"Yes? What is it?"
"You can get off me now."
Charles looked down to find a perplexed Pierce beneath him on the ground. "Ah." He attempted a smile, standing as quickly as possible. "I do beg your pardon."
"That's okay," Pierce said, getting up and brushing himself off. "I have surgeons fall on me every other week." He glanced at Charles. "What were you doing?"
That was a dangerous question. "I must've tripped."
Pierce did not appear to be fooled. "You tripped from ten feet away and landed on top of me?"
"Well, what can one say," Charles said, trying to find his way out of this dreadful situation verbally. "From time to time, everyone experiences a touch of clumsiness."
"Clumsiness nothing. That was acrobatics!" Pierce never did know when to leave well enough alone. "What were you doing, trying out for the Harvard football team?"
"How dare you impugn the name of Harvard!" Charles said, hoping this would be enough to turn the conversation.
Alas, it was not. "I'm not impugning the name of Harvard. I'm impugning the name of you!"
"I refuse to stand here and listen to this--slander!" Charles said, storming off to his tent.
Unfortunately, his tent was Pierce's tent too, and Pierce followed him. "Listen, Charles, I understand you don't like me."
"Hah!" Charles said. If only that were the problem.
"But that's no reason why you should--" Pierce stopped. Oh dear. "You don't like me."
Charles didn't look at him. "Of course I have a certain grudging professional respect--"
"Charles," Pierce said, interrupting.
Charles sighed. Ah well. "The supply truck backfired. I thought it was gunfire."
Pierce looked astonished. "You were trying to protect me."
"From a nonexistent threat, no less," Charles said.
Pierce sat on the edge of his bed, apparently still thinking through the ramifications of what he'd discovered. "You shielded me."
"It was instinctive," Charles said.
"I had no idea," Pierce said.
Wonderful. Now there would be pity. Charles hated pity. "There's no need to spend any more time on this than we already have. I'm certainly aware of how you feel about me, so we can simply--"
"I don't think you are."
Charles wanted this conversation to be over. "You don't think I am what?"
"Aware of how I feel about you," Pierce said.
Now it was Charles's turn to stare. "This isn't one of your puerile jokes, is it?"
"I wouldn't joke about this," Pierce said.
Pierce fidgeted. "What are you thinking?"
Charles shook his head slowly. "That this never occurred to me as a possibility." He looked at Pierce. "I find I'm speechless."
Pierce smiled. "There's a first time for everything." He stood, crossing to Charles and taking his hand.
"Even us?" Charles asked, hating that he needed reassurance in this matter.
Pierce simply nodded. "Especially us."
Charles had heard many tales of Pierce's prowess in the osculatory arts, but it was something else entirely to experience it for himself. He hoped there would be many more such opportunities in the future.