Arthur can already tell he’s shy- watching people gather and set up for the parade on the street in front of him with interest, but hanging back off to the side by himself. A wallflower at an event that he obviously made a conscious effort to come to, if the rainbow on his shirt is any indication. He looks unfairly adorable in it (never mind that a third of the people there are wearing something similar), but Arthur thinks that might be the shy thing, because he’s always had a kink for shy boys.
He thinks, though, that this guy would stand out even if he was at the center of the crowd. He’s got prominent cheekbones (and damn, those ears, you don’t see those every day) and his hair is windswept in a way that makes him look like some sort of supermodel. Again, it might just be that everything’s right on point with his type, but Arthur can’t believe that everyone around him isn’t just staring at the gorgeous young man who seems much too thin to be leaning against a wall on a chilly San Fransisco morning without a jacket.
And there, that right there is Arthur’s in. He can be the knight in shining armor, offering his coat to protect the poor damsel from the harsh, freezing winds (it’s really more like a breeze, but it’s still pretty cold).
He strolls over, trying to look cool without also looking like he’s trying too hard- he knows there’s a fine line there, and it took him a while to perfect it. He has, if the way the boy is smiling at him by the time it’s become obvious he’s approaching him is any indication. His eyes flash with concern for a moment, and he looks around like he’s waiting for someone, and Arthur almost falters and turns away, but really, this guy is cute, so he might as well try and hope he won’t be withering under the angry gaze of some bear boyfriend within the next few minutes.
“Hey,” he greets- simple, keep it cool, don’t come on too strong but make it obvious you’re interested- and the guy sighs and looks around again before giving Arthur a somewhat sad smile. He rubs his fist in a circle around his chest, points to himself, and then to his mouth, and then to his ear. Arthur tries not to be too thrown off, but… what?
“Oh, thank goodness, there you are.” He hears the mutter from his right as a girl walks towards them, and when she catches Merlin’s attention his eyes light up to match the brilliant smile that takes over his face. Arthur nearly groans- yeah, it’s great and all that straight guys are comfortable enough to show up and support their community, but fuck, it’s so misleading to see a cute guy at Pride in a rainbow shirt and then have him be all about the pussy.
The guy’s hands start flying, and the woman fixes Arthur with an appraising look before she smiles.
“Um… what’s going on?” Arthur wonders, starting to feel very uncomfortable.
“He’s deaf,” she explains, and oh. Of course he is, all the hand movements, sign language, and Arthur realizes he’s probably made the biggest ass of himself for not realizing that, and wonders how he can politely draw away so he can deal with his shame somewhere else.
The young man points to him and brushes his index and middle fingers against the side of his chin, and Gwen smirks. “He says you’re cute,” she translates, and the guy smacks her arm and gives her an indignant look, as if he knows what she must have told him and that was information she was not supposed to share, judging on the way he blushes. But oh, if that’s not completely adorable, Arthur doesn’t know what is.
“I don’t know any sign language,” he admits with a shrug, and she turns and does a few quick signs, and Arthur’s bothered that he doesn’t know what it means, doesn’t know what she’s saying about him. It can’t be bad though, because the guy just smiles, and this time his mouth moves along with his hands.
“Doesn’t matter.” It comes out as a whisper, almost like he’s just forming the sounds as he breathes out, rather than projecting them. “Do you have a phone?”
Arthur pulls his out, a bit confused, and the guy takes it from him- which surprises Arthur, because that kind of forwardness is not what he’s used to in his world of big business and professionalism and everyone being formal all the time- and when he hands it back, it’s open to a blank text message. He wants Arthur to type to him, and he looks so sweet and hopeful that Arthur can’t imagine walking away now.
‘I’m Arthur’, he types, turning the phone back around. The guy grins, his fingers on one hand moving in a quick, fluid movement.
“Arthur,” he repeats, still in that whisper. He places his hand flat on his chest, then taps his index and middle fingers on his right hand over the ones on his left, and then his fingers move quickly again, all smooth and fast as he replies with, “My name is Merlin.”
“So it’s A-R-T-H-U-R,” Arthur murmurs, making each letter with his hand as he says them aloud. Merlin watches with a grin, nodding quickly to show he’s done it right. Arthur signs his name again to try and commit it to memory. It’s one of the first things Merlin’s taught him, and it takes him a full ten seconds, and then Merlin signs it again and it takes about one second. Arthur shakes his head in disbelief and types into his phone,‘I’ll never be able to do it that fast.’
Merlin makes a squeaking sound, which Arthur’s come to associate in the twenty minutes they’ve known each other as laughter, because he does it when he seems to be really amused. “Just takes practice,” he whispers, rubbing his fist against his index finger.
“Practice,” Arthur says, mimicking the sign, because he thinks he might already be a little bit infatuated and wants to learn as much as possible. Typing’s served them well so far, and they’ve learned some basics about each other- like that they both actually live in San Francisco- but it’s slow and Arthur really wants to be able to communicate in the way that’s comfortable for Merlin, because he would prefer to get to converse with him many more times in the future.
‘How do you spell Merlin?’ he types, and Merlin- who seems very pleased that he wants to know- teaches him. He struggles more than he did with his own name, because it’s considerably more difficult for him to go from the L to the I to the N, but once he gets it, Merlin explains the concept of a name sign and teaches him his own, which is much easier than spelling out the whole name.
‘Do I get a name sign?’ He shows the phone to Merlin, whose cheeks flush a gorgeous shade of pink. He takes the phone to type back his response.
‘Maybe, if you hang around for a while.’ Arthur stares at the words for a moment, hoping they mean what he thinks they mean. He quickly figures out a way to be sure, going into his contacts and adding a new one under the name ‘Merlin’. He hands it back, and Merlin’s excited smile and hasty entering of his phone number are all the confirmation Arthur needs that Merlin is just as interested as he is.
The parade starts, and they get as close as they can to the barrier for the best possible view. They both watch with smiles on their faces, Arthur typing it out when people say anything interesting that isn’t already written on the banners. Merlin gets extra excited when Gwen- Merlin’s friend from earlier- marches by with the rest of the PFLAG contingent, and he grabs Arthur’s hand, and doesn’t let go for the rest of the parade. When the festivities are over, Merlin gets a text from Gwen saying she’s looking for him, and Arthur knows he has to get back to the office because he has an afternoon meeting.
‘I’ll call you,’ he types, feeling embarrassed as he changes ‘call’ to ‘text’ after Merlin just raises his eyebrows, looking amused. Merlin seems satisfied with that, saying goodbye and giving Arthur’s cheek a quick kiss. Arthur grins and waves as he walks away, still able to feel where Merlin’s lips had touched his skin, and Merlin waves back before disappearing into the crowd.
‘How soon is too soon to text you?’ Arthur types that night on the way to the parking lot, and his phone buzzes moments later. Merlin types as strikingly fast as he signs.
‘Would have been too soon if you could still see me walking away. Past that is fair game.’
‘Oh, good. And how soon is too soon to ask you out?’ He throws his suitcase in the trunk of his car, climbing into the front seat and trying to keep his eyes open as he drives. The hours of work seemed to drag on forever, and he’s exhausted. He somehow gets lucky enough to have all green lights on the way home, which he can’t object to, even if he wouldn’t mind time to stop and check his phone for messages. When he parks the car, he finds two waiting for him.
‘That one you’ll have to figure out on your own.’
‘Arthur? I was just joking. You can ask. I want you to ask.’
‘Sorry, I just got off work. Texting while driving is illegal, haven’t you seen the commercials?’ He sends it before he’s even let himself into the apartment, imagining Merlin’s face twisted with worry and wanting to ease that as quickly as possible.
‘Those are messed up. You were still at work this late on a weekend? Would you even have time for a date?’
‘I have next Saturday night off. Dinner at six?’
‘If you can pick me up.’
Arthur agrees, just glad Merlin said yes. They make their plans, and Arthur almost wants to just keep texting him, possibly for the next few hours, but it’s late and they both need to sleep. Merlin says goodnight first, and Arthur finds a youtube video of the American Sign Language alphabet and watches it over and over, practicing until he passes out with his laptop still on the bed next to him.
Their date goes even better than Arthur had hoped. Merlin’s happy and expressive and teaches him a wide range of new signs, because Arthur is really good at spelling things out after practicing all week, so he can spell what he wants to say, and Merlin can show him the sign. Merlin still uses his whispered speech as he signs so that Arthur can understand, but his hands move slower, like he’s trying to help Arthur learn even more as he talks. Arthur soaks it up, loving every second, but enjoys their conversation even more. He comes to find that Merlin is witty and playfully sarcastic and has an overall fantastic sense of humor, and Arthur doesn’t even bother to wait until the date is over before he’s asking him about what he’s doing the next weekend.
They share a chaste kiss at the end of that first date, kiss for a little bit longer on the second, add some groping on the third, and when Merlin runs his fingers just underneath Arthur’s waistband on the fourth, Arthur mumbles a ‘come home with me’ against Merlin’s lips, so wrapped up in the kiss that he forgets Merlin can’t hear him until he pulls back and looks at him curiously. Arthur blinks, trying to figure out how to say it.
He finally decides on just signing ‘home with me’, because he knows how to do those, and Merlin must get it because he grins and nods quickly before attaching their lips again. He finally steps back and practically skips towards the car, standing impatiently by the passenger side door and scrambling in as soon as he sees the lock pop up.
Arthur discovers that he loves the noises Merlin makes during sex. They’re mostly soft, just gasps and whimpers and grunts, but sometimes he moans deeper when Arthur really fucks him hard, and Arthur has trouble controlling himself once he hears that sound. It’s hard enough already- Merlin’s probably the most eager and enthusiastic guy he’s ever had in his bed, and Arthur didn’t know that could turn him on so much. Whether it’s seeing him ride above him or writhe below him, Merlin makes it obvious that he wants it, and that just makes Arthur want him even more.
It’s not long before Merlin starts spending the night on a regular basis, because they can’t keep their hands off each other, but then things calm down a bit until they’re only having sex once a night, rather than as many times as they possibly can, and he keeps coming over for the company. They’re so comfortable together, and Arthur’s getting so much better at recognizing and remembering signs, so the whiteboard Arthur bought to write to each other when they’re hanging out in his apartment isn’t used nearly as often as it used to be.
He doesn’t even really notice that six months have passed until Merlin’s teasing him about what he’s going to get him for their anniversary (because Merlin likes to celebrate and he rather enjoys getting gifts, and Arthur’s got more money than he knows what to do with and is surprisingly good at knowing exactly what Merlin wants). It’s all so easy to just be Merlin and Arthur, and time passes quickly in a way that’s different from too much work causing the days to blur together, but instead is comfortable and relaxing and Arthur’s happy. And Merlin gives him those bright, cheery smiles, and Arthur thinks he makes him happy, too.
He’s not at all worried when the time comes to meet Merlin’s friends. They’ve hung out with Gwen a number of times, and double dated with her and her boyfriend Lancelot, and they all get along brilliantly. The friends they’re meeting up with today aren’t hearing, but that’s okay, because Arthur understands the majority of what Merlin signs to him at this point, since Merlin practically lives at his apartment (Arthur’s already given him a key, and is strongly considering just asking him to move in).
They all show up at Arthur’s place because it’s more spacious than Merlin’s, and Arthur’s confidence is completely drained in the first few minutes. He hasn’t seen Merlin’s fingers move so fast since the first day they met and Merlin had been signing to Gwen, and the rest of the group are just as bad, their hands flying in every which way and how anyone could follow that, Arthur has no idea. Though, he supposes he somehow manages to understand when Morgana talks a mile a minute, because it’s what he’s used to, so for these people who have been signing so much longer than he has, it’s probably easy. And really, that doesn’t make it feel any better.
He probably signs ‘again’ and ‘slow’ more than anything else, and Merlin’s friends give him little smiles as they repeat whatever they said more deliberately, wearing the kind of look you might give to a small child who doesn’t understand, except the small children they know are probably much better at signing than he is. It’s been a long time since he’s felt this out of his element- like he’s stupid, and everyone around him knows it.
He sneaks away to the kitchen to sulk after enduring thirty minutes of humiliating mingling and rests his forehead against one of the cabinets, taking deep, slow breaths. He doesn’t want to look stupid in front of these people, make them think their friend is dating below his level by choosing some prat who doesn’t even bother learning to understand them.
He hears the door open and turns, sighing when he sees Merlin entering the kitchen with concern in his eyes. He closes the space between them, running his hands up and down Arthur’s arms to comfort him.
Arthur thinks of how to explain, finally figuring out the motions to say, They sign fast. I watch, but don’t understand. He points to himself and then spells out suck, and Merlin shakes his head, reaching up to hold his face between his hands.
“No, no,” he whispers, leaning in to connect their lips briefly. “You try. That’s what matters. That’s what matters to me.” He doesn’t even sign while he speaks, too busy stroking Arthur’s face, soothing his worries. Arthur wraps his arms around Merlin’s waist, pulling him closer and holding him there, together in that way that is just their own and always manages to magically make everything feel better.
They curl up together in Arthur’s bed a few months later, after Arthur has finally worked up the courage to ask Merlin to live with him and they’ve had fabulous finished-moving-in celebration sex. Merlin pants lightly, unable to wipe the grin off his face, because even though Merlin practically lived there before, it’s now official that this is his one and only home, and that makes it infinitely better. Their heavy breathing evens out and their eyelids start to droop, comfortable and warm under the soft sheets- their sheets, because it’s no longer just Arthur’s bed, it’s their bed- and Arthur’s arm is draped across Merlin’s chest. He’s sleepy, but he’s suddenly struck by the urge to do something he’s been thinking about for a while.
It’s been so long since he’s said it, because he hasn’t had too many serious relationships in the past few years, and he’s waited long since he started to think he might be feeling it, because he wanted to be absolutely sure. He looked it up online, because it wasn’t exactly something he could just ask and not say right then, and then it wouldn’t mean as much as it will right now.
He moves his hand to press it to the middle of Merlin’s chest and extends his thumb, index, and pinky fingers, his middle and ring fingers tucked against his palm. He watches Merlin raise his head, staring down at the sign for a few moments before his eyes flick up to search Arthur’s. Arthur smiles, because he wants Merlin to know this is genuine, and Merlin covers Arthur’s hand with his own, holding on to the confession. They hold each other’s gaze, and the corners of Merlin’s eyes finally crinkle as he grins.
“I love you, too.”