Author's Note: This is the final chapter of this story. I'm posting it a bit ahead of when I planned. The sequel is already underway. I hope to begin posting it within the next 2 weeks. To everyone who has read this story, thank you. I look forward to reading the final reviews any of you would be kind enough to leave for me.
Even as Riordan and Elphaba walked into the downstairs parlor and locked the door, she began to have doubts about removing her disguise. She knew her disclosure could change everything and once again leave her without a father figure. Before she could talk herself out of her decision, Elphaba sat down on the couch beside Riordan and removed her wig. In the moments it took her to let the pins out of her hair, all Riordan did was watch her, sensing that something else was coming. When Elphaba uttered the words that allowed her true appearance to be fully revealed, Riordan gasped and pulled away slightly.
"You... Everyone said you died months ago. They said so many things... How many of them were true?"
Elphaba had not expected him to ask such a direct, probing question, but she found herself feeling relieved that she could get to the heart of the matter that much faster.
"Tthe rumors you heard about me for so long were half-truths at best. The wizard hated me for several reasons... To this day he hates me. I used to believe in him more than anyone in Oz. And then, when I finally got to come here to the city to meet him, all he did was use me to do something he didn't know how to. The Grimmerie... The one Glinda has now, used to be his. When I came to see the wizard, he asked me to read from the book. I thought whatever I was reading would be harmless, but it made all of the monkeys he used as servants grow wings. I could see their pain, and I was sorry for what he'd had me do. I wanted to reverse it... But Madame Morrible said spells can never be reversed. They wanted to turn the monkeys into spies, as a means to control the other Animals. I knew then what the wizard was really like, and I swore I'd never be like him. After that, everything started to fall apart..."
Elphaba told Riordan as quickly as was reasonable about the rest of the events that had lead to her being forced to flee Oz. She left out the details of Glinda's part in the death of Nessa, but Elphaba could see in Riordan's face that he suspected what may have really happened. At the same time, there was uncertainty in his face, showing mistrust of what Elphaba was saying. She wanted to tell him that he already knew the sort of person she really was... That if Glinda could care so much, Riordan should know there was no way Elphaba herself could actually be dangerous. But she knew that for the time being, anything else she might say would be wasted breath.
Elphaba stood quickly from the couch, backing away toward the door. "You don't believe me," she whispered. "I have to get out of here now..." Elphaba took a moment to haphazardly reinstate her disguise, knowing one of the servants may see her as she went upstairs to her bedroom. She nearly ran up the stairs, not even hearing Riordan as he called after her, asking her to come back. She remained upstairs alone for the rest of of the day, with the door locked. She made no reply to the several knocks at the door over the course of the day. As night fell, Elphaba began to wish that Fiyero was back already. But she knew that he would not even have reached the castle yet. It would be days until he returned. Elphaba slept only briefly that night, and when she woke, she felt tears on her face.
By morning, Elphaba found she was too hungry to avoid venturing downstairs to the dining room. As she rose from the bed, she felt the dull ache that throbbed in every part of her body. She ignored the pain as she walked downstairs. When she reached the lower level, she saw that breakfast was just being laid out, and that Riordan was already seated at the table. He looked up as Elphaba entered... and smiled at her. That faded only when he saw the weariness in her face.
"I was just about to come ask you if you'd join me down here. You didn't sleep well, I see. I'm sorry... I know that's my fault."
Elphaba waved away his concern as she took a seat at the table. "I don't tend to sleep well," she explained. "And with Fiyero being gone, it's only that much worse." She helped herself to some of the breakfast fare, her hunger too pressing to ignore any longer. She ate slowly, not wanting to risk making herself ill, considering she hadn't eaten a bite in over twenty-four hours. She was nearly finished when Riordan spoke. Elphaba looked up and realized he hadn't touched a single bite of the food on his plate.
"Elphaba, please let me explain about yesterday. It isn't that I didn't believe you... It was just a lot to take in at one time. After you left me downstairs that way, I had more than enough time to take it all in. Please don't regret telling me. I'm glad you did."
Elphaba laughed bitterly, anger flashing in her eyes for an instant. "You're afraid of me," she challenged. "I could see it in your face. You can't love someone you're afraid of... Not really."
Riordan stood from his chair, then walked over to kneel beside Elphaba's. "I'm not afraid at all. I promise," he said softly, his gaze direct and intense. "I'm sorry I upset you. I suppose you thought I'd turn my back on you now. Nothing has changed. I asked you if you wanted to be like my own daughter and I meant it. Unless you have changed your mind."
"No!" Elphaba cried urgently. "No, I never... Papa, I'm sorry. I felt so disappointed, because I didn't think you understood. It took so much for me to try to explain things to you.There is something I didn't say yesterday, and I think you sould know."
Riordan remained where he was, kneeling there on the floor, quietly listening. "A few months ago, The wizard found out where Fiyero and I were hiding. He... he put a spell on me that almost killed me. Glinda saved my life. There isn't a complete counterspell, at least not that she has found. So sometimes I'm confined to bed by intense pain. I'm lucky to be alive. But the thing that is almost as bad as what happened to me is the fact that it was done to me by my real father."
Riordan looked up again, his eyes wide and startled. "What? But I thought..."
"So did I. Until the wizard showed up that day, I thought my sister and I had the same father. But while he was in my home, the wizard left behind something that was all the proof I needed that he was my father. Not that I will ever let him be. I may never see him again. After all my disappointments, that's why I'm so happy to have you be my father now... Can you understand that?"
"Of course," Riordan whispered, sounding ready to cry. "Of course I can." He slowly stood, then kissed Elphaba gently on the forehead. "You look so tired," he said sadly. "If you'd rather go back to bed, we can always talk later."
Elphaba nodded, and rose carefully from her chair. As she began to walk toward the staircase, Riordan saw the pain that shadowed her face. He wasted no time in getting to the point, knowing Elphaba would avoid his question if he asked it any other way. "Are you in so much pain because of the spell, or something else?"
Elphaba looked dismayed and exhausted as she met Riordan's eyes again. "The spell, I think. It feels the same as last time. It's not that serious yet. Sometimes it goes away without getting too bad. I can never tell, it just has to take its course."
"Well, if it comes to that, you will have to tell me what to do to help you, how I might need to take care of you. Now come, up to bed."
Elphaba wanted to be angry at Riordan for treating her as if she were a child. Though his tone wasn't condescending, she had never had a parent to care for her when she wasn't feeling well. Elphaba had always been the caregiver.
"Papa, it's really not that bad." she protested. "I don't have to..."
"You do," he insisted. "Up to bed. Either you go up on your own or I carry you. Your choice." He tried to sound angry and didn't quite succeed. As Elphaba walked carefully upstairs with Riordan at her side, she looked over and saw the concern in his face. She slowed her steps, and tried to say her next words without allowing the sound of threatening tears slur her words.
"Thank you for being here. If things get much worse for me, I'll explain what you have to do. Fiyero usually... If he were here, you wouldn't have to do anything."
"Yes I would," he said decisively. "After all, it's a father's job to take care of his children. It's about time you knew that, just like Glinda already does."
Elphab didn't trust herself to reply as she reached her room and sat on the bed. Without any words being exchanged, Riordan left so Elphaba could get into her nightclothes in private. By the time he returned, she was nestled under the covers, waiting for him. She couldn't help smiling when he walked back through the door and sat on the edge of the bed.
"How do you feel?" he asked, his brow creased with worry.
"All right, for now. It's too soon to tell." She sighed suddenly. "I was supposed to take you sightseeing tomorrow," she said simply.
"Don't worry about that. Some other day. Just sleep now."
Elphaba remained in bed until lunchtime that day, then came down to join Riordan for the meal. The pain in her body had eased, and they both hoped it had already passed for good. This seemed to be the case until the next day at dinnertime. Elphaba had little appetite, and once or twice Riordan was sure her breathing sounded strained. He inquired about how she was feeling, but she protested that everything was fine.
"Are you sure? I could always send a message to Fiyero at the castle, to ask him to come back sooner."
"No, please... He hasn't even been there that long. The rain yesterday made him fall behind schedule." Riordan looked at Elphaba quizzically, but she did not explain to him about her gift of second sight. At the conclusion of the meal, Elphaba and Riordan settled down in the living room to talk. He told more stories of his own growing up, then of his joy when Glinda was born. But soon, his face darkened, and he expressed some of his regrets.
"I know my wife and I both spoiled her terribly. I should have known better, because I never wanted her to turn out like her mother. I love my wife, but she is so self-centered and unforgiving. I'm glad that Glinda's time at the university helped her to turn out differently. That's mostly thanks to you, she has even told me so. She's under a lot of pressure here in the city with all the responsibilities she has. Now I feel like she can handle things on her own... She has grown up. Her heart is in the right place."
Soon after this, Elphaba admitted to feeling very tired, and she moved to rise from the couch. She tried to hide it, but Riordan saw her stumble as she made her way up the stairs. He resolved to get up once during the night to look in on her, just in case. As it turned out, this was a wise decision. When Riordan peeked in the door of Elphaba's room in the early hours of the morning, he found her tossing restlessly in her sleep. At first he thought perhaps she was just having a nightmare, but as he ventured nearer to the bed, Riordan saw the beads of perspiration standing out on Elphaba's forehead, and could hear her labored breathing.
Riordan roused Elphaba gently, and at first she seemed a bit confused, as if she didn't know who was with her. But then, her eyes focused and she tried to smile.
"Papa... I didn't wake you up, did I?"
"No, I came to see how you were." He rested a hand on her forehead, even though it wasn't a necessary action for him to be sure of the situation. "You have a fever," he said, more to make sure Elphaba was aware of it than anything else.
Elphaba groaned, then sat up. She got slowly out of bed and put on her robe, every movement causing her obvious pain. She walked into the bathroom and fetched some towels and her bottle of oil. Returning to the bedside, she handed these things to Riordan.
"You'll need to use those things if I get much worse and I can't do it myself. I know it seems strange, but it's because of my..."
"Your skin," he finished for her. "It wasn't entirely a rumor then... About what water does to you."
Elphaba shook her head, knowing no further explanation was necessary. She climbed back into bed after removing her robe, wanting to go back to sleep and forget the pain. But as she laid back against her pillows, her breathing became markedly more labored. Riordan helped Elphaba into an upright position and placed pillows behind her back, at her direction.
Riordan remained at Elphaba's bedside for many hours after that, not daring to leave her side. There were moments she felt well enough to speak, but most of the 'conversation' they had was by means of facial expression, even on Riordan's part. He seemed reluctant to speak, as if disturbing the quiet would make things worse. Eventually, he grew too hungry to ignore it any longer. He whispered to Elphaba that he was going to go downstairs just for a short while, and then he'd return. Elphaba grasped one of his hands as tightly as she could manage, which wasn't very much.
"No, Papa... Stay... stay where I can see you."
The urgency in her voice compelled Riordan to agree. Then, Elphaba barely managed to tell him that the daylight streaming in the window was too much for her. He closed the curtains tightly, then tended to Elphaba more closely. Her fever was raging now, and though he had applied the oil to her skin not two hours before, there was nearly no trace of it now. Even as Riordan carefully ran his hands over her face and arms, being as gentle as he could, Elphaba cried out.
"I'm sorry, I'm not trying to hurt you more. I'll be finished soon. Is there anything else you need?"
Elphaba shook her head, but this was not the answer Riordan saw in her eyes. He realized what she must be thinking, and felt very sorry there was no way to bring Fiyero back to the city sooner. By the time a message could be delivered to him, he could already be on his way back. Then, Riordan remembered how much nearer to the city Glinda and Travion were. Though he felt badly about interrupting their trip, Riordan knew it was necessary. He dispatched a message immediately, knowing it would reach then in approximately twenty-four hours. The trip back would take them equally as long, but two days' time was definitely preferable to four, particularly under the circumstances.
That night after dark, as Elphaba lay in a fitful sleep, there was a knock on the bedroom door. Riordan stood and answered it immediately. A maid was standing there, holding a message that had just been delivered. He knew Glinda could not have sent a reply so quickly. Indeed, he thought she wouldn't take time to send one at all. So he realized who the message must be from. He thanked the maid and took the message, going to the bedside to rouse Elphaba and let her read the letter.
Though she awakened quickly, Elphaba seemed disoriented again, and did not react even when Riordan said he had the note he believed was from Fiyero. After several minutes, Elphaba's mind cleared, and though she was eager to read the message, she still hesitated to take it.
"The light will hurt my eyes too much," she explained. "Will you go... Go in the hall and read it... Tell me what it says. Please, Papa."
Riordan did just as she asked. When he returned to the room, he told Elphaba what Fiyero's mother had admitted to, but that she was sorry and Fiyero was trying very hard to forgive her. He explained quickly the rest of the contents of the letter, hurrying along to the best part. Fiyero was planning to leave the castle the very next morning to return to the city. A light came into Elphaba's eyes that Riordan hadn't seen in far too long.
"Two days..." she whispered. "Only two more days... Then he'll be home."
Riordan smiled. "That's right. And Glinda should be here tomorrow... I sent a message to her this morning. I don't think you realized that then, because of the fever. I know she'll come, even if Travion can't return with her."
Elphaba expressed her sadness at disrupting the post-wedding trip, but at the same time seemed glad that Glinda was coming home. By the time Glinda arrived the next day, Elphaba was feeling slightly better, but was still confined to bed. Riordan tended to her almost ceaselessly. Glinda was happy to see the bond that had formed between her father and best friend, and was happiest of all when she heard what Elphaba had begun to call Riordan. Elphaba's fears that Glinda may be angry were completely unfounded, which was a great relief.
On the day Fiyero returned to the city, Elphaba was at last up and about again, though she still tired easily and her appetite was not yet back to normal. Fiyero could tell she had been ill, which made him regret his leaving even more. But he also brought good news from his parents, which he eagerly shared with Elphaba in the downstairs parlor.
"They can't wait to meet you." he said, a smile lighting up his entire face. "Mother was slower to come around, as I'm sure you could guess from my letter. But now she understands everything... She wants to make it up to you, welcome you into the family. Of course I still haven't completely forgiven her, and if you're a little afraid of her at first I won't blame you. But Ivy... Since they missed the wedding and everything, Mother and Father offered to buy a house for us. Here, in the city. They said all we have to do is decide on one and let them know, and it's ours. That is... If you'll accept their offer. I didn't want to speak for you, so I told them I'd send a message back when you had decided."
The smile that spread over Elphaba's face was all the answer Fiyero needed. After this happy news, they sat talking for a long time. They talked no more of Fiyero's visit with his parents, focusing only on each other. Elphaba told Fiyero how very ill she had been, but made a point to tell him not to feel guilty anymore for having gone on his trip. They were together now, as husband and wife. They had a new home and a promising future to look forward to. Not least of all, the newlyweds spent some of their time alone making up for all the hugs and kisses they had missed over the several days.
After a time, Glinda joined her friends there in the parlor. She admitted to them how glad she was to see them together again, and to see Elphaba recovered. She expressed her wish to find a true counterspell. At this point, Fiyero spoke up, trying not to sound overly encouraged and lift everyone else's hopes too far.
"One thing I didn't say in the note I sent back here was that Mother told me where the wizard might be. It was some time ago that she knew for certain where he was living... But it's a start. We can try to find him. He inflicted that spell on Elphaba, and if he can undo it somehow, he will. If it's the last thing I ever do, I will see that he lifts that curse. You've looked all through the Grimmerie already, Glinda... The answer is not there. If anyone has it, it's got to be the wizard."
Neither Elphaba nor Glinda argued this, because they also knew it must be true. The search for the wizard could not be begun immediately, since there were other pressing things the newlyweds had to take care of first. Mainly, of course, this meant a move to the city. Elphaba happily told Glinda of the offer that Fiyero's parents had made, and that very soon they would live only minutes from each other. The three friends focused on these happy things rather than the trials that might lie ahead. They talked about their plans for their home lives, and dreamed of the children they might have someday. Riordan looked in on the three of them long enough to see their joy, but did not interrupt the scene by speaking. Instead, he just smiled as he watched them. He studied each of them in turn. Fiyero and Glinda did not notice him, but Elphaba sensed him watching her and turned in his direction. Neither of them spoke a word, but Elphaba could see the love shining in Riordan's eyes. Not only for Glinda, but also for herself. She silently sent him thanks for taking care of her during Fiyero's absence... and for loving her as a daughter.