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?

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8. Chapter 8

Shirtless Noah was hands down the best way to start the morning. It would have been better if Toby could have touched Noah's bare chest, but he was fairly sure that fell outside of what was acceptable even now they were being oddly cuddly.

Noah sure didn't seem to mind Toby looking, though. When he caught Toby he smiled, and after that Toby didn't even bother to pretend not to peek. Perhaps he should have, maybe doing it lots would be interpreted differently from doing it once or twice. He didn't know. The rules here seemed to be even more muddled and difficult to understand than normal social rules. Maybe Noah just liked the attention or maybe he thought Toby found his muscles impressive in a completely not gay kind of way? All Toby knew was that he was getting away with it, and that was pretty good.

Breakfast, by this point, wasn't the big deal it had once been. Not when he was starting the day feeling relaxed and refreshed, anyway. The real issue would be meals and activities that came later in the day. Everything, every little stress, added up, and the problems started when Toby ran out of steam. The key was careful management, developing coping strategies and knowing when it was time for him to call it quits before things boiled over. He'd become pretty good at that over the years, he just had to adapt it to this new situation.

Their morning activity was hiking, and Toby was relieved to see that the boys who had tormented him yesterday were not there. Whether they'd been excluded from activities for a day, moved to a new house, or evicted from the camp entirely Toby didn't know, but for just then he didn't care. In truth, he'd been more concerned about how Noah would respond to them than about them bullying him again. That kind of drama was definitely something Toby could do without.

People were looking at Toby more today, or perhaps he was just noticing it more. It put Toby on edge, but Noah seemed as relaxed as ever. They sat and waited for the rest of the boys to gather at the meet spot so that the hike could begin.

Toby twitched when Noah ran a finger down his arm but didn't pull away.

"You're not wearing sunscreen," Noah pointed out. "You forgot when we went canoeing, too, and you ended up all pink."

"I didn't forget," Toby insisted. "I just don't like sunscreen. It feels all slimy."

"The stuff the counselor has is good. You can barely even feel it on your skin."

"You can't," Toby told him. "Fine, but I'm not putting it on my face."

Noah grinned as he jumped to his feet. Apparently proper skin protection was very important to him. "Back in a moment."

Toby was better at understanding facial expressions than he used to be, but he still wasn't sure how to interpret the little smile Mark gave him as Noah dashed off to retrieve the sunscreen. It was intended to communicate something, some point, Toby just wasn't sure what.

Noah jogged back over, sunscreen in hand, and Toby admired his long legs and steady gait. Toby just looked silly when he ran, but Noah had grace.

"Sunscreen," Noah declared as he dropped back down next to Toby. He squirted some into his hand. "No face. Neck okay?"

"I guess," Toby agreed. He wasn't fond of the smell of sunscreen or the feel of it on his skin, but his objection was more a matter of him being fussy than a potential cause of a crash. At this point, anyway. It would add to his stress meter, if only a little.

Toby squirmed away when Noah touched the back of his neck gently with his sunscreen coated fingers. "Don't— It feels tickly. Don't do it soft."

Noah tried again, this time pressing down firmly as he applied the sunscreen to Toby's neck. "Like this?"

Toby nodded, leaning forward to allow Noah better access. It felt nice, almost like a massage.

"Gaaay," Mark murmured.

"Don't," Noah said, just a simple word said without so much as a glance in Mark's direction. There was a threat in it, though. Even Toby could sense it.

Mark didn't respond, didn't argue or apologise, but the way he averted his eyes and rocked his body back slightly as he tapped a rhythm on his knee was a clear enough sign that he was backing down.

Even so, Toby had expected Mark's words — or word, he supposed — to make Noah self conscious and less conspicuous in his his actions. They didn't. Though Toby could have easily reached most of his body, Noah continued to apply the sunscreen until every bit of exposed skin but Toby's face was protected.

Somehow, it didn't feel like Noah was babying him. It felt like something else. Given Mark's commentary, Toby wondered if maybe Noah's actions were exactly what they seemed.

That didn't make any sense, though. The idea of Noah being gay wasn't so outlandish, but him being attracted to Toby... that was just odd. Was he just being opportunistic? Did he just like flirting? Toby couldn't imagine Noah's intentions being at all exploitative. Or maybe he just had a thing for taking care of people, and Toby was simply defiant enough of social norms to let him. This wasn't the kind of thing people asked about, though, so Toby didn't.

Toby was thin — underweight if anything — but he wasn't exactly in shape, so he was grateful that, when they started hiking, Noah patiently kept pace with him rather than urging him to go faster.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" The question came out sounding natural enough, Toby thought, concealing the fact that he'd spent the last ten minutes wracking his brain for topics of conversation. "I told you what I wanted to do, but I forgot to ask you. Sorry."

Noah waved away the apology with one hand. "I don't know exactly. My dad's always wanted me to be just like him, so my aspiration has always been so say fuck that and be my own person. A better person. Beyond that... I wouldn't mind studying business, maybe starting up my own small company. My dad's a douchebag and his business practices are shady as hell, but I have learnt some useful things from him."

Toby was glad he'd asked the question. Noah's words felt precious, important. It would have been easy to brush Toby off with a shorter answer, but that he valued Toby enough to give him a proper response meant something. Whether that something was more or less or just different from cuddles and sunscreen coated fingers Toby didn't know. Maybe it was just another aspect of the same whole.

"If your dad's not a good person, I don't think you could ever be like him," Toby told Noah. "You're too nice."

Noah gave Toby a smile. "I find when you're nice to people they're generally nice in return. It's a good life strategy."

"Yeah, except for me. I shout at you and throw things when you try to stick up for me."

Noah patted Toby on the arm with a slightly sweaty hand. "And look at all the hugs I've gotten in return. Seems like a fair tradeoff to me."

Toby let out a dramatic huff. He didn't understand the hugging thing well enough to refute that.

When they reached the next tree they stopped for a rest and to pass the water bottle between them.

"Man, your face is so pink," Noah said as he reached out a hand. "You should at least wear a hat next time."

The hand made contact with Toby's cheek and he grimaced and pushed it away. "No face. And I don't like hats."

"Sorry. You don't like many things, do you?"

"No," Toby admitted after a moment of consideration. "Just a few things very much."

As they continued walking, Noah pulled his shirt off over his head. Casually, like stripping in the middle of a trail was completely normal. Toby kept his eyes very firmly on the ground. Noah didn't seem to mind being looked at, but if the others noticed Toby's fixation...

"Noah, put your shirt back on!" the counselor shouted as they neared the end of the trail. "You'll scare the wildlife."

"But it's sweaty and gross!" Noah called back.

"Your whole body is sweaty and gross," the counselor said, his voice only slightly raised now as Toby and Noah neared where he was waiting at the end of the trail. "I hope you plan to take a shower before your afternoon activity. Teenage boys smell awful."

Noah laughed. "Toby, do I smell awful?"

Toby opened his mouth, ready to make some kind of general comment on what he knew of Noah's scent from all of their cuddling, before realising how that would sound. He shook his head instead. "Not from here."

"I think I'll take that shower anyway. Coming back to the cabin?"

It wasn't really a question. Where else was Toby going to go all on his own? Noah seemed to actually be waiting for a response, though, so Toby nodded.

Their afternoon activity was dodgeball, something Toby hadn't considered going to for even a moment, so while Noah showered Toby ate some of the leftover vending machine food. If he wasn't doing the activity, he wasn't going to lunch, either. The two were connected in his mind. Go to lunch, go to their afternoon activity from there.

"Not going to dodgeball," Toby said as Noah emerged from the bathroom clad only in a towel.

"Okay. Mind if I go?"

"I think I can manage on my own for a few hours."

Toby didn't know why he kept watching Noah. He knew what came next. It wasn't until Noah dropped the towel and Toby was faced with the muscular curves of his ass, though, that Toby averted his eyes, his face flushing brighter than his sunburn could disguise. He had to turn to face the wall completely to resist the temptation to take another peek. Not appropriate, Toby.

When Noah was dressed and ready to leave, Toby mumbled a goodbye without turning around. He could not look at Noah just then.

After Noah left Toby did his best to distract himself with a book, but that plan backfired when he reached a sex scene. Toby threw the book down dramatically and let out a sigh. He was sweaty from the hike. Maybe he needed a shower too.

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