Author's Notes: Lauren has really bugged me in a lot of ways since the beginning of the series. She's manipulative, spoiled and a downright whiny, drama queen who can't stand to have anything not go her way. At first, I thought Steve was a major jerk, but as with the things Tony Starke can do, he's made me enjoy the character. Especially since the character has started to grow from who he first started out.
Spoilers: Episode 16: "Save the Last Dance" and speculations on a particular preview for Episode 17. When I first saw the preview, I wasn't paying full attention to the TV so I thought the guy getting slugged was Steve. Upon a closer look once I saw the preview again, I discovered that it was Marty getting slugged, most likely over Sasha finding out about the affair between Marty and Kaylie's mom. However, since I had already started the ficlet, I chose to leave it as Steve being hit for the purpose of the ficlet.
When Steve Tanner woke up this morning, he did not expect to be called to the Rock because of something his daughter was doing only to be slugged by Sasha Belov, glared at by so many of the parents and then to see a mixture of emotions rolling across Chloe Kmetko's face. But as it was, he was holding his jaw, turning confused green eyes to Sasha's angry blue ones.
"What the hell was that for?!" Steve demanded, straightening.
"I knew you could be a bastard, Tanner, but to go this far?" Sasha said. "You can go to jail for this!"
"Go to jail for what?!" Steve asked, clearly confused. He didn't like being confused, it left him feeling as if he had no control at all.
"Dating one of the gymnasts," Sasha bellowed.
"What?!" Steve and Chloe both demanded.
"What the hell are you talking about, Belov?" Steve asked, wiping blood from the corner of his mouth.
"Your daughter told me," Sasha said. Steve's eyebrow arched and he looked over at his daughter, who gave him such a smug look that it broke his heart. "She saw the dress you bought for your... girlfriend when she was wearing it at the prom that none of them should have even BEEN at!"
"Dress... wait... Emily?!" Steve asked, frowning. "I'm not dating Emily."
"Really?" Sasha asked, not sounding convinced. "So you are not dating Emily Kmetko? Why should I believe you?"
"Because he's dating ME," Chloe said, hurrying over to Steve and Sasha. "Steve is dating me and he offered to have his personal shopper pick up a dress for Emily so she could go to the prom with the other girls so Payson would go, if you must know."
Sasha blinked. He looked over to Lauren, noting that Emily was shocked before looking at Chloe and Steve. "You are... dating Emily's mother?"
"Yes," Steve said. "Not Emily."
"I'm... I'm sorry, Tanner... I..." Sasha said.
"You can take your sorry and shove it, Belov," Steve said, anger apparent in his voice. "I may not be the best person in the world, but the fact that you would even think I would date a teenage girl is beyond any apology you could offer." His eyes turned to the parents that now looked sheepish. "And for anyone to believe that of me... you can all go to hell."
"Steve..." Chloe said, touching his arm, worried.
He covered her hand with his, giving her a tight smile before focusing on his daughter. "You. Office. Now."
Lauren's face fell some. She had intended to break Steve and Chloe up so her father would focus on her, but she had never seen him so angry. "Daddy..."
The roar that came out of Steve's mouth made everyone jump. They had seen him angry, but never this angry, and never at Lauren. It rivaled a bellow that Sasha would let out to get them to work when they dawdled too long. Sasha seemed to take a cue and turned to look at the other gymnasts.
"Back to work!" he called to them. Lauren dragged her feet but when her father came toward her, she hurried faster and was finally running into the office to wait for him.
"I'll..." Sasha said. "I'll give you time. I really am..."
"Save it," Steve growled. He looked at Chloe, who tried to give him a reassuring smile. He reached a hand up and stroked her cheek gently before turning to take the steps into the office two at a time.
Lauren was waiting for him, her arms crossed over her chest. As soon as Steve entered and closed the door, she started to speak.
"Do NOT say a word," Steve said. "Not yet." He paced a bit, running his fingers through his hair. "Lauren, what in the hell were you thinking?!"
"Why were you keeping it a secret?" Lauren demanded instead of answering.
"Answer the question, Lauren," Steve said. "And I mean it."
"You have no right dating Chloe Kmetko! I don't want her as my stepmom or Emily as my stepsister!" Lauren said.
"Excuse me?" Steve asked, arching an eyebrow. "Who I date, is not your concern. At least not yet. And what is this about marriage?"
"Buying her special things," Lauren said. "Spending $600 on a dress that I asked for on another woman's daughter instead of me. Is that how that trailer trash managed to get a brand new car? You bought it for her?"
"Watch your mouth, Lauren," Steve said.
"Well she is," Lauren said, giving him a look.
Steve watched Lauren for a moment before giving a harsh laugh and shaking his head. "I was just about to ask how I managed to raise such a bratty little snob," he said. "But now I know that I am truly to blame for that."
Lauren's face fell a little. "Daddy?"
"Don't, Daddy, me," Steve said. "Yes, I offered for my personal shopper to help Chloe with a dress for Emily. You have dozens of dresses, just like I told you, and you didn't need yet another dress that you would wear once and then it would be stuffed in your closet. Chloe wanted to make the night just as special for Emily as it was already going to be for you and I assisted in making that happen."
"The night was ruined for me because I wanted that dress!" Lauren said.
"You HAVE dresses, Lauren!" Steven roared. "How many times do we have to go over that? If your night was ruined it was because of your own schemes and manipulations!"
"Daddy! She just wants you for your money!" Lauren said, stomping her foot. "And you are just throwing it at that tramp!"
"I have never hit you in your life, except for occasional swats on the backside when you were a toddler," Steve said. "But I have never felt the need to slap you for your mouth as I am now."
"I'll call social services," Lauren said, smugly.
"Go ahead," Steve said. "You already tried to get me arrested for claiming I was dating an underage gymnast."
"It never would've stuck," Lauren said.
"Never would--," Steve said. "Do you hear yourself, Lauren? You would willingly risk your father's freedom and everything you value so much, the money I have, because you don't want me dating someone?!"
"What do you mean?" Lauren asked.
"If I had been arrested, I would have been disbarred," Steve said. "I would have lost my job, spent thousands of dollars on my own legal fees. Not to mention, I would have that mark on my record for the rest of my life and it would affect the things that we could have done."
Lauren's face fell. "Daddy..."
"Do you ever think beyond your own selfish needs?" Steve asked.
"You aren't exactly non-selfish, Daddy," Lauren said defensively.
"I know," Steve said. "And I know that's a flaw that I am working on, especially since I started dating Chloe. But you... you don't even care that you do it." He shook his head. "And I only have myself to blame."
"Enough is enough, Lauren," Steve said. "I kept telling myself I was doing the right thing. That if I gave you everything you ever wanted that I could make up for the fact that your mother walked out. I told myself that your acting out was because she wasn't there."
"This isn't about any of that, Daddy," Lauren said, stomping her foot like a two year old. "I don't want you dating Chloe Kmetko. I don't want her as my stepmother."
Steve blinked and frowned. "Chloe and I aren't getting married, we're not even at that point yet," he said. "But if we ever did get to that point, you will need to deal with it." He shook his head. "Do you realize that I held on for a long time that your mother would clean up her act and return to us? Then it became about what you wanted, but that's over now."
Lauren frowned. "What...?"
"You would be lucky to have Chloe as a mother," Steve said. "Damned lucky, Lauren. And it bothers me that her daughter doesn't even see it either."
"You are making no sense," Lauren said.
"Aren't I?" Steve said. He walked over to the door and opened it. "Chloe?" he called to her from the bottom of the steps. "Could you come in here?"
"Are you sure?" Chloe asked.
Steve nodded. "Emily too," he said. Chloe frowned, glancing at Sasha who was standing nearby. He simply nodded and looked over to where Emily was stretching.
"Emily, office," he said. Emily looked up and frowned but followed Sasha's instructions, making her way into the Rock's office where Lauren stood with an annoyed expression. Steve closed the door once again.
"Now," Steve said. "As I was saying, Lauren you would be lucky to have Chloe as a mother."
Chloe blinked while Emily's jaw dropped. Lauren scoffed. "Please," she said.
"Hey," Emily said, frowning at Lauren's attitude. "My mom's a good mom!"
"You have days where you wish she wasn't your mom too," Lauren accused her.
"Enough, both of you," Steve said.
"You aren't my father," Emily said.
"Not yet," Lauren said. "If your mom had her way..."
"Excuse me?" Chloe asked, frowning. "Don't you think you are jumping the gun on some things, Lauren?"
"And if your father had his way," Steve cut in. "I told you, Lauren, that Chloe and I aren't there yet. Our relationship is still very new, but yes, I do like her, a great deal. And I want to see where this relationship goes."
"You can't be serious, Daddy!" Lauren said.
"Shut up, Lauren," Steve said. "Both of you listen and listen well." He looked at Emily. "You treat your mother as if she is an embarassment to you. So much so that everyone can see it, yet you don't bother to see the pain it puts her through. She shoves it aside, I see it when I see you say something cutting to her because she doesn't fit your picture of the ideal mom. You have no idea how ideal she is."
Chloe blushed, surprised at Steve's words. She frowned a bit when Lauren scoffed, but he only spoke up to stop her.
"And you," he said to his daughter. "I meant what I said when you would be lucky to have Chloe as a mother. Yes, Chloe has her faults. She may have more than many wish they had, but we all do. The one thing that I have yet to see Chloe fault on his how much she loves her children. From what little I know and have seen is that she's willing to do anything for her children, including uprooting them and moving them to another state to give her daughter a chance at her dream."
Emily ducked her head, embarassment coming off her. Steve didn't let up the tirade at his daughter, however. "If your mother had one iota of what Chloe had, she would still be here for you," he said.
"That's not fair!" Lauren said, blushing fiercely.
"That was her CHOICE, Lauren!" Steve snapped. "Don't you see that? You look at Chloe and you call her white trash. Why? Because they don't have the money we do? Because she was in more than one relationship that each left her with a child? What right do you have to label her that way? She stuck around! She didn't take the easy way out and fall into drugs or walk away from her kids. She struggled and she fought and she loved. If that's trailer trash, then maybe I need to quit my job and be more like her because maybe then my daughter will stop being such a spoiled snob!"
Lauren bit her lip, tears forming. "I am..." she started.
"Don't, Lauren," Steve said. He ran his fingers through his hair and took a calming breath. "I love you, sweetheart. I may be angry with you for what you did, but I do love you. Some things are going to start changing now, because somewhere I went horribly wrong in how I was raising you."
"Daddy..." Lauren said.
"First off, you're grounded," Steve said. "Till I say otherwise. No shopping, no cell phone, no TV, no laptop. You will come here for training, do your studies for homeschooling and I'll arrange for Consuela to create chores for you. It's time you learned a bit more responsibility other than the gym."
Lauren's jaw dropped. "Are you..."
"Very serious," Steve said. "And I want you to apologize to Chloe for insulting her. And mean it. Because unless Chloe wants to break things off, you need to get used to her being around."
Lauren was shaking, whether with anger, fear or sadness, it was hard to tell. She took a breath before looking at Chloe. "I'm sorry for what I said."
Chloe watched her a moment before giving her a slightly strained smile. "Apology accepted, Lauren."
"Go on back to training, girls," Steve said. Lauren hesitated a moment before giving her father a quick kiss on the cheek, then hurried out to the gym.
Emily hesitated longer, looking at her mother. Steve's words were still ringing in her mind. "Mom..." she started.
"Go, honey," Chloe said, hugging her. "We can talk at home." Emily nodded and left the office. She quietly closed the door behind her.
Chloe slowly turned to face Steve. She brushed at tears that had slipped from her eyes before looking at him. "Did you really mean the things you said?" she asked.
Steve moved over to her, reaching his hands up. One cupped her shoulder, while the other brushed a tear away. "I did," he said. "Chloe... I've learned a lot about myself since I started seeing you. I don't know where this journey is going to take us, but I'm not ready to stop yet. Are you?"
"No," Chloe admitted. "But I don't want you at odds with your daughter, either. Steve, I'm not seeing you for your money."
"I know you aren't," Steve said. "The things I've done... maybe I shouldn't have, but it's habit. And I enjoyed seeing the look on your face when I helped get Emily that dress."
"But you don't need to lavish me and my kids with gifts," Chloe said. "I've been in that situation before and it didn't work out. I just want to get to know you. I want to see what the future holds for us, not your finances."
"I want that too," Steve said. He moved to put his arms around her, hugging her to his chest. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "It's nice to be able to hold you like this and it doesn't matter who sees."
"It is nice," Chloe said. "But what about our girls?"
"It's just going to take time," Steve said, rubbing Chloe's back. "But like I told Lauren. She needs to get used to seeing you around. Enough is enough when it comes to how she acts. A change is needed and I think this is a good first step."
Chloe pulled back enough to lift her head. She offered him a brilliant smile. "So do I." Steve merely grinned before he hugged her again, his day starting to look up finally.