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Heart on Your Sleeve

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Akali let out a deep breath, scrolling through her Instagram, hoping this simple action masked the anxiety she felt inside. All around her were people in suits, going this way and that as they headed into elevators leading upwards into the massive building. She didn't notice people dressed casually like her, and it made the butterflies inside her stomach squirm with agony. The email sent to her didn't specify any dress code she had to follow, yet, even with her nicest crop top on (it was sweltering outside, she really hoped the interviewer understood that), white fitted jeans, and a bomber jacket with a golden dragon on the back, that she wasn't underdressed. 

This was probably the nicest job offer she had in awhile, if she was honest with herself.

Going rogue and graffitiing everything wasn’t the best way to earn money, but it sure did help with her reputation in the underground art community.

She fiddled ever so slightly with the mask in her pocket with one hand, the familiar fabric slipping through her fingers easily, almost hypnotic in a way, and her breathing slowed as she paid more attention to that than the people moving around her. It didn’t help much, but having the object in her hands at least grounded her.

 

“Miss…Akali? Akali Jhomen Tethi?” A voice rang out, almost shrill against the sterile white and gold veined building. Akali stood up quickly, her head slightly pounding, and glanced around for the voice calling her. Sure enough, a woman of similar height to her wearing almost comically oversized spectacles on top of her head came walking up, holding a clipboard close to her chest.

 

Akali hurried to put her phone away into a back pocket, pulling at her shirt collar ever so slightly. “Oh hi,” she sheepishly answered, holding her hand out for the new woman to shake it. “You must be Tristana I assume? We spoke over email about the job offer.”

The woman she assumed to be Tristana nodded her head and beamed at Akali, taking her hand and shaking it with gusto, already guiding her with a gentle arm behind her back when their hands dropped.

“The boss was quite incessant about getting you to join us, but, even she knows about the importance of the interview process. Helps the company see if the potential new hire has some skeletons in their closet,” she jokes as they enter an elevator, elbowing Akali in the ribs.
Akali could feel sweat begin to form at her nape, and she let out a low chuckle in response, adverting her eyes. Tristana let out a laugh, shaking her head with a tsk noise as the elevator came to a stop. “Oh I’m just messing with you,” she added as they stepped out. “This is just a formal hiring process for us to get to know you better!” Tristana finished, once again smiling over at Akali who let out a thankful breath. 
With her nerves only slightly calmed down, she allowed herself to glance only momentarily at their location, figuring that this wasn’t going to be her work area. They had passed numerous cubicles and meeting areas, almost too many to count, plus, she noticed all these people seemed to be doing things way above her skill level in terms of running a business and the more technical side of a computer. 
Finally Tristana stopped at what seemed to be the end of this floor, opening a fogged glass door to a much smaller meeting room than the previous ones Akali had noticed. She took a seat at the head of the table, placing her clipboard onto the table and taking out a pen from in one of the many pockets Akali just noticed her suit jacket had. Clicking the pen down, she began to write something, Akali standing to attention, her back ridged in her chair. 
"So, it says on your resume you were born in Japan, and then moved to the United States a couple years ago?" 

Akali felt her face break out in a bashful smile, placing her hand behind her neck and leaning back into her chair, relaxing slightly. "Yeah, I needed a change of scenery when I noticed my art becoming, ah, uninspired," she admitted, biting back the truth with another sheepish grin at Tristana. If she noticed the girl lying, she choose not to say anything, instead writing her answer down on the clipboard. 

"Speaking of your artwork, you also wrote that you did some graffiti for some businesses? The boss was certainly interested in hiring you on to do some ads like that actually," Tristana said, pausing in her writing to look up at Akali. 

"Oh I wasn't hired to do any of the graffiti on the buildings, but the owners ended up liking my art so much they paid me anyway, heh," she replied, throwing an arm over the back of her chair to relax herself. Tristana laughed, shaking her head. 

"The boss figured that out, but they liked the rebellious attitude you managed to fit into your pieces."

Akali tilted her head, curious as to what Tristana said. "Really? That's something not many say about my pieces to be honest." Tristana gave her a wave of her hand, brushing her comment off. 

"Anyway, final question I have to ask you, as it's company policy: how much would you like to be paid to work here? In our email together you didn't go over your rates much, but we're flexible here at Siren." she said, sliding a piece of paper towards Akali with rates posted on it, along with other contracting nonsense that Akali hadn't found the time to read yet. As she scanned the paper, her eyes almost bulged out of her head, yet, she scratched the top of her head, sliding it back towards Tristana with a depleted look in her eyes. 

"Unfortunately, this just isn't enough at the moment, due to the amount of time I'd have to take away from personal projects and commissions," Akali admitted, holding her ground as Tristana rose her brows at the woman. After a second, Tristana nodded, grabbing the paper and stacking them neatly with the others, smiling at Akali for the umpteenth time. 

"Completely understandable, however this is just the starting rate-" A knock on the door interrupted Tristana, who furrowed her brows at the tinted panels beside them as a long-legged figure stepped in, Akali almost getting whiplash from how fast she looked up. 

"Ah boss! What are you doing here? Don't you have a meeting currently?" Tristana said quickly, pulling back the sleeve of her suit jacket and checking the time. The 'boss' waved her off, grabbing a chair and pulling up beside Tristana, crossing her legs and causing Akali to look away with a slowly growing blush appearing on her cheeks. The figure was gorgeous, wine red hair draping her shoulders like an elaborate fur coat and complimented with piercing yellow eyes that Akali felt scanning her every miniscule movement. She had to cough, trying to take more interest in the carpet fiber than the woman in front of her.  

"I just came down here after noticing our new artist rejecting our very generous offer," she said with a honeyed voice, layered with disappointment. Akali stared back at the woman, who offered a challenging glare back. 

"Now hold on a minute, I don't work for you just yet!" She responded. "And besides, I currently make more taking commissions and selling merch." 

The woman raised her hand, making Akali pause automatically, which sent a shock of confusion to the smaller woman. 

"We can double this amount, if anything just to placate you. Such a pretty little thing shouldn't take an offer like this lightly. We don't just scout anyone at Siren." 

Akali narrowed her eyes, scanning the woman's face for any deceit, and, upon finding none, let out a heavy sigh, brushing back a few hairs that escaped from her wild ponytail back. "Well, if that's the case, then I accept your offer." 

The other woman stood up, Tristana quickly following behind her. She came over to Akali, who hurried to stand up as well, taking a quick mental note that she only really came up to near shoulder height. Offering her hand out, Akali took it with gusto, smiling up at her. 

"Welcome to Siren Akali Jhomen Tethi, and if you ever need anything else, tell my secretaries that Evelynn said it was okay for you to bother her," she said, winking down at Akali before pivoting so fast on her heels that Akali barely had any time to catch her breath. 

Tristana looked from Akali to Evelynn, who walked out the door just as quickly as she came, before grabbing the rest of her papers and yelling back at Akali that she'd email the details to her later. Akali sat back down in her chair as soon as both of them disappeared, and their shadows no longer in sight from behind the tinted glass panels. She placed her hands on her knees, smiling down at the floor, before looking up at the sterile white ceiling, letting out a small laugh.  

"This'll be interesting," Akali murmured to no one but herself. 

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Akali clutched her bag tightly, standing next to her bike as she felt dwarfed by both the building looming above her, and the many cars she was currently drowning in. Tristana had emailed her a pass to the parking garage seated beside the building, but Akali felt more comfortable surrounded by open air. She still felt like she was dressed too casually for this job, but Tristana had insisted in her email that the art department didn't have a dress code like many of the other groups. And really, other than the nitty gritty, that was the last her heard from her interviewer, so, with helmet and backpack in hand, she stepped onto the lobby floor, immediately heading to one of the elevators in the building and selecting the floor she was told to go to. 

As soon as she stepped out the elevator a pen was thrown at her. Akali quickly ducked, staring back at the offending object just thrown at her, and hearing a loud groan down the hall. She shrugged, and continued forward, pausing every so often to stare at the fact that unlike the cubicle prison she imagined, it was more of an open space, more relaxed. There were a couple milling about, and just like Tristana had told her, many were dressed casually, in near pjs that she noticed. After wandering around a bit, a figure popped their head up and swiveled their owl-like head around, eyes narrowing at Akali before recognizing her and widening. She heard a grunt come from around that area as a bird-like Vastayan popped out, a much taller one following behind her obediently, his almost obnoxious brightly colored apparel slightly hurting her eyes. 

"Ahem, you must be the new artist Evelynn hired," said the first Vastayan, Akali blinking once as she stopped spacing out. She nodded her head, trying to form the words in her head before she said something stupid. She wanted to start off on the right foot, especially considering she almost rejected this job due to her own ego. 

"I'm Xayah, I'm the head of the art department, and this is my partner Rakan, he works in the modeling department, but you'll see him around here often, he likes to pose for some of our designs." She leaned close to Akali, whispering, "We keep trying to tell him we don't draw the concepts for the clothes, but it hasn't stopped him." 

"Hey! I heard that," he said, Akali trying to cover her smile with a hand, but her laugh gave it away. Xayah rolled her eyes, putting a hand on the small of Akali's back and leading the younger girl towards one of the mini-rooms on this floor. She tried to take note of any of the other people on the floor, but with Xayah prattling on about something Rakan had done (or was doing) and pushing her towards wherever the Vastayan wanted her to go, she couldn't really pick up on anything.

It was a different attitude than what she was used to, especially  considering the strict discipline drilled into her from a young age, and, if she were being honest with herself, she enjoyed it. And even though she couldn't meet any of the other employees due to Xayah's pushing, the casual, lighthearted attitude of the floor settled some of the nerves she had. Finally, Xayah stopped in front of an open mini-room. Inside it was a bean bag chair within a corner, several computers and tablets, and posters lined along the walls. It looked lived in, which caused Akali to tilt her head in confusion, picking up Xayah's attention. 

"Oh, you'll be sharing this room with another one of our artist's, Jinx. Speaking of which," she turned to Rakan. "Honey can you call for her." He grinned down at her, cupping his mouth with her hands and yelling out for the missing person. Akali couldn't help but let out another laugh, setting down her backpack and her helmet at one of the unoccupied spaces in the room. She sat down in an empty chair, reaching down into her bag and pulling out her headphones, phone, and other essentials she brought with her. She heard Xayah behind her telling her good luck as she made her way back to her mini-room, telling Akali to message her if she needed anything, as well as giving her the time they all needed to break for lunch. As she started to set up her computer and tablet, she felt a hand just brush her shoulder and begin to brush her chair around.

Akali reacted almost instantly, grabbing the wrist of the person and twisting it. 

"Ow what the fuck?!" Akali quickly let go, holding both her hands up and moving the chair around fully to face the person that she accidentally almost death gripped. In front of her stood a blue haired woman with pink eyes, wearing a shirt several sizes too small and large combat boots, one of her arms almost completely inked.

Akali bowed her head, staring at the floor. So much for starting out on the right foot. "I'm so sorry I spaced out and forgot that someone else worked in the same room as I-"

"You gotta teach me how to do that," responded the person, almost half launching herself into a chair and wheeling over to Akali. 

"I..what?" 

"You gotta teach me newbie how do death grip someone like that. Man if I hadn't said something you could've probably broke my arm," she continued, animatedly waving her hands around, clearly invested in what Akali did to her.

"Um sure...I'm Akali by the way," she said when the person took a breath, holding out her hand. The other woman clasped it with both hands, squeezing it hard as she shook it. 

"Oh I know, Xayah told me you'd be 'moving' in with me. I'm Jinx by the way." The other girl told her, letting go of her hand and pushing off the floor to make her chair head back to her computer. "Anyway newbie, there's a floor meeting happening in a few hours, you gotta be there, these things are hilarious to witness. Don't forget to adjust your settings by the way, these things are so stiff without stress testing them." And with that, Jinx put on her own headphones and ignored Akali. 

Still stunned, Akali swiveled back to stare at her computer again, still confused and wondering what just happened, putting on her headphones and choosing to ignore it. After clicking around a few things, she noticed a bright red icon continually going off on the bottom corner of her screen, prompting her to click on it. Encased within the notification was what she assumed to be a texting app for the people who worked here, along with, of course, Evelynn, seated right at the top and who happened to be the owner of her first work text. 

"I expect to see you at the floor meeting today Miss Jhomen Tethi. I'd hate for me to have to punish you on your first day." 

Akali stared blankly at her screen, mouth suddenly getting dry. "Did, did the boss just threaten me?" 

Jinx pulled down her headphones, turning to look at Akali briefly. "You say something newbie?" Akali shook her head, Jinx shrugging and going back to her own work. 

I'm so fucked.