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  Book One of the Annwn Ryu Cycle
   Chapter VIII
   "Homefires Burning"

 Cayanne enjoyed the near-silent rumble of the Blackbird's engines. They distracted from the illusion of free flight, but comforted with the sotto purr they produced. Curled between her father and Marie, she heard the quiet voices of the adults flow around her.
 Rafe had been kind enough to bring the results of her shopping on board, and had settled in the seat to the rear, next to Logan. His unreadable gaze was focused outside the window, on something the others didn't see.
 The teen-ager closed her eyes, concentrating on the gentle rocking of the jet, the distant thrum of engines, the quiet tones of Scott and Jean, the baritone rumble of Hank's expressive voice.
 Though she was loathe to let herself drift into sleep, her father's arm around her and the comforting presence of Marie made it difficult to stay awake.
 She looked up once, into the eyes of the man everyone else referred to as Stryfe. He turned to regard her, and she grinned up at him, eyes sparkling with fondness.
 His expression flickered once, showing a mix of affection and concern, then was once more still and unreadable as stone.
 The girl snuggled down against her father's side, and finally let sleep claim her.
 Althea enjoyed nothing more than demonstrating her superior strength to the boys in her class. By virtue of her mutation, she could lift half a ton, and fly with it several yards. Even the strongest of men couldn't match her in physical prowess, and she loved it.
 She dropped the weight and paused to hover in front of Zane, who was perched in the bleachers alongside Liam.
 He ignored her, rested a hand on Liam's shoulder. They returned to their conversation as though the older mutant didn't exist.
 The young woman snorted, glaring darkly at the shorter, slighter boy. To her, Liam was a rather noisome example of the worst mutancy could cause - ugly, deformed, twisted. The sight of his face made her nauseous.
  A crack of thunder and a low whine made her glower outside.
  The jet.
  The X-Men.
  They were back.
  "Cayanne's home!" yelled Zane, bounding down the stairs, Liam on his heels.

  Remy watched his daughter start down the Blackbird ramp, then turned back to regard Stryfe, who returned his gaze without emotion, eyes showing nothing.
  The tall Cajun was suddenly aware that the other mutant towered over him - a fact that had never quite registered with him. While the other's height didn't intimidate him, it was a factor in making him aware of Stryfe's age, for whatever reason.
 Gambit shrugged noncommittally, turning to follow the teen-ager, as Logan exited the jet, followed by Jean, then a somewhat bemused Scott.

  Cayanne was perched on a chair, a fourth of a sandwich in her hands, when Cable discovered the Stryfe was in the mansion's kitchen. The door crashed open as he roared, "Stryfe!", and before the teen-ager's new friend could respond, she popped a fourth of her kiwi-banana-and-peanut-butter sandwich in his mouth.
  "Rafe." the girl corrected, absently, as her companion chewed frantically around the concoction.
  A bit taken aback by her complete lack of concern, Cable lowered his knife slightly, eyes narrowed.
  Still chewing, Stryfe met his gaze, expression unreadable.  
  "Cayanne, he..."
  The girl rolled her eyes upwards as though praying for divine intervention. "Don' tell me. He de most dangerous, hor'ble bad guy out dere." she said, dryly.
  Nathan stared at her.
  Stryfe chewed.
  "Well den, how come I not a smokin' heap?"
  "He got a name. Not Stryfe anymore. Rafe. Say it wit me. Raaay-fe." enunciated the girl, picking up another fourth of sandwich and taking a huge bite.
  Nathan glared, hand clenching on his knife.
  Stryfe swallowed, opened his mouth to deliver a scathing comment, and Cayanne popped another sandwich-fourth into his mouth.
  "You learn to play nice, Nathan, Rafe - I runnin' outta san'wich." Cayanne grinned impishly.

   Scott went straight to Professor Xavier with his report, his expression tense with hidden worry. Jean joined him moments later, sitting next to him in the warm welcome of the study.
  "Stryfe returned with you?" Xavier's expression was nothing short of stunned. His dark eyes fixed on Scott, not quite accusing, but demanding an answer, and the young man looked up.
  "Cayanne insisted." The reason sounded weak, but Scott did not back down. "And even Logan agreed."
  Strange, the X-Men's leader thought, but now Logan's opinion means so much to me.
  Jean rested a hand on his, expression full of love and support. "He's right, Professor. And I must admit - Cayanne is an
excellent judge of character." she said, softly.
  Xavier frowned, clearly concerned for the welfare of all the mutants at the school.
  Cayanne was licking the remnants of her sandwich off her sticky fingers while Nathan and Rafe glared at one another over her head. Rafe was still chewing, and Nathan was still holding his knife - and both looked ready to roll each other in the dirt.
  Finally, she stood up, putting her hands on her hips. "Dis gettin' silly." she observed. "Both you sit dere glarin' like you could make de other fall over - starin' contests outta style, by de way - and we gettin' nowhere." She looked up at Nathan. "Nathan, you give me dat knife? Dat way, we play Stratego wit'out real casu'lties."
  The X-Man stared down at the girl, startled.
  "And Rafe give me yer knife, de one hidden in yer boot."
  Stryfe's lips twitched. Slightly.
  "I hold both. You get back after game." She grinned up at them. "Got better idea. We play more fun game. You both owe favors. We play. All three. Each turn, each o' you gotta answer a question from de other."
  The two glared at one another over the girl's head, but said in the same instant, "Done."

  Scott found Warren, Jean, and Ororo with Bobby and Jubilee in the Rec Room playing with the new console, a Sony Playstation 2. A pile of game CDs were strewn about the TV viewing area, and Zane was giving Jubilee a run for her money in "Resident Evil: Survivor". Liam was on the couch, a book laying open, clearly involved in homework.
  Speaking in a low tone despite the cacophony, Scott asked, "Have you seen Nathan?"
  "Not recently." replied the winged mutant, wings unconsciously giving a shiver-flutter as he turned.
  Scott frowned, and soon had rounded up Jean and Logan, who sniffed the air in the kitchen once, turned on his heel, and headed wordlessly for the library.
  Worried nearly to the point of being ill, Scott threw open the door, and froze in disbelief at what he saw.

  Cayanne, stretched and half-turned in the oddest position over Nathan and called, "Okie, Rafe - hit it again!"
  Influenced by Stryfe's telekinesis, the cardboard square rose into the air, turned around, and in complete defiance of gravity, the needle spun, landing on a blue area of the circle.
  Flipping over fast and wobbling on one hand, the limber teen managed to hit a blue circle with one toe, aware that Stryfe had to stretch out completely to hit one near the end of the plastic playing area, while Nathan had to bend almost double.
  "Next question - and no fair sneakin' and usin' yer teek to hold yerself up, Rafe!"
  "The thought had never entered my mind." growled Stryfe.
  "If it had, you'd be floating." snapped Nathan.
  "Temper, dear brother." chided the tall mutant, voice expressionless. "My question, I believe."
  Through gritted teeth, "Get on with it, brother."
  Surprisingly, Stryfe's voice was uncharacteristically soft. "What was it like, Nathan, for you growing up?"
  Nathan almost lost his balance.
  "Hey, watch it! You'll smoosh me!" yelped Cayanne.
  Both men murmured apologies, but Nathan had to consider.
  Finally, he summed it up in one word.
  Then the door banged open, and Nathan and Stryfe, concentration shattered, both tumbled onto one another.

  Cayanne was not quiet when the two tall mutants fell on top of her. Muffled yells and curses were clearly audible as they managed to untangle from one another and roll off the girl.
  "Twister?" sputtered Scott, as Jean grinned broadly.
  The teen-ager dusted herself off, grinned up at Stryfe and Nathan.
  "Dey pretty agile." she commented, cheerfully. "An' dey can play t'gether." She looked up at both men. "What say we catch dat movie on TV late t'morrow night? I make de popcorn." Then she grinned at Scott, Jean, and the silently lurking Logan. "And ya'll come too."

  Despite herself, Cayanne had come to enjoy some aspects of school. She enjoyed learning - as long as she was left to do it at her own pace, and not forced to learn by rote.
  Miss Munroe had quickly discovered that her young student possessed a keen intelligence, but was easily bored and distracted with inactivity. Thus, despite her youth - and completely without Cayanne's knowledge - she blazed through the standardized grades and into college-level in a matter of days. Within a month, she had qualified for several degree-level programs, and by the time her oath with her father was up - and her movie-date with Stryfe and Nathan was imminent - she could easily enter any doctoral - and many PhD - programs with ease. She seemed to absorb information like a sponge, showing a fascination with learning usually only apparent in scholars three times her age.
 However, she still had a great deal of trouble sleeping, often finding refuge in the library or in the kitchen. She also often forgot to eat, and when chided by her father - always with love and concern in his eyes - the teen's sense of guilt sent her off to the well-stocked refrigerator to fix herself a meal.
 But it rarely stayed down.
 She was determined to "tough it out", convinced it was some form of virus that would pass with time, and her own stubbornness kept her going.
  New students arrived, a few left, and finally four newcomers came that caused different reactions with the teen-ager.
  Mrs. Redmarch was of Native American decent, and became a much-needed secretary for the school. She was fiercely protective of "her" children, and very easy to like, and let even the children call her Laura. Her husband, Joseph, was the groundskeeper. Everyone - Cayanne included - liked the pair. Veronica Murral - Ronnie - was a mutant who had come to the school to be a teacher, and she was a darn good teacher. She had a son, Ian, who was also a mutant and had fit in well with his age-mates. Ronnie had taken over teaching math and science, leaving English and Literature to Scott, American History, Current Events, and Art to Ororo, and Eastern Studies to Logan. Scott and Logan taught Physical Education together, while Jean and Hank both taught Advanced Sciences. The last newcomer, Dorian Burke, was the elder brother of Althea, and her complete opposite. From the
moment he arrived, Cayanne took to avoiding him. The man was a psychiatrist, and the last thing the girl wanted was someone messing around with her head.
  Spinning the bat over easily in her hands, Cayanne crouched at the plate, swinging the object back up to hover slightly above her shoulder. One foot was planted in front of the plate, the other behind it, and she watched the pitcher with narrowed, alert eyes.
  It was free-play in Physical Education, and her choices - being a Freshman and all - had been softball or swimming. She liked swimming, but the idea of disrobing, changing, swimming a bit, disrobing again, changing again, then going back to study some more was a bit silly, at least in her mind.
  The only problem was that Althea was pitching.
  With a superior grin, the blonde threw the softball, hard enough to send the catcher flying backwards.
  "Strike one!" she called, sneering at the shorter mutant.
  "Shaddup an' throw the ball." returned Cayanne, expression darkening.
  Another throw, another strike.
The teen-ager gritted her teeth, shook her head violently.
  Althea threw the ball, expression one of contempt and superiority.
  The ball seemed to halt for one split second before Cayanne swung into the arc, effectively smashing the sphere out of the park - and knocking the skin off the tangle of string that fluttered weakly back toward the earth.
  Leaning jauntily on the bat, grinning evilly, Cayanne stared at Althea until the older girl looked away.

  Wedged in between Nathan and Stryfe, Cayanne made an effective barrier to the occasional hostile stare. A huge bowl of fresh-popped popcorn, dripping with hot, melted butter, was in the girl's lap, and she had passed out large glasses of smoothies - even Logan accepted one rather than his trademark beer.
  Cayanne had spent several hours jury-rigging a huge projection TV - "borrowed" from the operating theatre - to the satellite transceiver on the roof, and had claimed ownership of the remote.
  Currently clad in a loose grey t-shirt with Wile E. Coyote holding up a sign saying "Super Genius" that came slightly past her knees, a pair of grey jogging pants with elastic gathers at the ankle, and clean white socks, she poked Nathan and Stryfe, then Logan.
"When de dance come on, you follow us, okay? You too, Scott, Jean. No fair sittin' down and broodin', dis night for fun!" she said, firmly. Most of the teen-age mutants were sprawled on the floor, pillows and blankets beneath them, with an occasional giggle or swat with a pillow marking their locations.
  Cayanne clicked off the lights, and the silence was almost total before she flicked on the television.
  Shortly thereafter, the first strains of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" filled the room, and pandemonium erupted.

  Cayanne's suspicions were confirmed when she had to rally her class-mates to drag the adults out to do the Time Warp. As she put it, "Ya jus' can't watch de Rocky Horror an' not do de Time Warp - it like blasp'my or somethin'."
  Finally, she started throwing pillows to everyone as the movie came to an end.
  With a whoop, she charged Logan, leaping up and swatting the pillow down on his head as he turned from dancing with Jubilee to defend himself.
  Stryfe muttered something under his breath.
  As if watching someone else move, Cable suddenly smashed his own soft would-be weapon down on the other's head.
  Not to be outdone, Stryfe retaliated, summoning pillows from the couch telekenetically, which his brother dodged, all the while swatting his companion with the thick pillow.
  When Logan swatted Cayanne, the girl tumbled over the couch, onto a blanket, and grabbed a handful of slightly sticky left-over popcorn. With a rebel yell, she pelted the older mutant with the buttery remnants, bounding back over the back of the couch.
  Remy and Marie were having a grand time with two massive old feather pillows, while Bobby chased Warren around the room with a huge old pillow of indeterminate design he'd found.
  Zane and Liam were left with smaller foam pillows, but they were having as much fun as their fellows.
  "Come back here!" growled Logan, stalking the grinning Cayanne. He had to dodge around the wrestling, pillow-slinging Nathan and Stryfe, intent on catching the youngster.
  Scott gave a swing of his own pillow, connecting with Jean's side, and dodged around as she charged after him, laughing like a teen-ager herself.
  Ororo got hit by flying popcorn, and shortly thereafter retaliated by throwing her pillow at Remy, who was knocked into a delighted Marie's arms.
  Logan had backed Cayanne toward the corner of the room, pillow in hand, when the door opened, and the teen-ager let the popcorn bowl fly. The Canadian mutant brought his arm up, sweeping the bowl - which landed unceremoniously on the head of Charles Xavier.
  Cayanne dove to the side, but Logan snaked an arm out, pinning the mischievous youngster to his side.
  The bowl dripped butter down Xavier's face.
  The girl grinned at him. "At least it good fit. Non?"
Xavier stared at her, then suddenly burst out laughing. Logan grinned, a bit ferally, and as the room's combatants became aware of the trio, the room rocked with laughter.

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