Actions

Work Header

Camp Camp 100

Chapter Text

“Mom? I feel like crap.”

It was a weak, last-minute attempt, and Davey knew it. It was all he had now, though; they were standing right beside the bus.

“Really?” said his mother, in a tone that said she didn’t believe him. “Where?”

It took him an embarrassingly long time to come up with an answer to that. “My, uh…stomach,” he answered.

She gave him a long, hard look with her piercing blue eyes. He’d gotten his hair and pale skin from her, but his eyes from his piece-of-shit, deadbeat dad. “I’m sure one of the counselors has Tums, Davey.”

He put his hands on his hips and pouted, fuming. He’d known that wouldn’t work, but that didn’t mean he had to be happy about it. “Doubt it; I looked them up on AOL, and couldn’t find them. They can’t even afford a website.”

His mother sighed. “Sweetie, this is a good thing. We can’t let technology be your babysitter; fresh air and sunshine will be good for you.”

“We’ve got fresh air and sunshine at home, Mom!”

“Yes, but do you ever utilize it?”

Davey huffed, folding his arms across his chest. She had him there.

She kneeled in front of him. “Just…promise me you won’t give the nice people too much trouble, okay?”

Davey sighed as she looked at him with pleading eyes. “Fine,” was all he managed. He crossed his fingers beneath one of his elbows. She didn’t seem to notice.

She wrapped her arms around him and kissed his forehead. “Try to have some fun, okay? That’s what summer camp is supposed to be.”

Davey was almost positive that wasn’t true. But his poor, overworked mother looked even more poor and overworked than usual, so he decided to humor her. “Okay. I’ll try. For you,” he said, reluctantly wrapping his arms around her neck.

Davey walked onto the bus in the same way an inmate might walk onto a prison bus. He smiled at that thought; in a way, he supposed that was what he was. He shoved himself in a seat near the middle of the bus and retrieved the Nintendo Gameboy Advance he’d smuggled in his vest pocket, where Pokemon Sapphire was. As of now, it was officially the best Christmas present he’d gotten; even better than the Super Nintendo Entertainment System his uncle had given him years before. Much as he loved Pokemon, he kind of wished there was an Earthbound for the Gameboy; that would be the best thing ever.

“Hey there, Pal! You’re a new face!”

Davey scowled. “What?” he spat.

The sandy-haired boy in stupid shorts plopped down next to him. Davey scowled; what about him made the other boy think he was even remotely approachable? What would make him go away? “Just starting conversation, that’s all,” the boy said. He pointed at the Gameboy. “Darla and Greg are probably gonna take that from you when we get there, you know.”

Davey scoffed. “I’d like to see them try.” They could pry it from his cold, dead hands. He’d find some way to charge it when they got there; he wasn’t about to let his only link to the technological world go that easily.

“You’re gonna love this place,” said Jasper. “It’s amazing! I don’t know how, but it even smells better up there! It’s so radical!”

Davey snorted. “’Radical?’ Dude, the 90s called; they want their slang back.”

Jasper blinked before laughing. “What? The 90s are awesome! Just like Camp Campbell!” He held a hand out to Davey. “My name’s Jasper, by the way. Sorry; should’ve lead with that.”

Davey glared at the hand offered to him. At that moment, the handshake was as appealing to him as holding a dead fish. “Look, ‘Pal,’ I’m just here because my mom doesn’t want to deal with me for three months. “ Logically, he knew that wasn’t fair to his mom, but Hell with it; he was angry. “If it were up to me, I’d be in my room right now, getting dumb on cartoons and sugar.”

“Aw, don’t be like that! I promise, you’ll have a great time! They’ve got archery, hiking, Search ‘n’ Rescue…”

As Jasper continued to talk, Davey flung himself against the window with a groan.

This was going to suck.

Chapter Text

“Max was completely out of line at dinner, you know.”

Gwen blinked. “He didn’t talk much at the pizza place, though.” What the Hell was David talking about?

“No, I mean the family dinner. Before. When he threw the last of your cake at Neil’s father?”

Oh. That. “Huh. I’d kinda forgotten about that.” That was an understatement; the very minute she’d laid eyes on Max’s sparse paperwork, all thoughts of her frustration and anger with him had vanished from her mind. All she could think was ‘No wonder he’s such a tiny sack of dicks to everyone!’

“I didn’t.” David fiddled with his fingertips before continuing. “You’re incredibly thin, Gwen. If you weren’t, that would be fine, of course, but you don’t need to watch what you eat. Not that you would, otherwise, but—”

Gwen interrupted him with a laugh. “Wow, you suck at this!” she said. “Honestly, it was kinda my fault. We talked after that job interview you took me to.” The one she was apparently overqualified for. That was a fucking thing; who knew? “I apologized for embarrassing him, he apologized for being so shitty to me that day. We kinda came to an understanding.” She smiled at the memory. “We talked some more; I told him that, if he ever wanted to make someone insecure, to insult their weight. Especially girls and women.” She frowned. “Should’ve guessed the little fucker would use it on me.” Really, that was what she’d been indignant about. They’d had a connection, damnit! The little traitor…

“Oh.” David blinked at that. The poor sweet idiot was probably wondering why on Earth she’d give someone advice like that. “Well, he still shouldn’t have said that to you. Or anyone else. Those kinds of comments can seriously affect someone’s self-esteem! Anyway, you’re beautiful just the way you are!”

Gwen smiled, oddly touched. No one else had ever told her that, aside from her mom, maybe.

Granted, David was about twenty-four years too late, but he still meant well, like he usually did. “Thanks.”

Chapter Text

Max’s cheeks hurt from faking this stupid smile for as long as he had.

Just as rehearsed, after shaking the principal’s hand, he walked off stage with his high school diploma. He waited until he was seated again and away from everyone’s attention to let his trademark scowl return.

Max hadn’t seen the yuppie scum who called themselves his parents in the crowd. He would’ve recognized them anywhere; he knew they weren’t there.

Of fucking course they weren’t. Why had Max expected any different?

Max tried to tell himself it didn’t hurt. He almost believed it.

It was supposed to be a happy night, Max knew. He’d been working on not bringing other people down with him when he wasn’t happy; the school psychiatrist had told him it was healthier, not just for other people, but for himself.

This was a special occasion, though. He let himself simmer and stew in his own misery as the rest of the ceremony continued. He’d gotten As, Bs, and a few Cs in all four years, and had only gotten into trouble a handful of times; Max figured he’d earned that, at least.

He didn’t bother throwing his cap in the air. All he really cared about was getting out of there as fast as he could; the noise of the crowd of people he was eager never to see again were starting to get to him.

In the humid air outside, he took out his phone, intending to give Neil a text. It turned out that he and Nikki only lived an hour’s drive away, which even Max’s shitty car could handle. They’d talked about this, agreed that high school graduation ceremonies were bullshit, and Neil had admitted that he’d foregone it altogether and gotten his diploma days early. Nikki, meanwhile, was a year younger than them; she wouldn't be graduating until next year. They probably didn’t have anything going on right now, and Max didn’t really feel like going home; either that big house was empty, or he’d see his shitty parents and be put into an even shittier mood.

Of course, the parking situation wasn’t helping Max’s mood, either; the parking lot was absolutely packed. With a sigh, he tugged off his robes and that stupid hat, content to carry them back to his car when a bunch of other people had cleared out. Might as well enjoy the fresh air while he waited it out.

“Oh my gosh! There he is!”

Max blinked. If he hadn’t known better, he could have sworn he’d just heard…

“Max!”

“Oof!” The wind was knocked out of Max as he was tackled to the ground.

He opened his eyes to see two manic-looking pale pink ones gazing into his. “Nikki? What the fuck?”

“Where’s your hat? Isn’t that the whole point of graduation? Wearing the hat and robes?”

Max was about to point out that, no, that wasn’t the point of graduation at all, when another familiar voice called out from the distance. “Nikki, for God’s sake! You could’ve just killed him!”

Max glanced in the direction he’d heard that other familiar voice from. “Neil?” he choked out.

Neil ran to them, pulling Nikki off of Max. “You okay?” he asked, wringing his hands together anxiously.

Nikki waved a hand dismissively. “He’s fine! This is good for him; gotta keep him on his toes, you know?”

Coughing, Max managed to push himself to his feet. “What’re you guys doing here?” he asked.

Neil opened his mouth to reply, but Nikki beat him to it. “It was David’s idea!”

Max blinked. “Wait…What?”

“He called us and drove us all down here!”

Speak of the devil; Max would have recognized that pointy red hair anywhere. “Heeeeellllo, Max!” he called out, in the most obnoxious, David-ish way he possibly could.

“Tone it down there, Sunshine.” Max would have recognized that ‘Done with Everything’ tone anywhere, too.

“David? Gwen? What the Hell are you all doing here?”

Gwen rolled her eyes. “Jeez. Nice to see you, too, Asshole.”

David ignored her and her language. “Don’t be silly, Max! We came here for your big day!”

Max blinked. “My what?”

Nikki wrapped an arm around Max’s waist. Max hadn’t grown terribly tall, but he’d still grown taller than Nikki’s five-foot-four self. “We came to watch you graduate, Max! Duh!”

“I couldn’t do it because of my Anxiety,” piped up Neil. “Doesn’t mean I don’t want to watch someone else do it. I’ll be there for Nikki’s graduation next year, too.”

Gwen raised her hand. “I feel ya, Kid. I walked a year early, and had a panic attack on stage. Not the worst day of my life, surprisingly, but still up there.”

David clapped his hands together. Max didn’t think the man’s grin could get any bigger. “It’s such a super special day; we wouldn’t miss it for the world!”

What was that odd feeling in the pit of Max’s stomach? Why were his eyes stinging, all of a sudden? “Jesus, Guys…” he said. He smirked, determined not to let them see anu vulnerability. “How much money did you spend on gas, huh?”

Gwen shuddered. “Trust me; I don’t wanna think about it.”

“Maybe pizza would help?” asked Neil.

Nikki jumped up and down, rustling Max’s long-sleeved t-shirt. “Yeah! Let’s go for pizza! I’m starving!”

Neil rolled his eyes. “When aren’t you starving, Nikki?”

“That’s a great idea! What do you say, Gwen? Max?”

Gwen shrugged. “Eh, what’s a bit more money?”

Max let the commotion settle around him for a bit before he found his voice. “Sounds good. I drove here myself, though…I’ll follow you when the traffic thins out?”

David’s smile softened into something more gentle. “That sounds great, Max.”

The smile that found its way onto Max’s face was more genuine than it had been minutes ago.

Chapter Text

“How are you doing?”

A loud, long groan was the only answer David received.

A pang of sympathy stabbed its way through his heart. Poor Gwen hadn’t moved from her bed all day today; the cord from beneath her covers explained why. She was laying on a heating pad.

Just as she always did during her time of the month.

“I’m sorry, Gwen. Anything I can do for you?”

Gwen turned her head to look into his eyes. Her pretty purple eyes were red-rimmed and her mouth and eyebrows were pulled into taut, tense lines. Really, everything about Gwen was tense, in that particular moment. “Perform emergency surgery on me? Cut out my uterus?”

David laughed nervously. “I haven’t been trained to do that, Gwen.”

She rolled her eyes, and David felt like a dummy. She was being sarcastic and making a joke. He’d never been good at picking up on those. “Ugh. Well, I’ve got a heating pad, and I’ve taken meds. Don’t really know what else you can do.”

David hummed thoughtfully. His eyes drew back to the tension in her face. And in her shoulders, and in her spine. An idea struck him. “What a backrub help?” he asked.

“Ugh…yeah, okay. I’m willing to try anything right now.” A second of silence passed before she added “Please.”

 David cracked his knuckles and got to work. The tension looked the worst in Gwen’s lower back, but he started at her shoulders.

 “Oh, Jeez, that’s good,” Gwen moaned into her pillow.

 David took that as a good sign, and moved his hands downward, digging the heels of his hands into all the knots he could find. Gwen’s muffled noises of approval told him he was doing well.

David zoned out as he rubbed and massaged. He found his eyes drifting to the brown skin of the back of Gwen’s neck. Her hair was down, for once; the thick, loose auburn curls were splayed out on her pillow and around her head.

David felt his face heat up. Suddenly feeling like he’d been doing something he wasn’t supposed to, he quickly took his hands off of Gwen’s back. “I, um…I think I’m finished now.”

She turned her head to give him a small smile. It made his heart beat faster. “Thanks, David…that actually did help a little.”

“Great! Wonderful!” David cleared his throat. “I’m, uh…going to check up on the kids one more time. Be back in a second!”

He left before she could say anything. Maybe she was confused, but David could handle that when he got back.

It had grown too hot in the counselors’ cabin; he needed air, and to clear his thoughts.

Chapter Text

The first time she looked in the mirror and realized she didn’t like what she saw, she was nine.

“Oh, aren’t you adorable!” cooed her mother, smiling over her shoulder. Admittedly, the pale green dress did look good against her dark skin and purple-auburn hair. The problem was with the lace and ribbons that dripped from it. The problem was that it was a dress.

The problem was that it was too…girly.

Combined with the tight curls that were long enough to reach her shoulder, what she saw felt…wrong. Like she was looking at another person.

It didn’t feel like her.

Eventually she forced a smile back at her mother’s reflection, showing a mouthful of her new braces. Those didn’t help the negative, awkward feelings, nor did the glasses on the bridge of her nose.

Her mother didn’t need to know about that, though. “Yeah! Looks, um…colorful!” The braces had given her a lisp ever since she’d gotten them. She hated it; she sounded like a cartoon character or something.

As though she didn’t get bullied enough.

Her mother got an odd look on her face, but it passed. Her smile suited her much better than the girl’s own did; she wondered if she’d ever grow into her glasses the same way, too. Oddly enough, the thought didn’t help much. “All right. I guess that’s a purchase, then!”

“Thanks, Mom.” There weren’t words for how much she wanted to mean that.

---

She’d grown to hate school in the last few years. She’d started off loving it; learning was fun, after all. Her classmates, though, were not. Her lisp, her braces, and her glasses all made her ‘dorky’ in their eyes, already; her hobbies didn’t help.

Her favorite day of the week was Friday; not only was it the end of a school week of getting bullied, it was the night her father held his Dungeons and Dragons game sessions.

And he let her join in.

His friends seemed to like her, even though they were all grown-ups; they really encouraged her to let her imagination run wild, in a way school never did.

Her first-ever character was an elf named Nerris the Cute. The stats were easy to come up with; she wanted to be a mage. Magic could do just about anything; it was by far the coolest thing about making a character in a setting like this. Besides magical abilities, she wanted the character to rely on speed, agility, and wits. Her father had a half-orc character and one of his friends, a white woman with acne scars, had a dwarf, so physical strength was already taken care of.

The hard part was the line on the character creation sheet that said ‘Gender.’.

Her first instinct was to write down ‘female,’ but something stopped her. She chewed on her pencil’s eraser thoughtfully before she spoke. “Does your character have to have a gender?”

She regretted saying anything as everyone looked at her. She was about to pass it off as nothing when the dungeon master, a large Asian man, said “Maybe there’s something in the guidelines about it? I don’t know, though; the whole point of the game is to have fun.”

“That’s right, Sweetie,” said her dad, giving her a smile. “If you don’t want your character to have a gender, they don’t have to have one.”

Something started inside her that night. She smiled a secret smile for the rest of the session.

 ---

Her heart felt like it was trying to escape her chest as she sat in the barber’s chair.

“I…U-um…” she stuttered before she cleared her throat. “I want an undercut. Please.”

The hair cutter, a Black girl who looked like she’d just graduated high school, nodded, and got out an electric razor.

By the end of it, when she had put her glasses back on, her reflection looked closer to what she’d been seeing herself as for a while. She stepped out of the barber’s chair with a newfound sense of euphoria.

Her mother was less enthusiastic. “Why? Why would you lop off your beautiful hair?” she asked on the drive home.

She shrugged. “I didn’t like it; it was too girly.”

“Well, yes; you are a girl, after all.”

The girl took a deep breath, trying to blink back tears. “That’s just it, Mom…I don’t want to be a girl.”

The silence was thick and tense. Once again, she wished she hadn’t said anything.

“Okay. So…you want to be a boy, instead?”

She blinked. That hadn’t been what she’d expected. “No. I mean…not exactly.” She looked out the window. “I don’t want to be a boy, but I don’t want to be a girl, either.”

“Okay, Honey. If that’s what you want.”

“Really?” It had really been that easy?

Her mother looked at her with a smile. “Your father and I didn’t want to know if you were a girl or a boy when I was pregnant with you; I didn’t care then. I still don’t.” She took one hand off the wheel and placed it on her knee. “I love you. I will always love you, no matter what.”

She…they…swallowed past the lump in her throat. “Thanks, Mom. I love you, too.”

---  

“So…”

They paused Skyrim. They’d made a Wood Elf character this time around. The game was incredible, but they wished there was a ‘genderless’ option, like they’d had for Dungeons and Dragons. Maybe someone had made a mod like that for the PC version? “Yes, Elder One?” they asked. They had an idea of what he was going to say.

“Your mother and I just had a talk.”

There it was. Their grip tightened on the PS3 controller. “Yes? A-about what?”

Their father sat down next to them on the couch. “She told me what you said on your way home from the hair cutters’. That you don’t feel like a girl or a boy?”

They nodded. “Yeah. Basically.

“Right. So, I’ve been thinking…your mother and I both loved the name we gave you when you were a baby, but now that we really think about it, we both agree…It’s kind of…well, girly."

They blinked before nodding. “Yeah…Yeah! It kind of is!”

“So, if there’s another name you’d like to be called, well. That’s what we’ll call you.”

This hadn’t been where they’d thought this conversation would go; it was a pleasant surprise, to say the least.

“Actually…I have thought about that,” they said. “I think I’d like to be called Nerris.”

Their father smiled. “Like your DnD character?” he asked.

They smiled up at him with their metal-covered teeth. “Yeah. I don’t know…it’s kind of because of them that I finally realized this about myself.”

“All right, then.” Their father ruffled the fluffy curls on the top of their head. “Nerris the Cute.”

They liked the sound of that.

---

A night of Googling brought up several interesting things. There was a long, fascinating history of people who didn’t fit the Male/Female gender binary, from multiple cultures all over the world.

That made Nerris feel better, almost as much as the new name. They weren’t a freak; they weren’t just doing it for attention. Not that that made any sense; there was a reason why they hadn’t talked to their parents right away.

Continued googling lead them to another discovery…otherkin.

They thought long and hard. During Dungeons and Dragons nights, Nerris always went for Elf characters. While playing Skyrim, or any other Elder Scrolls game, or any of the Dragon Age games, they always decided to be an elf.

“Elfkin,” they whispered to themself.

Every once in a while, from then on out, they sometimes wore prosthetic elf ears that their father kept from when he LARPed as a child. ‘Sometimes’ turned into ‘more often;’ by the time summer vacation rolled around two years later, ‘more often’ had turned into ‘all the time.’

---

It didn’t help with the bullying, at school or at summer camp. When they proudly called themself ‘Elfkin’ in front of Mr. Campbell, they saw the eye roll and heard him say “God, I hate this generation,” under his breath.

Nerris found themself caring a lot less than they used to.

They’d taken a step in discovering who they were. For the first time in a long time, they liked what they saw in the mirror.

For the first time in a long time, they were happy.

Chapter Text

Max glared at the phone in his hand. 5:30, its clock read.

“For fuck’s sake, it’s been two hours. Where the Hell are they?”

It was a rhetorical question. Max knew damn well were his parents were.

He sighed and pulled up the Uber app. One good aspect of being adopted by rich people was the huge allowance; he could afford a ride home, at least.

 ---

The silence of the car ride home melted into the silence that typically settled in his house. When his parents weren’t fighting, that was. It was a nice house; not a mansion, but big, beautiful, expensive, and well-furnished.

And lonely. Max couldn’t forget that. Sure enough, as he stepped into the kitchen, there was a note attached to the refrigerator.

“Maxwell—Off on a business trip. Won’t be back for two weeks. Pantry is stocked; help yourself to anything. –Dad”

Max rolled his eyes. “Fuck you too, Trent,” he grumbled, crumpling the note and throwing it in the trash. ‘Business trip?’ More like ‘extended vacation bought with my gross amount of money.’ It felt like his adoptive father had just come back last night; apparently, he couldn’t stand being around his wife and son for one day.

He dropped his backpack near one of the stools at the kitchen’s bar. He’d ponder what to make for his dinner in a bit, but first, there was something he had to check on.

 ---

Eleanor was right where he’d expected; passed out on the couch in the parlor, or The White Room, as Max liked to call it. Everything in it was white; the expensive carpet, the expensive couches, the expensive armchairs, the coffee table, the walls…Hell, even the windows showed a pale view, with the sky completely blocked out by clouds.

Of course, none of it was as white as the woman sleeping on the couch. Max was pretty sure he’d never seen a person so white before; everything about her was white. Her pale skin, her pale blue eyes, her platinum blonde hair; right now, she was even wearing a white dress. The only bit of color in the room he saw was on her, in the slight bit of wine left in her glass, the orange of the still-lit cigarette in her other hand, and the ruddiness of her cheeks, presumably from how much she’d had to drink.

Evidently, she’d had nothing better to do that evening. No work to do, no parties to go to or throw…no son to pick up from school…

Max scowled as he stepped into the room. Eleanor would probably give him an earful later, for wearing his shoes in her precious parlor. He almost looked forward to it; that was the most attention she tended to pay to him, these days.

Max stood in front of her, hands in his hoodie pocket, glaring. A part of him wanted to just leave her like this; let her drop her cigarette. Let this place burn to the ground, with the two of them in it.

Maybe Trent would finally give a shit about them, if they were no longer there.

He waited for a second before sighing and taking the cigarette from Eleanor’s fingers, putting it out on the ash tray on the coffee table. He then gently pried the glass from her hand before heading back to the kitchen.

The evening was spent making cheap ramen with spinach and an egg and doing homework. Max supposed he could forego it and get another bad grade; the lecture he’d gotten from Trent and Eleanor was probably the most time they’d spent with him since the day they’d brought him here. In the end, though, he found that he cared about his GPA too much. The better the colleges he could get into in eight years, the further away from here he could get.

In bed that night, as he held Mr. Honeynuts close to his chest, he let his mind wander. It could be worse, Max told himself; he’d spent three years in the American Foster System before these two had found him, after all. They could have hit him; they could have put their hands on him in some other disgusting way. They could shout and scream at him as much as they did each other; they could cuss him out and call him names and tell him he was worthless, or that he was the reason they hated where they were in life.

He’d seen how bad it could be.

Max told himself all this before he fell into an uneasy sleep. None if it made him feel any better. Especially when he remembered warm embraces and low lullabies sung in Hindi from years ago.

 ---

The hours crawled by on the drive to Camp Campbell.

“It’ll be good for you, Darling.” Max sometimes wondered if Eleanor was aware of how stereotypical she sounded. “We can’t let your little brain decline.”

“It wouldn’t look good,” Trent had said. “On future resumes and college application letters.” Or in the eyes of CPS. Or for them and all their pretention.

“Shitton of activities,” Max had said. “Which camp is mine, this time?” The first time these two had sent him to Camp Campbell, it had been music camp.

 Max still hated the violin, almost as much as he’d hated it when his parents would make him play it in front of their equally rich friends.

The second year, it had been foreign language camp. There’d been incredibly basic Spanish, German, Japanese, Latin, Sanskrit, and Esperanto classes, but no Hindi.

Of fucking course.

All his parents' friends at one of their lavish dinner parties had been mildly impressed when Eleanor had made Max speak Spanish to them.

None of them realized that he’d told them all to fuck off.

None of them cared to.

“We still have to discuss it, Darling.”

Naturally, neither of them thought to ask Max what he was interested in.

In the end, they hadn’t chosen anything. Apparently, they’d run out of classy, hoity-toity skills they wanted Max to learn.

Max entertained himself by glaring out the window, then at the driver, then back out the window. The driver they’d hired hadn’t said a damn word this whole time. That was all right with Max; he was content to simmer in anger and hatred the whole drive up to Sleepy Peak, Oregon.

He had to prepare himself for a whole three months with him, after all.

 ---

Hours of inward ranting and swearing, it turned out, didn’t prepare Max for David. He should have known better; he was never prepared for David.

“HeeeelllOOO, again, Max! Oh, it’s so super terrific to see you again this year!” Max found himself wrapped up in a bear hug, given by arms that looked way too skinny to be this strong.

David had been the last person to hug him, Max realized. He’d done it at the end of last summer, too.

He scowled even harder at that thought and pinched one of David’s ears. David promptly dropped him with a girly shriek.

“Try that again, Dickhead. I dare you.”

Even while David held his ear in pain, he looked down apologetically at Max, as though he’d been the one to hurt him. “Gosh, I’m sorry! I completely forgot; you don’t like being touched.”

“Yeah, whatever. Let’s get this over with.”

Various escape plans began to form in Max's head as David marched him over to the mess hall. That would probably be the most fun Max would have, these next few months.

It would be a nice change of pace.

Chapter Text

“So, today I was thinking we’d start off with ‘Capture the Flag.’ What do you think?”

David jumped a foot in the air. Gwen resisted the urge to roll her eyes; he’d been doing that whenever she spoke up, lately.

They’d worked together for three summers in a row, now; they’d gotten used to sharing a cabin. How did he keep forgetting that she was in the room?

“Oh! U-um…yes, that sounds great!”

Gwen nodded and wrote it on the upcoming week’s schedule. “So then, we’re gonna—”

“I’m on it!” David burst out. Before Gwen could get another word out, he’d ran from the cabin.

Gwen heaved a sigh and wrote down another note. It had been like this for the last few days now; any time Gwen said anything, or dared get too close, David would dash off like a frightened deer with too-big hooves.

Granted, at first, she hadn’t noticed too terribly much; she was the one who wrote the schedules and brainstorm ideas, and he was the one who would throw himself into them body and soul. She got her paycheck by doing the minimum amount of work, and he did the rest without complaint. That was how they’d done this for years; it was a system that Gwen found worked.

David’s sudden skittishness and inability to look her in the eye had led to more alone time for her. At first, it had been nice, if confusing. But the last few days, Gwen had realized just what a decent team they’d made in the past. CBFLs, as David liked to call them. It was beginning to cut into their other routines; David would go out of his way to avoid her by offering to take on all the kids himself; if that wasn’t the case, then she was stuck with them all, which tended to be just as bad for them as it was for her. When they were stuck together, the kids all seemed to pick up on their sudden lapse in teamwork. Children were like animals, Gwen had learned; they could sense weakness and fear.

She’d check David’s Capture the Flag course tomorrow. He sure as Hell wouldn’t stick around to listen to her criticism tonight.

Maybe afterwards she could corner him somewhere and get to the bottom of this.

Gwen leaned back in her chair, scoffing in disgust at the sight of the worn wood of her desk. She didn’t paid enough for this shit.

---

“David’s totally got the hots for you.”

Gwen glared down at the sight of pink-streaked blonde hair. “Haw haw,” she said sarcastically, folding her arms. It was too early for this; her patience had run out about the same time her last cup of coffee had. “I’d expect that sort of shit from Max or Neil, Ered, not you.”

The girl shrugged. “Just stating facts, Gwen. It’s, like, super obvious.”

Gwen cocked an eyebrow at her. “Really? That’s what you see?” Because at the moment, she saw David chasing Nurf across the field he’d set the game up in. Probably trying to get the knife from him.

“Definitely. He can’t look you in the eye and he gets all red when he does; any time you’re away he can’t shut up about you. Sounds like a crush, to me.”

Admittedly, those did sound like telltale signs of a crush. And those all did sound like ways David would go about having one; in an incredibly juvenile way that made Gwen feel like they were back in high school. Maybe middle school.

Even so, a part of her mind was blocking the possibility. “That’s ridiculous,” Gwen said.

Ered gazed up at her. How was it that, even when she took an interest in this, she was still the picture of ‘teen lack of caring?’ “Why?” she asked.

Gwen shrugged. “Isn’t it obvious? Just look at me.” David was an idiot, but even he must have had some standards.

Ered stared at her for a moment before looking back at the chaos. “If you say so. You should probably, like…work on those self esteem issues, or whatever,” she said as she resumed her position of leaning against the tree and folding her arms across her chest, the picture of cool.

Gwen rolled her eyes. “Ugh. You sound like my therapist.” With that, she jogged over to Max and Neil, who were trying to coax Nikki down from a nearby tree. Or rather, Neil was trying to get Nikki down from the tree, while Max looked on in amusement.

Gwen was sure the wild child would be all right; she’d seen her fall from greater heights, before. She just didn’t want to stand there and get lectured by a thirteen-year-old.

---

Tomorrow featured an arts-and-crafts camp. Admittedly it was one of the activities that Gwen didn’t totally hate; it was just as messy as a lot of the other stuff they did, but she couldn’t help herself from enjoying anything even remotely creative. She wasn’t a complete killjoy, after all.

“Gwen! Hey, Gwen!”

She looked up from Nerris’s hat; they and Harrison had gotten into some scuffle, and it had resulted in paint exploding all over their hat. Thank God they only used cheap-ass watercolors and tempera paint; it would be easy to clean the thing. “Yes, Nurf?” she called.

The boy was frantically waving one of his arms. “I need a hand! Come over here!”

Gwen sighed. If it wasn’t one thing around here, it was another. “Coming,” she called.

She was prepared to sit next to Nurf when he shifted to the end of the bench. “Oops! Here, I got more room here. You can sit here,” he said, patting the seat next to him.

Gwen was so focused on Nurf’s project—a surprisingly detailed self portrait made of construction paper—that she didn’t realize who was on the other side of her, until she heard his voice. “There you go, Ered! Just a little more blue paint here, and it brings the whole thing together!”

Gwen turned to her right. “Oh. David,” she said.

David linched “Oh! Oh, um…H-hello there, CBFL,” he said, giving her a grin that was too large, even for him. “Emphasis on the F!”

Gwen’s frown deepened as Ered’s face peeked from around David’s skinny torso. A rather smug, knowing smile was on her face. Gwen turned back around just in time to catch Nurf give the girl a grin of his own, as well as a thumbs-up.

They’d planned this.

“You little shits!” she hissed.

“What?” said Ered, feigning innocence.

“I just called you over here because you’ve got nicer handwriting than me,” said Nurf. He gripped her hand and placed it over the yellow construction paper he’d used for his t-shirt. “Can you write ‘Fuck Off’ here?” His own feigned innocence gave way to bluntness there. Even a Nurf who was trying to set up his camp counselors was still Nurf.

Gwen grit her teeth. “Fine,” she said, picking up the sharpie in front of them.

David meant to get up, but was stopped by Ered grabbing his arm. “Sorry, Dude; I need more help. What colors should I make the sky?”

They were trapped. Perfect. This was almost as awkward as the time Gwen’s brother’s ex-girlfriend asked her out on a date.

Deciding to get this over with, Gwen did what Nurf asked.

“How long have you worked with David?” asked Nurf.

“Three years. Why?” It was kind of a rhetorical question; she knew damn well why he was asking her this.

“No reason; just a long time to know someone, that’s all.”

Gwen rolled her eyes. That’s how Nurf was handling this, huh? “Yep. Sure is.”

She stopped talking just long enough to hear Ered say “So David, how does Gwen look today?”

“Um, er…uh…W-well, she’s certainly, uh…”

Gwen let herself smile a little at this. Watching David stumble over his words was always entertaining, and despite herself, she did kind of want to hear how David planned to end that sentence.

“She looks hot, right?” Of course Nurf would ruin it like that.

“Nurf!” squeaked David. “That is incredibly inappropriate!”

“Yeah, but it’s true, right?” said Nurf.

Gwen realized that it was up to her to put a stop to this situation. Thinking quickly, she swept her arm over the remaining construction paper and tempera paint bottles, watching them spill on the floor. “Oh, clumsy me! Look, we’re out of supplies. David, would you get the paper? I’ll get the paint.”

“Oh, of course! Let’s go do that!” David burst in a rush, tripping over his own legs as he got up and ran to the back of the mess hall. Gwen also got up and made to head for the Quartermaster’s store, but not before giving a heated glare to Ered and Nurf.

Unsurprisingly, neither of them looked the slightest bit sorry. In fact, they both looked determined.

---

The next day passed in a blur. For a few reasons: Gwen had found, since working here, that too much chaos in one’s life could make it pass by quickly and with few details.

Of course, today was also incredibly annoying and embarrassing; the sort of day Gwen liked to forget.

It started off with Gwen finding a note tacked to the counselors’ cabin’s door.

‘To Gwen: Roses r red, vilets ar blue. Your relly pretty. –David,’ was scribbled on it in what looked suspiciously like Space Kid’s handwriting.

David found a bouquet of dandelions and clovers with a note attached; the handwriting was far messier than Gwen’s, so neither counselor could read it. Gwen suspected that that was Preston’s doing; good thing they had no rose bushes nearby.

Gwen went to the counselors’ cabin to change her clothes after an incident with the lake, only to find a puppy and a kitten fighting on top of a pile of candy bars that looked like they’d been stolen from the mess hall. That looked like Harrison and Nerris’s handiwork.

David had a mud clod thrown at his back; inside had been a sweetheart that said ‘Be Mine.’ Nikki had been the one to do it. Gwen had glared at the girl’s friends and said “You guys, too? Seriously?”

Neil had shaken his head. “It was all Nikki’s idea; I didn’t wanna come near this.”

Max looked entirely too happy with the situation. “You’ve gotta admit, this trainwreck is a shitton of fun to watch.”

By far the most obvious one was done by Harrison; his end-of-the-day magic show ended with glittering red and gold sparks that said “Gwen, will you go to dinner with me?” Then Harrison had called poor David up onto the stage. Gwen was certain she’d never seen his face that red before.

Thankfully the sparks were real, and set the stage on fire. That distraction cost them a stage, but saved what remained of David’s pride.

Needless to say, by night time, Gwen was exhausted. She just barely managed to take off her boots and stockings before flopping face-down on her bed.

“Goodness golly gosh, what a day,” she heard David say.

David had far more energy than Gwen did even on the worst of days, but even he sounded a bit worse for wear. Gwen supposed she couldn’t blame him. “Yeah; tell me about it.”

“What do you suppose today was all about, anyway? Not that I’m complaining; the kids all seemed to be working together, for a change!”

Gwen sighed into her pillow. David wasn’t as oblivious as people tended to think, but she’d noticed that there were times when he would ignore things. Maybe even delude himself into believing they weren’t what they really were. So really, she supposed she wasn’t surprised that he wasn’t bringing up the elephant in the room.

Putting things bluntly had always been Gwen’s way of doing things, though. Particularly after long, hard days like this one. “The kids think you have feelings for me,” she said, content to let him put the pieces together.

The silence was thick enough to cut with a knife.

Gwen took a risk and looked up. David was staring at her wide-eyed, all rosy pink gone from his face, leaving freckled white. The minute her eyes met his, though, he looked down at his lap.

Gwen’s jaw dropped. “I don’t believe it,” she said softly. “You do…”

David began to stutter and stammer. Gwen just shook her head and chuckled. “Jesus Christ…Why, exactly? What, don’t you have standards? Functioning eyes?” David deserved a short, curvy girl who had as much energy and positivity and love for nature as he did. Not a skinny giant with too-big hands, a temper, a foul mouth, and debilitating anxiety and depression like her. Didn’t he realize that?

“No!” cried David. “Don’t say that, Gwen! Oh my gosh…do you even understand how smart and witty and…and creative you are? You act like you don’t care, but I know you do, and it’s the most wonderful thing in the world to see!” David began to giggle. Gwen looked at him, mildly concerned; that sounded an awful lot like nervous giggling, not legitimate laughter. “And have you seen yourself in the mirror? You’re beautiful! I love your hair, and your eyes, and…and your legs. Oh my Gosh…” David buried his face in his hands. “Oh, that’s so inappropriate…I’m so sorry, I swear I haven’t meant to stare! It’s not your fault, it’s all mine!”

Gwen’s stunned silence allowed him to keep talking. The smile on his face faded as he sighed. “The truth is, I didn’t say anything before, because…because I know I’m not your type. I’ve seen the books you read, the movies you watch…I know I’m not…like that.” He laughed. “A ‘bad boy…’ someone all tortured and brooding, and…buff.” He lifted one of his arms and tried to make a muscle. Gwen saw what he meant; David was incredibly strong, but the body he had wasn’t like the ones Hollywood men tended to have. He’d always remined her of a stick figure covered in wire.

“I didn’t say anything because I knew you’d never feel the same way. Besides, I don’t want to ruin what we have.” His frown disappeared, leaving Gwen wondering if it had ever been there, to begin with. “And I still don’t! I’m really, really sorry, Gwen; I hope this won’t make things awkward between us.” His smile grew hopeful. “CBFLs?” he asked.

Gwen managed to pick her jaw up off the floor in time to say “I mean…yeah, of course.” She gave him a weak smile of her own. “Always. But, uh…for the record…”

She had to look back down at her pillow. The hope in David’s large green eyes was almost painful to watch; he’d always reminded her of a puppy, in that way. “I’m…not opposed to it.”

“Opposed to what?” asked David.

Gwen took a deep breath before answering carefully. “To…us. Dating.”

She heard a sharp gasp. “R-really?”

“Yeah. I’d be okay with it. You know…trying it. See how it goes.”

After David’s heartfelt outburst, it felt anticlimactic. But when Gwen looked up, David looked like he’d just been told he was going to Disneyland. “Oh my gosh! Oh, goodness! O-okay; let’s do that!”

Gwen lay back down with a smile, her own heart beating faster than it had before.

Chapter Text

Max woke up to the sound of birds twittering and Lake Lilac babbling pleasantly outside his tent. The sunlight was warm through the pale fabric of the tent, and he could distantly smell a bonfire burning.

He immediately knew that something was wrong.

He scowled as he sat up. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he asked “Where the Hell is Nikki?”

These last few weeks, Nikki had been waking him and Neil up. In ways only Nikki could. Which meant ‘ways that were messy, or loud, or both.’

She’d once pounced on Neil while covered in mud and grass. While Neil had gotten the worst of that, a lot of it had splashed on Max, as well. Another time, Nikki had shoved an opossum into Max’s cot, claiming that she’d named her ‘John.’ All three of them needed rabies shots after that. Yet another time, she’d made a tree crash just outside their tent, nearly killing them.

Waking up on his own, in such a pleasant way, told him that something had happened to Nikki.

“I dunno!” cried Neil. “I’ve looked for her everywhere!” It looked like he’d waken before Max; he’d already gotten dressed, looking wide awake and frantic, if how tightly his hands were curled against his chest meant anything. Poor guy; he was probably about to start the day off with an anxiety attack.

“She wasn’t in any of the trees or the lake? Or setting anything on fire?” Max ran through a list of Nikki’s favorite places and things in his head.

“No! That burning smell is a bonfire!”

“Shit…Okay, she’s gotta be somewhere.”

“I checked the mess hall! I thought she might be in the attic!”

“But why would she--?”

Max was cut off by the sound of a sniffle.

It was coming from underneath Neil’s cot.

Max felt like an idiot. Even though David and Gwen both kept insisting on getting a third cot for their tent, Nikki seemed to prefer sleeping on the ground and in her beloved dirt. How had it not occurred to him that she might be under one of their beds?

He glanced at Neil, who looked like he was thinking the same thing, before both boys crouched.

There was Nikki, curled up in a tiny ball. She lowered an arm, revealing a red-rimmed, teary pink eye.

Without thinking, both boys crawled under the cot, on either side of Nikki. “What’s wrong, Nik?” asked Max, putting a hand on her shoulder. He’d always had trouble making friends, but for whatever reason, little things like this just came naturally to him, when it came to Nikki and Neil.

“Oh, Guys…” Nikki hiccupped. “I wanted to surprise you with pudding this morning, so I went to the Mess Hall. Th-there’s posters…”

“What posters?” Neil asked, leaning against Nikki.

“David must’ve put them up last night,” said Max. Ever since the Camporee, the counselors had gone out of their way to make posters of every little event in camp. Max wondered if it was Gwen’s idea; at this point it seemed less informative and more petty, and David tended to do petty on a much smaller scale than Gwen did.

“They’re for the End of Camp ceremony,” said Nikki. “It’s next week.”

Something ice cold dripped through Max’s veins.

“Camp’s ending next week?” Neil’s voice was tiny.

Mint green curls bobbed as Nikki nodded. “Yeah. Exactly a week from today.”

“Which means we got another week together.” A while ago, Max might have said something else. “Only one more week in this hellhole!” he might have said, years ago. Months ago. Hell, weeks ago.

But now?

For a moment, only Nikki’s sniffling and hiccupping, the sounds of the other kids waking up, and the sounds of nature could be heard.

Max’s feelings towards Camp Campbell had always been negative. So had Neil’s, at first. Nikki’s had always been positive, but that was Nikki.

Despite that, Max had to admit something important. Neil and Nikki were the two best friends he’d ever had, and he had them because of Camp Campbell.

He could give this shitty camp that, at least.

It was Neil who finally spoke up. “We can give each other our phone numbers before we leave.”

Max nodded. “Yeah; we can Skype and shit. So we can at least see and hear each other.”

Nikki finally sat up. She wiped her nose on her arm, then proceeded to wipe it on Neil’s shirt. Despite everything, Max smirked as Neil glared down at his shirt, disgusted.

“Yeah…Yeah!” Nikki’s voice gained exuberance as she continued to speak. “A-and we can all see each other for real at camp next year!”

Max groaned. “Seriously?”

Neil tentatively raised a hand. “I hear you, Max. But I’d come back. If you two promised to come back, too.”

Nikki nodded eagerly. Already it was hard to tell that she’d been crying. “I promise!” she exclaimed. She then spit in her hands and crossed her arms, so that a spit-covered palm was offered to each boy. “Well, Max?”

Max glared at her hand, then at her, then at Neil. Finally he sighed. “Yeah…I promise.”

With only a small amount of disgusted noises, both boys spat in their hands and shook Nikki’s.

“So, what’re we waiting for?” asked Nikki, dashing forward on all fours until she was out from under the cot. “We still got a week left!”

Max couldn’t help but smile as he followed her. “Fuck yeah!” he exclaimed, pumping his fist in the air.

“Let’s make this a week no one here’ll ever forget!” piped up Neil.

---

That following week at Camp Campbell saw no fewer than fifteen fires, five food fights, twelve incidents involving explosives courtesy of Neil, and a whole shitton of mud fights.

During phone number exchanges, there was more hugging and more tears than anyone was comfortable admitting to. The trio kept in contact all year, eagerly waiting for summer to come.

Chapter Text

The sound of Gwen’s phone vibrating on her table distracted her from her laptop. Perfect; anything so that she could take a break from filling out this fucking job application, the fifth of the fucking day.

Despite her frustration, she smiled at the sight of the contact showing on her phone. “Treefucker,” it read. Maybe it wasn’t a nice thing to call her boyfriend, but in her defense, she’d written it the day she’d met him. That had been three years ago, when she’d been convinced that he was hiding something or being sarcastic or making fun of her.

Before she realized that that was just how he was.

David was one in a million, Gwen realized. She’d never met anyone like him.

“Hey,” she said after taking the call.

“Hi there! Uh…Sweetheart!”

Gwen shook her head. “No…sorry, that doesn’t sound right, either.”

David had been trying to give her a proper pet name ever since they’d started…whatever this was. So far, he hadn’t found one that she liked. ‘Sweetheart’ was definitely better than ‘Pooky,’ though, so she’d give him that.

“Darn it! Oh well; guess I’ll just have to keep trying!”

And Gwen did have to give him props for not giving up. It wasn’t just something she liked about him; it was something she respected about him.

“You do that, David. What’s up?”

“Oh, you know. Just missing you…I wanted to hear your voice.”

She smiled. If this had come from anyone else, she wouldn’t have believed them. “It’s nice to hear your voice, too, Doofus.”

“Did you know that next week is going to be our four-month anniversary?”

“Really? I’m sorry; I didn’t realize.” Gwen’s heartbeat increased. Shit…they were supposed to be keeping track of this? How could she be stupid enough not to write the date in her phone?

“Oh, that’s okay! I just remembered when I was looking through pictures on my phone and noticed the date on one.” Gwen heard him chuckle on the other end. “Max stole my phone that day, and took a picture of me on stage just before it burned down. The little rascal!”

Gwen rolled her eyes at the affection in David’s voice. “Yeah…just what I was thinking.”

As usual, David didn’t pick up on her sarcasm. Or if he did, he didn’t say anything about it. “Anyway, it made me think of you!”

“Thanks, David. That’s sweet.”

“That’s such a nice thing for you to say, Gwen!”

Gwen winced. That had been nothing, but he still thought it was exceptionally nice of her. Had she really set the bar that low? “Yeah. Um…Listen, I just need you to know…you calling me right now? Just made my whole day better. Much, much better.”

It wasn’t enough. Oh God, it wasn’t enough…

She wasn’t enough for David, and she was counting down the days to when he finally realized it.

“I’m glad, Gwen.” The seriousness in his voice temporarily shook her from her downward spiraling thoughts. “You deserve to be happy. If I can do anything to help with that, I will.”

Gwen smiled. It was a shaky, fragile smile, but a smile, nonetheless. “Thanks, David.”

“Anyway! I should probably let you go. It was great talking to you!”

Gwen kept smiling up to a half hour after the phone call ended.

Chapter Text

It had been an hour on the bus, and Nikki’s excitement had all but disappeared.

She’d tried to stay positive; that’s what David always did, no matter how bad things were. It was something she tried to do, too; it was good to balance out the temperaments of her friends Max and Neil.

That was just the thing, though…neither of them had been at the pick-up spot, and now neither of them were on the bus.

She thought of that promise they’d made, their first summer together. They’d keep in touch, and they’d all come back the following summer. One year turned into two, then three, then five. Year after year, it would be the three of them, causing trouble at Camp Campbell.

Nikki was fifteen now; Max was sixteen, and Neil would be seventeen in five months. Nikki had noticed that they didn’t talk as often during the year, but she’d chalked that up to their busy high school schedules.

She hadn’t thought that it actually meant anything about their friendship, or where it was going. Friendships could end, over time; logically she knew that. It had just never occurred to her that theirs might be one of them.

Not even watching the city give way to bright, colorful nature cheered Nikki up. That was the first time that had ever happened to her.

Nikki walked off the bus with her hands in her capri pockets, forced to accept this new low in her life.

---

This was David’s favorite day of the year. Granted, it was a really hard call to make, since there were so many great days in the year. But if he had to pick one, it was definitely this one.

The day the campers arrived. David had always loved meeting new people, and had always loved children, and had loved Camp Campbell ever since he was young. Meeting new children who were about to become Camp Campbell Campers combined all three of those things! What wasn’t to love?

He was delighted to see the sea of new faces, as well as a few that he recognized. “Welcome, Campers! My name is David, and I’ll be your counselor while you’re here!” A thought occurred to him, and he laughed. He could be such a dummy sometimes! “Oh, I’m sorry…one of your counselors! If you’ll follow me to the mess hall, we’ll meet them right now!”

He led the young crowd to said mess hall. He was eager to show them the rest of the camp grounds, of course, but this was an important first step on their tour.

He held the door open as his charges entered one or two at a time. His face lit up as he recognized one particular camper near the tail end of the crowd.

“Nikki! It’s so good to see you again this year!”

“Hey, David.”

David frowned. That didn’t sound like Nikki at all. Now that he got a closer look at her, he realized that it didn’t really look like Nikki, either. Most of the times he’d seen her, she’d been bouncing up and down, struggling to contain her energy, almost frantically excited.

This Nikki looked despondent; her eyes were downcast, and her feet were planted firmly on the ground. Even her ponytail and bangs seemed deflated.

“What’s wrong, Nikki?” he asked, putting a hand on her shoulder.

“You didn’t see Neil or Max come out of the bus, did you?”

Oh. Oh! She didn’t know…

David could barely contain his excitement. He’d never been good at containing any part of himself, really; it was something he needed to work on.

After all, he really wanted Nikki to be surprised.

“I understand, Nikki; you three have been like peas in a pod since you and Neil came here! Why don’t you come inside? We’re having the Quartermaster’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes for dinner! It might make you feel better!”

Nikki sighed. “I am pretty hungry…maybe you’re right.”

“Of course I’m right! Go on; ladies first!” exclaimed David.

He watched on in delight as Nikki did as she was told, then froze at what she saw as she looked up.

“Neil? Max?”

---

There they were, plain as day, standing next to Gwen, wearing Camp Campbell Counselor T-shirts.

Max smirked as their eyes met. “What’s up, Nik?” he asked.

Neil, at least, had the good sense to look sheepish. “Long time no see, huh?” he asked, hands curling up next to his chest. Raptor Hands, Nikki had always thought of them.

She shoved her way through the sea of campers and threw herself at her friends, wrapping her arms around them both as tight as she could. They both returned her embrace, much gentler though. The wimps.

As soon as they let go, she punched them both as hard as she could in the shoulder.

“Jesus!” cried Neil, rubbing the spot.

“What the fuck was that for?” spat Max, his glare less angry and more confused.

“You weren’t on the bus, you jerks! I was worried!”

“Well, yeah; because we were here, preparing shit for you shitty campers,” retorted Max.

“Yeah; we couldn’t come back as campers,” added Neil. “Sixteen is the cut-off age, remember?”

That made sense. Nikki still wasn’t completely happy, though. “Why didn’t you guys say anything?” she asked.

“Because they wanted to surprise you.”

Nikki looked up at Gwen. In the chaos, she’d almost forgotten that she was there. “I thought it was kind of an asshole move, too, but David actually convinced them to go along with it.”

“The fuck he did,” said Max. “It was Neil’s idea; not our fault that idiot got in on it.”

“Whatever!” exclaimed Nikki. Her anger had worn off. “The point is, we’re all together again! Just like old times!”

“Except that we’re getting paid for it,” said Max.

“Yeah; we’re technically in charge of you now, Nikki.”

The grin that she gave them was full of determination and challenge. “I dare you two to try to control me,” she said.

---

They couldn’t. Then again, neither of them tried very hard.

Chapter Text

The front of Davey’s vest was completely covered in blood.

He scooted away from the two dead bears as fast as he could. Absently, he noticed Jasper doing the same thing, his eyes as big as saucers beneath his shaggy hair. The look of horror on his face probably mirrored Davey’s own.

A glint of metal shone in the corner of his eye. Davey turned his head in that direction in time to see Campbell wiping blood off his hunting knife.

“You just saved us,” Davey said without thinking. “You just saved me, even after I was so shitty all month.”

The man laughed. Despite everything, Davey kind of liked his laugh. It was deep and warm; it brought up memories from when Davey was way littler. Back when Davey had thought his father wasn’t a horrible person. “We can’t have any dead campers, Davey! This poor camp couldn’t handle such a lawsuit. Besides,” he said, heaving one of the bear’s corpses over his shoulder, “we can use these!”

“Oh,” said Davey. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He and Jasper were both alive because of this guy; a good deed was a good deed, even if it was done for the wrong reasons.

It was something his mom told him once.

The boys followed Campbell as he carried the bear out of the cave. Davey felt some sort of awe. “Maybe I shouldn’t have tried to piss him off so much this summer,” he said absently. Campbell had just killed two bears, and was carrying one on his back as if it were nothing. What could he do to a vertically-challenged, ninety-pound, ten-year-old boy like Davey?

“He’s definitely something.”

Davey frowned. Now that the fear of Jasper being killed had worn off, he’d begun remembering how annoying he was. “Yeah, well…It was my idea to come get you, you know.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Campbell wanted to leave you for dead.” Davey was still trying to come to terms with that moment…watching Jasper fall to what he’d thought was his death, at the time, then turning around just in time to see Campbell holding that hunting knife above his head.

If Davey hadn’t noticed that stream, then…

Can’t have any dead campers, my foot, he thought. Campbell was capable of murdering children to cover his own ass!

Davey took his previous thoughts back. He’d been right; the guy was a selfish, amoral, pompous windbag. He didn’t even want to know what he was going to do with those bear carcasses.

“Gosh, Davey…Thanks!”

“Don’t look into it,” huffed Davey. “You’re a suck-up and a pain in the ass, but that doesn’t mean I wanted you to die. And if you did, I at least wanted to know what happened to you.”

Jasper said nothing, but Davey suspected that he was being smug, anyway. He let himself trail off a bit after Campbell, letting Jasper walk in front of him.

It wasn’t like he’d been paying attention during any of the camp activities, anyway; everything he’d done was common sense. And now all he had to do was follow the blood trail, which any idiot could do.

(He was still looking for a plausible excuse for why he’d remembered that stupid thing about running water.)

Chapter Text

Sleepy Peak General was as quiet and slow as everything else in the town, Erin thought. She, Sasha, Miss Priss, and Tabbii were the only ones there that night.

“What’s taking so long?” asked Sasha. “We’ve, like, got manicures to get to!”

“Seriously,” said Erin. “How long should it take to pull a fork out of someone’s eye?”

“Now now, girls,” said Miss Priss. “I’m sure the handsome doctor knows what he’s doing.” She’d insisted on a male doctor, rather than a female one. She took a sip from her flask and daintily patted her lips down with a pink-and-red handkerchief, not getting even a smidge of her lipstick on it. “He’d better…this is coming straight out of our cookie sales,” she muttered under her breath.

Sasha often said that she wanted to be just like Miss Priss when she grew up. Erin couldn’t disagree.

"Maybe we could get something from one of the vending machines. You know, to pass the time?" asked Erin.

"I already looked; they don't have any good shit," said Sasha, folding her arms across her chest. "This is the wooorst!"

"Seriouslyyy," groaned Erin.

"It isn't ladylike to complain, girls," said Miss Priss.

That got the two of them to be quiet. They settled for glaring at each other until they were approached.

"I did the best I could," said the doctor. "But...well. There was only so much I could do." He stepped aside to reveal Tabbii, whose eye was now covered by an eyepatch. "I'll give you a list of glass eye providers."

Their normally energetic friend had her arms wrapped around herself and was staring down at her boots.

"Thank you, Doctor. I take it we should discuss payment options?" asked Miss Priss, leading the doctor away. Erin suspected that she'd be using her feminine wiles in order to get a discount on the treatment, whatever those were.

The three girls were left alone in the waiting room. "Ugh," said Sasha. "An eyepatch? That sucks."

Tabbii sniffled. "Yeah..."

Erin frowned. "Should you be crying? Won't that, like, make it hurt even worse?"

"It's gonna smear your make-up," said Sasha. She took a step forward and wiped under her friend's right eye. "Here..."

"I'm a freak!" blurted Tabbii before beginning to sob.

"Ugh," said Sasha. Then proceeded to wrap her arms around Tabbii's shaking shoulders.

"Maybe," said Erin, getting an idea. "But, like...you're not the only one."

Sasha looked behind her shoulder at Erin. "You're not going to...?" she said.

Erin nodded. "I am. Tabbii, look at me." As soon as her friend did as she was told, Erin lifted the hair from her face. The sight of one blue eye and one orange one shocked Tabbii enough to stop her sobbing.

"You have two different-colored eyes?" she hiccuped.

"It's called heterochromia," said Sasha. "Like, why do you think she keeps that eye covered up all the time?"

"Because it's a fashionable hairstyle?" asked Tabbii.

Erin paused. "Well, it is. But it's also because of this eye." She put a hand on Tabbii's shoulder. "It's not the same thing as having to wear an eyepatch, obviouslyyy, but still..."

Tabbii threw her arm around Erin, turning the whole affair into a group hug. "We can be freaks together!" she exclaimed.

Erin smiled, happy that her friend was feeling better. "Yeah; exactly."

"Well, if I'm gonna be seen with you two freaks, some changes are gonna have to be made," said Sasha. "Erin, we're getting you more hair accessories. Tabbii...how about getting you an eyepatch that's pink? It'll go better with the rest of your outfit."

That was as close as it would get to Sasha being accepting.

 

Chapter Text

“Thank you so much for coming, Bon Bo—” David caught himself and cleared his throat. “Bonquisha.”

Bonquisha had to smile. That nickname was pretty damn cute, she had to admit. “Of course, David,” she said. She made to pull the chair of the table out, but David beat her to it.

“We ain’t datin’; you don’t have to do that shit anymore.”

“Nonsense! There’s no reason I still can’t be chivalrous.”

Bonquisha shook her head and chuckled, but let him push her up to the table. She’d always been impressed with his physical strength, despite looking like a lanky teenager.

These had been some things she’d noticed about him, right away; once he’d settled for the fact that she was taking him on their first date, he’d become the perfect gentleman. Not just pushing her into her chair, but engaging with her in conversation, asking her all kinds of questions about herself. He’d actually seemed interested in her answers. At the end, he’d paid the check; he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. For God’s sake, when they’d walked back to her car, he’d taken his vest off and placed it over a mud puddle for her to walk over. He’d held out his hand to help her over it and everything!

Bonquisha had looked on in amused disbelief. “You for real, Stretch?” she remembered asking. It was sort of tongue-in-cheek, but also somewhat legitimate; she’d met guys who’d been great actors before. Who was to say David wasn’t one of them?

David’s smile had faltered a bit. “Er…last time I checked?” Bonquisha might have thought that was was a joke, if he hadn’t sounded so genuine.

It had been one hell of a novelty. There really was no other way for Bonquisha to describe it. In the near-month they'd been together, he'd never stopped being the perfect gentleman, though he did prefer being the little spoon. Bonquisha had been more than happy to do that for him.

It meant a surprising amount to her. She was tall, broad, muscular, and Black; people would often take one look at her and decide that she would be the one to take the reigns in their relationship, that she was the one who would be protective. That she didn't need to be taken care of...that she didn't have needs or wants that she wanted a partner to acknowledge. And the fetishization...Christ, the fetishization...if she never heard something along the lines of 'Stomp on me; break me in half!' again, it would be too soon.

David had defied all of those expectations. Not only did he treat her like some delicate flower, he’d appreciated her strength and fit body and looks without being a damn creep about it.

"Thank you for meeting me tonight, Bonquisha." She snapped back to attention. David was speaking, looking at her with those alert blue-green eyes. "It's the least I could do, after what I did to poor Jacob. How's he doing, by the way?"

Bonquisha chuckled. "Better," she said. "He got the card and flowers you sent him; loved 'em to pieces."

"Does he, um...have any hard feelings?"

"Nah; I explained things to him. You lucky he's so understandin'," she said with a teasing smile.

David fiddled his fingers on top of the table. "I have to admit, it was...not my proudest moment." To his credit, he did look ashamed.

"I get why, but on the other hand, that strength you displayed!" Bonquisha fanned herself dramatically. "That sorta thing could drive a lady wild, David. Don't knock it!"

"Not you, though?" Damn it all, Bonquisha was now remembering why it had taken so long to break up with David. He was giving her those damn huge sparkling eyes, looking exactly like her Chihuahua when she wouldn't give him table scraps. The man was basically a tall, gangly puppy; only a heartless asshole would have wanted to kick him.

Bonquisha supposed she had no heart. "No, David," she said, gently as she could.

He sighed. "No, I suppose not."

That conversation came to a halt as their waitress stopped by to give them their menus and take their drink orders. Bonquisha resisted the urge to order anything alcoholic; she'd driven here tonight, and she needed to stay frosty for the drive home.

Even if she suspected that she might need liquid courage.

"Did you mean what you said?" David blurted.

Bonquisha blinked at him. "What the Hell you talkin' about?"

"That I'm not...'man enough' for you?"

Bonquisha heaved a great sigh. That hadn’t been her proudest moment; when she realized they weren’t going to work, she’d agonized over how and when to break up with him. He hadn’t made it easy; every time they met, he’d do some sweet, romantic gesture, or gush on and on over how wonderful she was, and how happy he was. At the end of her wits, she’d gone with the excuse she often used for her break-ups, bluntly, not letting him get a word in edgewise. Her plan had been to just rip the band-aid off quickly; it would hurt a lot, but it’d be over quickly.

It hadn’t occurred to her that he might still be thinking about it, weeks later.

"Of course not, Sugar. I been through more break-ups than you can count, so believe me when I tell you..." She looked him straight in the eye, hoping to convey to him just how honest she was being. "It's never that simple."

David looked surprised. Had he really not been expecting that answer? "Then what was the reason?"

She sighed again. "Really? You really wanna have this conversation now? Just before dinner?" They’d come here to get re-acquainted as friends and to make amends. Did he really want to ruin that?

"I'm curious." David bit his lip. Bonquisha waited patiently before he continued. "It's just...whatever reason, or reasons, you had for breaking up with me, I do want to know. If there are any mistakes I made, I...I want to avoid making them again in the future."

"That's...actually real admirable, David. Says a lot about you."

The waitress returned with their drinks; David insisted that they needed a minute to think about their orders for a while before looking back at Bonquisha with intent.

"First off...I ain't gonna lie, sexual incompatibility was one reason." She smiled as David's ears turned bright red. "I'm a grown-ass woman, David; I got needs.”

David nodded frantically. "R-right! Noted!" he squeaked, then took a rather long sip from his Shirley Temple.

Bonquisha chuckled before continuing. "Another thing...we only dated for a while, David. Just under a month. But here you was, actin' like we been a married couple for five years."

"So...I moved too fast?"

Bonquisha nodded. "Romantically, yeah. Way too fast." She took a gulp of her own drink--diet Coke--before continuing. "Also, you got clingy. There's times I just need my space, y'know?"

David was nodding. She had to give him credit; he looked like he was paying apt attention and taking mental notes. She could respect him for trying to be a better man and partner.

Bonquisha pursed her lips thoughtfully, as she looked down at her drink. What else…?

“Lastly…don’t hate me for this, because it ain’t gonna be satisfyin’, but the truth is…After a while, I just felt like you liked me more ‘n’ I liked you.”

David’s look of attention turned to one of despondence. “Oh…”

Honestly, fuck this grown-ass man for making her want to just gather him up in her arms and keep him warm. She kept her distance, though; after all they’d been through, she didn’t want to fuck it up by doing something that would give him the wrong idea.

“One more thing…all these problems ain’t universal. It’s just that they were problems for me.”

A spark lit in David’s eyes. She had to admit, she still found them pretty. “Oh?”

She nodded. “I’m not gonna say ‘don’t keep this shit in mind;’ definitely do that. But there’s tons of different people out there. People who’ll be perfect for you. I’m…just not one of ‘em.”

Despite what he must have been feeling right now, David managed to give her a smile. “Thank you, Bonquisha. This has been really helpful. And lovely!”

The rest of the meal went by with a much more comfortable air. At the end, David agreed to let Bonquisha pay for half the bill, if he could walk her to her car. She had her doubts, but when it happened, he gave her a handshake instead of a kiss on the cheek or the back of her hand.

She drove home thinking that, while she was relieved to no longer have David as a boyfriend, she might grow to like having him as a friend.

Chapter Text

Robert was almost positive his pale, minty blue hair was getting grayer and thinner with every step he took to the hospital room. The conversation he had with the nice lady at the desk hadn't improved his mood; right now, only one thing possibly could.

The door was open, and the moment he laid eyes on a pair of curly green pigtails eagerly bobbing, he sighed in relief.

"Nikki!" he exclaimed.

The little girl turned towards the sound of his voice. Her big pink eyes crinkled as she smiled wide at him. "Hey, Dad!" she exclaimed. "I thought I wasn't gonna see you 'til Monday!"

He returned her smile, though his was far more tired. "Plans change, Pumpkin," he said as he sat next to her on the hospital bed.

She didn't seem to be in much pain, thankfully; she seemed to be vibrating with barely-restrained energy, like usual. The only sign that there was anything wrong was the cast on her left arm.

"How are you holding up?" Robert asked.

"Pretty good. I climbed a tree just outside Mom's house! It was awesome!" she exclaimed.

He envied her general outlook on life; as far as he could see, there was nothing awesome about this situation, in the slightest. "Right...Where was your mother, in all this?" It took everything he had to keep his voice level. Things were bad enough already; he didn't want to make things worse by making his daughter know how upset he was.

"Inside. I think she was watching TV; she told me to play outside, so I did. She said I was being too loud or something."

Robert took a deep breath and counted to ten before releasing it. "I see," he said. "And where is she now?" He'd been so focused on his daughter's well-being that he hadn't even noticed that Candy wasn't in the room with her.

"Out getting us snacks! Hospital food is pretty good, but she doesn't seem to like it that much." She frowned thoughtfully. "I wonder if she'll remember to get me something, this time?"

Robert wrapped an arm around Nikki's shoulders and gave her a squeeze. Even if she was on pain medication for her broken arm, he didn't want to jostle her too badly by giving her a full hug. "You think you'll be all right on your own for a second, Nik? I, uh...have some things I need to discuss with your mother."

Nikki nodded. "Yeah, I'll be fine! I've been trying to figure out how this bed works," she said, indicating the hospital bed that was at an angle. Her back wasn't even against it; she'd scooted to the middle of it. "You think it'll crush me?"

Robert laughed. He had no idea where Nikki got her imagination from; she sure as Hell hadn't gotten it from him, and Candy...

His thoughts darkened as he got up from the bed. "I'll be right back, Honey," he called, hoping to reassure her. She didn't seem to notice him leaving.

Candy was near the vending machines, sure enough. She seemed to be trying to get into the good graces of one of the doctors who'd passed by. Damn it all, he actually seemed to be falling for them.

The poor sucker. If only he knew.

"Candy," he said. Both Candy and the doctor looked at him. Candy's expression went from flirtatious to vacuous; the doctor looked distinctly uncomfortable.

"Are you this woman's husband?" he asked. "If so, I have to apologize--"

Robert shook his head. "It's fine, Doctor. If you'll leave us..."

The doctor did so. Robert hoped he wasn't too late for whatever his job called for this day.

"Heya, Robert. Ain't seen you since Friday."

The casual tone of voice she used might almost have been comical. Robert wasn't laughing. Now that his daughter was safely out of earshot, he let his anger rise to the surface.

"For fuck's sake, Candy! I leave her alone with you for two days, and this happens?"

Candy's eyes widened a bit at that, though other than that, the look on her face didn't change.

"I was willing to put up with you using the TV as a babysitter and letting Nikki watch Rambo and Predator and Terminator. 'She's with an adult,' I told myself; 'she'll explain everything to her.' I was angry when you lost her in the mall for two days, but I was willing to overlook it, because she had so much fun."

He took a deep breath. "But this? This is completely unacceptable! For God's sake, Nikolette's arm is broken! That happened on your watch!"

"Calm down, Robert." Candy sounding so nonchalant made Robert that much more furious. "It's just a hairline fracture, and she's signed up on your insurance plan, so money ain’t an issue."

"You don't understand! You're her mother; you're supposed to be watching her when she's with you! I thought you were capable of that; why do you think I agreed to joint custody? Why do you think I let her see you every other weekend?" He sighed. "But it seems like you love your television and your phone more than your own child.”

That seemed to do something. Candy glared at him. "It must be so easy for you to judge, hmm? To sit back there and watch from a distance? You know nothin' about me!"

"This isn't about you! Our daughter got hurt! Our daughter is in the hospital!"

"You think I don't know that? You think I'm happy about this?"

"I..." Robert sighed. "Of course I don't, Candy. I'm sorry..."

"You're worried. I get it." She sighed and folded her arms across her ample chest. "I'm sorry, too."

"I don't think I'm the one you should be apologizing to," said Robert. He knew this apology was the best he was going to get from the woman he'd once had a one-night stand with ten years ago. Despite his frustration with her, he couldn't bring himself to regret anything.

After all, even if the relationship went south from its conception, she had given him the best thing that had ever happened to him.

"We should head back to her room," said Candy. "I got chocolate for us."

"Right. We can talk later."

Despite everything, the rest of the afternoon was pleasant. Robert was the first to sign Nikki’s cast. To Candy’s credit, she was the second.

Chapter Text

Ered was so cool. So impossibly cool. She had dyed streaks in her hair, torn-up clothing that was stylish anyway, and she knew everything there was to know about skateboarding and motorcycles and cars. What was more, she made it look so effortless; she didn't try to be cool, she just naturally was.

Nikki had tried to be cool. She really had. But in trying so hard, that seemed to make her even less cool. That was the paradox of coolness, it seemed.

It wouldn't be so bad, if Ered hadn't noticed. Nikki was positive that that was why she didn't want to be around her anymore. That, and she'd completely failed her, in that takeover of the camp. She hadn't stopped Mr. Campbell from returning and putting them all back to work.

That was okay, though; she could take in Ered's coolness from a distance. Nikki watched in awe as the older girl went air born on the camp's half-pipe and gracefully flipped her skateboard beneath her feet and slid down without any injury. Ered then kicked her skateboard up and caught it and started walking.

Walking towards her.

Ered was walking towards her!

Nikki scrambled to take her hair out of its pigtails and shook her head from side to side, like a wet dog. Ordinarily she would have liked the mental picture, but she hoped Ered didn't notice the similarities.

"Hey, Ered!" she exclaimed with a grin. "How's it going?"

"Pretty cool." Ered made a finger gun at her. "Cool 'do," she added.

It was all Nikki could do not to squeal. "Oh, yeah," she said, trying for nonchalant. "That's what I was goin' for, you know?"

"Right. So hey, why don't you and I take a walk? We can hang out."

Had Nikki died and gone to Heaven? It almost sounded like Ered wanted to hang out. With her. "Really?" she squeaked excitedly. Ered raised an eyebrow at that, and Nikki remembered herself. "Sure; sounds cool." It was only when Ered turned and started walking that she let herself fist pump the air.

Ered led them to a secluded part of the woods. This was awesome! Nikki loved the woods, and she really liked Ered!

"Ooh! We're gonna hang out here? Awesome! What are we gonna do? Climb trees? Skateboard? Ooh, are we gonna skateboard down trees?"

"That's a pretty hardcore idea, Nikki, but I was thinking we could just…sit and talk. What do you think?"

Nikki frowned, confused. That didn't sound very cool, but if Ered wanted to do it, then they would do it. She sat on her knees, while Ered sprawled out her long legs.

"So. You think I'm cool?"

Nikki nodded rapidly. "Uh-huh! You're the coolest person I know!"

Ered chuckled, and Nikki's heart fluttered in a really weird, warm way. "Thanks, Kid. You're pretty cool, too."

Nikki could have died right then and there. She settled for grinning and hugging herself.

"Your little crush on me is really cute, I gotta admit."

Nikki blinked. "A crush? Is that what this is?" she asked, looking down and putting her hands on her chest.

"Yeah, pretty sure." Nikki looked up at Ered's blue eyes. She'd always liked them...was it because she thought they were pretty? "Been there before, Dude; pretty sure I recognize one when I see it."

"Huh. I always wondered what they felt like. Now I know!" Nikki bounced a bit on her knees. "Is...it okay?" she asked, realizing the gravity of the situation she was in. She had a crush. On the coolest girl ever. And the coolest girl ever knew about it. What was going to happen from here?

Ered looked away from her. Nikki's heart sank as her laid-back smile turned into a frown. "Well...yes and no."

Her heart broke. "'No?'" she repeated.

"I'm, like, super flattered, Nikki. But I'm thirteen; you're nine. I'm way too old for you."

"Oh." Nikki felt a bit like a balloon, just then; all the excitement and other weird, warm, fuzzy feelings that had been keeping her afloat just seconds ago had just left in a quick rush of air, leaving her deflated. To properly show it, she flopped onto her back and stared at the sky.

"I'm sorry, Kid. It's uncool to be the bad guy and break someone's heart, but sometimes you have to do it. Just think of it this way; I'm not the only gay girl you're gonna meet in your life."

Nikki managed to smile at that. "I guess not."

"And we can still hang out, or whatever."

"Okay! That's still good!" Nikki meant it, for the most part.

Ered just gave her a smile. "Cool."

Chapter Text

"Well, I'd say today was a success! What do you think, Gwen?"

David looked over at his coworker just in time to see her pull her hood down over her face even tighter and wrap her arms around herself. "I think this weather can fuck off," she huffed. Despite the fact that they were in the counselors' cabin right now and she was bundled up in warmer clothing, she was still shaking like a leaf.

David smiled sympathetically at her. He couldn't really relate; he'd always had a strong tolerance for any kind of weather. "I'm sorry, Gwen. I'll make us some more hot chocolate!"

"What we need is a portable heater. Or another fireplace." It was obviously too cold and wet for the children to sleep outside in tents right now, so they'd moved the tables in the mess hall and had the children set up cots in there. The Quartermaster offered to watch over them while a fire raged in the fireplace. Both the counselors had been too afraid to say ‘No.’

David frowned thoughtfully. "I could probably set something up..." He shook his head. "No, that would never work; it would cause too many safety violations." Part of his counselors' training had involved where to set up fires. Inside the counselors' cabin was, unfortunately, not one of them.

"Since when have we ever cared about safety violations?" retorted Gwen.

David ignored that. "Well, I do have another idea..."

Gwen glared at him. He'd come to mind her glare less and less, especially since they'd started dating. Her big eyes were so beautiful to look at, even when they were narrowed at him in anger. "And what would that be?"

"Survival Wilderness 101, Gwen! Huddle together for warmth!"

Gwen blinked, eyebrows becoming less tensely knit over her large, pretty eyes. "That's...not a terrible idea, actually." She glanced at her twin-sized bed. "Might be a tight fit..."

"Even better!" David grinned at her. "That just means we'll be warmer for even longer!"

"Guess so." Gwen kicked off her boots before climbing beneath the covers. "I'm always the big spoon, so you know."

"I wouldn't have it any other way!"

Gwen's arms felt warm and secure around his waist, and it helped him to fall asleep faster than usual.

He was almost sad to wake up and find that most of the snow had melted.

Chapter Text

Gwen had always loved the rain.

In her opinion, there was nothing more soothing than the sound of raindrops on the roof, or the sight of it outside the window.

David hated it, of course; he'd never say so out loud, but Gwen knew how disappointed he'd get whenever a rainy day came about at camp. It meant that there would be no nature walks, no camping, no outdoor activities...everyone had to stay inside. A prospect that David was always somewhat distressed by.

Sometimes Gwen wondered if her boyfriend had claustrophobia.

She'd sent him to check on the kids, that night; they were camped out in the mess hall, near a raging fire. It was probably fine to let them sleep in their tents that night, but she and David hadn't wanted to take any chances. This was Gwen's third summer working here; she'd seen what could happen when just one person at this horrorshow got sick.

Hopefully that wouldn't happen this summer.

She took the rare moment of free time to treat herself. She curled up, warm, beneath her quilt with a book. This one was a rarity for her; not one of the romance or erotica novels she'd brought with her. It was still one she'd read before, though; it just happened to be one she enjoyed enough to read more than once.

Gwen had thought that the title 'Geek Love' meant it would be a YA romance about teenaged social outcasts, cheesy but easy to get through in one night.

Needless to say, that was not what it was about. In a lot of ways, it was better; far more interesting.

Something scuffled at the foot of her bed. Gwen looked up, rather annoyed.

There was the platypus. "Muack," it said.

"Hey there, you...uh...Little Fucker." She let herself chuckle. "Guess one of these days we need to give you an actual name, huh?"

The platypus blinked at her, unimpressed.

"I would've thought you'd love this weather." Why was she continuing? It wasn't like the thing could answer her. "Platypuses love the water, right?"

The platypus said nothing. Instead, it waddled up the length of her bed, only pausing at  the edge of Gwen's covers.

"Oh." Her eyes widened in realization. "Oh! Oh, uh...okay," she said, lifting up her covers. Gwen had had a cat once that did this; poor Krystal would get so cold at night, despite having a thick, white fur coat. Gwen had never known a cat that shed that much; she'd died years ago, but she knew her parents were still finding her hair everywhere.

The platypus waddled beneath the covers, where it proceeded to crawl into her lap and curl up. "Muack."

She smiled at the sight of the blanket-covered lump making its weird little noises. "Good night. You fucking bizarre little creature." She let herself pat the thing through the blanket. She couldn't be sure if the platypus actually liked it or not; it didn't react. It had probably fallen asleep, already.

Gwen continued reading, letting herself be drawn into the bizarreness of the Binewski's lives and antics. With the soft glow of the gas lamp on her night stand, the warmth of the furry creature in her lap, and the sound of rain on the roof and windowpane, Gwen fell asleep easier than she had in weeks.

Chapter Text

"You still pissed about that Sparrow ceremony?"

Jasper didn't say anything. He didn't even turn around in his cot to acknowledge Davey's presence.

Davey sighed and shoved his hands into his pockets. He supposed he couldn't blame Jasper; those light-up shoes of his had saved them, and yet, they'd gotten him disqualified from winning that award. Davey had then won it, himself, since he'd had no technology on him. Jasper had been right; Greg had confiscated his Gameboy Advance during his first week here. He was proud of himself for having kept it hidden that long.

Davey hadn't really helped, in winning that award; his response had been to wave the stick around and shout "Look what I got, bitcheeees!" His mother had always told him to be a gracious winner, but she didn't happen to be here, right now. Cameron Campbell had actually encouraged him, laughing heartily and slapping him on the shoulder.

Davey hated to admit it, but it had felt kind of nice.

"Look, I'm sorry, okay? I know it sucks, but--"

"It's not the award."

Davey blinked. "Huh?"

Jasper finally turned around. Davey stared...there were tear tracks running down from Jasper’s green-blue eyes. "You were right...this camp sucks. The electricity and plumbing suck, there's bears..." Jasper squeezed his eyes shut and took in a shuddering breath. "Huge cliffs...I almost died, Davey. I almost died, and no one cares."

Davey swore internally. What was he supposed to say to that?

Jasper turned back around, and curled in on himself. It looked like he was pulling his knees to his chest. Davey tried to ignore how his shoulders lightly shook.

"That's...not…true."

Davey looked down at his boots. His mother had gotten them from Goodwill; she'd insisted that his old, beat-up sneakers weren't going to cut it, for the unforgiving wilderness. She'd been joking about that...she had no idea how true it really was.

"I care. I mean...that shit was probably scary, huh?" He let himself laugh a little. "You're really brave, Jasper. I would've started bawling as soon as I hit the ground, if I were you."

Jasper sniffled. "Thanks, Davey. That…means a lot, coming from you."

A flash of guilt ran through Davey. He'd gone out of his way to be nasty to Mr. Campbell, Darla, and Greg ever since he got here. He'd especially been awful to Jasper, who, up until now, he'd thought was too stupid to realize just how horrible things really were.

Maybe he wasn't...maybe, this whole time, he was just looking at the best of everything and everyone.

Davey’s mother was the same way. She was always trying to convince him to take the same viewpoint.

"Yeah, well...for what it's worth, I think you should've gotten that stick, instead." It was just a stick, after all. Davey didn’t plan on coming back to this Hellhole next year, or the year after that; it didn’t really matter, in the grand scheme of things, anyway.

"Thank you."

Davey took a further step into Jasper's tent. He reached out to lay a hand on the other boy's shoulder, but stopped short. Instead, he cleared his throat, drawing Jasper's attention to him again. "So, uh...I was thinking, after curfew, I'd go to Spooky Island."

Jasper blinked up at him. "That island on the lake, in the middle of the camps? The one that's off-limits to all campers?"

Davey grinned at him. "Yep! That's the one! I've gone there before, but I was alone. I dunno...I thought it might be cool to have company, this time."

Jasper finally sat up and crossed his legs, which he folded his hands on top of. "I don't know, Davey..."

Davey lightly punched him in the arm. "Come on; you broke the camp's stupid rules once already. It's not gonna kill you to break 'em again, right?"

Jasper was silent for a moment before he gave Davey a weak smile. "Gosh, when you put it that way..."

"Exactly!" Davey clapped him on the back.

With that, they bided their time until dark. As soon as Darla was finished with her nightly check-in, they ran for the canoes.

Chapter Text

Gwen fell back against the bed, desperate for air. The air around them was hot and thick; it did nothing for the sweat clinging to her bare skin. Stupid fucking Camp Campbell and its faulty fucking air conditioning...

She closed her eyes; with the curtains drawn and the only light coming from the dimmed moonlight for the last few minutes, she'd grown accustomed to the dark. She shifted her head from side to side; her dark, thick hair, a heat sink at the worst of times, had now grown heavy  and wet with sweat.

She sighed. "God..." Gwen was already coming down from the afterglow, and was growing more and more uncomfortable with how sweaty and sticky she was. Without thinking, she spread her limbs out, futilely hoping to get cool.

Her right knee promptly bumped into another, bonier knee; her right hand wound up on top of flesh that was even hotter than hers.

Gwen smiled. "Hey," she said.

"Hi there." One of David's large, warm, calloused hands covered hers.

The day had been an exceptionally stressful one. Once David had double-checked that all the campers were asleep in their tents, he'd come back to find Gwen on the verge of an anxiety attack. He'd offered her one of his patented massages, and she'd gladly taken him up on the offer.

One thing had led to another, as such things often did. That was how they'd wound up here.

Gwen usually needed some space after sex; room to come back to her senses and cool down. Literally, in this case. Honestly, what had Mr. Campbell been spending so much money on that he couldn't provide decent air conditioning for his two decent camp counselors?

David, unsurprisingly, was a post-coital cuddler. Gwen found it equal parts cute and suffocating, although tonight's heat seemed to be affecting even him; usually he'd get all pouty at having to settle for just one of her hands on him, afterwards. Right now, he seemed to be content to just let Gwen do that while he caught his breath.

Gwen let her head turn just enough to look at him. His eyes were closed and a huge, contented smile was on his lips. The moon was bright enough that it cast bluish light through the drawn curtains, illuminating her boyfriend's incredibly pale skin. Absent-mindedly, she removed her hand almost all the way, save for her fingertips; with them, she brushed over the pale line of a scar that one of Nurf's knives had left, just weeks ago.

That felt so long ago...she'd felt so differently about David then. She'd felt so differently about a lot of things. Honestly, where had the time gone?

David let out a shuddering breath at her feather-light touch. "G-Gwen..." he managed to choke out. Gwen's gaze twitched downward, and she couldn't help but smirk at what she saw.

"Seriously? Again? It's only been, like...a minute. At most."

David's smile was so large and goofy and genuine that it almost hurt to look at it. Gwen found more than one part of herself aching at the sight of it. "Well golly, Gwen; can you really blame me?" He turned onto his side so he could look at her better. "You've got that effect on me. You're just...so incredible, you know?" One of his hands slid onto her stomach, where it lay there. He was waiting for permission to move it downwards, she realized.

Really, how could Gwen deny her darling boy what he wanted, when he was being so good?

She chuckled. "Okay, you; come on. Round two."

Everything around them ceased to exist. It was just the two of them and the heat and the pale moonlight, that night.

Chapter Text

Max had to admit, Lake Lilac looked surprisingly not-horrible during the night. The moon shone bright on its clear surface; in its light, he was able to make out various colorful fish swimming beneath. They swirled around his toes as he dangled his bare feet just off the edge of the dock.

He'd deliberately chosen to do this late at night, when everyone else was most likely asleep. Except David; that idiot almost never slept, in the few years that Max had known him. No wonder the guy was....like that.

He needed this. The day had been trying. Hell; it had been downright shitty. Shittier than normal, at this place. Really, it was all on a scale of 'not as shitty as usual' to 'the lake might as well be made out of shit;' fucking Woodscouts. Fucking Gwen. Fucking Nurf. Hell; his fucking friends.

"Fuck everything," he whispered. He wasn't angry; that was something he made himself look like, in order to get everyone else off his back. No...he was embarrassed. And hurt. Two things everyone else couldn't know.

Not that it mattered; Max was pretty sure no one had bought his shrugging the whole thing off, even walking away from his beloved teddy bear.

He didn't think anyone had seen him go back for Mr. Honeynuts. Or at the very least, that's what he hoped.

A thick clunk on the dock's flimsy, splintery wood sounded behind him, temporarily shaking him from his thoughts. "Go away," he said. If it was David or Gwen, he'd know how to deal with them and get them to leave him alone.

At least, that was what he'd thought, before this morning. Apparently Gwen was way more vengeful than he'd thought.

"Hell no! You don't own the dock, Man; I don't see your name on it."

"Goddamnit," sighed Max. Of course those footsteps belonged to Nurf; his feet were way bigger than Gwen's (how fucking big was he going to be, as a grown-up? Max didn't want to think about it), and he tended to walk and run with even more force than David. Which meant that he made a lot more noise.

It was the last person he wanted to see right now. Even if all the other kids had joined in his laughter, Nurf was still the one who'd started it. He was just glad he hadn't been around for the rest of reignreign that day; Gwen's job interview had apparently not lasted as long as she or David had thought. Besides that, Max knew how to make himself scarce; at the first thing to distract Nurf (Space Kid tripping over his own feet, the poor moronic klutz), he'd run off to be by himself.

If there was one thing he was grateful to his shitty foster parents for, it was teaching him how to run and hide.

"This seat taken?" Out of the corner of his eye, Max saw one thick finger pointing to the empty space next to him on the edge of the dock.

"Yes," Max said emphatically. Not that he expected it to do any good.

"No it's not; don't lie, Man." Nurf gave him a shove, though a lighter one than he would have expected.  With that, he sat down and crossed his legs over each other. It gave Max less room to sit; he scooched as far away from the older boy as possible.

"I've been looking for you all night, Max. Where've you been?"

"What the fuck do you care?"

"Just wanted to make sure there were no hard feelings about earlier."

A fresh surge of anger flared up in Max, on top of surprise. "What?" Finally, he looked up at Nurf's face. It was more relaxed than usual; he was actually smiling in a genuine-looking way. "You're fucking kidding me, right?" Maybe Nurf wasn't the brightest camper here this year (Max was pretty sure that was Neil, followed closely by him. Then maybe Nerris, although he'd never tell them that), but he definitely wasn't stupid.

Why the Hell wouldn't Max have hard feelings about a bully starting a round of laughter from other kids because they'd found out that he had a teddy bear?

"Look, Max, it wasn't anything personal." Nurf shrugged. Max noticed that, while he was still wearing those red-brown shorts and Camp Campbell Counselor t-shirt, that he'd at least ditched that ridiculous wig. Where had he even gotten that, anyway?

Max decided he didn't really want to know the answer to that.

"What the fuck are you talking about?" It had felt pretty damn personal, at the time. His nani--his birth mom's mom--had given him Mr. Honeynuts before she'd died, damn it.

"I give everyone here a hard time, if you didn't notice."

"I did notice. I'm not a complete moron." Neil was one of Nurf's favorite targets; the poor kid had been the first test subject of the wedgie machine from earlier. So were Preston and Harrison. Really, though, Max hadn't seen Nurf shy away from bullying anyone here. No one was safe.

"No, you're not. That's the thing, Max; you're like...one of the smartest people here. Not about science or that other dorky shit, but about shit that matters."

Max let himself smirk. "Heh. Yeah." Truth be told, that was something he prided himself on. He'd had to learn that shit; if he hadn't, he didn't know where he'd be right now. Probably some place shittier.

"You're the hardest kid to bully here."

"Huh." What was Max supposed to say to that? 'Thanks'? 'Good thing, too'? Maybe a 'Fuck you' would suffice here.

Before he could get that out, Nurf started talking again. "You think, if an opportunity like this came up, I wouldn't take advantage of it? Max, the too-cool tough guy of Camp Campbell, having a fucking teddy bear? Come on, Man; what else was I supposed to do?"

Nurf had a point. What bully with his salt would pass up an opportunity like that? "That...makes a surprising amount of sense," Max admitted.

"Besides, you kinda deserved to get taken down a peg today."

Max's smirk gave way to a glare. That was a Hell of a thing, coming from the campground bully. "Fuck you, too, Nurf."

Nurf responded by punching him in the shoulder. It hurt, but not as bad as most of his other punches did. "I'm serious, Man; the way you treated Gwen earlier? I know you're an asshole, but that was way too much. I mean...did you have to blackmail her? Really?"

"Wait...you know about that?"

Nurf shrugged. "It's a summer camp, Max. We're a bunch of kids; word travels fast around here."

"Oh. Right." How had he forgotten that? Just minutes after he'd told Neil and Nikki that Gwen would be leaving camp, the entire camp knew. And that was when he'd told them to keep it to themselves. "I need to ask...why do you like her so much?"

"'Cause she's angry all the time, but sad, too." With the moon reflected in Nurf's green eyes, he looked sort of wistful and far away. "Just like me...she's just looking for someone to take a chance on her." The look vanished immediately. "But in the meantime, she doesn't take any shit! Like earlier!"

"Oh." That made a lot of sense, too. "Plus you both got red hair." It seemed true; redheads seemed to have high, hot tempers.

"That, too. We both look awesome in green."

Max didn't comment on that. He turned back to the lake, kicking a little at the water. The silence that passed between the two boys was almost comfortable, in a weird fucking way.

"Don't feel insecure about it, by the way."

"What?"

"Having a teddy bear. We're kids; we got short attention spans. We'll find something even fucking funnier tomorrow. Pretty sure everyone else forgot."

Max scowled, and splashed harder, hoping that some of the water would get on Nurf's legs.

It didn't. "And besides...if you forgot, we're in the eight-to-thirteen age bracket here. You really think you're the only one with a stuffed toy you'd die for?"

Max blinked. That thought hadn't occurred to him. "I mean...I guess..." His eyes widened in realization as he looked back at Nurf. "Wait...you're not telling me...?"

Nurf grinned at him. "Yep! If anything ever happened to Mr. Pouncer, I'd punch everyone here in the nuts. Even the girls!"

Max laughed. "Holy shit, I would never have guessed!" Though maybe he should have; he'd seen, on more than one occasion, that Nurf seemed to be a huge softy, beneath that hardened asshole exterior.

He wasn't like Max; his calm asshole exterior gave way to a fiery hot angry asshole interior.

"So yeah; again. No hard feelings?"

Max wasn't sure what it was; maybe their talk had actually done something to him. Maybe he did feel a little better. Or at least, closer to the 'not shitty' end of the Sliding Camp Campbell Scale of Shittiness.

In any case, he said "Yeah; I guess. No hard feelings." At least, not for now. Not for this.

"Okay; cool. Good talk, Man." Nurf whacked Max's shoulder again, much softer than before, before getting up. He started to walk away--Max knew, by the sound of his boots on the dock--but then stopped. "And, seriously, be a little nicer to Gwen, huh?"

"Why?" Max was willing to admit, at least to himself, that yeah--maybe he wasn't the nicest to Gwen. He wasn't really nice to anyone, except the people he liked. Even then, it was his version of nice.

He'd found that it was just easier, that way.

Anyway, he wasn't really sure why Nurf was so focused on this.

"You two got a lot in common."

Max glared over his shoulder. "I swear to God, if this is about how we're like...two of three people of color here at this white-ass camp--"

"Nah, nothin' like that! I'm an equal opportunity bully, Max; I'm no racist!" Nurf actually looked a little offended. Maybe even hurt. "No; I just mean that she wants to be here about as much as you do. I don't know; maybe have a little more empathy?" He scratched the back of his head, looking awkward. "Y'know; just a thought." With that, he turned on his heel and started walking in the direction of his tent.

Max was left alone with his thoughts, yet again. For a few minutes.

With a sigh and another whispered "Damn it," he got up, picked up his shoes, and headed towards the counselors' cabin.