Teaser: Cyclops is captured by the Friends of Humanity and meets a girl who is not what she seems.
Disclaimer: The X-Men belong to Marvel and are used here entirely without their permission. Peggy belongs to me. No profit is being made from this story, so please don't sue! I don't have any money anyway. :)
*Text* indicates telepathy
~Text~ indicates thoughts
Author's Notes: Continuity-wise, this takes place sometime shortly before Scott and Jean's wedding, but that's about as far as I'll claim. So for continuity's sake, let's say this is in a slightly alternate universe. Any big changes were probably done on purpose, so don't fry me for them. Comments are enthusiastically welcomed at Ra_1013@yahoo.com. I'll definitely reply to any praise (yea!) or constructive criticism I receive, but flames are cheerfully ignored. Now without further ado...
Muttering voices were the first thing Scott Summers noticed after the darkness. Then came the knowledge of a pounding headache. What had happened? The last thing he remembered was walking down the street on his way to meet Jean for a movie. There'd been a flash and then--blackness. And now the voices. He opened his eyes a slit, hoping for more information. All he saw at first were the gleaming white, sterile walls and floor. A lab, then. And there was only one reason he'd be in a lab. Because he was a--
"Mutant." The voice startled him. "Ah, so you are awake." A man came into his field of vision. No one he recognized. Just a random mutant-hater? No, not with a lab like this. Not with guards wearing Friends of Humanity logos on their shirts. He started again. He just realized that nothing he was seeing was tinted the familiar red of ruby-quartz, the only material that stopped his optic beams. No, this was no ordinary bigot--not if he possessed the collars that blocked mutant ability.
"What do you want with me?" Scott asked. The scientist chuckled.
"The mutant speaks! Excellent," he said, rubbing his hands together as he looked over Scott. "Very good indeed. My dear mutant--or Cyclops, should I say? The powerful leader of the X-Men himself in my lab! I never dreamed this day would occur."
"Glad to have been of service," Scott replied through clenched teeth.
"As I was saying, Cyclops, I am merely a simple scientist doing my best to help humanity."
"By ridding the world of mutants?" Scott spat out. It was always the same story. Why couldn't normal humans accept the fact that mutants were just like them, only with a special ability like singing well or being athletic?
"Of course! But not in the way you might think. My colleagues with the Friends of Humanity can waste their time trying to kill every mutant on Earth. Unlike them, I recognize that all of you will die eventually. That is why I concentrate on ridding future generations of the scourge that plagues their forefathers. Of course, to discover and eradicate whatever causes mutation, I need actual mutants to experiment on. Please understand, I don't try to cause any pain, but it seems to be an unfortunate side effect of the proceedings." His cold smile and the look of anticipation in his eyes caused a shiver to run through Scott. He was going to enjoy this very much indeed, Scott could tell. "Shall we begin?"
Several hours later the scientist and his guards left the room. Scott hung his head weakly. He still felt on fire. He hoped the other X-Men found him soon. Jean and the professor would have started looking for him with Cerebro after he didn't show up for the movie. But could these collars block telepaths from finding him? He tried to remember, but it was so hard to think.
Something cool pressed against his burning face, helping clear his mind as well. "Please stay still. Try to conserve your strength," a soft voice said. He opened his eyes to see a young woman, probably in her twenties, leaning over him. She was dabbing a soothing wet cloth over his face, a look of compassion in her blue eyes.
"Who are you?" Scott asked. She looked back towards the door, her expression fearful like a hunted deer. The expression washed years off her face, causing him to doubt his first assessment of her age.
"Just be quiet and conserve your strength. Dr. Johnson wouldn't like it if he knew I was here," she whispered. From the look on her face, he would be more than simply displeased.
"Why are you helping me? You're risking so much if they catch you," he whispered as quietly as he could manage.
"I am not a Friend of Humanity," she said, almost proudly. "I'm not like them. Even if you are a mutant, you still have a right to live."
"Your Dr. Johnson doesn't agree with you there."
"We don't agree on many things." She looked back towards the door again. "I have to go. Try to sleep. He won't be back until the morning. I'll---I'll come back when I can." She wiped his face once more and turned to leave.
"Wait!" he called after her. "At least tell me your name. I'm Scott."
"Peggy," she said, smiling slightly as if it was a joke. Then she was gone. Scott shook his head wearily. At least he had one ally in this place. Hopefully the X-Men would arrive soon.
Scott was roused out of an uneasy sleep by the feeling of someone watching him. He started awake to see Peggy watching him uncertainly. "I didn't want to wake you," she whispered.
"Wasn't sleeping well anyway," he replied jokingly.
"I brought you some food," she said, pulling a few napkin-wrapped parcels out of her pockets. "It's not much, but it was all I could manage without anyone getting suspicious."
"Thank you." He began to reach for the food, then realized his hands were bound with some sort of manacles similar to his collar.
"Oh, I forgot." Peggy reached behind him. In a moment the pressure on his wrists was gone and Scott could pull his hands out. "I stole the key," she said with an impish smile before he could ask how she'd managed to open them.
He felt a glimmer of hope. "Would that key open this collar too?"
"Ye-es..." She obviously felt reluctant talking with him about it.
"Could you unlock it? With my powers restored, we both could escape and--"
"I--I can't!" She jumped away from him, eyes wide with fear. "He'd kill me, I know he would! Please, I'm sorry, don't ask me to do that!"
"Who'd kill you?"
"My father. He hates mutants. He--he...anytime I even mention mutants..."
She looked so terrified that Scott hastened to calm her. He ate the food she'd brought him eagerly. He didn't know how long it had been since he'd last eaten. "Why do you stay here?" he asked her after a while. "Surely you could--"
"No. I don't have anywhere else to go. I don't have any family except my father, and since he's here so am I." She shrugged and looked away, looking even younger than usual.
"How old are you?" he asked, letting his curiosity take hold.
"16 in July." He looked at her in shock. Her white-blond hair and usual somber expression made her appear much older. She'd probably never had a chance to be a kid, though. She was old far, far before her time. Maybe she could still get out of here. Her father was obviously abusive, and if he was part of this group he was a kidnapper as well. Pity she wasn't a mutant, or the X-Men could take her in like they had Jubilee. Well, anywhere would be better than this. It was strange; he felt an instant connection to her, like none he'd experienced before. He felt deep inside that he needed to protect her and watch over her.
"I'd better go," Peggy said suddenly. She gently took his hands and placed them back in the manacles. "Thank you, Scott," she said very softly.
"Thank me? I should be thanking you! Listen, Peggy, I have friends that will be coming here to find me soon. We could take you away from here. If you could help me..."
"I've got to go," she said, and fled from the room. Scott sighed. He hadn't meant to frighten her. The poor little girl. She needed to get away from all this. He'd see that she did.
His next session with Dr. Johnson began in the morning. The actual pain was bad, but it was still bearable. The worst part was the sadistic pleasure Dr. Johnson took in it. By the time it was over Scott was limp with exhaustion and blind with pain. The only thought that had sustained him all morning was that surely the X-Men would arrive soon. He couldn't allow himself to think anything else. Dimly he could hear klaxons in the distance, but nothing really registered through the haze of pain.
"Scott!" That voice cut through the fog and made him look up.
"Peggy?" he barely managed to whisper. Her face was locked into such an expression of determination he hardly recognized her. He felt his hands released from the manacles. "What--?"
"I'm getting you out of here. Someone's attacking the outer perimeter. No one should be around here until that's settled. Just let me unlock this collar."
"No!" She looked at him, puzzled. "Without the collar or my visor, my power will be out of control. Just give me the key. I'll unlock it when I can." She handed it to him, then helped him to his feet.
"Can you walk?"
"Yes. I don't think I could run, though."
"With luck you won't have to. Here, lean on me." With her supporting him, Scott managed to follow her through the door she directed him to. Once inside, all he saw was an equipment closet.
"Now what?" he asked. She simply smiled and, leaving him holding onto a shelf, began to slide several boxes across the floor. It revealed an opening just large enough for them to walk through.
"C'mon. We have to hurry." She led him down a maze of passages, some so small they had to bend over or even crawl to get through. Luckily adrenaline was keeping him going this far. Scott didn't know how much longer he could keep it up, though. "We're almost there," Peggy told him, stopping at a seemingly blank wall at a dead-end passage. She reached out and pressed a spot on the wall and a door quietly slid open, looking out onto an empty corridor. The klaxons and flashing lights showed the attack was still going on. Could it be the X-Men? "Just one more door," Peggy whispered.
"Freeze!" A group of armed men wearing the FoH shirts rounded the corner and saw them about to exit the outer door.
"Go!" Peggy shouted at Scott, throwing open the door. "I'll keep them off as long as I can. Just go!" She pushed him through the door and slammed it shut behind him. He shouted at her and pounded the door as hard as he could, but in his weakened state he knew she was giving him the only chance at survival he was going to get. He managed to force himself into a semblance of a run, but after a few dozen steps he collapsed. He could vaguely hear a horse screaming before blackness overtook him.
After she slammed the door behind Scott, Peggy faced the guards with a grim determination. She didn't care what happened to her anymore. She was not going to let her father torture that poor man just because of an accident of his birth! She felt connected to him in a way she'd never felt before, and knew she had to help him. Besides, after what she was about to do, she doubted if her merely helping a mutant escape would matter to her father.
The guards, recognizing Dr. Johnson's daughter, hesitated, unsure of what to do. She took advantage of that by using her carefully guarded secret. She used her own mutant power and in a few seconds a white, winged horse--a pegasus--stood in her place to protect the door. She screamed and reared, beating her wings. This sudden manifestation startled the guards even more, giving her a chance to sweep them with her wings or kick with her powerful legs before they regained control enough to begin firing at her. Even when they did, it was too late. She took care of them all in a few moments, though hopefully doing nothing worse than knocking them unconscious.
Her task finished for the moment, the pegasus reared. After a moment of eye-twisting changes, Peggy once again stood before the door. She threw it open and ran out to find Scott. Before she'd run very far, she nearly tripped over him, sprawled unconscious on the grass.
"Oh, no, please!" she cried, trying to pick him up. He was too heavy for her! "Please, Scott, you have to--"
"Hold it right there," a voice called out behind her. She turned slowly, preparing herself to defend Scott to her last breath if necessary.
She found herself facing an odd assortment of people. The man who had spoken stood in a yellow suit with shining claws springing from his clenched fists. Next to him was another man in a long trenchcoat holding aloft a glowing card and a grim-looking black man with a very big gun. A woman in a blue leotard was on his other side by a blue-furred thing and an Asian woman with purple hair, and off to one side was a man who looked like he was made of ice. Above them--actually flying!--were two women, one all in white and the other in green and yellow with a skunk-streak down her red hair, and a man with silvery metallic wings. Peggy had never seen them before on the FoH grounds. They must be the intruders.
"Scott!" the woman on the ground shouted as she caught sight of the body at Peggy's feet. She sounded almost as if she was in pain at seeing his. She broke away from the group and ran towards him.
Peggy didn't even think of changing. She just threw herself across Scott's inert body. "Don't touch him! Isn't he hurt enough already? Leave him alone!"
The flying woman in white swooped down and picked Peggy up before she could react. "Easy, child, we are friends. Rogue, take Cyclops to the Blackbird. We shall follow."
"Easy as pie, sugah," the other woman said, flying down to pick up Scott in her arms. "Ah'll take real good care of him, Jean."
Peggy couldn't handle any more of this. Who were these people? What were they going to do with Scott? She felt the pressures building up on her and abruptly found an outlet as she fainted dead away in the strange woman's arms.
The voices were the only thing Peggy was able to hear for a long time, weaving in and out of the blackness in her mind.
"What about her? Cyke's hurt pretty bad, and it didn't come from having a tea party!"
"The child seemed to be genuinely worried about Scott's welfare."
"She shore didn't want any of us touchin' him, that's for sure."
"But was that so she could help him or take him back to the Friends of Humanity?"
"My mind probe was not effective. The woman has a strong natural shield, and Scott's pain precluded any other thoughts from being sensed."
"But I sensed no hostility in her at the compound."
"That don't mean it wasn't there!"
Peggy finally pushed back the last of the shrouding darkness and opened her eyes with a soft moan. The strange people who had been at the compound were huddled in a group not far from her, discussing something she couldn't understand. She blinked slowly to try and organize her thoughts. "Scott!" she cried out suddenly, jumping out of her seat. Or at least trying to. She was belted and tied down securely. Whoever they were, these people didn't trust her. And they were all staring at her right now. "Where is he? Is he all right? What are you going to do with him? I know he's a mutant but that doesn't mean--"
"Relax, chere," the man who had been holding a glowing card said, walking over to her, "We ain' goin' ta hurt Scott. We his friends. De X-Men."
The X-Men? The mutant group? Hadn't her father mentioned something about Scott being the leader of the X-Men? No wonder they didn't trust her now.
"What were you doing to Cyke?" the one with the claws asked her with a growl. "How'd he get hurt like that?"
"The--the Friends of Humanity," Peggy whispered, terrified of those gleaming claws and eyes, "Th-they want to r-r-rid the w-world of mutants for-forever."
"So what were you doing there?"
"Wolverine, please," a bald man in a gold chair said calmly.
"I think we've got a right to know what she was doing to Cyke!"
"I--I was just..." Peggy whispered.
"Just saving my life," Scott said weakly but firmly.
"Scott!" Peggy said thankfully. He was all right! He was lying in a bunk that had been hidden from her view by the X-Men. He was trying weakly to rise, aided by the woman in the blue leotard.
"Her father is a Friend of Humanity, but Peggy's not. She almost got herself killed helping me escape. I owe her my life."
"Wolverine," the bald man said again. The one with the claws, Wolverine, growled again, then stepped up to her and slashed the ropes holding her with a claw. "Excuse our suspicion, my dear, but we weren't certain what to make of you. My name is Professor X. These are my X-Men, Storm, Wolverine, Bishop, Rogue, Archangel, Iceman, Beast, Phoenix, Psylocke, and Gambit. Your name is Peggy?" She nodded hesitantly. "We owe you a great debt, Peggy, for helping Scott. We are returning to our home. You are welcome to stay with us for a time until you can contact your family."
"Th-thank you, Professor," Peggy whispered, not sure of what to make of all of this. One minute they were threatening her, and the next inviting her to their home. It was all very strange. But for the moment she had no place else to go. Now that her father knew she was a mutant, she was in for treatment a thousand-fold worse than Scott's if he ever got a hold of her again. She didn't have anywhere else to go.
"Storm, could you show our guest to a room please?" Professor X asked after they had landed. Peggy stood hesitantly, not sure of anything anymore. Well, if they were Scott's friends...
"Come with me, child," the imposing woman in white said. Peggy followed her meekly. This woman was the only one she'd ever seen with hair lighter than her own, though the woman's skin was the color of cocoa. She had a commanding presence, and Peggy sensed she had some authority among the other X-Men. She led them through several long hallways before opening a door and gesturing Peggy through. "Please remain here. I will send someone to show you around the house. If you will excuse me, I will check on Scott."
"Sure, no problem," Peggy said after the woman left the room, sinking weakly into a chair. She didn't know what to make of any of this. But they were Scott's friends, she reminded herself forcefully. If he trusted him, then so should she. But her life had given her scant reason to trust anyone. She looked around the room she'd been given curiously. It was neither sparse nor luxurious, big nor small, but a simple room consisting of a bed, dresser, and two chairs. With a sigh Peggy ran her fingers through her hair. When would this guide of hers show up? She needed to see Scott, to reassure herself that he would be all right. Shortly after telling the others that she was no enemy, Scott had lapsed back into semi-consciousness. Peggy wasn't sure what all her father had done to him, and needed to see him to make sure. But she was so tired! She curled up in her chair and rested her head on her knees. Everything was so complicated, and she had no idea what to do about anything. That was her last thought before she fell asleep.
A knock on the door startled her awake again. "Come in!" she called out confusedly, trying to work out where she was. It all came back to her in a rush. Scott! She was with his friends, the X-Men.
The door opened and a teenage girl popped her head inside. "Hi, Peggy. I'm Jubilee. I've been appointed your guide for today, I guess. Are you hungry?"
Peggy felt a rumbling in her guts, reminding it had been a long time since she'd eaten. "A little," she admitted.
"Then follow me."
Jubilee kept up a running chatter as she showed Peggy around the mansion where the X-Men lived and while they ate. Peggy concealed her amusement at the girl's garrulity, having learnt long ago to keep hidden any emotions that might betray her. She was already weak enough in the X-Men's eyes. She had to regain even the slight advantage her cool exterior had always gained her. She couldn't afford to slip up now. "Is Scott all right?" she finally had to ask, her concern for the man outweighing her need to keep emotionless.
"The professor says he's fine, but...," the girl's voice trailed off in uncertainty.
"But what?" Peggy asked, alarmed.
"Well, I heard them talking after they thought I left. They just sounded so worried. It was probably nothing. Jean's always worried about something. I'm sure he'll be fine in no time." Jubilee quickly steered the conversation onto another topic, but she didn't succeed in making Peggy forget her worries about Scott. After they finished eating, Jubilee continued the tour. As they passed one room, Peggy heard voices within. One she recognized and smiled happily. "Scott!" she whispered, happy to know at the least that he was still alive. Somehow they heard even her soft exclamation inside.
"Peggy?" Scott's voice called out from inside the room. "Come inside."
She hesitantly entered the room, but seeing Scott made her forget her worries. She rushed to his bedside. "I'm so glad you're all right! I wasn't sure what--"
"I'll be just fine," he answered her warmly. "You saved my life, Peggy. Thank you." She remained silent, not sure of what to say.
"Scott has told us of your help at the Friends of Humanity compound. We cannot thank you enough," the Professor told her warmly.
"I had to. I couldn't just let Father..." Peggy replied softly, looking studiously at her hands.
"We would like to help you, Peggy," the red-head--Jane? Jenny?--told her. "Scott said that you have no other family?"
"No. Only my father." Peggy was suddenly afraid. They wouldn't..? "I can't go back there!" she said desperately to Scott. "Now that he knows, he'd--"
"It's all right, Peggy," Scott assured her, "We're not going to send you back. I told you I'd protect you." Scott's voice was the only thing that could calm her down. If he said so, then it must be so. She quieted immediately. Charles and Jean noted this with significant looks.
"Jean and I have things to attend to, Scott," Professor Xavier said as he mentally activated his hoverchair. "You should rest, but Peggy may stay with you a little longer if you like." He and Jean Grey left the room, conferring mentally.
"Is she your wife?" Peggy asked after the pair had left.
Scott laughed. "Not yet, but I'm still trying. It's been a little complicated. How'd you know?"
"I'm not blind," she replied with a mischievous laugh. After a moment she sobered. "Are you all right, Scott? Really? I--I'd never forgive myself if Father--"
"I'm fine, Peggy," Scott reassured her. "I promise. Just a little weak, but nothing that some rest won't cure." Peggy looked very relieved at his words. "And Peggy, nothing that happened was your fault. You saved my life! I could still be in there if it wasn't for you."
"No, you'd be dead by now," she said flatly. "None of the other experiments lived more than a few days longer than you did. If your friends hadn't come when they did..." She left the thought unspoken, the mere idea of it enough to chill her to her marrow. "I'm glad you'll be all right," she whispered.
*The child seems to have an unusual connection to Scott,* Charles told his former student as they traversed the grounds of the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, in reality the headquarters of the X-Men.
*I felt it as well. She was reassured instantly by his voice.*
*It appears similar to the psychic bond you and Scott share, though different in some ways. I cannot explain it. I believe this bears more study.*
When Scott was rested enough to be taken outside to lie by the lake, Peggy and Jean accompanied him. Though Peggy was reassured by Scott's presence, she didn't quite know what to make of the other X-Men, and she thought the feeling was mutual. For the most part she kept quiet, though immediately answering anything Scott said to her. Jean kept up most of the conversation, but Peggy noticed she kept looking over at her when she thought she wasn't looking. It was disconcerting.
"It's a beautiful day," Jean commented absently as they looked out over the calm, clear lake.
Scott made no answer. He'd fallen asleep in the warm sun. Jean looked down at him fondly, noticing Peggy do the same. The girl smiled as she watched his chest slowly rising and falling, his closed eyes barely visible beneath the ruby-quartz sunglasses he wore.
"He means a lot to you, doesn't he?" Jean asked her quietly, wanting to understand more about this strange bond that had been established between the two. Scott was showing a caring, tender side that no one but she had seen before, conscious as he was of being the ideal leader and perfect follower of the Dream.
Peggy nodded, closing her eyes briefly before saying anything. "He...I can't explain it," she began hesitantly. "When I saw what Father was doing to him...I just had to stop it...even if it meant..." Her voice trailed off and she looked down at Scott again.
"I will always be grateful for what you did, Peggy. I don't know what I would do if I lost him. But...there's more to your feelings than what you say, isn't there?"
Peggy looked at the other woman in startlement, then laughed softly. "Yes, I suppose there is. I've only known him for a few days," she said, wonder in her voice and face, "but it feels like I've known him all my life. I feel like he's more my father than my father is. I know that sounds strange, but--"
"It doesn't sound strange at all, Peggy," Jean assured her. "When I first came to the school here I was no older than you. Scott was one of my classmates. The instant I saw him I knew we were meant to be together. There's a bond between us, like there is a bond between the two of you. They are slightly different, but the same in more ways than they are different."
"But I'm not like you," Peggy began. She couldn't feel Scott's feelings, or anything like what Jean could do. She could barely even speak telepathically to humans, and that was only in her pegasus form.
"I know you're not, but that doesn't mean you can't have a bond just as strong as Scott and I do. The same but different, remember?" Jean smiled reassuringly. Scott stirred slightly and opened his eyes.
"Did I fall asleep?" he asked groggily. Peggy giggled, sounding more like the girl she was than the older woman she usually seemed to be.
"You needed the sleep," Jean told him with a smile, playing with his hair idly.
As time passed, Scott grew stronger. The bond between himself and Peggy strengthened as well. They spent a great deal of time in each other's company. For Peggy, the time was idyllic. She was happier than she'd ever been since her mother died so long ago.
"Peggy, may I speak with you?" Professor Xavier asked her one day as she and Scott were eating lunch.
"What is it, Professor?" Scott asked.
"I need to call Child Services soon, and I need a few details from Peggy. Full name, birthdate, relatives' names--things like that."
"Child Services?" Peggy asked quietly. She didn't like the sound of that.
"We can't keep you here forever, Peggy, as much as we'd like to," he told her warmly. "We have to let the proper authorities take charge. Your situation will be evaluated and you'll be placed in a foster home."
"Like Jubilee was in," she clarified for herself. He nodded. Well, there was no sense getting emotional over all of this, she told herself fiercely. Of course she couldn't expect the X-Men to look after her forever. Jubilee was different. She was one of them, an X-Man. Peggy fought to keep her emotions locked away as usual. "My full name is Margaret Eleanor Johnson. My birthdate is--"
"Johnson?" Scott asked with a startled gasp. "As in Dr. Johnson?" Peggy nodded uncomprehendingly. Why was he acting like this? She thought he already knew...apparently not. Uh-oh. "That sick, twisted, sadistic madman is your father?!" She'd never heard Scott shout like this. "Why didn't you tell me?!"
"I..." Peggy couldn't say anything as she looked at the fury etched on a face where she had never seen anything but kindness. He hated her now, for what her father had done to him. She knew this couldn't last forever. "I'm sorry!" she managed to whisper before fleeing the room as quickly as her legs would take her.
She'd run blindly out the mansion and across the grounds, stumbling with every step. In all her life she'd never been so tempted to just change and fly away to where no one could find her. But long habit of hiding her powers while living with the FoH kept her from it. Instead she just ran until she finally tripped over something and fell down. She stayed where she'd fallen, tears falling faster and faster. She should have known this couldn't last! Who was she to even think she could live here, with the X-Men? They were heroes--wonderful, brave, smart. She was just...Peggy. A madman's daughter. Nobody.
Strong arms enfolded her, a soothing voice murmured her name. Blinded by tears and sorrow, she didn't register anything but a refuge, a solace, and collapsed against whoever it was, crying cleansing tears. After a while--seconds or hours, she didn't know--she couldn't cry any longer. Wiping her eyes, she looked up at her refuge. Eyes met through a barrier of ruby-quartz, and she gasped.
"Feel better?" Scott asked.
"I...thought you hated me," she said hesitantly. Why was he here?
Scott's heart tore. Usually she was so mature, so adult, that he forgot how young she was. But she was just a little girl who desperately needed some love. "I could never hate you, Peggy. It isn't your fault who your father is or what he does. I wasn't angry at you. I'm sorry if you thought I was. I was angry at him...and at myself."
Peggy was astonished. "Why?"
"For not seeing the obvious. For not realizing how much you were risking to help me, and what sacrifices you'd made. For not seeing how easy I've had it compared to the hell you were going through."
Scott held up a hand to stop her. "Just let me wallow for a minute." He smiled and got the smallest of smiles in return. "I'm sorry. Now why don't we both go back to the house and finish that lunch?"
"Please come in, Peggy," the Professor said. She stepped into the room warily, wondering why she'd been called there. Scott and Jean were both inside. She looked at Scott closely. There was something wrong. He was trying to hide it, but there was something very wrong. She sat down in the proffered chair gingerly, as if it would bite her, and waited for whatever they had to say. Professor Xavier looked at Scott and Jean briefly, as if asking their permission to begin. "I've spoken with Child Services as I said I would. I offered the school as a foster home for you, but as there were no...special circumstances as there were with Jubilee, I was politely refused." He smiled wryly, though Peggy couldn't see the irony in the situation. He continued, "They wish to place you in appropriate care as soon as they have investigated your case. A social worker will be here Monday to collect you." So she had the weekend to say good-bye, at least. That was more than she was letting herself hope for. She would miss Scott terribly, but she knew she couldn't expect the X-Men to worry themselves with her. That the Professor had even offered to serve as a foster home was a great honor to her.
"It's more than that, though, isn't it?" she said after a moment. There was something about Scott that told her something was very, very wrong. "Please, tell me."
"It's nothing, Peggy," Jean assured her, placing one hand on Scott's leg. "Only an outside chance--"
"An outside chance of what? Please, I need to know the truth."
"We owe you that much after what you did for Scott," Professor Xavier said reluctantly, "though I wish we could give you more. Child Services tries to keep natural families together unless there is overwhelming evidence to support removal. Despite what you and Scott have told us, we have no real evidence of any wrongdoing on your father's part. There is a chance that you...could be sent back to him."
Scott had prepared himself for anger, fear, or sadness from her, all of which he himself felt deeply at hearing the news. He was ready to handle her shouts or her tears. But he was not prepared for her real reaction. She turned very, very pale and looked slightly nauseous. Her hands trembled very slightly. For a moment he was afraid she would faint. Then she looked up and their eyes met, and Scott was afraid he would faint. There was such a bone-deep, absolute, chilling terror in her eyes, like nothing he'd seen before. Peggy was more afraid of being returned to her father than he'd ever seen anyone afraid before.
"I understand," she said after a moment, with only the barest tremble in her voice to give her away.
~Shout! Yell at us!~ his mind screamed at her, ~Ask me why I'm not protecting you like I promised I would! Anything but this!~ Jean sent him reassurance along their psychic link, but it didn't help any. Peggy calmly stood.
"I suppose I should start getting ready. Excuse me." She stood and walked out of the room. Scott's heart tore. He couldn't believe that Child Services could even consider sending a child back to a parent who caused them that much fear and pain.
"Jubilee, have you seen Peggy?" Jean asked, poking her head inside the door to the rec room. She and Scott had just returned after spending several hours at Child Welfare, doing everything they could to convince the social worker that Peggy shouldn't be sent back to her father no matter what. It hadn't gone well, and Scott was very discouraged. Jean wanted a chance to talk with the girl while Scott had some time alone.
"She's taking a walk, I think," Jubilee said, bent over her homework with a frustrated expression.
"Oh? Did she say when she'd be back?"
"No. She just said she needed to clear her head."
Jean considered that. There was nothing on its face that seemed unusual about that, but it was odd that Peggy had chosen the time when all of the X-Men except for Jubilee would be out for her walk. Remy and Rogue had been on a vacation in his hometown of New Orleans since shortly after the assault on the FoH compound. Hank was at a biomedical conference in New York City. Logan, Bishop, and Ororo had just left this morning to quell a disturbance in India. Charles was also in New York, filming a special interview about mutants for CNN. Warren and Betsy were spending the day together, Bobby had gone off for the day for some reason. That was all the X-Men currently living at the mansion. It could just be a coincidence, but all the same... "When did she leave?"
"Uh, just after the professor left," Jubilee answered off-handedly, still involved in her math problems.
Jean bit her lip. That was several hours ago. She shut her eyes and extended her mind outside the room, searching the grounds and the surrounding area for Peggy. The girl might have a natural shield that would prevent Jean from reading her thoughts, but she'd still be able to detect her presence. Nothing. With a sigh, she sought another mental presence.
*Jean?* came the thought, his mind voice as strong as if he was standing next to her and not in New York City.
*Professor, I think Peggy has run away. She went for a "walk" just after you left, and she hasn't come back. I haven't been able to detect her anywhere around the mansion.*
She felt his sigh. *I was afraid that might happen. How is Scott handling this?*
*He doesn't know yet. I contacted you as soon as I finished scanning for her.*
*Best tell him. Scott and Jubilee should conduct a physical search, just in case. You should connect with Cerebro and continue looking for her, but she could have traveled quite a distance in that amount of time.* He broke the contact and Jean sighed again.
"Jubilee? I want you to look around the grounds for Peggy. She's been gone too long for just a walk. I can't find her mentally, but she could have had an accident and been knocked unconscious." Jubilee nodded quickly and left, a glimpse of Jean's face all she needed to tell her not to ask any questions. With another sigh, Jean went to tell Scott that Peggy had run away.
"I just can't believe it, Professor! Peggy wouldn't have run away like that!"
"Scott, you saw how terrified she was at the idea of being sent back to her father. We should have anticipated this."
"Not without telling me first. Or at least leaving a note. You don't know her like I do," Scott continued stubbornly. "We have to keep looking for her."
"She isn't anywhere nearby. Even Cerebro can't help us find her. Her natural shield is too strong for us to locate her at any great distance," Jean explained for the hundredth time, it seemed. "If she was hitchhiking or on a bus or train, she could have been hundreds of miles away before we even knew she was missing."
"You can continue searching if you like, Scott, but I doubt it will do any good. Perhaps this will be for the best for her."
"I will find her," Scott promised Professor Xavier before leaving the room.
*Is that wise, Professor?* Jean asked. *Sending him off like that--*
"Will not do him any harm and may well do some good," he answered her aloud. "We still do not understand the bond between them. He may be able to find her, and at any rate will make him feel better."
Jubilee caught Scott as he was prepping one of the mini-jets. "Let me come with you."
"Out of the question," he answered without looking at her.
"Look, Peggy was always nice to me, even when she didn't know me. She's not the kind of person who would run away. I want to help you find her. Please?"
"All right, get in," Scott said, a touch of a smile on his face. "Let's go find Peggy!"
"Hey, be careful, you big dolt!" Jubilee shouted as she and Scott were tossed into the dark, cramped cell. The door clanked shut behind them.
"I'm sorry I got you into this, Jubilee," Scott said sadly.
"Hey, it wasn't your fault. I wanted to find Peggy too. Some rescue mission we turned out to be."
"We don't know that Peggy's in any trouble," he reminded her, though his voice lacked conviction. It wasn't like Peggy to run off like that without saying a word to him! He hoped she was all right.
"We don't seem to have much luck with the Friends of Humanity," Scott said wryly, tugging at the collar around his neck. He was trying to think of something other than what might have happened to Peggy, but unfortunately he was just reminded of when they'd met.
They both started as the door creaked open again. "I brought you some company," their guard said, pushing someone else into the cell.
"Not much on conversation, are you, handsome?" the new prisoner said wryly to the guard's retreating back.
Scott couldn't believe his ears or his eyes in the dim light. "Peggy?"
"Scott!" She rushed over to him and hugged him tightly. "How did you get here?"
"We were looking for you," Jubilee said. "I guess we found you. How did you get here?"
"My father found me," Peggy replied quietly.
"I knew you wouldn't have just run away!" Scott exclaimed.
"Of course not! I went out for a walk to clear my head and someone hit me on the head. When I woke up, I was here. And so was my father."
"I don't imagine he was very happy after what happened at the compound."
"No," she whispered, one hand touching her left cheek, "he wasn't." Scott looked closely at her, but was unable to make out much in the dim light.
"So what is this place?" Jubilee asked.
"A mutant work camp, technically," Peggy explained, "but it's really a picking ground for Dr. Johnson," she refused to call him 'Father' anymore, "once he gets his labs rebuilt. Then its back to the experiments."
Scott shuddered involuntarily. "It won't come to that. We'll find a way to escape."
"How, suddenly sprout wings and fly?" Jubilee said sarcastically.
Peggy smiled enigmatically.
Morning came too early. "Rise and shine, muties!" their guard called out, swinging open the door. He set down two plates of food on the floor.
"In case you can't count, stupid, there's three of us," Jubilee said.
"Little princess gets special treatment, mutie," he sneered. "C'mon, Your Highness."
"Don't worry," Peggy said, slowly rising to her feet. "Dr. Johnson has this primitive need to gloat every morning. I'll be out pretty soon." The guard grabbed her arm roughly and pulled her out of the cell.
It was like that every day. Peggy would be taken out every morning and they wouldn't see her until the end of the day's labors. Scott couldn't get her to talk about what happened when she was with Dr. Johnson, but her silence spoke volumes. He clutched his fists and seethed with anger every time she was taken away, but he knew he had to bide his time. On the fourth day, Scott and Jubilee were assigned to a group working outside, mindlessly moving rocks that were hauled away by a beautiful white horse. Scott toyed with the idea of trying to escape on horseback, but discarded it after noting the only direction that didn't run into the camp ended in a sheer cliff.
"Look out!" He looked up in time to see the cartload of rocks fall over. The horse was straining to remain upright itself. Several guards were crushed beneath the rocks, stupidly clustered together.
"Cut the harness!" somebody called out. One guard sprang into action, relieving the horse of its heavy burden. As the restrictive bindings fell away, the horse reared and knocked over the guard with its--wings?! Even as he struggled to accept what he was seeing, the coolly analytical part of him put forward a plan.
"Jubilee!" he shouted, running for the horse. If they could just get away long enough for him to contact Jean or the professor...He grabbed a handful of mane and swung up onto the horse's back. "Jubilee!"
"Right behind you!" He turned to see Jubilee running for him, a black box clutched in her hands. As she ran, she pressed buttons frantically. Suddenly he felt his powers surge back. He yanked the collar off.
"Good going, Jubilee!" he said as he pulled her up. "Now let's--"
*It's about time! Hold on!* The horse bolted. Scott and Jubilee hung on for dear life.
"Wait! That sounded like Peggy!" Scott shouted. They had to help her! They were heading for the cliff edge. With a mighty leap, the horse--pegasus spread its wings and began soaring through the sky. "We have to help Peggy," Scott shouted, twisting around. He fired optic blasts at the few guards still at the cliff edge. The rest had their hands full with the suddenly freed mutants. There was no sign of Peggy.
*I'm right here. Please stop twisting around like that. It's hard enough to keep us up. Have you ever thought of losing some weight?*
Scott noticed that the "voice" wasn't aloud--it was telepathic! "Peggy?"
*Right under you.* The pegasus turned its head back to look and them and unmistakably winked.
"You're a mutant?" Jubilee gasped. "Why didn't you tell us?"
*I thought you knew. It never really came up.* Scott had a sense she shrugged. *I think I know where we are. I'm heading back towards the mansion.*
"Let's hope we get there before our friends back there can get organized enough to come after us."
Scott lost track of how long they flew. Well, how long Peggy flew. He and Jubilee were just along for the ride. After a while Peggy spoke again. *The mansion's not far.* Her mind-voice was strained.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
*Just tired. I'm not used to flying this much, especially with passengers.*
"I promise I'll go on a diet if you just get us home before those guys catch up with us!" Jubilee said.
Peggy whickered softly. *I'll do my best. Scott, can you reach Jean yet?*
"No. I think we're still a little too far," he replied after a moment.
"Can't you reach her?" Jubilee asked.
She shook her head. *My range with humans is very limited.* She was about to say more when an energy bolt struck the air to their right. *Hold on!* Peggy called out before dropping suddenly and weaving to the left.
Scott turned and fired optic blasts at the ship following them as Jubilee let out a burst of fireworks. It wasn't much, but it was enough to keep the ship on its guard. "It looks like they caught up with us," he commented wryly while trying desperately to reach Jean through their psychic link. Scott could feel Peggy laboring beneath his legs. How long could she keep this up?
*I can't do this much longer,* she said, answering his unspoken question. *I think it's time to call in the calvary.*
"The calvary?" Jubilee wondered aloud. Her question was soon answered. A dark mass appeared in the sky in front of them, and it was moving towards them rapidly. As it grew closer, Scott could see it was made up of--birds?
*That's every flying animal around for miles, unless I start inspiring pet canaries to daring jailbreaks,* Peggy informed them with a grin evident in her "voice". *They should give us some cover.*
"You can control birds?" Jubilee asked.
*Animals, yes. We'd have more help if we were on the ground, but I can make much better time in the air. So you two just hold on back there and don't fall off!*
Scott knew the birds wouldn't buy them much time. He had to get help. *Jean!* he called desperately.
"Scott!" Jean shouted out suddenly, surprising the other X-Men who sat in the war room. "Scott and Jubilee are coming this way," she said, explaining to the others what Scott's thought-burst had told her. "They're being chased by the Friends of Humanity. We have to help them!"
"Professor!" Hank called out. "Cerebro registers intruders in our airspace." He switched on the appropriate monitor.
"Where'd Scott an' Jubilee dig up a flying horse?" Rogue asked, astonished at the sight.
*We're coming, Scott.*
"I see the mansion!" Jubilee shouted in relief.
*Good. I don't think I can keep this up much longer,* Peggy replied.
"Just hold on," Scott reassured her. "The X-Men are on their way."
Their bird cover was gone now, and Peggy was having more and more trouble dodging shots fired by their pursuers. Thank god they were almost there! They were flying over the grounds now. Just a little bit farther...A blast struck right by Peggy's face and she veered sharply. As she finally righted herself, she found that her passengers had fallen off and were plummeting to the ground. She couldn't catch them both! Peggy tried to dive for them, but the FoH fire was becoming deadly accurate. She had her hands--hooves--full.
"Ah gotcha, Scott," Rogue's strong Southern accent cut through his scream as he and Jubilee fell from Peggy's back. Scott noted with relief as they landed that Storm had recovered Jubilee.
"Scott!" Jean cried, running to him. He hugged her tightly.
"We must drive these attackers away from the mansion!" Storm shouted, the winds taking her aloft again. Scott scanned the sky for Peggy. She was doing her best to dodge the blasts from the ship, but it was clearly getting harder every minute. Storm was trying to drive the FoH off with a strong wind, but it wasn't having much effect.
Peggy's luck ran out. A shot solidly connected, ripping a hole through one wing. She screamed and began to plummet. Scott tried to get Storm's or Rogue's attention, but they were busy with the ship. Peggy was frantically beating her wings, trying to remain aloft, but she couldn't gain any purchase with the hole in her wing. As she neared the ground, she began...shimmering, twisting somehow in a way his eyes couldn't comprehend. Before the X-Men's startled gazes, the pegasus shifted back to Peggy. She hit the ground hard, rolled a few feet, and came to a stop. She lay very still. Was she--?
"She's a mutant?" Scott heard Bobby gasp.
"Peggy, are you all right?" he asked as he reached her side. Peripherally he noted the FoH ship had finally been driven off by the efforts of Storm, Rogue, and the mansion's defenses.
Peggy's eyes fluttered open and a slight smile appeared as her gaze focused on him. "I've been better," she said weakly, then her eyes rolled back in her head and she passed out.
"Will she be all right?" Scott's voice had a strong note of concern.
"She appears to have sustained no permanent damage." That was Beast's voice, she noted hazily. "Her shoulder was nearly dislocated by the fall, but other than that she sustained no injuries. That gash on her cheek will leave quite a scar, though, I'm afraid."
"That was the point," Peggy said, finally pushing her eyelids open. Nearly half of the X-Men were gathered in what she recognized as an infirmary room in the mansion.
"How are you feeling?" Scott asked.
"Not too bad. My wings are going to be very sore for a while, though."
"Why didn't you tell any of us that you were a mutant, my dear?" Professor Xavier asked her. "We could have helped you."
"If you lived most of your life with the Friends of Humanity, you wouldn't be very willing to reveal being a mutant to anybody, even other mutants," Peggy answered quietly. There was a moment of silence. "With my father...," she sighed, idly touching the bandage that covered the gash on her left cheek.
"Your father did that?" Jean said, aghast. "Why?!"
"It's the mark of Cain. That's what he believes mutancy is. Since I managed to keep mine hidden for so long, he thought it needed to be a little more obvious." She laughed bitterly. "As if turning into a flying white horse wasn't obvious enough already!" No one knew precisely what to say to that.
Jean felt Scott's surge of anger and sent reassurance through their link. *Don't, Scott. Getting angry won't help anything now, and it would just upset Peggy more.* She felt his resigned acceptance of that bit of advice.
"Well I'll have to contact Child Services again now that we've found you," Professor Xavier said, making Peggy's face fall. "However, I would say that given this...revelation, they'll be more likely to allow you to stay here."
"Here?" Peggy asked incredulously. She looked up at Scott, delight in her eyes. "I'd be able to stay here, with you?"
He squeezed her shoulder. "Well, this is a school for mutants. They'll probably agree it's the best place for you."
"And you'll be more than welcome here," the professor concluded. A brilliant smile lit Peggy's face. Scott smiled in return. He'd never seen her this happy. It would be good to have her here permanently. Though she hadn't been with them for very long, already he couldn't think of the future without her in it.
"We have taken your offer into recommendation, Professor Xavier, but we feel that the best place for Margaret would be in a stable family environment," the Child Services rep informed him.
"Are there many families that would be willing to adopt or even foster a mutant?" he asked in reply. "Surely this school, where mutancy is a common factor, would be best for Peggy's emotional health."
"I'm sorry, Professor, but the decision stands. I will be taking Margaret back to the orphanage with me, and then she will be placed in foster care."
A social worker came for Peggy the next day. Peggy moved slowly and stiffly and a bandage still covered her left cheek, but other than that she appeared none the worse for her ordeal. Her voice was clear when she bid Scott goodbye, but Jean's sharp eyes could detect tears lurking behind Peggy's brave facade.
"Things aren't so bad there," Peggy said to Jubilee several weeks later on one of the weekend trips she was allowed to take at the mansion. "No one there knows I'm a mutant, which is good, I suppose. Some of them have said some terrible things when they talk about mutants on the news."
"Anything about finding you a foster home?" the other girl questioned. She knew what Peggy was going through. She'd been bounced from foster home to foster home for most of her life, though she'd never spent time in an orphanage.
"No. I don't think they will. They have to tell prospective fosters that I'm a mutant, and then they can't leave fast enough."
"I'm sure someone'll take you soon. I wish they'd let you live here!"
"I guess it's not meant to be, Jubilee," Peggy said sadly. "But I'd give anything to stay here."
"Scott would too."
Peggy smiled. Maybe someday...when mutants weren't feared, when people like her father didn't have the power they did, maybe then they could all live happily ever after. But that day seemed very far away.
Peggy looked worriedly across the playground. She and the other students and teachers at the orphanage were standing there in straggly lines, watched over by armed guards wearing FoH shirts. She bit her lip nervously. She had no idea why the FoH were here, but as soon as they found out she was a mutant she'd be in big trouble--especially if they knew who she was! ~Maybe they won't recognize me,~ she thought desperately. ~Please, God, don't let them recognize me!~ Peggy was standing in about the middle of the group, so hopefully they wouldn't notice her for a while. Maybe the police would come and...no, Peggy knew that wouldn't happen. The only people who could deal with the FoH were the X-Men, and they didn't know anything about what was happening here. If only her telepathic range was wider! She began her litany again. Maybe they wouldn't recognize her.
Then Peggy saw something in the distance that made her hopes fall. The outline of a Sentinel could be seen against the sun. It was coming here. It would surely have her on file, and when it picked her out...she couldn't control a shudder. A boy about her age named Chris looked at her and smiled nervously, trying to reassure her and failing miserably. He'd never been too friendly, but the crisis had thrust them together. Peggy thought fast. She had to get a message to the X-Men! Then an idea hit her. "Chris," she whispered to the boy beside her, "we need to get help. I'm going to create a distraction, and as soon as I do you need to run to the nearest phone. Dial 213-555-6837. Tell whoever picks up exactly this: 'Peggy needs help. Sentinels at the orphanage.' Okay?"
"What about the police?" he whispered back. In reply she just nodded towards the Sentinel coming towards them, its enormity becoming obvious. He gulped and repeated the number and message back to her. She nodded and gestured for him to make his way to the edge of the group.
As soon as she saw him in place, Peggy said loudly, "I don't know what the Friends of Humanity are doin' here. There ain't no filthy muties with us!"
Other children turned and looked at her with wide eyes, but the leader of the FoH laughed and came over to her. "What do you know about the Friends of Humanity, my dear?"
"I know that they've got the right idea. Mutants ain't got no place around normal humans."
He smiled approval of her remark. "Perhaps you can join us instead of staying in this place."
She considered his suggestion briefly, then shook her head. "I don't think they'd let me," Peggy said ingeniously. He looked at her questioningly. "See, they've got this silly rule about not letting mutants join." She winked, then called out "Catch me if you can!" Before he figured out what she meant, Peggy quickly transformed and took to the air. She could see Chris running like mad, not even looking back to see what sort of distraction she'd created. Good. Now she just needed to keep these guys busy until the X-Men could get here.
Peggy hovered for a moment, panting hard and trying to catch her breath. The students and teachers had scattered as soon as she transformed and were now huddled in one corner of the playground. The FoH guards were shooting into the air, but she was quicker than they were. The only real problem was the Sentinel. It was made for capturing mutants. She was having a very hard time eluding it, and didn't know how much longer she could keep free. She just hoped that none of the FoH would get the bright idea of grabbing some of the other kids from the orphanage and using them against her. She couldn't let any of them get hurt. To make sure they kept their attention on her, Peggy dove at them again and shot back up just inches before her hooves touched the ground. But as she shot back up into the sky, something snagged her hind leg. Peggy screamed and tried to break free, but it was caught tight. Her wings still beating furiously, she looked around to see a cable wrapped tightly around her leg...and the cable was attached to the Sentinel.
"Surrender, mutant," it commanded in a toneless voice. Suddenly a bright red beam cut through the sky and sliced right through the cable. Peggy soared out of reach, then looked back. She whinnied gratefully. It was Scott! And the other X-Men were right behind him!
*What took you so long?* she asked Rogue as the saucy Southern woman flew past her.
"We thought we'd let you have some of the fun, sugah," she replied. "Mind if we join in now?"
Peggy swooped to avoid a laser bolt from the Sentinel, then laughed, *Be my guest!*
Once the X-Men joined the fight the FoH decided they had better things to do, and fled from the scene. It didn't take long for the Sentinel to be recalled as well. Peggy flew over to where they were gathered off to one side and backwinged to a graceful landing. Once on the ground, she transformed back into her human self and smiled gratefully at the X-Men. "Thank you so much for coming," she said warmly.
"Always glad for a good fight," Wolverine said, sharpening his claws against one another. Cyclops looked behind Peggy at the crowd of orphans and teachers standing there, looking at the mutants with a mixture of awe, fear, and animosity.
"I think we'd better get going now," he said reluctantly. "Will you be all right?"
She looked back, then shrugged and smiled. "I guess they would've found out eventually. It's just something I'll have to deal with. You'd better get going. I'll be fine." She smiled again, then turned around and walked toward the crowd. She limped slightly from where the Sentinel's cable had caught her foot, but she stood tall and proud even as several students looked at her with hatred clear in their faces.
Jean sighed. "Even after she saved their lives they still treat her like that."
"The price of being born a mutant," Hank said philosophically, "though some must bear it more than others. Come, I believe we should take our young friend's advice and be away from here before any authorities arrive." The team returned to the Blackbird and took off for home, but Scott's mind was on the lonely little girl back at the orphanage who had so touched his heart.
"Hey Peggy!" Jubilee said excitedly when she picked up the phone at the school one Friday afternoon a few weeks later. "I'll see if I can go find Cyke."
"No, that's all right, Jube. You can just pass on a message for me. My weekend leave's been canceled." Though she tried to conceal it, Jubilee picked up the tears in Peggy's voice.
"Why? What's wrong?"
"Oh, somebody broke into my room and totally trashed it. The headmistress took one look at the place and said I had to spend all weekend cleaning it up." Peggy's voice was indignant and upset. "Look, don't tell Scott the reason it got canceled. He'd just worry. I'll see you when I have my next free weekend, whenever that is. I've gotta go."
"'Bye, Peggy," Jubilee said sadly. She wondered why those jerks at the orphanage were so mean to Peggy. She'd saved all of them, but all they could think about was that she was different. Why couldn't they at least try to understand?
Peggy walked disconsolately through the halls of the orphanage. What a birthday this was. It was her sweet sixteenth, but so far had been anything but sweet. It had been bad enough that her weekend leave had been canceled and she hadn't been able to visit Scott and the X-Men. But now she'd been told that someone was interested in adopting her. It wasn't that she wouldn't be glad to get out of this place where the people who didn't hate her outright were afraid of her. Peggy's life thus far had taught her to be wary of those claiming to want to take care of her. They only wanted to hurt her. The only person who had ever really cared for her had been Scott, and now she might never get to see him again! She sighed. What was wrong with her, that she had all this happening to her? What had she ever done to anyone?
Lost in her thoughts, she almost missed the sight inside the room she passed. But then what she saw registered and she backtracked a few steps. "Scott?" she questioned joyfully as she looked in the open doorway. He looked up and smiled at her.
"Peggy!" he exclaimed, coming forward and swinging her around in a big hug. "I've missed you!"
"I've missed you too! But what are you doing here?"
"Well, since you couldn't make it to the mansion this weekend I thought I'd better come and visit you. I couldn't let you be alone on your birthday."
A surprised smile blossomed on Peggy's face. "How did you know?"
"It was part of the information you gave to the Professor, remember? Did you think I would forget about it?" Peggy looked down at her shoes. Scott just laughed, then held a little box wrapped in bright paper in front of her.
"What's this?" she asked, surprised.
"Happy birthday, Peggy."
"Oh, you didn't have to--"
"Just open it," he laughed. Peggy smiled and eagerly took off the paper and opened the box.
"Oh," she breathed as she looked inside. Nestled in a bed of blue velvet was a silver chain with a pegasus pendant. "It's beautiful, Scott," she said through the lump in her throat.
"I'd hoped you'd like it. Why don't you read the inscription?" His voice was hesitant, anxious. Peggy turned the pendant over and peered at the letters carved on the back.
"'To Peggy Summers...Love Dad," she read slowly. She looked up at Scott, her face full of questions. "What does this--?"
"I know it's not quite official yet, but all you have to do is agree."
"You--you mean...you're the one who was petitioning to adopt me?" Peggy's voice was full of surprise. "But...the social worker said...and what about Jean?...and..."
Scott cut her off. "The social worker said you'd be better off in a 'stable family environment', which means with a parent. It doesn't mean we can't still live at the school. And I've talked this over with Jean, and she said she wouldn't mind getting a stepdaughter when we finally do get married. Like I said, all that's left is for you to agree." His voice took on an anxious, pleading quality. "Don't you want to come with me, Peggy? I thought that you loved it at the school."
"I do!" she exclaimed. A few tears fell down her cheeks. "I want nothing more than to be able to stay with you. This is...the best thing that could ever happen to me. If you're sure, then you know my answer... Dad." She added the last word hesitantly, looking up at Scott with a smile.
His face broke out into a wide grin. "Then it's time for you to come home," he said, taking the necklace out of her hands and fastening it around her neck. Peggy hugged him tightly. This was the best birthday present in the world! She could finally go home.