* Please read first: I'm the author of the fanfiction 'Back to Basics'. This story you are about to read is an AU from that story. You don't have to read 'Back to Basics' to understand this story. This story was just something that popped in my head. And I thought it'd be fun to write.
No zombie apocalypse. DarylxOC romance.
Daryl hated people in general, and right now his brother was at the top of his list.
"Quit your bellyachin'," Merle rolled his eyes as he parked the truck.
"This ain't campin'," Daryl grumbled as they got out. "This is what uppity rich bitches think campin' is."
"Well for the next week, we gonna be livin' it up right alongside 'em," Merle smirked as he brandished the two tickets.
Daryl scowled and looked away. As they walked, Daryl took a detailed look at his surroundings.
Though they preferred to rough it in the woods wherever they went, they'd been to their fair share of campgrounds throughout the years. They'd camped in a tent, a trailer, in single-room cabins, you name it. Most campgrounds they'd slept in were basic, with only an office building, a bare spot of grass to set up your tent or trailer, and a nearby outbuilding for when nature called.
They'd also been to campgrounds that had murky lakes, basketball courts with the cement crumbling, and old outdated arcade rooms as amenities. The fanciest campground they'd ever been to had running water and electricity as the main attraction. Daryl didn't care for any of that. His ideal campsite would always be smack dab in the middle of the woods, with just a tent and freshly-killed meat cooking over a crackling fire. Peaceful, quiet, no people.
God damn, was this place an eyesore!
The tops of trees had been cut back to allow a zip line to cut over the lake. There were topiaries depicting Georgia fauna surrounding the main office. The cabins and buildings they'd passed by on the way in looked like they'd been pressure washed every five minutes. Perfectly manicured grass surrounded paved roads. There wasn't a speck of dirt or gravel in sight. Even the row of utility golf carts lined up by front door of the office were spotless.
Daryl sniffed. Were the people here allergic to nature? They were in the middle of the damned Georgia woods, for fuck's sake!
To Daryl, the only thing worth mentioning was the lake. The brochure had said many things, like how many amenities it boasted, or how there were no tent or trailer hookups and that you had to use one of the many lavish cabins on the property. It also talked about its crown jewel; the lake. What was once a granite quarry was now transformed into a swimming attraction. They tried to keep the lake as natural as possible, allowing nature to maintain the water. Daryl appreciated that, but other than that…
"Can't believe you dragged me here," Daryl hissed at him.
"'ey, man," Merle said, pointing back at their mode of transportation. "There's the truck. Take it and leave. Just be back in seven days. Oh, and don'tcha even think about takin' my bike with you, 'less you want your ass beat."
Daryl shook his head at him. He glanced briefly at the truck, but kept on walking to keep pace with his brother.
A charming bell rang above the door, signaling their arrival as they entered the main office. The office was a combination of a check-in area, candy store, apparel section, and gift shop. Daryl picked up a candy bar. "Jesus," he cursed at the price tag and set it back down.
"'ey," Merle said as he picked up the candy bar and tossed it back to Daryl. "It's all expenses paid, 'member?"
Daryl rolled his eyes at him.
"Afternoon," a long-haired woman greeted warmly as she approached the counter. Her nametag read 'Lori'. "Welcome to Quarry Camplands. You two…checking in…?" Her sentence trailed off as she looked at the two men.
Daryl scoffed under his breath. The woman looked at them suspiciously, and Daryl knew full well that she definitely didn't want the likes of them in the campground. It was normal. Daryl and Merle always got cautious stares and glares when they entered an establishment. It was as if people could sense from a mile away that they were aimless drifters, or that they'd spent many a night in a jail cell due to one brother's bruiser habits.
Daryl didn't know what he was going to hate most; the lack of nature in the middle of the fucking woods, or the many stares he was sure to receive from arrogant assholes who knew nothing about him.
Merle grinned at the woman as he put his hands on the counter. "Why, yes we are, sweetheart," he drawled. He put the tickets on the counter. "I'm Merle Dixon, and that there's my brother, Daryl. We got a free pass for the next seven days."
Warily, Lori pinched the tickets in between her fingertips. After a few seconds of deliberation, she looked over her shoulder at a half-open dutch door. There was an 'Employees Only' sign burned into the wood. "Rick," she called.
A tall man appeared through the door seconds later. He walked up to the counter and shook Daryl and Merle's hands. "How y'all doin'," he greeted, expression professionally neutral. "I'm Rick Grimes. Me and my wife Lori are the owners. There a problem?"
"They came with these," Lori said as she passed him the tickets. "I just wanted to check with you to make sure they were valid." She paused, and then rethought her words. "Not because we think you're bad people or anything…Just…Well, we've had some people try to fake their way onto our property, and…You know," she shrugged, trying to be both casual and apologetic at the same time.
Daryl snorted. Sure you have, he thought bitterly. And I was born yesterday.
Merle had won those tickets at a gun club raffle. All expenses paid, luxury, seven-day stay at Quarry Camplands. Quite possibly for the first time in Merle's life, he had done something completely legit.
"All looks good to me," Rick said as he put the tickets in the register. "I gotta get back to it. It was nice to meet y'all," he said with a nod. Then, his eyes landed on the crossbow slung over Daryl's shoulder.
Seeing this, Merle grinned. "Oh, don't mind that none. Daryl don't shoot no one… Not unless he's bored."
"Jesus, Merle," he snapped as his brother snickered to himself.
Rick sighed. "Given that pretty much every other person in Georgia has a gun, we respect the Second Amendment here. We even have a gun club and an archery range. Feel free to use your crossbow there. Just know that we reserve the right to remove you from the property if there's any evidence of foul play."
Merle flexed his jaw. "You were a cop at one point, weren'tcha?"
Rick narrowed his eyes at him. "I was…Once."
"What? You get kicked off the force or somethin'? Huh? Oh, come on, we're all friends here," he hollered as Rick shook his head in exasperation and disappeared through the dutch door. "Bet it was a hell of a story!" Merle scoffed jokingly. "He seems like a happy sombitch."
"You're gonna have to excuse him," Lori said as she waited for the printer to be done. "He doesn't like to talk about it. She handed them two papers. "These are your receipts. They have your check-in and check-out times on it. It's just a way of confirmin' that you're guests here. You'll both be in Cabin C. The code to get in the cabin is on your receipts. Enjoy your stay and if y'all have any questions, flag down any of our employees."
"Sure thing, hon," Merle said, with a smirk still plastering his face. As he and Daryl walked out, he said, "Now you tell Officer Friendly that me and Daryl...We perfect angels. Ain't gotta worry 'bout us none." They didn't wait for a response as they took their exit.
Merle took the truck to their cabin, not only to get settled, but to explore. And by explore, what he really meant was to find some tail to chase.
The campground wasn't crazy-packed with people, but it was still too many for Daryl's liking. Merle wasn't excited about winning the tickets to have a fancy week-long getaway. He was excited because for weeks he wouldn't stop ogling at the women on the brochure, all in scant bikinis lounging by the lake. Free cabin, free swimming, free food, free everything, including free rein to flirt with any rich honey he caught sight of.
The office was situated right next to the mess hall. The mess hall, arguably, had the best view of the lake. Daryl had a smoke between his lips, idly listening to the campers splash around in the lake, and the water lapping against the shore. He was leaning against the side of the mess hall, not too far from a garage door that led into the back of the building. He let the cigarette fall to the ground, snuffed it out with the flat of his boot, and wondered what the hell he should do with his time.
He should've taken the truck when he had the chance. He would've taken it farther up the mountain and made his own campsite. No people to crowd him, no older brother to insult or nag him. Just him in the woods.
The sound of the water was drowned out by a motorcycle engine. Daryl snorted. It was normal for Merle to use his bike to pick up chicks. Then, he tilted his head. No…The engine he was hearing was sharper, like a dirt bike instead of an on-roader. He looked around, searching for the source. If this place had motorcycles and trails to rent, that'd be right up his alley.
Then, he saw it. On the other side of the lake, a blue dot was moving expertly through the woods, cutting its way around to the other side of the shore. As it got closer, Daryl could see that the blue dot was a navy-colored dual sport, being ridden by two passengers.
Daryl blinked as it approached the garage doors. The bike was covered in mud, and the woman at the handlebars was covered from the waist-down, as well. The bike's tires left a trail of mud over perfectly green grass. Daryl squinted, because mixed in with the mud was a hint of crimson. That's when he noticed that draped over the passenger seat was the field-dressed corpse of a doe.
The garage doors opened with a shudder. An older man stepped outside. "You didn't," he asked, grinning joyfully.
The woman stopped the bike and cut the engine. "Y'all wanted venison," she smirked. "You're getting venison."
"You are a lifesaver," he exhaled.
She swung off the bike and took the key out of the ignition to pocket it. "Hardly," she said as she removed the longbow from around her shoulders. She set it on a table just inside the building. She pointed to the doe. "She's too small for as many campers as we have right now." Then, she gave her backpack straps a tug. "I got some rabbits in here for Carol to stew up as extra meat."
"Rabbit and venison," the man shook his head. "You trying to spoil us?"
"I'm selfishly taking two of those rabbits back with me," she chuckled good-naturedly as she went back to her bike to remove the tie-downs from the deer. "So, no, Dale. I'm not."
"Sure, sure, whatever you say," Dale shook his head with a grin.
Daryl watched the woman. In a motion that seemed very much practiced, she squatted next to the bike, yanked the hooves of the deer, and let the body glide over her shoulders. Grunting heavily with the new weight draped over her neck, she straightened her legs until she was completely upright.
Daryl didn't know if he was a selfish person. What he did know was that he'd never gotten help with anything in his entire life. In turn, he never really lent a hand to anyone. Why should he since the universe had never done him any favors?
"You need help," the words fell smoothly from his lips of their own accord as he watched the woman walk towards the garage doors with her kill.
She stopped, tilting her head and regarding him for a split second. When she made that movement, the sunlight hit her face. It shined against the flecks of mud and deer blood on her skin. It also illuminated the thin scars that littered her face and arms, scars that weren't visible just seconds ago.
"I'm good, thanks," she replied bluntly, professionally, as she walked passed him into the back of the mess hall.
He blinked again, but then he scoffed at himself, trying not to read too far into it. Most people kept their eyes on him and Merle, as if fearing for their own safety. This woman had looked at him, but only for a polite second before returning to the task at hand. The look she had given him was only that of acknowledgment, as if the likes of his presence was…normal, and not at all threatening.
He scoffed again, taking out another cigarette. Yeah, he was totally reading too far into it.
The garage door closed with a bang, leaving Daryl once again alone to listen to the lapping of the lake.
Two bedrooms, a full bathroom, a kitchenette, a small flat screen, a living room, and a porch.
Cabin, my ass, Daryl thought as he set his crossbow on the counter, scuffing the pristine marble in the process. He had knocked a flier down in the process.
Picking it up, he skimmed through it. It was a schedule of the campground's events, should anyone want to attend. Such as mealtimes for the mess hall, archery club, swimming competitions, when the zip line was open, and basically all other camp standards. He crumpled it into a ball and went to throw it in the trash. Instead, though, he stopped himself to shove it into a pocket for later. The archery club thing sound slightly entertaining, he supposed.
Sinking down into one of the recliners, he picked up the remote and flipped through the channels. He was trying to get his mind off of everything; how glaringly pristine this place was, ignoring the looks he was already getting from his fellow campers, trying not to feel claustrophobic in a place he felt he didn't belong, trying to get that woman out of his head-
He shook his head so rapidly he almost gave himself whiplash. Why the hell would he even be thinking of that woman in the first place?! All she did was look at him once!
With a huff, he tossed the remote away and stood up. He raided the kitchenette. Sure enough, everything was stocked like a damned five-star hotel. He grabbed a bag of potato chips and a beer, and sat back down in the chair.
Merle came through the front door. "You better not've drank all my beer, little brother," he said as he strolled passed him.
"Naw," he grunted. "I'd just dump it all down the drain to spite you."
"You do that," he replied as he opened the fridge to inspect its contents. "And I'll whoop your ass so hard, the devil himself won't even bother with you." Then, he muttered, "What in the hell?"
Daryl straightened up. "What," he asked, straining to see his brother from where he was sitting.
Merle closed the fridge door and turned around. "Get that lamp on," he commanded as he went to the light switches on the other side of the room.
Daryl flicked the switch on the lamp, but it didn't light up. Merle turned the switches on the wall off and on rapidly. It was a bright and sunny day, so they didn't need to turn the lights on, but they weren't turning on anyway.
"Looks like the electricity's out," Merle observed the obvious. "Pfft. Figures."
"We don't need electricity," Daryl said. "Never did."
"Well, I don't know about you," Merle barked. "But I'd like my beer to be cold when I wake up in the mornin'."
In that moment, Daryl could hear one of the gold carts humming past their cabin. He rolled his eyes at Merle as he stood up. Sometimes he felt like he had to do everything for his brother. Traipsing out the door, he walked towards the pavement and waved his arm out to flag down the employee.
A woman with blonde hair pulled her cart up next to him. "Everything okay," she asked. Her nametag read 'Andy' or 'Andrea' or something, but Daryl didn't really care to put in any effort to memorize it.
"Electricity's out," Daryl said.
"Ain't this supposed to be a luxury campground," Merle shouted from the porch. Daryl groaned and rubbed his fingers with his eyes. "'Cause I ain't feelin' luxurious right now! We oughta get a refund!"
"Jesus Christ, Merle," Daryl hissed under his breath. Merle would do just about anything for a quick buck.
Andrea glanced between him and Merle in sheer confusion. "Aren't…you two the ones with the free passes, though?"
"Yeah," he grumbled quickly. "Anyway, can you get someone to take a look at the electric? I can't stand his bitchin'." Daryl probably could've fixed the problem himself, but he was more of a motorcycle gearhead than an electrician. Plus, if he accidentally broke something, god knows how much this place would charge for damages.
"I'll get someone down," she nodded. "Can you two hold off for an hour or two?"
"We can if you bring us more beer," Merle hollered. "Hey! Why don'tcha take a load off, sugar? Join us," he coaxed with a wink.
Andrea grimaced, looking thoroughly disgusted. "I know just the person who can help you guys, too," she muttered.
It wasn't too common for a bike to have two owners. Merle would never admit that the bike wasn't his. Because it was technically theirs, belonging to the both of them. When one of the brothers was off doing something else, the other would take it for a spin, or tinker with it. However, due to seniority, and his brother being a dick, it was Merle's motorcycle at the end of the day.
Presently, Merle was inside the cabin, probably getting high from his stash and drunk from the camp's alcohol at the same time. With nothing better to do, Daryl sat next to the motorcycle under the Georgia sun doing routine maintenance. Aside from the clattering of the other campers, it was a rather quiet day. So quiet that his precision-like senses should've heard her.
"It should be running now," a voice said. Daryl whipped his head around. The same woman that had ridden the blue motorcycle to the mess hall was standing a couple feet behind him. "You should probably go inside and test it, though."
"Son of a bitch, woman," he snapped. "Anybody ever tell you not to sneak up on people." He glanced behind her. "Where the hell'd you come from anyway?"
"From the electrical box hooked up to the cabin," she chuckled as she held up some wires clutched in her hands. "You did want the electricity fixed, right? Chipmunks chewed through some wires. I replaced 'em. You good now?"
"One sec," he said. He cupped his hands together. "Merle!"
A second later, the front door of the cabin swung open. "Hey, Daryl, the electricity's back up," Merle hollered from the porch. When he saw the woman, he grinned perversely. "And we got company now, too? Shit, I'm blushin'! Hey, why don'tcha come on in, sweetheart? Get some beers in you? Show you a good time?"
Her response was neutral, but was also immediate, smooth, and without apology. "I wouldn't go near your limp dick for a million bucks."
Daryl enjoyed insulting his brother. It was a great way to relieve some stress, and it was now a knee-jerk reaction. It was easy to get Merle riled. However, he absolutely hated it when other people insulted Merle. Call it being a protective sibling, call it whatever, but he could just never stand it. And it would result in many a bar fight, caused by Daryl.
The campground employees and other people they'd met so far held themselves with a professional dignity. Not wanting to be impolite, while still managing to remain stuck-up. The woman who just insulted his brother seemed to be none of those things. Professional, self-assured, but not overconfident or arrogant. Her insult to Merle was not a precursor to wanting a fight, she was simply defending herself.
Daryl couldn't fault her for that. In fact, he couldn't help the smile that was tugging at the corners of his lips. In that moment, he was grateful his long dark bangs covered a good portion of his face.
Merle waved a dismissive hand at her, slurred some curses under his breath, and slammed the door behind him.
"Y'all need anything else," she asked.
Daryl couldn't help but continue studying her. There was nothing mysterious about her, but…Riding in on a muddy motorcycle, hauling a deer carcass, insulting a customer out loud…She just seemed so out of place in such high-end, uptight environment. Not to mention her calm demeanor.
"Um," he shook his head to clear his thoughts. "Naw. We're good. Sorry 'bout my brother. He's a jackass, but he ain't gonna try nothin'."
She shrugged. "He doesn't scare me. I've taken on bigger fish than him."
Daryl opened his mouth to ask what she meant, but closed it. The scars on her body weren't as visible now that it was almost sunset, but he could still see them a little bit. If she said she's taken on bigger fish than Merle, then Daryl was inclined to believe it.
She started walking away, footsteps silent over the grass and pavement.
Once again, words tumbled from his mouth without his consent. "What's your name?"
She turned around. "Layla. Yours?"
She nodded to the porch. "And that ray of sunshine?"
Daryl snorted. "That was Merle. You got a last name?"
"No," was her response.
Daryl watched her walk away. When she was out of sight, he turned back to the bike. When he realized he'd forgotten which part he was working on, he set the tools down with a clatter.
He rubbed his hand over his face. "Son of a bitch," he muttered, as the name 'Layla' rattled around in his brain, jumbling every thought.