"The pandas next- please…" Marie whined, sensing Logan was starting to get impatient. She couldn’t understand his unease, she would have thought he’d feel at home at the zoo, surrounded by animals.
"Pandas my ass…" He muttered unhappily, protesting even though he knew Marie would get her way.
"Ah…Logan- ya aren’t having any fun!" Marie looked so sincerely disappointed he was almost tempted to fake a smile.
"Don’t worry about me darlin let’s just hurry up’n get to those pandas."
"We can go home if you want." She offered, with the wounded air of a martyr.
"I said we’d go see the goddamn bears so we’re gonna go see the goddamn bears whether I-." Logan halted mid sentence and Marie stared up at him curiously. He was looking around quickly, scanning the crowd.
"What…?" Marie blinked in confusion and followed his gaze. He was staring intently at the couple standing off to the side almost directly behind them. It wasn’t too hard to figure out why they’d caught Logan’s interest. The man anyway looked down right dangerous. He was tall, with an athlete’s build and a fighter’s stance. He was dressed all in black, wearing what looked to Marie like Commando gear. His pants seemed to be made of khaki material and had a dozen bulging pockets. His sweater was tight and ribbed, with a turtleneck and black leather patches on the elbows and across the top of the shoulders. It was a look she’d seen several times on TV and in the movies, it was how she thought Logan should dress. It screamed ‘secret agent man’.
Marie watched as the two men sized each other up silently before the stranger turned his head away, obviously deciding Logan wasn’t a threat. Logan however, still seemed weary.
"Oh for heaven sakes!" Marie heard the girl beside the unknown man exclaim in exasperation. "Would you stop it!? Not everyone’s out to get us you know!"
He smiled down at the girl, the gesture altering the rather sinister expression on his face. "It’s not paranoia if someone’s really after you." He pointed out reasonably.
She rolled her eyes and started tugging at his sleeve. "Can we go see the pandas next!?"
Marie watched as she pulled him away, laughing happily.
"Ya’ll right?" Marie asked. "We don’t have to…"
"C’mon" He growled.
When they arrived at the panda cages the girl was leaning as far as she could over the railing to take a picture while her companion stood further back, watching her rather uncoordinated attempts to balance on the iron bars with a slight smile. Marie walked over and stood beside the girl uncertainly, she looked like she was about to fall over.
"I’ve never seen pandas before." Marie exclaimed in awe to Logan. Watching as the beautiful black and white creatures rested lazily in the warm sun.
"Me neither!" The girl said, swinging off the bars to stand by Marie. "In fact- I’ve never even been to the zoo before." She informed her with a smile.
"Oh… uh…" Marie stared at the younger girl, unsure of what to say. Strangers rarely spoke to her given her rather odd appearance. At the moment she was covered head to toe in emerald green, with matching black gloves and it was boiling outside.
"But I begged my boyfriend and he said-."
"Apples." The secret agent looking man snapped, appearing suddenly at her side.
"Wha… I was just talking to the lady and-."
Lady? Marie almost smiled. The other girl was at most two years younger than her.
"I’m sorry if she’s bothering you." He apologized, clamping a hand on her shoulder and looking prepared to drag her away. Logan was giving him a rather potent ‘Fuck Off’ glare and Marie couldn’t really blame the man for wanting to get the poor girl away from them.
"Oh she wasn’t bothering us." Marie piped up suddenly, the man looked dangerous and she didn’t want the girl to get in trouble.
"See…" She pointed out with a smile. "Can I please talk to her?" She asked him, pouting slightly and looking up at him like a wounded puppy.
He sighed and let go of her arm. "Alright. Just don’t be a pest."
She smiled sweetly and then glanced up at Logan. "Is it OK with you if I talk to your girlfriend?" She asked curiously. Marie smiled hugely at her words and had to stop herself from laughing out loud. Logan would hate to be thought of as anyone’s boyfriend… The girl really was cute, she had long curly blond hair and big gray eyes that had a vague sort of other world look to them.
Logan just shrugged. "Marie doesn’t need my permission to do anything." He grunted.
"Oh… your name’s Marie? That’s really pretty- mine’s Apples. Wanna come help me take some pictures?" Apples asked, still smiling happily.
"Uh, yeah… sure." Marie mumbled, as Apples dragged her closer to the pen. "So what do you think of the zoo so far?"
"It’s sooooooo cool! This is my first time in…uh- what uh- province is this?"
"I think you mean ‘state’ and it’s New York."
"Right. New York. It’s nice." Apples started clicking away, taking a dozen shots of the immobile pandas. "Do you live here?"
Marie nodded. "Yes, at a local Academy."
Apples looked confused. "Like a school?" She stared at her intently. "You look a bit old for school."
"I’ll be 19 next month."
"Ohhhhh… We’re on our way to Toronto. I think it’s in Ontario."
Marie nodded again. "Yeah it is. I was there a few years ago. I traveled all over Canada."
"Really!? Is it nice?"
"Beautiful. Cold though."
"I don’t think your boyfriend likes us much. I though Kreed was scary looking but your-." Apples halted mid-sentence and looked appalled. "Oh, I am so sorry! I didn’t mean to imply that your boyfriend was… I mean he’s very good looking and everything it’s just that-."
Marie shrugged. "Don’t worry about it, I know Logan can be a bit intimidating."
"Yeah… Look, I’m really sorry about Kreed staring down your boyfriend. He’s soooooooooo paranoid! He does it all the time, goes into what I call his ‘check the perimeter’ mode… At least you two look a bit suspicious- you should see him scare the pizza delivery guy shitless, and he looks so harmless. Poor guy." Apples shook her head unhappily. "Was your boyfriend in the army too?"
Marie looked uncertain. "He’s not really my boyfriend and I’m not sure he’d like it if I-."
Apples nodded as Marie trailed off. "Oh I get it. Yeah. Kreed would beat me if he thought I was jabbering on like this to you." She turned away from the panda cage and looked directly at Marie. "I worry about him sometimes… always obsessing over the past."
The young girl looked so genuinely worried Marie’s heart melted a little. "Well, I can’t speak for your boyfriend but- Logan’s been through some rough stuff, it’s not the kind of thing you can get over just like that."
Apples nodded. "You two look so cute together."
"Cute!?" Marie laughed, it was hardly a term she’d have used to describe herself or Logan.
"You look happy together. Comfortable."
"I suppose we are…"
"Don’t you ever… get worried or… scared ?" Apples asked curiously. "Kreed is almost 15 years older than me and well- look at him. He could have any girl he wanted. I just keep thinking one day he’s going to wake up and realize he’s wasting his time with me."
Marie stared at Apples, amazed that a girl she’d only just met would be telling her such personal things. "Well… I think everyone has those feelings every once in a while. But I know Logan isn’t going to leave me. Don’t ask me how- I just do, we have this… connection… it’s kind of hard to explain."
"No… I understand. I think I have that with Kreed too but sometimes I just feel guilty. Like I’m keeping him from being with the person he really deserves. He can do so much better than me and I feel sick knowing I’m just not strong enough to let him go." Apples looked up at her sadly and then looked suddenly guilty "I’m sorry, you must think I’m a nut job but- there’s no one else for me to talk to about this and… when I saw you and Logan together I thought you might be the only other person in the world who understands my situation."
Marie shook her head with a smile. "I doubt I understand at all, but I don’t think you’re crazy… Kreed strikes me as the kind of guy who does what he wants. I have a feeling if he didn’t want to be with you he’d already be out the door."
A look of pain flickered in Apples eyes briefly. "Sometimes people don’t know what’s good for them. Or who…"
Kreed watched as his girlfriend continued chatting quietly to the pretty girl in the rather ridiculous outfit and sighed wearily. He was going to have to have a firm talk with her once they got back on the road.
"So- where’d you serve?" Kreed asked the silent and so far rather unpleasant individual beside him.
Logan didn’t even bother answering. Just continued to watch Marie intently, almost as if he suspected Apples would attack her at any minute.
"Look." Kreed began again. "I’m sorry about my girlfriend. She’s lived a rather secluded life and she doesn’t realize it’s a bit odd to try’n pick up strange girls at the zoo."
Logan’s head snapped around to glare at Kreed. The man had just indirectly insulted Marie but he decided to let it slide and shrugged indifferently.
"I served in Desert Storm." Kreed offered when Logan said nothing. "It’s still hard ya know- doing all this normal shit. It drives Apples crazy the way I keep looking around, checking out the perimeter- but sometimes I honestly feel like we could get shot at or blown up at any moment." He grinned and shrugged.
Logan looked up at the chatty asshole beside him and just couldn’t find the strength to get pissed off. He knew how the guy felt. "Yeah." He said nodding in understanding.
"And I feel like such a fucking asshole- putting Apples through all this shit. She’s a good kid you know. She doesn’t have to waste her time with me. She could have any guy she wanted"
Logan nodded again. There was no denying it, the girl was beautiful.
Kreed sighed. "I am an asshole."
"Yeah. So am I." Logan agreed.
"That’s what this whole zoo fiasco’s all about. A kid her age should get to see the zoo…"
"Marie’d never been either."
"I don’t want to be the one responsible for Apples not going to the zoo or the mall or all that other shit she’d be doing if I wasn’t around."
Kreed glanced down at his watch suddenly. "Shit! Apples!" He shouted. "C’mon!" He ordered before looking back towards Logan. "I admit it- I’m a coward when it comes to walking away from her."
"Oh! Marie… can I give you my address in Canada and then you can-." Apples began excitedly but Kreed was shaking his head.
"I’m sorry Apples, I can’t let you do that."
Apples looked like she was going to cry, but Kreed just grabbed her elbow firmly and began pulling her away.
"Hey- wait." Marie looked at Logan uncertainly. "Is it OK if I give her my address?" She asked Kreed nervously.
Apples didn’t say anything, just looked up at Kreed with sad eyes and a quivering lip.
"Oh for Christ sakes Apples… Oh alright!"
"Yippie!" Apples jumped up and hugged him before heading back towards Marie.
"Uhm… just address any letters for me care of Rogue at the Xavier Institute for Gifted Children. OK?"
Apples nodded happily. "OK, I can remember that. I’ll send you a postcard from Toronto!"
"I’ll be looking forward to it."
"Bye Marie! Bye Logan! It was nice to meet you!" Apples exclaimed happily, chasing after Kreed as he headed out of the zoo. She was smiling as she caught up with him. She’d just made her first friend.