I am winter.
Inside, I am as hard and cold as the glassy sequins that adorn my gowns like frozen tears. Even the weather reflects my mood, a storm rolling in black and menacing from the northwest. Attuned to the Emerald City, I feel the rising nervousness of the inhabitants. So complacent, so lazy and weak, the people of the great city at the center of Oz are growing incapable of functioning outside of their narrow field of tolerance.
And that field narrows it seems, with every passing day.
Could this be what drove Elphaba off? The decay of this beloved ideal? It would be just the sort of thing to push her over the edge. After the shock of Doctor Dillamond's failing ability to speak, then his being dragged off by government thugs, and such a high-emotion romp in the Emerald City, who knows what kind of state of mind she had been in that day?
But how had these horrible rumors started? That the 'Wicked Witch of the West' was doing such awful things? They can't know my Elphie; the sweet and loving soul beneath the green exterior that blinds the eye and sometimes the heart. It took a long time to understand her, to appreciate the very exotic nature of her, to love the soul inside.
Two tears fall shimmering in the light of the city lights, sobs strangling in my throat.
"Oh Elphie," I weep once again, the mantra of my secret pain. A blast of cold air hits my vulnerable skin and I am suddenly reminded of the approaching storm. How has it come in so fast?
There is something about this tempest that disturbs me, something intentful about the way it bears down on the graceful green and silver towers. Like a herd of spooked horses, it washes over the Emerald City with a crack of thunder and a blast of icy rain that makes me squeal in indignation.
But my retreat is halted by the most amazing sight.
From the roiling heart of the squall, a figure materializes, held up with great wings of cloud and storm. Shoulder-length hair whips in the wind, hands stretched out as though communicating with the elements themselves.
But the stranger is forgotten when a second figure drops clumsily from the clouds, seemingly in freefall. My breath strangles in my throat with disbelief. The broom careens wildly and I clap both hands over my mouth in horror to watch the figure perched along its narrow length fight for control. The wind scoops her up, flinging her back up to the winged stranger and I'm screaming and screaming, not caring where I am.
A phantasm, a dream, she appears suddenly, scrabbling at the heavy stone railing of the balcony. In the downpour, I race over to grab her, stare into the familiar green features, hardly able to believe that this is happening.
In the cold wind, soaked to the skin, I cling to her spare frame, weeping in relief, overwhelmed.
"Glinda," she whispers my name over and over in my ear, wrapped protectively around my smaller body. Unable to speak, I stroke her wet face, press kisses to her strong features, feeling her smile.
"I should have gone with you," I finally manage to confess, the words having waited half a year to be said. "I should have defied gravity by your side. I'm so sorry, Elphie."
She grins gently, the familiar expression making me beam back helplessly. "I didn't exactly get a chance to let you think about such an important decision, did I?"
Time and separation has changed her. The familiar voice has matured, her slender body grown painfully thin and her black clothes are threadbare. "Have you been living in a cave?" I ask with a shaky smile and hers deepens.
"Yes, actually. The cave is far more comfortable than some places I've been."
Inside, all the jagged edges are starting to settle, soothed away by her presence. Overwhelmed, I close my eyes, soaking her up, there in the pouring rain, my mouth pressed to the corner of hers, feeling her smile and the heat of her breath on my cheek and the strong arms around my body. Nothing I've ever felt before is like this. No thrill has ever made my heart race so fast, adrenaline making my head swim and my muscles shake. In Elphaba's arms, I'm not a snooty socialite that feels phony and shallow. In her arms, I feel whole and adored for who I really am.
Kissing the taller girl softly feels like the most right thing in the whole world. Under the wet curtain of her black hair, the back of Elphie's neck is warm and solid against my hand, her mouth still against mine for a breathless moment.
Then, the kiss is perfect, gentle and exploring, her mouth and tongue shy but eager, thrilling me down to my toes. I've missed her too much to be shocked by these feelings and anything that might be repercussions are far away.
Only the sounds of unwanted company disturb this perfect moment and my eyes round in shock.
"Don't stop on my account," smiles the unknown young woman who has landed on the balcony, followed by a mismatched pair of Flying Monkeys I don't recognize. The later hold the broomstick I remember Elphie enchanting and then riding away on. But how could these servants of the Wizard's be here?
"Elphie?" My voice quavers and I curse that I sound so weak.
"It's okay, Glinda," she soothes, hands and body warm against me. "These are friends, but I'll let them explain. Come inside, sweetie, you're shaking."
What choice do I have but to trust her?
The apartment is suddenly crowded, but Elphie steers me towards the hallway that leads back to my bedroom and the water closet. "I've really missed you," Elphie murmurs with her eyes on her hands as she unties my thick robe and pulls it away. "Get out of these nightclothes while I run you a bath."
"Aren't you cold too?"
The grin she fires over her shoulders erases all the horrible things that have happened and it's as though we're suddenly back at Shiz again. "Flying gets you used to cold."
"And sleeping in a cave?"
Now she chuckles in earnest. "Yes, and that."
I'm vaguely aware that Elphie keeps her eyes where they won't bother my modesty any more than my nudity has already done, offering me a hand to help me into the full tub. The heat makes me hiss, but I settle in anyway.
"Mimi?" The strange girl's voice carries through the door with a soft knock. "I have dry clothes for you if you'd like them. And a towel. A big one. The boys are drying off in the kitchen where they won't make a bigger mess."
When Elphie cracks the door a bit, long swathes of heavy fabrics are handed in. "Thank you, Fae."
"You're welcome. That's a warm nightgown and underthings. I'll leave your regular clothes in the bedroom."
"Who is that?" I have to ask again as the door clicks closed and Elphie gives me the oddest, vulnerable look.
"Really, you need to ask her yourself. Please, just trust me. I think that everyone could benefit from no more shocks today. Unless we escape in a few hours, you're stuck with the four of us until darkness tomorrow." Some of my panic must show because she smiles again. "We'll work things out somehow. I won't leave you again."
And that's all I need to hear.
Once I'm warmed, Elphie steps beyond the door only far enough that we can both change into sleepwear and crawl into my big bed. Neither of us asks about different sleeping arrangements and I cling tightly to her too-slender frame.
For the first time in so very, very long, I sleep peacefully.
Grumbling at the swampy heat suffocating me, I sleepily shove at my luxurious bedding and freeze.
There's someone in my bed!
In a heartbeat, my nerves are blazing with adrenaline that almost instantly turns to giddy relief. A lazy green hand lies curled on my pillow and the night before rushes over me. Not a dream then!
Never in a million years would I have pegged Elphaba Thropp as a cuddler. Simply never ever ever. But it is definitely her thinned, almost angular body pressed up against my back, her breath hot and even on the base of my neck. She feels so… so right like this. Has there always been this energy between us and I was simply too clueless to recognize it? By the way I feel right now; I think that just might be the truth.
No one has ever shared my sleep, not since I was a little girl and would sometimes crawl into Momsie and Popsical's bed for comfort. The thought of my parents is sobering. What will they think about this? This green woman becoming Oz's greatest enemy as the person I love?
That will not be a fun conversation.
Reaching back to carefully bury my fingers in the gorgeous waves of inky hair, I can hardly care less at this moment. After a few long, blissful moments of new closeness with this adored woman, my bladder finally drives me away from her arms.
After that wake up call, I gently kiss Elphie's cheek, enjoying the faint smile before escaping to the living room for a drink to soothe my parched throat. It takes real willpower to not shriek in shock at the pile of sleeping bodies there. Great Oz! I had forgotten they were here!
The dark Monkey definitely looks like one of the Wizard's servants, ugly and misshapen with black and dark red fur, spiky hair and the creepy leathery wings. He is nearly as large as a small man and powerful with muscle. Dark eyes open and regard me quietly, prompting me to give him a 'stay quiet' gesture to which he nods and curls up more tightly beside the couch. On that piece of furniture is the strange young woman that accompanied Elphaba. She's covered with blankets I don't recognize, but I really love the colors and patterns. Her inky hair has the same bouncy curls as mine if I leave it be, but the color is a gorgeous black that is almost purple, reminding me of Elphie.
As though sensing my watching her, the girl stirs and makes a sleepy sound that makes me realize that I should move on before finding myself in an embarrassing position with Elphie's friends. The blanket has moved to reveal the other Flying Monkey, as small as a toddler child, his wings folded carefully over his pale brown back. In the shafts of bright winter sunlight, even the bigger Monkey's coloring is almost handsome.
I notice the lazy hand resting beneath the little Monkey's wings.
In the grey of the night before, I didn't notice… but this strange girl is green! Not Elphie's gorgeous shade, but something paler and springier. My gasp must be as loud as I think it is, because her head snaps up and I'm treated to a second shock. Not dark eyes as I expected to match that raven hair, but bright, pale crystal blue, fringed with thick, inky lashes that my old popular cronies would kill for.
An eerie sense of recognition hits me as a sharp knock echoes through my apartment from the front door.
With a feminine squeak of alarm, the young woman Elphie called Fae scrambles into action. "Janen! Get the bag! Hurry!" Her voice a hissed stage whisper, she turns to the larger Flying Monkey where he cowers on the floor. "Chistery, you have to get in the bag with us where it's safe. Just for a little bit."
The small Monkey pulls open a shapeless drawstring bag made of beautifully rich, dark blue brocade with a hint of sparkle. I like it, but I don't know what it is. Opening up into a wrinkled circle, the cloth settles to show the black interior. Only, it's not black fabric, but truly black, like an empty space.
Then the Monkey leaps onto the circle… and vanishes as though down a hole.
Fae persuades the bigger Monkey to follow suit and I can only gape in shock as the girl follows, dragging her bedding along. "Pull the string and let us out when it's safe," she instructs urgently and the inky blackness swallows her up. Another knock shakes off my shock and I gingerly pick up the cloth that hides… a portable hole?
No time for speculation now. I quickly pull the trailing strings and the cloth is once more just a drawstring bag that I leave on the couch and head for the door while distractedly smoothing my disarrayed curls.
Curls… and crystal blue eyes.
The uniformed Flying Monkey at the door peers oddly at my stunned expression. Oh no, I have that meeting today! Dredging deep into emotional reserves that have been replenished by Elphaba's nearby presence in my bed, I give the Animal a calm look. "I'm not feeling well today. Please tell the Wizard and Madame Morrible that I am unable to attend and I send my regrets. Good day."
And rudely slam the door.
Heart pounding in fear and giddiness, I lean against the door for a moment before sliding to the floor while chuckling slightly hysterically. It's been a busy half day.
Less than half a day, even.
Eyeing the innocent looking bag crumpled on my couch, I wonder again at the familiarity of the girl who vanished inside of it. A flicker of movement in the hallway distracts me, making me jump with raw nerves. In a moment, the shadow twitches to reveal Elphie there, hidden in her cloak, and I sigh in relief. "You've grown sneaky, Elphie."
"A survival trait, I assure you. Are you okay?"
I'm really not, but I nod anyway, watching Elphie skirt the long shafts of sunlight to crouch beside me. Her hand on my hair reminds me why I'm so happy and confused right now and I lean into the touch. "I had a meeting with the Wizard. Hopefully it will slide as I'm generally a loyal enough minion." Pain and anger flickers across Elphie's face and I cup her cheek in my hand. "I'm not backing down this time, Elphie, I promise. Somehow we'll find a way to stop him. But maybe you could try it my way a bit?"
That smile is sweet, indulgent, and respectful. "I probably should have tried it your way from the start, my sweet. We'll definitely figure something out. Where have Fae and the boys gone?"
She can't quite hide the nervous fear in her voice and I gesture at the couch. "That bag is some kind of magical thing. It's a portable hole or something like it. They're hiding inside." Skeptical, but trusting, Elphie tugs me to my feet where I grab her in a long hug. "Why don't you lie down for a little longer while I borrow your bathtub? I'm sure that Fae and the boys will be fine in their hole for a bit."
I don't need any more persuading and happily let her coax me back to the bed where she tucks me in and kisses me softly.
"I'll be back soon. You rest."
Happy and at peace for the moment, I snuggle down and do as she says.