Sam speaks in the ways he touches people—in the small caresses that he is so fond of giving; he speaks with his eyes that show too much of what he's thinking, and with the subtle expressions on his face. Arthur has heard the other kids tease him, seen them push him around, all because he doesn't speak in the same way everyone else does.
It makes Arthur's heart hurt and he doesn't know why.
Arthur tries to coax him into saying something the right way, but Sam just gives him a hesitant smile that crinkles the corners of his eyes and it's like they've just held a silent conversation with their grins alone. It makes Arthur feel powerful and unsure, but more than a little protective of the slighter boy. He knows then that Sam is something special—a treasure to cherish—and in his simple, six-year-old mind, Arthur decides that he wants to keep Sam forever.
Arthur can't help but think preadolescence suits Sam. Even with the baggy clothes he insists on wearing and the large-ish white board he keeps hugged to his chest like a shield, Arthur sees the beginnings of a beautiful body. Then again, Sam has always been beautiful on the inside—his mind a bright kaleidoscope of colors so vivid they could blind you—but now his outsides are starting to match.
When it comes to Sam, Arthur just notices these things.
Junior year, Arthur asks Lucy Farwall to the prom. He gushes to Sam for hours after the tiny brunette says yes, even though he's unaccustomed to speaking to Sam with anything other than the tactile movements with which Sam is so familiar. Spoken words are needed to describe Lucy's beauty, and Sam listens, with his white board clutched to him like it can keep Arthur's words at bay.
His eyes are wide when Arthur peers into them, the thought, 'stop it' reflecting hugely in their watery depths, and Arthur cuts off his tangent abruptly, confusion making him falter. Sam ducks his head against Arthur's questioning gaze and runs the way they came, leaving Arthur alone and completely bewildered.
Sam doesn't like it when people try to use words with him. He'd much rather show fondness by holding your hand, or anger by the heat of his glare, or sadness by the saltiness of his tears. Words unsettle him sometimes, just as a lack of words unsettles Arthur sometimes. He loves his best friend in a way that he can't fully describe, but sometimes the normal, soothing sound of someone else's voice is just what he needs to pull him from the unsettled place in which he sometimes finds himself.
He needs to hear someone speak so that he knows he hasn't gone deaf.
Lucy ends up leaving Arthur at the door, rushing off to laugh with her friends in the middle of the dance floor while Arthur struggles to find someone he knows, just so he doesn't feel so alone. He briefly wishes that Sam was there but he knows Sam hates loud noises and big crowds and bad music. He's also been avoiding the boy for weeks now, wallowing in the safety of his normal friends, until it's too late to realize that Sam is right where he should have been this whole time.
Senior years rolls around and Arthur and Sam grow apart all over again. It feels like they've barely fallen back into the rhythm of things before Arthur is running away on a quest for normality once more. Arthur gets captaincy of the football team, and he only passes Sam in the halls, the shorter boy's eyes full of a pain and loneliness so palpable that Arthur feels it settle in his own chest every time he sees it.
But he has a team and a sports scholarship to think about and Sam can't seem to bring himself to care about either of those things. Arthur tells himself it's for the best and he goes on with life like Sam was never there.
It's three weeks before graduation when Arthur finds his 'football buddies' pushing around Sam in an empty hallway. That stupid white board that Arthur hates so much lies in a splintered heap at Sam's feet and the boy's eyes are leaking tears like a faucet.
"Come on," Eric, the biggest of the group, says with a sneer. "We'll let you go if you beg for it. Beg us, freak."
Arthur can see the expression on Sam's face from his spot behind the players, and Sam is indeed begging with everything he has, in every way he can. Just not in the way they want.
"What the hell are you guys doing?" Arthur demands with steel in his tone, sickened by them, but mostly sickened by himself.
The jocks spin around at the sound of Arthur's voice, and Eric's eyes widen and his hand hastily drops from where it was clenched in Sam's t-shirt. "Arthur, we—"
Arthur shoulders past them in order to wrap a steadying arm around Sam's trembling middle. "You leave him the fuck alone," Arthur says, and his words are laced with dangerous intent. "You hear me?"
They nod and scatter and Arthur and Sam are left alone in the hallway. Arthur has never felt as low in his life as he does when Sam's tear-streaked face buries gratefully in his chest.
They spend the summer before college together, their collective silence a luxury Arthur has missed deeply without realizing it. He likes the idea of being able to speak without speaking, even if he sometimes thinks words are needed. But they're not with Sam and that makes him special.
Sam has always been special.
Arthur's parents are still at work when he packs away the last of his things into brown, cardboard boxes. He stuffs an armful of clothes from his closet into the nearest open one, hangers and all. He tapes up the top and scribbles, "CLOTHES," in the corner with a Sharpie marker before setting the box aside. He doesn't notice Sam's presence until his voice, broken and raw with disuse, whispers, "Arthur."
Arthur's head snaps up in surprise and he watches Sam's crumpled face like he's seeing it for the first time. "Sam?" He feels odd using words with Sam, and his mind screams, 'we don't need this,' in utter mutiny. "What's wrong?"
Sam pulls his new white board from behind his back and Arthur reads the words, "don't go," scrawled along the length of it with a heavy heart.
"I have to," Arthur says, feeling like crying for the first time in years. God, he's leaving Sam. It's the first time the thought has fully occurred to him and it makes him sick to his stomach. "Just like you have to. We're only going to college; we'll see each other over breaks." No words. Please, no more words. We don't speak like this—I don't like this.
"Arthur," Sam says again and his voice breaks on a sob.
Arthur is there in a matter of seconds, his arms wrapping around his friend like an embrace alone could pull the pain from the slighter body. His hands rub up and down Sam's back, the movement saying, "shh," and "it's okay," while his cheek rests atop Sam's head, a silent, "I'm right here."
Sam fists his hands in Arthur's shirt, seeming more small and vulnerable than Arthur has ever remembered him, even in those months when Arthur was ignoring him, and then his face tips up and his lips crash against Arthur's in a needy kiss. The motions of his mouth communicate things words never could: "I love you, Arthur."
Arthur kisses back just as desperately, his lips pushing against Sam's, saying, "God, I love you, too," in the best way he can.
They sink onto Arthur's stripped bed, the sheets packed away and the mattress rough against their skin, but it couldn't be more perfect. Clothes are stripped in silence, except for the cadence of their breathing and Sam's occasional whimper of, "Arthur."
Arthur thinks he should be encouraging it—loving that Sam has finally spoken for the first time since Arthur met him all those years ago on the playground—but it feels equal parts wrong and right, that the only word Sam will ever speak is Arthur's name. At that thought, Arthur wraps his hand around Sam's cock, stroking it with a careful love that leaves Sam's mouth falling open on an unheard moan.
It takes minutes of Arthur's gentle care before Sam lets go of everything he's been holding in, with nothing more than a harsh breath and a squeeze to Arthur's biceps to commemorate the moment. Arthur comes with him seconds later, the look on Sam's face enough to send him over the edge.
They collapse on top of each other in a sweaty heap and exchange small touches that say everything and nothing at the same time.
Two days after, Arthur transfers to the same university as Sam. When he gets there on his first day, Sam is sitting on one of the beds in Arthur's dorm, his things displayed neatly on the left side of the room. He smiles when he sees Arthur in the doorway and whispers, "Arthur," even though he doesn't have to.
Arthur smiles back and says nothing, because the chaste kiss he places on Sam's lips says more than words ever could.