A/N: I realize that this story is a little [extraordinarily] out of left field, but I thought it would be a good way of combining my love for Modern AU with my love for Melena, who – and don't deny it – is a fascinating yet hugely neglected character. I mean, is this really the best we can do? Eighty pages of questionable parenting and barely coherent griping? Two minutes of stage time? A few speculative oneshots? It's shameful! She doesn't require all our attention, but she does need some of it!
10/24/2015: Greetings! This is Isabella from the future…oooOoooOooo…and I've become annoyingly militant about typos in my old age, so I'm revisiting this story to do a little bit of a clean-up. No content changes, I promise. I'm just tired of being tormented by the thought of all these unnecessary semi-colons and confused homophones while I'm trying to sleep at night.
"I can't take this. I'm going to get another cup of coffee."
Shell grabbed his mother – who, for a tall Munchkin, was pretty short – by the shoulder and spun her around. "Uh, uh, uh," he said, raising his eyebrows to illustrate his disapproval and getting away with it, "you're cutting back on coffee, remember?"
"Well, I don't know if I'd call it cutting back," Nessa opined, "but at least we got her down to three cups a day."
Melena blinked at Nessa as if she had never seen her before, throwing the back of her hand against her forehead in a way that was almost cinematic. "And you have no idea how hard it's been," she breathed. "The ratio of coffee to kids is supposed to be two to one – minimum. It says so in the human rights code. Look it up. I dare you."
"Tell you what: I'll let you go if you get me a cookie," Shell offered. "Deal?"
Reaching up to ruffle his hair, Melena then moved her hands to his cheeks and rested them there. "That's my boy! Always concerned with what's in it for him!" Her eyes were all but glistening. "Okay, coffee and cookies. I'm on it. I'll be back in a—" she pulled out her phone and glanced at the time, "—oh god, look how early it is still!"
"You did tell Elphaba to catch the red-eye," Nessa reminded her.
"Did I really? What was I thinking?" Melena said, leading them to a vacant cluster of chairs. She pushed Shell into one and stood over him. "I'm going to be back in ten minutes. You are going to be right here with your sister. If I come back and you've run off again there will be consequences. If I come back and I see so much as one fist aimed at anyone's anything there will be consequences. Just like last time."
"And wouldn't that just be so embarrassing for Elphaba?" Nessa said, referring to the array of sophisticated families seated sparsely throughout the area. For the most part, they were conversing in hushed tones or thumbing through magazines with Digest in the title as they waited for their returning students. "Of course, it would be all Shell's fault. As usual."
Observing the same scene, Melena shrugged. "You know what? We made it here and Elphaba should be grateful for that. Being normal was not part of the bargain." She started on her way and turned back to face them about fifteen steps later, flashing them the I'm watching you sign before continuing on.
"I think it's me who's supposed to be in charge," Shell stated bluntly, turning to Nessa.
"I'm two years older than you, idiot."
"But what if someone came up and just wheeled you away?" he said, making circles with his index finger. "It's me who's stopping that."
Offended, Nessa rotated her wheelchair so that she was glaring at him directly. "I can fend for myself!"
"Oh, really?" Shell leaned forward and pressed the tips of his fingers together in a stance of silent challenge that he had inherited from his father. "How?"
"Elphaba said I could have powers too! She's taking a sorcery class and she's going to show me!" So, ha, sucker, she thought, but didn't add.
"Pfft. Powers are useless."
"You're so jelly!"
Shell stared at her blankly. "I'm not jelly!" He fumbled with his thoughts and shot back, "Elphaba just loves you more!"
"Mom loves you more!"
"Dad loves you more!"
Nessa opened her mouth to refute the claim and then closed it. "...good point."
Deadlocked, they lapsed into silence and took to watching the people who were rushing by to make last-minute flights, laughing at the occasional frantic businessman with bad connection on his phone. At one point, Shell even rose to follow one around, dogging his steps while Nessa did her best to stifle her giggling. But the man didn't take long to notice the teenager making faces behind his back and chased Shell away, effectively returning the siblings to square one.
"Can you believe I'm sixteen and I've never been out of Munchkinland?" Nessa sighed.
Shell patted her shoulder. "It's okay, Ness. One day, you and I, we'll rule Oz."
"What about Elphaba?"
"Huh, that could be a problem." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "If you get Munchkinland, she'll have to form a tie somewhere else and rule part-time."
"I'll rule all of Oz."
"So, like...you're the next Wizard?"
Shell gaped at her, exasperated. "You just said I have no powers!" He tapped his foot and scanned the terminal. "I'm kinda partial to the term emperor..."
"That sounds like a plan," Nessa said. "Shake on it?" She offered her hand and Shell shook it.
"So..." he started.
"So..." she finished.
Shell reached over and pinched her arm. "Don't repeat me!"
Retaliating, Nessa dug her nails into his wrist as hard as she could. "You're horrendible company!"
"Okay, fine. I know what we can discuss." Shell cleared his throat. "How come such a cool person like mom had such boring daughters?"
"Boring?" a voice exclaimed behind them. "And here I was under the impression that I was interesting! My life is a lie! Hmm. Does that make it less boring?"
"Elphaba!" Nessa squealed, reaching up to hug her sister.
Elphaba stooped to embrace Nessa and then turned to Shell. "And, look, you brought my bag boy!" She slid her bag off her shoulder right into the lap of her brother, who picked up the book-filled tote by the straps and mentally weighed the capacity of his sister's nerdiness.
As he was about to make a comment about it being completely off the charts, Elphaba, you're a miracle of nature, their ears were assaulted by an excited shriek and Elphaba whirled around expectantly. Her mother shoved her coffee into Nessa's hand and a cookie into Shell's ("Oatmeal raisin? Seriously?") and leapt at her eldest daughter with arms flung wide.
Bewildered, Elphaba looked at Nessa and Shell over Melena's shoulder. "What's with this affection?"
"Mom took too many happy pills this morning," Shell said.
Elphaba stared at him, horrified.
"He's joking," Nessa reassured her.
Melena stepped back, keeping Elphaba's hands gripped in her own, and admired her daughter from roots to toes. "So now I can't be happy to see you?" She ignored Elphaba's ready reply. "I mean, come on! You didn't even come home for spring break!"
"I had exams—"
"I haven't seen you since Lurlinemas! What if you looked different? Or found a new hobby? For all I know you could've caught the plague!"
"It's okay, Mom. I look the same, like the same things and am completely plague-free as of two months ago."
Melena's mouth fell open.
"Oh, okay...good." She cupped Elphaba's face in her hands. "God, Elphaba, you're finished your first year of university! I can't even look at you! It's like you have Mom, you're ancient written across your forehead!"
"Shockingly, that's not the worst tattoo idea I've heard this week," Elphaba admitted, retrieving her bag from Shell. "Can we head home? I feel like a zombie."
"And you look like one too!" Melena sang, handing Nessa her purse. "Nessa, love, find my keys for me, will you?"
"Aye, aye, captain."
While they waited, Melena fell into the seat beside Shell and pulled Elphaba into the seat beside her. "Your father sends his regards, but – surprise, surprise – he had some minister thing to do. We're all making an effort to contain our astonishment."
"That's alright," Elphaba sighed happily, leaning back and closing her eyes. "My two favourite people are here." She opened one eye and caught Shell's sour expression. "Oh, are you still here too?"
"Hey, hey, hey. Be nice," Melena intervened.
"Funny you should say that, because Shell called Elphaba and I boring," Nessa pointed out, elbow-deep in the black leather abyss, "which wasn't very nice at all."
Shell's jaw dropped, tugged downward by the sheer gravitational pull of his own surprise. "You are boring! I was saving you the pain of someone else telling you!"
"And what makes you so interesting?" Elphaba inquired menacingly.
Melena raised her hands as if to separate them and said, "I'm going to settle this right now: I'm the most interesting person around here."
Shell snorted. "Because you're forty—"
"WE DO NOT SAY THE 'F' WORD IN THIS FAMILY, SHELL!"
Nessa, triumphing at last, pulled the ring of keys from her mother's purse. She shook the bag and then glanced back in, extracting a cable bill that had been due five months previous, three tubes of lipstick – all the same shade – and, weirdly, a screwdriver. "Mom, you really need to organize this," she said, laughing.
Waving it off, Melena accepted the keys and replied, "Don't worry. Elphaba can do it. I have a whole bunch of things I need her to do for me." And, with that, she started off towards the exit, pushing her way through the groups of reuniting families that dotted the expanse of the baggage claim and beyond. Shell and Nessa, as if invited into a timeless game of Follow the Leader, took their rightful positions behind her.
Elphaba shouldered her bag and prepared to follow as well. "Welcome back," she muttered to herself.
It was exactly the same as it had been a few months ago…a year ago…well, pretty much the same as it had been since she'd been born. The Thropp residence hadn't changed and probably never would. Only, Elphaba herself had changed. She wasn't the same studious little high-schooler anymore and so quickly found herself overcome with the feeling that she was somehow too big for her small childhood abode. As much as she regretted thinking it, she would have preferred wandering Oz on her own or accompanying Galinda on that much-gushed-about trip to the Emerald City than spending time in Munchkinland with her family.
But, still, here she was – home; right in the line of fire of whatever Melena was planning. There was always something with that woman.
"So what's it like to be back?" Nessa asked, drawing her sister back into the fold of reality.
"And you don't have to lie to us," Shell added. "We can take it."
Melena jammed the key into the lock and twisted it, letting them in. "She'd rather be backpacking the Kells than hanging out with us losers." Swivelling to scrutinize her daughter at the sound of a mock-gasp, Melena tapped the side of her own head and said, "We share the same mentality, girlie, so don't try to pull that righteous attitude on me. That's Nessa's job."
"…is for horses," Shell teased, collapsing on the couch in the living room.
Her brother being the only person Nessa refused to take sass from, she snapped, "The only horse in this family is you."
"You're a horse!"
"Gosh, Shell, stop neighing!"
"Alright," Melena interrupted, "talk to me. Grades?"
"Top of my class. Unofficially, of course, because they don't say. But I'm about one-hundred and four percent sure of it," Elphaba answered. If there was one thing she could lord over everyone else, it was academics.
"How's my favourite headshiztress?"
Elphaba thought back to her first day, when Morrible had glanced down at the clipboard in hand and then met her eyes with a mixture of annoyance, suspicion and concern. All it had taken was the name Thropp. "I still can't believe Morrible taught you," she said to her mother.
Melena inclined her head modestly. "Not to brag, but I was a student she wouldn't soon forget."
"And now she's keeping a close watch on me because of it. Thanks."
"Oh, well," Melena said, looking around carelessly and then focusing directly on Elphaba. "I got a certain call from said headshiztress back in oh...when was it, Shell?"
"March!" Shell recalled. "Dad was pissed. You're in for it," he told his sister, laughing, thrilled that someone else would have to field his father's criticism for the duration of the summer.
Elphaba held up her arms defensively. "I didn't mean to do it!"
"Please! You're supposed to give teachers hell!" Melena said, dismissing the objection with a flourish. "It's what they're there for!"
"But I didn't want to give them hell," Elphaba explained, flushing as she remembered the incident. She took off her glasses and fidgeted with them in her hands, pretending to wipe them on the hem of her t-shirt. "They took the Lion away from its mother!"
"Oh, how awful," Melena simpered, taking hold of her son. "Imagine someone stealing my poor little baby boy away from me!" She let go after his protests escalated to proportions of dude, seriously, I can't breathe and thought for a moment. "How about friends?" But there was something about the way she emphasized it that implied a little more than Elphaba understood.
"Still the same."
"Yeah. All two of them," Shell laughed.
"For your information, I have..." Elphaba spread out her hands and counted on her fingers. "Five friends. Five."
"Any boys?" Nessa asked, trying to be nonchalant.
Shell flicked her upside the head. "Ha! Like anyone would ever like you!"
"I'm pretty and smart. What's not to like?"
Melena sipped her coffee and set it down. "Alas, Nessa is the only one who took after me. Brains and looks."
"Wow. Hurtful," Shell said, exchanging a complicit look with Elphaba, who was also choking back laughter.
"You know," Melena cut in, not realizing they were joking at her expense, "you should invite What's-Her-Name over sometime."
All traces of mirth vanished from Elphaba's face. "Mom, Galinda's busy. In Gillikin. Doing…whatever people in Gillikin do."
"We should visit her then," Melena suggested, with a slight note of desperation that everyone took as excitement. "I'd like to see whatever people in Gillikin do."
"I'm sure the last thing Galinda wants is me foisting myself on her with all of you in tow. That's the last thing anyone would want."
Melena frowned. "I don't see why—"
"Tell us some stories!" Nessa pleaded, nipping the argument in the bud. "Tell me what to expect at Shiz!"
So Melena reconciled herself, a little reluctantly, to listening as Elphaba launched into a verbal sketch of her dormitory, her roommate, her professors, her classes and everything else she could think of that would flesh out the image – everything, except for the one thing that Melena was dying to hear about. When Elphaba was finished talking and Nessa had probed every detail and Shell had exhausted the last of his lame quips, she waited a few moments to see if it would occur to her daughter. It didn't. "Anything else?" she asked.
Elphaba bit her lip. "Umm, no. That's all that comes to mind."
"You're absolutely sure?"
"Really? You're positive about that?"
A confused look crossing her face, Elphaba replied uncertainly, "...yeah."
"Alright then, you might as well get settled in. And get some sleep. Oz knows, you look like you could use it."
But they could all tell that Melena wasn't quite done with Elphaba yet.