The wedding party was a rumble of music in the distance, bright with lantern glow against the moonless night. It was all so loud, so happy. Oboe had to look away. She didn’t belong there. Sitting, she peered across the river into the dark, and wished she could stop thinking.
Boots crunched along the river bank. A light had wandered away from the party and found her. Oboe blinked. Theo set his lantern down and sat next to her.
“…They started serving the food,” Theo said, leaning in to find her eyes. “There’s all sorts of interesting dishes. Have you tried ghast berries? I’d never heard of them. They scream when you eat them! Scared me half to death. You should’ve seen!”
Oboe hugged her knees. “I’m not hungry.”
Crickets sang on the far shore. She couldn’t look at him. He sidled closer.
“You seem upset,” he said. “Do you want to talk about it?”
She curled tighter. “Why aren’t you mad at me?”
She looked up. “It’s been two weeks. You act like nothing happened.”
“What do you mean? There’s too much happening.” His laugh was anxious. “We have so much to do! The Circle is a mess. The fairies are fighting over who should lead. Others are angry about the military occupation. I’m terrified it’s going to lead to violence. The prince wants me to fix it all, on top of the backlog of work I’ve neglected since all this started! There’s hardly been a chance to breathe.”
Oboe clenched her lips. He was doing it again. “No, Theo, No. That’s not it. I lied to you! I turned you into a bug! I kept secrets from you! You almost died, and it was all my fault, and you act like you don’t even care!”
Theo stiffened. “You explained what happened. She manipulated you. When the time came, you did the right thing.”
“You told me not to hurt anyone,” she said. “I killed her.”
Pain flashed in Theo’s face. He shook it away. “She was going to kill us. You had no choice.”
“No.” Oboe peered into the dark. “I wanted to do it. I’m glad she’s dead. I hope it hurt. I hope the Mother of Magic makes her suffer.” Oboe let out a shaky breath and shivered from the cold. “Theo, I’m scared.”
“Scared?” He placed an arm on her shoulder. “Why?”
“Grandmother told me I’m like her. That’s why she picked me. She said I’m wicked, deep down.”
Theo shook his head. “I know you better than she did. That’s not who you are.”
It was hard to swallow. “…You said we need to fix the Circle, right? I don’t want to. I hate them. I shouldn’t, but I do! I want it to fall apart, I want them to suffer! I think that and I feel like her.” She shut her eyes to hold back the tears. “I don’t want to be like her, Theo! I don’t want to be like this! But maybe I am! Maybe this is the real me!”
He pulled her into a hug. Her face fell against his soft sweater, catching her tears. The embrace stole her breath.
“I’m scared too,” Theo said, and let go of a deep breath. “I don’t want to be like my father, but he’s part of me. I don’t want to kill anyone. But sometimes there isn’t a choice.” He sighed. “If it weren’t for you, we’d both be dead. Every time I’ve screwed up, you’ve been there to catch me. That’s how I know you’re good, Oboe.”
She gripped his shirt. “Will you catch me? Promise me you won’t ever let me be like her!”
“Only if you keep making sure I don’t do anything stupid.”
She nodded. “…Okay.”
“Then we’ve got a deal,” He said.
Oboe held onto him. She felt a spark of warmth come back in her heart. She still wanted to cry, but it was a better sort of crying. She wanted to stay like this forever.
“So.” Theo coughed. “The party is still going. I don’t know if there will be any food left, but there’s dancing.”
“Um.” She let go, embarrassed. “I don’t know how to dance.”
“That’s okay.” He stood, and offered a hand to help her up. “I don’t either.”