There was an awkward quiet. Theodore and Oboe stared at one another, the dish of fruit and bread and cheese still untouched.
Ever since the dinner, and that kiss that ended so poorly, Theodore needed to talk to Oboe. Even after she came back, so much else had gone wrong that there was never a moment to speak. Now there was calm, and even privacy, but Theodore discovered he had forgotten his voice and stranded both of them in tense discomfort.
“I’m sorry,” Oboe said, bewildering him.
“What?” He had no idea what she was apologizing for.
She fussed with the dish of food, as if arranging the apple slices just so would fix some problem.
“I shouldn’t have kissed you,” she said. Her eyes were fixed on the meal, away from him. Tears budded in the corner of her eyes, but she kept them back. “…I’ve been selfish. And angry. All those years, alone, and then you came and… …And I didn’t care what happened. I just wanted to be with you.”
“Oboe,” he said, moving closer, needing to say something but struggling to find the words. He reached out a hand and she pulled away.
“I’m greedy,” she said. “You knew that wasn’t right. …There’s so many creatures. We’re all stupid, and lonely, and kind, and wicked, and wonderful. I didn’t have any right to kiss you or take you away. I’m awful. It wasn’t fair, not to you or anyone else.”
She always did this. She always turned her pain on herself, taking the blame and forgetting the credit she deserved. That’s what wasn’t fair. Theodore took his friend by the shoulder and pulled her to face him again.
“No,” he said, and kissed her. She fell into the kiss, like a raindrop running down the contours of a stony hill to join a stream, a river, and the sea. She held onto him like she was drowning, and the kiss was her one breath of air that she breathed in with aching, ready lungs. It woke something in Theodore. His careful, rational mind broke like a sky of dark storm clouds. It poured itself into her, emptying itself to reveal something bright and warm. A feeling that had been there, hidden, and he could not stop himself from admitting any longer.
Their lips parted. Oboe trembled, pressed against him, her breath shaky. She looked up at him, her face a desert in bloom.
“Don’t say you’re sorry,” Theodore said, and started to cry. “You deserve to be kissed, to be loved. …I’ve never had a friend like you. Not ever. I never would’ve let myself. I don’t know how. …But you do! You’re always honest and real, and you want so bad to do what’s right all the time, and… and it makes me want to do everything I can!” He was sputtering, choking on the tangled knot of thoughts that had haunted him since she’d run off. “You’re so strong, Oboe. So strong, and brave, when all I am is scared, and I don’t want you to be ashamed of that! Everyone needs me to be some sort of hero knight, but I’m not. You are. You’re the sort of hero I need to be! Don’t you know that…?”
She reached up, concerned, and wiped the tears from his cheek with a caress. Her mouth hung open, overwhelmed, with eyes overflowing.
“I love you,” he told her. The confession was a weight off his chest that sent him soaring. “You make me feel like more than I am. Like I can do this. Like I can do anything! Because I’ve watched you.” He laughed through his tears. “I know I can be a good knight because you bring that out of me. You showed me it isn’t anything to be ashamed of. …Thank you.”
“Theo.” She held him, her hands squeezing him tighter, her breath held and her eyes aching to finally say: “I love you too.”
They kissed, pulling close, not wanting this moment to end. They clung to it. They kissed again, and again. Gasping for breath, they stumbled back across the room. Books and pieces of armor clattered to the floor as their hands ran across each other’s bodies, lips locked together. Her fingers gripped the folds of his clothes while he fumbled to undo the impossible array of buttons on his shirt.
No more time was made for study or preparation that evening. Instead, Theodore found himself entwined with Oboe. They held each other and explored the rapture of their bodies until they were so spent they fell into sleep more restful than either could remember.
This precious bliss was broken by the coming of the dawn. Theodore woke to the sound of trumpets, to crowds moving and shouts. He searched for his glasses and found Oboe fast asleep against him. Her smile was perfect, and she was so snug and warm. It pained him to wake her. She stirred.
He would do this for her. It didn’t matter if he was ready. Oboe needed him to do this and he wanted to be the knight she saw in him.
“It’s time,” he said.