All characters are the copyright of Marvel comics, with the exception of the character Serenade, who I made up myself. This story is for non-profit purposes of private entertainment only.

Moonlight Serenade, Chapter Two

Mac O'Roni

     She was in the middle of a wonderful dream, and she tried desperately to stay in it, but it fell away from her like water down a drain as she was pulled from sleep by the sound of someone knocking on her door.
     “Un moment, s’il vous plaît,” she muttered.
     “Li’l Bird? You ‘wake?”
     That voice snapped her to full consciousness immediately, and she remembered where she was and why. Remy, the only person on earth who still called her “Li’l Bird,” was here to take her down to dinner, her first supper at the Xavier Institute, her first supper as an X-Man, her first supper away from the big Georgian mansion in which she had lived her entire life.
     “Remy! Oui, mon cher, I’m awake. Jus’ a mo’, please—got to fix m’ hair!”
     She jumped out of bed, ran to the mirror hanging above the vanity and groaned at her reflection. It was at that moment that she realized she had neglected to pack any such oddment as a brush or comb among the few belongings she had thought fit to bring with her. She sighed and ran her fingers through the wild tangle of her soft white hair. It usually stuck up at all angles; she didn’t mind that. She just wanted it to look somewhat deliberate.
     She wiped the sleep out of her eyes, wishing her room had a connected bathroom so she could splash her face. Oh well, no matter. Satisfied that she was as presentable as she could be under the circumstances, she opened the door.
     When she saw her cousin standing there, dressed smartly in casual but very fine clothes, she felt ridiculously under-dressed in her white T-shirt and white denim jeans. She had brought no other clothes, and felt the biggest kind of fool for it. A shopping trip was definitely in order—she had planned on going before she might be called upon to join the group for anything more formal than watching television in the living area, but that hadn’t worked out.
     He read her embarrassment. “Don’ worry, chère, you look très fantastique. Nobody goan be dressed up, it’s jus’ supper. Not a real formal ‘casion ‘roun’ here.”
     He offered her his arm again, that same gallant manner she remembered from her childhood, and she smiled up at him as she slipped her arm through the crook of his elbow. She was a little intimidated, still, by his polished appearance, but she remembered that he’d always liked to be the best-dressed man at the dinner table and took heart from the knowledge.
     He had even shaved, she realized—the light growth of beard stubble on his chin and cheeks was gone and his face was as smooth and youthful as though it had never been there at all. Indeed, he looked no older now than he’d looked the last time she saw him, nine years before. But she didn’t like thinking about that awful day, wearing her ceremonial mourning robes and following Remy and the somber, hard-faced Guildsmen through the underground passages to the Exile’s Gate. She had tried not to cry as those awful, rusty gates to nowhere were unlocked and her dearest friend disappeared into the darkness beyond them, but it had proved a futile undertaking—seeing him move beyond the safety and comfort of guild and family to the deadly unknown of a thief without a home had been more than she could bear, and she’d wept bitterly all the way back to the mansion.
     Realizing that she, too, was now an exile in fact if not in name, she moved closer to his side as they walked, drawing comfort from his steady presence. She had not been made to take that long, lonely walk past the Exile’s Gate, but she had been quite as sure that she would be as homeless and alone here as if she had. Now, it seemed she had a chance to be a part of something at least as grand as the guild, and doubtless more legitimate.
     “You nervous, chère?” he asked as they turned a last corner before entering the dining room.
     “A little,” she said.
     “Don’ be scared—Professor X got y’ sittin’ between Stormy an’ Iceman, but Remy be jus’ across de table from y’ all de time.”
     A thrill of terror rippled through her heart and in brilliant colors across her skin, hair, and eyes as they passed through the door into the dining room. They were the last to arrive; everyone else was already seated and waiting politely for them. As she had felt them earlier, so she now felt every pair of eyes turned upon her. And there were many pairs of eyes in this room.
     She tried to hide in Remy’s shadow, but he would not permit it; drew her out from behind him and led her to her place at the long, crowded table. The mutant called Iceman, his smug amusement at the knowledge of Remy’s old nickname completely vanished from his countenance now, jumped up from his seat and pulled her chair for her, smiling down at her with shy infatuation. Remy very gently forced her to sit, gave her a quick, fortifying peck on the cheek, and went to take his own place on the other side of the table.
     Natural dinner conversation was completely forestalled by her appearance, and she picked at her food with increasing self-consciousness. It seemed that everyone at the table was trapped in a weird dream-state, gazing at her while they slowly, languidly ate their meals. Only the soft pale light of many candles lighted the room, and it was the effect of this lighting on her snowy features that caused the wide-spread mental paralysis. She was spared the total indignity of the situation only by Remy’s blessed, oblivious chattering. He knew how uncomfortable the situation was for her—the guildsmembers had been long used to her quiet presence at their dinner table and ignored her out of courtesy to her natural reticence—and carried on an animated conversation all by himself, mindless of how ridiculous he would have seemed if anyone other than Serenade herself were in any condition to notice him.
     She found, as the meal wore on, that she liked the elegant African mutant “Storm” very much. Her silence felt a great deal more natural, and friendlier, than the rest, and she was very good about passing plates and condiments with a warm smile without even having to be asked. The male mutant at her other elbow, Iceman, made her very nervous although she knew he didn’t intend to. Like most men, young and old, meeting her for the first time, he was utterly enthralled with her and couldn’t help staring. She tried not to stare back when at one point he forgot to chew and sat there just looking at her in wide-eyed wonderment, jaw slack and mouth filled with partially masticated potatoes.
     “Y’ droolin’ down y’ chin, M’sieu Icecube,” Remy said at that point, leaning across the table to pass the young man a napkin. “T’ink mebbe you make de young lady a li’l bit oncomf’table?”
     Iceman took the offered serviette and wiped his face absently, never once taking his eyes from Serenade.
     She pushed her plate away. “I’m really not feelin’ dat hongry,” she said quietly. “May I be e’scused, please?”
     “Of course, dear,” Storm said, standing up as well. “I apologize for our behavior this evening on behalf of everyone—you are a most unusual young lady, and we are unused to such an…enthralling presence. I assure you,” she continued blandly as a miniature bolt of lightning struck one of the silver candelabra on the table, showering hot sparks down on the plates of the mesmerized diners, “that we will be far better behaved next time.”
     “I’m not feelin’ too much like stickin’ around wit’ a table fulla George Romero movie zombies either,” Remy said, standing up and stretching like an indolent cat. “How’za ‘bout Stormy and me give y’ de gran’ tour, neh? Y’ up t’ it, Stormy?”
     “Please don’t call me that, Remy,” Storm said, although Serenade’s empathy immediately picked up on the fact that this was an old and well-tolerated point of contention between them. “I would like very much to show you the mansion and grounds, Serenade, if you will permit my presence.”
     “I don’ mind at all,” Serenade said. “I’d like t’ take a look aroun’.”
     “Excellent,” Storm said, offering her arm. “Then Remy and I will be more than happy to show you what there is to see.”
     They left arm-in-arm, Storm on her left and Remy on her right, and Serenade couldn’t help feeling a bit like Dorothy traveling through the dark, spooky wood. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.
     The first point of interest that her two enthusiastic guides brought her to was a massive, ominous hemispherical wall of thick dark metal.
     “Dis probably where y’ goan spen’ mos’ a’ y’ time from now on, chère, whether y’ like it or not. We call it de ‘Danger Room,’” Remy said, punching in the code to open the imposing adamantium-reinforced doors to the huge, half-spherical high-tech gymnasium.
     Serenade whistled, impressed. “Woah. Big.”
     “And very useful,” Storm said. “We use alien Shi’ar technology to simulate any location and situation we may find ourselves in. It’s not just a workout room.”
     But currently it was set up for gymnastics, with parallel bars, uneven bars, and balance beams. Serenade immediately leapt onto the uneven bars, quickly proving herself Remy’s acrobatic peer with flips and handstands. “She’s quite an astonishing young lady, my friend,” Storm told Remy as they watched her. “I like her very much.”
     “I’m glad, padnat. She goan need a frien’ like you. She al’us were a shy kid, an’ mos’ people can’ help starin’ at her—ain’ dey fault, an’ it ain’ really hers, but it make her self-conscious. Don’ t’ink she really know how perfect she is…she al’us t’ink dey’s somet’in’ mean behin’ de eyes.”
     “She had a difficult childhood?”
     He nodded. “Yeah, worse dan it shoulda been. Her mama, she die young, an’ her brother die too—yellow fever, took bot’ of ‘em. Her père, he never was de mos’ carin’ of men. I t’ink he really only saw her as somet’in’ he could use t’ bring hisself up in de guild.”
     “But you were her friend, am I right?”
     “Practic’ly brother an’ sister. I’s t’ree years older dan her, so she’s…seven, when I firs’ come t’ de guild. Jus’ los’ her mère and frère. She’s all alone, an’ so was I. We kin’ a’ took care of each other. I keep her safe from all de people she’s scared of, and she’d heal me up when I fell out of trees.” He laughed.
     “She had powers that young?”
     “Li’l bit. Dey got lots stronger when she hit twelve or so. But she could patch up cuts and scrapes…an’ some of de less serious breaks,” he said, tossing his head in wry indication that he himself had suffered many of those.
     “We were bot’ of us empat’etic, so we kin’a understood each other a li’l better dan mos’ people did. An’ we were both of us different-lookin’; me wit’ my eyes and her wit’ her colors.”
     “It must have been wonderful for the both of you, having someone who really understood everything you were going through.”
     “We was t’icker dan t’ieves, if you’ll pardon de expression, chère. When I had t’ leave, de hardes’ part was leavin’ her behind. But I knew Jean-Luc would take care a’ her for me. He al’us did.”
     “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised or hurt that you never mentioned her to me before,” Storm said, a hint of accusation in her voice.
     “Mais, chère, but Gambit talk ‘bout her all de time! You mean you never heard me talkin’ ‘bout my Li’l Bird? I know I tol’ you ‘bout how she use t’ sing f’ me out in de yard back when we was kids.”
     “Oh. I thought you meant a real bird…” she muttered.
     Serenade finished her workout and bounced back to them, radiant after her exertions. “I like dis room,” she said happily.
     “Wait ‘til Cyclops got y’ in here runnin’ simulations over an’ over an’ over again, chère, and den see how y’ like it.”
     “Oh! I nearly forgot!” Storm exclaimed. “Cyclops and the Professor both would have my hide if I didn’t make certain you got your uniform, Serenade.”
     She left the Danger Room momentarily, returning with a brown paper-wrapped package from the nearby storeroom. “I hope you like it. It’s white, like mine, but the fabric is iridescent so it will look as colorful as you are.”
     “Dey’s a bat’room jus’ down de hall, chère,” Remy said, pointing. “Why don’ y’ go try it on an’ show us how it look?”
     “I warn you—they’re a little uncomfortable at first. The kevlar takes some getting used to,” Storm added.
     “Should be okay,” Serenade said, shyly. “De uniform I wore f’ de guild wa’nt very comf’table at firs’, eit’er.”
     “Go try it on, chère,” Gambit said. “If dey’s anyt’ing y’ don’ like about it, we can get it changed before y’ need to have it.”
     She was hesitant, but finally locked herself away in the bathroom to squeeze into the skin-tight uniform. Her modest heart was dismayed at how it emphasized certain womanly features, and how well its iridescent colors matched her own skin tones. Looking back at herself in the full-length mirror, it seemed as though she wore nothing at all.
     She pulled on the knee-high boots and hooked the long flowing cloak onto the silver fastenings on her collar. She practiced turning her head to the left, to the right, and up and down in the stiff new neck guard, breaking it in. She would want full mobility before she joined the team on any actual missions.
     She felt extremely self-conscious about showing Storm and Remy—mostly Remy, if she were perfectly honest with herself. Storm at least was a woman; she didn’t necessarily want any man, even one she loved and trusted, to see her like this. But she swallowed her pride, pulled the fortunate cloak tighter about herself, and stepped out into the hall.
     Remy was talking to Storm, leaning in typical indolent fashion against the wall with his hands in his pockets, but his voice faltered and silenced as Serenade appeared. “Well, wha’chu t’ink?” she asked, attempting a grin and twirling half-heartedly.
     “Gorgeous!” Storm exclaimed.
     “Um…mebbe it should be some other color, neh?” Remy said, blushing as his empathy shared Serenade’s embarrassment to feel so exposed.
     “Nonsense, Remy—it’s perfect!”
     “A li’l too perfect,” he muttered.
     “Don’t be so prudish, Gambit—it’s hardly like you,” Storm said, affectionately enough. She put an arm around Serenade’s shoulders. “You look absolutely lovely, Serenade. Honestly.”
     “I do feel a li’l…bare,” she admitted.
     “You are such a lovely person, dear—you should be proud of your appearance. There’s no need to hide behind cloaks and cousins,” Storm said.
     Gambit shrugged and shared a significant exchange of glances with Serenade. “If you t’ink you be comf’table in dat, chère, it’s fine. Y’ do look wonde’ful.”
     “I’ll get used t’ it,” she said, striving to make her voice bright. “If you an’ Storm like it, I s’pose it mus’ be all right. I’ll go…change back int’ my civvies.”
     She slipped back into the bathroom, and Gambit shook his head at Storm. “You plannin’ on turnin’ my pretty Li’l Bird int’ a fashion model an’ an exhibitionist, ‘Ro?”
     “I’m planning on teaching her a little self-confidence and self-esteem. It wouldn’t hurt her to be a bit of an exhibitionist, would it? People stare at her already—it couldn’t possibly get worse.”
     He clucked his tongue uncertainly. “I hope not, chère. I surely hope not.”
     Serenade returned then, looking infinitely happier in her comfortable, baggy T-shirt and jeans and her spotless white sneakers. She had carefully refolded her uniform and slipped it back in the clear plastic bag it had come in.
     “All right, Professor, we’ll bring her right up,” Storm said, causing Serenade to turn the brilliant colors of confusion as she looked around her for whoever the woman was speaking to.
     “S’okay, chère,” Remy said, taking her arm. “Professor X just asked us to bring y’ up t’ his study—he want t’ give y’ de official welcome and a rundown of de house rules, no doubt.”
     “I didn’t hear anyone,” Serenade said, still confused.
     “You’ll understand soon,” Storm assured her. “Professor Xavier will explain everything, I’m sure.”
     They led her up several winding flights of stairs from the deep underground Danger Room facilities, arm-in-arm again, lions and tigers and bears oh my. They left her outside a rich mahogany-paneled door. Storm gave her a sisterly peck on the cheek, and Remy gave her a strong one-armed hug before they walked away, quickly pointing out the stairs that would take her to her room before they split up and vanished on their separate ways.
     De Tin Man and de Scarecrow weren’t much use t’ Dorothy when dey met de lion, eit’er, she thought, and courageously brought her fist up to knock. Dorothy’s lion had turned out to be sweet-natured and cowardly. She doubted she would come off half as lucky.
     Never mind knocking, dear. Come in.
     Startled, she jumped back from the door. The voice was the elegant Oxford of Professor Charles Xavier, all right, but it had come from inside her own head.
     That’s right, the professor’s voice came, clearly amused. Just as your powers enable you to feel others’ emotions, so my powers enable me to read others’ minds, and to communicate telepathically.
     I have not, he continued, been reading any of your private thoughts. I respect the sanctity of the mind, though I will admit that there have been times when I have used my powers to gain information that no one wanted me to have. Do not be afraid, Serenade. Please, come in so we may speak more comfortably.
     She pushed the door open and stepped hesitantly inside. “Professor, sir,” she said politely.
     “Pray, have a seat,” he said, gesturing to the two leather-backed arm chairs in front of his massive oak desk. She slid stiffly onto the seat of the one turned slightly towards the door with a silent nod of acceptance.
     “I will repeat what Ororo said to you at that rather unfortunate dinner—next time, we will be better behaved. It was entirely my fault, I fear, and I apologize profusely—I was unaware of the rather startling effect that candlelight has on your complexion.”
     Whether his apology was genuine or not, his tone was still tightly amused. She supposed there was something funny about the meal in retrospect, although such a thing could only seem funny after the fact. She accepted his apology with quiet thanks.
     “You must give us time to acclimatize ourselves to your presence, my dear. We have not had the benefit of long exposure, as the members of your guild have had—one can become inured, I’m certain, even to your unique and considerable charms.”
     She didn’t know what to say to that at all.
     He maneuvered out from behind his desk, the motor in his chair humming softly. “I do want to take the opportunity to welcome you here, and to thank you for accepting my invitation to join my team.”
     “You have Jean-Luc to t’ank f’ dat,” she said. “He was very adamant dat I come. I don’ know dat I would have if he hadn’ insisted.”
     “Not even if he had told you that Remy was here?” he smiled.
     She smiled. “I would have signed up in a’ instant.”
     “I am glad there is someone here that you know and trust, to help you get settled. I do hope you will make more friends, though. Ororo is an excellent start.”
     “Ororo Munroe—Storm, righ’?”
     He nodded. “Yes.”
     “I like her very much. She very nice. Pretty, too.”
     “She and Remy are very close friends, so you have a solid ‘in’ with her right away. I believe she has already come to appreciate your individual qualities as well,” he said.
     “How close?”
     The professor arched one thin, patrician eyebrow. “I beg your pardon?”
     “How close are dey? Remy and Storm, I mean.”
     He smiled. “Remy saved Storm from a rather nasty character called the Shadowking,” he said. “At the time, she was…not quite herself, let us say. She had been de-aged until she was no more than twelve years old. She formed a very strong filial attachment to Gambit that has persisted throughout their acquaintance.”
     “Like a sister, den?”
     She sat back a little, some of the tension draining out of her bearing. Her colors radiated relief.
     “You care a great deal for Remy?” he asked, quietly.
     “He de bes’ frien’ I ever have,” she said.
     “Is that all?”
     She smiled a little, ruefully. “I’ve love’ him since we was chilluns,” she said. “Puppy love—y’know. Seein’ him again today aft’ all dis time sorta brought all dat back. Guess I still got a bit of a crush on ‘im.”
     “As I understand it, not an uncommon occurrence. Remy is…a charming and attractive young man.”
     “Silly, though—me bein’ jealous of ‘im. Me an him, we always been jus’ like brother an’ sister. Dey ain’ nothin’ dere between us but frien’ship.”
     “Perhaps someday there could be more.”
     She stared at him, open-mouthed, and then laughed. “Me an’ Remy? Nah, not de two of us. I’m not ‘xac’ly his type, Professor.”
     “What type is that, exactly?”
     She shrugged. “Strong-minded, fo’ward, courageous, beautiful--all de t’ings I’m not.”
     He smiled a little. “You don’t believe you are beautiful?”
     She spread her hands in an all-encompassing gesture. “Look at me. I’m de fabled ‘whiter shade a’ pale’ dat Procol Harem sang ‘bout.”
     His smile tugged one corner of his mouth a little higher. “And I suppose a woman has to be golden-tanned or sable to be beautiful?”
     “A touch a’ color would be preferred,” she said seriously.
     It was his turn to laugh. “My dear, you seem to forget that you are, quite possibly and even probably, the single most colorful person on the planet. There are no other people I know who can lay claim to as many natural colors as you.”
     “I’m a freak,” she said, her voice quiet and mournful. He stopped laughing immediately.
     He moved in close and took her hand in both of his. “No, my dear,” he said. “Not a freak. Don’t ever let yourself believe that, I beg you. You are with people who have no choice but to understand you now—not just Remy, but all of us; Storm and Iceman and Beast and Wolverine and everyone else. I know that not everyone in the guild was…accepting of you, because of your appearance, because of your power. And I know that it was far worse for you on those rare occasions when you left the safety of that extended family, wasn’t it? There were people at home who loved you and cared for you, in spite of everything, but there were few beyond the walls of your guild who could look on you without some measure of fear and hatred in their eyes, were there? You may find that you don’t get on perfectly well with everyone here, my dear, but no one will ever hate you because you are a mutant. We are all mutants here.”
     Her colors and her smile were sad. “Thank you, Professor,” she said, just the same. “I’ll try t’ keep dat in min’.”
     He patted her hand and then released her, moving back behind the desk. “I think that we can forego a discussion of the rules—there aren’t many, I assure you, and I don’t foresee any great disciplinary problems here. Remy can catch you up to speed on the rules and requirements we do have, and then show you all his favorite ways of breaking them and wriggling out of them.” He smiled. “I do hope you will be happy here, my dear. I look forward to having you as a full member of our team. Unless you have any questions, I bid you goodnight.”
     “I t’ink I’m okay, f’ now at leas’. G’night, Professor.”
     She rose from her chair and moved to the door, but paused just inside once she had it opened.
     “Dere is one t’ing, sir.”
     “I was wonderin’…how’ju fin’ out about me? Did Jean-Luc talk t’ you, or…?”
     “I’ve known of your existence ever since you first came fully into your powers,” he admitted. “I use a special device to enhance my telepathic powers—Cerebro, it’s called. With it, I can keep track of all the mutant and human minds on the planet. But, you were clearly happy to stay where you were, and I never attempted to contact your guild until it came to my attention that you could not stay there.”
     “You know, den, ‘bout…what happen?”
     He nodded. “The basics. For the most part, just that Jean-Luc was debating exiling you.”
     She hung her head. “T’ank you,” she said, “for sparin’ me dat.” The door closed silently behind her as she slipped away.

On to Chapter Three!