Dedicated to Mae, who asked for Stormer/Kimber, and is one of the sweetest of friends.

Bad Influence

It took all of Stormer's concentration not to let her hands creep together and her fingers entwine, like a good little girl trying not to take up too much space, instead of lolling casually back in her chair. The intense discomfort was a foreign feeling to a Misfit, but then this was foreign territory.

It wasn't so much that Stormer was bothered by being in a room full of people who hated and disapproved of her. She'd been a Misfit for three years; if she didn't get a certain illicit thrill of power out of being loathed, she never would have stuck around as long as she did, even for Pizzazz's sake. The tiny electric ants marching up and down under her skin had more to do with a persistent feeling of guilt. It was all wrong that she was here. Quitting the Misfits in a huff, even playing and recording with an ex-Hologram, was one thing. Going in supplication to the pink haired princess' little friends was another level of betrayal and humiliation entirely. And where, Stormer wondered bitterly, was Jem, anyway? Wasn't Kimber important enough for her to risk the contamination of speaking to a Misfit?

Ex-Misfit. Stormer was having a little trouble remembering that part. The longer she remained in the Starlight Mansion, she suspected, the harder it would be. She'd never felt so much like a Misfit in her life.

There was nothing, she supposed, to stop her from standing up, saying something suitably scathing to Jerrica about not needing to be one of her charity projects, and walking out of the Starlight Mansion for good. The Misfits had made it clear enough that they wanted her back. Stormer had already done her best by Kimber by finishing the album. . It certainly wasn't her fault if Eric chose not to promote it. There was nothing at all keeping her there… except that Kimber was standing protectively over her, as if she realised what it meant to be in a room full of women Stormer had always detested and who despised her, begging for help. If Stormer walked, Kimber would lose her stake in Starlight Music to Eric. And she'd probably cry until her hair was the same bright pink-red as her hair, and she'd hate Stormer, and they'd never spend another evening giggling together and pretending to work, while Stormer wished she had the courage to show Kimber the other songs she wrote, about girls with faces like flowers.

Kimber was talking fast, pleading with Jerrica, but every now and then she would reach out and touch Stormer's arm, her fingernails digging nervously into Stormer's skin. Nice fingernails, painted brightly enough to be fashionable but filed to a perfect curve, like little flower petals at the end of her fingers. Stormer had always been greedy for flowers. She had rejoiced that Pizzazz, who had no soul for gardens, nevertheless had florists daily fill the house with living colour because she'd heard how much Elton John spent on floral arrangements and she wasn't going to have some little British worm outdo her. The Holograms, Stormer was fairly sure, spent nothing on cut flowers, but their house was bright from blooms brought in from the garden. Probably cut by orphans.

Kimber moved her head and Stormer caught the rose scent of the shampoo she used in her bright hair, the resulting spasm in Stormer's throat reminding her that wasn't going anywhere, at least so long as Kimber still wanted her around.

Stormer's own fingernails were scarlet, glossy talons at the end of her hands. She pressed them on every morning after she finished her makeup, and popped them off before she went to bed, assuming they hadn't caught in anything during the day. It wasn't as if she had time or energy to worry about broken nails and chipped polish, anyway. It was only Kimber's perfect half-moons that made them look so plastic and tawdry. Stormer shifted her gaze from her own hands to Jerrica, who had called her trash the first time they had met, and tried to smile. She was rather afraid it came out as more of a snarl, because Jerrica visibly flinched.

Stormer drummed her plastic nails on the kitchen table, and caught a sharp glance from Jerrica. She could always hear the accusing absence of sound as Jerrica very consciously did not click her tongue in disapprobation. So, Stormer and Kimber weren't the only ones feeling uncomfortable… Somehow, that made Stormer feel a little better.

There was a long silence, as Jerrica decided what to do and the other girls watched her decide. The Holograms, Stormer realised, were almost as much of a dictatorship as the Misfits, only in a different way. Stormer couldn't imagine any of them hanging on Eric's decision with bated breath. Eric was lucky if Pizzazz bothered to inform him what she wanted to do anyway. No wonder Eric wanted Starlight Music back…

She glanced around, trying to find something to look at that wasn't Jerrica or a Hologram, something less hostile than Aja, who was glowering openly at her, and less dangerously sweet than Kimber, because Stormer suspected that staring at Jerrica's little sister like a lovesick puppy dog wouldn't help their case at all. She didn't want to scare the woman into permanently locking Kimber into her room.

There was a small group of girls standing in the doorway blatantly listening in, clad in pyjamas and nightdresses, one with the absolute least attractive haircut Stormer had ever seen on a child. Stormer relaxed a little. This, at least, was a friendly face. "Hey, Ashley." She bit her lip as soon as the greeting escaped. Perhaps it was a mistake, perhaps Ashley didn't want their history acknowledged in front of the Misfits' enemies. Jerrica would wonder how they knew each other, meaning awkward questions for Ashley. Sure, Jerrica, I used to hang out with the Misfits all the time until they framed your sister and friends for a robbery…

"Hey, Stormer. Didn't expect to see you here." Ashley grinned at her, her plain face lighting up with genuine pleasure, and Stormer's mood lightened another few shades. At least Kimber wasn't the only one here who didn't hate her.

Stormer glanced back at Aja, finding those crystal blue eyes fixed thoughtfully on her. Stormer didn't like it; Aja was entirely too intelligent for her tastes. Then Jerrica nodded, a businesslike gesture, and Stormer realised a decision had been made.

Forgiveness and gracious aid.

She'd go back to the Misfits, Stormer decided, as Jerrica kissed Kimber and the Holograms fell into a group embrace. When the album was a success, and Kimber's inheritance was safe. She couldn't help realising that the girls would be triumphant and jeering, and there would be none of the declarations of unconditional love Kimber was receiving from her sister, but Stormer was used to that. She belonged there, while Kimber belonged in this warm, innocent female atmosphere, it was clear. It had been fun, but…

She'd meant it when she told Craig that without the Misfits, she was nothing. Maybe she could be something with Kimber, for a while, but once Kimber went back to the Holograms, she was just Mary Phillips again. If she wasn't Stormer, she was nobody.

Even when Kimber broke the group embrace and ran to hug her, Stormer felt sick and hollow inside.

It felt odd to be talking in Kimber's bedroom. They'd spent the last few days recording together, or hanging around Craig's apartment, but the question of inviting Stormer back to the Starlight Mansion had never arisen, for obvious reasons. Now, though, they had retreated to discuss the events of the night, and Stormer found herself curled up on Kimber's bed. There was an ache at the bottom of her heart about that, but she deliberately buried it under layers of sweetness, Kimber's flowerlike face on the pile of pillows next to her, so close that her breath was warm on Stormer's mouth.

"I should have realised my friends wouldn't let me down." Kimber's eyes were suspiciously wet, like lobelias laced with dew.

Stormer opened her mouth to say something, unsure of whether it would be proper Misfits' scorn for Jerrica's condescension or gratitude for her generosity, but what came out had more to do with the soft way Kimber's lips pressed against each other.

"Kimber, do you mind if I kiss you?" She could feel blood heat her face. After all, she swallowed the words several times a day, they had to come out eventually… She started to sit up, but couldn't remember properly how to order her limbs, especially when a soft hand with perfect nails was laid on her arm.

"You don't need to ask, silly." Kimber took in her flustered state, and laughed. "I guess the Misfits aren't much for kissing, huh?"

"You have no idea," said Stormer flatly, thinking of Roxy and Pizzazz messing around backstage between sets, all teasing and wandering hands, of Jetta and Roxy squabbling over Pizzazz's attention like children over a toy and then making out as if it was another form of violence, as if they could swallow each other's tongues and silence the insults forever, of Clash forever adoring and eager… It was all so far from Kimber's bedroom that it seemed sacrilege to think of it, but somehow it was part of it, too, fitting together with the satin skin of Kimber's throat more closely than Stormer wanted to admit. None of it was anything she felt capable of telling Kimber, especially the parts involving Clash, although she was fiercely grateful she'd never done more than kiss and cuddle a little with the Misfits' pet hanger-on.

Maybe she could show her. But she already felt her courage failing in the face of Kimber's obliviousness.

"I do love you, Kimber," she said. It seemed important to say so before kissing her, somehow, even if the kiss was doomed to be chaste.

"Me, too." Kimber frowned a little, her brow puckering. "Stormer, just because Jerrica and the others are helping us doesn't change anything. You're my best friend. You're the one I want to be with now."

"Yeah. Friends forever," Stormer said, cursing herself for being inarticulate. Well, there were other things than words… She didn't close her eyes, wanting to take in everything first, imprinting it on her memories for when she was back in the Misfits.

Kimber's lips were soft and slightly sticky with lip gloss. Stormer kissed her lower lip, feeling it press slightly between her own, the lips adhering gently, so that they pulled on each other when she drew back to see if Kimber was shocked or angry that she hadn't chosen to press the kiss on her cheek. Too much, too close…

Kimber smiled at her. "See, that wasn't so bad, was it?" she teased gently. "Even a Misfit can kiss without turning into a frog. We'll make a good girl of you yet. You know, reading bedtime stories to orphans isn't so bad when you get used to it, either."

"Yeah, sure." Stormer flopped back on her pillow and wished she'd never encountered the Holograms, and more than that that she had the courage to turn again and kiss Kimber properly, kiss the breath out of her.

Throw everything she'd gained the last few months for the sake of making a pass at a clueless kid who spent her life babbling about her boyfriends. Sure.

Stormer made her way carefully downstairs, still feeling that she was picking her way through enemy territory. She'd feel better when she reached Craig's apartment and could be alone, she figured, could play over the feel of Kimber's mouth again and again and forget the context.

She hesitated when she caught Jerrica's voice in the kitchen, matched with Aja's deeper tones, setting up unwelcome resonances in her mind. What were those two goody-goodies doing up at two in the morning?

She knew perfectly well, of course. They were planning what to do about Kimber and Stormer.

Kimber had told Stormer one night, over a bucket of chocolate chip ice cream, that she thought Jerrica wished Aja was her real sister instead of Kimber. They're so close they seem like they can sense each other's thoughts, Kimber had said, her voice shaking, lower lip unfurled like the base of an orchid. I never know what Jerrica's thinking. Except that she doesn't think much of me. And she doesn't understand me at all… Not like you do, Stormer. She had put her head down on Stormer's shoulder, and Stormer had held her close, inhaling the scent of her hair and hurting all over that Kimber was so unappreciated when she was so vibrant, so sensitive, so lovely…

There was absolutely no shame in eavesdropping on people who had made Kimber feel inferior. And why was she having scruples, anyway? She was letting Kimber rub off on her, in entirely the wrong way. Stormer marched to the door and leaned against it, nearly clunking her head in her determined lack of guilt.

"You're handling it all very well." Aja seemed to be finding the situation mildly amusing, as of course it probably was, from the outside.

"I have no choice. I'm not about to let Eric Raymond get his hands back on Starlight Music just because Kimber made some unwise decisions."

"That's not what I meant."

"I know. It's not what I imagined for Kimber, certainly." There was a pause, Stormer imagining the cup of tea being raised, Jerrica's reflective expression. "It's not the… homosexual thing," she said, pausing just a heartbeat before the word, just long enough that Stormer knew she'd prepared herself to say it, with careful clarity, each syllable distinct and clear. Bravely not hesitating. The longing to kiss the darling childish line of Kimber's mouth under its heavy lipstick, press her lips to the fragile pale skin of her wrist, reduced in Jerrica's sweetly reasonable voice to five carefully tolerant sounds. "It's just – just - "

"The Misfits thing," Aja chorused with her, and the girls dissolved in laughter. Stormer wished she could move away, but couldn't. There was a sour taste in her mouth, and a trembling trickling down from her elbow, pooling in her shaking fingertips with their scarlet false nails.

She supposed she should march in there and assure them that Kimber's heterosexuality appeared to be in no danger whatsoever from her, and she'd probably go back to making dates with two boys per Saturday night as soon as the album was on the record shop shelves. Perhaps, for precision's sake, she should admit that yes, they were right in guessing that she happened to be attracted to Kimber, if it was up to her, of course, Kimber would never go near another boy again, and they would currently be doing anything even Roxy could think of on a good day.

Oh, hell.

"It could be much worse, honey. Stormer was never as bad as the others. She's kind of sweet, really." Aja's voice lacked any kind of conviction. "And she obviously adores the ground Kimber walks on. We can thank sweet merciful heavens that at least Kimber didn't bring Pizzazz home."

Jerrica gave a kind of gasping chuckle, as if she'd laughed before she'd quite swallowed a mouthful, but her voice was very earnest when she spoke again, no traces of laughter. "I have to think about what's best for Kimber. We made the mistake of not trusting her to make her own choices before, and we almost lost her. We can't afford to push Stormer away or let Kimber think we disapprove." A longer pause. "We'll promote Back to Back. And then I think I'll ask Stormer to join the Holograms." There was a painful pause, after which she added hastily, "Provided you all agree, of course."

Aja groaned, then laughed. "Keeping your enemies close, Jerrica? Two keyboardists are better than none, I suppose."

"Aja, that's not fair."

"Oh, I know. You're doing what's best for everyone as usual, I know. The Holograms will cope. After all, we cope with two drummers."

Stormer pushed her fingers through her curls. A Hologram. Oh, Pizzazz was gong to kill her… She tried to push away the horrible misapprehension Jerrica was under and focus on wondering how it was Jerrica's decision to make in the first place. If Eric foisted a new Misfit on them, they'd laugh in his face. Although they'd probably have to replace Stormer, come to think of it… Stormer tried to imagine Pizzazz's face when she heard Stormer had joined the Holograms. Probably rather like Jerrica's face as she'd pronounced the word "homosexual", she supposed. Stormer swallowed an hysterical sob of laughter.

"She's not such a bad influence after all, perhaps." Aja's voice was dry, but amused. "Kimber already seems less –"

"Whi – discontented?"

"Less inclined to simultaneously date every boy on the planet, I was going to say. No wonder none of them kept her happy, considering."

"Aja!" A protesting giggle, but Jerrica wasn't, Stormer supposes, ever less than serious for long, let alone when she'd made the momentous deduction that her sister was in a lesbian relationship with an ex-Misfit. . "I don't like trusting a Misfit, but when Stormer's part of the band, we'll have to tell her about Jem."

"Why? Because Kimber's in love with her? You still haven't told Rio, and he was never even in the Misfits."

"Don't start on me again, Aja…"

Stormer stepped sharply away from the door. If she heard who Jem was, she would probably tell Pizzazz eventually. She always did tell Pizzazz anything she wanted to know, in the end. And Jerrica had just offered to promote their album, and was making misguided plans to welcome Stormer into the family… It was too much. She couldn't be that ungrateful. Not to Kimber's sister…

She cried a little as she drove home in the lovely new Porsche Pizzazz had bought her and which she probably didn't have to return now, but not too much, considering.

At least she'd kissed Kimber once. Not much to hang a life on, but it was something, at least.