The Karma Downs
by CherryIce

Chapter Seven

“Hey,” Sam whispered, kissing Grace’s temple. Early morning light streamed in through the open window, making her hair glow. She groaned and pillowed her head on him.

She mumbled what he translated roughly as ‘I hate mornings,’ and fell silent again, her breath steady and warm against his chest.

Watching her, he fell asleep.

When he woke, it was to an empty bed. The indent beside him was still warm, though, and he staggered to his feet. “Grace?” he asked blearily as he pulled on a pair of pants. His shirt seemed to be missing.

He padded out the door in bare feet. “Grace?” he asked again, and found his shirt.

“Looks good on you,” he said with a grin, watching her tear apart the living room.

She stopped and blew her hair back from her face with a frown. “You seen mine?” she asked him.

“Yeah. Last night.”

“Big help there. What I meant was ‘Do you have any idea where my shirt is now?’”

“Nope,” he said with a grin. “Haven’t seen your pants, either.”

“Sam!” she said, growling in frustration. “You’re not helping.”

“Ah am too. Whose shirt do you think that you’re wearing right now?”

“That’s not help. That’s protection from the elements.”

“Well,” he said with a grin, moving towards her, “Ah don’t see many elements that you need protection from in here. If you’re going to be like that, then Ah might as well take it back. If it’s not helping you at all, that is.”

She scrambled away from him. The cuffs came over her wrists and the hem hit mid-thigh. Not exactly something that she was big on getting into scuffle in. “What about you?” she asked, backing away.

“That’s kind of you, Grace. Ah will feel much better with a shirt again.”

“You have a change of clothes back in the room.”

“Ah want that shirt.”

“What about you?” she repeated desperately, scrambling up onto the couch. “I may not need any protection from the forces of nature, but it looks like I need protection from you.”

“Really, you wound me,” he said in mock pain, a grin splitting his face as she backed to the end of the couch and hit the wall. “Does the garden need protection from a tourist who only wants to admire its beauty?”

“No, but it does if the poor, bedraggled tourist wants to jump into the bushes.”

He leaned forward, trapping her with one arm against the wall and the other against the back of the couch. “What if the offender isn’t a poor and bedraggled tourist, but a poor, young, comely student?” he asked as he kissed her jaw.

“I suppose some allowances could be made,” she said with a sigh before she leaned forward and kissed him. “I’m still going to make you pay, though,” she said with a wicked grin.

“Ah guess Ah’ll just have to take that chance.”

Bobby lashed out a hand at his opponent, icing up and dropping him. There was a noise behind him and he continued his motion, arm flying as he pivoted. A head jerked backward out of his way and a hand flashed diamond as it blocked him.

“Oh,” he panted, letting the ice slide away. “Hey, Emma.”

She raised one elegant white eyebrow at him as the program faded away.

“Sorry,” Bobby said, glad that the flush on his cheeks could be put down to the exertion. “Didn’t see you.”

“Obviously not.”

“Yeah, I’m really sorry about that. What are you doing here?”

“What am I doing here? I seem to recall a certain fearless leader forbidding solo training.”

“I got here early,” Bobby said.

“Three hours early, before everyone was even up?”


“You hate the mornings, Bobby. I know that.”

He leered at her. “You do know that, don’t you?”

She carried right on over top of him. “And there is no training this morning.”

“Isn’t there? I could’ve sworn Scott said something...”

“He did say something. He said ‘No training in the morning.’ You danced. You sang. You ordered a pizza.”

“Well,” Bobby replied with a grin. “I guess I forgot. Because of the early hour and all.”

“Really?” she purred, stepping forward and whispering in his ear. “It’s a silly rule, anyway. Say someone just wanted to practice, without dragging other people into it. Inconveniencing them, even. Learn something new without having to worry about what the others were thinking, or having to take their ‘helpful’ advice. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with that, now would there?”

“My thoughts exactly,” he said hoarsely, and he knew that it had to be apparent by now that the flush in his skin wasn’t just from working out.

She knew it, and it danced easily between them. Her eyes sparkled. He’d never seen her eyes sparkle before. Emma wasn’t the kind of woman who had sparkling eyes, but there they were, glinting and sparking. There was something eerie about the effect, against the whiteness of her skin and hair. The steady brightness of her eyes seemed somewhat over the top, and the sparkles distorted the colour.

She took one last step towards him, until there was no more than an inch between them and he could feel the warmth coming off of her body. “Early mornings are good for that,” she confided. Her breath tickled his skin. “A person like that, just looking to train without silly rules or inconveniencing anyone, they’d be safest doing it in the early morning. Less likely for someone to catch them at it.”

He should have been saying something about not circumventing Scott’s authority, but he couldn’t bring himself to particularly care. It was a silly rule. One he would have no problem breaking. A small voice inside of him whispered that there was a damn good reason for Scott’s decision, if he’d just *think*, think about it, damn it.

But the voice was getting smaller and smaller lately. More white and washed out, and it rarely agreed with him. It spoke of rules and convention and motivation, and he was moving beyond it.

So he pushed that little voice aside, and latched onto white words instead.

“Morning guys!” Sascha called. “Guys?” she glanced into the living room as she passed, Angela close on her heels. It looked messier than she remembered, but it was deserted. “Oh. Hey!” she said with some surprise when they hit the kitchenette/diner. Grace was sitting out on the balcony in the long chair, arms wrapped around her knees. Steam rose from the coffee sitting beside her on the table, whipped away by the winds.

“Morning,” she said, eyes fixed on the skyline. The glass door was fully open, and the sounds of the day filled the apartment.

Sascha winced a bit as a siren wailed somewhere nearby, and a horn sounded on the street below. “Any more of that coffee?” she asked hopefully.

Grace shook her head. “No. But there are beans in the cupboard, and the pot’s still warm.”

Sascha nodded and winced at the bright sun. “I’m just going to go make some,” she said, turning and heading back into the apartment.

Angela leaned against the balcony railing. “So,” she said finally, then dropped into the second chair, long dark legs extended in front of her. “We came for breakfast,” she said cheerfully. “Sascha didn’t have any food at her place, so she staggered over to mine, which is closer. I was planning on going later today, but she seems to need coffee in a bad way, so we came over here. You’re just lucky I got some advil into her before she got here.”

Grace nodded silently. Her cup was clasped loosely in her hands, and she sipped it before she spoke. “Kyle’s still out of it. Don’t know when he’s planning on making an appearance”

“Probably now that Sascha’s here,” Angela said with a grin. “They always seem to know when the other is around. He’s missed temple, though. He always feels bad when he misses it because of something like this, even though he likely wouldn’t have gone anyways.” She paused. “You know you’re lucky Sascha’s still hung over. She asks more questions than anyone I know.”

Grace turned and a small smile broke the seriousness of her face. “You, on the other hand, imply things until you get an explanation.”

“That’s the plan.”

“Whatever works for you. I tend to prefer directness myself.”

Angela lifted her face to the wind. “So,” she said finally. “He’s not *that* bad, is he?”

Grace gasped. “What?” she asked with a hint of a laugh in her voice.

“Well, from the look on your face, Sam either passed out half way through or he killed your dog.”

She shook her head and laughed. “No. Nothing like that. I have... No complaints.”

“What is it, then?”

Grace shook her head and took another gulp of her coffee. “Nothing,” she said, staring out at the world that danced around them, unaware of as much as their presence, let alone affected by their words.

“Okay,” Angela said.

“No, really. It’s nothing.”


They sat in silence. Grace finished her coffee, put the cup down on the table with a clunk that somehow didn’t blend in with the noises around them.

“He’s a nice guy,” she said finally. She expected Angela to say something, as her what was wrong with that, but she didn’t. “He’s a nice guy,” Grace repeated. “I... I don’t really know how to deal with nice guys.”

“You like him,” Angela said. “You actually like him, really like him, and that scares you.”

“I don’t know if it scares me,” she said defensively. “It’s just not something that I’m used to.”

“It seems to me,” Angela finally proclaimed, “that those two factors are a pretty good coincidence. That he *is* a nice guy, and that you really like him. It makes trust easier.”

“You think I have issues with trust?” Grace asked, and the lightness in her voice didn’t fool even her.

“I think that it’s something that you need to work on before you lose the capacity.”

Grace sat silent. “I did, you know. I lost it completely. I didn’t trust the people around me, and I trusted myself least of all.”

“You get kicked a few times when you’re down and it’s easy to do. Especially if no one ever offers you a hand up. You get to thinking that it’s something wrong with *you,* and that’s a hard chain to stop. With the weight of that, and the people around you pushing, it’s hard to keep your head above the water.”

“It was me, Angela. At the end, it was, even if it wasn’t at the start. I’ve just... I’ve had to be so many people to keep from drowning, that who I was got lost along the way.” Grace stared down at her cup, drained the last of the bitter dregs. “I’m just trying to find my way back to me. I don’t want to be who I was any more. It’s just so hard to break the habits, the way I’ve lived to survive. It kept me alive, but I lost a lot along the way. Like the capacity to trust, because everyone turns on you in the end.”

“Well,” Angela said, “I’d say that that’s an unfair generalisation, but unfortunately, it’s true too much of the time. You can’t let it get to you though, and this might be a good place to start. With a nice boy who you happen to really like.”

Grace smiled weakly.

“I’ll tell you what, though,” Angela continued. “Sam breaks your heart, and I’ll break his arm.”

Grace laughed at that, and it wasn’t bitter. She looked out at the sky then turned her attention back to the woman sitting beside her. “There’s something uncanny about you, Angela,” she said, but it wasn’t a judgment.

“My grand’ma was a bruja,” she said, flipping her sunglasses down onto her face. “And if you think *I’m* uncanny...”

Grace smiled again. Stared down into her coffee cup, then out at the sun reflecting off of the buildings around them. “I should go,” she said, rising and brushing off her clothes.

“See you round,” Angela said.

“Yeah,” Grace replied. She paused in the entrance to the apartment. “You guys might want to let Sam sleep,” she remarked with a wicked grin. “He’s very tired.”

He dreamed of white. Beneath his feet, always inches from his fingers, above his head. It started to burn into his eyes, and he wondered if he’d ever be able to see anything else again.

It was the cold that snapped him out of his daze enough to see that the white had lightened slightly, taken on a tinge of grey.

Snow crunched beneath his feet and fog surrounded him like a cloak. His fingers and toes were numb, and the ground was calling out, singing to him of the arms of sleep. He kept walking, drawn forward by something always out of his reach.

The fog dissipated slightly. Drew back so that he was surrounded by a sphere of dead air, depriving him of even the touch of mist on his skin, until all that there was was the snow beneath his feet, the sound of his steps muffled before they reached his ears.

He kept walking.

Wind whipped at him silently, the only testament to its presence the chill it brought, plucking at his clothes and hair, and the slight eddies in the fog.

He put one foot in front of the other for what seemed an eternity, the wind numbing him until the only sensation left to him was the thrumming in his head, pulling him forward.

The wind died down. Fog twirled in around him, but the wind had been the last big hurrah. Snow beneath his feet slowly regained sound, texture. He wasn’t cold now, but burning with ice. Fog lifted gradually, leaving him alone in the landscape.

Barren white snow, pure white snow, stretched out around him, mounds lost against the sky, horizon blending into earth. He felt like he was floating. He moved his feet just to reassure himself that they touched the ground, and it groaned beneath his feet.

The pull was gone.

Bending down he dug at the snow with his fingers, scooped it until even the burning had left them and the only way he could tell that they were still attached was that he could see them moving.

He hit something that didn’t yield. Sitting back on his heels, he stared blankly as the wind picked up, clearing the snow away from the small hole he had dug.

He was standing on a lake.

Sunlight hit him suddenly and his eyes shot open.

He groaned. Cracked open an eye and saw the room around him, beanbag chair in the corner, desk across from him.

“Hey sleepy-head,” Kyle said with what Sam knew had to be forced brightness after he’d dropped him unconscious into his bed the night before. “Grace just left. She said to tell you that your shirt is hidden somewhere within the apartment.”

He groaned again. He’d liked waking up better the first two times he’d done it this morning.

“She said that you’d know why.”


continued >>

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