The Karma Downs
by CherryIce

Chapter Thirteen

Beep. Beep. Beep.

The steady hum of the monitor was reassuring. The beeps came with the rise and fall of Grace’s chest. Sam leaned his elbow to the table beside his chair and waited. The sheets that covered her pale form were white, white as the tiled floor and the shining walls.

He thought she’d hate that. Waking up pinned to the bed by white, trapped, alone. So he sat, and he waited. There was a rustle of fabric beside him as Jean sunk into the chair on the other side of the table. “Hey,” she said, her voice soft and her eyes tired. “You should get some rest.”

“Ah’m fine, Jean,” he said, shifting to face her. “You don’t look so hot yourself, if yah don’t mind mah saying.”

“I couldn’t sleep if I wanted to.”

“It’s all a bit much, isn’t it?”

She shook her head. “It’s all surreal. I found them, you know. Scott and Bobby, in the Danger Room. They’d managed to knock each other unconscious.”

“They going to be all right?”

“Scott will. He’s awake already, though he’s groggy. Bobby... It’s not just damage from the fight. His mind’s so snarled up that it’s going to take me awhile to sort it out. When...” She paused, searching for the right name. “When Emma died...” Jean faltered again and it was all Sam could do to tell her that Emma wasn’t dead, Emma was lying on the bed before her. “Her work snapped,” Jean continued. “I could have sorted it out if she hadn’t... All of us have some damage, but Bobby... He was far gone already.” She paused then, and her hands formed fists on the arms of her chair before she smoothed them out again. “I’m angry, but I’m not.”

“Ah understand,” he said simply. “Ah understand completely.”

“I mean, Emma did these things, but if we’d seen, if we’d helped...”

“We can’t know,” Sam said. “It could have been the same, and it could have been completely different.”

She shook her head and looked over at Grace. “It’s eerie,” she said. “How much the same and how much different they look.”

“How much the same and how different they are,” Sam said. “Hank says that on the genetic level, they’re - they were - identical.”

“And how... And how is she...”

“Real?” Sam asked.

“Separate,” Jean qualified. “Her own physical body.”

“Ah think... Ah talked tah Hank, and Ah think that at first, she was only half real, or not even as real as her powers could make her. She’d needed to be someone else, so she was separate, but it wasn’t until she actually became her own, her self, the body became just as real. And in the end, there wasn’t really much choice. Become really real, physically, or die with the Queen.”

Jean nodded, her eyes tired as she fiddled absently with the worn cuff of her sleeve. “Does he have any idea when she’s going to wake up?”

“No. He thinks that it may be some sort of psychic fatigue. Ah guess killing yourself always takes something out of you, but Ah wouldn’t know.”

Jean shook her head. “I can’t. I can’t,” she said. “I can’t go in her head. Not right now. You understand?”

Sam sighed and sprawled in his chair, his heart aching. “Ah know.”

Jean started to rest a hand on his arm then stopped. “Your friends are going to be all right.”

“Ah know. Hank told me straight off, after the two of you had examined them. But you knew that all ready.”

The medlab certainly had been earning its keep that evening.

“Your one friend,” Jean started. “The black girl. She’s-”

“A gamma class telepath. Ah know.”

“Gamma class empath, actually. She’s got a smattering of precog.”


“Pardon?” Jean asked.

“Her name is Angela.”

She smiled. “Thank you. I have... other things on my mind right now. The four of them are taking this rather well, don’t you think?”

Sam felt a grin lift at his face. “They’re good like that,” he said, eyes somewhere else. “We meet a lot of prejudice, so we get to thinking that everyone who’s not a part of the spandex squad is like that. That’s as bad as thinking that all mutants are evil.”

Jean nodded and lapsed into silence. “You should go see them, Sam. There’s a limit to how much even the most open of minds can take in in an evening, and I think that Logan’s been hanging around, keeping an eye on them for you.”

Sam levered himself out of his chair, muscles and joints protesting. “I better get up there,” he said. Eddie often liked his men dark, strong, and mysterious. Logan fit the bill perfectly, and Eddie tended to get flirty when he was anxious or uncomfortable.

By the time he reached the room where the others were, the look on Logan’s face and the smirks barely hidden behind Sascha and Kyle’s hands told him he was too late.

Sam padded down the hall. He couldn’t sleep. Kyle, Eddie, Angela, and Sascha were tucked away in empty rooms not their own, sleeping soundly, and he couldn’t find solace in his own bed. The verges of sleep brought with them dreams of white and ice, and every time he closed his eyes, he saw the Queen falling into the abyss, drowning in her own eyes.

There was a hand on his arm and he spun, visions of the ghost in the hall dancing before his eyes, but it was only Hank, the lenses of the glasses pushed up on his head glittering in the dim light. “Couldn’t sleep?” he asked.

Sam shook his head, heart starting to slow. Hank nodded him sympathy and guided the younger man down the hall. They just strode companionably for a time.

“Yah know anything more?” Sam finally asked.

He could have been referring to Bobby, or Scott, or any one of a dozen things, but Hank just shook his head. “She’s shown no change in condition. Her vitals are good, but she’s just not there.”

Sam shook his head.

“What is it?” Hank asked.

“Just... Before, she had shut herself away completely from who she was. Ah just hope that she’s not...”

“Gone?” Hank asked gently. Sam nodded faintly. “It’s possible, but it’s certainly not likely. If that were the case, then there would be some dip in her vitals - after all, she wouldn’t need that body any more. Or she’d be awake with no notion of who she was. No, I don’t think that that’s the likeliest scenario. It could be that she’s worn down, or it could just be the snap of being really, truly alone. She’s lost the rest of those personalities permanently, and from what you’ve said she’s had them almost since her mutation first manifested. It must take some adjusting to, especially for a telepath.”

Sam smiled weakly as they neared the observation room. He didn’t voice his other worries, for fear that giving them words would make them real. He wanted - he *needed* to be there when she woke up, so she wouldn’t leave. He couldn’t let her take off because she was afraid of rejection, or getting hurt, or for his own good. He’d promised.

The observation room was intended for keeping an eye on multiple rooms, or on just one patient without disturbing them. Hank, with his wide, gentle eyes, let Sam follow him in, instead of sending him back to bed. Three of the displays were active that night. Without meaning to Sam felt himself drift over to the one that showed Grace lying still, too still. He reached out and brushed the display with his fingers, strangely disappointed that he only felt crystal beneath his fingers. Hank made encouraging noises at the figures dancing on the screen, but Sam couldn’t make heads or tails of them.

The blue man moved on to the other screens, and Sam reluctantly tore himself away. Bobby was lying in one, face bruised but cleansed of blood. Hank was keeping him under until Jean or someone could do something about the mess in his mind, the splintered and broken places. Scott was displayed on the last one, head neatly bandaged, Jean curled above the covers on the bed beside him. He was just in for observation.

There was a beeping from behind him, out of place against the normally calm and ordered sounds and Sam spun around. Hank was an instant behind him.

Grace looked up at them from her screen, then averted her eyes and continued to pull the sensors and electrodes from her hair and skin.

Sam was out the door in an instant. His steps echoed down the hall. He was running as fast as he could but Hank was faster, and the other man passed him as they cornered. The hall in front of them was empty save for Logan, who was lounging outside the med area and flipping through a magazine. He put it down at the sound of their steps, instantly slipping into readiness.

Sam ignored him, just keyed the door to Grace’s room and waited impatiently for it to open.

“No one’s come by here,” Logan said as the door slid open with agonising slowness. The bed was messed up and scattered with sensors, but the room was empty.

Grace was gone.

Time passed. Christmas was an unusually restrained affair that year. Jean searched with Cerebro but couldn’t find a trace of her, and she and Bobby started to piece back together the shattered pieces of his psyche. Sam went back to the city, to Kyle’s for New Year’s, half surprised when he was literally welcomed with open arms. School started again, and finals passed in a fog for Sam.

Life went on, even when your mind held fast to a moment in time.

He missed Grace with an ache that while not all consuming, was never far from hand, waiting around corners to jump on him when he least expected it. He’d tell himself that it didn’t matter, because even if she hadn’t gone she may not have wanted him now.

Things that were the same were different, and things that were different were the same. There were times when he turned to talk to her, only to find nothing but air beside him.

Life went on, and he lived through it.

Kyle and Sascha, Eddie and Angela, they sensed the change in him more than even Jean did, he thought. Maybe because the idea of him and Grace - Emma - was too much for his teammates to really wrap their minds around. It boggled even him sometimes, but in her absence he knew that he didn’t care. Maybe it was better, for him to see that he really did need her, than for her to have stayed and for them to have drifted apart, have the fragile thing between them fray and break.

He missed her. And in the end, that was all that mattered.

There were snowstorms well into the new year. He walked out to his truck with Kyle and Sascha one day in late February, collar of his jacket tucked up tight around his ears. The world was white, and his favourite jacket had been missing for quite awhile. His head was down against the snow, so the first thing that he noticed was that Kyle and Sascha were no longer walking beside him. They were stopped in the flying snow, and she slowly shook flakes from her black hair as he raised his head.

There was a single figure sitting on the hood of his truck, knees tucked up to her chest. White and gold hair, flying, blending in with the storm.

“See you later,” Sascha said gently, and Kyle clapped him on the back as they faded into the storm.

Sam took a slow step forward, eyes fixed firmly on Grace. She was so pale she seemed a part of the storm and even with his gaze firm he kept losing her in the snow. She had her arms around her legs and her forehead to her knees and she looked up at his approach. He reached out for her hands, only to find that they were bare. Her skin was like ice. He hissed at that, pulled her from the hood of his truck and to the ground. She left a space clear of snow behind her, the red glaring against the white that coated the rest of it. How long had she been out here? he thought.

“Not too long,” she said, her voice as numb as the wind around them.

He led her to the cab of his truck, slipping around to the driver’s side when she slowly climbed inside. She moved like the storm was in her joints. He turned the heater on as high as he could, shivering as it blew cold air as it attempted to warm up.

He got a good look at her then, a really good look. Her eyes were a faded, faded green, snow slowly melting from her hair. The snow had fallen from the window when he’d opened the door but the storm raged outside. She was thin somehow, missing that something real again, and her eyes were distant. She lifted her hands to the heating vent, held her long fingers in the cold, blowing air. He caught her hands in his own, gingerly, softly, waiting for her to pull away, lean towards him, do something, anything, but she seemed not to even notice. Her skin was like ice and he blew softly between their cupped hands, trying to warm them.

He looked up at her and her eyes were trying so hard to not be there, but they were, they were tied, and he realized that she was wearing his missing jacket, the one he’d slipped over her shoulders before they’d left for Westchester all those weeks ago. “It’s no good, you know,” she said. “I’m still Grace, but I’m still Emma, and you’ve never been especially fond of Emma.”

“Ah never got to know her,” he said. “You never let me.”

She shook her head, melted snow flying from her hair and dancing across his skin. “I needed them before. What’s to say that I won’t become them again? I needed them to be able to deal, the Queen was right about that. I was never... I was never enough, Sam. Not just by myself. I was never enough.”

“Then Ah’ll be the rest until you learn it for yourself. And you’ll do it. You will.”

She shook her head again and her eyes were almost frantic. “This can’t be. You’re holding on out of loyalty, but in the end all that will get you is miserable.”

He saw in her eyes and her voice that she was desperate. She was trying to push him away because she couldn’t bear to end it herself, and she couldn’t leave it unfinished. And she needed it, god, she needed it. She needed something real, something that wasn’t just another phase to be lived through. “Ah told you once that Ah didn’t care what you were before, what you’d done or where you’d been. Yah wouldn’t ask me to go back on that now, would you?”

She shook her head angrily. “You see? It’s just respect to the words you’ve said before. You didn’t know then. I didn’t know then, and you couldn’t have expected to have to hold it to this. You’re paying homage to empty words because you’re too good and too honourable to do anything else. I can’t do that to you. I won’t.” Her anger was spent by the end of it and her words petered to a stop.

He was glad of her anger, cherished it, because she was trying to disassociate from everything so she could just let go and drift away, and as long as she was mad she was held here. “Ah won’t lie you,” he said. “It’ll take some getting used to. But Ah meant what Ah said then, and Ah mean it when Ah say it now. Ah know who you are, and as much as you may hate that, it won’t go away. You’re not going to get off on passing this off to me, because you do care. You could have left me, and Kyle and Sascha to the Queen, but you didn’t, not even thought you knew it would probably get you killed. You want to get out of this without getting hurt, but Ah’m telling you now that that’s not going to happen, because Ah’m not just going tah let you get away.”

Her eyes were angry then, angry and the green started to slip to gold, but she seemed more solid, more real. She wasn’t as faded, and she didn’t seem to blend in with the storm outside any more.

“You’re going tah get hurt, because life is messy. There’s no way around it. And Ah’ll probably hurt you along the way, because that’s the other side of caring. Yah can’t have one without the other, but Ah can promise you right here, right now, that Ah will never try to hurt you. Ah can’t tell you how this will end, but Ah can tell you how this will start,” he said. “It’ll start when yah give up the self pity, and start to heal. It’ll start when yah really let someone in, when yah let yourself live. Not everything is Live Through This, but you can make it that way if you try hard enough.”

He waited for a blow, or a quick retort, but what he got was laughter. She laughed with all the sadness of the past few months, and with all the joy. He kept her hands tight within his, and he thought that they were a bit warmer, a bit more substantial.

She smiled at him weakly, as if testing out an expression she was none to familiar with. “You said much the same to me before, Sam.”

“Well, yah didn’t seem to have really heard me the first time around.”

She smiled that smile again, and this time it was somewhat stronger. “What was it you said? You ice a wound and it takes away the pain, but you keep it there too long and it doesn’t heal. It just goes numb. You lose it.”

“Something like that. Yah’ve been icing your wounds for long enough.”

“I think... I think it was a period of grace. A time to rest until I was strong enough to heal.” She paused. “I stood at my own grave today, Sam. I stood in the snow and I fell on my knees. I stood at my own grave and in the end I walked away. I don’t know who I am any more. I’m not... I’m not everything I need to be. I’m just me.”

He squeezed her hands tighter once more, then gently kissed the palms. He knew somehow that if he was to really lose her it would be now, at this crossroads, and that this time it would be permanent. “Grace...” he started, unsure of what else to say to keep her there.

She squeezed his hands back and that something real settled very firmly in her eyes. Her voice was thick and low, hoarse, and she looked at him as if she expected him to bolt. “My name is Emma,” she said, the words trailing easily off into the snow that surrounded them, into the comforting cocoon of warmth now whiring from the heating vents. He kissed her then, lightly. She tasted like snow and maple, and her breath was warm on his cheek as she whispered one last time, as if discovering something precious. “My name is Emma.”

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