Silence Says

Toby didn’t like to talk to people or look them in the eye. He didn’t need friends. Or did he? Shipped off to summer camp, Toby had more new things to get used to than he could deal with. Could his cabinmate, Noah, offer the support he so desperately needed?


6. Chapter 6

Toby woke up the next morning feeling better. That was the best way he could describe it, just... better. Reaching his breaking point yesterday hadn't been pleasant or dignified, but at least it had allowed him to vent most of the tension that had built up inside of him.

And Noah had been there, had made things easier rather than worse. That was more than most people had ever been able to manage, even the ones who had tried.

Toby was just sitting up to stretch when Noah emerged from the bathroom, clad in nothing but a towel.

For a moment all Toby could do was stare. Well, for a few moments, if he were honest. When he finally caught himself and lifted his eyes to Noah's face, it was clear that Noah had noticed. He couldn't quite decode Noah's expression, but there definitely was one. One that meant something that wasn’t anger or disgust.

Noah didn't comment, though, just asked if Toby was coming to breakfast.


Toby left his hoodie in their cabin today, leaving him comparatively cool in his loose cotton T-shirt and knee length jeans. Without realising it Toby found himself walking next to Noah instead of behind him as he had on previous days.

"What are you thinking about so intently?" Noah asked when they were halfway to the cafeteria.


"You're chewing your lip and there's a little crease between your eyebrows. Something that needs a lot of focus? Which I guess I've now broken, sorry."

"Food," Toby said, and then realised that wasn't a proper explanation at all and continued. "I'm deciding what I want and what I'll have if they don't have what I want."

Noah smiled. "Serious stuff."

Toby just shrugged. It was a coping mechanism he'd learnt, to plan ahead whenever he could. He didn't deal well with surprises or quickly recalibrating when plans needed to be changed, so a thorough plan with plenty of contingencies in place cut down on a lot of potential stress. It would have been difficult for someone as confident and unflappable as Noah to understand how breakfast could be a challenging experience, though, so Toby didn’t bother explaining.

Toby had decided that he wanted cereal on the way to the cafeteria, so by the time they got there he was able to make his choice and keep moving without holding up the line.


Their morning activity was ziplining, which, again, heights. Noah tried only briefly to convince Toby that ziplines were 'awesome' before shrugging and jogging off to join the queue. When Noah's turn came the zipline took him soaring off through the trees, out of Toby's view, so Toby turned his attention to a strange looking caterpillar on a nearby tree.

Something brushed against the back of Toby's neck and he swatted at it, confused when his hand knocked against something solid. He heard laughter and turned to find two of the younger boys, aged about fourteen. One of them holding a long stick.

So it had begun. The real harassment. So far Toby had gotten nothing more than cruel laughter and muttered insults, probably because the other boys knew he had Noah’s protection. Noah wasn't here now, though.

The boy prodded him again, this time in the chest, then yanked the stick away before Toby could grab it. When the boy tried again, Toby managed to get hold of the stick and wrench it out of his hand. They seemed to find that funny too, but they did leave. Toby sat down on the leaf litter covered ground and began breaking the long stick into pieces.

Toby was definitely familiar with being bullied, but he wouldn't have said he was used to it. That would have implied adjustment. At school Toby had strategies to avoid those who bothered him, like getting special permission to eat lunch in the library, but when it happened it affected him no less than it ever had.

It was no surprise to Toby when the two boys returned a few minutes later, this time to flick twigs at him. They had poor aim and mostly missed, but Toby flinched every time no matter how far off they were. When Toby stood and walked away, they followed.

The harassment wasn't violent. The things people did to him rarely were. If it had been common knowledge that he was gay as well that might have been different, people might have felt threatened by him on some level, but as it was Toby could only assume the reaction bullies could get from him made them feel powerful.

He tried to ignore it, to not respond to it, but when something was bothering him his body had a tendency to betray him. If he maintained complete focus on his body he could keep it still, though it caused him a great deal of mental discomfort, but the moment he got even a little bit distracted he found himself tapping his fingertips against the bark of a tree or clicking his tongue. Other people, normal people, did similar things, but he'd been told the intensity with which he did them marked him as different, displayed his distress loud and clear.

A hand touched Toby's shoulder and he spun around, striking out with his arm. Noah leapt away before the blow landed.

"Woah, woah," Noah said, holding his hands up in front of him in a sign of peace. "Sorry. No touching."

Toby made a sound, a cross between a groan and a growl, because it was more complicated than that and his aggression hadn't been meant for Noah. Toby noticed his hands fisting and unfisting at his sides and realised, in combination with his stiff posture, that could be interpreted as a sign of aggression. He unclenched his hands and did his best to relax his body.

"What's wrong?" Noah asked.

All Toby could do was shrug, because what could he say? I'm being bullied by a couple of fourteen year olds and am too pathetic to solve my own problems? Even ignoring matters of dignity, explaining why he was upset had always been difficult. Being upset scattered his mind and talking about it just upset him even more.

So when Noah persisted he shrugged, shook his head, drummed his fingers against his thigh until, with a sigh, Noah gave up and said he'd leave Toby alone for a while.

Shortly after, the boys returned to throw dirt clots at Toby.

Toby picked up a large, solid stick and began tapping it against the side of a tree, gently at first but with slowly ramping aggression. He didn't know what he was going to do with it, but he knew what he could do. He knew what he wanted to do and he knew that he shouldn't, but he was beginning not to care.

A dirt clot hit the side of his head and exploded and Toby hit a point where it didn’t matter who he hurt or what anybody thought. Another clot hit him, this time on the shoulder, and Toby turned to face his tormentors as a growl rose in his throat.

And then Noah was there, between Toby and the boys, and he was shouting words but not at Toby. Slowly, Toby pieced together what Noah was saying.

"Seriously?" Noah shouted. "What the fuck are you doing? Why would you even-"

"What's going on?" the councillor interrupted as he walked over.

"They were throwing things at Toby!"

Toby was aware, vaguely, that Noah was on his side, that Noah was defending him, but the shouted words hurt Toby’s ears and made his heart hammer harder in his chest.

"He started it!" one of the boys insisted.

"Yeah, he did it first," the other boy agreed.

The councillor sighed. "I don't care if he did it first, you have to understand that-"

"What, you actually believe them?" Noah cut him off, waving an arm wildly. "There's no way Toby started this."

The councillor rubbed at his forehead. "I'm not saying I believe them or that I don't. I didn't see anything. What I'm trying to say is that if Toby did start something, retaliating would not be the proper course of action. His impairment means that-"

Noah threw his hands up in the air in frustration. "Oh come on, don't start that bullshit again!"

"Shut up!" Toby shouted and slammed his stick against the tree, snapping it in half and drawing all eyes to him.

"Toby-" Noah said as he took a step in Toby's direction, and then dodged the splintered stick when Toby threw it at him.

Toby picked up another stick and clenched it in his fist.

"Toby, put that down," the councillor said, his voice carefully calm. When Noah took a step towards Toby the councillor grabbed his wrist to hold him back. "Don't go near him."

When nobody came any closer Toby turned his rage back on the tree, kicking it hard enough to make his foot throb with pain.

The councillor said something to Noah, but there were too many words spoken too softly for Toby to piece them together just then. He didn’t care anyway.

"You treat him like shit!" Noah shouted as he yanked his hand out of the councillor's grip.

"Shut up!" Toby yelled again, and this time the stick he threw did hit Noah. "Stop shouting!"

Noah took a step back, and when he spoke next his voice was tense but quiet. "Sorry."

"Shut up." Toby found a new stick on the ground and began hitting the tree with it over and over again. "Shut up, shut up, shut up."

"What the fuck," one of the boys who had tormented Toby muttered, and Toby turned and threw the battered stick in the boy's direction. It didn't come close to hitting its target, but the threat was enough to make the boy retreat behind a tree.

"Everyone give him space!" the camp councillor announced. "You too, Noah. Don't go near him."

"Shut up!" Toby shouted, maybe in response to the councillor's raised voice or maybe not, he couldn't tell anymore. With everyone well out of the way and quiet now, Toby was free to take his anger out on the trees.

Toby wasn't sure how much time passed as he attacked the trees with stick and fists and shouted words, but by the time Toby's mind began to clear his throat hurt, the palms of his hands felt raw, and his knuckles were grazed.

"Toby?" Noah said cautiously as Toby picked at a small flap of peeled skin on one of his knuckles. Toby didn't respond, just leant against a tree and flexed his fingers.

"Do you want to go back to your cabin now?" the councillor asked, closer now but still at a safe distance. When Toby nodded, the councillor asked, "Do you want Noah to go with you?"

Toby hesitated before nodding again.

Whether Noah wanted to go with him was a different question. Noah had been trying to defend him and Toby had shouted at him, thrown things at him. Noah approached slowly, stopping well out of arm's reach and gesturing for Toby to follow.


"I'm sorry," Toby murmured to Noah's back when they were halfway back to the cabin. Noah turned to look at him and Toby reached a hand out, grasping at air for a moment before letting his hand fall back to his side. "I won't."

Noah fell back to walk beside him. "You okay now?"

"Sorry," Toby said again instead of answering. He brushed a finger down Noah's arm next to the pink line the stick he'd thrown at Noah had left. "I'm really sorry."

Noah sighed. "I'm not angry. I want to hug you right now, but I don't think you'd appreciate that."

"I would."

When Noah came to a stop and held out his arms, Toby all but fell into them. He clung, burying his face into Noah's shoulder.

"I thought you didn't like being touched," Noah said as he closed his arms around Toby's back.

"Depends how," Toby mumbled against Noah's shoulder. "And when."

"I sure wish you came with an instruction manual."

"I just wish I wasn't me."

Noah gave Toby a squeeze. "But who else would be this cuddly? My goodness, your snugglability is unnatural."

"I'm serious," Toby said, but he couldn't entirely restrain the small smile that tugged at the corners of his lips.

Noah sighed. "I won't claim to understand it, but I get that you weren't in control back there. I don't think you would have lashed out at me if I'd done things right."

Toby leant in closer as Noah's hand began stroking his back. "But I hurt you. That's never okay."

"Not okay, but not your fault," Noah said. "Let's get you back to the cabin."

Toby didn't want to end the hug but he did want to go back to their cabin, so he reluctantly let go of Noah. They walked side by side, shoulders bumping occasionally, and somehow things were almost okay.

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