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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

"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

"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

"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

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

* * * * *

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

"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

"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."


"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

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

"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
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