"On an aeroplane."
"And did you do what I said? Did you take yourself back to a time before you came to Salem?"
"I... think so." The frown deepened slightly, as he struggled with some of the blocks that couldn't be fought.
"That's fine. Okay, I want you to concentrate now. You're on your way somewhere, John. You're going to a castle owned by the DiMeras. Do you know the castle that I mean? It's in Austria. A secret castle. Not many people know where it is."
"Yeah. It's an incredible place." He smiled, a sudden, almost childish enthusiasm taking over his face. "There are stalactites in the entrance hall..."
"It sounds wonderful." She couldn't help smiling, but laid a hand on his shoulder, grounding them both in more serious matters. "John, where is this castle?"
"In the mountains." He frowned. "I should hurry. If Stefano and I are late for dinner again, the cook'll flip."
"Is there a big staff at the castle? Is it a big building?"
"It's big. Not a big staff, though. Couple maids, the cook. A lot of the time it's just me and Stefano there. Maybe a few guards." His voice lowered, a smile growing once again across his face. "It's a secret, see. Nobody's supposed to know where it is."
"But you can tell me, can't you John?" Marlena's hand on his shoulder squeezed gently, trying to convey to him a little of the urgency of the matter. His smile vanished, replaced once again by the frown.
"I can't tell anyone." He glanced across at her, even though his eyes remained closed. "It's a secret."
"Yes, of course." Momentarily at a loss, she looked over at Shane. He shrugged, then got up and knelt on the seat in front of John's, leaning comfortably against the back.
"John, you talked about not wanting to be late for dinner. Do you and Stefano often eat together in the evening?"
"Sure. Practically every evening, since I was a little kid. Breakfast too, usually."
"And where do you eat?"
"In the dining room." John's voice suggested that he - or his earlier self - thought Shane to be rather an idiot for asking the question. Shane and Marlena exchanged a brief smile.
"No. If the weather is good, Stefano likes to eat breakfast outside, especially if we're in one of the houses on the Mediterranean or the Caribbean. He likes the morning air."
"And how about when you're here in Austria. Where do you eat breakfast then?"
"On the mountainside."
"Good. What kind of view is there?"
"A forest. Rocks. Some goats sometimes." John smiled a little dreamily. "It's nice. It'd make good skiing in the winter, but Stefano won't let me ski. Can't be laid up with a broken leg when there's so much to do." He scowled faintly. "He says skiing is too dangerous, but we get caught up in gun battles practically every week."
"So it's a good slope, then?" Shane had retrieved one of his maps, and was trying to look at it without rustling too distractingly. "Where's the sun when you have breakfast? I'd bet it would be nice to watch it rise in the mountains."
"We don't get a clear view of it until later. The other mountains get in the way. You can see the sunshine, though. It comes through all the gaps between the mountains. The place where we sit faces east."
"Good. That's very good, John." Shane was busy staring at his map now, trying to find likely sites for a castle based on the information that he now had. Marlena stroked John's hand gently, to draw his attention back to her.
"What's the inside of the castle like, John?" she asked. "I know it's a secret, but it can't hurt to talk about the inside, can it?"
"Suppose not." He frowned, then shrugged. "There's rooms, and furniture. Like a normal place, really."
"But if you wanted to lock somebody up there. A prisoner, perhaps. Where would you put them? Is there a dungeon, or something like that?"
"A dungeon?" All of a sudden, beneath her hand he seemed to go rigid, and beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. "Can't..." He jerked back, his whole body pressed into the seat as though he were being held there; as though he were fighting briefly against non-existent restraints. "No. Can't... won't..."
"It's all right, John." Concerned, Marlena stroked gently at his arm, but he flinched away from her touch, pressing even further back against the seat. "John?"
"I won't... won't do it, Stefano. Have to... find another way."
"John, listen to me. I'm going to count backwards from three, and when I'm finished, you'll be awake. We've done this so many times now, John. You know how it works. You'll be awake, and refreshed, and relaxed. You'll remember our conversation, but it won't worry you anymore. All right, John. Three, two--"
"No." He was absolutely rigid, teeth clenched furiously. "You can't make me. I'll fight you. Doesn't matter what you do. I'll... I'll... fight..."
"Damn." Abandoning the map, Shane knelt up in his seat again. "Looks like he's trying to resist something. Some of Stefano's programming, perhaps?"
"Very likely. Only it's making him resist me." She slapped John's cheek lightly, wary of provoking a violent reaction. For the time being he seemed to believe that he was tied down, but there was no telling if that illusion would hold. "John, listen to me. Listen to my voice. It's not Stefano's voice, is it."
"I..." He frowned, then seemed to relax fractionally. "No."
"And it's not Doctor Rolf's voice, either. Listen, John. You know my voice."
"Doc?" He spoke the single syllable so questioningly, almost plaintively, and it was all that she could do not to gasp in relief.
"Yes! Yes, John. Focus on my voice, and come back to me. Backwards from three, yes? Like all those times before."
"Awake, refreshed, relaxed." He spoke it like a rote, his voice suddenly dulled, but whatever echoes of the past might have caused him to speak in such a way, she was determined not to allow herself to imagine them. She merely smiled, and spoke as encouragingly as she could, in a way that should sound as little as possible like the voices he was hearing in his mind.
"Three, two, one. Wake up, John."
"Hey." He smiled faintly, his body relaxing at last. Shane whistled softly.
"You had us worried for a moment there, mate."
"I did?" He frowned. "What happened? I know I was talking about eating breakfast on a mountainside. It felt quite relaxing. Then suddenly I was..." He shook his head "I don't know where I was. I don't want to know."
"It was my fault." Marlena was still holding onto his hand, much as though she was planning never to let go. "I wanted to see if we could find out where Sami might be being held. I asked you about dungeons, and you just... changed."
He shrugged. "I guess wherever that secret castle is, I must really have annoyed Stefano in it sometime. Don't remember a thing about it now, though."
"That's probably just as well." She kissed his hand. "Are you all right?"
"Fine. I always feel fine after one of our sessions." He smiled at her. "Really. So, did we get anything useful? I remember talking about the view from the mountain?"
"Yes. Looking at this map, and assuming that the mountain in question is the one that we just left..." Shane frowned. "Well, I'm not sure. Wherever this castle is, it's on the east side of the mountain, and probably not very high up, if the other mountains block the view of the sunrise. There's a view of a forest, or there used to be. Conceivably the trees might have gone since you were last there. It's not a lot, but it's more than we had before."
"Maybe I'll remember something else." John closed his eyes for a moment, trying to think back, but the past was once again locked to him. "Doc, we could try--"
"Oh no we couldn't. After what just happened, I am not going to try hypnotising you again tonight." She stood up. "Come on. I'm prescribing rest, food, and conversation. We're joining the others."
"Yes, doctor." Obediently he rose to his feet, and with a laugh Shane followed suit. The three of them left the plane, going over to where the rest of the group had built a small fire. Bo was busying himself with some cooking utensils, and EJ was pouring tea out of a an old metal pot, that looked as though it might have accompanied Shane several times around the world.
"Any luck?" asked Roman as they approached. Shane nodded.
"But we're not going to talk about it now." Marlena sat down by the fire. "If nobody minds, I'd very much like to change the subject. Lucas, how about telling me about my new grandchild?"
"Oh. Sure." Surprised to be the centre of attention suddenly, but clearly more than happy to talk about the baby, he smiled. "Well, she's blonde, mostly. Blonde and very loud. Sounds familiar, I guess."
"Samantha always was a noisy kid." John smiled fondly at a number of memories, then winced noticeably. "Sorry Roman."
"No, it's okay. I guess it's just as well that one of us remembers those days." The older man gestured to Lucas. "Go on. And she doesn't have a name yet?"
"No. Sami keeps changing her mind. Still, I'm sure she'll settle on something eventually." The obvious thought that she might not have the opportunity left him suddenly flustered, and he pulled out his cell phone, searching through it for the most recent picture of the child. "Here. I took this just before we left. I knew you'd want to see." He handed the phone to Marlena, and gradually it worked its way around the group. Shane was the last to see it, and he tossed the gadget back with a smile.
"She looks very like her mother," he said. Lucas smiled.
"Better that than looking like her father, I guess."
"Well, whoever she looks like, I can't wait to meet her." Marlena linked her arm with Shane's. "Come on. While we're on the subject, I want an update on your lot. You've been running about all over the world again recently, and we haven't had a proper chat in several months."
"You won't be happy until I travel everywhere with a fully comprehensive photograph collection, and a five thousand word essay on the status of each child." He sighed. "Take note, EJ, Lucas. The twin gene that Sami has comes from this woman, which could well mean that Allie and Johnny are destined to take after her. There is still time to get away."
"Oh, I don't know." Beginning to hand around mugs of tea, EJ smiled somewhat ruefully. "I'd rather they take after Sami than after their fathers. They'd never stop fighting if that happened."
Lucas shifted uncomfortably. "I don't know about never," he muttered. To his surprise, EJ leaned over to knock their mugs together briefly in salute.
"Just almost never," he suggested instead, with a brief smile. "So do you have many children, Shane?"
"Far too many, yes. Really not sure how it happened, either. When I first got married, I was quite clear on the fact that I would much rather have a dog."
"That one's definitely getting dragged out to embarrass you with at the next family get-together," Bo told him, leaning over to stir what looked like stew in a pot above the fire. Shane laughed.
"Oh, I'm sure I've already mentioned it to the older ones. Do you know Devon at all, EJ?"
"A bit. I spent a few summers there as a boy. Is that where you live?"
"Yes. We have an improbably large place on the coast. Belonged to my great-aunt Lily. She was a mad old bat, who used to keep a zoo in the back garden - or she did until the tiger got loose and ate the vicar, anyway. I wanted to name one of the twins after her, but Kimberley suggested that we look for a slightly less insane relative to use as a namesake. She may have had a point."
"You have twins as well then?" asked EJ. Shane nodded.
"Identical ones, to their never-ending glee. And I'm sorry, Marlena. I'm ignoring your question."
"That's all right. You told me about Eve earlier, of course. Do the others know yet?"
"Know what?" asked Hope. Shane did a fine job of managing to look soulful.
"That my traitorous eldest is having another child, just to be sure that I'm left feeling horribly old. Kim thinks it's hilarious. I keep telling her that she won't find it nearly so funny when her children start producing offspring, but she just laughs and starts plotting to buy me my first walking stick."
"You can't wait until it's born," Bo told him. Shane grinned.
"Then there's Andrew. I'm actually not sure what he's doing. He's supposed to be at university, but he seems to run off around the world every chance he gets, pretending to be Indiana Jones. Still, they seem to be paying him for it. Jeanie's off at university as well of course. Still determined to be a doctor, which is worryingly sensible for a member of my family. I should probably check that she wasn't switched at birth or something."
"She probably wishes she had been," said Marlena. Shane laughed at that.
"If she's got any sense. Bringing us neatly to the twins, who don't. They're determined to be ISA agents, incidentally, and they're not prepared to wait until they grow up. I had thought it was all Emily's fault, as she's usually the ringleader, but it was Katy who tried to sneak into the car to come away with me a couple of days ago, so goodness knows which of them first came up with the idea. At any rate, it's made life interesting just lately, I can tell you. Which reminds me." He reached out, slapping John across the back of the head. "That's from Kim."
"Ow." Looking much as though it were a familiar exchange, John rubbed the back of his head. "What did I do this time?"
"She was all ready to enrol the pair of them in a weekly ballet class after school, so we could at least pretend to the neighbours that we're civilised. But apparently Uncle John has been showing them some of his tricks, and now ballet isn't good enough. They want to do karate instead."
"Oh." John nodded slowly. "Yeah, that would be my fault. Look at it this way, though - karate is more useful than ballet."
"Possibly. At the rate we get through nannies, though, the last thing I need is the world's smallest karate hit squad making life even more difficult." He sighed rather exaggeratedly. "It'll be firearms training next. Wait and see."
"They're only six." Hope was laughing. "How much trouble can they cause?"
"Plenty, believe me. And then there's RJ. Who, if his temperament is anything to go by, seems destined to take after both of his namesakes, so the chances of me getting a quiet life any time this century are slim. Who was it that got him hooked on dinosaurs, by the way?"
"Er, I think that was probably me." Bo raised a faintly sheepish hand. "Last time you were over I had all the kids drawing dinosaurs to decorate the pub. Why?"
"Because I caught him excavating the vegetable garden recently, determined to find something I can't pronounce. Still, I suppose I should be glad he's just digging holes, and not trying to learn deadly fighting skills like his sisters."
"So how come Bo doesn't get hit?" asked John. Shane eyed the younger Brady sibling speculatively.
"Because he's too far away, and I'm lazy. I'll get him later. Anyway, Marlena, that concludes the most recent saga of the Donovan family. Don't you wish you hadn't asked?"
"Not really." She laughed softly. "You do such a wonderful job of making my life seem less complicated in comparison."
"Anything to help." She was still leaning against him, and he smiled. "You know, you really are the perfect size for hugging. Is your husband the jealous type? Because I could get used to this."
"Oh, John's very understanding." She smiled over at her husband, who was sprawled on the grass on the other side of Shane, beginning to look rather sleepy.
"John," said EJ, apparently mulling something over in his mind. "Is that where the J comes from? You said that your son was named after two people. The other one being... Roman?
"Got it in one." Shane nodded slowly. "He was just going to be John, but then Roman had us all thinking that he was dead again, so the lucky little fellow got to be named after both of them. And to think that I wasn't allowed to name one of my daughters after mad old Aunt Lily."
"I think you're being insulted," Marlena said to John. He grunted, half asleep, and she smiled at him fondly. The hypnosis had clearly taken a good deal out of him, and she could only hope that it wouldn't end up giving him bad dreams.
"He'll wake up again in a bit," said Hope as, with Lucas's help, she began to hand around bowls of Bo's stew. Marlena leaned over to take one.
"Thank you. This smells wonderful, Bo."
"Thank whoever stocked up the plane. All I did was heat something out of some tins."
"Don't forget who you're talking to," mumbled John, through a half-suppressed yawn. "To Marlena, even heating something from a tin is a major culinary feat."
His wife shot him a good-natured glare. "Hit him again, Shane."
"Oh no. Marital disputes are far too scary even for an ISA agent. You hit him." Shane collected a pair of bowls from Lucas, and went over to give one to Roman. "Here. I've decided to come to talk to you instead, as you seem to be the only grown up in the party."
"Sorry. I'm not being the best company lately, am I." Roman accepted the bowl with a faint smile. "Thank you."
"It's all right. I've done enough talking for everybody." Shane settled down again on the grass. "I think it's somebody else's turn now."
"Well John's asleep, EJ and Lucas can't say much of anything without fighting each other, and Roman's got his thinking hat on again." Bo settled down beside Hope, making a show of staying out of Shane's reach. "That limits the options quite a lot."
"We could just enjoy the fire," suggested Hope. Marlena nodded.
"That sounds nice." She settled herself beside John who, even teetering on the brink of sleep, wrapped his fingers instinctively around hers. She smiled, enjoying the simple contact. The fire spat loudly, sending up a shower of sparks as though relishing the sudden attention, and Lucas stirred restlessly in response.
"Shouldn't we post a guard?" he asked. Roman shook his head.
"Later. It's still early, yet. Learn to relax, Lucas."
"Sorry. Kind of new to all of this." The younger man settled down again, trying to emulate the others, but not quite succeeding. Seated nearby, EJ reached over, refilling both of their mugs with tea from the pot by the fire.
"Drink that," he said. "Nothing like tea for winding you down."
"Thanks." Looking a little flustered, Lucas sipped the tea slowly, staring into the fire. "It's quite beautiful, I suppose. The fire, I mean. Don't you think?"
"Yes," said EJ, settling back down again in his place. "Almost romantic, one might say."
His only answer was an extremely eloquent glare.