"To be silent and consumed by fire is the worst punishment on earth." - Federico Garcia Lorca

"I love you."

It was ironic that it had been on the day of her 'death' that those words had been breathed into her ear; for Elphaba knew that they were words which would haunt her until the day that she truly died- they were the words which had changed everything.

It had been Glinda who had spoken the words, of course; to Elphaba it had always been Glinda.

She could recall now the first moment in which her eyes had met Glinda's, during that initial, integral day at Shiz. Though they had looked upon one another with utmost loathing, Elphaba had found herself inexplicably possessed by a sensation more monumentous than anything she had ever previously anticipated. It had been unidentifiable at first, yet this feeling had been nonetheless intense; an irrepressible burning sensation in the centre of her chest and in the folds of her mind, which had steadily grown until it consumed her every being- until it had become impossible to breathe or think. Remaining still whilst her skin had burned and her lungs had thickened with smoke had, Elphaba had found, been the most difficult feat imaginable. And yet, she had managed it. She had concealed her love for Glinda whilst living in the same room as her for four long months; she had travelled to the Emerald City with her and shared a bed with her for five unbearable nights. And she had placed her lips to Glinda's for six painful seconds before bidding her goodbye and taking off into the sky.

And yet, when she and Fiyero had first fled away together, she had- for the first time in her life- felt wanted; needed. Having prior to this been host to feelings of unbearable loneliness; the knowledge that she was needed had provided a temptation too great to repress. Now, the thought of it made her sick- had she not learned anything of the value of independence during her years of solitude?- but she had wanted somebody to take care of her, to diminish the strain of constantly running. Throughout her life, Elphaba had grown accustomed to feeling lonely; it was not a sensation which surprised or grieved her any longer. But it had been Glinda who had changed this; Glinda who had shown her that she didn't need to feel lonely; Glinda who had allowed her to see what it was like to have somebody who cared about her- somebody who loved her, perhaps? For Elphaba did feel that even if Glinda had never loved her, she had loved her. As a roommate, as a companion, as a friend. Was that all Glinda had meant, when she had spoken those words the moment before they had parted? I love you. Had she meant simply that she loved Elphaba in the way that one friend might love another? Had the tears in her eyes and her choked tone as she had said I love you simply been symptoms of distress at the thought of losing a dear friend potentially forever? Was it merely a figment of Elphaba's imagination that these things were clues to the possibility that Glinda's love meant something more than mere friendship? Elphaba had not had time to question it. The girl had entered the house shortly after and she had been forced to disappear. Forced to leave Glinda forever- for there was no way that she could go back now. She would- she had to- keep Glinda safe. But whatever they might mean, those three words had reignited the fire within Elphaba had her time with Fiyero had dulled- and its flame now burned continuously, immutably.

The fact remained, however, that Fiyero loved her. Who was she to say no to love? It had been surprise more than anything which had caused Elphaba to allow him to accompany her away that day- it seemed so long ago now- in which he had proclaimed that he was coming with her. But still, she had hesitated, wary of leaving her friend- until Glinda had passed Elphaba her hat and encouraged her to leave. Unlike Fiyero, Glinda had not volunteered to go with her. So Elphaba had fled with Fiyero at her side, not yet knowing whether or not it was the right choice, but desperate to find out what might cause the Captain of the Gale Force to accompany an odd, persecuted, green woman as she fled from Oz's authorities.

And then later, as they had laid together in that forest, wrapped in one another's embrace, Fiyero had proclaimed that he loved her. At first, Elphaba had refused to believe it- she was unlovable, that much she knew for sure- she did not deserve to be loved. And particularly, she did not deserve love from a man so wholesome, so handsome as Fiyero. But then he had requested her permission to show her how much he loved her, and Elphaba had allowed him to do so. Her body had remained tense throughout the encounter, stiff as a board; she provided no instruction and very little movement. And yet Fiyero's face had been flushed with passion, his body lively with enthusiasm: he had looked down at her as though she was a creature of beauty; a creature of worth. He had not appeared to notice her lack of reciprocation. And so Elphaba had, against her better judgement, allowed him to remain there with her. What else was there for her to do? She could not send him back to the Wizard whom he had betrayed; allow him to be strung up, labelled as a traitor. And having somebody love her was better than having nobody love her at all, was it not? For Elphaba had no doubt that she would never achieve a relationship with anyone better than Fiyero- she never had before, and she should feel privileged now that he might choose her over somebody like Glinda who was flawless in every way.

Glinda. Elphaba felt a pang of regret, even allowing the name to pass through her mind. What if it had been Glinda who had left with her that day, rather than Fiyero? What if Glinda still really did love her, despite all that had happened?

I love you. As hard as she tried to force them from her mind, those words blazed to Elphaba's core; resonating within her. They had embraced for the final time, and then Glinda had whispered in her ear, I love you. Elphaba had frozen, shell-shocked, but then her attention had been met with the sound of clumpy footsteps- the girl, Dorothy, had arrived- and Elphaba had been forced to pull away from Glinda, to follow through with the plan which she and Fiyero had arranged meticulously. There had been no time to whisper to Glinda that she loved her too- and even if their time together had been limitless, Elphaba knew she would still have been hindered by fear. Fear that she might have misinterpreted the other woman's words, but equally fear of confessing something of such magnitude- something which had been a constant within her for so many years. And what if- and the thought made Elphaba's breath catch momentarily in her throat- what if telling Glinda I love you too had caused the other woman to drop everything she had gained in order to come away with her? Elphaba could not risk jeopardising Glinda's future in the way- Glinda was far too important; to her and to Oz. It was far better for all if Glinda remained behind, blissfully ignorant of the fact that Elphaba was still living.

She looked at Fiyero now; his straw body unanimated as he slept peacefully beside her; oblivious to her silent, unspoken thoughts. He was that way- made of straw- because of her, Elphaba knew; there was no way that she could abandon him now- not after he had sacrificed so much for her. She had to atone for the loss she had caused him, for the way in which she had personally dismantled his blithe, princely life. She could love him if she tried, Elphaba was sure. Fiyero was a good person; and he was in love with her- that in itself was something far greater than Elphaba could ever have imagined. Feeling dissatisfied now was the height of ungratefulness- there was no reason in Oz why she shouldn't be able to love him.

Perhaps one day, Elphaba thought, she might be able to bring herself to provide the reply he wanted so desperately to hear when he told her that he loved her- truthfully and without shame; perhaps she might be able to make love to him with the same gusto with which he did her. Perhaps one day she might be able to forget that things might have been different, had it been Glinda whom she had formulated her plan to leave Oz with.

Yet, despite these thoughts, burning, unforgiving tears pricked the corners of Elphaba's eyes as she focused her eyes upwards towards the velvet, night sky. The darkness was intercepted intermittently with brilliant, bright stars. Was Glinda looking up at these same stars now from her elaborate, emerald balcony- or was she tucked up- safe and happy- between her lavish, satin sheets? Elphaba's mind paused wistfully on the thought of Glinda's bed- how long had it been now since she, herself, had slept in a real bed? How different would circumstances had to have been in order for her to have been lying now, alongside Glinda, in the folds of that luxurious bed?

Mentally, Elphaba calculated that she and Fiyero must by now have flown close to halfway across the Vinkus- perhaps two or three days more, and they would be entering lands unknown, having left Oz entirely. Gone completely, never to return. Soon, Elphaba would be viewing an entirely different sky to the one she looked at now, and her choice to spend the remainder of her life with Fiyero would have become irrevocable. It was to be a marriage, almost- a new start with a single person from whom she intended never to part.

Elphaba glanced once more at the still, oblivious form of her partner. Was this all her life was to be from this point in- a stretch of time spent beside a man?

In a way which felt almost involuntary, Elphaba's left hand reached to the other side of her own body, and her fingers curled around the handle of her broomstick. She sat up; and her right hand moved to brush softly against a rough, fabric cheek.

"I'm sorry, Yero," she whispered, "Much as I'd like it to, this fire won't be stilled."

He gave a gentle sigh and rolled onto his side; giving the impression, almost, that he had understood her cryptic words through his subconscious. Was he, whilst sleeping, giving her actions his approval?

Elphaba hesitated, and then her fingers relaxed around her broomstick and it fell from her grip; she eased her body back onto the ground upon which they slept. She could not fool her mind into ignoring knowledge of the hurt which would consume Fiyero, should he wake up alone. It would not be just of her to ease her own pain by lending it to another. Undoubtedly, Elphaba had done many selfish things in her life, but abandoning Fiyero while he slept in order to bring Glinda back into the danger from which she was now safe would be the act to trump them all.

Heart searing with pain, Elphaba closed her eyes and attempted to force the image of Glinda as she had last seen her- extravagant sparkling dress, infinitely immaculate curls- from her mind. It was only Fiyero of whom she should think so dearly now; thoughts of Glinda would have to be restricted to reminiscing about the only friend she had ever had. Unleashing the fire now would be comparable to setting a city alight; impairing damage to everything close to her and scalding everyone in sight. Elphaba could not allow anyone else to become hurt on her behalf. She would live with her choice now, whatever that might entail. She would teach her heart that it was Fiyero it needed to love.

"Fae?" A semi-conscious voice from her side murmured at that particular moment. Elphaba turned.

"I'm here," she told him, then after a moment's hesitation added; "I'm always here."

"Good," Fiyero's voice mumbled back; then, "Love you, Fae."

Elphaba paused; she couldn't return the sentiment, not yet. "Sleep, Fiyero," she encouraged softly instead, "It's early yet."

But it was only a matter of time before she would love him, she was sure. There was nothing not to love about Fiyero, and Elphaba had the remainder of her life to learn how to love him. At least she was no longer alone, Elphaba consoled herself firmly: even that was more than she deserved after all that she had done. She ignored, as best she could, the tightening in the left side of her chest as she bid goodbye to her thoughts of Glinda for what she promised herself would be the very last time. Even the most raging of fires could be extinguished, should it remain beside a calm stretch of water for time long enough.