In 1993, Smallville, Kansas, had a population of about 370. They had an elementary school, a high school, a Methodist and Catholic church each, and Pete Ross was watching ET at the drive-in when Clark Kent threw himself fifteen feet straight up in the air.
Once someone’d fixed the bathroom door and mirror from the poor guy’s freak-out, Pete decided it made a lot more sense that Clark was some sort of alien, all things considered. He could hear better than anyone they knew, he’d been adopted, and at eleven years old each, having an alien for a best friend was probably the coolest thing Pete could think of.
He was never really sure what went into making sure no one took Clark away like in the movie. Ed Vance said something about it being to do with Clark’s dad being one half of the town’s law firm, but Pete thought it was probably more to do with the way that, as Clark kept finding new powers, he kept on sharing them. With all 23 local kids in their class, everyone knew that it was Clark who’d found Emma Jacobs when she got lost all the way up Spring Creek, and Clark who’d caught Mr. Thompson when he fell off the library’s scaffolding, and Clark who’d even known where Wendy McColms’ cat’d gone even before she’d thought of putting up lost posters. Clark Kent was an open secret in Smallville, and there wasn’t a way on Earth or any other planet that Pete would be the one to make his life difficult.
- - -
For a definition of ‘difficult’, of course. By the time they were in high school, Clark may’ve been the one dating Lana Lang, but Pete was the one with a car. And maybe Bud didn’t make a difference to Clark, but he still came out with him and Kenny to the lot behind the old radio tower. His plan was for the two of them to maybe get on Clark a bit, for agreeing to go to Lana’s place while her parents were out, and mostly to see his face turn so red when Kenny asked him what exactly he could use that x-ray vision for.
The second Sheriff Parker came around the corner, Pete knew the afternoon was busted. But never in his life would he’ve expected to hear that someone had shot up the gas station store. Sheriff Parker said Uncle Howie’d been a witness, so of course Pete came back to the scene with him. Parker didn’t say up front exactly why he’d asked Clark to come along, but Pete couldn’t believe for a second that he didn’t see anything explaining what’d happened. Or heard or even smelled; Pete didn’t know how exactly alien powers worked, but nothing? Nothing, Pete’s ass.
And so he didn’t care a bit about letting Clark walk home after. Uncle Howie kept getting the shakes and dropping his reading glasses, and if Clark was going to pretend to be ignorant, at least Pete could help someone. He got Uncle Howie cold water, then hot tea, the ottoman for his feet, and a pillow for his back, until finally the old man caught his sleeve and made him sit down too.
“That Kent boy,” he said, blunt as ever. “You’ve known him best. He’s really as good as they say?”
Better, Pete wanted to say. He nodded, instead.
Uncle Howie frowned. “Seems to me,” he said, “that he might finally’ve found his match. I mean,” and he looked down into his mug. “Whoever could shoot up Brit Holloway, of all people.” His voice broke again, and he took a moment. “I wouldn’t want to put myself into being a part of that again, and even if he did know something, he’s right not to’ve told Parker. He should keep out of it.”
- - -
That wasn’t like Clark, though, Pete thought to himself later. Clark never kept out, not when he had a way to help. And as he listened to his uncle’s radio, he realised for a moment that the man who’d as good as raised him might be a bit of a coward. He sat up in bed, face flushed with guilt. That wasn’t fair. That wasn’t right at all, Uncle Howie’d just seen something horrible, and it was fair of him not to want a kid mixed up in it too.
But if there was anyone fool or brave enough to put himself in trouble, it was Clark Kent, every day. And Pete was fool enough to follow him, so he left Baloo curled up on top of his blankets and snuck out.
At the end of the drive, he stopped, shoving his hands deep in his pockets against the chill. Clark had seen something, he knew it. But even with his vision and hearing and all, even Clark couldn’t know things that weren’t there. So whatever he’d figured out, Pete could too. And so. Who would bring guns into Aiden Carlson’s store? And shoot the customers, without touching the cash register or Mr Carlson himself? Sure, the man’d kicked Walter Anders out more than a few times for public intoxication, but the old man could barely walk in a straight line sober anyway; he wasn’t about to dash in for anything.
Owen Carlson’d been an outfielder, though. Pete remembered the Carlson son dropping out of junior year when Pete and Clark and Kenny’d been freshmen. Owen had been planning to play at Highland before some fight with his dad, after which he walked out and was last heard of maybe in Kansas City. He’d been mean, the weeks before he left. Pete was glad not be on the team with him, then. And so, who else could it be, now, but Owen Carlson, come home to make life hard for other people all over again? Owen Carlson, now there was a coward. And a fool, and a gutless sadist, and an inconsiderate brute, Pete railed silently, setting off.
That rage was enough to keep his feet moving until he got to the Carlson’s fence. The house was full of light, and Pete could almost tell himself that he’d been wrong, that the family was just keeping the lights on after a hard day. Maybe he wasn’t actually walking into anything, with his empty hands and complete and total lack of alien superpowers.
And then, skirting the barn, he heard their collie, barking her lungs out. The cold came back, and worse than ever. This was stupid, such a bad idea; Pete didn’t have any idea what he was doing. He tripped over something in the grass, falling to his knees over something. A shovel. God, now he had a shovel, against Owen and his gun. Maybe guns plural, maybe he had a whole bunch of Kansas City gunmen with him. And Pete had a shovel.
And then the shooting started.
Pete startled, tried to scramble to his feet, and tripped over the shovel again. He picked it up properly, this time, and used it to haul himself up against. If someone was shooting, he’d been right about Owen Carlson, and if he’d figured it out, Clark already knew. And that meant Clark was here, and being shot at for never minding his own business.
There was an almighty crash of wood and glass, next, and then Pete was close enough, coming around the side of the building, to see Clark standing in the light of the ruined front of the house, in front of the steps.
And see the man with the shotgun coming down towards him.
“Please,” Clark was saying, “just listen to m-”
And the man shot him.
Pete was frozen, standing with his damn shovel in the last line of shadows. He stood there, paralyzed, as the man reloaded, yelling at Clark, who was prone on the dirt with one single hand up between himself and the world, and as Clark -
As Clark shot laser beams from his eyes, and blew the man’s arms off.
Pete thought the world was going to end right then and there, with the man’s screams echoing in his ears forever, until a woman’s voice suddenly cut the night.
“Don’t move.” She had the Carlson’s youngest by the hair, a knife to his throat. “I’ll cut this little pig’s throat. I swear I will, I’m not afraid.”
Pete was. Pete knew he’d never been so scared in his life, but before his very eyes, Clark staggered to his feet, gasping apologies. There was blood on his face and his shirt was shredded by the buckshot, and he was apologising. “Let him go… I won’t stop you, you can-”
And he was still going to look after the Carlsons when she cut him off. “You think I don’t know you’ll kill me as soon as I let him go?”
Clark tried to speak up for them again. Clark, bloody and swaying on his feet. What was he thinking? What could he still do, super-alien or not?
Pete could still do something, though. Pete, in the shadows, still had the shovel, and the woman on the stairs only had a knife. A knife she’d taken away from the boy’s neck, stabbing wildly at the air as she screamed, as she called Clark a monster, as she threatened the family left inside. And Pete took his shovel and three years on the baseball team Owen’d left behind, and hit her with the flat of it with everything he had.
Maybe someone who really was as brave as Sheriff Parker called him later would’ve gone to the boy, to see if he’d been alright after having a knife so close to his neck. But Pete turned to Clark, who’d fallen back to his knees. He could see everything worse from here, in the light of the house. The blood all over Clark, and the soot ground into his shirt from being shot. He was filthy with his fight, and here was Pete covered in the dirt he kept falling in. But Clark leaned on him anyway, until the cops Aiden called in came rolling up.