Mercy and Hope aren’t impressed when Lex Luthor walks up to the limousine sans his date, but with a bloody little boy following behind him. Neither woman would dare to question their boss or show any form of dissension in public, but once the small child is settled in the back of the limousine (wrapped in Lex’s coat no less) with Hope, Mercy turns to look at her boss.
With her cap tilted to the side and the excellent fit of her suit, Mercy looks like a perfect picture of subservience. And then she opens her mouth. “I’m not playing nursemaid to some orphan,” Mercy says with a bit of a bite in her voice as she taps her fingers twice on the black belt buckle gleaming at her waist. “Neither is Hope. I doubt that she’d even know how to handle a normal child, much less a traumatized one. You should have asked us--”
Lex feels a muscle in his jaw twitch. “That’s an interesting thing to say,” he says in a clipped tone. “I hadn’t realized that I needed to ask my bodyguards if I should take in a child.” He crosses his arms over his chest, feeling his shirt stretch slightly as he shifts his position. “Is that in your job description?”
“I’m sorry, Lex,” Mercy says following a quick step backwards. “It’s not. I just--” She pauses, tilting her head as though she’s trying to hear something that exists out of the range that Lex’s ears can pick up. “Get in the car,” Mercy says, already walking around the car to the driver’s seat. “We need to leave. The Batman is out there and he’s heading our way.”
As much as Lex wants to ask questions --or rather, demand answers-- aside from a few moments in their past, Mercy has never led him astray. He gets into the back of the limousine with mere seconds to spare before Mercy pulls out of the circus parking lot, leaving the chaos of Gotham behind.
“Lex?” Hope makes his name into a question and sits up straighter in her seat, still petting the silent child whose blood and dirt-smeared face is still pressed into the smooth brown surface of her skin.
“What do you need, Hope?” Lex does his best to try to keep the tension from bleeding into his voice, but he’s already on edge. From the pursing of Hope’s lips as she looks at him with gleaming amber eyes, Lex is willing to guess that the expression is a study in failure. With the chaos that had just erupted at the circus and the combined annoyance of the Batman and Mercy choosing now of all times to question his orders, Lex isn’t in the mood to deal with another instance of insubordination from his two most loyal guards. “Are you going to tell me that I should have left the child for Bruce Wayne to coddle?”
Hope shakes her head and then looks down at the boy that is clinging to her side. “Of course not,” she says in her low voice. “Are you really keeping him? Are you going to adopt him?” She leans forward as best as she can with the child in her arms and lets Lex see the full force of emotion in her eyes as she speaks. “He doesn’t have anyone else…”
The differing reactions in his guards are interesting. Mercy reacted somewhat predictably with her anger, but Hope… Hope actually wants to keep the boy.
“He doesn’t need another mother,” Lex points out, the sentence feeling superfluous the second that it passes his lips.
Hope smiles and nods. “I know,” she says, “But I’ve always wanted a younger sibling, maybe a nephew.”
“I refuse to call you ‘Dick’,” Lex says for what feels like the fifth time in the past hour, scowling down at where the newest member of his household is sitting on the ground and playing with some complicated little puzzle. “You’re a Luthor now. We are named after royalty, not filthy slang for genitals.”
An impish smile appears on the boy’s round face and he laughs softly before sobering up. “I’m not a Luthor by blood,” he points out after a moment of silence that sees Lex moments away from claiming his victory. “You just adopted me and I’m not even sure it was legal.”
The adoption was legal… For the most part, but Lex isn’t in the mood to divulge the lengths that it took (even with his wealth and name) to facilitate the adoption of a child with perfectly good distant relatives out in California. Instead, he steeples his fingers underneath his chin and regards the boy --Richard, he forces himself to think-- in silence.
“You are a Luthor by blood,” he insists once Richard has started playing with the puzzle again.
Richard raises one dark eyebrow and just looks at Lex as though he thinks that the other man is missing something vital. “Yeah? Well whose blood,” he asks, sitting back so that he can rest his weight on his arms and look up at Lex. “I know you’re old and all, but everyone knows that adoption doesn’t change who my family was just because you say so.” Abruptly, Richard’s face crumples and he looks as though he’s about to burst into tears.
It’s been three weeks. Three weeks of walking on eggshells around Richard and coaxing the boy out of the shell caused by his parents’ death. It’s all brand new to Lex who’s wondered (on more than once occasion since the rushed adoption went through) if he would have reacted the same way after the death of his father if he actually cared for the man.
Lex admits his uselessness in this area. He’s made for crushing people, for toying with them and bringing out their best (or worst) traits. Not fatherhood and whatever paternal instincts that should see him doing more than internally panicking at Richard’s tears. He finds himself tapping the watch at his wrist that is connected to Hope’s earpiece and hoping that she’ll run this time.
A few seconds later, Hope appears. She takes one look at Lex sitting with his back ramrod straight against the back of the couch and Richard’s red face and running nose and nods her head once as though she’s been expecting something like this. Hope drops to her knees with a graceful movement and then opens her arms to embrace Richard’s suddenly shuddering body.
Lex looks away, oddly moved by the sight. “If you really want me to call you ‘Dick’,” he mutters, feeling a bad taste rise up in his mouth. “Then I will.” The boy offers him a watery smile that wavers when Lex holds up his index finger. “Don’t smile yet. In public, you’re going to answer to Richard Luthor. Do you understand why?”
“Yes, Lex,” Richard says in a more subdued tone of voice as Hope continues to rub his back. “Luthors always have to keep up appearances.”
Predictably, after a few months, Superman tries to take Lex’s son away from him as though Mercy and Hope will somehow miss over two hundred pounds of unwanted, alien, superhero suddenly touching down on the balcony of Lex’s penthouse near where Dick is demonstrating some of his tumbles. The superpowered menace doesn’t even bother to wait until Lex is somewhere else in the building aside from his office (and the wall of security monitors) before he floats down and bows at the waist to Dick as though he’s greeting royalty.
At first, Lex is content to watch Dick back away from Superman towards hope as Mercy lifts her gun and barks something nasty at the large male in front of her. He’s sent both Hope and Mercy up against Superman before and while they’re still mostly human, they’re still enough of a match for him.
But then Superman blurs, disappearing from view for a second before reappearing behind Mercy. Through the screen, Lex can see Hope push Dick behind her and he’s proud of them both until the moment where the screen flickers and not only is Superman gone, but so is Dick.
Lex doesn’t know when he first started thinking of Dick as his son, but as he watches Hope whirl around with her own gun held at the ready, he can’t imagine not thinking of Dick as a part of his family. Reaching for the phone, Lex dials the number for his security force.
“Find Superman,” he snarls into the phone’s mouthpiece. “He’s taken my son.”
“Are you evil?” Dick asks Lex one night after the Superman incident when Hope and Mercy are taking care of their nightly rituals. They’re both in their pajamas in front of the television set and while Lex is prepared for most questions (anything involving human sexuality for the time being will be directed at a specialist), he can’t figure out how to answer.
Lex settles instead for looking at Dick and trying to understand what sparked this line of questioning. “Who told you that I was evil?” Dick doesn’t get out much and Lex takes no shame in admitting that he’s doing his best to limit the negative press that his son might see. The only person that might have said anything would have to be--
“Superman said that you were a very evil man,” Dick says in a solemn tone of voice that somehow manages to make him seem younger. “He said that you hurt people. A lot of people.” Dick frowns down at his hands. “Superman said that you killed your father.”
Lex almost flinches. His first instinct is to deny everything, to lie to Dick the way that his father would have lied to him. It’s that thought that sobers him. Lex reaches out and touches his son’s hand. “I’m far from a good man,” Lex admits. “I lie, I cheat, and yes, I have hurt people in order to get what I want. But I would never hurt you.”
Dick shakes his head and looks away from Lex. “But why?”
Lex… doesn’t have an answer for his son.