With thanks to LadyShada and Hatman, who read various drafts and pieces of this over the last few months.
When she is feeling particularly irrational (or, perhaps, particularly self-loathing), she allows herself to imagine what it might be like. Allows herself to admit that she wants to imagine it. Allows herself to admit that she wants him.
Allows herself to imagine, just for a moment, that that look in his eyes, the one he wears for Galinda, the careless, easy affection and acceptance, could be for her. That a man-- this man-- could find her worthy, and beautiful, and desirable. That one person in the whole wide world-- this man-- might find her lovable. No one ever has.
As a child she dreamed of finding that acceptance, that thoughtless inclusion, from her family. Her daydreams had been like those of a child in an orphanage. I don't belong here. Someone out there is looking for me. It was all a mistake; they love me so much, they would never want to lose me this way. In her darkest, most shameful dreams, she'd imagined that Frex and Melena were not her real parents at all. That she'd been kidnapped, lost in a storm, carried off by wolves, anything. And somewhere out there was a place she belonged, people who would care for her.
When she grew older she set aside those dreams, having known all along they weren't real. The other girls her age had by then begun to buzz about the boys in their class at the Nest Hardings village school. Which was the most muscular, most attractive, most wealthy? And there were girls who disdained the whole lot of local boys, determined to meet some wealthy, exotic Gillikin landowner or Emerald City businessman, to be swept off their feet and away into the great wide glamorous world.
Elphaba had known enough of the local boys to know they were a cruel and closed-minded bunch, but she eavesdropped wistfully when the girls speculated about mysterious, handsome strangers. Perhaps she'd find acceptance that way. Perhaps men from the Emerald City were not so small-minded as Munchkins. Perhaps one-- just one!-- might look beyond the horror of her skin to the beauty of her heart inside? Surely, in all the great wide world, there had to exist one man who could love her.
But the truth was that handsome strangers did not often appear in Nest Hardings, let alone open-minded ones, and her imaginary savior did not materialize. She'd always known he was a figment of her desperation, her vulnerability. She regretted having ever invented him and all the false hope he offered.
So she set aside that dream, as she had the dream of a family before that. She tells herself she does not need anyone. That isn't the sort of person she is. Galinda might want a boyfriend, but Elphaba isn't Galinda. Isn't anything like her.
But some nights, she can admit to herself that she is. That deep beneath the armor and denial she has built up around herself, she desperately, desperately wants someone to want her. Just one person. Just one, in the whole wide world.
So she tries to imagine it. Tries to imagine him looking at her with a smile, tries to imagine his hand on her cheek. A careless gesture, one she has seen a hundred times, and yet no one has ever touched her like that. No one has ever touched her and wanted to.
He would be gentle, she decides, because he would know this was all new to her and she would need a minute to take it in. There would be just a hint of mischief in his eyes, a slight quirk of his lips, because he is a playful man, but that spark would fade as he looked at her, replaced by a different emotion, a warmer flame. His thumbs would brush over her lips and she would shiver, fear and longing and simple disbelief, and then his fingers would curl under her chin and tilt her face up to his. And then he would kiss her, and her eyes would fall shut, and the sweet shock of the contact, simple and chaste as it is, would send her reeling.
It would be a simple kiss, the slightest brush of his mouth over hers, because he would know she could not handle anything more right away. No one has ever kissed her. Ever, on any part of her. Her lips have burned with wanting it-- they are burning even now as she imagines it-- but it has never happened. He would pull away and press his lips to her cheek instead, to her closed eyelid, to the curve of her brow, and she would gasp with the utterly foreign sensation of it.
The imagery, the touch is so clear in her imagination that she wants to cry, because she wants it so very badly. So much more than she likes to admit, so much that she aches with it, desperate longing pain at the soles of her feet and the backs of her eyelids.
If she is having a particularly bad night she imagines other things, too. Imagines conversations with him, declarations of love, shared secrets, secret smiles. Imagines walking through Shiz with him, hands clasped, palm to palm, fingers entwined. Imagines catching him watching her when he thinks she isn't looking, with an expression of longing or adoration on his face. Imagines a multitude of kisses, both chaste and passionate, in a multitude of settings. Imagines what it might feel like to be wanted, the glow of his gaze and his approval like a cloak on her body, imagines what it must be like to pick an outfit and know he was going to find her desirable in it. Imagines having the confidence to tease him, just a little, to play hard to get without fear he'll call her bluff and walk away.
She imagines letting him make love to her, large hands warm on her body, her skin flushed dark. Imagines ever trusting anyone that much.
She conjures image after image, almost savagely, until she does begin to cry, hot silent tears in her pillow. Because each of these dreams is so real to her, and so infinitely precious, and that is all they will ever be.
Because to walk with him hand in hand would mean that he didn't mind touching the weird green of her palm. To kiss him would mean he wasn't repulsed by the darker shade of her lips, the more delicate jade of her cheeks. To make love with him would mean he could look past every sickly emerald inch of her, would mean exposing herself completely and trusting him to want her anyway. And she loves him-- Oz, how pathetic it feels to use that word-- but she does not believe he could ever do that. Who could? It does not make her want him less, love him less. It does not lower her opinion of him. It is not a fault of his. How could anyone be expected to accept what she is?
No, the fault is hers, and it always will be. She knows that much, and most days she can even accept it. When she was a child she tried to scrub the green away, as if it were only skin deep, as if she could slough it off as a snake sheds its skin. Nanny found her near hysterical, sobbing, gathering great handfuls of sand and scouring away, both arms rubbed raw and bleeding. She hadn't realized, then, that she was green through and through, down to the bone, to the soul, that she would never be able to peel back enough layers to be rid of it.
But she knows it now. She is what she is. Fiyero, beautiful beloved man that he is, is still only human. It isn't his fault.
So she curls into the pillow, closes her eyes, and tries not to dream of things that will only break her heart.