* * *
Brush crackled underfoot. The sound made Galinda nervous. Being nervous annoyed her. Brush was only brush, and she knew that.
Ordinary. Like the ordinary park she walked through, on this ordinary night.
She stepped on a twig, which snapped. She yelped.
An answering crackle came from just ahead, near a tree that must have been hundreds of years old. Had Ozma touched this tree? Her mind wandered from the tree back to the note she'd read, and still had crumpled in her purse. Elphaba had wanted to meet her at this tree. She was sure of it.
"Elphie?" she called.
"Here," Elphaba said. The shadows moved and congealed, forming a human-shaped dark lump beside the tree.
"Elphie," Galinda scolded. "You blend right in. You creature of the night."
"Don't tease," Elphaba said.
Galinda crept closer. "You left me a note," she said.
"And you came."
"Of course I came." Galinda paused. "Was it a test?"
Galinda's face grew hot. She squared her shoulders, and let go of the pleats of her dress. "To what purpose?"
"I don't know," Elphaba said. She looked away, toward the east.
Her voice sounded lost. Galinda was close enough to see, now that her eyes adjusted, that it was just Elphaba standing in front of her. Ordinary Elphaba. Galinda took Elphaba's chin, and turned her face side to side.
Elphaba's eyelids narrowed.
"You've got me," Galinda said. "So what are we doing here in the dark?"
"Something happened in class today. You picked a fine time to skip. Did you take my sister with you?"
"I did. I rescued her. Thanks for the credit, by the way. History is so boring. I picked an excellent time to skip."
Elphaba leaned into Galinda's hand. Galinda obliged by cupping Elphaba's cheek. She focused on Elphaba's left eye, luminous and large in the dark.
"What happened?" Galinda asked. "Is it to do with Fiyero? I didn't see him at dinner, as I usually do. He didn't leave a note."
"He's fine. At least, I think he's fine. I'm sure he is." Elphaba blinked her eye, and said, "He was with me in class, and then after, but I'm sure he hasn't gotten into any trouble since I left him."
Galinda smiled. Her lips quivered.
Elphaba pressed them, firmly, and then put her hand on Galinda's shoulder.
"What happened in class?" Galinda asked.
"They--They took Doctor Dillamond away." Elphaba looked at the sky.
"Took him where?"
"Away. To prison. Or to exile. Or execution."
Galinda tugged on Elphaba's arm, and said, "I'm sure--it was just a fluke."
"It wasn't a fluke, Galinda. Be reasonable. Think. It was a sign. A warning that history is coming and it's going to roll right over us."
"Oh, Elphie, really. A sign of what?"
Elphaba turned and met her eyes. She gripped Galinda's shoulder, hard, and said, "A sign that I'm next."
"Don't be silly," Galinda said. "Your turn to be reasonable. No one's going to take you away."
Elphaba said nothing, just held Galinda's gaze until Galinda tucked herself against Elphaba's shoulder. Elphaba's chin settled against her hair. The idea of losing Elphaba was preposterous. Elphaba was Shiz's top student, and Morrible was going to take her to see the Wizard, and people like that didn't just disappear.
But she didn't say anything like that, because the dark called for silence, and her words might be just as disturbing as the crackling brush. Elphaba held her and it felt comfortable, and Galinda was learning--from Elphaba, really--that talking could be a nuisance in times like these.
Galinda's letters home were always filled with preposterous things.
A goat teaching history, for instance.
A goat. Please. As if he knew what Human history could even be.
A green girl. Actually green! Who wasn't in a carnival, even.
Writing, "Dear Mother, they took the goat away," would have little effect on anyone's psyche.
Elphaba pulled back and said, "Fiyero and I did a very bad thing. You're going to be upset with us."
"What did you do?" Galinda asked. Her heart burned already. If they had kissed, that afternoon, away from her, with her wondering where they were, worrying, then--
Elphaba said, "We freed a Lion cub that the new teacher brought to class. We took him to the woods. He was so frightened, Galinda."
"Was he cute?" Galinda asked, her heart so full of relief that she smiled even though Elphaba still looked serious and pained.
"Yes, he was cute." Elphaba wrinkled her nose.
Relief made her glad. She didn't care about some Lion cub, but she said, "Tell me everything. Details, Elphie."
Elphaba curled her lips. "I did a spell and--"
"About the Cat," Galinda said. She took Elphaba's elbow, and they trundled back to the dorms. The lights of civilization beckoned.
"Oh, all right. Ears the size of your fingernails. Round and about the same color..."
* * *
That night brought a reunion with Fiyero on the windowsill. He smelled like cedar and animal urine and he was laughing--he had finally had a chance to be a true, obnoxious rebel, Galinda supposed, not just someone who skipped class.
He'd never actually skipped history class.
What was it about goats that enchanted Galinda's friends beyond all sense?
Galinda sat up in bed and watched Elphaba sleep. Elphaba, arm dangling over the side of the bed, seemed inescapably green in the moonlight, as obviously Fauna as if she had fur or scales.
And she snored.
"I'm next," echoed in Galinda's mind. She wanted to shake Elphaba awake and make her take it back, because--Well--
Galinda crept onto the floor and took Elphaba's dangling hand. Elphaba grunted and shifted position. Galinda studied the green fingernails, picturing a little Lion cub's ears with grass stains.
--Because Elphaba only ever spoke the truth. Her most annoying and unwelcome trait.
Galinda worried that whether Elphaba conjugated the truth in past, present, or future tense, she still might actually know what she was talking about.
* * *
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