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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

"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

"I'm so sorry Sascha.", John's voice was hoarse but stronger than

"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.



"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


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?"


"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

"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

"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

"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

"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

"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.


"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.
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