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“Ugh,” Seconds after passing through her front door Raven Queen removed her slightly-too-cute-to-be-comfortable shoes and flung herself onto the soothing bulk of her couch. It had been a day. Sometimes, on days like this, she giddily remembers that anything upsetting her was actually a fairly normal college student type problem. The thought wasn’t really enough to make the issues go away, but she really wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. And, in fairness, things were much better for her then they’d ever been.

Since graduating EAH two years ago and, in lieu of a Grand Destiny to sweep her away, going to the leading magical university (with most of her similarly adrift friends! So like high school . . . but the good parts? At least that’s the idea?) things had been getting kind of continually better. She and her friends (new and old) were all studying things they actually wanted to – magically related or otherwise – and after four years, the idea that you could be whoever you already were was finally beginning to comfort people instead of freaking them out. Royal/Rebel tensions were still around in one form or another but it was always getting easier. Perhaps the biggest thing Raven had learned in the past few years was that change isn’t a particularly fleet-footed creature. There had yet to be some Great Reckoning or earth-shattering-war-fueled-by-her-destiny-insubordination. Sure, every once and a while some evil warlord decided to “take back the land”, inevitably followed by a grassroots campaign to “purify the community and reclaim their stories” but it wasn’t anything Raven and her friends couldn’t handle on a quest or two. (friends! She had friends now! That might be the craziest thing that had happened, aside from the fact that she’s actually turned out to be a good leader and should pursue future somewhere in that universe. No . . . actually the friends things is weirder. And awesome, it’s kinda awesome) All this to say, change doesn’t happen with a bang or a whimper, it just happens. People go about their lives and figure a little more out each day until the life-changing events she spurred on just seem like life. But life in a world where people are free to laugh and cry and make mistakes and make memories and fall in love and all that other cliched stuff with their own free will.

That’s really, really big. And Raven definitely hasn’t done all this on her own! The daughter of the evil queen would never garner this much positive PR, but Raven has the best friends in all of Ever After to advise, guide, inspire, and support her. Plus Apple. Always, always Apple. None of this would’ve ever been possible without her, and sometimes Raven overflows with love for her beautiful, brave, brilliant best friend. Just last week, the four year anniversary of Raven’s refusal to sign the storybook, Apple had made a speech about the changes and progress everyone had made.
She ended with,
"And I may not be the best judge of this. My experience is only my own and as a princess it’s been much easier than some. I cannot speak for those who woke up each morning hating their whole existences, who dreaded every moment of their lives. I fervently hoped and prayed for my fairytale ending daily. But I wasn’t happy. I now believe that it’s truly impossible for someone to be happy when they are trying to desperately to be some preordained version of themselves. I watched my friends quietly die around me, filling their lives with petty distractions in order to stand the crushing knowledge that our individual selves didn’t matter. That we were mere puppets. I tried my hardest to fulfill impossible storybook standards, force myself into a grudging approximation of love with my hypothetical prince charming. The one thing I can say for certain is that we were all dying slow, bejeweled deaths. This, today, is a million times better. Things may still be uncertain and scary, but I look around at all my amazing friends and see a new light. The drive, the possibility and potential around me is astonishing and humbling. I’m so, so incredibly grateful to have been a small part of these stories – wherever they lead after today."
Then, Apple had drawn a breath, said a few more perfect things, and smiled, so beautifully at the audience, and in that moment Raven had (maybe) pretended it was all for her. That the magical, impossibly gorgeous girl had said these things for her benefit alone. (her composure was especially admirable after, when Apple had recounted, in the giggly, amazing way of hers, how she’d been stuck staring directly at Briar and Faybelle . . . and their tongues down each other’s throats. (they were as always wrapped up in their own little world. A world where constant, public making out was evidently widely celebrated)

Anyway. Raven’s life was empirically better than ever. Less hatred for her existence. A clear-ish path for her future. Wonderful friends. She was even growing into a legitimately powerful sorceress (a good one) Why was she so upset again? She sorted back through her thoughts, the fantastic couch Maddie had helped her pick out already working wonders for her sore back, Apple, making out, oh. Yup. It’d been a good day, no failing classes, lunch with her bestie (Maddie always and forever, who’d gushed about the steps she was making in an advanced branch of Wonderlandian science. Then she’d asked, carefully, Hey Raven, um, I know this is a little weird, but . . . Dexter and I keep taking the same classes and we’re awesome study buddies and I was maybe gonna ask him to go get food? Or something? And I know you two haven’t been a thing in like, a while? But I wanted to check. Would that be super super weird for you? Raven, after processing for a millisecond, had replied that no it wouldn’t be weird since she and Dex were very firmly friends now, just friends, and hadn’t really ever been much of a thing, and of course, that Maddie’s happiness was her number one priority. Mads had hugged her and then given her a detailed account of her doormouse’s wedding) This really hadn’t been enough to throw off her day though? She’d really meant it, Dex was just a friend and Maddie was her top priority, but then she’d gone to the library looking for a book and almost tripped over Cerise and Kitty casually napping, wound around one another, in an isle. (everyone was fully clothed though, so it was better than a few previous encounters) Then, Faybelle and Briar had been mid-some-disgustingly-cute-picnic-plus-sex thing in a garden her Enchanting Through The Ages 202 looked out on.

Now, Raven loves her friends, she really does. And she can’t deny that they’ve actually really found their people, astonishingly in high school, (although nothing had really been “official” until they’d graduated EAH.) (Raven thinks it’s a combination of just being too young, fighting through a fair amount of psychic, I’m-a-failure-this-isn’t-my-story type damage, and everything getting so much easier after graduation. Like, everything wasn’t on the SUPERFASTINTENSE track anymore.) So she’s happy for her friends and all their happily ever afters, it’s just that their healthy, intimate, communication-filled relationships remind her that she’s alone, romance-wise, and it’s not like . . . for lack of wanting. If she’s being honest with herself, (Raven’s learning how to do that. It’s getting easier, slowly) she’s been head-over-heels, absolutely, irrevocably in love with Apple White for years. It didn’t happen all at once, she likes to remind herself on days when she needs to remember who Raven Queen is – aside from a lovelorn idiot - but she’d known the girl for years, and then they were in high school together and Apple saw her on the first day and met her with enthusiasm and a smile when everyone else happily pretended she was nonexistent or the devil. Apple believes in things wholeheartedly, loves them without restraint, sings to everything, works harder than anyone Raven’s ever met, stays kind and confident, and, and, and a million other amazing things that no one but Apple could contain. Disappointing her was the single hardest part of Raven’s four EAH years (she spent hours sobbing in a closet after seeing Apple’s shattered face) and Apple’s stalwart forgiveness and affection, even after such a harrowing betrayal has rendered Raven hopelessly in love for years.
It stuns her sometimes, that this girl (supposedly her arch nemesis!) could just waltz into her life one day and make everything so much safer and better . . . it sounds fake. It sounds SO FAKE. But her she is, adoring a princess who’s never made her life anything but amazing, and unable to focus on other things.

(sometimes she thinks about this thing Faybelle grudgingly told her once, "I wasn’t gonna be a rebel, y’know? I’m not a whiner. I was raised to be one thing and I’m very, very good at it. I didn’t really want to be evil, sure, but there wasn’t a reason for be to be good either. And then one day I saw her face. Briar has always exemplified everything good in the world, everything I’m supposed to rail against, but I saw her, greeting every day with a smile, even if she was breaking inside and I wanted to touch that goodness, to hold it and try to learn something. She was the first thing who ever made me want to be better or more. And I just. I couldn’t ruin her life like that. I couldn’t destroy the bubbly, vivacious, kind person that she turned into. Even if she was going to let me. I couldn’t poison her. At some point I just wanted to be around her all the time and it seemed so much better than being her villain. It is so much better. So. Yeah. That’s why I joined up with you." The ever sarcastic fairy had been deadly serious and Raven wondered if Briar knew how much her pale fey treasured her. Actually of course she did. It’s just about as much as Briar adores Faybelle in return)

The sound of a key turning in the lock and a pinching pain in Raven’s fingertips shook her out of her reverie. She flexes them, trying to sooth the magic bubbling and pressing around under her skin (magic is highly reactive to emotions: a fun realization that Raven’s been exploring for the past couple of years as she turns her powers into a force for good) and listens for footsteps to identify the person entering her home. (a small, cozy apartment her dad pays for as long as she “tries hard in school and lets him visit on the occasional weekend”) A few people have the key - Maddie, Cedar – but Maddie likes to somersault in through a window and Cedar’s at a nursing conference, leaving Apple. Apple who helped Raven pick out the perfect place, toast it on her first night of unpacking (and second. And third.) Apple, who snatched up a key the first chance she got and uses it liberally. Raven’s princess (except not, because Apple belongs to no one but herself) bounces into the living room and sets her bag down at the base of one of the many bookshelves before nudging raven over and sliding onto an edge of the couch. Raven moves her feet over but winces as a sharper twinge of pain batters her pointer finger. Apple, obviously, notices (because she’s great like that) and gently takes Raven’s throbbing hand. “Magic again?”
“Yeah”

“Oof, that kinda day? You overdoing it?”

“No, underdoing it maybe? Too many feelings, not enough release.?”

Apple nobs, smiling sympathetically. Before Raven has fully prepared herself she brings the pained fingers up to gently gleaming lips, brushing a gentle kiss across each of them. (Raven just might melt. Every time.) “There, try . . . I don’t know, something easy?”

Raven blinks her eyes and pale pink petals start falling from the ceiling, vanishing as they hit the ground (is it possible to be any more on the nose Raven snaps at herself, but that vanishes as she takes in Apple, surrounded by flowers.)
“They don’t vanish when they land on me”

“Maybe they want to be as close to you as possible, maybe you make everything more real”

Apple smiles and releases Raven’s fingers, (the ache is a distant memory) “I have a giant exam to study for and the library-”

“-freaks you out at night”

“Yeah (a giggle) I’m gonna make some tea, do you want anything?”

“Nah, I’ll get dinner started soon”

“Ooh, what’re you thinking?”

“Employing the magical powers of Thai takeout, sound good?”

“Sounds perfect! Like you!”

As Raven grabs her laptop to put the order in, Apple calls out from the kitchen. “Soooo, what feelings were happening today?”

“What?”

“You said ‘too many feelings’, this about Maddie and Dexter?”

“You knew about that?”

“Maggie consulted me many a time, she didn’t want to hurt your feelings”

“Aww, she really is the best! What’d you say?”

“To ask you. that’s the only way she’d know for sure, besides I didn’t know what your answer’d be either?”

“It’s fine! Of course it’s fine! Dex and I were never serious, and we’ve been just friends for what feels like forever which is really nice and I think they might actually be great together”

“Is it kinda weird?”

“I mean . . . a little I guess. Like, I always thought of him as mine? A little? Like the best backup plan a girl could ask for? It’s not really fair to him, I know,”

“But the security was nice”

“Exactly”

“For what it’s worth, I think you’ll be ok. a girl like you never needed a plan b”

Apple’s sat back down by now and the full force of her transfixing blue eyes are on Raven. Suddenly self-conscious, she pulls at her long purple/black hair. “So, it’s just been a little bit weird. That’s all. Like everyone seems so happy and now Maddie and Dexter and just . . . why can’t I do something like that?”

“Like what?”

“Oh, tell someone I love them and live happily ever after. Sometimes I feel like the villain in me won’t ever let me just be in love.”

“That’s amazingly stupid”

“What?”

“You heard me! I mean, I love you so, so much Raven, but that’s stupid. You don’t have any more inner villain than the rest of us and you’re going to have the greatest love story of all time.”

“You think?”

“I know. Feelings are weird. Relationships are weird. Everything’s loaded and messy – especially for us – and I don’t think high school’s the right time to date your forever after love”

“But you dated Darling. You dated her for years!”

“For a year and a half, to be exact, and that’s what I’m talking about! I dated her (and other people, just like you) and it was nice or educational and I was busy with a bunch of other things and so those were the right people to be with at that time.”

“Mmm, I guess it just never felt real for me”

“How so?”

“Like, I knew these people – I even kissed some of them, but I couldn’t really enjoy it because I felt something so much bigger out there. Like, do you ever get the feeling we jumpstarted our lives?”

“Like we got thrown into everything too soon? All the time. But we deal with it. We grow up and we study and grow and deal with it. That’s what you see in all those couples, people who are scared, but dive in anyway. Because they decided this is too important to miss. I used to find Cerise running endless laps at lunch and sometimes we’d talk about random stuff for a few minutes but then she’d tell me about Kitty and how scary or exiting it was. She ran those laps and thought and thought but she never ran away”

“Is. is that how you felt with Darling?”

“Not really? There was a minute when I thought I might, but we were just having fun and learning and eventually we were ready to leave each other and it didn’t hurt nearly enough to have been monumental. I was never scared with her”

“Isn’t that a good thing?”
“Scared with her not of her. I wasn’t scared of losing her as a friend. Ever. My life would’ve been ok either way. I always knew that I could stand to let her go.”

“It’s not like that with everyone?”

“Not in the slightest”

“Oh. But you know what it’s like? To be scared of losing someone?”

“Oh, Raven, some days that’s all I think about.”

Raven shuts her eyes for a moment, wondering how she got herself into such a scary heart-to-heart with a pretty, tremendous, girl on a couch in a room that still smells like roses. Apple’s still watching her intently, with a slightly furrowed brow and Raven suddenly remembers how fragile this girl can be, when confronted with things she cares about. “Apple?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you scared right now?”

Apple’s momentarily taken aback before whispering “Honestly? I’m terrified”

Raven nods, “Ok, I’m gonna say this real fast and then dinner will get here and we can study or talk about TV or you can just leave or whatever, but, I’m scared too. I’ve been scared for most of my life, for so many reasons, but I’m learning the difference between actual fear and excitement maybe? And. Right now. I’m a little excited. Because. Maybe we were all thrown into too much love too early and maybe we all dealt with it in different ways and maybe we’ve been putting this off for years. But. People around us are finally happy and even I’m mostly happy and sometimes I see you and you make me so happy it hurts and I can’t tell you that because I don’t want to scare you the way you sometimes scare me. But.” Raven draws a breath, Apple’s eyes entirely focused on her face. “I know it’s such a cliché falling in love with your princess, but, Apple. I love you. I have loved you every day, in a million different ways since that time you started singing my favorite songs in the morning whilst braiding your hair. Or when you defended me against my mom. Or when you helped me make all these friends. And every time you smile and forgive me for another stupid thing and just, every day. Every single day the thought of you makes me happier than I ever thought possible. And maybe you don’t feel this way or maybe we’re doomed to date other, less intense loves for our whole lives because we’ll never be ready for each other, but I just . . . you should know. Maybe it’ll help my fingers hurt less. They always hurt less after you.”

“Raven”

“And maybe I’m crazy! Maybe you’ve never felt that way about me at all. Maybe I’m not that important or maybe you just aren’t interested and that’s ok! Really! But, I don’t know, you have the biggest, strongest heart out of anyone I’ve ever met and sometimes I feel like you might see me? A little? Or something.”

“Raven”

“Yeah?”

“I . . . of course I love you.”

“What?”

“Raven. I have loved you since you smiled at me that first day. Because the world was kind of horrible and you still smiled at me, the object of your destruction. You make me stronger and kinder and you challenge me and I knew that within our first week and when I asked headmaster Grimm and he said yes, we could live together, I couldn’t believe it. Because you were so obviously the best person ever and I was allowed to spend time with you? And then everything went to hell but I wasn’t as upset as I should’ve been, because you were still around and I was a little freer then before but then everything got too real and I go scared and I’m so, so sorry but. Just. I still love you. I love you more than I ever have which is impossible because I’ve always loved you the most and it just grows! And increases! And I’m left here, with my favorite person in the world, and. Um.”
“Hey, Apple?” Raven can feel the small smile on her face, but barely. It’s overwhelmed by the roaring in her ears. “I’m here. I’m here now and so are you and I’m not so scared or if I am it was overwhelmed by love and like, my need to be near you, a long, long time ago. I think we’re ready. Actually.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah”

And then the talking stops. The jumbled words and messy, beautiful thoughts stop. The room stand still for a moment as two girls (young women, grown into themselves and their feelings and their power) one blonde, one a mess of black and purple. One sorceress, one princess. Both a little scared, they tip off the precipice. And then they aren’t scared. Because they’re together and because change isn’t always momentous. It happens in stages and a million moments and sometimes it feels like coming home. And then they kiss and nothing more is said for now or if it is the words are lost in lips and smiles and moans and the beginning of the middle of the now of an infinite love story.
And it’s going to be ok. It’s all going to be ok because this is just like always, they’ve always been near each other and maybe it’s a little realer but they still have life to contend with and dragons to defeat and things to learn but it’s all going to be ok. For real. They have forever to change and grow and love each other. It’ll be ok. And happy and good. It’s impossible for things to not be that.