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When the Night Gets Dark

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“Okay, who the fuck convinced me this was a good idea, and how?” Alexander asked from his lawn chair.

 

“Weren’t you, like, a soldier? In the army? The army that camped all the time? Shouldn’t this be right in your wheelhouse?” Parker asked with a smirk.

 

“Weren’t you president, Mr. Oh-No-I-Forgot-My-Stuffed-Frog-Jemmy-Hold-Me,” Alex shot back.

 

“Could you two stop bickering for two minutes? I swear, I regret the day Daniel introduced you two,” Hercules sighed, readjusting the canopy he’d set up.

 

They were camping -- honest to God camping . Tents and all. Laf had been the one to suggest it, citing a need to ‘get away from it all’ and ‘relax like in the old days’.

 

No one bothered to remind them that the old days kind of sucked for everyone.

 

So here they were. James, Parker, and Peggy shared a tent, Peggy only agreeing to this arrangement because “someone needed to keep those teenage hormones in check”. Herc and Laf were sharing a tent with Alexander and Jon, leaving Libby and Clea with Daniel and Doddie.

 

Ange hadn’t come, saying someone had to stay in the city and be the responsible adult. Alex tried to play that card, too but seeing as he didn’t have a real job, it was summer vacation, and everyone remembered what happened the last time Alexander skipped a family vacation, it didn’t go over very well.

 

“Has anyone seen the marshmallows?” Jon asked as he dug through the bags of food.

 

“Oui,” Lafayette replied, “I hid them because I would like for there to be some left for smores tonight, and I am all too aware of your and Peggy’s shared sweet tooth.”

 

“Laaaaaaaaaf--”

 

“Non. You two already ate a whole bag, and we haven’t been out here for a day!”

 

“Asshole,” Jon muttered, but there was no heat behind it.

 

There was a moment of peaceful silence before: “I’m booooooored!”

 

Hercules groaned. “Throw rocks. Climb a tree. Sing a song. Go down to the creek. Explore. Write sonnets. I don’t care,” he said, rolling his eyes.

 

Alex slumped so far down in his seat that he slipped out of it. “Absolutely none of those things sound appealing in the slightest,” he complained.

 

“Tough shit. It’s not my job to entertain you,” Herc replied.

 

“Jooooooon--”

 

“Nope, sorry. I’m mourning those marshmallows.”

 

“Assholes, all of you,” Alexander stated before snatching up his notebook and stomping off into the woods.

 

“Has he finally stopped complaining?” Daniel asked, poking his head out of his tent.

 

“No, he’s just moving his pity party somewhere else,” Laf said.

 

“Thank God. Theodosia and I are trying to read,” Daniel said, and Parker snorted.

 

Read . Sure,” he said.

 

“Be quiet,” Daniel replied, rolling his eyes and pulling his head back into his tent.

 

“Hey, Jemmy, you wanna go read with me?” Parker asked with a wink.

 

“No particularly, no,” James responded, turning his attention back to the sketchpad in his lap.

 

That had everyone laughing, and Parker huffed and crossed his arms.

OoOoO

Alex had been walking for twenty minutes when he stopped in the middle of a clearing and hopped up to sit on a downed tree.

 

His phone didn’t have service out here, so there was no point in bringing it on this impromptu hike, but he did have his notebook and a good pen, so he the book open on his knee and began to write.

OoOoO

“Is Alexander back yet?” Jon asked as he stuck a hotdog on his skewer.

 

“He’s not in the tent,” Laf replied, turning his own hotdog over in the flames. “Why do you ask?”

 

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” Jon asked.

 

“An hour or two, yeah,” Hercules said.

 

“Don’t worry, Jon. He’s probably pouting in someone’s car or something,” Parker said.

 

“Yeah, or stuck up in a tree somewhere trying to get cell service,” Peggy agreed.

 

“That last bit isn’t at all reassuring,” Jon pointed out.

 

“Jon. Chill. It’s Alex. He’s fine,” Doddie cut in, placing a hand on Jon’s shoulder.

 

“Enjoy the peace and quiet -- Lord knows I am,” Daniel sighed, rolling his eyes at his best friend’s antics.

 

Jon laughed, but he couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling in his gut.

OoOoO

Alexander barely noticed the sun going down. He just held his journal closer to his face so he could continue to write.

OoOoO

“Okay, where is Alex?” Jon asked as the group munched on smores.

 

“I think Libby mentioned seeing him go into your tent,” Clea said, gesturing to the car where Libby was rummaging for more graham crackers. “Right, babe?” Clea then shouted.

 

“Uh, what? Yeah, sure,” Libby said, never looking up from her search.

 

“Leave him, Jon. Our petit lion is probably tired from his hike,” Laf said.

 

“Okay,” Jon relented, but only because Peggy held out the bag of marshmallows to him.

OoOoO

When Alexander looked up and saw only dark, shadowy shapes in front of hi, he knew he’d messed up. “Jon? Daniel?” he called out, but he knew no one could hear him. He’d covered a lot of ground in those twenty minutes.

 

He tried to find his way out of the little grove with the fallen log, but every turn he took led him to nothing but more forest.

 

Why had Parker suggested they just camp in the middle of nowhere, instead of at a real campsite? Why hadn’t Alex argued harder against it?

 

Now, here he was -- lost in the middle of the woods with no flashlight, no compass, no phone. He didn’t even have a watch.

 

Excellent. Just great .

OoOoO

“I think I’m gonna crash,” Jon said.

 

“It’s only… 12:30! Jon, c’mon, man,” Herc insisted. “We haven’t even been drinking!”

 

“Yeah, I know. I’m just tired. Long day, y’know?” Jon said with a shrug. He didn’t want to admit he was worried about Alexander, although, in his defense, Alex was never this quiet.

 

“Fine, you stick in the dirt,” Lafayette said, “Even Daniel is still awake!”

 

“One, it’s stick in the mud , and you know it,” Daniel argued, “And two, I am not a stick in the mud.”

 

“Hon, you totally are,” Theo replied.

 

“Anyway, g’night!” Jon said.

 

“Night!” Everyone chorused back.

 

Jon smiled and crawled into the little two bedroom tent, shuffling over to the air mattress he and Alexander shared.

 

“Alex? Sweetheart?” he asked, looking at the oddly not-lumpy mattress.

 

He pulled back the quilt.

 

No Alexander.

 

“No, no, no. Fuck, no. Shit!” he cried, scrambling over to Herc and Lafayette’s bed to see if Alex had accidentally fallen asleep on it.

 

No dice.

 

“You okay in there, Jon?” Libby asked from outside the tent.

 

“Are you sure Alexander came in here?” Jon shouted, frantically searching the tent.

 

“Uh, no? I haven’t seen him since he marched off earlier,” Libby responded, sticking her head into the tent.

 

“But you--when Clea asked--”

 

“Oh shit ! That’s what she was asking about? I thought she was asking me to get the chocolate! Fuck!”

 

“He’s not in here,” Jon said, panic evident on his face.

 

“Are you sure?” Libby questioned, throwing some blankets from Laf and Hercules’ bed.

 

“Positive.”

 

Fuck !”

 

“What’s going on in there?” Peggy asked, “Are you guys having a ‘we banged Alex’ club meeting? ‘Cause if so, I’ll call An--”

 

“Do not finish that sentence,” Libby growled.

 

“Yes, ma’am.”

 

“Has anyone seen Alexander?” Jon asked, emerging from the tent.

 

“No,” James said, “I thought he was in there.”

 

Obviously he’s not, or I wouldn’t be asking,” Jon snapped.

 

Parker glared at Jon. “Calm down. Has anyone seen Alex since he left?” he asked.

 

Everyone shook their heads.

 

“Damn it,” Daniel said a moment later.

 

There was a dreadful silence before a symphony of profanity rang through the campsite, everyone jumping to their feet.

 

“Have you double checked the tent?” Daniel asked.

 

“I’ve quintuple checked, Barnes,” Jon spat back.

 

“Okay!” Hercules yelled, “Everyone grab a partner and a flashlight and look around camp! Shout if you find anything!”

 

Clea immediately rushed to Libby’s side, but Libby waved her off. “Go with Peggy, cupcake,” she said, kissing Clea’s cheek. “I’m gonna stay with Jon.”

 

“Are you sure?” Clea asked.

 

“One-hundred percent. I love you.”

 

“Love you, too,” Clea said before running over to Peggy.

 

“You don’t have to--” Jon tried to say.

 

“Yes, I do. I know how scared you are right now. C’mon, we’ll find him. Surely he hasn’t gone far,” Libby said smoothing before dragging Jon along to search the camp.

OoOoO

Alex didn’t know where he was, but he knew that tree looked very familiar.

 

“Damn it!” he shouted. He’d been hiking for hours, but only seemed to get more lost.

 

He wasn’t very good with directions.

 

He’d tried everything he could think of. He’d gone in what felt like miles in every direction. He’d tried to see what side moss grew on trees. He’d tried listening for running water.

 

Hell, he’d even tried that whole ‘wayfinding’ thing from Moana, to no avail.

 

He was fucking lost. Like, J.J. Abrams levels of lost.

 

“Fuck,” he muttered. What was he supposed to do? Wait until the sun came up and then try and find his way back to camp? Keep walking? Resign himself to his fate of living as a forest hermit for the rest of his life? Not a chance. He still had so much to do, so much to achieve --

 

Plus, he was starving.

 

“This is bullshit,” he said to no one.” “I did not survive a goddamn war to die in the middle of Bumfuck, Nowhere! This is ridiculous!”

 

No one replied, which made sense. Alexander would’ve been even more concerned if someone had.

 

He plopped himself down on a different fallen tree and held his head in his hands.

 

This was why he didn’t go camping.

OoOoO

“Did he ever even come back after he stormed off earlier?” Parker asked after the group searched the whole campsite.

 

His words turned in Jon’s chest. Alex had run off because he was mad. The last words Jon ever said to his boyfriend might be some excuse about marshmallows.

 

Libby seemed to notice where his train of thought had gone because she squeezed his shoulder and shook her head at him.

 

“I don’t think so,” Laf answered.

 

“Well then, which direction did he go in?” Daniel asked.

 

“Uhhhh,” Jon said, spinning around, “That way, I think.”

 

“Okay, so we’ll all just cover a different piece of ground that way,” James said.

 

“And if we don’t find him?” Jon asked.

 

“We will--” Theo tried to say.

 

“But if we don’t ,” Jon pushed on.

 

“Then Hercules and I will drive as fast as we can to the nearest police station and get their help,” Lafayette said, “But it will not come to that. Have faith, mon ami.”

 

Jon huffed. “Fine,” he mumbled. Everyone stood in silence for a moment. “Well then? Let’s go!” he barked, and everyone nodded and headed into the woods.

OoOoO

Alexander didn’t know exactly how long he’d been sitting on his log, but it was long enough to plan out the next sixty years of his life as a tree hermit and swat about 7,000 mosquitos.

 

Did he realize that he was being overdramatic and paranoid? Yes. Did that stop him from setting up sticks against a tree to make a shelter? No.

 

He really wished he remembered how to build a proper fire. He’d need to figure that out soon. Maybe it was like riding a bike -- except like a bike he hadn’t ridden in 250 years.

 

Alex kicked over his lean-to and let himself fall into the dirt.

 

This could not be happening. He needed to get out of here. He needed to get back to camp. He needed Jon.

 

Jon.  Fuck, Alexander just got Jon back, and now he could lose him all over again.

 

Alex held his face in his hands and cried.

OoOoO

“How far could he have gone?” Jon asked, pushing through branches and thorns.

 

“Apparently, pretty far,” Libby said, shining the flashlight ahead of them.

 

“Why didn’t he come back when it got dark?” Jon asked, running his fingers through his long, curly hair.

 

“He might not have noticed,” Libby suggested.

 

Jon threw his hands in the air. “How could he have not noticed ?” he shouted.

 

“It’s Alexander , Jon. You know him as well as I do,” Libby reminded him.

 

Jon just sighed, and for a moment the pair was silent.

 

“Actually, I don’t,” Jon said after a few minutes of quiet.

 

“What?” Libby asked.

 

“I don’t know him as well as you do You had all those years with him, all that time… there’s no way I could know him as well as you do.”

 

Elizabeth snorted.

 

“I’m serious! I knew ‘Alexander the Aide-de-Camp’ and now ‘Alex the Stressed Out College Student’. And I love him, I do. Damn, I love him so much, but… You knew ‘Alexander the Treasury Secretary’ and ‘Alexander the Husband’ and ‘Alexander the Lawyer’ and ‘Alexander the Dad’ and--”

 

“And ‘Alexander the Liar’ and ‘Alexander the Serial Adulterer’ and ‘Alexander Who Got Himself Killed’,” Libby added pointedly, “Yes, I’ve known him longer, but I don’t know him any better than you do. The extra sides of him I saw don’t exist anymore. He’s changed so much, Jon. Neither of us knows him as well as we did.”

 

“I still love him,” Jon said.

 

“I know. I do, too, in an odd way. Completely different from how I used to love him before, but still, love,” Libby said.

 

“That’s good. God knows he needs all the love he can get. He… he doesn’t really talk about it, but he’s had it rough this time ‘round, too,” Jon said. He was about to continue when he noticed a dark, human-shaped figure out of the corner of his eye. “Alexander!” he yelled before sprinting towards the figure.

 

“Latham? Jon? Is that you?” the figure asked.

 

Not Alex, then. Daniel, by the sound of it.

 

“Yeah, sorry, I just thought--”

 

“Don’t worry. Any luck?” Daniel asked.

 

“None.”

 

“Damn. We should probably head back to the camp,” Daniel replied. “Doddie? Theodosia? I think we’re turning around.”

 

“What?!” Jon shouted, “And just leave Alex out here?”

 

“Jon, it’s two a.m. We need sleep,” Daniel argued.

 

“What we need to do is find Alexander!” Jon yelled.

 

“We can’t find him if we’re falling asleep on our feet! It’s pitch black out here, anyway!”

 

“We can’t abandon him, Barnes!” Jon shouted.

 

“I’m not saying we abandon him! I’m saying we get the bare minimum amount of sleep so we can properly look for him!” Daniel yelled back.

 

“H-he could be dead , and you want to go take a nap! What the hell , Aaron?”

 

Daniel was left reeling, but Jon wasn’t done. He’d been anxious and angry since he’d realized Alexander was missing, and now it was all spilling out.

 

“We wouldn’t even be in this situation if it wasn’t for you! You told me not to look for him, and now he’s gone! And you don’t even care! You’re his best friend, and you don’t even care if he’s missing! You just want to leave him out here!”

 

Daniel was silent for a moment, his mouth hanging open.

 

“Jon,” Libby said evenly, “I know you’re upset, but--”

 

“How dare you?” Daniel growled.

 

“Daniel…” Theo muttered, grabbing her boyfriend’s arm. He shook her off.

 

“How dare you say I don’t care about him? How dare you act as if I-as if I’m alright with all of this? Do you honestly think you’re the only one who cares about Alexander? Are you that self-absorbed?” Daniel asked, stalking towards Jon.

 

“If you really cared, you wouldn’t be suggesting we go back!” Jon yelled.

 

“If you had half a brain, you’d realize we’re no good to Alexander half-dead from exhaustion!” Daniel shouted back.

 

There was a tense moment of deafening silence as the two men stood nose to nose, and then the woods rang with a loud crack . Jon pulled his fist back, his knuckles bloody. It wasn’t his blood.

 

Daniel staggered back, holding his nose.

 

“What the fuck , Jon?!” Libby shouted.

 

No one expected Daniel to punch back, but then Jon was the one stumbling backward into a tree.

 

“Daniel!” Doddie yelled.

 

“You wanna fight, huh?” Jon shouted, balling his fists again, “Then let’s go! C’mon!”

 

“No!” Libby and Theo both shouted at the same time. Theodosia snatched the back of Daniel’s shirt collar, and Libby grabbed both of Jon’s arms.

 

“Theo, get off!” Daniel yelled.

 

“Libby! Lemme go!” Jon shouted.

 

“The hell is wrong with you guys?” Libby hissed.

 

“Calm the fuck down!” Doddie yelled, smacking the back of Daniel’s head.

 

“Fine!” Jon shouted, “Fine, just let me go!”

 

“Promise you won’t kill Daniel?” Libby asked.

 

“I promise!”

 

Libby released Jon, who brought a hand up to his face. A moment later, Theodosia wormed the same promise out of Daniel and let go of his shirt, which Daniel pulled up to cover his bleeding nose.

 

“I’m not going back until we have Alex back,” Jon mumbled.

 

“Whatever,” Daniel groaned, “But you’re not going to find him, not tonight.”

 

“I don’t care,” Jon said bluntly.

 

“Jon…” Libby started.

 

“No! I’m not! I can’t,” Jon pushed on, “You guys can go back, but I’m staying out here.”

 

“Then you’ll get lost!” Libby pointed out.

 

“I don’t give a damn!” Jon’s voice was practically a scream. “I-I don’t care! I have to find him. I h-have to! I c-can’t leave him! I c-can’t!”

 

“Okay, okay,” Libby relented. “Okay. I’ll stay out here with you. You owe me serious coffee, though. Doddie, tell Clea I’m okay when you get back.”

 

“Thank you, Lib--”

 

“Shut up. You two, go. Sleep well. We’ll see you later,” Libby said, rubbing her eyes. “Now c’mon, idiot. Let’s go find your boyfriend.”

OoOoO

Alexander wasn’t surprised he fell asleep. He’d fallen asleep in more awkward places while he was in the foster care system. He was, however, surprised he slept for so long. The sun was up when he opened his eyes.

 

He’s spent the night sitting in the dirt in the middle of a forest.

 

More disturbingly, he’d been out here for, what, twelve hours? What were the odds of finding a missing person after the first twelve hours? They went down, right?

 

“No,” Alex told himself, “No. I’m not doing that. I’m not going to scare myself shitless like that. There’s no point. I’ll be fine.”

 

He stood up. Now that the sun was out, he could at least tell what way was north, south, east, and west.

 

Now, if he only knew which direction camp was in.

 

Alexander picked up his notebook and started walking.

OoOoO

Jon was dead on his feet, but there was no way he’d  admit it. He knew it, Libby knew it. There was no point in sacrificing his pride for something they both knew.

 

Besides, Jon’s sleep deprivation wasn’t the big issue here. The issue was that the sun was now up, and they still hadn’t found Alex.

 

“Jon, you just blacked out in the middle of a sentence. You need to go back and get some sleep,” Libby insisted.

 

Jon blinked twice and shook his head. “Not ‘til we have Al’xander,” he mumbled, pushing leaves aside.

 

“Jon, at this rate you’re going to pass out in the middle of the woods! Would Alex want that ?”

 

“Don’ care. Gonna find ‘im. C’mon,” Jon persisted.

 

There was a scream and a crash to their left.

 

“Alex!” Jon yelled, running towards the noise and tripping over his own feet.

 

“Jon?” the voice--Alexander, it had to be!--called.

 

Jon pushed his way through a thicket of leaves and branches into a small clearing, and there, covered in dirt and with his shirt ripped at the hem, was Alex.

 

“Jon!” he shouted, practically jumping on his boyfriend.

“Alex!” Jon yelled back, toppling over into the grass under the weight.

 

“You found me!” Alexander said, burying his face in Jon’s shoulder and squeezing him like he never wanted to let go.

 

Jon placed a dozen kisses on the top of Alex’s head. “Of course I did, swee’heart,” he muttered, “Wasn’t gonna ever stop looking.”

 

“Alexander!” Libby yelled, running into the little glade. “You’re okay!”

 

Neither guy heard her, too caught up in each other’s presence.

 

“Alex!” Libby said again.

 

She was still staunchly ignored.

 

“Alexander!” she finally shouted, and he rolled off of Jon.

 

“Libby!” he shouted, running over and hugging her as well. The moment of peace didn’t last long.

 

“What the fuck , Hayley? Are you insane?” Libby shouted, smacking Alex repeatedly.

 

“Ow ow ow ow stop! I’m sorry! I lost track of time! Jesus!” Alexander said, holding up his arms to block the attack. “Jon! Help! She’s assaulting me! My former lover is assaulting!”

 

Jon didn’t answer.

 

“Jon?” Alex pressed. Still no response. “Jon?”

 

“Wha’?” Jon asked, rubbing his eyes.

 

“Did you fall asleep? On the ground?”  Alexander asked, kneeling down next to Jon and pushing his hair from his face.

 

“Guess so,” Jon said, struggling to sit up.

 

“How much sleep did you get last night?” Alex asked, worrying over Jon like a mother hen.

 

Jon blinked owlishly. “Uh, none? I was lookin’ for you, asshole.”

 

“Jon!” Alexander shouted, “What the fuck?”

 

“You’re one to talk,” Jon muttered.

 

“What happened to your eye?” Alex asked, running his thumb over where Jon’s eye was black and swollen.

 

Jon laughed and rested his head against Alexander’s shoulder. “Got in a fight with Daniel,” he said, “He wan’ed me to go to sleep. I told ‘im to fuck off.”

 

“What?!”

 

“What what ?” Jon parroted.

 

“How did you get in a fight with Aaron   of all people?!”

 

“Told you. He wan’ed to leave you. Wasn’ gonna,” Jon said with a shrug.

 

Alex glared incredulously at Libby. “You let them fight ?”

 

“No! They just sort of… did,” Libby explained.

 

Alexander sighed and rubbed his temples. “C’mon. We need to get back to camp. I’m sick of these woods,” he grumbled, “Get up, Jon.”

 

Jon just giggled. “I dunno if I can, swee’heart,” he said.

 

“Seriously?” Libby asked

 

“Ser’ously.”

 

Libby and Alex shared a look before pulling Jon up from under his arms. “I can’t believe I’m literally dragging you back to camp, you idiot,” Alexander grumbled, but he couldn’t keep the grin off his face as they stumbled back to the campsite.

OoOoO

“How long have they been gone?” Laf repeated for the umpteenth time. “They have been gone for an awfully long time, have they not?”

 

Herc stifled the urge to tear out his hair, reminding himself that he looked truly terrible if he changed his hairstyle. It wouldn’t do to top one potential tragedy with another. “They’ve been gone for less than six hours, Laf.”

 

“Mon ange--” Laf started, then sighed. “Alex has been gone for far more than that. Eleven? Twelve? What if something has happened to him?”

 

“He’s probably already turned into a wood elf,” Parker injected, snickering. “Imagine Alex with a beard.”

 

Laf shuddered. Herc glared. “See what you did?” he accused. “This was the opposite of helpful. You are freaking Laf out.”

 

“Laf has already done that,” Parker pointed out.

 

During their exchange, Laf had sneaked off to a corner behind their tent, covertly taking out their phone. They pressed 911 and were just about to press ‘call’ when their phone was wrenched out of their fingers. “Hey!” they yelled indignantly. “Qu’est-ce que tu fais?”

 

“What are you doing ?” Daniel hissed.

 

Laf glared. “I’m doing what we should have done six hours ago -- I’m calling the police. In case you haven’t noticed, our friend is missing. Possibly hurt . Possibly dead .”

 

Herc sighed. “He’s probably fine,” he said in what he hoped was a reassuring voice. “Libby and Jon are out there looking for him.”

 

“And so should we,” Laf snapped. “We should not be here sitting and contemplating whether we should call the cops when it’s obvious that we should .”

 

“We don’t know that they haven’t already found Alex,” Herc tried to calm Laf down.

 

“And we don’t know that we should,” Laf hissed. “J’croix que we need to appeler la police and--”

 

“Slow down, Laf,” Herc put a hand on Laf’s shoulder, which they shrugged off.

 

“Je va pas m’ détendre until you give me my phone back et me permet d’appeler la police to report that my best friend is missing and possibly--”

 

“Don’t say dead,” Daniel warned, a dangerous glint in his eye. “Alex isn’t dead. Alex is going to be just fine .”

 

“Give them back their phone,” Herc finally said. “Maybe it’s not such a bad idea.”

 

“Am I the only person who still retains a shred of common sense?” Daniel asked the empty air but obligingly handed Laf back their phone.

 

Laf glared even as they unlocked their phone. Their finger hovered over the call button. They were stopped by a sudden shout. “They’re back!”

 

Laf turned around, their eyes zeroing in on the three figures emerging from the still-dark forest. “Alex!” they shouted in relief. “Mon ami! J’étais tellement worried about you et je voulais appeler la police but our resident asshole said no et donc j’ai--”

 

“Calm down,” Alex told them, smiling and laughing as Laf wrapped his arms around his neck.

 

“You’re okay, you’re okay, you’re--” Laf babbled.

 

“I’m okay, Laf. I’m fine,” Alexander reassured.

 

Laf was soon joined by Hercules and Daniel, both of whom also wrapped Alex into a hug. “Whoa, Barnes,” Alexander joked, “A hug? I wasn’t dead, y’know.”

 

“No, I didn’t know, moron. That’s the point ,” Daniel countered.

 

Alex smiled at his best friend. “I’m fine , Aaron. You’re not getting rid of me that easily.”

 

“Libby! Alexander!” Peggy shouted, also running over from where she and Theo were pouring bowls of cereal. Close behind her were Parker and James, both of whom looked overwhelmingly relieved.

 

“Wait, wait. Before you all profess your undying love, hold up. We need to get Jon to bed,” Alex insisted. Jon was slumped against Libby’s side, snoring lightly.

 

“Shit,” Herc said, tugging Parker over so they could carry the sleeping man to his tent. “Is he okay?”

 

“Just tired,” Libby said, “We had a long night.”

 

“I should--” Alexander began.

 

“I’ll sit with him,” Libby replied with a smile, “You get cleaned up and eat something. Talk to your adoring fans. And take a bath. You stink ,” she scrunched up her nose.

 

Alex nodded. “Thank you,” he said before sitting down next to Daniel and Laf.

 

“Do you need first aid?” Lafayette asked, noticing Alexander’s torn shirt.

 

“I think Aaron may need it more than I do. I heard you tried your hand at fisticuffs, my friend,” Alex teased, gesturing to Daniel’s slightly crooked nose.

 

“Did… Did Jon tell you about that?” Daniel asked uncomfortably, suddenly unable to meet Alexander’s eyes.

 

“Hey. It’s okay, man. I get it,” Alex reassured, nudging Daniel’s shoulder.

 

“He was right. I shouldn’t have come back. I should’ve--”

 

“It’s done . You made your choice. As a matter of fact, I actually think it was a smart choice. You had no idea where I was, it was dark, and you were exhausted. You didn’t do anything wrong,” Alexander said. Only then did he notice the tears in Daniel’s eyes. “Are you okay, man?”

 

“I-I thought… maybe…” Daniel started but seemed unable to finish the thought.

 

“I’m alright, Aaron. I promise .”

 

“I have antiseptic!” Laf announced, returning with a bottle of the stuff, along with several other items. “And wet wipes! And hand sanitizer! And dry shampoo! And a change of clothes! Let’s get you cleaned up, mon ami.”

 

“Laf, I’m fi--”

 

“No,” Hercules said as he stepped out of the tent, Parker right behind him. “Go change and wipe all the shit off your face, and then you’re going to eat something, and then you’re going to join your dumbass boyfriend and get some sleep.”

 

“Honestly, Alexander, you’re a mess ,” Parker chimed in.

 

Alex rolled his eyes but did as he was told.

 

He was never going camping again.