A Gift for John

by

Stephanie Linville

Introduction

I should start by telling you my name. My real name. When we met, I told you my name was Elizabeth. That's partially true. My given name is Katherine, although I haven't been called that for years. But my full name might surprise you. Katherine…. Elizabeth…. DiMera. Which means, if you've put two and two together already, you know that I'm related to John. But I'm not depraved like our brother, Stefano. Actually, I've spent most of my life trying to protect John from Stefano. Only John doesn't know I exist. But that's a complicated story. Maybe I should start from the beginning.

My father was Santo DiMera. I was born late in his life to a younger woman who worked for him. He'd begun to have many regrets near the end of his life, as nefarious men tend to do, and when he found out she was pregnant, he was determined not to regret that. He was going to take care of her and of me, but when she died in childbirth, he took me in. His other children were much older, but because I was a girl, the only girl, they treated me like a princess. I was told that I was a ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak household, and that I brought joy where there had been none for a long time.

As I grew, Papa began to soften even more. When I was four, he told me a story about the great love of his life, and a child they'd had. Papa had allowed his anger and desire for revenge against her family to overshadow the fact that he had a child, a son, who needed him. He had allowed his son to be given up for adoption, but he knew who had adopted him and where he was. I begged him to bring this son into our family now because it wasn't too late, and selfishly I wanted another brother. Papa finally agreed after a couple years of my constant pestering, but he made me promise not to say anything to Stefano about who the boy really was. Stefano had been taught nothing but hate for the boy's biological mother. Papa was afraid of the revenge Stefano might seek against him. Papa had tried to change Stefano's mind to make him understand how much he regretted all the horrible things he had done in his life, but Stefano refused to listen and only swore vengeance against her family, the Brady's. So, my brother began to visit with us, under the guise of being a family friend and possibly obtaining a position in the family business at some point. That's how John first came to know our family.

My first visit with him is burned in my mind like it was yesterday. He was so handsome, and the first thing he did when he came into the house was smile at me. He was quiet and polite to everyone, but he was my best friend from the first moment we met. We were so alike it was surreal. Even though he was much older than I, he spoke to me as if he'd known me all his life. He doted on me, played silly games with me, taught me to love baseball and the outdoors, and called me his "green eyed monster" whenever he talked about a possible girlfriend. (I should tell you that my eyes are very dark green, just like my mother's.) But the best thing was my nickname. He always said Katherine was much too big of a name for a little girl like me, so he went through several nicknames trying to find one.

"Kathy? No. Katy? No. Kath? No. What AM I going to call you?"

"How about Kat?" I asked.

"No," he said. "That's still too grown up. I know. How about Kitten?" And Kitten I was from then on. I loved him so much, and Papa was thrilled we had such a good relationship. Stefano, however, hated every moment John was around. He became more and more jealous as the years wore on, and his whole demeanor began to change for the worse. He began to ignore me, never play with me anymore, and argue constantly with Father when John was supposed to visit.

John and I, however, had a wonderful life for a while. But when I was thirteen years old, Papa died. Stefano found me writing in my journal about Papa dying and how I was so grateful he'd given me my "brother." Stefano demanded to know what I meant, and I told him the story that Papa had told me when I was little. Stefano went into an absolute rage, saying that it was not possible, and that it had never happened. He said to never speak of it or he would disinherit me and throw me out of the house. I asked him why Papa would tell me that story if it wasn't true. He said that Papa was delirious, and he never wanted to hear anything about that woman ever again, or I would live to regret it. He also said that all my visits with John were over now that Papa was dead. I became hysterical, screaming at him that he was jealous that John was a better brother than he ever would be, and he could never keep us apart. Then he said the words that haunt me to this day: "John is NOT your brother, or mine, and when I am through with him, he will never even know you existed."

I ran to my room and vowed at that moment I would do everything in my power for the rest of my life to protect John. Stefano had become a rich and powerful businessman by then, and I was afraid of what he might be doing to John. He had so much money, and people who were very loyal to him that would do anything he wanted, but fortunately he didn't pay as close attention to his businesses and employees as he should have. Hopefully one day that will be his downfall. But back then it allowed me to search for John undetected, and search I did.

After three years, I had discovered that Stefano had kidnapped John, erased his memory, and replaced it somehow with that of a man named Roman Brady. He had sent my brother to a place called Salem and had started his plan to use my brother as his Pawn in order to destroy the Brady's for what they had done to our father. I was ready at that point to go to Salem and find my brother myself, but Stefano found out what I was up to and, good to his word, he threw me out of the house without a dime and swore he would never speak to me again. He also told me that he had planted a post-hypnotic suggestion in John during his memory erasure that would trigger itself if my brother ever discovered that I was his sister. He said John would completely lose all his memory, everything, and never get it back, if I ever told him that I was his sister. He knew I would never allow that to happen, so in essence, he made sure John and I would never be brother and sister again.

After he threw me out, I was completely alone, I had no money, and I had no idea how to do anything. I lived on the streets for weeks until a girl named Allie took me in, got her family to give me a job, and became my most trusted confidante and ally. I never stopped thinking about John and what Stefano had done to him. I also never stopped trying to think of a way to protect him without revealing myself to him. I never doubted what Stefano said would happen if John found out about me. I knew he was ruthless enough, jealous enough and twisted enough to punish me and John, simply for caring about each other. This created in me a drive like I'd never had to one day be able to protect John from our horrible brother. I became totally focused on figuring out a way to help him, and gained strength I never believed I was capable of having.

A few days after my eighteenth birthday, a man found me at the pub where I worked. I knew him instantly as one of Stefano's most trusted aides. I was terrified. We sat down to talk, and he told me he'd been sent to kill me. No pretense. Just the cold hard truth. I stared back at him, and I asked him how he was supposed to do it. I sounded not like myself, much stronger and confident than I could possibly have felt. He said that I was going to write a note to my friend saying I was leaving and that I would simply disappear. I knew it was the truth, and I knew he could do it, but I didn't know why he was telling me first. He said he'd tried to change Stefano's mind, but Stefano was still as angry as ever and now that I was of age, he could take no chances. I asked what that meant, and he said since I was now eighteen, I could sue for my inheritance. I said that all Papa's money had gone to my brothers, with the bulk of it going to Stefano and that I could never get any of it because Stefano was in charge of it. The aide told me that is exactly what Papa wanted Stefano to think, because he feared something like this was going to happen. So, before he died, Papa had moved most of his money into several foreign accounts, and it was all going to become mine once I turned 18. He had left enough to Stefano to make him believe that he had inherited most of it but left the largest portion of it to me.

I sat there, dumbfounded. I couldn't believe what was happening, but I had to know what the aide's plan was. I couldn't run away with my limited resources, so I asked what his intentions were. He said he didn't like the man Stefano was becoming, and that he would help me, but I had to promise to protect him and his family. I agreed instantly, and we set to work.

When everything was in place to protect him, the aide went back to Stefano, told him I was dead, and that no one was the wiser. Stefano was actually pleased at the news, I was told. And then the aide told Stefano that he was finished working for him and wanted to leave. He said killing me was the worst thing he had ever done, and he was ready to be finished with him. Stefano called him a coward, and useless, and ordered him to leave, which he did. After that, I arranged for him and his family to live on a private island in the Caribbean I bought for them. I staffed it with security guards 24/7 and put all types of cybersecurity and technology in place in their house and grounds to make sure no one could ever touch them. The first million I ever spent was on making sure this man and his family would be safe for the rest of their lives. And at that, I have succeeded.

Once those plans were finished, I set to work on making a new identity for myself and for Allie, my best friend and confidante. I brought her with me because I desperately needed help in running this new life of mine. I need someone I can trust to make decisions with, and someone who will help me accomplish all that I want to regarding John. She has proven herself loyal and trustworthy, and don't know how I could do all that I do without her.

I became Elizabeth Ashe. Stefano always called himself the Phoenix, because they rise from the ashes, so I stole my name from him. I am the head of several unrelated multinational companies with amazing resources. My companies create advanced technological weapons, stealth listening and communication devices, medicines for all types of neurological and psychological conditions, and transportation. These are all the things I ever needed to help John as much as I could without giving myself away. I've also worked to cause as much damage as possible to all of Stefano's businesses and holdings, which has put my life in danger many times. His companies have been sabotaged in many ways from many different directions, but he never could seem to pinpoint exactly who was doing it. He's taken several hits out on me, not knowing it was me, of course, but I've learned how to protect myself. I've been successful at keeping John alive, too, even though I haven't been totally successful at stopping all of Stefano's plans. I did help get Marlena back to him when she was in the coma for five years, and I made it possible for John to get away from Maison Blanche before Stefano killed him. I even sent someone to tell Marlena John was alive the last time Stefano kidnapped him. But now that Stefano is back in Salem, I have to go there myself and keep John and Marlena safe. Stefano has never been this reckless before, and I'm afraid he's going mad with his obsession with Marlena, which also means he could do who knows what to John. If I plan well, I might even get to see John up close. Just a chance to see his face would be everything.

No Longer a DiMera

"What have you done!" I am in my room now, and I'm sixteen years old. I have finally realized how horrible my brother, Stefano, is, and I almost can't breathe.

"Whatever do you mean, darling?"

"Why have you done this? You've not only kidnapped him, taken him away from his family and everyone he knows, but you've also taken all his memories. Why do you hate him so much?"

"Because of all he represents—that horrible woman who was his mother, how she drove Papa nearly to insanity over her, and you, my precious sister, the light of our family, choosing to love him more than any of your REAL family. You disgust me and so does he, and now that you've proven where your loyalties lie, you are no longer welcome in this house. You are no longer a DiMera to me, and I want you OUT!"

He grabs me by the arm and tells me that I have five minutes to gather a few things. I can't believe he's serious, but the look on his face, the fury in his eyes, tells me differently. I run to my room and grab my backpack. I stuff as many clothes as I can, plus my journal and, at the last second, my photo album. I would die if I left that, since it's the only proof I have that John ever existed as my brother. It's the only tie to him I have, and I treasure it.

When he comes back into my room, he motions for me to go out the door, swinging out his arm as if he is my escort. I turn to look one last time at the only haven I've ever known and walk out the door. I go down the stairs to the foyer, and tears begin to fall down my cheeks. Silent tears of fear, regret, anger, and the unknown that awaits me.

We get to the front door and he opens it for me. I look at him, trying to find something that might tell me this is all some horrible joke and that he is just trying to scare me, but I see nothing but coldness and emptiness. "I can't believe you're really throwing me out of our house like this. With nothing but a few clothes? Where am I going?"

"You will find that out soon enough. But remember what I have told you. If you ever somehow find John again, and tell him who you are, every memory he ever had about anything will disappear. He will never remember you or anyone else ever again, and it will be your fault."

I begin to cry harder now, but there is no softening in his expression. If anything, he seems pleased that he is having this effect on me. "Please, Stefano. You can't do this to me. I'm your sister, and at one point not long ago, you did love me."

"You have done this to yourself, Katherine. Never forget that. You have done this to yourself."

And with that, he closes the door. Matteo, one of his most trusted aides, walks me to the car and opens the door. I look back as we drive away. I sob quietly as I leave the only home I've ever known. We drive to the airport and he puts me on a plane to Italy. I think Stefano might be sending me to our house in Tuscany, but when we touch down in Verona, I know that is not the case. I get off the plane, claim my bag, and walk out of the airport. I begin walking aimlessly, not having any idea what to do or where to go. I sit on a bench in a park for a few hours until it is very dark, and at some point, I fall asleep. It is fortunate that it is summertime, because I can sleep outside in relative comfort.

The next morning, I wake up and realize what real hunger is. I've not eaten since breakfast yesterday. I walk into to a small diner and buy as little food as I can so that I can make what little money I have in my pocket last. I ask them in very broken Italian (I barely know any) if they can possibly give me a job, and the answer is no. I walk around all day looking for a place to hire me to do anything, so I might make some money, but no one will help me. And so that night, as I try to sleep, I am truly hungry for the first time in my life. I begin to cry at the thought of all that I have taken for granted and would give anything to be back in my bed at home. But then another thought overtakes my mind: John. I remember my vow to somehow protect him from Stefano. I've already failed at that miserably because John is in some place called Salem and, thanks to Stefano's manipulations, he thinks he is Roman Brady. It is at that moment I make another vow to myself—that Stefano will not win. I silently swear that I will not allow myself to succumb to all the things that can happen to me, penniless and on my own, and I will someday, somehow, see John again. No matter what, I will protect him, even if it means he will never know me and even if it means my own life. That promise gets me through that night, and the hunger, and I know it will somehow be ok.

I'm awakened by a police officer is shaking me and yelling at me in Italian to leave the park and get off the bench. I am scared he is going to arrest me, so I run away. He does not follow me, and probably thinks I am some dumb American tourist. For that, I am grateful. I am determined to find some type of job today so that I can earn some money and keep on eating.

I walk around more places and keep asking all day for some work to do, anything, so I can earn some money. I almost have a job at a pub washing dishes when I make friends with a girl who works there. Her father owns the pub and her grandmother works there as well. But when she asks her dad to hire me, her grandmother comes out and starts yelling at him for wanting to hire an underage girl and an American at that. I beg her to please reconsider and try to tell her that I've been kicked out of my home, but she won't listen. Fortunately for me, Allie sneaks me some food after her grandmother goes back to the kitchen.

I continue for two weeks like this, looking everywhere for a job that doesn't exist, and coming to my new friend at the pub when I am completely desperate and starving. One night, her grandmother finds her sneaking me food and she finally takes pity on me. I look horrendous, as I can't really wash my clothes or myself well, and I am beginning to really lose weight. She takes me upstairs to Allie's room and tells me I can stay there. I will have to sleep on the floor, but I don't care. I begin to cry with relief and promise her I will work harder than anyone she's ever known. She tells me I will have to.

I go to work the next morning, busing tables, sweeping, whatever they tell me to do. I work harder than I've ever worked in my life and go to bed that night completely exhausted. But I am safe, I am fed, and I have a roof over my head. As I drift off to sleep, I think of John. I wonder where Salem is, what it looks like, what he is doing. I wish with all my heart that he is ok, and vow again that somehow, someday, I will protect him from ever getting hurt by Stefano again.

Allie wakes me early the next day to start all over again. I am sore from being on the floor, and tired still from the day before, but I get right to it. I want to make sure her grandmother doesn't regret her decision. As I go downstairs to get started, I overhear Allie's dad and grandmother talking. I don't know what all they are saying, but they stop as soon as they see me. "I'm sorry," I say, "I am just getting to work." I walk into the kitchen and begin washing dishes. Allie's grandmother walks in, followed by her son. He tells me that they are concerned where my parents are and if they are looking for me. They think I am a runaway and don't want to get in trouble with the police. I tell them my parents are dead and that no one is going to be looking for me. I have not run away, but my brother no longer wants to take care of me. This is a close to the truth as I am going to tell them. They look at each other, and then something amazing happens. Allie's grandmother comes over to me and puts her arms around me. I slowly put my arms around her and begin to cry. I can't help myself, especially after never knowing my mother. She stands there silently and gently pats my back as I sob. When I pull myself together, I back away and look at her and her son. "Thank you both, so very much, for helping me."

"You're welcome," she says. "You can stay here as long as you need to. We are your family now." Then she smiles a gentle smile and wipes the tears from my cheeks. Her son pats me on the shoulder and smiles as well. As they walk out of the kitchen, I silently thank God for answering my prayers. I know I will be ok, at least for now.

A New Future

I'm walking through my childhood home. It's very dark, and I'm afraid because I can't see anything clearly. Everything looks a bit strange as well. I hear a sound, and I turn quickly to see what it is. Stefano is walking towards me, and that should make me feel better because I'm not alone, but it doesn't. I get more and more nervous the closer he gets, so I start to back away from him.

"You can't leave me, Katherine," Stefano says to me menacingly.

"I'm not leaving. I live here. What do you mean?" I'm frightened now.

As he gets closer to me, I see that he looks angry. I don't know why he is so mad at me. I don't know what I've done. "Why are you so angry? I thought you loved me," I say to him. He doesn't respond. "What is wrong?" I yell at him.

"When I am through, he won't even know you exist."

I wake up in a cold sweat. I've had that dream too many times to count, and it upsets me as much now as it did when I first had it two years ago. Stefano even haunts me in my dreams. I get up to go down to the kitchen, and Allie is already there.

"I heard you yelling in your sleep again and figured you'd be down here soon." She knows me so well. I'm so grateful for her friendship and companionship since Stefano disowned me. I really don't know where I'd be without her.

"Yeah, I had that stupid dream again."

"The one about 'he won't even know you exist'?"

"That's the one."

"You've had that one as long as I've known you."

"Yes, I know. I started having it shortly after I came to Italy."

"Why do you think that is?"

I guess I'm just always worried that Stefano is going to come back for me, that I can't ever get away from him, that I won't ever be able to help John."

"You will be able to, someday." Allie is such a comfort to me. She makes me a warm milk to calm me and help me get back to sleep. We head back upstairs and I crawl back under the covers so I can hopefully get a little rest before the hard work begins again tomorrow. I say a prayer for John's protection and my future to be able to help, and drift off to sleep.

Life continues this way for the next two years. Some nights the nightmare comes, sometimes it doesn't. But every day, I work at the pub with Allie, her father Giovanni and her grandmother Sofia. They become my family, and I love them dearly. Allie becomes closer to me than any sister could have. We sit up nights talking. She teaches me Italian and I teach her English. We share all our hopes and dreams, and I tell her everything that has happened with John, my father and Stefano. I swear her to secrecy with her father and grandmother, and she understands why. If for some reason Stefano comes back for me, it might be dangerous for them if they know everything. So, she keeps my secret and becomes my most trusted friend and confidante.

I manage to save a little money as time goes on so that maybe I can help John. I always think of him and hope he is ok. One summer day, right after my eighteenth birthday, a man walks into the pub. I am in the kitchen and don't see him come in, or I would have run the moment I saw him. As it is, I walk out to the bar and stop dead in front of him. I know at once Stefano has sent him because I recognize him. His name is Matteo, and he is one of my brother's most trusted aides. He's done a great deal of dirty work for Stefano, including driving me to the airport two years earlier. I am terrified and frozen where I stand, unable to speak or move. "Hello Katherine," Matteo says quietly.

"Why are you here? What does my brother want with me?" I ask this more defiantly than I've meant to, but he only smiles.

"Your brother wants you dead." No pretense. No emotion. Just cold, hard facts.

I stand there for a moment trying to figure out what to do. "Why?" I ask. "I'm no threat to him here. I'm just trying to find a way to survive day to day. I have no resources, no money, no anything. There isn't any possible danger I can be to him or to anyone. Why can't he just leave me alone?" I'm angry now, and for good reason.

"Because there is a great deal that you do not know, and if you found it out you could indeed be very dangerous to your brother."

"Why are you telling me this? Are you trying to taunt me before you kill me?"

"No, Katherine. Believe it or not, I'm trying to help you."

I'm instantly suspicious. "If you help me in any way, Stefano will kill you." I know my brother well and know all that he is capable of. It makes no sense this veritable stranger would want to help me.

"Yes, you're right. He will. But when he sent me to do this job, I tried to refuse. I've done a great many things for your brother that I'm not proud of, but I just can't do this." He looks at me intently, but there is a real sadness in his eyes.

"Why?" I just don't understand.

"Because you've done nothing wrong. You're completely innocent. At least with other things I've done for him, I could somehow justify it in my mind. But this, killing an innocent child, is just beyond my own comprehension. I told him you were no threat, that you'd never done anything to harm him. But he wouldn't hear it. He became enraged when I said you'd never done anything to him. He screamed at me that you'd committed the ultimate betrayal by picking John over him. He said that you'd picked a stranger over your family, and that there is no greater dishonor or disloyalty than that."

"I know that's how he felt, but I didn't pick one brother over the other. I wanted to love them both. I wanted to have more family, not less, and I wanted John to be part of our family along with Stefano. Father wanted that too." I'm beginning to be upset talking about John so much with someone else who actually knows him. It's making it too real how much I've lost.

"I told him that. I reminded him that Santo wanted John to be part of the family also. He would not hear of it. He ordered me to come out here, find you, and kill you."

"But why? Why now, after all this time?"

"Because you're of age now."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"You can sue him for your inheritance."

"But father left everything to Stefano. My trust fund is overseen by him, which means I get nothing, because he doesn't want me to get anything. Father set it up that way before he died." I often wonder why he left Stefano in charge of everything, knowing how much he hated John and how angry he is at me for loving him.

"That is what your father wanted everyone to think. And in actuality, Stefano doesn't even know the entire truth of what your father did."

"What in the world are you talking about?"

"Your father knew that Stefano was angry about the relationship you and John had. He was afraid that once he was gone, Stefano's rage would go unchecked, and that he might do something drastic."

"Well that's an understatement." Everything had happened as Father had feared it would.

"Exactly. So, your father came to me to tell me what he'd actually done with all his money."

"What do you mean, 'actually done?'" I am very confused by all of this, but I'm beginning not to be afraid of this man anymore.

"Your father wanted Stefano to believe that all the money had been left to him. He wanted your brother to think that he controlled all the purse strings so that he would be content to think he'd won, and he had all the power. But that's not at all the truth."

It's beginning to dawn on me what this man is saying. "So, Father did something else with his money? He didn't leave all of it to Stefano?"

"Not even close."

"What did he do with it?"

"He put it in several overseas accounts, all of them in your name, to become yours once you became of legal age. And by my calculations, that was three days ago."

I'm stunned. "And Stefano knows nothing of this?"

"Nothing. He believes your father left him all his money, but he actually left Stefano about thirty percent of his total holdings. Your father was a much wealthier man than your brother ever thought, and that was done completely on purpose. As you and John became closer, your father began moving more and more money into these accounts to make sure you were taken care of once you were an adult. I think he even feared that your brother would do something to John when he had the chance."

"Father knew him too well." I'm sad now, and missing Father more than I have in years. "So, what now? What are you going to do? And why have you told me all this?" I don't think he's here to kill me anymore, but I don't have any idea what he's going to do now, or how this all affects me.

"I just couldn't come here and in good conscience end your life. You are innocent. You've never done anything but love your family, and I can't begin to justify doing what Stefano wants. However, that leaves us with a huge problem. If I don't kill you, he'll surely send someone else to do it, and there are many men who work for him that have much less of a conscience than I."

"Yes, I'm sure that's true."

"I could go back and tell him I killed you, but I can't work for him anymore. Not after this. I am afraid, though, that he will go after me or my family if he ever finds out I didn't complete the job."

"I'm sure that's true, too."

"So, I want you to help me, just like I want to help you."

"Me? How can I possibly help you? I have nothing, no resources, no anything." He stares at me a moment, and I realize that yes, I actually do have resources. I now have many resources at my disposal, the extent to which I'm not even aware. "Or do I?"

"Yes, you do. And I can show you where all of them are, how to access them, and how to hide them from the world. I can show you how to make yourself disappear and become a completely new person. I can also help you find John."

This last statement ignites a fire in me that has only burned as an ember, but now, with resources and information, it consumes me entirely. I can finally help John and protect him from Stefano. I can finally stop being powerless and stop being a victim and make a difference to my brother who needs me. Everything about my life now has purpose and drive and direction like never before, and I'm hungry for it to begin.

"What do you want in return?"

"I want you to make me and my family disappear forever and keep us safe for the rest of our lives. There is no telling what Stefano will do if he finds out I had have betrayed him on something as important to him as this, and no limit to the ends he will go to make sure I pay for it. I want you to use your resources to keep us safe."

"Yes. I will. I'll do whatever it takes to keep you all safe forever. I promise."

"Good. Now. Let's get started."

My New Life Begins

One month to the day later, I am on a plane. The plane is mine, and Allie is beside me. It was a huge decision for her to join me, but with encouragement from her grandmother, her father relented and gave his blessing for her to leave, knowing full well he will never see her again. The night we left, we had a huge feast. I bought them a new house, renovated the pub, and made sure they were well taken care of. It was the least I could to for the people who saved my life.

I've spent the last month learning how to hide all the money Father left me. I can't believe how much it actually is, and how well he's hidden it from the world. I am wealthier than I can imagine, and at the tender age of eighteen no less. Matteo and his family are living on an island in the Caribbean with new identities, constant security, and eternal gratitude from me for his deciding not to kill me. He has taught me well in this last month about money and security and how to hide from Stefano. All the skills I will need to pursue my ultimate goal of helping John.

"Where are we going again?" Allie asks for the tenth time I know, but she's a bit nervous. She's never been outside of Italy before, and her English is heavily tinted with her accent.

"North Carolina."

"Where is that?"

"The east coast of the United States. I know John is in Salem, which is in Illinois, but I don't want to be too close to him. It's about ten hours away by car or two by plane. I can get there quickly if there's a need, but I'm content to keep an eye on him from there. Plus, it's similar to the landscape of Italy with the mountains. I thought you might like it there."

"I hope so." She is missing her father, and I hope she's not regretting her decision.

"I can fly you home at any time if you decide you don't want to be there, but it will have to be sooner than later. Once you get involved with me in this in any capacity, you'll have to stay away from your family to keep them safe."

"I know. I want to be here. I want to help you. There is not much of a future for me in Italy, and I think I can be helpful here more."
"I know that is true. Allie, I can't tell you how much it means to me for you to be here with me. I need a friend, and a confidante, and a partner to make all this work. It's overwhelming to me right now what all my life entails. There are going to be businesses to run and money to manage. There's security we will need and people we will need to work for us, and I just don't know how I can possibly manage it alone." She knows how sincere I am, as I've told her everything about what I have learned over the past month.

"I know it's going to be incredibly complicated for a while, and maybe forever. But you're my best friend, and I want to make this work for you."

"Thank you so much for everything you've already done for me. I would be dead by now if it weren't for you. I'll never forget that." She smiles, and we hug. Neither one of us knows exactly what is going to happen, but at least we have each other.

Once we land, a car takes us to the house I've bought. I've spent two weeks having extensive security installed, and I've hired a man named David to help with everything. Matteo suggested him, and I've not been disappointed. He's thought of things I never would have dreamed of, and I feel safer than I have in a long time. As Allie and I drive up to the house, I see the outer perimeter is up and functioning. We continue on the road and get to the main gate. The car goes right through because of the sensors that are installed in it, and the gate closes instantly behind us. We pull up to the front and David walks out to meet us.

"Did you have a nice flight, ma'am?"

"Yes, very, and please don't call me ma'am." I'm unnerved at someone older than me addressing me as ma'am.

"Sorry. What would you like me to call you?"

"My name is Elizabeth." I'm still getting used to it, but Matteo convinced me I had to change my name. I decided my middle name is enough of a change, even if he didn't think so, because I just can't stand completely changing everything because of Stefano. He warned me that any connection to my former identity might be risky, but I refuse to completely give up who I am if I can help it.

"Ok, Elizabeth it is then."

"Thanks, David. Is everything ready?"

"Yes. The outer perimeter is a mile radius under continuous surveillance. The inner gate is watched by two to three snipers at a time. There is a safe room in the basement with its own generator. The electricity is under ground, the windows are bulletproof, and there are a few other things as well. You've definitely spared no expense."

"Well, I don't want to worry about anything here. How much is left to do with staffing?"

"We only have a couple more slots to fill. Allie has done a great job getting all that taken care of. Once we have them in place, you're all set."

"Thank you. Allie, I'm going to get settled. I'd like to meet with you, David, Jonas and the household person. What is her name again?"

"Avery."

"Yes, that's right. Can we all meet in the office in an hour?"

"You got it."

I head upstairs with my bag and I'm pleased with what I see inside. My dining room looks just like it did in my house growing up, and the living room looks warm and inviting. I smile, because I'm not sure who will ever be visiting, but at least they'll have some place comfortable to sit. Once I get to my room, I put down my bag and collapse on my bed. It's been a busy month, and I feel like I've met at least a thousand new people. I've personally hired security, household staff, financial planners and strategists, and various other people who I need. Allie has been a huge help with all of it as well. She's so organized and efficient, and I trust her so completely that it's been much easier than if I'd had to do it alone.

I realize I have a meeting in less than an hour and I really want to shower, so I go off to do that and plan my next steps in my head as the hot water engulfs me. There's nothing better to me than hot water, and it helps me relax and think freely. After today, I will be a new person in earnest, and I will start looking for my brother and see what is happening to him. I've put some people in Salem already and am looking forward to what they have to report.

I get out of the shower, wrap myself in a huge fluffy towel, and go over to the mirror. As I stare at myself, I see my eyes reflecting back at me and I remember how much John liked my green eyes. I know that's probably one more thing I'll need to change. I feel a little sad that things couldn't be ok with John, myself and Stefano. It would have been so much easier if Stefano had just gotten along with John, or at least tolerated him, instead of doing all these horrible things to him. But I realize that isn't to be, and pining for it doesn't make it happen, so I finish getting ready and head downstairs to create my future.

Everyone is in the office sitting around the conference table, ready to get started. I sit down at the head of the table and begin asking questions to find out what my brother's status is in Salem. "So, what is going on with John?" I ask David. He's been in contact with my people there and knows that John is first priority above everything. He doesn't know all the details yet, but that will come.

"He's living in Salem with who he believes are his three children. He is raising them himself because his wife, Marlena, was killed in a plane crash two years ago."

"He has three children?" I'm very surprised at all this.

"He believes he does. He still thinks he is a man named Roman Brady."

"Brady? As in Colleen Brady?"

"We believe so. Roman's father is Shawn Brady, who we think is Colleen's brother."

"So that's why Stefano sent him there. He wants John to hurt the Brady's."

"Actually, he is living as one of them. They are his family, he loves them, things seem to be fine between all of them."

"This doesn't make any sense."

"Why?"

"Well, if Stefano wanted to harm the Brady's, he would have sent John there to do it. To kill them, to wreak havoc on the family. Not become part of them. There's got to be more to it than that. What about the plane crash? What do we know about it?"

"Seems Stefano was responsible for it."

"Oh, that's got to be it. Did anyone find a body?"

"No."

"David, I want you to concentrate everything we have on that plane crash. What happened, why Stefano is responsible, everything. Understand?" This has got to be Stefano's purpose, and possibly the reason he has left John alone to live with the Brady's. If he has Marlena, that may be what he is after. I'm more motivated than ever now to get her back to John.

"You got it."

"Good.

"Ok, Jonas. You're up next. Where are we financially?"

As I begin to set things in motion for my new life, I have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that there is much more to this plane crash than meets the eye. If Stefano wanted to hurt John, taking his wife away would definitely do it. I hope that soon we can find out what's going on, but it isn't going to be easy.

A month later, my worst fears are confirmed. It's taken David this long to find out what has happened to Marlena, but he finally has news. "She is definitely on that island. He took her after the plane crash and has been keeping her in an induced coma-like state since then."

"What a horrible human being. Why did he do it? What does he want?"

"He seems to have some kind of obsession with her. It started when she was with the real Roman Brady and it's continuing now, even more so now that John thinks he's Roman."

"So, what do we do? How can we get her out of there?" I'm adamant about helping Marlena stay away from Stefano almost as much as I am with John. From all accounts, he loves her very much. And that is more than enough for me to want to help. Plus, I want to get her back to her children. Stefano is such a monster.

"Well, it is going to be exceedingly difficult to get to her."

"Why?"

"It's a small island and Stefano owns it. It'll be nearly impossible to get there undetected and more impossible to infiltrate it."

"Then I guess we'd better get started."

David begins work on the impossible, and I turn my attention again to finances. Jonas and I make plans to buy some companies that will enable me to help John and keep him safe. The first one I want is one that specializes in stealth communications. I need a way for my security to be in instant contact with me and each other, and I need it to be discreet and dependable. After that, it's a new company that makes advanced technological weapons. My security needs some better firepower, and I think the one I'm looking at has it. Allie also suggested one that specializes in medicines for neurological disorders since we don't know what Stefano has done to John to make him lose his memory. Finally, I'm thinking about one that deals in transportation: special cars, helicopters, etc. These companies would make it possible to keep us safe, protect John, and maybe one day, restore his memory. I'm feeling more in control and more optimistic than I have in a very long time about fighting all that Stefano has done to so many people. And I can't wait to get started.

A Victory, Finally

"David, why in the hell do you keep telling me we can't get there? We have every piece of technology known to man at our disposal, we have advanced weapons to use, and we have all kinds of transportation to get us anywhere in the blessed world and you tell me we can't land on some stupid little island inhabited by twelve people! What the hell is wrong with you and all those incredibly expensive security people that you can't go to a small island and take someone off of it? We've been at this for TWO SOLID YEARS now and are no closer to getting Marlena back than the day I moved here!"

"I'm sorry," is all David says.

I stare a hole through him. I am angrier than I've almost ever been. We've made three attempts to remove Marlena from DiMera island. All of them have failed. Once we finally found where the island actually was (which took almost a year), we discovered how hard it was going to be to infiltrate. All the people there were immensely loyal to Stefano, for what reason I could never figure out, and we couldn't get a foothold. It took us three months just to bribe enough people to even get a boat out there. So, we tried three different times just to sneak on the island and covertly steal her away. Every time, we were discovered, and we lost two men in the process. I'm angry, frustrated, and worried because she's been away from her kids for so long and because John is beginning to move on with someone else. Then, I realize I'm taking all of this out on David. I take a deep breath and sigh. "I'm sorry, too, David. This is not your fault and I know Patrick was a good friend of yours. I'm sorry we lost him. What can we do at this point?"

"I've been thinking that maybe we need to work on the nurses more than the security. Maybe they're more apt to turn, especially if we can put someone in there with them." This is definitely a tactic we haven't tried yet, and something really different from anything we've thought of before. I'm optimistic at the thought of it.

"You mean put a spy on the island to be a nurse for Marlena? Could that work?"

"We could try."

"I want to go and try myself. I don't want to endanger anyone else anymore."

"You know how risky that is."

"It's my family. It's my responsibility. I need to try." I have been working these past two years not only on my businesses and financial security, but also on my own training. I'm never going to allow myself to be a victim again, and I've worked hard to make sure than I'm not. I've spent hours with trainers in martial arts so that I can protect myself. I've worked closely with David to understand tactics, weapons and combatives, and strategies for security like threat recognition. I've even taken classes in defensive driving and physical conditioning. I feel prepared to go to the island and do whatever I can to get Marlena out of there.

Two weeks later, I've made it on the island. We've bribed the two key people we needed to: the head nurse and the head doctor. We've convinced them that it is not right keeping a mother away from her children, and finally, they have relented and let me in. I'm now dressed in a nurse's uniform, administering Marlena some medication. Actually, I'm not administering it. It's the concoction Stefano has been using to keep her in her induced coma. Once I got here, I got versed quickly on how important it was to keep this medication in her system, and when I communicated with my medical experts about what it was, they told me the best thing was not to give it to her at all. So, that's what I'm doing. I'm praying I can last here long enough for her to regain consciousness. As long as Stefano himself doesn't come here, I should be ok.

After another four days in my care, she is finally beginning to wake. I don't think anyone else has seen her waking up, or else they'd be more concerned. I, however, have seen her nearly awake twice. I've been put on as her head nurse by the doctor I've bribed, and if I can keep the other nurses out, I may be able to get her awake enough to get her out of here.

Finally, after one more week, she is awake. This is my chance, and I've got to make something happen now. I decide to give Stefano's coma concoction to the other nurses. When they come around for rounds, I surprise them and inject them both. It works quickly, so I hide them in the linen closet. They are sound asleep and will be for hours. Marlena is conscious and up out of her bed. I don't want her to see me if I can help it, but if she gets dizzy or too confused, I'll have to help her. I don't want her to remember that someone here helped her get free, just in case Stefano gets to her. He can't know that there was a spy on the island or it will make him extremely curious. If she leaves on her own, it will be better for everyone.

I go outside to disable the security guards. She doesn't see me but does find the clothes I've left for her. She puts them on and heads outside. She manages to also find the boat we've left for her. I watch her crawl in and start up the engine. When she's headed out, I get David on my earpiece and tell him to be on the lookout for her. It's not a short ride and can be tricky if you don't know where to go. Somehow, she manages it and lands on the mainland. She gets out and wanders into town before anyone knows she is gone. David and I keep a close eye on her as she gets help from the townspeople and makes her way back to Salem. We've alerted key people in town about how to help her and made sure we've made it worth their while.

Once she finally makes it to Salem, she is ecstatic to be home, but hesitant to go right to her house because she sees John there with his new love interest, Isabella. I've tried so hard to get her back here before that happened so that she could just walk back into John's arms, but no such luck. I have several members of my security detail there to make sure Stefano doesn't come back for her, and they keep me informed of what's going on. They tell me that she is leaving clues for John to find that will remind him of her. The reports I'm getting from David tell me that it's working. So well, in fact, that he goes down to the pier one night instead of going to his engagement party. I've decided that I want to see what happens, so I am out in a boat on the river watching the entire scene unfold before my eyes. He's there. She walks up and calls his name. He turns to see her and can't believe it's actually her. She slowly walks up to him, he touches her face, and they embrace. I'm crying now, watching them finally find each other again. I can see even from so far away that they truly are in love, and I've accomplished what I've been struggling to do these past two years. My joy is overwhelming, and I'm so happy that I've gotten to witness their reunion. I know the road ahead of them is going to be hard, but if they have each other, I really feel like they can get through anything. It's my first victory over Stefano, and hopefully it won't be my last.

This Is Not How I Wanted This to Happen

My first day back in Salem is really surreal. I've seen this place in pictures and through cameras, but only once before in person. I know now why the Brady's came here, and I know why John always comes back here. It is wonderful place to live. Before my first day back, I bought a house in a secluded part of town so I could be protected. The safety preparations are finally finished, and I have finally moved in. I don't know yet where Stefano is staying, but that is the first item on my list. I am going for a walk in the park this first day, so I can do some reconnaissance, but unfortunately, and not for the first time, one of my trusted security seems to have given me away.

I am walking through the park when three men come upon me. I instantly press the button on my watch that activates my emergency signal, but nothing comes through my earpiece. I know at this moment someone has betrayed me, and they will pay. I manage to disable one of the men before another grabs me and the third grabs my pistol off my hip. As we struggle, I pull away enough to grab the knife off my ankle and slice the second man in the arm. He takes off, and I manage to kick the pistol out of the third one's hand, but he grabs a knife out of his ankle holster also and lunges at me. I dodge it as I hear a voice yelling for him to stop. He runs away, and I turn around to see John, my brother whom I've not seen up close in over thirty years, running towards me. I stand for a moment, trying not to show all the emotions I feel, when I begin to feel dizzy. I know it's not just seeing him that's making me woozy, and I look down to see blood pouring out of my leg. Just as he gets to me, I fall over, right into his arms.

I wake up in the hospital to an empty room. I can't believe I've allowed this to happen. Not only did I let them get the better of me, but I've revealed myself to my brother on the very first day I'm in town. I swear that someone is going to pay dearly for this betrayal. I try to move, but the stitches in my upper thigh say otherwise. So that's where the blood came from. I hadn't completely dodged that knife. I must be slipping as I get older.

At this point a nurse walks in and sees I am awake. She checks the IV, asks if I feel ok, and leaves. A moment later a doctor walks in. I recognize Kayla Brady but hide it well. She asks how I feel. Fine, for surviving a mugging. She says it is surprising how well I'd fought them off. I tell her I've been mugged before and have taken some self-defense classes. I ask where my hearing aid is, which is cover for my earpiece that is disguised as a hearing aid, and she says it is in the drawer. I tell her I've had hearing loss in one ear since I was a child. I also find my watch in the drawer and put both of them on. I tap the watch to check for messages and I have twelve from Allie. I see she's been quite concerned and quite busy as I scroll through the messages. Kayla asks if I need anything. I only need to know when I can leave. She says I can go when someone comes for me because those stitches are pretty deep and I need to be looked after. I tell her that someone will be here within the hour. She goes to get the paperwork ready and I message Allie all the info. She says she is relieved I'm ok but that I am in trouble because of what I've allowed to happen. I am so looking forward to that conversation with her. She also says she's on the way and will have David, my head of security, bring Carlos, my betrayer, to the house. Despite her being angry with me, Allie is the one person I can always count on to get things handled quickly.

I begin to work on getting dressed when someone knocks at the door. I ask who it is, and the voice says "John Black. I found you in the park today." My mind is instantly screaming, but I had to contain myself. This was NOT how I wanted this to happen.

"Can I come in?"

"One second please." I look at myself in the mirror. Not too bad. Contacts are there, that's the main thing. Can't let him see my real eyes. "Ok, come in."

As many times as I have imagined what it would be like to see my brother in person again, nothing I've ever thought of came close to how it actually feels. It's like all the years have melted away and I am a little girl again. All the feelings I had for him are there en force and it takes every bit of willpower known to man not to cry or scream out who I am. But giving myself away could have terrible consequences for him, so I hide everything. His face is in a polite smile, but completely blank staring back at me. I am a total stranger to him, and as much as I wish I weren't, it is a good thing. He is safe as long as he doesn't know who I am. And he won't. Being this close to him is a gift I never thought I'd get and I am thankful for that.

"Glad to see you're ok. I was worried when I saw what was happening to you. I couldn't believe something like that was going on in broad daylight. But from what I could tell you handled yourself pretty well."

"Yes, well, I've been attacked before and I'm not one to play the victim."

He smiles. "I can tell that about you. So how do you feel? Any other damage besides the leg?"

"None that I can find." I say with a grin.

He laughs. "Well, good. Hey, do you have a way to get home ok? Kayla said you can't leave until someone picks you up."

"Yes, my ride is on the way. But thanks for the offer."

"Not a problem. You just let me know if you need anything alright? Now that I've saved your life I kind of feel responsible for you," he says with a wide smile.

Of course, you do, I thought to myself, because you're still exactly who I remembered you to be. How incredible it was, considering all that the monster had done to you.

"Well, I really appreciate that, but I'm ok."

"Alright then. I'll be seeing you." Yes John, I can only hope you do.

I find out from the nurse that the police apprehended two of the men and confiscated my pistol for evidence. So, there will be some type of court proceeding from that. I remind myself to call the lawyer to make all this go away and to get my gun back. I message this to Allie and she says it has already been done. The third guy was caught by my security and interrogated. Turns out we know who sent them. Not Stefano directly, but a lower down lackey. He will know soon that we found out what he did, and that it will cost them dearly.

As I finish dressing, Allie comes in. She signs to me that the discharge paperwork is done and that their ASL interpreter is terrible. I laugh and we head out the door. In the car I begin to tell her about seeing John and she stops me immediately, berating me about being careless and reckless and overrun with emotions instead of common sense. I sit there and take it for a few minutes, and then put up my hand. "Enough" is what it means, and she glares at me. I tell her I know all this and that I will be more careful. But most of the blame lies with Carlos. She then begins to tell me all she's learned from David about why Carlos betrayed me, and I tell her he needs to disappear. No, I'm not going to kill him, but people who work for me know the amount of loyalty I demand, and how serious the punishment is for any betrayal. This is a dangerous life I lead, and I must be protected. Bad things happen to me when I'm betrayed, and I don't take it lightly. But I decide to deal with Carlos later. Right now, my throbbing leg tells me I need to go home and rest.

The Gym

After three days, a checkup, and removal of stitches, I'm feeling pretty well. Carlos has been sent to a very out-of-the-way place where he can do no more damage and David is looking to hire someone to take his place. I tell Allie I'm going to Salem Square for lunch and she demands to come with me. I agree, and we head out after my protection is in place: vest, watch, earpiece, knife and pistol back from the cops. It's a beautiful day so we sit outside to eat. My back is of course to a wall, so I can see everything, and I check in with each security guy before we sit down. As we are sitting there, David comes over the earpiece to let me know John is coming, and he has Marlena with him. I brace myself for the meeting, as not to give anything away. Allie will scrutinize every second of this later, so it must go well. He sees us and walks up to say hello. I introduce Allie and sign the entire conversation, so she can know what we're saying. Marlena begins signing a little bit as well since she knows ASL. Allie compliments her on her ability and she smiles. Then John asks the impossible.

"So, would you two like to join us for dinner?"

Allie looks at me as I sign what he's saying and the color fades a bit from her face. She covers though by signing that we have plans already. And then, in a moment of insanity, I say "Allie can take care of that for me. I'll be glad to come." She taps me on the arm because I didn't look at her or sign it, so I signed "You can take care of the plans. I'm eating with them." She knows better than to argue with me at that moment, so she acquiesces. John and Marlena are pleased, and we plan on the Salem Inn at six.

After they leave, all hell breaks loose with Allie. She is incensed that I've decided to go and reminds me of the insanity of it. Now that I've also come to my senses, I agree and say I'll call later to cancel but I realize that I didn't get a phone number from them. I also wouldn't be able to explain how I already know his phone number, or who might give it to me out of the blue. The full weight of what I've done begins to settle in and I decide just to ghost them, which I do. Unfortunately, John being John he becomes curious, and that's a bad thing. The next time we go out, we again run into him. There's no way this time he's letting me out of a meeting or something, so I agree to a trip to the gym.

"Why on earth are you up this early?" Allie hasn't seen 5:30 a.m. in a long time, unless she was seeing it from the other side. I told her she didn't have to get up with me, but as usual, she has to make sure I'm ok.

"I have to get back into working out, and this is a perfect excuse." I am anxious to spend time with John, but nervous as well. I know I have to keep my distance from him personally so that he doesn't figure out anything, but I just can't turn down a chance to talk with my brother. I've watched him for so many years from far away and all I want in the world is to look into his face up close. Even if he doesn't know who I am.

"I hope you know what you're doing. You've always done anything and everything to protect him and now, it seems like you're getting reckless."

"I didn't try to meet him in the park the other day, it just happened."

"It wouldn't have happened if you'd not gone to the park like I said."

"I had to go and I didn't know Carlos was going to betray me that particular day, now did I?"

"No, you didn't. And no, you didn't know John was going to find you. But you've never taken chances like I've seen you take chances in the last week. This just isn't like you, and I'm concerned."

"There's nothing to be concerned about. I know what I'm doing." But in actuality, I knew she was right. I was being reckless. I was tempting fate. But talking to my brother, face to face, after thirty years of only knowing him through a camera or a microphone, has had a stronger affect on me than I'd like to admit.

"We'll see." Allie is not convinced, and I'm not sure I can be convincing.

"I have to go or I'm going to be late. I'll see you after while." I check with David to see if everything is in place security-wise, and it is. He's not happy to be up at this hour either, but he really doesn't say anything about it. He knows better.

Fifteen minutes later, I'm walking in the gym. My knife wouldn't fit under my socks, so I ended up having an extra security guy just to keep Allie pacified. It's not just for my safety, but for John's. I can't risk him getting caught up in something meant for me. I hope no one asks about my bag, because my pistol is in there and I really don't want to have to explain it or leave it in the car. I have on a smaller Kevlar vest under my shirt, and no knife on my ankle, so I'm a little nervous being a bit less protected than normal, but as I walk in the gym and see John, most of that fear goes away. He sees me and smiles, waving me over to the machine he's sitting on. I smile back and head over. "Good morning!" I say as I drop my bag.

"I was afraid you were going to ditch me again," he says with a grin.

"I'm so sorry about that. Something came up last minute and I realized I didn't have your number and no way to get it, so I couldn't let you know I wouldn't be coming."

"That's ok. I figured as much. Well, how about exchanging numbers right now so it doesn't happen again?"

"Sure," I say. I can't tell him I already know his number, but I love the fact that he wants to know mine. I know I shouldn't be getting friendly with him, but I just can't help myself. I make a promise to myself to put some distance between us after this, no matter how hard John pushes to see me again.

We exchange numbers and move over to a different machine to begin our workout. John's doing rows and I start with squats, which is a bad idea, considering the wound on my leg. I go down on the first one and squeal in pain coming up. John immediately comes over to help, and I feel silly needing it. "Easy there, slugger. You're still healing you know."

"Yes, I just realized that," I say with a grimace. "I guess I'll have to modify these if I want to get anything done." So, instead of squatting normally, I have to do this weird squat-like thing with my injured leg out straighter and mostly using my healthy leg. It looks pretty odd, and John doesn't hesitate to comment on it.

"Are you sure you can still call that a squat? I mean, you're only really bending one leg."

"Yes, it's a squat. I'm squatting, aren't I?" I say as I barely bend one knee.

"Well, if you say so." He's laughing at me, and I must admit, it looks silly. I quit trying to work legs and start working on some bicep curls. "That's much better," John tells me. "You're a lot stronger than you look,"

"Well thanks. I try to keep myself in shape."

"Yeah, I could tell that in the park the other day. Where'd you learn those moves?"

"Oh, I took some classes in Jiu-Jitsu a few years back. I got mugged and I swore I'd never let it happen again, at least not without a fight."

"You can definitely handle yourself, that's for sure."

"I don't know about that."

"Oh, I do. I know a thing or two about self-defense and you're really good."

This conversation is getting a little too personal, and I know I need to deflect it off of me and back to him. "So why do you know so much about self-defense?" I ask him. I know he's not going to tell me he used to be a spy, so it should be interesting to see what he says.

"Well, I used to be in law enforcement."

"That sounds pretty interesting. Were you a police officer?" I know he was for a time when he thought he was Roman, and then another time later, but I'm trying to keep him talking about himself and not me.

"I was, for a little while." He's trying to do some bench presses now, and is having a hard time getting the bar back up with the weight he's put on it. It's a good amount of weight, so I put down my barbells and spot him a bit.

"You sure this is a good weight for you?" I ask teasingly. I'm trying to keep the conversation light and not personal, and joking with him is one way I can do that.

"Yes, this is always the weight I do." His ego is a little bruised, and I take the cue.

"Really? You just seem to be having a little bit of trouble with it today." I smile at him as I spot his last rep, and he just looks at me incredulously. "I mean, I guess it's pretty good for a guy your age." I burst out into a giggle at this point, and he realizes I'm joking hard with him.

He sits up and watches me laugh. A sly grin slowly spreads across his face. "Oh, so that's how this is going to be. I see. Wow. I invite you to come workout with me, and you razz me about how much weight I can lift. That's really nice of you." He's smiling for real now, and it melts my heart.

"Well, you started it actually, picking on me about my squats, so that just makes us even." This is the brother I remember and love with all my heart. This rapport we have is exactly what we had when I was a little child. He's so easy to talk to and play with. I'd almost forgotten how much I loved it. Or maybe I've just buried it so I wouldn't remember. Either way, it's all I can do to keep the love off of my face, so I turn away and grab a towel so he won't see it.

"Ok, ok, you're right. I started all this. Guess I should say I'm sorry for teasing you."

"Oh, no, no need at all to apologize. I'm a big girl. I can take it." I'm grinning again, and he laughs.

"Yes, I think you can."

We finish up working out and head to breakfast.

Marlena joins us for food and we sit and talk for an hour. Talking with her is incredibly easy as well. All of a sudden, my watch goes off and it's Allie. She is admonishing me for spending so much time with them. I excuse myself to the restroom, so I can check with my security. They don't see anything strange and David says they've not gotten any tips for anything that might happen. Then I call Jonas, my financial guy, to see if anything is happening with any of the businesses. Everything checks out, so I go sit back down. Today, at least, seems to be a safe day.

Eventually Marlena has to head to work. As John kisses her goodbye, it makes me smile, and she says how much she's enjoyed breakfast. I agree and thank her for all the conversation. She heads to the hospital and John asks if we could work out again soon. We agree on two days from now and I head home for a real shower. Allie asks me how everything went, and I smile.

"That good?" She asks. Definitely.

"I really had a good time at breakfast today," Marlena says to John that night at supper.

"Yeah, me too," John replies. "We had a good workout, as well. It was nice working out with someone again. Except when she razzed me about not lifting enough." John's bruised ego shines through his words, and Marlena picks up on it instantly.

"Well, honey, you are getting a little older. It's understandable that you can't lift like you used to." Her face widens into a grin as John turns his head towards her.

"After dinner, I'm gonna show you just how in shape I am!"

"Ooh baby!" Marlena giggles and looks at his empty plate. "Well, are you finished?"

"That's a fact." They get up and walk back into their bedroom.

Afterwards, they're talking again about our workout. John says to Marlena, "You know, when we were working out, I got the feeling that she doesn't have many other people in her life. She didn't really talk about family much or anything personal about herself."

"Maybe she's just a private person," Marlena replies.

"I got the feeling it was more than privacy." John's instincts were usually spot on, but he didn't have any idea how much. "I just have this weird feeling about her and I can't explain it."

"What do you mean?"

"I feel this real need to look out for her, you know?"

"That's probably because you saved her from those muggers."

"But that's just it, Doc, I didn't save her. She'd already knocked one guy out and run off another one all by herself. And truth be told, I probably caused her to get hurt from the last one because I was yelling at them and distracted her."

Marlena smiles. "She sounds right up your alley. Should I be jealous?" John looks at her and knows the grin on her face means she is teasing.

"I was actually going to see if you wanted to invite her over for dinner or something."

Marlena sits up and looks at him as the grin leaves her face. "You're serious. You really do want to know more about her."

"I do. Do you mind?"

"Whatever you want, love."

"You mean it?" John smiles as he takes Marlena in his arms again.

Dinner at the Pub

It's the day after my workout with John and my phone rings. I look at it and it's him. I finally remembered to exchange numbers at the gym. Actually, John was the one to ask for mine first. We'd already agreed on our next workout day, so I'm curious why he's calling.

"Hello."

"Hi Elizabeth, this is John Black."

"Hi John. What can I do for you?"

"Well, Doc and I were wondering if you'd like to come over for dinner this weekend."

"Oh, really?" This is a real surprise. I know they're very protective when it comes to strangers, so it's unsettling that he's so interested. And I know he's the one interested or it would have been Marlena that called.

"Yeah. I got the impression at the gym yesterday that you don't have family in Salem, or a lot of connections here. Doc and I thought it would be the neighborly thing to do to invite you out. Plus, I told you at the hospital that I kind of feel responsible for you now."

I am both excited and scared at the thought of socializing with John. I would love to spend time with him not out in public, but the more time I spend with him in a personal way increases the chances he might begin to remember me. That is the last thing I want, because I know what Stefano always said would happen if he did.

"That would be really great, John, but I'm afraid I have plans this weekend."

"But I haven't even said when," John replies. He is always one step ahead of everyone. I have to step up my game.

"Ok, when?"

"Saturday night?"

"That's exactly when I have plans." I can see him smiling through the phone.

"Ok, so you don't want to have dinner with us. May I ask why?"

"John, I appreciate the fact that you feel responsible for me, but I'm a big girl, and I've taken care of myself for quite a long time."

"No, I know you can easily take care of yourself. I saw that very well in the park. I just thought you might want to spend some time with people who would like to spend time with you."

Great. Nice play, John. Way to put the guilt on me. Ok, you win, this time. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to seem rude. You're being very sweet asking me to dinner with you and Marlena. Where and what time Saturday?"

"How about the Brady Pub, 6:30?"

"I'll see you there."

Saturday arrives and I'm seriously nervous. Allie is angry at me, David is concerned about enough protection, and I've had a major issue with one of my businesses all day. This is not a good night to go out but cancelling on them just makes things worse. So, I work hard to make sure everything is safe for this evening, even putting two more security guards on detail, just to satisfy Allie and David, and I head out.

We meet up in the square outside the Pub at 6:30. They're waiting for me on a bench as I walk up. They stand together and smile at me. "Long time, no see," I say to Marlena.

She laughs and gives me a polite hug hello. "How've you been? How's your leg doing?"

"Oh, it's healing up pretty well, thanks. I don't think it was as bad as everyone at the hospital let on anyway."

"I hope you're hungry," John says. "They have some great pasta here, and the sandwiches are good, too."

"I am." We walk in and all of a sudden, their faces fall. I can't imagine what awful thing is going on.

"Oh, God, I forgot she was here." John groans.

"Let's go, quickly, before she sees us." Marlena says.

"Dr. Marlena Evans!" I hear someone squeal from across the pub. I look to see a woman with Marlena's face barreling towards us. Oh, God, it's Hattie Adams.

"Dr. Evans, I'm so glad to see you!"

"Hi Hattie," Marlena forces a smile, "I forgot Roman hired you to work here."

"Yeah, he's such a sweetheart! Man, I can't tell you how GREAT it's been, getting to see that handsome mug every day!"

"I bet," Marlena says, a polite grin covering her grimacing face, "So, can we sit down?"

"Yeah, sure, sit anywhere. It's dead here tonight. 'Course, it's usually dead here every night. If you ask me, I don't know how Roman even stays in business. But I'm not complainin'. Just means I get to see more of him! Hey, who's your friend?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, Hattie, this is Elizabeth Ashe," John tells her.

"Hey, how's it going?" Hattie asks as she sticks out her hand.

"Great, thanks," I say as I shake her hand. It's a little sweaty and a good bit sticky so I have to wipe my hand on my pant leg afterwards, but I try to hide it to be polite. I have known about Hattie for years, and how Stefano gave her plastic surgery to look like Marlena so she could take her place. But John and Marlena don't know that I do. That's a story for another time. But her in-your-face personality and lack of filter for anything she says is a hoot.

"We'll just have a seat over here. Come on." John motions to a table over towards the bar and Marlena and I walk that way. I realize too late that this is going to be awkward, because I know John will sit where he can see everything. That's usually what I do as well, and years of habit have trained me to do that without thinking. So, when I head for that seat, I can see him look a bit quizzically at me. I stop myself just before I sit down, and I end up sitting opposite of him. I guess I can trust that John will see anything coming.

Hattie brings us menus and glasses of water. I instinctively touch my finger in the water because I always wear a clear polish that can detect drugs in the water. Again, it's an instinct from years of habit, and of course John notices. I try to explain so it seems reasonable. "A few years ago, a guy in a bar tried to put something in my drink. I guess it made me a little paranoid."

"That's understandable," Marlena says. She looks at John as if to say, "Stop reading too much into everything." He says nothing and starts to look at his menu.

After a few minutes, Hattie comes back and says, "So what do you guys want?" As we order, she gives us commentary on each item. "Oh, that's a good one. I had that yesterday and it was really good. Yeah that's a little too spicy for my taste. But I guess it's ok."

And to me, she says, "No, sweetie, you don't want that. It tastes like crap. Why don't you get the club sandwich? It's my favorite. And besides, you can probably handle the carbs."

So, I ordered the club sandwich. She hasn't changed a bit, and I'm trying not to laugh. I can tell this is embarrassing John and Marlena, so I make sure to tell them it's ok after she walks away. "I had an aunt like her once," which I didn't, but it helps, at least for a moment.

John takes this chance to ask about my family. "So, where are you from originally?"

I have this story rehearsed well, and it is the public story he will find if he searches for me. It's also my story with the ISA in case he does some deeper searching. I've had this public persona established for a while, so everything should check out fine.

"Well, I was born in the South, thus the accent. More specifically, North Carolina. I went to school there and then joined on with a small IT company that provided managed services to clients around town. Eventually, I opened my own business and grew it a good bit for a few years. I sold that business and now I do private consulting, so I can work from home and do a lot of remote work. I travel occasionally on business, but mostly I'm a homebody."

"So, you're a computer nerd," John teases.

"That's me in a nutshell." I'm smiling, and I hope this pacifies him, at least for a while.

"And what about your friend, Allie, is it? Have you two known each other long?" Marlena seems to be curious now.

"Yes, we've been friends since we were young." That much is true. "She and I went to school together and have been in business together ever since."

"Are you two a couple?" Marlena always gets right to the point.

"No, not at all. Neither one of us has had very much luck in the romance department, so we just live together. It keeps expenses down, and we get along pretty well, most of the time." I grin at the last part, and Marlena chuckles.

"So how about the two of you?" I ask. "How long have you been married?"

"Well, that's a much longer story," John says. We spend the next hour talking a little bit about some of their adventures, and I comment on how amazing it is that they seem to always end up with each other. Little do they know how much of a hand I've had in ensuring that is always the case.

After we finish, Hattie comes over and asks, "Are you all done yet? I really need to be somewhere."

"But you don't close for over an hour," Marlena notices.

"Yeah, I know that's what the sign says, but you're the only ones in here and have been for the last thirty minutes. I need to get home so I can order some stuff off of QVC. They have a special hour of half price body cream and beauty products at eight o'clock. I really need to get home for that, so, if you're done, can you go ahead and go?"

"Hattie," John says, "we were right in the middle of a conversation. Can't you watch it on the tv in the kitchen?"

"Well, I could, but it's on the fritz. And Roman won't buy another one because he says it makes us waste time."

"Imagine that," Marlena says slyly.

"I know!" Hattie exclaims. "Roman is normally such a great guy, but sometimes he can be a real pain in the ass." Marlena's sarcasm goes right over Hattie's head. "But couldn't you please go ahead home? I really need those things off the channel if I have any hope of making Roman notice me. I'm not getting any younger, you know!"

The three of us look at each other, and John says, "Sure Hattie. We're done."

"Ok, thanks! Oh, and don't tell Roman, ok? I'm not really supposed to be closing early."

John pays our check and we walk out to the square. As soon as we're out the door, Hattie turns the open sign around to closed and waves bye. She runs to the back and turns out the light and is gone.

"I'm really sorry about all that. She surely is a character." Marlena is embarrassed, but I assure her it's ok.

"No, it's fine. She seems harmless and I'm sure she means well."

"Well, I wouldn't say she's harmless, but she does mean well." John doesn't have as much tolerance for her as Marlena does.

"Thank you both so much for dinner. This was really fun and hopefully we can do it again." I'm trying to politely get home, even though I don't want to leave, but I feel like I need to.

"Oh, ok, well, I was hoping we might take a walk or something. It seems awfully early to say goodnight." John is trying to prolong things, probably to steer the conversation back around to me.

"Yeah, I don't think walking is a great idea. My leg is healing, but I think the workout the other day was a bit premature. I'd better just head home. But again, I really appreciate it and it was a lot of fun talking with you both. Take care, Marlena. John, I'll see you in the gym in a couple days."

"Ok, if you're sure. Take care then." John gives me a polite hug and surprisingly, a peck on each cheek. It was sweet and wonderful, and exactly how he used to say goodbye to me as a child. I look at him with some surprise, and a bit of nervousness on my face.

"Yes, well, goodnight." I make a mental note to try and put some distance in our conversations over the next few days. Things are getting too familiar and I need to put the brakes on it quickly.

"Good night!" Marlena gives me a quick hug as well as I walk away.

"Honey," Marlena asks John, "why did you kiss her like that? You just met her and you're acting like you've known her for years."

"I really have no idea." They walk arm in arm back to the car and drive home. John is more determined than ever to figure out who I am.

I Gain an Ally

A month has passed, and I'm allowing myself to develop a real friendship with John and Marlena. It is wonderful, but I always keep the conversations geared towards them and off of me. John and I work out three times a week since Marlena doesn't like the gym. We've had a few meals together, the last one at the townhouse. I had eight security on duty that night and planned it out minute by minute, but it went off ok. John has begun to share a little bit of his memory loss with me but doesn't play it up too much. Marlena and I have gone shopping twice and went to a movie when John was out on assignment. It's easy to see how very much she loves him because she talks about him so sweetly. She talks less about his memory loss and all the things they've been through, but that's ok. I know that she is protective of him, and giving away secrets like that to a near stranger is one way of doing that.

Marlena and I are on a perfect night out when I make my first mistake, though. John is again on assignment and Marlena and I are eating at the Brady Pub when I let my guard down for a moment. Unfortunately, it is the exact moment when Kate comes over to take our order. This is only the second time I've been in the Pub and I've actually forgotten for a moment she works there. I've been trying for weeks to find out where Stefano is in Salem and he's been on my mind a good bit today. Kate comes up to say hello to Marlena and take our order. I look up when Marlena introduces us and the look on my face when I see her can't be misinterpreted. I still can't believe that woman WILLINGLY married Stefano and that Marlena is actually friends with her. Unfortunately, all of this shows on my face as I look up at her. Marlena asks me if something is wrong and I immediately try to play it off as surprise, but she sees it. And then she becomes curious as to why I would react that way to her friend and a complete stranger. I apologize but she looks at me strangely for the rest of the meal.

Once I get home, I tell Allie, and she immediately gets on to me again about how I acted. I realize it was stupid, but it's happened and now I have to figure out how to fix it. I can't have John and Marlena both trying to know more about me or I'll have to disappear. And then, John might get curious about where I've gone so suddenly, and that could stir up all kinds of trouble. I decide the best thing is to tell Marlena everything and swear her to secrecy. Once I tell her what could happen to John if he finds out the truth, I have no doubt she'll keep it to herself. She has protected him and fought to help him for over half her life, and once she knows that it could cost him all of his memory again, I know she will continue to do just that.

I call her the next day and ask to meet at my house for lunch. I've been very vague to them about where I live so I'm sure she's interested. She agrees, and I get things ready. Security is everywhere (not that she can tell) and I have surveillance of every square foot for two miles in every direction. No one can get to us while she's here.

She's right on time and I invite her in. I thank her for coming out to the house, and she comments on how pretty and secluded it is. I mention that secluded is a good thing. She looks at me quizzically but says nothing. We go in to the dining room to eat and start with chit chat. After a few minutes, I apologize again about Kate. She says she was interested about why I reacted that way, and I tell her it is surprising to me that they are friends.

"Why?" She asks. This is my chance, and I take it.

"Because she was married to your mortal enemy." I reply.

Her face hardens and she asks, "How do you know that?"

I reply, "Because he's my mortal enemy too."

She freezes, a little afraid, very curious, and cautious. "What has he done to you?"

So, I tell her my story. (From the introduction)

When I finish, she says, "That's quite a story."

"Yes, it is. Do you believe me?"

"I don't know."

"That's my girl. You need proof before you'd ever risk anything that might hurt John, don't you?"

"Absolutely." Her determination and loyalty to him shines through like a beacon.

"Well, birth certificates can be forged. We can't do a DNA test without revealing my identity to others, and I can't reveal that. So, what can I do to prove it? I can tell you all about where you were held for five years, in and out of the coma, and how you carried the twins there. I can tell you all about the gilded cage in Paris where Stefano took you, and how I made it possible for John to find the goggles so he could see what was happening to you. I can tell you about Maison Blanche and the dungeon, or Aremid, or any of the other places John has been held or tortured. I can tell you about Crystal, the girl that told you John was alive all those years ago, or Rachel, and how I made her come out of hiding to help you and John."

"How do you know about these things?" I can see I've piqued her interest now.

"Because I was there. And if I wasn't there, someone who worked for me was. I've had a hand in so many of the ways John has escaped, or gotten out of situations that Stefano has put him in. I haven't been able to stop everything, but I've tried to do as much as I can to keep him alive and sane and get him back home to you as I could."

"And how do I know you weren't working with Stefano all along and you're just here to get close to us now? Why should I believe anything a DiMera has to say?" She's angry now and her voice is raised. I can tell she feels like I've betrayed them and the trust we were beginning to develop, not to mention the friendship they've shown me. I have to make her see the truth.

"Ok. You're right. Why should you believe me? Well, this is all the proof I have." I go over to the desk and pull out my most treasured possession. It was the only thing I managed to sneak out of my house before Stefano threw me out: my childhood photo album. As I hand it to her, she realizes what it is. She opens it, and gasps as she sees, for the first time ever, a boy version of the man she loves so much. And then she sees the little girl he's holding. A very small version of me. As she thumbs through the pages, small tears begin to fall down her cheeks. Seeing John's past for the first time is incredibly emotional for her. And in every picture, we are smiling and holding each other, holding hands in our special way: our fingers are shaped in the "I love you" sign, and our two middle fingers are clasped around each other. We always said goodbye that way, with a peck on each cheek, just like he gave me that night after dinner. For years, that was our special thing, and it was in every picture. The love we have for each other jumps off the pages at her, and she is overwhelmed.

"Do you believe me now?" I ask.

"But this little girl has deep green eyes. Yours are brown. Who is this really?"

My final secret has to be revealed for her to really believe. I use all types of gadgets to protect myself, but one of the easiest are the contacts I wear to disguise my eye color. John always spoke about 'those deep green eyes' of mine, and they were his favorite thing about my appearance. I walk over to my purse and retrieve my contact case. I take them out of my eyes and look up at her. Her eyes go wide with shock and she lets out a small gasp. Then, with tears streaming down my face and hers, she reaches for me and we embrace in the most monumental hug. I'm so relieved to be able to tell her these things. To be able to share this story with another human being who understands the depth of love I have for this man, not in the same way as she does, but to the same level of commitment. We stand there for the longest time just holding each other and crying.

When we finally part, she asks, "Why are you telling me this? After all this time, why now?"

"Because I know I can trust you. I know there is no other person on the planet who would protect John as much as I would. I'm here because Stefano is here, and I'm determined to keep the two of you safe. I didn't intend for John to meet me the way that he did, if at all. But it's happened, and I have to continue to protect him."

"I can't believe you've devoted your entire life to this and never told him who you are."

"I can't. And that's the most important thing, Marlena. You can't tell him either. Stefano told me that he put a post-hypnotic suggestion in his subconscious that would trigger itself if I ever told him who I am. He CANNOT be told about me or we might lose John forever."

"What do you mean, lose him?"

"Remember what Stefano did in the lab? The last time he had John? It could be something like that, only the memory erasure might end up to be totally permanent. I'm afraid what he put in there is something that will trigger a complete memory loss of everything. And we can't allow that, can we?"

"No, no, of course not." Marlena is beginning to grasp everything that's at stake if he did ever learn the truth.

"Good. I'm glad you understand. If he begins to show ANY signs of remembering me, you HAVE to tell me immediately. You can't risk waiting. And if he does start remembering, I will disappear. There will be no trace of me anywhere and he can't find me or try to find me. Do you understand?"

"Yes, yes, I understand. Where would you go if that happens?"

"Same places I've been since I was 18. You've never known I've been there, and you'll never know if I leave. Where I go is not important. What is important is protecting John at all costs, ok? I'm working on fleshing out Stefano. You guys just live your life and be happy. Leave the bad stuff to me."

And then she smiles that smile at me, and we hug again. I now know I have another ally, and a fierce one. This was a good decision.

Marlena's Surprise

It's been a couple weeks since I told Marlena everything. I was worried at first she didn't really believe me, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. We've talked a great deal about how I've helped them in the past, how many scrapes I've been in because of Stefano and trying to sabotage his businesses, and how I plan on keeping him out of their lives. I know he's here and I know he has help, but my security hasn't been able to spot him. This hasn't been an issue before, and I'm not sure what's going on, but I know we will get to the bottom of it soon.

The phone rings and it's Marlena. She says she has a surprise for me and asks me to come over. Allie helps me get ready. She's stopped hassling me so much, at least for now, and she reminds me to be careful. I get there and give Marlena a quick hug as I come in. I ask her what's up as John walks in.

"I'd like to know that myself. Seems my wife has some big secret she wants to share with the both of us."

I'm instantly on edge, but it's all for naught as she explains. "Well, I know how much you both love baseball. And the Cubs are playing the Red Sox today at Wrigley, so I thought you'd like to go." John lights up immediately and gives her a hug, saying what a fantastic wife she is and that she knows him so well. I also know this is an amazing gift, but a thousand alarm bells are going off in my head. How can I be safe there? In such a public place? And I can't take my pistol in with me, or my knife, and my security can only be in the perimeter, and…. I don't see how I can manage this and actually pull it off without giving everything away. But the idea of going to a baseball game with my brother and spending the day with him clouds all my judgment and common sense. I'm a giddy little girl again, and I so want to be able to do this, but I know it's impossible.

"Marlena, this would be so much fun, but I can't just take off like this. I have too many obligations today, but I really want to thank you for the offer."

She sees my fear and says, "I know you're busy, but this would be a way of paying you back for all the company you've been for me when John has been gone, plus it means I won't have to go!"

"I really appreciate that, and you never have to pay me back for your friendship, but I really can't."

John steps in at this point and says he won't take no for an answer, that he won't have an opportunity like this for a while, and that I am indeed coming. He walks to the other room to get ready and I turn to Marlena.

"This is wonderful of you, but you know this is dangerous. Spending hours with me alone could trigger something in his memory, and I cannot, I WILL not, let that happen. You're playing with fire here, Marlena, and it's not like you. What's really going on here?"

"I honestly think this will be ok. He's not shown any signs of anything and he's been around you now for quite a while. If something was going to remind him of you, I think it would have happened by now. Besides, he needs a friend. He needs someone with similar interests to pal around with. Someone who has nothing to do with the ISA or with work or anything like that. A normal person who is just his buddy."

"I am the farthest thing from a normal person you can get. I carry a pistol and a knife everywhere I go; I have a Kevlar vest on as we speak, I have four security guys at my beckoned call 24/7 and I go by a different name."

"John doesn't know that and doesn't have to."

"But being around him a lot makes it that much more likely he will find out. You know how smart he is and how he notices everything. I won't be able to let my guard down for a second and he'll see that. This is just not going to work. Plus, I can't be protected at a public baseball game. And if someone did try something and John got caught in the crossfire, I'd never ever forgive myself. There's just too much that could go wrong."

"How would anyone even know you're there? They're going to send someone after you on the off chance you might show up there? Be serious."

"I'm just scared, Marlena. This could be dangerous, not just for me but for him, too."

"And it could be wonderful, for you and for him. Please go. He needs this."

John walks out at this point and asks if I'm ready. Marlena smiles and says, "She just needs to go home and change." John says, "Great! We can leave from here in an hour. Hurry back and make sure you have on all your Cubs gear!"

I realize I've lost this argument, so I head home to change. My mind is racing and I'm talking to David over my earpiece the entire time about how to possibly make this work. He agrees that no one would think to find me at Wrigley field, and that is our only advantage. I make all the necessary checks and it seems again to be a safe day. Now to deal with Allie.

"You did WHAT?!" She signs to me in the loudest way possible. She is beside herself. "You're going to get yourself killed and I'm not going to be part of it. You CANNOT do this!"

"It'll be fine," I tell her, not at all sure myself. "David and I have worked it out. Jonas says the businesses are fine. Everything will be ok."

"Except that you have zero protection in a place like that, or have you forgotten you can't have a pistol in there!"

"If I can't, neither can anyone else. I'll be ok."

"Yes, but will John? What if he gets caught up in something meant for you? Could you live with that?"

"John can handle himself. He's proven it time and time again. Please let me just have this one thing." I'm pleading with her for this, and she knows how important it is to me. She is the only one who could possibly understand what this means for me. And she sees all that on my face, so she finally relents.

"Don't be stupid," she reminds me.

"I'll do my best" and smile as I walk out the door. I can't wait to be with my brother at a baseball game. And I can't wait for him to see that I'm actually a Red Sox fan!

The Ballgame

Six hours, two beers, two sodas, four hotdogs, and a great road win for the Red Sox later, we make it back to the townhouse. I'm sunburned, I'm hot, I'm tired, but this has been the best day of my adult life. We've laughed the entire day, teased each other about bad plays by our team, cheered for our favorite players, and sung during the seventh inning stretch. I've never had this much fun. And John seemed to really enjoy himself, too. He was the exact same joking, teasing person I remembered as a child. It's so incredible that despite everything Stefano did to him, the real John is still there.

We walk into the townhouse laughing and Marlena smiles at us. "Well, I guess this was a good idea, huh?"

John says, "The best! Except the Cubs lost!" And he glares and me jokingly, as if it were my fault.

"Hey, I can't help it your shortstop made three errors! And that your pitcher couldn't throw a slider today to save his life!" He wraps his arm around my neck and musses my hair with his other hand to punish me. I laugh and pull away and he grins. I can't believe how happy this moment is and I look at him to try and savor it. And then I see it. He turns his head ever so slightly and looks into my eyes. There is a flicker of recognition there, and it terrifies me instantly. But he seems to shake it off and says he's going to grab a quick shower.

Marlena sees it too and comes to put her hand on my arm. "I'm sure that's not what you think."

"But what if it was? What if he's beginning to remember? Familiarity breeds remembrance, Marlena. You, as a psychiatrist should know that better than anyone."

"Yes, I do, but I also know him and what he needs. This day was such therapy for him. And I can tell you enjoyed it all just as much as he did. He needs this in his life, and I know you have only the best intentions for him. I trust you to protect him. But you need to trust that I do know what's best for him. And right now, things like today, like some time with you, are what he needs."

"I would love more than anything for that to be the case, Marlena, you know that as well as anyone. But no matter what, I will not risk his losing his memory again. I can't allow that to happen to him or to you. I won't."

"I understand that too and I agree. But a flicker of déjà vu or whatever that was doesn't mean he's remembering everything. I've seen him do this before. I'm sure it's ok."

Hesitantly, I accept what she says. And then I give her a huge hug for the gift that today was. I thank her again and allow myself to feel, for a moment, happy about getting to be with my brother. If I did eventually have to disappear, this day would make it worth it. We make plans for dinner the following night and I leave for home.

A Night at the Ballet

"Who's on the detail tonight?" Allie is hounding me about going to the ballet. She's been going on for close to two hours now. I'm ready to scream, but as long as I keep my cool, I'll be out of here in a few minutes.

"I've already told you six times. Everything is in place. We are safe. Nothing is going to happen."

"With John not being there, it's your job to make sure she's safe."

"Yes, I know that. I'm sure Marlena is safe. Never mind about me though, right?" I'm grinning at her, hoping to ease the tension and her worries.

"At this point, no, never mind about you. This is ridiculously dangerous what you're doing, and someone is going to get hurt. Can't you see that? You've never been this reckless before, especially with their safety."

"I've watched over John and Marlena for years; I know how to keep them safe."

"But it's not been foolproof, has it?"

Flashes of my past failures creep into my mind—John getting hit by a car, having his memory wiped, too many other things that I couldn't stop from happening flood my mind and I have to literally shake them away. "Bringing up painful and hurtful things isn't the way to endear yourself to me."

Allie realizes she's crossing a line and she backs off. "Ok, I'm sorry. I just worry. It's my job."

"No, your job is to be my best friend and business partner. Let me handle the worry." She smiles, and I know it's ok. I'm ready to leave by now and I can't wait to get there. I haven't been to the ballet in years and going with my sister-in-law is something I never believed could happen.

I head to the townhouse to pick her up. John answers the door in sweats and a t-shirt. "So, is this what cavemen wear to the ballet?" I ask with a smirky grin.

"No, this is what cavemen wear when their wife and her friend go to the ballet and he gets to stay home and watch the ball game. Come on in." He looks very pleased that he isn't going, and smiles warmly as I walk in. When I brought up the idea last week of going to the ballet, he looked at me as if I had three heads. Marlena said she would love to come, but John's response was typical caveman: "I just don't like all that fancy dancing." That's fine. I really wasn't asking my brother to come anyway. I smile at John as well, glad that he's happy and glad that I'm going to the ballet with Marlena.

"She's almost ready. And by the way, in all sincerity, thanks for going with her tonight. She doesn't get to do things like this a lot because it really isn't my thing. It's nice she has someone who enjoys it too." He gives me a peck on the cheek and pats my arm. He has no idea how much more this all means to me, and how much I love being part of their lives, even if it's just as an acquaintance.

"It's definitely my pleasure, John. Marlena is an amazing person and I'm glad she likes having me around."

"Well, that goes for me, too, you know. It's really nice we have someone who we can both do things with. You're kind of unusual, you know. Most people don't like working out and baseball and ballet and shopping."

"Well, I am a little bit of a unicorn I guess."

Marlena walks out at this point and is dressed to the nines. John whistles at her, acknowledging how beautiful she looks. "Wow, Doc, I don't know if I should let you two out in public without an escort looking the way you do. Someone might steal you away from me," he teases her as he gives her a sweet peck on the cheek. The love and devotion they share is obvious, but what is less obvious is how well they know each other and protect each other. All of that is born out of years of being tested and torn apart by Stefano, and in spite of all his efforts to tear them down, he has only succeeded in making them stronger. I smile inside at the thought of how futile all my hateful brother's efforts have been.

She smiles back at John and says, "Well, I can vouch for myself and say with assurance that no one could possibly steal me away from you." She leans in and gives him a longer kiss this time, and then looks at me. "But as for Elizabeth, now, that's another story,"

"That's true. You know, we should work on fixing her up with somebody. That way we could double date!" John says with a mischievous grin.

"Ooh, John the matchmaker!" Marlena laughs.

"Yeah, that's a definite no," I say, before I can stop the words from coming out of my mouth. This arouses instant questions on their faces and I could kick myself for being so careless. I feel so comfortable around them at times that I let my guard down too much. I've got to be more careful.

"Now why would you say that?" John asks. "An attractive woman like you? I'm sure there would be lots of men beating down your door."

"That's very sweet, John, but a relationship is the last thing I need right now. And It's also sort of a once bitten, twice shy kind of thing, you know?" This seems to appease them for now, and I'm glad. "Marlena, we should be going so that we're not late."

"Yes, of course." She turns to John and says, "Ok, honey, you have fun watching the game and we will see you later." She gives him one more kiss and we walk to the door.

"You guys have fun, too, and don't pick up any strange men. I'm not gonna feel like beating anyone up tonight," John says in his most macho fashion.

Marlena and I look at each other and roll our eyes. "We won't," she says as we head out the door. "Bye, love."

"Goodbye, caveman." I say to John, and he smiles as I shut the door.

We get to the theater and find our seats. I reserved a box, specifically for safety reasons, and I'm not disappointed. I check in with David and everything is fine. It was challenging finding a dress that worked over my vest, but I think this one is ok. I couldn't hide my pistol, but I do have my knife on my ankle. Marlena doesn't know all that, or she might be uneasy. She knows I have security, but she's content to leave all that to me and enjoy the evening. I'm working hard to do that myself.

"So how long has it been since you've been to the ballet?" She asks as we settle into our seats.

"More years than I'd like to admit," I reply. "I went several times as a child, but once I was on my own, there never seemed to be much of a chance."

"I've not heard you talk much about your childhood before." I smile a small smile. She just can't stop being the psychiatrist.

"I don't like thinking about it usually. So much of it is just painful. But things like this remind me that there were some good times."

"Such as?" She asks.

One sweet memory comes to mind, and it makes me smile. "Music. You know, total DiMera trait. There was always music. Stefano always loved music, and he and Papa taught me at a young age to love it. I remember Papa and Stefano would sing together. Arias, Broadway, even folk songs. I remember being a small girl and loving their singing, hearing the strength and beauty of their voices. I felt like they were so cultured and sophisticated, and I was so proud to be part of that family."

Marlena can't help but smile. "That does sound nice. If anything about Stefano can be nice." She is right. Nothing about my oldest brother is nice. But for some reason, being here is bringing back happy memories.

"Papa would always sing 'Nessun Dorma' or 'La Donna Mobile' if he was really in a good mood. But 'Credo in Un Dio Crudel' was always Stefano's favorite. Makes total sense now."

"I don't know that one," Marlena says.

"It translates into 'I believe in a cruel God.'"

"Ah well, there you go." Her sarcasm is right on pointe. We both giggle, which I guess is all we can do.

"Stefano has been nothing but cruel to both of us," I remark, "but at one time, he had a great capacity for love. He spoiled me as a baby, before John came into our lives. He was fiercely loyal to Papa and our family and he was generous to those he loved."

"I've seen his capacity for love with his children. And during the time when he lost his memory, he and I were something akin to friends."

"Yes, that was a bright time in my past. Except when Tony died, or we thought he had."

"Did you know Tony well?"

"Not as well as I'd liked. He did end up being someone to be proud of, I think."

"Yes, he did. He was a pallbearer at John's funeral." She looks at her hands in her lap, reliving in her head that terrible, awful time.

"Yes, I know. I can't believe how badly I missed what was going to happen to John. That was another time someone betrayed me." I'm somber now, remembering perhaps my biggest failure to my brother. "We had figured out Stefano was planning to do something major to John, and were almost there in time. But one of my security got paid off not to tell us and we were too late." I'm looking off into space at this point, remembering that horrible day. Hearing the car hit John and then speed away over David's earpiece. Hearing Marlena scream. Not being able to run to him. I almost did anyway, but Allie and the two security in the van with me held me down as we took off, looking for the car that hit him.

I come out of my reverie and continue telling her the story. "We had Stefano on 24/7 surveillance after that. I was ready to take him out at any moment, and I was going to do it myself. At that point, there was no reason not to pay him back for taking John away from all of us."

"That was such a terrible day." I can see her own pain on her face.

"When I found out he'd taken John to the lab in his house, I knew I had to hurry. But I couldn't get in. It was impenetrable. That's why I sent Crystal to you directly. It was risky, but I knew I had to try."

"You sent that girl to tell me John was alive?"

"I was across the square about 200 feet away from you, watching through a camera and listening over the earpiece. I wanted to go myself, but they wouldn't let me. I was too distraught still and I wouldn't have been able to do it." That was the only other time I'd ever actually been in Salem.

"Unbelievable."

"It was my fault he got hurt in the first place," I say as tears begin to fill my eyes and I look away, not able to face her and face that truth.

She leans over and puts her hand on mine. "Look at me, Elizabeth." I slowly turn my face back to her. She looks me dead in the eye and says with conviction, "That was NOT. Your. Fault. You got me searching for him. You made me believe that he was alive. You are the one who really helped get him back to us." I smile a weak smile at her and nod a bit. I made sure that was the last time anyone but David has been in charge of anything regarding John or Marlena.

"You've done so much for us over the years. I'm glad we can at least have you in our life in some way."

"I am too. Marlena, I really want to thank you. I haven't had this from anyone else in a long, long time."

"Aww, what's that?"

"Friendship." She smiles and me and pats my hand again.

"Well you definitely have that." I smile again, just as the overture begins.

Don't Let This Be a Mistake

The next couple of weeks go by as if in a dream. Weekly workouts, a local AAA baseball game, that night at the ballet for Marlena and me, and I feel like I'm almost part of the family. I'm working so hard not to become attached to them, dependent on their time and attention. But it is more wonderful than I imagined was possible. I've seen them from a distance for years and felt like I was living a life with them in some way. But I know now it was only a small shell of an existence. What I'm doing now is really living. Being around them and watching them together is magical. And being treated like the little sister I always wanted to be repairs wounds I didn't even realize were there. Allie says she doesn't even recognize this person anymore because my whole outlook and demeanor is so different. I'm much more optimistic than I've ever been, and I am actually allowing myself a glimmer of hope that there might be a future to my and John's friendship.

I haven't met any of their family yet, though. I don't want to become too ingrained in their life and arouse suspicion of "Who is this new person?" and "Why do John and Marlena feel so close to her so quickly when they're normally so guarded?" I also stay away from the Brady Pub as much as possible to avoid any contact with Kate. I know she's hiding something, and I know she's still got some connection to Stefano, but what it is I haven't been able to determine. The last thing I need is a direct line to Stefano through Kate, especially without my knowledge of the entire situation.

I invite John and Marlena to a nice dinner at the Salem Inn to celebrate two months of my being in Salem, and they agree. It's a chance for me to spoil them a little and to dress up a bit more than usual. I haven't worn a lot of makeup in a long time, and tonight I'm indulging myself a bit. Allie helps me as she is amazing with makeup, and really makes my eyes beautiful. At least, until I put in my dark brown contacts. I wish I'd had on a different pair when I met John, but it is what it is. Nevertheless, I am excited about going out tonight. I've made all the arrangements and worked hard over the last week to ensure everything is safe. Nothing is going to spoil this evening.

When I get to the townhouse, I hear voices inside. I can make out John saying, "You know something about this, don't you?" Marlena replies with "Yes, but I am sworn to secrecy. I think you need to talk to Elizabeth about it yourself."

I need to stop this conversation immediately and figure out why Marlena is telling John to talk to me. I knock on the door. Marlena answers, and the look on her face is more serious than I would like. I can tell this is not good, so I try to move things away from whatever they were discussing. "You guys ready? The reservations are in 30 minutes, so we'd better go soon. What's the matter?" By this time every alarm I have in my head is sounding and my hair almost stands on end. I can sense easily when something is wrong, and this is very, very wrong.

"Sit down, Elizabeth," Marlena says to me.

"But we need to get going if we don't want to be late." I'm trying hard to keep this light, but it is already spiraling out of my control.

"We need to talk." Marlena puts on her cool, calm psychiatrist voice and I know what's wrong as soon as I sit down. John is remembering. It's all over. I'm already planning in my head how to get out of here and how to disappear.

"John and I have been talking about some things he's sort of remembering. Well actually, it's things he's almost remembering. He's been having these flashes of familiarity and déjà vu that he can't explain. I've talked with him about it, but I haven't been able to help."

"The flashes have to do with you, Elizabeth," John says to me. "It's like I know you somehow, or I'm at least very at ease being around you, and I can't put a finger on why."

"Well, we do seem to have a lot in common, and we hit it off well right from the start. But if this is making you uncomfortable, I can gladly bow out. I would never want to cause any kind of issue with either one of you." I try to get up from the couch, but he puts his hand on my arm and holds me there.

"No, on the contrary, I'm not uncomfortable at all with you. I'm more comfortable with you than I've ever been with anyone except Doc here, and I can't figure out why that is. It's not at all a romantic type of feeling, it's almost fatherly in a way. But I know there's more to it. I feel it with every fiber of my being." He's looking at me intently now, and I have to turn away from it. I have to put up the walls of protection that he's been beating down recently, that I've been letting him beat down, but I remind myself of the consequences if I don't.

"John, that's incredibly wonderful of you to say, but we just met two months ago. There is no way there's anything more to it. We're just two people who hit it off well and that's it."

"No, Elizabeth, that's not it. And you know it." I turn to make sure that was actually Marlena's voice saying those words.

"I'm sorry?" She can't possibly be doing what I think she's about to.

"You know what the connection is between you and John, and I think you need to tell him."

Everything inside of me goes into overdrive trying to figure out a way to get out of here, away from this, from them, from everything that might be happening. The day I've dreaded all my life has arrived, and it is my most trusted ally that is causing it to happen. This can't be real. She knows what she might be doing and she's doing it anyway. What has now caused everything in this world to turn completely upside down?

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Marlena. And honestly, this is getting really uncomfortable for me. I need to leave."

I pull myself up off the couch and head for the door, but Marlena stands too and gets my arm this time. She says quietly in my ear, "I really believe this is going to be ok."

I look back at her with total fear and panic on my face and whimper, "Please, don't…"

She pulls me over to the table nearby and leans in to me, whispering so John can't really hear. "He's been having flashes of something for two weeks now." I look up at her, again in total fear, but also with anger. My mind flashes back to the ballgame, and that flicker of recognition I saw on John's face. Why did I let myself believe it was nothing? Why didn't I stop it right there? And why didn't Marlena say anything to me in the meantime? I TOLD her she had to tell me about this IMMEDIATELY. I trusted her. What in God's name is she thinking?

"I TOLD you what would happen if he found out the truth" I hiss at her. "You CAN'T be serious about this! I will NOT risk him losing everything and I can't BELIEVE you're even considering this."

"I told you to let me decide what is best for him, and personally and professionally, I feel that this is best. I haven't seen any other things happening to him. But every time he talks about you, or comes back from time with you, he's happier and more content and relaxed than I've ever seen him. He's told me that he can almost see what it is about you that is so familiar, but something keeps getting in the way."

"You know what's in the way, and what will happen if I tell him." At this point, I know John can hear us, but I don't care. I want him to know that horrible things are associated with him knowing who I am, and I want him to fear it as much as I do. That's the only way I'll be able to leave this place and him.

"Please, Elizabeth." John's voice is so quiet and small I almost don't recognize it. "Please, if there's anything you can tell me about my past, or why I feel so at ease with you, can't you please just tell me?" I see the boy in him now, crying out to me from somewhere in our far-off past. His pleading tears at my heart until it is in shreds in my chest. I'm almost crying now.

"I can't," I say softly. My voice is faltering and I know I have to leave before I do something we will all regret. "Please believe me. I would love to more than anything, but I can't. And I HAVE to get out of here. NOW." I walk towards the door and begin to open it when I hear the name I've not heard in over thirty years.

"Kitten…wait." I stop dead in my tracks. I'm frozen in a state of fear, shock, joy, and terror. I turn slowly to look at his face, not believing it could possibly be real that he has remembered that name. My name. The name HE gave me that I loved as much as I loved him. I'm waiting for all the knowledge of me and of everything he's ever known to fade from his face, for the hell to unleash as I've always feared it would. But somehow, for some inexplicable reason, it doesn't.

"What did you call me?" My words are barely a whisper.

"Kitten. I…I just felt this urge to call you that and I don't have any idea why. Please…."

"Tell him, Elizabeth," Marlena says quietly but firmly.

I look at the floor. "I can't. I just can't. What if we lose him? And this time it's forever?" I don't know how to utter the words, and I'm afraid of all Stefano has always told me would happen if I did.

"Then we get him back, but this time we do it together." Marlena seems so sure, but I don't know if I can trust it.

I look at John, and then back to Marlena. I'm almost in tears now because I'm so scared. I whisper, "I don't know how to tell him."

"Then maybe you should show him." I'm puzzled because I don't know what she means. She gently taps under her eye and it dawns on me. Could it work? If I show him, but I don't say the words, could he possibly remember on his own and everything be alright? I turn my head slightly, as if I'm asking if she's sure, and she nods in encouragement. I look at him, at those eyes I've longed to see recognition in but never dared hope. He wants to know so badly. Please God, don't let this be a mistake.

I pull out the contact case from my purse and slowly take the contacts out of my eyes. I keep my face to the floor because I'm still terrified. Slowly, I walk over to him and stand in front of him.

"Please God, don't let this be a mistake" I whisper.

He puts one finger under my chin and slowly raises my head to look in my eyes. And when he sees them, no longer the dull brown but the deep emerald green, he stops frozen. After what seems like an eternity, a small smile begins to form on his lips, and tears begin to well in his eyes. I am tearing up now as I realize what is actually happening.

"Oh my God," he whispers. "Oh my God," as he wraps those protective arms around me and pulls me in a tight hug. I begin to cry in earnest now, with the weight of thirty plus years leaving my shoulders. He pulls back and puts his hands on my face. "Oh, my Kitten. My sweet Kitten, I remember! I remember playing catch in the yard, I remember playing games in your room for hours on end! I remember!"

Marlena is in tears now as well. She puts her hands up to her face and beams with joy.

I look at John for the first time in forever as my brother, and I can't say anything but "I'm sorry! I'm so, so sorry!"

"Why, Kitten, why on earth would you possibly be sorry! Don't you know what you've given me? You've just given me part of my past back! That's an incredible gift!"

"It's all my fault. It's all because of me and the things I said and because I loved you more than him. Everything that has happened to you is because of me!" All the guilt I've carried as that 13-year-old girl comes flooding out in a rush of jumbled nonsense, but John hears me and understands.

"No, sweetie, oh no, it is not at all your fault! We loved each other so much, and Stefano's jealousy and vengeance about that is what caused all of this. That's why he did the things he did. He is so sick and twisted with hate and revenge that he couldn't stand to see us and our love for each other. It isn't your fault, it's his. It's all his."

"I've tried to make up for it, John, I really have. I've tried to protect you against him all these years, and make sure you got away from him and back to Marlena. I couldn't protect you against everything he did, but I did try." I want him to realize that I've tried to make up for Stefano taking him away in the first place, hoping that he doesn't blame me or get angry with me when he realizes it was all because of me.

"Oh, Kitten, I'm sorry you felt like you had to do all those things. But all that is over now. Everything is out in the open and I remember you and us and how much I love my little sister."

I'm crying again and he hugs me tightly. Marlena puts her hand on my back to let me know she's there, too, and so happy this is happening. I can't describe how I feel at this moment. Joyful, relieved, thankful, nothing comes close. After just savoring the moment for a time, John pulls back and looks deep into my eyes again. Then he turns me a little and puts his arm around my shoulders so we're facing Marlena.

"Doc, I'd like to introduce you to my sister."

She takes my hand and says warmly, with a smile and tear-stained face, "Welcome to the family." I lean my head on his shoulder, close my eyes, and thank God for giving me back my brother.

Sami likes me

I have a special place in my heart for Sami Brady Reed Walker Roberts Hernandez DiMera. She has been through a great deal of pain and trauma in her life at the hands of my wicked brother, Stefano, from being kidnapped herself, to having her mother kidnapped and tortured, to thinking that John was her father, then witnessing her mother and my brother being intimate during their short-lived affair. None of this was her fault, and I truly feel for her and all she's been through and how it's affected her as an adult. I really want to get to know her personally, especially because she has been such a thorn in Stefano's side. The biggest thing I'm proud of her for is stealing my brother's fortune as well as his son, EJ, and helping EJ to realize how horrible his father is. I helped her with that by making sure she received the letter EJ sent her when she thought he was dead. I got it from Stefano's house after we had put a spy in there. David had overheard a conversation about it and we decided that we had to get it to her, so we sent in a few people and managed to get it out and in the mail to her. She took it and used the information in it to steal my brother's fortune, about which I was overjoyed. It made my brother much less of a threat, to the point that John and Marlena were able to relax for a bit. Of course, it didn't last long, but now Sami and EJ are together and protected. I've added a few people to watch out for them and make sure my brother doesn't take revenge on them while they're not in Salem. But John and Marlena said that Sami is coming home for a visit, and now that John knows who I am, I'm hoping I can finally meet her in person.

John calls me early in the morning to let me know that Sami's flight is coming in later this afternoon. "Can I come with you to pick her up?" I ask hopefully.

"No, I think it might be better for you to be at the townhouse waiting for us. Sami doesn't do well in public with surprises, and we don't want to draw any unnecessary attention to you in that public of a place."

"Yes, I guess you're right." I'm disappointed, but at least I will get to meet her today. "Is EJ coming with her?"

"No, he's still recuperating in Switzerland. This is just a short visit for her since she's been gone so long. She's been a little homesick and she needs to see her mother for a while."

"I'm sure Marlena is excited to see her as well."

"Definitely. She's a little upset the grandkids aren't coming, but with it being so short of a trip, they probably wouldn't even get over the jetlag before they had to get back. And Sami really doesn't like making them travel any more than she has to."

"Yes, that makes sense. So, what time should I be at the townhouse?"

"How about three? Will that work?"

"Totally. I'll see you at three."

"See you then."

Three o'clock rolls around and I'm anxious to get there. I'm hoping this goes well, because I know Sami well enough to know that if I don't make a good first impression, it will take a long time to fix it. I knock on the door, and Marlena comes and answers it. "Hi there!" she says as I walk in. "We were expecting you," she says as she gives me a warm hug.

"Hope I'm not too early," I say to her and John.

"Nope, right on time," John says as he gives me a peck on each cheek. Sami is on the other side of the room and I can see by the look on her face, she is very confused. I'm sure they haven't told her anything about me, and a complete stranger coming in and being so welcomed by her mom and stepdad is disconcerting to her. She is very protective of them and very volatile if provoked, so I really hope this goes smoothly.

"Sami, I want to introduce you to someone." He puts his arm around my shoulders and turns around to face Sami. "Sami, this is Elizabeth Ashe. She's…."

"John," Marlena interrupts, "shouldn't we do this a little more slowly? For Sami's sake?"

John looks at her, then back at Sami, and realizes she's right. Just blurting out that I'm his sister will be a little too much of a shock to her, especially since that means I'm a DiMera as well, and I know her feelings about the DiMera's. She will instantly be suspicious of me and untrusting, so I more than anyone want to make sure she understands that I'm not like them and that all I want is to keep all of us safe. "You're right as usual, Doc," he says to her. "So why don't you tell her?"

"Tell me what? What's going on here, Mom?" Sami is curious now, and I can see her defensive radar is already up.

"Sami, come sit down." Marlena directs her to the sofa. She sits down hesitantly, and I sit also with Marlena in between us. John sits in the chair next to the sofa beside Sami. "I have something to tell you that will be pretty surprising for you. I know it was a surprise for John and me." Marlena looks back at me and smiles. I smile back at her and at Sami, hoping to convey that I'm no threat to anyone.

"What is it?" Sami asks.

"Well, let me start at the beginning. A few months ago, John saw Elizabeth being attacked in the park. Three men were trying to hurt her, and he scared them off."

"She was doing ok by herself, if the truth be told, I just came along at the end of it," John chimes in.

"Anyway, she got cut on the leg by one of them and ended up fainting in John's arms. He took her to the hospital to get her checked out, and, a few days after she was released, we ran into her in the Square. John had told me he felt this need to protect her, and I told him it was probably because he had rescued her in the park, but he kept feeling like there was more to it." Marlena continues with the story of how we all actually met. I'm watching Sami's face for any sign of trouble, but for now she's just politely listening.

John continues with the story. "So, I started asking her to spend time with us, doing social things, dinner, a baseball game, you know, stuff like that. And the more time we spent, the more comfortable I began to feel around her. It was almost like I knew her somehow, but I just couldn't figure it out."

Marlena continues. "Eventually, Elizabeth shared something with me about herself, and I finally convinced her to share it with John. She was scared at first, because she'd always been told that if she did share this information, it might be harmful to John. But I convinced her it would be ok."

"Mom, why are you telling me this? Is this woman a threat to us somehow? Is something wrong? Is she trying to hurt you or John?" Sami is getting very worked up now, and I can tell she's getting ready to erupt, so I try to intervene.

"No, that's not it at all." I tell her. "I would never, ever hurt John or your mother. Actually, I've spent the majority of my life trying to protect them."

"Protecting them? Mom, what's she talking about?" Sami is getting flustered, so Marlena gets to the point.

"Sami, it turns out that Elizabeth is John's sister."

"His sister? How?"

"She is his half-sister, on the DiMera side."

"DIMERA!" Sami jumps up, immediately out of control. "Why would you ever believe that a DiMera wouldn't harm you, Mom? How could you possibly ever trust any of them! You know what they've done to us! To all of us!" She's lunging at me now and I back away as Marlena gets up and tries to calm her.

"Samantha Gene LOOK AT ME! Stefano kicked her out of their house when she was sixteen years old because she was trying to help John even back then after Stefano first kidnapped him and made him think he was your daddy. He sent her away, and then tried to have her killed when she got old enough to sue for her inheritance. Does that sound like she's working with Stefano?"

"How can you possibly believe anything a DiMera has to say, Mom? After everything that's happened to us because of them!" Sami is enraged and ready to lash out at me because of her fear of my brother. I don't blame her at all. I'm just hoping she will listen.

"She's done everything she could to keep those things from happening, and to get John or me back to each other for almost 30 years Sami!" Marlena is holding on to Sami with all her might and trying to get her to focus on what she's saying, but she's having difficulty.

"How do you know? How do you know this isn't all just some huge DiMera scheme to worm her way into our family so that she can destroy us from within?"

John stands up at this point and says, "Because I remember her."

Sami stops fighting for a moment and looks at him skeptically. "What do you mean you remember her?"

"I mean I remember her as a child. I remember playing with her in her room. I remember teaching her how to play baseball in the yard. I remember naming her 'Kitten,' and I remember how much we loved each other." He smiles a gentle smile at me and I almost tear up watching him. I still can't believe he remembers me, and that he loves me, too.

"So, her coming here gave you part of your memory back?" She looks at me now not out of control, but still with a bit of doubt.

"Yes. I don't remember everything about my life before I came to Salem, but I remember her. And I remember that part of it. I remember our father, and I even remember Stefano."

"But wait, I thought that Stefano wasn't actually your brother. I thought that you found out all that stuff Colleen told us was a lie, that the adoption agency made it all up."

"Yeah, that was actually me." I need to chime in to the conversation now and explain what I did. "I didn't want John to know that he was Stefano's brother. I didn't want him to feel like he was a part of that terrible family, and I didn't want him to remember me and possibly lose all his memories forever."

"Why would remembering you make him lose all his memories? If he remembers you now, why hasn't he already lost them?" Sami is calming down, but still confused.

"I don't know why he didn't lose them when he found out who I was. Stefano told me when he disowned me that he had put a post-hypnotic suggestion into John's mind that would show itself if he ever discovered my real identity. He told me that John would lose all his memories permanently if I ever told him about myself, and I believed him for my whole life. And after what he did to John in the lab the last time, putting all his memories on a CD and robbing him of any identity, I knew he had the technology to do it. So, that's when I decided to make sure he wouldn't find out who he really was."

"You allowed him to be kidnapped and put in danger, all because you didn't want him to know Stefano was his brother?" Sami is becoming angry again.

"Yes, but he was always under my protection. He was never in any danger. I had hired Eduardo to do everything he did, and make it seem like the Robicheaux's were his parents. I had to do something drastic to make him and Stefano believe John wasn't really a DiMera. Stefano never really believed what Papa said, about John being his, anyway. This just made it seem more plausible."

"And you're ok with that, John?" Sami turns to him to see what he has to say.

"Yes, I am. I know what she did, and why she did it, and I know countless other things she has done throughout her life to try and protect me and save me and your mother from Stefano's ploys. I trust her completely, and so does your mother. In fact, I've never trusted anyone more than her EXCEPT your mother."

"Wow, that's pretty amazing, coming from you." Sami knows the incredible depth of John's love and trust for Marlena, and his saying that he trusts me almost as much as her is high praise for me and Sami knows it. She looks over at me with a completely different expression now. She walks towards me and asks, "So you've kept John and my mom safe all these years?"

"Well, I haven't always been successful, as you know, but I have tried."

Marlena puts her hands on the back of Sami's shoulders and leans in to tell her, "She's the one that finally got me out of that coma so many years ago." Sami looks at Marlena over her shoulder and then back at me. Her mother was gone from her for almost five years, and realizing that I'm the one who finally got her off that island makes a huge impression on her.

"That was you?" she asks quietly.

"Well, I wish it had been sooner. I worked for over two years on it, but we finally had a breakthrough once I got there."

"You were ON the island!" Sami is shocked.

"I was posing as a nurse for your mother. I stopped giving her the medication that was keeping her sedated, and she began to wake up. After that, it was just a matter of time, and some well-placed bribes," I add with a smile.

"I don't know what to say." Sami is in a state of shock at all the news.

I walk closer to her now, and tell her the thing I hope will make the biggest difference for her. "I'm also the one who made sure you got the letter from EJ with all the information about the safety deposit box. The one that had all the passwords and things so that you could take all Stefano's money? I was doing the happy dance myself when all his money disappeared. And I'm the one that made sure you found EJ again after he got hurt. I made it possible for the two of you to go to Switzerland recently and for him to be rehabilitated."

Sami is stunned. She can't believe that I'm actually the one that helped get her love back to her and helped her ruin Stefano. "I can't believe you would do all that for me. I mean, you're John's sister. Why would you do so much, put yourself in so much danger, just for me?"

"Because he thinks of you like a daughter. He did raise you for years, and he's always been part of your life. You may not be blood, but you are family. And that's all that matters to me."

Sami turns around to look at John and Marlena. "I like her," she says matter-of-factly. They smile at each other. Everything is ok now, and I'm so glad.

She turns back to me and says, "Welcome to the family," as she gives me a huge hug. "We're a little crazy, and we've had our share of drama, but, we're family."

"Thank you, sweet girl. I am so happy to be part of it, crazy and drama be damned."

End Part One

This is how I imagine the end of this story to go. This part happens several months after Elizabeth has gotten to Salem. Her bond with her brother is total and absolute. They have had several adventures together. He has remembered more and more about his life before Stefano wiped his memory. Elizabeth has perhaps even joined the ISA because of her skill set and her access to technological and medicinal resources. She and John have discovered Stefano is for sure in Salem, and they are almost ready to take him in, but Stefano has discovered that someone in Salem has been sabotaging him. And he knows where she lives.

A Run In With Kate

So, I finally decided to have lunch by myself at the Brady Pub. I must know what Kate is up to, and the only way to do that is to be around her. I'm sure she's had contact with Stefano and is probably working with him to get to Marlena. I have to get it out of her, which means I have to talk to her. I can't wait.

I go in and sit at the table farthest from the door, so I can see how she interacts with everyone. At some point, I'm going to have to interact with her, but I want to get a better idea about her first. As she goes around taking orders, she sees me sitting by myself and visibly rolls her eyes. She thinks I don't see her, but it's fine. The feeling is mutual.

She finally walks over and says, as irritated as possible, "Can I get you something?"

"Club sandwich and a water please?" I ask in my very sweetest voice. She can tell I'm patronizing her and takes the bait.

"Where's Marlena?" she asks coolly. "You two seem to be joined at the hip lately."

"She's at work and John is too, but she might stop in later if she can get away." Kate is annoyed that I know where they are, and she continues to press.

"So, what is it that Marlena sees in you? I mean, she's definitely smart enough to see right through you."

"Excuse me? What is there to see right through? She and I have things in common, John and I have things in common, we enjoy each other's company. It's that simple."

"You've only been in town what, a few months? Why would they spend so much time with someone they barely know when they have so many other longtime friends?"

"Gee, I don't know, out with the old, in with the new?" I'm toying with her now and she's falling for it. She glares at me for that one, so I know I'm getting to her. "Actually, I can't for the life of me figure out why she would want to be friends with you."

She is seething now. "I've been friends with her for a long, long time and some new interloper is not going to come along and mess that up."

"Oh, I think you're the interloper."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

This is my chance. I lean towards her and say, slowly so she'll get every word, "Well, let's see. You slept with her husband when she'd been kidnapped, married her ex-husband, and willingly married her mortal enemy, the man who's tried to possess her for decades. Seems like you just keep getting Marlena's leftovers, doesn't it?"

"How do you know all that?" She hisses at me.

"I thought it was common knowledge." I smile sweetly at her and she is infuriated now.

"I don't know who you are or what you want, but I have ALWAYS been Marlena's friend. And your twisting of things that you know nothing about doesn't change that. I would never do anything to hurt her or put her in danger."

"Oh, hello pot, this is kettle."

"What does that mean?"

"It's a euphemism for 'you're a big, fat hypocrite.'" She stands there and stares at me for a moment in shock. "Oh, I'm sorry, which word didn't you understand? 'Euphemism' or 'hypocrite?'"

She leans down and says, with a touch of evil on her face. "I'll figure out what you're up to. It's just a matter of time."

"I feel the same way about you." I say with a sly grin.

This surprises her, and she backs up. "What are you talking about?"

"Oh, I think you know. It's a joke that you would never put Marlena in danger. You'd sell out your own mother to Satan if it got you what you wanted. And Stefano is definitely the next best thing. He is a huge danger to her, and anyone who has had contact with him and didn't immediately tell the police, puts Marlena in danger."

She backs up more at the suggestion I'm making. Clearly flustered, she responds, "I haven't had contact with him in years."

I know this is a lie. It's written all over her face. I sit back in my chair and smile. "Then I guess you have nothing to worry about. Now, how about that sandwich?" She turns in a huff and walks away. I can tell she's shaken and a bit nervous. She's definitely had contact with him, and not years ago. Maybe as soon as days or hours ago. Just what I thought. We will have to keep a closer eye on her.

Later that day, I'm over at the townhouse helping Marlena with dinner. Actually, I'm cooking and she's putting dishes away. "Where's the garlic powder?" I ask.

"Uhm, I'm not sure. The spice cabinet is….maybe….oh no, this one," as she goes through three cabinets to find it.

"Thanks," I say with a grin. I continue cooking and she asks me how my day was.

"Pretty good. Businesses are ok, I took a nice walk this morning and no one tried to kill me, so, overall it's a good day."

She gives me some serious side eye, not being amused at my joke. "That's not funny."

"No, but it is accurate." She shakes her head in disgust and I continue. Hopefully I can lower the boom of what happened delicately, so she doesn't erupt. "Actually, I did have a very informative lunch at the Pub today."

"Oh, really, how so?"

I know she's going to be mad about this, but it can't be helped. She needs to know. "I talked with Kate."

"And how did that go?"

"Well, it was not a meeting of the mutual admiration society if that's what you're asking."

"I wonder why, especially since you made such a good first impression." Her sarcasm tells me she's still upset that I don't like Kate.

"I didn't make a better second one, either,"

She stops what she's doing and stares at me. "What did you do?"

I take a breath and say," I think she's in contact with Stefano."

She smiles wide and begins to laugh. "Kate? In touch with Stefano? That's ridiculous."

"I don't think so." The look on my face tells her I'm completely serious, and her smile fades.

"What makes you think she would have anything to do with that monster?"

"Well, because Kate looks out for Kate, first and foremost. She was married to Stefano once and if he's back, she could easily go to him and offer to help him get Di'Mera back. She's been a waitress for a while now. She's probably getting tired of it. Or maybe he called her!" An idea forms in my head. He would need a contact and someone to help him when he got back to Salem. Who better than Kate? "That's got to be it! He needed help when he got back to town and he called her. He probably made her some deal in exchange for her help, and Kate jumped at the chance to get back into the business. Oh my God, why didn't I see this before! Stefano comes into town. He knows if he goes out in public he will be arrested. He contacts Kate, agrees to put her back at the head of DiMera, she agrees to keep him safe and help him with his plan. That's got to be how we haven't found him yet! Kate is hiding him and doing his dirty work for him!"

Marlena has been standing there, watching me talk to myself. I finally look at her, and I can see she doesn't believe me. She even looks angry at me. "How can you think that one of my dearest friends would possibly sell me out to that man? Kate would never do this, and I can't believe you would even suggest it."

I knew this was not going to go well. I try to calm her down, so she can understand. "Marlena, I know she's your friend, and I know how loyal and trusting you are with people you care for. But sometimes, you allow those feelings to cloud your judgment where they are concerned. Sometimes, you are not able to see the real person; you see who you believe them to be. And that's wonderful, and admirable, and one of the very best things about you. But I am a realist. I have to see things for what they truly are because it helps me stay alive. No one is above reproach as far as I'm concerned, especially someone like her."

"What do you mean, 'someone like her'?" Marlena's still upset. But she needs to realize what a threat Kate could be to us, knowingly or unknowingly.

"Kate is shrewd, and vindictive at times, and she knows how to play hardball and how to make deals. She doesn't mind getting her hands dirty if it means getting what she wants. And she is angry about getting pushed out of DiMera, is she not?" Marlena contemplates this as I continue. "And maybe, all she agreed to do is help with the business side. Maybe she is trying to keep him away from you." I don't really believe this, but it doesn't matter if it makes her understand my point. "But ultimately, if she is in contact with him, that means he has at least a little bit of access to you," I look her right in the face and continue, "and that is dangerous,"

She looks at me for a moment, then at the wall, thinking about what I've just said. Quietly, nervously she asks, "Do you really think she knows where he is?"

"Yes, I do. So, I want you to promise me you won't be alone with her for the time being. You don't know what Stefano might do and how brazen he might be, and if he thinks he can trust Kate, he might try who knows what. Ok? Promise?"

She reluctantly agrees, and even though I think Kate is selling her down the river, at least I got her to promise to be more careful. "Ok, good. Now, let's see if we can find the cilantro."

John comes in at that point and sees we've been having a serious conversation. "I knew you were here when I smelled the food. How're you doing, sis?" He comes over and gives me a side hug and a kiss on the forehead.

I smile at him and say, "I'm ok, but I've just upset your wife pretty well." He looks at me, concerned and curious. "I really am just trying to look out for her though."

"What have you done that's so bad?"

"She thinks Kate is in contact with Stefano." Marlena still doesn't believe me completely and wants John to take her side.

"Why would she think that?" John asks while looking at me

"I could tell how nervous she was when I asked her about it." I know this is going to set off a firestorm, but John needs to know everything I said.

"You didn't tell me you asked her point blank! What in the world were you thinking?" Marlena is truly mad at me now.

"She told me that she had been your friend a long time and didn't want an interloper like me coming between you. I told her that she was the interloper and had been getting your leftovers for years."

John's eyebrows raise in surprise at the audacity of my comments, and Marlena is furious. "You said WHAT? How could you say something like that to her? You don't know her! You don't know what kind of friend she's been to me for YEARS!"

"Oh, really?" I'm getting angry now. "So, the fact that she went after your husband when you'd been kidnapped makes her your FRIEND? And the fact that she married the man that's tried to destroy your life and John's REPEATEDLY makes her trustworthy? Marlena, how can you be so naïve?"

"Ok, ok, let's just calm down here." John steps in between us to try and put out some of the fire.

"John, regardless of Kate's intentions, which I think are all unscrupulous, if there's even a CHANCE she is in contact with Stefano in any way, it gives him access to Marlena. It makes her vulnerable. He could be manipulating Kate right now in ways we don't even know about, and all I want is for Marlena to be careful."

John mulls this over for a second. "What evidence do you have that Kate is in contact with him?"

"I could see it all over face when I confronted her with it." I know it's not concrete evidence, but John knows how well I can read people and tell when they're lying.

He turns to Marlena and puts his hands on her shoulders. He says gently, "It wouldn't hurt to think about what she's saying, Doc. All she wants to do is protect you."

"I can't believe you're taking her side." Marlena is hurt and upset.

"I'm not taking sides, sweetheart, and if I were it would always be yours. But Elizabeth is very good at reading people, and, like she said, she's just trying to protect you."

"And I'm not? I'm not trained to tell when people are lying to me?"

"Of course you are, but sometimes you let your love for people cloud your judgment about them." Hearing this for the second time doesn't make her happy. She looks at both of us and relents for the moment.

"I still think you're both wrong, but I'll go along with it. For now."

"Fair enough, sweetheart. Thank you. Now, what's for dinner?"

An hour later, we've had a pretty good dinner, if I do say so myself, and Marlena is not quite so mad at me anymore. "Well," she says, "since you made dinner, I'll do the cleanup."

"That sounds fair," I say with a smile.

She grabs the plates and heads to the kitchen. Once I hear her working on the dishes, I turn to John. I want him to know my thoughts about Kate without upsetting Marlena even more.

"John?"

"Yes, Kitten?" A shy smile comes across my face.

"I'm so glad to hear you call me that."

"I'm so glad to be able to call you that."

"You know I'm only looking out for Marlena, right? I would never come between her and her friends. I just want her to be safe."

"I believe you, sis. And I don't believe you'd aggravate Kate without good reason. What do you really think is going on?"

"My gut tells me that Stefano needed a contact when he got back in town. He needed an ally because he can't be out in the open. He has a history with Kate, so I think he contacted her. And Kate being Kate, she asked for something in return."

John knows my theory has merit. "That does seem plausible. How did she react when you asked if she'd had contact with him?"

"She got really quiet and acted as if she'd been caught off guard. She doesn't know how much I know about your history with him, so I'm sure it surprised her. And she can't ever know who I am. I can't imagine what would happen if she found out who I was."

"Well, we won't tell." He grins at me.

"I know that. I'm just saying."

"Ok, I'll look into it."

"Already happening." I give him a sly grin, and he shakes his head.

"You are a mess, you know that?" He grabs me and tries to tickle me. My squealing brings Marlena back into the room.

"Alright you two, break it up." She's smiling now, so hopefully everything is forgiven.

"I've got to be going. I'm sure you two are ready for some down time." We exchange hugs and kisses as I walk out the door. Little did I know how much things would change in 24 hours.

Too Much is Revealed

The next day, John and I have finished our morning workout and are meeting Marlena for breakfast. I'm hoping everything from the night before has gelled in her mind and that she will stay away from Kate, but all that is for naught about ten minutes into breakfast.

"So, Kate called me this morning." She says offhandedly.

John and I look at each other discreetly. This is not good. "So, what did she want?" he asks.

"She wanted to have lunch today."

"Really? Where?"

"At the Pub."

"Well, that's a pretty open place, so it should be fine." I say.

"I wasn't asking permission," she says to me coolly.

"I didn't mean to imply that you were. Just making a comment." I'm not sure why she's upset again, but I can guess it has something to do with the conversation with Kate.

"You made plenty of comments to her yesterday, from what she said. She was quite upset and wanted to talk about why you're treating her this way."

Great. Here we go again. "Marlena, I told you what I said to her, and I told you how she reacted. She is hiding something, like it or not, and you need to be careful."

"She said you insinuated that she was working with Stefano."

"Yes, I told you that."

"She also said that you implied that you were more well-suited to be friends with John and me than she is and that she and I should break off our friendship. She was very hurt by what you said, and I don't blame her."

"I never said I was more well-suited to anyone. I said we have things in common, and John and I have things in common, and that's it. She's playing on your sympathies to get more information about me. You cannot tell her who I am or what my relationship is to the two of you. If she tells Stefano that I'm alive…"

"She is NOT. Working. With. Stefano." Her eyes are ablaze now, and I know it's best just to stop talking. John has been strangely silent.

"Aren't you going to say anything?" Marlena asks him impatiently.

"No, I don't think I'd better," he responds.

"So, you're again taking her side. Well that's just great. Your sister arrives back into town and within months she's becoming more important than I am."

"Will you keep your voice down, please, sweetheart. The world doesn't need to hear our conversation. And no, she is not more important than you are. But she does have a point, and she is only trying to protect the both of us."

"I'm going to have some of my security at the Pub during lunch, just to be on the safe side."

"I don't want a bunch of security guards sneaking around every place I go!"

"Marlena, how many security do you see right now?" She looks around and huffs in disgust. She obviously doesn't see any, and that is the point. "Exactly. You won't even know they are there."

"I'm going to have lunch with Kate today and try to repair the damage you've done. And neither one of you are going to stop me."

"Just be careful with what you might inadvertently reveal to her. You have to keep my secret." I am legitimately nervous now that she might let something slip to Kate.

"You'll be fine. I just hope my relationship with Kate is as well." She glares at me a bit as she gets up from the table. "I have to be at the hospital now. I'll see you later," she says to John, with a quick peck on the cheek as she leaves.

"I'm sorry I'm causing problems," I say to him after she's gone.

"You're not. She just doesn't want to see that anyone she cares about could possibly do anything on purpose to hurt her, that's all."

"It is possible that Kate is somehow trying to keep her from Stefano," I offer hopefully.

"But you don't really believe that, do you?" One look from me tells him my answer. "I didn't think so. Well, all we can do is be careful and try to keep her safe. She can be headstrong at times."

"Really?" I say, quite sarcastically. He laughs.

I get on the earpiece to David and tell him to move a couple guys to the Pub at lunch time and keep them on Marlena the rest of the day until she gets home. I hope it's enough.

Lunch time comes, and Marlena heads to the Pub. She is still fuming at me and determined to make sure Kate's feelings are repaired. She goes in and sits down at her favorite booth in the back corner. Kate comes over to sit as well so they can eat.

"Well, I'm surprised your little shadow didn't usurp her way into a lunch invitation. Where is she, anyway?" Kate looks around the Pub, hoping not to see me there.

"I don't know, and it doesn't matter. I'm sorry, Katie, for the things she said yesterday. That was not something I approved of her doing, and I made sure my feelings about it were known to her." Their food arrives and they begin to eat. After a moment, Kate begins to work on Marlena.

"I can't begin to understand why some stranger, who doesn't know me and who barely knows you, would even begin to think they had the right to say those things? I mean, who does she really think she is?"

Marlena hesitates a moment, and Kate sees it. "What? What is it?"

"It's nothing. I know it's hard for you to understand, but she's just trying to protect me."

"Protect you? Protect you from what? Your friends? That doesn't make any sense."

"I know, but you just need to trust me that she isn't out to hurt me or you or our friendship. She's just looking out for me and for John."

"But why? She's only known you both for a few months. You're talking about her as if you've known her for years or something."

Marlena hesitates again. "No, we've only known her for a few months. But she is good friends with John and has really become close to him."

"In what way? You don't think she's trying to come between the two of you, do you?" Kate is immediately on the offensive.

"No, no, not at all. That's not at all the issue, believe me."

"But how do you know that for sure? I mean, why wouldn't she want John? What makes you believe she's so trustworthy when you barely know her?" Kate is really pressing now, and Marlena is beginning to cave. She knows she can't reveal me, but she feels so much loyalty to her friend and wants to reassure her that I'm not a threat.

"Kate, you're just going to have to trust me on this. I really just wanted to tell you that she didn't have any right to accuse you of the things she did and that I'm sorry she did that." She's trying to put the brakes on Kate's curiosity without saying anything more, but it's really not working. Kate is extremely suspicious and will not let it go.

"Marlena, you're not making any sense. You tell me to trust you about some random woman that just shows up in town, that no one knows anything about, and we're just supposed to take what she says at face value? That doesn't sound at all like you. You are much more careful than that. I know there's more to this that you're not telling me, and you know I can find out."

"Kate, you need to just leave it alone, and trust me," Marlena says quietly. She is very concerned now that she's said too much.

"Not when it comes to your safety. You don't know who this woman is or what she wants. There's no telling what kind of danger she could be to you and to John," Kate says strongly.

"She's not any danger to us, I promise." Marlena is panicking inside now.

"But how do you know?" Kate pushes harder.

"Because she's John's sister," Marlena finally blurts out.

Kate sits in stunned silence. "What do you mean, John's sister? How do you know this?"

"She is John's sister. She's been protecting him in secret all her life. Stefano threw her out of the house when she was young, but when she got her inheritance from her father, she started working to protect John as best she could, and to sabotage Stefano's businesses. She's even worked to protect me as well over the years. So, she is no threat to us at all. She's even helped John get part of his memory back, and for that I am eternally grateful. But for some reason she thinks you're helping Stefano, and I told her that was impossible."

Kate is still shocked. "So, that means she is also related to Stefano?"

"She is his sister as well. But he thinks she is dead, and he must continue to think that, or it could be very dangerous for her. You cannot tell anyone I told you this, on the off chance that it might somehow get back to him. Promise me this, Kate! You cannot talk about this in any way to anyone, or it could have monumental repercussions, not just for Elizabeth but for all of us. Please! You must promise!"

"Yes, of course. I promise." Plans are forming in Kate's head as she is speaking. "I wouldn't say a word to anyone. Your secret is safe with me."

After lunch, Marlena heads back to the hospital. My security guys follow her to make sure she's ok. If I'd been smart, I would have had them follow Kate. If I'd been really smart, I'd have given Marlena an earpiece so they could have heard her conversation with Kate and made her stop before she went too far. Unfortunately for me, as soon as Marlena is gone, Kate texts Stefano and tells him to meet her at the loft in half an hour. She says she has some interesting news that might be of some help to him. He agrees.

Thirty minutes later, Kate walks into the loft, very smug and sure of herself. She's going to use this information about me to continue to solidify her importance to Stefano and get more security within DiMera. She is also hoping to prove her loyalty and worth to him so that he will see how much he needs her.

"So, what is this news you have for me, Katarina?"

"Not so fast, Stefano. We need to talk first."

"Talk about what?"

"About what this information is worth to you."

"I don't have time for these games, Katarina, just tell me what you came to tell me and get on with it."

"Oh no, this one is a bombshell. You're going to need to make it worth my while for me to tell you this."

"What are you talking about?"

"This information could be the thing that helps you figure out who has been sabotaging your businesses all these years."

Stefano is intrigued now. "Go on."

"I know who it is that has been systematically trying to dismantle DiMera at every turn. I know who has been trying to take you down, and I want you to make it worth my while to tell you."

"What do you want?"

"I want you to make me head of DiMera and give me controlling stock as well."
"That is ludicrous. Why would I give you controlling stock of my own company?"

"Because I can tell you who has been trying to destroy you, and with them out of the way, there's no stopping you. On any front."

He gets the last meaning of what she says. It could even help him get to Marlena. "Who is this person?"

"Nope, not before you guarantee me what I want."

"Alright, if it does turn out that this person is the one who has been trying to destroy me, I will give you what you ask."

"Shall we shake on that?" As they slowly shake hands, she says, "Good. Now. The name of the person I'm talking about is Elizabeth Ashe."

"Who the hell is that?"

"John Black's sister. Which also makes her…"

"My sister?" He is dumbfounded. He begins to walk around the room, muttering to himself. "This cannot be true. I had her killed. I know she is dead. But how?"

"Marlena told me herself. Seems that she came into town a few months ago. John inadvertently saved her from three men in the park who were attacking her."

And it dawns on him that it is true. He had sent out the attack on me because he had intelligence that I was in Salem. He sent those men through one of his lackeys, and he had heard that John had saved me as I tried to fight them off. All of the realizations come crashing through to him. All the failed attempts to get at John, all the times Marlena and John escaped, all the help they'd gotten from somewhere to always get away from him, it was all me, and he knew it.

"She vowed when she was a girl to help him. And now, it seems, she has been doing just that."

"So, she is your sister?" Kate asks, not really believing it until now.

"Oh, yes, Katarina, she is. And she is going to pay dearly for what she has done."

While Kate is having her clandestine meeting with Stefano, I am meeting up with John for a late lunch at the Salem Inn. I thought it best to stay away from the Pub for a while and out of Kate's line of sight, especially since she might still be there with Marlena. I wouldn't want her to think I was trying to crash their date. We are talking when David comes over my earpiece.

"I have some news," he says.

"Then call me if it's important," I reply.

My phone rings instantly and I pick it up on the first ring. "So, what is it?"

"We think Kate just went to see Stefano."

"How do you know?" I'm instantly on alert and John picks up on it.

"Because as soon as she finished lunch with Marlena, she headed out of the Pub and straight for that loft. Marlena had left to go to the hospital and looked a bit distressed."

"Oh, my God. Surely Marlena didn't tell her."

"Tell her what?" John mouths to me as I'm still on the phone.

I put my hand up to tell him to wait, and David continues. "I don't know all they said because we were outside, but literally the moment Marlena was out of sight, Kate made a beeline in the direction of the loft. We didn't think to follow her immediately because we were watching Marlena. But once we realized how upset Marlena was, I figured I'd better let you know."

"Ok, David, thanks. Where are they now?"

"Marlena's back at the hospital and Kate's not back at the Pub yet."

"Gotcha. Call me if anything happens." I hang up and look at John with a great deal of concern in my eyes.

John asks, "Well, what's going on?"

"I think Kate went to talk to Stefano the minute she got done with lunch with Marlena. Which says to me that she had some juicy tidbit of information to share with him and she couldn't wait to do it."

"You don't think that Doc told her, do you?"

"I hope not. I'm sure she wouldn't say anything to endanger me on purpose, but if she felt like she had to tell Kate to reassure her…"

"I can't imagine that Doc would have said anything. She knows how dangerous it is for you for Stefano to discover you're alive. She would never put you in danger."

"John, I know she wouldn't do anything on purpose to hurt me, but you know how Kate can be. She is a master manipulator, and she could have played on Marlena's sympathies as a friend to basically force her into telling her." I'm in overdrive now, trying to figure out how to do damage control if Kate is in on my secret and is telling Stefano. I have protections in place, but I was not ready to use them this soon. I come back to where we are when John asks me a question.

"So what can I do?"

"Call her and get her to tell you what happened."

"You got it. I'll call Doc right now and check."

"Ok, I'll send my guys back home just in case. This could be really, really bad, John."

"I know, Kitten. But we'll get through it together. And this might be the way we finally get Stefano once and for all." I hope he's right. I pray he's right. But I know how dangerous Stefano can be, as does John. The only way we can possibly get through this is together.

John calls Marlena and I call David to alert him what might be happening. Then, I message Allie to let her know that she needs to get all the precautions in the house ready, in case someone tries to get in. The generator needs to be checked, all the electricity lines need to be secured, extra security needs to be posted down the road, and all the cameras need to be on and live feeding from this point forward. She also needs to check that all the supplies in the safe room are ready and that there is enough food and water there in case we need to hide for a few days. She knows the routine well as we have done this before, but it has been a while. We were just beginning to feel comfortable in Salem, and now we might have to leave for good. But no matter what, at least I know that my brother knows me and knows I love him. Whatever else happens, it will be worth it for that.

John doesn't get through to Marlena because she's in with a patient, but he leaves a voicemail for her to call him as soon as she can. I call David and tell him to go and take two guys to stay with Marlena and have the rest go to the house. He's not at all happy about leaving me alone, but we agree that Marlena needs the most protection at this point. If Kate has told Stefano about me, he might go straight for Marlena, police be damned, because he knows I'll be protecting her once I find out Kate's told him I'm alive and he might not get another shot. After all my details are set, John and I agree to go to the townhouse and wait for Marlena.

"I can't believe she would do this, sis. Not after what we told her."

"I know John, but all evidence is pointing to that now."

"Yes, but it's circumstantial."

"And in my case, it's usually correct."

We arrive at the townhouse and I get a message from Allie that everything is set. Then I contact David and he says Marlena is almost home. I tell him to go to the house as soon as she pulls in here and make sure nothing is going on there.

"If we know for sure Stefano is in the loft right now, we can go get him, John. I think we need to go after him."

"We need to know that we have enough backup to help us make sure he doesn't get away. Plus, we don't know what kind of people he has watching us right now, either. If he does know who you are now, he can get to you as well. And I'm not taking any chances with you getting hurt."

"That is sweet, John, but we must get him before he's ready for us, not once he's had a chance to prepare. If we know where he is, we need to go now." I'm getting impatient, and it's starting to cloud my judgment. John sees this and tries to calm me down.

"Ok, sis, just hold on here. We need to take this slow and easy and make sure no one gets hurt. I'll call the ISA and the Salem PD and let them know what's happening. You just sit tight."

"Sitting tight is not my strong suit, John."

"Gee, that's a surprise." He grins at me and starts making calls.

David comes over the earpiece and says that Marlena is in the garage downstairs and he is heading to the house. "OK, great. John, Marlena is home. David's going back to the house now." John gives me a thumbs up as he is still on the phone. A moment or two later, Marlena comes in the door, surprised to see the both of us there.

"What's this?" She asks. "I didn't expect anyone to be home." She's instantly suspicious of us because we wouldn't be there in the middle of the day together without a good reason.

"Hi sweetheart," John says to her as he hangs up the phone. "We weren't expecting to be home, either."

"Is something wrong?" she asks. She looks at me while she asks, figuring out that it was my idea to be here and confront her. I can tell by the tone of her voice she's getting defensive.

"Well, we're not sure." John says. "How was your lunch with Kate?"

She is instantly angry and says, "Well, you probably already know how my lunch with Kate went, so why don't you tell me?" She's clearly upset that my security may know what went on. She's also scared that she's revealed too much and that I'll be angry with her that my life might now be in danger.

"Did you talk to Kate about me?" I ask. I don't have time or patience to beat around the bush.

"Yes, I did. I apologized to her for what you said and told her that she had nothing to worry about when it came to you." She is almost hostile with me.

"What does that mean?" I ask, trying to keep my cool, but losing the battle.

"It means I told her that you were not going to come between our friendship and that you weren't a danger to me or John."

"She thinks I'm a danger to the two of you?" I'm incensed that Kate is acting like I'm the one that is the danger here.

"No, not anymore." She says coolly. I'm immediately terrified of what this means.

"Not anymore?" John asks. hesitantly.

"Not after I explained who you were and why you would never be able to hurt us."

And there it is. My worst fear has come to pass. "Oh my God, you told her." I'm stunned. "After I specifically told you how dangerous it was! You went right up to her and told her everything! Marlena, do you know what you've done!" I'm yelling, I'm angry, I'm frightened, and I'm unloading it all onto Marlena.

She doesn't take my assault lying down. "I had to tell her!" She yells right back at me. "She was convinced you were the one possibly working for Stefano and I had to explain why she shouldn't be worried about you. She promised she would not tell anyone and that she would keep the secret." I can't fathom why Marlena actually believes her.

"Oh, so that's why she made a beeline for Stefano's loft the moment you left the Pub, I suppose?" I am still yelling at her, furious that she has betrayed me, innocently or not.

"What are you talking about?" Fear creeps into her voice as she realizes what she might have inadvertently done.

"David called Elizabeth and told her what happened right after you two finished lunch. They didn't follow her all the way, but they saw how she left immediately and where she was headed." John is trying to calm the situation, but he's not helping much.

"Well, maybe all that was a coincidence. If they didn't see where she went, then they don't know for sure." She's grasping at straws in hopes she can convince us, and herself.

"I can't believe you're so naïve as to think this is somehow going to be ok." I am still shocked this is actually happening, and that Marlena is the one that has set all this in motion. I'm racking my brain making sure I've covered everything to ensure my safety, but Marlena is still trying to convince us that nothing is wrong.

"Kate is not working with him, she is not telling him what's happening, she is not hurting anything. Your secret is fine, you are fine, everything is fine." I don't believe her, and I'm not sure she believes herself. She wants to believe that her friend would never betray her, but she is doubting it now.

Meanwhile, Stefano has been busy. Once Kate left him, he immediately went to work to find out where I live and how to get to me. Rather quickly, he found my address and decided to pay me a visit. He made a few calls and within half an hour, had four men available to help him. He rode out of town with them up to my house. They came in two separate cars, with two men in the first car and Stefano and the other two in the second. As they approached my house, my first line of defense came out to stop them. At the outer gate, one of my security asked him to stop and asked for identification. Before the guard knew what was happening, the passenger in the first car shot him. The gunfire caused alerts to go out through all my security, and my emergency procedures sprang into place.

The cars then moved up the road. My sniper blew out the tires of the first car, and the men jumped out to try and shoot the sniper. They couldn't see where he was, so they tried shooting at whatever they thought was moving. Finally, the sniper got one of the men, and the other realized where the shot came from. He fired up to the roof of my house, but missed. He kept firing until he had to change magazines, and that is when my sniper got his chance. As soon as Stefano's man looked down to put in the magazine, the sniper shot him.

When Stefano realized the two men ahead of him were dead, he told the men in his car to keep going, but they refused. At this point, Stefano became enraged and ordered them to go forward. He held his gun up to the driver's head and told him he would kill him if he didn't move on. The man begged him to let him out, but Stefano would not allow it. Finally, he moved the car forward towards my house. Stefano screamed at him to move faster, so he gunned the engine and lurched up the drive. All this commotion had given Allie just enough time to make it to the safe room and detach more security outside.

As they drove up to the front door, Stefano ordered one man around to the back and told the other to go through the front. The man at the front door was shot, again by my sniper, but Stefano saw where he was. He was now close enough to get the sniper with his pistol, so he did. He traded two shots, and then finally got my sniper. The man going to the back met up with David, who shot the intruder, but did not kill him. David took a bullet in the shoulder that threw him back and nearly knocked him out. Downstairs, Allie watched all of this on the security cameras while Stefano proceeded to cut the electricity. Fortunately, he didn't cut all of it, and the power to the keypads and safe room doors remained on. The cameras, however, all went black, and Allie had no idea from this point what was happening. She couldn't message me because she was in the safe room and the signal would not penetrate that far, so she had no way of alerting me to what was going on.

Back at the townhouse I hear David come back over the earpiece. "911" is all he says. That's our short code for critical emergencies. I respond with "411" to see what it is. "Two down so far. One critical, one fatal. They've breached outside and are headed…" and then silence.

"David…. David…David please come in." Nothing. This means he is either dead or wounded. "David's down, as are two others. Someone has breached my outer perimeter. They're probably inside my house. I don't know who or how many. He went out before he told me everything."

John and Marlena know the situation is grave. Someone is after me wholeheartedly, and they're not stopping at anything to get to me. I try to message Allie but get no response.

"She's not answering, either. Which means she can't, or she's in the safe room."

"You don't think this is Stefano, do you?" Marlena looks scared as the reality of what I was afraid would happen is beginning to take place. She knows it must be Kate who revealed me for this to be happening so soon. And she knows that Kate has done it because of what she told her. This reality is weighing heavily on her mind.

"Either him or someone he sent. Regardless, I have to get home and find out what is going on." Then, I hear one more whisper across my earpiece before David finally passes out. "He's inside."

With all visible security disabled, Stefano felt it was safe to leave the car. He walks up to the door where his man and mine lie in pools of blood. With the door open, he comes in to look around. He wanted to see for himself if it were true. Was this his sister that was causing this grief for him all this time, or could Kate have been mistaken? "How did you finally outsmart me, little one?" He asks to no one in particular. "How is it that you could have gotten away all those years ago?" And then it dawns on him. "Ah, yes, Matteo, my most trusted aide. The one whom I sent to kill you. He must have felt sorry for a little girl such as you. Poor, pitiful child, thrown out of the only house you'd ever known, taken to a place you knew nothing about, left to fend for yourself. I am disgusted at him for his weakness. And now, because of it, you have come back to haunt me after all these years."

End Game

"Someone's in my house," I say to John, with a good bit of apprehension. I am sure of it, as I cannot get David or anyone to answer me. Not even Allie. "As near as I can tell, they've disabled most of my security, and I have no idea who they are."

"So, what do we do?" John asks.

"We go in the back way and pray that they don't know about the back way."

"But what about Marlena?"

"She's got to come with us, John. There's no way to ensure she's safe otherwise." Marlena looks concerned, but not afraid. "If he's gotten to my security, none of us are safe alone."

John knows I'm right, and begrudgingly agrees for Marlena to go with us. We sneak out of the townhouse, down to the garage, and into a car. I always have a car somewhere that is not traceable, and thankfully, whoever this is hasn't gotten to it. Marlena gets in the back and lays down on the seat as she's told. I go to the driver's side and John starts to protest. "You don't know where you're going," I say to him. He doesn't like it, but he gets in the passenger side.

We drive to the outskirts of town, off the road and into the hills. Finally, I see the spot I'm looking for, and we pull off. John and I get out first and scout around. Then, not finding anyone, we tell Marlena to get out of the back. I grab my flashlight out of the car. We then go through the tunnel that leads into the back part of my house and stop as we come to a door with a keypad. I tell them before we go in not to make any sudden moves, to go in with their hands up, and to not react or respond. Allie is trained to shoot whoever is coming through the door unless she sees the signal.

They agree. I punch in the code, and we slowly open the door. It is completely dark except for a laser dot on my chest. I turn on my flashlight and I blink it slowly three times. From somewhere on the other side of the room, I see two flashes in response. I flash three more times, and the light comes on. We're blinded at first because it's bright, but just as I knew she would be, Allie is standing across the room lowering her pistol. "Are you OK?" I ask.

"Yes, I'm fine," she says. "I'm pretty sure David is dead, I know of three others who definitely are, and I can't locate the other three."

"So, it's worse than I thought."

At this point John and Marlena are completely confused, but their biggest confusion is that Allie hears me and is responding verbally.

"So, you actually can hear?" Marlena asks.

"Yes," I answer. "She is not deaf and never has been. But it is a distinct tactical advantage that she appears to be. We can talk across the room in sign language and hardly anybody would know what we were saying. We always check out the room with a little bit of harmless conversation to see if anybody notices. And then we can talk about anything in broad daylight and nobody is the wiser. We can also make plans or discuss strategy even if bad guys are in the room. She has trained herself over the years not to respond to voices, to sounds, to her name, to anything. You both have to keep this secret, because it is just as much for her protection as anything. If they think she can't hear me or anyone else, then she's not nearly as much of a threat."

"Absolutely," they both respond. "So, who do you think is in your house?" John asks.

"I don't know, but they must be pretty good if they can get past all my guys. There's only one person that I know of who might be able to accomplish that." We all look at each other and know exactly who I'm talking about.

I go over to the closet and pull out some gear. Two Kevlar vests, two extra pistols, an extra knife and holster for John, and a concussion bomb for good measure. John is impressed by the level of protection that I have readily available. It dawns on Marlena what is about to happen, and she becomes desperate.

"No, you can't do this! You can't go! I will not let either one of you out of here! This is insane! Can't we wait for the police?"

She is almost crying now, and I can't bear to see her so afraid. I look at her and try to calm her down. "Marlena, you know as well as I do that the police are useless when it comes to Stefano. No offense to the wonderful Salem PD, but this is way above their heads. If he's already taken out seven of my guys, our last line of defense is me and John. Now, put this on," as I hand her a Kevlar vest, "and DO NOT LEAVE THIS ROOM!" I look over to Allie and say, "And if she tries to leave, knock her out."

She looks at me incredulously, shocked that I would even suggest any type of violence against her. I look at her and say, "This is for your own good and your own protection. And I know John agrees with me." She looks over at him. He puts his hand to her face, and nods silently in agreement. She begins to cry outright now with the thought that one or both of us might not return.

"No!" she cries, "I will NOT allow this to happen! I will not allow whoever this is to take either one of you from me! Please! Let me go with you. Please, let me do something. Anything!"

"Doc, you know as well as I do that you need to stay here and be safe. I will go handle him myself and then all of this will be over." John's insinuation does not go unnoticed. It's my turn to look at him incredulously now.

"John, I don't know what game you're playing, but you're not going up there by yourself. I am well-trained, and as I've told you before, I'm a big girl, and I can handle myself just fine. You are not going up there alone," I say as I slowly begin to move backwards, "and actually you're not going up there at all." Before he knows what's happening, I slip backwards through the door that's right behind me. I slam it shut, putting in the code so that it locks. He starts beating on the door and yelling at me to return. He is furious with me and I know it. I put my hand lightly on the door and say, "I love you, bubba. Stay safe." And I head upstairs to meet my fate.

My Enemy Awaits

Inside the room, John is incensed. He continues to pound on the door, but he knows it's an act of futility. The weight of what's happening falls on him now, and he rests his head against the door, dejected and defeated. Marlena comes up behind him and puts her hands on his shoulders. "John, she's done this for years. She is strong and smart and can take care of herself. And she only did this to make sure you're safe. She doesn't know any other way to be." She's trying to convince herself as much as she is John.

"I know she did this for me, Doc, that's why I'm so angry. All the guilt she feels about needing to take care of me has kept her from ever having any kind of life for herself. And now, finally, when she actually has a chance at a life with us, and family, and real love and friendship, protecting me is AGAIN going to deny her all of that."

"It's her decision, John," she says quietly.

"Doc, you just don't understand. I can't lose her." He looks in her eyes expecting consolation, but he finds anger there, real anger.

"I don't understand? I DON'T UNDERSTAND? Have you forgotten I've also lost a sister? Do you think I don't love Elizabeth as well? She gave the man I love something I could NEVER give him and it has made him more complete than he's EVER been in his WHOLE LIFE! HOW can you say I DON'T UNDERSTAND!" She unloads all her fear and frustration about telling Kate and possibly causing this to happen on him. He sees it on her face and realizes how terribly she feels as well.

"I'm sorry Doc. I'm sorry." He lowers his head, and he begins to cry. Her anger and fear dissipate when she sees the depth of his despair, and she holds him as they realize this is most likely the end for me.

As I'm walking up the stairs from the safe room, I'm wondering who and what awaits. I haven't seen Stefano face to face in thirty years. I have no qualms about killing him, and actually, I welcome it. I believe it is truly the best way to exorcise his demons from me once and for all. I get to the main level of the house and check the cameras. I'm angry to discover whoever it is has cut the electricity, and for some reason the generator hasn't activated. That's quite troublesome, but I'll just have to rely on my own skills, I guess. I take a deep breath, punch in the code for the door, and slowly walk into the house.

Stefano continues through the house undisturbed, looking for proof that it is me. He wanders aimlessly into the dining room. He notices all the details I've put in, and they remind him of our childhood home. He is impressed by my furnishings and sees touches of things that remind him of our father's taste, but nothing conclusive, until he happens to open a drawer and sees it: my photo album. "Ah, but what is this. Oh yes, I remember this. The only thing she wanted to leave our house with. Nothing else mattered to her except these stupid pictures of her and her precious bastard of a brother." As he opens the book, he is reminded again of how much we cared about each other. He thumbs through the pictures slowly, remembering when each one was taken. Memories flash back into his mind of me when I was a child, before John, when he really loved me and spoiled me. He remembers Father before John came along and how close they were. Then he remembers John coming into our lives, and his first meeting with me. The rapport John and I had from the beginning causes his temper to rise. Remembering the laughter he heard from my room as we played games or read stories enflames it even more. His anger is beginning to show, as well as his jealousy and hatred of me and the brother I loved so much. "Oh, don't you look so happy together. Don't you look like the epitome of love and family?" His sarcasm is dripping with loathing for the both of us. "Well, Katherine, once I see you again, you will discover what the cost is for your disloyalty to me and our family. You will know what it truly means to be an enemy of mine."

I punch the code for the door to unlock and it does. I guess he didn't get all the electricity. That's fortunate. Maybe Allie can rewire some things downstairs and get the feed to come on in the safe room. I walk slowly through the house, checking around corners and making sure things are safe before I continue. No one is in here, which is disconcerting, but fortunate. My guys aren't here, but neither are his. I come carefully through the kitchen and I hear someone's voice. I don't recognize it, but I make my way towards it. This must be who David was talking about being in my house. It's a man's voice I don't recognize. It's only one voice, so he must be talking to himself. I can't tell what all he is saying but he seems to be angry. I make sure my pistol is ready, the extra magazine is in one pocket and the concussion bomb is in the other. I take a deep breath to relax myself a bit, and I turn the corner into the dining room.

Stefano hears someone coming through the kitchen but doesn't realize it's me. He looks towards the hallway and sees me coming around the corner. He sees me walking towards him, pistol drawn and ready. A grin spreads across his face. A sinister grin that looks oddly familiar.

I'm surprised to see Steve Johnson standing there, sans eyepatch, which instantly alerts me that something is very wrong. Steve is one of John's best friends, and has helped John on numerous occasions to defeat Stefano and foil his plans. It makes no sense that he would be the one to attack me. I don't understand what's going on, but I know something is wrong. I keep my pistol drawn for protection. I see that he's holding a book in his hands, and I realize it's my photo album.

"What do you want, and why have you broken into my house?" His response nearly takes me off my feet.

"Hello Katherine. Long time no see."

"Who are you?" Nothing about this makes any sense. Steve would have no idea my name is Katherine, and shouldn't know who I am at all because we've never met face to face. I've got to get some kind of information out of him so I can figure out what to do.

"Don't you know? How many people know your real name?"

"My name is Elizabeth. I don't know what you're talking about." Only my family knows my real name. How did he find out who I am? Could he be working for Stefano? Nothing about this situation is what it should be.

"No, Katherine. Elizabeth is your middle name. Don't you recognize your brother?" He puts out his arms wide, as if he wants me to come hug him. Like a spider spinning a web for his prey.

"What the hell are you…." And then I understand. I don't know how he's accomplished this, but he has. My brother has returned, but somehow, in Steve Johnson's body. "Oh my God! Stefano?"

"In the flesh my darling. It is indeed your dearest brother."

I'm shocked to my core with what he has done. "You've really gone off the deep end this time 'dearest brother'" I say with a snarl. How is this even possible?"

"Well, I had some help in that department."

And instantly I know. "Rolf." His crazy scientist has somehow made this madness a reality.

"Yes, my darling, Rolf. He really outdid himself this time." Stefano is infinitely pleased with himself.

"You're insane. You have gone, completely, insane. I always believed you were headed that way, but now, you really have totally lost it. How the hell have you done this? And why are you in the body of Steve Johnson, of all people?"

"Well, I must admit, he was far from my first choice, but he has proven quite useful."

"And who else has helped you? Who else has been party to this insanity?" I have to find out so I can get to the rest of them and hopefully stop them all.

"Now why would I give everything away my darling?"

"STOP CALLING ME THAT!" It enrages me that he has the gall to speak to me as if he actually has some kind of feeling for me. "I haven't been your 'darling' since I was six years old! Since the first day John walked into our lives and loved me from the moment he saw me. And you, you were so jealous and possessive, you couldn't stand the fact that I loved him too!" I feel myself losing control of my anger, so I stop for a moment. I have to keep my cool, so I can find out the rest.

His face hardens as he realizes my feelings for John have never changed, and that my loyalty is to him. "So, I see you still love Papa's bastard son, eh?" His cruelty has returned. I knew it wouldn't take long.

"Ah, now there's the Stefano I know and hate. Well I'm a bastard child too, or have you forgotten, so I guess that makes John and me kindred spirits, doesn't it?" My pride and love for my brother becomes most evident, and Stefano realizes I'm never going to be his ally, so he resigns himself to do what he came to.

"So, you're the one who has been behind all this?"

"All of what?" I'm not giving anything away to him.

"All of the problems I've ever had getting to Marlena. All of the issues with my businesses. Everything. It's been you, hasn't it?" He is becoming angry as he figures out that I've been doing this for years, maybe even since he threw me out of the house.

"At your service, dearest brother." The last words roll off my tongue like poison. Maybe if Stefano believes it's all me and John has no idea who I am, I can still save him and Marlena.

"So, Katherine, how have you been accomplishing this for all these years? Especially since I left you with nothing."

"My name is no longer Katherine, either. That person died a long time ago, thanks to you."

"So, what should I call you? Oh, I know…. Kitten."

That name coming out of his mouth is an affront to me and everything I've ever tried to do, and he knows it. He's goading me now, but I'm not taking the bait. My face hardens into solid stone and a flicker of fear begins to show in his eyes. That's good. He needs to realize what a worthy adversary I am.

I take a step or two closer to him and raise the pistol an inch. Almost in a whisper I say, slowly and very calculated, "Don't you ever call me that again or I will kill you right where you stand." For the first time, I see real fear in my brother's eyes. He grasps completely that I will indeed kill him today once I have what I want. And maybe, even without what I want.

Back in the safe room, Allie has been working feverishly to rewire something, anything, to get power back to the cameras so she, John and Marlena can see what's going on upstairs. She's not been able to raise anyone on her earpiece yet, and no communication from me is making her nervous. The longer I go without telling them anything, the more they understand what that means.

"Is there anything I can do?" John asks, helplessly. It is so in his nature to do something and not just sit and wait, but he knows Allie knows the system much better than he, so he paces back and forth. "Allie, you've GOT to let me out of this room!"

"John, she locked it from the outside for a reason. And she made it clear that the both of you were supposed to stay in here. I'll knock you out if that's what it takes but letting me work gets these cameras up quicker." He knows her loyalty is completely to me, and there's no way she'll let anyone out until the threat is neutralized upstairs.

Marlena tries to calm him, but she knows it is fruitless. They are all worried about me, and not knowing what is happening is making it worse. Finally, Allie has a breakthrough.

"YESSSSS!"

"What! What is it!" John is next to her in an instant.

"I finally rewired the power from the door to the camera feed. It is booting up and should be on in just a second."

"Oh, thank God," Marlena says. They look at the panel of monitors, and a couple of them begin to flicker, then more. Finally, all of them have static.

"What does that mean? Are they working or not?" John is frantically looking for a clue to what's happening upstairs.

"One more second, John," Allie says.

After what seems like an eternity to John, they begin to show pictures of the inside and outside of the house one by one. Then it dawns on them what has happened. They see three bodies outside at various points up the road. There are two bodies at the front door and two at the back door. One of those appears to be moving. Maybe someone is alive upstairs, but they can't tell who it is. And then they see it. The camera from the dining room comes on at last. John sees me with my gun drawn on Stefano, who looks like Steve, and he doesn't understand. "Why is she drawing down on Steve?" Allie realizes that the audio is off, so she turns it on. They hear the last part of our conversation.

"All of these problems I've been having getting to Marlena. All the issues with my businesses. Everything. It's been you, hasn't it?" John looks at Marlena, very confused.

"At your service, dearest brother." John says "Oh my God, that's Stefano! That's why we haven't been able to locate him!"

"So, Katherine, how have you been accomplishing all of that for all these years? Especially since I left you with nothing." "Wait, who is that moving behind her?" Marlena notices a figure walking into the dining room. I'm too preoccupied to notice.

"My name is no longer Katherine, either. That person died a long time ago thanks to you." "Oh no, that's one of Stefano's men. Run, Kitten! Run!" John yells at the screen as if I can hear him.

"So, what should I call you? Oh, I know…. Kitten." John pounds the door to try and get out, to get to me.

"Don't you ever call me that again or I will kill you right where you stand."

And then I feel the slight vibration on my watch. I turn my wrist just enough to see "Behind you" scroll across the screen. In an instant, I duck down and turn to shoot the man behind me as he shoots Stefano, now that his primary target is out of the way. Both of them fall away from me. Stefano is not mortally wounded, but he is down and not a threat to me. The other man I can tell is dead from a headshot. Downstairs, Allie breathes a sigh of relief that her message got to me in time.

I walk over to stand over Stefano, with my gun still drawn. He is lying, helpless but not dead, on the floor looking up at me. "Well, now. Isn't this a pleasant turn of events?" I feel like a leopard getting ready to play with its next meal as I stand over the helpless body of my brother. The brother who threw me away because of jealousy and revenge. The brother who left me with nothing, who tried multiple times to kill me. The brother who told me I would ruin the brother I loved if I ever told him who I was. "Who is the phoenix now, Stefano?"

I hear John and Marlena coming through the kitchen. Allie has finally let them out of the room now that Stefano is no longer a threat. Marlena gasps as she comes in and sees me standing over Stefano.

Trying to diffuse the situation and calm me down, John says, "Hey sis, what'cha doing there?" He knows I am ready to kill Stefano at any moment, but for some reason, he seems to be trying to keep me from it.

"Getting ready to rid us of all our problems, dearest brother." I smirk at Stefano as I say those words, because he knows I truly mean them about John.

"You cannot get rid of me, Elizabeth." Even on the floor with a bullet in him, Stefano is still defiant.

"Oh, so now that you are prostrate on the ground with a bullet in you, you've finally decided to be respectful, is that it?" The gall of my brother is sickening to me.

"Yes, I am being respectful to you. You are a worthy adversary. A true DiMera at heart."

"DO NOT EVER say that to me, you pathetic excuse for human being! I have spent my entire life trying to UNDO everything the DiMera's have done. I HATE that my real last name is DiMera. I cannot STAND the sight of you, or the thought that you would continue to exist another moment on this earth. So, I'm going to end this, once and for all." I aim the gun directly at Stefano's head.

"Are you sure this is what you want?" John's voice calls out to me from what seems like far away, bringing me back a bit from the intense rage I am engulfed in. He has walked up beside me now, and I look at him out of the corner of my eye, gun still trained at Stefano's head.

"How can you even ask that, John? You of all people should understand the depth of my joy at being able to rid the world and us of this cancer that has tried to destroy us for so long."

"Yes, I know, but the real road to redemption isn't through revenge, or even justice. Real redemption comes from forgiveness,"

"You want me to FORGIVE him?" I basically scream this at him.

"Yes. It's the only way you can find true peace with all of this. If you kill him, the rage in you will continue. Even if he goes to jail for the rest of his life, the rage in you will continue."

"Oh, I don't think so. I'm feeling pretty happy at the thought of finally getting this wish."

"But is this truly what you wish?" John is confusing me know, and I don't understand.

"Of course, it is! I've wanted him dead since I was a kid!"

"No," Marlena steps in. "You've wanted him to stop hurting your brother. You've felt guilty your entire life because you thought you were responsible for one brother hurting another. And you're not. You're not the cause of this war and killing him won't end it. The war is with yourself. Your guilt. Your anger at what Stefano has done to us. John is absolutely right. Forgiving him and moving on is what will finally give you peace. I know from experience that anger and fear about him gives him control over you. And that is when he becomes the victor—when he controls you. Don't let him control you anymore."

I stand there, tears beginning to roll down my face, feeling again like that thirteen-year-old child. I thought the weight of that guilt had left me when John became my brother again. But it hasn't. I know they're right, but Stefano is too much of a threat to risk it.

"I know you're right about forgiveness. But if it means my soul to save the world from him, that is a small price to pay. He's too much of a danger to everyone to ever be allowed to walk out of here."

I aim the gun again at his head, and a plan forms in John's mind. He knows he must move quickly to save me from what he thinks is a huge mistake. As I begin to pull the trigger, John lunges at me and the gun. Two shots ring out. Someone screams. Two people are dead. But who?

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