He used to write to Merle when Merle was in juvie. Sprawling letters, long and rambling and not quite fitting on the lined paper, spilling over off the edge.
He would write about his life (how he hated it), his friends (as if he had any), their parents (who were falling apart, or would have been falling apart if they had ever actually been together).
He wrote, most of all, about the two of them. About the things they would do when Merle came home. They would travel across the country and see everything they had ever talked about together, all the places Daryl had seen in books and on the internet and on the travel shows that didn’t come in all the way on their crappy antenna TV.
“Merle, I miss you. Don’t stay away forever,” he would write, and he would feel pathetic when he did, like he was crying through his writing.
But he didn’t stop writing, either. He sent him stacks of letters, bunched together and sealed by Daryl pressing his lips against them live a girl might press her lipstick against love letters.
That should have seemed weird, but somehow it wasn’t.
Merle never wrote back, and eventually Daryl stopped writing.
Merle had a way of curling up on himself as he slept, while also sleeping like a cat who had passed out in the oddest of places. Daryl found it more endearing than perhaps he should have – when Merle was awake, after all, he could be the hugest pain in the ass.
But sleeping… sleeping Merle was someone who Daryl couldn’t stay away from, wanting to curl up beside him or adjust his pillow or simply watch as his limbs flailed out like he was a dog dreaming about running after a stick.
Sometimes he would even dare to climb in next to him, taking care not to wake him up. Only drawing his own legs in and feeling as if in sleep, Merle would protect him, the way he knew he always had when he was awake (or would try to, anyway).
He knew that everything he felt was too much, and maybe it shouldn’t be. No one had told him, of course (who would he have told?), but maybe it was something in the sheer intensity of it that made Daryl want to cry, and he was not someone who cried. Crying was wrong. What he felt was wrong.
He would never, ever tell him. He promised himself that. That would be the surest way to ruin everything, to shatter it all into a million pieces. And if he broke this up, then Daryl might as well just give up.
Merle was everything.
“Ah, fuck this, Daryl.”
Merle held the cigarette between his fingers in a way that made it look effortless. Daryl held back a chuckle as he remembered the day that Merle had taught him how to smoke; he had ended up with little red bump-burns along his middle finger, but he had beamed with pride.
“You want to leave? Then go right ahead, Merle. It’s nothing that you haven’t done before.”
“You’re gonna throw that shit back in my face, huh? Because I didn’t stick around to hold your hand when you were twelve? What, you gonna cry now or something?”
“Fuck you,” Daryl replied. He rose to his feet and, unwittingly, crossed his arms, hating it. It was like he was becoming, in a moment, the child Merle was accusing him of being. Why give him the satisfaction? “You’ll die if you go out on your own.”
“Okay, and you care about that… I’m real touched, Daryl. So touched. That’s why you left me on a roof to die.”
“You know damn well that I didn’t know about that, Merle. So how’s about you just…” Daryl trailed off, tired. It wasn’t worth fighting with Merle, and he wasn’t sure if it was still worth fighting for him.
What was it between them, anyway? All these years and he still hadn’t found a word for it. Of course, he saw some suggestions in all of the others. Love, they clung to some kind of idea of love in order to survive.
Or in his case, another thing to remind him he wasn’t like the others and never would be. That he didn’t belong.
“Do what you want, Merle,” he said finally, “Go off and die for all I care. Just go.”
Inside, he was screaming.
By the time Merle came back, Daryl had nearly fallen asleep. He had trouble falling asleep these days – what was he kidding? He had always had trouble falling asleep, always primed to be on the alert, always primed to know when a threat was about to catch him unawares.
He had made a promise to himself to never again be unawares.
He jerked upright and stared at his older brother with a fixed glare. The kind that one predator would give to another – and that was what Merle could be, no doubt.
What they had both learned they would have to be.
“Where the hell were you, Merle?”
Merle waved his hand in the air dismissively.
“What, you my mother now, Daryl?”
“Someone needs to be…” Daryl snarled at him. “If you want to be a part of us… then you’re going to have to… Be a part of this. You can’t do this shit, Merle.”
“So you don’t want me to go off and die then, Daryl? Huh, Daryl?” Merle moved closer, ready to strike, camouflaged.
He had always been there – could Daryl really tell him to go and mean it?
Daryl was lost in that silence when Merle pressed their lips together.
It was like some kind of car crash he couldn’t escape from. And didn’t want to.
Time was standing still; time always stood still when he was shoulder to shoulder with Merle; it was as if he could never budge him, like his brother was made out of solid rock sometimes.
And now he was kissing solid rock, dissolving into it perhaps, becoming some kind of a gargoyle. And what would he guard, Daryl wondered, maybe he would guard this group, maybe he would guard something more.
He remembered being out, looking for Sophia against all hope. He had changed, now, and maybe Merle had too. Or maybe Daryl had changed enough to allow himself to hope.
Everyone else was sleeping, except for those keeping watch, and they were far away. No one relished the idea of waking a sleeping Daryl; something rustling a sleeping rattlesnake or a scorpion. He had this clearing to himself, and he only had to choose what he should do with it, what choice he should make next.
He was so goddamned angry with Merle and had been for so long. He missed Merle so goddamned much and maybe he always had, since he had been old enough to understand the feeling. Since he was old enough to hurt.
“Keep quiet,” Merle hissed. Daryl knew how to listen, he knew that well enough, could remember the days when Merle would hiss that at him to keep him safe. Keep him away from the people who would hurt them, away from the way the house would shake sometimes like an earthquake when all they had was each other, hiding under a bed that barely fit them. It had been enough; it had to be.
And it may have to be now. There were the others, but they would not understand. They had not been there, they had not felt the blood rushing through when Merle was near, every time he was near, as much as Daryl hated to admit it.
As if to echo his point, Merle clasped his hand over Daryl’s mouth. A bit much, Daryl thought to himself, but whatever.
It didn’t stay there long before it moved, wrapped around Daryl’s cock and pumping lazily, as if it was himself he was giving perfunctory strokes to.
Daryl sighed, which turned into a pant. He wouldn’t think about this any more than he had to; he couldn’t afford to think about it anymore than he had to with the promise of Walkers lingering in every shadow and around every corner.
“Hurry up,” Merle muttered, giving him one last squeeze at the base before Daryl spilled over his hand. Daryl turned to look at his brother.
“Happy now?” he grunted when he got his breath back. “Back to normal now?”
Merle threw himself down on the blanket and called back, “Back to normal now.”