Chapter 10. // Office Christmas Party
The rest of the month flew by in a blur, the office turning from bare and bland to festive and exciting.
It warmed Grey’s heart how every night, Raphael would come over and spend a few hours, just talking, sometimes kissing, but nothing more. She would tell him about conversations she had with her father, the one of this timeline (and not her alternate self), and he would talk about what memories he had; then they would make out for a while, then he would leave and pick her up for work the next morning. One night, the conversation took a turn to the topic she wanted to avoid: love.
“Do you believe in love?” Raphael had asked, his fingers tracing lazy patterns on her upper arm as they sat before a fire, the noise of her family watching television faint.
“I do, but love, it is a troublesome thing. I’ve learned to grow wary of it. I’ve seen it turn limitless, powerful giants into soft, fragile little things; easy to take advantage of, if you’re that type of person.”
“But you are not.” He said confidently, inciting a smile from her. “No, I am not.” She turned to face him now, and they stared at each other before he asked: “Would you allow me to change your mind?”
“Change my mind? About love?” Grey grew nervous when he nodded. She and Alice had spoken; things were progressing slowly, but the good news was that she found Alexavier, and Emmanuel and Eleonora were not too far away from where he is.
“Those three were always as thick as thieves.” Grey joked, hoping to make the stressed Guardian laugh; she succeeded. In a moment of vulnerability, Alice shared her fears.
“The Council has gotten more powerful, Kat. They’re more persistent; Councilman Horace believes that I know who the Silver Deity will be. I don’t; only Fate and The Cosmos knows that, and that kind of information isn’t disclosed with anyone; no matter how close they are with those two.
With them coming after me, I don’t want to have Alex in any more danger than he already is, being in line for the most powerful kingdom on all three planets. The Council itself is a big enough threat already.”
Grey listened, trying her best not to let panic consume her. “The best thing for me to do is sever the bond, once and for all. It would be easier for him, in case I need to be replaced.” Grey began to protest, a lump forming in her throat. “He could find a proper Queen, Kat! I’m not good enough; not for him, not for the kingdom, not for anyone. The one thing I’m good at is killing.”
Grey tried to reason with her, tried to tell her that they could fight off the Council together, and free the sister planets; that they could end this whole thing. But Alicianne, oh, she was stubborn; once her mind was set, there was no stopping her until her mission was complete. It had been her downfall a few times, but it was also what made her who she is. “It’s for the best, Kat.” Her voice was tired; defeated. The one woman army was down for the count and Grey didn’t know what to say to make her spring back to her feet and continue to fight; her love and happiness was on the line and she had given up.
That, was one of the things that made her wary of love. Alice, a woman who was almost like her own sister, had decided to give up the one person she came to love with every fibre of her being, for a kingdom that, admittedly, was far beneath her. She was ready to give up everything, all because she loved.
All because she wanted to save them from her love.
Swallowing her panic, Grey took Raphael on. “And how do you plan on changing my mind?” Raphael simply smiled. “Don’t worry about that; all you have to do is give in.”
And that was how a new dare came about; one where she must fall in love.
Grey felt the spirit of Christmas as she walked along the snow covered streets; carollers sang, men donned in Santa apparel rang bells to attract pedestrians, asking for donations to charities. Christmas music blared from speakers outside each store, filling the air with a cacophony of good cheer and togetherness. For the first time in a long time, Grey felt excited.
The bags of presents for the employees on the top floor made her hands cramp, and Grey regretted not taking up Jett’s offer to come with her. Finally, the lofty building rose above her and she sighed in relief, picking up her pace, the presents bouncing in the massive bags she held. As she entered the building, the instrumentals of Let it Snow played softly through the speakers. Grey nodded to Olivia, who was at her desk, dancing in her spot as she typed away at her computer.
She easily slid past the busy workers about the lobby and pressed the call button on the elevator, tapping her foot as she waited. The familiar ding of the arriving elevator reached her ears, and she looked up in time to see its door slide open, revealing Raphael, who perked up at the sight of her.
“I have the presents.” Grey said, raising the heavy bags as her cheeks flushed. He took a step forward, taking hold of the bags and Grey tugged them back. “Weren’t you going somewhere? I don’t want to put you off your course.” Raphael shook his head, then pulled her bodily into the elevator, whose doors slid shut and the little metal box smoothly lurched upwards.
His hands wrapped around her waist, and the bags thumped to the ground as Grey draped her arms around his neck, fingers weaving through the hair on the nape of his neck as their lips met. She tilted her head, humming at the bitter taste of coffee, and was drawn impossibly closer.
The ding of the arriving elevator didn’t reach their ears, but the clicking of cameras did. They ripped apart, standing at the far ends of the metal box, blushing furiously as Azula and Taj stepped in, holding up their phones.
“Oh boy! Look at what the elevator pulled up.” Taj said, grinning mischievously. He held his phone up to Raphael’s face, and Azula to Grey’s. “Is there anything the lovers want to say to the good people about to view the video?”
“Si’, vaffanculo.” “Yeah, fuck off.”
Dodging her sister, Grey ran out of the elevator, shutting and locking her office door behind her. Sighing and running a hand through her hair, she walked towards her desk, the ghost of the white rose sitting on the desk stopping her in her tracks.
Grey remembered how she cried a little when she looked at the tiny details of it, and how she couldn’t stop thanking him for it, that it, until her kissed her senseless. She didn’t say much after that. Chuckling at the memory, she got to work, hoping to finish up so she could leave early to get ready for the party.
It was about 3:30, and Grey knew that the building was near deserted by now, save for the janitors and a few more people, doing the same thing she was. She sighed in relief, rolling her stiff shoulders, then tidied up her office. She was about to open her door when the conjoining door opened, and Raphael peeked out. “Heading out?” Grey nodded, locking her door again, and walked towards the massive man.
“Our massive man, sweetie.”
“Ready to go?” Raphael took her hand, and silently, they walked out the offices and drove out of the building, pinkies locked across the console and music playing softly in the background. Twenty minutes later, the black car pulled up in Grey’s driveway, but they remained, pinkies still intertwined across the console. As much as Grey loved to hear Raphael’s voice, this comfortable silence was just as good as any other time that they spent together. “Are you going to the party?” he asked, breaking their silence. Grey turned her head towards him, but he was staring straight ahead.
“Val won’t let me stay home, so yes, I am. Are you going?” he looked at her now, a small smile on his face. “I don’t really have a choice, you know.” Her shoulders shook minutely, and they continued to stare at each other, committing features to their memory.
Raphael had a scar, just under his jaw, and Grey curled her hand into a fist to prevent herself from tracing it. It was new; he probably got it when she left, to solidify their separation. They tore their eyes away from each other when the front door opened and a feminine voice called out: “Katherina! What are you still doing outside? Don’t you miss your Tia?”
“Tia Vienna?” Grey whispered, and the woman stepped outside, donned in a tight red dress, her hands on her hips. She stared expectantly at the car and Grey got out, a slight bounce to her quick pace towards her mother’s only sister. Vienna threw her arms out and the two embraced tightly, giggling to themselves. “Little Obscura, you look so happy.” Vienna whispered and Grey smiled even more than she already was, pulling away and gripping her aunt’s forearms. “I am happy.”
“Now, why didn’t you tell me you had Lini Co.’s hunk of a boss pining after you and buying you a freaking house?” her voice was low and Grey caught a whiff of her alcohol stained breath. She laughed and shook her head, squeezing her aunt’s shoulders. “It kinda recently happened, and I’ve been so busy with work, I’m sorry.” Vienna shook her head, giggling and grabbing Grey’s arms.
“Always apologizing, you. Now, let me meet him.” Grey turned and waved to Raphael in the car and he came out, his face devoid of emotion. Vienna sucked in a breath and whistled lowly. “Can I have one too, Kat?” Grey giggled, and only then did the mask crack, and Raphael smiled fondly at her, slipping his hand around her waist. “Tia, this is Raphael. Raphael, this is my tia Vienna.”
The two shook hands, then Vienna crossed her arms, not to cover up, but to expose herself even more. Grey knew exactly what she was doing, and resisted the urge to roll her eyes.
“So,” she began seductively, inching closer to the man, “do you have a mate? Or is my little Kat just a fling?” Grey felt his tremors, and knew that the mask broke off to reveal something murderous. She spun around to face him, levelling his face with hers. “Hey, look at me, look at me. She didn’t mean it; this is just how she is.”
Vienna cut in behind her, now standing at the threshold of the door. “Yeah, I’m just a miserable woman. Don’t mind me.” Raphael’s multi-coloured gaze shifted from Grey to Vienna, and back again, before nodding stiffly. His eyes settled to their ocean blue again, and Grey let out a soft puff of relief.
“Mia regina, I need to go, but I’ll pick you up, okay?” Grey nodded, hushing Sidra and Cassandra as they whined, and kissed him shortly. Raphael reluctantly turned away, then paused after a few steps. “It was… nice meeting you again, Vienna.” He said, before walking away quickly, either preventing himself from throttling a woman, or claiming Grey right there in front of her to prove a point; he didn’t trust himself enough to find out which. “You too!” Vienna called out quickly as Raphael entered his car and backed out of the driveway then sped off back the way they came.
Grey spun around to face her aunt, who grinned mischievously. “Did you really have to do that? And what did he mean by ‘again’?” she asked, and the woman shrugged innocently. “I’m making sure he’s serious about you! And he is. He calls you his queen! That is ‘lifetime together’ serious. Oh yeah, some Valentina girl called me and said she wanted help picking out a gift for you. I gave my opinion on what you liked.” Grey shook her head as she chuckled, her cheeks flushing, and the two entered the house and walked towards the kitchen, where Grey’s mother and siblings were all gathered, watching a video on Raven’s laptop: maroon with stickers of baby ravens, and the character, placed along the front.
“We spend a lot of time in the kitchen.” Grey said as she entered, causing their heads to snap towards her and sly smiles to bloom on their faces. “What? She asked warily, taking a minute step backwards.
“Oh, nothing much. Just a cute little something that I put together. Massive man, small woman, all the love.” Grey’s eyebrows furrowed at Raven’s words before it clicked, and she stretched out her hand as if to choke her sister. “Delete it.” “No.” she shot back immediately.
Grey’s eyes narrowed, and she took a single step forward and Raven squeaked, hiding herself behind her twin brother. “At least watch it!” she yelled, her voice slightly muffled by her twin’s larger frame. Jett shrugged. “I thought it was cute.”
Grey huffed, swallowing the lump that had begun to form. “Fine! I’ll look at it.” She walked around the counter and everyone else backed away to the other side, watching intently. Grey pressed play.
Grey’s room was bathed in the fiery light of the setting sun. The camera shook slightly as the holder drew closer to the bed, where Raphael held Grey closely, her face pressed against his chest. “Aww. Look at Raphy, all cuddled up and cute.” Grey recognised Val’s voice as she whispered, coming to a stop behind him, and her hair was the only thing visible.
The scene changed to the day everyone discarded their work to decorate the office. Christmas music and the chatter and laughter of the employees mingled together as they played around with the decorations and set them up. Ash and Cyan had mistletoe, and they snuck up on unsuspecting pairs, dangling the string above their heads, while onlookers giggled, waiting for the victims to notice. Sage was helping Val hang a wreath on the wall behind her counter, Azula and Taj were leading the tree decoration, and Grey, Raven, Theresa and Raphael sat cross-legged on the floor, untangling Christmas lights. Grey sat with her back against the counter and Raphael in front of her, working on a string together. Raven and Theresa did the same, Theresa’s back against the counter and Raven in front of her. Ash had climbed up on the marble counter, laying comfortably as he dangled the string above Grey’s and Raphael’s heads.
The employees noticed, and had gathered into small groups of two, three or four, whispering and giggling amongst themselves. Even the music had stopped. Grey looked up in confusion, looking around her. “What’s going on?” she asked, yet no one replied; they just hid their grins or giggled. “Sister dearest, do look up.” Her head snapped up, and her face reddened as her twin grinned mischievously. “Oh…” she whispered, her eyes flickering to Raphael, whose head was still bent as he undid knots. Raven nudged him and he startled, looking at her, then around him. “What now?” he murmured warily, and Theresa pointed upwards, suppressing her grin. “Oh, you gotta be kidding me.” He whispered, dropping his end of the string and glaring at Ash, who grinned wider. Grey also glared at her twin, still gripping her end of the string. “No chickening out, Kat.” Ash said excitedly, jingling the string. Grey shook her head slowly, murmuring something under her breath. She sat up on her knees, and leaned into Raphael, pressing their lips together; the room erupted into screams.
Grey chuckled, shaking her head. By then, the entire building knew that there was something between them; she caught their stares whenever they came in or left work together.
The scene changed. The office was decorated, and the cameraman laughed, then Taj came into view, holding up his phone as well. “Okay, get ready. You owe me a date if I’m right.” He said, grinning and adjusting his grip on the phone. “Yeah, whatever.” Grey recognized Azula’s nonchalant voice as she replied. She quickly glanced at her, and her head was bent as she grinned at her phone.
The elevator doors slid open, revealing the pair wrapped tightly around each other, the soft movement of their head showing that they weren’t just hugging. The bags of presents were discarded at their feet. Behind the video takers, a camera went off, and that was when they ripped apart, positioning themselves at the far ends of the small metal box. “Oh boy! Look at what the elevator pulled up.” It was Taj, and Grey could hear the smile in his voice.
“Is there anything the lovers would like to say to the good people about to view this video?”
The screen was split in two, one half showing Grey’s flushed face, and the other showing Raphael’s. He responded almost immediately, telling his younger brother to bug off. In Azula’s half of the video, Grey’s flushed face disappeared and her quickly retreating figure was shown. In Taj’s half, Raphael watched her go, smiling to himself, before turning his attention to his younger brother and covered the camera with his hands, darkening the screen. Pictures of the pair faded on and off the screen, most of them taken unexpectedly.
Grey felt her cheeks flush, and without another word, she stalked out of the kitchen and up to her room to shower and get ready. Raven looked around the kitchen after Grey disappeared up the stairs. “I guess she’s okay with it.”
Sage was in the living room with Cyan, Ash and Jett, flicking through the channels with disinterest. They were already dressed in slacks and red, green or white shirts for the party, and awaiting the girls to finally come downstairs after four hours. Rain mixed with the scent of lilies wafted into his nose from a breeze that blew into the room, and he shot out of his seat. His brothers took no notice of him, too busy dying of boredom to pick up on Valentina’s scent. He didn’t know when he got to the foyer, but he yanked open the door, her scent blasting into his face. She was still dressed in her clothes from work, her white hair wild and wind-blown.
“Hi Sage.” Val said breathlessly, and her other occupants smiled evilly when his face heated up. “Hey Val, come inside.” He moved away from the door, noticing the duffle bag she held loosely in her hand. “I thought you left your stuff here, why the bag?” Sage asked, shutting the door and eyeing her closely. “I, uhm, I’m spending a few nights actually.” She replied, hoping that he won’t notice the catch in her voice or her quivering hands; unfortunately for her, he did.
“Valentina,” Sage began, and that did it for her. The tears spilled before she could stop them, and Sage pulled her into him, stroking her hair as sobs wracked her body. “Tell me what’s wrong; let me fix it.” Val didn’t have time to reply; Sage caught the scent. He didn’t know how he couldn’t smell it before, but now it filled his senses, overpowering Val’s own rain and lilies scent.
He never thought he’d have that murderous growl that Grey and Jett had, but he surprised both himself and Val when one reverberated off the walls and rattled the windows. Footsteps thundered down the stairs and soon, Grey’s own deadly growl bounced off the walls. The two siblings stared at each other briefly, then nodded, and General Katherina of the Western Kingdom came out full force.
“Raven and Jett! Gather our weapons. Azula! Contact Taj immediately; tell him and Raphael to get here now. Cyan! You make sure that the wards are working perfectly. Ash! Contact X and Sam. And mom, when Taj and Raphael get here, take them to the safe room.” Everyone dispersed once they were given their orders, and Val turned around in Sage’s arms, her back pressed to his front.
“Who are you, and what have you done with my best friend?” she asked jokingly, and Grey smirked, coming towards them and putting her hands on Val’s shoulders. “She’s making sure that you’re safe from those nasty things. Sage, take her upstairs to wash that scent off.” Sage gingerly complied, taking Val by the hand and leading her up to his room.
A heavy pounding at the front door startled Grey and she whipped her head around and saw the silhouette of Taj pacing behind a larger form. She pulled the door open, and was immediately engulfed in Raphael’s cologne and spices scent as he pulled her into his chest.
“What’s wrong? Where’s Valentina?” his chest vibrated as he spoke, and Grey looked up, gripping his forearms. “She’s upstairs washing off. But I need you two here, in case whatever attacked Val came after you.” He nodded hesitantly and Theresa appeared, ushering the two men to follow her.
Grey and Raphael held each other’s gazes until Grey broke away, accepting her longsword from Jett and stepping out of the open door with it gripped tightly in her hands.
Raphael paced the padded room, snarling and gripping his hair with enough force to pull off chunks of it. He couldn’t hear anything, no matter how hard he strained his ears. Checking his watch, he noticed that it was well past 10pm, when he should be distributing presents to the employees on his floor. Thankfully, he was still able to reach out to Olivia to let her know that he might not even make it, and told her to distribute the gifts in his office. He continued to pace as Val and Taj lay down on their backs next to each other, playing a pointless game of ‘I Spy’.
“I spy with my little eye, something… big.” Valentina said, and Taj snorted. “Raphael.” He replied, and the two burst into a fit of giggles. Calming down, Taj spoke. “I spy with my big ol’ eyes,” Val barked out a laugh, “something… white.” Taj finished.
“The light.” Val responded immediately, and the two burst into laughter, while Raphael banged his head against the padded wall. A section of the wall slid open after what felt like an hour, and Theresa stepped through, bathed in the awful stench of rotting flesh and sulphur. The three scrunched up their noses, and Val gagged; Theresa looked at them, a sorry smile on her face. “The coast is clear. Sorry about the assault on your senses.”
“Oh, that’s okay. There aren’t any injuries right?” Val asked, rising to her feet after Taj. Theresa shook her head. “These were just Scavengers; not much of a threat. Thankfully, it wasn’t the Retrievers; then we’d have a problem.”
The three followed Theresa out of the room and up the narrow stairs, to emerge in the tunnels. Raphael didn’t bother paying attention to what ways they were turning, his mind stuck on Grey. He caught a whiff of jasmine and burnt sugar, and his pace quickened. They emerged in the living room, the siblings, and Hunter and Sam, spread out on the chairs and the floor, clogging the room in that putrid smell, despite the open windows.
Raphael found Grey lying next to her twin, one leg propped up.
“Don’t look down, don’t look down.”
“You better look down, Raphael.”
“I will disown you if you do not look down, Raphael.”
Raphael, ignoring Dimitri’s demand and Andrei’s threat of disownment, kept his gaze straight. Grey propped herself up on her elbows with a smile on her face, her eyes finding Taj’s then Val’s, and finally resting on Raphael.
“Keep it in your pants.”
Grey pulled herself off the floor, keeping her distance. “We, uh, missed our own Christmas party.” She said to no one in particular, and both Val and Taj snorted behind him. Everyone’s gaze shifted to the grandfather clock in the corner of the room, its hands pointing to the 9 and a third of the way to the 1.
~And that's it for now; at least until I get the mess in my head sorted out. I know exactly where I want this story to go, I just have trouble with producing it the way it plays out in my head. If only I could project my daydreams *sighs*