Harlequin's Slash Fic

Swing Away

Title: Swing Away
Author: Julien
Universe: Signs
Characters featured: Graham/Merrill
Category, Word count: Short story; 3192 words
Rating: NC17
Summary: Merrill has been trying to comfort his bereaved brother Graham in every way he can, though he fears he’s actually doing more harm than good. But in the new world that survives the alien invasion, perhaps all things become possible.
Warnings: Please be warned that this features brother-slash.
First published: 22 April 2004 in Homosapien 7

 

Swing Away

 

Once the kids were finally tucked up in their beds, Graham went to where Merrill lay on the guest room bed, and Merrill lifted his arms to him, opened to him, as he’d done so many times before, and Graham lay with him. This time, though, was different. This time they were both fully clothed and on top of the counterpane. This time Graham hadn’t gone to the loft over the barn where Merrill usually slept. This time they were in the house, with the children asleep in the next room. This time Merrill – and, to be honest, Graham, too – they were both so scared that they were incapable of doing anything more than clinging, each to his brother. This time, Graham eventually just shifted down to lie beside Merrill, and he held him.

They clung to each other in the dark. That in itself was enough, and more than Graham deserved. But he searched for words, wanting real human interaction. Searched for a topic that had nothing to do with signs or pantries or foil hats. In his mental ramblings he struck upon a pamphlet that Merrill brought home from town that day. ‘You’re, uh –’ He cleared his throat and began again. ‘You’re thinking of joining the army?’

‘Yeah. Thinking.’ Merrill sighed, and his arms loosened a little, became more hugging than clinging.

‘You’d do well.’

Merrill was quiet for a long while, before saying in a falsely casual voice, ‘They don’t want my kind in the army.’

‘Your kind?’ But even as he said it, Graham knew. Remembering the last time he’d come to where Merrill lay, and the time before that, and all the times. Merrill lifting his arms to him in the darkness, opening to him. Not in the ways that Colleen ever had. Not better or worse, but just different. Opening to him in Merrill’s own dark, ambiguous, surrendering ways.

‘People who love like I do,’ Merrill explained, still overly casual. ‘Men who love like I do.’

‘There’s that new policy, since President Clinton –’

‘They still don’t want us.’ Merrill turned to him, and it wasn’t so dark that Graham couldn’t see him, so he kept his eyes averted. ‘It’s a sin, after all,’ Merrill said.

‘I don’t believe in sin any more,’ Graham roughly replied.

‘I wish you did, because then you’d believe in miracles, too.’

‘But then I’d never –’ Graham stopped, swallowed hard, wondered if he should say it. Looked at his younger brother, met those dark eyes. ‘I’d never come to you again. So why would you wish it? Maybe I’m flattering myself, but I thought you –’

‘Of course I –’ Merrill drew closer again, clung again. ‘I love this!’ he said in the fiercest whisper, eyes alight with glory. ‘Dear God above, I love it!’

Merrill opening to him, welcoming him, enclosing him, letting him slide into that sleek darkness … Graham shook off the compelling memory.

‘But I know it’s not you,’ Merrill was continuing, with empathy and loss and love all bundled together in the words. ‘I know this isn’t who you are, Graham. I wanted to comfort you. Help you. But I know I’m not helping. Not really.’

‘You are. Don’t say that! I don’t know what we’d have done without you, Morgan and Bo love you so much; this house has been more like a home again since you came back.’

Merrill smiled sadly at him, clutched him close again in gratitude. But then loosened his grip once more. ‘Not this. It’s not helping. You tried to lose yourself. One day soon you’ll want to find yourself again. And then you won’t come to me.’

Graham just looked at him. ‘When did you get so wise?’

‘I always knew it. You’ll return to the day, to the light –’ But Merrill faltered, and they each glanced away fearfully as everything came crashing back. There wasn’t going to be any tomorrow, no day, no light – no normal kind of life to worry about ever again. ‘You’ll go back to believing in miracles,’ Merrill whispered, even though he’d remembered to be scared.

‘How can I?’ Graham said, hoarse. ‘There aren’t any. There’s no God, no point, no meaning. Just blind, dumb luck. Bad luck, now. The worst. For all of us.’

‘I don’t believe it. And in your heart, you don’t either.’

Graham sighed. They’d talked about miracles earlier that night, sitting close together on the sofa with the children asleep in their arms. ‘You said – that girl – it was a sign. You said it would have really messed you up. Did you mean –? Was she why you became –?’

Merrill was watching him intently, and when Graham finally faltered into silence, he smoothly answered, ‘It was a guy, it was her brother. Peter. I just said it was her, because – well, you know why.’

Graham nodded. ‘You don’t have to do that. You don’t have to hide it, with me.’ It was for the same reason why Merrill always bought the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated, and then left it lying around unread. Camouflage.

‘He was looking so beautiful that night, staring back at me. But it was a sign. Because if I’d’ve kissed him, and he’d thrown up, then I’d’ve never been game enough to try again. With a guy, I mean. And I was never going to kiss a girl, I always knew that. And I would never have let you come to me. I’d be nothing but messed up. So it was a sign. That I love … the way I do. That it’s all right. That God still wants me. See?’

Although he didn’t see, not really, halfway through that explanation Graham lifted a hand to stroke his brother’s hair, caress his intently earnest face. Remembering the kisses. Despite everything else, despite what else he did, Graham had always tried to resist the kisses. But he couldn’t. That hot glorious mouth opening for him, devouring any sense of sin, inciting him to lose any semblance of decency. And then Merrill moving beneath him, sinuous, the kisses fuelling Merrill’s own desires, until at last with a groan beginning in Merrill and reverberating through both of them, Merrill would thrust up, throwing hot damp seed, and that sleek darkness would clutch Graham, and that would be an end to it. Until the next time.

Graham came back to the present to find himself panting, panting as if he’d let Merrill give himself once more. Here at the end of the world. ‘Of course God wants you,’ he forced out. ‘Of course God loves you.’

‘Just as He loves you.’

‘No.’

‘Yes!’

‘There is no God!’ Graham cried, though under his breath for the children’s sake. ‘There’s just – just those creatures – and there’s death, and accidents, and there’s pain and fear and grief. And nothing and no one to help us through it.’

‘Except love,’ Merrill said, holding him again, though in the most proper of brotherly ways. ‘There’s love, Graham.’

Thinking about it, Graham sighed. ‘Yes,’ he finally said. And he sank his head to lie on Merrill’s chest, to hear his heartbeat, his strength, his love. ‘Yes, you’re right.’

‘Not like this, though,’ Merrill said. When Graham lifted up for a moment to look at him, Merrill whispered, ‘One way or the other, this is the last time you’ll come to me.’

Despite himself, Graham felt lost, knew loss all over again. ‘But it has been love?’ he asked.

‘Yes.’

‘And it’s still love. There is love.’

‘Yes.’

And if that was all the four of them had to cling to amidst the fear and desolation, then that would have to be enough.

Graham went back to his own empty bed. He couldn’t sleep, though. Eventually he gave in, and went down to the family room again, where he found Merrill on the edge of the sofa staring at the television. And they both sat there throughout the long night, numbly taking in report after confusing report, and Graham felt more alone than ever.

 

Merrill remembered the first time, three months before.

He’d woken suddenly in the dead hours of the night, startled because someone was in his room. Startled, but also safe, because he’d known right away that it was his brother. ‘Graham?’ he croaked. ‘Something wrong?’

Graham didn’t say anything. He just stepped closer, gazing down at Merrill where he lay in the bed – an odd and desperate glint in his eye, his face full of the horror of loss. Unfocussed, as if he wasn’t even seeing what was directly in front of him, as if he was lost in the grip of a nightmare. He stepped closer still.

Merrill reached up to him, meaning it only as a gesture of comfort. But Graham suddenly pitched towards him, fell into Merrill’s arms as if he’d tripped, landed on top of Merrill as if drawn there, magnetised. Graham’s face hovering there over him, gazing directly at him now, bare inches away, and desperate. Needy. Graham’s body pressing the length of Merrill’s. Gazing down at him as if … as if …

A gasp rasped Merrill’s throat. Twenty different dreams and ideas and ambitions – not only his desire for a man, his urge to love, his dream of being loved, his admiration for his older brother, but also his recognition of Morgan and Bo’s need for their own older brother, his wish to be more to Bucks County than a gas station attendant, his so–far–uncalled–for ability for friendship, and even, weirdly, his grief for Colleen – all this and more suddenly coalesced into one thing. The separate pieces each fell into place, and then locked there, as if it was always meant to be like this though he’d never even glimpsed it before. As if it could never now be any different for him, not ever again. Merrill loved his brother, loved him with every last ounce of his matter, every last volt of his energy, every last whisper of his soul.

Graham still waited there above him, silently crying out for help. Merrill closed his eyes for a moment, felt a shudder run through him at the magnitude of what he was about to do. And then he lifted up and pressed a kiss to that dry needy mouth.

The kiss wasn’t welcome. There was utterly foreseeable resistance. But Merrill had hardly registered an involuntary stab of hurt when Graham tugged at the bedclothes. And amidst a sudden flurry of blankets, sheets and pyjamas, there was skin against skin, and then his beloved Graham pushed home, became a part of Merrill, and they moved together as if they’d both always imagined it could be like this.

Three months, five days, and thirty minutes ago. It was never going to last forever. Merrill had given himself completely because he was an all–or–nothing kind of guy, and anyway that’s what Graham deserved. But it was never going to last very long at all.

 

Afterwards – for there was, in the end, an afterwards, a tomorrow, a relatively normal life – sometime afterwards, Father Graham Hess rose from his knees, hammer in hand, and went looking for more nails. But even the toolbox, resting somewhat profanely on the church altar, seemed empty of such things. Graham scrabbled around, trying to find grey metal nails in a grey metal box, and the light coming through the windows was dull, the day had become overcast. How were they ever going to get the new communion rail installed before the evening service without nails?

He turned to Merrill, and saw that there were a hundred nails held loosely sticking out of his brother’s mouth at all angles. Graham laughed under his breath, and simply watched as Merrill worked his way towards the little gate in the middle of the railing, efficiently thumping in the nails, shuffling along a measured space on his knees, neatly thumping another one in, shuffling, and so on.

This was their last day together. Merrill would go to training camp in the morning, and disappear into the army, and nothing would ever quite be the same again. Even when Merrill came home on leave – Graham almost let out a groan. If the army knocked that bit of goofiness out of Merrill, if they ruined his earnest innocence, if they … if they made Merrill hate himself for who he really was, if they made him feel loathing instead of love … Graham didn’t think he could bear it.

At last Merrill was done. He looked up, and saw Graham watching him. He cocked one of his sleek dark eyebrows in a query.

‘I, uh – I ran out of nails,’ Graham explained.

And Merrill stood, reaching up to his mouth to collect the spare nails. And even as he lifted his hand towards Graham, offering him what he wanted, a shaft of stray sunlight hit the rose window over the altar, and bathed Merrill in gold.

Graham stalled, dumbstruck. The moment stretched. Merrill gazed up at him with those dark eyes, forever willing, forever amenable, forever loving. Standing there in the place where brides pledged their lives, where Colleen had once promised Graham everything until death parted them. But, Merrill, standing there – completely innocent, while God bathed him in light. He wasn’t a bride, of course; Merrill was a man. A dark, goofy, sinuous, glorious, ambiguous, honest, but above all loving man. And Graham loved him in ways he’d never loved before. Not better or worse, but just different. And there he was, Merrill, waiting on him, blessed by God’s light. It was a sign; Graham bet his whole life on it.

‘You have to stay,’ Graham said hoarsely.

The moment broke, the sun was hidden by another cloud, and Merrill just looked confused. ‘What?’

‘You have to stay here. With me.’ Graham stepped closer, down the steps towards the railing, reached across to grasp Merrill’s shoulder. Shook it, to make the point. ‘Here. With me.’

‘No, no, I can’t –’

‘This is the last day you can change your mind. You said they wouldn’t really want you. Well, I want you. You.’

‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ Merrill was absolutely flabbergasted.

‘Morgan and Bo, they want you, too. They need you around. You’ve done them the world of good. But the important thing is you and me. Together.’

‘Graham, stop.’

He wouldn’t stop, of course. ‘It was a sign, the sun coming in like that at just that moment.’

‘Stop. Wait! Just wait a minute, all right?’ Merrill drew in a deep trembling breath. Let it out again. ‘Are you saying what I think you’re saying?’

Graham shrugged, suddenly feeling a bit bashful. ‘Yeah.’

Merrill squinted up at the window. ‘Are you nuts? I mean, I know we all went a bit nuts there for a while. But we’re trying to get on with things now, aren’t we? Get back to leading a regular life. And you’re saying – A reverend? And his brother? How many Commandments does that break?’

‘Well, none, actually.’

‘No, I mean – Graham, no one in this town would ever understand – Hardly any of them even know about me, let alone –’

‘They wouldn’t have to know. Not for such a long time that no one will care any more anyway. One day, not for years yet, someone will finally say something, pass a remark, and everyone will realise they all knew all along, and it’ll just be a fact they’ve already gotten used to. You don’t know half the things that go on behind closed doors in this town, Merrill. And I – I used to do the fire and brimstone thing, I used to set myself in judgement, but finally I realised that – Colleen made me realise – if it’s love, Merrill, if it’s quiet and discreet, and it’s willing, and if it doesn’t hurt anyone, then who am I to tell them no?’

‘Bless ’em all, and let God sort ’em out?’

Graham almost cracked a smile at that. ‘Pretty much, yeah.’

Merrill shook his head. ‘I don’t – I don’t know.’

‘You don’t –’ Graham swallowed. Uncertainty had suddenly opened up beneath his feet. He whispered, ‘Explain that. You don’t love me? Not any more? I wouldn’t blame you.’

‘Of course I love you.’ Merrill gave him his best Duh! expression. ‘My God, Graham, of course I do. But I never – Well, I never thought anyone would ever offer me what you’re offering …’ He trailed off, and considered Graham for a moment. ‘What are you offering?’

‘The whole box and dice. Discreet. But everything.’

‘So you’ll be coming to me in the loft –’

‘You’ll be sleeping in my bed,’ he countered fiercely. ‘Every night.’

‘Oh God, Graham …’ Merrill looked away – and when Graham stepped even closer and met his eyes, he saw tears welling. ‘Dear God …’

‘Say you will.’

Merrill smiled, brokenly, happily, just like so many of the brides who’d stood there before. ‘Yeah, I do, and all that.’

‘And I do, too.’ Graham stepped over the railing into the groom’s place, took his brother into his arms, and they kissed. Another shaft of sunlight held them, blessed them. Here at the beginning of a whole new world.

 

Monday morning.

Sergeant Cunningham finally signed Merrill’s release papers, though Merrill suspected that was due more to the sergeant’s respect for the reverend, than Cunningham actually believing Graham’s heartfelt claims about the absolute necessity of Merrill as a daily part of their family life; Merrill hardly believed more than a quarter of it himself. He had the satisfaction of watching Lionel Pritchard carried off, his protests falling on deaf ears, staring with furious resentful jealousy from the window as the army bus drove away. And then Merrill and Graham were alone together again, and it was a beautiful day, and the kids were safely at school, and all was right with the world. The brothers smiled at each other, got into the car, and Graham drove them home.

It was the first time they’d ever made love in the daylight. The first time they’d both been naked, the first time they’d taken the opportunity to really look at each other.

‘You’re so beautiful,’ Graham said in a rough low voice, shaking his head. ‘And you always did have big feet …’ He paused while Merrill laughed at these absurd compliments, then concluded, ‘You could have your pick.’

‘I already do,’ Merrill replied, and he felt as if his satisfaction was so immense that it was just naturally being broadcast on all channels.

They didn’t talk much, though, mostly because all the important things had already been said, but also because Graham seemed consumed by the need to kiss Merrill with the greatest, longest, hungriest, most involving kisses ever. The day lengthened, and God surrounded them with peace and sunshine and blue skies, and they paid no attention to anything but each other until Morgan and Bo were almost due home, and Merrill knew that it could never now be any different for either of them. And that was the best miracle of all.

Posted in: Signs, Slash fic

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