DISCLAIMER: I own nothing but my love of Kinks. Yes, yes, I'm riding that sled into hell. Pervy writer and director thank you.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I've recently become perversely entertained by AMC and have been watching it nightly on Soapnet. This new fic series is the result. I hope you like.
AUTHOR'S WEBSITE: http://www.dreiser.net/
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

What Happens When Bad Dressers and Drama Queens Fall In Love
By Dreiser

Part Eight...

MI-5 otherwise known as the United Kingdom's Secret Service an agency more commonly called Spooks by their own people had, oddly enough, some of Gordon Mercer's favored colleagues in it. One such colleague just happened to know his latest unlikely recruit, Lena Kundera, and insisted on meeting with him immediately in regards to discussing her situation. Which brings us up to current time with Gordon rising to his feet in a crowded five star restaurant to meet with said colleague.

"Gordon... have you been waiting long? The flight took more out of me than I thought."

A small smile formed on Gordon's craggy features and locking his hands behind his back, he drank the sight of her in. She presented a perfect image of control and hard beauty. Yes, there was no mistaking this was a woman that while utterly confident in her abilities, was very much aware of their limits. These were traits, to his own chagrin, he found impossibly alluring. Especially when you included her substantial beauty.

"Anna," replied Gordon, giving a slight nod. "I haven't been waiting long at all." Making a sweeping gesture to their table, he murmured, "Shall we sit? I'm told they have wonderful bigos here. I might have to give it a try. Though I'm sure you'll favor one of their less traditional Polish dishes." His smile shifted by a small degree, revealing a tiny impish humor. "You do still have difficulty with digesting the more hearty meals, I assume?"

If there ever was a list of things that hardly anyone got away with in this world on it would have to be teasing Anna Devane. And the people who did get away with it? Well, you had to be sure they either meant quite a bit to Anna or they were someone she wasn't sure she could take care of. Though at this point, she wasn't sure which category Gordon fit into.

Lifting up the menu to cover her face, very aware his eyes were carefully trained on her, Anna said, "Your assumptions I could make a horrid joke out of but I won't. I'd prefer to discuss your plans for Lena and Bianca. That is why I'm here."

"Plans?" Gordon repeated the word as if he was a rare treat he was tasting for the first time. Taking a drink of his beer, he looked away from Anna and said, "I don't have plans for them. The only plans I have is in regards to Lena's training. She did accept her responsibility in protecting Miss Montgomery and her child, after all. That is what I'm currently focused on."

"Bianca has nothing to do with Cambias," stated Anna in tones as cold and clinical as possible. "Miranda might be Michael's daughter but she is not a figurehead for that company. You're aware, I'm sure, that the long believed dead Alexander Cambias II has returned to take the reigns and Bianca has let him. The only connection she has with that family is her daughter's genetics and the trust Alexander, or Zach as he prefers to be called, has created for Miranda."

"But she does remain close with him and his son," Gordon responded just as coolly, burning his dark gaze into her. "And in his absence Zach gained many dubious business partners. Anna," he sighed deeply. "Lets not play games, shall we? I think we are both aware that it doesn't matter in the least how involved Miss Montgomery is in Cambias affairs. Nothing will alter the fact that child IS a Cambias and though many in that small town of hers associate that only to the reality the child is one of rape we both know far better. She is the child of a man who comes from a long line of men who've made their money from the suffering of others. Zach might have made deals with gangsters in Las Vegas but that is nothing compared to what his father and his grandfather have done."

"I know," Anna said, gritting her teeth. "I know that." She folded then refolded the napkin in her lap in a gesture of frustration. "None of them deserve this. Not Bianca and Lena, not Miranda, and not even Zach and Ethan. While they aren't entirely on the level that doesn't make them evil men."

"I'm also aware of that," said Gordon, smiling when Anna groaned in aggravation and he slowly finished off his beer. "Now I want to speak about the one thing I'm not aware of... why you're here. What is it you want, Anna?"

Placing the menu down carefully in front of her, tapping it on the table as she gathered her thoughts because what she had to say had be to be said well for everyone's sake. Once she felt in control and her thoughts completely sorted, Anna lifted her eyes to meet Gordon's in a solemn gaze that left no doubts about the truth behind her words.

"I want to train Lena Kundera," said Anna simply. "I want her working for me and I want my team reassembled and then I want to be placed onto a permanent protection detail for the Cambias, Kane, and Montgomery families. And," a slow and teasing smile spread on Anna's face along with a mischievous twinkle appearing in her eyes. "I want you to be responsible for the funding."

"Well," Gordon chuckled appreciatively. "I'm not sure what I can do about the amount of funding you'll receive but don't fret," he drawled humorously. "We should be able to work something out."

"Of course we can," replied Anna. Her expression turned quietly serious and she murmured, "We both want the same thing, after all."

"Yes," Gordon's brow furrowed and he nodded. A sigh escaping his lips, he looked to the approaching waiter as he said in a hushed whisper, "To protect them."

Once the crowds had cleared and Donald Steele slunk off to whatever hole he crawled out of, Kendall found herself taking a leisurely walk back to where her car was parked. With the way that Greenlee and Simone had been sniping at each other as they left she wasn't in any hurry to return to the office. She preferred to let Ryan take care of their squabbling since he had taken on the role of Fusion Cosmetic's official... eh...

Well, according to Ryan he was the official everything. A fact that Kendall found more than a little annoying. They had created the company, Greenlee, Mia, Simone, and Liza, not Ryan. So why was it that he was in charge? Especially now that Zach had revealed himself to be Alexander Cambias II and Ethan was indeed his legitimate son. With Bianca's help, they were soon in charge of Cambias Industries only days after this revelation. That meant Ryan had, to be totally blunt, nothing.

He didn't own anything and he certainly didn't have any right to Fusion but Greenlee wanted him there and Greenlee, despite everything they had gone through, was her business partner. At first, Kendall thought that she could deal with his ego and moods but it was getting harder lately. Part of her thought that her new relationship with Maggie made the situation clearer. In the short time they already spent together Kendall had learned how a romantic relationship was meant to be.

That happened to make everything that was wrong with her melodramatic relationship with Ryan painfully obvious. Sighing quietly, Kendall wondered if maybe she should consider one of the many and not so subtle suggestions Erica made in regards to her working at Enchantment. For as long as Kendall could recall that was her dream, to work at her mother's company at her side as the heir apparent. Now she hesitated only because with Fusion she had experienced the joy of creating something of her own and it was hard to give that up.

Still, she couldn't deny that working with her mother and sister would be wonderful. Just thinking about it put a smile on her face and made Kendall decide to reflect more on the matter. Maybe she could ask Maggie her opinion and this thought made the smile on her face grow larger yet.

During this marathon of smiles Kendall's eyes shifted to look at the local storefronts she was walking past and that's when she saw it. The flickering gaudy florescent light of a green sign that read in capital letters: Pixel Hut. Then directly under it there was a picture of the cartoon hedgehog with red sneakers. The one she had mistakenly thought wanted to marry the fox thing that was standing next to him. Kendall tilted her head and studied the animals with a lidded gaze as she considered them.

"They could so be a couple," Kendall muttered peevishly to herself, furtively pursing her lips into a pout. "Look at how close they're standing. It's just like couples do..."

Then something else caught her eye. A huge sign next to the cartoon hedgehog that declared this store had the largest selection of classic video game systems. And on the detailed list of the stock they carried was the Sega Genesis. The persistent smile of moments ago returned in full force and Kendall pulled the door to the store open, causing a strange high pitched theme song to lightly play as she did so. Upon seeing three pair of indifferent, perhaps cynical eyes, settle on her Kendall almost doubted her instincts.

Almost but she didn't. It was hard to doubt them when she possessed a perfect image of the expression of quiet joy on Maggie's face. Seeing it meant far too much for Kendall to abandon the idea she had suddenly formulated simply because the workers here looked at her funny. Maggie meant more to her than that and besides, she was Kendall Hart.

Shopping was her natural form of existence.

"Can we help you?" asked the lanky blonde man, his eyes obscured by distinctive black rimmed glasses. Both of his coworkers, a petite brunette woman and a slightly overweight redheaded man, lurked nearby. Kendall ran her eyes over them and smirked devilishly on seeing all three blush.

This shouldn't be anything difficult. Especially since she had just established that they, like most of the general populous, were vulnerable to her considerable charms. "Yes," Kendall drawled, smiling sweetly and walking smoothly over to them. "I think you can. You see, I don't know much of anything about what you sell here." She chuckled in wry amusement, adding in a coy batting of her long eyelashes for good measure. Leaning in close, she faux whispered to the lanky blonde, "In truth, I don't know anything at all." Pulling back, she smiled widely and linked her hands together. "That's why I need your help. My," Kendall genuinely paused, lost as she wondered what she should refer to Maggie as before deciding to say what she wanted to be true. "My girlfriend," she continued more confidently now, "spoke to me recently about loving her Sega Genesis. I saw on your sign that you sold them and I was hoping you had one I could buy."

"Your girlfriend?" the redheaded man repeated dimly.

"Yes," Kendall replied. She beamed happily at him, thoroughly delighted by how those words sounded on another person's lips. "My girlfriend."

"You just want the system?" asked the petite brunette woman who now appeared to be utterly at ease with Kendall. "I mean, if it's a gift you should probably buy her some games too. Did she tell you what kind of games she likes?"

Wearing a small frown, Kendall drew upon the fond memories of the previous night and smiled gently. "Not really. She only said that she was horrible at Aladdin, Mortal Kombat was bloody and apparently uncensored, and Sonic the Hedgehog wore red shoes." When she noticed the blank looks the two male clerks wore and the smirk the female had on her face, Kendall chuckled. "I know that doesn't really help but in my defense, this was a wandering late night conversation."

"Huh," the blonde rubbed the back of his head and looked to the brunette. "What do you think, Paige? Where do we start?"

"I dunno," Paige murmured thoughtfully. Looking to the redhead, she frowned as she watched him walk away. "Where are you going Hugo? You aren't going to help us with this?"

"I'm getting the system!" Hugo shouted in response. He poked his head out from the back of the store and said, "Nathan we still have that Genesis 3, do you think she'd want it?"

"Uhm, the Genesis. it has different kinds of systems, right?" began Nathan hesitantly, searching Kendall's expression to see if she understood what he was saying. "Kind of like how a computers upgrade from one to the next. iMac G4 to iMac G5..." When Kendall just stared at him, he laughed nervously. "Anyway! We have the newest Genesis model, the last one made was the Genesis 3 which is super tiny and neat looking but it's more expensive. Though it IS newest and--"

"How much is it?" asked Kendall, her smile doing away with any offense the hint of irritation in her voice might have caused him.

Nathan darted his eyes anxiously over to Paige who shrugged and looking to Kendall, he swallowed the lump in his throat then said, "Thirty bucks?"

There was a long moment of pause where you could have heard a pin drop then Kendall smiled widely. "Is that all? Of course I'll buy it! I was expecting you to say it was in the high three digits. Though the price doesn't really matter," Kendall mused, looking away from them to wander over to the wall that she just noticed had hundreds of Sega Genesis games lining every section of it. "This is my surprise present for her so it has to be good." Looking back at them, Kendall playfully pointed at Hugo who was nearing her with the Sega Genesis 3 which was neatly packaged in his hands. "That doesn't mean I'll let you suddenly raise the prices on everything I see." Looking back to the wall, she chuckled. "I have a photograph memory when it comes to shopping. It's one of my few gifts."

"Your girlfriend sucks at Aladdin, huh?" remarked Hugo, shifting the box in his arms and looking at the wall of games with Kendall. "I guess that means she won't want that one. Bummer though. That game really does kick ass."

"Actually, I definitely plan on buying that one," Kendall said. Noticing his look of confusion, she decided to play nice and explain. "She wasn't good at the game but her sister was and I think she does like it despite her claims otherwise."

"I can relate," said Paige dryly, wearing a grumpy expression as she moved away from the group to deal with the handful of noisy teenagers who just walked in the door.

"She said Mortal Kombat too, so I think she'd probably like other fighting games," Nathan offered. "You could get her all the Mortal Kombats and then Streets of Rage or Street Fighter..."

"Platformers would be good," said Hugo thoughtfully, handing the Sega Genesis 3 to Nathan and picking up a game for Kendall. "This is Toe Jam and Earl and I know the game looks weird but it's really fun. You play these aliens who crash land on Earth and need to get back to their home planet of Funk-o-tron. The point of the game is to find the pieces of their spaceship." When Kendall arched an eyebrow at him, Hugo laughed and said, "I know! I said it was weird but I promise you it is fun. Plus it has a great soundtrack."

Smiling slowly as she read the back of the box, Kendall somehow knew this would be a game that Maggie would love. If she didn't in fact love it already. "All right," she said, tucking it under her arm, not even looking at the price. "What else do you suggest? I want to get a good number of games."

At this, Nathan and Hugo exchanged a tentative look. Then Hugo decided to be the braver of the two and asked carefully, "And how many is a good number?"

"I don't know," Kendall murmured, stepping forward to pick up the game labeled Ecco the Dolphin. For some reason the cover made her think Miranda would like playing it. "A hundred?"

To say a look of complete ecstasy passed over Nathan and Hugo's faces at these words would be the understatement of the year. In fact, the happiness they felt at lucking upon a customer who was not only nice but willing to spend money and gladly listen to their opinions... well...

Should they happen to die right then they could somehow remain happy men. Which also had something to do with the undeniable reality that Kendall was the most beautiful woman to ever set foot inside their store. Not to mention she was the most beautiful woman to just plain look at them.

Yes, for the sad down trodden employees of the Pixel Hut this was indeed a great day and one they wouldn't soon forget or stop reminiscing over for a very long time.

Until their boss Tony finally ordered them to shut up about it.

Throughout the years Jackson and his brother had many problems, the most significant of which involved their feelings for Erica Kane. While Travis Montgomery was a good man in his own right he and Jackson both knew that he had done some truly terrible things in his life. Not that Jackson thought he was any better. They all had skeletons hidden in their closets and hardly anyone was blessed with a truly pure soul.

Bianca and Miranda were the exception to that rule.

And if Travis hadn't died so abruptly, if he had gotten the wonderful chance to meet his grandchild, Jackson knew that without at doubt he would love her absolutely. Because that was how he loved Bianca, how he loved both of his children. The concept he would feel differently was impossible for Jackson to consider, especially as he watched Miranda try to snuggle as close as possible to Erica while they watched A Muppet Christmas Carol.

Granted, the holidays were a few months away but Miranda enjoyed Rizzo the Rat and Erica had always been fond of Michael Caine. Deciding to abandon his unsuccessful efforts at reading the paper, Jackson rose to his feet and stood next to where Erica and Miranda sat in the private jet.

"How are two of my favorite girls doing?" Jackson asked, his voice echoing with the charming lilt he was so well known for.

Smiling and looking up at him, Erica replied, "We're fine, thank you for asking. Though I must tell you that you're interrupting a fine song about Mr. Scrooge and that makes certain little girls upset."

She then nodded to their granddaughter whose face was scrunched up in that tell tale sign which equaled sudden crying. Jackson looked apologetic and settled into the seat next to them. In an easy and gentle movement, he took Miranda into his arms to place her in a taller lap that allowed her to see the movie and the singing vegetables on screen all the better. This new position of height, and therefore power, pleased Miranda greatly and she squeaked happily then burrowed back against the fuzzy material of Jackson's cashmere sweater.

"Either I have the magic touch," murmured Jackson humorously, turning to face Erica who watched them with loving eyes. "Or this is Miranda's first step in using her inherited beauty to captivate men into doing her bidding."

"Jackson Montgomery, I must say I'm shocked," said Erica as she arched an eyebrow and her lips formed a devilish smile. "I would think you of all people would know better than to judge based solely on who this little girl's family happens to be. And besides," she purred now, pressing a light kiss against his lips. "Aren't you forgetting the gender of both of my daughters love interests?"

"Ah yes. I forgot," Jackson drawled with a chuckle. He kissed Miranda's dark and curly locks, breathing in the clean scent only a baby could manage to have then smiled. "She's probably going to be a heart breaker all across the board, isn't she?" A twinkle in his eyes, he looked to Erica and remarked, "I'm starting to think Bianca might have her hands full during the teenage years."

"Doesn't every mother?" asked Erica drolly.

"And every father," said Jackson teasingly in response. Their gazes locked for a long moment then Erica looked away, out of the small portal to study the blue sky they were flying through. "Erica?" his voice was soft with concern. "What's the matter?"

"I want to be there for them," Erica said after a pause. She was still looking out the portal as she continued, "For Bianca and Kendall both. I realize that for such a very long time I couldn't do that, I couldn't be the mother they needed. Now that I can, there's no words to express how grateful I feel they trust me in this role. A role that is so important in life there really aren't any words to properly explain the impact a mother has." Turning to face Jackson, her face was solemn but somehow tender in the emotion she was displaying. "I love my daughters, Jackson. I love our daughters, our children, all of them. And my god," Erica almost sobbed, looking at the happily squirming Miranda who was responding to Gonzo's silly actions on the television screen. "I love my granddaughter with everything in me. I just hope I'm letting them know that." Her eyes searched Jackson's features almost desperately now. "They do know that, don't they Jackson?"

"Oh darling," Jackson said the words in a slow burr, pulling Erica to him and kissing her softly. Cupping her face with one hand as the other held Miranda, he smiled at Erica. "They know how you feel. Hell, most of the world knows how you feel. I do love you, Erica Kane, but even you must admit that hiding your emotions is not exactly your strong suit."

Laughing through her tears, Erica replied, "I'm unfortunately aware of my lacking skills in that department." When she was done wiping her tears away and convinced her make up was indeed in tact, Erica looked at Jackson rather shyly. "You think I'm being silly, don't you? To feel insecure."

"I think you're worried about Bianca," said Jackson quietly, wrapping an arm around Erica's shoulder. With Erica snuggled into the crook of his shoulder and Miranda perched in his lap, Jackson couldn't recall the last time he felt this peaceful. He dropped a soft kiss on both of his girls heads then said, "You want to do the right thing for Bianca and Miranda. And since you think you don't have a great track record in that arena, it's making you a little stressed but I'm here to tell you don't worry. All you need to do is just be there... be there and love them. I know it seems like a such a small thing but it really is all that matters." Jackson was quiet for a moment then decided to give into the side of him that loved evil humor. "That and trying to call Lena by her name and not 'that woman' for once."

Erica's retaliation to this was a swift and severe tickle attack that was aided by the chubby but determined hands of her adorable granddaughter. When Erica and Miranda were done ten minutes later, Jackson Montgomery had been reduced to a mass of hoarse and quavering laughs.

Something he didn't mind in the least.

"There's my big boy," Pearl flashed a wide smile on seeing Jamie and Maggie approach her line at the food concessions in the PVU cafeteria. "What do you want today, honey pie?"

"I have to stay on my diet for wrestling," murmured Jamie, narrowing his eyes and studying the menu. "Okay, how about this? A bottle of water, a bottle of milk, a turkey sandwich with tomatoes but no mayo, and an apple." Grinning at Pearl, he rocked back on the heels of his tennis shoes. "Does that sound good, Pearl? Should that keep me on track?"

"Sounds about right to me," nodded Pearl. "Personally, I'd like to see an oatmeal raisin cookie in there. That'd help things a bit."

"Please give me a cookie then," said Jamie, handing the money over to Pearl as she set the pile of food in front of him. "I know you told me to quit thanking you, but I have to do it again. I don't know if I could've even made varsity without your help."

Pearl released a dismissive noise and waved a wrinkled hand at him. "You bein' the polite boy that you are is my thanks," she smiled up at him. "You both are good kids and I hardly see any of those these days. Especially ones who'll treat me with real honest respect. Of course I'll help you if you ask." Turning to Maggie, she smiled softly and said, "What'll you have, sweetie?"

"Chicken Caesar salad and a coke please," said Maggie, returning the smile. When Pearl frowned and started to talk she held up her hand. "I know, I need to eat more. I'm really not hungry right now, Pearl. I promise I'll have a big dinner."

"You gonna hold her to that, big boy?" called Pearl over her shoulder while she prepared Maggie's food. "Because you know I worry over this girl. She's gettin' scrawny lately..."

On hearing the word scrawny, Jamie shifted the food tray in his hand and giggled around his mouthful of oatmeal raisin cookie. This caused bits of the cookie to fall onto his shirt which Pearl hadn't given any notice to until that moment.

"Boy, what are you wearin'?" asked Pearl as she narrowed her eyes and studied the t-shirt which happened to be a gift from Maggie. It was tight fitting, pink, and said in sparkly words: I'm a pretty princess. All in all, it looked good on Jamie but entirely strange at the same time.

"My pretty princess shirt. Why?" Jamie was currently involved with chewing on his golden delicious apple but paused at Pearl's question. Forming a face of overdone heartbreak, Jamie directed the full force of his puppy dog gaze at Pearl. "Don't tell me you think I'm NOT a pretty princess. If you did then it would destroy all of my lifelong hopes and dreams."

Shaking her head and looking to the students lining up behind them to be served, Pearl declared with a laugh, "You're crazy! I better see somethin' more manly on you tomorrow."

"I'll wear my frilliest ballerina tutu just for you," called Jamie, waggling his eyebrows humorously at Pearl who scowled in response. Giggling again in that childlike manic way only Jamie could manage, he commented to Maggie, "I said it once and I'll say it again, Mags. I love you for getting me this shirt. I get the greatest reactions out of people when I wear it."

"And I've said it once but I'll say it again: you're lucky you transformed yourself into Mr. Burly because otherwise wearing that shirt all the time could get you beaten up," Maggie replied in droll tones as they sat down at their usual table. "I've already heard the tales from wearing it to wrestling practice and those are plenty disturbing considering those guys are supposedly your friends."

"Doesn't bother me any," Jamie shrugged, finishing off his apple in two large bites. "I guess that's why I like it, you know? Sort of tells me about people depending on how they react." He paused then wearing an entirely mischievous expression he said slyly, "I bet Kendall would like this shirt."

Blushing a dark red hue, Maggie mumbled around a mouthful of salad, "Probably. I can't be sure though, Kendall is hard to predict."

As the child of Tad Martin and Brooke English there were certainly abilities Jamie was innately blessed with. One of which was a keen sense of observation and that sense of observation told him that for Maggie something of importance had occurred between yesterday and today. Granted, the difference that he saw in Maggie was a subtle, so subtle that most people wouldn't notice. But, as stated before, Jamie definitely was not most people.

Before now that was a fact that Maggie relished about her friend. Currently she found it a big pain in the ass simply because she still didn't quite feel ready to discuss her relationship with Kendall. It had quickly become a very precious thing in Maggie's life and as such, she wanted it to be hers and hers alone. Maggie didn't want to share Kendall, silly as that sounded.

Too bad getting an interested Jamie to not focus on the subject of his interest was about as easy as taking away a steak from a starving Doberman. That being said, Maggie began to debate how much nosy Jamie tactics she was willing to put up with before finally giving in. During her debate some of their classmates appeared at the table all wearing huge shit eating grins.

Maggie should've known right then that keeping Kendall to herself would be a futile task, eldest daughter of Erica Kane or not. Everyone she knew was just too damn curious for that.

"Maggie Stone, you told me you don't date!" Leigh spoke first, something that wasn't unusual at all for the outgoing pre-med student.

On more than one occasion Leigh had asked Maggie out on a some form of a date but every time she had gotten politely turned down. After awhile Leigh took to heart Maggie's lame excuse of saying that she just didn't have time to socialize.

That was until she saw her making out, very heavily and very passionately, on the sidewalk outside the local independent movie theater. It was then she discovered all of Maggie's dismal excuses were in fact nothing but dismal excuses. Which made her really want to know the story behind that sidewalk make out session and the woman involved in it with Maggie.

Luckily for Leigh, she happened to be sitting behind Andrew and Curt in Cell Biology. It was impossible not to notice how they began twittering uncontrollably like a pair of thirteen year old girls upon hearing the details of Maggie's make out session. In seconds of Leigh talking to them, Andrew informed her, quite a few times and very excitedly, Kendall Hart had appeared on campus that same day and whisked Maggie off causing her to miss her last class of the day.

Sighing inwardly on seeing Jamie's eyes light up and Andrew and Curt practically bounce in place, Maggie rested her gaze on Veronica who had just arrived, trailing quietly after the other three. They shared an unspoken bond thanks to several talks which, though guarded, alluded to the idea that they both had not only similar personal histories but problems as well. Veronica was struggling with her sexuality just as Maggie had before she figured out what her attraction to Bianca and now more significantly, Kendall, meant. Which is why Maggie fixated on Veronica whose light blue eyes were kind and accepting, not holding the slightest bit of malice in them.

Not that the others did have malice, they were just a little too interested for Maggie's liking. Keeping her eyes locked with Veronica's, she released a puff of air then said, "I do date and apparently you already know that. Along with who I'm currently dating." Turning to Leigh, Andrew, and Curt, she lifted an eyebrow in an imitation of Kendall then smirked. "But why you're so fascinated by who I date remains to be seen. Isn't there enough reality TV for you to focus on?"

That said and her salad no longer holding any appeal, Maggie rose to her feet and exited the cafeteria. Watching her go, Jamie frowned at the group and said, "Her romantic life is off limits to you guys now, you got that? It's obvious Mags doesn't like it being brought up."

Andrew and Curt nodded and left quickly, more than a bit nervous at the idea of upsetting a very large varsity wrestler. Meanwhile, Leigh and Veronica remained where they were. Sitting down next to Jamie with a huge sigh, Leigh tilted her head to look at him with rueful green eyes.

"I didn't mean to upset her," Leigh confessed, staring at the cafeteria exit that Maggie had gone through. "I just wanted to tease her a little... sort of like petty revenge for her turning me down all those times. I couldn't help but be sort of jealous when I saw her yesterday, you know?"

"Yeah," Jamie sighed and took a huge bite of his turkey sandwich. "I know how you feel but if you want to stay friends with Maggie then you better quit teasing her. Especially about Kendall. I haven't tried to get her to talk to me mostly because I can tell that she's really nervous when it comes to this relationship."

"It means a lot to her," Veronica offered with quiet solemnity that caused both Leigh and Jamie to look at her surprised and wide eyed. On seeing she had their attention, she smiled softly. "The more that something means to you the more you care and the more you care the more you can be hurt. I think that's what makes her so nervous. Jamie is right though," she averted her gaze to look out at the PVU campus. "We should leave Maggie be. If she wants to talk to us then she will."

Despite having a mouthful of turkey sandwich, Jamie attempted to reply to Veronica's words when the Rocky movie theme, which was the all purpose ring tone he used for his cell phone, sounded loudly in the air. Jamie quickly tried to swallow the last of the sandwich down so he could say hello but instead began releasing hacking coughs. As he quickly downed the last of his milk, Jamie breathed a sigh of relief and said rather hoarsely, "Hello?"

"James... it's good to know you're still alive after producing that horrible outburst of noise," Kendall's voice, elegant and laced with humor echoed in his ear.

"Kendall?" Jamie blinked, feeling perplexed as to why Kendall would be calling him and how she even got ahold of his number in the first place.

"That would be me," chuckled Kendall, still sounding very amused. "I'm calling because I need your help with something."

"What kind of something?" asked Jamie suspiciously. He might love the Kane women but like most men he didn't entirely trust them at the same time. Perhaps that was part of their charm.

"Nothing illegal," Kendall tsked at him. "I'm planning a surprise for Maggie but I need your help because it has to be set up in your apartment and it involves carrying a large box or two."

"And you don't have a key to our place and you also happen to have spindly girl arms that are incapable of carrying heavy items," finished Jamie, an impish grin forming as he pictured the scowl that Kendall was probably wearing. "Can I ask what's in the boxes I'm going to be hauling around?"

"Come and help me and you can see for yourself," replied Kendall easily. "I'm at a store on the corner of Drury and Laclede called the Pixel Hut. It has a big neon green sign, you can't miss it."

"The Pixel Hut?" Jamie repeated, frowning and thinking that store name sounded vaguely familiar. Unfortunately Kendall hung up before he could fire off a few more questions.

That's when it hit him. Pixel was short for picture element and was a single point in a graphic image so obviously the store had something to do with computer graphics. While Drury and Laclede was the section of Pine Valley that was filled entirely with the locally owned businesses. These two things when put together meant that Kendall had to be at that indy video game store.

Loving video games as most red blooded American males of his generation did, Jamie exited the cafeteria in a blur of pretty princess pink upon figuring out what a favorable location Kendall was waiting at. His exit did leave Leigh and Veronica just a tad stupefied and normally he would've been more polite and said his goodbyes but this was too important for that.

This was video games.

Talking of her years growing up didn't turn out to be nearly as painful as Lena had thought. In fact, it wasn't painful at all. Part of Lena felt she should've known it would've been like this simply due to Bianca's involvement. When Bianca was with her, Lena could somehow find some kind of joy in any situation just because of her presence. Her love for Bianca was that strong.

"See this?" Paulina murmured, sounding almost smug as she gently pushed the photo album towards Bianca who was sitting on her bed with Lena. "It is the proof... my Lena did this as well."

For the past three hours they had been discussing various things that included, for the most part, Miranda and her relationship with Bianca and Lena. This led to Bianca informing Paulina in a giggle caused by Lena's playful hands about her waist that Miranda had an unusual habit of falling asleep seconds after hearing Lena's voice. A situation that was sped up depending on whether or not Lena was speaking directly to Miranda herself. Now Bianca was looking wide eyed at proof that in some strange way this habit might be related back to her lover.

There it was, plain as day, a series of pictures of Lena at the tender age of six months. The first picture was of Paulina gently giving baby Lena to her husband Konrad who was in every way the spitting image of Lena. Tall and elegant with dark mysterious eyes, he smiled rather nervously into the camera while cradling an active Lena tenderly in his arms. The second, third, and fourth pictures featured a slightly more comfortable Konrad leaning down, talking to baby Lena. The fifth picture was Lena yawning. The sixth picture was Konrad looking sheepishly into the camera. The seventh picture was an unconscious Lena sleeping as she snuggled safely into her father's arms.

"Miranda gets it from you!" exclaimed Bianca, elated that her daughter and Lena had this in common. Flipping the pages of the photo album, Bianca paused on seeing a picture of Lena chewing on Paulina's hair wearing an infectious smile. Tracing the picture lightly with her fingertips, Bianca murmured, "Miranda does this too... with Kendall mostly."

"Kendall does have the longest hair out of all of us," Lena mused. She almost felt lucky that her ability to lull Miranda into sleep coupled with the short style she preferred kept the baby from using her as a participant in her chewing and yanking hair games. Though she loved Miranda with the same unbreakable devotion that she had for Bianca that didn't mean she could ignore the fact that Miranda's tiny hands could do immense damage to hair follicles. "Bianca," Lena looked to her lover, her face lighting up as she did so. "Do you have the photograph? The one we took that day in the park during the first family outing with Miranda returned to us?"

"Of course!" Bianca beamed and leapt off the bed to begin the search for her purse. Pausing in the doorway, she fixed her giddy smile on Paulina who returned it despite feeling as utterly weak as she did. "You have to see this picture, Paulina. It's the cutest thing ever."

Alone together, Lena turned to her mother who quietly clasped her hand and murmured, "Bianca and Miranda are your joy and you are theirs. I am grateful to know this because for many years I feared you would be cursed to live a lonely life. I cannot say how happy I am to be proven wrong." Cupping Lena's cheek and smiling softly when Lena leaned into her touch, Paulina said, "Papa is watching us from heaven and I know he is smiling just as I am. We love you so much, Lena."

"I love you too, Mama," Lena managed to say through her tears, burying herself in the comforting hold of her mother's arms. When Bianca returned moments later, this is how she found them.

Taking in the image of them both, Bianca reminded herself she would have to find or buy a camera soon to take pictures of her own in order to capture the time they were spending in Poland. Holding up the picture Lena had been speaking about proudly, Bianca smiled and sat gently on the bed next to Lena who remained in Paulina's arms. Moving forward to rest her chin on Lena's shoulder and looking up into Paulina's smiling eyes, Bianca handed her mother in law the photograph.

"What do you think? Adorable or what?" asked Bianca rather mischievously.

The combined chaos that was the Kane, Montgomery, and Cambias family was evident in every aspect of the picture. As the star of the show, Miranda was in the center decked out in the cutest purple dress that Bianca had bought in the days she had thought her daughter was gone. She had been unable to help buying it as she thought it suited the memory she had of her daughter so very well. At the same time, Bianca couldn't make herself give the dress to the child she thought of as Bess. Looking beautiful in her new clothes, Miranda squirmed happily in Bianca's arms who was laughing at her infant daughter's antics who had Kendall's long curly hair firmly captured like a prize in her tiny yet powerful hands and was occupied with chewing on it. Kendall didn't seem to mind being in Miranda's fierce grip and joined Bianca in her love filled laughter over her predicament.

Next to Miranda and sharing the center of attention, which was a perpetual reality in her life, stood Erica whom was either fussing over her granddaughter or the fact that her granddaughter was busy chewing on her eldest daughter's hair. Given the fact that it was Erica it was honestly difficult to tell which she was focused on. In the background, Jackson could be seen holding his midsection looking like he was going to collapse from the force of his laughter. This might have had something to do with Lena who was in a strange hunched kneeling position underneath Miranda, Bianca, and Kendall as she tickled Miranda's miniature bare feet.

The tickling probably added to Miranda's animated happiness because she was kicking her legs so quickly they were a bit of a blur in the actual photograph. From what could be seen of her legs in that blur it looked like one small foot came incredibly close to hitting Lena in the forehead which might be why she chose to do an imitation of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Off to the left side in the picture was Reggie and Lily who wore rather serious expressions. Well, at least Reggie was trying to be serious in an attempt to answer his sister's questions regarding Miranda and her behavior. It appeared as if he were a few seconds away from laughter but he truly was trying his best to be a good brother to Lily and give her the information she needed. The look of affectionate confusion on Lily's delicate features was something Bianca adored because it showed exactly who Lily was. Someone that possessed an endless capacity for curiosity and love.

Standing across from them on the right side was Zach and Ethan whom you could tell from their body language were slowly but surely forming that unspoken bond between father and son. They stood side by side with their broad shoulders almost touching and wore almost identical expressions of understated fondness on their normally stoic faces. Zach was murmuring something to Ethan and his lips were tugged up just slightly but it was enough to reveal he was enjoying himself thoroughly. Ethan's dark eyes twinkled as he tried to mask his amusement by subtly covering his mouth with his hand, thus hiding the evidence that he was indeed chuckling at his cousin's behavior.

Having long since abandoned any type of animosity she had towards the two men thanks to Bianca's influence, Myrtle stood at their sides holding a large glass of what she said was 'lemonade' but everyone present knew better. Myrtle was in the middle of one of her many stories about her life as a carnie and how it related to their current situation. Not that either Bianca or Lena could recall what the story was. That was a question only Myrtle could answer.

Last but not least was Maggie who stood beside Erica and joined her efforts to free Kendall's hair from Miranda and failing miserably in the process. Maggie had put her head too close to Miranda's sphere of grabby reach and this caused, on closer examination, Bianca and Lena to notice Miranda was not only chewing on Kendall's hair but Maggie's left earlobe as well. Thus making their outing in the park the first instance of baby sexual assault on Miranda's part involving Maggie.

To Bianca this photograph perfectly exhibited the essence of their family. Insane, out of control, but filled with boisterous joy in everything that they did together. They were her family and Bianca loved them with all that she was and when you looked at this picture it wasn't hard to see why.

After several moments of studying the photograph, Paulina looked at Bianca with misty eyes and murmured, "Adorable is the least of what it is, my dear. It is beautiful, terribly so."

"Paulina?" Bianca whispered in concern which Lena echoed, moving from her place in Paulina's lap to look at her mother. "What is it? I haven't upset you in some way, have I?"

"No, no, of course you haven't," dismissed Paulina, wiping her tears away and appearing embarrassed at her display. "It is nothing. Please do not worry yourselves over it."

"Mama," said Lena softly, her voice low and comforting. "For our sakes, could you tell us what you are thinking? No matter how insignificant you think it to be I promise we will want to hear it."

Looking into Lena's dark eyes and then Bianca's with a quiet sigh, Paulina smiled at them tenderly. "You are such sweet girls, I do love you." Seeing the impatience start to rise in Lena's gaze, Paulina laughed then cupped her daughter's cheek. "Do not get upset, my dear. I was wishing that once Miranda arrives with Erica and Jackson we too might take our own photograph together. Nothing would please me more than to be a part of the happiness that was captured here."

"If that is what you want then we will take enough pictures to fill a thousand albums," Lena replied in tremulous tones, holding her mother's hand in her own.

"My daughter is a poet," Paulina chuckled wryly, lifting an eyebrow and looking to Bianca who laughed at this. "Ah, she agrees with me, Lena. I think I have found a valuable ally."

Though Lena groaned over this statement, the love in her eyes told a different story. One that said despite the circumstances of them being together she was truly happy to have two of the most important women in her life together in the same room. The only thing that would make it better was Miranda's arrival and that was mere hours away. This made Lena determined to appreciate the time that her family had with her mother while it was still there. Her happiness couldn't help but increase upon knowing instinctively that Bianca and Miranda shared this desire.

And that was what made them a family.

Thanks to the use of strategic darting and hiding tactics, Maggie managed to avoid anymore interrogations about her relationship with Kendall for the rest of her day on the PVU campus. While this was met with great relief on her part it didn't mean she didn't find this entirely exhausting. That's why Maggie's shoulders were slumped and her feet were dragging as she neared the doorway to her apartment late in the afternoon. At this point the only thing she thought could cheer her up would be Kendall's immediate presence but of course that was impossible since she hadn't been able to get a response from her cell phone for the past few minutes.

At least, that's what Maggie thought until she reached her apartment and heard the distinctive peals of Kendall's laughter from inside. Smiling widely, Maggie gripped the doorknob to open the door only to scowl on finding it locked. After fumbling agitatedly with her keys, Maggie finally got the door unlocked and pushed it open with such force it hit the wall with a loud bang.

Kendall and Jamie both whirled around to face her wearing expressions of surprise at her dramatic entrance. Not really caring what Jamie thought or the huge amount of teasing she might get later for this, Maggie made a beeline for Kendall and buried herself in the taller woman's arms.

Regardless of being momentarily stunned at this gesture, Kendall automatically wrapped Maggie up in an affectionate embrace. Once she had her wits about her, she smiled gently and leaned down to press a tender kiss on Maggie's cheek before whispering in her ear. "Bad day?" Kendall's voice was playful but it echoed with a quiet concern.

Instead of replying, Maggie released a muffled noise of agreement and snuggled further into Kendall's arms before she rested her face against the length of her neck. Kissing the soft skin before her in a type of lazy worship, Maggie murmured, "It became good the second I saw you."

At this, Jamie vacated the living room for the sanctuary of his room where he would remind himself Maggie was his friend and he really shouldn't think of her or more importantly, her new girlfriend, that way. Barely noticing his exit, the couple stayed wrapped up in each other until Kendall moved back to push a stray lock of blonde hair from Maggie's eyes.

"What happened?" asked Kendall softly.

Releasing a sigh, Maggie averted her gaze and was red with embarrassment as she muttered, "A bunch of people I know from my med classes got on me about our date. I guess they saw us making out on the sidewalk and were curious."

"And that's a bad thing?" Kendall's words revealed just a hint of annoyance and something more dangerous. An edge of pain that Maggie instantly recognized and she jerked her head up to take in the tick in Kendall's jaw and her narrowed eyes. "That someone saw you with me? Or that they could tell we were on a date? I'm sure that having people see you with me can be considered a bad thing. Because, you know, I'm Kendall Hart and calling me an accused murderer is just one thing on the long list of my many evils. Something that I usually get to hear about on a daily basis."

"God, Kendall, no... that's not what I meant," said Maggie quickly, so quickly the words almost came stammering out. Taking a hesitant step forward, she held Kendall's hands in her own and sorted through her thoughts carefully. "I'm not the type of person who is comfortable talking about who I date with people I barely know. Hell," Maggie gave a caustic laugh. "I can barely talk to Bianca about that and she's my best friend. But you," the words came out in a passionate whisper and Maggie moved forward to leave just a breath between her body and Kendall's. "You're more than that, Kendall. You aren't just someone that I'm dating you're..." Maggie trailed off, unable to keep fear from seizing her as she wondered if this was the right thing to do. Afraid that what she wanted to say next would only scare Kendall off, making her leave as countless others had done before her.

"I'm what?" Kendall encouraged Maggie to go on with the compassionate tone in her voice which also held an unspoken plea for the truth.

For what felt like hours but was barely a minute, Kendall watched Maggie try to force a reply from herself but simply couldn't so instead she kept her head ducked out of shame. When Maggie began trembling Kendall found herself instinctively drawing the shorter woman into her arms. Nestled safe in the warmest embrace she had ever known, it didn't take long for Maggie to calm and her fears to momentarily disappear from her mental landscape.

"You're special," Maggie's reply was hushed and vulnerable. Swallowing the lump in her throat and temporarily shoving her fear into the back of her mind, she then went on, "No one has ever made me feel the way you do when we're together. No one."

"I'm hoping you consider that good thing," quipped Kendall humorously. Pressing a kiss of fervent affection on the top of Maggie's head, she heard a muffled sob wrenched from the blonde at this gesture. "It's all right," Kendall soothed and she pulled away to hold Maggie's face in her hands. Locking her own supportive gaze with Maggie's far more apprehensive one, Kendall leaned down and put their lips centimeters apart. "The sentiment is very much mutual."

The kiss was fleetingly soft, careful in its intent and Kendall moved to look into Maggie's eyes before returning to their kiss with a sort of lazy ease. Opening Maggie through the slip of her tongue and the persistent press of her lips. Like previous kisses, this one led to another and another, so many that Jamie had finished saying his mantra of 'Maggie is my friend, Kendall is her girlfriend, I will NOT find them sexy' fifty times when he walked into the living room. He almost turned around and headed back to his room but he was sick and tired of chanting his new mantra. It was mindlessly boring and he couldn't stand doing it when he knew very well an excellent form of entertainment awaited him.

And no, it wasn't Maggie and Kendall fantasies. It was the Sega Genesis with its hundred and three games that Kendall had purchased this afternoon along with a nice shelving unit to put them in. When Jamie first entered the Pixel Hut and saw the boxes upon boxes of games he couldn't say a word. Once he did, it was accentuated with a whoop of glee as he lifted Kendall off the ground in his muscular arms and proclaimed her to be the coolest girlfriend ever and why couldn't she date him?

Clearing his throat loudly, Jamie snickered on seeing the dazed look both women wore upon ending their kiss and formed a slow smile. "I hate to interrupt--"

"Then why are you?" Maggie cut him off, irritation evident in her voice. She released a short frustrated groan and peered up at Kendall with wide pleading hazel eyes. "Do you know why he's interrupting? Because I don't know why he's interrupting and I don't really care. Do you care?"

"No one loves Jamie," he muttered sourly. Flopping onto their couch, he lifted his hands and looked at the ceiling acting like he was speaking to God. "Why does no one love Jamie? He's starting to find it to be incredibly depressing. Especially given the fact that Jamie has a hottie's hot bod."

"Maybe because Jamie has taken to referring to himself in the third person as megalomaniacs and professional wrestlers tend to do," retorted Maggie, sounding muffled again thanks to her burying her face happily in the crook of Kendall's neck. This was quickly becoming her favorite place to hide because it not only put her in close contact with Kendall but it also allowed her to be surrounded by the exotic scent of Kendall's perfume.

"But Jamie is a wrestler and therefore, Jamie talking in the third person is perfectly acceptable behavior for Jamie," he replied, sounding as if he was going to break out into his insane giggle any second now. "Don't tell Jamie you're going to ignore the validity of his argument."

"I hate him, I really do," Maggie's words were practically incoherent her body was so close to the taller woman's. "He might be one of my closest friends but I hate him."

Kendall chuckled and deposited another tender kiss on the top of Maggie's head then said, "You shouldn't be too harsh with him. He did help me arrange my surprise for you."

"Surprise? What surprise?" asked Maggie, her expression and voice revealing just that.

"This surprise," Jamie answered gleefully as he pointed to the Sega Genesis sitting in front of him in their entertainment center. Looking at it for the past minute or so had killed any sense of patience he had about him as he was dying to play some games.

Stepping forward and experiencing something akin to astonishment, Maggie reached out to touch the system then some of the games as if to prove they were real. She remained like this for a long while then looked at Kendall with disbelieving eyes.

"You did this?" she asked in a bare whisper.

"I did," Kendall admitted and she held Maggie's gaze before dropping her head in a sign of uncertainty. Maybe she was wrong about this, maybe she should have left well enough alone, maybe it wasn't her place to do such things, or maybe it was just too much too soon. "Is that okay?"

Drawing her attention from the Sega Genesis to Kendall, part of Maggie wondered if the other woman could ever really know how okay it was. How this one simple and thoughtful act of kindness meant so very much to her. Walking quietly forward, she cupped Kendall's chin to lift her face and meet their eyes in the same manner Kendall had used so many times with her.

"It's more than okay, it's wonderful," said Maggie hoarsely and looking at her, Kendall could see her reflection in unshed tears. "I don't think I've ever been given a gift as wonderful as this."

The happiness that seized Kendall upon seeing the sheer overwhelming emotion that Maggie was feeling was beyond words. And knowing that she was the cause of it amazed Kendall to a degree powerful enough it made her dizzy with joy. They drifted into a natural embrace, their lips meeting and parting slowly for a sensuous drawn out exploration. They could have kept this up for an indefinite period of time if they hadn't noticed the distinctive and excruciatingly perky sound of the Sonic the Hedgehog theme song playing.

Apparently Jamie, their impatient third person talking friend, had gotten sick of waiting for their affectionate interaction to end and decided to take the initiative of playing with the Genesis himself. Feeling their eyes on him, Jamie looked at them without a hint of embarrassment and formed a wicked smile as he said, "Done so soon? That's positively scandalous."

"You're funny," said Maggie sarcastically, sitting next to Jamie on the couch and pulling Kendall along with her. Expertly swiping the controller from his hands, she continued, "My surprise. My gift. My character choice. There's no way I'm going to get stuck playing Tails. That's all about you."

"Fine," Jamie responded peevishly. "But Jamie wants you to know he protests the creation of a dictator run video game society in his apartment." After saying this, he released his insane giggle.

"Jamie needs to stop talking in the third person or the video game dictator is going to pull his Genesis gaming rights," drawled Maggie while the first level to Sonic & Tails appeared on screen.

Sinking back into Maggie and Jamie's remarkably comfortable couch, Kendall listened to their affectionately snarky comments and rested her head on Maggie's shoulder. Watching as the blonde went through the first level Kendall couldn't help but feel a little triumphant on seeing her character busily collecting the golden rings.

The hedgehog DID want to get married, she knew it.

Part 9

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