“I really hate you."
“You know you say that to me literally every shift, right?" Octavia asked without even looking up from her computer screen. "I'm numb to your anger by now."
Clarke glared at her from across the cubicle. Octavia noticed, if only because she and Clarke had been friends for so long she could sense the blonde’s misery before it even manifested itself, but she didn’t let Clarke know that. She ignored her and kept typing until the stare ended with a roll of the eyes and Clarke diverted her attention back to her own computer.
"You're the only reason I have this stupid job," Clarke complained.
"I'm the only reason you got your mom off your back about getting a job while you're going to med-school," Octavia shot back. "But whatever helps you sleep at night."
"I could've worked at McDonald's," Clarke whispered longingly, slumping her head onto the wrist rest on her desk. "I could be eating a free burger right now."
Octavia scrunched her nose. "You'd smell like french fries all day."
"Ugh," Clarke sighed dreamily, closing her eyes. "French fries. Hot and fresh out the fryer and not frozen like this goddamned office. Why do we have a fan on in the middle of winter? It's December!"
"Because this office is like two feet wide and there's a hundred people in it," Octavia told her. "Turn that fan off and we'll all be sweating. This place will reek of B.O. faster than Lincoln's gym."
Lincoln's gym. Clarke should have gotten a job there. Fit, shirtless men. Ripped women walking around in nothing but their underwear. That sounded like the dream life. Instead she had agreed to help Octavia file papers for this stupid company in this stupid office. Literally nothing could be more boring. Including listening to her mom's nagging about how she needed a job to 'pay' for med-school.
Clarke Griffin was loaded. So was her heart surgeon mother. But their income was almost nothing compared to that of her mother's new senator boyfriend Kane. Apparently politics paid even better than engineering, which was what Clarke's dad did before he died. Her mother dating Kane only seemed to reinforce the fact that Clarke’s family was rich. They could afford to send her to college.
If it had just been her mother and her like it had been the first few years after Jake's death, when they'd had to move homes and downgrade and adjust to a new life without a second head of household or a second income, Clarke would almost understand her mother's desire to have her pay for a portion of her tuition. But Jake had been gone for years and everyone had more than adjusted by now. Her mom had already moved on. This wasn't about money, it was about getting Clarke out of the house.
And maybe a bit about teaching her some work ethic.
Clarke Griffin had never exactly had a job before.
She could see why, and she was sure Octavia could too. Sitting at a desk four hours a day, she probably only got an hour of work done, maybe two. Octavia had recommended Clarke to her boss so she could have a second set of hands to help her manage the influx of holiday season receipts, but honestly Clarke probably did nothing but slow Octavia down. Or at least distract her.
Clarke was more than distracted enough for the both of them, though.
She sat up and hugged herself tight, tugging the sides of her sweater closer to her body for warmth from the fan. It was entirely unintentional that her hand slipped into her pocket and pulled out her phone.
Octavia seemed to have quickly forgotten their conversation about the fan. Probably because it had shifted towards Lincoln, even though his mention had been her own doing. She had been trying to forget about anything that had to do with Lincoln for the last couple of weeks now. Ever since he dumped her for some body builder at the gym, she'd been on the fast track to moving on, though some days were easier than others. If she had offhandedly mentioned him today, that probably wasn’t a good sign, and it was probably why she was typing so intensely. Octavia was good about letting her work distract her from her personal life.
Clarke was good about letting her personal life distract her from her work.
Somewhere around twenty minutes after descending into Facebook Hell (surprisingly without reprimand by Octavia, who was the only reason Clarke stayed on task as little as she did) Clarke looked up to see her screen had gone black. She moved the mouse frantically, hoping it was just the screen saver, until she gave up and accepted reality. Her computer had shut itself off again.
"Goddamn it," she yelled smacking the monitor on its side, more out of frustration than a false hope that physical force would actually turn the computer back on. "This stupid thing is older than I am. It shuts down every time I leave it idle for too long."
"Why were you leaving it idle?" Octavia scolded knowingly.
"Shut up, O."
Clarke admitted defeat and leaned down to press the power button on her tower. The lights flashed, followed by a troublesome whirring that sounded like a lawn mower out for revenge, and slowly the computer began rebooting itself. Clarke sat back in her chair, unlocked her phone, and waited.
"Hey, Clarke. Octavia."
Clarke and Octavia were in the back corner of the room, away from most of the people who did the real work in the office, and visitors were seldom. Clarke sure was glad to see Monty, though.
"Hey!" she greeted happily, relaxing again in her chair and spinning it's wheels side to side in half circles absentmindedly. "What's up?"
"Oh, nothing much," he replied, resting his arm over the wall near the entrance if the cubicle. "I'm just bored and on my break. Have you guys drawn for the Secret Santa yet?"
Octavia was pouting slightly, like she was upset Monty was here to distract her from her work, but Clarke was too busy enjoying his company to notice.
"We're doing a gift exchange?" she asked surprised. "I hope someone gets me a new computer. This thing's a piece of shit."
Clarke gestured to the monitor which had indeed gone black again as she neglected the computer to talk to Monty. This time she didn't even attempt to turn it back on.
"Need me to fix it again?" Monty asked. "I can do it in -" He glanced at his watch. "Ten minutes when I'm on the clock again and get paid for it."
Monty had already set one foot into the boundary of their cubicle, and now he paused at Octavia's insistence, frozen mid-step like a burglar caught sneaking into a house.
Octavia cleared her throat. "I just mean. You're off the clock. You should get one of the other mechanics to do it. Like. Raven. Maybe."
Monty and Clarke shared a knowing look.
Monty took a step back.
"Alright," he said, grinning. "I can get Raven to come over here for you. I'll get her to bring the bowl we're all drawing names from too. I'll go back to my station and grab her when my break's over."
Octavia nodded satisfactorily, struggling to retain her professionalism and suppress a smile.
Clarke watched her co-worker get back to her job with her own grin, then stuck a finger down her throat in a gagging motion where Monty could see her. He laughed and Octavia shot them both a suspicious glare.
Clarke feigned innocent, but backed off.
"So who'd you draw for the Secret Santa?" she asked, changing the subject.
"You'll never guess."
"You're right, I probably won't."
There were too many people at this company for Clarke to know all of them, especially when she was confined to her cubicle most of the time she was here. Aside from travelling across the office to the bathroom or the kitchen on breaks, Clarke hadn't seen much of the place. Her job was solitary, and she was surprised she knew anyone more than Octavia. If her computer actually worked like it was supposed to, she never would have even met Monty or Raven.
Monty dug into his pocket, then held up a piece of paper proudly. Clarke squinted to see it from where she was seated, but Monty was all too eager to read the name scrawled on the slip for her. "Miller."
Clarke racked her brain for a moment to place the name. "Is Miller that hot manager you have a crush on?"
"He sure is," Monty confirmed, folding the strip of paper and slipping it back into the front of his khakis. "Drawing his name was the most luck I've ever had."
"Or it was fate," Octavia offered kindly.
"Fate, Luck, whatever it is, I'll take it." Monty glanced at his watch again. "Anyway, I better get back to work," he announced. "I'll make sure to get Raven for you, O."
Octavia blushed slightly, but recovered well and offered Monty a small "thanks" before he left.
Clarke continued to ignore her computer. She'd care about it again once Raven made it operable. Until then, she had better things to preoccupy herself with.
"Sooo," Clarke drawled, wheeling her chair closer to Octavia. "You and Raven, huh?"
Octavia pushed her away playfully, sending Clarke rolling back to the opposite side of the cubicle. "Whatever, Griffin," Octavia spoke confidently. "Raven's hot and you know it."
"Didn't say she wasn't," Clarke agreed subtly. "You should go for it. I'm just jealous you're moving on from Lincoln so fast. I haven't been with anyone since Finn, and I'm starting to wonder if I should hit on Raven myself."
There was nothing subtle about the way Octavia glared at her. "I saw her first. She's mine."
"Gross, O.," Clarke scolded playfully. "She's not an unmarked plot of land you can stick a flag in and call your own. If that's how you treat women, I should let Raven know so she knows I'll treat her with more respect than you will."
"Clarke, you know I wouldn't -"
"Joking." Clarke held her hands up in defense. "You're so snappy today. 'Bout time you get laid again."
"You're one to talk," Octavia threatened. "Lincoln broke up with me two weeks ago. Finn broke up with you two months ago. Have you even talked to anyone else yet?"
"Well there was someone who tried to hit on me a few weeks ago,” Clarke said tentatively. “But I turned them down. Not for the reason you think," she quickly interjected. "Not because of Finn."
"Someone was flirting with you?" Octavia asked curiously. "What the hell? Why didn't you tell me? We're best friends. We're supposed to tell each other everything!"
Clarke shrugged. "I didn't think you'd want to know."
"Of course I want to know!” Octavia exclaimed. “Who was it?"
The silence in the cubicle was almost as awkward as it was for Clarke to be hit on by her best friend’s brother. Octavia didn’t take long to break it.
"Ew. You're right. I didn't want to know. I think it's safe to say that Bellamy has hit on officially everyone now."
"Pretty much," Clarke agreed.
"For real, though," Octavia shifted backwards. "You should find someone new. Or at least get laid sometime soon."
"I know," Clarke sighed. "But I don't trust any random dude to pick me up in a bar for the night, and girls always want to take things further. I don't think I'm ready for another relationship yet, not while I'm busy with school and work." Clarke paused for a moment, considering. "The sex sure would be nice, though."
"Masturbate more," Octavia offered helpfully.
"Already tried that," Clarke answered honestly. "I'm already bored of touching myself."
"Then spice it up."
When Clarke looked puzzled, Octavia elaborated. "You can afford a nice vibrator, rich girl."
Clarke chewed her bottom lip for a moment. "That's... not a bad idea, actually."
"Of course it's not," Octavia said cockily. "Have I ever given you bad advice?"
Clarke could hazily recall many nights when Octavia had told her to take those extra shots, to pour a little more vodka in her glass than she was supposed to. She could even more clearly recall the mornings after those nights that she spent on the bathroom floor in front of the toilet.
She could also recall the day Octavia had suggested Clarke take this job with her.
Before Clarke could call Octavia out on all of the awful advice she had given her over the years, Raven peeked her head around the corner of their cubicle.
"I heard there's a computer that needs fixing?"
Raven's hands were heavy with stuff. One held her tool box at her side and the other gripped a small bowl, halfway filled with folded strips of paper like the one Monty had shown them earlier.
"Yes!" Clarke spoke enthusiastically, rolling away from her computer to give Raven more space to work. "Mine's a piece of junk. I'm not even sure if it's worth fixing at this point. I just need a new one."
"No way this office can afford new computers," Raven told her, kneeling underneath Clarke's desk and setting her supplies on the ground. "They haven't had the budget for that since the nineties, apparently, judging by the age of this thing."
Clarke could have figured that out even without Raven's mechanical expertise.
"Oh, you guys can draw names if you want," Raven mentioned, gesturing to the ceramic bowl beside her.
There was a moment where nothing happened, then Clarke quickly elbowed Octavia's rib cage, effectively telling her to bend down and grab the bowl.
When she did, Raven smiled at her.
Octavia smiled back.
The bowl settled on Octavia's lap, and Clarke was the first to reach between between her legs to grab a name.
Clarke had never heard of her.
Octavia busied herself drawing her own name, and her eyes went wide as soon as she read the slip. She gripped Clarke shoulder tight and tilted the paper towards her just as Clarke put her own strip of paper into the pocket of her sweater for safekeeping. "Clarke..." she whispered.
Clarke read the slip.
Clarke looked up to her best friend excitedly. "Fate," she repeated, using Octavia's own line against her.
Octavia nodded adamantly.
"You look happy," Raven observed, glancing up momentarily from where she was unscrewing the cover of Clarke's CPU. "Who'd you get, O?"
Octavia was calm in her answer. "Wouldn't you like to know?" she teased. "I'm not telling anyone who I got until the gift exchange. You'll just have to wait to find out."
"Boo." Raven pouted. "Who'd you get, Clarke?"
"I have no idea," she said honestly. "Some girl."
Raven nodded understandingly. "Yeah, I have no idea who the person I drew is either. Guess I'll meet them at the Christmas Party."
Octavia perked up at the word 'party.' It wasn't the first time. "When's the party?"
"Christmas Eve, I think. We've still got a couple weeks until we have to spend money we don’t have on complete strangers we don’t care about."
"Do you think someone'll get me a new computer?" Clarke asked hopefully.
Raven scoffed. "Yeah, if Hell freezes over like this damn office between now and then. You seen this place's budget? They're in the fucking tank. I can't believe they afford to pay us all as much as they do and that's really saying something. I don't think I've been able to afford eating anything besides cereal for the last week. The insurance here barely covers enough physical therapy for me to pay for the rest on my own. I can't imagine even the managers are much better off than us."
Clarke and Octavia both hummed their understanding.
Raven was crawling out from under the desk and snapping the cover back on the tower in no time. "Well, your computer should work for at least the rest of the day. It's still a piece of shit, though. There are some miracles even I can’t perform.”
"Thanks, Raven. You're a life saver."
"Don't mention it."
Raven collected her tools, placing them back in her carrier messily. She took much more care in grabbing the bowl off of Octavia's thighs. Her body lingered in Octavia's space much longer than it needed to.
Clarke let them have their moment.
"Well, I guess I'll see both of you at the Christmas Party," she said, tucking the bowl into her side.
"You most definitely will," Octavia agreed.
Raven smiled wider before turning to leave. "See you around, O."
"Damn," Clarke sighed when she could no longer see Raven over the top of the cubicle. "She totally has a thing for you."
Octavia smiled and leaned back carelessly in her chair, throwing her arms over her head and stretching them out. "I know," she practically moaned. "And it's so great."
"I'm jealous," Clarke admitted, missing the way the giddiness of infatuation felt against her rib cage, took over her entire body and consumed all of her thoughts. She'd give anything to be Octavia right now. But at least she could live vicariously through her best friend.
"You should be jealous, Clarke," Octavia said dreamily. "You should be very jealous."
"So I ordered two of them."
Clarke was actually working for a change and had been for the last couple hours. Her computer hadn't shut down in days, and it was so refreshing to have the screen stay on that Clarke thought she'd actually take advantage of the opportunity and help out Octavia by doing some work. Raven had worked more miracles than she said she had.
"Two of what?" Octavia asked distractedly, typing never ceasing at her own desk.
"What you told me to buy," Clarke said nonchalantly. "Dildos."
That made Octavia pause.
"Why do you need two?" She took another quick pause, then spoke before Clarke could. "I'm going to regret asking that, aren't I? Never mind, don't answer. I don't want to hear about your weird double penetration fetish."
"They're not both for me," Clarke explained, scrunching her face in discomfort.
"Who else are you buying dildos for?" Octavia interrogated.
"Whoever this girl I drew for the Secret Santa is."
That made Octavia pause.
She rolled over to Clarke and lowered her voice, not wanting any part of this conversation to be overheard by a coworker, or worse, one of their bosses.
"Clarke, you cannot give some random girl a dildo for Christmas. You are going to get in so much trouble for that."
"What are they going to do? Fire me?" Clarke challenged, looking Octavia firmly in the eye. "Oh no," she exaggerated. "What a tragedy."
"Clarke, I'm serious," Octavia whispered. "That's an awful idea and you know it."
"I think you meant to say a hilarious idea," Clarke corrected.
"It won't be hilarious if you embarrass that poor girl and she files a sexual harassment lawsuit against you," Octavia reasoned.
"Come on, O. It's just a gag gift, it's not that serious. I'm sure she’ll laugh at it. This office is so boring. I can't be the only one dying for a little excitement. You have to admit, it is kind of a funny idea."
"Okay," Octavia said, taking a breath. "It’s kind of funny. But in the story way. If someone told me they did that once upon a time, I'd laugh. But if my coworker slash best friend is telling me they're going to do it and probably get themselves fired at the present moment, it's not quite as funny. At least get the girl a real gift, too. One she can actually show her children when she gets home and they ask her what she got."
Clarke sighed. "Fine. We'll compromise. That's not a terrible idea, I guess."
"Have I ever given you a bad i-"
"Yes," Clarke cut off. "You're giving me party-pooping ideas right now. When I tell this story to all our friends and they laugh their asses off, I'll make sure to tell them you tried to stop me and ruin the fun."
"Bitch," Octavia spat.
"Damn right I am," Clarke said proudly, opening a browser on her computer. "I guess I'll buy the girl some soaps or a candle or something. You know, in case she wants to use the dildo in the bathtub or have mood lighting while she fucks herself. Or both."
"You're a perv."
Clarke ignored that.
"Did you order the dildos online, too?" Octavia probed, only to be met with a nod from Clarke. "You think everything'll show up before Christmas Eve?"
The first package arrived right on time.
Right on time for Abby to answer the UPS man at the door.
Which would have been fine if she hadn't opened the box.
When Clarke came home to find the cardboard package with the tape already ripped off its lid, it was almost as traumatizing as that time in seventh grade she came home to find her mom reading her diary.
Still, it could have been worse. Kane could have gotten there before Abby.
Clarke didn't even take time to look at the box's contents before she marched back out to the living room where her mother was on the couch watching some medical drama on TV. "When you told me I got a package in the mail, I didn't think you'd opened it,” Clarke accused.
"If it's any consolation, I wish I hadn't," Abby said regretfully, her gaze faltering as she locked eyes with Clarke. She tried to disguise her flightiness as interest in the television and her eyes flickered back to the screen. "I won't go through your stuff anymore," Abby promised, though Clarke didn't quite believe her. "I just didn't know you were expecting anything and I thought it might have been a mixup."
"Well before you search every package like a baggage inspector in an airport, I have another package that should be coming soon."
Abby winced. Clarke noticed.
Abby shut her eyes and waved her hand in front of her dismissively. "It don't want to know, ok? I'm sorry. I'll make sure to leave that package alone and just put it in your room when it gets here."
Clarke sighed. She should have done that with this package. Who cared if her mom opened a box to find a bath kit? "Thanks," she said half-heartedly before slipping into her room again and closing the door.
Immediately she dialed Octavia's number.
When the other line picked up, Clarke wasted no time with pleasantries. "Guess what I got in the mail and guess who opened it before I got home?"
"Gross," Octavia mumbled.
"Yeah," Clarke agreed. "I'm 23. I really need to move out of here. You and I should get an apartment together next semester."
Octavia scoffed on the other end of the line. "Yeah, right. Bellamy could never afford a place on his own. Unless you want to live with my brother and endure having him hit on you 24/7, that probably wouldn't work out."
"At least he wouldn't open my packages."
"No, but if he knew you were ordering sex toys, he'd be offering to help you test them out as soon as they arrived. Not worth it."
Clarke hummed. "Good point."
"I know it is."
"Anyway." Clarke braced her phone between her shoulder and her ear, freeing both of her hands to pull back the flaps on the box.
The cardboard was unsuspecting on the outside, free of any words of names that might give away what the product was or the company who made it. The contents themselves were drowned in packing peanuts. The extreme camouflage only made the fact that Abby had gone to extensive lengths to see what was inside even more apparent, which only irked Clarke more.
It took Clarke a solid 30 seconds of digging for her fingers to find both sharp plastic packages the dildos were encased in, and when she finally freed them from the box, her eyes went as wide as she imagined her mother’s had.
"Holy shit, O.," she breathed into the phone. "These are way bigger than I thought they'd be."
A noise resembling some kind of contemplative hum reached Clarke's ear from Octavia's side of the phone, and Clarke waited for it to pass. "I can't tell if you mean that in a 'holy shit the size of this thing makes it even more hilarious for the prank' way or a 'holy shit fucking myself with this is going to be epic' way,” Octavia admitted.
"Both?" Clarke offered indecisively.
Moving to sit on the bed, Clarke tossed one of the dildos back into the box where it landed with a cushioned thunk. She retrieved her phone from her shoulder with her free hand and kept her grip on the second package tight with the other.
The plastic around the dildo was translucent, giving Clarke a preview of exactly how big and how detailed this thing was. She had severely underestimated the size of eight inches and had severely overestimated the size of all of her ex-boyfriends. The strip of paper in the background of the package showed some shirtless, muscled dude, and Clarke was too afraid to read any of the text beside it. The dildo itself was hyper-realistic, veinier than she thought actual dicks could be and thicker than was probably safe. If it wasn't missing the balls and redder than Octavia’s blush when Raven was around, it'd be a dead ringer for the real thing. A mutantly overgrown version of the real thing, but still.
"I'm so excited for this prank, O. You've got to see this thing."
"Send me pictures," Octavia suggested. "I want to send them to Raven. I was telling her about your prank and she loves it. She thinks you're going to get fired, but she thinks it's going to be hilarious, too."
"So you and Raven are already at the point where you're discussing sex toys?” Clarke questioned. “Wow, Octavia, you move even faster than I thought."
"Shut up,” she exasperated.
"Kidding," Clarke apologized. "How'd you get her number?"
"She gave it to me,” Octavia explained. “I ran into her by the water cooler and we got to talking. Next thing you know, she's putting her number in my phone."
"Raven Reyes doesn't seem like the type to hang out by the water cooler."
"She was fixing the water cooler."
"God," Clarke sighed. "I thought she only did computers. Is there anything that girl can't fix?"
"Nope," Octavia boasted. "She's already doing a good job mending my broken heart, too."
Clarke couldn’t help but laugh. "Wow, that was probably the cheesiest thing I've ever heard anybody say. But I'm happy for you. When's the wedding?"
"We're eloping to Vegas in the spring. You can't come."
"Whatever," Clarke scoffed. "I'm going to be right there beside Elvis in that drive through chapel when you're saying your vows and feeding Raven that same shitty line about fixing your broken heart that you just told me."
"I wouldn't have it any other way."
Clarke tossed the second dildo into the box with the first. She was tired of looking at it. The more she stared the creepier it seemed. She closed the flaps of the box and slid it under her bed to rest for the moment. She’d worry about wrapping the gift later when the soaps arrived.
“What’d you get Raven?” Clarke asked, curious. Octavia had been stressing for weeks about finding the perfect gift, and it was nearing the time when she’d have to commit to a decision. There were only so many days left before the party.
“I got her this watch. It’s supposed to be scary accurate and waterproof and indestructible and shit. It’s got a compass and tells latitude and longitude, whatever that means. It seems gadgety and I have no idea how to work it, so I’m guessing Raven will like it.”
“Sounds perfect to me,” Clarke told her. “It also sounds expensive.”
“Yeah, well, when your Secret Santa is probably going to be your next girlfriend, you shouldn’t be afraid to go all out.”
Clarke nodded, though Octavia couldn't see her through the phone. “I spent more on my gift than I probably should have,” she chastised herself. “But that’s the price I pay for comedy. I’ve got the money, so. Worth it.”
"Definitely. And good thing you've got money by birth, because you certainly won't be making any from your job after you get fired for this stupid prank."
Clarke rolled her eyes. Octavia just wouldn’t shut up with her morals. "See, you keep stressing that point, but somehow I still don't care. Getting fired doesn't sound that bad. This job sucks."
Octavia sighed, defeated. "And it's gonna suck a lot more without my best friend there to keep me company."
"You could always quit," Clarke reminded her.
"Yeah, right," Octavia scoffed. "Some of us actually have bills to pay."
"Sucks for you," Clarke bragged.
"Go fuck yourself," Octavia scolded.
Clarke glanced to the floor by the edge of her bed, just feet from where she knew the box was beneath it. "I might."
"Ugh," Octavia gagged. "I didn't need to hear that. And you suck. I hope that girl's soap doesn't arrive on time and you're stuck wasting your money on it and giving her only the dildo."
"Yeah, right. Like that'll happen."
Octavia Blake was a god.
Or at least had good connections with a couple of demons. Or oracles.
It turned out that the postal system wasn't the most reliable facet of United States infrastructure. Clarke's second package did not arrive on time for Christmas Eve.
Telling Octavia that was not Clarke's proudest moment. Admitting she was wrong was harder than wrapping just a dildo in gift paper without the shape of the thing giving away what it was immediately. Clarke ended up having to wrap the package in its box.
When everyone showed up for work on the day of the party, Octavia immediately bashed Clarke for not finding a replacement gift for the soaps, but Raven thought it was funnier that she was just giving the dildo on its own. The two argued about the ethics and humor of it all for a solid five minutes. Part of Clarke was honored to witness their first squabble as an unofficial couple, but a bigger part of her was annoyed at their ramblings as soon as she realized neither one of them was going to stop. They'd argue through the entire party if Clarke let them. She didn't.
"Stop fighting and let's go get food. I don't want to be the last person in the break room when the refreshments table has already been picked clean. You know how much Monty loves snack cakes."
The acquisition of free food was something neither Raven nor Octavia wished to delay. Hesitantly, they called a truce and followed Clarke across the office.
The break room was decorated for the holidays as cheaply as possible. A small felt Christmas tree sagged on the corner of the counter by the coffee pot, a string of red and green blinking lights draped over the top of the door frame like a bad beaded 70s room divider, and someone had gone through the effort of hand-crafting a string of identical paper snow flakes only to snip them apart from one another and tape them individually to the backs of the windows. It was festive. A little pathetic. But festive.
The room was packed, too small for everyone in it, but Clarke's line of sight bored through the crowd of bodies, focusing solely on the snack table where Miller was pouring himself punch and Monty was indeed stuffing his face with Hostess Christmas Trees.
There wasn't a clear line, per se, to the food, but Clarke may have bypassed a small group of people hovering near the table who may have looked a little bit like they were awaiting their turn at the sweets. Octavia didn't seem to mind following her lead, though, and Raven limped close behind both of them.
"Hey, Monty. Hey, Miller."
"Clarf!" Monty quickly covered his mouth, finished the bite he was chewing, and swallowed before speaking again. "Clarke! Look at this cool tie Miller got me." He grabbed the tip of the cloth around his neck and flaunted the fabric to Clarke, turning on his feet like a model. "He was my Secret Santa, too! What are the chances?"
Clarke studied the tie carefully, looking for something that set it apart. It was just... blue. Very standard. Not particularly fashionable. Which was strange considering Miller had the jawline of a Greek god and looked like he belonged on a runway in Milan. Maybe he knew Monty didn't care as much about fashion as he did. Clarke decided to just let it go and lie. "Yeah. Looks... great."
Monty leaned closer, cupped a hand around one side of his mouth, and whispered, "It's got a flask on the back." He spun the tie around to expose a thin, elongated metal tube Monty could easily store a few swigs of his famous moonshine in. On this job, he'd need it. Miller and Monty winked at Clarke in sync.
"Okay, that is pretty cool," she admitted. "Are we really giving gifts already, though? I thought someone was supposed to give some kind of opening ceremony speech or something."
"The boss is," Miller told her with a shrug. "I just got too excited and couldn't resist."
"In that case," Raven interrupted, lifting her present from where she'd sat it on the table and handing it to Octavia. "This is for you."
Octavia looked like, well, a kid on Christmas. "Shut up," she gasped. "You drew my name, too?"
Raven scrunched her face at that, confused until Octavia handed her own gift over to her. Raven smirked in disbelief, but grabbed the package anyway, staring at Octavia once she had it rather than tearing immediately into the wrapping paper.
"I dont believe it, Blake. I shouldn't have turned my eyes from you when you had that bowl. You probably dug through it and picked out my name on purpose," she teased.
"I'll have you know I picked your name on the first try, thank you very much. You can ask Clarke."
Raven raised an eyebrow. "I thought you weren't going to tell anyone who you picked until today."
"I thought you didn't know the person whose name you drew," Octavia shot back.
Raven's shoulders shrugged around her jacket. "I lied."
The staring contest began. Neither of them moved to open their gifts.
Monty elbowed Clarke's side. He had been watching the whole exchange, too. "Fate," he whispered in her ear.
Clarke was inclined to agree.
Neither Raven nor Octavia was going to back down, and Clarke didn't need to watch them to know that. She snatched one of the last few snack cakes from the plate before Monty could grab it and Miller offered her his untouched cup of punch. She hoped Monty had spiked it with his new flask.
"Hey, Miller?" Clarke questioned, taking a sip from the cup. The red slurry was disappointingly alcohol free.
"What's up?" he asked.
"You're a manager right? You know everyone here?"
"Pretty much," he shrugged.
"Can you show me who Lexa Woods is? I drew her name and I have no idea what she looks like."
"Oh sure." He stood on his tiptoes for a moment and looked around before pointing to a girl hovering near the front of the room. "She's over there. Curly hair. Cute grey blazer. Kinda tallish."
Clarke spotted her immediately. "You're a saint, Miller."
Navigating the crowd was harder now than it had been when she'd first came in. More people had found their way to the break room and now Clarke had a drink to worry about spilling all over them. Lexa was hard to lose sight of, though. She stood out from the crowd enough that Clarke tracked her down while she stood still and conversed with another girl, a blonde woman a bit shorter than her with cheekbones as sharp as knives.
Up close, Lexa was almost as intimidating as the woman she was with. She was young, not much older than Clarke, but her eyes were a piercing green and the straight shoulders of her blazer were starched enough to tell Clarke that she put even more thought into her daily appearance than Miller did. She looked beautiful, but cold, professional.
She also looked like the type of woman who would rat Clarke out after she found out what her gift was. Clarke figured it was best not to dwell in her presence for very long. She adjusted her plan: Approach, hand over the present, say Happy Holidays, and back away. She'd be gone before Lexa could learn Clarke's name and know who to tell the boss to fire when she complained to them in their office later.
Clarke was brave enough not to falter as she stepped closer to Lexa. She and the blonde were both staring at her expectantly as if Clarke had interrupted an important conversation they wanted to get back to, but it was too late for Clarke to back out now.
"I got your name," she explained kindly, putting on her best fake smile and holding out her gift to Lexa who took the package tentatively.
She shot Clarke her own polite grin. It was small, strained, but it was at least somewhat genuine. "Thank you."
"Happy holidays," Clarke told her before taking a step back.
"You too," Lexa repeated, before turning back to the blonde and letting Clarke slip away completely.
Clarke quickly made her way back to her friends.
"What gift did you get Lexa?" Miller asked her when she returned.
Clarke was still riding the high of her own joke. Giving the gift to Lexa made the prank more than just an idea. It made everything feel more real.
"I probably shouldn't tell you this since you're technically one of my higher ups," Clarke started. "But I trust you. Get this," she laughed. "I got her an even better gag gift than you got Monty. I gave her a dildo."
The color drained from Miller's face faster than Clarke could keep track of. When Clarke looked over to Monty, he looked a bit pale, too.
"Please tell me you're joking around right now," Miller said gravely, voice hushed.
"Nope," Clarke vaunted.
"Clarke," Monty whispered. His throat was dry and it wasn't from too many snack cakes and not enough punch. "Lexa Woods is the President of this entire company."
Clarke looked to Monty, then to Miller, waiting for one of them to tell her they had teamed up to prank her like she had pranked Lexa. Neither of them delivered the punchline.
Clarke turned away from them and tapped Octavia on the shoulder, pulling her out of whatever argument she and Raven had progressed to. "Does Lexa Woods really run this company?"
Clarke swallowed. Hard. "I just hand-delivered a dildo to my boss."
Octavia's eyes bugged out of her head. "You drew Lexa's name?"
"You're dead," Raven told her simply, reaching over to pat her on the shoulder. "It was nice knowing you."
"I have to get that present back." Clarke set a foot forward, planning to go back to the front of the room and somehow convince Lexa that she had given her the wrong gift and needed it back, but a voice coming from right where Clarke was headed stopped her.
"Too late," Monty whispered to her as the room hushed and Lexa commanded their attention.
Clarke froze. She had until Lexa finished her speech to figure out if she was going to pick fight or flight.
"I know this year hasn't been easy and we've seen more than a few of our friends and coworkers lose their jobs, but I say we take a moment to be thankful this holiday season that we're all still here together. The company has scraped through another year and that's all thanks to you."
"Run," Raven told Clarke. "You've got two good legs. Use 'em. Slip out of here while no one's looking, type up your letter of resignation at your desk, get your shit, and get out. Lexa will kill you if she catches you."
"Lexa's going to kill everyone if she opens that box!" Octavia argued. "We're never going to have a Christmas party again. Go get it from her!"
The two debated like imaginary deities over Clarke’s shoulders. Running sounded better. Saving herself sounded better. But Clarke couldn't let the rest of the office go down with her. If Lexa found out any of Clarke's friends knew what she was up to and didn’t stop her, they would all be out of their jobs. Clarke could handle being unemployed. Octavia and Raven and Miller and Monty couldn't.
She had to get that package.
She pushed her way through the crowd just as Lexa was finishing up her speech.
"Even though things have been tough, you all deserve a little break. So go ahead and have fun. Eat the food, exchange your gifts, and enjoy each other's company. I'll see you all back in the office after the party."
Lexa raised her cup in toast, and the party-goers who had already gotten their drinks did the same. The ones who hadn't, though, rushed to the back of the room in search of food and whatever stranger had drawn their name and spent money on them. Everyone was giddy for presents and a moment of relaxation, and Clarke was caught in the middle of their chaos.
Only halfway across the room, she could already see Lexa tearing open the gift wrap on her package.
She cursed under her breath and stepped on more than a few toes as she tried to maneuver her way to Lexa.
When Clarke finally got there, the lid was already off the box, Lexa's hand was firmly gripping something in the middle of the sea of packing peanuts, and the pupils of her eyes grew wide enough to be mistaken for eight balls.
Clarke was too late.
"What'd you get?" Clarke overheard the blonde woman ask, and she might’ve been too late to stop Lexa from seeing the present, but she could at least stop word from getting out to anyone else.
Before Lexa could respond, Clarke burst between them. "It's just a gag gift!" Clarke told the blonde frantically. "I left the real present at home this morning on accident. Silly me!" Clarke slapped her forehead in show. "I'm such a mess."
The blonde eyed Clarke suspiciously. Lexa eyed her like she was trying to decide what to do with her dead body after she killed her.
Clarke tried her best to smooth over the situation as much as possible. "You know what?" she continued her lie. "I think I'll go home on my lunch break, get the real present, and then bring it to your office later! How does that sound?"
The speed at which Lexa transformed her features, replaced the scowl on her face with a wide, wicked smile, scared Clarke even more than her death glare. "Yes," Lexa said sweetly, voice dripping with false sympathy. "I would love to see you in my office later."
Clarke swallowed hard and tried her best to keep her cool.
It didn't work.