The plan was fiendish in its simplicity. Glinda hoped this was giving to give her an edge over Elphaba's probable evasion and anyone else who might also be looking for her. It seemed possible Morrible was on the hunt. Maybe even the Wizard. Though Glinda had no evidence of either. What she did have was a secret weapon no-one else had. An intimate knowledge of their quarry.
Deciding not to worry about the fact Elphaba had a two month head start that was long enough to get her to the Vinkus Glinda just started in the middle and worked her way out. She returned to the Emerald City, to the district they had stayed in. She did not cry at the sight of the hotel or the damned palace twinkling in the distance.
If Elphaba was planning something, if she was going to make a move of any kind there was one constant. She would research and learn and accrue knowledge. And that meant books.
So the plan was: Find book shops and libraries. Introduce self. Ask, have you had a girl in here – tall, thin, long dark hair, wears a lot of black, beautiful, oh and green. It was the last part that usually caught people's attention.
Collecting dates of last sightings and trying to work out what had been sold, borrowed or referenced Glinda followed the trail to a tiny, musty little book shop in the merchant's quarter. She could perfectly envisage Elphaba squeezing through the narrow aisles though even she would struggle to reach the highest shelves.
Plan enacted the shop owner pushed his glasses up his nose and said "Melena?" Her mother's name.
Glinda clutched at the desk. He seemed unsure about talking to her. Happily Glinda did not look like a mercenary assassin or secret agent. "She's staying in a boarding house across the street. Number one nine seven. You can see the door from here."
Glinda almost didn't dare look. The search had been its own goal, in a way. The possibility of actually finding Elphaba, and so soon, had been so slim Glinda almost hadn't entertained it.
"Can I -" she faltered. "Can I stay, for a while?"
The bewildered man just nodded and Glinda took up a seat near the window pressed up in the corner, her brown dress merging with the book bindings, the hood of her cloak staying firmly over her hair. She was offered a cup of tea but declined. There was only one thing she wanted, that she needed. Eventually, later that afternoon, it came.
Glinda knew immediately that it was Elphaba. Just the way she moved, the way she walked, how she held herself was so familiar. As she grew closer, shuffling past other pedestrians, Glinda could see the Oz-awful shoes, that cloak and the tips of green fingers peeping out from her gloves as she reached up to unlock the door of the boarding house.
"Oh thank you," she whispered. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you."
There were no tears, no fainting or histrionics, just an absolute and overwhelming sense of belonging. The world made sense again. "Let me make us a cup of tea," Glinda offered. She wondered if there were any brandy in the little kitchen.
The shop keeper had been watching Glinda watching Elphaba. "I think you might need something stronger than tea," he humphed.
Having finished her tea – just tea – Glinda washed their cups and bade goodbye to the confused but admittedly entertained man. She headed across the road and knocked on the door.
After what felt like an age in which Glinda had to mightily resist chewing a hole in her sleeve the door was opened by a woman who certainly did have brandy in her kitchen.
"Looking for a room?"
Glinda let herself in. "I'm looking for someone in one of your rooms. A friend of mine. Melena?"
The woman didn't react. Glinda stumbled. Maybe Elphie was mixing her names. She tried again. "Tall, thin -" Oh confound it all, there was no time. "Green. She's green."
"Oh, her. Sure. Room five. Watch yourself. Nasty thing, mean as hell."
"That's the one," Glinda smiled to herself and walked up the stairs, clutching at the rail.
Stood outside room five Glinda knocked at the door, the contents of her stomach creeping up her throat. She swallowed hard. She did not want to greet Elphie by depositing lunch all over her shoes. Although it would be rather dramatic.
"I told you I would have it tomorrow!" She heard Elphie call and her heart melted at the sound. "I know what you're doing with these six day weeks. Now go away."
Glinda smiled. This was torture. But it was wonderful. Elphie was just there. And apparently little changed. She chanced her hand on the door knob. It opened. Where was the obsessive locking and barring of the door? The door swung further open. Glinda caught a glimpse of Elphie as she shrank away to the other side of the room. She was getting changed, her blouse was only half buttoned and her legs were bare.
"Damn you, woman," Elphie cried. "Get out!"
"Why didn't you lock it?" It was the only thing Glinda could think to say.
Elphaba appeared back in view. Her eyes were wide, her mouth twisted. Glinda took it first for anger. But it wasn't. She thought she had seen fear in Elphie before. But it was nothing compared to this.
"You always made me lock it and bar it and double check it."
Finally finding something of her voice Elphie whispered "That was you. That was for you my..." she stopped and glanced down at the floor, pulling herself together for a moment.
Glinda stepped in and closed the door, locking it behind herself.
Elphie still looked wild, like she was looking at a ghost. Which was funny, considering who had disappeared in to thin air on whom.
"What are you doing here?" Elphaba was terrified.
"You look tired." She did. The darkness under her eyes was striking, clearly she was not getting any more sleep than she had been before she had set Glinda back on that coach.
Elphaba glared at her. "Glinda, it's not safe. Are you on your own? How did you get here? How long have you been here?" There was a panic, her voice rising unnaturally high.
"I'm on my own, I came by coach, I've been here about a week." She reeled off the answers quickly, matter of factly. Glinda felt really she should be the one doing the interrogation but all her thoughts had evaporated.
The question of 'why?' had plagued Glinda's mind all those weeks in Shiz. She had thought it would be the first thing she would ask Elphie but she came to realise that she knew why. She knew Elphie's reasoning. She didn't agree – at all – but she knew.
"I wanted to see you. I needed to know you were alive, that you were safe. Which: of course you are. I missed you. I was scared for you." This list was delivered with a bit more emotion.
How to begin explaining what life had been like since their parting? Oh, I thought I might die and everyone else thought I might throw myself in the canal. That would not go down well. That anger began to swell up in her again.
"You know you can't just abandon people and walk away and expect them not to be upset. Everyone was worried about you. Is worried. It was awful, back in Shiz. It was like you were dead. Do you understand? You may as well have been dead. For all we knew you could have been. Can you even begin to comprehend what that was like?"
Elphaba at least had the decency to appear ashamed. "No. No, I can't."
"What did you think was going to happen, Elphaba? What did you think was going to happen to all the people you left behind?"
"You'd... Glinda, I don't know! You knew I was alright."
"Yes, at that moment. As you walked away from me." She couldn't keep the venom out of her voice. She didn't want to. "But after that anything could have happened. And if someone just disappears, if you never hear from them again and are never able to see them again... that's just as good as being dead."
"I just wanted to get you out of here. I wanted you to be safe."
"I was safe with you." She thought about the canal.
"I can't keep you safe."
"That's not the point." She shook the objection off. "I'd rather be with you than be safe."
"This is what I mean!" Elphie was back to animated and strode around the room. "This is making us crazy. You feel like that, you say that, but I only make things worse for you. You're too important to me, Glinda, to risk on any of this."
"It's not your decision to make. That was my choice! I know you always looked after me – but you don't decide what is right for me. You never trust me, how much I love you."
Glinda wasn't surprised she was able to find soft words for Elphie even in all the anger. It was still true. It would always be true. No matter what.
Elphie stopped and started fiddling with the scrolling metal framework on the bed head. "You've got it all wrong. I was never good enough for you. I never deserved you. I would have torn up your world."
"What you did do was worse than whatever you imagined you might do. You did tear up my world."
She wouldn't tell Elphie how close she had come to complete ruin but there was a dangerous inflection in her voice that caused Elphaba to look up at her and clearly something in her eyes that made Elphaba frown.
Glinda continued. "But you are going to tear up the world and all I want is to be by your side while you do."
Elphie softened. She was fighting a war with herself, Glinda could see it quite plainly. A gentle, trusting part of her won a small victory in the longer campaign and Elphie moved across and took Glinda in to her arms.
Glinda relaxed in to them. She held Elphie tight and was held no less tightly in return.
"You came, all this way, on your own, you looked for me..." Elphie said it in to the top of her head, repeating it to herself more than saying it to Glinda. Glinda just loved the feeling of Elphaba's breath in her hair, the heat she could feel from the girl's body. Elphie was alive, she was still here.
"Elphaba, I would have walked from Shiz just to know you were safe. Oz, I would walk all the four counties just to have seen that glimpse of you over the road, to know you were alive and well."
Much to Glinda's surprise she felt Elphaba shaking. The arms normally so strongly and decisively held around her were shaking. Glinda ran a hand up and down Elphie's back.
"I don't know who I am any more." Elphaba was so quiet but it sounded booming in their little pocket of intimacy. "I used to be so sure of everything. But it changed. I changed, my world changed. I don't just mean you, I mean everything. Everything I thought I knew about myself and the world was challenged. I just don't know how it fits together any more."
"You will, you will," Glinda soothed. "I believe in you. Do you not think I have changed? How can you not understand what you have done for me? Elphie, darling, you came in to my life and you turned it upside down. In the most amazing way. And when my life got turned upside down in other ways you believed in me. You made me brave. The only thing I cannot do is be without you. I can't. I won't. We can do this. We can do this together."
"We," Elphie repeated and mused on the word.
Glinda was angry again and pulled back, wrenching herself free and away from the only place in all of Oz she really wanted to be. "Yes, we. By everything holy Elphaba Thropp there is no getting away from this. I need you. You need me."
Elphaba looked thoroughly wretched and Glinda could not imagine the debate that must be going on inside her. As if in reaction to that very debate she put her hands to her head and rubbed at her temples. It was a lot to take in, Glinda knew. A lot to process, having Glinda turn up out of the blue and lay all this out. Although, she felt it needed noting, not quite as traumatic as just being put on a carriage and sent away.
"This... you don't... I can't..." Elphaba was coming undone.
Glinda moved forward again. She was going to seize the reins and take control. "Look at me," she said more forcefully than she thought she had ever said anything. Elphaba obeyed. "I am here, aren't I? You didn't compel me, in fact you specifically forbade it. If there is any necessity here it is my own."
Elphaba was helpless. She looked completely at a loss. And though it hurt Glinda's heart to do it this was essential for them both. She moved gently towards the door before she delivered her final judgement.
"You have to be strong enough to be afraid, Elphie. You have to be brave to be vulnerable."
Glinda was unlocking the door as she spoke, hands behind her, and opened it dramatically to rush out, closing it a little louder than necessary behind her. She wanted to pause, to breathe, but she couldn't give herself the chance to capitulate. She had to be strong.
Gathering herself she hurried away, round a corner and down the stairs. She heard a door above open and Elphaba call "Glinda?" but she did not stop.
She made it out on to the street and over the road before a dishevelled and half dressed Elphaba appeared in the main doorway, frantically looking up and down the street.
Concealed in a shop opposite Glinda was out of sight and just about out of her mind. Was this a gamble? No, she knew as sure as she knew anything that there was no question of Elphaba's love for her. It was Elphaba who had to know.
She would stay away, keep her distance for as long as she dared. She knew it would not be long, it could not be long. She would not have been able to and her intention was not to hurt Elphie, just give her time to think. She would return to her soon, to try again. And if this was what she had to keep doing, watching over Elphie from the shadows and offering herself and her love, from now until eternity then by Oz she would.
For the next three days Glinda confined herself to her room. She read, she paced, she sat, she lay on the bed. By the afternoon of the third day she was at breaking point so she dressed and headed out.
It was earlier than the time Elphie had returned to her lodgings the previous day but Glinda was not sure whether Elphie would be there or not. She knocked on the door and was admitted by the woman who looked her up and down.
"You've caused quite the upset," she pronounced. "She's been looking everywhere for you. Got her quite on edge. Snappier than usual, even."
Glinda apologised. "Is she here?"
"No. Out combing the streets no doubt. You can go up, if you like."
So Glinda did. The door was unlocked and the room in disarray. Even more than Elphaba's usual haphazard standard. Glinda made the bed and then sat down on the windowsill, watching the darkness fall.
Some time later there was a tread on the stair and Glinda just knew. The door opened and Elphie entered, head down with her back to Glinda as she closed the door behind her. Then she slumped against it, resting her forehead there and raising an arm to smack her hand against the wood.
Glinda took a step towards her, floorboards creaking.
When Elphie caught sight of her the look on her face shook Glinda right to her very heart. It was terror and desire. It was love and fear. It was everything Glinda wanted.
Elphaba bounded across the room and caught Glinda up in her arms, almost holding her off the floor. "Oh my sweet," she breathed, "Oh my darling..."
Glinda hugged her back fiercely, feeling this was already going rather promisingly.
Elphaba released her and took her face in soft hands. "Are you alright?" Glinda was searched by Elphie's eyes for signs of injury or distress. "I've been out of my mind... these last few days."
Glinda nodded, awed and shamed by the worry in the dark eyes opposite her. But there was an acknowledgement there. Elphie was talking about days. Glinda had suffered two months.
"Glinda..." Elphie began again, a little calmer. "Please forgive me. The things I said before... the things I didn't say..."
Glinda surged forward to kiss Elphaba, bringing her own hands up to Elphie's face but the taller girl used that very aspect to distance herself.
"No," she said urgently, "No, don't. I need to..." Elphie had a pained expression.
"Whatever it is," Glinda whispered, removing one of the hands from her face and kissing the palm. "Whatever you say, I love you."
Elphaba looked precipitously as though she might cry. "I..." Her voice was hoarse, struggling. "Everyone thinks I am somehow possessed of this bravery, this strength. Stupid and headstrong but brave."
Glinda smiled softly, in sympathy and agreement and sheer adoration.
"But I'm so afraid. I'm a whole other person. And you... you are a thousand times braver than I am. You saw who I was and you loved me and you weren't afraid. I failed you in so many ways but you never, ever let me down."
Whatever Glinda had been expecting it was not this. If Elphaba couldn't cry she certainly could. So she did.
"Shh, my sweet," Elphie tenderly stroked her hair. "Don't you let me hurt you any more. And I won't Glinda, I promise you. You said I didn't appreciate how I had changed you but darling, you haven't even begun to know how you have changed me."
The welling tears did fall, then. "Gah," Elphaba exclaimed and wiped them quickly on her sleeve. She reached across and dabbed at Glinda as well, balling up the cuff of her jumper. It made Glinda laugh, half choking.
They relaxed, for a moment, just holding on to one another and looking at one another after so long.
Elphaba spoke again, worriedly. "But the things I've seen, the things I know – I can't go back."
"Sweetheart, I wouldn't change you for the world. Even if I ever could," Glinda added with absolute love for Elphie's wonderful stubbornness.
"I can't ask you to do this for me, Glinda."
"You're not asking me to do anything. I'm doing it anyway. Just promise me that whatever we do, we do it together."
"We will," Elphaba murmured as she leant down towards Glinda. "Together," she said as their lips met.
Glinda looked down at Elphaba who was laid on her stomach, beautiful and extraordinary, sheets barely reaching her knees, her arms raised around her head and her face hidden in her hair. Glinda thought she could never be more happy as she smoothed the dark hair away, gently stroking it down in place on Elphie's back and saw that, yes, Elphie was asleep. With a trembling smile and overwhelmed she slipped herself underneath the green woman, who drowsily moved to accommodate her and then press closer to her body.
"I love you," she heard Elphie mumble and it shook her with joy.
"Oh Elphie," she sighed. "You strange, wonderful thing. How I love you."
Author's note: Lovely readers and lovely reviewers, thank you so much for coming along for the ride. I am so very grateful for your interest and the time you have taken to be involved. The discussions have been insightful, entertaining and enlightening. I hope you have enjoyed yourselves too. If anyone would like to leave a comment on the completed piece be assured I will keep reading and replying.
If you like Gelphie fluff (and if not, well, congratulations for having made it to the end of this story, that must have been really tough for you) there were a load of fun interactions I wrote for this that didn't fit in and got cut. So I'm starting a new fic, a super fluffy third year at Shiz affair where no-one went to the Emerald City, broke anyone's heart or ruined anyone's life. I'm looking at you, Elphaba. It's called "The Thrill, Basis Determined" and will be starting in a few days.