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What Changes, What Remains

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They should be dead. 

This is a fact that neither of them voice when stumbling through graveyards of cars packed tightly together for mile after decaying mile. The deaths of hundreds (thousands, her mind corrects itself as she gingerly pulls a stained backpack out of a bony grip, or millions) have allowed for innumerable supplies to be spread out in mass graves just like this one, left ripe for scavengers to pick through if they were granted the luck and time to do so. Non-perishables hide away in nooks and crannies underneath clothing and corpses alike.

The hinges of car doors wheeze loudly enough for Jemma to wince and freeze every time she goes to search another backseat for supplies. Items that might've been trash for others generally are useful for her and Fitz. They're very clever, the two of them. No point in modesty. Then again, the people who are so picky as to ignore the potential uses of anything they might find are probably dead. Possibly worse. Very likely worse. It doesn't matter now. Whatever they're condition, they've left thing behind for others to scrape together so that they may continue living. 

A loud clang snatches her attention from rifling through a lucky bag of medications (ibuprofen, acetaminophen and codeine, naproxen). Fitz immediately flashes her an apologetic grimace before returning to his work of collecting this and that from various abandoned electronics. He does this more to keep his mind sharp than to create anything wildly useful. There are skills stored away in his mind that might begin to degrade if he doesn't keep them in practice. Neither of them are sincerely convinced that this will be a problem but it keeps them both busy. Discussing whatever device he's managed to put together takes their minds away from the rest of the world for a few precious hours.

His projects give them both reasons to continue on from day to day. At this point, they'll take whatever they can get for motivation. Her hair is slicked against her grimy cheek; it only just moves when she swipes at it with the heel of her palm to try to get it out of her eyes. Maybe she'll be able to find a couple of hair ties soon. Fitz has suggested that she just cut it but she hasn't been able to bring herself to do so. Something about it feels a lot like giving up more than she wants to of the person she used to be.

Her hair, dirty and unkempt as it is, has clung to her back when she's stepped out of hot showers following workouts at the gym when she used the water to try to work out particularly tricky problems; it's swung in front of her face when she's studied at the university's library with Fitz by her side; it's been tied back neatly during hours upon hours of scribbling down notes and recording observations; it's been pushed out of her eyes by Fitz when she's spilled tears over stress or a broken heart. It's just hair, Fitz tells her, but it's more than that in a stupid, nonsensical way. Every day, that life slips from her more and more.

She knows that she'll need to let go eventually but she can't bring herself to. Not just yet. Her stubbornness keeps her hair plastered to her skin under the sun's challenging glare. Sweat has already dampened her tank top to the point that she's given up on trying to tug it away from her flesh. She tugs it again needlessly. It doesn't make the sensation of wet fabric any more pleasant. 

"Simmons, found some medical supplies. Looks like they're intact enough, eh?" Fitz holds out the off-white plastic box, a small smile telling her that he's proud of himself for the small treasure. Jemma returns the smile just for a heartbeat, gently pulling the precious supplies from his grasp to stuff into the backpack along with her other discoveries. The shallow rattle of items bumping together reminds her of just how little there is. Medicine and bandages only serve a purpose if they're alive long enough to use them. And staying alive? Jemma breathes out slowly and wearily, rubbing droplets of perspiration from her forehead with the back of her wrist. Staying alive demands that they find enough food to keep them going. 

Two days. It's been two hot, long days since they ran through their final can of beans. They're not hunters. Right now as her stomach cramps in protest to the energy she's exerting in her search, she's sorely regretting that gaping hole in her knowledge. The stream that their camp is near is only useful for quick trips of gathering water to boil once they're safely within the four walls of their hideaway so fishing isn't really a great option either. It's not like they have the equipment for that anyway. 

"Fitz?" Jemma calls softly and suddenly. The clinking of metal against metal immediately stops and Fitz's head pops out to peer at her from the side of an open car hood. 

"What?" He asks.

"We should head back soon." She answers hoarsely. Enough time has been spent together during his high points and low that she knows he's disappointed. He's not going to complain though. She thanks him with a gentle squeeze to his shoulder as she passes by to check another car. He shrugs. She doesn't say anything else about it. 

The next car brings nothing of note. She splays her fingers out against the hot blue metal as though that will somehow encourage the next trunk to give her something to help them carry on for the next few days. Ramen, canned goods, candy bars, protein bars. At this point she'd be relieved to even find a can of overheated soda rolling around on the floor. It'd be better than nothing. A churning grumble from her stomach breaks through her thoughts to jostle her back into searching. Another car, black, empty. Another car, blue, empty. Another car, lighter blue, empty.

What a nice pattern of disappointment.

As much of a supply depot as these pile-ups can be, it doesn't make the process of actually finding the things that they need any easier. The things that they need are around if only they are given the opportunities to find them. Right now, with a sinking stab in her gut, she thinks that it's a better idea to go home. It feels like they've pressed their luck enough for the day. It's only a matter of time before they find themselves in a situation that they can't escape. They've survived this long by erring on the side of caution. Always.

Caution and, well, each other. That they're both still breathing is as much a miracle as it is a tragedy. Without Fitz, Jemma gently raps her knuckles against the hood of the car he's scavenging from, she'd have given up on the world long ago. Opting out would have been far too simple a decision to make. As it is, Fitz is alive and so she is too. There is no Simmons without Fitz. No Fitz without Simmons. 

She remembers the first time she saw him as clearly as she sees him wiping dirty hands across his cheeks right now. Considering that they were both younger than the rest of their classmates in their respective programs, it was easy if not expected for the pair of them to gravitate to each other. Barely seventeen and both expected to get their doctorates earlier than anyone else. 

Jemma had been in the library gathering textbooks for assignments that she wanted to get done early when she'd gone right by his table. He'd been alone but that was expected. She'd spent a lot of that first semester sequestered away from other people as well. It was easier. It had just been a split-second hesitation but she'd paused right next to his table and then promptly decided that it couldn't hurt to introduce herself. So, she had. She'd cleared her throat, stuck out her hand with a bright smile and promptly launched into a discussion with him over a prototype of a battery he'd been designing right next to his text book. 

From that point on their classmates quickly paired them together to the point that the practice of simply addressing them as a single entity became commonplace when they wanted to talk about this or that. They were (they are) Fitzsimmons. Callie Hannigan, an older student, had been the first one to use the name to their faces when she wanted to talk about a project to the both of them and seemed to have just slipped out with it. Fitz had flushed while Jemma had just been confused and asked about it. It was quicker, Callie had said with an airy wave of her hand, to just say Fitzsimmons than to address them separately. 

The words that he wants to say hang between them though he keeps his tongue in check during the long trek back to camp. Once they're safe they can start talking again. Until then they have to keep as quiet as possible. The rest of the world fills in the gaps where their conversation would have otherwise been. Birds rustle through leaves and tweet to each other, insects buzz and chirp (mosquitoes hum loudly in their ears no matter how much they swat), animals disturb the leaves with hooves and paws around them. Funny how the last months have more or less ripped away their fear of humans. Rabbits and does fearlessly walk around them every time they come venturing out.

"—mons. Jemma!" 

A chill rushes down her spine, her feet won't rise off of the detritus under her worn shoes and all she can do is stare, wide-eyed, back at Fitz. She hears it now. Stupid, she thinks as she presses her clammy palms against her thighs, so stupid that she hadn't caught it before.

It's barely more than low rattling at first. Could be mistaken as some random sound of little importance but that would be the last mistake someone would make if they were on their own. The rattle mutates horrendously and rapidly, a loud snarling sort of groan. The wretched moans come like a warning long before the shuffling footsteps are close enough to be heard. (Sometimes she sits and watches them, listens to their moans from her safe place in their camp, and wonders just how they're capable of such unearthly sounds. She daren't study them. Never, not even in her nightmares.)

Those footsteps were once so easily mistaken for exhausted or drunken students banging around the corridors of the apartment building. The early days (the days long gone to never return) had found her lounging at her desk, flipping through her notes. Studies upon studies had piled up before her to be sorted through. Some were good, some cited outdated information, some had good data with bad results, some had good results with vague data. Being a teaching assistant had come with its own set of trials.

Fitz, pale and trembling, has fisted his knife's handle and is staring in the direction the sound is coming from. Rattling, moaning, rattling, growling. Closer, closer, closer. Bile rushes up her throat just to be forcefully swallowed back down no matter how much she wants to just empty her stomach. There's nothing to speak of to actually vomit up but it still feels like too much. She knows that panic is making her body want to expel any dead weight so she can run. Her instincts want her to run.

Jemma jerks back to herself; she throws her hand out to catch Fitz's shoulder and prevent him from moving. Listen closely, she tries to tell him with her wide eyes, we can't risk doing this right now. Sure enough, he seems to catch on at the faint sound of a second pair of shuffling steps. She shakes her head slowly. Her finger presses to her lips. He nods. They wait. It's all that they can do. 

Jemma will not call these things zombies. A zombie brings to mind ludicrous make-up and Halloween costumes. A zombie is all unhinged jaws, grasping fingers, gnashing teeth, and decaying flesh. While these things may very well share some of these qualities there's nothing to say that they should have that particular name. Zombies belong only in ridiculous science fiction movies that refuse to comply with reality and reason.  They should only be seen when one is reclining on the couch with a friend, a bowl of popcorn and plenty of time to burn through. They're supposed to be left open for inane discussions and laughter with the few other friends she has (had) apart from Fitz on movie nights. 

These things are not zombies, can't be zombies, because they exist in real life. They've grabbed onto her friends, ripped open flesh, pulled out intestines while she's staggered backwards; they've caused screaming in her wake while she's fled to save herself. They've spilled liters of blood that she's slipped in while pleading hands have grasped at her ankles for help. They'd been the reason she found Fitz with blood spattered across his face when he'd come scrambling to search for her.

The state government (hell, even the entirety of the United States government) had recommended quarantine long past the point of being able to realistically implement it. To her, it felt like the world had come crashing down all at once. In retrospect, the world had begun crumbling in the weeks preceding the absolute collapse with just a few odd reports here and there that nobody noticed. In the end, none of that added up to anything of great importance. Even with that knowledge, she still feels like all of the countries were brought to their knees at once. Accusations of biological warfare flew from the States to North Korea, from China to Australia, from Canada to Russia, from Syria to Brazil. If any one country had been responsible, however, it hadn't made their people immune from their monster. 

Everyone fell like dominoes. One after the other. First to stop contact as far as she knows was Italy. From there the silence seemed to spread like a necrotic wound, rotting away at the world's communication until nothing but static remained. Diseases had acted quickly in the past but none quite like this one. Humanity has always bounced back before this. There have always been vaccines to discover and weaknesses to exploit. 

Bombs had leveled some cities while napalm scorched the streets of others to no avail. Humanity had thrown their best punches only to be swallowed whole by sheer numbers. It's only to be expected. Even now, she wonders how no one realized that the more people that were inefficiently killed, the more things would rise up in their places to add to the problem. Armies killed, people died, corpses came back. The armies were overrun. Politicians were no more shielded than the everyman. Governmental leaders fell. Without leaders, the governments followed.

And now here they are, holding their breath like it'll protect them from detection. Jemma's hand finds Fitz's. Their fingers tangle together like a lifeline. She's grateful beyond anything she can express. She settles for squeezing gently. Feeling him shaking as much as she is has a strangely comforting effect. He never leaves her alone in her fear. He's always with her. Her lungs fill a little less harshly while they wait and forcing herself to listen beyond the blood surging in hear ears is easier. Shuffle, moan, shuffle, growl. It's a long process of staying still and silent until it's safe to assume that they can leave.

The moment the sounds are far enough that they can't hear shuffling, Jemma stumbles out of their hiding place first and pulls Fitz behind her. They wind their way through the familiar underbrush on a path just barely being worn into the forest from their routine outings. The contents of the salvaged backpack looped over her shoulder clinks more loudly than she would like. She adjusts it but isn't about to stop to move things around. Fitz pulls in front of her to take the lead. He freezes as the forest begins to thin and give way to gravel.

Jemma warily draws to a halt, pausing right at his side. It just another couple of minutes of walking and they'll be home free. A couple of hours of relative safety is better than nothing. Fitz glances behind them, fidgeting, and then steps out gingerly as to not disturb the stones underfoot too much. Silence greets them.

She bounces on the balls of her feet restlessly, scanning around them, while Fitz unwraps the chains from the door handle and pushes it open so that they can slip inside. It feels like it's been ages since she was last able to just close her eyes and breathe in for a few seconds. The heavy rustling of chains tells her that Fitz is securing the door behind them. 

There had once been a time when she would have gladly refused to enter a building like this. Musty with hard, cracked concrete floor and an upper level with cracked windows that've littered broken glass hazardously on the ground; the warehouse is a disaster waiting to happen. One fall from the ladder extending up to the loft overlooking everything else could end in broken bones while a slip-up on the loft itself might call for stitches or a tetanus shot. 

Right now? Right now this place is as close to heaven as they can hope for. In this world, a cleared building with a whole floor of heavy, locked loading dock doors that are made up of an inch of steel are a godsend. It's a miracle if Jemma's ever witnessed one that they've managed to find this place unoccupied and able to be easily secured against entry. She and Fitz sleep up on the loft because it's only accessible via the ladder. As far as they know, none of these things have demonstrated a propensity for climbing anything let alone ladders. 

"Find anything interesting, Fitz?" Jemma finally speaks properly. Fitz is audibly rummaging through his haul for the day. She smiles, falling back on her raggedy blanket. She curls her fingers against the worn fabric. Save for having an endless supply of canned goods, it really can't get much better than this. Sure, it can be a bit drafty up here during the night but it's far preferable to have the breeze than to be continually exposed to the sun's mercilessness. Even since she was a child she's never been a huge fan of what she deems as too much heat. 

She rolls her sore shoulders, arches her back off of the ground until she hears a satisfying series of cracks and groans softly from the relief of it. Her muscles are aching from being bent over inside of cars all day. What she wouldn't give for a legitimate bed. How long has it been since she's been stretched out on an actual mattress? Her thoughts drift idly to the fleeting memory of being young and curled up between her parents. Her father used to rub her back while her mother played with her hair. It'd always done the trick to get her right to sleep no matter how determined she was to stay up late just like a grown-up. 

The sharp prickling of her eyes tells her it's too much to linger on. Jemma pulls herself out of that dangerous territory to focus on Fitz.

"Do you have to do—yes, right, never mind." Fitz mutters, shifting through this and that to sort out the components that he wants the most. "I, eh, found a couple of radio parts and some useful wiring. You know, if we could find solar panels I'd probably be able to find enough bits here and there to hook us up some electricity."

"To do what with?" Jemma reluctantly opens her eyes, twisting to look over at him. In a world filled with technology, electricity is king. Their reality holds no such reverence for it. There's no internet anymore so there's no real use for laptops even if they can be charged. No phone service so no phones. The most they can realistically hope for is throwing together some basic radio walkie-talkies so that they can communicate from a distance. So far they haven't had a need for it but maybe they will in the future. 

Fitz just shrugs, sulking. He'd been excited about it and she's killed that enthusiasm. Guilt nips at her stomach. She rolls over to lay on her front, arms crossed underneath her chin so she can properly look at him while he sorts through his treasures. "If we could find a hotplate then I certainly wouldn't say no to conserving our matches and heating up food and water with that instead. That would be wonderful. Wouldn't hurt to have some sort of little lamp either."

His response is little more than noncommittal muttering but the tug at the corner of his mouth and the way his eyes flicker briefly up to meet hers is enough to show that he appreciates what she's said. They both have their insecurities. The fields they've devoted years of their lives to have amounted to little more than words on paper. Knowing that there are tangible ways for him to contribute with his engineering makes him feel on par with Jemma's own medical knowledge.

It's reassuring for him, she knows, but he's always been her equal. There's never been a moment in her mind where she's seen him as less than what he is. He used to have all of the confidence in the world. He'd known indisputably just incredibly brilliant and clever he was. It was when the world change to demand a different sort of cleverness that his confidence began to falter. His former self-assurance peeks out during their times in camp but out in the rest of the world it ducks back inside. Every now and then, she makes a point to explicitly tell him just how she sees him. He's her partner. He's her family and the light in a world filled with far too much darkness. He keeps her going.

Usually he shrugs it off or just listens with that soft smile but he knows exactly what she means when she says these things. He is her best friend in the world. They're family. Through everything, they're family. 

"I love you, you know that?" Jemma says quietly. His hands pause with a couple of wires twisted between his fingers. His lips part in a sigh. He nods slowly. The air is a little heavier around them, her throat a little tighter as she watches the rise and fall of his chest and listens to the nearing ragged groans from outside.

"I know." Fitz answers. "Of course I know."

He flashes her a quick smile. She tucks her nose into the crook of her elbow. Her skin smells like dirt and sweat and she's wrinkles her nose at the first inhale. Adjusting herself, Jemma takes another deep breath. Contented, she closes her eyes to focus on the sound of Fitz offhandedly talking (both to her and himself. He doesn't demand responses.) and little clinks of metal again metal. The grunts and hissing groan fade into the background if she focuses on Fitz enough. Fitz and her own heartbeat remind her that she's still alive. They're safe. They're both still alive. These are good things. 

Reminding herself of the good things is far easier when she's awake. In her dreams, her time is divided between the wistful 'what was' and the horrific 'what is'. Memories of laughter come as easily as those of standing by and watching intestines spill out onto the ground from ripped body cavities; birthdays with her parents drift into moments of death of her friends, classmates, law enforcement, soldiers; being sprayed by her father with the hose in the garden feels very similar to warm blood splatter into her face as carotid arteries are gnawed open.

Forces always seek one type or equilibrium or another. Their lives are not, as they have learned time and again, exempt from this balancing act. The warehouse has granted them an advantage over their situation. Their world is imbalanced in their favor. In the past she would have declared this bad luck, nothing more. Now, as Fitz shakes her shoulder and her eyes open to see him with an expression that makes it seem that he's about to vomit, she finds herself wondering if the universe has simply decided that it can't allow this to continue. 

If there is a god by any definition of the word (she has thought about this for too many pointless hours on the nights she can't quite embrace sleep) then it is a forsaking force. If it exists, it has left them with no hope and a faith that can only grow dimmer with every passing moment. She grasps the edge of a broken window. This, she knows it immediately in her heart, is what Hell must look like. Hell is being surrounded by dozens if not a hundred strong force of shambling corpses. They fill the air with the stench of rot and sounds that demand to be felt right down to the bone.

Hell beckons to the both of them. It promises an end to their tortured, fearful existences. They are always together in life and it will invite them both to join its army in death. They can wait until later when one might die and the other survives; it taunts them with the possibility of one day existing without the other. It needn't be that way. Jemma's breath catches in her throat, ragged, and a soft 'no' falls from her lips. Wrenching herself backwards, she hurries to a window at the far end of the loft. The mouth of hell has come to swallow them whole and there's not a damn thing she can do except collapse to sit on the ground.

"Simmons." His hands grasp her by the shoulders, he ducks his head to catch her eyes. "Jemma. We can't stay here. Once they leave… We can't stay here. We have to keep heading north."

Their haven has been compromised. Inevitable, yes, but still disheartening enough for her not to want to get back to her feet. The warehouse has been incredible but staying forever has never been a long-term solution. Since the day that they fled from Pasadena, the plan has always been to continue heading north in the hopes that they might be able to find some sort of island to flee to. It's a shaky plan at best but their circumstances haven't allowed for anything better. If they can only find a place a little more isolated and protected to establish themselves then they can take a breath to think about next steps. 

She's never been sure of those next steps. 

Fitz pulls her to her feet. Hell keeps calling to them from outside. Jemma fights not to listen. 

They have their backpacks sorted out long before the swarm outside pushes on enough to give them a chance to run. Their feet against the pavement outside immediately set off a clock that ticks down against them. There's only going to be so much time before night falls. Waiting has already eaten away far too much of the useable daylight. Fitz mumbles something half-heartedly joking about portable solar panels but her nerves are too on edge to give him more than a second of smiling. Imaginings of setting up a home have been ripped away. Better this way, Jemma thinks. Maybe they've been getting too comfortable staying in one place. It's lowered their guard and only made it devastating enough that she casts a look backwards at the warehouse as they rush away in the opposite direction of the herd of corpses.

Goodbye Tenino. 

She and Fitz are almost immediately presented with an important decision to make no more than an hour into their trek: continue on the highway or proceed onto the Yelm-Tenino Trail which a helpful map overview on a sign just before the entrance tells them it parallels. They needn't speak as they shift to follow the bike trail instead of the main road. There's more cover in the woods and more things that can be disturbed to tell them if there's movement nearby. The trail arguably forces them to expend more energy than they would on the flat roadway but the benefits are well worth it. It'll cost them if they don't find proper food soon. 

Night falls and finds them restless in the dark. Jemma has her thin blanket wrapped around the both of them but they haven't been able to make themselves risk trying to build a fire. The moments it takes for the eyes to adjust from the light back to the dark are too precious to waste. It's just the two of them. Huddling together to conserve as much heat as they can barely takes the edge off of the air's chill. Still, it's enough to keep them going through the night. Neither of them get any sleep on that first night. Jemma's heart beats too loudly to allow it and Fitz can't stop jumping at every little rustle.

Fitz is making faces by the time they've gone a couple of miles but it's nothing against the brief familiar flicker of disgust when she expectantly offers him a selection of insects to choose from as their meal. 

"Fitz." Jemma says patiently. This isn't the first time they've had this conversation. "Grasshoppers are almost as nutritional as a piece of chicken of the same size. They're worth eating, you know that. It's not like we've a massive selection of food as it is now quit being picky."

He concedes (he always does) but still makes faces while he chews anyway. She can't stop the smile that settles on her lips while she watches him. Insects won't be enough to keep them going unless they can round up a large amount of them without putting themselves in danger. So far this hasn't proven to be possible between just the two of them. If they're too focused on keeping an eye out for grasshoppers and crickets then they're opening themselves up to be surprised in the most devastating way. But it's enough for now. That's what matters. It'll keep them on the right path for a little while longer and that's all that they can hope for. 

Measuring the amount of progress that they've made is difficult. They've no car (nowhere to drive even if they did because of the clogged roadways) and the only thing to judge from is the progress of the sun across the sky against the increasing ache of their muscles. It's only made worse by the fact that they keep having to stop, hide and wait until it's safe to come out again. A close call comes in the form of a small group of corpses shuffling through the leaves and underbrush. Fitz is barely able to pull her behind a cluster of trees in time to hide them both without attracting attention. Jemma squeezes her eyes closed, presses into his chest and stifles her greedy gasps for breath. 

One draws dangerously close to their hiding spot to the point that she feels Fitz fumbling for his knife. It proves unnecessary when they change course and wander off until there's nothing except the usual silence around them. She kisses his cheeks and forehead with a laugh that feels more like a terrified sob as it comes out. Fitz mumbles something about that being too close but Jemma is just overwhelmed by the fact that they're still breathing after coming within arm's length of one of those things.

"We need to find somewhere to hole up for a few days." Fitz mutters a few minutes after they start on their way again. She nods slowly. "We need to get food. Real food, Simmons. We can't just live from bloody grasshopper to grasshopper all of the time. And we need to refill all of our water bottles. We're too low. It's not going to last us much longer and who knows how much farther we have to go. We need a pitstop."

Relief comes in the form of a graffitied, muddied sign proclaiming, 'Welcome to Yelm.' And underneath, 'Pride of the Prairie.' Jemma looks sideways at Fitz to see his mouth forming the words silently with a crease to his brow. He checks around them then jerks his head questioningly in the direction of the sign, gaze flitting back to get her opinion on the matter. Jemma just smiles. When she starts walking, Fitz follows. 

The danger of being caught off-guard is renewed and intensified tenfold whenever they're in a new city. Cities mean a higher population density. A higher population density means more corpses will be dragging themselves around on the hunt. There's a greater risk of walking into an abandoned house just to be met by any number of dangerous variables. Being swarmed by waiting dead is the biggest fear that forces her heart to skip a beat whenever they approach a house. They move as inconspicuously as possible from backyard to backyard. Sometimes they walk up to test doors and immediately turn away if they're locked. They don't need to cause a lot of noise by breaking in. They need a house that's unlocked with decent visibility so they can try to get a lay of the land inside before putting themselves at risk by actually entering. 

Jemma pauses next to a motorcycle by the back porch of a house. It's not as dusty as she would expect but it seems that the owners probably hadn't been lucky enough to get the chance to use it. She doesn't know how to ride a motorcycle. She shrugs and continues up to the back door on the porch. It seems relatively clear. The house itself seems no worse for wear on the outside. It might even pass as something like peaceful. Well, maybe if she disregards the various pieces of shoved furniture and piles of random belongings that she can see inside through the window. Her heart sinks at the sight of open drawers and doors. Have looters already been here?

"It's worth a look." Fitz says from where he's come to stand by her. He glances backwards towards the bike. 

"Go on, see if there's anything you can salvage." Jemma nudges him affectionately with her shoulder He grins sheepishly. She just shakes her head and twists the doorknob. It's unlocked. Pushing inside (she winces at the too loud creak the door makes) she heads over to the first open drawers. Pictures. Her stomach sinks as she looks around carefully. There's no groaning, no footsteps. She swallows and drags her fingertips through the dust covering the photographs to leave a clean line of color in its wake. 

This place had once been pristine, she can see that. The table nearby has hosted birthday parties with balloons and colorful cakes and gifts wrapped with ribbons. Jemma looks over towards the kitchen. Another photo shows a woman in what she can only guess is her thirties with children who are far to young to be without parents. The thought that they likely never had to experience that life causes a sickly churning in her stomach. With any hope their demises were quick. Maybe she's a monster for even hoping that they've died already but there's nothing left in this world. Not for children. Ones that young shouldn't have to live from day to day just praying that they won't get ripped open while they're still alive by creatures that only belong in their nightmares. 

Jemma turns towards the door, takes a step forward and then the world explodes around her.

When she was little, she had tried her hand at tree climbing just like any other average kid. Sometimes, kids fall. They hurt themselves, cry a bit and get back to climbing. Jemma fell out the tree and had promptly broken her arm in two places. Her parents had rushed her to the hospital where she'd been distracted from her tears by medical posters on the walls. In fact, she'd all but talked her doctor's head off through the sniffles when he began setting her up with a cast. She's always remembered that pain as being excruciating. This, right now, is worse. She imagines that this is what being hit by a truck is like.  

"—Away from her!"

Fitz? Yeah, that's Fitz screaming at something. Oh god, she's going to die here. He's calling attention to himself when he should be running away from the corpses she knows are just making their way towards her to feast on her flesh. Dazed, agonized, she wants to beg him to kill her before he goes but the most she can manage is to roll over and try to push herself up on her elbows.

"—armed?" She's going mad. That's not Fitz's voice so she must be losing it. "No, no, don't worry about him. He's not going to—Ward, take his gun already!" 

"No, we're not armed! What the bloody hell was he thinking! He shot her! He just—" Fitz's voice is higher in his outrage. He's not that close to her though. She would recognize his touch but those hands, small and soft and unfamiliar, are definitely not his. 

"Can you talk?" The voice asks softly while Fitz continues arguing loudly with someone in the background. Has he always been this loud? Her tongue sits in her mouth thickly. She has to take a moment. 

Finally, all Jemma can manage is a mumbled word of, "Fitz?"

"You have to help her. You people did this, you… you have to—" He chokes on the fierce words. Ah, those are his fingers. He's brushing her hair from her forehead gingerly.

"Fitz, is it? Fitz we can help—Shut up, Miles! This is exactly why I didn't want you coming out on this supply run with us. You're a dipshit and a terrible shot. Now stand there like a good boy and keep quiet. Fitz? Just come with us. We have people, okay? Medical supplies. We can give you and your friend a safe place to stay until she's alright. I promise, we're not going to hurt you." Fitz makes a sound in his throat. Jemma can picture his glower but her eyes refuse to open much more than a squint against the throbbing reverberating in her skull. "Look, you don't have a ton of options and we all need to get going. Einstein alerted every Walker in earshot with his idiocy. So not cool." 

"Yeah. Yeah, alright." He doesn't sound pleased but whomever she is she's right. Jemma lets her eyelids droop again as she's lifted off of the ground by someone with far more defined muscles than Fitz. Their words are comforting in that she's not alone. She's fading and she knows it. The painful ache only intensifies when she tries to turn her head so she stops. 

"Relax, okay?" The voice is closer to her. She's not sure when she's been put down or when her head was moved to be cradled in someone's lap. "We'll take care of you." 

Jemma wants to say a word of thanks. Instead, her brain gives in to unconsciousness. 

Maybe she'll manage something later.