I wrote this A/U story because I was not satisfied with the way the character of Steve Johnson was brought back into the series after his supposed murder, and I have not particularly liked the progression of some of the other characters as well in the years that followed.

In this story, Roman is the way he was when Steve disappeared. He looks like Drake Hogestin, and he and Marlena are still married. Justin and Adrienne are also still married and living in Dallas, where they had moved.

This story addresses things that were never fully explained in the series, such as why Steve was taken, who was buried in his grave, what was his kidnapper after, etc.

Children of the characters in the story are their correct ages, not SORASED.

Jack is still alive and living in Salem with Jennifer.

Ava does not exist, and because he does not have full amnesia, Steve had no cause to meet her even if she did.

Many classic characters are seen here and there, but the main story involves two legacy couples, Steve and Kayla, and Shane and Kim.


Late October, 1990

"Is he dead?"

The words were spoken with quiet trepidation, and had he been a religious man, he might have prayed that it was not so. Fate could not be so cruel as to rob him of the one chance he had been given to recover some of the status and wealth he had enjoyed before his fall from grace, before his time served in prison.

His body gave an involuntary shudder at the thought of being forced to return to the prison cell, where thieves, murderers, and rapists lived in such close proximity, all of them lumped together as if they were all the same. But he was not like them; he was an elite and did not belong there. The other prisoners had leered at him for his pompous attitude and mocked his fine speech. He had been one of Britain's finest, before it had all fallen apart, reduced to the status of common criminal.

His hands clenched and unclenched with bitter exasperation. No one would take away from him this new opportunity. He simply would not allow it!

His eyes fell upon the physician examining the patient who lay prone on the cot against the wall of the basement room in the cottage that had been provided by his benefactor, the man who had saved him from the disgrace of the prison cell that had been his home for those terrible years, a man whose face he had yet to see. Seated on the edge of the cot, the physician pressed a stethoscope to the bare chest of the patient, listening to the faint flutter of life.

"No, he's alive, but just barely." His eyes swept the cold cinderblock walls and floor, noting the lack of a sterile setting. The quiet hiss of the ventilator that breathed for the patient was the only sounds until he spoke again. "He's in a deep coma. I'm not sure I can give him proper care in this environment. This man should be in a hospital, where I have easier access to medications and assistance."

"You know that is impossible."

The physician shrugged. He knew that, but his training and his oath often contradicted with the illicit and often unethical responsibilities for which he had been hired. He draped the stethoscope around his neck, and his eyes were drawn to the tattoo on the man's chest. "That is an interesting tattoo," he observed. "Looks like a knife or a dagger of some sort."

"It is inconsequential," the other man snapped. "The only thing you need to concern yourself with is keeping him alive and bringing him back to health."

The doctor glanced at him, wondering of the anger his comment had generated, then lifted the lid of the patient's remaining eye and flicked a penlight to test the reaction of his pupil. The other eye was covered by a black patch. "Just curious." He flipped off the penlight and returned it to his pocket. "The pupil is reactive, but sluggish." He leaned back, thoughtfully, contemplating the patient's condition. "It appears he was doing fine until he was given him that last dose while he was in the funeral home. He appears to have had an adverse reaction to it."

"Why now?" the other man demanded. "Everything was going so well, and now, because of this, the entire project is in jeopardy!"

"You understood the risks when you came to us," the physician replied calmly. "These drugs have only been tested on animals, with inconsistent results. That is why they have never been tested on humans. There was simply no way to guarantee the outcome. You said you were willing to take the risk."

"We were willing to take the risk because we were led to believe that failure was unlikely. In fact, you promoted this drug as the solution to our problems of how to get Johnson out of Salem without detection. You recall, you said it would mimic death whilst being undetectable even by medical professions, which it has been, but that he would be easily revived later, which clearly has not happened. Why did he do well with the other doses, but not the last one?"

"I don't know. The dosage is a very complex calculation based on many variables. I can only assume that too much was given or it was given over a period of time that was too extensive. The doses were never intended to go on as long as it did."

"It could not be helped. He lay in repose for two days in the funeral home. He had to appear dead during that time. It would not have served our purpose had he awakened during the funeral."

"No, I can see where that would have been a bit of a problem." He chuckled with amusement at an image that came to mind. "Not to mention the fact that it would have given the guests quite a turn to see the deceased -"

"You think this is a joke?" the man snapped with such anger that the physician looked up into his face, flushed with irritation. "Damn it, we need him!" In spite of the blind anger, his voice had taken on a quality of desperation. "Without Johnson, there is no project! You're the one who developed this drug. Isn't there some antidote you can give him? Something that will revive him?"

"There is no antidote. We're just going to have to keep him on i.v. fluids and the ventilator, and let the drugs leave his system naturally. And hope for the best. I'm doing my best to keep him alive, but even if he lives, I can't guarantee what he'll be like. Since we've never used these drugs on humans, we have no way of knowing what kind of long term effects they might have. I have to say also that it was a mistake to bring him over here yesterday. His condition was far too fragile to travel that distance. We damn near lost him last night."

"Things were getting too hot in Salem. His family is seeking the man they believe murdered him. We could not risk the possibility of discovery, and besides, here in Britain we're closer to the security measures we'll need to contain him until we can extract the information we require." There was a long moment of silence before he spoke again. "Our benefactor will be very displeased if this causes a delay in obtaining the goods. He is desperate to recover those items."

The physician had never been provided the name of the man who paid for his services. Always, he was referred to as the benefactor. But although curious, he knew better than to ask the identity of this mysterious entity who corresponded only with the man who stood before him, a nervous man with a receding hairline and a pompous air. Still, he wondered what it was that the patient apparently had in his possession that was so desired that the benefactor would go to such extreme lengths to acquire it.

"As a matter of curiosity, did he say what those items are?" the doctor asked.

"That is not our concern. He is anxious to acquire them, he's paying handsomely for us to help him get them, and that is all we need to know. If we cannot deliver Johnson, he may back out of this operation altogether, and try to find some other way of getting them. When I notify him of this wrinkle, he's going to ask for odds. What do I tell him?"

"Fifty-fifty," the doctor replied, promptly. "He can go either way. The next few days and weeks will be critical. If we can keep him alive that long, he may have a chance of coming through this. I cannot give a timeline, though," he added quickly, sensing that it would be the next question. "These drugs are highly volatile and unpredictable. We may be in this for a good long while."

The other man heaved a deep sigh. The benefactor would not be pleased by the delays.

Chapter One

June, 2006

Los Angeles, California

Dr. Kayla Brady Johnson pressed the tab on the tea dispenser in the hospital staff break room, and watched as a thin stream of transparent amber colored liquid poured into the Styrofoam cup she had already filled with ice. When it was full, she moved wearily to the over-sized vinyl sofa and collapsed into the overstuffed cushion facing the sound proofed picture window and the silent traffic that moved up and down the busy boulevard. After taking a sip of the beverage, she leaned her head against the plush back rest, grateful for the few moments of respite.

The swinging lounge door opened and a second physician entered the room and paused briefly to exchange a smile with her friend and colleague before proceeding to the various beverage and snack machines. Snatching a cup identical to Kayla's, she picked up a coffee pot from the hot plate on the coffee maker, and poured a cup of the steaming black liquid.

"Looks like we're both in need of a caffeine pick-me-up," Dr. Ruthie Simmons quipped as she opened powdered cream and sugar and emptied the packets into the cup, mixing it into the beverage with a red stir-straw.

Kayla gave her a tired smile. "I had forgotten how busy the E.R. can be. It's been a long time since I worked down here."

"Yeah, they told me you volunteered your day off to cover for Dr. Kendall today. That was nice of you to do that."

"Well, Stephanie is spending the day at the beach with her friends, so I figured I might as well be here as at home alone."

"This is a very challenging area to work. But rewarding, too."

Kayla took a sip of her tea and savored in the cold soothing quality of the beverage. "Yeah, it is. This is the first break I've had since lunch! I'm glad he'll be back tomorrow, but this has been a good experience for me. Reminds me of the importance of what we do."

Ruthie laughed as she tossed the stir straw into the trash, then she joined her friend on the sofa. "You have such a positive attitude, Kayla. I wish everyone could be like you."

"Yeah, I guess I do," Kayla admitted. "Comes from my upbringing, I suppose. My mom and pop were such a good influence on us kids. I just hope I'm as good a parent to my daughter as they were to me."

"How can you even doubt yourself? You're one of the best parents I've ever seen. If I could give out a 'Parent of the Year" award, you'd be the first person to cross my mind."

"Well, I appreciate you saying so. She's the reason I decided to see patients nine to five, so I'd be at work while she was in school, and home when she was. Except in the summer," she added. "That's been a bit more problematic."

"Well, I've found that second guessing yourself never does any good. You do the best with what you've got. How old is Stephanie getting to be now?"

"She's sixteen, and I'm having trouble believing it! She grew up so fast!"

"I know what you mean," Ruthie said wistfully. "Time flies. Sometimes I can't even imagine having a child as old as mine . . . . . And then I look in the mirror!"

Kayla laughed. "It's kind of a shock, isn't it?" She sighed, wistfully. "I want her to stay a little girl forever, and then I realize that if she does, she'll never get to experience life. I couldn't deny her that chance."

"You're a typical parent. So, are you seeing anyone these days? I heard that a fellow up in administration was saying some very nice things about you." She gave Kayla a teasing nudge with her elbow.

Kayla nearly choked on her tea. "Me? No!"

The protest was spoken so vehemently that Ruthie laughed. "It isn't that bad! You're an attractive woman! You should be going out, kicking up your heels a bit!" Even as she said the words, though, she was aware that while Kayla Johnson was one of the most admired by the men on staff, she was also considered to be one of the most unapproachable. Somehow, she was able to be friendly and aloof at the same time, and only a very few had been granted the privilege of a date.

"I really don't have time these days. I'm a full time parent, and Stephanie comes first in my life. A lot of guys resent that. I remember one guy I went out with once or twice. He just couldn't understand why Stephanie's Christmas pageant was so important, why I would rather go to that than his fancy office party. I just don't need the drama that dating and romance brings."

"You obviously didn't feel that way once upon a time," Ruthie teased.

Kayla gave a fond smile as the face of her late husband flashed into her mind. "Yeah, but Steve was special. One of a kind. I just wish he could see his little baby girl, how she's grown and blossomed. How beautiful and stubborn and independent she is. And so much like him."

"Well, maybe he can," Ruthie said, kindly.

"Yeah, maybe he can," Kayla agreed with a smile.

The hospital intercom interrupted their conversation before anything else could be said. DR. JOHNSON, REPORT TO E.R. ROOM 4. DR. JOHNSON TO ROOM 4. DR. SIMMONS, REPORT TO E.R. ROOM 7. DR. SIMMONS TO ROOM 7

"Well, break's over," Ruthie said.

The two women rose from their seats and placed their barely touched drinks on the counter top, hoping to return for them soon, then pushed through the lounge doors and rushed down the corridor to the row of emergency rooms that were positioned near the ambulance bay.

Leicestershire County, England

"Cooperation on your part will bring an end to this, Johnson."

The words were spoken with quiet resolve by a young man whose grim face was pale from the torture he was committed to witness, revolted by it, yet powerless to stop it. So he urged compliance from the prisoner, hoping to bring it to a swift end, even though he knew what the final end would likely bring once the information they sought was finally achieved.

"Just tell us what we need to know, and we won't have to go through this again," he urged. "You must be getting tired; we're all getting tired."

Seated in a straight-backed chair, his hands cuffed together behind him so that his arms were around the wide, slatted back, effectively securing him to the wooden seat, Steve Johnson was tired, more tired than he had ever been in his life, but he knew that no answer he could give them would satisfy their questions. So he glared back at the man he knew only as Carlton, and bit back the hostile remark that lingered on the tip of his tongue, a bitter retort that it was not he, Carlton, who was being subjected to the cruelty of torture, so there was no "we" involved. It was his nature to fight back, both bodily and with verbal barbs, but he had learned the hard way that complaining would only result in another jolt of electricity traveling through his body. So he remained silent, his green eye blazing with resentment and confusion.

Repeatedly, throughout the duration of his captivity, his captors had asked bizarre questions for which he had no answer, strange questions about his house, and his uninformative replies angered them. Particularly the quiet one whose face Steve had yet to see. The chair in which he was confined was positioned so that his back was to the door, allowing the man who controlled the switch to remain anonymous.

He had no recollection of the beginning of his confinement or how long he had actually been there, but they had initially questioned him without the benefit of painful persuasion. They had been curiously patient with his inability to remember certain details, waiting for his memory to sharpen as he had come out from under whatever they had done to him, but as the time had passed, they had become intolerant of his inability to provide the results they expected, and they had resorted to various methods of brutality in an effort to obtain their desired response. Unfortunately, they had never accepted his answers as fact.

"I don't know!" Steve replied, frustrated, the same answer he had given untold times over the years. Perspiration trickled down his back and beaded on his forehead. The edges of the chair back were pressing into the skin of his arms, leaving a painful indentation. "How many times do I have to tell you? I have no idea what you're talking about!"

"That is not the correct answer," said the voice positioned somewhere behind him. The voice was calm, polished, distinctly British, and seemed vaguely familiar, yet he was unable to place it anywhere outside the room in which he now sat, totally at his tormenter's mercy. Although Steve did not know the identity of the man who owned it, he knew that this man was calling the shots. Carlton and Jennings, the two men who had been hired to look after him, deferred to him, often with apprehension, and Steve could only wonder what their association really was; what kept them working for a man they so clearly feared.

Hearing the faint impression of movement behind him, Steve's body automatically tensed, waiting for the mild jolt of electricity that usually followed his responses. It was not a strong jolt, just enough to be uncomfortable, to rattle his nerves. It rippled through his body, and then it was gone, replaced by a surge of white-hot anger and the twitching of traumatized muscles.

"If I knew what it is you want, I'd tell you!" he shouted. A vein in his forehead throbbed in sync with his pounding heart.

Carlton, he noticed, had closed his eyes and turned his face away during the jolt of electricity, unwilling to watch the way his body stiffened in reaction to it. In those gray eyes, he saw traces of sympathy and regret, indicating that he found no pleasure in the prisoner's misery, yet he was powerless to stop the torment, taking his orders without question from the man whose face Steve had never seen, yet who was always a mysterious presence during the interrogations.

"It doesn't need to be like this," said the disembodied voice, still smooth and unruffled by the misery he was inflicting on the American. "You're being very foolish. Why don't you just give up the information we seek? That way, it will be finished and you won't be subjected to any more of this discomfort."

In a burst of rage, Steve struggled violently against the restraints in a futile attempt to free himself. "I don't know what it is you want!" When he had exhausted himself, he slumped in the chair, panting. "I don't understand why you're doing this to me! Who the hell are you?"

"My identity is of no consequence to you," the voice responded. "You are very stubborn, Mr. Johnson, and a very proficient liar, from everything I've heard about you," the voice said calmly, almost gently. "You practically made a career out of it when you were younger, didn't you?"

"You don't know anything about me!" Steve retorted.

"I know a great deal about you, Mr. Johnson," the voice responded, genially. "I always make it a point to know as much as possible about the people I deal with. And, given your history, I know that you must certainly be lying to me. You know exactly what I am after, and you know precisely where it is hidden. Isn't that so?"

"No! It isn't so'!" Steve shouted. "Tell me what it is you want from me, and I'll try to help you find it! How can I help you when I don't know what it is you want?"

From Carlton's expression, Steve knew that the other man was reaching for the switch again, and he tensed, waiting for the jolt of electricity again. In an apparent effort to abort it, the subordinate quickly said, "Tell us about the house. Is there a secret room, or perhaps a hidden safe? Maybe there is a wall panel that has a vault behind it. Or maybe floorboards with a secret compartment underneath."

Steve was shaking his head negatively during Carlton's questions, trying to hurry the end of the interrogation "You've asked me that before, and the answer is the same. There is nothing like that in the house! Kayla and I remodeled it when we moved in. I know every inch of that house, and there is nothing like that inside it." He shifted in the chair, trying to relieve the pressure on his arms.

The low voltage rippled through him again without warning, and he felt his muscles contract in reaction to it. The shock lasted longer that time, suggesting that the man operating the switch had experienced a burst of anger or frustration at his lack of progress, and was punishing him harshly for his continued resistance. Steve clenched his teeth, determined he would not give his tormenter the satisfaction of hearing him cry out.

Alarmed by the duration of the electrocution, Carlton stepped forward, apparently intending to stop it. "Mr. Vaughn!" he said reproachfully, then froze, realizing he had just committed an infraction. His gaze rested on the soft-spoken man, apologetically.

The paralyzing current stopped abruptly, and Steve slumped over again, aware of the tension that lingered in the air between the other two men. Carlton glanced apprehensively at Steve, whose chin had dropped onto his chest in exhaustion. He gave no outward indication that he had recognized or even noticed the name that had been spoken so carelessly.

But he had heard. Keeping his eye closed, pretending to have reached the point of collapse, he waited, hoping they would let down their guard and reveal to him exactly what it was they wanted. The name was familiar; Vaughn. Where had he heard that name before? It danced tantalizingly on the edge of his memory, refusing to come fully into focus.

A moment later, he felt fingertips applied to his neck, checking for a pulse. "I think he's unconscious," Carlton said, hopefully. "I don't think he heard."

"You had better hope he didn't," Vaughn, snapped. "There must be no connection made tying me to the I.S.A. You are the only person who knows that detail, but if word got out about it, it would jeopardize our ability to obtain the devices that secure his continued imprisonment. I was high profile there, much more so than you. That was a careless mistake, the likes of which will not be tolerated! There is much at stake here."

"I know. I'm sorry, sir. It won't happen again."

"See that it doesn't, or you will be replaced!"

"I was just afraid you were going to kill him," Carlton said, his voice sounding curiously like a child pleading with his father to disregard a punishment for a transgression. Steve understood that being giving walking papers would not involve simply accepting a final pay and leaving.

"Now that would not serve my purpose, would it?" There was a long pause, followed by a discouraged sigh. "This has gone on far longer than I had anticipated," he said, his voice calming. "Johnson has been exceedingly stubborn in turning over the information we seek. First we lost valuable time waiting for him to recover from the effects of the I.S.A. drug, and now this. He should have broken long before now."

"He's been saying all along that he doesn't know," Carlton suggested. "Maybe he's telling the truth."

"He knows," Vaughn said with confidence. Footsteps approached from behind, and Steve knew the man had moved closer. He could hear him breathing, smell the particularly strong fragrance of his after-shave. "It's part of his family history, a Johnson secret, if you will."

Steve had to use great care not to react to the startling comment. Johnson family secret? There was no family secret! What the hell was he talking about?

"No, he has the answers we need," Vaughn continued. "I just don't know how to extract it from him. His strength of resolve is far greater than I had anticipated." Another lengthy pause followed before he said, "Unless . . . ."

"Unless what?"

"I believe the time has come to track down Mrs. Johnson. It could be that she might help us."

Again, Steve had to use every ounce of resolve he possessed to keep from reacting to the casual suggestion that his beloved Kayla was being placed in danger, but in spite of the fear and outrage he was careful to keep his body still, feigning unconsciousness. The more he learned, the better his chances of figuring out what they were doing and perhaps what it was that they wanted.

"I thought you were confident that the wife is unaware of the secret hiding place," Carlton reminded him. "You said –"

"True," Vaughn interrupted. "But a threat to her health and safety might just be enough to convince Mr. Johnson here to cooperate with us fully. I had hoped it would not be necessary, since apprehending her and bringing her into the country may prove a great deal more difficult than what we experienced with him, but I think we have reached an impasse. I spoke with our benefactor this morning, and he is growing more and more impatient to resolve this issue. I must think on this a while, decide the best course of action to bring her to us. Mention nothing of this to him. I want him unaware until we have her in our hands. Since he does not respond to his own torture, we'll see how he reacts when he hears her screams of agony!"

The jolt Steve felt in his heart at the thought of Kayla being dragged into the situation was far more painful than the electricity that had preceded it.

The door opened and then closed again as the mysterious hidden man departed.

A firm hand gripped his shoulder, interrupting his thoughts, and Carlson shook him roughly to rouse him. "Johnson?"

Maintaining the illusion of unconsciousness, Steve allowed his body to lean sideways toward the hand, and a moment later, Carlson patted his cheek briskly, an unpleasant slapping that was painful, but a necessary annoyance in maintaining his illusion. It was an oft-repeated ritual, for he had lost consciousness a number of times during the various methods of torture that they inflicted upon him over the years.

Steve jerked his head up, his eye seeking Carlton's face. A fair actor in his own right, he let his eye gradually focus in an effort to reinforce the impression that he was only just then regaining consciousness.

"You passed out," Carlton told him, trying to sound indifferent, but Steve heard the disapproval and revulsion in the man's voice over the plans his employer was making.

Steve lowered his head again, drawing several deep breaths in an effort to shake off the lingering effects of the electricity and the dreadfully frightening news that Kayla was to be kidnapped and tortured in his place. "That bastard is going to kill me with that damn thing one day," he said. "And all for nothing. I swear, I don't know what he wants." There was a great deal of emotion in his voice, wrought from his fear of witnessing Kayla being put through the same torment, but Carlton merely thought it was his frustration at the repeated torment.

Carlton was looking at him studiously, presumably attempting to gauge how much he might have heard, and he seemed satisfied that his demeanor was typical rather than unusual. He did not appear to be guilty of hiding information, including the name of the man who controlled the torture. "He doesn't believe you."

He looked up at Carlton again. "What about you? Don't you think I would have surrendered the information by now if I had it?"

Carlton was quiet for several moments, then looked away. "I don't know. Maybe you want to keep the goods for yourself, or sell them for profit. Or maybe you've already sold them."

"If I'd sold them, I'd have no reason not to say so, would I?"

Carlton shrugged. "Maybe you're afraid of what he'll do to you if he finds out. It must be worth a lot of money for him to go through all that trouble to get it. Not to mention the time involved."

"What the hell is 'it'?"

"No idea. He never shared that information with me."

"You know, man, there is nothing in that house that is worth all of this. I just want to go home to my family. You have a family, don't you?"

Carlton hesitated. Engaging in a personal conversation with the prisoner was forbidden, for it implied a friendship that could not occur. After a moment, he nodded, casting a surreptitious glance at the door, lest he be seen or overheard engaging in pleasantries.

"Can't you imagine what it must be like for me, being separated from them like this? Being away from them is the worst torture that friend of yours could inflict on me. Worse than any of this other stuff. Tell me what it is he wants, and I'll do my best to help him find it, but you gotta help me out here, man! I'm totally in the dark!"

Carlton sighed, refusing to acknowledge that he was affected by Johnson's impassioned pleas. Turning to the door, he called, "Harding, what's the holdup?"

Footsteps pounded down the stairs that Steve had never seen, and Harding, a shifty-eyed man with a tranquilizer rifle, stepped just inside the room, his stern attention focused entirely on the American prisoner, who was still seated in the chair, his arms still wrapped around the back of the chair. "He wants to see us when we're done here."

"All right."

"He looks a bit peaky," he remarked. "I take it our boss got a might over-exuberant with the switch."

Carlton shrugged. "He does that from time to time."

"Must be entertaining to watch."

"Not really," Carlton replied.

Harding laughed at the disgusted expression on Carlton's face. "Weak stomach?"

"I just do my job."

He withdrew a handcuff key from his pocket and stepped behind Steve to insert it into the device. An instant later, the cuffs clicked open and his hands were free, and although he shifted their position to his lap, where he could rub the feel of it from his wrists with his hands, he did not dare attempt to escape. He had tried that once before, and had been shot with a tranquilizer dart fired by Harding. Upon waking, punishment had been swift and brutal enough to discourage a repeat. No one ever came into the room without a partner carrying a tranquilizer gun.

Steve did not stand up until Carlton and Harding had left the room and he heard the door close behind them, its slam echoing hollowly down the corridor of the underground labyrinth in which he had been sequestered from the rest of the world.

Alone again, he rose on wobbly legs and placed one hand on the chair back to steady himself for a moment before proceeding to the cot, where he would rest and recover from the ordeal and wonder, as he always did, why he was being put through such brutal interrogations when he had no idea what it was they were after.