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Magical Girls and Magical Boys

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Lex had killed his father and buried him.

And he was sort of okay with that. Not really.

Frankly, if he'd realized at the time the massive amount of paperwork it would have generated, he might've opted to simply dissappear him, or lock him in a cage somewhere out of the way. People couldn't be declared dead until seven years after they'd vanished, after all -- not without a body.

But then, if he'd done that, Lionel would still have been in the background shadows, still taking up time, effort and energy to worry about, even if seemingly secure. He had wanted no, needed Lionel finally out of the way for his own piece of mind, if not safety.

Besides, he'd done the math. It had been three years, six months, and twenty-one days since Lionel's original conviction for the patricide he'd committed, and if the Teagues hadn't bought off the governor to get him pardoned and back out on the streets, today would have been the very last day of Lionel Luthor's life. If he hadn't cheated the system. After all legal alternatives and other possible avenues to delay the inevitable had been exhausted with Lionel's limited funds, the day that Lionel had been executed for his crimes Lex had killed him would have been the day that Lionel would have been executed for his crimes. And Lex was a big believer in truth and justice these days.

It was too bad that people kept lying to him and betraying him. It made life far more difficult than it needed to be.

Goddamned paperwork.

And with Gina dead -- killed just before she was about to tell him the identity of the Traveler, no less! -- things were only going to be that much harder. He'd trusted her, and now she was gone. Anything that he wanted done that he couldn't trust with anyone else, he would now have to handle himself. And that included dealing with Lionel's estate.

Lex was certain that Lionel knew far more than he'd ever told him, or anyone. Lex was also deathly certain, if not utterly convinced, that his father Lionel had had contact with the Traveler, and had been working for him and the Kryptonians for at least several years now. Certainly since not long after the second meteor shower. And if he was had been in league with the aliens, then he likely had some rather damaging artifacts hidden away among his personal effects, or squirreled away in long-term storage.

With Lionel gone, Lex now inherited everything, for good or for ill. The problem was that, with Gina's death, Lex likely didn't have a lot of time before the rest of Veritas came down on his head. So he could either follow the keys, go looking for alien clues by searching through whatever of his late father's effects that he could find, or try to split his time between them both.... and likely not make it far enough with either before he found himself killed.

Lex shook his head. As much as his -- call it what it was -- obsession was driving him to go off and use the keys immediately, he'd go for the low-hanging fruit -- finishing dealing with enacting Lionel's will -- yet more paperwork -- then he'd clear out Lionel's office -- careful of traps, especially poisons and bombs -- and quickly rummage through what few personal effects he could manage to track down and get his hands on in... oh, he'd give himself 48 hours. His support staff would need the time anyway to finalize the structural changes that would need to be enacted short-term to deal with the absence caused by Gina's death, and bolster his company's general employees' moral that needed to be enacted after Lionel's removal to keep the stock price up.

Frankly, he could use a little time to himself after everything he'd needed to do in the last few days. ...Hell, maybe 'reminiscing' about his 'dear old dad' would give him just the motivation he needed to see this all through to the end of things.

~*~*~*~*~*~

And then Clark had to confront him again, and not nearly as silently as he had at the funeral. The jerk.

~*~*~*~*~*~

So, understandably, Lex was feeling somewhat depressed as he dug through another box of memories junk in the Luthor's collective storehouse of... stuff.

He sighed and debated taking another swig of whiskey as he crammed the cardboard lid he was holding back down onto the box of Warrior Angel comics that he'd accidentally opened up. That shouldn't have happened at all, because he'd sworn that he'd had those thoroughly labeled, goddamnit, to avoid that very thing.

And when the hell had his father managed to sneak all of his crap back into the family warehouse, anyway? Didn't he know that that would have been the last place any person in their right mind would have put anything?

Lex shoved the box aside roughly, wondering why the hell he'd thought this a good idea anyway as newly-remembered memories of when Oliver and he had actually been friends dancing his way through his brain and making him feel more than a little ill. And then found himself face-to-face with a box labeled '12'th birthday' and his breath caught.

Then curled his lips and nearly snarled at the labeling that had been brazenly written across it. Dad and his mindgames. Because 12'th birthday? What 12'th birthday? The one that nobody attended at all? And it wasn't as though that had happened because of his baldness, or no-one would have happened at his eleventh, or his tenth before that. And after everything that had happened with Julian...

Lex backed off a step or two and forced himself to take a few deep breaths. Those memories were at least less-immediate, for his having been able to remember them for years and having lived with and in and through them thoroughly.

He stopped for a swig of whiskey -- straight from the bottle, screw the glass -- then grimaced and grabbed the obviously-empty packing box to toss it aside.

He nearly dropped it as the weight of it surprised him, and he felt and heard something sliiiiide within it.

Lex froze.

He slowly lowered the box.

He stared at it, swallowed hard, and wondered when and how Lionel had managed to steal back his lead box from Clark for him, let alone why.

He set the box down, put the bottle of whiskey aside, and slowly pulled back the lid.

Then he stared with no small shock down at what lay there oh-so-innocuously at the bottom of the box.

Is that what I think it is?

Lex reached in and pulled out a... present. With a thin red ribbon and a bow and even an envelope containing a card.

The card threw him. This can't be from my parents. They never gave cards with presents -- it was either obvious, or it wasn't really a gift -- just money with a card declaring from whom.

He pulled it loose from the wrapping paper and stared at it like it would bite him. After a moment, he carefully ripped the envelope flap across the top and tugged the card loose, then opened it.

His eyes narrowed as he read. It was short enough, but...

He double-checked the envelope, because he hadn't thought he'd started receiving gifts that tried to take advantage of his status as a Luthor until he was fifteen, at least, trying to get in good with his father through him. (The more fools, they.)

Oddly enough, it looked as though the envelope had never been opened before -- from the look of it, Lex doubted the flaps had been opened and resealed. So how had Lionel known who it was from to deny it from Lex? And why would he have kept it?

John Zatara. Lex knew his father's enemies, those of the family watch-list, both inside and out. The name sounded vaguely familiar, but not because it was one of those of Victoria and Harry Hardwick's ilk.

Lex's frown deepened futher as he reread the card. This doesn't sound like the usual sort of pandering, either... Just a salutation, a name, and a method to address him if he had any questions about the... it wasn't even referred to as a gift, exactly. Odd. It sounds more like the man was truly meaning to address me, solely.

Lex flipped the card over to the back. Plain, heavy cardstock -- nothing so telling there.

Lex set down the card and weighed the somewhat somberly-wrapped present in his hands, for all that it had a dark blood-red bow attached to and around its deep royal purple wrapping.

Why had Lionel kept the package from him? He obviously hadn't known the purpose of it, not having read the card, and had had no reason to keep it from him. Even if it had been sent via a courier, sender-known, why would Lionel have kept it when he so easily could have simply thrown it away years ago? To know that even one person, random and unknown or not, had cared enough to send him something on that horrible day, would have been more than enough to make him feel--

Lex suddenly felt cold as it suddenly dawned on him. Perhaps that was it, he realized. What if that was exactly why Lionel had not given it to him. What if he had wanted Lex to be miserable? He'd hated Lex for years, after all. He'd hated him ever since...

...Julian had died.

Lex had forgotten. Lionel hadn't known. He'd thought Lex had killed his little baby brother, not Lillian, because Lex hadn't said anything otherwise. And he'd hated him openly for it ever since.

While Lex had been horribly traumatized by the incident and blocked it out for years, Lionel had been...

Lex shivered. He hadn't had many, if any, real friends before that -- not that he could remember, anyway, post-meteor-shower -- but Lionel had begun actively attempting to convince him that he couldn't have friends after Julian's death. He'd thought Lionel had started after his utterly disastrous twelfth birthday party. ...But what if it had been before?

Lex suddenly wondered if any of those invitations he'd written, by-hand, had ever actually been sent, and found himself almost crushing the present in his hands, shaking with rage.

He closed his eyes and forcibly stopped grinding his teeth together, drew out his breath in longer than short, heavy pants, made himself loosen the muscles in his shoulders, arms, and hands. Now was not the time to scream and break things. Not even for Lionel. Especially not for Lionel. Lionel was dead, and...

Lex took in a deep breath, held it, and let it out slowly. He did this again, and again, until he felt less bloody-minded, and his thoughts had taken on a colder, more-sharp, almost crystalline focus.

...No. No, it was likely that those invitations had been sent out, after all. Lionel wouldn't have needed to do anything on that front. If Lex had been an outsider-looking-in, thinking about things objectively, he likely wouldn't have attended his own party, either. he wouldn't have let his own child attend a Luthor party if he'd had a choice in the matter, himself. Between the rumors of Julian's death flying around both Metropolis and the school -- that Lionel had done it, that Lex had been the one to do it, that Lionel had forced Lex to do it -- and his freak-outs after he'd returned to Excelsior -- which he only now remembered after the fact, after Summerholt, having blacked out and blocked-out those episodes at the time -- that had likely been more than enough to off-put any one of his classmates, let alone the adults.

It also hadn't helped that he'd just been skipped up a grade at the time, and with his shoddy attendance record for the school year already for having been home and home-schooled during the last trimester of his mother's pregnancy, it wasn't exactly a wonder that he hadn't known anyone in his new grade well-enough for them to want to attend, and he knew from past years that old friends stuck at lower grades tended to not want anything to do with him anymore once he'd passed them by.

The only real difference that might have been made was whether or not Lionel had put forth the effort to make it clear that attendance was expected for his son's birthday party, regardless of scandal at the time, and without that...

...well, Lex had lived through the end result.

Lex opened his eyes and looked at what he was holding. Really looked at it.

It was something his father had kept from him like his love not that he deserved that, either. But his father was dead, and no-one was keeping this from him now.

So he looked at the package, more than a decade old, that he held in his two hands at that moment.

And he slowly unwound the ribbon.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Lex was sitting on a pile of boxes in the storage warehouse and frowning, because the present he'd received from Mr. Zatara had been a book, and the book was...

Weird. It was weird. Sullivan would have a field day with this. Then the thought belatedly caused him to grimace. Chloe had still been working with -- for -- his father. He'd never seen that coming, even though he should have, long-since. --How else would she have survived, after all? She hadn't picked Lex's side, once Lionel had gotten out of prison. And, in the battle between Lionel and Lex, that had left her with only one other option.

Like it or not, Lex knew he tended not to immediately set out to kill the people who did not pick him over his father, and for very good reason. It was wrong. That would have had him at odds with the entire rest of the planet, after all.

Lionel, on the other hand, had a longstanding history of killing -- or setting up to be killed -- his enemies, competitors, 'friends', family members...

But Chloe likely couldn't have helped him with this, anyway. The book was, it seemed, a primer. It was mostly written in English, with smatterings of Latin, Ancient Greek, and Roman, as well as Chinese and Germanic spread throughout. There was a section with Norse runes, even, if he was identifying them correctly. It was completely handwritten, and seemed to be almost random sections of text that, taken together, nearly made up a cohesive whole.

It he had to make a wild guess, he'd think that it was a primer on, well, magic, of all things. Though why someone would have sent him a book on that at age twelve, sight-unseen...

Lex frowned. Magic. Zatara. That connection helped spark a recollection in his mind.

He slid off of the boxes and headed for the nearest computer station, looking to run a search on the larger, main inventory list for the building.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Twenty minutes later, Lex was holding a genuine family grimoire in his hands. The Book of Zatara. He'd been searching for magical artifacts as much as alien ones -- since the 'magical' ones usually tended to be of alien origin, in his humble experience, a la the Kryptonian Stones of Power as a start -- and then vaguely recalled having okayed one of Gina's acquisition recommendations. He'd had a purchasing agent sent to an auction to buy a few things in a lot that were to have originated from the personal possession of the proclaimed Maestro of Magic himself. Lex hadn't had a chance in the meantime to look through the purchases yet. ...Well, not until today.

Having looked through it all now, the only thing of any true worth from the sales lot he'd received was the book, and it vividly reminded him of Isobel's spellbook when last he'd seen it.

He opened the book to the back -- mostly blank -- flipped to the last few pages that had been filled in, and compared the book with the handwriting on the card he'd received, and also with the inscription in the front of his errant birthday present. They all matched.

Hm. Perhaps he should have a word with Mr. Zatara. He might like his book back, after all, and surely he would be willing to give Lex a few answers for his trouble...

Lex mulled over this for a moment. Did he really want to stop here? There were quite a lot of his father's things still back in that corner of the warehouse, sitting there untouched.

Then again, a magical ally might be highly useful against alien technology. Magic had certainly seemed to interface well enough with the Stones of Power, if Isobel's obsession with and apparent use of such symbology and ancient artifacts in conjunction with her own spells had been any indication of the fact. Why, Lex could hardly imagine what he might do with a modern-day understanding of such things...

Well, it certainly wouldn't hurt to ask, would it? Just a simple phone call...

...except that his database of personal purchases listed the acquisition as part of an estate sale held upon the man's death, a liquidation of assets at the request of an estranged relative of the man from his ex-wife's side. Unfortunately, a person who would be willing -- or stupid enough -- to sell such a book at-auction would hardly be one to talk to about magical knowledge. (If they were, they wuld have recognized and kept it, or perhaps burned it, not sold it to the most-ignorant highest-bidder.)

Lex grimaced, then sent a quick query to his personnel department, asking after any living relatives of one John Zatara.

He got a hit back from them within seconds, including a current phone number and home address.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Lex was less surprised than he should have been when, within a few seconds of calling the number he'd been given and a hang-up, the young woman he'd been talking to on the phone suddenly appeared in front of him in a puff of smoke.

It was a good thing that he wasn't nearly as twitchy with his firearms as his ex-Navy-SEAL instructor had tried to drill into him. ..and that he had his hands full of two books.

"You do have it," Zatara's closest living blood-relative -- his daughter -- breathed out, eyes blazing as her gaze immediately locked on to the grimoire he was holding in his right hand.

Lex casually tucked it under his arm as she reached out a hand towards it -- just in time, because he nearly lost his hold on it as he felt a very strong, invisible tug on it that nearly ripped it from his grasp.

Nearly.

"That's mine!" she informed him with a glare, after her initial attempt to wrest it away from him -- presumably with magic -- failed. She froze, then her eyes narrowed and she got a cagey look. "Give it to me now!"

"Actually, it's mine," Lex informed her dryly, resisting the urge to take a step back from her. "You sold it and I bought it at auction for a very hefty sum. --But I could be convinced to part with it," he added smoothly but quickly, and he did take a step back now as she advanced on him almost menacingly, "if you'll simply answer a few questions for me." He wasn't about to spend a lot of time attempting to bicker with a witch, or let her get very close to him while in a mood -- he'd learned better from his first confrontation with Isobel, and a full night and day playing piano until his fingers ran red with his own blood and he'd collapsed from utter exhaustion once Clark had dragged him away from it. (And he hadn't touched a piano since...)

An unplanned nighttime meeting all alone in a warehouse full of Luthorian belongings probably wasn't the wisest thing he'd ever done. (Rather, it probably hit somewhere down in the bottom four or five or so.) In retrospect, he probably should have waited to call her until after he'd reached the Penthouse and already hidden her grimoire away someplace. It would have been a bit less openly inviting to mishap. Instead, he'd assumed her unable to seek him out immediately, and was already regretting the decision. In fact, he was strongly considering just handing her the grimoire to get rid of her as soon as possible. This had really been a terrible idea.

"Fine," the magic user huffed out. "What do you want to know?" Zatanna Zatara asked of him, crossing her arms. "Or do you want a wish or something for it, instead?"

Lex blinked at her. "...A wish?"

"Okay, sure!" she said, clapping her hands together with a grin that was far too wide. "What's the thing you most desire right now?"

Lex felt his hackles rise. Yes, a really terrible idea.

"...I'm sorry," he said slowly. "I think you may have misunderstood me. I didn't quite understand your... rather generous... offer. --You can grant wishes?"

"Yes," she nodded.

"Like a genie in a bottle?" ...Or a monkey's paw? Disney movies aside, neither of those tended to end very well for the one doing the wishing, when going by the original folk tales.

She laughed slightly, though there wasn't much mirth in it. "Well, there's not exactly a limit on the number except whether I want to do it for someone, but I can grant other people's wishes. Not my own," she admitted, in a tone of voice that made it clear she thought that things would be a lot easier if she could. "So, what'll it be?"

"I have to tell you my wish?"

"Yup!"

Lex thought about this for a moment.

Then he asked, with no small trepidation, "What happens if I ask for a wish and it, for instance, doesn't happen to be exactly the thing I most desire at the moment?"

"Oh, well then it'll probably go horribly pear-shaped somehow," she told him brightly.

...Now that wasn't exactly filling him with a great deal of confidence. He had far too many things that he wanted -- desired -- at the moment. If carefully thinking through what would be best to wish for wouldn't help him, only what he actually selfishly wanted most...

...well, if he had to think about that, it would be Clark being his friend again and never ever being judgmental again ever and helping him and supporting him and something that would and could never, ever happen, and would probably cause far more problems than it might resolve even if he could have it, somehow.

At the very least, he'd have to worry about Chloe and the terrorist League coming after him with torches and pitchforks, whatever he asked for, regardless. ...Hell, that could probably be the 'horribly pear-shaped' right there all on its own.

"I think I'd rather just stick with having a few of my questions answered instead, if you're amenable," Lex drew out slowly.

"Well, okay," Zatanna shrugged. "Your loss, I guess. --What do you want to know?"

Lex relaxed marginally. So far so good. "As a start, I received this--"

He wasn't entirely able to stifle a flinch as Zatanna stepped forward and physically ripped the gift-book out of his hands as he held it up. He grimaced, then bit down on what he'd been about to say, given the look on her face after she gave the unmarked volume the once-over.

"Okay, you jerk. It's bad enough that you've got my family spellbook held hostage, but this?!" She glared at him, shaking the book at him. "I ought to just--" She practically sneered at him, then got a positively evil gleam in her eyes.

"--No, y'know what? I think I'll do one better," she said with a bright grin. "I think I'll find whoever you stole this from and let them deal with you, mister. I bet that--" she opened the front cover and read off the title page, "--this Alexander Luthor would be happy to--" she spat out.

Lex relaxed slightly and simply waited.

Zatanna looked back up at him and then paused mid-rant.

Her eyes slid back down to the page. She frowned.

"Is 'Lex' short for...?" she said slowly.

Lex nodded once, curtly.

"But..." Zatanna frowned at him, then frowned down at the book.

"--Wait," she said grimly. "This looks like my father's handwriting." She looked up at him with a scowl, then clapped the book shut. "He was teaching you? --He never told me that," she muttered. "Why didn't you start with that?" she said peevishly, waving the book in front of him, then practically shoving the book back at him.

Lex took it from her neatly, but eyed her carefully.

"He wasn't teaching me," Lex explained. "He sent me the book on my twelfth birthday--"

"Yeah, that's standard," Zatanna interrupted.

Lex paused mid-explanation and mused that one over.

Then he asked, "Standard for what?"

Zatanna gave him an odd look. "For magic-users," she said. "Homo magi and all that. Thirteen's when we all usually start to become active." She paused a moment. "Why, did you start early with your own family's spellbook, or something? --It's not like mine will do you much good," she added, plucking said Book of Zatara from his unresisting grasp.

"No, look--" Lex said, shaking his head. "You don't understand. I didn't receive this on my twelfth birthday; I found it literally fifteen minutes ago, right before finding your family grimoire and calling you. I don't know anything about magic," though I certainly wish I did.

Zatanna stood there and blinked at him.

"I think there might be a mistake," Lex said after a while, but that was apparently the wrong thing to say, because that had Zatanna immediately scowling at him.

"My father doesn't make mistakes," Zatanna said. "Not like that."

"Didn't," Lex said quietly, and Zatanna looked like she wanted to hex him.

"Fine," she bit out, leaving Lex remembering how to breathe again. Apparently there was a difference between magicians and witches, after all. "But you can't say that nothing strange has ever happened to you!"

Lex thought back and had to mentally shrug. "Nothing that would be attributed to witchcraft," he said.

Zatanna's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Witchcraft?"

"Well, ye--"

"--How do you even believe in magic in the first place if you can't do it yourself?" Zatanna challenged him, curling an arm around her family spellbook and planting her other hand on her hip.

"I met a witch--"

"Magician," Zatanna corrected blithely.

"No, a witch," Lex repeated, with emphasis. "Her name was Isobel -- the Countess Marguerite Isabelle Theroux of France -- and..."

"You time-traveled to the 17'th century? And you aren't even trained?!" Zatanna said, looking shocked. "Do you have any idea how dangerous--!"

"No! She was resurrected here!" Lex cut in quickly. "She'd made a sort of... spell-trap for one of her ancestors. It was accidentally triggered a few years ago..." he trailed off as he realized. "Wait -- how do you know of her?"

"She's a classic hard-case study," Zatanna said promptly, "and an object warning to others not to go around doing stupid shit in front of mundanes and getting caught at it. --Where is she now?"

"Dead," Lex said, "and not coming back. She had her revenge; the spell of possession ended."

"Well, thank god for small favors," Zatanna said, letting out a breath of relief. "You actually survived her, though? I heard she didn't like guys all that much," she added, eyeing him dubiously.

"She did cast a nasty spell on me when we first met," Lex admitted.

Zatanna looked intrigued. "What did she cast?"

Lex grimaced. "A spell to force me to play the piano, ad infinitum."

Zatanna stared at him for a moment, then looked disgusted.

"Really?" she said. "You don't think you're magical?"

Lex frowned at her. "A friend came by and tackled me away from the piano the next morning," he told her. "I wasn't able to stop on my own."

"Alexander," she sighed. "A mundane doesn't just stop following a command spell just because somebody tried to physically stop them from doing it," she told him. "You would've just gotten right back up and started playing again."

Lex had a sickening sort of feeling settle in his gut.

"When you were on the floor," Zatanna asked, "Did you feel like you had to get up?"

"Yes, but I didn't want to," that was for sure!

"So you concentrated as hard as you could on not getting up, not wanting to get up, and you stayed put; the compulsion broke," Zatanna stated matter-of-factly.

Lex opened his mouth to protest, then slowly closed it. He'd mostly blamed that on Clark holding him down long enough that he couldn't continue, but...

...he'd been trying very hard not to struggle against Clark, to stay put.

"It's very hard to break a compulsion spell on your own, even with training," Zatanna told him consolingly, patting him on the arm. "You're lucky you were able to stop; you've got talent, kid," she grinned widely.

Lex shot the younger woman a skeptical look, then sat down on a short stack of boxes. Zatanna perched nearby. "I very much doubt that," he said. "Shouldn't I have, well, been able to do something on my own by now? Accidentally?"

Zatanna shook her head. "Well, you did manage to hold off my book-retrieval spell pretty well, earlier, didn't you?" she said with a smirk, and Lex started. "But no, magic doesn't really work that way," she continued. "Training helps you get stronger and get more control, but mostly it's for helping you learn how to do things in the first place, not to keep you from doing them accidentally." She got a thoughtful look. "Well, except for family traits, but that's only for the long, old, and powerful lines."

"Like you."

"Yup!" Zatanna said happily, kicking her feet out. "My specialty is granting other people's wishes; with my family's spellbook," she said, patting it gently as it lay in her lap, "I'll be able to do a lot more."

Lex nodded, thinking. "What if I don't have a family spellbook?"

Zatanna screwed up her face. "That hardly ever happens," she admitted. "You're the first-born right? So you could start a new one if you can't find the old one, or if somebody destroyed it, but you'll basically be pulling power from the old one if it exists," she warned him. "The original won't be usable anymore, not for gathering more power," she said with a frown, "and it'll be a lot less powerful than the original. It'd take you centuries, and you'd have to rediscover all your family's secrets all over again. People lose stuff that way."

"But what happens if you need more than one copy?" Lex asked, curious. "If there's more than one child?"

"Sure, it happens all the time," Zatanna told him, leaning back. "But the main branch gets the family spellbook, the first-born magic-user of the main lineage gets the responsibility for it, whether that's adding to it, making sure it stays safe, bequeathing it to somebody else, all that jazz. And, they're the only one that can create new copies or pass them along," he was told. "There's a whole procedure for it -- making extra copies so that all of them build up power, rather than splitting it out and the source pool of it dying off. They're all tied together, and they all get updated if the first one does, and they can be torched from a distance by the main-line user if they're holding the original grimoire. Helps keep everybody in-line."

Lex raised an eyebrow or two.

"Most families aren't powerful enough to just cast whatever, whenever," Zatanna explained. "They pool power, stockpiling it, and only use it sparingly; a family spellbook is a good conduit for holding and accessing it. They're keyed to the specific bloodline, though. And to make a linked copy, you need the book being copied in-hand."

"Hmm."

"So you'd better figure out which of your parents has been lying to you and find it," he was told.

Well, it can't have been my father, Lex thought dourly. He would've used it to his advantage. Or used me. "I take it that magic doesn't skip a generation?" Lex asked.

"Sometimes, but that runs in families, too. --So, mother or father?" he was asked. "I'm betting on the mother. Dads usually show the hell off as much as possible," she winked.

Lex winced. "It's likely from my mother's side of the family," he agreed.

"Well, what's her maiden name? I bet I know 'em," Zatanna asked, showing mild interest. "Most of the families all know each other."

"It's--" Lex paused. "It's..." He frowned.

Then he felt rather embarrassed.

"You don't know?" Zatanna asked, straightening.

"I--" Lex felt his shoulders start to hunch inwards before he forced himself to stop that foolishness at once.

"Shit," Zatanna said. "She was a black sheep?"

Lex gave her an inquisitive frown.

Zatanna shook her head. "Not like that. Some of the families don't like it when the kids marry mundanes. Thinks it lowers the prestige." She snorted. "Last thing anybody needs is a bunch of inbred so-called blue-bloods running around insane, and another round of modern-day witch-hunts."

"I know that they were high-society, much farther up the social ladder than my father was," Lex said slowly, "and that they weren't happy that she married my father."

"But you never met them yourself?"

Lex nodded.

"Hm. Could have been either way, then. If she was disowned, well, that usually means by the entire family, minus a weird old crone-y aunt or two. But if she was the main line descendant, then they wouldn't dare approach her if she didn't want anything to do with 'em. That'd risk the spellbook's potency."

"Does that happen often?" Lex asked.

"Not really, but that doesn't exactly narrow it down, either," Zatanna said, biting a fingernail. "Sometimes they just said that so-and-so died instead, and forget it. And it's not like all of the families know each other," she added pensively. "Most of us do, but some of them are still pretty secretive, keep to themselves. And when the magic skips a generation..." she shrugged. "Sometimes it can skip more than one, if somebody doesn't get it."

"Latent, recessive genes?" Lex mused, remembering her earlier species distinction.

"Maybe. If someone doesn't cast a spell, it's usually pretty hard to figure out."

"Then how did your father know to send me a book?" Lex asked.

Zatanna rolled her eyes. "Dad was pretty up there in the ranks. He was one of the policing-types, I guess. Did a lot of demon-fighting. You have to know a lot to do that stuff, and a lot of people. There's probably a spell for that," she told him, "in here," she raised and shook her grimoire lightly at him, "but who the heck knows? He never really talked about that stuff with me. I was still working on the basics."

"Not exactly a magic school one can attend?" Lex asked dryly.

"Oh god, I wish," Zatanna enthused, eyes gleaming. "How much fun would that be?"

Lex winced.

"Aw, spoilsport," Zatanna teased, clipping him in the arm with a fist.

"Says the girl who enjoys granting monkey-paw wishes," Lex extrapolated, and Zatanna laughed. "Is there any way to tell what my family's specialty might be?"

"Oh, hey now, hold up -- that's actually two things there," Zatanna told him, pulling her feet up to sit indian-style. "There's your innate skill, and then there's the family skill-set. They aren't always the same. And you usually need to have the family spellbook on-hand to unlock the second one."

Lex frowned. "And the innate skill?"

"Usually linked to either words or actions," Zatanna said promptly. "There something you're particularly good at doing?"

Lex tried not to make a sour face. "Not really..." At Zatanna's look, he sighed and ran a hand over his head, then added, "Does almost talking people into doing or not doing things count?" Because, really, his persuasiveness could use some work. How many times have I almost gotten myself or Clark out of a situation--

"--only if it backfired at the end when you stopped trying so hard?" Zatanna said, and if Lex had still had hair, it'd've been standing on end.

"How--" Lex spluttered, then glared at her. "--I didn't stop trying!"

"But you relaxed a bit when things were going well, and started to lower your guard, right?" Zatanna pressed. "Thought things were working out and didn't try any harder, maybe let up on the pressure just a bit?" She shook her head. "If you've got a persuasion gift, then that's the opposite of what you needed to do -- the end's when you need to give an extra push to tie it all off neatly, so it doesn't all unravel on you," she told him. "Do I even want to know what you were trying to do?"

"Usually? Talk armed gunmen into not killing me or my friends, most often," he informed her dryly.

The young magician visibly winced. "Ouch." She pondered this for a moment. "Well, I guess that it's true what they say then."

"...What?"

She glanced over at him. "Us magic-types are trouble!" she grinned.

Lex stared at her for a moment.

Then he began to laugh, helplessly, so hard that he cried.

~*~*~*~*~*~