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"Tales of the Twilight Menshevik"

Stories in this series:

Sisters under Their Skins
Midnight Sun
A Year in the Life
October 6: A Night 2 Remember
A Day's Work
Late Summer Interlude
The Time the Twain Shall Meet
Message to a Grandchild
Ergo Bibamus 1: Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Lights in the Dark
Between the Woods and Frozen Lake
Ergo Bibamus 2: There's a Tavern Near the Town
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Someone Blue
Valentine Allsorts
The Ballad of Trish and Henry
Rogue's Fairy Tale
Magneto, My First Love
To My Dark-Haired Lady
The Raven and the Oriole
Trish -- A Rapture

Val and Ray at the Movies
March 2002
July 2002

Tales of Future Twilight
Ergo Bibamus 3: Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes
They Will Always Be Penny and Max to Me
Getting to Know You
Fourth Thursday in November
The Iceman's Tale
Pictures at an Exhibition
The Survivor Has a Different Kind of Scar

Twilight Yet to Come
Hang on to Your Ego
Strange Headfellows
Sonnet for Magnus
Between the Winds

DISCLAIMER: This is an unauthorized work of fiction using characters that are (c) & TM by Marvel Comics Group. No profit is being made on this story, so I'll invoke The Marvel Readers' Bill of Rights (for the full text see Stan's Soapbox in some of the May 1998 comics, e.g. Generation X #38):
"8. The right to practice scripting and drawing our Marvel characters for your own pleasure and amusement."
The story is (c) Tilman Stieve ( You can download this and copy it for your entertainment, but don't sell it for profit, or Marvel will set their lawyers on you. Please do not archive this on your website without informing me first.
Hang On To Your Ego belongs to my series, the Tales of the Twilight Menshevik; as it is the first story of a new timeline, Twilight Yet to Come, it should be understandable on its own, but maybe it will also pique the interest of readers new to the series enough to take a look at some of the others (see notes at the end).
You can find the other Tales archived on "Fonts of Wisdom", "Down-Home Charm", "MissyRedX: The Average Website", and "Stacy's Fan-Fiction Page".
WARNING: This story features references and brief descriptions of sexual acts between consenting adults. If you are too young to read them or if such descriptions bother you, I must ask you to wait until you're old enough.

Twilight Yet to Come
Hang On To Your Ego


1. I Know Perfectly Well I'm Not Where I Should Be

"Representatives of the federal government and costumed crime-fighters from the United States and all over the world gathered in Washington today to bid farewell to Dr. Valerie Cooper, chairwoman of the Commission on Metahuman Operatives and deputy head of the Bureau of Mutagenic Affairs. Dr. Cooper was one of the most well-known officials in the Federal superpowers affairs hierarchy under three Presidents. She first came to national attention as an assistant to the Senate Committee on Mutant Affairs in 1992. Shortly afterwards, she was appointed Deputy National Security Adviser for Parahuman Affairs and became a member of the President's Commission on Superhuman Activities, which oversaw costumed Federal operatives. But to the public she was known best as the overseer and spokeswoman of two Federally sponsored mutant teams. The first of these, Freedom Force, was raised late during President George Bush Senior's Administration around a nucleus of former members of the so-called Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. After a number of operatives were killed or went missing in action, Freedom Force was superseded by a second team, code-named X-Factor, which Dr. Cooper assembled from freelance crime-fighters, containing as disparate elements as a few survivors of Freedom Force and some former members of the X-Men, an independent team that had once been arch-enemies of the 'Brotherhood' since their first inception. Dr. Cooper did not confine herself to the day-to-day committee work and the liaison with government agencies and public representation of her teams, she also frequently accompanied X-Factor on field missions. It was on one such mission that Valerie Cooper was killed Tuesday last week. She leaves behind two young daughters and her life-partner, Mystique, seen here accepting the condolences of NBC's Trish Tilby and her husband, Dr. Henry McCoy, the X-Man and Avenger known as the Beast. The private partnership between Valerie Cooper and Raven Darkhölme may actually have caused more headlines than Dr. Cooper's official activities, due in equal parts to Ms. Darkhölme's terrorist past and to the medical sensation of her fathering both of Dr. Cooper's children. The mourners were addressed by X-Factor's field leader, Mr. Alexander Summers, better known as Havok..."

Katherine Pryde-Stuart, a mainstay of the British team Excalibur both as the metapowered Shadowcat and as one of its resident scientists, was surprised to be among the guests who were invited to the Darkhölme townhouse after the funeral. She had not really known Val Cooper all that well, and as for her widow, even after Mystique had reformed, Kitty found their rare meetings a little awkward. She never knew what to say. Granted, she was a good friend of Kurt Wagner, Raven Darkhölme's long unacknowledged son, and also knew Rogue, her foster daughter, fairly well, but that much could be said of a number of people, some of whom had not been invited to the funeral.

The gathering in the Georgetown brownstone was not quite what Kitty expected -- for one thing, none of Valerie Cooper's relatives were present, not even her brother, the FBI agent. It actually was more like an official meeting of delegates from both the 'authorized' and 'irregular' mutant networks than a family occasion. Professor Xavier sat in his wheelchair by the fireplace talking with Sean Cassidy and Moira MacTaggert, who had cut short their Jamaican vacation to attend. That the various members past and present of X-Factor were scattered all over the living-room was only to be expected, but the other two US mutant teams were also represented in strength. To her right she saw Scott, the X-Men's current field leader, standing in hushed conversation with Madelyne and Alex, while at the opposite end of the room there were three Meddlers, members of the clandestine offshoot of the X-Men that had been formed when the main team went public and entered into its formalized co-operation with 'legitimate' super-teams like the Avengers: Talking with Lorna Dane and St. John Allerdyce, X-Factor's Polaris and Pyro, were Rémy LeBeau (who, for all Kitty knew, was barely on speaking terms with Mystique), Logan and Jean Grey. Near the grandfather clock there was yet another group that caught her attention, it consisted of Forge, Psylocke, Alpha Flight's Aurora, Iceman, and the Meddlers' Chinese member Qilin (funny, ever since the spy plane incident, Chen Li seemed to be causing as many worries in Washington as her most notorious teammate, Magneto). While Kurt and Amanda soon joined that group, Kitty walked over to the coffee table and sat down across from the sofa where the Beast sat beside Storm. Hank still looked a little haggard from his cure, while Ororo was positively illuminated by her pregnancy; when Kitty asked her, she confirmed that she was only a month or two away from the birth.

At last Mystique entered from upstairs, accompanied by Rogue and Magneto. The blue-skinned shape-shifter stopped next to the door through which she had entered. One by one the people in the room fell silent as Raven Darkhölme looked them over impassively. Then she began to speak.

"Thank you for coming. As you no doubt guessed, this is mainly a business meeting. We called you here because Rogue and I have news that she thinks concern you. I wasn't so sure, but we might as well tell you all here, then we don't have to do it several times over." She took a deep breath and, as far as Kitty could tell from the slight movement of her head (her eyes remained featureless golden spheres), glanced sideways at Magneto. "Whether it is good news or bad is up for you to decide."

Rogue cleared her throat. "Well, everybody, ah thought about ways of breakin' this to y'all, but there's no way of doin' this smoothly. Y'all heard that Momma 'n' me were with Val at ... the end. What y'all don't know is that Val didn't quite die then." She waited a moment to give everyone time to react. "Ah mean, her body is dead, it was too late to save that. But ah could absorb her personality and memories permanently."

A wave of consternation swept across the room, while Mystique and Magneto maintained a stony-faced expression, Kitty could not help noticing.

Rogue continued: "So if any of y'all see me behavin' strangely in the future, y'all will know for why."

That attempt at lightness fell flat. Too many of those present could remember Rogue's troubles back in the days when she had to share her skull with the persona she had absorbed from Carol Danvers, the former Ms. Marvel. Kitty was amazed -- she vividly recalled the near-hysterical state the Southern mutant had been in when she first went to the X-Mansion, not knowing where else to turn. Professor X had then been able to help her, but Kitty knew there had been a bad relapse during the time the X-Men hid out in Australia. That had only been ended when the Siege Perilous finally removed Carol's personality from Rogue's mind. And now Rogue was willingly risking to go through something like that another time? "You really must like Valerie," she muttered under her breath.

It probably was a mercy that Valerie's persona would not have minded being absorbed by Rogue, quite unlike Carol who had been torn kicking and scratching from her native body. Valerie should cause less trouble -- for now. But what would the future bring? Would she end up with a major case of 'cabin fever' from being cooped up in Rogue's brain and try to take over her host's body just as Carol had done, no matter what she intended when the transfer was made? Immersed in her thoughts, Kitty barely paid attention to the brief appearance of Val's persona, and to the short exchange of questions and answers that ensued. Not that Rogue would divulge much more than the information she had first volunteered. Her motives and what she expected the consequences for her life to be -- at least as far as her life beyond her capacity as a superhero and leader of the Meddlers were concerned -- she declared to be too private to be discussed in open forum, at least for now. She just said: "Val will be helpin' me with the Meddlers and X-Men, she's got all kinds of useful experience. She's also probably goin' to stay a kind of unofficial adviser for X-Factor, but that depends a lot on how much time ah'll be able to make for that sort of thing."

The evening of that same day, Kitty sat down in a Mexican restaurant on N Street with Ororo, Alistaire, the McCoys, Logan, and Jean. Over a light meal, they reviewed the day's events -- Alistaire and Trish, who both had not been at the meeting after the funeral, had plenty of questions to ask, and the other five still had not entirely digested the revelations themselves.

Alistaire was skeptical. "Do you believe that's really Dr. Cooper inside Rogue's cranium? I know she absorbs people's personalities and memories, but I never thought of it as her actually being in possession of their, for want of a better word, souls when she does it."

"As a wise man once said: The theological implications alone are staggering," Hank interjected.

"It is a puzzler," Trish said. Her looks, like those of her husband, still showed the outward signs of their past illness. "From the way you explained it, I always assumed Rogue's power works a bit like transferring a file from a hard disk to a floppy or another computer. Now if you still have the file on the original computer, it seems clear that the other file is a backup copy, even if it is totally identical. But if you select 'transfer data' and you erase it from the original hard disk, don't you then behave as if the file was transported from your c: to the a: drive?"

"Hey, I thought I'm the computer nerd here!" Kitty giggled. "But seriously, I never saw first-hand what that Carol persona in Rogue was like, and, well, when she let 'Val' come to the surface this afternoon, it was too short for me to say that really was her. What do you say, guys? You were with her when Rogue and 'Carol' kept fighting for control of her body."

These last words were addressed to Logan and Ororo. Storm replied first. "In Australia, whenever the Carol in Rogue's mind came to the fore, we somehow fell into treating her as a real person. It felt natural, but possibly we just didn't reflect on it enough."

"But did you think this 'person' was Carol Danvers?" Jean wanted to know.

"Perhaps not the same as Carol," Ororo replied, "but as hard to distinguish from her as the Phoenix in your shape was from yourself. Wouldn't you agree, Logan?"

"Well, it was scary how much like Carol she became with that persona in control," Logan reminisced. "It was in Genosha and my senses were on the blink, but I could almost smell her old scent. And there were times I coulda sworn her eyes were blue instead o' green. Yeah, my instincts told me that was close enough to bein' her."

"Would you have been as certain if Binary had been there as well?" Hank wondered.

Logan grinned. "I've known Carol for ages. The woman who sprang me from jail in Genosha was her, and Binary is her. I never had the time to ponder about the reality of the soul or what happened to Carol's when Rogue absorbed her personality 'n' memories, but I guess the way I see it here is actually quite near to what your dear wife just said." He waved his cigar at Trish with an ironic smile, acknowledging their past disagreements.

Ororo mused: "Well, on reflection I'm not as sure as I was then. Maybe there were minor differences between the Carol in Rogue and the one who became Binary. I felt the Carol I knew in Australia was angrier, but that could have been after-effects of the Inferno ... But I did not know Carol Danvers before Rogue absorbed her powers and memories, so I can't really say if the Carol in Rogue or Binary was more similar to what Carol had been like when she still had all her memories and the related emotions. Maybe we could say that both of them were Carol or both were not, with equal justification."

"Oh, come on, Binary surely is Carol," Alistaire protested, "she's got the body and everything!"

"Which was fundamentally altered both when she lost her Ms. Marvel powers and when she became Binary," Logan interjected. "And she herself said that something was missing because Charley was only able to restore her memories, but not the emotions that went with 'em. She once told me her own mother sensed the difference when she saw her then."

"Well, Rogue kept saying that what she did to Carol is tantamount to killing her," Kitty ventured, "which I thought really weird, because although she had tried to kill her, Carol Danvers is still alive. But if you put it that way, maybe she thought that after her attack the real Carol no longer existed..."

"...or existed only in the persona that lived in her skull. Remember what she said at the debriefing about the Siege Perilous, 'roro?"

"Yes, when the Siege removed the Carol persona from Rogue's psyche, it gave her a body of its own, which was just like Ms. Marvel's. Only the life force wasn't enough for both of them, but Rogue could not bring herself to kill this new Carol, not even in self-defense. So she thought of her as Carol. So it is clear why she would think that she was saving Valerie by absorbing her psyche."

Hank then began to compare the cases of Carol Danvers and Valerie Cooper with those of his fellow Avengers Vision and Jocasta -- whose personalities and memories were largely, but not completely, based on those of Wonder Man and the Wasp -- but that did not bring them nearer to unraveling the puzzle than they had been and after a while the conversation turned to other matters.

It was not long before midnight when the party broke up into its component groups and left. In the morning they would be leaving for their various destinations: Kitty and Alistaire would accompany Ororo and Hank to Westchester and then fly on to Britain, while Trish had to stay behind for the official press conference. Logan and Jean would meanwhile return to the Meddlers' Appalachian base. As they said their good-byes, Ororo told them half-jokingly: "Look after Rogue, you two." But her eyes betrayed the concern her nonchalant voice tried to conceal.

2. Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)

"It's no use," Magnus sighed in frustration, "we might as well give up trying for tonight."

"But that's so unfair. You found a way to, er, pleasure me. You sure there's nothing ah can do to return the favor? Won't you let me give it another try?"

"I fear part of the reason is that we tried too hard, my love. That and ... well, ... you know."

"The Val Cooper thing? But ah'm still the same. Apart from the times when ah let her take charge for a moment." Her hand flew to her mouth when she registered that afterthought did not exactly help her argument. Rogue decided that to continue trying to overcome her lover's current problem was futile and crawled up the bed to lie beside him.

"No, you're as impulsive as ever, my dear," Magnus said with a smile. "In my head I know that you are still the same woman with whom I fell in love back in the Savage Land. But, as your brother Kurt would say, my stomach tells me there's a difference. Not in your behavior or your looks. But something is different. Something that spooks me."

"Maybe you're nervous about us makin' love 'cause you feel ... she's watchin' you."

"That could well be ... Doesn't it bother you?"

"Well ... Val told me she wouldn't intrude on my ... private matters, kinda try to take a break durin' the awkward times." She put her hand on his bare shoulder reassuringly. "Ah've been through worse. This time ah'm still in control of my power, an' it ain't nowhere near as bad as it was with Carol Danvers. If you had known me then..."

"But I did know you then!"

"Ha! You were always too busy to notice me. And found Rachel's problems more interestin' than mine!"

"I was a fool?"

"No, actually you just saw me in a phase when Carol gave me no real grief. It was totally different around the time ah joined the X-Men and later in Australia. Besides, you then had Lee Forrester, and when she wasn't around, you always were so focused on the really important things." She kissed him full on the mouth until she had to stop for breath. "Your intenseness has always been one of the things ah loved most about you. But seriously, you should've seen me a year or even half a year earlier. There were times when ah tried to put off goin' to the toilet long as possible 'cause o' the Carol in my head. Compared to that, ah'm havin' an easy ride with Val."

"So far."

"Yes, so far. But then ah'm not such a pessimistic ol' worryguts like you." She kissed him again. Seeing that nothing more was going to happen, she went to the bathroom for a quick shower and then prepared for bed while Magnus brushed his teeth.

Before Rogue had learned how to control her power, she had to cover herself from head to foot most of the time as a precaution against absorbing other people's powers and personalities by accident. Then going to bed was one of the few occasions when she could afford to undress without risk. These days going to bed had a somewhat higher risk, because she now no longer slept alone. But now things might be more risky than before, because Rogue was not sure if Val would be able to control her absorption power if she woke up while Rogue was still asleep. So to be on the safe side Rogue put on one of her lighter body suits and gloves before tucking in.

As they lay side by side in their double bed, watching the late news, their thoughts turned to the days before them.

"Ah have to go to Washington next weekend."

"Oh. Why?"

"Alex 'n' Forge have to discuss who's goin' to be Val's successor, and they wanted Val to be there."

"I see." After a pause he asked: "Will Mystique be there?"

"Probably. Ah'll be visitin' her and the kids anyhow. Does it worry you?"

Magneto had the sense not to hesitate when he said "No, of course not," but, feeling somewhat paranoid, Rogue still felt she had to address this matter.

"Look, Magnus, Val ain't gonna use my body for hanky-panky with Momma, ah'm sure of it. Even if she wanted to and ah couldn't prevent her, it'd be too ... icky for Raven." She paused, listening to an unheard voice. "And now she says the idea is makin' her feel queasy. Sorry Val."

In spite of himself Magneto had to smile at the thought of the bickering going on in Rogue's mind.

"All that's gonna happen is that Val will speak at the conference, and afterwards she and I are goin' to look in on Reney and Hope together with Raven."

"Poor things. They lost their mother, that rather puts our situation in perspective, doesn't it?"

"Yes. It'll be good to see them again. We talked with them just before the funeral, but it still was a bit much for them."

"It should be hard for anyone to grasp," Magneto mused. "Their mother being dead, yet not really, still there, but not as often as they'd like, and in their big sister's body."

"Irene's a bright li'l thing, ah reckon she understood. But Hopey's only just turned two, that's way too young..."

"I'd like to do what I can to help them..." She looked at him quizzically. "Well, I do have child-rearing experience, even if it was half a century ago!"

Spring had given way to early summer when Rogue and the stowaway in her mind arrived for the conference at X-Factor's Georgetown building. Mystique still looked more than a little concerned when she welcomed her daughter, but there was no time for private talk as they had to go to Forge's office almost immediately.

Havok, X-Factor's field leader, opened the proceedings. "Thank you for coming, Rogue, and, er, you too, Valerie. Forge here says he isn't sure that's really you, but of course he has to say that 'cause it's too close to being possessed by a ghost and all that." He winked at the two women after Forge gave him a dirty look. Since his lover had once been possessed by the non-corporal Marauder Malice, Alex had been a lot more open to the idea that it really was Valerie between Rogue's ears. "But obviously Uncle Sam has to work on the assumption that Val is really and totally gone, so her positions will be filled with new people. Now Raven has taken some, achem, unofficial soundings on the Hill and she told us that they're thinking of separating her two hats and appointing different people as X-Factor's government liaison and to the Bureau of Mutagenic Affairs. I'd like to say that this is because Valerie's shoes are so hard to fill, but it seems some people in the administration think the team has some kind of corrupting influence on their liaisons, and they want to prevent that from spreading any further into the Commission on Metahuman Operatives."

There was an derisive snort from Mystique, but then Forge took over: "Well, Rogue..." He paused uneasily. "Uh, Valerie, we basically want to talk about the prospecitve candidates, and since you know most of them better than we do, we'd like to..."

"...benefit from your rich repository of experience." Alex completed the sentence.

"I'll try to do my best. Well, things were rather hectic lately," the others dutifully smiled, then Valerie continued through Rogue's mouth. "I've given the matter some thought. They're not likely to promote someone from the office, I mean Baldrick is dangerously close to his level of incompetence in his present position. And the others have a strike or two against them because they were appointed under Billy-Jeff. They'll probably take someone from the Commission on Superhuman Activities of the last year of George senior's administration."

Mystique raised a half-amused eyebrow at such informality with her two former commanders-in-chief at this official meeting.

"Well, dying does put a certain perspective on things," Val dryly remarked as she shuffled her notes. "Well, let's see. Orville Sanderson's retired, I'd say he's too old to be considered."

"That's what I'd have said too until I saw some of Dubya's cabinet appointments," Raven could not help interjecting. Forge had an odd expression on his face as he observed the long-familiar interplay now acted out with a slightly different cast. After his brief affair with Raven -- ages ago, before Valerie -- he still cared for her well-being, and he wasn't sure what to make of her behavior. She had been so morose ever since the fight and funeral, and now she was acting most laid-back. Was this a good sign or bad?

"In any case, he doesn't have the necessary clout," Valerie added. "The 'Conservative Revolution' passed him by. The same probably also goes for George Mathers. And Colin Powell will most likely want to keep Haywerth in the Foggy Bottom office where he put him in February."

"That does narrow down the field somewhat," Alex observed. "Any more we can strike off the list?"

Rogue grinned and Val continued: "Oh, sure. Wesley Werner never showed any indication of initiative, he shouldn't have a chance against the likes of Gyrich and Sikorsky. And Adrian Sammish won't leave his cushy job at OctoCom. He'd get less than a third of what he makes today in my position."

"So it'll probably be a choice between Raymond Sikorsky and Henry Gyrich?" said Alex.

"Most likely. There's no one else around anymore to match their experience, apart from your own good self," Val said as Rogue's green eyes winked at Forge, "but unfortunately you're a Clinton appointee as well as an M-U-T-A-N-T. I noticed that Raymond started attending church again about half a year ago. Wonder if he thinks that can give him an edge in the race..."

"Somehow I doubt it," said Forge, who had dealt with both men in the past. "He never was as good as Gyrich at building a bureaucratic empire and creating the impression of his own indispensability."

"Very much so," Valerie replied, "and Henry had more political backing in the old days. Now if I know my Raven, I'd say she can enlighten us on the current situation?"

Mystique smiled. "Yes, there have been a few mysterious visitors on the Hill and at 1600 Penn. Ave. and what I heard as various lobbyists and Senators tends to confirm what Val just said. The cabinet and White House staff are keeping mum, but Bob Kelly's friends and allies are definitely pushing Gyrich. And Kelly's still the chairman of the genejoke committee, that's going to count for something."

"I hope you were discreet and didn't lock up any of the people you impersonated," Alex said, not quite sure if he should be amused or worried.

"I'm not an amateur, boy," Raven smugly retorted. "As a matter of fact, one Senator was tied up, but I had nothing to do with that. He was in a session with his dominatrix."

"So we're going to be saddled with Gyrich?" Alex asked lest the discussion was sidetracked.

"Not necessarily," Valerie offered, "we could try to bring a wild card into the picture. What would you think of putting forward Janet van Dyne? As an ex-chairwoman of the Avengers she should be trusted by our lords and masters, and since she has experience in co-operating with the X-Men, I don't think you and the rest of the team should object?"

"I'd prefer her to Gyrich, if that's what you mean. Not that I've had much to do with her personally."

Forge too sounded interested. "From what I hear the Avengers don't plan on having a new election for chairperson soon, so this might be an attractive proposition for her."

"Yes, after her leave of absence she's itching to get into a position of responsibility again," Valerie said and jokingly added. "And with the current deadlock in the Senate she's bound to find bipartisan support considering she's designed dresses for both Barbara Bush and Hillary Clinton."

"I think it will work wonderfully," Mystique smiled sarcastically. "She owns a big business, and since both parties are in the pockets of big money, we'll be cutting out the middle man."

"Raven dear, it's probably just as well that you're not under consideration for the job. We have to work with the people we have," Val's smile however said 'maybe you're right (not that I'll ever admit it), but give them time.' Seeing that familiar smile on her daughter's face that made it necessary for Mystique to avert her eyes for a couple of moments.

But Raven recovered somewhat and changed the track: "You're a business tycoon too, Forge, are you sure you don't want to try for the job?"

Forge smiled: "I don't think so, Raven. After I became more discriminating about the government contracts I accepted, some representatives of what President Eisenhower and you after him insist on calling the military-industrial complex accused me of disloyalty. And my company's interest in environment-friendly technologies probably has my fellow Texans suspecting I voted for Nader."

"And who did you vote for?"

Much as the others would have loved to hear the answer to Alex' question, Forge declined to do them the favor, and Mystique quipped: "Aw, he's embarrassed! Choosing the lesser evil doesn't do much for a super-hero's self-image, does it? Well, at least that's something I didn't have to worry about, not being allowed to vote at all."

"Hmm, didn't you tell me last November not to bother to go because they would have abolished elections long ago if they actually changed something?"

"And what happened after really proved me wrong, didn't it?"

Thankfully the official part of the day was over fairly soon, then Mystique could take Valerie to her home next door. Lorna was waiting for them with the children, whom she had just picked up from kindergarten. The reunion began awkwardly. Raven had spent some time explaining what had happened to their mother in the preceding days; Irene, the elder, was on top of the situation, but two-year-old Hope took a while to overcome her shock at hearing Val's words issuing from their sister's lips. But after lunch and their nap they were eager to go out for some outdoor games in Dumbarton Oaks Park. Raven was relieved how much the two children enjoyed playing with their parents, it was almost like in the old days. After supper Valerie oversaw her daughters brushing their teeth and then she sat down in Irene's bed to read some picture-books with them before she and Raven tucked them in. The only fly in the ointment was having to hand over to Rogue for the good-night kiss.

It had been a longer day than expected -- Val had found it impossible to insist that the two went to bed at their proper bedtime -- and by the time the two women had finished picking up the toys strewn not just all over the nursery and started the dish-washer, it was already beginning to turn dark outside. They sat down together on the living-room sofa, and Valerie carefully snuggled up to her woman, laying her head against her shoulder.

For a while they sat in silence, looking outside into the garden, but although she was glad of this intimacy, it became too much for Raven. All sorts of questions were forming inside her mouth. How do you really feel, Val? Is this what you wanted? Where do we go from here? But these were questions that she did not want to say out loud, so in the end she resorted to the escape of switching on the television so they could see the news together.

Not that Valerie did not recognize the evasive maneuver immediately. But she waited until the bulletin was finished before picking up the remote control and pushing the 'off' button. "Well, today went off rather well, don't you think?"

"Pretty much," came Raven's guarded response. "And Irene and Hope are happy to see you're still there for them, that's for certain."

"But you're still a little spooked by the situation, aren't you? In the morning at the conference you were the most relaxed person at the table (I'm convinced Alex was just overcompensating). But now that we're alone, it seems you're a little more nervous..."

Raven sighed. "I can tell no lie," she began, which got her a loud giggle from Valerie.

"Well, okay, I could if I wanted to," Raven began again with a rueful smile, "but I don't want to. Val, yes, so far your presence in Rogue's mind seems to work out as well as can be expected, maybe even better. But I care for ... no, I love you both, so of course I worry about what could go wrong. I'm not like Rogue, I don't get her kind of rose-tinted episodes."

Valerie smiled. "Come on, Raven, she may be an optimist, but she's not naive. And you're not a total pessimist either. You say you like to think the worst of people, but you know you can trust her and you can trust me. And trust us, we three can make it work."

"Yes dear," Raven said resignedly, in parody of a henpecked husband, but with tenderness.

Valerie kissed the tip of her gloved right forefinger and extended it to the other woman's lips. It was as much as they could hope for given the responsibility towards Rogue. "I love you, Raven; although we can only have a shadow of what we had before, I'm grateful we have that."

"But do you really believe we can preserve it in future?"

"Hush," whispered Val and repeated the finger-kiss procedure, "I don't know if we can always stay together, but we'll give it our best shot."

Mystique took her gloved hand and tenderly pressed it against her own cheek. Somehow she felt reassured, maybe because Val had not mentioned the children just now. That could mean that she loved her for own sake, that she had embarked on this risky venture in part because she could not bear to be entirely separated from her.

Since nothing was on TV, they put a DVD of one of their favorite movies on and watched Being John Malkovich. After a while Val put her head in Raven's lap, and towards the end of the film she became rather drowsy. Satisfied that the ending was once again to her liking, she fell asleep.

Raven waited for a couple of moments, then she slipped out from beneath her head and rose. Just when she lifted her up to carry her to bed, her eyes opened.

"Hi Momma." The voice was once again Rogue's.

"Hi yourself," came Raven's slightly hesitant reply. "Is everything all right, child?"

"Of course ah'm all right, why shouldn't ah be?"

With no further words, just a slight sigh of relief, Raven embraced her daughter. And since Rogue was once again in charge of her own body, they did not have to worry about their cheeks touching skin to skin.

3. The Little Girl I Once Knew

It was a glorious early August afternoon, and Ororo and her visitors had decided to gather on the lawn behind Xavier Mansion. Amani, Ororo's baby daughter, was contentedly sleeping in her cot. Yukio, who was on an extended stay since shortly before her lover had given birth, lay spread out on a straw mat next to Ororo, who sat cross-legged in the grass. The two new arrivals from Britain, Kitty and Alistaire Pryde-Stuart, had made themselves comfortable in a pair of the Professor's deck-chairs. A gentle breeze came in from Breakstone Lake and it was quiet enough to hear the buzzing of a passing dragonfly.

Kitty and Alistaire had already gone through the first parts of their visit -- the welcoming hugs, the oohing and aahing over Amani, the handing over of presents and the verbal reports about the latest happenings at Excalibur's home base on the northwest coast of England, of Errol Wagner's and George Braddock's Teletubbies obsession ("It may be a pain now, but just think of the blackmail potential in years to come!"), and gossip about their teammates and various other British superheroes. Now Kitty was reminiscing about the old days, telling her spouse about the time when a baseball game among the Xavier's students was interrupted by the unannounced appearance of the Impossible Man in the guise of Galactus, and about the madcap pursuit that had ensued. The way she told it made Alistaire chuckle a couple of times, and she half-seriously chided him: "It sounds funny to you because you weren't there. I suppose if you told Ororo about our chase across all those realities when you first hooked up with Excalibur, she would find that just as amusing."

Ororo gently laughed at that remark, but Kitty had to think of how much had happened in the nine years since the Popuppian had stolen the Mansion on his intergalactic scavenger hunt. "Scott and Madelyne had only just gotten married," she recalled, "and now they have three kids with a fourth on the way..."

Kitty had just thought out aloud, but Yukio reacted as if she had announced a change of topic. "Yes, not the usual planning ahead on Scott's part. He'll really want to spend more time with his family soon, but now Ororo is too preoccupied to take so much of the work-load off his manly broad shoulders."

"That won't be that big a problem," said Ororo, "there are others who are capable of leading the X-Men for a while."

"I expect Paige has already thrown her hat in the ring?" Kitty asked. That Husk saw it as her destiny to lead the X-Men one day was an open secret ever since her early days with the second New Mutants (or 'Generation X', as they were sometimes known at the Mansion).

"She'll be in the running, have no fear," Ororo replied, "but she probably won't find it easy going -- Henry is quite keen on a greater role in the team after wrapping up the Legacy cure this last winter."

"Probably just as well that Rogue is still running the Meddlers, or you'd have a three-cornered contest on your hands," Yukio interjected with a grin.

"Speaking of Rogue, how is she these days?" Kitty had giggled at Yukio's quip, but now her face mirrored her concern. "Is Val Cooper's personality giving her trouble? Kurt said that Mystique was worried about her, but that was just a week after the funeral..."

"She is able to handle herself and the Meddlers as far as I can tell from what the others tell me," said Storm, "but the X-Men cannot really see if there are problems in her life at home as they only meet the Meddlers on missions. Maybe Jean will tell us something when she drops off Amiko in an hour or so."

As Ororo had foretold, Jean Grey arrived seventy minutes later with two children in tow -- her six-year-old son, Warren Kenneth Worthington IV, and her adopted daughter Amiko Yashida, who at fifteen looked very much a young woman. Jean was on her way to deliver Warren at his father's (her ex-husband's) home. She embraced Ororo and greeted the others warmly when she came up to them.

"Amiko was to have joined the Worthington family outing again, but when she heard that Yukio's here there just was no stopping her until we agreed to let her stay with you instead," she explained; since Yukio had been Amiko's surrogate mother for the better part of five years, it was only understandable. Jean also was able to shed some light on the current state of her team leader: "Oh, Rogue's doing well enough on the team, the Valerie persona is not slowing her down as far as we can see. But she is trying to learn to have more control about which persona is in charge so that Val can train using her powers."

"And off-duty?" Alistaire asked.

"I don't want to pry into her and Magneto's private life -- although Logan thinks they haven't yet worked out all the kinks." That was all she would say.

"Will you be going with Warren ... and Warren?" Kitty then wanted to know.

"Oh heavens no! This little man wouldn't have it." Jean patted her reddish-blond son on the shoulder. "And so, possibly to the relief of Betsy and my ex-husband, I'll leave them in peace this summer. I'll take advantage of that and have a little break from mommy duties. Maddy invited me to spend a few days with her. Maybe I'll still be around if you include the Summers home in your itinerary?"

"That's the plan," Alistaire confirmed.

Yukio then showed Amiko to her room, and after they deposited her belongings there, Jean gave her a parting assortment of advice and -- somewhat more welcome to Amiko -- a few banknotes to top off her summer allowance. She then made sure that the girl had Aunt Madelyne's phone number, and not long after that she and Warren left.

Amiko, now the sole center of attention, found herself quizzed about her progress in high school by Yukio and Alistaire, but luckily Kitty provided an escape for her by letting slip that she wanted to see if her favorite ice-cream parlor in Salem Center was still in business. Amiko insisted on joining Koneko-san on that important exploratory mission at once, leaving behind an open-mouthed Yukio.

Ororo smiled and placed a kiss on her lover's cheek. "Maybe Amiko did not look for that kind of attention when she insisted on staying with you?"

Less than a quarter of an hour later Kitty and Amiko were sitting in Shapiro's ice-cream parlor at a table next to the front window, starting on their banana splits. The two had first met during Kitty's second visit to Japan, when she came within an inch of being transformed into the vessel of a demonic ninja because of her father's illicit deals with a Yakuza family. Ever since then they had been friends and enjoyed eating ice-cream together. Since they both preferred full-fat concoctions to their diet equivalents it was just as well they did not meet that often.

"So, what's living in America like for you?" As an exiled 'Yank' Kitty was naturally interested in how the young girl reacted to her new environment in her own native country. However, it soon evolved that Amiko's life near the Meddlers' base in the hills of West Virginia was somewhat different from Kitty's accustomed suburban surroundings, although that was not as unfamiliar to her as it was to the younger girl. But soon the conversation moved on to subject of Amiko's personal and family life, and in particular how much that had changed since Logan and Jean had moved together two years ago and had taken her into their home along with Warren IV.

"At least you seem to have adapted to having a young brother," Kitty said after Amiko had related a few anecdotes.

"At least Warren stopped complaining after Logan married Jean and she became my official guardian," Amiko said, smirking a little at her new position as elder sister.

Kitty had to smile, empathizing a little at her friends all-too-human attitude. She remembered how hard she had found to deal with her parents' divorce when she was reaching fourteen, or with the way Ororo's attitude to life changed not long after. But what was that compared to Amiko, who had lost both her parents and her first adoptive mother too, and now was basically in her third adoptive family, haven been taken in first by Logan's late fiancee, Mariko Yashida, and then his comrade Yukio, before Logan decided to fulfill his promise to look after Amiko personally after settling down with the former Marvel Girl. "And how are things between you and Jean?"

"Oh, Jean's cool."

So it wasn't a slip of the tongue that she referred to her new adoptive mother by her first name. But that was only to be expected, thought Kitty, thinking of four different people as 'Mommy' would be a mite confusing. "So she goes easy on the mothering part?"

Amiko lowered her gaze and silently smiled. She began to quiz Kitty about her life in England, with Excalibur, their friends and relations, and in particular about her husband of three years, Alistaire Pryde-Stuart. She seemed especially interested in how the two had come together. Remembering that the first time she had met Amiko she had been a year younger than the girl was now and already having to get over being rejected by the first love of her life, Piotr Rasputin, she wondered if that might have something to do with Amiko beginning to have romantic feelings of her own. But Amiko only blushed and said: "Well, there's this boy...", refusing to divulge many details, although her questions, specifically her insistence to discover how she had dealt with a man who continuously failed to notice her, tempted Kitty to draw certain conclusions.

"It wasn't easy. Alistaire's eyes kept fixing on Rachel all the time so it sometimes seemed he didn't even notice me. Couldn't help it with her, ahem, marginally more voluptuous figure and wearing skin-tight leather all the time. Some friend!" Kitty's sigh was perhaps more heartfelt than she would have liked to admit, for even in now that she was safely married to her man it was a memory that rankled a little.

"And what can you do to make someone, I mean, what did you do to finally notice you?" Amiko asked.

"There is no surefire way, unfortunately. Heaven knows I tried enough of them in trial and error. I mean, I did the subtle approach, but he also once saw me in the altogether."

Amiko gasped.

"It was an accident with my power, it's not something I planned on doing. I felt as if I wished I was dead. Took me weeks, months to get over and for the longest time I was too shy around Alistaire to approach him. So I really wouldn't recommend it..."

"Whew! But how did you guys finally get together?"

"Well, Alistaire eventually fell out of lust with Rachel, but then we in Excalibur did not see him for quite a while, and when he returned I tried to convince myself I no longer wanted him so I wouldn't have to take the initiative. And as I later found out, he was too embarrassed because of the Rachel thing to approach me. Funnily it was Piotr who became the catalyst, when he came to Britain after Avalon crashed. After all those years he's suddenly at my doorstep with a proposal. It was a really strange thing to do, there really was no reason to expect I'd consider it, he knew I had moved on after he dumped me. And I could see how embarrassing it all was for him from the moment he arrived to when I said No. But it impressed the hell out of me that he was willing to go through all this."

"Didn't you still love him a little?" Amiko was listening with great interest.

"Not enough to try to live the rest of my life with him. We had both changed too much, sometimes it's just a bad idea to try to rekindle an old romance. Look at Jean and Warren, their marriage went bust after four years. And I realized how much stronger my feelings for Alistaire were than what remained of my teenage crush. It was too late for Peter and me. It was for the best though -- a few months later he found out about Peter junior, and I think he's happier with Nereel than he would have been with me."

"So it's a matter of timing?"

"In a manner of speaking. When I was thirteen, fourteen I thought Piotr and I were meant for each other, but that changed beyond repair the moment he met this Zsaji woman. All sorts of things can happen in the course of a few years or even months. I mean, what would have happened if Alistaire had met someone else and fallen in love with her while he was away from us? Or even if I hadn't mustered up the courage to make my move on Alistaire after Peter proposed to me? Maybe someone else would have bagged him?"

"Or you."

"Like when Piotr had changed his mind about me earlier?"

"Or someone else entirely had made a move on you."

"Fat chance of that happening. Every male in Excalibur is taken." She smiled lightly, but the thought of the might-have-been began to intrigue Kitty. "Well, I suppose if Pete Wisdom had joined us before Piotr ... well, maybe Teresa should be grateful he didn't."

"He is quite attractive, in a scruffy kind of way," said Amiko, who then started to think of other options. "Or maybe Rogue should be glad that Magneto didn't go with Piotr to England!"

"Me and Magneto? I don't think so. Actually, in his and Rogue's case they could rekindle their old romance in spite of all the difficulties and going through a lot of changes. Hope Rogue absorbing Val Cooper's personality wasn't one change too many..."

4. I Keep Looking for a Place to Fit In

In the past Rogue and Magneto had engaged in a little amorous play-acting to spice up their sex life, now they tried something like it to take Magnus' mind off his preoccupation with the second persona in his lover's body. For the first time in a long while, Magneto donned his old helmet for a performance of "the evil villain ravishing the helpless maiden". It was a kind of play with fire, but it definitely got results. Within moments he was ready. He flung Rogue onto the bed, and soon the 'big bad wolf' had his 'victim' pinned down and was tearing big holes into her old leotard. And then his own costume dissolved into a small heap of steel dust and he eagerly hurled himself over her, entering her almost without preliminaries.

After her enforced long abstention Rogue was only too ready to receive him and well up to following him as he sliced in and out of her at a furious pace. A naked breast beneath him shuddered with each collision between their bodies and it began to flush in an enticing, delicate pink with the increased circulation. Her face was contorted in a grimace of lust, and a silky sheen of perspiration began to show there and on all other exposed parts of her skin. He himself heated up with his exertions and his mounting ecstasy, and warm beads of sweat dripped down onto her, a part plopping onto her glistening skin, another being absorbed by the fabric of her shredded costume.

It was rutting at its most basic, but the extended period of anticipation and the thrill of acting out a fantasy lifted them higher than the physical act itself would have done. Magnus sensed her approaching preliminary climax and barely managed to hold back and throw a protective electromagnetic shell around his skin until its culmination. Then he let go and gave himself to his own orgasm, confident that his partner now had reasserted her hold of her absorbing power. Only afterwards, when he collapsed over Rogue, when they joined in taking off his helmet to catch up on the kisses and caresses they had left out in their antics, only then did he remember that he should have worried because of her new 'silent partner'. But evidently -- at least as far as one could tell from one experiment -- the secondary personality did not cause Rogue undue problems in the fine tuning of her control.

They had just acted out an absurd fantasy, Magneto reflected, to pretend that he could overcome her by mere muscle power, as if that did not stand the actual relation between their physical strengths on its head. A point Rogue underscored by flipping him over effortlessly and immobilizing him beneath and between her thighs.

"Turnaround is fair play," she grinned down at him and proceeded to divest herself of the tattered remnants of her top, in the process revealing her hitherto concealed left breast. Once again, Magneto's eye was caught by the little mole on its underside, the little imperfection that somehow, irrationally, made him prefer it to its otherwise identical starboard companion. Evidently, the role of the victim did not come easy to Rogue, and she wanted to balance it immediately. Deliberately she tore her shirt into strips which she then used to tie his wrists to the bed's legs.

For a moment, Magneto felt very uncomfortable, a bit like the onset of a first swell of panic. If there was something he could not bear, it was the feeling of being immobilized, helpless and defenseless before an enemy. He took a second to remind himself that his bonds were symbolic, that with the kind of knots Rogue was tying into them they would cause little trouble even to someone without his powers or experience. But it was a discomfiting feeling, even with his lover. Was this how the women in his life had felt next to him? Magda, his late wife, had reacted by running away when she first witnessed him using his powers without holding back, Lee Forrester knew what it was like to be totally at his mercy, yet she had found it in herself to forgive him, and Rogue herself had gone through a not dissimilar experience when he had imprisoned her and half her teammates on Asteroid M.

But Magneto could not pursue that train of thought -- the sight of Rogue's naked breasts dangling near his face as she busied herself with his bonds was too distracting. Somehow she managed to move in a way that denied his lips an actual touch of the tantalizing globes, no matter how far he stretched.

"S'about time ya finally paid some attention to m'boobies, sugah," she said with hammed-up sternness, finally relenting and placing the already half-engorged peaks within range of his impatiently awaiting mouth. Rogue's nipples were especially sensitive, and as his lips and tongue went to work on them, her breathing became faster and more ragged.

"Mmmmh, honey, this is just what ah need," she sighed with a guttural hum as he sucked her in deeper into his mouth and let the roughness of his tongue play across and back and forth on the pulsating bud of flesh. After a few minutes of this his neck began to feel distinctly uncomfortable, but he persisted. Sometimes, when the conditions and the mood were right, he could bring her to an orgasm just by stimulating her breasts -- they were so strongly connected to her sexual centers. Sensing this was going to be one of those occasions, he redoubled his efforts, ignoring his growing discomfort, until the tremors of ecstasy shuddered through the length of her body like the shockwaves of a quake. Her moans were almost like whimpers as she passed through the zenith of her excitation.

He let go of her breasts and his head fell back with a sigh of relief. Rogue, once she finished the descent from the otherworldly peak to which he had taken her, suddenly was all solicitude. She tore the makeshift bonds in two, and gently began to massage the strained muscles and tendons of his neck and upper back.

But she was by no means finished with him. "Just lay back an' relax," she told him, and smoothly mounted him, or perhaps more accurately she swallowed his uprising manhood whole in her sexual cavern. Now she rose and fell, the movement of her broad pelvis taken up in a slightly delayed replay by her mobile bosom, at least until his hands went up to cup her breasts. He started to squeeze them rhythmically, but she stopped him. "Just hold 'em gently now."

He heeded her warning and contented himself to enjoying the feeling of the soft, heated flesh in his callused fingers while she continued to ride him in ways that bespoke of the years in which their two bodies had become familiar with each other and attuned to their hungers. She knew exactly what little signs to watch out for, how to react to delay her own climax and to prolong his enjoyment. Finally, the moment arrived, his hands gripped tight into the sheet, his eyes were pressed close, and he felt as if fireworks exploded behind his lids while further down he exploded into her. Her own climax followed close on, and then she rolled over again, holding on to him so that he now was on top of her once more.

"Whew, that was worth the wait," she could not help commenting.

He looked deep into her moss-green eyes and could not help but feel happy. "Well, I think we can declare tonight's approach a success. Although I'd rather not make it a habit." These power fantasies were a good way of keeping the cerebellum occupied so it would not worry and cramp his virility, but they were no road he wanted to continue in their relationship.

"Hmm, maybe we'd better not," Rogue replied. "Feel up to a li'l heavy cuddlin', though?"

"I think I might manage at least one more time," His eyes were still lit up, the pent-up sexual energies were far from expended.

The love-making that followed was slow, slower and more deliberate, but in its way as passionate as the great release of tension, of weeks of frustration and expectation, that had gone before. That had perhaps not been a cathartic explosion in itself, but a dramatic underscoring of their patient and unspectacular labor overcoming their temporary estrangement. Now they were expressing their love as they liked to do before: with few words, but in as many ways as they could squeeze into one night.

Magnus felt his confidence was back, and at one point, when they were in mid-romp with a new twist on an old favorite, he even joked, "I wonder what Valerie would think of this position?" without going all flaccid. There was a short moment when Rogue froze, concerned what might happen, but it was over immediately and they continued without a hitch.

Finally, Magnus was spent and he quickly fell into a deep, dark sleep.

When he woke, it was still night. Rogue lay asleep on the bed beside him, at a safe distance where she would not inadvertently touch him in mid-slumber.

Magneto noticed that the smell of his body aroma and their mingled sweat and other bodily fluids was beginning to turn stale and curdled, and he decided to take a late-night shower.

When he returned fresh and clean from the bathroom, he was startled to find Rogue sitting in her office space. She had put on a nightgown and a cardigan and was cautiously typing something into a laptop.

When he bent down to kiss her, she did not react as he expected.

"Careful, Magnus, I haven't quite got the hang of controlling Rogue's powers yet."

He shrank back. "Doctor Cooper! What have you done to her?!"

His expression scared her a bit and she hurried to say "She's just sleeping, and I thought I'd borrow her body a little before she wakes up again. I wanted to write a memo for Alex and Forge about what to discuss with Jan Van Dyne and Hank Gyrich next week..."

This came as a relief, mostly, but he still frowned. Damn that Val Cooper persona! Why did Rogue have to go through this once more? "We'd better talk," he finally said.

They went into the kitchen. Remembering his manners and that Val's persona was an odd kind of guest, if not by his invitation, Magnus fell into the role of the host and prepared two cups of hot cocoa. They then sat down at the table. It was still Rogue's face, Magneto mused, but with the other persona in control, there was an undefinable different quality to his lover's familiar features.

Val Cooper sipped some of the hot beverage from her mug (Magneto had not given her Rogue's favorite one with the green catfish, but a stars-and-stripy one from their eclectic assortment) and wiped her lips. She came to the point immediately: "Magnus, I honestly did not intend to cause trouble to Rogue or to mess up things between her and you..."

"I sense a big 'but' coming on, Dr. Cooper," he said into her slightly hesitant pause.

Rogue's lips smiled wryly. "Yes, there is a 'but'"

The juxtaposition of the familiar face and the strange voice was still disconcerting. When Valerie talked, the voice was a shade deeper than it was with Rogue in control, but still appreciably higher than how he remembered Valerie using her own vocal chords. Also, of course, there was the pronunciation -- the move to West Virginia had once again reinforced Rogue's Mississippi accent, while Valerie spoke practically pure Standard American.

"Look, Rogue walked into this with open eyes, she went through something like this before, but she did not hesitate," the woman continued, "It's a hell of a thing to live up to, but I'll always try to do my best. I know I can't help speaking for my own ends here, but please try to accept what she did in the spirit in which she gave it. Even if it is difficult."

"For someone like me?" he asked defensively.

"For anyone. I think I would react a lot like you in this situation. But call me Valerie. We were closer before ... when I still had my own body."

"I'm sorry about everything, er, Valerie," Magneto said, "it's just this crazy situation, it made you seem more of a stranger. I guess I had expected you would not accept Rogue's offer. I mean, the way she talked about you almost killing yourself rather than to hurt Mystique..."

"That was a very different situation," Valerie replied patiently, "when I was under the Shadow King's control, that was the only way. But Rogue convinced me that she was strong enough to be the keeper of my essence, that it would not drive her mad. She can be very persuasive, you know."

"From experience." His mind went back to the Savage Land where she had persuaded him and an initially hostile UN force to form an alliance. Not that even she had been able to prevent Semyanov betraying them all. "But why did she insist on doing this?"

"Haven't you asked her yet?" Her gaze made Magneto feel uncomfortable. "Maybe you'd better do that soon, so I won't tell you what I know and what I think. Better stop avoiding talking about it."

Magneto remained silent for a while, then Valerie spoke again: "As for why I accepted -- in part it was because I wanted to be there for my family, for Raven and the girls. But I suppose you could put a less friendly interpretation on it and say that's just my own conceit, thinking I'm indispensable..."

"I did not say that!"

"But are you sure you didn't think it? I would have seen the matter differently had you asked me about it a year ago. But it's a whole different ballgame when you feel your life ebbing away with every second. Magnus, I wasn't ready to die at that moment. I'm still not ready now."

"I understand," he said, almost whispered. She looked into his eyes and saw it too, the face of a man determined not to go gently into that dark night, whose will to live had powered him to claw his way out of a mass-grave, had made him endure the horrors of Auschwitz, had kept him up under pressures where others would have faltered and collapsed. And also the sorrow for those whom he had lost on the way. Valerie reached out to touch him, but drew back the hand at the last moment.

"I haven't yet learned how to control Rogue's absorption power," she explained. "When I first tried to kiss my girls good-night after ... I accidentally absorbed Irene's mind for a minute. Luckily she's a tough girl -- I was more upset about it than she was."

Magnus wanted to do something for her, but what? A hug was feasible -- he could always generate an electromagnetic field to isolate himself from the effects of Rogue's power -- but somehow it felt inappropriate. Still, he reflected, was Rogue likely to complain? Well, just this once, he would ask her in the morning.

Valerie sensed his hesitation, but was glad to lean her head on his shoulder. "Thanks, I really could do with a hug," she sighed. "We'll settle on some sort of modus vivendi eventually."

Magnus did not look all that reassured. "It probably would be easier if it only involved the three of us," he muttered after sitting under Val's gaze for a while.

"You worry because I still love Raven, don't you?"

Magneto was visibly uncomfortable; it would seem churlish to begrudge Valerie such and important part of her life. But finally he decided to take the bull by the horns: "Look, we talked about this before -- in a way -- and it's not that I feel that you owe me an explanation, but how exactly do you plan to conduct your relationship with Raven?"

"I really had no plan when this started. I want to cause as little frictions for you and Rogue as possible because I care for you both. But what I'll achieve -- who knows? I won't pretend I don't feel certain ... urges sometimes when I think of Raven. And while I can assure you I'll do my best to resist, er, temptation, it is dangerous to make long-term predictions..."

"Well, we'll cross that bridge when we get there," Magnus muttered, but there was not a great deal of confidence in his voice.

"Hopefully it'll never happen."

"No, darlin', of course it was all right." Rogue brightly said, pouring the freshly pressed orange juice for their breakfast. "Ah'm glad you gave her that hug, that's one o' the things ah can't give her myself, and ah know what it's like havin' to live without physical intimacy for a long time. Just so long as you two didn't get too frisky..."

"Have no fear of that, my love, you had absolutely drained me, I couldn't have done anything even if I had wanted to." Rogue's quizzical expression reminded him that he still had things to learn about the making of jokes. "Not that I would have dreamed of..."

Amused by his embarrassment, Rogue settled on his lap with a giggle, embraced him and placed a deep lingering kiss on his lips. "Ah'm so proud of you and how you're dealin' with our crazy situation."

Magnus felt like making a withering remark, but instead decided to ask his partner the question he had avoided for too long: "Why did you do it, Rogue? You've seen people die before without trying to become that kind of a ... soulkeeper for them. Why now? Is it something special about Val Cooper and you?"

"Hard to say. When it happened, it was as if I had seen it happen before..." Rogue pulled up and rested her chin on her knees, reflecting. "Years ago ah had a dream about a situation that was very similar, but also different in a few details. Had it at least three times, as far as ah'm aware, with some stuff varyin', but always about Val. The first time ah can remember havin' it was in that bed and breakfast where we stayed the night b'fore we went to Antietam and then to the X-Mansion. Ah often wondered if it might've been one of those precognitive dreams that Carol used to get because of her Seventh Sense."

"But you're not sure?"

"No, there were so few times when Ms. Marvel's Seventh Sense kicked in for me, and in many cases ah wasn't even sure if it was the Sense or just lucky coincidence. So it might just have been a dream ah happened to have a few times. Obsessively. For whatever reason. But 'cause of that dream ah thought about the possibility before, so when Val actually was mortally wounded, ah did not need long to decide what to do."

"But why the obsession?"

"I'm not sure, maybe there's several reasons. She was, is, the mother of my sisters and not a total stranger to me, but maybe it was 'cause ah subconsciously associated her with the change in Momma's life. Ah liked us bein' a family again, even if it wasn't as close as it had been before ah joined the X-Men, maybe in my dreams ah wanted to protect that... Anyway, when ah saw Momma's face when she thought she was goin' to lose Val as she had Irene Adler, then ah knew ah had to do it. Whether it was the right thing to do..."

Rogue breathed deeply and Magnus held her tight, trying to reassure her. "If there's anything..."

"No, ah'm not thinkin' of myself, ah've been through this before, so far Val's been a ... model guest, ah s'pose ya'd say, and ah got you to help me. It's just that ah hadn't really considered that both Val and Raven will now only have a shadow of their former life. Ah live in a different part of the country from Momma, and that means Val has to live like a divorcee -- we only get to visit her family once in a while. Ah sometimes worry if Momma will be able to handle the separation as well as she says."

Two months later a new crisis arose.

5. Things Start to Happen Again

The Meddlers' situation room was one of the biggest in their base in the hills of West Virginia. Magneto had built it back in his days as a world-class 'supervillain', thinking a huge, imposing hall would be useful for briefing his underlings, intimidating captives, or even for issuing televised threats to the world at large. That's where the midnight blue walls were for -- to provide a good backdrop for his red and purple costume. Now the room had been adapted to the needs of the X-Men's offshoot team -- the center of the room was taken up by a big conference table and most of the communications equipment, viewscreens and all, had been moved onto the big platform where the big chair used to stand. The old communications room had been laid out for use just by Magneto and maybe one assistant; it was much too small to allow everyone to look at the big screen simultaneously.

Today, most members were assembled around the table: Rogue sat at her accustomed place at the side, where it was as easy to turn to the left to watch the screens or right to see who was coming in the door. As usual, Magneto sat a few yards to the right and behind her, as if he wanted to indicate that he did not quite belong to the others. Jean and Logan sat on the opposite side of the table from Rogue, while the half-circle in between on the side nearest to the door was occupied by Chen Li, Neal, Roberto and Monet. At the end towards the screen sat their teammate Rémy and Amelia Voght, whom he had brought over from New Orleans after she sought him out there.

"We thought the struggle and the bloodshed would be over soon," Amelia related, "but then the fighting flared up again and there was a total turnaround in a matter of weeks. Genosha is well on the way to becoming again what it was in the dark years."

"How did this happen?" Rogue asked. "They had made so much progress in overcoming the old hate."

"What I want to know is how the reversal came about," said Neal Shaara, "I would have thought that the mutants of Genosha would have put up a more effective resistance, especially now that Legacy is no longer a problem."

"Mostyn Mundus couldn't have done it with his own resources," the emissary of the Genoshan resistance explained, "he had outside support, we think from American backers. Suddenly he had a squadron of Sentinels and now a man called Reece Carlton is converting the old Henry & Keeler plant into a factory and repair-shop for Sentinels. And as usual the world doesn't care, and the nations that could intervene are wrapped up in their own agendas. So we'd rather rely on those we trust. Especially you, Magnus."

The eyes of those present all turned to the Master of Magnetism, who did not seem entirely happy at being the focus of attention.

"It wasn't just the Acolytes whose hopes you woke when you offered a safe haven for mutants on Avalon," Amelia continued. "And now many expect you will come to help them achieve something that will help them as much, but closer to home. And a lot of them want you to take charge. Of course I'm not sure if you'd be prepared to do that, seeing that you made your peace with Charles and his dream again..."

Magnus frowned. "I do what I consider viable, and for the moment that includes giving peaceful coexistence between mutant and non-mutant a chance. But I also firmly believe in facing up to necessity," he said cryptically.

"So we go in?" Logan asked matter-of-factly.

"Some people are not going to like it if you invade what is currently seen as a friendly foreign country," said Amelia, playing devil's advocate, "especially if you're seen to be installing a new government."

Logan had no such doubts. He had been part of interfering in the affairs of other states before, both as a soldier and a secret agent, and was not averse to do it again, without the blessing of the US or Canadian government. But Jean Grey looked quite worried.

At that point the discussion was joined by the resident former government official. "I'm all for dealing with Genosha," said Valerie through Rogue's lips, "with Mundus in charge it will again have all the hallmarks of a 'rogue nation', um, no offense to my host ... They vividly remember how the old regime through its weight about even in Washington, and that is a scary thing to remember. That's why the Avengers, X-Factor and the Fantastic Four are held back for the moment. And because of the linkage with the Avengers the X-Men are also passive for the nonce. But it might be welcome to the powers that be if the Meddlers pull the fat out of the fire, because they're an outlaw group. Of course there is still a lot of people in the Pentagon and the CIA who would be even more nervous about Magneto's influence if the Meddlers intervene, even after six years."

Since most of the Meddlers had fought alongside Magneto for longer than their team existed, this was not a problem, and they soon set off in the Greased Lightning, the plane that Forge had designed for the team when they needed an aircraft that did not resemble either of the X-Men's Blackbirds too much.

Jean Grey and Logan sat up front in the pilot's seat, quietly plotting the course, communicating by Jean's telepathy so as not to disturb the others. Even though the Greased Lightning had sub-orbital capabilities, a flight halfway around the world took time, and some of their teammates took advantage of that to read up on Genosha or just trying to get some rest.

At the back, Magneto sat in hushed conversation with Rogue. What had been said at the conference still occupied his mind. "Still can't get over how many mutants still are lookin' upon you as their Messiah?" said Rogue.

"If that is so, Amelia Voght does not sound as if she's a believer anymore. If she ever was. Well, she was an Acolyte once, perhaps seeing me up close tempered her expectations with realism..."

"Not that realism seems to have been that widespread amongst her old teammates, if you don' mind my sayin' so," said Rogue, "considerin' how easy it was for Fabe Cortez and Exodus to talk 'em into believin' and followin' them."

"Uh, Cortez also pulled the wool over my eyes for a while," Magnus reminded his partner. "But that is probably one of the things Amelia remembers."

"So you made mistakes in the past. So what? Ah made mistakes, everybody did. You learned from yours just like ah did from mine. We won't make 'em again. Ah'm sure when the time comes you'll know what's the right thing to do." Her hand squeezed his, which did as much to bolster Magnus' confidence and reassure him of her trust as her words did.

"And what if I wanted to stay in Genosha?"

"Ah'd have to see for myself. If you're really needed there, ah reckon you could use my help, maybe even the entire team had better stay."

6. You Still Believe In Me

There was much relief among the mutant and mutate rebels of Genosha when the Meddlers arrived to live up to their self-chosen name. Quickly sketched plans could be put into operation. The attack began with Amelia teleporting Neal and Chen Li to the radar station on Blake Headland, which the three of them quickly took out of commission along with its Sentinel guard and the adjacent missile base. The surprise raid was over in minutes, after which the trio 'ported to the African mainland to divert the four Sentinels that had taken off in hot pursuit and locked onto their power 'signature'. However, since the new regime in Hammer Bay had not yet entirely overcome its domestic opposition, it wanted to a avoid an international incident and called back the Sentinels before they came within sight of the coast.

A small Royal Navy task force was cruising to the west of the Seychelles and a smaller French one off the Comoro Islands, while a much more powerful US fleet operated to the southeast of Cape Guardafui. All three forces currently were content to observe the civil war in Genosha from afar, but they caused Mostyn Mundus some concern, if not as much as the possibility that a military clash at this point could give the three powers a pretext to unleash their metapowered deterrent -- the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, X-Factor, Excalibur and the Force Spéciale Surhumaine. Once the Sentinel production reached planned levels and a sufficient number of Genoshan mutants had been press-ganged into militia service it would be possible to deal even with major foreign interventions, but at the moment an outside war was too dangerous to risk.

The successful night raid on the Blake Headland base was the signal for a series of hit-and-run raids and acts of sabotage all over the island of Genosha. This increased the existing fog of civil war by a multifold. This, and the cover of Forge's stealth technology, enabled the Meddlers' main force to land a few miles from Hammer Bay. After hiding and securing the Greased Lightning at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, they proceeded on land.

There were two obvious primary targets: the center of government in and around the presidential palace and the Sentinel base in the fortified Henry & Keeler factory. Rogue had decided that it was essential to knock out Reece Carlton's facility to prevent the production of more Sentinels and the repair of the ones damaged in battle. But the palace, as the civil and military nerve center of the country, was the place Mostyn Mundus wanted to protect the most and was guarded by the largest single concentration of Sentinels in Genosha. In order to keep it there, Rogue called for a diversionary attack on the palace.
"That should be my task," Magnus decided. "The more of us are there to attack the plant the better. And if they see me they'll be inclined to think I'm trying to be the Great Mutant Messiah."

"They'll believe you're tryin' to take over the island over by your lonesome if you do it right. And you're powerful enough to pull it off for a time. Just watch your back, sweetie. And if you run into trouble, don't wait too long to holler. We still have our three aces in the hole." Rogue and Magneto embraced for a quick kiss. "We'll try and lay in wait till you start the fireworks," she called after him, "we'll try to finish our job soon as we can, and then we'll come a-runnin' to you!"

A few minutes after their parting, Magneto reached an observation point from where he could undertake a quick reconnaissance of the presidential compound. Forge had equipped the team with portable cloaking devices that were good enough to fool the genetic scanners of the 'conventional' Sentinels the X-Men and Meddlers had encountered before, but would Magneto's be good enough to disguise his presence at short range from Carlton's new Kappa series? He decided to play it safe to start with, scanning the area with a set of night binoculars and by passively using his power to feel the distortion of the Earth's magnetic field caused by the massive metal bulks of the mutant-hunting robots. He noticed that the one standing about 250 meters to the right of the main gate was almost invisible to his magnetic sense -- possibly a prototype of the experimental new Pi series Amelia had mentioned. Magneto smiled grimly. Maybe he should feel flattered that they had taken the trouble to construct a special amagnetic type of Sentinel with him in mind. Better take that one out first of all.

Luckily there were lots of metal objects around that Magneto could use as projectiles -- a couple of dumpsters, parked cars, the heavy gates themselves. The Pi Sentinel soon was swamped under a whirlwind of instant scrap metal. Although it was built mainly from plastic and other non-metallic materials, it was very tough. The outer shell seemed to consist of some Kevlar-like compound that absorbed a great amount of the blows raining down on it. Magneto quickly changed his tack and fixed the immobilized robot to the nearest high-tension line, augmenting it with his own power to fry it both figuratively and literally. His bid to disable the machine electrically met with some success, and after that it was fairly easy to shatter the more delicate innards by dumping them in the coolness of the ornamental lake after superheating the Sentinel. But by that point the Kappa Sentinels had finally worked out his position and the fight began in earnest.

By that time the Meddlers' assault on the Henry & Keeler plant had begun. The first wave made good headway and quickly trashed the repair workshop. But when they advanced towards the main construction area, the Magistrates and Sentinels defending the plant had overcome their initial disorganization and mounted a counterattack. Rogue and her comrades gradually had to give ground.

While Roberto wielded a Sentinel's leg which he had picked up in the repair workshop to subdue a squad of Magistrates, Jean and Gambit teamed up against a Sentinel -- her telekinetic attack briefly wore down its protective field, enabling her teammate to touch and charge its leg. He was almost captured by his intended victim, but Jean's TK froze its massive hands long enough for Rogue to swoop in and extricate him. Seconds later the energized limb of the robot blew up, triggering a second, bigger explosion in the innards of its body. The remnants of the Sentinel collapsed into an untidy heap while Rogue dropped off Gambit at the point where Logan was up against another one, hoping that this new combination would help to deal with the crisis on this part of the battlefield while she flew back to help Jean as a new threat materialized in the shape of two more Kappas. All the while she had to keep track of Monet and Roberto to her right.

"Jean, tell Amelia that now's a good time!" Rogue shouted as she came within the former Marvel Girl's hearing. "Damn, what's keeping the others?" The second prong of the attack on the factory, the one to be undertaken by the main force of the mutant resistants of the island, still had not made its presence felt. The two women had their hands full with their mechanical foes. But Jean got the telepathic call for help out before she became totally embroiled in the fight; moments later Amelia arrived in a cloud of mist with Li and Neal. As luck would have it, they first came up against a couple of Pi Sentinels, and against these synthetic and glass-fiber menaces the combination of Neal's plasma fire and Chen Li's metal body did terrible execution, particularly after the Chinese Meddler transformed her lower arms into razor-sharp blades and her Bengali comrade used his power to heat them up to white heat. Soon the acrid smell of burning plastic began to spread from this part of the hall.

"Rogue, Magneto says he's in trouble!" Jean shouted.

Rogue hissed an obscenity while she helped Jean finish off a Sentinel "It has to be now that Li's too hot for Amelia to touch. Millie, could you and Neal make like the cavalry for Magnus? Ah'll try and follow as soon as ah can."

Amelia Voght and Neal Shaara disappeared in the twinkling of an eye. Rogue was not distracted long by the exchange, but when she turned back, another Kappa Sentinel was almost upon her. She desperately brought up her arms to defend herself, succeeding in deflecting the robot's right fist, but not the left. The giant metal arm slammed into her, propelling her across the room. The leader of the Meddlers crashed head-first into the wall, which knocked her out, but didn't do the wall any good either, as could be seen from the big hole left in the concrete as her unconscious body fell to the ground.

Sunspot had a reprieve at that moment because the Pi Sentinel he was fighting suddenly launched itself into the air and flew off in the direction of the presidential palace, obviously to help deal with Magneto and his reinforcements. Roberto quickly ran over to Jean's sector, tackling the Sentinel from behind that had tagged Rogue.

While Jean and Berto brought their foe down, Rogue came to, winded and dazed. "Did someone get the number of that bus?" she groaned as she rose shakily. The intensity of the fighting in the repair shop had slackened somewhat, she noticed, then, even above the ringing in her head she recognized the growing noise in the assembly area in the adjoining room -- clearly the attack by fighters of the Genoshan mutant from the other end of the factory was gathering momentum. "The others are in the main hall!" she shouted, but then, still somewhat shaky in the knees, she began to make her way to rejoin the fight. Through the skylight overhead she saw a half-finished Pi Sentinel flying off in the direction of the government district. Hopefully that was a good sign, that the attack on the palace was so successful that Mundus desperately called in reinforcements from the Sentinel base even though the fight was going bad for him here as well.

When Rogue ran to M's aid against two Sentinels, Monet was a bit surprised at the way she combated the Kappa she were up against. After the first few punches had been exchanged, Rogue fought instinctively, as if she had forgotten that she was super-strong. At one point, she even appeared disappointed when kneed the giant robot in its crotch and it didn't react as a flesh and blood male would. Still, her rough and dirty fighting style was not ineffective, and in the end she and M demolished the two Sentinels.

"Are you all right, Rogue?" the Algerian Meddler asked, betraying noticeable concern, for her.

"Well, I have good news and bad news," came the reply. There was no trace of Rogue's normal Mississippi drawl in the speech.

"Oh great," Monet sighed as she returned to the fray. "Well, Val, try your best."

"There is no try," Valerie quipped. But the tide had clearly turned. The wall to the main hall was breached by the bulk of a Sentinel hurled from inside, obviously by a super-strong Genoshan fighter. After a few more minutes, Val somewhat cautiously took to the air. "Rogue will kill me if I don't go and help Magneto!" she shouted to her comrades, and then she sped off westwards to the palace.

Rogue had let Val train controlling her powers in the weeks past, both to be able to function in her body in normal life and for emergencies such as this, but still Val felt rather daunted. Her take-off had been distinctly wobbly, but as she flew on her confidence grew and the flightpath became smoother. Behind her the sun was rising from the Indian Ocean, which meant she would be coming out of the sun when she arrived at her target. Unfortunately that would not mean anything because the bright light would obviously not bother the electronic sensors of a Kappa or Pi Sentinel.

Despite the arrival of reinforcements, Magneto was in a precarious situation. Of the two who had joined him, Neal was the only one of immediate use in a close-quarter fight because Amelia never really had developed her teleportational power as a weapon in the way that for instance Nightcrawler had. Still, she was able to run interference. And even if the guns and rocket-launchers she commandeered from the guard armory did little damage to fully functional Sentinels, they could be used to help finish off those that had been damaged by Neal and Magneto.

The continuing strain and mounting fatigue was beginning to tell on Magneto, his face was graying beneath the grime of battle and his hair was soaked in sweat. He yearned for a short respite, maybe just a minute to catch his breath, but still more Sentinels piled on. And it became harder to defeat them, as the new ones seemed to learn quickly from seeing how their cohorts were defeated. He thought he sensed a telepathic call from Jean, but he was too distracted to pay attention. Neal wasn't in a much better shape than Magnus, for though he had seen a little less action that night, he was less experienced, and where Magneto could rely on his magnetic senses and instincts honed in decades of combat, he could only trust his eyes and ears and had to keep his head in continual movement so as to look and listen all around.

But because of that, Neal's relative inexperience ironically proved an asset, for when Magneto was preoccupied with a noisy fight with a Kappa Sentinel, he failed to notice the last Pi Sentinel silently approaching from behind. But Neal, who nervously kept looking over his shoulder, registered him just in time and managed to decapitate the robot just in time. A massive burst of plasma fire turned its head into a spray of liquid plastic and ceramics. However, the flying body kept coming, and though Magneto instinctively raised a shield of magnetism and metal debris around himself and his comrade, the impact was hard enough to knock them both over. When the cloud of dust rose and began to be carried seaward by the morning breeze, Neal, who had given his all in that final burst, lay unconscious and Magneto groggily rose to his feet.

He threw up another magnetic shield just in time to save himself from the Kappa's powerful laser. But his knees buckled with the effort of deflecting and absorbing the ray's energy. So the arrival and intervention of the Meddler in green and black was nothing if not timely. Rogue's (or more correctly, Val's) first attack was nothing fancy, but it did its job, providing the opening that enabled her, Magneto and Amelia to finish the robot off.

There was a sudden lull as the remaining Kappa Sentinels regrouped in a more defensive formation around the central palace compound. The rout of the Pi Sentinels must have come as a surprise to them, Magnus noted with grim pleasure, if computer could have emotions, it would even have been a shock.

"Rogue got knocked out, I'll try to look out for her body." As the three standing mutants caught their breath, Val brought the others up to date about the situation back at the factory. "I think Jean's in charge now."

Amelia checked Neal's pulse, then she took advantage of the pause to 'port back to the factory: "I'll see if they can spare people to help with the final push," she said before she disappeared.

Unfortunately, after seeing that the others were making no move to attack them, the Sentinels decided that her departure sufficiently shifted the odds in their favor and began to mount a last-ditch attack. Magneto and Val soon had their hands full defending themselves and their unconscious comrade. However, as Magneto could tell using his magnetic sense, there only four Kappa Sentinels left, and all of them were moving in on them.

"Hold tight, Valerie!" Under these precarious circumstances Magneto decided on a desperate gamble, putting his remaining energy into an electro-magnetic pulse that was massive enough to fry or at any rate heavily damage the electronics of all four in one big sweep. The exertion was painful, he felt as if a dull knife was being plunged into his skull from above and then used to scoop out his brains. Finally, he succumbed to the strain and blacked out.

When he regained his consciousness after a few minutes, he saw he had been carried next to the still unconscious Neal. In the mid distance, Valerie was crouching over the lying shape of a Sentinel, pushing an explosive charge into the empty socket of its right shoulder (she must have torn out the arm). She then briskly came back to shield Magnus and Neal against the force of the blast that tore apart the torso of the robot a few moments later.

"That was freaking amazing," she said in an awestruck voice, "what you just did, Magnus."

Magneto did not answer. He slowly rose to his feet and took a deep breath. Then he brushed some of the dust from his suit using his hands and purposefully walked towards the palace.

The remaining defenders, Magistrates and soldiers, did not pose problems worth mentioning. Some of the younger recruits leapt up and took flight when they saw his blood-shot eyes and the expression on his face, relieving him of the necessity to disarm them.

These were the ones who told him, after not too harsh questioning, where Mostyn Mundus had fled. Magneto caught up with him near one of the back entrances as he was trying to make his escape on foot with his staff and some guards. (They knew better than to try to elude Magneto in road vehicles or aircraft largely made of metal).

As soon as Mundus saw Magneto, he snatched a strange-looking gun from one of the guards' hands, a special weapon made entirely of ceramic and plastic components. Magneto's lips curled in grim amusement. The filaments that made up his left glove dissolved into a cloud of metal particles, and before the self-proclaimed president of Genosha managed to point the gun at him the barrel was already totally clogged up.

"I wouldn't pull that trigger if I were you," he said with icy disdain, "your fancy little toy is liable to blow up in your face. And that will only make your death more painful."

"What are you talking about?" came Val's question from his side. He had almost forgotten that she still was with him.

"Surely you don't expect me to let him and his accomplices live?" As he spoke, the remaining guards lost their metallic firearms which transformed, as if by magic, into shackles for everyone.

"That's crazy, Magnus!"

"After what they did, it will be a cleansing. They are responsible for hundreds of deaths, they would have succeeded in enslaving my people with the world standing idly by if I hadn't put a stop to it."

"Why are you talking this way? You know the others will disown you if you kill these people. Do you want to drive Rogue out of your life?"

"How dare you! Rogue will know what I did was right."

"You know she won't," Valerie replied, adding an urgent "C'mon Rogue, wake up, you're needed!" under her breath. "What's got into you? Mundus should be put on trial. This is so ... irrational..."

"Are you suggesting I'm going insane? Have a care, Doctor Cooper."

Somewhat disconcertingly, she took his rhetorical question at face value. "Now that mention it ... Magnus, I've never seen you bloodthirsty like this, but I've seen reports on what you were like in the past ... I know a little bit about abnormal psychology, psych was one of my minors in college and I helped proofread a lot of Edmond's papers, but of course I'm no real expert..." She scratched her skin. "I don't know, maybe the stress of the battle triggered some kind of reaction in you, or maybe you're a manic-depressive and the excitement magnified the effects."

Magneto was seething with astonishment and rage at this effrontery. This was as bad as something the MacTaggert woman had told him once: "Next thing you'll suggest I go into therapy, right?"

"No, just that you take a look at yourself. Maybe you think you're behaving rationally now, but doesn't that mean you were mentally unstable when you tried to replace Charles Xavier after your trial and now when you worked with the Meddlers and played by their rules?"

To Val's relief, Rogue's consciousness had woken during the last exchanges and now joined in: "Magnus, Val could be right. Ah think it's most likely connected to usin' your powers a lot. Remember when you decided to take on the whole world on your own and saw us as your enemies again? That was after you went to the limits against Zaladane and then against the X-Men, and when Cortez had jacked up your powers." She looked deep into his eyes. "Magnus, you know ah love you and trust you. Ah trusted you ever since we got together again, but trust me just now. Please at least wait until you've recovered and our brains are no longer muddled up and battle-crazed..."

Very slowly Magnus' fixed expression softened -- at the moment he was only half-convinced about the problem his lover and her psychic subtenant thought he had, but Rogue's concern appeared genuine. He would think this over, maybe he needed help, maybe it really was time to leave the Meddlers but he could convince her to join him. He took her into his arms.

The imminent crisis had passed. One of Mostyn Mundus' underlings fainted.

Amelia Voght arrived not long after with M and Qilin. The fighting was mostly over now, except for a little mopping up, which Amelia, Monet and Chen Li could handle on their own. The other Meddlers gathered in Saint-Expedit's hospital. Here their bruises were bound up and Sunspot's broken arm and leg were put into casts.

As the doctors and nurses continued their work on the casualties of the civil war that kept being delivered, Magnus went off into an empty staff room. "You want ah should stay outside?" asked Rogue. She sounded worried, but she knew there were problems that Magneto preferred to work out in private, alone.

"Come with me," he replied, his eyes wordlessly acknowledging his lover's anxiety. "I don't want to talk just now, but I want you to be with me."

They sat down side by side on a dingy-looking brown sofa. At first Magnus' brow was furrowed as he let the day's events, and particularly those of the past hour or so, pass review in his mind. But after a while, because the battle was over and the stress of mortal danger was released, his exhaustion took its toll and he lay down. Pillowing his head in Rogue's lap, he soon fell asleep.

Rogue leaned back to relax herself. She looked down at him tenderly when her eyes glazed over. How peaceful he looks, Val's voice came to her mind unbidden.

Yes, Rogue replied in the same fashion, then went on to other matters: You did good today, Val.

You're making me blush.

No, really. I can tell because we're still alive.


So, what happens now?

I guess they'll install a provisional government, maybe organize elections in the not too distant future.

You think it'll work out? In spite of everything, mutants still are a minority on this island and there's still a lot of people who were raised to fear and despise mutants. It'll be hard to get them to accept a system based on equality.

Yes, much as I'd wish it was different. A lot will depend on the trial of course. Mundus and his gang must be seen to be tried fairly.

You want them brought before an international court as you did with Magnus in Paris, don't you?

It's true, I'd prefer that. But Ms. Voght wants to try him here, and I think she speaks for the people who will pick up the reins of government now. Even if Magnus is made head of the provisional government...

You reckon they'll offer the job to him?

Well, I wouldn't discount the possibility. 'Magneto' is still a name to conjure with with a lot of mutants, not just in Genosha.

The question is of course if Magnus would want to become head of state over here. Ah think he had doubts about takin' such a role on our flight here.

And how do you feel about it? I tried not to show it, but I was scared when he threatened to summarily kill Mundus and his cohorts. I hope that was just a transitory aberration brought on by stress and combat fatigue. Maybe you two should see if he needs some form of therapy...

Hearing Val talk about her man in such a way was distressing to Rogue. He'll be fine, she protested. And whatever happens, I'll be there to help him.

7. In My Room

"Who's there? Make no sudden moves."

More than five decades of living at high risk from secret agents, ninjas, competing terrorists, superpowered humans and the occasional space alien, demon and Asgardian god had honed Mystique's sleeping patterns to maximum vigilance. The comparative quiet of her six years with Val Cooper had done nothing to blunt her edge, if anything feeling responsible for her new family kept it sharp. So the minute breeze caused by the displacement of air by a cautiously opened bedroom door was enough for her to crouch beside her bed with a gun in hand in a matter of seconds.

"It's only me, Raven." The soft reply came in Valerie's familiar cadence. That the words were uttered in Rogue's slightly higher pitch still added an element of unreality. The light came on, and Mystique looked on the beloved face and form of her adoptive daughter.


"Afraid so. Rogue's asleep at the moment. We're in America to pick up some things from the base because we're staying in Genosha longer than expected. I thought I'd stop by to talk to you."

Raven Darkhölme relaxed a little and sat down on her bed. After discarding her firearm she was a picture of domesticity in a decent nightgown. The other woman meanwhile settled down on the dresser. "All right, let's talk," said Raven. "So, how do you and Rogue get along sharing one body now?"

"I can't complain, Rogue has been most accommodating; she even lets me go to church in it sometimes. I try not to be too much of an irritant for her, but you'd have to ask her herself if I succeed."

"Don't worry, I will."

"We're settling in with each other. She's getting me addicted to Terry Pratchett right now, and I think I've aroused her interest in the Beach Boys."

"Poor Rogue!" As usual, Raven affected ironic amusement about Val's obsession with the Californian band in general and the musical oeuvre of Brian Wilson in particular. "Anyway, what do you want to talk about, Valerie?"

"Well, people keep asking Rogue and me how we feel, how we're dealing with our crazy situation and all that, but when I ask them how my widow has adapted to the changes in her life..."

"We never married, so I can't be your widow, dear heart. Can't get rid of me that easily."

She was rewarded with a smile for that remark. "Anyway, they couldn't tell me much because my Raven isn't someone who gives away anything to strangers, and the last few times I saw you, you always managed to steer the conversation away from how you feel yourself. That's beginning to worry me a little. It hasn't become much easier for you, has it?"

"Your insight serves you well, young Jedi. But I'm a grown woman, I don't need you holding my hand all the time." She made light of it, but the younger woman did not look entirely convinced. She haltingly touched Raven's dark blue cheek. But she dared do no more and pulled back her hand. This shyness amused Mystique, but also made her feel melancholy. A little moistness gathered in the corners of her eyes.

Valerie swallowed. "You have the children to look after and the team, of course, but don't you feel lonely a lot of the time, especially at night? From what I hear you're still not appreciably close to the other X-Factorites apart from St. John..."

"No, I'm still ... what I mean is, I don't see you and Rogue as often as I would like, but that doesn't change that I still have you. I don't have to change my life totally."

"Well, yes, but we only have each other in this at times unsatisfactory Platonic fashion. And after sharing your bed for five years, I know you have ... other needs. It's easier for me, I live in the body of a sexually satisfied young woman which does take a bit of the edge of what I feel in my mind when I think of you with nothing on. But I know your libido, it's..."

"It's part of what drew you to me, I know." Raven fondly looked at the framed nude picture of Valerie hanging on the wall to the left of her bed. Val had given her that on October 6th of last year, a customary present for their anniversary. She sighed. "Valerie darling, for the time I manage by myself. In the future, who knows? Maybe I'll sublimate my urges into heightened creativity. Or do you think I should take mistresses to satisfy my physical needs?"

"Just so long as you don't fall in love with them." That was meant as a joke, but Valerie did not entirely succeed in her intention to deliver it in a way that masked her genuine worries. "I mean, there's nothing I can do to relieve your itch myself, even though Rogue now has taught me to control her powers. But it's something I had to talk about with you, I don't want to lose you..."

"No need to explain, I understand perfectly. But you worry too much, we'll find a solution." Raven put her arm around Val's (Rogue's) shoulder.

"Let's hope so." Valerie sniffled. "I so hope you're right."

Raven wondered. Should she ease her partner's mind by telling her about her plans? She had secretly collected cell samples from Val's body before the funeral and now kept them in cryogenic storage against the day a way to reverse Rogue's absorption process was discovered. Then would come the moment to implant Val's persona in a clone of her original body. The cloning shouldn't be too difficult. Moira MacTaggert probably could do it -- Scots apparently had an affinity for it. Hadn't Sean let slip that Moira once almost started cloning her son, the homicidal Proteus? That didn't sound as if the world-famous geneticist was going to be too bothered whether she cloned sheep or humans. With luck, she herself could hold out until then and then Val's worries would have been for nothing. But Raven finally decided against raising Val's hopes. There was always the chance that they would be dashed, that there would never be a way to transfer her back from Rogue's mind.

Their conversation eventually drifted to other subjects as Val quizzed Raven about the latest developments at home with Irene and Hope, as well as in the X-Factor compound.

Raven for her part wanted to know about what the Meddlers had been up to in Genosha for the past few weeks. Their part in the ending of the civil war and the beginning of the rebuilding of the island nation.

"I see Jennifer Ransome is heading the provisional government," she said. "I'd have thought that would be more Magneto's line of country?"

"Well, he did not feel up to it at this point," Val replied and gave a potted account of the events at the confrontation with Mostyn Mundus. "He decided he needed help, at least temporarily. But that proved a little complicated. For a start, he did not want any telepaths involved."

"That's understandable. I wouldn't want someone like Charles Xavier or even Jean Grey to tamper around with my mind. They might get ideas."

"So we flew in Doctor Samson to help analyze his problems. Unfortunately Magnus does not really have a doctor, let alone a psychiatrist, he trusts sufficiently, so he insisted that either Rogue or Amelia Voght, or ideally both would sit in on the sessions as a safeguard. And Ms. Voght was a bit distrustful herself to begin with."

Mystique chuckled. "And Leonard thought he had a hard time when you had him flown him in to interview X-Factor. And me. At least on those occasions he could go one on one. How is Magneto responding to the treatment?"

"It was a slow start, but they're making progress. The problem is connected to overuse of powers, so when he doesn't exert himself too much it's okay."

"So he may eventually decide to go into politics after all?"

"There are a lot of Genoshans, mostly mutant but also some normos, who would like Magnus to become head of state when the provisional government winds up. But there are others. Amelia Voght for one. She and Magnus trust each other, but I have a feeling they both think they can do a better job as president of Genosha than the other."

There still were a few hours until morning, and after the two women had finished talking Valerie went into the spare bedroom to lie down and sleep. Tomorrow she and Rogue could spend a little time with Irene and Hope. That was something to look forward to.

8. The Warmth of the Sun

For the time they were helping with the reconstruction, the Meddlers had relocated their base of operations to Genosha. Now that the war was over, helpers and observers from various parts of the world made their appearance, including members of other mutant and super-powered teams. Charles Xavier had been here for a short visit, and a few members of the X-Men and Excalibur were still on hand to help with rebuilding the ruins.

Like Professor X, Doctor Leonard Samson had left the country in the meantime. Magneto was off therapy sessions and had become part of the rebuilding effort, using his powers for what for him was light work. But even potential world-class mutant statesmen can use a break, and since it was a weekend he decided to join Rogue and the others for an outing to French Cove on Capstan Island.

That Genoshan dependency was almost uninhabited because it had only one very small fresh-water spring, not enough to sustain more than a few hunters and trappers throughout most of its history. Like Genosha itself, Capstan Island had its share of pirate stories, as its natural harbors had provided many passing freebooters (who did not want to be seen at the better-known anchorage at Hammer Bay) with an opportunity for quick repairs and stocking up on meat, especially from the indigenous seabirds. French Cove got its name because Commodore Suffren had put in here with his flotilla early in 1781 during the War for American Independence, on his way to challenge the British in Indian waters. And according to local legend the famed privateer Robert Surcouf had found shelter from a tropical storm in the little bay in later years.

Now the Meddlers and their guests had set up their picnic area in the white sand near the treeline. Rémy and Chen Li were playing volleyball against Brian Braddock and Ev Thomas. Nearby, Kurt Wagner and Paige Guthrie manned the barbecue, while Roberto (still wearing his casts), Monet and Meggan sat in in expectant proximity, watching the four players and always ready to pick up the sausages, burgers and fish being prepared. Logan was stopping beer from getting warm, and Kitty and Alistaire were cavorting in the surf. Magnus and Rogue had finished their swim and were now lazing in the sun alongside Jean.

"I suppose Valerie is now ogling the pretty ladies," Magnus could not help remarking. However, his eyes were inappropriately serious for the little joke.

"Well, there's plenty to see, as you yourself would know best ... Val, stop droolin'!" Jean and Magnus both to laughed at Rogue's joke. Jean was one of the three women present whose attire included a top, in her case a Hawaiian shirt. Her skin did not tan well.

"Of course none can compare to you, my love." Magnus redirected his roving eye towards his lover and let it wander over her almost naked body which glistened with suntan lotion. He lingered a little on her familiar breasts before settling on her face, but her sunglasses prevented him from looking into her eyes.

Rogue giggled prettily. Normally she thought herself above such blandishments and that she was not in the forefront of good looks among her teammates in the Meddlers and the various X-teams (although she was not hypocritical enough to pretend that she looked plain), but when the man she loved admired her beauty and complimented her on it, she could never get enough. "Just don't spend too much time checkin' out the others for reference."

They kissed, which Jean took as her cue to get up to walk over to Logan to get a drink. "The two love-birds playin' tonsil tennis again?" he welcomed her.

"Mhmhmm. Now there's a game I'd like us to play." And they did, until Kitty and Alistaire strolled up and settled down next to them.

Rogue took advantage of Jean's discretion to have a serious word with Magnus about the original subject. "Ah couldn't help noticin' your expression when you made that remark about Val oglin' the girls..."

"I'm sorry about that."

"Ya don't have to be. We're both sorry with you havin' to put up with this wacky situation..." Rogue's hand flew upwards into her hair. "And the 'we' is what's really botherin' you, right?" Magneto nodded. "You're still worryin' about Val changin' me..."

"Well," said Magnus, patently uncomfortable to discuss this, "my head knows you are still the same and haven't changed all these months, but my heart, or what Doctor Samson prefers to call my subconscious, has its own ... irrational ... worries..."

Rogue took his hand and rose, pulling him up with her. "Come with me." She dragged him along at first, then he walked beside her of his own accord. They walked along the beach away from the others across white sand banded with the shadows of the trees. The pressure of her hand on his felt comforting. After a few minutes they stopped. She turned to face him.

"Would it ease your mind if ah asked you to marry me, Magnus?"

Magnus was taken by surprise. He sat down on a piece of driftwood and sagged into a position not unlike Rodin's Penseur. He had been married once, but Magda, his wife and the mother of his children, had fled from him that night in Vinnitsa, when the revenge he had taken for their daughter had thrown her into nameless terror.

"I must confess I did not think of you as the marrying type."

"Ah'm not, really. Reckon my momma's to blame." Raven Darkhölme had occasionally entered marriage under false pretenses in the course of her career as a spy and terrorist, but she had studiously avoided formalizing her relationships with Irene Adler and Valerie Cooper, even though Valerie certainly had tried to persuade her to have a wedding. "My plan is to live with you till death us do part with or without the ceremony. But if need it to be reassured that ah'll stick to you and not get side-tracked by the guest in my mind, ah'll do it. It's the least ah can do."

Magnus felt moved to pull her close to kiss her. "No, that won't be necessary. Our marriage did not stop Magda from forsaking me. And you did not need a document to take me back after I had left you, even driven you off. I'll learn not to be irritated by Valerie's recurrent manifestations..."

"Actually, you may learn to appreciate them," Rogue said, settling down in his lap and putting her arms around his shoulders. "You know, we sometimes have long conversations with each other, and she says she reckons she can help us to have a child."

"How so?"

"Well, the main problem 'bout me havin' kids is that ah'd absorb their mind and powers before they're born, and that would likely kill them. Now Moira and Hank said that ah could learn to control my power inside my womb as ah learned to control it on my outside, so that ah wouldn't zap the baby through the walls of the uterus or the umbilical cord. But ah wouldn't be able to control it while ah'm asleep."

"And this is where Valerie would come in?"

"Right, we could kinda work in shifts, so she would protect the growin' baby while ah sleep and vice versa."

"Is that what you want?"

"Ah've been thinkin' about havin' a baby with you ever since ah ran late after we first did it in the Savage Land. At first ah thought that was cause it's human to want what you can't get, but now it turns out ah actually could do it..." She trailed off. "But of course only if you want to have another child. Ah mean, you've been de-aged and all, but..."

Magneto sat in silence for a while. He had liked being a father half a century ago, until his daughter was killed in that fire in Vinnitsa. It had been a seemingly unending struggle for Magda and him to fulfill the responsibility of parents in a country ravaged by war and famine, but he had shouldered his part gladly. When the Soviet police had prevented him from rescuing Anya he had lashed out with lethal force, unwittingly driving off his wife and preventing himself from being a father to the twins he did not know she carried beneath her heart. He recalled his regret and sorrow when he found out that Wanda and Pietro were his children and that he had been deprived of the chance to raise them as his own family as a consequence of his irrepressible need to avenge their elder sister. And he recalled his feelings of yearning when he played with his granddaughter Luna and with Rogue's little sisters, Irene and Hope. And now Rogue wanted to express their love by having a child with him, to add a new focus to their life. No doubt it would become a journey into the unknown -- how could it be otherwise with the kind of life they led? But he felt undaunted, confident even, that they would make their way together.

"It would be a chance I had not hoped to see again," he finally said.

They kissed deeply, and then walked back to rejoin the others.


The End, for now...

Hang On to Your Ego was Brian Wilson's original title for I Know There's an Answer, the ninth track on Val Cooper's favorite album, Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys (they decided to change it because of the too obvious drug reference). The chapter headings are also titles of or phrases from Brian Wilson songs.
• "The theological implications alone are staggering" is a quote from a Peanuts strip by the late great Charles M. Schulz. Linus utters it after his sister Lucy said she wished he had never been born.
• Part of the inspiration for two scenes story came from drawings Detlef Henke and Eckart Breitschuh did for me.
• There have been speculations about Magneto's mental health for quite some time, also by people who know more about him and psychology than I do. The most thorough piece of research into it was written by Rivka Jacobs, an academic paper in clinical psychology which you can find at
• The story is set in an alternate timeline that diverges from the base timeline of Marvel Comics and from the other Twilight Menshevik timelines shortly after Jean Grey's return from her cocoon at the bottom of Jamaica Bay (Avengers vol. 1 #263, Fantastic Four vol. 1 #286). While in X-Factor #1 Scott Summers left his wife Madelyne never to meet her again before the Inferno cross-over (in which she died), she followed him to New York in this reality. As a consequence of this, a number of other changes happened: Scott and Maddy remained a married couple, Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Angel and Iceman rejoined the X-Men instead of founding X-Factor, Inc., Nathan Summers was not whisked away to the future, etc. Other events however did happen in mostly the same way, for instance the X-Men Gold Team (led by Storm) apparently died in Dallas fighting the Adversary very much as in the Fall of the Mutants and Rogue met Magneto in the Savage Land after passing through the Siege Perilous as she had done in Uncanny X-Men #269, 274 and 275. Also, as in the main timeline of the Tales of the Twilight Menshevik, Mystique became Val Cooper's lover after joining the new X-Factor (i.e. the government-sponsored super-team that debuted in X-Factor #70).
• The idea that seemingly insignificant events can have major ramifications is not a new one (just think of the nursery rhyme about the nail or the movie Lola rennt (Run, Lola, Run) where three very different scenarios evolve starting from random differences in an incident that is so minute that you would not even notice it if you only saw one of the three outcomes). Part of the differences in Hang On to Your Ego concern affairs of the heart, and there I was reminded of a short poem I once heard on the BBC ages ago concerning a train being delayed by five (or was it fifteen?) minutes, and that a passenger did not even know that this meant that she would fail to meet the man who would have been ideal for her. Does anyone by chance know which poem by which (I think post-WW2 British) author I am referring to? Those who like to see the strength of true love over mere coincidence may take consolation in the Discworld's greatest lovers, Mellias and Gretalinda, of whom Terry Pratchett's Mort says that their pure, passionate and soul-searing affair would have scorched the pages of History had they not been born 200 years apart on different continents.
• A few passages in Hang On to Your Ego refer back to previous Tales of the Twilight Menshevik: A first glimpse of the alternate reality in which it is set was shown in The Iceman's Tale, where it is visited by Bobby Drake during his time travels to try to save the X-Men and Emma Frost. A (precognitive?) dream like the ones Rogue mentions in chapter 4 can be found in Late Summer Interlude, where Rogue also alludes to the lateness of her period after her encounter with Magneto in the Savage Land (cf. Midnight Sun). The story of Val and Raven is of course the subject of a great many other stories, beginning with A Year in the Life.

Copyright notes:
Acolytes, Alpha Flight, Anya (Magneto's daughter), Edmond Atkinson, Aurora (Jeanne-Marie Beaubier), Avalon (Asteroid M), Avengers, Baldrick (Val Cooper's underling), Banshee (Sean Cassidy), Beast (Henry McCoy), Binary (Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel), Blackbird (planes), Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Colossus (Piotr Rasputin), Commission on Superhuman Affairs, Valerie Cooper, Fabian Cortez, Cyclops (Scott Summers), Destiny (Irene Adler), Excalibur, Exodus, Fantastic Four, Forge, Aleytis 'Lee' Forrester, Freedom Force, Galactus, Gambit (Rémy LeBeau), Generation X, Genosha, Hammer Bay, Iceman (Robert Drake), Jean Grey (Marvel Girl), Henry Peter Gyrich, Havok (Alex Summers), General Haywerth, Husk (Paige Guthrie), Impossible Man, Jocasta, Senator Robert Kelly, Legacy Virus, Luna (Luna Maximoff), M (Monet St.Croix), Moira MacTaggert, Magda, Magistrates (Genosha), Magneto (Magnus), Malice, Marauders, George Mathers, Meggan (Meggan Braddock), Mystique (Raven Darkhölme), Nereel, New Mutants, Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner), Ogun, Peter (Piotr Petrovich Rasputin), Phoenix (Rachel Summers), Polaris (Lorna Dane), Popuppians, Professor X (Charles Xavier), Proteus (Mutant X), Carmen Pryde, Alistaire Pryde-Stuart, Madelyne Pryor-Summers, Psylocke (Elizabeth Braddock), Pyro (St. John Allerdyce), Quicksilver (Pietro Maxmimoff), Jennifer Ransome, Rogue, Adrian Sammish, Dr. Leonard Samson, Orville Sanderson, Savage Land, Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff), Amanda Sefton, Col. Yuri Semyanov, Sentinels, Seventh Sense, Neal Shaara, Shadowcat (Kitty Pryde-Stuart), Shadow King (Amahl Farouk), Siege Perilous, Raymond Sikorsky, Siryn (Teresa Cassidy), Storm (Ororo Munroe), Sunspot (Roberto Da Costa), Synch (Everett Thomas), Trish Tilby, Vision, Amelia Voght, Wasp (Janet van Dyne), Pete Wisdom, Wolverine (Logan), Wonder Man, Xavier Mansion, X-Factor, X-Men, Amiko Yashida, Mariko Yashida, Yukio, Zaladane, and Zsaji are (c) & TM Marvel Comics. George Braddock, Capstan Island, Reece Carlton, Hope Cooper, Irene Cooper, Force Spéciale Surhumaine, Greased Lightning (plane), Meddlers, Mostyn Mundus, Amani Munroe, Qilin (Chen Li), Errol Wagner, and Warren Worthington IV are (c) Tilman Stieve.
This story was first published in Hamburg Menshevik #68, which was produced for the May 2001 mailing of the MZS-APA. The MZS-APA has a website at


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