***Part Seven***

Steve woke in his hotel room. For the first time in long over a decade he felt alive. He did not dread facing his day. In fact, he looked forward to it. He, Kayla, and Stephanie had moved to the living room after dinner was done and talked until it got to the point no one could keep their eyes open any longer. Stephanie had been the first to crash, though Steve had been able to tell she wanted to stay up longer.

It was about an hour after his daughter had gone to bed that Kayla indicated she needed to follow suit. She had offered Steve the use of her spare bedroom. Steve had declined with little hesitation. If he stayed under the same roof as her he would be tempted to go to her.

He had given them details of some of his undercover investigations, hoping they would see the good he had done even if it had cost him his family. He wasn't sure they would ever fully understand why he had made the decision he had. He hoped by seeing other families had been saved the torment and pain the Brady's had they might forgive him.

Kayla talking to him until well into the middle of the night was more than he had hoped for. Stephanie staying involved in the conversation despite having school the following day made him want to shout in triumph from the pier. It wasn't much but it was more than he deserved. Now all he had to do was fax and then mail his official letter of resignation, find a place to live in Salem and then he could start proving to his family that he was here to stay.

He wasn't sure he'd ever forget Kayla's words when she walked him to the door at the end of the night. "Next time I'll pull out some baby pictures of Stephanie." He had felt elated at the thought of being able to see photographs of his daughter in various stages of the growing up process. It was an offered glimpse into their past without him and a step toward a future including him in their lives. At least he hoped that was what it was.

He stepped into the shower still able to see clearly the look in Kayla's eyes as she was closing the door. There was a smorgasbord of emotions visible. Disbelief, hope, fear, anger, and love. They were all very powerful, everything Kayla felt was that way. It was all or nothing with her. He had his work cut out for him to chip away at the fear and anger. He just hoped he could replace those emotions with more love and hope. The disbelief would disappear as he continued to prove he was not going anywhere.

His first stop was Salem University's library where he utilized their computer lab to type and print his letter. The student union offered faxing and overnight shipping supplies. Within an hour after leaving his hotel room, Steve Johnson was officially back and unemployed. He had no idea what would happen to Anthony Hutchins, but he hoped never to hear the name again. He would have to go to the Chicago field office at some point to turn in his badge and ID. He had left his gun and all other equipment in D.C.

He hoped Stephanie and Kayla understood he had entrusted them with confidential information. As far as anyone else knew when they asked where Steve had been, he had been deep undercover. It was all anyone needed to know anyway.

He drove his rental car in the direction of the Salem University Hospital. His only other stop for the day was at the Salem Police Department, hoping his brother-in-law would see fit to give Steve a job. Hell, he'd be a traffic cop for the time being if that's all he could get.

He realized midway to the hospital that maybe it was better not to show up unannounced. The night before had gone surprisingly well, perhaps he should give her a day or two to process things. With that thought he turned his car around and headed to the police station instead. He would much rather see Kayla than her brother, but he needed to give her time. He did not think pushing her or forcing his way back into her life was the answer.

He walked into the precinct for the second time since arriving back in Salem.

"May I help you?"

"I'm looking for Bo Brady."

"He's back in his office," the officer said, indicating the commander's office toward the rear of the room.


Steve rapped his knuckles on the door as he pushed it open, not giving Bo the chance to answer the door himself.

"Well, well. Look who's sitting in the hot seat now."

"What do you want, Steve?"

Steve strode to Bo's desk where the other man was seated, apparently deeply involved in something on his computer.

"No how are you? No long time no see buddy?"

"You're not my buddy. That was a long time ago, Steve. And buddies don't abandon the other buddy's sister, leaving her to raise a kid alone and to fend for herself."

"You're right," Steve said simply. There was no use arguing with Bo. He slapped a piece of paper on Bo's desk. "Call Director Harold Gooding. Ask him for a reference on Agent Hutchins, Badge number 5206835. He's expecting your call, he'll tell you what it was I abandoned your sister for."

Bo finally drew his attention away from his computer screen, sparing a glance at the piece of paper. "That still doesn't tell me what you want."

"I can help you."

Bo laughed then, glaring at Steve. "I don't need your help."

"Talk to Harold Gooding and when you reconsider needing my help call me. I've tendered my resignation, Bo. I'm back in Salem for good, unless your sister tells me to leave."

"It would be the smart thing for her to do."

"I'm lucky you're not her then. How's Hope?"

"She's fine, Steve. I don't want you coming in here chatting me up like nothing's happened."

"I'm looking for a job. I'm a good investigator, I'd make a good cop. You know most of my background. For the gaps, you'll have to call that number. I'm out of here, I'll be hearing from you."

Bo stood and slammed his hands on his desk. "That's just like you. Cocky, too self-assured. It caused you to be careless."

"I'm not being cocky, Bo," Steve said, moving so they were practically nose to nose with only Bo's desk separating them.

"Bo, what's going on?" Bo and Steve both turned at the sound of Hope's voice at the same time. "Oh my God, it really is you."

"Hi, Hope."

"Bo told me, but I didn't really believe him. I mean," she walked toward him and touched his face. "It is you, isn't it?"

"In the flesh, patch and all," Steve said with a smirk. "I was just talking to your husband about the possibility of my signing up to be a part of the Salem PD team."

"I think that's a great idea. It'd be like old times."

"Hope, there are no old times."

"Not too many good ones anyway," Steve added dryly, his hand instinctively going to the patch covering his eye. He was pretty sure Hope knew how he lost his eye.

"I still think it would be a great idea. I mean, you are staying in Salem, right? That's why you're here?"


"No, Hope, he's not staying. Kayla was doing just fine without him."

"That's why she never remarried, Bo. Have you seen Stephanie yet?"

"Last night," Steve said unable to hide the full blown smile the mention of his daughter caused. "She's beautiful. Perfect. Smart. She looks like her mother."

"She looks like both of you. I've said that for a while now."

"You know," Bo said, "now that you say that. Every once in a while she'll do something that reminds me of you. Things you did when you were younger, you know, before."

"Yeah, I know. Before."

"Oh, come on, Bo, what could it hurt. With Roman gone it's not like we couldn't use another capable, qualified body."

"I don't know what he's capable of."

Hope rolled her eyes and folded her arms over her chest. "You know this man better than you know anybody besides maybe me and your boys."

"That was a long time ago, Hope. He's been gone for almost fifteen years. A lot can happen to a man in that length of time. For all I know he was running drugs."

"I've given you a way to check me out. I'm out of here," he said for the second time. "It was nice seeing you again Hope. You're looking great as always. Later," he said, leaving the couple to argue. Steve did not need to be privy to a marital squabble. He had his own marriage to worry about salvaging. He had no idea if it was salvageable. He was not sure he wanted to salvage the past anyway. He would almost prefer to start over. He was not sure how they could do it, but he was going to do his damnedest to see that they gave it a try.

With the police station out of his way, Steve had two choices available to him. He could return to his hotel room or go to the hospital. The worst thing that could happen is that she could tell him to leave he reasoned. With that in mind he drove to the hospital.

He took the elevator to the sixth floor, which was the floor he found her on the other day. He figured it was as good a place to start as any. He glanced at his watch as he rode up in the elevator and realized he could still treat her to lunch if she was of the mind.

He spotted Lexie Carver down the hall when he stepped out of the elevator and walked in her direction.

"Steve, hi."

"Hi, Lexie. I'm looking for Kayla."

She smiled, holding a clipboard against her chest. "I figured you might be. She's down the hall in the distribution room."

"Distribution room?"

"She'll explain. Down the hall, turn right at the first hallway and then it's the last door on the right. She might have the door closed, but I imagine she'll let you in if you knock." She shrugged then. "Or she won't and then you'll know."

"Yeah, I get the feeling I've got quite the battle."

She patted him on the arm. "Actually, I don't think it'll be as tough as you might think. She loves you, she's never stopped. We all knew that. It didn't take a genius to know why she moved to California. And when she came back to Salem. Well, she's looked haunted the entire time she's been here."

"I hope you're right."

"I assume there's a good explanation for what happened."

"As good a one as there could be given the circumstances. How's Abe, by the way. I was surprised I didn't see him at the police station when I stopped by there earlier."

"He's fine. He's having some vision problems, so he's at home. Medical leave."

"I'm sorry to hear that. He's a good cop."

"Yes, he is."

"Of course, I don't need to tell you that, I'm sure. He's your husband. I'll let you get back to work. Thanks for letting me know where she is."

"You're welcome, Steve. And if there's anything I can do just let me know. I'm here for you and Kayla both. Stephanie, too, of course. Counseling or just a friend to talk to."


"My pleasure."

Steve found the distribution room. He knocked and saw Kayla look through the window in the door and saw the look of surprise register on her face. She opened the door. "Steve, hi."

"Hi, Sweetness. Busy?"

"I, well, yeah. I'm helping Lexie with this drug theft case."

"Right, that's what the three of you were talking about when I interrupted the other day."

"Right. So, I'm taking inventory. It's tedious really, but someone has to do it so we know just how much has gone missing."

"Do you have time for a break? Lunch?"

She glanced at the room behind her and at him. "I don't know."

"Lexie'd understand you need to eat lunch."

"I suppose you're right," she said and offered him a smile that would melt any man's hardened heart. "I've been working since before eight."

"You didn't tell me you had an early day today."

"It didn't seem important at the time. Stephanie was enjoying having you there and I wasn't going to put an end to it before she was ready."

She didn't say she'd been enjoying herself and Steve thought for sure she had been. Was he misreading things? Was he feeling hopeful when he had no reason to? No, that couldn't be possible. She had remained awake for close to an hour after Stephanie had gone to bed.

The fire had been close to dying and Steve had offered to put it out, but Kayla had suggested they just let it go out. So, they had talked until even the embers had died out. The conversation after Stephanie had gone to bed had turned more intimate. He had been surprised at how easily they had fallen back into talking comfortably. She was the only person he had ever allowed himself to be at ease with. Years of looking over his shoulder to be sure those he was investigating had not caught onto his ruse had made it especially tough to trust anyone.

"I enjoyed being there, I'm glad Stephanie did, too."

"Well, let me lock everything up and get my purse from the nurse's station."

"You don't need your purse, Sweetness, I'm buying."

Within a few minutes they were in the elevator on their way to the cafeteria. The silence was uncomfortable and Steve was not sure what to say. Last night words had flowed so naturally. He wasn't sure what the difference was but he sensed she felt it, too.

"I resigned today."


"I knew once I saw you that I couldn't leave again, Sweetness. Maybe you won't have me and maybe it'll take a while for us to decide what to do. But I'm planting my feet firmly in the ground here in Salem. I have to go up to the Chicago field office to turn in my badge, but there's no rush. I'm sure my supervisor is hoping I'll come to my senses and retract."

"Oh Steve."

He held up his hand. "I'm not pressuring you. I just want you to know I'm here to stay. Unless you tell me to leave, then I'd have no choice but to leave."

"And if another job comes along?"

"They'll have to find another guy. I served my time, did my thing. No more. I went to see Bo about a job."

"I'm sure that went over well."

"Yeah, actually it went better than I expected. He didn't throw me out, but I suspect that was only due to Hope showing up and smoothing things over a bit. Otherwise, I might see if the hospital needs a PI to investigate liability claims and things like that." The elevator stopped, the doors opened and they stepped out with Kayla leading the way to the cafeteria.

"I'm sure you'll find something."

"I always do."

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