"Here." Coming down the stairs, busily towelling off his hair, he went over to collect his coffee. "Thank you. You're up early this morning."
"It's ten o'clock," she told him, then saw the teasing grin on his face, and tried to hit him with a cushion. He jumped nimbly out of the way, taking care not to spill the coffee. In his current state of undress, splashing it about would not have been a pleasurable experience. "There are times when I dislike you intensely. I hope that you realise that."
"I do." He sat down next to her, hooking his towel around her neck in order to pull her close for a kiss. "Sorry. I'm a bit damp still."
"And very underdressed." She eyed him up and down, unable to resist. "Which is a shame, as I really am going to have to tell you to put on some clothes."
"You are? I thought we had the whole day together today?" His smile made his eyes gleam in a particularly endearing fashion, and she smiled back, disentangling herself from the decidedly soggy towel.
"We do. It's just that I have some plans for today that require you to be wearing rather more than just boxer shorts, much as it might pain me to say it." She took a moment to brush at his hair affectionately with her hand, smoothing down some of the unkempt spikes. "Your hair needs cutting. Again."
"I know." He leaned back into the soft depths of the sofa, pulling her with him. "Looks to me like it's not me who's underdressed, Doc. It's you who's overdressed."
"That's as may be." He began to kiss her again, making it extremely difficult for her to concentrate on what she was saying. "I... I have... What was I saying?"
"That you'd quite like to spend the whole day here with me?" He pulled back slightly in order to look at her questioningly, and she summoned a glare.
"No, that wasn't it. What are you doing wandering around the house dressed like that at this time of the day anyway? You're usually far less distracting by now."
"Got back late from my morning run." He let go of her so that she could look to her coffee, which was in serious danger of pouring itself all over the furniture. "I met Bo on the way back, and we went for a few extra laps together."
"Meaning that neither one of you wanted to be the first to give up." She rolled her eyes. "Honestly, you really should know better."
"It was fun. You should come running, Doc. Nothing quite like knocking off a few miles on the open road."
"I prefer a good book." She sipped her coffee, smiling at him at the same time. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. You never could sit still." Settling back on the sofa, she rested her feet on his lap. "Anyway, you really are going to have to get dressed at some point. Like I said, I have plans. Tony and Anna are coming over."
"Tony and Anna?" He groaned, tipping his head back to stare up at the ceiling. "Doc..."
"Oh, behave." She made as though to kick him, nudging him playfully in the chest with one foot. "I know you have some issues with Tony, but you're not going to work through them by avoiding him."
"I know. He's not Andre, and I know that. I'm getting there. It's not just him, though. Anna is..."
"Unusual?" finished Marlena, with a soft laugh. He smiled.
"Well, yeah. She always treats me like I'm her ex-husband. It's kind of strange."
"Poor Anna. Perhaps it's because she was away for so long, but I don't think she's quite got the hang of how things work in Salem. She still seems to get you and Roman confused." Marlena laughed again. "She's unique."
"And that's being kind."
"John!" She summoned another glare, rather spoiling it by being unable to keep from smiling. "Behave. Anyway, Tony has been one of my closest friends for years. He was away for so long, but we've started up again as though we were never apart. So, John Black..." She straightened up, and threw his towel at him. "You are just going to have to get used to him. And her."
"I know." He pulled the towel off his head, emerging with his hair all spiky again. "I don't think he's entirely comfortable around me either, though."
"He'd barely met you when you were... well." Her eyes flickered away for a moment, the conversation having turned to matters of which she would rather not speak. "You were dead. And then you weren't. And then you were trying to take over the DiMera businesses, and the mansion, and..." She waved one hand in the air. "The pair of you didn't exactly get off to a good start, did you. That's going to change." She leaned over to kiss him on the head. "So get dressed. They'll be here by half past ten."
"That's ages away yet." He drank some more of his coffee, still sprawled in enjoyable comfort on the sofa. "Anything can happen in half an hour."
"Yes, but nothing is going to happen." Her eyes ran over him once again, her eyebrows rising in obvious regret. "No. Nothing is going to happen."
"You and your self-control." He smiled, letting his eyes drift closed, showing that he was in no hurry to go in search of further clothing. "So what's the plan for this morning?"
"I thought brunch on the balcony. I'm having some things sent over from the delicatessen. It's a lovely day today, so it should be rather nice sitting out there. They won't stay for more than a couple of hours, anyway, as Tony has a business meeting." She eyed him with obvious fondness. "You can cope with a couple of hours?"
"Of course I can." He opened his eyes, smiling up at her. "I don't mean to sound cranky. It's just--"
"It's a DiMera thing. I understand. You've become more than friendly with EJ, though. Surely Tony isn't any different?"
"Sure. Except we thought before that he was okay, didn't we. Right before he framed me for his murder, and then framed you for a whole load of murders, and--"
"That was Andre," she reminded him, and he nodded.
"I know. I know. I just..." He sighed. "I'm sorry. I'll work through it, I promise." He smiled suddenly. "I have these trust issues, doctor. I don't suppose you can suggest some therapy?"
"I think we might be able to work on one or two things. After our guests have left." He pouted, and she laughed.
"Finish your coffee. And behave, or I'll invite somebody else over when Tony and Anna have left. Maggie perhaps? Or Caroline. You'd have to be on your best behaviour then."
"You're a cruel woman, Doc." He looked rueful. "Not that it matters. Somebody always turns up anyway. Usually Samantha. I swear that girl has some kind of sixth sense."
"It's a remarkable talent, isn't it." Marlena began to straighten cushions, even though the apartment was more than tidy enough for guests. "I'm a little worried about Sami at the moment, actually. Maybe we should invite her over? Not today necessarily, but perhaps for dinner tomorrow? She's been so down lately."
"Hey, she could have gone away with the others." John set down his coffee mug, before getting up and going over to stand behind Marlena. He wrapped his arms around her, and rested his head against hers. "She's not a little girl anymore, you know. You don't have to look after her all of the time."
"I know. Ever since Lucas got out of hospital, he's been spending most of his time with EJ, though. Sami has been feeling increasingly left out. And now that EJ and Lucas have gone off for the week with the twins, I think she's feeling rather lost. Especially since Nicole went as well."
"Nicole only went along because Elvis wanted to spend time with his new daughter. Nicole doesn't trust anybody else to look after her just yet. She and EJ really don't seem to be an item anymore. Anyway, like I said, Samantha could have gone along as well. She was invited - and it's not as though the others would have objected to having Will tagging along as well. She's her own worst enemy at times."
"Don't I know it." Marlena sighed. "And of course yesterday she went over to Roman's house, probably intending to get some sympathy from him about it all, only to find that he's not there. When I told her that he's over in Monte Carlo visiting Rachel, she really wasn't impressed."
"Oh." John settled himself more comfortably against his wife. "I guess it wouldn't be a good idea for her to find out that I leant Roman my plane and my pilot to go over there then, huh."
"Probably not, no." She twisted around in his arms. "And now it's even closer to half-past ten, and you're still not dressed."
"I noticed that also." He smiled. "I'm not going to win this argument, am I."
"Much though I would like you to, no."
"Fair enough." He let go of her, and began to head towards the stairs. "I'll behave."
"Up to a point," she said, and he smiled, running up the stairs in his usual energetic manner, taking the steps two and three at a time. "Oh, John?"
"Doc?" He stopped halfway up, and she held something up that she had just uncovered amidst the mail. It was a cube-shaped item wrapped in brown paper. "This came for you this morning."
"I'm not expecting any deliveries." He came towards her, taking the item carefully. "You need to be careful, Doc. Don't forget the death threat and the sabotaged plane."
"I haven't." For a moment she looked serious again, although her expression cleared quickly. "It's all right. I know what this is. Go ahead and open it."
"Open it, huh." He eyed it suspiciously, then pulled off the paper to reveal what looked remarkably like a jewellery box. "Isn't it my job to buy you jewellery? Not the other way around?"
"Idiot. Anyway, it's not from me, it's from Shane."
"It is?" He raised an eyebrow. "Does Kim know?"
"John..." She sighed, taking the box from him and opening it up. Inside was a folded sheet of paper, covered in Shane's distinctive handwriting, alongside a plain, silver-coloured bracelet. It matched the colour of John's watch more or less exactly. "You know full well what this is, you goof."
"I suppose I do." He took the bracelet from the box, and eyed it doubtfully. "Jewellery's really not my thing, you know."
"Nonsense. You used to wear that St Michael's medal quite a lot once upon a time. And that St Christopher's that we found at Maison Blanche." She unfolded the letter, scanning through it. "Shane says that the ISA scientists are certain that that bracelet will block the signal from the tracking device in your arm. Those tests that they ran when we stopped off in Geneva before leaving Europe seem to have been very promising." She turned over the page. "According to this, amongst other things, the bracelet is lined with magnets." She smiled. "Well then, in theory it should stop you from getting rheumatism, anyway."
"Great." He turned it over in his hands. It was nicely made, and plain enough not to draw too much attention. By the look of it, it would fasten securely, and could therefore be left in place permanently. The perfect solution to his problem, he mused - but for the fact that it had rather the look of a manacle. An attractive, decorative, silver-coloured one, but a manacle nonetheless. "Hang on. Magnets?"
"Yes." She read further through the letter. "Shane says that it shouldn't be a problem for your laptop, but that you might like to hold your cell phone in the other hand."
"Oh, great. And what do I do if I have to visit somebody in the ICU? Check my arm in at the desk?"
"I know." He sighed. He certainly couldn't blame Shane or the ISA for their efforts to help him. Any grumbling should be aimed solely at Stefano and Rolf. All the same, having to permanently wear something to interfere with the signal from the tracking device was annoying to say the least. She reached out, taking the bracelet, and snapping it gently around his wrist.
"There. And now, theoretically at least, Stefano can no longer keep tabs on you. Isn't that worth a little jewellery?"
"Maybe." He smiled. "Sorry. I don't mean to seem childish."
"You're not being childish. You're being perfectly reasonable." She held both of his hands, admiring the bracelet. "I like it, though. Genuinely."
"Yeah?" He didn't sound at all convinced, and she kissed his right wrist, next to the bracelet.
"Yes. It matches your watch nicely. It's subtle."
"And it cuts me loose from Stefano." He nodded. "I know. Thanks, Doc. Remind me to call Shane later."
"I will." She kissed his wrist once more, then let go of him. "Now go on. Go and get dressed. I'm expecting a knock at the door any minute."
"I'm going." He turned around, going back up the stairs more slowly this time. He was fiddling with the bracelet, and she could see that he was not entirely sure about it. Still - it was early days yet. He would get used to it. It was, after all, their one sure way of avoiding Stefano's ever waiting net, and that had to be worth a little inconvenience. She only hoped that Anna would not go drawing too much attention to it when she arrived. The explanation would certainly not help to break the ice between John and Tony. It worried her without there being any real logic behind her concerns - and when a knock sounded suddenly at the door, she welcomed the opportunity to shake off her various concerns. With renewed vigour, she went to greet the delivery man from the delicatessen. Everything would go fine this morning, she told herself, as she opened the door and welcomed him in. There was no reason why today should not be just as wonderful as the glorious sunshine that was currently streaming in through the windows. Absolutely no reason at all.
Which, of course, was probably more than reason enough to worry anew.