She nodded, fighting the strong desire to bite her nails. "Father."
He had already greeted Nessa buoyantly, and now he turned around to watch the servants wheeling her across the station. "Careful!" he shouted harshly. He turned to follow them, gesturing with one hand for Elphaba to follow. It seemed that was all she was going to hear from him for the moment. She supposed she should be relieved.
The climb up the stairs to her bedroom in the Governor's house seemed to take more energy than ever before. Her foot creaked on the same stair it always had, and her fingers passed unseeing over the familiar chip in the banister. The Governor had thrown something heavy - Elphaba couldn't remember exactly what, and certainly no one had ever discussed it - after the doctor who had told him that his second daughter would never walk. It had gouged the wood, but no one had been paying much attention to things like that then - there was the lame baby, and the Governor's wife would be dead within the hour.
Her bedroom smelled musty, and there was a layer of dust on just about every surface, but the smell underneath was one she recognized. Warm Munchkinland summer and just a bit of mold from the old pipes, and the smell of the tar they'd have used to repair the roof after winter. She set her suitcase on her bed and stood in the center of the room biting her lip, not quite sure of what to do.
She heard feet in the hallway outside her door - servants probably, her father almost never came to this part of the house - and stretched herself out on the bed, flipping the pillow over to the less-dusty side and breathing in the familiar dry scent of the lye they used on the white linens. It was less harsh than the stuff they used in the laundry at Shiz, but somehow she had grown more used to that. Perhaps because it was softened, in their room, by Glinda and her habitual aroma of cherry blossoms and something Elphaba had never quite been able to place. Elphaba rubbed her hand over her face and almost imagined that her skin carried a little bit of Glinda's scent.
The booming voice in the hall was one she recognized and yet didn't - the servants never spoke to her much and she could only barely tell one from another when she was looking at them. The heavy oak door muffling his voice didn't help much, either.
"She looks the same to me," another voice responded, equally familiar and unfamiliar.
"Nah," said the first, "there's something about her . . ."
A snort, and the second man said, "She's still a horror. Nothing's going to change that. You'd better get those things carried in or the Gov'nor'll have both our heads."
Elphaba turned her face into the pillow as the feet moved away from the door in opposite directions. It wasn't certainly, that she had ever forgotten what a horror she was, but . . . at school there was just Nessa from the family, and there was Boq speaking to her almost normally after his initial horrified reaction, and there was Rikk, who had shaken her hand without batting an eye, and there was Fiyero, who turned the same almost-charming smile on her as he did on everyone else, and there was the Wizard, even, who thought she made too much of being different - and there was Glinda, who had certainly been just like everyone else at first but who now thought nothing of throwing her arms around Elphaba twelve times a day, of taking her hand or kissing her, and who never seemed to remember that Elphaba's skin should have been horrific, disgusting.
Elphaba would have laughed hysterically at anyone who had suggested earlier in the year, when she had first met Galinda, that she would be wishing for her so desperately now. No matter how much in vain, Glinda would have been outraged at those strange disembodied voices outside the door. She would have crawled into bed with Elphaba and started aimlessly unbraiding her hair and said that she loved her and that she was beautiful, and however untrue and however uncomfortable it made Elphaba to hear it, it would have been a comfort nevertheless. Elphaba sighed.
She spent long days taking books outside, which was not so different from anything she had done before at home. She did wonder why she had ever been so attached to keeping her hair so severely off her face; here, outside the comfortable sphere she had finally carved out at school, she was finding it terribly convenient to let her curtains of dark hair hide her as she bent over her books. Every now and then she glanced up and saw one of the servants, one she didn't entirely recognize, watching her carefully, but she didn't sense that he was dangerous in any way. Just curious, and curious in a not-disgusted way was unique enough that she let him be. And in any case all the servants were hovering, now that Kiren had begun his frequent visits to discuss philosophy work with Elphaba, during which he spent all his time talking with Nessa in the gardens while Elphaba studiously ignored them from as far away as possible.
As instructed, she wrote to Glinda immediately on her very first day home. She didn't know what to say, really, but she managed to convey that the journey had been fine, that Nessa had travelled well and without any trouble, that her father had not seemed angry with her, that he hadn't mentioned the Wizard, that Munchkinland was having very nice weather, and, stiltedly, that she missed Glinda very much. Glinda's letter arrived in such record time that Elphaba almost suspected she had to have written it before Elphaba's arrived, except that she responded to specific things mentioned in Elphaba's letter to her. Her message consisted mainly of greetings to Nessa, a few statements to the effect that she was angry at Elphaba's father for all the things Elphaba clearly wasn't telling the entire truth about, and a warning that her parents had written the Governor that same day. She concluded with an "I love you" so subtly set off from the rest of the text and so minorly different in handwriting that Elphaba could hear it in her soft voice, in the way her tone changed when she really meant what she was saying. She folded the letter carefully and placed it inside a book she had already finished and packed back into her trunk.
Elphaba's father mentioned his letter at dinner. "I suppose it's good politics," was his opening statement as he watched with an eagle-eye the Munchkin who was setting soup in front of Nessa. "This girl has been taken on by the Wizard as well, is my understanding."
"Yes," Elphaba said, not elaborating.
"And she's Elphaba's friend," Nessa said gently, picking up her spoon. "It's very nice of Glinda's parents to invite her."
"Indeed." The Governor cleared his throat. "Well, Nessa, but how will you do without your sister all summer?"
Elphaba managed not to look at her sister. Nessa smiled serenely across her soup and said, "Remember Father, you promised you might take me to the Emerald City this summer. We wouldn't have taken Elphaba with us anyway, would we?"
Elphaba winced, but it was of course the right thing to say.
"And anyway," Nessa continued, "Elphaba's already been there so many times."
"That's true," their father said, although Elphaba knew full well that her experience of the Emerald City would never have borne any part of his decision to take her there or not. "Well, I suppose I'd better write them back."
Elphaba tried not to smile, especially because she was already predicting how long it would take Glinda to write with her happiness and relief once her parents received the Governor's permission.
Her strangest letter came a day after Glinda's second, causing Elphaba a moment of confusion as she wondered what in Oz Glinda could have to say again so soon. She had more than a moment of confusion when she realized the letter was actually from Fiyero. She turned it over in her hands several times as she watched the servant who had handed it to her departing across the lawn. The seal was queer-looking and the wax very hard - she had never received a letter from the Vinkus before and didn't recognize whatever it was they used. Some of its red color stayed on her finger as she carefully broke it open.
She rolled her eyes instinctively at the sight of his sprawling handwriting, feeling at once as if she were reading over one of his essays before class. The sensation was not lessened once she actually started reading the letter; he had, oddly, a great deal to say about politics in the Vinkus and the position of the royal family on communications with the Emerald City and on new trading regulations - Elphaba was surprised, confused, and almost bored for several minutes before she realized what he was telling her. The Vinkus was considering withdrawing from direct trading with the Emerald City because of the stricter Animal laws that affected the trade routes. That had her biting her lip and staring at the letter for quite some time, and not only because she was rather impressed that he had managed to be so subtle.
The bottom of the letter contained greetings to Nessa that could have been copied from Glinda's letter - perhaps they had compared notes? - general expressions of concern that she was all right and that nothing troublesome was happening, and a brief phrase, blending so perfectly with the rest of his loose scrawl that it seemed unreal - "And I miss you, Elphaba" - that made her run her fingers over the sheet of paper in wonder at the strangeness. The fact that he followed it with, "And Glinda, too," didn't make it any less strange.
She wrote back, awkwardly, her handwriting more tightly cramped than usual, and with even less idea of what to say than when she wrote to Glinda.
When the time came for her to leave Munchkinland at last, her father was about as distraught as she had expected. He sent her off to the station with a servant and a warning not to be any trouble in Gillikin, and thankfully that was it.
Halfway to Gillikin she could easily tell that they were leaving the South - the trees were taller and fuller, and the window against which she was leaning her head was getting cool. The sun had stopped pouring directly through the glass, and she actually needed her sweater.
She stepped nervously down the train steps into the twilight of a cool evening, suitcase propped against her foot for balance and her hair swinging into her eyes. It took her less than a moment to spot Glinda, who looked - wonderful. Even in the semi-dark she seemed brighter than she had been those last months at school. Her hair looked longer, even though Elphaba knew it couldn't have grown much in only a month. The dress she was wearing was clearly new; it fit her better than the ones that had become too loose. The sun had turned her nose just slightly pink, Elphaba noticed as she came closer, but it fit her complexion so perfectly that it only made her prettier.
Glinda didn't say a word at first; she only crossed the platform with quick, firm steps and threw herself into Elphaba's arms. Looking nervously over Glinda's shoulder at the tall, fair, wealthy Gillikinese couple who had to be her parents, Elphaba set down her suitcase and gingerly embraced Glinda in return, not at all certain how these people would react to the sight of the green monstrosity anywhere near their daughter. They didn't make a move to come closer, and Elphaba let herself relax just a little bit at the rush of familiarity that spread through her, at Glinda's warmth against her, the smell of her hair, the fingers that scrunched into the fabric of Elphaba's sweater. With a little jolt of surprise Elphaba realized that, save for Nessa once or twice, no one had touched her since Glinda had gone away. It was the natural state of things for her, but over the year Glinda had managed to acclimate her to having another person so close and actually wanting to be in contact with her.
Before Glinda quite pulled away she tilted her face up and kissed Elphaba's jaw, near her chin. "I'm so glad you're here," she whispered, eyes shining. "Come on."
Elphaba was fidgeting with nervousness, although Glinda couldn't see why. After all, her parents did know exactly what to expect. And Elphaba really was looking wonderful - it wasn't one of those days where the sight of her might have frightened a small child, green or no, because of the severity of her expression or the deep concentration in her eyes or the harsh black she shrouded herself in. She was looking almost soft this evening - the dim light couldn't have hurt, it made her appear almost silvery - and more girlish than Glinda remembered. She supposed it was because in her head Elphaba was sometimes more the powerful witch than the girl who flushed when boys tried to talk to her and who held Glinda's hand when she was upset.
Glinda's parents both blinked at the sight of Elphaba, but they were well-prepared and they showed almost no reaction. Her father held out a hand and said something terribly formal that Glinda paid little attention to; she was watching her mother, whose eyes were sweeping up and down Elphaba's form with an unreadable expression. She finally put a hand on her husband's arm and said, "That should be enough, darling, the poor thing isn't here as an emissary. She's been travelling all day and I'm sure she's exhausted, aren't you, dear?"
Elphaba barely managed to nod and say, "Thank you," but Glinda was watching carefully and she could tell that Elphaba was relieved. The Uplands might not have been the warmest people in all of Oz, but in terms of the way people usually reacted to Elphaba this might as well have been a tickertape parade. And besides that, Glinda's parents weren't being cold or distant and their muted greeting was little to do with Elphaba herself, Glinda knew. They were simply being calm and cautious toward someone they didn't know, and someone who had been heavily influencing their daughter in their absence. No matter what Glinda told them, they weren't the ones who had spent all year as Elphaba's roommate and there was no way she could make them feel the same way about her friend as she did. They all just needed a bit of time to get used to each other. In all, Glinda was pleased. She held Elphaba's hand in the carriage all the way home, just partially hidden under the folds of their skirts, and managed not to chatter the entire way.
When she led Elphaba up to the guest bedroom adjacent to her own, Elphaba hesitated in the doorway. "This is all right, isn't it?" Glinda asked, dancing somewhat nervously behind her taller friend. "I'm just next door, there."
"It's lovely," Elphaba said softly, taking a step further. Privately Glinda thought that this rather ordinary guest room in their rather ordinary, if well-to-do, home couldn't be much compared to the Governor's mansion back in Munchkinland, but she didn't say anything. She just smoothed her skirts, ran a gentle, matter-of-fact hand over Elphaba's hair, and said, "I should let you sleep, you look worn out. We can talk tomorrow." She didn't want to leave, she wanted to stay and wrap her arms around Elphaba and tell her everything she had been waiting to say but wasn't willing to write down about home and her parents and all sorts of things she would have been mortified for anyone to see but Elphaba - but Elphaba did look exhausted and Glinda knew it wouldn't be fair to keep her up. After all, they had all the rest of the summer, and the whole school year after that. They had forever.
"All right," Elphaba said, turning to face Glinda with her fingers twitching at her sides. Glinda recognized the sign that her friend didn't know quite what to do, and so she stepped forward and hugged Elphaba tightly.
"I've missed you so much," she said. "I'm so, so glad you're here now."
"So am I," Elphaba said, her hands very slowly coming to rest on the back of Glinda's head. She was tentative and nervous; it had been too long, clearly, since she had been around someone who cared for her properly. Glinda closed her eyes and pressed a brief kiss to the side of Elphaba's face before she pulled away. Elphaba's family made her entirely too sad sometimes, but she'd make up for it.
Glinda lasted what she suspected was about an hour in her own bed before she finally gave up. She crept as quietly as she could into the next room, pondered and then abandoned the idea of waking Elphaba on purpose, and instead just slipped carefully into the bed and nestled herself close to Elphaba's back. Elphaba was clearly awake, but she lay still and let Glinda adjust them into a comfortable, familiar position with Glinda's arms tight around her. Glinda settled her head onto the pillow and closed her eyes, but after a moment Elphaba gently extricated herself from Glinda's hands and shifted away. Glinda felt her face growing hot and thought her heart might have frozen for a moment, but Elphaba simply turned onto her other side and shifted close again, hesitantly reaching for Glinda and guiding her close. This was new, mostly, and Glinda couldn't quite keep back a small, contented sigh as she rested her cheek against Elphaba's shoulder. Perfect as her parents were, somehow no one had ever managed to make her feel quite as safe and as loved as Elphaba, even if Elphaba couldn't manage to express it in any other way. She thought she might burst in gratitude at having her back - she couldn't think of anything right now that could be better than this.