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Playing the Odds. Secret Santa for FreeFluShots (L4D2)


SexualOddity

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FreeFluShots please read this first! Honestly, I've found this really difficult because I didn't know any of your fandoms (but I am an RPG gamer - which is why I think we got paired up) and I suck at shooters. I've done some research and I really, really hope this hangs together alright for you, but it's tough to tell if I've hit the mark because I don't really know the character at all. Anyway, I'm hoping you'll appreciate the effort if nothing else. Merry Christmas!

--

When it comes down to it, the philosophy that will get you through a Zombie Apocalypse isn’t a million miles away from the philosophy that will get you through life. Play the odds. It’s Nick’s number one rule.

That’s what’s gives him the instinct to do this alone. It’s what makes sense: roulette wheel’s always gonna be simpler than the poker table. Thirty-seven to one for a number, fifty-fifty: red or black. After that, it’s just Math. In his heart of hearts, though, Nick will always be a poker man, however complicated and messy. You bring in people; you bring in variables. But as much as it leaves you open to being screwed, it opens up the possibility of screwing someone else to your own advantage, and Nick tends to fancy his chances.

He jams a clip into place, cocks the gun and takes out a couple of rabid prison wardens that they apparently missed on the first sweep. Maybe, on reflection, it’s not quite a neat fit into his little gaming metaphor. Working a table or working a mark are just about you, Lady Luck and a stack of readies. The end of the world has other distorting factors. Shared objectives; mutual enemies: that kind of thing. That’s all a little less familiar.

Still, it comes down to playing odds. And he’s not done too badly for himself. Coach generally has a plan… and they’re usually not awful. Rochelle: she knows how to handle herself, and, hell, there would be worse partners for the re-population of the Earth. Even Ellis can aim straight, and Nick’s come to realise he can handle a lot of mindless Hillbilly babble for someone who can shoot off a zombie that’s squeezing his neck between its thighs. They’re… well, they’re not his zombie-hunting dream team, but it’s working out alright.

And he likes to think he’s worthy of his own seat on the bus. What he lacks in athleticism, he can make up in know-how, and his ability to handle a gun. Besides, what post-Apocalyptic life is worth living without someone to throw a little ironic humour into the mix. If their positions were reversed, Nick wouldn’t throw himself out as zombie bait, not unless it came down to his own skin.

Or…that’s how it had been.

He likes the prison. He can work with it. Even if he had ripped a gash in his leg on security spikes and gotten his tie knotted up in the links of a chainmail fence. (Right, Ellis, what a fucking adventure…) In here, they’re pretty well secure. It’s about how smart they are, how well they barricade the exits. It’s not about strength or speed. Hell… someone could even get by if they were a little off their game.

“Uhh.. HhhHHUHRSHHAH!”

Nick blinks. The itch had spiked and his breath had caught and… ah shit. He looks up to the barrels of three separate guns.

“Okay, okay, easy!” He snapped. “Especially you, asshat.” He tugs a rifle from out of Ellis’ grip. “Did we not put enough buckshot in my arm for one day? Jesus. Guy can’t even sneeze around here.”

Ellis just yawns and stretches and leans against the wall of the corridor. “Well, that’s our second sweep. What’s next?” he grins. “We got a plan?”

“Pla-uh-plan?” Nick clears his throat in a hurry as his voice catches. “We need a plan? Beyond poking incarcerated zombies, and eating all the canned meat and cold tomato paste in the kitchen. Hell, I’ll even go a round with you on the basketball court if it’ll shut you up.”

Coach just shakes his head, dismissively. “That’s not gonna get us to New Orleans.”

“Does New Orleans have a computer suite, huh? C’mon… if the power’s still working I’ll show you how to disable the adult filters…” He elbows Ellis suggestively.

“You can have until sunrise,” Coach decides. “That’s enough time for us to stock up and eat. You can sleep in shifts of two. Come on.”

Nick scrubs at his nose with the back of his hand and scowls. “Waste of… HuhkUHHSHUH! Waste of razor wire and an eight foot wall,” he mutters.

**

Nick sleeps on the first shift, and wakes up wishing he hadn’t. The virus that had been nicely simmering in his bloodstream for the past day or so has thickened and coagulated like the fucking ancient pot of peanut butter that Coach insisted on feeding them (Fibre and slow-release carbs? Well super, let’s go ahead and alert the press…). Everything feels fucking heavy. The gunk in his head and in his chest has gained fifty pounds overnight, and the minute he sits up his nose starts streaming. He feels for the handkerchief in his breast pocket.

Oh right, yeah. Of course it is. Covered in fucking zombie brains.

**

He blows his nose in the bathroom cubicle, maybe a dozen times, and pockets as much toilet paper as he can carry without making his pockets bulge. He might as well never have bothered, he can’t breathe any easier and his nose is still running like a bastard. Worse somehow the pressure shift has made his sinuses feel full and irritated. He paws at them as he heads back into the corridor and then fumbles for the paper in his pocket as his breathing starts to shake.

“Hh…HuhhHuhhHAHTCHtchhhah!”

He groans as the door swings shut behind him, and he meets Rochelle on the way to the ladies’ room with a toothbrush in hand. Great to see that at end of the world there are still people prepared to fly the flag for dental hygiene.

“Bless you. Jesus.”

He flashes her a grin. “Call me Nick.”

“Mmm yeah, sure,” she scoffs. “They’re gonna give us a couple of minutes to grab some food and ammo and whatever.”

“Works for me.”

**

Nick spends his watch on a self-invented patrol, mostly because he cannot stop fucking sneezing and he doesn’t want to wake Coach and Ellis or provoke any questions from Rochelle. His toilet paper runs low too quick and he has to take another trip past the bathrooms. Apparently he’s too loud or it’s too close to their chosen sleeping cell because Rochelle shouts down the corridor to find out if he’s alright. Shoulda tried harder to hold it back.

“Prisons make me sneeze,” he offers as an explanation when he heads across to her. “Bad memories. It’s like those shell shock guys who twitch at loud noises: nervous tick.”

“Mmm… I can imagine,” she murmurs. “You mind watching the door? Couple of things I need to do before we’re out of here.”

“Teeth whitening? Nail polishing? HhhuhHuUSHHAH! Ugh. Spray tan?”

“Here,” she cuts him off, handing over a copy of a newspaper. “This’ll keep you occupied. ’New Strain of Flu Blamed for Outbreaks of Suburban Violence’. It’s a classic.”

“Aces.”

**

“Hhh…HhPpthchssAH! Uhh…HuhHMMPtzchyew!”

He’s right outside the door where Coach and Ellis are sleeping, so he’s trying to pen in the sneezes when they come between finger and thumb and what he has left of the toilet roll, but it’s as good as useless. All he’s achieving is a fucking mess.

“Hhh…Huhhh… HEHHZZSCHHHAH! Ughhhh… Goddamnit.”

He pulls some paper from the rapidly dwindling roll, folds it around his nose and tries to breathe through his mouth. Through the barred windows he can make out the beginnings of sunlight struggling through the clouds. He’s gonna have to get a handle on this, and fast.

He leans back against the wall and rubs at his forehead, seeing a roulette wheel spinning ahead of him. He’s been planning to break off from the group for almost as long as they’ve been together. Could be this is the moment. The prison’s as good a place as he could have wished for. He might get a few break ins along the same path they’d made the day before, but it’s secure enough to keep the zombies out in number. There’s medicine and a safe place to sleep and more than enough food to last him until he’d seen off this cold. He was never on Ellis’ funtime-zombie-killin’-train to begin with. As long as he gets out alive, and there’s a martini and a whirlpool bath waiting for him, that’ll do just fine.

But he’s not an idiot. It isn’t really that simple. Sure, he’ll feel better in a couple of days, but the hoardes of the undead aren’t going anywhere. And then he’d be in a city he doesn’t know, with no plan and a suit that, despite its many merits, isn’t in all honesty the most practical zombie-hunting get up. Real gamblers - not the low lives that hang on the edge of the bar and throw away the family grocery money – they know when it’s time to be honest about their chances. He’s not sure he’d have got as far as he has if he’d have headed off on his own like he’d planned.

He coughs, and curses when he hears the heavy swing of a door. Rochelle’s on her way back, and if he doesn’t act quick, the choice is gonna be out of his hands. It’d take some kind of idiot to take him as a tag-along in this state. He blows his nose and clears his throat in an attempt to sound vaguely normal. At least, finally, this is something he knows a thing or two about. Deception. Yeah. Here, Nick is playing with a home field advantage.

“Long lines at the ladies rooms?”

His voice is kinda muffled with congestion, but it doesn’t break. Could definitely have been worse. Rochelle sits opposite him in the corridor and goes through a backpack full of supplies.

“I’d been meaning to check out their medical suite since we got here. Managed to find a couple of key fobs in the pockets of the prison guards we took out. We got first aid kits, adrenaline shots, bandages…” she digs in the bag. “Thought you might like this.”

Nick takes a bottle from her and turns it over in his hands. It looks like some kind of green goop.

“Tell me this isn’t more boomer bile…”

“Cold medicine,” she corrects him, laughing. “You’re gonna need it if we’re heading out this morning. It’s non-drowsy.”

Nick freezes. “…I told you the story about the prisons… and the sneezing.”

She plants a palm flat against Nick’s forehead and raises an eyebrow. “Nice try wise guy.”

Yeah, step aside Mr. Master of Deception.

“You knew I was sick…”

“Nick, I’ve seen you dragged around with a Zombie tongue round your waist. No sense in acting all coy now.”

He rubs his head as it begins to ache. “Okay, I’m gonna need you to keep this from the others.”

Rochelle just looks confused. “I don’t think they’re gonna need me to tell them.”

“No, we ‘aint.”

The pair of them turn to face the cell and Rochelle swings the door open.

“You’re awake?”

Ellis stretches and sits up. “’Aint nobody gonna sleep through all that sneezin’.”

As if in answer, a deep, rumbling snore sounds from under Coach’s blanket.

“He’s a special case,” Ellis grins.

“Okay… okay.” Nick coughs openly. No point in trying to hide it now. “Well, good luck guys. It’s been surprisingly bearable.”

Ellis stands, rubbing at his eyes. “Where you going?”

“Go-“ He rolls his eyes and angles his face away. “HuhhHASHHSAH! HppATCHSHAH! HuHrrRUSHHYEW! Ughhh. Gonna find a cell further down. Apparently you’ll sleep better without me around.” He gives an almighty sniff and heads off down the corridor. “Tell Coach to drop in before you all head off if he wants to say goodbye. I’ll be here.”

“You’re leaving?” Rochelle asks.

“Wait, wait – hey! You don’t have to do that!” Ellis yelps, chasing him down. “I mean – you’re just regular sick, right? Like… not green flu. Just regular… uh… snot-coloured flu.”

“That would be green, sweety...”

Nick doesn’t bother to look back.

***

He sleeps a little, but it’s fitful, and eventually he can’t drift back off for coughing and sneezing. Instead, he bundles himself in the blanket and flicks through the paper he’d taken from Rochelle, grateful that he’d thought to steal an armful of rolls of tissue paper from the bathrooms before he’d settled down.

Eventually he hears footsteps outside his door.

“Nicolas.”

“Hey Coach,” he croaks in response. He tries to clear his throat but it doesn’t make a lot of difference. Apparently he wouldn’t have been able to hide this a whole lot longer anyway.

“I dond’t believe this.” He reads from the paper. “ L’uhh Local pet widns… HESHHHSHUH! Widns darlindgest dog combpetitiond.” He coughs. “If that passes for ndews down here, I thindk you guys dneeded an Apocalpbyse. Ehh…Hhhhuh… HuuRRHESHEYEW!”

Coach just ignores him. “Are you being an idiot, Nick?”

He sniffs unsuccessfully and settles for pulling away some toilet paper to wipe his nose. “I call it beindg realistic.”

“Who’s gonna watch your back next time you need to sleep, or patch yourself up? Who’s gonna pull you back up if you go down?”

“Well ndot you guys, whatever I do. You really wandt me along for the ride, sdneezing and spittindg and slowindg you downd?”

“Maybe I do,” Coach argued.

“Yeah, for zombie food, if andythindg. Give me a break, combe ond.”

Coach shrugs. “I throw you out for zombie bait, you given a thought to what that’s gonna leave me with?”

Nicks laughs, in spite of himself.

“I’m serious,” Coach continues, taking a seat on the side of the bed. “I like my own skin as much as you like yours, and you are disturbingly familiar with that rifle. Not that I’m complainin’.” He rubs at the back of his head, uncomfortably. “Besides, I need someone who can shut Ellis up. You know I ‘aint got the heart for it.”

Nick studies him for a moment. He likes to think he’s learnt enough to see through people’s shit.

“Undrestrainded Ellis…” he ponders at last. “Shit, I wouldnd’t wish that on andyone.”

“Good. So we’re done with this crazy talk?”

“Aye Aye, Captaind.”

Nick cocks an invisible hat.

**

Nick’s rubbing furiously at his nose and shivering before they reach the outer fence. Giving in, he grabs at some tissue paper and turns away from the group. “Ahhh…. AHHSHAH! Huuh’rRASHAH! HASHHHAH! USHHH!”

Ellis makes an unnecessary show of blessing him and clambers up the fence.

“You sure you’re dnot just goindg to throw mbe out to the zombies ndow Coach?”

Coach nods at Ellis as he climbs. “I’m willing to beat there’s a couple of dozen friends that he ‘aint never told us about’.”

Nick shudders. “Okay, okay. Condsider mbe reportindg for duty.”

It’s never straightforward, not when you got people around you. But, hey, roulette wheels are for pansies. Nick’s still happy playing the odds.

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That has to be the worst getting a cold with a bunch of zombies running around. Let me be the first to say...I would be dead if that were me. XD love the fic.

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Aww I love it honey! *hugs* It's awesome!! Thanks so much for doing this for me! I really like the way you wrote Nick, it's spot on. Love the way you did his sneezes too. <3

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