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Chapter 9: John on a Mission

"John?"  Marlena sat up in bed, realizing that she was alone.  She glanced at the clock, which read 6:00 a.m.  Pulling back her covers, she shivered in the morning cold until she found her robe.  Her slippers were beside the bed, so she slid her feet into them and walked to the living room.

He was sitting on the sofa clad only in his pajama bottoms.  His secure laptop provided the only light for the room.  Marlena softly walked up behind him and wrapped her arms around his shoulders.  He jumped, obviously surprised, and she felt the muscles in his shoulders and arms immediately tense.

"Hey, it's just me," she whispered and she felt the tension leave his body.  "Sorry, I didn't mean to sneak up on you."

"It's okay."  John leaned back in her arms.  "I just didn't hear you come in."

"You're worried, aren't you?  About Shane?"  She probably did not need to state the obvious, but sometimes John needed prompting.

He nodded, then grew quiet, and, finally, slammed a fist onto the coffee table.  "How could I have been so blind, so damn selfish?  I shouldn't have waited so long."

"John, you were hurt and recovering.  You weren't in any condition to run around the world searching for Shane.  You don't even know if anything's wrong.  Shane knows how to take care of himself."

"Something's wrong."  John said it as an undisputable fact.  "Shane would never have disappeared for this long.  Even if he was undercover, he'd at least find a way to contact Andrew and Jeannie."

"But wouldn't the ISA be looking for him?" 

He shot her a look that said everything.  "Like when they left Roman to rot?  Or left Shane for dead the last time?"  John shook his head.  "The ISA doesn't take care of its own."

She had to admit he had a point.  "But this is 2010.  Shane's not just some regular agent."

"You're right about that," John said slowly.  Marlena didn't know exactly how irregular Shane was.  When Homeland Security incorporated the intelligence agencies under one roof , there were many in power who wanted the ISA to remain independent.  It was Shane who proposed transferring most of the ISA's intelligence functions to Nightwing, relying on John's experience with Basic Black for a model, and maintaining the "ISA" as little more than a name.  There were probably fewer than a dozen men in the country who knew Shane's dual role -- CEO of Nightwing and true Chief of the ISA. 

He didn't realize that Marlena had continued to speak, but looked up when she gently probed him.  "John?  What is it?"

"I just keep thinking that if I'd accepted Shane's offer, if I'd joined Nightwing, this wouldn't have happened."  That had been a few years ago, and the offer had come at a terrible time, when John was trying to protect Marlena from her ex-husband, but he was always good at multi-tasking.  And if he had taken the job, maybe he would have never been paralyzed.

Marlena came around the sofa and sat down next to him.  She took his hands in hers.  "You're not responsible for every bad thing that happens to our friends."

"Shane's not just a friend."

Marlena sighed.  She knew that.  There was some type of bond between the two men that she did not fully understand.  In so many ways, they were nothing alike. John was always searching for his identity; Shane had a long family history to live up to.  John was quiet and taciturn; Shane was outgoing and expressive.  John was rough around the edges; Shane was the classic "to the manor born" English gentleman.

But beneath the surface, she knew they were extremely similar.  They were both incredibly smart and intuitive.  Marlena had learned when either had a "hunch," you didn't question them.  They were both well-trained and deadly.  It was easier to picture John that way, the image being at-odds with Shane's outward veneer, but Marlena knew he was capable of killing without hesitation.  And they were both loyal, god, were they loyal.  Both men would put themselves on the front line without hesitation to protect their families and friends. 

"Doc, you remember when Roman came back?"  John's voice sounded distant.

How could she forget?  They both had gone through hell at that time.  The real Roman had returned from the dead, still believing he was her husband.  And John, her husband at the time, who believed he was Roman, and even had Roman's memories, turned out to be a stranger.  She reached up and stroked John's hair.  "Of course, I remember, darling." 

"It was so sudden, losing my identity, my job, even my family for the most part.  The Bradys tried to be nice, but it was so hard to be around them, knowing how much pain I'd caused them."

And there was another similarity between John and Shane.  That martyrdom complex that caused them to push people away out of a fear they might cause some hurt.  "They knew it wasn't your fault."

"It didn't matter.  To go from being a Brady to being an outsider with no family, that was one of the hardest things. . . ."

She knew.  She had worked so hard to try to help John cope, even while she was dealing with Roman's return.

"I never told you something," he said.  As she looked at him curiously, he explained.  "I talked with Shane a lot during that time.  If anyone knew what it was like to go from being part of the family to being a total outsider, it was him.  He'd been through the same thing."  John sighed.  "He was a big help.  It seemed like I'd lost my family and all my friends, so many people doubted me.  But he never did."

"No, he never did."  Marlena smiled, remembering an even earlier memory of breakfast over John's favorite strawberry pancakes.  'We know you're a good man' was what Shane had said, and, maybe, that cut to the core of their bond.  It was based on an instinctual trust in one another, trust that had been betrayed by so many others in their lives.

She heaved a sighed.  "You're going to go search for him, aren't you?"

"I've got to."

"No, you really don't," she said, her voice steady and measured as she tried not to let her fear show so openly.  "Whatever Shane did, he did knowing the risks.  And you've barely recovered."

John wrapped his arms around her.  "Doc, I'm just going to nose around a bit, see what I can find out."

She rested her head against his chest, hoping his warmth would take away the cold that filled her.  John's version of "nosing around" often led to gunfire, blood and hours spent in hospital waiting rooms.  But she also knew there was no point in arguing.  She couldn't dissuade him, not when he believed a friend was in danger.  Marlena pressed even more tightly against him, silently cursing Shane Donovan, and whispered, "Just come back to me, okay?"