The Karma Downs
by CherryIce

Chapter Ten

“Oh, for pete’s sake... Ma’am, I’m trying to help you!”

Sam threw the woman to the ground as a red blast of light screamed over their heads. She matched the scream with her own. He clamped a hand down over her mouth and her eyes grew wide.

“Look, Ah’m sorry about this,” Sam hissed, “but Ah need to get you out of here, and you’re not exactly helping me.” She flinched and clutched her cheque book as something to one side crashed and they were peppered with slivers of ice.

“Now, Ah’m going to take mah hand away from your mouth, and you’re not going tah do anything tah draw attention to us, now are you?” She shook her head and trembled as he slowly removed his hand.

He hated being stuck nurseguarding. It made sense, though. His blast field could effectively protect bystanders, even ones as downright aggravating as this one was being. He sighed and scooped her into his arms, holding her close to his body to keep her as close inside the potential blast field as he could. He’d fire up if there was something coming at him.

They made it rather easily to the lobby and out past the ATMs. He suspected Jean or Emma was turning attention away from them. They were almost down the stairs when a body exploded out through a plate glass window, spraying shards out over the barrier of police cars and into the assembled crowd. He blasted away from it automatically and the woman in his arms resumed her screaming. He landed with a thud beside one of the police cars and the woman scrambled violently away from him, pushing at him with all of her strength.

He let her go and raised a hand at the police woman who caught her and handed her off to the paramedics. Her hand drifted in what Sam could only hope was an unconscious gesture to her holster, and he turned and headed back to the bank. This time he just flew in through the now-empty window, sparing a glance down at the still figure on the pavement. It was one of the would be robbers.

This should have been a cake walk. A couple of beta and gamma mutants knocking over a bank. They should have had them pinned in no time flat. Unfortunately, one of the beta’s happened to possess a mutation which allowed him to enhance the mutations of his cohorts to alpha level.

The police woman’s face intruded into his mind. Later he would be able to tell himself that she hadn’t resembled Grace in the least, but for now he just pushed it to the side with a shake of his head. There were more important things going on at the moment.

That shake of his head and his blast field were the only things that saved it from being taken off by a rock flung towards him. He spared a glance back for the crowd behind him, but no one seemed willing to admit to the projectile.

These were the days he longed for finals.


There were no answers in the bottom of a bottle. It was something he had learned from watching teammates and friends search through one after another. It didn’t make it any less tempting to check for himself.

He sighed and stared down at the bottom of the glass. The only thing that greeted him was his own reflection. His eyes mocked him.

“Another?” the barkeep asked Sam and he shook his head. It was a man who he recognized by sight but not by name. Eddie had gone off-shift about half an hour before. He’d clapped Sam sympathetically on the back - word travelled fast even when you weren’t living with a group of people who could read minds. Sam had been on his first drink then.

Hell, he was only just finished with his third. He didn’t like the way his face looked beneath a thin puddle of rye.

Digging through the pockets of his jeans he managed to find a couple of bills, so he threw them onto the bar and untangled his jacket from the mess on the coat rack. He turned up his collar as he stepped outside. There were Christmas lights and decorations strung up along the street. They were bright and garish, dipping and flickering in the December wind. A Santa Claus sat atop the roof of the grocer’s down the road, one great chubby arm raised in greeting. Ho-ho-ho. It’s December 2, come and get your turkey. You’ve got your shopping done (Don’t you?) because we’ve been reminding you since Halloween, but you should start stockpiling the food. Make sure that everything will be perfect for the holidays and you better fucking have a good time because it ‘tis the season, after all.

Sam wandered aimlessly through the streets, hands stuffed deep within his pockets. He was lost in his own thoughts and the steady ache that the crunching of the snow beneath his feet brought when he heard harsh breathing. He paused in his tracks, straining his ears, realizing for the first time that he’d gradually veered away from areas where people were out. The street was silent, the Christmas decorations faded and lighting the area with a forced, cheerless sort of flickering.

It could have just been a pair of erstwhile lovers. He heard the broken breathing again and this time it was punctuated with a fleshy sort of thud he was all too familiar with and a weak groan. His feet had started to move before he’d even gotten the sounds properly straight in his head and he was running, rounding a corner to a brick alleyway, his shadow racing before him.

He skidded to a stop. Four hulking figures were moving in near silence in the dim light, their breathing casting ragged plumes into the air. There was blood on the snow and someone was lying on the ground, moaning. When they stopped kicking at the dark bundle he realized that he’d hollered at them.

One of the men separated out from the circle, moving easily towards Sam. The leader of the pack, he’d bet. He moved with the strained grace of a fighter with too much muscle. There was a smooth pink scar cutting his cheek in two. “I think you’re wanting to keep on moving,” he said, wiping a hand across his mouth.

Sam stood his ground. “Looks like a fair fight,” he said. “Four big, strong guys like you... Why don’t you try someone who can fight back?”

The man laughed at that, his face twisting darkly. He took another step forward. He had half a foot and at least sixty pounds on Sam. “You?” he asked. His grin was somehow scarier than Sinister’s most menacing expression, maybe because there was something horribly *impersonal* about it. “You’ve got guts, kid. So I’m going to give you one last chance. Leave.” Behind him, one of his cronies kicked at the body on the ground and the head lolled back into the light.

Sam had a lot of practice identifying people beneath layers of blood and grime, broken bones and bruises.

“Eddie?” he whispered. Some part of him fell numb at that. It wasn’t a jumping in, or some drug dealer caught on the wrong turf, and it wasn’t some kid with an extra limb or purple hair who he didn’t know, it was Eddie, Eddie who always had an ear or even just a grasshopper for anyone who was hurting.

The man in front of him must have signalled because the three thugs were on him in an instant. The part of him that was numb disappeared as his head crashed into the pavement. He was angry then, angry that these people would attack his friend for the money in his wallet or the Italian blood that showed in his face or the fact that he happened to like men or whatever had drawn their attention.

Angry at the people in the world who saw MUTANT and thought attacker, robber, rapist, degenerate, freak, while sending people like these back out onto the street to beat bartenders half to death in the snow, who threw rocks and worse when you were trying to help them, who resented you for saving their lives. Angry at Grace, because she was so sure of his inability to understand that she would run from him, shut him out and shun him.

Angry and Scott and Jean and the show they put on instead of dealing until they couldn’t see anything, everything that was wrong around them, at Bobby and his recent attempts to show how grown up he was by being an ass and not listening to anyone, and angry at himself for not being able to fix things, to figure out what he was supposed to be, what he had to be.

He was on his back so he let one of his assailants charge him, bringing up his leg and using the man’s momentum to throw him head first into the wall. There was a sickening thunk and the man sort of oozed down the wall to fall in a boneless heap. Sam flipped to his feet lightly, fists ready. The man he’d spoken to faded off to the side and the other two thugs circled him predatorily.

“Come on,” he growled, spreading his arms out. “Which of you is next?” There was a red light behind it all. He needed to make it hurt. He needed someone else to be hurting.

They looked at each other and came at him as one. He let the one behind him grab his arms and kicked the other, leg snapping out to take him in the solar plexus. When he doubled over he continued forward and Sam straightened him out by driving his knee into his chin. His head snapped back and he staggered back into a trash can.

The grip the other man had on his arms was elementary. Usually used for nothing more than holding a warm body still while another beat on it. If he’d used a hold like that in training Magneto would have sighed; and Cable would have broken it and kicked his ass so he wouldn’t forget.

Sam didn’t waste time twisting from side to side. He threw his weight forward, noticing as he did that the other man was heading back towards him with a grim look in his eyes. The man who was holding him was thrown off balance and Sam reached back with his leg, hooked him around the ankle and pulled. As he’d hoped, the man released him to use his arms to break his fall.

He moved just out of arm’s reach of them, careful to keep his body between them and Eddie. They were bigger than him, and they were stronger, but they weren’t used to people who could really fight back. Bishop was bigger and so was Sabretooth. Logan and Hank were stronger, and pretty well everyone he knew was a better fighter. The simulations he faced down in the danger room were all three, and tended to have handy powers to attack you with.

These were people he could beat.

He started to play with them then, play with them in a way that he’d always detested in fighters. If you could beat them, do it and get it over with. No need to draw things out.

But ducking and weaving in the cold December air, breath exploding from him in white plumes while his friend lay behind him bleeding into the snow, he didn’t particularly care.

He would have been hard pressed to say how long they fought, only that it wasn't long enough. He ducked at just the right moment and a fist passed over his head to take out the man coming at him from behind. Then there were only the two of them and he saw fear in the other man’s eyes. He smiled easily, enjoying it, because right now nothing could hurt him, and he drove his fist at the other man’s head with all of the anger he had bottled up inside. He staggered backwards, hand to his head, and slowly toppled like a felled tree.

There was still adrenaline running cold through his veins. The first two down were starting to regain their feet, weakly grasping at the brick walls of the alley or trash bins and he turned back to Eddie, who was scrambling back to his, his eyes wide with fear.

Time slowed down as Sam turned his head back to see the man with the scarred face striding from the shadows, reaching into his coat to pull...



Had to be a gun.


He threw himself at Eddie, trying to wrap his blast field around the both of them. He winced at the retort. The second strike as the bullet rebounded off was reassuring but all that the noise and the glowing field did to the scarred man was harden the hatred in his eyes. There was another shot and this time Sam heard three distinct ricochets, picking off the edges of the field. The man strode further forward, bringing the gun back to bear on his motionless prey. There was cool, impersonal hatred in his eyes /He’s just doing his duty. Ridding the world of fruits and freaks/ and something inside of Sam snapped.

A moment of complete clarity. What was the good in being able to generate combustion reactions if you didn’t use it? Air explodes, right. Letting him fly. He flew because he concentrated it below his feet.

It went through his mind in a fraction of a second and as the man started to pull the trigger, Sam lit up. Threw the explosion that would have lifted him into the air to his hand and let it detonate forward.

It lit up the alley, throwing everything into sharp relief. The man’s arm snapped up with the force of it, the gun flying through the air to land in a mangled heap in the snow where it began to steam and hiss. He slowly stood, and Sam could see the burns on his hands.

The adrenaline left him in one rush. The sweat on his brow was rapidly cooling and he was chilled.

The man turned to look at the wreck of his gun, then back at Sam. His eyes were still full of that impersonal hate. I’ll get you, they said as Sam screamed “Get out of here!” They told Sam that this wasn’t a retreat even as the scarred man faded back into the shadows. I’ll get you. Not today, but I will, they warned The two others who were fully roused were scrambling towards the exit of the alley. This was more than they’d bargained for. They left their still unconscious comrade lying in the snow.

Eddie was on his feet, weaving unsteadily towards the still body. “Shit, man,” he said to Sam, and gave the man on the ground kick in the ribs before collapsing onto the snow.

Sam was at his side in an instant, his teeth chattering. With cool, professional hands he checked Eddie’s injuries. All things considered, they could be worse. He’d both had and had to treat worse, actually. All of the X-Men knew some field medicine. It tended to improve life expectancy. Most of Eddie’s seemed to look worse than they were. Bruises, a black eye, and a split lip, a minor scalp wound that was bleeding as much as any head wound ever did.

Some bruised ribs, Sam though. Maybe one or two cracked. No internal injuries that he could identify. He had broken and bloodied nails and a boxer’s fracture in his right hand. He’d put up a fight for himself, at the least. Sam gently lifted one of his eyelids to check his pupils and that seemed to rouse him some.

“How many fingers?” Sam asked, holding up three.

“Aww, man, you know I have a hard time counting above ten,” he lisped. His pupils were close to the same size, so he might be lucky on that count. He tried to rise to his feet and Sam supported him as he started to topple again. “Kyle’s,” he said, “S’close,” before he passed out again.

Sam stood there in the snow, shivering. He should take Eddie to the hospital, but Eddie wanted to go to his brother’s, and none of his injuries seemed life threatening. “Ah, shit,” he said, then picked Eddie up and flew above roof level.

It was only a few minutes before they touched down on the balcony of Kyle’s apartment but it felt like longer because flying silently always took a lot out of him, even when he wasn’t carrying a man larger than he was. The doors that led into the apartment would be locked, he told himself, and then he’d figure something else out, something involving a doctor. But they were open so he stepped in out of the cold, just for a bit, to warm Eddie up.

He’d barely settled the other man down on the couch when he heard a key in the door. He sprung into a defensive stance out of instinct, every ache and blow on his body making itself apparent, but it wasn’t an enemy exploding through the door, it was Angela, her normally calm countenance bright with worry. Sascha and Kyle trailed through behind her, looking confused. They stopped when they saw Eddie laid out on the couch.

“Oh my God,” Sascha whispered. Angela was all ready hovering over Eddie, checking his injuries with clinical professionalism, and Sam remembered that she was a student at the medical facility, a few months away from her residency. The door clicked shut behind him and suddenly Sam found himself hurled up against the wall.

He was sick and tired of being manhandled and before he’d even realized what he was doing he’d thrown his attacker across the room. Kyle crashed into a lamp, knocking it to the ground. The sound of breaking glass was loud.

Sascha had her hand on Kyle’s arm and was talking to him in hushed whispers as he scrambled back to his feet. “Ah didn’t do it,” Sam said simply, thinking of what they must have seen when they’d come back. Him, ready to fight, by Eddie’s beaten figure.

“Yeah? Then who?”

The scuffle must have brought Eddie around again because he groaned and tried to sit up. Angela pushed him gently but firmly back to the couch as all attention in the room latched onto him. Kyle was by his brother’s side in an instant. “Is he going to be okay?”

Angela nodded, and repeated most of Sam’s diagnosis - with the exception that he had, in fact, escaped cracked ribs - as Eddie protested weakly that he was right there.

“What happened?” Kyle demanded.

“I told a gang of teenyboppers that Brittany Spears is seventy-five percent plastic,” Eddie said weakly. “Okay, maybe this isn’t the time for jokes.”

It seemed to Sam that it was the perfect time for jokes.

“I was jumped by some thugs on the way over here from work,” Eddie said. “Four of them. I fought, but there were more of them than there were of me. Sam found us and he stepped in. He probably saved my life. One of them had a gun.”

Kyle hissed. Sascha went to hug Eddie, looked at his bruises, and kissed his forehead instead. She wrapped Sam in a gentle hug. “Thank you,” she whispered. “That was very brave.” He shied away from her a bit. It hadn't been. Not really.

“Sorry, man,” Kyle said and clapped him on the back. “It just...”

“It’s all right. Ah know what it must have looked like.”

Angela appeared again, carrying tensors and iodine and aloe vera. She started to clean out Eddie’s wounds.

Kyle reached for the phone. “We have to call the police,” he said.

Panic suddenly flooded through Sam. “Yah can’t,” he said, pressing his hand over the cradle. What if they caught the people who’d done it? A very good chance with the burns on the scarred man’s hands. He’d need a doctor and they’d spin a story of being attacked by a mutant with explosive powers, and only defending themselves. Who would the police believe?

Kyle looked at him dumbly. “My brother was attacked by men who beat him and pulled a gun. I’d say we have to call the police.”

“No,” Eddie said, struggling to rise from the couch again. “You can’t call the police.” Sam looked at him with grateful and apprehensive eyes.

Sascha was sitting on the edge of couch and she grasped his hands, only to release them when he hissed in pain. They all looked over at him, Sam noticing for the first time that Eddie’s hands and part of his face were bright red, (His exposed skin, something whispered) as if he’d been sunburned. Sam’s stomach plummeted. “We have to call the police,” Sascha was saying. “Look at yourself. They even burned your hands.” She stopped. “Eddie, how did they burn your hands?”

“They didn’t,” Sam said simply. Backlash from the explosion when he’d disabled the man with the gun. He hadn’t been stretching his blast field out, not then.

Kyle and Sascha were looking back and forth between the two men, something building in their eyes. Angela was just methodically treating Eddie’s wounds.

“Sam,” Kyle finally said. “How did you you beat off four huge men by yourself?”

He wanted to shrug. Just lucky, I guess. I have a black belt. I took them by surprise. I don’t know; I just did. Anything but ‘I’m a trained fighter who goes against worse than that almost every day.’

“If one of them had a gun, why didn’t he shoot it?”

“He shot it,” Sam said.

“And he missed?”

“No. He didn’t miss.”

Sascha looked at him. “Then how are you... How did they burn Eddie, Sam? How?”

Sam exhaled. Shook his head and ran his hands through his hair. “They didn’t. Ah did. It was an accident, when Ah disabled the gun. Backlash.”

Sascha and Kyle were just looking at him then, looking while Angela wrapped a tensor around Eddie’s ribs and he hissed in pain.

“We can’t call the police,” Sam whispered. He couldn’t get into the registry. He couldn’t.

“We can’t,” Eddie repeated, his eyes empty. “They were out to give a fruit a beating and they were attacked by a mutant. How do you think that that will go down? You think that *they* will be the ones in trouble?”

There was silence then, only punctuated by the dial tone from the phone and the muffled sounds of a party happening in an adjoining apartment. “Damnit!” Kyle threw the receiver as hard as he could. It caught on the cord and swung back. “This is it?” he asked, spinning to face Sam.

Sam was ready for it. For the hatred or the disgust of the fear, but what Kyle said was “This all it was?”

Sascha shook her head. “We knew that there was something you were keeping close to your chest, but this was all it was?”

Sam opened his mouth. “What do you yah mean ‘That’s it? This is all it was?’”

“I mean,” said Kyle with flashing eyes, “is that what you couldn’t trust us with is that you’re a mutant? That’s all?”

It wasn’t all, not really. But the rest of it was tied into that so that the only thing that he really should have been expected to say was ‘By the way, I can set a fire underneath my own ass.’ And he wondered if this was why Grace hadn’t been able to trust him, when she’d known that he was a mutant but couldn’t bring himself to tell her. He’d been mad at her for not saying anything about herself, but the things he was hiding would have made it so, so hard for her. He didn’t have a foot left to stand on.

“Sam,” Kyle said, and his voice was full of cold anger that in its lack of impersonality was just as scary as the scarred man’s had been. “My tenth grade girlfriend was orange and had compound eyes. I’m an Italian Jew dating a Korean girl from a strict family, and my brother is gay. One of my best friends is a black girl from a ghetto studying to be a doctor. You think that I don’t know about prejudice? You think that any of us don’t know all about it?”

“No,” he said. “Ah’ve just... When yah get such a bad reaction so many times, you get wary.”

“So you assumed that because other people were intolerant, we were too?”

“Kyle, stop this!” Sascha cried. “Both of you, just stop it.”

“It’s not like that! Yah don’t know what it’s like, always having tah guard who you are.”

“But it is like that, Sam. You just assumed that we wouldn’t understand. You just assumed that because we were ordinary humans, we were bigots.”

“Ah didn’t!” But he had, hadn’t he?

“Sam, that’s just the same as saying all mutants hate humans. Instead of making a decision based on who we were... If you don’t know me, or Sascha, or Angela, or Eddie better than that, then you don’t know us at all. And I don’t know if I want to know you.”

Sascha was between them then, and it was only with her hand on his chest and one on Kyle’s that he realized they’d been steadily edging towards each other. “Just stop this, okay? We’re all on edge. Just... You’ve both said things. Just... Just stop this.”

Kyle spun on his heel, kneeling at his brother’s side. “How’s he doing?” he asked Angela.

“Ah don’t need this,” Sam snarled. “If yah can’t understand why Ah was leery of telling yah, take a good look at this conversation.”

Kyle didn’t even glance over at him as Sam stalked off towards the balcony. He needed to get some space between him and the earth and everyone who crawled its surface. It was only when he went to slide open the door that he realized his hands were shaking uncontrollably. The catch refused to move for him and he snarled.

A hand stole in front of him, and he tried his best to smile at Sascha. She followed him silently out onto the balcony, wrapping her arms around herself against the cold.

“He’s just mad, you know,” she said quietly. “He’s afraid for his brother and he’s mad that he let that happen to him. Eddie may be older, but Kyle’s always been the one looking out for him.”

“Fine,” he replied curtly. “Doesn’t mean he has tah take it out on me.”

“You know why he’s mad at you, don’t you? You understand?”

Sam shook his head. “Ah’m a mutant. Ah didn’t tell him.”

“There’s more to it than that, but you’re going to have to figure it out on your own. We never want to see our own blind spots, Sam, but you may have to.”

He nodded curtly. “Look, Ah’m sorry, but Ah’m sore and tired and Ah just need a bit of time.”

“I understand,” she said, and hugged him quickly. “Sam?” She asked hesitantly.


“Can I ask you something?”

“Shoot.” Bad choice of words. He winced at the sudden silence.

“What is it that you... That you can do?”

He grinned, because there was only honest curiosity in her eyes. “Watch,” he said, moving to the edge of the balcony, hopping up onto the railing and balancing easily. He knew he was showing off, but he just needed something bright in his day.

“Sam, be careful!”

“Don’t worry, Ah know what I’m doing,” he assured her, spread his arms and fell backwards.

“Sam!” she cried, running to the railing, her hair falling forwards as she searched the ground for a glimpse of him.

He let himself fall for a short space before lighting up. Every time he did it it was like beating gravity, and it made him feel more alive than he did at any other time. Sascha laughed as he soared up.

“Show-off!” she called. He blew her a kiss and tried to forget his problems in the city, spread out below him like silicon chips, lit up with Christmas decorations, even if for a while.


She could feel his eyes burning into her skin. There was always that something broken between them, tracking them, binding them to each other. He needed her in a way that was more than need. He heard her in the wind and saw her in the snow.

And only he, with his eyes devouring her, saw as she become more and less real, as what she was flickered and changed.

“Hey,” he whispered from behind her, wrapping his arms around her bare waist. The hall lights were dim. Wonderful thing about Emma. So much skin even when you didn’t have her clothes off.

Her surprise bounced in his head and he soaked it up. She hadn’t felt him coming because the thing broken between them tied them too close. He could feel her surprise bouncing around in his head because she hadn’t been able to consciously note him.

It was a thing he barely understood. He trailed kisses along her neck and she arched her head back for him. //thisisn’ttheplan//someonesaid,butitwasshutout.

She slid out of his arms then, pulling away without a look back, as if that was as much of his touch as she could take. He reached after her, grabbed for her arm. Her skin was cold and when she turned to him she was the ghost in the hall. The something broken spoke to him then, whispered in his mind that he had better take his hand off of her because this was more real than anything between them, the look in her eyes as they fractured.

He stood there, numb, listening to the whispers in his head, something dark building in him from the need and his ache to be be treated as everyone else and and the something broken in him.

“How much of this is real?” He whispered, voice hoarse and low.

How much? How much of this is real? Howhowhowhowhow much?

Skin cool beneath his fingers, eyes burning into him. [How much of this is real? How much of us?] he asks again.

Eyes cold now. Her eyes are all he can see and he thinks he preferred it when they were burning.

[Reality is such a fickle thing.] [Reality is what you make of it.] [Reality is just a word for the world conceptions we create.] [Nothing is ever real.]

He’s as hot as she is cold. Strange, because he is the one who can truly be ice. He kisses her then, kisses her hard because he needs something real and he needs her touch and he needs something to anchor him here. He pushes her back against the wall with the strength of it, and there’s blood in his mouth. His lip or hers is split and he kisses her harder, deeper as it courses between them, needing, searching, and when it’s not found it all circles back to him and he kisses her harder.

He hears footsteps in the hall and he finds that they’re leaning against a door so he lets his hand find the nob and they spill inside. It swings shut behind them. It’s an empty room. Furniture is draped in white dust cloths, curtains white, white as the carpet they fall to. The something dark and building breaks open because he needs this, he needs it, even though some part of him realizes that it will likely destroy the something that is all ready broken.

She’s still, so curiously still beneath him but he barely notices because her mind is racing and her eyes are splintering and fracturing. It’s then that he notices that the white that holds her together isn’t so true, against the white carpet and dustcoths, the curtains that billow even without a breeze around them. //nonononottheplannottheplan/this is wrong can’t do this/You’re letting him why are you letting him// Because white is every colour that’s how you get white. Every colour in equal amounts and her white is starting to break down even as her eyes are, fracturing and splintering into each component colour and she is all of them, is all even as she is white.

A thought brushes past him, a plea, a forbiddance, but it’s brushed aside by another and she doesn’t fight him, even as somewhere someone sings a lullaby he cannot hear but knows the words to all the same.

And the world fades and twists and looses its cohesion even as white shatters.


continued >>

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