The Karma Downs
So this was what they meant by being able to cut the tension with
a knife, Sam thought. No one spoke, hardly as much as moved. The silence
was barely even punctured when Hank turned the pages of his newspaper.
When Sam went to butter his toast, he could almost feel it pulling
at the blade.
Bobby bounded into the room and pulled a can of pop from the refrigerator.
He popped it open and took a drink, then paused and surveyed the room.
Geez, who died?
Scott shook his head warningly.
Jean sighed and pointed at his coke. Not for breakfast, Bobby.
Pass the butter please, Sam, Scott said, and reality
snapped back to its normal flow. Scott and Jean smiled their too comforting
smiles and ate their breakfast, and made small talk with Hank or Bobby,
or asked Sam how his courses were going. Sam noticed with an odd feeling
that even when both Scott and Jean were talking to the same person,
they didnt speak to each other. It was surreal, and he thought
that he almost preferred the strained silence to the farce of normalcy.
That would never do, of course. At Xaviers, if you werent
all right, you pretended your hardest to be.
Im going to be away for a couple of days, he said
abruptly, interrupting a conversation about how even without Ororo
around the weather was unbelievably beautiful, especially for early
November. Not even really a conversation, he thought. More like idle
comments strung together to try and make something more.
Scott raised an eyebrow at him across his coffee mug. Really?
Yeah. Ahm going out to the beach park with some friends
from school. Were gonna camp out while its still so...
unbelievably beautiful, especially for early November. Take advantage
of the long weekend and all.
Scott looked like he was about to object, but he shook his head
a bit and sighed. I was planning on running some extended training
exercises, but... Here he paused at a groan from Bobby. But
I suppose I can cancel them. We all deserve a bit of a break,
His face was unreadable and his eyes were covered by his ruby glasses.
There were times that Sam really wished that he could just see the
other mans eyes, because he had no idea of how his mind worked.
Thank yah, was all he said.
The talk drifted back off to the weather. Sam finished his toast
and excused himself. He was part way back to his room when foot steps
thudded up behind him. He spun out of reflex, but it was just Bobby,
who clasped a hand to his shoulder and grinned widely.
Thanks, man, Bobby said.
For getting us out of training this weekend?
Oh. Well, Ah wasnt trying to throw everything out of
No, its good, Bobby grinned. Im sure
I can come up with things to do that are much less effort. Or even
just much less pain. He paused. Or things that may involve
as much effort and pain, but a good deal more fun. Its great,
though. Its too bad youre stuck out in the park, but the
rest of us should have some real fun, especially if we can get Scott
out of the picture.
Sam nodded vaguely, trying to cover the look that was attempting
to creep onto his face. No problem. Look, Ah kind of need to
get my stuff packed in time to still get to class, because were
heading out right after Angelas done with her biochem lecture.
Sure, Bobby said and headed down the hall. Have
fun out in the bush.
Sam nodded in his general direction and slipped into his room. He
threw a couple of his shirts in the general direction of his bed and
sat against the wall. His hands were shaking and it took him a couple
of seconds to realize that the ragged breathing he was hearing was
his own. Anger, he realized dully. His pulse was elevated and he was
showing all of the symptoms of anger.
He was angry at Bobby. He had wanted to smile at him nicely, move
in a bit closer, and smack him back against the wall. And he barely
even knew why. Sure, Bobby was being a bit of an ass lately, and he
wasnt himself, but...
He didnt normal react this way. He really didnt like
So he smoothed his clothes into his bag with shaking hands, and
told himself that his heart wasnt racing.
The sky was blue. Artificial bright and crayon coloured, it spanned
above them, and it soothed him. Hed calmed down on the drive
into Manhattan, but hadnt been able to figure out exactly what
it was that had set him off. Gulls cried above them, the white and
grey providing the only break of colour in the sky.
They smell supper, Kyle called as he flipped burgers.
Some of the other campers feed them, or just leave their garbage
lying around for them to peck at.
Sam nodded, letting his head move along with the music pounding
from Kyles car. It was some odd mix of country, techno, and
rock, getting louder as Sascha leaned in through the open door and
fiddled with the stereo. I love this song! she hollered
as she ran back to the green, intercepting the frisbee that Eddie
had thrown to her.
Ill give you one thing, Grace said. No matter
what the rest of that car looks like, the sound system can stand with
the best. She was perched on the hood of his truck, her feet
drawn up on the bumper. He grinned at her and leaned back against
the grill of the truck, wrapping an arm around her waist. A breeze
blew off the ocean, carrying the scent of surf and sand and burgers.
The frisbee that Sascha and Eddie were throwing veered in the wind,
sunlight flashing off of it. The wind picked up the edges of the rather
heavy text Angela had in front of her and she smoothed the pages down
with an absent hand. The sun was bright and hot, and the grass was
as green as emeralds. Some part of Sam realized that this was the
sort of the day that youd always remember. Escaping from class
to drive out of the city and kick back with your friends, when everything
was in crayon hues and technicolour. Indian summer, early November,
stereo pounding and grill sizzling, and the water too cold to swim
but still good for wading and splashing because the sand was hot under
your feet and the wind was warm. Sleeping bags and tents thrown in
the back of the truck, because you had the park to yourself and the
nights were cold.
Grace slithered off of the hood, turning into his arms and kissing
him. There was something in her eyes that only later would he come
to recognize as a sort of quiet desperation. This is good,
she said suddenly, fiercely, and kissed him again.
Whoo! Go Guthrie! Sascha hollered, flinging the frisbee
at them with a grin as they broke apart.
Sam caught it somewhat clumsily, and Grace snagged it from between
his fingers and launched it into the trees with sparkling eyes. Sascha
loped off after it easily, leaving Eddie collapsed against a picnic
table, laughing. Gooooo Sascha! he called. Angela looked
up from her book and a grin forced its way through even her normally
Grace pulled away from his arm poked her head into the truck. Ahah,
she said as she pulled a bag from the cab and wandered over to the
barbecue with it.
Yes? Kyle asked as she peered over his shoulder.
Oh, nothing. I cant cook.
But you know what I think these need?
What? he asked, wiping his hands on his smock.
Beer, she said firmly, handing him a bottle from the
He smiled at her widely. Sam, he called. Im
stealing your girlfriend.
Fine by me, Sam said. She steals mah clothes.
Is it my fault that they look better on me?
Kyle laughed while Sam tried to look affronted. Shes
got you there. Course, I hope that some day you learn the true
irony of this. The reason youre letting her go makes her even
more of a draw.
Oh, you wouldnt want me, Grace said with a grin.
I hog the covers. Besides, she added conspiratorially,
Sascha would kill me. She sidestepped a bit, just in time
to avoid the frisbee careening at Kyles head. And then
shed kill you. It bounced off the side of his head and
he just barely manage to keep it from falling into the grill.
They all laughed except for Kyle, who clutched his head in mock
pain, and Sascha, who fought to keep a smile off of her face. Grace
extended a beer to her as well. Peace offering? she asked.
Sascha grinned and took it. I may have to steal you,
Kyle paused. I wouldnt have a problem with that.
I think Im going to have to kill him anyway, Sascha
He dreamed of white skies. Clear air now, no fog. Somehow that was
worse, because the very air itself was still and hostile.
He walked, and the only way that he knew that he was moving was
by looking down at his legs, because he may as well have been floating.
The snow was silent beneath his feet and when he looked behind himself
there were no footprints.
The outside pull, the compulsion was gone. It had deserted him with
the remnants of that last dream, and only now could he remember either.
His mind drew him onward, and his legs seemed to remember the line
the pull had drawn, because he was moving blind.
Snow dunes around him, changing changing changing as he went and
they never differed. Everything different was the same, and everything
the same was different.
He thought that he might go mad.
The dunes and mounds gave way and he was suddenly standing on black
ice. There was no transition, no fading of the snow, just white to
black and a sudden hardness beneath his feet.
Wind whipped at him, its scream breaking the cone of silence that
had surrounded him. He could hear his breathing, low and ragged, and
the sound of his feet as he stepped out across the ice. The wind raced
across the plane, polishing it to a marble sheen, and he realized
abstractedly that the snow had been blocking it from him before.
He walked and the wind howled, not knowing what he was searching
for in the great empty waste, until he slipped on the mirror black
surface and fell. The temptation to just lie there was so strong.
What would it hurt to rest for a second? To just wait for some of
his strength to return? The wind was singing a lullaby and his eyes
were heavy and he... he was... just... so... tired...
He snapped his eyes open, the wind returning to its normal howl.
He couldnt let himself fall asleep. The second he did, it was
all over. The ice was cold beneath his aching forehead and he thought
that he had a bruise. He pushed himself up on shaking arms and froze,
because he noticed that there were bubbles frozen in the ice. They
went down rather far, he noted clinically while something in his mind
started to scream, because the ice wasnt black at all, it was
perfectly clear and it was the water that he was seeing, clear
water that went down and down and down and if the ice was to break
it would swallow him and he would disappear without a trace, without
a notice because it was that deep and that immense.
He found that he was scrambling backwards and he stopped and shut
his eyes. Leaned back on his wrists to feel that the ice was solid
and he shook his head, stood and carried on.
He kept his head straight and his eyes on the sudden line where
the sky and horizon met until he saw a pale spot ahead of him. He
studied it carefully, realizing belatedly that he had broken into
a run when it grew at a faster and faster rate.
There was sweat on his brow when he reached it and the wind licked
it up greedily, chilling him. It was beneath the ice he realized now,
and suddenly the thoughts of falling right through slammed back down
around his mind. He shut them out, only allowing himself the leeway
to study the paleness, filling himself up with it until nothing else
It twisted wildly, white and gold winding in a circle and he thought
that he knew what it was, and he was afraid.
It hung on the edge of his awareness, and he almost knew what he
would see if it twisted just so, clearing a space. It was there and
he didnt want to know and he needed to see, but the white sky
was dimming, changing, and there was a pressure on his chest and all
around him and the ice twisted and swallowed him.
He woke in the dark, the walls of the tent closing in around him,
his sleeping bag too tight. The air was still and tepid and he couldnt
breath because it was all going to collapse around him. He didnt
know how he made it out of the sleeping bag but he was fumbling at
the fly of the tent with shaking fingers and then he was out in night
air. What he needed was to go flying, just put some space between
him and the earth, but he couldnt risk it. Not with Kyle and
Sascha and Angela and Eddie scattered around the campsite. Not when
there was the chance that Grace would wake up to find him gone. He
sat on a picnic table, clenched his fists to still them, and stared
up at the sky
He turned at the sound of the sleepy voice. Grace was carefully
picking her way towards him from the tent. It was somehow reassuring
to him to see her like that, hair mussed and rubbing her eyes, because
she always looked so put together, so close to perfect that he sometimes
wondered at how human she was. Even her morning disarray had a careful
sort of poise to it. Ah didnt mean tah wake yah,
You didnt. It was the other man Im sleeping
with scrambling out of the tent who did. But he ran away, so I thought
Id come talk to you.
Go back tah sleep, Grace.
She sat on the table beside him. Are you all right?
Ahm fine, he said with what he hoped was a convincing
smile. The truth was he was starting to feel better. The air
was moving around him again and the sky was so completely far above
Right, she said, resting her head on his shoulder. Youre
completely fine. Thats why your hearts racing and you
ran out of there and your accent is so thick.
What does mah accent have tah do with anything?
When youre stressed, or upset, or really excited, its
just more there.
Ahm going tah... Im going to have to watch that.
Dont, she said with a smile. Its cute.
He smiled at that, and though it was a weak smile it was a real
Now, are you going to tell me whats bothering you?
Its the stupidest thing.
If its bothering you that much then its not that
He sighed and she slid her arm around him. That undid him right
there. Theyd been seeing each other for more than three weeks,
but physical gestures of affection were rare from her. When she touched
people it was with a purpose, and he just tried not to let it hurt
him when shed pull away from his hand.
It was too tight in there, he said simply. Ah...
Ah used tah work in the mines back in Kentucky. Ah spent a lot of
time there after mah father died, trying to support mah family. When
Ah was sixteen, there was a cave in. Ah was working at the time and
Ah got caught. Ah was lucky, really. A lot of people didnt make
Were you hurt? she asked him, and there was something
real in her eyes that she so often seemed to be missing.
No. Ah was fine, was all he said. What he wanted to
say was My powers kicked in and I blasted out of there. I was
fine, but I was one of a few, and Ive always felt guilty as
hell about it, but he couldnt. He couldnt bear to
have her back away because he was a mutant and all hed been
able to save was himself. He was a mutant and hed survived and
hadnt saved the others. It was just... It wasnt
just the dark, because Ahm not afraid of it. And it wasnt
claustrophobia that made me high tail it out of there. Its just
sometimes, when the air doesnt move and theres no light
and no space and theres pressure on me... he said instead,
trailing off, staring up at the stars.
You feel trapped? Grace whispered, something catching
in her voice.
Yeah, he said, looking down at her. Silly, huh?
No. Not silly at all. She hugged him hard and he let
his arms wrap around her. We all feel trapped sometimes,
she whispered. Its how we break out that shapes who we
are. You can take what it is and use it as a shield until youve
become the very thing that youre trying to get away from, or
you can just be who you are, and let the rest fall into place.
Youre pretty smart, he said, kissing her.
Ive only taken the wrong way out a couple of times.
Im just trying to get it right this time around. She paused.
Even if I cant quite remember all of it, she added
with a little smile.
Ahm always here if you need to talk, he said.
I know, she said, pulling away from him. Your
mother must be so proud of you, she said as he tried to keep
the hurt off of his face.
Youd think so, he said with a grin.
I know that look.
The one youre wearing right now, that says Im
hurting but Im going to cover it up so that no one else has
to worry about it.
He shrugged. Youd be surprised how many people it works
Sam, youre trying not to tell me because you dont
want to add to whatever I have thats going on. Why does talking
to other people make you feel guilty?
It doesnt. That would be pretty messed up, wouldnt
It is. Especially when youre walking around with the
world on your shoulders and offering to take everyone elses
Yes. You are. You just offered to have me unload all of my
baggage on you.
Why? Because were together? Sam, youd do it for
any of your friends.
Well, they are mah friends...
Sam, everyones your friend. Youd do the same for
anyone, up to and including some strange person you met on the street.
Or in a bar, playing pool.
He paused. There were people he wouldnt... Well, Stryfe. He
wouldnt offer to help Stryfe. Unless he was really, really
sorry for all the times hed tried to kill him, Cable, and the
people that they cared about. Senator Kelly. He wouldnt help
Senator Kelly. Unless he thought that he could change his mind about
mutants. Or... Okay, he finally replied. Youve
got me there.
Besides, Grace continued, How am I supposed to
feel about unloading to you when you dont seem to trust me enough
to even tell me whats going on in your life outside of school?
She had him there too, but he couldnt. Oh, nothing much.
I spend a bunch of time flying around fighting super villains, dealing
with aliens, foiling nefarious plots to take over the world, and trying
to figure out the Summers family tree. Want to see my spandex
She sighed and shook her head. Look, forget about it,
she said, rising from the table and starting back towards the tent.
I said forget about it. Her bearing said very clearly
that she wasnt planning on forgetting about it soon.
Last time Ah left Kentucky, it wasnt a very amicable
parting, he said, trying to find the right words. Ah keep
hoping that itll get better, but one thing that Ahve learned
is that parting in anger builds up hurt feelings that dont just
go away. So please, dont go away mad.
She paused at the tent and shook her head. Youre mad,
too, she said finally.
Maybe Ah am, a bit. Ahm more hurt that yah dont
think that yah can trust me, but Ah hear what youre saying.
Look, Sam, please believe me when I say that that has nothing
to do with you and everything to do with me. With a sigh, she
made her way back over to him, carefully picking her way through the
grass in her bare feet. I trust you about as much as Ive
trusted anyone in a long time. I just dont trust myself.
She sat down gingerly beside him. So. What happened with your
You know, youre the first person tah really ask me that.
You kind of gave me a rather large clue.
Ah know. But still. The people Ah live with, they have to
see that somethings changed, that Ahm not the same as
Ah used to be, or at the very least that Ah havent been back
home since Ah came back mad.
Theyre idiots, then.
No. Theyre just busy. And maybe they just want to let
me deal with it on my own.
Grace sighed. What did happen?
Have Ah ever talked to you about mah sister? he asked.
She shook her head.
Well, shes always wanted to be just like me. She wanted
to follow in the footsteps of what Ahve been doing, put herself
on the front lines. She wanted tah be a leader. Couple of months ago,
she leaves the private school she was going to. They kind of closed
down, but thats a long story thats... Not very interesting.
Well, even though it was interesting, it wasnt a very clear
story and with the editing that hed have to do to tell it, it
wouldnt have made any sense at all. So Paige, instead
of coming to the school Ahd been going to, or continuing on
with her dream, she heads out to the coast to protect trees. Last
Ah heard she was an environmental activist.
He shook his head. It was... Well, it was a shock, because
Ah had no idea that she was even interested in that kind of thing.
Ah tracked her down, because Ahd just needed to talk to her,
and she didnt want to talk to me. She just... When Ah did get
her tah speak to me, Ah told her that Ah didnt understand. She
just turned to me, and looked at me with those eyes of hers, and told
me that she didnt expect me to. That she was sick and tired
of being what she was supposed to be, doing what was right.
She just asked me if this was what Ah really wanted to be doing, or
if it was just there and RIGHT, or if mah sense of duty had tied me
Ah didnt understand for a while, but shes always
been a smart girl, so Ah thought that Ah should pay attention to her.
We grew up in a family steeped in tradition, Grace. So deep into it
that we didnt really realize it. We thought that we were progressive.
You accept mutants, youre progressive anywhere, he added silently.
And in some ways, we were, but they blinded us to how rigid,
how stuck we were in others.
Hed had to be the good little soldier. Hed had to fight
the good fight, live the Dream. Hed had to be in control, had
to be after leadership. You know, it wasnt until Ah went
home that Ah really got it. There was a specific way that everything
had to be done, a tradition to be followed.
Ah didnt realize until then that what Ah was doing then
was something that Ah didn't want to be doing for the rest of my life.
Hell, it wasnt anything that Ah could be doing for the
rest of my life, unless that itself was what killed me.
Ah wanted... Ah wanted something more. We fought, he
said and stopped for a second. Grace placed a hand on his shoulder
lightly, tentatively. Mah mother and Ah, we fought. Ahve
been witness to some doozies in mah time, but nothing like that before.
Some things were said that couldnt be undone on both parts.
He spread out his arms. And here Ah am. University. Doing
something new and still trying to do the something old, and Ah cant
help but wonder if it doesnt mean the same thing to me any more.
Ah dont like to think that Ahve killed that sense of wonder,
that ability to just believe in something.
He leaned back against the table, staring up at the sky again. The
moon and stars were bright, bleaching the world out.
Hey, Grace said, moving her hand to his jaw. Look
at me for a second. He let her pull his head around. Now,
Im going to tell you something very important, okay? Just because
you can question things doesnt mean that you cant believe
any more. Blindly believing in everything is worse than not being
able to believe in anything at all. Blind belief can cause so much
harm because when you dont question, you dont think before
you act. When you ask yourself Is this right? the answer
will never always be Yes, no matter how good a cause something
is, because the same things arent right for the same people.
Its thinking that they are that causes the most harm in the
She kissed him on the forehead, lightly, and her lips were hot against
Theres one thing I remember. One thing I know for sure,
thats kept me alive and sane through all of the years,
she said, kissing his cheekbones, his jaw, and finally letting her
lips rest lightly against his. Dreams arent stable. They
change from moment to moment, with each new person you meet. They
change, but they dont die.
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