Disclaimer- I don't own them, and I borrowed the title from the brilliant Terry Pratchett.
He was on his way back from dinner. He was alone, because his friends had to stop at the library to get some books for their term paper. And he would be caught dead before he'd set a foot at that library on his leisure time. The thought alone made him shudder; it could do such an irreversible damage to his carefully-built reputation. So he decided to head back to the dorms by himself. He had some homework to do, and there was that term paper he didn't even start working on, but he wasn't feeling up to it at the moment. He could never do anything school-related properly after dinner. Hmm. In fact, he could never do anything school-related properly, period, no matter when it was. The only class he found interesting was History, but even that didn't spark any special interest within him after Dr. Dillamond's forced departure, several weeks back.
The halls were deserted when he made his way through the main building, where the dining hall was located. The sound of his footsteps echoed in the emptiness of the hallways. Outside, the sun was setting, washing the halls with soft orange. It was a warm evening, one of those days in-between winter and spring when there was no rain, and it was neither cold nor hot. Those were perfect for a morning nap in the breeze, on the bench in the grove behind the Biology building, only he couldn't quite afford to do so, when mid-terms were so close ahead.
He was whistling to himself as he took the stairs to the main floor. Then, crossing the bend, his voice trailed off. He stood still, and listened.
Someone was playing. It seemed to have come from the music room, several doors away. Well, it must have come from there, because it was the only room around that contained a piano. He smiled inwardly. It's been forever since he had last played. It was his secret passion, his secret habit; something he had never revealed to any of his new friends at Shiz. He wasn't sure why. Perhaps because he had always found his playing so… personal, in a way. Oftentimes he thought of stopping at the music room and practicing for a while, to make sure he hadn't lost his touch, but he was always occupied with classes or with friends, so he never came around to actually do it.
Whoever was playing at the moment was doing it very well. It was an old tune. He knew it; his mother used to play it, and she later taught him how to play it as well. In spite of its simpleness, it was a very complicated tune to play, especially for one person. Whoever was attempting it at the moment was quite ambitious, and no doubt a very sophisticated player, for it sounded just as it was supposed to sound. The only person he knew who managed to pull it off by herself was his mother. The melody was catchy and bitter-sweet, making him want to cry and laugh, both at the same time. There was this nostalgic essence to it, something that brought back childhood and home. And he wasn't one to get sentimental over music. He wasn't one to get sentimental over anything, for that matter.
Curiosity won. He had to see who was playing. He threw his bag over his shoulder and made his way towards the music room. He opened the door slowly; he didn't want to interrupt whoever it was in there. He stepped in. The only light in the room came from the huge windows, half-covered with heavy velvet drapes. The same soft orange reigned in there as well. He looked across the room. The piano was at the farthest end of it, at a corner, its player sitting with the back to the door. It took him a moment to realize who that player was. Only it couldn't be who he thought it was… could it? But it must have been. No-one else he knew (and he knew practically everyone, mind you) wore black out of habit. No-one else he knew had such a long hair, thick and raven-black.
No-one… but her.
His forehead cringed in confusion. It almost didn't make sense, that someone like her would be able to play something like that. Not because she didn't fit to his previous profile of the potential player, because she fit perfectly. She was one of the most ambitious people he knew. If anyone could pull off that tune by oneself, it was her. It wasn't that. The thing was that there was this tenderness he always associated with that tune; tenderness he had never imagined he could associate with Miss Elphaba Thropp.
Watching her now, her fingers moving as if by themselves, her eyes half-closed with concentration, she almost seemed like a different person. She seemed completely taken by the music she herself was creating. She had no notes in front of her, as if she was playing it by memory alone, and he found himself impressed by this fact. Of course, he knew it by heart after years of playing it, but he still had his notes with him whenever he played it, just in case.
There was something magical about the whole scene; the light, the music, her composure. He was completely transfixed, unable to move, unable to do anything, but listen. He knew it was not meant for his ears, or anyone else's, for that matter. She obviously knew that everyone was at the dining hall at the time, that she could play there uninterrupted. He should probably go.
Standing there on the threshold, watching her, made him feel slightly uncomfortable. It felt as if he was invading some private space, a hidden part of her soul no-one was supposed to know of its existence. Suddenly she didn't seem like the detached, sarcastic girl she was. Listening to her play made him see a whole new side of her; a softer, more vulnerable side. A side he had only seen once before, he then realized. But he couldn't remember that day. He had to push it away. Nothing happened there, really. They were just anxious for the Cub's safety, that's all.
He shrugged, shaking the memory off. It was the safest thing to do anyway. And it was keeping him from going, which was probably bad as well. He had only made several steps when he walked in, so he figured that if he'd take the same number of steps backwards he should be out of the door, then close it, and she'd never know he was there.
He was wrong.
He must have been drawn inside without realizing it. He was practically standing in the middle of the room, halfway between the piano and the door. It had only dawned on him when he began to walk back, as planned, and hit something. It was some sort of furniture, by the loud screeching noise it made. He froze when she quickly turned, obviously startled, then her eyes widened in horror when they met his.
He said nothing, just flashed an apologetic smile at her. He couldn't say much anyway. His cheeks were burning. He wasn't planning on getting caught.
She regained her composure fast, or so it seems. She now wore her usual indifferent expression, probably thinking it would scare him off. "How long have you been standing there?" she asked quietly, almost shyly, if he hadn't known better.
"Long enough," he replied, his expression serious. There was a pounding pain at the side of his hip, where the furniture hit him full-force. Throwing a sideway glance at it, he could now see it was a table. He bit his lower lip, hoping it would help to cease the pain, or at least to distract him from its presence.
She hesitated, as if unsure how she should react. Then she said, very coldly, "If you were the prince you pretend to be, you should have known that bursting into a room without knocking is very inappropriate."
"In spite of what you think of me, I do know that. And I apologize, I really didn't mean to-"
She didn't give him a chance to complete his apology. She got up from the stool she was sitting on. "I should go," she mumbled.
She was about to go passed him, but he quickly took hold on her arm. He pretended he didn't notice that spark of electricity that went between them as he did. "Don't. Please, wait. There's something I still want to say."
She wasn't looking at him. It made him feel so bad. He knew she would be mad at him for invading her privacy that way. If it was anyone else, he wouldn't even care, but she was one of those people whose privacy was their haven. It was practically all she had. Invading it the way he did was like breaking into a sacred space. And she looked really hurt.
Gently, he let go of her arm, feeling relieved when she didn't take that opportunity to sneak passed him and leave. "I passed by and heard the music," he started. Suddenly it didn't sound like a very good excuse. "I just wanted to know who was playing."
She was quiet for a moment, and then shook her head. "Well, now you know," she replied, still somewhat coldly, turning to go.
She turned to face him again, now slightly annoyed. "I'm afraid I don't have all day, Master Tiggular, so if you have a point, please get to it, otherwise you're just wasting your precious time and what's worse, you're wasting mine."
Master Tiggular. So they were back on formalities now. That was not good. Until he finally got her to open up to him, now due to this slight mistake- which was turning out to be a fatal one with each passing moment- she was backing away to 'Master' again. He was determined to change it. "I do have a point," he insisted. He waited until she raised her eyes to face him. Then he said, as gently as he could, "My point is, I've never heard anyone play the way you just did." He smiled at the sight of uncertainty in her eyes. "That was a compliment, in case you missed it."
She laughed softly. He couldn't believe his ears. "Thank you," she whispered meekly, looking away again, as if to hide the blush that rose in her cheeks.
"My mother used to play that tune and she did it amazingly, but never as skillfully as I heard you do it now. Who taught you to do that?"
She shrugged. "No-one. I sort of… taught myself."
He stared at her for a moment, unsure if he was supposed to believe her. "You're joking, right?"
She shook her head. Seeing that she wasn't going to say anything further, he gave her an inquiring look. He wasn't willing to let it go. As if she realized that, she sat back on the stool with a sigh, and began. "Nessa was the one who got music lessons. She was never gifted with musical hearing. Oz, she cannot even carry a tune when she sings. Nonetheless, Father was determined to provide the future governor with as many artistic skills as possible, so he brought over the best teachers for her. She learned how to dance, how to draw, how to play. And I was allowed to watch."
Her expression was heart-wrenching. It was as if she relived the memory as she was recounting it. He could almost picture her as a little girl; standing there at the entrance of the music room, watching Nessa being taught.
"Nessa took no interest in music lessons, to say the least. She was a slow learner, which meant more lessons, only as a child, she didn't realize it. The more the teacher struggled with her, the easier it was for me to memorize the notes and their names, and which finger I should lay on which key. I stole one of her music books and used to read it every night by the candlelight, trying to make sense of the notes and put it together with the way I've heard them being played. Then one day, when everyone was away, I had a chance to practice by the piano, on my own. And I did it again and again, for as long as I dared to, whenever I got the chance. And Father never found out."
"That's… a very sad story," he said eventually. It honestly was. Of course, she took the best out of it; he was certain she could play far better than her sister. And still, her father's ignorance, his obvious preference of one daughter over her sister, made no sense to him. Being an only child, he had never needed to compete with another sibling on his parents' attention. But still, as far as he saw it, parents should love all their children equally, shouldn't they?
"I can do very well without your pity, thank you very much," she said, once again cold and distant.
"Look, you can let go of that defensive attitude. I'm on your side, in case you couldn't figure that out yourself by now," he said, now somewhat annoyed. She said nothing, but he could see that she was somewhat hurt by his outburst. He sighed and sat beside her. He was sure it would send her rushing to the other side of the room, yet she didn't flinch. "Look. I wouldn't have walked in here unless I thought you were amazingly talented. I didn't do it on purpose, I didn't even know it was you! You have a serious gift, Miss Elphaba." He figured he should probably stick to formalities, just as she did. "Too bad you don't seem willing to do something about it."
She shook her head. "There's nothing practical about music."
"Perhaps, but it's good for the soul."
"If you're assuming you have one."
He looked at her strangely. "Don't we all?" Her smile was enigmatic. She said nothing. Before she could resist or pull back, he took her hand in his. "A person with no soul could never have played the way I just heard you play," he said softly, looking straight at her. "So you can convince yourself otherwise, but you couldn't fool me." He wanted his words to have some sort of an affect on her, so with this, he stood up, ready to leave.
A smile curled on his lips, but he pushed it off, determined not to let her see that. They were back on the right track. He turned to look at her again. "Yes, Miss Elphaba?"
She frowned, as if realizing he was teasing her. Then she flashed a small, almost invisible smile at him. "I'm sorry I snapped at you."
"I'm sorry I walked in here without making my presence known."
She nodded seriously. "Fair enough."
He smiled. She returned his smile, carefully. She seemed to be feeling a bit more comfortable now. He walked over to the piano again. "So, have you ever attempted to play that tune with someone else?"
As he expected, she shook her head. "No. Although it did sound wonderful when Nessa finally picked up on it, and performed it with her teacher."
He smiled, and motioned her to move. As she scooted aside on the stool, she gave him an incredulous look. "Do you play?"
"I didn't know that."
"A boy needs to have some secrets," he teased, making her smile again.
They began to play. It took her a moment to adjust, it seemed, but when she did, it sounded great. Better than any other time he had played that tune with his mother back at home. Soon, when his slight stage-fright faded, he began to enjoy the whole thing, and really got into it. His fingers fluttered over the keys in a skillful manner he didn't even know he possessed, fitting themselves to the pace of her own fingers. At some point he raised his head from the keys and his eyes met hers. She was smiling now; a broad, beautiful smile. He returned her smile, pleased he managed to soften her once more.
They played the same tune several times, then continued to other things they both happened to know. It wasn't until the sun went completely down that she got up from by the piano and gave him an apologetic look. "I should go. Nessa… she'll wonder where I am."
He got up, walking her to the door. "I'm sorry I kept you," he said, opening the door for her.
"No, don't, it was… interesting," she replied, smiling.
"We should do it again," he half said, half asked, very carefully. He didn't want to ruin his chances by her getting it the wrong way and be offended.
To his great relieve, she hesitated, but then slowly nodded. "Yes. Yes, we should."
"Shall I walk you out?"
"No. Thank you. I know my way."
He thought he should insist, but then decided against it. He wouldn't push his luck. "Alright. I'll see you in class tomorrow."
She nodded. "Good night."
He stood there, watching her, until she disappeared down the hall. Then he turned to have a look around the room. It was too dark to play some more. And he still had lots of homework, most of it for the next day. And then he shook his head, horrified with himself for making excuses that way instead of facing the real reason he wasn't feeling up to playing at the moment. Somehow he knew it would never compete with the way he previously played, when she was there. It was as if her secret passion somehow fueled his own.
He smiled inwardly as he left the room, slowly closing the door behind him. They were a good team, he thought as he made his way out of the building towards the dorms.
In playing, Master Tiggular, he quickly corrected himself. Slight bitterness crawled in at that, unexplained and quite bothersome; it was impossible to shake it off.
Yes. Only in playing.