The Karma Downs
by CherryIce

Chapter Eight

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 didn’t 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 Xavier’s, if you weren’t all right, you pretended your hardest to be.

“I’m 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. Ah’m going out to the beach park with some friends from school. We’re gonna camp out while it’s 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,” he finished.

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 man’s 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.

Sam blinked.

“For getting us out of training this weekend?”

“Oh. Well, Ah wasn’t trying to throw everything out of whack...”

“No, it’s good,” Bobby grinned. “I’m 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. It’s great, though. It’s too bad you’re 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 we’re heading out right after Angela’s 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 wasn’t himself, but...

He didn’t normal react this way. He really didn’t like the feeling.

So he smoothed his clothes into his bag with shaking hands, and told himself that his heart wasn’t racing.

The sky was blue. Artificial bright and crayon coloured, it spanned above them, and it soothed him. He’d calmed down on the drive into Manhattan, but hadn’t 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 Kyle’s 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.

“I’ll 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 you’d 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 serene facade.

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 can’t 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 bag.

He smiled at her widely. “Sam,” he called. “I’m 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. “She’s got you there. ‘Course, I hope that some day you learn the true irony of this. The reason you’re letting her go makes her even more of a draw.”

“Oh, you wouldn’t 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 Kyle’s head. “And then she’d 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, too.”

Kyle paused. “I wouldn’t have a problem with that.”

“I think I’m going to have to kill him anyway,” Sascha sighed.

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 couldn’t 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 wasn’t 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 was real.

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 didn’t 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 couldn’t breath because it was all going to collapse around him. He didn’t 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 couldn’t 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 didn’t mean tah wake yah,” he said.

“You didn’t. It was the other man I’m sleeping with scrambling out of the tent who did. But he ran away, so I thought I’d come talk to you.”

“Go back tah sleep, Grace.”

She sat on the table beside him. “Are you all right?”

“Ah’m 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 him.

“Right,” she said, resting her head on his shoulder. “You’re completely fine. That’s why your heart’s racing and you ran out of there and your accent is so thick.”

“What does mah accent have tah do with anything?”

“When you’re stressed, or upset, or really excited, it’s just more there.”

“Ah’m going tah... I’m going to have to watch that.”

“Don’t,” she said with a smile. “It’s cute.”

He smiled at that, and though it was a weak smile it was a real one.

“Now, are you going to tell me what’s bothering you?”

“It’s the stupidest thing.”

“If it’s bothering you that much then it’s not that stupid, Sam.”

He sighed and she slid her arm around him. That undid him right there. They’d 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 she’d 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 didn’t make it out.”

“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 I’ve always felt guilty as hell about it,’ but he couldn’t. He couldn’t bear to have her back away because he was a mutant and all he’d been able to save was himself. He was a mutant and he’d survived and hadn’t saved the others. “It was just... It wasn’t just the dark, because Ah’m not afraid of it. And it wasn’t claustrophobia that made me high tail it out of there. It’s just sometimes, when the air doesn’t move and there’s no light and no space and there’s 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. “It’s how we break out that shapes who we are. You can take what it is and use it as a shield until you’ve become the very thing that you’re trying to get away from, or you can just be who you are, and let the rest fall into place.”

“You’re pretty smart,” he said, kissing her.

“I’ve only taken the wrong way out a couple of times. I’m just trying to get it right this time around.” She paused. “Even if I can’t quite remember all of it,” she added with a little smile.

“Ah’m 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.

“You’d think so,” he said with a grin.



“I know that look.”

“What look?”

“The one you’re wearing right now, that says ‘I’m hurting but I’m going to cover it up so that no one else has to worry about it.’”

He shrugged. “You’d be surprised how many people it works on.”

“Sam, you’re trying not to tell me because you don’t want to add to whatever I have that’s going on. Why does talking to other people make you feel guilty?”

“It doesn’t. That would be pretty messed up, wouldn’t it?”

“It is. Especially when you’re walking around with the world on your shoulders and offering to take everyone else’s bags.”

“Ah’m not!”

“Yes. You are. You just offered to have me unload all of my baggage on you.”

“That’s different!”

“Why? Because we’re together? Sam, you’d do it for any of your friends.”

“Well, they are mah friends...”

“Sam, everyone’s your friend. You’d 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 wouldn’t... Well, Stryfe. He wouldn’t offer to help Stryfe. Unless he was really, really sorry for all the times he’d tried to kill him, Cable, and the people that they cared about. Senator Kelly. He wouldn’t help Senator Kelly. Unless he thought that he could change his mind about mutants. Or... “Okay,” he finally replied. “You’ve got me there.”

“Besides,” Grace continued, “How am I supposed to feel about unloading to you when you don’t seem to trust me enough to even tell me what’s going on in your life outside of school?”

She had him there too, but he couldn’t. ‘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 Summer’s family tree. Want to see my spandex collection?’

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 wasn’t planning on forgetting about it soon.

“Last time Ah left Kentucky, it wasn’t a very amicable parting,” he said, trying to find the right words. “Ah keep hoping that it’ll get better, but one thing that Ah’ve learned is that parting in anger builds up hurt feelings that don’t just go away. So please, don’t go away mad.”

She paused at the tent and shook her head. “You’re mad, too,” she said finally.

“Maybe Ah am, a bit. Ah’m more hurt that yah don’t think that yah can trust me, but Ah hear what you’re 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 I’ve trusted anyone in a long time. I just don’t trust myself.” She sat down gingerly beside him. “So. What happened with your family?”

“You know, you’re 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 something’s changed, that Ah’m not the same as Ah used to be, or at the very least that Ah haven’t been back home since Ah came back mad.”

“They’re idiots, then.”

“No. They’re 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, she’s always wanted to be just like me. She wanted to follow in the footsteps of what Ah’ve 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 that’s a long story that’s... Not very interesting.” Well, even though it was interesting, it wasn’t a very clear story and with the editing that he’d have to do to tell it, it wouldn’t have made any sense at all. “So Paige, instead of coming to the school Ah’d 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 Ah’d just needed to talk to her, and she didn’t want to talk to me. She just... When Ah did get her tah speak to me, Ah told her that Ah didn’t understand. She just turned to me, and looked at me with those eyes of hers, and told me that she didn’t 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 to it.

“Ah didn’t understand for a while, but she’s 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 didn’t really realize it. We thought that we were progressive.” You accept mutants, you’re progressive anywhere, he added silently. “And in some ways, we were, but they blinded us to how rigid, how stuck we were in others.”

He’d had to be the good little soldier. He’d had to fight the good fight, live the Dream. He’d had to be in control, had to be after leadership. “You know, it wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 wasn’t 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. Ah’ve been witness to some doozies in mah time, but nothing like that before. Some things were said that couldn’t 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 can’t help but wonder if it doesn’t mean the same thing to me any more. Ah don’t like to think that Ah’ve 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, I’m going to tell you something very important, okay? Just because you can question things doesn’t mean that you can’t 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 don’t question, you don’t 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 aren’t right for the same people. It’s thinking that they are that causes the most harm in the world.”

She kissed him on the forehead, lightly, and her lips were hot against his skin.

“There’s one thing I remember. One thing I know for sure, that’s 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 aren’t stable. They change from moment to moment, with each new person you meet. They change, but they don’t die.”


continued >>

-(main) - (biography) - (discussion) - (stories) - (pictures) - (links) - (updates)-