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Reverse Dadvid: MAXDAD!

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 Davey had been excited ever since the Quartermaster had said something about an order of exemplary campers. Max and Gwen hadn’t wanted to tell him anything about it, so he’d decided to look it up himself.

 Nikki had been up for raiding the Quartermaster Store, and they’d found a giant book full of all sorts of old camp rituals and activities.

 Davey had taken it back to his tent to read. Nikki hadn’t minded since she wanted to go chase squirrels before Adventure Camp this afternoon.

 The Order of the Sparrow was a big section in the middle of the book. There was a merit badge and everything, a ritual of going on a hike with a former member…

 Oh. Crud. There probably wasn’t a former member around to take him. Mr. Campbell had been gone for weeks.

 Davey turned the page to the list of members of the Order. It was pretty impressive, though it slowed down after the mid-seventies to only one entry in the nineties, the last entry.

 Max Anand.

 …MAX was the last person to get this award?

 That didn’t make any sense! Max hated camping! He clearly didn’t even like the camp!

 Or maybe…maybe this would be the key to get Max to like camp again, like he must have when he won this award! This would totally get him back in the camp spirit, by reminding him of good times! Right?

Right!

 Davey closed the book and headed out of his tent, looking for Max.

 He found both councilors arguing with Ered about the reasons to wear knee pads. “Max!”

 “What, David?”

 “You need to help me join the Order of the Sparrow!”

 Max’s eye twitched, “You want me to what now?”

 “Join the Order of the Sparrow! I found the book and know you’re the last person to join! Please?”

 “You WHAT?” Max yelped, actually ducking behind Gwen to try and avoid him.

 “I found out you’re the last person to get the Order of the Sparrow! Come on Max, please, please, please?” David asked.

 “Hell no, the whole order thing was discontinued by Campbell himself, we got reasons for this,” Max huffed, still holding Gwen out in front of him. “He said, and I quote, ‘Quartermaster, today was awful, I am never doing this shit again’ end quote. Got it?”

  “…But Mr. Campbell doesn’t have to do it. You could!” Davey said.

 Max’s eye twitched. “Gwen, help me out here.”

 “Oh yeah, help when I know nothing about this, sure,” Gwen muttered before sighing. “Look, Davey.  The Order of the Sparrow is…it’s own kind of thing. And even if Max is the only person around who can teach you, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to try and force him to.”

 “But…” Davey said.

 “No means no, kiddo,” Gwen said gently. “All right, Ered, safety first, have fun. Kids, we’ll be back in a few.”

 “Wow,” Neil said as Gwen and Max walked off. “You really freaked Max out.”

 “Yeah, that’s usually me or Nikki’s job,” Harrison noted.

 “I…I didn’t mean to,” Davey said, hurrying after Max to apologize. And maybe talk him out of his refusal.

 When he got to the councilor’s cabin the door was closed. Davey snuck around to the thin east wall to listen in. Davey felt really guilty about it, but Max looked pretty close to one of his minor freak-outs so he was sure to give Gwen a quick rant before coming back to the campers. This was his only chance to know what was going on, and maybe what had to be done to join the order.

 “So…what’s the deal, huh?” Gwen asked.

 “It is so stupid!” Max said. Davey heard him thump his desk the way he did when he got frustrated. “Campbell would take the camper out on a hike, with one other camper as backup. But no technology was allowed. Which is why even Campbell thought it was dumb. Anyway, I wasn’t supposed to get the order that day, Jasper was.”

 “Oh…was this when…?” Gwen asked.

 “That was later,” Max said. Davey wondered what they were talking about but Max got back on topic. “Anyway, since Jasper was my only friend he was nice enough to not leave me alone at camp without him.  So, I was his backup. We’re like, an hour into the hike to find some really good stick from this one big old redwood or something when Jasper fell off a cliff.”

 Davey gasped, but thankfully Gwen did too and that covered it for him.

 “Anyway, we couldn’t radio for help because no technology. Like fuck I’d take a kid out there myself without a radio after that,” Max said. “We go through this whole crazy bunch of shenanigans and shit and I found two sticks for me and Jasper—who’d gotten chased by bears, Campbell knifed them though—and we finally headed home. Jasper and I were even kind of starting to have a good time—until Jasper got disqualified because his shoes lit up.”

 “What?” Gwen asked.

 “Light up shoes? Started being a thing when we were kids, Jasper loved the shit out of them. Like, I think they were his only goddamn shoes,” Max said. “So, for wearing his own stupid shoes, he wasn’t allowed the order while I was. Had him in a funk for a week.”

 “Oh…and then the…?”

 “Yeah. That,” Max spat. “Look, I literally cannot do the fucking hike with David. It breaks all kinds of childcare regulations, taking a kid out with no radio or whatever. It’s clearly some fifties ‘romanticize the wilderness’ bullshit that didn’t age well. It’s not happening. I’ll think of something else or something…”

 “Something else?” Gwen asked.

 “I don’t know, something to distract him. It’s Davey, he’ll take it,” Max said.

 Davey stepped back, annoyed. So Max was just going to try and trick him into doing something else tomorrow, like he’d forget all about this in one day?

 No way!

 Besides, what was so hard about going into the woods to find a redwood tree and get a stick from it? Davey was sure there were tons of redwoods out in the forest around the camp and…

 And…if it really wasn’t so hard…he could do it himself!

 Yeah! He knew how to hike, and how to tell plants apart! He could find his own redwood branch! Then he could give it Max and Max would realize he was wrong and the Order of the Sparrow wasn’t something bad and it would really be a big deal!

 Davey ran off to his tent, intent on grabbing only the essentials—and no technology, like Max had said!—before setting off.

.o.o.o.

 “What’s that?” Nikki asked, trying to climb Max for a look at his clipboard.

 “Nothing, you little gibbon,” Max said, grabbing her by the back of her overalls and putting her down. Gah, he should have had an extra cup of coffee before it was time for Adventure Camp. After some bargaining, Nerris had “allowed” one side of her castle to be transformed into a climbing wall, and a zipline to be installed from it to a tree with a bucket of plush kittens to “rescue.” So far, the kids seemed into it.

 As for the clipboard, it was both a checklist of who was doing the activity (everyone because Gwen was going to tell the Quartermaster to start dinner and then come back and help him herd the little shits over) and plans for something to distract David tomorrow.

 Woodcarving seemed to placate the little redhead, as did literally anything that seemed frontier-themed. Maybe he could teach them to build raised garden bed…yeah, good transferable skill and it would take kids this young a few hours with minimal supervision. And it would give the parents something nice to look at when they came by eventually—and therefore something Campbell would approve of and Max could maybe wheedle some funds in exchange for maintaining. Max and the Quartermaster could go digging through the lumber scrap pile after dinner.

 “All right, up next, David!” he said.

 “He’s not here!” Neil said.

 “The fuck?” Max asked. “Well where else would he be? He loves Adventure Camp almost as much as Nikki!”

 “I saw him going into the woods, like, an hour ago,” Ered said.

 Max stormed over to her, “And you didn’t think to tell anyone?”

 “…Should I have?” Ered asked, clearly bored.

 Urgh. At least Nurf was aware he needed empathy lessons.

 “YES!” Max said. “The woods are dangerous and another camper wandered into them all alone! You should have said something! Or stopped him!”

 “Oh,” Ered said.

 “Yeah. Oh,” Max hissed. He grabbed his radio, “Gwen, Quartermaster, I’m sending he kids to the mess hall. David’s missing.”

 “Oh crap!” Gwen groaned as the Quartermaster said, “I’ll get the paperwork.”

 “We do not need the fucking paperwork yet!” Max snapped. “Ered, show me exactly where you saw David going. Now.”

 Ered swallowed and nodded.

.o.o.o.

 Davey stumbled, again. He’d wandered a little off the trail, looking for redwoods. He hadn’t remembered seeing any on the trail hikes, so it made sense for it to be off-trail, right?

 Only…he was maybe a little lost now.

 Well, all the rivers around he flowed to the lake, right? Right. He was pretty sure that was right. So…he could…maybe find a river? After finding a redwood, thought.

 Hm.

 He kept on walking. He had enough snacks and water or a few hours, he hadn’t come unprepared. He could be out here all afternoon if he needed!

 Or…maybe all night. Well, he knew how to rough it! Yeah!

 He’d be fine.

 He kept on walking. He had to find a landmark eventually, right?

 Right?

 “Davey?”

 …Was that…Max?

 “Davey, I swear to fucking hell you’d better answer me!”

 Yep, Max.

 Wait, Max?

“Max?” David called.

 “Oh, thank fuck. You keep your ass still and keep calling!” Max called.

 Max sounded...strained. Davey wondered why. He was just…on an unauthorized hike. Crud.

 “Sorry!” he yelled.

 “Just fucking stay still!” Max called back.

 Davey gulped as Max came into view. The head councilor had leaves in his hair and looked fit to be tied.

 “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Max demanded.

 “Trying to…find a redwood branch?” Davey offered.

 “How do you even…who cares,” Max said. “This was really bad idea, David. Come on, we’re going back.”

 “I just…I thought if I could do this…maybe you wouldn’t hate camp so much,” Davey said.

 “Kid, no force on this earth could make me hate Camp Campbell any less, got it?” Max said.

 “But why?” Davey asked. “You…you got the Order of the Sparrow!”

 “Yeah, well I hated the camp before that and I can darn well hate it after,” Max said, checking his compass. “Hm. Camp’s that way. Come on.”

 “…No,” Davey said.

 “Excuse me?” Max asked.

 “No! I’m going to find that stick!” Davey said. “I’m going to prove myself as a camper, with or without your help!”

 “David…you don’t have to prove anything,” Max said, shaking his head. “It’s just a dumb-”

 “You’re dumb!” Davey said, stomping his foot. “I just want to do a fun camp activity and you won’t even-”

 “No, you ran off into the woods all alone and could have gotten yourself killed!” Max said.

 “Why do you have to see the bad side of everything?” Davey complained.

 “Because someone has to!” Max said. “You’re a kid, so you sure as hell won’t! Now come on, we’re going back!”

 Davey ran away from him, “No!”

  “Davey, if this is because of the stupid badge thing-”

 “No, it’s because you don’t even fucking care!” Davey yelled.

 He and Max stared at each other blankly. Davey looked away first, his hands curling into fists.

 “You don’t care,” he muttered.

 Max sighed as the silence stretched on. “I…look, Davey.”

 “Of course I fucking care about you kids,” Max said, crouching in front of him. “Why else would I stay somewhere I hate as much as I hate Camp Campbell if I didn’t?”

 He took a deep breath, “I know…I’m not the nicest camp councilor you could have. I know that. I’m more concerned with keeping you all safe and psychologically intact than playing like everything’s fine at this hellhole.”

 “Yeah but…you’re really grouchy. Like Oscar the Grouch grouchy,” Davey muttered.

 “I’ll give you that. It’s because I’m really tired, kid,” Max said. “Running this place can be hell and a half and we’ve got a pretty hard mix this year that I’m more unqualified for than usual. I don’t have therapy training to help Nurf, fuck only knows what’s up with Harrison, if Nerris tries to run to Smokey Peak with jewelry one more time I’m going to snap, and Nikki…I usually don’t chase off that many wild animals in a summer, much less every fucking week, Davey. It’s a lot of work and I get tired.”

 “Oh. I guess I didn’t really…think about that,” Davey admitted. He guessed running a different camp for every kid had to be a bit of a nightmare. “Why are there so many camps, anyway?”

 “Because Campbell exaggerates this place to parents who fall for it and then if I don’t make the place live up to the exaggerations enough for the kids to buy it, we’re screwed,” Max said. “Space Kid thinks we’re going to put him on the damn moon. Do you think I have any idea how?”

 “…No. That’s why you keep letting him make his own rockets?” Davey asked.

 “Yep. Less dangerous and a good distraction,” Max said. “Now you’re getting it.”

 “And…and you let Neil work with whatever chemicals he wants because you know he’s careful,” Davey realized. “And you give Dolph art supplies because that’s safe, and make Ered wear a helmet and pads because-”

 “Safer,” Max agreed. “And while your energy may drive me up the wall a bit, you’re one of the easier kids here to care for…except when Nikki talks you into unauthorized trailblazing. That shit’s dangerous.”

 “Or when I run off all alone in the woods?” Davey asked nervously.

 “Yeah, that was pretty lousy of you,” Max said, grinning. “Come on, kiddo. New Order of the Sparrow Rule: it can be any damn stick you want. Find one on the way back.”

 “Huh?” Davey asked.

 “Well, am I the only Sparrow here or not? I make the rules now,” Max said. “Rule one, radios for safety. Rule two, stick is not determined by origin, but whatever the kid wants. Bam, we’re good, let’s get going.”

 “…That’s not how it really works,” Davey noted.

 “Then we’re the New Order of the Sparrow and we’ll do a camp activity tomorrow where you and I write a new rulebook,” Max said, shrugging. “This is Camp Campbell, Davey. If I can let Neil make nitroglycerin and Harrison can make you puke stage items without us getting sued to hell, I can sure as shit rework an old camp award.”

 “Language,” Davey joked.

 “Meh. You said fuck earlier,” Max said. “Come on kid, before whatever Quartermaster cooked up for dinner gets cold.”

 “Okay, Max,” Davey said. “…Sorry, again. For saying you didn’t care.”

 “You’re ten, I don’t expect you to have perfect behavior or something,” Max said. “You’re fine, kid.”

 “…Thanks,” Davey said. “You’re, uh, fine too, Max. I just wanted to see if it’d make you happy.”

 “Davey, you really want to make me happy? Don’t do anything like this ever again,” Max said. “That will make me a lot happier.”

 “Oh. Um, okay,” Davey said. “…Will you show me how to carve the stick?”

 “Keep Nikki away from dangerous predators for three days and we have a deal,” Max said.

 "Sparrow's honor!" Davey said, saluting.

 Max chuckled. "Sure, Davey. Sparrow's honor."

Chapter Text

 “Max, great news!” Gwen said.

 “The kids are all distracted with non-dangerous activates so we can take a load off for a few hours?” Max asked eagerly. Last time they’d tried, Harrison and Neil had a feud that led to a sick Davey and Nikki faking the need for an ambulance. But that didn’t mean not trying again!

 “Sort of!” Gwen said. “I found a stash of cash Campbell had squirreled away! And look what I did!”

 “You…took out a paper ad for a new assistant councilor?” Max asked. “Gwen, there’s like ten kids here. Someone’s going to question that.”

 “Ten kids with ten stupid different camps and way too little self-preservation instincts!” Gwen said. “Come on, Max, please?”

 “…Let me see how much you found and work it into the budget. I’ll want some of it for supplies and—whoa!” Max said as Gwen tossed the stacks of bills on his desk. He quickly did the math. “Thirty thousand? Shit, yeah, we’re good, Gwen, I-”

 There was a knock at the door.

 “Must be our first applicant! Hire them. I want to make this quick,” Gwen said.

 “I’m still going to do an interview, thanks,” Max said as he answered the door. “Hello, head councilor Max Anand, take it you’re here for the job?”

 The man outside the door grinned widely. “That’s right!”

  Max took him in. His platinum hair floofed in a way similar to David’s and he wore all white. Well, one strike already. No idiot wore white clothes to a camp. They’d be messy in under a minute.

 “Name?” Max asked.

 “Daniel,” Daniel said.

 “You got a last name? Or you some kind of hippie weirdo who thinks surnames are a chain?” Max asked.

 “Daniel…Wood,” Daniel said.

 “Uh huh,” Max said. “Former occupation?”

 “Motivational speaker. Here is my resume and references,” Daniel said, handing the papers over.

 Max skimmed them. No college, but he’d allegedly worked in a daycare. Hm. He’d have to phone some of these people but…well…

 Gwen was right, they were both exhausted. And outside of being weirdly cheery Daniel didn’t seem too bad.

 “All right, well, everything seems in order so far. I’ll give you a shot,” Max said. “You’ll start out assisting Gwen with the morning activities as a trial while I work out the paperwork and budget.”

 “Sounds lovely!” Daniel said.

 ‘M—hm,” Max said. “Oh, Daniel?”

 “Yes, boss?” Daniel asked.

 “I know where all the bear caves are around here. Hurt my campers, and you’re going to end up staked out in front of one, ‘kay?” Max asked.

 “…O…kay?” Daniel said.

 “Sweet. All right, get going,” Max said.

.o.o.o.

 Something was really, really weird about this new guy.

 Davey didn’t like it.

 He’d spent a lot of the morning talking to Gwen and Preston about “sense of the self” and “purification” and they were acting really, really weird now.

 Actually…more than them were acting weird. It was almost…spreading…

 Whenever people came out of that weird shed…

 “Ah!” Davey yelped as he accidentally backed into someone. He turned around to see Daniel. “AH!”

 “Sorry to startle you, sport,” Daniel said, grinning widely. Davey didn’t like his smile. It was weird.

 “N-no problem,” Davey said, backing away. He really couldn’t place what was wrong…but something was.

 “So, David, everyone’s been telling me how much you love camping!” Daniel said.

 “Uh, it’s…Davey,” Davey said. Max sometimes called him David but Max was Max.

 “Davey,” Daniel said brightly and suddenly Davey wished he was still calling him David because that sounded really weird. “You know, I was wondering what a camper who loves camping to much is doing all alone. Why wouldn’t you be Mr. Popular?”

 “Um…I’m not really the…popular type,” David said. He didn’t think anyone outright hated him, like they did Space Kid, but someone of them did seem to find him annoying.

 “Really!” Daniel said.

 Davey backed up another step, “Yep, really.”

 “I guess you get overlooked a lot, huh?”

 Davey tapped his fingers together. “Well, um. I…”

 “I’m sure you’re used to people ignoring you, right kid?” Daniel asked.

 “You—you don’t know that!” Davey protested, backing away.

 “Oh, of course I know. It’s written all over your face. You’re lonely and you want people to approve of you. That’s a human feeling,” Daniel said gently.

 Davey was starting to get creeped out. How did this guy know his parents didn’t give a darn? “I…I…”

 “If you just become purified, then it won’t matter anymore that no one cares,” Daniel said.

 “No….no one?” Davey asked.

 “Why would they?” Daniel asked and he was right and it was awful and…

 And…wait a minute.

 “Of course I fucking care about you kids.”

 Max cared. They’d had a fight about it just last week. Max cared. He was just Max about it, was all.

 So that meant…Daniel was a dumb liar!

 “Get away from me, creeper!” Davey yelled, trying pull away from the grip Daniel had on his arm. Nikki and Neil head him screaming, and Nikki launched herself at Daniel’s face, knocking him backwards.

 “Come on, we need to run!” Neil called, grabbing them both and taking off.

 They hurried up the path, away from Daniel and whatever craziness he was up to.

 “You two hide!” Davey said. “I’ll go get Max! He’ll know what to do!”

 At least, Davey hoped he would.

.o.o.o.

 Honestly even if paperwork was a pain, it was nice to just sit still and work out the camp’s backlog of issues for a morning. Gwen really had a point with the whole ‘spare councilor’ thing.

 However, he wasn’t sold on Cheery McBleachy. For one thing, none of the reference numbers had worked. Campbell would probably approve of that kind of shadiness but Max was trying to run an actual background check here. It was why hiring Gwen took so long—hard to find someone qualified, sane, and desperate enough to go through a ton of extra hoops just to get certified to work with children. They needed your freaking fingerprints! That was a weak forensic science anyway, just get a freaking DNA sample and call it a day!

 Hm. He’d have to run Daniel’s, just to keep him on until someone better came along. He could raid art camp for the ink.

 Max hummed. The stash Gwen had found was more than enough for a decently paid hire plus a few other expenditures.  More art supplies would be good. Dolph went through them like wildfire and if Max could lure more kids into nice, safe art projects and away from bear wrestling or casting spells on each other or stabbing, the easier his life would be.

 Rope might be a good idea. Not to tie the little shits up, tempting as it was, but it was multi-functional and knot tying was always something parents expected their kids to learn at camp.

 Maybe if he got some parts of a playground from a discount store Nikki could be distracted into building her own obstacle course…that could work…

 “MAX!”

 Max about jumped out of his chair as David came running in. “What the-”

 “It’s Daniel!” David yelled.

 “What’d you kids do to the new guy?” Max groaned. Of course. Of course they’d run the newbie off in half a day…

 “He got Neil mad by saying the Big Bang didn’t happen on its own and said it was Zemu first, and then when Neil started arguing with him he somehow got Preston on his side for some reason, and Preston’s been acting all weird about it, and people are acting all weird, and and and-”

 “I’m sorry, go back…he upset Neil by saying the Big Bang didn’t create the universe?” Max asked. “And started talking about…Xenu?”

 “Zemu,” David corrected. “And then he started asking Gwen all these questions about whether or not she was satisfied in her life…”

 “Urgh, his first day and he’s already undermining senior employees?” Max growled. “Shithead probably thinks he can have her pay grade if he drives her off…”

 “And then he started talking about a purification ritual-”

 “Hold the fucking phone, he what?” Max yelled, grabbing David by the shoulders and shaking him.

 “A…a purification ritual?” David asked as Max let him go. “He…he built this weird spa or whatever and Gwen and Preston and Ered and Nurf have been acting really weird and they tried to get us to go in and me Neil and Nikki ran away and I came to get help and I don’t know what to do, Max, what are we going to do?”

 Max stared at David as the poor kid burst into tears.

 “Figures the one morning I stay at a desk is the morning a cultist tries to subvert the camp,” Max muttered. Fuck. This could really put the kids in danger—and Gwen too. Damn it, how did the guy even get Gwen? She must have been too tired to catch on.

 “All right. David. Davey. Calm down,” Max said, awkwardly patting him on the head. “I’ll handle this…”

 “You…you will?” David asked.

 “Of course I will. I’m in charge while Campbell’s out,” Max said. And he’d need to get the cultist—and the police attention he’d doubtless attract—gone before Campbell got back if he wanted to keep his job and stick around and get what he needed. “Now, you know Nikki and Neil are safe, what about everyone else?”

 “I…I don’t know,” David admitted.

 “All right then,” Max said. “No one fucks with my campers.”

 Max crossed the room and tugged his jacket on. “Davey, tell the Quartermaster to go get my axe.”

 “You have an axe?” David asked, horrified.

 “It…it’s a guitar, kid. For music camp, remember?” Max asked, realizing the kid thought he was going to murder Daniel. “I’m only going to smack him with it, promise! Sparrow’s honor, kid.”

 “Oh, that’s okay, then,” David said. “But what about everyone else?”

 “…Well, my non-existent therapy training seems to be working on Nurf’s anger issues, maybe it can work for cult deprograming,” Max reasoned. “Or we can push them all in the lake and let the cold, shit-filled water snap them out of it. Yeah, let’s do that.”

.o.o.o.

 “I brought both,” the Quartermaster said, presenting Max with both his bass guitar and a hatchet he used to clear out the camp paths.

 “Dude, stop making the kids think I’m a serial killer or something,” Max said. He put the hatchet on his belt anyway. “C’mon, Davey. Music camp time.”

 “I’m not signed up for music camp, and you said I’m clearly an untrained singer,” David said.

 “You’re a kid, of course you’re untrained,” Max said. “Besides, this is playing instruments, not singing.”

 “How is music camp going to fix this?” Neil asked. Max had found him and Nikki hiding in a tree. Nikki had been very happy to see Max, to the point of jumping out of the tree to hug him.

 So now Max had leaves in his hair. Again. Those were always such a pain to get out.

 “I’ve got a few different plans running. Never let things get too set in stone when shit’s going down,” Max said as he started hooking things up on stage. “You need flexibility to be a mastermind, kids.”

 Soon the commotion of the music camp setup lured Daniel, Gwen, and the other campers. Max blanched at the blank looks on Gwen and the kids’ faces.

 That…that was not good. Okay, he’d focus on the bleached weirdo for now, and fix them second.

 “What’s going on over here?” Daniel asked.

 “Setup for music camp this afternoon,” Max said. “Sorry to say, you won’t be seeing it. You didn’t make the cut, man. Kids never finished the morning activities and you misplaced three campers.”

 “They ran off. Gwen said it was fine, right Gwen?” Daniel asked.

 “Right,” Gwen droned. Max glared at Daniel.

 “You can’t fire me, now, no reason to. I just did what Gwen said,” Daniel said.

 “I haven’t even hired you yet!” Max said. “You were on trial, you’re not going to work out, so I’m asking you to stop trespassing and get out of our camp!”

 “Gwen hired me,” Daniel said, handing over a contract.

 “Gwen is not head councilor and is not legally able to hire you!” Max said. “That is my job unless Campbell falls out of the sky right now and says otherwise!”

 “And what do you think Mr. Campbell will say about the fact that I’ve wrangled these kids fasted than you two could while getting paid much less?” Daniel asked.

 Max scowled. Campbell would so go for that, the bastard. He saw Nurf reaching for Nikki and smacked his hand away. “Nuh-uh.”

 Nikki hissed at Nurf before climbing one of the stage poles and perching at the top.

 “I think we can see who’s really got their campers under control,” Daniel said.

 “I think we can see a lot,” Max said. “Fine. You can try to out music camp me, bleach boy. But I’ve got to warn you, it takes a lot to out rock and roll me.”

 “Oh, I’m not much of a roller, I’m more of a…country boy,” Daniel said, producing a fiddle.

 “Now what?” David asked Max quietly, clutching his own guitar to his chest.

 “Losers first,” Max said, gesturing to Daniel. “Still got to tune this baby.”

 He got to work on his bass while Daniel started tapping his foot and began to play.

 “Oh, I really got to wonder why you even want to fight me,
I can tell this job’s not something that you love.
Now I’m a smart man and I think I’ve judged you rightly,
And you’re going to fold when push comes to shove!”

 “Keep on thinking that,” Max said, still tuning.

 Daniel grinned, “You’re tired, you’re worn, you’re off your game,
while leading is my claim to fame!
You left your camp in others’ hands
now it’s all fallen to my plans,
only question is: where do you stand?”

 “Kinda thought that was clear,” Max snarked.

 Daniel glared at him, “You hate the lake, you hate the trees,
You hate all the plants and honeybees,
The hate inside you is a pit,
You know you can’t crawl out of it.
You hate this façade, this camp charade,
You’re only here cause you get paid,
So why not just leave it all to me~?
You’ve kept it up, now let it go,
just let your antipathy show,
We all know I’m top of the line~.
I’m the best councilor anywhere,
while your campers know you just don’t care
about them at all so why don’t-”

 Daniel jumped back with a yelp as Max flung his hatchet right at him. Neil shrieked and hid behind David as the violin clattered to the floor.

 “Why you…” Daniel growled.

 “That was too far,” Max snarled as he started to strum his bass.

 David nodded. If he’d learned anything recently, it was that Max did not like people insinuating he didn’t give a shit about the kids. The camp? Sure. The campers?

 Not so much.

  Daniel began to play again, matching Max note for note. Slowly the chords from the bass got stronger, as Max’s glare at Daniel intensified with his playing as it started to drown Daniel’s music out.

 Max started to sing “This is all so sad, but now you’ve mad me mad, and so you’ve got to go~”

 “Yeah, get out of here!” Nikki yelled, throwing one of her shoes at Daniel.

 “You’ve stepped on the wrong turf, now you’re gonna drown in the surf, reapin’ what you sow,” Max sang smugly.

 “Yeah, that’s right!” Neil said while David tried to keep up as Max picked up the pace on his bass.

 “I think you’re coming into this a lil’ late
but hey, man, why don’t you step up to the plate,
you wanna prove that you’re truly oh so great,
when really you’re just se-cond rate~!”

 Max slammed his foot down on at the end of the drawn at note and resuming play.

“I’m Max fuckin’ Anand!
When it comes to brilliant plans
Well then, Daniel, I’m the man!
Oh it’s true!
And I simply will not stand,
With you going after my kids,
and everything else you did,
so today I will get rid
of this cult hack stealing my~ brand!
I’m Max fuckin’ Anand!”

 “He’s Max freakin’ Anand!” David echoed.

 “I’m Max fuckin’ Anand—and I’m the man!” Max snapped, before cracking Daniel over the head with his guitar.

 David, Nikki, and Neil’s jaws dropped.

 Max grinned. “Today’s lesson kids, when dealing with a dangerous lunatic, use the element of surprise. Now then, Davey, call the cops while I tie this guy up. Nikki, Neil, go throw Dolph in the lake and tell me if its shit waters deprogram him or whatever.”

 Nikki and Neal quickly grabbed Dolph and dragged him away while David caught Max’s phone and started to dial. Max crouched down and smirked at Daniel. He actually only had some duct tap on him, but of course the Quartermaster produced some rope from nowhere for him to work with. Weirdo.

 Useful. But a weirdo.

 “Well, now what?” the Quartermaster asked.

 “Now,” Max said quietly, so the kids didn’t hear him, “you are going to find a plausible way to get this guy attacked by bears before the cops show up.”

 “…I’ll go get the honey and potato salad,” Quartermaster said, setting off as Max finished tying Daniel to the stage posts. He wasn’t going anywhere…good for if the bears got here in time.

 Now, to herd everyone else to the lake. Even if it didn’t work, Max could just tell the cops Daniel tried to drown people. Yeah, that would work.

.o.o.o.

 “Y-yo-you suck!” Gwen hissed as Max handed her a towel.

 “Glad to have you back,” Max chuckled. “Seriously, though, I am disappointed at how fast you let a cultist use your insecurities to subvert you. The cops better tell me there was some damn good brainwashing juice in that lodge or you owe me like crazy.”

 “Oh no,” Gwen said, going pale at the idea of owing Max favors.

 “Uh-huh,” Max said. “You kids get Nurf in yet?”

 “AHHHHHH!” Neil screamed as Nurf burst out of the water, chasing him.

 “Oh, good,” Max sighed. “That’s everyone. Nurf, we do not shiv people who just saved us from cultish brainwashing! Go make Neil a fucking thank-you card right now!”

 “Seriously?” Nurf asked.

 “Get on it before I make you defrag his hard drives too,” Max warned.

 “Ah! I don’t even know what that geekery is!” Nurf screamed, running back towards art camp.

 It was good to be back in charge.

 “So…how did Daniel manage to get mauled by bears when you had him tied to the stage?” Gwen asked.

 “Well, Davey, Nikki, Neil and I had to come down here to help you, so I guess we’ll never know,” Max said.

 “Or we ask the Quartermaster since you left him to guard the guy,” Gwen noted.

 “What part of I own your ass right now did you not understand?” Max asked, smirking.

 “…Oh,” Gwen said, eyes widening. “Fuck, man. You get mean.”

 “You didn’t know that already?” Max asked before peering out at the lake. “Nikki! This is not the fucking time to swim to an island! Get back here this instant! Urgh, these kids sometimes…”

 “Yeah, like you didn’t just maul a dude with bears as your proxy,” Gwen laughed.

 “I will end you if this gets back to the kids!” Max warned as David and Ered coaxed Nikki back to shore.

 “Sure, man, sure,” Gwen said. “Well, with Daniel fired and the reward for his capture, I’d say we find a non-psycho to take the third job!”

 “Or give you and me a pay raise and accept that anyone else we hire is going to be just as bad,” Max said. “Whoops, I’m in charge, guess we’re going that.”

 “A raise?” Gwen asked eagerly before glaring. “Wait, how would they be that bad?”

 “Trust me,” Max muttered before jerking as David careened into his legs. “Watch where you’re going.”

 “Sorry Max! Thanks for saving us!” David said, hugging him around the knees.

 “Um….yeah. Davey, I’ve kind of got a reputation…Davey, I need to walk!” Max said upon realizing David wasn’t letting go. “Kid! Let go of me! Gwen! Gwen help! Davey this hug is too long! Argh! Why do I even bother?”

Chapter Text

 Monday: Therapy Camp for Nurf in the morning and Extreme Sports Camp for Ered in the afternoon.

 Nurf had done okay until he thought Max was adjusting his bullying schedule too severely, and then Max had to spend the rest of the morning pinning him. Ered tried to shoot herself out of a giant slingshot at Spooky Island and ended up doing a painful belly flop that Gwen had to dive in and save her from. Meanwhile, Neil got bored and ended up melting a pine tree with acid.

 Tuesday: Space Camp in the morning for Space Kid, Art Camp for Dolph in the afternoon.

 Nobody but Space Kid wanted to even do Space Camp, so Max and Gwen had to run side activities to keep them occupied. Art Camp ran okay until Max caught Nikki melting crayons in the microwave to make multicolored candles. She’d panicked and thrown the hot wax at his head. So, he had to cut a few curls out when the wax re-solidified and apply some burn cream.

 Wednesday: Science Camp for Neil in the morning and Theater Camp for Preston in the evening because the little prima donna wanted “ambiance.”

 Neil really worried Max some days, but he did seem to know lab safety. Tragically, no one else did and they had several fires. As for Theater Camp…eh, Max had seen worse.

 Thursday: Fantasy Camp for Nerris in the morning, Illusion Camp for Harrison in the afternoon.

  Fantasy Camp wasn’t too bad, except for getting some of the kids to pay attention and stay put—Neil and Nurf had both ended up sneaking off at various points, and Ered had ended up napping on a tree instead of participating but at least she stayed in the general area. Illusion Camp meanwhile…well, none of Max’s control ideas had worked for Harrison so far but at least the boy was still interested in safety, even if it wasn’t working out and they had to put out more fires.

 Friday…Adventure Camp in the morning for Nikki.

 Hoo boy.

 Max had gone with his plan to get Nikki some disassembled playground equipment and let her make her own obstacle course.

 He had forgotten she would draft Neil’s genius, David’s handy skills, Ered’s tools, and every other kid’s warped sense of adventure to make…The Monstrosity.

 The Monstrosity was a mess of rope, metal, wood planks, and what looked like a mud pit constructed by the docks, which Nikki claimed was the part of the course where you jumped in and swam to the end goal (the Platypus, thankfully ignorant of its purpose as it paddled around the lake).

 “…What have you done?” Gwen whispered in horror.

 “Me?” Max asked.

 “‘Let Nikki build her own adventure, Gwen. It’s better than her running off on her own, Gwen. It’ll be fine, Gwen!’” Gwen hissed, shaking him by the collar. “I listened to you, you madman!”

 “So, I miscalculated a little…oh, damn it, Nikki, where did you get that beaver!” Max yelped, rushing over.  

 “A little,” Gwen huffed, storming after him.

 “Put. It. Down,” Max told Nikki.

 “Aw, but he’s going to slowly chew through the ropes holding up the bridge so if you’re not fast enough you fall!” Nikki whined.

 Max glared at her, “Beavers eat wood, not rope. Drop it.”

 Nikki glared back but obeyed. The beaver then proceeded to chase Harrison until Nerris threw some dice at it.

 Then it chased her.

 “Oh, for crying…” Max groaned. “Get rid of the fucking beaver before I let the Quartermaster shoot it, Nikki!”

 Looking panicked, Nikki began to chatter at the beaver. That didn’t doo much, but then the Platypus showed up and started to chase it.

 Max weighed letting the kids watch nature take it course versus the amount of crying he’d have to deal with if he let them learn a life lesson about putting different wild animals in close proximity. Hm. Hard choice…

 “Save the Platypus!” Nikki screamed, obvious to the fact that the Platypus was clearly winning. Maybe its status as the mascot meant the kids would be okay with it mauling a beaver, then?

 Kids. Who knew sometimes?

 Nikki and the Platypus together drove the beaver off. It ran by David, who screamed and jumped onto Max, clinging like a terrified baby monkey.

 Well. There went that eardrum for a little while.

 Max put David down on the ground before sighing. “Okay. Okay. Nikki…you made this. Show me how it’s supposed to work.”

 Nikki beamed at him. “Okay, so, you start out hopping over the Logs of Balance, then you get onto the Teeter-Totter of Terror!”

 “…Where’s the terror?” Gwen asked warily.

 “There’s a fire ant hill under it!” Nikki said.

 “Oh no,” Max said.

 “Then, you get onto the deteriorating Bridge of Doom!” Nikki said. “Which…I guess isn’t going to deteriorate much more, but we did choose cruddy wood for the planks so I guess that’s enough. Then, there are the Swings of Justice!”

 “…Justice?” Gwen asked.

 “If you are not pure of heart, you’ll fall,” Nerris said.

 “Or if you don’t have balance worthy of American Ninja Warrior,” Max groaned. Oh well, they were only a couple feet above the ground, right? Oh, who was he kidding, someone was going to bang their head all right.

 “Then, you cross the Bars of Peril and the Planks of Fear over the mud pit until you reach the Dock of Diving!” Nikki said. “Then you swim to the ever-changing end goal!”

 “…The Platypus?” Gwen asked.

 “The Platypus,” Nikki confirmed.

 “And now you’re going to run it?” Max asked. “Gwen, get your phone out.”

 They had to be ready to call an ambulance.

 “YEAH!” Nikki cheered charging into the course. Gwen politely took pictures, hiding her stress fairly well.

 Max sighed as Nikki got past the swings. Those were the most dangerous part, he was pretty sure, so…yep, she took the bars well, and then planks over the mud pit.

 “Oh, thank goodness,” Gwen said as Nikki made it to the dock and jumped in the lake to try and catch the Platypus.

 “Well, at least that’s…oh no,” Max said, realizing several other campers had entered the course. “Oh, now you all want Adventure Camp!”

 “…I’m going to go get towels,” Gwen said. “And the first aid kit.”

 “You do that,” Max said. “Dolph, Dolph, just walk across the bridge—Nurf DON’T THROW DOLPH ACROSS THE BRIDGE!”

.o.o.o.

 “You two are gluttons for punishment,” Quartermaster said as he passed out lunch.

 “Fuck off, old man,” Max growled. He had ant bites from saving Nerris from the fire ants, mud in his hair from digging Ered out of the mud pit, and a bruise from the bars when he had to help David get down. Gwen was soaked from getting hugged by the dripping wet campers who finished the course.

 “Never. Again,” Gwen said.

 “Right, next time we’ll design the obstacle course, reduce risks,” Max said. When she glared at him, he shrugged, “Kept them busy all morning, didn’t it?”

 “True. But now you need to come up with Davey’s camp activity this afternoon.”

 Max sighed. David was actually one of the easier campers, which was part of why Max usually left him for last in the week. End things on a good note and all. Kid just liked some classic camp activities like light hiking, or ropework, or plant identification.

 Hm. That last one might not be too bad. Max was too tired to think up something big right now…maybe just give Davey press-kit and let him press a bunch of flowers to put in a journal later? Did they have a flower press? Crap, no. Well, they could use books and paper or something…

 “You guys okay?” David asked. Max startled slightly at the ten-year-old appearing at his elbow so suddenly.

 “Oh, um…yeah. Yeah, fine,” Max said, knocking back a little more of his afternoon coffee. “You, uh, have something specific to do this afternoon?”

 “Um…well…” David scuffed his foot on the floor. “I was kind of thinking…maybe explaining constellations? I don’t get to see them much at home.”

 “Like, stars? We can’t do that until tonight but…yeah, okay,” Max said, pulling out his phone to start googling how to find constellations. He’d have to use data instead of Wi-Fi to get it in a timely manner, but Campbell didn’t understand mobile contracts so Max had signed the camp up for one with a shit ton of data and pretended it was a normal price.

 Sometimes it was the little cons that made life the sweetest.

 “Oh, wow, that…frees up the afternoon then,” Gwen said. “I mean, outside of running after the kids when they stir shit of their own accord instead of to get out of activities but…yay.”

 “You get the True Crime channel; I’ll get the snacks,” Max said.

 “That is a done deal,” Gwen agreed.

.o.o.o.

 The evening was nice and clear, perfect for stargazing. Max made a mental note that the lack of clouds meant it would be sunny as shit on Saturday and to make everyone wear their damn sunscreen before running around. Last weekend Niki had forgotten to re-apply and was just short of sun poisoning when they’d hauled her inside. She’d spent Sunday in bed eating cold applesauce and complaining.

 Max would prefer to avoid a repeat.

 “Just you?” Max asked David as he walked over to the head councilor.

 “Quartermaster’s telling everyone else ghost stories,” David said, shrugging.

 “Oh, yay, kids waking up in the middle of the night screaming,” Max sighed.

 “Your ghost stories did that too,” David pointed out.

 “Yeah, and I regretted it when I realized it meant me and Gwen not sleeping along with you little monsters,” Max said. “…Should scare the shit out of you right before you’re sent home, then at least your folks will believe in my campfire stories.”

 “…Can you not?” David asked.

 “Hmm, I’ll think about it,” Max said. “So, anyway, I looked up some of the local summer constellations and I have to say, this whole thing is kind of crazy. I can tell you where they are but if you ask me, a lot of them don’t make much sense. Like Ares, the ram. It’s a line for crying out loud. So, yah, can point them out if you want, more in favor of you making your own. Own the sky, little man.”

 “Really?” David asked. “I know the Big Dipper looks like a spoon and I think Aquarius looks kind of like a vase or whatever but…Capricorn just looked like a triangle to me.”

 Max snorted, “Exactly. And Orion! Who sees three stars in a line and goes ‘I know, a belt!’ I mean, really?”

 They both laughed.

 “So anyway, why don’t you draw your own or something? Probably more interesting than trying to figure out what ancient Greek dudes thought they were,” Max said.

 “Yeah, I guess,” Daidy said. “I’m cool with just looking at them. They’re pretty.”

 “You sure? Okay, enjoy the view then,” Max said, leaning on the table. “Let me know if you need anything else.”

 “I won’t. I…kind of thought it might give you a breather, doing this,” David admitted, shrugging. “You looked like you needed one, and…well, it’s been a fun week, I didn’t need anything special.”

 Max stared at him blankly. “You…you did this to give me and Gwen a break?”

 David shrugged, “Better than you way too tired to do anything good, right?”

 “Kid, you’re a kid,” Max said, shaking his head. “You don’t need to take care of me and Gwen. Not that I’m not glad for the breather trust me, but…you know. We’re here to give you a good summer.”

 “…Oh,” David said. He looked back up at the stars.

 After a while, the phenomenon of Davey Being Quiet started to get a little weird and so Max decided to break the silence. Besides, the kid seemed a bit…off.

“You okay there?” Max asked.

 “Y-yeah!” David said quickly before frowning and slowly shaking his head.

 “No?” Max asked.

 “I…I kind of think…I think last year…my folks were kind of hoping I wouldn’t,” David admitted quietly. “Have a good time, I mean.”

 “Huh?” Max asked. That would be a first. Most parents were pretty well deceived by Camp Campbell and assumed it was better than the shit heap it was. Who sent their kid to camp hoping they’d have a bad time? Even Max’s parents just did it to get rid of him for a while, they weren’t actively hoping it went badly…he was pretty sure, anyway.

 “My folks…they’re not really…nature people,” David explained. “They’re into…tech startups, I think? And, I don’t know, they see nature as just something you need to control or whatever. So they hoped I’d have a bad time at camp with no phone or internet and stuff and…’get over it’ I guess.”

 Max gaped. David’s parents had a kid who wanted to go outside and didn’t like it? The fuck?

 “I mean, they really don’t like when I go outside on my own, think they’re going to get in trouble for me wandering off or whatever…” David said. “I mean, not like when you got mad at the hike, but me going to the park on my own to look at squirrels and stuff. They think they’ll get in trouble with the law.”

 “…Fuck,” Max said, not really having another response.

 “Oh, darn, I thought it would make you happy. You know, that you messed up someone else’s plan!” David said quickly, looking worried.

 Okay, yes, Max loved messing with peoples plans, the idea that he had foiled the plan of some tech-obsessed Silicon Valley shits was actually making him feel nice and tingly inside, really it was but…who didn’t want a kid like David? He was generally obedient, genuinely good-natured, had surprisingly good construction skills, and actually wanted to go outside. Like, wasn’t kids not wanting to do that supposed to be an American Crisis or something?

 “…I…don’t know what to tell you, kiddo,” Max said slowly. Other than that his parents clearly needed to get fucked but Max felt that might not be the right way to start this off. Yeah. That was more of an end-note kind of comment. “…I’m like…you’re a good kid, who wouldn’t want you to have a good summer?”

 “Oh,” David said, looking at his shoes. Max saw him grin slightly, probably happy Max wanted him to have some fun or something. “Um, well…my folks kinda…they’re not into nature, like I said. I think they think it’s a phase and I need to get over it, or whatever.”

 Well, if you were trying to get your kid to hate nature, Max could kind of see picking Camp Campbell. A whole summer of shitty facilities, no internet, no phones, no TV and, most importantly, no safety standards at all? Yeah, Max could see that. And then since David did have a fun time, dumping here for another year wasn’t exactly expensive and it still got rid of him.

 Shit bags.

 “You know, since I’m all well-rested and such now…” Max said. “I think after their night of keeping me up screaming, what your fellow campers are going to need tomorrow is a…nature walk.”

 Oh yes. He could be evil to the kids who clearly over-estimated their tolerance for scary stories and give David a proper activity after this awkward night of soul-baring.

 “…You hate nature walks,” David noted, snickering.

 “I hate this whole place. Might as well have fun while I’m here keeping you all in one piece,” Max said, shrugging.

“Then…why do you keep doing it?” David asked.

 Max rolled his eyes, “I just said, I need to keep you all from killing yourselves.”

 “No, I mean…if you’re so sure this place is bad, why not…close it down? Tell other people it’s lousy so no one comes? You don’t like it here anyway,” David said.

 “Trust me, some days it’s temping but…I have my reasons,” Max said, looking out over the lake.

 Nearly two fucking decades and he still had no clue where Jasper was, what had really happened to him. He had no proof that it was because of Campbell, that Campbell knew because he knew one of his campers was missing and it needed a coverup…

 Not yet. Soon. But not yet.

 Campbell would crash and burn one day, and Max would be there to see it and throw more evidence on the fire.

 But that day wasn’t today, or tomorrow.

 “Better hit the hay, kiddo,” Max said, standing up and stretching. “Nature walks take energy, after all. Campe Diem, and all that jazz.”

 “Campe Diem, Max!” David said, saluting and running off towards the tents.

 Max smiled. Well, this was a good night.

 Max heard a scream from the bonfire area and Gwen, exasperated, calling his name.

 Oh, so close.

Chapter Text

 “He rewrote Romeo and Juliet?” Gwen groaned.

 “Sequel, actually,” Max said, still proofreading. “Dunno, I kind of dig it.”

 “Are. You. Serious?” Gwen asked.

 “Gwen, this is the worst thing I’ve ever read. I love it,” Max said.

 “Liar! You love nothing!” Gwen said, pointing at Max dramatically.

 “Okay, whatever thing my black heart does that is an approximation of love,” Max said. “This is going to go down in glorious flames. We need to film it. It’ll be great to watch on the shit days.”

 “…Oh my god, you’re serious,” Gwen said. “Are you okay? Are you drugged? Did someone replace your coffee with decaf?”

 “Gwen, look at this shit!” Max said. “Romeo’s a cyborg brought back to life by Father Lawrence, who has turned to mad science. Juliet is reanimated with dark magic! There’s a random space battle! It’s like your trash TV, but better!”

 “Oh my god, you’re right” Gwen said, reading over some of Juliet’s lines. “I’ll get the camera.”

 “You do that!” Max said. Finally, this camp was going to pay him back the only way it could: comedically.

.o.o.o.

 “So…I bring you back from the dead?” Davey asked Nikki.

 “I don’t see why I can’t be the wizard…” Nerris said.

 “You said you didn’t want to be in the play,” Neil pointed out. “I mean, I didn’t either, but Nikki dragged me.”

 “No one told me there was going to be a wizard, though!” Nerris said. “Come on, guys!”

 “Nerris, get out NOW! You’re AUDIENCE!” Preston said.

 “Don’t tell me what to do, Preston!” Nerris yelled back.

 “Come on, Nerris,” Max said, going to take her by the shoulder.

 “No, I will be the wizard!” Nerris said, lunging at Davey. Max snatched her up before she made contact.

 “What you will be is made to call your parents if you assault another camper,” Max huffed, fighting to make her hold still. “Damn it—Nerris!”

 “Hope Max is okay,” Davey said as Max staggered out, Nerris stating her wizardry qualifications loudly the whole time.

 “Eh, he’ll be fine. Now, help me work a little karate into this part, will you?” Nikki asked.

 “Hey, guys, Max dropped something,” Neil said. “Huh, his phone.”

 “Oh, we should give it back!” Davey said.

 “Are you crazy? I haven’t had the internet in weeks!” Neil said. “Besides, it’s distracting me from freaking out about the play.”

 “Neil, Max will murder you,” Nikki said. “Besides, not like you’ll get past the lock screen.”

 “Saw him typing in his password awhile back,” Neil said. “And voila.”

 “…I will not be a part of this,” Davey said, backing away.

 “Uh-huh,” Neil said. “Dude, this guy has almost no apps…”

.o.o.o.

 “So, we have the camera?” Max asked Gwen.

 “Yep, set it up to side so audience chatter won’t register as much,” Gwen said. “And Nerris is distracted by trying to one-up Harrison in audience participation.

 “We should be worried?” Max guessed, passing her a small bag of popcorn.

 “Hell yeah,” Gwen said.

 Preston came on to announce the play, and Max chuckled at his over-dramatic bow at the end. Oh, this was going to be amazing…

.o.o.o.

 “Does this guy have any social media accounts?” Neil wondered as Space Kid played a convincing grieving father onstage…or as convincing he could be with his helmet still on and a beard taped over it. At least the Platypus was killing it as Lady Capulet.

 “Doesn’t Max hate socializing?” Nikki asked. “Why would he want to do it online if he hates it in life?”

 “That’s not the point! Dude doesn’t even have fucking Facebook! Everyone has Facebook, it’s an old people thing!” Neil said.

 “Nikki, you CUE is coming up!” Preston said, shooing her towards the stage.

.o.o.o.

 “I suppose we have no choice, beloved wife,” Space Kid said, laying a hand on the Platypus’ back before quickly withdrawing it as he realized the animal might bite him. “We must turn to…BLACK MAGIC!”

 A small smoke bomb went off onstage and David dramatically jumped in…defeating the purpose of the smoke bomb, which was supposed to hide his entrance. “Did someone say BLACK MAGIC!”

 “At least he’s trying,” Gwen said as Max snickered.

 “Urg, he is so not a black mage,” Nerris said. “He’s too peppy.”

 “Ah, the mighty wizard!” Space Kid said, walking over to David. “Please, revive our daughter, who died so foolishly!”

 “But how do you know she will not die so again?” David asked, the dramatic tone of the line undercut by the fact that he was still wearing a huge, goofy smile.

 Max had to admit, Nerris may have had a point.

 “She cannot! Her Romeo is dead, and so she cannot die for him again!” Space Kid said.

 “Very well!” David said. “Latinus Speakatus, Revive-Dead Julietus!”

 “…Why didn’t you edit that line-icus?” Gwen asked.

 Max shrugged, “Don’t know Latin.”

 There was a poof of smoke and a loud bang, and the coffin swung open, Nikki popping out.

 “I’m BACK!” she sang happily.

 The curtain swung close, declaring this the end of the first act.

 “…Nice,” Gwen admitted.

.o.o.o.

 “Neil, what are you doing?” Davey asked. “You were messing with Max’s phone the whole first act!”

  “Eh, there’s not much to mess with. He doesn’t have any social media accounts, and it looks like his email isn’t linked,” Neil said. “I’m mostly just looking up cool science shit to distract myself.”

 “I think Max thinks social media is a plot or something, that’s why he’s not on it,” Davey said.

 “I thought he just thought socializing was no fun,” Nurf said as he and Dolf set up the new backdrop. “So, you know, he wouldn’t do it in his free time.”

 “Good point,” Davey said. “Can we please, please give the phone back now, Neil? I can do it, my part’s over!”

 “Urgh, fine,” Neil said, tossing him the phone before heading over to be taped to the table. “Just wait a few minutes, say you found it on the floor.”

 “Sure!” Davey said.

.o.o.o

 “Oh, wow,” Gwen muttered as Neil sunk to his knees with an unconvincing “NO!”

 “Meh, he really doesn’t have the pipes for a real Big No,” Max said. “Especially when he’s trying to robot-ify his voice like that.”

 “The soliloquy is pretty good, though,” Gwen said, as they watched Romeo angst on the rocks. “…Why is he by the sea now?”

 “That’s where Father Lawrence’s lab was, keep up,” Max hissed.

 “Fret not, Robo-Romeo!”

 “…Who is she?” Gwen asked, only to gt an answer as Neil stumbled back with a “Tabii? With two I’s?”

 “This wasn’t in the script! Where’s Nikki?”  Max demanded, shooting to his feet.

 “She probably handed the part off. She really didn’t want to be Juliet,” Ered said.

 “Nikki hates the Flower Scouts, though…” Nerris said, and with that Gwen and Max shared a panicked look before Max bolted backstage.

 “Nurf, where’s Nikki?” he asked.

 “What are you talking about, she’s on…oh That is not Nikki,” Nurf said slowly.

 “Ach! Where is she?” Dolph gasped, looking around. “And how will we cover for this? Preston will be in tears if this goes wrong!”

 “After he called my keyboard work mediocre, I could go for that,” Nurf admitted.

 Tabii was suddenly knocked off the rocks by a small slim object thrown at her head.

 Max gaped. “Did someone just use my smartphone as a projectile weapon?”

 David leaped onstage, “Oh no! It is the danger of using Black Magic! Once the reievied Juliet learned of Romeo’s resurrection, her spirit became consumed with Romeo and only Romeo! Robo-Romeo, you must not let her kiss you! Or…something…”

 “That wasn’t in the script!” Max groaned. “Dolph, Nurf, help me find Nikki, now!”

.o.o.o.

 Davey swallowed at he looked at the audience. He’d just been ad-libbing and now was really out of ideas.

 “…And why, mighty wizard, should I not kiss my Juliet?” Neil offered, only managing to sound a little robotic due to shock making him squeak.

 “Uh…if you do it before she’s back to normal…you both die?” Davey guessed.

 “Roll with it!” Preston hissed form behind Davey.

 “…Okay,” Neil said. “Tab—Juliet, no kissing until you’re back to normal. Which means Nikki.”

 “Oh, no, that bitch isn’t getting that kiss! HIS LIPS BELONG TO ME!” Tabii yelled, tackling Davey before going to climb the rocks again. Davey jumped up and grabbed the edge of her dress. She started to kick him in the face.

 “It is…oof…worse than I—ow! Feared!” Davey coughed betweek kicks. “She is not merely a consumed Juliet! She is a separate Evil Entity! Romeo, if you kiss her, the real Juliet will…uh…die!”

 “Ooh, working in Swan Lake! You’re killing it, Davey!” Preston said as Nikki ran onstage, looking around.

 “Juliet, you must defeat your evil double!” Neil said.

 “Huh?” Nikki asked. “Oh my gosh, you guys got fighting in my role! You’re the BEST!”

 She lunged at Tabii, knocking the blonde to the ground.

 “Now what?” Neil asked Davey.

 “Uh…uh…” Davey said.

.o.o.o.

 “Audience participation time!” Max said, running back out front. “Kids, help save the real Juliet!”

 “…What?” Harrison asked.

 “Urgh, beat up the Flower Scout bitch for tying up Nikki,” Max corrected. “Their Garden Mother is going to get so much shit from me for this…”

 Nerris grinned, holding up some d20s. Harrison smiled, making some balls appear in his hands.

 “FOR THE LADY JULIET!” Harrison and Nerris yelled, charging the stage and using their projectiles of choice to help Nikki win the brawl. Neil just gaped, unsure of what he was even supposed to do at this point.

 “…Cool,” Ered chuckled.

 Tabbi ran off the stage, screaming.

 “…And so, thanks to…uh…my helpful Magic Guild compatriots, the evil Juliet has been defeated!” Davey said, throwing his hands into the air. “Now Romeo and Juliet can go and fight in the space battle together, like all the best couples do!” He grinned and gave the audience a thumbs up.

 “…Yeah, I am cool with that,” Neil said, helping Nikki up.

 “I’m on the guns, you pilot, woo!” Nikki cheered, hugging Neil and giving him a cute peck on the cheek.

 Nurf must have decided that was the best end-note they were going to get, as the curtain rushed down immediately afterwards.

 “…Best play done entirely by preteens ever,” Max declared.

 “Oddly specific category,” Gwen noted.

 “Shut up, Preston’s grandma will consider her money well spent once I burn her a copy,” Max said.

 Quartermaster sniffed, wiping a tear away with his hook, “Beautiful.”

 Preston edged his way onstage, “So, er…we had some difficulties but ran with it. How’d we do?”

 “Woo!” Ered cheered briefly, punching air. “Space battle couples for the win!”

 “Whew,” Preston said, wiping his brow.

 “Davey really covered for them,” Gwen chuckled. “…What was he doing with your phone?”

 “Don’t know,” Max said. “But the screen got cracked when ‘Tabii with two eyes” rolled on it so her Garden Mother’s buying me a new one.”

 “You really hate that woman,” Gwen said.

 “She told me knowing how to sew isn’t manly and constantly upholds the tyranny of lawn culture, Gwen!” Max argued.

 “Lawn culture is not a thing, Max,” Gwen said, rolling her eyes.

 “Ha. That’s what you’d think,” Max said. “Still, not a bad night’s entertainment…wonder if Tabii knows we tied her friends up backstage…?”

 “You did what?” Gwen yelped.

Chapter Text

 “MAX!”

 Max looked up from the skateboard he was repairing for Ered. “What?”

 Gwen ran over, looking pissed off. Max wondered what had gone wrong. She’d been heading a “narrative study” portion of theater camp this afternoon where the kids watched Disney movies to “inspire” Preston, and the rest of them if that occurred, but mostly Preston.

 “They watched Coco and now Preston wants to set the stage on fire!” Gwen yelled.

 “…Where did he get that out of Coco?” Max wondered.

 “There’s this artist who has everything in her show on fire,” Ered said. “It was wicked.”

 “Oh shit,” Max groaned. He’d forgotten the Frieda Kahlo scenes. Of course Preston would go for that. Of course. “Ered, helmet, pads, have fun. Nerris, call 911. Harrison…keep trying to make that rabbit come back.”

 “Why did I forget how much Disney likes animating dramatic flames?” Gwen cried as they ran to their cabin to grab extinguishers.

 “Because it’s Disney; so many people have bought into the pop cultural assumption that they’re all sparkles and dreams to forget they love the dark, dramatic, and hard-hitting emotional shit,” Max said. “Seriously, I think they have a bet for who can sneak the most random terrifying moments into their films.”

 “Of course, you watch Disney for the terror and conspiracy theories,” Gwen said, tossing him an extinguisher while grabbing another for herself. “Does wish upon a star mean nothing to you?”

 “You leave my conspiracy theories alone, Gwen!” Max said.

 By the time they got to the stage area, Preston had already set the curtain on fire.

 “YES! Look at that dramatic lighting!” Preston said. “Oh, if it was nighttime this would be even BETTER!”

 “Gangway!” Nikki yelled, coming up from behind them with a bucket of cloudy lake water. She threw the whole bucket at the fire. It put out a small portion of it. “…Darn. Okay, you guys try.”

 “Thank you, Nikki,” Gwen said before she and Max attacked the fire. 

 “But the DRAMA!” Preston whined.

 “I will give you so much drama after this is over, you little imp!” Max yelled. Preston gulped and stepped back.

 “Hey, why is it okay for you to threaten people when it isn’t for me?” Nurf asked. Max didn’t even know where he’d come from.

 “That was not a threat, that was implication of properly proscribed punishment at the hands of a crabby camp counselor,” Max said as the firemen came roaring up.

 “And, like, why was it okay for Miguel’s abuelita to, like, bash up his guitar like she did but if I threaten to take Davey’s guitar you get all mad?” Nurf asked.

 “It wasn’t okay for her to do that, that is the narrative point of that moment, that she went too far!” Max snapped.

 “Oh, but it was such a GRIPPING MOMENT!” Preston said.

 “You don’t get to analyze the movie when the movie made you set the stage on fire!” Max said, whirling on him.

 “But it was a good story!” Preston said.

 “It’s an amazing story, which you somehow missed the end of in favor of pyromania!” Gwen said.

 “Sir, how exactly did this fire start?” one of the firemen asked Max. Max assumed he’d missed all the yelling.

 “Kid got a weird idea, stole matches from the kitchen, set the stage on fire,” Gwen said.

 “Ah, kids. Campbell sure lets them free range it, huh?” the fireman chuckled.

 Campbell wasn’t even on the continent, as far as Max was aware. “It’s good for them to learn about consequences. Like no more theater camp until we can fix the stage.”

 “Oh,” Preston said quietly.

 “Yeah, oh,” Gwen said darkly. “…Where are Dolph and Davey?”

 “Still watching the movie, I guess? I did glue Dolph to his chair,” Nurf admitted, before wincing when Max glared at him. “I wanted to make sure he watched the whole thing instead of wandering off to draw!”

 “That is a lie,” Max said. “Neil, teach Nurf to make glue remover. Gwen, supervise. I’m going to round up Nerris and Harrison and put in Fantasia.”

 “You madman!” Gwen said. “Who knows what they’ll do!”

 “Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Gwen! It’s all about using magic responsibly!” Max argued as he headed back up the trail.

.o.o.o.

 Davey and Dolph were indeed still watching the movie, crying at the happy final scene. Max plunked Harrison and Nerris down too and started digging around for the Fantasia DVD, or at least that’s what his muttering said he was looking for.

 “Um…did Preston actually set de stage on fire?” Dolph asked.

 “Uh-huh. If any of you burn anything else today you’re in for it,” Max said.

 “…He does know that Frieda was using lights to simulate fire, right?” Davey asked. He’d thought that had been pretty obvious in the movie, himself.

 “Probably not,” Max said.

 “Are we going to see the hippo ballet? I heard this movie has hippo ballet,” Dolph said. “My mother says it is un artistic masterpiece!”

 “…Yeah, sure,” Max said. “There’s a lot of interesting stuff in here. I like ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ myself, but I’m me.”

 Davey guessed that meant it was scary or weird or something. Max usually liked scary and weird.

.o.o.o.

 “I’m going to expect an essay from each of you on that bit with Mickey and magical responsibility,” Max told Harrison and Nerris as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice ended. They grumbled at him but agreed.

 “Dinosaurs don’t look like that,” David noted at The Right of Spring continued.

 “Mm. Yeah, it’s a weird one,” Max said. Nikki had wandered in at some point and seemed glued to the screen. She clearly didn’t care how accurate the dinosaurs were.

 “…How much longer til I can get off de chair? I have to use de facilities,” Dolph said awkwardly.

 “It can’t take that long to mix glue remover,” Max said. “Or, you know, take your pants off. I can get a blanket for you or something.”

 “Nien, I like these pants,” Dolph said. “They have excellent lines.”

 “Whatever you say, man,” Max said before jerking as David yelped at a scary moment and grabbed him. “Easy, kiddo. Just a movie on a tiny, crappy TV. Ease up, I need that arm.”

 “We have done the impossible!” Neil declared, kicking the door in. “Nurf has accomplished…SCIENCE!”

 “If he made glue remover, then good,” Max said. “…This better not melt skin or some shit like that.”

 “Nah, we’re good,” Nurf said, pulling out a test tube and spatula. “Hold still, Dolph.”

 “I hope this does not stain mien pants,” Dolph muttered as Nurf poured some of the concoction on the end to the spatula and inserted it between the chair and Dolph’s pants.

 “We’ll have a fabric dying camp or some shit if it does,” Max assured him.

 “…That dinosaur isn’t scientifically accurate,” Neil noted, sitting down in front of Nerris.

 “This is from the fifties,” Max said. He did a quick headcount—all but two. Gwen must have been supervising Ered outside while making Preston clean the stage up.

 “Now how are these children supposed to learn to fight dinosaurs if you can’t show them accurate ones?” the Quartermaster yelled from the kitchen.

 “Oh my god, what is wrong with you?” Max groaned.

.o.o.o.

 “So, we’re skipping theater camp for a while?” Gwen asked over dinner.

 “Mm-hm, until the stage is stable again,” Max said.

 “And the kids are all going to have nightmares tonight from Chernabog?” Gwen asked.

 “Meh. He’s not nothing on the Headless Horsemen, and they got to see boobs on the harpies so I think the boys are good,” Max said. “Girls too, if they’re into that kind of stuff.”

 “…There are boobs in a fifties Disney film?” Gwen asked blankly.

 “Yep,” Max said.

 “And you let the campers watch it?” Gwen groaned.

 “It’s Fantasia, Gwen, we’ll be fine,” Max said. “Parents let Disney get away with a ton of shit.”

 “Hey, Max?”

 “’Sup, kiddo?” Max asked David, turning around so he could see the kid properly.

 “I had a question about the whole Bald Mountain thing,” David said. “It’s kind of, like, implied to be a cycle, right? Like, the demon-guy comes out every night and gets banished every dawn?”

 “Yeah,” Max said. “That’s the gist of it.”

 “Well…why do you like it, then, if it’s a cycle?” David asked.

 “I like the reminder that there’s always going to be evil, I guess,” Max said, shrugging.

  “I mean, I would think you wouldn’t like the inevitability and all. You’re all ‘fight the power, overthrow the government, eff the police’ and stuff,” David said.

 “Max, what are you telling these children?” Gwen asked sternly.

 “Valuable life lessons. A healthy distrust of authority is good for kids to have,” Max said. It had worked out for him, at any rate.

 “…You have never had a childcare class in your life, have you?” Gwen asked.

 “Nope,” Max agreed.

 “Is that bad?” David asked.

 “Ah! You’re still here!” Gwen said. “…Davey, don’t tell anyone what I just said.”

 “Okay,” David said.

 “Great,” Max said. “…Lawn culture?”

 “Disrupts natural environments, displaces native species, and encourages classism,” David said. “Also…something about dandelions being edible and thus good?”

 “You’re converting the kids on this?” Gwen groaned.

 “Don’t worry, I think Davey was the only one listening,” Max said. “All right, Davey, you’ve got the morning activity, so I was thinking-”

 “Moxie!”

 “Asshole,” Max muttered under his breath as Campbell came in before turning to face the camp owner. “What’s up, boss?”

 “Just checking in on how you’re handing our darling campers, is all,” Campbell said.

 “…Weren’t you in Thailand?” David asked.

 “Ha-ha! Such a kidder!” Campbell said before leaning in close to David. “You know nothing of that, got it?”

 “Mr. Campbell, please tell me you’re not intimidating a child in front of me?” Max asked darkly, hand tightening around his fork. Gwen eyed him warily.

 “Of course not, Moxie!” Campbell said, patting David on the head and handing him a ten-dollar bill. David stared at it blankly. “Now then, I heard something about recent expenditures…”

 “Yeah, we used the money you left for us to improve the place,” Max said, putting a hand under the table and indicating for David to beat it before the kid heard something he shouldn’t. He was pretty sure the guy had hid one body, no need to make it two.

 “Moxie, Ginny, you know I have a rather…strong gambling addiction,” Campbell said slowly.

 “Yeah, that’s how you became prime minster of Thailand,” Gwen sighed. Max concurred, they were working for a sack of shit.

 “Quiet about that!” Campbell hissed.

 “…You announced it to the entire camp,” Gwen said flatly. “It’s how Davey knew where you were.”

 “None of you know where I was,” Campbell scoffed. “And if anyone asks, you still don’t.”

 “You’re not staying?” Gwen asked.

 “Not with my backup money gone,” Campbell said, giving them dirty looks. “Now I have to convert my backup-backup funds and do you know how hard it is to find buyers for Nazi gold?”

 “…Have you considered remolding the bars so the swastikas aren’t there anymore?” Max asked.

 Campbell stared at him blankly before laughing and clapping him on the shoulder, “Ah, that’s my Moxie! Always the man with the plan!”

 “Don’t touch me,” Max muttered with a scowl as Campbell walked out of the mess hall, whistling. Some of the kids watched him go in total confusion as to why he was even back.

 “…You already have photos of the Nazi gold, don’t you?” Gwen asked quietly.

 “And photocopies of the pictures and where he got it,” Max said idly. “So yeah, he can sell it. I can prove he had it, and soon what he’ll do with it. Pretty sure he’ll get hit with tax evasion, on top of everything else.”

 “Mr. Fight the Power is going to use the IRS to further his goals?” Gwen asked.

 “When the time comes, sure,” Max said. “But for now, we have a camp to run.”

 “AH!” Dolph screamed as flames leapt out of the garbage disposal. “Chernabog has come for our souls!”

 “…I hate this place,” Max muttered as several other kids started screaming. “…I’ll get an extinguisher.”

Chapter Text

 Gwen groaned as she got back to the cabin from her mail pickup. Another day, another three rejections. What a waste of her weekend interview time. And she still had to work with the brats and the evil overlord for the rest of the day.

 “What’s got you so down?”

 Gwen jumped in the air at Max’s voice, and accidentally dropped her rejection letters.

 Max being the vacationing lord of hell he always was caught them and started reading.

 Gwen panicked, “No, no, no, give me-”

 “…You’ve been job hunting?” Max asked. “Without telling me?”

 Gwen cringed. Max was technically her boss, as head councilor. “Maybe.”

 “For how long?” Max asked, eyes narrowing.

 Gwen sighed and opened her file drawers.

 “Wow. Wow…wow,” Max said, shaking his head. “Okay, on the one hand, I’m pissed off. On the other…”

 Gwen began praying for the other. Max pissed off did not end well. He was vengeful to a rather disturbing, somewhat childish extreme. She’d never experienced it firsthand and had absolutely no wish to start.

 “On the other…maybe we can help each other,” Max said.

 “Beyond the usual?” Gwen asked, only to shiver at Max’s smirk.

 “Something tells me this will be well above the usual,” Max said. “But if you do it, I’ll help you out on the job hunt by writing you a letter of recommendation.”

 “You would?” Gwen asked. She had never thought of asking Max for that, since she’d need to admit to job hunting in the first place to do so.

 “Yep. Just fix my problem,” Max said.

 “…You don’t need me to kill Campbell, right?” Gwen asked. She didn’t even know where the guy was right now.

 “Oh, no, I’m still working on him,” Max said. “Glad you’d offer though, means a lot to me. Nah, it’s Davey. He’s been in a real mood all weekend and I don’t know why. Given my shit social skills, I’m not doing so great on the figuring it out angle. He’s been pretty cagey. So, I’ll handle the kids, you handle Davey’s problem, and then I’ll write you a letter of recommendation.”

  “…Huh?” Gwen asked.

 “Davey. Funk. Find out why, then fix it,” Max said. “Meanwhile, I have to re-input all my contacts and other shit on this phone and make sure the kids’ macaroni sculptures don’t attract too much wildlife.”

 “…Why would dry pasta attract wildlife?” Gwen asked blankly.

 “We’re not using dry pasta,” Max said casually.

 “I’m just going to…go investigate the Davey thing,” Gwen said. “Before you change your mind and decide to weaponize the pasta against me for job hunting behind your back.”

 “How did you know that was Plan B?” Max asked, smirking.

 “God, I hate you some days,” Gwen growled. Max just grinned.

.o.o.o.

 Max scowled at his phone. It may have been nice and new and run faster with a longer battery life but inputting all his old information sucked.

 Neil, the little shit, had coolly informed him that he should have backed everything up on the cloud so he could just download it all at once. Like Max trusted that easily-pierced hunk of floating data collections. Wasn’t a safe place to keep anything.

 So, Max had stuffed a handful of soggy rotini pasta into Neil’s curls during a pretend hair-ruffle to make his opinion on the matter clear.

 This had naturally started a food fight, which led to Dolph recruiting Harrison to make all noodles flying at his large dog sculpture vanish or otherwise be magically made to not damage it. Nurf got bored chasing people to shove pasta down their shirts and went back to using the pasta as intended all of his own accord. David kept just idly stirring a bowl of the stud, not really paying attention to anything. Nerris, on the other hand…

 “Linguine missile!” Nerris yelled, hurling a wad at Harrison.

 “Voila!” Harrison declared, catching the pasta in his hat and making it vanish…or not, as Nerris yelped and dumped her own hat out.

 Max flipped back to his notes app and noted down that Harrison was getting better at intentional teleportation of small objects. Then pocked said phone to go pry Nerris off Harrison before she broke his nose.

 “Yes, that was sneaky of him, but you threw that stuff at him knowing darn well what he can do,” Max said, putting her down. “Harrison, you know Nerris takes good care of her hair! Come help her get the gunk out!”

 Max winced as he felt some pasta hit the back of his head. In the shaved part too, so instead of catching in his hair it slid down his whole neck and down his shirt.

 Everyone gasped and Max quickly figured out who did it because they all turned to: Space Kid.

 Space Kid burst into tears, “I thought I saw something in the tree! I’m sorry I missed!”

 Max groaned. Of course. Of course Space Kid didn’t have a mean bone in his spacesuit. “…What did you think you saw?”

 Whatever was in the tree, if was gone now. Max frowned. Huh. Probably the Platypus or something.

.o.o.o.

 Penelope fought the urge to laugh and give away he position her camouflage couture had helped hide. That had gone even better than her plan to film Max Anand swearing at the children he was watching to put on the internet! Ha! Oh, what a start to the day…

 She winced as her phone buzzed. Thankfully the Campbell children were working on their projects again and the new noise covered for her. She shifted around the branch a little to pull her phone out.

 Urgh. The one of the girls burnt herself during the baking photo shoots they were doing to advertise future cookie sales. If that was the only pain the little brats were bitching about after a photo shoot, that was nothing. She texted them to slap some mustard on it and move on.

 Kids really didn’t know how things worked in show business…now, back to making today a living hell for Max Anand.

.o.o.o.

 Gwen sighed as she left Davey and Neil’s tent. Nothing in there told her what might be wrong—no disturbing letters from home, no contraband…hm. This would require some snitches.

 She grabbed Nikki and Neil out of the main group as they headed for the lake, and instantly recoiled upon realizing Nikki was covered in pasta.

 “Hi Gwen!” Nikki said. “Where have you been?”

 “No time, what’s up with David?” Gwen asked.

 “Davey?” Nikki asked. “I guess he’s been a little off since the Wood Scout raid…”

 “The what?” Gwen asked.

 “Last Friday?” Neil offered. “We got raided by the Wood Scouts? They only retreated when Max pushed Pikeman in the lake and swore more than usual?”

 “Max did what?” Gwen asked.

 “I think they were trying to make off with his favorite coffee,” Nikki said.

 “I’m amazed Pikeman’s not hospitalized, then,” Gwen said. “Did Davey get hurt?”

 “No, but Snake chased him and me up a tree until Nikki and the Platypus chased Snake off,” Neil said.

 “How did I miss this…oh, right, Housewives was on,” Gwen said. “Okay…wait, the Woodscouts were stealing stuff?”

 “Yeah. They took some of Dolph’s paints, and some of Nurf’s knives, Jermy…” Nikki said. “…And a canoe, to escape in.”

 “Wait, Max said Jermy was transferred! He showed me the forms—oh. He must have forged the signatures,” Gwen said.

 Neil shrugged, “Anyway, Davey’s been acting really down and-”

 “No, no, I got it, thanks kids!” Gwen said, running off.

 .o.o.o.

 “So, what’s for lunch?” Nurf asked Max after everyone finished cleaning themselves off in the lake.

 “Do I look like the Quartermaster to you?” Max asked.

 “Oh god, no,” Ered said. “But, like, we’re hungry.”

 Everyone agreed except David, who just kind of shrugged.

 “Come on then, you little shits,” Max said.

 They all started their walk back to camp.

 “All right, now we need to—fuck!” Max yelped as his foot caught a tripwire and he fell flat on his face. Some of the kids snickered.

 “Max!” Dolph gasped. “Are you okay?”

 “Fine, fine…” Max grumbled. “All right, who left their stupid traps out? Speak up now and I’ll be merciful, twerps.”

 “Looks like it’s part of my Swings of Justice!” Nikki said before growling. “Who took apart my adventure course?”

 “Kids, speak up before I let Nikki maul your cute little faces off,” Max said. “This is a really fucking dumb thing to go down for.”

 “Maybe it’s a leftover from the raid?” Neil suggested.

 “….Fucking Wood Scouts,” Max muttered as he cut the rope. “All right, kids, go get lunch while I go get cleaned up. Again.”

.o.o.o.

 “Move your popcorn sales a month earlier,” Gwen explained. “Obviously!”

 Pikeman’s jaw dropped as he returned to his board. “I…I see. Hm. We’d have to cancel the boat race.”

 Jermy sighed, and his boat suddenly caught fire.

 “Oh well, it wasn’t deadly enough yet anyway,” Pikeman sighed. “Very well, Gwen. We shall tell you where your prize is buried.”

 “…Buried?” Gwen asked weakly.

 “Well, yeah. We didn’t want it,” Snake admitted.

 “I did,” Jermy said.

 “No one cares, Recruit Fartz,” Pikeman said. “Now, Petrol will draw you a map as he has the best direction sense and cartography skills.”

 “…Thanks,” Gwen said, rolling her eyes. “Oh, and do me a favor? Mock the Flower Scouts like hell when you beat their sales.”

 “We were going to do that anyway, but for you we’ll put in some…extra effort,” Pikeman said, trying to put an arm around her waist. Gwen smacked it away.

 “Yeah, whatever, they crashed our camper’s play a while back.”

 “Oh. That sounds like fun. Can we have a play, guys?” Jermy asked.

 “Sure, we’ll do the Ugle Barnacle. You can be the Barncale,” Snake said as Petrol handed Gwen a map and a shovel.

 Gwen sighed. This looked like it was going to take the rest of the day.

.o.o.o.

 Max groaned, rubbing his temples. His head was killing him.

 “Are you okay?” Harrison asked as Ered pulled off another flip on the half pipe.

 “Some little bitch must have put decaf coffee in the coffeepot,” Max groaned. Just what he needed, a caffeine-deficiency headache while running things solo. Gwne had better get back soon.

 He glanced at David. The kid was still just kind of sulking off to the side.

  “TREE MONSTER!” Space Kid screamed, and Nikki reacted, hurling her skateboard into the trees.

 To Max’s shock, it hit something.

 Someone.

 “You,” he hissed as Penelope Press staggered out of the trees. “The fuck are you doing here you—are you filming this?”

 “Mm-hm,” Penelope said. “Just think what’ll happen. The kind of swearing you serve up will surely go viral, and well, I can think of a few parents who would call for you to be fired…”

 “You were in the trees during the pasta fight,” Max said. “And made that stupid tripwire. And swapped my coffee.

 “Yep,” Penelope said. “Don’t know why I put in he effort. You swear at barely any provocation and—argh!”

 Nikki tackled Penelope to the ground, “You broke part of my course?”

 “Hey!” Penelope said as Nurf grabbed her phone and threw it at Neil. “What are you-”

 “Lady, you need to actually use the lock screen number protection,” Neil said. “Who waives that in this day and age? Honestly?”

 “What are you doing?” Penelope demanded, trying to get the phone away from the little nerd before Max firmly planted himself in the way.

 “Deleting the videos, you dumbass,” Neil said. “Honestly. Fired over language. So fucking stupid…”

 “Thanks, kids,” Max said.

 “If we get rid of you, we’re stuck alone with the Quartermaster!” Harrison pointed out in terror. “…And Gwen, but she’s not here right now, so, the Quartermaster!”

 “Yeah, who’s going to hit cultists with guitars if you leave?” Nikki asked.

 “Or repair the stage from the fire?” Nerris asked.

 “Or send me to SPACE?” Space Kid asked.

 “The fuck kind of camp are you running here, Anand?” Penelope asked. She shrieked as David threw a rock at her.

 “Apparently a stunningly effective one,” Max said, shrugging. He wasn’t too sure about what Space Kid was on about, but then his knowledge of space was meh on a good day, so maybe Gwen knew. “Now, Penny, unless you want me to spread a conspiracy all over Sleepy Peak County that Flower Scout Cookies contain lead…”

 “The fuck you would, Anand!” Penelope said.

 “Are you joking? Max is the king of conspiracy theories,” Neil said.

 “It’s true, I am,” Max said. “So, Penelope, your girls are going to do some charity work and rebuild our stage, or I spread the rumors. Deal?”

 “…I hate you,” Penelope hissed.

 “And I love that you do!” Max said, smirking.

 “Deal. You haven’t heard the last of me!” Penelope called as Nikki let her up.

 “Bye tree monster!” Space Kid called after her.

 Max sighed. Well, that was solved, but he still had a headache…and David was holding another rock. “Kid, that’s not like you.”

 “…I guess I got a little mad,” David muttered.

 “Kids, break til dinner,” Max said. “Davey, let’s go talk. And get me some aspirin.”

.o.o.o.

  Gwen looked up as Max came into the cabin with Davey.

 “Oh, you’re back,” Max said as he went to his desk and grabbed some pills. He swallowed them without water. Freak.

 “Davey, I got your toy back,” Gwen said.

 “Toy?” Max asked as Davey looked hopeful, “Barky?”

 Gwen pulled out the stuffed dog. “Wood Scouts buried him.”

 “Barky!” David cheered, brightening up instantly as if someone had turned on an internal light switch.

  “He’s in pretty bad shape; sorry, Davey,” Gwen said, passing the little dog over.

 “It’s okay. Can…can we do a sewing camp or something so I can fix him?” Davey asked, cuddling the muddy toy.

 “Let me try to wash him, first,” Max said, drinking a water bottle. “…And you. Again. Because there’s dirt all over you now.”

 “I don’t care,” Davey said.

 “So, Gwen…how’d you deal with Pikeman?” Max asked.

 “Eh, told them how to get their popcorn sales to beat the Flower Scouts’ cookie sales,” Gwen said. “It was kind of obvious, really. Start the sale sooner.”

 “…Mwahahaha!” Max started laughing very, very evilly. Davey jumped a little in surprise.

 Gwen rolled her eyes and pulled Davey away from him. “Do I even want to know?”

 “Miss Priss has been trying to get revenge on him all day and was annoying and interrupted activities,” Davey said.

 “Oh. I just got revenge for him. Great,” Gwen said, rolling her eyes.

 “Haha-ha…” Max chuckled as his fit of evil glee wore off. “Oh man. Man, that’s good. Good stuff.”

 “Priss swapped his coffee for decaf,” David explained.

 “Shit, you okay?” Gwen asked.

 “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” Max said.

 “Well, wait until the headache wears off to write my letter, okay?” Gwen said.

 “No need, here,” Max said, opening a drawer and handing her some papers. “I’ve got a few different ones based on what tone you’re going for.”

 “You mean you had these THE WHOLE TIME?” Gwen yelled, realizing the dates on the letters were from days ago.

 “Yeah, had them for a couple weeks,” Max said. “Seriously, you should have said something way sooner. And, you know, let me know when I’m to expect you in states of rejection-based depression and all. Let us use the myriad rejection letters for crafts camp supplies. That sort of thing.”

 “You sack of shit,” Gwen growled. “You were never mad, were you? You lied to me!”

 “Of course I was mad, you should have told me. Like I’m going to fire you, remember, this is a desperate place,” Max said. “Seriously, how am I supposed to recommend you to anyone if I don’t know where you’re job hunting, Gwen?”

 “Die!” Gwen yelled, lunging at Max. Max dodged around her and ran out of the cabin.

 “I’m still the boss of you, you know!” he yelled over his shoulder as she chased him.

 “Eat shit, Satan!” Gwen yelled, throwing a clipboard at him.

  Davey looked at Barky and decided to just take the dog in the shower with him. Max clearly wasn’t going to have time to help him wash the dog tonight.

Chapter Text

 The peace of breakfast in the mess hall was suddenly broken by the sound of Nikki yelling.

 “MAX! Max, Max, MAX!”

 Max groaned, burying his head in his arms. “I haven’t had enough coffee for this yet.”

 Gwen sighed, turning around, “What is it Nikki—ah!”

 Gwen jerked backwards when Nikki shoved the Platypus in her face. Uncharacteristically for the Platypus, it did not try to bite her face off. It looked tired.

 “Nikki! We do not need that thing around where we eat out food!” Gwen scolded. Max muttered something agreeing with her, Gwen caught the mention of it being a “germ factory” or whatever but his arms muffled the rest of it.

 “But something’s wrong with him!” Nikki said. “Fix it?”

 “Nikki, we’re counselors, not vets,” Max said, raising his head with a heavy sigh. He frowned at looked at Gwen, “…Unless you have another degree I don’t know about?”

 “No,” Gwen said.

 “Darn. You know, vets can make decent money,” Max said. “Anyway. Not vets.”

 “And the Platypus is a girl, anyway,” David piped up.

 “…Huh?” Nikki asked.

 “She’s a girl,” David said. “…Male platypi…platpussies…boy ones have these venom spurs that are like…really bad and painful. She bites people all the time, if she had spurs she’d have stung us, but she doesn’t have them. Which is good because…yeah. Venom. Painful venom.”

 “…Huh,” Nikki said, flipping over the still-docile Platypus. “Yeah, no spurs. Wait!”

 Nikki looked up with a wide grin. David took a half step back. “Davey! YOU can tell me what’s wrong!”

 “M-me?” David asked.

 “Eh, why not?” Neil said. “You’re the only one here who knows anything about animals other than Nikki. And you’re more likely to have read a book on them than her.”

 “Okay,” David said, heading over.

 Max got another mug of coffee. This was going to be a three-mug morning. He could feel it.

 David poked the Platypus in the stomach. “Oh, she’s just…yeah, I think she’s gravid.”

 “Huh?” Nikki asked.

 “She’s going to lay eggs,” David said. “Platypussies can do that.”

 Max groaned and pulled out his phone, intent on finding the correct plural of platypus before that word imprinted on the kids’ brains.

 “She’s gonna be a mama?” Nikki asked excitedly.

 “That’s…kind of cool,” Ered said, leaning over her table for a better look.

 “And an acceptable camp activity!” Gwen said. “Max, we can get the kids to build her a safe place to have her eggs and chill on them. Easy morning!”

 “Hell yes,” Max said. Maybe he’d only need two coffees after all!

 “Did someone say…Cameron Campbell?”

 Nope. He was going to need four.

 “No one,” Gwen said as their boss made his appearance, having kicked the doors open. “No one ever mentions you by your full name.”

 “Ever,” Nikki agreed. “We kind of forget you exist, really. You’re not here much.”

 “That’s great, Natalie. Now, what’s this about our little cash machine being knocked up?” Campbell asked.

 “Dude! Kids!” Max said, waving at the campers.

 “You can give them The Talk later, Moxie,” Campbell said, waving him off. Max briefly fantasized about killing Campbell in his sleep.

 “She’s gravid,” Davey explained. “There’s going to be eggs!”

 “That’s great, Darren,” Cameron said.

 “It…is?” Max asked. He vaguely recalled something with eggs from his time as a camper, back when the Platypus had been some animal Campbell had been smuggling or whatever. He hadn’t paid attention. Or asked Jasper. He’d been kind of set on escaping, at the time.

 “Yep. Between you and me, a platypus is allegedly the hot new status pet in Saudi Arabia,” Campbell said. “And the Prime Minister of Thailand needs some cash fast. Little thing about me…allegedly embezzling all their funds.”

 “Did you?” Gwen asked.

 “Not important, Gladys!” Cameron said. “The point is, I can make some big Saudi bucks and fast. I don’t want to have to borrow from the Russians. I mean, have you met Putin?”

 “I…can’t say I have,” Max said slowly.

 “Yeah. Never be in debt to that one,” Campbell said. “Anyway, we’ll just wait for the eggs to hatch and then sell those babies.”

 “You’re going to sell the babies?” Nikki asked, clutching the Platypus to her chest.

 “…Oh. Right. The campers,” Campbell said.

 “Dude. Stop plotting in front of impressionable children,” Max said. That was Max’s job, anyway. But his plots weren’t international money rackets. He showed them cool plots, like how to mow crop circles to freak out your neighbors.

 “Eh-heh,” Campbell said. “Now, campers. This here is a wild animal. It doesn’t know how to take care of eggs.”

 “Are you kidding?” Neil asked. “Tell me he’s kidding.”

 “Of course not, Nigel!” Campbell said as Nikki protectively pulled the Platypus closer. “It’s a dumb animal! It could break them, or even eat them!”

 “…I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works,” David said. “I mean, it’s made to lay eggs…also I think Platypus eggs aren’t like chicken eggs.”

 “Cool,” Nikki said, looking at David with sparkling eyes before turning back to Campbell with a glare, “Back, you fiend!”

 “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Campbell muttered. “Look, kid, give me that—yeow!”

 As soon as he reached for the Platypus, Nikki stuck. She bit Campbell’s hand, before raising the animal above her head and running.

 “This way!” Nurf called, opening the doors for her.

 Max sighed. Time to get up and do something.

 “Move, move, move!” Nikki yelled, Neil and Davey quickly following her. Nurf ran outside and slammed the door behind them, Campbell bouncing off it as it swung into his face.

 “She bit me!” Campbell yelled, scrabbling to his feet. “After her!”

 Max tripped him as Campbell tried to rush out. “Hold up there, boss man. You can chase them, but me and Gwen have to watch the other six. Safety first, after all.”

 “Other…urgh,” Campbell said. Max smirked as he saw it sink in. Campbell couldn’t risk losing another camper. “Fine. I’ll bring those four back safe and sound. And the cash beaver.”

  “You’re really trusting him to run after the kids?” Gwen asked.

 “I’m trusting him until I’ve had more coffee,” Max said. “Besides, he’s up against an angry Nikki. That’ll buy them time.”

.o.o.o.

 “So, we’re like…rebels now? I’m not ready to be a bad boy!” Neil said.

 “We have to protect the Platypus from Campbell!” Nikki said.

 “Um, I just kind of ran out here because we were running,” Nurf said. “I’m not sure I want to be a part of this.”

 “No! If you leave, he’ll find us and the Platypus! And take her babies!” Nikki cried. 

 “…So?” Nurf asked, only to yelp when Nikki grabbed him.

 “Look, the idea of babies is doing weird things to my lower parts, so help me protect them or I’ll beat your face!” Nikki said, shaking Nurf by his shirt.

 “This is no way to recruit and inspire loyalty but okay!” Nurf yelped.

 “Look, we’re just trying to outsmart Campbell,” Neil said. “I think there’s a very simple way to do that: ask ourselves ‘What Would Max Do?’ and do that.”

 “He is a diabolical mastermind,” Nikki agreed. “Davey, you know him best, what do you think?”

 “Me?” Davey squeaked. “Uh…um…well, I mean, Max usually messes with Mr. Campbell by being someone he can’t fire. So, you know, doing stuff he doesn’t like but doing it from a place of safety?”

 “Ah-ha!” Nikki said. “Mr. Campbell can’t fire us! He’s never even hired us! It’s brilliant!”

 “…I don’t think that makes any sense,” Davey admitted softly.

 “Yeah, like, he’s not going to fire us,” Nurf said. “He’s just going to call us ‘dumb kids’ and take the Platypus.”

 “We’re not employees…but we ARE campers!” Neil said. “And he’s legally obligated to keep us generally unharmed, right?”

 “…I think that’s more Max’s job, but okay?” Davey said.

 “So, he can’t fight back! Awesome! Oh, you guys are going to love, this fighting people who can’t fight back…no, no, that’s wrong,” Nurf said. “It’s fun, but it’s wrong. So, so fun-wrong.”

 “Aren’t you trying to move past that?” Neil asked.

 “Yeah, but isn’t this technically for a good cause?” Nurf asked.

 “Eh, I’ll take it,” Nikki said.

 “So…um…now what?” Davey asked. “Mr. Campbell’s supposed to be a pretty good tracker, he’ll find us sooner or later.”

 “Let’s make tracks and make it later,” Nikki said. “We need time to armor up and get weapons!”

 “Here, weapons,” Nurf said, handing Nikki and Davey knives.

 “Dude, how do you keep getting those when Gwen keeps confiscating them?” Neil asked.

 “The confiscation box isn’t locked. I just taken them back,” Nurf said.

 “…I hate this place,” Neil muttered as they started walking again.

.o.o.o.

 “All right, it’s been an hour. I’m going to go hunt down our runaways,” Max said, stretching as he chucked his final coffee into a bin. “You cool here?”

 Gwen glanced at the six kids playing board games. “As long as I don’t pull out Monopoly I think I’m good.”

 “Sweet,” Max said. “Radio me if a riot starts.”

 “Go mess with the Man,” Gwen said, waving him off.

 Max grinned, “I intend to.”

 He swung by the cabin to pack a small bag before heading out into the woods. Nikki had an uncanny ability to find her way in here, generally off-trail but she wasn’t exactly a quiet bushwhacker. On the other hand, being off-trail would slow them down—Max doubted the boys and Platypus could get in the trees as easily as Nikki could, much less move around in them.

 Max had plenty of experience as a kid going off trail. Aside from Campbell getting him and Jasper lost as fuck, he’d always had a habit of wandering while at camp. It was pretty easy to orient yourself to the lake if you knew what you were doing, and if you did that then you were typically fine.

 Campbell would probably have a GPS with him, but unless there was a tracker on the Platypus, which there wasn’t because Max had checked in his own effort to keep track of the damn thing, he had no way of easily finding the kids.

 Max? Max had a cynical caretaker’s intuition.

 He smirked. They’d head for the mountains and caves. Easy.

.o.o.o.

 “Death before dishonor!” Nikki screamed, throwing herself out of the tree at Campbell. “YAAA!”

 “What the fuck?” Campbell yelped, just barely managing to catch her and hold her at arm’s length. “Where do they raise you kids?”

 Nikki tried to bite him anyway, and managed to get his hand. “The Pussy Warriors will not fail!”

 “The what?” Campbell asked blankly before crying out in pain as Nurf swung a branch into his crotch. “OW!”

 “Run!” Neil yelled. Nikki grabbed the Platypus and vanished into the underbrush, yipping loudly. Nurf followed her, grabbing a new branch to replace the one he broke on Campbell. Davey just ran.

 “How’d he find us?” Neil asked.

 “We must be too close to the trails!” Nikki said.

 “Yeah, Davey, why’d you make us follow them?” Nurf asked.

 “I only know how to get to the caves via the trails!” Davey cried.

 “Oh fuck, he’s crying!” Nurf said.

 “Davey, Davey, get a hold of yourself! We’re doing it for the Platypus!” Nikki said. She shook Davey. “For the GLORY of NATURE! Come on!”

 “This is just really hard, okay? I don’t know why Mr. Campbell’s being so weird about this!” Davey said.

 “Because he’s a rich slimeball, man,” Neil said. “I know he’s your outdoor hero or whatever too but…his scummy.”

 “White collar scum, so he’s going to get like, no jailtime most of the time due to his funds, but yeah,” Nurf agreed. “He’s shady.”

 Davey teared up even more.

 “Okay…not helping,” Neil sighed as Nurf carved at a tree with his knife. “Look, Davey. We’ll deal with Campbell later, man. We need your nature nerd powers to save the Platypus, by getting us somewhere to hide. Come on, man!”

 Davey nodded. “Right. Right, right, okay, I, um, I…okay. We orient ourselves by the lake. That’s the best way to go off-trail. And going by the lake, the fastest caves to get to should be…that way!”

.o.o.o.

 “Fuck fucksicks!” Max yelled as a bunch of angry squirrels started chasing him. “I’ve never done shit to you little demons of the seventh fucking circle! The fuck?”

 “Moxie!”

 “You couldn’t kill me quicker?” Max groaned as Campbell staggered out of the bushes and aimed a pistol. “Holy fuck, I was kidd-”

 Campbell fired at the squirrels, driving them off.

 “Oh. That’s why they hate people,” Max said. “…Boss man. You look…huh.”

 Campbell was walking funny, and he had a huge red bite mark on his hand. He also had leave everywhere and one of his backpack straps was cut.

 “Those children are like guerillas, Moxie!” Campbell said. “Did you hold Armed Antigovernment Resistance Camp or something?”

 “Closest we’ve gotten is Antidisestablishmentarianism Camp,” Max said.

 “…Why were you teaching the kids about the Church of England?” Campbell asked.

 “I screwed up. It was supposed to be Antiestablishmentarianism Camp but spell check fucked me,” Max said.

 “You’re such a weird hippie, Moxie,” Campbell muttered. “Come on, we need to get those kids!”

 “Uh huh. So, I think they’re going to go to the boathouse the Flower Scouts don’t use anymore. Nikki was a Flower Scout last year, so she knows about it,” Max lied. “You go left, and I’ll go right. One of us will catch them.”

 “Good man!” Campbell said, marching off.

 Max smirked. Sucker.

.o.o.o.

 “Cool!” Nurf cheered as Nikki scared the bear out of the cave for them.

 “Plus, Campbell will smell bear and totally think we wouldn’t pick this one!” Neil said.

 “You can smell bear?” Nurf asked.

 “Urgh, you can’t?” Neil asked as they walked into the cave.

 “Huh, ok, yeah. That is rank,” Nurf noted. “Very ‘dead pig on a hot day’ with a little more musk and piss.”

 “Ew,” Nikki said as Davey set the Platypus down on the bear’s vacated bud of leaves. “Well! We did it!”

 “Now what?” Neil asked as the Platypus started rather grossly laying its eggs.

 “We could set up fake caves?” Davey suggested halfheartedly as Nikki watched the eggs come out, fascinated. “In case he keeps looking? Then try to make it back to camp before dinner.”

 “Wow, it’s late,” Nikki said, looking outside. “Yeah, we’ll have to hurry. Going off-trail sure takes a long time!”

 “Not long enough.”

 “AHH!” the kids screamed as Campbell strode into the cave.

 “He found us!” Davey yelped.

 “Yes! Your dear large friend’s habit of carving up trees led me right to you!” Campbell said, pointing at Nurf’s knife.

 “..Damn it,” Nurf muttered. “Hoped it would help us get back not…yeah. Sorry guys.”

 “No, dude, good idea, just poor execution,” Davey said.

 “Oh. Thanks, man,” Nurf said.

 “A good thing, too, Moxie thought you were going to the boathouse the Daisy Girls don’t use anymore,” Campbell chuckled. “Boy, won’t he be out late!”

 “Uh oh,” Davey said. “Max…isn’t coming here?”

 “Nope. Which means it’s time for me to teach you kids a little lesson in poking things way bigger than you,” Campbell said cracking his knuckles.

 Neil screamed and Davey started crying as Nikki and Nurf got ready to fight before they heard a familiar shout.

 “The FUCK, Boss Man?”

 “MAX!” the kids yelled as Max elbowed Campbell out of the way and came into the cave.

 “You came!” Davey said.

 “Uh huh. Noticed Nurf’s tree carvings. Good job marking a trail, kid, even if it…uh…clearly got you caught,” Max said, glancing at Campbell. “All right, found the kids, let’s bounce.”

 “We need those eggs!” Campbell said.

 Max grabbed Nikki and Davey out of the way as Campbell rushed the hissing Platypus.

  “…The fuck are these?” Campbell asked, picking up the squishy marbles the Platypus was guarding.

 “The…eggs,” Davey said. “I told you, they’re not like chicken eggs.”

 “Are you sure?” Max asked.

 “Yep. Those totally came out the Platypus’ butt,” Nurf said.

 “Thank you for reminding me,” Neil admitted, cringing.

 “But…the eggs…we’ve had Platypus eggs for years and they’ve never looked like this!” Campbell said, throwing it down. Nikki quickly caught it in her overalls.

 “Those weren’t Platypus eggs.”

 Everyone jumped about a foot in the air and turned to see the Quartermaster behind them.

 “…What?” Max asked.

 “Those were never Platypus eggs. I replaced the real eggs with chicken eggs,” the Quartermaster said.

 “Why?” Davey asked.

 “Platypuses do shit in captivity. Eggs almost never hatch if they leave the mama,” Quartermaster said.

 “Like if you give them to campers to raise?” Campbell asked awkwardly.

 “Yep. Those eggs were never gonna hatch either way,” the Quartermaster said.

 “…Well. Kids. Let’s leave nature be,” Max said.

 “But-but-but…he’ll come back and steal the babies!” Nikki said.

 “Oh,” Max said. He frowned. He really wasn’t sure what to say to that.

 “Wait, so if Platypussies do badly in captivity…how would they be pets in Saudi Arabia?” Davey asked.

 “They’d die,” the Quartermaster said bluntly. “Last a week, if hey don’t croak on the trip over.”

 “And, say, someone might get blamed for selling the Saudis defective pets?” Max asked, smirking at his boss.

 Campbell whipped out his phone. “It’s me. Take out the body double.”

 “Huh?” Neil asked.

 “None of you saw me here! Dos vedanya!” Campbell yelled, running off into the woods.

 “…How do we still work for that guy?” Max asked.

 “Don’t know about you, but he pays me some pretty big bucks under the table,” Quartermaster admitted. “IRS thinks I’m dead. Heh.”

 “Huh. Well, let’s just get the kids back to camp. Come on, Nikki, I think the Platypus knows what she’s doing,” Max said, herding the kids out of the cave.

.o.o.o.

 “So, he’s gone?” Gwen asked.

 “Yep. If you see the news claiming he’s dead, don’t buy it—body double,” Max said.

 “…I really hope your recommendation letters work, and fast,” Gwen said. 

 “Bright side, easier to search this place without Campbell knowing. He’s going to be in Russian hands for weeks,” Max said.

 “And what, leave me with the brats?” Gwen asked.

 “No, no, I’ll do it on the days off. I’m not that big of a sadist Gwen, you know me,” Max said.

 “I want it in writing,” Gwen said.

 “You do know me,” Max said, smirking. “Yeah, okay, I’m on-”

 There was a knock at the door.

 “What now?” Gwen sighed as Max pulled out some paper to write down his contract for only hunting things down on off-days. She opened the door, “Nikki?”

 “Um…can Max come see Davey? He’s…kind of not…okay?” Nikki offered. “Neil tried to make him stop crying but Neil’s Neil, so he made it worse.”

 “Oh shit,” Max sighed, stopping working on his note. “Let me guess, he’s freaking over realizing Campbell’s a bad dude?”

 “Yep,” Nikki said.

 Max got his feet, “I’ll write later, Gwen. Duty calls.”

 “Go fix the little naturalist,” Gwen agreed as Max headed out with Nikki.

 “So, his tent?” Max asked.

 “Yeah. Nurf scared everyone off so nobody would see. I think they bonded in the woods,” Nikki said.

 “Okay then,” Max said, spotting Neil dithering in front of his and Davey’s tent. “Protip, it works better if you’re actually with the person you’re trying to be there for.”

 “I’m bad at this,” Neil said frankly.

 “You are, kid,” Max agreed, ducking inside. “Sup, Davey?”

 Davey looked up, sniffing. The kid’s eyes were red and puffy, and some snot dribbed out of his nose. This had been going for a while, then. Max sighed. He was shit at emotions but…he kind of got what was going on here.

 “Hey Max,” Davey muttered. “…Thanks for trying to help, today.”

 “I didn’t do much,” Max said. Frankly he felt the Quartermaster had done more.

 “…Mr. Campbell’s a bad person, isn’t he?” David asked.

 “Yeah,” Max said. He’d never exactly hidden his contempt for his boss around David, even if the kid practically worshipped Campbell at times. No need to start lying now. “Yeah, he is.”

 “And…he has been the whole time, huh?” David asked.

 “Davey, what’s going on?”

 “I just…I feel…really bad. Like, dumb for not realizing it, but also bad for realizing it,” David said.

 “You’re not dumb, Davey. You’re ten and he’s someone you looked up to,” Max said, guessing he was right to phrase that in the past tense.

 “…He was going to hurt us before you got there, wasn’t he?” David asked.

 “I…I don’t know,” Max said. Four bodies might have been a bit much for Campbell to cover up, all at once and such. Especially since he’d been tracking them all morning, had Nikki’s teeth marks on his skin, and knew someone would be looking for all of them which wouldn’t give him much time to hide evidence. At most he probably would have smacked them around a little—still awful, but at least they’d probably live.

 Max’s fists tightened, “I’m sorry. I should have gone after you with him. I…I was sure you’d stay ahead of him and was too chill about it.” He was way too fucking useless before his coffee sometimes.

 David shrugged, “We did stay ahead of him until right at the end. Except for that one ambush. And…and I guess the Quartermaster was keeping an eye out.”

 “Yeah. I’m wondering about that,” Max said. He still didn’t know much about the guy despite working with him for years, beyond some obsession with winning a tontine. Given that was a long-outlawed business agreement style, Max wasn’t sure how true that was or how long the weirdo had really been around. “…He doesn’t want the IRS to know about him, so maybe he doesn’t want too much attention on the camp or whatever.”

 “Yeah,” Davey said. “…Still…it kind of…sucks.”

 “I guess I knew this day would come eventually,” Max said, sitting next to Davey on the cot. “…Admittedly I thought it would be after he threatened you in the mess hall, but I’ve been wrong before.”

 “The day I realize Mr. Campbell’s a real jerk?” Davey asked.

 “Yeah. That one,” Max said.

 “…Like, not just a rich person jerk, but a jerk-jerk on top of it?” Davey added.

 “Mm-hm,” Max said.

 “Like a super-mega-jerk?”

 “Let it out,” Max said.

 “Why’d he have to suck so bad?” Davey asked, starting to tear up.

 “Cause he does. It’s his thing,” Max admitted. “…You really looked up to him, huh?”

 “I guess…I guess I thought he was…you know…everything my folks weren’t,” Davey said. “He was nature-y and outdoorsy and stuff. But he’s a lot like them. He doesn’t give a crud.”

 “Sorry that let you, down,” Max said.

 “That’s okay. You give a crud. You…you give a lot of cruds. You know what I mean,” Davey said, grinning.

 “I’ll keep you pipsqueaks alive, at least,” Max said.

 “Yeah. Max? Thanks,” Davey said, hugging him.

 “You’re welcome, kiddo.”

  “…When Mr. Campbell gets back, can we put cement in his tailpipe? That SUV of his is bad for the environment anyway.”

 Max wiped away a tear, “Aw, I’m raising a little environmental anarchist. I’m so proud.”

 “Death to The Man and lawn culture,” Davey said, folding his arms and grinning.

 Max laughed, “Sleep well, Davey. And ask Neil about sabotaging engines for me, okay?”