What's the Sign for Love? by Alex Whitehall


Fritz jumped back, eyeing the toy gleefully. He glanced up at Mic, then at the toy, before pouncing again, trapping the rubber between his two paws so he could jab at it with his nose.
What's the Sign for Love?
What's the Sign for Love? by Alex Whitehall
Squee. Squee. Squee. Squee. Mic threw back his head in silent laughter, his chest shaking with quiet "huh, huh, huh" noises. God, buying Fritz had been the best idea he'd had since moving out on his own. And maybe now his family would get off his back about how "dangerous" it was to live alone. Was he a grown man or not? Fritz barked, interrupting his potential brooding and bringing his attention to his dog, who was staring and waiting for him to make eye contact. Once he had it, Fritz began prodding at his new toy again. Squee. Squee. Squee. With a snap of his fingers, Mic had Fritz's focus. He signed <<dog-walk>> and watched Fritz bounce in the air and run over to where they kept the leash, his toy forgotten. After strapping his cell phone to his arm, Mic followed Fritz to the door, as his dog made frantic circles, his eyes locked on the bright-green leash. It was enough to make a man dizzy, if it weren't so cute—and funny. Mic clapped his hands, and Fritz stopped, looking up at his master, who signed, <<Sit.>> Fritz's butt hit the floor, well, as much as it could with his tail wagging ten million miles a minute. He acted like they hadn't gone on a walk every day for the last four weeks—every day that Mic had owned Fritz. He had to admit, he enjoyed their runs nearly as much as his dog did. Running alone was, well, lonely. And, while he would never tell his parents, he did feel more secure with Fritz running beside him. Not that he was afraid of being attacked or anything—not in his area—but Fritz lent a certain sense of security. Mic grabbed the leash and snapped it on Fritz's collar before letting him out. He immediately sniffed through the grass in the small front yard and did his business before looking up expectantly at Mic. <<Ready?>> he signed energetically, his body open and bouncy, his lips smiling widely. Fritz fed off the energy, jumping up and down in place, his tongue flapping and hitting his face. Gotta love dogs. Mic jiggled the leash and walked to the edge of the property; Fritz immediately heeled, and they set off. The first mile was townhouses, then the sidewalk vanished and the yards expanded as they moved farther from the center of town. After three miles, they hit open road with large wooded sections between the houses and only enough grass on the side of the road for the pair to run easily without being bothered by the traffic or sliding down the wooded slope that spread on either side. By then they had hit their jogging stride and were pacing each other perfectly, the thump-thump-thump of Mic's feet interspersed with Fritz's panting. A pristine early-autumn day. The air was brisk, the sun filtered through the overhead trees to cast a gold-red-orange light on the world. Or at least his corner of it. A perfect day. Running and then back home to work and finish up that graphic design project Ron needed. Maybe he'd see if his friends wanted to go out for dinner and a movie, even if it meant he'd be odd man out, again. He wasn't sure how it happened. Maybe the ground was loose, maybe the grass was wet, maybe a pile of leaves looked like solid earth. All he knew was one step his feet were on the ground and the next they were in the air. His only thought as he fell down the hill was Fritz! before he hit the earth with a grunt and a snap. Shit. He let the world fall back into place a moment before he wiggled his toes—ouch—and his fingers. Okay, his back seemed okay. Rolling over, his body ached with the shock of the fall, or perhaps the landing, but seemed otherwise unbroken. Except his ankle, which now that he'd moved it, was being jabbed with hot iron prods. He took a deep breath, scraped dirt and leaves off his face, and sat. And immediately regretted it. The world spun and grayed around him. His leg burned. Swaying, he closed his eyes and took another breath, only opening his eyes again when the feeling had passed. Better. Besides being covered in debris, dirt, and scratches, he was whole. But moving his left leg still make every molecule in his body ache. Shit. Reaching across his body, he grabbed for his cell phone only to find the case empty. Shit. Seriously. SHIT. He looked around, squinting in the dim light for his phone, only to find it six feet away, lying against a tree. Oh, this was going to be fun. Henry Henry skimmed his fingers over his mp3 player, pausing the instrumental guitar as he turned down an almost country-esque road that led into town and to his appointment. Tapping the button on his phone's earpiece, he answer, "Hello." "Where are you?" Mr. Ferguson, of course. Henry rolled his eyes. "Second Avenue, sir. The client isn't expecting me for half an hour, sir." "I know that," his boss snapped. Petulant child. "Where'd you put the Andrews file at?" "It's on the server under Open Cases. It's in the A section." Ferguson grunted. "There it is. Good. Now don't screw this one up." He hung up. Henry shook his head and made sure the call was ended on both ends. God, Ferguson was a grade-A jackass. Henry needed to find a new place to work, or start his own company. Maybe he'd be the next...Well, he couldn't think of any freelance secretaries off the top of his head, but he was sure there had to be some. He'd just hit play on his mp3 player and began fantasizing about being his own boss when he realized there was something on the road ahead. A fawny brown, but too short for a deer. He decelerated, squinting until he was close enough to see a dog standing in the middle of his lane, barking it's head off. For a moment he considered going around, but when he saw the bright leash and collar, he hesitated. This was obviously someone's dog, so where was the owner? When he stopped the car, the dog stopped barking and its ears perked. At least the damn thing looked friendly now. Turning on his four-way flashers, he stepped out of his car, keeping his eyes on the dog. "Hey boy, or, uh, girl. Hey. Where's your owner?" The dog whimpered and wagged its tail. Great, he was going to play twenty questions with a dog. "Are you a friendly dog?" The damn thing was certainly trying to give that impression. But Henry wasn't taking any chances: He went for the leash and not the dog. The dog didn't seem to mind in the least and instead tugged him to the side of the road and into the grass--and rotting leaves. Great. Least he wasn't wearing his best pair of shoes. Did he have a spare in the-- The dog barked and Henry looked away from his potentially ruined shoes to the dog, who was about ready to go down the drop off. "No! Bad dog!" He almost felt bad for yelling when the whimpering started, but before he could apologize--and, yeah, he probably would have apologized to a dog--he heard a thump followed by a crack. "Is your owner down there?" he asked, like the dog was fucking Lassie or something. The dog didn't answer, just whined and tugged on his lead. "Okay! Okay! But I'm not running down the damn hill. Hold on!" Leash and dog in one hand and using the other to grab on to limbs and trunks, Henry made his way down the slope. He could see where something had tumbled down--branches were broken, and chunks of dirt were disrupted--and he hoped whoever was at the bottom was okay. After all, why hadn't the person said anything? And he was pretty sure the owner was down there, considering the way the dog was pulling and whimpering. If not, he was just traipsing through the mud, following some dog. "Hello?" he shouted. "Anybody down there?" Nothing, and then thunk, thunk, crack. The ground evened out slightly before he passed through a brush thicket--but hey, the clothes were already dirty anyway--and he saw the dog's owner. The dog yanked out of Henry's hand and dashed over, whimper and nudging until the man gave the dog a good scratch and made a motion with his hands. Immediately the dog dropped to his haunches, sitting at attention. That answered why Henry hadn't gotten an answer. The guy must have been deaf. He was about to walk over when he saw a cell phone on the ground and picked it up. He held it up, "This yours?" and immediately felt stupid for talking to a deaf guy who wasn't looking at him. But the dude glanced up, nodded, and reached out for it. A moment after Henry handed it over, the guy was typing and a mechanical voice spoke from the phone. "Thank you. My name is Mic. I am mute and I think my ankle is seriously hurt." "Oh, that's cool. Not that you're hurt!" Jesus fuck a donkey. He wondered how strange it would be if he smacked his head against a tree for good measure. "Neat device; my name's Henry. How bad do you think your ankle is? Do you think it's broken?" Mic shook his head. Crouching down, Henry gingerly touched the skin above the ankle and Mic hissed. "Can you move it at all?" He didn't get an answer until he thought to look up where he saw a resounding head shake of "No." "Well, 911 seems the best bet. I've got an ACE bandage in my car, but that would still mean climbing our way out, and I'm not exactly looking forward to that on two good feet." Mic nodded and tapped the phone. "Want me to call 911?" He got another nod and Henry turned on his earpiece before dialing on the phone clipped to his waist. "This is 911, what is your emergency?" Mic Considering he'd sprained his ankle, had to trust a complete stranger to take care of his dog, and had needed to text Ruby to pick him up at the hospital, he wasn't feeling as shitty as he thought he would. The painkillers probably didn't hurt, nor did finding Fritz in his backyard, exactly where Henry had promised to leave him. The note on the back door was icing: Hope you're OK. 555-6262, Henry. It would have been better if he'd found the note and not Ruby, but at least she wouldn't tease him about it. At least not endlessly. She'd been satisfied with five minutes of smirking and a few jabs about his white knight rescuing him. He put up with it and shoed her out the door, insisting he'd be fine on his own. Set up on the couch with his foot propped, and a book, the TV remote, and phone within reach, he let the drugs do their thing. Although the drugs made him drowsy, he couldn't really fall asleep, so instead he thought about Henry, which was a pleasant thought to have. Henry had been nice. Very nice. And not in that "oh-look-at-the-poor-thing" way either. He'd stayed with Mic while waiting for the ambulance after calling a client to say he'd be late. Mic had told him he didn't need to stay, but Henry had grinned and pointed out that the ambulance would have no clue where to go, as Henry's car was the only good landmark indicating where they were. And they'd talked--well, mostly Henry had talked about his crappy job as a secretary at a legal firm, but Mic had asked questions with the type-to-talk feature on his phone. It wasn't exactly the most convenient way to communicate, but at least he wasn't stuck with paper and pencil, which he never had on him. And Henry didn't seem to mind. In fact, he seemed really cool about the whole thing. Plus when they were putting Mic in the ambulance and he'd tried to bring his dog, which they'd refused, Henry had blushingly offered to take the dog home if he had a fenced yard. It meant trusting a stranger with his dog and his address, but considering Henry had been so helpful, he took the risk. His mother would flip out if she knew, not that the "Things Mom Can't Know" list wasn't already in double digits. Or maybe triple. But it had worked out okay. Fritz had been left in the backyard with his water bowl filled, Mic had gone to the hospital and been x-rayed to prove it was just a nasty sprain, and all was right in the world. He'd even remembered to text Ron and tell him what happened and that he was going to get the project in later that day if they could wait. Of course his work stuff was all upstairs, but he could set his laptop up on his bed, or figure out how to keep his leg propped up while working on the desktop. But that was for later. Now he just wanted to rest and not think about how sore he was going to be when he tried to move in a few hours. All those spots that were tender now would blossom into bruises, and all the muscles he'd banged on the way down were going to be nice and tight. Closing his eyes, he wondered if he could get a few minutes’ sleep. He awoke to the shrill ring of his phone, and fumbled to grab it and check the message. It was Ron, telling him to take it easy and they'd discuss the deadline with the client. With a sigh, he dropped the phone back on the coffee table and closed his eyes, slipping back to sleep. When he woke up again, it was midafternoon and his internal clock was shot to hell. While he'd slept, he'd missed two texts from Ron: One saying the client was fine getting everything tomorrow and the next saying that if he didn't get a reply by 4:30, he was going to go over to Mic's to make sure he was okay. A glance at the clock--3:45--and Mic texted back that he'd get the graphics done by tomorrow and Ron didn't have to worry, he was fine. He felt a little less fine when he tried to stand, but he grabbed his crutches and forced himself to fumble to the kitchen. He took another dose of meds, let Fritz out briefly, then made his way up what felt like a mile-long staircase. It was only when he reached the top did he realize he'd left his phone by the couch. Fuck it, he thought, and continued on to his office. He had work to do and he didn't have the energy to make the climb all over again. Henry "Hey, he was hot!" Maxine rolled her eyes. "I didn't think you were the type to think with your dick." "I'm not." He didn't think so, at least. "Listen, I don't know. I just wanted to help him out, and then---c'mon, you've got to have felt when there was a spark between two people?" "Assuming I have," she said, "he's mute, how are you going to work with that?" "Hey, least he's not deaf, I can still use my cheesy pick-up lines." She glared and he blushed. "Sorry." "You better be." "You know I'm just teasing." A look said she did. "And I don't know how I'm going to deal with that. He can use his phone to type out answers, and it talks for him, but it's not really fast. Anyway, this is assuming he's interested anyway." "But you left your number?" "Yep." "Has he called, er, texted you, yet?" "It's only been four hours, and he did have to go to the hospital; I'm sure he's busy." "Good point. So how'd Mr. Ferguson handle you being late to meet the client?" she asked. "Hopefully he won't find out. The client was extremely understanding and didn't mind waiting for me considering I was being a good samaritan." "Thank God. That man is such an ass. You deserve a better job." "Trust me, I'm looking, but I sure as Hell ain't quitting before I find one." "Hey, what's what's-his-name do? Maybe he needs a secretary." "Mic, and I doubt it." It didn't mean Henry didn't imagine Mic in a nice suit in a big office, calling Henry, his dutiful secretary, in to give some...oral dictation. "Ooooh, you’re perving!" "You're the one who put the idea in my head." "Perv." She poked him with her foot. "So want to go out to dinner?" He frowned, thinking about his last paycheck and how it had pretty much gone to a car payment. "I'd better not. How about I cook us something?" Maxine sighed and fondly ruffled his hair. "Okay, darling, but next time it's my treat." Mic After Mic finished his graphics project, he sent an email to Ron to update him on the project and say he was signing off--not that it wasn't already nearly ten--and emails to his family and friends to update them on what happened and that he was fine, just slightly less mobile than normal. He didn't wait to see if he got any replies, and he was glad he’d forgotten his phone downstairs a second time when he’d let Fritz out again, so at least he wouldn't have to hear it when his mother inevitably called. All he wanted to do was sleep, and after hobbling to his bed, that's exactly what he did for the next twelve hours. His ankle woke him. He'd been dreaming about swimming. But then his foot got stuck in seaweed and when he fought it, the sharp spike of pain had him sitting up and panting. Fritz was waiting by the side of the bed, resting his head on the comforter and watching his master with half-concern and half-confusion. Mic smiled and rubbed his face before signing, <<Good boy.>> Fritz's ears perked up and Mic nodded. <<Potty?>> The bark was a little loud for having just woken up, but Mic maneuvered out of bed, into a robe, and grabbed his crutches, letting Fritz lead the way down the steps and to the back door. Once his dog was out, he put on a kettle for tea and crutched his way into the living room to check his phone. Five missed messages, one of which was a voicemail from his mother. Plopping the phone in his pocket, he hobbled back to the kitchen and the back door to feed Fritz and let him back in, pour the water for his tea to steep, and then sat down and listened to the voicemail. It was a lot of what he expected from his mom. She was worried about him. Did he need her to come by and help him out? How bad was it? Did he need her to make dinner for him? Did he have a concussion? Did everyone treat him nicely? He loved his mom, he did, but sometimes she was a bit much. Deleting the voicemail, he viewed the texts. Ruby checking up on him, one from his mom following up on her call, one from Ron saying everything looked good and he could take the day off if he needed it, and one from Zach, his most recent ex, saying he was sorry to hear about the injury and he hoped he was okay. Oddly enough, he found Zach's text the least annoying, even though Zach had broken up with him because he couldn't stand the quiet--mostly in the bedroom, though Zach never said as much. But despite Zach's not-so-great points, he had never treated Mic as helpless, so he got the first reply, pretty much saying he was fine and thanking him for the concern. Then he told Ron that he'd work a half day, since he was feeling pretty good, and Ruby that he was fine. By then his tea was ready and he put off sending his mom anything. Instead, he toasted a bagel and sat down to breakfast. But he couldn't delay forever. So he wrote her a note saying he was fine and it was just a sprain and she really didn't have to worry. He snapped a picture to send along with it to prove he was whole and well, even if he didn't expect her to take his word for it. The nice thing about his new house was that he was three hours away from his parents, so they couldn't just stop by randomly anymore. Nothing ruined a hot date than your mom dropping in with a casserole. And he would know. Speaking of hot dates... He plugged Henry's name and number into his phone, then typed, Hey, this is Mic, you know, the klutz you rescued? I was wondering if I could take you out for coffee or dinner or something to thank you. If not, I understand. Reconsidering the last line, he chewed on his lip. He did want to thank Henry for all this help. Sure, he also wanted Henry to see it as the advance it was and to reciprocate. But either way, he didn't want Henry to feel obligated to sit down to coffee or dinner with him if his muteness made Henry uncomfortable. So he'd give him an out. But did he really have to? A guy could say no to a reward dinner, right? He deleted the last line and hit send. Henry His phone vibrated in his holster, indicating a text message, and it took all his restraint to ignore it. It was probably just Maxine or one of his friends, and he was with a client. "And sign here." He flipped the page and pointed to the indicated line. The client skimmed over the paperwork and then signed, initialing where necessary. "And that's it, sir. These are your copies, and these are for the office. Do you have any questions, or is there anything else Sherman, Feller, and Ferguson can do for you?" The old man chuckled. "You don't clean rain gutters, do you?" "No sir, I'm afraid not." He smiled warmly. This type of visit almost made his job worthwhile. Of course, the feeling would fade as soon as he was in the office and dealing with Mr. Ferguson. "So, if that's everything, then you're good to go." "Thank you for coming out." "My pleasure, sir." Which was pretty much the truth. Not only did it get him away from his boss, but the clients often lived in gorgeous houses--the rich tended to do that--and served light snacks with tea or coffee. It was a pretty sweet deal. "If you remember any questions later, feel free to contact me." They shook hands and said their good-byes, and then Henry was sliding into his car, tugging his phone out of his holster. An unknown number popped up, and he smiled as he selected "read." Yep, from Mic. And asking him out. For coffee, sure, but Henry was pretty sure there was an underlying invitation there too. I'd love to go to dinner, he typed, happy--and a little guilty--that he didn't have to pay for the meal. When and where? He was halfway back to the office when his phone buzzed another text message, and at the next light he checked. Are you free Saturday? I'll be more mobile. How about Tony's on 4th? Grinning, he responded. I'm free and that sounds good. Meet you there at 6? Yes. Looking forward to it. So was he. Despite the potential for communication challenges, he was excited. Maxine would smirk and say it was love at first sight, but he wasn't stupid enough to fall for that romance crap. Lust at first sight, yes. And Mic was definitely lusty. But it was more than that: just thinking about him made Henry happy. He was still smiling when he pulled into the parking lot. Mic <<What the fuck was I thinking?>> Mic smacked his hands together and then pressed the heels against his eyes. "You're nervous?" Ruby asked in disbelief. "You're never nervous for dates." <<Not a date,>> he signed emphatically. <<Not really.>> "Riiight." <<Shove it.>> Ruby giggled. "You're so cute. Listen, he knows you can't talk, he knows you're on crutches, he knows--Jesus, the shirt you're wearing is fine," she interrupted herself when he peeled off the black T-shirt. "Just wear a blazer over it. It'll be hot." His glare meant nothing to her as he shoved his arms back in the shirt. It clung to his skin and if it wasn't obvious he was gay before, that would seal the deal. Least Henry wouldn't be under any misconceptions. Not that Mic thought he was. Fuck. He sighed and flopped back on his bed. "You're going to mess up your hair," Ruby teased. Right. His hair that he gelled to look like bed head would be messed up by the bed. Cruel irony. He sat up and did a touch test, but everything seemed okay. <<Okay, maybe a little nervous.>> "I noticed. It's going to be fine. You have your T2T? I don't suppose he knows sign language?" He patted his pocket and nodded that he had his phone, then shook his head. None of the ones he was interested in ever knew ASL. It wasn't like he enjoyed the challenge. "I'm sure you can teach him a few things." <<Like I taught Zach?>> Ruby frowned and punched his shoulder. "Unless you find another mute or deaf guy, you're gonna have to teach them something." <<You're so encouraging.>> "Well, you're being a dope. Go out to dinner and see how he handles everything. Counting chickens and all that." She was right. Of course she was right, she would say. He pulled on his blazer and nodded. <<Okay.>> "Go get 'em, tiger." He raised a brow. <<You have to leave my house first.>> "Aw, I was gonna stay home and watch." <<Gross.>> He shooshed her from the room and then grabbed his crutches to follow. Crutches weren't sexy, but hopping around on one foot was worse, and Ruby was right, Henry knew he'd be on crutches. "How about I drive you over? It's close enough to walk if he ends up being a jerk, or you can trick him into driving you home if not." He used a soft whistle to get her attention, then stopped walking to sign, <<Is that how you get your dates home?>> "You bet!" She grinned and sashayed away. Against his better judgment, he let her drive him to the restaurant. Henry He was early, because Henry was always early, and trying not to fiddle with his keys, his phone, his clothes. It was a cool night, but with his button-down and sweater, he felt ungodly hot and was just considering pulling the sweater off when Mic pulled up. Or more appropriately, Mic got dropped off. The rush of unease at seeing the voluptuous woman next to him was scattered when Mic stepped out of the car--by no means gracefully with his crutches--and Henry saw what he was wearing. He looked much better when he wasn't covered in mud and leaves, and pale with pain. Not that Henry didn't appreciate the sweaty version, but Mic was stunning in fitted slacks and a shirt so tight Henry was sure he could read their future in it. Okay, that future might have been them in bed, so it wasn't really fortune-telling, but... "Need a hand?" he offered as he approached the car. Mic shook his head, wobbled a moment when his crutch hit a crack, then grinned as he regained his balance. He motioned with his hand, some sweeping motion off his chin, then blushed and motioned with his head to the restaurant. "If you'd needed a ride, I would have been glad to pick you up." He stopped when Mic did, and watched as Mic pulled out his phone, the mechanical voice saying, "No fair talking when I can't reply." "Sorry!" His face heated, and he scratched at the nape of his neck. "I'll shut up now." "It's okay. How about until we sit down?" Mic's phone said. Henry nodded, his face still red as they walked in and to the host. "Table for two?" "Do you have a reservation?" "Uhh..." Henry stared at the host, then glanced, panicked, at Mic, who grinned broadly and winked, signing something. "Oh, of course," the host signed back while talking, his eyes dropping to the list in front of him. "Come this way." As they entered the seating area, Henry noticed a sign hanging behind the host station: "Hearing-impaired customers welcome!" It made sense, at least a little, that Mic would want to go to a restaurant where he was more comfortable. And it was a nice restaurant. A sort of snazzy Italian place, the warm scents of pasta and tomato already permeating the air. People spoke quietly, some with their hands and some with their voices. Of course, only Mic was on crutches. Thankfully he must have warned the restaurant, because they put them in a corner, out of the way but with easy access to get up and to the bathrooms. "Thank you," Henry said, taking a menu as he sat down, barely glancing at the waiter as he watched Mic situate himself. He was an animated man, his face changing constantly as he signed, his dark eyes sparkling in the dim light. Even his signs, which had been limited by his hold on his crutches before, grew more expressive with their new freedom. "Your waiter will be with you shortly, gentlemen. Enjoy your evening." Mic signed a bit more, then threw a bright grin to Henry as he set his phone on the table. "Sorry. Should have warned you," the device said. "No! Not at all. It's a very nice place. Smells delicious. Thank you for inviting me out." "My pleasure," the phone said, innocently, while Mic winked and Henry laughed. "Good to know you can still flirt without talking." As soon as the words left his mouth, he smacked his forehead. "I'm sorry. That didn't come out right. At all." He looked up sheepishly, only to see Mic was still smiling, obviously amused at his blunder. Mic tapped a key on his phone and it said, "So when is the surgery?" "Surgery?" "To have your foot removed from your mouth?" Henry laughed, wiping his hand down his face and shaking his head. "Hopefully within the next few minutes. I'm sorry. I guess I'm a little off-balance. See what I get for trying to impress you, huh?" "You impressed me when you risked your job to help me." "Well, thank you. Although if I had gotten fired for it, I'm sure I could have sued or something. But no worries, the client covered for me." He tried to flash a smile as bright as Mic's, but wasn't sure anyone could look that pleased with the world. "Since I did all the talking last time, it's your turn. What do you do for a living?" "I'm a graphic designer for an international company, so I get to work from home." "That's cool. Do you like it?" "Yes, though it is isolated. Thankfully I have Fritz now." "That's your dog?" Mic nodded and made a hand signal, one shaped like a 'd' the other making an 'o' with the last three fingers sticking out, then the tips of the thumbs touched. When Henry just stared at him, Mic typed quickly, and signed as the phone said, "Fritz." "Oh! That's how you sign your dog's name!" Henry said, insanely proud of himself as he studied Mic's hands and imitated. He must have done something wrong, because Mic leaned over and re-arranged his hands, holding them as he brought them together. "Fritz." Mic nodded, letting go with a seductive smile. Their waitress discreetly cleared her throat and they both looked up, startled. "Sorry to interrupt," she said and signed, her motions slower than the host's had been. "Are you ready to order your drinks?" "I am, you?" Henry asked and Mic nodded, signing something before motioning for Henry to go. "I'll have water with lemon." "Okay, they'll be right out." She left them and Mic's phone said, "You can order more than just water." "Oh, no, I prefer drinking water at dinner. Thank you, though. If it makes you feel better, I can order the most expensive item on the menu." Mic flipped open the menu and pointed to the surf 'n' turf pasta dish at $35. "Well, I was joking, but that sounds delicious...if not a whole lot of food. Would you want to split it? I mean, if you want. We could get appetizers to go with it. And dessert. But only if you want." Mic was grinning again and Henry sighed. "I'm babbling, aren't I?" "Maybe a little. Splitting it sounds good though," Mic's phone said. "What appetizers do you like?" Henry flipped to that page in his own menu and sighed with pleasure. "Fried mushrooms." He looked up in time to see Mic frown. "Not a mushroom fan?" "I try not to eat fried foods," his phone monotoned. "But I suppose once and a while is okay, right? Mind if we get the veggies and dip, too?" "A health nut, huh? As if the running didn't clue me in. Veggies are fine, but you can eat the lion's share and I'll keep to the mushrooms." "If I don't gobble them all down at once," Mic threatened. "Well, I guess I can share. Do you want me to do the ordering?" Mic nodded reluctantly, and Henry guessed that if their waitress had been more proficient at signing, Mic wouldn't have agreed. But then, Henry probably wouldn't have offered either. "I'm not offering because I don't think you can," Henry said without thinking. "I mean, you're obviously perfectly capable of taking care of yourself. Just the waitress looks new at this and I don't know if she'd be able to read your signs and write down the order at the same time. Oh jeez," he said, realizing he'd been rambling. Again. "So, uh, come here often?" He hadn't really thought about what Mic's laugh would sound like, but when the quiet "huh, huh, huh" noise escaped him, Henry found it so charming, he ended up staring. Mic blushed and ran a hand though his perfectly styled bed head, which just made it look more natural. "Sorry," he typed. "Sorry?" "Yeah, I know my laugh is weird." "Weird?" Henry echoed. Okay, it was different, that was for certain. But weird? Not so much. "No. It's..." He struggled to think of a good descriptor that wasn't adorable, cute, sexy, or hot, "Um, it's cute." Oh well. "Cute?" "Yes. Sort of? I'm not trying to call you cute, you're too mature for that, but--Endearing!" He nearly shouted when the word came to him. "It's an endearing laugh." Mic smiled, and Henry didn't even worry about how much it warmed him. Mic Mic laughed, huh, huh, huh, because Henry told a funny story, and because Henry seemed to like his laugh. And laughing earned him one of those heated smiles that was two parts sensual and one part sexy. "So, I have a favor to ask," Henry said as he parked in front of Mic's driveway. Mic nodded, grinning and giddy when Henry met his eyes. "Would you be willing to help me learn signing?" He nodded again. "So what's the sign for 'kiss'?" Mic signed it, and Henry imitated until Mic nodded his approval. "So..." Henry said. <<Kiss me?>> He almost laughed, what with Henry's big expressive eyes and playfully innocent face. But laughing and kissing couldn't go hand in hand, so he leaned forward, sliding one hand against the rough scrape of beard until they were at the perfect angle to kiss. Just mouths and air, their lips slightly parted but not inviting tongue as each kiss was a breath into the other and kissing was as easy as, well, breathing. Shifting, he dug his fingers into the hair that was just long enough to grip so when he tilted his head just a little, he could hold him in place to let his tongue explore. Henry hummed, his hand caressing up Mic's arm and over his shoulder, then down to rest on his hip. They kissed until the air was cold and Mic's ankle was beginning to get sore from it--the cold, not the kissing. Other things were getting stiff from that, but when he pulled back, it was to shake his head, stroking his fingers gently through Henry's hair before releasing him, but not moving away. Henry swallowed. "One last kiss goodnight?" Mic leaned forward, brushing their lips together in what was meant to be the faintest of kisses but easily deepened until only the center console, and his ankle, kept him from climbing into Henry's lap. He could invite Henry in, but with his ankle... He sighed as he drew away again, tracing his thumb along Henry's scruffy jaw. He wanted to say what a good time he'd had and how much he wished he could invite Henry in, but he didn't want to be a tease. For the first time since he was young, he wished he could talk. Instead he was stuck, silent, not even able to sign. He had to release his hold on Henry's jaw to pick up his phone, but before he could type more than a few words, Henry tucked a finger under his chin and lifted it up to kiss him lightly. "Is this good night?" Mic nodded, frowning as he glanced down to the device in his hand, but the finger on his chin brought his gaze back up to Henry, whose hazel eyes were dark in the night. "No time for coffee?" He shook his head, gesturing at his foot, which made Henry smile and tighten his grip on Mic's chin when he went to peek down at his T2T. "Maybe a sign language lesson?" Henry looked eager and a little hungry, but not pushy. Just uncertain. Worried that Mic would say no, or that he'd misread the situation. Mic smiled, taking Henry's hand and kissing the knuckles before nodding and tugging, motioning his head to his house. The air outside seemed cold after the heat of the kisses, but Mic stood on the curb, leaning on his crutches, staring up at the sky with an explosive warmth in his chest. He could barely walk, but for the moment, he felt like he could fly. And damn if it wasn't far too soon to be feeling that way about someone. Henry touched his shoulder, his hand trailing down Mic's arm to hook their fingers together briefly before releasing them. "I'm sorry I kept you from typing, but I was worried you'd kick me out." "It was your car," he typed, and Henry laughed, scratching at the back of his head. "Good point. But, I guess I wasn't ready to say good night." Neither was he. He hoped Henry knew that when he motioned to the house with a tip of his head and started walking up his familiar drive to his familiar house. He took out his familiar key and opened his familiar door, all with a great big unfamiliar feeling tingling through his body. When he turned to close the door, Henry was there watching him, a pleased little smile on his lips. "How do you sign 'home'?" Mic showed him, and Henry imitated as Mic closed the door. "Home," Henry said, his hands saying the same. "Home. That's a good word to know." Mic nodded. Yes, yes it was.


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