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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.
Fourth Thursday of November belongs to the continuing series, the Tales of the Twilight Menshevik and is set in the alternate future of The Days of Future Twilight. It comes after Getting to Know You and is set ten years before The Survivor Has a Different Kind of Scar.
You can find the other Tales archived on "Fonts of Wisdom," "Down-Home Charm," "MissyRedX: The Average Website," "Queen of Hearts," and "X-Men Slash Central."

It was a cold but bright November noon. A golden autumn sun flooded through the windows of Washington's National Airport. Among the crowd walking through the terminal from the 12:55 from La Guardia was a couple of women. The taller of the two, a willowy beauty with wavy brown hair, drew looks from many of the bystanders. Almost immediately she was accosted by a young man: "Hey, aren't you Marygay Parker?" The young actress, one of the former stars of the cult television series Ms. Plaiced, yielded to the inevitable, exchanged a few words with the fan standing behind them in the line at the ticket machine, and finally signed the air sickness bag he had with him.

The young fan did not pay much attention to Marygay Parker's traveling companion -- she was not slender enough for his liking, and she had dyed her hair in a shade of dark crimson that he found unappealing. He did not even notice that she had only four fingers and thumbs on each hand. For a moment he wondered if the young woman might be his idol's new lover, but he dismissed the thought. She looked nothing like Ms. Parker's former girlfriends. Nice tits, though.

After they sat down in their Metro train, Marygay grinned: "And to think, my tigress, that soon you'll be handing out autographs too, once the media get hold of us moving together?"

"Gosh golly-gee, Emjee, it's just what I've been waiting for all my life!"

As yet, the gossip media had not caught on to the fact that Marygay Parker and Hope Cooper were in love. Even some of their co-workers at the recently closed New York production of Mourning Becomes Electra had only slowly caught on to the rapidly growing intimacy between the female lead of the play and the up and coming costume designer. And none of them knew that their partnership extended to an area quite outside romance, that they secretly had become the crime-fighting duo of Arachne and the Sling.

"It'll be such a novel experience for me too," Hope added, "seeing that I have so little experience of living with the media..."

Marygay grew thoughtful. "I guess you actually got a bit of that... You never thought Mystique was anything other than a famous superhero." Marygay did not have to add: Like I thought my father was nothing but a scientist.

Through no fault of her own, Hope had attracted journalistic attention since she was born. As she was a daughter of the Federal government's superpowers czar and a bona fide superheroine (and former villain), it would have been strange if that had not happened. Even not considering that many regarded the very existence of Hope and her sister Irene as a medical sensation -- their father after all was a woman with the mutant ability to change her body into any human shape, including that of a fully functioning male. Compared to Hope, Marygay had aroused very little media interest before she graduated from high school and decided to become an actress like her mother, Mary Jane Watson-Parker.

"At least my folks managed to shield me and the twins most of the time when we were little," Marygay mused. "Guess dad hadn't foreseen he'd be using his special talents to snoop out paparazzi and, er, neutralize them." Peter Parker's Spider-senses allowed him to detect hidden observers a lot of the time, and in persistent cases it helped if Spider-Man 'happened' to come along and get in an argument with an intrusive photographer, which ended with him webbing up the equipment or the offenders themselves.

"It was quite bad ten or even five years ago," said Hope. "After Kurt and Rogue died, we were pretty much under constant surveillance. And when Irene joined Factor X, everybody expected me to follow in the family tradition. Took me years to finally convince them I had no superpowers." A casual observer would have missed the hint of satisfaction in her smile.

"What was it like until ... that day?"

Hope's expression mellowed and grew dreamy. "Oh, it was a sprot. You know how kids love to brag about their folks among friends... 'Rene and I had something new and sensational to tell about our moms, our brother or our sister nearly every week. And Kurt and Rogue were great with us. Kurt taught us acrobatics, and they'd both take us on these awesome camping trips ... Rogue always gave us rides through the air. You know, that is one superpower I'm really sorry I don't have, being able to fly..."

Marygay silently held her partner's hand.

"Well, you're about to meet my folks, so you can get a second opinion from my big sister," added Hope.

"Assuming they have to take a break between their questions to me?"

Hope playfully smacked Marygay on the upper arm. "Geddouddahere! This is the 'twenties. They won't grill you -- much." Suddenly a thought occurred to her. "Do you think your parents will put me to the third degree come Christmas?"

"I wish I could say 'no' with confidence," said Marygay, "but you know how it is."

When Hope fell in love with Marygay and discovered that she secretly was a superheroine, it was not hard for her to draw a few conclusions. Arachne's powers and costume were after all very similar to those of Spider-Man, who had first made headlines at the time when Peter and Mary Jane Parker were in high school. And it was no secret that a lot of the pictures dating from that time were by Peter Parker, who had an uncanny knack to come up with action shots of the web-slinger where other news photographers (even the legendary Phil Seldon) came up empty-handed. And the somewhat nervous look Professor Parker had given her when they briefly met on the final night of Mourning clinched it. It helped explain Marygay's caution and her insistence that Hope took the greatest care to keep her new double life a secret.

"You really got it made with your parents," Marygay added. "Not having to worry about what ramifications your extracurricular activities might have on them, no reason to feel anxious about telling them about your sexual preferences..."

"Of course at the time I was pretty annoyed about them wanting me to be prepared for everything in case I decided to go into that kind of career, the badgering that I should take more self-defense classes, getting Forge to make those gloves with the prosthetic pinkies. But it turned out for the best." Hope screwed up her eyes. "Still, there was that ultra-tension from Mommy Val when I had to tell her I was chucking law. Anyway, was it really that bad for you?"

"Actually, no. A bit disappointing, really. They did not even act as surprised as I expected them to. But even if it was for nothing, I had worried before I told them." Marygay's half-frown dissolved. "No, they're great folks. You'll love them."

Now they came around the corner and entered 30th Street.

"Home again, home again, jiggedy-jig!" said Hope with a wink. "Welcome to the old neighborhood, m'dear."

As they walked along the sidewalk, Marygay saw that quite a few of the locals recognized her companion in spite of her recently dyed hair. Some of them smiled, and an old lady stepped in their way to chat a little with 'young Hopey'.

"Well, Factor X has been based here for almost thirty years," Hope explained afterwards. "People in this neighborhood have gotten used to us. And those that haven't -- moved elsewhere years ago."

They reached their destination, a 19th century brownstone house. It was dwarfed by the high-rise building next door, Factor X's city headquarters. They stood before the black front door. "It's omnium steel under the wood," Hope explained. "If you're feeling a slight discomfort, that's 'cause we're being screened by a dozen electronic devices." Marygay gave her a tight-lipped smile.

Shortly after Hope pressed the doorbell they heard a bright voice (not quite muffled by the thick door) calling out: "I'll get it!" The door opened, and there stood a tall, athletic-looking woman with a broad smile on her blue face. "You made it," she said. "Hello, you must be Marygay. Pleased to meet you. Welcome to the Cooper abode."

"Yup, I am she," said Marygay as Hope's sister enthusiastically shook her hand, "and you're Irene Cooper-Marks. Well, congrats on your election!"

The new District Attorney of Lane County bowed in acknowledgment, then turned to Hope and they exchanged a couple of kisses on the cheeks: "Hi little sister, long time no see. Like the new hair. What do you call the shade -- black cherry?"

Outside it was a well-maintained 19th-century town house, the inside belonged to the 20th century. The first thing that caught Marygay's eyes when she entered was an elegant art nouveau clothes-stand, an elegant assembly of flowing lines made of polished walnut wood. Nearby were a large art nouveau mirror and an art déco dressing-table. Walls of the corridor and in the staircase were decorated with framed prints and paintings of places where members of the family had lived for a time -- Marygay recognized a Frans Masereel woodcut of Hamburg -- some of the pictures were originals, some reproductions. She was interrupted in the inspection of her new surroundings when another woman came down the stairs into the hall. At first glance, she looked like a darker version of Irene, with midnight blue skin and dark red hair in the place of her older daughter's azure and strawberry blond. But Mystique's eyes outweighed the similarities: two featureless golden spheres that showed that the saying that eyes are the windows to the soul did not apply to everyone.

After welcomes and greetings were exchanged, Irene bundled Marygay off and led her up two flights of stairs. "You two'll be staying in Hope's room, the bed's big enough," she said as she plopped down Marygay's and Hope's bags at the foot of the bed.

"I guess a lot of the furniture and décor is still from Hope's high-school days, right?" Marygay observed. "I know her for less than a year, but it does have her look about it ..."

"Only you can actually see the floor?" Irene quipped, and Marygay giggled, even if she felt a tiny bit disloyal to her lover.

"But you're right," Irene said, "Hope doesn't stay here all that often, and so she didn't make many changes after she moved out. And our parents' leave the room alone. Mostly."

Marygay looked around and homed in on the framed picture above the bed's headboard. That looked a bit out of place. An oil painting in a realistic style that reminded her somewhat of Picasso's Pink Period. It did not fit in with what Marygay knew of Hope's more radical artistic proclivities. It depicted a blonde woman breast-feeding her baby. Recognizing the light blue fuzz on the infant's head and counting the fingers, she realized that she was looking at a picture of Valerie Cooper with an infant Hope, and the signature "n.p. 1999" clinched it.

Irene noticed where the guest was looking. "Yes, that actually belongs to Mama, er, Raven. When Hope and Mommy Val weren't talking much with each other Mama put this here 'as a reminder'. And it's a lovely painting, a Piotr Rasputin. Well, that should be enough for the first look at the room, let's go downstairs and I'll introduce you to Ed and Louise."

They went down one flight of stairs to the nursery that Valerie and Raven had fixed up for their grandchild. In that cheerful room, Edward Marks was playing with his daughter. He was dark blond and slightly sallow-skinned man with an athletic build. Through the imponderables of genetics, little Louise bore a strong resemblance to her paternal grandmother, the redoubtable Rosalia Vega Marks Cho. Her skin was a light café au lait, with only a suggestion of her mother's blue.

"Here we are, Edoardo," Irene said, "this is Hope's young lady, Marygay."

Mystique and Hope walked out to the terrace in the back; it was still cold enough to make Hope glad that she had not taken off her coat. Raven Darkhölme said -- without preliminaries: "I'm pregnant, dear. With Rogue and Magnus's child."

After what seemed like a long, stunned silence, Hope sputtered: "You're WHAT??? How...? I didn't know they... How did you get Mommy to ...? please tell me she knows about this!"

"I didn't tell her until after the fact, if that's what you're driving at," Raven replied, "And yes, I feel bad about that. But Valerie knows."

"What did she say? And how did you do it?" The bewildered young woman was undecided what question she wanted answered first.

"Rogue and Magneto could not have children the normal way," said Raven, "they tried, but the voluntary control of her power could not alter the inside of her womb. They considered having a child by a surrogate mother and they fertilized a few of her eggs. But then they changed their mind, I don't know why. The ova were deep-frozen and put into storage in the Muir Island research centre. I had no idea until Effie McCoy mentioned it in passing about a year ago."

"How did she know?"

"She's helping Rahne Guthrie go through Moira MacTaggert's papers and computer files. Because they also touch on her own father's work, and she's more scientifically inclined than Wolfsbane."

"And after you heard about those embryos, you could not wait to get your hands on them, Mama. And you 'liberated' them without bothering to ask..."

"Well, yes." Mystique said somewhat defensively. "They probably would have refused. It took a while to prepare, but it ran off without a hitch. After I had them implanted, I told Val..." She lowered her voice, as they still were not out of hearing of the kitchen window. "To tell you the truth, she didn't take it so well. She hid it, but she was fuming underneath, and then she went into another Brian Wilson binge."

Valerie Cooper's predilection for that composer had a way of coming to the fore in times when she felt down. Both Raven and Hope well remembered the last time when Val seemed to play nothing but his more wistful songs, performed by the Beach Boys, in solo recordings, in a trio with his daughters, or by various other performers. It had been when relations between Val and her younger daughter reached their low point and Val did not want to admit how unhappy she felt. Hope winced: "In My Room and God Only Knows all day, right?"

"Yes, The Warmth of the Sun, Caroline No, and all that ... Maybe it would have been better if I had talked to her first. But we'll work it out somehow, we generally do ... But how do you feel about it?"

Hope took a deep breath: "Surprised more than anything ... I think."

From the kitchen Irene watched the two women promenading across the lawn. She had come downstairs to help her mother prepare the Thanksgiving dinner. Turning away from the window, she said: "So, Mommy, how are bearing up with all this?"

Valerie Cooper suddenly looked older. "I manage," she said at last. At the silent urging of her daughter she finally yielded some more information: "When Raven first told me she had Rogue and Magnus' embryos implanted, I was livid. But I think I kept it from her. No offense, dear, but I had counted on being able to relax and enjoy myself more now that you and Hope have homes of your own. Having to start raising a child all over again made my heart sink." Valerie had finished with the pie and wiped her hands. "It's different with grandchildren, I can enjoy being with Louise a lot more because I know the visit will end. And you're beginning to find out yourself how much work a child can be."

"It's not going to start getting easier any time soon, is it?" Irene asked with a smile after she had examined the state of the catfish enchiladas.

Valerie gave her a wicked grin and shook her head. Then she continued: "I also was angry at Raven because she didn't told me about it until after she had gone and done it."

"And if she had asked you, would you have consented?" Irene could not help interrupting.

"Well, probably not," replied her mother with a smile that combined an impish self-irony and resigned weariness in an incongruous fashion. She waited as Irene gingerly checked the thermometer in the turkey. "Thank you, my learned counsel for the defense. But she still made me feel left out, and that hurt. Even if you can rationalize it saying that I might have said No or even tried to prevent her from doing it."

She sighed. "And you know I'm not getting any younger, while Raven never gets any older. I probably should be happy that she wants to raise children with me again..."

"It is a ... weird situation, Mommy."

"In this family the uncommon is the norm. God, I've been living with Ray for almost three decades now, longer than anyone she's been with, and she still managed to surprise me. I guess there's no telling what goes on in another person's head no matter how long you know them..."

Wordlessly, Irene embraced her mother. After they broke apart, Valerie straightened up again. She wiped her eye and took a deep breath: "Well, it was good to get that off my chest. Thanks for listening, sweetie. But remember: not a word to Mama."

"You're not going to tell her how you feel? Or are you waiting for the right moment?"

"What good would it do? It's not what I would have done myself, but I know where it came from. I remember what it was like when I first got to really know her. She seemed to be so distant, and so superior, and then I saw her when she thought Rogue went to her death in Dallas."

Irene nodded. She had seen Neal Conan's tape too.

"Seeing how she loved Rogue and Destiny made me realize what she was like when she really loved someone. It was one of the things that drew me to her, before we fell in love ourselves," Val continued. "You know me. I'll learn to accept and love the new situation, so why make it more difficult with recrimination?"

"Life gives you lemons..."

"Well, if you have to reduce it to a cliché..." Valerie laughed. "No, I trust Raven with my life, and that includes my family life. I won't let go of her. I may yet tell her that I wish she had said something to me beforehand, but that is all. I loved Rogue too, in my way, and I miss her. I can honestly say I'm glad that she'll live on in this unexpected child. Just give me a little time, and I'll learn to be enthusiastic about raising her progeny myself."

A short while later, Hope and Marygay were sitting side by side on the living-room sofa, in front of a woven wall-hanging depicting the moon and its reflection in a pond set in reeds. Across the low tea table Ed Marks was relaxing in the black leather glider. Raven had gone upstairs to play with little Louise, and her son-in-law took advantage of that opportunity to get acquainted with Marygay and to bring Hope up to date with the dealings and happenings in faraway Eugene.

"We're terribly excited about Rene getting elected DA," he said. "She can't wait to get started in the new year."

"Yet another thing I'll have to get used to," Hope giggled. "My sister, the big-shot DA."

"Scoff all you like," Ed said mock-defensively, "for you blasé Big Apple chicas it may not seem much, but Irene will leave her mark..."

"If you'll pardon the pun!" Hope and Marygay sang out in unrehearsed chorus.

"...even in quiet and unassuming Lane County."

"Quiet and unassuming is right," Hope added with a winked. "I offered to design her some more flamboyant threads for her campaign, but would she take my advice? Nooooo!"

"Probably most sensible of her, I know your idea of 'flamboyant'." Marygay immediately had to deflect Hope's playful slap at her upper arm, to the amusement of Ed. She turned to him. "And everything working out all right with your own job at the university? Hope told me..."

Ed's expression grew more sober. "Yes, it's getting a bit more complicated than we hoped. My contract is running out, and I only have an offer from Oregon State U..."

"Oh dear, the old enemy!" Hope 'commiserated', then added, to Marygay: "Ed used to play wide receiver for the U of O Ducks."

"I guess I could live with that," said Ed. "It just would have been nice if it hadn't been so soon... that we moved to different towns..."

"Well, at least it isn't as far apart as my parents sometimes were when I was little," Marygay offered, "with Mom in Hollywood or on location in Europe, and Dad and us in New York."

"No, Corvallis should be within easy flying distance for Irene," said Hope. "Maybe you should make a special flight carry-cot so she can take the little one with her on the way."

Ed's smile broadened: "You should say that again when Forge is within earshot. That sounds like something he'd love to build -- with lots of additional gadgets of course. But maybe Rene and I should take some tips from Marygay's folks. You're one of three kids, aren't you?"

"Yes, but my mom's not a famous ex-superhero ... And she didn't have Geena and Felix until I was five, old enough to look after them." The young actress smiled to herself. "Now I don't remember it myself, but from what they tell us, we were quite a handful when we were little. It sometimes was hard for Mom and Dad to find someone to look after us when they were both tied up by their jobs. Or at any rate someone prepared to do it more than once." Especially because Daddy was not just a hard-working biochemist, but secretly patrolled New York as Spider-Man, she silently added. Not many of his costumed colleagues were friends to his private identity and could be trusted to look after the kids or at least to keep an eye on a non-powered baby-sitter from a distance. Daredevil once told Marygay that Geena and Felix had reduced him to a quivering jelly one night, but that must have been hyperbole. Thank heavens for auntie Felicia and uncle Phil. "The situations are not really comparable, though..." At least Mom and Dad managed to keep low the number of psychos who knew we were Spider-Man's family. On the other hand there seem to be a lot fewer super-powered villains in the Pacific Northwest than in New York. Wonder if it has something to do with the clean air...

Just after five, everyone was assembled around the big dining-room table. Valerie Cooper said Grace, earning a grateful, loving look from Raven when she extemporized a passage asking for blessings on her unborn child or children. There was a short silence, and then they all settled down for the big turkey meal. It was a casual affair and they soon all relaxed. Marygay, whose profession did not allow her to tuck in as unrestrainedly as her lover, at least could enjoy the conversation and reflect on the fact that little Louise was sticking almost exclusively to the applesauce, cranberries and sweet potatoes.

Marygay told Valerie about her next project, a television remake of Eureka Street, based on the novel by Robert McLiam Wilson. "I'll be playing the American, basically the only non-British and non-Irish character," she said, and added apologetically: "We start filming in Belfast on Monday, otherwise Hope and I would have stayed at least for the weekend."

Hope meanwhile was attentively listening to Raven relating the latest installment of the continuing saga of Errol Wagner's love-life. Mystique's grandson 'as usual' had declined the invitation, preferring to stay in Europe, where Thanksgiving was not a major holiday (and had been celebrated weeks earlier anyway).

"But we'll probably be seeing him and Amanda in about a month," interjected Valerie, "we're thinking of going on a short Christmas vacation there. Would you like to come too?"

"Oh damn," said Hope, "we already had to promise MG's folks to visit them for Christmas when we told them we were coming here tonight!"

Marygay tried to look embarrassed and apologetic.

"I see. Well, I guess your parents are entitled, Marygay. Are you close as a family?" To Hope's ear, Val sounded genuinely disappointed. But then her attention was diverted by Irene's request for more sweet potatoes. When she had finished handing them out to Irene and Ed and returned to the conversation on her right, she found the topic had changed.

"I saw the poster on your study door," said Marygay to Val. "Are you a big Star Wars fan?"

"Oh, I like the series," Val replied evasively.

"I thought everybody knew," Ed chuckled, "even the Prez. What was it you told us yesterday?"

"The first time I had to give a briefing to the new National Security Council, he said to me..." -- here Valerie's voice dropped a couple of octaves -- "...'We meet again at last. The circle is completed. I am the master now.'"

Marygay looked a bit puzzled amidst the merriment, but Irene hastened to explain: "That's because when he was still Captain America, Mommy was one of his government supervisors for a time."

"Yes, Val is an incurable Star Wars fanatic," Raven butted in, "it took all I had to convince her not to name Hope Leia."

Oddly enough, that revelation seemed to be more embarrassing to Hope than to her mother. Valerie was used to such upbraiding and simply smiled: "What can I say, the Princess was my role model when I was young and impressionable."

Marygay had an idea: "You know, I think I could show you something Star Wars-related you haven't seen yet. My mother was in the running for the part of Shmi Skywalker, and she still has a tape of her screen test. Maybe I can talk her into making a copy for you."

The main course was finished, Ed and Mystique carried out the dishes and cutlery and returned with the customary assortment of pies and desserts while Irene opened a bottle of wine. All settled down for the final course and Irene proposed a toast: "To Marygay, the newcomer under our roof. May this be only the first of so many stays here that we'll eventually lose count!"

They all raised their glasses to the young actress, who raised hers in reply: "Thanks to you all for making me feel welcome here. I'm sorry that Hope and I will only be staying until tomorrow, but duty waits for no woman, and you can imagine what things are like the last week before we start shooting. "

"We're glad you took time off for this visit," Raven assured her.

"Nevertheless, I look forward to getting acquainted with all of you now and on my later visits -- or when any of you come to New York, and hope that you all will get to know me as well. And maybe you'll even continue to be friendly to me when you do."

Hope bent towards Marygay had whispered: "Uh, MG, about that third degree thing -- I think you just invited yourself to it..."

A couple of hours later, after Louise had been tucked into bed and the sun had set, and while Ed was catching up on the football on TV, the two Cooper sisters were sitting in the living room with Marygay. Irene had declared that because Hope was so adamant that Marygay was 'the one', she considered her part of the family. "And if you're going to be part of the family, there's one thing you can't be spared." She dug up the old family albums "to help illustrate when I tell you my side of what my baby sister has told you.. Now here's a pic of Mommy pregnant with me, at the beach with Mama..."

Hope groaned at first, but then she herself got engrossed in the photo albums and scrapbooks her parents had diligently assembled over the years: it was a long time since she last had a proper look at them.

"And here's the christening."

"Rogue looks a bit zoned out. Too much champagne?" asked Hope.

"No, just absent-minded, I think. Probably thinking of Magneto..."

"Oh yes. Ya see, MG, just after attending my sister's baptism, our big sister had a naughty secret meeting with Magnus that passed into family history."

"Judging by that faraway expression, I'd say she was really looking forward to that."

"That's Captain America talking with Pastor Sapieha and his wife."

"He also did our confirmations..."

"And there's the pastor again. Discussing theology with Mama Ray, I shouldn't wonder."

Hope giggled. "Oh yeah, that was always fun."

"Here's my first birthday, and this is when Rogue came over to introduce Magnus to the family..."

"Just like you're doing with me now, eh Hope?"

"I should hope not -- Rogue and Magnus immediately got caught up in a trans-dimensional battle then! Speaking of which, here's Irene playing with Una Arsala..."

"Unfortunately I don't anything of that at all -- she and her parents were returned to her home dimension when I was two-and-a-half."

"But luckily I arrived soon after, so you had someone else to boss around!"

"I did not boss you around, little sister. Did I?" Irene winked at Marygay.

"You did too!" Hope said with determination and a grin. "Anyway, here's another big family gathering, this time at the X-Mansion. All the Darkhölmes under the Christmas tree."

"That's Amanda holding me, Kurt's wife."

"And here's Amanda and Kurt with their newborn son. My, Errol was a charmer, even in diapers. Another christening..."

"This is in England, right?"

"Yes, the local Catholic church near Excalibur's base."

"And here's Mommy Val and me at Hank McCoy's wedding. There's no photograph, but there's a video somewhere of Trish Tilby's hen night, where you can see our mom as part of a song-and-dance act."

"We loved watching that tape when we were home alone."

"Was she any good?" Marygay enquired. "Sorry. Foot-in-mouth disease strikes again."

"Welll, she didn't give up her day job, that's for sure," said Irene with a soft smile. "Anyway, you can see in this picture that she was pregnant with little sister. All the kids lining up to get a feel of her belly. And here's..."

"No, wait!" Marygay cried out. "Turn back the page. Yes. That girl with your mother, that's me! I was three years old."

They all stared at the photo of the little flower-girl with her hands on Valerie Cooper's swollen belly. "So you guys actually..." Irene shut up. Silence was best for that intimate moment.

When they returned to the albums, other occasions became the focus of attention: Hope's birth. The kindergarten and school years. Irene with chickenpox and Hope with the measles. And always the family vacations: A day trip to Colonial Williamsburg with the two moms. Swimming in the Stadtpark lake in Hamburg with Val's German cousins. Hiking in the Peak District with Kurt, Amanda and Errol. Tenting in the Savage Land with Rogue. Marygay notice how the two sisters grew more and more misty-eyed and less and less talkative as they progressed, especially when they looked at the pictures of their late siblings.

And then they came to the aftermath of September 2nd, 2013: Family and friends at the funeral of Rogue and Magneto, with an inconsolable Mystique leaning against Valerie. A visit to Kurt's grave with Amanda and Margali Szardos. And Irene wearing her first Factor X costume, the day she became Overdrive.

"I wanted to make a difference, and when you have powers, you easily believe you can, especially if you're only seventeen." If Irene meant this to get the other's to talk about their costumed activities, neither Marygay nor Hope rose to the bait. "The confidence of youth! Delusions of grandeur, almost. No smart remarks from you, sister dear! I was shaking in my boots, but with Mama out of the picture for a time, I felt someone had to step into the gap."

Marygay nodded understandingly.

"Well, it was not that big a deal as superhero careers go. I took my licks..." Irene pointed to a picture of her sitting in a wheelchair, with her right leg in a cast, her right cheek heavily bandaged and with two black eyes. "...helped save the world a few times, managed not to get into the other Factor X'ers' way most of the time."

"Do you miss it?" Marygay wanted to know.

"Miss it? Not exactly..." Irene mused aloud. "I mean, it was an experience I wouldn't miss for the world, and it has its shiny side, there's no denying it. The glory, the camaraderie, being part of a team, getting a job well done. But in another way it's frustrating, at least for me. Most of the X-Men had never managed to hold on to a -- quote -- proper job, it was as if their entire life was determined by the fact that their mutations were of a kind that was useful in a fight. They became superheroes and for the most part let their other talents go fallow."

"Although perhaps Rogue and Kurt loved being adventurers," Hope suggested. "What was it Rogue liked to call herself? 'An all-out action junkie?'"

"Well, yes and no. Rogue loved being a superhero, using her powers. But she never lost sight of searching for other ways, for solutions that made violence unnecessary. And in another way she did it because she felt compelled to. I think she never lost that sense of obligations she had because of what she had done to Carol Danvers, not until her dying day. And she intensely believed being an X-Man would ultimately help bring Charles Xavier's dream closer to reality."

"Even if she didn't always agree with Professor X about the best way to achieve that."

"That probably must have made Magneto love her all the more," suggested Marygay.

"There were some strange paradoxes in her," mused Irene. "She loved boppin' bad guys' heads, yet she wanted to give peace a chance whenever possible, sometimes even if it put her own safety at risk. She loved having her powers, but she also always yearned for a 'normal' life with Magnus."

"And Kurt?"

Hope was quite definite: "I'd say he'd have become a superhero even if he hadn't been a mutant but got his powers by being irradiated with radioactive greasepaint. He said it would have been an anti-climax to return to being a circus performer."

"Do you think he was serious about that?" Irene seemed doubtful.

"Yes I do."

"I suppose you were very close to them both?" said Marygay.

"Oh yes," said Irene, "they spoiled us rotten!"

"They were easy-going, but I think they were especially close with us. Kurt certainly was more relaxed with us than he was with Mama Ray ... for obvious reasons. For Rogue it was less complicated, she had been raised by Mama." Hope paused. "But Irene was talking about why she stopped being a superhero..."

"And you looked so sexy in that suit!"

"Well, Rogue had dedicated herself to a society where we could be at peace with our neighbors and where we would have a choice. Where we it was not a foregone decision whether we became costumed heroes or developed our other gifts. If I refused to consider the alternatives, if I did not even try my hand at something else, was I not in effect saying that the situation for mutants had not changed since Rogue was my age, that she, Kurt, Magneto and all the others had struggled in vain? Apart from that, things had improved a bit since Rogue and Kurt were our age. Factor X could afford to do without me for a while -- as a matter of fact, it became a little awkward at times after Mama got over her depression and returned to the roster. And so I began to concentrate on my studies."

"My sister decided that what the world really needed was another American lawyer."

"Well, you can laugh, Hopey, but it's a useful start," Irene said good-humoredly. "And then I met Ed, and he turned me into his love-slave, and suddenly I had a lot less time for superheroing. It was hard enough to continue my career after we became parents, so superheroing soon became a poor third. I officially retired from it, and these days I only rarely put on the old long underwear. Only when I absolutely have to."

"And then you ran for public office instead," said Marygay.

"Yes, I'm sure I'll be able to make a bigger difference that way. Perhaps not as District Attorney of Lane County, but who knows what'll happen later."

"The sky's the limit, eh, sis?"

"Well, we have a superhero president now, so why not a mutant superhero governor?" Marygay became interested. "I guess we could use a few more mutants in politics."

"You don't have to butter up to Irene, you know."

"But don't let that stop you!" Irene said amusedly.

At that moment Ed chose to enter in his solicitous husband incarnation, bearing a tray of mugs of a russet hot liquid for all. Marygay cautiously took one and sipped. "What is it?"

"Rooibos, the best herbal tea known to man," Ed said with a flourish. "My father swears by it."

"Nothing unprintable, of course." Irene added.

"Mmm, interesting."

"Interesting as in 'I didn't know this taste but I wouldn't mind having it again' or just 'interesting'?"

After the interruption, the conversation turned to something that wasn't in the albums yet. Both Irene and Ed wanted to know more about Hope and Marygay's 'whirlwind romance.'

"Well, if you have to call it that," Marygay began. "It does sound like an awful cliché, but people have been falling in love for thousands of years, so I guess it is hard to find an angle that isn't covered by a cliché."

"You could use another one for us: 'love at first sight'," said Hope, " Or if not exactly love, at least accelerating heart-beats in both parties at first sight."

"Yes, we covered a lot of ground in a short while. Why, on our first meeting we had our first spat, our first reconciliation and our first kiss all in one evening."

"I say you worked fast," Irene interjected, "the first time sis mentioned you to me was when she got the job on Mourning Becomes Electra, the next thing I heard you were starting to live together."

"We were in a very decisive frame of mind that week," Marygay agreed.

Hope's thoughts fondly returned to it: working on Marygay's costumes, the dinner date, the walks through Central Park and SoHo, the fights with Sewer Rat and his gang, the battle against the Witch Queen of Wall Street, the sweltering New York nights when they talked and made slow, intense love for hours and then had to take a shower all over again. She had listened to Rogue and Kurt speak of the rush that the danger and excitement of their costumed adventures gave them, but until she went on the prowl with Arachne, she had thought she was immune to it. It had overwhelmed her, she felt so alive beating the crap out of the bad guys and being with the woman she loved. Ten days after their meeting they made their commitment when Marygay gave Hope a pair of web-shooters for the aspect of their relationship that they would guard as a secret, and a ring with an aquamarine and a garnet (signifying the colors of their hair) for the part that would eventually become public knowledge.

Her train of thoughts was interrupted when Marygay ended her (edited) account and Irene remarked: "That really must have been something. Hopey looked even more zoned out than Rogue in that picture!"

"What's on your mind, lover?" Hope asked. At the end of the day, the two lay huddled close together in the comfortable double bed in Hope's room. From the wall opposite the window muffled laughter could be heard. Irene and Ed were happily taking their evening bath together. Hope was relaxing with her head on Marygay's flat, warm breast and her arm draped over her belly. She enjoyed the smell of the fresh bedspread, the softness of her partner's flannel nightgown, the feel of her slender fingers going through her hair, but she could tell that Marygay was preoccupied.

"Just trying to digest everything. Your family is a bit... overpowering for someone who first meets all of them at the same time."

"Yes, maybe Irene should have saved that crash course in family history for a later occasion," Hope smiled, "I guess you have to make allowances. Now that Rene and I live on different coasts, we always try to make the most of our meetings."

"Oh, I thought that was actually one of the less hectic moments," said Marygay, "we just sat and looked at the pictures and I could sit back and let you two do the talking. It was a bit of an eye-opener for me, hearing about you growing up knowing about what your folks are. To think how old I was when I learned about my dad..."

"For us there really was no choice. Was that before or after you got your powers that they told you?"

"Before, but only just barely. I got my own back though -- I told Geena and Felix about it a year earlier than Mom and Dad had told me." Marygay snickered at the memory.

"Yeah, sometimes it's nice to have a big sister who sees that your parents don't walk all over you," Hope ribbed her soulmate, "Rogue was a bit like that to us, and we loved it. Worst case of elder-sibling worship on record."

"I could tell from Irene's misty eyes when we looked at her pics tonight."

"Of course Rogue was a bit old for a sister, actually old enough to be an aunt or parent, so it must've been very different from you and the twins. One of my earliest memories is of her telling us good night stories. She made up a few herself."

"No, didn't do much of that," Marygay admitted.

"And as long as I can remember, she was firmly in her relationship with Magnus, and he was even older than Mama."

"Your family age structure is not exactly standard," Marygay noted. "What was he like? I mean, he's passed into legend now, it seems hard to imagine Magneto as a kindly uncle, or even great-uncle."

"Well, I don't think it was all that easy for him," said Hope, frowning as she tried to collect her memories. "He was a bit rusty in his child-rearing. It had been half a century since he and his first wife raised their daughter. You know, Anya, the one who died in a fire. He did not get to know his other children until they were grown-ups, and Pietro did not let him do much grand-daddying with Luna, at least to begin with. He was a bit ... withdrawn, sometimes."

"A big introvert, or because he always had to think of the great issues?"

"Well, he was a bit uncomfortable around people; Mommy told us that when they first met, she always had to give him extra time to 'warm up' in a conversation. It was never that bad for us, even though we sometimes must've reminded him of what might have been with his own kids. But on the whole, I suppose yes, I do remember him as a kind of cool uncle figure. Irene doesn't seem to remember him any differently, so I suppose he had already opened up a lot during the first years of Rene's life."

"Well, I know him only from a few TV documentaries," Marygay said, "especially the David Frost and the Trish Tilby interviews. I don't know, he seemed a bit larger than life, but also very, very formal."

"Oh, but those were official occasions, he always was on guard on those, very much trying to maintain an iron self-control." Hope smiled at her inadvertent pun. "No, you won't see his real self there, or on any occasion with large crowds. He'd only let his hair down in smaller circles. There he'd be an entirely different person, very warm and even prepared to indulge the whims of his silly baby sisters-in-law. From what Mama and Mommy told us, it was something he kept refreshing. Not just with us, but also with his others. Ever so often, he and Rogue took a break from superheroing. Then they'd stay with some of her non-superpowered friends and not use their superpowers for a week or so. The way some people go into a monastic retreat, or rather the reverse of that. She said she did not want them to end up in an ivory or adamantium tower existence. Still, I don't think I knew his innermost self. I think he only let Rogue and maybe Charles Xavier in on that."

"And now Raven is going to have Rogue and Magneto's child. How do you feel about that?"

"Weirded out, I guess, ... hard as it may be to believe of a member of the oh-so-weird Darkhölme clan." The quip garnered little more than a polite little titter from Marygay. "Actually, when Mama told me today, you could have knocked me over by snapping your fingers. I just hadn't seen it coming. My first thought was: 'Isn't she much too old to suddenly go all broody?' And I never thought she'd do something this important without consulting Mommy first. But maybe I shouldn't be surprised. Rogue always was her most special child. If she'd pull off a crazy stunt like that, it would be for her... Wonder how Mommy really dealt with all this. I bet she told Irene, but unfortunately sis can keep a confidence."

"And you yourself?" Marygay persisted. "Let's assume for argument's sake that your parents will smoothen out their disagreements or misunderstandings or whatever. What do you think about your new... well for starters, what'll it be? Will you be the kid's sister or aunt?"

"Weellll... I guess I'd say 'what comes round comes round' -- I'll be the kind of sister to Rogue's kid that Rogue herself was to me. You, my peerless lady, can be dear 'Auntie M' if you prefer! I think I'm beginning to like the idea." Hope yawned happily. "And you know what? I'm sure Mommy and Mama will work things out. They care too much about each other not to."

"You gotta think positive," Marygay murmured.

"Oh, it's more than that," said Hope, "there's evidence!"

"Really?" Marygay sat up.

"Yes, I think it started to happen today. Just now, when I went to the kitchen to fetch our water, I passed the living-room. The door was open, the room was dark, but there they were, dancing cheek to cheek."

"Did they see you?"

"Don't think so. Anyway, after the talk I had with Mama just after we arrived, I'm positive they did not put it on on the off-chance that someone would see them. Even though they did look like poster ladies for lesbian motherhood."

Next day, Marygay Parker stayed behind (after some discreet nudging at breakfast) while the Markses took Hope along for their morning family constitutional. Having finished packing the bags for the return trip, she went down to the living room. She was a bit apprehensive about the interview that was going to follow.

When Marygay entered the room, Raven was translating from a Polish news magazine. Val lay on the sofa, her head resting in Raven's lap, one hand clasping Raven's free one. Marygay had not seen the two so intimate and at ease before.

Marygay cleared her throat and the tableau dissolved. Valerie sat up and Mystique slid from the sofa onto a nearby chair so that Marygay could sit beside Val. Marygay gritted her teeth. Let the interrogation begin, she grimly thought.

"Well, dear," Valerie began, "it's too bad that you two are leaving again today. It really would have been nice if we had a little more time to get acquainted."

"On the other hand, maybe you'll get a better impression of us if you only stay for a short while," Raven piped up.

"And of course you get to see me on my own, which you otherwise might have done," Marygay pointed out. "Two on one is not really fair, is it?"

Raven laughed. "Maybe not. But it'll be easier for all of us. As my youngest daughter no doubt has already told you, conversations involving Val and her can be a bit stressful..."

"But why is that?" Marygay turned towards Valerie and fired a direct question. "Yes, Hope told me there are problems. Is that really just because she dropped out of law school?"

Valerie smiled slightly uneasily: "Well, I take an interest in my daughters... Maybe I had too definite ideas of what their careers should be like. But I think it's really more complex than that."

"My better half may come across as the classic Washington mom at times, but she's not obsessed."

"No, Hope and I had clashes before that, starting when she still was in high school, I guess. She ... had some problems then, but if she hasn't told you about them, I'm not sure if I should talk about it. Let's assume that it's either not important or that she'll tell you eventually." Valerie took a deep breath. "But I guess the root problem is something else. When you love someone, you can forgive a lot, if you go about it the right way. My dear 'significant other' here certainly has given me more aggravation than pretty much anyone, and yet we get along wonderfully, practically without frictions at all."

"Let's not exaggerate, my love," said Raven, wagging her right forefinger.

"Ahem. Anyway, I love Hope dearly, but somehow we usually manage to say exactly the wrong thing to each other... A matter of chemistry, for want of a better word."

"Some of our friends think that Hope takes more after me than after Val." Raven added. "I don't see it myself, after all, she's all of twenty-three and still hasn't held up a bank! But should it be true, I'd say it showed that there are some things you can take in a lover, but not in a daughter."

"At any rate, it is not entirely rational. Raven once said I would have reacted differently if Irene had decided to chuck her career. Me, I still like to believe a mother loves her children equally."

"All evidence to the contrary notwithstanding," Raven couldn't help saying, earning disapproving looks from Val and Marygay. "I'm sure that in nine cases out of ten mothers who think that are deluding themselves. They may love their children, but they love them differently. Of course there are exceptions, and from the way you're looking at me, Marygay, I'd be willing to accept that your own mother is a sterling case in point."

Against her better judgment, Valerie broke out laughing. "You see what I'm putting up with all the time? Are you sure you know what you're letting yourself in with this evil tongue's daughter?" But the affection in her voice was unmistakable.

"We've had discussions like this before," Raven told Marygay, "so I'd better explain. When I say that Valerie loves her daughters in different ways, I do not mean that she loves Hope with less than all her heart. She just can't express her it the same way as she does with Irene. But enough of us creaky old folks, let's talk about the talented young actress who's captured our Hope's heart. Since you're now becoming part of the family..."

Marygay resigned herself to her fate.

Early in the afternoon, the time for good-byes arrived. Everybody gathered at the front door to see Hope and Marygay off.

"It was good to see you again, little sister," Irene said as the two sisters exchanged kisses on the cheeks and little Louise clung to Hope's left leg.

Valerie held Marygay by her shoulders and softly said: "Look after our child, dear."

Next came a firm handshake from Ed (after his bear-hug for Hope) and finally Raven, who pinched Marygay's cheek. "Don't stay away too long."

Hope embraced Valerie and kissed her. She whispered : "I love you, Mommy."

Her mother looked a bit startled, but managed a whispered "Love you too, Hopey".

When all was said and done, the two young women got into the cab that would take them to the Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro station. After the waving relatives had passed from sight, Hope and Marygay sat back and relaxed.

"So, did you pass the muster, MG?" Hope wanted to know.

Marygay reflected. "They seemed satisfied with me, as far as I could tell. I mean, considering this was my first meeting with them and that we haven't been an item that long, they were ecstatic! Odd, really. Is there something you want to tell me about your girlfriend before moi?"

"Ah, well, Taryn has kind of passed into family legend," Hope had to admit with and apologetic smile, "so in comparison you are much more desirable as a prospective daughter-in-law. But I don't feel like talking about her right now, it would only spoil the mood."

"You're very upbeat, young 'Leia'."

Hope giggled "And why shouldn't I be? We had a good time together with my folks, you're a big hit with them, and Mommy and I did not get into a fight. And how did you like them?"

"Weeeelll, it was quite something to meet them," said Marygay. "Even living with you, good woman, didn't quite prepare me for the full experience. But I think I can learn to bear them..."

"Geddaway!" exclaimed Hope. She paid the cabbie and the two got off. Before they went down to the Metro station, Hope asked: "How did Mama and Mommy treat you?"

"Oh, they were very civilized about everything. Still, I can't shake the feeling they know more than they let on. Even though they never directly referred to you know what."

"I'd say your feelings aren't deceiving you, those two have learned a lot in their job, and unlike some people they are capable of putting two and two together and drawing a connection. If Irene could guess it, they know."

"You mean Irene..."

"Yup, she told me when we had our walk this morning. Of course some of the Sling's talents must strike my nearest and dearest as familiar, they knew about them before, even if no one else does. And it would be just like Mama to dance around that subject as long as she can just to make you feel a bit uncomfortable. The woman can't help it!"

"And your other mother?"

"Mommy? She's probably too embarrassed to mention it. You know she wanted me to do something worthwhile with my life, so me becoming your, uh, after-hours associate must please her as much as anything. But she'd be afraid to hurt my feelings if she announced that. Like I'd think she'd be gloating. And there really was no proper occasion to broach the subject."

"Well, maybe there'll be one the next time."

They smiled as they stepped onto the escalator.



Thanks to Lori Sammy for helping me to visualize Marygay, Hope and Irene.

The signature "n.p." is a lower-case "p.r." for "Piotr Rasputin" in italic Cyrillic letters.
Recognizable characters and concepts belong to Marvel Comics. Hope Cooper (Sling), Irene Cooper-Marks (Overdrive), Louise Cooper-Marks, Effie McCoy, Edward Marks and his parents, the babies Mystique is expecting (you can see them in "The Survivor Has a Different Kind of Scar"), Felix and Geena Parker, Marygay Parker (Arachne), Pastor Sapieha, Sewer Rat, Taryn (Hope's ex), Errol Wagner, and the Witch Queen of Wall Street belong to Tilman Stieve.


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