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Title: starting, starting, starting

Word Count: 3K

Summary: Make way, the night calls out, make way for the Raven Queen. [Gender AU – F/F]

Perhaps that's what all human relationships boil down to: Would you save my life? or would you take it?

toni morrison

That I move surrounded by a tangle

Of branches, a net of air and alternate

Light and dark, at all times;

That there are no destinations

Apart from this.

margaret atwood

The story started—as with many do— with a dead girl. Pale in the ground with her skull caved in, the distant sound of wasps hovering nearby as the pool of her blood fed into the sleeping Ley Line. She died with only the trees as a witness to her end. Their ancient trunks were splattered with her blood, the bones and flesh of her body already sinking into the soft earth as the murderer fled.

It's starting, they whispered to each other. Time twisted and turned around their roots, the Corpse Road hummed with power as a new spirit found herself trapped in the strange space and the trees forced themselves to listen to the way the story was beginning. It's starting, it's starting. Fresh green leaves scattered to the ground, blanketing the corpse with its magic, preserving her in a blurred moment. It's starting.

Somewhere along the line, a girl came back from the dead.

Somewhere along the line, the Sleepers stirred, one suddenly more restless than the others.

Somewhere along the line, a girl was given a prophecy by her mother, her aunts, and her cousins and the assorted psychic talents in her family.

Kiss your true love, they warned her, watching her aura pulse a pale, blue-lily, lily-blue, and she will die.

It was starting.

Blue Sargent cared little for curses and True Love by the time she was sixteen.

There was a rowdy group of Raven Girls, all hungry and dangerous in their matching starched white shirts and blue vests with the raven insignia in mid-flight. One had her hair rebelliously shaved on one side, a tumble of black curls falling over her face; a girl wore a more tired version of the uniform, her dusty hands moving in the air; a smudgy girl sat in the corner of the table, her presence towering over the others; and then there was the Cellphone Girl who was waiting for Blue to respond.

"One of my friends wants to know if we've seen you somewhere." Cellphone Girl flashed Blue a winning smile, her teeth perfectly straight and white like a glossy picture from a magazine ready to sell you anything.

But Blue was well-versed in the language of privileged girls, their hidden laughter at her choppy black hair and homemade outfits, the ones who kissed other girls and called it a joke, their airy indifference to the way the rest of Henrietta barely tolerated their expansive presence.

Raven Girls were bastards by definition. They were the daughters of oil tycoons and politicians, heiresses to entire fortunes and fed with silver spoons, the illegitimate off-springs of men with power in their wallets and a single command. They caused destruction no matter how they moved, all with bright laughter and polished manners of princesses.

And Blue, who had recently seen the ghost of her alleged True Love in the ruins of a church, was the daughter of a psychic who was tired of being told what to do.

"We've never met," Blue said coolly. "And I'm currently working."

Cellphone Girl's hazel eyes flickered up and down. "If you come over to our table then maybe we can…"

Blue met Cellphone Girl's eyes, a challenge with Blue being so short despite her chunky boots and imagined herself with the aloof armor her cousin Orla often wore. "Are you trying to pay me to talk to your friend?"

She threw a glare at Cellphone Girl's friends and immediately turned on her feet, cursing the existence of Raven Girls. There was not enough money on the earth that could convince her to befriend any of them.

Nial Lynch was a king in his land. With princesses as his daughters—one with serious eyes, another with a wicked laugh, and the youngest with golden curls, but this was not his story.

His own story had a bloodied end, struck with a tire iron so many times that his dream-creations felt every blow until he died with his eyes half-closed and bruised knuckles mangled beyond repair. A gray figure had already fled the scene long before Morgan Lynch found the body.

Nial Lynch once believed in the fact his daughters were princesses of the land, something soft and delicate around the edges until one of them had dreamt up another child with a sweet smile and fuzzy gold curls. Being a selective man, the stories of his youth were about god-like men forging impossible swords and silver-tongued saints tricking the powerful men, not about the hungry girls who walked the same earth and preformed their miracles

He had not prepared himself for one of his daughters to carry his power.

Just as he had not prepared himself to face his own death.

He died as ravens flew up in the air, his daughter screaming her own war-cry.

Morgan Lynch's story started.

I will not fall in love with you, Blue silently said. She shuffled the cards between her hands, catching flashes of the usual images of cup and swords and hearts. She was painfully aware of the other girl in the room, that this Gansey had a beating heart and crooked wire-rimmed glasses. A far cry from the stumbling spirit in the graveyard.

But Gansey was here and so were her friends, an imperious girl who scowled at anything and a tired girl with expressive blue eyes.

I will not. Blue was already compiling a list of reasons why Gansey would never be her True Love. The other girl was rude and privileged and had terrible taste in companions and destinies. Already in terms of prophecies, Blue felt she was more inclined to kill Gansey than fall in love with her.

But she offered the Raven Girls the deck of cards.

One of her aunts hummed in the background as Maura read each card. Ambitious with a difficult choice ahead, yes, yes, don't you know that you have a sister? She hummed some more as Morgan declared everything a farce, but Calla came over and read the future in the stark lines of the girl's exposed tattoos that curled at the base of her neck. A secret killed your father. You are becoming something else. You are transforming—

The humming stopped.

Gansey and Addison turned their eyes to Morgan who was looking more feral by the second. She was a wolf, a snake, and a lion, some kind of hunted creature trapped in a borrowed girl's skin.

"Bullshit," Morgan snarled. She bared her teeth in a ferocious gesture of defiance. She slammed the door on the way out.

And then came Gansey's card, predictability so painful it almost felt like a cliché.

"Does it always mean death?" Addison asked. Her eyes were starry-bright from her own prediction, the validation Blue's mother had given her. Girls like her, Blue knew, were told not to hold their ambitions close, that they should be grateful for every opportunity and not reach any higher.

It was, as Morgan had said earlier, bullshit.

These Raven Girls were hungry with ambition, Gansey for the Ley Line, Morgan with her obvious grief, and quiet Addison who clearly wanted more.

Several practiced answers riffled through Blue's head, but she caught the faint scent of mint coming from Gansey's clothes, the tap-tap of tree branches against the nearby window. The events were already in motion and there was a girl close to walking on the Corpse Road wanting to know if there was anything else. Is that all there is? Blue remembered with a shiver.

The painted skull in Gansey's card grinned.

"I can't believe you invited her," Morgan said.

Addison tried not to roll her eyes. "We're not some secret country club, and besides, she's the daughter of a psychic." The word felt like true joy in her mouth, a glimpse of her future the psychic had given her. I am going to become something more, she thought, imagining life without scholarships helping her with the university, a life far away from her parents. Could the psychics tell her more about her upcoming choice, the right path to take to gain her freedom?

Morgan complained under her breath. The light had yet to turn green and she was anxious to put more distance between her and her sister Dolores who was still waiting at Gansey's apartment.

Gansey, in the driver's seat, appeared unconcerned about Morgan and Addison's argument, was looking at the rearview mirror with a pensive expression.

Nellie, crammed next to Addison in the back, said softly, "It's the only way this will work." Her hair appeared colorless in the late afternoon sun; her face outlined in light.

Addison stared at her before turning her attention back to Morgan. "I'm sure Gansey wouldn't mind some more help unless you want to spend more time looking over old land deeds."

Morgan made a face. It was her least favorite of Welsh King-related research. She detested the government buildings and usually spent her time aggravating the workers who were cursed to help them file the correct documents. It was Addison's constant surprise that Morgan hadn't been banned from every part of government-owned property.

The light finally turned green.

Gansey let out a dreamy sigh. "She said the church is on the Ley Line?"

Addison nodded.

"Excelsior, then!"

The thigh-high grass swirled around Blue's legs, snagging the hem of her flowy skirt. She stared at the blue expanse of mountains in the far distance, the slopes covered in a heavy canopy of dark-green leave. She tasted sap in the air as the other Raven Girls interacted with each other. Gansey was struggling to make her electromagnetic-frequency meter work, talking over the distresses whirling to the others.

"A lot of classical researchers talk about places having souls, a resource of energy in a specific domain." There was something sharper about her in this element, her excitement rolling over her in infectious waves. "A genius loci, Pope referenced in a poem. Something embodying and protecting—"

"Like a damn guard dog," Morgan said. She glared at the trees. She fished her half-chewed gum out of her mouth and pressed it against one of the nearby trunks.


Addison groaned into her hands.

Blue watched the way the branches moved. It was almost hypnotic after flying in the helicopter, he quiet gestures and soft sighs of leaves falling. She looked further, imagining an unspoiled forest full of green, living things, a stone tomb hidden under autumn leaves, a crown made from burnished gold. Fanciful things she had seen in Gansey's journal, wishes, and swords, and kings.

This was not the magic she was used to. Her mother and her aunts and cousins traded in predictions, the spread of cards on a table, the reflective shine of crystal balls. She was used to feeling separated from that power, but here with the Raven Girls, she felt like a witch among knights in their quest.

Gansey led them along a twisting path of her own design. They saw shadows move between trees, the suggestion of stag's antlers somewhere farther out. Here it was dark and cool, the spring sunlight filtered through leaves, giving everything a smudged quality. There was a hint of a song in the wind, something half-remembered like a dream.

They asked Blue about her family's psychic abilities if she could levitate objects and see the future in the marks of someone's palm. She, in return, asked them about their Aglionby Academy, about which rumors were true and what it was like to separate their life between school and Gansey's quest. Something was growing between them, and it stretched and coiled in places in their hearts.

At last, they came along a pool of crystal clear water. Something darted beneath the surface. Gansey knelt down and cupped the water in her hands, and she began to laugh. "I don't think the fish are real."

Addison Lynch wanted.

Her parents told her that was the problem. That she wanted too much, that she wouldn't amount to anything beyond her second-hand uniform.

But dragging her busted bike down the road, the jacket of her uniform already stained, Addison knew she right. She's made it to Aglionby Academy and survived her first week of class. There was a restless feeling under her skin, the knowledge that she was on the right path One day she was going to be enough to leave her parents and see Henrietta as a steppingstone.

I will become something more, she told herself.

And Gansey appeared in her orange car. "Hey," she said, her voice full of Virginia hospitality. "I think my car is acting up."

This was one of her first crossroads.

Unknown to Addison, she could either deny Gansey and live a life without miracles and sleeping Welsh kings, avoid life with a danger that was different from her mother's indifference and her father's fists. But stay on this path and—

Addison's story had started many times, but here it began as she helped Gansey pop the hood open, the hot sun beat down on her neck, air thick with humidity. They talked of similar things, homework that had yet to be done, the classes they were in. Gansey then offered Addison a ride to school once the car was in working order.

Addison, to her surprise, said yes.

They stared the new chapter together.

Blue dreamt of the church watch.

She saw Gansey's face clearer in her dreams, the water droplets on her sweater, her chestnut-brown waves falling around her face. Her lips would ghost over Blue's, a teasing gesture that tugged on her heart.

"Is that all there is?" Blue would ask.

Before answering, Gansey faded like the morning mist, leaving Blue alone under the rain, the shadows stretched on either side, almost organic in nature.

And every time, Blue would wake up with a jolt, tasting mint and regret.

They searched over hill and vale, through yellow-edged land deals and county reports, trading resources as they figured out their respective schedules with classes and job and Morgan's various court dates. ("Those motherfuckers can't prove a thing." "You parked by a fire hydrant, Lynch.") It didn't take long for events to tumble into place, the mirror, the once-dead girl, the dreamer, the not-yet magician, and the ghost who always near. This was their magic, their quest.

"The king is here," Gansey said, animated. She drew her hand to the books she had piled around her bed, picking one up at random. "He's waiting for us."

Nellie sat by the miniature model of Henrietta. She made space between the plastic-and-cardboard trees, placing strips of notebook paper into an unrecognizable shape. "Your Welsh king is a mirror."

"There are dating apps, Gansey," Morgan drawled as she fed her baby raven from an eyedropper. She cooed over the bird; her tone uncharacteristically sweet as it made god-awful noises in return.

Addison swiveled the chair by Gansey's ornate desk. "But what if we're not the only one looking?" She drew the beaked triangle shape in the air. "People always want more power and that's what the Ley Line is."

"Then we get there first," Blue said, surprising herself. At some level, she knew they were intertwined since the church watch. Gansey's specter from that night lingered in the room, but Blue banished it with he thought of the wish. She could ask the sleeping king for Gansey's life. Even though she promised herself that she wouldn't fall in love with Gansey, the last few weeks had solidified a connection she would never be able to get rid of.

Nellie hummed a tuneless melody. "Hmmmm, it's here, it's here…"

Gansey remembered dying.

The bright sting of wasps descending on her skin, her cries choking through her swollen throat. She remembered feeling time slow while she struggled to hold on, cold air touching the back of her throat as the voice whispered in her ear: You will live because of Glendower. Someone else on the ley line is dying when they should not, and so you will live when you should not.

Later in the hospital, she knew her life was borrowed.

She knew since she heard her own voice in the parking lot of the Holy Redeemer, suspected it longer since reading about bargains made at Ley Lines. She knew it since she held the death card in her hand, since meeting Blue's eyes in the sitting room. Her death was always a step closer than others, closer than Morgan's reckless driving and Addison's abusive family.

You're destined for greatness, was what other psychics had told Gansey over tea leaves and opened hands.

What I'm destined for is a funeral, Gansey felt like correcting them. She already had a foot in the grave, the reaper with its scythe pressed to her exposed throat.

She was Risa Campbell Gansey, the second-born daughter and made for legacies, and she was going to walk gracefully to her death. She was going to kneel by the feet of Glendower and finally understand why she was being given a second chance.

Is that all there is? she had asked a nurse in the hospital, the edges of her words fuzzy from the painkillers.

Go find out, the nurse had said.

And Gansey's story started.

Once her bones were nicely settled back on the Ley Line, Nellie reappeared as rumpled as ever in the shadow of the old church. Her smudged face remained in her usual crooked smile.

"It's staritng," she said.

Above in the trees, a flock of ravens took flight.

The story started—as with many do— with a dead girl.

But at that moment in the old church graveyard, four living and one dead, brought themselves together on a quest. The knee-high grass was full of buzzing insects, the girls' excited voices filled the summer air as the trees whispered secrets to each other.

Make way, the night called out, make way for the Raven Queen.