For the next hour and a half, you give John a pop quiz on his knowledge of sign language. While his vocabulary is a lot larger than you would've thought, he still has a lot to learn. He has the basics down- pronouns, some prepositions, a couple of groups of nouns here and there, and the question words- and while it's just barely enough to get by, it's nothing if you want to have an actual, interesting conversation.
Because of his limited vocabulary, you're forced to sign in the most simplistic sentences. It's good practice for him, of course; but it's annoying as hell for someone who's already fluent in ASL.
He tries his best, though. You have to give him that. He, much like your brother, has an easier time reading your signs than actually performing them himself. He copies your movements well, but often forgets them a few minutes after you review them with him. It's frustrating and you wish more than ever that you could cuss him out or at least yell at the kid to get it through his thick head.
But since you're unable to do either effectively, you're reduced to pulling out your hair and resisting every urge to strangle him. After a while, you're forced to make him take a break. It's at about that time your bro comes in with two hot bowls of macaroni and cheese, so you at least have a good excuse. He goes on and on and on about stuff you really couldn't care less about, so you just kind of block him out and enjoy your meal, nodding occasionally so he's at least convinced you're listening.
Your "lesson" resumes shortly after. You have him go through the alphabet a couple of times. Then you have him go through it backwards. Then you sign letters for him to name verbally.
John loves every minute of it, but you're not too sure if you're enjoying yourself. You're pretty sure that you're not having any fun or anything of the sort, but you're not as relieved as you thought you would be when he has to leave at 5:00.
With John gone, your room is quiet. Outside your door, you can barely hear Bro's television show playing, but other than that, you're surrounded by silence. You thought for sure that you would welcome the stillness- and you do, for a short while. But then it starts to dawn on you just how empty it feels when it's so quiet. Has it always felt like this? You can't be sure.
The rest of your night is spent contemplating just how much you realize that, holy shit, you need to hear that voice. Sure he's awkward, and he talks way too much and, on top of that, you were about five minutes away from smothering him with your pillow; but he's trying.
For some reason unknown to you, he's trying to make a connection.
Trying to make you feel comfortable.
Trying to speak your language.
Trying to treat you like an actual human being.
You can't help but wonder just how long it will actually last. You figure it won't be very long until he's bored of you; kids of your age tend to get bored easily. Especially with things that cause you to go above and beyond what you're used to- like learning sign language. This realization hits you harder than you would've expected it to, and you're not sure why. You do know, however, that you can't stand the silence any longer. Or the emptiness. So you go and join Bro on the futon, curling up against him.
He asks what's wrong, and if you want to talk about it; and what's better- he doesn't bother you about it when you decline his offer.
To your surprise- and secret excitement- John shows up at your apartment a couple of days later. He greets you completely in sign, and even manages to get most of the motions correct. You tell him so and he absolutely beams with pride. So much so, that you swear you see him glowing and hear the angel's chorus somewhere from the great beyond.
"I've been practicing real hard since Wednesday!" he exclaims, stepping in past you. "My dad picked up some more books for me, too. But I haven't had much of a chance to look at them yet." He spins on his heel, turning so he can face you. "I don't want to pile on too much at once, anyway, right? Then I'd never remember anything. And then I wouldn't be able to know anything you're saying. You'd have to spell it all out for me. Or write it down. Hey, maybe we should..."
And suddenly you remember why he freaks you out so much.
You only listen to his ramblings for a few more seconds before clamping a hand over his mouth. You mouth the words 'shut up', and he nods in response, his eyes looking apologetic. You pull away from him slowly, testing him and waiting for him to start going off again. He just mumbles an apology and leaves it at that. And that's alright with you.
You take him back to your bedroom. As you head through the living room, you can feel Bro's gaze on your back. Usually you can almost feel his emotions- well, what little emotion he shows- but you can't really tell what he's thinking right now. And you don't like that. So you ignore his stare and make sure to shut your door when you've actually arrived to your room.
Considering you've drilled the alphabet into his head enough times earlier that week, you figure numbers are a good place to go. You've never really taught anyone quite this much, and you're not sure that you're taking the right approach. But there's a lot he has to learn, and basics is usually the place to start with, right?
John's good at counting. At least that's something. It means that you don't have to spend too much time counting with him, and you two can move on to important stuff. You start pointing to things around the room and he signs the word.
This part he's not so good at.
He messes up a lot of motions, and that frustrates you; despite your best efforts to keep calm and patient. You have to guide his hands on multiple occasions- moving his thumb, curling his fingers correctly, switching his hands when he tries to mirror your movements. He just laughs and does his best to correct himself.
The rest of the day went much like Wednesday had; practice with signing, eat some quick snacks Bro brought in, practice a little more, ponder over why you feel so empty when he leaves, sit with Bro until you fall asleep.
And then he comes back a couple of days later and the cycle continues.
And again a few days later.
Then, he starts coming over every day.
Neither of you suggested it, but neither of you had any problem with being in each other's presence most days of the week. You began to grow used of his talkative tendencies and even grew to love the sound of his voice.
You're amazed when he doesn't grow bored or tired of you. And because of this you become a little, admittedly, possessive over John. But you justify your unwillingness to share your friend; after all he's the only one who stuck around. He's the only one you really have to rely on, to always be there for you, to support you. Bro is there, of course; but John is different. John doesn't have to love you, and yet for some reason, he does.
On your 13th birthday, he doesn't utter a single word, and tries his best not to make any sounds. He signs with you the whole day and night, his vocabulary still not fully developed, but enough for a couple decent conversations. He admits at not being sure of what to get you for your big day, so he hands over a CD.
You ask what's on the blank disk and he just says that his dad helped him make it.
"It's all me, though," he says. "My dad just helped record it and put it on the disk for you."
The CD turns out holding a collection of piano music- all of it played and performed by John just for you. It makes you laugh when you first start listening to it. You then have to explain to a very offended John the joke- how could someone so clumsy with his hands make such beautiful music?
That makes him feel a little better, but he still hits you in the arm.
You listen to it every night.
Your time spent together becomes less and less about learning how to sign and more of learning how to be friends- though he still practices often. You've never had a relationship like this, so you're awkward around John sometimes, but he helps you through it- much like you have helped him with his sign language. It's just going through the motions, very precise and yet very smooth.
He makes a lot of efforts to try and make you laugh, despite the fact you hate it. He says he likes it when you laugh. Most of his efforts are cheap pranks and gimmicks that only end with his own laughter, but every so often he manages to pull a short one out of you.
John spends the night a lot, too. When he does, you two usually end up sharing your bed and usually end up curling up in each other. Most 13 year old boys don't do that. That much you know. But you're not a normal person, so you use that excuse to your advantage. John doesn't have that excuse, but he cuddles with you regardless.
This goes on for years, even when you two are well into your teenage years.
"I really like watching your hands," he admits one night when you two are tucked in, ready for bed. He turns onto his side and props himself up on his elbow so he can look at you while he talks.
You do the same, but since it's harder to sign in this position, you don't give a response.
"Like when you sign," he clarifies.
You roll your eyes and nod, having understood exactly what he meant.
"Sorry," he says with a chuckle. "But I just think it's amazing. I mean, when I sign, it's really practiced and precise, and there's no emotion behind it. But then there's you- when you get angry, your hands move really quick and your movements are really jerky and it's almost like you can feel the anger." He's looking at you still, but you can tell his mind is somewhere far else.
He continues. "And then when you're happy, they just kind of... flow. Almost like an orchestra director might lead with his baton, you know? Does that make sense? That totally makes sense. Even when you're sad, it's like your hands portray that."
You give him a look that clearly says you're not amused.
"Oh don't give me that! I know you think you're good at hiding it; but I've known you for five years now, and I can tell when you're upset, Dave Strider. When you feel lonely or hurting..." He takes your free hand in his. "And it's really kind of beautiful, Dave."
You will never admit it to him, but at that point, you were very close to tearing up, to throwing yourself at him and burying your face in his chest. John was your rock. He had stuck with you all these years when no one else would even try.
Just some kid you ran into at the corner store.
Just some kid who offered you his umbrella.
Okay, so maybe you did tear up just a little bit.
"Hey, Dave?" he says suddenly, quietly. "How do you say kiss?"
You take your hand from his, sliding it away from him gently. You perform the sign, touching the corner of your mouth once, and then your cheek. And then you follow up with asking him, "Why?"
As if you didn't already know.
He leans close to you and presses his lips against yours gently, but only for a moment. When he pulls back, he's wearing the most sheepish grin you've ever seen on his face. "I think I like it better that way," he says. "It's the same in every language."
You can't help but smile, blinking away what you fear to be tears. You wipe at your eyes and then lean back towards him, capturing his lips with your own. He's yours.
And for the first time, you thanked the gods for blessing you.
Notes: And they lived happily ever after. The end.
Wow this got a LOT of attention! I'm so glad I managed to write something you all enjoyed. Thank you so much for all of your kind words and for reading! This fic was a lot of fun, even though it was only two chapters. I think I might write more mute!Dave in the future; it was really entertaining.
Thanks again, and please leave me a review! I would LOVE to know what you guys thought.