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Challenge #01086-B354: Past, Present and Future

Lewis Pepper was a giant of a man, nine feet tall with really big hands...

(to get the reference, look up https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEdM4iL3hK8 but beware earworms)

[AN: I have kids. Of firkin course I've seen Wreck-it Ralph. Plus (mumbleIactuallykindofenjoyallthepixarmoviesmumble)...]

Arthur had been aware of yet another shadow looming out of him, thus closing off his final avenue for escape. He knew he was going to get pounded for being a weak, skinny, undersized nerd. So he closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable.

"You leave him alone," said the large mass of humanity behind him.

There were thumps and grunts. None of them coming from Arthur. He risked a peek to discover a human mountain seeing off the other bullies. He was twice as tall as anyone else. Almost as big as a grownup. Arthur instinctively cowered. People as big as him never had anything good for people as small as Arthur.

"Hey, it's okay. I'm not gonna hurt you, I promise." He smiled. He was... being kind? "My name's Lewis. What's yours?"

*

It would have been easy to be jealous of Lewis. He was naturally huge, and hardly worked to keep his muscle. Well. He said he hardly worked. Lewis had seen him working in the bakery with his adopted parents and... that was a workout and a half.

Bel and Cayenne Pepper took Arthur in as an intermittent foster child. They certainly took more care of him than his real parents did. Many, many times, Arthur's parents never knew he was gone. Just as long as he was waiting on the stoop for the social worker, they didn't care.

He'd once taken his caseworker to see the Peppers and asked politely if he could please live with them, instead. Sadly, the law preferred him to stay with his genetic forebears.

He practically lived with the Peppers, anyway. They rarely missed him at home. Watching Lewis haul around flour sacks as big as Arthur. Watching how easy it was for him. Watching how skilled he was at everything Arthur couldn't do.

But Lewis was jealous of him. Arthur. The screw-up who got his family noticed by Child Services. He could never put together the fiddly, tiny gears of Arthur's inventions. He could never look at something mechanical, point at the problem, and instantly figure out a plan to fix it. Lewis said that Arthur's inventions would change the world, one day.

But Arthur kept measuring himself against Lewis' more mainstream achievements. Lewis had great hair. Lewis was the football star. Lewis had so many friends. Lewis had girls throwing themselves at his feet.

So why did he have to pick Vivi?

Vivi was a nerd, too. She knew everything anyone could know about the supernatural and could chatter endlessly about the kinds of spooks and their abilities. She just came alive at the merest mention of the spooky. She was the one who came up with the idea of searching out and investigating every paranormal phenomenon they could reach.

And Arthur wound up as the fifth wheel, in the back of the van he had made with his own hands. While Lewis and Vivi made goo-goo eyes at each other. He knew better than to try and get her attention. He tended to vanish in Lewis' shadow.

It was easy to be jealous of him. And easy for the phantom of the cave to use that. Easy to let it take over, and easy to do the one thing that he would regret for the rest of his life.

*

Lewis was even larger in death. He truly had a big spirit. On the one occasion that they could measure him, he came out at slightly over nine feet tall. He had angry episodes, now, on the anniversary of Arthur's betrayal. But they had a place. And an understanding. And a plan to at least clean up the multitude of charlatans out there claiming to be psychic.

Arthur had wards tattooed on his remaining skin, now. And etched into the metal of his artificial arm. If his younger self could see him now, that young Arthur would think that he had turned into the biggest badass in town. And Arthur would tell that younger self to get used to the idea that there was always something bigger and badder. And that he should learn to value what he had.

Because he knew what it was like to be without that.

"I can feel it when you're sinking into depression," said Lewis. He seemed to be leaning against the wall. "Something up?" And Lewis was still the understanding group mom despite everything. Or maybe because of everything.

"Eh." Arthur shrugged. But only with the shoulder that still had a flesh arm. "Same old Coulda-Woulda-Shoulda's... If I knew then what I know now..."

"You can't live in the past, Arthur," consoled Lewis. "The only thing you can change is now. And speaking of now... That recombobulator you made is starting to work. Look."

The ghost of Lewis Pepper shrank. His garb changed colour. The bone of his skull faded underneath the appearance of flesh. He was almost... almost as he had been in life. "It's getting easier to do this. I'm up to four hours." And then he opened his eyes. Black sclera. Glowing purple irises. "Can't do anything about the eyes, yet, but it's working. I'm getting better."

Arthur spared him a smile. "That's great," he said. "I finally made something useful."

"Yeah. Along with the twenty billion other gadgets you've made over the years. Lighten up. You do good stuff."

Arthur sighed. "Yeah, but... I keep thinking about the one bad thing I did."

Lewis sat beside him. As he had done so many times when he was alive. "Hey," he said. "Don't let it eat you. You can be better than one bad thing."

And Lewis could always make anything better. Arthur let himself lean on his oldest friend. "Thanks, man."

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