They ran through the woods, Fiyero halting abruptly as the silhouette of half a building came into view.
"There," he said, grunting when Elphaba bumped into him. She looked suspiciously at the crumbling ruin, giving him a sidelong glance.
"What is it?"
"Shelter," he replied simply. "It looks to be abandoned."
"It looks to be hazardous," Elphaba scoffed; still, she followed, lifting up her skirts as they pushed through a heavily overgrown garden.
"Wait here." Fiyero stepped through what had once been a front door as Elphaba glanced around uneasily. She felt far too exposed, and only the expectation of suddenly hearing a crash and perhaps an ensuing stream of swear words, stopped her from following Fiyero into the shadows. They had flown quite a distance, and - as far as she could tell - they had not been followed, but it would take more than that minor detail to make her feel safe.
Truthfully, she had forgotten how to.
"Less hazardous than appearances suggest." Fiyero resurfaced, holding out a hand that Elphaba was obviously intended to take. "There's a cellar where we can rest. It's quite secure; no one would ever find us down there."
Reluctantly, Elphaba stepped across the threshold and followed him through the cobwebs. "You shouldn't have come with me...you shouldn't have done what you did, Fiyero. This isn't a game - you could be killed for your involvement with me, as brief as it has been thus far."
"Down here - watch your head."
Elphaba sighed, ducking. "You don't appreciate the enormity of what you have done. You will already be known to all of Oz as a dangerous insurgent - you can never simply return, offer profuse apologies, and expect to resume your cushy palace life -"
"Oh, I could always say you kidnapped me," Fiyero grinned, laughing when Elphaba appeared to seriously consider this. "Elphaba! I've been searching for you for years. Now that I've found you, what reason have I to go back?"
He bolted the trapdoor through which they had just descended, dusting his hands on his trousers. Though the air below ground was warmer than it had been above, Elphaba folded her arms across her thin frame, hugging herself tightly.
"You've been looking for me?"
"Under the perfect guise of being a palace guard - we've all been looking for you. My agenda was just a little different to the others'. Ah!" He lifted a lantern out from behind an old crate, wiping the grimy glass against his leg. "I don't suppose you have any -"
"Matches? Here." Elphaba tossed him a tattered book, sinking down against the wall. She turned her face away when Fiyero approached her with the light; tactfully, he set it down in the centre of the room before kneeling in front of her, taking her hands in his. Her palms were callused and cold; he rubbed them gently but their temperature refused to rise.
"Where have you been? Hell, I never knew Oz was so vast until I began to scour it from end to end."
"Oh, here and there," she replied vaguely. "The Forest of the Fighting Trees, mainly - that was safest. They saw to it that I was well protected, and none of the guards were any the wiser."
"Because those bastards are as aggressive as all hell at the best of times," Fiyero filled in. Elphaba gave a slight smile.
"Well, yes." She shrunk back against the brickwork when he moved forward the barest of inches.
"Elphaba? What is it? I'm not going to hurt you," he said, frowning in confusion.
"How can I know that?" she asked quietly. "Sweet Oz, I went with you so rashly! How do I know I haven't just walked straight into a trap - you locked us in here!"
"I'm not one of them," Fiyero promised, willing her to look at him. "I'm on your side."
"Again, how can I be certain of that?"
"I could have shot you earlier," he reminded her. "Or I could have stood back and let you be captured. I could have killed you, instead of turning my rifle on the Wizard." He gave her a grin, hoping to lighten the mood a fraction. "Come on, you knew me at Shiz...do I seem the type to bother with such an elaborate ruse, when I had you right there, surrounded by two of my best men?"
Elphaba's shoulders slumped with this realisation. "I'm sorry, it's just...I'm cornered by a palace guard," she laughed hollowly. "Even if it is you - it's a nightmare come to fruition."
"Think of it as merely a costume - a sheep in wolf's clothing," Fiyero pointed out, removing his jacket in an attempt to appease her. "I'm no more a guard than you are a Wicked Witch. Trust me, Elphaba."
"I trusted the Wizard once. I trusted Madame Morrible."
"Do you remember that day when you decided to rush in, guns blazing, and save that cub?" he asked. "That's still me, Elphaba. I'm the same person - only a little older, and wiser." He took her hand, bringing it to his face and pressing it against his cheek. "Much wiser."
Elphaba nodded, not instantly pulling away when Fiyero let go, as he had expected her to. "I trusted that boy too..." She feathered her thumb lightly against his skin before letting her hand fall to her lap. At once, Fiyero took it again, this time pulling her closer.
"I'm still that same boy."
"I believe you," she nodded slowly.
"Good. Because Elphaba..."
"Yes?" she whispered when he paused, his expression tinged with mischief as his face hovered dangerously near to her own.
"Yes," he replied, and then pressed his mouth firmly against hers. She froze, letting herself be kissed until Fiyero eventually broke off. "Are you...is this okay?"
"I - I don't know. I've never kissed anyone before," she whispered apologetically, anxiously picking at a rent in her dress. "Well, except..."
"Glinda and I...we wanted to see what it was like." Elphaba blushed furiously at the long suppressed memory. Had she ever truly been so young and carefree; had that really been her who had sat up all night, giggling and gossiping - or, rather, being giggled and gossiped to? When Fiyero chuckled suddenly, she pushed him away. "We can't do this, Fiyero - we can't do this to Glinda. She loves you."
"And I love you."
"You barely know me," she pointed out bluntly.
"Well, I'd like to change that." He ran his fingers through her hair, pulling out the clips she had used to secure the sides, before sliding his hands down to grip her arms. "Sit still and let me look at you, at least."
He studied her face closely - although the rest of her was motionless, her eyes darted everywhere before finally meeting his; at first shy, then challenging.
"You haven't changed," he laughed, but she had - she was much thinner, and taller, but there was a certain grace about her; she was a woman now, no longer a gawky, gangling schoolgirl. She was hardened, but no matter how fierce her expression, there was desperation written all over her face. Years of being on the run had more than taken their toll.
Tenderly, he cupped her chin. She flinched when he stroked her cheek, but then leaned against his palm, accepting it. "May I?" he asked, and she nodded. Gently, he kissed her again, and though this time she timidly returned it, she was still jittery. He could wait. He cradled her, nuzzling her cheek as she settled uncertainly against his chest.
He should have done this at Shiz, but he had been nineteen, with a reputation he had spent months cultivating, and she had been green. This had been dreadfully important.
By the time he had come to his senses, she had been mere minutes away from leaving for the Emerald City. He had sent her off with flowers, intending to wait until her return to confess that they were for more than just luck.
"Are you cold?" he asked; she was trembling slightly.
"No. I can't..." She took a deep breath as her words faltered, her fingers twisting together like a puzzle of new twigs.
Elphaba buried her face on his shoulder. "Hold me," she murmured, and he tightened his grip. "He was right, you know."
"I am tired of being the strong one," she mumbled, almost as if to herself. "I'm so tired, Fiyero." She took another gasp for air, shuddering as he rubbed between her shoulder blades. "I want to stay like this forever - it feels as though everything pressing down on me has suddenly been lifted and I can just rest...for now."
"For always," he promised, though he knew she knew that he was lying through his teeth. Still, she let this slide, idly pinching the cloth of his shirt between her fingertips.
"You know, ever since I was a child, I've rushed into things without thinking," she continued. "And it's always gotten me into trouble."
"You don't cause commotions, you are one," Fiyero supplied, and Elphaba chuckled softly.
"I am. It seemed like such a brilliant idea at the time, to just fly away like that - how bold and extravagant! But oh, hell, I was only eighteen; a silly kid who'd fluked a spell. I wasn't a threat until I ran. None of this would have happened if I hadn't flown off the handle like I did; if I'd simply paused for half a second and thought before reacting."
"But you're not one to calmly sit back and rationalise an injustice," Fiyero pointed out. Elphaba nodded, sighing.
"I wish I was, sometimes. It would be easier...but I can't. I can barely even envision it."
"You were never supposed to live a quiet life. You're too..." Fiyero sought for the correct word, eventually coming up with, "passionate."
"Passion is exhausting," Elphaba murmured. "And that's all it boils down to, Fiyero. I've accomplished nothing, except to make myself feared and despised by all of Oz."
"You don't realise how many are on your side," Fiyero told her, kissing the tip of her ear. "I met many folk who spat on my uniform, and who brashly declared that whilst they had not seen you, they would not betray you if they ever did - knowing full well that treason is punishable by death, under the Wizard's new laws. You have an underground army waiting and ready to fight for you, if ever you should say the word. Shh," he added when Elphaba let out a muffled cry. He pressed his lips to the top of her head. "You're safe now. You don't have to be strong any longer - I'm here."
With the agility borne of a childhood on the Vinkus cliffs, he rose to his feet, carrying her over to a mound of straw in the far corner. Though it smelled a little moldy, he kicked together a makeshift bed beside the ladder, curling up on it with Elphaba folded into his arms. "Rest," he commanded, holding onto her until she finally drifted into the soundest sleep she had had in years.
She was still asleep when he returned, pockets bulging with roots and berries, but the moment he drew the bolt across the trapdoor she awoke with a start. Her eyes flitted around in panic for a few seconds, before her uncertainty melted into a drowsy smile. "My hero," she murmured, rolling onto her back and propping herself up on her elbows, as he displayed a handful of food.
"It's not much," he apologised, kneeling down with her, "but I didn't want to leave you for too long."
"Oh Fiyero, this is a feast," she chuckled. "I have lived on much less."
"Those days are over now," he assured her, bowing his head and kissing her again. Boldly, he let his tongue venture into her mouth, then slipped an arm under her and lifted her up, pressing her to him. She faltered at this; he could feel her heart pounding - but suddenly she was moving her hands down his back and then up again, under his shirt.
Somehow, the shirt was removed, and then her dress was being lifted up and over her head. She was the color of pure olivine all over - of course, he had known that logically she would be, but the colour still amazed him with its peculiar beauty. He swept his gaze up and down her body, taking her hand gently when he met her eyes - where, with a pang, he recognised the terror of cornered prey. It was this which prevented him from relieving her of her threadbare grey slip.
"Elphaba?" he asked cautiously when she abruptly snatched her hand away. She stared at him in horror before hiding her face in her hands, her slim shoulders trembling violently.
"Please," she begged through her fingers, "kill me if you wish, but please - I can't -"
"Elphaba, it's me. Fiyero." He tried to take her into his arms again but she shot away, hugging her knees to her chest, her eyes wild. Fiyero held up his hands, as if professing a lack of weaponry, watching her in alarmed bewilderment. For the first time, he became aware of a network of scars that covered her arms and chest; some faded, others painfully fresh. "Elphaba?" he repeated, reaching out to her.
She scuttled backwards until the wall forced her to a halt. Cringing there, she pulled her knees up again, her eyes not daring to stray from him. He could see they were damp and his heart ached for her, but all of a sudden he felt wary of trying to move closer to her - he had scorned the rumours about her reputation for malice, but what if some of the tales had been borne of truth? He realised that he honestly had no idea what she was capable of.
Like owl and mouse they stared at each other, until Fiyero jolted back to reality - this wasn't a witch, or even The Witch; this was Elphaba Thropp, the green girl of Shiz. Though lumbered with the carapace of treacherous foe, this was nothing but a flimsy sheath that barely covered the frightened young woman who was still cowering before him.
Slowly, he reached for an empty straw-tick, pushing it towards Elphaba. "You're shivering," he pointed out, uselessly. She grabbed for the crude coverlet, hastily wrapping it around herself, and at last appeared to relax, albeit marginally. She wiped her eyes on the hem, rocking back on her haunches.
"I know you would never hurt me," she mumbled. "But for a moment, all I could see was that other guard..."
She shrugged, swallowing heavily, but did not continue.
"Other guard?" Fiyero repeated. None of his regiment had ever mentioned seeing Elphaba - and they had all been under strict orders to report even the thinnest slice of evidence to him.
"He was going to kill me," she said at length, her tone forcibly indifferent. "I saw the bayonet, I saw he was quite prepared to use it, and I was terrified. I pleaded for my life. He spared it." She rubbed her arms feverishly. "I wish he hadn't."
Her hair tumbled about her face as she bowed it again, collecting herself. She didn't quite succeed, yet still held out a hand, unexpectedly, beckoning Fiyero closer. He moved slowly, taking her in his arms and wrapping the hessian tick around both of them. Elphaba wept softly for what felt like hours, as Fiyero boiled with anger. He recalled the ridiculous speech he had welcomed each assembly of new recruits into the Palace Arms with - that, from that point on, they were to devote their lives to finding The Witch, because she was dangerous and every single Ozian, no matter who they were, deserved to be able to live in safety.
He wondered if Elphaba could even remember what it felt like to feel safe, to go about an entire day without fear. He wondered how long it would take her to relearn such things.
"I'm going to get you out of here," he vowed, trying to visualise a map of Oz - which direction did Kiamo Ko lie in? Or was Thursk Tower, their other disused stronghold, closer?
Either way, they would leave the cellar first. They would have to be on their guard, but he couldn't bear to keep Elphaba trapped, as she was, a moment longer. At any rate, it had taken him years to track her down, and that discovery had been mainly due to her own recklessness. The odds of Elphaba allowing herself to be captured again were impossibly slim.
They paused at a shaded brook when once more above ground, where Elphaba gladly washed her face. She winced when the water dribbled down her neck, gingerly patting it dry with her cuff.
"Melting?" Fiyero couldn't help but tease, flinching when she replied casually, "just a little raw there still." She smiled at him, reaching forward to cup his face. "Don't worry about me. Wounds heal, scars fade."
He accepted her words; the physical ones did, at least. He was not about to forget how she had shrank away from him in sheer panic, and it was this painful memory which stopped him from covering her hand with his, and closing the gap between them.
He didn't protest, though, when she did the latter and kissed him, her lips brushing shyly against his own. She ducked her head with a chuckle, almost blushing; if a darker shade of green could constitute a blush.
"This is quite new to me," she admitted. "I expect you're trying to hold back your laughter at what a bad kisser I am."
"Oh, you're not that hopeless," Fiyero grinned, adding playfully, "you could do with some practice, though. I'm happy to help."
She gave him a dirty look, and this was what it could have - should have - been like at Shiz. She didn't take him up on the offer, which was also reminiscent of the Elphaba he had briefly known, instead rolling her sleeves up as far as they would turn and bathing her arms in the creek, wincing as the icy water splashed across her skin. Some of the gashes appeared quite deep and eventually Fiyero could stand it no longer. He stilled her, tracing a fingertip carefully alongside one particularly nasty wound.
"Who has done all this to you? How does one even acquire such injuries?"
"Oh, hazards of the profession." Elphaba pulled away, but gently. "Piloting a broom isn't as simple as it looks - sometimes, gravity decides it has been defied quite enough for one day."
The response was typically cagey, unless she had crash-landed right onto the fence enclosing Southstairs, but it seemed to be the most she was willing to give away, for now. "I'm glad I didn't know that before we took flight," he said, taking her hand again and gently binding her wrist in his handkerchief. He kissed her palm before pulling her sleeve down and buttoning the cuff. Elphaba nodded in a silent thank-you, rising to her feet and motioning for him to follow.
"We should get a move on. Have you the lamp? We may need it soon - the canopy is quite heavy in this area. I'll mask the flame, so no one will see it but us."
She laced her fingers into his, leading the way back across the footbridge and deeper into the forest. They did not speak for several minutes, and when Elphaba did, her words were too low for him to catch. Fiyero strained for a second, before realising they were not directed at him. He watched in amazement as Elphaba appeared to converse with an orb spider, hanging lazily in its web.
A Spider, Fiyero decided, looking at the ugly creature with awe. Once, he would have smashed such a thing with his boot and thought nothing of it. The thought made him feel ill.
"No one has been through here." Elphaba turned back to him, and Fiyero almost felt like saluting their messenger. Her voice was low, as if the trees might be spies. He wondered if perhaps some were - not even the captain of the guards knew all of the Wizard's allies. "However, we are warned that there seems to be a change in the weather."
"What, like a storm?"
Elphaba shrugged. "I expect so. Either way, it means it will be best for us to not take to the skies just yet. I have met many vengeful winds, and I don't care to become reacquainted with them if at all possible." She paused again, listening intently. Fiyero looked around curiously, giving a start when a Bat suddenly flapped off.
"It's a little breezy in Munchkinland, but the gale seems to be blowing south. We'll miss the brunt of it here." She gave him a glance, slightly coy, then cocked an eyebrow wickedly. "It might be best for us to pause here and wait it out."
"Who am I to disagree with The Wicked Witch of the West?" Fiyero teased. Elphaba, fortunately, seemed to like this. She cackled gaily, allowing his lips to cover hers and force them to part. Bodies easily intertwining, he pulled her into a small clearing (friendly as the Spiders may be, he still did not care to have one crawl down his neck), sinking to his knees and pulling her astride them.
"I should feel guilty for taking pleasure in Munchkinland's misfortune, shouldn't I?" he asked, his words muffled through her kisses. "Well, I don't know anyone who lives there." He ran his fingers through her hair until they snagged, grabbing hold of tangled bunches.
"My family home is there," Elphaba said. "I expect it can withstand a little battering. And Nessie - she loves storms. As a child, she would always scream for me to carry her to the window to watch when it rained." She kissed him hungrily, adding wryly, "well, now she can stand on her own two feet. This'll probably be a storm she never forgets..."