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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 think 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 and the original characters in it (see note at the end) are (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.
Oboro belongs to the continuing series, the Tales of the Twilight Menshevik; it interconnects with a few other stories, but should be understandable on its own. But if you want, you also can read it as a three-part series, in which case it may interest you that the Tale Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Someone Blue comes between the chapters "Yukaze" and "Miyuki", and Valentine Allsorts comes between "Miyuki" and "Ariake".
You can find the other Tales archived on "Fonts of Wisdom," "Down-Home Charm," and "MissyRedX: The Average Website."
WARNING: The first parts of this story feature descriptions of sexual acts between consenting adults [mostly F/F]. 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. This warning does not apply to the final part (Ariake), which can be read on its own.



Hurtling along in the midst of the jetstream, Ororo felt oddly at peace. All air temperatures were the same to her, and she barely noticed the gusts -- her own speed was hardly less than that of the wind that propelled her northwards.

At peace she was, but not happy, in spite of the sense of closure. In the morning, she and Forge had finally acknowledged to each other that it was over between them. He had finally admitted to her (and, she suspected, to himself) that he no longer loved her. And although it had been an occasion to which she had looked forward for half a year with a mixture of dread and impatience to get it over with, it had come as an emotional blow when it came.

As her moods affected the weather, the inhabitants of Maryland, Delaware and Eastern Pennsylvania were caught by unexpected showers. New Jersey was overcast but dry, and only now, as the Hudson River came into sight, the sky finally resumed the look it was supposed to have in the last days of spring.

As Storm passed over Irvington and White Plains on her way eastwards to the Connecticut border, her downward trajectory became steeper. There was Breakstone Lake, there Spuyten Dyvil Cove, there, beyond a clump of maples and beeches, the Mansion.

Originally built by the Professor's distant forbear, Cornelius Adriaanszoon Xhonneux of Maastricht, who had set up his manor in land to the north of the settlement of Nieuw Amsterdam. Burned down a couple of times over the centuries, rebuilt and expanded by successive generations of Xaviers (descendants of Cornelius' eldest daughter), until it reached its current palatial size and layout in the time of Peter Paul Xavier around the time of the Civil War. Later generations had contented themselves with modernizing the interior (and replacing the ornamental pond with a swimming pool).

Ororo sometimes wondered about Charles Francis Xavier's family. Her own father's ancestors had been abducted from their West African homes and transported to the New World on ships financed by people very much like the patrician Xaviers. Could it be that Charles's forefathers had grown rich on the slave trade? (If life was like a soap opera, it would turn out that there was a Xavier in her family tree). Or could this manor have been a station on the Underground Railroad? Peter Paul Xavier had lost two sons in the Civil War -- an ambrotype of them in uniform used to hang in the Professor's study until it was lost in one of the many destructions of the Mansion. Had these 19th-century Xaviers fought for the restoration of the Union or to set men free, Ororo mused. The Professor was a very private person. She could not remember him speaking about any of his ancestors, even his father and mother he rarely mentioned.

She had always respected him, regarded him as her friend, but it now struck her as odd how little she actually knew about him. She did not even know what really had made him dedicate his life to help mutants and non-mutants to live together in peace and now she wondered if maybe his family history could provide a clue why he had gone about realizing his dream the way he had. He had foreseen that there would come a crisis about mutants' acceptance, but he had come to a radically different conclusion than the similarly prescient Magneto. And he apparently had formed his theory before he had even met or befriended another mutant. Was Charles Xavier following in his forbears' footsteps or trying to make up for their sins? It really would not (or should not) change her opinion of him, but she now felt very curious. One of these days she should make an effort to overcome his reserve and talk about these matters.

Engrossed in her thoughts, Ororo overshot the Mansion, but she did not mind and came back in a wide turn that enabled her to take in the fresh green beauty of the estate. As she passed over the Boathouse, the telepathic wave engulfed her. It made her go through an involuntary mid-air summersault.


It took a few seconds before Ororo regained control over her trajectory. The contact with Jean and Scott's minds was over in a second, but it stuck fast in Ororo's core. It had never happened to her before, but she knew what it was. From conversations with Jean and Betsy she knew that it was next to impossible for most telepaths to contain their thoughts when they were in the throes of passion. Then the best they could hope for was to avoid 'broadcasting' their ecstasy to all and sundry by focusing their thoughts in a specific direction, usually up (into outer space) or down (where their telepathic would hopefully be absorbed in the Earth's metallic center. Maybe she would not have 'heard' Jean's telepathic voice (and the echoes of her husband's thoughts through their mind-link) if Jean had been on top...

Well, looks like their marriage is back on an even keel, she thought as she entered her loft through the roof window. Good for them. But for me it's the torments of Tantalus. Trying to recollect her disturbed thoughts, she began to water the plants in her room.


Ororo slept fitfully that night; the weather channels reported an unexpected little thunderstorm in the tri-state area. Her dreams were haunted by the intense vicarious experience of the previous afternoon. The guttural moans and sighs of the two lovers rang in her ears, her empty hands soaked up the warmth of Jean's swollen, hard-tipped breasts, her pleasure mounted as the phantom of Scott moved inside her, Jean's hair flailed before her in eerie ruby-red monochrome, she was intoxicated by Scott's growing musky scent and by the salty taste of Jean's perspiration, all her senses were close to overload.

She awoke early the next morning. Outside, the park was shrouded in a thick fog. She felt uneasy at the fragments of memory of her dreams. It came as a relief to learn from the radio news that they had not affected the weather badly enough to cause any damage worth reporting.

Considering that it had been a long time since her last first-hand experience in that field, it really was not surprising that yesterday's telepathic flash should have occupied her mind last night. Well, I can't really put the entire blame on Forge for that, Ororo thought. It was my own choice, ultimately, to settle for the kind of relationship we had, to let the duties of leading the X-Men eclipse my personal needs and desires.

After breakfast, Jean and Scott showed up at the mansion. Scott was scheduled for a solo training session in the Danger Room, and Jean had been planning to go out shopping in Stamford with Ororo for quite some time now. Both the Summerses looked happy, radiant even. I know what you've been doing, Storm could not help thinking 'out loud', causing Jean to scan her surface thoughts and giggle coquettishly. She glanced sideways at her husband who -- unnecessarily, but slightly predictably -- blushed. Ororo thought she could kick herself. How could she be so careless? What if Jean had read her deeper-lying emotions as well as her little taunt?

Later that day, as they were looking at the various cots on offer at Baby's Lullabuy, Jean told Ororo a little more about the progress she and Scott had been making since they had looked closely at everything that had pulled them apart less than a year ago and decided to start their marriage afresh.

"I'm happy for you," Ororo said, "that you managed to sort out everything. You looked so joyful this morning.." She sighed.

"But for you and Forge, talking things over did not lead to the same result," Jean could not help commiserating. When Ororo remained silent, she added: "And I could tell that without reading your mind. I'm sorry."

Ororo put her arms around her friend's neck. "Oh Jean, why did it have to end this way? Why does he find impossible even to try to live with me?" She suddenly backed off, but Jean kept her hand on Ororo's shoulder, even though she was a bit puzzled by her behavior.

"I wish I knew," said Jean, "maybe it's an age thing?"

Storm laughed bitterly. "He tried to tell me that, but I think it was just a pretext. There's more years difference between Rogue and Magnus than Forge is old, yet that did not stop them from trying!"

"Yes, but will their relationship last?" They had been through this discussion before -- after Rogue and Magneto had moved together two years ago, there had been many occasions when X-Men wondered aloud how long that unlikely couple would stay together, sometimes even within earshot of one or the other. Ororo remembered well how she had told Jean with some passion that Rogue would not run out on Magnus, saying "you don't know her as well as I do", to which Jean had retorted half-seriously: "And you don't know him as long as I do." A lot of her teammates had expressed rather pessimistic forecasts about the durability of Rogue and Magnus' love, but it came as a degree of solace that Logan had a wager riding against Warren that the two would still be an item six years from now. Logan tended to do very well in this kind of bet. Still, one had to wonder how they would handle the additional strain of running the Meddlers, the X-Men's newly set-up covert offshoot.

For the moment Ororo did not let herself be drawn and just said: "But at least they try. Forge does not even want to do that."

Then she calmed down, and the dark clouds dispersed again.

They finally found a cot that seemed to suit Jean's needs and tastes.

Jean exhaled: "I don't know Forge all that well, but maybe his problem is that he has to be in control? The weather, a woman's ability to create something his technology can't, the mystic heritage he is struggling to banish from his life, but which you never rejected in yours..." She trailed off.

Ororo remained silent. She did not want to agree with her friend's rough analysis, but she could not work up the motivation to deny it either. Her mind was occupied with other matters, she had to do her damnedest to try and sort out her feelings without Jean noticing.


A fortnight later, Ororo stood on top of the Koshinryo Building in the Meguro district of Tokyo. The X-Men had just finished their mission in the Japanese capital, a week after it had begun with a call for help from the Iceman's ex-girlfriend, Opal Tanaka. Once again they had become embroiled in a war between different Yakuza clans. Now everything was sorted out, even though she had a feeling that there still were large areas of the city's organized crime that had managed to elude their attention. Still, tomorrow they would be flying back to the States.

Tonight, Bobby Drake was having a dinner with Opal and her husband, with Scott and Hank along for the ride. Bobby and Opal were happy in their respective new relationships, but this much delayed get-together would be a moment for them to work out the unfinished matters left over from the time their romance had ended. The other group -- Husk, the team rookie, and Quicksilver and Crystal, the 'guest X-Men' -- were going out on the town. Over in England, Paige's brother Sam Guthrie would probably be happy to see his sister safely chaperoned by a married couple in this way.

Storm herself had not joined either group, saying she preferred to be alone. Actually, it did not seem to be a matter of choice to her, more that none of those teammates present could be of much help to her as she tried to deal with her emotional confusion. With Jean back in New York awaiting the birth of her daughter, she actually felt lonely. And the busy megalopolis in which she found herself, its noisy traffic and polluted air, was not made to raise her spirits. Morosely she watched as the moon rose in the hazy distance and reflected on her position in the world.

She knew that no-one was defined by their emotional attachments, but she could not help asking herself what had gone wrong, not just with Forge, but some of the others who had once seemed likely to link their lives to hers. What about Arkon, or more realistically, what about T'challa, the Black Panther? She had met him so many years ago, but both had then felt compelled to part and go off into different directions. Had that been the right decision? Had she gone with the young prince then, she would now be the Queen of Wakanda and, in all probability, an Avenger in good standing. There had been an undeniable attraction then when she had first laid her eyes on him, in the savannas of East Africa. She was certain that her indomitable spirit would not have been a problem for him -- Monica Lynne, the Georgian singer he eventually married, was as independent and self-assertive as they came -- yet she had taken almost no time at all to decide that this most attractive of prospects was not for her. Why? Of course then she had been on her quest to the Serengeti plain, but if Charles Xavier could convince her to leave to another continent, making her home in Wakanda really should not have been a problem. So was it just that T'challa had not asked her urgently enough, or was there some underlying reason in her own personality?

"Konban wa, kaze-no-kishi-san."

The wind-rider was startled by the softly-spoken greeting. She turned around to see a familiar woman dressed in a matt, midnight black leotard, standing on the far ledge of the roof. "Konban wa, Yukio," she half-stammered. "{Where have you been? We have been trying to contact you ever since we got here! Now it's all over...}"

Yukio summersaulted and cartwheeled the breadth of the roof to Storm's side. She grinned broadly: "{I was kinda tied up. Business in Osaka. From what I hear on the streets, you managed without me.}"

"{It's not important}." Ororo embraced the younger woman. "{I'm just glad to see you. It has been far too long, my friend.}"

She had first met the outlaw and self-styled ronin six years ago, on her second visit to Japan. The X-Men had been there to attend the wedding of Logan and Mariko Yashida (which then never happened, due to the interference of Mastermind and because Mariko was later murdered before she could finish what she felt necessary to become worthy of Logan again). At the time, they had run afoul of Mariko's half-brother, the Silver Samurai and his lady, the Viper. When the latter succeeded in poisoning most of the X-Men, Storm had been grateful for Yukio's unsought-for aid. But in that hectic night, the reckless youngster had become more to her than an ally. Few people had as big an influence on her as Yukio. Ororo had been going through a crisis of self-confidence after her primal connection to Mother Earth became strained due to a prolonged stay in space and after the duel with Callisto. Yukio was the one who had helped her overcome it, who had given her the impetus to look at the person Ororo Munroe was and to come to accept her with all her rough edges.

Yukio kept holding Storm by her shoulders and looked closely at her expression. "{You look melancholy, Ororo. Anything the matter?}"

"{Still have not entirely got over breaking up with my boyfriend}," Ororo admitted. She was intensely relieved at having someone at hand in whom she felt could confide as much as, if not more than Jean or Logan. The two friends hunched down together and Storm gave a quick rundown. The pent-up words just poured forth from her lips: What she had not said to Forge for fear of hurting his feelings, esprit d'escalier thoughts that had come to her on her flight back from Washington, even her confusion after being hit by Jean's telepathic wave on her return to Westchester.

Yukio listened attentively. She did not seem overly saddened that Storm and Forge were no longer in love, but Ororo's final confession aroused her interest. "{You mean you suddenly had the hots for Scott and Jean?}"

"{Umm, yes. The telepathic surge... I simply had never considered looking at them that way. They are my friends ... well, Jean's a bit like the sister I never had...}" She smiled apologetically. "{And Scott is always so ... well, not exactly repressed... but he does not show his emotions easily. This is a side of him I did not known. It must have taken Jean quite some time to get past that... They've had to work hard for their love...}"

"{Well, if you like your love life complicated, I guess Cyclops is your man. But to let Logan go for the likes of ... I don't think I'll ever be able to understand that, even if you telepathically fed me their entire life history!}"

"{No, I guess you wouldn't.}" Ororo smiled indulgently. Yukio never hid her unhappy love for Storm's Canadian teammate; it was to be expected that she would make the occasional catty remark about those more lucky in the struggle for his affections.

The younger woman left it at that remark, put her arm around Ororo's shoulder and returned to the subject of the X-Man's personal problems. Yukio loved to project a devil-may-care attitude and had in the past encouraged similar tendencies in her friends, but she sensed that the moment for that had not yet come. She just listened -- or that was how it seemed -- and with unexpected sensitivity she coaxed more and more early details of her life from her.

Ororo even found herself talking about her days as a goddess in East Africa, a period in her life she did not often discuss -- if she was frank, there always was the risk that people mistook that for conceit. The consequence of her normal taciturnity on the subject was that outside her closest circle of friends misconceptions about her status as living embodiment of the weather-goddess worshipped under different names by tribes of the border area between Kenya and Tanzania. "{Paige still thinks I was a kind of virgin goddess}," she said, "{even though the association between rain and fertility is so obvious. If she knew what I did then...}" There was a hint of a smile on her lips. "{Well, actually she's seen a lot since she joined Xavier's School, so it probably won't come as a real shock to her. Not that I'm embarrassed about it now, but I was too old to get invited to her slumber parties, and the men and women in my life is not a subject that comes up often in casual conversation...}"

"{Except in this one?}"

"{If you say so... No, there isn't really that much to say. Not many want to fall in love with a goddess. In retrospect there was only one person where I thought it could have become something more than an episode. And I did not even have sex with him.}"


"{He's married now!}" Storm raised her voice more than she intended.

"{Oh, still some affectionate embers glowing under the ashes?}"

Storm had to laugh, mainly because Yukio's fingers had found a sensitive spot under her shoulder. But she did tell her friend about her encounter with the youthful prince of Wakanda. She continued to unburden herself for a while, sensing that though Yukio, being Yukio, could not maintain a serious posture for long, she was taking her seriously. When she had finally talked herself out, she hugged her: "Arigato gozai-masu," she said, her hand gently stroking along Yukio's jawline "{you are a good listener and great help, dear friend.}"

"Do-itamashite," Yukio replied, "{what are friends there for?}" She gave Storm a quick peck on the cheek and got up. "{So, Ororo, what do we do now for the rest of the evening?}"

In the end, they decided to go out on the town together because Ororo had not properly sampled Tokyo during her stays up until now. She had always been too busy fighting to do any sightseeing or enjoy the nightlife, and when she hadn't fought, she normally preferred to go outside the noisy and smelly metropolis. Now Yukio decreed that it was time for her to experience the capital city, and they took off to the Ginza.

They began with dinner at a sushi merry-go-round restaurant, then they moved on to a karaoke bar. "{Tonight you're a tourist,}" Yukio insisted, "{and you can't be an American tourist in Tokyo without going to a karaoke bar.}" And within minutes Ororo was sitting at a table smiling while Yukio strutted about on the stage belting out a soprano Japanese version of Layla.

Yukio finished her set and bowed. She beamed as she turned to Ororo: "{Now it's your turn.}"

Ororo hesitated.

"No worry, my friend," Yukio encouraged her. "I already selected a track." She half-shoved Storm onto the podium. Storm almost burst out laughing when she recognized the song.

"Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble..."

She began haltingly, but gradually her confidence grew.

"...when you're perfect in evuhry way..."

The cheek of the woman! she thought, but her merriness showed in the broadness of her mouth and the happy wrinkles in the corners of her eyes. What the hell, let's ham this up!

"To know me is to love me,
ah must be a super womayun,
Oh Lord, it's hard t'be humble,
bud ahm doin' the best as ah cayun!"

She improvised her way through the text (which had been written for a man) from that. Mercifully it was over quite soon. The other patrons applauded -- whether out of politeness or from genuine appreciation it was impossible to tell. Ororo got the distinct impression that if they had not been among Japanese businessmen, Yukio would have hugged her. And that realization put a different complexion on their body-contact that evening.

"{It is good to see you laugh. I wonder what Rogue-san would say if she was here}," Yukio said with a big, big grin.

Ororo's smile was more discreet: "{She can take it. Now, my young ronin, was there any particular message attached to your choice of song?}"

"{No. Not at all. Well ... yes. You really mustn't take yourself and life too seriously. }"

But Yukio looked very serious by her own standards after well over an hour's worth of animated conversation, when she sang a ballad as her last song before they left. For the final verse and chorus, she looked deep into Ororo's electric blue eyes:

"With a long and slender body
And the sweetest softest hands
And we'll blow away forever soon
And go on to different lands
And please do not ever look for me
But with me you will stay
And you will hear yourself in song
Blowing by one day

But now hold me like a baby
That will not fall asleep
Curl me up inside you
And let me hear you through the heat."

Ororo felt a little hot under Yukio's gaze, but it was it the heat of embarrassment or something else?

They walked out together and turned towards the direction where the sunrise was going to be a few hours from now.

Ororo felt a lot better. The evening had combined enjoyment and companionship with something more important. Raking through the ashes of her romance with Forge in two lengthy sessions with Yukio -- first on the office building roof, then in the karaoke bar -- had finally given her a sense that not only was it over, but that now she was looking forward to whatever the future would bring to her in her private life.

Yukio was walking ahead, and Ororo's gaze came to rest on her shapely and swaying tight posterior of its own accord. It became clear now -- her body had closed Forge's chapter of her personal biography more readily than her mind; that was why it had reacted so quickly and violently to the suddenly realized sexual attraction to Scott and Jean. But now Ororo's mind and body were as one again and that voyeuristic yearning was revealed as nothing more than what it was. Her feelings for Yukio on the other hand...

She had felt close in spirit to the young Japanese woman since the first day they met. Tonight she also found her body reacting to Yukio's presence, and she decided that she did not mind those feelings one bit. And she would have had to be very obtuse not to notice Yukio's little and not-so-little encouragements. She certainly had not wiggled her behind like that for her before!

Then Ororo came to a decision. She had always envied Yukio her ability to act on impulse, now it was a good time to follow one of her own. She hastened her steps to catch up with her friend after they turned into a deserted side-street. No-one was there to witness them as Ororo stepped up to Yukio, took her into her arms and kissed her on the mouth.

The younger woman molded herself against Ororo's body, the expectant tension melting in the release of hope fulfilled. Yukio's mouth -- lips, teeth and tongue -- responded to hers and their kiss grew in duration and urgency. At last they had to break apart for air. Brown eyes looked into blue with searing intensity and amidst heavy breathing. Then Ororo scooped up the sweet, light burden that was Yukio, and a strong wind gently carried the two to the top of a nearby building site, 20 stories above the streets.

No words were necessary. They landed near a stack of planks and immediately began to prepare and impromptu bedding by piling plastic foil and a tarpaulin they found nearby on top of it. Their clothes would serve as pillows, and Storm's control of the weather would ensure that they did not have to worry about the temperature. Or prying eyes -- a fog was already beginning to coalesce around them.

Ororo was naked in a matter of seconds. Yukio was a bit surprised by what seemed like haste at first glance, but on a closer look Storm's body language told her that it was not impatience, but an entirely functional approach to clothing. For Ororo there were times to be dressed and times to be nude, the transformational states in between were something she liked to keep as short as possible.

When Yukio began to strip more slowly and deliberately, she was pleased to see that Ororo actually was not unappreciative to the effects of erotic undressing. It apparently just was something she had not yet considered doing herself. Well, she would learn.

Ororo bit her lower lip as Yukio sensuously slid out of her top in the diffuse light of one of the building-site lamps. Strong, well-trained muscles and tendons rippled under the smooth, golden skin of her torso, shoulders and arms. Yukio's breasts were flat, there was no two ways about it. Ororo considered the size of her own about average, but next to Yukio's they appeared positively huge.

Yukio's somewhat boyish looks were underscored by her closely cropped hair and the masculine name she had given herself. Her parents had named her Yukiko, but she had dropped the second 'k', which served as an added provocation to her more conservative male 'colleagues', who saw her as an intruder into a male domain because of the life she had chosen. There was not an ounce of superfluous fat on her body, but to Ororo's mind not an ounce too little either. The curves were smoother than in a lot of other girls, but she clearly was all woman. The sweep of her hips, the swell of her back cheeks and the curves of her sex appeared as her pants and undergarments joined the rest of their clothes on the 'bed'. There might be men with bigger breasts than hers, but for all its smallness, Yukio's bosom was beautiful and feminine in its own way. The gentle curves were complemented by brownish circular tips with rapidly stiffening nipples.

The African X-Man had sat down with legs crossed to absorb the young ronin's performance. Yukio did a kind of dance around her, to a tune only she could hear, dropping items of clothing one after the other and bending forward to brush her lips across Ororo's from time to time. At last she was done. The two women lay down together on their makeshift bed. Ororo sought out Yukio's mouth and they entered into their second drawn-out kiss. Gently but insistently her tongue requested permission to enter at the hedge of Yukio's teeth; the request was granted and it proceeded forward into a serpentine dance with its counterpart. Ororo could taste a trace of banana from the daiquiri Yukio had had at the bar. Meanwhile, her long, slender fingers traveled through the fuzz of Yukio's hair and molded themselves into the hollow at the back of her neck. Yukio's right hand meanwhile was traveling up and down on Ororo's smooth back, tracing the nubbly line of her spine, moving in slow, sensuous spirals over the strong muscles.

Slowly, Ororo turned Yukio over onto her back and raised herself on her elbow to look down into her eyes tenderly. The gaze of her feline eyes had become all soft. Her free hand languorously moved onto Yukio's chest and haltingly began to trace the lower curves of her breasts. Gently, gently. The younger woman's body began to react to Ororo's slow caresses. She inhaled with a drawn-out hiss, and raised her left hand to Ororo's regal bosom, filling it with the warm mahogany flesh.

"{No, let me... just lie back, Yuki-chan.}"

Storm's hands slowly and methodically caressed Yukio's breasts, working from the outer swells to the hardening tips. Then her lips repeated the process. She could feel the bloodstream pulsating under the soft skin, and her nostrils greedily drew in the smell of her friend's glowing body.

Yukio softly moaned as her arousal rose, and her hand moved down, between her legs. Ororo gently pulled it back and began to continue the exploration. Her lips and tongue moved up towards her friend's throat, then down again, across the gentle valley of her bosom, to the flat of her stomach. Yukio had to giggle when Ororo's tongue slid into her navel. Then the silver-haired mutant moved down towards Yukio's femininity.

This was an Ororo she had not known thus far. "{You're not exactly new to this, are you, Ro-chan?}" Yukio could not help asking.

Ororo just smiled and continued. Her gentle but insistent and active tongue slowly raised Yukio to higher levels of arousal. Beneath her face, the young woman's pelvis began to shake in lustful tremors, in a random but accelerating sequence. Her slender fingers slid over Yukio's buttocks and held on, the grip so tight that it left reddish marks in the pale skin. Storm was becoming intoxicated by the other woman's sexual smell, by her taste. Her own pelvis began to move in a slow rhythm, and almost imperceptibly the fog around them turned into a warm drizzle.

Yukio dug her heels and shoulders into the tarpaulin. Her entire body became an arch, a tautly bent bow, she bucked up her hips so that her heated mons would meet Ororo's assault head-on. Since the older woman's hands were now occupied, there was nothing to stop her own fingers from going to her engorged nipples and pinching and twisting them as if there was no tomorrow. Her moans became louder, her breath more and more ragged.

Her orgasm was a sight to behold, there was no part of her body left unaffected, muscles knotted and spasmed, a pink rash appeared in places, salty sweat mingled with the film of water on her skin. Yukio shouted out her ecstasy and Ororo drew back to watch breathlessly as the climax overtook her. There was pride and bubbling joy in her feline eyes -- it had been years, but she had not lost her touch. Then Yukio, eager for more, seized the sides of Ororo's head and pulled her back to her Delta of Venus. Ororo gladly complied and within minutes Yukio was in the throes of a second orgasm that was even more intense than the first.

After her bodily tumult subsided, Yukio pulled Ororo up beside her. Her eyes where glowing with awe and from her sated passion, and maybe -- Ororo hoped -- something more. Her broad grin was infectious, and Ororo smiled back at her affectionately. Her lips moved as if to say something, but she thought better of it and kissed her. Their lips melded, and Yukio's strong arms pressed their two bodies together.

Now was the time, Yukio knew. She broke off and began to kiss and caress Ororo all over her face, then down her throat and towards her full, heaving breasts. The paleness of her skin and the rich, warm brown of Ororo's were beautiful complements of each other in Storm's eyes, more noticeable than that between her skin and Forge's. Storm was surprised how little it bothered her to think of her former lover at this most inappropriate moment.

Yukio had arrived at her goal and was nuzzling Ororo's well-rounded breasts, while her right hand crept surreptitiously downwards and was now gently tracing the white-haired convexity between her legs.

"{Mmm, these do a fertility goddess proud,}" Yukio commented as she inspected Ororo's chest.

"{They're not that big}", Ororo began to protest.

"{Well, to me they always seemed as big as they can get without being too much of a good thing on you}", Yukio replied without a smile, "{Perfection, really. But before tonight I had no idea what great playthings they make.}"

She had taken them in both her hands and was feeling them, stroking them, cautiously kneading them, testing their resiliency and soaking up their rising heat. Sparks of excitement shot through Ororo's body when Yukio's soft lips closed down on the sensitized points, one after the other. Feeling Yukio sucking, nibbling and licking on one engorged nubbin while her dexterous fingers occupied its almost equally aroused twin transported Ororo to unexpected levels of arousal. She knew she was sensitive, but no one had ever pleasured her there so diligently and effectively -- she felt close to the bursting point without Yukio even touching her 'downstairs'.

The drizzle had turned into a warm, drenching rain when Yukio let go of Ororo's torso. Having brought her to a whimpering climax, she moved on to pastures new. While Yukio soon concentrated her activities on and around the center of Ororo's femininity, the African X-Man gently held herself 'upstairs', more to soothe, not to further stimulate her raw, throbbing glands. Soon she even stopped doing that. Her fingers clawed into the tarpaulin, the tendons of her neck grew more prominent, and her breath hissed between her clenched teeth with every inhalation and exhalation. They changed positions once more for the final straight, their nether lips grinding into each other in the midst of a tropical downpour. Ororo went wild, she did not care how loud her moans of ecstasy grew.

Suddenly Yukio went still. Ororo was startled by her awed expression, which was highlighted by an eerie bluish light. She followed her companion's eyes and saw the reason why: a ball-lightning was rolling on the ground around them, in ever-decreasing circles. Ororo smiled. She summoned up a wind that lifted the two women up into the sky where they rose together to the final climax of the night.

Then they returned to earth, or rather to the roof of the unfinished building. The two spent women embraced each other, and Ororo murmured: "Nilikupenda kama rafiki yangu, lakini sasa nakupenda kama mchumba wangu. Nitakupenda sikuzote."

It was something that needed to be said, but she could not bring herself to say it in a language that Yukio understood. When they picked up their clothes, Yukio asked her what she had just said, Ororo quickly made up an answer: "{Oh, it's just something they say in Cairo: 'the sand-dune really moved for me just now.'"

A quarter of an hour later, they silently let themselves into Yukio's apartment. After a quick shower, they lay down on Yukio's futon. Ororo happily slipped away into sleep in her lover's arms. The moon shone brightly through the window from an almost clear sky. It was only slightly distorted by the leftover moisture from the rain.


When she awoke the next morning, Storm felt as refreshed as she had not felt in weeks.

"{Ane [big sister], you're back!}" At the kitchen table, Amiko was visibly glad to see that Yukio had returned from Osaka. She also welcomed Ororo, as a friend of her adoptive father Logan and of Yukio. She was bubbling over with things she wanted to tell about her school, and the guest from America was a welcome new victim.

"{Will you be staying, Ororo-san?}" she wanted to know.

"{Regrettably no,}" Storm replied. "{We'll be taking off in the Blackbird today.}"

"{Are you sure you can't stay a little longer, Ororo-chan?}" Yukio suggested. "{We could go to the Takarazuka Theater together.}"

"{Aw, Yukio, you know I can't go,}" Amiko protested, "{I have to cram with Ohatsu and Monzaemon for the math test next week!}"

"{Maybe some other time,}" said Ororo, "{it should be fairly soon. The X-Men can't seem to stay away from Nihon for very long. But now it's better we stick to our plans. Scott wants to be back with Jean ASAP, so he's liable to throw a hissy fit if we stay longer than we need to.}"

The image of Storm's second-in-command losing his equanimity amused Amiko, who in spite of her upbringing could not hold back a giggle. But Storm had to think back to Scott's long face when he was outvoted yesterday and everybody else wanted to stay in Tokyo for another day after their 'official' business was finished, and chided herself for making fun of him.

After Amiko left for school, Yukio told Ororo a little of the problems she had looking after Logan's ward. "{I'm looking for a good school that will take Amiko after she finishes her primary school. It's not easy when you're a single woman working in my, our, line of business. At Zokubutsu Middle School they told me to forget it. If I'm not a married housewife with enough time to help Amiko with her homework all afternoons they don't want her, no matter what her grades are now.}"

Ororo frowned, angered by this injustice.

"{At the moment, Logan-chan and I are trying to find her a place in one of the international schools,}" Yukio continued. "{He would probably prefer that anyway, so Amiko could be with some Canadian children as well...}"

The two women continued to talk about this and that, but the moment of parting could not be put off indefinitely. When it came, they embraced.

"Sayonara, Ororo-chan," said Yukio, "{don't stay away too long!}"

Storm, tongue-tied, just kissed Yukio on both cheeks and on the mouth. Then she flew off to rejoin her teammates at the Blackbird.

On her way, she reflected on what had happened. Although it had been a magic night, in the cold light of day it seemed to her that it probably had been a mistake. She was convinced it had no future -- the way Yukio referred to Logan spoke volumes of her deeply-rooted love for him. Yukio had given her her love unstintingly, but it would be best to leave it at that one night before things became too complicated. The thought filled her with regret for what might have been, but ending it would in the end cause less hurt to herself and, more importantly, to her two friends.


"And that was the last item," With visible satisfaction Dr. Cooper pushed back her chair. She checked her watch. "And we finished ahead of schedule!"

Another day, another Federal Metapowers conference. Good thing it was over. Havok and Forge took Captain America aside for some additional points, Storm actually was surprised how good she felt about being in Washington again. Everyone else, including most supervillains, it seemed, was still on their seasonal vacation, so they had managed to get a few things done. Ororo wondered if Valerie Cooper had chosen that particular date because she knew that Henry P. Gyrich would excuse himself then.

Afterwards, Val Cooper invited her over to her home, and Ororo went. Considering their past, it was actually surprising how much at ease she now felt with X-Factor's government liaison, almost as if they were friends. Or had they actually crossed that threshold? Valerie was one of the few people to whom she had mentioned that she had had a lesbian affair (even if she had not mentioned Yukio by name). That had been at Trish Tilby's hen night, nearly three months ago, when they had woman-to-woman talk in which Ororo surprised herself by her own candor.

Now they were sitting in the Cooper living-room making small conversation while waiting for the tea. Not unexpectedly, it turned to family matters: Val was a kind of unofficial foster parent to two good friends of Ororo, so they compared notes on what they had last heard from Kurt over the Atlantic in England (Valerie had a few new pictures of his son Errol to show) and from Rogue, wherever she and the Meddlers currently were. There Valerie held an advantage -- the 'official' X-Men and their 'underground' offshoot had last met during an emergency in November, while Val Cooper had only just returned from a short Yuletide vacation in the south.

"Officially we flew to the Bahamas, but then Rogue and Magnus took us to their former base," Val related. "I believe you've been there a few times as well?"

"I suppose the island is still fairly barren?" Ororo asked. It would be. It was only six or seven years since Magneto -- back in his world-menacing villain days -- had raised they mysterious little isle from the bottom of the sea in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. Not enough time for all kinds of tree to grow to their full size.

"Pretty much so," said Valerie, "but it is a fascinating place. Although, to tell the truth, I was a bit relieved when we left. Both Irene and I slept rather badly, and I don't think it was just the heat. Those ruins are too eerie for my taste, and some of the sculptures there when you look at them closely are quite disturbing."

At that moment Mystique entered bearing a tray of tea and cookies. Without meaning to, Storm had to smile at the former leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants making such a 'domestic' entrance. It was an aspect of her she had never seen before.

Raven noticed the expression and gave her a sharp-toothed smile that seemed to say: Don't you dare feel so superior, young woman. Just because you've never seen me do something I did before, for Val and for Irene Adler before her.

Valerie, realizing the slight tension reflected in her life-partner's face, smoothed the waves before they had a chance to rise and sat Raven next to Ororo. After the tea was poured and a few pleasantries had been exchanged, she came to the point.

"Ororo, things have not always been easy between us. I guess I don't have to go into what's happened between you and Raven, and I myself was partly responsible for you losing your powers for a time..." She took a deep breath. "Still, we've learned our lessons and tried to move on, and I hope you don't take this in a bad way, so here goes nothing: Would you like to be godmother to our second child?"

Now this was unexpected. Storm was at a loss for words for a while. Certainly it was satisfying that the two women would even consider this, but did she want to accept their offer? Especially in view of how monosyllabic Raven Darkhoelme had been from the moment she had seen her this afternoon?

"I'm flatt--, er, honored you thought of me," she finally said, and added: "How do you feel about it, Raven? Or was it actually your idea? To bury the hatchet?"

"Nothing so cynical," the shape-shifter bristled. "I may not always have been the best of mothers to my children, but I would not use them as some kind of peace-offering. Val feels close enough to you, and hard as it may be to believe, but I do respect you. Since we're now fated to be allies, I have no objection to you, I suppose we may actually become ... friendlier with each other. But since you want to know, yes, I was against asking you at first. But Rogue was so enthused when Val told her of the idea..."

Somehow, that last factor clinched it for Ororo. The new child would also be the brother or sister of Rogue and Kurt, it would be family. "Very well, I'll try to do my best."

Mystique actually appeared glad, or at least relieved. It still would not be easy for her, Storm reflected. Mystique had been part of X-Factor for three years, going on four, since her defection, it still was hard for her to find people who truly accepted she had turned over a new leaf. Too many of Raven Darkhoelme's new superhero 'colleagues' remembered her from the time when she led the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and most had understandable personal reasons for harboring bad feelings against her. That's bound to happen, Ororo thought with a grim smile, when you keep trying to kill everyone who happens to get into the way of your schemes. She for her part was prepared to wipe the slate clean about what Mystique had done or tried to do against her, but there was a snag: Mystique was not one to say she was sorry or to admit there was a problem. She would see that as an admission of weakness. It must have been a lonely life for her for so many years, and with only a handful of people to whom she was prepared to open up. Not for the first time Ororo wondered what it was about Valerie Cooper that had enabled her to penetrate through Raven's defensive walls.

"Rogue is a dear friend," she said at last, "and Kurt is like a brother to me. I really should not have to think twice about becoming their sibling's godmother. If the pastor doesn't object."

The thought amused Raven: "Hmmpf, a goddess as godmother, should be a first for him."

"If there's a problem, you'll still be the unofficial godmother," Val offered placatingly.

That was satisfactory to Ororo, but she still had something to say: "Raven, I know you've always thought you're able to read me like a book. Maybe you are, you have a larger body of experience than Val here and me put together. But I think that over the years I've come to know you a little better than you'd like to admit yourself. I know what it is like to hide inside a shell, even if yours is outwardly different from mine. I don't bear you any ill-will for what you did or tried to do to me in the past, even though I'm probably only aware of half of it..." Ororo observed how Valerie flashed Raven a wicked grin. "I can see why you're not too keen to talk about it, but since no permanent harm is done, I'm willing to let the matter rest. For now. I hope that one day we'll be able to talk like Valerie and I talked a couple of months ago."

After their 'frank exchange of views', the rest of the afternoon went off smoothly. Valerie invited her to stay the night, but Ororo was eager to return home, finish her X-Men chores and then take some time off by herself. Too bad there was not enough time for a vacation to Africa. It was far too long since she had last been to what she still regarded as her real home on the Kenya/Tanzania border. Maybe she should make time in the new year. Well, at least Scott was now in a shape to 'mind the shop' in her absence.

The flight to Westchester gave her time to ponder on this and other matters. It was already quite dark when she arrived at the Mansion. She was not too late, however, for a quick debriefing from the Professor over supper. It was a frugal affair, just the two of them -- most of the other X-Men were still away for the holidays.

Later, when she had just started the dish-washer before going to bed, she was startled by a loud alarm. She quickly walked into the sitting room, saw who was at the patio doors, and switched off the signal. 'Don't worry, Charles,' she replied to the Professor's telepathic query, 'it's only Logan.'

*Oh well,* came Charles Xavier's sleepy answer, *I'll see you in the morning.*

Bright Lady! What am I saying, Ororo thought, 'only Logan'? Ever since Tokyo she had been nervous about her meetings with Logan and secretly felt relieved that there weren't that many of them because he was with the Meddlers.

But if Logan noticed Storm's agitation, he gave no outward indication. Maybe he just was too astonished that he had set off the alarm. "What the hell...?" he growled.

"Rémy will be so pleased," Ororo smiled. During his last visit Gambit had installed a new cutting-edge system, primarily to improve the mansion's security, but with the secondary aim of showing his fellow Meddler just who was the world's leading authority on burglar alarms the next time he picked a lock.

"Oh no," groaned Logan, "the Cajun'll never let me live this down. At least not," he brightened, "until I think of a way to pay him back."

Ororo wondered why Logan had come; she knew that Jean and Scott had taken Abigail to the Greys' home in Annandale for the holidays. And why was he carrying such a big backpack? He usually traveled light, and this thing even had tent poles attached to its sides. Ororo raised an eyebrow at this unaccustomed degree of luxury after she gave him a welcoming hug.

"It's for Amiko, 'Roro," he explained, "I'm takin' her out for a hike in the Great White North. Yukio's droppin' her off here tomorrow." He looked her in the eyes. "Somethin' the matter?"

Ororo managed to regain her composure, and to hold back the question that sprang to her lips: Why didn't she tell me she's coming? As she made small talk with Logan, she actually felt relieved -- if Yukio didn't feel it necessary to tell her, it probably meant that she considered their affair over after all. There was no reason for anxiety around Logan, and it was practically like old times when they sat down with some mulled wine. Wolvie of course also had a whiskey chaser.

Still, Storm remained a little preoccupied. It was all for the best that Yukio decided that what had happened was no more than a one-night fling, she thought. She had been unable to tell her that back in Tokyo and ever since, this was one thing she was glad she did not have to tell Yukio herself now.

After finishing his drinks, Logan lit up a cigarette. Ororo looked at him in mild disapproval. "You know Hank hates it when people smoke in here. And how persistent the smell of stale smoke can be..."

"Don't worry, darlin', I promised him 'no tobacco in the Mansion', an' I'm stickin' to that." He grinned as her eyes widened. "Yup, Hank should be glad, it's a medicinal herb. And very relaxin'. Judgin' by the way ya jumped when I came in, I'd say you could use some yourself."

Ororo could not let that effrontery pass, and her light fingers snatched the joint from his lips. She took a few puffs, "Maybe you're right, old friend."


Yukio was even more eager than the last time. No sooner had Logan passed from sight than she said: "C'mon, wind-rider, let's adjourn to your loft, I want to see what it's like in a bed with you!"

Storm readily took up her suggestion and together they raced to the attic. They locked the door and in a twinkling of an eye they tore off their (and each other's) clothes. Yukio's pupils were dilated with desire and Ororo's heartbeat was racing as if it was trying to outrace the Blackbird. The first time their lips touched was an electric moment. Hands gripped soft flesh, tongues took in each other's taste. Yukio's smelled alluringly of sandalwood and cloves. Ororo renewed her acquaintance with the sensitive buds of the other woman's breasts, blazing a trail through the thicket that hid her sex, while Yukio was doing the same to her. Oh the ecstasy, oh the bliss, oh the closeness of her lover! How could she ever have considered to let Yukio go?

"I love you." There, she finally said it.

"And I love you, Ororo," came the answer, "I'm so glad you told me at last."

The wind-rider was happy and now concentrated on bringing her lover to her climax.

"Yes!" Yukio moaned huskily, "oh this is wonderful, oh ... Goddess!" Goddess? "More! Oh Ororo, I'd missed you so ... oh, hi Logan."

Storm froze and turned around. There was Logan, as large as life, leaning against the doorframe. He was smiling broadly, with an expression that showed how aroused he was by the sight before him.

Ororo blushed and stuttered: "Logan, I am so sorry that th-this is the way... I didn't mean to ... I know this has been a b-bad year in your ... er, love-life ... a-and you're my friend, but..."

Wolverine coolly raised his hand and silenced her. "Don't worry yer pretty li'l head, darlin', that's just yer super-ego talkin'. It doesn't worry me none. Just go with the flow, 'Roro."

"Yes, he's right," Yukio added, "just remember: Two's company, three is caramel sundae. So are you joining us, Wolvie?"

"I'm right on to ya, darlin'," the Canadian mutant said, quickly dropping his blue jeans. He was gloriously rampant.

"Oh Wolverine, I can't tell you how relieved I am," Storm heard herself say. "This must be the best way there is of welcoming the new year!"

Her love-making with Yukio had already prepared her body, and with no preliminaries he entered her. Ororo felt like being deliciously cloven in two. She luxuriated in the sensation of his hot, hard fingers sinking into the soft flesh of her breasts, all the while continuing to pleasure Yukio. Still, there was a nagging doubt at the back of her mind. Why was Yukio speaking only in English, and so fluently? Why had she called out to the Goddess? And ... "Wait a minute Logan, you were supposed to go out hiking with Amiko. Why are you here now? Where did you leave her?"

"What are you talkin' about, 'Ro? Amiko's back in Tokyo with..."

Yukio. Amiko's living with Yukio. In frustration Ororo shook her head and reluctantly dragged open her eyelids. It was all just an absurd dream. A mix of her anxiety over her conflicting feelings for Yukio and Logan with the over-sexed fantasies of her id. So that was why Wolverine was so tall and well endowed -- why hadn't she noticed that at once? After all, it was one of the constants of being an X-Man: You did not have to wait long to know exactly what your teammates looked like naked. There would always be monsters and villains to tear off clothing, teleport it away, dissolve it in acid, burn it or get rid of it in some other creative way. Despondently, Ororo buried her face in her pillow. She would still have to go through the meeting in the morning...

"But thou wouldst have it happen so, wouldst not?" came a kind voice from behind her.

Ororo turned around. She was sure she had never seen the supernal woman face to face before, but she nonetheless seemed familiar. Storm did not need to be told who this was. The heavy breasts, the immense hips, the protruding pregnant belly spoke their tale. This was a body that was not going to be affected by the transient ideals of beauty of Western society at the end of the twentieth century; it radiated desirability and power in an arcane and archaic way. But although her eyesight was as sharp as ever -- she could make out the smallest hair and bead of sweat on the dusky, glistening skin -- she was unable to identify the face. That remained inexplicably imperceptible, and not just because of the aura of bright light that encased the whole figure. Ororo had seen images of her, carved from stone or mammoth tusks, yet she also war reminded of representations she had seen in the hills of Kenya. Then she noticed another figure at the Goddess's feet: her own body, peacefully asleep.

"Well, young wind-rider, are you satisfied with the life you chose when you left your mother's soil?"

"I'm still convinced I made the right choice then. I won't say that there was no cause for regret. Or that I don't feel homesick for the Serengeti. But if I weren't convinced that what I do now is more important, I'd have returned to Africa for good by now. And there are so many good friends I would never have met had I stayed..."

"Especially one person, methinks..."

"Yukio is very important to me right now," Storm conceded, "but there were others, and there are others..."

"I know. You would have tried to build a life together with the Maker, had he agreed. And before that there was a Kitten who was almost like a daughter to you. And it seems you have strong feelings for your friend Logan..."

The skin of the goddess became very dark indeed, her hair fell into disarray, then rose like flames. Canines grew into fangs, a live snake and a necklace made of severed heads appeared around the neck and filled-out breasts, a girdle of hands ran around the waist. Ororo gasped. She recognized Kali the terrible from the crude brass sculptures she had seen, oh so many years ago in Uganda, on a house altar of a Hindu family who had sheltered her one night on her long trek from Cairo to the Serengeti. At the same time, there was an odd similarity to Mystique, dark-skinned, deadly Raven with her belt of skulls.

Kali laughed at Ororo's dread. She threw back her head, which fell from her neck and was caught by two of the goddess's four hands. But her shape became indistinct again, and when she came into focus she had metamorphosed into a more benign figure, that of mighty Durga, Mother of the World, seated on a lion. Ororo soon lost count of the arms, a dozen seemed to be a realistic estimate, but it was hard to tell because of their continuous movement.

Durga smiled upon Ororo and spoke: "Yes, the Goddess is terrible in her wrath, but so art thou, daughter."

"Yes, but still ... Kali..." Ororo did not feel comfortable after the Goddess had assumed that aspect, even if only for a moment. She shuddered at the thought of some of the things she had heard of the dark goddess: sender of the smallpox, drinker of blood, capable of rages that made Logan's berserker episodes pale in comparison. She knew Kali was no longer worshipped through human sacrifice, that most religions had gone through that phase at one point or other, but in Kali's case that had been so much more recent.

"Humans are obstinate. Once they got the idea into their heads that you win the deities' favor by killing other people, it took centuries to convince them otherwise. And even among worshippers of gods that are supposed to embody love and compassion, there are people to this day who think the best way to please them is to kill a statesman, a doctor who performs abortions or a novelist they think is 'blasphemous'. The difference is they no longer call it a sacrifice today. I can see why you fear Kali, but nevertheless she is an aspect of Me, for I am as old as the world, and not a diluted New Age feelgood deity. And sometimes I am far too 'masculine' for some womyn's tastes..."

Ororo had to smile despite herself when the Goddess briefly changed to Ardhanishvara, half Shiva and half Parvati.

"And some men would consider what you do too masculine," the Goddess added, "leading your team, falling in love with a woman... The people who wanted to excise everything that was male from your body would probably think they were right if they could see you now."

Ororo's blood rushed to her face when Durga referred to that incident. On her long trek south she had once witnessed a ceremony where a number of young girls of the village in which she was staying had to go through the ordeal of what is often euphemistically called female circumcision. She had been horrified, and when the villagers had suggested to her she should have that 'operation' herself, she had panicked... The huge cyclone that followed still sometimes surfaced in her nightmares... They had not deserved to made hopeless, they genuinely believed in what they had been taught by their elders and forefathers, they certainly were no worse, maybe even more friendly and hospitable than the people in the neighboring villages. It had been the first time when the adolescent Storm realized the extent of her powers, and it took years to get over it, even by some miracle nobody had actually been killed.

"For many it is difficult to perceive Uma and Annapurna in her, yet we are all one. Kali is the one that many would forget except in times of direst need. But she is indispensable. Even I could not defeat Raktabija, I had to call Kali forth to do it. But thou knowest whereof I speak -- there is a part of thee that appalls thee but that thou canst not afford to miss. Even though that Ororo broke thy cherished vow not to endanger lives, not to kill..."

Storm cast down her eyes remembering those moments -- the first time she had actually done it consciously was in the duel for the X-Men's freedom and lives, when she unhesitatingly had seized her chance to stab Callisto in the heart. At that time she would have done it even if the Morlocks' Healer had not been there to save Cal's life -- that had been just before she met Yukio.

When she looked up again, she saw the Goddess in yet another form. She had reverted to the normal number of limbs and her lion had been joined by a pair of cooing doves. There also was an eight-rayed star above her that involuntarily reminded Storm of the icon Madelyne had designed for the X-Men during their stay in Australia.

"You're bothered why the goddess of love is also a goddess of war throughout human civilization," Ishtar who is Inanna began, In spite of her naked allure, she was undeniably a warrior holding a very businesslike battle-axe. "What can I say? It was an imperfect world. But mayhap it was akin to your chosen way, where you and your comrades are fighting to make the world a gentle, peaceful place."

"I know it's a paradox if you put it blandly like that," Ororo said a little testily, having been through that particular discussion a few times.

"Don't worry," the Goddess smiled indulgently, "for the Greeks, Harmony was the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares..."

"But isn't that a glib thing to say?" Ororo was a bit put out, the two pigeons were rather distracting, to say nothing of the way Ishtar absentmindedly beat out a tattoo with the fingers of her free hand on her left breast whenever she was listening to her.

"Child, you know the world. What men and women tell of deities is not always necessarily true. If there is a way to live together without violence or the threat of violence, humanity either has not found it or is not ready to embrace it. And maybe that shows that mutants are not a significant evolutionary step forward after all, much as that may disappoint your friends Charles and Magnus. But I've watched you ever since first invoked me, you coped with your responsibilities in the past, and in you is strength to rise to the challenges to come."

Storm remained silent for a while, allowing herself to feel her frustration over the state of affairs.

Seeing her discomfort, the Goddess said: "Ororo, I am only asking you to accept your calling, not to like it. I know of the sorrows of innocence lost and that the life of a fighter is not as glorious as the makers of songs would have it. You know of the fear of total defeat and humiliation, of death, and I have experienced them all when I journeyed to Ereshkigal's realm, expecting never to return."

"Maybe that is not the problem," Ororo replied, "isn't it having to see what happens to others, to enemies, friends and bystanders, because of my choices?"

"True enough. You may do what you think is right and where you're sure that inaction would be wrong and still come to regret it later. I know you've been thinking if it was the right decision to make the world and even your friends believe that you and your comrades were dead when you went to Australia."

Storm nodded silently.

"I won't give you an easy answer on that particular dilemma," the Goddess continued, "but I'll say this: Making mistakes is unavoidable, even if you choose to do nothing. And a life of passive contemplation is simply not in your nature. But enough of this. At the moment, your biggest quandary is not because of your calling, but because of thy feelings for thy friends, is it not?"

Storm nodded silently. She still was in turmoil about the way her friendship to Yukio and that to Logan might evolve.

The Goddess went through another metamorphosis. Apart from a golden girdle she was still naked, but the lines of her face had less of a Middle-Eastern and more of an Eastern African or Southern European look. With her dusky skin she looked rather a lot like Storm herself, except for the dark hair and eyes. Aphrodite smiled mysteriously: "I may not be the right one to consult anyway -- I'm the goddess of love, not of stable relationships. 2000 years ago you would have blamed me for your dilemma, but of course you're totally in charge of your own destiny..."

Ororo felt a rush of heat in her cheeks. She opened her mouth to speak, but thought better of it. No, she was not one to shirk responsibility for her own actions and drop it in the lap of the Goddess. And come to think about it, being around scientists like Charles, Moira and Forge had somewhat eroded her belief in the direct intervention of the divine in everyday life, at least in the sense of it coming from outside. But Storm firmly believed in the divine in every human being. "That's not very helpful," she finally said.

"Fie, what dost expect? All questions answered, all problems solved, the complete epiphany after just one, how do ye call it, toke? In the old days, people had to work hard for their mystic experiences! Bacchae and all that, thou knowest?" The Goddess sat down beside Storm. "Don't fret, little one, thou shalt discover who will accompany thee on they road to ascension."

Storm did not look as confident.

"Now assuming I could be persuaded to take an active hand in the affairs of thy heart, what wouldst have me do? Wouldst prefer not to be in love with fair Yukio?"

There was no hesitation when Ororo violently shook her head.

"Or that Yukio no longer loved Logan?"

Ororo took some time pondering that question, but at last she whispered: "No. I can't pretend that her love for Logan makes her unhappy. It would be selfish of me... Still, it would be nice if Logan..."

"...showed more love for her? Or thee?" Aphrodite wondered aloud. "It is up to thee what ye make of your love and friendship, but not up to thee alone. That is always the risk in matters of the heart. In thee I see the strength that is needed to step back. Or to handle love with Yukio, and aye, mayhap for her and Logan too. The question is, wouldst thou trust them with thy heart as they can trust thee with theirs?"

The Goddess began to fade, metamorphing a few more times before finally settling on the incarnation in which Ororo had first encountered her, all those years ago when she tarried among the Pokut: Seta, consort of Torout, mother of the rain, the moon and the evening star. "Farewell, child, my blessings upon you," were the last words from her lips that Ororo heard.

Storm slumped down and sat on the couch next to her sleeping body. With a mixture of puzzlement and curiosity she looked into her own unconscious face -- and in an instant all went black. When vision returned, she was alone in her bed again. No, wait, Yukio was lying next to her, and beyond her Logan, a lighted cigar in one hand, and his other arm around her shoulders. Both looked quite pleased with themselves, if not totally sated.

"So yer back," said Wolverine in a gruff, but still tender voice. "Wanna pick up where ya left off?"

"You were gone so long, Ororo-chan, we were wondering you wouldn't return," added Yukio, welcoming her with a kiss.

"But I see you thought of something to pass the time," sighed Ororo, rolling her eyes. "This is not real. This is just a stupid dream!"

"Izzat a problem for ya, darlin'?" Logan chuckled.

"Why not make the most of it?" said Yukio.

Yes, why not indeed. At least in her dreams there was no need for her to act responsibly. At least in a fantasy she did not have to worry about one of the three involved being neglected or hurt, which was bound to happen in real life.

"Right," she said, "and since it is my dream, I'm going to start by dreaming you've given up smoking, Logan dear!"


When she really did awake the next morning, Ororo was surprised how vividly she recalled her dream, and in how much detail. She almost wished her conversation with the Goddess had been more than her imagination running wild.

Amiko arrived in a somewhat surly attitude. She complained that she was missing her industrial economics club because Logan wanted to go on a wintry hike in the wild woods with her. "{And next year I'll be starting middle school!" she moaned.

But once Wolverine and Yukio began to kit her out, her mood began to improve. Then she got the rest of the morning off to sleep off her jet-lag. The older ones -- Logan, Yukio and Ororo -- sat down together by the fireplace in the parlor room.

"They're really turning her into a good little robot at that school," Logan said in an annoyed growl.

"{It's what Mariko wanted,}" Yukio answered with an ironic smile. "{You know how much Amiko is determined to honor her memory and heritage.}"

Logan's mood mellowed a little. He possibly was thinking of his own debt of honor to Amiko's mother. "I know, it's the best for her. I only hope 'Miko's attitude improves..."

"No doubt it will," Ororo offered, "she just needed a little sleep. In a day or two she'll be angry because you'll be bringing her back to Japan in a week!"

"{She's already partly detoxed, Logan-chan.}" Yukio gently took his hand. "{You should have heard her when we drove to the airport! She'll be okay, so long as you go easy on the 'good little robot' remarks. She's very serious about her school, so listen to her when she talks about it, or better yet, ask her. It'll make it easier to tell her about what they don't teach at her school.}"

Ororo observed the way Yukio talked with Logan -- it was so obvious how much she loved him. Why could he not return that love with the measure she felt Yukio deserved? Then her own temptation to follow her feelings for the young woman would be easier to resist, Ororo thought. But the way things were now, she could not help being torn between her conflicting desires: to make Logan realize that Yukio was the woman for him, so that Yukio would become happy with him, or to win Yukio for herself. Of course, so far she had not even dared to hint to Yukio that she loved her (at least not in a language she understood).


As Yukio had predicted, Amiko was in a better mood when she woke from her nap. The final preparations went off without a hitch, and they said their good-byes. Logan shouted out: "Don't do anythin' I wouldn't do!", and he set off on his Indian, with his foster daughter in a rickety-looking sidecar. They would ride across the border and continue on foot from there.

"Is there anything you wouldn't do?" Yukio shouted after him, and he laughed raucously. The two women watched as the motorcycle disappeared in the distance and then turned back into the Mansion.

Ororo prepared tea for her friend in her attic. She did it with some elaboration, but apologized for not doing it with the proper ceremony Yukio would expect as a samurai.

Yukio smiled: "{Don't fret, my friend. You know

'The art of tea,
it must be known,
is nothing more
than boiling water,
preparing tea and drinking.'

You're doing fine.}"

They kneeled on the floor and Ororo poured a bowl. Yukio watched and said in a gentle voice: "{Maybe I should be sorry for not warning you I'd be coming, but I wanted it to be a surprise. Apropos, I found out that wasn't Arabic what you said when we were ... together the last time in Tokyo.}"

"{Really?}" said Ororo nonchalantly, but with a wary smile (secretly glad that she had not spilled the tea).

"{Yes, really}," Yukio chuckled. "{I finally went to a foreign-language bookshop to get a Swahili dictionary. Imagine my surprise when I found out what you really said...}"

Well, the cat was out of the bag, Ororo thought, not knowing what to say to that.

Yukio leaned forward and tenderly put her hand on Ororo's knee. "{Why didn't you just tell me you loved me, mpenzi? Would it have been so terrible to admit it? I would have thought how we feel was obvious from what we did that night.}"

Ororo laid her head in Yukio's lap, open, defenseless. "{Oh Yukio, what I said is as true as it was then -- I loved you as my friend before, now I love you as a lover. And I will always love you. You reawakened a part of my heart that I had feared had died. But then as now, there is no future, there can be no 'we'. You love Logan with all your heart, that is obvious. You'll never give up on him.}"

"{So what's to stop the three of us from being happy?}" Yukio, refused to acknowledge there was a problem. "{Mariko was happy with me as Logan's other woman, he should be able to handle us both.}"

Like in my ganja-induced fantasies, Ororo wryly thought. She did not believe what Yukio said about Mariko was strictly true, but she let it slide. The young aristocrat may not have been as sanguine as all that, but she had been wise enough to know how much change she could and could not expect from Logan. "{Yukio, part of me wants you to find the happiness you deserve with Logan, but the other half wants you all to myself. There is bound to be trouble before long -- three persons won't go into one relationship. They say that a relationship's potential for trouble is proportional to the square of the number of people involved -- that is probably a conservative estimate.}" She paused for a moment. Of course, now she needed some good examples to illustrate her point, she could not think of any. "{Well, perhaps it did work out for Doctor Strange, but then Clea is not exactly of this Earth.}"

Since Yukio had never met the Sorcerer Supreme, Ororo found herself sidetracked into explaining what she understood (from her infrequent meetings) of Stephen Strange's unconventional family life with the writer Morgana Blessing, the extradimensional demigoddess Clea, and their two children. Not that it helped her efforts one bit.

"{Look, Ro-chan, this Clea may be out of this world, but you're more of this world than anyone else. Your direct line to Ji-ten sets you apart from the rest of humanity, but it should have taught you that monogamy is an ideal. It has been espoused by some of the societies you have encountered on your wanderings, but it is not the only conceivable one. Me, I don't care if it goes completely against human nature or if it may actually work out in a few rare exceptions. I could die any day, so I take what I can get out of life.}"

"{Once again I envy you your ability to see life the way you do, Yukio-chan.}" Storm's arms went behind Yukio's back and she now lay with her cheek against the young ronin's stomach and she fell silent.

"{Oh, don't be such a pessimist, Ororo-chan, we'll muddle through.}" Yukio gently stroked Storm's silky hair. "{In case you haven't noticed, I love you too. Shouldn't that be the thing that counts? Do you think my heart isn't big enough for both of you? Deities really should be above petty jealousy and all that, shouldn't they, my kaze-no-megami?}"

Ororo smiled wistfully at that allusion to her 'godhood'. "{Still, there is Logan's feelings to consider. I don't want to cause you any trouble with him. Or cause him additional pain after Jean...}"

"{You fret too much, Ro-chan. I already told him.}" Yukio actually giggled at Ororo's reaction.

Ororo eventually overcame her astonishment and sputtered: "Logan already knows about us? But why didn't he tell--}"

"{Because...}" Yukio began the answer, but Ororo completed it: "{...I didn't ask him. That man..!}" But she had to smile. "{Well, he deserved that chuckle, even at my expense. You should have seen my face when he told me you were coming!}"

Yukio kissed her on the cheek. "{I knew you can see the funny side of it.}"

"{But did he say anything to you when you...?}"

"{He said that it would probably be better if I found someone like me as my steady sweetheart and stopped hoping for a future for him and me.}" She sighed melodramatically. "{Why do I always fall for the screwed-up ones? You and Logan are great in the sack and I love you both to bits, but you do have a singular talent to make your life more complicated than it need be...}"

"{I guess if it was in Jean's and Scott's nature to be as willing to share as you are, it would be an ideal world for him. Well, you have to admit, Yuki-chan, your hopes of Logan settling down with you after all these years are a tad ... unrealistic?}" Ororo kissed her friend on the mouth. "{And don't they contradict what you just said about living for the moment and all that?}"

"That is so not true! {It is you two who are unrealistic. Logan should stop mooning over unattainable ones like Jean, and wake up and smell the sake! But at least he knows how to accept an existing situation.}" But her mysterious smile made Ororo wonder how serious Yukio was about what she said,. "{With you I'm not so sure,}" Yukio went on, "{you're one of the bravest women I know, but why do you insist on seeing things so pessimistically? Lucky for you I'm such a patient one}"

They hugged closely and in silence for a time. Maybe she herself should learn to live with her own contradictions, Ororo thought, learn to define a relationship that suited her needs instead of hurting herself to suit an abstract idea of what a relationship should be. Besides, there was no 'clean' solution. Other than separation. But her body was clearly telling her it was not an option. And telling Yukio that she desired her. Finally Ororo broke her silence. "{I'm just so happy you're here, my love. And you know what? I no longer feel like worrying about one of us becoming jealous of the other two in the far future. Life is too short to shy away from risks...}"

"{That's my wild Storm,}" purred Yukio with brightening eyes, "{it's great to see that edge of yours again.}" And behind her back, a hand furtively wormed its way under her clothes.


Daniel Ormathroyd, Manchester city official stood back and smiled broadly as the couple whose wedding he had just performed, kissed and then posed for pictures. Although he had officiated at many weddings this year (the day of the solar eclipse and 9th September had been exceptionally busy), the one of Katherine Pryde and Peter Wisdom would stick in the mind. It was not every day that celebrities of this caliber came to exchange their vows in the city hall's wedding room. The fact that they managed to do it without the media getting wind of it was perhaps even more remarkable than the looks of the best man and matron of honor, Excalibur's Nightcrawler and the X-Men's Storm. Or the bride's pet dragon.

Meggan Braddock took care of the glass shards as Peter and Katherine Pryde Wisdom posed before their friends' cameras: 'signing' the dummy register, kissing chastely (for them), standing in groups of varying sizes -- by themselves, with the best man, matron of honor and bridesmaid, and with the few attending relatives. Kitty's father, Carmen Pryde, who lived in a witness protection scheme, was absent, and Pete's cantankerous old father had refused to come, so there was only his sister Romany, Kitty's mother and a handful of other relatives.

The bride looked lovely in a cobalt blue silk gown with matching veil. In honor of the occasion she was wearing a golden 'goose-throat' necklace inherited from her mother's side of the family, and a bracelet from her father's, and in deference to tradition she had put on a veil. Pete Wisdom was uncommonly elegant in black tails (complete with an elaborate floral buttonhole arrangement). Even his face looked unfamiliar -- his normally unruly hair was cut short and rigorously combed, and he was so clean-shaven that Logan had feigned surprise that his cheeks and jawline were not covered in scars. Ororo wore a peach-colored dress, and Illyana, the bridesmaid (or 'best woman', as Kitty had jokingly called her) was all in lilac, which actually went well with Lockheed sitting on her shoulder. Her new hairdo made her look a bit like Princess Leia.

After the ceremony was over, the members and guests of the wedding adjourned to the Ditchley Arms for a small informal dinner. It was a cozy gathering in the club bar, with only a handful of relatives sprinkled among the bride and groom's current and former teammates, superhero friends and associates.

Storm sat at the central table with the couple, Kurt, Teri Lieberman (Kitty's mother had reverted to her maiden name after the divorce), and the groom's sister, Romany Wisdom. Kitty was radiant and her mother at any rate gave no visible indication of displeasure with her choice of husband. She listened as Romany gave Kurt tips on how to improve the Feng Shui rating of little Errol's nursery, battling against the interference from her brother's little barbs about "all that 'eathen mumbo-jumbo". Behind her back, Ororo heard Sam and Roberto (Illyana had dragged him along as her date for the day) reminiscing about Kitty Pryde's times with the New Mutants, while on the table to her right, Stevie Hunter was chatting amiably with Kitty's current ballet instructor, Tony Bannister.

Ororo and Romany had the vegetarian option, a curry, which was also Katherine's choice because it was more spicy than the turbot or the partridge. Over their meal, Kitty and Ororo talked about their upcoming travel plans.

"I had originally suggested we go to Paris on our honeymoon -- you know, we coulda gone to the museums all day and to some quaint bistros all night, where Petey could have smoked Gauloises to his heart's content. But with the current unpleasantness over le beef Anglais, he went all patriotic on me and said he didn't want to go to France after all." Kitty shrugged her shoulders with a smile. "Ah well, we've been to Paris before, so it's no big deal. Anyway, we decided to go to Holland instead. Museums, a good ballet company and," she lowered her voice with a grin, "maybe I can get Pete to switch from tobacco to something else."

Ororo luckily had just finished her drink when she heard that remark. Once Kitty let her get a word in edgewise, she told of her plans for the twice-postponed trip to East Africa. Kitty had already grilled her about her recent history with Yukio shortly after her arrival. She had met Yukio on a few occasions -- most notably on her traumatic second visit to Tokyo -- and had invited her to the wedding, but unfortunately Yukio had to cancel at the last minute.

Ms. Lieberman, who wanted to know her daughter's friends better, asked Kurt how he got his codename.

"It was the Professor's idea, I'm afraid," the long-tailed mutant began to explain, "I don't really think much about it, but there you are."

"Well, at least Xavier came up with something better than in Bobby Drake's case," the bridegroom interjected, "you could of been Teleportation Man."

Kurt grinned, showing his disconcerting canines. "My brother Stefan, God grant peace to his soul, sometimes called me Mulo, a vampiric ghost from Roma mythology. Only that sounds a bit silly if you don't speak Romany."

"And especially if you do speak Italian," quipped Kitty.

"When he recruited me, Professor Xavier asked me what codename I'd like, and I said 'Nachtmahr'. But he said there already was someone called Nightmare, so that was out. He changed it to Nightcrawler." Kurt hammed up his sigh. "But I got used to it."

However, he could not continue for the moment of his speech had arrived. He handles it well, Ororo thought and quietly smiled, recalling how halting his English had been when they had first joined the X-Men. In his speech he halted now and then, started to ramble or trail off, but it was all part of the act of a consummate showman. Normally he liked to emulate Flynn, Fairbanks or Lancaster, but on this occasion he used the shy and stumbling delivery perfected by James Stewart and Hugh Grant to bring over his gentle barbs at the bride and groom. Now why do I think of Hugh Grant, wondered Storm, I don't particularly like the man. Must be because of Kurt's accent -- when he was an X-Man, his pronunciation was pretty close to the American standard, if with traces of German, but after six years in Britain he had really acclimatized.

Later the bride and groom briefly addressed the party. Strange how things work out, Storm reflected. Back when Kitty was with the X-Men, everybody expected her to end up with Peter Rasputin. No one doubted the depth of her feelings, and many thought they complemented each other beautifully -- the outgoing, genius-level intellectual and the sensitive country-born artist. That expectation was not totally unrealistic, it seemed, at least Rachel had known Peter and Kate Rasputin as a happily married couple in her future. But things weren't meant to be in this reality. At a moment of doubt in his relationship with Kitty he met another woman on the Beyonder's planet. She died, but her memory was enough to make Piotr terminate the romance with Kitty, which he achieved in such a clumsy way that it broke Kitty's heart almost beyond repair and alienated most of his teammates. Even I had some very negative feelings against him, even though I knew he was still little more than a boy, and very much out of his depth. Now he's here, sketching the happy couple, but I suspect they're not inconsolable that he's safely with his family in the Savage Land most of the year. Even after they've forgiven him for what he did to Pete.

Then there was Alistaire Stuart, Storm thought, the clean but bumbling chief scientist of the Weird Happenings Organisation. Kitty met him early in Excalibur's life and immediately became smitten with him. Here it was a case of like and like, two brilliant and inquisitive minds. But unfortunately for Kitty, Alistaire simultaneously developed an unrequited attraction for her friend and teammate Rachel Summers, she of the curvaceous body and skin-tight costume. Who knows what might have happened if he had noticed Kitty's less overt attractiveness. Maybe they would have made a happy couple as well as the great professional partnership they proved, maybe not. Instead they both moved on. But now Alistaire has to listen to the quip in Kitty's speech about him ending up with neither her nor Rachel, Ororo chuckled.

And finally there is Peter Wisdom, who at first seemed the most unlikely candidate for Kitty's affection. He certainly has little in common with her first great love, apart from sharing the same first name. But by the time she met him, Kitty was a lot more mature, grown perforce like the survivor of a war. Falling in love unhappily twice, coming close to dying several time and repeatedly experiencing the loss or possibility of loss of loved ones will do that to you, Ororo thought with some regret. Kitty's experience and grown self-confidence enabled her to pierce through the scruffy ex-secret agent's rough and cynical shell, to touch the man within and to let herself be touched by him in turn. When you see them together, you see that they're good for each other. He seems to fulfill her emotional needs in ways none of her friends have been able to before. And from what Kurt and Brian (there he is, joining the toast with a glass of lemonade) told me, Katherine must also have more than a little to give to him; they both said that he used to be a lot more pessimistic and cynical before he got involved with her.

After desserts and coffee, the wedding party relaxed. Guests began to go over to other tables to talk to friends or acquaintances. Teri Lieberman went over to the right to say hello to a couple of Kitty's relations and stayed to listen to Joey Chapman (Romany Wisdom's ex-boyfriend) telling the story of 'Old Roger the cad', the ghost who was supposed to haunt the Ditchley Arms.

Her chair at the central table was taken by Rachel who soon was deep in chat about all aspects of the wedding with Kitty and those sitting nearby, including a play-by-play critique of the stag and hen nights. Reflecting on the latter, Kitty smiled and said: "Well, now I've sworn to forsake all others, I'm sorry I didn't join in that 'party' during our cross-time caper. Just kidding!" Alistaire Stuart, who happened to be passing by at that moment, blushed scarlet when he overheard the reference to that debauch, and Kurt Wagner (now doing the best to be Amanda's faithful husband) also looked a little embarrassed.

Later they were joined by Rogue who came bearing good wishes from Mystique and Valerie Cooper and a set of new photographs of little Hope Ororo Anne and her elder sister Irene.

"We keep meeting on family occasions," Kurt remarked, for Hope's May christening had been the last time he had been together with Rogue and Storm at the same time.

"Well, if we meet more often like this than in fights, ah reckon it's a good thing. Here look, you can see she's got her brother's hair, now that it's grown!" Rogue also made plans with Kurt and Mandy for a short sentimental tour of the city the next day. "Irene Adler used t'live here until the war with her parents, an' she tole me this is where she first met Momma."

She then turned to Kitty. "Have to say, Magnus was a mite surprised you're changin' your name. He thought you'd be doin' the modern thing and keep your old one..."

"What's a girl gonna do? No matter what name I take, someone's liable to find cause to criticize it." Kitty rolled her eyes comically. "If I had stayed Pryde, some joker would be bound to say 'she's keeping her father's name to show she's her own woman'. If we had hyphenated both our names, Pete's pals would have thought it was a condition to inherit Dad's fortune (and he doesn't even have one any more). If I took mom's name, Dad would think I'm siding with her against him. Anyway, I'm only the second generation with the name Pryde (you know Dad shortened it) so it's not that big a deal to change it again. 'Sides, Katherine means 'the pure'; wouldn't you rather be Pure Wisdom than Pure Pride?"

"Just so long as you don't insist on calling any of our kids Norman," said the happy bridegroom, and on that obscure joke the discussion of that subject ended.

As the afternoon turned to evening, the tables were pushed aside to clear the floor. The first dance of course was started by the bride and groom, but soon Kitty and Pete were joined by other pairs -- Sam and Rahne, Kurt and Amanda, Jean and Scott, Rogue and Magneto. Illyana was dragged onto the dance floor by Roberto, who worked hard to overcome her reluctance (most of the little dancing she had done in her life had been during her youth in Limbo, and strictly not for pleasure, at least not her own) and to teach her some moves. And, unexpectedly, Logan suddenly appeared in front of Ororo and said: "Wanna dance, darlin'?"

When they joined the other waltzers, Ororo felt strangely relaxed. But then she had discovered she felt a lot more at ease with him ever since she learned that he knew about her and Yukio. At the moment, all three of them appeared to be as content as they had a right to expect to be with the state of affairs, the Goddess be thanked.

It had taken her a while to realize this really was a relationship on Yukio's terms, one that permitted the youngest member of the triangle to get what she could, to make both her lovers a part of her life and conversely to become a source of strength and stability for them, strange as it was to use the word 'stability' in one sentence with Yukio the wild one. But there also was hope that this life in the fuzzy border area between love and friendship suited the other two partners, and as Storm no longer had to hide her feelings for Yukio from Logan, she felt closer to him once more. Whether this state could endure remained to be seen, but for the moment Ororo felt quietly happy.

"Like yer new hairdo," Logan began.

Ororo acknowledged the compliment with a smile. She had cut her hair short once more not long after Tokyo, and for the wedding Jean had re-styled it into something approaching a vintage bob.

"Puts me in mind o' Josephine Baker," he continued, "did I ever mention I met her durin' the big one, when she was workin' for the Resistance?"

"No, you didn't," her smile broadened. "No one ever asked you, remember? I hope you're not disappointed because I forgot to bring my bananas."

Logan laughed. "That would be a sight!" They concentrated on the dance for a while. Finally he asked: "Enjoyin' the weddin', 'roro?"

"In a strange way, I am," she admitted, "it is a kind of vicarious pleasure, I guess."

"For the likes of us it's bound to be, seein' how unlikely it is goin' to happen to either of us ourselves..."

"Maybe it's for the better." Ororo sighed. "I might as well face it that no one in their right mind would make a lifetime commitment to the woman with the goddess complex." She made light of it, but it rankled. The only ones who really accepted her for what she was were people who -- like Yukio -- did not intend to spending their whole life entirely with her. It seemed only such men and women were not daunted by her special link to the Goddess, did not to mistake it and the way her powers forced her to to keep a tighter rein on her emotions for self-centered arrogance.

Logan smiled sympathetically, but the smile froze on his lips. Ororo's eyes followed his glance and saw that Jean and Scott had just come into his field of vision, happily smiling and gazing into each other's eyes.

"It would never have worked out," she said at last, "you would have been driven to madness trying to pretend that one person would satisfy the entirety of your needs for all of her life, and since Jean is not Mariko, it would be against every fiber of her being to accept that your commitment to her would not be compromised if you could not help indulging the urges you were born with ever so often."

"You think I can't resist anything in a skirt? Thanks a lot!"

"I did not say that, dear friend. As long as I've known you, you never jumped into bed with just anybody. You only got involved with women who can be your friend as well, where you both treat each other as equals. As far as I could tell, there wasn't a plaything or a clinger among them. Your needs are too powerful to resist indefinitely, but you exercise a commendable degree of discernment with whom to indulge them."

An anxious moment passed. Then Logan grinned. "Horny but choosy. I think I can live with that."

"Maybe I really should worry because you never made a pass at me," she quipped. Logan laughed, but Ororo thought she sensed a note of sadness.

"Maybe some other time, darlin'. While there's life there's hope. But apart from dealin' with that disappointment you're okay?"

"It is strange, Logan," she said, "I probably should feel terribly old now that Kitty got married and Rogue is living together with Magneto, but I don't."

"Not really surprisin'," Logan drawled, "seven years ago ya were an ersatz mommy to Kit, an' maybe somethin' similar to Rogue, now they're yer equals and you can feel closer to their age than ya did then."

"While you're always old enough to be everyone's father, including the Professor's." Ororo smiled and Logan grinned right back at her. "Yes, it is hard to believe that this is the same little Kitten who was reduced to tears when I first cut my hair."

"The tears soon gave way to a major sulk, as I recall," said Logan, "at least this time it passed without comment, so maybe she is growin' up after all."

Ororo smiled wistfully as she recalled her ups and downs with the youngest ever X-Man. They had immediately hit it off at their first meeting, when the X-Men sought out the precocious youngster after Cerebro had detected her nascent mutant power. They had immediately become embroiled with the Hellfire Club (the same struggle that tragically culminated in the corruption and death of the original Phoenix) and to the astonishment of all, Kitty Pryde had taken to the life of a superheroine like a duckling to water. During Kitty's first year as an X-Man, Ororo had indeed, as Logan said, fallen into the role of her surrogate mother. This development was advanced by Kitty's distance from her real family, which was not just the geographic distance between New York and Chicago, but also came from the strain of the growing estrangement between her mother and father.

It had not always been easy for Kitty or Ororo. Storm had been surprised by the slight pang of jealousy she felt when Kitty's ballet instructor, Stevie Hunter, immediately became close to the wunderkind X-Man. She had been ashamed of these unworthy feelings and never mentioned them to anyone. At least she soon overcame them. It had been much less of a wrench when Logan slowly had assumed a quasi-fatherly stance with Kitty. Actually, she had perhaps never felt closer to him than during those two years, when she and Logan together oversaw the growth into adulthood of a succession of young X-Men -- Piotr, Kitty, Rogue, Rachel, Alison and Longshot.

Kitty's problems had been different. At first it had been the painful experience that things and, more importantly, people will not stay as they are, no matter how hard she wished them to. After her first great disappointment -- the break-up of her parents' marriage -- she had started to cling to her new family, the X-Men, only to be disappointed by them. Professor Xavier had threatened to separate her from them by transferring her to the New Mutants. By a supreme effort, she had clawed herself back into the 'first team's' ranks, and then was confronted by the deep change in Ororo after their stay in space. When that could no longer be ignored, when Storm had discarded her long flowing hair and cape for a mohawk and studded leather, Kitty had shrunk away from her. It had taken weeks for them to bridge the rift.

But adversity had also made Kitty grow stronger. She was nothing if not resilient and subsequently had bounced back from a lot more serious tests. During her second year as an X-Man more people close to her own age entered the picture to become her closest friends and companions, especially two young women displaced in time, Illyana and Rachel. The quasiparental bond to Ororo and Logan outgrew its usefulness and matured into a more equal kind of friendship. That proved strong enough to overcome the temporary alienation Kitty felt after she learned that the X-Men had faked their own deaths while she was still recuperating from the injuries she had sustained during the Massacre of the Morlocks. And so it was Ororo to whom Kitty had first turned when she needed a maid of honor. They had been together only for two years, but they were some of the most important years in the younger woman's development as a person.

The band -- of course Cat's Laughing had insisted on providing the musical accompaniment -- finished its set. The dancers changed partners or left the floor to be replaced by others (such as Brian and Meggan, back from solving little George's latest nappy crisis). Lockheed put on an impromptu aerobatic display. As Logan asked for and, surprisingly, was granted Jean's second dance, Ororo found herself partnered with Scott. As they circled and turned the length and breadth of the room, Ororo could not help noticing the slight awkwardness of Jean and Logan with each other. They still love each other, a bit, that much is obvious, she thought. Or am I just projecting?

Scott, who noticed where Ororo was looking, said: "I could say a bit, fair lady, but I'm afraid I'd have to give back my membership card to the Brotherhood of Mysterious Hunks."

Ororo smiled. Too bad so many did not take the trouble to get to know Scott and went by first impressions. Such people tended to miss her friend's sense of humor, for instance, for he usually made his remarks with such a deadpan expression that you had to know him really well to be able to tell if it was self-deprecating irony or actually a veiled expression of self-confidence. For although Scott was under no illusion about his own failings, this did not make him too humble not to notice those of others. Which perhaps was one of the reasons why he was such a good combat leader but which, in paradoxical combination with his deeply engrained shyness hampered him a bit in his interpersonal relations with some teammates. Not that this detracted from his attractiveness to the opposite sex -- there indeed his reticent air of mystery sometimes seemed to outdistance the more overt maneuvers of Warren and Rémy quite easily.

"Why, Scott Summers, are you flirting with me?"

Scott chuckled: "Well, with you it's safe now, now that we know you're going steady again. I would have been a lot more careful last year..."

He must know! she thought. Jean must have told him about my lusting after them June last year. Foolish to think I could have hidden it from her...

Scott at first smiled at having hit home, then became serious and said: "No Ororo, I didn't really mean to comment on your private life, but... I don't know what went on, but you seem a lot happier ever since the winter holidays. And a lot less tense."

"Thank you, kind sir," Ororo replied with exaggerated courtesy, "the same goes for you, as a matter of fact." She could not help marvel at the calmness with which he had taken his wife dancing with Logan. If that was Yukio with him I would be a lot more nervous. Of course the difference is that Scott knows Jean no longer keeps seeing Logan, let alone have sex with him, so for him this is a reminder of something that happened in the past, not of something that still went on. She had told Yukio that she wished her well in her relationship with Logan, and she meant it, but being confronted with it directly would not be so easy to deal with.

Scott caught her allusion. "Ah, my goddess, there your humble servant has an unfair advantage, being married to a telepath and all that."

He dipped her with an unexpected elegance that elicited an appreciative look from Kurt, who was tripping the light fantastic with Romany.

The dance ended, the couples left the floor. Ororo noticed Rachel with Alistaire and overheard Kitty chatting to Magneto: "You know the English once thought the waltz was a lewd dance? I saw it in a 19th century cartoon."

"Knowing Logan, he saw it when it was originally printed."

The party continued in a relaxed atmosphere for a few more hours. The more inveterate dancers kept the floor occupied and at one point Kurt -- one of nature's bathroom baritones -- sang Kann denn Liebe Suende sein? and other evergreens along with the band. Others sat down to talk (many of the men taking off their jackets and ties). The bridegroom and a few of the guests left the room for a quick smoke in the saloon bar. When Logan returned he joined Jean and Scott at their table to play with Abigail Summers, his one-year-old daughter, a sight that would have struck Ororo as idyllic had she not been aware that the oldest X-Man's emotional wounds had barely healed.

And then came the moment of saying good-bye. Kitty and Pete would be embarking on their honeymoon the next morning, and now they left for their hotel amidst raucous remarks, especially from some of the more inebriated faction of the wedding guests.

Ororo was pushed to join the gaggle of unmarried women waiting for Kitty to throw her bridal bouquet, but like Teri Lieberman she tried to find a place out of the way. She need not have worried. When the moment came, the trajectory of the flowers was intersected by a russet-furred shadow leaping higher than everybody's outstretched hands.

"Who let that dog in here?" shouted one of the less observant guests, but within seconds the shape of the wolf was replaced by the more attractive one of Rahne Sinclair. The young Scotswoman proudly raised the bouquet above her head and beamed across the room at her sweetheart. She had left her party dress behind on the floor when she metamorphed into a wolf, but she was decent, having quickly donned her Excalibur costume in mid-transformation when she changed back to human.

And shortly after the departure of the bride and groom came the parting of ways for the others. Ororo, who in spite of the exertions of the last two days still was not tired, decided to go for a late evening stroll. Tomorrow she and the other X-Men would be flying back to New York, and then she would soon be handing over things to Scott in preparation for her trip to Africa. With Yukio along for the ride it would be more like a vacation than a quest.

She had to reflect on her conversation with Kitty after the ceremony. When Ororo had explained her complex romantic situation, her friend had blurted out: "But are you happy with this uncertainty?"

Her immediate reply had sounded rather flippant: "Of course I am."

Ororo had then pondered over a second one, which at least succeeded in mollifying the young bride: "We know that life is change, Katherine, and I've decided that in my life with Forge I've tried to become happy by setting up constancy against it and failed. And now for a change I'll try to be happy embracing change."

"Well, weather's changeable, I guess you of all people should be entitled to it," Kitty had said with a sly smile, "but I think you'll forgive me if I don't look forward to dramatic changes in my domestic life with like eagerness. On this of all days."

"No, and I have a feeling that you and Pete will achieve a happy kind of stability together." Ororo had conceded. "But even that might not be without its major changes... do you plan to have children?"

"Um, yes. Not immediately of course. And you? Will you be continuing your mystic lineage at some point?"

"Now that really would constitute some change to my life," Ororo had said half-jokingly, "and one where I'd have to involve someone besides Yukio."

The conversation had then dissolved into laughter and afterwards veered off on a tangent. Now, hours later, Storm returned to this point.

It certainly was expected of her, the scion of a bloodline of priestesses and 'witches' that stretched back at least to Ancient Egypt, where the Goddess was worshipped in her form of Isis. At least according to the New Mutants' account of meeting Ororo's ancestress Ashake during one of their journeys across time.

Of course she was expected to continue the line into the next generation, and maybe that was one of the reasons why she had persisted so long to try to make things work with Forge. Maybe she had subconsciously wished to her heritage to his shamanic one.

Well, maybe she would decide to see about progeny of her own some time in the future. She did not feel an irresistible urge to procreate at the moment.

For now, Yukio took precedence. She had no idear what the Goddess held in store for the two of them, whether they would grow apart or closer, whether Logan (or anyone else) would be involved to a greater extent in their life together. But the past year had reminded her of the side of her own nature that yearned to emulate Yukio's optimistic wildness, and indulging it a little did make her feel happier. Not that she would want to dismiss entirely the possibility of a stable, constant relationship at some point (she still was convinced that that was what both Yukio and Logan would like to settle for with the right partner), but for the present she would await what slowly emerged from the fog of the future not with dread, but the warranted measure of confidence.


Acknowledgments and Production Notes:
Many thanks to Anita Olin, Heather Ferreira and Sigil for their creative input and help with researching this story. Heather and Sigil were of invaluable help with their tips on Japanese usage and culture, helping me to find things where the little dictionaries at my disposal deserted me (needless to say, I don't actually speak the language). The errors are of course mine. Anita, among other things, helped me to research deities, adding to the information that I found in Manfred Lurker: Lexikon der Goetter und Daemonen (2nd ed., Stuttgart 1989); Patricia Monaghan: The Book of Goddesses and Heroines (1991), and a few other places.
As far as Ororo's spiritual home in East Africa goes, I must confess the search was a bit of a disappointment. East African mythologies are a lot less well documented than those of West Africa, which were after all in part transplanted to the New World (Voodoo, Macumba etc.). If it had not been for Anita, I would not have found a single goddess associated with the Kenya/Uganda/Tanzania region who could remotely be equated with the 'Bright Lady' whom Storm invokes. Indeed, what I read about the religious and social practices about the region seems to make it a rather unlikely setting for a matriarchal religion -- of the most well-known peoples of the area, the Masai rigidly separate the sexes in their youth, and the Kikuyu practice(d) 'female circumcision'. (And on her way south from Egypt Storm probably came through some of the parts of the Sudan where female genital mutilation is still practiced in its most extreme forms). So it may be no coincidence that when I looked in several English-Swahili and German-Swahili dictionaries, I could find no word for 'goddess' (even though part of the reason may be that Bantu languages unlike most Indo-European ones do not distinguish grammatical genders, but divide nouns into several classes (persons, plants, animals, abstracts etc.)).
So I had to 'jazz things up' a bit in Storm's dream, equating her Goddess with various mother goddesses from Ancient Egypt (home of Ororo's earliest known ancestress, Ashake (New Mutants # 32)) to Greece and India. Since antiquity they have frequently been equated with one another, they were often rooted in a common earlier form or they influenced the perception of existing goddesses. The way I portrayed Aphrodite may seem a little unfamiliar, but her image has been reshaped quite a bit over the millennia, in particular after she became amalgamated with her more 'innocuous' Roman cousin Venus. Few remember that Aphrodite's statue wore armor in Sparta, or that one of her epithets was Androphonos, the 'man-killer'. I gave her a dark appearance keeping in mind another of her names, Melainis 'the black'. Yukio, by the way, equates Storm's Bright Lady with Ji-ten, an Earth-goddess who originated from the Vedic religion in India (her Sanskrit name is Prithivi-devi) and was 'imported' to Japan as one of the twelve devas (Juni-ten) in charge of the protection of Buddhism.
I gave Charles Xavier Walloon and Dutch ancestors because that would take Marvel's account of the history of the X-Mansion to its logical conclusion, placing Professor X's forefathers among the first white settlers in the area. I also thought it would be fun to give his first named ancestor a name that has twice the number of x's. In case you're wondering, Xhonneux is pronounced with the 'x's' (but not the 'h') silent.
Oh Lord, It's Hard to Be Humble is by Mac Davis. Gypsy is by Suzanne Vega. The poem about the art of tea is by the famed tea-master Sen no Rikyu (1521-1591), whose birth-name, by the way, was Yoshiro Tanaka, so maybe he was a distant relation of Bobby Drake's former girlfriend. ;-) I found the poem in German translation in Franziska Ehmcke: Der japanische Tee-Weg (Cologne 1991).

Title and Chapter Headings:
According to some lists translating, of all things, the names of Japanese destroyers during World War 2, oboro is a poetic word meaning 'misty moon', 'haziness diffusing moonlight' or 'mist veil through which only a shade of the moon is visible'. The chapter headings, taken from the same lists, are: hatsuharu 'spring rains'; yukaze: 'evening wind'; miyuki: 'deep snow' and ariake: 'dawn, but still the moon remains in the sky' or 'dawn twilight'. Owari means 'end'.

Should you keep track of the Twilight Menshevik timeline, Oboro begins in June 1998, and the story follows on the break-up between Ororo and Forge that was briefly foreshadowed in Lights in the Dark, as well as on Mystique and Valerie Cooper's decision to have another baby in that story. Miyuki happens in the last week of December 1998 and Ariake in the autumn of 1999, after Valentine Allsorts (February 14th, 1999), which looked in on Storm, and where Kitty and Pete decide to get hitched. Rogue's mentioning Destiny's and Mystique's meeting in Manchester (Ariake) is an allusion to events related by Mystique in Message to a Grandchild.

Copyright notice:
Most characters and concepts of this story are copyright and trademark of Marvel Comics Group; Baby's Lullabuy is from The Simpsons (Twentieth Century Fox), Roger Ditchley is from the comic strip The Fosdyke Saga, the copyright is either by its creator Bill Tidy and/or the Daily Mirror Group; Cat's Laughing belong to themselves, and the registry official was named after Pete Postlethwaite's character in Mark Herman's film Brassed Off (copyright Channel Four Corporation). Tony Bannister, George Braddock, Hope and Irene Cooper, The Meddlers, Daniel Ormathroyd, Amanda Sefton (Jimaine Szardos Wagner), Abigail Summers, Errol Wagner, Peter Paul Xavier, Cornelius Adriaanszoon Xhonneux are mine.


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