Eyes fluttering open, Elphaba realized that there was no alarm clock pestering her and no one demanding her help. She bolted upright and reached for her phone. There was sunlight shining in from under the door. That was never a good sign.
"Looking for this?"
Elphaba fell off her bed when Fiyero sat up waving her phone in front of her face. She would have slapped him for laughing at her, but she was overwhelmed.
Translating the trance-like facial expression, Fiyero concluded, "You forgot about me." He faked a sniffle. "Well, I'll just show myself out then."
"Could you tell me what time it is first?"
"Around ten thirty," he answered casually, forgetting to continue his act.
With recordbreaking speed, Elphaba shot up and began pulling things out of her closet. Fiyero dodged a flying cardigan. "Wouldn't it make more sense to take mental health day?"
Fiyero nodded thoughtfully and waved his index finger towards the closet turned disaster zone. "That reminded me of when Boq had that breakdown during exams."
"I trust you can make it down the stairs safely?"
"Meanwhile, Avaric had the same exams and didn't bat a ginger eyelash."
"I'd rather be a Boq than an Avaric," Elphaba retorted, preferring to argue than get ready.
"But we all know that Avaric's going to be more successful. He'll probably land a cushiony job working for your brother. Boq's going to be marooned on a farm somewhere with seven kids and suicidal wife."
"That's not fair."
Elphaba didn't look amused. She inhaled deeply and felt the tension in her lungs. "So what? You're a teacher now?"
"Please." Fiyero snorted. "I actually know what I'm talking about." He patted the space beside him.
Taking her time settling on the mattress, Elphaba bunched the sheets around herself. She glanced at her clock and shuddered. "This feels dirty."
"Oh no. I'm corrupting your innocence!"
Pushing a pillow up against the wall, leaning against it and crossing her legs, Elphaba smiled. "When I was two my mom and I used to sit in the backyard and she would tell me about her sex life." She looked around, guilt narrowing her eyes. "Speaking of pretend innocence...where are the kids?"
"Shell thought it would be cool to take the bus for the first time, so he tried it and called me for directions. Let me just say that thank God Nessa was there to remind me that I wasn't a native Munchkin."
Elphaba looked like she was going to faint. She shoved him in the shoulder as hard as she could. "WHY DIDN'T YOU WAKE ME UP YOU FUC-"
"So I suggested we call your mom since she's like the princess of this godforsaken dwarf town." He let out a long whistle. "Holy mother of reincarnated Kumbricia. Who made it a sin to call their parents for directions? I swear Nessa had a murderous glint in her eye."
The rigidity in her muscles just kept on building. "Is Nessa in her room?"
"Nah. She went to the library."
"She's eighteen." In Elphaba's eye was a replica of the dangerous twinkle that had been in Nessa's, but Fiyero didn't see what he had done wrong. "I don't get it." He shook his head. "You guys were so normal."
"It's not hard to get," Elphaba almost yelled. "I've got to manage until mom and dad can get their shit together. And when you waltz right in here with your happy grin and your stupid white pants that went out of style before they were designed and think it's perfectly fine to send my siblings out around town on their own-"
Snapping his fingers, Fiyero muttered, "Don't get mad. But I'm feeling this pressure in my head and I think it's a thought." He paused and then continued, "Nessa and Shell really look up to you, so when you freak out over everything, they're going to copy you. And when you're afraid of everything, they're going to be too. And when you refuse to fix things with your parents, they're going to refuse."
"Are you kidding? We'll be lucky if we can convince Nessa to show up at their funerals."
"Which makes things near impossible for Shell. He's obligated to all four of you."
There was an uncomfortable bout of silence and all Elphaba could do was squirm in her spot. "How the hell do you know all of this?"
"Code for 'Nessa and Shell told me everything.'" She watched him, leaning back with his legs spread out in front of him and her phone in his lap. "So what do you think?"
He shrugged. "I don't think it matters. I mean, if I was raised by a pack of wolves, I'd be more wolf than man. It's all about you five. Or six, if you count Nanny. Seven with Aunt Sophelia. And eight with me." She began to protest, but he clamped her lips closed. "Nuh uh. I was initiated by Nanny."
She smiled slightly and then it faded. "You have to go soon, don't you?"
"I don't want to."
Elphaba's eyes were trained downward and she traced the lining of the blue quilt to where his hand was resting at his side. Before he knew it she was reaching up to wipe her eyes with her sleeve. "I don't know where to go anymore. Shell's dad doesn't want to see me, so I thought I could go to Nanny, but my grandparents don't want to see me. My mother hates me. Then I realize all over again that I'm the outsider of the family. I could become a hermit in a Vinkun cave and no would notice."
"We do offer luxury caves. Two bed, one bath. Breakfast in the morning..." Never before had Fiyero felt so helpless. He didn't know what else to say for fear of risking resemblance of one of those funeral guests whose condolences float high above the gravity of loss or the jerk who forgot a birthday and only wished the best because everyone else was. Squeezing her hand as tightly as he could, he blurted, "I want to move in with you."
She retreated slightly. "No, you can't-"
Fiyero placed a finger over her lips. "If I move in, I can pay half the rent and you can quit one of your jobs. I'll transfer and work around here. It'll be easier on Nessa and Shell because they'll have the attention they need and you'll have time for you again. You can remember how to read."
Feeling ridiculous, Elphaba made quick work of drying her eyes and then stared at the wet marks on the fringe of her sleeve. "I've never seen my mother cry. I don't know how she does it."
"That doesn't necessarily entail strength, Elphaba."
Meeting his eyes, Elphaba had to swallow her desires. "Fiyero, you're too good for a place like this."
He appeared slightly hurt. "I thought you wanted me around."
"I do, but-"
"So then what's the point of pushing me away?"
Pushing the covers towards the end of the bed with her feet, Elphaba swung her legs down. "Why do you care so much?"
"Because I do." He pulled her back, bringing her closer than she had been before. "All you have to say is 'welcome to the family.'"
The repulsion Elphaba felt towards the phrase was surprising. Maybe she didn't want to drag Fiyero into the mess or maybe some part of her was still reluctant to let him in, but she said it anyway, completely convinced that it was entirely for Nessa and Shell's sake.
After that they spent the day lounging in bed as if Fiyero had always been around. He didn't return Elphaba's phone and picked out a book for her to read instead, while he watched. Her hair was tangled and there were circles underneath her eyes, not to mention the hole at the hem of her shirt, but he couldn't stop staring. When she noticed, colour flooded her cheeks and she'd purposely look away, which egged him on.
Prepared to comment, Elphaba stopped and looked at the drawer beside her bed. "I think someone's calling." She lunged for the phone, but Fiyero blocked her and picked it up himself.
"Yell-o?" He continued with a few 'uh huhs' and 'mhms' and then hung up. "Nessa wants to come home. Do you want to come pick her up with me?"
They picked up Nessa, who was delighted to see Elphaba with Fiyero and then drove to Shell's school to pick him up. When everyone was piled into the car, Fiyero said, "Get ready to get all excited everyone. Okay? I've moved in!"
Nessa and Shell exchanged a look and stayed silent.
"Let's try that again." Fiyero cleared his throat. "Fiyero's living with you! Yay!" He waved his hands around, trying to spread the enthusiasm.
"We totally saw this coming," Nessa said, wrinkling her nose. "You're insulting our intelligence."
"So what does that make you now?" Shell inquired.
Nessa pursed her lips in thought. "Well, he can't be a dad. We already have too many of those. And he can't be an uncle because Aunt Sophelia's perpetually single."
"Like you," Shell chimed and Nessa slapped him. Was there ever a car ride when Shell didn't end up with a red welt on his face?
"You're one to talk!" she shrieked. "The only way anyone's ever going to touch you is if you force them."
"And how would I do that?"
"I don't know. Drugs...alcohol...all the real dictators do it." Suddenly a sly look came over Nessa. "I know! Fiyero's our boyfriend-in-law!"
"Slow down there, Nessa," Elphaba rushed.
"What? You two obviously get along very well," she defended innocently.
"Watching you two is like watching a chemistry lesson." Shell hit Fiyero's arm. "There you go man, pick up line right there."
"We'll innocently ignore the fact that I failed chemistry in high school," Fiyero muttered and then raised his voice a touch. "All in favour of going out for dinner so Fiyero doesn't get taunted for inferior knowledge of pizza toppings?"
Thirty minutes later found the Thropps and the Vinkun sitting around a cluttered table that was conveniently separated from the other restaurant patrons, actively listening to an anecdote of Shell's. "So I asked my teacher why education brings so much misery if it's so good for us and she freaked out at me," he told them as if it was a life-changing moment. On any other occasion it would have been an interesting tale, but with Fiyero and Elphaba's day of beautiful nothingness it was lame in comparison.
"Maybe because education brings in her paycheques. What kind of person wouldn't want to rake in the dough for ruining lives?" Nessa pointed out, twirling ropes of spaghetti around her fork. On top of having numerous allergies, she was also a picky eater.
"There are teachers that freak out over anything though," Fiyero defended. "Morrible was terrifying."
"She wasn't that bad," Elphaba countered.
Fiyero turned to Nessa and Shell. "The wicked witch of the rez."
"It's a good thing I'm not going to Shiz then," Nessa decided, glancing at her sister for approval.
"You're going to university?" Fiyero exclaimed and pretended to wipe away a tear. "I remember when you were just a little overachieving sophomore."
"And I remember when Fiyero was just a cocky prince, who couldn't get enough of himself." Shell looked at Fiyero. "Not much has changed."
Elphaba took a sip of her water. "Says the boy who sucked his thumb until he was eleven."
Nessa shrugged. "By the third, parents are really too tired to intervene."
"Or they have other brats to deal with." Shell stared down at his plate nonchalantly and then turned up to find Nessa burning red. "Oh, hi Ness, how are you this fine evening?"
"I'm finished," Nessa decided suddenly, pushing her half eaten dinner away from her.
Reaching for the plate, Fiyero winced as Elphaba slapped his hand away. "A big, strong man has a big, strong appetite," he argued, taking the plate.
Shell laughed and scanned the restaurant. "What big, strong man?"
A pout docked the age of Fiyero's face a few years. "Your puny Munchkin strength is no match for my Vinkun muscle." In response, Nessa pinched Fiyero as hard as she could and he recoiled. "Ow! Elphaba, Nessa pinched me!"
Shell pinched Nessa and winked at Fiyero. Elphaba noticed and slapped Fiyero's arm where Nessa had pinched it.
"So now we're against both Thropp sisters." Fiyero stroked his chin. "Shell, this calls for desperate measures."
"I'll get the house," Shell offered.
"I'll get the water," Fiyero finished.
That night when everyone was sitting in Shell's room, Fiyero casually rose from his spot and disappeared into the kitchen. He returned holding a box behind his back. "The first change I'm making to this household is the reinstitution of Monozpoly night."
Shell jumped off the couch and landed on his knees, fists in the air. "FIYERO TIGELAAR, YOU ARE MY SUN GOD!"
Fiyero set the box on the carpet and passed the money up to Nessa, who had always proved an honest banker. Although, there really wasn't any hardcore proof on that.
The game was so intense that everyone stayed absolutely silent except for the opportune property dispute. Eventually, Elphaba got impatient and forfeited. She threw half of her money into Shell's pile and the other into Nessa's. Soon enough Fiyero met his end too and it was left to Nessa and Shell. They continued for an hour until Shell lost and refused to admit it. He looked as if he was about to cry.
"Change happens. Embrace it," Elphaba said apathetically.
"Aw," said Fiyero apologetically, "does Shell need a hug?" Without waiting for an answer, he dove over the game board and tackled Shell into a hug, then sat up to include Nessa as well. Elphaba watched the scene, but remained lost in thought.