DISCLAIMER: If I owned any of this I would be richer than Midas. I'm bankrupted and it isn't even the end of the first bank day of the month. You do the math.

I am not going to say thank you to anyone specific today. I am going to thank you all. Every last one of you who has read and liked this, and every last one of you who has let me know just how much this story means to you and why. This story is for you, this update is for you, and even though this is the end of Who Knew, I am going to make you all an offer.

I am not quite ready to part with Who Knew so I am giving you all a chance to send me a request for a post-Who Knew WK-verse fic – a oneshot wherein the couple of your choice (it has to be one featured in the fic) in the setting of your choice can live out the future of the WK-verse in glorious verbiose screen-time. In case that wsn't clear; send me a request asking me to write a oneshot using the WK couple of your choosing in the setting of your choosing, a rough idea of what you want to go down, and a genre – example could be Rogue and Remy, beach, summer following WK-happenings, official wedding, romance. I will not write any break-ups of the WK-couples to facilitate any wishes for them to go forth and find others to get it on with. I will not indulge in character death. I will not write anything wherein any characters change the way they are completely to facilitate some other notion of who they should be. All characters and couples will be as they are in WK. You are simply getting to request future adventures in one-shot form.

I will only be taking about two or three of these, and I will be picking them randomly from the requests I get – all other requests will be stored and I will contact the askers to discuss possible one-shots especially for them if they feel very strongly about their ideas and really want me to write them out. I am, as always, open to all of your input. Lurkers who do not reply to this update with a review will not be eligible for requests – I have to protect both my free time and my faithful reviewers because with a story that has gone on as long as WK and has evolved the way it has, the verse deserves to be treated right by those who have been following it closest since it's very first steps (or even those who came in in the middle, fell in love, and have been with us ever since). I am not trying to make anyone feel bad or piss anyone off here, this is purely to ensure that I do not receive gratuitous requests and to protect the WK-verse, because it is my baby, and I am a fierce momma, damn it XD

Lastly, to everyone who is as in love with this world as I admit to being, I hope that love stays as true as that of the couples we have seen grow and flourish here, and I hope that even though this is the end of WK, you will remember it fondly, perhaps come back to it every once in a while and have a giggle, and that you will consider your requests, if you have one or want to send one in, well.

I have enjoyed this just as much as all of you, and I am sad to let this go, but this is the end, and bar the requests, WK will stand alone from here on in. I send my love and my giant foam-hand salutes to you all, and hope that you will holla back and let me know if you cried or not, and if you did, whether or not it was because you'll miss it as much as me.



Who Knew?

Part 12

Laura was apparenly busy texting everyone under the sun the happy news that Rogue and Remy were now a couple – texting being a habit of youth that she had quickly picked up on as a great way to share important (and less important) news with everyone as quickly as possible – and so Logan was free to pilot the jet without any disturbances from that particular front if he ignored the frenzied clicking noises coming from Laura's phone. He adjusted his rear view mirror impatiently to avoid having to watch his Stripes gaze into the Cajun's eyes all gooey-like – the mirror being an idea of his to keep an eye on the kids while flying to and from places without having to break his neck to yell at them all the time – and instead he focused on the days' achievements so far.

He had honestly never hoped to see the day where his Rogue would find some boy to get all soppy over. Sure, he had lied to Ororo a billion times about hoping that she'd find someone someday but now that the time had come he realised that letting Rogue go emotionally to allow her that freedom was far more painful than all the stress he put himself through trying to convince Laura to stay far, far away from the blondes of this world. It hurt to have to let his little girl venture out with her heart on her sleeve and with no father to keep it safe for her despite her wishes, because deep down he didn't mind admitting to himself that he was only protecting them from the realities of life because he didn't want them to have to go through anything he'd already tried and found to be painful and unfair. As long as he never had to admit that to Ororo, all would be well.

"Daddy? Dad, there's a call coming in for you," Laura said loudly, interrupting his thoughts of quietly disposing of the Cajun somewhere over New York and claiming he just accidentally brushed the ejector switch.

"Call? Fine, fine, sure," he grumbled, pressing down the communications button and adjusting the mic.

"You're on the air, Chuck. Let's hear it." There was a burst of white noise and then an apologetic voice said,

"Oh, it's not Charles, Logan, it's Hank, I – " another crackle,

"Oh my word, this is really not my forte," Hank mumbled on the other end, and Laura giggled.

"Is that Laura? How did things go? Was the operation successful?" Hank asked eagerly, and Laura leant in and said clearly,

"Everything's fine, Hank, it worked, we're all coming home!"

"Oh my stars and garters where will we put them all? We just haven't the room to – Logan? Logan, there's something you should know before you come home, so you can prepare yourself – I promised Charles I'd let you know, he's downstairs doing the preliminary introductions – " yet another burst of white noise assaulted Logan's earways and he frowned at the dashboard as though it were doing him a personal wrong.

"Doing the what? Hank what the hell are you – " the light on the communications board switched off and Logan adjusted some knobs forcefully.

"God damn it! What was he goin' on about? Laura, call up Half-Pint on that thing and tell her to put Hank on, will ya?" he snapped, and Laura's fingers flew over her phone's keys.

"There's no reception. Must be a glitch somewhere. It's okay, we'll find out when we get home, it's probably not that important," she said with a shrug, her pleasure over Rogue's life finally going the right way seemingly overpowering her desire to know more about the state of the rest of the world. Logan rolled his eyes and gripped his controls harder.

"Damn it all to hell, why'd I have ta go an' have girls, nothin' but aggravation an' sleepless nights – an' would'ya look at that damn windshield now didn' I tell Iceman ta get that cleaned off before we left last night, I swear I oughtta – " Laura settled into her seat in a catlike position and looked at the clouds, tuning out her father's angry mutterings.

Kitty Pryde was not a patient woman. She was highly strung and prone to fits of intense emotion. Lance Alvers, her soon-to-be husband, could attest to this fact. So the petite brunette's bouncing all over the kitchen in various stages of righteous indignation and Disney-ending adoration was small potatoes for the fearless leader of the Brotherhood. It was when she started crying for the fourth time that he decided to stick his nose in where it really ought to belong after four years of dating and an engagement.

"Kitten, don't you think you're overrreacting?" he asked diplomatically, proving once and for all that four years of dating and an engagement mean little in the grand scheme of things if the unfortunate fiancée sticks his foot in his mouth the moment he opens it. Kitty Pryde, though not unaccustomed to these behavioural faux pas', was having none of this.

"Overreacting?!" she wailed, poking his substantial chestal region with a pointy, business-minded finger. He winced appropriately.

"You think I'm overreacting when my best friend goes South and totally finds true love while her sister's player boyfriend moves into our home, all on the same day? How is that overreacting?!" Rubbing the sore spot on his ribcage that had borne the brunt of the angry digit's wrath, he backtracked.

"I'm not saying that Kitten, not at all, I'm just saying maybe this isn't a time for tears after all – I mean, you've been waiting for this day for years, you've even had your Rogue-calendar to follow her lovelife – "

"It's what a best friend does!" she defended herself, and he took the free win, nodding eagerly.

" – my point exactly, right, you've been looking out for her all this time, waiting for this day to come and it's finally here! Doesn't that merit a celebration?" he waited for two seconds with bated breath and a hopelessly brave smile of encouragement on his face while Kitty weighed this new argument.

"Oh, Lance, you're like, so right, I just can't help feeling bad about Laura now – I mean, now we're going to have to support her through this difficult time, and – oh, that totally reminds me I need to update my calendar, thanks honey – but like, we're going to have to totally be there for her now and what if Rogue and Remy don't get the attention they deserve because of Laura's problems? That would like, be a total disaster! I just don't see how we're going to have like, time for everything!" she cried, sniffling so adorably that he could almost ignore the fact that his fiancée was a howling banshee with manic depressive notions of coupledom needing to fit a schedule like prime-time TV-shows. He took the manly high road and folded her into capably muscly arms.

"Its okay Kitten, we'll get through this together. I'm sure Rogue and Remy will understand, they're both reasonable people and I know we can work something out, don't you worry," he said soothingly, rewarded by the huge, watery blue eyes she turned on him in a smile as she hugged him back, her little arms barely able to reach around his toned bulk.

"You like, always know just what to say... I'm so glad I have you..." she sniffed, blinking at him, and he cuddled her and sighed with relief.

"I'm the luckiest man in the world," he affirmed, knowing that that was what she wanted to hear, and praying to any God willing to listen and cut him some karmic slack that everything would work out the way Kitty wanted it to. And if not he just hoped the same God would have mercy on them all.

Being brought up a normal happy child and then kicked out and forced to fend for oneself would leave a rift in anyone's sense of how much togetherness is enough, but being then used and abused by two seperate secret organisations as the equivalent of a semi-human meat grinder-cum-tracking device for whatever person happened to rub said organisations the wrong way definitely made for anti-social, non-togetherness-y lack of communal spirit – whatever the hell that was supposed to be.

In short, there was nothing – and he felt he was qualified to make such a vastly megalomaniacal statement – nothing on the face of the earth or any other inhabited planet anywhere that was as bad as the first day in an educational institution. That said institution doubled as home and playground for a substantial group of youths and a small handful of children and adults made it a thousand times worse. The list of things annoying under Xavier's roof was endless and just kept getting longer. Example:

Katherine Pryde's facial expression when told that yes, he was staying, and no, Logan would not be getting a say in the matter;

Katherine Pryde's following noise of disapproval and malcontent – so extremely highpitched he thought he felt his eardrum give a little – and her subsequent grabbing of Lance Alvers and storming into the kitchen – which was actually a relief but remains list-worthy because she only left because she was told he wouldn't be leaving;

Amara&Bobby's – not seperate entities as they seemed to actually be one and the same person and should be treated as such in case of potential future murder charges – jointly terrified swoon when told that yes, he'd be staying, and no, they couldn't just keep him outside and feed him occasionally the way Laura had – they seemed to think – been doing up until this point in time;

Amara&Bobby's apparent lack of understanding that his hearing was twice as acute as your average household cat's and that he had indeed heard every word of their previous queries despite them having been whispering to the Professor about half a room away;

Amara&Bobby's halfarsed attempt at mumbling a greeting when elbowed sharply in their joint backs by Ororo Munroe;

Torpid's extremely humiliating greeting and celebration of his decision to stay which consisted of her grabbing hold of his leg – the only part of him she could easily reach without requiring something to stand on – and refusing to let go until Ororo Munroe gently pulled her off and told her 'We don't hug people like that sweetie, it's rude when you don't know them very well' – the only rule he'd heard so far that he agreed with;

Ray Crisp, Roberto Da Costa, Alex Masters-Summers and Samuel Guthrie's inane and aggravating questions regarding his past ( 'Dude, were you like, born that way?'), his involvement with Laura ( 'C'mon, you can totally tell us – you're hittin' it, right?'), and whether or not he had actually ever eaten anyone ( 'Because we heard this rumour...');

The sheer fact that no one bothered to come and save him from said stupid questions, forcing him to tell them three or four very nasty things – all true – which prompted the involvement of the incredibly obnoxious Scott Summers who managed to say very loudly that it wasn't permitted within mansion limits to use words or innuendo that might either be rude or imply a threat to someone's life, and that under no circumstances was it permitted to mention grisly murders in front of minors;

Scott Summers – even before he opened his mouth and started writing his name on the list for ever to stay, the guy was a tool with stupid glasses and a weird haircut;

Jean Grey, who apparently took offence when he calmly told Scott Summers that sweater-wearing boy scouts with pink-eye didn't really figure on his list of people-to-listen-to but did always somehow end up on his people-to-maim-horribly-the-next-time-I-snap-and-come-back-sans-morals list, and called him a few choice if outdated things all of which had to do with either alleged crimes against Laura or alleged moral defects – not all of which he was guilty of;

Jamie Madrox, who actually told him to keep his hands off Torpid – as if he would really honestly harm the child?!;

And finally, the icing on the cake, the adult's warning that he was to be left alone and not prompted to join in on anything or take part in anything unless he made it clear that he wanted to – as if the final nail in his anti-socially branded freak-coffin just needed that extra little tweaking before they lowered it into the grave.

If they only knew how close he likely was to said grave, they might have felt bad about all of that, because from what Kitty Pryde had said about the results of the morning's mission and their departure time from down South, Laura would be home with Daddy and sissy-poo any minute now and she was just as likely to decapitate him and call it a day as she was to accept his decision to encroach on her family territory. Either her or her father would likely resort to violence, which was not usually a problem for him and wouldn't have been if he for once hadn't actually wanted to solve things without things ending bloodily. Xavier had been most insistent on that count. No bloodshed within mansion limits and nothing that might trace back to the Institute. One of the few rules he intended to actually work on obeying, not that anyone was likely to believe it of him.

He had finally managed to escape to the roof where he was chainsmoking and keeping one ear out for any approaching aircraft, and he wasn't lying if he admitted that he didn't intend to come down and attempt to be even the slightest bit social until Laura got back and gave her verdict on the whole him-staying deal. Xavier – for all his understanding and patience – really hadn't grasped the reality of Laura's ultimate right of veto. Childhood trauma he certainly seemed to get, as well as murderous rages, uncontrollable, untreatable bloodlust and a disregard for anyone's opinion but one's own after years of slavery to the will of others, but the fact that Laura was judge, jury and executioner at the Institute and over him while he was anywhere near her, he just did not seem to understand. He could see why it would be hard to tell, given the fact that he obviously didn't know these people, didn't want to, and they didn't know his and Laura's dynamic, but even he had to accede that Laura owned his arse when she was within a ten-mile radius of it and he was helpless to change that fact. Hell, he didn't even want to think about what the ramifications would be if he attempted to rebel against that nasty truth.

The fact was that there was little point in him getting too comfy where he was if she wasn't open to the idea of him being there, and for Xavier to insist anything to the contrary to be true was just pure naivete.

The growing pile of cigarettes in front of his perch on the spine of the roof should have been enough to let anyone know he was not up for any more socialising just now – as should the fact that he had climbed up to the goddamn roof to escape them all – but clearly Kurt Wagner either didn't notice or didn't care. The annoying noise – and smell – of his teleporting cut through Kyle's senses like an air raid alarm in a kindergarten during naptime and he felt himself tense up even though he didn't move at all. Kurt Wagner, Xavier's former first-class bouncer, had not been present during the annoyances of earlier's social circus. Kyle half hoped he'd come to try and pitch him off the roof so that he could get rid of some of the aggression he'd been keeping a lid on downstairs, but sadly the furry blue demon just sat perched on the cast iron weathervane opposite him and looking at him oddly.

Damn it but he hated being stared at.

"Show's over blue boy," he snarled, flicking a spent butt in Kurt's general direction.

"You lot don't get any more freebies. From now on I'm making people pay to gawp." The otherwise mild blue-furred face twisted into a frown. He felt an opportunistic pang of remorse worm it's way through the barrier of bitter hatred but he didn't merit it and it fizzled out as quickly as it had made itself known.

"Calm down, man, I didn't know you were up here. Ze Professor told me you'd moved in when I got back an hour ago. I thought maybe you'd left or something – you weren't in your room when I went to welcome you," Kurt said, sounding rather offended. Kyle stared past him pointedly.

"Like I have somewhere else to be? I just came up here for a smoke. Anyway, it's not official yet," he said offhandedly, trying to ignore Kurt's sympathetic look.

He hated sympathy just as much as being stared at.

"Oh, I don't know, Jean's tantrum looked pretty official," Kurt said with a laugh, but the glare Kyle shot him cut him short.

"Too soon, huh? Okay," the German acrobat said quietly, then continued in a cheerier tone,

"So what are you doing up here? Let me guess – they were asking too many qvestions? They do zat, you just have to grin and distract zem!" Kyle shrugged.

"Something like that. Bet you get your fair share," he said gruffly, forced to admit that at the very least he didn't have a tail – or blue fur. He had to respect the fact that the guy had probably had to live with that shit for at least as long as he'd had to live with his own mutation. If suddenly sprouting fangs and claws was a bitch to deal with, it was hard to imagine how much worse it must be to suddenly have blue fuzz all over you and a nifty tail. Kurt grinned, dazzlingly white fangs flashing. Kyle bit back a growl at the negative associations of the gesture and kept his face sulky and mostly impassive.

"Sure, all the time – but you know no one can resist the Fuzzy Man!" he said, doing a one-handed handstand with only the aid of the weathervane's one iron arm and his mutant propensity for awesome moves. For some reason, Kyle's pent-up anger flared at this statement.

"You don't really believe that," he said harshly, causing Kurt to flop onto the roof with a shocked look on the jovial blue face, pushing his hair out of the way with his tail and righting himself.

"What are you talking about?" he demanded, brushing off his shirt and crossing his arms defensively.

"If you were really all that pleased about being the Cookie Monster's German cousin you wouldn't cover it up out there," he accused, jerking his head at the rest of the world. Kurt's face was almost comically confused.

"But – I have to – I don't want anyone seeing me like this, I got enough of zat as a kid when I didn't have my inducer!" he cried, clearly hurt, and Kyle acknowledged the odd thrill that always came with making someone else feel bad – it almost made up for the fact that he couldn't leave, go somewhere and drink, or hurt anyone physically. And then he heard what Kurt had said, and the glowy feeling of someone else feeling worse than him subsided considerably.

The only thing worse than sympathy was not being allowed to enjoy the little highs life threw you occasionally.

"As a kid? I see how that might suck," he admitted, and Kurt shrugged.

"I don't know – vhen you don't know anything else it's easy to get used to. My foster parents made sure I vas never around people who might not understand... I had a good childhood," he said with a nostalgic look in his eye. Kyle didn't even notice his hand curling into a fist, but he did feel his claws piercing his skin, an unconcious reminder that he couldn't just lose it. But it wasn't fair. It just. Wasn't. Fair.

The worst thing in the whole world was to have your own lows thrown back at you by someone who'd gone through something similar and come out of it better off than you.

"You mean you've looked like that your whole life?" he asked sharply, and Kurt nodded slowly, looking at the blood dripping from Kyle's hand, as though not quite understanding when things had taken such a wrong turn and wishing he could turn it around again. After all, when you share happy childhood memories, others are supposed to share theirs, right?

"Ja... As far as I know... My muzzer dropped me in a river by accident when I vas a baby and my foster parents found me and raised me..." he said hesitantly, looking half as though he expected to be mocked for the unlikely story. He certainly didn't appear to be expecting what actually happened next.

"You – they – and you were definitely blue with the tail and the - ?" Kyle asked, as though he didn't believe a word of it, and Kurt nodded.

"Ja... I vas like zis as a child. My muzzer is blue too, in her real shape," Kurt said with authority, choosing to ignore the detail that he didn't really know much else about his mother, and Kyle got up, walked away a few steps and then said quietly,

"Right... That's... Okay. Good for you..." He heard Kurt approach him even though the oddly shaped feet were extremely stealthy, and he willed him not to try and touch him as he bit down hard and closed his eyes in an attempt to quell the insane desire to just kill the furry mutant who'd managed to find bloody fucking foster parents to love him even though he'd been born looking like some sort of hellishly cute puppy with a devil-tail and yellow eyes.

That Kurt's mother's losing him had been an accident he could accept – the woman was blue, a child like that wouldn't be such a big deal for her – but if the world was any kind of fair the baby would either have drowned, been lynched by some mob or other, or been locked up in a freak show immediately after being found. The fact that Kurt had not only survived being dropped into a fucking river but then somehow by the grace of whatever Gods had custody of Germany had driften into the waiting arms of the world's apparently two most open-minded people who actually wanted him and raised him as their own made Kyle feel violently angry. But more alarmingly, it was upsetting.

Anger he could control – just about, anyway – but actual emotional pain on any level was a one-way street to the one thing he wanted to avoid while here – at least until he knew whether or not he could conceivably stay for any length of time. He couldn't really afford a breakdown at this point. That could wait until after she'd decided he wasn't fit to co-exist with anyone she actually gave a shit about. After all, he imagined that the way things had been going so far, that would likely be the kicker. And he knew it would hurt in the only way he hadn't been conditioned to deal with, and he knew that when it did, he shouldn't be anywhere near anyone who wasn't fully capable of saving their own ass.

Being made to feel anything deeper than hatred or rage was the reason for his 'lapses'. It sent him over the edge, and the sheer lack of control he had when that happened meant that when it did it wasn't something he could prevent or stop, just as feeling those things wasn't something he could process on a normal level, or even try to. He had explained his lapses to Xavier as interludes where whatever made him look like an animal took over and let him become one, in the truest sense of the word. It had made him an unreliable soldier, a fascinating test subject, and these days it just made him unable to live with others, let alone himself. Xavier had suggested a form of acutely specialised schizophrenic dissociation, something he had developed as a child to protect himself from everything he had had to live through – the feral side of him shielding the human side from the harsher experiences to allow him to survive. But it wasn't like that at all.

He became aware of the fact that Kurt was asking him if he was okay, mumbled a distant,

"I'm fine. It's just been a long day. Think I need to clear my head a little," and heard Kurt's assurance that he'd tell the others not to go looking for him and then the ~bamf~ that signified his leaving. He wasn't sure if it was gratitude or disappointment that flooded through him now that he was without a victim, but whatever it was choked him as surely as the collars they'd put on him while in transit back in the old days, and he felt suddenly completely overwhelmed. He didn't even realise he was on his knees until he opened his eyes again and saw it, and even then he wasn't really seeing it. The wounds of his past seemed to be bleeding right before him, past lapses both in judgement and in sanity crashing into his mind as he tried to wrench his thoughts away from how unfair it all was, how wrong it all was –

And instead of focusing on the anger or the feeling of his physical wounds to bring him back he found himself focusing on the most unlikely of things. The desperate hope that she'd be home soon, no matter what her decision. And the sudden realisation that he needed her to overcome the pull of his other self, his deeper self, came as such an intense shock that everything else just... stopped...

The initial joy she had felt for Rogue had dissipated most alarmingly over the past half hour since Logan had announced that they were maybe fortyfive minutes away from home, and now that it was almost entirely gone it left in it's place a dead, cold fear of returning to it all where bfore she had been elated at the thought of finally getting to share that joy with all the others in Rogue's life who had wanted this for her. It was almost as though something at home was amiss and her deeper instincts were trying to force her away from it, let her know in advance. Hank's call had seemed so innocent at the time, but what if there was something beneath the usual flustered exterior in his voice that she hadn't picked up on, her happiness clouding her judgement of the situation?

Nothing at home could possibly have gone wrong – someone would have let them know no matter what communicative dead zone they were flying through. It was standard procedure to find other ways of getting in touch if the primary channels were somehow closed or unavailable. They had been in the air for quite some time after exiting the signalless area. A text would have come through, something, anything – they would have called back. Wouldn't they?

She curled herself into a ball in her seat and buried her face in her arms, concentrating on the stillness the way Charles had taught her to. Unbidden, a voice in her mind told her it was easier to let go and be taken along for the ride than try and fight it, and she shivered and cast about for something else to think about. Rogue and Remy were happy, everything was going to be okay, she'd go back home, find Kyle, and –

What if he'd gone?

She didn't like to admit it even to herself, but some of the things Rogue had said in her time about the blond feral were very, very true. Unfortunately, they were also completely defendable, and she would defend them, if he hadn't made her promise not to ever defend him to her family or friends. And, also unfortunately, she half understood why he didn't want them to know the reasons behind his shortcomings. He hadn't even told her for a good long while. And then he'd disappeared for the first time in their brief time together. She had been utterly terrified that he'd been taken back by his former masters to endure another lifetime of torture in the name of science – and when he had finally come back, unwilling to tell her where he had been or if he was even alright, she had raged and threatened and acted much like Kitty or Wanda did when they had been worried seemingly over nothing and wanted an explanation. When he had caved and given it to her, she had been rather more stunned than shocked. It wasn't every day a wayward lover pleaded temporary insanity as a reason for having been AWOL, even she knew that.

She knew all about bloodlust and berserker rages, of course. HYDRA's conditioning had given her more than a few... hang-ups, in regard to other people and certain situations, but with the help of her family she was slowly coming to terms with that, and even she could always recall what she had done when the red haze cleared. So when Kyle had told her that his major defect as a mutant was temporary regression to an animalistic mindset that he couldn't control or break out of himself whenever he was put under certain strains, she hadn't really known how to deal with it. She had asked questions, trying to understand the details of it, and when he had told her that as far as he knew he had gotten it as a side effect from his original mutations and that it had not even been a by-product of genetic experimentation or mental blocks but just a cruel joke played on him by nature, it stopped bothering her completely.

To her mind, his lapses were nothing more or less upsetting than John's little voices and the depression they sometimes brought with them. The way she saw it, it didn't make Kyle any less of a person or any different than who she had seen him as to begin with, but she did understand that others wouldn't choose to take such a liberal view of it. After all, the mansion had it's fair share of those who would condemn John for his mental issues even though he never let them get in the way of anyone else's having a happy day, and to her that was just unfair. But while she didn't see Kyle any differently for knowing why he left her, the fact that he had to still hurt, as though a treacherous, jealous part of her demanded that he fight it and stay for her sake, even though she knew rationally that if he could, he would have learnt to a long time ago.

When she had asked Rogue whether it was okay to have someone leave you all the time without knowing where they were, she hadn't mentioned the 'what if it's because of something they just can't help?' and so her sister's words on that point hadn't really helped her. She had once asked Wanda how she lived with John's withdrawals from life when he was entering a bad period, and the Scarlet Witch had only been able to tell her that it was always forgivable if you knew that their leaving hurt them as much as it did you, but Laura had never asked Kyle whether it upset him to have to leave, or if it was just the reason he had to that caused his pain – because he did feel pain, whatever anyone else might believe. She had seen it. Sure, he played it down as though it meant nothing to him, but she was perceptive enough to tell when he was hurting more than he'd let on, and she knew that his explaining to her why he wasn't always around hurt him far more than all the times she'd skewered his vital organs for shits and giggles.

And so she couldn't help but always wonder, knowing how much he despised the side of him that took control, whether or not he would even come back again. He usually couldn't even tell her, and he certainly wasn't ever in a position to let her know he wasn't going to be there, so every time she had ever gone to see him and waited hours for nothing, she had felt a little colder inside wondering if he was alright wherever he was, and whether he wished he could have been there for her because he wanted to be there for her rather than because anything was better than being mindless and out of control for Gods knew how long until you woke up with no clue what you'd done...

The night of Rogue's breakdown, when she had gone outside to see him – mostly because she just wanted to see him, the fight had been unplanned – and Scott had broken up their little sortie, she thought he had been about to tell her, but she had been too angry, and too worried about Rogue to listen. Instead, she had threatened him with dire consequences if he didn't leave and stay gone until everything had worked itself out again. And now she was afraid that he would be gone for once because he wanted to be gone, and not because he had no choice.

She should have listened, she knew that. If he just up and left, she'd have to go track him down and bring him back, and that wasn't how it was supposed to be. She wanted him to be there when she got home, wanted him to be there so that she could run and tell him, because suddenly it felt like her wonderfully successful mission wasn't so wonderful if she didn't tell him how well it all went. He wouldn't even have to pretend to care much, she just wanted to tell him... No. If he wasn't there when she got home, she'd just have to assume he'd left temporarily and that he'd be back, and that just meant she'd have time to prepare herself mentally for everything. If he didn't come back, she'd just find him and they'd work it out, whatever it was. Because if he had been trying to tell her that he always came back for her and not just because he had nothing better to do, then they could deal with everything else that might happen. She just needed to hear it.

She heard Logan tell her that they were going down and that they'd be home safe in a few minutes, but it was distant, her focus elsewhere entirely. If Rogue could get her man, then Laura damn sure could make Kyle Gibney admit that he stuck around for her sake, and if not... well, if not, there was always decapitation available as a last resort.

Torpid had been avoiding Jamie ever since Storm had taken her aside to let her know that Laura's Kyle would be staying with them indefinitely. She avoided Jamie at times for varying reasons. Sometimes he would be asking too long and too hard for her to remove her gloves and touch him to see if she would 'freeze' him – she avoided him then because it pained her to have to 'freeze' anyone she cared for, friends or family, and in his case he did not seem to fit into either category, and did not understand that her biggest fear was always that her 'frozen' victims wouldn't wake again. Sometimes he would be unable to understand that she wished to be alone for a while, and she would seek out Ilyana or one of the others and ask them to help her find the peace she was looking for. Sometimes, she would avoid him because he upset her, but that rarely ocurred. And sometimes she avoided him simply because she wanted the company of others and felt at times that it was impossible to really talk to anyone else when he was always there. But today – or at least right now – she was avoiding Jamie because Jamie had said something hurtful to their newest addition earlier, and she did not wish to hear the multiplier's excuses for this. So instead, she was looking for Kyle.

He had been given a room, but it was empty – very empty – and so she assumed he had gone somewhere else to be free of questions – something she could well understand. The window was open, however, and she shivered in the cold despite her heavy, oversized hoodie – actually one stolen from Laura's floor in an attempt to feel closer to her saddened friend while she wasn't there. Torpid was closer to Laura than most other people would consider plausible considering the fact that Torpid was mostly a part of the group of children the mansion housed – Ilyana, Dorian, partly Jamie as well – but she had bonded with Laura immediately after joining with the X-Men at Spyke's prompting simply because Laura was proficient in both the types of sign language Torpid knew and used to communicate. Laura had been her translator during her first few weeks where everyone else in the mansion had received a crash course in basic sign in order to make her an integrated part of the extended family that was the X-Men. Laura had also been the one who swayed Logan and Storm in their debating with the Professor regarding her schooling, understanding Torpid's fear of gatherings of people she did not know well after so long in the confined community of the Morlocks. Torpid was homeschooled as a direct result of Laura's intervention, and thankful for it. It was also Laura who had been sent with Berzerker to fetch her from Callisto and Evan – a sad parting for the little girl, but a happy meeting with the first person she had yet met who understood everything she 'spoke'.

She missed Laura, and she wished that the older girl would have been more open with her in regards to Kyle in the beginning, where Torpid had initially attempted to ask her about the rumours of her strange new friend and been told that he was 'not conversation material', something she had not at first understood. The rumours of how Kyle had interrupted a reconnaisance mission to literally land on top of a sniper behind a building with his sights trained on Laura, thus sparing her the trouble of healing a shot to the head, had spread like wildfire, as had the rumours that he had told Cyclops to get the f*** out of his face when he was talking to the other pretty girl, something Torpid had tittered over.

She had been curious to meet Laura's Kyle, and a little jealous that her friend took to sneaking off during the day when she and Torpid were home alone together to meet him without taking Torpid along, but when she had asked Laura had simply said that she didn't want to get Torpid involved in anything bad, and so the little girl had begun to worry. Perhaps this Kyle was someone from Laura's past, come to upset her with memories from that awful time? Laura insisted that he wasn't when pressed, but Torpid couldn't help but be concerned all the same. And so when she finally did get to see Kyle it was late one night when she had been up to fetch a glass of milk in her pyjamas and had seen him vaulting off the banister, a flash of black and white, at the top of the balustrade to the hallway and run right past her, Logan in hot, snarling pursuit. An angry Laura had been racing after them, but had halted in the hallway to pick up Torpid and cuddle her like a teddy-bear, covertly crying into her froggy-jammies. Torpid hadn't minded the crying, the froggies were aquatic creatures, after all, but she had realised then that Laura had been hiding Kyle from everyone because her Daddy didn't like him, and after that, things only got worse.

Laura became belligerent and angry, openly admitting to having a relationship with Kyle, whom she sometimes brought home with her, prompting very loud scenes wherein Logan would accuse her of doing it on purpose to upset him when she knew the rules, she would accuse them all of robbing her of her freedom, and Kyle would stand around waiting to be evicted from the premises. When Torpid had finally met him properly, when Remy was hurt, she had been of the impression that Kyle had left given Laura's mood and his recent upsetting of the household, and since she had never really seen him up close before – Storm always removed the children when scenes were going down – she had been a little frightened to see him emerge from the trees at Laura's calling, ghostly silent even over the crunchy snow. She had been a little startled that he looked as normal as he did since she had heard that he was meant to be scary-looking – she had pictured someone green and lumpy – but he had very pretty blue eyes and angel-hair like the angels in Storm's living-room painting, and she hadn't been really afraid of him, although she was careful. He had done as Laura asked in carrying Remy, not something that was in keeping with what Torpid had heard about him, and she had been unable not to call him on being mean to Laura when alone with him, her upsettal over Remy making her bolder than she felt, and she had been surprised that he reacted to the accusation like any normal teenager would.

Afterwards, she had told Laura that her Kyle wasn't so scary, and Laura had just given her a hug and said, 'I know he isn't', something that puzzled Torpid as well. Laura had never said anything about Kyle, never defended him in her sorties with Logan or anyone else, merely asserting her right to her own choices. To Torpid's mind, she ought to have defended him and brought out examples of his good sides if she cared for him – as Torpid was almost certain that Kyle cared for her. He had looked worried when Remy had been injured – worried that she was as well. He had also reacted guiltily when she insisted he be nice to Laura, something she was sure would not have bothered him if he hadn't cared. She sort of wished she could find him to talk to him again, if he didn't mind.

It suddenly occurred to her that he could well be on the roof – an isolated place where he could easily hear them return if he so chose, and she left the room and walked towards the stairway that led to the hatch in the roof that the boys sometimes used when they needed to go up to clear the gutters and check the tiles. The stairs were narrow and dark, but she managed, and the hatch wasn't hard to open either. Casting about, she saw the glint of his hair in the gloomy light of the evening, and began picking her way towards him. He was kneeling, looking in a different direction, and she hoped that he could hear her approaching and would not be startled – with a little pinprick of sadness that she couldn't call out to let him know she was there, she stood a little way behind him and waited for him to acknowledge that she was there.

"You... you didn't say anything, and you're not very heavy," he said distantly after about a minute, then added,

"Little Madam, is it?" She found herself nodding even though he couldn't see her, and wondered why he didn't turn around when he knew that she couldn't speak to him without using her hands to show him the words.

"I'm sort of...a mess right now... No chance of you leaving is there?" She shook her head and stamped her foot in annoyance, and he sighed heavily.

"Great. I warned you though..." He stood up fluidly, scraping his hair back with one hand and wiping at something black streaking under his eyes with the back of the other. She took a step closer, and signed,

'You have dirt on your face,' before pointing to her own to indicate where it was and then adding,

'How did it get there?' He shook his head as though amused and then swiped at the black stuff again in vain.

"Never mind that. It'll come off. What are you doing up here? It's colder the higher up you get and you're wearing slippers," he observed, and she looked down at her bunny slippers, a little surprised that he would make a comment like that – almost as if he was worried that she might catch a cold or something, like Storm when she forgot her jacket.

'I feel okay. I went to see you but your room was empty and the window was open. I thought maybe you were up here. Laura comes up here when she wants to be alone,' she signed, adding a smile to show him she understood that he might feel a little overwhelmed.

"I know," he said quietly, and then sat down on the edge of the roof and looked at her.

"You're Laura's friend. She talks about you sometimes..."

'Nice things?' she asked, and he laughed.

"Everything I've heard, yes. Apparently that Jamie character thinks highly of you as well." Torpid made a face.

'He was rude to you earlier, I was told! He is not supposed to say things like that – he's stupid sometimes. Me and Laura had a picnic up here one day to hide from him because he likes to follow me,' she signed, feeling her cheeks heating up a little, and Kyle smiled at her, a little sadly.

"Bet that was fun. I wouldn't worry about him following you – if he gives you any trouble you let Laura know. She'll sort him out," he assured her, and she giggled silently, and then remembered a question she'd been wanting to ask for a while.

'Why do you understand me?' He looked away for a moment and then signed,

'I had an accident once and I couldn't get it fixed until it was too late so it didn't heal right. I was mute for about half a year.' She took another few steps towards him, looking for marks on his throat where he might have been hurt once, but then recalled that he healed like Laura, and that there wouldn't be any.

'You needed help to heal it? Laura doesn't,' she asked, brow furrowed, and he nodded.

"Sometimes. If we have an injury that just needs to close up, like a cut, then it doesn't need help, but big injuries sometimes need help. Laura had to fix her finger the other day to heal it, didn't she? That sort of thing," he said, and she noticed that he sounded jumpy and a little distant despite being perfectly civil to her, and she smiled privately.

'You miss her, don't you?' she asked, and he glared at her, crossing his arms.

"No! That's absurd. Why would I miss her? What do I look like, a girl?" Tentatively, she took the last two steps to stand in front of him, and put her hand on his arm before signing,

'It's okay to miss her. I miss her too.' He didn't so much flinch as pull away deliberately, and she accepted it placidly. Sometimes she didn't like being touched either, especially after using her powers. Maybe he was like her and didn't like being touched when he wasn't happy.

"I don't miss people. People aren't permanent," he mumbled apologetically, then looked at her as though seeing her properly for the first time.

"I don't think I know how to be either."

Torpid gave him a hug before she even realised how sad she felt for him.

The sense of looming disaster filled everyone in the mansion as Hank verified that Logan, Laura, and the Southern lovebirds had returned and were currently parking the jet. With Kyle having disappeared and Kurt arriving downstairs briefly – before going to shower and blowdry – to announce that the new arrival was not to be searched for and to give the poor guy some space, noone knew quite how to bring up the subject of his having moved in to Laura when she got there. Just as noone was quite certain how to breach the subject of Rogue and Remy's relationship with them. Nevertheless, the majority of the mansion's populace was gathered in the living room, a nervous buzz of conversation filling the room as they waited for the inevitable awkwardness that would soon ensue. In the elevator on the way up to the ground level, Rogue and Remy were still in each other's arms, Rogue contentedly leaning into her new lover, who was supporting her by sheer will alone, exhaustion threatening to overwhelm his shaky defenses at any moment. Logan, who was Rogue's designated bag-holder and had the duffelbag with her change of clothes in it slung over his shoulder – in case she and Remy had wanted to stay in Louisiana, packed at Laura's insistence – had yet to say anything to them about their overwhelmingly sweet presence despite his lingering annoyance. Laura was standing next to him, facing the doors, face blank. There was a silence that was opressive only to the two people not currently in love with another occupant of the elevator, and which lasted until the second the elevator came to a halt and the doors opened a crack.

The two ferals stiffened at the same time, both testing the air subtly, and if ever anyone had needed proof that Laura was Logan's daughter, the curling of her mouth up across her left incisor was undeniably Logan's genes making themselves known.

"Laura..." Logan growled, and his daughter looked at him warily, poised on the balls of her feet.

"I don't know," she replied honestly, and he nodded once, curtly.

"Find him. You two!" he yelled sharply, snapping Rogue and Remy back to reality as Laura took off at a run, and the Southern couple looked up as one.

"Daddy, Ah swear, Ah'm takin' him straigh' down ta Hank – there's been more than enough exitemen' fo' one nagh'. Fo' both of us," Rogue said sincerely, smiling at Remy, and Logan sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. Call him Daddy would she? Damn it, the girl knew too much. He never could resist that one.

"Go, get outta my sight. I got blonder fish ta fry. Go on – get! And you tell Hank he needs t' take a crash course in communications!" The last part was said to their retreating backs, and he adjusted Rogue's bag over his shoulder, set his frown fiercely in place and marched down the hall in the opposite direction.

Clearly, the place had been going to pot in his absence. You just couldn't trust these people to maintain order for half a day while he sorted out his personal business. Typical! Pausing in his rampage to throw Rogue's bag into her room, he then marched down to the living room, the source of all the hubbub he was hearing out of the corner of his ear, and when he threw open the doors sure enough, his suspicions were confirmed.

"Just what in the hell is going on down here?!" he demanded loudly, everyone – and it really was everyone – turning to look at him, all with the same apprehensive expressions on their faces. Except Ilyana, who ran at him and hugged him, proclaiming in somewhat broken, though perfectly overjoyed, English,

"We miss you so much, Logan! We adopt big kitty while you gone!"

The light officially went from Logan Howlett's life.

"Oh, hell no..."

Laura had known the minute she had picked up the scent. She didn't know how she'd known, but she knew. Right down to the tips of her fingers she knew. They tingled with that odd tingling that meant something was about to happen, and she tore down the hall recklessly, her heart racing even though she was barely exerting herself. He was there, she knew he was. He'd been waiting for her. There was no other explanation for his being there, he really had nothing else to tie him to the Institute so he had to have been waiting for her. Stopping for a moment she looked into an empty room to her left, the window wide open and the source of the icy air whispering over her face. That wasn't right. She entered cautiously, knowing the room was unoccupied but wondering if perhaps it might be a prank in the making by Havok or Ray – luring in an unsuspecting adult with the cunning use of wasted heating bills would be very like them. Sensing nothing suspicious, she closed the window and turned around to resume her search, but a flicker of movement to her right alerted her and she spun around to face –

A tired-looking girl in an oversized hoodie and muddied boots, hair tousled and straggling over one shoulder as though blown there. Her own reflection. She took a step towards the mirror, pushing her hand through her hair in an attempt to right it, and she pulled out a leaf. She had a smudge of lipstick on one cheek and her eyeliner had run a little. She wiped at it but it left a mark anyway, and she felt suddenly very awkward and a little stupid. She didn't normally think about these things – makeup to her was expression and camouflage for women, a tool to get what you wanted faster, and clothing was something you wore that felt good most of the time rather than conformed. Kitty would rant for hours over what to wear for Lance even if everyone knew she'd pick the new cardigan and the cute pink skirt, but Laura had never really bothered to consider dressing up for anyone. It seemed so silly to agonise over what you wore, or worse, dress uncomfortably for a few hours to make an impression on someone else. But... Perhaps it was nerves, or a stirring of some deep feminine instinct, but she felt like she ought to look nicer than she did for this.

Tugging at her hoodie and finger-combing her hair, she suddenly stopped moving completely. Torpid was standing in the door looking at her in confusion. Ashamed to have let the child see her behaving so ridiculously, she turned to face her with a smile, knelt, and opened her arms. The girl ran into them, hugging her tightly, and Laura hugged her back. Rogue had said that Torpid looked up to Laura, and if that was so, then Torpid felt about her the way Laura felt about her sister, and she would never let Laura see her trying to change who she was for some guy. No way. Letting go of Torpid, the epiphany burning through her, she almost didn't catch the girl's signing,

'You're back! You look pretty – was Louisiana fun? Is Rogue okay?' Standing slowly, she nodded, then looked back at her reflection.

"It was much warmer than here. Rogue is fine. She and Remy have gone to see Hank. Am I – am I really pretty..?" Torpid appeared surprised at the question, and looked at her oddly.

'Are you ok? You need to go and see Kyle,' she signed quickly, then added,

'But if you feel bad maybe you should go and sleep a little? Storm says not to stay up too late and get tired.' Laura shook her head.

"I feel fine... I just... You should go and see Rogue..." Torpid reached out and squeezed her fingers lightly.

'I'll see you tomorrow. He's on the roof,' she signed with an encouraging smile, then left, and Laura stood there, feeling cold in more ways than one. She put her arms around herself, breathing deeply and closing her eyes.

She had been trying too hard, just the same way Rogue sometimes said Kitty did, building things up to a head inside herself because she wanted things to be perfect, just like Rogue and Remy. She didn't need to be wearing make up. He had seen her without it more times than with. Another deep breath. In, and out. Rogue had been a mess when Remy had confessed that he loved her. It was doable. It wasn't a big deal. Life was never perfect, never like the books or the movies. There were always things that went wrong, there was always something you didn't plan for. If it was meant to be the way she wanted it to be, then it would be so whether or not she had brushed her hair. Another deep breath. She opened her eyes again, looked at the girl in the mirror. She was smiling. Laura almost told her to wipe that smirk off her face.

He didn't think he'd ever been fully cognisant and so bloody frightened at the same time before in his life. The anger he relied on to get him through things was gone, and he felt vulnerable, just as he would if someone stripped him of his powers. It was his defence against the world and he didn't know how to handle its sudden loss. Torpid had been oddly comforting to talk to – sobering, something to centre his focus on instead of dwelling on the fact that he did want Laura to come home. He had missed her. He had wanted her there. Knowing that she wasn't around was worse than torture, and he knew all about that. He couldn't honestly liken it to any kind of pain he'd felt before, but it was horrible and he was afraid of it. Because it was her. He felt that she was missing so acutely that it was hurting. And as if that wasn't enough he was afraid that she'd come back having decided on the basis of her sister's new-found fairytale ending that she didn't really need to be saddled with a head-case who wasn't always there for her. And she'd be right. It was selfish to hang on to her. Even if he was finally trying to do something worthwhile with his wasted existence, he was almost certain it would fall under the too-little-too-late heading, and even if it didn't, he knew that he didn't deserve her. At all. Laura Howlett was beautiful, brave, and miles out of his league. Fucking aeons out of his league.

In that moment he truly resented her for making him forget to resist his own humanity. Being a human being was too fucking painful. It was all her fault. Why should he feel like shit? It wasn't fair.

But it was fair. He'd essentially used her. If not intentionally then certainly still by everyone not mentally impaired's standards. If she'd felt even a tenth of what he felt now every time he'd left her or not shown up to meet her or been unreachable for some other reason, then he fully deserved to hurt this way. The sense of justice went against his self-preservation principles but they could go fuck themselves. If she had ever felt bad because of him then he deserved it. And she needed to know that.

She didn't know how she felt about anything as she climbed through the hatch and closed it again behind her, but the second she saw him, turned towards her, hair blowing away from his face, her chest constricted painfully and she couldn't speak. When she did, it wasn't particularly enlightened.

He heard the hatch open again and turned to see her, because he knew it would be and he intended to get every last second out of their time together now that he knew what he was feeling. She was fantastically beautiful, as always, but he ignored that as best he could to avoid saying anything about it and noticed the black stain on her lips and the way she smelt faintly of warmth and cold at the same time instead. She just stood there after closing the hatch behind her, not moving, hands clasped in front of her, and he steeled himself for the killing blow when he saw her lips part. What came out was a little different than he had expected.

"There is blood on your face," she said softly, big clear eyes fixing on his, and he had a sudden hallucinative flashback of a completely out of context but similar statement she'd once made soon after they'd met. He had to wonder if this was actual impending insanity of the human kind coming around to bite him in the arse now that he had found a way to stave off the other kind.

"Yeah... I... It was an accident." And that was a lie. God damn it. No more lying. This wasn't like a new year's resolution, this shit had to stick! He had to mean it!

"Did it hurt?" Now there was an odd question. He supposed it had but not that he had really noticed. He had been far too busy realising that he was madly in love with Laura, who was coincidentally also the woman of his dreams. As soon as he'd thought it he cursed himself for not just saying out loud. It could have worked. It certainly could have breached the awkwardness.

"I didn't feel it..." he said instead, angry at himself for not just being able to –

"Did you miss me at all?" she asked suddenly, eyes shining and hands clutching at her sleeves convulsively.

"I missed you so much I moved in while you were gone," he blurted out. Of all the totally stupid things to –

She was in his arms before he even had time to consider how unlikely that was. She was also crying. How the hell were you supposed to handle that?

"You moved in? You mean it? How? Why?! For me – really, truly, for me?" she sobbed, and he looked at her with total lack of understanding on his face as she pulled away a little, looking at him seriously, tears running down her cheeks.

"I did. For you. Laur' – I can't – I don't – aw, fuck it – " He held her at arm's length and took a deep breath.

"Laur', I love you." He was certain he saw her stop breathing.

Her whole world stopped at the words. They didn't sound the way Remy's had, forced from his throat as though he was too afraid of them to speak them. Kyle's 'I love you' was delivered in the clearest, sincerest tone she'd ever heard him use, his voice scratching over it as though he could hardly keep it in at all but wasn't sure of her reaction. His eyes were almost apologetic, but he looked and sounded fiercely defiant, as if he was perfectly ready to fight her on this if she wasn't onboard with the idea.

And she wanted to hear it again.

"You – you what?" Oh hell. Literally. Once wasn't enough? The torture had to be drawn out further than it already had been? Couldn't she just make with the 'I'm sorry, it's not me it's you' speech already and put him out of his misery? Also, literally. If she needed a block for the execution he'd get one for her in a heartbeat.

"I love you, Laura Howlett." The second time was almost less painful than the first. Almost.

"Since when?" she demanded, and he resisted the urge to wipe away the tear trickling down her right cheek. Resisted it strongly.

"Since always. I was too stupid to realise what I was feeling. I'm so sorry Laur'..." He cursed himself mentally as he wiped away the errant teardrop anyhow and heard his voice drop an octave on the last apology he'd ever make to anyone. He had used up his quota.

"How do you know that's what you feel?" she asked, hands on his wrists, and he took a deep, calming breath. That didn't work at all.

"I don't! I have no fucking idea, okay? I don't want to feel like this, Laura, I didn't plan for this, I have no ulterior motive in telling you this, this is just the way it is so deal with it already! I can't help it! I love you – I can't stand not being around you, I can't focus on anything else when you're there, you've ruined me! I'm feeling shit because of you and it hurts like hell – I'm even fucking sane now because of you – yeah, not likely, right? Wrong! You did this to me, Laur', I can't even just go back to what I was before – it's all your fault!"

He knew he was yelling and that that was definitely not in the handbook for Wannabe Prince Charmings under the 'Confession Speech' chapter, but the frustration over her dragging out the inevitable the way she was had him by the heartstrings and it was a damn sight better than whining about it. If something was worth saying it was worth yelling too. Or something.

She was staring at him, hadn't let go of him yet, and he couldn't read her expression. The guilt won out and he started to apologise but she held up a hand.

"You mean to tell me that you have been in love with me all along and that you had no idea? That you only know now because you feel awful and that you blame me for this? And that you're afraid you're sane now because of me?"

"Well – yeah. That's exactly what I'm telling you." She closed her eyes and released a deep sigh, and then her lips curved into a smile that nearly distracted him from the situation at hand. Damn her and her ability to screw him five ways from Sunday when he thought he had a handle on what he was thinking.

"You really do love me," she said simply, and he hadn't time to ask her how the hell she went from him yelling to deciding he meant what he had been saying because she was quite suddenly kissing him. Damn her and her disabling tactics. He pulled away and glared at her disbelievingly.

"You're not serious? I feel like shit because I can't function without you and that's the deciding factor for you? All because I admitted that I've gone from semihuman nutjob to perfectly normal nutjob thanks to realising that I'm in love with you? Because I wouldn't buy it!" She smiled that perfect, secretive smile again and wound her arms around his neck.

"Kyle... I love you, too. I didn't know I did until I thought that you might choose to stay away from me because you didn't want to see me after I was so angry – "

"You're kidding? I honestly love you more when you threaten to kill me if I don't comply," he laughed, feeling a touch hysterical.

"Call it my conditioning. I couldn't stay away if I tried when you're angry!" Her eyes sparkled and he had a thought that if this was what burgeoning human insanity was like then it was definitely much weirder than the other kind.

"Be quiet when I'm trying to tell you things or I swear I will – "

"I'd like to see you try, girly," he said wickedly, and she laughed, sounding a touch hysterical.

"I love you so much! I was afraid you'd leave me for good and I knew I couldn't let that happen," she said, and he raised an eyebrow.

"Couldn't let it happen how?" It was her turn to look decidedly wicked.

"Well, I wouldn't have let you just leave me like that. You have to know that I would have come after you. You don't just get to leave me," she said matter-of-factly, and he grinned.

"Sounds great. I'll keep a bag by the door then." She punched him on the shoulder with a growl and he felt the impact on a bone-deep level, but couldn't help but laugh with her at how completely stupidly abnormal they were together.

"Laur'..." she looked at him shyly as he took her hand, admiring the fact that this was the very same hand that had just fractured something in his shoulder.

"I love you. I really, really do. I have nothing to compare it to, but there is nothing to compare you to anyway, so that doesn't really bother me," she giggled and he fought the urge to forego any more talking and just kiss her already and continued.

"I'm not ever going to leave you if I can help it, okay? I mean that. I found out I loved you about three hours ago and I've been a sad wreck ever since because you weren't there. I feel – I feel real, like a real person, for the first time since I got my powers, and that's your fault. I love you. That sounds weird when I say it but I really do mean it. If you can live with me, I can live for you..." She frowned, looked him up and down, but the sparkle never left her eyes.

"No more death wish? No more stupid arguments? No more making my Dad angry with us? No more trips out of town and coming back two days later? No more speeding tickets and getting dragged downtown and escaping while they're not looking? No more bar runs? No more concerts?" she asked, tilting her head and regarding him seriously, and he shook his head.

"None of that ever again ever. Except maybe whenever we feel like it," he replied, equally seriously, and she reached up and pulled at his hair, winking.

"I'm in. Effective immediately." He grabbed her around the waist, swung her around and kissed her as she laughed and held on to him for dear life. And oh how dear it was...

"That's more like it," she said haughtily,

"I have standards, you know. I will be expecting certain things."

"I'd never settle for anything less than unfair demands and hell-to-pay if I don't deliver," he answered honestly, and she smiled, eyes softening as she kissed him again.

"There it is..." she said with a little tear in the corner of one eye, and he held her a little tighter because he could.

"There what is?" She let the tear fall and smiled brilliantly.

"Everything," she said quietly, and looking at her smile like that, he understood perfectly.

"You damn sure are," he replied, and she couldn't help crying, couldn't help the tears anymore, because she felt, felt that he loved her. He didn't have to go down on one knee, he didn't have to promise to change, didn't have to be anything but what he was, and he was there, holding her, and she loved him, loved him so much she felt unable to contain it, and he was right, it did hurt. But it hurt because it was right, and that was all the proof she needed.

"Thank you," she breathed, and he grinned at her, and she couldn't help smiling back, knowing that he never smiled like that for anyone but her.

"For handling things oh-so-well?" he teased, and she stuck out her tongue.

"For realising in time. And giving me my fairytale." His blue eyes darkened a little and he looked down.

"I don't know about that. I'm not really fairytale material," he said, and she knew he was right.

"I'm not either. But Kitty says there is such a thing as modern fairytales and it does not get much more modern than two genetic-experiment mutants living happily ever after," she said slowly, and he looked at her oddly.

"Modern fairytales have happy endings?" She nodded.

"Of course. They're still fairytales." His eyes lit up.

"In that case, Laura Howlett – live happily ever after with me? Bar runs and angry Daddy's and all?" She wanted to kiss him but she wanted him to promise her something of vital, deal-breaking, non-negotiable importance first, and she narrowed her eyes at him.

"If you promise me two things."

"Anything you want, it's yours. Not that I need to tell you that," he said with a grin, and she smirked.

"No one else gets the bitch seat on your bike and you'll never cut your hair," she stated, and he roared with laughter.

"Just as you like, no more haircuts and anti-socialism all the way," he laughed, and she grinned back at him.

"Now let's hear it," she demanded.

"Bayville has to know too? Damn girl, you just don't let a guy keep any dignity do you?" She shook her head, exhilarated, and he tipped his head back and let the whole world know,


And, laughing as he howled the admission to the skies, she realised that it was the most beautiful sound in the whole world because both it and he were hers. And then he was tucking her into his arms again, and she was kissing him, and she knew that it went both ways when she whispered,

"And I love you, Kyle Gibney," and he shivered and kissed her back. Because if he was hers, then she was whole enough to be his in return.

Kyle's room remained untouched. Laura's boot had come down hard on that score as she had thrown his worldly possessions into her room and refused to discuss the point.

Rogue had had Remy's things shipped from Louisiana and had been decorating her room ever since they arrived, refusing to leave until Remy got out of the med bay, before announcing to everyone that they were now engaged and living together permanently.

Lance had finally grown a pair – inspired by a moving scene wherein the badass Kyle Gibney was seen arguing heatedly with his beloved Laura over his old boots which she deemed unfit for further wear and promptly shredded (she took them off him first) which prompted a fit of toddler-like wailing from the oversized kitty (Ilyana could not be swayed on that count) who then destroyed Laura's favourite hoodie, whereafter the frightening couple made up instantly citing the fact that 'true love takes work' as their reason for resolving things without bloodshed – and had demanded that Kitty marry him before the next year was up despite her having a year and a half left of studying before she gained her degree.

And since this all ocurred within the space of the next week, Logan had had a full nervous breakdown under Storm's supervision, taken Kyle drinking to bond with the younger feral – an exercise that took most of two days and roughly enough alcohol to drown a small country – and come home blind drunk and sans wallet but feeling distinctly fatherly where the blonde was concerned. It seemed that the 'take care of my daughter' speech he had so carefully prepared had gone on hiatus somewhere between Kyle paying for the binge and Remy tactically bringing him coffee as he and Kyle enjoyed their respective half-hour hangovers once home and away from the effects of all that lovely poison. The coffee-move launched Remy's instantaneous position as 'a great guy', something Kyle and Logan agreed on mutually, and which to the girls' intense eye-rolling brought the three much closer in a less-than-manly display of whining thanks and comments on just how good it was to have other men around to hang out with. Logan could be found a few hours later on the phone to the contractors asking for a quote on soundproofing two largish rooms.

And so when John got home from his Thursday session with Charles and Wanda asked his opinion on the status of Rogue and Laura's love-lives and whether they'd landed deserving males or not, all he had to say was,

"She's apples, my luv. Apples."