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Freshman Orientation

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There's a huge line at the help desk and Clark shifts his books from one arm to the other. He may be super, but even he can't hold onto nine different textbooks without his arms getting numb.

The girl at the head of the line starts yelling about her Chinese Lit anthology and everyone pretends not to hear. Clark stares down at the impassive face of Joseph Pulitzer, who is obviously unconcerned that Clark's going to die a long boring death every Tuesday and Thursday from noon to two thanks to Professor MacAllen's utterly dry History of Journalism.

The Chinese Lit girl stomps off, cursing the establishment and the terminal short-sightedness of the patriarchal university bureaucracy.

The guy at the counter calls, "Next!"

They all take a step forward and Clark juggles his books again so he can check his watch. It's 4:30. He's been in the bookstore an hour and probably won't be leaving any time soon. He's supposed to meet Lex at five and he hasn't seen Chloe all day. This is all her fault. She's the one that talked him into taking this Psychology of Gender class with her and now he can't find a single book for it and the first class is tomorrow morning and he's stuck in this stupid line and he's going to be late getting to Lex's.

"Stupid Chloe," Clark mutters.

"Next!"

Clark steps forward. No one had told him about this part. His parents warned him about peer pressure and drugs and designated drivers and staying up too late and reminded him to eat breakfast and call home every week and be sure not to accidentally let it slip that he was a big fat illegal alien from outer space. Lex had been more practical, telling Clark to sit in the front and come up with an intelligent reason to speak with the professor before the second class so that Clark could introduce himself.

No one had bothered to tell him that the bookstore was a soulless black hole that would suck years from his life and leave him a broken shell of his former self.

They really should have warned him.

"Next!"

Shuffle forward. Clark glares down at Joseph Pulitzer, who now seems to be laughing at him.

"Can I help you?"

Clark looks up, surprised to find he's at the counter. He's been in line so long he's forgotten why.

"Looking for something?" The counter guy tries again. "Books?"

"Oh! Um, Psych...199?" Clark tries to pull his notes out from between his astronomy book and a weird little paperback that seems to be about Chairman Mao and EuroDisney. "Professor Lombard?"

"Ah, Lombard," the counter guy says, nodding. His nametag says, "Metropolis University Bookstore! Brad."

"Is that...bad?" Clark asks.

"I'm gonna say 'yeah,'" Brad says. He flips through some printouts still nodding to himself. "Lombard!" Brad slaps the printout. "Yep."

"Okay," Clark says, wondering if he can just slip away without Brad noticing. Clark thinks there's a pretty good chance a piano could fall on Brad without him really noticing.

"Yeah," Brad says. "We're out of the big book, the, you know, the big one. Jaddatz." He makes a shooting motion with his hand. "Aaaaaand, we don't have the others either." He shrugs.

"Okay," Clark says again.

"Try the internet," Brad suggests.

"Okay," Clark says, edging away.

"Next!" Brad shouts.

The lines for the cash registers start way back in the art supplies and are sorted by method of payment. The line for credit is the longest and Clark sighs and shifts his books again, wishing he'd picked up a basket at the door. Joseph is really enjoying himself now, looking way too smug for a man who never went to college. Clark flips him over and is greeted by Professor MacAllen's bland, bearded face. Clark groans.

Two hundred and fifty dollars later Clark has a yellow plastic bag, none of his psych books, and about ten minutes to get to Lex's, which is on the other side of the river and at least fifteen minutes away by bus. Clark could run there in under a minute, but if Lex found out Clark had risked being caught just to get to his place on time, Clark would be in big trouble. It would have to be the bus.

Clark's dorm is on the other side of the campus, conveniently located at the ass-end of nowhere, as Pete has complained daily for the past week. Pete's not in the room, most likely out finding some ladies to charm. Ever since Clark told Pete he was gay, Pete's been doing his best to mack on every female within macking distance. Lex and Chloe both say Pete will eventually settle down and stop overcompensating, and since they all agree that Pete never needed a reason to act like a horndog in the first place it isn't like this is all that big a change for him.

Pete still hasn't unpacked all the way and Clark kicks aside some boxes on his way to the phone. There's a post-it stuck to the window with the numbers for Chloe's room and Pizza Hut.

"Chloe and Marla's House of Waffles!"

"Waf-- Chloe?"

"Kent! Get yer ass up here!"

"Chloe, I--"

Chloe hung up on him. He'd just wanted to ask about the psych books, but now he'll have to go up to her room and he knows he'll never be able to escape because she'll make him sit down and talk and she's got beanbags and twinkly lights and her room actually smells good, unlike the boys' floor, which basically smells like a 24-hour locker room specializing in Mongolian hordes.

Clark would have been perfectly happy living with Lex in his east Metropolis penthouse, but his parents insisted he live in the dorms and for some inexplicable reason Lex had agreed with them. Clark still doesn't understand their reasoning. With him living in the dorms he's being exposed to all those things they wanted him to stay away from, but apparently by parental logic it's better he have to deal with drunken college students and 3 A.M. fire drills than risk living with his boyfriend. As for Lex, he moved back to Metropolis for Clark -- publicly citing business reasons of course -- but it's more than clear he doesn't want to actually live with Clark.

Clark kicks more boxes on his way to the door, harder this time. If Pete isn't here to protect his stuff, it's not Clark's fault if it gets broken.

Chloe's door is open, just like every other time Clark's been up here. He swears they never shut it. In fact, most of the doors on the girls' floor are open and the occupants look up and smile at him as he walks past. Chloe introduced him to everyone the first day, but he can barely remember any of their names -- just that the two girls in 401 are both named Sarah.

In her room, Chloe's holding court from a beanbag, a gigantic cup of Coke balanced on a nearby milk crate, twinkly lights on, stereo playing snarly chick music, and three or four girls giggling on the bunkbed Clark helped put together.

"Clark!" she greets him. "Sit down! This is Maria, Asha, and Hazel. Girls, this is Clark."

Clark smiles at their chorus of hellos and wonders which one's which. "Hi."

"How were your classes? Sit down!" Chloe demands, pulling on his hand until he crouches next to her.

"I actually need to talk to you about that--"

"Talk away, Clarkbar," Chloe says expansively.

The girls on the bed giggle. He glances at them and hopes Chloe wasn't telling stories about him. She's got some good ones and he doesn't even know who's Asha and who's Hazel.

He looks back at Chloe, who seems a little more bright-eyed than usual. "Uh, did you get the books for psych?"

"Yep!" Chloe says, pointing over at her desk where she's got half the bookstore stacked next to her laptop.

"Where'd you get them? The bookstore is out."

She shakes her head. "Clark Clark Clark."

"Chloe?"

"I ordered them online before classes started, young jedi."

The girls giggle again. Clark stands and shakes off Chloe's hand.

Chloe grabs his ankle. "Nooo, Clark, don't goooo! I'm sorry, Clark. Clark, stay, we're going to get nachos. I'll let you drive."

"I can't, Chloe. I'm already late meeting Lex. I just wanted to get this taken care of before I left." He stares down at her, but she looks so desperate clinging to his leg and trying to act sober that he can't stay mad.

"You can use my books. We can share," she says, patting his sneaker. "Sharing is good."

He sighs and tugs on her hair a little. "Sure, Chlo, and hey, if you ever see Pete, tell him to finish unpacking?"

"Oooh, Clark, can we unpack for him? Please? Please?"

Clark's tempted, but his stuff is in that room, too, and he doesn't trust Chloe not to steal his underwear and do something terrible with it, especially now that she's got her new girl gang to impress.

"Not today, Shaggy. I kind of need my keys."

"Hee! Shaggy! Are you Fred? Clark. Clark, are you Daphne?" Chloe giggles, lunging for his legs like a concussed linebacker.

Clark watches her untie his shoes. "Chloe, promise me you won't drive anywhere."

"But how will I find my nachos?"

"Walk."

Chloe hugs his shins. "Oh, Clark, what would I ever do without you?"

"Let's not find out, huh?" Clark says.

Chloe grins up at him, but there's a squeal from the bed as a bag of Oreos is discovered and Chloe immediately abandons Clark, jumping onto the bottom bunk and grabbing a handful of cookies. She starts constructing a three-tiered Oreo sandwich, but pauses to yell goodbye when Clark leaves.

The bus is filled with people on their way home from work or school and Clark sits in the back between a nurse and a girl with green hair. No one's even looking at him because in Metropolis he's normal, normal in a way he never was in Smallville. He can blend in here. He just hadn't expected to be so easily ignored.

Clark is twenty minutes late by the time he gets to Lex's building. The doorman gives him a skeptical look, but checks his name against a list on his palm pilot. Clark's only been here a few times over the summer and just once since he moved into the dorms so they don't recognize him yet. He's not used to being delayed in reaching Lex and he shifts impatiently, staring at the plaque commemorating the high water mark from the 1956 floods. The doorman's head barely clears the high water line and Clark thinks about ratting him out to Lex, calling him "the short one." If they'd been standing here in 1956, Clark would have had to fly him to safety. If Clark lived here, he'd be home now.

The doorman apologizes for the inconvenience and lets Clark up.

Lex is sprawled in one of his thousand dollar leather armchairs, his feet up on the coffee table and a glass of scotch in one hand. His eyes are closed.

"Lex?"

The armchair is a bad sign because it means Clark can't sit next to him, but Lex smiles before he even opens his eyes, so maybe Clark's just reading too much into his choice of seating.

"Clark, I was just thinking about you." Lex takes an hour to glance at his watch and then raises an eyebrow.

"Very funny, Lex. Chloe threw herself at me and begged me not to go, you're lucky I'm here at all."

"Chloe?"

Clark toes his sneakers off and pulls Lex's scotch out of his hand. Lex watches it go with an interested look. Clark sets the glass down on the far end of the coffee table.

"Yeah, she all but ripped my clothes off. Said she'd die without me."

Lex is trying to figure out how much of what Clark's saying is the truth. Clark loves the look on his face.

"Then, just as she was pledging her undying love to me, she threw me over for a bag of Oreos."

Lex smirks. "Sensible girl, but--"

Clark climbs into Lex's lap and there's nowhere near enough room for him, but he doesn't care. Lex puts his feet on the floor and tucks his fingers into the back pockets of Clark's jeans.

"Chloe doesn't like Oreos," Lex finishes, and Clark has no idea how he knows that.

"I guess she's less picky when she's stoned."

Lex doesn't even hesitate. "It would certainly explain why she threw herself at you."

"Oh? Are you saying I'm less than ideal?" Clark asks, rubbing against Lex, who slips his hands into Clark's pockets and pulls him closer.

"I never said that."

Clark licks a freckle behind Lex's ear. "Are you saying a person would have to be high in order to find me attractive?"

Lex gasps and pulls a hand free to run it under Clark's t-shirt. "I didn't say that either."

"Then just what are you saying?"

Lex tweaks a nipple and Clark arches his back and loses track of the conversation.

"Chloe would have to have a very diminished view of her life in order to put the moves on my boyfriend."

Now Clark really has no idea what Lex is talking about, but "boyfriend" sounded good so Clark kisses him. And Lex doesn't taste at all like scotch, which just makes Clark kiss him harder because there are times Clark worries Lex drinks too much, for all the wrong reasons, because Lex never drinks when he's happy, just when he's tired or angry but there's none of that today, just Lex warm and strong and obviously happy to see him.

Lex pulls back to catch his breath and Clark nibbles his way down Lex's neck, pausing to taste Lex's pulse and count the heartbeats on his tongue. Lex lets his head fall back and Clark contemplates giving him a hickey at the base of his throat, right where it'd show if Lex didn't button his collar. It's a nice option and Clark wonders if Lex would show it off, go to work with his collar undone and let everyone see that someone had been sucking on the CEO of LexCorp. Clark licks there just in case and Lex runs a hand through his hair.

No one in the world knows where Clark is, or what he's doing. He doesn't have to be home for dinner or back in time for curfew. He's free, fully in charge of himself for the first time, and he's here.

"Lex," he says.

Lex kisses him and unbuttons Clark's jeans. Lex's tongue can tie him in knots and his eyes can undo him and Clark wants Lex so bad that he sometimes forgets he has him.

Lex's shirt is unbuttoned and Clark's is on the floor and Lex's lips look used, smudged and red, like they've been doing this for hours. They have done this for hours, lazy and slow on Lex's bed, the doors locked and the phones off. Here they can be interrupted, but Clark doesn't care, just slips down onto the floor between Lex's knees and unzips his pants.

The first time Clark did this he had no idea what he was doing. He just knew he liked it, liked the power, the opportunity, the fact that it was his mouth making Lex shiver and moan. Clark's gotten better at it over the years, but he wants this sloppy like that first time, wet with clumsy teeth and hands that never got to where Lex wanted them. Clark knows where his hands go now, where Lex likes them best, but he pretends not to and doesn't let them roam too far, a reminder of what they were like, how they started, how long they've been together.

Clark sucks on the head of Lex's cock because he remembers doing that, can still remember how hard and slick it felt on his tongue because it feels just as good today. Lex grabs Clark's head the way he hadn't that first time because Lex had been so polite back then, like he'd read some guide to first blowjobs and didn't want to offend Clark with bad manners. Lex is as noisy as ever, though, encouraging and demanding and just making noise because he can, because Lex does what he wants and one of his favorite things is just shoving down Clark's throat and coming apart like a ripped seam.

Lex still has his pants on because he did that day at his desk, and Clark cleans him up, flat tongue, steady and calm, so it's not too much too soon, and then Clark tucks him back in and zips him up while Lex breathes and does his best not to slip down the evolutionary ladder and get stranded with his genetically inferior ancestors.

Lex's legs are spread wide and Clark leans against one of them, his cheek on Lex's thigh while Lex absently strokes his hair. The pose makes him feel like a faithful pet, or just a faithful, kneeling there at Lex's feet, worshipping him. He presses a kiss to Lex's thigh and kneads the muscles in his calf, strokes down to the arch of his foot. Lex is strong and lean, like a whippet, like a whip, and Clark loves finding new places on his body to lick and press. Lex's toes dig into Clark's palm and Clark looks up to find Lex staring down at him with dark blue eyes.

"Take off your clothes."

Clark smiles and reaches behind him to push the coffee table out of the way. He stands, unzips his jeans, peels them down, kicks them off. Lex watches like he paid for it.

Jeans and socks and underwear on the floor, and Clark remembers the first time he did this, too, naked in front of Lex and strangely unembarrassed. Lex had looked, stared, inspected, like he couldn't believe his good fortune to have Clark stretched out on his bed. Clark wasn't supposed to let people pay attention to him, he'd been told how dangerous it could be, but he let Lex stare because it felt safe. It felt necessary. It still does.

"God, Clark."

Lex pulls him closer, bites at his hip, wet tongue traces the line of his hipbone down to that spot in the crease of his leg that makes him pant and shake. It's one of Lex's favorite discoveries, and he sucks and bites there, worrying the skin between his teeth and making Clark dizzy and insane. Clark grabs at Lex to balance himself, one hand on Lex's shoulder and the other on the back of his bald head, where Clark can feel the minute vibrations that travel through Lex's skull with each kiss and lick.

Lex's thumb pushes into the matching spot on Clark's other leg and Clark drops to his knees, overwhelmed. Clark can't catch his breath and Lex slides from the armchair and guides him to the floor, kneeling next to him and watching in the hungry way that's the closest Lex comes to weakness.

Lex stretches out next to him, places a hand flat on his chest. Lex is in love even if he doesn't know it. Clark will tell him one day. He'll explain that this is love, that it's deep and powerful and doesn't mean a thing. It's just a word, and there whether named or not.

Lex leans in and kisses him, licks Clark's lip where there's a scar on his own, kisses him and trails a hand down Clark's stomach to where Clark's cock is lying, fat and drooling.

"This is mine," Lex says, before sliding down Clark's body.

This is love, Clark wants to say, but he knows better, knows better than anybody that it's just a word because he has Lex Luthor between his legs but they can't hold hands on campus, can't make promises in public, can't live together, can't kiss goodbye in the elevator. Can't be in love.

But they can do this. Lex's lips stretched around Clark's cock. Clark touches Lex's cheek to feel from the outside too, gives him a thumb to suck on. Lex manages to bite it, because Lex hates being told what to do, even now, and Clark laughs, which seems to annoy Lex further because he scratches through the curls surrounding the base of Clark's cock, grabs a couple and pulls.

Clark's laugh turns to a shout and Lex hums in satisfaction, doing vicious things with his tongue that make Clark pull his legs up and brace his feet flat on the floor. Lex gives him a final lick then moves downwards, mouthing his balls and rubbing a knuckle against the skin behind them until Clark's moaning and bending, a finger in his ass now, pressing up into that place that makes him choke and stutter and Lex's mouth is back just as Clark comes with a jerk.

Clark lets his legs fall open and just gives himself over to gravity. Lex is wiping him off with what's probably Clark's t-shirt and Clark grabs him before he decides to make an overseas phone call or scrutinize the power structure of his lower-level management. It's happened before.

Lex lets himself be pulled down to Clark's chest. His lavender shirt is wrinkled and missing a button and he's still the most commanding thing Clark has ever seen.

"How was your first day of classes?" Lex asks.

"Big."

Lex snorts into Clark's neck. "I see it's already improved your vocabulary."

Clark squeezes Lex until he makes a very undignified squeak and relents.

"Please continue."

"Well, uh, Writing 121 should be cool. We get to watch TV and write papers on Star Trek and stuff."

"Mm," Lex says, stretching against Clark with a sigh. "As deeply flawed as the original series was in terms of actual science, it was a surprisingly sophisticated vehicle for addressing social problems. Especially when you consider the socio-political climate of the late 1960s."

"I worry about you sometimes," Clark says to the top of Lex's head.

Lex pulls back just enough to let Clark see his eyes. "I'm not the one that has the entire run of Buffy on tape."

"Those are Chloe's!"

"Then why are they in my video cabinet?"

"They're, the, she--" Clark stutters.

Lex smirks at him. "I thought so."

"Hey! At least you don't hear me talking about the socio-political ramifications of Buffy's leather pants."

"Maybe you should. It'd be a good paper."

Clark groans. "You're taking all the fun out of leather pants."

"Clark, I put the fun in leather pants," Lex says, biting Clark's neck. "I'll have to remind you this weekend. Now what about your other classes?"

"Classes? I'm supposed to think about school after you bring up leather pants?"

"You brought them up," Lex reminds him. "Tell me about astronomy and journalism."

Lex never got to finish any of the degrees he started at any of the six schools he attended. Lex shrugs it off, saying formal education crushes a man's appetite for risk, but Clark knows Lex wonders what he missed by being the Luthor brat. Clark also knows that's probably one of those things he's not supposed to know.

"If you've fallen asleep, I'm leaving you here," Lex says, moving to sit up. Clark catches him and pulls him back down.

"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were getting bored with me."

"Please," Lex says, as if Clark had just suggested he drive a domestic automobile.

Clark rolls his eyes. "Astronomy mostly looks like things I already know, but I have to take it to get into the more advanced physics classes. The professor's really fun, though. Plus, easy A."

"Spoken like a true college student," Lex says, and he sounds proud.

"The journalism class is boring, but required, and tomorrow's that gender psychology thing Chloe made me take, but I couldn't find any of the books for it. Why didn't you warn me the bookstore's like a Turkish prison?"

Lex props himself up so he can look at Clark. "Do they still yell at you if you take more than a second to find the next open register?"

"Yes! And they've got those weighted poles strung together on a belt to herd you in the right direction, so of course the soccer player in front of me gets bored and manages to disconnect the belt, which just goes shooting across the bookstore like a gigantic rubberband--"

Lex is laughing, mouth pressed into an open smile against Clark's shoulder.

"Everyone was cowering on the floor!"

Lex sits up and playfully smacks him on the thigh. "Welcome to MU, Clark, home of the 2.3 GPA and the Fighting Cornhuskers."

Clark laughs and lets his head roll on the thick carpet. One of his socks has crawled under the couch and he decides to leave it there, even though he knows it won't last very long. Lex's housekeeper is very thorough. So is Lex.

"How are the dorms?"

Clark hauls himself upright and shrugs. "The same."

Lex tilts his head. "You've just got to give it time, Clark. Things will get better."

"I don't see how."

"Clark."

"I just don't understand why I can't live here."

"We've been over this. You need to be with your friends."

"That'd be great if my friends were ever around," Clark says, standing up and finding his boxer shorts. He is not going to have this conversation naked.

Lex shrugs. "Get new friends then."

Clark crosses his arms over his chest. "Oh, like it's that easy? Pete and Chloe know who I am, Lex, what I am. I can't just replace them."

"No one said you had to, Clark, but Pete and Chloe are obviously meeting new people. Maybe you should make an effort to get to know some of them," Lex says in his let's-be-reasonable voice.

"Pete makes all his new friends with the lights off and Chloe's one step away from buying a VW bus and becoming the next Ken Kesey," Clark says, not being reasonable.

Lex looks disapproving. "Clark, I can't imagine Chloe doing anything to jeopardize her education."

"God! Whose side are you on!" Clark shouts, and immediately regrets it.

Lex turns frosty. "Clark, I know you're less than pleased with these arrangements, but being with other students your age is the best thing for you right now. Your parents and I actually agree on that, so it must be true."

"I'm so happy for you all, but shouldn't that have been my decision?"

"It was your decision, Clark. I've never seen you do anything you didn't want to."

They stare at each other, and Clark could actually turn Lex into charcoal, but they both know he won't, so Lex has the advantage. This is the problem with trying to argue with Lex. Lex never raises his voice or says stupid things he regrets, and therefore never has to apologize. Clark grew up in a house where a yell and a good sulk could settle anything, but Luthors operate differently. Lex can have problems Clark won't even know about until they're neatly resolved and featured on the front page of the Planet. Lex keeps things to himself and doesn't start fights he can't win.

Clark should have learned by now not to pick fights with Lex, because Lex only lets Clark do that when Clark is wrong.

Which means Clark's wrong again. He drops into the armchair and scrubs at his face. Clark only ended up in the dorms because Lex never offered to let Clark move in with him, and Clark's only now realizing the significance of that. Lex didn't give him the option of moving into the penthouse, and Clark never really asked. He just whined a lot, which, now that he thinks about it, probably wasn't the best approach.

Clark runs his hands through his hair and looks up. Lex is perched on the arm of the couch, stoic and contained, but obviously waiting for Clark to figure out what he wants.

"I'm sorry, Lex. I guess I'm just way more stressed than I realized. I shouldn't have yelled. I know you're just trying to make this easier on me."

Martha Kent taught Clark how to apologize and he's damn good at it, but Lex still isn't sure how to deal with his side of the transaction. He nods once.

Clark decides since he's already made a fool out of himself, there's no reason to stop now. "I was angry with Chloe and I took it out on you."

Only half of that is strictly true, but apparently drug counseling is something Lex does feel equipped to deal with because he defrosts a little.

"It was just marijuana, right? As long as it doesn't interfere with her obligations and she doesn't get caught, it's really not a big deal."

Clark smiles because Lex doesn't give advice to people he's angry with, at least, not good advice. "No, that's not it. I just needed her help with those books and she was acting impossible, all weird and giggly."

"Pot does that to some people," Lex says, and Clark gets a mental picture of Lex sunk into a leopard-print bean bag and giggling.

"Actually," Clark says, still thinking of Lex, "you should have seen it, she was pretty cute rolling around on the floor and clinging to my ankle."

Lex had started to pick up Clark's clothes but now he stops. "How much of what you said earlier actually happened?"

Clark grins, already feeling better. "Every. Word."

Lex's eyes narrow as he folds Clark's jeans, obviously thinking of ways to get Chloe into a treatment program.

"More or less," Clark amends.

Lex throws Clark's pants at his head. "Go take a shower. We're going out."

Clark showers quickly because he's still not used to Lex's bathroom and it feels like the entire world is watching him. The shower stall is clear glass and directly across from a large lighted mirror. The skylight in the high ceiling is made of one-way glass in a concession to helicopter traffic, but from the bathroom floor it just looks like a big shiny invitation for people to stare at you when you're wet and naked.

It's pretty much the exact opposite of the dorm showers, which bear a close resemblance to a horror movie mental hospital with their sickly yellow tiles and nylon shower curtains that are always three inches too short in each direction and let in all sorts of cold creepy breezes.

The dorms have a nearly unlimited supply of hot water though, and the stall on the far left has a water pressure that rivals even Lex's carefully calibrated showering system. Clark's learning all the tricks of dorm life. He figures he'll get used to it eventually, and besides, it's not like he can't stay at Lex's whenever he wants. Clark's stuff is in the shower and his clothes are in the closet, so in a lot of ways it's like he lives there already.

Clark towels off and puts his jeans back on. He leaves the bathroom and finds Lex stretched out on the bed reading the paper. Lex has put on a different pair of black pants and one of his long-sleeved shirts that's way too fancy to still be in the t-shirt family but really can't be called anything else. This one is a light pearly grey and shows off his arms.

Lex smiles. "Ready to go?"

There are times Clark can't tell whether Lex is serious or just being very very dry.

Clark rubs a hand down his chest. "Admittedly I don't know where we're going, but I thought I might put a shirt on first."

"Wear one I bought you," Lex says, folding the newspaper in thirds and setting it on the nightstand.

This is new. Lex usually lets Clark dress himself.

Lex's walk-in closet is approximately twice the size of Clark's dorm room. Clark's room has windows though, which is about the only thing to recommend it over living in Lex's closet. Lex's clothes are sorted by type, style, color, weight, and favor. Clark's are sorted according to who hung them up last.

He pulls a deep purple-blue shirt off its hanger. Lex had pronounced it "blueberry" which led to one of those "just how gay are you?" discussions which of course led to Lex fucking Clark right there on the floor and making them late for dinner at Lionel's.

Clark buttons the shirt and checks himself out in the floor-length mirror. Lex wears shirts like these with tailored suits and handmade shoes and makes them look exactly as much as they're worth. Clark tucks the same shirt into his jeans and brings down the market value far enough that it looks like something he got at the Gap.

He finds matching socks in a drawer and goes back out into the bedroom. No Lex. He pulls his socks on, hopping on one foot down the hallway then switching feet and hopping into the den. His tennis shoes are lined up under the coffee table and Clark sits down to put them on.

Lex shows up with a jingle of keys. "Porsche or Aston Martin?"

"Where are we going?"

"We're getting your psychology books then out to dinner."

Clark jumps up from the couch and captures Lex in a hug. Lex pretends to hate it. Clark gives him a noisy kiss and grabs the Aston Martin keys.

"Can we stop by my dorm first? I need my list."

"Of course. Hopefully it'll look better than the last time I saw it."

"Don't count on it. Pete hasn't unpacked and the Angelina Jolie poster's still up."

A muscle in Lex's cheek twitches. "I take it back."

Since Clark's dorm really is on the back end of nowhere, they're able to find a parking space right out front. It's only a ten minute spot, but the LEX on the car's license plate is probably good for an extra twenty.

The door to the room is ajar and Clark can hear the electronic theme music of Pete's Nintendo, closely followed by Pete himself.

"Mario, you retard, pick up the raft!"

Clark pushes the door open. "You know Mario can't hear you, right?"

Pete doesn't even turn around, bobbing and weaving from his seat on the floor. "Clark, man, how did you get past this level? Mario has a serious fear of this moat and these ducks are fucking psychotic."

"You need the flower from the mole land. It confuses the ducks," Clark says. Lex looks over his shoulder.

"Dude, Chloe went back there but kept getting eaten by the Mole King. She is useless when she's stoned." Pete ducks a flying egg, but Mario doesn't and gets knocked back to bite-sized.

Clark pushes the door open all the way to show Chloe curled up on his bed asleep, a sports bottle of water on the floor next to her. Her cheeks are pink and her hair's flat.

"She nearly started crying when Mario split into two and his evil twin stole her hammer."

"I hate when that happens," Lex says.

Pete spins around and sees Lex. Mario falls into the moat and dies.

"Uh, hey, Lex."

Lex nods. "Pete."

Clark waits for Lex to step inside then pulls the door almost closed again. The boxes are missing, which means Pete must have finally unpacked, and Clark kicks him in the leg on the way to his desk.

"Decide you're going to stay after all?"

"Sorry, man. I never knew I had so much stuff."

Clark looks around the room. "Where'd it all go?"

Pete holds his hands up. "I'll never tell. Just promise me you won't open the cabinet above your bed."

Clark starts to x-ray the cabinet then thinks better of it. If ten boxes full of Pete's assorted crap were going to fall on him in his sleep, he'd rather it be a surprise.

Pete hits continue and Mario blinks into existence on top of a hill, hands shoved in the pockets of his overalls and looking extremely belligerent.

"Mario's pissed," Lex comments, leaning against Pete's desk.

Pete maneuvers Mario down the hill, pulls a turnip out of the ground and throws it at a passing duck. "He's like that now, and the more you die, the more pissed he gets. You should have seen him after the tenth time the Mole King sat on Chloe."

"I imagine that would make anyone upset," Lex says.

Clark digs through his notebook and finds the sheet of paper with the book titles on it. He folds it a couple times and sticks it in his pocket.

Pete chases after a magic mushroom. "Clark, you've got to help me with these ducks."

"I'm telling you, Pete, you need the flower."

"If I could get the flower, I'd have the flower. I do not have the flower." Pete runs away from some ducks.

Lex watches the screen. "The ducks move in a pattern. They travel in odd numbers. See, there won't be any more for a while."

"So?" Pete says.

"Run."

Pete takes Lex's advice and floors it. Clark grins, thinking Lex has finally found the way to Pete's heart.

"Be sure to tell him when to stop running, Lex, or he's going to end up with a faceful of duck."

"Clark?"

Behind him, Chloe's awake and stretching, her eyes squeezed shut and her shirt pulling away from the waistband of her red hippie pants.

Clark sits down next to her. "Hey, Chloe."

Pete accidentally kills a duck with a fireball and it makes an odd sizzling sound. Clark realizes he's hungry.

Chloe sits up, groaning. "Pete still can't be on those ducks...oh! Hey, Lex!"

"Chloe. How did your classes go?"

"Great!"

Chloe launches into a detailed description of her classes and her professors and the student lounge in the J-school, and Clark leans back against the wall and watches Lex nod and smile and ask questions. Meanwhile, Pete's sitting on the floor battling neurotic ducks with an Italian plumber and a raft and barely caring he's in the same room as Lex Luthor. Clark could get used to this.

He's watching Pete hop up and down on a floating elevator going nowhere when Chloe puts a hand on his arm.

"Clark, I'm really sorry about earlier. I practically force you to take that class with me and then--" she grimaces.

Clark bumps their shoulders together. "It's okay, Chloe. I was just a little overwhelmed from my first day and then there you were, like the highest afterschool special ever."

"That's so flattering," Chloe says. "Anyway, I meant what I said, you can use my books until you get your own." She stops and thinks. "I did say that out loud, right?"

Clark grins. "You did, but I think Lex is taking me somewhere to get my books."

"Yeah?" Chloe looks over at Lex.

"Wolfram's," Lex says.

"Oh! I should have thought of that! I used to go there all the time when I lived here before. It's awesome, Clark. You'll love it." She hugs him then stands up and stretches her arms over her head, bouncing on her toes and doing a little dance. Pete gets distracted and falls prey to a duck.

"This is so sad," Chloe says, dropping to the floor beside Pete. "Hand that over and I'll show you how it's done."

"No way. But if I need lessons in how to be flattened by a mole, you'll be the first person I call."

Chloe smiles and even her hair looks sarcastic. "At least you don't need my help in the mauled-by-ducks freestyle. You're a natural."

"Shut up," Pete says.

"Make me," Chloe replies, grabbing for the controller.

"Is it me or did it just get a lot dumber in here?" Clark asks.

"It does remind me of last week's board meeting," Lex says.

Clark looks up at him. "Your board members act like this?"

"No," Lex says, watching Chloe elbow Pete in the ribs, "they're generally not this well behaved."

Chloe shoves Pete to the floor and steals the gamepad from him. "Ha!"

"Chloe! Give it back!"

"You snooze you lose. Mario and I are going places." Chloe slams Mario into a wall and gets sucked into a secret level filled with dust bunnies and wall-to-wall coins. "Who's your daddy!"

Pete's suspicious. "Did you know that was there?"

Chloe ignores him. "Clark, we'll get breakfast before psych tomorrow, right?"

"Yeah, definitely," Clark says, standing. "I'll see you guys later."

"Great!" Chloe dodges a dust bunny. "Lex, good seeing you!"

Pete mumbles something similar.

Lex waits until they're in the stairwell before speaking. "You have to love Smallville manners. Half the town hated me, but they were polite about it." He smirks. "Unless they were attempting to kill me."

"Pete doesn't really hate you," Clark says, and Lex gives him an exceptionally bland look, "...that much anymore."

"No, he doesn't," Lex says in that tone of voice that means all his secret plans are working out perfectly.

"Lex, what have you done?"

Lex holds the door open for a girl carrying a guitar and a lamp, and then steps outside.

"I haven't done anything, Clark."

Lex's implied yet makes Clark stop in the middle of the sidewalk. This is how trouble starts.

"Don't play dumb, Lex, you're no good at it. I can hear you thinking."

"Your dorm room really needs a few more things," Lex says, like he's not even having the same conversation as Clark. "A better stereo, one of those wet bar fridges, some real lamps instead of those awful florescent things. I noticed you don't have a DVD player."

"So you're going to bribe Pete."

"I just want you to be comfortable in your new surroundings. If Pete also benefits from that, then it's his gain." Lex pulls his keys out and disarms the car alarm.

"I thought we learned people can't be bought, Lex," Clark teases.

Lex looks at him over the top of the car. "No, Clark. We learned you can't be bought."

Wolfram's is huge, the biggest bookstore Clark's ever seen, six stories tall and wide as a city block. A clerk takes a look at Clark's list and sends them up to the purple room on the fifth floor. The purple room is actually painted purple, and by some funny coincidence also houses all the history books. If it weren't such a tacky grape color, Clark would wonder if Lex had something to do with it.

Leaving Lex in 15th century Europe, Clark browses the gender studies section. He'd learned his lesson from the school bookstore and picked up a basket this time and he walks through the narrow aisles checking his list, surrounded by books on every possible subject on shelves that reach all the way up to the ceiling. He and Lex will have to come back when they have more time, or maybe just him and Chloe. Chloe would be great here, with her talent for finding the unexpected. He'll ask her at breakfast tomorrow. And maybe this was what Lex meant when he said Clark needed to be near his friends, because Clark knows where Chloe is, he can just walk upstairs and knock on her door, and if he were living across town it'd take more work, and Clark doesn't know if he'd make the effort.

Clark finds all four of his books and starts wandering through the rest of the floor. It's a weird combination of archaeology, gender studies, and history, plus an odd nook of true crime decorated with yellow police tape. The aisles have signs on them and "Gay, Lesbian & Transgendered: Poetry" catches his eye. The idea of transgendered poetry makes him laugh and think of crossdressing limericks. It should be ridiculous, except he remembers Lex telling him that a lot of Shakespeare's sonnets were actually written about men but that most people assume the poems are about women because they aren't really paying attention.

Clark puts his basket down by his feet and picks up a book of poetry by Harold Norse. He flips through it and reads a line or two, liking how easy it is to read, simple and messy, not like the complicated, highly structured poetry that Lex can recite by memory.

The book has an inscription in the front in scratchy handwriting:

"Mark, you sexy beast, here's to five more years exactly like the last, give or take that fight about the hot tub. Forever, Andrew -- Feb. 1998."

Clark smooths the wrinkled page. He feels sorry for these two men and their forever that ended up in a used bookstore. For the first time he thinks he understands why Lex never says things like forever.

"Mark, you sexy beast," Lex reads over his shoulder.

Clark flinches at Lex saying someone else's name in that tone and turns around. Lex has a sturdy leather-bound book tucked under his arm, probably some first edition he'll treat like a mass market paperback. Lex believes books should be read, not coddled.

"What do you think happened to them?" Clark asks, putting the book back on the shelf.

Lex gives him that look that means Clark's being overly sentimental. It's closely followed by the look Lex gets when he realizes he's acting like Lionel.

"Don't worry, Clark. I'm sure they're together and perfectly happy. They probably had to run off to Tokyo and leave all their worldly goods behind. It happens all the time."

Clark can't help his laugh. "Tokyo? That's your idea of romance?"

"Clark, people live in closets over there."

"Oh, then it'd have to be true love. You wouldn't be able to bring all your shoes, and you'd definitely have to leave your foreign film collection behind," Clark says, rolling his eyes.

Lex tosses his book in with Clark's. "I'd do it for you."

Clark wants to say something, but has no idea what. This is a surprise, right up there with the mob of polka-dotted toads that took over the Talon last summer, and the time Clark sneezed and found himself stuck to the ceiling for three hours. Clark never expected Lex to announce he'd give up everything for Clark, not in public, not out loud.

Lex checks his watch. "Did you find all your books?"

Clark blinks at the subject change. "Yeah?"

"Good. I'm thinking Yves for dinner. We can sit on the patio," Lex says, walking through Depression Era America and down some stairs. Clark picks up their books and follows him.

There are cash registers in the orange room and Lex gets in line behind a woman with an armful of dictionaries.

"Or maybe not Yves. There's only street parking," Lex says to himself, staring straight ahead and thinking out loud.

Lex speaks Latin, scribbles quantum equations on cocktail napkins, and mumbles about Alexander the Great in his sleep. He gives impromptu speeches about bad science-fiction, collects comic books, and chooses restaurants based on what he's driving. He has ten pairs of the same black pants, hates to fly, and always knows the exchange rate for the yen. And even if he's never used the words, he loves Clark, and Clark's beginning to realize just how badly he underestimated him.

Clark had assumed that Lex would be the one confused about how love works, but apparently it's Clark that needs to get a clue. He thought he understood the boundaries of their relationship, but maybe there weren't any, maybe Clark just thought there were. Maybe the reason Lex hasn't made any grand gestures is because he's waiting for Clark to be ready for them.

"Chaerophyllum has valet," Lex is saying. "But that's better for lunch."

"How about somewhere new?" Clark suggests, shifting the basket of books to his left hand and reaching out for Lex with his right.

Lex pauses, spending half a second in deep thought. "There's that new place on 7th," he says, taking Clark's hand. "According to Patricia, their paella is so good it nearly made her forget she was in Kansas."

"Yeah?" Clark says, smiling like an idiot because Lex is holding his hand in public. Clark had been wrong in thinking they couldn't do this. He just hadn't tried.

"Does that sound like something you might be interested in?" Lex asks.

"Sure," Clark says. "Though I have to say that Kansas has been pretty good to me."

Lex runs a thumb over Clark's knuckles and smiles. "It's been good to me, too."

The line moves forward. The woman in front of them dumps her dictionaries on the counter and laughs at something the clerk says. Lex starts planning a trip to Spain, telling Clark about the Visigoths and the historical importance of the Rock of Gibraltar. Clark listens to all the places Lex wants to take him and thinks about the coming years, about being a college student and Lex Luthor's boyfriend, about boundaries and dormitories and Spain, about change and all the surprises still waiting for him at the bottom of his alien happy meal. It's a lot to think about, especially on his first day of school, so for now he just waits in line, and listens to Lex, and holds his hand.