"Hey, Lex!" Clark exclaimed happily, scooping up his friend in a warm hug.
Lex ducked his head under Clark's chin and purred up at him.
Clark smiled down at the red-and-cream striped tomcat. "Where have you been all this time, huh?" he asked, scratching under Lex's chin.
Lex tilted his head back to give Clark better access for this particular form of feline worship and his eyes slitted closed in pleasure as Clark took to it with great gusto.
"Man, I was worried about you," Clark murmured, forgoing more chin scratching for some petting and scratching behind the ears. Lex seemed perfectly okay with this.
The door opened and shut, and a different sort of human padded her way over.
"Clark, what...?" Lois began, then sneezed.
"Ah, sorry Lois," Clark said, angling Lex more towards the open window.
"...When did we get a cat?" Lois asked ruefully. Apparently taking care of Shelby once in a blue moon hadn't really helped get rid of her allergy. "Did I miss the memo?"
"Oh, no. He's been around the barn for awhile," Clark said. "I mean, he was. He disappeared last year." Clark sighed and let Lex down into his lap, where he curled up in a great big ball of fur, and started purring like a good rumbly truck engine as Clark started stroking him from head to tail-tip. "I can't believe he made it into the city," Clark said in happy amazement.
"Sounds like you were missing him more than Shelby," Lois put out there, as she kicked off her shoes and dropped her purse and latest reporting work on the coffee table.
Clark looked a little guilty, but shrugged and said, "Running with Shelby was fun and all, but sometimes it's just nice to curl up in a sunbeam with a friend, you know?"
Lois snickered a little at her solar-powered fiance. "Yeah, okay Smallville. Whatever you say."
"So, what's his name?" Lois asked.
"Lex," Clark told her.
"...Seriously?" she said.
"Well," Clark said with a half-grimace, and a what can you do? look. "It was... well, it wasn't long after Oliver kind of... blew up Lex that, well, Lex showed up." He looked down at his friendly little purring machine. "I was up in the barn loft one night, feeling all depressed..."
Lois gave him an odd look that he didn't see.
"...and this guy here came wandering up the stairs and meowed at me. I looked up," Clark said, glancing up at Lois, "and he just sat right down at the top of the loft stairs and curled his tail around his feet and looked up at me, neat as you please."
Lois raised her eyebrows in a slightly amused, but totally uncomprehending look.
Clark sighed. "Lex used to do that. Sort of. I mean, the other Lex," Clark explained. "The first one."
"...And this Lex here helped you feel less lonely."
"Yeah," Clark said, relaxing into a slouch by the windowpane as he continued to pet Lex, and the purring evened out a little softer, but no less happy at Clark's affectionate and careful touch. "He just... reminded me of him, is all."
"Yeah, I know it sounds kind of stupid," Clark sighed, looking away and out the window at the LexCorp Towers.
"Maybe," said Lois, sitting down on the edge of his leg. "Maybe not." She paused, then said carefully, "You two used to be friends, didn't you?"
"Yeah," Clark sighed, staring off into the distance, or possibly Lex's 60'th floor office. Then Clark smiled up at Lois. "Well, at least one Lex came back right. Right?"
Lois smiled back at Clark.
And then she sneezed.
Lex was a very inquisitive cat. He got into everything. And somehow managed not to make a mess doing so.
...Any additional mess above and beyond what was already there, that is. There was a world of difference between the two, and it was never more apparent than when Lois was still tearing her closet apart looking for a particular pair of stiletto high-heels, and the damn cat was already curled up with them under the bed and had been for the last half-hour, shedding fur all over them and purring really, really loudly at her as it ruined her morning.
He was also annoying as hell.
Lex liked being an indoor cat ...so long as the window remained open and the option for egress remained. This caused problems when it rained, especially when Clark blamed the resulting wet floorboards on himself for forgetting and leaving the window open in the morning. Lois blamed the cat, and rightfully so, because Clark had never made that mistake before Lex came around.
Lex did not leave mice in shoes. 'Hunting' was apparently above the beastly thing ...not that there were any mice around the apartment to be had. --No, what he did leave in shoes were her car keys. On alternate Tuesdays.
Annoying-as-hell. Freaking. Cat.
Lois swore that some days, the blasted animal was snickering at her.
Clark said it was just purring with intent, but she was on to it.
Somehow, some stray cat ended up hitching a ride along with Clark to the Halloween party at the Metropolis Watchtower.
The cat did not like Oliver.
The cat did not get along with Oliver.
...To be fair, Oliver started it.
He literally rubbed the cat the wrong way.
The cat hissed like the devil and made a swipe at him. With claws.
(Apparently, Clark had never had him declawed because he had never had to. The cat had never clawed anything or anyone else before.)
Oliver yelped at the deep scratch along the back of his hand, then cursed at the cat, then went for his bow.
The cream-and-ruddy-orange-striped cat sat very, very still, and practically radiated slit-eyed menace at everybody.
Clark tried to calm Oliver down.
Chloe watched the cat.
Chloe noted that the cat somehow managed to be scary as hell without puffing out its fur or even so much as twitching its tail. (...or maybe that was why it was so effective -- because it hadn't. Like it somehow refused to lower itself to further reaction, through its own sheer rage-fueled effort of will. What the hell kind of cat could do that?)
After that little incident, the cat refused to let anyone else near it except Clark.
Clark got around this little issue by scooping the little beast up and depositing it on his shoulder, where it sat and surveyed the gathering for the rest of the night, like a little king overlooking his kingdom of unruly peasants.
When Lois showed up later -- having finally made her story deadline -- and Chloe filled her in on what had happened, Lois started laughing hysterically.
That was when Chloe found out that Clark had named it 'Lex'.
Go figure. That had just been asking for trouble.
"Oh, hi Lex," Zatanna said once, as she swung by the apartment to pick up a handle-with-care package from Lois, a la Clark-as-Superman.
She grinned and squatted down as Lex warily sidled around Lois's legs and up to her, but he warmed to her quickly after a good chin scratching.
"Enjoying your new life, huh?" Zatanna smiled.
"...Hey," Lois said, after Zatanna had taken the package-of-magical-doom from her. "How'd you know his name was Lex?"
"What, you didn't recognize him?" Zatanna said, far too innocently. She tilted her head, looking down at Lex consideringly.
"From before?" Lois frowned dubiously, because when had Zatanna ever been to the farm?
"Oh!" Zatanna said suddenly, all-smiles. "I guess you would have some trouble recognizing him, wouldn't you?' she said sweetly. And while Lois was staring at her, wondering what the hell she'd missed, Zatanna ended with, "After all, you're used to seeing him with no hair!" and poofed out of the apartment in a cloud of magical smoke.
Lois stared at the closed door as the smoke cleared.
She looked down at Lex.
Lex looked back up at her.
"I knew it!!!" Lois yelled pointing at Lex.
Lex stared up at her.
"...All right, so I didn't know it," Lois admitted grumpily. "But who the hell would think that?" she complained. "You're a freaking cat!"
Lex stared up at her.
"Unless you aren't actually you, and Zatanna's just messing with me," Lois grouched, crossing her arms. She stared down at Lex for a bit. "You would tell me if you were, wouldn't you?" Lois asked, suspiciously.
Lex stared back at her, unfazed by her sudden bulldog scrutiny.
"Don't look at me like that," Lois griped at him, shifting uneasily from foot-to-foot.
Lex stared up at her until he didn't, and then he took his time walking back into the living room proper, tail up in the air.
"Whatever. I'm calling Clark," Lois said to the empty room at large.
"...You really think he's Lex?" Clark said.
"Well, unless Zee's just messing with me!" Lois exclaimed.
"a-HAH!" Lois yelled, pointing at the cat.
Lex stared up at her, then started washing himself.
"Um, Lois, he was just sneezing," Clark said.
"No, he wasn't, that was a snort!" Lois argued.
"Fine," Lois backed down.
...for all of two seconds. "--Sneezing with intent!" she exclaimed.
"So, wait, you really think that's him?" Bart said, staring at Lex at a level with his nose.
Lex blinked at him, but was more or less ignoring the speedster's attention in lieu of Clark's petting, as he sat in Clark's lap in the middle of the Metropolis Watchtower.
The League had gathered to discuss this newest possible development of the Lex Problem, being the responsible, pro-active Heroes that they were.
"Hey," Bart said, waving a finger at Lex. "If you're really Lex, then bat me in the nose. You know you want to!" he taunted.
"Lex, please don't do that," Clark said tiredly as the end of Lex's tail twitched once.
"Bart, stop teasing him, he's still got his claws," Chloe warned the speedster.
"So, wait, is this a meteor freak thing?" Oliver asked, eyeing the cat. "I knew I should've shot him on Halloween," he muttered. "He some kind of shape-shifter?"
"No," said J'onn, their resident shape-shifting expert. "He is a cat."
"Okay," said Bart. "But is he like a person-cat, or a cat-cat?"
J'onn stared at him.
"I mean, is he him, or just a cat?"
"I do not know," said J'onn.
"Well, can't you mind-read him and find out?" Bart asked, zipping upright and over to the Martian Manhunter.
"I do not know," said J'onn, more slowly. "I have never mind-read a cat before."
"Soooo, can't you just try?" Bart asked.
There was a long pause as J'onn stared at Bart, then stared at Lex, then stared at Bart again.
Bart shifted impatiently from foot to foot.
"...I have never mind-read a cat before," J'onn repeated even more slowly.
"So, does that mean that you read him right now and he's a person?" Bart asked brightly.
"...Maybe it's just his soul?" A.C. offered, glancing at Mira. His mer-wife contributed to the discussion by way of a shrug.
"Maybe," said Lois. "Can Zatanna see souls?"
"If she can, she hasn't said anything about it before," Chloe cut in, trying to restore sanity to the conversation.
"If this cat was Lex Luthor," Mira began, "then why would he not have made this clearly evident before now?"
"Actually, he hasn't yet," Chloe interjected.
The lot of assembled Heroes stared down at Lex.
"Why do you all even think he'd want us to know?" Victor broke in, frowning at them all.
"What do you mean?" asked Mia, Oliver's Hero-apprentice-in-training. She'd never met the man.
"Well, pretty much everybody in the room hates, or hated, Luthor," Victor pointed out. "Right now, he's a cat, and he gets to live with Clark for free and is pampered and doesn't even have to work for food, or anything at all. Why would he want to give that up? So we could all yell at him and try to kill him?"
"He's got a point," Dinah pointed out, as she cleaned her nails with a knife.
"You know, there's an easy way to get him to stop pretending," Oliver said with a grin. "Just throw him out on the street, and when he's hungry enough--"
"Nobody is doing anything to my cat," Clark said with finality, glaring around the room as he continued stroking Lex.
And that, as they say, was that.
Lex dropped his head down in Clark's lap and purred, perfectly content with his life in general at the moment.
"...You think I'm a cat," Lex Luthor said slowly.
"Yessss," Oliver Queen slurred, then blinked. "Wait, no. Not you," he said, poking Lex in the shirt. "You 're r'a dirty clone-monster a-mal-gam thing," he said, far too drunk to pay any attention to how Luthor paled at this pronouncement and glanced around warily. Luckily, they were in a corner of the exhibition hall, off by themselves, no-one else at the high-society gathering any the wiser.
"Am I," Luthor said dryly, wondering how the hell Queen had found out about that, and wishing he had a gun so he could shoot the drunkard in front of him.
"Knives, guns," said Tess-the-ghost-memory inside his head. "You are one violent asshole; you know that, right?"
"Shut up," Luthor murmured to his dead half-sister.
"You shut up," Oliver said, poking him in the chest again. "You're not the cat," he repeated, but then he said, "The cat's got your soul."
Luthor blinked at him.
"A cat has my soul," he repeated slowly.
"Yeah," said Oliver. "Another Lex." He frowned. "Clark named him."
"...Clark Kent?" Lex Luthor asked.
"Yeah," said Oliver, downing the rest of his champagne in one gulp. "Stupid thing won't even admit it. Walks around all smug," he complained, "scratching people all up the place."
"A cat... won't admit it's me..." Lex tried out carefully.
"...Does it have my memories?" Lex wondered out loud.
"Dunno," said Oliver, as he swayed on his feet. "Stupid thing won't admit it."
"...I see," said Lex.
He watched as Oliver tilted sideways a little too far and fell straight into the floor with a thud.
Lex stared down at the man.
After awhile, he heard a soft snore.
He turned to Tess for her thoughts on the matter.
"Don't look at me," said Tess. "Stranger things have happened." She paused for a moment. "Hell, even you remember seeing stranger things happen," his dead-and-not-really-there half-sister currently-stuck-in-his-head smirked at him.
"Hello... Lex," Lex Luthor said as he glanced down at Clark Kent's cat as it poked its head around the corner across from the front door to see what was going on, ears and tail perked up inquisitively. Luthor was feeling a bit sure of himself, after having successfully picked the rather substandard lock on the door and gotten himself neatly inside without issue, and knowing that both Lane and Kent were busy at the Planet across town and not about to walk in on his little solo B&E jaunt.
Lex-the-cat padded right over to the doormat before sitting down. He settled, curled his tail around his feet, and stared up at him.
Lex stared back.
"This is weird," said Tess.
"Hm," said the mostly-human Luthor.
He knelt down slowly.
"Do you know who I am?" he asked.
The cat stared at him.
Lex stared back.
Lex gave in first, with a slight sigh.
"Are you two going to get in staring contests all day, or...?" Tess began, then stopped and stared.
The cat's eyes had flicked towards her when she'd begun talking.
"Tess, do something," said Lex, as the cat's eyes flicked back to him.
"Like what?" Tess said uneasily, shifting to the side.
The cat's eyes flicked away from Lex again and followed her movement.
"Shit," she whispered.
"...I think he can see you," Lex said warmly, starting to smile.
"Fuck," said Tess. "Keep that thing away from me!"
Lex drank in her discomfort greedily.
"I think that's interesting," Lex said lightly. "That he can see you. Don't you find that interesting?"
"...Don't even think about it," Tess warned.
Lex's smile widened into a definitely not-very-nice grin.
He turned back to the cat.
"Lex," he said. "How would you like to come with me and terrorize Tess on a daily basis?"
Lex stared at him. His tail twitched once.
"You son of a bitch," Tess muttered.
"I'll take that as a yes," said Lex.
As it turns out, cats don't like being transported inside bags, not even cats named Lex.
...maybe especially not cats named Lex.
If it hadn't been made of such very strong burlap, Lex Luthor probably would have been scratched to kingdom come.
As it was, he probably used up all of his luck for the next century, getting Lex-the-cat both into the bag and then out of it again, without somehow managing to get himself severely injured for his trouble.
He dumped Lex-the-cat out onto the bed in one of the spare guestrooms without fanfare.
The cat tumbled across the bed a foot or so from the momentum, finally stopped rolling, got its feet under it, and whipped his head around.
He glared up at his human counterpart, dug his claws into the bedsheet, hunkered down, and hissed.
Lex glared down at him coldly.
"We'll have none of that," he said, without room for debate, and something in his tone was far more than just a warning.
The cat bristled, and hunkered down some more. It restricted itself to merely glaring back.
"I think he understands me," said Lex.
"Cats aren't completely stupid animals," Tess said.
"Mm," said Lex. "Maybe."
To the cat he said, "Stay," and ignored how it bristled again.
And then he turned on his heel and walked out.
He closed and locked the door behind him.
Lex wasn't sure how the cat got out.
All he knew was that when he woke up the next morning, strapped down to his bed like usual so Tess couldn't sleep-walk him around doing god-knows-what, the cat was laying on his chest staring down at him with low-lidded eyes. He could feel its tail through the sheet, flicking lazily back and forth, as it lightly impacted his torso.
Once it realized he was awake, it sat up and stared down at him, sphinx-like.
And it was smirking.
"Get off of me," Lex commanded.
The cat sat very still.
And then it slowly unsheathed its claws.
"Fuck," he squirmed, then... "Ow! OW!" Lex yelped as the claws sunk in.
He struggled, but the straps meant to keep Tess immobile when Lex was asleep also kept Lex immobile when he was awake.
"Otis! --owfuck! OTIS!!!" Lex bellowed at the top of his lungs.
The cat crouched down close to his face... and then began kneading its claws into his chest. Slowly. Leisurely. Like it had all the time in the world.
By the time Otis came in, the damnable cat-from-hell had finished up its little impromptu torture session, having already jumped off onto the floor and casually strolled out his open bedroom door, and Lex himself had a party line of bloody wounds all up and down his chest.
Otis used iodine on him, too, once he found out about the catnapping... and the transport sack. Burning, stinging iodine.
Damn, but Lex hated that cat! It was all that wretched beast's fault. If he ever caught up with it again--!
...which was a great deal more difficult than it sounded. The penthouse was large and sprawling, with lots of out-of-the-way places for a little lean cat to hide.
"...So, are you or aren't you?" Tess asked warily, later that morning.
Lex didn't even deign to bother interrupting his washing to respond to her in any recognizable fashion. In fact, he didn't seem to hear her, or notice her presence at all.
"Christ, and now I'm talking to a cat," Tess muttered, walking off to go see what Lex was doing in the next room.
The cat took its time finishing up its washing.
And then it turned towards the living room door and got a very smug, very catlike smirk.
Otis looked around and down, then slid his chair back from his desk.
"Hello, sir," he said with a smile.
"Do you want to...?" Otis asked, tilting his head and wondering if he was overstepping his bounds.
Lex looked up at him from where he was sitting.
Then he stood up, trotted forward, and jumped up onto Otis' lap.
Otis grinned for a second, then rolled his chair forward, back under the desk, hiding Lex from sight.
Every so often while he was working, Otis would drop a hand to the warm weight on his lap and pet him.
Lex, in turn, would not purr loudly enough to draw unwanted attention to either of them from nearby unaware but potentially-disapproving parties the next office over.
When Otis needed to leave the comfort of his desk to follow around the man who signed his paychecks, Lex unobtrusively jumped off of his lap under the desk, remaining out of sight and keeping them both out of trouble.
Knowing he couldn't take Lex with him, due to the declaration of war that had taken place earlier that morning in his employer's bedroom, Otis hurriedly took a moment to make sure Lex wasn't left unoccupied for the time he was away -- he quickly pulled a spare tablet out of his desk drawer, turned it on, muted the sound, and left it on the chair behind him.
After careful consideration of all the possibilities available to him, and an objective evaluation via a multi-point analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each most-likely choice determined through thorough testing, Lex decided that he liked Angry Birds the best.
When Otis came back, he had to skirt his desk and finish up in his boss' corner office.
When he was finally dismissed for the day, Otis cleaned up, and carefully pulled out his chair.
Lex, sitting low over the tablet, slowly turned his head and looked up at him.
"Ready to go, sir?" Otis asked.
Lex's ears perked up, and he stood up and turned to him, tail twitching.
Oliver stood there, looking a little guilty, as Clark and Lois surveyed their broken-into apartment for stolen valuables, and realized that Lex was missing. At first, Clark had thought Lex had left out the window to avoid the unexpected intruder and just hadn't returned yet, but...
"...What do you mean, 'it might be your fault Lex stole my cat'?" Clark said dangerously.
In retrospect, Clark might've taken it out on Lex a little harshly later that night.
But, damnit, he'd tagged Clark with radiation to lock him out of his civilian life and keep him away from his fiance, held Tess hostage in his brain, and then stolen his cat. He could forgive the first two -- because there were extenuating circumstances that maybe made those not exactly this Lex's fault -- but that last one? Some things, you just didn't do.
It didn't improve Clark's mood when he found an litterbox tucked away in a bedroom upstairs, but his cat was nowhere to be found.
"Hello, Mr. Kent," said Otis, as he ran into Clark out on the street at the coffee stall at the corner of the LexCorp - Daily Planet intersection the next morning.
"Uh, hi," Clark said distractedly, still worried about Lex. Where could he be? Had Luthor done something to him? It wasn't as though LuthorCorp hadn't done extreme animal testing before -- it was how Clark had ended up with Shelby, after all. Pre-death-and-memory-loss Luthor didn't exactly have a good track record with animals beyond a mutual animosity, either, and Clark had only noticed the deep scratches in Luthor's chest via x-ray vision after the fact.
Sticking around after Lois' K.O. and Tess' mind-ripping removal and waiting for Luthor to wake up again for questioning would have been a bad idea. Superman couldn't demand that Luthor tell him what he had done with Clark Kent's cat, after all.
...Well, okay, technically he could, but if he had then that might have ended with him throttling Luthor for being a dick. Remembering his conversation with General Lane a few weeks earlier, he probably shouldn't put himself in situations where he might be inclined to do that, if he could help it.
*mrr?* Clark heard, breaking him out of his worried musings.
He turned around to see something squirm under Otis' clothing at chest-level, and then poke up its head over the top of Otis' vest.
"--Lex!" Clark exclaimed in relief, reaching out his hands to pluck his cat out from Otis' vest, as he squirmed to get his paws up and push himself out.
Otis smiled a little and helped hand him over.
"You okay?" Clark asked Lex, cradling him in his arms and carefully checking him over. Lex allowed him his well-meant inspection. "Where did you find him?" Clark asked, looking up at Otis.
"Actually," said Otis, "he found me -- didn't you, sir?" Otis explained as he reached out and scratched Lex behind the ears a bit.
Clark's eyebrows went up.
When all was said and done, Lex got to have "playdates" with Otis on the weekends.
Otis would settle down on the couch with him in his lap and some paperwork spread out across his coffee table, and when Lex got tired of being petted and would yawn widely at no-one in particular, Otis would just smile and give over his tablet to couch and cat without protest.
It wasn't exactly ideal, but it worked.
The first sticky incident involving Tess came when Clark was lounging around the Watchtower while Lois was away in Africa on-assignment, and then got called away on a minor League emergency -- a small mudslide in Asia.
About five minutes after Clark had left, and it was clear he wasn't coming back anytime soon, Lex got up from the couch and padded over to Tess' holographic projector.
He sat down right in front of it, curled his tail around his feet, and stared.
"Don't even think about it, you," Tess said, looking down at him warily.
Lex's tail twitched.
"I mean it," Tess said, her voice rising in volume. She really wasn't all that happy that she couldn't have any sort of physical impact on the world around her yet, and now even more so.
Lex got a 'who, me?' innocent sort of look, which didn't fool Tess for an instant.
And then he got a sort of catlike smirk.
Tess 'breathed' a holographic sigh of relief when the cat got up and meandered off.
She ignored him after awhile when he seemed to be only doing catlike things, nosing at random stuff around the League 'Tower equipment.
So she didn't notice immediately when he jumped up onto one of the consoles and started 'randomly' batting at glowing command keys.
Tess only managed to get out a yelp before her holographic projector shut down from the remote deactivation command.
And then Lex jumped down, trotted over, and curled up right on top of her projector-cum-brain-memory unit in the middle of the floor.
Which, as it so happened, would not allow the projector to reactivate as an energy-saving measure, because the unit sensed something blocking the receptors.
By the time Clark had returned, Emil was there and chuckling ruefully to himself, while Tess was fuming and Lex was sitting over on the couch, washing himself like nothing was wrong at all.
"It was just an accident," Emil said, after looking over the security tapes.
"Like hell," Tess snarled. "He did it deliberately."
"He's a cat," Emil said reasonably. "Cats like warmth. When you kept trying to override the override, you heated up the unit," Emil explained.
"He sat down on me first!"
The argument ended with Emil saying he'd program the sensors so that they could still be turned on if it was a lifeform that was sensed on top of it, and Clark would get a heating pad for Lex to be able to lie down on to keep him happy.
This led to the next incident when Clark had to leave for an extended period of time, which involved Lex 'accidentally' shutting down the projector again, and then dragging his heating pad across the room and tugging it over her unit, before laying down on top of everything over that.
Clark was the only one who didn't seem to look askance at that.
This ended up being the final confrontation of this sort, because it forced Emil to push ahead his timetable with a sigh. Over the course of a weekend, under Lex's curious nosing about, the scientist set up projectors and sensor-units that gave full coverage of the entire top floor of the Watchtower space, which Tess ended up liking better overall, anyway.
Tess, for her part, muttered that she was on to him, and watched him like a hawk from there on in.
For some reason, her constant attention only served to make Lex trot around the 'Tower even more smugly than usual, whenever Clark brought him over after this.
"Aw, he's so cute!" Supergirl said brightly. She'd come back for a quick 21'st century visit with Booster Gold and Clark, after their own impromptu jaunt to the 31'st century, once they'd helped handle the situation that had lead to the Legion's emergency recall.
Lex looked up at her warily as she squatted down in front of him, and backed up a little, ducking his head, when she reached out a hand to pet him.
This reluctance on his part did not deter her from reaching forward and scooping him up in both arms.
"You should name him Streaky!" she said, forcibly petting him.
Lex's ears flattened and he growled.
"Uh, his name is Lex," Clark told her.
"Why?" she said, holding him up by his forelegs to peer at his face, leaving his rear legs dangling uncomfortably. "Lex was never this cranky to me."
Lex glared at her. Clark winced.
*mrrrr* Lex grumbled menacingly.
Clark stepped in and tried to convince Kara to give Lex back over to him before somebody got hurt.
Brainiac 5 watched this all play out, but seemed to have no comment upon the issue.
When the first annual Justice League picnic swung around, Clark dragged Lex along to the proceedings.
Things seemed to be going well -- with Lex not swiping at people, Oliver not trying to extract revenge for their last encounter, and Lex not wreaking any havoc in a counter-offense -- until Martha showed up with Conner.
Lex had been darting around, playing 'tag' with Bart at low speed, but as Bart zipped by Conner, Lex came to a screeching halt across the grass, eyes wide.
He turned tail and fled like a shot, racing around behind Clark's legs to peer out with great suspicion and caution at one Conner Kent and his dog Shelby.
Shelby tentatively approached first, tail wagging and tongue hanging out, friendly as can be.
He sniffed at Lex, but then tilted his head in doggy confusion, and whined when Lex took a swipe at him shortly thereafter, hissing -- no claws, but it was pretty clear that Lex didn't want him around.
Shelby ended up picking up Bart's game of tag, while Lex more-or-less disappeared for the duration of the rest of the barbecue.
Conner, on the other hand, got a little nervous over time.
"Um, Clark..." he said, finally sidling over to his one of two genetic love-child progenitors. "I think your cat has been kind of... stalking me?"
Clark glanced around and spotted Lex over in some of the taller grass, ears at half-cock, crouched down and looking ready to spring at a moment's notice.
Clark turned back to Conner and said, "He's probably just confused," he explained. "He had a bad experience with Luthor awhile back. Maybe you smell a little like both him and me?" When Conner didn't look so convinced, he added, "I wouldn't worry about it. Just act normally, and he'll realize everything's okay and calm down."
"Um, okay. If you say so..." Conner said dubiously, glancing back at Lex nervously.
After Conner slowly walked away, Clark shot Lex a 'what are you doing? stop it!' look, and Lex straightened a bit and trotted away, tail kinked in frustration.
On one memorable occasion, Clark brought Lex along to S.T.A.R. Labs when he went to have a long discussion with Emil about something-or-another. Lex had missed that part of the phone conversation.
Lex got a lot of attention from the lonely nerds and nerdettes, who usually spent too much time at work to be able to take care of a pet of their own.
Unfortunately, those busy little scientists were very diligent hard workers, and soon enough they were back to work and Lex was left to his own devices.
So, like any good cat, he went off exploring.
He spent a bit of time with Hank Henshaw's robot head, playing hide-and-seek. Lex would try and quietly sneak up on his head, and Hank would try and determine where Lex was through sound alone. Hank had to blink off his visual sensors for five seconds every time he was wrong, and Lex had to start over again at the doorway whenever Hank caught him at it. It was great fun at first, but it did get boring after awhile.
Eventually, Lex wandered into one of the more remote rooms full of odd machinery, and ran across a brown-haired Chloe-corpse, floating in a cryo-chamber ...complete with leads pressed into her skull that terminated in hookups that looked like they should connect to a Summerholt memory device.
All the hair on Lex's body stood on end, and he hissed loudly, claws out, before he got ahold of himself and bolted.
He didn't stop until he re-found Clark once again, and had climbed him like a tree to tuck himself up against his neck, not sparing the claws.
Clark frowned and petted him until he calmed down, then forgot about it.
Since nobody knew what Lex had seen earlier, when he hissed, hackles fully risen up, the next time he saw Chloe and every time thereafter, until her psychotic break a few weeks later when Earth-2 Chloe's psyche took over her body and she mistook Clark for Ultraman and nearly succeeded in killing him, they all chalked Lex's reaction up to animal instinct.
Nobody thought too much about dumping Lex with Otis for an extended period of time, once they'd finally subdued her -- they were all too busy worrying about what to do about Chloe. They'd destroyed the original Summerholt memory device, too dangerous for anyone to have, and Emil wasn't sure he'd able to reconstruct it from scratch using only his remembered knowledge of it, or it if was even a good idea to try.
So when Otis, concerned for Mrs. Sullivan-Queen in his own right as a decent human being, delivered straight to Emil plans for a newer version of the Summerholt memory device that didn't result in un-healable brain damage during the deletion procedure like the version they were familiar with had -- which would have been a real problem in Chloe's case, as they'd copied the Earth-2 Chloe's memories across their Chloe's entire brain -- nobody thought any further than the Occam's Razor explanation. They all just assumed that they hadn't been as thorough as they'd thought in deleting the project files out of the LexCorp servers and backups, and that Luthor had continued his research and only shared it like a shot across the bow, a silent and sneering complaint at the damage they'd forcibly -- and apparently unnecessarily -- inflicted upon him, without regard for his safety or sanity, when they'd removed Tess from his brain several months ago.
Of course, even Conner could have told the League that there was a rather relevant old adage about assuming things that they should all probably remember, especially when it came to Lex Luthor, given that their "normal" tended to include trouble like alien conquerors, mind control, and sentient killer bees, all at once, and that had been a slow week...
Unfortunately for the League, Conner, a.k.a. Superboy, a.k.a. "The Smart One", was off in D.C. with Martha Kent, and not around to dispense such sage advice with the usual accompanying 'why are adults so dumb' eyeroll of despairing teenagers the world over.
Setting aside the League's ever-present idiocy for the moment, when all was said and done, Emil was able to use the plans to create a new and improved working device. And while the League was fixing Chloe's brain after having screwed it up in the first place, Otis was safely holed up in his apartment again, catsitting Lex.
"...You did a good thing, sir," Otis told Lex with a smile, as he ended his summary of the events following, to which Lex had not been privy.
Lex snorted, but accepted Otis' well-practiced, expert and highly-pleasurable ear scratching as his due.
About a week later, having had a bad experience the last time this particular event had happened, when Clark realized that Lex was missing from his apartment with Lois, he immediately flew over and abducted Otis for an explanation.
Otis didn't seem particularly surprised by Superman accosting him over this, but in his own words later, "It makes sense to me. After all, Superman has a friendly working relationship with Mr. Kent's fiance, doesn't he?"
Unfortunately, the direct confrontation didn't help Clark one bit. Otis didn't know where Lex had gotten off to.
"I wouldn't worry about it," he reassured Superman. "Mr. Luthor doesn't have him, and he's survived on his own before."
When Clark asked how he could be sure it hadn't been Luthor, Otis just shrugged and said, "As far as I'm aware, Mr. Luthor still thinks he's hiding somewhere in the Penthouse, causing trouble. He's not looking for him anyplace else right now."
This didn't really make Clark feel any better. Neither did x-raying his apartment, Otis' apartment, Luthor's penthouse suite, the entire city of Metropolis, and every single LexCorp holding that he knew of, in turn, and not finding a single solitary trace of him.
Clark's failure at tracking down Lex probably had something to do with the fact that he hadn't just wandered off, nor had he been accosted by any known LuthorCorp or LexCorp employee, past or present.
Thus, instead of being in any place where Clark might suspect he could be found, he was in a place that neither Clark nor anybody in the League would ever expect: a tour bus headed for Vegas.
Ears flat against his skull, Lex hunkered down inside the metal cat-carrier cage and glared at Zatanna Zatara.
Zatanna, in turn, didn't even bother to look up from re-reading her spell book as she said, "Oh, don't give me that -- you know full well you brought this on yourself."
Lex *mrrrr*'ed angrily under his breath, and looked away, because he'd never expected Otis to help Zatanna capture him like this, but then, he probably should've. Worse, knowing him, Clark would be in a panic.
"Well, you should've thought of that before putting it off this long," Zatanna chided him. "You wouldn't be in this situation if you'd come to either of us earlier and said something, so we could've known what timetable we were actually dealing with, instead of assuming wrongly that it'd happened only recently," Zatanna looked a little miffed at that point, "or if you, y'know, just stopped getting yourself killed by your lunatic ex-wife so it didn't become a problem in the first place..." she trailed off, with a well-practiced eyeroll.
Lex gave a different grumbly sort of *mrr*, and glared at her again.
"Hey, I can call Lang whatever the hell I want, because she is a crazy bint, thanks," Zatanna interjected. "You're just lucky that your third homicidal little ex knew that you'd already spent one up in the Arctic," she said, turning a page, "when the original spell you contracted me for was for ten "lives" and not just the usual nine."
Lex hunkered down a little further in his cage and flicked his tail with a quiet *mhrr*.
Zatanna ignored that one. Instead, she changed the topic of discussion. "You're also lucky that you were able to get me to do it, instead of one of those idiot shaman you were considering, because some of us are good enough to make sure those getaway feline-rebirth transformations lock you into the form most appropriate for wherever you are at the time until I get to you," she added, "and you get what you pay for. The Arctic circle is a bitch that time of year."
Lex gave her a *nyow* that was equal parts acquiescence and irritation, then turned his head towards her and gave her a long look.
"I never said you were dumb. You didn't trek up north for a confrontation without a backup plan in place, and you picked me out for that, didn't you? And that's what you paid me for," Zatanna agreed. "Though you didn't pay me nearly enough for all these side trips and near-cancellations I've had to make for transforming you back to a human being afterwards, or for the risk I'll be taking on if Lang ever figures out I've been helping you," she added, tapping a finger on the page and giving him a sour look. "You're lucky she hasn't caught you doing the cat thing yet. Considering that she already knows about magic being real, she'd probably figure out who cast it for you real quick from that," because everybody knew that animal transformations were a signature spell of Zee's, "and then poor, poor little ol' me, getting caught up in the crossfire," she said, fluttering her eyelashes like a two-bit damsel in distress.
Lex snorted and flicked his ears back.
Zatanna laughed and dropped the act. "Yeah, okay -- you've got me there! If that little idiot ever runs across me wanting to try to pull something stupid? I'll enjoy taking her down a half-dozen pegs enough to do it for free," Zatanna grinned maliciously, making an arcane gesture with outright glee at the thought of it.
"But," she levelled a finger at him, suddenly playing the all-serious magician again, "if you want me to recast the original spell again after this, I'm charging you double what you paid me last time," she demanded, though with a quirky smile that took most of the bite out of her words.
Lex gave a very Lexian shrug, for a cat, and meowed an agreement.
"Good," said Zatanna. "Because at the rate you're going, you'll probably need it." She resettled herself on the bed, shifting how she was holding her book, as she refreshed her memory again on the back-to-human spell. "I honestly don't know why you keep letting her get away with it," she added dryly.
Lex just sighed and laid his head down on his paws.
Then he flicked his tail against the side of his cage experimentally.
"Don't even think about it," she said without fire. "I remember perfectly well what happened the last time I let you roam around out of there." She leveled a bland look at him. "You want to nose through my magic supplies, you can pay for the privilege and the oversight," she said, looking back down to her book, "so you don't go doing something stupid like last time," she snorted, "rolling a vial of moonbeams out into a beam of sunlight and destroying their efficacy -- that stuff takes time to reacquire, regardless of cost." She turned a page. "And since I won't have enough time to complete the spell to transform you back before the show, and can't watch you in the meantime while I'm preparing," she added, "you can stay right where you are."
Lex gave another grumbling *mrr* again, looking down at his paws.
"Don't give me that, either," Zatanna said. "I'm not risking not having enough juice to handle your spell properly when I can just as easily take you with me and not have to perform a transport spell back to Metropolis for you," she explained, "or waste any more time than I have to trying to convince Clark to let me do my thing without interruption, assuming you even want to let him know about all this," she ended, eying him.
Lex went tellingly silent.
"Thought so," she said, sitting back and reaching for her tea. "It's bad enough that you've let yourself stay stuck in that form so long as this," she said, a little worry creeping into her tone. "You don't actually want to risk ending up with cat ears, a tail, and only half your brain, do you?" she ended with false sarcasm a thin veneer overlaying very real concern. "It's not like you could use that brain-copy you made of yourself to fix that," she added. "I remember you saying that you tried to make sure that that download procedure only worked properly on clone brains, for good reasons I agree with," she said in all seriousness, mind-control of natural-born humans being a big no-no in the realm of magic just as much as science, "and it's not like you have a clone brain, for that backup to do you any good." She grimaced.
"--Speaking of which," she asked him, looking up at him again, "I can get the whole 'drive Lana mad with Lex sightings' bit that you set up to throw her off your trail because she kept whacking you off too quickly," she said, "and my trail, too, by making her have to rethink who might've pulled off the magic bit, or even if it was magic at all -- which I appreciate, by the way," she added with a small smile, "-- but what the hell was up with giving them all your memories? And the whole deal with Conner?"
"...Ah," said Zatanna knowingly. Then she shook her head. "How the hell did you manage to lose track of handling those scientists that badly?" she teased him with no small amusement. "Again? I mean, I would've thought you'd have figured that one out by now -- not the care and feeding bit, mind you," she said, "because you've obviously got that one down -- but the training-to-do-only-what-you-tell-them-to bit," she ended with a grin.
Lex let out a soft groan. It wasn't like he hadn't heard it all before. It wasn't like he could be everywhere at once, either, and he did take Otis' warnings seriously whenever his assistant saw something going awry that Lex might've missed.
"You need better mad scientists," she proclaimed, with the wisdom of the ages. "I mean, you've got the whole 'mad magician' bit covered with me," she grinned, "but..." She sighed dramatically, shaking her head and clucking her tongue at him.
Lex sighed and settled in for the long haul.
They spent the rest of the trip in silence, Zatanna's point well-made.
"How are you feeling?" Zatanna asked him, once Lex was human again.
"...You left the cat ears on purpose," Lex accused her, staring levelly up at her from the center of the circle painted on the floor of the abandoned warehouse they were in.
Zatanna grinned. "Yes, I did," she said.
Zatanna gave a cheery wave, and his ears went back to normal.
"Seriously, though," she said, crossing the boundary and plopping down next to him on the floor, "You okay?"
Lex sighed again, a little morosely.
"I'm going to miss all the ear scratches," he said, his shoulders drooping a little. "Those were nice."
"Aw," said Zatanna, and she scratched him behind the ear.
Lex closed his eyes and leaned into it for a few seconds, but then made a face and pulled away.
"It's not the same..." he complained sadly.
Zatanna laughed and patted him on the back. "And here you were, complaining about the cat ears," she teased.
Lex looked sideways at her with a rueful smirk.
"I wasn't complaining earlier," he said, "I was just stating a fact."
"I know," Zatanna said with a wink and a grin, in a tone that held multiple levels of amusement.
Then she bounced upright and turned back to him.
"So!" she said, clapping her hands together. "You ready to deal for the new spellcasting?"
Lex's smile evened out a bit without dimming in the slightest. He nodded, and they got down to haggling.
One wire transfer later, from one Swiss bank account to another, and Zatanna was ready to begin.
As Zatanna set up the new circle around him, Lex softly cleared his throat and asked politely, from his cross-legged position on the floor, "...I don't suppose you've found a way to cast these sorts of spells yet that involves allowing the spellee to wear at least one article of clothing during the process?"
"Nope!" Zatanna grinned.
Lex's smile twitched upwards. He was a bit cold without even the fur from before, but he let her have her fun in this, just as he'd let her have her fun in keeping him locked up in a cage for upwards of five hours or thereabouts. He wasn't stupid -- he was well-versed enough in magic to know when someone was trying to take advantage of him, and he knew full well that casting the rebirth spell took far more juice than a simple transport spell would.
However, he was also smart enough to know that it was a really good idea to keep happy the woman who was literally in charge of his continued live existence, and also somewhat his sanity. She kept her deals once made, and that alone was enough to merit more than a few allowances on his part. Besides, he didn't really begrudge her her little jokes when it came right down to it; he'd been a prankster himself, long ago at Excelsior Prep, and he appreciated the effort that she put into them to make sure that they weren't born of malicious thought or result in a damaging end outcome.
He also trusted her judgment in the matters of his continued well-being, which he couldn't say about most people he'd encountered over the course of his life. Sure, she was motivated solely by money and her own reputation for keeping her word-as-bond, and yes it would cause her trouble if she lost one of her best high-paying clients to his own stupidity, but as far as he was concerned these were all positives. In Lex's rarefied opinion, a little mutual enlightened self-interest had never hurt anyone. If she thought it was a good idea to armor Lex up before he left the ward shields she'd set up around the building to protect them for the duration of their stay, he certainly wasn't about to complain.
Everything seemed to go smoothly, and Lex was almost surprised when she handed him a packet of his own clothes and actually apologized to him as she explained that she wasn't going to be able to offer him a simple disguise charm to help keep his identity under wraps this time. She actually looked a bit tired, and he had a sinking feeling that she was being sincere. It made him re-evaluate his earlier thought about the necessity of the cage over the use of a transport spell.
So he got dressed, enjoyed her good-natured leering and stage-wink, and thanked her kindly before he left.
Unfortunately for Lex, a Lex-lookalike sighting in Vegas was nothing like an Elvis-lookalike sighting in Vegas -- he garnered attention.
He didn't make it twenty-four hours before he was grabbed off the street. ...Hell, he didn't even make it twelve.
Lex winced as the dark, smelly bag was pulled off of his head. He squinted slightly, then blinked to clear his vision.
Then he sighed. Of course it had to be him.
"Hello, other-me," said Lex, from his seated position, bound with rope to the chair.
Clone-Lex glared down at him.
"Look," Lex said, "At least I'm not trying to insult our intelligence by pretending that I'm not who you know me to be."
"I'm smarter than you," the clone stated matter-of-factly.
Lex raised an eyebrow. "Really?" he said, glancing over for confirmation of this.
"It had something to do with his brain also needing to accommodate Tess' brain pattern at the same time as his," Otis supplied.
"Huh," said Lex, sitting back and eyeing his clone with some curiosity.
Clone-him turned beet red with anger. "What the hell are you doing?" he hissed at Otis.
Otis looked more than a little uncomfortable, and certainly taken aback.
"Hey, now," Lex said appeasingly. "Just calm down--"
But the clone turned on him in the next instant. "He's been working for you!" he said, eyes so wide Lex could see white ringing each iris. "He's been working for you this whole time!" he gritted out, teeth bared.
Lex sighed, and waved a hand, about as far as he was able to with his wrist tied, at any rate. "No," he said honestly, "He used to work for me."
"So, what," his clone spat out, backing up slowly. "You expect me to believe you just gave him up out of the kindness of your heart?!"
"No," Lex said patiently. "Otis is a person. He makes his own decisions." He glanced up at Otis. "He thought you needed him more than I did, and he made a choice. I've respected that."
"You killed all your executive assistants!" his clone accused him.
Lex frowned. "Who told you that?"
"Tess!" he said. "She--"
"She, what?" Lex scoffed. "Told you that you're a monster? That you deserve to die? That you should pay for everything you've ever done?" Lex asked. "For a start," he began, "that wasn't you," Lex told him, looking him in the eye. "That was me."
Lex sighed and shook his head. "And in case you hadn't noticed," he told his clone wearily, "Tess was and is a sociopath, and she was projecting her own failings onto you." He grimaced. "She tends to do that to people who see through her facade."
Lex watched his clone carefully, and didn't like how tense he was still looking.
"If it's full disclosure you're wanting," Lex offered, "Otis has continued to help me out from time to time, but your needs have always taken priority over mine, and never at the detriment to your own." He glanced over at Otis. "He hasn't betrayed you yet, and I doubt he ever will."
"No," his clone said, with a glare at Otis before straightening. "He'd better not."
Lex stifled a sigh. Better that he'd told his clone that now, when Lex himself could bear the brunt of the anger, than Otis having to try and explain on his own and risking dismissal in a fit of rage.
"But that isn't what I'm wanting," the clone said, levelling a look at him that, oddly enough, Lex found himself unfamiliar with.
"What then?" he asked, inclining his head.
"My memories," said the clone.
Lex's eyebrows went up.
"Well..." said Lex, trying not to let the dark humor he was feeling show. "First of all, at best, they're our memories," he began. "And second -- no, you really don't. --Ah!" Lex forestalled him with a finger. "I know you won't believe me. I've spent a great deal of time attempting to retrieve lost memories of my own, in my time," Lex admitted. "But you have to understand -- remembering what I do means remembering Lionel Luthor," he explained, "and it's my understanding that having to deal with all that crap thrust into your virgin little brains is what tends to drive my clones completely and irredeemably insane. --Not that I blame you," said Lex. "He was barely manageable in small doses when I was living with him the first time around," he said sourly.
"Unfortunately," Lex continued, "removing just memories of him would be removing some of the basic tenets of our core personality," he explained, "so that wouldn't quite work out either, even if my project staff had figured out how to separate out everything into bits to be able to attempt such."
"I've read the reports," his clone said derisively. "You can put things in just fine."
"Yes, my scientists could," Lex agreed. "Quite easily, in fact. But adding something in is very different than taking something out when you're only dealing with a brain image, without an actual brain somewhere in-between," he explained slowly, "and as far as I'm aware, all those scientists who were on that project died in the slaughter at the main facility." He shrugged slightly. "You could try to build up a team to continue their work," Lex told him, "but it would be years at the inside before you saw results. That was what their last report said when I read it," Lex explained, "and anyone new to the project would take at least a year to get up to speed before being able to pick up where they left off. This is assuming that you were starting from exact, up-to-date copies of the original team's research, of course," Lex said, "and not having to retrace any of their steps."
"I don't care," his clone informed him coldly. "I want them anyway. All of them."
"...May I pose a philosophical question for a moment?" Lex asked.
His clone-counterpart frowned, but nodded.
"Hypothetically," Lex began, "let's say that you found yourself tied to a chair with a clone of yourself demanding a copy of your memories. Do you, (a) give him what he wants without reservation, or (b) trick him into using a copy that has a set of obedience protocols buried in it so deep that his scientists will never even notice it's there before it's in his head, thus ensuring that he lets you go?"
The clone went pale.
"No doubt it would have occurred to you eventually," Lex told him. "After all, you're smarter than me, right?" He didn't bother to explain that some things just didn't come naturally -- he'd only learned them after exposure to them from Lionel.
"Personally, I'd rather choose option (c)," Lex continued blithely. "This particular option involves not even bothering to pretend it's a good idea to go along with the option of messing around with your head, because, and I don't know if you've noticed this," Lex said as an aside, "but you seem to be having a great deal of trouble with just the vestigial remnants of my memories as it is and, quite frankly, as I have said earlier, I highly doubt that the inclusion of more of them will do you any good at all."
His clone gritted his teeth, and his fists slowly clenched over the course of this pronouncement.
"You're lying," said his clone.
"I have no reason to," Lex told him simply.
"The hell you don't," said his clone. "As long as I don't remember, you can just walk in and take everything away from me!"
Lex blinked, taken aback at his clone's vehemence, especially considering that, currently, he was still tied to a chair. This generally precluded any sort of walking at all.
First things first, though...
"Why would I want to do that?" Lex asked.
The clone stared at him in disbelief, and Lex had to try and put himself in the unenviable position of attempting to psychoanalyze himself. A memoryless himself, no less. Maybe if he went back to first principles... --What, at the base of everything, had always motivated him?
"Ah," Lex said in sudden understanding, his face clearing. "You think I lack money and power." Lex tried to suppress a rueful smile. "Well, I don't," he explained. "I have plenty of money; more than I could ever spend," he informed his other-self. "All in unattached bank accounts that I doubt you have any accounting of, so it's not as though you'd be left reeling from the loss of funds you never realized even existed," he added. "As for the rest... well, I don't have as much power or influence as I used to, I must admit," Lex told him, "but I also don't feel that I need it, either."
"Because you remember Superman," his clone hissed down at him, suddenly leaning over him, with hands on his forearms, pressing down. "You remember him!"
Lex blinked up at his clone self. Oh, he thought.
His next thought was uh oh, if only because the situation had so suddenly escalated right out of his control.
"Tell me who he is!" his clone demanded, eyes alight with greed, a bare thread of sanity... and not much else.
Lex stared up into his mad clone's eyes, and was extremely careful not to let his gaze flicker away from him towards Otis.
And then Lex realized that it wasn't just madness and greed that he was seeing there, but a deep-seated terror.
Lex took a long, deep breath.
"I understand how you're feeling right now," Lex said slowly, carefully, quietly, as he wondered if there had ever been a time when he'd lost composure so very thoroughly that he'd ever had that exact same look steal across his face.
He certainly hoped not. It was a little off-putting.
"Don't patronize me!!" his clone hissed down at him.
"I'm not," Lex said, eyes narrowing and not looking away for even an instant, barely breaking eye contact long enough to blink when it became necessary. "Believe me, when I'm being patronizing, you'll know it," he informed his ignorant counterpart dryly. "There will be no guesswork needed."
His clone looked about ready to strangle him.
"If you're so sure that I'm wrong," Lex tried patiently, "then why don't you tell me how you are feeling, then, instead of my having to guess?"
...And his clone actually did.
Lex sat there quietly for awhile, taking the time to collect his thoughts after his clone was done venting, and pacing, and out-and-out ranting in front of himself and Otis. He'd really opened the floodgates. It made Lex absently wonder how likely it actually was that his clone was planning on killing him right there once he was done with him, over the possibility of ever letting him ever go free. ...Whatever it was before, it seemed that it was probably safe to assume that the 'death or torture' outcome could easily be revised a good bit upwards without overshooting the mark.
It made Lex want to grimace, though he didn't dare show it. All kidding aside, he'd rather the death option over torture. Zatanna had been quite clear about what would happen if he died through suicide, either self-inflicted or assisted or otherwise. Her "multiple lives" spell basically took advantage of a loophole in the universe when it came to reincarnation, one that allowed him to keep his memories and be reincarnated nearby into a useful form, one that Zatanna was able to fully restore his original self from, if he got to her in time, before his soul settled into his new body too comfortably to still remember its previous human container, and his memories faded away.
Unfortunately, karma was a very big player in the scheme of all things reincarnation-wise, and Zatanna's spell could only do so much. If Lex wasn't trying his damnedest to stay alive when death came a' callin', as best as he could at the time, then the spell might not be able to work its magic. The drop in karma resulting from a suicide was barely worth considering, it was so depressing. Apparently suiciding would drop him so far down the scale of rebirth that he'd be lucky if his soul ended up reincarnated as volcanic glass on a remote island god-knew where, maybe not even on the same damn planet, stuck that way for a thousand years, never mind his memories being lost for good.
This particular little quirk had caused him no end of trouble, actually, especially on one very memorable occasion when Lana had caught him out a few years back, almost killing him with fire. Almost. She seemed to particularly like fire as a method for dealing with him, no doubt stemming from his very negative reaction when they'd both nearly died in a firey cage together, shortly after Dark Thursday. Then again, it might be vestigial memories from Isobel, as burning at the stake wasn't exactly a fun way to go. Or perhaps it was prudence, given that water and drowning never seemed to quite take and, by a certain logic, one might think that water's polar opposite might get the job done a little better.
Whatever her motivation, she had developed a disturbing trend of using fire on him when she could, as though it might somehow finally cleanse his presence from the face of the Earth this time, or the next time, or the next after that. But that one memorable time had been one of the few that he'd managed to crawl out of the wreckage and then continued to somehow live on, despite all odds. His body had just given out after a day or three on any of the previous occasions. But that time he'd survived, though only barely, and the second- and third-degree burns he'd been left with hadn't exactly been a picnic, either. Unfortunately, any chance at a new rebirth and a better pain-free life had counted on him not giving up, not stopping, not just letting her win. Still having to try and survive, despite the amount of morphine he'd had in his system to be able to even string two thoughts together... hadn't been pretty. He'd done some incredibly stupid things. Letting Lana steal something that powerful from him... he hadn't been thinking clearly.
He was almost grateful for the unexpected explosion when it had hit. If it had been Lana killing him that time, hands around his throat, staring him in the face... he might have taken it as a mercy. He might not have come back. Instead, he'd had death-by-fireball, and... well. When he'd come back that time, it had been the first time he'd felt awake and alive and sane in months. Was it any small wonder that he'd wanted to stay a cat for a little while before becoming a human again? To spend some time with Clark that didn't involve accusations and suspicions and fighting, forever fighting. To let things go for awhile, and not worry about the plans he 'd set in motion for those clone-decoys while he'd been out of his mind with pain, or whether his scientists were handling it properly?
He hadn't stayed, obviously. He'd gotten back into the grind when things had started looking bad with Tess, and sure, he'd gotten a bit... tied up in things in the middle, and lost track of LuthorCorp and the rest of it. But that had hardly been his fault.
Maybe his time away from being Lex Luthor and the responsibility of it all, from being constantly hunted and harassed and frightened that he wouldn't quite measure up to the task when he thought about how loomingly large the problems were that he was trying so desperately to solve... maybe his time as a cat, which he'd spent more and more time as after every death, after he knew Clark would welcome him gladly in that form... maybe it had worked as a buffer against all the crap that the universe felt a pressing need to spew his way at every waking moment. His 'cat-time', as he liked to think of it, in many ways allowed him the respite from life he'd always so sorely wished for. Maybe it had allowed him to be a little more relaxed, a little more playful, a little more thoughtful and considering, and maybe a little less... paranoid, because who would be out to get him when he was a cat?
"...Well," Lex said finally, "I must admit, I was wrong." He grimaced slightly. "I don't believe that I was ever quite that paranoid, even at my worst and lowest point." And I have been though quite a lot of emotional upheaval over the course of my many lives. It was an understatement of the highest order, especially given that this clone of his had barely six months of experiences to work off of to get to this point.
"I'm not paranoid!" his clone snapped at him. "He is that dangerous!"
Lex had to stifle a sigh.
"So are we," Lex said levelly. "And I don't see you making plans to murder yourself 'for the good of the world' in the event that you ever become so corrupt."
His clone flinched back like he'd been slapped in the face.
"What's really troubling you?" Lex tried again.
"I CAN'T TRUST HIM!" his clone screamed out.
"Yes, I know," Lex said dryly. "Neither can I."
His clone stared at him mutely.
And then his face crumpled. He looked almost teary-eyed, and utterly, utterly lost.
"What," Lex said, "did you think I would lie to you?" he asked. "I try not to make a practice of lying to myself," he explained as gently as he could. "It tends to cause more problems than it solves; believe me, I know."
"You, but, he, but--" the clone stammered out.
"He's not going to kill you," he told his other self. "At worst, he'll just sit back and... not interfere if you end up in trouble," he grimaced, "though he certainly hasn't done that yet," he added dourly. "Just don't ask me to explain it," he said with a sigh, looking up at his clone, "because I know I don't." He pulled a face. "It's one of the most frustrating things about him, actually."
His clone made a strangled sound.
"Look," Lex said, levelling with his clone, "I don't really know how to convince you that I have no interest in taking over LexCorp, other than to spend a great deal of time not trying to take over LexCorp," he said, spreading his hands. "I could sign something legal saying that I can't or won't ever lay claim to it," he said, "but considering how easily you had me taken off of the street, I doubt that you'd find a piece of paper all that reassuring, given that there would similarly be nothing really stopping me from turning right around and doing the very self-same thing to you, if I really wanted to remove you from play."
"You mean taking back LexCorp," said his clone, while stiffening at the implications and not-so-subtle warning Lex had made.
"No," Lex said patiently, "taking over. Your LexCorp is not the same as mine." He shook his head. "It isn't even the same LuthorCorp. You've cleaned it up quite nicely in my absence," Lex admitted, "far better than I ever had. You're good for it, and doing good by it," Lex told him truthfully. "Just stay away from starting or continuing the shadier projects, as I believe you have been," he said, with a quick glance at Otis, who nodded at the half-voiced question, "and you'll be in the clear as far as the League is concerned."
"That hasn't stopped Superman so far," his clone challenged him.
"Yes, so I've heard," Lex said, unamused. "On multiple occasions, in fact. --Believe me, I'll be having words with him about that."
His clone blinked at him.
"...Would you rather I didn't?" Lex asked, raising an eyebrow or two.
"I don't need your 'help'," his clone shot back defensively, crossing his arms and staring him down.
"I wasn't offering it," Lex told him blandly, then tried a different tack. "You indicated that one of your concerns was that that much power held by one individual has a tendency to corrupt, yes?" He watched as his clone's eyes narrowed. "Do you trust yourself to stop him, if and when that should ever become the case?"
"I can't stop him," the clone snarled out. "That's the whole damn point. I don't know how!"
Lex adopted a patient look and waited.
His clone did not look pleased, when understanding finally hit.
"...How do I know that you won't just work with him?!" his clone demanded.
Lex suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. "Of course I'm going to be working with him, if at all possible," Lex said with no small exasperation. "It's far better than having him work against me, if that doesn't have to be the case."
"Traitor!" his clone spat out, completely missing the point, along with all of the subtlety of what he'd said.
"Fool," Lex shot back cooly. "An ignorant fool, at that. --Do make an attempt to educate yourself properly, please," he added. "Personally, I recommend starting with The Art of War."
His clone bared his teeth in a snarl at him again.
"It's all your fault anyway," his clone ranted. "He treats me like you!" he protested. "They all do!" He turned back to Lex, poking him in the chest with a gloved hand. "I need to know for my own protection!" he asserted. "I deserve to know!"
Lex regarded him without a shred of guilt or remorse.
"Let's make one thing perfectly clear," Lex began. "I've had people constantly trying to kill, control, torture, extort, or otherwise ruin me for more than two decades," Lex informed him. "A good number of them did it simply because of whose son I was, because of my last name, and thought that was a good enough excuse," Lex said coldly. "I even made the mistake of believing it myself, for years." He took a deep breath and let it out. "Now. On a good day, whoever was taking their potshot at me was doing it because of who I am, or something I did. And on a very good day, they did it because I actually might have done something to deserve it."
Lex gave his clone a very hard look. "I didn't have very many good days," he said. "And the vast majority of the time, I had absolutely zero advance warning at all, if I even knew what the hell was going on. So. If you want to be me, then I suggest you get over it."
His clone stared at him blankly.
"Now, in the interest of time," Lex said. "I believe I can prove at least one of the most outrageous assertions I've made claim to today." He smiled. "May I assume correctly that we believe ourselves to both be the same person, as does everyone else, and thus it would be reasonable to assume that we will both be treated by everyone else exactly the same as each other?"
His clone-self frowned suspiciously, but nodded.
"Excellent," Lex said, not bothering to suppress the delighted grin he felt spreading widely across his face. "Well, in that case -- purely for the purposes of social experimentation, mind you -- I hope that you will remember this well into the future..."
Otis winced pre-emptively, hard. Ah, he knows me so well...
And with that, Lex took in a deep, cleansing breath, threw back his head, and screamed, "SUPERMAN, HELP!!!" at the top of his lungs.
The look on his clone-counterpart's face was absolutely priceless--
...in the second or so Lex had to view it in, anyway...
--before he found himself scooped up in a bridal carry, floating several hundred feet in the air.
Unfortunately, Clark didn't seem fazed at this turn of events at all. It was mildly irritating.
Lex frowned up at him as Clark float-flew them along. Then Lex crossed his arms.
"You knew I was the cat, didn't you," Lex said dourly.
Clark tried to play innocent. Lex glared him down.
Clark broke first.
"--You had the same eyes!" Clark protested.
"I was a cat!" Lex protested in return. "I had cat eyes!"
"They were still your eyes," Clark said stubbornly. "and it wasn't like you were going out of your way to hide it that hard."
"You didn't even say anything!" Lex complained, to no real response other than a paltry shrug.
Lex threw his hands up in frustration.
It turned out that the final destination Clark had in mind was his apartment with Lois.
"A-HAH!" Lois yelled, pointing at him. "I knew you were the cat!"
Lex stared at her unfazed because, seriously, no, she hadn't.
There was a long pause.
"...you knew he was the cat," Lois said, turning to Clark, not at all happy as she mentally added up two and two and got thirteen, and then tried again and got thirty-six.
The only good news resulting from that confrontation was that Lois grumblingly obliged not to tell anyone else that Lex really had been the cat. Or that the cat had been him. Whatever. Metaphysics had not been a strong point of contention it what Lex was loathe to attempt to call a "discussion." It had not been a particularly civil discourse.
Her reasoning was gratifyingly practical -- so long as Lex stayed off everyone's radar, Clark could keep an eye on him without interference, kind of like when he was a cat before, and Lex would have no excuse or any real opportunity to instigate anything with any of the other members of the League.
This was because, once Lex was back on the grid, all bets were off. Lex was clear on this point -- he'd be damned if he wasn't going to defend himself against anyone who tried to take him out, and even Lois felt uneasy about the absolute murderous intentions that a good solid half of the current League members openly professed towards his clone, let alone the original him. --Yes, Lane hated his guts, but she wanted him arrested, tried, and jailed for whatever actions he'd actually committed that she could nail him on. Apparently, that didn't translate to a desire to hear that he'd been murdered in his sleep.
This did not however, translate to a burning desire for him to continue to sleep in a bed that happened to reside in the same apartment as she did.
It didn't help when Lois had realized that "you bastard, you've seen me come out of the shower naked!" and Lex's dry reply was "I wasn't trying to, and, as you might have noticed had you been paying any attention to your surroundings at all, I certainly didn't stick around when you did," things had only devolved even more quickly from there.
It also didn't help that, for every imagined slight Lex had heaped upon him by her, she was pinning the responsibility for it on Clark, with the excuse of it being his fault for not saying anything sooner.
Lex found it rather mind-boggling, and not just because, for once in his life, he wasn't the one getting blamed for something totally unreasonable, just because he'd happened to be in the vicinity of the complaint at the time it was being made.
All-in-all, the end result was fairly simple, and in retrospect probably should have been obvious from the start: Clark and Lois broke up over the lie of omission.
Clark moved out, found an apartment in Suicide Slums, and Lex lived there with him, effectively playing stay-at-home housewife and never setting foot outside of the apartment. Lex found that he didn't actually mind it all that much -- it gave him a chance to catch upon his reading, and the time and space he needed to try and decide what he wanted to do with his life. With another 'Lex' already out there taking care of the family business that, he was not old and jaded enough not to remember, he'd never actually wanted anything to do with in the first place, trying to figure this out was not so trivial a task for him. Lex had never really had any time free from responsibility and his father, before.
It left Lex feeling like he was at odd ends, but it didn't exactly feel bad, either.
This state of affairs persisted for some time in a somewhat stable fashion, interspersed with grumbling from Lois at work about just about anything under the sun except the taboo topic of Lex that they did not bring up, which Clark found a little hard to deal with, and grumbling from Lex at home about books he wanted but was having trouble getting ahold of, which Clark found much easier to deal with.
Unfortunately, this routine was shattered into little tiny pieces when Lana heard that Lex -- the original, not just his clone -- was alive and well and living somewhere in the outskirts of Metropolis, and she came back looking for blood.
But that is another story.