Chapter 18

Author's Note: This is the final chapter of this story. Though it wasn't intended that I'd take this long to finish the story, I hope this is a worthy conclusion. This chapter is dedicated to Stephanie, who is just beginning a journey that should be amazing.

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Over the next several days, Elphaba grew very withdrawn. At first, Fiyero and the children weren't overly concerned, since Elphaba always tended to keep to herself more when she was sad. But when she returned from the cremation ceremony and didn't speak to anyone for many hours, Fiyero worried that he had let his wife suffer in silence for too long. He went into the bedroom where Elphaba was resting without much hope of getting her to talk to him, but knew he had to try.

"Elphaba, why don't you come out of here for a while? I'm sure you aren't hungry, but the rest of us are about to sit down to dinner. We'd really like you to join us. The children have missed you. I've missed you. Please?"

Though Elphaba's eyes were open and it was clear she was listening, she made no reply. Fiyero waited patiently for her to make any kind of response, verbal or otherwise. When none was forthcoming, he sat down on the bed and took one of Elphaba's hands in his.

"Ivy, what exactly happened today? I mean... I'm sure the ceremony wasn't easy to go through. Anyone would be upset. But whatever is bothering you is something more. Isn't it?"

"Yes," Elphaba said after a brief hesitation. "I was surprised to be invited today, since there will be a memorial service in just a few days that we can all go to if we choose. I was honored to be asked, that isn't the problem. During the ceremony, I saw.... "

Elphaba fell silent again, getting up from the bed to go stand at the window. She stared out at the sunny day, and managed a small smile and a wave as Talissana noticed her standing in the window. The little girl then went back to the game she was playing, and Elphaba returned to her present conversation.

"What did you see, Ivy?" Fiyero asked gently.

Elphaba took a deep breath and did her best to speak firmly. "At first I thought my mind was playing a trick on me. Considering where I was, I thought that was causing me to see what I saw. But over the last few days, the vision hasn't gone away. I keep seeing it again." Elphaba decided she could delay a full explanation no longer, and turned around to look her husband in the eye as she continued.

"Fiyero, do you know if your mother is well?"

Fiyero was a bit taken aback by the question.... But not as much as he might have been if he didn't know Elphaba so well.

"My mother? Last I heard she was just fine, busy as ever but somehow still managing to drive Father to distraction on a regular basis. I can send a message to the castle. Unless you mean she's already..."

Elphaba took a moment to reply when she saw tears come to Fiyero's eyes. "No, not yet. I don't know what will happen, only that I saw her.... dead. If you wanted to go, see if there is something you can do, I can stay here with the children. My visions aren't always correct, remember?"

"You must think this one is, or you wouldn't be acting like this, would you?"

Elphaba's face grew warm with embarrassment, and she looked away again. "You're right. I'm sorry, I know I should have told you sooner. It was selfish. I couldn't save my sister, but maybe your mother doesn't have to.... I want you to go, Fiyero. Maybe it won't be too late."

"Are you sure it's all right if I go? It could be a while until I get back, and..."

"We'll be fine, Fiyero. The older girls are so busy with school, and Tali can come with me to work. We'll manage just fine. We'll all miss you, though."

"I'll miss you all, too. I think I'll ask the girls to come help me pack and break the news to them that way. I can be on my way to the castle by tonight."

**********

It was nearly two weeks until Fiyero returned home. He was happy to be home, but did not arrive bearing good news. Since it was past dinnertime when he arrived, he was able to sit down almost immediately to discuss things with Elphaba.

"How is your mother, Fiyero?" Elphaba questioned immediately. "Is she....?"

"No, not yet. She wasn't able to talk much, she was too weak. But Father and I were able to spend some time talking things over. Mother isn't expected to live much longer, but I thought I needed to come back and discuss this with you. Ivy, when.... Once my mother is gone, Father doesn't want to rule alone as King. He wants to abdicate. Which means we'd be expected to take over, immediately."

"Now? You mean take the children out of school, leave our jobs, the city and everything.... Right now?"

"Yes. I know this isn't the way you expected this to happen. Neither did I, and I am sorry. Father knows what he wants.... He's thought about it for a long time, longer than I would have guessed. As soon as he explained things to me, I knew what it would mean to you, how it would hurt you. So on the way home I did some thinking of my own. I'd be willing to decline the throne, if it would be better for us. I don't want you to be so unhappy."

"Fiyero, without us, who is there to take over? You have no siblings. I would think you have distant relatives somewhere. But all of your life you've known that the kingship would be your responsibilty one day. You're right in saying that I'm not happy that it's happening this soon. But if we have to go, we'll go. It will be so strange to leave the city. I was hoping Graiya and Stavna would be at university before we had to go. They love it here."

"So do you. And I hate to ask you to give it up. Especially the friends you've made.... And to leave half of our family behind."

Fiyero winced inwardly as his wife's face filled with pain. "That's true. Glinda will manage fine. She always does. The children will miss each other so much, though."

"And how will you manage, Elphaba? I know you're strong, you're still stronger than I am. But I won't ask you to give up your family. Our family.... Not when they mean so much to you."

"We'll have to make sure we visit now and then, that's all. Glinda's schedule gets so busy, but we can figure it out. Right now we have to think of your parents. Did you want all of us to come back to the castle with you now?"

"If you would. I know it won't be easy for the children, but I think it will help Father to see them. I think it might be too late for the girls to say good-bye to their grandmother, and I'm sorry for that. I wonder what they'll think of really being princesses."

"They're good girls... I think they'll adjust." Elphaba said sincerely. "I think I'll be the one you have to worry about. We've talked before about the day we'd take over the monarchy, but now.... Thinking about really being queen.... It seems so strange. What if the subjects don't like me? It will be hard enough for you being king without having people dislike your wife."

"My province is a peaceful place, Elphaba. The citizens aren't like that. At first they will love you because you are their queen.... But after a while I'm sure they will love you because of the kind of person you are."

"You're too kind to me, you know that, don't you?"

"I don't think that's possible, Elphaba." Fiyero said with a smile. "I want you to be happy, that's all. We'll take things one day at a time, see how they go. For now, Father needs us. It will be so strange for him without Mother. I'm afraid he'll feel so lost."

"From what I remember, my father was like that when my mother.... Well, I was only three then... How can I be sure if I'm remembering right..."

"Tell me, please? It must be important if you're bringing it up. Please?"

"I remember him, staying at home, crying for my mother. He'd spend time every day fussing over Nessa... He was so glad to have her with him. Father ignored me, so I'd sit and listen to everything. One day Nessa's nanny said she thought our house was too sad a place for Father to live. That he would sell it and we'd have to move away."

Fiyero asked no questions, made no sound at all. Instead, he waited for Elphaba to continue, sensing she had much more to say. "I thought, if we left, I'd forget all about my mother. I was so frightened, and when I was sure no one would hear, I would let myself cry. One day Father and the nanny took my sister out somewhere. There were servants in the house, but they hardly noticed me. So, I snuck into Mother's room. All of her things were still in there. Every last one. For a minute or two, it felt like she was there, and I actually waited for her to appear from somewhere, pick me up, and tell me everything was going to be all right. When that didn't happen, I started to cry.

"Father always brought pretty little things back for Mother when he traveled anywhere, and her table and everything were still covered with them. I walked over and looked at all of them, even touched some of them, but didn't dare pick anything up. Until I saw that little bottle sitting near the front. It looked so different than all the other things, and I could remember my mother holding it, unlike the other things that just sat there. So I picked it up and held it. I didn't stop crying right away, but I felt so much better. So comforted and peaceful.

"I sat down on the bed, which should have felt frightening because that was where my mother had.... Anyway, it felt anything but scary, or sad. I could feel her again, right there in the room. I laid back on the bedcover and pillows.... and that's when I could smell her. The way I still remember her.... This incredible, gentle smell of roses. I laid the bottle very carefully next to me and fell asleep. When I woke up, it was still right next to me.... And my father was standing there, watching me."

Elphaba was silent so long that Fiyero began to doubt that he wanted to hear anymore. The possibilities for what had happened raced through his mind. In the end, he had to know, and gently prompted his wife to tell him.

"I sat up right away, and waited for Father to start shouting at me. But he only looked at me, watching me as I climbed down from the bed and picked up the bottle. I held it out to him, still waiting for him to look angry, call me a name... anything. But he reached out, and closed my fingers around Mother's little bottle. I was still waiting to be yelled at because I'd almost never been allowed in Mother's room, let alone to touch her things. I started to say I was sorry, but Father said there was no need. I just stared at him. He'd hardly spoken to me since Mother had died, except to tell me that it was my fault Nessa wasn't perfect. My chin started quivering when I thought about what a mess everything was. My mother gone, my sister the way she was.... and it was my fault. When I actually burst into tears I was sure Father would yell and chase me out of the room.

"What he did instead is something I still don't understand. He reached down, and I was sure he was going to hurt me. Instead he.... He picked me up. He'd never done that before, and never did it again. I couldn't seem to stop myself from wrapping my arms around his neck, and he didn't try to push me away. He'd hardly ever touched me, and I was so surprised. I didn't know what it meant, if it meant anything. But he let me hold onto him, let me cry as long as I wanted. I cried so long that when I finally stopped I had marks all over my face. I looked up to try and see Father's face.... and he was crying too. I got scared because he'd never cried in front of me. Father seemed startled when he looked at me, enough to make him ask if I was in pain. All I remember saying then was to ask where my sister was.

"I went off to go help the nanny, who had already shown me how to hold Nessa. Out of all the people in the house, the nanny was the only one who seemed to like me.... sometimes. When she saw my face she frowned and said something under her breath I couldn't hear. All of my attention was focused on my sister after that. I cuddled her and talked to her. She was sleeping, but I pretended she was looking at me, because her eyes were just like Mother's. When I finally looked up, I saw Father watching us.... watching me. That was one of only a handful of times he ever smiled at me. He didn't say anything, but I must have understood that I'd finally done something he approved of. Because it was just about the only thing I did for years after that. I had to make the best of a horrible situation. Nessa was the only person I had to hang onto."

When Elphaba stopped speaking, she seemed so tired and sad that Fiyero hesitated to break the silence. They both sat still, neither of them feeling, for the moment, as if anyone else were in the room. The house was so quiet they were both sure all three of their daughters had gone of to sleep without good nights. Fiyero frowned when the next words his wife offered were ones of apology.

"What are you saying you're sorry for, Ivy? You needed to talk. I was here to listen. There's nothing to be sorry about."

"I'm sorry because I don't know where that came from. It hasn't got anything to do with all the things happening in our lives right now. It's not important, and I shouldn't..."

"Don't sit there and tell me what you shouldn't do." Fiyero sounded sad and a little angry at the same time. "No one should ever be told they can't talk about someone they love. You've never said so much about your mother, not in all the years we've known each other. I'm glad you did."

"Fiyero, all that rambling I did doesn't help us decide what to do now. It doesn't help anything. Now I feel sad, all over something that happened so long ago I shouldn't even be able to remember it. And it has nothing to do with now."

"It has EVERYTHING to do with right now! Ivy, don't you see what you were really telling me? You were telling me that you're afraid of so much change, that our family might not be the same now. And you're right. The difference is that no matter where we are, we still have each other, and our children. My mother is sick.... she's dying. My mother is also an old woman, Elphaba. My mother has had the privilege of GROWING old. Your mother was young, that makes a difference. Of course I'm sad, I have cried, and I will miss my mother. But she has been here to see me grow into a man, to see our family and love all of us. I haven't forgotten one of the first things you said, either. Elphaba, if you really don't want to move away, we can figure out a compromise. We don't have to sell the house and make it seem like we've never lived here. This house is ours. We've paid for it, and loved it. I don't want other people to live here, either. And they don't have to. This is our house."

"Fiyero, if we aren't living here what sense will it make to keep the house? Surely we can visit the city, but we can stay with Glinda then. We don't need the house."

"You do. We're going to keep it. And, I think, you will still spend part of the year living in it."

"Now you're not making sense. Visiting for a week or two, yes. Being queen isn't a part time proposition! We have to move. You'll be king, and as your wife I have no choice but to stand beside you as queen. It's not as if you'll move two days' ride away and rule alone, I'm not stupid enough to believe that!"

"The lady is still smarter than her husband." Fiyero said with a smile. "Elphaba, like I said, we can compromise. My province isn't a complicated place. As I said before, we are peaceful people. As long as they know the monarchy will pass to me as they've always expected, it will be fine. There will be things to deal with, but I'm sure far fewer than you imagine. So you tell me, what will make you happy? You tell me when or for how long you'll be comfortable being at the castle every year, and that's what we'll do. The rest of the time we can live here, like we always have. And we'll all be happy."

"I hope so." Elphaba said with a sigh. "I'm not sure yet exactly when I do or don't want to stay there. Of course we'll all go with you now, we should all be there. But there is something else I haven't told you about yet. I need to make a decision, and I'd like your opinion."

Fiyero's brow furrowed deeply. "What is it? Is something wrong with you, or the girls?"

"No, nothing like that. While you were gone, I went to the memorial service for Taliesin. It wasn't easy, but I really wanted to be there. When it ended and I was one of the last people lingering there, someone came up to talk to me. When they first spoke I was so involved in looking around at the trees and flowers surrounding the site that had been chosen for the service that I didn't turn around. When the person spoke again and I looked back I.... I wasn't even sure I'd be able to find my voice. Boq was there, and had been watching all of us from some distance away. He came to ask me a favor."

Fiyero scowled. "What could he want from you? After the way he joined the mob of people that wanted you dead so many years ago... Why would he be asking you for anything?"

"Please, let me finish. We didn't talk long, he seemed as nervous as I felt. He apologized to me for everything that happened then. I still don't know if I can take that at face value as being sincere. But he seemed so different, so sad. He called me by my name and asked me if I could help him, because he doesn't know who else to turn to. He said that he knows if he stays as he is now, he could live forever... If you call that living. He's all alone, he spends most of his time out in the forests. He has no friends or family. How he heard about the service and knew he'd find me there I can guess. People hear things. But the important thing is, he's asked me to use my magic to.... change him. To make it so he can die in peace. My first impulse was to say no. Thankfully, I stopped to think long enough to realize what it must have taken for him to come to me after what he'd felt about me. He only wants to have his life come to an end.... The way it would if he were still human. And I want to say yes, but..."

"You're afraid saying yes would be wrong." Elphaba nodded sadly in response to her husband's statement, but said nothing, waiting for him to continue. "Ivy, you didn't do anything wrong in the first place. You saved his life. And now, if he needs your help to have his life come to an end, I don't see anything wrong with that. Like you said, if he stays the way he is, he'll live forever. I can understand as well as you why he wouldn't want to do that. To do this for him will take compassion and mercy. I think you've got that covered."

Fiyero smiled and tried to laugh, but Elphaba scowled at him. "This isn't funny!" she snapped, getting up from her place beside her husband to stare out the window instead. Fiyero remained where he was and spoke quietly.

"I'm not laughing at you, Elphaba. You know me better than that. I was trying to lighten the mood... I'm sorry. Listen, Ivy, think of it this way... If your situations were reversed, if you were like Boq is and he had the power to help you, wouldn't you want him to?"

"Yes," Elphaba answered without hesitation. "Yes, I would. But I've been so careful to use my magic for the right things. To help people, save people. Not to.... to kill anyone."

"You're being too hard on yourself," Fiyero's voice was suddenly filled with anger. "Ivy, don't you understand? People aren't meant to live forever. It would be like punishment to put him through that. Things have been hard enough already. He isn't happy, he hasn't got anything to look foward to. If it takes using magic to help things end the way they should, then you should do it. I'd be proud of you if you did."

"Proud is hardly the word I would use, Fiyero. At best, I'd call it setting right something I shouldn't have done in the first place. Boq said he wanted me to meet him outside the city the day after tomorrow to tell him what I've decided. I invited him to come here but he said he would be too uncomfortable coming into the city."

"Then I'm coming with you," Fiyero stated decisively.

"What? Fiyero, I didn't tell you all of this as a way of suggesting that I need you to come along and hold my hand. I can manage. Now of all times you have to turn into the old-fashioined type. Really!"

"Now who's being funny? I'm not saying you need me to go. I'm saying I want to go. I'd feel bad, leaving you to go through that alone, that's all. Please?"

"You can, if you want to. It's... it's sweet of you, really. Everything feels so awkward. I hope I won't regret saying yes to Boq's request. He seemed so desperate, and he has no one else to ask."

"You have decided, then. I'm glad, Elphaba. For what it's worth, I don't think you will be making a mistake. You'll finally be able to let go of your regrets over him. You deserve that."

**********

When the day of the meeting with Boq arrived, both Elphaba and Fiyero rose very early. Their anxiety was very clear to the children, who in turn grew nervous to see their parents leave. Particularly Talissana, who had grown used to spending so many days a week with her mother. The older girls asked what was going on, but received no answer. Graiya and Stavna returned to the older girl's room, where Talissana was waiting for them.

"Did Mama tell you something?" Talissana looked anxious and frightened, but did her best to hide it so she wouldn't seem like such a baby.

"Nothing," Graiya said, sounding a bit angry. "I heard Papa say Grandpapa will be coming, and that's good news, but..."

"Aya, I'm a little scared," Stavna admitted. "Mama and Papa always explain things to us, even if we can't go where they're going. Mama's eyes look so sad... I wonder what's wrong. Do you think she's sick again, like she used to be?"

"No, this is something else. Something important. I'm afraid she'll get hurt, whatever it is."

"Then you talk to her, Graiya. She listens to you. Maybe she won't leave if you tell her you're worried." Stavna sounded hopeful that this was just the solution to their anxieties. This hope was immediately dashed when Graiya shook her head.

"She listens to all of us. But it isn't our place to ask her to stay. I haven't had any visions of what might happen, just a bad feeling. We'll be safe here with Grandpapa, and Mama isn't going alone. We'll just have to wait until they get home and see what they say."

"If you think so. Where do you think they're going?"

"I'm not sure." Graiya's voice dropped to a whisper, just in case her parents might overhear. "But I heard Mama say they're hoping to be back tonight. It can't be far."

"I want to go with Mama!" Talissana spoke up suddenly, her eyes filling with tears she couldn't hide. Graiya sat beside her on the bed and pulled her close.

"Papa is going, Tali. Mama will be fine. I bet she will be home to tuck you in tonight."

"You said you're worried too! You don't know she'll be fine. Why do you lie to me, because I'm little??"

"No. It's not really lying, just... hoping. Because I'm a little scared too."

"You? I never thought you got scared. You're so big. Who will tuck me in tonight if Mama and Papa don't come home?"

"Grandpapa can do it, Tali. He likes to. And he tells us great stories, doesn't he?"

Talissana smiled brightly. "He makes up the best ones. I think it's funny you and Avna still like to listen, when you're so grown up!"

"Sometimes it's fun not to act like a big girl," Stavna said with a sigh. "When Mama and Papa get home, we'll have to go to the castle for a while. We'll have to be very grown-up girls when we're there."

"Avna, why is everyone so sad about going there? It's fun to visit Nan and Poppy. They like us to come." Talissana was very confused, but Stavna didn't feel able to explain that their grandmother was dying. Instead, she told her sister simply that their grandmother was very sick. This seemed enough to satisfy Talissana's curiousity. Soon after this, Elphaba and Fiyero came into the room to say goodbye.

Graiya and Stavna said their goodbyes quickly and quietly, wanting to get them over with. It was Talissana who spoke up, unwilling to let them go so easily. She clung to her mother, not shedding any tears but sounding very frightened.

"Mama, I don't want you to go! What if something bad happens? Can't you stay? I'll be good, I promise!"

Elphaba knew all of the children were so nervous because they were picking it up from her. She felt sorry, but knew it was too late to change that much now. She hugged Talissana tightly and kissed her forehead.

"I know you'd be good. You can be, for Grandpapa today. I need to go help someone, with something very important. I will be home soon. Try not to be afraid, and I'll be home before you know it."

At this point, Talissana knew there was no point to arguing or trying to convince her mother of anything. There were hugs all around once more, and then Elphaba and Fiyero took their leave. The girls came out into the living room to watch out the window as the carriage pulled away. They all realized that their grandfather had arrived, apparently while the family was saying their goodbyes. He sat quietly on the couch, watching his granddaughters' anxious faces as the carriage disappeared from view.

**********

Elphaba and Fiyero didn't have to travel far outside the city to reach Boq's tiny self-made home. They reached it well before the noon hour, and thought they might find him waiting outside for them. But he was nowhere in sight, and the house looked sad and empty.

Fiyero frowned in apprehension. "Maybe he's not here, Elphaba. Are you sure..."

"He must be inside. He promised to be at home, I'm sure we have the right place. Come on, I'll change my mind if we don't do this now."

Elphaba tried to push away her reservations as they approached the door of Boq's tiny home. She knocked, and heard a quiet voice from inside tell her to enter. She tried the door and found it unlocked. Still, she entered hesitantly, Fiyero immediately at her heels.

The house, if it could be called that, was not much more than a single room, dimly lit with candles. Though it looked clean and neat, the few things inside looked shabby and well-used. Boq sat in a chair that rested against the far wall. Though he surely heard his guests enter, he didn't speak until Elphaba called out his name.

"I'm surprised you came," he whispered. "But I'm glad. Even if your answer is no, I'm glad to see you. I'm sorry for the look of the place. I never have company."

"It's all right, I don't mind." Elphaba took a couple of steps closer, hoping Boq would look her in the eye rather than avoiding her gaze. "I promised to give you my answer in person, so I'm here. If you're certain you want it, my answer is yes."

Boq immediately looked up, his expression surprised but happy. "Really? I never though you'd... I was so nervous to ask because I was sure you'd say no."

"I thought about it," Elphaba admitted quietly. "But I decided that it's the least I can do, since I... Since it's my fault you're like this in the first place."

"That's one of the reasons I wanted you to come here in person. I used to blame you; I hated you for making me this way. But I have had years to think about things, to understand things better. I realize now that you only did what you thought was best. Things didn't turn out as either of us hoped they would. I'm sorry for what happened to your... For what happened to Nessarose. For as much as I resented the way she treated me, I never wished that she would die. I hope you have at least made a good life for yorself, Elphaba."

Boq suddenly seemed intensely uncomfortable, as if he were afraid Elphaba would be offended by his words. To fill the awkward silence, he invited his guests in properly and asked them to sit down. There were just enough chairs to go around. For the first time, Boq displayed curiousity as to why Fiyero had come along.

"I'm even more surprised to see you," Boq said quietly, then hurried on to an explanation when he realized how the statement sounded. "Not that I mind, it's just strange seeing you. Both of you. At one time I heard that the two of you had married."

"Yes, we are," Elphaba answered immediately, taking Fiyero's hand and squeezing it gently. "We've been living in the city for years now. The whole family loves it there."

"Family?" Boq's voice dropped to a whisper. Elphaba was surprised by the obvious happiness in his voice. "You have children?"

"Three daughters," Fiyero said proudly. "Our oldest will be ready for university in just a few years. She'll be fourteen soon. Our middle girl Stavna is almost eleven, and our little one, Talissana, will be five in a few months."

"Talissana? Is she named after...?"

"Yes," Elphaba replied quietly. "It felt right to name her after the Doctor. He liked it, he was very fond of the children. They were upset to be left at home today, Talissana especially wanted to come along."

"I would have been happy to meet them. Elphaba, do any of your children have magical ability like you do?"

"Yes," Elphaba responded after a brief hesitation. "Yes, they all do in different ways. Why do you ask?"

"Just curious," Boq's voice was as offhand as he could make it, as a smile crept onto his face. "You thought I was going to ask if any of the children have green skin, didn't you?"

"Yes, I did." Elphaba looked away for a moment, her face growing warm with embarrassment. When she looked back, she went on quietly, her voice suddenly filled with the sound of tears.

"But the answer to that is also yes. Our eldest, Graiya, looks just like me. She's a good girl, very kind and gentle. All of the girls are fortunate to have that disposition. But Graiya has had a difficult time of it, to use a polite word."

"Why? What's happened to her?" Boq sounded genuinely interested, looking intently at Elphaba's face. But she seemed uncertain, and didn't answer his question.

"I appreciate your concern." Elphaba's voice was stiff, quite unlike her usual tone. "But we didn't come here to talk about our family. I've agreed to help you, I think that's enough."

Both Fiyero and Boq were puzzled by Elphaba's reaction, but Boq seemed determined to know, and spoke up again without hesitation.

"I'm asking because I want to know, Elphaba. You need to understand, I've been so isolated here. Even though I'm not far from the city, I've gone out iof my way to avoid people all these years. I know you have regrets about the spell you cast on me. Have you stopped to think that I might have regrets of my own? That I might wish I hadn't said the cruel things I said about you? And that I had chosen more wisely and not cut myself off from the world? I wish for both of those things. I can't go back and change things. But I can do my best to care now, to listen to both of you. It's been so many years since I had conversation like this. It feels good. And if I'm about to... Well, this is the only chance I have to make up for anything I did. What's wrong with wanting to do that?"

"Nothing," Elphaba's voice was filled with shame. "I'm sorry. I hadn't thought of it that way. But doesn't it hurt more hearing about all the things you've missed?"

"Not anymore. I'm at peace with the decision I've made, and all I want is to feel part of things again, even if it's only for a little while. You don't think that's too much to ask, do you?"

Elphaba shook her head, and Boq went on. "So please, tell me about Graiya. What happened to her?"

"There have been several things, really. The worst was when Graiya was only nine years old. She had been having trouble with bullies at school, and one day when Graiya was walking around the city, she got beaten up. By whom we never did know exactly, but we can suppose it was some children that knew her. She had broken ribs and a serious head injury. If not for my magic, she may not have survived that."

"I'm sorry," Boq's tone was quiet and breathless. "I know that was several years ago now. How is she? Did everything turn out all right?"

"She's very well. She's a strong one, our Graiya. Takes after her mother." Fiyero replied with a smile. Elphaba seemed embarrassed by the compliment but said nothing. After a moment or two of silence, Boq asked a question that surprised no one.

"What about Glinda? Is she doing well? Of course I know she's in charge of things in the city. That's part of why I've been careful to stay away... It would feel so strange, and seeing her would be... Anyway, how is she?"

"Fine," Elphaba replied gently. "She's married too, and has a daughter who is twelve now."

"It's strange to think of her being a mother. I'm happy for her, though. I had to give up hope of having a life like that a long time ago. I still think about her a lot,. And wonder what could have been. That sounds ridiculous. All I have is my memories, so I hope I can be forgiven for that much."

Tears came to Elphaba's eyes as she replied. "Everyone has things they'll always wish for that they'll never have. I didn't have a chance to talk to Glinda about this visit before I left. But if you like, I can explain it all to her when I get home, and give her a message from you."

Boq looked surprised for a moment. Then, much to Elphaba and Fiyero's surprise, Boq shook his head. "I'm sure she has a happy life. Whatever I might have wanted, she never really cared about me. Things are better left as they are."

The trio spent a good while longer talking about everything imaginable. As the afternoon shadows grew long, Boq's face filled with a surprising calm, and he asked Elphaba if she was ready to attempt the spell that she had come to perform.

"As ready as I'll ever be, I think. Is there somewhere more comfortable you'd like to sit, or..."

"Right here is fine. Whenever you're ready to start, go ahead. Don't... Don't you need the spellbook?"

"No. I memorized the spell at home so I wouldn't have to bring the Grimmerie. Glinda usually has it, anyway. Would you mind closing your eyes? It might make this easier."

Boq did as requested. Fiyero walked to where Elphaba stood and took her hand. "Ivy, are you sure about this? Are you sure you're ready?"

"I gave him my word. We can't stay here all day, and he's ready. It might be better if you let go of my hand until I'm finished. I can focus my magic very well, but..."

"I understand," he released her hand without another word and stepped back, though not out of fear. The words to the spell were surprisingly few, and the change in Boq's outward appearance was immediately obvious. The tin he'd been made of turned back to flesh. Boq made no sound, just slumped suddenly in his chair. He had kept his eyes closed as Elphaba had asked. When she stopped speaking the words of the spell, both she and Fiyero knew Boq would never open his eyes again. Elphaba began to cry softly as Fiyero returned to his place beside her.

"He can be at peace now, Ivy. It happened so fast... And I thought you always said spells can't be reversed."

"They can't, and I didn't. His outer appearance is normal... but he still has no heart. That's why he went so fast."

"I see. Are you going to be all right?"

"In a few minutes. We can't just leave him in here. Someone should...."

"I'll take care of it. You stay here, give yourself time to calm down. As long as you need. We won't leave until you're ready."

Elphaba said nothing, and would normally have resented being spoken to in such a way. This time, though, she appreciated it because she was very upset, her face streaming with tears. She turned away as Fiyero took Boq's body outside the house. Fiyero returned to the house once, and left again with a blanket in his hands. Moments later, Elphaba could hear the sounds of digging coming from outside. She didn't know or even wonder where Fiyero might have found a shovel. Elphaba resisted the urge to cover her ears, forcing herself to listen to the sounds of Boq being buried.

Despite Fiyero's reassurances, Elphaba did not feel at peace with what she had done. Even though it had been what Boq had wanted, it all felt very wrong. Now it was too late to go back, to make a different decision. She didn't feel like a person who had taken mercy on an old friend. She felt like a murderer. Her weeping hadn't eased when Fiyero finally came back inside. He immediately became alarmed by Elphaba's appearance and behavior. He went to where she sat and knelt in front of her, folding both of her hands in his.

"Elphaba, please try to stop crying now. It has to be causing you pain. I know how you must be feeling. I know you well enough that you don't have to tell me. You have to try not to regret this. It's what he wanted. I don't hate you for what you did, and you shouldn't hate yourself. You feel like you did the wrong thing, I know. But you gave him peace, and that's good. No one else could have helped him, not really. You wouldn't have wanted him to go on being so lonely and sad, to go on living a life that would have gone on forever without that spell."

Elphaba gave no sign that she had heard a word Fiyero had said, and suddenly his temper flared. He squeezed Elphaba's hands tightly.

"Are you even listening to me? I'm not saying you couldn't have made a different choice; Of course you could. I'm saying I think you made the right choice. I couldn't have been brave enough to do what you did. You've always made the difficult choices, Elphaba. It makes me proud."

At last, Elphaba's tears began to ease, and she looked Fiyero in the eye. "I'm not going to feel good about this, Fiyero. Boq is dead now, and that isn't a happy thing."

"I'm not asking you to feel happy, Ivy. Only to try and understand that you shouldn't feel like a bad person. You are a very good person, a better person than I am. Someone who didn't care as much as you would have said no to Boq. I think you know that. And Riordan won't hate you for this. He will understand."

"How... How did you know I'm worried about that? I didn't say anything about it."

"I know, but considering the past... I just knew. It will be fine, I can feel it. You'll have time to talk to him about it tonight if we leave here soon. Everything is all finished outside. Would you like to come say goodbye?"

Elphaba nodded and followed Fiyero outside. She stopped a good distance away from the gravesite, and Fiyero came to a halt directly beside her. Neither of them said anything; They simply stood looking at Boq's final resting place. Elphaba's eyes were filled with sorrow, and still a good measure of regret. Fiyero was very subdued, and seemed weighed down by sadness of his own. Elphaba knew without asking that it had to do not only with Boq, but Fiyero's thoughts of his mother.

At last, it was time to go. Elphaba and Fiyero went silently to their carriage and climbed in, anxious to return home to the children, who had yet to be told that they would soon be making a trip to the castle. The coming days were sure to be emotional and confusing. Elphaba felt reasonably sure the children would adjust, and maybe even enjoy being real princesses after a while. As for herself, she still had deep reservations about being queen. She resolved not to think much about that until it was necessary. For now her more important job was to be there for Fiyero to help him deal with the loss of his mother, which loomed over them all.

Epilogue

Elphaba, Fiyero and the children made their journey to the castle the very next day, after lengthy and tearful goodbyes to family and friends in the city. The trip seemed shorter than usual, mostly because everyone except Talissana was not looking forward to arriving. When they pulled up to the castle entrance, Tali jumped down from the carriage immediately, but none of the others moved for a moment or two.

It was Graiya who climbed down next, waiting to offer help carrying in some of the many bags they had brought. Soon they had all disembarked and were carrying everything inside. A couple of the castle's servants came out to help, but there was no sign of the King, which didn't surprise anyone.

Once the largest of the bags had been taken inside, Fiyero left the rest of the family in the entryway and went in search of his father. Talissana went off to the gardens to play almost without asking permission, prompting Stavna to go with her without being asked. Graiya alone remained with her mother, helping her take their things upstairs and get them put away.

"Mama, do you think I can have the same room I've always used when we have visited here?" Graiya knew her question was unimportant, but was trying to distract her mother, get her to say more than two or three words at a time.

"I suppose so," Elphaba muttered. "You'll have your pick of the rooms here, now."

"Mama, will Poppy still live here with us? This is really his home too. He can stay, can't he?"

"Yes, I'm sure Papa has already told him that." Elphaba paused, looking around for something she couldn't locate. "I think I left something in the carriage. I'll be back in a few minutes."

Elphaba hurried back to the downstairs and outside, silently wondering how she could have left the box containing Nessa's shoesbehind. They had been stored under the carriage seat to keep them from moving around or being damaged. As Elphaba reached under the seat to retrieve the box, she feared for a moment that they weren't where she'd left them. Then, her fingers found the handle of the box, and Elphaba released a breath she hadn't known she was holding.

Elphaba turned back to return to the indoors, and paused to look around her. The day was sunny and warm, the gardens in full bloom. She heard the sounds of her two younger children playing, and could safely assume they were chasing the butterflies that abounded in the castle gardens. Then, she looked up and saw Graiya waving at her from the upstairs window. Just for a moment, Elphaba saw her daughter as she would look in several years. Taller and maturing into a beautiful young lady. And wearing an obviously new Shiz University uniform. In a blink, the image was gone.... but the brief vision gave Elphaba hope for the future, to know that her children had such opportunities ahead of them.