1. Daryl Dixon...Christian Youth Camp Director
It took him a few miles to realize what stretch of highway they were on, and when he did...he was honestly surprised at how much the realization ached. He watched the familiar landmarks flash past, surrounded by abandoned cars and scenes of gory carnage, and tried not to think about all of this touching...that place. The peace and the beauty of it. Something clenched in his belly, low and hot and sickening, at the thought of the blood, death, and fear that had taken over the world touching the only place he'd ever felt completely comfortable in his own skin.
He almost ignored it, almost decided to blow right on past it and keep his memories of the place intact and unspoiled--but he never had been able to turn off that ruthless practicality that had been the one useful skill his worthless pa had instilled in him.
It was very far off the road, and you had to get back out on the highway to find any kind of civilization.
The outbreak had hit just before anyone would have been there to even start getting ready for the season. He hadn't even started packing, yet, and he was always one of the first ones there.
The one sign they had that announced the turnoff had gone down in a five car pile up the year before and far as he knew, they hadn't had it replaced yet. If you didn't know where it was, it was an easy road to miss.
It was the fact that he knew his key ring, with his copy of the key to the security gate on it, was knocking around in the saddlebags that decided him.
Mouth pressed into a grim line, he revved the bike's engine, pulling out from behind the lumbering old RV and rocketing up the line to Rick's car in the lead. He raised one hand as he passed each car, making the agreed-upon signal to pull over. Rick was already slowing down, pulling onto the shoulder of the road. He drew the bike up beside Rick's car as the man leaned out the window, a questioning look on his face.
"I'm gonna scout out up ahead a while," he said without preamble. He glanced into the car, noting the way the two kids were tiredly slumped against their mothers, sweaty and wilted as they couldn't afford to waste the gas on the car's air conditioning. He thought of the cold, inviting waters of the lake, how much the kids would love jumping off the pier. He banished the thought gruffly. Damn it, he wasn't looking for vacation spots.
"You sure that's wise? We don't want to get separated," Rick said, jerking him out of his thoughts. He leaned in a little closer, lowering his voice.
"Look...no sense gettin' anyone's hopes up, but I used ta' spend a lot of time up in these parts. I know a place we might be able ta' stay...for a while. At least pick up some supplies, if it ain't been looted already."
Rick's eyes sharpened, hope blooming in them at the thought of a place they could possibly set up for more than a night or two. "All right, but take someone with you--no, I know you can take care of yourself," Rick said as he started to bristle, "but two sets of eyes is better than one, and you're running low on arrows." He looked down at the crossbow's quiver, which was indeed running scant these days.
He tried not to think of the well-stocked locker down at the firing range. He'd taught archery and shooting, and the older kids had been allowed to use live rounds.
"Fine," he huffed. "I'll take the kid. There should be a truck weigh-in station 'bout twenty miles up the road. It'll make a decent campsite. We should be able ta' catch up t'ya by nightfall."
"Sounds like a plan. Good luck!" He nodded to the other man and turned the bike around, making his way back to the RV. He pulled up by the side door to find it already open, Glenn leaning out of the door jamb.
"What's up? Everything okay?" he asked.
"Grab your canteen and one a' the shot guns, Kimchee," he answered. "We're takin' a field trip."
To his credit, the kid didn't ask questions, or protest. He merely ducked back into the RV and reappeared moments later with the requested items, his backpack slung over one shoulder. "That's your limit for the day, by the way...no extra credit for finally finding an insult from the right country," he said conversationally as he secured his backpack to the rack with the crossbow and swung onto the bike behind him.
"What you talkin' about? That's only two t'day," he grumbled, waiting for the kid to adjust his seating and wrap his arms around his waist.
"You called me 'General Mao' when I woke you up for watch this morning. Three a.m., counts as today. And that means your three no-consequences racist-ass nicknames for the day are gone," the kid smirked.
"Man, that shouldn't count," he groused, without any real heat. Truth was, he did call the kid by his name more often than not, these days, and when he didnt, it wasnt exactly malicious. He'd laid off the really nasty insults entirely. If he didn't know better, he'd almost call it a running joke between them at this point--like they were actually friends or some shit. Would wonders never cease?
The kid finally stopped squirming, and tapped him twice on the shoulder, indicating he was ready to go. The kid waved to Andrea and the old man in the RV as he pulled back out onto the road and opened the bike's throttle up, blowing past the line of cars and quickly leaving them behind. The kid slung his arms loosely around his waist, easily relaxing into the balance of riding the bike. Glenn was actually a pretty good rider...Lord knew the kid was the only one he'd even consider taking on the bike with him.
This stretch of highway was thankfully mostly free of traffic snarls and hang ups. Not surprising, as there really wasn't much out this way. The few pile-ups they encountered would be easy for even the RV to navigate around. He kept one eye on the landscape flashing by them, watching for the turnoff. It really was easy to miss...nothing but an unmarked turn lane onto a gravel road. Without the traffic sign, it looked like every other access road used primarily by the highway department. About twenty minutes after they had left the caravan in their dust, he saw it.
It looked the same as it had for the past fifteen years. He swallowed hard as he slowed down. He had to check--it had been his idea--but God, he didn't want to see the place looted and destroyed. Or worse, overrun with Walkers. He took the turn, and hurtled the bike down the familiar gravel road.
It all looked the same. The canopy overhead formed by the trees, the neatly laid thick logs that started lining the road after about half a mile, the brown metal signs warning travelers to be on te lookout for deer and people on horseback. It was as if...he didn't want to think it, but it was as if the place was waiting for someone to come back.
The gravel road went on for nearly three miles before they finally came to the security gate. He pulled to a stop and cut the bike's engine, just staring at it. The green paint on the metallic fence looked fresh, still (he'd painted it himself, so it damn well better still look good) and more importantly, was still locked, the industrial-strength chain and padlock wound tightly through the bars. He looked up at the arching, wooden sign over the security gate, swallowing hard.
CAMP HOPE IN THE HILLS
Hope in the hills. He wondered if it would be inappropriate to laugh.
He got off the bike without a word, hearing Glenn dismount behind him.
"Whoa...how'd you know this was even here?" the kid asked. He didn't answer as he flipped open the nearest saddlebag and began rooting through it. "I guess we can climb over...maybe go around? How far you think the fence extends?" Glenn continued, used to his silences by now.
He shoved his spare clothes aside and dug down into the very bottom of the saddlebag, his hand finally closing around his old key ring. He didn't even know why he'd held onto it..wasn't like he needed the key to his house or his pa's old truck anymore. There it was, though--including the silver padlock key with the neon-green rubber grip on the top.
Glenn was looking for the best way to boost himself over the gate when he walked up to the chain and pulled the padlock towards him. He could feel Glenn's state practically boring a hole in the back of his neck as he stuck the key in the lock and twisted. The padlock fought him a little, as it always did, but opened quickly enough. He pulled the chain off and unlatched the gate. It swung open easily with a light shove, and he silently stiffened his spine as he turned back to the kid.
Glenn was standing by the bike, literally staring at him as though he had just sprouted a second head. His jaw had dropped, his eyes gone comically wide. He indicated that the kid should walk the bike through with a jerk of his head. Glenn shot him a look, but complied. He followed the boy through, closing the gate behind them, but not latching it all the way. He was encouraged that the gate had still been locked, but they still might need to haul ass out of there. He grabbed the bike's handlebars from the kid and mounted the bike again, all without saying a word.
"Okay, seriously? You're not gonna tell me why you have the keys to a place called hope in the hills?" Glenn huffed incredulously, even as he scrambled back up onto the seat behind him.
"Nope," he said simply, his mouth curling into an amused smirk. Glenn smacked him on the back indignantly, and he chuckled to himself, before shooting a serious look over his shoulder. "Later, kid, okay?"
The road went on for another mile beyond the gate. He went slowly, looking for any signs that the place had been disturbed. The gravel was deeply rutted in a lot of areas, needing replenishing. It would be too hard to determine if any tire tracks were fresh--but at least there were no abandoned vehicles or bodies.
He took a deep breath as he came upon the final curve in the road.
It looked...exactly the same.
He sighed softly as he brought the bike to a halt just in front of the large hall they used as a combination cafeteria/meeting hall, and killed the engine. The rustic wooden buildings--five of them, not counting the twelve dormitory cabins that were further down the path behind the meeting hall--were all still standing, peacefully nestled among tall pine trees and pin oaks. He could see the waters of the lake glinting blue and beautiful through the tree branches. All the buildings looked shut up tight, the heavy wooden storm shutters down over all the windows he could readily see, each still plainly padlocked with combination locks.
Most importantly, the place was quiet. The only sounds were the light breeze whistling through the leaves, and birdsong. No terrible, gruesome moans. No sounds of any other survivors that had found this place already. He and Glenn dismounted, and he grabbed his bow off the bike's rack. Glenn swung the shotgun into a ready position, gawking at the buildings.
"Dude..." he whispered softly. "What is this place?"
"Summer camp," he answered succinctly. "C'mon, let's check out some of these buildings. Stay close." He debated a moment, before deciding to leave the keys in the bike's ignition. Together, the two of them made their way up the wide steps onto the wraparound veranda of the main building. He checked the main door, finding it firmly locked with no signs of tampering. Silently, he knelt down by the lower left hand corner of the door and prodded at a particular knot in the wood of the porch. He smiled when the little disc of wood popped out, easy as you please, revealing the hollowed out little place underneath...and the key winking up from the bottom of it. He picked it up and gestured for Glenn to back up a little. The kid looked as though he was fairly bursting with questions, but he obeyed.
Kid was good like that.
Silently, he unlocked the front door and stepped back, raising the crossbow even as Glenn chambered a round in the shotgun. "If there's anything in there, we just go straight for the bike and get the hell outta here, okay?" Glenn nodded silently, hitching the gun more securely against his shoulder. He swallowed softly, and pushed the door open. The interior was deeply shadowed, and a rush of stale, boiling hot air hit him in the face as soon as the door swung inwards.
But it did not carry any smell of death.
Checking one more time that the kid was covering him, he stepped into the meeting hall. Enough light to see by was filtering in through the seams of the shutter-covered windows and through the open door. The interior of the building looked untouched. The huge stone fireplace that dominated the wall directly opposite of the door was still swept clean--no leaves or animal leavings, or indications that anyone had laid a fire since last summer. The couches and tables scattered around the room were still upright, covered in the dust cloths that he always had to gather up and fold back into storage at the start of the season.
They took a sweep of the massive room, finding no indication that anyone--living or dead--had been in the hall since it had been closed up. He couldn't help a sigh of relief, a tiny spark of hope that maybe the rest of the camp would prove equally untouched. Slowly they made their way down a short hallway (checking both the boys and girls restrooms) to the mess hall. It was eerily silent. He'd always found it a little disturbing in the two weeks he was usually up here before the first group of campers arrived to walk into the dining hall and not be hit with a wave of noise. It was even moreso now...but at the same time, he was relieved. Silence could mean the place was free of Walkers. Silence could mean the camp was safe.
God, he wanted the camp to be safe.
They moved through the empty mess hall and back into the kitchens, finding the same story. Empty. Dusty. Undisturbed.
"Daryl," Glenn whispered, and the hope in his voice was almost painful to hear. "Daryl, if this place is clear...we could, we could stay here, couldn't we? I mean...we could actually stay here."
"Don't get too excited," he cautioned softly, though he couldn't quite keep the hope out of his own voice. "There's sixteen other buildings on the grounds we gotta go through."
"Okay, okay, I know. Just--it looks good, right?"
He didn't answer, something having caught his eye. There was a slip of pink paper lying on the stainless steel counter next to the door to the huge, walk-in pantry. He knew what it looked like, but he couldn't think why it would be lying out like that. Swiftly, he strode forward and snatched it up, scanning the top of the page. It was, indeed, what he thought it was. His heart started pounding, despite himself. He looked at the date in the corner, just to be sure. He glanced up at the pantry door, padlocked securely as the rest of the building had been.
"C'mon," he said brusquely, shoving the paper into his pocket. "Let's check the rest of th'buildings." He wasn't going to tell Glenn what he'd found just yet. No sense in getting the kid's hopes up even more if the place turned out to be dangerous after all.
"How are we gonna get into all of them? Do all the doors have secret compartments, or what?" He shot the kid a narrow look, and pulled the key he'd used to open this building out of his pocket.
"Master key, dumbass," he muttered.
They went out the way they'd come in, new urgency in their steps. The open courtyard where he'd parked the bike was still quiet, still empty except for the bike and now a pair of chipmunks. He and Glenn exchanged a look and started jogging towards the next building--the craft hall.
The story was the same there.
And the nurse's station.
And the vehicle shed.
And the chapel.
With every building they checked, every building they found undisturbed, locked up tight and untouched, Glenn's excitement got a little more palpable. His own heart jumped a little higher in his throat. It took them nearly three hours to check everything, but even the dorm cabins were still locked. The only fresh footprints he could see on any of the dirt paths that wound between the buildings were his and Glenn's. It looked like the place was actually--
"Clear," Glenn whispered in awe as they closed the last cabin back up. "The whole place is clear."
"Looks like," he replied, low and gruff to disguise how unsteady his voice sounded to his own ears. There was no sign that an Walker had so much as wandered onto the grounds. He couldn't believe it.
"Holy shit...holy shit, Daryl you are the man," Glenn laughed, bouncing up and down on his toes and holding out his hand for a high-five.
He actually obliged, slapping the kid's hand with a soft whoop of his own. "Yeah, you think that now? Wait 'til you see this," he said, pulling the pink slip of paper out of his pocket and handing it over. Glenn unfolded it quickly, curiously.
"Invoice. We got a guy comes up every year ta' supply the place a couple weeks 'fore the summer sessions start. He just takes care of everything and we pay him back at the end of the summer. Look at the date on it."
"This is, like, three days before everything started getting crazy," Glenn said softly, then his eyes started going wide as he scanned down the list. "Oh my God...oh man, you mean...?"
He couldn't keep his own grin at bay anymore. "I mean there's cans an' dry goods for a hundred n' fifty plus people for six weeks up in the kitchen. The propane tank for the water heater's been topped off. The nurse's station got restocked. Diesel tank for the emergency generators is full up. We ain't even gotta chop firewood if I know Bill."
"Holy crap...oh my God. Daryl, we gotta get everybody! C'mon let's go get them right now!" Glenn was full-on bouncing in his excitement, his eyes suspiciously shiny. He slapped the kid companionably on the shoulder, slinging his crossbow onto his back.
"We got enough daylight to get back here if we hurry," he agreed. "I'm gonna check one more thing real quick...tell ya' what, go grab the bike and take it down ta' the big shed by the nurse's station. We got two pickups and a van that should be gassed up an' ready ta' go. Keys're under the driver's side floor mats." Glenn nodded eagerly. "But hey...you scratch my bike up, its your ass, y'hear?"
The kid had the balls to actually roll his eyes at him.
Glenn turned and sprinted back up the path towards the main hall. He watched him go for a moment, before following at a more sedate pace. He headed to the back of the meeting hall, listening with one ear as the noisy chopper was fired up. He unlocked the maintenance shed where the industrial-sized generator was housed and slipped inside. Like every other place in the camp, the generator house was dusty and stale, the smell of oil thick in the hot air...but the generator fired right up with the smooth purr of a well-serviced machine.
Still grinning to himself, he checked to make sure everything was in working order before slipping out again and letting himself back into the meeting hall via the back door. They'd have to be careful, conservative with the fuel and the propane. As small as their party was, the supplies would last a good long while...but not indefinitely. They'd have to be careful.
But not tonight.
Tonight, he thought as he found the thermostat box and cranked the air conditioning on as high as it would go, tonight they would all enjoy hot showers and sleep in cool comfort. And all right, yes, he was thinking of how hot and miserable the kids had looked in the car earlier when he did it. He heard the short, sharp blast of a car horn out in the court yard and jogged out to the porch, carefully closing and locking the door behind him. Glenn had indeed gotten one of the white pickup trucks with the camp's bright green logo emblazoned on the side. He leaned back against the meeting hall door for a moment, just taking in the sight of the peaceful camp. Like it really had just been waiting for someone to come back. He was startled out of his thoughts by Glenn's voice.
"C'mon! I can't wait for everyone to see this place!"
He snorted softly at the kid's enthusiasm, and made his way down the steps and around to the driver's side. He motioned for the kid to scoot over into the passenger seat, which Glenn did with only a token complaint, clearly too happy to argue. The kid was grinning like a loon as they drove back out to the security gate, stopping only long enough to close and re-lock the gate properly behind them. There was no sense tempting fate.
They still had a good two hours of daylight, but he practically floored it as soon as they hit the highway, well aware of the dangers of traveling after nightfall. The closer they got to the agreed upon meeting place, the more Glenn seemed to be vibrating in his seat. He shot an annoyed glare at the kid, but secretly he was amused as hell. And all right, maybe he was excited, too. The prospect of a full stomach and the luxury of a hot shower was powerfully motivating these days.
There might even be time to drag some of the mattresses up to the meeting hall from the dorm cabins.
The truck stop was right where he remembered it, only about twenty minutes from the turn-off for the camp. The caravan had pulled into it, and they could see several members of their group moving around in between the cars and the RV. He was pleased to note that no one had put their tent up yet...evidently Rick was hoping that he and Glenn might make it back with good news. Well, they could certainly deliver on that front.
Glenn rolled down his window and leaned out as far as he could as soon as they were in sight of the RV, waving like a maniac at the figure stationed on top. It looked like Andrea had pulled first watch shift. He saw her wave back, then lean down and clearly shout something to the rest of them. By the time he pulled into the truck station, the entire group was gathered in front of the RV, clearly excited and curious about the truck. Glenn threw himself out of the truck almost before it had come to a complete stop, damn near jumping up and down in pure, giddy excitement. It was kind of nice to see, actually. They needed some joy in this group after the disaster at the CDC. He followed at a more sedate pace, hopping out of the truck in time to hear Glenn exclaim:
"--everything we need. It's perfect! Rick, we could hole up there the whole winter if we need to!" The group turned wide eyes on him as he came up behind Glenn. Rick stepped forward, that same hope in his face, raising a questioning eyebrow.
"Place is pretty secure. Don't look like anything 'sides the animals has been up there in months. We checked all the buildings--"
"Didn't see a single geek!" Glenn enthused. Lori and Carol clutched their kids to their sides, tremulous smiles starting to form on their faces. Dale, T-Dog, and Andrea were looking at Rick and Shane expectantly. The two ex-cops exchanged a look, and Shane shrugged, willing to leave the decision up to Rick.
"I turned the AC on in the main building 'fore we left, an' checked ta' make sure the pilot light was still lit on the water heaters," he said casually, smirking to himself as everyone suddenly took on an expression similar to a kid being told Christmas had come early.
"Oh my God, hot water and air conditioning? Rick, if you don't wanna go tonight, I'm leaving your ass behind," Andrea announced.
"Hell yeah!" T-Dog agreed. The others took up a chorus of general agreement, and Rick at last held up his hands in laughing surrender.
"All right, all right...no need to mutiny. Pack your gear back up, we're rolling in twenty!"
* * *
The atmosphere in the meeting hall was jubilant. There was no other way to describe it. The group was gathered in front of the huge fireplace, lounging on the couches and armchairs that circled it, or spread out on their sleeping bags. They were all still damp from the showers (and Lord God, being dirty didn't bother him the way it did some of the others, but it was nice to be clean for a change) and sipping contentedly on mugs of hot tomato soup--the last of the cans that had been in the RV. What a feeling it was to know that there was literally plenty more waiting for them.
Carol and Lori had nearly started crying as they explored the kitchen--more specifically the huge walk-in pantry he'd tossed them the key to. Getting fresh produce delivered to the camp could be a pain; they'd tried to do as much of the cooking as possible with non-perishables. Many a morning, he'd been drafted into stirring up huge batches of powdered milk so there would be enough for cereal and drinking. The women were already making plans for a pancake breakfast in the morning. There would even be coffee. How he had missed coffee. T-Dog had looked like he was ready to propose marriage on the spot when Carol announced that she knew how to brew coffee over a fire.
He sat slightly back from the group, just watching. It was nice to see everyone so relaxed. Oh, they weren't being stupid about it...the vehicles had been backed right up to the porch, facing the road put, and Shane was out on the first watch shift with one of the rifles. Still, everyone was quite a bit happier than they had been since the CDC.
"All right folks...I know it's not near as much fun without alcohol, but I do think we all need to take a minute and thank Daryl for finding us another safe haven," Rick said, rising from the couch where he, Lori, and Carl were curled together and raising his mug in a toast.
"Hear, hear!" Andrea agreed enthusiastically, the sentiment quickly echoed. Everyone thrust their soup mugs in the air.
He ducked his head, not liking the attention, and was relieved when Rick let it go. They fell back into their quiet conversations and he let his eyes wander over the familiar room. Eventually, they fell on a small wooden chest sitting beside the larger bin beside the fireplace, used to hold firewood. It was painted bright purple, and the words "For Emergencies Only" had been spray painted on the front in yellow, stenciled letters.
How could he have forgotten?
"Hey, Sophia," he said softly, catching the girl's attention where she was squashed into one of the big armchairs with her mother. She looked up at him, a little warily, and he made a conscious effort to gentle his voice. "Why don't ya' take a look in that box over there? Tell me what ya' find." He jerked his thumb towards the purple chest. Sophia glanced up at her mother, who shrugged and nodded. Hesitantly, the girl rose from the chair and crept over to the chest. He smirked at everyone's questioning looks, shooting Glenn a conspiratorial wink.
"S'Mores!" she shrieked in delight, snatching several ziplock bags containing unopened boxes of graham crackers, chocolate bars, and bags of marshmallows up out of the box.
He took the opportunity to grab his bow and slip down the darkened hallway towards the kitchen. He made a brief stop in the small office in the back of the kitchen, grabbing something out of the desk that dominated the little room, and then let himself out the back door. He walked around to the front of the building, nodding to Shane and indicating that he was going to do a perimeter check.
He did keep his eyes and ears open as he walked down the familiar paths, but he felt fairly confident in thinking that if Walkers hadn't found this place yet, they probably weren't likely to suddenly descend that very night. He walked confidently down the darkened paths, his feet automatically avoiding ruts and debris. He knew this place like the back of his hand. After a few minutes, he heard the gentle slap of water against wood, and the dirt path thick with fallen pine needles have way to the narrow strip of sandy clay that surrounded the lake. He glanced at the canoe rack, pleased to see that all six of the fiberglass boats were still mounted on it, bound to the rack with bike chains and combination locks.
He walked out onto the dock that extended about thirty feet into the water, listening to the hollow thump of his boots on the wood, the rhythmic slip of water against the posts. How many nights had he done this very thing? Hundreds? Thousands? The dock was his favorite place in the whole camp. He could sit on it for hours, just watching the wind ripple the water. The lake wasn't huge. He could (and had) swim all the way across it with no problem.
Racing him across the lake was, in fact, the final test for the campers' swimming activity...beating 'Mr. Daryl' to the opposite shore was considered the ultimate badge of honor amongst the kids.
Had been considered.
He sighed heavily, and pulled out the half-empty pack of cigarettes and the lighter he'd swiped from Laura's desk in the kitchen. Idly, he wondered what had happened to the matronly woman who had been their head cook and craft coordinator. If she was alive, or wandering around the streets of her hometown, looking to take a bite out of anything that moved. The thought hurt. He lit one of the cigarettes and tucked the rest of the pack into the front pocket of his shirt. He was not entirely surprised when, about ten minutes later, he heard footsteps on the dock behind him. He pulled the crossbow a little closer to his leg, but didn't raise it. The gait was steady, not the shambling drag of a Walker, and the step familiar.
"What ya' doin' out here? Thought you'd be drivin' yourself into a sugar coma with the other kids."
"Funny. You do realize I'm twenty four years old, right? You're only, like, ten years older than me."
"Fine. What are you doing out here? I thought senior citizens needed their rest."
He chuckled briefly as the kid dropped down to sit beside him, legs dangling off the dock. They sat in companionable quiet for several minutes, just listening to the crickets and frogs and watching the moonlight play on the water. He smoked the first cigarette through and was debating on lighting up a second, when Glenn finally spoke again.
"You know, everyone's distracted by the food and the hot water right now, but eventually they're gonna start asking how you knew this place was here and why you know where everything is."
"Prob'ly," he agreed shortly.
"Soooo, are you gonna tell them?" Glenn asked, trying and failing to sound casual. His words were practically dripping with his own curiosity.
His mouth quirked into a smile that he would deny to his dying day was wistful. "I work here. Used ta' work here, I guess, now."
"Oh, like maintenance?"
"Hey, now who's stereotypin'?" he demanded indignantly. "I was a counselor!"
Glenn goggled at him, jaw dropping. "Seriously?"
"Man, what's that s'posed ta' mean?" He punched the kid in the shoulder, hard enough that Glenn instantly picked up that he wasn't joking.
"Hey, no, no, geez, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Just...I dunno, I wouldn't have pegged you for the--okay, no, I'm sorry, the thought of you counseling anyone is just scary." The kid shook his head, and offered a small, teasing smile.
He snorted derisively. "Screw you. Been workin' here every summer since I was seventeen."
"How'd you end up doing that?"
He glanced over at the kid and, seeing nothing but honest curiosity, shrugged one shoulder. "The pastor at my Granny's church runs...ran this place. That first summer me an' Merle--well, we got into a little trouble. Merle got sent up t'the county jail for six months. I was s'posed ta' get three months in juvie, but Pastor Martin knew the judge. Talked him inta' givin' me community service instead." He ducked his head, staring intently at the water. "I was expectin' ta' have ta' paint the church or somethin'. Instead, he throws me in a van an' hauls me up here. Says I'm gonna spend six weeks teachin' a bunch a' kids at church camp how ta' shoot a bow an' arrow an' if he hears me cussin' at 'em he'll tan my hide."
Glenn burst out laughing, and immediately clapped his hands over his mouth to try and stifle the sound. He shot the kid a narrow-eyed look, but his own lips twitched. All right, it was pretty amusing. He looked back out over the water, his mind casting back over his memories of the broad, imposing man who, if he was being honest, had probably been the only reason he didn't have an arrest record just as long as Merle's. Pastor Martin had been in his mid-forties that first summer, just as fit and muscular as a man ten or fifteen years his junior. The man had swooped in like an honest-to-go avenging angel, jerked his ass up by the scruff of his neck, and told him in no uncertain terms that he wasn't going to turn out a good-for-nothing petty criminal like his brother.
He'd fought the man every step of the way--although the knowledge that his granny (the only member of his family he could say he loved without reservation) would have been utterly ashamed of him for sassing her preacher had kept the worst of his rebellion in line. He'd slunk and skulked through the first few weeks at the camp, doing the bare minimum to meet the requirements of his community service...except at the shooting range. Bad shooting just pissed him off and it wasn't safe. He'd made damn sure that each and every one of the campers under his tutelage were proficient archers by the time he was done with them. That first summer had been hell.
So he'd been shocked when the pastor had come to his pa's house the following June and told him that close to forty kids had specifically asked to be put in his archery class when they registered for camp...and would he mind doing it again, and maybe start a rifle class for the older campers?
To this day, he wasn't sure why he'd said yes. Or kept saying yes. Every summer for almost twenty years, until the staff had come to regard him as the pastor's right hand man. Until he'd become as much of a fixture at the camp as the pastor.
Until he'd considered the place almost more of a home than the place he'd grown up in.
Oh, it hadn't all been peaches and cream. He'd still let Merle lead him into more trouble than was wise. He never darkened the church's door. He knew the pastor thought he drank too much, caroused too much, and just in general refused to make something of himself. Every summer, though, regardless of what Merle said, regardless of what odd job he was working at the time...when the pastor came rolling up his driveway in the camp's passenger van, he was always waiting with his bags.
He was broken out of his thoughts when Glenn nudged him lightly with his elbow. "So...Daryl Dixon. Crossbow-wielding badass and...church camp counselor. I would never have figured you for the God Squad type."
He made a rude noise in the back of his throat. "I ain't."
Glenn raised an eyebrow, shooting him a patently disbelieving look. He didn't press the issue, though. "Well, whatever, man. You sure as hell pulled a miracle off as far as we're concerned." The kid pulled his legs back over the edge of the dock and rolled to his feet. "I've got watch next. You coming back?"
"In a little while," he answered. Glenn shrugged and shoved his hands into his pockets, ambling back up the length of the dock. He listened to the kid leave, still staring at the water.
He shook his head, sinking back so that he was laying full-length back on the dock, his legs still dangling over the side. He could almost hear the pastor's voice in his head.
"Yes, Daryl. You just happened to keep hold of a completely useless set of keys long enough that your group just happened to take the highway past the place you had the keys to, which just happened to be completely free of Walkers after it just happened to have been resupplied a whole week early. No divine intervention there, my boy.."
Despite himself, he laughed aloud and rocked himself back up into a sitting position. He slowly got back to his feet and turned around to look at the darkened campgrounds, listening to the quiet. It was the same as it ever was...peaceful and safe. He wasn't naive enough to think that they wouldn't have to move on eventually, but for now...for now he was home. He picked the crossbow up an began walking back towards the buildings, the memory of a conversation he'd had with the pastor that first, hardest summer echoing in his ears.
"Man, why you even care what happens ta' me? I gave up on God a long time ago, preacher."
"That's all right, son. God won't ever give up on you."
For the first time in more years than he could count (and certainly since the world had gone to hell in a hand basket) he thought maybe there might've been some truth to those words.