By Pouncer

DISCLAIMER: Nothing Smallville related belongs to me, being the property of various corporate identities including the WB, DC Comics, etc. I'm just playing.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Livia posted her X-Files title challenge and my muse was unleashed. Feedback would be truly lovely. My thanks to nerodi and Miss Windy for their beta efforts.


Whitney watched the striped yellow lines unfold in front of him. He had driven the route between Smallville and the Metropolis hospital where his father is being treated so frequently in the past few months that he no longer needed to pay attention to the flow of the roads home. He can just let his mind drift back over the disaster of his life during the past several months, when nothing had gone right and everything had turned to ashes in his hands.

Football went wrong the last game of the season, when Coach Walt had died. Coach hadn't been perfect. He had a mean temper in fact, but he had wanted the team to do well so deeply that he had uplifted them all with his passion. Whitney loved the triumph of victory, the rush of his blood when his throw connected with a teammate and they scored a touchdown. Had loved the camaraderie on the field, and in the locker room before and after the game. Now he wouldn't have a chance to experience that again, with his scholarship awarded to another, better student. It was another reason for his father to look at him with disappointed eyes, like when his mom had told his dad about Whitney drifting away from Lana.

His relationship with Lana had hit snags even earlier, though: Homecoming Day, when he placed her necklace around Kent's neck. She had questioned him the next day, had wanted to know what had happened to that idiotic necklace. Most macabre thing he's ever heard, to make a piece of jewelry out of the thing that had killed someone. It reminds him of the first time they had met. He had been six, back when a trip to his father's store was an exciting treat and not the millstone it was now. He had been given free range to roam and found this little dark haired three year old girl crying in the toy aisle. She had looked up at him with these enormous brown eyes when he had asked what was wrong. She told him her parents used to bring her in here to pick a toy when she was a good girl. He had asked where they were and she had replied with deeper sobs that they were in heaven.

He had known then, with a sick certainty in his belly, that she was Lana Lang. His parents had watched with disbelief the images on the TV the day the meteors fell. He had been home sick, so they hadn't gone to the Homecoming game the way his father had wanted to. It had probably saved their lives.

At the time, Whitney could not imagine what it would be like to lose his mom and dad, and he still can't. His mom had made him soup to eat in bed that day, and had read him stories, and soothed his aching head with cool cloths and gentle hands. His dad had taken him out in the yard when he was feeling better the next day and played ball with him, encouraging his nascent sporting skills. To lose that, in front of your eyes . . . Whitney's heart had softened as he looked down at the little girl in the aisle. He told her that he was sure her parents would want her to have a toy today and had helped her pick it out. Nell and his mom came searching for the missing Lana and found them in the middle of deciding between Barbie and Winnie the Pooh.

He had watched her over the years, as she developed from an object of sympathy into a lovely young woman. Their families had lost their post-meteor closeness once the friendship between his mom and Nell dissolved for reasons he still didn't understand.

Whitney had always been too far ahead of Lana in school for them to get to know each other well until this year, but he had seen her around town and always remembered the little girl in the toy aisle with tenderness. He had encountered her again in the halls of Smallville High School and had immediately decided he needed to know her better. Whitney remembered the rush of pride when this beautiful young woman had said she would go out with him and the way he plotted until she agreed to go steady.

How could things go so wrong so fast? After the lost necklace, other things had gone wrong between them, like finding her out on a date with Kent the night Sean went crazy, and then her utter self-absorption in the face of his father's illness. Not to mention her cruelty last week in the halls of the school, something he doesn't even want to think about yet. When had she changed from that tear-stained little girl into this fixated thing who can't stand to let the memory of her parents go?

Like the way she schemed to save the Talon from destruction because her parents met there. And isn't it great that his girlfriend is in business with Lex Luthor? Every time he's in the place at the same time as Luthor, Whitney's skin crawls from the cool looks Luthor aims his way. That inexplicable friendship with Clark Kent is the cause, no doubt, since Whitney's positive Luthor knows about the Scarecrow incident. So he can't even take his meager free time and hang out where his self-obsessed girlfriend works because of the bad vibes coming from the big boss. And Lana doesn't understand his absence from the Talon any more than she understands his forgetting their study dates because of all the work he has at the store and the trips he has to make to the hospital.

Whitney winces as he remembers his stupidity with the jocks and that eerie tattoo ink. He still doesn't like to look too closely at the events right after he got the tattoos that he still desperately hides from his mother. Shakes his head that Clark Kent was the one to get him out of that mess, because if there is a person in Smallville that is less likely to come to his aid, Whitney can't think of them.

Whitney remembers Clark pleading with him in a shaking voice, barely struggling but looking almost exclusively at Whitney with shocked, entreating eyes while Whitney and his friends roughly stripped Clark of his clothes. Clark looked like Whitney was his only hope in the universe of being saved. Instead, Whitney leaves Kent there, strung up in Riley Field stripped to his boxers while Whitney and his teammates go off to win Homecoming and celebrate at the dance.

Only days later does Whitney realize how cold it had gotten that night, and only then did the consequences of his fit of jealousy over Lana's new suitor occur to him. He had gone numb himself when he finally thought of hypothermia and frostbite and maybe death if Kent hadn't gotten loose. His attempts at apologies never got anywhere since Kent was always disappearing, and Whitney had let the whole incident lie dormant at the back of his conscience. Yet there is this guilt that creeps up on him every once in a while, especially after his walk on the wild side as the God of Quarters. How could Kent have the innate goodness to listen to Whitney's problems with his father's health, to get him away from the football hooligans, when Whitney had nearly killed him? Thank God Whitney's father never found out what his son was really like.

And now it doesn't even look like his father will ever get out of the hospital to discover all Whitney's misdeeds. And that's the biggest disaster of all, since Whitney is now completely certain that he'll be tied to the store for the rest of his life, unable to do what he wants to do. If his father lingers - and Whitney doesn't want him gone, but this limbo of illness is unbearable - he'll be tied to the store through his father's expectations and his mother's inability to manage it. If his father dies, he'll have even more unwanted responsibility thrust on him and he'll never get out, he'll never leave, he'll never really live . . .

Whitney takes a deep breath, shakes his head, and concentrates on the road. He watches the striped yellow lines unfold before him with no idea where they will lead.