notes: Now apparently I am incapable of writing non-fluff. Argh.
"I should say you look silly," she said... "I should say you'll look back on this summer and cringe. She may be lovely, Boq – no, she is lovely, I agree – but you're worth a dozen of her." At his shocked expression she threw up her hands. "Not to me! I don't mean me! Please, that stricken look! Spare me!"
But he wasn't sure if he believed her.
(Wicked, pg 127)
When Boq climbed carefully over the roof of the stable, he was unsurprised to see Elphaba in the garden beyond, looking like something that might have sprouted there herself. She strolled barefoot between the rows of picked-over vegetables, her dark hair tied back loosely for convenience rather than fashion, a wicker basket balanced against one hip. He was surprised – but pleased – to see the ladder leaning once more against the roof. Instead of being forced to drop the imposing distance to the ground, he clambered down in relative safety, stopping a few rungs from the bottom and turning to watch Elphie from this unexpected perch. "I would have thought there would be more precautions taken against letting strangers visit here again."
"Careless servants," Elphaba suggested, bowing to check the ripeness of a reddening tomato: aware of his presence, she hadn't yet spared a glance for him. "The last one to use the ladder must not have been terribly impressed by your potential to threaten the virtue of the young ladies at Crage Hall. Aren't you disappointed at losing the chance to demonstrate your acrobatics again?"
"I'm devastated, of course. I don't like to go a day without falling off of something. It's unfulfilling."
"And to think, if you had only given me a few days' notice, I might have been able to convince Galinda to let me drag her here with me."
An unfamiliar note had crept into her voice, and instead of shooting back a flippant response, Boq said, "You are the one I came here to talk to."
Straightening up, Elphaba finally met his eyes. "Tell me, then: if your whole world is absent, where does that leave you?"
He avoided rising to the bait. Arguing with Elphaba was rarely worth it, he had found, and the last thing he wanted now was to offend her again. "I don't know how to answer that. I really have no aptitude for philosophy."
"No, you do not," she said simply.
That ended that, or so it seemed – Boq was less certain now of what had ended than he had been when it began. He waited to see if she would ask him to leave, or if she would make an escape herself the way she had earlier, to his distress. Seeing the usually tightly-reined Elphaba so flustered had been disquieting, to say the least. But she went on working, and he went on watching her. "I thought you had stopped helping in the kitchens since we took up Dr. Dillamond's research."
"Only officially. I enjoy getting my hands dirty now and then."
So she was finished scolding him. Boq leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. "Do you feel a kinship with the greenery?"
"Yes; the vegetables and I are at one. Since I speak their language, I can whisper them up from the ground more ably than any ordinary human gardener, and instruct them to send their roots twice as deep."
Boq sometimes found himself half-believing her nonsense, caught up for the moment in the tale she was spinning. If he could coax plants into growing, the kitchen gardens back home would not be so barren, and no one would ever have to go hungry. "Perhaps you could come back to Munchkinland after graduation and teach the rest of us ordinary humans your secret."
"Perhaps it's a secret I keep for my vegetable brethren, and don't intend to share."
"Not even with a friend, Elphie?"
"Hm." Kneeling in the dirt without much care for the cleanliness of her dress, Elphaba tossed a few more tomatoes into the basket. "Are you going away now, or are you going to help me and do credit to your chosen trade?"
It was as close to an invitation as he might ever get. Hiding a smile, he slid the last few feet to the ground and joined her.
On his knees in the midst of a well-tended garden, breathing the rich smell of sun-warmed damp soil, he relaxed at once into a quiet sense of peace he found nowhere else. Elphaba seemed to feel it too, at least in part. Whenever he glimpsed the green of her skin amongst the green of the leaves, it was hard to tell immediately where human being ended and vegetation began. His initial impression of her belonging among the growing things may not have been far off.
They made their way to the small plot of herbs, working in companionable silence.
"I wasn't quite as stricken as you thought, before, you know," he chanced after a moment. When she went on plucking sprigs of rosemary, her expression unchanging, he guessed the subject was safe. "Just surprised by what you said. I wouldn't assume you were that fond of me."
"Now what do you mean by that?" She sat up, hands on her lap, eyebrows raised in amusement. "If you are bold enough to make assumptions about Galinda's feelings, then why not mine?"
"I am not, I don't. It's more that – well, you've heard her reasons for and against refusing to consider me as a suitor, though I wish you hadn't, and they're not quite as – I'd say they're more…"
"They are less based on merit and more on background than I would prefer in the name of fairness," he decided. "But I believe that your judgment would cut a bit deeper and probably reflect more unfavorably upon my character, if you'll excuse my saying so. To be honest, I often feel you must consider me something of a nuisance."
"It is a nuisance to know that a conversation with you will lead inevitably to a discussion of my roommate's ethereal beauty." At her sudden sharp tone, Boq accidentally pulled a basil plant up from the soil, roots and all, but kept silent. "As riveting as it was the first time through, the subject becomes tiresome after two or three or thirty more occurrences."
"I do see your point," he said with as much dignity as he could muster.
"But no, you are not a nuisance to me, not in the least. Do you really think I would bother with anyone I didn't have any fondness for?" She turned away from him, reaching pointlessly toward the herbs they had already gathered enough of, tugging at the leaves as if distracted. "It's not something I'm practiced at, and I may not always speak or behave the way I ought, but I would have you know that I am grateful for your friendship and for your acceptance of mine."
Boq sat back on his heels and stared, glad that she was still looking away. Her habitual frankness made such a simple statement into something almost overwhelmingly honest, stripped of the layers of affectation in which conventional interactions were shrouded. Not for the first time he was struck by that difference between talk with Elphaba and talk with Galinda: there was no prattle or pretense, no mystery here. Elphaba wouldn't bother to say what she didn't mean; therefore what she did say could be taken to heart, for better or worse. "That means a lot," he said when he could speak. "Thank you. And same here, of course."
It was getting cooler in the growing shade as the sun sank lower, but a lush, earthy scent continued to rise from the harvested food filling the basket between them. Still avoiding his eyes, Elphaba brushed a few loose strands of hair from her face with the heel of her hand, leaving a faint smudge of dirt across her cheek.
Before he could collect himself enough to point it out to her, she said, "I suppose I could share my secret with you."
Her tone had slipped back into their usual lively teasing. It should have been a relief, but he was strangely disappointed. "Is that so? Does that mean you will come back to Munchkinland with me in a year or two?"
"I may visit, if events conspire to allow it. And if you think you won't be too busy to entertain an old school friend."
"If I'm that busy, I may simply invite you to join me in the fields, since you are so fond of getting your hands dirty."
They shared a grin. Elphaba stood up, carelessly brushing the worst of the dirt from her dress. Before she could bend down after it, he leapt to his feet and handed her the basket. She accepted it with a smirk. "I'm not Galinda, you know."
"I noticed that a while back," he agreed. But such a light answer was insufficient, he felt, in the wake of her offering of honesty. Hesitating only long enough to take a breath, he added, "I must admit that I don't know if I would have enjoyed this evening half as much if I had met her here instead."
Her manner grew more guarded, though the searching look she gave him was not entirely devoid of warmth. "Well," she said briskly, turning to go. "You should leave, before you're found out again and accused of kidnapping or some other devilry."
Taken aback by the sudden dismissal, he started toward the ladder. When he reached the top of the stable roof, he paused once more. "Who was the last one to use this ladder, by the way?"
Elphaba tossed her head and laughed, inelegant but compelling all the same, as was her way. "I will see you tomorrow, Boq," she called over her shoulder without looking back, grinning, and headed toward the entrance to the kitchens, the basket once again balanced effortlessly against her hip. He stayed put, his grin mirroring hers, watching her go until the door closed behind her. Even then he kept on watching where she had been for longer than he meant to do before finally heading back, in good spirits, wondering at the both of them.