Summary: Clark is having trouble passing the important tests.
Warnings: Rated PG. Gen.
No good deed goes unpunished. This was one bit of clichéd wisdom Clark's father didn't have a fondness for. Doing the right thing is its own reward was more his dad's style, and Clark had always believed that too, had always tried to put this optimistic philosophy to work. But at the moment, sitting at Metropolis police headquarters, hooked up to a polygraph, all because he went to the rescue of some poor, terrified girl being attacked in a deserted alleyway, he really had to wonder if perhaps there wasn't some grain of truth in the old punishment platitude.
"Is your name Clark Kent?" the technician asked in a dull monotone.
"Are you a student at Metropolis University?"
The technician stared intently at the printout, making marks on it with his red pen. The interrogation room was unnervingly quiet, the only sound the scratch of the needle over the paper. In a corner leaning against the wall was the officer investigating the case, Detective Menendez, who watched Clark with an expression that was as smug as it was suspicious. It made Clark all the more aware of the wires attached to his chest, the blood pressure cuff squeezing his arm, and his heart thundered in his chest even harder than it had before.
"Did you go out last night specifically looking for criminal activity?" the technician asked.
"No." Actually, he'd gone out for a slice of pizza, a much-needed study break, but trouble just had a way of finding him.
"Are the lights on in this room?"
Clark didn't know why, but these meaningless questions unnerved him as much as the real ones, as if there were an unforeseeable trap in them just waiting to trip him up. He stared down at the tabletop. Not only were the lights on, but they were painfully bright, glaring off the too-white walls, making his eyes water. It was really rather a small room too, and he wondered if somebody had turned up the heat. Because it might be a crisp fall day outside, but in here it felt more like a hundred and ten degrees.
"Is the pen I'm holding red?"
"Oh, for God's sake, get to the point," Detective Menendez snapped. "I don't have time to waste on this bullshit."
"I'm following standard procedure, detective," the technician explained.
"Then let me ask the goddamn questions." He stalked over to the table. "The cops don't do their job, is that it, kid? So it's your responsibility to take care of the bad guys for us? Is that what you think?"
He heard the needle scratching wildly and imagined he could feel his blood pressure ratcheting up. You would think a person who could leap between buildings and set things on fire with his eyes might be able to manage the less grand feat of controlling his own respiration and keeping himself from sweating buckets when the pressure was on. And maybe Clark could have done that too, if he knew one damned thing about himself, if Jor-El had ever had anything remotely useful to say instead of just ranting on about "You will rule them all, Kal-El" and "It is your destiny, my son."
There was an unexpected commotion outside the room, and Clark's head popped up. He stared at the door, willing something, anything to interrupt them. Meanwhile, Detective Menendez just kept right on firing questions at him.
"Are you the vigilante who's been all over the newspapers? The one they're calling the 'Angel of Metropolis'?"
At last, the door banged open.
"I couldn't stop him, sir," a uniformed officer hastily apologized.
A tall man with graying hair strode into the room with a definite air of authority. He was dressed in a charcoal business suit so expensive-looking it gave the impression he could buy and sell the lot of them a hundred times over. His expression was grave as he took in the situation, Clark with wires sprouting out of him, the glowering Detective Menendez.
"I'm Randolph James. I've been retained to represent Mr. Kent, and I'm advising you that this interview is terminated."
"You can't just come in here and--"
"Oh, but I can. And if you don't want more trouble than you can possibly handle, detective, I suggest you start getting the hardware off my client ASAP."
"He volunteered to answer questions, you know."
"Yes, well, eighteen year olds aren't always fully informed about their rights, are they now?"
The detective's eyes glittered angrily. "If you're suggesting--"
Randolph James smiled coolly. "I'm not suggesting anything, Detective Menendez. Simply stating the facts. How many times were you called before the police review board last year, by the way? Eight, wasn't it?"
Menendez's face turned a dangerous red. "You have no right--"
"No, you have no right. Has my client been charged with anything? Is he even a suspect in any crime?"
The detective's mouth pulled into a hard line, and his eyes slid away.
"That's what I thought." He gave the polygraph technician a stern look. "Unhook him. Now."
The technician shot an apologetic glance in the detective's direction, but he did start detaching the wires. Clark took a deep breath. He couldn't remember feeling so relieved.
"He did agree to this," Menendez insisted sullenly.
"Because you said that creep would get away with trying to hurt that girl if I didn't!" Clark declared indignantly.
The lawyer shook his head with disgust. "That has to be a new low."
"This kid has been spotted at a good half dozen crime scenes in the last month. And he fits the description of this so-called 'Angel of Metropolis' they keep trying to make a hero out of in the Planet. Vigilantes are dangerous, and I make it my mission to put them out of business. You won't hear any apologies for that, counselor."
"Do you also make it your mission to terrorize decent people who do their civic duty and come forward to the police? Because that's exactly what's happened here. How do ever expect to have witnesses willing to cooperate if this is how you treat them?"
The detective slammed his fist down onto the table. "This kid is up to something. I know it. And I will prove it, sooner or later. Trust me on that."
"You sound a bit obsessed there, detective. Perhaps you could do with a vacation?" the lawyer said snidely, and then turned to Clark. "Let's go, Mr. Kent."
Clark scrambled out of his chair, and his lawyer put a hand on his shoulder to usher him to the door.
"See you soon, Clark," Detective Menendez said, with a knowing smile.
"I look forward to it," Mr. James said, making it clear the police wouldn't be talking to Clark again without his lawyer present, and the detective's smile faded.
Clark quickly ducked outside, relieved that at least this time he'd managed to get off the hook. Mr. James walked him back through the squad room, and Clark studiously avoided the curious gazes of the other detectives as they passed by.
When they got out to the hall, Clark said, "Um, thanks, Mr. James. I don't know how much you-- but if you send me your bill, I'll--"
"That's already been taken care of, Clark."
Clark spun around, startled to see Lex standing there, although it really shouldn't have come as any surprise. In real life, lawyers didn't just magically turn up out of thin air when you needed them. That only happened on television.
"Everything okay?" Lex asked Mr. James.
"You mean, other than the fact they were giving Clark here the inquisition, complete with polygraph?"
Lex frowned. "A lie detector test? For a witness?"
"And from what I could tell, they weren't asking him any questions about the actual crime. They were a lot more interested in what he was doing at the scene."
"Why?" Lex asked.
"They seem to think he's the much-talked-about 'Angel of Metropolis'. And they're far less thrilled about the Angel's crime-stopping antics than the average citizen. Makes them look bad."
"Did the girl identify him as the one who helped her?"
Mr. James shook his head. "She said it happened too fast. All she knew was that Clark showed up afterwards and stayed with her until the police came."
"And Clark didn't say anything to implicate himself during the interview?"
"You know, I am standing right here," Clark said, feeling increasingly annoyed to be talked about as if he were invisible. "You could ask me."
Lex fixed him with a hard look. "I'll get to you in a minute."
"No, it was just a fishing expedition, Lex," James told him. "One paranoid cop's crazy crusade."
"Can I assume the authorities will be more cautious about questioning him in the future?" Lex asked.
"I'd say that's a very safe assumption. I made it clear that Mr. Kent's represented, and he has nothing to say without his lawyer present. The information you fed me about the lead detective proved very useful. He likes to bluster, but you should have seen his face when I mentioned the police review board. He can't avoid another citation on his record."
"I appreciate your taking care of this on such short notice."
"Yes, well, you're welcome. Just don't ever ask me to do it again. As I told you, I'm not qualified."
"It sounds as if you had everything under control."
"Lex, I haven't given criminal procedure a thought since law school. When you find yourself trying to channel Law and Order reruns, you know you're out of your element."
"Personally, I think you may have missed your calling."
"And yet I'm going to stick with corporate restructuring, if it's all the same to you. Speaking of which, I'll have those documents over to you by the end of the week."
"Good. Thanks again for your help today."
They shook hands.
Mr. James nodded at Clark. "Try to stay out of trouble, huh?" And he made his exit.
Clark stared at Lex. "You got me a tax attorney?"
Lex shot him an irritated look. "You're damned lucky to get that much when you don't even bother to call me. Or your parents or the university's Student Affairs office or anyone else who could have helped you out of this situation."
"I didn't do anything wrong," Clark said, starting to feel persecuted.
"And yet here we are." Lex sighed. "Come on. I'll drop you off at the dorm."
Clark trudged after him to the elevator and out to the car. He slumped in the passenger seat as Lex drove, bone tired after his ordeal. But then, he was exhausted all the time these days. Metropolis overwhelmed him with its dizzying pace, its constant roar; even in the dead of the night things were never still or quiet, and Clark couldn't get any rest, not when he could hear so many voices crying out in need, for help, for him.
Playing the hero in Smallville had seemed complicated enough, but it was child's play compared to life in the city. Being in college was different too, so much more challenging than high school, the sheer enormity of the workload and the difficulty of his classes and all the stakes so much higher. He'd never needed to study very hard before, but now he seemed to spend every spare moment bent over a book or digging dusty volumes out of the stacks in the library--when he wasn't out fighting crime, that was. And still, his classes weren't going particularly well. He'd seriously tanked on his midterms, and at this point, he'd be lucky to scrape by with C's in most of his courses. Things were even worse in art history, which he'd mistakenly thought would be an easy A. His professor had already pulled him aside to warn him she was worried he wasn't going to pass and might want to consider dropping the class.
On top of it all, there was today and everything that had happened, and Clark didn't need anyone or anything, not a lie detector, not Detective Menendez, to tell him that he was failing truth. All he had to do was look over at Lex, see the angry set of his shoulders, to realize that.
"I don't suppose you want to tell me what you were doing there that night," Lex said, his voice rigidly controlled.
"Pizza," Clark said, tiredly.
"Of course," Lex said. "That clears up everything."
Clark let out his breath. "I was really busy working on my paper that's due tomorrow--which is going to be late now that I've wasted all day at the police station--and I missed dinner. And I was starving. So I went out to get food. And I heard that girl and--" He hesitated, gearing up to lie, yet again. "I guess the other guy got there first, because the girl was okay and the creep who attacked her was already tied up on the ground."
"How fortunate." Lex's tone was clipped, displeased.
He turned the car onto University Boulevard. Clark stared miserably at the floor mat. Why couldn't anything go his way today? So much for his father's wisdom about doing the right thing.
Lex stopped the car in front of Clark's dorm. He didn't say anything, not even goodbye, just stared straight ahead, his jaw angrily clenched.
"Thanks. For getting the lawyer and everything," Clark mumbled, reaching for the door handle.
Lex let out his breath in exasperation. "You know, Clark, when you do finally decide to let me in on the big secret--I refuse to say if, I'm going to be an optimist for once--I may actually be able to help you figure out how to avoid situations like this. So you can go to people's rescue without compromising yourself."
Clark had no idea why this was the last straw, but after the shitty day he'd had, it just was.
He turned to Lex, blood pounding furiously in his ears, and yelled, "Is that all you care about? Because if you're so eager to help with my problems, I do have a lot of them. You may not have noticed, but college is seriously sucking for me. I have too much to do all the time, but no matter how hard I work, I just can't get it all done. And I'm so stressed that I don't eat and I can't sleep, and I don't have any time to do anything but study. So it's going on the third week that I don't have any clean clothes, and I've made exactly no new friends. And even if I did have the time, people here treat me like I'm some kind of yokel. My roommate makes fun of me to my face, and everybody I pass on the streets just looks right through me like I'm not even there. And to top it all off, I'm not even getting good grades. In fact, I'm getting bad grades. My parents are spending all this money, that they don't have, to send me to school, so I can have a bright future, and I can't even--"
There was a sound that wanted to come out of him, something pathetic, like a sob, but he managed to force it back.
"Clark," Lex said, sounding very serious.
Clark buried his face in his hands and rubbed tiredly at his temples. Now he was going to have a big, screaming fight with Lex, and that was absolutely the last thing he needed.
"Hey. Clark." Lex' s voice was gentler, and his hand came to rest reassuringly on Clark's shoulder. "The first semester is the hardest. Lots of people struggle. You just need a little help. So here's what we're going to do. Bring your laundry over to the penthouse this weekend, and I'll see that it gets done. Mrs. Sandholm will cook all your favorite food and send you home with enough leftovers to get you through finals. Then we'll sit down and figure out what you need to do about your classes, although I'm sure things aren't as bad as you think. And next semester, when everything seems a lot easier, you can join a club or start working on the school paper or something so you can meet people. Nice people, intelligent people, who you'll like and who'll like you back, not idiots with bad taste like your roommate." Lex squeezed his shoulder. "Okay?"
Clark could only nod, because he didn't quite trust himself to speak. He felt so relieved just to think that things might someday get better.
"It would also be a good idea if you weren't seen at any more crime scenes for a while. All right?"
"All right," Clark agreed. "Thanks, Lex."
He dared to glance over, and Lex had that half smile that meant he wasn't going to hold a grudge, even if he had been really angry before. For the first time all day Clark felt like he could breathe.
"And just remember." Lex reached over and tucked an unruly strand of hair behind his ear. "When you're ready."
Lex had said things like this before, and it had always felt like a threat, but now it sounded oddly like a promise, like something Clark could count on. For the first time during one of these conversations, he could meet Lex's eye without hesitation. "Okay. When I'm ready."
Lex smiled softly. "So Saturday then."
Clark nodded. "Saturday. And thanks, Lex. For everything."
"What are friends for?" he grinned.
Clark grinned back, slid out of the car and stood on the curb waving as Lex drove away. He turned toward his dorm and whistled as he walked up the stairs. No matter what happened with school, at least he finally felt like he was passing the important tests.