David was in an absolute state , if he did say so himself.
The camp inspection was in less than four hours, and there was still so much that he needed to prepare before then.
He’d woken up late, shivering in a pool of sweat, and with a pounding headache behind his eyes and cheekbones. Several words he’d never say in front of the campers flew through his mind as he sat up slowly, painfully. Upright, the headache spiked and he winced against it, and everything whirled. If today weren’t so important, he might ask Gwen to entertain the campers for the day and go right back to sleep, but he couldn’t leave her with so much work.
Reluctantly, pulling a cardigan over his shivering body, he dragged himself to the mess hall.
Everyone, including Gwen, was already inside eating, shouting and throwing things.
“Nurf, utensils are a priviledge, and I swear to god I will take them away from you forever!”
David’s shoulders slumped tiredly as he poured himself a cup of coffee in preparation for a very long day.
“Morning, David!” Nikki greeted as he took a seat next to Gwen.
“Good morning,” David tried to chirp back, but the congestion in his voice was unmistakeable.
“Woah,” Gwen exclaied, “you sound like shit. Are you–”
David didn’t let her finish her sentence before he held up a hand defensively. “I’m just tired,” he defended, “Just need some coffee and I’ll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.”
Max raised an eyebrow. “You never drink coffee,” he argued. “You’re always just naturally chipper as fuck.” His eyes scanned David’s face and the flush of his pale skin and sweat that dampened his collar didn’t escape his notice. “And why the hell are you wearing a sweater? It’s like 90 fucking degrees.”
David shuddered, pulling it tighter around his frame. “I think it’s just the air conditioning,” he fabricated. “Don’t worry about me! I’m feeling great!”
Gwen’s “you don’t look like it,” drowned out Max’s “who said I was worried, asshole?”
David let the conversation die as he sipped on his cup of coffee and let Gwen introduce the day ahead, knowing full well even without saying it that his voice would likely not survive a whole presentation.
“Alright, kids,” she sighed, “you all know today is our camp inspection. As much as I know all of us would prefer to let it fail and just go home–”
“Not true!” David interrupted with a frown.
“–we’re going to try to pass because we can’t afford to give all your parents refunds. We’re going to clean up the central camp area first, then around the lake, then your tent area, got it?” She paused for questions, but none came. “Good. Now, keep in mind that every time we catch you slacking off will result in one day without dessert,” she warned, “because god knows that’s the only way to motivate you monsters. But if we pass, we’ll… I don’t know, celebrate, or something.”
Space Kid jumped up. “Can we have a pizza party?” he asked, and before Gwen could tell them it wasn’t in the budget, all the campers were so excited that she instead looked to David for confirmation. He wasn’t exactly paying attention, almost nodding off in his seat. Well then, the last thing he needed today was to be chasing the kids around in addition to all the manual labor.
“Sure, I guess,” she conceded, “we can do that.”
Without even being dismissed, the campers were out of their seats and polishing tables. The commotion had woken David, who stood and lead a few of the campers outside as if he’d been paying attention the whole time.
God, how did they manage to produce so much litter? Bending down to pick up trash and standing back up to throw it away was making David’s head spin, so he ducked around the corner of the mess hall to lay a steadying hand on the wall.
“Admit it,” Max’s voice demanded from behind him, making him jump.
“Admit what?” David asked, genuinely confused.
Max rolled his eyes. “Admit you’ve got the fucking plague and just go back to bed, dumbass,” he explained.
David shook his head. “I’m–”
“Don’t give me that ‘I’m fine’ crap,” Max cut him off, a tan edge to his irritated tone. “Even you’re not that stupid. You know you’re sick.”
He exhaled a shaky breath through his mouth and ran one hand through sweat-damp hair. “Fine,” he caved, “I woke up a little under the weather. But today’s our inspection, and we’ve all got to pitch in.”
“That’s stupid,” Max retorted. “If one of the campers was sick, would you make them fucking clean?”
David floundered. “Well, of–of course not.”
“Then why are you doing it?”
He pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose to alleviate the pounding headache and looked more tired than Max thought he even could. “Look, Max,” he said, dropping the fake enthusiasm for just a moment. “You can either make this easier on me, or you can make it more difficult,” he leveled.
“Like that’s even a question,” Max smirked deviously. “I’m always looking for opportunities to make your life hell, David.”
He sighed, but plastered on the fake smile once more and ruffled Max’s hair as he staggered back around the corner toward the other campers. “Okay, Max,” was all he said.
By the time they were cleaning the lake shore, the sun was high in the sky, and David had stopped shivering finally. After their water and snack break, which, Max noted with a frown, David had used to drink another two cups of coffee, they made their way with garbage bags and pokey-sticks to pick up garbage near the water.
“I found a dead frog!” Nikki exclaimed, and even without turning around from mopping the deck, David could tell that she’d picked it up by Neil’s disgusted groan.
“Nikki, please put the frog down,” he instructed. At this point, the mop was more or less keeping him upright, which made it impossible to actually use, but he really didn’t care. Who the fuck cleans the outdoors, anyway? It’s just gonna get dirty again, so he didn’t see why they had to do this every year. Picking up litter was one thing, but mopping?
A small pitter patter of feet clanged across the wooden deck and David steeled himself.
“What’s up, Max?” he asked, forcing the happy into his voice so hard that Max almost winced instead of groaned.
“This is stupid,” he said, gesturing to the mop.
David chuckled a little. “Yeah, it kind of is. But it’s on the checklist,” he said, taking Mr. Campbell’s list of instructions out of his pocket and letting Max look it over.
“Vaccuum the forest?” Max read, and David frowned.
“We’ll probably skip some of them,” he admitted. Max still hadn’t told him why he was standing here, aside from the obvious motive of avoiding the self-fullfilling prophecy of Nikki throwing her dead frog in an attempt to get it away from Gwen, who only wanted it so she wouldn’t throw it at other campers.
David swayed slightly against the mop before steadying himself. “So, do you need something? Finished with your…” he looked at the list to find the chore they’d allocated to Max, “painting the dead leaves green?” He looked back over the sentence and squinted to make sure he’d read it right.
“I didn’t do that,” Max said flatly. “It’s assinine. Take my dessert away if you want.” David hated to agree, but he found that he couldn’t enforce a punishment over refusal to do such a task.
“Nah,” David said. Max had taken off his hoodie, a clear sign of how hot the day had gotten, and was beginning to look a little sunburned. David always told him that he needed to use sunscreen even though he swore he never burned because of his darker complection, but David hadn’t insisted that day, and his cheeks were beginning to show it. “Let’s just take a little water break,” he said.
“I haven’t even done anything,” Max argued.
David smiled, gesturing to the still-dry, clearly unmopped deck. “Neither have I,” he admitted. “Come on.”
They found a shady spot under a tree and David all but collapsed against the trunk of it. A look of genuine concern flashed across Max’s face before he could wipe it off, so he made up for it by throwing the water bottle as hard as he could toward David’s stomach.
“Oof!” Max had sat down next to him and was drinking nonchalantly. Suddenly, a pair of hands were hovering over Max’s face, and he swatted them away.
“What the hell are you doing, David?” he snapped, but then noticed the open tube of sunscreen and how much better his face felt.
“You forgot to put on sunblock,” he said.
“I’ve told you before, I don’t need it.”
“I know,” he said gently. David finished applying it to Max’s arms, which were also starting to look a little red, and Max could feel just how hot his hands were from his touch. With a frown, he realized that this wasn’t just a cold, because David was almost definitely running a fever.
He squirmed uncomfortably, not wanting to sit still but not knowing what else to do. “You didn’t drink your water,” Max pointed out.
David shook his head. “I drank a bunch during the water break,” he lied. In truth, the coffee wasn’t sitting super well, since he rarely drank it and had nothing else in his stomach, and he didn’t want to drink anything else to further upset it. But Max didn’t need to know that.
“No, you didn’t,” Max accused. “I watched you.” David pulled the cardigan tight around himself once more, the shivering starting back up after the brief reprieve. Well, it was nice whiile it lasted, he thought.
He really, really looked miserable. Max had seen him pathetic before, of course–David looked pathetic almost all the time. He was easy to knock over, and cried with almost no stimulus, and weak. But this… this wasn’t a David problem. And Max couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. “David…”
David stood, wavering for a moment so strongly that Max had to reach up and push on his back so he wouldn’t collapse backward, when he saw Gwen walking toward them.
“Max, are you being a little shit? I can take away your dessert,” she threatened.
David interjected. “No, we were just taking a water break,” he said. “He needed some sunscreen.” She took in the slight burn on Max’s cheeks and nodded, then looked back to David with a concerned grimace. “How are you holding up?” she asked.
“Just fine!” he said with a grin, “just taking a water break.” He sipped from the bottle Max had given him, and Gwen nodded.
“Well, we’re pretty much done here.”
David glanced over the scenery. “It looks the same,” he noted with a frown, and Gwen rolled her eyes.
“Exactly,” she said. “After we clean up a bit around the campers’ tents, I bet the kids will be hungry, so we’ll probably stop for lunch. Sound good?”
David wanted nothing more than to be done now . “Sounds great,” he nodded, slumping again as she jogged off to lead the campers back.
The headache was worse than it had been all day, now complete with an earache and swimming vision.
Just one more chore. He could handle that.
He was wrong. He was so horribly wrong.
Even just the short walk back to the tents was hugely taxing, and he was exhausted by the time they got there.
Max had walked with him the way back, not saying a word. His level of giving a shit about David’s health had gone from “usually being the one that was trying to hurt him” to pretty fucking worried. He was walking like he was drunk, and quiet, which Max didn’t even think David could be. This was the man who fucking recited types of trees in his sleep . What fun was torturing David if he was already at rock-bottom misery?
David was determined to do at least one helpful thing today. Emptying trashes and putting the bags in the dumpster. That was his something. The campers weren’t tall enough to reach to throw them in, and Gwen was afraid of going near it after the night that what she would go into no further detail than to call a “possum altercation” had occurred, so David could toss out the trash bags.
But they were heavy. And he was tired. And dizzy. And cold. How could it be hot and cold at the same time? And why was it dark?
He couldn’t even bring himself to heave the trash bags into the dumpster before he collapsed into the dirt, clipping his head on the side of the metal bin.
“David!” an uncharacteristically worried voice exclaimed. Shit, how out of it did he have to be to not notice Max following him here? The kid was anything but subtle.
Max knelt down next to him as he forced himself to sit up against the dumpster, his vision blurring again with the movement. His hands were on David’s shoulders, keeping him upright.
“Gentle fucking Jesus, David,” he muttered, “can you hear me?”
David nodded, embarrassed. The campers shouldn’t see him weak like this.
Max’s face was close and wide-eyed. Hiding that he didn’t actually hate David was the furthest thing from his mind right now.
“You just–went down,” he said, “and you hit your stupid head so hard–god, that really has to hurt.”
It did. Things were starting to clear up a little, but it was still a little hazy, and Max was talking really fast.
“Why’d you follow me?” he slurred. Max’s face grew even more concerned at that.
“You fucking gave me a garbage bag and told me to help,” he explained slowly. “Do you seriously not remember? Because that was, like, two minutes ago.”
Oh, right. David had a fuzzy recollection of that. “Sorry,” he mumbled, “yeah. I remember that.”
“What the fuck is wrong?”
“Nothing, this was just–”
“Fucking stop!” Max snapped. David shrunk away from him, feeling bad for lying and worse for letting Max find out he was lying. Max sounded angry, but he looked… frightened. “I don’t want bullshit answers right now, David. I want you to tell me what the fuck is wrong so you don’t die.”
David softened. “I’m not going to die,” he promised.
Max was an angry kid, but that’s because anger is easier than fear. Pushing people away is easier than risking them rejecting you. Not caring about anything is easier than losing it. Insulting the hell out of David is easier than letting him give you the attention and guidance you need and then having to go back to parents who don’t give a shit three months later.
So David would be the first to let a wall come down.
He sighed and let his head fall backward against the dumpster, closing his eyes for a moment and letting the smiling mask drip off his face. God, he was tired.
“David,” Max repeated, slapping his cheek ungracefully, “don’t go to sleep.”
“I’m not,” he reassured. “just taking a minute.”
Max relaxed only slightly, pressing a small hand to David’s forehead and the other to his own.
“You’re really fucking boiling,” he muttered.
“Language,” David chastized, “and I knew you were paying attention in first aid class.”
Max rolled his eyes. “You seriously never stop with this crap,” he complained. “So, what’s wrong with you?” He paused to give a small, nervous smirk. “Aside from the obvious.”
David bit back a pained groan. “I think it’s a sinus infection,” he admitted, “or an ear infection. I can’t tell. Maybe both.”
Max’s eyebrows knitted together. “In summer? Sucks.”
David shrugged. He was starting to get really, really tired again. His face hurt, both his sinuses and where he slammed it into the dumpster. “I jus’ feel bad making Gwen do the whole inspection herself…”
Max ignored that. “David?” he tried, slapping his cheek once more.
“Stop doing that,” he groaned.
“You’re slurring your words again,” Max said. “I need you to get up because I can’t carry you back to camp and neither could any of the others. So you’re gonna have to walk, unless you want us to spend the pizza party budget on an ambulance.”
He offered a hand to David and hauled him to his feet, where he was barely able to balance himself. Max could barely do anything to keep him from falling over, and they managed as far as a picnic table before David was done, staggering toward it and sitting on the bench.
“Just need another minute,” he reassured.
“Shit, David,” he muttered. “Maybe a hospital isn’t such a bad idea after all…”
David shook his head. “No.”
“You can’t even fucking walk,” Max pointed out.
“I can,” he fought. “Just… really dizzy.”
Max made a decision. “I’m going to get Gwen,” he said, running off. David wanted to tell him he shouldn’t go alone, because he needed a buddy, but knew that he wouldn’t be a very helpful buddy right now, anyway, and that a nap sounded a lot better than trying to chase Max.
He woke up in his own cabin, sweat-soaked and stripped of blankets, his cardigan, and even socks. Gwen must have changed him into a T-shirt, and pyjama pants.
Max was sitting in a chair next to his bed, playing an app on David’s phone.
He looked up when David shifted.
“You’re awake,” he said expressionlessly. Tread carefully, David told himself. You don’t know where this is going.
“How’d I get back here?” he asked.
Max didn’t flinch. “I got Gwen and she helped drag your ass back. You were conscious, but barely. Did you know you had a temperature over 104?”
David wasn’t too shocked by that number–it felt about right, honestly, for how absolutely disoriented he’d felt.
“You were fucking cleaning the camp all day, outside, in the sun. But you were so worried about the stupid inspection–”
David perked up at those words, feeling his blood turn cold with panic, but Max continued sighed.
“We passed, by the way. They barely even got out of the car to look before giving an A+ rating to this hellhole.” David relaxed. “That’s not the point. You… you made really stupid choices today. You’re always taking care of us, and then you got so bad, and I had fuck-all idea what to do.” When David met Max’s eyes, he saw they were just barely holding back tears, which he leaned into his sleeve to aggressively swipe away.
David pressed his lips into a tight line. “I scared you,” he realized.
“I’m sorry, Max.” He waited for Max to meet his eyes again. “I’m the adult here, and I was irresponsible, and I put you in danger and worried you. I don’t have an excuse for that.”
Max kicked his feet on the ground awkwardly, staring at his shoes. “Well, you were pretty worried about the camp stuff…” Max deflated.
“That’s no excuse for setting a bad example,” he argued. “I won’t do that again,” he promised.
“You’d better fucking not,” Max warned. “Because if you die, then nobody gives a shit about this place and it’ll close down and we’ll all be SOL.”
David nodded. “Right. Though, you know…” he smiled, “you showed some awesome leadership skills today. And problem solving, and compassion. I think you might have the makings of a great Camp Campbell Camp Councelor in you!”
Max huffed out some explitives under his breath and tried to be annoyed rather than happy that someone for the first time ever was thinking about his future.
“Just go back to sleep, you moron,” he muttered. So David did.