The Karma Downs
by CherryIce

Chapter Two

One thing was for sure.

The piece of paper in his hand with the nice, neat little labels on each building bore no resemblance to the actual campus. Sam was surrounded by a sea of people, constantly ebbing and flowing around him, dressed in more colours and styles than he’d ever seen.

The books in the bag slung over his shoulder were trying to drag him down. As he consulted the map again, he took a moment to be grateful for the fact that throwing two-hundred-fifty-pound, hairy men around in training sessions had gotten him into good enough shape that the weight of the books was more in his mind.

Yeah, he had absolutely no idea where he was. Somewhere a clock chimed loudly, and he started. A few of the people around him picked up their paces and he realized suddenly that he was going to be late. He was going to be late for his class, so he wasn’t going to get somewhere important, and he wasn’t going to meet someone, and he wouldn’t learn of a place, so he wouldn’t meet...

He shook his head. He was going to be late for his first class of his first day of his first year (of the rest of his life, if he really wanted to get carried away). That was all. They’d have to understand. This wasn’t shaping up to be the first day he’d been picturing since he’d received his admissions letter in the spring.

“You look a little lost,” someone said.

He looked up, trying to find the source of the voice and a man waved at him. He was sitting on the edge of the fountain, elbows resting easily on his knees, a dark pack resting between his feet. “Are you?” he asked. There was a woman sitting on the other side of the fountain, her head tilted towards them a bit. Maybe she was listening to them, but all he could see through through the spray of water was white and blond hair.

“A bit,” Sam said. “Maybe just a bit. Don’t suppose yah could tell me where Pupin is?”

The man stood, picking up his bag and slinging it over one shoulder. “Sure,” he said. “I’ll show you, actually. I’ve got a course there in a bit.” The woman didn’t move, and Sam felt a shiver of recognition course through him, but it was gone before he could pin it down.

Sam saw the other man waiting for him, and shook his head as he slid into step beside him. “Kyle Falco,” the other man said, extending his hand. “Let me guess. Waveform Engineering?”

“Intro to Physics 1: Mechanics, actually,” Sam said, juggling his maps as he shook Kyle’s hand. “Samuel Guthrie. Pleased to meet yah.”

Kyle nodded, and Sam thought suddenly that they were probably much the same age. He shuffled his feet a bit at the thought. Here *he* was, heading for Intro to Physics... “Had McGarry my first few years, too,” Kyle said. “She teaches Physics to the masses, and some more specialised courses in aerodynamics once you get up to grad work. She’s a tough old bear to get around, but she’s the best at what she does. I probably wouldn’t have made it through my first year if it hadn’t been for her. Good thing too. I’d have lost my scholarship if I’d failed. Just because I’m here on the team doesn’t mean they won’t pull it. That there is the Low Library,” Kyle said, motioning at the building that the fountain and its twin flanked.

“Which team?” Sam asked. Football, he thought. Or basketball.

“Lacrosse. First season I didn’t even see the field, which seemed a bit of a waste of their cash to me, but I’m starting string now.”

The people milling around them thinned out now, and Sam could actually see them. Here, a boy racing for manhood with a tattooed neck, his ball cap twisted to the side; a girl with fishnets, a plaid skirt, and a bright blue eyebrow stud; a girl with blonde and white hair flicking around the corner. Two men leaning up against a tree, their faces inches apart. A small group throwing a frisbee back and forth across the green, students sprawled out on the grass, propped up on their elbows as they leafed through heavy texts or hollered back and forth to one another. The sun was bright and warm, and he could still vaguely hear the fountain through the murmurs around him.

He thought that he could get used to this.

“You planning on trying out for any teams?” Kyle asked him.

“Ah... No. Probably not. I won’t have time. Ah have other duties, you see. Places I need to be - another team that Ah’m on, outside of school.” Which was, technically, the truth.

“Okay. You living on-campus?”

Sam shook his head. “Ah’m going to commute.”

“Just wondered. Makes it easier to be involved with things, living right where they are.”

Made it easier for a *lot* of things, though, to keep living out at Xavier’s. When you had to rush around in the night, you only had to run down the stairs.

“Where are you? Manhattan?”

“Westchester, actually.”

“Long drive,” Kyle said. “Make it hard for morning classes.”

“I don’t mind. I like the mornings. They’re peaceful.” He always had liked the mornings, but he’d grown to love them more as of late. No one parading about in less than most people’s underwear, peering into your mind; no couples trying so hard to pretend for the rest of them that everything was okay, when they was so far from it that it made your hackles rise. So, yeah, he loved the mornings.

“Look man, this is it,” Kyle said, pointing up at the building they were approaching, glass and steel shining down at them balefully. “Pupin. You’ll be able to figure out most of the other stuff now. Just keep a hold of that map, and ignore all the people. It’s easy to get twisted around at first, but you’ll catch the hang of it.” He reached out and pulled open the doors. “Your class is going to be the second door on the right, down that hall,” he said as the air conditioning hit them, pointing out the corridor. “I’ve got to get up to the fourth floor. You can find it by yourself?”

“Yeah,” Sam said. He tucked his hands under the straps of his pack, trying to pull it up. “Thanks for all the help. Ah appreciate it.”

“Hey, no problem,” Kyle said, nodding. “Good to meet you, man.”

“You too,” Sam said with a wave as the other man bounded off toward the elevator bank.

He straightened his pack again and headed down the hall. There weren’t very many people around, and his steps echoed. He paused at the door, his hand resting on the knob, and he took a deep breath. The door clicked beneath his fingers, and he slid in as quietly as he could. The risers in the room were full and still as he made his way in, the only speaker a woman standing down at a podium, pointing at a blackboard. She continued to speak as he groped his way to a seat, her eyes only leaving him as he pulled his books from his bag.

And she continued to address the room.

He didn’t know whether to laugh or groan.

Sam’s bag was heavy on his back as he tried to remember just where he’d parked his truck. He’d had three classes today, and from what he’d heard at the beginning of the other two, he hadn’t really missed anything in McGarry’s introduction. The breeze was chill with the coming evening, plucking at his skin through the fabric of his t-shirt.

He ducked his head and kept walking. He was at the green in front of the Hoover Building again, so it had to be somewhere nearby.

“Hey!” Someone called, a hand dropping onto his shoulder, and he spun at the noise, feeling himself slip into alert.

Kyle backed up rapidly, hands in the air. “Whoa, man. Just me.”

“Sorry about that,” Sam said, glad that the fading light would cover the colour settling into his cheeks. It wasn’t like anything had actually happened...

“I called your name a couple of times, but you seemed pretty absorbed.”

“Yeah. Just trying to remember where Ah parked my truck.”

“Shouldn’t be that hard to find,” another voice added, and Sam noticed the speaker for the first time. She was tall, with delicately slanted eyes that said Korean. She looked up at him from her perch on the edge of the fountain - the same one he’d seen Kyle sitting on earlier, he realized - with her knees drawn up into an over sized jacket. “Most of the other students are gone,” she continued, “and even so, not many people around here drive pickups. What colour’s yours?”

“Red. Well, it started out red. It’s a bit faded and a little chipped at the moment.”

“Why don’t we help you look?” she asked, rising. She pushed her dark hair away from her face, and he noticed that the jacket she was wearing said ‘Falco’ on the sleeve. “I’m Sascha,” she said, sticking her hand out. “Sascha Cohen.”

He took it from beneath the too long sleeves, and she smiled at him. “Samuel Guthrie. But Sam’s just fine.”

“C’mon,” she said as Kyle slipped an arm around her waist. “Let’s get you on the road.”

“How did it go?”

Sam stopped at the entrance to the living room at Hank’s voice. The man was sitting in an easy chair, paper between his hands and reading glasses perched upon his nose. “Your paper’s upside down, Hank,” Sam said, smiling.

“Oh. So it is,” Hank remarked. “Every man should be able to read a paper upside down. So. How did it go?”

“It was great. It really was.”


“No problems so far, if that’s what you mean. It’s the first day, so it’s probably not that great an indication, but Ah glanced through the texts, and I think I’ll be fine. The work that Xavier and Magneto gave me as part of my early training’ll really come in handy, I think.”

“And did you play nicely with the other children?” Hank asked with a grin.

“Well, Ah wasn’t going to tell yah about that fight in the sandbox, but now that you bring it up...”

He sighed. “Really. You boys nowadays. Go straight to to your room.”

Sam grinned and bowed grandly, calling “As you command,” back over his shoulder as he thumped up the stairs.

And ran into Bobby. Face-first momentum, a sudden eyeful of blue and then his face was firmly planted into the other man’s shirt.

“Sam! How’d it go?”

Sam rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Good,” he said faintly, rubbing some more. There was perfume in his nose and he felt his eyes start to water.

“Yeah, college is a blast,” Bobby continued. “Wait til the parties really get started.”

Sam looked up at him, shaking the last of whoever’s perfume was ingrained into Bobby’s shirt from his head.

“What?” Bobby asked. “Just because I was studying to be an accountant doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have fun...”

“Yeah. That’s right.” Funny the things that you forgot. Or at at least the ones that slid around the edge of your awareness, that you knew but didn’t really realize.

Like Bobby, Bobby the accountant, went to school for four years. “Look, I’ve got an early morning class tomorrow, so...”

“Okay. There’s some pizza left in the fridge if you’re hungry. Might want to set some aside if you want to take it for lunch tomorrow, because I can’t guarantee you how much’ll make it through the night.”

“Yeah, thanks. Just might do that. Ah had a sandwich today, but when Ah passed the cafeteria, it didn’t look too promising.”

“Cafeteria food’s never great anywhere, but it’s usually better than it looks. It’s less expensive, though, to just grab something out of the fridge before you leave.”

“Thanks again, Bobby. Like Ah said though,” he said, gesturing up the stairs. “Ah have an early class, so Ah should really dump my stuff and hit the hay.”

“No problem. Look, congrats. Really. It’s great that you’re doing this.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Sam said as Bobby bounded down the stairs. Sam trailed his fingers along the bannister as he headed up to his room, the wood cool beneath his fingers.

Bobby’s odd cologne was still hanging in his head as he rounded the corner, only to get a face full of white and peach.

“Jesus! You scared me, Emma,” he gasped. He was going to have to start paying more attention to where he was going. Emma’s stilettos should have been LOUD on the hardwood.

“Congratulations,” she said. “On the first day of school.”

“Yeah. Thanks. But Ah’m...”

“Off to bed?” she finished.

“Yeah,” he nodded. “Early morning.”

“Well, all the best.”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

He headed down the hall towards his room, stopping only when she called his name. “Yes?” he asked as he turned back to face her.

She smiled at him cryptically, her arms crossed in front of her. “Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” she said, and turned and walked away.

continued >>

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