Marlena forced her eyes open and shifted her position on the couch. Sleep was gathering like a thick comforter, struggling to envelop as it shaded the edges of her consciousness. In an effort to ward off the encroachment of the weariness that threatened, her eyes searched for something, anything to stay awake. Seconds and they settled on the remote control that lay on the shining surface of the table. She smiled despite herself, wondering how on earth Eugene had managed to keep it so clean, free from small sticky digits. Then of course, she remembered how.
She reached out for the remote and then sank back into the welcoming softness. A tap on a button produced an image that she recognized as a starship hurtling through space. And ironic smile brushed it's way across her lips as she regarded the television for a moment. There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, that are dreamt of in your philosophy....
Another tap of a button and she found herself watching an English woman trying to teach her how to make pastry. "Great lot of good that will do me," she muttered to herself before she switched channels again.
This one wasn't much better. Some woman was talking to a man in a wheelchair with bandages on his face and it seemed he was her dead ex-husband returned to life. Marlena watched for several minutes before changing channels again with an utterance which bespoke what she thought of such drivel.
Finally she gave up on the channel surfing and hit the play button hoping desperately that the Babe tape wasn't still in the video player. Not that she didn't like Babe. She had adored it. The first ten times. When you were getting close to three figure viewing, the talking pig began to wear a little thin. She hoped the children would find something else soon. She still couldn't forget the relief when Belle's six month obsession with Riverdance had come to an end. Not that she didn't like Riverdance either. It was just that she almost felt she could have danced every step along with them, which was of course what Belle had wanted to do every time she had seen it.
However it wasn't Babe in the video player. She had forgotten what they had watched last. At least she had until the image flickered into life on the screen and her heart began to pound.
It seemed that she spent so much of her time and energy trying to forget him, to try and convince herself that she didn't really care that much anymore. Yet all she had to do was to see his handwriting, or smell his cologne in the air and her heart would constrict with the loneliness and the idiocy of it all. It infuriated her that just a look from him could reduce her to a quivering mush. Or just the sight of him could make her heart race until she felt positively dizzy. Somewhat like she did at this moment.
His words pierced through the utter tiredness she felt and the misery in his eyes reached into her soul and plucked a melancholy tune on the strings of her love. She wrapped her arms around herself and stared at the screen, her eyes glittering in the half-light as she struggled to understand what was happening to her.
John studied the utilitarian hospital carpet as he attempted to piece it together in his mind. As if it would help him concentrate, he closed his eyes and brought his fingers to his temples as he sifted through half remembered moments and diaphanous recollections.
With a grunt of frustration he looked up at Q angrily.
"I can't remember all right? It's all so hazy." He shook his head as though it would clear the cobwebs that obscured the past with such tenacity."
"Just hazy, or unusually hazy?" Q asked, his tone imbued with the boredom he felt. Sometimes he wondered why he bothered to help this dimwit. It certainly couldn't be for Marlena's sake.
"Now that you mention it..." John looked thoughtful, "it is kinda strange. Normally I would remember events like that pretty clearly." He blinked as a memory slipped craftily between the layers of his consciousness. The astonishment on his face was banished as another thought came to mind, a fact he had overlooked.
"I was taking painkillers," he exclaimed with a degree of surprise. "That must be why I can't remember that much. I'd injured my foot and I was feeling so tired all the time....." He looked at Q and nodded assuredly. "Yeah, that's what it was."
Q raised his eyebrows and let out a sound that sat somewhere between a snort and a sigh. This was going to be a long night.
"Are you *sure* that's all it was John?" he smiled patronizingly. "I mean can you remember having *that* sort of a reaction to painkillers before?" The smile widened into one of unmistakable condescension. "After all John, knowing what you know about Kristen now and knowing that she is a *DiMera* to the core, do you really think it was mere *painkillers* that have stolen your memory of the *months* you spent in Paris?"
John sat in his chair as though frozen to the spot. That was in fact how he felt. What Q was suggesting was almost too horrific to contemplate.
Sami set Will down on the floor and dropped her keys on the table. She looked around her and wished not for the first time that she was back at the penthouse with her mother. But still, she had made that bed and now she had to lie in it. Worst luck.
She picked the pile of bills up off the floor and sorted through them. Her face lit up as she recognized the handwriting on one of the letters. To her surprise it was postmarked New York City. What on earth is he doing in New York? She ripped open the envelop but the quickly scrawled note inside gave her no indication as to why he was there or if he intended to come back any time soon. She scowled as she threw the letter on the bench. Typical! And people thought *she* was the irresponsible one.
Pushing the button on the answering machine she let it rewind as she hastily put the jug on for the badly needed cup of tea. Carrie's news hadn't exactly made her day but she had been surprised at herself that she was more worried about her sister's state of mind than she was about her own feelings on the matter.
She smiled at Will.
"We'd better watch out sweetie, people might begin to think that your Momma is growing up."
Will flashed her one of his endearing grins. He was such a serious little boy that a smile from him tugged at her like nothing else could. Impulsively she scooped him into her arms and hugged him tightly. If for nothing else but Will, she was going to get her life together. It was a vow she was going to keep, to herself and to her son. She would make him proud of her.
The answering machine clicked and began to play. Her face screwed up as she realized who it was. He'd gone rather over the top as of late. After telling her Mom what a great guy he was, she was beginning to wonder. She'd just wanted a few days to herself but yesterday there had been two messages on the answer-phone and he had apparently called both her Mom's and Carrie's looking for her. She rolled her eyes as his voice implored her "just to call" him. Take a hint psycho-boy she thought with a touch of anger, as she erased the message.
Marlena switched the blank screen off and wiped her face with the back of her hand. This was ridiculous. She was a grown woman and here she was acting like a teenager. She took a deep breath and tried to rein in her emotions. She was so used to being calm and controlled, but every bit of her strength and sanity was just helping her make it through the day at the moment. And the *insane* thing was that it was all her fault. If only she would let herself forgive him, they could *all* be happy.
But it's not all your fault is it? It was the niggling little voice inside her head that wouldn't let her forget. Wouldn't let her forgive. However hard she tried to squelch it, it just burned more brightly and she was unable to move on.
She closed her eyes. She couldn't go on like this. Something had to give and it was starting to frighten her when she considered what that something might be. When she had told John to go that night, she had thought she was starting a new chapter in her life. But she seemed not to have moved on at all since then and she wasn't sure any more how she felt or what she should do. She was boiling over with conflicting emotions and her family was suffering.
Marlena sighed and with what seemed like a supreme effort, propelled her weary body off the couch. It was time to go and talk to Belle and Brady again. With any luck she might be able to resolve their conflict, even if she couldn't her own.
As she turned for the steps, she was stayed by the long-forgotten box. The box that had started all the arguments. She smiled tiredly as she wondered how she could have forgotten the cause of such sibling angst.
She looked up to the landing and listened intently for a moment. Then assured by the silence, she turned her attention to the box. She regarded it for several moments before she began to tear the tape from it. Surely it wouldn't hurt the children to have just a *few* more minutes in their respective bedrooms.
Q watched John, almost able to see the wheels that turned slowly in his brain. He could just put John out of his misery and explain it all to him, but he couldn't be bothered finding that many one-syllable words to do it...and besides, this had some amusement value. He watched the emotions as they flowed in liquid motion across John's face, the disgust and disbelief underlying them all.
He waited for John to say something. Nothing was forthcoming. He heaved a sigh of martyred suffering and decided that it was time to prod John in the right direction again. However painful that might be. He stood up and took several steps across the spartan office to the window. He ran his finger along the edge of the venetian blind, collecting dust as he went. He sneered at the grey fluff on his finger and flicked the offending dirt into the air, already teeming with microscopic particles. How unhealthy, he thought to himself with disgust as he tried to avoid the matter at hand.
Still, avoiding it wasn't going to change the facts of the problem and he had made a promise. He had a deal to fulfill and to have any hope of making it back to the continuum he had to live up to his part of the bargain. He sighed again, heavily, before carefully wording his next question.
"Tell me John. You say that Kristen was planning this pregnancy all along. Were you sleeping with her in Paris?" John looked at Q for a moment with exasperation.
"No, I told you that. That's why I was so convinced it couldn't be my child. I never slept with her in Paris." His face darkened with anger. "Her 'pregnancy' was supposedly too delicate. Of course if I *had* slept with her, I would have known that the pregnancy was fake."
Q looked at John from under heavy eyelids, his aggravation growing. It would take a miracle to get through this before midnight.
"So you never touched her. You were sleeping in the same bed for weeks and that was it. No contact. Nothing."
"*Nothing*," John affirmed. "I never....." his sentence petered out as his face grew red again. What the hell?
Q smirked inwardly.
John shook his head, trying to dislodge the image that had spent nights driving him crazy in Paris. Why now of all times?
"What is it John?" Q pried.
"It's nothing." John lied, his heart pounding, knowing instinctively that Q *knew*.
Marlena tore at the tape that sealed the box closed and balled it into wads as she made her way across the box. Finally, when it was free, she took a deep breath and flicked the top flap of the box open with her index finger.
"Nothing?" Q grinned licentiously. "From your reaction Johnny, I wouldn't say it was *nothing*. What? You never what?" John glared at him furiously. It was one thing to share details about his *love life* with Kristen. But Eugene Bradford could forget it if he thought John was going to divulge his most intimate thoughts.
Marlena gasped when she saw the contents of the box. It was filled with various sized gift boxes and envelopes - gifts which had meant to be delivered days, even weeks ago. Kristen. Somehow Kristen had managed another one of her master manipulating jobs, hoping to tear John and Marlena apart in the process. But she had, Marlena realized, overestimated her rivals anger at John, and she had underestimated John's persistence. She came close. But not close enough.
Marlena looked at the box and then looked up at the landing, which was still unusually silent. With a backward glance at the box she made her way up the steps to check on her children and tell them how much she loved them.
Kristen slammed down the phone with a snarl. Cera had finally called her to tell her the bad news. She had been fired and John's ex-message service had managed to recover all the gifts that she had stored away. Kristen had been furious with her. She had told the girl to destroy the presents and she had paid her well enough to do it. But like anyone who was willing to stoop to criminal actions for money, Cera had gotten greedy. And now Kristen was going to pay for it, and not in monetary terms either.
Kristen paced the room, becoming more and more enraged as she felt her plans crumble one by one. After Peter's refusal to help with her plan she had foundered and now, she knew, she had probably missed her chance to drive a permanent wedge between John and that *bitch*.
Her only hope now was John's tie to his baby. She could only hope that when he discovered that the baby was indeed his, he would realize what a terrible mistake he had made, not to trust her. And she would welcome him back with open arms, ready to pour a salve on the wounds that Marlena had rent in him.
Having ensured that the children were alright, Marlena returned to the ground floor. She pulled the boxes one by one out of the larger container and arrayed them on the floor, until she was sitting, cross-legged, surrounded by a sea of gift-boxes. Selecting one closest to her, she began to untie the ribbon.
"Fine." Q spat out, infuriated by John's lack of co-operation . "If you can't make the effort to help your pitiful self then count me out." He stalked to the door and turned around, his eyes blazing with contempt. "I have no idea what Marlena sees in you. You are not deserving of a woman like that."
"Oh and *you* are I suppose." John stood, his anger rising quickly at Q's implication.
Q pressed his lips together, suppressing the urge to obliterate John by dissolving him into a billion sub-atomic particles. He glared at John darkly knowing that in some capacity the man was right. Admitting it to John was something he could not do however.
"Look Black. Do you want my help or not?" Q asked , his voice weary. "I am offering to help you find out who the mother of your child is. If you have any other way of finding out, then I'll be on my way." John looked at him for several seconds before he sat back down.
"I'm sorry Eugene." He sighed and ran his fingers through his thick dark hair. "You're right, you are trying to help me, and I'm being difficult." He looked up at Q with haunted eyes. "It's just that this last few months have all been a little too much for me to deal with."
Q, a little taken aback by John's unexpected apology, walked slowly back into the room and sat in a chair facing John. For some insane reason, he was almost feeling sorry for the guy. Maybe it was because they had something in common, as much as he hated to admit it. He shook his head and wondered for a moment if he was gong soft in the proverbial brain.
He rested his elbows on his knees and stared at his hands for long moments before he looked up at John. "You need to be honest with me John, and more importantly, honest with yourself. It's the only way I can help." John nodded his head subduedly. "So do you want to tell me what got you so......*flustered* earlier on?"
The pile of ribbons and wrapping, strewn untidily behind Marlena, cluttered up the foot of the staircase. Beside her lay the accumulation of gifts that had brought tears and laughter in the last half hour. Small boxes lay at her feet, nestling in them, the charms that had never arrived. The M, embedded with tiny pearls, the cherub which signified their love incarnate in their precious daughter, and the tiny gold carrot, with it's accompanying "What's up Doc?" note which had made her laugh until the tears had formed at the corner of her eyes.
Also at her side lay beautiful framed pictures of she, John, Belle and Brady, an almost perfect family. In another tissue filled box laid a white negligee and robe, creations of lace and diaphanous voile, the kind that John had always loved to see her in. Other gifts ranged from a simple card with a note slipped inside, to a ruby and diamond necklace and earrings that looked as if they had cost a fortune. A simple silk evening dress in blood red was set alongside the necklace, along with a note saying that he couldn't wait to see her in them, or preferably out of them. Another envelope had contained two air tickets to Salzburg, Austria for a week later on in the year. The legend inscribed on the accompanying note read that John couldn't wait to make music in the hills with her. She had smiled at the corniness that he was capable of.
And still, she had gifts left to open. Pulling a long box towards her, she pulled at the ribbon until it fell softly from the box to the floor. Pulling the lid off the box, she was surprised to find a dozen dried roses laid out gently on the cream tissue. Softly she fingered the preserved petals and wondered. Her question was fulfilled by the card enclosed.
In 1986 I gained something that was irreplaceable.
You became my wife and my life and my dreams were complete.
You may not remember, but these were the first flowers you brought me
after our wedding. When I asked you why, you replied that I shouldn't
be the only one to be able to show my love like that.
You'll never know what those flowers meant to me. I had them preserved,
and then when I went through the hell of losing my soulmate, I took them out and
looked at them, touched them everyday. As though seeing them could bring me closer to your soul. And then Doc, when you came back, I still kept them, hoping that they would help me to keep something of what was slipping away from me little by little every day. The memories and the joy of what we had together. What our family had had together.
I never stopped loving you Doc.
I will never stop loving you.
I hope they mean as much to you as they do to me.
Marlena stared at the flowers in shock. She could still remember that warm autumn day she had come home, twelve crimson roses behind her back. -What are these for Doc? He had been slightly embarrassed, as though it was not a fitting thing that a man should get roses from his wife. -Why? What's wrong with them? Nothing's wrong with them. I just wondered what the occasion was. No occasion. I just wanted you to know I love you. Is that so bad? She had smiled sexily at him as she had slid her hand around to the warm nape of his neck. Not bad at all. He had grinned and then leant into the kiss that had seared it's way through her body. But I already know you love me baby. You don't need to buy me flowers to tell me that. I know I don't need to. But why should you be the only one that gets to 'say it with flowers'. I just wanted to, that's all. He had dropped the roses on the couch and the memory of their subsequent lovemaking was burned into her memory like a firebrand. She had noticed that the roses had disappeared a couple of days later but had though nothing of it. Until now.
She felt the tears dampening her cheeks again as she realized how many years John had been carrying these around. They were like a secret memory that had suddenly materialized and they brought back floods of memories and feelings that filled her unexpectedly and with force. He had told her that he would win her back. That he would woo her until she had no choice. He hadn't lied. She wondered if she had always known that it would come to this. For all her misery had she known that there would be a point where she wouldn't be able to lie any more? She loved him. She always had and she always would. And she would never be happy without him.
Carrie stood in the doorway, hanging onto the frame. She had hoped that the morning sickness was a passing phase but it was only proving to get worse as the days passed. Austin sat on the sofa, reading the paper.
"Austin, I'm going to bed. I'm still not feeling well." She said in a soft voice, hoping that Austin would show at least a little sympathy. Or something that she could hang onto.
"Okay, sure. I'll be in later." He hadn't even bothered to turn around. He was reading the paper, and had a can of beer in his hand. The TV was blaring in front of him but he was taking no notice.
"Okay." Carrie said faintly, the soft light of the lamp glittering on the tears in her eyes. She waited for several moments and then, unnoticed, slipped back into the bedroom. Falling onto the bed she began to cry.
Marlena reverently laid the box with the roses on the floor beside her. She looked at them for a moment before she shifted position, trying to ease her cramping muscles. When she was semi-comfortable, she reached for a large, bulky-looking envelope. Wrapped in a card was an audio tape and another manila envelope. The heart-embossed card informed her that she should listen to the tape before opening the envelope. She was tempted to ignore the tape just to spite him but she knew she couldn't.
Groaning as she pulled herself up from the floor, she made her way to the stereo and inserted the tape into the required slot. She settled herself down on the couch as the Spanish guitars floated from the speakers. The first few lines of the refrain caught her off-guard as she realized that it was John's voice conveying the words.
In the sunlight of your smile
In the summer of our life
In the magic of love
Storms above scattered away
Before anything else, it hit her that this wasn't an amateur karaoke job. John had gone into a studio and recorded this. For her. Despite his terrible singing voice. She smiled, her face reddening at the thought.
Skipping pebbles on the sea
Wishing for Paradise
Sand castles crumble below
The restless tides ebb and flow
Listening to a shell
Hoping for your voice
Beautiful Marlena of my soul
Marlena gasped as she heard her name and her eyes filled immediately with tears. She couldn't believe he had gone to the effort of doing this for her. He always knew just how to affect her. Even if he was totally off pitch.
And the taste of you remains
Clinging to Paradise
But as the distance from you grows
All that my heart ever knows
Hunger for your kiss
Longing for your touch
Beautiful Marlena of my soul
Filling all my nights
Haunting all my days
Beautiful Marlena of my soul
She swallowed hard, her chest tight with emotion. She hadn't expected him to do something like this and she didn't know how to deal with what was going on any longer. She was beyond confused about how she felt. Or was she kidding herself about that too?
She looked down at the envelope in her hands and tapped it with a nail. For some reason she was nervous about opening it. She ran her palm over the smooth brown surface and took a deep breath. Opening the flap she withdrew the pristine piece of paper and skimmed it with her eyes.
John's eyes avoided Q's as he voiced the thoughts that he had kept hidden. He stood and made his way to the door, peering out at the hospital world going by.
"It was in Paris. We had gotten Do-," he corrected himself, almost before the name was out of his mouth, "Marlena away from Stefano and out of the tunnels. But then Will was kidnapped and we couldn't go back to Salem. It was so weird. I was taking those painkillers but everything was so blurry. And Kristen wouldn't let me near her." He sighed. "I should have known something was wrong."
He leaned his head against the door as he steeled himself. "But then I started having these *dreams*..."
"About Kristen?" Q probed.
"No." John could see her as vivid as day, shining in the white silk nightgown as she leaned down to kiss him.
"No," he whispered, his voice taut under the strain, "it was Doc. I was having dreams about Marlena and they seemed so *real*. I'd wake up so disoriented and I would have sworn they were real at the time. But they weren't...they....."
John's eyes widened with shock and he snapped around to face Q.
"That's *it* isn't it."
"That's what John?" Q asked quietly wanting to make sure that John really had it.
"That's who the mother of my baby is. It's Doc!"
Q regarded John with a modicum of surprise and wondered if perhaps he had underestimated the man a little. He swivelled in the seat of his chair and swung his legs over the arm. Leaning back, he folded his arms and fixed John with a benevolent smile.
"Well, well John. Right first time. I'm almost impressed."
John looked at him with amazement and shook his head disbelievingly.
"It's Marlena's. Doc and I are going to have another baby?" He was questioning himself more than Q. He couldn't believe this was happening. Belle was going to have another sibling. But Kristen was carrying the child. He swallowed, suddenly filled with trepidation for the safety of this child which, in five minutes had become infinitely precious. He felt almost guilty for loving this child more now that he knew that it was Marlena's. But he reasoned that the love he felt for Marlena couldn't help but increase his love for their child.
It was several moments before he looked at Q again. He couldn't read the expression on the other man's face but it suddenly struck him.
"How long have you known? How long have you known and not told me?. Or Marlena." Q's expression remained deliberately blank as the events of the last few months scrolled back in John's mind. John's eyes were wide when he looked back up. "You've known the whole time haven't you?"
Marlena's hands were shaking as she looked at the piece of paper enclosed in her fingers. It had taken her several moments before she had realized what it was.
The inscription on the certificate told her that she and John were now joint owners of a plane called La Belle Miracle. She had finally started to shed the tears she had been holding back so determinedly when she realized that the plane in question was Victor's. The plane on which she had finally admitted that she could not live without John in her life and they had created their little miracle.
Despite the pain that that night had caused for Marlena and her family, she wouldn't have changed it for anything. John had once told her, that night on the plane she had brought him back to life. What she had never admitted to him, to anyone, was that he had done the same for her. After the nightmare of being held by Stella in that abandoned warehouse and the strain of keeping her marriage to Roman together, she had almost lost herself. As much as she had loved Roman it had taken her a long time to admit that their marriage was no longer working. In fact it had been a long while after he had left her that she had finally realized it had always been an inevitable truth that their marriage would end.
He had been a different man after all those years in captivity. Being kept away from his family by force for seven long years. And then to come back and find John in his place. Marlena's heart had broken for what he had been through. And she had battled long and hard to keep their love alive. But in the end it wasn't enough. They had grown apart and she could not bridge the gap. The embittered man that Roman had become was not the Roman that she had loved and married all those years ago. There *were* glimpses of him. Moments so divine that she had fooled herself into believing that this could be forever. But the incontrovertible truth was that she loved John, and she couldn't switch off that love, however hard she had tried.
And that night on the plane, on the verge of never seeing him again and forever she had broken down and wept at the utter unfairness of it all and John, losing the last vestige of his denial, had taken her and made love to her so that her body sang with the glory of it. And despite the guilt that had followed she wouldn't give that night up for all the world.
She looked back down at the deed and wept.
Q pursed his lips and considered how best to approach this as John stared at him, angrily searching for answers. He jumped as John unexpectedly slammed his fist down on the desk.
"Damn it man!! Kristen almost lost that child. She lost another. Was that ours too?" He gripped the edge of the desk, his knuckles whitening, a muscle clenching in his jaw as he tried to control his temper.
"You went there and you goaded her and she ended up losing a baby and all the while you *knew* that it was Marlena's?"
"No, no John." Q held up his hand with a sense of urgency and sat up in the chair. "I didn't know until after that. I was informed by a 'friend'," the irony was lost on John as he struggled to understand what the hell was going on, "the following day. It was just before I came to find you after you had read Marlena's diary. I swear to you that I had no idea before that." He stopped himself from saying that he never would have gone to the DiMera's if he had known that Kristen was carrying Marlena's children. It was true, but John didn't need to know that while he had ignored the fact that they were John's children, the knowledge that they were Marlena's would have wrought a very different outcome.
The confusion once again furrowed John's brow.
"So that was why you didn't want me to go in and see Kristen. You knew that she was carrying our children. Mine and Marlena's." His face was grim as he realized the implications. "I am assuming that the one that Kristen miscarried was Doc's as well."
"Yes." Q was genuinely contrite. "The second child was Marlena's. I am so sorry John. If I had known....," he sighed, "no amount of apologies can make that right again. If there was anything I could do to right that, I would have done it."
"So why the hell didn't you just *tell* us?" John asked angrily, distressed at the realization that he was a large piece of the reason Kristen had miscarried one of the twins.. "All those weeks I messed around, waiting for the paternity tests on *your* suggestion. And you knew all the time!"
"I couldn't tell you John." Q wondered how he could explain this one without getting himself into hot water with one party or another. "It's complicated, but I was given the information on the terms that I couldn't tell you directly."
"*What* are you talking about Eugene?" John was getting sick of fighting his way through Q's riddles. For once he wanted some straight answers and he was determined to get them.
Marlena held her arms around herself as she sat, curled up on the couch. The tears tracked lacy paths down her cheeks as she stared at the deed which lay on the table, tangible evidence of what she and Belle meant to John. *La Belle Miracle*.
She started to sob again as she remembered the fight the night she had cut him loose. She had said so many things. Things she had needed to say at the time but which, at the present time, seemed harsh and unnecessarily cruel. The reasons for her hostility now seemed vague and almost unconscionable.
She could still see the look on his face. The look that had almost broken her heart when she had told him that he had to leave. That night had left her utterly devastated, but she wondered, not for the first time, what it had done to him.
And now with Kristen's interference, had he begun to give up hope? She looked behind her to the gifts piled up against the butter yellow wall. He had told her he would persist. Her eyes were caught by the roses again and the salty teardrops slid more swiftly down her face.
She had been so horrible to him. Even when the sight of him had driven her crazy with desire she had practically denied his very existence. Even when he had bombarded her with gifts and declarations of love she had ignored him. And the names she had called him...... the things she had said to him.... She slipped a card off the table, one which had been delivered prior to the box. It was a simple, unadorned greeting card. On the front it had a droopy eyed sad looking spaniel. The enchanting part of it was inside. In dark violet ink, John's handwriting scrawled the words,
There will never be another woman for me
You are my partner and my soulmate
*I will wait for you if it takes forever, and beyond*
She hugged the card to her chest, no longer doubting for a moment it's sincerity and knowing that she needed him as much as he needed her.
Q slipped from the chair and began to pace across the room, as if pacing would help him to clear his thoughts.
"I've told you about the Continuum?" he attempted an explanation in the face of John's ire.
"The place you come from, yeah." John was as impatient as Q was careful.
"It's not really a *place*," Q diverted momentarily, "it's more of a, well," he tried to think of an understandable term, "you could say it's more of a *dimension*." A knife-edged glance from John told him to get on with it.
"You got thrown out." John's voice was monotone, his face deadpan.
"Well,... yes, but I was later allowed a partial re-entry." Q prevaricated
"What does that have to do with not telling me about my children?" John demanded, finding Q tiresome. "I just want to know *why* you couldn't tell us."
"It's fairly simple John. If I had told you straight out I would have lost my only chance of making it back to where I belong. I would have been thrown out for good." He shrugged his shoulders. "As for their reasons for not telling you straight out, I have no idea. Although it probably has something to do with the fact that their mission seems to be to make my life miserable." He raised his eyebrows in John's direction. "Now instead of dwelling on what is past, why don't you work out what you are going to do about the situation now?"
John chewed on his lower lip, biting back a retort. He wasn't entirely sure that Q had done all he could to help. And he wasn't sure that possible banishment from his 'home' was a big enough threat to risk the life of two unborn children. Especially if they were all as obnoxious as he was. Still, antagonizing him now wasn't going to accomplish anything.
"Fine." He voiced sharply. "Tell me then how it is that Marlena is the mother of my child."
Marlena had the deed in her hands again. He fingers trembled as they followed the flowing lines of script on the certificate. As she did her mind slipped back to that tempestuous night over four years ago.
The rain had been driving down in opaque sheets as she drove to the airport. Not knowing what to say, or do, she had just sought to see him. To stop him from withdrawing from her life. But when she had climbed the steps to that plane, a very different outcome was set in motion.
"Alright. How long will you be gone?"
"I don't know." He couldn't meet her eyes. He couldn't lie to her outright.
"Weeks?" She had paused. With no answer she had asked "Months?" His silence had confirmed her worst fears and she had felt as if something was tearing at her heart. Her eyes had filled with tears as she had sat down beside him on the couch. "John....you're wrong..."
A slow shake of his head accentuated his "No." No? He had known all to well that he was not wrong.
"If you think you're doing this for me, you're wrong." The words became stilted as her anguish grew. "I can't even....imagine my life without you." Her tears had broken free and were now trickling down her cheeks as the pain and her need to convince John grew. "I don't *want* to imagine my life without you. I want you...*in* my life. *I need you*.
It was when he had told her that she shouldn't have come to the plane that she had realized the true enormity of what was happening to her. He was kneeling beside her but she could not meet his eyes as her emotions buffeted her senses.
"Well, there are a lot of things I shouldn't have done. I never should have fallen in love with you to begin with. I...I shouldn't have done that. It shouldn't have happened. The man that I love and will always love is Roman." She realized that she sounded as if she was trying to convince herself more than him. The truth of the matter was that that was exactly the case. " But then you came along and ....and it just happened. I....I couldn't help it."
And yet the truth was inescapable. As long as she tried to run from it, it always caught up with her. Eventually. She turned to him, her cheeks flushed.
"Oh God, that's so pathetic!" Her eyes searched his face, the face she would do anything to keep with her. "It didn't have to happen. I wanted it to happen. I *really wanted* to love you." The look on his face drove through her. "I do love you," she whispered, conscious of where this may lead her but choosing to take that chance, "and now I'm driving you away."
"It's the only way out." He had sounded so uncertain.
"Is it? I...I don't know that. I don't know that." The emotion of the situation found her struggling against the tidewater of tears again. "I also don't know that, if....at some point in time I am going to stop having these feelings I have for you." He was so close she could reach out and take his face in her hands....
"Yes, in time....that's all."
He seemed so sure of himself, so controlled, but she could sense the struggle that underpinned his words.
"Well, I....," the tears began to stream down her face, "...it's just that .... you're so much a part of my life," she was struggling to get breaths and words out between the tears. She looked down, then back up at him, her eyes imploring. "..I don't know what I...I don't know what I would do.....if you weren't..." She was losing her hold on any sort of emotional control. She was so terrified that he would leave her she could no longer pretend that everything was fine. She couldn't pretend anything at all. She was past caring about anything but the fact that he was about to leave her forever.
John, still kneeling beside her was losing his own battle with the tears, as she futilely wiped her face with her hand..
"Doc....hey come on, don't be unhappy. That's the *last* thing I want." That was the last thing she wanted to hear from him.
"That doesn't make you unhappy at all?" She struck out at him with her palm, wavering between fear and anger.
"I'm *past* that Doc!" The distress in his eyes was evident, as they shone with misery. "I'm *free*-falling!....with just the though that I am *never* going to see you again." Her heart felt like it was shattering into a million pieces, " I am never going to hear you laugh. I'm never going to smell your perfume," it was then that she had known, with absolute certainty what was about to happen, and that there was no going back, "and I am never going to *touch* you."
She swallowed as his eyes searched her face and he reached for her hand. The instant their skin touched it felt like a million jolts of electricity passed through her and she could feel every one, pricking at her misery mixed with infinite, heated desire. Her heart pounded as his grey-blue eyes riveted hers, her sobbing increasing as they signalled his intentions.
"Oh God!!" His strong hands grasped the lapels of her woollen coat and he pulled her to him, his need for her consuming and overcoming all other thoughts. He could feel her tears wetting his cheeks as he searched out her lips with his, and he pulled her upright.. As their lips met, the outside world dissolved for them both, their bodies filled with a burning urgency....to possess and be possessed..
Searing heat raced through Marlena's body as John's tongue captured hers, leaving her gasping. She had almost forgotten the sweet, hot taste of him and she wrapped her arms around him, unable to help but return his rapturous advances as he ravished her mouth. Returning his kisses with a feverish need she succumbed as he enfolded her in his arms.
Suddenly he pushed her away and staring intently into her eyes for a moment he roughly yanked the coat from her shoulders, bringing them so close together she could feel the heat radiating from him. He pushed her onto the couch and she kissed him desperately again, her hand threaded through his hair, as if by the urgency of it they could make up for the time they had lost. He rocked back on his heels but he had only shed his jacket before she had reached for him again, needing to feel him against her, his mouth possessing hers.
He had lain on top of her, the familiar feel of his beloved body driving her wild as he devastated her lips with his rough, hot kisses. Starting at the base of her neck he had taken her soft white flesh between his teeth, gently biting her at first, and then harder as he rose to her jaw, tasting her, needing her. His lips reached for hers again, his tongue searching.
His shirt was unbuttoned when he slowly and reverently slid off her jacket, his mouth never leaving hers. She drew him back down to the sofa with her and he gently laid her on the seat, taking swipes at her lips with his as he did. Her face was flushed and her lips red and bruised as he leant to kiss her again.
Lightening was flashing at the cabin window as he softly sucked at the sensitive skin at the base of her neck. Marlena leant her head back, baring her throat, an instinctive reaction to the havoc he was playing with her senses. His kisses trailed down her skin, sending pulses of fire through her body. He stopped when he reached the soft crevice between her breasts and sat back on his heels again, so that he was straddling her. She looked up at him, drinking in the sight of him as he shed his shirt.
"What are we doing?" it was a simple question, almost half-hearted. A last ditch attempt to stave off the inevitable. Not that she any longer wanted to. It was a question borne of duty, not of any real desire. Her chest rose and fell as she awaited his answer.
"What we've been wantin' to do for weeks."
"Oh." John leant back over her, his answer sufficing as Marlena reached up to him, her fingers setting off internal sparks as they touched his chest. With one movement he gripped her wrists with his hands and forced them back above her head leaving her to his mercy. She gasped and then panted with pleasure as he leant down to take her lips once again.
He kissed her for what seemed like hours. Teasing her with his mouth until she was desperate for the feel of him and then pulling away. A touch of soft flesh, a dart of a tongue. He made his way down her neck, brushing his moist lips against her skin. First down one side, then across the base of her throat, where her pulse throbbed, almost invisibly. John could feel it though, the pacy beating of her heart as he slid his lips up the other side of her neck and across her beautifully formed cheekbone to feather her top lip with delicate kisses. She looked up at him, sinking into his gaze, experiencing the love that was elemental, and only for her. Reaching up she brushed some hair from his cheek, then floating two fingers across his temple to his brow. That face. She loved him so much.
Another kiss, tongues clashing, her hand tracing the muscles under his skin. Two bodies moving in a perfect rhythm. Wonder. Desire. Passion. *Love*.
"It's very hard to explain John," Q tried to think of a way to clarify the matter so that John would understand.
"Well why don't you just try *telling* me." John was fast losing any semblance of patience. He had to get the information out of Q and then go and talk to Marlena.
"When you were in Paris," Q began, "and so disoriented, It wasn't the drugs you were taking that were making you feel that way."
"What do you mean?" John narrowed his eyes.
"Well, think about it John." Q, who had been moving around the room, sat down in Mike's chair behind the desk, folding his ankle across his opposite knee. "Kristen was pretending to pregnant and she wasn't. Then she mysteriously gets pregnant in Paris when you supposedly aren't even touching her. Meanwhile you are disoriented and have memory lapses while you are there, but not after you get home. And then last, but very definitely not least, you are having these *dreams* about Marlena during these disoriented periods. Dreams that you swear felt like they were real."
"What the hell are you getting at Eugene?" John's voice was short as he frowned. It seemed as if Q thought the pieces should fit together but he felt like he was missing some vital piece. Q sighed.
"Kristen is a DiMera John. If that doesn't raise alarm bell, nothing will." He rolled his eyes heavenward, trying to find a way to make it clearer.
With a touch of a smile, he waved his hand in John's direction. John's face took on a look of surprise as suddenly he found that the memories of last summer were much more vivid than previously.
"What did you just do?" he asked Q, his brow creased.
"Just a little trick I picked up." Q was, as always, elusive. "Now, think back John. Think back to Paris. When you were having these....spells."
John looked into the distance as he tried to piece together disjointed memories. He almost felt like he was under hypnosis but he had much more control.
"I remember the hotel room. We were trying to find Will. Doc was back in Paris with us." He smiled. "God I remember just trying to sneak moments with her all the time. Kristen hated it but I was so grateful to have her back."
"How was Kristen behaving?" Q prompted.
"She seemed really edgy." John frowned. "She wouldn't let me touch her. Of course that made sense when we found out she had lost the baby. But," he frowned, "it was more than that. She was behaving so oddly. I put it down to the fact that she had just lost her mother." He tilted his head on the side. "Whenever anyone came into the room she got really weird. Especially when it was Doc."
"Can you recall any particular time that you had one of your dreams?" Q asked, wanting to move John to the right conclusions. John wasn't the only one itching to get out of the office. John shrugged and then, two fingertips to his lips, he remembered.
"We'd had a late lunch one day. Doc and I, I was filling her in on the search for Will. When I got back to the room, Kristen told me she was going to have a nap and suggested I did too. Those painkillers were really knocking me out, so I did." His face coloured as he remembered the dream. Marlena, in a white, silken gown, looking as seductive as she ever had, straddling him, taking his face in her hands. He had eagerly returned her kisses, wanting desperately to believe this was happening at last. Of course when he had woken up next to Kristen he had realized that it had only been a dream, however real it had seemed, and his disappointment had been profound. "I could have sworn..." his whisper was muffled through his fingers, which had unconsciously crept to his lips again, hoping to capture the feeling of her.
"You skipped straight from deciding to have a nap to your dream." Q swung his feet onto the desk and leaned back. "What happened in between?"
"In between?" John asked, confused.
"Recount your steps John." Q advised him slowly and under sufferance. John raised his eyebrows and then shrugged.
"I agreed and kissed Kristen on the cheek." He grimaced. "Then I went into the bathroom to wash my face." Suddenly he stopped and looked up at Q, shocked. "I don't remember anything after that. I can't remember it."
"Well, well." Q grinned in his cavalier manner. "Fancy that."
"I remember washing my face," John repeated the steps in his mind, "I looked up."
He felt as if his heart had stopped beating as he looked up.
"The mirror," he said hoarsely, "there was something odd about the mirror." Q's words echoed hollowly in his ears. Kristen is a DiMera John. If that doesn't raise alarm bells, nothing will. DiMera's and memory lapses could only mean one thing.
John felt like he'd suffered a physical blow as he looked up at Q. He shook his head, tears in his eyes. It was the cruelest of betrayals from a woman who had professed to love him. He felt sick to the stomach as he voiced the words
"She brainwashed me didn't she? She brainwashed me so that I would sleep with her and she could get pregnant again."
Marlena opened her eyes, and wiped the wetness from her reddened cheeks. How could she have ever forgotten what she was willing to do to keep him in her life? He had meant so much to her that she was willing to risk her marriage just so he would stay in Salem.
What had happened to her since Roman had left? Why had she spent so long hiding her feelings? Dancing around the subject of her love for John? Sometimes it seemed as if she barely recognized herself anymore. It was not only John that had changed.
She placed the deed back on the table and stared out at the darkened sky. She knew what she had to do. There was no doubt in her mind any longer. It was what she should have done years ago. Somehow tonight, the tears and the memories had excised the guilt from her soul. She had paid in full for what she had done. They both had. It was time to move on and make a life again. A life with the man she loved with more than she ever had or ever would any other.
Propelling herself off the couch, she moved to the phone and dialed the familiar number.
"Caroline? It's Marlena. Sorry to ask at such short notice but I was wondering if you could come over and look after the children. I have to go and see John."
John was shaking with rage. He couldn't believe Kristen had done this to him. Of all of the things she could have done, nothing could surpass this. He tried to calm himself with several deep breaths. The only thing that made this whole thing bearable was that obviously and somewhat ironically, somehow her plan had backfired. Biting his lip till it hurt, he lifted himself out of the chair and went to stand by the window, hoping futilely that he could escape Q's searching gaze. To be deceived in such a way and then to be exposed in front of a man like Q was something he could not deal with.
It was a useless exercise to hold the tears back as he stared unseeingly from the window. He had never felt quite so empty and so violated.
"How could she do that to me?" His voice was little more than a strangled whisper.
"I'm sorry John." Q's voice came softly, surprisingly accented with compassion. "I felt you deserved to know the truth about what happened. I realize it can't be very pleasant for you."
"Pleasant?!" John turned on his feel, his face red, his fists clenched so tight that they was shaking. "Pleasant? I trusted that women. Hell I thought I loved her, but I didn't even know her. All the time, she was making a fool of me." He swallowed convulsively as the bile rose in his throat. "She.....what she did..." He couldn't even say the words. What she had done was worse than taking advantage of him. She had hypnotized him and then she had slept with him without his knowledge, or even his consent.
The feeling of nausea was suddenly replaced with an overwhelming sense of rage.
"I'll kill her!" His whole body was shaking now as he tried to contain the anger boiling inside him. There was nothing that had ever made him quite so furious, and he knew that if he could see Kristen at this moment he would have to struggle to stop from throttling her with his bare hands.
"I don't think that is a particularly good idea John." John jumped visibly as Q's voice came from just behind his shoulder. "After all, she is carrying your child."
"I'm not likely to forget that in a hurry." John snarled through gritted teeth. "And it's just as well for her." He stormed away from Q irritably.
Mike's office suddenly seemed far too small a place to be having a conversation like this. He leaned on the back of the chair, his head between his arms, trying to maintain some semblance of control. "I never understood how truly evil she was. Even after I read what she had done to Doc, even after....." he swallowed heavily, trying to mask the burning hatred he felt for the woman he had once loved. "I always believed that being brought up with Stefano hadn't affected her." He sighed. "I've been so stupid. All that time and I never saw her for what she really was. I saw what I wanted to see. What would appease my own guilty conscience." His face again wore the mask of self hatred that afflicted him from time to time. "I never wanted to see the truth. That she could never be anything but what she was brought up to be. A DiMera." He spat out the name like it was poison on his tongue.
O looked at John quizzically, his eyebrows raised in mild amusement at John's self-recriminations. "Well John, you'd better start figuring out how you are going to convince this DiMera to carry Marlena's child."
Marlena tucked Belle's blanket into the small bed and kissed the tiny tot on the forehead. She smiled as the child reached out sleepily to her.
"Where you goin' Mommy?" the little girl's voice was blurred with drowsiness as her mother took her tiny hand and sat on the edge of her bed..
"I have to go out and see your Daddy, sweetie girl." Marlena told her in a hushed voice. "Your Granma is coming over to look after you." She smiled again and brushed Belle's bangs from her blue eyes, so like her daddy's. "So I'll see you in the morning okay?"
"Okay." Belle nodded her head almost imperceptibly. "Momma?"
"Tell Daddy I wuv him?" Her voice faded into slumber as Marlena quietly assured her that she would indeed tell her daddy that his daughter loved him. And not only his daughter.
After making sure that her daughter was really asleep, Marlena extricated her hand from Belle's, rose from the bed and crept noiselessly to the door. With one last glance at her sleeping miracle, she left the room and made her way to her own. Brady was already asleep and she just had a few things to finish before Caroline arrived.
She slipped the box of dried roses under the bed, wanting to keep them from small, prying fingers. The rest of the gifts were displayed or secreted in various places in the room. With all that John had sent, she had no doubt she would be surprising him for quite some time to come. She couldn't shake the smile on her face as all sorts of possible scenarios slipped into her mind.
Opening the drawer of the bureau, Marlena pulled out the long burgundy box that housed the precious charm bracelet that John had given her that memorable Christmas. Sandwiched between two of the most traumatic, but meaningful times of her recent life, that Christmas had been an eye of calm in the centre of an almost deadly storm. She clutched the box to her as images of those few months washed uncontrollably over and through her. Everything had changed so in those few short months.
She opened the box and drew out the short golden chain, twinkling with gold and jeweled charms and remembered the day she had put it away. She fingered the tiny talismans, remembering the significance of each one, and John's face the day he had given it to her. A small sigh escaped her as she fastened the bracelet around her slender wrist. So much time that they had wasted.
The sweet chime of the doorbell interrupted her from her reverie and her heart began to pound. That would be Caroline. Now, after all this time....after all this waiting, she could finally tell John the truth. That she did love him and she wanted to be with him. Now and always.
"Well why don't you tell me exactly *how* this child *is* Marlena's before I deal with Kristen." John suggested testily. Before Q could open his mouth John put up his hand. "And no I don't want the run-around. I want it straight and I want the truth."
"The truth is a very relative concept John." Q said drolly. "And I'm not sure I can explain it to you easily. There are forces at work here that your mortal mind couldn't even begin to understand."
"Look Eugene." John stifled his anger quickly, "*You* are the one who is supposedly super-intelligent. *You* find a way to explain it so that I will understand."
For not the first time that afternoon, Q was mildly surprised. And was beginning to wonder if he had, indeed underestimated John.
"It wasn't something I did if that is what you're thinking." Q told him. "As far as I have been told it was something that happened naturally." He looked at John's confused expression and sighed. "I think you'd better sit down."
It took Q quite some time to explain to John, what had happened, as he had understood it.
"You see John, there are what you might call parallel time-lines occurring simultaneously with your own. They occur in the same time and space, but in multiple dimensions. They are innumerable and they result from factors which interrupt the correct timeline and alter it." John remained silent as Q continued. "It seems that what happened here was a rupture in the space-time continuum. Two of the timelines became enmeshed and resulted in the conception of yours and Marlena's child."
"But how...?" John shook his head, not understanding what Q was getting at. It sounded like something out of a bad science fiction novel.
"The point is John, that in the other reality, *that* John and Marlena are together, and they just conceived twins."
John looked at Q, his eyes wide. Somewhere, some other John and Marlena were together, and expecting two precious babies. Somewhere they were happy and had the life together that they deserved. Tears blurred his vision as he bowed his head, wondering why they had let so many interruptions distract them from what was really important.
He looked back up at Q.
"And your lot had nothing to do with this?"
"They tell me they didn't." He frowned. "To all intents and purposes I have been cut off from the Continuum. I no longer know what is going on there except for what they choose to tell me. And as I said earlier, all truth is relative." John nodded.
"So this child is a child that Marlena and I were supposed to have?"
Q simply nodded.
Kristen moved uncomfortably on the couch as she felt the stirrings of the child within her. She groaned irritably. She hated being pregnant even more than she had thought she would. She couldn't wait till it was born, but there was still months to go. Still, she reasoned, by then John would be hers again and she could arrange for a nanny to take care of the baby. Preferably twenty-five hours of the day.
Fidgeting restlessly, she peered at the face of her watch, tapping it, as if it would make the seconds round the circuit faster. She should have heard by now. Not that she was worried. She just wanted to see John's face, or at least hear his voice when he told her that it was his child, And that he was sorry for not believing you. She could almost hear him now. I'm so sorry Kristen baby. I was so wrong about you. Can you ever forgive me? She would play offended for a couple of days, just long enough to make him realize that she would not be toyed with and then she would take him back, all smiles and forgiveness. Oh John honey. I missed you so much. You're back where you belong now and nothing will ever separate us again.
She looked at her watch again and, unable to control her nervousness any longer, she picked up the phone and dialed the number of John's loft. It rang four times before John's answer-phone picked up the call. Kristen debated for a spilt-second whether she should say something, but in a moment of panic, hit the off button on the portable. Silently cursing the baby which was now kicking her in the liver, she looked at the notepad which lay next to the phone. Quickly tapping in the number, she waited. The phone rang nine times before it was diverted to the operator.
John stared at the phone which had just been ringing. It was for Mike, he knew that, but for some reason it had made his skin cold and his pulse race.
"That was Kristen." Q confirmed John's suspicions. "She probably wants to know if the results of the tests have come in."
"Mike did tell us both that they would be in today." John ran his fingers through already tousled hair. What the hell do I do now?"
Q was silent as he let John contemplate his dilemma. He was becoming peevish as the hours stretched on. He wanted to get back to the penthouse and check that Marlena was alright. Especially since this conversation he was having could well spell the end to their current closeness. Any time he could spend with her tonight may well be the last private moments he would have in her company.
He blew out a noisy breath and tapped on the table.
"So what are you going to do John?" John envisioning Kristen as he told her that she was carrying Marlena's child, suddenly realized the reaction that that information would engender.
"Oh God! I can't tell her that it's Marlena's child!" He looked around the room with new eyes. "That would spell the end to all her dreams of winning me back. She hates Marlena and she would never willingly carry a child of hers." His face drained of colour as he recognized the lengths that Kristen had gone to in the past to get what she wanted. What was to make him think that she would not harm a child that stood in the way of getting what she wanted now? Even if it was only revenge. Besides, Kristen was so delusional now, who could tell what her rationale would be. He only knew that he could not take that chance.
"You think she might harm the child?" Q anticipated his thoughts.
"Unfortunately I think I would lay money on the probability," John said grimly. Another though flashed into his mind and he felt sick again. "I can't tell Marlena."
"You can't tell Marlena?" Despite himself, Q felt a small flash of hope.
"She wouldn't be able to stay away from her own child." John's eyes became sorrowful as he thought of deliberately keeping the truth from Marlena about her child. His voice took on a melancholy lilt as he thought out loud. "Marlena loves her children more than anything on this world. There isn't nothing she wouldn't do for them. I couldn't expect her to stay away from Kristen throughout the pregnancy. She wouldn't be able to do it. And then she would let it slip and Kristen would *know*."
Q watched John carefully. For several moments his eyes had taken on the hue of a hunted animal. Desperate and with no way to turn. But he had come out of it and Q had to admit, his argument made a lot of sense. From what he knew of Kristen DiMera, she would never willingly do something that would aid Marlena. He knew that she didn't care about the child at all, it was only a tool in her twisted machinations. The moment it was no longer useful, it would be discarded, as disposable as any worthless toy. And, as John had pointed out, Marlena's knowledge of the situation would only chance to put her child in danger. If this child was as important as Q2 had informed him, none of them could take that chance.
Caroline set her long overcoat over the back of the chair and turned to the woman she considered to be a daughter.
"Marlena dear, now will you tell me what is going on?"
"I have to go and talk to John." Marlena hedged slightly. In a way she didn't want to talk about it. Some superstitious part of her believed that, like to blow out a candle and tell people your wish, it was a harbinger of bad luck to talk about something like this.
Caroline studied Marlena's face. Her eyes glittered happily and her skin wore a lightly flushed hue. A slight tinkle as Marlena moved drew Caroline's attention to her wrist and the heavily laden bracelet that she wore around it. She recognized it immediately, even though it had been years since she had seen it.
"You're wearing John's bracelet." She didn't want to pressure Marlena, but as a concerned mother, who wanted her children to be happy, it was her prerogative to pry just a little.
"Yes." Marlena couldn't keep the smile from slipping back onto her face.
She gave up on the idea of not telling Caroline anything. She was too excited. "He's been sending me all sorts of wonderful gifts Caroline and I just can't kid myself any longer." Caroline reached out for her hand and squeezed it. "I love him and I want to be with him. That's what I'm going to tell him tonight."
"Oh that's *wonderful*." Caroline smiled widely, her own excitement rising. "There's nothing I wand more than for the two of you and little Belle and Brady to be happy." She squeezed Marlena's hand again and Marlena's smile widened.
"That's what I want too Caroline. To be happy and give my children a happy, stable home. Nothing would be better than that."
Kristen glared at Illeanna as the woman moved unobtrusively around the living room, clearing up the shattered crystal vase that lay in glittering shards on the floor. Vexed at the lack of communication from John or Mike she had lost her temper and the vase had borne the brunt of her frustration..
She stalked across the room and checked herself in the mirror. Wiping a smear of mascara from under her eye, she tossed her hair over her shoulder and made a decision. If no-one was going to find her, then she" d just have to go and find someone. Someone who she could put on the spot. Someone who she knew she couldn't lie to her. She pulled her coat from the chair in which she had dumped it earlier and turned to Illeanna.
"If anybody wants me, I'll be at John's," she informed the housekeeper, her tone haughty. If she had been less pregnant she would have swept imperiously out of the room. Instead, Illeanna watched her waddle to the door.
"I'm not sure where Eugene is," Marlena told Caroline, "but he's likely to be home some time soon. The kids will be fine with him if you want to go home then."
"Are you sure?" Caroline didn't look entirely convinced, but Marlena smiled.
"He looks after them all the time Caroline. He's probably the best nanny they've ever had."
"Well as long as you are happy with that." Caroline couldn't help the gladness that welled within her. She had wanted this for so long. "You have a *wonderful* time Marlena." Her beaming grin added to Marlena's already high spirits.
"Oh I intend to Caroline, I really intend to."
Q nodded his head.
"I agree with you John. The risk is too great to tell either one of them. It is unfortunate, but it cannot be avoided." John let out the breath that he had been holding, suddenly becoming aware of the fact that he had been nervous in anticipation of Q's reaction.
"Okay then." He nodded his head, taking in the enormity of what they were undertaking. "I'll tell Kristen that the baby is mine. If she asks, though I doubt she will, I will tell her she is the mother." He felt sick at the thought of having to tell such a painful lie. A lie that could well cost him his immediate future with Marlena. And he knew she would hate him when she found out what he had done. But he had no choice. He had to protect the life of this child. With his own if it became necessary.
"I know that you have to do this John, but don't give up on your quest to win Marlena back," Q exhorted as enthusiastically as he could under the circumstances.
"I don' t intend to give up Eugene." John said half-heartedly. "But I'm not sure how I can pursue Marlena an not tell her the truth about the child. I love that woman and I have never been able to lie to her."
"You're not going to lie to her, you are just going to omit portions of the truth." Q pointed out.
"She'll know something is up." John felt sick again as his chest became tight. "And she'll want to know why I have to keep such a close eye on Kristen."
"Don't give up John." Q warned. "If you do Kristen will have won. You will find some way to make this work. You can't give up on Marlena now. You're closer than you know." Q had to admit that that was the truth. Marlena was about to give in, he could feel it, he could see it in her eyes. At least she would be happy he tried to tell himself. And he would have his entry back into the Continuum.
So why was this conversation killing him?
John's eyes silently gleamed with hope. Q was right. He couldn't give up on Marlena, he knew he couldn't. Maybe there was some way he could make this work. Just maybe. He said nothing more on the matter to Q, but stood.
"I have to go and find Kristen." He picked up some paper from the desk and scribbled a note on it for Mike. He would let him know what was happening in the morning. He turned to Q.
"Thank-you for your help," he acknowledged stiffly. He was grateful but the animosity between them made it difficult to express.
"You're most *welcome* John," Q returned with a touch of derision
John stared at him for several seconds and then muttered, almost pointlessly, that he had to go. Q watched him hasten out of the office, intending to stop off at the loft before he went to find his ex-fiancée. A slow, taunting smile spread across his face at the sight of the receding figure.
"Run, Forrest, run!" he drawled lazily as he watched John turn the corner.
Marlena wrapped her woolen coat around herself in anticipation of the crisp spring wind outside. Caroline came down the stairs having checked on the children who were both still sound asleep.
"Are you *still* here?" she teased from the foot of the steps.
"Oh Caroline, I'm so nervous," Marlena admitted. Caroline came to where she was standing and fidgeting with her purse.
"Don't be nervous dear. Just go and tell him how you feel. You know he feels the same, so you have nothing to be nervous about." She shepherded Marlena gently to the door . "You are going to have a wonderful evening. I can just feel it."
Marlena opened the door and then turned to the older woman with an enchanting smile.
"Oh, I hope you are right. I just want this to be right."
"It will be," Caroline assured her as she pushed her out of the door. "Now you *go*, and good luck."
Marlena nodded, still wreathed with a breathtaking smile as she entered the elevator.
It wouldn't be long now.
Kristen stepped out of the elevator and onto the landing, facing the dull grey door of John's loft. She regarded it for several moments before knocking out several sharp raps with her gloved knuckles. The baby shifted uncomfortably again and she cursed it as she waited for the sounds of life within the loft. When they didn't come, she looked around and the surreptitiously pulled a key from her purse. She had made a copy in case it would ever come in handy. It looked like now was one of those times.
She inserted the silver key in the door and turned it quietly. There was a click and the door loosened under her touch. Smiling, she slid it open and entered the quarters that she had once inhabited with John.
Shedding her coat she did a quick once over of the living room, scowling at what she saw. Most surfaces were adorned with framed pictures of Marlena, Belle or both. Some even had John and Brady, looking like the happiest family. Kristen sneered as she saw the large framed print of John and Marlena on the mantlepiece over the fireplace. It was the same as the one that had been in Marlena's room last year. It dated from when they had been married, Marlena in a yellow jersey, looking radiant and John with a blissfully silly grin on his face.
Kristen had destroyed Marlena's copy all those months ago. She had smashed it and mangled it beyond recognition in a fit of jealous rage. And she had felt a certain sense of satisfaction when she was done. She felt like doing the same thing to this one. To *all* of them. She was so close to gathering them all up and pitching them out of the window, preferably into the river. Mind you, she thought nastily, I'd rather toss his precious *Doc* into the river instead. But it wasn't a risk she could take. John could come home at any minute and she had to be ready for him.
She looked around the loft once again before walking over to the kitchen area and switching on a jug. Her poor darling John, he was going to need a cup of tea when he got home.
Marlena stepped off the elevator onto the cold concrete of the basement and walked to her car. A quick fumble of her keys and a squeeze of the remote elicited a whoop from the alarm system as it switched off. Marlena opened the door and settled herself in the car. It had been serviced recently and smelt of the sickly sweet fragrance that had been used to scent the plush interior. She looked in her rear view mirror as she inserted her key in the ignition.
The area behind her was clear as she twisted the key. The engine spluttered into life, coughed and then died. Marlena sighed and turned the key again. Again the engine responded for a moment before it choked to a halt. Marlena's heart sank. This wasn't the best of signs for a good night.
John entered the elevator blindly, his mind swimming. There was so much to comprehend, he wasn't sure how he could tonight. And the last thing he wanted to have to deal with was Kristen. He would much rather have a good night's sleep and hope this all made more sense in the morning.
He rubbed his eyes exhaustedly. Maybe he could do that. He could call Mike and let him know what he intended to do. That he would tell Kristen that she was the mother and ......He would have to tell Mike that Marlena was the real mother. John shook his head. How the hell was he going to explain that one? And how could he justify it? His headache pinched at his temples as he quickly tried to run through possible problems in his mind. As wonderful as this news was it was going to take a lot of work to make sure that things went the way he wanted them to go. When he worked out what that way was.
His head pounded even more insistently as the elevator lurched to a halt. There were so many thoughts and so many questions wanting to be heard, to be addressed, that they seemed to batter at his skull trying to get out. He was so distracted that he barely noticed that the door to the loft was open until he reached it.
Q cornered Mike Horton as he walked wearily back to his office.
"Dr. Horton," he tapped the preoccupied young man on the shoulder. "Wha-? Oh." Mike bowed his head as he got his jumpiness under control. The cost-cutting measures at the hospital lately had lead to longer hours for all the staff and especially him. He was so overworked that even the smallest thing could unnerve him. And Eugene Bradford was definitely not a small thing. It seemed like most of Salem had been on edge since his unexpected and still unexplained arrival.
However Mike reined in his irritation as he addressed Q. "Can I help you?"
"I have to talk to you about the child that Kristen DiMera is carrying," Q hissed at Mike so that passing staff members could not hear.
"I'm afraid that I am not able to discuss anything pertaining to that patients case, or any other." Mike attempted to brush him off with a standard line, anxious to get to his office and shed the constricting white coat he wore.
"I don't think so Doctor" Q's voice was threatening and he yanked at Mike's arm as he walked away, pulling him off balance and into an empty examining room. "Anyway, I have no intention of discussing *anything* with you." He smiled but Mike could see that there was no humour in his eyes and he felt a shiver prick it's way up his spine. "I am going to talk and you are going to listen. Alright doctor?"
Mike paused for a moment and then nodded with a sigh. Whatever this man wanted to say, he was obviously going to say it whether Mike liked it or not.
"Good. Glad you we understand each other." Q smiled nastily. "Now you and I both know that Kristen DiMera is not carrying her own child." He stilled Mike's objection with a wave of his hand. "Yes I know. Why deny it? I also know who the biological mother of the child is." Q watched Mike carefully as surprise blossomed on his face.
"Who?" Mike shook his head. He had never imagined that anyone would be able to find out the truth of this matter so quickly. Unless..... He looked at a silent Q. "How do you know who the mother is?" he demanded.
Marlena turned the key in the ignition again. The engine died for the third time and she thumped the steering wheel in frustration. She was *not* about to have a *car* thwart her now she had made her decision. She'd just have to catch a cab.
"It doesn't matter how I know." Q snapped. "What does matter is that John knows too and since he will tell you in the morning, *you* may as well know now. As long as it goes no further than this room." Mike nodded in agreement. For now anyway. When he knew the facts of the case he would re-evaluate that particular promise.
Q regarded Mike carefully. There was no way to know if he could trust him. But he had no choice. John trusted him and Q had sensed on more than one occasion that Mike had a soft spot for Marlena. If nothing else that would ensure his silence.
Q neared Mike, his face deadly serious. "I can't explain how Dr. Horton, but Marlena Evans is the mother of that child. And *that's* why we can't tell Kristen."
Marlena gathered her handbag and coat in the seat next to her. She looked at them and sighed as she decided to give the car one more chance. She would prefer to keep her own company to John's place. She was too nervous and too excited to listen to inane cabbie chatter on the way over to the loft.
It was for this reason that she gave a relieved giggle when the engine turned over as she tried the ignition again. With the motor purring sweetly, she leaned over and checked herself in the mirror. She pulled out her lipstick and quickly fixed her lips, and then, tucking her hair behind her ear, she clicked her seat belt into place and eased the car out of it's allocated parking space.
"Marlena?" Mike looked Q in shock. "How the hell could Marlena be the mother? How would Kristen ever allow that to happen?"
"She doesn't *know* that it's Marlena's child. She thinks it's hers. And if she finds out the truth...." Q sighed dramatically, "I don't know what it could drive her to do."
"So what does John plan to do?" Mike's mind was working fast as he considered the implications, ethical and otherwise, of this announcement.
"He's going to tell Kristen that the child is his, and if she asks, that it's hers. He doesn't want to put a life at risk." Q announced, his theatrical nature overwhelming the small room.
"And what about Marlena? Does she know about all this?" Mike asked.
"Marlena doesn't know anything about it and John believes it's best not to tell her the truth lest she let it slip to Kristen." Mike was suddenly aware of Q's smile and realized he had something unspoken invested in that decision.
"Is that wise?" Mike asked carefully. "After everything John and Marlena have been through with Kristen, won't Marlena be terribly upset if John keeps this from her? And doesn't she have a right to know that she is going to be a mother again?"
"Perhaps those are questions that you would like to take up with John when he comes to see you in the morning." Q wished to avoid putting words in John's mouth. He had to be careful or his motives could be misconstrued. "I would just ask you that if Kristen asks you for results before then that you avoid telling her the truth. At least until you have discussed it with John."
Mike stared at the man carefully. He could find no reason to refuse him his request. It seemed the most sensible course of action, or non-action considering the circumstances. Besides, John had already asked him to remain silent.
"Fine," he nodded his head. "Just until I speak to John. I'm not promising anything after that."
Marlena hummed as the tune sprinkled out from the speakers in the car. It was a relaxing, mellow tune but she wasn't familiar with the melody. The reflection of the lights glistened on the water as she drove along the riverfront and she had a profound feeling that all was right with the world.
She wasn't far from John's when the words of the song coalesced into meaning.
Boy, I got a wake-up call
And it left a message that you just don't care at all
You can't expect me to believe that she doesn't mean anything
You say that you love only me
Your kinda lovin' my darling I just don't need
A shiver ran through Marlena as she irritably flicked the switch that controlled the radio stations. She found one playing soft strains of classical music and she tried to settle back into her seat. A feeling of dread passed through her, as though the words were spoken for her as some sort of omen, but she brushed the sensation off as quickly as it had come.
Nothing could stop her from telling John that she loved him tonight.
He had once told her that their love was inevitable. That it was fated that they would be together. There were times when she had wanted with all her heart to believe it but had never dared to. After all, it seemed that time and time again, fate had only served to tear them apart. But no longer. Now she could believe it and she was determined that nothing would come between them again.
John stepped into the loft, his jaw set solidly in an outward display of anger.
"What are you doing here?" he hissed at Kristen who was holding out a cup of coffee to him.
"I just wanted to see how you were doing honey." She smiled ingratiatingly as she proffered the cup. John looked at it in disgust before he turned his back on her.
"What did you *really* want Kristen?" he asked coldly as he shrugged his coat off and hung it up.
Kristen set the mug on the counter sulkily. She hated that John reacted to her like this. But it wouldn't be long before she had him back in her arms. She could feel it in her bones. She could feel it in their child which was moving within her.
"She's moving John." She whispered softly. If anything could woo John back to her, it would be their child. She had to work that advantage. "Do you want to feel her?"
John felt as though his heart had stopped in his chest. He could hardly breath as the pain of the knowledge he hid threatened to consume him. It had been bad enough when he had suspected that she was using her child to ensnare him. But now that he knew it was his and Marlena's, the hatred he felt for Kristen had increased out of all proportion. Yet he knew that he must not let her see that emotion in his eyes or he could lose that child forever.
Her offer to feel the movements had him torn. It was Kristen, but she was carrying Marlena's child. He couldn't ignore that. The love he felt for that tiny life seemed to be beyond all reason. Carefully and with effort he avoided her attempt at changing the topic.
"What did you want Kristen?" he asked as gently as he could as he turned back to her.
Kristen kept her sigh silent. He was so much harder to manipulate now. She had liked him better when he had been the foolish and deluded John Black that had been in love with her. Now he *thought* too much. And she didn't like it.
"I was wondering if you had heard anything from Mike Horton." She somehow managed to pull off a look that approached humility. "Your distrust of me has been hard John." She came closer to him. "I'm just hoping that when you know the truth that we can put all this....pain behind us." She reached out a trembling hand to his pale face. "You look tired honey."
"I *am* tired." John snapped. "I'm tired of all your lies and your refusal to let me go Kristen. I love Marlena and my place is with her now."
"But where is she John?" Kristen hit at his weak spot. "I don't see *her* here trying to fix things between the two of you. *I* love you John. I know I did some terrible things, but it was only because I loved you."
"*That* is not love." John's temper got the better of him as he crossed the floor to the opposite end of the loft living room. "You *lied* and you manipulated me. My feelings and everyone else's. How can you claim that's *love*?"
He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair in a movement of frustrated, nervous energy. "Look, let's not get into this Kristen. It's been a long day and I just want to be alone."
"Right. Okay." Kristen nodded slowly. It seemed that she wasn't going to get anywhere with this tonight. "Before I leave though, John, you didn't answer my question about Mike. Did you see him today or didn't you?"
Marlena's heart pounded even more heavily as she pulled up outside John's building. The lights were on in the loft, a good indication that he was inside. She turned the engine off and dropped the keys into her lap, taking several deep breaths. She was so nervous she felt faintly nauseous.
It seemed almost ironic that she would be this tense about this, but she had waited so long for this moment. She never felt more right than when she was with John. He was part of her, just as she was part of him and one was never whole without the other.
She pulled her lipstick out of her bag and applied it again to her lips. There was something comforting about the movement and she wanted everything to be perfect. The golden hue of her satin dress brought out the amber flecks in her hazel eyes and the warm bronze of the lipstick accentuated the paleness of her skin. Her thick hair fell around her shoulders and she tucked it again behind her ears. A quick smile at herself in the rear view mirror convinced her that she was looking her best.
She climbed out of the car and pulled her coat closely around her. It might be spring, but the nights were still crisp and very cool. She squeezed the remote and the car beeped several times as she walked towards the building that contained her future.
"Yes I saw Mike." John's voice came floating softly into the tense stillness of the room.
"And?" Kristen bit back her irritation. Would he just spit it out already?
"And," John sighed as he dropped wearily onto the sofa, "he tells me that you were right. It is my child."
"See?" Kristen smiled triumphantly. "I told you I wouldn't lie about something as important as our child. She's ours John. Yours and mine."
Little do you know. John thought, feeling ill as he saw the smirk on her face. And the only way to protect the child is for it to stay that way. He had a vision in his mind of telling Marlena that Kristen was carrying her baby. And that it had been his fault that she had lost one of the twins. Oh Doc baby, I never knew. We lost a baby and we never even knew. He knew that she would hate him when she found out the truth. That he had kept the knowledge of her children from her, that he had not allowed her to grieve for the loss of her child.
Still, if she did hate him, he'd have to live with those consequences. He didn't want her to have to grieve for two babies because of his actions. And if she did hate him....he closed his eyes, the pain of the idea running like a knife blade through him....at least he would have their children. He would know that he had done the right thing. And he would never stop loving her.
Kristen moved across the room and carefully perched herself on the sofa next to him. "I know you're angry at me John." She nodded, looking contrite. "You have every reason to be. But what is important is our child. We have to bond together. I don't want this child to suffer because we are continually arguing. That's not healthy for us, or our baby." She put her hand softly on his muscular forearm.
She stared at it for a moment, lost in the memory of those arms holding her as he tenderly made love to her. A sharp kick in her pancreas brought her out of her absorption and elicited a pained groan;
"Are you alright Kristen?" John was concerned, not primarily for her, but the baby.
"Fine." Kristen sounded slightly winded and she grimaced as she pushed herself off the couch to straighten out.
John stood with her and her emotions softened as she saw the worry scribed across his face. An inner voice told her that she had him. Right where I want him.
Marlena entered the elevator lost in a world of her own. A world where John was taking her in his arms and laying her on the silken sheets that covered the bed. A world where he was whispering to her over and over again that he loved her and he would never let her go again. She smiled a shy, secretive smile.
A tune slipped into her mind and she began to hum absentmindedly, trying to ignore the thumping of her heart. As the elevator swayed slowly to the top of the building she tried to imagine what he would be doing right at that moment. The smile slipped back as she thought of him, whatever he was doing now, his life would change in the next few minutes.
"Are you sure you're okay?" John insisted, his heart pounding. He couldn't let anything happen now.
"Sure John." Kristen was beginning to wonder if maybe John's reactions weren't a little excessive, given the situation. "The baby just kicked me that's all," she grinned. "For such a wee one, she's very active." A pained look crossed her face again and she put her hand on John's arm to steady herself. "Ow." She looked up at John. "Are you sure you don't want to feel?" She genuinely wanted John to be involved, to feel this amazing developing being inside her.
John looked at her for a moment and then down at her bulging stomach. His heart filled with love for the child within and he couldn't help himself as he hesitantly lay his hand on the curve of Kristen's belly. He pulled it away like a frightened child when he felt the flutters of life that lay beneath the skin. He looked up at Kristen in surprise and then a smile slowly lit up his face. Kristen revelled in his joy as he lay his hand back on her stomach, this time more solidly. When he felt the next movement, he it was as if his heart had skipped a beat. This was his child. His and Marlena's babe. Belle's little brother or sister.
His smile never left his wonder-filled face as he looked back up at Kristen.
"That's my baby." Was all he could say. "I'm going to be a daddy."
"Our baby," she whispered to him. "The child we created from our love."
John didn't even hear her murmurings as he kneeled down in front of her. Both his hands enclosed the blooming stomach before him and he laid his cheek at the spot where he felt the babe moving. Oddly, the movement of the child settled at his touch, as though his presence calmed it.
"Hey baby," he whispered, "It's your daddy."
The door of the elevator ground open and Marlena stepped out onto the solid floor. Biting her lip she clutched her purse tightly to still her trembling hands. With a jolt, she realized the door of the loft was open.
An icy fear suddenly clutched at her as she walked to the door.
"Hey there little guy. Or girl." John grinned as he missed Kristen tensing in front of him. "I'm your daddy. But you know that donchya?" He closed his eyes and nuzzled the warm body as the feotus moved beneath the surface. "I love you in there. Don't you ever forget that." His hand caressed the roundness as he literally forgot that it was Kristen that was standing in front of him.
"I love you so much. I'm never going to let you forget that. I love you and I love your Momma. She's....."John sighed. "Well, you'll find out baby. When you are born, you, me and your Momma, we'll be a real family." Tears filled his eyes as he thought of Belle and Brady. "I could never give your sister or brother that. But I promise that this time it will be different. You are a miracle sweet child. You are our miracle, and you are going to change our lives." Closing his eyes again, he pulled Kristen closer to him.
Marlena stifled a sob as she stared in horror at Kristen and John. She couldn't believe what she had just heard. He had sworn to love her forever. But this..... A violent wave of nausea swept through her as she slapped her hand across her mouth, the tears already cascading down her face.
Kristen had seen Marlena as she had arrived, but John had done her work for her. Marlena was devastated and she slumped against the door frame, grabbing at it desperately to hold her up where her legs had failed her. Kristen was devoid of all sympathy for her enemy as Marlena fulfilled her wildest fantasies. A triumphant grin came easily to her face and she winked as she mouthed the words that she had longed to say.
"I've won Marlena. I've won....."
Marlena felt the bile burning her throat as she turned blindly for the elevator. She stumbled and instinctively held her breath, praying that John hadn't heard her. She couldn't face up to him now. She was stunned, and she couldn't even begin to make sense of what was happening, but still, her face flamed scarlet as the humiliation began to sink in.
In front of her, the elevator was still open and she reached for the bars of the door as though they offered some kind of salvation. Groping for the buttons, she stabbed at the one that would take her to the ground floor, and away from him. *Them*.
The door was agonizingly slow in closing and Marlena closed her eyes in pain, willing it to close, as if it would be a barrier between her and the pain that was tearing at the inside of her chest. She gasped for a painful breath as the lift began it's clunking movement downward, the air searing it's way down her parched throat. Her head became light as she struggled for air. She felt like she was drowning, not in liquid, but in the suddenly heavy, lifeless atmosphere that surrounded her.
The image of John and Kristen sat in front of her eyes, emblazoned into her memory and refracted as though there were a thousand mirrors in her mind, until all she could see was that one picture, over and over again. John kneeling in front of Kristen and telling her they were going to be a family.
Marlena clutched the bars of the lift door as she tried to regain some control. She couldn't faint, not here not now. She couldn't let herself, as much as she wanted to succumb to the darkness that gathered at the edges of her consciousness. She needed to regain some control if she was ever going to get through this nightmare.
"Oh John honey." Kristen sighed, running her fingers through his thick dark hair. "I just knew that everything would be alright once you knew. We’re going to be so happy."
John pulled away from Kristen slowly and looked up at her, almost as if he didn't recognize her.
"John honey, are you okay?" For a horrible moment, Kristen wondered if John had somehow known that Marlena had been there.
"Huh?" John felt lost. He had no idea what he had been doing. It as though the child, his and Marlena's had wrapped a spell of love around him and for a few moments he had been aware of nothing else but the feel of it's movements.
"I just said that," Kristen smiled and reached out to smooth down John's hair, "we are going to be so happy. You and me and our baby. Oh and Brady of course." She couldn't bring herself to mention Marlena's brat. The less Marlena came into the conversation, the better.
John suddenly felt sick. How could he have said those things in front of Kristen? How could he have been so thoughtless? Half a minute and he could have just ruined everything.
"Kristen...." Suddenly he was distracted by a hint of a scent. A scent he recognized. A perfume that haunted his dreams. He whipped his head around to the doorway, but it was empty. There was no sign of her.
He shook his head and it was gone as thought it had never existed. And maybe it hadn't. Maybe it had been just a figment of his over-wrought mind.
"What is it John?" Kristen's voice was husky with an emotion he couldn't define.
"Nothing..." he sounded exhausted. "It was nothing." He turned back the woman that carried his child's life in her hands.
"Listen Kristen. What I said before.....I got carried away," he lied. "I’m sorry. I never meant to mislead you, make you think there was a chance for us."
"But you said that you loved me." Kristen returned with some confusion.
"Did I?" John feigned surprise. "Maybe you misheard." He turned away from her. "The truth is Kristen, I don't feel any different. I want the best for our child..." it choked him to lie like that, to deny his child's true parentage, but he had no choice. "I intend to be there for you and the child, but there will be no relationship. No family."
Kristen looked at him for several moments, and then turned away. Something wasn't right. He was lying.
He *had* said he loved her. She had heard him, she had been listening very carefully. She shrugged, as though she accepted his words. If he wanted her to believe that he didn't mean what he had said, then she would have to wait. He would get over his guilt soon enough. And then he would acknowledge that he did want her, that he needed her and their child. Especially now Marlena was out of the picture.
The thought brought an unbidden smile to her face.
Slowly Marlena slid down the wall and came to rest on the floor, leaning over till her head was between her knees. Slow, steady breaths began to help her regain some equilibrium.
The thump of the elevator as it hit the ground floor roused her from her daze and she pulled herself upright as the door opened, grateful that no-one was around to see her distress. He face was devoid of tears as she headed desperately for the door of the building. She was past crying. What she had witnessed had torn her life and her dreams apart and she was lost in the overwhelming agony she felt.
The cold air hit her at the doorway, assaulting her face, whipping through the opening of her coat and chilling her past numbness. An crushing wave of nausea overtook her as her deadened fingers searched for a hold on the cold concrete of the outside wall. But the queasiness became too much for her and she doubled over and retched convulsively into the blackness of the spring night.
John felt a chill sweep though him. He was messing things up already. How the hell was he going to keep this up for another six months? Gently he put his hand on Kristen's shoulder and pulled her around. He searched her face for some hint of what she was thinking, but found none.
As he sometimes did, he found himself seeing the old Kristen, the one he had fallen in love with. At the least the one he had thought he had fallen in love with. She had never existed, and now he wondered if maybe his feelings hadn't either. Maybe he had just wanted to think that he was in love, so that the pain of losing Marlena wouldn't eat at him quite as much.
Whatever the truth of the matter, those feelings were dead. As soon as the child was born, John wanted Kristen out of their lives. However difficult that may be to accomplish. For now he had to be very careful about what he said around Kristen.
"I’m sorry Kristen." His voice was quiet but firm. "I love the child, and I want to make a complete life for it. But that's impossible after what you’ve done. I will support you, but I can't promise you anything more."
Marlena felt as if the world were falling apart. Everything, so carefully constructed had turned out to be nothing more than illusion, a flimsy pretense that was tearing and fraying at the seams.
She had wanted to believe. Oh, how she had wanted.
She had wanted him and she had fooled herself into thinking that he was sincere. She should have known, after all this time. She should have *known*. Boy, I got a wake-up call. And it left a message that you just don't care at all. The refrain from the song in the car on the way over echoed in her brain until she wanted to scream for it to stop tormenting her. There was no energy to scream though. There was just the empty, aching pain that consumed her and made her feel as though she wanted to die.
She staggered towards the car and moaned as the nausea welled up inside her again. It took all her willpower to make it to the gutter before she vomited again, retching until her eyes were watering. She wiped her mouth ineffectively with her handkerchief and struggled with her keys, praying that she made it into the car before she totally collapsed.
Q opened the front door and stepped quietly inside. He was surprised to find Caroline on the couch reading a magazine.
"Oh, hello Eugene." Caroline smiled and awkwardly levered herself off the couch, her bones aching.
"Where's Marlena?" Q chided himself for sounding so apprehensive. There was nothing unusual about Caroline baby-sitting for Marlena.
"She wanted to go over and talk to John." Caroline had a suspicious air about her. Eugene wasn't entirely sure that she liked him. Not that he found that a particular problem.
"Ah. So things are going well then." Q tried to sound cheery.
"It would seem so," she paused. "She said I should leave the children with you when you came home." Her tone was grudging and Q knew there was no trust there. Especially after what had happened to Belle.
"They'll be just fine Caroline." He nodded his head. "Marlena trusts me." Even if you don't. The unspoken words lingered in the air between them.
"Right then." Caroline smiled weakly. "Tell the children that I love them."
"I will do that." Q followed her to the door and helped her with her coat.
She reached for the door handle and then turned round.
"Everything is going to be right very soon," she said with sureness. "The children will have their father back with them. I hope you are prepared for that."
"More than prepared." Q sounded more confident than he felt.
"Good." Caroline opened the door, and without another word or glance and left the penthouse.
Q closed the door quietly behind her and climbed the steps wearily.
Kristen bit her lip as she stared at John. Even the pain failed to induce the tears she hoped for. That was one thing she had never been able to master and it irked her.
"I know you can't promise me a future yet John," her voice wavered, "but I love you with all my heart. And I know I'll never stop loving you. I can't do that. Please don't ask me to."
Tears filled John's eyes as his heart ached. He was all too familiar with that feeling. He just wished Kristen wasn't. It would have made so many lives so much easier.
"I can't give you what you want Kristen," he rasped.
"Not now you can't," she reached out and touched his face hesitantly. "I know I have done some terrible things. I don't know why. I can't find any excuses." Her eyes were downcast. "There aren't any for that sort of behaviour."
John closed his eyes and took a breath before he softly enclosed Kristen's wrist in his grasp and pulled it from his face.
"I can't excuse what you did. Especially to Marlena."
Kristen fumed inside at the sound of the hated name, but forced herself to remain steady. "Please don't write me off yet John. I was good once and I will be again. I *am* going to redeem myself in your eyes. I am going to be worthy of you and our baby."
John's jaw set solidly. After what she had done to Marlena, exposing her to the insanity of Stefano DiMera, and after what she had done to him in that Paris hotel room, how could she expect that? Tthere would never be any way that he could forgive her, let alone let her back into his life, even if she could change. He couldn't let her think otherwise. However unfair she had been to him, he couldn't be anything but honorable.
"There is no redemption Kristen." He shook his head with certainty. "And there will be no future."
Q caught the muffled sounds of sobbing as he passed Marlena's room. Confused, he pushed open the door in time to see a tiny, tousled blond head duck under the covers.
"Belle?" His heart went out to the child and he knelt down by the bed and slowly peeled the covers back. "What are you doing under there pixie?"
"Sssss. Done tell Gwanma." The small, tearstained face begged.
"It's alright, your Granma is gone." Q whispered. "Now, do you want to tell me what's wrong?"
Belle frowned and shook her head and Q noticed the picture frame hugged to her chest.
"What's that you have there Belle baby?" Her bottom lip began to quiver as she stared at Eugene, refusing to answer.
Gently he pried it from her miniature fingers to find that it was a picture of the little girl between her parents. Marlena and John. They were all smiling, their happiness giving lie to the true situation.
"You miss your Dad, is that it?" Q's heart ached as the little girl nodded miserably.
"Why can't Mommy an' Daddy be togever?" She brushed a tear away irritably, and Q was struck with how much the motion was reminiscent of Marlena. A wave of loneliness swept through him, so strong it felt like a physical blow.
"I don't know sweetheart." He put the picture down on the bedside table and gathered the little girl into his arms. "I don't know."
Marlena slumped in the front seat of the car. However much she wanted to cry, her eyes remained painfully dry. In her lap, her fists were clenched into small balls, her knuckles painfully white. She swallowed and then opened her eyelids, the bright halos of the streetlights temporarily blinding her. Stretching out her painfully stiff hands, she wiped one across her forehead in despair.
Suddenly she stopped, straining to hear. There was nothing, but she could have sworn she heard a child's voice. A child calling for it's mother.
"Belle." It was her first word. Her child, her salvation.
She had to get home.
Belle snuggled into the crook of his arm and looked up at him.
"Where's Momma?" she asked, looking up at him with shining eyes. "I mith her."
"She had to go and do something important Belle." Q felt awkward. He didn't want to get the child's hopes up. "She’ll be here when you wake up, I’m sure." He tucked a blanket around her and leaned back against the wall.
Several moments later, Belle moved to look at him again.
"Do you wuv Mommy?" The innocent question hit Q like a bolt of lightening. Did he love Marlena? How could he love a mortal? That wasn't possible. It just couldn't happen.
He looked down at the little girl in his arms, her face glowing with the naiveté of childhood, and realized that it was time to stop lying to himself. It *had* to be possible, because he *was* in love with Marlena. He always had been.
Marlena pulled out of the park and turned in the direction of the penthouse. Glancing behind her at the building she had come out of earlier, she felt another flutter of nausea, as uncontrollably, the memory of John and Kristen haunted her.
Suddenly, with a shock, she realized that it was she that was to blame. Like so many years before, she had driven him away, told him she didn't want him in her life. And she had driven him back into Kristen's arms. She had waited too long to tell him she loved him, and now she would have to pay for that mistake for the rest of her life. And Belle's. She had no-one to blame but herself.
The tears finally began to fall, as the misery overtook the shocking numbness that had protected her since she had walked in on that scene. Faster and faster, as she swiped at her face, they seemed to swell exponentially, blurring her vision and pooling in dark marks on the satin of her dress.
The blare of the horn brought her back to a shocking reality. She had drifted onto the wrong side of the road and the headlights of the oncoming car blinded her, so that she could see nothing but light. Her heart rang deafeningly in her ears and time seemed to slow down till the seconds passed like infinite hours. Thoughts of her children and her love for John filled her mind as, with a shriek of protesting brakes, she swerved violently to avoid the looming vehicle....
The angry squeal of tyres on the asphalt faded as Marlena's car skidded to a halt. The horn of the other car blared and Marlena vaguely saw the driver gesticulating as the car sped by her with mere inches to spare. The shock of her near miss began to sink in as her heart thumped deafeningly in her ears.
Easing her stiff hands from the steering wheel, she realized that she was physically shaking. Again, she swallowed, as the queasiness threatened to overwhelm her. She had been so close to.... *So close* . An utterly desolate feeling of loss flooded through her and she began to weep for what she had lost and what she would now never have.
The stream of tears flowed into a torrent as Marlena wrapped her arms around her and sobbed her soul dry.
Q opened his eyes as he heard the sound of a little throat clearing. In front of him stood Brady, in one arm a light blanket that trailed behind the little boy. In the other hand, he held the arm of his favourite teddy bear. He looked, Q reflected, like he belonged in a storybook.
"Where's Mommy?" Belle stirred restlessly in Eugene's arms and he looked down at the little boy with unusually soft eyes. "Your mother had to go and see someone Brady."
"Did she go and see Daddy?" It was obvious that the child missed his father and held an unexpressed hope for the future. It wasn't surprising considering Marlena's behaviour lately, especially when John was around.
"I think she might have Brady, but don't expect too much okay kid?" Q tried to be kind, in case things didn't work out the way the children hoped. "Your mother and your father have a lot of things to work out."
The child's large eyes welled with tears and his lower lip quivered.
"I miss Daddy."
"I know you do Brady." Q shifted a now awake Belle and allowed Brady to climb onto the bed. "I know it's hard for both of you. But if you are a little patient, then you don't know what might happen."
He looked at the unsure little faces and sighed. He'd never been much use around small children. Maybe it was time for the secret weapon.
"Tell you what kids. Why don't we head downstairs and search out that ice-cream that your mother has hidden in the freezer?"
The agreement from the children was unanimous.
"I think you should probably go now Kristen." John walked past her to the still-open door of the loft. He suddenly felt numbingly weary and he couldn't wait to get Kristen out of his home so he could head for bed.
Kristen looked at him for a moment, making him wonder if she was going to do the unforgivable and refuse to leave. But she acquiesced with a silent nod and walked to the door awkwardly. She wasn't the sort of woman to wear a pregnancy well and every movement she made screamed that fact.
At the door, she turned around to face her ex-fiancee. The silence was oppressive between them. "Goodnight Kristen. I'll call you," John muttered, wishing her gone already. He began to slide the door between them, but Kristen's hand on his shoulder stayed him.
"Goodnight John." Without hesitation, she leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. She felt him flinch but it didn't worry her disproportionately. The devastation and hurt she had seen on Marlena's face had been enough to convince her that it was all but over between she and John. All Kristen had to do was ensure that Marlena continued to believe that.
Finally, the tears abated. She had begun to wonder if she could ever stop. But with a muffled moan and a hiccup, finally she managed to regain her composure enough to stem the flow. She wasn't any less miserable, but she wasn't quite as over-wrought as she had been ten minutes earlier.
Marlena sniffed as she wiped her face again with her hands. She looked down at her fingers and saw the black traces of melted mascara that were gathering in the creases of her knuckles. Irritably, she sighed and searched through her bag for the tissues she carried.
She found one and wadded it up to wipe her hands. Pulling the rearview mirror, she groaned as she saw the state of her red and blotchy face, and the swollen, mascara streaked eyes. Methodically, she began to wipe her face, obliterating the traces of make-up which had settled under her lashes. A bottle of water was stashed under the passengers seat, in case of emergencies and Marlena pulled it out and splashed some on her face, reducing the redness and puffiness of her complexion.
Finally, satisfied that she was presentable and calm enough to drive, she stuffed the contents back into her purse and smoothed down her dress. She wasn't going to let what had happened tonight affect the children. If she could help it, she wasn't going to let it effect her either.
It was over. That was more than obvious. John had made his decision, and she wasn't about to try and change his mind. She had more respect for herself than that. She might love him to a fault, but if he couldn't reciprocate those feelings that she had, then it was time to move on. She had no choice.
Suddenly she desperately needed to see her children, and she turned the key in the ignition. After a horribly long second, the engine caught and came to life, the low, rumbling purr of the black Mercedes strangely comforting.
John poured the boiling water into the teapot and fitted the lid to the ceramic container to let the tea leaves steep. He had searched out the painkillers first, hoping to deaden the nagging pain that tore at his head. His limbs were dead and heavy, as though he were moving through sand, and it took all his energy to pour out the tea and take it to the couch.
He collapsed on the soft seat and groaned as he relayed the evening's events in his mind. He had made such a mess of things. He knew Kristen had suspected he was lying. He just hoped she hadn't caught on to *what* it was he'd been lying about.
Realizing that the crick in his neck was thanks to the awkward way his head was propped against the cushion, he pulled the soft bolster out and propped it under the back of his head. As he did, he felt a lump, and his hand brushed against soft, curly fur. Pulling the object out from between the cushions, he realized that it was one of Brady's teddy bears. A sad smile crossed his face as he realized how much he missed his little boy. Both of his children.
He hugged the teddy bear fiercely to his chest and picked up the picture which lay askew on the sideboard behind the sofa. It was one with he and Marlena, each holding a young twin, and Carrie between them. It had been taken a few months before Marlena's supposed death. It was one of the only photos he had of them as a family and he treasured it immensely. He just wished that they had an opportunity to take another family portrait, this time with Belle and Brady. If only....if only Marlena would talk to him. If only Eric would come home. If only Sami would tell him that she forgave him for his past mistakes. He sighed. Somehow, suddenly, that all seemed a long way off.
The three of them sat on the floor, bowls in front of them, a tub of orange chocolate chip ice-cream slowly melting in the centre of the triangle that they formed. Q grinned at Brady, whose lips were coated with a messy mixture of orange and chocolate. His little face was puckered as he rolled the dice of the old board game. Belle had unearthed the Chutes and Ladders from the bottom of the toy-box and Q had agreed to join in the fun.
Belle laughed with perverse delight as Brady moved the allotted five squares and then slid back down the chute. He had his revenge two rolls later when Belle ended up back at square number seven. Q, winning, mysteriously moved six spaces on a roll of seven and ended up back at square two, sending both the children into uncontrollable fits of giggles with his expression of manufactured surprise.
They were so wrapped up in their enjoyment that none of them heard the quiet click of the door opening and closing, nor the muffled footsteps on the carpet.
"Shouldn't the two of you be in bed?" Her face was almost devoid of expression, Q thought as he looked up in surprise. He hadn't expected her home till the morning.
"They couldn't sleep." Q explained with a quick wink at the kids.
"Momma!" Belle leapt to her feet and threw her arms around her mother's satin-clad legs.
"Hi sweetie pie." Marlena managed a quick smile as she picked Belle up in her arms and hugged her tightly. "Brady honey, you got a hug for me?"
Brady smiled and scrambled to his feet as Marlena crouched down to pull him into the embrace.
"Mmmm. I missed you two tonight." Popping Belle onto the floor, she straightened up.
"You're home early." Q stated measuredly. Marlena stared at him for a moment and then turned to the children.
"You two stay here while I go and make myself a cup of tea okay, and then we can have some proper hugs?"
The children nodded, slightly perplexed by her strange behaviour. They watched her retreating figure as she made for the kitchen, and then Belle turned to Q.
"What's wong wif Momma?" she asked, her fair brow marred by a frown. Q smiled and stroked her hair. "I'm not sure Belle. Why don't you stay here and I'll go and find out. Is that okay with the two of you?" Brady nodded solemnly, Belle following his lead. "Good, okay, you guys carry on with the game and I'll be back in a couple of minutes okay?"
Getting to his feet he made a beeline for the kitchen, where Marlena was pouring boiling water into a pot filled with chamomile. She looked at him for a moment and then continued what she had been doing. Q sat himself on the bench, his arms crossed and stared at her, not saying a word. When she could stand it no longer, she turned to him.
"What?" It was clipped, almost a command.
"What what?" Q was slow and almost insolent by comparison.
"What the hell are you doing sitting there staring at me?" she said irritably. "And what are you doing allowing my children to stay up this late?"
"Your children were missing you." Q told her. "And they miss their father. Speaking of which, would you like to tell me what you are doing home?" He raised his eyebrows. He could almost feel the tension radiating from her. "Caroline Brady told me you were going over to John's. I'm assuming you didn't get dressed up like that to drop off a cup of sugar." Marlena turned to him, her expression cold.
"For what it's worth, even though it's none of your business, I did go over to John's. And it's over between John and I. For good."
"What!?" Q was shocked. He had sensed John's disappointment and some reticence earlier, but this? What could have brought on this change of heart. "What happened Marlena?"
"It's not important 'Gene and I really don't want to talk about it. It's just over and that's it."
"But...." Q was lost for words, that fact throwing him almost as much as Marlena's news.
Marlena poured her herbal tea, deliberately and with extreme control.
"But what Eugene?" She turned to him with a smile and a small shrug. "These things happen. We get over them. That's life. Now," she turned for the door. "Where are those children of mine?"
John climbed the steps to the bedroom. Every step was an effort. He was so tired that the sensation of dragging from his limbs made him feel like he were trying to walk through quicksand. It wasn't just his body though, it was his mind too. He had never felt such pure exhaustion. Even in his long physical days as a cop, long nights on stakeout, or his during his work on the docks, after he had discovered he was not Roman, but before the revelation of his true familial connections, he had never felt this unmitigated weariness that had descended over him.
Unconsciously, he knew that it was the result of the emotional toll of the last few months. The truth about Kristen, the journey back to and then the sudden loss of the woman he truly loved, and now this, another round of lies and deception, this time on his part. It was almost unbearable. Yet, part of him refused to recognize the source of his distress, for the truth was, the consequent months were unlikely to yield any lessening of the burden he had created for himself. Unless..... He shook his head. He couldn't let himself think or hope like that or it would drive him insane. He just had to exist as best he could until the truth could be told.
He sighed and hugged the teddy bear tightly to him. But he missed her terribly, almost more than his tired heart could bear. He loved her so much. More than he ever had any other woman Oh, and how he missed his precious children. God had sent them to him as blessings and he had squandered his chances and missed the paths chosen for him. He had been foolish and vain and his pride had blinded him to the one thing he had desired more than any other thing on this earth.
He sank down onto the step, smoothing the fur of the teddy away from the shiny button eyes. The bear seemed to stare at him reproachfully, as if to point out that it should be with Brady, not his lonesome father.
John gave the bear a watery smile, but the twitch of his lips soon gave way to long stored tears and the bear dampened beneath his hands.
Q followed Marlena back into the living room where Belle and Brady were playing their own unique version of eye spy. As soon as their mother appeared however, the game was forgotten in the rush to claim their promised hugs.
Marlena set her tea down carefully on the table and then swept the little boy and girl into her arms.
"Did you miss me?" she whispered with a smile. Belle nodded emphatically, her older brother following suit.
"Where did you go Momma?" Belle asked hopefully, her sleepy eyes drinking in the sight of her adored mother.
"I had to pop in and see your sister Sami, honeybun." Marlena lied easily. She wasn't going to let her multitude of sins break Belle's heart too.
"But 'Gene said you went to talk to Daddy." Brady's voice was quiet and plaintive, but it shot like an barb through Marlena's defenses, setting her on the back foot for a moment. She so longed to make her children's dreams come true, but it seemed close to impossible now.
"Did he?" She raised her eyebrows at Q, clearly unhappy with the liberties she felt he had been taking recently. But she turned back to Brady with an expressive smile. "He must have been mistaken sweetie boy. I'm afraid I didn't talk to your daddy." She ruffled his hair lovingly. "But maybe you'll be able to see him in a couple of days or so. Would you like that?" She looked quizzically at Belle. The little girl was staring back at her, her lips pursed in thought. "What's wrong honey?"
Belle narrowed her eyes for a moment and then smiled at her mother.
"Good." Marlena pulled both of the children into close hug for a moment, but inside she felt uneasy. Somehow, she was sure, Belle knew she had been stretching the truth. Biting her lip, she turned to Q who merely returned her glance with raised eyebrows. Belle wasn't the only one who wanted to know what was going on.
Marlena's expression turned hard for a moment and then she turned her back on Eugene.
"So what are we playing here?"
"Eye pie!" Belle yelled as she jumped to her feet. "I's winnin'."
"You are?" Marlena grinned and looked around at Brady. The child rolled his eyes and gave her a long suffering look. "Oh." Marlena smothered a laugh. "I see. You are."
Belle nodded her pixie head, her blonde hair bouncing in dampened ringlets from a bath earlier. Solemnly and carefully she began her third consecutive turn of eye spy.
"I pie wif my wittle eye, sometin' be-" she stumbled over the big word again, "bin-, binin wif EM."
"Mommy!" Brady grinned at Belle's crestfallen expression, and from somewhere deep inside herself, Marlena found the strength to laugh.
John finally made the last few steps to his bedroom with some effort and collapsed onto the bed, still clasping the teddy bear in his arms. Suddenly, and without any conscious invitation, his mind was filled with her. The scent of her, the feeling of the soft skin, freckled over her shoulders, the way she shook her long blond hair when it was annoying her. The way her skin felt like heaven when it moved against his.
He shook himself from the almost meditative state he had found himself in. This wasn't helping at all. But somehow, he couldn't stop it and the images and sensations flooded his mind with riotous abandon. The heady scent of damask roses, the curves of her lush body, bathed in the honeyed glow of candlelight. The soft swell of her lower lip, sanguine and beckoning. The way that she looked at him with drowsy, bedroom eyes, her golden irises glittering under half closed lids.
John felt his body responding to the memories and he let out a muffled groan of frustration. He wanted her so much it was unbearable.
He closed his eyes and suddenly, again, all he could see was the steamy outline of her body through the fogged glass of the shower stall. Then he could see the hot water, gliding rapidly over her skin, grazing the luscious curves, washing away the heat of their lovemaking. He could virtually feel her wet body, moving, slipping against his, her hands gripping his shoulders as she moved in time with him -
He sat up, his eyes wide open. This was crazy. He needed sleep so badly, yet it was going to be impossible to sleep in this state. Rubbing his eyes, he left the teddy bear sprawled among the rumpled sheets and padded into the bathroom to turn on the shower.
Q watched Marlena carefully as she played with the children. She was smiling and laughing, but what he saw unnerved him. By her own account, her relationship with John had ended tonight, yet she was acting as if nothing had happened. But behind the smiles, there was nothing. Her eyes were devoid of humour, of anything. She wasn't the Marlena he knew at all.
Her demeanour touched something inside him and awakened a memory from centuries before. At least for him it had been. It had been not long after he had met her. He had been disturbed and confused, thrown into a life he knew nothing about and expected by the Continuum to cope and to learn. To learn what, he hadn't known as they had conveniently, or inconveniently stripped him of his memories and given him new ones for the duration.
At the time he met Marlena, then his therapist, he had been convinced that he had killed his wife. But eventually, Marlena had told him, he hadn't. It had been Jake Cositchek, dubbed by the media, the Salem Strangler. Jake had killed Marlena's sister Samantha in a case of mistaken identity and he had almost succeeded in strangling Marlena herself.
After the whole ordeal had ended, Eugene had been called in to see Marlena so she could tell him the true circumstances surrounding his wife's death. She had been composed and too together for it to be possibly real and he had nagged at her until she admitted it. She had been feeling terribly guilty for not realizing it was Jake who was the strangler and she had blamed herself for the deaths of the women he had killed, especially her twin sister. She had suffered exceedingly over the deaths and the part she felt she had played in the drama. But she had had Roman there to guide her and support her through that trauma.
To Q's eye, there was something about the way she was behaving now that was quite reminiscent of that time, but now, Q thought, she had no-one. No-one but her children, and him.
She was rocking a tired Belle gently on her lap and the eye spy game had lapsed for the moment as Brady polished off what was left of the melted ice-cream.
"Hey." He said to Marlena softly. "Eye spy with my little eye, something beginning with B."
"B?" she asked wearily. "I don't know Gene, why don't you just tell me."
"Well that would spoil the game." Q tried to elicit some spark of interest from her, but there was none. The life and passion that lived in her eyes had been extinguished in one cruel stroke and it hurt him to see it.
"Fine then. I wouldn't want to spoil anyone's fun." Marlena said with a hint of something that sounded almost like bitterness. "Belle, Brady, board, broach..." she counted off quickly.
"Nope." Q shook his head.
"Well I'll just have to give in then." Marlena wouldn't look at him as she stroked Belle's head, the child's eyelids drooping with encroaching sleep. "You shouldn't make it so hard." It was repressed but still, it sounded like an accusation.
"Bettina." Q murmered just loud enough for Marlena to hear him. "I'm here if you want to talk."
"No thank you." Marlena's reply was crisp and unmistakably composed. "There's no need 'Gene." She turned to him, her voice softer. "Thank-you for your concern, but everything is just fine."
"Right." Q's expression became taut.
"Could you help me put the children to bed?" Marlena asked, not noticing Q's agitation.
"I'll put them to bed." Q told her. "You stay here and drink your tea, it must be getting cold by now."
"All right then." Marlena couldn't argue. She was too tired.
She kissed the children goodnight and then watched as Eugene carried them upstairs in his arms. He really cared for them, she could see that. She sighed and sat back on the seat. She just wished that sometimes he wouldn't care quite so much.
John walked out of the bathroom in nothing but the towel that was wrapped around his waist. He wiped the excess water from his face and walked to the window. He could feel the cool air infiltrating the chink around the wooden frames of the windows, but it was almost a relief to his burning skin. He felt almost feverish, even though he was in perfect health.
The city lights glimmered prettily on the ebony water as the breeze swept up small ripples in the inky liquid. On the surface the world seemed so perfect, but you didn't have to delve far beneath the superficies to find the decay. John only wanted to make a safe and happy home for the woman he loved and his children. Surely that couldn't be too much to ask.
But then again, maybe in Salem, it was.
Marlena was surprised when she opened her eyes to find Q sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of her. She hadn't heard him come back at all. But then, she thought, she shouldn't be all that surprised, given his propensity for magic acts.
"So then." Q's eyes bored into hers until she had to turn away.
"So what?" She was getting annoyed by his pushiness.
"Wanna tell me what's *really* going on?"
"There's nothing going on." Marlena answered reasonably. "You're over-reacting, Gene. Let's just move on shall we?"
Q sighed and rested his chin in his hand dejectedly. Marlena rolled her eyes and then lifted herself from her seat, unable to bear Q's insistent gaze any longer. She just wanted to deal with this in her own way. And she was, she was fine and she didn't need his probing.
Q watched her make her way to the window. She always stared out of the window when she had thinking to do. However, compared to past times, she didn't seem sad, or even to care what had happened. Like all those years ago, she was too much together for it to be a real reaction. She should be crying or ranting and screaming. But instead, there was nothing. No real show of emotion. Her manner was almost antiseptic. Nothing was happening behind the cool facade.
It was, he comprehended with a shock, all too familiar. There was a very Q-like quality about her demeanour and it was upsetting for him to recognize his own behaviour reflected in hers. He didn't like it. He missed the sparkle in her eyes, the passion for life and for her family.
He had, he realized, never experienced that passion. That enjoyment of life and it's surprises that made you want to get up in the morning. Living in the Continuum was barely more than existing. Other species and momentous events in their lives were usually little more than diversions. Immortality was seriously boring.
Q looked up at Marlena, the sight of her staring sadly at the lights of the city stirring him to the depths of his soul. She had lost what he most coveted and he wanted to find a way to give it back to her. To make her happy again.
Part of him wanted to take her away from this place, to love her forever and make her laugh again. Really laugh, only the way she could. Not that he believed that could ever happen, you couldn't make someone love you. Especially when they loved someone else. But here she was, her heart broken, again, and it was hard not to want to take all her pain away. Passion and immortality. It was a tempting proposition.
John threw himself back onto the bed and picked up the pile of photos off of the bedside table. A pad of paper fell from between his fingers and he picked it up from the bedcover. It was the latest list of ideas for gifts to send Marlena. The lack of response so far though, had been disheartening.
Still, the best gift of all that he could give her would be to stay true to her until he could put their child into her arms. He knew now, that if he couldn't have her, he didn't want anyone at all. Leafing through the photos, he pulled out one that made him sigh. It was a close-up, her hair was pulled back and she was wearing large blue topaz earrings that enhanced the hazel hue of her eyes. She was laughing at somebody's joke and John felt irrationally jealous that someone else could and did command that attention from her. He had been without her for so long, he just wanted to take her away and monopolize her. For weeks. Just the two of them.
Yawning, he placed the photos back on the wooden surface and pulled the covers over himself. He had to get some sleep if he was going to get through this nightmare.
Clearing his throat, Q pulled himself up from the floor and went over where Marlena stood at the window. He reached out to touch her shoulder, but withdrew his hand after a moment, confused.
"Why don't you let me help you Marlena. You could tell me what happened tonight?"
There was barely a flicker of a reaction. She lifted the herbal tea to her lips and took a sip.
"You don't need to help me Eugene. There's nothing to talk about."
"I think you're fooling yourself Marlena, I think you do need to talk about this. I think you need it a lot." Q knew he was applying pressure to her, but sometimes pressure was what was needed in a situation like this.
"Well that's not right. I guess you're wrong because I don't need to talk about anything."
She was incredible, Q reflected. Her voice was even, there were no twitches that gave away her discomfort, she was just totally closed off to everything. Her pain, his attempts to help. There was just nothing there.
"You mean to tell me that your relationship with John ended tonight and you have no problem with that?" Q shook his head. That doesn't sound like you Marlena. You *love* that man. Losing him must hurt you terribly."
"My relationship with John ended months ago." Marlena stated coldly. "I did my hurting then."
"And now the pain has stopped?" Q asked curiously. "Even though you still love him?"
There was a pause in the conversation and Q could sense Marlena's inner struggle. Finally, she seemed to come to a decision.
"Look, there really is no point in rehashing this." Marlena turned to him. "I'm tired, I think I'll head to bed."
"Are you sure-"
"Yes I'm sure." Marlena snapped at him exhaustedly.
She took a final mouthful of her tea and brushed past him, crashing the cup down on the table. She had made it half way up the stairs when she was stilled by his voice.
"Marlena, if you change your mind," his voice, she thought, was oddly silken, "you know where to find me." Without looking at him, she continued to climb the stairs. She wouldn't change her mind. She didn't need him. She didn't need anyone.
Q watched her merge into the darkness of the landing and sighed. This wasn't going to be easy. Quickly, he checked that everything was off and closed and fastened and then he extinguished the lights on the ground floor for the night. With a troubled heart, he climbed the stairs to his bedroom, stopping only to stare briefly at the halo of light around Marlena's door.
There was nothing he could do now. With a heavily exhaled breath, he passed Marlena's bedroom and entered his own. He closed the door quietly and went to his own window. He didn't know how to help her. A thousand lifetimes hadn't equipped him in the skills to heal a broken heart. But he did have to try, and he would start with a visit to John's to try and work out how this had happened.
(NB: This chapter is edited for NC-17 content. If you wish to read the unedited chapter, please click here.)
Q was sleeping soundly when the door to his room opened. She tried very hard to be quiet but the creaking hinge betrayed her. Marlena had only intended to check to see if he had been sleeping. It was the middle of the night and she herself hadn't been able to sleep. The emotions that she had tried so hard to leave outside in the cold had finally caught up with her. In tears and exhausted, she had decided that she would take Gene up on his offer to listen and to help. Only, she wasn't going to wake him up to do it.
"Damn!" She thought harshly as she looked at the door. "Why have I never fixed this?" "Guess you were too busy mooning after John to take care of the things that needed taking care of," her mind screamed at her. The abuse her own mind was dishing out brought on a fresh bout of tears. She stood in the doorway sobbing. She knew she couldn't go through this alone, and as much as she hated to wake him she had to. She needed him.
"Gene," she said softly through her tears. The sound of her voice calling his name woke him immediately and he looked up. The sight that greeted him twisted his heart in a multitude of directions. Marlena in her white satin nightgown standing in the doorway. The hall light illuminating her from behind so she fairly glowed. The light made her gown semi-transparent and he could see portions her body in silhouette. Desire invaded his heart immediately. She was beautiful and he wanted her.
She looked like an angel. Only his angel was crying and that evoked the second emotion within him. It wasn't desire, rather it was desire's age old companion: love. Love with all it's components. Q struggled briefly to gain control of the myriad of feelings that this love brought out in him. But it was no use. Human emotions won out and he was done for. He wanted to comfort and protect her against the forces that were causing her distress. He wanted to take the pain from her beautiful face and replace it with pure joy. To wipe the tears that were dripping from her cheeks and replace them with sweet kisses that moved to her lips.
He raged to think that John could do this to Marlena. *Marlena* the angel of his existence! Q would offer this goddess the immortality she deserved while John would throw her away like garbage. It shook him to the core. He couldn't believe that the continuum was trying to pawn this clown off as Marlena's true soul mate. John was better suited to the likes of Kristen as far as Q could see. After all, trash should keep to its own kind. The injustice was consuming him and fury emanated from his every pore.
"Gene," she repeated a little louder this time. The plaintive sound in her voice brought him back to reality. He threw the bedclothes aside and in a moment he was at her side. Taking her in his arms and offering her the comfort of a friend's embrace, when he really wanted to sweep her up in the arms of a lover. His arms.
The first thing Q noticed when he swept her up beside him, was that she smelled and felt wonderful. His senses were so caught up in her that it took him a moment to notice how badly she was shaking. The sobs were wracking her body so he held her closer. He knew that while he wanted to comfort her with all his heart, it was going to be the hardest thing he'd ever have to do. That was because it wasn't all he wanted to do.
He quickly ushered her to the bed and sat down there with her. She snuggled up against him and he held her without comment. He was going to wait for her, but for now all she seemed capable of doing was crying. He began to rock her gently back and forth, simply waiting for her to calm down and talk to him.
"Shhhh, my sweet. Shhhh." It was odd that he had no use for most mortals. And if the truth be known that was because he couldn't relate to them anymore and because mostly they annoyed him. The *humanness* of them was what annoyed him most. Humans were so emotional and truly they were a lot of work. But somehow this woman was different. Her *human* problems were only bothersome because he couldn't make them go away. No matter how hard he tried he couldn't seem to lessen her troubles. He actually suspected that he had made them worse.
John twitched irritably in his sleep. It was a moment before he could open his eyes to find the source of the annoyance. The door to the bedroom was open and a cool draught blew steadily across the floor and over his bare skin. The blanket lay where he had kicked it, in an askew mound at the end of the bed.
He wondered groggily if he had closed the door before he had fallen into bed but the thought had barely entered his mind before he registered that there was light coming from the landing behind the door. His eyes squinted as he tired to focus on the shaft of light that radiated from the opening of the doorway. He was positive he hadn't left the light on when he had eventually gone to bed. He knew he hadn't.
It was then that he saw the feet. They delicately stepped into the doorway and then stopped. John's eyes travelled upward. The light glowed through the gossamer fabric of a creamy white negligee, creating a silhouette around a perfect female form. John's eyes continued their upward journey, noting the soft swell of the hips and the outline of breasts, hidden behind chiffon and lace.
She moved to lean against the doorway as he found her face with his hungry eyes. Her eyes were shining and the light in her golden hair created a halo so that she looked just like an angel. She smiled mysteriously at him as he sat up, his mind finally registering that she was actually here, and what that meant.
"Doc?" It was the only syllable he could utter as his heart began to beat so hard he felt as though it was about to jump through the wall of his chest.
"Shhhh....." she brought her index finger to her red lips and began to move towards him. She was, he thought, so graceful that she looked as if she were gliding.
She stopped at the end of the bed and he sighed. She was so beautiful, she filled his heart with love and wonder. He rose from the bed slowly and moved so that he was within reaching distance of her. He reached out with his right hand, and, still unable to believe that she was real, he touched her cheek with the tips of his fingers. She gasped at his touch and he pulled his hand back involuntarily as he felt the warm skin beneath this fingers.
"Oh Doc, it *is* you." He moved in so that he was right in front of her and he searched her face with his eyes. "You really are here."
Marlena nodded, a large tear spilling from her eye and down her cheek.
"John, I'm so sorry. I didn't understand...."
"Shhh." He wiped her tear away with the pad of his thumb and kissed the trace of moisture that was left. "There's nothing for you to be sorry for. Youre here now. That's all that matters to me."
Q kissed the top of her head and continued to rock her.
"Thank you," she sniffed. He chuckled.
"What are you thanking me for? I haven't done anything." She looked up at him with complete surprise written all over her face.
"Haven't done anything? How can you say that?" Suddenly Q couldn't respond. He could only look into her tear filled eyes and he couldn't speak. He, Q! Could not speak. Q was sunk and he knew it.
He swallowed hard when Marlena smiled up at him, only making his current situation worse.
"See," she sniffed again. "You can't! You've been there for me every minute and you know it." Marlena tightened her grasp on him and Q gave an involuntary groan. Marlena didn't seem to notice as she teetered on the verge of tears once more. "You've always been there for me. Always. I could always count on you."
He shook his head.
"No I think you have this all wrong Marlena. You were there for me in the beginning. SO there for me that I still need to make it up to you." Q said as he nuzzled her hair. He moved his nose slowly through her tresses as he held her. He drew comfort from her, even as he comforted her.
"Oh Gene, that was ages ago. I was a different person. And I've made such a mess of things since then." Q tightened his grip on her and shushed her once more.
"Oh stop. That's not true and you know it."
"It is." Marlena protested. "My life is a shambles and I don't know how that happened. I try to be a good person, but somehow it always comes back on me. I try so hard, but I always fail. Always. All through my life there have been different people coming and going. I'm the only constant. I think it's time to face facts Gene. I have to accept that it's me. It has to be me." She began to well up and her voice became thick with emotion.
"I won't hear that Marlena. You're talking about someone I happen to care a lot about. I won't have you badmouthing her. I just won't stand for it."
That's when Marlena began to cry again. Softly at first, but as Gene spoke her tears became louder and more intense.
"Oh Gene. I thank you for trying my good friend, but it's no use. It's just no use." There was a tone to her voice that Q had never heard before and it frightened him. It was a finality that hurt him to hear. He held her as she sobbed and he tried to figure out what to do that could take that hideous tone from her voice. Not just from her voice, but from her entire demeanor. She seemed so... so broken.
"No," she interrupted. "Please don't say anymore." Her tears broke off her last word. Instinctually Q drew her closer to him, even though there really was not much space between them.
"So what do you want me to do? Tell me? I want to do something, but I don't what. I need you to tell me how I can help you." Marlena held him tighter in return to his question.
"I don't know what you can do." Then after a very long very silent pause, she spoke. "Just be there for me I guess," she said so softly he could barely hear her. He smiled an ironic and private smile. There was no question about that in his mind.
"Always," He murmured. "Always."
Time passed as Marlena cried and Q held her. He couldn't find the words that could get her to stop. Finally he figured that he should just allow her her cry. Maybe one good have at it, and she'd feel better. And he certainly wasn't complaining about getting to hold her all this time. He whispered his love for her over and over. He murmured his admiration of her. And he was sure that she hadn't heard a word. He felt better for having said all the things that had been bottled up inside him for centuries, even if they had fallen on deaf ears.
It was even comforting to know she hadn't heard him. That way he didn't have to deal with the rejection he knew was coming. As he thought his thoughts he was stunned to hear her say, "Your devotion is misplaced Eugene. Totally and utterly misplaced. I'm not worth it." Q could stand no more. He held her at arm's length and shook her.
"Stop it! Stop it now Marlena. Don't you know what it does to me to hear you say these things? It hurts me. And it should hurt you too. You are not the one that created this mess. That was John. He did it. Not you. So stop taking it out on yourself. You want to feel something about this whole thing? Feel rage. Feel anger, but don't take it out on yourself anymore. He's not worth it. Q's outburst stunned Marlena. Tears were still falling, but she was wide eyed, and the sobbing had stopped.
"That's the problem Gene," she said quietly. He gave her a puzzled look.
"What?" She stared at him.
"I can't feel anymore. I don't feel anything now." She lowered her head and shook it brutally. "No, that's not exactly true." She looked up and her eyes met his. "I do feel cold inside. Dead inside. I feel like there will never be any light or pleasure ever again." Q knew from the lifeless eyes gazing back at him, that this statement was no exaggeration.
What scared Q most was that it was like looking into the eyes of another Q. Of anyone in the continuum, who had given up living for immortality. He couldn't stand that and his mind raced to find anything that would make her understand what a wonderful person she was. Suddenly, even before he was aware he was doing it, he began to gush forth with the entire laundry list of why he loved her.
Q became like a "man" possessed. Telling her over and over how he loved her. How he had always loved her.
"Marlena, I wish I could make you understand what you've meant to me. How I've cherished knowing you. How you were the hardest part of giving up Eugene. I wish I could make you feel how much I love you. It's like a sickness it's so relentless. It's something I couldn't get over even if I wanted to, and believe me I don't want to."
Marlena cried throughout Q's diatribe, but that didn't deter him. He continued on with his worship. It had taken him centuries to get up the courage to do this and he wasn't about to quit now.
"Your face has followed me through time Marlena. I can't get away from you. I see you everywhere, in every galaxy, in every constellation. I love you. I've always loved you." He paused for a moment and then shook his head. "I just love you..." he trailed off. They looked at each other for a moment and soon it was too much for Q. He had to touch her. He needed to feel her against him.
In his fervor, Q pulled Marlena to him and began to kiss her. He put his hand to the back of her head and held her steady against his lips. He had been dreaming of this for so long, that he felt as if this were unreal, and he was almost unaware that he was really doing it. That was until he felt her responding to him. Until he felt her lips moving against his, and there was this incredible heat coming from the two of them, that he knew it was real and he knew that she felt it too. She was returning the kiss with equal enthusiasm and she was running her hands through his hair. And when he deepened the kiss she made no move to stop him.
John framed her face with his hands and pulled her to him until her sweet, warm lips met his. He brushed them, feeling the heat spill through him as she moaned. He threaded his fingers through her warm fragrant locks and swooped past her lips again, teasing her as he hovered above them, so close that she could feel his breath mingling with hers.
Finally, he ended the delightful torture and kissed her deeply so that he felt a shudder of desire ripple through her body. Her tongue danced out to meet his as he pulled her to him, his hand flowing down the silky fabric of her nightie. Marlena could feel the heat of his body through her nightgown and she kissed him fervently.
But still, after all that had passed between them, he had to be sure that they was doing the right thing. That she was ready for this. He broke off the kiss and moved away from her slightly.
"Is this what you want Marlena?" he whispered. "Are you sure you want to be here right now. With me?"
"I want you John." It was barely more than a breath. "We've wasted too much time baby."
The kiss continued for what seemed like an eternity to Q. A sweet eternity, much better than the one he was used to. A small moan escaped Marlena and Q knew she was enjoying the connection as much as he. So he was surprised to feel her pulling away from him.
They were both panting as Marlena rested her forehead against his chin. Q thought that he had made the cosmic blunder of all time as Marlena simply remained silent, giving him no hint of what she was feeling. He wondered vaguely how long it was going to take for her to recover from his selfish mistake. How long it would be before she would trust him again. He was filled with doubt and longing instantly.
Slowly, slowly Marlena reached out and traced his lips with the tip of her index finger. She pulled back and watched her finger move over his mouth and in turn he watched her. She looked up, catching him as he gazed at her. There was something different in her eyes now.
"Make me warm Gene," she breathed. "Make me warm." She moved back in against him and in the moment that her lips met his, Q realized that it had been desire he had seen lingering in her eyes. And in that moment of sudden insight, all doubts left his mind. He knew that what was going to happen was what they both wanted and what they both needed.
Marlena moved into his lap until as the kiss continued. She ran her fingers through the sides of his hair until they came together at the back of his head. Then she tugged his hair gently, pulling his head back and intensifying the kiss. Her tongue playfully entered his mouth and found his waiting. Q ran his hands down her shoulders and over her back until they found their way to her rear. Instinctively, he gave her a squeeze and pulled her closer. A move that surprised Marlena.
She broke the kiss and began to giggle.
"It's been a while, since I've done this. Forgive me if I'm not doing it right," he said in embarrassment. This only served to increase Marlena's giggling.
"You are doing fine," she almost purred. "That just kind of surprised me. Not that I didn't like it mind you..." This time they giggled together. As they were still chuckling, Q began to kiss Marlena. He began with her nose, then moved along her cheek to her chin, which he gave a small nip with his teeth. He moved his lips slowly along Marlena's jaw line, which was no longer moving with laughter. Things had become entirely too serious.
A finger trailed town his torso, stopping briefly to trace the outline of the muscled abdomen. The feeling of her fingernail grazing his flesh sent John crazy.
"Doc, baby. It's been a long time. We've been through a lot. Are you sure you wouldn't just rather sit down and talk?"
"What is there to talk about?" Marlena's fingernail met with the waistband of his black silk boxer shorts. She looked up at him from under her eyelids and bit her bottom lip innocently. "Why, don't you want me baby?"
"Oh Doc!" The exclamation exploded from John's lips. "Of *course* I do. You know I do. I just don't want to make any mistakes this time honey."
"Then don't." Marlena demanded. "Just take me to bed."
She took her hands in his and slowly pulled him round so that he was facing her and the bed was behind her. Then gently she leaned back. John took her lead and lowered her to the bed, following her down to the cool cotton sheets. He sat next to her and gazed at her face, beautiful, even hidden in the shadows cast by the half-light. Reaching out, he caressed her face, exploring it with his fingertips. Smiling shyly, she nestled her cheek into his cupped palm as, with an expression of complete devotion, he drank every detail of her in.
"Oh Marlena. Oh lady I am so sorry I've hurt you. I was such a fool, I couldn't see what was in front of my own eyes." He looked down miserably at the thought of all the pain he had seen in her eyes in the last few years. And all the pain that he hadn't even recognized at the time. "I'll never forgive myself for what I put you through."
"Shhhh." It was Marlena's turn to end the apology and she did it in the best way she knew. "No more words." She brought her finger to his lips and then began to trace their familiar outline. He was mesmerized by the look in her eyes as she whispered to him, "make love to me John."
She leaned forward until her lips were millimeters from his and he could feel the vibration of the air against his sensitive skin as she spoke. "Please make love to me." Unable to resist the invitation, he pressed his lips against hers and drew her closer.
When it was over Marlena relaxed against his chest. Q tucked one arm around her and turned so that she was lying next to him cradled against his chest. Their fingers of his other hand were intertwined with hers. She kissed his chest, through a fine layer of perspiration.
"Thank you," he said finally.
"For what," she returned quietly.
"For making me remember what it was like to be Gene." She smiled as she rubbed her hand over his chest.
"We never did this before," she said with a small chuckle. He kissed the top of her head.
"Oh I know that. It's just that I used to dream that we did. All the time. That's what I remember about being Gene. Wanting you, but only having you in my dreams. And you know something?" She looked at him and he at her.
"What?" She asked quietly. She was in awe of the strength of his feelings for her, and that she had somehow managed to miss full power of them in the past.
"Even in my dreams, it wasn't this good."
They began to laugh together. Q lifted her hand and kissed it.
"Oh Gene, I am so..." She trailed off.
"You are so what?"
"I'm sorry. I mean I always knew that you had a crush on me, but I never realized that it was so..."
"Real," he continued for her.
"Mmm hmm," she agreed.
"It was," he said. "It still is."
They lay together in silence. Marlena rubbing her nose against his chest and Q toying with the fingers on the hand he held.
"Marlena, do you think..." he cut off dreading the answer. Fearing he knew it before he asked. She waited for him to continue, certain that he would. Finally he got the courage. "Do you think you would be willing to give me a chance? Us a chance, I should say. I don't mean what just happened. I mean a real chance. A chance to be happy and to be together. I know you've just ended things with John for good, and I know that it will take time to get past that, but I can help. I want to help. I love you, I've always loved you. I always will."
Marlena moved down to the bed until she was cradled in John's arms. He kissed her forehead as she feathered her fingers through the thick dark hair on his chest.
"Oh Marlena," he sighed, "I was beginning to wonder if we would ever be like this again." He brushed a few damp strands of hair from her forehead. "You've no idea how much I missed you."
"I think maybe I do." Marlena giggled. "It's not exactly like I've had a lot else occupy my mind. I'\ve missed you too John."
"I know that there were reasons that you felt that you had to break us off...." John paused, not quite knowing if this would come out the right way. But, he reasoned, he had to know how she really felt. "I know that you had very good reasons Marlena. I treated you and the children terribly and I am so sorry for that. But I can't undo it. I can only try and make what was wrong, right." He gazed into her luminous eyes. "I hope you know that I am totally sincere. I will never hurt you again. I'll never break your heart. Without you my life doesn't mean a whole lot.." He began to cry, knowing that they hurting he had done in the last few months in no way made up for the pain she had suffered since Belle had been born.
"Oh you silly." There was a sad smile on Marlena's face as she lifted her fingers to sweep away his tears. "I love you so much. And I know you love me. What happened before, that's in the past. It's time to move on. If you'll have me, I'd like for us to do that together."
John grinned and closed his eyes as he nuzzled the warmth of her cheek. This really was a new and glorious beginning for both of them. Suddenly, he felt the salty warmth of tears against his skin and he knew that this time, they weren't his. He opened his eyes to tell her that it was going to be alright, that they would make it together this time, but his body stiffened when she wasn't there. His eyes frantically searched the room for any sign of her but it was as though she had totally disappeared. As if she had never existed.
He knew he was blathering on, but he couldn't help himself. This was too important. Her answer was everything. His heart was beating so hard that she could feel it as she lay her head against his chest. She knew how important this was to him and could only be honest with him.
"Gene," she began carefully. "You obviously know about John. You know how the entire thing went and you know that it's over. I mean over for all time." He could hear the pain in her voice, but she continued without tears. "It's going to take time to heal from that. I don't know how long, but if you are willing to be patient then, yes, I'd like to try us together. I think it could work too, it's just going to take some time." As madly as his heart was beating before her answer, that's how much more it began to beat afterwards. She smiled. "If you love me anywhere near as much as your heart is telling me you do, then I think I am doing the right thing. I think this is right for both of us. We already love each other. We're already the best of friends."
"And the sex was wonderful," he blurted out. She laughed.
"Oh yeah, there's that too."
They giggled together, but then he held her a little tighter and in all seriousness said, "I know it's going to take time. But I will be here for you always. I'll never break your heart." She lifted her head and he kissed her.
"Make love to me again," she whispered to him. I want to feel you against me." He kissed her and moved to roll her onto her back when she said, "Make love to me John."
John's eyes flew open almost at the same moment that he sat upright in bed. She had never been there. It had been nothing but a dream, although his body was telling him that the sensations had been all too real. He swallowed and willed his heart to stop pounding so painfully. The clock beside his bed told him that it was 3:26 a.m. She would be asleep right now he thought. He wondered if she dreamed of him, the way he did of her. This wasn't the first time that she had wakened him, but it had been the most intense and definitely the most real.
He lay back down in bed willing sleep to come again, but it was all too elusive and like too many times before, he could not keep his mind off Marlena. He threw back the covers and swung his legs out of bed.
He had to see her.
Q woke up with a start. His heart was beating as it had been in his dream, but he felt as if someone had thrown a bucket of ice water on him. He looked around the room and was a little surprised to find Marlena wasn't there with him. He rubbed his temples while he remembered the steamy nature of his dream. This situation was getting impossible. Now his desire for her was starting to invade his dreams and he couldn't stand it. He lay there wondering what to do about the entire mess for quite some time.
He had almost drifted back to sleep when he heard the door to Marlena's bedroom open and her footsteps on the stairs. Q looked over at the bedside clock. 3:29 a.m. What was she doing up? She didn't stay downstairs long, so as he listened to her feet coming back up the stairs, he supposed she had gone down to the kitchen for something to drink. Only... was that crying he heard? He could have sworn that he could hear the faint sounds of sobbing.
He heard her door open then close again, and tried to ignore the dreadful feeling coming over him. "Let her work this out on her own Q," his mind said to him. His body, however, negated the thought by getting up and going to the door. He opened it slowly and listened. He could hear her muffled crying through her door. He had to go to her.
John knew she would be asleep and he even wanted it that way. He loved watching her sleep, seeing her chest rise and fall with each peaceful breath. And that was what he had to do right now, he had to make sure that she was okay. He could let himself into the penthouse with a key and leave before she woke. She would never even know he had been there.
John bit the inside of his lower lip and stared at the clock. Was that really a good idea? She might wake up and....if she knew he had let himself in she'd be furious.
He contemplated the idea for several minutes before he launched himself out of bed and began to get ready to go out.
Q looked down at the tee shirt and boxers he was wearing. "She's seen me like this dozens of times," he said aloud. "*Not* just after a dream in which you ravaged her within an inch of her life Q," his mind spoke back. For the first time he was actually thankful for the way the dream had ended. He walked purposefully across the hall and opened the door without knocking.
There sitting on the edge of the bed, was Marlena. Wearing the same satiny nightgown he had dreamed about, she looked up at him in surprise. The only thing she said was, "Gene."
Marlena looked up at the sound of the door handle clicking out of place. The door opened and she saw Eugene's concerned face. He entered the room but then just stood there, looking at her as she sat motionless on the edge of the bed. An air of something she couldn't identify crossed his face for a moment, but then it was gone and she was left with his troubled expression again.
"Gene." It was all she could say. The night had been far too long and she was far too weary.
She had not been able to fall asleep after she had come upstairs. Instead she had been haunted by the realization that once again, through her own inability to take action, she had lost John. She had lost him to Kristen, and this time, it seemed as if she had lost him permanently. Little by little, her reserves had broken down until she had been almost surprised to find that she was crying again. And that she couldn't stop.
After a while, she had decided that she really needed to take Eugene up on his offer. As much as she hated to break down in front of her friends, the relationship with Eugene went beyond that. He genuinely wanted only to help her. And she needed help. She couldn't go on like this, not alone. So she had gone to his room, and the door had creaked as she had opened it. But neither the creaking hinges, nor the sound of her muffled tears had woken him, and he had looked so peaceful sleeping there in the moonlight that she hadn't had the heart to disturb him. So, as quietly as she could, she had closed his door, and she had gone back to her bedroom. However it seemed that eventually she had disturbed him anyway.
"Marlena?" Q was cast in the spot by the door as he looked at her. She looked so fragile that he felt that if he took her in his arms she might break completely. He wanted to go to her, yet something held him back. It was her.
"I'm sorry Gene, did I wake you?" Her voice was strong, yet a tremor of uncertainty ran underneath it.
"Not exactly." Q smiled at the irony. "I woke....," he became serious again. "I heard you crying. I was worried about you," he said by way of an explanation. Marlena tried to smile, but it was dissolved in a cascade of tears as the pain broke through again. His caring was more than she deserved.
"No Marlena, don't cry." Q begged. She looked up to find that he was by her side.
"I can't seem to help it." Marlena sobbed as he tentatively drew her into his arms. "It hurts too much. Why can't I make it stop hurting Gene?"
"Because that's not the way it works sweetheart," he soothed as she buried her face into his shoulder. "It's one of those all too human dilemmas."
"Then I don't want to be human," she replied wretchedly.
Marlena's tears were soaking through his t-shirt and he could feel the warmth of her against his damp skin. He swallowed as she moved instinctively closer to him, seeking the comfort that he was offering.
"What happened tonight Marlena?" he asked as gently as he knew how.
"Tonight?" It was evasive. She didn't want to think about it, much less talk about what had happened.
"With John." Q winced as he felt her tense under his arms.
"Please Gene," she pleaded as she shook with sobs. "Please don't. I just can't....."
Eugene felt tears well up in his own eyes. It was almost as if he were experiencing her pain, his own was so intense. He couldn't bear to see her like this, but at the same time he didn't know what to do to help her.
"It's okay. It's going to be okay." He began to stroke her hair with his fingers as he held her, whispering tender platitudes to try and calm her.
John pulled on a pair of dark jeans and threw a tee-shirt on over the top. His hair was wet from his shower as he checked out his bleary-eyed visage in the mirror. He turned up his nose as he fingered the black circles under his eyes. He wasn't in the best of shapes at the moment. This whole thing had him so shaken that he hardly knew which way was up any more. He hadn't been sleeping properly and regular meals had gone by the wayside. And there was no end in sight.
Deep down he knew that this was a bad idea. Going to see Marlena and the kids. But he needed to do it. Just seeing her might well be enough to still the ache in his heart. He sighed. Maybe he was just kidding himself. He had to ask himself what point was there in torturing himself? Seeing her there and not being able to touch her or talk to her, would that not be worse than not seeing her at all? But still there was this overwhelming urge that no matter how hard he tried to squelch it kept whispering to him that he needed to see her.
Still having misgivings, he pulled on a teal coloured turtleneck sweater and slipped his feet into some comfortable shoes. He snatched up his keys and wallet and took the stairs two at a time down to the living room of the loft.
The room was dark and held the familiar feel of a dear old friend, welcoming and protecting with it's stone walls. But still it wasn't enough to still John's nerves. He slid open the door and something made him stop momentarily. It was almost as if there was a feeling of something..... but then it was gone and John wasn't at all sure it wasn't his imagination working overtime. Yet it was enough to make him debate again the wisdom of this move. Maybe, he though, it might be better just to get out for some fresh air and drive off this melancholic feeling that had taken hold of him with such sudden artlessness. Maybe that was what he would do.
He slid the door closed behind him and locked it before he made his way to the elevator, fidgeting as the contraption slowly clanked its way to the top of the building. The metal bars that stood as a door slowly ground open and John climbed in and hit the ground button. The elevator was halfway down it's tortuously slow descent when the flash of gold caught his eye.
Picking it up from the floor John saw with surprise that it was a tiny gold strawberry.
Marlena was so tense that her knuckles were white where her fist gripped at Q's tee-shirt. The emotions washed uncontrollably over her as she struggled to find some splinter of control to build on. From somewhere distant, she could hear his voice, calling to her, trying to find a way to soothe her raw wounds. Slowly, within her, she reached out towards him, until she came close enough to realize that she could feel the rumbling vocalizations beneath her cheek.
She lifted her tearstained face from her chest and looked up at him, her expression plaintive.
"What do I do wrong Gene?" she asked trembling.
"Wrong?" He didn't understand, but Marlena felt like she would drown in the compassion his eyes held. She looked down.
"How do I always screw it up? I try...so....*hard*." She struggled for breath. "But I always end up *hurting* the people I love. I try to protect them, but I just cause them pain instead." She brushed at the welling tears with her fingers in an almost desperate gesture. "I hurt Roman so much and I drove him away. And I hurt Sami and Eric too, I know I did." She shrugged as the tears dripped off her jaw, only to be replaced by more. "And now I'm doing it to Belle and Brady. They're *suffering*," she sniffed and wiped at her face angrily as the tears surged in intensity. "They're *hurting* and I can't help them. I'm causing it and I can't *stop* it."
Q pulled away from Marlena slightly and gently wiped away the worst of her tears with the back of his index fingers before framing her face with his hands so that she would look at him.
"It's *not* your fault Marlena," he told her emphatically. "You are hurting more than all of them but it's nothing *you* have done. You can't keep blaming yourself for mistakes you made a lifetime ago. That's *over* now. If this is *anyone's* fault, it's *John's*." Q spat out the name angrily, furious at the man for his continuing stupidity and negligence.
Marlena flinched and tried to pull away at John's name
"No Marlena." Q was adamant. "I won't have you blaming yourself for what has happened, because it's simply not true. You have done the best you could have done. It's *John* who has failed all of you." His heart ached at the misery and disbelief in Marlena's unusually dark eyes, and he pulled his hands away and carefully tucked the stray strands of damp hair behind her ears. "Belle and Brady are children Marlena. They are resilient and they'll make it through this." He believed what he was telling her, but somewhere a little voice nagged at him.
But will you?
Yet it was almost as if Marlena hadn't heard him as she stared at him with huge, haunted eyes. Deep inside, she desperately wanted to believe what he was saying, to let go of the self-blame, the contrition and the denial. But the eternal guilt that possessed her would not let her, and the doubt remained.
"I can't do it Gene," she whispered.
"Oh Marlena..." He shook his head and pulled her into his arms again. "You have to. You just have to."
Marlena felt the warmth of his body next to hers and her arms curved automatically around his neck, seeking comfort and solace as she began to cry into his shoulder. Q swallowed deeply as she pressed herself closer to him, clinging to him like some sort of lifeline. His heart thumped as her hair brushed across his face and she was warm against him, her fragrance lingering and teasing him in subtle wafts.
As hard as he tried to resist it, memories of his dream flashed back to him. She had smelled just like this and felt just like this and he was finding it increasingly hard to control the desire he felt for her. Every part of him wanted her, wanted to make love to her slowly and worshipfully, just as he had in his dream.
But his mind told him that he couldn't be so foolish. If he made even so much as a move, he would surely be throwing away the most precious part of his existence.
"But what if she wants you too?" the little voice niggled somewhere inside. He shook his head slightly, trying to rid himself of the unsettling idea. He had to be delusional if he thought for even a moment that she might reciprocate his feelings. She had never shown any sign of feeling anything but friendship towards him. She was in love with John and that was that. She would never regard Q as anything more than a friend and perhaps a confidant. He knew that better than anyone and he couldn't kid himself otherwise.
Still, none of this made it any easier to be sitting with her in such close proximity. In fact it made it worse, knowing that he could be this close to her but never tell her how much he adored her. The feel of her silky skin and the rise and fall of her breaths was driving him almost crazy. He couldn't be this close to her and not want her. He couldn't touch her and not imagine how it would feel to slip the strap of her nightgown from her shoulder. He couldn't....
He shook his head again, a little more firmly this time, trying to rid himself of the images that sprang to his mind. He bit the inside of his lip, hard, hoping that the pain would distract him enough to be able to work out how to extricate himself from this situation. For as sure as a very sure thing, sooner or later, Marlena would realize that something was up. Figuratively if not literally.
John studied the tiny gold nugget with his brow furled into wrinkles. It looked like the charm he had given Marlena. But she hadn't been to the loft. Had she?
The lift hit the basement floor and John stepped out, still fiddling with the strawberry between his fingers. He was confused as to why it might be there but he wasn't about to jump to any conclusions. It may not even be Marlena's or it may have been there for a while. He tapped at the wall in contemplation. But then again..... He shook his head. If she had been there, she would have told him. If she had been there she would have left a note or she would have called. He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. In all honesty, he had no idea how that charm had made it's way into the lift and he couldn't just leap to conclusions and assume *anything* that came into his mind.
All he could do was just leave it and ask her when the time was convenient, that was all. Until then he wouldn't infer anything into the presence of a little piece of gold. If it was important, only time would tell.
John slipped the charm carefully into the pocket of his jeans as he pulled his keys out and entered the basement of the building. The carpark was all but deserted, his jeep one of the few occupying vehicles to be seen. He hit the remote and the alarm whooped for a second to tell him that all was clear. He climbed into the front seat of the jeep and tried to clear his mind.
A minute later, he was sitting in the driveway of the warehouse, wondering where to go. The street outside his building was eerily quiet and he turned on the radio to fill the ominous emptiness of the shadowy night. Soothing tones flooded the car as he made the decision that the best place for him to head was away from Marlena's penthouse.
Marlena was totally unaware of Eugene's dilemma until she felt him pulling away from her grip. He was gentle, but the move was sudden and Marlena looked up him in surprise.
"Gene?" she asked quickly, worried that she had done something to upset him. But as she looked at him, she was unable to read the expression in his eyes and it made her uneasy.
"I'm sorry Marlena," he was acutely uncomfortable as he tried to disentangle her arms from around his neck.
He needn't have bothered as she pulled away from him as though she had been bitten.
"You're *sorry*?" she asked with a touch of anger, misunderstanding Eugene's motives. "What exactly is making you sorry?"
Q immediately regretted his move, even though he logically knew he had been offered no other choice. He hadn't wanted to hurt her, or embarrass her, and here he was, potentially doing both.
"It's alright Marlena, it doesn't matter," he murmered.
His attempt to sidestep the issue only made matters worse.
"It doesn't *matter*?" Marlena repeated, her eyes filling with tears as she saw how uncomfortable Eugene suddenly was. "You said you wanted to help me and now it's like you can't get away from me fast enough ....and it doesn't *matter*?"
"That's not at all what I meant." Gene's face reddened with embarrassment and distress. It was exactly this sort of scene he had been trying to avoid. The only way this could be worse was if she knew what he really *had* meant.
"Well, what exactly *did* you mean?" Marlena snapped back, her temper fraying under the enormous stress she had placed upon herself.
"It's not important Marlena. I just wanted to help you, that's all. I'm sorry if I hurt you instead." Q was defensive, setting Marlena's nerves even more tightly. Clenching her jaw, she pushed herself off the bed and away from Q, crossing her arms in front of her like a barrier.
"Well, I'm sorry if you don't find it important. I happen to think it is, but if you don't want to let me in on your little secret, well that's your prerogative." The words were out of Marlena's mouth before she could bite them back. It was like someone else had taken control and she couldn't stop the vitriolic words before they hit their target. "I'm sorry if I've taken up too much of your precious time."
Q looked up at Marlena in shock. He hadn't expected her to react so virulently. Or to get it so wrong.
"Marlena. No." He shook his head. "That's not it at all."
"You don't need to spare my feelings Gene." She consciously loosened her fists and tried to relax. The nasty voice receded to the back of her head momentarily. There was no point in making this any more acrimonious than it already was. "It was nice of you to put up with me this long. I guess you can head back to bed now."
Q just looked at her. She had it all so wrong, but he could never convince her of that without telling her the truth of the matter. And he couldn't do that either. He was stuck and instead of helping her, he only seemed to have made matters worse. He was just one more person that had let her down.
"Marlena, I...," he tried, "you're wrong." He sighed. "There's nothing I want more than to help you. You have done so much for me. I just want to return your friendship and all the support you have given me."
His words touched and exacerbated the turmoil of emotions inside Marlena. What he was saying was so at odds with his earlier actions that had confused and hurt her. After all that she had been through, after all the lies and chicanery, she needed his honesty and the strength of his love and friendship to get her through this. She couldn't do it on her own.
"Then why are you doing this?" she began to cry again. "Why are you pushing me away? I need you Gene and you're pushing me away."
"I'm not Marlena," his voice was almost hoarse. "I'm not pushing you away."
"Please don't *lie* to me Gene. At least you owe me *that* much." She wiped her face dry again and the memory of him moving away from her and the unreadable expression in his dark brown eyes sparked her anger again. And once more, that anger proved to bolster her strength. "I don't understand Gene. You *physically* pushed me away. What *else* am I supposed to think when you look at me like you'd rather be *anywhere* but with here with me."
Her intimation that he was lying incensed Q. It was bad enough to be in this situation, but for her to misinterpret his motives and blame him for something which had no basis in truth, hurt him more than he would have been willing to admit. That and the contributing tiredness led him to fight back.
"You're *supposed* to trust me. You're supposed to realize that I would never do anything to hurt you."
"Oh yeah - I've heard *that* line before." Marlena shot back angrily. "I've heard it over and *over*. But it never makes any difference in the end. When it becomes too hard, those words mean *nothing*. It's easier to walk away."
"You're being *ridiculous*." Q bit back his words but he was too late - they were out, and they hung like a scimitar between them.
"*Ridiculous*?!" Marlena was fuming. "Nice to know what you really think of me. Finally I think we're getting to the truth."
Q ran his fingers through his hair despairingly. She was driving him crazy and he realized she wasn't going to let up on him any time soon.
"Maybe you're right. Maybe I shouldn't be here." He said grimly. "Maybe in the morning you might be a little more rational."
"And maybe in the morning I might just still be the same person I am now and you might decide to walk out the door and not come back." Marlena retorted furiously. "How am I supposed to *know*? What is so wrong with me Eugene that you can't bear to spend five minutes in the same room with me?"
"Please don't Marlena." Q warned her, his own emotions totally chaotic, lagging along behind the rollercoaster ride of Marlena's. "Just *leave* it."
"No!" Marlena was too upset now. She couldn't leave it alone. Not until he told her the truth. "You don't want to be here. You don't want to help me, even though you say you do. I want to know why you're lying to me. If you're trying to be kind, you're not. You're just being cruel."
"You can't.." Q stared at her, distressed "You can't think that. It's not true."
"Then what *is* the truth *dammit*?" Marlena loudly battered at Gene's defenses. "Why are you doing this to me? WHY?"
"Don't you understand?" He shook his head. "I can't be here with you like this Marlena. It's driving me crazy."
"No I *don't* understand." She was practically shouting at him. "WHY?" she demanded again, not seeing what should have been totally obvious.
"Because of the way I *feel* about you! I can't be near you Marlena because I *want* you so much I'm afraid to even *touch* you!" Q blurted it out before he even knew it was coming. He almost didn't realize that he had said it out loud until he saw the stark shock registering on Marlena's face.
John turned into another street that he hadn't driven through for years. When the twins were little, sometimes he had taken them driving, just to calm them down. In doing so he had come across places he had never seen before, or since. Even during his long hours on stake-outs, he had never seen half of these areas of town.
It wasn't long before he found himself up on the hill overlooking Salem. It was where all the kids parked he remembered. It wasn't all he remembered. Once he had brought Marlena up here. It had been late, and deserted, just like this. The twins were with their grandparents and he hadn't told her where they were going until they had reached Lookout Point. When he had turned off the engine, Marlena had giggled and asked him what they were doing there. He had told her that they were parking. She had laughed again with embarrassment and told him that they were not teenagers. He had laughed back and asked why that mattered? She hadn't taken much convincing and they had ended up laughing and making love in the back seat of the car, just like a couple of teenagers.
He winced. The memory had been too painful to dredge up, but it seemed wherever he went right now, she was there. Memories of their life together, of losing her, of the mistakes he had made.... He pulled the gold strawberry out of his pocket and rubbed it distractedly against his lips. The pain and despair was almost overwhelming. He needed her in his life so much that it was almost like she were a vital part of him and she sustained him, keeping him breathing and healthy.
He so desperately wanted to see her. To touch her, to hold her and to make love to her. He didn't know what to do, his need for her was so consuming. He couldn't stop thinking about her and it was only getting worse.
Eugene covered his face with his hands and groaned inwardly. He couldn't believe he had just made such a huge blunder. He couldn't even bear to look at Marlena's face. The pity and rejection he knew he would find there was too much for him to take.
Instead he just sat, immobile on the edge of the bed, mentally flagellating himself for being so *utterly* stupid. Inside, he felt as though he was about to die. Of course, he thought, perhaps dying would be preferable to just about any other outcome of this scenario. He could feel her disdain emanating from across the room and he desperately wanted to get up and run as far and as fast as he could. But he was stuck here, his heart pounding, and feeling more miserable than he ever had.
Marlena stood stunned, across the room as it all became suddenly clear. Why he had behaved like he had and why he hadn't been able to tell her. And she suddenly felt very foolish. Foolish not to see what should have been so obvious. And foolish to have been so wrapped up in her own troubles that she hadn't seen his. And the fact that she was the cause of them. That was soon replaced though, by concern for Eugene. And by something else.
It suddenly occurred to her exactly what he had done for her. He had spent all this time, trying to help her with her own shattered love life, while ignoring his own feelings. In his effort to help her deal with her emotions, he had put his to one side and he had never once let her see the true extent of his struggle. Because he would have known instinctively that it must change their relationship. It would have to, there was no way the footing they had established in their long friendship could stay the same now.
She looked at the hunched figure sitting on the bed and knew that he was absolutely distraught at what had just happened. But like she had been, he was blaming himself for something he had no control over and she couldn't bear to see him in such pain. Especially knowing that she was the cause.
She castigated herself for not realizing. She should have known. Perhaps she had known, but she had chosen to ignore the knowledge, lest it complicate her life even more. But she knew now, that had not been fair on her part. Those had not been the actions of a real friend.
As she watched him, memories began to flow into her consciousness, memories of their friendship, the way they had helped each other through crises and been there to enjoy the good times with each other. He had, she thought, been so good to her, and she had never really appreciated that fact. Until this moment.
Images floated by, in some semblance of order, but at the same time disjointed in their focus and meaning. His unshaven and frightened face. He had abducted her, thinking he was the Salem strangler. He had threatened her and scared her half to death, but when it had come down to the wire, he had not harmed her. And she had known, deep down, that he wouldn't.
She remembered after Samantha had been killed by Jake Kosichek, how Eugene had practically saved her from an interrogation by Jake's brother Chris and how Gene had given Chris the once over that had practically driven him out of her office. She had been wallowing in guilt, but Gene had been the only person, besides Roman, who had been able to get through that barrier. And then a little later, in his own unique way he had helped her recover from the loss of her foster son Johnny to his birth mother. He had read her a passage from the bible and she could still remember how uncertain he had seemed, but how much it had obviously meant to him to try and help her. He really *had* helped her and that had meant the world to her.
Later, when Trista had been killed, she had been there to help him through it and he had returned the support when she believed that Roman was dead. When she had fallen pregnant with the twins, Eugene had been there to cover for she and Roman, by taking 'responsibility' for her pregnancy. She could still remember the conversation they had had when he had suggested that she marry him. "I can't marry you," she had said with some surprise, "that's bigamy!" "Yeah, well," he had quipped back lightheartedly, "It's big of *me*!"
And so their friendship had continued as it grew and strengthened, he being there for her and she for him, through the good times they had shared, and the heartbreaking moments. He had always been unfailing in his loyalty to her.
And then he had come back to Salem a different person, with a different name, but in all the ways that had really mattered, he had still been her Gene. He was wonderful with Belle and Brady and they just adored him. He had made her laugh when she had felt that she could barely smile and he had been her strength and her foundation. He had been there for her every step of the way through this crisis with John, and it was even he who had thrown them together on that night months ago. It seemed as if his loyalty to her knew no bounds, even at the cost of his own inner peace.
Suddenly another memory came flooding back to her. It was recent and suddenly almost overwhelming and she took a step back, steadying herself on the bureau. It was the night she had gotten so miserable and drunk. He had come home late, by which time she had polished off a large portion of the bottle of red wine, and she had torn into him, blaming him for not being there for her when it really counted.
Marlena flushed, feeling ashamed of herself. He *had* been there when it really counted. He always had, she couldn't blame him for the problems that she herself had created and then not been able to handle. It was selfish of her to expect him to be there to pick up the pieces. Especially now she realized what it had been doing to him.
He had sat through her drunken recriminations and self-pity that night, suffering her in silence.
Q crawled over to where she hunched in front of the flames.
"Then let me help you."
"I don't *want* your help." Marlena shook his arm from around her. "I don't want anybody's help. I just want you to leave me *alone*." Her voice trailed off into a quiet, plaintive echo. "I just want to be alone,"
"Oh I see." As much as he adored Marlena, Q's patience was wearing thin. "You just want to lie here, get even more drunk and wallow in your self-pity."
Marlena glared at him.
"If you say so." she said, her words becoming noticeably indistinct. "After all, you're *always* right *Mr. Q*. How could I possibly argue with a god?" Q sighed.
"Marlena, you're being obtuse and argumentative. There *is* no point in arguing with *you* when you're in this state."
"*Fine*! Then why don't you go to bed. And leave me alone to be miserable." She stared at him, her eyes still full of the self-hatred that he couldn't bear to see. "And drunk and self-pitying. Okay?"
But he hadn't left her. Knowing she was at her lowest ebb, instead he had comforted her and then he had carried her up to bed. And when she had asked him not to leave her alone, he had obliged. And then she had kissed him.
She had put it down to the drink before, but that night, Marlena had seen something in Gene's eyes that she had never seen, or chosen to see before. She had reacted to that indefinable something, and in doing so, realized that she was intensely attracted to him, however much she had tried to deny it since. Her fingers rose reflexively to her lips, as though she could suddenly feel a heat that had been imprinted on them by that single kiss.
It was Eugene that had broken it off. He hadn't wanted to take advantage of her and he had told her that it was John that she was really wanting to be with, not him. But in a way, she now realized, he had been wrong. She had wanted John, but she hadn't considered Gene as merely a substitute. She had really been attracted to him, and more than a little curious.
It was with a surprise that Marlena realized that her heartbeat had quickened. It was, she supposed, nervousness. But it was more than that. She knew she wasn't *in love* with him, she did know that and she wouldn't kid herself, or him otherwise. But here he had been, only moments ago, telling her how much he wanted her, and now she realized with surprise, he wasn't alone in his desire. She really did love him, a love born of friendship and caring. However, right at this moment, she couldn't see any reason why that relationship couldn't, or shouldn't move to a higer level.
The kiss flitted again through her mind, and she felt desire move through her like a warm and sensuous invasion. The memories of that night might have been a little hazy, thanks to the merlot, but Marlena was in no doubt that she had enjoyed it. And she also knew she would have happily taken it further if Eugene had not stopped her.
Q still sat on the edge of the bed, frozen in his shame. He was mortified, which was entirely unfair, Marlena reflected. All he had ever sought to do was make her happy and now one slip was tearing him apart. The thoughts repeated in her mind, urging her to make a decision that, in truth, she had already made. She had made it the moment he had said those words. That he wanted her.
He had wanted to make her happy, and now she had the opportunity to make him happy. There was no doubt in her mind that it was over with John. He had obviously made his decision and she now had to move on with her life. And here she was being offered the perfect means to do that. Eugene was sitting here, offering her his love and a new direction for her life, and she couldn't think of one good reason not to accept.
John jumped the short distance from his jeep to the ground and pushed the door shut behind him. He walked slowly down to the lake, the thick layer of stones crunching beneath his feet. He stared out over the water for a moment and then crouched down on the pebble littered shore. The moon was still shining brightly, though a few clouds were rolling in to blot the silver orb and muffle it's effect on the world below.
He picked up a smooth pebble and, turned it over in his fingers, feeling the coolness of it agains the warmth of his hand. He contemplated it for several moments before he tossed it at the water which lapped at the lake shore. It hit the glossy surface of the lake with a plunk and sank beneath the water, the ripples slowly driving outwards in ever increasing circles, that eventually touched everything.
That was how he saw Kristen he reflected, just like that stone. Smooth and cold but with the capacity to create havoc. And the consequences of her actions rippled ever further, like the rings of an ever-increasing wave of disorder.
He looked out over the lake and made out the outline of Smith Island in the distance. That island, and the cabin that it sequestered, held many memories. Some good, some not so good.
Of course, the sweetest was the birth of his daughter. Bringing that tiny bundle into the world was one of John's greatest joys. The connection he had felt with that small life was quite profound, an extension and legitamation of the soul-deep bond he had with her mother.
But Kristen even marred that memory.
John sighed loudly, breaking the cold peace of the night. If only he had known then what he know now, how different his life would be.
Q groaned inwardly. He had heard nothing from Marlena's direction and his agony seemed to be growing exponentially with each second that passed. He could hardly believe that she had reduced him to this, a snivelling wreck over a mere woman. But then she was no mere woman. What he remembered saying in his dream was all too true. He had never been able to completely forget her, no matter how he had tried. She had followed him through systems and galaxies, and through time itself.
He had busied himself following, scrutinising and often tormenting humans and pretty much every other sentiant race throughout space, but he had still never quite been able to escape her influence and he had found himself undertaking surprising and unexpectedly unselfish exploits when he least expected it.
And now, after all this time, whether it was eleven, four hundred or four million years, he was back with her and after all this time he realized the truth that he was as much in love with her as he had ever been. If anything his feelings were deeper. He loved her so much that he ached with the emotions he tried to contain within himself. And with one stupid slip of the tongue he had just destroyed everything he held dear. He wished silently that she'd make the final blow quick and not prolong his humiliation too much lomger. But while he waited, every second slowed to an eternity, an eternity that seemed far longer than any he was used to.
The soft touch on his hand startled him so much that he almost jumped.. He hadn't heard her move back to the bed. He hadn't even sensed her movement at all. If he had been honest with himself he would have realised that his fear was shutting her out, but all he could concentrate on was the voluble pounding of his heart and the constriction of his throat. The feeling of her hands closing over his only worsened his panic.
"Gene." Her voice was like sweet amber honey as it flowed over him. Yet he ignored her, unwilling to open his eyes to the pity and embarrasment in hers. He wished with all his might that this night had never happened, and things would remain the way they had been, but now that could never happen. He would have given almost *anything* for his full contingent of powers at this point.
"Please Gene?" she repeated and he felt one of her hands move from his. Suddenly her fingers were under his chin, trying to encourage him to look upwards. Miserably, he shook his head.
"Please don't Marlena," he begged in a tortured whisper.
"Just look at me." Her voice was velvety but something about it was extremely persuasive and Q almost couldn't help himself as he slowly raised his head and opened his disconsolate eyes to hers.
What he found in them floored him momentarily. Instead of the pity he had prepared himself for, her eyes told an entirely different story. The sparkle of the hazel irises delivered him momentary hope as he imagined that he recognized her expression from his dream. It was only seconds before it occured to him that he was setting himself up for a terrible fall. The look in her eyes could hardly be desire, for why in the universe would she want him? It was he decided, mild amusement, which was almosy more painful that plain pity. He couldn't stand to be just a clown to Marlena. If that was how she felt about him he thought he might just die of the humiliation.
For a moment he hoped she had just thought his words had been spoken in jest. That was until she spoke again. Her voice was soft and full of compassion.
"Gene, I can't believe you've been holding this in for so *long*." She was trying to be gentle, but she could see the wince in his eyes as she spoke.
"Please Marlena," the words tumbled out almost too quickly, as if he had been rehearsing them in his head. "I don't want your pity. Really, I can handle anything but that."
Marlena's expression became serious as, in an intimate gesture, she smoothed the hair at his temple. "Oh Eugene," she whispered with a hint of a smile. "I don't *pity* you." She stared straight into his eyes as she spoke the truth that came from her heart. "I *want* you."
(NB: This chapter is edited for NC-17 content. If you wish to read the unedited chapter, please click here.)
John crossed his arms in front of him and wandered along the lake shore. There was so much that he would change if only he could have the chance to do it all over again. After that plane crash he would search for her until he had found her, however long that took. He would have found her and he never would have let her out of his arms, much less his sight ever again.
He had been so stupid to think he could replace her. In his life and in his heart, she was the only one that would ever fit the space. Roman had come back and John had just given her up, just walked away, thinking he was doing the right thing. He knew now he should have fought for her with everything he had. But like so many times he had done what he had thought was right for her and everyone else.
He thought back to the day they had said the final goodbyes to their marriage and relationship down in Chichenitza. They had just discovered that Isabella was pregnant, and everything had fallen into place. Or so they had thought. Deciding to end it then without resolving their feelings had just led to more pain and heartache for everyone, most of all, the one person he had never wanted to hurt, Marlena.
He had lost everything else and he had let her slip away along with all the other facets of his life that were so important to him. He remembered that conversation like it had been yesterday. He had not wanted to let go of her.
"I don't have any memories of my own, and the one I do have I'm supposed to forget."
Marlena had shaken her head softly, obviously feeling his pain. "No. Don't forget it. Just think of this as a journey, and this was a place that you stopped, along the way. And then you moved on." She had sounded so convincing, like it would all be so easy, just to forget their life and their love together and make new lives. Still, she had almost reduced him to tears when he had told her that he had loved her. "I loved *you*..." she had whispered, tears in her eyes, "...love...you." And then that had been it. The end of their love. At least that was what they had tried to tell themselves.
John sighed and wiped away the tear that clung to his cheek. The past was the past. He couldn't keep torturing himself over things that he couldn't change. He had done some terrible things and he had hurt Marlena badly, but he knew their love was strong enough to make it past those obstacles. He just had to work out how to make Marlena see that too.
Q's chest thumped as he shook his head vehemently at Marlena's words. This was going to be even worse than he had imagined. The last thing he had wanted was for her to feel so sorry for him that she'd do this. His eyes filled with tears of humiliation and he bowed his head, desperately trying to hide his weakness from her.
"Please don't Marlena," he whispered. "That just makes it worse."
"Wha...?" Marlena looked down at his bowed head, a little confused, not yet understanding the extent of Q's insecurities. Her brow wrinkled a little. "Gene, I don't understand."
"Of course you don't," Q's laugh was harsh and self-deprecating. "I don't even understand." He took a deep breath and stared at down at her perfect hand , still gently covering his clumsy, human ones. "I told you I didn't want your pity Marlena. I never meant to burden you with this and I can't bear the thought that...." He trailed off, unable to bring to voice the words that floated awkwardly in his head.
"Oh..." Marlena looked at him, aching for his pain. She understood perfectly now. He thought she was offering herself out of pity and embarrassment. That she would sleep with him because she felt sorry for him.
Without a sound, she knelt before him on the carpeted floor.
"Gene," she looked up at his face and discovered that there were tears of his cheeks. She felt a pang as she realized that it was years since she had seen him cry. Gently she lifted her fingers to his cheeks and traced the path of his tears. "Gene, now I think it's *you* who doesn't understand." She smiled as she smoothed away the moisture. "I didn't say that out of pity or because I was embarrassed or anything else. I said it because it's the truth." She saw the confusion in his eyes as her words sank in. "Gene, when you told me that you wanted me, it made me realize something that I hadn't admitted to myself before. Not fully. It's true. I am attracted to you and I *do* want you. It's as simple as that."
Her voice sounded low and husky to Q and it twisted his heart even deeper into the knot that strangled his responses. All he could do was shake his head and moan "No." There was no way she could want him. It couldn't be possible. After an eternity of dreaming about her and worshipping her, she couldn't just tell him she wanted him. It made no sense.
Marlena continued to see the disbelief in his eyes and wondered how to get through to him, to make him see that she was telling the truth. Slowly, she edged towards him and looked at his hands, clasped below hers. She lifted her hands and gently pried his apart. His eyes begged her to just let him be, but she would not be dissuaded. She lifted his left hand gently and brought it toward her, laying his palm on the bare skin above her satin clad cleavage.
"Can you feel it?" she whispered. "Doesn't that prove that I'm telling you the truth?"
Q closed his eyes as he felt the rhythm of her heart below her skin. Despite the fact that she had only the satin nightgown on, her skin was warm, and she was infiltrating her fingers between his as she held his hand against her.
He pulled away.
"Please don't do this to me Marlena," he said soberly. "It's not exactly fair."
"I don't want to be fair." Marlena leant forward so that her face was just inches away from his. "What I want is for you to make love to me."
Her words, in little more than a breathy murmur, send a shockwave of lust though him. He wanted her so badly that he could barely stand it and she was scant inches away from him.
"I want to make you happy," she mouthed softly. "Let me make you happy."
Q could do nothing but swallow and look at her. Her face was flushed, her eyes glittering, and she genuinely seemed to mean what she said. Although maybe, he reflected, it was because he wanted to believe that she was genuine. His desire for her had so bewildered his thoughts that he didn't know what to do. He knew what he *should* do was to get up and walk out of the room and let her come to her senses. But she was now leaning on his knees, smiling at him with that enigmatic air and he couldn't move. It was as though with her gaze she had transfixed him.
"No arguments?" she grinned wickedly. "Well this is a much better state of affairs." Q took in a breath to speak but she winked at him and he was lost. She put her index finger to her lips and kissed it and then sealed his lips with the merest touch.
It came unexpectedly when she pushed him back onto the bed and by the time he had struggled back up, he realized, Marlena had relieved him of his boxers shorts.
"Marlena, no!" There was almost terror in his eyes as he realized what she intended to do.
"It's alright sweetheart," she smiled playfully. "I promise I'll be gentle."
Q, in a last, desperate gesture tried to push her away, but she was too quick for him and she smiled as she heard his capitulating groan.
Slowly she pulled away, and Q shivered as she looked up at him with a touch of amusement.
"Do you want me to stop?" she teased with a smile and a gleam in her eyes. Q swallowed and shook his head slowly. "I didn't think so," she grinned.
Marlena noted the expression on his face and smiled at him as she deliberately pushed the straps of her nightgown off her shoulders. Pushing herself off the floor, she hitched the skirt of her nightgown up slightly and moved forward until she was straddling Q's thighs. Catching his eyes with a sultry glance from below her lashes, she lowered herself until she was sitting on his knees.
She could sense his nervousness as she shimmied forward slightly and she determined to show him that there was no reason to be nervous. He was as much a part of this as she was. With a small smile, she leaned forward and pulled his hands off the bed so that he had to sit upright to balance himself. With that small movement, Q found himself pressed up against Marlena, so close he could feel her warmth emanating through the skimpy nightdress. Marlena brought his hands around behind her and pressed them against the back of her hips. Q's eyes widened as she let his hands go and snaked hers around his neck so that he was sure she must be able to feel the way his heart was hammering in his chest.
He slid his hands over the warm satin, exploring her curves as he studied her face with his eyes. Everything about her was perfect. He wanted to feel every single inch of her body against him and he felt as if he could stare into her eyes forever and never feel bored. In return, Marlena was sweeping his face with her own eyes. The way he was looking at her made her shiver with delight. It was as though in one moment he could uncover all her secrets with his penetrating stare.
They sat that way for several moments, just drinking each other in, both amazed to find themselves entranced in a moment they had thought would never happen. Then Marlena broke the moment and gently swept her lips past Q's. The graze of her lips left Q's tingling and wanting more. Sliding his hands up her back, he pulled her even closer so that her breasts were crushed against his chest. One hand carried on upwards, gliding over the freckled skin of her back and then up over the nape of her neck, causing her to inhale deeply. Finally his fingers wove themselves deeply into her blonde tresses and he kissed her. He was gentle at first, but the feeling of her hand exploring his back made him lust for her even more.
The feeling of Eugene's lips on hers made the desire explode inside Marlena. She wanted him so badly that she wasn't sure that she could wait for him to take the lead. Q moaned against her mouth as he felt her fingernails rake not quite so gently across his back. She surprised him once again as her tongue slipped tentatively into his mouth, tempting him to experience even more of her. He eagerly took up the invitation, deepening the kiss, sliding his tongue against hers, making her tremble as he sent sparks shooting through her body.
Finally Marlena broke off the deeply passionate kiss, gasping for breath.
"Oh my!" she exclaimed. Q regarded her for a moment, her face reddened as she panted.
"Are you sure this is what you really want?" he asked solemnly. Marlena's face was serious as her breathing slowed slightly. She looked at him for several moments, realizing idly, that where his eyes had been brown before, now they were almost green. "Marlena?"
"Hmm?" She was shaken out of her musings by his voice and the concern in his eyes. "Oh, I'm sorry, what was the question?" Her mind was working ahead of her body and she had totally lost track of what he was asking her.
"I said are you sure this is what you want?" Q asked, a tremor invading his voice as he feared she was suddenly coming to her senses.
"Oh.." Marlena's laugh bubbled out of her throat. "Why you silly. Of course I want this." She suddenly became serious as she lifted her index finger and began to trace his lips. Her eyelids lowered slightly and she looked up at him from under her lashes. "I can't think of anything right now which I want more." She leaned forward until her mouth was right next to his ear. "Make love to me Gene," she whispered breathily.
The blissful feelings seemed to go on forever as they continued to move against each other, but finally their cries quieted and their movements slowed to a halt. Marlena collapsed against Q with a satisfied sigh, unable to move for several minutes thanks to her exhaustion. Q wrapped his arms around her and lifted one hand to pull her long blonde hair behind her shoulders. Unable to resist, he kissed her shoulder. Marlena lifted her head and looked at Q with an almost shy smile.
"That was...." she paused, lost for a description. "How do you *do* that?" she asked, lifting her hand wearily to wipe the moisture from his forehead.
"I think I remember telling you once that I was impotent...," Q grinned and clicked his fingers, "No that's not right." He pretended to think for a moment.
"Stop being silly!" Marlena giggled as she brushed at him with her hand.
"AH! That's right! *Omnipotent*. How could I forget?" Q laughed with her.
He felt her shiver against him as their bodies cooled, and he pulled over the cotton blanket from the end of the bed and draped it around her shoulders.
"Hmmm. Whatever it was, it was wonderful." Marlena murmered dreamily.
"You're wonderful," Q whispered into her hair.
"Me?" Marlena laughed.
"Yes you." Q smiled and kissed her forehead.
"Well, I think *you're* wonderful." Marlena reached up and planted a gentle kiss on his lips. "My Mr. Wonderful." She sighed and slipped her arms around his neck again and then lay her head on his shoulder as they sat contentedly together, luxuriating in the warm lustre of their lovemaking.
John found a bench and sat down, pulling his jacket closer round him. This had to be the coldest time of the morning and he could feel the frigid breeze coming from a northern direction. He rubbed his hands together and smiled unexpectedly as he thought of Belle again. To him she was the most beautiful little girl in the world, and he adored her so much that it almost hurt.
She always knew how to cheer him. A wink, a kiss or a giggle always smoothed away his pain and she could clear the clouds from his mood like a gentle breeze bringing the sunshine. Of course a result of this fracture in his relationship with Marlena was that he hadn't seen nearly enough of his children lately. That was as much his fault as it was anyone's, he knew that. He had been so busy burying himself in his work that he had told himself that he just didn't have the time to give them.
In some ways that was true, but he also knew that it was because every time he saw the children, they reminded them of exactly how much he had lost and it hurt too much to put himself through that over and over. He propped his elbows on his knees and dropped his chin into his hands with a sigh. His conscience told him he was being nothing but a big coward. His children needed him and he couldn't keep running away because of the mistakes he had made. He couldn't keep on hurting them because he was afraid of hurting himself.
And besides, the last few times he had spoken to Marlena it had looked like maybe she was softening. It was just that it had been so long now, and he had tried so hard to prove to her that he was honest in his intentions and emotions. And still he seemed to be making such little headway.
John took in a deep breath and then exhaled, the warm air frosting in the moonlight. He had promised to do whatever it took, however long it took. He couldn't get discouraged now. One day, he didn't care how long in the distance it was, as long as it happened, he would make Marlena Evans his wife.
Marlena shifted a little uncomfortably as she realized her legs had gone to sleep.
"Ow," she cursed under her breath and winced as she tried to pull her feet from where they were crossed behind Eugene, off of the bed. Eugene saw that she was in difficulty, and supporting her with his hands, he stood up, carrying her with him.
Marlena smiled at him.
"Do you always know what I'm thinking?" she asked.
"Uh-uh." Q grinned and shook his head. "If I did, I don't think you would have had to seduce in me quite such a..." he paused and lifted his eyebrows, "a *brazen* fashion."
"Oh, you would have spoiled all my fun huh?" Marlena returned his banter.
"I hardly think so." Q dropped a soft kiss on her lips and then turned around as Marlena sighed.
"No, I think you're right." She smiled lazily as he leaned over and gently laid her on top of the rumpled comforter.
"Mmmm," she unwrapped her limbs from around him and stretched. "I still can't quite believe this happened." She pulled him close to her as he lay down. "I never expected it to happen."
"You should try it from this angle," Eugene grinned like a little boy at Christmas. "Here I've been, thinking about you, dreaming about you for years, but never imagining that there could even possibly be a chance that you would even look at me twice. And suddenly I'm here with you and we've just made this incredible love. It's totally unbelievable!"
"Oh Gene," Marlena ran two fingers down the side of his face, following the hollow of his cheek down to his lips. She played her fingers thoughtfully over them for a moment before she spoke again. "I'm sorry I never knew. I'm sorry if I made it awkward for you."
"I didn't *want* you to know." He looked up at the ceiling as he spoke. "We have had a wonderful friendship Marlena. And I knew that was only what you thought of me. A good friend. I didn't want to risk that for some pipe dream."
"Some pipe dream alright," Marlena giggled as she cuddle, up to him. "I know you're right, I just hate the thought that I ever caused you any pain." Eugene drew her into his arms and she nuzzled his neck, feeling the vibrations as he spoke.
"Never any pain," he said as Marlena began to kiss his throat. "Intense *frustration* maybe. But never pain....Ow!"
Marlena looked up at him with wide-eyes, trying to suppress her chuckle as he recovered from the bite she had just given him. His eyes narrowed for a moment and then Marlena shrieked with laughter as he rolled her over and began his own offensive on her neck.
John made his way back to the jeep which sat as an immobile watcher over it's owner's meditations. He climbed into the vehicle and turned the key in the ignition, the dash coming to a harshly luminous life. John sat back in his seat and stared blankly into the distance as the radio began to hum.
The last time he had seen Marlena he had been taking the children to the zoo. It had been just over a week ago, but it seemed like forever. But every detain, every little movement, was etched in his memory. He had stood behind her and she had visibly shivered. He still had the same effect on her as she had on him, it was quite obvious. But that didn't mean she was ready to forgive him.
I turned around too late, to see the falling star, I fell asleep and never saw the sun go down.
John sighed as the soothing music swirled around him, filling the car with dulcet tones and familiar sentiments. I took your love for granted, thought luck was always on my side. I turned around too late and you were gone. He looked to the east. The sky was not yet lightening. There would still be two hours before sunrise.
So give me one more chance, darlin', if you care for me. He turned the key and the engine caught. Let me win your love, cos you were always there, for me. The jeep backed away from the lake and turned onto the road.
If you care for me, be there for me.
Eugene stopped for breath and looked at Marlena.
"Are you *sure* you aren't going to regret this in the morning?" he asked again in another moment of self-doubt. Marlena smiled, understanding his nervousness and wondering if she wouldn't be feeling the same way if the situation was reversed. Tenderly she reached out and ran her fingers over the creases, scribed into his forehead.
"It *is* the morning sweetheart," she whispered as she tried to wipe away his worry. "I'm not going to regret this. I know what I am doing and I'm loving every moment of it." She pressed herself close to him. "I can't wait to wake up with you."
"We have to go to sleep first," Q grinned impishly.
"We do?" Marlena smiled innocently as one hand crept up the inside of Gene's thigh.
Q caught her hand away before she could make him any more impatient than he already was. Pinning it above her head with his right hand, he rolled her partially onto her back, and brought his mouth within inches of hers.
"Are you trying to tempt me Dr. Evans?" He lifted his eyebrows with the slightest hint of a smile. Marlena swallowed, her heart hammering in her chest and tremors running through her body, suddenly and completely aroused by what this man could do to her with his eyes and silky smooth voice.
"Would I do that?" she whispered with a tantalizing smile.
"Oh yes, I think you would." Without moving his eyes from her face, Eugene began to run his hand lightly up the outside of Marlena's thigh and over her hip. It graduated over her slightly rounded stomach and slid up and over her heavy breasts until his fingers came to rest at the hollow of her throat.
"I don't think you *need* tempting Mr. Bradford," Marlena whispered thickly. "You seem to be doing fine without my help."
"Oh no," Q ran his hand up her arm to where he held her lightly with his other hand, his fingers meshed with hers, "you see, every time I look at you I'm tempted. I just can't help it." He raked her body with his eyes as if to emphasize what he was saying.
"You're insatiable." The sexy laugh welled in Marlena's throat.
"I have a lot of time to make up," Eugene replied with a secretive smile before he ducked his head to the side of her throat.
A thought crossed Q's mind as he played his tongue over his body. He wasn't using his powers to arouse her this time. It was just he and her. His insecurity took over again and he wondered what she was thinking. Or more especially *who* she was thinking about. He pulled himself up the bed and studied her face, wondering what he would find when she opened her eyes. Gently he lay a delicate kiss on her lips, his heart pounding in his chest with nervousness. Marlena's lips searched out his with increasing fierceness and he found himself responding almost without conscious thought.
When the kiss ended, he pulled back, his eyes remaining closed for a long moment before he found the strength to open them. Marlena was looking up at him, her eyes glowing. And he saw in them, not John Black, as he had expected, but surprisingly, a reflection of himself.
It was in that moment that he was finally convinced that she really wanted to make love to him, not just as a means of wiping her mind momentarily of John, but because she really wanted to. The knowledge filled his heart and he couldn't help the grin that crossed his face.
"What are you smiling at?" Marlena chuckled.
"Why are you so nosy?" Gene shot back, unwilling to reveal his thoughts.
"It's a professional hazard," Marlena said as she worked her hand free from a distracted Q.
"I'm sure it is," agreed Q as he caught her hand up in his again and regarded it remembering how she had woven her fingers between his in his dream. And how he had made love to her, just with his love for her and nothing else and how she had loved it.
As Marlena pulled her hand from his again, he resolved to bring her that pleasure here and now.
John stepped off the elevator in silence and headed for the door. Taking out his key, he quietly inserted it in the lock and twisted it until the mechanism clicked. Holding his breath, he opened the door and stepped into the silent apartment. He closed the door behind him and quickly punched in the security code.
He stealthily climbed the stairs to the landing and stopped in each of the children's rooms to blow a kiss to the sleeping cherubs. To obsessed with his goal to notice that the door to the guest room was ajar, John stopped in front of Marlena's room and rested his hand lightly against the cool wood. The room was silent within but he had no way of knowing if she were awake or asleep.
He knew he had to take that chance.
As slowly and as quietly as he could, John twisted the door handle until it would turn no further and then taking a deep breath, he pushed the door open.
copyright © 1999-2003 by rjy