"…a house…!" I choked in amazement, head shaking in half-horror, half-wonder. "Look at it! Look there, just there! Headed East, it's…it's flying…"
And it was true. A little house – more a cottage really – a small, compact, wooden cottage with white-painted windows and shutters…
"…Where?!" Fiyero was questioning frantically, eyes darting, searching the skies above us. "Where,Elphaba, where?"
"There!" I shouted at the top of my voice, practically ripping away from his arms to stumble across the clearing, Broomstick still clutched in my arms, the better to see the little cottage as it rolled over and over a thousand miles above me, the most impossible, most incredible, most unbelievable…but…
…through my disbelief, my wonder, my fascination as the little flying vessel sped and tumbled across its endless azure sea…the little crying girl still sounded on. Louder. Louder. Broken with little choking sounds, cries – a familiar voice, and yet so unfamiliar; calling to me, a little girl's sobs after she awakes from a nightmare, wheels herself into her big sister's bedroom, pleads to be allowed to sleep alongside her…Nessa…
But it couldn't be. I shook my head hard, trying to knock some sense into it, the wind whistling against my ears – of course, it couldn't be, Nessa was back in Munchkinland, probably still waiting for her poor Boq to wake up, far away in the East…
…but that did, in a way, make sense, because…
…the house was…headed east…
Fiyero's voice, far away, a million miles across a storm-tossed, gale-ridden ocean. I wanted to answer him, but my mouth was abruptly numb, trembling, unable to form words…
"Elphaba, what is it, what is it?!"
The weather. The wild, out of control wind tearing through our little clearing. The wind that had come so suddenly, so unnaturally, changed everything so instantaneously, a change, the weather, a changing weather…a change in the weather…
It was Morrible. This was her – all of it, my wicked, corrupted, detestable old headmistress's doing.
Nessa. My poor, angry, helpless, torn-up little sister who I had abandoned so suddenly, so selfishly…my sweet, pretty little Nessa…
They were going after Nessa.
The words pounded sickeningly against my skull.
Oh sweet Oz, sweet Oz, sweet Oz…
"I have to get to Nessa."
Fiyero's voice again. Gentle hands on my shoulders. His Gale Force jacket still limply pulled around me. A face – his face, wild with anxiety in front of me. Mop of hazel-hair snarled with twigs and leaves from the forest ground. His arms enfolded around me, eyes lighting with relief as he saw my own focus on him.
"Elphaba, Oz, you're trembling…"
"I'm fine," I snapped, whipping my head from side to side as I tried to clear it – I had no time for this, I had to go, go now, now, now …
I didn't answer him; I was out of his arms and away, dashing across the clearing and swiping up my clothes and boots.
"I have to get to Nessa," I blurted, tearing off his jacket and pulling underwear and dress over my head, scrabbling with the broken buttons; my hands were shaking, flimsy, like they'd been plunged in freezing water. His fingers closed over mine, helping me do them up.
"What?" he questioned. "Who?!"
"My sister, Fiyero, my sister's in danger –"
"But how -?"
"- I don't know!" I burst out, snatching up my boots and wrenching them on. "I don't know, but that doesn't matter, there's no time to lose, I have to get to her before they do, before it does, I have to warn her -!"
"You find some place to shelter, in case the wind picks up again –"
"What? No -!"
"I'll find you later – I can fly there and back in a day, I'm sure I can –!"
"Fly where -?!"
"To Munchkinland, of course!"
He gaped wordlessly, eyes like saucers.
"Munchkinland?" he spluttered. "Elphaba – Elphaba, you can't mean to fly all the way there and back through that gale -!"
"I'll fly high," I promised, taking his hand in mine and squeezing it tight. "I'll avoid it. You find somewhere to shelter, and let's arrange a place to meet."
"No – no, I'll come with you –"
"- Oz, no, you'll get yourself killed -!"
"- I don't care –"
"No – Oz, please, no!" I moaned, burying my face in one hand, because he would get himself killed, he would, because he was idiotic and reckless and stupid and the worst gunman I'd ever run from and if things came to a fight how could I protect him too?!I couldn't do it – I wasn't strong enough, wasn't good enough, wasn't enough, enough –
"Tell me where we can meet, please, Fiyero –"
He gazed at me a moment, taking in my expression. I said nothing, struggling to keep my breathing even; I had to go, had to go, and we were wasting so much time…
Then finally, he shook his head, dragging a hand back through his hair, and sighed in defeat.
"Ok, let me think. Maybe…there's a castle of my family's just north of the Great Kells, end of the Vinkus River? Full of hidey-holes and secret passages and all that. I mean, it's pretty run down, we don't actually live there –"
"Where do you live?" I asked, before I could stop myself, and the most ridiculous array of images flashed through my mind; Fiyero, prince of the Vinkus, a great golden crown on his head, seated on some sort of ancient stone-carved Winkie throne, me seated beside –
- Oz, Elphaba, get a grip.
Fiyero was looking bashful, his gaze avoiding mine as he answered my question. "Well, um, the other castle."
"Oh. Of course."
"It's just west of Kiamo Ko," he hurried on. "That's the one we should meet at. With the secret passages. And a bed – I'm sure it's got a bed."
"Of course. Oz-knows we'd never be able to get by without a bed."
He coughed, covering his mouth to hide a smile. "You know I didn't mean it like that."
He pressed a swift kiss to my lips, hand squeezing mine. "Seriously, Kiamo Ko's the best place for us. It's ancient, half-falling down, a total rabbit warren of a place – no one'll ever find us in there. We'll be safe."
"North of the Great Kells, end of the Vinkus River?"
"That's the place."
I made as if to pull away, Broomstick dashing into my arms so, eyes turning to the sky – but his arms held me fast, unmoving. I sighed.
He said nothing, simply gathering me to him with both arms so he could kiss me. Oh.
Oz, of course. I hadn't even thought…who knew how long it would be before we saw each other…?
Wrong thought. I was kissing him back. Tangling my arms around him. Fixing the sight of him, the feel of him, the taste of him in my mind; safekeeping what I couldn't let myself forget…
Broomstick wriggled out from between us, battering his twigs against Fiyero's legs in a steady, methodical rhythm that was impossible for me to ignore.
"I know," I mumbled, between kisses. "I know – I know, we've got to go – quit that, Broomstick –!"
I didn't want to stop. Didn't want to end it. I was trying so hard not to think the words, but still they crept in…what if…what if this was the last time …?
Frantically, I clutched him closer, lips breaking from his so I could bury my face against his shoulder, his neck, his chest; warm, safe, vulnerable, protected, with him, together, together…
"We'll see each other again," I blurted, and then again, because saying it out loud seemed to make it truer, realer. "We'll see each other again, we will – we will –"
"Of course we will." His fingers combed the length of my hair; dusted my neck, my back, my waist. "Elphaba – we're going to be together always. Always."
Then he chuckled; the sound had a strained, broken edge to it. "I mean, seriously. Where in Oz am going to go now, without you? I'll need someone to fight off my own men hunting me down, won't I?"
I didn't say anything. Just kissed him again. Broomstick whacked me on the ankle.
"I love you." The words were pathetic, measly, so small. So inadequate. But I had nothing else.
"I love you. And we will, Elphaba. We will. I swear, ok?" he whispered against my hair, then ducked his eyes to mine again, his eyes very gentle. "You can see houses flying through the sky. Well…can't you see that?"
I had no answer. I wanted to scoff – silly, romantic fool – but at that moment…at that moment, I just couldn't. My eyes stared into his for an immeasurable moment, fixing that impossible look – love, acceptance, admiration, reverence, care – in my mind.
"Off you go, then – this little guy's obviously ready for you," he murmured, gesturing to Broomstick, who was quivering incandescently beside me. I sighed.
"You don't say."
Fiyero grinned, disentangling himself from me and pushing gently back. I flexed my fingers; pushed back my hair – should have plaited it, but there wasn't time, now – and then reached for Broomstick.
Fiyero stood back whilst I mounted, scooping up his jacket with one hand and pulling it on. I hesitated, hovering half a foot in the air. Oz. Would he be able to make it so far West, with nothing but a gun and some frost-encrusted clothes?
He seemed to guess the train of my thoughts, and shook his head, smiling.
"I'll be fine, Elphaba. Totally fine. Don't worry about me, ok?"
I gave him my best sarcastic look, struggling not to smile.
"How could someone not worry about you?"
He only grinned, taking another step back as I rose to the sky, the wind whistling in my ears, bitingly cold. Ugh. I clenched my chattering teeth and wove between branches still dripping with morning dew, head craned over my shoulder to keep looking at him. Then I was through – and hovering high, free from the forest.
We surveyed each other wordlessly, me from the sky, him from the ground, one last time.
Nessa. You have to get to Nessa.
I drew in a breath – crossed my fingers around Broomstick – and turned East.
Thanks for reading my story, everyone!