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sweet home

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It often felt like there was a laundry list of things to do. Getting the kids back was proving to be a lot harder than any of them had thought and the discomfort they faced having to navigate a world that revolved around living with 3 other whole adults they didn't know very well. They all had their own problems, weird quirks that affected the way they lived and saw the world. Darryl couldn't help but admire Henry, so open about how he was autistic and needed to function in a particular way. He felt as though he was learning so much in such a short amount of time about the vast differences in the way all 4 of them lived. Glenn and his hyper-casual day by day life going as slow as he felt necessary. How he hated stress and being rushed because it made him anxious. How Ron really had issues communicating and filtering what was considered socially appropriate and hated having his hair touched more than anything. The support systems (or lack thereof in Glenn's case) they all had.

Darryl found himself caught in thought again as they walked into a new town with the intent of buying more supplies. They'd managed across some extra gold while passing by what had seemed to be a robbery gone wrong and decided to use it to stock up on some more first aid supplies and food. Henry was practically dragging him forward, excited at the prospect of fresh fruit and a night without intense stomach pain, firmly holding onto Darryl's hand. Ron and Glenn lagged slightly behind, arms looped together to prevent Glenn from wandering off due to distraction. Glenn stifled a yawn behind his hand and idly complained about how early it was as Henry caught sight of a market setting up for the day. They managed to find themselves a basket and Darryl was designated to hold it, admitting that he wasn't much interested in the actual shopping part.

He watched his three friends wander around, Henry chatting with the stall workers about the difficult diet he had to maintain (one he had been trying to coax the others into based on similar painful eating symptoms) while Ron was trapped in a strange roundabout conversation about business cards with a giant seven foot tall rabbit and Glenn was staring at shiny jewelry. Darryl found himself spacing out into the comfortable mindset of keeping watch over his friends, trailing behind Henry predominantly so the food could be carried in the basket but otherwise wandering toward the others if they found something they liked and managed to purchase or (in Glenn's case) talk their way into it. It didn't seem like a big deal at the time, helping out people he cared about and were questing with. He was approached, however, by an older woman that Henry had been talking to but had become too impatient to wait for.

Darryl handed her the coin necessary for the jar of honey she handed him, along with the strange tea she had sworn would help settle their stomachs. Darryl didn't trust it, but Henry had seemed at least willing to try it so he hadn't said anything to dissuade the purchase.

"They seem to be enjoying themselves."

Darryl blinked as he slid everything in the basket, glancing at the woman again and eyeing her furred ears and tail.

"Who?"

She motioned vaguely deeper into the market and Darryl immediately sought out the boys, Henry convincing Glenn he didn't actually need another bangle because he had several in the van, with Ron looking panicked and stuck in the middle.

"Your lovers."

Something in Darryl's stomach jumped, molten hot, causing him to whirl toward her. Heat crept up his neck toward his face, his eyes wide.

"My-my what?"

"Lovers. It's clear you hold a strong bond, you don't have an interest in this market yet you trail behind them and keep them safe."

Darryl unconsciously puffed his chest out and stood a bit straighter hearing this, before wincing and slumping his shoulders a bit.

"We are NOT lovers. We're all married. Well-"

He thought of Glenn and how his face twisted when any of them brought up their wives.

"-most of us anyway. We're just trying to find our kids."

Darryl couldn't figure out why he felt so defensive, or why hearing the woman chuckle made his ears burn. He shifted uneasily, glancing back at his friends and feeling relieved to see them approaching. The woman placed a gentle hand on his arm, snagging his attention once more.

"Do not let this slip away."

She vanished into the crowd in an instant and Darryl blinked as he was dragged away by Henry, who was chattering about dinner and how many cool new veggies he managed to find. Darryl spaced out thinking about the woman's words and paying a bit closer attention to the others. Ron rejecting a seat and sitting on the ground, knees pulled close to his chest and rocking back and forth while he watched Henry cook. Henry chattering on in a soothing tone about anything he could think of while he carefully cooked over a fire with travel cookware, movements slow and attention focused entirely on the food so it wouldn't burn. Glenn sitting in a folding chair with his legs splayed in front of him, one foot wiggling and slowly but surely hunching more and more down in the chair. Darryl was filled with a weird warmth while he watched this weird assortment of dads he was forced to adventure with interact. The quiet serenity of the afternoon as the sunset in the distance.

He thought about Carol but only briefly, about the cold loneliness of a relationship with significant distance. Distance, he realized, that was nonexistent with the three other people in front of him. He blinked and glanced down at the bowl in front of him, then back up at Henry who was patiently holding it in front of him.

"Oh sorry, thanks, Henry."

Darryl grabbed the bowl carefully and used the spoon to curiously poke around. Fish and veggies on a bed of rice smelled delicious and from what he understood based on what Henry had said, it was gluten-free so it might prevent the weird stomach issues they all seemed to share. Henry always got this look on his face when any of them mentioned it but he never said anything, something Darryl mused on as he started eating. The crackling fire was really nice to listen to as the sky got darker and the air cooler, all four of them shifting closer to the warmth. Darryl looked around the fire, twitching as he felt pressure on his arm. Glancing down he blinked seeing Glenn leaning against him, yawning and rubbing his eyes with a slight shiver. Without thinking he wrapped an arm around Glenn and pulled him closer, noting that the chair he'd been sitting in before was empty and also that Henry was leaning against a log across the fire with Ron curled up against him half asleep.

Darryl felt good. He felt good for the first time in a long time, the anxiety of losing Grant and the other boys still present but a feeling of hope in his chest and another warmth in his bones that he didn't quite want to name. They quieted down, letting the fire burn for a while longer before getting up to finally sleep in the van. A cool breeze blew in from the open trunk as they piled blankets on themselves and flattened the seats. Surprisingly enough they all comfortably fit, Glenn curling around Ron and Henry with his head resting on Darryl's shoulder. Darryl was struck with the smell of mint from Henry's hair and the knowledge that Henry obsessively kept it clean because he hated the feel of it when it wasn't. He wrapped an arm around Henry and tugged him closer, overwhelmed for a moment by the feeling of Henry snuggling closer into him.

"I can feel you thinking."

Henry murmured against his shoulder, eyelids struggling to stay open.

"The honey woman said something to me today and I guess I'm just...confused."

Henry hummed as a signal to go on, eyelids closing.

"She seemed to think we were all....lovers."

The word was foreign on his tongue, but not unpleasant. He felt Henry shake for a moment and concern bubbled in his chest until he realized he was hearing quiet stifled laughter from him.

"Is that what people think when they see us now?"

Darryl shrugged carefully, trying not to dislodge Henry as he chewed on his lip and tried to think of what to say next. Henry shifted, arching his back in a stretch and yawning before he slung his leg over Darryl.

"Is that what you want? To put a name on this?"

Something popped in Darryl's chest, spreading a weird sensation through him as he glanced down at Henry.

"You don't have to label it if you don't want to. You can just experience it and let it happen as it comes. You seem to be comfortable now without it."

Darryl subconsciously pulled Henry closer and sucked in a deep breath, feeling the heat and presence of Glenn and Ron at his side and feeling, for the first time in years, safe and cared for.

"It's okay Darryl."

Henry's voice was soft as he started drifting off and Darryl breathed out, allowing his body to relax.

"Yeah. Yeah, it's okay."

Darryl mumbled, drifting off to the sound of Ron's light snoring and the sound of deep breathing from Henry so close.