John was home, which was a surprise. She had expected him to be out much later, with a new business underway, and a lot of resultant legal affairs to be conducted. Instead he was sprawled on the couch, tie undone, shoes discarded, and his increasingly shaggy hair looking rather ruffled. She decided, pretty much instantaneously, that it was her duty as a wife to ruffle it further. Certainly the couch looked an especially comfortable place to be right now.
"Hey honey." He looked up from whatever it was that he was reading, smiling in a slightly distracted fashion that made her want to be beside him all the more. With a smile of her own, she kicked off her own shoes, and nestled as close up against him as physics would allow.
"Hey yourself." She leant her head on his shoulder, and let out a contented sigh. "Busy?"
"Not anymore." He tossed the assortment of papers aside, then somehow managed to work his arms around her almost without her noticing. "Good day?"
"Long. Tiring. Busy." She stifled a yawn, and he kissed the top of her head.
"Just the way you like it, then."
"Yes." She smiled, perfectly content. It had been a long day, and she was tired - but it had certainly been a rewarding day as well. It showed every sign of coming to a pleasant conclusion now. "So how about you?"
"Me? I don't even have a job yet. Not properly."
"No, but you were supposed to be spending today getting the new business all sketched out. 'John Black, Security Consultant'? That went okay, didn't it?"
"Oh. Yeah. I guess."
"You guess." She frowned, suddenly taken by an odd sort of suspicion. "John, when you left the house this morning, I thought you had everything planned? Bank, lawyer, business advisor..."
"Yeah. I did. And I did go to the bank." He was clearly trying to avoid explaining something, so she fixed him with her steeliest glare, and pulled back, folding her arms to make it clear that there was to be no more hugging until she got her answers.
"Well, and I met Steve there. And we got talking."
"Oh." She was relieved, if a little surprised. Meeting Steve was hardly a great secret. "And I suppose the pair of you went to the Brady pub, and didn't get anything done all day?"
"Well... you're half right." He smiled one of his most endearing smiles, and she knew that she was not going to like the next bit of his explanation. "Seems Steve's business has hit some hard times. It's not easy being a small, independent operator right now. The economy's not at its strongest, and--" He could see the gathering storm in her eyes, and finished in a rush. "And I bought him out. I'm still going to be working in security like I said. I'm just... going to be a private investigator also. Sort of." There was a long, stiff silence, and he practically flinched. "It's only a slight change of plan."
"John, I thought we agreed? Being a security consultant is safe. I'm tired of having to worry about you every day. I haven't long got you back after thinking you were dead."
"So it's okay for Steve to take risks, but not me?"
"That's not what I said. Anyway, I'm not the one married to Steve."
"I'm glad about that." He managed to manoeuvre her into a kiss, and it was an effort to look stern when she pulled away.
"It's okay, Doc. Steve's going to be doing the day to day stuff." He smiled again, his obvious enthusiasm annoyingly infectious. "He's my underling now. I get to order him around, so he can do all the--" He broke off, and her glare deepened immediately.
"You were going to say 'all the boring stuff'. Leaving you free to do the exciting bits, I suppose?"
"Well I can't let the staff take all the risks. That's not good management." The flippancy had been misplaced, and he realised that immediately. "Sorry. I didn't mean... Look, I really was just trying to help him out. That business means a lot to him, and he's practically my brother-in-law."
"I know." She sighed, leaning back against him again. "And I know that asking you to live a quiet life is like asking the sun not to rise. But John..."
"I'll hide behind him if there's a fight," he offered, with such apparent sincerity that she came close to laughing, which quite ruined her attempt at looking fierce.
"I give up."
"You?" He smiled, blue eyes full of such affection that she felt herself beginning to melt away. "Never."
"Smooth talker." She sighed, relaxing back into his embrace once again. "So it's all sorted out, then?"
"Not entirely. I'll get EJ to go through everything tomorrow. Then there's clients to set up, and..." He winced. "Actually I might get Steve to do that. What's the point of having an underling if you can't make them wear the ties and do the difficult stuff?"
"Something tells me Steve might have different ideas about this underling business." She stifled a smile, and nestled comfortably against his chest. "Why EJ?"
"He's my lawyer."
"Well, yes. That was when you thought that you were a DiMera, though. Now you're back to being plain old John Black again, I thought that might change."
"Does it bother you?" He frowned down at her, not an easy task given her position. "I thought you liked him? You said if it hadn't been for him, you wouldn't have found me, when Stefano had me last."
"I was exaggerating. I knew where you were. EJ coming clean just got Roman convinced." She sighed. "Oh, it's not that I dislike him. He's changed a lot. It's just that he's close to Stefano - and I'd like to think that our lives could maybe not involve him."
"Stefano lives in Salem, Doc. We can't avoid him, and it could well be fatal to try. Anyway, EJ isn't the old man. I like the guy. I know his past isn't all it could be, but I'm hardly in a position to cast stones there. I was even pretty close to Stefano myself once."
"That was different." She sighed. "I know, I know. He didn't choose his father."
"Just like Lexie. And Tony."
"Point taken. He is a part of the DiMera business, though, and... well it just makes my blood run cold. The name, the business, the dealings... All of it."
"For what it's worth, EJ doesn't approve of the way his father operates. He's a good lawyer, and his legal work isn't a part of the DiMera business. I wouldn't have him handle any part of my affairs if I didn't think I could trust him." He smiled, changing the subject with admirable efficiency. "Speaking of which, I didn't show you my new business card, did I."
"Business card? Don't people usually get the business first and then the card?"
"I have got the business. Barring legal formalities." She felt him laugh slightly beneath her. "Steve and I were talking in the pub, and Hope stopped by for lunch. She gave us our name." He was fumbling for something, but his jacket was out of reach, and it took some careful manoeuvring to get to it without dislodging her. "Here, what do you think? My card, ma'am."
"Why, thank you sir." She took the proffered token, and had to laugh when she read the company's name aloud. "Black Patch Security And Investigations? How did you get Steve to agree to that one?"
"He seemed to like the idea. He even thought up the pirate ship logo." Momentarily distracted by kissing any bits of her that were within easy reach, he gestured vaguely in the direction of the top of the card. "Distinctive."
"It's certainly unusual. Most businesses don't like to be associated with piracy."
"It's a good gimmick." He shrugged, almost dislodging her. "Suits his patch, also. I was thinking I might tell him to saw off a leg. Can't do things by halves, right?"
"Why stop at a leg? Might as well have a hook for a hand as well."
"That's a fact." He began to nuzzle a little more energetically. "I like the way you think."
"I don't think Steve will." She had to laugh. "It's a good name. And it's a nice card."
"It's just the legal advice you disapprove of?"
"I'm flexible." She felt him beginning to giggle, and slapped playfully at his chest. "That's not what I mean. John Black, you're incorrigible."
"I try my best."
"That's what I'm afraid of. I can't help thinking I should be doing something to teach you a lesson."
"Now there's a plan." He sighed, easing them both up into a sitting position. "But it's going to have to wait."
"If you're going to tell me that you've arranged a business meeting..."
"No. But you're due at Mrs H's for tea." He held up one wrist, and waggled its attendant watch by means of illustration. "And if we keep this up much longer, you're going to be late."
"Oh. That's today?" She straightened up, less than enthusiastically. "I love Alice, but sometimes she has lousy timing."
He shrugged. "No rest for the wicked."
"Oh? And what are you going to be doing, while I'm eating doughnuts with the Horton clan?"
"Having dinner." He leaned back against the cushions again, all rumpled clothes and hair, making it very, very hard for her to think about going out. "I should probably be getting changed."
"Business?" she asked. He didn't quite meet her eyes.
"Not in the strictest sense. Stefano invited us over to the mansion. I gave your apologies, if you can call it that."
"He what? John, if you think--"
"It's okay, Doc. Tony and EJ are going to be there, so Anna and Nicole probably will be also. He's not going to do anything with them there."
"I wouldn't be so sure. John, the man can't be trusted. You of all people should know that."
"I do know it. I also know that he's up to something. We both know that. He's been making all these displays of friendship lately, and I might as well meet him halfway. I don't trust him as far as I can throw his whole damn mansion, but the best way to find out what he's up to is to watch him. And the best way to do that is from close by."
"I know that. Goodness knows we've talked about it often enough since we got back from that island. I just... I thought we'd be tackling him together. He'll know that you're on to him."
"I know." He smiled, and standing up, caught her in a sudden hug. "But you don't need to worry. I've got Steve sitting outside in his car, watching the place. Turns out he lives for lurking in cars, watching buildings. I guess it's a PI thing. He knows to watch out for... stuff."
"Like you being bundled out of a secret doorway with a bag over your head?" She sighed. "I want to think that I'm overreacting. I want you to tell me that I am. You can't do that, though, can you. Not without lying."
"No. I can't." He stroked her hair, smiling gently. "We've both learned never to put anything past Stefano. There's nothing he won't do. I'll be safe, though, Doc. I promise."
"I shall hold you to that."
"Meantime, you have to promise to be careful too," he told her. His apparent concern had the desired effect, encouraging her to smile.
"The biggest danger I face this evening is not being able to turn down Alice's doughnuts. It'll be her, Maggie, Julie, Hope and I, discussing knitting patterns, and looking at old photographs. I'll wind up loving every minute of it, but it'll hardly be very threatening. Except possibly to my arteries." He was looking quite aghast, and she frowned. "What?"
"I was just thinking I'd rather face Stefano. Knitting patterns and photographs?!"
"Oh..." This time her smile was bigger and more genuine. "All right. Go to your DiMera dinner. Just don't be late back, or I can't promise that I won't send the entire Salem Police Department in there to get you out."
"It's a deal." He kissed the top of her head. "I really had better go and get changed."
"Yes, me too." They both smiled then, and she shook her head firmly. "No. Not at the same time. John, we'll never get anywhere if we do that. You go and get changed, and I'll make some coffee."
"One of these days, Doc, we're going to have to do something about that self-restraint of yours."
"Oh, believe me, it's taking quite a battering this evening." She pointed to the spiral stairway. "Go."
"Yeah?" Halfway up the steps, and already halfway out of his shirt, he turned back to look at her. She had to fight the urge to follow him upstairs right away.
"I meant what I said about the Salem PD. Don't take any risks tonight."
"I won't. Don't worry. I can handle Stefano."
"How many times have we both said that in the past? Be careful, John. Please." She managed to summon back her smile. "After all, I may need you to save me from the doughnuts."
"Doughnuts I can do. Knitting patterns and old photographs, though... you're on your own with them." She made as though to throw a cushion at him, and he ducked, laughing. "Okay, I can take a hint. I'll be careful, Doc, I promise. And I'll be back here by ten."
"Ten." It was four hours away. Four hours was a long time. She nodded, though, and waved him on his way. With Steve outside she could at least be reasonably sure that all would be well; with a fixed curfew she had something to aim for, and something to plan beyond if need be. It made her feel better, even if the situation was far from ideal. "All right, ten it is. Thank you." He nodded briefly and vanished up the stairs, leaving her to think about coffee, and about all the things that could happen in four hours. It was quite a list. An ever-growing, increasingly disturbing list. Busying herself at the kettle, she closed her mind to such undermining and unhelpful imaginings. Just because Stefano was planning something, didn't mean that anything would be happening right away. There were so many other days to choose from. So many other days on which the sky could fall down.
So why, then, a little voice inside her was determined to ask, had Stefano chosen to invite John over tonight?