"And, like an idea she came to me / But she came too late / Or maybe, too soon." -Ani Difranco, She Says
A/N: The only possible way I could have made this story any sadder would be if I gave Glinda a loyal pet border collie named Fido and then ran him over with a car in the second-to-last paragraph. I meant for this to be cheerful and then something went terribly, terribly wrong. Bookverse. (Very) strong language, I considered rating this M but decided against it.
It was probably a result of all the Gilikinese poetry I'd been reading lately, but I swear that the rain sizzled as it hit the cobblestones. I glared at the water swirling down the gutter and gripped the umbrella tighter.
"My mind has finally snapped." I said to nobody in particular. "I am insane."
Because, honestly, why else would I be in downtown Shiz in the middle of a downpour?
You are here because it's Glinda's birthday tomorrow. A voice in the back of my brain responded. And you wanted to get her something nice. It sounded suspiciously like Boq.
A Munchinkinlander shoved me to the side and tried to pass under the awning that was protecting me from a painful death. I briefly fantasized about setting him on fire and smirked to myself. But the guilt rushed in and my smirk morphed into a pensive frown.
It's not as if Glinda asked me for a present. Oz, she didn't even make a fuss about her birthday. But it was still all her fault. If her eyes weren't so deep a blue, if she didn't look so damned vulnerable when she fell asleep over her sorcery textbook, if she sounded like anyone but herself when she was too tired to monitor her speech, I would be safe and warm and finished with Lero's commentary on the Oziad by now.
If she didn't wake up screaming after Ama Clutch fell ill. If you hadn't caught her crying. If-
I emptied my mind, filled my lungs, and stepped into the rain.
The only thing louder than my heartbeat was the sound of the water pounding against the umbrella. Bodies pressed close to me in the street-too close, if they touched me-water splashed because of a cart wheel, missed me-and I was on the other side of the street, safe.
I didn't even bother folding my umbrella once I stepped inside the boutique. Racks upon racks of beautiful, pastel-colored dresses covered the floor. Jewelry dipped over counters, glinting silver and yellow in the lamplight. A whole wall devoted to shoes. I felt like a Carp commanded to pick out a nice pair of wings. I didn't understand what was fashionable, what wasn't. It all looked like everything else she had. I was running on the vague hope that something pink would scream her name and I would buy it for her. Nothing happened. It all just glimmered, like so much costume jewelry.
I held my umbrella and considered buying something anyway-the necklaces were safe, definitely, especially those heart-shaped ones over there-but I couldn't force myself to do it. If I was going to nearly die for a present then I sure as hell wasn't going to do it over a gaudy little piece of metal. It was going to be for something unique.
I paused outside of the store. I wanted to give her something that would-would make her happy.
"Nuttier than Crope and Tibbett put together." I said, and turned left for no particular reason.
I ducked into a shop more because the downpour increased and my terror was beginning to choke me than for any attractiveness in the shop design. It was deep green-darker than me-and the interior was too dark to see through the window.
The store was cramped, warm, and smelled of mold. In the darkness there were smatterings of color, glinting of light off of surfaces on both shelf and ceiling. I slowly closed my umbrella and placed it by the door. Glass, everywhere. Beautiful sculptures, decorative silverware, arcs and mythical creatures and flowers and faces.
My throat tightened at the memory of broken English and two deft hands. Turtle Heart would have—
"I can be of helping?" A woman asked.
I jumped at the Quadling's voice, almost knocking over a small table with my umbrella. "I'm sorry." I gasped.
She grinned. Her smile had a feral quality to it. "You were not of bad intent. You are looking for a gift, for someone close to you."
It wasn't a question, but I nodded anyways.
"I have much beautiful things, suitable for a beautiful woman." She said, and gestured. "Made myself. Ask for price."
I would have laughed if she weren't so unnerving. "I've never been called beautiful before."
"Was not referring to you. To your close one. Here, she be liking this? To be framed for wall." She moved from behind the counter and gently tugged on one of the glass plates hanging from the ceiling.
"Pleasure faither? Read my purpose in the rainwater dripping off my umbrella?" I edged around a table full of rippling light and deep colors. There was never a worse place for someone with gangly limbs and a heavy step like myself. Her hands were gnarled and cracked, fingertips barely brushing the bottom of the glass. I plucked it out of her grasp and stared at the surface of the glass. Rippled like a windswept lake, tinted blue. Swirls of pink inside the surface formed the delicate tendrils of a flower.
She cackled. Her teeth were perfectly straight and white, which was somehow more unnerving than a gaping maw would have been. "Not all things are to simply being classified. I read in your stance, face. Thoughts reflect out through eyes."
"This isn't it." I said, and let the plate drop. It twisted, suspended on it's thin blue cord. I scanned the table closest to me. A lot of horses, even more flowers. Abstract towers, reaching for a sky they were too tiny to touch. I fought the urge to run my finger over a dark green one.
"Tell me of her."
"She's..." I knelt closer to examine one of the towers, spiraling tendrils of glass too delicate to rightly exist, "...nice." Something in my chest clenched, a memory of her, flushed in the candlelight, bending over a textbook, curves soft in the half-darkness of the room. I swallowed. All the things I normally would have said—twice as smart as she chooses to act, which isn't saying much—completely absorbed with her appearance—obnoxiously cheerful and talkative—died in my throat. "She's fighting a lifetime of coddling without knowing how or why. She's trying to—to unbury herself from all the makeup and expectations that have been thrown on her, and it's harder than anything she's ever had to do in her whole life and she isn't even entirely aware that she's doing it. Or if she really wants to. I think she's terrified of what she may find once all the glitter is stripped away, but she shouldn't be, what I can see is beautiful and smart and good and—her eyes—they're this deep shade of blue..."
The Quadling woman looked at me, face drawn. Kneeling on the floor, she was at my eye level. I had seen the expression before, on other people's faces. Pity for the green girl and the crippled sister. Idiotic, to babble on like that, especially to someone so obviously perceptive. Oz knows what meanings she found in my little monologue. I stood and whirled around so I wouldn't have to face it.
She called at my back and despite myself, I turned.
"You be giving this to your special one." She said, and her voice was rough. "And may all the powers that be help you both."
Glinda was staring at the rain, trying to keep her heart from beating up her throat and out of her body altogether. Her mind was stuck on an endless cycle, starting with, Where did she go? jumping to several images of Elphaba, dead, floating in a drainage ditch or the side of the road or the Shiz campus, to Don't be an idiot, Glinda, she's fine, she's Elphaba, then back to But where is she?
The key rattled in the lock and Glinda screeched despite herself. Elphaba, powerful wonderful Elphaba, stepped inside and Glinda tackled her as soon as she shut the door.
Glinda said something out loud, along the lines of Where were you worried sick thank Oz you're alright. Or tried to, but it came out as a garbled "Mffdm" against the front of Elphaba's dress.
"I can't breathe, my sweet." Elphaba said quietly, and Glinda shivered at her tone and the feeling of her heartbeat thudding, fast, against Glinda's ear. Elphaba encircled her with an arm, squeezed tightly, then let go. Glinda stepped away and swallowed against the sudden ache behind her ribcage. Glinda tried not to think of it directly—she imagined the sensation as a precipice, a part of her mind left dark and unexplored that ran underneath and behind her consciousness. It was no more than a feeling, a mood that gripped her with increasing regularity, and it was starting to terrify her.
"What time is it?" Elphie asked. The abruptness of the question and the lightness of her tone shocked Glinda out of—whatever it was.
"Past midnight, surely." Glinda murmured. Elphaba hung her coat in the closet. "You're not hurt?"
"Psychological damage, probably, but physically unharmed—that is to say, I am in no danger of death or becoming an invalid. I've decided that we should be much kinder to that umbrella in the future. But, don't worry about me." Elphaba turned around, holding a small bag in her outstretched hands. Her mouth was quirked into a small smile and Glinda felt like she had been kicked in the stomach. "Happy Birthday, Glinda."
She couldn't help the gasp, or the way her hands instinctively went to cover her mouth. "Oh, Elphie." She whispered, and stepped closer to the woman. It was too hot in the dorm. She was suffocating, and Elphie's smile was making it worse. She took the bag without breathing—were her hands shaking, and did Elphaba notice?-and fumbled around inside, focusing on the feeling of paper under her fingertips instead of—whatever it was. Something glinted, dark, at the bottom of the bag. It was cool and heavy against her palm.
It was a deep blue drop of glass, shaped like a teardrop, edged and backed with silver stylized to resemble vines and miniature flowers. Sterling silver, Glinda could tell that much. Within the dark glass at the center of the amulet glinted flecks of pink, yellow, green, red, lavender. The colors shone in the light like so many tropical fish in a deep lagoon, and the metal glowed. She might have whispered "Oh, Elphie," again, because the taller woman gently turned over the pendant in Glinda's palm.
"This emblem on the back," Elphaba murmured—it might have been wishful thinking, but Glinda thought her voice sounded hoarser than usual, "is a rune from Quadling country." Embossed on the back of the amulet was a stylized figure eight, as if a circle had been twisted upon itself. "It means the joining of two people—woven together by Fate, through eternity." She cleared her throat. "Just folklore, but it was beautiful enough."
Glinda looked up as she trailed off. Elphaba's eyes were dark, the usual mahogany nothing more than an edge to the blackness in the center of her eyes. Her lips, her beautiful deep green plush lips, were parted and Glinda, in a moment of dizziness and sudden, gut-wrenching clarity, realized that she wanted nothing more than to press her own against them.
She didn't, of course. It wouldn't have been proper.
Lady Chuffrey would remember the warmth of the dorm, the flecks of mica in Elphaba's wide eyes, long after her wedding night. There were long nights of hissing rain and cold sheets when she would stare into the candle flame and pretend. Glinda leaned forward—
Elphaba gasped, accidentally deepening the kiss, and Glinda melted in an explosion of heat and electricity. She—or whatever otherworldly being she had became in that moment, since she certainly didn't feel anything like the terrified Gilikenese schoolgirl of just an hour ago—moved her lips against Elphaba's. And Elphie, wonderful powerful Elphie, caught her mouth with her own and gently ran her tongue over Glinda's lip. She heard a sound, a groan. She wondered—she thought—that it had come from her throat, then Elphaba wrapped her fingers through Glinda's curls, and everything except for the feeling of Elphaba was gone.
But the flame would burn down, and Elphaba would still be dead.
It had never been an easy fuck that she wanted from Elphaba, Glinda explained once to Crope. She had been thoroughly drunk at the time, and later she would thank whatever higher powers existed that it had been Crope she had rambled too, and not one of her society "friends." Oz, had she wanted a fuck, she went on, Crope's face a mixture of pity and unease. But it wasn't just that. She wanted to whisper silly platitudes into Elphaba's hair whenever her bastard father sent her letters or the other girls whispered something brutal about her. Glinda wanted to listen to Elphaba rant about Animals or politics or theology or nothing at all and understand every word that fell out of her mouth and every thought behind them, and to say something wise and insightful back and make Elphaba stop, and go "Clever, I didn't think of that." She wanted to somehow, sometime, convince Elphaba of just how beautiful she was (and she was very, very beautiful) whether it took copious amounts of sex or hours of studying the mirror properly. ("Look at how your cheekbones arch, here, and how they compliment the corner of your jaw, there. It's not traditional, but it's exotic and it's beautiful, Elphie. Just in a different way.") Glinda wanted to stroke her hair and lull her to sleep with songs from her childhood on the nights when thunderstorms raged—Elphie was actually scared of thunderstorms, did Crope know?
"I had this silly daydream." The Lady Chuffrey half-shouted. She paused, and giggled, as if the next thought were the punchline to a lewd pun. "I would wake up and be in a small, airy little room with a double bed. And I would walk though a bunch of poor—but cheerful—rooms—and go to the kitchen—our kitchen—and see Elphie there, frying eggs over a hideous gas stove. And she would have her hair tied back and a few wisps that would get in her face, and there would be crinkles at the corners of her eyes, and she would be wearing a white cotton blouse and a loose skirt. And she would say 'Morning, Glin' to me and I would say 'I love you' back and she would laugh and lean across the table to kiss me and later we would go out into the Emerald City together and nobody would stare. Her off to a job at a newspaper, and me to the site of some new building with the plans that I revised for the umpteenth time the night before." Glinda the Good laughed, or tried to, except it came out more as a sob. "Utterly ridiculous, of course. I had it planned out down to the shade of green of the cobblestones."
"I don't think it's silly at all." Crope had said, and then, "You've had too much to drink, Glinda."
Crope had offered to marry her, once upon a time. In name only, of course. We could work out a perfectly good arrangement for the both of us, Glinda, and nobody would be the wiser. But it simply wouldn't do. If Glinda was going to sell her soul, she wanted a damn pretty castle in return. Maybe even two.
Glinda the Good pushed herself off her bed, out of her reverie, and ripped open a drawer of her jewelry bureau. She scrabbled at the back until she touched a worn, crinkled bag, tore the pendant free, and stripped herself of her elaborate nightgown in a single, violent movement. The Lady managed to clasp the necklace even though her hands were trembling. She held the candle up to the mirror, and stared balefully at her reflection.
Her hair was mussed, her eyes were thick, thick, blue, and her lips were pale and bare. She was completely naked except for the amulet, a cool drop of might-have-beens between her breasts. With the trappings of wealth gone, the makeup washed away, and the dim lighting obscuring most of the wrinkles and the canopy bed behind her, it was almost possible to pretend that she was eighteen years old and in a college dorm.
Glinda wasn't sure what she wanted to prove, exactly. Still herself, after all these years? Hardly. A part of her had been ripped from her chest the day Elphaba left and a much bigger portion had died along with her.
Perhaps I just want to know that the makeup can come off. Glinda thought. She couldn't keep thinking like this, acting like this, keep hoping for a cloaked shape at her windowpane.
She gripped the necklace so tightly that one of the vines cut the heel of her thumb, and shut her eyes.
"But it's been raining buckets, Elphaba! How did—you bought it now?"
"I would have earlier, if you had told me your birthdate before. Why didn't you?"
"I didn't want a fuss. Oh, Elphie, you didn't have to."
"I've become—very fond of you, my sweet. And besides, it was a selfish gesture. No so-called 'good' deed is ever done with completely pure intentions. It will serve as a reminder of me, wherever you are. I know how loathe you are to throw out jewelry."
"Oh, Elphaba. I won't need a reminder, I'll have the real thing. We'll always be together in one way or another, won't we?"
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