We were so off balance that we went down in a flurry of arms and legs. I finally had Alex in my arms but drowning him wasn't on the agenda so I quick got us both above water. But Alex wasn't exactly Alex when we came up. He was coughing up water so he didn't realize anything was wrong for a moment then one hand went to his head in dismay.
I spotted the wig and went down for it to give him a moment to get himself under control. He had gone through chemo or something within the year to still not have any hair left, I thought. Coming back up, I handed him the dripping wig and he took it silently. Turning it over and over in his hands, his eyes were glued to it while he tried to get his composure back.
"Chemo therapy, Alex?" I asked quietly.
Pale gray eyes finally looked into mine and I realized that his glasses were missing, too. "No, I was exposed to some . . . radiation when I was nine. It's why I don't wear shorts or short sleeves. No hair anywhere tends to . . . to freak people out."
"Isn't it awfully hot now that it's summer?" I had a sudden urge to strip him down and run my hands over every inch of his body. "Now that I know, you really don't have to hide it anymore."
He was still turning the wig around in his hands. "Your fathers are the only ones who know. I . . . it's not the only thing I'm hiding."
"I'll bet you don't need the glasses either," I guessed and watched him blush. "Why, Alex? If the Dads approve of you, you have to know that Jonny, Sandy and I would, too."
His mouth opened and closed, the misery on his face made me want to gather him into a hug and tell him it would be all right. "There's . . . I'm . . . um . . ." he swallowed hard.
"Look, Alex, take your time. I don't have to know a thing right now. You decide when and what you want to tell me." I brushed a finger over his cheek. "For now, you'd better get back to the cottage and change clothes. I'll find your glasses and put them in the lab."
He blinked several times then nodded slowly. "Thank you, Hadji. I think I will."
********* Alex *********
He didn't recognize me. Hadji didn't know who I was and he'd seen me up close and personal. Trudging down the path to the cottage, the wig dripping in my eyes, I felt like I'd just gone through another hurricane. My fingers could still feel his skin while my body was still processing the way he'd felt practically wrapped around me.
I owed the dolphins a treat. They'd pushed forward my plan to slowly reveal a little of myself and instead they'd flung me completely into an unknown future. Opening my door, I stripped in the little foyer and left my clothes on the yellow tiles. Padding through the living room, I headed for the bathroom and a quick shower to get the salt water off my skin.
Running it hot, I stepped in and slowly turned, letting it sluice over my skin while I pulled out the memory of holding Hadji. I even had a hard-on to celebrate so I took care of it with a soapy hand while I leaned against the green tiles and let myself pretend. Pretend that I was wanted, pretend that he wouldn't realize who I was, pretend that we had some kind of relationship.
I pulsed out into the cooling water and rinsed off with a sigh. I wouldn't allow myself that fantasy again, it smacked of taking advantage of an innocent. Hadji was the closest thing I had to a friend and once I told him of my real self, I might lose even that chance. It wouldn't be the first time. Drying my skin with the soft green towel, I re-dressed in another pair of khakis and a white shirt before going back to the foyer.
The wet clothes went into the washer along with the contents of my laundry basket and I set it to wash before taking the wig back into bathroom and rinsing it in the sink. I used the baby shampoo to make sure it was free of salt and sweat then put it on its stand. I styled it with the blow drier the best I could while I wished that I dared go without it. I was willing to bet that Jonny or Sandy would know who I was.
Closing my eyes against the sudden sting of tears, I sat down on the toilet lid and looked at my reflection in the mirrored wall. A casual pick-up had told me once that bald was beautiful. Tony was a charming parasite rather like the orchids I liked so much. We'd had a good time until I'd been exiled to Smallville. Only to meet someone who would rock my world and burn it right down to the ground.
'You're just like my father said you were, worse because you don't care about anyone but yourself, Lex Luthor. You would have destroyed this town and everyone in it for a profit.' Flashing green eyes hadn't given me a chance to explain. 'I thought we were friends but you're just sick, a pathetic excuse of a man. Go away, Lex. I never want to see you again, never again!'
A tear trickled down my cheek before I could brush it away. It looked like both our fathers had been right. Lionel had set me up, making sure that all the chickens would come home to roost in Smallville. It must have cost him almost six million dollars to make it look like I was testing biohazards in the factory. Only four people had died but that had just nailed the coffin shut. The one person who I thought would always believe in me . . . hadn't even given me a chance to say a word.
********* Sandy *********
Something was wrong. Hadji was silent. Alex was invisible. I mean really invisible in that he was working nights and sleeping days. If he was even sleeping, since the amount of data that was pouring into our lab looked like almost twenty hours a day worth. When I asked Hadji what was wrong, he just shrugged and said 'nothing'. Jonny said he'd work on him but I was worried.
I emailed Alex with an invitation to dinner but got a polite refusal. It said that he was working on an interesting result that he'd come across by accident. He thanked me and said vaguely that maybe later he'd have some time free. Now, I was really worried but I let it go, hoping that time would heal the breach.
Dr. Quest noticed something was up, too. When I ventured a question, he just shook his head and told me that only time would heal this wound. I had the feeling that he and Race were taking care of one end of this tangle so I made sure that I spent some time with Hadji in his garden. His sadness reminded me of Alex when he first came to the island and I'd catch him looking longingly at lab 3 once in a while.
It might have gone on like that for weeks but not six days after the Event, whatever that was, Alex showed up in our lab looking a little wild-eyed. Dr. Quest got him calmed down in his private office while Jonny and I watched without seeming to. Alex had a paper in his hand that he handed the doctor while he paced back and forth with that panther-like gait of his.
Dr. Quest paled when he finished reading and asked Alex a question that stopped him in his tracks. He nodded once and that was all the doctor needed. Snapping out the cell phone that Race had given him for Christmas, Dr. Quest made one call then another. While he and Alex were busy, I headed out of the lab. I had a funny feeling that whatever was going to happen, Hadji would be needed.
Once out of the lab, I ran like hell down the winding paths to Dolphin Bay. Hadji looked up when he heard me coming and I panted out what had happened. He didn't even hesitate, just took off for the main complex while I rested for a few moments. Several dolphins were swimming in the warm waters of the bay and I smiled at their cheerful clicks and whistles.
Maybe once this crisis was over, we could get Alex into the water with them. They were guaranteed to cheer up the saddest soul. Walking back to the crisis, I wondered what could possibly bring Alex out into the light of day and the chance of meeting those of us he hadn't met yet, like Jonny.
********* Race *********
We took off and headed for the mainland at full speed. Hadji had Alex in the back of our small jet, trying to calm him down. I blessed Sandy for getting him. With Alex panicking, Hadji's magic touch was exactly what was needed. The humming that worked on most animals and that was Hadji's special gift seemed to be doing the trick. Alex was no longer shaking.
There isn't much privacy in our Lear so I couldn't help overhearing Hadji gently calm the skittish man who was heading straight into the eye of the hurricane. I thought about the news story that had started this race to help a little girl, hurt through no fault of her own. Six-month old, Catherine Theodosia Luthor was in the hospital battling for her life and the only thing that could save her was a blood transfusion.
But her blood type was rare and the blood supply was limited to one. So her big brother was heading back to a world that he'd left behind fifteen months before and the thought was killing him. It was time that Hadji knew who Alex really was. "Alex, tell Hadji the truth. Tell him why we're heading for Gotham."
"You don't have to, Alex." Hadji's voice was firm. "I'll help no matter what."
"I . . . my real name is Alexander Luthor." Alex's voice shook and in the reflection on the windshield, I saw him sweep off his wig and glasses. "I 'killed' myself a while back. My father set me up to look like I was experimenting with biohazards that went wrong. Four people died and the resulting furor was supposed to send me back to the family fold to become the son that he always wanted."
"What an asshole!" Hadji said angrily and I saw Alex flinch. "Not you, Alex, your father. I'll bet you wrote my Dad for refuge."
"Yes . . . yes, I did." Alex's voice shook a little and I saw Hadji hand him a bottle of water. After draining it, Alex started up again. "We'd been corresponding for almost four years. He agreed so I blew up the family castle in Kansas and sprinkled enough of my DNA there to make it look like I'd died. There wasn't anything or . . . or anyone to say goodbye to so I left for Palm Key with everything I needed and a few funds."
"I'll bet those 'few' have become 'many'. Your advice has tripled our investments, Alex. We've got the cyclotron Benton's been lusting after on order." I called over my shoulder. "Not to mention the money that will be rolling in from the patent on the new gel-filled underwater lights that you and Benton invented."
I saw Hadji smile and pat Alex's arm. "Alex, what's gone wrong?"
"My father remarried and his wife bore him a daughter six months ago. The Luthor family has a blood problem. She had a one in six chance of leukemia and unfortunately the odds didn't go her way. The radiation won't be enough. She needs a transfusion and the only one with her blood type is me. The meteor shower that cost me my hair also gave me a . . . a really good immune system. There's a chance that if I give enough blood to give her a complete transfusion, she'll beat the leukemia."
********* Hadji *********
Alex's aura was all black again and I could feel the anxiety rolling off him. What had me hiding a smile was the feeling that it wasn't so much the return to a world he hated but what I would think of him that had him so anxious. He valued my friendship the way that I valued his and that meant we had a chance to grow it to something more. As to his father and the 'anyone' he'd slid over, I wanted to resort to violence at what they'd done to this gentle soul. "Alex, I think you're a very brave and caring man. The email said she's in Metropolis, so why are we going to Gotham?"
He flushed at my statement then nodded. "I have one friend left and he's in Gotham. His name is Bruce Wayne and he's the only one who's knows what I did and how I did it. He'll make sure the blood gets to Catherine without any trace getting back to Palm Key. I won't risk any of you."
The implacable look in his eyes took me back for a moment. I saw him as fragile but there was an inner core of titanium if that look was any indication. I'd remember that when it came time for us to get closer. Because we were going to get closer, I knew that deep in my bones. He'd been hurt before but I would never harm him. Together, we were going to evolve into something brand new.
And I had my question about offspring answered. He would never risk having a child who might carry that blood gene. So, it looked like we'd be the very best uncles to Jonny and Sandy's kids. I was smiling to myself when I heard his hesitant voice. "Um, Hadji, are you all right with . . . this?"
Coming back in a rush from my thoughts, I smiled at him and took one of those elegant hands of his into both of mine. "I am very proud to know you, Alexander Luthor. But I'm also very glad that that you're Dr. Alexander now or I'd have never met you and that would have been a tragedy for me."
He blinked and slowly a blush started at his throat and flooded his whole head. No hair anywhere was what he'd said at the Bay and now I wanted to find out just how far that blush extended. One of these days, I'd know, until then I could be patient. His hand was cold and I rubbed it between mine. His mouth opened and closed a couple of times but he seemed to have gone into a trance so I stayed silent while he gathered his thoughts.
When he spoke, it was so quietly that I was pretty sure Race wouldn't hear a word. "What is happening between us, Hadji? Are we moving beyond friends?"
And I just smiled and lightly kissed his knuckles. "Yes, Alex, we are."
********* Bruce *********
I met the small Lear jet at my private landing strip. Lex was the first one off but he was followed so closely by a young, slim man that for a moment it was like watching a man and his shadow. I smiled at Lex's disguise and he grimaced while the other man raked me with an assessing look and a tall white-haired man joined us.
"How is she, Bruce?" Lex asked. "Oh, this is Hadji Quest and one of his fathers, Race Bannon."
"She's fighting but sinking, Lex, I've got a doctor standing by for the transfusion." I held out my hand and shook the pilot's. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Bannon. I had the pleasure of seeing Dr. Quest at a symposium on solar energy about three years ago and I believe you were with him."
Young Hadji was next and he bowed slightly before shaking my hand. "Dad mentioned a grant from the Wayne Foundation about that same time period. The pleasure is mine, Mr. Wayne. It's good to know that Alex still has a friend here on the mainland."
I blinked and wondered at the iron grip the dark haired man had. "Lex and I go back to boarding school. No matter what happens in the outside world, we will always be friends. Now, let's get you up to the manor."
We drove up the hill to where Alfred was waiting with the doctor in the east wing and a seldom used guest room. Dr. Mulchaey was an old family friend and he had the chaise lounge all set up for Lex to lie on while he siphoned off his blood. We had a bit of an argument about how much was needed with Race and Hadji both pleading with Lex to only give one pint. But Lex was adamant that he would give two in case one wasn't enough.
Mr. Bannon and I stood back while Hadji stayed glued to Lex's side. Casting a side glance at the tall bodyguard, I decided to set up a contingency route. "How long did it take you to fly up here, Mr. Bannon?"
"Six hours and it's Race." He smiled. "I think it safe to say that if more blood is needed, Benton or Jonny could draw and refrigerate it so I could fly up here or to another airport of your choosing."
A man after my own heart. "Agreed, Race, call me Bruce. If my medical information is right, she'll need more in a year and then again in three, should everything go according to the 'norm' they talk about. Of course, the Luthors never do anything by the book."
"Pot meet kettle," Lex's voice came from the couch and I was glad to see the almost old-Lex smile. "We'll build up a reserve in case she needs it. Every six weeks or so, we'll harvest another pint."
********* Alex *********
Hadji's fingers were warm around my free hand. It didn't take long at all for the doctor to drain two pints from me. I felt light-headed but Alfred was right there with a glass of cold orange juice and that helped. But the tray he next produced made me sit up too fast. I reeled a bit but Hadji's arm propping me up almost diverted me from the hot plates of linguini with the butler's famous clam sauce.
Race and Bruce had disappeared with the doctor so it was only Hadji and me on the chaise lounge, sharing the tray between us. I kept sneaking a peek at him when I thought he wasn't looking until he caught me with that mystical gaze of his. We shared a look of, I don't know what to call it but a promise came close. Perhaps I hadn't disgusted him too much after all.
"We'll talk more when we need to, Alex." A long finger tenderly wiped something off the corner of my mouth. "The past is only important for those things that might still come up in our lives. I think your father is a fool and I pity the people who couldn't see you for what you are - a caring, compassionate man who's a genius with science. Did no one but Bruce ever see the real you?"
My eyes dropped to the almost empty plate. "I thought one person had." Taking a deep breath, I told him about Clark, who saved my life, made me feel again and then believed my father's lies. "I gave up and ran away when he told me that I was just like my father."
Hadji snorted. "He sounds like an immature boy who lets others do his thinking for him. I'm sorry that he hurt you but I'm glad that you ran to Palm Key and double glad that Dad gave you sanctuary. Our friendship is already growing into something more."
I swallowed hard and brought my eyes up again. "What is it growing into, Hadji?"
His smile glowed and both his hands came up to hold my head still. "Something beautiful, Alex, it's growing deep roots that will sustain us both through thick and thin."
Oh, how I wanted to believe that. I opened my mouth to speak but suddenly the whole room seemed to swirl around us. Hadji's arms were suddenly around me and he was laying me back on to the chaise. I was shivering all over and he grabbed the comforter off the bed and wrapped it around me.
"Wait here while I see if we're staying the night," he leaned in and kissed me gently then leapt up and disappeared.
My tongue came out to lick away the taste of him while my mind spun with possibilities. Hadji seemed willing to take a chance with me and heaven only knew that I wanted that chance, too. But I'd lived without any real emotion for over a year and I was hesitant to believe in miracles. Maybe I was wrong because Hadji was a miracle in every way that mattered.
********* Hadji *********
I found Race and Bruce in a little dining room, eating their own dinner with the butler serving them. They confirmed that we'd be leaving the next morning and I took another tray back with me that had the most delectable warm apple pie a la mode that I'd ever seen. Lazlo made great crème pies but we rarely if ever had fruit pie so I was already looking forward to it.
When I got back to the room where I'd left Alex, it was empty and for one brief horrible moment, I thought I'd lost him in this overgrown mausoleum. But the sound of a toilet flushing reminded me just how long it had been since I had a pit stop. A door opened just past the sitting area and he was haloed for a moment in the bright light. But I noticed that he was holding onto the door jamb and realized that he was still dizzy.
"Come and have some pie, Alex. We're staying the night." I set the tray on the bed. "Will you mind sharing this bed with me?"
He rubbed a hand over his head. "Just sleeping?"
"Just sleeping with a little holding thrown in for good measure," I reassured him and felt my heart jump at his smile. "My turn to use the bathroom, Alex, don't start without me."
We passed each other and I sternly told myself to go slow. After relieving myself, I washed my face and hands before returning to my soon-to-be lover. Neither of us was ready for love making but I was hoping that Alex would enjoy snuggling. When I stepped out of the black and white tiled bathroom, he was already in bed with the tray of pie on his lap.
"Is this okay?" He was gripping his fork tightly so I just smiled and nodded. That seemed to relax him enough that I could slide in beside him.
Grabbing my big bowl, I took my first bite and groaned. "Oh, Alfred is an excellent cook. Do you think he'd give us his recipe so we could pass it on to Lazlo?"
He chuckled. "We can ask but partly it's the apples from the orchards on the Wayne estate. Maybe we can do a trade of some fresh pineapple for some of Bruce's produce? I have to admit that soda apples are my favorite."
We ate pie and talked about everything but the feelings that were simmering between us. That was all right. I'm a gardener and we're patient.
End of part 4