AN: Thank you for all your reviews. You guys are the greatest. Seriously. I'm so sad this one is over, but I hope you enjoy it.
Following Glinda's moving address, Elphaba faded into the shadows to rejoin her friends. They had not really developed much of an exit strategy, but Elphaba assumed Fiyero would have the sense to guide them away from the palace and back to the apartment. However, he hadn't been acting with a lot of sense in anything else lately, so she double-checked the stables she had left them at. Sure enough, Fiyero was still there, though the others were absent.
He caught her eye, fighting down the hurt look she knew he carried. "I sent them back. They wanted to wait for you both, but I convinced them that we should leave before our involvement was discovered." She nodded, and he turned away, preparing for the aftermath of her refusal. "I waited for you…" It seemed to have so many meanings.
She moved to him, touching his arm lightly. "Fiyero, surely you can understand."
He turned to look at her accusingly. "Understand? What am I supposed to understand? That you refused my proposal? That you won't marry me? I can't." He huffed sadly, leaning his head back to stare at the sky. "I want to be mad at you, but I just can't be. You can't help who you are. You were right. I just can't hold you." He fingered the end of the rope that had held the balloon. "You're free now."
She took the rope from his hands, replacing it with her own. "I have always been free, and I want to be with you."
"But you won't marry me." At her silence, he nodded sadly. "So you don't love me?"
Fighting the urge to shake him in his self-indulgent misery, she sighed. "Fiyero, you know that's not true."
"How? How do I know that's true?"
She forced him to look at her. "You know how. You've always known, even when I didn't. Do you really need a silly ring to prove what you already know is true?"
He broke away. Eyes watching the clouds where the balloon had disappeared, he was silent a long time before he spoke. "I suppose not. I'd rather have you any way you'll let me than not at all." He sighed, and she was transported to that day when she'd first broken his heart. The years faded as she saw the same betrayal of pain in his eyes.
He interrupted her melancholy nostalgia. "Are you still angry with me?"
She shook her head, the words made gentler by her hand on his back, "What were you thinking, in front of everyone like that?"
Still he watched the sky, as if for divine revelation. "I'm brainless, you know that." She huffed in disagreement, and at her look, he gave the real answer. "I just couldn't wait anymore. I've always known you were just so much greater than I am. But then I thought maybe with the Wizard gone, and without being hunted, you could go back to living a real life. That we could settle down, maybe raise a family, and grow old together. But you can't, can you? That's what you tried to tell me when you met me."
"Fiyero, I have a real life, with you. I plan to keep it that way."
"You care too much." It was not an accusation, just a statement. "You always will, and that means you'll never be still. I would follow you anywhere, you know that, into eternity and back. I may be with you, but you're still not really mine." He met her eyes, so filled with love that it almost crowded out the sadness. He cupped her cheek, "You belong to the winds of change. You're too perfect to belong to one person. You belong to the world," he ended bitterly, "but they'll never love you like I will."
"Fiyero..." she started, searching for the words to explain.
"You and your freedom." He closed his eyes, and she moved beside him. Resolved, he stated simply, "Fine. I'll learn to live with it." He'd always put her first, always would. "I just can't live without you."
"I'm not leaving," she said softly. Nothing was changing. There was no need for this.
He met her eyes. "But you're not staying." At her silence, he hung his head, defeated. Suddenly it was all so clear.
He'd always told her then that he'd never leave her, and she hadn't believed him. Now she knew it to be fact. All the proof he'd given her rushed through her memory, times she'd broken his heart, times she'd fled, times she'd pushed as hard as she could, and yet he was always there, waiting. His words from then echoed like silent phantoms in the air.
She had never understood him. Visions rushed in her mind of the times he'd risked his life for her, protected her, loved her endlessly, forgiven her without being asked, found beauty in her that even she didn't believe existed. And how had she repaid him? She'd left no good deed unpunished. Her love was nothing but heartache. She remembered his face when she'd been shot, when she'd left, when she'd pushed him away again and again. She didn't deserve him. She never had.
Two guards walked by, luckily not looking in their direction. "It's not safe here. We should leave." He sighed, "You ready to go?"
With another deeper meaning, she took his hand, and softly kissed his fingers. "Yes." It was time.
It had been nearly five years since Glinda had assumed control of the throne. She had tried to give Elphaba rule, but a firm refusal was the only answer. "A wicked witch is not a good leader," she had said. Glinda had argued, but Elphaba would not be swayed. "I have enough mistakes on my conscience. It's up to you. Besides, you were always the goodly one. You'll do fine."
Elphaba had been absolved, and with her name cleared, she now walked the street scowling at those who gawked at her. Amnesty may have guaranteed her freedom, but it did not erase the years of propaganda as everyone feared the fierce witch who'd challenged the wizard. She glared at the guards, but for love of Glinda, she restrained her itch for vengeance.
Elphaba's "submission" had been credited to the sweet persuasion of Glinda the Good, champion of Oz, to whom no one could resist. Her friend had tried to set the record straight, but Elphaba embraced the story, as in many ways it was true. Having been separated so long, the two were rarely apart for long now. Oz had been very confused by the relationship at first, but she knew the blind adoration in Glinda would eventually lead them to embrace it as another testimony to the blonde's perfection, even in forgiveness and rehabilitation.
The Animals had been restored their rights, and as the survivors crept back toward Oz, they re-taught the caged Animals their lost speech patiently, undoing the damage of so many years of oppression. It still pained Elphaba to see how few had survived and how many had suffered.
With Mercus's help, she had founded a university specializing in their reeducation and rehabilitation with a strong outreach into the community with the message of tolerance. The older Animals remembered her sacrifices for them, and she was well-recognized among them as their champion and savior, a position that she was wholly uncomfortable with. She actually preferred the restrained scorn of the others to the unreserved adoration in their company.
The first couple years after the overthrow had been difficult for Elphaba, and even now she found herself restless, impatient with her relatively normal life now. Perhaps Fiyero had been right. Maybe it was just impossible for her to be still. She just itched for a chance to make a difference again. Yet, her relatively mundane life was a fair trade for the peace that had started to settle on the land. She learned to use a chisel instead of a bulldozer, trying to graft patience onto her restless spirit despite its seeming impossibility.
Boq and Nessa continued to bicker, but it seemed her sister had learned the dangers of self-importance and refusing to hear other opinions after the tornado. Well, after Boq reminded her that she'd ordered the others to stop and explain, which certainly would have killed them all had they not ignored her. The munchkins were prospering under her leadership now, and she had actually shown herself quite the intelligent governor.
Oz was healing. It was neither sudden nor perfect, but it was recovering. Each day brought a little more peace, a little more acceptance, another step toward a brighter future. There was hope again.
Elphaba paused as her eyes fell on the spot in the courtyard where she had been shot, drawn there as they often were when she walked past it. How much had died in the cleansing? How much had been sacrificed for that hope?
The group had gathered there on the anniversary of Oz's liberation, Nessa and Boq already pregnant with their first child. Celebration had never come easily to her, but she went anyway. She remembered her hard-taught lessons, holding fast to the friends that had proved themselves in blood and tears. Freedom might come at a price, but it was well worth even its steep cost.
Fiyero stood nervously at the altar, smiling as arguably the most beautiful bride in the history of Oz walked down the aisle. He grinned at her, and Mercus punched him in the arm. "She's gorgeous, isn't she?" He had to agree.
Fiyero fingered the ring anxiously. What a beautiful, life-changing moment. He loved weddings - the celebration of love and commitment of the future. Love. The memory of Elphaba swam in every corner of his mind: beautiful, perfect, untameable. He still missed her so much.
All Oz watched the union of such famed celebrities, cheering at the first kiss of husband and wife. Fiyero grinned at the crowd, knowing their celebration to be sincere. The bride and groom recessed to the loud cheers of the public, with flowers and confetti tossed in ample supply at their feet.
They were soon at the reception, and as best man, Fiyero toasted the couple, grinning at how happy Glinda and Mercus made each other. He began with the customary praise of his friends, recognition of their obvious perfection for each other, and hope for the future. But it was the end of his toast that brought a tear to his eye. "To love. To life as one. To tomorrow in each other's arms. Love belongs with love."
They drank to love, and he felt a tear in his eye, sentimental after all these years. He hugged both his old friends, and Glinda slapped him lightly on the arm. "Fiyero! You made me cry! Didn't you even think about my makeup at all?" He laughed, hugging her again. "Really, it was beautiful."
"Then it fits you. You look so beautiful, as always." She beamed at him, thoroughly charmed, and Mercus slid his arm around his new wife's waist.
"Hey, now. None of that," he teased. "Go flirt with someone else's wife." They excused themselves to dance, and Fiyero watched them with a sentimental smile.
The pretty bridesmaid he'd escorted walked up to him, kissing him soundly. "Isn't she beautiful?"
"No more than you, my wife."
"Only you think so my love. Why are you smiling? What mischief have you gotten up to?"
"Nothing yet. Just remembering you. How long ago?"
She kissed him again. "A drop compared to how much longer."
They watched their son play with Nessa and Boq's twins, and Fiyero smiled at his beautiful daughter dancing strangely in the middle of the floor. So like her mother.
"I missed you."
"It's only been a few minutes."
"I know! Fifteen minutes of pure torture." She chuckled, and he kissed her softly. "My Fae." The only woman he had ever loved.