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Be Careful What You Don't Wish For, Too

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~*~*~*~*~*~

Lex didn't usually get a chance to browse the shops on Main Street; usually he had a distinct purpose for coming into town, even if it was only to run into Clark at the Talon. But today... today was different. The factory was holding a Halloween celebration for his employees, at Gabe's direction. Lex had wanted to help out, but had been more-or-less shooed out of the building and off the premises, his staff having cited his lack of experience at planning such gatherings on a 'shoestring budget' (mostly his words, not theirs).

Gabe seemed to be the only one to which it had occurred that Lex might've wanted to stick around to learn. Lex had been given the concillatory prize of a sympathetic pained smile, and a recommendation that he check out the town in the meantime instead, to see how everyone else did it.

So now Lex was wandering the streets in a top hat of cheap felt and a simple black domino mask that he'd seen and swiped from the incoming party supplies on a whim; it was a box of many, they wouldn't be missed. He couldn't quite help feeling like he was playing hooky, though, or at least getting away with something that he shouldn't.

The feeling likely stemmed from the fact that he was about to do with impugnity something he'd secretly wanted to do from the moment he'd first arrived in Smallville: enter absolutely every shop on the main drag of town, one by one, and take his time browsing to see what was there to be offered.

He tried to quell the burst of excitement that rose at the prospect, it being a bit silly and childish a notion to feel this way about something so... dull. God help him if his father ever learned of it.

He hoped to talk with Clark about it after, not before -- or during. Some things one should experience for oneself, alone.

He casually walked to the end of the line of stores that spanned seven blocks, skirting the sparse but growing crowd of town residents, and turned around.

He took a deep breath to steady himself, looked to his left, and walked into the first shop -- a used bookstore.

As he opened the door, a bell rang overhead -- he looked up to see a small copper bell attached to a length of string. How... quaint.

He stepped in. The door swung shut behind him with another soft, jangling ring. The sound was pleasant, almost soothing.

The quiet of the shop enclosed him like a tangible shroud. The musty smell of good, old books wafted towards him.

He took in a deep breath and shivered slightly, had to bite his tongue to remember to keep his lips straight and even, when all they wanted to do was curl up at the corners.

He glanced around the store, eyes quickly alighting from one thing to the next -- shelves, configuration, books piled high thereupon -- stacks on the floor, counter, old metal register -- hanging lights, dim bulbs, dusty stained-glass patterned lampshades -- trying to decide what would be a best use of his time to focus on--

--until he remembered that he was in no rush, no one was watching his every move, and he could take his time and let it all soak in. He didn't have to limit himself to picking just one thing, he currently had no restrictions on his time.

He let out his breath in a rush and slowly began to relax.

He turned to the very first thing nearby -- a bookshelf crammed with an eclectic mix of books, nothing like one would expect in a retail bookstore -- and had to tilt his head sideways to read some of the titles.

"Can I help you?" he heard a reedy voice ask behind him, and he nearly jumped.

He glanced back behind him at a wisened old woman with a gentle, friendly smile.

"Ah..." he began quietly, quickly straightening from his hunched-over position, feeling all of thirteen and gangly again out of the blue for no clear reason.

But the woman only seemed to smile a little more genuinely at him for his temporary lack of mannerly adult grace. "Just browsing then?"

Lex nodded once, almost shyly.

The woman nodded back, eyes twinkling in understanding, and moved off. "Let me know if you need anything."

Lex nodded at her back again, even though she couldn't see it, feeling slightly embarassed. He didn't usually lose track of his surroundings like that, not since learning the survival skills necessary to avoid being accosted by the unfriendly reporters that were a plague upon Metropolis, the majority of which didn't quite seem able to survive the transition to Smallville. Still, a majority was not all, and he was usually more careful than that. He'd let his guard down, not realizing that the owner of the shop might be nearby and... already there. Of course they would be, in such a small shop.

The thought made him blush. He glanced around before returning to scanning the titles on the shelf in front of him.

He worked his way lower, and lower, and finally had to resort to crouching down on the floor rather than merely bending over to continue his perusal of the books-on-offering.

His gaze caught on a book of a very interesting title. He reached out a hand towards it, hesistated, then carefully drew it out of its position on the shelf. The woman had said he was 'free to browse' implicitly, after a fashion, hadn't she?

He was three pages in and already losing himself in the text when he heard a bell sound and was startled out of the book. He slapped it shut and glanced over to the door, pushing off of the floor and to his feet again.

But the older man who had wandered in just nodded to him absently -- not even looking at him, really -- and walked past him directly over to the counter. He struck up a low, easy conversation with the proprietor of the shop, leaning up against a nearby bookcase.

Lex blinked at this, then glanced down at the book he was holding. ...Well, I had started to read it, he thought, and tucked it into the crook of his arm, planning to keep it -- and pay for it first, of course.

And of course there were other books that he might be interested in here, as well.

As he took his time to pace around to the opposite side of this first freestanding bookcase, one of many, with just as great a number of books piled high in a careful jumbled mess upon it, he glanced up at the little hanging copper bell. And he wondered whether, in retrospect, he'd missed entirely the point of having the bell on the door in the first place -- to announce to all others when someone else entered the shop, so they would not be as surprised at the sudden intrusion as Lex had been at the shopkeeper's approach and query before.

Lex smiled helplessly at himself for his odd musings, and settled down on his heels to start browsing through book titles again. This time, he'd start at the bottom, first.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Two hours past, Lex was slowly walking down the street with a smile on his face, taking his time to openly stare at everything and everyone around him. It was a bit liberating -- there were a good number of townspeople out and about in partial or full-costume now, and with his formal-looking hat and mask, and in his usual 'gentlemanly' business-wear, he fit right in.

Or perhaps they did.

No matter -- Lex had two bags full of books, and another small bag of chewy licorice candy he'd gotten from the confectionary right next door to the used bookseller. He hadn't gone through every book in the entire store before leaving, but he had gone through enough of it that he'd felt his curiosity slowly ease into a calm sort of satiation, and by the time he had left he had felt self-assured enough around the place that he knew he could and would feel comfortable browsing just as deeply again if he later returned, whenever he felt the urge next.

He'd gotten what he wanted -- everything he'd wanted, with no-one to tell him 'no' or chide him for his choices -- paid in cash, and made out like a bandit with nary a second glance. So far, for him, this was a very child-like Halloween, complete with goodies and treats. He almost felt like skipping down the street, and the mood was infectious, though if pressed he would not be able to say for certain whether it was the excited energy of the younger generation influencing him, or vice-versa.

The bookseller and the candy-confectioner might have been the only two stores he'd entered and bought merchandise from so far, but he already felt as though he was mid-way through a grand adventure of some sort.

And, it being Halloween, many of the stores were staying open far later than their usual, to contribute to the town festivities and general trick-or-treating atmosphere. He'd have until at least midnight to wander about, exploring.

He smiled to himself and glanced into the next store -- a tobacco importium. How interesting.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Lex hadn't bought much past the first two stores, just bits and bobs of odds and ends here and there. One or two things he'd eaten, another few he'd added to his 'costume' -- white gloves, and a long cape in black with a red inner lining that flared when he walked. He'd also bought a walking stick of solid dark, black oak, but he'd tied his bagged purchases to the end of it and levered it over his shoulder rather than using it for its original intended purpose.

He felt like giggling, but that might be the licorice's doing.

He was a block or so past the Talon on the opposite side of the street, when he turned and came face-to-face with a very odd-looking antique shoppe.

He tilted his head at the name of it, stenciled in paint on the glass-door, then blinked as his own reflection came into focus.

He quickly straightened his top hat, glanced around, and guiltily took a step closer to the door, then leaned sideways and instead walked over in front of the window, peering inside.

It was about when he realized that he was shading his eyes with his hand, nearly touching the glass with his nose, when he screwed up the courage to march back to the door and walk inside.

He entered with a dull sort of caution. This was, after all, something he'd felt he'd left behind long ago at Excelsior. He then came to a stop, loitering by the doorway, as he realized that he was the only one in the store.

He glanced around nervously at all of the old not-quite-junk. The store sold antiques and other assorted goods, but it mainly seemed stocked with "antique" items meant for use in jokes, pranks, and other assorted small mayhem.

He felt slightly embarassed as he carefully lowered his cane and slid his bundle of books off of the end of it. He left his earlier purchases by the door to step into the shop further. He trailed his fingers lightly along the edge of one of the shelves. No longer letting his initial unease keep him near by the doorway -- he wasn't going to steal anything after all, and certainly no-one would steal what was his, were anyone here to see it -- he glanced over a great many things which he recognized easily on-sight. Recognized, and could still think of mean-spirited use for.

He took a step away from the shelf and let his hand fall, grimacing. Far too many of these sorts of things had been helpful to him in getting petty revenge on Oliver and his groupmates. Far too many.

It was almost intriguing, though, that many of the items -- tacks, glue, rubberbands, jacks, tape of every sort -- were not labeled in such a way as to make the more innocent customer think anything of their inclusion. It was only their placement relative to each other, and other things, that made it obvious that their intended use was nothing so benign or innocuous as 'fastening things together'.

Was the shop only a 'joke' shop in-disguise? It would certainly explain the name.

Lex moved on to the more obvious 'tricks' -- the magic supplies. It was an interesting assorted lot -- everything from old, ivory-and-wood incense burners for neo-pagan rituals, to strange herbs like mandrake root, to actual magic kits with instructions on card and dice and vanishing tricks -- all sleight-of-hand, Lex assumed.

He slowly made a circuit of the front of the room, letting his eyes trail over everything on every shelf. The back seemed delegated to more esoteric, and older, toys and trinkets. He avoided it for now.

He eventually came to the front register, and an old man nearly as wisened as the woman at the bookstore shoved aside a heavy satin curtain and walked out of what was presumably the backroom of the store.

"Just browsing?" he asked, and Lex nodded.

His eye caught on a deep ceramic jar that stood on the counter next to the cash register. He leaned forward and peered down inside.

"Wood sticks?" he said, frowning slightly.

The man chuckled. "Magic wands," he said. "Feel free to browse them," he offered, waving a hand at the container.

"Ah..." Lex hesitated, then leaned forward a little further, keeping his hands behind his back.

He saw sticks both knobbly and not, thin and thick, straight and firm and bowed and bent. Elm, oak, willow, elder, cypress, and maple he recognized on sight, but there were others he did not. No pine of any sort; no dogwood, no yew.

The man chuckled at him and reached a hand in. Lex drew back.

"You can handle them, you know," he said, waving it about slightly as if to demonstrate.

Lex realized that he was clasping his hands together behind him.

"No, thank you," he said. "Perhaps later."

"Suit yourself," the man said, dropping the stick back into its container.

Lex backed off slowly, and the man went to rummaging about behind the counter, doing something-or-another.

Lex glanced at the door and wavered between leaving or not, and after a heartbeat or two he turned and headed for the esoteric piled along and within the very backmost shelves.

It was quite a collection. Broken roller skates, the old kind -- metal, and meant to be affixed over shoes and tightened with a key. Babydoll heads with flickering eyes that stared dully at him. Old, green toy army soldiers missing arms and legs and parts of guns. Jacob's Ladder and multicolored string for cat's cradle and knitting needles without a proper point. Tangled balls of yarn and half-finished cross-stitch patterns. Pipecleaner spiders with the fuzz worn off and slightly more-realistic plastic ones missing a few legs each. A whole box of tarnished silver spoons. All sorts of odd junk.

And on a bottom shelf, behind an old soccer trophy, a crystal winked at him from the dark.

Lex frowned slightly, then crouched down and reached forward tentatively. It looked almost similar to the meteor rock, but this was of an almost-translucent cloudy-white colour.

His fingers closed around the crystal, and he started as he began to pick it up. It was affixed to something both weighty and solid.

He slowly drew it back, and realized that it was a wand, a little like the ones at the front.

Except the ones nestled deep down inside the jar at the front were only wood. This had a crystal at the base of it.

Lex held it in his hands, the crystal nestled in his left palm, the tip in his right.

He rotated it up and held it, as one might see a character do in a book or a play, perhaps a movie. He lightly swung it from side to side, then rose to his feet and let his hand fall to his side.

How odd. It seemed to fit his grasp perfectly, like an extension of his arm... though not quite the same way as his fencing sword usually did. And both the dark wood and the crystal felt cool to the touch. They did not warm in his hand.

He walked towards the front. Somehow, he doubted that he would find anything else here that would catch his interest.

He carefully lay the wand down upon the counter in front of him, and the man straightened up with a smile and then paused when he saw what Lex had retrieved.

"You want that?" he asked.

Lex nodded.

"Are you sure?"

Lex felt his earlier slight unease return. At the man's seeming reticence, he said, "I'm not sure I understand your reluctance to sell this. If this was not meant to be in the front--"

But the man suddenly waved him off. "No, no, it's fine," he said. "I just hadn't expected-- well, you just didn't seem the sort," he seemed to shrug off.

Lex almost asked the man why he would think that, when he'd earlier seemed to find him enough of the sort to have shown him a jar full of the things, but he held his tongue and his piece.

"What is the price for it?" Lex asked instead. It hadn't had a pricetag on it.

"Hm?" the man said, then frowned down at it. "Hm. Well." He seemed a little off-put for a moment. "I suppose I could give it to you for five dollars," he said.

Lex blinked. That was far less than the cost of the ones in the jar. And he had found it in a back corner populated with what looked to be nothing but old junk. Was it broken or defective somehow?

"Are you sure that you want this one?" the man asked him, looking at him carefully. "The others--"

"No. I'll take this one," Lex said suddenly. Or rather, he'd rather have this one. He wasn't sure why, exactly, just that he did.

"I don't have the instruction manual for it," the man told him as Lex pulled out his wallet.

"That's all right," Lex said, as he handed the man the five-dollar bill to pay him.

The man paused, his fingers a breath away from the edge of the bill. "No, it isn't," he was told, a moment before the man took the money from him. "My ex has it, though. You might be able to get it from her."

Lex picked up the wand -- now his -- and twirled it in his hands. "Your ex?"

The man nodded and gave him a grim laugh. "Woman took half of what was mine and hers. She has the book. Owns the bookstore, just down the way," and he named the place where Lex had spent the better part of two hours, the first store he'd visited that night.

His eyebrows raised. "Ah," said Lex. "I know the place."

"I doubt it," the man said with a strange look and an even stranger humor.

"Well, thank you for letting me know," Lex told him, stepping back from the counter.

The wisened old man snorted. "Nothing but a bit of common sense, is all," he was told. "And don't thank me. You'll need that book, and good luck to you in getting it out of her."

Lex gave him a slight smile, feeling that odd nervousness again. He carefully slid the wand up his left sleeve -- it was a fitted shirt, and buttoned up tight enough at the cuff that it wouldn't fall out on its own -- regained his earlier purchases at the door, and backed out of the shop.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Lex didn't bother to spend any time retying his bags to the end of his walking cane -- he carried the bags of mostly-books in his left hand, and the cane in his right, level with the ground.

He walked back down the street towards the used bookstore, as quickly as he could without seeming to be in a hurry, or a rush. It felt imperative that he attempt to track down those instructions right then, to take care of this first. It seemed the thing to do.

And, frankly, he was just downright curious.

He poked his head in the store, and the woman-owner of the shop called out, "Oh, dear, back again so soon?" She came around the side of the counter, obviously in the midst of tidying the place up a bit. "I'm afraid I'm closing up in about five minutes."

"Ah, yes," Lex said. He gave her a smile. "I would enjoy browsing here for another few hours," he admitted. He hadn't gotten through even a quarter of the store in those two hours past. "But tonight I just had a question for you; I hope it won't take too long," he added as he stepped in.

For a moment, the woman glanced upwards and looked a little startled, but then she composed herself quickly. "What can I help you with...?" she asked tentatively.

Lex set down his cane and his two bags of books, slightly off to the side of the door, then straightened.

Then he carefully tugged the wand out of his shirtsleeve, stepped forward, and held it between his hands for her to see.

He blinked as he realized that the woman had taken a step back at some point, and stood patiently waiting as she came forward again, and then closer to get a good look at it, frowning. She seemed to hum at it in consternation.

"Where did you get this?" she asked him, peering up into his eyes.

He told her.

"Huh," she said, her shoulders dropping. "Wouldn't have thought you'd go in there; you don't seem the type."

"Not anymore," he quietly admitted, with a grimace.

The woman tilted her head at him, and got a small smile.

"Ah," she said knowingly.

Lex felt himself color slightly.

"Well, and what is your question then?" she asked of him.

"The proprietor of that shop said that you had the instruction manual for it," Lex said, though as he said it aloud, it didn't feel quite right coming off of his tongue. "He said you got it in the divorce...?"

"Oh. Did he?" she said, layers of meaning under those simple words which he was unable to decode. "Well, it might be. Might be," she said, with a wave of her hand absently upward.

Lex blinked.

"Oh," he said. "I thought the upstairs area was employees only?" He glanced up at the second level.

The shop had a balcony above that reminded him a little of the one in his own library at the mansion. Unlike the mansion, however, the stairs were straight and narrow, not a more forgiving, longer curve, and the single staircase up to it on the right had a thick red rope strung across the opening.

When he looked back down to the woman, though, her eyebrows were lifted in surprise.

"No," she said, looking at him intently, "It's not employees only. You have to ask to go up there, though."

"Oh," said Lex. He paused. "Ah, would you mind?" he asked. "I know it's late..."

But the woman was shaking her head at him, with the slightest smile on her lips.

"Not at all," she told him, and she turned.

He followed.

She carefully untied one tassled end of the red rope from the side, and draped it over the other banister.

She walked up, and then turned and waited. She had a sharp sort of look about her as she stared down at him, watching. Waiting?

Lex slid the wand back into his sleeve first, then put a hand on each banister and took the stairs two at a time.

The woman looked up at him, surprised, then amused in turn, when he came to a stop at the top landing next to her.

"Is something wrong?" he asked of her.

"No, nothing," she said as she turned. "Nothing at all." She still seemed amused by something, though.

Lex followed her along and around and beside several shelves of books, farther and farther back. He frowned slightly, not having thought of the fact that the second level might be larger than the first, but then if the area in back was only on the lower level... He supposed it made sense.

The woman came to a stop at the far corner of the store, then trailed a finger along the spines, searching. She muttered to herself under her breath a bit, then said, "Hmm, let's see... Ah," she said firmly, and her fingers traveled up a spine to pull a dusty, thick old tome out from the collection surrounding it.

"This should be it, I think," she said. "May I see it again?"

Lex tugged the wand out of his sleeve, and the woman peered at it, then checked the book spine and the cover.

"Yes, this is it," she said, then looked up at him with suddenly-sharp eyes. "Are you sure you want it?" she asked him.

"I... believe so," he answered honestly. "Yes." Then he steeled himself and asked, "How much is the price for it?"

"Hmm," said the woman, her lips twitching up at one corner. "Price. Cost can be a tricky thing," she told him. But at something in his expression, she laughed like a line of her store bells, all in a row. "Oh, don't worry," she told him, clapping him on the arm gently. "I'll let you have it for a song," she said.

But then she suddenly turned serious, the gentle clap to his arm becoming a firm grip. "However," she said. "You must promise me something."

Lex leaned in slightly, waiting.

"This will be your book," she told him. "You must never give it away. Burn it if you must, but you keep it. It will be yours."

Lex blinked, then nodded at her seriously. He didn't give books up without a very good reason.

"Promise me," she told him, with an intent look. "I'll have your word of honor on it."

"I... promise," Lex repeated dutifully. "My word of honor." He supposed he did have a fireplace, if he had to. Though he couldn't think of why he might have to use it for such purpose...

The woman looked into his eyes for what seemed like a long time, then she nodded once, somehow satisfied.

"All right, then," she said, letting go of his arm, no longer so serious about her business. She turned and started to walk past him for a moment, then stopped and exclaimed, "Ah!" and turned right back.

She carefully set the book down on the old, well-worn carpet of the floor and rummaged around in a back corner of the shelf.

Lex's eyebrows went up in surprise as she pulled out an old, well-worn satchel made of good heavy oiled leather. It looked like something that would have been far less out of place in the old man's antique shop, perhaps -- an old school book satchel of a light golden color, with a single strap to go over the shoulder. There were two straps over the flap that were stitched down strongly, ones that wrapped all the way around the bag.

The woman undid the straps and opened the flap, then slid the book inside.

"Here," she said, motioning to him, "there's a place for your wand here," she pointed out, tapping a smaller inside sleeve under the flap.

It was at that point that Lex realized he was still holding the wand.

He tried to stifle his blush, as he knelt down and did as she indicated.

She gave him the slightest of smiles, and they both stood. She shouldered the satchel and, before he could hardly blink, she was around the corner ahead of him.

He quickly followed her back to the stairs, and down them.

The woman slid around to her side of the counter, and Lex walked around to his. "So, he said. "Ah. Price?" He glanced down at the bag, which she'd hefted up onto the counter between them. He wondered how he should feel about his wand being not-quite-held-hostage in the bag for the interim. As it was, he wasn't entirely sure that what he was feeling was entirely... usual. Or normal.

His fingers did not quite itch.

"Oh, I told you above, didn't I?" the woman laughed lightly at him. "I'll let you have it for a song."

Lex blinked at her.

He pondered this as the woman took a seat behind the counter and propped up her feet.

He took a deep breath, and then he began to sing.

He sung to her an old Scottish folk song, "The Birks of St. Kilda." It was a song that his father had once had him learn to play on the piano, and continue to play for him after, over and over again. He'd learned the words to the song himself, though, not just the tune as he'd been forced to. It had both good and bad memories associated with it and, for him, it seemed appropriate for that night, given the course he'd taken to find these things.

Only after he was done, did he realize that he had closed his eyes while singing.

He opened them to see the woman sitting there with the most beautific smile on her face, fair grinning up a storm.

"A good song," she told him, slowly sitting up, "and a good singer. A fair costly payment, and you'll find it well-worth the price you've paid, I think," she added, slipping down to her feet. She slid the satchel across the counter towards him.

Lex smiled back at her, pleased, and thanked her kindly.

He shouldered the satchel, picked up his bags and his stick in his other hand, and showed himself out.

Standing out in the cool night air, he paused for a moment to take in a deep breath and savor it.

He heard a rumble of distant thunder in the distance, as the locks on the door to the store behind him clicked shut.

Then he heard the first strains of song down the street, rising from the Talon. He realized that night had fallen, and trick-or-treating was over, but the town festivities being hosted there had just begun.

He set off.

By the time he reached the shop which he owned in part, and had begun to climb the stairs inside, he was feeling a little giddy, almost light-hearted. Some of the seriousness from those two old folks seemed almost silly, now.

It was only an odd absent thought that he had as he entered the Talon, its own bell on the door clanging out above him, that he couldn't remember the copper bell sounding the second time he'd visited the bookstore, upon entering or leaving. And it only vaguely occured to him shortly after the oddness of that, that it might be a peculiar thing, that neither the old man or woman had touched the wand once when he'd shown it to them.

But then he espied Clark over in a corner with his other teenaged friends, and all thoughts of that slipped right out of Lex's head, as Clark turned and spied him back, grinned, and waved him over.

Lex went.

~*~*~*~*~*~

"So, what are you dressed up as?" he was asked, first-thing, upon approach.

"A magician," Lex told them promptly, as he set his bags of (mainly) books in the corner of their staked-out booth.

Pete snorted. "That's dumb."

Lex felt a twinge, oddly struck by the put-down, even more so because he knew he had no reason to feel so taken aback, because--

"Pete!" Clark said in censure.

"What!" the Ross boy replied in return. "He's just wearing his usual stuff, only with some cheap stuff tacked on to it."

Lex felt a very different sort of unease now than he had before.

"I think it looks nice," Lana said, giving Pete a quelling look, and Lex a sympathetic one.

"The cane is dumb," Pete protested.

"The cane was to help in carrying my books earlier," Lex said quietly, though Pete didn't seem to hear it. He divested himself of the cane instead, and it went in the corner with his other books. But as Pete and the others squabbled back and forth over this, suddenly the top hat, and the mask, and the cape, which had all seemed so perfectly fine and almost invisibly a part of him earlier, now seemed to almost stand out upon him, almost jarringly wrong to wear.

He tugged his cape a little closer, and tried not to hunch his shoulders even a little, tried not to frown. He reminded himself that Pete Ross was not Lionel, and he hardly cared what the boy might think.

...Thinking of Lionel did not help matters.

"Lex, you all right?" Clark asked him, looking a little concerned.

"Fine, of course I'm fine," he told Clark quietly as he slipped into the booth, and Clark slipped in with him.

"Well..." Clark trailed off, seemingly at a loss for what to say. Then he asked, "What's in the bag?"

"Satchel," Lex corrected absently, as he undid the ties on the straps.

He carefully slid the book out first, and took a moment to be very glad that the bussing staff did a good job keeping all the tables clean and dry. He set it up on the table.

"So, what's the book?" he was inevitably asked by Chloe, who had just arrived.

"It's an instruction manual apparently, or so I was told," Lex explained to them.

Then he slowly pulled out the wand.

"Are you serious?" Pete said derisively, crossing his arms, but with the wand in his hand, Lex felt more himself again. Even if he was dressed in 'cheap accessories', he certainly didn't feel that way now.

"Ooh!" said Chloe, nearly bouncing as she pulled up a chair. "Do some magic!"

Pete rolled his eyes. But Clark looked interested, and Lana got a child-like grin almost as excited as Chloe's.

"All right..." Lex said, and he carefully opened the book.

The first page was instructions on pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

...Well, he did have a top hat, which the magic seemed to call for. Lex reached up and pulled it off of his head, placing it on the table with a slight flourish.

Chloe bit her lip to stifle a giggle. Lana had much less restraint, but seemed to think of it more seriously than just a joke.

Lex twirled the wand across his fingers of his hand, and back again. It was slender, long, and seemed unbroken to him, at least. It ought to work just fine, right?

He blew out a breath, held the wand firmly, and performed the wrist flicks and gestures as-given, in time with the incantation.

He tapped the rim of the hat three times.

Everyone in their little group leaned forward expectantly, except Lex.

"Nothing," said Chloe, sounding almost disappointed.

Clark was frowning at the hat, while Lana just sighed sadly.

Pete laughed.

"Um," Chloe cut in. "Isn't this the part where you're supposed to stick your hand in and get the rabbit?" she prompted, somewhat-helpfully.

Lex looked over at her, then studied the book. He turned the page back, then forth. There were no more instructions. "Apparently not?" he told her.

"Heh," said Pete, thoroughly amused. "Guess it doesn't work out too well if you forget to put the rabbit in first, right, Luthor?" he laughed.

Lex looked up at him, then back down at the page.

Then Lex shook himself, because of course, Pete was right, wasn't he?

Clark was still frowning at the hat.

Lex glanced through a few more pages in, looking for, perhaps, more complex instructions, because those given didn't seem to--

He looked up when Lana gasped.

Then he blinked.

There were two long white ears poking up out of the hat, twitching slightly.

"Huh," said Chloe, while Lana squealed in glee.

Lana stood up in her seat, reached forward, and scooped the white rabbit up out of the hat.

"Aw," she said, petting it gently as she held it close to her, cradled to her chest. "So cute." She looked up at Lex, eyes alight. "Can I keep it?"

"If you like," Lex said at a strange remove, as he watched these events unfold. He was fairly sure that he had not been carrying a rabbit around on his head for a good solid three hours. This should have felt unnatural. He wasn't quite sure why it didn't.

Clark leaned forward and looked into the now-empty hat.

"Um," he said, picking it up and staring at it.

"Um," Clark said again, lowering the hat and turning to stare at Lex.

"Oh, c'mon you guys," Pete said, leaning forward and rudely grabbing the top hat out of Clark's grasp. "It's no big deal," he said, shoving his hand in. "It's just a secret compartment in--"

He paused mid-sentence, face dropping in dismay.

He frowned down into the hat, sliding his hand all around the inside.

"What the--" he muttered, and ending up surrendering it to Chloe, who was starting to look really interested now.

Clark glanced over at Lex. "How did you do that?"

Lex looked back at Clark and had to suppress an urge to shrug. "...Magic?"

Clark gave him a look.

Lex sat there quietly, wand in-hand, and sipped at his ice water as Pete and Chloe bickered back and forth over how the trick had been done.

"Can I have my hat back, please?" he asked finally.

He got his hat back.

He put it back on his head.

"So, what else can you do?" Clark asked, scootching a little closer to him, sounding and looking interested.

Clark looked at Lex.

Lex looked at Clark.

Lex looked down at the open pages of the book. He started reading through it, with a small smile on his face.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Lex did card tricks, hat tricks, dice tricks and more. He pulled any needed supplies out of his hat. He pulled handkerchiefs out of his sleeves, and bouquets of flowers out of nowhere at all. None of it was anything he'd had on him before entering the Talon.

Pete and Chloe had been stumped. Clark and Lana had just seemed to enjoy it.

Lex had fun doing it.

Later that night, when the Talon finally closed at two a.m., Clark was walking Lex home, carrying his books and cane.

All but the satchel containing wand and magickal tome, which Lex preferred to carry himself, remembering the wisened old woman's words, and his promise.

When they got close to the gate, Lex stopped for a moment, and turned to look up at his friend.

"Clark," he said. "How did you do all that?"

Clark blinked down at him guilelesly. "Do what?"

Lex tilted his head at him and regarded him thoughtfully. Clark stood still and waited patiently while he did so.

"All right, Clark," he said quietly, picking up his walk yet again.

Clark saw him to his door and inside, and helped him put away his new books on the shelves of the library in the balcony above.

They chatted about a few of the more normal happenstances from earlier that day, just making small-talk.

As they finished up, Clark chatted to him about the book, wondering why it seemed incomplete. It was handwritten and hand-illustrated, and, it seemed, apparently only had writing on its pages up through a little more than the half-way point of the book.

Lex hummed to himself and agreed that it did seem slightly suspicious, looking at Clark sideways out of the corners of his eyes. He asked why Clark had brought it up.

Clark just shrugged.

He saw Clark back to the door, bade him a fond goodnight, and watched him walk away until he disappeared into the gloom.

He heard a roll of thunder, more close-by, and glanced up. He slowly shut the door.

He sighed to himself, and hoped Clark could 'magic' himself home soon enough before the raindrops started to fall. Or perhaps walk between the drops along the way.

He took his time, walking back to his bedroom, softly humming "The Birks of St. Kilda."

He unshouldered the satchel and lay it down next to his dresser. He started to undress, still humming to himself, took off the hat and put it on top of the dresser. He reached up and started to untie the cape.

He looked up at himself in the mirror and stopped. Stopped the movement of his fingers, stopped humming.

He picked up the hat and put it back on.

He climbed up onto his bed, and pulled the satchel up with him.

He pulled his legs up under him, sitting cross-legged.

He undid the straps.

He pulled out the book, and turned it towards him to face the right way around. He pulled out the wand and held it.

He took off his hat and set it down on the bed in front of him, rim up.

"Hm," he said, tapping a blank-seeming page with his wand, one of the blank-seeming pages to which Clark had referred earlier.

Lex had to admit that, yes, he found this odd, too.

He found this odd, indeed.

He found this odd, mostly, because that seemingly-blank page didn't seem all that blank to him.

"Hm," said Lex.

He read the page carefully. It was full of very interesting words that would, it seemed, do a very interesting thing that he was, in fact, very interested in seeing happen sometime, sometime very soon.

He hoped Clark wouldn't mind.

If not, well, he hoped Clark would forgive him.

He raised his wand...

~*~*~*~*~*~