Raven doesn’t think she can be blamed for not understanding the significance of the Toys for Tots thing at Bellamy’s bar. After all, it’s a fairly standard (albeit slightly unexpected, for a bar) holiday event. All sorts of places do charity drives this time of year, and it’s cool that Bellamy is getting in on it.
Then, she sees the two thermometers.
“Why two?” she asks Clarke. Bellamy’s still working on setup, which is convenient, because she and Clarke can check out his ass while he hangs things.
“Why two what?”
“The thermometers. Do they really think they’re going to get so many they break the first one?”
Clarke’s eyes light up like it’s, well, Christmas. “You don’t know?”
“I guess you weren’t that involved with the bar last year. This is a thing. They have rivals.”
It is, to say the least, not what Raven was expecting. Except this is Bellamy, who could probably develop a rivalry with a rock that looked like it had a face, if he wanted to. “Rivals? What does that even mean?”
“You know the bakery across the street?”
She’s aware of the bakery across the street, which feels like a good enough start. “Yeah.”
“Bellamy and the owner don’t get along. Or, you know. Bellamy’s version of not getting along.”
It’s times like this that Raven simultaneously feels like she’s still behind on this relationship, but also like she's probably doing fine catching up. Because while she might not actually know the specifics of what Clarke is talking about, she does get Bellamy well enough that she knows exactly what Clarke means.
“So, they like each other but he won’t admit it?”
“Non-stop barbs and arguing, yeah. I think Roan was kind of disappointed when the three of us started dating, he definitely thought they were doing a flirty sexual tension thing.”
“That’s the primary way Bellamy relates to people,” Raven points out.
“Yeah, it’s a problem.” She takes a sip of her drink. “Anyway, Roan. He owns the place across the street and started doing a fundraiser, and Bellamy decided if he was doing a fundraiser, they needed to do one here too, because otherwise they weren’t contributing to the overall well-being of the community.”
“So, he wanted his own fundraiser so he could raise more money than Roan does.”
“Or get more donations, yeah. And now it’s become this whole thing.”
“For both of them?” Raven asks. “Because I feel like it would be a way easier sell for the bakery.”
“That just makes it a better competition for Bellamy,” Clarke says, fond. “If we win, then he gets to be really smug. But people don’t usually wander into bars with charity donations, so if he loses he just gets to say he was at a disadvantage.”
“I am at a disadvantage,” Bellamy grumbles, coming over to join them. “Did you miss this last year?”
“I’m not doing my job right.”
“He gives some pretty stirring speeches about how important it is to make Christmas good for poor kids like he was,” says Clarke. “But everyone’s always drunk for them, so—“
“They still work.”
“They do,” Clarke agrees, and Raven feels a little lost again, until she adds, “Which is why we need a new plan this year.”
“Yeah?” asks Bellamy. “What kind of new plan?”
She grins at Raven. “Not sure yet. But we’ve got three of us now. I bet we can come up with something.”
If Raven’s honest, she wasn’t expecting this whole poly thing to make it until Christmas, and she was expecting herself to be the person who got left behind. Not out of anything other than simple logic: Bellamy and Clarke are roommates and had clearly been building to a relationship for a while, and she was the newcomer. She’d expected to help bring them together and then be dumped, in a fairly nice way, when the whole thing got to be too complicated. To say nothing of the fact that, no matter how much she liked them both and how good the sex was, it was still kind of a rebound, and rebounds don’t usually work out, in her experience.
But they’re all still together, and she’s still happy, so here they are, defying the odds.
Which means that she’s now involved in all of Bellamy and Clarke’s weird shit, up to and including infiltrating the bakery for reconnaissance. She’s half-expecting Bellamy to put on a disguise, because that’s the kind of hardcore he is, but instead he just opts to sleep in while Raven and Clarke do his dirty work.
Raven nearly stays with him, but she’ll admit to being a little curious. Of course Bellamy takes this whole thing too seriously, he’s Bellamy. But she has trouble believing that this Roan guy is really as invested.
This is, of course, hopelessly naive of her. It's not hard to get people in on stupid rivalries, especially stupid charity rivalries, and the first thing she sees when they go into Icing is a large banner that reads THINK OF THE CHILDREN over a donation box. Unlike the bar, the bakery offers some merchandise that a reasonable person might consider appropriate to purchase for children, and they're arranged around the display, just asking to be bought and contributed.
The obvious and undeniable advantage makes Raven's hackles rise, which means she is, unfortunately, already invested in this. Bellamy and Clarke are fucking contagious, and she's dating them, so it was only a matter of time before she got infected. It was inevitable.
They get in line, and Raven takes the opportunity to scope out the rest of the place. It's a perfectly unobjectionable little shop, kind of minimalist, with a lot of cool colors and sharp angles. It's not exactly welcoming, but it's chic, and the line is full of people who seem to value looking badass while purchasing their muffins.
Not that Raven doesn't look badass at all times, obviously. But she doesn't let her define her as a person.
They buy coffee and pastries from a somewhat surly teenager, and Clarke selects a table where they can watch the charity display. The seats aren't as uncomfortable as they look, although the metal tabletop is chilly. People coming in definitely notice the display, and Raven sees some of them picking up hats and t-shirts with the Icing logo to donate back into the box. It seems more than a little self-serving, selling merchandise for charity and getting free advertising to boot, but the logo is fairly inoffensive and the shirts are cute, so probably the kids will be happy.
Still, Bellamy's got his work cut out for him.
"Does anyone bring actual toys?" she asks Clarke.
"On occasion," says an unfamiliar voice.
Clarke doesn't look fazed, so Raven doesn't let herself react either. The guy is a few years older than Bellamy, with long hair and what comes across as a perpetual smirk, for all Raven's only seen it for a few seconds.
"We do have specific gift requests on the tree," he adds, taking the seat across from her. "It requires a little more effort, but some people appreciate having a project. You must be the new girlfriend."
Clarke rolls her eyes. "Raven, this is Roan. Roan, Raven. We both became girlfriends at the same time, so--"
"You must be the contemporaneous girlfriend," he corrects, which is a hell of a pretentious word to break out of nowhere.
"You must be the Christmas rival."
Roan smiles. "If anyone is, it's me. And where is the boyfriend? He didn't want to come and exchange pointed holiday barbs?"
"Sleeping in. He decided we could handle it."
"How lucky for him to have allies. He'll need all the help he can get. If I recall correctly, last year was something of a one-sided fight."
Clarke nearly scowls, but Raven can see her catch herself, and she reaches over to squeeze her hand under the table. She recovers and gives him a sweet smile instead. "We'll try to give you more of a challenge this year."
"I certainly hope so."
They really must be contagious, because as soon as they're outside, Raven turns to Clarke and says, "So, we're going to kick his ass, right?"
Clarke grins, leans up for a quick kiss. "That's the plan, yeah."
"Okay, first off," Raven says, "you need to have some way for people to just fucking give immediately. None of this bring a toy shit."
"We have a jar but that never worked," says Bellamy, with a sigh. He's making dinner, which is one of those things that Raven will admit is so unexpectedly hot that it never even occurred to her to fantasize about it. But there's something about an incredibly attractive guy preparing meals that really works for her. "They just ignored the jar. It's still there, but we always get more physical donations than monetary ones. People like giving real stuff, apparently."
"Do you think it's about the stuff or about the visible impact?" Clarke asks, thoughtful.
"When you buy and give a toy, you know exactly what you're getting and where your money is going. It feels good, buying a kid a present that they want. Charities can almost always use direct monetary gifts better than they can use product because they know how to use the money better than their donors do, but donors like giving stuff."
"Yeah, that's true. I thought about buying stuff to sell in the store, but we have to have the capital to put down first. Pike doesn't pay a ton of attention, but if we don't make the money back on the stuff we put out, then I'm going to have to pay it out of pocket."
If she's honest, Raven often forgets that the bar has an actual owner. Pike owns a bunch of businesses and mostly lets Bellamy do whatever the hell he wants, and everyone assumes that once Bellamy has enough capital built up, he'll make his de facto ownership official. But until then he is, technically, just the manager, not the big boss.
"Maybe you don't need that much product on the floor," says Clarke. "What if you just got--samples."
"Samples?" he asks.
"Ten bucks buys, I don't know, an action figure? Twenty bucks gets--"
"Stuffed animal," Raven supplies.
"Exactly. So we just get a few things out, and then it's like--give twenty dollars, buy a kid a teddy bear. We could probably get enough example stock in to make a difference for under $100, and the charity would be happier with symbolic toys."
"Couldn't hurt," Bellamy says. He glances over his shoulder at Raven. "So, one meeting with Roan was all it took to get you all-in on this?" he asks. "You're really buying into this rivalry thing?"
"If you guys are invested, I'm invested," she says. "That's how love works. And you guys are basically always about five minutes away from fighting someone for no reason, so I guess this is my life now."
He leaves the stove to kiss her shoulder. "This is definitely your life. Thanks for helping."
"Yeah, yeah," she says. "Thank me when we win."
"So, do we have a code word for when one of us wants to buy something for one of the others?" Bellamy asks. "How does this work?"
"I just got you guys presents online," says Raven. "I hate stores."
"But here you are," says Clarke.
"It's for a good cause."
"Unlike our Christmas presents."
"Yeah, you guys don't need help like needy kids do. You're fine."
"You seriously already got your shopping done?" Bellamy asks. Apparently this is a sticking point for him. "It's like a month until Christmas."
"Two and a half weeks," Clarke corrects.
"I buy stuff when I see it," Raven adds, with a shrug. "Don't be jealous you're not as efficient as I am."
"That's exactly why I'm jealous. It's not that Clarke is impossible to shop for."
"He's bitter because every year, I get him a better Christmas present," Clarke says, with a smirk.
"You get me books," he says, petulant.
"You love books."
"See? Easy to shop for." He glances at Raven. "What about you, what do you want?"
"Cool tech shit."
"Fuck, I can't shop for you either."
"Just ask Monty," says Clarke. "That's what I did."
His eyes narrow. "Fuck, am I the only one who isn't done with my shopping?"
"You have other skills," she says, patting his shoulder.
"Which means if you don't buy us presents, you can always just give the gift of sex," Raven adds.
"I already give the gift of sex. If I see anything I want to get you guys, I'm leaving, and fuck you both."
"That is, again, the gift of sex," Clarke says. "Which you already give us. But sure. If you take off, we'll just leave you behind to die."
"Yeah, that's what I'd expect." He runs his hand through his hair. "Honestly, we're probably all going to die anyway. I know you guys don't buy a lot of stuff for kids in the holiday season, but toy stores are a fucking nightmare."
"You still have traumatic flashbacks to getting your sister the most popular toy every year, huh?" Raven asks.
"You have no idea."
But it's not actually that bad. Honestly, it's kind of fun, which Bellamy would probably deny if anyone said it aloud, but his delight is written all over his face. It feels as if they're living in a montage from a Christmas movie, albeit a surprisingly sexually progressive one.
It also feels--sustainable. She can imagine herself in years to come, shopping for Bellamy's sister's inevitable children, for the bar, maybe even for kids of their own, someday, if that's something they want and can figure out how to do.
It's so shocking a thought that she nearly staggers. Raven's never thought of herself as someone who wanted kids, and it felt like the first fault line in her relationship with Finn, before he cheated and destroyed everything. It was less that he wanted children and she didn't and more that he was so sure she'd change her mind, that her lack of interest in reproduction was a passing whim, something that would go away once she got older and biology kicked in. It didn't seem impossible to Raven, but the way Finn treated it as a matter of course was unnerving.
And now, well. It's not exactly that she wants children; she still feels a little uncomfortable with the idea, and there's no way she wants to be the one to have them. But if Clarke wanted to get pregnant, she'd want to be involved.
She'd still be part of the family.
"You okay?" Bellamy asks, noticing her lagging. If anyone had asked, she would have said they were solid, but she hadn't really thought they were this solid.
It hasn't even been a year. She didn't think she was this attached.
"Yeah. Just thinking about how many more years we've got to do this."
"Rivalries are forever," he agrees, putting his arm around her and squeezing. "Thanks for coming. I know me and Clarke get kind of--stupidly competitive."
She leans against him, grateful to be happier than she is freaked out. "Wouldn't be anywhere else. Someone's got to keep an eye on you two, or you'd buy out the entire store just to beat Roan."
"We probably couldn't afford it," he decides, after a somewhat concerning pause. "But good thing you're here anyway."
"Yeah," she says. "Lucky you."
As rivalries go, Roan and Bellamy's holiday charity one is somewhat frustrating. It's not that Raven doesn't get it--of course she gets it--and more that they all have so little control over it. They do all they can, obviously; she and Clarke set up an appealing display that looks something like a carnival booth, bright toys arranged next to dollar amounts, tempting patrons into donating just $10, which is still enough to make a kid's holiday, and Bellamy gives the promised inspirational speeches every night about the spirit of Christmas and how much these things make a difference, which, honestly, no matter how often Raven hears them, never get old. Bellamy's a good businessman, but she can't help thinking he's wasted here. If not for his probably disqualifying lifestyle choices, she'd say he should get into politics, but he's just going to have to settle for using his powers to sell drunk people on philanthropy.
Still, aside from sinking all their own funds into the charity drive, they don't really have anything more they can do to tip the balance. She and Clarke stop by Roan's every few days to do some recon, but it's hard to get that much information. He and Bellamy both update their weird thermometers every day, tracking both business's profits, and it's actually pretty close. Which just makes the whole thing worse. If Bellamy was just getting crushed (which was apparently what happened last year), they could just give up on their emotional investment. But since he has a chance, it's incredibly stressful.
The official close of the drive is Christmas Eve, and given how many of their regulars Bellamy and Roan have actually managed to get invested in the whole thing, they have to have an actual ceremony to determine who the winner is. It's actually incredibly complicated, far more than it deserves, because both Bellamy and Roan live for drama, which means they both want a lot of attention and also don't trust the other to not try to pull a fast one.
So Raven and Clarke spend the evening with Roan and his assistant manager Echo, reviewing the non-monetary contributions both businesses amassed. In the interest of fairness, Clarke and Raven verify the amount for Roan's donations while Roan and Echo do Bellamy's, and they check the prices versus Amazon as a master list. It's a lot more precise than their previous calculations, which means that even though Roan was ahead yesterday, there's no way to be sure he won.
Especially because Bellamy is in the bar, hyping everyone who's lonely and drinking on Christmas Eve to believe in the magic of the season and the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with giving to charity.
His donations close at ten, and the rest of them go down to the bar then, so Raven and Echo can start the recount of the money with a live, appreciative audience. She's never had a group of drunks cheering for her doing math, but it's admittedly kind of fun. Even though some of Roan's friends and regulars showed up, they're very clearly on Bellamy's home turf, and the pressure for him to get a win, after two years without, since Roan actually realized what was happened and started putting some effort in, is as intoxicating as the booze.
Or, well, not quite as intoxicating. But between that and the real booze, everyone is really, really invested in the whole thing.
Roan got more donations of goods and fewer of cash, so Raven finishes her count first and updates the final tally. Roan's number is significantly higher than his estimate from yesterday, and he was already winning, so she can't help a sinking feeling in her stomach. But Echo's still counting, frown going deeper and deeper, until she looks up with at least twenty bills still left in her hands and says, "Bellamy's ahead."
It's much less ceremony than Roan and Bellamy would have liked, something of an anticlimax after all of the careful planning, but once the proclamation has sunk in, there's no room for disappointment, because the bar explodes with applause. It's honestly like nothing Raven has ever heard, and there's probably some kid who lives in the neighborhood who just got woken up from waiting for Santa by the noise, but it's hard to care.
"Holy shit, we won!" says Clarke, and there's the familiar juggling act of the three of them trying to figure out how to position themselves for hugs, Raven finally taking Bellamy's left side while Clarke takes his right, and the three of them trading quick, celebratory kisses before the patrons pull Bellamy's attention away.
The rest of the night passes in a haze of alcohol, affection, and laughter. Roan and Echo stick around, have a drinking contest with Clarke which absolutely no one wins, and even Bellamy gets a little drunk, because it's Christmas Eve and no one cares.
She's had good holidays before, but nothing like this. Nothing even close. She didn't know this was an option, didn't even know to want it.
The three of them stagger home together, fall into bed, Clarke in the middle with Raven curled around her and Bellamy off on his side because he can't actually fall asleep while he's cuddling, most nights, and she barely even remembers it's Christmas the next day. Of course she's looking forward to having the day off tomorrow, to sleeping in and probably getting laid, to finding out what amazing breakfast Bellamy will make, to seeing how much he and Clarke like their presents and finding out what they got her, but it doesn't feel vital, like it sometimes does. It doesn't feel like such a big deal.
After all, she already has everything she wants.