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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

"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

"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

"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

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

"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

"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
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