Pavement and Resolve

Summary: He decided to walk home that night, and this one decision may have changed the course of his life forever. Starring teenage Carlton Lassiter, because everyone is curious, or should be, about his life before the badge. Whumpage.

A/N: So let's call this a compromise....this is not entirely the original story I had promised back in my author's note in Nobody Needs To Know (and referred to in Lassie Secret #1). I still wasn't happy with some parts (not character-specific enough, too general description/dialogue)...so I fixed it. Now I like it better, and you guys can still read it. :)

That day, fifteen year old Carlton Lassiter stayed at his friend's house until long after the sun had set. They had been working on a project for English class together, one they had both put off until the very weekend before its due date. When they were finally finished putting together their presentation, Jacob looked over at Carlton while reaching for his keys. "You wanna ride home?" he asked.

Carlton shook his head. "No, thanks. I'll just walk."

Jacob put down his keys, looking slightly disappointed not to have an opportunity -- or an excuse -- to take his recently-bought car out for a spin. Carlton waved off the feeling of guilt with his own logic. He liked to walk, liked the nighttime, and plus, his house wasn't even that far away.

So he said goodbye to Jacob and began to walk home, taking all his usual shortcuts through alleyways and backyards.

Carlton didn't see the two older boys catch sight of him from across the street. He didn't see the way their eyes lit up at the sight of his new jacket, which had been a birthday present from his mother. She had saved for three months to buy it for him, always putting away any spare dollars that were left after bills and groceries.

He didn't hear them follow him into that particularly dark alleyway, the one that, in retrospect, he probably shouldn't have been walking through in the first place.

And then he did hear them, with their menacing whispers to each other, their heavy footsteps. And he was afraid but trying not to show it, so he didn't run. He just walked fast.

It wasn't enough, and his eyes didn't see them. He bumped into something solid, someone, and his eyes adjusted to the low light.

The guy had to be at least nineteen, judging by his scruff and stature. He was heavy and grinning. "Hey, kid. Nice jacket."

And then one was behind him, one was in front, and there was nowhere to run.

The fist came suddenly, unexpectedly, harshly.

It struck him in the eye, and Carlton saw shiny popping stars and nothing else. His head snapped back with the force of the punch, and he flailed to keep his balance. He raised his hands to fight back, but he couldn't really see... and he knew he didn't stand a chance. They were older, bigger, tougher. Ruthless.

One of them laughed as he punched Carlton in the lip, which busted and bled. The other grabbed his jacket and managed to pull it off of him. Another punch to the stomach, as if for good measure, and then Carlton tripped backwards and fell to the hard pavement.

"See if he has any cash..."

And then there was a hand rifling through the pocket of his jeans, and Carlton thought of the money stored there, which was a birthday gift from his father, a consolation for never being around...

"Hey," Carlton tried to protest, but the other guy got in his face, eyes dark and furious. The kid, man, or whatever he was, had freckles on his nose and bushy eyebrows. Eyes glaring with no pity, remorse, or fear.

And then the money was gone from his pocket and the fist struck again, leaving an explosion of pain is his temple. His vision dimmed and Carlton laid back on the ground, hoping they'd just leave if he didn't move. If he just played dead...

A parting kick to the ribs, and then, finally, they left.

He heard them walk away and laugh, heard their last bit of arguing over who should get the jacket and who should get the money. His money and his jacket...

He would never be sure how long he laid there on cold pavement, how long he replayed the senseless attack in his head. He loved his jacket, but he wouldn't have fought for it...not knowing they would do this to him. But they didn't even give him the chance to offer it up...

After what seemed like hours, but was probably only a few minutes, Carlton forced himself to his feet. He swayed slightly and wondered if this was what it felt like to have a concussion. He leaned against a building wall to steady himself. He wiped his mouth on his arm and he could see the blood smeared against his skin. He was never usually the queasy type, and the sight of blood alone wouldn't have been enough to do it under normal circumstances, but this entire situation made him sick. His throbbing head and the violence, the thought of his swollen eye, the painful aches of his body.

It put him on his knees and he gave in to the nausea.

He was disgusted with himself. For being so weak, so helpless. For letting them do this to him.

Carlton pushed himself to his feet again. He wiped his mouth resolutely, almost angrily. He took a few shaky, stumbling steps forward, but they were steps none the less.

As he walked home, holding his painful side and occasionally wiping at his lip, he made sure to stay beneath the brightness of the streetlights. The other alleyways he might have once used as shortcuts now seemed to be the most dangerous places in the world.

A/N: Young Carlton is intriguing to me...reviews greatly appreciated, as always.