-=Chapter 2: Hanseatischer Heiligabend=-
Valerie Cooper was beginning to feel that it was going to
be raining every time she was visited her widowed aunt. It
had rained the last time, when she had been in Aunt Emma Andreesen's
art nouveau house in the spring of last year, and it
was raining now, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve 1997. But
it was warm inside when her grandfather's youngest sister
opened the door for her three visitors and showed them to
her lilac sitting-room. In a way Valerie felt pleasantly surprised
at how comfortable everyone was in this showpiece of her quarters,
sitting around the coffee-table with the Advent Wreath with
its four lighted candles, but then her ex-husband and her
(for lack of a better word) consort had already straightened
out their potential for hostility in the preceding week.
They had been on a mission in Southern Germany, one that
involved a crisis at a US Army base in Bavaria, and Edmond
Atkinson had volunteered to act as liaison for military intelligence.
Mystique had not been able to resist the old saw about that
being an oxymoron, and from then on the ice had been broken.
They discovered that they had a very similar, dry sense of
humor, and after a few days together they felt very comfortable
with each other and the blue-skinned ex-terrorist and the
African-American secret agent found they worked well together
in action. Val still had taken a while to get used to the
changes he had gone through since their divorce, but then
their jobs had not made it easy for them to keep in touch.
At some point Edmond started working out in a big way and
gained several pounds of muscles. She had already witnessed
the new, bigger frame at Irene's christening, but subconsciously
she had refused to register it and thus it had once again
come almost as a shock when he entered her office ten days
Irene. She would be glad to see and hold her again when she
got back home tomorrow. At the moment her one-and-a-half-year-old
daughter was in the care of Strong Guy in Westchester, where
she and Raven were going to spend the holidays with Raven's
son Kurt and with Rogue, her, no, she corrected herself, their
foster daughter. Valerie and Raven were going to leave tonight,
using the X-Factor jet which now was waiting at Fuhlsbüttel
airport. Havok and Polaris would pilot it and had by now presumably
returned from their last-minute Christmas shopping in order
to get a few hours' sleep before their departure. They were
going to drop off Valerie and Raven in New York and then proceed
to the big Summers family Christmas gathering in Anchorage.
Alex and Lorna at the controls meant, among other things,
that Val and Ray could indulge a little in Aunt Em's Glühwein
(mulled wine) as well as the tea and Christmas cookies.
American by birth and Canadian by choice (naturalized after
her wartime service), Emma Cooper Andreesen had lived most
of her life in Hamburg. She had married a native journalist
a few years after World War 2. Now firmly rooted near the
Alster, she had not felt tempted to return across the Atlantic
after Ernst Andreesen died four years ago. With the zeal of
the convert immigrant she had taken up German Christmas customs,
although she still liked to prepare mince pies and Christmas
pudding as well as Braune Kuchen and Zimtsterne.
But that was in keeping with her adopted home town, which
200 years ago had already been joked about as the most English
city on the continent.
Aunt Em was in a good mood today -- she was always glad to
see Edmond, having continued to look on him as a nephew-by-marriage
even after he and Val had 'amicably divorced'. And she was
warming to Raven, whose unusual relationship to her niece
had become tabloid fodder all over the world. But she had
at least met Raven briefly once before, during the 2nd NATO
metapowers conference this spring. She was also looking forward
to celebrating Christmas Eve with the family of her eldest
son. "At my age I can finally fully enjoy Christmas again,
with Sarah having to do all the hard work," she explained.
"And the advantage of celebrating Christmas in Germany
is that you have to wait half a day less than across the pond."
"Umm, maybe we should ask Uwe and Sarah for a second
opinion on that this evening," Val couldn't help saying.
"Uwe had better agree with me," Emma chuckled,
"or I'll just have to remind him of the time when he
was twelve when he was dead against us going on a winter holiday
with your grandparents." Her voice changed into a high-pitched
whine: "'We'd have to wait until Christmas morning for
our presents,' he said, as I recall." There was laughter
"Should've gone to Holland then," said Raven, "there
you get your prezzies on December the 6th!"
"Hmm, with a last name like Darkhölme, shouldn't St.
Lucia's Day be your cup of tea?"
The foursome then discussed various matters of the extended
Cooper and Andreesen families, with Valerie and her aunt providing
most of the information, and Raven and Edmond the odd observation
and witticism. The impending Heiligabend celebration
at cousin Uwe's home in Wellingsbüttel also figured largely
in the conversation. Emma had already forewarned her son that
she would bring along three visitors, and now she wasn't taking
no for an answer from her three guests. "And it will
be much easier to get to the airport from there," she
"Oh, all right, since you're twisting our arms,"
Val had finally given in for herself and Raven, "I guess
it'll be nice to see them again."
Edmond, who had to stay on in Europe in any case, also was
game, pointing out that he had not yet attended a German family
Christmas celebration in any case. "Oh, you'll get the
hang of it soon," Emma assured him, "in our family
we also sing English carols, and you can just hum along to
the German ones."
"Well, I do know 'Silent Night'," Edmond replied
"Just follow Uwe and Sarah's lead, and you'll do all
right as far as the kids are concerned," added Valerie.
"Perhaps I should warn you that there's probably going
to be a rush when everyone is let into the Christmas room.
Uwe's bound to tell the kiddies they can still catch a glimpse
of the Christkind if they hurry to the window."
"Christkind?" Edmond seemed a little puzzled,
but Raven rushed to explain.
"This is a Protestant region, and German Protestants
long had problems with worshipping saints like Saint Nicholas.
So here Santa Claus doesn't bring the presents, but the Christ-child
"But I must have seen dozens of Father Christmases downtown
today," Edmond protested.
"That's creeping commercialism eroding the old traditions,"
Mystique sniffed dismissively. "Now you have Santa Claus
all over the world, and all over the world he looks like the
Coca Cola ads."
"Ever the cynic, eh Raven?" Edmond smiled indulgently,
which apparently slightly annoyed Mystique.
"In any case, it is still the Christkind in many
family celebrations," said Emma. "And the children
are not to see the Christmas tree until Christmas Eve, so
the room with the tree, the Nativity figures and the presents
is locked off, sometimes for days. In our family, they have
to sing carols until the bell is rung three times, and only
then are you allowed inside."
"Sounds like pretty hard work for the kids..."
The seasonal theme reminded Emma of the fact that this year
it was exactly fifty years since her first Christmas in Hamburg,
and as Raven and Edmond had not yet heard the story, she told
them how she had met their mutual acquaintance Nick Fury at
that time of the year in 1947:
"After the war, Nick Fury went into covert operations
for the first time. He and his Howling Commandos were still
young and had come to enjoy the life of adventure they led.
So about half of the Howlers were only to happy to accept
when the OSS offered to take them on as a covert action team.
This was in part an effort to make the Army look more favorably
on 'Wild Bill' Donovan's outfit, but it didn't help them much:
the OSS was still disbanded in the fall of 1945. A few months
later Fury and his men wound up in the new CIG which a year
later became the CIA. But they were split up in the big expansion
of 1947, and December that year he was sent to Hamburg.
His job was to track down Franz Krautwurster, a scientist
who had worked on several German secret weapon projects during
the war and bring him to America."
"Krautwurster?" asked Raven, failing miserably
to repress a giggle, "you're making it all up!"
"Yeah, just the kind of name a pulp novel writer would
give a bad guy," added a grinning Edmond.
Emma gave them her stern grandmother look, but her eyes twinkled.
"Nevertheless, that really was his name. The CIA wanted
to bring him to the States, but unfortunately he was in the
British internment camp in Bad Nenndorf, so they had to pull
a few strings. I suspect Nick Fury's British wartime connections
helped in that respect. Anyway, he picked up Krautwurster
at Nenndorf and brought him to Bremerhaven, which then was
an American enclave in the British Zone of Occupation. There
they put him on a transport ship under the cover of darkness.
Fury then decided to pay a visit to his British Howler buddy,
what was his name?"
"Percy Pinkerton," offered Valerie who had had
dealings with the head of SHIELD for years and been regaled
by him with the occasional war story.
"Yes, that's right. He was here with the British forces,
I forget in what function. Could've been the BFN. Anyway,
Fury arrived here shortly before Christmas. Of course things
looked rather different in the city then. Where people had
Christmas trees, their fuel value was usually more important
than the trimmings. Large parts of the city still lay in ruins,
people had to live squeezed into small cellars and Nissen
huts, and supplies of food and coal were already precariously
low. Everybody was afraid there would be another winter like
the one before, when hundreds had died of the cold and malnutrition.
Still, life went on, the city was slowly reconstructed, its
first freely-elected post-war Senate had just finished its
first year in office, and Ernst could even take me to the
She turned towards Raven, who, being new to the house, could
not be expected to know all the details of the Andreesen family
history. "He was from Hamburg, but he had emigrated before
the war (he was a Social Democrat) and joined the British
Army. Now was an officer in the military administration. I
was in the ATS. Anyway, it was the day after Ernst had taken
me out to Ida Ehre's Kammerspiele to go and see Draussen
vor der Tür that we bumped into him and Pinkerton in the
NAAFI. Ernst introduced them to me -- he had met him before,
earlier that year. Of course I'd read about Nick's exploits
during the war, so it was a huge thrill for me to meet him
in the flesh. The textbook rugged American hero he was..."
Emma Andreesen silently and dreamily looked into space. "Anyway,
der langen Rede kurzer Sinn,* er, to cut the long story
short, we met a few times, and on one evening at Ernst's flat
we had a convivial evening -- as in 'somewhat under the influence'
-- and talked about all sorts of stuff that really fell under
the Official Secrets Act."
She lowered her voice a little, just for effect: "As
they started talking shop, it turns out that Ernst's section
-- they had to ferret out war criminals -- had just been about
to bring Krautwurster to trial for being involved in experiments
on humans. You should have seen Nick Fury's face. He went
ash white. Of course he was so far gone by that time that
he then started bellowing about how his superiors had hoodwinked
him, that he hadn't fought the war to let a rat like Krautwurster
Edmond sat up: "You mean they didn't prosecute him for
"No, of course not. That they would have done in Europe."
Emma's mutant contemporary interjected. "It happened
a lot. Many Peenemünde scientists would have been tried for
involvement in war crimes if they hadn't been needed for the
US rocket program."
"And I guess the Russians and the other powers also
found ways of overcoming scruples if they felt they could
use people," added Valerie. "But we were interrupting
you," she placatingly said to her aunt.
"Hrrhhm. It took a while to calm him down, and then
Ernst was suddenly called away. They'd discovered a 'big fish'
among a bunch of black-marketeers arrested in a raid earlier
that day, and he had to interrogate him at once. Nick and
I stayed behind, and, um, basically flirted a little. I must
have had a bit of a crush on him -- he was so different from
Ernst, he had a more earthy, animalistic appeal, I mean, he
even looked a bit like a pirate with his eyepatch..."
She blushed prettily, causing her listeners to smile. "I
rather think he fancied me, but we didn't do that kind
of thing on a first date in 1947. Unlike you young'uns!"
Emma comically wagged her finger at Valerie and Raven, reminding
them of their bizarre early history and causing Edmond to
grin broadly. "Anyway, it all made for a pretty miserable
Christmas. I felt guilty towards Ernst for flirting with Nick,
and Nick got disillusioned with intelligence work, and he
and most of the Howlers signed up with the US Army again."
She took another sip of tea. "Ernst was angry at his
superiors for allowing Krautwurster to be smuggled into the
States. He really was brassed off with the secret services
after that. But that was only one reason. At one of our earlier
evenings he had been with this English guy whom he had met
in the UK in '46. Being in his cups, Fury introduced him as
a colleague, and he turned out to be a high-ranking MI6 officer
en route from Turkey. He tried to sound Ernst out, but Ernst
became monosyllabic. There was something about him that made
him dislike him. Maybe it was his vocal and militant anti-communism
that he found off-putting. Ernst had no particular love for
the communists, but at that time many of his political persuasion
still believed in the feasibility of a unified German state
that would be a democratic socialist one. And the beginning
Cold War threatened that aim, and in fact would lead to the
creation of two German states. The irony is of course that
sixteen years later it turned out that the man actually was
a Soviet agent."
Edmond and Valerie gasped.
Only Mystique, who ever since Emma had mentioned Nick Fury's
presence in Hamburg fifty years ago, had become most attentive,
was unsurprised. "Kim Philby," she said, "yes,
I now remember the occasion. I knew your voice was familiar,
but of course over the years your accent..."
Now it was Emma's turn to be amazed. "You were there?
But he had a man with him... well, that doesn't mean anything
in your case... and Valerie told me you're much older than
"Let me get this straight," Val interrupted, "you
worked with Kim Philby? Why did you never mention--"
"Well, you never asked," Raven answered without
batting an eyelid -- and unaware (or uncaring) that she was
using a trademarked Wolverine phrase.
"I guess you learned the art of deep cover from the
master." Edmond seemed a little amused that Raven had
not told this little tidbit of her past to his ex-wife.
"You could say that," Mystique replied as if it
was nothing special. "I was eighteen at the time, although
the MVD believed I was older. And a man. I became a Soviet
agent in '43, as soon as I discovered my powers, because I
couldn't bear remaining passive in the war. In '46 they placed
me in the British embassy in Ankara. Uncle Joe was in one
of his paranoid phases, and when Philby was transferred to
the Turkish station, I was ordered to keep an eye on him.
Of course I told him as soon as we met, and I became his protégé
for a while. Then a few years later I went freelance."
"Didn't the Russians go after you?" asked Emma
Andreesen. "After all, you knew their most important
"Of course they wanted me dead. But what can I say,
I was young, I thought I could beat the world, I was reckless..."
"Hard to imagine you once were so different from your
shy, cautious self," said Valerie with a sarcastic smile.
"Anyway, after Kim escaped to Moscow in '63, the pressure
was off. In the meantime I'd changed identities a few times,
met Sabretooth and -- as Leni Zauber -- became his wife for
a while, and then met Irene."
"I guess you then went on to emulate Philby by infiltrating
the Pentagon hierarchy as Raven Darkhölme," added Valerie.
Edmond Atkinson scratched his goatee: "I suppose Raven
Darkhölme isn't your real name, is it? I mean the one you
were born with."
"Now Edmond, a woman's got to keep some secrets if she
wants to retain her mystique," the indigo-skinned mutant
joked. "But it's the name I'm sticking with. The three
women who loved me as a mother or a mate knew me as Raven,
so it is now my real name, whether or not I was born with
it." She exchanged a tender look with Val.
"Well, it isn't the first time a nom de guerre
supplants the original name," said Emma, thinking of
former chancellor Willy Brandt (who had left his birth-name
behind when he emigrated before the war) and of Rogue, another
case in her own family.
Mystique continued: "Anyway, in '47 Kim and I were on
her way to London, to have me transferred into another section
to increase my effectiveness as a double agent. Kim Philby
was being groomed as his successor by Stewart Menzies, the
head of MI6, and so he took in a few foreign stations on his
way home for a visit. The stay in Hamburg was pretty dreadful,
as I recall. Although I remember feeling a little attracted
to you, Emma. You had that wholesome English Rose look. Guess
I was too engrossed with your face and hair to notice the
'CANADA' on your shoulder."
As usual, Mystique dropped her little bomb with a nonchalance
that would have infuriated a saint. But Aunt Emma kept her
cool, just smiled and toasted her with her half-empty cup
of tea. Her niece had told her about Raven's conversational
habits, so this gambit did not come entirely unexpected. Val
raised her right eyebrow hat Raven, whose lips widened and
thinned in a superior smile.
"In any case," Mystique continued, "Philby
did not mention me in his autobiography. Rather unsporting
"Well, maybe his KGB superiors wouldn't have allowed
it," suggested Emma. "By the way, I think his unmasking
had something to do with Nick Fury's decision to rejoin the
CIA after Korea. He must have been quite mad because he had
let himself be taken in by him after World War 2. But he always
preferred combat assignments to real intelligence work, even
if they now came under the heading of covert actions. But
I guess now that he's crippled, he's really stuck behind a
desk. I wonder if he remembers me."
Valerie and Raven left the Andreesen Christmas celebrations
at around half past eight, when it was pitch dark already.
Too tired to answer stupid questions and unwilling to engage
in discussions with strangers, Raven had assumed her old look
as Raven Darkhölme, director of DARPA, with black hair to
match her given name. The taxi that took them to the airport,
an ivory-colored Volvo, was driven by a young woman who worked
on the holidays to finance her university studies. The two
passengers sat in the back, letting the events of the day
pass review before their minds' eye. Mystique thought about
the eclectic mix of carols they had had to sing -- British,
American, German, and one from the middle ages which kept
switching between Latin and Low German:
In dulci jubilo
singt, weset fro!
Al mines Herten Wunne
lit in presepio,
de lüchtet so de Sunne
in matris gremio.
des sullen alle Herten
sweven in gaudio.**
Raven snuggled up to her strangely silent mate. "You
okay, dear?" she asked.
"Just a slight headache. I really wish Aunt Em hadn't
used such a cheap plonk for her Glühwein."
Raven started massaging Val's temples, and the younger woman
exhaled in audible relief. Mystique admitted that she actually
had enjoyed the visit, as Valerie's German relatives had made
every effort to make her feel at home. But then, as in many
other things, European's lagged a few years behind America
as far as mutiphobia was concerned. Valerie's three nephews
and nieces had stared at Raven with wide eyes, but it was
a matter of curiosity, not fear. But then Raven's younger
son, Nightcrawler, had become quite a celebrity in Germany
ever since Excalibur set up shop very much in the public eye
in the UK. They were even a little disappointed that she did
not sport a prehensile tail too. Much to the amusement of
the grownups, Raven quickly grew one to please them.
Now in the back seat of the taxi, Mystique was disgustingly
cheerful, chatting on brightly (albeit in a low voice, so
the driver would not hear) about how she enjoyed being with
the Andreesens and Edmond. Val listened a bit testily, because
of her headache; but she also felt a bit embarrassed because
she had clicked so well with her ex now she had a chance to
have a real conversation with him for the first time in many
years. But the festive atmosphere (or was it a side-effect
of the mulled wine?) and Raven's ministrations mellowed her
mood. Bedding her head on Ray's lap she felt a compulsion
to talk about (confess?) her feelings for Edmond Atkinson.
It had been a much more simple, straightforward romance with
him, conforming much more to the expectations she had formed
in high school than her relationship with Raven, which had
clearly started off on the wrong foot. She now thought she
felt she was as secure in her relationship as she ever could
hope to be with a woman like Raven, but she could not help
wondering about her failed marriage to Edmond. Would it have
lasted longer, would it have survived until today if, for
instance, they had had children?
Raven, eminently practical as she was, did not find it productive
to speculate about what might have been. Although she had
to admit that she still had moments when she suddenly felt
the loss of her first great love, Irene Adler, more acutely.
So she was not surprised that Val would still care about Edmond.
"Oh, don't be so damned understanding, woman!"
Valerie moaned. "Doesn't it upset you at least a little
that I still feel ... something about him?"
"Val, when you're my age..."
"Oh no, not that again," Valerie said, comically
twisting her eyes upward, that is towards the door, as she
was still lying down.
"Nevertheless, dear, I know about these things,"
Raven stated flatly, "and I know you. You're not going
to go back to the dashing Major Atkinson. You know it wouldn't
Val had to agree: "No, I guess not. It was just that
I felt more comfortable with Ed than I ever had since our
first year of marriage. But maybe that's because deep down
I knew there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell of us getting
back together and so I wouldn't have to adjust my life to
his. And vice versa."
"But you do have to tailor your life to mine?"
Raven said in an expressionless voice that made it hard for
Val to decide whether she was joking or serious. "I hope
that's not too much of a strain for you."
"Well, no relationship is always easy." Val said
diplomatically. "You always have a little give and take.
And of course with someone as old as you..." here
a mischievous twinkle appeared in her eyes, "... I've
got to expect that you're set in your ways and make allowances..."
She then had to laugh uncontrollably because Mystique was
tickling her under the ribs. "Okay, okay. But you know
you're not making things any easier!"
Raven relented and gently put her hand to Valerie's cheek.
X-Factor's government liaison visibly relaxed, savoring the
moment. She started again: "No, actually a lot of things
turned out to be much easier than I had imagined. Okay, we
get our share of hostility in public, but my family has been
very supportive once they got over the initial shock."
"I guess so" said Mystique, who was not so sure,
"your parents still call me 'Ms. Darkhölme', though."
"Now, now, Raven, it was a bit much to get used to at
one and the same time: their daughter announces she's bisexual,
she's hooking up with a mutant ex-terrorist old enough to
be her mother, and she's pregnant. Others have problems with
any one of that list. And you've only met them a few times,
so they still hardly know you. But they're holding up pretty
well. And compared to your Graydon..."
"My elder son makes everybody else look good,"
snorted Raven, making light of the man who had been the most
prominent mutiphobe leader in the US and even a viable presidential
candidate until his parentage became public knowledge.
"No, seriously, in our private lives we've had much
smoother sailing than I had dared hope. Your other kids are
wonderful. Rogue especially. She always knows how to cheer
me up, and I kind of get a kick out of the way she treats
me as a mixture of stepfather and elder sister. And of course
you've always been a considerate lover and consort."
As Raven gently stroked the bullet scar on her scalp with
one hand, Valerie squeezed the other.
"Not to mention we keep having great sex..."
"Yeeesss," Val slowly admitted, "but there's
a downside to that. When I have sex with you in another shape,
it's almost as if I'm cheating on you with somebody else,
and then I start to fear that you..."
Raven was taken aback: "Good grief, isn't it a little
early in our 'marriage' for you to fret about that? Don't
over-interpret everything, love. Anyway, I get my kicks out
of being somebody else with you, never fear. And you do have
a great bod."
"But what'll happen when I grow all wrinkly and saggy?
Don't laugh, please... I feel weird -- I know you're twice
my age..." Val said apologetically, "still at times
I have this irrational fear that one day you'll leave me for
a younger woman..."
Raven was a little annoyed: "Don't be silly, you know
I'm not that shallow."
"Of course not. I told you the fear was irrational.
Still, I know your libido, and on days like this, with a headache
like this, I wonder if I'll always be able to keep up with
it. You know, with a power like yours, when you're apparently
impervious to old age, it's enough to make a flatscan girl
"Fishing for compliments, are we?" inquired Raven
in a schoolmarmish voice.
"Well, your story of meeting Aunt Em 50 years ago got
me thinking. By the way, did you have to tease her that way?
Even if it wouldn't surprise me if you really had felt attracted
to her then." But Val did not leave Raven time for an
answer. "Anyway, I was thinking, and you don't have to
answer this, but -- were you always faithful to Destiny? Sexually,
Mystique froze. Valerie too fell silent. Had she gone too
far? Even though they had named their daughter after Irene
Adler, her relationship was one of the subjects they tended
to give wide berth in their intimate conversations. At last,
Raven asked: "You really want to know the truth?"
Val pondered for nearly half a minute: ".... yes."
Raven sighed in resignation: "Well, when she began to
feel her age, she said that she didn't mind if I had an occasional
fling as long as she didn't get to hear about it. I don't
know if it was because she was a precog and knew I was going
to stray, or because in her family and generation the standards
for marital fidelity were less stringent for men than for
women. And that she looked on me as part male because I had
Val, whose brow had furrowed at the reminder of early-to-mid-20th
century sexual double standards, nodded. Raven had told her
the truth about Nightcrawler some time ago, how she had conceived
him with her leman, how Irene had given birth to him in a
village in the Alps, and how they had handed him over to Margali
Szardos to protect him from old enemies like Sabretooth. Despite
their physical resemblance and the contradicting accounts
of how the baby had been found (once it was in the arms of
his dying mother, once in those of his dying father), Kurt
had at first suspected nothing or been too indolent or scared
to inquire. Only after Raven was drafted into X-Factor did
he muster up the courage to ask and found out the truth. Talking
to Valerie about the matter, Raven had suggested she could
inject a little levity in the situation by saying "Kurt,
I am your father" in James Earl Jones' best Darth Vader
voice, but it was perhaps for the better that she didn't.
All this flashed through Valerie's mind before Raven continued:
"Still, I tried to curb my sex drive after a time. Irene
never gave any indication of being unhappy, but I found it
was easier to look in the mirror if I did nothing more than
flirt with other people, even if Irene and I made love less
and less frequently and energetically. Of course my relationship
with her had been less sexually active than ours is, even
before she went through 'the Change'. But it wasn't always
easy. Sexual urges aren't easy to control or predict. You'll
no doubt remember that after Irene's death I went through
a phase when I seemed to need it more than ever before. I
won't try to prophesy how things will turn out with us. I
don't even know if I'll have a normal life-span or a longer
one. With my job descriptions I'd be surprised if I died of
natural causes in any case..."
"Now there's a somber thought..."
"But really, Val, why so moody tonight?"
"Oh, just my usual holiday blues," Val said resignedly,
"I'm afraid you'll have to get used to the fact that
you're stuck with a woman for whom the pre-Christmas stress
is replaced with the post-holiday depression with absolutely
no gap in the middle."
Val couldn't rightly tell in the bad light, but she was sure
"Well, if I didn't know for certain that we haven't
made love as man and woman for half a year, I'd have felt
duty-bound by the stereotype board to ask you if you're pregnant."
Val had do laugh silently at that gentle upbraiding. "Speaking
of which, when we were in the kitchen, Sarah asked me if we
intended to have more children."
"And? What did you tell her?"
"What did you think I told her?" Valerie was a
little annoyed with herself. "No, don't answer that question.
Actually I hemmed and hawed a lot, talked about having to
keep my job in mind and all that..."
"Well, I could have the next one," Raven suggested
with an unreadable expression. "I mean, we could fertilize
one of your eggs and have it implanted in me. People do that
sort of thing all of the time these days and I'm sure we could
talk Hank McCoy into doing the necessary..."
"I don't know," said Valerie unsure. "Of course,"
she paused for some mental calculations, "it would be
nice for Irene to have a brother or sister who's a little
over two years younger. Still, I wanted to have at least one
more baby myself, only I never seemed to be able to decide
"Hey, I second that emotion," said Raven, "if
only because you're so gosh-darn cuddly and sexy when you're
pregnant." She enthusiastically hugged her slightly embarrassed
lover, "It looks so cute when your navel pops out."
She turned to admonishing the driver: "Behalten Sie
die Augen ruhig auf der Straße, junge Frau!"***
"So we're agreed we're going to try for another one?"
Raven's voice returned to its previous low tone. "Now
all we have to do is decide which one of us is going to be
the mother this time."
"Now there's something you don't hear every day,"
grinned Valerie despite herself. "Of course we also could
both have kids. Three would be a nice, round number, don't
Now it was Raven's turn to become meditative, finding the
sudden prospect of enlargening her family that much a little
daunting. "Well," she finally said, "we definitely
should not rush into things. Not that I'd discount that possibility.
I mean, if we're going to claim more maternity leave, Uncle
Sam might find it more 'economical' if we did it all in one
"Okay, we'll sleep over it." Valerie's spirits
were raised, although it was impossible to say if that came
from the relief of having discussed some of her hang-ups with
Raven, the joyous expectation of another child or Schadenfreude
over Raven's sudden unease.
Continued in Chapter
* "The long speech's short meaning." F.Schiller:
** In sweet jubilation/ sing, be glad!/ All my heart's joy/
lies in the crib,/ it shines like the sun/ in the lap of the
mother. / So verily/ So verily/ for that shall all hearts/
soar in joy.
*** "Just keep your eyes on the road, young lady!"
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