A/N: Sooo, this, obviously, is that oneshot sequel to Breaking the Silence that I promised weeks ago. Turns out, Zalon isn't any easier to write than Juele. While it's intended as a sequel, the narrrator is exposition-y enough in the beginning that new readers shouldn't be confused. It's mainly Zalon getting together with Juele, however, so if you don't care about them as a couple, or Zalon in general, feel free to give it a pass.
Quiet has always been something I've treasured, because I never got any of it. I grew up in a farming family, which meant my family wanted as many hands as possible. I was the second oldest out of ten kids. My age granted me some privileges, but none of them included quiet time.
My family got kicked off the farm when I was ten when one of the wealthier families in the country decided to buy the land and replace us with slaves that wouldn't need payment. But the city we ended up in didn't offer any more quiet than my family had on the farm.
After a few years there, I realized that I was old enough to start to make my own way and that my family couldn't afford to keep me anymore. They never kicked me out, but my older sister had left the year before I did, and I knew it was the right thing to do. The money I brought in from petty theft or cons wasn't enough to offset the cost of keeping me at home.
I hitched a ride on one of the first ships out of the country that needed an extra hand. I didn't have the skill set or money to make it anywhere else. I spent a few years there before leaving when the first mate got too friendly with me and found myself stranded in the port city in a foreign country.
I was well into my teens by then, but nothing the other street rats were doing seemed all that appealing. I resorted back to the same pick pocketing and simple cons I had back home.
A few years went by before I tried to steal the wallet of a merchant off of a well crafted ship. He couldn't have been poor, and I thought it would be a good bet.
It was, and it wasn't. He caught me, but unlike the others who'd caught me before, this man didn't seem to want to beat me half to death. He frowned at me and dragged me onto his ship to help in exchange for not turning me into the police. I decided to risk trusting him and followed.
That was where I found the first quiet I'd ever known. I was given a room with the merchant's cousin, who, I discovered within the first few minutes, couldn't talk to me. He couldn't talk to anyone. Juele, as I eventually discovered his name was, was completely mute.
I'm ashamed to admit I wasn't very nice to him at first. I didn't know how to cope with him, or how to communicate when I couldn't read and he couldn't talk. I was grouchy and sour and I didn't know how to cope with the fact that I felt honestly comfortable for once. We eventually worked through it, but I still didn't know how to explain it to him. The only time it ever felt right, I was too afraid to admit why I wanted to leave the ship with him when he left to seek his own future.
I didn't notice that we'd ended up looking for his future in the country of my past. Kalnen, the country I was born and raised in. We weren't in the city I had left so many years ago, but it was the same in so many ways, and the familiar language in my ears daily brought something back to me that hadn't known I'd lost.
Juele didn't notice, I think, how I reacted to our country, and I didn't tell him. He was too busy focusing on his own path to worry about what I thought of mine—and while I was much more comfortable in my home country now that I was with someone who knew nothing of the place, the noise was only one of many things I had hated about it.
Juele's newfound friend, Asyer, was one of them. He wasn't the man who'd taken my family's home, past, and property from them, but he may as well have been. He had the same wealth and the same arrogance about it, expecting that I would speak to him, regardless of how obvious I made it that I didn't like him.
Of course, his attitude was only one of many reasons I disliked Asyer. The longer we stayed, the more I realized that I disliked Asyer because he was so close to Juele…and Juele…well, he was mine.
Of course, I hadn't told him this. If I had, he probably wouldn't still have come in the door to our tiny, one room apartment, smiled at me, and waved.
"Was work busy?" I asked.
He shook his head and sat down on the pile of blankets next to me. We didn't have beds, so we had amassed a pile of bedding to share on the floor.
"Want to get dinner together, or should I go pick something up?"
Juele flopped back on the blankets and snuggled in. I laughed and took that as a sign that he wasn't going anywhere. "Okay. Be back soon."
He waved goodbye.
I returned with dinner quickly. The restaurants and vendors in the area were getting to know me quite well at this point because I always had to get dinner, since Juele wouldn't be able to order by himself. Of course, Juele was getting his own name and face around, too—mutes aren't exactly common.
"To go?" the woman at the counter of my personal favorite restaurant asked. They made the best sandwiches I'd ever had—greasy and full of meat with all the right condiments. I nodded to her and she started making the two different meals Juele and I usually got without asking for confirmation.
City people are always so efficient, whether it was for social interactions, separating you from your money, or anything else they wanted to do. I loved it sometimes, but mostly it reminded me of how different the tiny group of neighbors I had growing up was, none of them closer than ten miles from us and the closet proper town twenty. Isolated, but still never quiet.
"Order's up, Zalon," she said, handing me the food each wrapped in thick brown paper, her voice making the distinctive buzzing sound on the first letter of my name that no one from any other country seemed to get right. I thanked her and left.
The sight I was greeted with when I returned home made me smile. Juele had closed his eyes and curled up with one of the pillows, sprawled out on the floor, his dirt blond hair a tousled mess and his thin shirt riding up, baring a stretch of smooth, tanned skin.
"Food," I said, knowing him well enough at this point that while he may have been trying to take a nap, he wasn't actually asleep yet. He sat up and fixed his shirt in enough time to catch his dinner when I tossed it to him and sat down.
Dinner was probably the quietest part of our days together. We sometimes had stilted conversations where he used the broken sign language I was attempting to decipher and his writing, but it was too hard for him to do that while he was eating.
It was all right. While I'd always associate dinner with conversation, companionable silences were something I only had with Juele and I didn't want to lose that.
I almost always met Juele after work, to walk home with him. I showed him anything I might have drawn that day to get his opinion—which was almost always the same; he really liked my drawings—and we also usually got dinner if he wasn't tired. We never went anywhere fancy, neither of us was making much money, and I was certain neither of us would fit in at a nice place anyway. He'd had the day off, however, so he'd stayed home and cleaned, I guessed, based on my surroundings, and was tired from it. That was fine.
Our favorite place was a cheap hole-in-the-wall type restaurant where the food usually looked disgusting and tasted wonderful. They knew us there, so no one looked at me oddly when I ordered for him—not every place had a written menu to point at, and this was one of them.
I ordered him the same thing he pretty much always ate here. I didn't like doing it, but it was hard to figure out what else he might want.
He never seemed to care, though, taking his food and sitting down, looking up at me curiously with a raised brow if I didn't immediately follow.
Even out, dinner was a quiet affair, but the background noise of the restaurant and the street was different, and louder, than the distant city bustle we could hear in our apartment. Different, but not in a bad way. Even quiet got boring sometimes, and a constant stream of the same sounds wasn't much different than silence, I was discovering.
"Dinner okay?" I asked, shaking myself back to the present.
Juele nodded, bent over his food. That was another reason we usually didn't talk over meals—when Juele started eating, it was all he focused on. The boy…man…whichever you called him, he was serious about his food. I laughed quietly, smiled, and turned back to my dinner.
I worked in a library at this point, halfway reformed from theft. I didn't think Juele would really approve of it, and I had no real desire to get risk getting arrested when I had a real job.
The library was relatively quiet, except for my coworkers and my boss. My coworkers were all pretty friendly and chatty on our breaks and lunches, and my boss…well, Fyri was just something else.
She was also the only person who knew about my feelings for Juele. Not because I told her, but because she'd figured it out anyway and I finally stopped denying it. She was also incredibly interfering and had spent weeks trying to "help" me and trying to get information from Juele on how to "woo him properly". She hadn't gotten anything, and I suspect her visits had more to do with her own crush on Juele's boss, Rezon Esyen, than they had to do with information gathering for me.
Then again, Juele probably wouldn't have given her anything to go on anyway.
One of my coworkers called out a greeting to me, but I waved him off as I turned to the broom closet to get the cleaning supplies out. My reading skills weren't good enough yet to help with much more than manual labor, but I didn't mind. It was mindless work, I got paid, and I had time to work on my Juele problem.
Just because Fyri hadn't gotten any information from him didn't mean I'd given up winning him over, of course. I would need to go slowly with him and try to win him over first, but that didn't mean it was entirely hopeless.
I already knew that I would have to work past a lingering distrust for me and resentment for the way I treated him in our first weeks together. I thought I was doing better now, and it seemed to be helping. Juele was a lot less distant from me than he had been previously, but hat wasn't the same as romantic interest.
But friendship was a good place to start.
I was surprised the next day by Juele appearing during my lunch break, holding up a brown paper sack and handing me another.
"You brought me lunch?"
He nodded and looked around.
"There're tables this way," I said. "That's where I normally eat lunch." I led him to the back of the library in the direction I had indicated, finding the door that led to the courtyard area of the library and opening to door for him to walk through first. I don't know what this building had been before it became a library, or if it was built for this purpose, but the courtyard was probably my favorite part. People could come out here to read on nice days, but mostly it was where the library workers came to take their breaks and chat.
My coworkers were all mildly surprised to see Juele with me. They had heard about him, but they had never met him. No one else would have been with me, though, so I guess it wasn't hard for them to guess who he was.
I felt him move behind me, as if he was trying to hide from the stares of my coworkers—he wasn't used to being the center of attention, and he didn't like it. Unfortunately for him, he was at least half a hand taller than me and his hiding failed.
I chuckled as I moved aside and sat down. He was the one who wanted to come see me, and he knew I ate lunch with my coworkers. In fact, I rather thought he was jealous of the fact that I had people to eat lunch with and he had…well, he had a quiet solitude to work in.
I chuckled to myself. Perhaps we should switch jobs. He, the mute, wanted sound and conversation, and I wanted silence.
If only I knew how to explain this to him so he would realize how perfect we were for each other, things would be fine.
Juele sat down next to me a bit awkwardly and waved to my three coworkers with us, two girls, Rayma and Ellya, and one boy, Feren. "Uh, hi," Feren said.
Juele opened up the sack that contained his lunch, pulled a sandwich out of it, and began eating. I looked inside my own and discovered a piece of fruit, a sandwich much like Juele's own, and a pastry. I took the pastry out first and bit into it. Juele liked his food, but I preferred to focus on sweets first, even if they weren't particularly filling. The pastry tasted of honey and fruit filling.
Rayma tried next. "So, this is Juele, Zalon?"
"Yep," I said around my mouthful of food. "Juele, this is Rayma, that's Ellya, and that's Feren," I said, pointing to each of them in turn. Juele merely nodded again. I bit my lip. He wasn't making a good impression on them, I could tell, but he either didn't care or didn't know what to do.
Unfortunately, I didn't really know what to do to help.
"So, why'd you walk all the way down here?" I knew he wouldn't want to talk during lunch, but that's what we did here at the library, and I was curious.
He set his sandwich down and signed Was bored and lonely with sharp motions of his hands.
"Oh," I said. "Well, it's nice to see you."
He managed a smile at that while my coworkers looked back and forth between each other. "Hand signals?" Rayma finally asked.
I nodded. "Well, he can't talk…"
"Zalon! There you are!"
I turned at the sound of my boss's voice and ducked behind Juele—something that only worked marginally better than when Juele had tried it, because Fyri had already seen me. "I'm on break," I called.
"Shut up, I know that," Fyri replied, not stopping on her way to me, my coworkers, and Juele. "Juele! What are you doing here?"
"He stopped by for a visit," I replied, knowing that I was one of the few people who could read and of Juele's hand signs without paper, and that she wasn't.
"Oh. Good," she said, tossing a sheet of paper to me. It floated slowly to the ground, so I grabbed it out of the air instead and looked it over. Even though my reading skills were still pretty rudimentary, the handbills printers handed out were for the common people, and most of them were worse at reading than I was. They contained news, though, so it wasn't a bad idea.
And the story at the top of the page was about the "City Mute", Juele.
I frowned at it, and waved at Juele, who leaned over my shoulder as I read it.
His presence there was distracting, but not so much that I didn't get the point of the story. Someone had run up a story about the silent boy in town now, who worked at a local bookshop and stayed with his…boyfriend.
I felt my face turn red and I glanced at Juele, who was already looking at me. No surprise there, he probably read much faster than I did, not stumbling over the words as much. "I…um…I don't…know why it says that," I stammered.
He didn't look away from me. If there was one time I wished he could talk, it was now. Now, when his facial expression was too blank to read. I needed to know what he was thinking.
Instead, he turned back to his lunch without even signing anything.
I stared at him for a moment before looking back at my boss. "Where the hell did they get that story from?" I asked.
Fyri shrugged her slim shoulders tightly, and walked away without taking the handbill with her.
Feren looked at me oddly as our boss stalked away. "What was that about?"
"This stupid story says that Juele and I are…a…a couple," I said, waving the sheet of paper about until Ellya yanked it out of my hands and started reading it.
"Wait, you aren't?" Rayma asked, looking back and forth between the two of us, me red faced and Juele focused on his lunch.
"No!" I blurted. "We aren't!"
"But don't you…like him?" she asked.
I didn't answer and turned back to the lunch Juele had brought me, and pretended she hadn't said anything. Juele didn't seem to react to that comment, either.
When we got home after work and eating dinner, I was worried. Juele hadn't been quieter than normal, but he was certainly more pensive. A pensive Juele usually ended up with him making a decision without warning anyone else, so I was trying to think of things to prepare myself for.
I didn't think Juele would leave. He needed a mouth piece, and even if he didn't like the necessity, he'd accepted it. But I finally felt like I was making real headway in our friendship, and I was afraid I'd lose that.
What if he thought I gave the news people that story? I didn't, and I had a sneaking suspicion Fyri might have, but…well, that didn't mean much of anything.
But no matter how hard people try to prepare themselves for the unknown, it remains just that—unknown—and I didn't think I could find a better example of that fact than Juele's response. We had barely even closed the apartment door behind us when he turned to me and pressed his lips to mine without any kind of warning.
It was a short kiss, lasting only a handful of seconds and didn't amount to anything more than lip contact…but it was nice. Juele's lips were warm, and soft, and not pushy.
"What…was that for?" I asked when I found my voice again.
He turned faintly pink at the cheeks before shrugging and signing, I curious. Want know how kiss feels with you.
I knew my face was redder than his was by this point, but I couldn't stop myself from asking, "Um…well…how did it feel?"
Juele's hands lifted and hesitated before slowly signing, Nice.
I grinned. I couldn't help myself. "You think so?"
Juele nodded and gave me a small smile before pointing at me with a curious tilt to his head.
"Um. Yeah. I like you. It. Whatever."
The smiled widened briefly before he tackled me in a hug, knocking us both down to the pile of bedding on the floor. I laughed.
"This is good, then? We can do it again?"
Juele looked up at me and moved his hands briefly from around my waist to point between the two of us and look up at me inquisitively.
"Us? What about us?"
I stared at him for a moment before nodding so hard I'm surprised my head didn't snap off. "Of course. Of course. If you want. Of course."
He smiled again and buried his face into my chest, shutting his eyes and slowing his breathing.
I rolled my eyes and pulled a blanket over us before he fell asleep. I wasn't long in following him.