He stared at the closed door. It felt as if they were in there for hours. Loyal to his promise (or, rather, to his threat), he remained there, waiting for Oz knew what to happen. It was quiet on the other side of the door, as if they were conversing in hissed voices. It made him somewhat worried as well. Of course, he should probably have been calm that there was no yelling this time, but this silence… it was almost disturbing. He wished he could at least see what was happening in there. He knew it was none of his business; they had their own issues to solve. And yet that one incident of them beating each other senseless remained clear and alive in his mind.
He'd better just stay out of there. If they wanted to kill each other, they would have done it already. He'd better go to the kitchen and see what he could bring over to Elphaba. It was quite late by now. By the silence that echoed from every hall, he assumed that most of the staff, probably his parents as well, had gone to bed by now. And yet upon entering the kitchen, it turned out he was not the only person who was still awake in the castle.
"Avaric, what are you doing here?"
"I… couldn't sleep," Avaric replied, anything but looking straight at him.
He shrugged. There was still the matter of him and Glinda at the nursery from a few hours before he wanted to ask him about, but wasn't sure how to approach it. He wandered about for a while, setting up a fire beneath the large soup pot. Then, when there was nothing else to be done but wait, he turned to face Avaric. "So, did you manage to work things out?"
"What are you talking about?"
"You. And Glinda. Isn't that why you were at the nursery before?"
"Uhh, no, I was… why would you think we have things to work out?"
"Because, Avaric, if looks could kill, we probably wouldn't have had this conversation at the moment." Not that it was considered a conversation, not so much. Avaric was obviously trying to avoid the issue. He was familiar with his friend's tactic of answering a question with another question. He had practically invented it. "She's been furious with you since the day you got here," he pointed out.
"It's nothing," Avaric replied dismissively. "She's still angry about the way we fooled her into meeting you, that's all."
But it wasn't all. One look at Avaric, and he could tell as much. Yet at the same time, Avaric seemed determined not to say another word about it. It reminded him of himself, not so long ago. He should probably just let it go. Avaric would turn to him if something was going on. He wouldn't be able to hold it in for long. He'd have to talk to someone, sooner or later. He carefully poured some soup into a bawl. "I'd better go back upstairs," he said, trying to catch his friend's eye. "Try to get some sleep. It's been a long day."
"You too. Tell Elphaba I'd stop by to see her tomorrow morning."
He nodded in reply, and left the kitchen. As he was nearing the bedroom, he began to fear of what he was going to find in there. However, it was still as quiet as before. He shook his head. This could not be a good sign. Balancing the bawl in one hand, he opened the door with his other hand, and carefully peered inside.
He smiled instantly. How could he not? They both looked up as he opened the door, and he was filled with relief when he witnessed the smile on Elphaba's face. Glinda seemed more composed now as well. She was sitting behind Elphaba, braiding her long hair. There was something so sweet about it. Watching it was almost like going back in time; as if they were back at Shiz all over again. He was a bit hesitant as for barging into their private moment, but the bawl in his hand was getting hotter with each passing moment; he had to lay it down. He walked towards the little nightstand by the bed and placed the bawl on it, and then stopped, wondering what he should do now.
As if feeling his hesitations, Glinda let go of Elphaba's hair. "I'd better go. You need to get some rest." She leaned down to kiss Talleen's forehead. She was still curled in Elphaba's lap. "Sweet dreams, baby girl." Her eyes met his as she straightened up. "Good night, Fiyero."
There was this new glimmer in her eyes, a new agreement between them. It was as if she had not forgiven him yet, but at least now she understood. "Good night, Glinda."
She smiled at Elphaba once more, and then excused herself and left the room, gently closing the door behind her.
"I told you we wouldn't kill each other," Elphaba said with a hint of a smile in her eyes. In her arms, Talleen stirred and began to fuss. "I think she missed you." He smiled at that, and carefully took the baby from her. She watched him as he held the baby against his chest. There was something incredibly heart-wrenching in her eyes. Her next question caught him off-guard. "You'll be a good father to her, won't you, Fiyero?"
And then he realized it was fear in her eyes; as if the thought that he wouldn't terrified her. What in Oz brought this up? "Of course I'll be a good father to her. Why would you even think otherwise?"
"I just… want things to be better, for her."
"Better than they were for you, you mean." It wasn't really a question; it was fairly obvious this was she meant.
She didn't reply. She seemed quite distracted. Then, after a moment, she spoke again. "There's something Glinda told me. I'm not sure how I'm supposed to take it."
It was the first time she seemed uncertain to him. It made him worried. What could Glinda possibly say to unnerve her so? "What?"
Her face remained expressionless, her voice quiet, and yet it was clear by her demeanor that she was doing it all to hold emotion back. "It turns out… that my father had a reason to treat me as less his own all these years."
"You weren't his?" he asked, although it was quite obvious by the way she had presented it.
"I've always suspected as much," she replied. Her calmness surprised him. For a moment, he wondered how come Glinda learned that truth, and what was it to her to learn it in the first place, but before he had a chance to bring it up, she spoke again. "It's the issue of my real father that bothers me," she said.
Even though her voice was quiet, the venom in it was still easy to detect. There was only one person he could think of for her to speak of with such scorn, but could that possibly be the one she was referring to? And more importantly, how could it be?
As if she could tell he had already figured it out, she shook her head. "I guess we'll never know. My mother is long-dead, and he took the secret with him." She smiled reassuringly at him then, but he could tell it was mostly forced. "It's alright, really. It's just for the better."
It was obvious it was still bothering her, that it was bound to bother her for quite some time now, but it was also obvious she didn't want to discuss it any further. Not at the moment, at least. He nodded at the bawl of soup that laid, deserted, on the nightstand. "I'd feed it to you, but my hands are full."
She laughed softly. "That's alright. I can do it myself." She reached for the bawl, and he watched her as she ate. A few spoonfuls later, as if she was now filled with this new vitality, she laid out the new plan before him. "We'll start tomorrow. Glinda brought the Grimmerie and the Book of Reversals. We'll do it from here. It seems safer than going into the Emerald City."
"Alright," he nodded. He was relieved by the fact that she was willing to take fewer risks now. He knew it was due to Talleen she was doing so.
"She'll fly back to bring Dr. Dillamond over in a few days, if it will be alright with your parents to take him in," she half said, half asked, looking at him hesitantly.
"I'm sure they won't mind."
"I want to see exactly how bad things are with him. I want to make him better, before we can take him back home."
She looked sheepish. "That's… something we need to discuss." She laid the empty bawl back on the nightstand, and leaned back against the pillows. "Glinda thought that us being here was a good opportunity to bring things back to order. She suggested that we'd use the Book of Reversals to clear out my name and reveal the Wizard as a fraud." She paused for a second, as if to let her words sink in. "I refused. I doubt a few months had done any significant change. People are still angry, and public revelation will only make things worse. I don't want this for us. I don't want this for Talleen."
The rest was beginning to clear itself out to him. "You think we should go back to the village then?"
"I will never force it on you, but yes. This is what I think. Your parents have done so much for us, and the last thing I want is to keep you away from them, but-"
"This is probably for the best," he cut her off when he realized it was true, no matter how painful a decision it was bound to be. "It will be impossible for them to keep our being here a secret forever. People talk. Servants talk. I don't want to endanger them."
"Exactly. Going back to the village will be safer not just for us, but for them as well." She held back a yawn, and he felt like kicking himself for keeping her up until such a late hour.
"Go on. Go back to sleep. I'll see you in the morning."
"Why can't you stay?"
"Because Talleen's crib is on the other side of the castle, and you wouldn't want me to leave her alone as she sleeps."
"She can sleep here, between us, and we could ask to have her crib moved here in the morning."
She had that pleading look that he could do very little about. He nodded, and carefully passed the sleeping baby back to her mother's arms. "Fine. I'll just get ready for bed then."
"You were right, by the way," she said sleepily a while later, when he went into bed beside her, making sure Talleen was safely cradled between the two of them.
"Avaric and Glinda."
He smirked inwardly. "I thought you were above such distracting vanity," he said.
"Well, I can't prevent being informed with it, can I?"
"I guess not," he smiled. "Now go to sleep. We'll talk about this in the morning."
But there was no reply. She was fast asleep already, her breathing soft and even. He looked from her to the sleeping infant between them, and there was this tiny swell of pride in his heart. He smiled to himself before he snuggled into the covers, and drifted into slumber as well.
The next morning was a busy one, a mark for the days to come. Although she was still weak, Elphaba was determined to start doing the thing they had come for in the first place. Yet, as she was still too weak to leave her bed, Glinda spent most of the day up there with her, behind close doors. Him, and everyone else actually, were not allowed in. He had only managed a glimpse of her when he brought their lunch up and such. They were both huddled over the two enormous books, one reading, the other one writing fervently on a yellowish scroll.
In spite of his plan to spend the day with his baby, there were too many things around that required his interference. It was as if during Elphaba's sickness, time had stood still, and now once she was better, everything else was beginning to function as well. Luckily, Nia was still around, so she stayed with Talleen while he was helping his father. All morning, there was this pressing thought at the back of his mind; he knew he should probably tell his parents the plan they came up with the previous night, but he wasn't sure how to approach them with it. He knew they'd be sorely disappointed if they had to be parted again. He would be, too, but at the same time he knew there was no other choice.
He stalled it for as long as he could, but then at late afternoon, he thought he'd better just tell them. By the time he had all the justifications and explanations at the ready, Raff informed him that his father wished to speak to him alone. It was as if he knew, he thought as he made his way to the library. He knocked on the door and let himself in.
"You wished to see me, father?"
"Oh, yes, son, come in. Have a seat."
He did as he was told, and watched his father as he sat across from him. As always, it was impossible to tell what was on the older man's mind. His face remained expressionless. "Is everything alright?"
"Everything is fine. There's a small matter we should discuss."
"Whenever summertime becomes unbearable at the Vinkus, we open the castle here. It's been a few years since we've done it. It was sheer luck that we had this year, for otherwise we wouldn't have found you again." It wasn't like his father to get so sentimental, and yet, he was feeling the same. Luck, exactly so. "Well, this year we expended our stay here because of the latter circumstances, but now… it's time for us to go back home, son. Your mother and I discussed it a while ago, but with everything that happened with Elphaba it was never brought up. I don't know if you two have made plans to settle down at the area once everything is back to order, but your mother and I agree that you could stay here, in this castle, if that's your wish. It's deserted most of the time, anyway; you could make good life here."
It was almost laughable, the way his father was approaching the same issue he was intending to. "Thank you, father, but… there is a different plan we had in mind."
His father didn't seem quite surprised. He told him about the conversation they had the previous night, about their decision to go back to the village with Dr. Dillamond. When he finished, he looked up at his father, somewhat fretfully. The last thing he wanted was to hurt or offend him. But his expression was not one of offence; he seemed rather understanding. "If this is what you think is best, we will not stand in your way. Of course, we'll be sorry that you'll live so far away, but at least we'll know you're alive and safe."
"We will be safe. And so will you. This is the main reason for our decision."
"In that case, we won't stand in your way," his father said again. He sounded confident, and yet there was something else, this deep sorrow hidden in his expression. But the decision was made, for better and for worse. Their ways had to be parted once more. It would be different this time, he told himself. At least his parents would know where he was; at least he left with knowing he was making them proud after all. And they would meet again; perhaps the following summer. For now, it was just the right thing to do.
He stopped dead on his tracks upon his entry into the bedroom. It was empty. The bed looked freshly made. Involuntary panic crawled in. Elphaba was still too weak to leave the room on her own. Did Glinda take her someplace? But that would be too irresponsible a thing for Glinda to do; she knew Elphaba was still unwell.
There was one option he could think of, so he left the room and headed to the other side of the castle. He knew he was right from the moment he opened the door. He could only see the top of her head; the rest of her was hidden behind the thick frame of the armchair she was sitting on. He coughed gently to draw her attention. She turned and smiled, then put a finger to her lips. He let himself into the room and knelt in front of the armchair. She was sitting there with Talleen in her arms. The baby was awake, looking around her in what seemed like curiosity, fussing softly.
"You should be in bed," he scowled at Elphaba, who shook her head.
"I needed the fresh air."
"Please tell me you didn't get here by yourself." Not that he knew how to berate her properly if she had. She didn't seem to take his concern too seriously as it was.
To his relief, she shook her head. "No, Avaric showed me the way. He wanted to stay, but I insisted he'd leave us for a while," she replied, looking down at the baby in her lap.
"Where is Glinda?"
"She left for the Emerald City an hour ago. She'll be back with Dr. Dillamond tomorrow." Then she looked up at him, her eyes imploring, and somewhat anxious. "Have you spoken to your father yet?"
"I have, just now. I don't think he was too happy about it, but I think he saw my point."
"To be honest, I'm not too happy about it myself," she admitted. "But it seems like the most reasonable thing to do, under the circumstances."
He nodded, distracted, for he had just caught their daughter's gaze. Once again, he was taken aback by how tiny she was. "How will we do it? We can't walk the way we came, not with her, she's too small for that."
"Oh, don't worry about that," Elphaba replied, a hint of a smile is visible against her lips as he glanced up at her. "I've taken care for our means of transportation, if we decide to go back."
"Not on a broom again, right?" Just thinking about it made him shudder.
She smiled mysteriously. "Not quite."
Somewhere in the castle, dinner was announced. "Is there any chance I can convince you to join us for dinner?" he asked, almost expecting her to brush him off with an excuse.
"Who is going to watch the baby if I will?"
"We can call in her nurse," he said, standing up again. "If you're out of bed, you'd better eat something as well."
"I guess I should," she said reluctantly, obviously unwilling to let go of the baby.
"She'll be fine. I'll bring her nurse and tell them to wait for us with dinner." He held her gaze for a moment, seeking for her approval. When he got it, he smiled, and left the room in search for Nia.