Andrea: This is part of the “Pegasus Flight” series. It takes place a few months after “Family”. The first stories can be found at www.geocities.com/ra_1013, and I recommend you read them first. Special thanks to PK, who both inspired this story in the first place and then was wonderful enough to help me write it!
PK: Andrea has now officially joined the ranks of the plotweaseled. Blame me. And Stryfe, of course. He's a Summers; you can blame him for anything.
~text~ indicates telepathy
*text* indicates thoughts
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Peggy blinked a few times with her eyes shut before working up to a full-scale peek through the lashes. Something was wrong here. She didn’t remember getting into bed last night, yet here she was just waking up. It didn’t feel right.
She opened her eyes the rest of the way and propped herself up on an arm to look around. Not familiar, though at least she was able to move. Her vision started swimming after a second, and she dropped her head a bit and groaned. "Is it just me, or do I keep getting kidnapped lately?"
"It's the family," said a dry voice. She thought at first it was Nathan's, especially as sarcastic as it sounded--had they gotten kidnapped together again? This was embarrassing!--only as it went on, it didn't sound... quite... right. "There seems to be a propensity for kidnapped or otherwise missing offspring. Of course, you can't have acquired it genetically--but I suppose if you're adopted in, you're fair game."
Peggy blinked her eyes furiously and tried to figure out where she was and what was going on. The room was too dark for her to figure much out, but she thought she could detect a figure standing a few feet away. "Nathan?" she called out uncertainly. If he was free, why hadn't he released her already? "I--I can't get free. What happened?"
There was a low chuckle, and Peggy was struck with the sudden certainty that this was not her brother. "Oh, I know, my dear.” There was, however, a gleam that looked an awful lot like his eye. She averted her eyes quickly, then squinted just to the left of the glow, where the right half of his face ought to be if he was facing her. And if it was Nathan. Which apparently it wasn't.
"Of course you can't." The light flared brighter for a second, wildly, and the smooth amusement cracked and fell on the floor in pieces as the voice went on. "And I'm not Nathan!"
Okay... Peggy swallowed hard. *Please don't let it be who I think it is. Please don't let it be who I think it is,* she thought desperately.
"Stryfe?" she asked, proud that her voice quavered only slightly.
"Oh, very good. I'm actually surprised they bothered to tell you about me. Was that... our... dear parents, or has Nathan been telling stories?"
"I-I've read about you. You did try to kill the X-Men several times," Peggy retorted, a bit of dry amusement sneaking into her own voice.
"No I didn't," the voice--Stryfe--retorted, sounding rather indignant. "I'd have done better than try. I just... made life more difficult. Once or twice." The light from his eye came closer, and then the entire room brightened, slowly. Peggy saw a glimmer of golden light around her calves and on the table around her wrists--apparently loose enough she'd been able to sit up a bit, but not very. Then it vanished. She blinked.
"Made life more difficult?" Peggy repeated, cautiously stretching her legs a bit. "You shot the Professor in the head."
"He lived, didn't he?" Stryfe folded his arms and regarded her defiantly. He wasn't wearing the helmet--it was, in fact, sitting on another table across the room.
"So he lived, and you say you weren't trying to kill him. Sounds like you're just trying to admit you're not a failure." Peggy regarded her captor defiantly, hoping that he shared Nathan's temper as well as his looks. Lesson number one was that anger made you sloppy. It wouldn’t be much of an edge against Stryfe, but it would still be an edge.
Stryfe glared at her. "I could have used a normal bullet."
"You tried to kill Dad and Jean too. And Nathan. Is it my turn now?”
Stryfe folded his arms and answered in a very cold voice, "Nathan and I have been trying to kill each other or, alternatively, make each other's lives miserable for the past several decades of subjective time. Of course, you seem to get along quite, quite well with him."
"It's amazing how well you get along with people who aren’t trying to kill you," Peggy replied flippantly. As long as he was talking, he wasn't killing her, and she thought that was a very good thing.
"You're a bit hung up on that, aren't you?"
"Hey, until a few months ago I'd never had anyone try to kill me! Now it's happened... four times. I'm sorry, but that's just not normal!"
"No, it isn't," Stryfe said thoughtfully. "At least not for the family you seem to have joined. You should have started much earlier, I think. Infancy, for this generation."
"You're a bit hung up on that, aren't you?" Peggy retorted, echoing his earlier comment. "You keep talking about me joining the family. I feel like I'm in the Mob or something."
Stryfe snorted at her. "Well, what would you call it? Of course, I must congratulate you; you're doing quite well. I was--I can't quite say born, can I?--brought into existence as part of it, but no one ever seems to have been interested in acknowledging this..."
"Thank you." The sarcasm oozed from those two simple words. "It's good to know I'm good at something." Peggy paused for a moment, then added, "I don't mean to keep harping on this, but don't you think that if you just would stop attacking us all the time--"
"Selective, weren't they?" Stryfe hissed. "I see they told you enough of what I’d done, but left out their own part--such as what my first 'sister' did?" He brought his voice under tight control. "It was her idea to clone Nathan. They left me to die, did you know that? At best I was a backup copy for their precious Chosen One. At worst? I was a decoy!"
His voice broke into a snarl at the end, and Peggy tried not to flinch as he leaned down into her face, their noses practically touching, and grabbed her hair at the back of her neck. "They left me to die. Or for Apocalypse, which is worse."
She felt the telekinetic grip that still surrounded her... waver. Stryfe suddenly found himself nose-to-nose with a great white horse, clutching a handful of white mane. ~Don't. Touch. Me,~ Peggy sent very slowly. She jerked her head up and out of his grasp. ~So you were left a helpless little baby. Poor you. Yes, you went through something terrible, but it was hardly Nathan's fault! He was a baby too!~
~And Dad and Jean barely got out with their lives that day! I -have- read the history. They didn't know you existed, so you can't blame any of -them- for what happened! Get off your pity party!~
Just what he needed, a telepathic flying horse. Stryfe realized his mistake and hastily seized on her legs and wings with his mind, squeezing just enough to hurt, eye flaring. ~Can't I? They must have known--or else Rachel didn't bother TELLING them, and how exactly do you plan to exonerate her?~
Peggy cried out in pain and reared up. ~I don't know! But -I- didn't do it! I never even met you before today! Why are you taking it out on ME?~
~You were there.~
~And you're insane,~ she retorted, rearing up and striking him with her front hooves, half-blind from the painful grip he had on her wings. She spun around and tried to kick in the door with her back hooves, desperate to GET OUT!
Stryfe took a half-step back under the force of her kick against his armor, and renewed the grip he'd obviously been careless with again, throwing the pegasus to her side on the floor and pinning her wings flat. "Was that ever in question?"
"It needs repeating," Peggy said in resignation after she'd shifted back to her human form. "So... what are you going to do with me?" She tried to sound brave, but she knew it came off more as bravado.
Stryfe began to answer, then paused and, with what Peggy viewed as somewhat sarcastic courtesy, walked over and offered her a hand up off the floor. "I haven't decided yet."
*Not much of a pre-planner, are you?* Peggy bit back the sarcastic retort, but pointedly ignored the offered hand. She stood on her own and brushed her pants off self-consciously. "You could let me go?" she offered, perfectly reasonably.
"I usually do plan more than this," he answered her thought, a little absently. "The opportunity in this case was fortuitous, though. A chance to snatch you away from under Cable's and the X-Men's very noses, and not even have them notice."
"They'll come for me."
"What makes you think that?" he inquired solicitously, with a faint, maddening smile.
"B-because they will," she faltered. "Dad will always help me." She raised her chin in defiance. "And I'm an X-Man. X-Men always help each other."
"Ah, yes, Cyclops is so very skilled at keeping track of his offspring."
"He'll come." Peggy's voice was hard and implacable, her expression no less so.
“Peggy, my dear girl. He doesn't even know you came home. You and Nathan slipped the security system to avoid waking anyone up, remember? Nathan thinks you're with them, they think you're with him, and he's not the most communicative sort. And no, you won't get anywhere by screaming mentally until someone hears you. I shield better than that.”
Peggy seemed to wilt like a week-old flower, her eyes sinking back into her head. "It doesn't matter," she said, but she didn't sound convincing even to her own ears. "They'll find me."
"Well, perhaps eventually. I'll grant that they probably won't be twelve or thirteen years about it; they seem to be relatively fond of you."
*They'll find you!* she told herself firmly. *Nathan's mission won't take -that- long, and even if it does he's bound to check in soon.* She ignored the niggling doubt that reminded her Nathan was hardly regular about contacting the mansion, and she was supposed to be with him for days yet... days before anyone else would worry.
"Nathan's almost as secretive as I am," Stryfe pointed out. "More so in some ways." He shrugged. "At any rate, I should have the pleasure of your company for some time. After all, once they notice you're missing they have to figure out where you are."
"They've always managed to beat you before. You're just making them mad this time."
"They don't know it was me, now do they? Although I suppose Nathan might guess--but they do have so many enemies." He gave her another infuriating smile. "In the meantime, I suppose I can find out whether you're preferable to my other 'sister.' And perhaps even what exactly provokes Cyclops to choose a child."
“I don't know," Peggy said quietly. "I never understood why he did. But I am a Summers now. This is the fourth time someone's tried to kill me in barely a year, remember? I can take care of myself."
"Really. And what exactly would you do to protect yourself if I decided to set you on fire telekinetically? Or make you shift to pegasus-form and tear your wings off? Or simply turn off your mind?"
Peggy paled even further, until the only bit of color about her was her bright blue eyes. "If you were going to do that, you'd already have done it," she answered, praying she was right.
"Very good." Stryfe patted her on the head. She resisted the impulse to duck. "Unless, of course, I were sufficiently provoked--but I believe we're clear, now, on the fact that if I were trying to kill you you would be dead?"
Peggy remained silent. If he was just trying to get under her skin--well, it was working but she didn't have to show him that!
He sighed. "Are we also clear on the fact that I'm quite as nosy as your average telepath, with fewer scruples than the ones you've met tend to claim?"
Peggy thought something very rude she'd heard from Remy when she wasn't supposed to be listening.
“That was mild. I can tell you what some of Nathan's mean, though, if you like."
If she wasn't in the middle of a kidnapping situation, that would actually be intriguing. Nathan had taught her a few phrases in Askani after she'd asked once, but he'd never tell her the good ones.
Stryfe smirked and she abruptly remembered (again) that he was nosy. "Or my own. Then I really might have to let you go, just to see his reaction when you actually used one...."
"Okay," Peggy agreed quickly.
Stryfe laughed. Somewhat to her surprise--and apparently his own, judging from a very brief flash of expression as he finished--it actually sounded amused, rather than mirthless taunting. "No promises, of course."
Peggy had a brief flash of Nathan saying almost the exact same thing, and before she could think better of it, blurted out, "You two are more alike than you think."
"Are you trying to be provoking again?" Stryfe inquired rhetorically, eyes narrowing. "And yes, I know. It's a useful thing to remind him of occasionally, as he finds it cause for horror, whereas I simply resent it."
Peggy winced. She really hadn't meant to say that. "Uh, sorry."
"Now that's a new one."
"Huh?" Peggy asked in confusion.
“I believe that's the first time any of... our relatives have actually apologized to me for anything."
"Well, as you keep pointing out, I am adopted."
"That might explain it," he replied sourly. "So might the fact that except for that, you're the only one I've actually encountered who hasn't DONE anything significant to me."
"Well, I'll kick your head in if I get a chance."
Stryfe sighed. "You won't." He held out his hand and the silver helmet floated across the room to him. "Try not to break anything," he said dryly, strolling out.
Peggy glared at his retreating back. "I might kick your head in. Well, I could," she grumbled.
“I certainly hope you’re enjoying my hospitality, my dear,” Stryfe said pleasantly as he entered Peggy’s cell later. A shoe came flying across the room at him. "That was uncalled for," he said, sounding almost hurt as he deflected the projectile effortlessly.
"What kind of kidnapper are you?" Peggy retorted angrily. "Don't you know any of the rules? You don't just walk off and leave! You're suppose to hang around gloating or start torturing or something horribly cliched like that."
"Would you prefer I torture you?" Stryfe asked, his eye glinting dangerously.
"Well try something! Don't just leave me here to starve!"
Stryfe looked at her in bemusement. "It's only been three hours."
"And?" she shot back, glaring. "If you don't know what you're going to do with me, you could at least feed me!"
He continued to stare at her, and took off the helmet, apparently in order to stare more efficiently. The recently projectile shoe floated off the floor and into the other metal-gloved hand. "I suppose that would be an option, yes. I did kidnap you before breakfast."
"Well." Peggy wasn't really expecting him to aquiese so quickly. "So... do you have a kitchen?"
Stryfe gave her the sort of look normally reserved for those who asked whether rain fell downwards. "Yes, I have a kitchen. I also have an automated unit that might remind you of Star Trek, but it's not in this base," he explained, a bit condescendingly. "Would you like an omelet, or hay?"
"That depends," Peggy replied cooly. "Are you making the omelet?"
"It's a gas stove. I try not to let captives near anything explosive."
"I promise not to try to kill you until after I've eaten," Peggy promised firmly as her stomach gave an embarassing rumble. "I just know that hay is preferable to... some people's cooking."
"And whose would that be?"
"Bobby," she said instantly, starting to tick off the numbers of her fingers. "Rogue, if it's not fried. Jubilee, Betsy, Warren..." She broke off, shuddering. "Honestly, it's safer to fight Magneto than eat anything Warren's cooked."
She looked up from her hands to see Stryfe shaking his head and laughing quietly. "Well, he was Apocalypse's Angel of Death. I suppose that makes an odd sort of sense." He gestured resignedly with the shoe, glanced at it, and tossed it back to her. "Don't throw that at me again, either." He turned and swept out the doorway, cape brushing the jambs, and raised a hand above shoulder-height to beckon to her. "You might as well come along."
Peggy slipped her shoe back on, blushing a little at the fit of pique that had inspired her mad throw. Honestly, who threw a shoe? "Thank you," she said quietly, tagging along in his wake.
He cast her a mildly surprised look over his shoulder--past the spikes--and guided her to... what looked like a relatively normal kitchen, with a table in the middle of it. "Sit down. And don't move."
Peggy sat. Stryfe proceeded to disappear. He had some misgivings about forgoing his usual image, but she already knew what he looked like and while it was certainly possible to cook in full armor, it wasn't the most practical alternative unless actually in the field. Not that the armor was particularly uncomfortable--he was entirely accustomed to it, and it was designed not to restrict motion (except for obvious things like avoiding putting one's eye out on the spikes)--but it wasn't designed for cooking.
Peggy looked up in considerable surprise when he returned to the kitchen in sweats. For one thing, it was entirely contrary to any mental picture she'd ever associated with Stryfe. For another, it was warm enough in this 'base' of his that she was perfectly comfortable in her shorts and tank top.
"Uh... A-are you cold?" she asked inanely, trying to blank her mind. All she could think of was that with him dressed like this, she could easily picture herself having breakfast with Nathan in any of his safehouses.
"No." He gave her another odd look--she could start a collection--and calmly de-shelled a dozen eggs while a pan meandered out of the cabinet and in his general direction. Apparently Jean was not the only telekinetic who occasionally ignored the usual order of cooking, such as getting a container for the eggs before breaking them.
First Nathan, now Jean. What was wrong with her? She was being held prisoner. She had to concentrate on what was important now, not start getting homesick! She tried to think of what Scott would do in this situation. Of course, she doubted Scott had ever been in the situation of having Stryfe cooking an omelet for him, but that was beside the point. Her stomach rumbled again and she flushed. "Um... do you need any help?”
"No." He turned and raised an eyebrow at her. "Not working fast enough for your tastes?" He would have to mention taste, she thought plaintively.
"I'm just a little hungry," she said, trying for tartly and ending up with plaintively instead.
"So I hear." Peggy watched him add all her favorite things to put in an omelet, and wondered whether this qualified as being nice, or cruelly taunting.
"Fast metabolism," she added defensively, wondering why on earth she was defending her appetite to her kidnapper.
"Of course," he replied dryly. "Especially with the mass-change involved in your shapeshift, I'm sure."
"If you're trying to say I eat like a horse," Peggy responded with equal dryness, "go ahead."
"Well, that's another possibility." He was sure she heard that particular joke quite often enough, and was under no delusions about it being remotely original. Although he was involuntarily amused by her suggesting it that way. "If you want instant oatmeal in the meantime, however, go ahead. Regular wouldn't be done before the eggs anyway."
She eyed him warily, trying to figure out if he was serious, but when the packet of instant oatmeal and a bowl floated out of nearby cupboards, she took the opportunity. She jumped up and began mixing the oatmeal quickly. She repressed a smile. She'd never thought of him as an apple-cinnamon person.
This girl, Stryfe decided, was strange. So was the fact that he was cooking for her, except that without the automated setup the alternative was letting her starve, and even if he did decide to kill her that wasn't his planned method. And she was surprisingly polite, except for the shoe. And the accusations, of course. And the loyalty to Cyclops. Then again, he'd probably be fairly loyal too if Cyclops had ever actually treated him as a son.
Peggy's expression was sheer bliss as she took her first bite of steaming oatmeal. "Mmmm," she moaned involuntarily. She took a few more bites, then smiled sardonically and looked up at Stryfe. "I didn't think you were one for bad puns," she commented idly, spooning up another bite.
Stryfe glanced up from the omelet at her. "Hmmm?"
Peggy took another bite. A big one. "Oatmeal. Oats," she explained, licking off a bit of oatmeal on the corner of her mouth. "Eat like a horse."
"Ah, that. Well, it seemed more fitting than toast."
"I like toast," she replied idly.
"Quit complaining," Stryfe growled at her, "or I'll eat the omelet by myself."
"I wasn't complaining, I was commenting. You're not much on conversation, you know."
"Do you habitually try to engage your captors in conversation?" he inquired a bit sarcastically, bringing the pan over to deposit about half the omelet on her plate.
Her eyes lit up at the wonderful-looking omelet. "Yes, actually." She shrugged. "I figure, why not try to make the best of things?"
Stryfe kept the other half of the omelet, studied the table for a moment, and decided that the missing component was a fork. Or two forks, since Peggy was using a spoon. He remedied this before looking at her oddly again. "You're a very strange girl."
“You're a very strange kidnapper," she countered, finishing the rest of her oatmeal with gusto and moving on to the omelet. "Most wouldn't make me breakfast." She took a bite of the omelet and her eyes closed in pure rapture. "Ohhhhhhh," she moaned. "You really made this? This is incredible!"
Stryfe swallowed his own bite of egg concoction while eyeing Peggy with considerable suspicion that she was making some sort of bizarre joke. She was, apparently, perfectly sincere. Well... that was nice. Irritation gave way to a rather flattered feeling and amusement. "Peggy, you watched me make it," he pointed out. "At least, until you were entranced by the oatmeal."
Peggy's cheeks colored slightly. "I was trying to pay you a compliment. This is very good. Honestly. If you ever decide to give up trying to ki--uh, making our lives difficult, you could try your hand at being a chef."
Stryfe hesitated over this for several bites, discarding several sarcastic comments that didn't quite seem to fit (given that he had just been complaining about being left for Apocalypse, and they tended to involve the irony of said High Lord's prince turning his hand to professional cooking), then relented. "...Thank you."
Peggy almost dropped her fork. Stryfe was thanking her? She stifled an automatic urge to look out a window for flying pigs and instead shoveled a huge bite of omelet in her mouth. It really was good.
"I don't think I've ever seen anyone elevated to minor levels of ecstacy by breakfast before, though, unless they were actually starving prior to that..." He considered for a moment, then added, "On the other hand, Wildside was occasionally known to compose doggerel odes to pizza toppings."
"Why eat if you're not going to enjoy it?" Peggy retorted. "And why learn to cook so well if you don't want to be elevated to minor levels of ecstacy by breakfast?"
"To your first question, because starving to death is unpleasant. To your second, cooking is a survival skill, especially if you don't trust anyone else to do it."
"But this isn't just some gruel I'm choking down to survive. This is an amazingly good omelet, so I'm going to enjoy it. And you didn't answer my second question. Cooking is a survival skill. Cooking well is not."
"...Granted, but why bother doing it badly?"
"Oh, now I see."
Peggy applied herself to the omelet for several minutes, as Stryfe waited impatiently. Finally he gritted his teeth and asked, "What do you see?"
She smiled at him. "You're a perfectionist."
"Well, yes." He shrugged. "And as I generally am the one to eat my own cooking, there's no particular point in making it unpleasant."
"A perfectionist and a hedonist?" Peggy's eyes were dancing with laughter. "Not your usual combination.
"Just because Nathan's masochistic..."
Peggy couldn't help it. She burst out laughing. Stryfe gave her a look somewhere between aggrieved and satisfied, and continued eating his half of the omelet. Still giggling a bit, Peggy finished her omelet with a few neat bites. "He does take himself too seriously," she admitted. "But I think it runs in the family."
"Oh, really." Most people who had spent any length of time around Stryfe would have recognized this as a dangerous tone.
"Look at Dad," she said simply, grinning as she piled her bowl on her plate and carried them both to the simple sink set into the countertop.
Stryfe stared at her back for a second, and had worked up a stone-faced yet ferocious expression and was approximately doubling the ambient light on his own by the time she turned around. "Did you just compare me to Cyclops?"
Peggy winced, put the dishes in the sink, and started to run the water without turning around. "I compared Nathan to Cyclops. You did the rest."
"I beg your pardon."
"Don't you have any soap?" Peggy grabbed a sponge and started scrubbing away oatmeal fiercely.
"That is not what you said the first time." Stryfe took the bowl away from her telekinetically and deposited it back in the sink, then turned her around by the shoulders.
"No, it was a question. It's hard to wash dishes without soap." Peggy tried very, very hard not to tremble. He was strong; she could feel it in the iron grip on her shoulders. "And what I said the first time was that I compared -Nathan- to Cyclops, not you. If you'll recall, we had just observed that Nathan was a masochist while you chose to learn to cook well. But it helps if you have -soap- to clean up afterwards."
"Persistent, aren't you? Stop trying to change the subject." Peggy blinked hard and tried to focus on something that didn't give her purple afterimages. "I'm Nathan's clone, remember?" The loathing in that, oddly enough, didn't seem to fall mostly on Nathan's name.
Stryfe stared at her as if she'd suddenly grown an extra head. "What do you mean, 'and'?"
"Nathan can't cook to save his life. X-Force banned him from the kitchen entirely. And he doesn't like omelets. He lives off coffee and I haven't seen you drink any yet. While you’re both stubborn and entirely too touchy sometimes, I'm not seeing a whole lot of similarities. You don't have the same lives. Just because I say something about Nathan doesn't mean I'm saying it about you!"
"So you'll deny me any connection to the family as well, is that it?"
Peggy stared at him in disbelief. "Will you make up your mind?" she growled. "Being part of a family doesn't mean being exactly like everyone else in it! That doesn't stop you from being family! My God!" She threw up her hands in disgust--or at least as much as she could with his hands still gripping her shoulders so tightly. She was going to have bruises, she knew it.
"Sometimes you're just related to who you're related to, and that's that. Deal with it. You think I like claiming any relationship with my father?" Despite all her best efforts, tears sprung into her eyes. "But I've still got his nose and his chin and his blood in me for the rest of my life. We're family, as much as I hate to admit it. But sometimes you can choose your family too."
Stryfe hesitated, unexpectedly disconcerted by her reaction. "And I'm sure you'd have left me out of your adoptive one, given the option," he remarked. She continued her slightly damp glare at him. "What did yours do to you?"
She shrugged, trying to look casual. "Not much. Experimentation, torture, maiming, too early of a curfew."
"You're being flippant."
"You're being nosy."
"I don't have to let you tell me."
Peggy paled and slammed up every last vestige of telepathic shielding she'd learned since joining the X-Men. "No," she said softly, not sure if it was a command, statement, or plea.
Stryfe narrowed his eyes and very delicately tore the shielding down, painlessly and indeed imperceptibly, until her mind was laid wide open. Then he let her see what he'd done, and smirked. "You need to work on that."
Peggy trembled and shut her eyes, never truly afraid until now. She whispered something very softly. It might have been "please". She opened her eyes and looked into his eyes. "He was an evil man. I don't use that term lightly."
"So am I."
"If you were evil, you wouldn't have made me breakfast," she replied steadily. "You're not nice, but you're... not like him."
"Your logic obviously also needs work," Stryfe replied, rather bemused by this point. He let go of her shoulders to cross his arms. "Legacy."
She rubbed her shoulder, her gaze never leaving his. "I never said you weren't insane. Just not evil."
"I assure you, I was well aware of what I was doing." This wasn't technically true of the point of release, as it had been on a psionic dead-man's switch. It applied to his setting it up, though.
"Then why haven't you killed me? Or hurt me at all?" Her hand brushed unconsciously over her scarred cheek. "And why have you restricted yourself to just making life more difficult for the X-Men instead of actually trying to kill them?" She threw his own words back in his face. "You're a sick, sadistic person sometimes, but I still don't think you're evil."
"I think your definitions need work," he retorted.
"Give me a break. I'm seventeen and haven't even finished high school yet. My definitions make perfect sense to me, and you're not evil."
"Tell that to Nathan. Or Colossus."
"I'm telling it to you." She finally broke his gaze and turned back to the sink. "Why does it matter to you if I think you're evil or not, anyway?"
"That's a good question," he muttered. "And the detergent's in the upper cabinet nearest your left."
"Thank you," she said stiffly, reaching up into the cabinet and pulling down the soap. "Can you bring me your plate?"
The plate nudged her elbow lightly in passing, then settled into the sink without so much as a clink. Peggy scrubbed the dishes firmly, rinsing off the remaining food particles. She worked in silence and Stryfe seemed content to let her, though she could still feel him looming just over her shoulder. "Thank you for breakfast," she said finally.
"I wasn't planning to starve you."
She shrugged, putting the frying pan upside-down on the sideboard. "I appreciate that."
"What were you expecting?"
"Sinister didn't feed me. My--the Friends of Humanity barely did. I didn't have a lot else for comparison."
"Sinister is an idiot," Stryfe declared, casually dismissing what was usually acknowledged as a brilliant if generally amoral and frequently sadistic scientific intellect. "Your what?"
"You said 'my,' then switched to the Friends of Humanity. Your what?"
"Oh. I didn't realize I..." She shrugged, rinsing the forks off and turning off the water. "My biological father worked for the Friends of Humanity."
"Ah. Hence the experimentation, torture, maiming, and early curfew?"
"You're quick," she said acerbicly, brushing past him and sitting back down at the table. "Now what?"
"Cheer up. Your adoptive one isn't likely to try to possess you."
Peggy blinked. "Huh?"
"Well, I may not be fond of him, but I can't see Cyclops going that route..."
Peggy jumped to her feet and slammed her hand against the table, her expression absolutely furious. "Of course he wouldn't! He would never hurt me! Don't even--"
Stryfe blinked at her. "I just said he wouldn't. What are we arguing about?"
"Well--nothing, then." Peggy coughed uncomfortably and sat back down.
"How did you meet him, anyway?"
"He was a prisoner."
"You're not feeling forthcoming today, are you?"
"Most big brothers looking for a little family chat don't resort to kidnapping," she retorted.
"Would you have talked to me otherwise?" he inquired, perfectly reasonably.
"Depends on how you asked." She sighed and blew a strand out of her hair in exasperation. "He was a prisoner at an FOH compound. I lived there. Happy?"
Peggy closed her eyes and pursed her lips. "My biological father was a researcher. He was experimenting on mutants. Scott was one of his subjects. I helped him escape. End of story."
"Look, can we just get on with it? Whatever you have planned? I don't really feel like discussing this with you."
"It can hardly be the end if he adopted you afterwards, can it?"
"You're right. I helped him to escape. He adopted me. End of story."
“Based purely on comparative obstinacy, I admit I'd never have guessed you weren't a genetic relative."
Peggy's mouth twitched up at one corner. "I guess there's a reason he adopted me after all."
Stryfe snorted. "There has to be more to it than that." He turned and left the kitchen. Peggy thought she remembered something like a living room in that direction.
After waiting a few moments out of sheer obstinacy, she stood and followed. Stryfe was sitting in a very comfortable-looking chair, watching her with an unreadable expression. She sat down calmly across from him.
The chair she'd picked, somewhat to her surprise, was exactly as comfortable as Stryfe's looked. She snuggled into it. Stryfe finally raised an eyebrow at her.
She mimicked his expression exactly and crossed her arms.
There was a very faint twitch to Stryfe's mouth, and his eye flared slightly as he proceeded to fold his own arms as well. After a few more moments of standoff, he turned to look at the bookcase and tugged a volume to his hand, apparently ignoring her.
Peggy leaned back in the very comfortable chair and closed her eyes. Just to be perverse, she started singing bad French songs Remy had taught her very loudly in her head.
Stryfe did look at her. Then he raised shields and went back to his book. A short time later, he peeked at her mind again. She was still at it, of course. She couldn't tell when he wasn't listening. He considered the situation briefly and then countered with one of Wildside's previously mentioned odes to pizza toppings. The one that compared feta cheese in consecutive lines to starlight in autumn, and the inside of a slug as enjoyed by a turtle.
Only by virtue of long practice schooling her expression did Peggy manage to keep a straight face when Stryfe's mental voice entered her head with the ode to pizza. She thought he'd've just put up shields by now. She started humming "This is the song that never ends" very softly.
Stryfe determined that the situation was quite ridiculous enough as it was, and making it more so would be superfluous but not especially detrimental. He joined in.
Peggy fought to keep her expression bland. She opened her eyes to look at Stryfe, but he was apparently absorbed in his book. She smirked inwardly, and began to sing, "I love you, you love me..."
Stryfe looked up at her and said gravely, "You do realize you're delusional, child."
She smiled at him in perfect innocence. "And your point is..?
Stryfe tapped one shoulder where the spikes would usually be. "Not wearing any right now." He then went back to his book, wondering why in the world he was in a better mood than he had been in weeks. Especially considering that any song bringing up associations of happy, loving families or small children usually made him grumpy, whether they'd evoked the level of popular disdain that particular one somehow did or not.
Peggy stared at him for a second, then started laughing. It started out as a muffled choke, then grew to a polite giggle, but soon was bursting out in a roaring, full-bellied laugh. Stryfe looked up at her again, rather mystified. Of course, this only exacerbated matters.
Peggy laughed until she could barely breathe. Every time she started to get control of herself again, she would make the mistake of looking up at Stryfe's puzzled face and would lose it again. Eventually it mostly faded to silent shaking, and she finally managed to stop. Carefully not looking at him again, Peggy leaned back against her comfortable chair again. She stared intently at her hand, as if her fingernails held the key to the secrets of the universe.
Stryfe was pretending to read again--well, he was reading; he was pretending to ignore Peggy again. In fact, he was carefully monitoring her progress. At a carefully calculated moment, just when he thought might be the most propitious one, shortly after she had settled down and was endeavoring to remain calm, he looked back over at her and said mildly, "It wasn't that funny."
Peggy struggled desperately not to laugh, but it was too late. She laughed until there were tears in her eyes. Finally she leaned over the chair and attempted to glare at the mutant across from her. The effect was spoiled by the occasional chuckle that managed to get through her control. "Oh yes it was."
Stryfe looked pleased with himself. "Was that a horselaugh?"
"Was that a joke?" Peggy asked in amazement, still giggling. "Oh, come on! Even an Evil Megalomaniac has to think that was funny."
"I thought you said I was insane, not evil. Although why the two would be mutually exclusive is beyond me..." He caught himself halfway to grinning at her and managed a slightly off-kilter smirk instead. "What, am I not supposed to have a sense of humor?"
"Only when you're torturing people," Peggy informed him solemnly. "And since my thinking you were evil seemed so important to you, I thought I'd play along."
"Well, if I do let you go I'll have to pin a note to you suggesting Cyclops do something about this evaluating people based on whether or not they feed you..."
"It's a perfectly rational system," Peggy protested, a bit miffed. "The people who've kidnapped me never feed me. The X-Men let me eat as much as I wanted when I first came. Anyone can release a virus or attack the mansion or kidnap people. Only the real sickos will starve you while they do it."
Stryfe put a hand to his forehead. "I am so glad I am not responsible for you."
"Well..." Peggy's voice trailed off.
"Well what?" Stryfe asked impatiently.
“I was just thinking... this is your place and you did bring me here. You could say you're responsible for me now."
Stryfe waved a hand dismissively. "Not in any obligatory sense. Nor for your education, or ability to survive attacks from anyone else in the event that I let you out of my sight."
"Oh, so you'll protect me from attacks as long as I'm still in your sight? How gallant."
"If I feel like it."
“You should be. At this point I probably would."
Peggy blinked, actually surprised by that. If he was trying to throw her off-balance, it was working. "Want to make sure someone else doesn't get the credit when Dad and Nathan find me?"
"They will," she asserted calmly.
"See, I told you you were delusional..."
"Isn't there a saying about how crazy people shouldn't question other people's sanity?" she replied, gritting her teeth.
"Probably," he agreed amiably.
Peggy rolled her eyes and muttered something under her breath.
"Seriously, though, I think I would." He sounded a little surprised by this. "Which is rather odd."
Peggy looked at him curiously. He actually seemed serious. "Yes, it is," she agreed slowly, "but I'm glad you would."
It was, Stryfe reflected, even stranger that he'd actually decided to tell her this. Possibly it was a result of not having either the MLF or Zero around to talk to--not that he'd tell the MLF anything too interesting or that Zero was much of a conversationalist, but apparently he was in the habit of saying things to someone... He'd have to go back to keeping a journal; that was dangerous. "Oh, good. You do have a sense of self-preservation."
She raised an eyebrow. "That's a stupid thing to say. Of course I do." Her mouth quirked up a bit and she added, "It might not always work very well, but it's there."
"Ah, of course. You should try to have it tuned; those things are useful."
"I'm training," she protested defensively.
"I didn't exactly plan on being a superhero growing up, you know. I have a perfectly adequate sense of self-preservation for anyone who isn't a Summers."
"But that's nowhere near good enough once you are," he pointed out. "Although, if any young idiot shows up with a golden bridle, I promise to incinerate him for you."
"You're trying to make me laugh again, aren't you?" Peggy accused, grinning. "I didn't picture you as a mythology buff."
"I try to be at least somewhat culturally literate. Although reading Greek myths was primarily an act of useless rebellion."
Peggy tucked her tongue firmly in cheek. "Rebellion? You?"
"Apocalypse never liked the language..."
Peggy nodded, remembering how she'd taken up art one summer just because her father derided painters so often. It had been all the rebellion she could handle at the time. "I know the feeling," she said quietly.
Stryfe was about to make a scathing retort when he caught a glimpse of the memory and realized there was a parallel. "Do you."
The mask drew back into place over Peggy's face, smoothing out all expression. She was quiet for a long moment, then shifted in the chair and hugged her knees to her chest. Her expression was startlingly open for a brief moment. "No one can know exactly how someone else feels, even if they're a telepath. But... sometimes there are similarities."
"I suppose so." Stryfe looked away from her for a moment. "You know, I finally realized why he never bothered to teach me to behave, or let Ch'vayre do it. Even if it might have been less of a nuisance. It wasn't simply that he didn't care. He didn't want there to be anyone who'd be bothered once he took over."
"You mean when he took over... you? He didn't want you to have anyone close enough to you that they'd try to stop the transfer?"
"Or object afterwards, I suppose. Although I'm not sure what they could have done at that point."
"Seems logical. I mean, logical to someone who'd raise someone for the sole purpose of taking his body over later."
"Well, at least you got some good Greek lessons out of it." She smiled slightly and admitted, "I never was a very good painter."
"You could try switching styles, I suppose."
"No, I'm really bad. My stick figures don't even look like stick figures." She sighed theatrically. "I haven't painted since I came to the mansion, actually. Without someone to annoy, it didn't seem to matter."
"What do your stick figures look like?"
"Like... bad play-doh sculptures."
Stryfe considered this. "I'm not quite sure how you would manage that."
"I've never been quite sure myself."
“Well, that's no help." He shrugged and settled back in the chair. "What do you do as hobbies that aren't prompted by annoying people?"
"Cook," she replied with a grin.
"I'll have to assume you're good at it, then. Either that, or you don't share..."
"Yes to both. I'm very good, but I rarely share."
"Neither do I. Feel special."
She grinned again. "You share your cooking with me, you offer to incinerate mythological figures for me... I'm going to start thinking you like me."
"I don't like anyone."
"That's too bad."
"It just sounds lonely, that's all."
"So?" He tensed.
"It's a little like eating bad cooking. Why be lonely when you don't have to be?"
"Who says I don't?"
Peggy shrugged. “Well, if you insist.” She blew a bit of hair out of her face again and looked around the room. “So are we going to just sit here and snipe at each other all day?”
“Did you have something else in mind?”
Her eyes lit on a chessboard on the far side of the room. “As a matter of fact...”
“Check,” Peggy said triumphantly, moving her bishop into position and grinning at her partner.
Stryfe moved his knight to block absently, studying the girl across from him meditatively. She’d been his “guest” for three days now. For three days, he’d had Cyclops’ daughter and Cable’s beloved little sister at his mercy. And what had he done?
They’d played chess. Oh, not all the time. They’d both sat and read together, the silence oddly comforting. They’d had lively conversations, so long as neither of them mentioned their mutual family members. And they’d eaten. The girl was rather insistent on regular feedings, so he’d simply given in and cooked for them three times a day. Yesterday he’d even allowed her to make their evening meal. He’d kept a careful eye out to make sure she didn’t try to cause mayhem in the kitchen, but she hadn’t attempted anything but some sort of pasta concoction that was really quite good.
Was he losing his edge? By all rights, this girl should be, at the least, a heap of gibbering terror on the floor right now, not calmly facing him across the chess board. Why did he feel so reluctant to reduce her to that state?
“Checkmate.” He looked up in surprise to see Peggy smiling smugly at him, then looked down to analyze the board. True, he hadn’t been paying much attention to the game, but he still should be winning. Yet she’d managed to manuever him so his king was alone and unprotected, unable to make any move without falling prey to one of her pieces.
Stryfe stared across the table for a moment, then reached out and turned his king on its side. “I concede.”
“Robert, if you ever again attempt such a foolish action, I shall not be responsible for Rogue’s actions,” Storm warned her teammate sternly as Scott walked into the kitchen for a drink after his latest session in the Danger Room.
“What did you do now, Bobby?” he asked curiously.
“Nothing!” Bobby protested innnocently. “Rogue’s just... too sensitive sometimes. She can’t take a joke.”
Scott took a long drink of water, then suggested, “If you have so much free time on your hands, Iceman, I could always schedule you for a few extra sessions in the Danger Room. I think tomorrow morning’s free. At six.”
“All right, all right!” Bobby exclaimed, throwing up his hands in defeat. “I’ll apologize to Rogue, okay?”
“In trouble again, Iceman?”
They looked up to see Cable standing in the doorway, his uniform ripped and burned on one leg, his face scratched, sooty, and very tired. “I hope you don’t mind; I wanted to catch something to eat and some sleep, and you’re closer than X-Force.”
“By the Goddess! You look terrible, Nathan,” Storm exclaimed.
Scott turned very pale and demanded, “What happened? Is Peggy all right?”
Nathan looked confused. “What are you talking about?”
“Peggy. Your sister,” Scott said slowly, starting to turn red now. “You’re supposed to be looking after her, remember?!”
“I’ve been in Mongolia,” Nathan said tiredly. “Something came up. That’s why I brought Peggy back early. That would’ve been... Wednesday night.”
“You didn’t come back on Wednesday,” Scott said in a low, dangerous voice.
“It was late and Peggy didn’t want to wake anyone up, so we... snuck around the security system. It was... a challenge,” he finished lamely, wanting to say “It was fun.”
But Peggy wasn’t here Thursday morning.”
Scott and Nathan stared at each other, horror slowly dawning on both their faces. “Then if she’s not with you...” Nathan said slowly.
“...And she’s not with you...” Scott continued.
“...Where is she?” they finished together.
The mansion had swung into full alert mode several hours later. Nathan recounted every last detail of his time with Peggy, searching for any clues, while Jean swept the area with Cerebro for the hundredth time. Scott’s expression was tightly controlled as he searched the computer for information on villains with possible grudges against him, Peggy, Nathan, or the X-Men in general. Unfortunately, it was a very long list.
“Whoa!” Warren exclaimed suddenly, looking at the monitor more closely. “Scott, something just popped up on the scanners. Massive energy burst just outside the grounds.”
Jean’s head shot up as well, green eyes wide under the silver Cerebro helmet. “Scott! It’s her!”
Everyone rushed outside, to find Peggy casually strolling up the main driveway. “Are—are you all right?” Scott demanded frantically.
“Hi, Dad,” Peggy said with a bright smile and a wave. “Hi, Nathan. How did your mission go?”
“Where have you been?” Nathan growled.
Peggy opened her mouth, then hesitated and finally laughed. “I’m not sure if you’d believe me.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a neatly-folded piece of paper. “This is for you,” She said, holding it out to Scott.
“What on...?” Scott muttered as he opened the note.
If you insist on taking responsibility for this girl, at least teach her not to judge a person’s character based on whether or not they feed her. It could get her into trouble. I may not be in such a good mood next time.
Scott stared at the note for a long moment, then looked back up at Peggy, dumbfolded. “He fed you?” was all he could think of to say.
Peggy nodded, repressing a grin. “He’s a surprisingly good cook.” Scott stared at her.
“Who is?” Nathan demanded. “What happened?”
Scott handed him the note wordlessly. Nathan scanned it quickly, then his eyes bugged out and he read it again. “He let you go?!”
Peggy did smile now. “He thought it would annoy you.” She looked at Scott and added, “And confuse you.”
“Let me get this straight,” Scott said slowly. “Stryfe had you prisoner and let you go because he thought it would confuse me?”
Nathan rubbed his chin, an odd half-smile on his face. “Actually, knowing Strfye, it actually makes an odd sort of sense.”
“I think I confused him, actually,” Peggy said, still smiling. “He always had the oddest expression whenever I was talking to him.
Nathan grinned ruefully. “I know how he feels.”
Peggy eyed him and said something in an oddly lilting language. Nathan whipped his head around and stared at her wide-eyed. “Where the flonq did you learn that?!” he shouted, turning red.
Peggy smiled innocently at him and walked calmly up to the house. She’d almost made it when she started to laugh.