The Karma Downs
by CherryIce

Chapter Nine

Snow. Pure and white and blinding, swirling outside the glass plate windows of the Cuppa. Sam frowned at his text book, the pages beneath the words that same impeccable shade of white. “Thanks,” he said distractedly as Grace handed him a cup of coffee and slid in across the table.

The bar was nearly deserted, owing only in part to the snow storm outside. The afternoon crowd was smaller than the evening, and there were probably only ten other people scattered around the building. He could vaguely hear Kyle and Angela playing foozball in the next level. Sascha was sitting at the bar, talking to Eddie.

He frowned at his book again, chewing on his coffee. He’d been out until three that morning, out with the team to neutralise a FOH gang beating on some poor guy with ice in his hair. Apparently they’d thought he’d caused the storm that had been raging for the past few days. Never mind that storms in late November were more than common.

“Hey!” he sneezed. Spandex in a snow storm invited a cold. “That’s mah coffee.”

Grace smiled and took a sip. “I had to get your attention somehow.”

“It was that obvious that Ah was gone?”

“I think that people passing by on the street noticed it.”

“There isn’t anyone passing by on the street.”

“Well if there were, they would have noticed.”

“Fair enough. Ah’m here. Now, could Ah please have my coffee back?”

She sipped it again and made a face. “Please. Take it. I’ve tasted better coffee at truck stops advertising free pork rinds with a fill.”

“Fine by me,” he said with a shrug, reaching for his cup. Once you grew used to the coffee that Cable or Dom made, you could drink anything. Even what came out of Logan’s pot.

“What’s bothering you?” she asked, fiddling with a stir stick.

“Nothing much. Just having a bit of trouble with some Chem.”

“Hmm,” she breathed and slid the book over to her side of the table. She tapped her finger on the spine and read, then snatched the pen from his fingers and scribbled some notes. After a couple of second she shook her head and looked up. “Do you mind?”

He shook his head. She worked at it for a time, then slid the book back over to him. “How’s that?” she asked.

He shook his head again, looking it over. “You got the same thing that Ah did.” He looked at it closer, noting idly that it wasn’t her normal writing. It was much closer to the script that he used, he decided with a growing twinge. Same answer. Same script. Well, people could write numbers differently than they did letters.

He saw her mistake then. Part way though the equation a two had somehow magically transformed to a nine. Glancing up, he saw the exact same thing in his work, at the exact same step.

She could just have looked up at his work, seen it, and repeated it, he told himself. He could have missed her looking at it.

“What?” Grace asked him, and it was only then that he realized he was staring at her.

He shook his head. “Nothing,” he said. “Ah found where we went wrong.”

She was frowning at him, outlined against the window by the blowing snow outside she looked so right, so at home, so he said the first thing that came to mind.

“Why don’t you ever wear white?”

Her frown deepened. “Sam, you live in jeans and t-shirts. Why are you suddenly a fashion critic?”

“Ah’m not criticising. Just asking. Because you’ve got the colouring to really pull it off. Ah mean, you’ve got pale hair but you’ve got enough colour in your face that it wouldn’t wash you out.”

“Do you have any idea of how odd you sound?”

“Yes, Ah do. And since Ah’ve made myself sound so silly, why don’t you answer the question?”

“I just don’t like the colour,” she said, fiddling with the stir stick again. “People expect things of a woman clad in white. I don’t like people thinking they know me when they don’t.”

“Sounds reasonable.”

“Why didn’t you do your work last night anyway?”

“Something came up,” he said ruefully, rubbing the arm that one of the FOH had bitten as a last resort. “And Ah don’t particularly feel like finishing it right now. Come on, Ah’ll let you beat me at pool.”

~{ Her hands were doing things specifically designed to drive him crazy. By now she knew all of the spots that made him gasp. There was something empty about that knowledge though, as if she’d grabbed it straight from him mind instead of slowly coaxing it from his body. When had she known it? Had she always known it?

//You think too much,// she whispered into his mind. //It’s distracting.//

//Then distract me.//

She did, her hands still doing things specifically designed to drive him crazy. That was what was bothering him, he thought. They were designed. Always designed.

//You seem to be enjoying them none the less,// she thought.

//I am of two minds.//

//Really? You don’t seem to be using either to control your body.//

//Oh, c’mon. Give me a break.//

Mental smile. //If I give you a break, then I don’t get to have any fun.// Still doing things to drive him crazy. He was usually pretty far gone by this point.

Work it to his advantage. Grin to hide the thoughts. A question brushed his mind just before he grabbed her around the waist and turned over, pinning her to the mattress with his weight. Her hands stopped doing specifically designed things and he smiled. It was predatorial and he could feel it.

Her mind against his was suddenly as still as her body and he kissed her hard. It was her reflex kiss he got back, hard and demanding. He could feel her mind switch into action, thoughts splintering everywhere and she tried to stop the kiss but he wouldn’t let her. Something inside of him snapped. It was a little thing, tied in to her in some way.

//thisisn’ttheplan// a voice whispered. //thisisn’ttheplanatall// The little thing snapped and splintered, digging into other parts of him and with their minds pressed as close as their bodies they dug into her as well.

//He’s cute when he’s// cut off. Strange. Not his voice or hers.

//Old mother Hubbard went to the cupboard to get her poor dog a bone// one laughed. Sang //When she bent over the dog he took over and showed her a bone of his own.// It may have been his, but he was beyond caring.

Her eyes were open wide, doe bright and when he looked into them they shattered and he was falling falling falling as they turned and twisted, changed colours and each became another set, different colours around him and then there were two of him. Two. One on the bed, so full of something darker than need, only that had never been him. It was someone else, someone else entirely only they were bound, and there was him in the corner, him fading away in the shattered eyes, among the shards and he was walking on ice. No snow this time because even that barrier had been stripped away. Only maybe it hadn’t been a barrier for him as much as for the wind, because the wind was raging, tearing at him until he thought that it would wear away at his very bones.

There was a warning in his head, the opposite of the pull from before. It was a scream, a stop sign, a sense of foreboding and it told him to turn back, to turn back and run.

He couldn’t. He kept walking because this time he knew what he would find in the ice and he needed it to be something different, something other than what he knew was coming. His feet remembered his path and they drew him onwards even as his mind curled in on itself under the onslaught. The wind died suddenly and he looked up, only realizing that he’d been blind when he could see again. There was a wall behind him and he suddenly knew where the snow had gone, because it was in the wind and the wind was a wall around him, curling away from him in a circle. The eye of the storm, he thought suddenly as he made his way across the ice.

The ice.

Clear ice beneath his feet, screaming at him to leave as loudly as the voice in his head, warning him of the dangers that lay beneath, and he kept on walking. He could see the object of his search up ahead and the voices in his head redoubled. His feet began to drag but he kept on going.

White and gold beneath his feet, twisting and spinning, ebbing and flowing with the current beneath the thin layer of ice he stood on.

White and gold, white and gold. She doesn’t wear white because it makes her feel trapped. It belongs to someone else. It belonged to something completely different in the beginning, but someone else took it, claimed it to show that she controlled it and now she doesn’t wear white.

The world changed, shifted and the ice was in front of his face, white and gold dizzy and the voices screamed as he reached for the ice. Violet lines running through everything, grids and planes glowing.

And, of course, the ice was no more or less real than he was so his hands passed through it. It was cold and it bit at his hands and arms and skin, sucking away all the heat in his body and all the heat he’d ever felt before until all that was left was the cold. He kept moving, kept moving because it was GRACE, it was always Grace only

[What’s your name?] [Would you believe Shard?]

[I know who you are. The rest; where you’ve been, what you’ve done before, they don’t matter.]

she was someone less and someone more and it was all he could do to keep a hold of her because something was dragging her back, holding her there and she was drowning, drowning beneath the ice and



Something twisted and they were on the ice and it wasn’t there and it was glowing lines and they were above the world and she took one long, shuddering breath and...}~

Sam woke to howling winds, blowing snow, and a warm, empty impression in the bed beside him. Grace was gone.

He spent the day searching the city for her. The streets were white and mostly empty. Every once and awhile another vehicle would lumber out of the storm at him, or he’d pass a brave, trundled up soul making their way across the street with their head down against the snow. As he neared each one he’d slow his truck a little bit, searching for something familiar, but even before he’d gotten a good look something would tell him that it wasn’t her.

He looked at the university campus, even though it was a Saturday. And he went to the movies, and every other place he could think of. He started to feel even more on-edge as the light penetrating the storm started to fade because something told him that he had to find her today. He didn’t know what had happened, not exactly, but he knew that if he didn’t figure it out today then he probably never would.

He rolled into The Cuppa around dark. He’d been saving it as a last resort because if she wasn’t anywhere else, and she wasn’t there, then he’d never be able to find her. It would feel like too much of a full cycle: Where they’d met. Where it would end. It was /The last chance for all of us/ something whispered.

The lights were bright but the wood panelling made the bar seem strangely dark after he’d spent so long in a cocoon of white. He searched the bar, eyes flickering through the scarce smattering of people. No Grace. With her hair, she wasn’t exactly easy to miss.

With a sigh he pulled a stool to the bar, and sat flicking pennies into the tip jar. The barkeep - it wasn’t Eddie, not today, something he wasn’t sure if he was grateful for - wandered over to him but Sam just asked for a coffee. He wasn’t feeling quite upset enough to get drunk before getting behind the wheel of his truck, let alone in weather like this. And he’d always hated to fly in snow.

He sat there, listening to murmured conversation, muffled wind and radio, and the roll and click of pool balls hitting the pocket. He drank his coffee. It was bitter. He didn’t realize how soothing the sound of the pool going on upstairs was until it suddenly ceased. It was a while before it resumed again, rhythmical and measured. Not the sound of two people playing, he realized, but of one person sinking ball after ball.

He pushed his stool back from the bar and rose, eyes craning to see the pool player as he headed to the stairs that separated the levels. They thudded beneath his feet.

Her back was to him and she was in the far corner but he recognized her nonetheless, in the same way he’d known that each figure he passed on the street was not her. “Hey,” he said, mouth suddenly dry.

She ignored him as he leaned back against the wall, just kept sinking balls in that mechanical way until the cue ball bounced off of a red striped one and knocked the eight ball in. Game over. There were still five balls on the table. She continued to ignore him as she scooped the rest of the balls out of the side pockets. He held out the triangle to her and she took it without as much as looking at him. She lined it up and broke, balls scattering over the table.

“Grace...” he started. She knocked a green ball into the side pocket. “Grace, please. Ah don’t know what’s going on. Just... Just talk tah me. Talk tah me, please?” He stood there and watched her sink the balls, waiting, waiting, but she didn’t even look up at him. It was like there was ice between them, a layer thicker than what there had been on the astral plane.

“Ah had a dream that you were drowning,” he said finally.

She looked up at him from where she was bent over the pool table, her hair swinging wildly. Her eyes were blank, somehow not even really real. “I had a dream that I was floating, safe and protected. I was safe because there was ice to keep the demons away.”

“You’re a telepath.” It wasn’t a question and he tried not to let the surprise show on his face. Only it wasn’t really a surprise. Little things about her, like how she knew just what to say to turn the conversation. How she’d made the exact same mistakes as he had when she tried to help him with his work.

“Telepathy is such a simple, pat thing,” she said, continuing to move around the table. She wasn’t looking at him but at least she was speaking to him. “Think about the number of mutants who are telepaths compared to those who shoot beams from their eyes. Or control magnetism.” A ball disappeared.

“It’s not statistically probable, but people are so used to it... I’m not a telepath. Not in the truest sense of the word. Or at least I wasn’t, not in the beginning. It’s a manifestation of something else. It is in so many cases. But the world sees ‘telepath’ and treats accordingly.”

She didn’t look at him, but he could read the harshness in the way she lined up the cue. “Xavier, the others, they just deal with the symptoms. They don’t even bother to look for the real root of it because telepathy is such a common ailment. Why do you think so many telepaths never learn to control it? What works for a true mind reader doesn’t work for someone else, especially if that someone has a completely different mutation.”

She still wasn’t looking at him. Did she expect him to point and shout ‘Freak’?

“What can you do, then?” he asked softly, cautiously.

“I know things,” she replied as she went back to shooting pool. “I just... I know. What people are thinking or feeling is only part of it. How things work. What drives people. Sometimes even what’s going to happen to them, except I can’t control any of it and when you don’t figure out what it is and people die...”

“And you don’t want to be able to? Is that why you don’t remember things about yourself?”

“It kills a part of you. When you don’t know and can’t help, or you know exactly why people are hurting you, only you know it too late to stop yourself from getting hurt. There are some things that you don’t want to be able to understand, Sam, believe me on that. And it kills some part of you every time, only I don’t expect you to be able to understand that.”

“Grace,” he said, drawing a deep breath. “Ah don’t. Ah want to, but Ah know that Ah can’t. But Ah know some people who would.”

She looked at him then, and her eyes were still startlingly disconnected, so unreal. “You’re going to tell me that you’re a mutant, too. That out in Westchester there are people who can help me. That you’re even going to says that you really don’t understand.”

He shut his mouth. She knew. Of course she knew. She’d even said ‘Xavier and the others...’ “Help me understand,” he said. “Why were there things that you didn’t remember?”

“I needed to be someone else,” she said simply, returning to her game. “I hated who I’d become.”

“How?” he asked gently.

“It’s hard to explain. I know things. And I can change some things. Neither’s steady, really something I can control. Whenever I’ve really needed to be something, or someone, I’ve been able to.” Three more balls hit the pocket. “If I needed to be harder to survive, I could be. When I needed to be able to control someone, I think I may have become a telepath. If I needed some way to not be hurt, I wouldn’t be. But it always came with a price and it wasn’t one I could pay any more. I just needed to be someone else. And I was, Sam.” Nine ball in the corner pocket. “I dreamed that I was protected. That there was something keeping me safe from everyone else.”

“You were drowning,” he whispered.

“I may have been. But I was away from everything that I needed to be. Ice may take away all feeling, but it stops you from feeling the hurt.” A green ball disappeared.

“You ice a wound, but you have to put the ice pack away before you get frost bite. Before you lose that part of you. Hurt heals. Maybe this is what you needed. A break while the rest of it starts to heal. But you had tah come up some time, Grace. You had to surface.”

“Some of it heals, Sam. But the worst you’ve ever done is skin your knees.” Another ball rolled into the corner pocket.

“You had tah start breathing again some time,” he said, and when she looked at him her eyes were real again but they were old and tired and aching. When she dropped his gaze he felt shaky inside. There were only five balls left on the table.

“Well, I’m breathing now. I’m awake and breathing.” Four balls.

“Ah told you once that Ah didn’t care what you’d done in the past, what you’d left behind. Ah still don’t.” Three balls. “Grace, Ah know who you are. None of the rest matters.”

She laughed bitterly and shot once more. “You know who I am?” Two balls and the cue. “You’re more right and more wrong than you could ever imagine.”

“Look, just talk tah me. Please. Ah promise tah listen to it all.”

“I know you would,” she said, and her voice low. A ball skittered across the green of the table and hit the pocket. “And if you turned from me I wouldn’t be able to take it, and if you didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to take it for your sake, because you’ve been awfully good to me, Sam.”

She looked at him one last time with her eyes bright, then she turned her attention back to the table. The eight ball and an orange striped one were sitting side by side in the middle. “Tricky shot,” she said, trying to line them up.

She lined up and drew back her cue and he could feel her focusing all of her energy into this one shot. The cue ball hit them with with a resounding smack and they rocketed towards the side pocket. They bounced off the side and crashed into each other, rebounding back and forth and gradually slowing.

They watched, almost hypnotized and the two balls flashed back and forth, working their ways towards the pocket. Motion subsided and the orange striped ball looked like it was going to make it in, but it ran out of momentum right on the brink. The eight ball, following on its heel, slowly, every so slowly tipped in.

Grace let out a breath. “That’s it,” she said. “Game over.”

Sam sighed and started pulling balls out of the pockets. “It’s not so bad,” he said, somewhat at a loss.

“I guess all streaks end,” she said. “I should have seen it coming. Good things end. All things end.”

He pulled the rest of the balls out. ‘You’ll win the next one,’ he was going to say as he stared down at the green felt, but there were lips on his forehead suddenly, a brief kiss full of all the affection he’d ever wished she’d shown, and she was gone.

The estate was dark when he pulled in through the gates. The snow had stopped falling and the mansion loomed in the moonlight, a sentinel watching with a hundred eyes. Inside, it felt deserted. The air was still and heavy. But he could just have been projecting his state of mind onto his surroundings. He threw his coat in the closet and his boots in the corner. The thud echoed hollowly. There was just enough moonlight coming in through the windows that he could see where he was going so he made his way carefully up the stairs, wincing a little at the creaks and groans.

“GAH!” he hollered.

“Shhh!” Bobby hissed.

“Yah scared the crap out of me!” Sam exclaimed, heart beating fast.


“Fine,” Sam hissed. “Bobby, what the hell are yah doing? Sitting around in the dark where a body could trip over you.”

Bobby looked down at his hands. “Nothing, really,” he said, and there was something in his voice that Sam thought that he should have been able to recognize, but he was tired and not in the best of moods.

“Fine then,” Sam replied shortly, and started up the rest of the stairs.

“Look, Sam...” Bobby said, grasping at the other man with his voice. “I just... I need to talk to someone.”

“Talk to Hank. Ah can’t do this right now, Bobby. Ah can’t.”

“Fine,” Bobby replied curtly.

Sam started down the hall then paused and turned back. “Look, Ah’m sorry, but Ah’ve got problems of my own right. Ah can’t be of any help tah you.”

Bobby turned to look at him and nodded slowly. “Yeah. I guess you do. Just... Do you ever feel like you’re going crazy?”

Sam paused. “Yeah,” he said. He paused and shook his head. “Ah kind of feel like it right now, actually. Bobby?”


“Go talk to Hank in the morning, okay?”

Bobby inclined his head slightly and returned to staring down the stairs as Sam started down the hall.

He was almost at his room when he shook his head. He should’ve been able to listen and offer what little help he could. He turned to head back when he saw Emma drifting down the hall. She was gliding easily, her clothes glowing faintly in the moonlight, her white hair swinging easily. She walked down a few steps to stand beside Bobby. As she sat her eyes swung around to capture Sam. They splintered and whirled before they released him.

He staggered the rest of the way to his room, slightly stunned. All he could see was a ghost in the hall, mockingly whispering ‘Game over.’


continued >>

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