by C.M. Decarnin
He was beaten up. He was hurt, he was scared, he was mad, he felt guilty, he panicked.
Clark had never seen Pete like that before, he never wanted to see anyone look like that again.
But the bitterness wouldn't let go.
It would never be safe.
Pete had showed him that, how another person's frailty could twist and warp him into wrongdoing in only a moment.
And who would he ever be able to trust not to be that weak?
He should have been able to figure something out. But because it was Pete, he hadn't. The very closeness they'd had had roiled his emotions in too many ways for him to be able to think. The fear for Pete and Mr. and Mrs. Ross, in the big rambling Victorian where he'd eaten so many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because Pete's Dad and next oldest brother both had migraine and they didn't keep lunchmeat in the house. The frustration and rage that Pete hadn't been able to see something as simple as the right and wrong of insane driving on public roads. (Lex.) The weirdness of hearing astounding things he'd never known about his best friend's feelings, changing their whole past together. Then when Pete put his powers on the line... the pressure and anxiety had hit Clark like Jor-El, erasing ability to reason. Was that Kryptonian adrenaline?
Because of Pete he saw his whole life stretching out ahead of him without a friend, a confidant. A lover.
Pete hadn't caused the dilemma Clark's life was in.
But Pete had showed it to him clearly. Emotionally. In a way he would never forget.
Secretly, secretly, secretly making him hear Jor-El. They are flawed. How much did it matter what he did, when humans fucked up so royally all by themselves.
Was it because he wasn't human that he could see this? No, no... Mom and Dad had taught him. His biological father had serious pot/kettle issues when it came to "flawed".
He kept seeing the flesh of Pete's face all split and bleeding. But then Pete refusing to listen to reason when this all started. Wanting some stupid identity that hinged on what kind of car he drove. And on an unfair advantage at that, when you came right down to it. Wanting to just say Pete's blood and fear were his own damn fault!
Remembering how he had been, wanting to play football. But they'd been freshmen then. People were getting killed in Jason Dante's cars.
And where in the hell had Dante been able to lay a twenty thousand dollar bet on a high-school drag race anyway? (Lex.) Even if you broke it down into thousand dollar bets, were there twenty people in town that rich, bored, and stupid? Not the teenagers actually at the race site, he was sure. Except for the stupid part. And, okay, bored. So were there two hundred of them ass enough to lay down a hundred bucks apiece? Did every kid in town but him have that kind of money to waste and that little morality?
So Pete had been kissed by the alpha-chick with the yellow bandana in her pocket. So what? Was scoring all it took to make him lose all class?
You went along just assuming your friends were as moral as you were.
And guess what.
Should they have told Judge Ross? She'd never have paid extortion. Dante had already evaded one raid, through his inside sources. Who knew what other ins he had with Smallville law? Pete said Dante was psychotic, and Clark knew the type: messing with kryptonite would do that to you. Plus Dante was loaded, you didn't run multiple race cars without tons of cash -- he had henchmen, for god's sake. He'd be out on bail and they'd be right back where they started.
Besides, once Clark told outsiders, it would immediately limit his own options for using his powers.
He'd instantly dismissed telling his own parents. He would never risk his Dad's heart -- maybe, he'd realized with a twisting pang, he could never risk it again like that, never go to Mom and Dad with the hard, life-or-death perils or heavy choices.
Damn Pete anyway!
The Sheriff had already warned him off. What proof did they have? Pete's face? Henchmen and brass knuckles, Pete's word against theirs. This brutality was what they had done because Clark had gone to the police. If Pete himself went, they'd need to have protection in place on Pete's whole family first -- and Pete was right, Clark had to go to school, do all the work on the farm now, he could never have guarded the Rosses full-time. And what about Clark's family?
He couldn't stop himself from going over and over it, chasing his own deeds and thoughts with "what ifs" and "if onlys" until he thought he'd go crazy.
Dante was dead. Skull cracked on the windshield, neck broken. Everyone knew now how much he'd sucked, but that wasn't the point, was it? Jonathan had warned Clark a thousand times about crossing over that line into vigilantism. All he'd meant to do was buy some time, get Pete out of the crunch. Disable the other car in a way that couldn't be blamed on Pete. Still not realizing just how right Pete had been about Dante being psycho; that he would never have kept his bargain. How had Dante thought a car-bomb wouldn't be noticed in a crash investigation? Who had he planned to blame for that? Murderous, irrational -- dead.
All that humiliation. Asking Lex for money. And Lex assuming the "proverbial friend" was fictional and it was really Clark himself who'd done something stupid!
Lex saying no.
Not expecting how much that hurt. This time when he'd really needed it.
He couldn't understand Lex any more. It was like there was a clear shield of anger over everything Lex did now, deadening his eyes, separating him from anything real, anything that had existed between the two of them.
Now Lex knew he'd taken the Porsche and was acting so weird about it. Taunting. Was it complicity or cold, icy Luthor disdain?
Did it matter?
He shouldn't be getting close to Lex either.
Look what he'd asked of Clark, the minute he knew his powers.
Both his friends' pleas so desperate and understandable.
Why couldn't the guy just grow up?
How grown up did you even have to be to know right from wrong? Did the words "tried as an adult" have any meaning for him at all? How about "vehicular homicide"?
He could still see the look on his Mom's face as the racers flashed past, a foot from the hood of the pick-up. They would've hit her side, and Clark -- her steel-mangled body would have --
She hadn't even had time to look more than startled, faintly annoyed that he'd shouted at her, scared her like that. It would have been over in that instant, an explosion of steel, fuel, and blood.
Dante's blood on the windshield.
Dad unconscious in his arms.
God he needed something to make his brain stop racing in this circle! Stop trying to get a do-over. Stop seeing what he was seeing.
But it wasn't going to stop. Not right now. He had no power that could do that.
So easy, it would be so easy, to do everything so very wrong.
If he let himself feel that it was okay to act like everyone he knew, be like them, no better than anyone else -- his sins could make theirs look like a little kid getting jelly on his good shirt.
But he didn't want to. Was he the only one who cared most about what was right? Before any matters of ego or desire? It didn't feel weird to him, it felt natural.
Was that Jor-El, or Jonathan?
But either way, it evidently meant he was alone.
Maybe he understood why Lex was cutting him off. To do what you had to do, you had to be a world unto yourself.
The basketball felt cold in his hands. Looking down at Pete's contrition. Pete shouldn't even be here. Ever. Nobody should.
Maybe anger was the only honesty he should give any more.
"Not today, Pete."
He let the ball drop from his hands and roll forlornly. Turning away, he walked on the hard-packed gravel toward the house, leaving his friend's helpless silence to speak for him.