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A New Empire In Rags

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Glenn finds the camera in one of the houses they squat in that winter. It's a nice house, so nice that they almost hadn't stopped because Daryl was convinced there would be an entire zombie maid staff hanging around. In the end there had only been one, the people were obviously well off enough to clear out quick. The lone straggler had been old and apparently bedridden, still lying helplessly in a bed with rails, hooked up to a long dead ventilator. Maggie had looked sadly at Hershel for a minute before squeezing Glenn's hand and taking Beth out of the room while Daryl dealt with him.

Glenn's seen a lot. That old man, alone and abandoned and emaciated, still haunts him sometimes.

But, life goes on. The house is nice and out of the way and the zombies are frozen and slow and they spend nearly a month there before the ice starts to melt and the first walker stumbles upon them. They'd all stayed huddled together in one room at first, still on guard, still wary. Besides, they didn't want to risk a fire and it's easier to keep warm when you're all huddled together. After a week of peace, though, people start to wander. It's nice to have a little space of their own, a slight illusion of privacy.

He and Maggie take advantage of five separate bedrooms over the first few days of tentative freedom, hiding moans and gasps and elated post-coital giggles in the fancy bedding.

It's after one of those times that he finds the camera. They're in what was obviously a girl's room, perfume and makeup scattered across a dresser and glaringly pink bedding, and Maggie drifts off quickly after she comes, her face more relaxed than Glenn's used to seeing. He kisses her forehead and grins when she smacks a hand out, muttering in her sleep, and then he does what he does best. He snoops.

Sure, it's evolved into a useful skill now and he usually calls it scavenging, but the truth is he just loves to snoop. Always has. Glenn likes knowing what makes people tick, he can't help it. It's not like he went rooting around in people's underwear drawers or anything, but he was usually powerless against peeking in a medicine cabinet or rifling through a junk drawer. He didn't expect to find much interesting in the room, he was mostly just planning on taking stock of things before showing it to Beth and letting her have at it. Maybe Lori and Carol too.

Maggie had already swiped some lotion with an excited grin, and Glenn had noticed the way she eyed the pile of shoes in the open closet. Maybe after she wakes up he can convince her to play dress up. He's so consumed with that mental image that he almost misses the Polaroid camera stuck in an old shoe box at the back of the closet. There are five boxes of unused film and one opened and filled with already developed pictures. There's a post-it note on the front of the opened box that reads From Grampy in shaky, scrawling hand, and Glenn swallows heavily as he turns the box over, tipping the pictures out.

Most of them are nothing special, pictures of the same blond, smiling girl that decorates ornate picture frames all over the house. There are pictures of her with friends, her parents, a wiggling cocker spaniel puppy, and then one that makes Glenn stop in his tracks. She's sitting beside the old man in his bed downstairs, holding the shoe box, decorated with a big red bow. She's smiling down at him and holding one of his old, papery hands. He wonders if she cried when they left him as he slides the picture into his back pocket, a plan already forming in his mind as he hears Maggie groan sleepily behind him.

"Whatcha doing in a girl's closet, nosy?" Maggie asks around a yawn. "Are you going to play dress up for me? Because if I said I haven't thought about your ass in panties before, I'd be lying."

"You are a sick, sick woman," Glenn says with a grin, setting the shoe box on the end of the bed and grabbing the camera. "And I love that about you."

The first picture he takes is of Maggie, grinning wide with messy hair and a flower shaped pillow clutched to her naked chest.

-

Later that day he says he's going to piss and waves off T-Dog's reluctant offer of the buddy system, hitching a machete over his shoulder just in case. He walks around the back of the house to the shallow grave they managed to hack into the frozen ground and toes away the snow, pressing the photo of the girl and her grandfather into the cold ground.

-

"That's the dumbest goddamn thing I've ever heard," Daryl says, rolling his eyes that night when Glenn tells them about the camera.

"I think it's really beautiful," Carol says, smacking Daryl in the arm.

"As long as you don't stop to snap a picture of a walker instead of shooting it in the head, I don't care what you do," T-Dog says with a shrug.

"Plus this way Lori can still have baby pictures, right?" Beth says excitedly, her eyes shining in the lantern light.

"Absolutely," Glenn says, not missing the sad look that drops over Lori's face. "Not to mention the fact that Daryl's been begging for months for a picture of me to carry around in his wallet."

Daryl, as expected, throws the empty can of peaches they'd been passing around at his head, effectively breaking the tension.

-

Glenn's hesitant with the camera at first. It almost feels like a responsibility, like he owes it to himself and the group and any survivors who are still hanging on not to waste it. He confesses it to Maggie one night, whispers it against her neck in the darkness as she runs her fingers through his hair.

"I get it," she says quietly. "But then again, who knows how long we've got? Why wait for the right moment when we got so few of them left?"

He's still careful with it after that, but he starts to take more pictures when something strikes him. Lori backlit by a window, holding her belly with a soft smile, Maggie and Beth kissing Hershel's smiling cheeks, Carol plucking Rick's hat off of Carl's head and laughing while he tries to fix his messy hair.

He even gets one of Daryl, grinning as he shrugs on a leather jacket Glenn found in one of the upstairs closets. Daryl grumbles after the flash goes off, but he smirks when he looks at the photo after it develops and tucks it into Glenn's coat pocket with a, "You can put that one in your wallet."

Glenn almost wishes he still carried one, just so he could do it to fuck with Daryl. Instead, he just asks Lori what the date is. She's become the unofficial date keeper since they lost Andrea. He writes it down on the back of the photo like he has with all the others and tucks it into the film box for safekeeping.

He tries to keep it to one or two pictures every few days, but he breaks his own rule two days before they have to leave the house when Beth convinces everyone to dress up in the finest scavenged clothes she can find for her birthday. Hershel has a bow tie, and she found suits for Rick and T-Dog and an honest-to-god tuxedo for Glenn. Even Daryl gets in the spirit with a button down and an undone bow tie.

Carol's in a little black dress that makes T-Dog whistle at her, and Beth is in a flouncy party dress he recognizes from the girl's closet upstairs. Carl's in a much too big suit jacket and Lori's stuck with a mismatched skirt and blouse stretched too tight over her belly, but Glenn only has eyes for Maggie. He nearly swallows his tongue when she walks down the stairs in a clingy, sequined evening dress that shows an insane amount of cleavage, and he does a crappy job of keeping his eyes off of her all night.

He gathers everyone around the fireplace for a picture after they feast on canned fruit and beans and crackers, the evening sun catching the sequins on Maggie's dress. He takes another of Beth's excited face when Glenn gives her the birthday present he'd found in the attic. It's an old record player, and Rick had agreed that they could risk the noise for an hour or so.

Lori elbows him and nods to the camera when Beth grabs a blushing Carl by the hand and pulls him up to dance to Don't Worry Baby. He'd only found two records, and The Best of The Beach Boys Vol. 2 had seemed more festive than Lawrence Welk Presents His Favorite Hymns.

The camera goes off again while he's spinning Maggie around to Help Me, Rhonda, and he blinks away the flash to see Hershel smiling at him. He keeps that one in his pack inside a ziplock baggie, just in case.

-

It's two days after that when the first walker stumbles up, moving slow and jerky. They take it out easy but it's a bad sign, it means the walkers are waking up, shaking off the cold that had kept them mostly at bay. They leave the next day, and after that it's house to house with little sleep and even less food. He only takes one picture the whole time, of Daryl's glaring face while Carol cuts his hair.

-

Once they settle into the prison it gets easier. It's a false calm, Glenn knows, but it's better than nothing. He starts to take photos again now and then, T-Dog pushing a laughing Beth and Carl up and down the cell block in a laundry cart, Rick and Daryl digging rows for the garden, Lori curled up on her cot, reading a tattered copy of The Velveteen Rabbit that she lifted from one of the houses to her belly.

His undisputed favorite from their first few weeks at the prison is the one he snaps of Beth and Maggie, smiling proudly on either side of Hershel, under his arms to support his weight the first time he stood up shakily on his good leg.

He doesn't like to waste film on walkers. The camera is about documenting the good moments, few and far between but still there. He breaks his own rule one day while they're clearing the prison yard. There's a tiny yellow flower that's struggled its way up from the ground, growing between the spread fingers of a dead walker. He happens to have the camera with him and after a second's hesitation he snaps the picture. It seems important, somehow. Maggie could put it into words, he knows, and she probably will when he shows her the photo later. For now he slips the picture and the camera back into his bag and carefully rolls the dead walker to the side before he drags it off, making sure not to disturb the flower.

-

"It's kind of beautiful, in a really sad way," Maggie says later, looking at the picture and curling up against his chest on the narrow prison cot.

"I knew you'd get it," Glenn says, kissing the top of her head. "I know it seems kind of stupid but it made me think of what you said a while back, that we don't know how much time we have left. And I mean, I don't know if anyone's ever going to see these pictures. I could have to leave them while running from walkers, or they could get wet and ruined, or Daryl could set them on fire next time I piss him off. Hell, for all I know we'll eventually die out and the world will belong to the walkers so all of this will be pointless."

"But that's just it," Maggie says, dropping the photo to his chest and tangling their hands together. "The world will go on with or without us. It's kind of comforting in a weird way. Nothing's for sure except for that. Flowers will still grow, even if no one's around to see them."

"Yeah," Glenn says quietly, smiling to himself. He knew Maggie would know what to say. She always does.

"But hey," Maggie says, "maybe we win. Maybe the walkers die out and we rebuild and a hundred years from now this picture will be in some art gallery, or maybe even textbooks."

"I like those options," Glenn says, grinning when she plucks the photo from his chest and sets it down on the floor so she can roll on top of him, pressing a kiss to his nose. "Either it's totally useless or it becomes historically significant. No in-between."

"I don't deal with in-betweens," Maggie says, sitting back on her heels with a smile that Glenn has come to realize usually leads to good things. "Pointless or famous. Hot or cold. Alive or dead. Clothed or naked."

"I choose naked," Glenn says immediately, sliding his hands up the long line of her thighs as she strips her shirt over her head.

"Good choice," Maggie grins, rolling her hips down against his lap as she reaches to unhook her bra.

-

The flower's still there a few days later when Maggie spreads one of the thin prison sheets on the ground and stretches out on top of it in her underwear, wiggling happily as the sun hits her skin. He plucks it from the ground and kneels over her, tucking it behind her ear and snapping a picture when she smiles up at him.

"How exactly is a picture of me in my bra going to be historically significant?" Maggie asks, smirking at him.

"Oh come on, you even have to ask that question? Babes of the Zombie Apocalypse!" Glenn says. "It could be a calendar. Maybe I should get another shot, full body this time. You can be the centerfold." Maggie laughs, rolling her eyes and pushing at Glenn's hips until he gets up.

"Go away, you're blocking my sun," she says, falling back to the blanket and closing her eyes. She's beautiful, long and stretched out and alive, the sun shining on her skin and glinting off of her hair, her face tipped up to greet it. Glenn can't resist raising the camera back up and snapping one more picture.