Between life and death, truth and beauty, who we are and who we need to be, there lie the karma downs.

There are many people who I need to thank for their help with this one. Timey, Mitai, and Indiana for beta’ing, and who were there when I needed to bounce ideas around or for support. Nute, for providing essential information on Sam. Bounce, Chris, Lindy, and Drea for endless encouragement.

Archival is open to anyone who asks, my site: http://cherryice.topcities.com , and anyone who has prior permission.

University is a juggling act, even at the best of times. As Sam is about to discover, being a member of the spandex squad isn’t exactly the best of times.

Sometimes, life is just life. Sometimes, it’s something more.

I don’t own Sam, Emma, Bobby, Columbia, the X-Men, or the danger room. I don’t even own a truck, so any attempt to sue me will only result in the loss of the legal fees paid in an attempt to get my butt into court. I can’t say that if you don’t recognize them, they’re mine; because in one very noticeable exception that isn’t exactly true.

The Karma Downs
by CherryIce

Chapter One

It started with a drink in a bar.

No, it started a long time before that. The drink and the bar, they were just points on a string of events that shaped the way the world would end.

It started when a girl felt the slap of her father’s opinions on her mind, his hand on her skin. It started when children came into powers that they couldn’t control, when Robert Drake had a grieving Emma Frost thrown into his mind.

It started when a sister was killed, when an island was dropped, when a boy realized that he was a man with no way to be who or what he needed to be.

And it started when Samuel Guthrie came back from Kentucky a changed man.


Sam stopped at the kitchen entrance, the tiles cold against his bare feet. Hank looked at him over top of his newspaper and nodded towards a white envelope sitting on the table.

“A letter came for you. From Columbia.”

“Thank yah, Hank.” Sam pulled out a chair and sat down, watching the envelope warily. His hand hovered over it briefly and it was all he could do to keep them from darting back to his sides. Hank’s eyes were obscured by reflections off his reading glasses, but Sam had no doubt he was being watched. He picked up the letter slowly. It felt so *thin* between his fingers, and as he flipped it absently, he almost expected it to disappear.

“Well, Samuel, are you going to open it, or did you develop X-Ray vision in the time since your last physical?”

Sam looked over to see that Hank had neatly folded the newspaper up, and was now sitting with his hand paws on it, looking directly at him. “Ah don’t know. Ah’m pretty hungry, actually. Maybe Ah’ll just grab a bite and take a look at it later.”

A yawn greeted him at this. “You should listen to Hank,” Jean said as she walked into the kitchen, Scott trailing a few steps behind her. “He’s pretty smart.”

Scott ran a hand through his hair and dropped into a chair beside Sam. “Waiting to open it isn’t going to change what the letter says. It’s just going to draw it out.”

Jean sat down in the chair on the other side of him, an apple in her hand. He looked around, finding himself suddenly fenced in by his teammates. “You’re not going to let me go until Ah open it, are you?”

Hank shook his head. “No.”

“Ah don’t have a chance of getting out of this, do Ah?”

“No again, but you don’t really want one.”

The envelope was just so thin.

He slid a finger in under the flap, ripped it open and pulled out the letter before he could talk himself out of it. He read the letter head, and his name, and the words started to swim before his eyes.

“Well?” someone asked, and he pulled himself back into focus. He scanned the letter. Read it again, thoroughly this time, convinced that he must have read it wrong the first time. “Well?” someone else asked, and he felt himself start to smile. The letter was snatched from his hand, and Jean was hugging him.

He was suddenly aware that someone was clapping him on the back with a whoop, and he turned to see that Bobby had entered the kitchen sometime while he was occupied.

“You guys knew Ah was applying, didn’t you. How’d you know that?”

Hank took off his glasses and set them atop his paper. “A good friend of mine works in admissions, and he called me up when he saw the Xavier Institute on your application.”

Sam smiled briefly, and dropped his eyes.

Bobby laughed. “And you didn’t really think that something like this would keep secret? Rumours and stories spread faster than the flu does around here.”

Hank offered Sam his hand, and pulled him into a bear hug when he took it. “I would have written you a letter of recommendation, you know,” he said quietly. “I do have some contacts.”

“Ah know, Hank, and Ah appreciate that. But this is something Ah needed to be able to do on my own.”

Hank patted him on the back with surprising gentleness and released him.

//Congratulations, Sam,// a cool white voice said, sliding between the thoughts of those gathered in the kitchen, and Sam felt himself twitch a little bit. He saw Scott’s face darken momentarily, but freed his mind of all of it. Today, everything was all right.

Bobby sat on the mansion stairs, his legs stretched out in front of him. The sun beat down upon his upturned face, trying to slide between his eyelids.

Jean had told him to wear sunscreen. Her voice had thrummed idly in his head, and she’d told him to go inside and put on sunscreen.

He felt the brush against his mind even as cool skin drifted past his. It wasn’t invasive. Somehow, it wasn’t. The presence beside him, the presence in his mind, it was just there. It didn’t speak, didn’t prod. He cracked his eyes open, just a little, taking in the skin exposed to the sun beside him. It was nice view.

Really nice.

He became aware of a chuckle after a time. “What?” he asked, and opened his eyes.

“You know, Robert, you’re getting rather good at that. If I wasn’t so used to people staring at my chest...”

“Well, you know what they say, Em. Practice makes perfect.”

“I have to admire your dedication.”

“Well, it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.”

She stood, and he found himself thinking that if she ever got a burn dressed like that, it would be rather painful. Not to mention just how strange the lines would be...

“I suppose you’d prefer that I sunbathed in the nude.”

“Why, Emma, I’m offended. It never crossed my mind.”

“Yes it did. It’s crossed it many, many times, and it’s crossing it now.”

He smiled and shrugged. He didn’t tell her to go inside and put on sunscreen. She could look after herself.

“Do you want to go for a drive?” She asked.

“Sure,” he said, and fell into stride with her as she headed for the garage. The car was parked out in front of the shed, and it was sleek and white and even while sitting still gave the impression of motion. It was a panther crouched to strike and Emma seemed a part of it even as she slid in. The keys were in the ignition and she peeled out as he was closing his door.

The mansion gates were standing open and they blew right by them, the air whipping past his face because the top was down as they turned off Greymalkin and out onto the highway.

The sun was warm and the wind was cool and he spread his arms above himself, trying to catch the breezes in his fingers. Emma laughed and he knew it wasn’t at him, it was at the speed and the thrill and the freedom and the power beneath her fingertips.

She slid sunglasses down from the top of her head to cover her eyes, her long white hair whipping around her in a cloud.

And they drove and he trusted that she could find their way back, even if she didn’t know where they were going.

“You’re different,” he said finally.

“Different how?” she asked, pulling tightly around a turn.

“I don’t know. You’ve just... Changed. You always do, when you’re not around Them.”

“We all have different faces, Bobby. We all have different ways that we act. It’s conditioned. And what about you?” she asked, taking her eyes off the road for the briefest of seconds. “You’re troubled lately, I know. It has something to do with the others, as well.”

She flicked her eyes back to his again, and they were blue, so blue, through the blue lenses, the white frames. White held her together.

“Why would the others trouble me, Em? They’re my family. They’re our family.”

“Even families fight. Especially families fight.”

“I love them.”

“I know. But...”

“But sometimes I just feel like...”

“They’re smothering you?”

“Not smothering. I wouldn’t go that far.”

“They treat you like a child.”

“Yeah, they treat me like a child.”

“But you’re not.”

“No, I’m not. I’ve been around as long as anyone, Em. I’ve been through as much as anyone.”

“Yet they still act as if you’re... Less... than them.”

“No. They don’t think that I’m less. Not on purpose.”

“Not on purpose, anyway. Not consciously. But their actions speak.”

“They just don’t see that I’ve grown up, Em. They just don’t see, and nothing that I say or do is going to show them.”

“They should, you know. See. Noticing the strengths and weakness of a teammate...”

“I’m not a child, Emma. Not anymore. How could I be, after everything? How *could* I be?”

“I know, Bobby. I see. None of us are the same as we were. There’s too much water under the bridge, and there are too many bodies in the currents. And if people don’t start seeing that...”

“It could get dangerous.”

She looked at him again, eyes heavy-lidded and still so blue, ever so blue, hair framing in a flying cloud and skin glowing white around them, and smiled lazily. “We’re all dangerous people, Bobby. It’s already started.”

continued >>

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