"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
"I know. The only reason I didn't say anything was because I knew
"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.
"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 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."
"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
"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
"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."
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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.