A/N: According to some, I exhibit an unhealthy fondness for cliffhangers…

~ Chapter 22 ~

Ensconced in Kate's guest room, John was experiencing vivid dreams. In them, he and Marlena were enjoying a romantic dinner when, suddenly, his wife's face morphed into Kate's. He awoke with a start.

Could his feelings for his ex-fiancée still be so strong that they were becoming the stuff of fantasy? Shaking his head to clear it, he got out of bed and walked to the closet. He wasn't terribly surprised to find it held a robe that was just his size. Kate had always kept a spare around before they'd moved in together, for those times when it had been too late to go home, or he simply hadn't wanted to. Pulling the garment around his body and tying the sash, he padded out to the living area of the suite, headed straight for the window, and picked up the binoculars. Training them on the penthouse, he detected no sign of movement. In fact, the curtains in his wife's bedroom were still drawn.

Of course, they are.

The nearby clock indicated that it was barely past 6:00. There was no reason for her to be up so early. In fact, had it not been for his disturbing dream, he was certain he would still be sleeping, too.

Lowering himself onto the sofa, he set to work analyzing his responses to the woman who was just down the hall. He loved his wife deeply, of that he was certain. So why was he so comfortable with Kate, and what on earth was he doing having romantic dreams about her? He had to admit that their relationship had ended abruptly, once Marlena and Roman had returned from their captivity at Tony DiMera's hands, and they hadn't really had time to adequately process the change in their status. He sensed, on some underlying level, that Kate still harboured deep feelings for him, and he worried that he might be giving her the wrong impression by spending so much time with her. On the other hand, being with her was relaxing and stress-free, two terms that definitely didn't apply to his current dealings with Marlena. Kate was supportive, encouraging and calm, while Marlena did nothing but push him away. Who could blame him if he found the former more appealing than the latter? Clearly, this was something that he needed to examine more closely.

He was so immersed in contemplation that he didn't notice Kate's presence behind him until he felt her cool fingers on his once-again tight shoulders. As she gently massaged the newly-formed knots, she leaned over to kiss him lightly on the cheek.

"Good morning, John. Penny for your thoughts?"

Oh, I can't share them with you.

"I've just been wondering what North is up to, and if Marlena missed me last night," he lied.

Sheesh, John, you're like a broken record. Wake up! You've got a woman who would do anything for you right here, and yet you continue to be fixated on the one woman who doesn't seem remotely interested.

"I'm sure she did," Kate said aloud, her tone as reassuring as she could make it.

Not wanting to dwell on her rival, she opted to steer the conversation in another direction.

"Would you like some coffee? Breakfast? Room service has the most delicious omelettes."

Realizing that he was hungry, John responded in the affirmative.

"Sounds great. Make sure they send a large pot of coffee, will you? I'm going to need fuel for the day ahead."

"Okay. Why don't you go shower while I place the order?"

"Will do."

With that, John strode down the hall to the bathroom. Kate smiled as she heard the sound of the water rushing through the pipes. How she'd missed having him near. Despite knowing that he was only with her to make Marlena jealous, she was determined to enjoy his company.

A firm knock announced the arrival of room service. After the cart was wheeled in, Kate tipped the server generously. As she began to set the meal on the table, she stifled a gasp. John had emerged from the shower, clad only in a towel that he had wrapped around his waist.

How that man affects me!

Tearing her gaze away, she made a show of positioning the cutlery precisely on either side of the plates. Only when she had managed to get her emotions under control did she dare look up again.

"It smelled so good, I had to come right out," John explained, as he sat down and began to uncover the dish before him.

I don't know how I'll be able to eat with your body distracting me.

She focused on her food, feeling torn. On the one hand, staring at John in a state of near undress reminded her of the passionate moments they'd shared. On the other, she had to deal with the fact that he was no longer interested in her in that way, and seeing him half-naked was simply a painful reminder of all she'd lost.

John, noticing her silence, voiced his concern.

"Kate? Are you okay?"

"Yes, of course."

He accepted her reassurance without question.

"These eggs are fabulous. Thanks for ordering them."

Having finished the cup of strong coffee she'd poured for him, John rose from his seat and exhaled, his satisfaction evident. After placing his dishes on the cart, he gathered up his phone, and the shirt that was still lying on the floor.

"I need to get back to the penthouse."

"Couldn't you stay a bit longer?"

"I'd like to, but I can't. The alarm is still set outside Marlena and Alex's doors, and I don't want it going off when Marlena tries to leave her room. Thank goodness she's sleeping a bit later this morning."

As John got dressed, Kate considered how best to fill her day. There were still hours until their dinner. She decided her first order of business would be to have a relaxing bath, then to pamper herself in preparation. She was about to ring the front desk to book a massage when John reappeared.

"Okay, I'm off. Thanks so much for your hospitality."

"It was my pleasure. You're welcome here any time."

He bent down to kiss her cheek. Turning her head ever so slightly, her lips brushed his. For a brief moment, happiness swelled inside her – but it was all too fleeting. John pulled away, and nodded a quick goodbye.

"See you tonight," she called out in reminder, before raising the phone to her ear once more.

Marlena's eyelids fluttered open, and she yawned. Even though it was still early, sleep had deserted her. She felt different – serene, cherished, and warm. She felt… a man's body beside her. A smile played at the corners of her mouth. She was with Alex. He'd come to her last night, and she'd convinced him to stay.

She shifted her position slightly so that she could look at him. Although he stirred briefly, he didn't wake. She stared, enthralled, as his chest rose and fell with every breath. Snuggling closer, she was rewarded as his arms tightened around her. Letting her mind wander, she soon found herself reliving yet another episode from their past.

The sun was barely a sliver above the horizon, but she was too excited to sleep. She gazed lovingly at the man lying at her side – the man she was about to marry. He had proposed to her the previous night, and the proof of her answer was visible for all to see. She held up her left hand to admire the simple, exquisite diamond ring that now adorned her finger. She was happier than she'd ever been.

"I remember! I remember being engaged to you," she whispered.

Completely absorbed in her memories, she'd failed to realize that Alex was awake and watching her. A huge grin spread across his face at her words.

"It's all coming back to you, isn't it?"

The sound of his voice made her jump, but one look in his eyes was all it took to calm her.

"Yes, it is. Bits and pieces, here and there, but it all fits. And the ring… It was absolutely beautiful."

"You deserved nothing less. A beautiful ring for a beautiful woman."

They lay silently, side by side, both awash in a torrent of emotion. When they turned back to face each other, she immediately spotted a single tear rolling down his cheek. Reaching up with the pad of her thumb, she gently wiped it away.

"I've missed you so much. Our separation has been agony for me," he confessed. "In all our time apart, my feelings for you never wavered."

She smiled at him, that radiant smile that made his heart soar, and brightened every corner of his life.

"Your love for me is the one constant that flows through all the memories."

"I loved you then, and I love you now. More than ever, if that's even possible."

Her response was to kiss him. The kiss was raw, passionate, and intense. In that moment, no one else in the world existed.

"One more kiss like that, and I won't be responsible for my actions," she gasped, overwhelmed by the strength of her desire for him.

"Someday, soon, I'll hold you to that."

They nestled together, neither one in any rush to get up and start the day. Their conversation was free and easy – that of two people who've been intimate, and who share an unparalleled degree of comfort with each other – and it was punctuated by the occasional soft laughter.

Having arrived home, John was just about to knock on Marlena's door when the sound of voices floated out into the hall. Fury rose within him. If that son of a bitch had somehow managed to gain access to Marlena, he'd gladly kill him with his bare hands.

"Doc! Are you alright? I'm coming in," he shouted, as his hand reached for the knob.