The restaurant was ritzy to say the least. But then again, so were all the others in this section of New York City. The clientele were the elite; the women work mink coats and the men sported hand-made Italian suits. The hum of conversation mixed with the notes of Beethoven's "Fur Elise" that was being played on the grand piano. Silverware clinked against expensive fine china, adding to the cacophony.
From this scene, one particular couple seemed to stand out. Perhaps it was the lady, with her rich cocoa skin and snow-white hair. Or her male companion, with his strange, cat-like movements. Whatever it was, there was an undeniable strange "otherness" about the pair.
This was because they weren't human.
Ororo Munroe delicately smoothed the fresh linen napkin across her lap. Across from her, Kurt Wagner drummed his two fingers against the table in a nervous fashion. His eyes darted from side to side as if he expected an angry mob to jump out at him at any moment. He had only possessed the image inducer, the device that hid his blue skin and brilliant yellow eyes, for a little over a week. He had yet to learn to relax in a crowd.
The advent of the image inducer was the special occasion that the couple was celebrating this night. For his entire life, Kurt had been confined to the shadows. The sight of him tended to cause fear and mass panic in certain situations. Now, thanks to the concealment offered by the device, he was free to mingle with the general public, as long as he was careful not to knock anything over with his tail.
Ororo knew that that this dinner was going to cost Kurt most of his paycheck. She had refused at first, claiming that going out for pizza would be just as nice. But Kurt had insisted that this momentous occasion in his life called for something a little more special than pepperoni and extra cheese.
The waiter had already come and gone, leaving Ororo and Kurt alone in a comfortable silence. Neither one said a word for several moments. Ororo busied herself studying the dining couples closest to them. She often entertained herself by trying to pinpoint any other mutants in the crowd. She would look for any tell-tale signs, any movements that would betray them. So far this group seemed to be perfectly…human. Her concentration was broken by Kurt clearing his throat.
"Are you enjoying yourself, fraulein?" he asked, smiling weakly at her.
"Yes, I am," replied Ororo. "It was very sweet of you to invite me out tonight."
Kurt shrugged off the comment. He picked up his wine glass and twirled it, watching as the red wine swished inside. "You look very nice this evening," he stated, becoming bolder.
She glanced down at the midnight blue dress she was wearing. It was made of satin, with a sweeping, low-cut neckline. She had bought it especially for this night. Around her neck hung a deep yellow topaz pendant; she reached up and began to toy with the gold chain that held it.
"Thank you, Kurt." Ororo studied her companion for a moment. He was wearing a black suit with a deep blue vest. "You look handsome yourself."
The German grinned, a faint blush staining his cheeks. "Danke," he murmured, glancing momentarily at her. He then held his glass out towards her. "A toast?" he suggested.
"To what?" she asked as she lifted her own glass.
"To tonight," he proposed.
"To us," added Ororo.
Kurt grinned. "To us," he repeated.
The glasses clinked melodiously as they toasted. Ororo took a tentative sip of the dry red wine, her eyes locked on Kurt. He nervously set down his glass and then reached his hand out across the table. She allowed him to take her free hand in his own.
"Fraulein…there is something I have been wanting to tell you…" he began, his eyes focused on the tablecloth.
"Yes?" asked Ororo eagerly, leaning forward with anticipation.
Kurt opened his mouth to respond, but the waiter picked that inopportune moment to return with their food. Ororo frowned and pulled away from Kurt, sitting back so that the waiter could place her plate before her. For a moment, she hoped that her friend might continue with what he was about to say, but he appeared to be suddenly engrossed in his meal. The weather witch let out a deep sigh.
The pair ate in silence, commenting from time to time on the meal. Ororo was beginning to grow uneasy. It wasn't her dinner companion, but the odd sense that she was being watched. She glanced around the restaurant, but everyone seemed preoccupied with their own conversations.
She had to turn around in her seat to find who was watching her. She was quite surprised who the culprit was. An older woman, with gray, wispy hair that was pulled back into a tight bun, sat still with her eyes fixed on Ororo. Her lips were pinched into a frown and she seemed to be very displeased about something.
Immediately, Ororo assumed it was because she was a mutant. Her powder-white hair betrayed her peculiar DNA code. Ororo was accustomed to people staring at her, trying to decide whether or not her hair was bleached.
The weather witch turned back to her companion, trying to ignore the older woman's stares. No one else seemed too disturbed by the near proximity of a possible mutant. Maybe it was because Kurt appeared to be perfectly normal. Human-mutant relationships were almost completely unheard of. Prejudices seemed to run deep.
The elderly lady politely excused herself from the table and headed towards the restroom. Kurt and Ororo's table lay in her path. She refrained herself to icy glares as she walked by the first time. However, as she returned to her seat moments later, her eyes locked on Kurt and she gave him a reprimanding glare. Then her eyes flickered to Ororo. In a hushed whisper she uttered a single word as she sauntered onward. Ororo's stomach clenched and every muscle in her body tensed. A few patrons glanced up from their meals as a loud rumble of thunder shook the glass windows.
Across the table, Kurt sat very still as he cautiously studied Ororo. He had heard what the woman had muttered, but he was confused. He had never heard that particular English word before, but gauging from his friend's reaction, it wasn't pleasant or polite. He leaned forward and whispered softly. "Ororo. What does that mean?"
The weather witch took a deep, shaking breath, trying to steady herself. However, when she spoke, her voice betrayed her. "It's a word used for people like me," she answered softly.
"A mutant?" asked Kurt in a lower tone, his eyes moving towards where the woman was now seated, talking heatedly to her husband and gesturing emphatically towards them.
"No, Kurt," replied Ororo. "Someone with my color skin."
He turned back to her in surprise. "Was!" he exclaimed, slipping back into German. Those closest to the pair turned to stare at hem. Kurt half-rose, fully intending on marching over there and letting the woman know exactly what he thought of her. Ororo reached out and grasped his wrist.
"Kurt, please don't. You'll only make it worse," she pleaded softly, glancing apologetically towards their audience.
"Make it worse!" he bellowed, now drawing the attention of the host at the front of the restaurant.
"I think you may be a part of the problem," murmured Ororo, as she glanced back towards the woman.
"Me?" asked Kurt uncertainly.
"Or maybe I should say 'us'," she amended, releasing his wrist.
Kurt paused for a moment, blinking as this information sunk in. "Is it because…"
"You're white," concluded Ororo, staring up at him with a wry smile. "And I'm not."
The tall man clenched his fists and spat something in German. Ororo couldn't understand what he had said, but she assumed that it had been particularly nasty and something he wouldn't normally say. She turned away from him, staring down at her half-eaten meal.
"I'm not very hungry anymore. Can we please go home?" she beseeched.
"Nein. That is what she wants," he replied, waving his hand in the offender's direction.
"Kurt," Ororo whispered desperately. "I honestly think I'll be sick if I try to eat."
He paused for a moment, staring down at her eyes which burned with anger, shame, and hurt. He wanted nothing more than to sweep her into his arms and hold her until the world vanished. Instead, Kurt let out a heavy sigh and nodded somberly.
"As you wish, fraulein."
The ride home was tense. Ororo refused to speak or to even look at Kurt. Her eyes remained locked on the winding road ahead. Her thoughts were a tangled mess; overhead clouds were beginning to build up and a light drizzle began. Kurt sensed that she needed the time to think, to sort things out, and remained quiet.
By the time they arrived back at the mansion, Ororo had mastered her emotions. Stars were once again blinking down through the clearing cloud cover. Half way across the front lawn, Kurt hung back. Ororo stopped and turned to him. He was fidgeting nervously.
"Is there something wrong?" she asked, her voice strained.
"Just forget it, Kurt," Ororo interrupted, sounding sharper than she had intended.
"Nein," he insisted, taking a step toward her. He reached out and carefully brushed a loose wisp of hair away from her face. She pulled away slightly. "I know you must be angry…"
"Angry?" she spat. "Angry? Come on, Kurt. You heard what she called me. All because she didn't like the color of my skin!"
"I know," Kurt replied softly, ducking his head.
Ororo let out a disgusted noise. "I'm sick of it, Kurt. I'm sick of the stares I get in public. If it's not because I'm a mutant, it's something else. I'm sick of the whispers, the pointed fingers. I'm sick of the hate! Sometimes I wonder if Magneto isn't right, if this world wouldn't be better without them…"
"You do not mean that," he argued.
"No, Kurt. I do. I hate them." Tears began to form in the corners of her eyes. Her stomach churned and for a moment Ororo thought she was going to be sick there in front of him. "I hate them, Kurt. I hate all of them."
"Nein, fraulein. Nein," murmured Kurt comfortingly, reaching out and trying to pull her into his arms. Ororo resisted, pushing away.
"You don't understand," she stated vehemently.
"What do I not understand?" he replied, a hint of anger in his voice.
"You just don't understand," repeated Ororo, withdrawing into herself. Nothing mattered to her but her own pain. She wanted to go somewhere alone to lick her wounds. She wanted to be left alone.
"Do I not understand the jeers? The looks of fear and hatred?" spat Kurt, his eyes narrowing. He reached down and tore the image inducer off of his wrist. The hologram projection flickered and died. He gestured to himself. "Do you really think that I do not understand how it feels to be despised, fraulein? Nein. You are too wrapped up in your own self-pity to realize that you are not the only one who has suffered."
Ororo stared dumbfounded at the man in front of him. Kurt had never before raised his voice, had never lost his cool. And now he was glaring angrily at her, his lips twisted into a grim frown. The look on his face only made Ororo want to cry harder.
"I…I'm sorry, Kurt," she muttered lamely. She looked away, too ashamed to look him in the eye.
"Whatever," he replied moodily.
"I said I was sorry! What more do you want?" snapped Ororo.
"Nothing. Good night, fraulein." Kurt turned from her and teleported away.
"Fine," Ororo hissed at the dissipating cloud of blue-black smoke. "Be that way!" She turned and marched inside, slamming doors as she went. Suddenly, she could care less if she ever saw Kurt Wagner again.