DISCLAIMER: Wicked and its characters are the property of Gregory Maguire and L. Frank Baum.
CHALLENGE: Written for Passion & Perfection's Big 5000.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Glinda walked quickly, hands thrust deep into her muff as a biting wind cut through her coat, in spite of its thickness. It seemed ludicrous that they - final year Sorcery students, less than one month shy of graduating - were being made to walk through what could practically be called tundra.
"It builds character, girls!" Miss Greyling said when Shenshen voiced Glinda's thoughts. "You won't amount to much if you allow your skills to let you become idle."
"Who says we want to 'amount' to anything?" Pfannee muttered to Glinda. "I've been betrothed since I was seven years old. I can't wait to take my place as one of the idle rich."
Glinda rolled her eyes, though vocally she concurred. "Why else have we worked for so long, perfecting our art, if not to make life easier for ourselves?"
"Speaking of making life easier," Shenshen said, falling back into step with them when Miss Greyling turned a deaf ear to her continued grievances, "Pfannee and I aren't staying in that dreadful hovel another night. Papa's wired me the money, and I've booked us into a private suite down on Plumble way. Won't you join us, Glinda - for old times' sake?"
"Miss Greyling said yes?" asked Pfannee. Shenshen nodded.
"She's 'disappointed in our lack of school spirit' or something, but as we're all over nineteen now, Shiz can't force her guardianship upon us. Well?" She turned back to Glinda, who was contemplating the idea. 'Old times' sounded nice in theory, but she wasn't exactly certain that she cared for their reprisal. Though truthfully, anything would be better than the digs they were staying in.
"Glinda, honestly, do you want to stay in that flea-ridden ice-chest with someone like Lusa taking up all your breathing space?"
(Lusa, Glinda's spell partner and roommate for the field trip, was a little larger than most of the other girls. If one listened to Pfannee and Shenshen - as Glinda once had - she was the size of Mount Runcible.)
"I think I'd prefer to stay with the class, it'll be easier," Glinda explained. "We have the Ancient Magic Museum visit tomorrow, and -"
"The optional visit," stressed Pfannee. "Everything after today is 'recommended but not required' - meaning one can go with the group, or in their own time, or -"
"Or not at all, because who'd bother with the Architecture Gallery when there's a half dozen boutiques on our block alone?"
Glinda smiled wanly, wondering if Shenshen had meant that as a jibe or not. After all their years of friendship, she was still not able to tell.
"Alright - but tomorrow," said Glinda, because another gust of wind had pierced her stockings, and the heating in their inn was quite woeful. "I know you girls don't care for vaudeville, but I'm going to the Music Hall tonight with the others, and I'd rather take the cab back with them than wander off to locate you two on my own."
"Mind you don't forget," Shenshen said firmly, as at last they began to mount the stairs to the Modern Sorcery and Magical Arts Museum, which, despite its name, was housed in a beautifully restored Bloodstone Medieval mansion. "I expect we'll stay in until at least eleven, and I'll leave details at the concierge so you can find us for lunch if you come later. Ugh," she wrinkled her nose at a granite roc, carved cleverly into one of the columns atop the staircase. "What a horrid old building."
"Hmm," Glinda mused, pulling out her writing tablet and just barely stifling a giggle when the words 'Shenshen is a dimwit' appeared on its bewitched surface. She hastily wiped it clean, sternly reminding herself to think only academic thoughts for the remainder of the tour.
Glinda couldn't decide which was more fascinating - the contents of the museum, or the museum itself. The floors were marble, laced with golden spiders, some of which almost appeared to form words until Glinda blinked and they became random swirls again. Miss Greyling caught her staring and sidled up to her, saying quietly, "It's the true language of spells - no one of our world can read it, though those truly gifted with magic can make out parts."
"Can one learn?" asked Glinda.
"If one has that much determination, it is possible. But you'd need to really want to be able to read it - a life's goal kind of thing. Many who have tried have dedicated their whole lives to it and still died before barely understanding a quarter."
Glinda watched as a golden thread looped around, almost showed her something, then changed its mind. "I guess I don't want to read it all that much."
Miss Greyling laughed. "Few do, once they understand the difficulties. And many of those who do want to for all the wrong reasons, and the language knows that too, Glinda. It won't show itself for anyone less than worthy."
Glinda knelt down, in the middle of the grand hall, touching the floor. It felt no different to the marbled surfaces in her grandmother's bathroom, yet still she shivered.
"Have you considered post-graduate studies, Glinda?" Miss Greyling asked, watching in amusement as Glinda rose to her feet. "You would easily get into the magical history class, and I take a unit within that on the lost language of spells. Don't tell anyone, but it's a bit of a bludge - we mainly just sit around and discuss theories over coffee."
Glinda smiled, but thoughtfully. "I should..."
"You should," Miss Greyling agreed. "Don't let anybody else prevent you from doing what you wish to, even if it's not the fashionable choice." She chuckled when Glinda blushed. "My dear, I was young too, once. I'm in room 317 at the inn if you wish to have an informal chat about things - that is, if you're planning on staying with us," she added with a knowing grin.
"I am," Glinda replied, and Miss Greyling gave her shoulder a pat.
"Good girl. Now, you know the way back? I'll be leaving shortly with whoever else wants to, but you're most welcome to stay until closing, or wander off elsewhere if you prefer. The dinner service isn't until seven, so you needn't fret about being late."
"Thankyou - I would like to stay here a little longer," Glinda replied. She watched Miss Greyling stroll off with the majority of the class, before dropping to her knees again and all but pressing her nose to the floor, studying the various loops and curls. She wondered what type of person would make reading this their life's goal, and what kind of person the language would deem worthy. How awful to be the first, yet not the second!
After a half hour of crawling, Glinda finally paid heed to the growling of her stomach and made her exit from the museum. She could always come back - Miss Greyling would definitely understand if she didn't care to visit the Sorcerer's Memorial, or the Magical Technology Centre.
It was still light when she arrived outside, but only just. The museum wasn't in the best area of town and Glinda hurried a little, almost wishing she had left with the others. The army presence in the city was high - certainly, the last time she had been there it had been practically non-existent - but this only made Glinda feel uneasy. What sort of place was it now, that it required stationed soldiers and mounted patrols before nightfall?
Glinda's mind didn't choose to ponder this, however, instead returning to her ill choice for an idle thought: the last time she had been in the Emerald City. With Elphaba. The usual pang that accompanied thoughts of her roommate was deeper now, at the realisation that she was where Elphaba was, separated by only a few hundred thousand citizens rather than the usual, impassable, distance.
Dinner was both hot and delicious - a hearty meat and four veg that was perhaps not as classy but definitely more filling than the smoked salmon and avocado tarts that Pfannee and Shenshen were surely dining on. Her stomach full to bursting, Glinda thoroughly enjoyed the first act of that evening's entertainment, even if their group had all been separated, and she was wedged in between a woman who snorted when she laughed (which was often) and an elderly gentleman who would hum along with all of the songs he knew (which was all of them).
Glinda stepped outside during the interval to get some air, deciding to take a stroll down to the canal while she was at it. The streetlamps danced gaily on the water like miniature fireworks, their rippling patterns as mesmerising as the floor of the museum had been. She smiled at them wistfully as a pair of boots clumped past behind her.
"You know what? If anybody could decipher that language it'd be you, Elphie," she said, her voice apparently startling the passerby, who stumbled before resuming with a quickened pace. Tossing a pebble into the water, Glinda turned to head back to the theatre, drawing up short in astonishment when she caught sight of the boot-wearer, who was striding swiftly towards the dock.
He or she was dressed from head to toe in black, with a hooded cape masking whatever figure and hairstyle they might have had, but their gait was so uncannily familiar - funny, to recognise a walk after over a year, but recognise it Glinda did. Shaking herself into action, she dashed after the disappearing shadow.
"Elphaba?" she called out when a little closer. Though the person stiffened, they didn't stop. The fact that they could merely have been surprised at Glinda's voice did pass through her mind, but the thought was fleeting. Glinda sped up.
"Elphaba!" she called out again, and the person sped up too, but held out an arm, crooked backwards at the elbow. The hand, unmistakably, beckoned. Heart pounding, Glinda watched the figure round a bend and then halt, its motionless shadow spilling out in the moonlight.
All she could see, at first, was the nose. But that was enough.
"You can't follow me any further," Elphaba said fiercely. "I won't have it; it's not safe. Do you understand?" But before Glinda could even reply, she began to march off again. Stung, Glinda grabbed at her.
"No. I don't understand."
"Glinda, I really don't have the time for this. Just go back to wherever it is you came from and leave me be. You're putting yourself in unnecessary danger here."
"I don't care," Glinda stated boldly. "Elphie -"
"Well I do. Please, just go. Or let me."
Glinda let go, sadly. When she didn't speak, Elphaba gave a tiny sigh.
"I'm sorry Glinda, truly I am. But our paths simply can't cross anymore." She hesitated for a moment, then leaned forward and kissed Glinda's forehead before turning to walk off.
"Elphie, please don't leave me again," Glinda pleaded softly. "I'm so lost."
It was barely five seconds, but it felt more like an hour, and Elphaba was beside her again, arms folded impatiently. It was a stance Glinda knew all too well - the one that meant she was about to give in, as much as she loathed (or said she loathed) to.
"This goes quite a long way against my better judgment," she told Glinda. "Come on. Quickly - and put up your hood."
Though startled at how quickly Elphaba had yielded, Glinda hastily obeyed. "Elphie?"
"Don't speak," Elphaba snapped. She reached back to take Glinda's hand, forcing her to walk faster. Silent but for their footsteps and Glinda's laboured breathing, they made their way along a maze of docks and over a bridge, then down a street so steep that it had stairs cut into its sidewalk. The streetlamps were few and far between here, and most were unlit in any case. Terrified, Glinda tightened her hold on Elphaba, hurt when the girl instantly pulled free - but no, she was just ferreting for a key, Glinda soon noticed. They had paused outside an old mill, the entrance to which Elphaba was now unlocking. She glanced around quickly before pushing Glinda inside, bolting the door behind her.
They went down a mildewed flight of stairs, coming to another door. Behind this - which Elphaba also bolted securely - was a tiny apartment, furnished with crates, and a mattress in one corner. Glinda stood nervously by the door as Elphaba lit four or five rather hefty candles, then shucked off her cape. She knelt down in front of a small grate, peering inside a saucepan that had been left atop it. "Hungry?"
"Well you must at least be cold. Come over here."
There was a tiny fire in the grate, which Elphaba stoked expertly as Glinda crouched down beside her. The room was already growing warm, though perhaps this was mostly due to its poor ventilation. There was only one window, high on the wall above the bed, barely the size of a shoebox. When she saw the mangy paws of a stray dog suddenly trot past, Glinda realised that it must be street-level.
"Why did you change your mind?" she asked cautiously, warming her hands.
"You said you were lost, and I couldn't leave you outside all night with no clue where you were," Elphaba said briskly, reaching for a small canister. "I would never have been able to forgive myself."
"Oh Elphie...not that kind of lost," Glinda chuckled softly, stilling her when she saw barely three spoonfuls of coffee in the container. "No, none for me."
Elphaba gave her a small smile. "Well, I guess I just barged in again, didn't I? Dare I ask what kind of lost you were referring to?"
"Lost without you," Glinda told her. Elphaba looked a little surprised, but didn't make any comment. "You abandoned me, Elphie, and you know what? That hurt. Why did you do it? That's all I want to know."
"I didn't think you'd care so much," Elphaba said, puzzled.
"Oh Elphie," Glinda laughed, sighing. "How did you never realise what I felt for you?"
Elphaba shrugged, reaching out to stroke a tiny white kitten that had just slunk past. Haughtily, it sidestepped her, giving Glinda an equally wide berth as it went to investigate a bowl beside one of the crates.
"Me?" Elphaba asked. "I didn't think I was more than just a roommate to you. And an eventual friend," she added, when Glinda almost reeled back from shock. "But you have other friends - one more or less doesn't make much difference, does it?"
"You're worth ten of Pfannee, and a dozen of Shenshen," Glinda said. "Elphie, I..." She glanced down, playing with Elphaba's hand; twisting her fingers around her own. She couldn't remember when she'd started holding it, or if Elphaba had reached for her first - it had just happened, like all those nights on the road when she had awoken to find them hand in hand. "I love you, you silly thing."
"I don't understand," Elphaba replied, frowning. "Why me? What did I do?"
"Nothing. You were just you."
Elphaba appeared to ponder this. However when she spoke again, it was to say, "You may stay tonight, but you must leave tomorrow, Glinda. And we can't see each other again. I'm sorry, and I really don't mean to hurt you, but it's simply far too dangerous."
"Nothing can connect you to me," Elphaba said simply. "I shouldn't have you here at all, and I only hope I don't live to regret this. Already nothing is safe for me; I can't make it that way for you, too."
"Is that the only reason?" Glinda asked. "For my safety? Because I don't care -"
"Well I do," Elphaba interrupted. She looked tired all of a sudden, and Glinda noticed how painfully hollow her face was. "That was why I had to leave you last year."
"So, if things weren't unsafe...what then?"
"Then I don't know," Elphaba replied. "What are you doing in the city anyway?"
"Sorcery trip," said Glinda, and Elphaba swore loudly. "What?"
"Well, won't somebody notice that you're missing?"
"Probably not. Pfannee and Shenshen just found themselves a private room, and I bet Miss Greyling will think I caved and went with them after all. And they'll think I'm a spoilsport and I stayed with the class," Glinda shrugged, yawning. "I won't be missed."
"Still, you're leaving tomorrow. And we should get some sleep now - and don't lie and say you're not tired, because I don't care. I am. I've had about three hours a night all week."
"Why?" Glinda asked, but Elphaba shook her head.
"I can't tell you, my sweet. When I say it's dangerous, I'm not exaggerating. If they knew I had a friend, they could use you to get to me..." She trailed off, shuddering.
"The evil tree demons of Traum," Elphaba said seriously, chuckling when Glinda's eyes widened. "Glinda, I've said that I can't say, and I won't. Please don't ask me again."
They stood up and moved over to the bed, Elphaba blowing out her candles as they went. She handed Glinda a threadbare nightdress, which Glinda immediately recognised, recalling how she had huddled close to Elphaba in that very same gown, over a year ago now.
It seemed as though barely a day had passed when they lay down together, Elphaba's arms looping around Glinda almost instinctively. Glinda nestled closer though she was far from cold, registering sadly that it was not just Elphaba's face that had grown even thinner.
"I always thought I liked you a bit too much," Elphaba said softly, once they were settled.
"How do you mean?"
"A lot more than you liked me. I never dared to imagine you cared for my company - I thought you just learnt how to tolerate me better."
"Really? Really?" Glinda pressed, surprised.
"Well, if I'd let myself think more, I may have merely been setting myself up for a fall," Elphaba pointed out. "So if I ever did see anything in the way you looked at me, I put it down to me only seeing what I wanted, not what was actually there."
"Elphie, you idiot," Glinda sighed.
"Takes one to know one."
Glinda poked her. "We should have talked more like this last year."
"Perhaps," Elphaba considered. She chuckled softly.
"What is it?"
"How did you never see how devoted to you I was?"
Glinda smiled to herself. "Maybe I just thought it was your nature to behave that way."
Elphaba kissed her cheek, before bowing her head with the intention of allowing sleep to come soon. "Maybe it was. But only ever with you."
Glinda awoke first the following morning. The room was flooded with light from the tiny window and she glanced around curiously before letting her eyes rest fondly on Elphaba. Glinda had never seen her asleep up close before, and she watched for a few minutes before tucking an arm around her and closing her eyes again. It would be nice to stay like this forever.
Forever, for that day, lasted another two hours. Glinda, dozing lightly, was roused when Elphaba abruptly pulled away from her and rolled out of the bed. She sorted through a doorless cupboard, eventually retrieving a small loaf of bread, and a jar of some kind of jam.
"Breakfast?" she enquired as Glinda sat up, her stomach constricting impatiently as Elphaba cut into the bread and a fresh, grainy scent wafted over to her.
"Yes please. Can I help?"
Elphaba shook her head before adding, "I don't have any water here, but there's milk or mineral juice if you'd like a hot drink."
Glinda pottered around, locating the supplies. "Anything for you?" she asked, deciding on a cup of tea when she saw how full that canister was.
"Not right now."
They sat side by side on the bed as they ate, still in their nightgowns. The kitten prowled around after moths, before stalking up to Elphaba and licking the jam (cherry and hibiscus) off her fingers.
"So...what do you have to do today?" Glinda asked when the kitten wandered off again.
"I had planned to visit the market; my larder is running a little low. That's about as thrilling as it gets. Thankyou," Elphaba added, when Glinda held out her tea. There had only been one mug as far as Glinda had been able to see; she had decided that a little tactful sharing wouldn't go astray.
"Do you have money for food?" she asked forthrightly, because sometimes the best (or only) way to treat Elphaba was with unadulterated bluntness.
"A little, yes. I'm not destitute, Glinda."
"How do you make your money?" Glinda continued. Elphaba passed back the mug, breaking off one of her crusts casually.
"I'd rather not say."
Glinda nodded, flinching a little at the curt reply. "Alright. Sorry."
"Imagine the worst, and you'll be halfway there," Elphaba added, giving a grin which didn't quite reach her eyes. "Fortunately, my room was provided, as were its furnishings."
"And the cat?" Glinda asked, a little teasingly. "I never picked you for a snow white kitten, Elphie. You're more a...rottweiler."
Elphaba cackled loudly. "We'd be a bit cramped," she said, tossing a look at the kitten as she endeavored to sound off-hand with her next words. "Anyway, snowflake here wasn't from personal choice. He was just the only one who survived."
"What happened?" Glinda ventured.
"Some laboratories have been practicing vivisection," Elphaba replied quietly, shuddering. "Malky's mother...well, suffice to say, a few months ago I had five newborn kittens mewing all over the place and keeping me up all hours of the night. They were only a few days away from being born, but without their mother..." She lapsed into silence, shrugging halfheartedly. Feeling ill, Glinda gripped her hand, receiving a grim nod in return. "So there's a clue as to what I do - and I'll say no more. I should really dash out now, if we want to eat tonight."
"May I accompany you?"
"No, you may not."
Elphaba dressed quickly, emptying a small coin purse into her palm. She counted her funds with a frown as Glinda watched nervously.
"Have you enough?" she asked.
"Define 'enough'," Elphaba replied wryly. "Yes, I have, for today."
"Here." Glinda reached for her handbag, pressing her own purse into Elphaba's hands even as her head shook.
"Glinda, I am not taking your money."
"Elphaba, you are," Glinda said firmly. "If this is a matter of pride, then just let it go. It's not charity - it's simply one friend helping out another."
She saw Elphaba's brow furrow deeper, but the slumping of her shoulders told Glinda that she had given in.
"Thankyou, Glinda," she said briskly. "I won't be long. Don't you go outside, not even for a second, alright? It's -"
"Not safe," Glinda filled in as Elphaba slipped out. It was already a running joke...if not a particularly funny one.
Glinda set about exploring once she was dressed. Their two nightgowns seemed to be the only two that Elphaba possessed, and her entire wardrobe consisted of the clothes on her back, one more dress, and two pairs of thick stockings. Stealthily, as if to hide her actions from the dozing kitten, Glinda extracted her gloves and scarf from her bag and buried them in Elphaba's underwear drawer (a small wooden box, but Glinda decided it could have the dignity of being called a drawer). They were new and a violet so deep they were almost black, which Elphaba could not possibly object to.
Glinda made the bed neatly and built up the fire again, peering through the window. The weather appeared to be turning inclement once again. She squinted upwards, trying to see if any patch of sky was visible, shrinking back in alarm when several pairs of military issue boots tramped past.
Elphaba returned about a half hour later, her basket thankfully quite full. Apples and potatoes appeared to be her staples, but there was also another bottle of milk and several raw ingredients, which she placed inside one of her crates.
"Sometimes, I like to make my own biscuits and bread," she explained as she put two onions and a tomato into a chipped bowl, which had previously been occupied solely by a rather sorry looking banana and half an orange. Two more oranges joined it, as did a bulb of garlic and several carrots. The presence of so much food - though in reality it wouldn't last Glinda more than a week, if that - made Glinda feel slightly happier, and when Elphaba awkwardly handed her back her purse, she furtively slipped it into the crate where the flours and sugar had gone.
"So...what do you usually do now?" Glinda asked, hoping it didn't sound like she was continually prying.
"I was going to sleep, before you came along," Elphaba said. "That's generally all I do when I have a few days off, so to speak. Sometimes I read, but I'm presently a bit too exhausted for that."
"You can still sleep," Glinda told her. "Don't let me disrupt your routine."
"I should really cook up some of these potatoes," Elphaba shook her head. "You'll have to spend the night again, I think."
"Oh?" asked Glinda, who had been on tenterhooks, awaiting her dismissal, ever since Elphaba had first awoken.
"I had to wait across the street for about ten minutes before I could get inside. There's some sort of operation going on out there." Elphaba went to the window, indicating for Glinda to follow. Glinda shuddered when she saw the snakelike treads of two tanks roll past.
"What is it?"
"Oh, just the usual - and my neighbourhood's turn today. That's why I have this 'time off'," Elphaba told her. "Somebody heard a rumour, which, as we can see, ended up being true. Often it's not, which is why I thought it was probably safe to do my shopping."
"They put you here, right?" Glinda asked. "Your...employers, or whatever. Can't they just move you if it's not safe?"
"Nowhere is safe," Elphaba said. "We learn to deal with these interruptions and only move when we're directly compromised. I know it's not the ideal way to live, but you do get used to it, after a time, and being cautious becomes second nature." She took Glinda's hand, walking her back to the bed and sitting down. "Once you leave, I'm going to have to move."
"Why?" Glinda frowned. "I won't tell anyone!"
"I know you won't, but you know. And I know I can ask you never to visit me again, and that you can promise not to, but would that stop you, Glinda, honestly?" Elphaba raised an eyebrow.
"Oh Elphie, I'm so sorry, I've ruined everything for you!" Glinda cried out. "I didn't mean to cause you this much trouble -"
"Glinda, I've had to move four times since I've been in the City, and if we're longer than about six months in the one place, we're moved regardless of other matters. You've sped up the inevitable, that's all." She gave Glinda's hand a pat, though Glinda continued to look unconvinced.
"It sounds like a horrible life, Elphie."
"It isn't wonderful, but it has to be done. I couldn't live any other way." Her voice, though quiet, was fierce with a conviction that Glinda knew well. "Are you alright, Glinda?" Elphaba suddenly continued. "I mean...in general. How have you been keeping? Are you happy?"
"Sometimes," Glinda said. "Sometimes I'm dreadfully unhappy, sometimes I'm indifferent, and sometimes I'm good. But I miss you a lot, you know?"
Elphaba nodded. "You have others, though. You always were popular."
"Popularity is all show and no substance," Glinda snorted. "I still see the other girls in class, and sometimes we do lunch, but it's actually your boys I spend time with most of all, when I do spend time with anyone. They seem to have adopted me as their mascot," she grinned. "Crope, mostly."
"Is Boq still swooning over your every breath?"
"Goodness me no. He and Milla have been going steady for almost two months now, though I don't know how well it's going to last. I know Milla is fond of Boq, but she's likewise just as fond of rebelling against her parents and their slew of noble suitors."
"And you?" Elphaba asked, smiling. "Is there anyone I should know about?"
"No," Glinda replied, watchful of Elphaba's reaction. As usual, there was none. "Yourself?"
Elphaba shook her head. "Not for me in this life, my sweet."
"You always were a pessimist," Glinda chided her.
"No, a realist."
"You thought that I didn't like you," Glinda replied, eyebrow raised boldly.
"You thought the same," Elphaba pointed out. She clasped Glinda's hands in her own for a second, before rising to her feet. "I'd best go peel us some spuds."
"Once I leave...that'll be it, won't it?" Glinda asked, following Elphaba over to a small workbench that jutted out of the wall: her 'kitchen'. "We'll never see each other again."
"I suppose one can never say never, Glinda." Elphaba handed her a potato and a knife. "It's probable that we won't, but chance works in mysterious ways. If I hadn't been walking by at that exact moment...what were you saying, by the way? I heard my name, and it quite startled me!"
Peeling slowly, for she had never actually performed such a task before, Glinda told Elphaba all about the magicked floor (how long ago that now seemed!), the lost language, and Miss Greyling's seminar, her eyes glowing as she delved deeper into the topic.
"It truly fascinates me, Elphie, that such a thing actually exists. I don't want to understand the actual words so much as the magic behind it - how did the language come about? Why is it how it is? Who controls it; at whose hand did it first arise?" She let out a tiny exclamation of frustration, which made Elphaba smile.
"It sounds like that class will be perfect for you," she said. "And here I was thinking you were only interested in old buildings - and new fashions." She began dicing up a small square of slightly rubbery pumpkin, not commenting on Glinda's measured pace.
"I can't explain it," Glinda shrugs. "It just grips me."
"As things do," agreed Elphaba. She continued casually, "How long is this excursion of yours?"
"We leave the day after tomorrow," Glinda sighed, the warmth she had been feeling dissipating from her almost instantly. Whether with the class or otherwise, she would have to leave Elphaba sooner or later. She tried not to think about this, but the thought refused to budge. When Elphaba suddenly put a hand on her arm, it was all Glinda could do not to turn to her and cry.
"I want you to stay here until then," said Elphaba. Tentatively, she leaned forward, kissing Glinda's cheek. "You're good for me, Glinda. This goes against everything I know, but I'm beginning to think that we met again for a reason." Her face was darker than usual, her voice quavering ever so slightly. The combination was more than enough to make Glinda's pulse quicken. "For instance, you had to learn how to peel vegetables eventually."
Glinda returned the shy smile, glancing down at her shoddy - but complete - handiwork.
"And you had to learn that sometimes it's alright to let someone in," she said softly.
"No, it's still not alright." Elphaba shook her head. "But it is necessary." She leaned forward again, this time kissing Glinda lightly on her mouth, before looking away like an embarrassed schoolgirl. "I'll wrap these and put them in the fire," she said, scooping up Glinda's potato along with her own pile. "A little peanut oil, and when they're done I have some reasonably fresh cheese that we can grate over them."
"Sounds delicious," Glinda agreed. She followed Elphaba over to the grate, watching as she expertly seasoned and foiled. When she was done, she fiddled with her skirt a little, giving a small start when Glinda stilled her.
"I should really give this a scrub - whatever do you think of me? Covered in a week's worth of mud, my hem all frayed and coming down because I'm too lazy to get out a needle and thread and fix it..."
"I think I should like you to kiss me again," Glinda said. "Or for you to let me kiss you."
Elphaba stopped fidgeting and looked at Glinda, her expression dancing between fearful and mystified. "I have no experience with this, I don't know how it works - maybe it's not such a good idea."
"We may never meet again," Glinda reminded her. "I don't think I could live with two lots of regrets."
"In our room...or in those terrible roadside inns," Glinda began, "We sat by a fire just like this, often huddling in an effort to get warm, and so many times all I could think about was..." - she reached out a hand, cupping Elphaba's face tenderly - "...doing this." Glinda hesitated only briefly - steeling herself, really - before giving Elphaba a quick kiss. "So you see, if you let me kiss you now, I can pretend I've kissed you always, and remember it forever when I'm married to some earl with a bushy mustache and bad breath."
Elphaba laughed, shuddering when Glinda kissed her again. "Aim for a marquis at least."
"I expect my mother will be the one doing the aiming."
At that, Elphaba's smile faded. "Don't let her. Don't just settle, Glinda - hold out. You're worth more than that."
"A duke, perhaps?" Glinda replied, but she nodded. "I'm just frightened I'll never find anybody."
"You won't have to. They'll find you."
"If you use the phrase 'beating them off with a stick', I'll beat you," warned Glinda, before bestowing another kiss. "Let's not talk about later. I'm enjoying the present too much."
"I'm still getting used to it."
"Are you alright?" Glinda queried, a whisper away from their next kiss. Not one to be thwarted, Elphaba closed the gap, for the first time allowing her tongue to seek entrance between Glinda's lips. The result was quite a bit better than she had been expecting. "Okay," Glinda murmured. "You're all good."
Elphaba again slept late the next morning, the day stretching into afternoon before she stirred. They had followed the vegetable medley, as Glinda had taken to calling it, with warm milk infused with a hint of ginger, as Elphaba had neglected to properly rinse out her saucepan from three days beforehand, when she had attempted ginger conserve. Her failure in this matter was not discussed, but it did give the milk a pleasant tang, leaving Glinda feeling as warm and full as if she'd had a four-course banquet, and not what really amounted to half a side salad.
Thinking of this made her stomach grumble, and she wondered sadly if Elphaba was ever hungry, like the Quadling paupers Nessarose had been learning about in Ozian History: Revolutions. She realised then that Elphaba had not once mentioned - let alone enquired after - her sister. Glinda mulled this over for a few seconds before her stomach growled again, and she then took to wondering if she should rouse Elphaba, who would surely have some kind of breakfast routine?
Though watching Elphaba as she continued to doze, Glinda got the feeling that her 'three hours a night' had not been an exaggeration; that her life was as sleep-deprived as it was hungry. There were still shadows beneath her eyes, which Glinda reached out and traced softly. At this, Elphaba opened one eye, giving Glinda a glare too drowsy to be dangerous.
"If you do that again, I'll set Malky on you."
"Elphie, can you live like this? Truly?"
Sighing, Elphaba opened both of her eyes. "It's what I have to do, Glinda."
"I know that, but I mean - can you survive? You're so thin I can feel your ribs."
"Yes, I finally lost all that puppy fat."
"I'm serious," Glinda scolded her. "You look so exhausted, and you flinch each time I accidentally touch you below your shoulders -"
"Glinda, don't. I know nothing is ideal, but I'm doing the best I can."
"Do they hurt you?"
Elphaba didn't reply for a long time. "I don't want to discuss such matters with you, Glinda. Won't you humour me; let me go on pretending that you're still a naïve young girl who doesn't know what horrors this world can hold?"
"Is that what you want?"
Elphaba nodded. "There was a side of Galinda I was fond of, you know. Not the spoilt little princess, but the girl who was so charmingly sheltered that all she ever saw was good."
"I've seen a lot more now," Glinda pointed out.
"I know, and it makes me sad."
Glinda nestled closer to her again, murmuring "oh, Elphie" quietly as she kissed Elphaba's cheek, until Elphaba at last turned her head to allow access to her mouth.
"Let's not spoil our last day together with melancholies." With one last kiss, Elphaba sat up, rising awkwardly amongst the tangle of sheets and legs and indignant kitten. "See if you can find any syrup in the red crate, and I'll make us some pikelets."
A sticky jar of golden treacle was produced, and crispy pikelets were soon whipped up and devoured. Elphaba chuckled as Glinda tried to lick up the drips from her hands and wrists. "Shall I call in Malky for assistance?"
"It isn't my fault you've no water!"
Elphaba glanced to the window. "It was raining earlier - often when it does I carefully place my cup outside to collect some to do my washing. Oh well, I suppose I can let you in on a little secret."
Glinda watched curiously, still licking her fingertips, as Elphaba extracted several tiny bottles from beneath her bench. She knelt down in front of Glinda, taking her hand and rolling her sleeve up past her elbow. Out of the first vial came something shimmery, a liquid that seemed to hold its shape in Elphaba's palm. She began rubbing it gently into Glinda's hands as Glinda watched, slightly amused.
"Is that oil?"
"Basically," Elphaba replied, her fingers gliding up as far as Glinda's elbow. "Could you roll up your other sleeve for me?"
Glinda obliged, watching as Elphaba worked nimbly. "That feels nice," she commented. "I was beginning to feel a little grimy. So, these are what you wash with? I never knew for certain."
"You never awoke early enough," Elphaba chuckled. "Meet my one luxury."
"Don't waste too much on me!" Glinda protested, as Elphaba grabbed the next bottle. The contents of this one were so viscous they were almost a gel, and Glinda shivered when Elphaba began to massage - nay, caress - her face. Years later, propriety would dictate that she feign ignorance when it came to her former roommate's bathing technique. For now, all propriety had long since departed the hidden apartment.
"I use the term 'luxury' quite loosely," Elphaba said. "I have plenty, and besides, you were starting to look a bit more like a street urchin than a Gillikinese princess." She dipped down Glinda's neck, tutting when the collar of her nightgown obstructed her progress. "I usually do this unclothed; they're a bit abrasive on the material if I'm too long between launderings."
Glinda blushed, glad that the afternoon light was already fading. "Shall I...?"
Elphaba looked helpless for a second. "Alright."
Of course Glinda still had her slip on underneath, and of course they had seen each other undressed as such before, but never with quite the same level of acknowledged electricity in the room.
"You're just as grubby as I am," Glinda pointed out in an effort to diffuse the situation, blushing again when Elphaba so easily took the hint and removed her own nightdress.
"I suppose you're right," she agreed as she finished off Glinda's neck and as far down her chest as the slip - and her nerves - would allow. She set to work on her own arms as Glinda furtively tried to catch her breath. She had almost succeeded when Elphaba, having too much oil for her arms, decided to finish it off on her legs. When she noticed Glinda staring at her, she gave an embarrassed grin. "Sorry - I don't normally have company, either."
"Elphie, if you don't kiss me again right now, I shall go quite mad," Glinda said, reaching for Elphaba's hem before she could modestly smooth it back down. Elphaba flinched, though not entirely from displeasure. Placing a hand on Glinda's, she kissed her, slowly moving Glinda's hand up her thigh until she abruptly halted and pulled away in surprise at herself. Glinda discreetly slid her hand back an inch or two before leaning in for another kiss as if nothing had happened.
Elphaba's hands soon located the hem of Glinda's slip and began toying with it between (and during) kisses, her fingers eventually creeping underneath and finding Glinda's waist. She pulled away swiftly when Glinda squeaked.
"No - just ticklish," she explained, flushing scarlet. Elphaba hesitated for a moment before saying,
"I don't want to regret anything either."
Then she did the one thing that Glinda had not been expecting - she gripped the bottom of her own slip and lifted it over her head fluidly, tossing it aside before she could recant the action. Glinda immediately felt her breath hitch again. She'd never seen another girl - no, a woman; they were beyond being girls now - naked before, and yet it was not so much alluring as it was completely and most beautifully natural. Without a second thought, she removed her own slip before kissing Elphaba again, giggling when she felt a pair of breasts brush warmly against her own.
"What's so funny?" Elphaba asked, a little nervously. Her hands again encircled Glinda's waist, though more firmly this time, so as not to tickle.
"I'm kissing you," was all Glinda said, suddenly breaking free, but pulling Elphaba with her. Wordlessly, they edged over to the bed, sinking down and pulling the blankets up to their shoulders.
"I've never -"
That said, they kissed again, hands roaming readily across backs and sides and stomachs. When Elphaba's thumb finally grazed beneath Glinda's breast, she paused in place, rubbing in a slow circle that made Glinda gasp.
"Do you know what you're doing?" she whispered. "I mean...where you're doing what you're doing?"
"I didn't until you said that," replied Elphaba, her motion faltering. "Is it alright?"
"God yes." Glinda felt a twinge of embarrassment as her flesh slowly tightened, but Elphaba didn't seem terribly fussed. Still kissing, she rolled the taut nipple back and forth until Glinda moaned softly. "Kiss me," she breathed, "there."
On command, Elphaba drew her lips slowly down Glinda's throat, sucking lightly several times before pressing her mouth to the much fuller roundness below that, her tongue effortlessly taking over from her thumb. Glinda arched her back, murmuring breathlessly, "I think I'm about to die."
"Please don't, I'm enjoying this as much as you are."
But later, when Glinda attempted to reciprocate, Elphaba stopped her. Though she was no longer averse to Glinda's hands exploring, she seemed to draw a line at being kissed much below her shoulders. After the third failed effort, Elphaba brought her hands up to her face, burying it for a second.
"I'm frightened, I'm sorry," she said through her fingers. She tossed her hair back, grinning weakly. "Isn't that ridiculous? I spend half my time dodging sniper rifles, and a little sex makes me feel scared."
"No regrets, remember?" Glinda reminded her. "We're not going to do anything unless both of us want to. I'm sorry - I won't push you again. I promise."
"Perhaps a part of my fear is how much I do want it," Elphaba replied, before rolling over, away from Glinda. She stretched lithely across the floor, grasping one of her discarded bottles. "I wash all over," she remarked, tipping the tiniest splash of oil into her palm. She rubbed her hands together before covering Glinda's breasts, one eyebrow raised. "Sometimes I imagine that it might be quite fun to have someone else do this."
"Oh sweet Oz," Glinda groaned in assent, gasping when a slick hand began to circle down her torso. "This is dangerous." Elphaba halted at that, her palms curving around Glinda's waist. "No, don't stop."
"Are you sure?"
"Quite," Glinda replied, though not certain if she believed herself. If she didn't think, every touch made her crave more - if she did, the situation threatened to overwhelm her. Kissing was one thing, this was another thing entirely. She would stop Elphaba before she went too far - but first, she would let her go a little further than she was now.
As usual, the carefully laid plan went awry. When Elphaba's fingers finally, after a half hour of skirting, moved between Glinda's legs, all Glinda could do was kiss her harder, hoping that the increased pressure of her lips was as unmistakable a green light to Elphaba as she thought it was.
Clearly, someone of her class was not meant to lose her virginity while still in college, in a run-down abandoned mill, on the floor, with another girl; but the crescendo of thoughts only entered Glinda's mind in how right it all was: how fitting. It would not have done for them to have gone this far a year ago, while still so young and uncertain. In the time since, Glinda had grown up a great deal - and so, she knew, had Elphaba. Glinda didn't like to imagine how much as she lay quietly in her friend's arms, her chest still heaving as rivulets of sweat trickled down the backs of her legs. She tried to think of something to say, but couldn't, so opted for kissing Elphaba again, clumsily swiveling around as the kisses progressed, as kisses are wont to do.
She kept expecting Elphaba to halt her again, as her hands now began wandering up the too-slender thighs, but though Elphaba stiffened every so often, she never said a word, and none of her soft utterances could at all have been construed as discouraging. When the tip of Glinda's index finger suddenly brushed beyond the coarse, curled etchings and met bare flesh, Elphaba yelped, her hand flying up to cover her mouth in embarrassment, as if Malky would judge harshly if he knew what was going on. Then, chuckling, she looked at Glinda saucily. "Well...don't stop there."
"Really." Elphaba leaned against Glinda's shoulder, clutching hold of her as Glinda, who really had no clue what she was doing, continued to essentially feel around, the uneven breathing against her neck her only indicator. "You're quite amazing," she whispered, when Elphaba tensed up again, her breath coming in short, desperate bursts.
"You're-not-so-bad-your-self," Elphaba gasped, staccato, each syllable requiring its own breath. "Shit." She shuddered beautifully, then crushed her lips to Glinda's, grabbing both of her hands. "Glinda."
Elphaba kissed her again, this time more languidly, as her breathing began to even out. She didn't speak. There was no need to. Still kissing, they lay down, Elphaba nestling - quite uncharacteristically - into Glinda's arms. She gave Glinda's cheek a soft peck before inching down a little to rest her head against Glinda's breast. She was then silent for so long that Glinda thought she had fallen asleep, and was about to close her eyes and do the same when Elphaba suddenly spoke up.
"Was that your first time?"
"Yes. Was it yours?"
Elphaba hesitated for a few seconds before replying, "Yes," though her tone was uncertain.
"Really?" Glinda teased. "You needn't hide all your other lovers from me, Elphie. I'm not the jealous type."
"That was the first time I wanted it," Elphaba clarified.
"Oh." Glinda cringed at herself. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," Elphaba told her. "We live different lives; it's just the way the world is. There's nothing for you to be sorry for, Glinda."
"But it's unfair. No one should have to...do things they don't wish to, in order to survive," Glinda said hotly. To her surprise, Elphaba chuckled.
"Oh, I have it quite good, compared to some. Compared to many, actually. That's what I'm fighting for, Glinda," she added. "It's not just about the Animals; it's gone far beyond that now." She shivered, as though Glinda's hand on her back had suddenly turned to ice. "Sometimes, I feel so exhausted and can't help but wonder if what we're doing is ever going to actually change anything, or if we're all simply working ourselves into an early grave. But I can't not do anything...I'd rather try and fail, than sit back and ignore all that's going on."
"You're awfully brave," Glinda told her. Elphaba shrugged.
"Maybe. Maybe I'm just stubborn and foolish."
"Either way, I'm proud of you. And one day, everyone else will be too. You're going to make something of yourself, Elphie, I'm sure of it." Glinda tried to curl a lock of Elphaba's hair around her fingers, the strands slipping free before her first coil. "And I know that one day, your cause won't be underground."
Elphaba sighed softly. "That'll be a long time off, Glinda. More than my life time, I'd say."
This time it was Glinda who shivered, at the somewhat offhand reminder of their own mortality. Elphaba, feeling the tremble, kissed her neck gently. "This isn't the sort of conversation we should be having. I don't want to bring you down."
"You're not," Glinda said, only half fibbing. "I'm imagining that one day Oz will be how it should be, and we'll be able to walk down the street together in broad daylight. And all because of you!"
"I'm sure it's my duty as the sensible half of this friendship to warn you against false hope," Elphaba said wryly.
"Any hope is better than none at all," Glinda pointed out. Elphaba realised that she couldn't disagree - she too was probably awaiting a day that would never arrive. But she couldn't stop believing that it might.
"Elphie?" Glinda asked softly when she felt a warm dampness against her chest. With a hiss, Elphaba grabbed for a corner of the blanket, pressing it to her face for a few moments as Glinda stroked her hair. Eventually she raised her head, reaching awkwardly up her back to take Glinda's hand.
"I'm glad you were determined and obstinate enough to follow me. I needed a bit of real human contact - you weren't the only one who was feeling lost."
"You're not that hard to follow," Glinda grinned, receiving a raised eyebrow in return.
"Oh, but I am, my sweet. When I don't want to be found."
Glinda awoke at ten past six the following morning, instantly feeling a jolt of dismay that she had drifted off at all, thus wasting four or five precious final hours with Elphaba. Although, she reasoned that she might never again have the opportunity to sleep in somebody's arms, so she let herself relish waking up to the protective embrace.
As she did not know this area of the city, Elphaba had agreed to accompany her part way back to her lodgings: a move that was dicey, but not much more so than her outings to the market. Still, Elphaba had lain awake for quite some time after Glinda had nodded off, agonising about all that could potentially go wrong, before realising that Glinda would be in much more danger were she left to wander this end of the city on her own.
"I don't want to leave you," Glinda said by way of greeting when she noticed Elphaba's eyes upon her.
"You have to."
They dressed beside the fire, Glinda's heart giving a small ache when she saw how Elphaba was surreptitiously packing away her belongings as she went. She wished that Elphaba hadn't told her about her impending move. She would have kept her word and not visited; just knowing (or at least thinking she knew) where Elphaba was would have been comfort enough.
It was still dark when they left, though fortunately the morning was not particularly chilly, so Elphaba made no comment about Glinda's lack of gloves. They walked hand in hand along the cobblestones, frequent squeezes taking the place of conversation.
"Oh!" Glinda exclaimed after they rounded yet another identical-to-the-last block, making Elphaba jump. "No, it's nothing wrong - I just realised that I know where I am now. That's the museum I was telling you of." She pointed to a building in the street beyond, its tiled roof glowing warmly in the slowly rising sun. "I believe it might be open...yes, it's just gone eight now. I had always intended to return," Glinda said softly, aware that not only was their parting now imminent, but that she had most likely hastened it. But she didn't want Elphaba to have to travel too deep into the city centre, and the issue of her friend's safety easily outweighed all else. Swallowing heavily, Glinda added, "I'll be fine from here, Elphie."
They walked across the street, still holding hands, rounding the bend to the next avenue. Together, they mounted the steps of the museum, Elphaba shrinking inside her hood as they passed the doorman. Once inside the entrance hall she halted, her eyes widening as they took in Glinda's famed floor.
"So it's true..."
Elphaba watched the golden loops curiously, her eyebrows shooting up before knitting together again broodingly.
"You saw something, didn't you?" Glinda asked, and Elphaba gave a tiny shrug, followed up by an almost unperceivable nod. She squeezed Glinda's hand again, then leaned in and kissed her one last time. "Follow your passion," was all she said, her eyes darting back to the floor. This time, her expression did not change. "And never hold back - nor forget that I love you."
"I love you too," Glinda said thickly, and Elphaba kissed her again, though more chastely this time.
"Until next time, Glinda."
And with a nod of her head and a readjustment of her hood, she was gone. She didn't look back, of course, although Glinda herself turned before Elphaba had disappeared from view, willing herself not to cry in public, no matter how deserted it was.
'Pea and ham' a curlicue of gold suddenly spelled out before dissolving again just as quickly. Glinda gasped, falling to her knees. She heard footsteps approaching, but didn't look up until suddenly they halted beside her and a familiar voice commented, "You came back."
Miss Greyling crouched down, looking at Glinda's flushed and tear-stained face. "To the museum, I mean," she added, tactfully handing Glinda a handkerchief. "I see you did take your friends up on their offer of better accommodation, after all."
Glinda, quite petrified, managed to give a feeble nod as she dabbed at her eyes. Had Miss Greyling seen Elphaba? Surely, she must have - and although she had never actually taught her, of course she would recognise the girl from her complexion, if any had been visible. Glinda buried her face in the handkerchief, her shoulders shaking. Miss Greyling placed a hand on one gently.
"I seem to recall saying this to you once before, but I was young once myself, Glinda - and not so long ago that I've forgotten what it's like. Now come along and let me buy you a cocoa. The other early risers are upstairs in the tearoom, and I'm certain they'll welcome you without question. You're not the only one to have opted out of the elective excursions - I daresay we're going to require a second coach back to Shiz just to fit all the hat boxes."
"Thankyou Miss Greyling, I'll be up in a minute," Glinda said. The hand on her shoulder squeezed lightly and then was gone, and Glinda took a deep, steadying breath. To her relief, no more tears came. She glanced idly at the floor again, suddenly lunging forward and stabbing a golden blob with her fingertip. It halted beneath her touch and Glinda felt a surge of determination surge through her. Finger pressed to the marble, she dragged the gold in two semi-circles, one atop the other, somehow not surprised when the thread formed her cursive E, then continued to obey her as she looped out the next six letters. The second she lifted her finger it dissolved, of course, but not into nonsensical patterns - instead the letters rearranged themselves fleetingly, before unfolding for good.
"One day," Glinda repeated, then at last rose to her feet and made her way up to the cosy visitor's parlour, where four more of her classmates were creatively fielding Miss Greyling's queries about the Memorial, which of course they had all visited in their own time. Sitting down beside Lusa, Glinda gratefully accepted half of her vanilla slice, agreeing that the Tomb of the First Warlock had been an exceptionally moving experience. When Miss Greyling gave her a sly wink, Glinda blushingly glanced away, but not without smiling for the first time since the cloaked figure of Elphaba had disappeared - perhaps forever - from her life.
Forever. Glinda almost choked on a wad of vanilla icing, quickly reaching for her tea before anybody else could notice her discomfort. She stared out the window, her eyes fixing on a cloaked figure - half the height and twice the breadth of Elphaba, but dressed so like her, aside from a pair of gaudy purple gloves.
Glinda grinned again at the sight of them; at least hers had not been so bright, or so tasseled. The person turned at that point, looking directly through the window and catching Glinda's smile. With a nod of her head, she beamed back, her mouth toothless in her withered face, before continuing on her way. Feeling slightly more settled, Glinda returned to her cake, a trio of words dimly reverberating through her head.
Until next time. If Elphaba - a self-described realist - believed, then Glinda would cast aside her own pessimism and agree. The thought did briefly occur to her that she might simply be awaiting a day that would never arrive...but she could never stop believing that it might.
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