His bed was hard as a rock, Cameron thought. Was he sleeping with his bedroll on sand again? A few seconds later, he realized he wasn't in the desert, but rather lying on an office floor. He cracked his eyes open. Bill's office. What was he doing sleeping on the floor of Bill's office? A few more seconds, and the previous day's events slid into the forefront of his mind. Right. Everyone got photostimmed and the world ended. He closed his eyes again.
His eyes flew open a moment later with the sound of Gary's screams, only a few rooms away. "Ugh," he groaned. There was no chance of going back to sleep after that, especially not on that surface, so he pulled himself up to a sitting position, stretching out the kinks in his muscles. He rubbed at his eyes and opened them to look between the blinds into the hallway. It was, perversely, a sunny morning. A strange quiet permeated the building - no horns honking outside, no voices, except for Bill and Gary having a conversation down the hallway.
Cameron sighed. Bill had been right yesterday, though Cameron didn't want to admit it to his face. He was in no position to go rescue his son, over two thousand miles away, with what he had right then, and he had people depending on him here. Not yet. But he wasn't leaving Tyler to deal with this alone. He unplugged his phone from the charger and started to call.
"Hey, son, you hanging in there?" Nina heard Cameron say through the wall. She rolled off the couch and walked to the window. In the daylight the scene outside was eerie. Abandoned cars littered the street like toys left by their owner. Some had run into each other. She had reached in and turned off a few of them last night as they carried bodies, but all were silent now. She sighed, stuffed her ever-present pad of paper and pencil into her pocket, and opened the door to the hallway.
Rachel rounded the corner from the conference room, breathing more heavily than normal. Her eyes spanned the others in the hallway - Gary going to the showers, Bill walking into Rosen's office, Kat yawning in the doorway of Nina's office, Nina leaving Cameron's office - and she began to calm.
Nina raised her eyebrows at Rachel as she walked over. Everything OK? she wrote.
"Yeah, I just—I just had to see…" she trailed off.
That we're alive?
Rachel nodded, looking away. It sounded silly, now, but when she had woken up to an empty room with only an unconscious Rosen, she had panicked. The memory of John's body was still too fresh.
Nina reached out, pulling Rachel into a brief hug. Nina ran her fingers gently through Rachel's hair as she released the younger woman.
"Thanks," Rachel said with little smile. She missed hearing Nina's voice, but she'd already noticed Nina compensating for the lack with increased touch.
"So, what's happening with breakfast?" Kat asked.
"I can go see what there is to make," Rachel said. "But someone should sit with Dr. Rosen…"
Nina tapped Rachel on the shoulder and pointed to herself.
"OK, thanks." Rachel turned to Kat. "You can be my assistant."
"Great, now I'm the kitchen help."
That got a smile out of Rachel. "Think of it as broadening your skills base," she told Kat as they walked toward the break room.
Nina entered the conference room, eyes drawn to the still figure lying on the hospital bed. She sank into the chair next to the bed and took one of his hands in hers. The hallway noises died, but she kept an ear out in case, as she opened her mouth. "Lee, it's me," she began. "Supposedly people in comas can still hear what's said around them, but I'm not so sure of that. If you could, you'd wake up, because I'm telling you to do that, and apparently my voice alone works to push people now." She lifted one of her hands from his and smoothed his hair before clasping them together around his hand again. "Just… wake up soon, OK? The world's gone to hell and we need you." She pressed her lips together. "I need you."
There was no sign of awareness; the monitors continued their quiet blips, and his chest rose and fell at a steady pace.
"All right, people, conference room, two minutes," Bill announced to the others in the break room.
Nina paused in the doorway. She waved her hand to catch his attention, then pointed to the dirty bowls she carried.
Bill sighed. "Right, dishwashing first. OK, conference room as soon as the dishes are clean." He left her to the task and walked down the hallway. The only person in the conference room when he walked in was the ever-present Rachel, sitting by Rosen's bed. "We're meeting in here as soon as Nina's done with the dishes," he told her, pulling chairs away from the table against the wall and placing them in a circle.
Cameron and Kat walked in next, mid-argument. "Come on, food's totally more important," Kat said confidently. "You can't literally eat your gun, after all."
"Can't eat your food if someone's taken it from you because they've got more powerful weapons," Cameron countered.
Bill tuned out the rest of the argument as he reviewed the things he had written down that morning.
Gary entered with his laptop, plunking it down at the end of the table and sitting there. "Oh, Dr. Rosen's still asleep. He hasn't woken up at all?"
Rachel shook her head. "Not yet, Gary. Have others woken up now? Ones who weren't Alphas before?"
Gary flicked his hands as he sorted through the streams. "Yes, though… all of them were teenagers. Almost all, one of them was twenty."
"So maybe it'll take longer because of his age," she hypothesized.
"We don't know," said Gary. "Parish should have posted a manual, so everyone would know what to expect after the photostim."
A brief smile crossed Rachel's face before fading. "That would've been nice, Gary."
Gary went on. "The only thing he posted was telling people to go to different places for help. And he tells them how to contact Red Flag if they can't get to those places."
"What, you're saying Parish is trying to recruit all the Alphas now? After what he just did?" Cameron snorted in disgust.
"I bet he's not getting a lot of takers," said Kat.
"Well, I'm not going to go," Gary announced. "He shouldn't have killed everyone like that. I don't even know if my mom is alive."
Rachel looked at him sympathetically. "I know how you feel, Gary; I don't know about my parents either."
Bill forced his mind away from the subject; Jeannie had never answered the phone, and it was easier to pretend she just couldn't get to it than the alternative. Nina's appearance in the doorway was a welcome distraction. "OK, people," Bill said, "we're all here, so let's sit down and get started."
Nina took the empty seat next to Rachel, and the rest quieted down.
"I think everyone knows at this point that the entire US got photostimmed—anywhere connected to the electrical grid. Nearly all of the humans who were exposed died immediately, with a very small minority left unconscious, some of whom are now waking up as Alphas," he summarized. "And, as Kat and Hicks pointed out last night, the world we knew has changed drastically. For one, there's basically no government any more, right, Gary?"
Gary peered at his laptop screen. "Yeah, the president's dead, they think. And all the people who work for him. And Congress too."
Bill nodded. "I'm going to assume that extends to all areas of law enforcement. Which means we are no longer living in a republic; this is an anarchy now."
"Every man—or woman—for themselves," Kat said.
"Our jobs no longer exist," Bill continued.
"Hell, what are jobs anymore?" Cameron asked, interrupting whatever Bill was going to say. "Jobs were what you did to get money. Now all that matters is survival."
"Shelter, water, food, and defense," Kat said.
"Not necessarily in that order," Cameron retorted. "Look, I've seen what it looks like when there's no government, and it isn't pretty. Just because nearly everyone else is dead doesn't mean we're not at risk from the other survivors, particularly anyone we put in Binghamton."
"It doesn't matter which order we discuss them in, because we've got to plan for all of them, together. No one goes off on their own. Our chances of surviving this year, even this week, are going to be a lot higher if we stick together." Bill eyed Cameron, who looked away. Bill frowned but said nothing. As long as Cameron didn't actually try to be a lone wolf and go rescue his kid, he didn't have to like it. "Kat summed up the top priorities pretty well—"
"You're welcome," she said with a grin.
Bill couldn't help but smile a little before continuing, "—So let's start with shelter. Last night we stayed here. Now, the bed supply was a little on the short side, but we've got lots of space and security we can set whenever we don't want anyone coming in. For that matter, I left it activated this morning."
"We're not moving anywhere until Dr. Rosen wakes up, at least," Rachel said.
"Rachel has a point," Bill acknowledged. "The doc's chained to the medical equipment for now, which isn't going anywhere. Therefore, we're here. If and when he wakes up, we'll reconsider."
Nods around the room proclaimed general assent.
"As far as defense goes, we've got the building for one. Any time we're in here, we should have everything armed and blast doors closed. We can forget about any communications—there's no one to come to our rescue—but when we're not dealing with the basics, we can work on any further security upgrades." Bill glanced around at the somber faces; even Kat had traded her normally perky look for a solemn stare. "And from now on, everyone should have a weapon on them at all times, no matter where you are. There's plenty of guns and holsters in Rosen's office, and the extra ammo's kept in a secure closet upstairs."
"Do I get a gun too? You said everyone," Gary pointed out.
Bill closed his eyes briefly. "Yes, though there are some safety rules I'm gonna go over with you after this meeting, before you put it on, OK? You don't want to accidentally shoot yourself or one of us because you didn't know how to handle it safely."
"OK," said Gary.
Bill went on, "For now, the public utilities seem to be working, though we don't know how long that will last. Whether Parish tries to keep everything running for the few people there are, or if he tries to consolidate Red Flag to a few locations and then turn everything off everywhere else, we don't know. So enjoy your showers and working toilets while you can."
"Outhouses really stink," Rachel said, looking pained.
"We won't have a lot of options if the water's turned off, or if there's a sewer backup," Cameron pointed out. "We should have some handy just in case."
"The biggest issue," Bill said, looking each one in the eye, "is the food situation. We have very little in this building, and no trucks are going to be bringing new goods into the city. Now, there's fresh stuff at the corner bodegas and other markets, but it'll only be good for a day or two. The refrigerated items have a longer shelf life, but when those are gone, they're gone and not coming back. As long as electricity works, we've got frozen food options, but not a lot of freezer or fridge space." Had he thought about it the night before, he might not have agreed to putting the bodies in the Burger King freezer, but the idea of putting the bodies of the guys he'd worked with outside for the rats… He couldn't bury everyone, but this was the best he could do for them, at least.
"There's the school just down the street," Rachel suggested. "Their cafeteria's bound to have a big freezer. We could at least freeze some of the refrigerated foods. Like milk, or butter."
"We're gonna need to start storing a ton of stuff," Cameron said. "Not just canned food, but any other supplies, anything you'd get at a store, because that's not happening any more."
Kat pointed above them. "We've got the space. Entire third floor's empty, as well as first."
"What are you going to carry it all in?" Rachel asked. Nina scrawled something on her pad and held it out for Rachel to read. "Oh, Nina says to check the apartments next to the Burger King. That's right, they probably have carts for shopping."
"OK, so we have a plan, then. First task is to get into the apartments, find some carts. That isn't going to need all of us, so Hicks, Kat?" Rachel would have been useful for listening for other heartbeats before they broke into apartments, but Bill knew better than to give an order he knew wouldn't be obeyed. Someone did have to stay with Rosen, and better it be Rachel, who actually at least had some idea of what to do to treat anything that might arise.
"We're on it," Kat said, standing up. "Come on, Hicks, we get to break into a bunch of places without being arrested. I've even got lock picks so we don't have to kick down all the doors."
Cameron stood. "How many do you want?" he asked.
"Six should be plenty, if you can find them," answered Bill. "The rest of us need to plan where we're going to store everything." He grabbed a piece of paper and began to swiftly sketch the layout of their building. "Here's what we've got to work with," he said as he sketched.
Nina helped Cameron carry the desk from her office into the break room. The round tables in there were utterly unsuited to anything but dining, and the counter space was too limited for the cooking devices they'd found. What was she going to use her desk for now, anyway?
"There," Kat said as she lifted each appliance onto the desk and plugged them into the power strip she had found upstairs. "Hot plate and griddle. The pots can go in the file drawer," she said as she did just that. "And just line the desk drawer with some wax paper or something and stick the cooking utensils on that."
"We can get some sort of stacking drawers to put under the chair spot, for more storage space," Cameron suggested.
Kat snorted, inspecting the new setup. "We'll definitely need it. There's still a lot of kitchen things to get yet. Rachel will know what to send us after."
Cameron raised his eyebrows. "What, cooking isn't one of your skills?"
"Well, I don't think I burn water, if that's what you mean. But I've probably always been lazy with food—why do it yourself when you can just eat out?"
He shook his head. "Good luck with that one now."
"Yeah, yeah," Kat said, rolling her eyes. She left him to unload the other items and walked back to the conference room. Bill was seated next to Rachel as she entered.
"We have to leave now if we're going to make it there and back before it's too late," he was saying.
"But I can't leave—someone has to stay with him," Rachel said, near tears.
"Then someone will stay. But it can't be you." Bill looked up. "Kat," he greeted, looking at her speculatively.
"Wait a minute, what?" Kat asked, suspicious. That look, turned her way, was not always a good thing.
He turned back to Rachel. "Can you teach Kat what you need her to know so you can go?"
Rachel nodded. "If she has the right videos and websites…"
Bill stood up and went to the doorway. "Gary!" he called. "I need your help in the conference room. Bring your laptop."
A few seconds later Gary was striding down the hallway, laptop in arms.
"Gary, can you work with Rachel and Kat to help them find the videos and websites they need?" Bill asked.
"OK, what is it you're wanting me to do?" Kat asked.
"We're going to head to Rachel's apartment, to check on her family and get whatever she's going to need from there," Bill explained. "Someone has to stay with Rosen, and Rachel's the only one of us with any medical training. Which is where you come in."
Kat rolled her eyes a little. "First cook, now nurse."
"Yeah, well, Nina's had enough training with weapons to go out, but if something happens with the doc, you'll have to handle it."
"What videos do you need?" Gary's voice echoed behind him as Bill went to find Cameron.
Bill rounded the corner of the hallway as Cameron collapsed the last cart. He leaned it against the wall next to the elevator with the others, and glanced over at Bill. "What's the next plan?"
"Going to Rachel's apartment and getting anything she's going to need from there. Yours is sort of on the way, right?"
"Close enough," Cameron said with a nod.
"Good, we can stop at yours too, then."
The long trek was eerily silent, as the four of them passed by numerous cars and stepped around and over bodies. Rachel clutched a cloth with essential oils on it, pressing it to her nose frequently. After the third body with visible evidence of predation by rats or other creatures, Nina pulled the pad of paper out and wrote, Do you want me to signal you when to close your eyes?
Rachel answered by nodding and closing them immediately.
Nina lifted Rachel's hand and tucked in her elbow, steering her through a path that didn't require stepping over discolored limbs.
Bill glanced back to see what was keeping them. His eyes took in the scene and he nodded once. Nina couldn't hear what he said to Cameron, but the two were soon pulling out pairs of protective gloves from their pockets and moving the occasional body out of the way so Nina could lead Rachel without the chance of stumbling.
They came to a stop outside of Cameron's apartment building. "I'll make it quick as I can," he said. "Then we can take the more direct route back from your place, Rachel."
Rachel nodded, trying not to look at the body lying a few feet from the door.
Nina tapped Bill on the shoulder and gestured that she and Rachel would go inside. She pointed to him and tapped her finger by her eyes.
"Yeah, I figured I'd better keep an eye out."
Nina wrapped her arm around Rachel's shoulders and nodded towards the door when Rachel looked at her.
"You want us to go inside?" Rachel asked.
Nina touched her nose with a finger, and comprehension dawned in Rachel's eyes. Cameron's apartment might smell like stale sweat or dust, but it would be an improvement on the odors outside.
Cameron was pulling a duffel bag out of the closet when the two women came in. He acknowledged them with a brief nod, and grabbed a few grocery bags from a drawer, dropping them on the nearest surface. "Fill 'em up if you can find anything useful," he called as he disappeared into the bedroom.
Nina wasted no time in picking up a bag and opening cupboards. Rachel hesitantly followed suit. Canned goods, bandages, bottled water… Nina unscrewed the cap of one of the bottles and took a long swig, handing another to Rachel.
Rachel raised her eyebrows at Nina. "You want me to drink his water?"
It's our water now, remember? Nina wrote. There's one for each of us and extras in case we need it. She took another swig of her bottle.
Rachel said nothing more as she opened the bottle. Nina was right; all supplies were shared at this point, and they did need to stay hydrated.
Cameron exited the bedroom with the bulging duffel slung over a shoulder. "Ready to go?"
Rachel gestured to the lone water bottle left on the counter. "Nina wants us all to drink water."
"Good idea," he said, downing half the bottle in one big gulp.
"Isn't that going to be heavy?" Rachel asked, eyeing the very packed duffel bag.
"Nah, it's mostly clothes. A few pictures. The furniture I don't need."
"Bedding?" asked Rachel.
Cameron swore, dropping the duffel bag. He headed back into the bedroom, emerging a couple minutes later with a very full backpack. "There, that's got pillow, sheets, and blankets. Good enough?"
"Yeah, that should be fine. Don't suppose you have any inflatable mattresses or anything…?"
Cameron shook his head. "Let's go." The two women followed him downstairs.
Bill was leaning against the building next to the door when the other three walked out of the building with their bundles. Nina and Rachel began to stash the bags in the carts they'd brought. Bill reached a hand out for the duffel.
"Hey, I can carry it," Cameron protested.
"Yeah, but you know it won't wear me out at all," Bill pointed out.
Cameron sighed, handing it over.
"What do you mean?" Rachel asked. She dropped the last bag into Nina's cart.
"Side effect of the photostim, I think," Bill explained as he settled the duffel over his shoulder. "I can stay amped up without problems. Indefinitely, as far as I know."
"Oh, that's useful," Rachel said.
Nina wondered why she had to get the only negative side effect so far. A second later she felt guilty when she realized—at least she was alive.
"Yeah," said Bill. "Let's get going, all right? We've got a ways to go yet."
The sun was low in the sky by the time they reached the dry cleaning and clothing repair business run by Rachel's parents. With each step closer, Rachel's face grew more apprehensive. The lights in the shop downstairs were off except for the security lighting, but the upstairs floor was lit brightly. Rachel bit her lip. If she ignored the bodies on the ground around her, she could pretend they were upstairs, waiting to greet her. She wished… but knew what she would likely find. She stopped outside, frozen with anxiety.
"You've got the key, right?" Bill asked her after a few seconds.
Rachel nodded, pulling it out. She unlocked the door and pocketed the key.
"I'll keep watch. Make it quick as you can," Bill ordered.
Nina pulled the door open for Rachel, giving her a gentle push to move forward. She followed Rachel inside, Cameron close behind her. They walked past suits and blouses waiting for owners who would never claim them, past sewing machines forever idle.
Rachel halted at the bottom of the stairs. "I can smell decay from upstairs," she said, voice shaky. "I don't know if I can…"
Nina pressed a hand between Rachel's shoulders and rubbed a little before applying light pressure forwards. She kept the hand on Rachel's back as they climbed the stairs, a warm reminder of her presence and support.
Rachel pushed open the door into her parents' main living room. The TV was on, reflecting a steady blue screen against the wall; the programming queue had ended hours before. She took a few steps into the room and turned to look at the couch. On the floor in front of it lay her mother, unmoving. The still form of her father lay sprawled on the rug outside the bathroom. The stench of decay was everywhere around her. She struggled to hold the scented cloth to her nose but had to wipe tears away as they streamed down her face. Nina's hands gripped her shoulders and turned her, and she found herself held securely against Nina's body, her nose pressed against Nina's neck. She took a deep breath, concentrating on Nina's natural scent.
Nina blinked back tears of her own as she held Rachel, bringing one hand up to cradle her head. She looked at Cameron helplessly.
He walked over to the TV and pressed the button to turn it off. "Should we…?" He gestured towards the body at his feet.
"Sheets?" he asked.
She nodded again.
As Cameron found sheets and began to wrap the bodies up, Nina guided Rachel to her bedroom. She managed to pull out her pad of paper and pencil with Rachel still in her arms, but when it came to writing, she had to push Rachel back a little. You need to pack, she wrote.
Rachel collapsed onto the edge of the bed, holding the cloth to her nose. She wiped her face a few times before she could read the note, then nodded as she began pulling out a couple bags. She opened the first drawer hesitantly, glancing at the bed with uncertainty.
Nina wrote some more. Put everything you want to pack onto the bed; I'll pack it.
When they emerged, laden with bags, the bodies were nowhere in sight. Nina raised her eyebrows at Cameron.
"Bathtub," he answered. "I also raided the place for anything useful. Rachel, I grabbed the spices and anything else I could find in the kitchen that I thought might keep long enough to bring back."
"Thanks," she said quietly.
Are there any photos and mementos you'll want from their room or anywhere else? Nina wrote.
Rachel nodded, pointing out a few things on the walls, and brought her mother's small jewelry collection to be added to the bags. When she could think of nothing more, she walked to the stairs and turned for one last look at the home where she had grown up, now silent and reeking of death. She lifted the two bags that Nina and Cameron had left for her, and started down the stairs.
Bill took one look at Rachel's now tear-stained face as the three of them exited the building. He needed no verbal explanation of what she had found. His face sagged with shared misery, and he squeezed Rachel's shoulder silently before lifting his burdens and turning to head back to their new "home".
No one spoke as they walked back; the journey seemed interminably long. Nina busied herself thinking about what she needed to do when they got back. On the top of her list was to get a shower. They'd have to go to her place the next day, because she had only one outfit to change into. She glanced at Rachel again. The younger woman didn't seem to be crying any more, her face a blank stare as they trudged onwards.
Cameron ended up ahead of the others quite a bit, his impatience to get back tempered only by the need to ensure the others were safe. He would have called Tyler on the way if it weren't that they didn't know who could be lurking around the next corner. His last call had established that his son at least did have enough food to last him a week, and he had instructions on how to make the place look like no one was home. Until Cameron could get him, somehow… That one he had yet to work out.
Bill didn't think he'd ever been so relieved to see the familiar office building as when they finally rounded the corner to find it looming over them. He was glad to see that the doors were still in lockdown mode—and that Gary was watching for them as Bill had instructed, because the metal was soon sliding up, allowing them to enter with all of their burdens. Cameron had his phone out of his pocket and to his ear as soon as he could set down what he was carrying. Nina helped Rachel pick a few items out of the bags, and the two women disappeared down the hallway. Bill left the bags he carried by the elevators and walked into the conference room.
"Hey, good to see you made it back safe," greeted Kat.
"How's the doc?" Bill asked.
"No change yet. He's still breathing on his own, and I changed out saline bags. Which, by the way, someone's going to need to get more of. We've only got one left."
Bill nodded. "There's a hospital on the way to either my place or Nina's. I'll put it on the list for tomorrow."
"Sounds like a plan," Kat said. She hesitated for a moment. "How was it at Rachel's?"
Bill shook his head. "I didn't go in, but… it was pretty obvious. She's taking it hard."
"What about you?"
He closed his eyes, concentrating on breathing steadily. "I'm trying not to think about it."
Kat smiled sympathetically. "Distraction, huh? Bring the new supplies in here, then; we can sort them at least."
"Be right back." Distraction was good; he could work with that. He started back down the hallway but was stopped by Gary, who stepped out of his office in front of Bill.
"You came back really late," Gary said.
"Yes, we did. It was a long walk," Bill pointed out.
"Yeah, but it's not work time anymore, and you told me I had to keep an eye on things, to let you back in when you got here. It's past my bedtime, Bill!"
"I know," Bill said, simply, then sighed. "Gary, look, there is no work time vs. non-work time anymore. None of us have jobs, and no one's getting a paycheck. The only way we're going to stay alive is if everyone does their part. And sometimes that might mean we need you to stay up a little to let us back in."
Gary frowned. "Parish should tell everyone he's responsible for this. For killing all these people. Like my mom. She's probably dead, because she was sick when the lights went off. And she wasn't an Alpha." He frowned some more. "Your wife wasn't an Alpha either, right? So she's probably dead too."
The words hit Bill like a ton of bricks, and he froze, staring off into space, his mind picturing Jeannie's final moments. A part of him was vaguely aware of Gary speaking some more, of movement behind him, a smaller hand slipping into his.
Kat wrapped her other hand around Bill's stiff one. "It's OK, Gary. You can go to bed now. I'll look for your mom tomorrow, if you want. So you can know for sure."
"Oh, OK. Yeah, thanks." Gary went back into his office and closed the door.
"Harken," she called quietly, stepping around him to where she could look him in the face, still holding his hand. "Harken, hey, focus on me here." Slowly his eyes re-focused. "We got supplies to deal with. You up to that?"
He nodded, unable to speak.
"OK, good," she said. "Nina's sitting with Rosen for now, so let's separate out the kitchen stuff and haul all of that first." She started rustling through bags, and was relieved to see him follow suit.
Nina took stock of the conference room. She had managed to get Rachel into the shower with a clean change of clothes laid out to get into afterwards, but the sleeping arrangements would have to be reconsidered. There was no way Nina was going to leave Rachel to try to fall asleep alone in the state she was in. She scribbled another note on her pad and leaned her head out the door. She waved upon seeing Cameron and showed it to him.
"You want another couch in here? Where?"
Facing Rachel's, right up against it.
Comprehension dawned on his face, and he nodded. "I'll go find one upstairs and get Harken to help bring it down."
She smiled in thanks, and nearly turned to leave before she remembered. She tapped Cameron's arm quickly to get his attention, then wrote: Can you bring Rachel's things here first?
She waited by Rosen's side, smoothing the blanket over him a little. Cameron left Rachel's bags in a pile in a corner, and Nina poked through them till she found the comb Rachel always used after a shower. Then she flagged down Kat. Can you watch him for a bit?
"Yeah, why not," Kat said with a shrug.
The shower was still running when she entered the bathroom, but she knocked on the wall to let Rachel know she was there.
"Nina?" came the hesitant voice.
Nina could only knock again.
The water ceased, and Rachel was soon standing there, dressed in pajamas with her towel around her hair.
Nina smiled at her sympathetically, sliding an arm around Rachel's shoulders to walk with her back to the conference room.
Rachel slowed to a stop once she was inside the room. "You added another couch?" She turned to look at Nina. "For you?"
Nina nodded, pulling out the pad of paper again. So you won't be alone.
Rachel's answering smile turned into silent tears after a few seconds, and Nina held her again for a minute. Gently Nina pushed Rachel back, guiding her to the chair by Rosen's bedside. She pulled the towel down around Rachel's shoulders and placed the comb in her hand. Satisfied to see Rachel begin to comb her hair out, Nina went to find her own shower things.
Rachel slowly detangled her hair, staring at Rosen's body on the bed, unmoving but for the slow breaths. Her hand gripped the comb tighter as she tried not to cry again. Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock against the doorframe. She looked up to see Kat standing there with a tray of food.
"Hey, so I watched a couple cooking videos while I was waiting for you all to get back, and I had Gary sit with the doc while I cooked up some of the fresh stuff. I figured you all might be hungry when you got back, so I made up a plate for each of you." Kat set the tray down on the table. "You can leave the dishes in the kitchen; I'll wash them in the morning," she told Rachel.
"Thanks," Rachel said, forcing her lips into a small smile.
"No problem; see you in the morning," Kat said as she left the room.
Rachel finished combing her hair as quickly as she could manage. She didn't feel that hungry, but Kat had gone to all that effort to make sure they had something to eat; she couldn't let it go to waste. And it would be more palatable while it was still warm. She settled the plate of pasta and vegetables in her lap and lifted forkfuls to her mouth.
Nina blinked in surprise as she came back from the shower to see Rachel eating something. She raised her eyebrows at Rachel.
"Kat made it earlier, brought us each a plate."
Nina hadn't even realized she was hungry; her focus had been so much on Rachel that she had ignored any signals her body was sending. But her stomach was rumbling, when she thought about it, and the aroma of the pasta was enticing. She left her hair wrapped in the extra towel she had snagged from Rachel's things, and began to devour the food before it could grow cold.
Less than twenty minutes later, the dishes were deposited in the kitchen and Nina's hair was in a braid so it wouldn't be as much of a disaster the next morning. She braided Rachel's as well without asking; Rachel's only acknowledgment of the action was a ghost of a smile on her face as she glanced up at Nina when Nina finished.
Nina dug in the bags some more, pulling out the sheets from Rachel's bed and tucking them around the couches' cushions to make a makeshift bed. She sighed when a thought hit her, pulling out the pad of paper to write: I have no idea what the second couch smells like; I'm sorry.
Rachel shrugged, listless. "Everything smells like death anyway." Faint traces of decay clung to everything she had brought from her apartment. With time they would fade but for now they only took her back to the scene of her parents' bodies.
Nina winced, lightly rubbing Rachel's shoulders for a moment. She finished making up the 'bed' and went to turn out the lights. She held a hand out to Rachel, who let herself be led to the couches. They climbed over the arms onto the sheet and Nina pushed back the covers, then stopped, Rachel's haunted expression prompting a different action. Instead of sliding into bed, she lifted the extra blanket from where she had draped it over the back of one of the couches, drawing it around Rachel's shoulders. She leaned back against the couch back, stretching her legs out in a V, and patted the space in front of her.
Rachel scooted over, letting herself be drawn into Nina's arms, and pressing her nose up against Nina's skin, where she could breathe in something besides whiffs of the stench that seemed to choke her in living nightmare. Nina's arms encircled her, secure and safe, and she listened to Nina's heart, its strong thumps reminding her she was not alone.
Nina blinked back tears as she held Rachel. The pain on Rachel's face was like a stab wound to her own heart, and the only thing she could do was be there. She cupped the back of Rachel's head with one hand; the side of it picked up warm dampness from Rachel's cheek, and she brushed it away with her thumb. Rachel's breathing slowed as she relaxed, and eventually Nina decided it was time to get in bed. She gently pushed Rachel upright, guiding her with pushing and pulling of limbs, till they both were under the covers. Rachel burrowed against her like an animal seeking warmth, and Nina tightened her arms about Rachel reflexively before relaxing herself.
Cameron plugged in his phone to charge, then walked down the hallway restlessly to check on everyone. Gary was long since asleep, and presumably Bill was also, as Rosen's office was silent. Kat waved at him sleepily as she walked to the small office where she'd set up her chair bed. His eyes took in the conference room: Rachel and Nina curled up together, Rosen still breathing and connected to the monitors.
They were in a holding pattern of sorts, until Rosen woke; Bill might be their leader for now but Cameron wasn't sure how much Bill could take, what with losing his wife and son. Cameron didn't dare leave them to go after Tyler with the situation that precarious. Rachel was barely functioning, Nina was completely focused on her, Kat was filling in where she could but she had an independent streak that Cameron understood well… They needed him desperately. He'd just have to call Tyler tomorrow, to reassure him that he was OK, that his dad would come for him when he could—and hope he could keep that promise. He made up the bed on the couch in his office with the bedding he'd brought with him, and climbed in, yawning. Tomorrow would be another busy day; the world might have ended, but they still had to go on. He closed his eyes and slept.