For Such As These by Kathryn Prozac Parsons
Summary: The sequel to "Hearts In Darkness", boys find girl, boys lose girl, you'll have to read the story to see how I bring my trilogy to a close.
Categories: Regular Characters: John Carter, Luka Kovac
Genres: General
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: To Dream, Perchance To Love
Chapters: 16 Completed: Yes Word count: 51000 Read: 170618 Published: September 21, 2004 Updated: September 21, 2004

1. Chapter One - Orphan Of The Storm by Kathryn Prozac Parsons

2. Chapter Two - All Dressed Up and No Place to Go by Kathryn Prozac Parsons

3. Chapter Three - Silent Night by Kathryn Prozac Parsons

4. Chapter Four - God Bless Us, Everyone by Kathryn Prozac Parsons

5. Chapter Five - Boxing Day Blues by Kathryn Prozac Parsons

6. Chapter Six - Deep Background by Kathryn Prozac Parsons

7. Chapter Seven - The sins of the fathers ... by Kathryn Prozac Parsons

8. Chapter Eight - Suffer the little children ... by Kathryn Prozac Parsons

9. Chapter Nine - Kitten's Tale by Kathryn Prozac Parsons

10. Chapter Ten - Valley of the Shadows by Kathryn Prozac Parsons

11. Chapter Eleven - ...Shrink Wrapped for Your Protection by Kathryn Prozac Parsons

12. Chapter Twelve - Thereby hangs a tale... by Kathryn Prozac Parsons

13. Chapter Thirteen - Character Assasination by Kathryn Prozac Parsons

14. Chapter Fourteen - In my midnight confession ... by Kathryn Prozac Parsons

15. Chapter Fifteen - ...boy gets girl. by Kathryn Prozac Parsons

16. Chapter Sixteen - And they lived happily ever after... by Kathryn Prozac Parsons

Chapter One - Orphan Of The Storm by Kathryn Prozac Parsons
A perfect storm: three fronts collided over Lake Michigan after a
warmer-than-normal autumn and snow was falling at a tremendous rate.
It was two weeks before Christmas and all through Chicago, the
merchants were sticking pins into dolls resembling local weather
forecasters. The city was at a standstill. Nothing was moving except
for snow plows and the odd emergency vehicle. Even shop-a-holic
cybernauts were affected. On-line commerce relies on trucks and
delivery persons to convey purchases to their owners---with the
airports closed, UPS and Federal Express were rendered useless.

The staff at Cooke County General Hospital had hung their stockings,
tinsel, and lights with care. It wasn't as if they had anything else
to do. After the first ten hours, vehicular traffic all but ceased.
Parked and abandoned cars cannot run into anything or anyone. Stores
were closed and criminals, who'd looked forward to the wallets of
distracted shopping "pigeons" as their Christmas bonus, were staying
put. There was no one to mugg. Burgulars didn't bother to leave their
own domiciles because their victims too, were at home. Those who
succumbed to cabin fever and beat their spouses or children, did so
without interference from the police and EMTs. Chicago was a ghost
town.

In preparation for the inundation of post-thaw "customers" most of
the ER staff was at work. They'd been called in before the roads
became impassable. Better to be trapped at County than otherwise.
Scattered power outages made Chicago's hospitals some of the only
sure sources of electricity and heat. On-line card games, Trivial
Pursuit, and a two-day poker marathon kept most of the staff busy
after they'd cleaned the treatment and trauma rooms to within inches
of their lives. The medical supplies were nestled, all snug in their
storage rooms. Apart from homeless men and women who managed to
somehow stagger in, or the occasional stranded hypothermic motorist
rescued by the plowing crews, not a creature was stirring.

Carter put on his down parka, watch cap and went out to the ambulance
bay to smoke a cigarette. He'd been at County for almost three days,
and the snow was still falling. The city was silent. John lit up and
watched the white flakes flying around the lights. Despite their
constant vigilence with snow shovels, the bay was covered by about a
foot of the stuff. Luka was on his way to work. A friendly snow plow
crew would be giving him a lift. John tossed his butt into the snow
and turned to go in when he stopped. He thought he'd heard something.

It sounded like a baby crying. Peering into the white-out, John
couldn't see anyone. The sound died away. Figuring it was probably
the wind, John turned once more to go back inside. There it was
again. Pulling on his gloves, he went to find where the noise was
coming from. As he wandered around the parking lot, he didn't see any
footprints other than his own. He uncovered his ears, not sure where
to look and heard the sound for the third time. It was coming from
the trash area containing five huge dumpsters covered with mounds of
snow. Squinting, John observed the receptacle closest to the street
had less accumulation on it than the others; indicating it had been
opened recently.

He swiftly lifted the heavy plastic lid and began rummaging through
the bags of trash. All was quiet. He was about to give up when he
heard a feeble cry. John tossed more bags out onto the ground,
revealing an infant covered in newspaper, lying near the rear wall of
the receptacle. John stripped off his parka and used it to wrap the
shivering little body. Holding the now silent child close to his
chest, he ran back to the hospital. How on earth had she survived?

Entering the warm building made his eyes water. "Hey guys, we've got
a patient! Somebody abandoned a baby!" His colleagues surrounded him
as he headed for Trauma One. "Get warming blankets!" John put the
child down and unwrapped it. It was a baby girl. She was barely
breathing. John pulled his shirt tails out of his trousers and
hastily stuffed the child under his clothing, next to his skin. She
felt as cold as ice. Rubbing the little back, John breathed onto her
head and face as Connie arrived with the warming blankets.

She lifted John's sweater and motioned for him to sit as she covered
his chest with the blanket. John unbuttoned his shirt and transferred
the still form into the blanket, re-wrapping her. He put her onto the
table as Cleo Finch prepared to administer a heated saline solution
to warm the infant from the inside out. While she worked, John rubbed
the tiny hands and feet. There was no evidence of frostbite. She
couldn't have been out there for very long.

"Hey Dave, why don't you and some of the guys look around? Her mother
may still be out there."

"Sure thing, Carter. Any excuse to go play in the snow." Dave, Malik,
and two orderlies went to get dressed for the search. The ng tube had
been inserted and Cleo started the saline solution. As the warm salty
mixture entered the child's stomach, her color improved. John was
still gently stimulating her circulation.

"Her heart rate sounds fine. Body temperature is coming up nicely."
Cleo commented after a while. Suddenly, the little one began to
whimper. "Her lungs are in good working order.", Cleo grinned. "Was
there any identification on her, Carter?"

"No, and I didn't waste time looking for it."

"Quite right. We can search later. In this weather, I don't think our
scheduled trash pick-up will be made before we can get around to
hunting for it. Let's see if you'll feel better when this tube is
taken out." Cleo carefully extracted the tiny naso-gastric tube and
picked up the child. "For a baby you sure make a lot of noise, don't
you?" The crying didn't stop.

"Let me try." Lydia offered. She took the small warm bundle and began
to rock her, making shushing noises. The baby wasn't soothed. John
stood and watched as the other nurses tried to calm the squalling
infant with no success.

"I'll take her." He heard himself say. He hadn't spent much time with
babies since his paeds rotation. Nevertheless, he managed to hold her
correctly. Everyone was surprised when she stopped crying immediately.

"You haven't lost your touch, Carter." Haleh grinned. "And she's not
even blonde."

"Haven't you heard? I'm married to a brunette." Carter said softly as
the baby closed her eyes.

* * * * *

Luka grabbed a satchel with changes of clothing for himself and John.
He wasn't really needed at County, but after three days of being
cooped up alone in their apartment, he missed his husband. Pausing to
make sure everything was turned off, he remembered to leave a trickle
of water running in the sink to make sure the pipes didn't freeze.
Rather than risk being trapped in the elevator by a power outage, he
ran down the stairs to the lobby. Two years ago, he'd undergone open-
heart surgery. Now, the only thing wrong with his heart was John's
absence.

The concierge and security guard were dozing. Only a doctor, a
lunatic, or a lunatic doctor in love would have ventured out into a
full-scale blizzard. His massive "taxi" arrived and Luka scrambled
into the front squeezing next to the driver. "You're right on time,
Doc. Next stop, Cooke County General."

The windshield wipers were of little use in the swirling
precipitation. Their progress was slow. Abandoned vehicles would loom
out of the darkness. One street was completely blocked. It took
almost an hour to make a trip which in summer would have taken twenty
minutes. Luka thanked his "chauffeur" and headed for the bay doors.
The lobby was deserted. Had County been closed?

During phone calls to John, he'd heard the sounds of laughter and
recorded music in the background as the staff amused themselves. Now,
all was still. Shrugging, he went to the lounge. It too, was
deserted. Removing his coat, hat, and boots, Luka put on his lab
coat. He smiled at the blue embroidery on the pocket: Dr. Luka A.
Carter-Kovac. He grabbed his stethoscope and went to find his
husband, John Truman Kovac-Carter.

They'd been married for a little over five years. Their relationship
had matured as they grew older. Luka was a contented man; good at his
job, blessed with friends; and at the end of his shifts he went home
with, or to, a loving and generous-hearted partner. Despite two major
crises, and the odd domestic fracas, the bond that united them
remained strong as ever. They made a good couple because they both
worked at it.

When they first met, both men were seeing psychiatrists regularly as
a result of traumatic events in their pasts. A year ago, John and
Luka reached the point where they could dispense with their doctors'
services. Luka observed there was nothing like a brush with death to
bring you to your senses. They argued rarely, recognizing that
differences of opinion or being out of sync with each other
emotionally could be better handled by discussion and the adult
equivalent of "time outs." If one partner was sulky or out of sorts,
he informed his mate who left him alone to get over it.

Luka was approaching forty gracefully. His dark hair had yet to show
any gray. He now wore glasses for reading which John found incredibly
sexy. In lieu of regular workouts at a gym, they took the stairs
whenever possible and walked to work three times a week. John's
youthful good looks had always belied his age. He worked with weights
at home to build up his musculature. Although he would never be able
to win the Mr. Universe pageant, his efforts toned and defined his
slender build. Shortly after their third anniversary, he'd been made
an attending trauma physician. He passed his board exams with flying
colors. Their celebration lasted most of the Thanksgiving weekend.

Noises. Following the sound, Luka went into Trauma One and stopped in
the doorway. The lights were all but out. Dr. Finch, Connie, Haleh,
Lydia, Malucci, and Malik were all standing, watching John Carter who
was seated in a chair holding a baby in his arms. When Carter looked
up at Luka, his friends finally got to see the smile Luka regarded as
his own private treasure. Now, it was different; deeper and if
possible, more joyous. Luka came forward quietly, swallowing past a
lump in his throat. John looked at him in the same way Marije had on
that happy afternoon when Anja was put into her arms for the first
time.

"Isn't she beautiful?" John whispered. At the sound of his voice, the
baby smiled in her sleep. She was clutching the third finger of
John's left hand.

Luka gently moved a fold of the warming blanket so he could get a
better look. She had dark hair that curled over the tops of her ears.
Cool air on her face caused her to open a pair of brown eyes as dark
as those belonging to the man who held her. It was a miracle, Luka
thought. The little one could have been his own Solje as she rested
in her mother's arms.

"Hello, small one." Luka said quietly. The baby's eyes focused on the
handsome face above her own and she smiled again.

"She's got good taste." John grinned and kissed Luka's cheek. "How
was your trip in?"

"It's going to take at least a month for them to clear the streets.
They look like parking lots." "Where are the baby's parents?"

"We don't know. I went outside to smoke and heard her crying. Someone
had put her in one of our dumpsters." John's voice remained calm and
soothing despite his harsh frown.

"Merciful God. They must have been insane." Luka kept his voice low,
but he was also upset. That anyone would willingly throw away a child
was the height of madness. "How is she doing?"

"Remarkably well considering. She's about two months old. Slightly
malnourished. Her blood work came back just before you got in. No
drugs or alcohol in her system. She's HIV-negative. And she aced her
Ackbar exam, didn't you?" John smiled down at the drowsy
child. "Since we don't know who she belongs to, I ordered a DNA
mapping for later. It'll be my Christmas present to her. That way, if
she's prone to any genetic disorders, Child Welfare Services will
know."

"Good idea. Lydia, is Al at work?" Luka asked.

"You bet. I've told him to alert Missing Persons. Considering her
relatively good condition, she might be the victim of a kidnapping."

A pediatric nurse came in with a wheeled basinette. "I hear you folks
have a baby? I've come to take her upstairs."

John slowly stood and reluctantly handed the child to the nurse. The
baby began crying again. The nurse jiggled her to no avail.

"Luka?" John nodded towards the baby. Luka took the infant who
immediately stopped crying. Tears in his eyes, Luka kissed the small
head. Something inside of him which had lain dormant since he buried
his family, stirred into life as he held the baby girl. Carter always
thought Luka was handsome. In more intimate moments, his face became
beautiful. Now, everyone could see it. "Nurse Roberts, we'll take her
upstairs with you." John said as the three of them left the room;
Luka holding the small bundle

"Well if that don't beat everything." Haleh observed drily. The ER
staff had been watching as John had bathed and diapered the infant
while Connie talked him through the procedure. Carter's gentleness
with patients was not new to his colleagues. Nevertheless, they could
see he'd handled the infant with exagerrated care.

"Carter's a goner." Dave Malucci grinned. "Luka's got himself a
rival."

"And baby makes three..." Lydia agreed laughing. If Carter's that
proud of her Ackbar scores, I can't wait to see him when she takes
the SATs." *

"Let's get Jerry's book." Malik suggested. "Date, weight, and height
of the baby when they officially adopt her."

"You guys aren't serious?" Cleo Finch was surprised. Two men? And a
baby?

"Put me down for twenty." Connie chuckled.

"You really think Child Welfare Services is going to hand that child
over to two men who are living together?" Dr. Finch accepted John and
Luka's relationship, but had never given any real thought to its
quality.

"Sure. Why not?" Dave grinned. "Luka's been a father before. He can
teach his husband all he needs to know about diapers and stuff like
that. Besides, her other daddy has got more money than God. No way
this kid's going to end up on the social rolls... the social
register, maybe when she makes her debut..."

"Yeah and both dads are doctors: trauma experts. What's not to like?"
Haleh added.

"I know, but what if their relationship doesn't work out?"

"Come on, Dr. Finch. They've been together for almost six years. If
Carter's grand-dad and the Justice Department can't bust those two
up, nothing's gonna. Fifty years from now, they'll be in Boca Raton,
sipping prune daiquiris and single-handedly keeping the Viagra folks
in business. Besides they're both Catholics; no divorce remember?"
Malucci said.

"Okay, okay. I see your point. But the Child Welfare folks might not
be so open-minded." Cleo reminded them.

"Let's get the book!" Malik led the crew to the deserted admit desk.
John and Luka's friends had no doubts about what the couple would do.

* * * * *

The baby had been fed by Luka and John put her into the see-through
basinette. "Now go to sleep, Kitten. We'll be right downstairs." John
bent over and kissed the child. He straightened up and smiled at Luka
who thought he'd never seen anything so beautiful.

They rode down in the elevator saying nothing. Luka took John into
his arms and kissed him. When the doors opened, both men were
dizzy. "Come on, Janaskja. Let's find something to do." Luka nipped
John's ear as Malucci rounded the corner, whistling Brahm's
Lullaby. "Dr. Dave, if you need us, page us."

"Sure thing, guys." Dave grinned. He figured Luka wouldn't waste any
time. It had been three days since the couple had been together.

John and Luka headed to the room John had been using during his three-
day shift. Luka shoved the two beds together as John began to
undress. "John, your pants are soaking wet." Luka looked down.

"Yeah. I totally forgot. I was outside looking for the baby. One
snowdrift was up to my waist. I meant to change once we'd revived
her."

John pulled his pants off shivering only partly from the cold. Luka
pulled off the sweater and shirt and held John close. "That's much
better." John murmured into Luka's chest then kissed the top of the
faint scar left from Luka's open-heart surgery. It never failed to
make him shudder, remembering the sight of the rib-spreader being
removed from his husband's body. He'd been so close to losing the
other half of his soul. John put his arms around the man he loved.

They shuffled over to the beds. John removed Luka's clothing,
chuckling at the numerous layers that kept Luka warm during his trip
to County. He pushed him back onto the bed and straddled Luka's hips
kissing his lips, neck, and face. John's penis was pointing at his
chin. Luka reached down and fondled it gently making John quiver. "I
love you." Luka whispered. They weren't at home so silence was the
order of the day. Luka scooted down and took John into his mouth as
the muffled cries above him became moans.

Lips, tongue, and teeth were driving John crazy. Supporting himself
on his arms, he thrust into Luka's eager mouth. He was in
heaven. "Ohh, Luka... do it. Make me come.", John gasped as his
husband's technique intensified. Minutes later his wish came true as
John exploded into Luka who wriggled upwards to receive the shaking
body he'd just sent over the edge.

"It gets better every time you do that." John said. His mind was
slowly returning to normal. "I don't know how you manage it." John
kissed Luka's cheek.

"Simple. If you love who you do, the rest is easy." Luka smiled and
licked his lips. "That was very tasty. Are you hungry?"

"Yeah, but I'm also exhausted. Before we slipped her a Mickey Finn,
Kerry had us running drills all afternoon. Will you accept a snow-
check?" John yawned. "Croatian sausage for breakfast?"

"Sure, Janaskja. And afterwards, I'll check your rosebud. Flowers
tend to suffer from want of attention during the winter."

"I like the way your mind works. Love you." John was soon asleep.


Author's Notes:

* For my friends from outside the United States: SAT's, Scholastic
Aptitude Tests. This examination is usually given shortly after
students enter secondary or "high" school. KPP

Serendipitous Coincidence... Crystal Reece, another gifted member of
this group wrote a story I wish I'd thought of first. Since I didn't,
I thought it best to explain. The main plot of this story
was "conceived" and outlined in the waning days of August 2001. Any
resemblance this story has to the final (not posted yet) two chapters
of her magnificent ER-Early Edition cross-over is yet another
instance of a great mind and a wanna-be's efforts moving in tandem.
If you don't want to be SPOILED, read her work before you read this
one.
Chapter Two - All Dressed Up and No Place to Go by Kathryn Prozac Parsons
It was Luka's turn to accompany the EMTs. The main thoroughfares had
been cleared somewhat. Calls were now coming in from distraught wives
on behalf of stricken husbands who failed to realize changing
channels takes considerably less energy than shovelling snow. There
were also stranded motorists, plus elderly citizens whose heating
systems had failed. Luka and Kerry checked out the supplies he would
need. Since the emergency vehicles couldn't travel as fast as usual,
Luka was preparing for doing procedures in the field that are
normally done when the patient is brought to the hospital.

John had caught cold, so he stayed indoors. It was his turn to be
guinea pig for the newest med students. Wearing a surgical mask, he
was poked and prodded as they learned the correct ways to take
patient histories as well as perform routine exams. Carter couldn't
believe how young they were. In their turn, his students thought *he*
looked too young to be an attending.

"Try that again, you missed the lower left quadrant." John told a
young woman who was palping his liver. "And don't be afraid to really
put the pressure on." The young woman blushed and tried once
more. "That's it. The edges should be soft. Hard ridges indicate the
presence of..."

"Calcification resulting from liver disease, a tumor, or a patient
with hepaticus ferrus: one made out of cast-iron.", another female
student replied quickly as John grinned and nodded.

"Tests to firm up the diagnosis?..."

Kerry Weaver smiled as she watched from the hall. Carter was shaping
into a fine teacher. He was patient but did not spare the unprepared.
Two of this latest batch of babies had already requested to be
assigned to the ER. Nodding to Lydia, who was there to maintain
propriety, Kerry went to the lounge. "Kitten's" constant crying had
soon resulted in the nursery staff sending her back downstairs to the
ER. A basinette had been set up and Kerry's Crew was fighting over
whose turn it was to watch the infant.

The foundling was asleep on her tummy, a stuffed grey kitten tucked
in beside her. The gift shop staff had donated the floppy toy. They
didn't have anything to do either. Connie was sleeping on the couch.
She had kids of her own, so Kerry knew the least abnormal sound would
instantly awaken her. Pouring a cup of coffee, Kerry went back out to
the desk. "Can I see the book, Jerry?"

"Sure, Dr. Weaver." Jerry produced a kid's speckled notebook.

Running her finger down the page, Kerry noted most of her staff had
already selected dates when John and Luka would be permitted to adopt
Kitten. John's nickname for her had been picked up by everyone
else. "Okay, put me down for June 15th." Kerry said and added the
baby's probable height and weight.

"Do you want to get in on the side bet?" Jerry asked as he pocketed
Kerry's twenty dollar bill.

"What side bet?"

"The date those two tell us they're gonna petition to adopt."

"They haven't yet?" Kerry was surprised. Every spare minute John and
Luka had were spent with the baby. John's cold prevented him from
getting too close so he became her official photographer. The gift
shop staff happily sold him a disposable camera every other day or
so. Luka had purchased a pink binder to put the pictures in when they
were developed.

"Nope. It's only a matter of time though. I overheard Dr. Carter
talking about colleges yesterday." Jerry chuckled.

"Oh brother! They're both goners. How long do you think it will take
for social services to get someone over here?" Kerry asked.

"At least another four days."

"Okay, put me down for the day after." Kerry grinned and handed over
another bill.

* * * * *

Sneezing, Carter went to the lounge. It was time to feed the baby.
Before going in, he put on a disposable gown, gloves, and a fresh
mask. Connie had warmed the bottle. John sat on the couch with the
infant. She eagerly drank her formula while gripping John's gloved
finger. Connie watched approvingly as Carter stopped the feeding
frenzy after five minutes to burp her then resumed. When the bottle
was empty, he put the baby against his shoulder and began patting and
massaging her back.

"Come on, Kitten. I need at least two more burps before you can take
your nap." He spoke softly, but in a normal tone of voice. Neither he
or Luka had been caught thus far using "baby talk". The first burp
was followed quickly by a muffled sound from Kitten's other
end. "Easy come, easy go." John smiled at Connie. She got out a fresh
diaper and the changing equipment. After the second burp, John got up
and put Kitten on the changing mat. "For once, I'm glad I have a
cold." He laughed as Connie wrinkled her nose.

"Four kids and I *still* haven't figured out how such small bodies
can make such awful smells." Connie was pleased to see her pupil's
progress. John expertly cleaned Kitten's diaper area, while teasing
and tickling her. After putting on baby oil and powder, he slid the
new diaper under her and taped it up.

"She's really a good baby. Considering all of the people around her,
she hasn't made much of a fuss. Have you?" John had her in his arms
again. Kitten smiled sleepily at him, then yawned. Placing her in the
basinette, John sat down and began rubbing the small back. "Once upon
a time..."

"Bedtime stories, Carter? Don't you think she's a little young for
those?"

"Actually, Dr. Keaton told me once, the sound of a voice speaking
slowly and softly is what sends them off. I could recite the
Gettysburg Address with the same effect." John grinned as Kitten
yawned again. "...there was a baby princess who liked her milk so
much she purred. Two hard-working woodsmen had found the baby..."

"I don't think I know that one." Connie said.

"I'm making it up." Carter said in the same tone of
voice. "...because of the small noises she made when they fed her,
they called her 'Kitten'..." The star of the story was asleep.

"Has anyone found out about her parents?" Connie asked as John tidied
up the "changing table".

"Nope. Al said no one has reported an infant girl missing. I'm just
hoping when the snow melts, we don't find her mother's body. I didn't
see any footprints when I found her. But it was snowing hard, so that
doesn't mean much. We faxed her hand and foot prints to other
hospitals to see if we could trace her that way. So far, all of their
babies are accounted for. Alcohol and drugs didn't seem to be a
factor in her mother's abandoning her."

"Yeah. If the mother had been using, traces should have been in her
system." Connie shook her head. Both of them had seen alcoholic and
addicted mothers whose habits had affected their infant children.

"She couldn't have been out there for much longer than fifteen
minutes. Whoever left her, must have done so just before I went
outside. Sleep tight, Kitten. I'll be back in a couple of hours."
John removed the gloves, gown, and mask. It was time to check on his
other young charges.

* * * * *

Luka's ride-along was blessedly uneventful. The major traffic
arteries were almost clear of snow and abandoned vehicles. Most of
the patients were treated on-site for incipient hypothermia and
dislocated joints. They returned to County four hours later bringing
in a elderly man whose electricity had failed resulting in
hypothermia. Luka gave Kerry the bullet and went to put away the un-
used supplies. He was surprised to see a small crowd gathered around
the supply room.

"Here's a good one. Does anybody know why they call it 'Lasix'?" It
was John's voice. He'd managed to turn cleaning out the supply room
into a session of prescription "Jeopardy". Silence followed his
question. "Guesses anyone? Don't be afraid, I didn't know the answer
either until the Chief of Staff took pity on my ignorance." John
grinned at their mystified faces. "Okay, I'll spare your pride. It's
called 'Lasix' because the effects of a standard dose last six days."
Now what is it usually prescribed for?"

Luka smiled as he squeezed into the room. "Excuse me, folks. I've got
some meds to check in." The students made room for him as the star
pupil replied to John's question.

"Alright, Ms. Samuels has made a thorough study of the PDR. The next
five questions are for everyone else." John smiled at the young
woman. She was showing signs of great promise. He nodded to Luka and
continued the impromptu exam. Luka quickly returned the medicines and
other supplies to their proper shelves and went to the lounge for
coffee.

Kerry was sitting in front of a lap-top working on an article she'd
planned to submit to JAMA.* Kitten was in her basinette kicking in
her nightgown sack and occasionally making small happy noises. Luka
had washed his hands and put on a disposable gown. "Is my little girl
ready for her dinner?", he asked bending over the infant who smiled
up at him. Kitten kicked her feet with renewed vigor and gurgled
something. "I'll take that as a 'yes'." Luka grinned and went to
fetch her formula from the refrigerator.

"She really responds to you two." Kerry observed, looking at Luka and
the baby over the top of her glasses.

"Any word from Child Welfare Services?" Luka removed the bottle from
the microwave and sprinkled a few drops on his wrist. Like Papa
Bear's porridge, it was too hot.

"Yes. They're sending someone out tomorrow morning. I'm releasing
some of the staff at the end of the evening shift. The main roads are
passable and the El' has resumed service to all stations."

"If it's okay with you Dr. Weaver, John and I will stay the night."
Luka tested the bottle again and satisfied with its temperature,
began feeding the little girl. "That way Kitten can stay down here.
Besides, John and I have some things to discuss."

"I'll bet you do." Kerry said wryly. It looked as if she would win
the side bet. Grinning, she went back to her article. Twenty minutes
later, she looked up. Luka was singing to the baby in a soft
baritone. The words were Croatian but she recognized the familiar
tune: Brahms' Lullaby. The sight of Luka, seated on the dilapidated
couch, his face bent towards the sleepy child, stopped her breath.
There wasn't anything mawkish or sentimental about the tableau they
formed; only a matter-of-fact tenderness of which Luka seemed totally
unaware. His two daughters must have been very fortunate to have this
man for a father. She hoped Kitten would be as lucky.

* * * * *

John stuffed the last of his clothing into the satchel. He and Luka
would camp out in the lounge tonight. Hospital beds would be needed
to accommodate all of the postponed elective surgical cases. The ER
was virtually deserted. After spending nearly a week there, most of
the staff who could be spared went home to their families. Mark
Greene had been at home during the storm. When he came on duty at
nine that evening, he was surprised to see a sign on the door to the
lounge: "Quiet, please. Kitten is sleeping." Opening the door, he saw
the basinette and two of his colleagues sitting on the couch. John
looked up and waved as Mark went over to the basinette.

"Where on earth did she come from?", he asked quietly. Luka and John
got up and gestured for him to follow them outside. John explained
how the baby had been found and how she had turned the cynical ER
staff into a bunch of saps.

"Yeah, babies will do that." Mark grinned. He and Elizabeth were two
months away from their second child.

"Most of the guys are in the cafeteria playing bocce ball with the
urine bottles." Luka said. "Randi's on break, so John and I are
monitoring the phones from in here. There are no patients and we're
probably not going to get very many tonight."

"Great. I've been reading this novel, written by a friend of
Elizabeth's. Looks like I'll get the chance to finish it after all.
As you were, guys. I'll take the desk until Randi gets back." Mark
went up the hall and the two men returned to the lounge. One lamp was
turned on, its light aimed at a corner. Seated in the semi-darkness,
John resumed their quiet conversation as if there'd been no
interruption.

"I know raising children the right way is hard work. That's not the
issue. I'm more concerned about the effect our relationship will have
on Kitten when she's older. People can say cruel things. It's
different for us, we're adults. The occasional snide comment or rude
remark doesn't have the power to wound us too deeply. However, how
would you feel if you were constantly teased about your parents and
told that their relationship was sinful?" John looked over at the
sleeping baby.

"John, people say mean things no matter what. As Kitten grows up
there will be plenty of well-meaning folks who'll make negative
statements about anything that comes to mind. Between the two of us
there'll be enough love to give her a pretty strong self-image. Would
your grandfather's cruel remarks have hurt you as much if your father
and mother had been there to reassure you?" Luka asked gently. "Your
childhood wasn't a very happy one yet you managed to survive, even
flourish. I'm always amazed you didn't turn out to be one of those
spoilt jet-setting brats with a mink-lined insular attitude. What
prevented that?"

John thought for a moment. "I suppose it was dear old grand-dad.", he
grinned suddenly. "I'm sure he'd have a stroke for real if he knew
his continual harping on my short-comings made me all too aware of
pain in other people's lives. I promised myself when I grew up that
I'd never make someone feel bad about themselves just to make myself
feel good. I've slipped up here and there, but I was younger and
stupider."

"Precisely. It's true your first instinct is to shield your children
from all hurtful things. But if you do, you wind up with a pretty
pathetic excuse for a human being. Bad things happen to everyone.
With the grace of God and the love of family and friends, we manage
to get through the rough spots. Kitten won't be any different. People
may intrude with the odd nasty comment, but I think we'll be able to
support her and get her to see that ignorance and prejudice hurt the
ones who harbor those feelings far more than the victims."

"You're right, Sascha. I would have said something about adopting her
earlier but I wasn't sure if you could stand losing another child if
we were turned down." John said very quietly.

"It's too late for that, John. We both love Kitten. If the social
worker takes her away tomorrow, both of us will grieve. One week, one
month, one year... time doesn't allow us to love each other *more*;
only *better*. I love you just as much as I did that day we had lunch
at Magoo's. However, over the years, I've learned to love you as a
mature adult---to love you better. Besides, even if I'd known I was
going to lose my little jewels, I still wouldn't have passed up the
chance to love them for as long as they were with me."

John hugged his husband. "How did I manage to fall in love with such
a wise man?"

"Atheists would say, pure dumb luck. Believers would say it was God
working. Either way, the matter was not in our hands to control.
Sure, we did what we could to help things along, but in the end,
neither of us knew what the future would hold. We still don't."

"Okay, you've explained away all of my reservations. When that social
worker comes tomorrow, let's tell him or her that we want to adopt
Kitten and will be willing to act as foster parents until our
petition is granted."

* * * * *

Ms. Sarah Nicholson trudged her way over the piles of dirty snow. The
blizzard had created several piles of paperwork on her colleagues'
desks. Between that and the approaching holidays, the social services
folks were cutting as many corners as they could. Stamping the snow
from her boots, Ms. Nicholson walked up to the admit desk. "I
understand you people found a baby?"

"Yeah." Randi's gum popped. "I'll page the guys who are taking care
of her. Why don't you take a seat over there?" Randi went back to her
sketching. "Randi-Wear" was actually beginning to show a profit.

"You paged us?" John and Luka appeared a couple of minutes later.

"Social Services is here. She's over there." Randi pointed with her
pencil.

"Good afternoon." Luka extended his hand. "Ms.?"

"Nicholson."

"Follow us." John smiled as the woman got to her feet. They ushered
Sarah Nicholson into the lounge. "Here she is." John took Kitten from
Haleh. Sarah Nicholson was mildly surprised to see a smiling baby
dressed in a pale yellow nightgown sack.

"Are those her clothes?"

"They are now." Luka smiled. "When she was found, she was wearing
the 'Chicago Tribune'. We bought a few things for her from the
hospital gift shop."

"Here are her medical records. She's in excellent condition
considering she'd been abandoned outside in the middle of a
blizzard." John handed Ms. Nicholson a folder. "We contacted the
police. Their report is attached to the folder. So far, no one has
come forward to claim her." John explained while rubbing Kitten's
back.

"Ms. Nicholson, we would like to keep her with us as a foster child
until we can legally adopt her." Luka took the plunge.

"You two are living together?"

"Yes. We've been married for just over five years. We lived together
about a year before that." Luka replied.

"I don't know... Both of you are working here?"

"Yes, but we've made arrangements to provide competent care for
Kitten while we're at work." Luka took the baby from John.

"My family's former housekeeper has an apartment in our building. She
has offered to stay with the baby while we're at County. She's a
retired nurse and practically raised me from when I was Kitten's
age." John added.

"I was the father of two daughters." Luka said slowly.

"Where are they now?"

"They were killed in the Bosnian war along with their mother. I, we,
love this child. And if you interview the staff who've helped us care
for her, they'll tell you that she responds well to us."

"I see... Usually we place infants in the foundling home run by the
Sisters of Mercy. However, they are over-crowded as it is. Have
either of you been foster parents before?"

"No." John and Luka replied.

"I don't know..."

"Please, Ms. Nicholson. I know we are not your organization's idea of
a 'normal' couple. Nevetheless, we are deeply committed to each
other. The Human Resources department has all of our records. It's
only four days 'til Christmas. We'd like to have Kitten spend it with
us. She deserves the best we can give her. Please?" John asked. He
rarely resorted to what Luka called his "whipped puppy" look, but
this was too important. He didn't hesitate to use his most powerful
weapon. His large brown eyes turned the trick once again.

"Okay." Ms. Nicholson smiled at Carter. "But don't get your hopes up.
We're short-staffed right now and not many foster families would be
willing to accept an infant so close to the holidays. Fill out these
forms while I talk to your Human Resources people. We can grant you
temporary custody... *temporary* until after Christmas." Sarah
Nicholson pulled the complicated forms from her bulging briefcase
then left to meet with John and Luka's supervisors.

"See? It never fails.", John grinned and batted his eyelashes at Luka
who shook his head.


Author's Notes:

* JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association
Chapter Three - Silent Night by Kathryn Prozac Parsons
It took John and Luka nearly two hours to fill out the forms. During
that time, Sarah Nicholson reviewed their personnel files. The
contents were pretty benign since the medical records for both men
were kept by their supervisors. Ms. Nicholson jotted down a few notes
and requested copies of both sets of files for her records.

Kerry Weaver looked up from her lap-top to see a middle-aged woman
who looked lost. "May I help you?"

"Yes. You're Dr. Weaver?"

"Yes. And you are?"

"Sarah Nicholson, Child Welfare Services."

"Of course. We've been expecting you. Please sit down." Kerry saved
her file and shut the lid to the computer.

"How long have you known Dr.s Carter and Kovac?"

"I've known Dr. Carter for almost nine years---Dr. Kovac, for about
seven."

"You are aware that they would like to adopt the baby found by your
staff?"

"Of course. I think it would be wonderful. I've had many
opportunities to observe both of them with the baby. She would be an
extremely lucky little girl if their petition was granted."

"I see. Then you can think of no reason why they shouldn't be granted
temporary custody."

"None whatsoever." Kerry replied firmly.

* * * * *

They'd taken the first steps toward expanding their family. John
talked with his father and was not surprised by his enthusiastic
support. They took Kitten home with them after completing the
preliminary forms and signing releases for their medical records.
Mrs. Riordan, the former housekeeper for the Carter family had been
out of the country when John and Luka first met. Shortly after her
return to the United States, she'd lived with them briefly while Luka
recovered from heart surgery. With Millicent's help, Siobhan
Ceindreadh Riordan leased a spacious one-bedroom apartment in the
same building. Her nursing skills proved useful to the numerous
elderly tenants.

On their way home, John and Luka made up their shopping list for
Kitten. County supplied a small stock of diapers and formula to tide
them over until they could get to the stores. When Luka unlocked the
door to their apartment and turned on the lights, he stared. Roland
and Millicent had been busy. A beautifully decorated Douglas fir tree
stood between the living room windows, filling the place with its
scent. On the table was a note: "Dear Sons, I know you've been busy
and since the stores are jammed, I took the liberty of providing some
of your daughter's first Christmas. God Bless the three of you,
Roland."

The second bedroom contained a new crib, bathing table and two over-
stuffed rocking chairs. Luka un-zipped the carry-pouch and put Kitten
into her crib. She surprised them by immediately lifting her head and
looking around.

"There's diapers, powder, baby linens... Dad thought of everything."
John grinned. "Oh look, a baby monitor. We can hear if she cries in
the night." John's eyes were shining.

"He left it to us to buy her clothes and toys." Luka smiled
appreciating Roland's generous gift.

"I can't wait, but I guess we'll have to. Our vacations don't begin
until Christmas Day. Shopping will be horrendous."

"Well, we can get up at the crack of dawn and hit the stores as soon
as they open." Luka suggested.

"Great idea. Actually, I'm looking forward to this."

"Let's introduce Kitten to her nanny." Luka said laughing as his
husband ran from the apartment.

It was love at first sight. Siobhan Riordan's musical voice soon had
Kitten "purring" for all she was worth. The four of them sat in the
kitchen while John fixed dinner. Looking back, he wondered how he
managed to keep his mind on cooking. It was a miracle he hadn't put
sugar on the roast and salt in the dessert. He kept watching Luka and
Mrs. Riordan as they chatted about Kitten's feeding and bath
schedules. Luka held the little girl, playing with her tiny hands
which persisted in trying to cover his mouth as he spoke.

When he was younger, John had spent a great deal of time in the
Carter family's huge kitchen talking with Mrs. Riordan and the other
staff. He used to wish he'd been born into a normal family that ate
dinner together and talked and laughed. Now, it looked as if his wish
would come true. Finally, the left-overs were heated and served. John
took Kitten and prepared to give the baby her night time bottle while
Luka ate. Siobhan Riordan watched beaming as her godson expertly fed
and burped the infant, laughing when some formula was splattered on
John's shirt after the final burp.

"Looks as if we both need a bath, Kitten. Say good bye to Luka and
Mrs. R." Kitten did her best, gurgling and smiling sleepily.

"Let me wash the wee one for you." Mrs. Riordan got up.

"That's okay. Kitten and I are pretty good at blowing bubbles." John
hoisted Kitten to his shoulder and hummed his way out of the room.
Luka put John's plate back in the refrigerator then wrote out their
work schedules for the next two days. "Here are our pager numbers and
the phone number for Dr. Welles, Kitten's interim pediatrician."

"Good. I'll have some more formula and diapers delivered in the
morning." Mrs. Riordan tucked the paper in her sweater pocket. Twenty
minutes later, John and Kitten came in to say a proper good-night.
Luka took the very sleepy baby who smelled of powder and baby soap.
He nuzzled her little neck then kissed her. "It's time to make the
journey to dream land, little one. Say good-night to Papa John." He
took her little hand and waved it at his husband. Unlike John, Luka
had a decent voice. He left the room singing softly to the baby.

"You two seem to have already established a routine." Mrs. Riordan
observed as John cleared the table.

"Yeah. We started at work. With my rotten voice, it was easy. Luka
gets the lullaby detail. I supply the bedtime stories. I still
remember most of the tales you told to us when we were little." John
smiled recalling the funny stories of Fin MacCoul and the more solemn
sagas of the Emerald Isle.

"She's asleep." Luka came in carrying the small speaker which would
allow them to hear Kitten.

"I'm not far behind her." John yawned.

"That's my exit cue." Mrs. Riordan got up to leave. I'll be here at
six ack emma to take care of the little one. Good night, pets."

"Did you eat?" Luka asked as he poured his nightcap.

"Nope. I really wasn't hungry. I'll have a big breakfast at Magoo's.
John rinsed the last of the dishes.

"Are you going to join me?"

"Sure." John picked up the speaker and they headed to the living room.

"Where's your night time cigarette?"

"Bear with me, Sacha. I quit. I don't want to smoke around Kitten.
I'll probably gain twenty pounds..." John frowned.

"More of you to love." Luka smiled as John sat next to him on the
couch.

"Thanks, but wait until I develop a pot belly."

"Uhhm." Luka buried his nose in John's hair. "I wonder why Kitten's
mother didn't want her?"

"I know. I've been wondering too. She's so beautiful." John yawned
again. "I'm beat, I think I'll shower and turn in."

"Hold on a sec. I'll join you. We'll conserve hot water." Luka
drained his glass and arm in arm they walked to the bathroom. John
stopped off in Kitten's room. She was deeply asleep. He softly
stroked her hair. Turning up the volume on the monitor, he went to
the bathroom where Luka had already stripped and started the water
running.

"I don't know why I'm so tired." John said as he removed his
clothes. "Excitement, I guess."

"And getting over a cold." Luka added and stepped into the shower
stall. John followed and slid the glass door closed. They soaped and
washed each other quickly. John was the first to exit the bathroom.
Shivering, he headed to Kitten's room as he wrapped a bath sheet
around himself. She was on her tummy, sleeping like an angel. He went
to their bedroom to find Luka setting the alarm clock for Kitten's
two o' clock feeding.

"All's well?"

"Yep. I suppose I'm being silly, but we can't really hear her from
the bathroom with the water running." John yawned and pulled on a
pair of silk pajamas.

"Okay. We'll take baths together, but shower separately. That way you
won't be worried." Luka grinned.

"Thanks husband. I've never done this before, so it'll take a while
for me to get used to the fact that babies don't break that easily."
John put on a thick pair of socks.

"Are you cold?"

"Yeah. I could do with a six-foot Croatian hot water bottle." John
yawned and got into his side of the bed. Luka turned out the lights
and joined his mate, wrapping him in a warm embrace. "Ohh, that feels
marvellous. I love you, Luka." John put his head on Luka's chest.

"I love you, too. It looks like we're going to have a wonderful
Christmas."

"I wonder if Ms. Nicholson will object if we have Kitten baptized?"
John mused sleepily.

"I don't see why she should. We can call her in the morning and if we
get permission, I'll phone Father Thomas. Be thinking of some names,
Janaskja."

"You want *me* to name her?"

"Of course. You were the one who saved her life. It's only right you
should be the one to give her a name." Luka smiled in the dark.

"Nicotina." John said.

"What?"

"I could really use a cigarette." John admitted. "Listen, if I get
cranky, you have my permission to make me stand in a corner."

"You'll be fine, Janaskja. Just keep focusing on Kitten's healthy
lungs." Luka suggested.

"Okay. That, and a pacifier. I'll need something to put in my mouth
when the urge hits."

"And here I was all prepared to offer you some smoked Croatian
sausage."

"Ooohh, I like that idea much better." John chuckled. "Good night,
beloved." John shifted his weight as Luka kissed him.

* * * * *

Luka woke up at twenty minutes after two in the morning. The alarm
hadn't rung. John had left their bed. Smiling, he padded into the
other bedroom. John was seated in one of the new chairs rocking
Kitten as she guzzled her formula.

"I thought it was my turn?" Luka said quietly.

"It was. I had to go to the bathroom about ten minutes before the
alarm went off." John grinned. "I figured as long as I was up..."
John handed the empty bottle to Luka and shifted the baby to his
shoulder. Luka sat in the other chair and watched as John patted and
rubbed the infant. Ten minutes and three burps later, John stood up
and handed Kitten to her other father.

The sleepy baby smiled at Luka who kissed her forehead. Softly, Luka
began singing as John tidied the crib. John silently thanked God
while watching Luka rock their child. He'd often watched as Luka
worked with small children at County. He seemed able to gain their
trust in a matter of moments. There was no doubt in his mind that
Luka deserved children. At their wedding reception, he'd hardly been
able to tear himself away from Doug and Carol's twin daughters; who,
in turn, behaved as if they'd know him all their lives. The sound of
Luka's voice died away gradually as he got up to put the baby back
into her crib. She was asleep. John tucked her in.

"She's so beautiful, Luka. Don't you think she looks like you?" John
murmured.

"Perhaps, but when she smiles, she looks more like you." Luka kissed
John gently on the cheek. "Come on, six o'clock will be here before
we know it."

"Good night, little one." John softly touched the sleeping baby. "We
love you."

* * * * *

Sarah Nicholson agreed to let the baby be baptized, provided that her
surname remained "Doe". John called Father Thomas the same afternoon.
The young priest eagerly accepted their invitation and they set a
time: ten o' clock on Christmas Eve, before the beginning of the
concert which preceded midnight mass. John created an invitation on
the ER computer and gave copies to their colleagues. He e-mailed it
to his family and to out-of-town friends.

The afternoon of December 24th, John panicked. "We don't have a
christening dress."

Luka smiled. Calm down, Janaskja.", he picked up the
phone. "Grandmaman?"

John smiled imagining Millicent's happy look. She loved it when Luka
used the European courtesy title.

"My husband is in a tizzy. He thinks Kitten needs a christening
robe." Luka grinned and gave John the thumbs up sign. "Thank you,
grandmaman. We'll meet you in the vestry at ten."

"So?", John asked eagerly.

"She's going shopping for one. She'd planned to offer the Carter
Family robe, but didn't want to cause bad luck." Luka said softly.
Millicent had explained that her husband, late grandson, and Chase
had worn the elaborate gown. Roland, John, and his sister had been
loaned robes by their maternal grandparents. John nodded. He knew the
story and agreed with Millicent. Okay, so he was superstitious but
with his luck, why take chances?

They finished their shifts and raced home. They'd risen before dawn
and joined the hurried crowd of last-minute shoppers whose ranks had
been increased by the snow storm's delay. Splitting up, John headed
for the infant clothing department while Luka shopped for toys. Both
men agreed that restraint would serve them and their baby better than
extravagance. John freely admitted he would have traded the lavish
playroom of his own childhood, with its superfluity of toys for more
time with his family. Luka's list was short. A teddy bear, a musical
mobile to hang over the crib and a few toys for the bath. When Kitten
was older, they'd purchase more.

John's list was also relatively short. Undergarments, nightwear, and
one-piece rompers; three of each---one in the wash, one in the
drawer, and one for emergencies. Babies grow very quickly, Kitten
would be much larger in the spring, so they'd shop then for clothes
more suited to warmer weather. The final items on John's list were
linens: washcloths, towels, bibs, cloth diapers and plastic pants for
when she was home. They'd only use disposables when Kitten was
visiting.

Three hours later, two tired men rendez-voused in the beautifully
decorated foyer of Chicago's largest department store. John put all
of their gaily wrapped purchases into two large garbage bags:
camouflage to ward off would-be muggers. As John observed only half-
joking, "'Tis the season to be ripped off."

* * * * *

Now, they were on their way home. A third garbage bag had been
dragooned into service to hold all of the gifts from their co-
workers. Kitten's first Christmas would be a generous one. Coughing
harshly, John let them into the apartment. He popped a lozenge into
his mouth, stripped off his coat and began arranging presents under
the tree. Luka went to put the clothes and baby linens in Kitten's
room. Mrs. Riordan and her charge were sound asleep.

The noise of drawers opening and closing roused their nanny. "Did you
two babes in toyland find all that you needed?"

"Mission accomplished Mrs. R." Luka grinned as he stacked the cotton
diapers at the end of the changing table.

"I'll make you some tea. Judging from the sound of things, Camille
out there could do with a cup." John's cough could be heard from the
living room.

"All done." John sat back on his heels wiping sweat from his
forehead. Mrs. Riordan was humming in the kitchen as the hot water
came to a boil.

Luka knelt beside John and plugged in the lights. The tree was
beautiful. White and gold ornaments drew the eye upwards toward a
beautiful angel blowing a golden trumpet. Tiny white lights began
blinking resembling stars glimmering through the dark green branches.

"Merry Christmas, beloved." Luka wrapped his arms around John and
held him as they gazed at the tree.

"Merry Christmas, Sascha." John coughed. "Damn. I must be the only
person on earth to develop smoker's cough *after* I quit.

"Probably all of that nasty fresh air." Luka observed wryly and
kissed his husband's cheek. "John? Are you running a temperature?"

"I don't think so. I'm a little warm, but we've been toting gifts all
day. That, plus the undershirt, shirt, sweater..." John nuzzled
Luka's neck. "Tell you what, after our tea, I'll take a shower then
take my temperature. Just in case, why don't you see to Kitten? If I
am catching cold, she'll hardly thank me for giving it to her for
Christmas."

"That's my sensible husband."

"Since when?" Mrs. Riordan chuckled as she brought in the steaming
teapot."That boyo didn't have enough sense to come in out of the rain
when he was a lad.

"Give me a little credit, Mrs. R." John grinned. "I've grown up."

"Taller, I'll grant you..." Siobhan Riordan smiled. Doctor or not,
father of his own child or not, John would always be the solemn-faced
little boy she'd watched over.

John walked over to the coffee table on his knees. "You remembered."
His eyes lit up when he saw the sugar and raisin cookies. Mrs.
Riordan always baked them for Christmas.

"Three each. I don't want the two of you spoiling your appetites for
supper."

"Yes, ma'am" Luka dead-panned. He'd sneaked two in the kitchen.

John drank thirstily and gobbled down his cookies in five minutes
flat. He laughed when Mrs. Riordan smacked Luka's hand after he'd
eaten one of the star-shaped confections.

"Did you think I was forgetting how to count, me spalpeen? You've
already had two..."

Luka did his best to look contrite. "John, help me out here."

"You're on your own, O knave of my heart. If you need me, I'll be in
the shower." His brother had also tried to get away with purloining a
cookie or two and had met with no success. Mrs. R. had eyes in the
back of her head.
Chapter Four - God Bless Us, Everyone by Kathryn Prozac Parsons
Roland and the family limousine picked up John and Luka to bring them
to the church. John was indeed running a slight temperature, so Luka
took charge of Kitten while John sighed and donned a gauze face mask.
When they got into the back seat, Millicent was also there, a large
exquisitely wrapped present at her feet. "May I hold her?" Finally,
she had a great-grandchild. Luka un-zipped the chest pouch and handed
the sleepy baby over.

"Ohhh, she's beautiful. I thought John was indulging in his usual
enthusiasm and over stated matters, but she's gorgeous. The pale pink
sleeping sack set off Kitten's dark hair and eyes. Tiny pink mittens
covered her little fists. "Luka, she could be your daughter."
Millicent said softly as Kitten yawned.

"Told you, Sascha. Now are you *sure* you don't want to name her?"
John's eyes were shining.

"John, what on earth are you wearing that thing for?" Millicent
wanted to know.

"I've got a slight fever... probably caught cold again. I quit
smoking three days ago and I've been hacking ever since. The tar and
nicotine was more than likely keeping the cold germs away.", he
grinned wryly.

"Good for you. It's a nasty habit and I'm sure the baby's lungs are
the better for it." Millicent rubbed her nose on the top of Kitten's
head. "Thank you, little one for making your daddy see sense."
Millicent too, was a goner.

Game, set, and match goes to Kitten... John thought smiling at his
grandmother.

"Looks like we're going to have a fight on our hands to keep Kitten
from being spoiled rotten." Luka agreed with his husband's thought as
the car made its way toward the church.

"Why do you guys call her 'Kitten'?" Roland wanted to know.

"When she was given her first bottle, she made these little noises.
She sounded like a cat mewing." John explained.

"So what's her real name going to be?"

"A surprise." John said simply. He'd been thinking of nothing else
since Luka told him he would get to provide the first and middle
names for the baby.

The driver pulled to a stop in front of St. Mark's. Luka carried the
baby inside paying careful attention to the sidewalk. He had a fear
of slipping on the patches of ice that remained after most of the
snow had been shovelled away. In the warmth of the vestry, Millicent
presented them with the gift box. She held the baby while Luka opened
the package and withdrew a beautiful silk christening gown adorned
with small pink bows and trailing pink ribbons.

"It's perfect, Gamma. Thank you." John squeezed Millicent's shoulders
as Luka put the robe on Kitten.

"Ahh, there you are." Father Thomas came in, wearing the full regalia
with a lovely blue and gold stole. "I have the certificate all ready
for afterwards. Shall we?" He gestured for them to precede him to the
Lady Chapel. Connie and her family, Yoshi, Lydia, Mark and Elizabeth
with Ella, Jing-Mei, and Dr. Romano were all waiting. Two altar boys
uncovered the marble font and lit the Advent wreath as Roland pulled
out his video camcorder. Mrs. Riordan and several of their neighbors
were also present.

Unlike John and Luka's elaborate wedding, this ceremony was brief and
very simple. Mrs. Riordan was Kitten's godmother. Neither John nor
Luka could have imagined anyone else being entrusted with this
responsibility. Now the moment all of them had been waiting for. John
handed Father Thomas a small slip of paper. He glanced at it briefly
and smiled. Then took the sleepy infant and held her while dipping
his hand in the font.

"Katerina Alexandra, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, the
Son, and the Holy Spirit..."

Luka looked over at John his mouth stretched in astonishment. When
the ceremony ended Father Thomas led the family back to the vestry.
Luka pulled John aside.

"Why did you choose that name?"

"Don't you like it?"

"I love it. I have good reason. But why?"

"Well, she looks so much like you, I chose a form of Catherine that's
used in Croatia. Besides, we can still call her 'Kitten' as a
nickname. 'Alexandra' is for your father and my brother. Alexander
was his middle name too." John explained.

"You didn't know?"

"Know what?"

"Katerina was my grandmother's name." Luka said softly.

"No, I didn't." John smiled. Luka was always quoting this wise woman,
but somehow, had never mentioned her name in John's
hearing. "However, when we're allowed to adopt her, she should have
*your* last name. 'Carter-Kovac' or 'Kovac-Carter' is too much for
one little kid. Anyway, that's the other reason I chose 'Katerina';
it's kinda close to 'Carter'.*

"I love you, have I told you lately?"

"Not since we left the house." John grinned.

The baptismal certificate was filled out and signed. The County staff
left to return to work or their own homes. Mrs. Riordan, Katerina,
Millicent, and Roland also departed. They would spend Christmas Day
with the couple. John and Luka remained for the choral concert and
midnight mass. Both men agreed they had much to be grateful for.

They let themselves into the apartment in the wee hours of Christmas
morning. John slipped his mask back on and went to waken Mrs.
Riordan. They'd borrowed a chaise lounge from the Carter mansion, so
Mrs. R could take her catnaps comfortably without leaving the baby's
room. She folded up the afghan and joined them in the living room.
Luka popped the cork on a bottle of champagne and they proceeded to
open presents.

"You first Mrs. R. This is from me.", Luka handed her a small package
wrapped in emerald-colored foil. Siobhan's nimble fingers neatly
undid the wrapping to reveal a dark green gift box. She lifted the
lid and gasped. It was a rosary made of Irish crystal beads. Soil
from all of Ireland's counties, was imbedded in each of the smaller
beads, while water from the principle lakes and rivers filled the
larger ones. The stylized crucifix featured a Christ carved from bog
oak imbedded in a crystal cross.** Luka explained the significance of
the gift as John's godmother's eyes filled. She hugged him.

"It's beautiful. Where in the name of all heaven did you find it?"

"There's a Benedictine abbey in Galway. One of the monks makes them.
I found their gift catalogue on the internet. Thank goodness we
ordered it in July. It arrived before the snow came." Luka said.

"It's too good for the likes of me."

"Nonsense. You saved my life twice." Luka said smiling. "It's a very
small gift compared to that."

"Hear-hear." John agreed. "Here's mine." He handed over another box,
this one wrapped in gold tissue. Mrs. Riordan opened it to find blank
notecards, each bearing a different picture of the baby and matching
envelopes.

"Now, you can write all of your friends and tell them you're a
godmother again." John laughed as she hugged him once more. "Luka?"
John handed him a medium-sized scarlet package grinning as his
husband ripped into it eagerly. Folding back the tissue, Luka gasped.
John had found an antique icon of the Madonna and Child. It came from
the town where Luka was born. John told him shyly. Tears in his eyes,
Luka kissed his husband. "Merry Christmas, beloved.", John murmured
and kissed his cheek.

"John it's beautiful. Why don't we hang it in Katerina's room?"

"Where ever you like. I'm afraid the lamp won't get here until after
New Year's, the snow held up deliveries. It should be here for
Twelfth Night though."

"I'm not sure I can equal this, but here goes..." Luka handed John a
fairly large flat box. John removed the deep blue wrapping and
uncovered a framed water color portrait of himself with Katerina in
his arms.

"Ohhh. Where on earth?"

"Look at the signature." Luka smiled at John's awe. In the lower
right corner was the name of their friend, Charles Brandyn McIntosh.
Cyril's partner was a gifted artist and scenic designer. With a few
deft strokes he'd captured John's tender smile which was echoed by
that of the baby in his arms. "I e-mailed the photograph he worked
from the day after you found her. We used Romano's digital camera.
Luckily, a friend of Cyril's was coming to Chicago, so she brought it
with her. It didn't arrive until this afternoon.

Carefully standing the portrait against the coffee table, John
embraced his husband. "It's the best present I've ever received.
Thank you, Sascha. John wiped his eyes and blew his nose. I can't
remember a happier Christmas. He put his hand on Luka's cheek. "Ja
Ljubav te."

"When they start speaking in tongues, it's time for me to make like
the mist and drift away." Mrs. Riordan smiled at the couple. "Merry
Christmas, pets." She quietly let herself out of the apartment.

* * * * *

Since the death of Robert Alexander Carter, Christmas for John was
something to be endured, not enjoyed. When he married Luka, things
improved somewhat, but both men usually found themselves working on
the holiday. A holiday celebrating the birth of a Child that was also
focused on children, brought back sad memories for Luka as well.
Katerina's presence changed everything for the better.

The couple had the day off and from the time the baby woke them at
6:30 am until they collapsed into bed in the early hours of the
following morning, the day went perfectly. After feeding Katerina,
John and Luka made slow delicious love to each other followed by a
nice nap. By ten in the morning, various neighbors stopped by to wish
them Merry Christmas and offer small gifts in honor of the day. Luka
had improvised a playpen for Katerina in the living room and all of
the guests soon joined her fan club.

John was busy in the kitchen making an elaborate breakfast with the
help of Mrs. Riordan. Roland, Millicent, and Barbara Carter arrived
shortly after noon with more baby gifts as well as presents for the
couple. They spent the day laughing, eating, and playing with the
baby. John remembered it as the best Christmas he'd ever had. Shortly
before dinner, his mother called from Paris and promised to visit in
the new year.

The sight of his father, grandmother and sister all sitting around
the table, smiling and exchanging happy memories brought tears to
John's eyes. At last, he had a real family. Luka had prepared the
roast goose for dinner and when they all sat down to eat, he was
surprised when Roland stood and raised his glass.

"First, I want to thank God, for sparing our lives for one more year.
Bless our feast and help us to remember those who are not as
fortunate." Millicent nodded. "John, Barbara, I am so very sorry that
I was not here for you on this holiday when you were younger. I was a
poor excuse for a father and your loving forgiveness has been the
greatest gift I could ever receive. To see you grown and happy;
living fulfilled lives makes me very proud. Especially since I had
very little to do with it.", Roland paused to get his voice under
control.

"I love both of you very much and I hope today is the first of a new
annual Carter-Kovac family tradition. Thank you, Luka for letting me
share this day with you and John and for your kind understanding. I
hope and pray that all goes well when you submit your petition to add
Katerina to your family. If there is anything, anything at all that I
or Mother can do to help you, please consider it done." Roland
touched glasses with Luka, who turned to John and so on around the
table.

John's cough had all but disappeared along with his fever so he held
Katerina on his lap occasionally sharing very minute portions of
mashed potatoes or pudding with her. She eagerly lapped the food from
his fingers. Barbara Honoria, called 'Ria by her family, teased John
saying the baby's name should have been "Spaulding" since she'd been
passed around the family as if she were a basketball. After the
feast, John set up their camera and everyone sat for a family
picture. At first Mrs. Riordan tried to excuse herself, but Luka
wouldn't hear of it. It was Roland who convinced her.

"Mrs. R., I have you to thank for my two beautiful children and I'll
never forget your gentle care of the son I lost. If circumstances had
been different, I dare say my wife would have been there to
raise 'Ria and her brother. Unfortunately, she was unable to. You
probably saved their emotional lives. As far as I'm concerned, you
*are* a full member of this family and this photo would not be
complete without you."

"Yeah!" John and his sister both grabbed the blushing woman and
seated her next to Millicent. The happy day ended as the entire
family stood around Katerina's crib and sang "Silent Night" by way of
a lullaby. When their guests had gone, John and Luka cleaned up and
put away the left-overs. Sitting in the darkened living room with
their nightcaps they were at last able to say those things that
couples keep to themselves.

"Did you have a good Christmas, Janaskja?" Stretched out, Luka had
John on his lap, his husband's head on his shoulder.

"I'll say. I've never been this happy. You, Kitten, the rest of my
family... it was like a dream coming true." John smiled and kissed
Luka's hand. He'd been holding it in his own. "And you?"

"Yes. It was a marvellous day. Somehow, I got the feeling that Marije
and my little angels were with us and approved. Before I met you, I
used to dread Christmas. It only reminded me of how much I'd lost.
Now, I'm blessed three times and running over. Thank you, John for
loving me; for putting up with my quirks and above all for
understanding how very very much I love you." Luka kissed John's
forehead.

"I think the baby deserves a lot of the credit. She's so wonderful. I
must admit, I never thought of us having children, but when I watch
the two of you... Well, you're probably going to have a hard time
keeping me from cleaning out every orphange in the city. When I think
of all the children out there without loving parents, unwanted,
abused... I realize how truly blessed I was. Dad was right, Mrs.
Riordan was there for me and 'Ria. She made a tremendous contribution
to our lives. Too bad Ms. Nicholson and her colleagues couldn't have
seen us today. If they had, I'm sure they would've accepted our
petition immediately. We may not be their ideal, but we *are* a
family and a damn good one."

"Amen." Luka nuzzled John's hair. "To think I've been blessed twice
with a loving spouse and a daughter makes me feel very humble indeed.
Shall we go to bed?"

"Well, in about thirty minutes, we'll have to feed Kitten."

"I didn't say anything about sleep, Janaskja. I think we can find
something to do until we see to the little one."

"Lead the way, Papa." John hopped up and began turning out the
remaining lights. Luka took their glasses into the kitchen. On his
way to their bedroom he stopped to peek at Katerina. John had had a
similar idea. There he was, leaning on the headboard of the crib
gently stroking their daughter's back. He looked up at Luka, his eyes
shining with tears.

"I can't help it.", he sniffed. "Suppose I hadn't gone out to smoke?"
She would have died out there. We came so close to never knowing her."

"But you did go out." Luka murmured, his arms around John. "Her
guardian angel sent you just at the right time to save our little
one. Besides, it's the season for miracles. If you hadn't been there,
I have a feeling someone else would have found her." Arm in arm, they
went to their room.

John removed Luka's clothing as his husband did the same for him.
Both men had scars now: John from the knifing attack he survived and
Luka from heart surgery after he'd been shot. John tongued the hollow
between Luka's collar bones as his partner softly rubbed his hands
over the slender chest and hips. "You are even more beautiful than
the first time I saw you." Luka breathed, his lips brushing John's
throat.

"Ohh Sascha, when you talk like that I melt all over." John pushed
Luka onto the bed and reached for the lubricant. He prepared them
then began; slowly at first, then thrusting more rapidly. Luka
clutched John's shoulders pushing his cock through John's fist.
Mindful of the sleeping infant, the only sounds they made were low
groans and the occasional murmur. Luka's climax burst upon his
awareness as his semen thickly coated John's fingers. Soon after, he
felt the heat of his husband's seed filling him.

They collapsed onto the mattress, exchanging gentle kisses as their
minds cleared. John opened his eyes and smiled lazily at the man he
loved. "I don't know what I did to deserve you. You're wonderful
Luka.", he said quietly.

"You're not so bad yourself." Luka grinned in turn. "After a wild
ride like that one, I'd better give my stallion a rubdown." Luka
stumbled his way into the bathroom, returning with a wet washcloth.
He cleaned John and himself chuckling as John made whinnying
sounds. "Easy there, my proud beauty. You've earned a nice long rest
in the stable. Soft noises from the speaker belonging to the baby
monitor interrupted their post-coital teasing.

"Sounds like our daughter is awake." John smiled. "Why don't you keep
her company while I prepare her two AM collation?", John slithered
into his caftan and went to the kitchen. Luka, who'd been given a
caftan of his own, shoved his feet into his bedroom slippers and went
to Katerina's room. By the time John joined them, the baby had been
changed and was doing her best to suckle Luka's silk-covered chest.

"She's hungry alright. Here you go, Papa." John handed over the
bottle, laughing softly as Kitten eagerly began to drink.

"She's your daughter." Luka said. "I've never seen such an appetite."
He bent his head and kissed Katerina.

The sight of the two of them filled John with a peace and happiness
he'd not thought possible this side of heaven. They were truly
blessed. Silently, he prayed that all would go well and they would be
able to keep this tiny miracle for always.

Author's Notes:

* Thank you, Ceindreadh for allowing me to bestow the name "Katerina"
upon this, admittedly Mary Sue of a baby. For those of you who
haven't read this Ceindreadh's "Waiting" series, this name is shared
by one of Malucci's sisters. Check her magnum opus out. If you don't
lumps of coal will fill your stockings.

** Don't bother trying to order this special gift for real. It and
the monastery it came from can only be found in this author's
imagination. KPP
Chapter Five - Boxing Day Blues by Kathryn Prozac Parsons
Chicago's weather weenies were having a field day. The freak pre-
Christmas blizzard was followed by even more freakish warm
temperatures. John and Luka formally submitted their petition to
adopt Katerina. The supporting paper work included their certificate
registering themselves as a couple. Although not as legally strong as
a marriage certificate, it did provide an official 'starting' date
for their union. Statements of income, citizenship papers for Luka,
proof of their ages... no aspect of their lives would be un-
documented. Luka met with Dr. Romano to inform him of their
intentions while John formally notified Kerry.

"Between you two and Lizzie Greene, we're going to be hip-deep in
dirty diapers around here." Romano groused. "I suppose you'll want me
to say wonderful things about you and that husband of yours.", he
grinned.

"No, Dr. Romano. Just tell the truth. John and I talked about this
and we figured Child Welfare Services will be turning over every
pebble and examining us with electron microscopes. If we *don't* tell
the truth and they find out something, they'll probably call a halt
to the entire process. Both of us have done things we're not proud
of, but we won't try to lie about any of it. That'll only make
matters worse." Luka said calmly.....

....."Yeah, Dr. Weaver... If they ask about my addiction, tell them
everything. We've already signed releases for our medical records.
It's all in there anyway." John sighed. "If I had it to do over
again, needless to say, I wouldn't have become a drug-user, but since
I did, we have no choice but to tell the truth about it. Hopefully,
they'll understand. After my one relapse, I've been clean for over
eight years. I still attend meetings and volunteer as a counselor for
other docs who're in the same predicament. When they start
interviewing you and our colleagues, tell them whatever they want to
know. They'll more than likely find out about everything anyway, at
least they won't catch us lying about it or trying to cover stuff
up." John explained.

Kerry and Rocket Romano approved of this strategy and everyone
prepared themselves to be interviewed. John left the lounge and
headed to Exam One. The med students were already there, working with
Jing-Mei. She grinned at Carter as she walked them through intubation
and the procedures for inserting Foley catheters. The budget for the
ER had been increased significantly four years ago thanks to the
lobbying efforts of one of Chicago's most influential Alderwomen.

She'd met John and Luka when the former saved her son's life and like
most politicians, Laurencia Carlton made sure she returned a favor.
Between her genteel arm-twisting and an 'anonymous' philanthropic
donation, realistic dummies were now available for the preliminary
instruction of students. They did not replace working with real live
patients, but they did make sure that students were better prepared
when the time came to draw blood, insert catheters or drainage lines.
However, the best part of the budget increase was the augmentation of
available staff.

Laurencia, armed with statistics supplied by Kerry Weaver, was able
to argue successfully that well-rested doctors and nurses would serve
their city better than stressed out, exhausted ones.. Shorter shifts
meant fewer malpractice lawsuits, she pointed out. It went without
saying that John and Luka's co-workers appreciated eight- or ten-hour
shifts versus twelve- and fourteen-hour marathons; and would say
wonderful things about the couple and their fitness as parents.

Unfortunately, as January dragged its way into February, John wasn't
feeling very fit. A series of colds had plagued him since Christmas.
Although he'd successfully quit smoking, his coughing could be heard
all over the ER. He wondered if Kitten would recognize him without a
face mask. He dutifully drank orange juice and took vitamins but
still managed to catch cold.

* * * * *

"Good morning, Ms. Nicholson. Let me take your coat." Luka ushered
the woman into their apartment. Sarah Nicholson accompanied by a
nurse had arrived to interview Luka and observe the home environment
he and John had provided for Katerina. "Did you have a nice holiday?"
Luka braced himself as he led them to Katerina's room. He and John
had been busy.

Stencils created by Cyril had been used to put images of kittens all
over the cream-colored walls. Some were playing with balls of yarn
while others with butterfiles. The beautiful icon was hung in one
corner, a soft blue lamp glowing before it. The small electric bulb
served as a night light Luka explained. On the opposite wall, Cyril's
portrait of John and the baby hung over the changing table and
bathing stand. Luka sat on the end of the chaise lounge as the ladies
took their seats in the matching over-stuffed arm chairs.

While the nurse examined the baby, Sarah Nicholson switched on a tape
recorder and hauled out Katerina's file. "You've been a citizen
for..."

"Nearly seven years, ma'am."

"Do you have any relatives here in the United States?"

"Apart from John's family, no. My father was an only child. My mother
had two sisters. I have five cousins in Croatia. I haven't seen them
since I came to this country."

"Why not?"

"Well, at first, I couldn't afford the air fare. Afterwards, I've
been too busy. We exchange phone calls and keep in touch via the
internet."

"Your average work day lasts..."

"With commuting time, anywhere from nine to eleven hours or so. John
and I have matching shifts on most days. As a matter of fact, I had
to take leave to be here today."

"Who cares for the child when you're at work?"

"John's godmother and former housekeeper. She lives two floors below
us. She was a nurse in Korea before coming to work for John's family.
She practically raised him. I know you will want to talk to her also.
Here is her address and phone number." Luka handed over a small card.

"I understand you had two daughters of your own."

"Yes. Anja and Solje. Anja was five and her sister eighteen months
old when they were killed." Luka stated simply. "I had left our
apartment to obtain food and as I returned, a bombing raid began.
Unfortunately, the girls and their mother died."

"I'm sorry. You are bisexual or homosexual?"

"I suppose most people would say I am bisexual. But since I met John,
there won't be anyone else in my life. So, I guess that would make me
a functioning homosexual." Luka answered quietly. Despite the nurse's
best efforts, Katerina began to cry. "Excuse me." Luka got up and
took the little girl into his arms. "She's usually very good with
strangers but we've discovered she doesn't like the smell of rubbing
alcohol." Luka held Kitten on his lap. She'd stopped crying as soon
as he picked her up.

"Are you the baby's principal caretaker?"

"No. John and I share equally. We take turns feeding, bathing, and
putting her to bed. We play with her together. I'll admit things have
become easier now that she's sleeping through the night.* I don't
think I know of any parent who isn't glad to be able stop getting up
at two in the morning." Luka smiled and rubbed his nose on the top of
Katerina's head and she made a happy little noise in return.

"If something happens to the two of you, who will care for the child?"

"John's father and grandmother agreed to take her. Mrs. Riordan would
continue as her nanny until she's old enough for school. God forbid,
if something should happen to the two of them, John's sister agreed
to care for Kitten although that means she would have to live in
London."

"You and your husband are both Catholic?"

"Yes. John converted to the faith while in high school. I've been an
observant Catholic for all of my life."

"And yet, you both entered into a homosexual relationship."

"Yes. We loved each other. Both of us believe that God's idea of sin
is different from that of our Church. No matter the issue, organized
religion has tolerated even encouraged behavior we know Christ would
disapprove of. Most churches in this country accepted even condoned
the practice of slavery at one point. Many churches ruled that women
shouldn't vote. My husband and I love each other and are faithful to
our marriage vows. If God spares us, I hope to grow old with him.
Very old indeed."

"What about sex?"

"What about it?"

"Will you have sex with the child in the house?"

"When she starts school, no. Until then, yes. Tell me, at age three,
were *you* aware of your parents' sexual activities?"

Sarah Nicholson grinned for the first time and shook her head. "How
will you explain your relationship to Katerina?"

"If she asks questions prior to puberty, we'll tell her that some
people fall in love and marry persons of the same gender. I don't
think sharing details regarding the physical aspects of our union
would be appropriate at any age. After puberty, and only if she asks,
we'll tell her that we 'sleep' together. However, knowing teenagers,
she'll probably know more about it than we do. I hope by then,
society's attitudes regarding same-gender relationships will have
changed for the better."

"So you *are* prepared for negative reactions."

"Of course. Any reservations you may have, John and I already
discussed at great length and set aside. Unfortunately, there will
always be well-meaning people who can find fault. If the prospective
parents were male and female, somebody would observe that the husband
or wife is too old or young, or speaks with an accent, or is Jewish,
or Prostestant, or whatever. The two of us are very confident that we
can help our daughter cope with the issue of our relationship
constructively."

"I understand you were investigated by the Justice Department."

"Yes. Due to mistaken identity, I was investigated as the alleged
perpetrator of war crimes. The matter was dealt with when it was
discovered I had proof I was not responsible. The accusing parties
accepted this proof and the my name was officially cleared. Apart
from assisting a co-worker who would have been mugged, I've had no
contact with any segment of the law except for giving evidence as an
attending physcian in rape or assault cases."

"I assume you were aware of your partner's drug addiction prior to
entering into a relationship with him?"

"Yes. He will be able to give you all of the details. Since we've
been together and before, he has not used any drugs stronger than
aspirin. He was being treated with an anti-depressant, but five years
ago his therapist determined he no longer needed it. Other than wine
at communion, John rarely drinks: a glass of champagne for Christmas,
our anniversary and birthdays is the extent of it."

"And yourself?"

"I usually have a glass of wine before going to bed and sometimes
with dinner. Getting up at all hours and having to be prepared and
alert for my patients compels me to monitor my alcohol intake.
Anything else would be irresponsible." Luka smiled.

"John is a smoker?"

"Not anymore. He quit the day we brought our daughter home."

"Well, that's it for now, Dr. Kovac."

"Actually, it's Carter-Kovac, but please, call me Luka."

"Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Luka. Oh, by the
way, when she asks, and she will, what will you tell her about her
adoption?"

"When she's young, we'll tell her that God and the angels brought her
to us. When she's older, she'll more than likely want to know about
her birth parents. As of now, neither John nor I have a clue to their
identity or whereabouts. Frankly, we'll need your agency's help on
this issue. Neither of us want her to think someone just threw her
away, but we don't want to lie to her either. I hope we'll have the
time to come up with an appropriate response."

"Thank you for your honesty. I've interviewed numerous prospective
parents and foster-care providers and I'll admit you never hesitated
to answer truthfully."

"Thank you Ms. Nicholson. Thank you for granting us temporary
custody. Say good-bye Katerina." Luka stood up as Kitten did her best
to follow orders. She had gurgled and made small happy sounds
throughout the interview.

"Call me Sarah. Good-bye Katerina." The two women left smiling as
Kitten crowed her farewells.

* * * * *

"Dr. Chen, how long have you known Dr.s Carter and Kovac?"

"I've known John for almost ten years; Luka for a little over five
years." Sarah Nicholson was on her third staff interview. So far, the
opinions of their collegues were universally positive. Dr. Malucci
and Nurse Lockhart had volunteered information regarding Carter's
former drug problem before being asked and spoke well of his efforts
to cope with it. Sarah Nicholson was beginning to think the
prospective parents would be a good match for the little girl. As
Jing-Mei expressed her gratitude for John's assistance to her when
she had her baby, Sarah wondered how her colleague was faring with
Carter's family.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Ross?", Roland was seated comfortably in
his office.

"You are aware that your son and his...", the middle aged man
hesitated.

"...husband." Roland smiled warmly.

"I take it you approve of their relationship."

"Yes. Unreservedly. Both of them are very fortunate in finding each
other." Roland nodded. "I'll be the first to admit, that the idea
took a little getting used to at first. But after observing them
together, I realized how right Luka was for my son, and vice versa."

"Do you assist your son financially?"

"Yes and no. John had a trust fund which he turned down. He felt it
wasn't fair that he should benefit from our family's wealth when he
was not working for our company. We've offered to restore it, but he
hasn't accepted. However, I did arrange for them to pay a somewhat
reduced rent on their apartment in exchange for their medical
services to their neighbors. Apart from birthday, anniversary, and
Christmas gifts I don't make any regular contributions to their
household."

"Will your son inherit any monies from you?"

"Again, yes and no. According to his will, John has established that
at his death, a sum equivalent to his annual salary from Cooke County
General will be paid to his surviving spouse, Luka, for the rest of
his life. The rest of his inheritance will be held in trust for their
heirs, if any."

"Do you have any idea how much this will amount to?"

"Somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty million dollars." Roland said
matter-of-factly.

"And if there are no heirs?"

"John has requested that the money be turned over to our family
philanthropic foundation to be dispensed to aid medical research and
provide care for indigent patients." Roland said proudly.

"For the son of a wealthy family, he doesn't seem to care too much
about being rich.", the social worker observed.

"Let me explain. For some time, John's choice of profession angered
my father. Prior to John making the decision to become a doctor, my
father continually criticized him and made his life very miserable.
Unfortunately, my wife and I were not there to help John. It's no
wonder he soon developed the belief that money isn't all it's cracked
up to be. He's often said our approval and love are worth far more
than cash and that he values these 'gifts' over and above material
comforts." Roland said quietly.

"I see. Your son was the victim of child abuse?"

"Yes." Roland didn't hesitate in his reply. "My father's idea
of 'discipline' included yelling cruel, hurtful things and
occasionally striking my son. My wife and I were unaware of what was
going on at the time. We thought ourselves fortunate that John was so
quiet and well-behaved. We didn't know he was terrified." Roland's
voice was tight.

"When did you find out about the abuse?"

Not until John was an adult; two years ago. He wrote my father a
letter, forgiving the old man which was returned to us unopened. I
share power of attorney for my father, so I read the letter. John's a
better man than I am in many ways. I find it very difficult to accept
my father's abuse of John or my own neglect." Roland admitted. "It is
characteristic of my son that he did not tell me. He said he wanted
me to be able to maintain the relationship I had with my father."
Roland shook his head remembering John's matter-of-fact explanation
of why he'd kept this secret.

"And your father is...?"

"In a rest-home in Arizona. The public version of the story is that
he'd suffered a massive stroke shortly after John was returned to us
after being kidnapped. Actually, Father violently opposed my son's
relationship with Luka and had John committed to a rest-home without
telling us. When we discovered what he'd done, I wanted to prosecute
him for kidnapping and reckless endangerment. John refused to have
anything to do with it. My mother came up with the idea of committing
Father instead. As far as I know, he's perfectly healthy physically.
I would not like to go bail on his mental health, however." Roland
explained.

"Listen, John will tell you anything you want to know about what
happened to him in my house and the steps he's taken to make sure any
children he might have will not suffer as a result of what he
endured. I know he was seeing a therapist off and on since prep
school. The details of those sessions you'll have to get from John
and the doctors he worked with. Is there anything else I can do for
you?"

"Not at the moment, Mr. Carter. If I have any follow-up questions,
I'll make an appointment with your secretary."

"That won't be necessary. Here's the number for my private cell
phone. I'm never without it. Call me at any time. Whatever I can do
to assist Luka and John in this process I will do." Roland stood and
shook the social worker's hand. "*I* may not have been the best
father to my children, but they learned from my mistakes. I fully
believe John and Luka will make excellent parents."

"Thank you for taking the time to see me, Mr. Carter. And thank you
for your honesty. Good day."

Author's Notes:
* Believe it or not, this is actually based on my own experience.
When I came home from hospital as an infant, I slept through the
night about a week afterwards, sparing my luck folks from the 2 am
feeding. KPP
Chapter Six - Deep Background by Kathryn Prozac Parsons
Sarah Nicholson did not interview John because of a death in her
family. Evan Ross filled in for her. Unfortunately, the interview was
scheduled before John discovered he had to work that day. Rather than
put it off again, he invited the social worker to talk with him
anyway but explained they might be interrupted.

"Dr. Carter..."

"Actually, it's Kovac-Carter, but you can call me 'John'."

"I'll get right to the point, what can you tell me about your drug
use?"

"Everything.", John proceeded to relate how he'd become addicted to
prescription pain medication resulting from back problems. He did not
volunteer the cause of his injuries; feeling the social worker would
think he was trying to excuse or ameliorate the seriousness of what
he allowed to happen. He described his weeks of denying the problem
until his behavior brought about an intervention from his
colleagues. "They saved my life, Mr. Ross. I've done everything in my
power to thank them for their kindness and understanding by trying to
be the best doctor, the best man I can be. It was very hard at first.
I'm not happy to say that I relapsed, but since then I've been drug-
free for eight years." John coughed harshly and grinned
apologetically.

"What caused the relapse?"

"My own stupidity. I returned to work too soon after detoxification
and three months of treatment. I did not seek help after my back
surgery. Stubborn pride and no small amount of vanity made me push
myself. I tried to function as though I hadn't been injured; as if I
wasn't an addict. This is a very physical and demanding job and I was
not able to cope. I had taken the drugs to manage my pain and before
I knew it, I was hooked. After the relapse, I began seeing a
therapist frequently. She helped me to see that there is
nothing 'weak' about asking for help, or admitting that you are
hurting, emotionally or physically." John smiled.

"What about stress? Did it play any part in your addiction and
relapse?"

"Some, but most of the stress was self-induced. By asking for help,
by admitting I was in pain, I could have removed ninety percent of
it. If you think the stress of being a parent *and* working as a
trauma doc would endanger my sobriety, I can't blame you. I can only
point out that I survived med school which places even *more* stress
on students without even thinking about using drugs or alcohol to
cope. Although I'm not down-playing the seriousness of becoming
addicted, I truly believe that if I hadn't had the surgery, I would
not have turned to drugs."

"And if you are injured again?"

It's in my medical files: a standing order, no prescription pain-
killers unless my life is threatened. Quite frankly, I'm not worried
by this. But I *do* understand you have to take everything into
consideration when a child's welfare is at stake. Can I promise you I
won't use again? No. No recovering addict can do that. But the
chances of it are very very small. I love our daughter and I'd never
do anything to harm her emotional or physical well-being. I'm
fortunate in being the adult survivor of child abuse. Yeah, that
sounds odd, but I know first-hand how painful having a dysfunctional
care-giver can be."

"Tell me about the abuse."

"Of course...", Carter began, then his beeper went off. "Excuse me,
there's an incoming trauma case and I've got to go. If you would like
to observe us in action, follow me.

Curious, Evan Ross accompanied Carter. He watched through the window
while Katerina's foster-father supervised the team as they worked on
the victim of a drive-by shooting. Twenty minutes after they began,
the patient was handed off to the surgical team. John thanked the
others, singling out Chuny for her assistance in translating their
questions and the patient's fevered Spanish responses. He disposed of
his gown, mask, and gloves and washed his hands.

Covering his mouth to cough again, he gestured for the social worker
to sit. "Now where were we? Oh yeah, the abuse. Well, considering
what I've seen here, I was extremely lucky. My grandfather may have
screamed at me and said unkind things, but it could have been a whole
lot worse." John sighed. "At the time it was happening, however, I
had nothing to compare it to, so I was pretty miserable. I wanted
very much to make my family proud of me and for them to love me, but
it didn't happen until much later. My grandfather continually made it
clear that I was a failure and a liability to the family. It hurt me
very much."

"How long did it go on?"

"From the time I was six until I left for college." John replied then
excused himself as a coughing spasm started up.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. It sounds worse than it is. I had a pretty bad cold last week.
In fact, that's why I had to re-schedule our appointment. Since I
quit smoking, my body has been adjusting to the absence of tar and
nicotine killing off lung tissue and the occasional cold germ." John
grinned. I'm very careful around the baby, though. Actually, I wear a
face mask at home and gloves."

"You began seeing a therapist in high school?"

"Yes. Dr. Clarisse Stern. I worked with her once a week until I left
to attend college. She was a tremendous help to me. She specializes
in treating abused kids."

"How did you manage to begin seeing her? I understand from your
father that you told no one about the abuse."

"I did talk to my school counselor. He wanted me to tell my folks but
I was too afraid they wouldn't believe me. Honestly? I lied to the
poor man and told him I would tell them. He suggested Dr. Stern and I
began seeing her on my own. Gampa managed to convince me that my
family was so disappointed in me, I didn't want to say anything for
fear they would think I was weak and 'couldn't take it'. These
feelings probably contributed to my addiction later on. I was a real
people-pleaser... even to the point of lying to gain their approval.
I'm very glad to say I grew out of that. Luka has been a tremendous
help in this. If I unconciously revert to my old ways, he calls me on
it everytime, gently." Carter smiled.

"Tell me about your relationship with Dr. Kovac."

"He's one of those who saved my life. I discovered I was bi-sexual in
prep school. I was too scared of my family's reaction to 'come out'
then. I went through a series of relationships with women that
failed, some of them spectacularly. And before you ask, most of these
failures were my fault. I was too immature and too emotionally
screwed up to hold up my half of a committed relationship. I've known
Luka for almost eight years. We've been married for six. He was
understanding enough to wait until I was better prepared to enter
into a relationship." John smiled remembering that long ago afternoon
when Luka surprised him by speaking of his love for John. The social
worker was very fortunate to see this smile which belonged to John's
husband. Carter positively glowed.

"We've had arguments over the years and occasionally one or the other
of us has a fit of the sulks, but we manage it like adults. We
discuss our feelings and are totally honest with each other. Both of
us were seeing therapists regularly for the first five years we were
together and that was an enormous help. I love him now, just as much
as I did the first time I met him. The only thing that's changed is
the quality of that feeling. I love him better, more maturely.
Although, I'll be the first to admit we can get awfully silly from
time to time. To sum up, he's the other half of my soul. I honestly
don't know what I'd do without him." John's explanation was delivered
calmly and evenly. Yet, the strength of his love was clearly
manifested.

Although Evan Ross had not talked yet with Luka, he'd been treated to
a twenty minute encomium from Sarah Nicholson on the subject of
Luka's regard for his husband. Despite her initial, admittedly
subjective pronoucement that everyone should be as fortunate as those
two, Evan Ross secretly harbored the belief that same-gender
relationships were fundamentally unstable. This starry-eyed doctor
may believe theirs was the love of the century but they'd only been
married for six years. Someone had to keep an objective view of this
matter and he would do his best not to be charmed by the personable
Dr. Carter or his partner.

Bringing the interview to a close, Evan Ross immediately went to
Kerry Weaver and requested copies of both men's medical files. During
the time he spent with Dr. Carter, the coughing spells had been a
constant interuption. The young doc was also very thin. It wouldn't
hurt to see if the man was as healthy as he claimed to be. After all,
he admitted to injecting his pain-killers. It would not benefit the
child to be placed in a home where one or both parents was terminally
ill.

* * * * *

Sarah Nicholson reviewed her colleague's notes when she returned to
work. She observed his reservations but did not do anything to offset
them. Their job was a difficult one. The placement of children in
foster care or adoptive homes was fraught with potential risks. Every
social worker had his or her share of nightmare stories where they'd
overlooked something and children suffered. The job was even more
frustrating when they remembered that no such process was applied
when babies were born to parents naturally. Indeed, many of the kids
they sought to place had been abused by parents who shouldn't have
been entrusted with the care of goldfish, let alone a human being.

In meetings with their supervisors, both social workers were
cautioned to pay even more attention to detail. Although John and
Luka were not the first same-gender couple to try and adopt, the
instances of approval were very few. Traditional views of
the "proper" constitution of a family biased most people in their
profession. Again, many of them overlooked the loving care provided
by single parents and guardians; not to mention the benign neglect
that often occured in more traditional households resulting from work
and numerous children vying for limited parental resources.

So it was that Evan Ross returned to County to interview John and
Luka's immediate supervisor: Kerry Weaver. She'd come in early for
the interview and was off-duty, she explained. Unless there was a
multiple trauma, they wouldn't be disturbed.

"You used to live with Dr. Carter?"

"Yes. He rented a room in my house when he was forced to give up his
apartment."

"Why was that?"

"Dr. Carter originally was studying to be a surgeon. He discovered he
preferred working with trauma patients. I arranged for him to switch
residencies but our budget didn't allow us to pay him for his first
year. He worked with no salary but when he gave up his trust fund, he
couldn't afford the rent on his apartment. I made him a deal; reduced
rent in exchange for his help with household chores my handicap made
difficult for me to cope with on my own." Kerry grinned, recalling
the time John offered to clean out her gutters and almost fell on top
of her. "He was an excellent tenant."

"So you were able to observe his social life."

"Occasionally. He rarely had overnight guests out of respect for me
and a desire for privacy, I daresay. I never observed any behavior in
him that gave me cause for concern. In many ways he's very old-
fashioned. Despite his looks and wealth, he was diffident, almost
shy."

"Did you know about his bisexuality?"

"Yes, and no. I suspected he was bi-sexual but he did not confide in
me at that time."

"He says you were responsible for bringing the two of them together;
he and Dr. Kovac."

"Not in the way you think. Dr. Kovac *did* confide in me regarding
how he felt about John. When he asked if I thought his telling John
would harm or upset Dr. Carter, I told him he'd never know unless he
tried. I did not feel comfortable disclosing what were after all
suspicions, although there was pretty good reason to believe them to
be well-founded. Besides, I knew Luka would not be offensive or
coercive. If John didn't wish to enter into a relationship of that
kind, all he had to say was 'no'." Kerry smiled.

"What about Dr. Carter's drug addiction?"

"What would you like to know?"

"How did you find out about it?"

"Nurse Lockhart observed John using and told us. Frankly, we didn't
believe her at first. John Carter was something of a mascot around
here. His youthful enthusiasm and above-average skills as a doctor
made him a great favorite with the staff and patients. I've already
mentioned his decency and somewhat out-moded moral code. It was very
difficult to grasp the idea of someone like him using drugs. When we
confronted him, he denied it and threatened to quit. That's when we
were forced to admit to ourselves that he did have a problem. One of
my colleagues managed to get John to seek help, thank God. I can't
imagine this place without him."

"Dr. Carter only said he had back surgery. I had to read his medical
file to find out he was stabbed by a patient."

"Yes. Post-traumatic stress probably played a factor in what, for
him, was very unusual behavior. John doesn't like to tell people
about the stabbing because he feels they may think he's seeking
sympathy or trying to excuse his drug use. He fully accepts that his
addiction resulted from his own mistakes. Lots of people endure
serious injury under traumatic circumstances and never resort to drug
use. I should know." Kerry said softly.

"Did he tell you about his relapse?"

"Not at first. At the time, he admitted he was still trying to live
up to our expectations of him and was afraid to disclose something
that would make us disappointed in him. Nevertheless, he *did*
volunteer the information. I think the relapse scared him worse than
the initial drug use. Since then he has been a model of diligence in
following the 12-step program. He's worked intensively with
therapists here at County and a private counselor. During the eight
years he's been clean he's faced some pretty harrowing events and
remained strong."

"You're confident in his abilities here at work."

"If I were brought to this hospital as a trauma patient, I can think
of no other physician I'd want to care for me. I'd trust John Carter
with my life, Mr. Ross."

"And his abilities to care for and raise a child?"

"That's right, you haven't had a chance to see them together." Kerry
said thoughtfully. "Well I have, even before he and Luka thought of
adopting the little girl. They would make a very good family, Mr.
Ross... From both sides of the equation. Katerina responds to them in
a way that you'll have to see to believe. Don't you guys observe
potential parents secretly? Set up one of those sessions and see for
yourself. Anything *I* tell you will be so positive, your staff would
be sure Luka and John paid me to say it."

"Thank you, Dr. Weaver for coming in early to speak with me."

"Believe me, Mr. Ross. It's the least I could do for two very dear
friends." Kerry stood and held out her hand. Evan Ross nodded and
left. Kerry frowned. Something about the man's demeanor gave the
impression he was not as understanding as his colleague. Realizing
there was nothing she could do about it, Kerry headed to Magoos. She
still had forty or so minutes before she was due to start work.

* * * * *

Sarah Nicholson spent a delightful hour with Millicent Carter at the
office used by the latter as Chairwoman of the Board of the Carter
conglomerate. The two women had tea and as Millicent frankly
discussed her husband's mistreatment of her grandson and other
things, Sarah was more than ever convinced that John and Luka's
petition be granted. She kept this opinon to herself, knowing her
colleagues would use it to dig even deeper, or take her off the case.
Two days after this interview she found herself knocking on Dr.
Romano's door. He'd agreed to see her at his home, citing a desire
for their talk to be uninterrupted.

"Dr. Romano, I must confess I was looking forward to speaking with
you..." Sarah began.

"You must be a very sick woman. Most people try to avoid me."

"I know. I was warned about your 'abrupt, no-nonsense' style."

"They were being kind. So what do you want to know?"

"First off, your evaluation of Dr.s Carter and Kovac as physicians."

"Excellent."

"Really?" Sarah Nicholson was surprised.

"Yes. I deliberately use my 'abrupt' style to try and rattle my
staff. Perhaps the most valuable skill a physician can possess is the
ability to keep his or her head under distracting circumstances.
Doctors who only want approval from others or who need constant
stroking are useless and a menace to patients. I have been very
severe with both men on more than one occasion. They may have called
me a sack of nasty names, but neither of them lost their focus nor,
backed down in their medical opinions." Romano grinned.

"For instance?"

"Here's an good example. Dr. Carter was sent into the field to treat
multiple victims of a commuter train wreck. While there, he was
forced to perform a double leg amputation. One of our surgeons talked
him through it over the phone. When he brought this patient in, I
said some very unkind things about the state of the patient and the
poor job Carter did. I wanted to see if I could rattle him."

"Did you?"

"Yep. But not in the way I expected. He yelled right back at me.
About two years later, he performed a similar procedure under worse
conditions. Not only had he worked on his skills, he didn't hesitate
to volunteer to treat this patient. A lesser man would have been
intimidated, to say the least. Carter didn't let my reactions deter
him from trying again. Indeed, he took my admittedly uncalled-for
remarks as an incentive to work harder."

"Were you aware that Dr. Carter was the frequent victim of abuse as a
child? Abuse quite similar to your 'abrupt' style?" Here, Sarah
Nicholson broke a rule by sharing confidential information. Her
motives however, were in the couple's interest. She wanted to see if
Romano backed down.

"No I didn't and I wouldn't have changed the nature of my dealings
with him if I *had* known. Patients yell at doctors. The families of
patients yell at doctors. Their colleagues yell at them. If my staff
can't handle this they're of no use to me."

"What about Dr. Kovac?"

"He's very strong in procedures. In many ways, he's way ahead of most
trauma docs. There's nothing like a war to force you to grow up. What
surprised me was his compassion. Doctors who've served in war zones
usually develop an extremely tough, cynical shell as a coping
mechanism. Luka Kovac is not a sentimental man, but I have watched
him take very good care of frightened patients. His gentleness is an
asset. When he first came here, it took him a little while to realize
he could not afford to be both a doctor *and* a social worker.
However, he learned to butt out of his patients' lives with no
interference from me. Remarkable man."

"Do you see them socially?"

"No. I don't socialize with any of my staff. I have to keep up
appearances as the Chief of Staff from Hell." I attended their
wedding and the baby's baptism though."

"They invited you?"

"Yeah. I assume it was good manners." Romano chuckled.

"Do you think they would make good parents?"

"I have no idea. That's a stupid question anyway. Mark Greene and
Lizzie Corday didn't ask me if they should conceive a child. And if
they had, I would have been dead set against it. Kids are a royal
pain. I'm always having to watch my language around them. Besides,
working with parents automatically dooms you to having to look at
pictures of their little monsters and listen to endless stories of
the sickeningly cute things they do." Romano said seriously but Sarah
noted the twinkle in his eyes. "I don't know of any reasons why they
should *not* be parents. But I must admit I thought they were smarter
than that."

"I take it you don't have any children."

"Not that I'm aware of." Romano smiled sweetly.

"Thank you Dr. Romano. You are a refreshing change from the usual
interviewee." Sarah stood and extended her hand.

"Something must be seriously wrong with you." Romano commented wryly.

The remaining staff were interviewed in turn. Most of these sessions
turned into testimonials despite John and Luka's insistence that
everyone tell the truth. Sarah Nicholson enjoyed transcribing their
observations. Apart from Romano, the biggest surprise came from Peter
Benton. She smiled as she typed...

"...I haven't worked that closely with Luka Kovac. Quite frankly, I
was somewhat jealous of him. Carter was my student and I treated him
like shit. He never stopped trying though. It's been a pleasure
watching him grow up. In many ways, he's like a younger brother. When
he and Dr. Kovac became a couple I found I missed having Carter
looking up to me. Now, I realize he never had. He looked right at me;
dead level, and still wanted me for a friend despite my shortcomings.
That little girl would be very fortunate indeed to be adopted by John
Carter."

Evan Ross completed the interviews one rainy February afternoon. He
was ushered into the Administrator's office and took a seat. Jonathan
Andrews was at a loss. He acknowledged the existence of gays, but
would have preferred they all remain in the closet. It was easier
that way. He didn't think of himself as a prejudiced man. He simply
believed that "alternative lifestyles" were wrong. A little self-
control and these people could manage to lead happier fulfilled lives.

"Mr. Andrews, you *have* been informed that two of your doctors wish
to adopt a baby girl found at this hospital?"

"Yes. Dr. Kovac notified me shortly after he and Dr. Carter talked
with your colleague."

"What can you tell me about them?" Evan Ross had noticed the lapel
pin bearing the numerical logo of a religious television program.

"They're good doctors. Good employees. Their colleagues speak
favorably of them. Neither man has thus far been involved in any of
the suits brought against this hospital." Jonathan Andrews was doing
his best.

"And do you see any reason why their petition should not be granted?"

"I'm not able to say one way or the other. Apart from brief meetings,
I really don't know either man very well." The Administrator's face
flushed. He was entirely uncomfortable with this issue. Now, more
than ever, he wished both men had gone to work for another hospital.
Why couldn't they have stayed in San Francisco?

"What about their health?"

"Neither man has a very good leave record. I guess you heard about
Dr. Carter's problem with drugs. And Dr. Kovac was on sick leave for
some time after he was shot."

"And more recently?"

"I haven't been aware of any absences recently, no. In fairness, I
should say, Dr. Carter's father arranged to have their shifts covered
after Dr. Kovac's heart surgery."

"I see. Does he contribute to the hospital regularly?"

"Not directly. The Carter Family Foundation endows an out-patient
clinic in the ER. One of our nurses applied to them and they granted
her request for funding."

"Oh. Which one?" Evan Ross definitely wanted to talk to her. He was
beginning to understand why their colleagues were so supportive.
Carter's family had bought these positive evaluations, maybe not
deliberately, but the end results were the same as if they had.

"She no longer works here. She left to get married and lives on the
West Coast. Why did you ask about their recent leave usage?"

"Well, Dr. Carter told me he'd had a lot of colds over the winter. I
wondered if he might not have used up all of his leave. I don't think
I'd want a doctor hacking his lungs out while I was being treated."
Evan Ross frowned. His examination of Luka and John's medical records
had not been productive. Nothing was there to indicate serious
illness in either man. Glancing into the folder once more, Evan Ross
noticed the quality of the photocopied HIV test results for Drs.
Carter and Kovac were much sharper than the other documents. Had they
been altered? And if so, did the Administrator of this hospital know
about it?

"That happens a lot around here. Surgeons are the only ones who take
leave for colds. Everyone else just grabs a face mask and keeps
working."

"Off the record, do you think these two men should be allowed to
raise that child?"

"I really don't think I should..."

"Come on Mr. Andrews. The baby's real mother would want to know we
did our best. If you've heard anything, anything at all about either
of these two men, our office needs to know. We'll investigate. If it
turns out to be untrue, it will be dismissed."

"Your office has granted gay couples children before?"

"Yes, but in those cases it was two women."

"Well that's a little more understandable. I thought there was a law
against same-sex couples adopting?"

"There used to be. It was removed from the books five years ago. Gays
have a pretty powerful lobby in this County."

"I suppose if I tell you my religious beliefs lead me to believe that
law should be reinstated, you'd count that against me?"

"No sir. Our country separates church and state. That law was there
to protect children from being placed in unstable environments. It
also precluded single persons from adopting. Actually, that clause
was the real reason the law was overturned. Widows and widowers felt
they were being discriminated against.", the social worker smiled.

"But that's completely different. A single man or woman offering a
home to a child is not perhaps the best solution, but it's better
than two homosexuals...", Jonathan Andrews broke off.

"So you do have reservations, privately."

"Yes I do. But while I do, I must in all fairness state I know
nothing of either man that would lead me to believe they would
deliberately harm a child in their custody."

"Of course. Well, I'll let you get back to work, sir. Our office will
proceed very carefully in this matter.

Evan Ross took the stairs down to the ground floor. He wanted to
examine the originals of the medical files again. If his suspicions
proved correct. This petition would not go through and the
petitioners might find themselves in court facing charges. As he
headed up the hall towards the ER's Admin office he shook his head.
Dr. Carter's coughing could be heard clearly coming from one of the
examination rooms. That poor patient, probably came in with an
ingrown toenail and would leave with a cold or the flu.

"Somebody get a gurney! Carter passed out!" Staff raced up the hall.
Looking through the doorway, the social worker saw John Carter's
bluish face being elevated into the lap of an Asian male nurse. His
view was cut off as the gurney arrived with Dr. Weaver and another
Asian doctor running behind it. Ross pulled out his cell phone. With
any luck, he wouldn't have to examine the records. He'd stick around
and watch the treatment given to Carter. That would be evidence
enough.
Chapter Seven - The sins of the fathers ... by Kathryn Prozac Parsons
"Come on, Carter." Kerry's voice was gentle. John opened his eyes,
wincing at the bright work light above the trauma table. Jing-Mei
tilted it away and smiled.

"What happened?", his throat felt like sandpaper. They must have
intubated him at some point.

"You passed out." Jing-Mei answered.

"Felt dizzy. Still do. What's wrong with me?"

"Would you believe double pneumonia?" Kerry grinned.

"Tell Luka."

"He's on his way, Carter. We're admitting you. Luka will bring your
things."

"Katerina..."

"Don't worry. She'll be checked out. It's not viral pneumonia; just
the plain old kind you get when you work too hard plus spend an
inordinate amount of time running around in the snow looking for
babies." Jing-Mei teased him.

"No, I meant it's my turn to put her to bed... tell her a story..."

"Well, first it's your turn. We administered a mild non-prescription
sedative. You're the one going off to dream land."

Carter was asleep. He didn't wake up until later that night. Luka was
seated by his bed and smiling. "I thought you'd never wake up. How do
you feel?"

"Woozy. My chest's a little sore. Must have been from them pounding
on it"

"Probably, Kerry's a lot stronger than she realizes."

"How's Kitten?"

"She's fine. I've been here most of the evening. I went home to put
her to bed though. Mrs. R's staying the night."

"Good. Did they say how long I'm in for?"

"At least a week. Janaskja, you're pretty sick. Have been for weeks."

"Shit, that means I'll miss her half-year birthday." John frowned.

"Don't worry, they'll be plenty more to celebrate. You scared me,
Janaskja. I get this call from Kerry... I'll admit it, I panicked."

"It scared me too. One minute, I'm examining this guy's hernia; the
next minute the room is going around like the tilt-a-whirl at
Lakeside Park. I knew you hadn't been kissing me... I didn't know
what the hell was going on."

"Well, let's try something." Luka leaned over and kissed John.

"Yep. It's precisely the same sensation; only the one you produce is
much much nicer."

"Thank you. I don't want to go through life thinking I make you sick."

"Far from it, husband of mine. Damn, I'm sleepy. And I've only slept
for ten hours."

"Well sleep some more. I'll be right here."

"Oh no you won't, Sascha. You're going home and checking our
daughter. God forbid if I gave her this."

"Already done, my love. Katerina's fine." Luka caressed John's
cheek. "Go to sleep."

"Only if you go home. We're parents now. I know you love me, but
Kitten will only know if one of us is there. Mrs. Riordan is
wonderful, but she isn't you."

"Alright, alright. As soon as you go back to sleep, I'll leave."

"Thanks. With those social services guys looking over our shoulders,
we don't want to give them any excuses." John closed his eyes then
opened one. "JA ljubav te."

* * * * *

Evan Ross hung around outside the trauma room long enough to hear one
of the staff say "pneumonia". He had no way of knowing this condition
can be caused by a number of factors, the rarest of which requires a
severely compromised immune system and the presence pneumocystic
Carinii microbes. John's bout with pneumonia in prep school, plus ten-
odd years as a smoker, left him vulnerable to the most common form of
pneumonia that merely requires the victim to be over-worked and
exposed to frequent rapid changes in temperature.

Jonathan Edwards heard about Carter's collapse as he was leaving for
the day. His talk with the social worker was still worrying him.
Veering off to the ER Admin, he pulled John Carter's master medical
file. He too, noticed the relatively new-looking HIV status reports
and jumped immediately to a totally erroneous and damaging
conclusion. He never bothered to check any of the other files and
thereby missed the fact that *all* of the HIV reports were newly
printed.

A sub-strain of the deadly virus which before had not been included
in the test protocol had finally been added. All staff blood samples
had been stored and dated. So in a three-week period, using temps the
Administrator had signed for; all of these samples were re-tested and
the more comprehensive results placed in the employee files. As front-
line troops, the ER staff were the only ones to benefit from in-house
testing. All other HIV tests were sent to a private lab for
processing.

Jonathan Edwards removed a sheet containing Carter's earliest test
results and slipped it into his briefcase. As soon as he reached his
car, he dialed Evan Ross' cell phone. Their conversation was brief.
The emotional pain resulting from it, would last a lifetime.

* * * * *

John shook his head. He had only himself to blame. Since being made
an attending, he'd been putting in extra hours, preparing course work
for his students and grading the same. Often, Luka would wake up in
the early morning, to find his husband fallen asleep at the dining
room table surrounded by books and papers. Between over-work and
frequent trips outside into sub-freezing temperatures then returning
indoors to work up a sweat treating trauma victims, it was no wonder
he'd gotten sick.

When Luka popped upstairs for his daily visit, he was shocked to see
John busily writing. "Janaskja, you're supposed to be resting. What
on earth are you doing?"

"Here." John blushed and handed over several sheets of paper filled
with his surprisingly, for a doctor anyway, neat handwriting.

"Once upon a time..." Luka read. "You're writing fairy tales?"

"Yeah, for Katerina. I figured while I'm in here, you can alternate:
singing to her one night, and reading one of these on the other
nights. Honest, I got Kerry's okay before I started. It keeps me from
being bored."

"Janaskja, they're lovely." Luka quickly scanned the stories. "All of
our friends are in here. I never knew you could write."

"Neither did I, Sascha. Actually, it was Connie's idea. She heard me
telling Katerina the first one and suggested I write them down. "So
how is she doing?"

"Just fine. She was missing her other Papa that first night, but Mrs.
R came up with a great idea. She put one of your undershirts from the
hamper under the sheet at the head of Kitten's bed. Now, when she
goes to sleep, it's as if you were there."

"I have a pretty clever godmother." John grinned. "The shirt wasn't
too whiffy?"

"Not at all. In fact, Kitten's not the only one who sleeps with her
nose buried in your scent. I put another shirt over my pillow. Our
bed is awfully lonesome without you, Janaskja."

"And I bet the bedroom, hell the apartment, is pretty quiet too."

"Now why didn't *I* think of that?" Luka grinned.

"What?"

"Taping your nocturnal symphonies..."

"You didn't want the police to arrest you for disturbing the peace?"
John sat up for a kiss. "Three more days, and I'll be back home and
you can do the laundry."

"I can't wait, beloved." Luka winked and went back to work as John
resumed writing.

Unfortunately, the intended recipient never got a chance to hear
these beautiful little stories. When Luka came home, he was surprised
to see Sarah and her colleague waiting in the living room. Katerina
was dressed to go out and Mrs. R was obviously trying to hold back
tears.

"What's wrong?" Luka was suddenly as scared as he'd ever been.

"I'm sorry, Luka..." Sarah began gently.

"Your petition has been denied and this child is being transferred to
another foster home."

"You're not serious?"

"I'm truly sorry, Dr. Kovac, but my superiors have ruled against you
and Dr. Carter." Sarah Nicholson frowned at the curt manners of Evan
Ross.

"But why?" Luka was stunned.

"You'll have to take that up with the directors of our office." Ross
replied. "We've got to leave now."

"Can I hold her one more time?" Luka's voice cracked.

"Yes." Sarah Nicholson said firmly, glaring at the other man.

Luka took the child into his arms and she smiled. At first, not
trusting his voice to speak, Luka held her against his cheek,
inhaling her clean scent. "Good-bye, little one. We will always love
you and we'll never forget the joy you brought into our lives.", his
voice broke and with tears standing in his eyes, he handed Katerina
over to Sarah. "Please, if she ever asks about the people who cared
for her first, tell her... tell her we loved her and would have loved
to keep her always. If she thinks that's a reference to her birth
parents, so be it. I understand you will not be able to tell her
anything about us...", Luka broke down and Mrs. Riordan hugged him.

"Well, you've broken *his* heart and that of another good man. I hope
you're satisfied."

"Shhhh, Mrs. R. They have to do what's best for the child." Luka
admonished gently. How could he tell John about this? The answer
came: immediately. Sighing and wiping his eyes, Luka once again left
the apartment.

When he got to John's room, the younger man was asleep. The stories'
pages scattered over the bed and floor. Luka picked them up and
stacked them neatly on the bedside table. Luka didn't want to put it
off any longer. His hand shaking, he gently rubbed John's face and
shoulder. A thunderous snore cut off abruptly, John's eyes opened. He
tried to focus in the dimly lit room. Sitting up, one look at Luka's
face told him something had happened. Against orders, he got out of
bed and took Luka into his arms.

"What's happened, Sascha?"

"They came, the social services people, and took her. I'm so sorry,
Janaskja."

"Temporarily?" John asked knowing the answer but refusing to face it.

"Our petition was denied and she's been placed in another home."

"Why? I thought things were going well?"

"I did too. Anyway, we're supposed to call the office if we want a
review of our case."

"That'll be a waste of time. We *know* why the petition was turned
down."

"We do?"

"Of course. I'm an addict." John said bitterly. "Dear God, I'm sorry
Luka. I should have prepared us both for this. Those people can't
know how hard I've worked at my sobriety. If only I hadn't been so
stupid!"

"Janaskja, you're doing it again. This is not your fault. I think the
fact that we are two males has a lot more to do with it. They
probably cited your addiction as an excuse, to avoid discrimination
charges. Nevertheless, we won't know for certain unless we ask."

"What on earth would be the point? She's gone.", John's voice caught.

"If it's something we can, or would be willing to fix or change,
we'll do it and try again." Luka said softly.

"Could you face this again?" John was incredulous. "I'm not so sure
I'd want to."

"Yes, I could and so could you. I liked being a father again. I love
her dearly and I know no child will be able to replace her; just as
*she* was not a replacement for..." Luka paused trying to get his
voice under control. "...for my little jewels."

"But Sascha, you and I both know the *real* reason for the denial of
our petition."

"And if that's the case, the next time, we won't involve the welfare
agencies. There are private agencies too." John coughed
harshly. "Janaskja, get back into bed. You're shivering." John mutely
complied. Luka pulled up the covers.

"Did she cry?" John's voice was tight.

"No, thank God. If she had, I probably would have snatched her from
them and run away. Felony kidnapping would look even worse on our
record. I, we, can only pray her new parents will love her as much as
we did." Luka's voice broke again.

Mindful of his promise to be Luka's anchor, John pulled his husband
into his arms and held him as he cried. His own tears refused to
fall. Rocking back and forth, he rubbed Luka's back as his sobs shook
them both. When Luka's grief subsided, he sat up and gasped. The look
on John's face was something he would never forget. The expressive
brown eyes were dead, lifeless, his mobile features frozen. Luka
gently touched his cheek. "Janaskja? Are you alright?"

"I didn't get to say good-bye. She'll think I didn't love her." John
whispered.

"She knows, Janaskja. Mrs. R gave them your T-shirt and one of mine.
She'll think we're with her still." Luka offered.

"No she won't. She's an infant, not a fool. The scent will fade
eventually and she'll cry for us and we won't come." John lost his
struggle and wept as unselfconciously as the child they'd both lost.

Luka spent the night after calling Mrs. Riordan. There was no way he
was leaving John alone. When Kerry came in with John's morning cup of
decaffeinated coffee, she was surprised to see Luka, his feet on the
bed, asleep in a chair. John was awake, staring vacantly at the
ceiling.

"John, what happened? Are you alright?" From the look on his face,
and Luka's presence, Kerry knew something serious had occurred.

"They took her, she's gone." John said quietly in a dead tone of
voice.

"Who's been taken?"

"Kitten."

"She's been kidnapped?" Afterall, the child stood to inherit a
significant amount of money.

"I almost wish she had been. At least that way, we stand a chance of
getting her back. No, the social workers denied our petition." Still
in that dead tone of voice.

"Why?"

"Isn't it obvious?"

"John, I'm so sorry. Under the circumstances, I'll put Luka on leave.
He probably doesn't want to be alone." Kerry was not worried about
Luka. John hadn't looked this depressed even when told of Lucy's
death. She was worried. She had good reason.

Luka overheard their conversation and shivered at the sound of John's
voice. After Kerry left, he pretended to wake up and stretched. "How
are you?"

"Better." John's voice sounded almost normal. Luka swore inwardly,
John was covering up again. Let me have some of that, I'll need it if
I'm going to function at work today."

"It's decaf."

"Oh. Well I'll get a real cup from Magoos. Do you want anything?"

"No, I'm okay, I guess."

"Really?" Luka asked gently. "Come on, Iron Man. It's me, remember?"

"No. I'm not fine." John said slowly. We're never going to see her
again. I'm miserable."

"So am I. You know, I don't really want to go to work today.
Actually, all I want to do is crawl into a hole and cry. Care to join
me?"

"Crying won't bring her back." John said bitterly.

"I know. But it will help us to face this once and for all. Do you
think you could put up with me for one more day?"

John heard the hesitation, the insecurity in Luka's voice and his
reply was almost normal.

"I need you, Luka. Please stay with me. Put up with you? Don't be
ridiculous. You're the only thing holding me together right now."

"The same goes for me, beloved. The same goes for me." Luka held John
as he started crying again. At least she's alive and hopefully with
people who love her. It's not like before, he told himself. Unbidden,
an image of Solje lying in her crib with her skull smashed came to
him, and he too wept, for all of his daughters.
Chapter Eight - Suffer the little children ... by Kathryn Prozac Parsons
John Carter was released from County and went home with Luka. By
unspoken agreement, neither man had returned to their apartment since
Katerina had been removed from their care. Luka admitted frankly he
would need John's help to cope with facing her empty room. John
assured him he felt the same. Mrs. Riordan and John's family had
visited them in the hospital and grieved with the couple.

Luka unlocked the apartment and they went in. Both of them headed to
Katerina's room. Apart from her absent clothes and toys, it looked
the same. "Should we put these things away?" Luka asked. He had to
force himself to look at the empty crib.

"No!" John said vehemently. "Sorry, Sascha. No. When my brother died,
my mom removed every trace of him from our house. We weren't allowed
to mourn his loss. No, let's leave everything as it is for a while.
We'll know when it's time to put her things away.

"You're right. Having them here will get us through the worst of
this." Luka sighed looking around.

"Come on, Sascha. Let's go to bed. I'm tired."

Neither man slept well. In the morning, Luka left for work. John
stayed in bed. He knew he should get up. There were things to do.
Luka would worry if he didn't make an effort. After sleeping fitfully
for most of the morning, John forced himself to get going. He would
be okay. He put Luka's breakfast dishes in the machine and turned it
on. Heading for the bathroom, he got out the laundry bags and
proceeded to sort through their clothes.

He was doing fine until he reached a shirt of his with Kitten's
formula on it. Holding the garment to his chest, John wept again.
After a few minutes he pulled himself together. He was being silly.
Anyone would have thought from their reaction, the child had
died. "Pull yourself together, John." He told himself. He resolutely
put the shirt into the proper bag and finished his task. Opening the
door, he saw Mrs. Riordan there preparing to knock.

"Should you be up and around?"

"It's okay, Mrs. R. I've got another two weeks of the antibiotic and
a week at home. I've been cleared for light duties." His poor excuse
for a smile broke his godmother's heart. "Well then, let's get these
clothes washed. After that, I'll wrap you up warmly and you can
escort me to church." She said briskly.

"If it's alright with you, I'd rather stay here."

"Nonsense, Sean Truman." She used her nickname for him and got
another small smile. "I'm an elderly widow woman. The streets aren't
safe. You're coming with me, and that's that." Ninety minutes later,
John wrapped in enough clothing to outfit three men his size, found
himself helping her into a taxi. Mrs. R gave the address of their
destination and sat back. Neither of them said anything. John, bent
to pay the driver and was surprised when Luka walked up.

"Mrs. Riordan called me." He explained. "Let's go inside."

Mrs. Riordan had also called Father Thomas. He was waiting for them
at the rear of the Nave. "I'm extremely sorry to hear the welfare
agency changed their minds. All of you have been in my prayers."

"Thank you, Father."

"Come with me, your Mrs. Riordan suggested we might want to pray
together. Every now and then, I get what the un-churched would
call 'hunches'. I prefer to give credit to the Holy Spirit. Anyway,
the last time I got one of these was when Luka came to see me after
you'd disappeared. I felt you'd be returned to him and I was right.
As soon as Mrs. Riordan told me what happened to Katerina Alexandra,
I got the strongest feeling she'd be restored to you. Nevertheless,
prayers and a candle or two to remind us of God's ability to lighten
our burdens can't hurt." The young man led them into the Lady Chapel.
He noticed John's wince.

"You know, I've christened quite a few wee ones in my albeit short
career; but none of them was as beautiful, or well-behaved as your
daughter. I didn't think you two would remain members of this parish
after she grew up, but I confess I was looking forward to presiding
over her first communion, no matter where it was celebrated."

The four of them prayed a shortened Novena and each lit a candle.

"Heavenly Father," the young priest began the final prayer. "Through
your Child you have gathered the children of the world into your
arms. We know you will watch out for your daughter Katerina. Her
earthly fathers miss her deeply. Keep the comfort of your steadfast
love close around John and Luka. Provide solace when they grieve. And
help them to endure this time of waiting until their child is
restored to them even as we waited for your Son to be restored to us.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

"Amen."

Mrs. Riordan could have started a third career as a psychiatrist.
Although not as final as a funeral, this brief ceremony of
remembrance served the same purpose: a formal observance and
acknowledgement of a loss. When Luka and John looked up, Roland and
Millicent were standing at the rear of the beautiful little chapel.
Roland hugged his sons. "Just remember, if you want to talk about it,
I'm here. If you want to be left alone, I'm here. I know what you're
feeling. Given a choice between losing Bobby forever, or giving him
to another family, I wouldn't have hesitated... Katerina will come
back. She has to." Roland's voice was thick.

"Luka, do you have to go back to work?" Millicent asked as she gave
him a hug.

"No. After Mrs. R phoned me, I asked Mark for the rest of the
afternoon off."

"Good. Let's go home." Millicent led the way to the waiting
limousine. As they reached the vestibule, Sarah Nicholson stepped
forward.

"I know you must be very hurt and angry. I understand. I objected
strenuously to my colleagues and supervisors. I'm sorry I failed."
She looked at the floor.

"We don't blame you." Luka smiled at her surprised look. "You did
your best for us. At least Katerina has one friend in your office."

"I'm afraid not. I was taken off of her case. Her file is now closed
to me. I was looking forward to working with you and with her. The
three of you belonged together."

John had said nothing during this exchange and now, he enfolded the
startled woman in a hug. "Why don't you come with us? We could give
you one of her pictures to remember her by."

"I don't know. Technically, we should have taken them with us.
They're proof of a prior placement. I did manage to get them to back
down on that issue. It's not as if they're on public display." Sarah
sniffed unashamedly.

"Yours wouldn't be either. You can keep it at home." John smiled; a
real smile.

"What the hell... Oops." She remembered where she was. "Sorry,
Father."

"God doesn't mind once in a while and I know *I* sure as Hell don't.
Just don't make a habit of it.", he grinned at the blushing woman.

* * * * *

After a thorough examination by Kerry, John was cleared to return to
work for half-shifts. He welcomed being able to lose himself in his
work again. Luka, Mark, and Kerry kept an eye on him. They needn't
have bothered. The John who nearly killed himself by returning to
work too soon after being attacked was gone. John had no wish to be
sick again and face hours on his own in their apartment. He did ask
for a compromise. He'd work with his students and patients for the
half shift, get a nap in the lounge and then help with charts and
reports until Luka was able to go home.

Kerry agreed, delighted she didn't have to pull rank to get him to
accept truncated duties. John put his time off to good use. After
talking with Luka, he started seeing his therapist again. It couldn't
hurt, he observed. "I don't want to fall apart on you, Sascha. I
promised to be your anchor and this time, I'm going to keep that
promise."

Their co-workers grieved with them. Even the irrepressible Dave
Malucci found himself offering support. John had put a small picture
of Katerina, taken before they brought her home, in his locker. It
was a matter of public record that she had been treated at County.
One morning, Dave came in and found Carter crying. Luka had the day
off, so he ended up embracing his colleague and doing his best to
comfort him. Malucci's humor won the day.

"Why Dave, I didn't know you cared." John grinned as he wiped his
face.

"I thought you knew. *Everyone* at County secretly has the hots for
you." Malucci laughed.

"Speak for yourself, Dr. Malucci. *I* have never succumbed to
Carter's charms." Romano had walked in on them.

"Well we all know you aren't human, sir." Malucci said then clapped
his hand over his mouth. His face was the color of bricks.

"You might be surprised to find out differently one day." Romano
observed enjoying Dave's discomfiture. "How are you holding up,
Carter?"

"I'm hanging in there. I promise I won't get the patients all soggy."

"See that you don't. We don't want to get a reputation for actually
caring about the poor suckers. Which will definitely happen if you
keep weeping at their bedsides."

* * * * *

If you were a patient coming to the Cooke County ER for the first
time, there was no way you could know that the smiling Dr. Carter was
faking a cheerful attitude. Without fully being aware of it, John had
slipped back into the charming mask he used in the past to deflect
the probing of friends and family. To his credit, he did not try to
fool Luka into believing all was well. Visits to his therapist only
seemed to deepen his depression. Fearing serious consequences, he
asked to be placed on anti-depressants once again.

Dutifully, Carter shared with his husband, even confessing that he
felt especially helpless over being able to help the man he loved
cope with the loss of a third child.

"Sascha, I'm really trying. I pray, I talk to you and my therapist,
but nothing seems to be of any use. It's as if I'm walking around in
cotton-wool." They were in bed, it was almost three in the morning,
and neither of them could sleep. "My father and mother had to attend
the funeral of their oldest child; you buried *both* of your little
ones. I feel ashamed that just because I can't be with a child who is
healthy and alive, I'm falling apart."

"Janaskja, you're not alone in this." Luka sighed. His therapist had
told him years before, that one day, John would truly need his
help. "I feel as if part of me died. I hurt too. We just have to wait
it out. Pretending we don't miss her... pretending everything is
fine... you found out the hard way that trying to deceive yourself
leads to disaster. You don't have to apologize for your feelings. You
saw your brother buried and were close by when two good friends died.
You loved them and they were an important part of your life. Losing
them wounded you deeply. It's the same thing." Luka said in a soft
voice.

"I understand that here." John touched his temple. "It's my heart I
can't seem to convince." John hugged Luka more tightly. I can't help
feeling that I failed both of you." John put his fingers over Luka's
lips. "No I don't truly *believe* that, but I do *feel* it. It's like
it was with Lucy. If only I hadn't used drugs, if only I'd asked for
help, if only we'd just kept her and fucked the rules."

"I know beloved, I'm going through the same thing. If only I'd taken
her and run to you. At least you would have been able to say good-
bye." Luka rubbed his chin on the top of John's head.

"What bothers me the most is I *know* she's going to cry for us and
we won't be there."

"Don't torture yourself. She's a very happy child and was almost from
the moment you found her. God wouldn't let her suffer."

"No he wouldn't 'let' her, but she will." John sniffed. "Bad things
happen to people. Katerina won't be immune from this. Eventually, any
conciousness of our presence in her life, will fade. You're right,
she'll be happy in her new home. I suppose I'm only feeling sorry for
myself because we won't be there to see her happiness." John sniffed
again.

"Are you feeling okay?" Luka was concerned.

"I'm doing my best, husband, not to cry again."

"Don't hold back on my account. Wash your soul, Janaskja." Luka
quoted his grandmother, Katerina's namesake.

"No. It won't serve any constructive purpose. I told you, I was
simply feeling sorry for us."

"And there's nothing wrong with that. We were dealt a pretty
devastating blow. "

"Yeah, and we'll survive it just as we did all the others."

"John, you're not being honest with me. Something about this really
bothers you."

"Sascha, I'm doing the best I can. I'm taking my meds. Shit, I even
went to a meeting after my therapy session."

"Did it help?"

"Yes, and no. I don't want to anaesthetize myself. Drugging to make
the pain go away doesn't work; it only postpones the inevitable. And
when it does hit you, it's ten times worse that it would have been if
you'd just gone ahead and dealt with it. I'll be okay, beloved. I
just need a little time." John closed his eyes. Luka shifted his
weight so John's head was resting in the hollow of his shoulder.
Before long, both of them were asleep.

Shortly after five in the morning, something made Luka wake up. It
was the silence. John wasn't snoring. "Janaskja, what's wrong?", he
asked softly.

"Nightmare. What else?", John's tone was bitter.

Luka touched his husband's cheek. It was damp. "Talk to me, Janaskja."

"I thought I heard her crying, so I got up and went to check... I
forgot she wasn't there." John buried his face against Luka's chest
as he wept. Luka rubbed his back and waited for the sobs to
abate. "Thank you.", a small voice. "I'm so glad you're here. You
have no idea. I love you."

"Come on John, you're holding something to yourself. Tell me, and
we'll both feel better."

"I lied. I said she won't remember... that she couldn't. She will."

"Janaskja, we can't know that."

"What's your earliest memory?", John's question surprised Luka.

"My mother, singing in the kitchen as she fixed dinner. I must have
been two or three."

"See?"

"Janaskja, Kitten was barely six months old. Trust me, beloved. At
that age, she won't remember."

"My crib had pale blue sheets.", John's voice was barely
audible. "The walls were white. There was a mobile hanging over the
crib with Mother Goose characters on it. I woke up one night because
a dream scared me. I began to cry, I wanted my parents, the nanny,
*somebody* to come and turn on the light. No one came to see what was
wrong. I finally cried myself back to sleep."

"What was your dream about?" Luka asked in a whisper.

"The clown they'd hired for my birthday that afternoon. I know he was
supposed to be happy, but his make-up looked more like a mask of
rage."

"How old were you?"

"It was my first birthday.", John inhaled brokenly. "To this day, I
don't know why they didn't come. I was screaming with terror. I've
never forgotten it. No, Sascha, there's a chance she'll remember...
that she'll wonder all her life why we didn't come to get her."

"My God. Why didn't you tell me before?"

"There was no point in both of us worrying about it. I told my
therapist. It's been bothering me ever since you told me they'd taken
her away."

"Janaskja, that was almost two months ago!"

"I know. I'm sorry."

"Those stories you were writing for her, what did you do with them?"

"I threw them away." Bluntly.

"Tomorrow, I'm going to call the social workers. Maybe they'd let us
write to her."

"Luka, they didn't even want us to keep her pictures."

"I know. But sooner or later she's going to want to find out about
her birth parents and the events leading up to her adoption. If they
keep our letters until she's ready... she'll finally know that she
was loved and wanted almost from the beginning."

"Do you think so?"

"I'm sure of it." Luka was certain. If the letters were written it
would help. Whether or not Kitten was allowed to read them, really
didn't matter. He had to find someway for John to say "good-bye".
Chapter Nine - Kitten's Tale by Kathryn Prozac Parsons
Luka obtained permission from Child Welfare Services for John and
himself to write letters that would be kept in Katerina's file. These
letters would remain unopened until Katerina was of age and only if
she began asking questions regarding her origins. There were other
conditions. John and Luka could only identify themselves as two
physicians who had cared for her when she was brought to their
hospital for emergency treatment. Also, they would have to use false
names with the understanding that the child they loved would be told
they'd left the city with no forwarding addresses. In addition,
County's HR staff would have to provide "dummy" records for these
aliases which would also be entered into Katerina's earliest medical
records.

Luka accepted these provisos and gave the news to John who at first
seemed reluctant to take advantage of this generous gesture on the
part of an extremely paranoid county government agency. "Luka, your
letters to me were beautiful. Why don't you write and sign both
names?" Not wanting to press his husband, Luka agreed. His letter was
completed during an afternoon at work. He gave it to his husband to
look over. Late one night, unable to sleep, John took the letter into
Katerina's room.

It had been almost three months since their child was taken from
them. Her things were still in place. Neither John nor Luka could
bear the idea of putting them away. Sitting in one of the chairs,
John opened the paper.

"Dear Little One,

You won't remember me, but I was one of the doctors who treated you
for awhile when you were brought to our hospital. You were a
beautiful baby girl and for a short period of time, I was glad to be
able to care for you as if you were my own daughter. If circumstances
had permitted, I would have been very glad to be given permission to
raise you as my own child. However, it was decided that you really
needed the love of a mamma and papa. Since you left my care, not a
day has gone by that I haven't thought of you and wished you all the
blessings this life has to give. I pray that you will always know
even from the very beginning, you were deeply loved.

I shall never stop missing the happy little baby who always smiled at
me, and I hope one day, you will be able to know the joy of loving
smiles from your own children. Your parents were exceptionally lucky
to be given the opportunity to watch you grow up and I must confess
that I will always be more than a little jealous of their good
fortune. I thank God for the brief and wonderful time we shared and
my prayers for your continued happiness and safety will be with you,
as will always be my ...

Love,

Dr. Alan Richards."

Two weeks later, John gave Luka several type-written pages and a
short hand-written note. "I couldn't compose a letter as beautiful as
yours, so I decided to write her a story instead. If they leave my
name off, maybe she'll get to hear it before she grows up." John said
simply. They'd finished dinner and while John cleared the table, Luka
put on his glasses and began to read.

"Dear Princess,

I was another of the doctors who examined and treated you when you
were brought to our hospital. During your brief stay with us, I used
to make up bed-time stories so you could fall asleep to the sound of
a loving voice. I hope you always remember that your sweet smile made
it impossible for people not to love you. I love you very much, will
miss you always, and I hope you are are well. Perhaps you can read
the enclosed story to your own children someday. I wrote it just for
you.

Love,

Dr. Benjamin Cross"

Luka looked up and smiled at John who shrugged. "I had to write
something to explain the story."

Nodding, Luka started reading again.

Kitten's
Tale

"Once upon a time, a baby princess was born in a kingdom far away.
Her parents loved their infant daughter very much but when she was
still a baby, they both died. A wicked grandfather wanted no
reminders of his dead son and daughter-in-law so he left the little
baby deep in the woods; hoping that wild animals would come and eat
her up.

The little baby's guardian angel was watching so, less than one hour
after the castle guards had left her wrapped in rags, the little
princess was found by two knights riding through the forest. They
marvelled at the beautiful child and wondered who could have been so
cruel as to abandon her to the cold night air and freezing snow. Sir
Luke took the little girl and covered her with his cloak and rode
with his friend to their small home on the edge of the forest.

The other knight, Sir John, went in search of milk for the little
girl and was given the loan of a cow by some farmers. It was still
snowing very hard and he almost didn't find his way to the house he
shared with his friend. When he reached home, the little girl was
crying. She was very hungry. Carefully, Sir Luke spooned warm milk
into her mouth and instead of loud crying, the baby princess began to
make soft noises that sounded almost like a cat purring.

"What shall we call her?" Sir Luke asked his friend.

"Well, she's beautiful enough to be a princess and those sounds she's
making remind me of a pet kitten my little sister once had. We can
call her Princess Kitten."

Sir Luke agreed at once and the two men had a very interesting time
learning to take care of a little baby. They didn't have a lot of
money so they ended up sewing diapers out of old cloaks and making
clothes for their small guest out of soft cloth woven by an old lady
who lived not too far away. Her own children had grown up and left
her so she was able to teach the two young knights about caring for
babies. Sometimes she would stay with Princess Kitten when the two
men had duties to perform.

As winter turned to spring, the little princess grew. Her two fathers
loved her very much and spent all of their free time with her. They
went on picnics in the woods and the animals that lived there also
fell in love with Princess Kitten. A wise fox, named Kerry, with
lovely red hair and a soft voice would sit beside the baby on the
blanket fanning her with her wonderful tail. This way, she said, the
baby girl would always be calm and comfortable. A mama bear called
Haleh, and her two cubs, Connie and Chuny, would also come by. They
shared the honey they found so the little girl would always be sweet-
tempered.

A pert sparrow and her mate, called Lydia and Albert, would sing
Princess Kitten to sleep with sweet lullabies. This way, she will
always have nice dreams they explained in their clear piping voices.
A handsome black wildcat, called Peter, was charmed by Kitten's
purring sounds and he would lick her soft dark curls. This way, she
would grow up to be strong and able to defend herself from other
animals who were not as tame as he.

At night, when Kitten was asleep in her home-made cradle, two owls
called Mark and Elizabeth would sit on the window sill and hoot
softly. She'll grow up to be very wise and capable they promised. But
Kitten's favorite playmate, apart from the two knights, was a sharp-
tempered red bird named Robert. He would tease her by pecking gently
at her tiny fingers and would tickle her with his beak and Kitten
would laugh and laugh. She'll always be able to laugh at herself and
others, he said.

Things could have gone on that way, but one day, the two knights took
their little baby into the city. "She must be christened." Sir John
said. "Our friends have bestowed their best gifts to our princess, we
must give God a chance to do the same. Sir Luke agreed with his
friend and off to town they went. Kitten loved riding in a little
pack on Sir Luke's chest. She could look out and see his big strong
horse, Gerald who'd given his gift to her on the night she was
found. "She'll always go smoothly through life.", he whinnied. Malik,
Sir John's horse had a cheerful disposition. He would almost dance
when he trotted along. "She will be graceful.", he nickered.

The people were leaving the big church as the two men rode up. Gerald
and Malik waited patiently outside as their two human friends went
inside with the baby. A merry young priest eagerly agreed to bless
and anoint the infant princess. All during the brief ceremony, Sir
John thought he could hear the sound of someone weeping. When the
rites were finished, the poor but pious knights gave sacks of grain
to priest telling him to distribute them to the needy who would
otherwise have no bread to eat.

Just as they were preparing to leave, a beautiful woman appeared. She
had red hair like Kerry, brown eyes like Haleh, a merry voice like
Lydia and Albert, and was as wise as Elizabeth and Mark. She wore a
beautiful gown that changed color when she moved or gestured and a
pair of magnificent wings with all the colors of the rainbow.

"It is God's turn to bestow a gift on this child." She pointed to the
rear of the church and suddenly a soft light revealed a man and woman
sitting in one of the pews. The woman was weeping and her husband was
trying to comfort her but his own face was sorrowful. "I am your
daughter's guardian angel. I led you to her and helped you and your
friends to care for her. Now you must prove to God how much you love
her."

"That's easy." Sir John said smiling after he knelt before the
heavenly messenger. "We want to keep her with us and raise her to be
a good person who is loving and kind.

"Yes." Sir Luke also knelt. "We will defend her with our lives and
see that she is always safe and protected from harm."

"And what of your vows when you became knights?" The angel asked
gently. "Have you forgotten your promises?"

"No." Sir John said earnestly. "We promised to defend the weak and
helpless."

"To care for the sick and injured.", Sir Luke added.

"To right wrongs and see justice is done."

"To live and serve all people for all of our lives."

"Yes.", the angel nodded solemnly. "To serve *all* people... not just
one little girl, not matter how much you may want to. You cannot
raise your little one and fufill your vows. Don't forget, your first
promise was to God."

"What must we do?" Sir Luke asked.

"That grieving couple have no children of their own. God wants you to
give your daughter to them. They will love and cherish her and will
be with her always. She will be well fed and clothed and will know
the joy and contentment of a real home with a mother and father. You
will be able to fulfill your vows and earn an even greater reward in
time."

"I don't think I could give her up." Sir John's face was troubled.
We'll miss her very much and all of her friends will miss her as
well."

"Yes, John, We will both miss her but the angel is right. We cannot
ignore God's wishes in this matter. That would be terribly wrong. If
we sacrifice some of our happiness, a woman will know the joy of
having a baby in her arms. Her husband will rejoice with her and our
little princess will live as the royal child she was destined to be.
Let us give her to them with cheerful hearts and trust God to ease
our sorrows later."

Sir John nodded as the angel smiled at them both. The two knights
rose to their feet and went over to the melancholy pair.

"Forgive us, my lady. Excuse us, kind sir. We found this little girl
in the forest last winter and cared for her until the spring. Our
knightly vows will not permit us to keep her, would you do us the
honor and great favor of taking her into your home and hearts?" Sir
John asked.

The weeping woman looked up. Her hair was the same color as Peter's
fur and her beautiful dark eyes tilted up at the corners. She smiled
through her tears and reached for the lovely child. The expression on
her face was like the sun coming through the clouds after a storm.
Sir John nodded to her husband. "We did not give the priest a name
for her, perhaps you would like to, sir."

"You really wish to give her to us?"

"No. We would like nothing better than to be with her always, but she
needs a real home with a mother and father. As long as you tell her
about us one day and make sure she knows we will always love her, we
will give her to you."

"Oh thank you." The wife said and took the baby girl into her arms.
When she saw the lovely face bent close to her own, Kitten smiled and
made her contented little purring noises. Sir John kissed the little
girl and backed away so his tears would not fall on her and bring bad
luck. Sir Luke also kissed the child and sighed as if his heart would
break.

"Good bye, princess." Sir John whispered.

"We'll always remember and love you." Sir Luke said softly.

"You will always have our gratitude." The young husband said gravely.

"I will call her, Katerina." The young wife smiled as she gently
rocked the happy baby. She stood and extended her hand. I am the
Duchess Jing-Mei and this is my husband David. Your precious one will
indeed be a princess one day. When the old king dies, my husband will

inherit this kingdom. We promise that the example of loving
generosity you've given us today will always be held before her as a
guiding principle: to place the needs of others ahead of her own. She
will be a just and honorable queen in time and will rule wisely and
well."

The two knights bowed deeply and took their leave as the angel, now
unseen, smiled and blessed them.

Princess Katerina went to her new home and was very happy. The gifts
bestowed on her by the animals and the two knights remained with her
always. And although they were very sad for a time, Sir John and Sir
Luke renewed their vows to God. Every orphan they found a home for,
every beggar they found work for, every individual who was falsely
accused and brought justice by their efforts... in short, all of
their good deeds were dedicated to the young princess who had given
them a mighty gift of her own: the gift of love shared which is loved
doubled.

When they were very old men, they knelt before their new Queen who
made them her most favored advisors. And so they lived happily ever
after until the angel came, in turn, for each of them and they became
happier still..."

When he finished reading. Luka stood up and embraced John. "It's the
most beautiful story I've ever read. I know you wrote it for our
daughter, but could I please keep a copy?"

"Do you think she will like it?"

"Without a doubt."

Luka sealed their letters and mailed them to Child Welfare Services.
Each night before he slept, he re-read John's little fairy tale. It
was a shame that no one else would be able to enjoy it, or would
they? Snuggling closer to his husband's sleeping form, Luka decided
to make a few phone calls in the morning. If all went well, he'd have
a nice surprise for John for the anniversary of their first night
together.

* * * * *

An unusually busy ER proved to be a blessing for both men. For
whatever reason, it was non-stop traumas and a major flu season.
Chairs was full to overflowing. Patients were lined up in the
hallways. All of the staff were working overtime to cope with this
inundation of "customers". The hectic pace suited John and Luka just
fine. Neither of them had enough energy at the end of their shifts to
brood overmuch. It was all they could do to stagger home, bathe, and
collapse into bed. John admitted he was too tired to dream, or if he
did, remember them.

Luka had phoned Cyril and Charles and told them about Kitten. He
apologized for John, explaining that his husband felt the loss very
deeply and would talk with them later. The two younger men offered
what support they could but felt badly about not being able to visit.
So, Luka's request that they read John's story was welcomed. Luka
faxed the pages from County and, in the rush, forgot all about it.

He was pleasantly surprised when a largish envelope was delivered by
Federal Express to County Hospital. On his break, he opened it and
found beautiful watercolor illustrations for the little story. The
faces of the two knights were always turned away or hidden by cloaks
but all of their friends were gently caricatured. Kerry the fox had
eyeglasses and an alert expression. Peter the panther had wise eyes
and a regal demeanor. Each of their co-workers had been captured by
Charles's talent from images in their wedding video, his note
explained.

As he lifted the last illustration from the envelope, Luka's eyes
watered. The full page painting featured the two knights kneeling
before Queen Kitten, their heads bowed. The face of the queen was a
lovely blending of features that had graced the visages of Anja and
Solje. The face of the softly shimmering translucent guardian angel
standing near the throne was that of Marije. Charles had worked from
the close-up of their photographs from the commemorative table in
their wedding.

Luka called Roland who sent his driver to pick up the text and the
illustrations. He hoped this would begin to cheer John.

* * * * *.

"Mother, you must read this." Roland entered Millicent's large
office. She was reviewing notes for an upcoming board meeting.
Millicent took the envelope and adjusted her glasses. Half-way
through, she looked up with tears in her eyes.

"Who wrote this?"

"Your grandson."

"Luka?"

"No. His husband." Roland said quietly.

"Roland, this is a beautiful story. I didn't know John could write."

"Apparently, neither did he.", Roland explained how the story came
about.

"Those people were fools for taking that child away from them. This
would prove to anyone how much they love that little girl."

"That's my mother the genius." Roland grinned. "I called Richard.
He's going to obtain permission from their friends and Charles for
their likenesses and work to be used. Once that's done, I'm going to
have the story published privately. Luka wants to give it to John for
a anniversary gift, so that doesn't leave us much time."

"What about John's permission?"

"I'll have to fudge that a bit. Luka has power of attorney for him,
so..."

"Well, don't waste any more time hanging around here. Get going."
Millicent smiled.

Cooke County General, or Gossip Central, kept a still tongue. None of
John's friends revealed their participation in the surprise. Less
than two weeks later, John came home to a darkened apartment.
Frowning, he went to turn on the lights. Luka should have been home.
It had been his week-day off.

"Surprise!" Kerry, Chuny, Malik, Jing-Mei, Peter, and Lydia came out
of the kitchen with a small cake. Luka followed them, wearing his
caftan.

"What's the occasion?" John was confused.

"Happy Anniversary, beloved." Luka embraced his husband whose face
was a mirth-provoking mixture of shock, joy, and embarrasment.
Holding John around the shoulders, he faced their friends. "Seven
years ago this evening, I invited myself over to John's old apartment
for coffee and never left. Let this be a warning to all of you. When
I want something, I generally get it and once I get it, I never let
go." Luka kissed John's cheek. "Husband, you have brought joy
unimaginable into my life. I thank you from the bottom of my heart
for loving me and putting up with my quirks and foibles. If God
grants my prayers, I hope to celebrate at least seventy more of these
anniversaries, loving you a little more each year." Luka brought a
small package from behind his back. "Please accept this small gift in
recognition of the day.

John's fingers trembled as he unwrapped the present revealing a small
book bound in pink moire silk. The words "Kitten's Tale" were
embossed in dark green on the cover. Opening it to the title page, he
found a small copy of Charles's portrait of Katerina and himself over
his own name as author and Charles's as illustrator."

"Luka, you shouldn't have done this.", his voice was thick.

"It's not much, I know..."

"No. I mean you should not have done this at all!" John thrust the
book back into Luka's hands and ran from the room.

"Excuse me." Luka said and followed. He found John curled up on their
bed, his arms over his head. "What's wrong, Janaskja?" Luka sat down
and tentatively touched John's shoulder. "Please tell me what I did
to upset you."

"It was supposed to be private.", came the muffled reply. "Now,
she'll never get the chance to read it. Those people will rip it up
when they see this. How could you do this without asking me?"

"I'm sorry, beloved. I should have asked you, but I was afraid you
would refuse. I never meant to hurt you or jeopardize Kitten's
chances of reading your beautiful story. Only one copy with your
portrait was made; the one I gave to you. The others only have your
initials and Charles's name. Your father asked them to make enough
copies for our friends who are in the story, your family, and Mrs.
Riordan. I told everyone that to protect our girl..." Luka's voice
caught. "...to protect her, they can't talk about this to anyone who
doesn't already know about it."

"That's still too many people." John sat up. His eyes were red and
swollen. "You know how they are. They mean well, but soon the whole
city will know about it."

"Did you know we were planning this?" Luka asked softly. "Kerry and
all of the others had to sign releases allowing their likenesses to
be used. The release contained a clause that will allow both of us to
prosecute if they tell anyone about this. Trust me, beloved. Our
friends know how much is at stake. Nevertheless, I was wrong to do
this without informing you and I apologize. I only wanted our friends
to know how talented you are. I got carried away. I thought their
praise, and believe me, they all love the story; would make you
happy."

"I acted like an idiot, huh?" John wiped his eyes.

"No. You were honest with me and our friends. Our connection to
Kitten is very thin: your story and my letter. You have every right
to be concerned. If word of this gets out, she will never know how
much she was loved before being given to her new family."

"I'm sorry I yelled at you in front of our guests." John said softly.

"I'm not. You promised to tell me when I did something to hurt or
upset you. We're a married couple. We're allowed to embarass our
friends with the occasional spat. You had good cause, Janaskja." Luka
smiled and took John's face in his hands. They headed back to the
living room.

"Sorry guys." John said simply. "I guess you know we've both been
under a lot of strain lately.", he smiled. "Thank you for coming and
for keeping our secret. Sascha? Please forgive me for embarassing you
in front of our friends. I..."

Whatever else John was going to say was muffled by a group hug.
Chapter Ten - Valley of the Shadows by Kathryn Prozac Parsons
Laura Carter made a rare visit to Chicago three weeks after the
anniversary party. Luka hoped her presence would help John to escape
a depression that seemed to deepen as time passed. Carter took his
meds and went to see his therapist. Strangers would have assumed
everything was fine. Those who loved him knew otherwise.

Roland and Luka talked daily, sometimes in person, most times over
the telephone. "I don't know what to do." Luka said as the waiter
brought their coffee. "It's not as if he sits around the apartment
sighing and moping in the dark. He smiles at me, even laughs, but the
effort it takes is plain."

"Have you talked to someone?"

"Yes. I had to. I called my old therapist. I wanted to know what, if
anything, I could do to make John feel better. His advice was to sit
tight and let John tell me what he needs when he needs it. That's
easy for him to say. He doesn't have to live with someone he loves
who's hurting."

"I was afraid this would happen." Roland sighed and rubbed his
face. "When Bobby died, my wife did the same thing: part of her died
with him. I kept waiting for her to get over the acute sense of loss,
but so far it hasn't happened. She smiles and laughs and it's like
living with a ghost. I confess that John's behavior has me very
worried. When he was a child, he was like this: quiet, subdued. I
thought I was lucky to have such a well-behaved child. I had no idea
he was grievously hurt by my father's mistreatment."

"That's the word I was looking for, 'subdued'." Luka shook his
head. "I'm tip-toeing around the apartment afraid to look too
cheerful, afraid to try and cheer him up because I don't want him to
think I loved Katerina any less than he did." Luka admitted. "I feel
as if I'm deceiving him somehow. When he became angry at me the day
of our anniversary, I was relieved. That was the first time he'd
shown any signs of the John I used to know."

"I wish I could help you, son. I've been living as you are doing for
nearly thirty years. I love my wife dearly. I can't stand to see her
in pain but your therapist was right. Until Laura and John decide
it's time to move on, all we can do is sit tight and hope for the
best. How's Johnny's physical health?"

"That's got me worried too. He's lost weight he can't afford to do
without. He cooks good meals for the both of us but only pushes the
food around on his plate. When he does eat, it usually comes right
back up again. I'm scared, Roland and I don't care who knows it."

* * * * *

"John, you look terrible. Are you feeling okay?" The state of her
only remaining son had roused Laura from her usual detached air. The
two of them were strolling through the Chicago Museum of Art.

"I'm alright. My stomach has been acting up, but otherwise..." John
glanced away from a woman with a baby girl in a stroller after seeing
that it wasn't Kitten. He'd been haunting museums, shopping malls,
toys stores; hoping for a glimpse of his daughter. Sighing, John sat
down on a bench near Seurat's pointillist masterpiece "An Afternoon
on the Island of Grande Jatte."

"I read your story, John. Roland shipped me a copy. It's why I'm
here. I cried when I read it. I cried for the first time since...",
Laura paused to steady her voice. "Since I came back to his room and
he wasn't there." She didn't have to explain further.

"Mom? How did you and Dad survive it?" John had been feeling guilty
ever since Roland pointed out that his loss was permanent. Robert
Alexander Carter had died. Katerina was only "gone". She was alive
and, hopefully happy, with a new family to love her. Nevertheless,
John wept for her every night in the bathroom. He'd tried to cheer
himself up by imagining her new parents playing with her and caring
for her, but it didn't work. He couldn't feel any more grief if she
had actually died as his brother did.

"I don't know that we have." Laura admitted in her soft voice. "I
abandoned you and your sister. I ceased to be your father's wife. I
was walking around in a fog. After reading your story, I've decided
to do something about it. Something positive. John, you have to get
beyond this. I know you feel as if someone has wrenched your heart
out, but you've got to try for Luka's sake. He wrote me the loveliest
letter shortly before your wedding."

"He did?", John was curious. This was the first he'd heard of it.

"Yes. He told me that he'd talked with your father and asked my
doctors if it was okay to write me. That letter was the only thing
that gave me the strength to come to your wedding." Laura smiled at
her son. "He told me bluntly that I was throwing away two beautiful
children by refusing to get over the loss of my first child. He told
me about his family and the guilt that almost destroyed him. That's
when my long road to recovery started. God knows, I didn't want your
brother to die. Luka said I could comfort myself with that. He's
never forgotten that he made them stay behind in the apartment."
Laura shook her head.

"I know. We've talked about it.", John said softly.

"Yes, but did you really listen to what he said?" Laura asked. "He
loves you very much. The only way he could do that was to put his
past and the part he played in it behind him once and for all. Tell
me, do you feel like you are 'second best'?"

"No."

"Well, think what that means. Luka let his family go. The grief is
still there. The love he felt for them is still there, but he's put
it in perspective by accepting what he did and why he did it. You've
got to do the same. Johnny, we all know you would never have touched
those drugs if you'd known the full consequences of your actions, yet
you did become an addict."Laura paused and touched his face. "Do you
think *I* would have tried twice to kill myself if I'd been thinking
clearly? I was punishing your father and you and your sister for
having the courage to go on with your lives. I was stupid enough to
believe your doing so meant you didn't really love or miss Alex."

"I did wonder how Luka manages to seem so happy." John admitted
slowly.

"He's not. He's worried about you, even afraid for you. One look at
him, if your eyes were truly open and you'd have seen that for
yourself. You don't exist in a vacuum John. Your grief is hurting him
deeply. I know you are trying to act as if nothing is wrong but
you're not fooling anyone.

John nodded and took her hand. He knew she was right.

* * * * *

John seemed better after spending time with his mother. Luka and
Laura had talked only once. She thanked him for helping her and told
him she'd done her best to return the favor. John and his husband
talked and John agreed to try harder. Nevertheless, Luka was still
worried. One afternoon, he suddenly remembered there was someone who
might be able to arrange what John really needed; a chance to hold
Katerina once more and say a proper good-bye. He shut the door to the
lounge and picked up the phone.

Laurencia Carlton after being narrowly defeated five years ago in a
bid for the head of Chicago's council of aldermen had finally
succeeded in achieving the position. When her secretary told her who
was on the phone, she cut short a meeting and picked up. "Luka, it's
great to hear from you. Thanks again for all of your help during the
election." She grinned remembering John's enthusiastic efforts to get
all of County's employees to vote for her. The ER budget increases
had actually done the trick but the personable Dr. Carter had helped
to sway quite a few "undecideds". "What can I do for you?"

Luka smiled and told the story omitting nothing.

"Have you reviewed the case with the agency?"

"No. Quite frankly, we both assumed we were turned down because of
our relationship."

"If that's the case, both of you could sue on the grounds of
discrimination."

"No we couldn't. That wouldn't be good for our daughter. No, we've
both accepted the decision. All I want is some way for John to be
able to have an opportunity to say good-bye to our little girl. I
know deep down if he can see she's happy it will allow him to make
peace with losing her. I also know her records are sealed as far as
we're concerned, but you must know someone who could arrange for a
check-up or something that could get her back to County. The visit
would be supervised, but at least he'll get the chance to hold her
once more."

"Luka, I don't know if even *I'm* that good. But I'll see what I can
do." I'm not making any promises. Let me make a few phone calls."

"Thanks, Laurencia. Now I owe you."

* * * * *

As usual, Laurencia Carlton didn't waste any time. Her friendship
with John and Luka had garnered support from several highly-placed
gay and lesbian Cooke County employees. She picked up the phone and
dialed an enthusiastic supporter who happened to be the chief clerk
to a family court judge who, in turn, owed his position on the state
bench to several "friends" of Laurencia's.

She quickly explained the situation and Luka's modest request. She
knew she could trust both men to remain silent regarding the extent
of their relationship with the baby girl and each other. A ten-minute
supervised visit would not be too traumatic for a child who was still
months away from her first birthday. The legal aide agreed and
promised to get his boss to review Katerina's file.

Harvey "the Milkman" Rosenbaum only required twenty minutes with his
boss, Judge Waterston, before being told to have Katerina's case file
sent to their office. The only information withheld would be the
current whereabouts and new surname for the little girl. Everything
else: notes from the social workers, medical records, all of John and
Luka's documentation would be made available.

Two days later, the file arrived and was personally delivered into
Judge Waterston's hands. He spent the better part of an evening
reading every scrap of paper contained in the three immense accordion
portfolios. It was clear to him after reviewing the information that
Ross suspected John, and probably Luka, were HIV-positive. A hastily-
written note on a sheet containing John's HIV test results indicated
the author suspected the document was a newly-created forgery. If
their health had been mis-represented as cause to deny custody and
reason to refuse their adoption petition, John and Luka stood a
pretty good chance of having the case re-opened and this decision
overturned.

The tricky part would be investigating this matter without revealing
the source of his information. It would be tricky, but it would be
possible. The judge called Laurencia at home. "If you had to trust
someone at Cooke County General with a matter of life and death, who
would it be?"

"I'm assuming someone besides our two doctors?" Laurencia understood
the request. "That's easy, the Chief of Staff."

"Thank you, Laurencia.", the judge hung up.

"What was that all about?", David Carlton wanted to know.

"A favor I'm doing for a couple of friends of ours." Laurencia sighed
as he massaged the small of her back.

"Need any help?"

"Not yet, but when and if I do, I'll come running."

Judge Waterston was a cautious man. He'd read the glowing appraisals
of John and Luka and decided to set them aside. A child's welfare was
at stake and personal prejudices of any sort would only get in the
way. He waited a week before arranging to meet with Rocket Romano.
The two men met at a gentleman's club one evening. Seated in one of
the private rooms with brandy and cigars, Judge Waterston explained
the reason for their meeting.

"It seems there might be a cover-up going on at your hospital, Dr.
Romano. If this is true, you could be shut down. At the least you,
and all of the senior staff would be fired and barred from
practicing."

"I think you had better have some cast iron proof.", Romano said
bluntly.

"It has been brought to my attention that two of your physicians may
be covering up their health status vis. a vis. AIDS. Their test
results may have been falsified with or without the knowledge of
their supervisor who is required to sign off on them."

"Which two?"

"Dr.s Kovac and Carter."

"What led your office to this suspicion?"

Judge Waterston explained about the appearance of the test results
when compared to documentation dated from a similar time period.

Romano snorted. "Imbeciles. It's those imbeciles from Child Welfare
Services."

"How in the name of ...", the judge was amazed.

"Who else has been poking their noses into the relevant files
recently? If those jerks had bothered to ask *me* about this matter,
I could have told them that every man-jack working in that department
has new-looking test results." Romano explained why. "Listen, I'm no

epidemiologist, but it behooves us to maintain blood samples from our
front-line staff dating from when they were hired. The two physicians
in question have been on the payroll for over six years, John Carter
for nearly ten.

"HIV tests are conducted every three months for all staff at County.
Results for the Trauma and Surgical departments are compiled in-
house. If any of the staff who are most likely to come in contact
with the blood of patients are HIV-positive we want to know
immediately. All other test samples are processed by independent
labs. The turn-around time is less than three days. There *are* HIV-
positive staff working at County; none of whom are permitted level-
one contact with patients.", Romano was livid.

"These samples are still in existence?"

"Hell yes. The profile of this damn disease is not completely known.
This new strain which required re-testing of all of our samples, will
probably not be the last. In the interests of patient safety, not to
mention research, we'd be idiots to discard potentially life-saving
epidemiological data. Find yourself a lab, Judge and have the samples
tested again. No one is covering up a damn thing at County."

"So you are certain, Dr. Carter's recent bout of pneumonia had
nothing to do with AIDS?"

"Damn right. I examined his chart. One of my doctors collapsed on the
job. I had no desire for the little twerp to institute a workman's
comp claim. You bet I read his file. Common-or-garden variety
pneumonia probably brought on by overwork and roaming around in the
snow looking for abandoned babies."

"Thank you, Dr. Romano." The judge was pleased to see that here was
someone who was level-headed *and* not subject to coercion under any
circumstances. Romano was about as cuddly as a chain-saw. His
comments about both John and Luka had been fair but lacked the
effusive glow of their other colleagues.

* * * * *

A written, but informal request from Judge Waterston's office was all
it took. John and Luka's blood samples were sent to an independent
lab, identified only by serial numbers and dates. The lab was located
in Alaska. The chances of anyone knowing the two doctors there, let
alone recognizing their identity from two strings of random numerals,
was almost zero. In less than two weeks the results came back. Both
samples belonged to individuals who were HIV-negative. Now the only
issue remaining was the fact that both parents in this petition were
male. The judge realized ancient prejudices were not easily overcome
without a truck-load of facts. He set about devising means for these
facts to be obtained.
Chapter Eleven - ...Shrink Wrapped for Your Protection by Kathryn Prozac Parsons
Judge Waterston wasn't the only person who was conducting an
investigation. Although assured nothing further would be said
regarding HIV testing at County, Rocket Romano was furious. Someone
had gone behind his back and provided information; incorrect
information to persons not affiliated with his hospital. During brief
down-times between surgeries, Romano pondered on the best method to
discover the traitor's identity.

He needed someone to help him set a trap for the bastard. Mentally
reviewing his staff, Rocket came to an unlikely conclusion: Dave
Malucci. The gregarious, seemingly care-free, damn-near careless Dr.
Dave was an enigma. It had been almost two years since the Caribbean-
trained resident had last been disciplined by his supervisors. Romano
watched as the young man applied himself to his craft and improved.
Despite his loquacious style, Dave was very good at keeping secrets.

Early one Thursday morning, Romano wandered into the ER staff lounge.
Dave was stretched out on the couch, dead to the world. "Dr. Malucci!
I don't pay my staff to sleep on duty!" Romano barked.

Dave nearly fell off the couch tyring to get to his feet. "Sorry,
sir. I wasn't on duty." Dave peered at his watch. "I don't go on for
another two hours."

"Then you should be at home."

"I only just got off."

"Who are you subbing for?"

"Dr. Carter, sir. He went home sick. Dr. Weaver told me to get some
sack time and fill in the second half of Carter's shift."

"I'll have to have a talk with him. He's not paid to sit on his ass."
Romano grumbled.

"Ahhm, Dr. Romano? Why don't you let me talk to Luka? I'm sure he
could tell Carter about your concerns."

"Since when have you become the Assistant Chief of Staff?"

"Since never. Hey, I'll level with you. Carter's pneumonia may be
coming back. Dr. Weaver felt sending him home for a couple of day's
rest was better than having him drop in his tracks on the job and end
up being out for three weeks. She practically had to shoo him out of
here at gun-point."

Romano smiled. He'd already okayed Kerry's request to put Carter on
leave. Indeed, her request had given him the last piece he needed to
construct his trap. "Well, since you're off duty, why don't you join
me for a cup of coffee? We can discuss Carter and your ideas for
building ER morale."

"Sir?", Dave squeaked.

"Come on, Dr. Malucci. I don't bite unless I'm asked to."

"Uh-huh." Dave grabbed his jacket and followed Romano to Magoo's.

Malucci's reaction to Romano's proposal was interesting. When told of
Rocket's suspicions. Dave's face went bright red, but the explosion
never came. "Okay, what do you want me to do?" Dave asked calmly.

Rocket was pleased to see the volatile Dr. Dave could control his
temper. Leaning forward, he outlined his plan and explained Dave's
role in setting the trap.

"Okay. I'm your man." Dave stood up and placed some money on the
table. Romano pushed it back at him.

"This one's on me. You're doing *me* the favor, remember?" He watched
as Dave left the diner then smiled to himself. Not bad for a first
date.*

* * * * *

Judge Waterston scheduled a meeting with the director of Child
Welfare Services. He didn't beat around the bush. "Re-open the case
file on Katerina Doe. Someone hasn't been fully honest and it's not
the petitioning parties." The director protested but fell silent when
the judge stated he would have no problems issuing a court order to
get his way. So Evan Ross and Sarah Nicholson found themselves seated
in two different offices waiting to see therapists: John and Luka's
therapists.

"Do you think John Carter would make a good parent?" Sarah Nicholson
asked. She'd been assigned to interview the two women Carter had
worked with: Dr.s Stern and Lansen.

"An excellent parent." Dr. Katrin Lansen smiled.

"What can you tell me about him?"

"He's an interesting person. By all rights, someone who grew up as he
did should not have developed into such a capable man. His sessions
with me were very productive. Dr. Carter was experiencing depression
excerbated by post-traumatic stress. The abuse he'd suffered as a
child had contributed to his problems... making him extremely
reluctant to seek help or admit that anything was wrong with him. He
requested my help in changing this."

"Do you think he succeeded?"

"Admirably. You do know he has started seeing me again?"

"No. I wasn't aware of it."

"Dr. Carter has asked for help in coping with your agency's decision
to remove Katerina from his care and that of Dr. Kovac. Dr. Carter
has admitted to having nightmares in which the child is crying for
them and they cannot respond. He further admits that he is projecting
feelings of his own onto the child. He's acutely aware of the pain
caused by parental abandonment." Katrin Lansen explained in her soft
voice.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. Dr. Carter speaks very highly of you."

"Do you think he will be alright?"

"In time. He's certainly working very hard at it and he has
tremendous support from his husband and his friends. He'll hurt for a
while, but he will recover."

"How do you evaluate his relationship with Dr. Kovac?"

"It's a very good one---healthy. When he first told me about their
love, I confess I had my doubts. John would be the first to admit
that he's emotionally deprived. I was afraid he was using this
relationship as a panacea---something to replace the comfort he
sought from the drugs. As he continued talking with me about the two
of them, I realized there was no need for worry. In many ways, he's
the stronger of the two men. He's had to be. His life has been very
difficult for him emotionally: the death of his brother, his family's
rejection of him, the deaths of two colleagues... By all rights, he
should be in much worse shape than he is." Dr. Lansen shook her head.

"John is a very loving man. I was surprised that he is as warm and
caring as he is; considering the rejection he experienced at a
critical age. Usually, male children who experience this develop into
men who are distant and emotionally cold. As I said, Dr. Carter is
most unusual."

* * * * *

"What can I do for you, Mr. Ross?", Luka's therapist leaned back in
his chair, folding his hands across his chest.

"I would like to know your opinions regarding Dr. Luka Kovac." Evan
Ross had been given this assignment because he had not interviewed
Luka. It was hoped, he would have no prior conceptions regarding the
subject of his inquiry.

"Dr. Kovac-Carter you mean."

"Whatever."

"I see. Well, Luka first started seeing me a little over seven years
ago. He requested my help regarding a former relationship that ended
just prior to his coming to Chicago. After a few sessions, he decided
to continue seeing me. He wanted assistance coping with events he'd
experienced in Bosnia. Although my practice is primarily focused on
couples, or relationship therapy, I and my partner broadened our
scope to include grief and bereavement counseling."

"You took on a gay patient?"

"Why wouldn't I? I'll be the first to admit prejudice places
additional strain on gay couples who live together openly, but
otherwise, the dynamics of their relationships are identical to those
of heterosexual couples. Anyway, I was able to help Luka process his
feelings regarding his late family. When he met John, he continued
coming to see me for counseling regarding the man he eventually
married."

"Have you met Dr. Carter?"

"Yes, socially. I was invited to their wedding and I've had dinner
with them on occasion."

"They had a wedding ceremony?"

"Yes. Quite an elaborate one.", Dr. Samuelson smiled. He and his
partner had also been married in a formal ceremony, albeit under a
canopy.

"Yeah, but the marriage isn't really valid..."

"Why not? A Catholic priest presided. There were ample witnesses. An
announcement appeared in the paper. How married can you get?"

"Well the law doesn't recognize it."

"It should. When I spoke of prejudices placing extra pressure on gay
couples, I thought you understood. Many ignorant people dwell on the
issue of promiscuity in the gay male, never realizing that society
has all but sanctioned this behavior. First by accepting the out-
moded notion of young men having to sow 'wild oats' and other
versions of machismo prowess. Second, and more important, by refusing
to grant the same legal and spiritual rights to gay couples, society
sends the message that these unions are not important enough to
require the protection and support afforded to 'normal' couples." Dr.
Samuelson smiled sadly.

"Trust me. Luka and John are a real, genuine married couple. They
possess the same desire for permanence and commitment; the same
affection and respect as any other committed couple. Even if the
state doesn't recognize their vows to each other, John and Luka
believe them to be holy and binding before God and the community."

"So you believe Dr. Kovac would be a good father?"

"Of course. He had been a father before and no one bothered to ask
whether or not he'd be a good one. It's a shame you and your
colleagues don't issue parenting permits to everyone. Any number of
disasters could be avoided if the state took the same precautions
with potential parents as they do with hunters, automobile drivers,
and beauticians in the issuance of licenses. I know *my* case load
would be lightened considerably as a result."

* * * * *

"Okay people, let's keep this brief. What's on the agenda?" Robert
Romano called the department heads meeting to order. The physicians
in charge of the various divisions at County looked somewhat askance
at Dave Malucci's presence. "Dr. Malucci, what on earth are you doing
here?"

"Sorry, Dr. Romano. Dr. Weaver asked me to sit in for her. They're
short-staffed at the moment. She felt the attendings should remain on
duty. It's been pretty busy down there." Dave explained. "Here are
copies of her monthly report. I've studied it and can answer any
questions you may have."

"That's not the point. Policy is set at these meetings. You're only a
resident. It would not be appropriate for you to be privy to our
discussions. But, since you're here, keep your mouth shut and your
ears open. You may as well take notes for your boss." Romano frowned.

The meeting was dull and Dave was hard pressed to keep from yawning
too frequently. Half-way through the meeting, Rocket rapped on the
table. "Are we interfering with your rest, Dr. Malucci?"

"Sorry sir." Dave blushed and yawned again.

"That does it!" Romano exploded. "Get your sorry ass out of here! I
don't pay my staff to doze on duty."

Dave flushed and stood up. "Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't ask to pull a
triple shift."

"You've been on duty for twenty-four hours?"

"No, thirty-two. Can I help it if half of our staff has the flu?"

"Who are you subbing for?"

"Dr. Carter. His pneumonia showed signs of returning and Dr. Weaver
didn't want..." Dave broke off as if he'd said something he shouldn't
have.

"Well, I'll have a talk with Dr. Weaver. You may leave, Dr. Malucci."

Dave picked up his notepad and left the room. Romano smiled. He'd
seen the Administrator come to attention when Dave mentioned Carter's
pneumonia. The meeting went on. As the department heads were heading
back to work, Romano gestured for Edwards to remain.

"I want to set up a meeting with you and Dr. Weaver. Her staff's
leave use needs looking into. Have your secretary call Shirley and
set something up for early next week." Romano went back to his office
whistling.

Jonathan Edwards truly believed he'd done the right thing when he
removed that sheet of test results from Carter's file. Although he
didn't think either John or Luka were deliberately trying to endanger
patients, he'd seen too many news-style reports on televangelism
shows where gays with sinister motives supposedly did just that.
Rabid religious fervor has a tendency to consign objectivity to the
tenth circle of oblivion and hell on earth usually results. Smiling,
he asked his secretary to call the Surgical Department and set up a
meeting between himself and the Chief of Staff.

In the meanwhile, Romano paid another visit to the ER and pulled
Carter's file. He noticed immediately that a page of the young
doctor's test results was missing. The expression on Rocket's face as
he returned to his office succeeded in clearing the hallways and
emptying the elevator. No one wanted to be anywhere near the
irascible surgeon when the storm broke. Slamming the door. Romano
picked up the phone and dialed Judge Waterston's office. Harvey
Rosenbaum answered.

"I need to speak to the Judge immediately."

"He's in court at the moment. Can I take a message?" Harvey offered
smoothly.

"Put me on hold and go get him." Rocket barked.

"I cannot disturb him. He's in a closed session. He should be
finished in another two hours or so. May I take a message?"

"Yes, tell him he's in receipt of stolen property, you officious
little so and so."

"Robert, is that you?" Harvey asked, not wanting to trust his hearing.

"Who the hell is this?"

"Harvey Rosenbaum, 'Harriet' to you." Harvey smiled. It was "Roberta"
Romano alright.

"Well, why didn't you introduce yourself properly, bitch. You make a
piss-poor clerk." Romano laughed.

"Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.", Harvey purred and laughed in
turn. "What do you need from my boss? And what's all this yang-tang
about stolen property?"

Rocket explained about the missing documentation.

"Hold your water, sugar-britches. I've got the file right here."
Harvey leafed through the thick portfolios. "Now, what am I looking
for?"

Romano described the page's appearance.

"Bingo."

"Hold it up to the light. There should be a CCGH watermark visible in
the middle of the page."

"Check."

"You are holding a confidential document. On the back there should be
a warning against removing it from the hospital premises."

"You're right. Somebody could end up paying a fifty thousand dollar
fine not to mention time playing hide your goodies in jail."

"Are you willing to swear that neither you or your boss removed this
document from my hospital?"

"You bet your mascara we are."

"Excellent. A meeting's been set for my office on Wednesday. Either
you or your boss bring the file over here at ten thirty on that
morning and be prepared to scare the living shit out of the rat
bastard who *did* remove the file." Romano smiled grimly.

"I love it when you go all butch, lover.", Harvey chuckled.

"Then you'll swoon with ecstasy on Wednesday morning when I nail that
son of a bitch."

"I'll bring the KY and a video cam. It's been a while since I've seen
you all hot and bothered. See you then.", Harvey laughed and hung up.
He did not envy the poor son of a bitch who ever he was.

Author's Note:
* Okay. Guilty as charged. Grand larceny must be catching. After
reading Invicta's "Hail to the Chief." I just had to get these two
guys together. I promise I won't trespass too much on her sacred
turf. KPP
Chapter Twelve - Thereby hangs a tale... by Kathryn Prozac Parsons
Laura Carter gave her driver the address of a prestigious publishing
firm. Upon finishing college, her family's influence had procured for
her an un-paid position with this company as a reader. It was soon
discovered she had natural talent for editing manuscripts. She
enjoyed the work and regretted leaving when she found out she was
going to have her first child.

As she rode up in the luxurious elevator, Laura smiled remembering
that her oldest child had been conceived when the elevator was stuck
between floors. She and Roland had been on their way to lunch and
never made it. Leather portfolio in hand, she approached the U-shaped
reception desk. "My name is Laura Elliot Carter. I have a twelve-
thirty appointment with Ms. Smythe.

The impeccably dressed young man consulted a large calendar and
nodded. "Ms. Smythe's office is two doors down on your left."

"Thank you." Laura followed his directions and popped her head in the
door. Jessica Smythe looked up from her computer and smiled broadly.

"Come in, Laura. You haven't aged a bit. I suppose I can't persuade
you to take your old job back?" The elderly woman rose to her feet
and embraced her former assistant. "We can always use someone with
your eye for detail."

"Thanks, Jessie. No, I want you to look at a manuscript and
illustrations and tell me what you think. I know the author and I
doubt I could be objective. I thought you would be able to determine
if I stand a chance of getting the work published."

"Right of first refusal?" J. R. Smythe realized her most promising
protoge wouldn't have bothered to come if the manuscript didn't have
merit. Hand it over." Jessica put her glasses on as she sat down
again. Laura stood looking out of the window at the traffic below as
the older woman read "Kitten's Tale." Half an hour later, she turned
to observe her boss who was wiping her eyes.

"Well? Is it any good?"

"Don't you dare take this anywhere but here. Who's the author?"

"My son." Laura explained the situation. "When I discussed it with
him, he insisted his name cannot appear anywhere on this and we have
to change the name given to the infant."

"Okay. What about the contracts?" This got even better. Mysterious
authors sold well.

"You won't need any. I have releases for the illustrations and the
story. Our lawyer is setting up a blind trust that will hold any and
all profits which are to be used for the baby's education. Because he
is a friend of my son's, the illustrator has also requested to have
his name omitted. Only his initials may appear.

"Excellent. All these mysteries should make selling this to the press
very easy indeed. I suppose the trust will hold the copyright?"

"Yes. Think of it. You get to publish a book without having to
wrestle with the egos of its creators."

"You always did know how to pitch a story. Seriously, Laura, please
consider returning to work here. We could really use you." J.R.
closed the portfolio and went to place it in her work safe.

"I'll think about it. Let's get this project completed first." Laura
smiled.

"That's the assistant I remember. You could charm the orneriest of
authors right out of their socks." Jessica had not missed Laura's
subtle blackmail: publish this story and maybe I'll come back. As she
returned to her office after seeing Laura to the elevators, J.R.
Smythe grinned. This was going to be fun.

* * * * *

Luka threw caution to the March winds and hovered over his sick
husband. If John thought he was being a nuisance, so be it. John's
cold worsened rapidly. Despite expert care, the younger man became
very ill. Luka did not attempt to conceal his worry. After two days
with no appreciable improvement, Luka called Kerry.

"He keeps insisting he's getting better, but I can't see it." Luka
said quietly. Mrs. Riordan, who'd been looking after her godson while
Luka was at work, came into the living room.

"What's his temp?" Kerry asked.

"It fluctuates between 101 and 103." Now, that he said it aloud, Luka
could have kicked himself for not acting sooner.

"Productive cough?"

"No. But he is coughing almost 'round the clock."

"Shit, Luka. Get him in here."

"She wants to admit Johnny?", Siobhan Riordan was not surprised.

"Yeah. Could you get him ready while I get the car?"

"Go." Mrs. Riordan headed for the bedroom. The harsh sounds as John
struggled to breathe were clearly audible. She didn't waste any time.
Hoisting the semi-concious man into a sitting position, she managed
to get him into one of Luka's thick cardigans. Next, she put a pair
of socks on his feet. By the time, Luka returned, she'd put John's
toiletries into his knapsack. Luka swaddled his husband in blankets
and picked him up as Mrs. Riordan put a watch cap on his head. She
followed with the bag and John's keys; locked the apartment and
joined Luka as he waited for the elevator.

"I should have brought him in two days ago."

"Don't fret yourself." They got onto the elevator. When they reached
the lobby, the security guard nodded and held the street door open.
He helped Mrs. Riordan recline the passenger seat and then assisted
Luka as he strapped John in. "I'll phone Johnny's Da' and get a ride
in with them.", she went back inside to make the call.

Medical license plates prevented the police from stopping the Jeep as
Luka sped through the streets. He reached County in record time and
was met by Kerry, Yoshi, and Malik. Tossing the keys to Malik, Luka
got John out of the car onto the waiting gurney and they wheeled him
inside. Tests revealed fluid in both lungs. The team didn't waste any
time. Kerry proceeded to intubate, using equipment modified to permit
the insertion of a suction tube. Carter was wheeled upstairs where
Robert Romano was waiting.

Luka watched through the observation window as Romano inserted the
suction tube, guided by a miniature video camera. Watching its
monitor, he began draining the fluid from the left lung. When he was
satisfied, he retracted the tube and began to guide it into the right
lung. The procedure was done by the time Mrs. Riordan, John's
parents, and grandmother arrived.* After speaking briefly with
Romano, Luka went to talk to them while Mrs. Riordan resumed her post
at John's bedside.

"He should be okay.", Luka sighed as they sat in the lounge. "He's on
oxygen and antibiotics. Dr. Romano drained the fluid from his lungs.
I don't know what else I can do." Luka put his head in his
hands. "He' wasn't acting any more depressed than usual, but when he
got sick, it's as if he just gave up.", Laura put her arms around
Luka as tears welled in his eyes.

"I guess my talking to him didn't do much good.", Laura said softly.

"When he wakes up, *I'll* talk to him." Roland offered.

"And say what?" Laura asked sharply. "You talked to me for nearly
fifteen years to no avail. John's got to pull *himself* out of this.
No one else can do it for him."

"You're right, dear." Millicent smiled at her daughter-in-law.

"Dr. Kovac?" A nurse came into the room. "Dr. Carter's awake and
asking for you." Luka got to his feet and wiped his eyes.

"Tell him we love him." Millicent said as Luka left the room.

Mrs. Riordan stood, placed John's feverish hand in Luka's, and went
outside.

"I'm so sorry Sascha.", John's voice was hoarse but stronger than
before.

"It's alright, Janaskja." Luka tried to smile.

"No it's not. I've been behaving like a complete and utter fool."
Mrs. Riordan had given her godson a good talking to or, "finger-wag"
as she called it.

"Well, I wouldn't go that far, but you have been worrying me." Luka
leaned over and kissed the moist forehead.

"Do you think Father Thomas would come to see me?" John asked quietly.

"I know he will."

"Don't worry." John smiled weakly when he saw Luka's brow
crease. "I'm not going to ask him to administer the last rites. I'm
going to get better then apologize to everyone for causing them
concern. I've behaved like a two year old."

It's not been *that* bad; more like an undisciplined five year old."
Luka grinned. "Now, get some rest. I'm not going anywhere."


"You said that the last time." John yawned. "You've been up all hours
looking after me then working on top of that. Go home, beloved. Get
some sleep and don't worry. I asked the nurse to call my therapist in
the morning."

If you're sure..." Luka looked at John carefully.

"I'm certain, Sascha. I apologize for fucking up. In NA meetings, we
often take each other to task for riding the 'pity pot'. I made you
suffer, my folks... Oh well, back to the drawing board.

"Janaskja?"

"Yeah?'

"You're doing it again." Luka smiled wryly. John's words were exactly
what they should have been, his tone however, revealed that nothing
essentially had changed.

"I guess I've got another habit to break, huh?", he'd fallen right
back into the practice of charming his listeners into leaving him
alone.

"Yep."

John inhaled, then coughed. "Damn. You're right. I wasn't being fully
honest. Okay, I still feel like someone kicked me in the gut. But I
really *have* been trying, Sascha. It's just that I can't seem to get
past the pain." John closed his eyes for a moment. "Sascha, sit
down." Luka sat on the side of the bed. "Could you hold me? I could
do with a hug." Luka gathered John into his arms making sure to keep
him well wrapped up. "How did you do it?"

"What?"

"Get over grieving for your wife and daughters."

"The same way we're going to get through this. Over a long period of
time punctuated by some spectacular fuck-ups." Luka said flatly. "The
only reason I joined that stupid militia group was so I could get
killed. Thank God, I survived. If I hadn't, I would have missed out
on the best thing that's ever happened to me." Luka kissed John's
cheek.

"Don't say that." John was alarmed. "It's disrespectful." Throughout
their relationship, John had avoided giving Luka any hint that he may
have been jealous of Marije's memory. He'd told his mother the truth;
he didn't feel like second best and had never asked Luka to confirm
this.

"It's also the truth. Listen to me, beloved. I loved Marije as well
as I could given my age and temperament at the time. Fate brought me
to you at a later point in my life, but I still hadn't begun to grow
up. Thanks to that hearing business, I finally saw what I was doing,
and more important who I was doing it to.

"The young man who loved Marije is gone. I'll never regret marrying
her. And who knows, maybe I would have come to love her as she
deserved; with the same kind of love I feel for you. If she's where
she can hear me, I'm sure she understands what I'm saying." Luka
paused. "It's not that *you* are better person than she... It's *me*
that's a better person now. Does this make any sense?"

"Yes, and I'm grateful you told me. I do love you Luka. Although
lately I haven't acted like it." John thought for a few minutes then
sighed. "Kitten's gone. We both loved her. Only I forgot all about
you and what you were going through. All while I've been wallowing in
self-pity, I left you to cope with the loss of another daughter on
your own. That was selfish and hurtful. Someday, I hope you'll
forgive me?" John looked up with tears in his eyes but he was smiling.

"There's nothing to forgive you for. Now go to sleep, my dearest one.
I'll be here when you wake up." Luka settled John and straightened
the bed clothes. After John had confided the story of waking in the
middle of the night and no one coming to comfort him, Luka knew there
was no way he'd leave him alone. He waited until his husband's
breathing slowed and evened out, then he stretched out on the other
bed.

"Is he alright?", Laura Carter came in.

"I'm sorry, I should have briefed you guys." Luka sat up
again. "Yeah, he's going to make a full recovery.

"I hope so.", Laura whispered. "He's always felt things deeply. How
he managed to survive without us, with that horrible old man plaguing
him..."

"Faith. Deep down, John never doubted that you and Roland loved him
and his sister. He may have been hurt that you couldn't show him when
he was small, but as he grew older, believe me, he understood the
reasons that kept you away."

"He's right, Mom.", John said softly. Their quiet voices had roused
him.

"Oh, Johnny, we never meant to wake you."

"That's okay." John smiled and yawned.

Luka got to his feet and slipped on his shoes. "I'll go and talk to
the others. Laura, why don't you stay with John for a while?"

"You wouldn't mind, Johnny?" Laura asked.

"I'd love it. I love *you*."

Laura embraced her son and hoped he didn't see her tears. He'd grown
up without her. She hadn't been back to Chicago since her son's
wedding almost seven years ago---before that, his graduation from
medical school eight years before. In the morning, she'd call and
tell her daughter she was moving back to Chicago. With 'Ria's talent
for organizing things, they'd figure out a way for her to visit back
and forth. The last thing she wanted was for her daughter to feel
abandoned again.

"Mom?"

"Yes, sweetheart."

"It's been great having you here. At home I mean."

"Thank you. I've been thinking. Do you think you could put up with
having me around permanently?"

"You mean it?" John's eyes widened and for a moment, she saw the
little boy who'd greeted her every morning with a loving kiss and a
heartfelt "I love you, Mommy."

"Yes, I mean it. I ran into my former boss last week, and she wants
me to work for her again. I figure I could put in four days a week
and every other weekend go to London to be with your sister." Laura
ruffled John's hair. Eyes shining, John nodded.

"Now go back to sleep. I'll stay with you until Luka gets back.

"Okay." John curled up on his side, one hand pillowing his cheek, the
other had been holding his mother's hand since she'd sat down.

Author's Notes:
* Hey folks, I'm making this up as I go along. (Smile) I realize you
can drain pulmonary fluid without having to resort to a surgical
procedure. The medical part has been altered for dramatic purposes.
Chapter Thirteen - Character Assasination by Kathryn Prozac Parsons
"Were you able to set up a meeting?", Dave asked quietly. He and
Rocket Romano were getting coffee from Magoos.

"Yes. By the way, your performance was excellent. Just the right
amount of indignation topped off with an 'accidental' exasperated
outburst." Romano grinned.

"Hey, piece of cake. Getting yelled at is what I do best." Malucci
flushed at Romano's praise. "I've got to get back. I've been leading
a fairly quiet life lately, and I don't want to give Dr. Weaver any
reason to turn up the volume."

"Don't let *me* stop you." Romano replied. "Thanks again for a job
well done."

Dave waved and headed for the ER. "Hey, Dr. Greene? Could you pinch
me?"

"What on earth for?"

"Dr. Romano just told me *twice* that I'd done a good job. I figured
I must be dreaming."

"You look wide awake to me."

"Yeah, it must have really happened then. Here's your coffee, Chief."
Dave handed over the coffee to Kerry Weaver and went up the hall
whistling. Leaving the two senior staff to exchange puzzled looks.

* * * * *

On Wednesday morning, Dr. Romano seated himself in the
Administrator's office. Dr. Weaver came in and took the other chair.
Jonathan Edwards finished his phone call and turned to face the two
physicians.

"I'll get right to the point." Rocket said flatly. "We have a
problem...", the meeting got underway. Romano cited figures from the
ER leave records and Kerry indignantly defended her staff.

"I do not allow my people to call in sick for trivial illnesses." She
said in response to a withering barb from Romano.

"Well if a cold in the head isn't 'trivial', what would *you* call
it?" Romano's sarcastic tones caused the Administrator to wince.

Kerry responded to her cue in a fashion similar to Dave Malucci. "I
sent Carter home because he had a fever that was inconsistent with
those associated with mere head colds. He was showing every
indication of developing a very bad case of the 'flu. In fact, we
admitted him last night as you are well aware..."

"What's wrong with Dr. Carter?", Edwards wanted to see if he could
catch Kerry in an outright lie. He was therefore surprised when
Romano responded.

"Why don't *you* tell us? You've been through his medical files."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I think you should.", Rocket's smile was not pleasant.

"Excuse me, sir, Mr Rosenbaum is here to see Dr. Romano.", the
secretary announced over the intercom. Without waiting for Edwards to
acknowledge the interruption, Romano went to escort Judge Waterston's
clerk into the room.

"Now, could you explain to me how a confidential medical record
belonging to Dr. Carter found its way into the possesion of Child
Welfare services?"

"I loaned it to one of the social workers." Edwards replied
immediately.

"Did you authorize this 'loan', Dr. Weaver?"

"No, I most certainly did not."

"Well, could you explain to Dr. Weaver why you felt it necessary to
break the law?" Romano was relentless.

"It was obvious to me that Dr. Carter's health warranted action. This
hospital might have been placed in a very untenable position if
someone hadn't taken steps to uncover the truth."

"Ohh, so now you're a lawyer as well as a doctor. What's your next
career move, Indian Chief?"

"I was acting on behalf of this hospital; trying to ensure that no
one was put at risk by Dr. Carter." Edwards replied.

"And how could he have presented a health risk? Did you diagnose his
illness? Are you familiar with the myriad varieties of pulmonary
infections? I'm waiting." Romano sat back.

"The document I removed from Dr. Carter's file looked to me as if it
was newer than the other materials in the folder. I had been made
aware of Dr. Carter's frequent illnesses over the past months and I
thought Child Welfare Services should take his health into account
before making a decision that affected the life of an innocent child."

"And I suppose asking *me* about the health of one of my staff would
have been too difficult?", Kerry was livid.

"How was I to know if you would tell me anything? You're friends with
him. You used to live together."

"Well *I* never lived with Dr. Carter. As Chief of Staff, I should
have been informed of your suspicions."

"I'll admit my actions were unorthodox, but the fact that Dr. Carter
has twice been admitted to this hospital for a serious illness
indicates I had every right to be concerned." Edwards was positive he
had acted for the best.

"Oh yes, every right, especially since you're responsible." Kerry
said flatly.

"I don't understand."

"No, you don't. You couldn't. You've been very careful not to give
voice to your suspicions in the presence of physicians. Why? Is it
because you knew we could tell you the truth? That there is nothing
wrong with Dr. Carter other than a broken heart?" Kerry paused to
calm herself.

"Dr. Carter is suffering from pneumonia caused by over-work in an
environment that exposes him to constant fluctuations in the ambient
temperature. In addition, he has been depressed because some ignorant
individual saw fit to meddle without being in full possession of the
facts. When that child was removed from the care of Dr.s Kovac and
Carter, both men suffered and are still suffering. I hope you feel
proud of yourself. You used the adoption process to advance your own
personal beliefs and have done irreparable damage to three innocent
people.", Kerry Weaver's anger was all the more effective because of
her quiet explanation.

"Mr. Rosenbaum, your office is placed on notice that the normal
process of assigning foster care for the child known as Katerina Doe
has been tampered with. In addition, a confidential document was
stolen from this hospital and placed into the hands of someone who
should not have accepted it. That sets a dangerous precedent.
Jonathan if I were you, a thought that turns my stomach, I'd spend
the rest of the day shopping for legal representation." Romano stood.

* * * * *

"Are you awake?", the sound of Jing-Mei's soft voice roused Carter
from a light sleep.

"For you? Of course. What's on your mind?" John sat up.

"I want to apologize, John. I've been avoiding you." Jing-Mei
admitted.

"That's ok, I think. What are we talking about?"

"Cowardice. Lack of faith, confidence, what have you... When Luka
told us they'd taken Kitten away from you, I knew how you felt. I
should have talked to you long before now but I was scared if I did,
I'd start hurting all over again.", Jing-Mei paused. "You were an
immense help to me when my son was born. If it hadn't been for you, I
could not have said a proper good-bye.", she smiled sadly.

"I thought the social worker was being a sadistic bitch, making me
hold him before giving him up. Now, I realize I'll always have those
memories and having them makes his absence less painful. I'm sorry
things didn't work out better for you and Luka. If it's any help, I
called your case worker, Ms. Nicholson, and told her she should make
arrangements for you to see Kitten once more after you were released.
It doesn't look as if I was able to convince her."

"It's okay." John took her hand. "Sarah was taken off of the case.
Believe me, if she could have done anything, she would have. Anyway,
Kitten will get to read my story someday. It's not the same, but
thinking of her reading it to her own kids does help a little."

"By the way, I also never thanked you for including me in 'Kitten's
Tale'. I wake up in the night after dreaming about my son and I re-
read your story. I don't really regret my decision, but I'd be lying
if I didn't admit to missing him sometimes. What about you?"

"Well, it wasn't our decision. To give her up, I mean... I feel
awful, Deb. Sorry, Jing-Mei.", Carter corrected himself.

"You can still call me Deb if you want."

"Thanks, but 'Jing-Mei' suits you better. It's pretty, like you are.
Anyway, I do know how you felt." John fell silent then continued more
quietly. "I feel like part of me is missing; hollow inside, you know?
It's funny. Up until that night, I'd never given any thought to
children but when she grabbed my finger and smiled, it was like
getting everything you ever wanted for Christmas and a guarantee for
a happy life into the bargain. She was so small and helpless. I
didn't ever want to let go of her. I used to go into her room and
watch her when she slept."

Jing-Mei nodded. "Yeah, I know what you mean. Mikal's parents send me
pictures and I get to visit over the phone and it helps. Do you think
the social services people would let you and Luka do that?"

"I don't know. I doubt it. It's better as it is. The last thing
either of us want is for Kitten to grow up with any regrets. When
they think the time is right, she'll find out that we loved her and
miss her still. It'll have to be enough. Could you do me a favor?"

"Sure, John."

"Talk to Luka. It's worse for him. I left him to get over this by
himself. This is the third child he's lost and I know he feels awful.
I've apologized for making such a fool of myself but I think he's
hesitant about talking to me about his grief for fear of making me
feel even worse than I do. I'm better now, honestly. So would you
talk to him?"

"Of course."

* * * * *

"Ms. Franklyn. I'm not going to waste any more of your time than I
have to." Laurencia Carlton said briskly. First, I should tell you
I'm biased. I am very good friends with Dr. Kovac and Dr. Carter.
Your people decided to remove Katerina from their custody. I was
instrumental in getting you to re-examine your decision, so do a good
job. My friends were terribly hurt by your agency and I can't deny I
want to see that child restored to them.", she nodded as the other
woman began to speak.

"I know I cannot order or even ask you to do this. All I am asking is
for Dr. Carter to get a chance to see Katerina once more, under the
supervision of your staff. I have been informed you no longer have
any undue concerns regarding the health of the two men. Please do
your utmost to be fair and offset what amounts to character
assasination on the part of Jonathan Edwards."

"Ms. Carlton, you should not be privy to that information." , Jane
Franklyn frowned.

"And your office should not have made a hasty decision bearing such
grave consequences based on one individual's opinions. So that makes
us even. You are an employee of Cooke County and the state of
Illinois. I would advise you to conduct all future operations in
strict accordance with County policy. After today, my office will
cease to concern itself directly in this matter because I am fully
confident your people will do their jobs correctly this time."

* * * * *

J.R. Smythe grinned when she presented "Kitten's Tale" for it's final
review prior to publication. Apart from changing the child's name
to "Catriona" no other alterations were made to John's little story.
In two weeks the book would be on sale nationwide. The publicity
department was drooling over the opportunity to hype a work whose
profits would be turned over to charity and whose creators wished to
remain anonymous.

Charles's design used for the binding and typeface by the firm that
had published the private version was used again. When the book was
shipped, they sat back and waited. A popular female author of a
series of books about magical children had reviewed "Kitten's Tale"
very favorably. By the time John Carter returned to work, nearly one
hundred thousand copies had been sold in the greater Chicago area
with comparable sales being recorded in other cities.

Laura told John about the book shortly after his release from the
hospital. Unlike before, he thanked her profusely and agreed with
Luka that no further harm could be done. After talking with Luka,
John suggested that it was time to dismantle Kitten's room. "We have
her pictures, Sascha. Having her furniture won't help us to remember
her more, or miss her any less." Surprisingly, Luka didn't agree. He
asked John for a little more time not wanting to state the real
reason for his reluctance. Ever since Father Thomas indicated his
feeling that Kitten would be restored to them, Luka had been praying
before the icon in her room that this would be so.

That night, they made love; the first time in months. Afterwards,
John held Luka, who had been overjoyed at John's apparent return to
his old self. "Janaskja?"

"Hmmm?"

"I think we should try again."

"You'll have to give me a while to rest, beloved. I don't have a
magic cock."

"That's not what I meant. Although now that you mention it..."

"Sex fiend.", John grinned and kissed Luka's throat.

"I mean we should try to adopt again. Only this time, use a private
agency. If we ask for our files from social services, it would cut
down on the amount of time the new agency would need to process our
request. There are unwanted children galore in the Chicago area.
Surely, they could give one to us." John was silent. "Janaskja?"

"I was thinking. I didn't tell you, but when 'Ria came to see me in
the hospital, she offered to be a surrogate mother for us. I turned
her down."

"Why?"

"Well, after talking with Jing-Mei, I know I could never ask any
woman to give up a child after carrying it and giving birth. Even
though 'Ria would have full access to her baby, I'd feel guilty for
putting her through all of that. I promise, I'll think about your
idea. It's a good one, but I honestly don't believe I'm ready to go
through it again; not just yet."

"Thank you, beloved. And you're right about your sister. It wouldn't
be fair to her. Now come up here. I think I know a spell to get your
magic wand in working order again."

"Mmmm. I do like how your mind works." John moved on top of Luka who
went to work. "It's been too long, Sascha."

"That's the first time anyone complained about the extra length."
Luka groaned as John's hands began to prepare his husband.

"Well, I don't think that was a complaint. Far from it." John smiled
and Luka's heart turned over. Just maybe, his husband was back. Two
fingers began to move inside him and Luka lifted his hips to increase
the pressure. "Steady as she goes, pardner. I haven't gotten started
yet."

"Take your time. Take me."

"Your wish is my command, O patient one."

"I thought I was a doctor?", Luka husked as John's slender fingers
teased his penis.

"Only at work. In this bed, I'm known as Dr. Feelgood." John's hands
supplied ample proof that this name was well deserved. John continued
his "procedure". "Come here.", John's voice was husky. Luka impaled
himself on his husband who gathered him into his arms. "That's it. I
want to hold you while I do my level best to drive you right over the
edge." John rocked his hips and began to thrust upwards.

Luka held on for dear life, rubbing himself up against the hair of
John's groin. The mattress protested vociferously but neither man
paid any attention. John slipped his right hand between them and
started a gentle stroking motion. Luka inhaled suddenly and John felt
the corresponding pressure. "Sweet heavens, you feel so good. Do that
again." Luka's anal muscles contracted once more and John moved
faster. Moments later, his orgasm burst and he cried aloud as Luka's
semen covered his fingers.

They collapsed back onto the bed breathing heavily. Luka was relieved
to hear John's breath sounds were normal; in keeping with someone
who'd exerted himself but not unduly harsh. They drifted into sleep,
wrapped in each other's arms.

* * * * *

"Doctor, we don't know what else to do." The middle-aged woman was
completely frustrated. "She's crying almost constantly. The only time
we have any peace is when she exhausts herself. The paediatrician
took the child into his arms. The baby's cries stopped while she
tried to grab his stethoscope, but as suddenly as they had ceased,
the noise began again louder than before.

Kitten's foster parents had plenty of experience with infants.
Nevertheless, the baby girl who'd come with lyrical descriptions of
her sunny even temperament, had baffled them. Despite paying her
almost constant attention, she refused to make what should have been
a relatively easy adjustment. At first, she seemed merely restless
and would only sleep if one the old t-shirts that had been included
with her things was tucked into her crib.

As the weeks passed, she became fretful, then the crying
began. "Doctor, it can't be healthy for her to cry so much. Apart
from keeping us awake, we're afraid that something serious is the
matter with her."

"I've examined her medical records and examined her. She's in
excellent health, all things considered. Have you talked with her
previous care-givers?"

"No. We were told they'd moved away."

The doctor frowned. Their conversation had been accompanied by
Kitten's wailing. Finally, tired out, the baby drifted off to sleep
clutching the stethoscope. "What about her feeding schedule?"

"She stops crying long enough to eat, sleeps for a few hours then it
all starts up again. Katerina is the eighth baby we've fostered but
none of them have ever behaved like this. Do you think she could be
allergic to something in our home?"

"When she wakes up, we'll start testing. Quite frankly, I don't think
that will turn out to be the answer. She's not crying as if she is
physically uncomfortable. This may turn out to be a psychological
problem."

"But she's barely six months old!" In her excitement, Mrs. Reece woke
Kitten who resumed crying. Forty mintues and ten needle pricks later,
it was determined Kitten was not suffering from an allergic reaction
to any of the most common substances. After applying a soothing
lotion to the test sites on her arms, the doctor gave Katerina back
to her foster mother.

"What did he say?" Mr. Reece was already on his feet.

"He's just as confounded as we are. Shhhh, little one. Please, hush."
Mrs. Reece jiggled Katerina who was having none of it. "Let's go home
before she gets every kid in here following her example."

"While I was waiting, I bought this in the bookstore in the lobby.
It's a children's story. The social services guys said she was used
to being read to. Maybe this will help." Her husband offered.

"We've read everything to her except for your old copies of 'Field &
Stream' and nothing worked. What the hay, let's give it a try
tonight." At two in the morning, the exasperated couple was forced to
admit defeat. John Carter's hope that his child could hear her story
had come true. Although her foster parents were charmed by the story
and its illustrations, Kitten was not amused.

* * * * *

John returned to work after another week off. Once again, he was
restricted to half-shifts and light duties. Kerry and Luka watched
him like hawks. Carter cooperated fully with their requests. He
worked with the students, handled the administrative paperwork and
managed to keep up a cheerful attitude. One afternoon, he went to see
his therapist who saw through him immediately.

"John, you're not feeling any better about all of this are you?"

"No. Well, a little. Maybe." John leaned forward. "I think I might be
going insane. I keep hearing her crying for us."

"While you're awake?"

"No."

"You're still having nightmares then."

"Oh yeah."

"What does Luka say about all of this?"

"He doesn't know." John sat back and sighed. "I know. I should tell
him, but how can I? He's got enough grief of his own without my
dumping more on him."

"Bullshit.", Dr. Lansen said bluntly. "You should know by now,
sharing grief doesn't double it. Just the opposite. Talk to him John,
today. If I didn't know you any better, I'd be calling your sponsor
and giving him the 'look out for this one' talk."

"You don't have to do that. Using drugs is what landed me in this
mess. Luka misses Kitten and wants to try and adopt through a private
agency. Believe me, if I thought about relapsing, just picturing
Luka's face when we're turned down again is more than enough to keep
me sober."

"Do you think he blames you for Katerina being taken away?"

"No. He'd never do that. Even *I* don't really think my addiction had
anything to do with it. No, we're two men living together in a
committed relationship; shit we're a couple of queers. That's the
real reason."

Dr. Lansen kept her professional demeanor in place but she agreed
with John. "What about your recent illness?"

"What about it?" John smiled crookedly. "You're right. I didn't even
try to get well. I guess deep down, I thought if something happened
to me, Luka could get married again. To a woman I mean, and then
nobody would care if he had fifteen kids. I was stupid huh?"

"More like infantile, no offense meant to Katerina and others in her
age group. John, I could increase your anti-depressant prescription
but I'd be wasting my time and your money. Instead, I'm prescribing
immediate action on your part. Go home and talk to Luka honestly.
Don't try to spare his feelings. If he gets angry with you accept it
and apologize. You deserve it.", she smiled at his frightened
expression. "Compared to telling him you used drugs again, this will
be easy. If you need to, call me at home."

"Can Luka call you?"

"Only if you do something really dumb like try to commit suicide. I'm
not going to do your work for you, John. *You* talk to Luka. I know
you're scared but try not to worry too much. From everything you've
told me, you're stuck with that handsome Croatian for the rest of
your life. Now get out of here and let me treat some patients who are
really sick."

Instead of going home, John returned to County to wait until Luka was
off duty. His session had helped him to see that he'd been well on
his way to doing serious damage to their relationship. They rode home
on the El' and John was grateful for this brief postponement to what
was ahead. His grandfather's disapproval though hurtful had not been
grievously wounding. The emotional bond between the old man and his
grandson was not strong enough.

However, John truly loved and respected Luka; coming out of his
charming shell and exposing his heart. Luka had the power to inflict
fatal damage to John's self image. Unconciously, John had adopted a
subtler version of his people pleasing habits to forestall the time
when Luka would be forced to say John disappointed him. Now John
would have to tell Luka everything and he was scared right down to
his shoes.
Chapter Fourteen - In my midnight confession ... by Kathryn Prozac Parsons
"Here's you nightcap." John handed Luka his glass of red wine and sat
down holding his mug of herbal tea. He wanted nothing more than a
stiff shot of bourbon to get him through this, but dismissed the idea
immediately. That was addiction talking. Making a mental note to call
his sponsor after talking with his husband, John exhaled.

"Come on Janaskja. Something's on your mind."

"Yes. I've been lying to you, Sascha." John said quietly, his eyes on
the floor.

"I know. The only reason I didn't say anything was because I knew
*you* would."

"I've been having nightmares about Kitten. I hear her crying and I
know she's miserable without the two of us and it's tearing me apart.
I've been sneaking into her room at night so I won't disturb you when
I wake up and start crying again."

"I know that too." Luka smiled at the melancholy profile. John was
harder on himself than ten grandfathers.

"How?"

"The silence. Beloved, it's gotten to the point where I can't sleep
*without* your snores. The first few times it happened, I followed
you."

"You didn't tell me. Why?"

"Same answer as before. I knew you *would* although I didn't think it
would take this long. I really frightened you that time when I yelled
at you?" Luka had been afraid of this ever since he'd lost his temper
and became violently angry towards his husband.

"No... Well, yeah, you did." John said very softly.

"So you decided to spare my feelings and kept most of your problems
to yourself." Luka was blunt.

"Yes, I'm really sorry, Luka."

"Don't be."

"What?"

"I seem to remember this very sexy young man I was living with,
telling me that Jerry was keeping book on when my halo was due to
fall off. My God Janaskja, it took you almost eight years to lose
yours. The prize money must be well over three thousand bucks by now."

"You're not mad at me?"

"No. I told you once that you could never disappoint me. I was
telling you the truth. I see now, that you didn't believe me, but I
understand why you couldn't. Too many people have told you they were
disappointed in you; with or without cause. You've been tiptoeing
around me trying to keep that other shoe from dropping and forgot
that we dropped both of them that first night I told you I loved you."

"Still, you can't say you'd never be disappointed in me."

"Oh but I can. Listen, Janaskja. If you deliberately set out to hurt
someone. If you steal or cheat, or God forbid kill someone else
deliberately, I'm going to be very disppointed but you would never do
those things. We've both acted like idiots on occasion. So how can I
hold against you what you've forgiven me for?" Luka smiled gently. "I
also told you that one day I'd be strong enough to help you when you
really needed it. And it looks like you need me."

"Yes, but you're hurting too. I didn't want you to worry about me in
addition."

"I know. But you've eased my hurt without knowing it." Luka thought
for a moment. "When my family was killed, I thought I had no one. I'd
turned my back on God, on life. I'd gone through the same thing you
did when you were attacked and Lucy died. Tried to pretend I wasn't
hurting; refusing help."

John put his head in his hands and so missed Luka's brief smile.

"My first step toward growing up was waiting for you to seek help
after you were stabbed. You'll never know how much I wanted to step
in and take your mind from your problems by telling you I loved you.
Instead I didn't interfere because I didn't know you well enough and,
more importantly, somehow I knew you had to put your own life back
together by asking for help. Now is no different. After they took
Kitten, it was hard watching you come apart all the while you
pretended everything was fine. It was also scary. But I waited. I
knew the last thing you needed was my stepping in and taking
everything out of your hands. Hands I knew were capable of dealing
with your problems."

"But I'm not able to deal with this." John objected, finally looking
up at Luka. The love he saw on his husband's face stopped his breath.

"Oh but you are. You're talking to me aren't you? You're asking for
my help and understanding."

"Yeah, but only because my shrink told me to." John said bitterly.

"She wasn't the first. And you could have ignored her as you did your
mother and father and Kerry and Jing-Mei and ..."

"Okay. I'll admit Dr. Lansen finally scared me into thinking
straight." John's mouth twisted upwards into wry grin.

"No she didn't. You scared yourself."

"You're really something else, Sascha."

"Again, beloved, no. I'm some*one* else. Luka 'Mr. Fix-it' Kovac is a
thing of my past. The man who felt he had to solve everybody's
problems because his stubborness accidentally cost the lives of his
wife and children... denying people the opportunity to fix things for
themselves, is gone... thank God. It hurt me that I couldn't repair
you but I knew deep down, you could do that yourself; that you had to
do that yourself. Instead of wading in with a pickaxe, I'm now able
to wait patiently with my handy tool belt, for someone to ask for my
assistance."

"How did you manage to cope while I was acting the fool?"

"God. A wise man once told me although we turn our backs on Him, He
never abandons us. I prayed, talked to my therapist, our family, and
prayed some more. Compared to what I went through when Marije and my
first two angels were taken; to how I felt when you were stabbed and
lost to those drugs; this was relatively easy. This time, no one
died. This time, it wasn't my fault. Father Thomas believes that
somehow we'll get Kitten back and I believe it too."

"Really?"

"Completely. I don't know how God is going to pull it off but then if
I knew it wouldn't be a miracle."

"Boy, I really fucked up."

"Yes you did. However, humans have the right, by divine ordinance I
might add, to make mistakes. The fact that I frightened you into
keeping silent *was* may fault so I cannot be angry with you for not
coming to me before."

"I suppose life-long habits aren't that easy to break." John observed
quietly. "When I look back, it all seems so clear... the lies I told,
hiding my fear and anger... all because I wanted people to like me.
It's a wonder I made it this far."

"No it's not." Luka smiled and took John's hand. "You're a strong man
when you need to be."

"You keep saying that, Sacha..."

"Because it's true, Janaskja. If it weren't, you'd would have cracked
up long before you ever met me. When I first came to County, I
thought you were a happy young man without a care in the world. Then
I overheard various members of the staff talking about you. I was
shocked to discover your life was marked by tragedies and losses as
great as my own. If I hadn't known better, I'd have assumed you were
a shallow person who did not let life touch him deeply. Well, I'd
seen you with patients and their relatives, and recognized a
compassionate heart. Your strength enabled you to laugh and smile and
captivate my soul. Now, come here."

John scooted across the couch into Luka's outstretched arms which
enveloped him in a comforting embrace. "I'll try harder, Sascha. I
promise."

"No, beloved. Don't do it for me. If I loved you anymore than I do
right now, I'd explode. You don't have to deserve my love. You *have*
my love. It's your's without conditions. When I talk about your
strength, I'm not speaking about a Superman who is impervious to
pain. Rather, I referring to your ability to feel pain, heal, and
move on."

The sound of Luka's voice and the feel of his arms calmed John's
fears considerably. They'd been seated on the couch for nearly an
hour, when their companionable silence was broken by the telephone
ringing. Luka reached behind him and plucked the receiver from the
cradle. It was Laura Carter with a request from the publishing
company. Luka listened, thanked her, then hung up the phone.

"Who was that?"

"Your mother. It looks as if Katerina will be able to afford to *buy*
a college. Your story is selling very well indeed. They want to
interview the author on a public television station." Luka grinned.

"Shit. If I do that, we'd never stand a chance of seeing her again."
John said grimly.

"Our chances now aren't exactly overwhelming." Luka observed. He had
a hunch.

"You think I should?"

"Yes, but I'll understand and support your decision if you say 'no'."

"I'll think about it." John got up.

They went to bed and John drifted off to sleep thinking about the
television interview. Luka had appeared on a news program and that
very day, a witness to John's abduction had come forward. He couldn't
mention their aborted custody of Katerina. If asked, he would cite
other cases of abandoned children he'd seen at County as his
inspiration for "Kitten's Tale". He'd do it, John decided then
snuggled closer to Luka and slept without dreams.

* * * * *

To avoid an embarrassing court case, Jonathan Edwards announced he
would be retiring in two months time. A search committee was
appointed to look for a replacement. Rocket Romano surprised everyone
when he turned down an opportunity to participate. He had good
reasons. He hoped to pack the search results with numerous candidates
more suited to the diverse staff and patient load at County General.
Robert placed several calls from his home to hospitals in the San
Francisco Bay area, as well as a few to Manhattan and the five
boroughs. After faxing the job description, he sat back, content to
wait upon events.

The staff of Child Welfare Services were also spurred to action. Ms.
Franklyn did not miss Laurencia's subtle blackmail. Their budget
would be up for review in six months and a large portion of it came
from city coffers. Evan Ross was dispatched to the Reece's home with
instructions to observe Katerina. The nurse accompanying him had seen
the child before one happy morning at the home of John and Luka.

The sound of a baby crying could be heard even before Mrs. Reece
opened the front door. "Please come in. If you hadn't called, I would
have called you...". She led them straight away to the baby's room.
The sight of Kitten's little pinched reddened face shocked the nurse.
She picked up the baby who ceased crying. Mrs. Reece sighed
heavily. "This is the first time she's been quiet since six this
morning. My husband and I don't know what to do. We've taken her to
the paediatrician, He suggested we contact her previous caregivers. I
told him they'd left town. Do you know how to get in touch with them?
This baby's miserable. She's not eating properly."

The nurse rocked Katerina; maintaining a professional silence. She'd
let Evan Ross tell whatever lies were necessary. While they talked,
the nurse looked around. Although not as pretty as her former
nursery, the room was clean and bright. Several brand-new toys lined
the crib. She would have bet her license that the baby hadn't even
looked at them. Evan Ross explained the impossibility of involving
Katertina's prior foster-care parents.

"Well what about the doctors who treated her right after she was
found?" Mrs. Reece was desperate.

"Good for you." The nurse thought as the baby's eyes closed. She was
looking forward to filing a detailed report on this visit.

"They will not be able to help either." Ross went on to explain the
doctors really had very little contact with the baby after
stabilizing her condition.

The visit was brief. As much as she wanted to hand Katerina back to
Mrs. Reece so the crying would start up again, the nurse gently
settled the baby in the crib. The child was clearly exhausted and
needed all the sleep she could get. The social workers quietly made
their exit.

"You didn't weigh the baby.", Ross observed.

"There was no need. She weighs only a little more than she did when I
last held her. She's underweight. With all that crying it's no
wonder." Folding her arms, Nurse Matheus said nothing for the
remainder of their ride back to the office.

* * * * *

The woman applying the make-up to John's face couldn't help but laugh
as he tried to scratch by scrunching up his features. The host of the
local PBS station's book review program sat in the green room
chatting with the guests. This way, when they were on the set, the
conversations would seem more natural, a continuation instead of
rehearsed publicity blurbs. Seeing John's nervousness, she asked a
few intelligent questions about his work as a trauma physician and
smiled when he immediately relaxed and answered eagerly. Before he
knew it, John found himself sitting in a comfortable chair under the
lights. It wasn't a live broadcast. His friends would be able to see
it in two weeks.

"Your book was inspired by your work at your hospital?"

"Yes, ma'am." His interviewer, Indra Sajin was in her late sixties.
The manners instilled in him by Mrs. Riordan, were in place.

"Why did you decide to publish anonymously?" Throughout the
interview, John would be addressed as "Doctor." A useless strategem,
since as Roland's son, and the victim of a kidnapping, his face was
familiar.

"Unfortunately, several babies are abandoned in the Chicago area
every year. I didn't want my fictional account to be interpreted by
these children as a source for clues to their backgrounds."

"So 'Catriona' doesn't exist."

"No.", John tried to keep his face neutral but the hesitancy in his
voice almost prompted Indra to pump him further. Remembering her
briefing with Jessica Smythe, Indra changed the subject.

"Are you religious, Doctor?"

"I believe in God, yes. I've seen too many things in my work that
cannot be explained except by the presence of God."

* *
* * *

... "How long did it take you to write 'Kitten's Tale'?"

John's face was replaced by a close-up shot of the book's cover.
Looking up from her ironing, Mrs. Reece turned up the sound. She
regularly watched the program.

"About an hour."

"You must have felt deeply about the subject. Many of the authors
who've appeared on this program say telling the truth doesn't take
long... My grandchildren love this story. Did you have one particular
child in mind when you wrote it? Over the years, you must have seen
or treated several babies like 'Catriona'."

"I have, but none of them stands out more than any other."

"So you never considered adopting any of them.?" Indra smiled as
John's eyes went wide.

"Once, but it didn't work out. My partner and I were not considered
likely candidates." John said quietly.

"I'm sorry." Indra sat back. A series of routine questions concluded
the interview. She'd done the best she could. "Thank you, Doctor. "My
next guest has also written stories for children..."

Mrs. Reece put away her iron. Maybe this doctor could help with
Katerina. He seemed sensitive to the needs of children. He hadn't
been introduced by name, but there were not that many hospitals in
the greater Chicago area.
Chapter Fifteen - ...boy gets girl. by Kathryn Prozac Parsons
Luka received his miracle. A cursory examination of the Arbitron
ratings given to television stations in the Chicago area showed the
PBS stations were usually in last place compared with other
commercial and cable offerings. In addition, a program devoted to the
discussion of books was near the bottom of other, more popular PBS
shows. That Mrs. Reece regularly watched the program had been one
chance in thousands.

John's health improved rapidly. His depression was lessening. He and
Luka continued to talk, usually when John woke in the middle of the
night. Despite curtailed rest, both men seemed more cheerful. Summer
was approaching and the ER was busy. Allergies frequently triggered
asthmatic attacks. In addition, the criminal elements were taking
advantage of the balmy weather. It was prom season and tragically,
there were also numerous traffic accidents involving celebrating teen-
agers.

John's students were in the midst of preparing for final exams and
submitting paperwork for their summer and fall rotations. Taking some
down-time to write up his evaluations, John thought he could hear a
baby crying. It sounded like Kitten. Shaking his head, John decided
he was finally cracking up.

"Hey Carter, you're not going to believe this!" Haleh poked her head
into the lounge. "She's back!" Haleh stood aside as John ran from the
room. There was no doubt in his mind who "she" was. "Exam 3!" Haleh
called out before going to get Luka.

John slowed down to a hasty walk as he entered the room. A tired-
looking middle-aged woman was standing next to a carry crib
containing a highly upset little baby girl. "Doctor..."

She never got to explain her reason for coming in with the baby. John
picked up Katerina who fell silent and smiled at him. Tears standing
in his eyes, John held her close against his chest as he kissed her
head. Not trusting his voice, John looked up at Mrs. Reece. She
nodded and sat down.

Luka pushed his way through the crowd gathered outside of Exam 3.
Haleh had gone through the ER re-enacting Paul Revere's famous ride.
Oblivious to the numerous witnesses, Luka entered the room and shut
the door. Without a word, John handed the smiling baby to his
husband. Kitten startled them all by laughing as she reached for
Luka's face. "We've missed you, little heart." He assumed Mrs. Reece
was another social worker.

"I thought so." Mrs. Reece said thickly. For the first time since she
came to them, Katerina was behaving in accordance with the social
workers' appraisals. "She was with you before they brought her to us."

"Why did you bring her in?" John finally asked as he wiped his eyes.

"Well, I saw you on that book show. You seemed to like kids and
Katerina's been crying ever since they brought her to us. Now, I know
why. Excuse me." She left the room.

"Thank God our friends are outside. I'm tempted to take Kitten and
run for the hills." Luka said smiling as the baby tried to stop his
lips moving. "Here, Janaskja, you hold her for awhile."

John didn't have to be asked twice. Holding Kitten over his head,
John brought her tummy down to his mouth and blew noisily. Kitten
laughed again and reached for his nose. John nuzzled her neck then
settled her in his arms. Luka sat on the bed next to him and reached
for one of Kitten's hands which immediately closed over his
finger. "How long do think we have?" He asked quietly, the little
one's eyes were closing.

"Not long enough." John said sadly as he gently rocked the
baby. "Luka, I don't know if I'll be able to give her back. Help me."

Mrs. Reece was on her third phone call. "I don't care if they're in
conference with the President of the United States!. Get them down
here! If you don't, I'm going to take matters into my own hands."
Banging the receiver down, she headed back to Exam 3. When she came
in, both men looked up. The look on the younger man's face brought
tears to her eyes again. "My husband won't be off work for another
hour. If you don't mind, can we wait here for him?"

Luka nodded. "You said she'd been crying?"

"Almost around the clock. I'm surprised you didn't hear her; half of
Chicago must have."

"My husband did." Luka said looking at John with widened eyes.

"So that's it." Mrs. Reece frowned.

"Excuse me?" Luka was confused.

"They placed Katerina with us because you're gay. Jerks."

"Well, they probably thought she'd be better off with a mother and
father..." John was trying to prepare himself for the moment when
Kitten would have to leave again.

"Bull puckey. Anyone who could write a story like 'Kitten's Tale' is
gentle enough for six mothers. When your partner..."

"I'm sorry, I'm Dr. Luka Carter-Kovac. This is my husband, John Kovac-
Carter." Luka made the introductions.

"Anyway, when Dr. John picked her up, that was the first time she'd
smiled since being brought to us. Katerina obviously knows who she
belongs to."

The three of them talked quietly while Kitten napped. Catching a
glimpse of Evan Ross and his boss through the window, Mrs. Reece got
to her feet. "Do me a favor, leave the baby with me for fifteen
minutes. I promise, I won't leave the hospital without your getting a
chance to be with her once more." She winked and pointed them to the
door connecting with Exam 2. John and Luka left, somewhat confused
but reassured by the woman's conspiratorial air.

As Evan Ross and Jane Franklyn watched, Eleanor Reece gently woke
Katerina. After making her calls, she had "borrowed" some isopropyl
alchohol. The smell of the disinfecting agent did the trick. Kitten
began crying again. Nurse Matheus had remembered Luka explaining the
baby didn't like the smell of the stuff. During her second phone
call, Eleanor had been told about this. Making sure to keep one of
her hands near Kitten's face, Eleanor jiggled the baby praying that
this mild abuse would be forgiven. For the remaining minutes,
Katerina performed like a trouper, squalling and wriggling in an
attempt to get away from the awful smell her infant mind associated
with the naso-gastric tube.

John and Luka came back and John took the highly upset baby into his
arms. The noise ceased instantly as Kitten tried to rub her face on
his shoulder. Luka wiggled his fingers at her and crossed his eyes
and she smiled, bobbing her little head.

"So how much more evidence do you people need?" Kerry Weaver asked
drily as the two social workers stared at the "miraculous"
transformation. "That child belongs with John and Luka. She's been
trying to tell everyone that since you removed her from their care."

"It certainly looks that way." Jane Franklyn acknowledged as she
watched John rocking a smiling baby on his knees while Luka prepared
to change her. The director of the agency tapped on the glass and
beckoned to Eleanor to come outside. "Is there somewhere we can talk
privately?"

"Use my office. Everyone else does." Kerry grinned and went to wait
for Mr. Reece.

The discussion was taking longer than Eleanor thought necessary.
Finally, she stood up, hands on her hips. "My husband and I have done
everything we could to make Katerina happy. Nothing worked. I can
speak for him. Neither of us want that child returned to us where she
will be miserable. So far, her crying hasn't seriously affected her
health. I'm not willing to guarantee a healthy future if she is
forced to remain with us. And before you decide to place her with
another foster family, I would suggest you show some sense. She will
be miserable no matter who you find. Those two men love that baby and
she obviously loves them. This is a no-brainer folks." Eleanor
stomped from the room.

"Do you have any further objections?" Jane Franklyn asked Evan Ross.
Her expression told him he'd better come up with some good ones.

"No, nothing that will stand up in court.", he admitted. "I just hope
we aren't making a mistake."

"It's too late for that. We already made one when we took the baby
away from them. I'm not saying your concerns about the health of her
caregivers wasn't warranted, but it should have been investigated
thoroughly *before* any decision was made. Let's go and give those
two doctors some good news."

Paul Reece left work early. Kerry introduced herself and gave him a
rapid fire briefing. The stocky man shook his head grinning. "Eleanor
is not shy. She proposed to me.", he explained chuckling.

John and Luka were in a world of their own. Neither man noticed
Eleanor's return. Only John glanced up when Evan Ross and his boss
followed her minutes later. The two men focused their attention on
Kitten who was once again catching up on her rest in John's arms.

"Dr. Kovac, Dr. Carter?" Jane Franklyn spoke softly. "Mrs. Reece and
her husband feel they can no longer keep Katerina where she is
unhappy. If you agree, we would like to have her returned to your
care."

The joyful expression on John's face was blinding. Luka also smiled,
largely for John's benefit. "Janaskja, I'm going to call Mrs. R. so
she can bring the baby's things."

John nodded, too happy to realize that with the temperature outside
in the lower 80s, Kitten could have gone home in her birthday suit
with no ill affect. Gesturing to Ross and Franklyn, Luka went with
them into the next room. "Thank you for changing your minds, but I'm
not sure if we should accept. John was extremely depressed when you
took Katerina away from us. Between overwork and poor rest, he became
physically ill. Frankly, I don't think he could bear it when you
finally place Katerina with another family. I'm not sure I could bear
it either." Luka said gravely.

"I'm sorry Dr. Kovac. I should have explained things better. Yes, we
are returning custody to the two of you as foster-care providers,
but..." Jane held up her hand to forestall Luka's objection. "But
with the understanding you will be her foster parents only until your
petition to adopt Katerina is formally approved. And I don't see any
reason why it should be denied."

"We were told that before." Luka said slowly.

"Well, as the director of Child Welfare Services, there is no one who
can go over *my* head. I'm sorry for the distress our previous
decision caused you and Dr. Carter. Now why don't you go and give him
the really good news." Luka was gone.

"Janaskja!..." the door closed behind him. The social workers watched
as Luka explained to John and were priveledged to see Luka softly
embrace his husband as he held their sleeping daughter.
Chapter Sixteen - And they lived happily ever after... by Kathryn Prozac Parsons
"That's it, Dr. Carter." Scott Welles had been Kitten's interim
paediatrician since she was found nearly a year ago. The pleasant
young doctor's manners had resulted in a more permanent association
with the family. "See you later, little one." Dr. Welles returned to
his computer. He was in the midst of reading a spectacular story
about a female trauma physician sharing a hotel room with another
woman from her staff.

It was almost Christmas. Colored lights decorated the admit desk.
Santa Claus hats bedecked the heads of some staff members. John
Carter came around the corner from the staff lounge, Kitten riding in
a carry pack on his chest. "Hey, Jerry! Do me a favor and distribute
the rest of these." He handed over some small pink envelopes
decorated with golden stars.

"Sure thing, Dr. K-C. Do you need any help with the party?"

Remembering the last time Jerry helped organize the ER staff holiday
blow-out, John shook his head grinning. Kitten did her best to catch
the pom-pom on her father's seasonal head-gear.

"Is your other half back yet?" Jerry wiggled his fingers at Katerina.

"Nope, he's still in Indianapolis at that trauma conference with Dr.
Weaver. If you deliver the remaining invitations, that should do it.
Everything else has been taken care of." John put on his gloves and
headed for his car.

It was a new one. The old Jeep was a two-seater so they'd sold it to
a co-worker and bought another model that could safely accommodate a
car seat. John unhooked the carry pack. He placed Kitten in the car
seat which faced backwards in the rear of the vehicle. After checking
to make sure the restraining straps were securely fastened both on
the seat's steel frame and around his precious cargo; John shut the
doors on the passenger side, got in and buckled up.

"Final systems check on fuel, communications, and on-board electronic
systems.", he intoned in a nasally voice as Kitten voiced her
approval behind him. "We have ignition." John turned the key and
started the engine. "The launch site is clear...", they were on their
way home. Luka wasn't due in until about three in the morning, so
John had Kitten all to himself. Luka's business trip was the first
time either of them had been away from home for more than fifteen
hours since she'd been returned to them. When John reached the
apartment, Mrs. Riordan let him in.

"How did she behave?"

"Good as gold." John grinned as his godmother took the sleepy
baby. "Dr. Welles gave her a clean bill of health and the day-care
staff almost came to fisticuffs trying to decide who would feed her.
What's for dinner?"

"I ordered take-out. I've been busy with the party arrangements for
most of the afternoon."

"Anything I can help with?"

"No, me boyo. We're all done.", she left with Kitten and went to the
baby's room.

* * * * *

When Luka let himself into their apartment shortly before four in the
morning, a strong feeling of deja vu made him rub his eyes. John was
asleep on the floor in front of the couch wearing his caftan. Kitten
was zonked out in her carry crib next to him. A computer printout
sign bearing the legend, "Welcome home, Papa!" was pinned to the
cushions above the two sleepy heads.

John woke to a soft kiss on his cheek. "Mmmm, you're an icicle. I'll
have to rub you until you're warm again."

"Did she miss me?" Luka smiled as his husband sat up.

"Oh yeah. We had a contest. It was a tie. I'm soo glad you're back.
Why don't you put her to bed while I get you unpacked?"

"Only if I get to put you to bed afterwards." Luka shrugged out of
his coat and gently picked up the crib.

John grabbed Luka's suitcase and headed for their bedroom. Unpacking
was easy, nearly everything went into the hamper. Smiling as he
shoved the suitcase into the closet, John went to Kitten's room.
Grinning, he stopped in the doorway. Kitten was in her big crib, wide
awake and looking around. Luka was asleep in the chaise. Like
Princess Aurora, Luka was wakened with a kiss. However, the family
entertainment empire she ruled would have shaken their heads over the
amount of tongue involved.

"Come to bed, Sascha. Game's called on account of old age. You can't
seem to keep up with me anymore..." John suddenly found himself
upside down over Luka's shoulder as his "irate" husband hauled him
back to their bedroom where he was dumped on the bed.

"Let's see if this old man can make you eat your words..." Luka
gasped as John scooted across the bed and helped himself to some
Croatian sausage. When he paused to put on the condom, John
winked. "Before I slip you into something more comfortable, aren't
you a little warm with all those clothes on?" Trousers, suit coat,
shirt, tie, socks, and shoes soon littered the floor. "Where are your
briefs?"

"In my coat pocket. I took them off at the airport."

"Damn, and I missed it. I think you may have come up with a
sensational replacement for in-flight movies..." John grinned.

"Come here, Janaskja."

John slipped out of his caftan and stood in Luka's embrace. "I love
you." He murmurmed when his mouth was released. Sinking to his knees,
he looked up and smiled. "Now, where was I?"

Luka inhaled as John did the same; deep-throating his husband with
rare skill. As his head bobbed, Luka thrust into the warm confines of
his husband's mouth. John kneaded the muscles of Luka's ass, hanging
on as if his life depended on it. A strangled cry from above signaled
Luka's release. John let Luka's cock slip from his lips and gently
peeled off the condom. He caught his beloved just as he swayed
towards the bed.

"You're exhausted, Sascha. Lie still while I get something to make
you decent. Then I'm tucking you in for the night." When John
returned from the bathroom with a warm washcloth, Luka was asleep.
Smiling, Carter lightly wiped the man he loved, shifted his legs onto
the bed and drew the covers over him. "Good night, my dearest heart.
I missed you and am so very glad you're home."

He collected the clothing from the floor and hung up the suit then
went to check on Kitten. Dropping Luka's shirt and socks into the
hamper, he peeked in at their daughter. In the soft blue glow from
the icon lamp, he could see she was asleep. John softly straightened
her bedclothes then left pulling the door half-way closed behind him.

"She's asleep?" Luka was now awake.

"Uh-huh. Scoot over, Sascha. We've got a lot to do in the next couple
of days. John moved into Luka's arms and sighed contentedly. "Go back
to sleep, strong heart or else I'll be forced to sing to you."

"Good night, beloved. I do love you."

"Right back at cha, Papa."

* * * * *

The apartment building where John and Luka lived had originally been
an expensive hotel. Two large ballrooms took up most of it's ground
floor. These party rooms could be reserved by residents. In one,
tables and chairs had been set up providing ample space for the
guests to sit and eat a catered buffet meal. One corner of this room
had been partitioned off as a nursery for the small children of the
ER staff. A large-screen television, VCR, sleeping cots, and toys
were set out.

Chairs and small tables were lined up around the walls of the main
ballroom which also featured two bars: one serving alcoholic
beverages and one devoted to dispensing bottled water, coffee, and
soft drinks. Cyril and Charles had sent thirty custom-burned CDs
which included everything from rap and hip-hop hits to Christmas
carols and vintage big-band compositions. When trying on their
wedding tuxedos a week before the party, John was shocked to discover
he needed to have his waist-band let out. He'd regained the weight
he'd lost with interest.

Once again, Roland under-wrote temps for the ER staff, so everyone
could attend. One hour before the festivities officially got
underway, John and Luka and special VIP guests assembled in their
living room. Five minutes after the large ships clock chimed 7:30,
the invitees began singing "Happy Birthday" to a delighted Katerina
seated in a high-chair Charles had decorated to resemble a royal
throne. One year ago to the minute, John had gone out for a smoke and
changed his and Luka's lives forever.

One by one, the "characters" from "Kitten's Tale" came forward and
presented small gifts to her smiling parents. Bringing up the rear,
was a blushing Rocket Romano, who mumbled something and placed a
floppy plush red-bird on the tray to the high chair. Katerina
startled everyone by clearly enunciating "Bwast Off." The sight of
Romano kissing the baby's fingers stunned everyone into silence. As
Luka distributed drinks, John explained Kitten's seemingly appropos
greeting.

"Whenever she rides in the car with us we go through this NASA
routine. For the past six months she's been hearing both of us
saying 'blast off' at least four times a week."

"Well, at least she didn't pick tonight to add 'Daddy' to her
vocabulary." Romano grinned.

"She'll probably get around to it sooner or later.", Luka handed the
Chief a champagne flute. "Janaskja?"

"No, thanks. I'll wait and have my glass on Christmas Eve. You got
any ginger-ale, gorgeous?"

The guests moved downstairs after John and Luka opened Kitten's
gifts. The remaining ER staff and other guests had arrived with their
spouses or dates for the evening. The only singletons there were
Romano and Malucci who didn't seem to mind the teasing at their
expense. Ella Greene and her infant brother, Reese Benton, and
Connie's youngest had their own party in the dining room. By the
time, the adult party kicked into second gear, they'd watched videos
and fallen asleep.

A conga line had started accompanied by the raucous Yugoslavian folk
song played at John and Luka's wedding reception. As each couple
passed under the large plastic spray of mistletoe, some scorching
kisses were exchanged. The wild music went on. Charles had "looped"
the tune to allow enough time for everyone to have a chance to pass
beneath the "kissing post".

Finally, the tail of the line moved into position. Malucci, followed
by Romano broke away from the line and began to dance together. It
was the wedding dance. The ER staff stood flabbergasted as the two
men, arms on each other's shoulders whirled and twirled around the
rapidly widening space on the dance floor. By the time the joyous
music came to a close, everyone was clapping in time. When the music
fell silent, Dave Malucci took Romano's face in both hands and kissed
him senseless.

For two seconds, you could have heard a pin drop then the cheering
and yelling began as Romano raised their clasped hands over his head.
Light from the revolving disco ball glinted off their gold rings.

"Here we go again.", Sarah Nicholson laughed as John swept her onto
the dance floor.

"Trust me. If those two adopt, I'll eat the Sear's Tower with cream
sauce." John laughed. He and Luka had been "double-dating" with the
couple while keeping their secret. Romano's seeding of the search
committee's quest for a new administrator had paid off handsomely.
The middle-aged woman, dancing with her wife waved cheerily at John
and Sarah then moved past them to the strains of a Viennese waltz.
Her partner, an un-frocked Lutheran minister, had married County's
newest couple between shifts earlier in the week.

"I just love coming-out balls, don't you?" Millicent asked straight-
faced as her partner "Harriet" Rosenbaum twirled her across the
floor. "Yes ma'am.", the judge's clerk squeaked out when he could
finally speak. Visions of Romano and Malucci wearing leather chaps
and not much else, kept a grin on his face for the rest of the
evening.

Dave endured some good-natured ribbing from his friends about sucking
up to senior staff and covering his boss's ass before Romano stepped
in and silenced the well-wishers by whisking Dave away for another
dance.

Just before midnight, Jane Franklyn came in with Laurencia Carlton
and Judge Waterston. This time, Roland stood on a chair and blew a
piercing whistle as the trio of late-comers made their way to the
public address microphone.

"Last year on this night, Dr. Kovac-Carter found an abandoned baby
girl. He saved her life and our office granted this young man and his
husband temporary custody as foster parents. Then we stupidly
reversed our decision. I'm very glad we missed the dinner portion of
tonight's festivities because I and my colleagues have eaten enough
crow to last a lifetime. Speaking of which...", Jane turned to the
Judge who looked at his watch.

"John, Luka, would you come forward please?" The Judge was grinning
from ear to ear. "Mrs. Riordan?" John and Luka turned, surprised to
see their babysitter emerge from the dining room/nursery carrying
Kitten who was dressed in her christening robe.

"By the powers vested in me by the state of Illinois and Cooke
County, I am pleased to announce your petition to adopt the baby girl
known as 'Katerina Doe' has been summarily approved by all reviewing
parties. As of midnight tonight, this child will become the legally
adopted daughter of John Truman Kovac-Carter and Luka Aleksandr
Carter-Kovac and will henceforth be known by the name of Katerina
Alexandra Carter-Kovac. Happy birthday, little one.", the judge
called out as midnight struck.

"Here are the necessary papers." Laurencia Carlton laughed at John
and Luka's open-mouthed expressions. "Sign them and return them to
Jane's people before the new year and it'll be official." Grinning,
she reached into her evening bag. "Well what do you know, I happen to
have a pen right here."

John and Luka eagerly signed the complicated forms and affadavits
then handed them to Jane Franklyn. "She's all yours." Jane took
Kitten from Mrs. Riordan and handed her to John and Luka.

"God bless us everyone!" Malik called out as more cheers went up from
the guests.

After being congratulated, the petite guest of honor was taken
upstairs by Mrs. Riordan.

John and Luka made their way through the crowd until they stood under
the mistletoe. When they came up for air, thunderous applause rang in
their ears. "Thanks guys. Thank you for friendship, your wonderful
support, for everything." John said right before Luka kissed him
again.

And they lived happily ever after.

The End

Author's Notes:
Before I go on sabbatical to investigate the pleasures of semi-
lurkerhood, I want to thank the "co-stars" in this story---
Cathy "Paediatric Nurse" Roberts, Melissa "No Last Name Needed" Star
Medical Student, Dr. S.J. "Paediatrician" Welles, Nurse "Evan Ross is
a Jerk" Matheus, J.R. "Editor to the Stars" Smythe, Mrs. "Anybody
Have Earplugs for this Crying Baby?" Reece, Indra "An Author's
Reader" Sajin, and my personal posse: Cyril, Charles, and Laurencia.
I couldn't have made it this far without any of you. Please accept my
deepest gratitude.
This story archived at http://errealmofslash.com/viewstory.php?sid=773