered when they had all first found the shop three days ago. It would only take them about ten minutes to walk there and it was a nice scenic stroll. The beach and the vacation houses on their left and another set of large houses and on their right.

About seven minutes had passed when Ellis' ears perked up. He recognized that noise that was cutting through the sound of the ocean and the calm breeze around them -- sort of a growling sound. Louis was ahead of him, ambling in the middle of the street and cresting a hill. The setting sun ahead of him outlined his silhouette as he reached the top of slight incline and that's when Ellis saw another silhouette join Louis'. It was a silhouette bounding out into the street on all fours and screeching loudly. Time seemed to freeze for a moment as the thing made it's long and final leap towards the upright outline.

"Louis! Hunter!" Ellis called out, already holstering his pistol and getting out the more serious of the weapons he had on him.

Scrambling forward, Ellis knocked the Hunter in the head with the butt of his shotgun and once it stumbled off of his companion, Ellis aimed and put two bullets into the thing's chest. Once he was sure it wasn't moving anymore, he risked a glance down to Louis, took a hand from the shotgun and held it out. He almost thought Louis would refuse to take it, but he didn't.

"Thanks."

"No problem. All in day's--"

Ellis' response was cut off when he was grabbed from behind, his arms and shoulders and neck wrapped in a long, pale gray tendril. Louis felt Ellis' hand rip from his and the kid was pulled backwards towards one of the beach houses on the opposite side of the street from the ocean. Louis knew right away that it was a Smoker and his hands had already begun grabbing at the hunting rifle on his back when Ellis' fingers left his.

He brought the gun up to his face and peeked through the scope, lining it up with the tongue. Louis could feel his heart racing -- it hadn't stopped since the Hunter attacked him -- and a few moments passed before he knew he had enough focus to hit the disgusting piece of mass that was strung up between the Smoker's mouth and Ellis, who was already struggling two feet off of the ground and trying to scream for help. He let off a shot and hit the tongue, dropping Ellis to the ground. Within seconds he had the Smoker, who was on the roof of a beach house, in the scope and let off a couple more shots. One to the head and one to the neck. The Smoker slumped to the shingles and then the body slowly slid down the roof, falling gracelessly onto the lawn feet from where Ellis was trying to get up.

"Nice shot, man!" Ellis croaked.

To his slight surprise, Louis caught his own lips trying to upturn. Stepping to the side of the street and across the sidewalk, Louis entered the yard Ellis had been pulled into and helped him up, pulling the remains of the Smoker tongue from around his arms and neck. "They're getting smarter." Louis murmured as he dropped the slimy tubing to the ground with a sneer.

"Blech. Don't say things like that." Ellis shook his arms and head, as if trying to get any germs the Smoker had transferred to him off. Of course, since the eight of them seemed to be immune, that didn't really matter. Ellis did it anyway though. It made him feel better.

Once they arrived at the small shop, Ellis closed what was left of the front door behind them and stopped behind Louis who was still close to the main entrance. Neither of them knew where to start. The store looked almost empty. The shelf that normally held the candy was torn apart, along with the rack of cigarettes (Bill would be disappointed) and everything else just looked to be in a general state of disarray.

"It wasn't like this the other day when we came in..." Louis noted.

"Guess those sloppy shits got in here and screwed around." Ellis shifted past Louis and began poking about, searching for anything that looked edible and was still completely closed in its original packaging. His boots crunched over rugs of potato chips and peanuts while his eyes scanned the shelves and coolers, his shotgun still in his hands. He wasn't taking any chances. Sure, the place seemed empty but they had all been tricked like that before.

"Ellis!" He heard Louis hiss suddenly from behind him.

Spinning around, he saw Louis pressed up against the wall near the front door, motioning frantically. "Turn your flashlight off! Witch!"

"Where?" Ellis hissed back.

Louis jabbed a thumb at the front door. "Walking!"

"Shit." Ellis reached over and thumbed his flashlight off, taking careful steps backwards towards the rear of the shop. He peeked around a corner and noticed a back room, instantly waving his right hand to Louis. "Get back here. There's a room--"

Louis was already rushing towards him, grabbing his upper arm on the way by and pulling him towards the room Ellis had mentioned. He was afraid for a moment that it would be locked but those fears were put to rest when he was able to barge through it, plunging he and Ellis into darkness. He felt around for some sort of switch but stopped when Ellis pulled a string dangling from the ceiling. A small and flickering lightbulb came to life above them and Louis used what illumination it provided to slowly push the door shut a small way.

They waited, hoping she would pass the store by.

But no, she entered, crying and wailing and making both of their stomachs sink.

Ellis peered around the room. It was small and full of torn up boxes, mostly empty boxes. There was the string for the light above them and what looked to be an old full-length cabinet or wardrobe up against the wall to their left. He took a quiet step forward and stuck his head around the door.

"She's coming this way," he gulped.

Making an annoyed sort of noise, something sounding much like a scoff, Louis clapped Ellis' shoulder and motioned to the cabinet. "Come on. We can't let her see us. Maybe she'll just go away."

"You want to get in there?"

"Not really. But it's the only choice we have right now unless we want to get clawed to death. Get your ass in there."

Ellis' hesitation cost them a few good seconds and when he turned his head to the door again, he saw the Witch mere feet from it, stumbling towards it. With a quick inhale he pulled the doors to the cabinet open and shoved Louis in, climbing in after him. They both tried to situate themselves in some sort of position they could hold but it was difficult. The long cabinet held cleaning supplies. Ellis' foot was in a bucket on wheels while his back was pressed up against a bunch of handles of what had to be brooms and mops. Louis had his back against the opposite wall and he was bracing himself with one hand on a low shelf and the other in a box of rags on his right.

"Hey, now all we need is a lion and we could go to Narnia!" Ellis patted the wall of the wardrobe softly, grinning widely in the dark.

"Shut up!"

"Sorry."

The Witch heard their racket from where she had entered the room and was currently growling, peering around for whatever was disturbing her incessant crying. She didn't seem to find anything right away and slumped to her knees in the middle of the room, burying her face in her hands.

Ellis could vaguely make out the outline of Louis' face and shoulders. His eyes were wide and locked on the shut door of the wardrobe and his shoulders were rising and falling quickly with his rapid breathing. They had closed themselves in just in time, but now they couldn't see what was going on. The crying had faded, but it could still be heard, albeit faintly. What did that mean though? Was she gone -- further away from them? Or had she just quieted down?

Shifting slightly, Ellis leaned towards the door, continuing to keep his balance with a foot in the mop bucket. He pressed his face to the door and tried to peer through the crack. All he could make out right off the bat was the lightbulb. He squinted for a moment and let his right eye adjust to the light. That was when he saw her seated awkwardly on the floor, sobbing almost silently into her hands.

His movement was reflexive; he reeled away from the door quickly, causing the mop bucket his left foot was in to roll a few inches behind him (which was all the room it had left to move in the confines). He was thrown off balance and put his arms in front of him, his hands catching on the wall on either side of Louis' head. Once the shuffling of the cleaning supplies settled down, Ellis heard Louis release an annoyed sigh.

"Heh, whoops," Ellis whispered.

The quiet noise outside instantly grew in volume; from a silent cry to a loud growl.

An almost silent exclamation came from Louis. "Shit."

The curse was mostly for the fact that they were dangerously close to the Witch who was currently peering around for their whereabouts, but some of it was for the other fact at hand -- that Ellis was now pressed up against him precariously in the wardrobe. Any sudden movement would definitely cause a crash or racket of some sort, which was something they didn't need right now. At all.

Something that really shook Louis though, was the comfort he found in Ellis' breath on the side of his face and his neck. It wasn't the breath he was used to feeling when something was near him. It wasn't the cold stench that came from the infected as they growled when he ran past, or the hot, slimy air that came with the Hunter's roar whenever one managed to pin him, no. It was warm and shaky. It was alive. And it smelled like grape fucking soda -- a can of which Louis had remembered Ellis drinking earlier in the day.

He shut his eyes and thinned his lips, breathing slowly through his nose. No sudden movements. No loud noises. She would go away soon enough, right?

Ellis could feel his hands growing tired, his arm muscles sore from holding him in his awkward position near Louis. The edge of the bucket his foot had slipped out of was digging into his shin and he was having a hell of a time trying to keep his other foot from sliding towards the closed door of the wardrobe. He tried to keep his mind off of the dull pain that crept through his body and ended up focusing on something he felt. Louis' chest. He could feel it against his as the man breathed in and out. It was such a clockwork thing to do but this was the first time Ellis had really thought about it since the infection broke out. There had been no systematic breathing from the things they were running into daily. There were ragged coughs and sputters from the Smokers, hitched gags from the Spitters and labored rumbles from things like the Tanks and Chargers -- not to mention the ever-changing speed and sound of the verbal releases that always came from the general hordes.

Ellis suddenly felt relieved. It was at that point that his mind locked on the fact that there was still some normalcy in the world. Some.

His mood was almost ruined though when his left hand gave out and slid from it's place against the wardrobe wall. He tumbled forward and closed the gap of mere inches that had still been between he and Louis, his chin hitting Louis' shoulder and the brim of his hat driving itself into the wall. He felt Louis flinch under him but he didn't say anything.

"'pologize," Ellis whispered.

They stayed like that for some amount of time, listening carefully for any noise or hint that the Witch might still be outside their hiding spot. They heard nothing at all except the sound of Louis' monotonous breathing and Ellis' occasional yawn. Shifting slightly, Ellis tried to move so that he wouldn't be pressed against Louis so much, except he just managed to situate himself more awkwardly.

"What is that..." Ellis trailed off, wiggling his left leg the tiniest bit. "My thigh... is that... is that what I-- man, you guys are big!"

"That's my rifle, you asshole!" Louis yanked his hand upwards, sending the cold metal of the gun in between them momentarily before he finally just shoved Ellis off of him and out of the wardrobe, sending the man sprawling onto his stomach onto the cold ground of the storeroom. His cap bounced off of his head and tumbled to a stop in front of a pair of bent and pale knees.

Ellis' voice cracked on the last word as he spoke. "Oh shit."

A screeching filled the room, echoing throughout the store and within mere moments Ellis saw the Witch charging at him and then felt himself get hoisted up by the top half of his jumpsuit that was tied around his waist and shoved to the side, where he collapsed back onto his stomach. It took his mind a couple seconds to realize that Louis had tossed him aside and was now getting clawed by the Witch they had finally thought vacated the store.

He grabbed for his shotgun which had fallen beside him and scrambled to his feet, blasting shot after shot into the whining monster's face. Luckily he didn't have to pause and reload before she fell to the ground in a nasty, off-white lump next to Louis, who was mangled and barely breathing at this point.

"Louis! You okay, man?" Throwing the shotgun onto his back, Ellis rushed to Louis' side and knelt down, frantically attempting to assess the situation.

Louis noted that the last thing he saw before he passed out was an expression on Ellis' face that reminded him of the one he had seen on so many others when this whole situation broke out. Complete and utter panic.




An obnoxious sliver of sunlight crept into the store through a broken window and managed to hit Louis in the eyes just as he first opened them back up.

"How long have I been out?" He croaked to the room, not knowing if anyone was around to answer.

"Only 'bout an hour and a half."

It was Ellis. His voice was coming from somewhere to Louis' right. He tried to twist his neck slightly to look over at Ellis but his movement caused his chest to send a sharp pain all the way up and down his body. He stifled a groan and kept his head straight, his eyes taking in the only things he could see. The ceiling and a broken ceiling fan, which sagged lifelessly from a bundle of cords.

Moments passed before Louis heard footsteps and saw movement in his limited field of vision. Again, it was Ellis. He had a bundle of white in his left hand and a bottle of water in his right.

"Can you sit up?"

"No."

"Come on. I can't give you these pills like that, you'll choke on 'em."

With a grimace, Louis planted his hands on the ground to his sides and ever-so-slowly pushed himself backwards enough to prop his shoulders against the wall behind him. Ellis set the bundle of white on the ground beside Louis and produced a bottle of children's aspirin from the pocket of his jumpsuit.

"Sorry. These were all I could find."

He dumped six of them into the cap of the bottle and handed it to Louis. Ellis waited to hand him the bottle of water until all six of the tiny pills were past Louis' lips. "Drink up."

Louis chugged half of the bottle of water before pulling it away from his face and inhaling deeply. He motioned to the bundle beside Ellis' feet.

"Whassat?" His question came out in a raspy whisper this time. It hurt him to talk.

"Oh!" Ellis set the bottle of pills down beside Louis and picked up the other item, shaking it out to show Louis what it was. "It's a fancypants shirt I found upstairs! Your other one was torn to shreds and I thought this one kind of looked like it. I mean, we can't have you running around with no shirt on. Don't want to drive Ro and Zo crazy, y'know?"

Louis actually almost felt himself chuckle, but stopped when the pain in his chest flared up.

"You just rest again, mmkay?" Ellis motioned to the set of stairs up to the living area above the store. "There was still food up there in the kitchen. I'm gonna go gather some of it up."

Before Louis could respond, he felt himself drifting back into a heavy doze and blearily watched as Ellis disappeared behind his eyelids.

It was another hour before he woke up again, this time with a little more energy than the last -- less pain too. He was still slow pulling himself to an upright position, but he managed alright. He also managed to pop three more children's aspirin before attempting to stand. He was a little wobbly, but he steadied himself with a hand on the wall behind him.

Taking the shirt Ellis had found him in one hand (Ellis had put what was left of Louis' tie on top of the shirt at some point while he had been sleeping), Louis wandered towards the restrooms, stumbling into the men's and stopping at the sink below a mirror covered wall. The first thing his eyes caught in the reflection was his chest. There were spots of scratches, obviously, but the worst of them had been covered by bandages -- by Ellis, no doubt, and most likely from the single first aid kit they had brought with them.

On the bandages though, Ellis had found a black marker somewhere and had drawn a giant smiley face across them. He had signed his name under the smiley face. Louis felt his lips thin and his eyes narrow as he stared to the decorated bandages. As he studied it in the mirror though, his lips started to turn upwards. It was an endearing, lopsided sort of smiley face with two crooked eyes and Ellis' signature was sloppy. Kind of looked like a preschooler had written it.

Louis' chuckle echoed in the empty bathroom.

He slowly put the new shirt on, marveling at how well it actually fit him as he buttoned it up over the bandages and even though half of his red tie was missing from where the witch tore it, he still put that on too. After carefully leaning down and splashing his face with a few handfuls of water, Louis emerged from the bathroom and found his way up the stairs of the shop, to where he figured Ellis still was.

Freezing at the top of the stairs, Louis placed a hand against the wall to his right. He heard crying.

The longer he stood there listening to it though, the more he realized it wasn't the same as the crying they had heard earlier. It was quieter and heavier, possibly.

Louis slowly shifted forward down the hallway, his right hand dragging along the old drywall. He passed a tidy and simple bedroom, a small bathroom and a sparsely decorated sitting area before he came to the room where the noise was drifting from. It was the kitchen.

It was Ellis sitting on the floor with his back against the lower set of cabinets and his knees half pulled up to his chest. His head was down, buried in his hands and there were cans of soda, cans of fruit and small bags of chips scattered around him. Louis stopped at the sight of him, reflexively pulling back behind the wall he had been near and only slightly peeking around it. He watched for a few more moments before lifting a hand and weakly knocking on the wall.

The other man looked up, startled. Once he realized it was Louis, he pulled his arm across his eyes and shook his head. He appeared as if he wanted to say something, but nothing came out.

"What's wrong, man?" Louis slowly stepped into the kitchen, approaching Ellis.

Punctuated by a long sniffle, Ellis inhaled deeply and looked up. "This... this shit." He waved a hand around violently. "Every damn day since this zombie crap started I've tried to be my normal self. Positive, upbeat, optimistic -- Louis, I'm scared shitless. Every day I wake up in some filthy-ass safehouse and put on a grin for Ro n' Nick n' Coach. Tell them we're gonna get through another day. Tell them we'll find rescue, we'll get out of this, we'll make it."

His shoulders racked a few times as he struggled to keep himself coherent.

Louis recognized this. He recognized it all too well. He had been through this exact same thing. He was always the ray of sunshine for he and his traveling companions, he was their cheerleader. He never told them about the times when he sat quietly and rubbed tears from his eyes while he kept watch alone at night, no. And he never told them about having to kill his best friend after the infection started, before he met up with them. It had been the hardest decision he ever had to make. He had attempted to stay himself though, to help them.

This display from Ellis led Louis to believe that he had been through something similar.

Crouching down, ignoring the slight twinges of pain in his chest, Louis placed a hand on Ellis' shoulder. "What happened?"

"I had to kill my parents."

There it was. Reflexively, Louis felt himself squeeze Ellis' shoulder. He could feel his own lips shifting into a grimace.

Ellis continued. "When I heard about all this shit I was at work, at the garage. I rushed straight to their house to make sure they were okay and they were in the kitchen, poking around. I barged in the house, called out to them and they came charging at me down the front hallway. I bolted up the front staircase and went straight to m'dad's closet where he always hid the burglar shotgun -- that's what he called it -- I just... they came in and jumped at me, snarling. I just shot 'em."

He began to cry again, burying his face in his arms, and Louis took a moment to sit down, situating himself beside Ellis, with his back against the cabinets. He didn't hesitate to put an arm around the younger man and rub his arm.

"They weren't your parents," Louis said. "Not anymore. You did what you had to do to survive."

Ellis leaned into him slightly, his shoulders still shuddering every now and then with the fading sobs. He was thankful Louis was the one who he was with on this gathering trip. Nick or Francis probably would've laughed, he would've been really embarrassed in front of Rochelle or Zoey and Coach or Bill probably would've just ignored him.

"I felt the same way you did. I know where you're coming from. It's okay. At least you're still here."

Louis' voice was quiet and distant, causing Ellis to shift and look over at him.

"You had to..." His hands moved around quickly. He didn't want to say kill. "Who?"

"A co-worker of mine. He was my best friend. We had known each other since high school." His eyes moved to the stairs where they stopped and almost glazed over as he spoke. "Right after that I met Francis and Zoey. Then we ran into Bill. I didn't have any time to mourn, to think about what I had to do. I just tried to forget..."

"It's hard."

"Yeah. Trying to forget about it seems just about as difficult as deciding whether or not to pull the trigger was." Louis hadn't blinked since his eyes met with the stairs. He shook his head now though, shutting them and releasing a shaky sigh.

"You didn't have anyone like you, did you?"

Louis opened his eyes to Ellis, who was now leaning away from the cabinets and attempting to open a bag of cashews.

"What do you mean?"

"You came in here to talk to me while I was a blubbering mess about all this crap. You didn't have anyone like that."

He chuckled, "Nope. Just had Bill, Zoey and Francis."

"Tell you what. If you ever feel like I did, you come talk to me. I'll be your rock just like you were mine." Ellis finally bit the bag of cashews open, spitting the torn top of the bag to the ground at his side. His eyes were still red and there were still dried streaks down his face where tears had been minutes before, but just telling someone what happened made Louis think a weight had been lifted from Ellis' shoulders.

"You'll be my rock?"

"And roooollll." He smiled and dumped a mouthful of cashews between his lips, speaking between chews. "Sorry, I had to say it. But yeah. We can help each other out."

"Alright," Louis said. He was nodding slowly, slightly impressed at the lack of an annoyance Ellis had become. He didn't seem much like a kid anymore, now that they had spent some time together. "And hey, thanks for the shirt. Fits perfectly."

Ellis gave a chuckle and a salute. "No problem, buddy." He continued to munch on the bag of cashews he had opened, tossing a few in his mouth at a time. "Why are you wearing that stuff anyways?"

"Wearing what?"

"Those fancy clothes."

"These? I have to wear them everyday. For work."

"What? Work? Hm." Ellis seemed to seriously ponder this. "And here I just thought you were a... a what-do-you-call-'em... met-- metrasexual."

"Metrosexual." Louis couldn't keep a laugh from escaping. "And no, I'm just an office worker."

"They all dress like that at your job?"

Louis nodded.

"Yuck. Bo-ring."

"What are you talking about? This is stylish."

"And boring." Ellis took a deep breath and wiped his eyes with the backs of his hands. Like the in the wardrobe, he thought things almost felt normal again, for a brief moment. That was, until he reached for his shotgun and dragged it into his lap.

"Whatever you say, Ellis." Pulling himself to his feet, Louis stretched and flinched openly as the scratches on his chest shot out a burst of pain. "We should probably head back."

"Are you sure you're up to it?"

"I can manage."

Gathering up the bags of food they had put together, Louis and Ellis made their way downstairs, peering out the front door to the outside before actually heading out. They couldn't see anything -- or hear anything -- out of the ordinary. Only the breeze from the ocean and the occasional cawing of a crow or call of a seagull out over the water. They set off down the street.

"Did I ever tell you about the time Keith got beat up over a bag of chips?"

"Actually you did. You did two days ago when I was eating those stale tortilla chips we stole from that Mexican restaurant up the road."

"Okay. Just making sure."

Louis glanced over at Ellis and smiled. "You want to tell it again, don't you?"

"Kind of."

"Go ahead."

Ellis' eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas morning as he gave Louis an even more detailed version of why Keith got beat up over a bag of chips. They crested the hill side-by-side on the way back to the safe house, both with guns on their backs, bags of food slung over their shoulders and grins on their faces.

They finally entered to a chorus of positive remarks and subdued cheers, returning the sentiments as they doled out the provisions they had found.

"Where have you bitches been?" Francis threw a sideways glance at Louis, knowing that the man would sense his slight sarcasm. "It's been four and a half hours. We were about to send a damn search party out down the street to the shop."

"Shut up, Francis." Louis shoved a bag of potato chips into the man's chest and grinned.

"You found food! Didn't know if you two'd be able to handle it."

Louis laughed and sat down on the turned over crate near the sleeping corner, opening his own bag of chips. As he pulled out one of the "BBQ-flavored Crispy Delights", his eyes went to the door of the safe house where Ellis stood guard with Rochelle. Ellis had been staring at him, but had looked away quickly when Louis caught his gaze. Moments passed though and he peered back, smiling the slightest bit to Louis. Popping the chip in his mouth, Louis felt himself smile back as he crunched loudly. The kid, his rock -- Ellis -- Ellis was alright.

And that night, while Francis and Nick were keeping watch and the rest of them were sleeping, Louis didn't mind Ellis' back resting against his arm. When he shifted restlessly and murmured under his breath, Louis actually found it comforting.

What a crazy turn of events indeed, his mind stated before he drifted off to sleep.

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Heather Alyse

February 2016

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