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399

As the day wore on, and the questions and explanations continued, Abe left the museum in order to see that the others were kept up to date. It was long after dark before John and Marlena were able to leave as well, and they went by unspoken agreement to the hospital. Kim was with Roman in his room, and she leapt up to greet John before any of them had had a chance to speak. He hugged her back, glad to be with her once again.

"How are you?" she asked, stepping back and holding him at arm's length. "Abe said that you'd been hurt?"

"I'm fine," he assured her. Marlena shot him a typically fierce glare.

"I thought we agreed that I'd be the judge of that?" she asked, and he could not resist a teasing smile.

"I think it was mostly you who agreed that, Doc."

"Sounds familiar," said Roman from the bed. John stepped away from Kim and Marlena then, going over to look down at his old friend.

"Hey," he said, sounding somewhat subdued. Roman smiled.

"Hey yourself. How's things?"

"Oh, you know. I got shot. I stole a painting. I got mugged by an international art thief." John shrugged, trying to make light of the situation. "Same old."

"Yeah. Sounds like business as usual." Roman held out a hand, and after a second John took it. "It's good to have you back."

"It's good to be back. And I'm sorry. About hitting you, and stealing your gun, and..." He frowned. "I lost it, by the way. Not sure where."

"At the house," filled in Roman. John nodded slowly.

"Figures. Wasn't easy carrying van Dahl out of there. I took Olivia's, but she must have taken it back when she stole the painting."

"Er, boys?" Kim was beside them in a moment, making a point of insinuating herself between them. "No shop talk. John, you're limping."

"He was shot," supplied Marlena, and gestured to a chair. John found his way back to her side in a moment, taking her hands, and leaning in for a kiss.

"I'm fine," he insisted, but wasn't especially surprised when she backed him up to the chair and pushed him into it.

"Take the weight off that leg," she ordered. "Your head needs seeing to as well. I can't begin to tell if you're going to need stitches until all of that blood is washed off."

"That can wait. We came here to visit with everybody, not register for a large scale medical examination." He tipped his head back to look up at her, as she circled behind him to check up on his injury there. "Unless you're making any offers in that line that might be worth taking up."

"Behave," she told him, but her hands were on his shoulders, and the touch was warm. She couldn't be close enough to him, he knew. He felt exactly the same way in return.

"Where are the others?" he asked Kim, partly to distract Marlena from any further thoughts of first aid kits and stitches, and partly out of interest. "I thought they'd be here."

"Shane wanted to report in. Abe went to rustle up some food. We can't have Roman wasting away on what the hospital provides." She reached over to ruffle her brother's curls playfully, and he shot her a teasing glare. "He said something about getting proper Italian pizza."

"Sounds good to me," said John cheerfully. Food sounded like a far better proposition than medical treatment. Marlena put a hand gently on the back of his head, as though to remind him of the fact that he had been hurt. He could not help but wince, ducking away from the touch. "No fair, Doc. You play dirty."

"There's a vacant room down the corridor," said Kim with a smile. "I saw it when I went for some coffee earlier. Why not take him down there and get him fixed up? Abe's sure to be a while."

"We came here to be sociable," protested John. "I feel like I haven't seen you all in ages."

"I know." She went over to take his hand, applying gentle pressure so that he would stand up. "And it's wonderful to have you back." She pulled him into a quick hug, then helped Marlena to steer him towards the door. "But just think how much better that pizza will taste when we're not all nagging you about getting your head seen to."

"Good point," he said, somewhat morosely. Roman laughed.

"We'll see you in a little while," he called out as a farewell. John glanced back from the doorway.

"Thanks, Roman." He sounded serious, even though the mood in the room was decidedly playful. Roman nodded, his own expression showing his understanding.

"Forget it," was all that he said. After a moment John nodded back, then allowed Marlena to lead him away. She pressed close to him as they headed off down the corridor, and her hand curled tightly around his.

"I'm sorry," she said after a moment. He frowned, looking down at her in surprise. All that he could see was the top of her head, but she felt too comfortable against his side for him to want to move her away. Instead he hugged her a little more.

"What for?" he asked. She glanced up at him then, leaning her head against his shoulder.

"For pulling you away. I know you wanted to be with Roman and Kim, and so did I. Or I thought that I did. Right now, though, I just want you to myself."

"Oh." He smiled at that, and kissed the top of her head. "I'm not complaining, Doc. It's good to be with them, but it's always a lot better to be with you. For a while there..." He trailed off, and her hand pressed even more tightly against his. She understood, he knew, for his fears had been her own.

"Stefano could never come between us permanently," she told him, and he nodded.

"Yeah, I know. I know that now anyway. At the time... I don't know. Roman and Kim were trying to help me see that I belonged with you, not with him. It was weird. I knew I was in love with you, but all I could think about was doing what Stefano wanted."

"That man." Her voice was cold - far more cold than he felt it had any right to be, and he frowned. He didn't like her to sound that way. Marlena was about warmth, and such a wintry chill did not seem like her at all. "One day he's going to push me one step too far, John. One day."

"Don't talk like that." He tilted her face up towards him, leaning down to kiss it, as though somehow he could kiss all of her fears away. "You'd never forgive yourself if you killed him. I don't want to see you haunted by those kinds of regrets, no matter how free it makes us. Freedom isn't worth any price, Doc."

"Hey." She nudged him, a reluctant little smile slipping back onto her face. "I'm supposed to be the clever one in this relationship."

"I'm sorry. I was forgetting myself."

"See that it doesn't happen again." Her smile grew a little, and he smiled back, relieved that she seemed to be turning away from thoughts of revenge. If anybody was going to deal with Stefano, he was determined that he would not let it be her. As though wanting to draw his mind away from such thoughts as well, she tugged suddenly on his arm, and steered him through an open door.

"I think this must be that empty room."

"Either that or the guy who's supposed to be in here just went to the bathroom."

"He might be a little surprised when he comes back, then." She nodded to the bed. "Sit."

"It's a bed, Doc." He raised his eyebrows. "I'm not really used to having one to myself."

"It's a single. Live with it." She put a hand on his chest and pushed, and he sat down obediently.

"There is one small flaw with this plan, though," he told her, and when she frowned a question, he gestured towards his leg. "Not that I want to sound fresh, Doctor Evans, but if you're going to look at that gunshot wound, I'm going to need to get undressed. And I can't do that while I'm sitting down."

"I'd... better shut the door." She did so, but when she returned, and he had not made any move to stand up, let alone remove his trousers, she could not help but smile. "John..."

"What?" He held out a hand, and with a smile that she was trying to fight, she went over and took it, letting him pull her in close.

"We're supposed to be hurrying. Abe is bringing pizza. Shane's coming back. Some member of staff could open that door at any moment."

"You locked it," he told her, leaning down to give her a kiss. She laughed quietly.

Purely in the interests of patient confidentiality," she assured him. He nodded.

"Uh huh. Anyway, the pizza will wait. It's nice cold. The others will understand. A doctor should always be... thorough... in an examination."

"You keep telling me that there's nothing wrong with you," she reminded him. He hesitated in his kisses briefly, before shrugging and starting up again.

"What do I know? My medical training must be years out of date. You'd better give me a refresher course, Doc."

"Reprobate." Much against her better judgement, but very much in keeping with her wishes, she began to kiss him back. "You are not leaving here without getting that leg seen to, and that head cleaned up, though. Whatever else happens."

"Why, Doc." He gave her a look of such total innocence that she almost laughed. "Whatever do you have in mind?"

"Oh, shut up." Beginning to laugh in earnest, she pushed him down onto the bed. "But if we get into trouble, this is most definitely your fault."

"I can live with that." At some point she had climbed onto the bed as well, and in a flurry of fumbled, urgent movement, their hands found each other. He pulled her against him, and she held him as tightly as she could. There was haste and confusion that turned after a moment into synchronicity. After that, there was no further need for any words.