A/N: Bookverse, but with many liberties regarding past events. :D
Elphaba could see, from the strange shifting images in the looking glass, a swarm of people strangling and embracing each other at the same time. It was mesmerizing in a frightening way, and she would have gone on staring if Melana's screams hadn't suddenly cut through her fascination. Her mother had been making grotesque noises in the past hour, as if something sharp and heavy were going through her; Frex had knelt from her a short distance away, praying so fervently that his face was drenched in sweat. Nanny had been ordering Melana to push, in great bellowing shrieks, and her old charge would respond, with equal parts anger and desperation, "I'm trying, you damn old bat!"
The images had left the looking glass – it only reflected the pale yellow moon, and that was boring, so instead Elphaba got to her feet and walked nearer to her mother, who had stopped screaming in favor of sobbing. Frex had stood as well, clutching his prayer beads as he dashed to his wife's side. Nanny was smoothing Melana's hair, spreading it out on the grass, cooing gently. "There, duck, it's over, it's going to be all right, it's going to be just fine..." She scooped the newborn baby up in her sturdy arms, and added once more, "It's going to be perfectly all right."
But it wasn't.
Elphaba looked at her new brother – sister? – sister, with fascination, eyes trailing over the parts where her shoulders began and arms ended. Frex and Nanny grew quiet as stones.
"What's wrong?" They hadn't been able to find any pinlobble leaves, rushed as they were from the mob pounding at their heels – as a result, Melana had stayed conscious all throughout her labor, which seemed more like her first, considering how drugged she was the last time. The fatigue was making her sleepy, at least, but she could tell from the dead chill in the air that something was not right. She tilted her chin up, a weak attempt at raising her head.
"Nanny, what is it? Nanny, tell me. Frex? What's wrong?" Her voice was starting to crack. Elphaba walked nearer to where Nanny still held the infant, frozen in place. The tiny, broken thing had started to cry, as if it had suddenly realized its defect and was acutely resenting it. "Nanny, tell me! It's a girl, isn't it?" Melana was panicking, her beautiful eyes closing as she burst into fresh sobs. "Oh, I am cursed, I am cursed! Green. Is it green? Or – or blue, or red this time?"
Elphaba didn't notice the insult. She clutched at her father's trousers, trying her best to ignore her mother's weeping. Nanny had already launched into recovery mode, telling both Melana and the new baby to hush up, sweethearts, hush up or Nanny will start weeping herself, and Frex suddenly dropped to his knees once again, although this time it was not apparent whether he was crying or praying.
'It's not green, Melana, please now, Nanny's getting a headache with all this whimpering..."
"Horrors," the little green girl articulated, because she felt the word was appropriate. And then, more meaningfully, "Turtle Heart." Frex turned to look at her with red-rimmed eyes. She added, rather simply, "Gone?"
"Oh gods," Melana screamed, and they all silently agreed (although Frex, still struggling to play the part of the good pastor, had cursed the devil instead).
Quadling Country was a damp, smelly place, with mud all around and rains when the dense trees would let any drops trickle in. Elphaba quickly learned how to wear her own coat and boots, as Nanny had suddenly become preoccupied with caring for Nessa. True, Nessa was not green, but her lack of arms made it necessary for someone to be with her at all times, otherwise she would fall over. Elphaba found it rather sad, the first time she had seen her baby sister attempt to crawl against their splintering wooden floor, chin against the ground as she scraped forward on her knees. "No, you can't," she said, and then she had pulled her sister onto her lap as the little girl started to cry.
She was very pretty, even as a baby, with huge eyes and long lashes and a nice, blunt little nose (Elphaba knew these exact descriptions because Frex loved repeating them loudly into his second daughter's ears).
Melana was outside singing to herself as she attempted to dry the little laundry they had left. She waltzed near the window when she heard the baby wailing, propping up her tired and pretty head on the sill, looking as refined as she could with mud caking her hair and insanity an unwelcome thought in the back of her mind. "What's the matter, sweethearts?" She frowned through her poor complexion. "Elphaba, darling, did you hurt her?"
"No, mama, she was hurting herself."
Nanny had bustled in at that moment, muttering about the crazy market gypsies as she slapped withered vegetables and a small hunk of veal on the only table in the house. "The baby doll is crying again! Whatever am I going to do with you all," and she had plucked Nessarose out of her sister's grip, bobbing her up and down as she went out to take care of the laundry herself.
Elphaba watched glumly as her father arrived on the scene. He embraced Melana, then stooped to kiss his second daughter. "She's going to have a great relationship with the Unnamed God, I just know it," she heard him whisper to Nanny, as if it were a great and wonderful secret, although the older woman didn't seem to be listening. With a sigh, Frex clumped into their hovel with boots that dripped water, and Elphaba shivered through her clothing.
"Well, Fabala, ready to go? I've a new hymn for you that I think would do just the trick."
Sometimes, only sometimes, she wished green wasn't the color of envy.
When Nessarose was old enough to get a religious conscience, Elphaba experienced a recurring desire to get away from her (which, of course, she couldn't do, as Frex expected her to look after poor little special Nessa, and besides that Nanny had gone on vacation back to Colwen Grounds). Shell was playing with some Quadling children, using sticks to draw in the dirt outside. Elphaba ground her teeth as she spooned thick stew into her sister's mouth, and then breathed out slowly as she wiped a stray trickle off her sister's chin. "I think Father's method of conversion is probably not aggressive enough," Nessa said, after a tender gulp.
"Showing us off as signs of the Unnamed God's punishment? Of course not."
There was a silence in which Elphaba made her sister drink another spoonful, then drank one herself.
"You seem upset, Elphie."
"Upset? Me?" But she was almost twelve, and supposed to be patient. "It's drizzling outside, that's all."
Nessa gave a very martyred sigh. "He is weeping for the nonbelievers of this land."
Nessarose never knew Glinda as Galinda, which was both good and bad. Good because this meant she never had the chance to sniff at Galinda for her frivolous and prodigal ways, which was something she would have certainly done, Holy Saint of the Unnamed God that she was. Bad because she usually tried to get the now-quiet and rather amiable Glinda on her side when she and Elphaba had their small little spats, which was rather often. The Gillikin native was never really moved, at least, but it was still trying at times.
"The pair of you can be so immature sometimes," Glinda commented as she rewrote her sorcery notes. Nessa was sulking across the room, offended at her sister's lack of respect for her midafternoon prayers, worse still without the consolation of Nanny, who was tidying up in the room next door. Elphaba read her newly borrowed book and tried not to feel guilty. It was not her fault that Nessa's grand displays of faithfulness were irritating and unnecessary – she secretly thought that crying was her sister's way of making up for not having hands to clasp together in devotion.
"She has no right to make me feel ashamed," Nessarose answered primly from the corner.
"I suppose." Glinda sighed. "But you do know I can't concentrate with all this tension."
"I didn't mean to, Nessa," Elphaba answered, giving in and flopping on the bed simultaneously. She added, silently, that it wouldn't be quite so annoying if she didn't do all her holy things so publicly. Her sister said nothing, shifting instead so that she faced the corner more directly. Glinda sighed and shut her notebook with a snap, putting away her feathered pink pen and sitting next to her green-skinned roommate.
"Let's make this easier for all of us. What you mean is sorry, don't you, Elphie?"
She only just stopped herself rolling her eyes. "Yes." Careful, now. "Sorry."
Nessa sniffed, then said, rather haughtily, "The Unnamed God teaches us how to forgive, and so I must, but I wish you would stop dismissing our Father's faith as silliness. It is my belief too, and my life at that." Glinda and Elphaba exchanged incredulous looks, and had to stifle their giggles with their fists, just as Nessarose turned her head, offering them one of her fragile, blooming-flower smiles.
Later that evening, as the candlelight tapered down to a sputtering flame, with Nanny and Nessa sleeping soundly in the adjoining room, Glinda whispered, "You're a good sister, you know." She was facing the other way, but her words were distinct even through her thick purple sheets.
"Haha." Elphaba paused. "Do you really think so?"
"Yes. You plainly care for her, which must be hard, because you aren't very good at caring." That much was true. But Elphaba didn't know if she was a good sister because she wanted to be one, or because she had to be one.
(And besides, what would Glinda know? She was an only child.)
Melana died without any warning at all, heaving and moaning one moment and completely silent the next. Frex had even started praying in thanksgiving for their first baby boy, only to notice his wife's empty face and the lack of breath in her chest. Nanny had handed Nessa to Elphaba as she bundled up baby Shell, gently prodding Melana while trying to hold back tears. "Come now, silly sweetheart, don't you want to see your baby boy?"
But she no longer could – her eyes had become faraway and lifeless. No one in the room dared breathe, either – save Shell (who seemed, at least, completely normal, and had started to cry in earnest) – Elphaba turned her head down and, just for a moment, felt the hot wretched burning of tears around her eyes, wiping them away with one sleeve while she used the other arm to hold Nessa back.
"What's happened to mama?" And if Nessa had arms, she most certainly would have pointed at where their mother lay in a pale, soundless heap.
"We happened to her," Elphaba answered quietly, so that her sister couldn't hear. She pulled Nessa's armless little frame tighter into her embrace, and this time her eyes stayed dry as rocks.
Nanny actually made very good company in Kiamo Ko, although Elphaba would never admit that. They spent long hours drinking weak tea and chatting, dredging up memories when Elphaba could stand to, and talking about the present when Nanny could be bothered to. "Sometimes I wish Glinda hadn't magicked Nessa's shoes, convenient as they are. They hardened the poor child. Made her think just because she can stand on her own now, she can do anything." Nanny wrinkled a nose at her tasteless cup, and set it down.
"Well, you can enjoy your retirement now, at least." Elphaba wasn't very good at cheering people up, but she knew Nanny had been deeply insulted by Nessa's lack of need. Not that Nanny would have been much help anymore anyway, considering how much effort it took her to reach the dining table. "Anyway, it sounds like our dear little Nessa has gone from praise to politics, so maybe she's getting more grounded in this world than the next."
"She's just putting up a front, a sort of shield of pride. She did the same thing when Glinda came back alone. She went berserk. The things she said. Your father's ears would've bled."
"I'm sure that was a sight."
"Don't be bitter, now. Some crutches work better for her than religion, and don't we all know it. She needs someone by her side." Nanny squinted at Elphaba through folds of wrinkles, and the witch knew she was being silently accused. "To stop her head swelling, if anything."
"I think it's too late for that." Elphie picked up the teatray and fled to her room.
Elphaba did not know how to feel about Nessarose's death. She did not show Liir or Nanny how distressed she was about her lack of reaction, bustling about in her rush to leave for the memorial service. My sister is dead, she thought to herself, amazed. Nessa is dead. Nessa was crushed by a house! She wondered, fleetingly, if the shoes had been crushed as well, then realized what a bitch she was being, and stopped.
Later, as she flew towards Colwen Grounds, she felt something break inside her, something that had been buried under years of failed attempts at love, terrorism, charity, motherhood – something soft and sweet and human, something that made her eyes prickle so painfully that her broom rocketed about in the air for a bit. She inhaled deeply, calming herself, telling herself that the Eminent Thropp deserved it, heartless Witch that she had become.
Hypocrite, that something whispered. She cringed, disgusted at herself.
"What does it feel like, Elphie?" Her sister was leaning against her torso, resting her head against Elphaba's neck as she stared longingly at the strange flowers that had bloomed outside their hut – not a house, and not a home since Melana left. It was one of those good days – Frex was sleeping, tired out from a week of preaching; Shell was hunting for dragonflies; Nanny had promised them all that they'd have something other than stew for dinner. Nessa was not being annoying, just sweet. Elphaba felt a twinge of guilt as she watched her sister gaze at the blossom, as if sight were a strong enough replacement for touch.
"How does it feel?" She wondered again, coyly. Elphaba knelt, boots a shield from the eternally damp ground, and reached out a green hand to grasp the pretty thing. There were a few drops of rain still glistening on it – she hesitated, for a moment, then thought of Nessa and picked it up, even as her skin hissed a protest at the contact.
"It's soft," she said. "And prickly round the edges. Like you!" She tickled her sister's chin with the flower, and Nessarose giggled.
"Elphie," she said in her soft, melodic voice. "Be my hands for today?"
"Of course," she obliged, and she spent the rest of the afternoon touching the things her sister, despite all her silent prayers, could not.
A/N: Thanks for reading. I know the story makes up a lot of background in some parts, but I based most of it on hints in the book. Comments would be greatly appreciated. :D