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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 and DC Comics. No profit is being made on this story, which is (c) Tilman Stieve ( You can download this and copy it for your entertainment, but don't sell it for profit, or Marvel and Warner will set their lawyers on you. Please do not archive this on your website without informing me first.
According to some people's rules this story might be labeled "mature themes."
The following story is yet another one of my continuing series, the Tales of the Twilight Menshevik. The first two of these, "Sisters Under Their Skins" and "A Year in the Life" originally appeared in Valentine's Day-themed February mailings of the MZS-APA, so it is perhaps appropriate that I now do a collage that is actually set on February 14th.
The immediately preceding Tale is "Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Someone Blue". You can find it and the others archived on "Fonts of Wisdom," on "Down-Home Charm," on "Queen of Hearts," and on "X-Men Slash Central."
This story is for Lori Sammy.

*Good morning, my love, happy Valentine's Day*

Mmrarglfrzzrst... Em? [Image of Robert Drake's room in X-Mansion seen from his bed. By the evidence it is few days since he last cleaned up]

*None other. Saw your little tribute in Central Park. Thanks!*

Whuwhats the time? [The field of vision contracts and focuses on the alarm clock on the bedside table. Both of Bart Simpson's hands are pointing to the right of the 6.] Uhhhh... 6:30 a.m.??? Are you insane, woman? [Feeling of desperately trying to stifle a yawn]

*Why, aren't you glad to 'hear' me? I thought that was what your sculpture was about?* *[the sense of Emma's lips smiling ironically, but affectionally]*

I didn't expect them to have the news that early on the news in Massachusetts... or that you'd be up so early to watch them. [Image of the ceiling of Bobby's room. Evidently he is lying back in bed]

*Well, after last year I was expecting you'd do something like that, so I rather behaved like a child on Christmas morning.* *[Image of Emma's hand on the TV remote control, pressing the on button]* *Your ice sculptures are very good. Have you ever thought of doing more sculptures in your free time?*

No... [it's no use -- feeling of mouth opening as far as possible, of air rushing in, at the same time field of vision goes black and sound of YAAAAWWWNNN fills ears] well, you know my father did not exactly encourage any activities that could not be used in a 9-to-5 job. [Image of Willie Drake looking down dismissively on the sandcastles his six-year-old son Bobby is proudly showing him] yeah that's right drake, blame your father as if it wasn't your own fault that you never developed that side sufficiently is it any wonder that everyone thinks of you as the prankster first and the accountant second...

*Now, now, don't sell yourself short all the time. You know there's more to you than that and that your friends know it. That I know it.* [A wave of confidence] *Besides, you're showing quite a talent for not really having developed it, I'd say it is far from too late for you to start developing it seriously.*

No, I guess it's not, Em. Well, at any rate I'm glad you liked the Cupid. Happy Valentine's Day. Too bad you're in Snow Valley and that would even be the same if we ever did marry but it's nice to know that she got up that early waiting for my valentine present oh man this relationship is a bit complicated at times still i can live with it quite well although i wish emma wasn't so obsessed with keeping her status secret even if it is different for telepaths sorry Emma didn't mean my mind to wander off on that tangent with you listening in but you know how it is. [Audible sigh]

*No problem, Robert. I love you and I cherish your patience with the discomfort I cause you because I am not yet ready to come out into the open with our relationship. But there will come a day...*

But when? [eyes screwed up] Oh, never mind, we usually are a great couple whenever we're together. It's just been so long since our last meeting and now I'm stuck here and you're in Snow Valley...

*Uh... as a matter of fact...* *[Image of the corridor in the X-Men's tract from Emma's point of view. The door of Bobby's room comes nearer]* *...I thought I'd spend the day with my favorite X-Man...*

[Rapidly moving image of the inside of Bobby's room as he leaps from his bed] [feeling of left foot entangled in the blanket] [Image of carpeted floor rapidly approaching] ...ouch [image of door opening and Emma stepping inside. She is carrying a big picknick hamper of food. A smile breaks out on her face]

*[Image of Bobby getting to his feet, grinning, and walking nearer, opening his arms to embrace Emma. Darkness, as her eyes close]* *[feeling of a long and intense loving kiss]*

Subject: Happy Valentine's Day
Date: 14.02.1999 03:02:07 p.m. GMT
To:   (Henry McCoy)

Dear Hank,
thank you so much for your wonderful V's Day surprise (I hope my card got to you on time). Even if it made me feel more acutely the geographical distance between us :(. But don't worry, I'm a big girl, and big girls, in the word of the song, don't cry. Things are fairly quiet at the job, so I can't complain on that front.
Best regards to Moira, and a thousand and seven kisses to you,
your adoring spouse,

Earth-600A: "Oh dear, sounds like there's been a bit of a bother," Alfred Pennyworth muttered, slowly raising his left eyebrow at the state of the Batmobile shown on the monitors connected to the surveillance cameras at the mouth of the Batcave. "I'd better get the paint and airbrushes ready. No doubt he'll want it repainted in its pristine black immediately. Well, let's hope that parcel from Miss Andrea contains something to cheer up Master Bruce."

Subject: Re: Happy Valentine's Day
Date: 02/14/1999 12:33:23 p.m. EST
From:   (Henry McCoy)

My darling Patricia,
muchas gracias for your eMail. Your card arrived on thursday, you need not have worried -- Her Majesty's Mail serves Muir Island quite satisfactorily. I like your selection of music on the the minidisc you enclosed. I listen to most of them at work (except for 'Patricia the Stripper', of course. That brings back too vivid and distracting memories, so I'm saving that for tonight. I'm glad you liked my little surprise and that you are doing well. I hope that it won't take much longer until we meet again in the flesh (easy, Henry McCoy, easy!) and ... catch up.
I remain, my lady, your worshipping servant,

J. Jonah Jameson, publisher of the Daily Bugle and honored citizen of New York, sat in his hotel room, discontentedly watching the television news. Not so long ago, this would have been absolute torment for him unless he had got on the phone halfway through to give Robbie instructions about what story would receive the top headline or to dictate an op-ed column for tomorrow's Bugle. Now, he could just about endure watching a report about Spider-Man's latest 'exploit' without hitting the ceiling.

The urge to see to it that the so-called journalist (too gullible to see through the weasely web-spinner's bogus heroics) was shown up almost surprisingly was not irresistible. The matter could wait until his return to New York, then he would unsheathe the sword of truth to put the wall-crawling menace into his place. Until then, let him bask in his false sense of security.

No, what bothered him most was that he had to sit and wait for Marla to return from the slopes. It had seemed such a good idea to go on a three-week vacation with his wife. Lord knew she had earned it by her patience. Back in New York he was in his Bugle offices perhaps a shade too often. Even though he had handed over the editorial reins to Joe Robertson years ago, he still felt it necessary to keep an eye on the everyday running of the paper. This meant that Marla normally received a little less than her due attention, and Jonah Jameson had hoped this ski holiday would go a little way of making up for lost time.

Marla enjoyed skiing and had suggested this Rocky Mountains resort. It had been their intention that he would take a crash coursse so they could go onto some of the easier slopes together during the second half of the trip. But after spraining his ankle on the very first day he had decided that after living for seventy-seven years without knowing how to ski downhill, that this was a 'pleasure' that he could do without for the remainder of his days. So now the only outdoor activities where he and his wife joined together would be some gentle walks in the surroundings, and he would avail himself of Copper Mountain's various amenities during the time when Marla schussed down the piste, or whatever they called it in their fancy jargon.

Or he would sit down to put a few notes for that editorial to paper, for the editorial that would expose Spider-Man once and for all as the fraud he was. Let's hope that young Phil Urich will have dug up something useful during his absence, Jameson thought. But now he had to put those thoughts aside. Through the window he could see Marla returning to the hotel. In five minutes she would be in this room, so he systematically and unhurriedly put his notes out of sight and switched the TV from CNN to the Valentine's Day special on one of the other channels.

Valentine's Day. Well, Marla liked the present he had given her this morning, and that pleased him, not just because he liked the feeling of getting good value for his money (if he would have had to spend several times the amount to bring such a smile to his wife's face, it would have been the same to him). And tonight they would be going to the movies together, to see the new Woody Allen film. He was actually looking forward to it -- he'd be going with Marla, it would be set in his city, New York, and one of the supporting roles was played by an actress they knew quite well. (In fact, he had paid for her wedding reception less than six years ago). A pity her husband had turned out to be a quitter. Parker could have become a darn good photojournalist, instead he decided to become a full-time scientist. Trust Marla to take his side, Jameson thought with a self-ironic grin. Hmm, actresses in Allen's films tended to do well in the Oscars. He wondered how Mary Jane Watson-Parker would be doing a year from now. He felt tempted to ask her about what she thought her prospects were the next time he met her, but then he recalled that actors were scared spitless of discussing that sort of thing for fear of bad luck. Actors! What a superstitious and cowardly lot.

Still, it was strange that he should be looking forward to watching a Woody Allen movie -- after all, the man was basically unsound. But maybe it was because his screen personality was such an antithesis to glory-grabbers like Spider-Man. Jameson tried to imagine what a Woody Allen movie about Spider-Man would be like, and chuckled. Then he went to the door to welcome Marla.

It had been a quiet Sunday morning for Ororo. No dire emergency required the X-Men's intervention, just a Danger Room session in the morning for those who could not get enough (Bobby got a dispensation at the last moment). When she returned to her loft from lunch with Paige in the kitchen, she saw the light on the telephone's answering machine flashing. She pressed the button. "You have -- one -- messages."

She pressed again. A familiar voice spoke: "Hujambo, mpandaji upepo? Nakupenda, na nitakupenda sikuzote. Kwa heri ya kuonana, Ororo!" [How are you, wind-rider? I love you and I will always love you. Good bye and see you soon, Ororo!]

Storm smiled. Those words she had once uttered certainly had a way of coming back to haunt her... Humming a cheerful tune, she set about watering the plants in her loft. Then she took flight again, feeling so glad to be alive that she just had to go for a flight all over the grounds.

Subject: St. Valentine
Date: 02/14/1999 01:47:56 p.m. EST
From: (Moira MacTaggert)
To: (Sean Cassidy)

A Sheáin, a chara,
normally i regard valentine's day as part of the florists', stationers' and confectioners' worldwide conspiracy, but for you i'll make an exception. My heartfelt thanks for the flowers and the book -- and please excuse your old lady's grumpiness, but it isn't easy to run a lab with the admittedly briliant, but extremely chaotic dr. McCoy in attendance. The fact that we are both pining for our respective loved ones (that means you, boyo!) and that a mass spectrometer has been acting up all day does not ease our frictions, but at least we manage to cooperate most of the time.
Here's looking at ye,

Not for the first time did Katherine Pryde wonder if there might be some germ of truth to the stories about the dreariness of English Sundays put about by George Mikes and others. But on reflection, she decided it might have something to do with the makeup of the team. Off-duty, most of Excalibur's members had long settled into pretty stable relationships, and the weekend was the time when they preferred to be among themselves. Kurt and Amanda in their bohemian domestic bliss with Errol, and Meggan and Brian now awaiting the second Excali-baby. Rahne and Sam were now officially an item (and the official 'cute couple' of the team), but on Sunday mornings they went to chapel together, and whatever they did on the afternoons tended to be on the quiet side and away from the others. Kitty herself and Pete Wisdom, had also long smoothed the rough edges that had caused quite a few frictions three years ago, in the beginning of their relationship. So now Rachel currently was the only romantically unattached person among them. And probably bored stiff on weekends, Kitty mused, as she still did not have that much of a life outside her small circle of friends.

Kitty usually spent a lot of her Sundays catching up on her reading or working on some computer problem. Or she did what she was doing right now (under Lockheed's watchful gaze): practice her ballet moves in the gym. And maybe that was one of the reasons she felt so glum today, for she knew that she was not getting any better, that she had in fact been a better dancer, back in the days when she started out in the X-Men and Stevie Hunter was her instructor. She simply had trouble finding or making the time to practice. One busy month for Excalibur, like this January,and she fell way behind in her training and her skills and expressiveness slipped. Now she had to work up a sweat just to get to where she had been in December. After joining the X-Men she had become a superheroine and a mutant-rights activist with all her heart, but there were times when she could not help regret having to sacrifice her teenage dream of becoming a professional ballet-dancer because of her disruptive time-schedule. She was determined to keep a foot in it, but instead of regular training sessions with Stevie she now was reduced to attending occasional workshops in Liverpool or Manchester.

After she had finished, showered and dressed, Kitty walked to the kitchen, where she found Rachel and Pete sitting at the table and chatting over coffee and cocoa. Rachel's head turned to greet her: "Hullo, Kit. Glowing with health after the workout, I see." Kitty patted both of them on the shoulder as she walked past them to get started on her own cup of cocoa.

"Yeah, makes you look 'orrible," interjected Pete with a deadpan expression.

Kitty winked at Rachel: Peter had a reputation as someone who detested all sports and outdoors activities, and he worked hard to maintain it. "Wouldn't hurt you to join me, Wisdom."

"That I'd love to see," snickered Rachel, "Pete finally putting on a leotard after all these years! Or will you do ballet lessons in your trenchcoat?"

"'Ere, no gangin' up on me!" protested the former secret agent with a grin.

Kitty soothed him, running her fingers through his hair and kissing him full on the lips. "Poor darling," she said with exaggerated concern.

"Well, I'll leave you two lovebirds to yourselves," Rachel smiled, getting up, "no doubt you have something incredibly romantic planned for Valentine's Day. Come along, Lockheed!"

"Today's Valentine's Day???" Kitty and Pete said in unison.

Rachel looked at them quizzically: "You actually forgot? I thought you had to be married to be allowed to do that."

Her two friends smiled sheepishly. Then Peter's Wisdom became thoughtful. "Married? Now there's a thought..." Kitty looked him in shock, but immediately you could see the little cogs and wheels in her mind getting into gear. Suddenly, she was taking this thought serious.

"Ooops, be careful what you say Peter," said Rachel with a smirk, "especially when there are witnesses around."

Damn paperwork, thought Rogue. This is definitely the downside to leading a team. The other Meddlers get to go out and have fun all Sunday, and she has to stay in her study and write press releases. You'd think that someone as good at using words as Rémy would be ideal for that particular job, but when she had suggested that to him, his accent had suddenly become twice as pronounced, his grammar conformed even less to textbook rules and he claimed he would be "too embarrassing" to be let loose on the unsuspecting media audience. Ha!

Writing press releases had not been a big part of superheroing when Rogue had started out with the X-Men. Even the Fantastic Four and the Avengers had not given press conferences all that often. Cyclops and Storm had rarely bothered to try and explain to the public why it had once again been necessary to level a city block or two. You expected the press to be against you, and after some time this became a self-fulfilling prophecy. But that changed over the years, after we finally noticed it was stupid and dangerous to leave the image field to the mutiphobes without a fight while there were uncommitted people whose opinions could still be swayed.

For the other teams it's easier, though, they have the Prof, Hank, Val and Kitty at their disposal. They have a real knack for public statements and debates, and they're not burdened with a criminal past. Although being in the employ of the Federal government is just as bad in the yes of some people, she thought, reflecting on the treatment Val Cooper got from Rush Limbaugh and his ilk. So far, she herself had avoided open press-conferences and interviews. She conducted most of her PR business by sending her efforts at non-fiction prose to selected open-minded journalists or sometimes posting them on newsgroups like talk.mutant.rights. Magnus helped her with putting her messages on the internet in various untraceable ways. He also displayed quite an enthusiasm for online activities when he tracked down a particularly malignant hoaxer who had been posting false messages under the Meddlers' name. Once his computer had been magnetically transformed into a large paperweight, the imposter quickly learned the error of his ways. Rogue allowed herself a slight snigger at the memory.

But now the statement about the fracas on Attu island was finished, she just had to give it a final read-through. And then Magneto would take charge of the "delivery" and they'd have the afternoon off. As a matter of fact, they would have the entire base to themselves, as the others had stayed behind in Portland (the first major city they had spotted after crossing the coastline on the way back) to have a little fun. Located as it was in a lonely part of the West Virginia Alleghenies, the base could become a mite conducive to cabin fever at times, no matter how many modern conveniences Magnus had installed in it.

Rogue also was glad that the others were taking that weekend opportunity in Portland, because she hoped it would be a pleasant way for their new recruit to get acquainted with American ways. Since Chen Li had spent most of her life in a steel town in Manchuria, she was not as knowledgeable about the capitalist West as she would have been had she lived in Beijing or the more cosmopolitan Shanghai. Now she could talk the language fluently (thanks to the X-Men's patented Linguapath™ method, the same way that Rogue had been taught Japanese by Professor Xavier, she recalled), but Li still had to decide for herself what she would take at face value, what she would question, what she would admire and what she would dislike about American culture and society. Rogue liked the plucky Chinese rookie -- she refused to let herself be overawed by her now milieu. She also liked Li's quiet sense of humor, such as when Gambit told her about his youth in the Thieves' Guild in the Big Easy, and she simply gave him an understanding smile and said: "Ah, you belonged to a long-nose tong?"

When Rogue entered Magneto's communications room,she found him busy at his keyboard. He had only fairly recently started to spend time on the internet, but he took to it in a big way, leaving messages all over the place under screen names like Mem Press and Fuchsia-600 (when asked about this last 'handle', he replied: that's the colors of my old costume, and the number of times people asked me about it). Rogue herself mostly went by the name RiverRat, because for some unfathomable reason there seemed to be literally dozens of people who had a screenname with 'rogue' in it.

She looked over him and saw that Magnus was putting the finishing touches on his reply to a hate posting on She sighed and put a hand on his shoulder. "Magnus, ah just don't get why ya keep returnin' to that group. You know they get their kicks from makin' ya mad. They've made up their minds not to listen to reason, no matter how well ya frame your argument..."

"Blame it on my stubborn streak," he said with a slight touch of melancholy. "I simply would have burst had I not written a reply to that posting. And anyway, I had to kill time until you were finished with your bulletin." After doublechecking his cybermessage, he saved it on his harddrive to have it ready should he actually decide to send this particular message. Now he visibly relaxed and leaned back in his chair against the woman he loved.

"Well, in that case ah'm glad ya got that off your chest," she said, cradling his head against hers and beginning to stroke his hair. "So long as ya don't fell sorry for the time you spend on this." She kissed him on the top of his head. "Now that ah've finished mah duties as the Meddlers' spokeswoman, ah can think of a lot more fun things to do with your time..."

Earth-600: The young woman surveyed her mail. Quite a few Valentine's Day cards this year, though only one or two of them were adressed to Linda Danvers. But scores of men and about a dozen women (if the names were a reliable indicator of gender) had sent cards to Supergirl care of the Leesburg Tribune, quite a few more had placed personal ads in the Trib or had messages read out on local radio stations. And she was really only famous (and, as Mattie would hasten to point out, controversial) in a relatively small area. Supergirl tried to imagine the kind of mail, messages etc. Clark must be getting, and probably not just on Valentine's Day. Wonder if Lois is more annoyed at the mass adulation and infatuation her husband kept inspiring, or whether it made her feel more proud of 'netting' this desirable catch. Even though she now had been living among humans for years, and even though her existence was now linked to that of Linda Danvers, some possible aspects of human emotions still were a mystery to the former Matrix.

As were her own emotions.

There was one person who had sent cards to both of her aspects, one whose station was very much comparable to her own, another person who was two, another Earth-born angel. Comet had sent a card to Supergirl, and Andy Jones one to Linda. And as Supergirl/Linda had asked Andy/Comet to be content with being just friends, Andy had ended her greeting with a tongue-in-cheek "You can't blame a girl for trying!"

No, Supergirl couldn't. Not really.

She sighed. Wouldn't it be nice if things could be clear-cut between us. She knew she felt attracted to her more when she was in the male shape of Comet, but his was an androgynous appeal. And it could well have been that it was just reinforced more by Andy's superpower than the less pronounced attraction she felt for Andy in her female form. There was no way to tell if her own feelings for Andy/Comet were genuine. (On the other hand, considering Lex Luthor and Buzz, the men with whom Supergirl and Linda had become infatuated following their own instincts, maybe it was those that really should be distrusted). Andy was cursed with the reverse of this dilemma, but somehow it did not seem to bother her that she always had to doubt whether another person's romantic feelings for her were real or induced by her powers. Supergirl envied Andy that strange mixture of serenity, spontaneity and carelessness, that readiness to go with her instincts immediately. She, on the other hand, feared that she would always be prevented from 'going with the flow' by her nagging doubts. If only there was a way to get rid of them one way or the other!

Salem Center, 14 Feb. 1999

Dear Mom and Dad,

Thought I'd write you my much-delayed letter now, because my 'maternity leave' ends next month, and who knows how much time I'll have then? Well, the weather is holding up and things are going smoothly at the Boathouse (surprisingly so, some might say). Your youngest granddaughter (six monts old in a matter of days) is making continuous progress and is looked after well by Scott and me, with a little help from the other residents of the Mansion. I'm enclosing the latest set of photographs of Abby, also a few extra ones from the Xmas and New Year's celebrations. As you can see, Abby is very attached to the cuddly duck you gave her for Christmas.

You ask about the state of our marriage. Well, normally I'm not a big fan of Fred Nietzsche, but in this case it was true: what didn't kill our love made it stronger. When we made up our minds to make a fresh start (a little over a year ago now), we decided to let what we did before that day be bygones, not to let our earlier mistakes ruin our future. So far we are succeeding. Not that we are unaware of what we did -- how could we be, with tangible evidence in the adorable shape of little Abigail before us every day. Forgiven, not forgotten -- we have safely made it to the safe shore beyond recrimination. I like to think that our s has become a more mature kind of love. Though we have lost the illusions about each other that we had cherished in spite of the telepathic link, we love each other more knowing who we really are. Our sex life certainly has improved now that Scott no longer subconsciously puts me on a pedestal. He's no longer holding back with me -- if it didn't sound so cynical, I'd say that now that I too had an affair he at last seems to see me as his peer. But enough pop psychology, suffice it to say that there's a new quality to our

Whoa, thought Jean Grey,this was way, way too much more than Mom and Dad would want to know about her sex life. She sighed and silently rejoiced at her choice to write to her parents, not send her message telepathically. Better get started on the revised version now. Or at any rate as soon as Abigail was fed. Look at Ororo enjoying herself, flying loopings and generally having a great time outside.

"Hello, Ororo Monroe is not available at the moment, but you can leave a message after the tone. May the Goddess watch over you. -- BEEEEEP!! -- Hi, Ororo, it's Kitty. Guess what? Pete popped the question today, and I've accepted. Would you be my maid of honor? It won't be a big wedding, you know why mom 'n' dad can't come... we'll just do it in a registry office, but of course if anyone else from the team wants to attend, they're all invited, but I'll be writing you when It's gonna be soon as we settled the date what would suit you best? .... Uh, that's pretty much it for now, I think. Er, Peter sends his love. Seeya!"

Rogue and Magneto had been on their trek through a wood near the base for the better part of the afternoon. They had been talking about anything that came to their mind ("about God and the world," as Magnus put it using a German idiom), but not all the continuously. From time to time it seemed to be more appropriate to walk in silence side by side, just taking in the wintry beauty of the hills and forests.

It was a pleasure they did not get to indulge often these days, and one that some of their teammates had trouble understanding. But Magneto had been friends with solitude for most of his life, and Rogue too sometimes enjoyed being away from company (something she had accidentally discovered during her wanderings in the Savage Land after she returned from the Siege Perilous). Even the snow had become less of a problem for the Deep-South superheroine; after living in Washington and New York for years, she had somehow gotten used to it When they resolved to be a couple, they found they now could be alone in nature with each other, although there still were hours when Magnus needed to retire all by himself. But today was not such a time, and the two had happily walked along snow-covered paths, sometimes even holding hands as if they were still courting.

...And once again, the biggest Valentine came courtesy of the X-Man and former Champion and Defender known as Iceman. You may remember the 17-ton double heart made of ice he did on Boston Common last year, well this year New Yorkers were able to see an even bigger Cupid firing an arrow into a heart in the Strawberry Fields section of Central Park. It is becoming a favorite pastime to guess who the mysterious person is, to whom this massive Valentine sculpture is dedicated in the words 'To my love, will you be my Valentine?'. Some followers of superhero romance both here and overseas are even placing bets. Ladbrooke's the English bookkeepers are giving odds of 10 to 1 on British mutant Psylocke, 15 to 1 on rookie Avenger Ultra Girl, 50 to 1 on Canadian superhero Northstar, and 120 to 1 on First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. More on today's Valentine news coverage after these messages...

"Way to go, Bobby!" Rogue whooped, and Magneto too had to laugh in his quiet fashion.
Rogue had switched on the radio to listen to the news as they cleared the table after their dinner. Rogue liked to prepare a big meal herself occasionally, but they had known beforehand that they would have worked up a ravenous appetite by the time they returned from their afternoon's hike, and so they had taken advantage of Magneto's robotic kitchen and programmed it to prepare their meal and have it ready at their return.
As they went to their bedroom, Rogue asked: "You want to watch something on TV, or...?"

"Let's proceed to the enjoyable part immediately," he replied, and began to unbutton her shirt with his magnetic powers.

Funny idea, to serve radishes on salt befor the first course, but at least it makes a change from breadsticks. I have mixed feelings about this dinner date. A year ago, when Hank told us of his engagement, Natasha and I made a pact to go out together on the Valentine's Day after his wedding if we both were still unattached.

I had been unsure about my own romantic prospects -- there still are days when I think I'll never get over Bobbi's death -- but back then it had seemed likely that 'Tasha would be getting back together with Daredevil. That prospect evaporated, and apart from a short-lived affair during one of her secret mission, 1998 passed by without any romantic entanglements for her. So here we are, looking at each other across the hors d'oeuvres in a fancy-shmancy restaurant above Central Park and making small conversation.

Natasha Romanova.

The Black Widow.

The first great love of my life.

Some say that you never get over your first love, and when I gawp at her face, it feels that way for me. When I first met her, I was immediately smitten. Unfortunately, she then was a Soviet spy and exploited my puppy-like devotion to turn me into her pawn. But after I cleaned up my act and became an Avenger, so did she, with a slight delay. She found she really loved me after all. Too bad it didn't last.

The onion soup is alive with cheese, but acceptable.

We grew apart, felt attracted to others. 'Tasha for a time became all but married to Daredevil, later she had a less successful thing with Hercules, followed by a series of short flings during her many adventures. (Although unlike James Bond or Modesty Blaise, Natasha did not feel obliged to sleep with every guy she met on her missions). In my cynical moods, I suspect that the common denominator of her later bedmates is their youth and sexual stamina. Seems to me that none of her more recent relationships ever came within spitting distance of what she had with me, or DD, or with her first love, Alexey Shostakov, her late husband.

I myself carried a torch for the Scarlet Witch for the longest time (I wasn't the only Avenger who did that) and later I thought I had found my Ms. Right in the shape of Bobbi Morse, Mockingbird. We had a tempestuous marriage, full of ups and downs, but there was no denying the genuine love we felt for each other right until she was killed.

They're bringing on the main course, we continue our inconsequential conversation. From my side it is conducted pretty much automatically.

No, I did not get over my first love easily. Sitting with her now is eerie. I can't help recalled how much I learned from 'Tasha or because of her. That a woman does not have to conform to the standards of my fantasies to hold my attention or my commitment. With her ballerina's bod, she's flat-chested compared to the models I've ogled in men's magazines since my late teens, but that did not make me think I was missing something. Same with Bobbi (who actually was a bit more curvy than the Widow); it was enough to occasionally look at a centerfold, even if Bobbi did not seem fully satisfied when I told her that my Playboy collection did not mean I loved her with a less than total commitment.

Tasha also taught me that it is possible to forgive, that it even can be easy, as it surprisingly was for me after she had betrayed my love. We both tried to learn how to change from lovers to friends, but at least I did not succeed completely, and I sometimes find myself wishing that she too would like us to become more than friends once again.

Strange, how we changed over the years. When we first met, I was still a boy, at least emotionally. I grew to manhood during our romance, and although neither of us would go so far as say that she made me a man, the process of my maturation and my love for her were inextricably entwined and she helped me along as it happened. She then was the experienced older woman and I the neophyte whom she helped find his way in the minefield of male-female relations. Now, thanks to our different rates of aging, we look as if our positions have been reversed. I'm beginning to find the first gray hairs on my temples, and I'm hard of hearing (OK, that's not actually an effect of old age, but a result of the adventure that joined Bobbi and me), so I seem to be well on my way to creaky old age. Tasha, on the other hand, is blessed by having been injected with a variant of the Infinity Formula that has been keeping Nick Fury in such great shape over the years, and so she is now biologically younger than me.

The meal is finished. I have trouble recalling what we just talked about. We have a short debate about who gets to pay, then we decide to go Dutch. As I bring her down to her Rolls-Royce and deliver her to faithful Ivan, she kisses me goodbye. Something about the way she kisses me, about how she touches my jaw when she does it, about the way she moves returns me to the hundreds of little wordless signals I had learned to detect when we were lovers. I think I recognize a familiar message from the old days -- "why yes, making love sounds like a great idea" -- but I'm not sure if that isn't just wishful thinking.

In any case, I suspect it would not be a great idea. While I'm not actually decrepit, my performance is unlikely to compare well to the young studs she's had these past few years. Or someone like Daredevil, whose enhanced senses must have uses for sex as well. Better leave that alone and stick to the memories of the old days. Let's not ruin our friendship.

Sunday, 2/14/1999, cold & sunny. At home all day! When was the last time we could do that? So much time for Raven & me to play with Irene & to celebrate our love. So little paperwork to catch up on. Bliss! Irene enjoyed being pulled around the back garden in a sled by her parents (video). In the afternoon it was Aunt Emma's handpuppets she wanted us to play with, especially the witch, the policeman and the princess. And in the evening it was so nice to watch Raven read the bedtime-story picturebooks together with her. Now that I'm in my seventh month, I can say that I am enjoying my second pregnancy even more than the 1st one. I now have a better idea what to expect, there is less to worry about. I feel I'm bursting with life, sometimes my amazement at the little human being growing inside me is overwhelming. My breasts are proud & heavy, and my bulging belly is like a third, outsize one, especially with its protruding navel in the center like my third nipple (less floridly speaking, seen from the side I look like a big letter B). I often catch myself gazing at myself in the mirror when I get out of the bath. R. is amused by my preening & says that she'd accuse me of vanity if she did not enjoy so much to see me pregnant & nude. If I feel more desirable and desired in my present state, it is a feeling that is more pronounced thanks to her. Looking back over the past weeks, J UIJOL XF BDUVBMMZ NBLF MPWF NPSF (PS BU BOZ SBUF MPOHFS) UIBO CFGPSF UIF QSFHOBOZ -- BOE XF XFSF USZJOH UP DPODFJWF PVS CBCZ UIFO!

"Can't your diary wait until tomorrow, Val?" Raven complained from the bedroom.

"Hang on, I'm almost finished!" Valerie Cooper closed the little book and laid it aside. Then she got up and went next door. While it probably would have been an exaggeration to speak of a waddle, her gait lacked a certain elegance, she noted self-critically.

Her mate already lay in bed, reclining on her side and looking most alluring in her wisp of a negligee.

Val leaned against the doorframe, taking in the view. "Raven, my love," she finally said with a big smile, "if this day ends as I think it will, I rather fear I wouldn't muster up the energy to write down this entry until Wednesday!"

She took off her bathrobe and hung it on the clothes tree. The nightgown followed and fell to form a crumpled pancake on the rug by her side of the bed.

"So, my lady," said Raven with a wide grin, "an expecting mother's cravings must be indulged. How shall I attempt to satisfy your desires? Do you want me as a man or as a woman tonight?"

"Can't I have both?"

"Val, you're incorrigible!"

"I get that from my life-partner."

Earth-600A: In a hothouse built in an abandoned chemical plant, two women were watching television. One was a redhead in a skintight green costume. Most would have called her attractive, had it not been for the unnatural tone of her skin. Her eyes and worldly-wise smile gave her the appearance of a woman of experience. The woman beside her seemed much younger, but only at first glance. The blond pigtails stuck out from above her ears like the horns of a jester's belled cap, the pink T-shirt with the teddy-bear design, and her somewhat squeaky voice made her look like a high school student, not the academic graduate she in fact was. The mischievous twinkle in her eyes showed that she was far from innocent. And what normal schoolgirl would be absent-mindedly scratching a laughing hyena behind the ears while watching the evening news?

"And to round up the news, even Gotham City's best-known protector entered the Valentine spirit. The Batman's car was covered in heart-shaped stickers and spray-painted pink designs. We apologize for the inferior quality of the picture on this WGBS exclusive. It is from an amateur video -- no professional news-crew was on hand to film the Batmobile this morning. Here's our own Summer Gleeson to talk about it. She has of course covered many of Batman's exploits. Summer?"

"Well, Frank, everybody has been wondering about the graffiti on the Batmobile. Are the letters H I just a colloquial greeting, or could they be the initials of the Darknight Detective's lady love?"

"Aw, red," sighed Harley Quinn, "you shouldn't have!" She wiped a single tear from her eye. "That reminds me of some of the things I used to do for Mistah J..."

Poison Ivy rolled up her eyes at the sentimental mention of her partner's former object of infatuation. But when Harley placed a big wet kiss on her cheek and declared taht this was her best Valentine's Day present ever, her frown melted away and she decided that the caper had been worth the risk after all...

Preparing for bed rather early, the Black Widow sat, frowning. That date had not gone as she had expected. Outwardly, it had been a meeting of old friends, filled with banter and reminiscences. But she had known Clint for nearly fifteen years and could tell he was a bit mechanical in his conversation, a sure sign that his mind was preoccupied. And from the way he had looked at her intently throughout the the meal it was easy to divine with whom.

She herself, she had to admit, had enjoyed his company and found herself fondly remembering the days when the Black Widow and Hawkeye had been a great professional and romantic partnership. But at the end of the evening, after that great kiss, he had just turned around and left. What had suddenly changed his mind?

She reached for the telephone, wanting to get an answer, but stopped still after picking up the receiver. Her mind went back to the goodbyes. Few people knew her as well as Clint. Maybe just Matt and Ivan. She was reasonably certain that not even Alyosha had known her as well as these three. Had she appeared to eager when she kissed him on the mouth instead of the cheeks just know, she wondered self-critically. Was that the reason for Clint's super-ego to overrule his instincts and insist that their relationship should not again proceed beyond the Platonic stage? Was it the unfamiliarity of the situation where she appeared to be the sexual aggressor, where she did not bother to let him take the more active romantic part, at least in appearance?

She had to admit to herself that this was an unusual situation for her. Normally she felt content to let herself be pursued, either accepting or rejecting the advances of the men in her life. Occasionally she arranged things so that a man would pursue her, but if she wanted to rekindle her romance with Clint that would probably not be feasible. So she had to enter uncharted territory, and what was more, she might have to admit openly that she found her current situation unsatisfactory. And her pride rebelled against such an admission.

Half an hour later, she still sat by the phone, her hand on the receiver, her face mirroring her indecision.

Charles Xavier switched off his computer terminal and leaned back. He felt quite satisfied with the the progress he had made on the lecture he was going to deliver at the UN hearings on mutant affairs next month. Outside, it was turning dark. He decided to call it a day and make himself a mug of hot cocoa. Maybe one of his students was game for a chat with the Professor, or maybe (he hoped against hope) there was something on TV worth watching. He drove his hoverchair from his study, through the automatically opening doors. Although it was quite late, and a sunday to boot, he found Paige Guthrie sitting at the desk, intently reading a leather-bound volume and taking notes in her laptop. Xavier had to smile. He had not seen as intense a student at the mansion since the days when a young Kitty Pryde had worked her posterior off to regain her place with the X-Men after he had decreed that she should join the New Mutants. Again he felt reminded of himself in his teens. The nineteen-year-old Kentuckyan looked up somewhat embarrassed when she heard the hum of the hoverchair approach.

"Good evening, Paige, still busy, I see."

"Uh, hi Professor. Ah kinda lost track o' the time."

"I know the feeling," Charles Xavier went on. "I was going to make some hot cocoa. Do you want me to bring you a mug as well?"

"Yes please. No wait," she said, remembering the manners she had been taught by her mother, "I'll do it. If you want, you can go back to your office if you want to. I'll bring you your cocoa."

The Professor smiled. "Let's go together," he suggested, "We can talk on the way. And I'm neither too old nor too infirm to handle the making of hot beverages."

Paige winced. Poor girl, the Professor thought, she's trying too hard. Now she's wondering if I'm annoyed at her. Nevertheless, the conversation overcame its awkward start, gathering momentum and livelyness as the two progressed through the gallery and the sitting room. When they turned to enter the kitchen, Charles Xavier noticed that at the end of the corridor, the parlor room fireplace was ablaze. A sofa had been moved close in front of it, and in the flickering light he recognized Emma Frost sitting on Bobby Drake's lap. The two were contentedly holding each other tight and looking into the fight, silently. Possibly communicating telepathically, but Charles did not want to pry. Since the two lovers seemed oblivious of the world around them, he did not hail them, but quickly entered the kitchen with Paige. He noticed that the girl's expression had mellowed, that she wryly smiled at the sight of her old headmistress and her boyfriend.

When the Professor raised an inquisitive eyebrow, she said: "Ah was just thinkin' of my first years with Ms. Frost. Sometimes we found it hard t' b'lieve that she's a real human being. And she kinda worked on that image herself. Back in those days she would have done anything to avoid bein' seen like that. She sure is happy with Bobby."

Charles Xavier nodded, and they set about making their cocoa. Paige continued: "Sure is nice that they're together on Valentine's day." Her heartfelt sigh was a wordless comment on the contrast between the situation of the couple before the fireplace and her own. And his own, Charles reflected.

Later that night, before going to bed, Charles Xavier looked out his bedroom window. Beneath him lay the empty and covered up swimming pool, beyond that he could see the dark shapes of the trees of the estate against the snow-covered ground, and further to the right he could barely discern the top of the boathouse's roof just above the horizon. And above everything a glorious clear starry sky. The Moon was only a thin wisp of a crescent, and so the stars seemed brighter. He knew that his power reserves had still not returned to their full strength, that he surely be regretting this next morning. But it was something he had to do. Leaning back in his chair, Earth's greatest telepath closed his eyes and reached across the emptyness of intergalactic space to contact the woman he loved.

*Can you hear me, Lilandra?*



This story is dedicated to Lori Sammy, a very talented artist and great supporter of the Tales of the Twilight Menshevik. Do check out her illustrations for the series and her other artwork at her site "Glockgal's Fab Fan-Art," at "Speculum Mundi," and at "Down-Home Charm."

The Avengers, Banshee (Sean Cassidy), Beast (Henry P. McCoy), Black Widow (Natasha Romanova), Cannonball (Sam Guthrie), Captain Britain (Brian Braddock), The Champions, Valerie Cooper, Cyclops (Scott Summers), The Daily Bugle, The Defenders, Willie Drake, Excalibur, The Fantastic Four, Nick Fury, Gambit (Rémy LeBeau), Elaine, Jean & John Grey, Hawkeye (Clint Barton), Hercules (Marvel version), Stevie Hunter, Husk (Paige Guthrie), Iceman (Bobby Drake), Infinity Formula, J. Jonah Jameson, Marla Madison Jameson, Lockheed the Dragon, Moira MacTaggert, Magneto (Magnus), Meggan, Mockingbird (Bobbi Morse Barton), Mystique (Raven Darkhölme), Lilandra Neramani, Northstar (Jean-Paul Beaubier), Peter Parker (Spider-Man), Ivan Petrovich, Phoenix (Rachel Summers), Professor X (Charles Xavier), Psylocke (Elizabeth Braddock), Red Guardian (Alexey Shostakov), Joe Robertson, Rogue, Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff), Shadowcat (Katherine Pryde), Siege Perilous, Storm (Ororo Munroe), Trish Tilby, Ultra Girl, Phil Urich, Mary Jane Watson-Parker, White Queen (Emma Frost), Peter Wisdom, Wolfsbane (Rahne Sinclair), Xavier Mansion, and the X-Men are TM and copyright Marvel Comics 1999.
Batcave, Batman (Bruce Wayne), Batmobile, Andrea Beaumont, Buzz, Comet (Andy Jones), Summer Gleeson, Gotham City, Mattie Harcourt, Harley Quinn (Harleen Quinzel) and her hyenas, the Joker, Leesburg, Leesburg Tribune, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Alfred Pennyworth, Poison Ivy (Pamela Isley), Supergirl (Linda Danvers/Matrix), Superman (Kal-El/Clark Kent), and WGBS are TM and copyright DC Comics 1999.
Chen Li, Irene and Hope Cooper, The Meddlers (name and concept), Abigail Summers, and Errol Wagner are copyright Tilman Stieve.


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