On second thought,

Qwest

(Q)

doesn't need

MCI

(MCIP)

to make a decision Tuesday after all.

Yes, that's right, in spite of last week's

sturm und drang

, tomorrow is shaping up as just another day in the long-running takeover battle between

Verizon

(VZ) - Get Report

and Qwest.

After claiming not once but twice last week that it would withdraw its all-important $8.9 billion offer for MCI if the company's board failed to accept its bid today, Qwest said late Tuesday it would give MCI till noon Wednesday. Qwest's letter indicates talks with MCI are in progress.

"We request that you take the steps necessary under your agreement with Verizon to declare our offer a Superior Proposal. If MCI does not inform us by midnight tonight, and publicly declare by noon EDT on April 6, 2005, that Qwest's proposal constitutes a Superior Proposal and give notice of such determination to Verizon, our offer will be withdrawn," Qwest wrote in a letter to the MCI board Tuesday.

The decision comes at what seems like yet another pivotal moment in the standoff, which is now going on two months old. MCI agreed in February to sell out to Verizon in a $6.7 billion merger, after Qwest had made an initial unsolicited offer worth some 20% more. Last month, after MCI rebuffed repeated entreaties from Qwest, the company agreed to accept Verizon's sweetened $7.5 billion deal, which Qwest again promptly trumped by 20%.

The fight has since turned nastier, with Qwest repeatedly threatening last week to withdraw its stock-and-cash bid if MCI failed to respond by Tuesday. Verizon shot back yesterday that it would bow out of the proceedings if MCI's board deemed Qwest's offer superior.

Verizon has argued throughout that its lower bid is superior because the company is in solid financial shape and has a strong hand in the fast-growing wireless services industry. MCI has mostly accepted those arguments while pointing to Qwest's debt-heavy balance sheet and lack of wireless presence as major weaknesses.

But Qwest has gained ground with some MCI shareholders by repeatedly bidding above Verizon and by steadily increasing the cash part of its offer.

On Tuesday, MCI's shares slipped 7 cents to $25.01, while Qwest climbed 4 cents to $3.86 and Verizon added 12 cents to $35.77.