The Karma Downs
I loooove rock and roll, Kyle almost managed to sing
as he draped an arm around Sams shoulder.
Put another dime in the jukebox baby! Sascha called
from underneath Kyles other arm. She had one arm threaded through
Angelas, and none of them were looking all that stable. Someone
stumbled, almost bringing down the entire chain, and Sam reached frantically
for Grace. She laughed and steadied him.
He was suddenly rather aware that he had an arm wrapped around her
waist, but she didnt seem to notice. She looked over at him
and smiled, and he thought that maybe she had noticed after all. Her
eyes were a little wild, but she didnt pull away.
Thunder threatened, lightning illuminating the night sky, throwing
everything into sharp relief.
Sascha screeched as the first of the rain hit her, breaking the
last of the formerly beautiful day. They started to run, heads down
against the gusts. The lightning came again, and Sam felt as if hed
been struck. There was electricity running through his veins instead
of blood, and a steady pulse in the back of his head. They scrambled
under the awning in front of the Cuppa, and stumbled through the door,
the wind blowing it shut as thunder shook the building.
Eddie! Sascha hooted, leaning over the bar and planting
a kiss on the man standing behind it. Great to see youre
feeling better. Havent seen you around in ages.
Sam removed his arm from around Graces waist. Or he tried
to. His arm had other ideas. So. Youre Eddie, he
said, breaking free. Eddie Falco should have born more than a passing
resemblance to his brother. They had the same dark hair, strong noses,
and straight backs, but they wore their features differently. Ahve
been coming here for more than a month and a half, and Ah havent
met you yet. Ah was starting to think you were a spectre.
Eddie held his arms out from his sides, turned in a circle. Flesh
and blood, he said with a grin, holding his hand out for Sam
to shake. His grip was firm and warm. Edwardo Falco, he
said. You can call me Eddie. Ed, though, will have me going
for your eyes.
Pleased tah meet you, Sam said, sliding onto a stool.
Kentucky? Eddie asked. Sam nodded. Eddie pursed his
lips. Let me guess. Blue Mountain?
Well, actually... Yeah. Sam blinked.
Im an expert on accents, Eddie said conspiratorially,
leaning in close. Comes of listening to the life stories of
so many drunken travellers.
Kyle slapped him on the back. Dont worry. I told him.
He was sick and bored, and needed a bit of gossip to keep going.
Sam nodded again. Okay, was all he said.
Eddie, Angela asked. The gentlemen and the lady
have never yet had a grasshopper.
What? Eddie gasped, and Sam thought that his shock was
only half pretend.
We were waiting for you to get better. No one makes them like
Eddie just shook his head and set about behind the bar, throwing
liquids from various bottles seemingly at random into a pair of tall
Sam eyed his suspiciously as it slid to a stop before him. Isnt
it a bit... Pink? he finally asked. Grasshoppers, green...
My own special mix, Eddie said.
Drink it up, or youre going to hurt his feelings,
Angela said. Eddie looked at him with wounded eyes.
Beside him, Grace shrugged and downed hers. Decent,
He didnt think that hed ever seen anyone without a healing
factor that instantly negated alcohol take a drink that fast.
He drained his too. This wasnt the first time that Grace had
shown that shed been around the block a few more times than
he had, and he didnt want her to think that he was just some
kid. He finished it, eyes watering. Pretty good, he coughed.
Sascha laughed, and Eddie reached over and patted his back.
He glanced over to see Grace looking at Eddie with an odd expression
in her eyes. The flash of familiarity surfaced again, and he could
almost grasp it. It danced with the lightning in his blood, and he
was on the verge of seizing it when there was another drink deposited
in front of him, and his mind derailed. Another grasshopper. Eddie
smiled at him warmly. On the house, he said. Try
to taste this one.
Glasses slammed down in unison. Six! Sascha called as
Sam stared across the table at them. They were doing straight tequila
shots. Sascha and Kyle, and it wasnt the first that theyd
had to drink tonight. Angela raised her eyebrow at him over her Coke.
They can do this forever, the look seemed to say. Sascha
waved her hand in the air and Eddie wandered on over to the booth
theyd moved to a few hours previous.
Another round, she asked him, and he shook his head.
Thats enough of the tequila for now, he said.
Kyle snorted at him.
Oh, come off it. You know as well as I do, little brother,
that when you wake up hung over in the morning, youre going
to blame me for not cutting you off sooner.
What about me? Sascha asked hopefully.
Eddie patted her shoulder, rested his hand on Sams arm for
a second. All I said was no more tequila. If you can walk to
the bar, Ill give you a beer. Sam and Grace still seem good,
though, and Im not going to cut someone off of pop.
Sam hummed a slight negative as Eddie walked away. He hadnt
had as much to drink that night as any either Kyle or Sascha, but
he was still on his way. Theyd come out tonight in part to celebrate
his official return to the land of the sound of body (Although, as
Sascha had so kindly pointed out, he still had a long way to return
to the sound of mind.) He may not have training to look forward to
in the morning, but he was just getting used enough to not being in
pain that he thought it wise to avoid a hangover.
Grace was playing pool up on the top level, laughing and tossing
her hair. It sat like gold across her dark shirt. Her partner was
a man. Tall, dark, and handsome, looking suave and mysterious. He
placed a hand on her arm.
Sam my man, youre growling, Sascha said.
Angela followed his gaze, and winced in sympathy. Im
sure its nothing, she said.
It is nothing, Sam said. Shes just
a friend. She can play pool with whomever she wants.
Kyle shook his head.
De-nile aint just a river in Egypt, yknow,
Sascha said, taking a pull off of a beer that seemed to have materialised
out of thin air.
Sascha, you know that youre full of it when youre
drunk, right? he asked.
Sam, you know that youre full of it even when youre
not wasted, right? Kyle asked with a raised eyebrow. You
have it bad. You can tell yourself whatever you need to to convince
yourself otherwise, but its true. You. Have it bad. For Grace.
And if I do? he asked. So what? Its not
like itd make *any* difference in the way that she felt.
Angela shook her head and started to speak, but fell silent.
What? Sam asked. What?
She hesitated, took another sip of her drink. Just... Ive
known a lot of girls whove been where Grace has. Few of them
make it to where she is now.
Sam stared into the bottom of his as of yet unidentified drink.
Ah dont quite understand.
She shook her head. No, you cant. Youre a guy.
But thats something else entirely. You just... You have to be
a bit understanding. You have to give her a bit of space.
Shes talked to you? he finally asked.
Sascha shook her head. No. She hasnt talked to any of
us, and if she could, then that would mean that it wasnt as
Now, that Ah kind of understand. Actually, he kind of
thought he understood it all. He finished his drink, and thought of
Scott and Jean, pretending so hard, so damn hard that everything was
all right, until they couldnt even ask for help any more. Thought
of Emma and what it must have been for her, especially as a telepath,
to be the only survivor of Genosha, to lose students again and again.
He drained the last of the concoction before him and thought that
at the very least, he could identify a goodly dose of ameretto.
Tall, dark, and suave stalked past him and out the door of the bar.
The thunder and lightning had long since subsided, but it was still
raining. Sascha elbowed him in the ribs.
Hey! he squawked.
Go talk to her, she said, motioning up towards the pool
table with her chin.
But you just said to give her space!
Sam, Angela said, we said to give her a bit of
space. Not avoid her.
Ahm not avoiding her, he muttered.
Sam, Kyle finally chimed in. Get your ass up there.
He sighed. Stood and pushed his chair in, glaring at each of them
just a little. There was a hand on his back suddenly and he turned
to see its owner. Eddie smiled at him. Going somewhere?
Just gonna go see Grace, he said distractedly, not really
noticing the look on Eddies face, and not having the time or
the energy to figure out why Kyle and Sascha were suddenly giggling.
Grace was the only one upstairs, save for a small group of men surrounding
the foozeball table. It was getting late. The radio seemed curiously
loud, cocooning them in country laments.
Hey, she said, picking up the bills scattered across
the pool table. There was a cue lying on the floor, and he couldnt
help but think that it looked like an awful lot of money scattered
across the felt. She pocketed it casually, like it was something that
happened all the time. Yes? she asked, raising an eyebrow.
Yah scammed that guy, he said. It just slipped out,
and he kicked himself.
Her eyebrow was still raised but her eyes had taken on a slightly
dangerous glint. Your point being? she asked.
Yah shouldnt, he said. And he kicked himself again,
because he certainly hadnt meant to spit that out.
And why not? she asked.
Its wrong, was all he could come up with at that
point. Oh, score one for him. Ever so witty and convincing.
Sam, you are in no position to judge me.
Ahm not! Ahm just...
Just what? Pointing out where we differ in a way that makes
it seem like your preconceptions are the ultimate be-all, end-all?
Grace... Ah didnt mean... It just kinda slipped out.
You dont have a high horse to stand on, Sam.
He didnt, did he? He was lying to his friends about his very
lifestyle, about who and what he was.
I mean, youve been leading poor Eddie on all night.
Either that, or youve been leading me on.
That stopped him dead. Hed been about to apologize, ask forgiveness,
but he stopped, and all that came out was beg your pardon?
Eddie? She asked sarcastically. You know, the
bartender. Hes been flirting with you all night.
What... He has not!
She just looked at him.
He has not!
Sam, hes checking out your ass right now.
Sam turned around, scanning the bar. Eddie was back at a booth,
and he smiled up at him. Sam smiled weakly, waved, and turned back
to Grace. She took one look at his face and started to laugh.
Youve got to be one of the most oblivious people I know,
Sam, she gasped. You really had no idea, did you?
He shook his head. Her laughter was infectious, and he felt it start
to bubble up inside of himself, bringing back the lightning in his
veins. He tried to blame it on the alcohol. He leaned back against
the pool table beside her.
I do a pretty good cute act, Sam, she said. I
do. I can be the little defenseless girl, the innocent child. Im
good at her, Sam. I am. And anyone whod take advantage
of her deserves to lose a bit of money or get taken down a few notches.
He nodded. It made some odd sort of sense.
It may not be the code you live by, but its just as
valid, she said, and her voice was quiet. He rubbed her back,
and he thought that he caught a glimpse of a smile on her lips before
her hair curtained her face. It was something that he was starting
to get. Every point of view had something going for it if you took
Her back was warm beneath his hand, the lightning was singing through
his blood again, and the rain whispered against the walls. She stiffened
suddenly, pulled away from him and headed down the stairs. He followed
her, because he didnt know what else to do. She didnt
stop for her jacket, just hit the doors and vanished out into the
night as he trailed at her heels.
The wind whipped rain at him, obscuring his vision and chilling
him to the core, and he thought for a second that hed lost her.
He wiped the rain from his face and he saw her. She was standing in
the middle of the deserted street, arms out. There was water bubbling
and rushing in the gutters, and the wind whipped her hair around her
in a twisting nimbus.
He approached her slowly, cautiously, not sure if she even knew
that he was there. Her eyes were fixed blindly on the roiling sky.
Ah do something wrong? he asked, just trying to bring
her back from where ever her mind had wandered. She didnt respond
at first, then slowly she shook her head and laughed. It was a bitter
sound, and it fit right in with the wind.
No, she said. You didnt do anything wrong.
Thats part of the problem.
Oh, he said.
You know I was jealous tonight, Sam? I was jealous.
The idea normally would have given him a bit of thrill, but at the
moment he was just concerned for Grace.
Do you know what that means? she asked, and she turned
the full intensity of her eyes on him. It wasnt the propertorial
kind of jealous, either. It just honest, intense jealousy, and...
And... I dont let myself get close enough to be jealous. I cant.
It wouldnt be fair. Its not. It isnt fair to you,
It seems to me that what wouldnt be fair to me would
be to not give me that chance. Ah like you, Grace.
You dont even know me.
So give me that chance!
Sam, if you knew me, then you wouldnt like me.
Grace... he said, struggling for words, trying to find
something to fill the spaces between the wind. Look, to really
know you would take a lifetime. And even then, I wouldn't know all
the details. Ive known you, what? A month? Thats plenty
of time to know sometimes. I know *who* you are. I may not know what
you are, where youve been, or where you come from, but I know
who you are, and thats all that really matters. He stood
there, shivering in the rain, trying to punch his words through.
She laughed, a wild, fierce sound that sang with thunder. She twisted
away from him and spun in the rain, face lifted to catch the drops.
She stopped with a final gasping laugh, stood still as a statue. This
is me, she said finally, between the raindrops. In this
moment, in this one single moment, this is me. Just me.
Cautiously he lay a hand on her arm, hovering over her like a bird
in flight before he dropped his hand to her skin. He more than half
expected her to bolt. She laughed once more, and it was bitter. Just
me, she whispered, turning her face up to him and searching
his eyes for something. Her gaze cut right through him, sliced him
open to his very core as she searched for something, anything.
She must have found it because she leaned in towards him cautiously,
as if expecting to have to pull back at any second. She rested her
head lightly on his shoulder, and he put his arms loosely around her.
Her skin was almost feverish hot to the touch.
There are a lot of things that you cant know about me,
she said, her voice muffled by his shoulder. There are a lot
of things that even I dont know, Sam, that I dont quite
remember. Im not whole. Im not complete. Im just
trying to find...
Shh, he said. Its okay. We all have our
They stood there in the rain and the wind until a car tore through
the night, spraying water into the air and forcing them inside, laughing.
Okay, you hold him up and Ill pick the lock.
Funny how real life mirrored that of the spandex squad,
Sam thought, as he held a semiconscious Kyle upright. Grace crouched
in front of the apartment door and pulled something from her hair.
A few seconds later the door swung open and she hauled them inside.
Whered you learn to do that? he gasped.
When I was little, I kept forgetting my house key, she
said as she turned on the lights and came back to help hoist Kyle
up. The man was no feather weight, and he was just conscious enough
that he was making everything harder for them. Dad was always
at work, and even when mom was there, she couldnt always be
counted on to get the door open.
Sam kicked the door closed behind them. Theyd dragged Kyle
back to his place only to find that Sascha had taken his keys earlier
in the evening. She hadnt been in the best of shape either,
so Angela had landed the task of taking her back to her place.
Sam wasnt exactly in shape for driving either, so he was taking
up Kyles offer of a place to crash whenever he needed one. Hed
actually been taking it up rather often lately.
They dumped Kyle on his bed, then Sam began peeling off his shoes
You got him? Grace asked.
This is nothing, he said with a grin, and she shut the
door behind herself. Usually when he had to take care of someone who
had passed out, he had to be constantly on guard against the possibility
of getting a stomach full of adamantium, or of suddenly realizing
that his hands hand been blown off.
Grace was sprawled across the couch when he came out, flipping channels
on the television. Nothing on, she said as she wrinkled
her nose. Unless you want to watch Miss Cleo dupe the unsuspecting.
Sam snorted, took the remote and turned off the television. Shes
not even a telepath, he said.
Grace looked at him oddly.
So! he said quickly. Nothing on tv, but we have
Whatve we got? she asked with some curiosity,
then paused. I really shouldnt. Its getting pretty
Action movies, romance movies, comedies... he said almost
desperately. And Disney movies. Lots and lots of Disney movies.
Sascha loves them.
She grinned at him, and it was an unassuming, complete smile. Ive
never actually seen one, she said.
He stopped. Youve never seen a Disney movie? he
She shook her head.
She grinned at him. Well, I certainly havent seen one
since you asked last.
Sit, he said. Ill make popcorn. We have
to remedy this. He paused. Not even Snow White?
She shook her head. Nope.
So he made a big bowl of popcorn, and poured both of them glasses
of Coke. Theyd both had enough alcohol for the night. Popping
a cassette at random into the VCR he settled down beside her.
She hogged the popcorn.
He moved it from between them after awhile.
Hey! she cried.
Ah made it. Ahd like some too, he said.
Put the popcorn back.
You want the popcorn?
You really want the popcorn? he asked. She grinned and
bared her teeth.
Here yah go, he said, and emptied it over her head.
She sat with her mouth wide open for a second, and it gave him time
to skitter out of arms reach.
Youre going to pay for that, she said, stalking
him across the room.
Yah said yah wanted the popcorn...
She snarled at him. Something in her eyes didnt bode well
for him. To eat, Sam. Not to wear. It doesnt accessorise
well with what Ive got on.
Be careful or youll wake Kyle, he said desperately.
The movie played on in the background.
Sam, Apocalypse himself wouldnt wake Kyle right now.
Oh, he squeaked, dodging as she lunged. She missed,
but she turned and threw herself at him again.
The air rushed out of his lungs as her weight carried him to the
carpet. Youre gonna pay for that, she grunted as
they rolled about the living room. His clothes were still somewhat
damp, he realized. He also came to the sudden realisation that Grace
had wrestled him to a stop and was now sitting on him, pinning him
to the ground.
He couldnt help it. He froze.
She did, too. He could see the beginning of something building in
her eyes, and he didnt move except to breath. Slowly, ever so
slowly, she leaned forward, and her breath was cool against his flushed
skin. Strands of her hair danced across his skin, and he couldnt
hear anything outside of his heartbeat and breath and the steady thrumming
in his head. She ran her fingers hesitantly through his hair, tangled
them in as she kissed his forehead, the curve of his cheek, his jaw,
the corner of his mouth.
Pulling back, she just looked at him, her face hovering so close
that he could feel the warmth from her skin. Sam? she
asked, her eyes bright. He couldnt tell if it was a question
or a plea or an apology.
Then her eyes swallowed him and it didnt matter because he
was kissing her.
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