Disclaimer: I do not own Glee and I make no money from this artistic venture, it is done for the pure enjoyment of writing.

Author's Note: This story has been an AU officially since around chapter four (episode "Night of Neglect"), I believe, and I stopped watching Glee after the "Prom Queen" episode. Nothing in Comic Cons takes from cue from anything Glee Cannon since season two was 3/4s finished and I'd very much appreciate no spoilers for the show being dropped in reviews. I really don't want to know what's going on with it any longer. Thanks for that and an even bigger thank you for reading and reviewing. I sincerely hope you enjoy this chapter.

Ooh, and a thank you to winterswallows for her help, guidance, and annoying way of being right.


Kyle didn't really believe in anything. Okay, that was only half true; she believed in a few things. She had a scary, unwavering faith in Dave and in Jude that she could understand people labeling as insane. Sometimes the three of them were; fuck, their friendship had been based in a whirlpool of juvenile chicanery and trauma.

Her parents weren't devout people. Her mother described Catholicism as heritage rather than religion (one that should be viewed with contempt) and her father had had his bar mitzvah strictly to irritate Grandma Helen's Anglican sensibilities. Making PopPop Isaac proud probably played in there, sure, but it was no secret that her dad studied the Torah mostly just to upset his control-freak mother. So, spiritually, she really wasn't much of anything and the idea that magic existed was goddamn laughable.

No matter how badly she wanted her Hogwarts owl.

That never seemed to diminish the respect with which she treated the rituals in Grann Variola's (her mother's grandmother) cookbook. Grann Variola's cookbook was full of hedge-witchy stuff like harefoot poultices to protect from bad dreams, buckwheat bread to bring luck in money, and other "spells" that Kyle absolutely didn't believe in. Still, there was no denying she felt better after she made a pot of her great-grandmother's cure-all garlic soup.

Part of it had to be the immune boost from the garlic (that was science and she accepted that no question) but, secretly, Kyle also thought that there might be something to be said about the words scrawled on every page of the old book sitting in her parents' kitchen.

"Lanmou se toujou engredyan prensipal la" or "Love is always the main ingredient".

The older she got, the more truth that Kyle saw in those words. It wasn't just about how you prepared a meal for people you cared about, it was about how you dealt with them period. Raptor Jesus on high, she knew how cheesy that sounded but she'd stand by the thesis come hell or waters high. Even if she never told anyone about it.

Point being Kyle, crude and immature as she could be, understood that when you gave a shit about someone, you had to act like you did. She couldn't just snipe or growl at them when they were being stupid, at least not right away. Kyle tried to keep that in mind when she went to see Jude a few weeks or so post Valentine's Day. She even brought garlic soup.

The door was unlocked and Jude was curled on his big faux-suede sofa, cocooned in a blanket, just as she expected. The yearly batch of bugs was going around; she and Dave had caught the shit first and spent almost a week recouping. Bryce, Claire, and Neil had followed suit and now it appeared to be Jude, Maggie, and Rafe's turn. Vince, the lucky bastard, wouldn't get it. That asshole never caught anything. Except crabs—pre-Claire Vince had been a dirty, dirty, (not to mention foolish) slut. The fact that he came out of it all with no other STDs was nothing short of a miracle.

"Hey, Mr. Pukey," she greeted him cheerfully. Out of the corner of her eye, Kyle spied his cats darting from the room once they saw just who had come through their owner's door. Mean as it may have been, she had to smile. Fuck those ankle biters.

Jude rolled like a caterpillar to look mournfully up at her. Had she not been well-acquainted with her friend and his penchant for playing up aches and pains, she really would have felt sorry for him. Jude Maxwell Bower was king of pathetic looks.

"M'not Mr. Pukey anymore," he informed her with a sniffle. Kyle was a good friend and resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "'M Mr. Really-Sore-And-Cold, now."

"Aww." She reached down to ruffle his sweaty head. "Poor little, fella. Well, do you have the strength for some garlic soup?"

"Will you feed it to me?"

That time she didn't resist an eye roll. "Not a chance, Aramis."

"Hmm…yeah, I still want the soup." He rolled, wobbled, and wriggled into an upright position to where he could get his arms out. "And some tea?" The light in those bush-baby big eyes morphed from pathetic to hopeful. "Please?"

"Since you asked so nicely." She pressed a quick kiss to Jude's forehead before standing.

Kyle knew her way around Jude's kitchen probably better than he did. Unlike Dave, her other best friend had never been fascinated by the chemistry of cooking and ninety percent of the food that went down his gullet was takeout. What few homemade concoctions that he ate were almost all Dave and Kyle's doing with the occasional assist from Maggie.

In hardly any time at all she had steaming soup and tea ready. Kyle sat both down on the coffee table that Jude, despite his weakened state, had managed to drag (with quite a bit of effort) closer to the couch.

"Do not try them yet," she ordered as she plunked down beside him. "Hot. Hot. Bad, Judy."

Jude gave her a look of pure disdain. "Fuck you. I'm not five. Or Darren, I have some common sense, thankyouverymuch."

"I'll believe that when I see it." She smirked and leaned back on the couch, crossing her legs as she did. It earned Kyle a middle finger and another peevish face.

They sat quietly together for several moments as the soup cooled, watching the cartoons flicking across Jude's TV. There was nothing tense about the silence but Kyle was fairly certain that Jude had picked up on her wanting to talk. He was as ingrained in her head as Dave was, and probably a lot more aware than their Athos to boot.

Because of that and because she knew that directness was the best tool to use with Jude. She did wait until his soup was gone and he'd started in on his tea before she spoke, though. If nothing else, Kyle was a good caretaker—when she deigned try.

"I like Kurt." She tilted her head up against the back of the couch so that Jude's eyes had to meet hers. "And I like Noah. Dave does too. Everybody does, really."

Jude's mouth thinned ever so slightly and his gaze slipped down to the mug of tea cupped carefully in his long fingers. Since he wasn't being outright irritable (yet), Kyle pushed on.

"Dave's felt better, you know, since they met up again." Kyle picked absentmindedly at a miniscule tuft of lint on the knee of her jeans. "It's helped him put a lot of his old shit to rest."

"We helped him put his shit to rest," Jude said. There was nothing in his voice that was quick, or hostile or even a little bit angry. His tone was all matter-of-fact and normal.

But Kyle saw the tiny glint of resentment skulking in his pupils, nearly indistinguishable as it burrowed down.

"We saved him," he continued and Kyle let him. "We were the ones who cried with him and held his hand and made sure he knew he was safe." His voice rose just a bit and Kyle caught his hands trembling around his tea. "You and I were the ones pushing him to fight for his inch and checking his dresser for pills. Kurt made the half-hearted attempt to 'help' Dave by telling someone else he was gay, confronting him in a public place, and then somehow expecting a frightened animal not to act like a frightened animal."

Jude's voice was tight when he finished and his eyes blazed a bright, unyielding ice-blue. Kyle understood his anger, in a way. It was the whole reason she'd been nice to Kurt in the beginning; she had to protect Dave. Even after nine years and the man he'd evolved into, that was still a top priority for her. She couldn't fault Jude for being afraid that Kurt's reappearance in Dave's life would result in their boy hurting, not when she had anticipated the same thing.

However, Jude's protectiveness was a mask and they both knew that.

"You're oversimplifying a really convoluted thing, Jude," she told him almost quietly. "Kurt was seventeen too; don't tell me you would have had any sort of answer for shit that intense when you were that age. I sure's fuck wouldn't. Maybe you could put a circuit board together and understand physics equations but you weren't more mature than anyone else."

The heat and anger in Jude's face staggered her. "Jesus, fuck, Kyle, when did you join the Kurt Hummel fan club?"

"Jude." Her voice took up a knife's edge that Jude knew better than to fight. His white-hot glare dropped down to his hands. He abandoned his tea to the table and crossed his arms. Probably wise, they'd had "discussions" that'd come to shoving before; he seemed to get that Kyle would never forgive him if he threw tea on her, even in the heat of the moment.

She licked her lips and took a breath before she started again. "The only fan club I'm in is the one dedicated to Dave's happiness. I'm a lifetime fucking member and I wish you'd think about joining."

Jude exploded as she knew he probably would; at least as much as a sick man wrapped in a down comforter could explode.

"That isn't fair!" He leapt back like she'd slapped him. Arms up and waving his eyes burned against hers. "How have I—"

"You let him go, Jude." Five little words, insignificant as they might seem, deflated her best friend of all of his anger in less than a second. His waving arms flopped to his sides and his ass hit the couch. Kyle felt something sharp winding up from her belly and radiating beneath her sternum; she hated herself when she had to be honest with Jude about this shit.

She doted on Dave, she knew that she did. Dave was Dave; no one could really do otherwise for that shy smile and rumbling laugh. But it also didn't mean that Kyle loved Jude less than him. She loved Jude shamelessly, downright adored him, fuck Kyle knew in the honeycombed pits of her bones that she would die for him if she had too.

There was a connection between the three of them, something like a heartbeat or a breath or an electromagnetic pulse, fuck, maybe all of that, wound up tight in their chests. Before she had met Jude and Dave, Kyle couldn't say that she had ever been truly happy, she hadn't known herself. Then one day it all crashed and came together and she hadn't been truly unhappy since. Dave and Jude looked at her and BOOM! Kyle knew exactly who she was and what her life was all about.

Kyle didn't want Jude to hurt in any way and she certainly never wanted to be the one to cause him pain. She was smart enough, though (and loved him well enough) to understand that, sometimes, he needed the sting of her honesty more than the warmth of her coddling.

Her throat ached just a bit when she spoke again; she pushed past that though, grounding herself in the bite of her nails against her palms.

"Dave deserves to be happy, Jude," she said. "Expecting him to be miserable because you are isn't remotely healthy—let alone romantic. Martyrs aren't any boy's wet dream, least of all when they're getting nailed on a cross that doesn't stand for something sensible."

He didn't look at her, instead Jude focused on one of tattoos on his left wrist, tracing the thin curve of a hummingbird's wing. His face was closed off, plush bottom lip wedged between his teeth. It was how he usually looked after she had to knock some sense into him, so, she supposed, this was the best she could hope for.

"Just be civil to Kurt and Noah, please." Not really a request, and she knew that he knew it. "S'all I'm asking, Aramis. Them being friends has been good for Dave. Like a lot."

On that note, it seemed like a good time to make her exit. Kyle had said everything that she'd come to say and it was probably a good idea to leave before things got awkward. Or, well, more awkward since things were clearly just that already.

"There's more soup in the fridge," she told Jude as she stood. Kyle gathered her coat and messenger bag. "You should have another bowl before you go to bed and keep up with the fluids."

He nodded, still not looking up at her and Kyle felt her chest tighten a little.

"I love you." She leaned down to swipe his hair back and press her lips against his forehead. He was too warm, sweaty and didn't smell spectacular but Kyle honestly didn't mind; she loved him and that made up for all of that. She knew that she always would too—no matter how irritating, stupid, and thoughtless Jude could be sometimes.

Her kiss lingered above his eye and then on the bridge of his nose before she pulled back, finger-combing his damp hair down as she did. He brushed her wrist with clammy fingers and finally met her eyes, the softest of smiles tugging at his mouth.

"Love you more."

Kyle grinned as she tugged her coat on and headed for the front door. "Doubt that."

Out in the hallway, Kyle paused and leaned heavily for a second or two against mint colored wall.

There was a weight pressing up against her chest, something sharp and brittle that threatened to shatter into thousands of needle-like bits. She pressed a hand to her sternum, just beneath her breasts, and forced herself to breathe deeply, ignoring the ache in her throat.

This wasn't the first time she and Jude had exchanged words about his jealousies when it came to Dave. Kyle sincerely wished that it would be the last but she knew better than to believe that that was ever going to be a possibility. As long as Dave was breathing, Jude was going to want him and, in turn, Kyle was going to have to run interference between them.

This also wasn't the first time Kyle wished that Jude would just grow a pair and tell Dave that he was still (hopelessly) in love with him.

Cursing the day that Jude decided to straddle Dave's cock Kyle headed for the elevator. Besides laying into her best friend over his stupidity, she had a couple of other tasks to accomplish while she was in town. Not super-pressing stuff, grab a few things from the grocery store, check her and Dave's PO Box, maybe blow all of that off and grab a manicure. The possibilities for the day were endless, really.

"Hey, Hot-Stuff, what're you doing wandering around my building?"

Kyle recognized the voice as belonging to Noah if just for the fact he was pretty much the only person who had ever been so smarmy with her, before she saw him. She looked up from her BlackBerry and sure enough, he was walking toward her, that cocksure grin lighting up his face.

"Not much, Princess. Just checking up on Jude while I was in the neighborhood." She tucked her phone away in her back pocket and held up her fist. Noah bumped his thick, rough knuckles against her own without reservation, the force radiating up arm.

Despite the jolt, there was nothing violent in the gesture, no maliciousness stinging the bones of her hand. On the contrary, Kyle saw it as a sign of respect, that he viewed her as an equal. Noah was a great guy with several awesome qualities but quite frankly, that was what she liked best about him.

"What're you up to?" She crossed her arms. "Shouldn't you be in the studio hitting the whammy bar?"

Noah rolled his eyes at her. "Ugh. Whammy bar? Seriously? Your knowledge of music is awful, please give up on it, you've clearly failed." Kyle stuck her tongue out and he ignored her.

"And also, to answer your question, nope." He grinned and shoved his hands into the pockets of his coat, which, Kyle noted, was an actual coat. Apparently, he—or more likely Kurt—had dug it up or picked it out from a rack. Given that it was actually cut to fit Noah's shape, Kyle was going to put all of her money on Kurt.

Not to mention Kurt did not seem the type to pass up any sort of chance to use his best friend as a life-size Ken Doll. Kyle would know, she'd been forcing Dave into playing dress-up since they'd met. Not that her bear would ever complain, he'd gotten plenty of tail thanks to the broad-shoulder and eye-color emphasizing outfits Kyle had picked out for him.

"It's a drum track day," he told her. "Kurt and Tana went to the studio with Finn to make sure Jules doesn't completely destroy his will to live. Pads and I get the day off while he gets the rack 'o demo tracks."

"Nice."

"Very."

They had started walking toward the elevator as they spoke, a fact that Kyle wasn't aware of until the metal doors dinged and slid together.

"So what've you been doing with your day off?"

"Sleeping," he said it with sheepish smile while she giggled. Noah ran a hand over the back of his head. "Seriously, I just woke up."

Kyle's jaw dropped and she was only half-kidding when she pushed his shoulder and said, "Oh my god, you lazy shit! It's like two in the afternoon!"

"Dude, I know, I know," he said as they stepped out of the elevator and into the main foyer. "But in my defense yesterday was my turn to hit the gauntlet this week. Even got a booboo when a string snapped." He pushed up the sleeve of his coat to show a red scratch, about six inches long, that ran laterally along the inside of his right forearm.

"Aw, poor, poor Princess, want me kiss it and make it better?"

"I wouldn't say no but something tells me you're just fuckin' with me."

She grinned. "Good answer." Gently she brushed her fingers alongside the mark; it looked a bit nasty. Not stiches nasty but inflamed enough that she felt a genuine pang of sympathy. "You can have some brunch with me, though, if you want."

"Ooh, brunch," Noah said with a waggle of his eyebrows. "Sounds fancy. You sure you wanna take me along?"

"It's only fancy when my friend Claire is involved and that's because she's ridiculous and insists on wearing gaudy hats like she's fucking English royalty." Kyle made a face as she remembered the last time she'd had brunch with Claire; the bitch had taken two hours to get ready. Sometimes, with all of the weird homemade porn spam that she sent and her penchant for lateness, Kyle wondered just why she was friends with the little queen.

"Your Claire would have liked my pre-college-Kurt," Noah told her. "A lot."

Kyle laughed. "Let's be thankful I did in fact meet Kurt post-college then. Because there are days I wanna hit Claire with a bat. Repeatedly."

Like when she sent pictures of Vince wearing a dog collar and sucking on her toes. Claire's sense of humor was warped.

Apparently, Noah had agreed to brunch since he was following her out of the building. Kyle tried not to walk too fast, keeping her shoulders even with his; she tended to outpace Dave and Jude when they were with her and it had often been complained about. Side by side, Kyle noted that they were almost the exact same height (no cheating, either, she was wearing her flat boots).

"Bat's a little much," Noah chuckled as they paused at a crosswalk, waiting for the light to change. "But I did spend two years of high school chasing Kurt down and tossing him into dumpsters."

"Really?" Kyle couldn't even hope to hide the surprise in her voice. That sort of thing didn't exactly seem the type of thing to breed anything even slightly like friendship and certainly, nothing as close as what Noah shared with Kurt.

"Yeah." He was back to rubbing the base of his skull again; it was his go-to embarrassed gesture, Kyle noticed. Like Jude's twitchy hands or Dave's habit of looking everywhere but the source of the problem. Guilt tinged the edges of his hazel eyes when he glanced over at her. "I was…kind of a dick when I was a teenager."

It was strange, how she didn't like seeing the guilt that formed on Noah's face just then. It bothered her like it did whenever Dave had talked about his life in Lima. Kyle had long ago decided that the place was an abyss of bullshit and this only reaffirmed that. So, like when her best friend got all Lima-Lament-y, she had to chase it away.

"I set fire to my school's gymnasium my junior year," she told him. The light had turned green and Noah stumbled a little because she'd said it just as they started to walk. Wordlessly, she put her hand on his bicep to steady him until they were back on brick pavement.

"It didn't—it wasn't a huge fire," she explained as he continued to stare at her in shock. She didn't blame him; it had not been her finest moment. Actually all four years of high school had been a train wreck for Kyle. Looking back she was really just amazed (and very grateful) that she survived them at all. "No one got hurt and I only spent weekend in juvie. Had to attend mandatory therapy every week until I was twenty-one, though."

Noah continued to stare ate her open-mouthed for the longest time and Kyle had to keep him from running into someone more than once. She was starting to get a little nervous and wish that she'd never tried to be nice when—finally—his expression changed. He laughed.

"Wow, just…wow." He grinned at her as he clapped her on the back. "You win. You're officially one crazy bitch, Hot-Stuff."

She shrugged good-naturedly. "I try. Here, this is the place." Kyle stopped them in front of a small brick building with an old fashioned wooden sign hanging above the door. It was painted with bright colors, the words Bubble 'n Squeak raised in loopy print beneath a crossed fork and knife.

Noah raised an eyebrow as he looked up at the sign. "Interesting name…"

"Innit?" She bumped his shoulder. "Best stuffed French toast I've had outside of Quebec. C'mon."

Conversation paused as they walked into the restaurant. The hostess, a new girl, seated them in one of the window booths near the pastry case. Their waitress, Cyndi, was also a fresh face, but very polite. She didn't waste much time with small talk and after taking their orders—Kyle requested the house special for both of them before Noah could even crack open his menu—hurried off to get their drinks.

"So, aside from trying to burn down a gym what other Buffy-isms have you pulled?" Noah asked after their drinks had been delivered and Cyndi was out of earshot. His order had surprised her just a little; Noah Puckerman had not struck her as the type of man who enjoyed raspberry-peach sweet tea.

"Buffy-isms?" she really couldn't keep herself from grinning. "Princess, be honest with me; am in the presence of a fellow Whedonite?"

Noah grinned back at her. "I might have the Firefly/Serenity blue-ray combo pack sitting on my shelf at home. Beside my Buffy and Angel collections."

"No Dollhouse?"

"Eh. No. That shit was too rapey for me." He took a drink of his tea, like the sugar in it could erase the sour face he was making. "Eliza Dushku will always be my favorite slayer but that show was unwatchable after that crap with Sierra's handler."

"Agreed." Kyle held up her iced coffee and Noah clinked his glass against it. "And amen on Faith being the best. She was my second favorite character."

"And your number one?"

She winked at him over her drink. "Take a wild guess."

"Hmm…" Noah settled back in his seat, stroking an imaginary beard. "Well, it is you, so this might be tricky, but I'm going to say…Spike."

Kyle applauded. "Very good, Princess. Very good, indeed."

"Not that good," he chuckled. "I mean, come on, aside from Giles, everyone in the main cast was really annoying."

"Ugh, they were," she laughed.

"Especially fuckin' Xander."

"Yes!" She slapped the table. "Dave and Jude hate it when I bring up how whiny the original three Scoobies were. It's like I'm committing sacrilege for pointing out flaws in the holy trinity or some shit."

"Yeah, Jules almost stabbed me with a violin bow when I said I wished it had been Willow who died and not Tara."

"God, yes! I missed her so, so, so much! She was the only sane person around there!"

"Not to mention her replacement was the worst."

"Oh fuck, I loathed Kennedy. Insipid little shit."

"Amen."

Geek talk continued through brunch. Between bites of stuffed French toast and bacon (which Noah ate with a bowed head, as if he was waiting for his mother to catch him), Kyle discovered that he was a die-hard Mel Brooks fan. Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and History of the World Part I were on constant repeat on his laptop when Dorothy North was on the road. She was pleasantly surprised to find that Noah enjoyed the Harry Potter series, and like Dave and Jude, couldn't stand the movie adaptations.

Besides arguing Batman vs. Superman Kyle learned a few fun facts about her companion. He had a little sister, Naomi, who was about seven years younger and currently working on her bachelor's up in Maine. She was a film studies major—or doc nerd, as her brother described—and wanted to work with NOVA once she graduated. Their mother was a nurse and had moved to Albuquerque right after Naomi was out of the house. He didn't see or talk to either of them very often; distance, work, and life in general got in the way.

Plus, his mother was still a champion nagger so Noah tended to avoid her calls. Especially on Saturday afternoons when he knew she'd just be coming home from temple.

In all, Kyle would have pegged the meal as one of the more pleasant she'd spent out with someone who wasn't Dave or Jude in a very long time. She really shouldn't have been surprised when the landslide started. Things had gone too well with Jude that morning, she should have expected some sort of cosmic bitch-slap.

"I got it." Noah reached past her to pluck the check from the waitress' hand before Kyle could accept it.

"Hey! Not cool, I invited you to brunch, the bill's on me, dude." She scowled and attempted to grab the check back but he slid back, dangling it just out of reach. "Dick!"

He winked at her as he pulled out his wallet. "Calm down, Baby, I'll let you pay on the next date."

She rolled her eyes. "I'm pretty sure there has to be a first date for a second one, Princess."

"Fine. On our first date you can totally pay." He turned briefly away to hand cash over to the waitress. "Run, before she tries to grab that. Oh, and keep the change." Cyndi listened, which was very prudent of her; Kyle was indeed thinking of pouncing.

"You're an ass," she told him as they stood.

"You love my ass." He wiggled said posterior in her direction and winked. "Admit it; finest ass you've ever laid eyes on."

He did have a nice one, that much Kyle couldn't deny. However, she had to be at least a little bit contrary; she wouldn't forgive herself otherwise. "Meh, I've seen nicer."

Noah elbowed her lightly as they walked back into the chilly March air. "It's not fair to compare me to James Marsters. For reals. Though, in high school I think my abs could have given his a run for some money."

"Ooh, that is quite the claim. I may demand pictures and an affidavit from Kurt to believe it, Princess."

He pressed a hand over his heart, feigning hurt, which he didn't do very well since he was laughing. "Hey, come on. Pictures? Kurt? That hurts." Another smirk curled on Noah's lips. "Baby, I've told you before, just ask me and the goods are all yours."

"You are the worst!" she laughed, bumping her shoulder against his. Noah bumped back.

"Actually, nine out of ten ladies say I'm the best." If Kyle hadn't already been doubled-over giggling, then Noah's eyebrow waggle would have done it. She hooked her fingers into the sleeve of his coat; while it was doubtful she'd actually fall over, Kyle didn't want to chance anything on the slick sidewalk.

"Jesus Christ, Princess, trying to kill me today?"

"No, dummy, I'm trying to get you to go out with me."

She almost missed it. Kyle was usually quite perceptive; in fact, it was a trait she took a lot of pride in. Given how utterly clueless her nearest and dearest could be on a regular basis (Neil was the only one she didn't worry about too often) it was a skill she literally had to pick up. Someone had to be not tripping over their own feet while looking at the clouds. So, when she caught the undertone to Noah's voice, Kyle felt like she'd crashed face-first into the concrete.

In her defense, he was bearing on the subtle side. The note of longing in his voice was a quiet one, if she hadn't looked up and seen the sincerity on his face she might have let it just slip on by with roll of her eyes. There was no missing it now, though, and part of her immediately regretted that.

"What?" It was quite literally the only thing that Kyle could think as his honesty smacked her in the face.

That nervous gesture, the neck rub, was back in action, but Noah didn't look sheepishly to the side this time. His gray-hazel eyes were locked right on hers, like he was scared to look away and lose his nerve.

He was blushing. Holy shit, he was blushing. It was faint beneath his tan complexion but Kyle could not mistake the slight pink climbing up his neck and over his cheeks.

Noah's tongue darted across his lips and Kyle saw a flash of anxiously grinding teeth before he spoke. "Kyle, come on. I like you. A lot. I mean…shit, you're awesome." The conviction as he said that last word was startling; nice to hear, yes but still surprising too. "Hell, you're probably the most awesome girl I've ever met. Really, you just…you kick my ass at everything."

"You know, a therapist would probably take issue with that last part." It was nice to know that her auto-sarcasm wasn't on the fritz like her powers of insight. Pleasure always had to come from the little things, though, she supposed.

"A therapist would take issue with most of what say and do," he chuckled. He didn't play along with her deflection for more than a few seconds, though. In an instant, the laughter in his eyes had evaporated and was replaced with that same nervous energy that crackled in them before.

Part of her wanted to make that go away; a frighteningly bigger part than Kyle ever would have expected. She liked Noah, a lot. A whole lot, until right then she hadn't even realized how much. Contrary to all of her teasing, she'd always thought he was attractive—though, the way he flirted was terrible. But in the end, that was just part of his charm.

And fuck was Noah charming when he wanted to be. There was something in his smile that could melt the unwary; she'd seen him turn shop girls and even Maggie into giggling idiots with just a flash of white teeth. It was scary and thrilling and it reminded Kyle a little of getting her legs kicked out from under her.

He had taken hold of her hands, she didn't even notice that he was reaching for them until the warmth of skin against her own registered. The texture of them was a little surprising, Noah's hands; hard spots from guitar playing dotted his palms but they weren't actually rough. Again, Kyle suspected that it had to be Kurt's influence; it was scary how she could picture the singer grabbing heavy-duty hand lotion and forcing his best friend to slather it on.

She was going to say yes, really she was. Kyle liked Noah—probably more than she consciously realized—and he liked her. They liked the same things and he wasn't intimidated by her sarcastic attitude. It felt…right.

"Don't worry, Girl-Balls, one day your Prince Charming'll stumble along and you'll be normal too."

Kyle's brother Rod, who truly had it coming when she drugged him and sent him to Guatemala sans passport, had some very emphatic ideas about girls, and, by extension, Kyle. Girls acted giddy in the presence of boys. Girls blushed when boys flirted with them. Girls got excited at the slightest bit of attention. Girls lived to be in relationships. Girls needed relationships. Girls must want to be in relationships.

Rod might include Kyle in the category "girl", but Kyle did not, so she'd always told herself (mostly thanks to him). A lot of who she was responded to that still; her competitive streak (though that could be attributed to Eddie and Ernie too), her adamant independence, and, most relevant to the time, her views on relationships.

That's why the way Noah looked at her made her stomach bottom out the second any sort of pleasure began. He threatened a few fundamental things she knew about herself. Maybe it wasn't a bad thing; fuck maybe it was even nice. But whatever it eventually sifted out to be, right at that moment it was scary.

Kyle didn't handle being scared very well; she was the first to admit that. Maybe it was because there wasn't a lot that could frighten her but what was certain was that one of two things would happen when the rare paranoia snuck up under her skin. The first was that Kyle would see red and start swinging a 'la Pride 2015. The second was to light a match and run.

Luckily, for everyone, though, age had turned impulse number two into more of a figurative thing.

She pulled her hands from his, quickly sliding them into the pockets of her jeans; hoping the texture of loose coins and scratchy denim would erase the heat of his skin. Kyle had to duck her head down and stare at the laces of her boots; she didn't want to feel worse when the hurt flared across Noah's face. She didn't quite hate herself that much just yet.

Or, maybe, Kyle already hated herself too much, depending on how it was looked at.

"Kyle—"

"I'm not relationship-girl, Noah."

Even looking down at her feet Kyle could feel his eyebrows dart up and his jaw drop. "Uh…I—are we Buffy-talking again?"

"No! Well…I guess in a way…I mean that's definitely a fucking Buffyism." Kyle made a face as it hit her. "Ugh. I sound like a Scooby. Fantastic. Now I need a shower and a Firefly marathon."

"Hey, fantastic first date idea! What about a bubble bath though? I think that'd be way better than a shower pre-Firefly marathon."

Kyle had to look up at him when he said that, if just to drive home her scowl. "Dude, stop flirting, I'm trying to make a point, here."

"Sorry." He didn't look very sorry and Kyle almost derailed her own argument to tell him that.

She settled for another scowl, hoping it was authoritative enough to work on him like it usually would on Dave or Jude. He didn't look as on edge as they might but at least she had his attention.

Which, given what she was going to do, possibly something she didn't really want all that badly.

"Listen." She bit down on her lower lip, worrying it between her teeth until she could nearly taste blood. "I like you. I—I like you a lot, Noah. And—please don't let this inflate your head too much—but you are cute. Very cute. And the whole legit, as in paid-to-perform-for-real-crowds, guitarist thing? Not gonna lie; total shameful high school fantasy for me."

"Ooh, dirty sex in the wings?"

"More like experimenting with the vibrations of an amplifier in an empty theater."

"Hot."

"Thank you." Another derailment almost happened thanks to some very dirty thoughts involving Noah and a Gibson Les Paul. She managed to hang on, though.

"I'm sensing a 'but' coming on, here," Noah said as he crossed his arms. Kyle noted the disappointment creeping in his gray-hazel eyes and her stomach twisted.

"But, like I said, I'm not relationship-girl." She shrugged and burrowed her hands more deeply into her pockets. "Dating has never been something I've been good at. I'm too…me for romance or anything. I don't have a romantic bone in my body; it's all snark, rage, and indignation mixed with calcium in here."

Noah snorted at that. "Okay, first off, great description. Second, did you ever think that maybe that's why I like you?"

"While that is seriously one of the nicest things I've ever heard, that doesn't change the fact that I'm not looking for a boyfriend." She didn't want to be a bitch—oh how she really didn't want to be a bitch—but she couldn't back down on this either. On went the don't-argue-with-me face (which, she'd been told resembled her scary-face just a little too much) and Kyle crossed her arms as she met Noah's gaze squarely.

"We're friends," she said, using a tone of voice that was a little gentler than the look on her face. Telling a friend you weren't interested was perhaps the shittiest feeling on the planet; made even shittier for Kyle by the fact that it was a bit of a fib. "And that's all I want to be. Now, can we please go back dick jokes?"

For a minute, Kyle was very sure that she was in trouble. Noah's face read anything but 'fine'; hurt, disappointed, regretful, all of those things were definitely there and none of that seemed ready to start laughing. Perhaps tell her to fuck off and demand why she always had to be so complicated (or that could have just been the voices in her own head). She was sure, in those few tense seconds, that nothing would ever be okay between them again. And then…

"Your life is a dick joke." He wore a half-smile as his shoulder bumped hers. It was weak, less than half-hearted even, but it was still better than what she should be hoping for. Honestly, she wasn't sure that things were going to be all right between them in the long run; but for now, Kyle was going to take what she could get.

Bumping back, she smirked as they started walking down the sidewalk again. "Hey, anything Dave tells you about college is probably only half-true, thanks."

OoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO

Walking through the door that night, Kyle felt heavy and unsettled. There were a thousand things milling around in her head and she had a great desire to be anywhere else but inside her own head.

She was intent on being in a mood for the rest of the evening, maybe locking herself in the studio and playing in her paints. With all the tough talk that had come with that day, she felt like any sort of conversation would kill her.

Then she opened the kitchen door and the scent of spices and fresh-baked bread hit her. One of the good copper soup pots was sitting on the stove, a yet to be cleaned cutting board, knife, and hand blender laying close by. She could see Dave's very spotty Batman apron hung on the island counter's edge, indicating that he wasn't finished with it. From deeper in the house came the light hum of the radio and Kyle could see the lights on in the living room. Dave was on one of the couches, curled under a blanket with an open book and she could see smudges of flour on his nose and shirt collar.

The messiness of the day seemed to ebb—just a little—when Dave looked up and smiled at her.

"Hey, I was just about to call you," he said. "Did you grab dinner already? I making tomato soup." He sat down his book and slung his arm over the couch's back, wordlessly inviting her to join him. Kyle raised an eyebrow and earned an eye roll as well as the corner of the blanket being thrown back. She slid in, hogging the blanket—after she pulled off her boots, of course. Dave gave a belabored sigh but still hooked his arm around her shoulders.

Pressing herself into Dave's side, Kyle gave her best Jude impression. "Is there going to be grilled cheese too?" Jude may have had a patent on big eyes, but Kyle was fairly sure her pout was better.

Dave rolled his eyes again but it came with a laugh. "Well, I guess the fresh bread does have to be used sometime."

"What about dessert? Am I getting dessert?"

"Pushin' it, Porthos."

"Fine. Wine in a mug at least?"

Dave pretended to think for a second. "Well…all right. I guess we can be classy tonight."

"You're the best, Athos."

She closed her eyes and buried her face against Dave's collarbone, losing herself for a moment in the scent of flour, basil, and home. All of the mulling little voices scratching at the back of her head ebbed to a dull roar and she held onto that quiet.

"Hey, you okay?" Dave asked. His arm tightened around her shoulders and she felt the concern in the tension of the muscles pressed to her back.

She shrugged; both not wanting to talk about it and knowing that saying anything about her conversation with Jude was not a good idea. Instead, Kyle did the third thing that she'd become very good at over the years.

"Meh, just stuff."

She could feel The Eyebrow going up but Dave, mercifully, didn't press her. He simply kissed her forehead and hugged.

"Stuff sucks sometimes."

"Yep."

It was very nice to know that there was at least one man in her life who would never try and make it messier than it already was.


Author's Note Deux: So, part of me wants to apologize for taking so long with this chapter and promise it won't happen anymore. However, the logical part of me knows it'd be a big ol' lie, so, I won't insult myself or any of you with it.

I like writing Comic Cons, it's a nice little escape, but see that's precisely it: fanfiction is an escape for me. Right now I'm in the middle of obtaining a degree, working, and most of my free time has been given over to the research and writing of my original stuff that, hopefully, I'm going to be paid for in the not-too-distant future. I hope you all understand why Comic Cons has become a back burner project for me given all of that.

Oh, and also, if you'd like to, you can blame my boyfriend. In the words of Patton Oswalt, nothing kills creativity like being in a (mostly) stable relationship and regular sex. So, yes, everyone please blame Travis.

And Skyrim, Dragon Age, and my PS3 in general. They're culprits too.