A/N: Consider this an experiment— untested, unproved, and a bit AU. I'm a lover of horror, so I've brought it to Oz. Hope you're willing to join me for the ride, as it isn't much fun riding alone.

I'll say in advance that this story will contain violence, disturbing imagery, and character deaths, but hopefully we can soften that up with some good ol' fashioned Elphaba/Glinda romance. The rating starts at T, but I may have to notch it up if things get out of hand.

Much thanks to my super-awesome beta, Navona, whose own work can be found here at FFN under "Navona."

This chapter will be familiar territory for most of you, but stick with me. I'll show you something new. *winks*

The End and the Beginning

She tucks the sickle moon in her patient purse.

She bears it out, a full-grown changeling stone.

Shard by shard she rearranges the world.

It looks the same, she says, but it is not.

It looks as they expect, but it is not.

-Wicked, p. 226

In the weeks, months, or even years to come when many would chance to recall the events of that day at the end of August's lull, it was hardly uncommon for colorful elucidations and embellished descriptions to captivate the narratives of every storyteller. The sky was described to have been tinged with red, the song of the sparrows was a mournful dirge, and the wind was sharp and chill for such an unusual time of the year. Details would fluctuate depending on the narrator, not to mention their audience, and those who hadn't actually been there were regaled with several different accounts of what had transpired the morning Dr. Dillamond's body was found.

Galinda, however, would remember it like it had been any other morning, as ordinary and unremarkable as any that had preceded it.

Well, almost.

It had, in fact, marked the first day of fall semester at Shiz University and Galinda's second year attending. A great many changes were thus anticipated after the summer holidays: new schedules, new classes, and of course, a new set of expectations. But it was the small, seemingly inconsequential variations in the standard routine of everyday life that were often the most significant, and this had been no exception. Ama Clutch, breaking custom for the first time since Galinda could ever remember, had failed to bring her the tea that morning.

The students at Crage Hall were finishing their breakfast when the clock struck the eighth hour of the day. Galinda was sitting at the windowsill on the second floor of the dining hall, looking out over the Shiz campus grounds in what had apparently become her customary morning meditation. A book was usually settled across her lap to suggest a purpose for her solitary seclusion, but most of the time she just looked out of the window, allowing her mind to wander in a habitually aimless fashion.

The sun filtered brightly through the glass, and she warmed under its rays with her legs tucked neatly beneath her skirts. She wondered, not for the last time, where on earth her Ama might have been, though chiefly uppermost in her thoughts was the question of whether or not she, Galinda, was really and truly prepared for the new year that lay ahead of her. After all, if Galinda could encapsulate her life up to that point in a single word, it would simply have been disappointment. All of the promise she initially held the minute she'd stepped off the train from Frottica had amounted to several semesters' worth of mediocre academic accomplishments and a social circle that left something severely wanting.

It wasn't as though she felt like she had failed herself in the strictest definition of the word (she had been accepted to Shiz after all), but there still lingered a profound sense of dissatisfaction that pressed itself into every fiber of her being. Perhaps it was the fact that her family had placed so much faith in her, expecting scholastic perfection to match her flawless exterior. Everyone obviously had great plans for her, including Galinda herself. But somehow her aspirations and ideals had fallen by the wayside in a never-ending series of personal frustrations, and it surely didn't help that Galinda had to accept a measure of responsibility for them herself. Even her friends, as best she could call them, had proven themselves to be false if not largely unsupportive. Their malicious cruelty towards her at Lake Chorge had made her summer holidays nearly unbearable.

And her roommate…


That was an entirely different problem all of its own.

Galinda leaned her head against the warm glass of the window, her thoughts turning once more to her green companion, which, as of late, they seemed most fond of doing.

It wasn't often that Galinda felt remorse for expressing outrage over an upsetting situation (especially when she believed herself justified in doing so), and it wasn't as if Elphaba had been any less horrible to her since the first day they'd met. But Galinda did feel sorry for the remarks she'd made to her that day at Caprice-in-the-Pines, particularly in light of the mortification her roommate must have endured responding to a letter that she had never actually written. Galinda had been humiliated, certainly, but Elphaba was ultimately the punch-line of what had been a thoroughly tasteless joke.

And yet, the girl had borne it all as capably as she'd had to bear everything else in her life; staring them all down with frank and unwavering resolve, no matter how hideous the circumstances had been. Galinda couldn't help but respect her for it, all things considered, and after she'd had a few days perspective on the whole ordeal, she found herself feeling more and more contrite for her own portion of the offense. Perhaps she should apologize, or offer to take her to lunch sometime. Elphaba wasn't exactly the social pariah Galinda once took her for when they'd been assigned to each other over a year ago. Elphie- now where had that come from? - Elphaba appeared to have her own curious assortment of companions; all boys, all very handsome, and strangely very devoted to her thoughts, ambitions, and ideals. Had there been more to the girl than she'd previously assumed?

Biting into the flesh of a green apple and savoring its tartness on her tongue, she continued her silent contemplation, little aware that the girl in question had suddenly approached her from behind.

"I've spoken to the other Amas," said Elphaba, startling Galinda from her thoughts. "No one has seen or heard from her since the previous evening, including the kitchen staff."

"What do you think we should do?" asked Galinda as she stood and adjusted her skirts.

"The last thing that I'd hoped we'd have to do. Pay a visit to Madame Head and inform her of the situation."

Galinda quickly gathered her belongings and fell into step with Elphaba. "Surely you don't believe that something sinister has befallen her?"

"I don't know. I'd like to think that she's sauced and reeling at the back of a bar in some dive at Railway Square—you never know what these ladies get up to on their own time. But I haven't felt right about it since she left us last night, and in either case, Horrible Morrible is likely to be our surest bet at finding some answers."

Elphaba's plan proved to be a fruitful one. Their Headmistress was good enough to inform them that Ama Clutch had been discovered and that she was being treated at the infirmary for a mental relapse of some sort. The news was quite a relief to both girls if not a bit alarming, but Galinda and Elphaba were noticeably less comforted when Madame Morrible, in all of her authoritarian judiciousness, refused to admit them to see her.

"You needn't fret, she is plenty well taken care of where she is," said the Head in a tone that would brook no nonsense. "I'll inform you if there is a change in her condition that would permit the possibility of visitations, but until then, I would advise you to drop the matter for now and hurry off to your classes. You don't want to evince a casual disregard for punctuality on the first day of school, do you?" Her smile was thin and insincere.

It wasn't what either of them wanted to hear, but they grudgingly consented when it became clear that Madame Morrible had no intention of relenting. They left the office as promptly as they'd come, gathering their bags and notebooks together before setting off for the science building. Galinda was nettled, though she couldn't fully explain why. Something about the whole affair seemed off to her, whether it was the mental malady suddenly besetting her Ama or something far worse… an ominous, unnamable dread that she'd been unable to accurately identify.

When they arrived at Dr. Dillamond's first lecture, they were surprised to discover that he hadn't arrived yet, given that they were already five minutes late themselves. Galinda had thought it a sign of curiously good luck at first, taking the seat her friends had saved for her near the back. But as the period went on and no sign of the Goat was had, the students started growing restless, and the strange sense of unease she'd felt earlier had returned.

"Where do you think he's gone?" said a voice near the front.

"Maybe he's having a time of it trying to get his pants on," said another, setting off a chorus of raucous laughter.

Galinda looked over at Elphaba, who was sitting a few seats in front of her, and noticed there was a similar look of marked unease on her features.

"This is ridiculous," said Pfannee, slouching over in her chair. "The first day of school and he couldn't even bother to be here, much less notify anyone of his absence!"

"Perhaps it's some sort of protest," said Milla, her chin resting thoughtfully in her hand. "You know, in light of the new Animal banns."

"What a stupid way to object," said Shenshen. "Provoke the administration by neglecting your lectures and giving them a reason to fire you? Whatever might he hope to accomplish?"

Galinda was about to respond when she looked up to see Elphaba standing beside her desk, arms folded and looking even more cross than she had before.

"I'm going to the infirmary," said Elphaba determinedly. "Are you coming or not?"

Galinda gaped at her in wide-eyed astonishment. "You mean now?"

"He's not coming, Galinda, and if I stay here a minute longer, I'm liable to kick someone's teeth in. So I'm going to see Ama Clutch. You can either come with me or stay here for more clever witticisms from this sorry lot."

Galinda couldn't believe it; Elphaba was being serious. Her roommate was actually suggesting that they abandon Dr. Dillamond's lecture to visit Ama Clutch against Madame Morrible's orders. Galinda opened her mouth to speak, unsure of what to say, and risked a glance towards her friends. They stared at them both with a mixture of shock and mild, derisive interest.

Casting off her better judgment, she quickly gathered up her things and followed Elphaba out the door.

This new year was going to be very different. Very different indeed.

The infirmary was located on the north side of campus in a small building that had been christened after the Eminent Sibelius Felque, one of the earliest pioneers of intravenous medicines in Oz. Galinda had never set foot in the building in her entire year at Shiz, so it was with a small amount of apprehension that she followed Elphaba into the main reception room.

There was a cold, clinical smell to the place that she found particularly nauseating; a mixture of cleansers, medicinal drafts, and illness. She waited nervously while Elphaba sorted through some charts and papers at the front desk, working frantically to locate the room Ama Clutch was staying in before the nurse manager returned. It was some minutes before Elphaba stalked back over to where Galinda was standing, and her face was set in grim frustration.

"I don't like this," she said, motioning Galinda to follow her up the hall. "Not one bit. Not at all. There was a note attached to her chart specifying that all visitations are prohibited until such-and-such a time as the Headmistress deems available. It's utterly ludicrous."

"But why so much secrecy?" said Galinda, running to keep up. "What do they mean to keep from us?"

"Who knows? But I certainly intend to find out. Here, this one. Room thirty-three."

They walked into what was a large expanse of beds and carts that stretched a ways towards a small alcove poorly lit at the back. A few patients were scattered about in different stages of consciousness, mumbling and writhing for relief from their pain or merely for the use of a bed pan. Galinda and Elphaba moved past the different beds, trying not to linger near some of the more miserable subjects. When Galinda finally caught sight of her Ama resting a few cots down, however, a small cry escaped from her lips as she rushed over to her. Elphaba was right behind her, though her expression was distinctly grimmer.

"Oh my darling!" Galinda sobbed, clutching her Ama's hand in hers while pushing a strand of her hair back. "My darling! What's happened to you?"

The old woman said nothing. Her face was contorted into a gruesome shape, and her eyes were rolled up towards the ceiling— open and unfocused on any given thing. Galinda turned to Elphaba with a look of hopeless incredulity, and Elphaba looked every bit as concerned.

"Ama Clutch," said Elphaba, her words slow and even. "Can you hear me, dear? We need to know what's wrong."

There was still no response. No sign of life at all.

"Is she asleep?" asked Galinda nervously. "Has she gone into shock?"

Elphaba held a few fingers in front of Ama Clutch's mouth. "Her breathing seems even, and her color is good. I don't know what this is," she said, at a loss. "She's not even flinching."

"Ama Clutch," Galinda said, now kneeling beside the mattress. "If you can hear me, please say something. Please. Let us know you're there. We can't help you if we don't know what's wrong."

Silence. The old woman remained motionless on her bed, still and unblinking. Whatever hopes they'd had of rousing her were starting to look like a lost cause.

"We'd better leave," Elphaba said after some time had passed. "I can't think of what else to try. Perhaps if we come back tomorrow, we can consult with the nursing staff. Morrible may even be gracious enough to let us see her without all this sneaking about."

Galinda bit her lip, glancing down at her Ama again, then finally nodded her consent. Sighing deeply, she let go of her Ama's hand and turned to follow Elphaba out of the room. "I just don't understand it. She was the very picture of health last night. Do you think if-"

"Oh well then," came a weak and giddy voice behind them. "I know you didn't mean to stab my foot last year. You were only trying to get my attention. That's what misbehavior is all about, just a little extra loving being asked for."

The girls turned instantly to see Ama Clutch sitting up in bed with what appeared to be a nail clasped in her hands. She stroked it lovingly as if it were a child, and then held it against her cheek. Elphaba and Galinda exchanged glances, their faces mirroring their confusion.

"Ama?" Galinda spoke.

"Well don't you worry, Nail, because I'm going to love you just as much as you need," the old woman continued. "And after I have a little nap you can tell me how you came to be holding up the platform of the railway station at Frottica. For it seems quite a leap from your early years as a common hook for a CLOSED FOR THE SEASON sign in that dingy hotel you were talking about."

"She's talking to the nail," Elphaba whispered, quite clearly befuddled.

"Is she out of her mind?" said Glinda. "Why would-"

But Glinda stopped herself. Something had suddenly dawned on her, and a look of horror crossed over her features. She rushed over to Ama Clutch's bed again, reaching out for the nail that her Ama grasped in her hand.

"Ama Clutch," she said in a hurried voice, "listen—you're talking nonsense. I want you to give me the nail, and then I want you to tell me what happened last night."

"You get back!" her Ama hissed, clenching the nail against her breast in a tight fist. "The springs of this bed are going to give out on me any second now, and I've yet to plead my case!"

The shock of her bizarre and perplexing behavior left Galinda and Elphaba speechless. Elphaba stared at her in pure disbelief, but Glinda was perfectly horror-struck.


"They want me off!" screamed Ama Clutch as she thrashed about in her sheets. "This bed is fit to swallow me whole! The sheets, the pillows, they're completely fed up!"

"Stop!" Galinda cried, grasping her Ama's hand in her own. "Ama Clutch— Stop! Don't you realize what are you saying?"

"The cupboards are talking!" she yelled again, sinking her fingernails into Galinda's sleeve before tearing skin and fabric. "I'm telling them all to SHUT UP but they none of them will listen! If you won't shut up, I'll be certain to drive my little Nail friend right through you! Do you understand?"

"Get a nurse in here!" Elphaba yelled to a young orderly peering in from the hall. She pulled Galinda back out of Ama Clutch's reach, but Galinda was nearly hysterical now, fighting off Elphaba's grasp before rushing to take her Ama's hand again.

"No! Look at me, Ama! Please look at me! Dear, this isn't you! Why are you doing this? What has happened to you? Tell me—tell me what happened!"

And then the woman laughed aloud with a deranged sort of cackle. Her shriek rang out across the room and froze the hairs on Galinda's arms. A hand reached up, and Ama Clutch grasped Galinda by the neck. She brought their faces close together, and Galinda could smell the madness on her. It was making her sick.

"Oh my little deary duck," she whispered next to Galinda's ear. "My pretty little Galindy-loo. Don't you know? I saw it all. I watched the whole scene. Only one survived, my lovely… but the other one burned."

Galinda jerked back from the old woman's grasp as if she had been struck. She stared at her Ama in wide-eyed horror as the blood quickly drained from her face. It turned her skin an ashen grey, and she looked as though she were about to faint.

"Galinda?" Elphaba said, slowly inching towards her.

Galinda shook her head, still mute with terror.

"What are you doing in here? What have you done with her?" yelled the nurse who had entered with two orderlies attending. "Get back, the both of you! Get out of here! We have to bolt her down!"

"My socks!" shrieked Ama Clutch when they grasped a hold of her arms and legs. "They're fussing at me! Get me out of them, do you hear me? GET ME OUT OF THEM."

Galinda ran. Ran beyond Elphaba's grasp and past the shrieking woman. She fled as fast as her legs would carry her, pushing open the doors of the infirmary before tearing past a group of students. She was heedless of which direction she was headed in, or where the wind would carry her. Her only thought was to be free of the infirmary and the madness that sought to condemn her.

The sun was blazing high overhead when the clock in the library chimed half-past eleven. Galinda had left the infirmary nearly a half-hour earlier, though Elphaba was still nowhere to be seen. She stood near the windows on the third story floor, staring out at the infirmary building as if it were on fire. She ignored the questioning looks from her peers while running her fingers over her necklace. She was glad, at least, that Elphaba hadn't followed her. What would she have been able to say?

Galinda wept, openly and freely. The possibility of Ama Clutch suddenly plagued with a made-up illness seemed too queer and repulsive for Galinda to consider. What could have caused it? Why would she have whispered something to Galinda that was so unbelievably horrible? The words, half-sung in that sweet, raspy voice, had truly disturbed something within her; the shadowy images of a memory that she had left behind far too many years ago.

But to remember them here and now, of all places—what could it possibly mean?

After all of this time…

While in this frame of mind, she had barely noticed the sudden gathering of students in the courtyard below; a mass of bodies that quickly blended together as they headed in quick succession towards the southeast end of campus. A slight frown graced her features as she watched them from above, silently wondering what on earth the commotion was all about. Then, almost instantly, she quickly became aware of the noisy bustle of skirts and voices that took up over the room, crashing through her senses as the library descended into chaos. There was a rush of people heading towards the stairs, and the shrill cries of shock, giddiness, and horror masked the tangle of words that Galinda occasionally made out over the din.

"…body covered in blood…"

"…found just now…"

"…Dr. Dillamond…"

"…sometime in the night…"

She could only process a handful of it.

Galinda stepped over to the nearest procession heading for the stairs and managed to stop one of the groups that was chattering the loudest.

"What is it?" she asked. "What's going on?"

"The old Goat's dead!" said a young Gillikin girl, clearly delighted to share the news with her. "Dr. Dillamond! Professor Hellaford discovered him in the lab a little over an hour ago, and they're calling it murder! Can you believe it?"

Galinda could only stare. "Dead?"

"As dead as dead can be!" came another girl's excited reply. "The police have arrived and they're already meeting with Madame Morrible at the old building. We're going there now, if you'd care to join us."

An arm was looped through hers, and suddenly Galinda was being rushed forward with all of the others in a flurry of skirts and ribbons. She permitted herself to be guided by the small troupe of girls flooding through the corridors, allowing the tide of bodies to move her in whichever direction was the correct one. Comprehension was practically beyond her at that moment; there was simply no way for her to process anything in the excitement and chatter that drowned out every other thought. All she could do was follow. All she could do was move.

They streamed outside into the daylight, which momentarily blinded her, and the roar of voices had now reached an almost thundering volume. She watched as each of her temporary companions quickly dispersed into the crowds. Everyone, both in and around Crage Hall, was rushing across the center of campus in an effort to make their way outside the gates. Galinda quickly became lost in the sea of frocks and cloaks, wandering helplessly in the mob of bodies that surrounded her on all sides. She searched the faces around her with a nervous desperation she didn't understand, anxiously looking for someonethat was familiar to her while wondering when she'd started to cry again.

Dead, she thought with a violent shudder. It's not possible. It simply can't be. But how? Why?

A rough shoulder slammed clumsily into her, pushing her to the ground. Galinda momentarily panicked, striving to push past the sudden accumulation of skirts and limbs that threatened to trample her into the dirt. And then, from out of nowhere, a green hand reached through to clasp hers, and suddenly she was being pulled through the crowds in a fast, forceful hold. The grip was neither gentle nor kind, but to Galinda, it felt like salvation. She clutched Elphaba's hand in hers, wanting but unwilling to show the gratitude she felt as they weaved in and out of the multitude. The grounds near the gate were as packed as ever, but Galinda remained calm so long as her gaze was fixed on the tall figure in front of her.

"Galinda! Miss Elphaba! Over here!"

They both turned. A small group of Galinda's companions were standing under the pear tree near Crage Hall, each with a look of undisguised horror on their faces. Elphaba quickly let go of Galinda's hand, and Galinda was unsure whether she felt more relieved or disappointed for it.

"We've been looking everywhere for you!" Shenshen scolded, looking positively distraught. "Where have—"

"What have you heard!" Elphaba sharply cut in, suddenly towering over Shenshen. "How long have they been in there for? What have they discovered?"

"Only what you've heard," said Milla, her face a sallow white. "He was found slumped over a pile of shattered instruments near the storage cabinets. The police have been in there for a while now, talking with Madame Morrible and Professor Hellaford. It's been a slow business. They said there was blood everywhere."

"So it's true?" Galinda asked, her teary gaze wandering over to the police officer standing beside the entrance. Milla only nodded.

"Oh, it's just terrible!" cried Shenshen loudly as she clutched at her breast in dismay. Ama Vimp wrapped the girl in her arms, quietly shushing her as tears fell down her face.

"Has anything been taken?" Elphaba continued in a none-too patient tone. "What of the marks on him? Was he stabbed—shot— beaten to death— what?"

"What's wrong with you?" cried Pfannee, disgusted. "A Goat is murdered and you want to gorge yourself on the particulars? Miss Milla was here before any of us were, and she's told you all she knows. So if you insist on speaking of such vileness, Miss Elphaba, then kindly go and indulge your morbid fetishes elsewhere!"

Elphaba turned on Pfannee in a rage, barely able to keep her anger under control. "A friend and close companion of mine was just found murdered, you asinine little fool!" she hissed. "I've heard nothing but blood and death from just about every idiot on campus without one scrap of explanation over how or when it was done. So if you have nothing further to offer on the matter, then you're as useless as I've always suspected!"

"Why you disgustingly vile-"

"Enough! Both of you!" said Milla, grabbing Pfannee by the arm to prevent her from striking Elphaba, who looked rather anxious for Pfannee to attempt it. "This isn't solving anything, and I won't have you making a spectacle of yourselves in front of the whole damn school!"

Galinda was beside herself. Everyone was shrieking and anxiously waiting for the front gates to open beyond Crage Hall. She was shaking now, though she couldn't decide what of everything was more horrible. A murdered Goat, a woman sick with delirium, and a few whispered words that struck Galinda down to the deepest depths of her soul.

When the gates finally opened, the girls immediately began to stream into the nearby park. And in the harsh light of the afternoon, with all these thoughts consuming her, Galinda utterly and completely fell apart.

The hellish commotion carried on for the rest of the afternoon and some time into the night. The majority of the students at Crage Hall retired early to their bedchambers, either too fussed or unwilling to engage in further social discourse. Classes had all been cancelled that day, and Elphaba used the time to procure several items of interest from Dr. Dillamond's laboratory before anyone, student or Headmistress, was the wiser. She did admit that it took an exceptional amount of fortitude on her part to even enter the place with the smell of death still lingering in the air, and it wasn't without some difficulty that she navigated her way around the freshly scrubbed bloodstains near the storage cabinets.

When she managed to make her way back to her room before half-past nine, she was astonished to find Galinda there, sitting on the pillows of her bed while staring into the firelight. Galinda made no indication that she was aware of Elphaba's presence, and Elphaba wasn't inclined to indulge Galinda's misery by mentioning any of the events that had transpired that morning. So neither said a word to the other, and the room lapsed into silence.

Soon, Elphaba was sitting on the floor between their beds, a pile of papers stacked messily on every side of her. She flipped through several notebooks, removing pages from some and clipping them to others, pushing aside the anger in her heart so that she could better focus on the task that lay before her.

The bastards- the sickening bastards managed to do it. Notes on 'The Paradigm of Related Blood Tissues in Vertebrates and Invertebrates.' There was a second section to this somewhere. Murdering sons of bitches…Can't even read my own damn handwriting!

It had been well over an hour before she realized that her roommate hadn't uttered a single word since her return. Elphaba wasn't sure that she'd even moved. Galinda merely sat huddled with her knees against her chest, staring at nothing in particular while small tears occasionally made their way down her cheek. She was of a mind to continue ignoring her, feeling it would be better to let Galinda cleanse every ounce of grief from her system while the hurt was still fresh. But the silent horror in Galinda's eyes unnerved her for some reason; it was a look she had carried since the infirmary. Whatever Ama Clutch had said to her must have stricken the girl deeply.

She shook her head, turning back to her notebooks, and then reproached herself for being so Oz-be-damned callous.

So you don't have a soul. Must you be heartless as well?

"Galinda," Elphaba spoke.

Her roommate showed no signs of movement. No recognition that she'd even heard her. Elphaba pursed her lips together and tried again.


The blonde head finally turned.

"Tomorrow will bring new answers," said Elphaba, a bit awkwardly. "For all we know, this could be a passing malady. A temporary ailment. She may yet be all right."

Galinda stared at her with a peculiar, unreadable expression. "Will she."

Was that a question or a challenge? Elphaba wouldn't have put it past her companion to reply to her misguided attempts at comfort with sarcasm, but something in Galinda's expression suggested she was anxiously and authentically concerned.

"It's been a long day," said Elphaba, sighing. "You should really get some sleep."

Galinda turned her gaze back to the fire, and the flames reflected luminously in the mirthless blue of her eyes. "I don't know if I can."

"Well you know what they say, my dear; you'll never really know unless you try."

There was a small stretch of silence that passed between the two where Elphaba resumed her work and Galinda quietly watched her. With her attentions curiously focused on Elphaba, it seemed for the time being that Galinda managed to calm a little.

"Can I help?" she asked in a small, timid voice; summoning up a grain of courage from an unknown source.

"No," said Elphaba, and then more gently, "thank you, but this isn't the sort of business you need to be involved in."

Galinda clutched her knees more tightly to her chest. "Are these notes from-"

"Galinda, really, this isn't the time. If you want to be helpful, then settle yourself under the covers and try to forget every ounce of unpleasantness that this day has afforded us."

She'd expected some sort of protest, or worse, more tears than before, but Galinda surprisingly consented to her wishes and solemnly rose to prepare for bed. She undressed discreetly behind a small partition, and the only noise in the room was the soft rustling of Elphaba's papers and the loud clicking of a lock. When Galinda emerged in her blue nightdress, Elphaba was already fastening a cloak about her shoulders.

"You're leaving?" said Galinda in alarm.

"I'm going out," replied Elphaba curtly. "And if anyone asks you, you know nothing about it. Do you understand?" She turned to fetch her hat and gloves, not bothering to wait for a reply.

Galinda looked as if she was wanted to protest, then slumped over in tired resignation. She sat wearily at the foot of her bed, trying not to appear disappointed. "You… won't be long, will you?"

"I don't know. Lock the door if you feel skittish. I have my key."

Elphaba gathered her small briefcase under her cloak and turned to head out the door. She stopped when she saw the distraught profile of her blonde companion, looking quite as lost and miserable as Elphaba currently felt. Maybe it was the day they'd had, or the copious amounts of wine she'd indulged in with Boq and the others earlier, but something about Galinda's demeanor roused Elphaba's compassion, surprising even her.

She slowly walked over to Galinda, stopped, and quietly knelt in front of her. Then, for some unfathomable reason, she placed her hand on Galinda's knee, initiating contact in a way she'd never done before. If her roommate was shocked, she masked it well under a look of sorrow and curious expectation.

"I'm not very good at comfort," said Elphaba softly, offering Galinda a clean white handkerchief, "so forgive me if I disappoint. I can promise you, though, that this day won't last forever, Galinda, no matter how strongly it hurts right now."

She stood then, but not before boldly wiping one of Galinda's tears away, even letting it burn. "And no," Elphaba added as she picked up her briefcase once more. "I won't be gone long."

Galinda looked briefly at the handkerchief in her hand before her gaze found Elphaba's once again. It was clear, honest, and full of something like gratitude. "Thank you," she whispered softly.

They sat there for a moment, sharing something for the first time in all of the moments they had shared together. Then, Elphaba turned and exited the room without another glance.

The door clicked shut a second later, and Galinda was left to the silence.