Apples And
Apples And

By Kelly "Kielle" Newcomb

NOTES & DISCLAIMER: This story was written for the "Unusual Pairing" challenge put forth on ACFF in December 1997. Marvel owns the characters -- I'm just borrowing them for a spot of non-profit fun. I wrote it in about half an hour, so I don't know how good it is, but here it is anyway. Please do not archive without asking me first. I always say yes, I just like to know where my babies wind up. :)

"Snn thnn urf brth vnvvvr yff. (gulp) (CHOMP) Mmmf nrrrg? Mmmmhm. Mm ooo."

She honestly wasn't sure what to make of the man. The stranger. He was at least twice as tall as her and about ten times as big, with hulking shoulders that would have made a silverback gorilla feel exTREMEly miffed with jealousy, and hands that could probably palm heads and probably had. Judging solely by his brutish appearance, she would have been fairly alarmed had the man not been currently engaged in the rather UNthreatening process of wolfing down a messy submarine sandwich approximately the length of his arm, and talking nonstop nonetheless.

Safe in her shrub-enshrouded hollow at the roots of an oak tree, she opted to stay where she could see him, to figue out her next course of action. And to listen.

For a few moments he continued to chatter through one mouthful after another. He finally paused to wash it down with something from a thermos and continued without obstruction, "So of course it wasn't my fault, right? But they blamed it on me anyway. Hoo, was Val EVER tee'd off! Can't say that I blame her -- for a while there it looked like her bosses were actually going to slap us with the bill for the Washington Monument." He paused to scratch his scalp reflexively, squinting behind his small opaque glasses. "Come to think of it, maybe they did... Ah, well. Those were the days, kid. Brief, but exciting. It's gotten waaaay too dark for the Guidster lately -- Pepto-Bismol-colored mutant hunters here, the Prof going bonzo loco there...not my scene. Not at all. Maybe I should have taken up Lila on her offer after all..."

She cocked her head as he momentarily fell silent, swigging the thermos absently in one hand. His tone was cheerful but there was something sad and wistful underlying the obvious; curious despite herself, she inched a little closer, trying to avoid rustling the undergrowth. She wasn't sure if hiding had been the best thing to do, but when the huge mean-looking stranger had barged right in bellowing "I KNOW YOU'RE HERE, YA LITTLE FLASH IN THE PAN!" at the top of his lungs...well, she'd jumped for cover. It had seemed like the right thing to do at the time. She was starting to change her mind.

She must have cracked a leaf or rattled a twig, because the man looked straight at her. She froze; his gaze was unfocused, so she knew that he couldn't actually see her. Still, she relaxed considerably when he finally looked away.

"Hey, kid, I said I'm sorry I scared you," he said apologetically, still glancing around the seemingly empty clearing in consternation. "Really. I didn't know that she wasn't here, 'cuz I didn't find the note on the door until after I looked all over the place. I figured she was playing a prank -- I sure wouldn't put it past her! She's a good kid, though, really; we've kept up the occasional letter, and I promised that when I was out of the hospital I'd visit her, so here I am. It figures that she's out Christmas shopping at the mall. Eh, I can wait.

"Say, while we're on the subject of Dangerous-&-Insane-brand fireworks, did I ever tell you about the time I first met Jubilee? Oh, of course not. Okay -- there we were, on Muir Island, and me all whacked out thanks to that Shadow Whatzit...or maybe that was the second time we met? Hmmm. Eh, whichever, it's still a good story. So anyway, there I was..."

She didn't hear the rest of his incomprehensible words; her ears had already pricked up at the familiar name. Jubilee? He knew Jubilee? He'd said it in a way which meant that he was Jubilee's friend, not some bad guy were to get revenge for some incomprehensible reason. (Frankly, MOST of the strangers who showed up at the school wanted revenge for some incomprehensible reason. Go fig.)

Making up her mind, she edged out of the bushes and laid her fingertips softly on the end of the log the man was sitting on. He stopped in mid-story when he caught sight of her and she tensed, waiting for the inevitable stare of repulsed astonishment, ready to flee back into the bushes at the slightest false move...

Instead, the man grinned cheerfully and stuck out one hand, making her start nervously. "Hey there, nice to meet you at last. Jubes talks about you a lot, but then again she talks about a LOT of things a lot. I'm Guido. Guido Carosella. Guidster if you like, Strong Guy if you want, but not Susan. I'm just not the Susan type."

She stared at his hand, then stared down at her own, her brow knitted in concern. He followed her gaze and retracted his hand, still smiling. "Eh, I understand. Gotta be careful myself. Hmmm. She was right -- you are a good listener." Guido fell quiet for a moment, thinking. "You...aren't understanding me much, are you? As in 'at all'?"

She didn't, so she didn't respond. Guido sighed. "Not a problem, doesn't matter when it comes to good listening. Anyhow, I know ONE way to communicate universally. Hold on a sec, don't go anywhere..."

As she watched, fascinated, the big man reached behind the log and began to fish vigorously around in a battered backpack. "Aha! Oh. Well, close enough. Ya gotta be open to new experiences, I always say..."

As Guido made this last odd remark, he emerged triumphantly from his search, bearing something round It smelled quite good as he held it out to her between his thumb and forefinger, but still she hesitated, fairly quivering in an agony of indecision. She was still uncertain as to what he expected of her, not yet one-hundred-percent certain that he could be trusted. But he seemed so nice -- noisy, yes, but nice...

After a few moments of this anxious stand-off, the ex-X-Factor agent proved that he was more understanding than his thuggish appearance and brainless banter belied by quietly leaning forward to set the piece of fruit on the log at a precise midpoint between their two positions. With immense patience, the huge mutant then sat back and waited, artlessly gazing around at the foliage, his hands folded politely -- and harmlessly -- in his lap.

Reassured at last, Penance reached out with one razor-sharp crimson hand and accepted the first orange she'd ever seen.

And thus she spent the rest of the afternoon perched on an old log in the heart of the Biosphere, licking sticky orange juice off of her long elegant fingers, patiently letting the stranger -- now a friend -- ramble to his heart's content.

.-= FINIS =-.